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The Home Front

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

War Is Over, If You Want It to Be -- Really?



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I’m in a hotel room in Des Moines, working on a writing project while The Sing Off’s Christmas special drones on in my room. Though I’ve watched the show pretty religiously with my kids, it’s background noise tonight. I’m collecting information, organizing it into a longer book format, researching, ordering room service, trying to pretend I don’t know where the workout room is.

The show seemed happy enough, though I didn’t hear one Christmas song that wasn’t Santa-centric. (Perhaps I missed some? I heard the Beach Boys’ “Little St. Nick,” ”Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” Justin Bieber’s “Under the Mistletoe,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and even “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” If I missed one, let me know. Again, it’s basically background noise tonight.) I enjoyed listening to host Nick Lachey and judges Sara Bareilles and Ben Folds performing on stage. (Okay, wasn’t so enthused about Nick. Have you noticed the weird shoulder shrug thing he does while announcing performers? My daughter pointed this out, and now I can’t pay attention to anything else he says. It’s like his body physically emphasizes punctuation marks.)

Anyway, I was listening to a torturous rendition of “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” — a 1971 song written by John Lennon and Yoko Ono – and realized that they were singing this in honor of the soldiers who were coming home for the holidays.  

Does this seem tone deaf to you? As the wife of a soldier, I appreciate that the show is honoring our soldiers in a time of war. I mean, I wish all of the shows would take a moment to think about the soldiers who won’t be spending the holidays at home. But seriously? Doesn’t the song choice seem strange to you? Does a liberal, hippie, Vietnam-era song provide comfort to anyone, except in some sort of nostalgic Forrest Gump soundtrack kind of way? Isn’t it only nice if it’s divorced from historic context?

If I’m right that the show’s producers made a decision to eliminate all religiously themed songs, then perhaps it makes sense. After all, there are meaningful Christmas songs that deal with war. For example, two stanzas of ”I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” refer to the Civil War and the other five emphasize God’s sovereignty and the ultimate triumph over evil. However, if you reduce Christmas to some sort of feel-good season without any religious significance, then what comfort can you offer the military?

He might be okay at delivering presents, but Santa’s just not that great at delivering hope or comfort to the homesick.

D Is for Deacon



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Elizabeth Ficocelli has an excellent series Catholic parents may appreciate: Introducing priestsnuns, and now deacons to young children, in short, well-done books. 

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Is the 50/50 Marriage the Ideal?



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My father was born in 1922. He died just over three years ago, at the age of 85, and I can honestly say I never once heard him tell my mother what to do in her own house. Yup, that’s what I wrote: her house.

Technically, it was their house — my father did make the payments, after all — but he would never dream of telling my mother how to decorate it or how to situate the furniture. And he certainly wouldn’t tell her how the kitchen should be organized, what utensils should be used, or how to load the dishwater. My parents’ home was, with the exception of the garage and basement, my mother’s domain.

That’s the way things were back then: The house was her job, the office was his. This arrangement had its bumpy moments — she would complain that he didn’t “help out” enough in the kitchen,” and he would try to be of assistance, only to be told he wasn’t doing it right — but for the most part, it worked.

Today this family model has gone the way of the dinosaurs. Husbands and wives are expected to do everything 50/50. That’s how couples, men in particular, prove their status as enlightened beings. But is the 50/50 marriage — in which both spouses work, cook, clean, and raise children together in perfect harmony — superior to the old way? And does it even work?

In theory, perhaps. In reality, no.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m all for sharing duties, and that’s generally the way things work in our home. My husband and I rarely fight about who does what because we’re both self-sufficient and respect each other’s role. (Full disclosure: My husband works full-time and pays the bills; I write, as you know, but also take on the lion’s share of household and child-related matters). And our marriage dynamic has become all the more evident since we moved my 81-year-old (and still vibrant) mother into our home.

Oh, sure, my mother knew my husband does the dishes every night; she’s seen that many times. And she remembers his doing his part in caring for our two children when they were babies. But it wasn’t until my mother moved in with my family that she saw the extent to which my husband got involved on the home front.

When she wants to put certain utensils in a certain drawer in the kitchen, I might respond, “Well, you-know-who doesn’t like it there.” Or if she wants to prepare a dish (I do most of the cooking, but she helps out) a certain way, I might say, “Well, you-know-who doesn’t like such-and-such prepared that way.” At which point her eyes will open wide while she desperately tries to keep her mouth shut. But I know exactly what she’s thinking: My father would no more have had an opinion on these matters than he would fly to the moon. And he would eat anything and everything my mother put on his plate. My husband, on the other hand, has lots to say — so much that it makes my job that much more difficult.

