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The Home Front

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

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.

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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.

Pelosi’s Coming for Your Kids



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Democrats are so thrilled with the success and popularity of Obamacare, they are looking for the next massive new entitlement program they can foist on the American people. Former speaker Nancy Pelosi has the answer: She wants to “do for childcare what we did for health care.” (Hat tip: Tina Korbe at Hot Air)

Parents — both those that use daycare and those at home with kids — should recoil from this prospect. Democrats would sell it as a major giveaway to parents struggling to make ends meet, but smart parents will see through this.

Any government subsidy for childcare would come with massive strings about what constitutes a “government-approved daycare center.” As we’ve seen with health care, this means that government would soon be dictating exactly how daycare centers could do business: who they let in, the services they provided, how much they charged, who are “qualified” workers — the list would go on and on. Existing daycare centers that meet government-standards would be flooded with children; smaller centers and at-home daycare facilities would have to be radically altered — or more likely would just go out of businesses.

And what about families that currently keep a parent at home? The stay-at-home mom who now provides a valuable service to her family — both in providing the best care for her charges and saving the family from childcare costs — would see her economic value decline as she could be replaced with a “free” government alternative, even if it provided inferior care. Worse, her family’s tax dollars would go to paying for a service that she didn’t want to use.

Pelosi describes this as a boon for the economy, with women currently wasting their potential caring for kids moving into the workforce. Perhaps. Although with unemployment what it is today, one wonders where all these women would find jobs. Yet even if cajoling women out of their homes into jobs would increase economic output, what are the costs? What message are we sending that parents shouldn’t have to care for their children, or even make arrangements for caring for their children, on their own?

Pelosi recalls her own troubles finding babysitting when she had five kids in six years. Many mothers undoubtedly sympathize. Yet that’s no reason to create a massive government entitlement program, which would discourage stay-at-home parenting and family-based childcare arrangements (which parents tend to prefer), micromanage the childcare industry, and create a new, heavy burden on taxpayers. Parents and taxpayers be warned: Democrats won’t be satisfied until they have complete cradle-to-grave care. If Pelosi regains more power, more entitlements are in the offing.

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

Amtrak Babies Its Teenager Passengers



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Back in the day, a minor as young as eight-years-old could ride Amtrak unaccompanied. Since November 1, however, the company has required that unaccompanied minors be at least 13 years old. In today’s Wall Street Journal, Lenore Skenazy takes issue with the new regulation:

In Japan there is a special fare for unaccompanied minors under age six. The Japanese believe their kids can function independently. But over here, even when Amtrak does allow minors to travel on their own, look at the rules it imposes: 13 to 15 year olds must wear a special wrist band identifying them as youngsters. They cannot travel after 9:05 p.m. They cannot get off at an unmanned station. An adult must be at both ends to sign them in and drop them off.

Alexander Hamilton came to this country — unaccompanied — when he was 15. And grannie wasn’t waiting for him at the dock.

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. . . And Aunt Bertha’s Bringing the Toxic Chemical Casserole



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Many Americans are completing their Thanksgiving checklist this week: Turkey? Check. Potatoes? Check. Bread for the stuffing? Check. Two bags of fresh cranberries? Check. Toxic chemicals? Huh?

That’s right. According to the dependably theatrical folks at the Breast Cancer Fund, Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used in the lining of canned foods, will be making an appearance this year at your Thanksgiving Day feast.

For this latest report, which is really a rehash of a report they released last month on BPA (which I wrote about here), the Breast Cancer Fund sent a variety of canned holiday staples — such as cream-of-mushroom soup, gravy, and creamed corn — to a lab to be tested for BPA. As expected, each of the foods was found to contain BPA; “contain” being the operative word. For the folks at the Breast Cancer Fund, the mere presence of BPA is enough to make them recommend we all swear off canned goods for life. But hopefully, most people with a shred of common sense will take this report for what it is: another hysterical claim from a scientifically dubious advocacy group.

According to the Fund’s report, the amount of BPA in these canned goods ranged from a high of 221 parts per billion (ppb) to levels so low that the chemical couldn’t be detected. In fact, only two cans reached levels above 100 ppb. But these numbers really mean nothing unless they are put into some sort of context — a detail the Breast Cancer Fund folks don’t bother with.

