Thursday, June 26, 2003



If a couple you know has to live in a hotel room or hospital setting for a while because of a sick child, it's a neat idea to put together a special basket of goodies to nurture them during the ordeal.

Call ahead to the hospital's Child Life or other family support office and check to see what kinds of things would be a treat for parents in this situation.


If it's in another state, send a few of your state's famous productsl; University of Nebraska football fans might enjoy a roll of "GO NEBRASKA" toilet paper, for example

Light reading such as magazines or the latest "hot" book

Small lotions

Packets of muscle pain relievers for the back of the neck, shoulders and other areas where stress accumulates; there are lotions for this purpose as well

A child's toy, such as a wooden paddle with a rubber ball attached by elastic

A deck of cards

Chewing gum


A shower scrubbie or glove

Photos of their home garden or changes in the neighborhood

WEDNESDAY: Family Funnies


When you tell a 3-year-old about an upcoming trip, you can't always know what goes through that little mind. I told Maddy that we were all going out to Colorado and that they have a lot of fun things for us to do there.

She gasped with delight, and asked, "Do they have SCOOTERS?"

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

TUESDAY: Hot Potatoes


Heads up, anybody who seeks to know the will of the public. Consider this news release from the Family Research Council:

The pro-abortion Center for the Advancement of Women probably wasn't prepared for the results of a poll it commissioned. Of the top ten priorities cited by the 3,329 women polled, keeping abortion legal ranked dead last.

In fact, just 30 percent of the women polled said abortion should be generally available. A majority of 51 percent favored restricting abortion to cases of rape, incest or a life-threatening condition (34 percent) or making abortion illegal (17 percent). The Gallup Organization confirmed these are about the same numbers its own polling turns up among American women.

This recent poll establishes again that the majority of American women do not support abortion-on-demand -- as the extremist pro-abortion groups and their political allies falsely claim -- and that, in fact, a majority hold pro-life views. The political implications appear obvious: a majority of women support placing more legal restrictions on abortion, and pro-life candidates are not at a disadvantage among women voters.

MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell for Parents


Q. Our state came out looking pretty good in the recently released statistics from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP. Are those statistics the straight scoop?

Well, just remember: there’s more “spin” in educational statistics than what’s put on a hockey puck in the entire Stanley Cup.

Take the three ratings that are published in NAEP results: “basic,” “proficient” and “advanced.” Once you understand how those are defined, the published results for your state may not look so hot.

Go to

Now you’ll see that, even if about one-third of the kids tested on the NAEP in your state were graded as “proficient,” that means only that they are reading at grade level or above! Look at the flip side of that statistic: two-thirds of the kids in your state are NOT reading at grade level. That’s horrible! That’s the news that’s too often buried in NAEP stories, either by design of the educrats who want to continue to avoid accountability, or because the reporters don’t get it.

The NAEP stories also often do not include basic details such as differences in reading scores between white and black students. In Nebraska, 32 percent of all fourth-graders are reading at a “below basic” level, but the reading failure zooms to 46 percent when only black fourth-graders are accounted for. That’s a huge, disturbing gap.

But there’s more: educators in your state can tweak their NAEP results now by excluding students who do poorly on standardized tests, thus ratcheting up the average to make themselves look better than they should. States like Nebraska, with an inexplicably high percentage of children labeled as “learning disabled,” thus can get away with excluding kids who can’t read from the reading tests that are supposed to be red-flagging that deficiency. Nebraska’s latest NAEP results excluded 5 percent of the fourth-graders and 7 percent of the eighth-graders. People need to know that, and ask why.

Homework: For more information on your state’s results, go to and click on your state on the map.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

SUNDAY: Radiant Beams


And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.
-- James 3:6

My hubby’s Uncle Jack is a prince of a guy. He’s a great husband, father and grandpa. He tells great stories. He’s a Minnesotan with a delightful way of saying he’s going to put his “booooooot” in the water. He gave his life’s work to young people as a school counselor and now is enjoying a vibrant and active retirement.

But I’m here to tell about the time Jack’s gift of gab got him so, so busted.

He had been chomping at the bit to get started on a long-awaited trip with his son John. They were going to go from the Twin Cities all the way down to the Grand Canyon. But they had to delay the start of the trip on account of The Boss – Jack’s wife, John’s mother – who insisted that they were going to have to wait until the little matter known as John’s high-school graduation ceremony took place, first.

Bosh! Men on great adventures don’t want to tied down by pomp and circumstance. But they did as commanded.

St. Paul is populated by tightwads of universal repute, and so naturally, every high school in town used the same hall, same caps and gowns, same podium, same flowers and apparently even the same graduation speaker that day. Different ceremonies were scheduled bing, bang, bong. Parking was a nightmare. Ingress and egress were a mess.

Jack and family had to sit ‘way in the back, ‘way up high. The acoustics were terrible. Their son John’s head was just one mortar board among millions. They never did actually see him.

Worst of all, the graduation speaker just droned on and on and on. Jack couldn’t hear much of what he was saying, and that which he could hear didn’t exactly set his heart ablaze.

But the kid got the sheepskin and boom! Next morning, it was hit the road, Jack . . . and John, too.

They drove all through southern Minnesota, through Jack’s native Nebraska, and all the way into a tiny Colorado town, where they finally stopped for a bite to eat at an exotic local establishment, an ice cream and burger joint called “Zesty’s.”

They hadn’t spoken to another soul since they left St. Paul, so when they sat down at the counter, they were pleased when the fellow behind it noticed the Minnesota license plates and asked how the weather had been up there . . . eh?

“Oh, drizzly,” Jack replied, “kind of like here.”

“Oh,” the man commiserated. “You should have been here yesterday. It’s been beautiful all week, ‘til today.”

Jack answered, in his friendly, talkative way, “Yeah, well, we WOULD have been here a lot sooner, but we had to stay up in St. Paul so my son, here, could graduate from high school. And what made it really bad was that we had this graduation speaker who just droned on and on and on, and made no sense, and was just horrible, and I can’t believe that a fine school system like St. Paul’s can’t get a decent graduation speaker. . . .”

