". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

My First Book

Back in August our beagle died. Ever since then I have been meaning to write a remembrance post about the nine years she was with us. It never got done, but this month, with Christmas approaching, I decided one of the best gifts I could give my son was a repository of photographic memories of his dog. I am not a scrapbooker (I am SO not a scrapbooker) so instead settled on a photo book. Below is the result. What do you know? After all these years, I am finally a book author.

Click here to view this photo book larger
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Christmas Update

The last few days have had their ups and downs. First, the ups. Christmas Eve was divine. We started, as is our tradition, by listening to Lessons and Carols from King's College in Cambridge. Then Phillip took Evan out for some last minute Christmas shopping and I ran out for a last minute grocery item: collard greens, which I had forgotten to pick up on any of my excursions several days prior. Can you believe Jewel was out of collard greens? What's up with that? I didn't think stores in Illinois ever ran out of collard greens! Luckily, Meijer had one bag left. One. Again, I ask, when did collard greens become so popular in the Chicago burbs?

Our church has three services on Christmas Eve but for the first time in more years than I can remember my husband did not have to be at all of them. We left the house as a family at 5:15 (the first service started at 5:00) and drove together to Christmas Eve worship (can't remember the last time that happened either). We attended the 7:00 service (the one which included the three preceding musical selections) and then between services enjoyed a Christmas picnic in the church kitchen.

The last service of the night started at 10:00. As much as I like being at church at midnight on Christmas Eve, I appreciated being able to get home by just a little after midnight. Between 9-year-old and puppy and Santa I still didn't get to sleep until almost 2:00 a.m. The next morning Evan and I stayed home and I cooked and he played while Phillip and the big kids went to Christmas morning worship (10:00 a.m.). When they arrived home I had fresh bread, cheese, "Little Smokies" (miniature sausages in BBQ sauce) and wassail (with rum) ready to snack on. We opened presents, took naps, and began watching the DVD of Trevor's University choir concert from a few weeks ago (on which he also did a lot of organ playing). The plan was to follow up with supper (ham, cole slaw with pineapple, black-eyed peas, and yes, collard greens!) and then watch the Bulls-Rockets basketball game.

But then life took a turn. As we were watching the choir concert we heard my mom calling, distressed, from the bathroom. When we ran to investigate we discovered her on the floor. After making sure she was breathing and not bleeding (she was alert and communicative) we got her up off the floor. She was not able, however, to stand up. We called 911, an ambulance came, and long story short, Mom has a broken hip. :-( We are not sure what happened except that she must have fainted. She doesn't remember the fall, only waking up. As I write this I am sitting in her hospital room. Tonight she will have surgery to repair her hip and then we face another cycle of recovery and rehabilitation (she had her other hip replaced 7 or 8 years ago). Tonight's surgery will not be a full hip replacement but (as I understand it) the placing of screws to reconnect the hip. This fracture seems to be not as severe as the last one and the lesser surgery will also minimize risks: smaller incision, less blood loss, less time under general anesthesia, etc. Mom's heart checked out fine today and the prognosis for recovery is excellent. Your prayers are appreciated.

Last night as we sat in the ER I began reading one of my Christmas presents, a book from my husband by Andree Seu, one of my favorite columnists for World magazine. The book is the first of several published collections of Seu's columns. I am not sure what denomination Seu is but she sure sounds Lutheran a lot of the time. The first chapter of the book is the first column she wrote upon returning to writing after the death of her first husband some years ago. She writes of the struggles one would expect at such a time--how to continue without one's long-time help-meet? How to do what needs to be done? She recalls her pastor's counsel:

"Rev. Min says when I feel myself sinking I must start from the beginning: What is true? What is real? God is alive. I am His daughter. You His true Son."

It was exactly what I needed to read last night and I hope maybe it is exactly what someone out there needs to read right now. Merry Christmas!

"Gesu Bambino"

"Gesu Bambino" (Yon, Pietro) from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

"O Little Town of Bethlehem"

This is our friend, the former teacher of the young man in the previous video. She has also taught voice lessons to my husband and children. Apart from her voice, what I find amazing here is her ability to sing with such simultaneous strength and softness, reflecting the hushed mystery of the first Christmas and yet still filling the sanctuary without the use of a microphone. This setting of the third stanza of the hymn was composed by my husband with this singer in mind.

"Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem" from Cheryl on Vimeo.

"Oh, Holy Night"

Prelude for the 7:00 p.m. Christmas Eve service last night. The singer is 18 years old, the student of a dear Lutheran lady friend of ours (herself a Ph.D. in voice and a professional singer). Josh is in his freshman year on vocal scholarship at Oberlin Conservatory and just won the lead role in the spring opera (almost unheard of for a freshman). If you follow classical voice music at all, keep an eye out for his name in the years to come.

"Oh, Holy Night" from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Ev'ry voice in concert ring

This is from August of 2010. Yes, August. That wild and crazy Doxology team had Christmas in the summer! This is my all-time favorite Christmas hymn sung in my all-time favorite way. Enjoy.

Annual Lessons and Carols Reminder

Listen here.

More info here. . . .

. . . and here.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Best We've Got

My dear friend Rebekah is worried. As she explains here, her congregation's beloved organist died several months ago and she, as pastor's wife and best available musician, is being called upon to fill the void (even in her continuing grief). What Rebekah doesn't share in her post is how hard she is working to do so. I know this because she and I have talked about it. I know how much she cares and how much she wants to serve and I have feebly tried to support her with generally useless, long-distance advice.

I commented on Rebekah's blog post this morning and then several more thoughts came that I have decided to post here. First, it is one of those cosmic ironies that often the people who for various reasons (ability, time, resources, support) are most able to improve their skills are the ones who don't bother, while those who face much greater challenges to their progress are the ones who nonetheless make the effort to improve. I am reminded of when Trevor, now 20, played basketball at the age of 8. He was the weakest player on the team, both physically and in skills and experience. And yet the coaches loved him, and so did the rest of the team. Why? Because he had what Coach Collins called "heart." He gave himself to the game unreservedly. He tried his best every single second he was on the court, and it showed. He loved that team, and they loved him. And in loving him the way they did, I believe his teammates left that season stronger players and better people. A couple of years ago I was stopped in Walmart by a woman who said, "You're Trevor's mom, aren't you?" At first I didn't recognize her. But then she introduced herself and I realized that she was the wife of Trevor's assistant coach from 10 years before. Trevor played on that team for about three months, and after the season was over both the coach and the assistant coach and their families came to our church on a Sunday afternoon to hear Trevor's piano recital. They wanted to see and affirm him in his element. And ten years later that wonderful woman recognized me. It didn't matter to her that Trevor didn't get a basket the whole season. She remembered his heart.

My second thought is that God calls whom He will. About 25 years ago my husband and I were newly married and attending a Lutheran church in Texas (the one in which I was catechized) and singing in the choir. Within a year the pastor came to Phillip and told him the choir director/organist was leaving and he wanted Phillip to take the position. At the time my husband was working as a freelance musician, playing piano bar and teaching community college. He said, "But I'm not a church musician." Pastor said, "You're the best we've got. Now get up there [in the choir loft] and get busy." My husband did not know how to play organ at the time. He was a pianist. He also had no training as a choir director. But he was the best that church had, so he learned to do both. If you can believe it, I even played organ sometimes and directed the children's choir! Now, because I have so many years of watching world class organists and choir directors at work, I am afraid to do either. You're not the only one who feels inadequate, my dearest Rebekah! But God calls whom He will, and I believe at this time He is calling you to this role. Thanks be to Him that in faith you are answering that call!