The 50/50 marriage feminists have been touting for decades is supposed to be a recipe for the old model. Their argument is that women like my mother were unduly burdened, while husbands got off scot-free. But is this accurate?

My mother quit her career as a stockbroker (yes, women had careers before feminism came along) when my sister and I were five and three, respectively — and was never employed after that. As a result, her time was her own. Once my sister and I were in school full-time, my mother was free as a jaybird to do whatever she liked.

My father couldn’t say that.

Does my mother’s life, or mine, seem oppressive to you? That’s what feminists and the women they’ve enlisted in their cause believe — and what they want you to believe. Consider this shocking statement by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook: “We still haven’t achieved the goal of real equality for women in the workplace and men in the home. Women continue to need protection not only globally where many women lack basic civil and human rights, but also here where the most dangerous place for an American woman is still shockingly in her home.”

The most dangerous place for an American woman is in her home. Wow.

With this belief firmly planted in their brains, feminists tout a new model for marriage — one in which each spouse is expected to do the exact same thing. Sandberg explains that she and her husband share everything right down the middle: care of their two small children, full-time careers, cooking, cleaning, etc. What she doesn’t mention (as most high-profile feminists don’t) is that somewhere in the background is a full-time nanny who’s doing the hard work — some might say the real work — for them.

Most women, most parents, don’t want to give up the precious years they have at home to rear their children so they can pursue demanding careers that place them at the mercy of hired help. Much to the dismay of feminists such as Sandberg, most women — despite all their so-called gains — still choose to work part-time, if at all, once they have children. In doing so, they acquire a type of freedom men don’t have.

Husbands don’t have the luxury of leaving their jobs temporarily, and then when their babies are old enough to go to school decide whether or not they want to go back to work, change careers, or get part-time jobs. Millions of men don’t follow their dreams because they know women want husbands who are willing to carry the financial load. My husband is an academic at heart, an intellectual of sorts who’d spend his days reading and writing poetry if he could. But when he was in his 20s, he realized his dream to become the next Pablo Neruda would not provide for a family — so he gave it all up and went into sales instead.

It is men’s consistent work — full-time, year-round, all throughout their lives — that allows women the freedom and flexibility to find the balance they so desperately crave. If that kind of life, that kind of devotion to the daily grind, were recognized as equally taxing as “women’s work,” as it used to be before feminism came along, the idea that women are unduly burdened would seem downright laughable.

The 50/50 marriage is a fraud. No marriage is ever equal on any given year — and too many cooks in the kitchen can spoil the soup anyway. No one dares admit this lest they be labeled a throwback who believe women “belong in the kitchen,” which is so ridiculous. But the greatest problem with the 50/50 model is that in order to follow it, the children of America can’t be raised by mom and dad — and the majority of parents, thankfully, don’t want that.

The 50/50 model is a feminist utopia. It works in their dreams, but not in ours.

Wasting a Precious Resource: Our Boys



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Scholars who take on the notion that overpopulation threatens our planet counter that human beings are our most valuable resource. Far from degrading our world, they make it richer and invent all of the products and processes that improve our quality of life.

I wholeheartedly agree with this perspective, but worry that one of the greatest problems confronting the U.S. (and, indeed, Western civilization) is that we increasingly fail to put these resources to good use — particularly our nation’s boys.

Much has been written on how women are gaining power in the new economy, out-performing men in education, and even increasingly out-earning them. Kay Hymowitz’s book provides a detailed look at the dysfunctional culture that dominates much of young men’s lives — at a great cost to them, and to women too.

David Thomas provides a more personal perspective on this phenomenon in the Daily Mail. He describes the successes of his ambitious, 20-something daughters, and his concerns for his teenage son. While he uses statistics and particulars from the U.K., they resonate just as well with the situation in the U.S. Both education systems are run almost exclusively by women and cater to female learning styles, which has profound consequences for boys.

I’ve been reading these types of statistics and arguments for many years, but they have a very different impact when you consider them as a parent. Debates about nature vs. nurture which used to seem like interesting academic questions become a little absurd once you have kids — particularly children of both sexes. The difference are so blindingly obvious, and clearly stem from more than choices of pink and blue, that the whole idea of a gender-neutral world becomes absurd.

