Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Meal prep, led by Daddy

I have injured myself by two blows to the head within one week.  It's a long, dumb story involving milk crates and van doors and isn't worth telling, especially when you're in pain and suffering from a concussion and can barely put two words together in any way that makes sense.  Suffice it to say that I'm a little less efficient than usual, and my lovely family is taking up some of the slack.  Tonight? 

Meal prep, led by Daddy:


I'm not sure what we're having, but with garlic, onions, wine, and exotic oils and vinegars from Savor the Olive, it has to be good!

Monday, January 28, 2013

"A word fitly spoken..."

I'm here at the local Chick-fil-A restaurant, waiting to pick up one of my children.  I'm struck by how lovely this particular fast food place is.  When I ordered my food, the cute young woman behind the counter asked, "How may I serve you?"

(How often do I think in terms of serving?)

How often does the average teen employee think in terms of serving?!

She offered to to have the food sent to my table.  When it was, and I thanked the young man who brought it, he happily responded with, "My pleasure!"

And you know what?  I believed him.  Not because he is forced to say that phrase--which I know for a fact that he is--but because I believe his heart attitude has been changed, just a little bit, by having been forced to say that phrase.

Every workday.  For several hours. 

"How may I serve you?"

"My pleasure."

I believe this sort of thing changes a person.  There is power in our words...power to change our heart attitudes.  "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver," (Proverbs 25:11, KJV).

Or maybe it could just as easily have said, " like a vase of real flowers on the table of a fast food restaurant."  So lovely... in every way!


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

"A merry heart doeth good like a medicine..."

It has been a busy week, and in addition to feeling a little bit tired, I'm also feeling a little bit weary.  We are looking at our schedule, deciding some (very difficult) things to cut for now, and generally hoping to re-establish some sanity and "margin" to our calendar right now.  It is hard, practically and emotionally.  But I think it is important.

In the midst of all the busyness and heaviness, I saw this light little piece of delight.  The sound of a child's raucous laughter always brings a smile to my face, and sometimes makes me laugh myself.  This was one of those times.  We could all use as many endorphins as this girl has given herself!  Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Two Minutes = Two Seconds

My daughter just came through, asking me how many feet are in a mile.  Crud.  I don't remember.

I shuffle my feet (figuratively, since I'm seated) and mutter something like, "Oh, I don't remember.  That's something you memorize in elementary math, and I should probably remember it, but I don't.  Let me look it up."

Two seconds later I furnish her with the answer, which I've just googled and found on

"How many feet in a mile? If you are referring to statute (land) mile as commonly used today (road signs etc), the answer is 5280 feet."
[They're number-types, so we'll excuse the punctuation errors, as we hope they'll forgive us grammar-types for not knowing the numerical conversion in the first place!]

I also found the following Einstein quote, too, which I found interesting:
“Einstein was once asked how many feet are in a mile. Einstein's reply was, 'I don't know.  Why should I fill my brain with facts I can find in two minutes in any standard reference book?'"

I wonder if he ever envisioned the world we live in, where the two minutes in the standard reference book has been replaced with two seconds on the Internet? 

Friday, January 11, 2013

How to Remove a Computer Virus

This post about how to remove a computer virus might prove useful one day.  True to form, I save it here, for future reference.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Papa's New iPad

The following video arrived today from my father, along with the following note:

"Good reason not to put me on the iPad Christmas"

Papa’s Got a Brand-New Apple iPad (And a Knife) from llcoolR on Vimeo.

I think it could be roughly translated as:
 - "Papa, how are you getting along with the iPad we gave you for your birthday?"
 - "Great!"
 - "Any trouble with the Applications and stuff?"
 - "Which Applications? Would you step aside, please?"

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

"Instant Festive"

Today is my birthday, and this morning my acts-of-service-love-language self was overwhelmed by the food spread waiting for me when I rounded the corner to the dining room after our morning gathering as a family.  The food was delicious and the company delightful, but I realized that half of what is so special for me was the fact that it was pulled off without my involvement at all.  I didn't have to plan it.  I didn't have to shop for it.  I didn't have to cook it or execute it in any way.  And it was beautiful.  It was delicious.  It was festive.

