Monday, March 28, 2011

A Challenge for You

One of the many things I enjoy about having two girls is how completely different and unique they are. On Thursday and Friday, I went to their parent/teacher conferences. I spent about 25 minutes with each teacher, reviewing both Lucy and Elaine's work and the progress they've made this year. Each teacher had a lot to say about each girl, and I've devised a little quiz below. Your job is to select the correct girl for each teacher comment.

2011 Parent/Teacher Conference Quiz

1. She is bright and creative.

a) Lucy
b) Elaine
c) Both

2. She loves to write.

a) Lucy
b) Elaine
c) Both

3. She is strong in language arts.

a) Lucy
b) Elaine
c) Both

4. She could use some extra work in math.

a) Lucy
b) Elaine
c) Both

5. She is extremely social aka talks too much.

a) Lucy
b) Elaine
c) Both

6. She is easily distracted by others (and talking) and consequently is the last to finish her work.

a) Lucy
b) Elaine
c) Both

7. She chats at inappropriate times.

a) Lucy
b) Elaine
c) Both

8. She is very kind and loving.

a) Lucy
b) Elaine
c) Both

9. She is a friend to everyone.

a) Lucy
b) Elaine
c) Both

10. She needs to focus better.

a) Lucy
b) Elaine
c) Both

11. She is ready for third grade.

a) Lucy
b) Elaine
c) Both

12. She is ready for kindergarten.

a) Lucy
b) Elaine
c) Both

Answer Key
1-10: C
11: A
12: B

Honestly, except for the last two items I could have just gone to one conference.

Also? I love my girls.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Read-a-Thon 2011

Yesterday when Lucy's teacher brought Lucy out to the car after school, they both hand-delivered me a packet. "It's the Read-a-Thon stuff, Mom!" said Lucy, and her teacher said, "Yes, and we're counting on Lucy, our class reader, to lead us to the victory pizza party!"

I flipped through the packet and saw that a pizza party was the least of our concerns. There were prize baskets, a weekend package to the Wisconsin Dells, a Nook (!!!), and other various gift certificates to be won. There were prizes for the best reader in a particular grade, readers who read over 500 pages, the best reader in the school, etc.

I turned the car toward the public library and began my sweet, motherly pep talk about just having fun and doing our best except it sounded a lot more like Coach Boone in Remember the Titans.

"Lucy, you are a great reader. If you focus, you have it in you to go all the way. You get your game face on, girl, and you beat the pants off everyone in the second grade!" She looked a little startled, and I stopped just short of saying if she fumbled the ball I'd break my foot off in her John Brown hindparts.

"You can WIN, Lucy!" chirped Elaine.

We discussed our strategy of reading at about her mid-level: absolutely no unfair advantage reading books that are too easy, but don't read at the very top of her level either because that would slow her down. So we headed into the library, and she loaded up on 10 books, with her ultimate goal being to read 1,000 pages in this 8-day Read-a-Thon.

I toned down the rhetoric slightly at the check-out. "You're gonna do a great job, Luce, and if you do your absolute best then everything else will fall into place. You just focus on getting Mama that e-reader, OK?"

She dived into her books last night, and today there is no school because of parent/teacher conferences. Here she is this morning:

Next Friday everyone goes to school dressed as a favorite character in a book, and the prizes are distributed. I will keep you posted.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Purim Birthday

This past Saturday we celebrated both Purim and a birthday, but they were completely unrelated to each other. In the morning we got up and listened to the story of Esther while we made hamantaschen together. Then we took some over to my dad's and had tea with him.

But before we left, a family member had a birthday that needed celebrating--his first, in fact. That would be Yo-Yo. I thought it would be cool if our Yo-Yo had the same birthday as the original Yo-Yo, but I googled his and it's in October.

We hugged our Yo-Yo and sang Happy Birthday (cha cha cha) to him and gave him a lovely bowl of tuna. He seemed to take his big day in stride. He is quite the sweetest cat ever. I call him "the golden retriever in a cat's body." He's gentle and lovable and playful but not annoying. He patiently lets the girls cart him all around. Joseph says, "There's something wrong with that cat. He doesn't seem to have a self-preservation instinct," which is quite possibly true since one day I caught him with his tail hanging over a lit candle, blissfully unaware that it was being singed.

