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The Home Front

Politics, culture, and American life — from the family perspective.

Encouraging Married Parenthood



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The buzz generated by MTV’s show 16 and Pregnant may have played a part in the decrease of teenage pregnancies, although it may have also led to more abortions. (Though, the teen abortion rate overall is down.) Jessica Grose at Slate took issue with this finding, pointing out that two other MTV shows — Teen Mom and Teen Mom 2 — may have had a different effect. She argues that the young mothers involved with those two shows have attained such notoriety that teens may want to emulate them.

But perhaps the more important issue we should look at is the growing number of single mothers of all ages. We all want to support single mothers – recognizing their dedication and understanding that they could have made a different “choice.” Yet we still have to admit that children growing up without fathers — and fathers shirking their responsibilities — is a tragedy in our nation. What to do?

As the MTV shows indicate, pop culture is a tremendous influence. Going back a ways, while we all wanted to applaud Murphy Brown for choosing to have her baby, Matt K. Lewis has pointed out that it’s about time everyone just admitted that Dan Quayle was right — single parenthood is not the ideal. And everyone, including liberals, should do what they can to promote married parenthood.

This evinces a worldview which sees the arc of history bending in one direction (toward unwed mothers), which assumes that this is a fait accompli. As such, it presents the reader with a world in which liberals are confronting the tough, pragmatic problems of trying to “accommodate the decline of marriage,” while conservatives are tilting at windmills when they try to attack the root problem.

I’m left scratching my head, thinking: “Why not use this as an opportunity to champion reforms that might actually help solve the problem?” — “Why not be all contrarian and give a full-throated endorsement of Marco Rubio’s efforts here, arguing that liberals ought to support ending income inequality, even if it (gasp!) entails supporting culturally conservative policies?”

Ross Douthat admits that promoting marriage without cruelly shaming single parents is a fine line to walk, but doesn’t think it’s impossible:

It seems pretty obvious that there are forms of social pressure that don’t amount to “cruel shunning” and “deliberate cruelty,” but that shape people’s behavior in meaningful ways nonetheless. I think you can see this…in the way that elite culture subtly disfavors out-of-wedlock childbearing and divorce (especially divorce while the kids are young) among the college-educated upper class. In neither case are people who violate these soft norms being ruthlessly excluded from society or deliberately punished by policymakers. But in both cases there’s a gentler kind of stigma at work, one that mixes sympathy with disapproval, a promise of tolerance with a warning of negative life consequences, and that seems to have had some real effect on people’s choices without requiring vicious ostracism or abuse.

Now I’ll concede that the soft social pressure on these fronts would probably have to become more explicitly moralistic to influence the deeper trend toward non-marital childbearing, and I tend toward pessimism about the likelihood of that actually happening, given the social-libertarian drift of both political coalitions. But I still think it’s wrong to suggest….we face a stark choice between totally empty pro-marriage rhetoric and cruelly patriarchal, Magdalen-laundry style treatment of unwed mothers. Rather, I think it’s pretty easy to imagine how pro-marriage rhetoric could play a role in rebuilding a non-punitive cultural consensus around the two-parent norm, one that shapes and channels behavior without treating outliers as the absolute worst of sinners. Between the idea and the reality falls the shadow … but given where we’re currently headed, I see nothing wrong with giving it a try.

Douthat goes on to suggest how we can make this a part of public policy.

Michelle Obama: ‘Never Say Never’ about Plastic Surgery



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Via CBS News:

Michelle Obama, who turns 50 later this week, isn’t ruling out using plastic surgery or Botox in the future.

“Women should have the freedom to do whatever they need to do to feel good about themselves,” the first lady told People magazine in an interview hitting newsstands Friday, her birthday. “Right now, I don’t imagine that I would go that route, but I’ve also learned to never say never.”

Her message to women is to be healthy. Mrs. Obama says she has never missed a health checkup, including mammograms and Pap smears. She’s also had a colonoscopy.

“I don’t obsess about what I eat, but I do make sure that I’m eating vegetables and fruit,” added Mrs. Obama. “And as everyone knows, I do exercise.” Her “Let’s Move” campaign to reduce childhood obesity rates through the combination of exercise and healthier eating enters its fifth year next month.