As I've contemplated what made it feel so instantly festive as I came around the corner, I've come up with several things.  Some are not surprising.  One--of course!--is the fact that there was a candle.  Candles create "instant festive," in my mind.  I had a special china plate and cup and saucer.  Nothing quite says, "You're special" like bringing out the good dishes! But another thing that I think creates "instant festive"--and this surprised me!--is a pedestal bowl.

I absolutely love my little pedestal bowl!  We bought it just before Thanksgiving for $10 and the local TJ Maxx Home Goods store.  I wanted something to house the tossed salad (yes, tossed salad) my sister-in-law had requested with the Thanksgiving feast.  (I made a layered salad in the miniature trifle bowl, and it was delicious and beautiful!)  For the Christmas season, we re-purposed it as a centerpiece decoration on the dining room table with colorful glass ball ornaments of different sizes in it.  And now here it was, on my birthday, housing an exotic-looking fruit salad.  Festive.  It instantly added class and importance to the table, in my silly mind.

The breakfast was delicious.  There are plans for lunch out with my father and kids for lunch.  Tonight my husband and I will have dinner together at a favorite local restaurant.  Clearly, we celebrate around here around the table!

And if there's a festive bowl involved, all the better!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Grammar Geek Grace

Recently, I re-posted a friendly Facebook post from a friend regarding the correct use of apostrophes when making names plural.  (Hint: the answer is, NEVER!)

I thought her super sweet personality came through in the kind, respectful tone she used--and all of the dozens of comments she had received were positive ones--so I decided to copy her words exactly, just to be safe.

This is what I posted:
From my dear fellow grammar-geek friend, Pamela:
Public service announcement from your resident grammar geek: Friends, you can never correctly pluralize a family's last name by adding an apostrophe or an apostrophe plus *s.* The correct way to pluralize a last name is simply to add the letter *s*, unless the last name ends in x, s, z, sh, or ch, in which case you just add *es*. For example, we are the "Fahses." Apostrophes are only for possessive cases. "The Fahses are excited to watch a Duke game in Cameron Indoor Stadium this Christmastime. They'll be staying at the Floreses' house while in North Carolina." Phew. It feels good to get that off my nerdy English teacher chest.

Almost immediately, I received the following reply from a friend:
Ha! Knowing this rule, I still opt for clarity - if "Conchira's" looks better to me, then it works better as far as I am concerned, and I use it. This is a simple choice, because at this point - not having any English teacher to impress - "geek-ness" is only in the eye of the beholder. Plus, ultimately I know that my God is a God of GRACE.. (:

We had some friendly, light-hearted banter back and forth, but ultimately it was possibly going to take on a negative tone, so I just tried to graciously drop it and move on.

The thing is, I haven't been able to.  (On Facebook, yes.  In real life, no.)  I can't believe how much it is bothering me--this idea that there is not an objective right and wrong...that "just whatever I think" is a fine standard for something like grammar.  

My daughter helped this same apostrophe-friend's daughter tune her new violin the other night.  I became amused with the idea of indicating that we tuned it to F, D, B, and A (instead of the standard E, A, D, and G) "because it works better as far as we are concerned." 

I know that I tend to be a black-and-white thinker, and that I often get in trouble by applying black-and-white standards to things that should be opinions and choices.  (Think of things like breastfeeding... tattoos... homeschooling... whether or not someone should teach their kids to eat vegetables... You get the idea!)  But I'm a little flabbergasted at this argument for something like spelling and punctuation in grammar.  

It feels like arguing whether 4x5 really equals 20.  An intelligent, educated adult would never claim, "Well, it just works better for me to think of 4x5 as 45.  That just makes more sense to me."

And my friend is an intelligent, educated adult.  And he is a Christian believer.  And, I assume, he believes in standards of right and wrong.  I have the utmost of respect and admiration for him and his sweet family.  So, this whole experience really has me thinking about how the world views grammar.

I know that most people don't use correct grammar.  I am an editor and an English teacher by profession, so I walk around the world with a figurative red pen in my hand.  I don't say anything to you--and I learned a long time ago how to let it go and not have it affect my opinion of you or your intelligence--but I do see any grammatical errors you may make.  I'm trained to.  Most of the world isn't.  Grammatical rules are sometimes confusing, goofy, counter-intuitive, and difficult to remember and apply.  I get that.  No biggie.

