Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Do You SEE My Poll?

Right over to the left....yeah, there! See it? Hasn't anyone finished HP VII and can answer my poll? I added this because it was a new feature, and I'm all about trying new technology! HA! I thought it would be fun, but either you're all a bunch of losers or...well, there's no other option. Either you are a loser 'cause you don't care, or you are a loser because you haven't finished yet. So there.
Somebody please answer my poll....

Monday, July 30, 2007

Car Talk

Here is a sort of low-level "Socratic" dialogue that took place between my sons in the car a couple days ago: (G is 13, E is 11)
G: Look at that bumper sticker - "Anybody but Hillary 2008" That's great!
E: Who's Hillary?
G: Bill Clinton's wife...she's running for president.
E: That's stupid. Women can't be president.
G: Yes, they can. Why do you say that?
E: Because man was created first and is supposed to be the ruler.
G: So does that mean a woman can't run a company, or be boss over a man under any circumstances?
E: I guess so...man is the ruler. It says it right there in the Bible.
G: Where does the Bible say that a woman can't have any authority?
E: In Genesis...Adam was created first, then Eve, and he was supposed to rule everything. I mean, c'mon, it's pretty obvious. Sheesh...
G: Eric, don't get mad...I just want you to defend your position.
E: The Bible doesn't need to be defended...it defends itself. It's God's Word, you know. It doesn't have any errors.
G: That's true, but its O-K to try and defend it...
E: Just forget it, Grant. I still think it doesn't need defending. I mean, you either believe it or you don't.
G: That's true that it doesn't have to be defended, but not everybody believes the Bible or the same thing about the Bible, so it's good to be able to defend your position strongly. I was just reading Aristotle the other day and he constantly put himself through questioning, even on things he knew he believed. He tried to answer every possible objection and he didn't take anything for granted but questioned it all - just so he knew his foundation was strong and he could defend his beliefs. That's not a bad thing...it doesn't mean you don't believe what the Bible says.
What fun to listen to them!
Imagine what their conversations will be like in a couple years when the younger acquires further knowledge and learns how to debate!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

What's In A Name?

The most complicated part of setting up this blog, was choosing a name. It's not as easy as it seems...not for a person like me, anyway. I possess an uncanny knack for making the simple complex. So for me, it required 4-5 hours of contemplation and reflection on the deeper meanings of life...who am I? Who do I WANT to be? Who do I want others to THINK I am? What matters to me in the big scheme of life? Etc, etc, etc...
Afterall, names MEAN something...they embody the essence of a thing. I agree with Mary Stuart Van Leeuven, a quasi-liberal feminist theologian, (rejected by feminists and evangelicals alike) who was the first I heard argue that there is power in naming - some degree of dominion and ownership are involved. We reformed Christians also recognize the significance of names/naming and especially The Name - not taking it in vain has much to do with not defaming the character or reputation of the One to whom the name belongs. Significant philosophical and theological import is attached to the whole idea of names and naming. Right? Have I sufficiently justified my perfectionist tendency by masking it with theological pretense?
I must admit, though, that naming our children did not call forth such philosophizing and theologizing...we simply named them after pagan family members...and not even for the purpose of reclaiming the names for the kingdom or plundering the Egyptians...
But naming my blog - now THAT'S serious and personal - it is an all encompassing statement of who I am. Here are a few I contemplated (usually in both English and Latin) before settling on She's No Lady:
* Ex noctua - From a Night Owl
* De Nocte - By Night
* Solitarius Noctua - Lonely Night Owl
* Peregrinata - Sojourner
* Filia Regni - King's Daughter
* Praeclarus Intra - All-glorious Within
* Sermocinatio - Discussion
* Claritas et Decor - Clarity & Grace
* Omnis Cogitatum Captivus - Every Thought Captive
* Pulling Down Strongholds
* Castigation of Fools (no, really! I thought about it!)
* Winsome Words
* Wise Sayings
* Amatrix Verba - Lover of Words
* Obesus Mater - Fat Mama
O-K, so you get the idea...and this is only a partial list...it was a painstaking process. In the end I chose a lyric from a Lyle Lovett song, "...she loves to lie beside me almost every night - She's No Lady, she's my wife." I don't even want to think what that choice might reveal about me!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Sophisticated Redneck

If a whole new category of home decorating can combine the terms "shabby" and "chic," then surely I can create a new personality blend of "sophisticated" and "redneck." I like to think of myself as moderately dignified with a sense of class and decorum - I like posh food, deep red wine, a well-formed sentence, jazz, G.K. Chesterton, and crisp white linens...how much classier can you get than that?

And yet, as the refined and prescient philosopher, Lyle Lovett, once crooned:

"Redneckness has got to be a disease,

you catch it on your fingers

and it just crawls right up your sleeve."