Her workouts have also evolved from weight-bearing and cardio exercises to include things like yoga that she says will help keep her flexible.

Asked whether she has peaked at 50, Mrs. Obama joked that being first lady is “pretty high up.” She said she’s always felt that her life is “ever-evolving” and she doesn’t have the right to “just sit on my talents or blessings.”

Weird. The message I’m trying to send to my seven-year-old daughter is that you don’t need to inject toxins into your face “to feel good” about yourself. So maybe I’m a feminist?

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A Reminder to Be a Discerning Parent on the Internet



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My goal is to be as informative as I can here on the Home Front, but if I were to review all my posts — well, once or twice I may have fallen into the trap that Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry warns about in “Almost Everything You Read about Parenting on the Internet is Wrong.”

The parenting stories that are all the rage have all the hallmarks of why our current bourgeoisie is insane. Here are a few:

  • A puritanical bourgeois view of success. The goal of education, if you read these stories, is for your children to have good grades, sit still, go to a good school, and have high lifetime income. That’s it… The idea that the goal of education should be the freedom and happiness of your adult child (let alone helping them grow into fellowship with, say, a deity) seems not to have occurred to anyone.
  • A purely mechanical view of being a parent. None of these actually describe being a parent and helping a child grow. What they describe is the mechanics of being a parent. At what time should the kids go to bed. How much allowance should you give them… The very word “parenting”, the neologism being currently used, enforces this view. This is parenthood-as-sex-manual… Yeah sure technique is fine but it’s not the heart of it.
  • A ridiculous pseudo-empiricism. …No parenting blog post is possible without citing A STUDY. Here’s the thing: there’s almost nothing that proves less than a parenting study because it is one of the fields where the causal density is the highest and where it is nigh impossible to isolate one potential cause from the others. The vast majority of parenting studies are just throwing darts on the wall, and the few that have some credibility merely corroborate common sense…

Read more here

Frozen’s Hidden Biblical Truth: Don’t Trust Your Heart



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A beautiful princess, an evil protagonist, melodic tunes, pretty gowns, and — yes – Prince Charming. Disney movies have always included certain staples. But Disney’s new movie Frozen has a striking Biblical truth that differentiates it from its predecessors. Frozen tells young viewers not to listen to their heart. Not “listening to your heart,” of course, flies in the face of advice children may receive in most other Disney flicks. Pinnochio’s “When You Wish Upon a Star” song dreamily tells us:

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you
If your heart is in your dream
No request is too extreme
When you wish upon a star
As dreamers do.

(In fact, this song has become such an iconic part of Disney’s lore that the first seven notes are used as the horn signals on their wonderful cruises.) To put an even finer point on it, Mulan’s “True to Your Heart” theme song has these lyrics:

Though you’re unsure why fight the tide
Don’t think so much, let your heart decide Y
ou must be true to your heart, that’s when the heavens will part…
Open your eyes.
Your heart can tell you no lies…
Why second-guess what feels so right?
Just trust your heart and you’ll see the light…

Wal-Mart even sells “Follow your heart” princess merchandise.

But  Disney’s newest movie, Frozenshows the natural consequence of following that ubiquitous advice.  (Warning: Spoilers!)

Tags: Movie , kids , Bible

Bloomberg vs. de Blasio on NYC Public Education



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The New York Post has been covering a troubled elementary school in Queens, PS 106. The first story was published on Sunday, with a follow-up yesterday and an editorial today

The stories focus on the horrible conditions at the school while the school’s principal, Marcella Sills, is paid a $125,000+ salary and is seen frequently in fur coats and in a BMW. 

Here’s an excerpt from the Post’s editorial today hitting de Blasio for wanting to end Bloomberg’s policy of closing down allegedly failing schools like PS 106:

Bill de Blasio and Carmen Farina: Meet the test of your education policy.

It’s called PS 106 in Far Rockaway. And as The Post’s Susan Edelman laid out in horrific detail Sunday, it’s one of this city’s failure factories. So the question is: What do the mayor and his new schools chancellor intend to do about it?

Mike Bloomberg’s education policy wasn’t perfect, or PS 106 wouldn’t have fallen through the cracks as long as it did. But Bloomberg was pretty clear about what he wanted to do with failing schools: He wanted to close them down.