My final thought is that while we tend to think that the best way we can serve others is to be excellent and successful and in charge, sometimes God has other plans. Sometimes the best way we can serve is by being weak, imperfect, needy and human. Sometimes it is in our weakness that God provides an opportunity for others to be loving, kind, magnanimous, tolerant, and indulgent. And perhaps in our weakness those whom we are supposed to be serving and leading will find that they are able to call upon parts of themselves they didn't know were there.

I am so thankful, Rebekah, that you have a congregation full of people who love you amidst the mess. Let them keep on doing that. When you're not able to sing or play, they will carry on. They will sing to one another and to you and be blessed in doing so because that is what being a family in Christ is all about. "Through the Church the song goes on."

Lunch Conversation

"I wasn't touching them; I was smelling them."

"Stop being a dork."

"You should not only wash your hands; you should wash your forearms."

"It's easy to avoid being a dork."

"Did you know that the bottoms of most women's purses are riddled with germs?"

"It's not easy to avoid being a dork when you don't know that you're being a dork."

Thursday, December 20, 2012

"Silent Night"

According to lore, "Silent Night" was composed to be played by guitar because the organ was broken. I don't know if that story is true. But I do know that as much as I love the organ, I personally prefer to sing this hymn accompanied by a more intimate instrumentation: guitar, piano, flute, accordion.

Accordion, you ask? Yes, accordion. It's not just for polkas! This video is from our recent Lessons & Carols service (our new church holds this service before school is dismissed for the holiday). I think the flute, guitar and accordion make a gentle and fitting canvas for this beautiful lullaby to the Christ child.

"Silent Night" with Accordion, Flute & Guitar from Cheryl on Vimeo.


One of my favorite things my husband has composed. You can't see it, but I was smiling as I played from beginning to end. This is Phillip's new junior high choir, with whom he has only been working a few months. They have come a long way since August!
"Magnificat" from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Christmas is coming!

Descant Rehearsal from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

"Contemporary" Worship

I was recently talking to someone and the topic of "Contemporary Worship" came up. I capitalize and put the term in quotation marks because I don't think "contemporary" is a bad word. Worship that happens in the here and now is by nature contemporary. But the type of worship that has come to be known as "Contemporary" is something else, and I think the words of the person I was talking to are particularly revealing. She said that she hoped her adult son, who is visiting for Christmas, would get a chance to go to her church's Contemporary Worship service because he had never "seen" it. She didn't say he had never "participated" in it or "attended" it or "worshiped" at that service. She said he had never "seen" it. And that is a huge tell.

Monday, December 10, 2012

It says something . . .

. . . about the times we live in that someone feels the need to say, during dinner, "Please don't put that on Facebook." Guess you'll just have to take my word for how funny it was. ;-)

The Thrill Is Gone

Or maybe it isn't.

Yesterday was the culmination of 3-1/2 months of preparation as the children's choral organization I work for presented its holiday concerts. The day before yesterday was "dress" rehearsal--the children don't have to wear their performance uniforms but all the groups and musicians come together for a full run-through of each concert (there are three).

At the end of the rehearsal for the big, combined number (where all the choirs sing together), I noticed Evan had stopped singing and had his face in his hands, crying. When he came from the stage his dad and I asked him what was wrong.

"[Pony Tail Girl] doesn't like me anymore!" Remember Pony Tail Girl? Here she is (minus the pony tail) with Evan, waiting for their choir's turn to rehearse (Pony Tail Girl wore her concert uniform to dress rehearsal by mistake). Obviously, this picture was taken before the big breakup.

Yesterday as they waited to perform in the actual show I thought I was going to have to separate them. The loathing was acute and mutual. "I hate you!" "I hate you!" But by the time we left our seats to line up backstage the tide had once again turned: "Mom, [Pony Tail Girl] likes me again!" At last check that assessment was still holding, but they will doubtless be mortal enemies again by the next rehearsal.

How many years until he's married? 

Tell It

My daughter's choir, performing last night:

"Go Tell It On the Mountain" from Cheryl on Vimeo.

This was the last piece of their set. I was seated at the far back of the auditorium so as not to disturb anyone with my taping.

Aren't they good?

Kudos also to special guests the Napervillle Brass.

Worthy of C. S. Lewis

Words from my daughter (quoted as best I can remember):

"When we get to Heaven this life will probably seem like one of those dreams that made sense at the time."

Something Is Wrong With This Picture

I was trying to write a blog post (not this one) and Willard (the puppy) would not leave me alone (even though I have given him plenty of attention this morning). So I left the easy chair in the bedroom and switched to the bed, which is high enough that at this point in his development he is unable to scale it. I expected him to follow me to the bed and continue his entreaties. Because what he wants most of all is me, right?

My puppy is now sitting contentedly, alone in the easy chair.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Aren't you glad . . .

. . . you have my blog with its low resolution photos and messy house and dearth of posts about all the designer decorating I'm doing and the wonderful Christmas crafts and delicacies I'm making to balance out all those other perfectly gorgeous Better Homes and Gardens blogs that make you feel completely inadequate?

You're welcome.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

O Christmas Tree

Last week some friends invited us to their property to chop down a Christmas tree. We had planned to go the day after Thanksgiving (while Trevor was still in town) but it was too windy. (Okay, that's only part of the story. The rest of the story is that we were all too full and sleepy from the previous day's feasting. And besides, the Huskers were on television!)

We finally did get to go this past Saturday. This is early for us to get a tree. Usually we wait until closer to Christmas. But we are wising up. The next few weeks are going to be stacked with rehearsals, concerts, and worship services, in addition to all the usual Christmas preparations. Doing this now means we won't be cramming it into the one several-hour period between now and Christmas that we are all available and healthy and the weather is cooperating. And since the tree is freshly cut, it ought to last through Christmas and Epiphany.

Here's the tree selection team heading out. Can you believe our friends' property is in the heart of the south Chicago burbs?

It's the great Christmas tree patch, Charlie Brown!

Found one!

Manly man at work. 

So much depends upon a green wagon . . . . 

Is this what they mean by catching someone red-handed?

Tree-tying team at work. 

Decorating in progress. (Vince Guaraldi playing in the background.)


Sunday, December 2, 2012

"Öfne Dich, mein ganze Herze"

"Öffne Dich, mein ganze Herze" - J.S. Bach from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Aria from Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (Now come, saviour of the gentiles), Cantata BWV 61 by J. S. Bach


Open, my whole heart,
Jesus is coming and entering in.
Though I am but dust and dirt,
He is not willing to despise me,
He wants to see His joy in me,
So that I become His dwelling,
Oh how blessed I will be!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Role of the Cantor

A few weeks ago one of my Facebook friends, a pastor, posted a status update in which he extolled his parish musicians. Specifically, he said that he was blessed to have the best musicians of any church anywhere. In short order, several of his pastor friends came along to dispute that claim, saying that he couldn't possibly have the best musicians since each of them was quite sure that honor belonged to him. It was a beautiful thing to behold--pastors celebrating and building up their musical staff. Obviously these pastors understand the value of having competent, committed musicians serving with them. One commenter in particular said something I thought quite wise. He said that the sign of a really good musician is that he can turn a not-so-good musician into a better one. I suppose that's not always the case when it comes to professional musicians. There are concert artists who are not necessarily good teachers. But that pastor's comment made me think about what my husband does in his work as a Lutheran cantor. More than anything, his calling as a church musician is to equip and assist the music-making of others. It is not about making music for its own sake or about demonstrating his own skill or even about using his own musical talents to make the worship beautiful; it is, instead, about helping the saints in a given place and time sing the eternal story of God's saving love.