It took my two-year-old son, who has grown up in a house dominated by two older sisters, with mostly girl toys and Angelina books, about five minutes in the home of another little boy to identify and become obsessed with guns and swords. He is more hyper, rambunctious, violent, and less easy to communicate with than my girls were when they were his age.

It’s easy to see how these attributes will be a liability in a few years. My four-year-old daughter was recently described by her preschool teacher as an ideal student: she listens, sits still, and follows directions. She is quiet, polite, and excels with fine motor skills, so she is enthralled by the many craft projects that dominate her preschool experience.

That’s nice to hear of course, but made me pause about the teacher’s perception of an “ideal” student. Clearly, in this instance, the ideal student is decidedly female. And as a mom, I sympathize. If I was in charge of 15 preschoolers, I would absolutely want a crowd of well-behaved children, quietly pasting hearts on construction paper, rather than a noisy mob rolling on the ground or wielding sticks. In other words, I’d rather deal with a bunch of little girls than little boys. But that’s not how schools are supposed to see it, and it’s clearly not good for boys to be surrounded by those who see their natural tendencies as a nuisance.

Like Thomas, I’ll be paying extra attention as my kids grow up to the academic climate in which I enroll my son. I’ll seriously consider and look for opportunities for boys schools when possible. I’m confident that my girls will do well in traditional school settings, but am not so sure that that’s the situation that will get the most out of my little boy. I don’t want him to get the message that school is not a place for kids like him.

When I was living in Virginia, a family down the street with three daughters had a bumper sticker on their car that read something like this: Girls Don’t Chase Boys, They Run Right Passed Them.

It’s cute, though needless to say, one would never see anything comparable on the car of a family of sons celebrating boys’ superiority to girls. It’s hard to imagine that such a male-applauding bumper-sticker even exists. Yet my neighbors bumper stickers was absolutely unremarkable. In fact, it’s the new vision of equality. As Thomas summed it up: “[Students] have been taught that men and women are equal — except for all the ways in which women are superior.”

That’s the message pushed in our schools and in society. Is this really what we want our boys growing up to believe?

— Carrie Lukas is the managing director of the Independent Women’s Forum.

ACLU Not Happy with Pro-Life ‘Siri’



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Catholic Online:

The ACLU is complaining, this time because Apple’s popular new virtual assistant, Siri, can’t direct you to an abortion clinic. The group has launched an online petition asking people to flood Apple offices with requests to “fix Siri.”

Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM) – The ACLU wrote on a blog post on Wednesday, “Although it isn’t clear that Apple is intentionally trying to promote an anti-choice agenda, it is distressing that Siri can point you to Viagra, but not the Pill, or help you find an escort, but not an abortion clinic. We’re confident that the developers at Apple want to provide iPhone users with accurate information.”

Apple has replied that the omission wasn’t intentional and that Siri is still in beta testing so there are “places where we can do better.” It is believed that as more and more data is uploaded into Siri’s database, then the digital assistant will be able to field more general requests.

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World AIDS Day



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My friend Tom Walsh, who has been with PEPFAR since 2004 and was even the acting head of it in 2009, writes about an event today you might want to check into:

Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine something that could bring together Presidents Obama, Bush (43), and Clinton . . . with Bono and Alicia Keys . . . and Kay Warren . . . and Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Barbara Lee.

But it’s happening. Tomorrow (Thursday) morning, the ONE Campaign and Project (RED) have organized an observance of World AIDS Day that will include all of the above, and others.

And they’re coming together for the best of reasons — to celebrate the progress we’ve made in 30 years of fighting this disease. Over the last decade, the PEPFAR program has made incredible strides at reversing the toll of AIDS, especially in Africa, the hardest-hit region. Recent scientific advances have made it possible to do even more, and tomorrow’s event will offer a window into the opportunities ahead of us. 

You can watch the event here live at 10 a.m. EST, or anytime thereafter.

Hipster Homemakers and ‘Extreme Domesticity’



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Okay, can you tell I’m avoiding some other writing projects? One more post on the Home Front, and — I promise — I’m going to leave you good readers alone. But I found Rebecca Cusey’s recent article about “Hipster Homemakers and ‘Extreme Domesticity’” very interesting. She asks:

Women are taking on burdens their grandmothers rejected: growing organic food, canning, baking bread. Is this movement a way to take care of one’s family properly or a symptom of an overly wealthy and neurotic society?

