Monday, April 26, 2004

Monday again already???

The highlight of my weekend? Friday night, Teri and I took our daughters, Ashley and Elizabeth, to the Cheesecake Factory at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg.

I had only had dessert at the Cheesecake Factory (the one on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago) until Friday night before last, when we ate at the one at Woodfield on the way to our Chicago weekend. I don't know why I didn't expect the food to be so good--I guess I thought food would be just kind of an afterthought at a place renowned for cheesecake--but was I wrong. The food is OUTSTANDING. So Teri and I had determined that Friday would be a girls-night-out. We had a wonderful time and the food was delicious...although we ended up having minimal time for shopping. Believe me, you cannot even begin to scratch the surface of Woodfield Mall in just a couple of hours! The place is gargantuan.

Oh, by the way...the cheesecake is nothing short of ecstacy.

Taking a short break from blogging this week...

I head out tomorrow for Nashville, as I'm hosting a bus tour to the Dove Awards. I've never hosted a tour before, so I'm a little nervous, but it should be fun. Anyway, I won't be blogging again until (Lord willing) a week from today. So try not to miss me too much! :)

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Harry Potter's Christian Cousin?

In the Life section of today's USA Today, word of a book that's being dubbed "the Christian Harry Potter." Shadowmancer , by G.P. Taylor, arrives in bookstores next Tuesday.

This quote from the article: "The book, by G.P. Taylor, is described as a classic fight between good and evil. It's the dark tale of a devilish English vicar, Obadiah Demurral, who tries to control the world using demons and the dead in 18th-century England. Demurral no longer wants to worship God, he wants to be God. The three teens who must stop him — Thomas, Kate and Raphah — owe a great deal to Harry Potter's threesome Harry, Hermione and Ron."

I haven't read the Harry Potter books because of certain reservations I have about them, but I am definitely planning on reading "Shadowmancer." I'm hoping it won't be a rip-off of the Potter books or a pallid imitation of them. It would be wonderful if it is excellent...and if it reaches its readers with its Christian world view at the same time it entertains them.

"You raise me up"

Since my daughter Elizabeth is an avid Josh Groban fan, I was a little surprised when she really liked Selah's version of Groban's "You Raise Me Up."

We heard the Selah version on Radio 91 whiole out shopping yesterday, and she was impressed. As I understand it, Selah was given the song even before Groban, but wasn't able to record it initially for some reason. Selah makes the song their own without encroaching on the beauty of the Groban version.

My friend Chris recently sang this song at his wedding. Actually, he recorded it to be played at his wedding, because he was a little worried about his emotions affecting a live performance. Great song.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Whatever happened to hymns?

They've endured for decades or even centuries. Their sound may lack contemporary appeal; their language may seem archaic to some. But their stirring melodies and profound truths have stood the test of time, and singing them in worship can lift your soul to the heavenlies.

They are the great old hymns of the faith, and they seem to be slipping into the background of today's church music scene--replaced by an imbalance of often repetitive and sometimes shallow praise and worship choruses.

Don't get me wrong; I am truly blessed by many of today's praise choruses, and I'm not one who thinks the last good Christian song was written in 1852. But I truly love the great old hymns of the faith, and it concerns me that many Christian youngsters are growing up totally unfamiliar with them. What a blessing they're missing out on!

I was heartened the other night to hear on Dr. James Dobson's Focus on the Family about a couple of books that are aimed at remedying that situation. They are "Hymns for a Kid's Heart," Volumes One and Two, by Bobbie Wolgemuth and Joni Eareckson Tada.

This quote from the link : "Enrich your children's Christian heritage by using this resource to teach them about the character of God, sound doctrine and the joy of worship. Twelve classic hymns are introduced through Scripture, prayers, stories and biographical information about the hymn-writers."

The books come with accompanying CDs and simple piano and guitar chords.

The radio show included testimony from a young mom who uses the CD's during car trips to teach her children about the Biblical truths contained in the songs, which are sung by a children's choir. What a wonderful way to pass these wonderful songs on to a new generation...and reinforce scripture and doctrine at the same time.

Some of my most moving worship experiences have taken place while singing hymns like "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," "Great is Thy Faithfulness" and "Blessed Assurance." However, my very favorite hymn is "And Can it Be" by Charles Wesley (music by Thomas Campbell):

"And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

’Tis mystery all: th’Immortal dies:
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine.
’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.
’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore;
Let angel minds inquire no more.