That work of helping the faithful to sing is accomplished in a variety of ways. It may mean leading the liturgy from the organ or piano in a manner that encourages robust congregational song. It may mean teaching children in the choir or day school how to read music so that they can better mine the riches of the hymnal. It may mean taking a piece of music that is too difficult for an instrumentalist who wants to play and arranging it into a version that he or she can manage. It may mean composing a brand new piece of music so that the available musicians can better magnify the appointed Reading, Psalm or Verse of the day. Sometimes it means all of these, with the cantor's putting in long hours arranging and teaching and rehearsing lay musicians for something that will take all of one or two minutes to execute in the worship service. In all of this work it is not just the congregation that is better equipped to sing but also the individual musicians who are supported in utilizing their musical talent and ability to live out their vocations as Christian musicians.

I don't know if I have ever shared this here. Sometimes people who aren't familiar with the term ask what a cantor is. The Association of Lutheran Church Musicians has a wonderful answer. It is called, appropriately, "The Role of the Cantor":

When Christ’s people, the baptized, gather for worship,
they receive God’s love in Word and sacrament,
and through the gift of music,
praise, pray, proclaim and recount
the story of God's grace in song.
The cantor--the historical term
among Lutherans--is
the leader of the people's song.
The cantor is responsible for leading the musical expression of the people--
the assembly, choral groups, solo singers, and instrumentalists--
among whom organists have been especially important for Lutherans. 
The cantor uses whatever musical resources are available,
using them in a manner appropriate to the talents of those serving
and the needs of the people who are served.
The cantor leads the earthly assembly in a foretaste
of John’s vision of the heavenly assembly
in which all creatures give praise,
honor, glory and power to the Lamb. (Revelation 5:13).
The cantor's work is a worthy service to God,
God's people, and the world.
It is a high and holy calling.  

Once upon a time, someone who wanted to hurt my husband told him that he doesn't do what he does for others or even for his Lord but for his own aggrandizement--to call attention to himself. I suppose that there is an element of truth in that statement to the extent that every sinner is motivated by selfishness. But what that person did not apparently understand is that if my husband really wanted to draw attention to himself he has been going about it all wrong. If it were all about him he would just play everything and sing everything and be done with it. He is, more often than not, the best musician in the house. But it's not about him, and he knows it. It's about putting the salvation story in the mouths of the redeemed. If it really were all about him, instead of putting in many over and above hours helping untrained singers prepare a song for worship, he would just sing it himself. Instead of taking the time to arrange a piece of music for the instrumentalists on hand, he would  look in the file cabinet, and seeing nothing suitable, shrug and decide not to have instrumentalists that day. Instead of choosing choral music that requires both him and his singers to stretch themselves beyond what is easy and comfortable, he would select a "wind it up and let it go" anthem that because of its predictability sings itself. Moreover, he wouldn't make multiple trips to teach in Africa or spend all the time he does behind the scenes advising and counseling pastors and musicians in synod who seek out his advice regarding music and worship. Nor would he go beyond his musical calling to provide emotional and spiritual support for his musicians who are facing struggles in their personal lives. If it were all about him he wouldn't spend 90-95 percent of his time focusing on others and how he as a Lutheran cantor can enable them to better live out their faith. 

When we left our former parish several of our dear friends, members of the choir, gave my husband a decorative glass nameplate as a going away gift. On it, instead of his name, were the words "Cantor Extraordinaire." He was deeply touched but in his humility expressed to me some reservation about displaying it in his office. He did not want to send the wrong message to our brothers and sisters in Christ at our new parish. As it happens, those brothers and sisters figured out all by themselves that what they now have in their midst is not merely a music director but a cantor, and on their own, not at my husband's request or by his efforts, they decided to change his title from "Minister of Music and Worship" to "Cantor." And now, also not by his own efforts but by those of his rather determined wife, that beautiful glass nameplate sits on a shelf in his office (granted, shyly nestled among some rather sizable tomes). I am so looking forward to seeing what happens in the coming years as this cantor helps a new congregation find its voice. Soli deo gloria. 

Should I Be Worried?

Yesterday at the end of Evan's community children's chorus practice, one of his fellow choristers, a lovely young lady of, oh, about eight, came up to him and, with ponytail swinging and cheeks glowing, announced, "I have a crush on you." What did my son the Calvin & Hobbes devotee do? Did he cringe, grimace and immediately convene a meeting of the G.R.O.S.S. (Get Rid Of Slimy Girls) club? 

Um, no. Instead he returned smile for smile and declaration for declaration--"I have a crush on you, too!"--and was rewarded for his devotion with an audible kiss on the cheek from said pony tail wearer. At which point he proceeded to go around the room telling anyone who would listen, "She has a crush on me and I have a crush on her. We have a crush on each other."

This is a new kind of child for me. Any thoughts on how to proceed would be welcome. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sunday After Thanksgiving Update

The daily reports have ceased, but ABP continues. I trust someone will tell me if there's something I really need to know.

I took Trevor back to college today. Four days were not enough time with him. Evan took his departure very hard, in spite of knowing that his big brother will be back in less than three weeks. Last night as I was tucking Evan in I started tickling him to cheer him up. He loves being tickled. But after a few moments he became serious and said, "You won't be able to tickle me much longer." I asked why he said that. "Because I'll be too old. You won't be able to tickle me anymore when I'm 10." I'm not sure why 10 is the Age of No Tickling. But I think my little boy is growing up, and so is his perception of the passage of time.

A few days ago on Facebook I saw this creepy looking thing:*

It is the main character of the book Elf on a Shelf, published in 2005. How have I not heard of this before? It is apparently the latest holiday tradition. The book comes with an elf figure like the one above. The story explains how the elf, once it is named by its family, is magically able to return to the North Pole on a daily basis with reports about the naughty/nice ratio of each child in the family. Each morning the elf shows up in a different location in the house--part of the game is finding him (her? it?). The children may talk to the elf but they can't touch it for fear of draining its magic. There is now a parallel Elf on the Shelf industry devoted to depicting the elf doing inappropriate or disturbing things (e.g., an elf sitting on top of a microwave with the caption, "Ask me where Fluffy is"). All I know is that the original concept is disturbing enough and would totally terrorize my child.

I wasn't able to go to church today. Bummer. Trevor and I had to leave early enough for him to get back to campus for a 6:00 rehearsal with his choir. He has been asked to play organ on several pieces! I guess that is a good reason to miss church. But I wish I could have been there. So much great music today.

Going to bed in a little while. Long drive back home tomorrow. I wish I could get Lutheran Public Radio in the car!

*If you like it, no offense. Enjoy! It's just not our kind of fun!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Nothing but a Dreamer

Last night during the Thanksgiving Eve service Evan started to cry. Concerned, I asked him what was wrong. He smiled and said, "These aren't sad tears, Mom. They're tears of joy. I've decided that when I'm old enough to go to college, I won't go--I'll stay here with you."

I just smiled and hugged him. No sense disabusing him of his illusion. He'll change his mind before I know it. And until he does, I can dream, too.

ABP, Day 13 - Happy Thanksgiving!

I didn't get around to posting last night. Too much going on! Trevor got home yesterday. We picked him up at the local Amtrak station at 1:45 p.m. (he had to board the train at about 3:45 a.m.) and then came home for a couple of hours before leaving again to meet Phillip for supper (Portillo's) and church. Other than that yesterday was a day of cleaning and Thanksgiving prep. I will be cooking for our immediately family only today. We will eat a late lunch, probably around 2:00, and then spend the rest of the day napping, reading, playing games, watching movies, and making music. Glorious.

I have read a few things here and there from people who have dismissed Thanksgiving as a silly holiday because, after all, we should give thanks at all times, and anyway, what is our secular government doing telling us to give thanks to a God it increasingly prefers not to acknowledge? And of course, there is all the Black Friday (um, make that Black Thursday) noise, making it seem as though the deity to whom we bow is checking His book not for the names of the saints but to see who is going to turn a profit this year.