I have just always assumed that the mistakes were because folks didn't know the rules, or didn't know how to apply them correctly.  I have always assumed that people would like to do it right if they could...and that the only time it matters whether it is actually right or not is when one is doing something important, in writing.  (Of course, texting and Facebook statuses don't apply, except to us grammar geek types who still have a hard time leaving out a necessary apostrophe or capital letter even there!) 

But in important, published items--like Christmas cards or address plaques for the front door--I have assumed most people would like it to be correct.  

In fact, just today, I saw this great picture posted on Facebook:

Above it was the line, "Can we get a like in support of our soldier's?"  Rather than the smart-alec English teacher line, " support of our soldier's what?!,"  I chose to write them the following (private) message:
Just wanted you to know that--in your post, "Can we get a like in support of our soldier's?"--the word soldiers should be spelled without an apostrophe. Since you're getting hundreds of thousands of "likes," I thought you might want to edit it to be correct.

And I was pretty thrilled with their response: "Good catch. Thank you." 

It is this, "I-like-the-way-it-looks-better-when-it-is-wrong-and-that's-totally-fine-and-legitimate" idea that is totally new to me.

And I think, ultimately, what is haunting me--really--is the deeper realization that this is how we often view standards, too, and not just grammar.  "This works for me.  I like it better this way.  Never mind what's right and wrong in your book.  And don't talk to me about your book.  The fact that you think you're right and I'm wrong makes you narrow-minded... bigoted... judgmental... old-fashioned... fanatical... dogmatic... dangerous."

And yes, I'm as guilty as the next person.  I smile to remember a Beth Moore quote in a Bible study of hers I was attending:  "And, dontcha know, the standard is squarely under mah feet?!!" (That's "my" with Beth's Southern accent!)  That is how we tend to function.  We want to recast right and wrong--good and bad--acceptable and unacceptable--into our own standards that make us feel comfortable... under our feet, if you will.

And so, this year--this new year of 2013--I have a goal.  I want to be sure that anything I take a strong stand for or against, in any way, has a biblical root in Truth.  No getting bent out of shape about anything that isn't explicitly or implicitly addressed in Scripture.  And the implicit better be pretty clear.

So, does the proper spelling of names--and whether or not they are supposed to have apostrophes in the plural--qualify?  No.  Yes, you can argue that there is a right and wrong at stake there, and that loose standards lead to loose morals and all that, but I'm going to try this year to err--in matters that are not moral absolutes--on the side of "make aware, then let it go."  And then I'm really going to try to let it go!

Feel free to hold me to it!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

An epiphany on Epiphany

Well, the 12-Days-of-Christmas Blog Challenge is officially over, and this is the 13th Day of Christmas 2012. Maybe. Depending how you calculate it.  Some people--and "official" ones at that--claim that The Twelve Days of Christmas begin on Christmas Day, December 25, and culminate on Twelfth Night, the Eve of Epiphany.  Other "official" folks claim that they really begin the day after Christmas, culminating on the actual January 6 holiday of Epiphany.

And it turns out, actually, that even the date for Epiphany itself is negotiable. Most traditions seem to place it always on January 6, but others insist that it should be on a Sunday and therefore commemorate Epiphany on whatever Sunday falls between December 2 and December 8.  Unless they feel like doing it the Sunday before--apparently, that's okay, too.

This reminds me a little of Easter; I can never keep track of what the "rule" is for determining which Sunday it will be in any given year!

It also reminds me of our dear friends from Germany, the Erharts, who lived here in the States as our neighbors several years ago. They enjoyed the traditional Thanksgiving meal with our family on Thanksgiving Day the last year they were here. We also celebrated a "Summertime Thanksgiving of sorts" during their last month here, in which we cooked and ate the whole blessed feast again when it was 95 degrees outside! It wasn't until the following year--when they were back in Germany and we were here eating the American feast again--that we realized the confusion over dates. They sent a lovely email on Friday--the day after Thanksgiving--telling us they were thinking of us as we celebrated. It didn't take us long to figure out that they thought the holiday fell on the particular date and not a particular day. (Again, what's the rule for knowing which Thursday it will be? Is it the last one in November? The fourth one? Is the fourth Thursday always the last Thursday?) But I digress...

