Sunday, November 30, 2003

SUNDAY: Radiant Beams

Who's Teaching Whom?

For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
-- Matthew 7:8

There I was, on my knees at the bedside of Madeleine Badeleine McGee McGoo McGuire, trying not to fall asleep while trying to get HER to fall asleep.

We jammied, we brushed, we flushed, we rocked, we read, we tucked. Now all that remained was to sing her one song, and with a kiss and a hug, I'd be outa there. But what song?

College drinking songs were just not cutting it any more as lullabies. How about a ''teachable moment''? I could sing something inspiring, like ''Jesus Loves Me''!

I shut my eyes and sang, trying to sound spiritual. I opened them again at the refrain . . .

. . . and saw that with every syllable I sang, Maddy was shifting a big bubble of air from cheek to cheek:

''Yes,'' (left cheek bulges)

''Je-'' (right cheek bulges)

''-sus'' (left cheek bulges)

''loves'' (right cheek bulges)

''meeeeee!'' (left cheek bulges and holds for three counts)

Everybody's a comedian.

I've come to believe that the true value of Christmas is that God came to earth to show us what He is like so that we can survive our children's utter unpredictability and interminable questions.

The other day in the car, Maddy informed me, ''There are NO giants!''

We'd been over this. No monsters, aliens or easy diets, either. I looked at her in the rear-view mirror and replied, ''So?''

''So how could God have been big and strong enough to make the whole world . . . if He isn't a giant?''


I tried to explain. ''Well, 'cause things don't have to be big, to be strong. Our tires aren't very big, but they hold up the whole car.''

She was unmoved.

''But I've never SEEN God. How do I know He's real?''

Music was playing loudly on our car radio. Eureka! I caught her eye again in the rear-view mirror and said brightly, ''Well, God is a lot like music. You can hear music, can't you? But you can't see it.''

She nodded. I turned the sound off. ''And now you can’t hear it, either.'' I turned it back on. ''But even if you can't hear it or see it, the music is still playing. It's still real . . . just like God.''

I checked her reaction in the mirror, and congratulated myself.

First rule of parenting: NEVER think you're winning.

She came back with a barrage:

''Is God furry?''

''Does He have a wife?''

''How did He make me?''

''Does He get sleepy?''

I was stunned . . . chastened . . . a broken woman. I reverted to the old standby of parents throughout the ages: ''I don’t know,'' ''I don’t know,'' ''I don’t know,'' ''Ask your dad.''

She'll get all her questions answered, one of these days. Maybe she'll share them with me . . . when she comes to visit me at the funny farm.

There's nothing like having a human being less than half your height show you how much you don't know.

That's how it is with children, though. You can never tell who's teaching whom. And now's the time of year to remember that.

An older friend of mine once raged about how kids don't belong in worship services because they're so disruptive, and how terrible it is when parents don't control their children and ruin things for everyone else.

Then recently she sat next to a girl of about 5. And guess what? She was a perfect angel . . . until the very end of the sermon, when she suddenly leaned over and whispered to my friend, ''Would you please open your hand and close your eyes?''

The woman, with some trepidation, did.

She felt something placed firmly in her palm. When she opened her eyes, she saw a gold star.

Hmm. Long time since she'd gotten a gold star.

She thought it was God's way of telling her she'd been ''a good girl.'' She went bananas — silently, of course — to the child's delight.

Think what a blessing she would have missed if she'd been an old Scroogette instead, and shh'ed the little one away.

Yeah. Be ready. Don't miss the blessing. Like that first Christmas, it's totally unexpected, very precious, and often hard to explain.

There's a lot to be learned from the happy, holy spirit of a little child. You may not find out if God's furry . . . but He'll give you a gold star just for paying attention.

Saturday, November 29, 2003

SATURDAY: FUNdamentals


For something a little different, plan a Birthday Brunch for your favorite birthday person. If you’re adventurous, send out invitations instructing guests to come in their pajamas and robes, or sloppiest loungewear. Offer a prize for the best bed hair.

You might choose a matching theme for birthday gifts such as calling this a “comfort shower,” and guests are to bring something the birthday person will use to feel comfy.

Have it on a Saturday morning. Tape up balloons and streamers and at least one banner or sign to make things look festive. Party hats are pretty much a must for a morning party, to get everyone’s eyes open.

Serve a scrumptious brunch with orange juice served in fancy glasses for the kids, or mimosas (champagne and orange juice) for the adults.

Instead of a cake, serve the birthday person a tall stack of buttermilk pancakes, with a candle stuck right in the middle. Watch out, though: the hot pancakes are likely to melt some wax off the candle that will have to be picked away.

Alternative: the day before, scoop ice cream in your favorite flavors and roll or press separately into mini chocolate chips, finely-chopped nuts, or coconut. Freeze. At serving time, mound the scoops into a glass or silver dish or flat bowl and stick a number of birthday candles all around the mound of scoops. It makes a beautiful glow . . . to match the honoree’s happy face at all this special attention.

Friday, November 28, 2003

FRIDAY: Vitamin Mom


The holidays can be trying for mac-and-cheese kids. When you go to somebody else’s house for dinner, even if the buffet is crammed with food choices, there may not be a lot there that kids recognize, much less get excited about.

There can be some embarrassing moments, like a young child shouting: “Mooooom! There’s nothing here to EAT!”

Families that rely too much on the same old fast foods and kid-pleasing dishes may want to rethink the kinds of habits that creates. You don’t want vegetables to be foreign to your child. You don’t want your child to be rude. And you don’t want your child to grow up without a well-rounded knowledge of the wonders of foods.

You can avoid pickiness and narrow food tastes by gradually introducing your child to the wide world of flavors. All it takes is a little planning and record-keeping.

Write numbers from “1” to “52” on the front of an index card. Tape it to the inside of a kitchen cupboard you use a lot.

Now, once a week, plan to include some kind of food item that your child hasn’t had before. Look through a cookbook or a restaurant menu for ideas. Include spices, fresh produce, plants you can grow in your yard, and items from the health-food store, which you can take your child with you to shop for and make into a good learning experience.

Record these “food introductions” on the index card. Then serve that dish some time that week.

The family rule should be that the child has to take at least one bite of everything on his or her plate. (For future attorneys that may be lurking on your family tree, better make sure to add “and swallow” to that rule.) If you introduce only one new dish a week, it will be a pleasant adventure . . . for you AND your child.