I don't care about that. I love Thanksgiving. Christmas and Easter have been lost to secularism; that doesn't mean Christians dismiss them as meaningless days. Yes, we give thanks at all times; we also daily confess our sins. Yet we still have seasons during which we more intentionally ponder our need for repentance. Why not one day on which we more fully consider all that we have to be thankful for, in both the temporal and spiritual realms?

I wanted to post a Thanksgiving video and I thought of this song, sung a few years ago by my husband's junior high choir. It is not a Christian text and is not really about thankfulness. But the text from a poem by Sara Teasdale expresses the wonder of looking around and being rendered speechless by the beauty of it all, in both the small and the infinite. I pray you look around yourself today, wherever you may be, and find loveliness to ponder, loveliness that makes whatever you have suffered in your life worth it. May you also know that even if you question if it has all been worth it, Jesus, who spent all He had for the loveliness of you, who bought you without counting the cost to Himself, says unequivocally, yes. You are lovely. You are His. You are worth it.

"Barter" - Sara Teasdale

Life has loveliness to sell,
All beautiful and splendid things,
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
Soaring fire that sways and sings,
And children's faces looking up,
Holding wonder like a cup.

Life has loveliness to sell,
Music like the curve of gold,
Scent of pine trees in the rain,
Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And for your spirit's still delight,
Holy thoughts that star the night.

Spend all you have for loveliness,
Buy it and never count the cost;
For one white singing hour of peace
Count many a year of strife well lost,
And for a breath of ecstasy
Give all you have been, or could be.

Barter from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

ABP, Day 12

So, I am winding down my self-imposed Anything But Politics challenge but finding it wasn't that big a challenge after all. In fact it was way easier than I thought to just turn it all off. I'm beginning to think we could downgrade our cable and save some money. Ignorance is bliss.

Today was more shopping, with trips to Target and Jewel. The turkey is now thawing in the kitchen sink. Tonight I had to attend a photo shoot, as the children's choir organization I play for is asking everyone to get a new head shot for the website. Yuck--I hate having pictures made. I was seriously dreading it, but it went much better than I expected. The photographer was a pro and in a short time got several good candidates. Now to pick which one I want for the website. Glasses or no glasses, that is the question.

Trevor will be home tomorrow! He is taking a taxi from his dorm to the Amtrak station and boarding a train in the middle of the night. He will call us when he is at the station so we know everything is going according to plan. We are looking forward to Trevor's meeting Willard* (and vice versa) for the first time.

Evan had his first basketball practice tonight. The report from Phillip is that it went fairly smoothly. Evan has never played basketball so has much to learn. But it sounds as though he maintained a good attitude throughout the practice. No emotional meltdowns from the HSC*? That is a successful evening.

* new puppy
**highly sensitive child

Monday, November 19, 2012

ABP, Day 11, Part 2

I don't know, people. I really think I need to start paying attention. There is some very bad stuff going on in the world. But it is just so scary and sad. And I truly believe that if the country had gone a different direction last week we would be having some different conversations this week. And that makes it all that much worse. We didn't have to be on the path we are now on. As I write this paragraph I feel my stomach churning, my blood pressure rising, my breathing accelerating . . . .

So back to head-in-the-sand-dom. This morning I took Caitlin to her math class. Usually I take Evan along and we "do school" together while we wait for her. Today I let him stay home with Grandma and I did a little pre-Thanksgiving shopping at Trader Joe's. After lunch I wrote a blog post (see below) and practiced piano a little bit: an oldie from my college days, Bach's French Suite #5 in G. I have decided to relearn it. It came back into my fingers pretty quickly . . . . the one thing I think I am better at than my husband musically is remembering music I learned a long time ago. I'm glad there is that, at least! 

Later in the afternoon I went to the home of some piano students--I teach two children as well as their mother, all in one family, and for several weeks I will be going to their house to teach because the mother just had foot surgery and can't drive. They are great people, a pleasure to work with, and I am more than happy to do this to keep them taking lessons while the mom recuperates. After that it was back home to teach several more students, after which I wolfed down some Trader Joe's sushi and then left for a staff meeting of the children's choir organization I play for. That is another great group of people, and we had way too much fun working out logistics for December concerts. Sometimes I am amazed at the things I get to do for my "job." I am sorry that I don't always appreciate this blessing as I should.

After I got home from my meeting, Phillip, Caitlin and I watched last week's episode of Person of Interest (one of the two shows I keep up with these days). While watching, one of us had a cup of Grenada hot chocolate, one of us had a glass of Trader Joe's Merlot, and one of us had nothing. I wonder if you can guess who had what?

This Is Art (ABP, Day 11)

Today while listening to the '80's channel (during which time we were NOT listening to news or talk radio) Caitlin and I heard this song. It doesn't get played on the radio very much anymore, but it is a classic. It was actually THE very first song ever played on MTV when the channel debuted on August 1, 1981, at 12:01 a.m. The video below was recorded in 2004 when the Buggles reunited to perform it for a Prince's Trust concert.  The song is a work of art, evoking much more in both text and music than its MTV, 1980's pedigree might suggest. It is not just about video overtaking radio as the prevailing electronic medium; it is about the passage of time, the inexorability of change, and our human inability to fight either. "We can't rewind; we've gone too far."

Sunday, November 18, 2012

ABP, Day 10

Today, I--

1) Went to church & Sunday School (and both were wonderful, just wonderful). 

2) Made a meatloaf.

3) Put together Caitlin's bed with a lot of help from Caitlin and a little help from Phillip. (His little help at the end saved the day because after almost five hours Caitlin and I were done, DONE, DONE.) 

That is all. As Dr. Seuss says, "Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one."

Saturday, November 17, 2012

ABP, Day 9*

It was a 100% no politics day. I did not read a single article or watch or listen to even five minutes of news. Yay for me!

Instead, it was a running around day. This morning I took Caitlin to a youth group activity and to her regular Saturday Tae Kwon Do class. Then I attended a parent meeting for community basketball, which Evan will be playing over the next few months. (Prayers appreciated--I do have some misgivings about how this is going to go.) Then home for lunch, then a shopping excursion with Caitlin. We decided a few months ago to replace her rather girlish bedroom set with something a little more functional, and today we finally made it to Ikea to seal the deal.

Here's the headboard from her old set:

There were several other matching pieces, and we were able to sell the entire set. It is going to be replaced by this loft bed with attached desk, which we purchased and brought home today! Caitlin did not have a desk before and as a writer she desperately needs one, but her room is not very big, so we decided this would maximize space. It is also more cost effective than buying a new bed and desk, and Caitlin likes the idea of sleeping up high. In addition to this piece, we will be getting her a new chest of drawers. I will try to post pictures when her room is done.

After shopping it was time for supper; in a little while we plan to watch one of our shows on DVR (Once Upon a Time) and then go to bed early. Church tomorrow and then . . . bed assembling! Wish us luck!

*I plan to keep this series going until Thanksgiving. After that, maybe I'll just do weekly or monthly updates on my politics avoidance efforts. I know you were really wondering about that. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

ABP, Day 8

I am not going to have time to post later today so decided I better get it done right now. Today was homeschool co-op day (math for Caitlin, pottery for Evan), but Evan stayed home with a sore throat. Before that, I was going to go exercise with my husband at our community recreation center but opted out after a nasty bout of insomnia last night. Between the state of the world (which I am trying to ignore but find it impossible to entirely avoid) and several other things weighing on my mind, it has not been a good week for sleep. But I have come to a few decisions that I hope will assist in putting those things to rest and moving beyond them. I would appreciate your prayers for wisdom.

I am taking my mom to the doctor for a checkup this afternoon so am very thankful for the moderate weather and clear skies. It will make it easier for her to get out--she is extremely sensitive to the cold.

