Wednesday, April 30, 2003

WEDNESDAY: Family Funnies


The college daughter called home and talked to each family member. Finally, it was the baby sister's turn. The receiver was placed in her chubby 3-year-old hands. And she said:

"I don't have an orangutan."

The college girl didn't miss a beat. "Well, I'm sorry to hear that, but you can always ask Santa for one next Christmas."

If she could have seen her parents exchanging glances, she would have learned a key fact about child development: 3-year-olds have only about five things stored in their memory banks, so they have plenty of room for novel ideas, and something like that will, indeed, be remembered eight months hence when the Christmas lists are being made out.

Santa better start stocking up on bananas.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

TUESDAY: Hot Potatoes


The nation’s approach to sex education appears to be shifting from how to “do it” to how not to.

The decline in teen pregnancy rates from 1991 to 1995 can largely be attributed to the increasing trend toward abstinence among the nation’s youth, according to a new study published in the Adolescent and Family Health (AFH), a journal of the Institute for Youth Development.

In contrast, the more liberal Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI) and the Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy (CPTP) have attributed the drop in teen pregnancy to increased use of contraceptives and improved contraceptives use.

But authors of the AFH article claim that both of these studies came to erroneous conclusions because they defined teens “at risk for pregnancy” as being those who had ever had sex, not just those who were sexually active during the year in question. Those other two studies also do not differentiate between single and married teens, which would also make it appear as though more unwed sex is going on than really is.

Besides pointing out the risks of premarital sex – pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases – attention in sex ed also is shifting toward teaching kids about the emotional scarring that can take place in a teenager who indulges in sex, the link between premature sexuality and other high-risk behaviors, the link between premarital sex and divorce later in life, and the fact that contraceptives cannot prevent some STD's, such as genital warts and genital herpes.

For more information, see:

Monday, April 28, 2003

MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell for Parents


Q. My child came across the word “adjacent” and asked me what it was. I said, “Well, sound it out.” She replied: “What do you MEAN, ‘sound it out’?” I was shocked she didn’t know.

Most parents assume that schools are teaching children to read with proper phonics instruction. But almost none of them are. Instead, they are most likely using Whole Language methods. Those minimize phonics as merely one of several word-attack strategies, such as memorization, context cues, illustrations, and guessing.

Without the decoding skill that comes only from proper phonics instruction, most kids are lost later when they encounter “big” words.

What is your child missing out on? Phonics has a few simple components. The children read text and write about it, and they write from the teacher’s dictation, with the sounds the letters make pronounced carefully and distinctly. The children learn the 44 sounds that the English alphabet letters make, and the 70 phonograms that those sounds combine into. There there are the basic rules of spelling, proper handwriting instruction, vocabulary-building exercises, word notebooks, and lots of reading of lots of good books.

If none of that sounds familiar, then your child isn’t getting proper phonics instruction. Now, many primary-school teachers insist that they DO teach reading with phonics. Perhaps they do to some degree, but in almost 100 percent of the cases, it’s on a minimal, scatter-shot basis, instead of systematically, intensively and explicitly.

Here’s how to tell if your child has not had proper phonics:

Can the child name the short vowel sounds? (ah, eh, ih, oh and uh as in bag, beg, big, bog and bug)

Can he or she read a paragraph from an age-appropriate book with a nice, smooth flow, and no mistakes?

Can he or she read for a long time without getting tired?

Does the child spell well?

Does the child know how to sound out unfamiliar words?

Homework: “The Writing Road to Reading,” Romalda Spalding

Sunday, April 27, 2003

SUNDAY: Radiant Beams


My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.
-- 2 Corinthians 12:9a

When I was a geeky preteen, I used to sneak down to my big brother’s room and look through his high-school yearbook. I would dream about the day when maybe I wouldn’t have glasses, braces, pimples and pudge. Maybe someday I would look glamorous and confident and exuberant, like the girl in the full-page picture I always admired.

She was a varsity cheerleader, shown doing one of those acrobatic jumps high in the air, with her back gracefully arched and her elbows cupped in the soles of her feet. If I ever tried something like that, I would be in a cast for months.

It was a wonderful picture: the Homecoming bonfire blazed in the background as this beautiful young woman literally jumped for joy, celebrating the fun of being young and strong and on fire with school spirit.

Her name was Liz Lueder Karnes.

She died last week at only 53, after battling ovarian cancer and its complications for over a dozen years.

She was a wife of a former U.S. senator, the mother of four impressive grown daughters, holder of an Ed.D. degree in education, and a tireless public servant endowed with an unmatched mixture of charm and compassion.

Her funeral will be packed. I’ll be there and I’ll be crying, even though I’m happy her pain and suffering are over.

I’ll be crying out of gratitude for Liz’s legacy. She left it to me, and to everybody whose life she touched.

She made us believe in ourselves.

She was the eternal cheerleader. It was her special gift: nothing trite or silly about it. She always saw the good in people.

We got to go to a few of her legendary parties in her fabulous home, and I marveled at the pictures of Liz and her family with Presidents and other big shots . . . yet she still knew that I baked Oatmeal Scotchies and she made me feel as though my Oatmeal Scotchies were the greatest achievement in human history.

We had a few serious talks about education, and didn’t see eye to eye on some things. But she never discounted my views just because I’m not an educator. Instead, she listened. Great teachers like to be taught. She did. She went beyond listening to people: she heard them.