So here’s how your list might look for a few weeks:

1. Tomato aspic
2. Steamed baby artichoke with lemon butter
3. Zucchini bread
4. Couscous
5. Tapioca
6. Fried okra
7. Cheese grits
8. Starfruit
9. Sweet potato casserole
10. Homemade mushroom soup

Bon appetit!

Thursday, November 27, 2003



Smart wives know a secret: if you want things to go well for you, things have to be going well for your husband. At least, that’s the simplest way to have a happy marriage and a peaceful, contented home life. For many, if not most husbands, the top of that list is what has been going on in the old boudoir.

You already have a network of close female friends, most of them married. So you’re all in the same boat. How can we be deliberate about making our husbands happy? How can we encourage each other to keep it up in this most private, but important, of departments?

Well, you know how kids’ clubs have a secret “knock” and sororities have a secret handshake? Why don’t you and your women friends have a secret “husband blessing” that you can pass along?

Come up with a code name. Perhaps the word “lucky” is best. You’ll also need a coded reply to make it clear the message got across. Try “whoopie.”

Now, seduce your husband some night. That’s right – initiate romance. Set out candles or massage oil. Rent a romantic movie. Park the kids at their friends’ overnight. Whatever seems loving and fun . . . go for it. Everybody knows that nothing blesses a husband more than this.

Next day, call one of the friends in your group, and use the word “lucky” in your conversation with exaggerated emphasis. Maybe you just say, “I was so LUCKY to find shoes on sale.” The friend should reply with something like, “Oh, WHOOPIE for you!”

That’s the friend’s signal to seduce HER husband . . . and then pass the blessing on with the code word to someone else in your group.

Keep the “blessing chain” going for as long as you can. Never tell a soul . . . especially not those slightly puzzled but very happy husbands, who feel blessed and appreciated . . . and very, very lucky to have such loving wives. Whoopie!

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

WEDNESDAY: Family Funnies


The resident 3-year-old produced this list of blessings for which she is thankful, and she recited them in this order:

1. My Care Bear

2. My Hello Kitty soap thing

3. Mom and Dad and my sisters

4. Sparkles

The last item is what she saw in the first snow of the season, when the sun shone just right.

That list just about sums up what we really need in this life: love, cleanliness, family . . . and sparkles.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

TUESDAY: Hot Potatoes

Public Health:
Is Medical Discrimination a Reality?

There’s a growing movement trying to stop the continuing trend toward “health disparities,” or more illness and death recorded in certain minority groups compared to the U.S. population as a whole.

Racial and ethnic minorities such as African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans and Native Americans have been shown to have a more difficult time accessing health care and experience worse health outcomes than majority populations. Meanwhile, rural residents are on record as receiving less preventive care and medical treatment than urban residents.

Key areas in the debate include diabetes, cancer, infant mortality, cardiovascular disease, HIV/AIDS and depression.

Some of this apparent “disparity” may be patient-driven – smoking, drinking, poor nutrition, harmful environmental exposures and so forth may be more prevalent in the minority populations that show ill health. But some of it may be because of various forms of discrimination within the health-care delivery system, or structures and features within the system that need to be changed. One idea: finding ways to make minority patients trust their doctors more and seek medical treatment instead of avoid it.

For more about the problem and what is being done to address it:

Health Disparities Collaborative:

National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities, National Institute of Health:

American Medical Association’s Health Disparities initiatives:

Monday, November 24, 2003

MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell for Parents

The Revolving Door

Q. It drives me crazy when a big shot in a state’s teachers’ union takes early retirement, runs for the state board of education, and wins, because of the heavy funding from the union, the state’s No. 1 lobby. Don’t we elect state board members to control it? Is there more of this than in other fields?

Probably. Job-hopping in education is more than simple career progression. It has a lot to do with how money and power are employed in the nation’s schools, and how ideas and methods spread from place to place. There are so many groups that influence education policy and spending – commissions, consulting firms, universities, professional organizations, political groups -- that the job-hopping and power-flow picture gets convoluted very quickly.

Our current U.S. Education Secretary, Rod Paige, for example, used to be superintendent of schools in Houston, which is under fire for apparently fudging dropout statistics while he was there. The director of the Pittsburgh school district's math department, Dr. Diane Briars, is a former director of the highly influential National Council of Teachers of Mathematics – whose math standards became the laughingstock of the nation in California and resulted in a huge “math war” to get rid of them. She also is on the advisory board of Core-Plus, an “integrated” math curriculum for the high school level, which has been under fire for quality issues by the anti-fuzzy math crowd.

It’s everywhere in education. Pundits say superintendents do their jobs to impress their fellow superintendents around the country, not local parents, teachers and taxpayers, because it is their fellow superintendents who have the contacts to get them their next job.

The smart student of power in schools will keep track of moves through the revolving door made by the local education power elite.

Homework: The education world’s many connections and conflicts of interest at or near the top of the power elite are detailed in the research manual, “America 2000 / Goals 2000” by James R. Patrick, Citizens for Academic Excellence, P.O. Box 11164, Moline, Ill.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

SUNDAY: Radiant Beams

Closer Than a Brother

(T)here is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.
— Proverbs 18:24

They were two little buzzheads, growing up together in central Omaha. They did everything together: walked to school, played Army, went to camp, went hunting . . . and loved each other, though they never said so. They covered each other’s backs.

Dave and Steve. Gas and brakes. Ham and eggs. Best friends.

It must have been hard, in junior high, when Steve moved away. But that made way for me. Dave and I dated for seven years and have been married for nearly 26. In all that time, Steve has always treated me like a sister.

In a wife’s heart, that’s big. So I consider Steve my best friend, too. He’s 6’4” with curly brown hair, military bearing from Air Force ROTC, a great baritone, a booming laugh . . . and an indomitable, manly spirit.

His life has been ablaze with glory and adventure, humor and bravado. He was almost killed by the talons of an enormous eagle in Canada, but dove to the ground just in time. He almost died of the bends while deep-sea diving in Hawaii. He won that trip by taking first place in the Kansas City Barbecue Cookoff one year with a super-secret recipe that I think had something to do with cigar ashes.

