Tuesday, September 30, 2003

TUESDAY: Hot Potatoes


The number of children in America, chiefly boys, who have been identified as “Attention Deficit Disorder / Hyperactivity” is being called a tragedy and a scandal.

According to a study published in the February 2003 Pediatrics journal, as many as 3.8 million school-age children, most of them boys, are currently diagnosed as ADHD. Meanwhile, prescriptions for stimulants to treat them, such as Ritalin, accounted for 4 percent of prescriptions made nationwide.

Observers in and out of medicine are saying that the condition is being grossly over-diagnosed, that drugs are not necessary to control the behavior of the vast majority of these children, and that permanent, long-term damage is being done by the over-use of psychiatric drugs such as Ritalin. They say the alleged overdiagnosis is mostly out of ignorance on the part of well-meaning school officials who aren’t well-informed.

But now at least one state has taken common-sense steps that may curb the number of diagnoses, or at least transfer more say-so to parents and a little less to school employees.

Under Texas law, school employees can no longer recommend a mind-altering drug like Ritalin, or suggest a diagnosis, to parents. Educators have become alarmed at the increasing incidence of elementary-level teachers who have been doing this – which amounts to practicing medicine without a license.

In addition, in Texas, schools may no longer report parents to state officials as “neglectful” if the parents choose not to place a child on psychiatric drugs, or refuse psychiatric or psychological treatment or testing.

For more information, see the website of the legislation’s sponsor, Texas for Safe Education, www.wildestcolts.com or the anti-ADHD website, www.adhdfraud.com

Monday, September 29, 2003

MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell for Parents


Q. Over the years, my child’s teachers have refused to circle his spelling errors because, they say, it’ll stress him out. They’ve had him write lots and lots, but none of it is very good and he’s not proud of his work. Now he’s bored with writing, doesn’t care about spelling and hates to go back and edit his work. The teachers say lots of drafts and lots of going back over text to fix errors is how real writers write. Is it?

No. That’s ludicrous. Ask the teachers if police officers have to go back and re-arrest the same suspect several times before they “get it right,” or if stockbrokers get several chances at the same trade.

The essence of being good at something is being able to get it right the first time almost all the time. Those teachers are wrong.

Most people who write for a living make very, very few spelling errors. One reason is that professional writers use a functional vocabulary with which they are keenly familiar. They have trained themselves to refer to a dictionary only for those few difficult and usually technical words that come up from time to time. But there’s none of this agonizing, outlining, rewriting and proofreading that teachers who have been to too many inservices claim happens.

Maybe it would be helpful for teachers to talk with newspaper editors about the writing process and how they might reshape their thinking to help students. Taxpayers should certainly trust working editors head and shoulders over some of the goofy “consultants” whose writing inservices for educators are full o f misinformation such as you describe. Red flag: their handouts are often riddled with spelling and punctuation errors. They just aren’t pro’s. You might ask editors whether they think it's best to teach pupils to write it right the first time, or let kids do it willy-nilly and have to do it over and over.

It’s a safe bet that editors, like taxpayers and parents, would vote for the most efficient, enjoyable way: writing it right the first time.

Homework: How do writers become good writers? By reading! See how Jim Trelease puts it in "The Read-Aloud Handbook,” p. 52

Sunday, September 28, 2003

SUNDAY: Radiant Beams


Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
— Proverbs 3:5

I got a call one day from our daughter's kindergarten teacher. She knew me very well from a few years before, when I had been a weekly volunteer with our older daughter's class. We had a lot of fun together. But this time, her tone was somber.

''I hate to ask you this, but under the law, I have to,'' she said. My heart froze.

''Your daughter said something in school today that has me greatly concerned,'' she continued. Things were getting icy-dicey.

''What did she say?'' I squeaked.

The teacher replied solemnly, ''That her parents sometimes take her to 'The Feel Club.'''

She paused. ''And I was just wondering what THAT'S all about.''

She paused again.

The Feel Club! It conjured up all kinds of images: a sex orgy . . . a child molestation ring . . . Roman slave girls pole-dancing in an old Victor Mature movie. . . .

But I knew right away what the misunderstanding was.

''She meant 'The Field Club'!'' I explained. ''Fiel-DDDD! We belong there. It's where we go to golf and swim!'' The Field Club, Omaha's oldest country club, was clear across the city from that new suburban school. The teacher apparently was unfamiliar with it.

''Ohhhhh,'' she responded.

''Fiel-DDDD!'' I repeated one more time.

Even though that teacher and I still giggle about the misunderstanding, it was a sad commentary on the state of the world today.

It's hard to be G-rated in an X-rated culture. I'm glad teachers and others are looking out for kids. But it gets pretty hard on the nerves of the majority of us, who don't deserve the heightened vigilance but are being swept up in it anyway.

We've already been through this with our first batch of kids. But now that things are getting worse and worse – pierced tongues, coed sleepovers, kids dressing up as pimps and hookers and not just for Halloween — we'll go through it again with our ''whoopsie daisy,'' now age 3. Who knows what kinds of stuff will be going on by the time she hits high school?

We're toast, anyway, long before that. Maddy talks. A lot. She'll spill her guts to her teachers enough to put us away for life. The other day, she proclaimed proudly:

''I can get high!''


Turns out that she was referring to her new skill: turning off the lights in her room. We had put a sturdy wooden stepstool by the lightswitch so that she could easily reach it. She had fallen while standing on an upside-down bucket the week before, and bonked her head ever so slightly on the way down.

If she repeated her proclamation to her preschool teacher, we would have our parental rights terminated immediately. I can see the court order now: ''The minor child sustained head lacerations at home while consuming marijuana with her no-account parents.''

It's so unfair! We're clean! I swear! You can ask anybody! It was a stepstool!


It gets worse:

Maddy misses her two sweet and nurturing older sisters, who are away at college, though she's not quite clear where ''Jorji” and ''NaNa'' (Jordan and Neely) are, exactly.

Well, the other morning, Maddy was dawdling, and I encouraged her to hurry up and eat her waffle because we were late and we had to go. I was vivaciously bold in my oral delivery. OK, I yelled.

Maddy THREW her head into her hands and sobbed:

''Boo hoo hoo!!! When is NaNa coming home from her OTHER parents'?!?''

As in . . . her sister must have gone off and found some other, NICER other parents to live with, and Maddy wanted in on that action.

I can just SEE a teacher filling out a Child Protective Services report: ''Minor child yearns to join her beloved sister, already placed in a quality foster home where they don't hound you tyrannically about waffle consumption rates or commit other forms of heinous child abuse.''

It gets even worse:

Maddy is one of those little ones who has to have the same story read to her 42,000 nights in a row. At the moment, it's ''Jack and the Beanstalk.''

Remember how it starts out with Jack, his mother and their cow? Well, the other night, Maddy pondered, ''I wonder what happened to Jack’s dad?''

She quickly answered her own question: ''I bet he got BEATED UP!''

Let me state unequivocally: NO ONE in this household has EVER gotten ''beated up.'' No one we KNOW has ever gotten ''beated up.'' I don't know WHERE she came up with that. Beats me.

I can just SEE a teacher reaching for the phone, though, to turn us in to the police, inferring from that one remark that our family is a hellhole of domestic violence.

That's bad enough. But now I'm really worried. On the 42,002nd time reading ''Jack and the Beanstalk,'' something in me snapped. I was so sick of that story that I made up a few little lyrics of my own. Now I'm afraid Maddy has them memorized:

''I need some vodka, or maybe some rum!''

Wait a minute! I'm not only clean, I'm sober! I swear! I just made that up for fun! But I wouldn't be surprised if Maddy repeated it to a teacher one day, and she turned me in as a no-account drunk.

They'll have to serve the warrant on me while I'm drinking, doing drugs and beating up on my fellow wayward parents with my sturdy wooden stepstool . . . in mid-orgy at The Feel Club!