She exhibited health and vitality as a swimmer, runner and dancer. Once I made my old standby joke that I look like Boris Yeltsin in a dress, and she grabbed me by the shoulders and said, “Oh, Susan, God has given you a beautiful body, and it’s perfect just the way it is.”

I didn’t exactly see Demi Moore next time I looked in the mirror . . . but I felt better about myself. What a “people builder.”

When Liz found out about the gravity of her cancer, nobody would have faulted her for getting depressed and withdrawing from life. But Liz did just the opposite. Even though she was a totally G-rated health queen, she met friends at the door with a cigarette in one hand and a glass of booze in the other, saying something like:

“Well, clean living has gotten me THIS (the cancer), so I might as well try another tactic.”

The strength that it takes to be funny when you’re facing what she was . . . I was humbled by that.

As I watched the cancer’s vicious attack turn her petite body into a human piƱata, and saw what she had to go through just to eat, I was struck by the resolve and tenacity that it took for her to survive.

Did I have that much strength? Was I that tough? Could I fight like that?

I hope to God I’ll never know.

But Liz did . . . and her legacy to us is that if she could do it, so could we. We saw in her the power ignited by prayer that so often comes alive on the inside, when on the outside, the person looks weak and sick and the situation looks hopeless.

She lived 12 years fully, to the max, when the initial diagnosis would have thrown most of us into despair.

What made the difference? Faith. Belief. Trust. Hope. And most of all, love.

Along the way, she mirrored the best of us back to each of us, making us feel just like her . . . beautiful, strong and full of spirit, smiling with excitement, and jumping for joy.

That’s how I see her now. That’s how I’ll always see her.

She was a living cheer: Go! Fight! Win!

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

SATURDAY: Just For Kicks


A great idea for a bridal couples shower is to give a barbecue grill as a group gift. Instead of making everybody run around and buy individual shower gifts, set an amount of money that each party guest should send in, and give that "budget" to the engaged couple to shop and find a grill.

Then gather everybody for a party to show off the group gift. Of course, you need to serve BBQ, but use your own grill -- don't break in the bridal couple's! After dinner, give gag gifts like a spatula duct-taped to a golf club, a "dual purpose" tool. And be sure to encourage lots of toasts that the young couple's marriage will never be cold, will always let the steam escape, and most of the time, will sizzle along!


FRIDAY: Vitamin Mom


If you're trying to teach your child the twin tigers of responsibility and entrepreneurship, there's nothing like dandelion picking! Give your child a dandelion picker and a grocery sack, and promise $1 per full bag. Your lawn may stay clear of dandelions for the first time in ages. Make sure the child knows how to get the entire root out, or the child might get a little TOO entrepreneurial -- because a half-baked job the first time will guarantee the need for a repeat, and more pay.




Looking for a cheap but colorful centerpiece idea? Take a clean plant pot saucer and fill it with a red, green and orange or yellow pepper, plus a handful of baby potatoes and a red onion. Put a red votive candle at off-center. Put a flower stem in a plastic or glass water tube if you have one, or just lay a silk flower in place. Cover the stem with a handful of fresh whole green beans. Run a little ribbon over, under, around and through and voila!


WEDNESDAY: Family Funnies


The man of the house had a new sales job, and was spending a lot more time traveling on business. He would be gone for two weeks at a time.

His youngest daughter didn’t quite catch on to the change in their family routine.

One evening at dinner, she looked around the table, and asked, “Where’s Dad? Isn’t he hungry any more?”

TUESDAY: Hot Potatoes


Kentucky was the first state to Goals 2000-ize itself, and institutionalize Outcome-Based Education in its public schools, replacing local control with state control.

Now it has major, major egg on its face. Are other states paying attention?

After a lengthy court fight led by radical leftists in that state, a June 8, 1989, ruling by the Kentucky Supreme Court held that it was unfair for some districts to spend more per pupil than others just because they happened to have more wealth in their districts. In response, the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) became law and basically ruined the schools by "governmentalizing" them.

With a tax increase of $1.4 billion, a whole new system was put in place. It includes standards, assessments, graduation proficiency exams, penalties for schools that don't meet their goals and millions of dollars of rewards for those that do. Plus Kentucky now has a whole new big bureaucracy to administer all this. It's the same kinds of incredibly expensive and intrusive system that most states now are putting in, and which will be made even worse as the federal program, No Child Left Behind, sinks its teeth even deeper into public schools and pushes local school boards aside.

But here's what's sad:

After all of that spending and hardball politics and fuss, Kentucky's ACT scores last year averaged 20 out of 36, one of the worst averages in the nation. That average ticked up just .10 of 1 point since 1990. All that money, and all that damage to schools, for absolutely nothing.

Now that they realize that financially, educationally and from a public-policy standpoint, this has been a disaster, the state is considering getting rid of its statewide high-stakes assessments, the CATS exams (Commonwealth Accountability Testing System), but they have all that bureaucracy in place, they want to save face, and it's a big, fat mess.

You can read all about what's going on in the article, "Critics Push to Revamp CATS Exams," in the April 22 Louisville Courier-Journal,

And you can talk to your state senators and educators and warn them that Kentucky puts on a heck of a horse race, but their education system is a broken-down nag.

Monday, April 21, 2003

MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell For Parents


Q. When my child reads aloud to me, he just stutters along in a monotone. He doesn't have any inflection or emotion in his voice. He makes mistakes and starts over a lot, skips words and gets frustrated real fast. He's 7 and we're getting worried.

