". . . 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, July 22, 2014

Blessed

Sometimes I still can't believe everything that has happened. Two years ago around this time we were coming off a period of terrible, painful upheaval during which my husband had been fired and we had spent several months in limbo, without the certainty of an income going forward and without the support of our church home of 13 years. Thanks be to God that our time of uncertainty was short-lived, as He did lead my husband to a new job and us to a new church. And yet one year ago we found ourselves facing another huge change, as Phillip accepted a position in Oklahoma and we had to say goodbye again, this time to a church family we had barely had time to get to know (but already loved). As my husband left Illinois to begin his new job, I stayed behind to sell the house. Our separation lasted almost six months, and during that time my mom, who lives with us, and who had broken her hip on Christmas Day 2012, struggled mightily with post-operative pain and rehab and, eventually, another hip surgery.

This is not supposed to be a "poor me" post. On the contrary. As I look back at all we have been through and where we are now, I am reminded yet again of the Lord's infinite and gracious mercy. Sometimes when my husband and I wake up in the morning and head out to enjoy coffee on our patio, we just look at each other in disbelief. It has been a long time since we have felt this relaxed and at peace. So tonight, on the eve of my fiftieth birthday, I ask your indulgence as I pause to take stock. How am I blessed? Let me count the ways.  

1) I made it to 50! (Well, almost.) And barring some very minor physical ailments, I am in good health (and could feel even better if I would work at it a little harder).

2) I have been married to my first and only boyfriend for over 27 years. He doesn't get enough credit for putting up with me. It isn't easy. (You people only see what I decide to share after much editing.)

3) I have three amazing children who only get more amazing every day. They are all in good health, and they all know their Savior. Two of them are in college on scholarship, and the third is going to be around for me to hassle at least eight more years. And I get to homeschool him! 

4) My husband has a job. He enjoys his work and the people he works with. I get to piddle around making a few bucks here and there doing things I like to do. We have everything we need, and many of the things we want. 

5) My mom has bounced back incredibly this year from a long period of injuries and depression. She is enjoying her days in a way she hasn't in a very long time.

6) We live in Oklahoma! It is prettier than I could have ever imagined, and yes, the mornings are like something out of a movie

7) We belong to a great, confessional Lutheran church with a dedicated, caring staff, faithful elders, and kind and loving members. 

8) Evan will receive his First Communion this year!  

9) We have a great house that we are renting. (We do hope to buy again, but in the meantime, it sure is nice to not be responsible. If something goes wrong, we just dial up the landlord.) 

10) Life has slowed down to the extent that we are finding time to enjoy it. As I look back over the last 15 years, it seems that so much of it was spent constantly on the go, trying to make ends meet, trying to please others, trying to prove something (not sure what), just trying, trying, trying. I don't mean that there weren't good days. There were--many of them. But they were exhausting. It is blessed relief to find ourselves in a place where there is time to breathe, time to sit, time to think, time to read, time to walk, time to watch movies and cook and play games. For so long there was no time for anything but to go on to the next thing. Now it's actually possible to make the Next Thing wait.

During some of our darkest days, a wise friend and teacher told us, "Expect blessing." When everything seems to be going wrong, it is hard to trust those words. Yet we know that in all things, even in our sufferings, God blesses, and so we cling to His promises, and wait, and hope. I don't want to make the mistake of looking at the ease of these days as some sort of reward for having come through a difficult period. We are poor, miserable sinners who have earned nothing and deserve nothing. And I know there will be hard times again. But I sure am glad for this stretch, however long it lasts, and for our Lord's grace, today and always. 

"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

New York

Last week my daughter and I made our long-awaited trip to New York City! She did a great write-up of our goings and doings, and I only have a few things to add.