The counter man interrupted. “Was his name Paul Johnson***?”

Jack was stunned. “Why, yes! How did you know?”

The man replied, “Because he’s my brother.”


So, so busted.

So, so, so, SO busted.

The guy was big, too. Gulp.

Jack apologized profusely, but the restaurant man winked and said he couldn’t wait to “get” his brother with this, and thanks for supplying him with primeau razzing material.

Jack and his son choked down their Zesty’s and hightailed it out of there.

Jack knew what God was doing. Lesson learned. He swore that he would never, ever tell another story again, as long as he lived.

That lasted about a day. And we’re glad; we would have missed out on so many laughs. His wit and wisdom just have an extra dose of thoughtfulness now, that’s all.

His son wasn’t the only one who graduated that week. Jack became a Phi Beta Kappa . . . of tact.


*** Name changed to protect droner and dronee. :>)

Saturday, June 21, 2003

SATURDAY: FUN-damentals


If you have the good fortune to be spending the Fourth of July near water – the ocean, a lake, a pond, even a good-sized swimming pool – then you can enjoy a fun twist on the traditional Independence Day parade.

Have a float, instead.

Tell party guests, neighbors and other participants a couple of weeks in advance about your Fourth of July Float. Rules are to decorate something that will float in the water, with or without someone in them, depending on the size of the body of water.

People can decorate canoes and fishing boats, jet skis and sailboats, toy boats for swimming pools or remote-control ones, and use full-size boats or small rafts built just for the occasion for larger bodies of water.

You can make “masts” out of lightweight wood and hang banners, streamers and flags . . . make papier mache replicas of Mount Rushmore or other sites of Americana . . . show posters or enlarged pictures of Revolutionary War scenes . . . display red, white and blue helium balloons . . . stuff crepe paper into chicken wire . . . whatever suits your fancy.

If you have room to man your floats, encourage people to dress in costumes and even dress up their pets.

Have prizes for different ages and categories.

After the “float,” what better refreshment to serve than . . . root-beer floats!

Friday, June 20, 2003

FRIDAY: Vitamin Mom


What would your son or daughter do if an attacker tried to grab him or her? Run and scream, one would hope. But if it’s too late for that, then what?

The traditional thing to teach a girl is to knee an assailant as hard as possible right in the groin. But that’s exactly what they expect, and so they can counter that move, grab the child’s knee and flip her to the ground. Boys who try to punch or kick an attacker are rarely going to be as strong or big, and so will only rarely succeed.

A better way is to teach your child the automatic response of the “L” defense.

Have your child make a capital “L” with her hands, with the four fingers as the “ascending” part and the thumb as the “baseline” of the “L.” The left hand will make an “L” and the right hand will make a backwards “L.” Your child should practice making that “L” just as rigid and strong as possible.

Now have your child practice ramming that hard “L” into an imaginary person’s Adam’s apple. Go for the throat – fast and hard. That’s a move that attackers never expect and so it’s one that will work. THEN run and scream.

It takes practice to make that response automatic with either hand . . . but being prepared is your best defense.

Thursday, June 19, 2003



Do you know someone who is sick and likely to be in the hospital or bedbound on the Fourth of July? We can’t have that.

The land of the free and the home of the brave should think first of those who have to be both, and let them feel a part of the action.

If your community has an Independence Day parade that anybody can enter, you’re all set. Make banners, decorate bikes, dress up as Uncle Sam, carry red, white and blue balloons, and do whatever else you can to celebrate totally and participate in the parade. Honor your loved one with banners and signs as well as America.

If your town doesn’t have such a parade, call the sick person’s friends, family and neighbors, and set up your own.

Have fun, and smile! Then send digital pictures over the internet, still pictures by snail mail, or take videotape to show your “honorary grand marshal” how it went. You could even call the person via cell phone while marching for that “wish you were here so much that I’ve brought you here, at least on audio” special touch.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

WEDNESDAY: Family Funnies


When I was a teenager, my sister had a boyfriend from out of town who would come and stay with us from time to time. She was crazy in love with him. We all hated his guts. You know the drill.

So whenever he was coming, our parents would gather us together for the Reading of the Riot Act, warning us that we would all just have to find a way to be pleasant and bite our tongues and get along for the next five or six days when he was here.

My mom would crack us up with her exhortation: “Let’s baaaaaaaand together!” I mean, she was so darn serious about it; it’s a sad commentary when your parents have to make fools of themselves to get you to be nice.

Our sister dumped him eventually, and now anyone in the family can just say, “Let’s baaaaaaaand together” to make all the rest of us collapse into hysterics.

But now the tables are turned. This time, it’s my daughter who has a boyfriend coming from out of town to stay with us for a few days.

She’s crazy in love with him. The difference is, we really like him. It’s no effort to be nice to him.

But we still have the strain of pretending to be a normal, pleasant family for those five or six days, in order to keep him on the string and try to impress him and suck him into our crazed vortex . . . uh, that is, make him feel at home.

This time, the only lecture I delivered was to my husband. I couldn’t quite believe what I heard myself nagging him:

“Remember, you can’t (have gas loudly) for the next five days.”

He whirled around to face me with a glare. “That’s impossible! This is my own house, and I will (have gas loudly) whenever I want.”

The rest of us cowered. We’ll just have to see what happens. Our guest will be here any minute.

Meantime: “Let’s baaaaaaand together!”

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

TUESDAY: Hot Potatoes


The inspector general of the U.S. Department of Education is investigating an incident that highlights the fierce battle going on over how schoolteachers are to be certified as job-ready.

According to the Washington Times, the president of an “establishment” teachers’ certification organization distributed a stolen copy of a confidential test, that was developed for a rival organization, at a meeting of teachers’ college leaders in California.

The test was part of a program promoting alternative teacher certification – testing the competence of a prospective teacher and allowing highly-qualified people to enter the teaching profession even if they did not graduate from a teachers’ college. The alternative’s skirting of the existing teacher certification bureaucracy would threaten the pro-union, pro-“establishment” status quo and the incomes and prestige of those associated with it.

