". . . 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)

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Little Home of Horrors

Today at the conclusion of our morning devotion Evan got up to leave the table. As he passed by his father's chair, my husband reached out his arms for his younger son. Evan, anticipating some paternal tickling (or other such torment), tried to avoid his father's grasp, but fathers' grasps being what they are, was unsuccessful. After a few seconds of wrangling Evan submitted and my husband said, "Evan, I just want to hug you. You don't try to get away from Mommy--why do you try to get away from me?" To which Evan replied, "Oh. I thought you were going to do a more horrifying application."

Hugs of the non-horrifying variety ensued.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Ring Tales

No, this is not a post about The Hobbit.

I recently read this blog post by a friend whose ring fell down her drain and was damaged in the disposal. I feel so terrible for her!

It reminded me of a story with a happier ending, although the happy ending was long in coming. Here's a news item about a Swedish woman who lost her wedding ring 16 years ago but recently found the ring encircling a carrot that she picked from her garden!

Here's my ring story. About five years ago I quit wearing my wedding set because I was told the prongs were so worn that I was in danger of losing a diamond. My set has seven diamonds totaling half a carat. The estimate on retipping all those diamonds was frightening--to do so would have cost way more than my husband originally paid for the ring. So I retired my wedding set and started wearing a plain gold band that my mother-in-law had given me. My husband and I decided that some day we would get a new setting for my wedding ring but that it would have to wait a while.

This past fall while raking and bagging leaves I suddenly realized that the gold band I had been wearing on my ring finger was no longer on my finger. Cold weather = skinnier fingers = slippery rings. I assume the band fell off my finger into a pile or bag of leaves. There was no finding it.

My husband and I had already been talking about an anniversary ring--we celebrate 25 years in March! So guess what that dear man did? In December he took me shopping for an early anniversary gift. It is similar to my wedding ring but a little bigger (1 carat instead of 1/2 carat). It is a traditional 3-stone ring with one central diamond, two slightly smaller ones on each side, and eight diamond chips set into the band, four on each side.

Yes, I'm a happy girl! I still have my original wedding set, and I hope some day one or more of the diamonds will find another home--maybe in a new setting for my daughter or a future daughter-in-law. For now it is safe in my jewelry box and the ring above is on my finger! I have decided, after reading my friend Glenda's post, that I may need to have it sized down because it's a little loose (but I am waiting to see how it fits in the summer). I have also developed the habit of taking it off at night (8 hours per night of rubbing on the sheets is VERY hard on the prongs and causes them to wear much more quickly than they otherwise would) and of not wearing it when I am going to do manual labor (although I do wash dishes with it on). The trick is putting it in a safe place when taking it off. The kitchen counter does not qualify as safe! My safe spot is in or on top of my jewelry box.

I am enjoying my beautiful new ring and unlike Bilbo Baggins am very glad it doesn't make me invisible, since I love looking at it on my hand!

Who Needs Textbooks?

Yesterday at lunch Evan suddenly piped up:

"Mommy, Kitty Galore is the anty-gonist in Cats and Dogs 2."

We scratched our heads a little at that one--"Anty-Gonist? What's an anty-gonist?"--and then realized he was trying to say "antagonist." But even then we continued to scratch our heads. Where'd my 8-year-old learn about antagonists?

"Evan, you are right. Kitty Galore is definitely the antagonist. But where did you learn about antagonists?"

"From reading about the Zelda characters."

Oh. From there we had an approximately 15-minute discussion about the protagonists and antagonists in various stories Evan knows. My trusty literary sidekick (a.k.a. my daughter Caitlin) assisted greatly in defining and applying terms, and Evan learned something that I don't think most children learn formally until middle school.

Who knew those Zelda strategy guides would be so educational?

P.S. I am not knocking textbooks. We use some textbooks, and they can be a great tool. But I love it when learning happens in this way, naturally, as an outgrowth of the child's life and interests. It is one of the very best things about homeschooling.

Monday, January 23, 2012


A few days ago I saw this on Facebook and it made me laugh, so I reposted it.

I have seen a few other people posting and/or "liking" it, but I have also found myself wondering if it is insensitive, making fun of something that ought not be made fun of. I was once pilloried for using the word "retarded." I was not trying to insult; I actually used the word to mean "delayed" in reference to my own understanding of a concept. But I have learned my lesson and I now try to avoid that word at all costs because I am afraid I will use it incorrectly and again offend someone.