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace—
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

Still the small inward voice I hear,
That whispers all my sins forgiven;
Still the atoning blood is near,
That quenched the wrath of hostile Heaven.
I feel the life His wounds impart;
I feel the Savior in my heart.
I feel the life His wounds impart;
I feel the Savior in my heart.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own."

The vivid word picture painted by the verse about his spirit languishing in prison, only to be awakened when "the dungeon flamed with light" never fails to stir me, and is my favorite verse in all of hymnology:

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

Wow. That Charles Wesley sure could write!

What's your favorite hymn? Post the answer in my comments section! :)

Monday, April 19, 2004

A day at the Opera..."Phantom," that is...

What an incredible experience! On Saturday afternoon, I was sitting on the third row, center section, of the
Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago when the curtain rose on a U-S touring production matinee performance of Phantom of the Opera.

It was, in a word, amazing.

Of course, I've heard and read about the play, but my knowledge was very limited. I'm kind of glad of that now, because everything was new and fresh. I had heard snippets of the music before, but wasn't really familiar with it.

I was especially impressed by Gary Mauer's portrayal of the Phantom...a lonely, troubled and disfigured character who invites both repulsion and sympathy. Mauer's tenor voice was awesome, and his interpretation of the songs conveyed the Phantom's anguish, sorrow and desperation in each beautiful note.

The Phantom's final musical number, when he realizes that he will never attain his love, was touching and powerful enough to evoke tears.

The costumes were spectacular, the lighting and special effects at turns evocative and exciting, the music lovely and haunting, the story intriguing. Altogether, it was a wonderful day at the theater!

Attending the performance was the highlight of a short but terrific visit to the Windy City, along with Ray and Teri and Verlyn and Beth...the whole weekend made possible by Ray and Teri. We spent Saturday night at the gracious and elegant Le Meridien Hotel at Michigan Avenue and Rush Street. Wow, I would love to spend more time there!

After sleeping in on Saturday morning, we met for brunch at the Oak Tree Restaurant on the sixth floor of the Michigan Avenue shopping complex that houses Bloomingdale's. After the performance, we had dinner at Carmine's Restaurant on Rush Street. I had a salad imbued with their wonderful house dressing--a perfect balsamic vinaigrette--and a delicious pasta dish called "pappardelle marinara."

I hated to leave the city, and as always when we visit Chicago, we pledge to go more often and take advantage of one of the most amazing cities in the world being right in our backyard.

Monday Madness....

On a bummer note: my sinus infection is back with a vengeance, and I'm not going to get a refill of antibiotics without going in again to see the doctor. On top of that, I have some sort of eye infection which is forcing me to have to wear my glasses, which I detest. ARRGGH!!! I'm going to the doctor today and I'm praying I can finally beat this thing, which still has the power to make me feel lousey at times, and is seriously robbing me of sleep because of the congestion problems.

OK, I now do the Monday Madness quiz:

Pick a letter; any letter.........Got one?
Ok, for the following questions, each of your answers must begin with the letter you chose.......Have fun!! =) (I chose "C")

1. If you were limited to 3 things to pack for an overnight trip, what would you pack?--Crest toothpaste, contact solution and clothing changes!
2. What 3 things would you pack in your picnic basket?--Coca Cola, cole slaw and chocolate cake
3. What are 3 things you'd rather do than go to work?
4. Name 1 song.--"Cross of Love"
5. Name 1 movie.--"Chicago"

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Those incredible Round Rock donuts...

"Speaking of Round Rock," Joy asked in my comments section, "did you pick up one of the famous donuts?"

Well, Joy, you had to ask, didn't you? Of course I did. More than one. :) My sister Lisa sees to it that a box or two arrives hot and fresh from Round Rock Donuts at least one morning, each time I visit home, and this time was no exception.

I've said it before and I'll say it again...although I love Krispy Kremes, Round Rock donuts are my favorite. Krispy Kremes slip down your throat with all the consistency of cotton candy. You can eat a half-dozen of them without feeling like you ate anything but sugar-coated air. While still light, Round Rock donuts are somehow a bit more substantial. OK, I can eat three at a sitting before I start to O-D on the sugar (I try to limit myself to two, but I'm only human!)