As with the Fund’s report last month, the organization failed to provide the most basic explanation of “parts per billion” or inform readers what is considered an acceptable daily intake of BPA. Of course, if they did, readers would understand that the BPA levels in these canned goods are extremely low — far below what is currently considered acceptable. Even the tested canned good with the highest ratings of BPA were far below what is considered acceptable

Most scientists agree that BPA is completely harmless in the dosages humans consume. Yet the Breast Cancer Funds manages to miss the extensive body of research proving this.  That research includes major studies in the United States by the EPA and the FDA as well as scientific bodies in Japan, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand as well as studies conducted by the European Union and the World Health Organization

The Breast Cancer fund will of course continue to scare people with the irresponsible claims that BPA is “linked to breast cancer and other serious health problems” despite the fact there is no evidence of such linkage. Note that, a shockingly balanced 2010 New York Times article on BPA showed just how frustrated the scientific community is on the issue of BPA and its impact on the human body: 

John A. Katzenellenbogen, a chemistry professor at the University of Illinois in Urbana, and an expert on how hormones works in cells, does not work with BPA but said he had seen researchers who study it argue bitterly at conferences, over supposedly identical experiments that had somehow yielded opposite results. At one such meeting, scientists in the audience said, “We don’t want to hear you two speak until you get this straightened out,” he recalled.

Americans trying to make sense of conflicting reports should note that BPA has barely been tested on humans (until recently with this study that again showed BPA to be harmless to humans). Rather, the studies have been conducted on animals (mostly rats) who receive massive quantities of BPA through injections directly into their blood stream, rather than the more realistic oral doses that mimic normal human consumption of BPA. It’s hardly surprising that animals stuffed full of chemicals show adverse effects; that tells us little about how BPA works in normal life. 

As you prepare your Thanksgiving meal this year, fear not the can of creamed corn nor the can of green beans. Those hosting holiday celebrations have enough to worry about (Is the turkey cooked? Are the potatoes fluffy enough? Is Aunt Fern drinking too much? Is there going to be another fight about Obama with your liberal sister?). Overworked holiday hosts hardly need the fabricated stress of fearing they have just poisoned their guests.

— Julie Gunlock is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.

Ball Bans Are Bad for Kids



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A Canadian school’s recent move to ban all hard balls — including soccer, football, and tennis balls –from school grounds to prevent injury sounds ridiculous. But it’s really just another small step in the hyper regulation of life that afflicts America as well as, apparently, our northern neighbor.

I was lectured for sending my five-year-old to kindergarten at a public school in Virginia on a hot fall day in sandals. Why? A piece of glass or rock could get caught under the open toe and result in a cut or injury to her foot, I was told. I’m confident that the folks making these policies are not themselves crazy. They’ve been made crazy by a litigation system that makes commonplace occurrences actionable and financial liabilities that no conscientious institution can afford to ignore.

Much has been written about how our legal system strangles our economy and makes just about everything more expensive. Yet the impact on civil society is more severe. What does it mean for a generation of children to never experience getting hit by a ball or getting cut by a stray rock in the shoe? These are unpleasant experiences to be sure, but they are a part of life and learning how to get over a minor injury and persevere.

Our litigation system’s profound effects may seem invisible until you leave its confines. One of the first things I noticed after moving to Europe with small children was just how much cooler — and more dangerous — the playgrounds are here. There are enormous structures kids can climb, and there are no railings at the top to protect them from falling. As a parent, this can be jarring. It means I have to make sure that my two-year-old doesn’t follow his six-year-old sister up something that would pose a threat. But the kids have a great time, and they learn to be careful while playing.

We recently attended an event at the German school our children attend in Brussels to celebrate St. Martin’s Day. Children make lanterns out of paper mache–like materials that are then hung on long poles. On the night of the festival, candles — yes, real candles — are placed inside those lanterns while the kids, some as young as two and three, parade around, eventually gathering around a bonfire, singing songs. It was beautiful — and like nothing you would ever see in the U.S.

It makes sense, of course, to protect your children from risks when you can. But something is lost with the hyper-regulation of life, particularly of children’s lives. Just as learning to lose a sports game — far from a traumatic experience to be avoided — is a critical part of growing up and learning the old winning-isn’t-everything lesson, sometimes kids need to fall down so they can learn to get up again. Preventing that process isn’t in anyone’s best interest.  

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

Tom Friedman Is 100 Percent Correct



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Friedman in today’s New York Times:

Let’s stop putting the burden of education improvements just on teachers. Parents play a huge role in classroom success.

In recent years, we’ve been treated to reams of op-ed articles about how we need better teachers in our public schools and, if only the teachers’ unions would go away, our kids would score like Singapore’s on the big international tests. There’s no question that a great teacher can make a huge difference in a student’s achievement, and we need to recruit, train and reward more such teachers. But here’s what some new studies are also showing: We need better parents. Parents more focused on their children’s education can also make a huge difference in a student’s achievement.