What you describe is ''decoding distress.'' The child's brain isn't making the necessary, lightning-quick connections that should allow him to read fluently and accurately by this age. He is having difficulty running the alphabet letters in the text he sees through his mental filter that should automatically match those symbols to the sounds the letters make and allow him to recognize and pronounce words.

But he's not decoding. It's not his fault. It's the school's. This is what happens when kids aren't taught to read with proper phonics.

A sure sign of decoding distress other than the halting pronunciation you describe is poor reading comprehension. If your son can understand the meaning of spoken language -- if his ''listening comprehension'' is good -- but he cannot understand the meaning of written language equally well, the problem isn't with him. His school is most likely using the Whole Language philosophy of teaching reading, which is to let the kids guess and skip, not decode.

Without the accuracy and fluency that comes with careful phonics instruction, the reading comprehension of the average Whole Language student is not as good as the average phonics reader even in the early grades. The gap becomes dramatic by high school.

Parents can prevent decoding problems to a large degree by reading aloud daily with and to their children in the preschool and early primary years. Always read with the text in plain sight and work with your child to make those symbol-sound connections.

With a school-age child in the distress you describe, the solution is to run, don't walk, to a phonics tutor who uses an effective method such as Spalding Phonics, or learn it and teach it yourself.

Homework: Book, ''The Writing Road to Reading'' by Romalda Bishop Spalding,

Sunday, April 20, 2003

SUNDAY: Radiant Beams


And the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf pluckt off: so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth.
-- Genesis 8:11

There’s a family man in Omaha who parked his truck in the driveway every night and went inside to his wife and daughter. He had cares, of course, but overall he was happy, healthy and living the American dream.

And then one day he went out to his truck and started it up and backed down the driveway . . .

. . . not knowing that his little daughter was playing behind the back tire.

The jolting bump.

The sight of her crumpled body on the pavement.

The implosion of his lungs and guts.

Yelling to his wife . . . the screams . . . scooping up the limp little body . . . rushing to the hospital . . . the sobbing, the guilt, the self-recrimination, the hopelessness, the shame.

They buried her in one of those sad little child’s graves with toys all around.

He parked his truck over to the side on his driveway and vowed never to drive it again.

Time went on.

He punished himself. It was all his fault.

If he just hadn’t been in such a hurry that day . . . if he just would have been a responsible enough father to know where she was, every instant . . . if he just would have taken a few seconds to teach her never, ever to play around a vehicle. . . .

He felt horribly heavy, lifeless and alone. It was as if he buried his life in that grave, too.

More time passed. Still he grieved.

Why, Lord? Why did You take her away from me? Why did You let this happen? Didn’t You see? Why didn’t You stop me? Why, God, why?

Then one day he went out to his driveway, and right behind the back tire of his truck, right at the spot that was the source of all of his aching despair and pain . . . there was a snow-white dove.

Before his eyes, it took off, majestically, into the sky.

As he watched it fly up, it was as if the weight of the world was lofted up and away from him, carried away on the wings of that dove.

“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows. . . .” (Isaiah 53:4)

He thought of the dove of peace that told Noah that everything was all right, and that solid ground was just ahead. He knew it meant that his little girl was in her glory, still very much alive, just in a form he couldn’t yet see. It was OK.

He watched the dove fly out of sight, his face uplifted to the sky. He left it that way for a while.

He felt peace. At long last, peace.

He fell to his knees, and sobbed. This time, he felt a healing release. It was as if his heart was resurrecting. He felt a renewed hope and certainty of the life to come.

He won’t know for a long time how all of this fits into God’s plan for his life. He won’t know until the day he holds his little girl again and feels her love and forgiveness, as above them in triumph flies a snow-white dove whose message is peace and whose gift is joy.

That’s Easter. That’s the truth.

Jesus Christ is risen, indeed.



Saturday, April 19, 2003

SATURDAY: Just For Kicks


The worship services are inspiring. The egg hunts are fun. The feasts are great. But what a lot of people love about Easter gatherings is lingering at the dinner table and just talking and sharing as a group, whether you’re with your family, close friends, neighbors or roommates.

Here’s how to make that special time even more memorable:

In advance, gather as many plastic, two-part eggs as you will have dinner guests. Think about the real meaning of Easter. Now, inside each one, tuck a little piece of paper with a “prompt” such as:

Tell about a time that what you thought was really bad turned out to be really good.

Tell about someone you admire.

What makes you say “Alleluia”?

Who is the most generous person you know?

Tell about a scary time and how you got out of it.

At the end of dinner, pass an Easter basket around. Everyone has to take an egg, and then respond to the question inside.

Here’s hoping you hear lots of laughter and share some sweet moments, better than Easter candy that melts in your mouth . . . because these are words of love and remembrance that melt in your heart.

Friday, April 18, 2003

FRIDAY: Vitamin Mom


Teenage sports teams, music groups, clubs or other high-school activities give moms a great opportunity to help their child make a tangible, lifelong memory with a special quilt they’ll have forever. This is a great sendoff for a senior going off to college.

Using cotton fabric, cut out a soccer ball or softball or tennis racquet or band instruments or whatever symbol might work for the activity in which your child participates. Give one to every player on your child’s team or in your child’s group, without your child knowing. Give each student a permanent marker such as a Sharpee pen, and ask them to write a note of encouragement, record your child’s nicknames, “in” jokes, or whatever they would want to put down for posterity, and sign their names, sort of like a yearbook autograph.

