Thursday, June 26, 2008

Summertime in STL #3

Every Wednesday evening from June through August, the Missouri Botanical Garden hosts the Whitaker Music Festival, another of St. Louis's many FREE venues. For the past 14 summers, they have opened the garden, admission-free after 5pm, and suspend their normal rules, allowing us to bring in our own food and drink, spread our blankets or set-up our chairs throughout the grounds, and listen to two hours of complimentary music.

The performances are predominantly jazz, but this year's selections include some pop, funk and even a little folk/bluegrass! Our family had not attended this event for the past couple summers and were shocked to learn how popular it has become! Erin Bode performed the first week and drew nearly 11, 000, with subsequent performances bringing in 5-7,000.

The stage and main lawn with Two Times True performing:
We sit near the walkway just outside the Children's Garden, and are amazed at the steady stream of people from 6-10pm! It never ends!

Riesa making a pretzel moustache with her snack!

Several church friends join us each week - old folks, children, even some cool college kids...

Debbie trying to steal Riesa's uber-stylish baseball ring!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Why I Love Jane

I just finished re-reading Jane Austen's Persuasion, and a couple things stood out in a way they hadn't before.

First, I noticed how aptly she makes her characters known, and how little physical description she offers of them. She is more inclined to reveal characters' perceptions of physical appearance, whether their own or another's. When the author herself highlights a bodily feature (such as her declaration that Captain Benwick is short) it is memorable, precisely because it is infrequent. Austen is more likely to pen a lengthy description of one's character than of his appearance, and even these are often done through another's eyes. For example, Anne's perception of Mr. Elliot's character is set over against Lady Russell's, revealing profound truths about each of those three characters.

Secondly, at least in this particular novel, Austen's characters are made known to us, not so much by their actions or inner thoughts, but by their speech. Out of the abundance of their mouths, their hearts speak. Those who should, don't have the good sense to hide what is in their hearts! They are completely oblivious to their faults and blatantly advertise their idiocy!

Since I've never been very skilled at visualizing an author's description of physical place or person, I don't miss struggling through these sorts of detailed passages. With Austen, regardless of the way any of us envision Anne, Elizabeth or Captain Wentworth, all of us necessarily come away with a keen sense of each one's character. We KNOW them.

Here is Anne's perception of her invalid and recently impoverished friend, Mrs. Smith:

Anne could hardly imagine a more cheerless situation in itself than Mrs. Smith's. She had been very fond of her husband - she had buried him. She had been used to affluence - it was gone. She had no child to connect her with life and happiness again, no health to make all the rest supportable. Her accomodations were limited to a noisy parlour, and a dark bed-room behind...yet in spite of all this, Anne had reason to believe that she had only moments of languor and depression, to hours of occupation and enjoyment. How could it be? A submissive spirit might be patient, a strong understanding would supply resolution, but here was something more; here was that elasticity of mind, that disposition to be comforted, that power of turning readily from evil to good, and of finding employment which carried out of herself...It was the choicest gift of Heaven; and Anne viewed her friend as one of those instances in which, by a merciful appointment, it seems designed to counterbalance almost every other want.

But Anne's father thinks thus of her acquaintance with Mrs. Smith:

"Westgate buildings!" said he; "and who is Miss Anne Elliot to be visiting in Westgate-guildings? - A Mrs. Smith. A widow Smith, - and who was her husband? One of the five thousand Mr. Smiths whose names are to be met with everywhere. And what is her attraction? That she is old and sickly. - Upon my word, Miss Anne Elliot, you have the most extraordinary taste! Everything that revolts other people - low company, paltry rooms, foul air, disgusting associations - are inviting to you."

In this way, Miss Austen makes known to us the shallow arrogance of Mr. Elliot, the strength and dignity of Mrs. Smith, and the grace and compassion of Anne.

She's a literary genius, that Jane! Read her...over and over again!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Beauty from Ashes

On Friday, June 20, at 9:15pm, the breath of Bertie Eva Burke left her worn-out body, which will be laid to rest until the Final Resurrection, when her body and soul will be reunited in New Life.

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord

Bertie was born on Christmas Day, 100 years ago, and spent most of her life in and around St. Louis. The details of her life appear more like a sordid soap opera than those of a faithful Christian, yet in spite of her sins and weaknesses, it was evident that that Lord remained faithful to her throughout the years.