How do we know? Every three years, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or O.E.C.D., conducts exams as part of the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, which tests 15-year-olds in the world’s leading industrialized nations on their reading comprehension and ability to use what they’ve learned in math and science to solve real problems — the most important skills for succeeding in college and life. America’s 15-year-olds have not been distinguishing themselves in the PISA exams compared with students in Singapore, Finland and Shanghai.

To better understand why some students thrive taking the PISA tests and others do not, Andreas Schleicher, who oversees the exams for the O.E.C.D., was encouraged by the O.E.C.D. countries to look beyond the classrooms. So starting with four countries in 2006, and then adding 14 more in 2009, the PISA team went to the parents of 5,000 students and interviewed them “about how they raised their kids and then compared that with the test results” for each of those years, Schleicher explained to me. Two weeks ago, the PISA team published the three main findings of its study:

“Fifteen-year-old students whose parents often read books with them during their first year of primary school show markedly higher scores in PISA 2009 than students whose parents read with them infrequently or not at all. The performance advantage among students whose parents read to them in their early school years is evident regardless of the family’s socioeconomic background. Parents’ engagement with their 15-year-olds is strongly associated with better performance in PISA.”

Schleicher explained to me that “just asking your child how was their school day and showing genuine interest in the learning that they are doing can have the same impact as hours of private tutoring. It is something every parent can do, no matter what their education level or social background.”

The rest here.

Bella Swan – Anti-Feminist? Pro-Life Advocate? Swoony, Misguided Teen?



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Okay, so I admit it. I watched Breaking Dawn, Part One last night, even though I’d had a little fun making The Twilight Hater’s Survival Guide for those less enamored with the vampire/wolf/human love triangle.

One of the interesting issues surrounding the movie was Bella’s pregnancy and her decision to have the baby even though it was “crushing her from the inside.” Pro-lifers are happy that a young woman is portrayed as pro-life, but screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg assures us that Bella’s decision to have the baby is not pro-life propaganda.  In an interview with ScreenRant, she explains her position:

“It was a deciding factor for me of whether or not to do the movie. If I could not find my way into it that didn’t violate my beliefs (because I am extremely pro-choice very outspoken about it, very much a feminist) I would not have written this move,” she said.

“They could have offered me the bank and I still wouldn’t have. In order to embrace it I had to find a way to deal with it. I also had no interest in violating Stephenie’s belief system or anyone on the other side. I feel a great responsibility that everyone should have their point-of-view. And their beliefs respected. So I really was struggling with it until I talked with my sister-in-law who’s actually a former ACLU feminist lawyer and a fan of the books. And she pointed  something out to me (which is quite obvious but which I had overlooked) which is that having a child is a choice.

“It is a choice to have a child. And having not made that choice in my own life, having actually done the opposite, that had not really occurred to me. But when she pointed that out I was like, ‘Okay, I know my way in.’ And so for me, it was that Bella chooses this. Now someone else may not perceive that, and that’s great. They have their own point-of-view which is whatever their own point-of-view is. I didn’t need to make a statement about it, I just needed it to not be a statement on the other side as well. It’s a story about a woman who chooses to have a child. For me. That may or may not be how it is in the book. And some people will have issues with it.”

(Let’s pause for a moment. We’re always told that advocates of abortion do not actually advocate abortion. They aren’t pro-abortion, they say.  They are pro-choice. This, apparently, is where the screenwriter finally found herself, but it took some doing.)

Movie reviewer Rebecca Cusey, however, appreciates the pro-life message that Bella’s character represents by refusing to bow to pressure to abort the child. But is it enough to balance out the other morally questionable decisions Bella makes? 

“Defenders of the Twilight Saga point out that it promotes chastity until marriage. Bella’s decision to continue a dangerous pregnancy to term is absolutely a pro-life statement. She even argues for her baby against some who would abort,” she writes.

However, she fears that the pro-life message isn’t worth allowing your kids to see the movies.

Bella — only 18 — “gives up friends, family, hobbies, outside interests, college, and even life itself to be with her glittery vampire boyfriend,” Cusey writes. In a review of Eclipse, she wrote about Bella’s obsession with the cold vampire.  “This, of course, is why God gave fathers to seventeen year olds. With the benefit of years of perspective, he knows that while she may always want Edward, there will be a great many things she will desire in addition to him. Fathers get out the metaphorical hose and try to keep seventeen-year-olds from doing anything stupid. Sadly, Bella’s father is reduced to a bleating voice in the background as the movie focuses in on her angsty, intense passion for Edward. And Jacob.”