One way to do this and maintain secrecy is to delay your child for a half-hour to some team function, such as a pizza party, and get the fabric “balls” signed.

Then sew them onto quilt squares that go with your school colors, and fashion a quilt. You could cut out snazzy letters in a different fabric for your child’s first name and player number if you wish. Denim makes a great border. If you can’t sew, call a quilt shop or fabric store and ask for a referral to a private seamstress.

The “memory quilt” makes a great presentation to a graduating senior from the whole team at the end-of-the-year banquet. And it will give that young person an extra boost of confidence off at college, knowing that the “home folks” were glad to be part of his or her team.

Thursday, April 17, 2003



To welcome guests at Eastertime, or just to cheer your neighborhood, take a large piece of foam-core board or posterboard and cut it out in the shape of an egg to fit your front door.

Then, just like a mother bird fashions her nest out of whatever she can find, decorate your egg with scraps and leftovers gathered from around the house: spray paint, tempra paint or watercolor paint, use markers or crayons, glitter glue, doilies, tear up tissue paper and glue on, make button art, arrange colorful beads, use yarn or rope, glue large flat sequins, punch holes in colored paper, twist and glue pipe cleaners . . . whatever looks festive.

Attach to your door with blobs of “sticky tack” adhesive dough, or use a good plastic or duct tape that won’t damage your door’s wooden surface. Beware of those spring winds and make sure it sticks.

The decorated egg keeps from year to year if you put it in a plastic trash sack and put it up above pipes in a basement closet or some other out-of-the-way place.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

WEDNESDAY: Family Funnies


That first little try at “The Alphabet Song” needs to be supported and encouraged, so just hold your hand over your mouth to hide your laughter when the next little person in your life comes up with lyrics like ours is singing this week:



''Q-R-S, U-and-V.

''Now I know my A-B-C’s.

''Next time won’ choo sing wiff meeeeeee?!?!?!''

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

TUESDAY: Hot Potatoes


A student group at Ithaca College in New York reported this week that 93.6 percent of the faculty are Democrats or Green Party members, vs. 6.4 percent who are Republicans.

This astounding lack of political diversity on campus was most pronounced in the department of political science, where the entire teaching staff was made up of Democrats or Greens.

The Ithaca College Republicans used voter registration records and a faculty list to come up with the numbers for 15 departments. They excluded the hard sciences and the applied sciences such as physical therapy.

Results were reported this week in

If colleges really want to be bastions of political correctness and to celebrate diversity and so forth, it would seem to make sense to have this same study done and publicized for every college and university in the nation. Then watch the fur fly.

It’s hard to imagine any college teaching staff – or any group of working people in this day and age -- tolerating that degree of imbalance for other human factors, such as gender and race. But if that same proportion or thereabouts holds up at other campuses, that’s a strong statement about the ideological stranglehold that leftists have on our ivory towers.

Monday, April 14, 2003

MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell for Parents


Q. My third-grader has a teacher who has been on several leaves of absence, has been bounced around from school to school in our district, screams at the kids and is disorganized, never sends any papers home and hasn’t changed the bulletin boards since September. Half the class is bored out of their skulls and the other half are misbehaving. What should I do?

1. Stay calm and rational, and keep this in perspective. Remember, problem teachers have personal problems. This sounds like someone battling depression. Be kind.

2. Discreetly ask other parents if they notice anything wrong.

3. Meet and work out a plan to monitor the situation for a time.

4. One of you should quietly obtain your district’s teacher evaluation document, which lists all the expectations for teachers and codifies what is unacceptable. Share this.

5. Another person could obtain a copy of your state’s teacher competency statute, which should define teacher incompetence and grounds for dismissal and the steps leading up to that drastic measure. Share this, too.

6. All parents should document things that their children say about what is going on in school, so take notes and date them and file them away. It is unfortunately smart to keep copies of misspellings, incorrect “corrections” and errors of fact that come from the teacher or are evident on your child’s papers to document incompetence. Many incompetent teachers are aware of their shortcomings and they tend to “accidentally on purpose” never send notes or schoolwork home to try to avoid parental accountability.

7. Wait for a precipitating, actionable event – a child starts bedwetting, there’s an incident of abuse by the teacher – and meet as a group with the principal to work out a solution.

That may be an aide, an enforced leave, or a new teacher.

Homework: National Council on Teacher Quality,

SUNDAY: Radiant Beams


In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
-- John 16:33b

I hate it when my husband goes out of town. Things happen. It’s Mrs. Murphy’s Law.

Once when I was pregnant, he left on a weekend golf outing, but scurried around doing Honey Do’s first.

He brushed off his hands, picked up his clubs, pointed to all that he had accomplished, and told me, “You’re all set.”

Those three little words . . . I hate those three little words.

Sure enough, he had forgotten to plant five potentilla bushes at the foot of the driveway. They had been shriveling in their pots for a week. So, even though I was great with child, I hauled them down there and planted them myself.

But there was a glitch. My back gave out.

I had to crawl all the way up the driveway at a snail’s pace. Naturally, guests arrived to visit next door. Our neighbors greeted them: “Oh, that’s just Crazy Susan. Always kidding around. Isn’t she nuts? Ha ha ha!”

All set, eh? Hmmph. All set for Divorce Court!

Another time, we moved on the same day he was to leave for another golf outing. The movers left, he found his golf clubs in the clutter, said cheerfully, “You’re all set!” and blew town, Brown, leaving me with 4,200 boxes to put away.