First, thank you to my husband, whose idea it was for us to take this trip. Thanks also go to him for valuing travel so much that he has acquired several credit cards that earn travel rewards. Our airfare for this trip was paid for entirely by points, as were two of our three hotel nights. All we had to pay for was food and activities. By far the largest expense was attending two Broadway shows. Walking in Central Park was free. The boat ride was not costly, especially since I got a discount for purchasing tickets online in advance. We only spent a couple of hours in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, so I did not pay the "recommended" $25 per person admission price but opted for $10 instead. We got breakfast free in the hotel each day, and a friend treated us to lunch on Wednesday. It was such a big, late lunch that we didn't need supper Wednesday night, settling instead for dessert before the show. I think we only spent a little over $100 on food for both of us.

Second, let's hear it for your humble blogger! My closer friends know that I am an extremely nervous flyer. I date my nervousness to a very bumpy trip taken when I was quite pregnant with my first child. I am not sure what has changed, but in the last year I have gotten better. I don't think I grabbed my daughter's arm in panic once. We did have very nice, smooth flights. And my dear husband made sure we had direct flights (even though he had to drive us two hours to Arkansas to get them).

I am also proud of myself for successfully leading my daughter around New York City using public transportation! On the night we arrived, I spent a good half hour on the phone with my husband, who had charted out for us the subways and buses we needed to take to do what we wanted to do. That helped immensely. But I guess somewhere deep down inside I do have a little directional intuition (this will surprise my husband). We didn't make a single subway or bus mistake! There was once or twice early on that we were waiting for a subway but I somehow sensed it wasn't the right one and we backtracked and changed course. (The challenge when you're unfamiliar with the city is not finding the right train but making sure that once you have found it you head the right direction!)

We never felt unsafe. We encountered some odd characters, to be sure. Several times on the subway people came walking down the aisle, sharing their sob story and asking for money. That was uncomfortable. And there were some nearly naked people walking around Times Square. I was glad Evan wasn't there--he would have been horrified.

Caitlin asked me what my favorite parts of the trip were. It is hard to say, but seeing Pippin is probably at the top. It was stunning in every way, the consummate Broadway experience both musically and visually. The first glimpse of Times Square in the dark was magical. As Caitlin says, it was so bright it could have been daytime. By Thursday afternoon, when we got to the museum, we were already so exhausted that I don't think I enjoyed that as much as I expected. My feet were tired and hurting. We were overwhelmed by the sheer size of the place. After a couple of hours we gave up and went and lay on the grass together in Central Park. I enjoyed that as much as anything.



If money and time were no object, I would choose to spend at least a week and follow up each day of activity with a day of rest. I wish we could have done more. I would have liked to have taken a trip to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty instead of just seeing them from the boat on our sightseeing tour. I would have considered walking in the area of the Twin Towers, if not actually touring the 9/11 Memorial (which has had mixed reviews). I would have liked to see Battery Park. The list could go on.

More than anything, I am thankful for the time spent with my daughter, who will be leaving for college in about four short weeks. Having this time with her, making memories that we will always share, was the best part of all.  

Monday, July 14, 2014

Trying to Nurture a Reader

My first and second born children were bookworms from the get-go. I never had to encourage them to read; they just did it. Number three is different. He was an early reader like his siblings, and he reads well and fluently, but he doesn't love it like they did. My daughter thinks he might simply be wired differently; I do think that is true but can't help also wondering if his different reading habits are at least partly attributable to the effect his birth order has had on my parenting and homeschooling of him. (Sigh--I'm older and tireder than I was with the first two.)

I suppose at this point cause is of little consequence. He is the reader he is, which means that for the last few years I have been trying to find books that will hook him to the point that he reads of his own volition, not because it is assigned (he will obediently read when I make him). I long to see him get lost in a book the way I used to, such that the outside world fades from view and the book completely captures his imagination for an afternoon, day, or week. Over the years there are a few things that have done that for him; I have listed below the ones I can think of right now.