Saturday, September 27, 2003

SATURDAY: FUNdamentals


When’s the last time you went to a rodeo? Or have you ever gone to that all-American good time? It’s distinctly different entertainment and a must-see at least once for kids and at least every once in a while for grown-ups.

You don’t have to live in a state like Oklahoma and Texas to find a rodeo near you. Although summer and fall are likely times, culminating in the professionals’ national competition in Las Vegas, usually in early November, rodeo goes on mostly year-round in most parts of the country.

Type “rodeo” and your state or city into an Internet search engine and you should find an upcoming schedule. Or call your travel and tourism office in state or local government for dates, times and prices. If you plan a vacation in a likely state, especially in the West and Midwest, check ahead to see if a rodeo might coincide with your plans to make a unique and lasting memory.

You don’t have to wear a cowboy hat, bandana and boots, but you’d fit right in with the crowd if you do.

Events include bronc riding, bull riding, calf-roping, team roping, team sorting, barrel racing and steer wrestling.

Friday, September 26, 2003

FRIDAY: Vitamin Mom


Bottling up resentments and irritations without communicating them to your loved ones is damaging to all relationships. Children need a visual reminder of this truth, that for a family, a friendship, an employment situation, or a marriage to work, you can’t “stuff” your feelings. It puts too much wear and tear on your relationships.

For a humorous illustration of this, take a pair of sheer knee-high pantyhose. Pile up a number of bulky objects in front of your child and yourself: apples, ping-pong balls, crumpled newspaper, crunched pop cans, whatever.

Now take turns saying aloud things that bug you, make you mad, make you feel stressed or frustrated . . . and for each turn, stuff something into your knee sock. Examples: “When I step on toys you’ve left on the floor” . . . “When there’s no bread for making sandwiches” . . . “When you swear” . . . “When you yell at me” . . . “When someone gossips about me at school.”

When we don’t talk to each other about our hurts and resentments, we’re “stuffing” our feelings instead of talking them out. In any busy household, a little of this is normal. You don’t want to complain and whine every moment of every day. But most people “stuff” too much and don’t talk things out enough.

Keep “stuffing” until you both get a “run” in the pantyhose. . . visual proof that stuffing your feelings puts so much strain on your relationships that eventually, it damages them. Help your child learn that putting your best foot forward in any relationship requires you not to “stuff” too much.

Thursday, September 25, 2003



Here’s a slice of autumn beauty shown off in a fresh, new way. To make a pumpkin centerpiece, you will need:

Pumpkin, cut in half and scooped out like a bowl

Florist’s foam

Chrysanthemums, sunflowers or other fall flowers


Artificial or real berries or nuts of the season

Artificial or real leaves


Ribbon in autumn colors

Scoop out the pumpkin and scrape it well. Place florist’s foam in tightly. Fill with water. Arrange flowers and other items, sticking stems into foam to hold them securely. Wrap ribbon around edge of pumpkin. Weave and fluff raffia in and around, to fill.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

WEDNESDAY: Family Funnies


You’d think it would be a help and a comfort to have a younger brother in the high-tech business who could extend his brotherly love and considerable technical expertise to you in times of need. But ohhhh, nooooo. Here’s how it goes:

SISTER: “I can’t get the beep on my call waiting to mute so that it doesn’t interrupt my conversations.”

BROTHER: “OK. Got a pencil? Write this down: 756388235162.”

SISTER: “Wait a minute. Wait! OK, I’ve got it.”

BROTHER: “Go ahead and key those numbers into your keypad, as fast as you can.”

SISTER: (stressed out) “OK. I did it.”

BROTHER: “Now hit the pound sign five times in a row.”

SISTER: “Five times? OK. Done.”

BROTHER: “Now cradle the phone on the right side of your neck while holding your left ankle with both hands, and hopping in place for 30 seconds.”


Tuesday, September 23, 2003

TUESDAY: Hot Potatoes

Another 9/11: Let's Roll

I was struck by the resemblance. Both are young, blonde, accomplished mothers of toddlers. Both had big, strong, adorable husbands, successful in their careers and dedicated to their families. Both were widowed, suddenly and violently, because their husbands stood tall between the frightening face of lawlessness . . . and the rest of us.

And both men made that sacrifice on Sept. 11.

Stacy Pratt, widow of slain Omaha police officer Jason Tye Pratt, has a lot in common with Lisa Beamer, widow of slain businessman Todd Beamer. He was the passenger on that third plane on Sept. 11, 2001, who yelled ''Let’s roll!'' and led a counter-attack on the hijacking terrorists. The passengers' bravery saved the White House, the probable target of that suicide plane, by counter-attacking the terrorists and diverting the plane into a field in Shanksville, Pa., though the price was the fiery deaths of all aboard. Beamer left two small sons; Mrs. Beamer gave birth to their daughter four months later.

The Omaha tragedy happened just as suddenly. Officer Jason Tye Pratt was shot in the head this past Sept. 11 by a 21-year-old who was fleeing a routine traffic stop. Another officer shot and killed the suspect, and Pratt clung to life until early Thursday morning. Just as the 9/11 tragedy spawned an outpouring of help and mourning from around the country to flow to New York and Washington, D.C., the Pratt cop-killing has stirred a number of benefits and outreaches around the city for Mrs. Pratt and the couple’s two young daughters, 3 and 8 1/2 months.

Now here’s another coincidence:

Lisa Beamer is coming to Omaha Oct. 4 to speak at Whole Women's Day, a workshop at Christ Community Church.

It would be so wonderful if Stacy Pratt could be there, and hear her inspiring message, and maybe embrace her, and be consoled to know that senseless tragedy, though incredibly painful, can also create a lot of good.

Mrs. Beamer has written a book, ''Let’s Roll! Ordinary People, Extraordinary Courage'' and has made countless public appearances and given numerous media interviews. Her foundation to help children who suffer the loss of a parent, the Todd M. Beamer Foundation, raised $3 million almost overnight.

She is recognized everywhere as someone who has exhibited grace, courage and faith in the face of great tragedy.

A few quotes:

''He (Todd Beamer) felt he could still do something positive in the midst of a crisis.''

''You will face a Sept. 11 – something you have no idea is coming – and your life will be suddenly different. God can make the bumps in the road smoother. They have been for me, and they will be for you, too.''

''You know, bitterness and anger don't get one very far in life. And I won't allow it to seep in. I won't allow someone else's terrible actions to turn me into a person that I don't want to be.''

It's a message for all of us, in this day and age.

Now, Nebraska doesn't have skyscrapers and a Pentagon to be attacked and burned, as happened on 9/11. But the shooting of Officer Pratt this past week reveals the explosive truth about a form of terrorism that is plaguing our world, even here in quiet, backwater Nebraska, ''The Good Life.''

The same spirit of lawlessness that drove those terrorists on 9/11 – and the same spirit of neglect that allowed them to carry out their conspiracy – both are at work in the factors that led to the shooting of Officer Pratt by a 21-year-old gang member, criminal offender – and father of four – Albert Rucker.

Reportedly, Rucker had had 141 police contacts during his life. He robbed another teen of $20 when he was 13, and had a gun. He had been convicted of second-degree assault in the shooting of a gang member four years ago. There are numerous other criminal violations on his record. Yet, largely because of Nebraska's overcrowded corrections system, he never spent a night in prison. Because of red tape and problems securing witnesses, numerous charges against him were dropped in recent years. He was in an ''intensive probation'' program for a shooting but hadn’t been seen by authorities for more than eight months when Officer Pratt encountered him in a routine traffic stop.

Poignant reminders of the humanity of both men in this tragedy come from the fact that the crowd for Rucker's funeral was so large it had to be moved to a different location. And a check for $100 from his four children to Officer Pratt's children is being offered as a symbol of profound regret and shared loss.

But the questions remain:

How come several years and tens of thousands of dollars worth of public education didn't set this young man on a constructive path in life?