I got started: “Bedroom,” “Kitchen,” “Put In Storage and Forget For Another Ten Years.”

But then . . . organ music . . . it started getting hotter and hotter. The thermostat said “72.” But it felt like “99.” I panicked. There was a big, old boiler downstairs. I imagined it was bubbling like a cauldron, jumping off its footings, flames licking out toward combustibles such as myself and the children, the whole shebang about to go . . . SHEBANG!

But then I saw a whole ‘nother thermostat at the back at the house. It did, indeed, say “99.” Ohhh. There must be TWO thermostats in this new house! My elbow must have spun the dial on the second one to the max while I was rounding the corner with one of those big boxes.

All set? Hmmph. I re-set my personal thermostat to “frigid” after that.

I bring all this up because last night there was a big party at our house. We were the hors d’oeuvres stop for our neighborhood’s annual progressive dinner. Sixty-five snappily dressed guests met for nibbles and saw our house looking its best.

What they DIDN’T see was my Hag of the Western World act the week before, using my body as a human hammer to get this dump into shape.

Gardening, spray-painting, vacuuming . . . I worked like a dog, especially picking up the 17 zillion maple hulls out of the irregular flagstones on our back patio.

But seconds before the first guests arrived, I caught sight of Maddy, our 3-year-old, out there grabbing fistfuls of wet sand and throwing them up in the air – “HAPPPP-py New Year!” All over my precious patio. One fistful plonked onto the living room window and slid down, leaving a trail of grime that would be our guests’ first glimpse of our lovely, peaceful home.

That’s when the tick on the right eyelid began.

Two minutes later, the lightbulb over the buffet burned out, leaving guests to peer haplessly at the food. The tick on the left eyelid began.

The twitch on the mouth came after 90 minutes of so-so slush from the rented margarita machine. It was too liquid. People were good sports, but I was upset. Then the sun went down and the slush iced up . . . at the precise moment the guests had to “progress” to the next house. So they left. I was stuck with a boatload of leftover margaritas. I mean, a 55-gallon drum of leftover margaritas.

Shaken, not stirred? Neither. I twitched.

And where was my husband during all of these trials? My rock, my fortress, my margarita machine mechanic?

Out of town, of course.

He had been called away on a mission of critical importance. No, not to Iraq. Not for work. It was to a softball tournament, to support our daughter’s team, of which he is a grand poohbah.

Oh, make no mistake: before he left, he took a half-day off work and whizzed down his Honey-Do List. He whipped the yard into shape. He took the storms off the screen porch.

As he was leaving, he even flipped on the air conditioner for the first time this year.

“You’re all set!”

I felt a chill of margarita-like proportions. But it was nothing compared to what my feet felt at 7 this morning.

The softball daughter forgot to turn off her alarm clock before she left town. So it buzzed loudly. I leaped out of bed, my tired bod still leaden from all those party preparations, and staggered downstairs to turn it off.

Two steps into her room – squish, squish – and I knew the nearby air conditioning unit was backed up and leaking badly. Icy water was soaking her off-white carpet, sending shock waves through my bare feet, driving my cardiogram into the mega-millions, and worst of all, beginning to stain the beautiful beech baseboards.

But then I thought of the wet vac out in the garage. I could haul it down there. I could use it all day and well into the night to fix this flood. I could beat this thing!

I was . . . all set!


And THEN I remembered the boatloads of leftover margarita slush in plastic sacks in the freezer.


I was all set, all right!
SATURDAY: Just For Kicks


A fun and easy way to socialize with your neighbors is to pick a likely Saturday night once a year, and plan a progressive dinner. After you've set the date about six months in advance, recruit host houses for the two key stages of the evening, where all participants will gather: hors d'oeuvres and dinner. A typical schedule: hors d'oeuvres at 6, salad at 7, dinner at 8 and desserts at 9.

Send out invitations six weeks in advance with a firm deadline and ask for volunteers to host salads and dinner. Depending on how many people are coming, you should keep it to no more than 20 people at each salad house and 10 people at each dinner house. Each participating couple should pony up $25 per couple or so to cover food and drink, or at least a large chunk of the cost.

Participants who are not hosting a party should be assigned as cooks: some can make hors d'oeuvres and bring beer, wine and pop, some can make the agreed-upon salad recipe and bring it, some can cook the dishes for the dinner, and some can make scrumptious desserts. They can arrange with the hostesses whether to bring the items in advance, or at the time of the party. Since everybody lives so close together, it's totally do-able to stop in between the hors d'oeuvres and salad houses to pop your dinner casserole into the oven, then stop back home to pick it up and bring it piping hot to the dinner house. It's a good idea, too, for someone to haul the leftover alcohol and soft drinks from the hors d'oeuvres house to the dessert house.

A typical method is for the organizing committee to choose recipes for the salad and dinner houses so that everybody has the same thing no matter whose house they go to. Appetizers and desserts can be cooks' choice.

That night, the chairman and assistant can sit at a table at the hors d'oeuvres house and give out nametags, collect money, and assign people to their salad and dinner houses.

Nothing will go wrong, but even if it doesn, cell phones and short distances between homes can solve problems in a heartbeat. And people are really willing to help.

Love thy neighbor -- and bon appetit!