Back to the point. (Is there a point?!) In my book, today, January 6, is the 13th Day of Christmas and the day to celebrate Epiphany, if you do that sort of thing.  However, it is kind of hard to make much of Epiphany when the people out there who sometimes force your hand with regard to your schedule (think school and work here!) have sent you back to your duties. 

We always leave our Christmas decorations up through Epiphany, though we stop burning the outside lights afterwards if it falls early in the week, to wait for a convenient weekend time to take them down without becoming "those neighbors"!

In the absence of any great ideas that have worked their way into our holiday traditions at Epiphany--feel free to share if you have any meaningful practices up your sleeve!--I always use this opportunity to teach my Creative Writing students [and to remind my own children, as we are homeschoolers, after all!] about the differences in the various meanings of the word "epiphany."  So, first things first:

* Epiphany (with a capital E) refers to the holiday, which is defined for us by's Guide to Christianity Mary Fairchild as follows:

Epiphany, also known as "Three Kings Day" and "Twelfth Day," is a Christian holiday commemorated on January 6. It falls on the twelfth day after Christmas, and for some denominations signals the conclusion of the twelve days of the Christmas season. Though many different cultural and denominational customs are practiced, in general, the feast celebrates the manifestation of God in the form of human flesh through Jesus Christ, his Son.

The word epiphany means “manifestation” or “revelation" and is commonly linked in Western Christianity with the visit of the wise men (Magi) to the Christ child. Through the Magi, Christ revealed himself to the gentiles. In Eastern Christianity, Epiphany puts emphasis on the baptism of Jesus by John, with Christ revealing himself to the world as God's own Son. Likewise, on Epiphany some denominations commemorate Jesus' miracle of turning water into wine, signifying the manifestation of Christ's divinity as well.

(Notice that even she acknowledges the squirrelly nature of trying to pin down a date for the thing!)

* Colloquially, the word *epiphany*refers to "a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience." (This definition is provided to us by 

"In other words," my students always tell me, "an epiphany is an *aha moment*!"  Well, yeah, pretty much.

* Literarily, the word *epiphany* is "a literary work or section of a work presenting, usually symbolically, such a moment of revelation and insight."

I love teaching about epiphany. I love those little commonplace moments--whether in literature or in life--that change us. That make us realize something extraordinary in the midst of the oh-so-ordinary. That, in some ways, define us.

And so I will end with an epiphany-of-sorts that I am in the middle of... that I'm just now starting to realize, as I see the profound truth that I am so prone to miss...

This particular musing has been brought on by Theodore Roosevelt, through the following quotation from his book, An Autobiography, published in 1913.

"For unflagging interest and enjoyment, a household of children, if things go reasonably well, certainly makes all other forms of success and achievement lose their importance by comparison."

May I ever remember it...and seek to love and enjoy and not miss these wonderful ones living with us for just so-very-few-more years more! All other forms of success and achievement do lose their importance by comparison! 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Acts of Service

I have had graduate coursework to complete since I enrolled in the classes last summer, but the busyness of homeschooling and life kicked in before I finished, and I've been slowly pecking away at them all semester in the stolen moments I could find amid our gloriously busy life.

This day was the absolute, "I must finish these papers and get them to the instructor" day.  My husband set me and my trusty laptop up in the guest room, where I was to shut the door and not come out until they were done.

This is what I found that he had set up to be waiting for me in there:

In case you can't quite see it in the larger picture, I'll give you a closer look:

Yep!  Candles and tea!  How wonderful it is to be really known!

And, in addition to feeling very known, I felt very, very loved and supported.  You see, I'm an "Acts of Service" love-language girl, and it is sometimes ridiculous to me how happy I am and how loved I feel when someone does something for me.  And it doesn't have to be thoughtful and special, either (like candles and tea and a quiet room to do the must-do work).  It can be something as mundane as changing the light bulb before I get to it... vaccuming the floor you noticed was a mess... cleaning up the dishes in the kitchen that I didn't quite get to yet...