How come 141 police contacts and countless thousands of dollars of criminal justice and court system services didn't set this young man on a constructive path in life?

How come our city and our state are standing for this, letting young lives be obliterated, and leaving all of us even more confused and demoralized and degraded and depressed?

I, for one, have had it. I look at that young widow’s face, and I know what’s in store for her, and I think of Albert Rucker's four children, and the many little children who have been murdered in our state recently, and the young men who wiped out five people in that Norfolk bank a year ago, and I just flat have had it.

I, for one, will pledge anew to help the young people of my city and my state find a constructive path in life. There are countless ways to get involved: through church, through school, through civic clubs, through neighborhoods . . . if you want to help, you can find a way.

How about it?

Let's do it for Stacy Pratt and her daughters. Let's do it for Albert Rucker's kids.

Let's do it.

Let's roll.


See the links on www.policing.com/links/ for more information about police officer killings and other current consequences of crime.

Monday, September 22, 2003

MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell for Parents

Bloom’s Taxonomy

Q. There’s a poster in my child’s classroom labeled “Bloom’s Taxonomy.” What is that all about?

Not taxidermy and not school taxes. “Taxonomy” is a method of describing and classifying things. Usually, it refers to biology. You know: kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus and species.

But “Bloom’s Taxonomy” is a term for a six-step classification system for thinking, developed by educationist Benjamin Bloom of the University of Chicago. Facts form the least-important level:


Bloom’s 1964 book, “Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: Affective Domain,” was about process management and behavioral psychology. Bloom theorized that intended behaviors among students could be produced by targeting the “input,” or their curriculum, toward the desired outcome – what the students would know and be able to do, and what attitudes and beliefs they would have.

This became the basis for “outcome-based education,” which is in almost every public school today. The "outcomes" have been renamed "standards."

Critics say it has “dumbed down” schools and stripped the curriculum of most of its excellence and depth of content. But it is certainly widespread and popular among educators.

Bloom’s ideas revolutionized the education establishment toward focusing schools on the “affective” side of life – socialization of youth, shaping their ability to work in groups, prompting their self-awareness, and forming their opinions, values, beliefs and emotions.

The mixing of cognitive and affective goals has had a huge impact on everything from assessment to curriculum development.

Homework: Chapter, “Benjamin Bloom: Godfather of OBE,” in Samuel L. Blumenfeld’s book, “The Whole Language / OBE Fraud”

Sunday, September 21, 2003

SUNDAY: Radiant Beams


Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord.
-- Hebrews 10:30b

The Hags on Nags are going to the rodeo this weekend. A bunch of us aging fillies used to frolic on Fridays with a horseback riding lesson and gabfest, not necessarily in that order. Now we’re going to do a little vicarious ropin’ and ridin’ at River City Roundup down at the new Omaha Convention Center.

We’re a strange assortment of cowgirls – a nurse, a professor, a socialite, a writer, plain old moms – just women who know it’s important to carve out time in your week to be with people you like, messing around and having a few laughs.

I was the class dunce, the tenderfoot. Everyone else showed horses as a kid, or had kids who show them now. So they were my teachers along with my mount, Zippa Dee Dude. By the end of the year, I had even won a ribbon in a horse show. I still have it taped to my closet wall as evidence of my one athletic accomplishment of the last 117 years.

The Hags on Nags encouraged each other in horsemanship and in family life. As we maneuvered through the equine obstacle courses and worked on our lead changes and lopes, we chatted about saddles and schoolwork, fashions and where to get a deal on vet wrap.

I was a different “me” there. The smell of the fresh stall bedding . . . the munching of grain at feed time . . . caring for the horses . . . just being in the barn away from my daily routine was relaxing and restoring.

One of my favorite memories happened right after a lesson, as we were laughing and talking in the alley, removing tack. We noticed a group of men inside the large corner stall. They were ringed around the perimeter, with their heads down on their chests and, I swear, they were holding their cowboy hats over their hearts.

What on earth was making these men so solemn?

Still laughing and jesting, we clanked up in our spurs to the stall and peeked in.

There was a young colt, standing but tottering, with his eyes nearly closed. His head was gently nodding. His four legs were sprawled out like baby Bambi.

The veterinarian was in there with a great, big set of calipers. They looked like those tongs they used a century ago to handle big blocks of ice.

“Shhhh!” The men shot us dirty looks.

“What’s going on in there?” we asked jovially.

“Castration! Shhhh! You’ve got to be quiet!”

They all dropped their heads again, reverently, and we realized they were waiting for the anesthetic to take effect on the slumping colt so that he could be gelded.

It was obvious the men had a drastically different attitude toward this than we women did. We couldn’t exactly relate, I guess. We couldn’t, ahem, rein ourselves in.

“I can think of a few politicians I’d like to use those on.”

“Shouldn’t we all join hands and sing a song to mark the occasion?”

““Hey! Can I borrow that? My husband’s been a real pistol lately. Long live Lorena Bobbitt!”

“Shhhhhhhh!!” and more dirty looks.

The Hags on Nags, still laughing, clanked off into the sunset in our spurs.

I told that story a few times, and once got an unexpected reaction from a friend. She revealed that, years before, she had been date-raped. She had never told anybody or had the man prosecuted, but now she was sorry that he was never punished.

She was still struggling with her feelings and trying to forgive and forget. Of course, it’s wrong to want to retaliate, and there’s really no way to do so. Leave it to the Lord, she says. But she was still left with her hurt and resentment.

When she heard the Hags on Nags castration story, for some strange reason, she pictured the face of her assailant on that colt about to be gelded. Just as soon as it occurred to her, the vision was gone. It was wacky. She smiled and snickered.

Revenge is just as sweet when it’s only imaginary, you know.

She shook her head, laughing, and said it felt good. The Lord works in mysterious ways – confounded mysterious, I’d say. I always tease her that I’m going to get her a set of those calipers for her next birthday, just for fun.

Now, I’m not saying that a sensible response to the serious problem of sexual violence is to equip vigilante castration squads to roam the streets. Nor am I saying we should hang veterinary calipers next to the fire extinguisher in every workplace, school, bar, or anywhere things might go wrong between colts and fillies.

But I am saying that when the Hags on Nags get to that rodeo, I’m going to look around at the crowd, and wonder how many others have ever been assaulted in that most personal and awful of ways, and are still struggling with their feelings.

Wonder how many of them know that there’s Someone who will deal with the person who hurt them, whether it’s in human courts or in His special way, and all they have to do is trust that He will.

And anyway, at a rodeo, they’re in the right place for healing.

Hunh? Well, what’s a rodeo for? Rounding up little dogies. What for? Well, what happens next?

Think about it. Try putting a different face on that calf . . . and if you’ve ever been sexually abused or assaulted, think about what happens next, after he’s roped.

Naughty? Well, hey. It won’t get you in any trouble spiritually . . . and it’s cheaper than psychotherapy

So the Hags on Nags are going to the rodeo, and we’re going to laugh like crazy, and enjoy the ropin’ and ridin’ and rootin’ tootin’ . . . and rememberin’ the One whose lasso of grace and healing never misses.

Yippee i oh ki ay!

Saturday, September 20, 2003

SATURDAY: FUNdamentals


For a football tailgate for youth league, high school, college or pro games . . . for a neighborhood get-together after a litter clean-up or charity walk . . . or for a simple “double date” with friends beside a lake or in a pretty park, if you have a pickup truck or can borrow one, you can make an “autumn in the country” memory.

Clean the pickup. Get three fresh new bales of straw. Spread one over the pickup’s bed so you can’t see the floor. Keep the other two baled for seating. Get a couple of pumpkins, pile some pretty gourds in a basket and put a pot of mums in an orchard crate or metal tub.

