Happily celebrating destruction


I was fifteen when the Berlin Wall fell. I remember watching the newscasts. At least I think I remember watching, maybe I’m remembering watching them in school after the event. But I’m pretty sure I watched it on the evening news. Everybody watched the evening news in those days, if you can believe that. My high school years saw the end of the cold war and the beginning of U.S. Wars in the Middle East.  Actually, the high point of my political formation includes the fall of the Berlin Wall, Tiananmen Square, the first Gulf War and the first World Trade Center attacks–a rather volatile period. No wonder I think we’re all doomed.

The phrase “Berlin Wall” brings to mind the image of one wall–albeit a large and imposing one. But “the wall” was actually three walls, guard towers, and other barriers that kept a city imprisoned for 28 years. A veritable no-man’s land between communism and freedom. (About 200 people died trying to escape over the wall to West Berlin. None died trying to go the other way.) Twenty-five years later, the wall has been down almost as long as it was up, but the effects of that long separation remain. The Washington Post published a series of maps that show the differences that remain between East and West. I wonder if this will be a permanent cultural separation. Slavery and oppression have a deeper and more lasting impact than I think we want to admit.

berlin demographics

But today we celebrate the triumph of freedom, and pray for it to succeed everywhere in the world.


A PSA to big brothers and sisters everywhere.

Be kind to your younger siblings.

Do not make them ride in the hatchback of your 1985 Mustang.

Do not go along with your friends when they tell your kid sister she was a Cabbage Patch Kid my parents bought for me who came to life, and we couldn’t return her to the store.

When they dress up in Wonder Woman Underoos and cowboy boots and close their eyes and cover their ears and spin around singing “Wonder Woman!” at the top of their lungs, do not consider it free entertainment for you and your friends.

Why? Because they’ll post this on your Facebook page.

civil war weeping angels

Thanks a lot, sis. I’m never blinking again.

In related news, Think Geek hates Christmas.

An in related related news, my sister is really adorable, and I love her, despite her Facebook cruelty.

(For all my non-geek readers, a short explanation of the Angels. Spoilerish if you think you’ll ever watch Doctor Who.)

Fine Arts Friday: breaking with (my) tradition

When it comes to hymns, I tend to be a traditionalist. I prefer the original version to new adaptations. Too often, the the modern variations are changed too much to sing with if you’re familiar with the original. Or they leave out key verses or change the words so much they change the meaning. Honestly, just write your own song, people! Note: this is just my personal preference, not a hill to die on or even a “secondary issue.” I don’t dislike modern music,  I just generally prefer the original art when it comes to hymns.

But this month. I’ve ditched all my purist tendencies and embraced the new-ish. We’re learning “Anywhere with Jesus.” After listening to a few versions available on YouTube, I was going to abandon because um … ugh. (I decided not to link to the ugh videos, because is you can’t say anything nice, don’t link anything at all.) Anyway, I found this jazzed up version by Amy Grant which is great. (There’s also a similarly wonderful version sung by Wynona Judd.)


Lyrics and sheet music here, if you want to go the more traditional route.

Speaking of variations, last month’s folksong and this month’s folksong seem to have a connections, most likely this months coming before last months. Follow? That is “Lord Randall” is probably the older song, and “Billy Boy” seems to be an adaptation, or at least very loosely based, on that. This is a rather lovely version of this mournful song.


Whether it’s the traditional or new version, the original song or a variation, have fun singing.

Making better people

When I first started homeschooling, people would ask, “They let you do that?” I had to work to keep calm when answering, not because I was irritated at the questioner, but because of the too-common assumptions behind the question. “They” (the government) “let” (gives their consent to) “you” (Me: private, free citizen) “do that?” (Choose the education model and content I feel is best for my child.)

Um, yes, they do “let me.” Primarily because they don’t have the power to stop me because of the hard won battles that many families fought before me. I’m thankful for those early homeschoolers, as well as those continuing to stand against those who want to outlaw homeschooling today. What’s more troubling than those who try to take that right from citizens (because statists gonna state, like scorpions gonna sting and snakes gonna bite), is those supposedly free citizens who act like chattel, who look to the government as a master that can tell them what do to and how.  The default position for many people is not “What right has the government to intrude in this area?” but “Do I have permission to do this? Do I need to fill out a form? Whom do I call? Do I need it notarized?”