The unauthorized distribution of the test was called “sabotage” by Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, who called for the investigation.

The organization promoting alternatives to the traditional teacher certification process is the ABCTE – American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence. Its president is Lisa Graham Keegan, former education chief of Arizona and a well-respected education reformers. Its focus is on content-based assessment of teacher quality – whether the person can do what really works to build literacy and numeracy – rather than how well the person can spout the educational establishment’s party line. The ABCTE had commissioned the test from the ACT organization, which lost $1.2 million when the test was distributed without the client’s permission.

The alternative certification project that ABCTE was undertaking was federally-funded.

The pro-status quo organization is the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education. Its president and chief executive officer, David Imig, is the one who distributed the test at a Palo Alto meeting on March 17, the Times reported.

MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell for Parents


Q. Our daughter is 4 and in the coming year, we have to decide where to send her to school, or what to do to make sure her education is the best it can be. The only option that scares me is homeschooling, but it is intriguing. I don’t know anybody who’s doing it. How can I find out more about it?

There are several good websites, including the Home School Legal Defense Association, Also search for books by Christopher Klicka, Terry Dorian, Linda Dobson and Mary Griffith, among many other fine introductions and guides. Most cities and states have homeschooling associations that can help. Since there’s nothing as valuable as first-hand experience, keep asking around until you find a homeschooling family who comes to you well-recommended, and then go and observe them for a while.
There’s information available on everything from time management to providing outside social interaction. Note, too:

1) Distance learning – online or “virtual” academies offer a learning commuity of other parents and students as well as curriculum packages that can really help a novice;

2) Cooperative homeschooling – two or more families work together to create the curriculum and instructional style, share the load of teaching, design activities that play to their particular strengths, and merge the purposes and ideals of more than just one family into one educational venture, to save a lot of time and money and prevent parent burnout

But the best way to test the waters is to do just that: test the waters! Try a trial run this summer with your daughter. For example, Discovery offers a “tryout” curriculum for parents of preschool children who are considering homeschooling. It’s available on the Focus on the Family education website,, along with other resources on homeschooling and other options.

Homework: Book, “So You’re Thinking About Homeschooling: Fifteen Families Show How You Can Do It,” by TV star and homeschooling mother of three Lisa Whelchel

Sunday, June 15, 2003

SUNDAY: Radiant Beams


As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children.
-- 1 Thessalonians 2:11

My father had a very special ballpoint pen in the top drawer of his bureau, where he kept all his treasures. We kids knew it was there and peeked at it from time to time. Right there next to the hideous woodworking projects and fat clay ashtrays we'd given him over the years, amid old tie clips and golf balls and forgotten receipts and Rotary pins, the pen was one of his World War II souvenirs.

It had a pretty lady in a black one-piece swimming suit. All well and good. But the trick was, if you held it upside down, the black ink all drained away and there she was . . .


In a totally G-rated way, of course. My dad was a totally G-rated guy and the pen was just kitschy, for fun.

But why did he keep it in his top drawer for all those decades?

I think I know why. It was a reminder of the time in his life when he left his father and mother, and went out on his own into the cold, cruel world. Well into his life, when he stood there at his dresser and saw that pen, I bet he remembered his great war adventure, and how he went away as a boy and came back as a man.

He survived, all on his own. He flourished. He gained his independence.

And he did a terrific job of making sure that his four children all knew how to do it, too.

So even though that crazy pen looked like something silly, it was actually a symbol of significance to a loving father who did his job, and did it well.

What better place for such a thing, than in your top drawer where you can give yourself a daily reminder of what really counts?

We mothers have coffee klatsches and how-to books, long telephone calls and thoughtful walks with faithful friends, to help us shape our mothering. That's how we focus on what we should be doing in that most important endeavor of our lives, rearing our children.

But I think the daddies all have drawers.

At least, every daddy I've ever known has one. Maybe it's a box or a hidey hole, but all of them keep special ''stuff'' for reasons known only to them.

They keep reminders of the best things about their own fathers. They keep souvenirs of special times. They keep mementoes of their glory days. All these things, as individual as each man's fathering style, help them rev themselves up to be the best husbands, fathers and men they possibly can.

One of my friends has a special compass in his top drawer that his father gave him long ago. He has only rarely used it, but he always knew he had it if he needed it – a symbol of good fathering if there ever was one.

Another has World War II medals earned by both his parents, his father as a doctor and his mother with the Red Cross. Although he doesn't say so, I think they symbolize an ethic of service in his family. Based on the cool things his two children are now doing for others, following his example, I see the living proof.

What's so fascinating is how these men don't store away this otherwise pretty useless stuff, out of sight, out of mind. They keep it where they've likely to see it all the time even though you'd think it was just wasting space.

Now, every week, I lug a basket of clean undershirts, socks and, as one of our daughters once dubbed them, ''box panties,'' from the chaotic room we lovingly call ''Mount Laundry'' up to my husband's closet. They go in his second, third and bottom drawers.

One day, not long ago, I peeked into his sacred top drawer. Here's what he had:

Seven hockey pucks – a man always needs hockey pucks at the ready;

A golf prize from a 1990 tournament;

Not one but two zip-lock bags of golf tees and ballmarks;

A Bushnell Yardage Pro;

A green rubber squeezy egg to make your hands stronger for golf;

Four old watches;

Three plastic home-movie reels from his childhood, although the exact location of the projector has been rather iffy for years;

A lint brush;

Three 25-cent stamps;

Three little black film canisters, each containing the baby teeth of one of our older three daughters, evidence of the many years of faithful duty he put in as the resident Tooth Fairy Par Excellence;

And a thick pile of old Father's Day cards from years past. These were hand-drawn by our girls with cartoons of us boating and skiing and playing golf and softball and going to Nebraska football games and jumping on the trampoline he finally let them have. . .

. . . all of which were things they never would have done if not for him . . .

. . . with precious sentiments in their careful little girls' handwriting: ''To the Best Dad in the World'' and ''Thank you soooo much for dedicating your time and love to us.''