I see the "attention deficit" label thrown around a lot these days. Usually people are referring to their own difficulty focusing on tasks and seeing things through. Some of my friends jokingly talk about their "mommy-induced ADD" and once I even wrote a blog post about the phenomenon. My husband has a friend who self-deprecatingly calls himself "ADD boy" because of his difficulty sticking with the task at hand.

But Attention Deficit Disorder is a real, clinical problem with which real people contend, is it not? If that is the case, why is it okay for people to joke about it? Or is it not? Should we avoid making light of ADD (or Asperger Syndrome or depression or menopause or any number of challenges that have a physical basis) in the same way that we avoid using the word "retarded" for fear of hurting those who are, in a very real way, living with that very condition? And if we don't need to do so, why don't we? What's the difference?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

More on Reading

I promised a follow-up to my previous post on reading, so for what it's worth, here it is.

I have noticed in the last few weeks a lot of online chatter on the topic of reading. Here's one example. My friends are talking about reading, too. Someone recently invited me to join Goodreads. Perhaps it's just that phenomenon whereby when something is on your mind you are more likely to notice when others also pay attention to it. Or maybe it's because it's January and everyone's making New Year's resolutions, some of which include reading plans and lists for the coming year.

For the record, I am not going to make a "to be read" list. I am not writing any New Year's resolutions. I have enough discouragement in my life; I don't need to plant the seeds for more. And besides, I think my reading and exercise awakenings have less to do with the advent of a new calendar year than with things like my oldest leaving home and back and foot pain continuing to vex. Death's carriage is approaching and the flies are buzzing and the rosebuds calling and at the moment I am listening. The current picture on my wall calendar is coincidental.

So. To read a book--perchance to finish it!--that is the aim. My friend Susan, in her comment on my previous post, empathized with my problem but said that her primary impediment to reading is finding the blocks of time to make it happen. My problem is a bit more primitive: the question is not "May I read?" but rather, "Can I?" Sure, first I need to carve out the time, but I can do that if only I wake up early enough. The real trick is maintaining my concentration and focus long enough to complete a chapter.

Yesterday and today after I woke up and poured my coffee I didn't immediately head for my computer to check email, Facebook and headlines. Instead I opened The Hobbit, which I recently began reading along with my daughter. We started last week and she is of course already ahead of me but I am hopeful that I will be able to keep from falling too far behind. I have never read the whole book. Somehow I got through school without its ever having been assigned, and it is not the type of book I tend to select of my own accord (I am not a huge fan of fantasy). But having been repeatedly urged by my son to read it, I finally got around to trying a few years go. The problem was that by then my reading drought had already begun, so after slogging through for a few chapters I gave up, somewhere around the spiders. I know The Hobbit is a children's book, but to me at the time it seemed laborious and plodding. This second attempt is going much better, buoyed by my current reading emphasis as well as my reading partner. I am getting the humor and eloquence I missed before, and I think my reading is being aided by our use of an edition of the book that is larger, better laid out, and more aesthetically pleasing than the edition I previously tried. Instead of a pocket paperback with teeny weeny print, we are reading this version with Tolkien's original drawings. It seems odd that the physical form of the book could make such a difference, but I think it does.

I have decided that for now I will not join Goodreads. I think any attempt to quantify my reading would backfire at this point. The point right now is to read, not to make lists of what I have read and haven't read and not to discuss with my friends or read their book reviews. Perhaps that will come later. But I need to show some reading success before I go on to anything else. I think Goodreads would be a distraction, and I already have enough of those. Heck, my own brain is a distraction.

On to Chapter 5. Wish me luck, my preciousssss.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Lost Art (For Me) of Reading

I used to read. I suppose I still do. But for years now my reading has been geared primarily towards the utilitarian and practical: I read for the purpose of receiving and transmitting information, not to muse, ponder, and consider. When I was a little girl I could spend the entire day reading; now I find it hard to sit still with a book for 15 minutes. What gives? One of my courses of study in college was literature. I loved it so much that I put up with several years of postmodern, deconstructionist gobbledygook in order to earn my Master's. I spent about 15 years teaching English at the high school and college level. And now it takes me a year to get through one book. What happened to my reading self?

The answer is complicated. Life happened. Adulthood, responsibility, motherhood, middle age--they have all taken their toll, as has the information age. I do think there is something to the theory that electronic communication has made human beings less able to concentrate for any length of time. We are truly addicted to our machines and the constant barrage of little informational spit wads they shoot our way, and we are so consumed with cleaning up those spit wads off the floor that we can't stop long enough to pick up something more weighty.