He's right. I know when and where I caught it. My brother-in-law races cars down in Lebanon, Mizzourah, and a while back we went to watch him...you know, sort of an obligatory-familial-duty-thing. As I walked into this place, I had already determined what kind of people these fans were, and if my nose wasn't stuck in the "I'm-SO-better-than-you" position externally, it certainly was ever-so-slightly stuck up internally. And that little voice in my head (remember...the snobby one I've told you about) called them "yay-hoos" "oakies" "hicks" and any other derogatory term that sprang to mind. We stood and saluted the flag as we sang the national anthem, then bowed our heads for corporate prayer...add "cheesy" to that list.

Then something strange happened. A little old pot-bellied man in a glorified deer-stand proclaimed with his disctinctive southern-Missouri twang, "Gentlemen, start your engines!" I have never been the same...the roar of those engines vibrated to the very core of my being, and that which I previously regarded with utmost scorn, suddenly became alive, exciting, even irresistible! I envisioned a career change - myself behind the wheel - I do LUV speed, afterall. I was a fan...immediately...united with the whole redneck host surrounding me!

In some ways this became a defining moment...I have learned to indulge that side of me that loves bluegrass, shooting guns and the occasional Marlboro...I sometimes even listen to 92.3 WIL!! But, please, don't judge me too harshly - at least not until you've experienced your own personal NASCAR!

A Sensory Experience

"It is a man's duty to have books. Be certain that your house is adequately furnished - with books rather than with furniture. Both, if you can, but books at any rate." Henry Ward Beecher
I love books.
I love the feel of a book in my hand, whether it is well-worn and delicate or new, crisp and tight.
I love the smell of libraries, book stores - especially used ones - of musty old books that have obviously been enjoyed by someone before me.
I love the look of a beautiful cloth or leather binding, and can gaze long and admiringly at exquisite illustrations.
I love to hear a good book read aloud. It brings me a sense of comfort, safety and nourishment.
I love to "taste" a good book too! Historical fiction, textbooks, biographies, theology, fantasy...it doesn't matter. As long as it is well-written or interesting...I love it.
"Perhaps the greatest gift any father can bestow upon his children (apart from the covenant blessings of parish life and a comprehension of the doctrines of grace), is a passion for reading. Thomas Chalmers

Friday, July 27, 2007

On Rhetoric II: Structure & Style

Over the years, I have found that teaching writing is one of the most difficult tasks a teacher can undertake. Authors who desire to produce rhetoric that is engaging and effective must be driven by and must appeal to both the intellect and the imagination. We should train our students to learn and refine skills in each of these realms, which I call Structure and Style. Modern composition theory tends to focus almost entirely on the former, believing the latter is most valuable in its "native" form...afterall, self-expression is paramount and to be valued without judgment.

When teaching, we must be careful not to reduce Structure to simplistic formulas for outlining or creating Topic Sentences, while forgetting that these tools remain useless apart from the ability to think in an orderly and logical manner. We must purposely build logical structures in the mind by the way we teach and converse with our students. I'll build on these thoughts in a later post.

Sesquipedalian Superstars

That big word in the title literally means, "a foot and a half" and is the heading for a list of polysyllabic words in my new book, The Reading Teacher's Book of Lists. I'm a word-nerd who gets excited over things like this! I buy a minimum of 2 books annually for improving vocabulary...there's nothing that interests me more than language.  Well, almost nothing...

Most of the words on the list are simply a combination of roots with which many of us would be familiar, but there were a couple of doozies:

hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia - fear of really long words

hyperpolysyllabicsesquipedalianist - one who enjoys using extremely long words

floccinaucinihilipilification - estimating something as useless (I cannot for the life of me figure the etymology of this word...I see roots that could mean hairy and wooly, and I see "nihil" but I'm obviously missing something!)

honorificabilitudinitatibus - the quality of being honorable (this word is actually used by Shakespeare in Love's Labors Lost)

philosophunculist - one who pretends to know more than he actually does

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Sibling Rivalry

Cannibalization among siblings is not unprecendented in nature. Some species of crocodiles and sharks regularly participate; however, I was under the apparently-mistaken notion that I had given birth to human beings, not beasts.

I did not think it possible for disputes more petty than those I occasionally engage in with my spouse to exist...mistaken notion #2. I mean, WHO REALLY CARES who "holds" the remote control during a movie - of course, in my sons' male imaginations, this little battery-operated device seems to symbolize, not merely control of volume, but Control...of life, of destiny...a sort of modern "scepter," if you will.

When I appear on this scene, all their visions of nobility vanish, because I morph into another sort of beast - you know, the mythological kind that rises from the sea with fiery eyes, flailing tentacles, and primordial screams - and proceed to dethrone them both.