My throat tightened.


Now I see why he keeps these crazy things in his top drawer, where he can see them every day if he wants to. Or needs to.

I held the cards in my hands, bowed my head, and gave thanks for having a father for myself, and a father for my children, who put so much stock into their parenting portfolios.

A salute today to them, and to daddies everywhere.

Hey, you guys: you’re top drawer.

SATURDAY: FUNdamentals


A delightful activity for a family reunion is to organize a trolley tour of the city of your ancestors. There's something about a trolley ride that puts people in a nostalgic mood, ready for a little history and recollection.

Most cities have a tourist bus company that can be contacted to arrange a charter. You might want to work a year in advance to secure this transportation. It's hard to predict how many people will be participating, but you can get a rough idea even many months in advance.

The usual contract requires a nominal down payment and the money up front, but if it gets to be two weeks before the event and you have far more or far fewer people than you thought you did, there'd still be time to shift around your charter to accommodate everyone.

The itinerary is up to you: your city's best sightseeing destinations are always a hit, and you can brainstorm with other relatives for ideas of the old stomping grounds of the oldies but goodies in your family: where did Great-Grandmother go to school? Where was Great-Grandpa's business? Where was Great-Uncle Felix's antique shop? All make fun drive-bys, especially for those of all ages who had no idea of all this family history. That's why it's important to make sure grandparents and grandchildren sit together, so the storytelling can flow. It's always fun to call ahead to your ancestral church and see if you could drop in for a visit and show the kiddies where Grandpa was baptized, confirmed, married and so forth, or maybe doing a cemetery rubbing (put paper over the tombstone wording and rub sideways with a piece of art charcoal).

It's as great idea to make the climax of the tour a group photograph at the ancestral home. Call the new owners well in advance and arrange a tour of the inside if possible, or permission to post in the front yard. Make sure everyone knows to bring a camera, and ask the trolley driver to snap the group pictures.

Then celebrate with a big picnic lunch in someone's back yard.

A wonderful memento is to put that photo in an engraved 8" x 10" picture frame and mail it to participants later.

The reunion price can include the cost of the trollley tour and souvenir photograph, or someone could underwrite them for the rest of the gang.

FRIDAY: Vitamin Mom


Among public displays of immaturity, nothing is as common as the garden-variety "cut." That means seeing someone you know and purposely not saying "hi" or avoiding eye contact, to insult and reject the other person deliberately.

For some people, this becomes a way of "getting even" for real or imagined slights. But it's indirect and manipulative. It's always, always better to go to someone you feel has "cut" you, and communicate with sincere hopes for mutual understanding, apology and reconciliation. That's much, much better than years of scrupulously avoiding the basic social graces and hurting their feelings.

But kids aren't born knowing this kind of stuff. So teach 'em.

When you're in the grocery store, don't "stiff" someone you know in front of your kids, even if she's a blabbermouth and you know she'll corner you for a five-minute blabfest. Perfect the art of the "walking hello" so that you can be polite but avoid getting trapped. Otherwise, if you purposely avoid such an acquaintance, your kids will know you know that person and didn't say hi. You don't have to run over to the next aisle and do jumping jacks, but if you see someone you know, make an effort to be friendly, and tell your children why: because it's the right thing to do and it makes others feel good to be noticed.

Even if you run into your arch enemy with your children in tow, don't pretend you don't see that person. Say "hi." Model for your children that being civil is not debatable. Besides, courtesy is free . . . and in any relationship, it always gives you the upper hand.



A creative activity to go along with a family reunion is to put on an art show with "entries" from across the generations. It makes a great icebreaker and conversation starter for the reception that often is planned before the ending banquet.

Along with the reunion invitation, ask participants to bring works of art that they have done, or that the previous generations of that family have done and passed on. Suggest that with towels and sturdy paper, one can protect a painting or set of paintings on a car or airplane trip.

Ask them to let you know what they're bringing and how many: paintings, drawings, photographs, decorative tiles, special scrapbooks, tri-fold display boards of artifacts or photos, small woodworking pieces, needle crafts, pottery, anything and everything.

Ask for sizes, whether it's framed, and the name of the artist, title of the work a description of the medium, a point of interest such as whether it won a prize or has been exhibited in a museum and so forth, and a year or approximate date.

Scrouge around with your friends and the workplace to borrow display easels, or you can rent them. Table easels or individual plate racks may come in handy. Buy a pack of tent-fold cards from a party shop, often near the bridal aisle for do-it-yourself receptions. Write the background information about each piece on these cards. Bring extras to the show for unexpected "entries."

On the day of the show, ask the restaurant or host to push a couple of tables together and put tablecloths on, in order to display smaller pieces and scrapbooks. Set up the easels, and remember that you can lean at least two pictures on the floor against every easel, to extend your display space.

Encourage each person who brought something to hang out near that work of art to answer people's questions. No need for prizes -- the real prize in a show like this is the family togetherness that it creates.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

WEDNESDAY: Family Funnies


A writer published an article recently about driving to a college orientation with her daughter and listening to a 4 1/2-hour audiobook that had been loaned to them by the girl’s 72-year-old grandmother.

To their mutual horror, a red-hot sex scene began to play. It kept going . . . and going. . . .

The mother felt like shutting the fool thing off so that it wouldn’t pervert her daughter’s wholesome ways, but resisted the impulse because she didn’t want to embarrass the girl.

The daughter was so embarrassed the heat from her cheeks was picked up by global positioning satellite technology, and she wanted to shut the fool thing off, too, but was afraid to reveal her discomfort to her mother.

Finally, they both moved to shut it off, and their hands bumped. They laughed and laughed.

They laughed some more after the article appeared, and another 70-something friend of the family emailed her compliments on the story . . . and an urgent request for the name of the audiobook.

So THAT’S why little old ladies in tennis shoes sometimes drive right off the road!

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

TUESDAY: Hot Potatoes


Haven't you always wanted to be a fat-cat television station owner? Well, guess what? You are! Taxpayers own the nation's many public TV stations. It's about time we acted like it.