I say "we." But I know not everyone has this problem. I have friends that actually still do read, and I envy them. I want to be like them. I want to read again and I am trying to figure out how to make it happen.

Perhaps this is a rationalization, but I think my reading difficulty arises in part from my current season of life. It is known sociologically as the "sandwich" phase. I do think that all other things being equal, middle age is probably the most difficult and challenging period of life. It is the time during which human beings have the greatest number of demands being made on them and the greatest number of people depending on them, all while they are dealing with the shocking realization that all that stuff they always heard about the decay of the body really is true.

So not only do I find reading mentally difficult, but I also find it very hard these days to justify sitting down and reading a book for an hour. There are so many other more productive things I could be accomplishing! And yet I easily justify taking a five minute break to check my email or look at Facebook or read a blog post. Because it's just five minutes, you see. But I'm fooling myself, because those five minutes so easily turn in to ten or fifteen or thirty, and certainly when you string all those five-minute diversions together they easily add up to an hour or more per day.

I think I also sometimes revert to electronic reading because I am so used to being interrupted that I am afraid to commit myself to something that is going to require more than five minutes for it to be meaningful. I can spend five minutes in my email or on Facebook or even a blog and come away feeling like I really did read something (however worthless), whereas to really get something out of a book I need a half hour or more of quiet with it. So rather than be thwarted, I choose not to try.

But here at the age of 47 I am starting to ask myself, with regard to many things from exercise to reading to fun, "If not now, when?" My weak physical condition has convicted me of the need to recommit to an exercise program (with my husband's help I am working on that), and now I am ready to acknowledge that my weakened brain is in dire need of some conditioning. And what better way to exercise it than to reintroduce the best and most enjoyable form of mental calisthenics I know: reading. The trick is making it happen. I have decided that like most things to which I want to give priority in my life, I need to schedule a time for it, preferably in the morning (I wish I could live my whole life in the morning). My plan is to set aside a half hour that will be only for unplugged reading of in-depth material. Food packaging, medication bottles, and mail don't count, nor do magazine surfing or reading aloud to Evan. I'm talking big, thick, book reading--you know, those things with, what are they called? Oh yeah . . . chapters.

This post has gone on too long already, so I will report back later with a little more about my efforts (they have already started) and how they are going. I am interested, though, to hear from anyone who has had a similar experience to mine. If you are someone who used to read but who now doesn't, on what do you blame the change? And if you have managed to rediscover your love for reading, how did you do it?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Letting Go

Our family has experienced some pretty big losses in the last three years. It actually seems like it's been longer than that, but it hasn't been quite three years since the dominoes started to fall: first my father-in-law, then my mother-in-law, then a dear family friend/former pastor, then another friend who was also preschool teacher to two of my children. But the losses have been not only the kind that occur when beloved people die; we have also repeatedly experienced the loss of broken relationships. My mother-in-law, whose mental illness we didn't fully understand until after she was gone, left a particularly painful legacy for two of her children (my husband and his sister) in her decision to disinherit them. They were both dutiful children and there was no basis for her action. It doesn't make the rejection any less painful to acknowledge that she was not in her right mind. My husband and I have also both experienced the end of several close friendships this year. And I am realizing that in many ways I have effectively lost my mother and I have been grieving that for a while. Although she is still alive, she has become a person that relates to me no longer as my mother but instead as a child, someone that I must take care of. No, I take that back. My children look at me through eyes of love. My mother doesn't anymore. At this point I am her caretaker and nurse and not much else.

Particularly when one is dealing with personal rejection or emotional hurt, the advice that is often given is to "let it go." It's good advice. It does no good to dwell on the things that cause one pain or to continue returning to the occasion of hurt. But I have found that it is advice that I am unable to follow. I cannot by force of will let pain and grief go. Yes, sometimes I forget for a little while. But invariably I stumble upon a reminder of the past and the reality of pain and loss returns.

And yet . . . .

While I have realized that I am incapable of letting go of deep hurts, it turns out that somehow, in time, they start to let go of me. Little by little they loosen their hold, and like Jack Dawson to Rose in The Titanic, they bid me go, swim toward the light, and keep on living. And if the ocean in which I am swimming is dotted with life raft after life raft of Word and Sacrament such that I see forgiveness and reconciliation everywhere I turn, then I know without a doubt that I am going to succeed in reaching that light. In fact, it turns out that light has already sought out and found me, and rescue is at hand.