My motives in this are pure, though. Don't you know that the best way to teach anything, including repentance, is to model it? I'm just creating opportunities...that's all...really...

"But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another." Galatians 5

Just Shoot Me!

All I want is a few minutes alone...is that too much to ask? I want a little time to complete a coherent thought so I can write my second installment of "On Rhetoric." My boys are spending the night out, my husband has been snoring for nearly 4 hours already, but am I alone? NO! Because another male invaded our home about a year ago in the form of a D-O-G. As if my daily life didn't provide enough opportunities for sanctification already!
His food stinks. His breath stinks. His poop stinks. He, however, enjoys taking a whiff of it. He vomits in my house, then eats it right up again...I mean, does he really think that the rock will digest properly on the second go around? He doesn't brush his teeth. He doesn't take a bath. He doesn't clean up after himself. He doesn't carry his dirty dishes to the sink. For crying out loud, he can't even get his own bloody drink! He simply doesn't carry his weight around here...and speaking of weight...he's over (as the vet informed me, with great consternation.) Then he has the audacity to require "well-puppy" visits so this same smug vet can charge me $90 for vaccinations. Oh, and he's not so well afterall...he has allergies - yes, you heard me correctly - allergies...you know, the kind with sneezing, rashes and bouts of diarrhea. I don't just have a dog, I have a "special needs" dog! When we leave town, he requires "doggy-hotel-reservations" which cost nearly as much as "human-hotel-reservations." Only we humans don't get a report card with ours...I mean who wouldn't want to know that their "pwecious wittle doggie" participated in the bark festival, dreamt about us at night and socialized appropriately while we were away? (since when is brown-nosing socially appropriate?!)
And on top of it all...HE FOLLOWS ME! I want to be alone. I just want to be alone...oh, now he's whining...excuse me while I let him out to defecate where my children play. Somebody just shoot me...and please, be accurate.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

On Rhetoric: Theology of Words

God has revealed Himself to man through words. With words He fashioned the earth, with words He conversed with saints of old. He preserved His truth for eternity in written words as well as in Jesus Christ, the Living and Final Word.

The written words of God employ artful use of various literary styles. God could have spoken to us in any way He chose - He chose to combine both beauty and truth utilizing precise words, captivating stories, and illuminating word pictures.

As God's image-bearers, we are to imitate Him. Therefore, we should strive to communicate truth in the same way He does...clearly and beautifully. This is the essence of writing - the accurate and artful presentation of truth - through prose, poetry, story, argumentation, etc.

A warning is appropriate here. We must consider Paul's rebuke to the Christians at Corinth who were being deceived by the "clever speech" of some of their teachers. Paul admonishes them not to be drawn toward division and heresy by "wise-sounding words." Our purpose is not to teach high and heady language to our students so that they "sound" good, but to assist them in the pulling down of strongholds, the refutation of vain philosophies and the destruction of every argument raised up against the knowledge of God (II Cor 10). Our aim is to equip them to use words in a manner worthy of their calling in Christ Jesus.

We desire that our students discern what is true (a work of the Holy Spirit through God's Word), then articulate this truth according to the bent of their audience. They should be ready to give an answer to opponents and they should be ready to edify the body of Christ.

In teaching composition, we seek to enable students to fulfill their Christian duties in the realm of writing by giving them tools for achieving excellence in structure and style.

The Gift of Fire

Richard Mitchell (AKA: The Underground Grammarian) is a critic of modern educational theory and practice, as well as a staunch proponent of bolstering clarity in thought and language. He denounces current tendencies to communicate in relativistic, ambiguous language devoid of meaning. I first read,and highly recommend, Less Than Words Can Say. Here are some of my favorite quotes from The Gift of Fire, which I just finished.

"Behind all of the silly things we do in schools...there is nothing less than a great, pervading spirit of dullness and tedium, of irksome but necessary labors directed completely toward the consolidation of the mundane through the accumulation of the trivial. ...there is no solemnity, no reverence, no awe, no wonder. We would be ashamed to claim that our proper business was with the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, and that this business can be conducted not through arousing pleasant feelings, but through working the mind." (p26)

He spends several pages bemoaning the fact that we have become "Men Without Chests" (referencing C.S. Lewis's essay on the same), who are ruled by our "bellies" (appetites and desires) rather than by our minds and hearts. He contends that, in our time, the art of persuasion has been reduced to "making bellies purr."

"Education is not a 'rank,' like citizenship or captaincy. It is an inward event, like joy or surprise. ...it seems reasonable to understand education as a possible habit...an inclination of the mind to notice what the world surely provides...the habit of looking, of paying attention." (p67)

"The light of problem-solving (as opposed to understanding) is like the light of the moon, a reflection of some greater light. And when we single out the skills of problem-solving and give them the name of intelligence, we make a choice between the moon and the sun..." (p85)

"Children learn what they most need to know from happy stories of the birth of kings, and grown-ups learn again and again what they most need to remember from sad stories of the death of kings." (p128) His explanation of this encompasses a few pages, but is well worth the read.