He’s the only person I know who has ever caught someone else tape-recording his conversations, for real. His brains and skill as an attorney have helped a lot of clients out of a lot of jams.

He even has a spectacularly unusual hobby. Steve is the Bird Man of Kansas City. On his acreage there are stately swans, peacocks, and most of all, messenger pigeons.

The things I’ve learned from this man. Did you know, for example, that there are messenger pigeon “studs”?

It’s never a dull moment with this guy. So it shouldn’t have been a surprise last week when his family called to say that he was going in to emergency heart surgery with an aortic aneurysm the size of a grapefruit. They asked us to pray, because he was literally a heartbeat from certain death.

Oh, Steve! Please, God!

Word spread literally around the world, thanks to the Internet. We had a sleepless night, receiving phone updates. Surgery went on for eight hours. They put him on a heart-lung machine and replaced the blood vessel. There was seepage of blood into his chest cavity. He coded three times. His body temperature had to be reduced to 15 degrees Centigrade. He could be brain-damaged. If he didn’t wake up by the following evening. . . .

But he did wake up. He squeezed the hand of his son, our godson. He told his sister he loved her. He asked his dad if they were going to keep “cutting on” him. He told his mother, brave through the vigil, that she needed a breath mint . . . and then smiled his goofiest smile.

Steve was back.

Everyone was amazed: the damage had been termed “catastrophic.” Actor John Ritter had recently died of this. Our local daily newspaper had earlier that week carried a front-page story about a teenager who died of it, too.

But we were prepared for a miracle, whether we knew it or not: my husband had just talked to a business associate who had miraculously lived, thanks to the same surgery Steve had.

Prognosis: excellent. He’ll have a three- to six-month recovery.

So it was with joy, not sorrow, that Dave made the trip to Kansas City. By one of God’s “uncoincidences,” their college roommate for four years at Sigma Alpha Epsilon at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln was in town for a meeting, and joined the reunion.

Dave planned to tease Steve that the football fortunes of the Cornhuskers must’ve almost broken his heart.

He came around the corner in the ICU, and caught Steve’s eye through the window. Despite the tubes and monitors, Steve raised his right hand . . . in salute.

There is a friend closer than a brother. All those who were a part of this miracle saw him, in the hands and minds of the medical team, in the tears and pounding hearts of Steve’s loved ones, and in the prayers of those who joined the fight and share the amazing victory.

You know who our real best friend is. All we can say is: Thank you, Jesus!

Saturday, November 22, 2003

SATURDAY: FUNdamentals


Here’s an easy party idea, or just something fun to do with your friends. If your life was a movie, who would “play” you, and who would “play” the people in your life?

This was invented by a highly imaginative friend of mine ( who spent a long, long, LONG weekend at a “dry,” danceless wedding in another state. Without much conventional partying available, she went to that place in her head where it’s party time all the time: her imagination.

She wrote, “With pen in hand, I enjoyed the rest of the weekend with delightful casting observations, which ran the gamut from Robert Redford to Boris Karloff, and from Goldie Hawn to Joan Crawford. We recreated the scenes and laughed until tears ran down our faces. Kathleen Turner, popular siren of that time, would play my character, of course.”

She writes that the “casting” game has stood her in good stead. “Over the years, when someone really irritated me, I could take a step back and think, ‘Hmm. Who would play him the movie?’ Choices among Jimmy Stewart, Jiminy Cricket, Jim Belushi, Jim Carey and Jim Nabors always made me laugh and lifted the seriousness of my irritation to a new reality.”

But she warns that you have to think before you “cast.” Once, a petite friend suggested that the voluptuous Catherine Zeta-Jones should portray her. Ms. Wurtz immediately snickered.

“What’s so funny about that?” her friend demanded.

“Uh, Zeta-Jones is so . . . TALL,” Ms. Wurtz stammered.

Friday, November 21, 2003

FRIDAY: Vitamin Mom


A cornucopia is a familiar symbol for Thanksgiving, but did you know that it refers to a “horn of plenty,” proclaiming abundant blessings?

You can get a cornucopia made out of many materials, including basketweave, and use it as a centerpiece in the days and weeks leading up to Thanksgiving.

Place a little sign next to it that says: “Count your blessings,” with a supply of scratch paper and pens and pencils. Encourage everyone in your family to write down things they are thankful for on a piece of paper, and put it into the “horn of plenty.”

Whether it’s the family dog, or a friend’s successful surgery, or the color orange, or Dove ice cream bars . . . whatever comes to mind, write it down and put it in the cornucopia.

Then on Thanksgiving Day, take the blessings out of the cornucopia and read them aloud as you feast. Talk with each one with your children, to make sure they realize all the blessings that surround their life . . . and exactly Who they’re from.

Thursday, November 20, 2003



Workaday, routine, humdrum daily life can be borrrrrrrring. That’s why it’s fun to “plant” a little humor all around your house and garden. These unexpected special touches will cheer your soul and make visitors to your home smile and feel at home.

Say you have a favorite figurine of a bunny. Find a little ceramic of a carrot, in proportion to its size, to display alongside it.

Say you have a child away at college. Display his or her picture right next to the tissue box.

If you have some decorative birdhouses displayed on your patio or porch, find a miniature one to put with them and paint a little sign: “Mosquito House.” Or place that on top of a tall stake and stick it into the soil of a large potted plant in your house.

Some families set a humorous tone with their welcome mats, which say things like, “Who Asked You?” and “Go Away.”

Then there’s the whole world of humorous plaques, pictures, aprons, door signs, and all the rest, to keep the tone light and the mood high-spirited throughout your home.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

WEDNESDAY: Family Funnies


We were on our way to a football game with my husband’s uncle. A raconteur, he was full of funny stories about people he had known in the area 40, 50 and 60 years ago. We had teased him mercilessly about the nicknames he still used for people now in their senior years:




And so on and so forth.

Must be something about the World War II generation . . . old-fashioned radio shows . . . comic strips . . . just something that older men do . . . we teased him a lot about being kind of out of it, in an endearing way.

And then we walked toward the stadium. And who did we see, coming toward us, but an old friend of ours, from our collegehood days several decades after our uncle’s?


We hugged him, and introduced him to our uncle.

“’Star,’ huh?” he said, with a twinkle in his eye. “I thought your generation was too cool for nicknames.”

BUSTED! But you know what they say: the more things change. . . .