Her article goes on to explain her views on the matter, but she’s gotten some push back from (apparently?) some hip homemakers. Tara Edelschick’s reply to her post is the most well reasoned. What do you think?  

Are these “hipster homemakers” type-A personalities that carry their overachievement to the home front? Or, as Tara claims, is the real curse of modern motherhood (especially among the wealthy and well-educated) a certain defensiveness about the choices we make?

What’s the Problem with Black Fathers?



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Now that I’ve adopted a baby from Africa and brought her to a new home in rural Tennessee, I’m looking at racial issues in a totally fresh and more serious light. That’s why Rick Banks caught my attention. He’s recently caused a stir with his book, Is Marriage for White People?, in which he talks about the marriage crisis in the black community. And he’s at it again.

In his new column, “What’s the Problem with Black Fathers?” he stirs the pot:

African American fathers are often reviled as the most uninvolved group of parents in our nation. Recently, after black teenagers in Philadelphia committed a series of assaults and acts of vandalism, Mayor Michael Nutter singled out African American fathers for especially harsh criticism. “Part of the problem in our community, the black community,” he said, is that “we have too many men making too many babies that they don’t want to take care of.” Comedian Bill Cosby and then-presidential candidate Barack Obama have similarly castigated black fathers for, in the words of Obama, having “abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men.”

It is true that many black fathers are absent from their children’s lives. But it is not because they don’t care about them. It is more because they are not married to the child’s mother.

Why does this matter, and what can we do about it? Read his suggestions here.

Greg: I, for One, Can’t Watch It



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When my husband finally home came home from Iraq, after his year with the 3rd Armored Cav Regiment in the Diyala province, we decided to surprise the kids at school. Perhaps we had seen one too many of the types of videos Greg posted below. You know the kind . . . where the child doesn’t realize his or her dad is about to pop through the door and then has a joyful reaction caught on tape for the rest of their lives?  

Well, we surprised the kids at Zion Christian Academy — but it was too much, and just felt wrong. We hadn’t gauged the intensity of their emotions — or ours. David had just found out (upon his arrival to the states) that one of his dear friends had been killed, so he felt wounded and raw. In turn, I felt uneasy — because I’d expected a husband that was thrilled to be home, but got a grieving soldier who regretted leaving his brothers behind.

The reunion wasn’t so much joyful as tearful. It was simply too much for a nine-year-old and seven-year-old to take — and all in public.

Though I used to watch those sweet reunions and swell with patriotic pride and joy, I can no longer even click play. I’m overjoyed of course that families are being reunited and that some parents have the emotional fortitude to pull such public reunions off.

But I just wanted to throw our story out there in case there’s a spouse at home dreaming of the day their loved one returns: Sometimes the private, quiet reunions are just the right thing for your family.

Dare You Not to Cry



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A heartwarming homecoming for a Marine and his lucky daughter.

Why Marriage Eludes the Modern Woman



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I just finished a book called Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married by Gary Chapman. In it, the author outlines the complexities of married life that few of us anticipate before we tie the knot — such as how our personality affects our behavior, or how important spirituality is to most people, or how few couples explore this topic before getting married. Indeed, there are so many things that make marriage challenging all on its own that being raised in a culture that undermines this institution practically guarantees people will fail. Yet that’s exactly where we are.

Never in the history of time have women had a better shot at marital bliss — they have more freedom, flexibility, and privileges than ever — yet they’re celebrating the single life in record numbers. The reason is twofold. Since the day they were born, women have been tremendously influenced by the most significant revolution of our time: the feminist movement. For decades its mission has been to change a woman’s place in society and eradicate both masculinity and femininity. The result is a battle between the sexes — the likes of which this nation has never seen.

The second reason women struggle with marriage — which is part and parcel of the first — is they’ve been taught that the world revolves (or should revolve) around them. This attitude is a bona fide deal breaker. So much about marriage requires putting oneself last, or being quiet rather than demanding, or taking the higher road and not having to have one’s way all the time. Simply put, married life presupposes a maturity modern women don’t have.

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about young men who fail to grow up and become good family men, but video games are not the culprit — women are. Men tend to follow women’s lead — and it is women, not men, who fight Mother Nature. It is women who’ve changed the roles, rules, and expectations of marriage. It is women who embrace no-fault divorce laws that allow them to check out the moment they’re dissatisfied. Indeed, feminists assure women they can’t possibly be happily married until men change who they are or adapt their nature to accommodate the needs of women.