Tonight we are looking forward to getting together with some friends. There are very few things in the world better than spending time with Christian brothers and sisters.

At some point I think I will have to start paying more attention to the world again. I am at heart just not a head-in-the-sand person. I don't think it is possible to shut it out entirely, and I don't think as a parent of children who have to grow up in this world that it is moral or responsible for me to do so. But the challenge is finding the balance. How to live in the world but not let it take my heart and sap my hope? I think I have been out of balance for a while, too plugged in, too much inclined to let the events of the world, both on the macro and micro level, dictate my outlook. Rediscovering that balance is what my little "challenge" is all about. I guess it will never be a settled thing--"this much world, but no more." If only it were that easy. The struggle will always be there; in the words of a dear friend, "Such is life this side of heaven."

A friend posted this video on Facebook. I love James Taylor and I love this song. It is an interesting rendition because James humorously uses a reel-to-reel tape to provide the missing background vocals and himself sings the "riff" that his long-time backup singer, Arnold McCuller, usually sings. I really appreciated Laura posting this today as I find myself feeling incredibly thankful for our new church home and our new family there. They have taken us in, battered, bruised, imperfect people that we are, and they have made us their own, telling us that even in our weakness, we are enough. Thank you, friends. We are honored to be in your midst and we pray for God's continued blessing on the fellowship we now enjoy with you.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

ABP Challenge, Day 7 - A Profile in Philanthropy

True confession: I listened to Bill O'Reilly for about 15 minutes tonight while driving from one choir rehearsal to another. And thank goodness I did because otherwise I would have missed this critical piece of news. Seems Madonna is taking off even more of her clothes than usual these days, baring her bottom at concerts in return for audience members' loose change. What? You find stripping for money to be degrading to women? That just shows how unenlightened you are. This particular series of stripteases is for the purpose not of titillation but of charity. That dear, sweet girl is taking off her pants for no other reason than to earn money for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. She has so little of her own money to give, after all, and how thoughtless it would be of her simply to set aside a portion of her concert proceeds and thereby deny her audience the joy of giving. She is all heart, that one.

Can I just say I am discovering more and more reasons not to turn on the news? 'Night, all.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

ABP Challenge, Day 6

So, today. The news, television and radio blackout continues in the car and at home, but when we went to the orthodontist, there was Obama on the waiting room television, giving a press conference. The sound was off but the closed captioning was on and yes, I watched a few minutes. Evan saw me watching and said, "Mom, don't watch that." He doesn't know about my self-imposed news moratorium but seems to know what's not good for his mother. Luckily the orthodontist appointments were over quickly. (It was a regular monthly appointment for Caitlin, but the last one for Evan for a while: he got his braces off! He will have another round in a few years--this phase was to correct a severe underbite that was causing recession because of teeth hitting gums.)

The rest of the day was a good kind of busy: some blogging and reading this morning; devotion with Evan and Caitlin (Phillip had an early morning); some housework and homeschooling; lunch and orthodontist; more homeschooling followed by a rehearsal with Evan's choir and a performance for Caitlin's choir; then supper and talking to Trevor on the phone. The young man who will be playing the Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto with the UNL orchestra in March has been asked to play the piano part for the same orchestra's performance of Prokofiev's Seventh Symphony in December. While it is an honor for Trevor to be asked to do this, there will not be nearly the amount of pressure on him for this performance as there will be when he plays the Rachmaninoff. Since the Rachmaninoff is a concerto, the piano is the featured instrument, whereas in the Prokofiev the piano is simply a part of the orchestra. The part is not as difficult, a good thing since he only has a few weeks to learn it!

I Beg to Differ

Evan and I are still reading Charlotte's Web. This morning we had this passage:

"I didn't know you could lay eggs," said Wilbur in amazement.

"Oh, sure," said the spider. "I'm versatile."

"What does 'versatile' mean--full of eggs?" asked Wilbur.

"Certainly not," said Charlotte.

Hmmm, I don't know. In my experience, "versatile" and "full of eggs" seem to go hand in hand.  

Vocational Encouragement

I have shared that even though I am avoiding television news and talk radio as well as certain political websites, I still see articles of a worldly or political bent float across my Facebook feed and blog reader. I am generally resisting the urge to read them, but there are a few that I have been glad I went ahead and clicked on because I actually gained encouragement for the future and for what I have been trying to do this past week. I thought I would share them here in case you want to read them, too.

The first, from Front Porch Republic, is entitled "The Culture of Hospitality" and talks about the failure of the "culture war" and the more realistic goal of cultural "engagement." Christians will recognize the idea of being in the world but not of it. The author quotes from a letter by a second century Christian talking about the challenge of living among pagans: He observes that "they [the Christians] marry, as do all [others]; they beget children but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed." The author of the article, Mark Mitchell, writes:

The phrase I want to focus on is this: “they have a common table, but not a common bed.” Of course, the author is describing the lifestyle of the early Christian community, who were known for sharing meals with each other. They were also known for the limits they recognized: they were exclusive sexually even as they were promiscuous in their hospitality.
The emphasis here is the practice of hospitality (with obvious limits), and I want to suggest that hospitality is a radical alternative to both the language and practice of culture wars.
There is much more good stuff at the link if you want to continue reading it.

The second article is by Cal Thomas. A good portion of it reviews some of those things many of us find to be very discouraging about the changing face of the country as manifested in last week's election result. I won't rehash that part. But Thomas ends with this encouragement:

Now some advice for my distraught conservative evangelical friends. You made a valiant effort for the last three decades, hoping politics would advance another Kingdom, which your Leader said is "not of this world." Don't retreat; enlist in a better army with better weapons.
The One you follow demonstrated a power superior to the state, the power to change lives. Employ that power. Each church and religious institution, each individual, can find one poor family and ask if they want out of their circumstances and are willing to work for it, if a path is offered. One example: If a parent wants a child out of a failing public school, offer them financial help in placing the child in a good private school.
Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting prisoners, and caring for widows and orphans is not a social gospel that replaces God with government. That's the view of the religious Left. Rather, these behaviors serve the ultimate purpose of reaching the heart where real change takes place. And enough changed hearts lead to changed cultures.
The government beast is starved when people become independent of it. This will require a transfer of faith in government, to faith in an Authority higher than the state and a Leader more powerful than any president.
Finally, a column from Laissez Faire Books that asks, "Are These the End Times?"  (Thanks to Pastor Beane for the link.) Again, I'll skip the discussion of whether the answer to that question is yes or no (the author, Jeffrey Tucker, is more optimistic than I have felt lately). I appreciated the conclusion to the article, in which Tucker quotes another writer, Russ Roberts:
Remember that politics is not where life happens. Policies affect our lives, but we have much to do outside that world. Yesterday, I helped my youngest son learn Python, learned some Talmud, played with my photographs on Lightroom, had dinner with my wife, and went shopping with my oldest son for his first nice blazer. Lots of satisfactions there. Nothing to do with politics.
Put Tuesday night behind you for a while. Remember what matters. Take a walk. Read to your kids. Go out for dinner with your spouse. Read more Adam Smith and less of the Drudge Report. And smile at your neighbor. That’s always a good idea. But there’s a bonus — it might help your neighbor imagine that someone who believes in leaving things alone when it comes to the coercive power of government might actually be a decent person after all. And then maybe he’ll be a little more open to those crazy ideas you talked about at that dinner party.
Amen. Ora et labora. And have a nice day. We have such abundance, such blessing, such beauty at our fingertips, so many people to enjoy and love. Let's get busy.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

ABP Challenge, Day 5

For Susan, who says these posts aren't boring. ;-)

Yesterday in the car a piece of orchestral music came on the radio just as we were pulling into the garage. Caitlin and I had the same reaction: my, but it was pretty! But we were at our destination and had things to do, so I turned the car off and we went inside. I made a mental note to look the piece up later. I recognized the title and composer but wasn't sure if I had ever listened to it before.