Next time you see a show that you feel is slanted or inappropriate, by all means telephone or email your local public TV station and let them know. Give time, date and program title if you have it, with your return contact information just in case one of these publicly-funded "mediacrats" actually responds to you.

As for shaping the programming toward balance and quality, taxpayers have an opportunity right now for advocating for a one-hour science video that has been highly successful in explaining the difference between the scientific, biological theory of intelligent design, and the theory of Darwinian evolution.

It's called "Unlocking the Mystery of Life," and it's available to all PBS stations by satellite download from the national PBS source. It has a lot more chance to be aired if people in each PBS station's turf call or email and request it to be shown.

"Unlocking the Mystery of Life" features interviews with scientists and philosophers, uses high-tech computer animation, and shows beautiful location footage from places such as the Galapagos Islands off South America, to explain the exciting scientific theories that are beginning to replace Darwinian, naturalistic evolution as the reason for life's origins and development.

Basically, intelligent design theory holds that mindless, natural causes and pure chance cannot have led to all of the complexity and diversity of life on earth. Scientists are amassing a mountain of data to bolster that contention. Many, many contradictions to the theory of evolution often are suppressed in classrooms, textbooks and, yes, even previous PBS broadcasts on this topic, but they are covered in the video and debunked.

That's why it's time for the station owners -- the taxpayers -- to demand equal time for this new concept.

Besides polite requests to have "Unlocking the Mystery of Life" aired on your PBS station, you can buy your own copy to share with family, friends, church groups, civic groups, and others, often for under $20, on and other sources.

Monday, June 09, 2003

MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell for Parents


Q. I’ve heard it said that a teaching certificate correlates to good teaching about as reliably as a marriage certificate correlates to a good marriage. So does a teaching certificate tell us enough about the educational quality our kids are getting?

Of course not. But it was never meant to. Teaching certificates used to be issued for life. They were basically a formality to getting a job in a public school pursuant to union rules. Today, however, a more discerning public is demanding competency tests as a minimum “gatekeeper” for the teaching profession, to weed out incompetents before they start. They also are demanding shorter durations for teaching certificates, say, three to five years, with evidence of continuing education, and more testing of longtime teachers, too.

Requirements for teacher preparation in order to gain a certificate vary widely from state to state. Plus there are bedeviling complications: for example, high school graduates who homeschool get better results from their students – their own children – than highly-paid, master’s level teachers with longtime certificates in force.

What to do about this apparent bureaucratic swamp? Most parents would prefer to exchange certificates for solid background checks of candidates, and let local principals and school boards judge whom to hire and whom to fire, from that point on. But the teachers’ unions are strong, so any change will come slow.

One bright spot: value-added teacher evaluation. This common-sense idea, that you can spotlight how effective a teacher is by comparing how well that teacher’s students do on down the educational road versus their peers, came from William L. Sanders, of Cary, N.C., formerly of Tennessee. That state has been using it for years, measuring “teacher effect” on student learning, over the course of years. The measuring stick is on a voluntary and confidential basis for teachers. It is considered a highly accurate reflection of teacher effectiveness in the real world, with real students.

Homework: Search “value-added teacher assessment” on Education Consumers Clearinghouse,

SUNDAY: Radiant Beams


(F)or he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.
-- Hebrews 13:5b

We just got back from a 1,650-mile trip from Omaha to Waco, Texas, for my daughter Neely's college orientation. It was a mom-and-daughter road trip to remember.

On the way down, we listened to a best-selling audiobook that my 70-something mother lent us. It was a sappy romance. We loved it.

But then OnStar must have noticed a mysterious aura of heat emanating in a mile-wide radius from I-35. That's because of an intense, red-hot, R-rated love scene between ''Suzanne'' and ''Picasso'' that erupted suddenly on the otherwise G-rated audiotape.

You don't know what ''awkward'' means 'til you’ve lived through a moment like that. I blushed because I didn't want to embarrass Neely by shutting the fool thing off. She blushed because her GRANDMOTHER was the one who gave it to us.

We both reached for the ''STOP'' button at the same time, and bumped hands. We laughed and laughed.

When we reached Waco and stopped for dinner, we laughed some more: the waitress was ''Suzanne'' and there was an art store a few doors away called ''Picasso’s.''

''Do you believe in coincidences, Mom?'' she asked.

No way. Just can't. I've seen too many of them over the years. I've had one too many phone calls from someone I had just been thinking about but hadn't heard from in years, for example. One too many times, I've read something in the Bible at night that perfectly framed a situation or solved a problem for me the next day.

That's the Christian walk. It's amazing, it's interactive and it's marvelous. Pretty fun, too.

Coincidences are teeny tiny miracles, God's way of letting us know He's with us, He sees us, He gets our jokes and He's watching our backs.

The rest of the weekend went great. We found out we'd been mispronouncing her new school's name all this time. It’s not ''Baylor.'' It’s ''Beyelor.''

Neely's hopes of being inconspicuous in front of her new peers were dashed in the very first session. I was still tired from the long drive, and rested my chin on my hand for just a moment in the darkened auditorium during the welcoming video. But just as it got over and the university officials were walking back to the podium, a gigantic SNORT! in the 17th row broke the silence.

That would be me . . . waking myself up from my short nap with a mighty snore.

Neely didn’t die on the spot; not quite. Our cheeks made that atmospheric heat wave again. We both got the giggles and never quite stopped.

At least my most embarrassing moment of all took place with no witnesses. While she was taking a placement test, I took a restroom break. There were two enormous rolls of toilet paper, but the paper was stuck to itself on the roll you were supposed to use. I threaded my hand up and around in there trying to get a piece loose, but couldn't.

For a moment, my arm got stuck, but picturing Neely's face if they had to call the Jaws of Life to get it out and it made the front page of the local ''pie-per,'' I managed to pull free.

So then I switched to trying to pull the trap door down to get the other roll going. I must have been pulling on the wrong end because suddenly the whole restroom cubicle wall was wobbling and about to fall over on me.