They’ve also drilled home the absurd notion that women in America live in a patriarchy. Not only is this patently false — women in this country rule — the truth is that women have chosen the lives they have. They chose to abandon marital intimacy by bringing the power they wield at work into their homes, where it doesn’t belong. The happiest wives I know don’t do this. No matter how successful they are outside the home, they leave that piece of themselves at work. When they walk in the front door, they put on their feminine hat and let men be who they are: simple creatures with few demands. As my cousin, a former law partner (and female), says, “There are two ingredients to a healthy marriage: good food and good sex.”

Naturally, this philosophy will raise the ire of the most strident modern woman who’s been taught to believe that cooking for a husband or saying yes to sex amounts to indentured servitude. They refuse to even accept that men have a greater sex drive than women. In failing to understand the differences between men and women, women have sabotaged their own happiness. As for the men, they aren’t so much choosing to be immature as they are doing what they’re told. Tell a man he’s dispensable, and he’ll quickly prove you right.

Marriage was never meant to be a competitive sport, yet that’s exactly what is has become. That’s because modern women have been taught that in order to be equal with men, women and men should pursue identical lives and ignore the differences between them. This attitude is producing enormous strife and makes happy marriages impossible.

Honestly, marriage doesn’t have to be so difficult — and it needn’t become obsolete. But it will if women don’t stop fighting men and start surrendering to their nature. They’re fighting a losing battle.

— Suzanne Venker is co-author of the book The Flipside of Feminism: What Conservative Women Know – and Men Can’t Say. Her website is www.suzannevenker.com.

A Different Kind of Woman on the Campaign Trail



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Ann Romney’s Welsh Cakes



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Kathryn, I didn’t see your post asking for Thanksgiving recipes until now, because I was so busy preparing my completely preassembled Thanksgiving meal that I bought from a company that specializes in meals for people like me who are way too busy to make a meal, but too proud to admit it. I flew home on Wednesday night and had my entire family over for a Thursday morning for Thanksgiving Day festivities. Thanks to Super Suppers in Franklin, Tenn., I looked as if I really had slaved over the stove for a week.

At any rate, someone forwarded me an old article in Yankee magazine about Mrs. Ann Romney’s favorite recipe for Welsh cakes.

·       1 egg

·       1-1/4 cups of currants

·       1/2 cup of milk

·       3-1/2 cups of flour

·       1 cup of sugar

·       2 teaspoons of nutmeg

·       1/2 teaspoon of baking powder

·       1/2 teaspoon of baking soda

·       1/4 teaspoon of salt

·       1 cup of butter

Beat egg with milk. Add currants. Sift all dry ingredients together. Work butter into flour and mix until mealy. Pour milk and currants over flour, and butter mixture all at once, and mix well. Wrap in wax paper, and chill at least one hour. Roll it a little less than half an inch thick — actually about 3/8 of an inch. You may think this is too precise, but it’s very important not to roll too thin! Cut with cookie cutter. Cook on a pancake griddle greased with oil (325 degrees) on both sides. Flip the cookies when you see they are all shiny. Cook it for less amount of time on the second side. Roll in granulated sugar, and let cool. Resist the urge to eat them right out of the oven — these are the only cookies that taste better cooled.

(Why does she have a family recipe for Welsh cakes? Her own grandfather immigrated to America in 1929 after being injured as a boy in the coal mines in Wales.)

If any of you try to create these delicacies, please send a note with a photo. Let us know how they are!

This Is Not Lincoln’s Thanksgiving: The Era of Food Dependence



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During Thanksgiving, Americans gather with family to reflect on the blessings in their lives for which they are thankful. 

Oh, whatever!  Thanksgiving is all about the food: Juicy turkey with stuffing, creamy mashed potatoes smothered in homemade gravy, cheesy broccoli casserole, sweet and tart cranberries.  Even Sean Penn must be thrilled to be an American on the third Thursday each November.

But this Thanksgiving, Americans should do more than just eat.  They should reflect on how the food they love is under attack.  Food prices are up a full 13 percent this year. Governments at all levels are conspiring to tell Americans what they can and cannot eat through an over-sized helping of regulations and taxes, which push food prices up, eliminate choice, and make our food taste worse. 