When you arrive at the party scene, lower the tailgate. Put the bales of straw on the ground for seats. Throw a picnic blanket over the center of the tailgate and put your decorations around. Line up your tailgate buffet. Suggested menu:

Homemade tomato soup in mugs
Deli sandwiches
Deli salad
Veggies and dip
Homemade brownies

After the party, the straw makes a good mulch for your perennial plants back home – or leave it in the pickup and do it again next weekend.

Friday, September 19, 2003

FRIDAY: Vitamin Mom


Most families choose to get their children a pet or two. It’s a great way to teach responsibility as they learn how to care for the animal and tend to its needs. It’s also a great way to learn some new vocabulary words, a little biology, and to share affection in a very special way with that special little creature.

Acquiring pets is a lot like eating peanuts, though: it’s pretty hard to stop at just one. And that’s scary for today’s busy households. Who can care for and afford an extensive menagerie, with veterinarian’s bills, food costs, clean-up, damage control and all the rest?

Solution for those who want to keep their pet population at one or none: include a regular stop at a pet store on your round of errands with your child. There are garden stores that combine with animal and fish sales, which is convenient as you stop in to pick up annuals or bulbs. Most of all, in pet shops there are wonderful and well-informed people your child will get to meet, who can tell all kinds of interesting things about the animals that are there for sale – even if it’s clear you’re not there to buy, but only to look.

Your child’s knowledge will go far beyond dogs and cats, into the small rodents, exotic birds, reptiles and tropical fish you’ll see there. You may see brand new baby animals before their eyes are open or fur has grown, or interesting behaviors and body features to learn about. As you talk about the animals and watch their behavior together with your child, you can do a lot of teaching . . . and enjoy the delightful benefits of appreciating animals without the – ahem! – messy cleanup.

Watching animals and learning about them is a fun way to expand your child’s imagination, too. The other day, a 3-year-old saw a tank full of long-finned goldfish gently swimming in the water, and exclaimed, “Look! They’re clapping!”

Thursday, September 18, 2003



They say a major life change takes you through several stages, and often the hardest time is six weeks later. So think of your loved ones and the people you know, and when it has been six weeks "since," do this:

Death in the family . . . drop by with some homemade soup and a cheer-up book.

Cancer diagnosis . . . call ahead and deliver a meals-on-wheels with a favorite food of everyone in the family.

Off to college . . . send a big bouquet of flowers to the dorm with a mysterious note: "From Your Secret Admirer."

Breakup of someone else's relationship . . . mail a funny card, "just thinking of you."

Recovery from a car accident . . . send a child's toy car set.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

WEDNESDAY: Family Funnies


A friend’s uncle’s neighbor was an affable gent. He always had a can of beer in his hand.

Not long ago, he passed away. Because of scheduling conflicts, or maybe just a little bit because of his sense of humor, the funeral was held on a Friday night. It was in a funeral home, not a church.

Mourners were startled, then amused, to hear the organ play: “In Heaven, There Is No Beer.”

No, we never heard whether he was buried with a can of beer in his hand . . . but of course, if he was really going there, he wouldn't need it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

TUESDAY: Hot Potatoes


Computerization is a double-edged sword. It has made global commerce part of our everyday lives. But with that comes a whole new realm of criminal opportunities known as “identity theft.”

With just a few numbers and pieces of data tied to you, a crook can open an account in your name, use your resume to get a job, and charge thousands of dollars worth of goods fraudulently. Then the crook will scat, leaving you holding the bag and having to spend precious time and money unraveling what they did wrongfully in your name.

According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, identity theft affects 900,000 people a year at an average cost of more than $1,000 to resolve each problem, not to mention how much money is stolen.

According to the insurance company Liberty Mutual, identity thieves get your personal information by:

Mail theft
Dumpster diving
On-the-job snooping
Stolen or lost wallets
Internet fraud
Friends or relatives
Phone scams
Unethical use of public records
“Shoulder surfing” for passwords at ATMs, computers, etc.

How to protect yourself?

1. Review your credit report once or twice a year to look for incorrect information and inconsistencies. Check with these major credit agencies: www.equifax.com, www.transunion.com and www.experian.com to order your credit report.

2. Keep your Social Security number secret. Telemarketers ask for it: don’t give it out. Soccer teams ask for it: don’t give it out. Grocery clerks ask for it: don’t give it out. It’s the single most valuable piece of data that can be used to rip you off. Don’t put it on your checks and don’t carry the card in your wallet.

3. Cross-cut shred your important papers, including credit-card solicitations.

4. Use a truly secret password on personal accounts – not your mother’s maiden name, your children’s birthdates or other obvious choices.

5. When you pay your credit-card bill by check, don’t put your account number on that check, and put your work phone number on your checks instead of your home phone number.

For more information: www.consumer.gov/idtheft or www.identitytheft.org

Monday, September 15, 2003

MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell for Parents

Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS)

Q. What are “Higher Order Thinking Skills”?

Not as high as they sound. HOTS aren’t techniques for intellectual inquiry, logic, reasoning, invention, scientific hypotheses or risk-taking. They are, instead, propaganda techniques.

HOTS or “critical thinking” comes from the dialectical reasoning process espoused by Georg W.F. Hegel, which resulted in Marxism. Despite its anti-American roots, it is taught in U.S. teachers’ colleges and staff development workshops as a teaching technique.

HOTS uses the same processes as military brainwashing operations, only with a lot more subtlety. It twists the normal intellectual processes of study and scholarship into an exercise in behavior modification, to induce the students through groupthink and consensus processes to arrange the data to fit a pre-formed conclusion – not their own conclusion.

HOTS is tied to other anti-intellectual, anti-academic school trends such as constructivism, nationalized curriculum, block scheduling, historical revisionism and School-to-Work training.

HOTS stems from a view of school as a place for socialization and preparation for the workforce, rather than a place to foster scholarship. Teamwork and group decisions are valued over facts and individual skills. The idea is to get rid of “preconceived” ideas, so out the window go traditional moral absolutes, or basically all the foundational rules of the Bible and most kids’ homes.

Subject matter – the “content” of education – is de-emphasized. Instead, carefully-selected and “tweaked” bits of information that lend themselves to easily-shaped analysis and discussion are introduced. The result is school-induced Political Correctness – anti-American, anti-family social engineering at taxpayer expense.

The problem is, to the typical teacher, “Higher Order Thinking Skills” SOUNDS good. You have to look beneath the surface. Ask this: “Don't you read labels before you eat and drink? Why not do the same with the educational philosophies you’re feeding our children?”

Homework: Book, “None Dare Call It Education” by John A. Stormer

Sunday, September 14, 2003

SUNDAY: Radiant Beams


He openeth also their ear to discipline, and commandeth that they return from iniquity.
-- Job 36:10

It all started when I was plotting my next move, chocolate-wise. I was driving my car on a busy Omaha street. It was snack time. Of course, for me, every time is snack time.

I checked my coordinates. A Wendy's Frostee was six blocks away, thataway. Good. Very good. But wait: there was a drugstore right over there with those luscious Baker's chocolates made fresh in nearby Greenwood, Neb. Hmmm.

All of a sudden, simultaneously, I saw a very, very fat lady waddling down the sidewalk . . . and the sound of a screaming siren as an ambulance sped by.

I felt as though my eyes were being supernaturally focused on that poor dear lady, and my ears on the warning siren.

Stop, look and listen, Pudgy. If you keep on eating snacks and sweets all the time, you are going to look just like her.



Every once in a while, the Lord's sense of humor gets my attention.

I cranked the wheel and laid scratch the other way from the chocolate temptations. I went forth, and chocolated no more. At least, not that day.

But that's not what finally got me on my first and, I hope, only diet of my life. It was the sight of a dignified friend of ours, an august banker, who had lost so much weight that his khaki shorts were literally hanging on him. His belt was on the tightest hole but it was still worthless to keep his pants up.

He looked like a teenage gangbanger.