By the time Breaking Dawn happens, it’s too late. Bella has decided to marry Edward and everything is happy. 

Until. 

The baby.  (Or is it a baby? What happens when a vampire and a human mate?)

 “Even if he were joy and happiness personified, I fear a love that isolates a girl from everything she holds dear. A relationship that requires a girl to cut off friends, lie to parents, remove herself from relatives, and give up her dreams is not something to celebrate. It’s a reason to call an abuse hotline.”

Rebecca also nicely gives parents the scoop as they decide whether to allow their kids to see the flicks. (Also, click through here to read about their honeymoon scenes, and whether you want your kid in the theater when the feathers fly.)

Rating: Rated PG-13, the film was originally rated R, but modified. The source material includes passionate married sex and a bloody birth. Both are depicted, but for the PG-13 rating, most of the action happens beyond the sight of the camera lens.

Who Should See It: Only fans of the series. Think twice about teens and tweens, depending how comfortable you are with them seeing portrayal of sex and bloody violence.

Occupy’s Misogyny



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When are the feminists going to speak out on the abuse of women that’s happening at the hands of the Occupy crowd? Rapes and sexual assaults are rampant among the Occupy movement in cities across the nation. According to ABC News, this past Saturday night a 23-year-old reported being raped by a 50-year-old inside a tent at Occupy Philadelphia. Similarly, a 14-year-old child was allegedly raped at Occupy Dallas. And at Occupy Cleveland, a 19-year-old told police she was raped after sharing a tent with an unknown man. After reporting her rape at Occupy Baltimore, a young woman claimed occupiers refused to help find her attacker. Now reports of rape and attempted rape in Zuccotti Park are surfacing. These are just the ones that were reported.

In addition to rapists, suicidal folks are causing emotional distress within the movement. After a 32-year-old man shot himself inside his tent at Occupy Burlington, Vermont protesters were so traumatized that they readily agreed to pack up and end their demonstration.

Besides rapes and suicides, occupiers have injured women in the midst of their shameless attempts to grab attention. A couple weeks ago, I attended Americans for Prosperity’s “Defending the American Dream” Summit, which was crashed by Occupy D.C. I was able to depart safely, with my frightened guests in tow, as protesters hissed vile remarks in our direction.  Others weren’t that lucky. The Daily Caller reports that an elderly woman was pushed down the stairs during the occupiers’ stampede into the convention center. Not one protester stopped to help her, even as she lay in pain from severe injuries to her wrists, ankles, and legs.

On a daily basis, Concerned Women for America (CWA) staff, mostly young females, feel threatened by the Occupy D.C. camp, while they trek across the park on their way to work. Recently, one staffer was walking through the park and witnessed a woman on the sidewalk vomiting and heaving uncontrollably, no doubt after a night of drugs or alcohol, and only a few paces down passed an open tent where two people were having sex in full view of the public. Unfortunately, these are routine observations.  Our young women get no respect from what has essentially devolved into an unruly mob across the street.

In addition to public safety, what do the anti-capitalist goals of the occupiers mean for the future of American women?

Women don’t want government handouts. What women really need is greater opportunity created by economic freedom, not by Congress. Famed economist Friedrich A. Hayek wrote, “Our generation has forgotten that the system of private property is the most important guarantee of freedom.” He continued, “It is only because the control of the means of production is divided among many people acting independently that we as individuals can decide what to do with ourselves.”

Whether a woman wants to be a stay-at-home mom, a business owner, or a part-time worker — or all of the above during different seasons of her life — it is important that she be given the opportunity. And the reality is that our free-market system does just that. Here’s the good news, folks. The glass ceiling has been shattered. According to a study conducted by the U.S. Small Business Administration, women now constitute approximately 47 percent of the labor force and make up nearly 33 percent of business owners.

Of course, America’s economic system isn’t free of fraud and corruption, but protesters need to realize that corruption and greed are inherent in all economic systems, because they are inherent in human nature — the same human nature that, sadly, leads to rapes, thefts, and drug overdoses. And no amount of anarchism or interference of a nanny state can change that fact. The things that change our baser instincts are faith and the rule of law.

So, how many more women will be raped and assaulted before this disillusioned, anti-woman movement is wiped out? Women deserve better and, thanks to the free market, they can achieve greater. The Occupy movement has spiraled downward into an anarchist, opportunistic, and dangerous subgroup. It’s time to stop babying the occupiers and make them live by the same rules as the rest of us.