In sharp contrast, de Blasio campaigned hard against that policy, and presumably his new schools chancellor agrees.

So we’re eager to see what this means for PS 106. On Sunday, The Post characterized it as a “school of no”: no Common Core textbooks, no gym or art classes, no real library, no nurse’s office, no special-ed teachers, no substitute teachers. One parent says kindergartners sit in “dilapidated trailers that reek of animal urine.” And sources told The Post that the principal, Marcella Sills, is a frequent no-show.

But here’s the problem: PS 106 was not failing. Far from it, actually. That is, if you believe in the Bloomberg policy that gave letter grades to the schools. PS 106 was rated an A in 2011 and a B in 2012:

Maybe PS 106 “fell through the cracks” as the Post claims, but if that’s the case, PS 106 fell through the cracks for the very reason Bill de Blasio said a school like PS 106 would fall through the cracks. Here’s a NYT article from November explaining the de Blasio position:

Mr. de Blasio has denounced the letter grades, which were introduced in 2007, as blunt instruments that do not convey a nuanced portrait of a school’s strengths and weaknesses.

Lis Smith, a spokeswoman for Mr. de Blasio, said on Wednesday that letter grades offered “little real insight to parents and are not a reliable indicator of how schools are actually performing.”

I have some experience with this as my son attended a public school in Harlem for three years before I moved to Florida. The grading system that Bloomberg uses is inherently flawed, and the parents I knew never felt the grade ever gave a true picture of the school. Here’s a summary of the Bloomberg system, from that same NYT piece: 

Mr. Bloomberg took the idea of grading schools to a new level, inviting data experts to design a model that did not penalize schools with high populations of disadvantaged students, in the hope that they could be judged more fairly against affluent schools.

The result was one of the most complex grading systems in the country, which compared schools serving similar student populations and focused on how much progress students made each year on exams — not just their overall performance.

To sum that up, you have schools that are graded an “A,” but all that really means is that they’re the best of the worst schools in the city. That’s worthless information to a parent, and it obscures schools that, even if they are improving, are still failing their students.

De Blasio’s educational policies might prove to be a disaster, but the Post should spend some time focusing on what Mayor Bloomberg did wrong during his tenure rather than simply make this a de Blasio vs. Bloomberg policy fight.

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On the Education Front



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With an uptick in cases of measles and whooping cough, many states are considering making it more difficult for students to opt out of having vaccinations. 

Citing problems created when students don’t have enough to eat at lunchtime, the USDA is now reversing its limits on food portions

Another good year for school choice: Ten states acted to create or expand private-school choice programs in 2013.

Debating evolution in Texas — the place where many school textbooks originate.

A look at some new approaches in the school-choice movement from the Milwaukee School Choice Conference.

A new study ties future potential earnings to the highest level of math taken in high school.

From changes in the AP and GED tests to MOOCs to Common Core: What’s ahead for education in 2014.

Science: The Benefits of Breastfeeding and Drinking Wine While Pregnant



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Nursing Times:

Breastfeeding linked to lower risk of arthritis in women

CBS Atlanta: 

Study: Moms Who Drink Wine While Pregnant Have Better Behaved Kids

I think it’s time the N.I.H. studied the effects of drinking wine while breastfeeding. Who knows — maybe it will produce super-children with surprisingly fit mothers?

Flu Vaccine: Yes or No?



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I’m a strong believer in vaccines, but I just can’t get a true sense on the flu vaccine and if it’s necessary for my kids every single year. One of the things that bothers me the most is that major media reports don’t do a very good job of reporting the actual facts on the studies behind the vaccine’s efficacy. For example, here’s CNN from January 3:

The exact number of flu-related adult deaths is hard to track and varies from year to year. The CDC has estimated that from 1976 through 2007, between 3,000 and 49,000 people died of flu-related causes.

“It depends on the season; it depends on the virus,” Jhung said.

Last year, 381,000 people were hospitalized and 171 children died in what’s being called a relatively severe season.

However, the CDC estimates that flu vaccination prevented 6.6 million illnesses last year, 3.2 million doctor visits and at least 79,000 hospitalizations.

Flu vaccines are recommended for everyone 6 months and older, especially pregnant women and those at high risk of complications, including the elderly, children younger than 5 years and those with underlying medical conditions such as asthma or diabetes.