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

TUESDAY: Hot Potatoes

‘Made That Way,’ Or Not?

Next time someone defends homosexuality as being biologically caused, genetic, or simply that the homosexual person was “born that way” and has no hope for change, turn to science for the truth.

Scientific studies have failed to turn up the fabled “gay gene.” Homosexual orientations are generally understood to have been “culturally transmitted” to those with certain biological “heritable traits” who are influenced by certain situations in childhood. Those traits and experiences predispose that person to make some of the voluntary choices that lead to self-identification as a practicing homosexual.

Key items to refute the “born that way” claim include the fact that among identical twins, it is rare that both are homosexual. If the condition were involuntary and genetic, it would be rare that both twins were NOT.

If homosexuality were primarily a genetic trait, then it should be diminishing in prevalence, since the “genes” for homosexuality weren’t being passed on by reproduction, but instead, by all accounts, it is on the increase.

Also, there are thousands of people who once self-identified as homosexually-active, but with therapy, along with lifestyle and behavioral changes, they now are either heterosexual or celibate. (See In contrast, one cannot “change” one’s race or eye color or other genetic trait. Once again, it’s clear that homosexual behavior is an acquired behavior, not something irrevocably forced on someone by fate or biology.

Another difference: you can “abstain” from sexual behavior, but you cannot “abstain” from having brown eyes or being 6’4”, for example.

Unfortunately, there have been a number of bogus or at best, inconclusive studies that purport to point to a genetic cause for homosexuality. But they have been completely discredited. One famous one by Dean H. Hamer contended that his study of the autopsied brains of 76 self-described homosexuals showed overwhelming biological causation for homosexuality. But it was repudiated by other scientists for significant research flaws and contradictions, not the least of which was the fact that Hamer himself is a homosexual who has been a speaker for pro-gay groups. Significantly, scientists calculated that a researcher would have to study no less than 8,000 people to link such a complex behavior as homosexuality to a particular gene, and Hamer's study was of 76 men, and even at that, there were many discrepancies in his sample group. However, before the repudiation could become widely known, Hamer’s “conclusion” was relied upon by judges in Colorado’s “Amendment 2” decision, which basically repeated the erroneous belief that homosexuality is primarily a genetic, involuntary condition.

That’s why it’s important to educate the public, especially legislators and judges, about the scientific truth.

Studies have pointed to various “heritable traits” that tend to run in families and are associated with the development of same-sex attractions. These include anxiety, sensitivity, inwardness, and an intense symbolizing capacity. If such a person is subjected to sexual molestation or other environmental triggers of homosexuality, then the person can indeed be “pushed” into the behaviors. But it isn’t irreversible and it isn’t permanent.

Homosexuality is therefore much closer to alcoholism as a condition that does seem to run in families and is influenced to a degree by biology, but also by cultural and familial situations . . . and, like alcoholism, can be resisted and overcome . . . one day at a time.

For more information:

Article, “The Gay Gene: Going, Going . . . Gone” on the Family Research Council’s website, by a former lesbian, Yvette Schneider

Book, “Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth,” Jeff Satinhover, M.D.

Website, the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality:

For the opposing point of view, see the website of the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network,

Monday, November 17, 2003

MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell for Parents


Q. A boy has been pestering my daughter for two years at school now. She has been to the school counselor about it probably 20 times. Each time, it just makes things worse for her, not better. He has all his friends in on it. They call her horrible names and are just making her high-school days a living hell. It doesn’t seem as though the school can, or will, do anything about it. At what point do the parents have to step in?

A good rule of thumb is “three strikes, and you’re out.” If the school has failed to stop this with three tries, you must act.

Call a school board member and obtain a copy of your district’s written policy or guidelines for dealing with bullying. Let the school-board member know what has been happening and that you are unhappy about it. Urge the adoption of a violence prevention program such as “Steps to Respect” from the Committee for Children ( You also should have a copy of your school’s code of conduct; it is published in most student manuals or part of the assignment notebook. Call your child’s doctor and get a letter from him or her about the health endangerment posed by bullying, too.

Since bullies are likely to be witnessing aggressive or violent behavior in their own homes, be cautious about your dealings with the bully’s own parents, but that is where you should start.

Call them and make an appointment to come to their home and talk about this, adults-only. Expect them to minimize their son’s bad behavior, try to deny it, or make light of it. Don’t let them. Show them the written guidelines and code of conduct, and how their son is violating both of those. Show them the letter from your doctor.

Tell them that if the bullying behavior doesn’t stop immediately, you will have your lawyer send them a formal letter, with a copy to the school, stating that legal action in the courts will be pursued. In addition, you could push to have the boy and his friends put through social-skills training in an in-school detention program, or transferred.

Homework: Search “bullying” on

SUNDAY: Radiant Beams


Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
— Romans 8:35

Mistress Kaylin and Mistress Abigail came over for tea and crumpets with Mistress Madeleine the other day.

Actually, it was pink lemonade and blueberry mini-muffins. More got spilled on the table than onto the tiny pink and white dishes or into the tiny mouths. Kaylin, 4, Abby, 2, and hostess Maddy, 3, got into it, bigtime.

They sang, “I’m a Little Teapot, Short and Stout,” and all three somehow bent their chubby little bodies sideways at a 90-degree angle: “TIP . . . me over and pour me out!”

They poured “tea” in minuscule portions out of the eentsy-weentsy teapot into the eentsy-weentsy cups, and with such flourish! There was more body English employed that day than at Wimbledon, Augusta and the Olympics combined.

They crooked their little pinky fingers Queen Elizabeth-style as they sipped . . . or whichever of their fingers happened to go up in the air, which made for some comical thoughts on the part of their adult ladies-in-waiting.

It was a nostalgic, tranquil scene. But it brought back to mind a scary moment involving our first two daughters, now ages 20 and 19.

I came into the kitchen one day and saw a great, big bottle of orange Triaminic cold medicine sitting empty on the counter.

Eek! Had I been careless enough to leave the child-proof lid off? My heart clutched itself. It had been nearly full. Did my precious little girls swig it all down?

Please, Lord Jesus! Help me! My little girls are in grave danger! I ran all over the house, calling for them and hoping to find an orange pool somewhere on the carpet.

But no such luck. The girls were in their room. They looked stricken.