In fact, someone joked that he would attend the next annual meeting of the Nebraska Bankers Association with three inches of his plaid boxer shorts showing above his low-riding gangbanger shorts. He would be in stark contrast to all those other guys in stiff, starched, conventionally-belted three-piece suits.

That's what I wanted!

Not to be a gangsta . . . to be a thinsta.

Our friend was ''doing Atkins,'' the popular low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet. I watched him negotiate a buffet table; his plate was full. He seemed un-deprived . . . not cranky . . . not wasting away. In fact, he was downright happy with himself.

If he could do it, I could do it. I bought the book on July 1.

Since then, I have lost 20 pounds. Twenty! Do me a favor: go to the grocery store, and stack up 20 of those pound packages of stick butter. Lift them up and see how heavy they are.


It's so nice to collect compliments again, as people realize they are seeing less of me. The only weight-related experience as fun as this was after giving birth to our four whoppers. I felt like I was in a great, big colander DRAINING for a couple of days afterwards, losing excess poundage by the fluidal fell swoop.

It's like that on Atkins, at first. By cutting out carbohydrates, especially sweets, I lost 13 pounds in the first 14 days. This laid bare my old assumption that I was fat after having four children because pregnancy had slowed my metabolism 'way down.

Baloney! Chocoholism had slowed my metabolism 'way down. According to the Atkins book, my extra-rapid weight loss in the first two weeks showed that my metabolism is in apple-pie order, as long as I don't eat too much apple pie.

It gave me hope. I kept it up. I re-learned the old lessons about self-control, and the rewards that come from it. They exceed anything the material world has to offer, by far. There's nothing as fun as losing weight and resuming your spot – maybe not on the Hottie List – but at least on the Okey Dokey List.

You know that recipe for a chocolate dessert, ''Better Than Sex''? Well, guess what? THIS is ''Better Than Chocolate.''

Two handfuls of flab are gone from my waist. My arms no longer look like hams. I have a neck again, instead of a hulk between head and shoulders, like a Cornhusker lineman. I can now look in a full-length mirror and not sigh or cringe.

But isn't Atkins boring? Meat, meat, meat, cheese, cheese, cheese, eggs, eggs, eggs? Well, it's a lot more boring being fat. And anyway, look how this diet is helping out Nebraska's livestock industry. Right back at you, guys, with a side of bacon.

Forget Harpo. Forget Groucho. Call me Carbo . . . happy to be less of a load.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

SATURDAY: FUNdamentals


This works really well for kids, but it’s tremendous fun with grown-ups, especially busy working mothers who NEVER get a Saturday morning adventure.

Plan a Saturday morning “breakfast kidnap party.” It may or may not be to mark someone’s birthday. You might want to enlist a partner or co-host to make it run smoothly and have a more sizeable guest list. Make a guest list to fit how many people you can get in your cars.

Call ahead to your party guests’ families two weeks in advance, secretly, to make sure each guest will be able to come and that someone will let you into the house early on the Saturday morning you’ve chosen. For single mothers, you may have to get direct and devious: think ahead for child-care backup, such as suggesting that the children spend the night at a friend’s that Friday night.

Then, at 6:30 a.m. on the Saturday of the kidnap party, in your jammies, start picking up your party guests. You can even bring New Year’s Eve style party hats and noisemakers just to make it the biggest surprise possible. Their families will have fun meeting you at the door and running to the bedroom shouting “We want (the person’s name)!” to roust your guest out of bed and – still in pajamas – into your car. They, of course, will go back to bed.

At the next house, both of you should go in to pick up the friend. Plan your route so that the most enthusiastic person is the first one you pick up so that the excitement and fun will build and more and more people will be coming into that bedroom at dawn. By the time you’re picking up your last guest, even the grumpiest person will enjoy such an unusual wakeup call.

Then go to your favorite restaurant and treat everyone to a nice, relaxing and only slightly embarrassing Saturday breakfast – still in their p.j.’s and toasting each other with juice and just a few yawns over a fun new memory of friendship and surprises.

Friday, September 12, 2003

FRIDAY: Vitamin Mom


It’s important to model for your children how to comfort grieving people with sensitivity and grace.

When a friend’s loved one dies, involve your child in the process of baking for the funeral meal, sending a card, donating to the loved one’s favorite charity, practicing respectful “funeral manners,” and paying a visit to the bereaved family.

Talk ahead of time so that your child will observe how you listen, sympathize, speak warmly and well of the deceased person, and let them express their feelings.

Many people struggle to find the right words at times like these. That’s why we have great helpers like Hallmark Cards, Inc. They have posted these beautiful quotes on their website, www.hallmark.com Your child might want to print out these quotes to enclose in a hand-drawn card, or better yet, to memorize one of them, or a special Bible verse, to say aloud.

What the heart has once owned and had, it shall never lose.
—Henry Ward Beecher

The dark today leads into light tomorrow;
There is no endless joy,
...and yet no endless sorrow.
—Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Every blade in the field—
every leaf in the forest—
lays down its life in its season
as beautifully as it was taken up.
—Henry David Thoreau

Life is eternal; and love is immortal;
and death is only a horizon; and a horizon
is nothing save the limit of our sight.
—Rossiter Worthington Raymond

In this sad world of ours,
sorrow comes to all...
Perfect relief is not possible,
except with time.
You cannot now realize
that you will ever feel better...
And yet this is a mistake.
You are sure
to be happy again.
—Abraham Lincoln

For each thorn, there's a rosebud...
for each twilight—a dawn...
for each trial—the strength to carry on,
For each stormcloud—a rainbow...
for each shadow—the sun...
for each parting—sweet memories
when sorrow is done.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Memory nourishes the heart, and grief abates.
—Marcel Proust

Who hath not learned, in hours of faith,
The truth to flesh and sense unknown,
That life is ever lord of death,
And love can never lose its own!
—John Greenleaf Whittier

Look for the rainbow
that gracious thing,
made up of tears and light.
—Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Though nothing can bring back the hour
of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower,
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind.
—William Wordsworth

Soft as the voice of an angel,
Breathing a lesson unheard,
Hope with a gentle persuasion
Whispers her comforting word:
Wait till the darkness is over,
Wait till the tempest is done,
Hope for the sunshine tomorrow,
After the shower is gone.
—Alice Hawthorne

All souls are thine; we must not say
That those are gone who pass away—
From this our world of flesh set free.
We know them living unto thee.
—John Ellerton

Blessed are those who mourn; for they shall be comforted.
—Matthew 5:4

This world is not conclusion;
A sequel stands beyond,
Invisible, as music,
But positive, as sound.
—Emily Dickinson

Earth hath no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal.
—Thomas Moore

He that is thy friend indeed,
He will help thee in thy need:
If thou sorrow, he will weep;
If you wake, he cannot sleep;
Thus of every grief in heart
He with thee doth bear a part...
—Richard Barnfield

Like a bird
Singing in the rain,
Let grateful memories
Survive in time of sorrow.
—Robert Louis Stevenson

Thursday, September 11, 2003




The Lord preserveth the strangers; he relieveth the fatherless and widow: but the way of the wicked he turneth upside down.
-- Psalm 146:9

Our close friends were in the air over Texas, en route from their Omaha-area home to a Padre Island vacation, when the pilot came on the intercom:

''I don’t want anyone to get fearful, but we've just had a report that someone has bombed the Pentagon and flown two airplanes into the World Trade Center, and so every airplane is supposed to land at the closest airport immediately. We're landing in Dallas.''

Jeannie Runty saw the terror in her husband Steve's face, and he in hers. At a moment like that, she said, ''Your heart's gripped by fear. You just don't know how bad it's going to get and what it all means.''

They were dumped out on the tarmac. Since Continental didn't normally fly into D/FW, no crew was available to unload their baggage. So they abandoned it. But that was the least of their worries.