Yep, it is pretty easy to make an acts-of-service person feel loved... just look around and do something that needs to be done.  She'll melt like the gift-receiver-love-language girl will melt over flowers... or the quality-time girl will melt if you'll just sit with her while you both read... or the physical-touch girl if you hold her hand for no apparent reason... or the words-of-affirmation girl if you write her a love letter.

Don't get me wrong!  If you do any of those things for me, I'll feel special--but not as special as if you clean out that plugged drain when you notice you're standing in water so I don't have to.  Silly, yes!  And I often watch in wonder at my own emotional reaction to acts of service, thinking how ridiculous it is!  But it is really quite undeniably true.

If you aren't familiar with the Five Love Languages, I'd highly recommend that you read about them.  It may just transform how you love each other!

All Is Merry and Bright

It is the Twelfth Day of Christmas today, and our family is slowly taking down the Christmas decorations that have adorned our home for the last month or more.  I always have the potential to get a little glum and sad when the decorations come down.  This is such a magical time of year for me, and I am always a little sad to see it come to an end.

As I was feeling wistful (prayerful, hopeful) that the lessons of Advent...and Christmas...and Epiphany--the lessons of deliberate, mindful gratitude for the gift of Christ; and of purposed thankfulness for every little blessing that comes our way as we walk with Him each day; and of noticing and thinking and dwelling on the amazing reality of our salvation in Christ--that they will stay with us as we move back into "normal life," the following arrived into the mailbox of my daughter EL from her Opa:
                              Good morning, EL. Came to wish you a wonderful day! Opa

And what could be happier, in a more daily-day way, than that?  Thank You, Lord, for grandfathers and for fried eggs and for smiley faces and for every other wonderful thing that will cross my path today.  And tomorrow.  And next week.  Make me ever mindful of Your amazing love and grace extended toward me!

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Most Famous Reindeer of All

I received lots of Christmas cards I really LOVED this year, but this has to be my all-time favorite! Handmade and folded into a homemade card of sorts by one of my young piano students, it was addressed in the way that seemed best to her:

I suppose I felt really known and loved by my mail carrier.  I really DO live in the first house on the right, but who knew that the US Postal Service would figure it out and get it to me addressed that way?!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Far As the Curse Is Found

As my family heads back to "school" today, (when you homeschool, every day is "school"--or no day is "school," depending on how you look at it--so the days that you leave home and attend enrichment classes elsewhere become "school days" for you), I can't help but be particularly prayerful for the families of the students at Sandy Hook Elementary.  I don't know when they actually went back to school...or will go back to school...or even where "school" will be for them now...but I'm sure picking up the pieces and trying to move back into "normal" has been all but impossible for them over the holidays, and is all but impossible now, moving into the "back to school after the holidays" scene.
In the midst of all my praying and thinking and praying and talking and praying and crying over the past several weeks, I've read many interesting articles about the situation.  This one, published yesterday on Public Discourse, finds author Russ Nieli arguing that "we ignore at our own peril the problems caused by family breakdown."  It isn't really "politically correct" to discuss these things, but any honest assessment of the situation requires that we do so.

Absentee Fathers and the Newtown School Shooting

by Russell Nieli within Marriage
January 2nd, 2013

Any honest analysis of the Newtown tragedy must address the social problems caused by divorce, absent fathers, and the burdens of single motherhood.

     Last month's massacre of twenty young children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, prompted much public debate and soul-searching. The results were predictable. The left-liberal position went something like this:

There are too many guns in America, too many crazy people who should not have guns, and too few restrictions on the kinds of firearms that civilians may own. It's ridiculous to allow civilians to possess military-style assault rifles with large capacity magazines that can kill dozens of innocent human beings in minutes. We need to end our national love affair with firearms and firearm violence and should learn from the Europeans and Japanese, who severely restrict gun ownership for anyone not in the military or government police forces. We also need laws mandating that privately-owned firearms be stored securely so that criminals or unlicensed users can't get them.

Our mental health system also needs a thorough overhaul. Troubled, at-risk youth are too often left to fend for themselves because their families cannot pay for or access the professional care they need. We need to provide them this care through more outreach programs in schools and community centers that identify children and teens at high risk for self-destructive or socially destructive behavior.