Sadly, this Thanksgiving marks a new period in American history: The era of food dependence.

Nearly 150 years ago, when President Lincoln declared the third Thursday in November a national day to give thanks, people largely relied on their hunting, foraging, and agricultural skills to eat.  If you wanted a turkey, you had to shoot it yourself.  Can you imagine most of our modern men heading out to shoot a turkey today?  More importantly, did they update their hunting license?  And just how did those early Americans cook a turkey without all those warning labels about the proper cooking temperature?  Those early settlers sure were risk takers. 

Want a good bread stuffing?  Early settlers first had to bake the bread out of the flour ground from the grain they planted last spring.  Today, many communities ban the planting of gardens . . . on your own land.  Need some cream for those mashed potatoes?  Settlers first had to head out to the dairy barn in the blistering cold to milk the cow.  But things are a little different today; most states won’t allow Americans to drink unpasteurized milk they get from their own cattle. 

Of course, no one advocates a return to the days of throwing a musket over your shoulder to head out to shoot “yer kinfolk some turkey.” After all, let’s not forget another quite common thing that happened 150 years ago: starvation.  Yet it is still worth reflecting on how far we’ve come from those days when relying on oneself — and using common sense about how to prepare foods — was the norm, not the exception. 

Indeed, our modern world with ubiquitous grocery stores and trade with other countries (with warmer climates) has made life easier and products more readily available.  Yet, despite these contemporary conveniences, it appears modern Americans need more help than ever to properly feed their families. 

Today, the federal government spends nearly $30,000 per low-income household on a variety of food assistance programs and a whopping 15 percent of the American public (that’s one in seven Americans!) relies on food stamps, the budget for which has doubled since 2007 to $70 billion. 

Clearly such assistance programs are not just a safety net for those truly in need, but are increasingly a middle-class entitlement that is fostering a general dependence on government — a dependence that conflicts with our great American tradition of independence.

There’s another, far more effective, way the government could help the poor get enough to eat: Keep food prices low.  Yet, the government is doing just the opposite by regulating the food industry — a move that will hike prices even more.  These paternalistic measures — which include salt bans, soda and snack-food taxes, toy bans, and regulations on restaurants, grocery stores, and food manufacturers — will cost the food industry billions of dollars in lost revenue and upwards of 74,000 jobs.  Tragically, it will also keep many Americans reliant on the government for their family’s dietary needs.

The early settlers gathered on Thanksgiving to thank God for providing them the bounty before them.  Today, too many Americans are thanking a different source for their food: the mighty federal government.  We must all remember that our nation was founded on the concept of limited government.  Placing onerous regulations on food manufacturers, limiting the foods we love, and fostering dependence on government is outside the government’s proper bounds.

Open Thread: Thanksgiving Recipes? Prayers? Traditions?



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The Fried-Turkey Try



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In Praise of the Imperfect Thanksgiving



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My family’s idea of a good time is to watch the Weather Channel — on mute, so that nobody is disturbed by any raucous segues between the regional forecast and Storm Stories. Their perfect holiday celebration would involve a few folks seated quietly around the table, occasionally making polite conversation in hushed tones, everyone careful not to clink their forks too loudly on the plates.

My mother-in-law’s idea of a good time is to cram as many people into a house as possible, turn up the music, set up some poker games, and keep it all going until the authorities tell them to stop. Her perfect holiday celebration would involve about 100 people, a disco ball, and at least one mariachi band.

And then there are my five young children, whom I last saw running up the stairs in a herd, one of them pausing to ask me, just hypothetically, how hard it is to get chocolate off ceilings. Based on past experience, their perfect holiday celebration would seem to involve seeking out the non-child-proofed areas of my grandfather’s home and destroying whatever they find there.

We all get together each Thanksgiving. And it’s up to me to make sure that everyone has a good time.

I’ve often thought that if you were to stack rank the 365 days of the year by the ease of which I find it to be thankful on them, Thanksgiving Day would come in last. On a beautiful Sunday in July, I could easily find myself overwhelmed by the gorgeous symphony of crickets outside; with tears stinging my eyes, I might feel moved to a chorus of gratitude for the simple pleasure of homemade peach cobbler. On Thanksgiving, it’s a totally different story. There may be some nature noises outside, but I can’t hear them over the screaming, overstimulated child, whom I have taken out to the back porch to explain for the third time that we do not throw lamps in other people’s homes; I might have savored the pumpkin pie, but I spit it out in a panic when my mother-in-law takes the Weather Channel off mute to crank up the volume for Cheaters.