The natural tendency of all governments is to grab power and assert authority over every area that they can. More troubling, we have a tendency to go along with them: first we demand the government step in and fix whatever problem “there ought to be a law” and then we’re shocked to find that the government is interfering in every area of our lives. Three examples of attempts by the government (or more precisely, by people who hold government power) to make people “better”:

In Florida, a 90-year old man was threatened with arrest and prevented from feeding the homeless.

In Berkley, California, the voters passed a tax on sodas to try to reduce consumption of the drinks.

In Philadelphia, a judge rubber stamped a decision to seize a thriving art studio through eminent domain and put up a grocery store.

In each of these scenarios, the government–or people who wield government power–are trying to make people and communities be what they believe people and communities should be.  They use the power of government–and that’s the ultimate definition of government: the monopoly on the legitimate use of force–to shape communities, to push people into the “right” lifestyle.

What right does the government have to outlaw charity or prevent someone from helping their fellow man? Yet in many areas, such charity has been outlawed. And where it hasn’t been banned outright, ridiculous regulation throws needless barriers in the path of those trying to help.

What business does a municipality have nudging people to choose one drink over another? Honestly, a lot of people probably don’t have a problem with a “sin tax” on soda. “Sodas are bad for your health, and unhealthy people cost us all money! Why shouldn’t we discourage harmful behaviors that cost society money?” Okay, where is that line? Certain hobbies are riskier than others, do we tax athletic equipment at a higher rate than chess boards? But a sedentary lifestyle is also leads to health problems, so let’s put an extra tax on the chess board, too. The bigger question is what business does the government have in interfering in the legal behaviors of people?

What right does a city have to take the private property from one citizen to give it to another? Oh yeah, the Supreme Court said that one was okay.

And that’s the issue. If we look at these individual situations, we get our dander up. “What right do they have?” And angry Facebook posts and tweets go out. But in general, when we see someone acting in a way we don’t like, or a situation we wish were different, we say, “There ought to be a law.” And the government is happy to comply. After all, the government is just composed of people who want to make things better (by their definition of better), who want to make people better (again: according to their belief of what a good person is.)  And if we say “there ought to be a law” to make my neighbor be who I think he ought to be, what right do I have to complain when demands the same for me? The problem is we all think we’re the “good people” the government ought to be using it’s force to make. We think our ideas of best should have the power of the state behind them. We only push back when we don’t agree with the definition of “better person or community” being pushed.

Honestly, it is this prevailing attitude that got me riled up when I heard President Obama say that women leaving the workforce to care for their children, “is not a choice we want them to make.” It’s just another politician on the campaign trail saying that mindless “this is how the government can make it all better” crap they all say. Why get worked up? Because the government has no business making any value judgements about what choices and trade-offs families make when it comes to work and family balance. Because individuals will use government power to nudge–and when that doesn’t work, to force–us into making the “right choices.” And those who make the wrong choices will be punished.

In That Hideous Strength, C.S. Lewis has one of the antagonists say, “Man has got to take charge of Man. That means, remember, that some men have got to take charge of the rest–which is another reason for cashing in on it as soon as one can. You and I want to be the people who do the taking charge, not the ones who are taking charge of.” That pretty much encapsulates this form of governing: some people wielding the power of the state to make other people into the “right” type of people who live in the type of communities. They want to make people better, whether we agree with their definition of better or not.

Behold, the definitive statement on the attempts of government to make us better people:


Rainy days, late nights, so tired, still happy

Last night, Little Miss and I participated in the Ace of Spades Decision Desk crowd sourcing of election returns. Which just means we feverishly reloaded government websites and entered numbers into a spread sheet. So much excitement!

We were working on the Texas gubernatorial race, which was a foregone conclusion, but it was still a fun experiment and a nice little lessons in civics for the kid. It would be fun to participate in a closer race. Do you think the powers that be could move the elections from Tuesday, though? Because Tuesday: ugh.