Calvin & HobbesGarfieldPeanuts and vintage Archie comics
Newspaper funnies
Video game strategy guides
Magic School Bus series
Wayside School series
Encyclopedia Brown mysteries
Rush Revere series

This past week I took a chance and ordered a used set of the first five Hardy Boys books--the classic, not updated, ones. He is currently enjoying the first one, but it remains to be seen whether he will choose to read another. Some other series that have already been tried and rejected are Magic Tree House, Redwall, and Percy Jackson (we tried Percy Jackson because for a while he was enjoying reading D'aulaires' Book of Greek Myths, and he enjoyed it at first, but I think it was ultimately too intense for my HSC*). He does like the Narnia books, but maybe because he has seen the movies (?) he tends to read them in bits and pieces, skipping around, instead of sitting down and reading from cover to cover. So we just started The Magician's Nephew as a readaloud in the hope that maybe it will spark him to continue through the series in order.

Reflecting on all of this, I guess we are not doing so bad. I know there are parents who would be glad to see their children reading as much as my 10-year-old. I am just used to kids who read more! Perhaps I should not compare him to his siblings. But before he is beyond my influence I hope I can help him more fully experience the joy of reading. If you can comment with either commiseration or advice, please do!

*Highly sensitive child

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Public Service Announcement for My Fellow Bloggers

If your blog is hosted by Blogger, be sure to check your spam file every now and then. I just did so for the first time in a while (thanks to a reminder from Blogger) and found three comments, going back six months, that weren't spam. I don't know why Blogger marked them as such. They were legitimate comments from people who have either commented before or whom I could easily identify. So don't forget to check every now and then to make sure you aren't missing something scintillating from someone like me! :-)

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Children's Lesson

Today during the Children's Lesson, our DCE (Director of Christian Education) brought in a loaded backpack and had one of the children strap it on. He was trying to demonstrate the concept of being weighed down with a heavy burden, as described by Jesus in Matthew 11:25-30. He asked the children, "What could help lighten a heavy load like this?" One young lady who is undoubtedly at the top her class wasted no time getting right to the crux of the matter:

"JESUS!"

I guess at that point he could have called it a morning and sent them all back to their seats, but he pressed on. As he continued talking to the children about various burdens they might have in their lives, another girl volunteered that the backpack she carries to school weighs ten pounds. Our DCE asked sympathetically, "Do you ever get help with that?"

"No," she replied. "I just live with it." (She has already clearly mastered the doctrine of vocation.)

Finally, as our DCE was trying to wrap up the lesson, he mentioned worries about school as an example of something with which the children might be burdened. One young man raised his hand and matter-of-factly announced, "I don't worry about school. I'm home schooled."

Yep, that last one was mine.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Aging Brain

Several weeks ago I dug all our old photo albums out of the garage so I could scan photos for Caitlin's graduation slideshow (featured in the previous post). At some point I realized I was missing the album covering the period of Caitlin's life from around age 1 to age 2. I searched the garage and went through every box I thought it might be in and finally gave up and did the slideshow without it. (I did already have a few scans from that time).

Well, guess what? This morning I found the errant photo album under my bed. Then I remembered: I had been looking at it one day when Caitlin came to my room, and I quickly hid it and then promptly forgot I had done so. Sheesh. Another reminder that yes, there is such a thing as the decay of the flesh. But at least I am no longer missing a photo album!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Graduation Day - Outtake Edition

From the "Not Ready for Prime Time" photo department . . . .

Evan demonstrating for the camera the extent of his malaise. 


Hymnals to the people! 



No, I don't have a mouth full of cake. Why do you ask?


Clearly she learned her cake-eating skills from the best. 


 Two out of three ain't bad.


Like I said, two out of three ain't bad. (Please note who looks great in both. :-D)


There's that charming 10-year-old again. (He really was under the weather.)