'Bye, Jack. Rest in peace.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Conservatives, Myself Included, Need to Get a Clue

For months now in the Republican presidential race we have watched an "anti-Romney" break away from the pack only to get shot down. The firing squad is a marriage of convenience between the liberal media and the Republican establishment. Interestingly enough, they both want the same thing: a moderate as the GOP nominee. As best I can tell, the liberal media want a moderate because they think that's whom Obama can more easily beat, whereas the Republican establishment wants a moderate because they are moderate themselves and they want to remain in power. Meanwhile, together they are playing conservatives like a fiddle, and conservatives are letting themselves get played. To have any hope of mounting a conservative alternative to Romney, we have got to stop it. We have got to quit nit-picking the conservative candidates to death ourselves and start defending them against all the attacks. There is NO PERFECT CANDIDATE. There is no candidate that is free of "baggage." There is no candidate that is going to agree with us 100% all the way up and down the list of issues. Even if we find such a candidate, we may discover that he or she has different ideas from our own on how to achieve the desired end. We need to get comfortable with some imperfections and impurities and start celebrating the strengths of each of these excellent candidates instead of joining in the flash mob of detractors that only want to tear them down so as to ensure Romney's nomination.

If Romney does get the nomination, I will support him. He is capable. He is not a socialist. He will not go around the world apologizing for the United States. But notwithstanding the common wisdom, I do not think he is the most electable. I think he has simply not been vetted. If he does get the nomination, the Obama forces will get busy attacking him with class and racial warfare like you haven't seen in a long time. And they will no longer keep silent about his Mormonism.

I am saying this to myself as much as to anyone. Rick Perry was portrayed as dumb, Bachmann as a gaffe machine, Newt Gingrich as unstable, and now Santorum is about to be painted as a bigot and a "big government conservative." Let's quit falling for whatever caricatures the talking heads decide to put out there, and let's come together for a change and work to build up and support and champion our conservative presidential contenders. Any one of them is far preferable to the current President. Let's quit falling for whatever narrative the powers that be want to feed us and start writing our own narrative, one in which a conservative wins the Republican nomination and proceeds to clean Obama's clock.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Video Round-Up

I have previously posted these on Facebook, but not all of you are my Facebook friends. And some of you truly odd ducks aren't even on Facebook at all. ;-) So here is a smattering of recent video highlights. Clicking on any one of these will take you to my Vimeo page where you can see over 80 more (some more worth your time than others, to be sure).

First, the singing of the Psalm from our New Year's Eve service last night. My husband is the pianist and songleader. I love this responsive type of Psalm singing and we do a lot of it at my church. Sometimes we chant the Psalm to tones from our hymnal; sometimes we do a combination of chant and sung refrain; sometimes we sing something through-composed (such as you see below). I found a comment about this video from a Facebook friend to be very interesting. He said, "I don't think I've ever heard Cantor sing!" I was amazed by that because it seems to me my husband is always singing. But then I realized that as much as I love it when he leads responsive singing from the piano, it is not something he does much. Most of his work in worship is not singing himself but enabling others to sing. Notice that when it is the congregation's turn to sing, he stops (except for the final refrain). That is what cantors (or kantors) do: help the assembly to find their voice and sing the Lord's song. Very different from so much of contemporary worship today, in which songleaders sing AT and FOR people, resulting in the people not singing, but listening.

One note on this video: I was positioned such that the sound quality is not reflective of the actual event. My recording is heavy on the piano, but the mix in the service was much more balanced.


"All the Ends of the Earth" (Psalm 98) from Cheryl on Vimeo.

The second video is from our Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols. A very special musical moment with some of our most talented musicians. The woman at far left has sung professionally for a number of years. The second female singer has a doctoral degree in voice, teaches at the college level, and sings lyric opera. The third singer, still in high school, is one of her students. And the fourth . . . well, there's that Cantor again, a piano major holding his own very well amidst some truly amazing pipes!

"In Dulci Jubilo" from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Finally, another video from Christmas Eve, this one from our family service. Our children's choir for Christmas Eve was small in number but big in sound. Evan, my youngest, is at the far right end of the front row, often not visible behind his dad. This is a difficult piece for young singers due to the unusual intervals they are required to learn as well as the almost-but-not-quite-the-same repetitions of several musical motifs. I'm playing the piano. It is a beautiful, pianistic accompaniment that is a pleasure to play. My only problem with this piece is that I rarely get through it without crying, which can cause problems when one is trying to read the music on the printed page.

"On Christmas Morn" - David Brunner from Cheryl on Vimeo.

I hope you enjoy the music. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!