''Everyone was running around frantically,'' Mrs. Runty said. ''They were about to lock down the airport, thinking there could be more terrorists hiding in airplanes. Everyone was jamming the rental car places and getting in these long lines.

''Men were standing around with their cellphones: 'Honey, go get some guns and go to the bank and get all the cash you can and hide it under the bed 'til I get there.'''

She overhead one man say, ''This is probably the end of peace as we knew it.'' Terror gripped her throat, thinking of her three children, ages 18 and up.

''I wanted to be home. I wanted to be close to the kids. That's all I could think about: getting home,'' she said. She closed her eyes, bowed her head, and said a little prayer.

Her husband, a former quarterback for the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers, threw a few polite blocks so that they were able to sneak through the airport doors just as officials were locking them.

Then what?

No buses. No taxis. No rental cars.

They saw a man standing by a minivan. Steve was bold: ''Say, Sir, do you happen to be going north?''

As a matter of fact, he was – to Oklahoma City. He invited them to hitch a ride. He must not have had many suspicions about the criminal record or terroristic intentions of the petite Homecoming Queen from David City, Neb., and her soft-spoken husband with the Husker ball cap.

A Dallas resident, their chauffeur worked for a defense contractor. He was supposed to be making a sales call at an air base near Oklahoma City later that day. They hadn't been traveling long when his cellphone alerted him that the air base was on lock-down and he wouldn't be able to get in.

The Runtys were afraid they'd be dumped on the Interstate as he would have to turn around to go back to Dallas . . . but the man said, ''You know, I'm not doing anything today now, and my kids are grown and gone, but I have a friend up in Wichita. What do you say I take you as far as there?''

Mrs. Runty said she knew at that moment that he was a guardian angel, sent for the purpose of helping get them home. ''I mean, who in the world would drive across three states to help complete strangers?''

They stopped for gas in Oklahoma City, where they witnessed screaming and a fistfight. ''Everyone was frantic that this would be their last chance for gas,'' Mrs. Runty said. They figured that residents were extra rattled because of the recent bombing in that city, also apparently linked to terrorists.

The man / angel dropped them off at a truck stop in Wichita, and parted. Hotels were full and there was no chance of renting a car. But then Mrs. Runty saw a lady getting gas. She walked up to her and asked: ''Are you by any chance going north?''

The lady was on her way to Kansas City, where Mrs. Runty's sister lives. The lady barely hesitated: ''Hop in.''

After a while, though, she started getting nervous when Mrs. Runty started rummaging through her travel-sized backpack. For a gun or a bomb? Actually, it was for breath mints.

Mrs. Runty tried to calm her by talking about her home and children, but the lady was gripping the wheel and going 95 miles per hour. Her husband kept calling on her cellphone to find out where she was and when she would be home. Apparently, she was afraid to tell him she'd been rash enough to pick up two hitchhikers . . . when meanwhile, those two hitchhikers were terrorized by her high rate of speed.

But they arrived in Kansas City, and she drove off considerably more relaxed. The Runtys' adult son Jay drove down from the Omaha area to pick them up and bring them home.

Their adventure ended at 12:30 a.m. Home, sweet home.

Mrs. Runty reflects on it, two years later:

''You could see the fear in everybody's eyes, but also the compassion and the willingness to help others – just the love in their hearts in the midst of the stress and uncertainty of what was going on.''

The world changed that awful, hateful day. No doubt about it. But Jeannie Runty sees ways it changed for the better.

''It just made you love America more,'' she said. ''Everybody you came in contact with that day was in the same boat. No one doubted you for a second. They overcame their own fears and heartaches to make sure those around them were OK, even complete strangers.

''You need help? You've got it.''

She said it made her appreciate life in Nebraska even more, too. ''There was no other place I wanted to be. Nothing felt right 'til I could be close to my family and friends and home.

''Nebraska may seem boring and simple to people on the coasts and the big cities, but in reality, it's wonderful. It attracts more grounded people who are looking for that kind of a lifestyle and a chance to raise our children among really solid values.''

She said, ''I think because of 9/11 and all that we went through – all that all of us have gone through – that I'm one of many, many people who just appreciate home and family so much more.''

There's no place like home . . . and you can see that most clearly when you're far, far away.



You knew there was a reason you kept your child’s cartoon-character lunchbox from kindergarten, or picked up that colorful old keepsake lunchbox at a garage sale.

Lunchboxes make wonderful centerpieces for September events!

Place autumn flowers in a vintage lunchbox for a gathering of moms celebrating back-to-school time, or for a school committee meeting.

It adds a special touch on your kitchen table to leave your lunchbox centerpiece in place for a while, perhaps with a trailing houseplant in it, just to evoke all the good memories and feelings that back-to-school time brings.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

WEDNESDAY: Family Funnies


The little one had resisted getting out of bed. “I DOOOO it mySELF!” Adult hands pulled her out; she wiggled back in. Adult hands lifted her up; she flopped back down, getting a faceful of hard plastic horsies piled with the stuffed animals and blankets on the bed. Adult hands finally planted firmly on adult hips and counted purposefully to three. After what seemed like a 20-minute pause, the little one finally got up.

Then she didn’t want any stinkin’ adult hands unzipping her yaller jammies. “I DOOOOO it mySELF!” Another 20 minutes passed, and another, choosing the day’s outfit, and yet another, at long last choosing the dinosaur undies over the Barbie undies “ALLLLLLLL by mySELF.”

Are you getting the idea that life with a 3-year-old is a merry-go-round on steroids?

So finally, adult hands were thrown up in the air in utter exhaustion and frustration. At that point, the toddler smiled and walked cheerfully and obediently to the kitchen for her breakfast waffle.

At the moment it was served, though, the adult voice said, “Hurry up and eat. We’re late, and we’ve got to go.”

The toddler THREW her head in her hands, and WAILED how much she missed her big sister, the sweet, kind and patient one, who had gone off to college three weeks before.

“When is NaNa coming home . . . from her OTHER parents’ house?” she sobbed.

You mean . . . the only NICE person in your life, who has miraculously found nice OTHER parents?

I don’t know, Dear. Maybe you should call them and ask them . . . “ALLLLLLLL by yourSELF.”

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

TUESDAY: Hot Potatoes


The Ten Commandments controversy rages around the country. People are asking whether it’s more Constitutionally Correct to leave the monuments and displays in place on public property because of their significance in the creation of the American form of government, or withdraw them out of reverence for the principle of the separation of church and state.

It should be noted that the Ten Commandments display in the rotunda of the Alabama State Judiciary Building was paid for with private funds, not public funds, and also displays a number of quotes from founding Americans of historical significance, not just the Ten Commandments.

It may help to review these three items from the almost infinite record from which any honest person would conclude that the principles of the Ten Commandments are the principles that undergird the American philosophy of government:

1. Political scientist Donald Lutz and collegues (Louisiana State University Press) studied more than 15,000 political writings by early Americans from 1760 to 1805. They documented the original sources of those writings. That was intended to show what philosophies and principles had the most influence on the people who created our system of government. By far, the most often quoted philosophers were Baron Charles Secondat de Montesquieu, a French attorney and author (1689-1755) and Sir William Blackstone, an English judge and law professor (1723-1780).

Montesquieu wrote: “The Christian religion, which ordains that men should love each other, would without doubt have every nation blest with the best civil, the best political laws; because these, next to this religion, are the greatest good that men can give and receive.” (Spirit of Laws, 1748, Vol. II, pp. 125-126).

Blackstone wrote, “Man, considered as a creature, must necessarily be subject to the laws of his Creator, for he is entirely a dependent being. . . . And consequently, as man depends absolutely upon his Maker for every thing, it is necessary that he should in all points conform to his Maker’s will. This will of his Maker is called the law of nature. . . . This law of nature, being coeval with mankind and dictated by God himself, is of course superior in obligation to any other. . . . The doctrines thus delivered we call the revealed or divine law and they are to be found only in the holy Scriptures. . . . Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws; that is to say, no human laws should be suffered to contradict these.” (Commentaries on the Laws of England, 1771, Vol. I, pp. 39, 41-42.)