     While many found this view compelling, the conservative take on the Newtown horror couldn't have differed more. It went like this:

Guns will always fall into hands that they shouldn't, no matter how extensive our gun control laws are. These laws don't prevent criminals from getting guns, but they disarm law-abiding citizens and render them helpless against deadly criminal attacks. Look at what happened in Norway. A country with very strict gun laws still saw one of the worst gun massacres of all time when the deranged Nordic supremacist Anders Breivik systematically shot and killed over five dozen helpless adolescents on an offshore island where only he possessed a firearm. Only a heavily armed Norwegian SWAT team stopped his attack. The bad guys prey on helpless victims who they know will never shoot back. Only good guys with guns can stop bad guys with guns. To protect our school children we need more armed guards--policemen and suitably trained civilians--who know how to use firearms responsibly and how to defend the helpless and defenseless against homicidal crazies.

We also need to stop the poisonous influence of violent video games and Hollywood movies on developing young minds. Teenage youth can become desensitized to violence through an addiction to games like Grand Theft Auto, Thrill Kill, Postal, and Mortal Kombat. These games reduce people's sense of empathy and increase their appetite for sadism and aggression. If we really want to tackle the problem of youth violence in America, we should critically examine the perverse messages that our media-saturated culture often sends to young people.

     Other claims and arguments were made to bolster both positions. The Supreme Court, for instance, came under attack from both sides--from the right for prohibiting prayer in public schools, from the left for interpreting the Second Amendment to include a right of private gun ownership. The two contrasting views were fleshed out in countless op-ed pieces and news broadcasts with the usual low quality we expect of such media treatment.

The Elephant in the Living Room

     Though both sides in this dispute have something sensible to say, they've missed an elephant in the room either because of willful blindness to anything politically incorrect or because of a lack of real-world experience. I speak of the problems associated with divorce, family breakup, father absence, and the enormous burdens placed on a single mom who must rear a troubled male child alone.

     Adam Lanza was not normal. He suffered from morbid shyness and an inability to connect with his student peers and anyone else--a cold, withdrawn, hollow shell of a person to his classmates, an Asperger's patient to professional psychologists. Even under the best of circumstances--with a loving, caring, two-parent family consisting of a husband and wife who complemented each other's strengths and worked together as a team--raising someone like Adam Lanza would be a real challenge.

     One can't say how he might have turned out under different circumstances, but statistics show that having divorced parents, as Lanza did, plus a father who moves out of the household, remarries, and has little contact with his son for long stretches of time, is not the ideal formula for successful childrearing. Yet what sociologists call "family structure issues" were rarely discussed in the media, not even on conservative talk radio where one might have expected them to have a preeminent place. Most Americans, it seems, have so many divorced or single-parent neighbors, friends, and relatives (if they are not themselves divorced or living as single parents) that discussing family structure is simply too painful and too sensitive to be taken up in any honest or candid manner.

     While we may never be able to explain fully what caused Lanza's murderous rampage, the best speculation to date involves, besides mental health problems and gun availability, the challenges faced by a single mom trying to raise a deeply troubled youth. A Fox News reporter gathered from the Lanzas' neighbors and others who knew the family situation that Lanza likely killed his mother because he thought that she loved the students and teachers of Sandy Hook School more than she loved him. Lanza knew that his mother planned to have him committed to conservatorship, and perceived her court petition as an effort to send him away. This enraged him to the extent that he killed first-graders who may have worked with his mother in the past year, and the school's principal and psychologist, who were his mother's good friends.

     It's hard to read such an account without feeling great sadness for someone like Nancy Lanza--a single mother with a deeply disturbed male adolescent on her hands and no man in the house to turn to for help or advice. Those who knew her said that she was at her wit's end and thought she could no longer care for her son by herself. In a saner age, when people understood the palpable harms of "broken homes" and "fatherless boys" (the terms themselves have become quaint if not archaic), the "family structure issue" would have guided reflection on the Lanza killings. But now, since any such discussion of divorce's harms, especially the harm of not having a father present in the home, would step on too many toes, we focus instead on the safer territory of gun control and our mental health system.