— Penny Nance is chief executive officer and president of Concerned Women for America.

Confessions of a Library Fugitive



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As someone who once had to pay a $300 library fine, this article made me smile. Then, I felt bad about my own ineptitude.  Then, I smiled again.

Society makes mothers feel we must take our kids to the library for that sweet, special book bonding time.  You know, the reading circle and the snacks?  Sometimes, they even throw in a craft-making time under the gigantic mural of the characters from Charlotte’s Web.

But, I’ve finally realized that I’m not responsible enough to have a library card.  You would’ve thought that I could’ve realized it before having three kids, but you know what they say about denial and the river in Egypt.  (Plus, since I’m an author, I feel like I’m betraying my own livelihood – if my library card is revoked the libraries will stop buying my books?)

After leaving New York, Philadelphia, and Lexington, Kentucky only to find library books stuffed in moving boxes months later, I’ve finally confessed to my children that we are just going to have to start buying books. 

There.

I’ve said it.

It’s liberating, it’s cheaper, and I don’t have to worry about police arresting me when I go downtown anymore.

And to Rebecca Cusey, who had to pay a $500 fine?  One word of advice.  Never, ever check out movies from the library!  Those will get you every time!

Girl Scouts Hire Lead Singer of ‘Queer Rock’ Band



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In 2002, Joshua Ackley formed the Dead Betties, a “homopunk” band. Publicity shots show him dressed in women’s clothing, and in music videos he is apparently naked and simulating masturbation. The video for the Dead Betties’ song “Hellevator” portrays a woman being strangulated in an elevator shaft. 

Today he works for the Girl Scouts in media relations, issuing press releases and posting on the Girl Scouts official blog.

In fact, Josh Ackley was the adult facilitator in the Girl Scouts “no adults allowed” workshop at the U.N. — the workshop where the Planned Parenthood sex brochure “Healthy, Happy, and Hot” was offered, though Ackley denies it.  

See the new website www.100questionsforthegirlscouts.org for thorough documentation on the Josh Ackley outrage, and many others.   

Ready to get your girls out of the Girl Scouts yet?

Great Moments in Public Education



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Unbelievable:

Couple Bug Developmentally Disabled Ohio Student To Hear Teacher Bullying

A couple raising a 14-year-old developmentally disabled student say they hid a recording device on the girl to prove a teacher and school aide were bullying her, and the audio and subsequent investigations have led to a lawsuit, the aide’s resignation and disciplinary action for the teacher.

The girl’s mother and the woman’s longtime boyfriend said in court documents that they complained about the mental and emotional abuse to school officials in the Miami Trace district, about 30 miles southwest of Columbus, and then secretly recorded instructors’ comments for four days last spring after their claims were rebuffed.

In the recording, voices identified as aide Kelly Chaffins and teacher Christie Wilt are heard questioning the girl’s weight and how active she is and making derogatory comments about her character and the character of her mother and the boyfriend.

“Are you that damn dumb? Are you that dumb?” Chaffins said. “Oh, my God. You are such a liar. . . . You told me you don’t know. It’s no wonder you don’t have friends. No wonder nobody likes you. Because you lie, cheat . . . steal.”

The boyfriend, who is helping raise the girl, complained earlier through normal channels, and this was the school’s response:

In an email to a social worker in April, [district superintendent Dan] Roberts said he had looked into similar complaints from the boyfriend earlier in the year and found that the girl was lying. “It came to a point where I had to remind the man that his continued false accusations were bordering on harassment and slander,” the email says.

And how does Roberts describe this horrific situation?

“The persons involved fell short of our mission,” Roberts told the Washington Court House Record Herald, which first reported the story. “We’re sincerely sorry for that and we will work very hard to never let that happen again. We need to provide proper training and restate our expectations of how we treat children so that this never happens again.”

Yes, the training course is titled, “How not to be an a–.” Superintendent Roberts should sit in on a few classes as well.

The ‘Elmo’ Puppeteer Speaks



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This is the dumbest thing you’ll read all day, from an interview with the man behind Sesame Street’s Elmo:

“Elmo mirrors that 31 / 2-year-old that watches ‘Sesame Street,’ and he mirrors that 31 / 2-year-old in all of us. Adults would love to live like Elmo, and kids love Elmo because they see themselves in him.”

Who wants to live like Elmo? I’ve never heard that in my life, from any parent. Now, if he said,  “Would you like to live like Spider-Man?” then maybe he’d have a point.