The work? Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring. Here's the Wiki. The score was originally composed to accompany a ballet by Martha Graham. The ballet premiered in 1944, and in 1945 Copland reworked the score into a suite for orchestral performance alone. He received the Pulitzer Prize for music for the work that same year.

I have come to take this kind of technology for granted, but it is amazing to me that today, in 2012, I was able to "Google" up YouTube videos of the original performance of the ballet, with Martha Graham dancing the lead ballerina part. The video is in black and white and on YouTube is divided into four installments. Today I viewed the first two. They are beautiful to watch and listen to! Here's installment number one (I trust you can find the others if you're interested). I will try to watch parts three and four tomorrow.

In a comment on my last post Rebekah said that she likes how listening is a part of my life. In truth, though, listening to music has been less a part of my life in recent years than it used to be. First off, I am a visual person. Ask my husband--listening is not my strong suit. Ironic for a musician, huh? I like to read more than I like to listen, and in recent years I have been more inclined to listen to words than to music. But in looking for alternatives to news and talk shows this past week I have rediscovered the soothing presence of a classical music soundtrack. It really is salve for the soul.

The video is 8 or 9 minutes long--if you have just a minute or two, at least listen to the introduction, in which the main characters are introduced. The harmonies are astonishingly beautiful.

By Request

In a comment on my last post, Anonymous requested more music. The following two videos have been on my Vimeo page for a few weeks and I did post them on Facebook, but for those who missed them and are interested, here you go.

The first video is of one of my favorite hymns, "Jerusalem, My Happy Home." Phillip has a concertato version published by Concordia Publishing House that is dedicated to me. :-) On All Saints' Day he did a solo version that combines some of the elements of his concertato with some of his inimitable piano improvisation. He apparently mixed up a few of the words, but I didn't notice. I can't listen to this without crying like a baby.

"Jerusalem, My Happy Home" from Cheryl on Vimeo.

The next video is from the same Sunday and was the organ prelude for the 9:30 service. It is a little noisy, as the first service ran a bit long and there was a quick turnover with 8:00 congregants leaving and 9:30 congregants coming in. The choir is also coming back in to sing at the beginning of the 9:30 service; they are not robed for logistical reasons (the music room was going to be in use by another group during the 9:30 service). Phillip wrote this on Facebook regarding his organ prelude:

Change of pace for All Saints' Sunday this year for me: I usually play hymn-based repertoire, but for a prelude to the service chose instead to play Krieger's Toccata and Fugue in A Minor. I put Rev. 14:13 in the bulletin for the congregation's meditation while I played the piece, which lines up very well with the music - "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord" for the Toccata, and, for the Fugue, "Blessed indeed, says the Spirit, they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them."

Toccata & Fugue in A-minor by Johann P. Krieger from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Finally, here is a video not from our church but from a gathering we had in our home last week on Election Night. Before the returns started coming in we assembled to sing "Praise the Almighty" from our Lutheran Service Book. The second stanza words are an important reminder of where we, as Christians, are to place our trust: not in earthly rulers but in Christ. I stopped recording after the second stanza so that I could sing the rest of the hymn. The young voice you hear towards the end is Evan.
"Praise the Almighty" (Lutheran Service Book 797) from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Monday, November 12, 2012

ABP Challenge, Days 3 & 4

If you are already getting bored with these posts, I understand. I am writing mostly to keep myself on track and with little consideration for my audience. What a selfish blogger.

Yesterday I can't say that I did anything different from what I would normally do on a Sunday. I went to church and took a nap and cooked supper and spent time with my family. But I did avoid doing something I normally do. I skipped watching Fox News Sunday (a weekly ritual in our house). And I have continued to keep the radio dial set to either classical music or the '80's channel and to eschew certain websites. I can't say I have avoided news altogether. It crops up in my Facebook feed and my Google reader. But the few times I have given in and clicked on an article I have been sorry. I'm not ready to think about the world again. Reading all the post-election analysis, blaming, and planning for next time, not to mention the various distressing pieces of news, only leaves me feeling sad and helpless again. Voting is over for now. I am not in a position to do anything about national and world events. Better to continue focusing on those areas in which I actually do have some influence and to spend time on pursuits that are more likely to lead to positive outcomes.

So, this morning I kept my Facebook and blog time short and after reading some Psalms with Luther I took my older son's suggestion to listen to Prokofiev's Ten Pieces for Piano, Op. 12, performed by Canadian pianist Joel Hastings. Here's a YouTube page with all ten pieces for either individual or uninterrupted listening. The music is paired with some beautiful and appropriate artwork. I listened to the set once while looking at the accompanying paintings and then did some calisthenics while listening again. (Yes! Me! Calisthenics!) I think my favorite movements are the fifth (Capriccio) and the seventh (Prelude).

I also spent some time this morning making school checklists for Caitlin and Evan. We are rather relaxed in our approach to homeschooling, but something we have traditionally done is to make each child a weekly checklist to better keep track of what is being done. This fall, with election mania combined with various other distractions, I have not done a good job of planning ahead and printing out the weekly checklists. Today I recommitted to doing so. The PSAT is behind us, and Caitlin is ready to get back to reading classic literature. We started reading Pilgrim's Progress a few weeks ago and jointly decided we didn't want to finish it. (I'm sorry, but it was seriously boring.) So we are going to cheat by reading a summary and move on to C. S. Lewis's Pilgrim's Regress, which looks so much more inviting! After that, I'm thinking Paradise Lost. :-D

Saturday, November 10, 2012

ABP (Anything But Politics) Challenge, Day 2

Today, instead of watching Fox News or reading Real Clear Politics or Pajamas Media, I enjoyed the company of my husband, who stayed home ALL DAY! (To have him home for an entire Saturday is highly unusual.) I also cuddled our new puppy, cooked a pork roast, enjoyed the sound of the rain, did three loads of laundry, took my daughter to Tae Kwon Do, watched the Nebraska Cornhuskers beat Penn State (woo-hoo!), practiced piano, and on this, Martin Luther's birthday, listened to the final movement of Mendelssohn's Fifth Symphony (also known as the Reformation Symphony). Before I retire for the night I intend to read a few chapters of The Help, which I started over a month ago but set aside when election fever took over.

It was a good day!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Hard Habit to Break

It is hard to change a long-standing habit. For months now as I looked forward to what I thought would be a very different election outcome, I have partaken of a steady diet of Fox News, talk radio, and conservative blogs. For reasons outlined in my previous post I need to take a break from all that. I don't know if it will be a short or long-term break. I do know that the few times I have ventured into those forums since Tuesday night I have found myself sinking back into the sick and hopeless feeling that overtook me on Tuesday and Wednesday. Maybe all is not lost. Maybe something will change. But at the moment I do not have the emotional wherewithal to invest in hoping or fighting for that change. I need to expend what energy I have on my immediate sphere of influence.

And yet it is so hard to do--to stop that thing that you have become dependent on but that you know is bad for you! So as a means of encouraging myself I have decided to try daily to make a conscious decision to choose something else over listening to talk radio, watching Fox news, or reading a political blog. When I catch myself starting to do one of these things, I will replace it with something else and will post here what I did instead. I'll try to post daily between now and Thanksgiving and then assess where I am at that time. So here goes: Day #1 of my own Anything But Politics Challenge. 

Today, instead of listening to talk radio in the car I listened to the first movement of Telemann's Paris Quartet in D. Here it is in case you want to listen, too!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Day After the Day After

I spent yesterday in something of a fog. I couldn't sleep Tuesday night and got no more than about 2-1/2 hours of shut-eye. Then Wednesday came and with it, all of the normal Wednesday responsibilities. I tried to put the result of the election out of my mind and do what needed to be done.