His favorite activities are: eating, playing with what we call a Mardi Gras stick--a colorful cat toy courtesy Aunt Julie, sleeping, eating, watching birds out the window, eating, and trying to figure out that funny noise in the sink that happens while the dishwasher is running.

So, in honor of Yo-Yo, here are a few pictures. I'll have you know that I did not pose any of these; I just had the camera fortuitously nearby.

Here are Tuppence and Yo-Yo, also nicknamed Birdie-Boy and Sissy, also nicknamed Pick-n-Punch (because she picks on him, and he punches her). They are quite excited here that the patio door was open for the first time this year so they can watch the birds and squirrels not only in living color but also in surround sound. I nicknamed him Birdie-Boy because he loves to watch the birds but also because he doesn't ever meow; instead he makes a little chirping noise that sounds like a bird.

(Please ignore the bag of trash waiting to be taken out):

Here he is wedged between the glass and screen doors...

Clean laundry...

Under the kitchen sink behind the garbage can...

What a cutie...

Ready for tea...

And here he is enjoying his birthday tuna...

I could have taken a lot more--in the linen cupboard, inside the lazy Susan, on the windowsill, the hamper--He gets around.

Happy first birthday, Yo-Yo!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Only Bracket I Can Understand

Darren's into March Madness especially because he's a big Illinois fan, which means I just retreat to our room to watch PBS. Now THEY have the kind of bracket I can get behind--Masterpiece Madness.

The four main categories are: Sleuths, Cops, & Justice Seekers; Women of Inferior Birth, Lesser Marriages, and the Working Class; Men Who Toil, Serve, and Ne'er Do Well; and The Peerage, Aristocracy, and Well-to-Do.

Here are my picks so far:

Meeting of the Unknown Heiresses: Amy Dorrit of Little Dorrit (vs Esther Summerson of Bleak House)

Clash of the Dreamers and Schemers: Francis Urquardt of House of Cards (vs Will Ladislaw of Middlemarch)

Battle of the Blond Sidekicks (this was slightly confusing because you weren't voting for the sidekicks themselves but rather the lead detectives who have the blond sidekicks): Robbie Lewis Lewis (vs Kurt Wallender)

Struggle of the Sad Spouses: Mr. Rochester of Jane Eyre (vs Irene Heron of The Forsyte Saga)

So far it hasn't been too heated, but just wait until Lady Violet goes up against Emma Woodhouse or Jane Tennison goes up against Inspector Morse.

If you are a huge dork and want to play too, just "like" PBS on Facebook. Voting on each is open for 24 hours.

Friday, March 18, 2011

My $.02 On A Controversial Book

I'm interested in this huge controversy taking place via the Internet about Rob Bell's (a pastor from Michigan) new book, Love Wins. It's a book that apparently poses radical questions about Christianity and where people will spend eternity.

Let me say straight up, this isn't a book review because I haven't read the book and honestly don't plan to either. There are a lot of new mysteries and Tori Spelling memoirs out there that need my attention. They're not going to read themselves, people.

I'm mostly interested by how this thing has gone viral--from being posted about on a theological news blog (which got something like 250,000 hits over one weekend about it) to CNN to the NY Times to the Washington Post to MSNBC.

Because of my media class, I find it worthy of noting on that front. When I click over to the Huffington Post for the daily Charlie Sheen news (yet another media ethics question) and see something about Rob Bell's book, I take a look.

I'm also interested as a Christian by the quotes I've read from Love Wins and what people, both supporters and critics, are saying about it. The following are a few quotes:

Liberals have striven to make the gospel relevant to “the cultured despisers” of religion. For liberals, the sensibilities of the age trump biblical revelation.

What the first Christians did was look around them and put the Jesus story in language their listeners would understand.

Ordinary believers are waiting for a new comprehensible interpretation of Christianity, which relate to the lives they're living right now.

Let's start by flinging religion into the melting pot and recasting our beliefs in a bold, creative, dynamic style that's thoroughly attuned to our day and age.

[The author] has been led to ask some radical questions about his question can be too radical....

Here's what's fascinating to me--the first two quotes above are about or from Love Wins. The other three quotes are about or from a book written close to 50 years ago called Honest to God by John Robinson, Bishop of Woolwich. It caused every bit as big a controversy back in 1963 as this book is causing in 2011.