Antiviral medications are a good treatment if you do get sick, Jhung said, particularly those at high risk for complications. Ideally, antivirals should be started within two days of when symptoms appear.

CNN never links to the actual report from the CDC, however. I did some digging, and you can read the CDC report for yourself here

CNN gives a good summary of the CDC’s findings, but doesn’t mention a single one of the CDC’s self-reported “limitations” with their own work. Here’s what the CDC wrote (emphasis mine):

The findings in this report are subject to at least six limitations. First, influenza vaccination coverage rates were derived from vaccination status reported by survey respondents, not vaccination records, and are subject to recall bias. Second, these rates are based on telephone surveys with relatively low response rates; therefore, selection bias might remain after weighting adjustments. Third, these surveys only cover the noninstitutionalized population. Fourth, estimates of the number of persons vaccinated based on these survey data exceeded the actual number of doses distributed, indicating coverage estimates used in this report overestimate averted illness resulting from vaccination (5). Fifth, the model only calculates outcomes directly averted by vaccination. If there is indirect protection from decreased exposure among unvaccinated persons in a partially vaccinated population (i.e., herd immunity), the model would underestimate the number of prevented illnesses. Also, although the impact of vaccination in preventing severe outcomes is most pronounced among persons aged ≥65 years, if vaccine effectiveness were lower among frail elderly persons, the model might have overestimated the effect in this group. Finally, adjustments for underreporting of influenza hospitalizations were based on studies conducted in 2009–10, as were the extrapolation of hospitalization rates to estimate rates of illness and medically attended illness. Because multipliers were calculated during a pandemic, if the ratio of hospitalizations to other outcomes or the underreporting of hospitalization rates were different in 2012–13 (e.g., through changes in health-seeking behaviors or testing practices), the model might have underestimated or overestimated the effect of vaccination.

These seem like pretty damning limitations to me. Why can’t we get better data on flu vaccines in general? 

 

 

Caring for the Poor, an Immigrant’s Story



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His grandfather was a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine. His mom and dad were both physicians. Even his brother was a doctor.

When Ming Wang was born in Hangzhou, in the Zhejiang province of China, his destiny seemed to be all but determined.

However, dictator Mao Tse-tung had other ideas. Though Ming made all A’s in school, he had the misfortune of attending school during the “Cultural Revolution.” During that time, the government had a “forced education” program for the youth, which meant the government decided Ming’s future occupational trajectory. Mao shut down colleges, ending the education of Chinese children after high school.

Ming, if the dictator had had his way, would have been a farmer in a remote peasant village for the rest of his life.

Ming’s parents believed in education, but were afraid that if they sent their son to high school he would be deported like other youths. So, when he was only fourteen, his parents took him out of school. At thirteen, his education was over and the only job available to him in his province was janitorial work.

Instead, he had an idea.

He knew that the Communists needed professional musicians for use in their propaganda efforts, so he began playing a traditional Chinese stringed instrument called the er-hu.

“I picked up the er-hu, not as a hobby but to survive,” Ming says. Every day, he sat down in his home and practiced for fifteen hours a day. Since his family had no heater, he’d get frost-bite on his fingers due to excessive practicing during the cold months. However, the government swooped in and destroyed that dream as well.

Once they learned that teenagers were learning musical instruments to avoid deportation, they made a sweeping proclamation not to accept any musicians from Ming’s city.

Ming’s dad illegally taught his son medicine, by sneaking him into classes he taught at a local college. Though there was no chance that his son could ever become an actual physician, his father believed that knowledge for the sake of knowledge was important. After a year, however, the government caught wind of his illegal activities and expelled him from classes.

Just as his parents were about to relent and accept Ming’s fate of hard labor, Mao died.