I did listen to Rush Limbaugh for a few minutes yesterday. I wanted to see how he, eternal optimist when it comes to conservatism and the American spirit, would react to the re-election of President Obama. The segment I heard was not encouraging. He said that he went to bed feeling, as I did, that the country is lost. And he said something that I think is contradictory. In pure Rush Limbaugh fashion, he said he doesn't believe conservatism lost in this election but that what this election demonstrates is that it's impossible to compete with Santa Claus. Well, in my opinion, that means conservatism lost to Santa Claus (or in this case, Santa Barack). We have apparently reached a point in the United States that the majority of voters desire, more than anything else, to be taken care of by the state. They don't want to know how the state is going to do it and they don't care what freedoms will have to be sacrificed along the way. They don't want elected representatives who will work for them; they want a Godfather who will take care of them. In spite of our 16 trillion dollar national debt President Obama convinced them that he is that Godfather and that all that is needed to ensure their well-being is to continue "investing" in a multiplicity of programs. Where he will find the money to "invest" I don't know. There aren't enough rich people in the country to pay the debt and finance all the new spending he continues to espouse. Oh, wait, I guess I do know. We will continue to borrow from China while printing worthless paper money and refusing to face the reality that we can't continue on this path without grave consequences.

Yesterday I told my husband that I have come to the conclusion that conservative, Judeo-Christian values can no longer win elections in this country because the majority of people in the country no longer believe in them. It's not a matter of weak candidates or ineffective messaging; it's the message itself. Political analysts who describe the United States as a center right country are wrong. The country no longer wants what conservatives are offering.

Maybe if President Obama's second term does not result in the economic turnaround he promises, people will start looking for an alternative and conservatives will have another chance to make their case. But I am not hopeful. I am also not hopeful that social conservatism has any chance of succeeding in its efforts to protect the sanctity of life or the institution of marriage. The secular socialists have successfully taken over the mainstream media, the schools, and the popular culture, and they have spent the last 50 years indoctrinating young people via those tools. Children reflect their upbringing: if they spend the bulk of their time in government schools, interacting primarily with people their age while being constantly plugged into the prevailing news and entertainment media, their worldview will reflect those influences. This is true for the broader culture as well. Those who do not research or think deeply about the issues will have their opinions shaped for them like so much silly putty.

I have largely avoided the news since Tuesday night. What's the point? I did come across several articles online that closely reflect my feelings about this election. One is by Roger Simon, who identifies the same three tools I do when analyzing the scope and power of liberal influence. Another is by Ann Coulter, who says not to blame Mitt Romney for the loss of this election. I agree. He was not my first choice in the primary, but he won me over, and I don't think any of the other candidates would have fared better. Someone like Rick Santorum would have probably fared even worse. The problem is not, as some of my conservative friends believe, that Republicans are not nominating principled enough conservatives. The problem is that the number of conservatives is dwindling. Mitt Romney won the independent vote. It wasn't enough.

I find this realization to be incredibly depressing, and I wonder what the point is of continuing to follow the news. Better to accept that I am in a dwindling minority and to do what I can to make my life and my family's life better. I think I need to pray more, exercise more, study the Bible more, and get back to reading classic literature. I need to play piano and teach my children and accompany my choirs and clean my house and plan meals. I need to get off of Facebook and the blogs and go outside and take a walk. If this Election Day results in my successfully redirecting some of my time and energy to those things, perhaps it will turn out to be a blessing. Still, I fear for the day when I can no longer ignore what's going on in the outside world because of the ways it is invading my day to day life. Lord, have mercy on us all.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Now My Heart Rests on Roses

A little over two months ago we said goodbye to our former congregation. At that time we also said goodbye to our former choir. At our farewell reception, one of the choir members presented us with a gift that literally took our breath away. As soon as I saw it the tears came.

Our dear friend Judy made this for us. It is, of course, Luther's Seal. She picked the colors without even knowing that I painted our dining room blue last year. Isn't it gorgeous?
There's more to the story. Embroidered at the bottom of the tapestry are the words, "Now my heart rests on roses." These words are included in the text of a choral piece my husband composed about nine years ago. It is entitled "I Will Speak" and was published in 2004 by Concordia Publishing House. The words, by Phillip, are paraphrased from Psalms 119 and 145:
I will speak of your statutes before kings, O Lord,
And will not be put to shame.
I will sing and proclaim your truths, my God,
For you have anointed me with grace.
Blessed is he whose help is in God,
Whose help is the God of Jacob.
Blessed is the man who trusts in you!
Your strong word I confess;
I believe and am saved.
Princely powers I fear not,
For your truth is my faith.
Now my heart rests on roses.
"I Will Speak" was a staple of our former choir's repertoire. How fitting that the name of the choir is "Proclaim"! They sang it many times while we were with them but unfortunately I never got a recording. I was always playing the piano and my older children were always singing. If you are interested, though, you can hear the piece here. I like the way Proclaim sang it better.
Here's a detail of the bottom of the tapestry. We love you and miss you, Proclaim. Our hearts rest on roses when we think of you.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Spider Wisdom

"What do people catch in the Queensborough Bridge--bugs?" asked Wilbur.

"No," said Charlotte. "They don't catch anything. They just keep trotting back and forth across the bridge thinking there is something better on the other side. If they'd hang head-down at the top of the thing and wait quietly, maybe something good would come along. But no--with men it's rush, rush, rush, every minute. I'm glad I'm a sedentary spider."

"What does sedentary mean?" asked Wilbur.

"Means I sit still a good part of the time and don't go wandering all over creation. I know a good thing when I see it, and my web is a good thing. I stay put and wait for what comes. Gives me a chance to think."

--Charlotte's Web, Chapter 9

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Out of the Mouths of Eight-Year-Olds

Today as we were driving home from church Evan asked, "Mom, why do we have toll roads?" I explained that often city and/or state governments will build a new road to make automobile travel easier but will then install toll booths so as to collect fees to pay for the new road. I further explained that while those tolls are often represented as temporary measures, lasting for a set period of time until the road is paid for, they typically become permanent fixtures that ultimately extend in perpetuity, collecting money indefinitely. "Governments like to take as much money from the people as they can, and once they start taking it, they don't like to stop," I said.

My eight-year-old briefly pondered this statement, and then disdainfully responded:

"Government brutality."

Friday, October 26, 2012

An October Surprise

I have been out of town the last few days, visiting my son in Nebraska. Yesterday he competed in the MTNA Young Artist Competition, playing a 30-minute program that included works by Bach, Brahms, and 20th-century composer Lowell Liebermann. The video below is of Trevor's performance of the Liebermann piece, entitled "Gargoyles." I love this work because although it is modern in style and harmonic vocabulary, it is highly melodic and therefore quite accessible, not to mention haunting and exciting. It is a four-movement work; included here are the first, third, and fourth movements.

"Gargoyles" - Op. 29 by Lowell Liebermann from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Trevor received Honorable Mention for this performance; the previous night, in Lincoln, he won the University of Nebraska's undergraduate concerto competition! In February he will be performing the first movement of Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto with the University of Nebraska Symphony Orchestra.    If you had asked Trevor a few days ago which of the two competitions he thought he had the best chance of winning, he would have said MTNA, not the concerto competition. Such is live music: one never knows when all the elements are going to come together in just the right way to create a truly memorable performance. Sometimes it happens when you least expect it (and conversely doesn't happen when you thought it would).

It has been a long three days of driving--about nine hours on the road both Wednesday and today and five hours yesterday as Trevor and I drove from Lincoln to Kearney and back again. I am tired but so thankful I was able to go and see my son perform and to spend some time with him. It was my first time to see him since he left for the fall term over two months ago. I didn't go along on that trip so had not even seen his room yet this year. Can you believe he was able to get moved in without his mother directing him every step of the way?