Sunday, April 13, 2003

FRIDAY: Vitamin Mom


Birthdays are important, and it's a great social skill to remember the birthdays of people you like and love. You'd be surprised how hard that first birthday away from home can be, at college, when many young people are too shy to spread the word that their birthday is coming up. That empty mailbox is sad to see.

Moms can model the importance of marking people's birthdays for your children by giving each one a "birthday calendar." You can buy calendars for this purpose, or make a simple one with 12 notepaper pages or a small spiral notebook.

Label each page with the month and then number the days in that month: 1 through 31 for January, 1 through 28 for February and so on. You don't need days of the week since the birthday calendar is a "perpetual calendar" that will work for several years.

Then your child can write down the names of friends and families on their birthdays and keep the calendar for handy reference. One family had each child tape the birthdays to the inside of their closet doors; another put them up on a bulletin board in the family washroom.

A nice accompaniment to the birthday calendar is to give your child a box of blank cards that he or she can draw and color on before sending to those special friends.

The best result of this thoughtfulness is that friends who are touched by your child's faithful friendship are a million times more likely to remember your child's birthday. And that's something worth celebrating.



Sick and tired of war in the Middle East? Here's a way to relieve stress: download photographs of the faces of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. You can find them by typing in their names on a search engine or going to a joke website. Enlarge them to 8 1/2" x 11" or if you really get serious, go to a print shop and have them made up poster size.

Mount on cardboard and duct-tape to garden stakes.

Stake in your yard a few dozen feet away.

Then set out pitching wedges or other golf clubs and a supply of golf balls. Everybody who comes to your house will enjoy a turn trying to whack a few shots at these guys who've teed us off so much for so long.

It's an "in your face" that will be satisfying, classy and fun.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

WEDNESDAY: Family Funnies


My sister took her two kids to the grocery store late one afternoon. It was one of those great grocery stores with a bakery that turns out scrumptious, aromatic cookies to tempt shoppers, especially late in the day. Not only that, but they give out free samples to cute kids who come by.

Well, my sister had her two cute kids in the cart and was hurrying through the store trying to pick up her exciting list of broccoli, milk, bread and Cheerios -- is there any other list, for a young mother? -- when an employee offered each of the kids a big, warm chocolate-chip cookie.

"I'm sorry, but you can't have those," their mother said. My niece dutifully turned her cookie down.

My nephew, then about 5, wasn't so compliant. He reached for his cookie anyway.

"No, Mark, you can't. It'll spoil your dinner," his mother said.

He paused thoughtfully, scrunched up his face, and asked, "What're we havin'?"

You know, some things in life are just worth it, all the time, and a fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie is one of 'em.

TUESDAY: Hot Potatoes


I’m a woman. I’m a golfer. Therefore, I’m even more qualified than Martha Burk to comment on the fact that the Augusta National Golf Club in Atlanta, Ga., host of the world’s biggest golf tournament every year, The Masters, doesn’t have any female members.

Martha Burk is the “political psychologist” and “women’s equity expert” who is trying to force all kinds of owies on Augusta because it remains a men’s only club. It’s a private club that pays taxes, and doesn’t use any tax funding the way the Martha Burk organizations of this world do. So it’s a producer entity, not a consumer one. Most people would say that means people like Martha Burk should MYOB. Most people would interpret Martha Burk’s whining about the men-only club as being like someone with such a small grasp of reality that they picket their neighbor’s house and tell everybody to stay away from there, because they planted red tulips instead of yellow ones.

The members have shown their class by promising to pay charities the zillions of dollars that the TV sponsors used to pay for the privilege of participating in the limited amount of advertising the Masters used to allow. The members are dipping into their own pockets, in other words, to help the deserving charity recipients who were counting on the Masters income, and to spare the former advertisers the possible bad press and boycotts of the Martha Burk campaign against Augusta.

For her self-described “rabble rousing,” which in effect threatens many worthwhile charities that help a whole lot more women than she ever will, she is getting nice press in the radical left media, and most everybody else thinks she’s out of her gourd.

For what it’s worth, and for the record: as a card-carrying women’s libber and lifelong golfer who would give my eyeteeth to play that course some day, I think she’s out of her gourd, too.

You can go to the National Council of Women's Organizations to read more about her. Try not to laugh when you see that she refers to herself as “chair” of that group – chintz or velveteen? – and that she refers to herself as “Doctor” because she has a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Texas at Arlington. She’s not a physician who invested the years of blood, sweat, tears and brainpower that that title signifies, in other words, so she’s not really a “doctor” except that she has her nonsense course work “Piled Higher and Deeper.”

You can also go to The Burk Stops Here to order a dozen hilarious golf balls with her face on them for $19.75, which promoters believe you will drive 300 yards off the tee just because it will be so fun to hit that face so hard.

So, like getting Non-Doctor Non-Chair Martha Burk to shrink away and go find something worthwhile to do that truly helps people, taking your frustrations out on those special golf balls will be a win-win.

MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell for Parents


Q. I couldn’t believe my ears when our middle-school principal said that more than half of the kids in our very good suburban school can’t read at grade level. How can the teachers in Grades 7-12 do their jobs with so many weak readers?

Parents who deplore ineffective reading instruction in the early grades fervently hope secondary-level teachers wake up to why older kids can’t read, since it appears that only teachers have influence with other teachers. Parents dream of the day the Grades 7-12 teachers will march on the grade schools and demand a better job, since they are left with the very tough job of attempting to help middle-school and high-school kids overcome bad, ingrained reading habits and pick up the comprehension skills, vocabulary, fluency and most of all, motivation to read, that they missed in K-6.