Though I do not fully endorse all Mr. Mitchell's premises and conclusions, he is a cogent thinker and writer worthy of consideration.

Monday, July 23, 2007

I Know How It Ends

This morning at exactly 3:34am, I finished reading Harry Potter VII. Being alone in airports and on planes for about 12 hours yesterday worked greatly in my favor!
While in Tahoe, Aunt Jan insisted we stand in line at midnight at a quaint local bookstore to purchase our copy...I didn't argue for long, but issued fair warning that I might be less-than-sociable from the moment the book reached my hands. Somehow, no one seemed to mind....hmmmm.
Tahoe is nothing short of glorious. We spent two mornings out on the boat, absorbing both the natural and man-made beauties. It is like nothing I have ever seen. The weather was ideal...50's at night and low 80's during the day...what more could a soul ask for? Life is beautiful.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Joy of.....In-Laws?

In a couple of hours I head out to the airport. I will be whisked away to CA where I will spend the next four days with the women from my husband's family.

Before you pity me too much, let me remind you that Steve's mom, Gloria, is a hoot and the quintessential life-of-the-party no matter where she goes. She is incapable of encountering a human being without either learning his life story, or revealing her own. His quirky Aunt Jan possesses a subtle, sophisticated sense of humor, and his sister-in-law Shari is a normal gal who loves to talk. THEN...there is Steve's sister, Sheri, who isn't afraid to remind you that she remains SOLE OCCUPANT OF THE THRONE even outside her own house. And I love her for it. Her college-age daughters are delightful - Allison is the SOLE OCCUPANT OF AN INTELLECT within the group and together we can irritate the rest (especially the queen) by discussing matters about which they have zero knowledge. Kaly is competive and rarely loses anything...from Spit to Scrabble to the "who-got-the-most-gifts-on-this-trip" contest.

Anyway, we will spend Friday and Saturday at Aunt Jan's place in Lake Tahoe - easily the most beautiful place I have ever been...gorgeous hiking views - and we will play games, laugh and eat great food. Aahhh...life is good...even with in-laws.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


O-K, so I just finished re-reading book VI and have become nearly convinced of the speculation (by observers more astute than myself!), that Harry IS the 6th Horcrux. After he killed Lily and James, LV stored a piece of his soul in Harry...think about it...it could potentially explain a lot of things. Oooohhh...I can hardly wait! Wish I had the cool HP countdown clock like Becky Meyers does, but I'm just learning!

Harry Potter Mania

In Spring 2006, I finally joined the Harry club and began reading the books...previously, I had committed the fallacy of chronological snobbery - anything new can't possibly be THAT good (nor could anything so popular in today's culture). I assumed those around me who were raving about it were gullible and probably didn't recognize authentically-good literature. O-K, so snobbery is a bad habit of mine...I'm working on it. The best antidote is finding out you were wrong - again and again and again...

The advantage of waiting so long, was that I was able to read books I-VI back to back, within about 8 weeks. Let's just say that after Book I, I was hooked, and along with millions of others, I am eagerly anticipating July 21.

Problem is, I will be spending the weekend in Tahoe with my mother-in-law...I can't very well isolate myself and read it cover to cover, can I? I WILL however, grab a copy in the airport and begin devouring it on the plane ride home. Fortunately, my sons are still on the East Coast and I don't have to share the book until Monday evening, by which time I ought to have successfully completed it and will know everything they don't! HA!

Since everyone else is positing their predictions, I might as well give mine, right?! I have only formulated one really and it may be overly obvious...Harry will die. Profound, I know. He'll die saving one of his "enemies" (Snape, Malfoy, Dudley), and they will be transformed by his sacrifice. I tend to think Ron & Hermione will live, but one of the Weasley parents will die. That's about it. It has been fun reading some of the many speculations out there, but I will also be glad when those conversations are over and all is settled. ENJOY, ya'll!!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Sleep? Why?

My family is gone. Not permanently, of course, but for 10 days. Steve and the boys flew to Baltimore on Saturday to meet the rest of the California Shaffer males for a baseball tour. On Sunday, they visited a game in beautiful Camden Yards. Today, Steve called to tell me he HAS to take me to Boston because "they are real fans here...they actually stretch during the 7th inning stretch...the fans are so friendly..." Yeah well, after 2004, they owe us. Tomorrow they are on their way to...their next stop! Yankee Stadium maybe?

Anyway, that's why I am up at this time of the morning. No point in sleeping if there's no one who needs taking care of. I have spent hours ordering books and other educational materials as well as exploring new music at i-Tunes.

If you like folk, check out Red Molly!