Time to start counting the days until Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


From Today's Treasury of Daily Prayer, the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

It is not we who build. [Christ] builds the church. No man builds the church but Christ alone. Whoever is minded to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it; for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess--he builds. We must proclaim--he builds. We must pray to him--that he may build.

We do not know his plan. We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are times of collapse are for him the great times of construction. It may be that the times which from a human point of view are great times for the church are times when it is pulled down.

It is a great comfort which Christ gives to his church: you confess, preach, bear witness to me and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is my province. Do what is given to you to do well and you have done enough. But do it well. Pay no heed to views and opinions. Don't ask for judgments. Don't always be calculating what will happen. Don't always be on the lookout for another refuge! Church, stay a church! But church, confess, confess, confess! Christ alone is your Lord; from his grace alone can you live as you are. Christ builds.

I know these words are concerned with building the church. And indeed, they are a good reminder to those who look to the visible and tangible aspects of a church--the fancy building or top notch staff or great programs or perfect practice--as evidence of the church's health and strength. But I think these words about the church can be applied equally to the individual in his everyday life. If you are anything like me, you could benefit from reading this passage on a daily basis. For if you are anything like me, you love nothing better than to think you are in control. You spend endless hours calculating, planning, and trying to ensure things work out as you think they ought. Yet what so often happens is that the thing you have worked so hard to build crumbles before your eyes, and all those opinions and judgments and calculations come to naught. The comforting reminder here is that even when that happens, God is in charge. He is always building. When we think things are at their most hopeless, that is when He is hardest at work, drawing up the blueprint for His next work of art. And conversely, when we think we have produced something that is untouchable, we find that its shiny exterior belies the rot within. My prayer for myself this day, and for you, dear reader, is that even in the face of the constant and unrelenting setbacks of this life, we might take encouragement from the blessing of vocation: "Do what is given to you to do well and you have done enough." I am enough and you are enough because we are in Christ, and Christ is always enough. So take heart and rest, and let Him build.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Fish Fail

Back in July we purchased a 20-gallon aquarium for my mother. She lives with us, but although she is ambulatory and in generally good health, she does not get out of the house much and no longer reads or pursues any hobbies. My husband thought the fish tank might provide a pleasing alternative to television as well as turn into something that my youngest child would be able to share with his grandma. I remember our having an aquarium when I was growing up and don't recall its being that complicated. So when my husband suggested one for my mom's birthday I agreed. How hard could it be?

A lot harder, it turns out, than I ever imagined. I have lost track of the number of times I have carried water samples to the pet store. When we first set up the tank, we followed the instructions perfectly. We added all the recommended water treatments and let the filter work for a week before we took in the first water sample. That sample tested too high on the pH scale. We added "pH down," waited a few days, and tested again. Still too high. After several more trips on the pH merry-go-round, we finally achieved safe range and got the green light to buy our first fish. We took home three of the red wag platy specimen, a hardy, tropical fish marketed as an excellent choice for beginners like us. We were excited to finally have fish and thought we were on our way! The salesgirl cautioned us about overfeeding, a common newbie mistake. Instead of feeding the fish twice per day, as the fish food container suggested, we limited feedings to one pinch of fish food per day. Our platies (platys?) seemed to be happy.

Within a week, however, we could tell something was wrong. Our fish were not as active as they had been. We noticed what looked like tiny white specks on several of them. Back to the pet store we went. It turned out our fish had Ichthyopthirius multifiliis, a parasite more commonly known as "Ick." Not to worry--there is a treatment for that. We bought a bottle of "Super Ick Cure" and added as directed. But within a week all the fish were dead. We returned them to the pet store to collect on our two-week money-back guarantee and also took back another water sample. Upon dipping the test strip into our baggie of water, the salesgirl's mouth fell open: "That is the highest ammonia level I have ever seen." (For the record, a few years ago the city of Chicago became our water source, so if it's the tap water we are not alone in our toxicity.) We went back home armed with ammonia remover and did several rounds of treatment over the course of a week before retesting. The ammonia was still incredibly high. This time it was suggested that we replace most but not all the water. I purchased a tank vacuum and suctioned out about 2/3 of the water, cleaning the gravel at the same time. I replaced the water I had removed, starting from scratch with a new filter cartridge and the usual additives. I have been back to the pet store several more times, and while the pH level is fine, the ammonia level is still unacceptably high. The last time I went, the salesgirl (there are actually at least three, and they all recognize me now) looked at me with an expression of puzzled pity and suggested we totally empty the the tank and start from scratch.

We are three months into our fish odyssey and I am tired. I have run out of both money and motivation. I don't want to carry the plastic bag of shame to the pet store anymore only to have a pretty, young salesgirl sadly shake her head at me. I don't want to continue sneaking into my mother's room when she is not there in order to steal water samples from the tank without having to endure her knowing looks. "It will be easy," I told her all those months ago. "You don't have to do anything. I'll take care of it." Three months later her tank sits, pretty and gurgling, but devoid of life. Maybe I need to buy some of these. Do you think she would notice?

In other news, I am happy to report our puppy is still alive.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Undecided Voters

I am sorry if this post offends anyone. But I just have to say that I find this animal known as the "undecided voter" to be a bit confusing, particularly when one is talking about the two major party candidates at this point in the presidential election. Those two candidates are as different as they can be, in style as well as in substance, and they have offered two highly contrasting visions for this country's next four years. One of them has a four-year record that indicates exactly what his approach will be if he gets four more years to act. I know there are those who in general dismiss politicians, particularly major party ones, professing the belief that "they are all alike" and that none of them can be trusted. I don't subscribe to that view, but if I did, I would probably find myself not undecided but apathetic, deciding to eschew the voting booth, period, or like some of my friends, vote third-party. But if one has not given up completely on the two major parties, one cannot look at the two current candidates without seeing a clear demarcation between them. They are very, very different in their backgrounds, philosophies, and values. They have been promoting their agendas for years. There is a wealth of information readily available for anyone who wants to learn more about them. They have now participated in two debates. How can one still be undecided?

I heard an undecided voter on television yesterday morning explaining that he remains undecided because according to him both major candidates speak only in generalities, offering no specifics about what they want to do and how they would do it. I don't understand how anyone who has been paying the slightest attention could come to this conclusion. It strikes me that the aforementioned undecided voter is doing the very same thing he accuses the candidates of doing; speaking in cliches and generalities as he comes up with rationalizations for why he does not see the difference between these two. He based that assessment on the most recent debate. I would suggest to that voter that a debate is not the ideal format for a candidate to get into the nuts and bolts of how he is going to execute his broader vision. Not only does the time limit prevent such detail, but any candidate who started engaging in that kind of minutiae would be derided as boring and tedious, or more kindly, "wonky," the morning after the debate. These candidates really can't win for losing. We tell them we want them to tell the truth but the truth is we don't want to hear it. 

To that voter on the morning talk show who complained that he can't make up his mind yet because the candidates aren't offering enough specifics about what they would do, I commend several documents for his perusal. First, Mitt Romney's 5-point plan, available in a one-page summary or a more detailed eight-page version. It is available here

Second, a fuller fleshing out of Romney's economic plan, available here. It is 160 pages long and includes discussion of 59 specific points.

And anyone who is still unclear about what Obama would do might consider taking a few days off and reading the entirety of the Affordable Care Act, which, depending on which version you read, runs anywhere from 900-something pages to well over two thousand. That act has not yet been fully implemented. If Obama wins a second term it will be.

And dear, undecided voters, those are just for starters. The information you seek is out there if you really want to avail yourself of it. The question is, do you? Or do you just want to continue complaining while clinging to your ignorance?