This from the bakery's official website:

"So what makes us so special? Quite honestly, we haven’t quite put our finger on that one yet. Maybe it’s the fresh, sweet aroma that wafts out to I-35 that pulls people off the highway. Maybe it’s the warm, melt-in-your-mouth feel you get with every bite. Or just maybe, it’s people wanting to taste a little bit of old time Texas. Because like barbecue and country music, our famous yellow (or are they orange?) donuts have been woven into the fabric of Central Texas for quite some time."

Speaking of websites...take a moment to check out Joy's , and also effigy , her lovely and captivating poetry and photography blog. Maybe I'm biased because Joy is a hometown girl, but I think both blogs are terrific!

Where did you go to school?

A thread on the Baptist Board asks the question: "What kind of education did you receive?--Home School, Public School, Private School, Christian school, Baptist school?" It goes on to ask what kind of education your children are getting.

This was my reply:

"I went to public school for the bulk of my education, except for two phases: during the latter part of the third grade, then the fourth and fifth grade while my parents were missionaries to Lebanon, I attended private schools...first a British one and then an American one. Then, back in the states, I attended ninth grade at a Christian school.

Look up 'awful Christian school' in the dictionary and you'll probably see a picture of the Christian school I attended in the ninth grade. Academics were mediocre at best; the teachers looked the other way when students came to class high on pot, groped each other in class and were generally disrespectful and disruptive. I couldn't leave my lunch in my locker without it getting stolen. Obviously, the school was a dumping ground for public school rejects.

I made a couple of nice friends there who made it bearable. Then, about three weeks before the end of school, all the teachers walked out because they weren't getting paid. Parents planned to continue holding classes at a local bowling alley without the teachers, but my parents were disgusted and pulled me out of the school. The school offices were such a mess, they had lost my transcript. When I enrolled at the public high school the next fall, they admitted me on a temporary probationary status because of my lack of a transcript. (I must have done OK, because when I graduated, I was chosen as one of three class speakers for my class of some 450 students! :) )

That experience with a really lousey Christian school fortunately didn't sour me on Christian education. I now realize that Christian schools can be horrible, excellent, or in-between...just like pretty much everything else.

My husband has taught at a Christian school for the past 25 years, and all three of my children attended there. Both my sons have already graduated and gone on to Cedarville University(my older son graduated in 2002), and they both feel the excellent academics at their school helped prepare them for Cedarville's tough academic standards. They both also scored very well on their ACT's. My daughter graduates next year."

While I'm very thankful that my children were blessed with a quality Christian education, I believe it's every parent's responsiblity to prayerfully consider the education their children will receive. It's a hot topic among Christians, but I believe Christian children can do well in the public schools in many circumstances. I've seen wonderful products of Christian schooling, and some that sadden me. And I've seen home schooling work beautifully and successfully. It's a personal decision, and one that needs to be made and executed prayerfully.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

The lovely and elegant Driskill Hotel...

One of my favorite things to do while visiting my relatives in the Austin, Texas , is going to downtown Austin. Since my folks now live north of the Capitol, in the thriving and bustling city of Round Rock, we don't always make it into the big city anymore.

But this time, my sister Lisa insisted that we needed to make the trek. So we piled our families into two vehicles and headed southward.

First, we parked on Congress Street (it was a beautiful night, breezy and not too warm), and walked up to the Capitol. It was closed for the night, so we were only able to get as far as the front steps, but it was worth the walk. I've been inside the building several times, so I can vouch for its beauty and impressiveness.

We then walked back down Congress to Sixth Street. Now, that was quite an experience. I've never heard as much live music going on in an area of just a few blocks as I did that night, even in downtown Nashville. There was an undeniable sense of excitement and raw energy in the air. I've known that Sixth Street has been the birthplace of a lot of well-known musicians and bands, and that Austin has become recognized as one of the live-music centers of the U.S. I saw that firsthand as we strolled past bars and pubs from which emanated the pungent odor of alcohol, the tempting aroma of Texas cooking, and the battling bass beats of rock, hip-hop and alt-country music--some bands performing right next door to each other.

My husband and I talked later, though, about the strong aura of modern-day Vanity Fair that pervaded the Sixth Street atmosphere. Young, beautiful college girls not much older than my Elizabeth were dressed to tempt ( or should I say "undressed"), and no doubt many of them would be going home with guys who were no more than strangers to them. We agreed that it was fascinating to visit the scene of such energy, but we wouldn't want to "live there." That kind of life really holds no appeal for us.