SOURCE: Original Intent: The Courts, the Constitution, and Religion, by David Barton

2. George Washington, first President of the United States, inaugural address, April 30, 1789:

“(I)t would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States, a government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes: and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success, the functions allotted to His charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own. . . . No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States.”

And his farewell address, Sept. 17, 1796:

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. . . . Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

SOURCE: The Patriot’s Handbook: A Citizenship Primer for a New Generation of Americans, George Grant, Ph.D.

3. Federal District Court Judge Karl Forrester in the Eastern District of Kentucky ruled on Aug. 22, 2002, that displays of the Ten Commandments with other historical documents in the county courthouses of Rowan and Mercer Counties in Kentucky were constitutional because (1) they were erected for educational purposes and there was no evidence that they had an “entirely religious nature,” and (2) no reasonable observer would view the display as an endorsement of religion.

Judge Forrester added an identical ruling in favor of a Ten Commandments display in Mercer County, Ky., on Jan. 24, 2003. The judge wrote, “(T)he Ten Commandments did have an influence upon the development of United States law and it can be constitutional to display the Ten Commandments in the appropriate context.” He also stated: “The display clearly has a legitimate secular purpose of, includingbut not limited to, acknowledging the historical influence of the Commandments on the development of this country’s laws and this record is devoid of any evidence indicating a religious purpose by the governbment.”

Similar court ruling allowing a Ten Commandments monument to stand o n the Texas State Capitol grounds in Austin, Texas, filed Oct. 9., 2002, by Federal Judge Harry Lee Hudspeth. Texas Gov. Rick Perry said, “Today’s court ruling is a victory for those who believe, as I do, that the Ten Commandments are time-tested and appropriate guidelines for living a full and moral life. The Ten Commandments provide a historical foundation for our laws and principles as a free and strong nation, under God, and should be displayed at the Texas Capitol.”

SOURCE: The Ten Commandments and Their Influence on American Law, by William Federer

Monday, September 08, 2003

MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell for Parents


Q. California is usually a leader in new educational programs. What’s been going on there with mathematics?

A war, that’s what. California got into what is called “fuzzy math” in the early 1990s when it adopted new mathematics standards developed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (www.nctm.org) and wound up creating a powerful force led by parents, taxpayers and math professors to oppose the “reform.”

The state endorsed and began using a new style of math that focused less on basics and systematic development of math knowledge and skills. To match the new standards, schools bought colorful, expensive new textbooks (brand names included “Everyday Math,” “Connected Math” and “CPM Algebra”), let even grade-school kids use more calculators, and started giving students less practice with computation and traditional pencil-and-paper problems, and more time spent on group problem-solving and so forth.

By 1996, after several years of “reform math,” the state's students finished near the bottom of the nation on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. San Diego parents organized when they learned their students were no longer being taught algebra. South Pasadena parents organized and protested to the school board. Sonoma parents got schools to ban calculators. Even in Palo Alto, in the shadow of Stanford University, computation scores dropped from the 86th percentile to the 58th and the parents revolted.

Since then, at times over 50 percent of entering freshmen in the California State University system have had to take remedial math (intermediate algebra or lower), even though they come from among the top 30 percent of high school graduates.

The California State Board of Education has since backed away from its endorsement of NCTM standards-based programs. They adopted new standards that are better-received, and have recommended curricula that will bring students to those higher levels

Homework: The story’s on www.mathematicallycorrect.com/calif.htm

Sunday, September 07, 2003

SUNDAY: Radiant Beams


Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.
-- Proverbs 22:28

A long time ago, in a galaxy not far away from central Omaha's beloved Elmwood Park, there was a little old house with a basement playroom that had a funny name:

The ''Knotty Room.''

It had been named that with black stick-on letters when we moved in, a corny reference to the fact that the rec room had knotty pine paneling. I guess the former owners were saying that it was a place kids could go to act ''knotty.''

We didn't have any kids. But we were corny, too. So we left it.

Years passed. Kids came. The Knotty Room reopened for business.

Little Tykes sets sprawled around. A panda-bear table with colorful chairs appeared. Big Wheels ran on the tile floor all winter. The toy closet got jammed with Play-Doh and dress-up clothes and Matchbox cars and board games.

Three junior citizens ran around downstairs in the Knotty Room -- three strong-willed, full-voiced junior citizens.

The decibel level became, at times, vivacious:


''I HAD IT FIRST!!!!!!''


''I’M TELLING!!!!!!''

Sometimes, the thundering herd would pound upstairs. Their dad was usually cowering behind his newspaper hoping they would encounter me first. But I had likely already repaired to the sanctity of the master bathroom to practice my favorite parenting skill, avoiding conflict at all costs.

At any rate, they usually got nowhere with us. ''Go outside!'' ''Work it out on your own!'' ''I'm going to break that over my knee and throw it away if I hear one more word!''

So they'd slink away. Eventually, though, they'd wind up back down in the Knotty Room. Soon enough, once again:


''I HAD IT FIRST!!!!!!''


''I’M TELLING!!!!!!''

Then one day, a series of little handmade signs materialized on the four walls of the Knotty Room. These signs were on typing paper, hand-lettered with big, bold strokes, and taped crookedly but conspicuously, high on the walls:








Each was illustrated with an exaggerated depiction of the banned activity. ''NO BIGHTING,'' for example, showed a child with the choppers of a saber-toothed tiger ripping into another child's arm the size of a tree trunk. Around it was a giant circle with a slash through it.

Turns out that the oldest junior citizen, about 6, promulgated the rules all on her own, to try to keep the peace. It was a bit of a snag that the two younger ones weren't quite reading yet. But the Rules of the Knotty Room were nevertheless codified and published. Simple. Clear. Effective. If someone did some fighting or some ''bighting,'' we could point right to the rule. Busted, fair and square.

The rules stayed up for many years and now are among our treasured keepsakes.

Their promulgator, Jordan Jennifer, is now a college junior who interned last summer with Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and with Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.). She has an eye toward a career in law and public service. We couldn't be prouder.

Blessed are the parents of a child who knows right from wrong and isn't afraid to say so. Blessed is the nation whose citizens do, too.

So I've been thinking of the Rules of the Knotty Room again as the brouhaha has mounted recently over Ten Commandments displays in places like the Plattsmouth, Neb., city park, and the state courthouse in Alabama (www.morallaw.org). I recently re-read a fine book, ''The Ten Commandments and Their Influence on American Law'' by William Federer. It has dazzling documentation on how each of the 10 Biblical rules directly influenced America's foundation and history, from colonial laws to our nation's motto to our national and state constitutions to each and every President's inaugural address.

It's crystal clear:

The Ten Commandments monuments should stay. No doubt about it.

They're there for the same reason as the Rules of the Knotty Room. We need them to get along.

They're simple and plain . . . incontrovertible . . . and designed for would-be perpetrators and victims alike.

It's no fun in a playroom when kids won't play by the rules.

It's the same thing with grownups. In fact, we sound more and more ''knotty'' in our corporate and personal lives every day:


''I HAD IT FIRST!!!!!!''


''I’M TELLING!!!!!''

Hey, you guys! No fighting! No ''bighting''!

Sorting it all out is why we have laws. Doing it fair and square is why we have courthouses and judges -- at least, good judges like Alabama's Roy Moore.

Rules and rulemakers remind us who we are. They're why our country works.

We need more good people in power who, like little Jordan in the Knotty Room, know we're better off with our rules for living posted front and center, for all to see.

Fair and square. The American way.

That's how our ancestors planned it: a nation that stands on what's right and knows what we believe and why . . . a people who pledge to each other under God our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor . . . and in the end, a placed called America that has made a declaration of dependence not on ourselves or even each other . . . but on the Lawgiver of all time.