Finally, I got it open and got some paper to come out, but just as I did the faceplate of the whole thing, apparently loosened in the battle, fell with a mighty ''clank!'' onto the floor, followed by the whole roll, which of course unraveled its way out of the stall, along with my nerves.

Don't mess with Texas . . . or its toilet paper.

I loved meeting the Texas mothers, though. They were warm and winky. They wore spike heels, had expensive sweaters tossed casually over their shoulders, poufy hair and eyeliner, and all of this at 8 a,m. ''Hah, y'all! We're from Beaumont and we have a beach home and a ranch out in East Texas. What'd your-all's dodder get on the Ess Aye T?''

I mean . . . there's no estrogen wave like a Southern estrogen wave.

Only in Texas: we met a French professor whose first name is ''Lulabelle.''

Only in Texas: we saw a woman pictured in a local magazine identified as ''Gary Beth.''

Only in Texas: we saw the ''Heart of Texas'' auto parts store, the ''Heart of Texas'' dirty movies store, the ''Heart of Texas'' speedway and the ''Heart of Texas'' diner.

It was a fun time, very busy and very productive. On the last night, we staggered into the motel lobby for Neely to use the computer to check class schedules, and then headed back up to our second-floor room.

A young man came toward us. His eyes went ga-ga over Neely. He did a neat 180 and was suddenly walking in front of us. He started up the stairs, but when we turned to go into the elevator, suddenly he was in there with us.

He turned and started talking to us, staring at Neely's blonde Yankee beauty. His deep Southern drawl was very hard to understand. He seemed a little too friendly.

The elevator opened. We edged down the hallway. He came with us, still chatting.

I suddenly got scared and became conscious of our purses, slung over our shoulders. We were easy pickin's. Was this a set-up for a robbery, or worse? Here we were, a mom and a daughter, hundreds of miles away from our bodyguard -- my husband, her father -- who was back home playing Mr. Mom for the weekend, no doubt at that moment being terrorized, tied up and tortured by our 3-year-old, and unable to come to our rescue in any event.

I stopped cold, still several doors from ours, because I didn’t want him to know our room number. I expected there'd be three or four young toughs appearing around the corner with numchucks and assault rifles. The thought flashed: ''Help me, Lord.'' I tried to think of some way to get rid of him without hurting his feelings, on the off chance that he really was just a lonely and nice young man.

So I did the only thing a mother could: I was a dweeb.

He had said he was a musician who had just ended a gig at Branson, Mo. . . . suuuuure! . . . and said something unintelligible about what kind of music he played, a style I'd never heard of.

So I faked it. ''You play the marimba?'' I interrupted with delight. ''I LOVE the marimba!'' I beamed at him with my gloppiest, dweebiest mother's smile.

He kind of backed away, his face contorted with confusion and revulsion.

I seized the moment. ''Nice chattin', y'all! Bye!''

Neely and I dashed into our room, locked the locks, chained the chains, and cowered. Neely couldn't believe what I'd said, but at least it'd gotten us out of a sticky situation.

Nothing happened for a while. Later, there was a knock on our door. Neely peeked through the peephole. It was him. We didn't make a peep. He went away.


The ride home was uneventful, except for another giggling fit over the ham and egg grilled sandwich on the menu at Denny's in Wichita. It had a funny name that made me laugh.

Neely, a teenage sophisticate who has taken five years of French, looked at the picture. ''What is it, some kind of a 'croques monsieur'?'' That’s a very fancy French sandwich she had made for us one time.

The sheer contrast just made me laugh more because noooo, this sandwich was ''Moons Over My Hammy.''

Only in Tex . . . oops . . . we’re in Kansas now.

I'd forgotten all about the near-mugging when we arrived very late at our hotel room in beautiful downtown Emporia, Kan., and I picked up the obligatory visitors magazine left in the room.

It opened to a picture of a guy playing the marimba.

A slow smile spread across my face and stayed there.

The dude playing the marimba was with the Emporia State University music department. He looked like a total dweeb. He looked, in fact, like the kind of a guy who would get his arm stuck in a toilet paper dispenser and eat ''Moons Over My Hammy'' sandwiches.

I mean, look: there are something like 600 musical instruments in the world. I'm sure most of them have been played at one time or another at Emporia State.

But this wasn't a horn. This wasn't a guitar. This wasn't a bagpipe or a tuba or a clarinet.

This was a marimba. And this was no coincidence.

I knew it was the Conductor's way of letting us know that He had been right there, all the time, orchestrating our escape with the Spirit's whisper to me of what exactly to say, to extricate ourselves with grace.

Don’t mess with Texas. That's true.

But, oh, Lordy. Don't y'all never fix to mess with no child of God, neither.

Yee haw!

SATURDAY: FUN-damentals


Even when you’re too old for party hats and streamers, you still like to have people remember your birthday. A fun way for grown-ups to celebrate each other’s special days is to create a Birthday Club.

Get five or six friends together, or more if you can manage it, and send out a list of everybody’s birthdays. Then choose a day of the month – the first Monday, the last Friday – in which everybody agrees to get together at a certain time at a certain restaurant for lunch. The honoree will be the person in the Birthday Club who has a birthday that month, even if it doesn’t fall on the day you’ve chosen to get together for lunch that month.

Everybody but the birthday honoree brings a card, and that’s the limit, to save everyone the time and expense of shopping for gifts, and to acknowledge what the most valuable gift of all is: time with your friends that puts a birthday smile on your face.

FRIDAY: Vitamin Mom


Want to get your child to talk? Then move away from face-to-face communication, and toward side-by-side. To a sensitive child or teen, a mom's direct eye contact can be as intimidating as a Nazi interrogator's bright light. They won't "talk" if they feel pressure.

Pur your child at ease and improve the flow of communication by giving your child some relief in the eye contact department.

How to get side-by-side for a heart-to-heart talk:

-- Ride in the car, no matter which of you is driving.

-- Take a walk around the block.

-- Show your child how to plant seeds or young plants.

-- Play racquetball.

-- Make an assembly line for sock-sorting and laundry folding.

-- If you don't have a glider, get one; porch-sitting is a primeau side-by-side opportunity.