A highlight of the evening, for me anyway, was stepping into the lovely and elegant Driskill Hotel on Brazos Street. The picture I've posted is the scene that greeted me as we walked into the lobby of this gorgeous facility. The gracious and genteel opulence reminded me of a scene from the movie, "Titanic."

Lisa had insisted we go inside, saying it was the oldest hotel in Austin. (It proved fortuitous, as all the females in the group needed to use the ladies' room anyway.) I immediately fell in love with the Driskill, and I would love to stay there some day, even for a night.

Of course, I had to do a little research on the history of the Driskill. Apparently it was built by Texas cattle baron Jesse Driskill in 1886. (Interesting trivia note: the Driskill was the site of Lyndon B. Johnson's first date with his future wife, Lady Bird, in 1934.)

Of course, like any self-respecting old hotel, the Driskill is supposedly haunted--by more than one ghost, in fact, including Colonel Driskill himself. He reportedly makes his presence known by the smell of cigar smoke. For more on the ghosts of the Driskill, click here.

I encourage you to check out this link , where you can even view a short video about the hotel. What an incredibly beautiful place!

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Back from the land of the bluebonnets...

""The bluebonnet is to Texas what the shamrock is to Ireland, the cherry blossom to Japan, the lily to France, the rose to England and the tulip to Holland." --Historian Jack McGuire

The vast numbers of you that read my blog (and that was definitely said tongue-in-cheek!:)) may have noticed that I haven't updated it in some time. That's because I've been on vacation in Texas, visiting my family members who live in the Austin area.

It was a great time. Not only was it wonderful to be able to spend time with my parents and my siblings and their my oldest son and his wife also live there. And my younger son flew down from Cedarville University for a few days as well! Of course, it was even harder to say goodbye to everyone this time.

One of the highlights of the week was enjoying the profusion of bluebonnets in full bloom almost everywhere I looked. I took some pictures of Elizabeth and my niece Katie in a field that was especially thick with the lovely little purplish-blue flowers, which are the official flower of the state of Texas. I hope they turn out OK!

Seeing the bluebonnets in such abundance made me curious about their history, so I did a little research. I found this on a Texas A & M horticulture website:

"Bluebonnets have been loved since man first trod the vast prairies of Texas. Indians wove fascinating folk tales around them. The early-day Spanish priests gathered the seeds and grew them around their missions. This practice gave rise to the myth that the padres had brought the plant from Spain, but this cannot be true since the two predominant species of bluebonnets are found growing naturally only in Texas and at no other location in the world."

And from this site: "The Texas Department of Highways, later known as Texas Department of Transportation or TxDOT, played a legendary role in the country’s highway beautification programs. They began sowing bluebonnet seed along the highways for erosion control in 1929 when Judge W.R. Ely, member of the Highway Commission, called for 'landscaped roadsides, with construction planned to retain natural beauty.' TxDOT now sows 60,000 pounds of wildflower seeds across the state each year."

Many of the links I found on the web credited former first lady Lady Bird Johnson with encouraging the growth of wildflowers in Texas. A noted environmental activist, Lady Bird founded the National Wildflower Research Center in 1982, and it was renamed in her honor in 1998. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is located in Austin.

My husband teased me about my avid fascination with the bluebonnets--but I just love them, and I'm pleased when one of my visits to Texas coincides with their gorgeous blooming.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Rockford named a Sports Illustrated "Sportstown"

A big honor for Rockford's sports scene. Sports Illustrated Magazine announced today that the city has been selected as the Sports Illustrated 50th Anniversary Sportstown for the State of Illinois.

In a news conference in Rockford today, Matt Cline of Sports Illustrated said: "It was obvious when we first received your application that Rockford was very well-deserving of the was obvious immediately that Rockford embraces sports as a positive force for good in the community, and that's what our celebration is all about. We're very proud and happy to award that to Rockford."

Rockford is being featured in the April 5th issue of the magazine, which is on newstands now, and also in this article online.

Living here for the past 24 years, and having a husband and kids who are sports nuts, I can vouch for the fact that this city has a very rich and full sports scene...for those who wish to play as well as for those who would rather watch. All three of my kids have played organized sports in the park district here, and we've enjoyed watching everything from the Rockford Riverhawks minor-league baseball team (for which my husband Doug is a chaplain), to the Rockford Lightning basketball team and Rockford Ice Hogs hockey team.

Congratulations, Rockford!
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