For the first time in years, colleges were opened up and Ming had a chance to get in by cramming all of the years of missed education into two short months. Miraculously, he pulled off this stunt, got accepted into the “MIT of China,” impressed a visiting American professor, and ended up in America. Business Leader sums up his educational trajectory:

On Feb. 3, 1982, Wang arrived at the National Airport, Washington DC, with $50 and a Chinese-English dictionary in his pocket, knowing no one in this vast new country but carrying a “big American dream” in his heart. He worked very hard, realizing how precious in life such an opportunity is for learning, and how close he once was to giving up all hope for studying and for a better life. Five years later, Wang graduated with a doctorate degree in laser physics and completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Dr. Wang then went on to receive his second doctorate degree — this time in medicine — from Harvard Medical School and MIT, graduating with an MD (magna cum laude). His graduation thesis received the award as the best thesis of his graduating class from Harvard that year. He then received his training in ophthalmology at three of the nation’s top four ophthalmic institutions — Harvard Medical School in Boston, Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia (ophthalmology residency), and Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami (corneal fellowship).

Dr. Ming Wang now works in Nashville as a corneal refractive surgeon who believes in the American dream, limited government, and helping the poor. How does he balance his belief in small government and liberty with his desire to help the poor? Through volunteer medical care within a system that helps facilitate that care. He wrote about his approach in a recent Tennessean article:

Ten years ago we established a 501(c)(3) nonprofit sight-restoration foundation. It provided a system to identify indigent patients and make the arrangements to get them to the appropriate doctors. The foundation consists of three parts: a team of eye doctors who donate their services, a group of medical companies that contribute supplies and a board of philanthropic leaders in our community who donate financially and assist in fundraising. To show that this system does indeed work, I will share one recent example.

Last year at the foundation’s annual gala — the EyeBall — attendees were captivated and deeply moved as Christian missionaries Steve and Lynn Hendrich shared the story and photos of Maria, a 15-year-old blind girl whom they had found in an orphanage in Moldova. Maria was born prematurely and had a retinal detachment in her left eye that resulted in total blindness, and an end-stage cataract and uveitis in her right eye that left her with only light-perception vision.

To make matters worse, since Maria was 15, she had only one year left before she would have to leave the orphanage. Lacking the skills to survive, she would most likely be forced into human trafficking and prostitution, a devastating fate that has fallen upon many Moldovan orphan girls. The foundation decided to take Maria on as our next patient.

After a year of challenging efforts, Maria finally received her visa and made the long trip to America. Maria’s first visit was to our clinic for a complex and high-risk cataract surgery, which, by the grace of God, went miraculously well. When the patch was removed, Maria was able to see herself and the world around her for the very first time! Maria was then sent by the foundation to another doctor, Dr. David Shen, who provided optical care.

Want to see a video of Maria seeing herself for the first time? When she realized the girl looking back from the mirror was actually herself, she exclaimed, “I’m so pretty!” in Romanian.

 

Flash AnimationDr. Wang’s approach successfully reduces the financial and logistical challenges of caring for the poor, while protecting our freedom and choices. Ming, who has seen government oppression with his own eyes, said “There are simply not enough financial resources available to care for the poor, but if we don’t want a bigger government and higher taxes, we need to be proactive and take more responsibility ourselves in helping devise solutions.”

By the way, Ming still remembers how to play the instrument of his youth.

“I learned to play er-hu as a way to escape poverty then,” he says. “But now I play it for an entirely different reason. Today I play the er-hu, with its soulful, gentle and beautiful sound, to truly appreciate the music itself, to appreciate God’s blessings, and the opportunities that He has given me to learn, and to help others.”

Good News: Nancy Pelosi Is Learning How to Code



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A few weeks back, the non-profit Code.org, sponsored an initiative called “An Hour of Code” that was designed, through a one-hour online tutorial, to show students the basics of writing computer code. Code.org’s goals are:

Bringing Computer Science classes to every K-12 school in the United States, especially in urban and rural neighborhoods.
Demonstrating the successful use of online curriculum in public school classrooms
Changing policies in all 50 states to categorize C.S. as part of the math/science “core” curriculum
Harnessing the collective power of the tech community to celebrate and grow C.S. education worldwide
To increase the representation of women and students of color in the field of Computer Science.

This I have no issue with.What I do question is the look on Nancy Pelosi’s face after completing one of the Code.org modules. She’s so happy, you’d think she just successfully fixed the Obamacare website herself:

I did the same “Hour of Code” with my kids, ages six and eleven. My six-year-old also moved the Angry Bird a few boxes. Literally. You learn to move the Angry Bird a few boxes:

But my daughter didn’t share in Pelosi’s enthusiasm at what they had accomplished. 