Most homes and businesses have at least one landscaping nightmare spot where they can’t get much of anything to grow, or it’s too steep to mow, or nobody ever remembers to water potted flowers there, so they die.

Solution: ground cover.

And here’s the sweetest one ever: sweet potato vine.

It’s an ornamental hybrid, so you’ll never get any sweet potatoes to eat. But you can buy it an as annual seedling for just pennies most everywhere in the country. If you plant it in the bare ground and water it just for the first few days, you might end up with 20 or 30 square feet of ground cover from one little plant that costs something like 75 cents.

The leaves are a deliciously different color: chartreuse.

If you plant sweet potato vine in any kind of pot or otherwise constrict the roots’ growth, you can manage the plant’s spread a lot better. The smaller the pot and the less room for growth, the smaller the vine will spread out. It needs less water than the usual potted plants, and you don’t really have to fertilize it, yet you can still get a long growing season and leafy show.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

WEDNESDAY: Family Funnies


We were driving along to yet another softball game, and it was taking much longer than usual because the fields were, excuse the expression, far afield.

I guess, to our 3-year-old, it seemed as though we must be lost.

Out of the blue, she said, ''Maybe a superhero will come and show us how to get there!''

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

TUESDAY: Hot Potatoes


While it's true that it's still perfectly legal to do the macabre method of ''partial birth abortion,'' in which the baby's head is allowed to pop out, rotate a la Linda Blair, and then be pierced with scissors and sucked dry so that the rest of the dead body can be extracted . . .

. . . it’s false to claim that most Americans think it's A-OK. A Gallup Poll taken Jan. 10-12 earlier this year showed that 70 percent of the public wants a ban on partial-birth abortion throughout pregnancy, both second and third trimesters.

While it's true that the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on a ban of partial-birth abortion (H.R. 760) Thursday or Friday of this week . . .

. . . it's false that there should be any political risk to agreeing with President Bush, who said on Jan. 22 that partial-birth abortion is an ''abhorrent procedure that offends human dignity.'' The vast majority of Americans agree with him.

While it's true that Nebraska was the source of the Stenberg case in the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000 that lifted Nebraska's ban on the procedure and gave the green light to Bellevue partial-birth abortionist LeRoy Carhart . . .

. . . it's false that the vote was greeted with anything but shock and sadness by most Nebraskans. It should be noted that the court's ruling was not against partial-birth abortion – just against a particular method of it, and the vote was more about freedom of choice for physicians than about preserving the life of healthy babies in utero.

While it's true that Roe v. Wade is still the law of the land and it's considered legally OK to slay babies to the point of ''viability,'' advancing science and big-profile news stories like the ''Laci & Conner'' dual murders are showing that unborn babies are human beings, too, which is making it harder and harder for pro-choice people to look themselves in the mirror. A Washington Post / ABC poll shows public support for Roe v. Wade has dropped 11 points in 10 years -- suspected to be caused in part by the public's horror over partial-birth abortion.

While it's true that the National Coalition for Abortion Providers' executive director Ron Fitzsimmons estimates that up to 5,000 partial-birth abortions are done per year, and that figure could be low because of convoluted reporting requirements . . .

. . . it's false that partial-birth abortion is something that is done only ''rarely'' and only when the unborn baby or mother have acute medical crises that can't be solved any other way. In fact, 5,000 people would fill most football stadiums. That's a statistically significant number in terms of public-health measurements, and almost all of the partial-birth abortions are done on healthy mothers who would otherwise be delivering healthy babies.

While it's true that the ''mothers'' involved in partial-birth abortion are females . . .

. . . it's false to call them “women.” They are mostly low-income teen-age girls who didn't realize how far along their pregnancies were, making traditional abortion methods not as doable. Furthermore, most of these procedures are covered by Medicaid, meaning that Joe and Jill Taxpayer are forced to foot the bill for partial-birth abortions that they rightfully deplore. That has political and constitutional questions all its own.

For more on this topic, see the National Right to Life Committee's website,

Monday, June 02, 2003

MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell for Parents


Q. You almost never see children of 5 or 6 who are obviously depressed and down on themselves. But teachers say low self-esteem is epidemic among older kids. What gives?

Schools that fail to focus on making children the best learners they can be are, and deny them basic educational skills, may be contributing to lower self-worth, especially among kids in remedial and special education classes, whose college prospects are reduced, and whose emotional health can be compromised as a result.

Education has always been seen as the ticket out of tragedy, whether it’s a childhood marred by poverty or dysfunctional parents.
More and more people are pointing to deficiencies in the No. 1 job of schools – instilling literacy and a love for reading – as the cause of academic and behavioral depression among youth.

If schools taught reading correctly and had more aggressive remediation in the early grades, as many as two-thirds of the nation’s 20 million children with reading impairments could be reading at grade level, with all the self-esteem benefits that adequate reading skill provides. That’s according to G. Reid Lyon, Ph.D., chief of child development and behavior for the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHHD), National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Lyon points to data from the federal government’s National Center for Education Statistics, which reported in 1998 that 38 percent of the nation’s fourth-graders can’t read at basic level. That statistic nearly doubles for disadvantaged kids, Dr. Lyon says.

Fast-forward a few years, and discover that good readers in middle school read about 10 million words in a school year – but all those problem readers, more than one-third of the student body – average only 1 percent as many words, or 100,000. No wonder they disengage from school, start avoiding homework and turn instead to risky behaviors such as drinking and taking drugs.

The answer? Teach reading right, and kids will be better off.

Homework: International Dyslexia Association,

SUNDAY: Radiant Beams


There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
-- Galatians 3:28

Ah, the frustrations of the fine-feathered feminist when the fickle finger of fate gives you daughters, not sons. It exposes the fact that girls and boys are different. Vive le difference! And get over it.

One thing's clear: they're going to be however they're going to be, period, which is how God made 'em, which is much better than what YOU could have done. So relax and enjoy the pageantry.

Sometimes the feminine ones will act inexplicably masculine, and vice versa, but that's just the unexpected and delicious exception which proves the rule.