“You guys!” I cried. “The cold syrup! It’s gone! Did you drink it?”

They both looked at me, saucer-eyed. “Noooo!”

Their tongues weren’t orange, but I was suspicious.

“Please, girls! It’s OK if you did. You just have to tell me: did you drink the orange stuff out of that bottle that’s down on the kitchen counter?”

Again: “Noooo!”

“Well, then, what happened to it?’’

Saucer-eyed silence. I mistook it for a cover-up.

I imagined a poisonous overdose of deadly chemicals coursing through their veins, about to cause cardiac arrest, seizures, or, at the very least, a Linda Blair-style green puffed-up face rotating 360 degrees, a la “The Exorcist.”

I called poison control. They told me to administer syrup of ipecac, and call them back.

Ewww! Forced barfaroni! Gross!

But I did it to the two squirming but obedient little girls.

Hmm. “Girled-cheese” sandwiches, milk, celery sticks, marshmallows. No mass quantities of orange liquid.

All that for nothing!?!

Maybe they poured it into the toilet. Maybe they thought a houseplant looked droopy, like it was getting a cold, so they poured it into the dirt. I just resolved to be more careful with safety caps in the future. As long as my darling children were safe, I could live with the mystery.


WHERE did that cough syrup GO?

Now imagine the pages of the calendar flying off. Weeks passed.

Then one day I undertook to clean the kids’ playroom. It was one of those “forklift and crane” operations. I noticed that their “Party Time Tea Party” set was arranged on their little table.

Everything was clean, but as I lifted the pieces to put them away, I found that the teapot was surprisingly heavy.

What was in there? I took it to the kitchen, and poured it out.

It was the orange Triaminic cough syrup!

The girls told me later they were having a tea party “for pretend” that day and just thought the orange color was pretty. They never intended to drink it, just “pretend” with it. They thought they’d be in trouble if they told me what they’d done.

Just TIP me over . . . and hear me breathe a sigh of relief.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

SATURDAY: FUNdamentals


Is someone you know getting married? That’s a situation fraught with peril -- and lots and lots of humor. To mark the occasion and celebrate high hopes for blessed matrimony, plan an engagement party.

You can do it two ways: “girls only” with the bride, or a mixed group for both of the engaged couple to attend. Set it up as a no-host weekend brunch or lunch, perhaps in a restaurant’s party room. You can arrange a group gift if you wish, with you selecting the gift and everyone chipping in $10 or $20. Or keep it really simple.

Just be sure to ask everyone to be ready to “tell all” about what marriage is really like – to share their favorite horror stories from the newlywed stage.

You can either have them tell the stories themselves, or bring them in writing and let one person read them aloud without identifying whose is whose. Sometimes stories come across best behind the veil of anonymity.

Tattletales will take turns telling the happy couple all of the things that went WRONG. . . misunderstandings, hormone storms, the first fight, difficulties with nosy inlaws, toothpaste caps left on . . . with a goal, of course, of giving a little bit of friendly advice on what to expect, and with the accent on stressing that overall, things mostly go RIGHT, and marriage is well worth it.

As your personal gift to make sure the event comes off as a positive one, give the bride- and groom-to-be one of the many fine workbooks or inspirational books about marriage that are for sale in a Christian bookstore or other fine bookstore.

Friday, November 14, 2003

FRIDAY: Vitamin Mom


Sometimes, children have a hard time telling you what’s really on their minds. That’s why we have puppets – to do the talking for us!

Your child will love this project, with or without its purpose: you and your child can make puppets out of ice cream sticks, and then play-act together. If there are any negative emotions lurking within your child, they’ll come out in play.

Purchase wide wooden craft sticks at a dimestore. Collect colored feathers, beads, sequins, pipe cleaners, ribbon, fabric and other fun scraps. Work together to glue the materials onto the stick. You can paint a face or add other touches with markers.

You can even make a “change of clothes,” a shoebox house, a “convertible” car out of a plastic liter bottle with a long slice off the side and paper wheels taped on, and other props.

Now do a puppet show together! If you both make two puppets, you can have both hands working. Encourage your child to “act out” whatever is going on in his or her mind. Or just be silly and have fun!

Thursday, November 13, 2003



Too many people think life is a TV newscast. They only talk about the bad news. Well, Thanksgiving is when you focus on the REST of the story. Here’s how to help your family or your workplace do just that:

Buy a felt Oktoberfest hat from a dimestore or costume store; most are having good post-Halloween sales. Oktoberfest hats are what the yodelers wear, and they usually come with a colored feather. Buy a sack of extra feathers, too.

Now with a colorful marker, write down something you are thankful for on a piece of masking tape. Tape it along the spine of the feather. Stick the feather in the hat. Put the hat in a prominent place in your home or office with extra feathers, the marker and the tape nearby.

As the days pass toward Thanksgiving, encourage others to record their blessings on feathers and stick them in place alongside yours.

The hat will soon look like a turkey – but as you concentrate on all that you have been given, you soon will feel a lot less like one!

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

WEDNESDAY: Family Funnies


A friend started a challenging Bible study class a few years ago. It was her first experience and she was a little intimidated, but enjoyed it immensely. Each session featured a discussion of the previous week’s homework, plus an hour-long video.

In the video, the Bible teacher quoted a lot of scripture and spoke relatively quickly. She would occasionally use King James language that was a little flowery. It was sometimes hard for our friend, a beginner, to keep up with her notes.

But at least she had a good friend beside her to help her make sure she was getting things down right.

Well, one time, as she was furiously taking notes, the teacher on the video said, "Hang a sow in the window." Our friend dutifully wrote it down, thinking it was some timeless Bible wisdom that everybody else probably already knew.

Just to be sure, she leaned over to her friend and whispered, "What does ‘Hang a sow in the window’ mean?”

The friend stared at her, and then said, “Noooo. What she SAID was, ‘Hangeth thou in there.’"

Our friend started giggling. Then her friend lost it. Both giggled uncontrollably, and didn’t even stop it when they had been booted out the door into a snow bank. . . .

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

TUESDAY: Hot Potatoes


A study by the nation’s association of state legislators proves once again that everybody seems to know except educators: there is no correlation between giving schools more money and improving student achievement.

The data debunk the old claim that if you give the schools more money, the kids will get better educations. The states whose schools ranked near the top in academics were in the middle in terms of amount spent per pupil.