I’ve been working on being a more grateful person, which always made me find Thanksgiving to be a frustrating time. I pictured the glowing oil paintings of that perfect first Thanksgiving in 16th-century New England; then I conjured up the image of our version of the holiday (perhaps an action shot of me pretending to choke on my cranberry sauce after someone made a controversial remark on a sacred subject such as religion or Texas A&M football), and I imagined the words EPIC FAIL superimposed on top of it.

But this year I learned a lot about what it means to be grateful, and it’s given me a new perspective on this holiday. I’ve come to realize that it is because of the craziness and the conflict and the mess that this is the perfect time to practice gratitude. It’s easy to have the occasional spasm of thankfulness when everything is going your way. But to live an entire life of thanksgiving is to see loving Providence at work in even the most trying circumstances; it’s to stop fixating on what you want and start praising what you have. Real gratitude is thanking God for the gift of your two-year-old child, even as you carry her away from the dinner table because she offered her critique of the mashed potatoes by dumping them on the floor; it’s smiling at your brother, even when he spouts off about immigration policy just as the gravy is being poured.

It occurs to me that this is what Thanksgiving must have been about all along. Those gorgeous warm-toned paintings don’t show the hardships that surrounded our Pilgrim forefathers and their native friends. Death and disease and toil were part of their daily lives. They were probably cold and tired, many of them ill, perhaps wondering if they’d even live to repeat this celebration next year. And yet they gathered to give thanks anyway.

This Thanksgiving, my goal is to embrace all the imperfections — to recognize them, in fact, as the perfect circumstances in which to practice being grateful. Every time I catch myself silently grousing about something that’s not going my way, I’ll counter it by naming three blessings. I’ll put more effort into sharing love than I put into wielding control. I’ll remember that gratitude isn’t about your circumstances as much as it’s about your outlook. And if I can do that, I might finally get a taste of what it really means to be thankful.

 — Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer for the National Catholic Register, and she blogs at ConversionDiary.com.

Our Own, Perfect Thanksgiving



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My husband and I live far away from our families, and now that we have small children, we rarely get home to celebrate the holidays with those we love. I can be a little bit blue around the holidays; I miss my parents and sister, and a house filled with family and old friends more than ever.  Some of my Washington friends point out how lucky I am that I’m able to miss those awkward family gatherings, and I suppose this is a case of the grass being greener.  But I also realize that there is something uniquely special about holidays spent at home, alone with my husband and three boys.  

But family gatherings — particularly for Thanksgiving — are a quintessential American tradition, and I want my boys to experience some of that classic Americana.  Even though my children are very little (all four and under), we do Thanksgiving right: Elegant table settings, china, flowers and candles, and of course, all the traditional food — a whole turkey (no dismembered turkey breasts for us dark-meat lovers), stuffing (specifically my mother’s heavenly stuffing, which I wrote about last year), mashed potatoes, green beans with chestnuts, and cranberries.   

We’ll start the day off with a long walk to a coffee shop (we try hard to please the First Lady each holiday by planning a brisk walk before stuffing our faces with food only she is allowed to eat), then back home to begin cooking.  Everyone helps out.  My four-year-old has developed some pretty good butter-knife skills, and my three-year-old likes to help with pie crusts (after I nearly take a layer of skin off his hands from a thorough scrubbing).  The one-year-old stands knee high and screams a lot (could he be the next Gordon Ramsey?).

We’ll rake leaves later in the afternoon, and then after it gets dark, we’ll roast marshmallows in the fireplace (that is, after my hyper-nervous husband performs his annual lecture on the danger of fire to the three toddlers — two of whom will be crying at the end).  And of course there will be pie.  This year, my four-year-old returned from school with a recipe for pumpkin pie.  He’s in charge of desserts this year.  

My boys will likely grow up with very little Thanksgiving regularity — we might be invited to someone’s house one year, another year we might make the purgatorial 18-hour drive to our families’ homes in the Midwest, or we might go crazy and plan to take a vacation over Thanksgiving break. In other words, we’re not on a path to create any annual Thanksgiving traditions in our house.  

But we’ll all be together, and that makes it perfect.