If you’re a right leaning person, you’ve got to be pretty happy about the results last night. And shocked.  Maryland, Massachusetts and Illinois all have Republican governors now. New York has a Republican State Senate. But the happiest news has to be that Harry Reid, one of the most despicable politicians alive, has been dethroned. It’s going to be fun to see how the Democrats function as a minority party, seeing as they’ve hobbled the power of the minority in the Senate.


Overall, I don’t think this is necessarily the nation embracing conservative principles. I do think this is America telling the president and his party that they’ve royally screwed up and nobody’s happy.  I also think it’s a push back against some of the stupider political memes, like “War on Women” and “Everything is racist. Shut up, racists.” Mainly, I think it’s a put up or shut up challenge to the GOP. It’s an opportunity for Republicans and conservatives to show how they’d address the challenges we’re facing. Sadly, I doubt that Obama will stop his unconstitutional power grabbing. But now the GOP has a little more power to push back. I just hope they don’t waste that opportunity.

Tired, happy, ready to take a break from politics (sorry, Louisiana).

How do you feel about the elections?



Terrible Tuesday: Election day disappointment

Our kids have been going with us to vote all their lives, often getting to push the final “submit your vote” button. Is that voter fraud? Moving on! My favorite voting experience was when Little Miss was about four. We had one of those lucky breaks where every line has a long wait except for the one for our name, so we were in and out in about 10 minutes. Walking out of the school, Little Miss asked, “Is that all?” “Yep,” I answered, “we just voted!” “Oh,” big pause, “I thought it had something to do with a boat.”

Lesson one: Enunciate. Lesson two: Voting is never as fun as boating, but it’s still your civic duty.

Nothing to do with a boat links!

Ten fruits and vegetables you’re storing wrong. Ya know, just once I’d like to hear about what I’m doing right.

Norwegians are unbelievably weird.

Unusually popular jobs by state. Some interesting jobs, and some weird ones. Why does Vermont need so many highway maintenance workers?



Planning to go over the river and through the woods for Thanksgiving? Here’s some road trip hacks to make the trip easier.

The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. Study: women with more children are more productive at work. My theory is that the more kids you have, the better you get at cutting through crap–both literal and figurative.

Amazing pictures by Canadian astronaut/musician Chris Hadfield. He’s a modern day Renaissance man.

Hadfield Nile



Chain, unbroken

Aiming low. Very, very low.


(Thanks for the picture, Amelia. And the comparison.)

Thanksgiving devotions

One of my favorite family traditions is the practice of having family worship. However, we do run into difficulties. While some families seem to have great success just reading through the Bible, our family needs more structure. We’ve used an number of different devotionals over the years, and they almost all seem to be geared toward one specific age group: preschoolers, grade school or teen is the general breakdown. Right now our kids range from seven to fourteen, so we need more flexibility.

Structure and flexibility: the eternal balancing act.

One of the ways we get the structure we need is to center devotions around the calendar for a part of the year. This month is a great time to focus on thankfulness, and there are tons of (free!) family devotions available. These Thanksgiving Devotions we’ll use this year shows the most promise when it comes to flexibility. They’re short, sweet, and adaptable for a wide variety of ages. An example:

November 9th
Read Psalm 19:7-14
What words are used in this psalm to refer to God’s word?
What benefits do we experience from reading and obeying God’s word?
How has God’s word helped you personally?

These are questions well within the grasp of the seven year old, but with enough meat to interest the older kids. I also like the short reading part, because frankly the boys can be squirmy, but that’s short enough that they can follow along in their Bibles and keep up. Add in prayer time, song time, and discussion from with four kids, and the total time is probably 10-15 minutes a day.

These devotions (like most) don’t include songs, so here’s a playlist of Thanksgiving-themed songs to get your started. I’ll probably be adding to this through the month. Timeless Truths Online Library is my go-to place for lyrics for hymns in the public domain.

What are your favorite Thanksgiving hymns or other songs? Do you do family devotions? What’s your plan of attack?

Seasonally appropriate

Radio stations across the country are already playing Christmas Carols. Municipalities have their decorations up.


But it’s not actually the Christmas season yet. Advent–the traditional preparation period for Christmas–starts November 30. Christmas starts on December 25 and lasts through January 6. That means this year you’ve got 37 days of Christmas celebrating. Isn’t that enough?