The committee on the Prevention of Reading Difficulties in Young Children of the National Research Council reports: “The educational careers of 25 to 40 percent of American children are imperiled because they don’t read well enough, quickly enough, or easily enough to ensure comprehension in their content courses in middle and secondary school.” (Snow, Burns, and Griffin 1998, p. 98)

One of the most helpful things that should happen is that all teachers, including those in Grades 7-12, need to recognize that Job One is to make all kids into the best readers they can be. Too many times, teachers on down the road disdain that task as being beneath them. But if instruments aren’t tuned, the orchestra stinks. It’s the same thing with even the best curriculum and instruction in middle school and high school: if the students can’t read, even the best teacher will fail.

Parents of struggling readers should buy this book for their teachers:

Homework: "When Kids Can’t Read: What Teachers Can Do" by Kylene Beers (Heinemann, 2003, 392 pp.).

Sunday, April 06, 2003

SUNDAY: Radiant Beams


I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.
-- Philippians 4:13

One of my Great Moments in Ignominy was the day in Rocky Mountain National Park when I decided to maximize my leisure-time enjoyment by taking a class on archery.

Ah, the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune that significantly reduced my self-esteem. William Tell, I ain’t. Cupid’s job is safe. If I were a Native American, my family would starve. I was that bad.

I wasn’t even strong enough to pull back the bowstring and stand still at the same time. The bow and I both wobbled as if we were drunk.

My fingers wouldn’t stay in place, even after the instructor arranged them manually to hold the arrow shaft -- twice. The arrow clattered against the wobbling bow like an unlatched storm door in a strong spring wind.

I wasn’t nearly coordinated enough to aim properly; spectators in adjoining counties were backing away discreetly as we practiced our stance all along the firing line.

Finally, here came the instructor’s cue: “Bows up!” Then: “Loose!” And all of us beginning archers shot our arrows with a mighty grunt of effort.

Most everybody else’s zinged forward and sank precisely into the line of targets . . .

. . . while mine lay uselessly on the grass about five feet in front of me, sadly off course to the left.

I could have thrown it farther and straighter.

I was hurt. I never expected to be so bad at something that people have been good at for so many centuries. It looks so easy in the movies. You know: the captain says, “Bows up!” and all the archers snap into position with nary a wobble in the bunch. Then, “Loose!” and there go all these beautiful, snazzy shots with zing and precision.

How do people get so good at things like that? It was beyond me.

Well, several years later, I had one of those waking dreams where you experience something so real and yet so unusual, it can’t have been a dream, and yet it can’t have happened the way you remember.

In this waking dream or whatever it was, I was on an archery range. But instead of a traditional target, all of my loved ones were standing a distance away from me. I knew this had something to do with how I was supposed to treat them, as a born-again Christian. But I wasn’t sure what was going on. I was standing there with a bow and a quiver of arrows, and somehow I was supposed to aim and shoot at them.

Somehow, I knew that those were arrows of love that I was shooting and the whole point was to help them.

But I knew I was a terrible shot. And suddenly, my bow grew in height. It stretched from over my head to the ground, and its girth became like a tree trunk.

I tried to aim it, anyway, and it wobbled in one hand as my other hand fumbled with the first arrow. This was going to be a disaster.

And then, all of a sudden, the bow was perfectly still. I could feel it pull backward, perfectly straight, with no effort on my part.

And suddenly, the arrow was being aimed in perfect alignment, and I knew that once it was released, it would fly straight and true.

I felt Someone standing right behind me, like a golf pro helping a beginner with the right form. I sensed warm arms around me, strong hands covering mine, a steadying influence.

I was filled with joy, and released the arrows with total confidence that they’d find their marks.

And then poof! The moment was over.

I had kind of forgotten about it until the other day. I was driving to a lunch date with a close friend who was very distressed, in big trouble with some ongoing issues, and in need of comfort and a listening ear.

On the way there, I was praying for the right words to say, special words that would really help. And I was worrying about how the constant barrage of bad news about the war in Iraq was probably making a bad situation seem even worse.

I’m kind of a stumblebum at times like these, clumsy and tongue-tied. I was wondering how I was going to do this person any good, when suddenly, I saw the license plate on the car ahead of me:


Tears sprang into my eyes and my throat choked up. I remembered that vivid archery dream.

I didn’t need any special ammunition or skills. There was Someone with me, with strong arms around me, Who would aim my words like arrows of love, straight and true, into my friend’s heart.

That’s exactly what happened, too, with no effort on my part.

No matter what the target is, no matter where you aim, you will succeed if you will just remember Who is there with you on the firing line.

Don’t worry about having the strength and skill. Just put yourself in position.

Bows up, everyone. Bows up.

SATURDAY: Just For Kicks


If there's one thing young parents neglect, it's adult time for themselves as a couple, away from the kids. But if there's one thing young parents all do, it's enroll their children in some kind of a play activity, whether it's through preschool or a kiddie gymnastics class, the Y, church, whatever. Funny, isn't it, how we all know kids need the company of other kids, but somehow we don't translate that to our adult need to be with each other just for fun once in a while, too.

So here's what to do: next time one of those classes is ending, schedule a celebration lunch at your house. Invite each parent-child combo for a nice luncheon casserole and salad (parents) and pigs in a blanket and bugs on a log (kids). The kids can explore the host child's toys while the parents sit and gab. You can have a planned game such as bingo if you wish, but the fun of being in someone else's house is usually sufficient for all ages.