As usual, it seems like nothing is new. I love this quote from the debate back then surrounding Honest to God:

Where will the ravages end? The Devil and Hell went long ago; the position of the Blessed Virgin has been seriously undermined; God who until last week was invulnerable, is now distinctly on the defensive. What will ultimately be left except a belief in the need for bishops, if only to give evidence in trials about obscenity and to talk to pop singers on television?

Rob Bell's book is already #4 on the NY Times bestseller list this week, and I've seen some of my friends on facebook asking others, "Have you read this book? What do you think? Should I?"

What I'm really thankful for in all this is that my parents, teachers, and pastors have always encouraged me to not just accept what someone tells me about the Bible but to open it up and read it for myself.

I think just like the Honest to God debate melted away in the 1960s, the Love Wins controversy will melt away, too, though unfortunately, now just as then, it will take some people who don't read and understand for themselves away with it.

A minister who was asked where he stood on the Honest to God debate summed it up thusly:

"God is very much greater than a little book like Honest to God [or Love Wins]. Where do I stand? I stand beyond it. I think that beyond all the words lies the Word that dwarfs them all."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

You Know What Day It Is

We were awakened by loud music playing in the kitchen. Loud Irish music.

Oh yeah. He was here.

Trashing the place as usual.

Dividing up the loot. Hey, one of those is mine.

Ready to go tell everyone at school what happened.

My parents have been playing Irish music since I was a toddler. It's one of my earliest, fondest memories. That music is imprinted on me. We started with the Irish Rovers, added the Chieftains (of course), Eileen Ivers, newer artists such as Gaelic Storm, and many more. When Darren and I were in Ireland, a cab driver told us, "You in America. You're up at 5 to go to work and go to bed so early so you can get up and work again. Ireland's not like that. We have fun, go out. Not you Americans--no fun. No jiggy jiggy!"

So this is for you today and it's playing at our house, too. Get your jiggy-jiggy on. And I'll leave you with the sweet Irish blessing I learned as a pre-schooler: "May you be half an hour in heaven before the devil knows you're dead!"

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Hymn Playlist

I am on Spring Break this week, but I'm taking my free time to get ready for my summer class. It's a lot of work, fun work, but it's not leaving me much time to write anything else, so this is what I'm cobbling together.

I think Christianity Today put out a list of the top 27 or so hymns of all time last week, and now I see Travis Cottrell and others out there asking "What's Your Favorite Hymn?" I love hymns so, so much, and it's hard to give a comprehensive list--but here are some of my favorites. (A side note: I like all the musical renditions in these youtube versions I'm putting up, but the artwork/slideshows...maybe not so much. I guess just...close your eyes!)

Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah.
I couldn't find a rendition on youtube that I liked of this. I love Robin Mark's version on his "All For Jesus: Songs & Hymns" album. My favorite verse is the last: "When I tread the verge of Jordan, bid my anxious fears subside. Death of death and hell's destruction, land me safe on Canaan's side."

I Stand Amazed.
If I heard my mom standing at the kitchen sink, singing this one once, I heard her a thousand times. I love this, especially at around the 4:45 mark--and knowing that she is singing it face-to-face now. I can't wait!

Come Thou Fount.
This one has seen me through some rocky times.

He Leadeth Me.
Ditto on this one.

Be Thou My Vision.
Sung at our wedding and my brother's wedding, now known as "The Wedding Song" in our family.

Great is Thy Faithfulness.
This is the Moody Bible Institute hymn, so I pretty much heard this every single Sunday morning of my childhood on WMBI, then sang it all the time in college. But I never really heard it until it came on while I was rocking my first-born baby, the one I had waited 8 years to arrive.

Precious Lord.
I couldn't make a hymn list without at least one of the black gospel hymns that has shaped my existence. Here is really the first one written, plus another hymn I heard my mom sing a million times around the house.

Oh Happy Day.
Here is another gospel favorite. I sang this so many times at the little black church I went to in college. I know this is from a movie, but man. Great version. It really starts around 1:30.

How Firm a Foundation.
I couldn't find a rendition of this online that I liked, but I have sung this in the dark many times.

Blessed Assurance.
This is my story, this is my song.

Well, those are some of mine. I could probably make a list of 40 or more, but I'll stop there. What are your favorites?