What’s even more amusing is the fact that the word “Christmas” is verboten for a lot of the entities pushing everything forward. “Happy Holidays!” they yell, as they sell you your Winter Festive Tree.

Perhaps the problem is that people lack the imagination to know what to do with their Novembers. There’s not much commercial direction involved, so we seem to be at a lost unless we’re sold a prepackaged celebration kit. Moreover, we don’t seem to be able to switch off “celebration mode.” Not everything has to be a party.

We’ve got four weeks until Thanksgiving. If you’re hosting a Thanksgiving thing, have fun preparing for that. Or ordering the catering. But even if you don’t have to plan for the seasonal holiday, can’t we observe the season we’re actually in? If you’re a crafty person, Pinterest has a plethora of ideas and projects for fall and Thanksgiving. If you’re not crafty and like low cost/effort activities, I’ve compiled a list to help you out.

November 1: Steal candy from your kid’s Halloween haul or hit the stores for deep discounts

November 2: Sleep late! We switch off evil Daylight Saving Time! Curse you, Benjamin Franklin!

November 3: National Sandwich Day! Make me a sammich!

November 4: Election Day! Go vote, or you may get an unpleasant call from your local political thugs.

November 5:  Guy Fawkes Day! Although I don’t encourage supporting religious terrorism.

November 6: Make sure your fireplace is ready for the season. If you don’t have a fireplace, buy a candle and use your imagination.

November 7: Treat yourself to some hot apple cider.

November 8: Rake your leaves into a big pile and jump in! Unless you live in Texas, then go look at the changing leaves. You can rake in December. Or January.

November 9: Take a walk and see if you can tell what kind of winter it will be from the winter preparations of the local fauna. Or check out the Farmer’s Almanac.

November 10: Marine Corp Birthday! Buy a Marine a drink or a cookie, depending on his or her age!

November 11: Veterans Day! Take a vet to lunch.

November 12: My grandpa’s birthday. It’s not an official holiday, but it should be. He was awesome. Make some fudge, take a picture, or write a goofy poem in honor of him.

November 13: Dance like no one’s looking when people are actually looking. (I just made that up, but why not?)

November 14: Throw out your Jack-O-Lantern. Seriously, two weeks is long enough.

November 15: Make a stew and crusty bread. Or go out for stew and crusty bread.

November 16: Read a scary story. Ace has a nice compilation, or you can always go with “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

November 17:  The Leonid Meteor Shower peaks!

November 18: Second try for the Leonids in case you fell asleep waiting for the meteor shower last night.

November 19: Buy yourself an extra cup of coffee because you were up past midnight two nights in a row trying to watch the meteor shower.

November 20: Play a board game, or as the cool kids call them “table top games.” (Yeah, it’s a board game. Stop being pretentious.)

November 21: Watch an old movie–one your parents or grandparents watched.  All About Eve, Casablanca, and Arsenic and Old Lace are a few of my favorites.

November 22: National Adoption Day.  Take an adoptive family to lunch, bake them cookies, or send them a card.

November 23: Start defrosting your turkey in your refrigerator. Trust me on this one.

November 24: Clean out your refrigerator: Pie is coming!

November 25: Draw straws for who has to go to the grocery store. Kick yourself for waiting til the last minute. (Conversely, give yourself a pat on the back and look smug if you did your shopping last week.)

November 26: Bake all the pies!

November 27: Thanksgiving!

November 28: Turkey Sandwiches!

November 29: Fight over the last piece of pumpkin pie!

November 30: First Sunday of Advent. You may now begin the Christmas season.

There you go: 29 days of not celebrating Christmas before the season begins. Happy fall, y’all!

Fine Arts Friday: Ghost story


Washington Irving’s short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” can be considered the first American ghost story. It’s based off folk tales, and it has been adapted for movies and television and depicted in art. It’s 2 parts goofy and one part creepy, although some adaptations leave off the goofy and emphasize the creepy.  Most of us were probably introduced to the story by Disney. I just realized Bing Crosby is the narrator.


We read a wonderful picture book adaptation for our American History studies last year, but alas, I cannot recall the author. There’s an audio book version is free at Audible and for Kindle. Free versions are also available at The Internet Archive.


*Yes, I’m getting rather expansive with my definitions of Fine Arts Friday. Roll with it.

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