Saturday, September 06, 2003

SATURDAY: FUNdamentals


If there’s a fisherman or –woman in your life and a big birthday is coming up, rejoice. You have a natural theme for a fun party.

Send out invitations in the shape of a fish, lure or boat. Ask people to bring gag gifts that have to do with fishing.

Set a canoe or fishing boat in your front yard with a “Happy Birthday” sign in it. Cross two long fishing poles in ceremonial fashion over your front door for people to walk under.

Party hosts could wear waders or funny fishing hats and party guests could dress up in their fishing gear as well.

There should be no debate over what to serve – fish, of course! – and fun fixings, such as hors d’oeuvres that include Goldfish brand crackers, and lots of festive beverages to spawn bigger and bigger fish tales as the evening goes on.

If a friend or neighbor has an aquarium to lend for a centerpiece, that’d be a conversation starter – but just make sure party guests know the fish in it are for show, not sport.

Friday, September 05, 2003

FRIDAY: Vitamin Mom


Have you bought your child a toy lately, only to hear “I want ANOTHER toy” within minutes of the purchase?

Does your child elbow others away from a plate of cookies in order to get the first one . . . and the second and the third?

Are possessions piling up in your child’s room and the rest of the house, perhaps touched or played with once in a blue moon, but otherwise, just sitting there?

In this land of plenty, it’s pretty easy to sit back and let the good times roll, materially, even if yours is a family of modest means. Quite frankly, most Americans of all ages have too much stuff, eat too much and spend too much, for our own good.

Here are some ways to help your child find a better balance:

-- Teach the difference between “needs” and “wants.” Help your child to stop and question which it is that he or she is feeling. List “needs” and how they are being met, and set goals for “wants” and what would make them happen in a way that would develop your child’s character, such as doing an extra hour of chores each week for a month, or doing yard work for a neighbor to make the pocket money for a new toy.

-- Especially if your child is overweight, the old rule of thumb – that the plate must be cleaned of the good-for-you foods before any snacks or treats are allowed – should be in full force. Talk with your child frequently about nutrition. Cultivate a strong sense of “enough” in your child’s tummy. Encourage your child to talk with his or her pediatrician about weight and growth.

-- If your home is full of toys and things for your child and yet he or she still wants more, more, more, begin a system whereby your child has to part with, say, five toys in good condition to be donated to the needy before you will buy a brand new one. It makes a meaningful field trip, especially before the holidays, to bring a box of your child’s old toys to a homeless shelter or collection site and have your child talk for a moment with an employee to learn what disadvantaged kids DON’T have in order to appreciate more what they DO.

Thursday, September 04, 2003



Every kids’ sports team could use money for everything from extra equipment and uniforms to entry fees for important tournaments. But it gets to be old, old, old to keep hitting up the same wary neighbors season after season, asking them to buy candy, trash bags, magazines or whatever to help your team.

So this year, coaches and players, get smart. Do your neighbors really need more candy, trash bags and magazines? Or is what they really need a “fairy godneighbor” to appear at their door on a Saturday, offering to do odd jobs at their command?

You can send a flyer around a week in advance announcing your team’s odd job service and times and dates. Say that your players, coaches and parents will be coming around in teams of two or three with a goal of raising money for your team. Give at least one phone number and suggest that neighbors call to arrange any tasks in advance that they would like done, and they’ll be at the top of the list. Otherwise, say that you will ring their doorbell during those hours and hope to find them home.

Meet that day for coffee and doughnuts, and hand out snacks and water bottles to all workers. You can bring supplies with you, such as brooms and rags, or ask to use theirs. Depending on how long a day you plan, you can get together for a picnic lunch and rest halfway through your work time.


Wash cars
Pull weeds
Sweep garages
Hose pavement
Clean garden tools
Run errands (parent, coach or other driver needed)
Take junk to the dump or giveaway place
Replace outdoor light fixtures
Collect twigs and branches and dispose of them

Leave it to the neighbors to pay you. This almost always results in more money coming your way than if you charge. There also is that most neighborly of responses: people who don’t need any odd jobs but give you money to help you and your team “just because.”

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

WEDNESDAY: Family Funnies


There’s a wise guy in our family who is very, very cheap and has a wacky idea for a poor man’s or woman’s facelift:

Surgeons can install screws on both sides of the top of the head. They would appear like high-tech versions of a wind-up toy’s handle, sort of like medical wingnuts.

These screws can easily be concealed with artful hairstyling techniques, including comb-overs for the guys. Now, the medical team would have to be really, really careful not to get bumped when they drilled into your skull to set these in place. But that would be doable.

Then, as the person ages, you simply grasp the two screws and give them a quarter-turn. Do this every few months and the changes will be almost imperceptible. The skin around one’s chin, eyes and forehead would be lofted upwards, just a skoch.

True, maybe you’d still look like Frankenstein, but at least you would look like a YOUNGER Frankenstein.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

TUESDAY: Hot Potatoes


Newspapers have been documenting the woes of air pollution in several major series lately, digested in the September / October 2003 issue of “The IRE Journal,” the publication of the Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc., at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

Among the key points:

-- Medical researchers in Mira Loma, Calif., 50 miles east of Los Angeles, have found that eighth-graders there have lung development stunted by as much as 10 percent and vulnerable to respiratory ailments, due in large part to diesel soot and other particulates in the air caused by an industrial boom less than a decade old (Riverside Press-Enterprise).

-- The smog capital of California used to be Los Angeles but moved around 1996 to Fresno, where the San Joaquin Valley is exempt from various air pollution enforcement efforts because of its large-scale agriculture; now the valley’s asthma rates are among the nation’s highest (The Fresno Bee).

-- Citizens of Louisville, Ky., breathe air that contains 18 toxic chemicals or compounds at concentrations up to 2,400 times higher than what the government considers safe; schools have been found to have some of the higher readings in the area; the toxic air is suspected to cause two to 24 additional cancer cases per 10,000 population (Louisville Courier-Journal).

The article claims, “Investigations show that toxic air thrives because of everything from community apathy to industrial shenanigans to deceitful local officials.”

Among sources of further information on air pollution are:

Aerometric Information Retrieval System and AIRS Facility Subsystem:

Investigative Reporters and Editors (premium archives):

Society of Environmental Journalists:

Monday, September 01, 2003

MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell for Parents


Q. We have a set of encyclopedias at home and some CD-ROMs and other general reference books for our two teenagers, a junior in high school and an eighth-grader. But they still struggle with writing assignments. It sure would be nice to have some sort of at-home resource to help them.

It’s a “must” to provide children in the older grades with a few basic resources. Hint to grandparents for gift ideas, visit sales at bookstores or hit the garage sales for bargains. Ideas:

-- A sizeable dictionary in reasonably big type.
-- A thesaurus that’s easy to use.
-- Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.
-- “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White.

There are many other subject-area references and resources that can help. Some parents frequent the withdrawal cart at public libraries or their annual inventory reduction sales, where wonderful books can be acquired for a dollar or two.

In addition, there’s a clear, concise set of English guides that might be just the ticket. Published by BarCharts, Inc., the “Quick Study Academic” guides cover English, history, foreign language, math, science and other topics for middle school and high school students. The company also offers guides for college-level academics and beyond, on into adult learning needs.

The guides come on color-coded, laminated sheets that fit nicely in a notebook or folder for use during class assignments or while doing homework. They sell for $4.95, for the most part.

The English Grammar & Punctuation guide has sections on subjects, verbs, modifiers, objects, words, phrases, clauses, connectors, sentences, commas, semicolons, apostrophes, quotation marks, end punctuation and other punctuation.

Other English guides cover English composition and style, American literature, British literature, essays and term papers, Greek mythology, Shakespearean plays and other topics.

Homework: Call 1 (800) 230-9522 or visit www.quickstudy.com