Because of the findings of its study, the American Legislative Exchange Council has joined the growing crowd of education advocates who are calling for a halt to the spending spree for K-12 education. They urge a return to the methods of schooling that will promote high student achievement, good discipline, and adequate accountability to parents and taxpayers.

“Report Card on American Education: A State-by-State Analysis 1976-2001” is available on

Next time your district or your state education establishment goes after more money, publish these figures to show that academics and spending do not, indeed, have a direct correlation.

Here are the top 10 states ranked academically based on SAT, ACT and National Assessment of Educational Progress math test scores, with their ranking for per-pupil expenditures:

Consider these rankings that list state, followed by academic rank, and then per-pupil spending rank:

Wisconsin 1 11

Washington 2 20

Minnesota 3 14

Iowa 4 31

Montana 5 28

Kansas 6 23

New Hampshire 7 25

Massachusetts 8 5

Oregon 9 6

Nebraska 10 32

One of the most telling statistics in the study was the ranking of the public schools in the District of Columbia. They ranked dead in academic achievement but eighth in per-pupil spending.

ALEC pointed out that, of the 10 states that increased per pupil expenditures the most over the past two decades (West Virginia, Kentucky, Connecticut, South Carolina, Maine, Hawaii, Tennessee, Vermont, Indiana, and Georgia), none ranked in the top ten in academic achievement.

One of the key reasons school districts ask for more money is to reduce the staff-to-child ratio, which the public believes will improve quality. But the ALEC study showed that of the 10 states that reduced class sizes the most over the past two decades (Maine, Alabama, Virginia, Hawaii, South Carolina, West Virginia, Wyoming, New York, Georgia and North Carolina) none ranked in the top ten in academic achievement.

Monday, November 10, 2003

MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell for Parents


Q. My teenage daughter has a teacher who is a bully. She will humiliate a child whose solution to a test question is not what she thinks she taught. She lets the kids see everybody else’s grades. If you aren’t out for the sport she coaches, you’re “nothing.” She seems too powerful to buck. What can we do?

Be gentle. Bullies have personal problems and may feel inferior and powerless. They put down others to try to make themselves feel better, using verbal abuse, humiliation and threats of physical harm.

Bullies lack empathy and tend not to feel remorse. But their hurtful behavior shouldn’t be met with more hurtful behavior. Instead, help both sides of a bullying situation by helping them talk it out.

Another adult — maybe you? — can show the bullying adult see that what he or she is doing is erroneous and harmful.

Bullying behavior is on the rise among both boys and girls, most likely because of a lack of good guidance in the home. But when a school allows student bullies, it’s a safe bet it is allowing grown-up bullies, too.

Symptoms: headaches, stomachaches, nightmares, acting up, and self-criticism. Grades also may drop, although teacher bullies often use lower grades as a weapon.

When the bully is a teacher or other staff, it reflects badly on the school administration. But don’t start there. Start with the bully.

What to do: document incidents with dates, descriptions and consequences to your child. Write down your child’s descriptions of the teacher’s facial expression and tone of voice. Arrange a meeting, stay pleasant and keep an open mind. Give the teacher a copy of your written account. Report what happened and how your child felt. Don’t “judge,” just report. Then see if things change. Make sure you are working with your child to build empathy and respect for other people’s feelings, physical “space” and property.

If you try this and it fails, then go to the bully’s boss, and repeat.

Homework: See and

Sunday, November 09, 2003

SUNDAY: Radiant Beams

Wet, Old, Nasty, Dead Ducks

But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, wiling to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.
— James 3:17

We have this friend who loves to help people. He's a constant volunteer. He doesn't just attend meetings; he sets up chairs, fixes equipment, coaches teams, lugs stuff around, everything.

One day, he got a hunting dog. He took her out and trained her and worked her. Pretty soon, he was running her in field trials.

Predictably, he was asked to help out at the field trials. Inevitably, he was put in charge. He studied up and tried his best to make them really good. It was a lot of work.

So there he was, with mud up to his armpits most weekends, tramping around and managing dozens of volunteers . . . when he ran into Mrs. Thurston Q. Fancypants III.

You know the type. Everybody else runs their own dog through the events. But not her. She pays a professional trainer to breed, raise, train, board, pet and scratch the dog. She just shows up at the trials long enough to brag about it at the next round of cocktail parties.

People like that don’t really know what it is they're watching. But they want their dog to win. If their dog doesn’t, then something must be wrong. Not with the dog: with the field trials.

That’s what was up with Mrs. Thurston Q. Fancypants III, when she stepped out of her Mercedes in her white pants and butter-soft loafers to gingerly step over the cowpies and cornstalks and stomp up to our friend, stick her cosmeticized face in his, and complain bitterly that things at the field trials were ''simply not acceptable.''

Ooh, she was mad. She would have his job! She would get these trials de-certified! She had contacts!

She was acting like a . . . like a . . . well, like that terribly untrue and unfair term for canines of the female persuasion.

What was her problem?

The fellow who was throwing the bait out ''wasn't doing it right.''

You mean, wasn't throwing out the wet, old, nasty, dead ducks right?

Wasn't throwing them out for the dogs to retrieve in a fashion that suited her delicately-schooled predilections?

The unspoken assumption was that if he WERE, HER dog would be WINNING.

Now, our friend had presided at dozens of field trials. He had never heard such a complaint before. He had never met this woman, either. Yet here she was, stabbing her well-manicured forefinger into his chest – a finger she had never bothered to lift to help out.

Meanwhile, the fellow she was dissing was a longtime, faithful volunteer, quite competent, thank you.

Most of us would have been smashing duck guck into her Guccis by then. But not my friend.

He's so good, he’s evil.

He smiled sincerely, apologized warmly, and asked her to do him a favor. Would SHE take over the crucial job of ''bait placement''? Then SHE could see to it PERSONALLY that the job was done RIGHT.

Well, the closest she had ever come to ducks before this was the pate at the opera patron party. But she took the job. She poured her whole fancy-pants self into throwing those wet, old, nasty, dead ducks out onto the fields as if they were diamond tiaras, the whole afternoon.

Our friend said it was almost a religious experience for everyone there, watching her in her designer clothes throwing wet, old, nasty, dead ducks out for all she was worth, which was a considerable amount.