And there's a lot more going on than meets the eye.

For example, one day the preschoolers toured a local hospital, and the boys all came home with doctor's surgical scrub caps, but my daughter Jordan had on a nurse's hat.

Aha! Oppression! Tyranny! Discrimination! Gender bias!

So I asked Jordan. And she said, ''The nurse’s one was lots, lots BIGGER.''

Ohhhh. Oops. Gulp. Nevvvvver mind.

I tried; I really tried to understand all this. I took our girls to the Testosterone Festival in Lincoln, Neb. -- the weekly University of Nebraska Cornhusker football game. The team ran out. Our little girls turned to each other, giggled, and said, ''Ooh! They wear capri!''

Was I the only mother who noticed these things? Was I the only mother who rejoiced when her daughter got good at softball but recoiled when she got SO good that her nickname is ''Stud''?

My gender confusion deepened. I shuddered to see Buzz Lightyear in the frilly doll bed, an incongruous sight. At least he was alone. So I said nothing.

I bought the girls Matchbox cars . . . but while little boys would play with them with mega-violent sound effects: ''VROOOM! CRASH! RUMBLE, RUMBLE, RUMBLE!'' my little girls would stand them up and have conversations with them: ''Hi, Orange-y. How are you today?'' ''Oh, I’m fine, Stripey. What shall we do?'' ''Well, there's Dumptruck. Let's go see him.''

It goes on. One of our daughters modeled a gorgeous Prom dress, The other exclaimed, ''You look nice . . . STINKY.''

One of our daughters retaliated when a bully several years her senior was bugging the kickball kids. She snatched his eyeglasses and put them in the . . . well . . . where the dog had been. I knew nothing about it until his mother barged in my door holding her son's ear in one hand and my daughter's ear in the other, and gave me an earful about it. I had to look shocked, pious and repentant until she had finished and they were at least eight feet out the door, at which time I erupted with laughter over my daughter's unladylike, but decidedly effective, tactic.

Desperate measures for desperate times . . . maybe I could accept all this gender confusion after all.

I conceded the battle the day we took the girls to see an important NCAA semifinal women's soccer match between the University of Nebraska and Texas A&M. This was shortly after the A&M tower collapsed. I was glad our girls got to see the fine demonstration of sportsmanship as our team gave theirs yellow roses and stood for a moment of silence and so forth.

I was congratulating myself for exposing the girls to this level of excellence in women's athletics when A&M's All-American goalie inexplicably handed a ball outside the box. That’s an automatic ejection . . . a deep dose of the stuff my daughter put the bully's eyeglasses in.

Anyway, as this big, tough gladiatrix stomped off the field, a Nebraska player must have said something to her, because suddenly, she shoved her down . . . and both benches emptied.

What ensued was a melee, a conflagration, a hair-pulling brawl, with finely-manicured fists flying, and hapless refs trying to stop it pushed to the ground carelessly, like . . . well, like . . . last year's capris.

But here's the thing: as a card-carrying, mature, adult woman, I was shocked, appalled, chagrined, disappointed and saddened to see such conduct on the field of sporting endeavor, especially from young ladies. If I had been wearing pearls, I would have clutched them.

I turned to see how my husband and our daughters were reacting.

They were all grinning radiantly, pumping their fists in the air, exhorting still more violence, and shouting, ''Hoot! Hoot! Hoot! Hoot!'' or some other unseemly syllabication.

Testosterone Bliss! Like father, like daughters. Sigh.

The battle of the sexes . . . I'll never get it. But I have this friend, Fred Schott. He does. He writes:

''I wanted sons! I told my wife we will have sons. Three daughters later, each one having taken less than five seconds to win Daddy’s heart, my wife tried to tell me it was my fault, something about X and Y chromosomes. My wife, wise beyond her years, comforted me with, 'God knows what he is doing giving you daughters.'

''She was right, of course, for at least two reasons. First, my Dad was a wonderful dad to me, his only son, but not so good to my little sister. Not his fault; he just had no idea of the world into which he would have to turn loose his daughter who refused to sit politely on the perch where he had placed all the women he loved. Had I had sons and daughters I would undoubtedly done the same. Maybe I would have awakened sooner than later, but I fear it would have been later.

''The second reason the mother of my girls was right is that the God who had given me daughters had also called to me to work in Boys Clubs! It has been said, 'There is no such thing as a bad boy!'


''And they come in all shades of bad -- from little and big stinkers to downright rotten! I was so glad I had daughters!

''Anyway, three daughters and three granddaughters by way of our oldest daughter later, God finally sent us a grand-SON, Joseph Charles, a sweet-tempered guy WAY big for his size, so big that people often expect too much of him.

''His mother, daughter #2, with a master's of science degree in Marriage and Family Therapy, was determined to raise this loving and oh-so-loveable little guy without weapons for toys. Ha! That did not last beyond his first birthday. By his third birthday, I took great delight in overhearing my daughter, MS in M&FT, ask with exasperation of her crying son, 'Joseph, why are you crying?' 'I can’t find my weapons,' he wailed. She reached behind the couch to a large canvas shopping bag. 'Here're your weapons! Now please stop crying.'

''One beautiful fall day, when he was about 3, JoJo's mother asked if I could take him to the park. Hand in hand, we made our way down the driveway. 'Oh, look, JoJo,' I said, bending and pointing to a big, beautiful, but wounded monarch butterfly. 'It’s a butterfly!'

''JoJo bent to look. My three daughters and JoJo's three older girl cousins would have ooh'ed and ah'ed and begged to me to fix the struggling butterfly's wing and asked to take him into the house for healing.

''But JoJo, never letting go of Papa's hand, nonchalantly lifted his big ole foot covered with his new thick-soled walking shoes and STOMPED the pretty butterfly.

''We continued down the driveway toward the park.''

Bent, but not broken, staggered, but not spent, we press on . . . stomped butterflies, football capris, big honkin' nurse's caps, and all.

Vive le difference! And vive those of us trying to live with it. Most of all, vive the One who designed all this . . . and made life so eternally, infernally, confoundingly interesting.