Why in the world is Representative Pelosi so proud of herself? She’s supposed to understand this, no? Since she’s voting on funding for gigantic Obamacare websites and NSA technical programs, maybe she should have a little more instruction on how writing code works than what’s designed for a six-year-old. As should every member of Congress. 

Celebrating “Good” Motherhood



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It’s funny how a simple single line from a television show can jump out at you. While enjoying the season premiere of Downton Abbey last night, Maggie Smith’s character — who often has pointed gibes, but also age-old wisdom — made a profound point to a grieving widow who doubted her abilities as a parent.

“There is more than one kind of good mother,” she told her granddaughter very matter-of-factly.

And with that simple turn of phrase, suddenly all the mommy wars seemed so pointless to me. There are so many really good blogs and so many different theories on parenting, from attachment to tiger moms. There’s even a book entitled The Good Mother MythI honestly feel it is about finding your own path.

I’ve always told new moms to keep their ears open to any tidbits from other moms, and to tuck them away in a mental “bag of tricks.” Even if it sounds totally absurd to you, the day may come (or the middle of a night) when you will give that advice a try out of desperation . . . and find that it works. 

And I also tell them to remember that being a good mother can look different from one kid to another. What works with one, may not with the next. Give yourself room to adjust and call audibles. And to start fresh the next day.

I’m not saying anything unprecedented here, but we all can use a reminder now and then. And we all can enjoy this truly touching tribute to motherhood:

 

An American Girl Doll Christmas



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My six-year-old daughter’s love affair with her American Girl doll comes and goes. This Christmas, the affair was back, with a vengeance. She’d grab every catalog as soon as they arrived in the mail and start adding items to her list for Santa  – yes, she still believes in Santa. But she also added out-of-production items that she had us find for her on eBay. She did question why Santa couldn’t just buy her what she wanted online, like this ukulele for $80. Sorry, kid. Santa is magic but he doesn’t have an Internet connection.

So, what did she get this year? Yep. The much-talked about Common-Core-aligned backpack set. And I can report the little tiny textbooks are replicas of the actual textbooks used in school, at least in her older brother’s school here in Miami.

She had a gift card to use as well, and she picked this — a school desk: 

Yes, she wanted her doll to do homework. 

There are certainly arguments for and against Common Core, but I have a kid who makes her dolls do homework. And American Girl at least deserves some credit for that, regardless of what tiny textbooks are included. 

Five Marriage Tips from Jeff Bridges



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It’s a feat when a couple’s been married thirty-five years. But in Hollywood? Well, let’s just say it’s really notable.

Tom Rapsas recently wrote about the long relationship between actor Jeff Bridges his wife Susan by summing up Bridges’s five stages to a successful marriage. The third one — called “In time, you see the depth and beauty of married life” — held much wisdom: 

Once you get past the first few shaky years, you find your relationship growing stronger, the roots growing deeper. You have a perception shift where you no longer see what you’re missing, but see the beauty in all that you have. (This was especially true in my case when our first child came along.) You close one door, the door to all other women, but you open a door that leads to a long hallway lined with doors. Incredible doors like children, grandchildren, deeper intimacy with the woman you love, and so many other things that would not be available to you without marriage, without the water under the bridge . . . thank God I went for it.

Tags: marriage

It’s Not Too Late to Spread the Cheer



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While certain people were sitting in their pajamas, drinking hot chocolate, and inexplicably finding it appropriate to discuss health care, Governor Christie had a better idea.

 

 
There are plenty of ways to express the real meaning of the season through volunteering your time. If there isn’t a hotline where you live, check with your church, local food bank, etc. I was looking for service ideas when a friend stumbled on an opportunity.
 
While visiting a small nursing home in her town, she noticed they had a “giving tree” with the names of residents who needed socks and blankets. Only two names out of 45 had been taken care of. She announced it on Facebook, and soon had friends near and far pledging to help. One big trip to Walmart later, and those residents are now going to be toasty this Christmas.
 
As for me and my house, we have been inspired to visit a local home on Christmas day. Not quite as ambitious as my friend — but every little bit helps. I hope you can find your own ways to make little acts of kindness to celebrate the season. I would love to hear about them . . .
 