It was hard not to . . . quack up.

She never complained again. No one could get over the change in her.

I don't know if her fancy-pants dog ever won the trials.

All I know is, our friend got through HIS trials with flying colors. Everybody loved it. He proved once again that if you return meanness for meanness, you're a dead duck. There's a better way. Everyone can win.

And that makes him . . . Numero Uno at the Kennel Club.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

SATURDAY: FUNdamentals


A warm and wonderful autumn party is a chili feed. It’s not a lot of work for the hosts, either, because the object is to invite guests to bring their own chili to share, and spend the evening sampling each other’s chili recipes.

Send an invitation out a couple of weeks in advance to give people time to shop and cook.

Start the party at 7 p.m. and ask everyone to bring their chili in a crockpot or other warming device so it can stay hot.

Each party guest also should bring a copy of their chili recipe. Set it next to the chili on the serving table so that guests can compare and contrast. If you want to, you can conduct secret balloting and announce the chili that party guests rate No. 1. Or select categories: “most unique,” “most meat,” “most likely to require a call to the fire department,” etc.

Hosts should set around bowls and spoons – perhaps plastic ones so they’ll be encouraged to sample lots of different dishes -- as well as corn chips, chopped onion and green pepper, hot sauce, and other chili fixin’s.

Serve cold Mexican beer, tequila drinks, wine and nonalcoholic beverages.

If you have a photocopy machine at home, it’s fun to photocopy all the recipes from the party to send home with guests.

Hot tip – top secret – if you tap a little ash from a cowboy cigar into your pot of chili just before serving, it gives it a one-of-a-kind western taste!

Friday, November 07, 2003

FRIDAY: Vitamin Mom


There may be no greater shock to a child than the sudden death of a mom or dad, but it happens. No matter what the age, children can really suffer and struggle if a parent dies and they didn’t have a chance to say the things they needed to say, including “farewell for now.”

That’s another reason you should never leave the company of your children without giving each of them a hug and a kiss and a whispered, “I love you.” You never know if it will be your last goodbye.

One way to help a child cope with a parent’s sudden death is to encourage the child to write the parent a long love letter and place it in the casket. Younger children could draw a picture or dictate their thoughts to the surviving parent, an aunt or uncle or other family helper. Older children could write their own. Include earliest memories of that parent, things the child will miss, things about the parent that the child loved and admired, things the child is sad not to be able to share with the parent in the future, and a comforting Bible verse or two about the assurance of life after death for believers.

You might want to keep a copy of each child’s letter, display a copy at the funeral reception, or keep them totally private. It’s up to you. The point is to arrive at “closure,” and the security that comes from knowing you did everything you could.

Expect oldest children to become super-responsible, middle children to cling to their peer group and nearly disappear from family life, and youngest children to act out with angry behavior.

How to get through it: communicate, communicate, communicate.

Thursday, November 06, 2003



If you are in a group of women from college age on up, such as a sorority, a club, an office, a Bible study, coffee klatches with your neighbors, regular cheer-up sessions with your family — whatever — there’s a wacky way to honor friendship, kindness, encouragement and help.

It involves a gigantic bra.

That’s right: seek the counsel of your local lingerie department, and purchase the biggest brassiere you can possibly find. Not just any brassiere: this has to be a spongy support bra — the kind that holds its shape even when it’s not on.

Think 54DD.

Pink is best.

A smooth surface, rather than lace or other fabric decoration, is necessary.

Now get a set of fabric pens that won’t run. Letter in a (gulp) prominent place — OK, on the band just under those enormous cups, if you can — the words “SUPPORT SISTER.”

Now, whenever someone does something supportive for someone else in the group, she gets to write her name on the bra, with a date and a key word or two to mark her supportive deed.

It can be hidden and taken out only at your meetings in total privacy, or, depending on how daring you are, displayed in your home or office like a trophy . . . until another “sister” does something supportive, and then you pass the bra and the fabric pens on.

Sticking up for each other . . . that’s what sisterhood’s all about.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

WEDNESDAY: Family Funnies


A dear old friend of the family has a husband in the throes of Alzheimer’s Disease. It has been a very challenging ordeal for her. She is not only the caregiver, financial planner, home manager, cook and all the rest, but she has had to deal with the strain and stress of losing a sweetheart and soulmate to dementia.

That’s the bad news.

The GOOD news is . . . he thinks he’s in Honolulu!

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

TUESDAY: Hot Potatoes


Nobody doubts that we need abundant, low-cost food. Nobody doubts that there are bugs who’d like to have that food first. But most everybody doubts that continuing to pour the potent agricultural chemicals in pesticides onto our croplands in such large quantities is going to be good for anybody in the long run.

In a typical year, Americans pour more than 900 million pounds of pesticides onto the land, and some of it is health-threatening to animals and humans, especially babies and children. While it’s true that environmental pollution has been shown to be a cause of only about 2 percent of cancer cases, vs. the 30 percent of cancers linked to tobacco use, for example, it’s still a matter of little debate that we ought to decrease unnecessary or imprudent use of pesticides wherever possible.

The 4.7 million American farmers and ranchers own or manage half of our nation’s land, and by far most of them are in to cleaning up rivers and streams, keeping habitats healthy for wildlife, and encouraging beneficial insects such as worms, pollinators such as bees, and microorganisms that do a wide range of tasks in the soil and on plants and animals to spread.

They know better than anyone that many pesticides threaten biodiversity and ecological health, not to mention make the work environment and living environment for farm families and their employees not so great.

So an innovation by 250 potato farmers in Wisconsin is worth watching. The Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers’ Association put in a pesticide-reduction program that reduced pesticide toxicity on 11 high-risk pesticides by 25 percent in just one full year of operation.

Working with the University of Wisconsin, the potato farmers used a matrix of pest-control indicators such as soil temperature, plant age, humidity, insect growth pattrns, crop scouting, crop rotation and soil quality improvement to pull off the feat.

For more on the project, see:

Monday, November 03, 2003

MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell for Parents

Bullies: Techniques for Students

Q. An eighth-grade boy keeps pestering my daughter in class. He mouths off to her, making her mad. But when she tries to defend herself, then she gets in trouble. What should she do?

1. Never retaliate. It always fails.

2. Verbal bullies are just trying to gain attention and power over others. Teach your child this. Replace your child’s fear with compassion; he or she will respond better next time.