TSA Changes Screening Procedures for Children



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Good news! The brainiacs at the TSA have determined that the amount of explosives that might fit inside a child’s shoe does not pose enough of a danger to force children to take off their shoes at the security-screening checkpoint. The new rules say any child under twelve is exempt from having to remove his or her shoes. No word yet if big-footed children will be selected for additional security screening. Fox News reports:

This weekend marks the beginning of the Thanksgiving holiday travel surge. More than 23 million passengers are expected at the nation’s airports, and to make travel a little less hectic, the federal Transportation Security Administration is showcasing some major changes to airline security.

In one key change, kids 12 and younger won’t need to take off their sneakers at the screening check points. Although that change has been in place for a couple of months, the Thanksgiving rush is its first major test.

TSA chief John Pistole told Fox News that the new approach is driven by the intelligence gathered on potential threats.

“Children themselves, of course, are not terrorists. But we also know that they can be used by terrorists to do bad things, which we’ve seen overseas,” he said. “Fortunately we haven’t seen that here.”

Pistole said the decisions also come down to measuring risk, because the TSA can’t protect every passenger and every airplane all of the time. “This is all about risk mitigation, risk management. It’s not risk elimination,” Pistole emphasized, adding that kids are low risk compared to the shoe bomber who tried to bring down a jet over the Atlantic 10 years ago.

“The shoes Richard Reid had in December of ‘01 were large shoes, so simply from an explosives standpoint, smaller shoes, smaller feet – much less likely in terms of something bad.”

If there’s a problem, Pistole said, kids are allowed to pass through the screener a few times, or trace detection can be used to solve the problem in consultation with parents or a guardian.

We’ll see if the actual TSA screeners get the memo or if kids will still be forced to take off their shoes when they travel this Thanksgiving.

What Does Your Pizza Say About You? Herman Cain Weighs In



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GQ has an interview with Herman Cain, in which they ask him about . . . pizza! One thing I learned in the interview is that Godfather’s Pizza is still around. (I knew of it when I was growing up in the 1980s, but haven’t seen or eaten at one once since!)  Who knew there are three Godfather’s restaurants in Nashville? Sounds like a good weekend plan. At any rate, I thought you would enjoy this portion of the interview:

Alan Richman: Do you eat pizza as much as people say you eat pizza?

Herman Cain: No, because I’m very particular about the pizza that I eat. Godfather’s is still a premium-quality product, and I cannot always find that. It’s got to be as good as Godfather’s or I won’t eat it.

Alan Richman: I know you’re the reason for the success of Godfather’s, but did you make the recipe?

Herman Cain: No, no, no. The guy who started it is named Willy Theisen. He started it in 1973, as a single-unit store in Omaha. His recipe was real simple. He wanted it to be Chicago-style, which meant big crust and very tangy sauce. And what he did was, he bought the absolute best ingredients. Because you have different quality pepperoni, different quality hamburger, different quality sausage, different quality cheese. He just put the best-quality products on the Godfather’s pizza.

Alan Richman: I understand that you like lots of meat on your pizza. Is this true?

Herman Cain: Yes.

Alan Richman: We won’t do it today, but we’ll have to argue about this one day, because I’m a crust man.

Herman Cain: You like a thin crust?

Alan Richman: I like a crunchy crust. You just want the meat piled on?

Herman Cain: No, no, no. We balance the ingredients to achieve what we call “a harmony of flavor.”

Alan Richman: This sounds like a Republican platform.

Herman Cain: [laughs] We don’t just throw stuff on there. We actually test, “Do you have too much sausage? Too much beef?” Because we want to balance the flavor out. So it is more scientifically developed than it might appear.

Chris Heath: What can you tell about a man by the type of pizza that he likes?

Herman Cain: [repeats the question aloud, then pauses for a long moment] The more toppings a man has on his pizza, I believe the more manly he is.

Chris Heath: Why is that?

Herman Cain: Because the more manly man is not afraid of abundance. [laughs]

Devin Gordon: Is that purely a meat question?

Herman Cain: A manly man don’t want it piled high with vegetables! He would call that a sissy pizza.

Chris Heath: Are there Democratic pizzas and Republican pizzas?

Herman Cain: Nope, nope, nope. It’s like a good idea: if it’s great pizza, it transcends party affiliation, just like a good idea—like 9-9-9. [laughs]

Read the rest of the interview here, while I go try to find me some thin crust, non-sissy pizza!