     A preview of the current non-discussion was provided almost fifty years ago when Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote his famous report The Negro Family: The Case for National Action. As Moynihan learned, however important the "family structure issue" may be to an understanding of an acute social problem, for many it strikes a raw nerve, the pain of which shuts down all serious discussion. A preoccupation with "racism" and "de-industrialization" were the equivalents in Moynihan's day of guns and the mental health system today, as topics to raise to avoid the salient but hypersensitive issue of family breakdown.

     In his book Fatherless America, David Blankenhorn writes that "across societies, married fatherhood is the single most reliable, and relied upon, prescription for socializing males. As marriage weakens, more and more men become isolated and estranged from their children and from the mother of their children. One result, in turn, is the spread of male violence." Though we can't ignore the other contributing factors to the Lanza massacre, this simple truth must be acknowledged in any honest assessment of the Newtown tragedy.

-- Russell Nieli is a lecturer in politics at Princeton University. 

Support the work of Public Discourse by making a secure donation to The Witherspoon Institute.

Copyright 2013 the Witherspoon Institute. All rights reserved.

And so we pray every day for our marriage, for our children, for our home, and for our family.  Lord, protect us.  Keep us faithful to one another.  And keep us compassionate and concerned for those who are wrestling amid the pain of struggling marriages and wayward children and a world nearly breaking  under the crushing weight of sin.  May we ever remember that, "He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found"!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

All Is Calm

I must admit that I ponder New Year's Resolutions as much as the next person--probably more, fact.  (I tend to over-analyze everything!)  As I've been considering the idea of "resolutions" this year, I decided to present my friend Pam's idea of a "Family Goal for the New Year" to my family yet again--it's been three years now--to see if they want to follow suit.

This year, for the first time, they said yes! And so we have begun "No Soda 2013" (as a physical family goal) and "No Raised Voices 2013" (as a spiritual family goal).  It is our family's sincere hope and prayer to be calm, kind, and civil in all of our interactions with one another this year--and indeed, always.  We decided that whenever we have opportunity or temptation to drink soda, we will focus on the sweetness of the Lord Jesus, and on the desire we have as a family to speak in sweet tones to one another.

Interestingly, within a few hours of the commencement of this goal, the following article--"How to Break Bad Habits"--arrived to my inbox (from Guide to Depression Nancy Schimelpfening).  How interesting that one of the examples she uses to illustrate her point is yelling at your kids!

A habit is any action that we have performed so often that it becomes almost an involuntary response. If we consider this habit to be undesirable then we may label it a "bad habit." People spend countless hours and dollars each year attempting to break these bad habits and often do not have any success. Why? Because there is no magic bullet. Change is hard work and there is no short cut to achieving it. The steps a person needs to take, however, can be very simply outlined. To effect a change in habits, one needs to bring the action back into the realm of consciousness and regain the ability to make choices.

What's the Payoff?
The first step in breaking a bad habit is to look at why you find this action so compelling. In other words, what's the payoff for doing this seemingly negative thing? Since you've already classified this as a "bad" habit you may be tempted to say there isn't one. But look closer. There is always a payoff. Let's say your bad habit is yelling at your kids. What's in it for you? You let off some steam and feel a little better for the moment. Or you have a bad habit of leaving the dishes unwashed? The payoff could be that you get to spend more time on the Internet!

What's the Trade Off?
Next, take a look at the trade off. What is it that you are losing by exercising your habit? This step should be easier. Just think why it is that you consider it a bad habit in the first place. Yelling at your kids is a bad habit because it leaves everybody feeling tense and tears down your children's self-esteem. You are trading a temporary release of tension for the emotional health of your children. Leaving the dishes undone is a bad habit because your kitchen is a smelly mess. To have more Internet time you are trading off having a pleasant living environment. When you look at it that way it doesn't seem like you are making very wise choices, does it? There has to be a better way.

Time to Make a Choice!
Now that you've weighed both sides of the issue--your payoff and your tradeoff--it's time to make a choice. It's no longer an involuntary act because now you know that you are making a choice every time you perform this action. You are choosing what you value more: the payoff or the tradeoff! Each time you start to do whatever the bad habit is now you have to actively choose. Which do you value more? Do you value more the relief you get by yelling at your kids or do you value their emotional well-being? Do you value more having more Internet time or having a pleasant place to live?