3. Verbal bullies are almost always being verbally abused at home. They may feel unloveable, uneasy, angry and frustrated. Teach your child this sad fact, too, for empathy.

4. Ignore mean remarks. Pretend you don’t hear them.

5. If the remarks continue, look the other student in the eye and say kindly, but firmly, using the bully’s name: “John! Please! Stop it!” Remember, the bully is looking to be noticed and to have affirmation. Using his first name personalizes the relationship between the two students.

6. If the bully has hurt your child’s feelings or interfered with his or her activities, coach your child to tell him outside of class. Be brief. Use eye contact. Explain: “It made me feel stupid, and since I just got a bad grade on that science test, I don’t need any more negative stuff right now.”

7. If there is an apology, accept it warmly. Give eye contact.

8. If there isn’t, it’s probably because the bully doesn’t know how to apologize. Don’t demand one. Say instead, “I’d appreciate it if you’d cut it out from now on, OK?”

9. Then switch right away to a nonpersonal topic, like how the school sports team is doing, how weird the teacher’s hairdo is, or what the weather is doing. Raise the level of the interaction to what is normal between equals.

10. Try to give a bully a sincere compliment whenever you can. A bully doesn’t need a fight. A bully needs a friend.

Homework: “Bully Free Classroom,” Allan Beane,

Sunday, November 02, 2003

SUNDAY: Radiant Beams


Judge not according to the appearance. . . .
-- John 7:24

My friend the pharmacist dispenses a friendly smile along with medications. She loves her job. That's impressive, because pharmacists often deal with hurting people, who can be . . . well . . . pills.

My friend resorts to her Garfield socks. When a patient whines or pitches a hissy fit, she stands behind her high counter and sneaks a peek at her crazy, colorful socks. Works for her.

How can health-care workers take it? People are so childish and manipulative, especially when they're sick. And they do weird things. I mean . . . the little old lady who brought her stool samples in a Russell Stover's candy box, each in its own little brown pleated paper cup . . .

. . . the little old man who had on more than 50 medication patches because he didn't realize you should take the old one off when you put the new one on . . .

. . . the lady whose doctor told her to soak her sore foot in lukewarm water, but she wanted precise instructions, so she demanded, ''WHAT TEMPERATURE?''

Health care workers have seen it all. How can they not get jaded?

A few days ago, my pharmacist friend waited on a customer in his early 20s. She has two sons about that age, but they don't look anything like this young man did. He looked streetwise, as if he hadn't slept in a bed or had a hot meal for a while.

He wore a rumpled sweat shirt, hands jammed in the pockets. His face showed uneven tufts of facial hair. Both ears were pierced. His left eyebrow was pierced. His hair was bleached.

He had a certain urgency about him that she had seen before.

Her mind played over the scene she sees too many times a week. She just knew he was going to ask for syringes or Sudafed . . . things used in meth labs.

She greeted him with professional polish: ''May I help you?''

Suddenly, she saw not only urgency, but vulnerability.

He pulled something out of his pocket: a sack of baby medicine – Tylenol Infant Drops, that kind of stuff.

He searched her face, and said, ''I have a 5-month-old son, and he has a cold. I want to know if you can tell me what to do.''

Her chin hit her chest as she realized her misjudgment. Then she smiled, asked him about meds and temps and if a doctor had been consulted.

She escorted him to the cold and flu aisle. He followed her like a puppy, saying, ''I am new at this.''

He told her his mom was doing most of the babysitting . . . because the baby's mother had died three months before. She had had a massive infection probably related to her C-section.

She was one day shy of 23. The baby had been born a month prematurely, too, and had had a rough start.

And now the young single dad found himself working 60 hours a week. He looked like he was bearing far too much weight for someone barely out of boyhood.

She asked, ''Do you have a church?'' He didn’t.

She gave him the names of her church and one nearby, and urged him to go there and ask for help and prayers.

She urged him to call her or one of her backups anytime, whenever he needs to. He thanked her, and took his purchases off into the night, back to his son . . . back to the kind of private battle the world rarely sees.

But those who do see, care. She hopes he realized that, from their brief encounter.

As she wiped away the tears she had been holding back, she regretted not getting his and the baby's names. But she's telling everyone she knows to pray for them.

Why? Because, she says, it's the only Rx that works every time . . . can only be filled at a pharmacy that's open 24 / 7 . . . and is literally out of this world.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

SATURDAY: FUNdamentals


As the year lurches into the holiday season, some people are calm and unperturbed. Of course, they must be in a persistent vegetative state. Almost everybody else is already getting stressed out over all the expectations and things to do that come along with holiday time.

But no more. This year, gather your family around a raging autumnal fire in the fireplace in early November, but instead of stringing popcorn and cranberries, give everybody a pile of scrap paper and a pencil.

Now everybody should take few moments to write down on individual scraps of paper all of the things they love about your holiday traditions, just as specifically as they can, including types of cookies, specific ornaments or knickknacks, styles of dinners and so forth. Think of what you do for indoor and outdoor decorations, cards, gift-giving, mailing, wrapping, partying, food, plays and shows, worship, caroling, and all the traditions, traveling and time-consumers you can remember.

Now have your family write down all the things that usually happen around the holidays that they could live without, or don’t even like.

Have your family divide these into two piles: the things they really love, and the things they could live without.

Now go around the room and everybody read off their lists.

If you find that no one in your family really WANTS to have THREE different “theme” trees in three different rooms, then just have one tree. Presto!

If there are three types of cookies or candies that everyone looks forward to, then you do REALLY have to bake SIX kinds?

Talk over a lot of what you do. Sometimes families pile on the activities without really thinking them through. Is this the year to switch to drawing names out of a hat and doing a gift exchange instead of everybody buying for everybody else? You’ll never know if you don’t ask.

For some things, if only one person in your family really enjoys a tradition, it might be worth it to continue it out of honor for that person. But you may find that most of the things that take the most time and effort, and give you the most stress, are NOT top priorities for your family. Those are the things that can go!

Now comes the fun party – throw the pieces of scrap paper with the “holiday stress items” that you no longer feel you “have” to do into that raging autumnal fire. And spend the rest of the evening together as a family around that fire, contemplating a kinder, simpler holiday season for you and yours.