Mom Guilt



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Andrea Ferrell’s kids appear to be happy though they do not eat enough vegetables:

Motherhood comes with a lot of guilt. My kids don’t eat enough vegetables. I don’t do enough crafts with them. I don’t have them make their beds daily. Well, ever. I don’t greet them fully dressed and with my act together in the mornings. I don’t give satisfactory answers to my six-year-old’s why-does-God-allow-pain questions. I can’t take organic cupcakes secretly laced with nutritional hummus to every church and school occasion. Sometimes I’m too exhausted to make the most of a golden parenting opportunity. I just watch as my heavy sigh blows it right on by.

Read how she handles this insane parental pressure. And take a load off.

My Son Makes Politico



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Here’s a piece by Ben Smith on kids who had a case of the Obamas in 2008 but have since soured on the president. 

Yes . . . my son is in this category. And, yes, he made me vote for “That One.” We voted for “Huck-a-buck” — his pronunciation — in the primary, though. 

One thing I should clear up though is what I meant by a liberal elementary school. I was referring to the parents here and not the teachers. I have no doubt the teachers were libs, but none of my son’s teachers ever forced any opinion on him. 

National Adoption Month



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Warning: If you adopt a kid from Africa, you might one day find something like this sweet self-portrait in her backpack and be overcome with gratitude for afros and sweet bows. November is National Adoption Month, and some of you reading this have considered adoption, but it’s slipped your mind. Life gets busy, after all, and sometimes it seems too daunting to even begin. Well, what better time to dust off that idea and seriously consider opening up your home to a child?

Last year, I talked to Rita Soronen, the Executive Director of the Dave Thomas Foundation, about how people should go about adopting.  Her response is a helpful, bite-size overview of the process:

A Child is Waiting: A Step By Step Guide to Adoption, a free handbook provided by the Dave Thomas Foundation, helps to clarify the terminology, responds to frequently asked questions, and guides potential adoptive parents through 10 steps to adopt, including:

1.    Decide what type of adoption to pursue: do some self-research and understand adoption and your willingness to accept, love, and commit unconditionally and permanently to a child.

2.    Learn about the cost to adopt and the resources available to assist with the expenses, including adoption subsidies, tax credits, and employer benefits; adopting from foster care costs very little.

3.    Investigate and select an adoption agency: research public and private agencies to understand their processes, policies, and practices.

4.    Work with the adoption agency to complete an application and any required paperwork, attend meetings and orientation sessions, network with other adoptive parents and ask questions.

5.    Complete a home study and any required adoption-preparation classes; learn as much as you can about the dynamics of adoption, childhood development, and the special issues and experiences of children in foster care.

6.    Begin the matching process with a child or sibling group of children, determine what age child you are looking for and how flexible you are in growing your family, learn as much as you can about the child and background of the children with whom you are matched.

7.    Prepare for the child’s arrival: Amend health-insurance policies, obtain original birth certificates, secure new Social Security numbers, finalize school enrollment, negotiate adoption subsidies, make your home child-friendly and support children already in the home.

8.    Bring the child home: Petition the court to adopt, understand the legal process, and work with the adoption agency.

9.    Finalize the adoption in court: Adoption is a legal process and the beginning of your new family — celebrate!

10.    Take advantage of post-adoption services and resources, from parent-support groups and professional services to employer-based benefits.

There are many different ways to approach adoption, but beware. It’s a wonderful, challenging, amazing, painful, beautiful adventure. If you go down that route, someday you might open a backpack and see a sweet “self-portrait” smiling back at you. One that looks nothing like you. 

And it might just bring a tear to your eye. 

On Veterans’ Day, the Church Matters



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My husband went to Iraq in 2007, a year when Veterans’ Day fell on a Sunday.

This might seem strange to you, but it never dawned on me that my husband — my attorney husband who joined the Army Reserves after 9/11 — could be called a “vet.” I mean, he’d been gone just a couple of weeks. Though I was pretty far from my high-school Latin class, I knew that the word came from vetus, meaning “old.” A vet, to me, was a person who had long service in the military, an old guy who seemed to stand more erect than anyone else when the national anthem is played before the high-school basketball game.

When I was getting the kids ready for church that Sunday, it never dawned on me that Veterans’ Day would affect me. In fact, as I struggled to get everyone ready for Sunday school, I wasn’t thinking about what day it was on the calendar.

However, I walked into Zion Presbyterian Church in Columbia, Tenn. holding the kids’ hands and realized that it was going to be even a tougher church service than normal.  