 

The Most Uplifting Video of the Day



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Almost forgot about this one I saw a few weeks ago — maybe you’ve come across it on Facebook or elsewhere. It seems that Unilever is trying to make amends for some past wrongs. 

Unilever has a new campaign called “Project Sunlight,” which it describes in a press release as appealing to everyone, but particularly parents, “encouraging them to join what Unilever sees as a growing community of people who want to make the world a better place for children and future generations” and “a new initiative to motivate millions of people to adopt more sustainable lifestyles.”

After being caught up in accusations of deforestation and price-fixing, it seems that Unilever is now dedicated to sustainability projects and contributing to charitable organizations. Though one can argue about the merits of such programs – and whether or not this is all just to polish Unilever’s image — there is no denying that they produced one of the most life-affirming, two-parent-affirming videos I’ve ever seen. (The usual caveat: As a former single mom, I would point out that it’s not about denigrating single parenthood but affirming the role of both parents – especially fathers – when possible.)

 

 

 

Jimmy Kimmel Hooks a Kid up to a Fake Lie Detector



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I think it’s funny, but I assume some will say it was mean. Video here. I love it when she sells her brother out and tells Kimmel he should only get half a gift from Santa.

 

What’s the ‘Truth’ about Santa?



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In case you missed it on the Corner, Nancy French “outed” her family as “Santa truthers.” For them, it boils down to the real meaning of Christmas.

The Christmas story is this:

God gave us the perfect gift even when we did nothing to deserve it. (And, in fact, deserved a lot worse than a lump of coal.) Instead of looking at us in our sin and putting us away, God was overcome with love for us. He didn’t hold our wrongdoings against us. Instead, at great cost, He gave us a way to be forgiven and reenter into communion with Him. That gift was His son, in the form of a baby.

The Santa story — other than the tales associated with the historical St. Nick, who’s simply a footnote in this commercial age — is this:

There’s a jolly, wonderful, magical being called “Santa” who is watching you. If you do something wrong, your name will be crossed off the “nice list” and put on the “naughty list.” Want good presents? You had better behave.

Which story is actually better and more comforting? The one that has the added benefit of being true. 

Nancy wrote in response to an article that unfairly characterized families that make this choice as being unimaginative. The article also argued that Santa truly represents the reason for the season. 

I have to say this is the first I had heard of anyone making this choice because they felt it was more faithful to their religious beliefs. Previously, I had heard arguments from the child-rearing angle – that in telling such tales “children take the feeling of betrayal and confusion into adulthood, and it has long-lasting effects on the parent-child relationship.” (Doesn’t seem likely in a relationship that is otherwise strong, but I’m not the expert.) 

I was happily surprised to see that PBS.org actually takes a pretty healthy approach to the story of Santa, and even points out that you can read religious-oriented books about him. (But of course, they also end with the noncommittal statement that “there is no right or wrong way” to talk about him.) And not surprisingly, there are atheists who would be more than happy for Santa and his remaining religious ties to fade away.

Weighing all the arguments, there is a part of me that wants to join Nancy and her family. I do feel that Christmas has become for too commercial, and that we have lost the real reason for the season. But I can’t let go of the tradition of Santa. My husband and I try to not stress the “naughty or nice” list and focus more on the spirit of giving that Santa represents as part of the incredible gift of salvation from our Savior’s birth. We feel the “truth” can be told in many ways that do not betray our faith — even including the myth of a jolly old elf.

This survey had it split relatively evenly, but more folks chose the truth. What do you think?

Suspended for Kissing?



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A six-year-old boy in Colorado was suspended for two days for kissing a classmate on the hand. Along with the suspension, a note was placed in his file at the school saying he was disciplined as per the district’s “sexual harassment” policy. The boy’s mom admits this isn’t the first time her son has been in trouble for kissing (and other things), but she’s objecting to the sexual-harassment stigma now attached to her child.

Of the many reports on this story, this one from Cañon City Daily Record gives the most balanced recounting of the events.

Here’s one suggestion for the mom: If you’re so worried about your son being branded a sexual harasser, stop going on TV. 

From the Daily Record piece above, it sounds like the school is doing its best to get the kid’s mother to address his behavior and she continues to make excuses. However, I do think the school should have used more discretion in the file — however temporary it is — and labeled this incident differently, with a warning that the “sexual harassment” notation will be forthcoming if problems continue. 