Monday, March 07, 2011

I Missed Read-Across-America Day

I'm trying to blog once a week at least. I think I used to have a lot more time in my schedule for it, but it's still not something I'm wanting to give up. Normally I would have blogged about Read-Across-America Day (March 2), but I just couldn't fit it in that day.

If you don't know already, it's on Theodor Geisel aka Dr. Seuss's birthday. Now I will say upfront, of course I love Dr. Seuss. I love his droll artwork and nonsensical words and his subversive little plots about love, life, happiness, and nuclear war. But I will also say as a mom, I got so sleepy and borderline irritated, reading his books aloud. For crying in a bucket, Sam-I-am, just try the dumb green eggs and ham already so we can close this book and get to bed.

I used to sit and hold both babies on my lap and read to them. Then when Lucy got a little bigger, she sat next to me, and Elaine sat on my lap. Now there's not room for all three of us in the rocking chair, so every night they crawl in their twin beds while I sit and read a chapter (or two or three) from whichever book we're reading.

Since Elaine turned 5 on her birthday, I decided it was time for both girls to hear the book from which Elaine got her name. When I was a little girl, both my parents read aloud to us all the time, but my dad read two books in particular that really shaped my personality and thinking for the rest of my life. One, of course, was Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, from which Lucy got her name. The other is a much lesser known book, Rainbow Garden by Patricia St. John, and that's where we got Elaine's name.

It's about a young girl, Elaine, in London whose mother takes a job in Paris so Elaine is sent to North Wales to live with a minister, his wife, and their six children. Elaine is lonely and unhappy, but eventually she opens her heart first, to the Welsh countryside, to the Owen family, and eventually to Jesus Christ. Of course, being a children's book, there is plenty of adventure, a robbery, and an exciting conclusion, too.

My mom made story quilts of both Lucy and Elaine's books, and one of my good memories from last summer at the hospice was the last day or so my mom was alive, I brought both girls' quilts and spread them out in her room. Everyone who worked there came in at some point during the day to admire the beautiful quilts, and they touched my mom's unconscious face and held her hands and told her what an artist she was.
Both girls loved hearing Rainbow Garden, but if you decide to read it, make sure you get an unabridged version. Around the year 2000, Moody Press released new versions of St. John's books since many of them had gone out of print; however, they "updated" and abridged them to sad results. For example, one of the best scenes from Rainbow Garden is Elaine's first Easter morning in Wales. I don't have an exact quote from the new version, but it's basically, "They all went to church and stood in the Easter sunlight, singing and joyful." Whereas the original version goes like this (I remember this even from when I was a little kid): "The church was overflowing with people and full of Easter flowers. the communion Table was a mass of huge daffodil trumpets, white blossom, and tulips, and the choir and congregation rose to their feet and sang as only the Welsh can sing--Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!

We finished Rainbow Garden last week and have started on a completely different book.

I have my old, old, old copy that my mom read to my brother and me when we were little. We would crawl in her bed with her, and she would read to us while my dad was out teaching night classes. My dad worked all day and then taught at Wheaton College in the evenings to pay for our schooling. At the time, I thought he just did it because he enjoyed it.

Anyway, we would pile in with Mom, and she would read all manner of books, but this is one of the ones I remember and love the most. When this book was first published in England (in 1958), it was released under the title The Chimneys of Green Knowe. It's the second book in the Green Knowe series (I think there are at least five books). Despite the new cover art and this alternate title, the contents of the books have been kept the same.

This is the story of Tolly Oldknow, a boy in boarding school who spends his vacations with his great-grandmother at their family estate. He discovers as he stays there, that there are "others" inhabiting the house also--his ancestors. Other than that, I don't want to give away much of the story.

Last fall, in the UK, there was a movie called "From Time to Time" (it was just released on DVD) that is based on this book. The script was written by Julian Fellowes, who wrote Gosford Park and my winter addiction, Downton Abbey. It stars Alex Etel as Tolly, Maggie Smith as his great-grandmother Oldknow, and Hugh Bonneville as Captain Oldknow (one of the "others").

We haven't seen the movie yet because we want to finish the book first, but I've watched a couple of clips. I know it will be somewhat different, so I'm going to try and judge the book and film as separate entities. (Already, Alex Etel is much older than Tolly in the book.)

Here's a preview:

So, that's our Read-Across-America. I highly recommend both these books and am always looking for more good new things to read--so give me your ideas!