Bertie gave birth to her first child at age 19, and was never married to the father of her 4 other children because he already had a wife with whom he lived on an adjacent farm. A wife, I might add, who remained and served humbly by his side until his death. Bertie and her children were often scorned and ridiculed by neighbors, and she eventually left rural southeast Missouri for the city, where she served as cook and housekeeper for a wealthy family in the Central West End. When she was 48 years old, and still living in STL, she entered nursing school, then spent many years after graduation practicing what she had learned. It was during these years that she began to really know the Lord and to love His Word. As a teen, my mother, they baby of the 5 children, joined my grandma in the city and, with her encouragement, began attending Bible Club where she too began to seek the Lord in earnest and to be acquainted with the Holy Scriptures.

In spite of her trust in Christ, throughout her whole life, my grandma never did learn to live peaceably in the same household with another human being; however, I do remember being hospitably received in her home, where she never failed to cook us a special feast and she allowed us to play in her bedroom with her jewelry and other trinkets which we found fascinating. She taught me to crochet and she was a master know, the old-fashioned kind who did it all by hand!

Bertie repeatedly failed at marriage and her attempts at parenting were often severely lacking, resulting in years of pain and struggle for her children. The trials which flowed from their "flawed" beginning left them ill-equipped at various junctures of their lives, and led to subsequent failures on their part. Yet on account of God's faithfulness, all 5 of her children confess Christ and desire to know, understand and love His Word.

This is why some of my mother's favorite passages from Scripture are those which contain the words "BUT GOD..." These outline the multitude of situations which, as a result of man's distorted affections, led to grave human sin, error, and heartache, over against which is highlighted the triumphant grace of God - those circumstances in which it is obvious that only the Lord's intervention could redeem such loss and bring such beauty from ashes. In this I rejoice and hope, thanking God for my Grandma's life.

He that raised up Jesus from the dead will also quicken our mortal bodies, by his Spirit that dwelleth in us. Wherefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. Thou shalt shew me the path of life; in thy presence is fullness of joy, and at thy right hand there is pleasure forevermore.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Eric & Grant's Top Ten

With my sons' help, I created this booklet for their father back in 1999, but its sentiments remain true today. Happy Father's Day to the man who made me a happy mother!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Faithful Father

My Dad: he was a cute little fellow, wasn't he?

Memories of my dad from my early years are sketchy. Probably because he was busy earning the nickname my mom pegged him with later in life: Hard-Working-Husband.

Engagement photo in front of his red Ford Fairlane

My earliest memories from my toddler years are of cheering for him at his basketball games. He attended Bible college and played on their basketball team, while working so that my mother could be home with her 3 little girls.

When I was entering 4th grade, Dad moved us to northern Indiana so we could be in a Christian school, while he worked swing shifts at the steel mills to pay for private education for all 6 of us. I remember that the conditions in which he labored were less than ideal...sweltering in the summer and frigid in the winter, and I used to lie in bed worrying about him working on the roof all night when it was in the teens with those famous icy winds blowing in from Lake Michigan.

By the time I was in Junior High, Dad was still working at the mills, but was also attending Purdue Calumet. His company recognized him as a very bright, mathematically-minded man, and paid for his continuing education. Funny thing is, it seems that he made it to all our school's sporting events...and he didn't even have players on the teams! We were all girls, and in those days all girls did was CHEER! I don't know how often he actually showed up, but it seems like a LOT in my memory. He also seemed to be at most of our musical performances, and there were plenty of those.

I'm always surprised too when I realize how many school and church events we were able to participate in. Maybe they only cost $1-5 each, but there were 6 of us, and though we were often stretched to the limit financially, he found a way to afford it.

And then...I'll never forget him "pushing" me from the nest. I left for college at age 17, two weeks after high school graduation. When I called home for advice, I was distressed that he wouldn't tell me what to do. He asked me questions that forced me to look at the situation from several angles, but he wouldn't tell me what to do. I was mortified, but since I ended up being on my own for the next decade, it was a good thing he expected me to stand on my own two feet.

But my dad was more than a provider and advisor.