Church was hard anyway.  Something about walking into the old little building caused my social skills to simply disappear. Even casual greetings at church immobilized me. I detested the automatic responses which fall from everyone’s mouths — as if “How are you” is a quarter in the Presbyterian vending machine and “fine” is the conversational candy, all dusty and stale. It doesn’t matter if the dog died, the rent check bounced, or the in-laws are staying an extra week, it seemed the only appropriate response was “fine.” And, frankly, I wasn’t.

But since I could tell the conversations would go no deeper than lyrics to a Lady Gaga ballad, I lied.
 

“Fine, thanks.”

Far worse than casual greetings, however, were the sincere ones. Church members with furrowed brows and low tones of voice, who asked — really, they emphasized — how things were. “Is David in a dangerous place?”

Later, their well-intentioned but overheard questions would reemerge in my children’s dreams. Consequently, “how are you?” led to deception either way . . . whether I answered a reassuring “fine” because the person wanted to hear it or because the kids needed to. I skipped church, but my plan backfired. Within hours, the phone rang off the hook, and I could tell my church friends half-expected to talk me down from a ledge.

“How are you?”

When I worked with youth at a rural Pentecostal church many years ago, we had a “Soul Repo Van” — a dilapidated vehicle we drove to retrieve church-skipping, troubled, teenagers. We showed up on doorsteps of trailers and dragged their hides to church, whether their hides wanted saving or not. A real sense of urgency propelled us — Satan wouldn’t keep our friends from the balm in Gilead. But Presbyterians don’t operate that way: If we skip church, people assume it has less to do with Satan than golf at the country club. Nevertheless, my church-skipping raised eyebrows, because the church vowed to keep an eye on our family in David’s absence.

The next week, I put on my best dress and steeled my nerves. After all, if David could survive a year Iraq, I could survive a Sunday at Zion Presbyterian Church.

“How’re ya doing?” a man asked me as soon as I walked in.

“Awful.”

He smiled and kindly left me alone.

On Veterans’ Day, I sat in front of the congregation in the choir loft and winked at my kids sitting on the hard, wooden pew several feet away — alone. A conspicuously vacant space beside them testified to how their little lives had changed too. However, a kind, no-nonsense lady reached over and gently pulled my son up when he wasn’t standing for the Scripture reading, just as David would’ve done had he been there.

Something about the service weakened my composure. Maybe it was how the pastor explained to the kids in the “mini-sermon” we don’t worship the flag, but it represents values that enable us to worship God. Maybe it was the Revolutionary soldiers graves I passed as I entered the sanctuary, or the tired eyes of the WWII veterans who sat in the pews. But as the choir sang, “Fairest Lord Jesus,” my lips quivered.

I tried with every syllable to steady my voice, but one lyric pierced my soul.

“He makes the woeful heart to sing.”

I didn’t cry in the elegant way a leading lady might as she dabs her delicate tears with a starched linen handkerchief, but in the mildly disturbing way Tammy Faye might’ve had someone stole her mascara.

Soon, many congregants were crying too, the first sign of emotion since a visitor said “amen” in the summer of ’97.

In the media, church-goers are frequently portrayed as hypocritical, self-righteous rubes. But as a military spouse on that Veteran’s Day, I was actually quite grateful for the church — for the busy-bodies who called when I missed sermons, for the woman who wouldn’t let my 6 year-old be disrespectful, for my jogging buddy who wouldn’t let me cancel our workout (“it’s only sprinkling!”), for my small-group leader who fixed my garage door, for the deacons who promised David they’d bug the daylights out of me until he returned . . . I mean, to prayerfully watch out for me in his absence.

In one of my brief conversations with David, I complained church friends wouldn’t let me wallow in my sadness. “Christians are the worst people in the world,” he said, as both a good Presbyterian and a fan of Winston Churchill. “Except for everyone else.”

And he’s right. Friendships come and go, money’s made and lost, therapists are hired and fired. But one thing will never change — in a time of need, a lady from church will show up uninvited on the doorstep with a casserole dish with her name written on the bottom. She’ll smile and say the soothing words every soul needs to hear: “Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bake until it’s brown on top.” But before she leaves, she’ll add, “Just bring the dish back . . . at church on Sunday.”

That’s just how they operate.

After several months, I finally adjusted to David being gone, the kids celebrated their birthdays without him, and we frequently sent letters detailing the day’s complaints and joys. And, yes, we attended church. There, someone invariably asked me how I was doing.

“Fine,” I said, like everyone else.

But, because of the church, it somehow managed to be true.

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