What The Hunger Games Is Really About?



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The author of The Hunger Games trilogy is not tipping her hand on her political leanings. Susan Collins merely says she came up with the idea of the first book while switching channels one night and seeing a reality show and Iraq War coverage. But many liberals seem to think that the type of oppression portrayed in these books and movies points to the GOP. Apparently the commentary on the DVD for the first film has many references by the actors et al to”the Bush regime.” Seriously? Does that refer to the military methods and the increase in the invasion of privacy thanks to the War on Terror – that the current administration has taken to a whole new level?  Gee, do you think we will hear about the “Obama regime” in the second movie’s commentary?

And it seems there is also a group calling themselves “The Harry Potter Alliance” that is insisting that The Hunger Games reflects income inequality in the U.S.

[T]he Harry Potter Alliance [is] a group that aims to push a progressive agenda by politicizing popular young-adult novels and their fans.

For the New York-based nonprofit, “The Hunger Games” trilogy is more than the gripping tale of a brave teenage girl fighting for her life in a dystopian society — it’s a call for progressive social change.

The alliance launched its “Odds in Our Favor” campaign Nov. 21, the day before the release of the second “Hunger Games” movie… The drive is aimed at pushing what the organization calls the movie’s central theme: income inequality.

Hoo boy. 

       photo credit: Lionsgate

It’s interesting to watch the likes of Slate, when reporting on the meaning of the films, try to play both sides.

I have no idea whether Collins understood, while writing her best-selling trilogy of novels, that this would allow Tea Party libertarians to embrace Katniss Everdeen’s incipient rebellion against the tyranny of the effete, aestheticized and affluent Capital as easily as could Obama liberals or left-wing anarchists. Is this a story of the 99 percent rising against their corporate overlords, or of real Americans “taking their country back” from the cultural elite? 

Corporate overlords? Yeah, I’m sure Americans feel the oppression of corporations on a daily basis.

The Bush administration didn’t exactly try to control every aspect of Americans’ lives. But there actually are countries where citizens are given a test at a young age so that the government can choose which career path those children are “allowed” to pursue — or where they may live, or if they are allowed to step outside a certain border.

And viewers of The Hunger Games movies may have noticed something missing amongst the citizens’ possessions. Why does Katniss hunt with a bow? But it’s not the GOP that’s trying to disarm everyone — or even cracking down on “imaginary weapons.”

Though conservatives certainly have their own lavish parties, they are not the ones who dress up in outrageous fashion, making themselves vomit so they can eat more, with the cameras broadcasting their swanky soirees while the masses sit in their humble homes and watch.

And are conservatives the ones creating the reality shows that reward questionable behavior with instant fame?

Kids are smart, and hopefully will draw the right conclusions themselves. But it doesn’t hurt to ask them what they think The Hunger Games is really about.

Are Laptops in the Classroom a Good Idea?



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The response to that question can run the gamut from “what a great learning tool for advancing a child’s education” all the way to “what a colossal waste of our taxpayer dollars.” I have to say my own reaction when I first heard about such ideas — like the ubiquitous obsolete-upon-completion ”computer labs” that were opened in high schools across the nation — was largely skepticism. Couldn’t that money be put to better use? Because that’s what it’s all about: not the bells and whistles and dollars thrown at education but how we spend our money on our students, right?

So when I heard about the problems plaguing the Los Angeles program to equip each child with an iPad (they’re now considering a switch to laptops), I wasn’t surprised. Most teachers in LA did not support any more money being spent on the program, one commenting that there aren’t even funds to pay for custodial cleaning services for the classrooms. A similar program in Fort Bend County, Texas was suspended after it failed to meet expected goals. 

But lost among those stories of failure is a project that is making a phenomenal change where it has been tried. 

Here is a video of the success story in Mooresville, N.C., that started in 2009.

 

 

 

The program, which leases the laptops for much less than the Los Angeles program did, started with laying off about ten percent of the county’s teachers and increasing class sizes. You can imagine how that would go over in many school districts. But if it truly is about educating our children — not keeping jobs for union bosses and their members — all administrators should take a closer look at this shining example of what technology can bring to the classroom.

Read more about the Mooresville program here.

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