Then set up a play date for adults. Say you have four kids at your luncheon. Take turns being the babysitting house for the next four weeks. Plan every Saturday night to drop off your child at a different playmate's house for a few hours. One set of parents will babysit while the other three sets go off and have some couple time, which is crucial in this day and age.

After everyone takes a turn, your kids have all had a chance to play at a new friend's house, learned lessons aout sharing and being a good guest, and most of all, the grown-ups have had a little R&R and free, quality babysitting, too.

Saturday, April 05, 2003

FRIDAY: Vitamin Mom


Older children and teenagers are certainly asking questions about the war and must be wondering what it is like to be a soldier in it. Kindle their patriotism and give them a bit of a geography lesson and a reality check by participating in one of the many shoebox supply operations going on.

You can go through your house for extras you have on hand such as soap and batteries, and add a few items to your shopping cart with your child at your side, while discussing what daily life is like for those representing our country in the deserts of the Middle East.

High temperatures are creating a call for small portions of individually-wrapped and melt-proof items such as candies, powdered teas and fruit drinks, and other edibles, instead of large containers of them, which might spoil too fast in the heat.

While TV and video games might give kids the idea that war is glamorous, two frequently-requested items from the battlefront prove that it actually is anything but:

1) Flea collars. That's right; the G.I.'s are putting them around their wrists and ankles because those sand fleas bite, and it hurts.

2) Quality feminine hygiene products. Does the U.S. government skimp? Well, let's just say they don't may not see quality feminine hygiene products as a part of necessary armament, but if you're a quality female, you know that it is.

Friday, April 04, 2003



What a thoughtful teenage son my friend has. She has been mega-stressed out at work, and her duties as a wife, mother, household manager and school volunteer were fritzing her out, too.

So she did a self-loving thing: she scheduled herself a "Mom's Weekend Off" with a three-day stay at a resort she had always wanted to go to. Highlights were to include her first massage, a little shopping, and lots of time to enjoy a stack of good books poolside, getting a spring tan.

She also confided to her family that she planned to use the time away to reconnect herself spiritually. In all her stress, she had been feeling pretty cut off from God and drifting away from His influence and purposes in her life.

So her 18-year-old son did something very special and admirable: about a month before the trip, he snuck into her email address book and got the contact information for many of her oldest and dearest friends. Then he emailed us a request to write her a love letter. We were to include a Bible verse or two if it struck us, and we were to tell her how much she has meant to our lives and how she has enriched us and sustained us. He was going to tuck it into her suitcase at the last minute as a surprise for her trip.

It was such a pleasure and joy to write that letter, the only thing that could have been better would have been to be HER, reading all those letters in her surprise friendship book. I'm sure she laughed and cried and laughed some more, lost count of her blessings, and praised God for her son's thoughtfulness and creativity. I'm looking forward to hearing all about it soon.

It made me regret that I don't write letters like that all the time . . . and it made me resolve to do the same thing for someone else who's special, next chance I get.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

WEDNESDAY: Family Funnies


It's only a matter of time before a new dance craze rocks the nation and plays Carnegie Hall. It's called "The Outie Dance."

Here’s how you do it: put a sticky dimestore star on your navel. It's particularly entrancing if have the good fortune to be an "outie" as opposed to an "innie."

Then puff your tummy out as far as it will go, and suck it in as far as it will go, rapidly and repetitively, to the rhythm of a jazzy tune such as "Hakuna Matata" from "Lion King."

Doesn't matter a whit what color star you choose. Around here, the navy blue one seems most artistically pleasing.

Yes, this all came about as our toilet-training toddler found a creative new use for the reward stars she was putting on her little chart in the bathroom. It's an odd new form of belly-dancing. But if the lust for a new star to dance “The Outie Dance” helps the child ace the skills of the W.C., it's should be a star in any parenting constellation.

TUESDAY: Hot Potatoes


The queen of Jordan grew up in America in a Christian home and belonged to the same sorority I did, Kappa Kappa Gamma, although she went to Princeton and I went to plain old Mizzou.

When she married the well-liked King Hussein of Jordan, she changed her typical American name -- Lisa Halaby -- to "Queen Noor al-Hussein," or "The Light of Hussein," in keeping with his country's patterns. She was the only woman at her wedding, according to the customs of her newly-adopted country. She relinquished her American citizenship, turned her back on Christianity and converted to Islam.

OK. Now in the face of the war in Iraq, she is using her bully pulpit to state to the American people that American Christians and Middle Eastern Muslims "all worship the same God" and that basically, we're all alike.

O . . . K.

If we all worship the same God, Queen Noor, how come you guys don't call Him "Jesus Christ," and how come the God specifically and wondrously revealed in the Judeo-Christian Holy Bible isn't given any kind of a bully pulpit in most Muslim countries, but is in fact censored? If we're all worshipping the same God, how come you won't even give Him a chance to speak to your people?

And if we're all alike, how do you explain why you changed your first name upon your marriage? No self-respecting woman in the United States of America would ever change her first name to please her husband. No way, no how, if she's mentally healthy. Last name, OK; it has its benefits. But first name? That's patently un-American. Don't kid us.

Think about it, my Kappa sister, my fellow mother of four, my former fellow American, and my former sister in Christ.

Get back! Get back! Get back to where you once belonged . . . and made sense.