My dad always was, and remains to this day, a faithful man. A faithful provider, husband, father, and Christian, who tells me he loves me every time we meet or talk, no matter how briefly. He has lived the life of a sacrificial servant, laying down his life for ours, and has testified to the goodness and faithfulness of God through all sorts of trials and blessings. That is a priceless heritage for which I cannot be thankful enough.

He's the kind of father who makes you want to live up to his fulfill his lifelong ambition that his children fully embrace the gospel with their heads, their hearts and the works of their hands. May it be so. I hope that my life brings him satisfaction and joy in his old age and that he'll live and die knowing that his work here was not in vain, but was honored by the Christ whom he exalted.

Thanks be to God for this man, who above all others, deserves a most happy Father's Day!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Summertime in STL #2

The Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis has been performing on the grounds of Forest Park for the 8 summers now and has become a permanent fixture on the summer landscape. Unfortunately, I didn't know about it until last summer when they gave an exceptional performance of "Much Ado About Nothing." I had heard that they were changing the setting to a western idea I viewed with skepticism and even disdain; however, they did more than "pull it off"! It was exceptional! The boys and I went 3 times!

The performances begin at 8pm, but the festival provides entertainment for an hour or two beforehand, including:

Juggling Jeff - a traditional festival performer who, in addition to juggling knives and torches, escapes from a straightjacket in fewer than 60 seconds while standing on a pink rubber ball. Oooohhh!

A variety of local musicians provide entertainment

Those more intellectually inclined can attend mini lectures about Shakespeare, acting, or the particular play chosen for that year.

A group of youth join with some of the actors to present a condensed version of Richard III - imagine a 3-hour plot crammed into about 6 minutes...very funny, entertaining and informative!

Many people arrive between 5 & 6pm to stake their claim on a plot of ground, and bring along a picnic dinner and a bottle of wine. If you don't want to pack your dinner, you can purchase anything from a brat & Schlafly's to a Filet Mignon & Cabernet boxed dinner.

This is very much a family-friendly event and, in our experience, is best enjoyed with several families together for the evening.

The Tragedy of King Richard III was chosen for summer 2008. Since I had never read it before and no movie version has been released since Laurence Olivier's, I had some homework to do! As I usually do with Shakespeare, I read a children's adaptation first. I always reach for Charles and Mary Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare first, but they didn't include Richard III, so my second choice is Leon Garfield's Shakespeare Stories I & II. After getting the basic plot idea, I pick up the original and usually find it understandable. This one, though, required a little more study and historical background before I could fully place all the characters in their proper context.

The best thing about the festival is that, like so many venues in St. Louis, IT'S FREE. That's right...FREE!!

The worst thing about it, is that it is subject to the temperamental and unpredictable St. Louis weather! Tonight's performance (my second this year) got rained out. But the sunset was beautiful!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Summertime in STL #1

St. Louis' Skyline The city view from the front of the Hilton

Summertime in St. Louis is synonomous with Cardinals baseball, so my first report on fun things to do in STL will naturally be about baseball. Sorry April, Angie....

Our family headed downtown on Saturday about 2pm for a 6:15 game. Why so early? Well, once a year we go to a game and spend the night across the street from the stadium at the Ballpark Hilton. This is one of the few benefits of being married to a traveling hotels.

Our hotel as seen from our stadium seats

The interior of this particular Hilton has been recently remodeled in a very sleek and modern looks like it would be more at home in NY City than in STL. They live up to their name "Ballpark Hilton" quite well. Each gathering space, hallway and room is full of B&W photos and memoribilia spanning the storied history of the Cardinals' franchise.

A room with a view

This one was taken through our hotel room window!

The hotel was packed and so was the we hung out in our room and watched ESPN until 5:30, when we walked across to the new Busch Stadium. I'll refrain from once again voicing my displeasure with the new design, amenities, etc. In spite of all that, I just love the sights, sounds and smells of baseball.

The outside architecture is beautiful, though unoriginal

A light rain began to fall during the second inning and didn't relent until the 8th or 9th inning, but fortunately our seats were just under an overhang, so we stayed put the whole time. We lost the game dreadfully to a team that is traditionally not very accomplished, yet to whom we traditionally lose - the Pittsburgh Pirates. Oh, well. I walked away with a really cute lime green tote with the STL insignia, so all was not in vain!

My lovely companions: Steve, Grant and Eric