Holiday Tension



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My husband loves Christmas — just loves it. Every year when I bring home a fresh Advent wreath, he sighs happily and runs to the store for the Advent candles that I inevitably forgot. Twenty minutes later he rushes back home with a mix of pink and purple candles gently clicking against each other in a RiteAid bag. Within minutes, he rushes out again for matches. The entire season delights him. He is, as you may have gathered, romantic and sentimental. The traditions and decorations and spiritual depth of Christmas truly warm his heart. 

Oh, and he doesn’t have to do the shopping or the cooking or the cleaning so, you know, he’s got some warmth to spare. Having spent the last 20 years “putting on Christmas” for a growing family, I find my inspiration less in the activity surrounding the birth of Christ and more in the simple act of thanking God for Christ. In other words, in Thanksgiving.

But don’t worry, this is not a treatise on the evils of Christmas commercialization. I understand and appreciate the motivation of good people who rejoice in bestowing gifts. And I am not insensible to the tremendous amount of charitable work that takes place during the Christmas season. As a free-market capitalist, I am thrilled that Christmas helps our economy and, of course, I thoroughly enjoy the awe of a first-grader searching the winter sky for Santa and his reindeer. It is simply that I have to understand, appreciate, and enjoy all of these things through a veil of overwhelming work. 

Not so with Thanksgiving. All I have to do on Thanksgiving is roast a turkey and be grateful. The ease of Thanksgiving, in fact, actually makes it a more meaningful holiday for me. In the absence of trying to stage the perfect Christmas picture and stuff seven stockings, I am (you can ask my husband) much more relaxed. Being relaxed enables me to be genuinely more open to the spirit of gratitude.

On Thanksgiving I am (slightly) more patient with my kids. In the spirit of gratitude that Thanksgiving inspires, my children appear to me as the true gifts that they are, and not as the sardonic, eye-rolling teenagers that some of them have become. Slightly. In short, because there is so much less to “do” on Thanksgiving, I actually accomplish more spiritual work on this annual day of gratitude.

This year, I hope, will be like every other. While I baste the turkey and chop the celery, the children will loll around the house. They’ll watch football, or, if they’re too young to appreciate a good Packers game, they’ll play outside with friends whose parents are watching football. The grandness of the day and the warmth of the oven will eventually pull them back in, and they’ll remark on how delicious the house smells. The smaller ones will build forts out of dining-room chairs and sofa cushions. They will marvel at the novelty of eating dinner at four o’clock. Following grace, the children will spoon cranberry sauce onto their plates and prepare to listen as we all take turns recounting our blessings. Slowly, a sort of tension will build. Unaccustomed as we are to giving thanks, particularly out loud, the teenagers, and then the younger children, will become self-conscious — tense. It is a tension wholly different from the tension of a crowded mall or a strained Christmas budget. It is the tension of a family laying bare their souls. I welcome it every year. Happy Thanksgiving.

Jennifer Kaczor lives in Los Angeles with her husband and seven children.

Giving Thanks



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Once again, another year is almost past, and I haven’t gotten what I deserved. That alone is cause for thanksgiving. I’ve driven over the speed limit 50 times and gotten no tickets. Failed to call friends back and still gotten birthday cards from them. Ducked my insurance agent and still been treated with courtesy and tact — and gotten a better policy. Gotten cross and spoken thoughtlessly to our children, and they will still, all four, be around the family table on Thursday to rejoice together with their mother and me. Rumor has it that a niece, sister, and boyfriend will join us too.

Thanksgiving is a great compressor of memories. Touch a single feature of it, and a thousand thoughts unfurl of people and places gone but never forgotten. Maybe it will be a single gesture — my wife lifting something from the stove — and the scene will be one and the same with the reverie of an aunt in a Kentucky Victorian half a century ago, or my mother almost two decades back, the last time we shared this holiday with her on this earth. In the spark of that moment, her voice will ring softly in my ears and I will hear a phrase of hers, momentarily as real as the present patter of the loved ones gathered now. 

The layering blankets each recurrence and brings with it only a deeper sense of the unearned grace and love of another year. Meg will make sure an array of food that would have dazzled the court of Nebuchadnezzar II is spread across our table. We will offer thanks for people, likely worldwide in the great concourse of comestibles, whose foresight and labor made this, and all our meals, possible. With that in mind we can make a start of what Thanksgiving really is, not freedom from want but from self, and genuflection to the God who has authored every atom of our happiness.     

— Charles A. Donovan is president of the Susan B. Anthony List Education Fund.

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