Substituting Better Behaviors
The whole reason you formed your habits in the first place is that they filled a need. You had tension that needed relief or you had a desire to surf the Net. As you break the old patterns you still need a way to fulfill these needs. You will be not only making an active choice to not do the old action you will also be making a choice to perform a better, alternative action in its place. Instead of yelling at your kids you might decide to go for a run every time you are feeling tense. Instead of letting dirty dishes pile up you may decide to use paper plates when you are eating alone. What the new habit is that you substitute isn't so important as whether you feel good about the choices you have made. After all, the reason you consider it a bad habit is because it leaves you feeling bad about yourself.

It's Up to You
By now you should realize that the only way to continue with a bad habit for very long is to sink back into denial of why you are doing it in the first place. Each time you begin to resume your old patterns the thought will pass through your mind that you are trading X for Y each time you perform that action. You will be forced to make a choice, whether good for bad, about continuing your habit. What choices will you make? The one that makes you feel bad about yourself or the one that makes you feel good? It's up to you.

Our family often jokingly refers to ourselves as the Bickerdings.  The kids can spend the entire day from waking to bedtime bickering at each other, often with sharp tones or raised voices.  We adults are also frequently guilty of harsh tones and attitudes as we express our frustrations with our children's behavior.  All of us need a good dose of reminder about what we're actually saying when we choose to speak in those ways to each other.  Thank you, Nancy!

Oh, how I pray that our family will seriously pursue this goal as a family this year--and that we'll see real strides as the Lord convicts, challenges, and changes us!

"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." (Ephesians 4:29-32)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Tiny Tots With Their Eyes All Aglow

Well, they're not exactly "tiny tots" anymore, any of them, but last night and this morning, several who were little tikes not so long ago were lying around my den "with their eyes all aglow" as they watched--for many hours--The Lord of the Rings trilogy (yes, all the extended versions!) as a movie marathon.

This wouldn't be so newsworthy except that I'm not really the movie marathon type.  Short of being stuck in the car for a billion hours, I'm not really one to spend hours and hours watching movies--especially all in a row--even if they're wonderful ones I love.  I don't say this with pride, like I'm oh-so-much-more productive than those who do.  I just have that obnoxious Type A personality that cannot easily allow myself to sit down and enjoy such a thing unless there is something else productive going on... folding laundry... burning miles on a long road trip... knitting dishrags (if I ever learned to do this like my girls have!)...

But all four of our kiddos decided it would be fun to host a movie marathon at our house, so some 30+ kids and adults all gathered at our house yesterday afternoon for a showing of the first two of the LOTR movies.  We started the first film by 4:00, then watched and ate pizza and snacked on the "favorite movie snack that isn't popcorn" that each of them brought, then paused to watch The Ball drop and toasted in the New Year with sparkling cider. We then put the second movie back in and finished it up about 1:00 this morning. We spread the kids who were staying the night across the floors of four bedrooms and then all crashed for a few hours of sleep. This morning, bleary-eyed and sleepy, we started the final film by 8:30--complete with Dunkin' Donuts--and finished up by 1:00 this afternoon.

The whole experience was a blast!  And here it is, by the numbers, recorded for posterity:

Number of guests besides our own family: 36
Farthest number of miles traveled to join us: 85
Number of pizzas cooked and consumed: 7
Number of bowls of "other snacks" (chips, candy, pretzels, etc.) floating around: 9
Number of huge bags of organic baby carrots made available (and eaten!): 2
Number of Arizona Iced Tea cans recycled: 12
Number of gallons of Kool-Aid drunk: 3
Number of pillows strewn about the floor: 28
Number of throw blankets accompanying said pillows: 8
Number of cell phones taken from kids at bedtime: more than 20
Dozens of donuts consumed: 4
Total number of movies watched: 3
Total number of minutes of actual screen time for those 3 movies: 682
Number of HOURS that translates to: 11.5
Number of hours spent by one girl in the middle of the night in order to finish reading the third book before the movie was shown this morning: 3.

And last but certainly not least: the number of members of my family crashed into bed before 9 pm tonight, the night after all this fun and frivolity: 6.  (I'm off to bed now, and I'm the last!)