Graduation Day

Our daughter graduated from high school yesterday. One of the many cool things about homeschooling is the ability to design and host your child's graduation ceremony! We did not have a printed program, but here is an outline, with several videos, of what we did (ceremony was held in our church's small chapel):

Welcome

Two Piano Selections from the Graduate
I. Impromptu and Variations in B-flat major, Op. 142, No. 3, Franz Schubert
II. Fantasia I in D-minor, W. A. Mozart


Fantasia I in D-minor, W. A. Mozart from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Hymn - "O Rejoice, Ye Christians, Loudly" - LSB 897

Prayer

Slideshow - "The Story of Caitlin"


The Story of Caitlin from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Presentation of Diploma

Hymn - "How Clear is Our Vocation, Lord" - LSB 853

Remarks and Special Presentations

Prayer and Blessing of Graduate

Hymn - "How Firm a Foundation" - LSB 728

 
"How Firm a Foundation" from Cheryl on Vimeo.


And now, some pictures from the day!

Piano Recital (She played beautifully.)





Look at that hand position!









Before the diploma presentation Phillip outlined Caitlin's accomplishments, shared some of his own memories of being her dad, and talked about what he personally appreciates about his daughter. Then together we presented her high school diploma.






Caitlin's aunt told some funny stories about little Caitlin, and Trevor reminisced about growing up with Caitlin, shared what he admires about his sister, and gave advice for the future. 



I talked about Caitlin's love for stories and the importance of stories in our home school and took the opportunity to read one more story to her. It was one she especially liked from her childhood: "Grover and the Everything in the Whole Wide World Museum." In the story Grover visits the museum in the title only to find that it doesn't have everything in the whole wide world. He wonders where everything else is and in the end finds a set of doors marked "Everything Else." Opening the doors he finds himself outside the museum, looking at the world spread out before him. I told Caitlin that she reminds me of Grover not only because of Grover's kindness, enthusiasm and curiosity (which sometimes leads him to forget to watch where he's going and to, um, stumble a bit) but also because being a student in the Philipp Nicolai Lutheran Academy can sometimes feel like you're growing up in a museum. We have tried as Caitlin's parents to share everything in our little museum, but there is more to be seen and learned than we can provide, and it's time for Caitlin to take full responsibility for seeking and finding it. God bless you, my dear daughter, as you head out to find your "Everything Else."






After I read to Caitlin one more time, her dad sang to her one more time. He started out with a song he wrote for her when she was still a baby--"Sweet Little Caiti-Girl"--and segued into a song by James Taylor that we have found to contain sound vocational advice: "The Secret of Life."
"The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time . . . . Try not to try too hard . . . . It's just a lovely ride." 

Finally, our Pastor called Caitlin to the rail and prayed over and blessed her. Thank you so much for your words, Pastor Wilke.




Then it was time to party!

The Cake
(Colors were purple and white for TRUMAN STATE.)









On the right of the table we placed copies of one of Caitlin's stories, available for guests to take (and get autographed by the author). 




Caitlin and her aunt


Brothers!


How I'm going to miss this girl.


We have arrived at the time in life where it is a blessed event to have everyone together for a photo. (Evan was unfortunately not feeling well this day, which is why he wasn't singing in the video--poor guy seems to have picked up a sore throat at camp.)


Brother and sister



After the party we went home for gift opening. 










High-fiving: we did good with our gift selection!

One of the dilemmas of a day like this is how much energy to spend on taking pictures and video so as to have a record for the future. Many thanks to my sister-in-law for taking most of these pictures. I took a little video of the ceremony, but opted to focus on the live proceedings rather than trying to videotape all of it. I am already slightly regretting that decision and wishing I had asked someone to hold the Kodak for me, but it is a pocket camera and can be inconvenient to hold for a long time. So I will just have to cherish the memories and feelings that are stowed in my heart. I find myself at a loss for more words right now except to say that I can't quite believe we are the parents of two high school graduates. I am very glad we have a few years before we will add a third. To my dear, one-and-only daughter: I hope this day in some small way communicated to you what a gift you are to our family and how much we love and cherish you. Now that this big event is in our rear view, we can start planning for the next: NEW YORK CITY!