Sunday, December 30, 2012

Song for Sunday: I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

Today's song for Sunday originated as a poem written during the darkest days of the Civil War. They resonate today, as we are at war and final peace seems distant.  The hope of the last stanza remains a constant.

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

             Henry W. Longfellow

What song is on your heart this fifth day of Christmas?

Friday, December 28, 2012

"Bimbos in Bikinis"

I remember at first being really offended that "Bimbos in Bikinis" was the title of seminar at a science fiction convention I attended about 30 years ago. I calmed down quickly when I learned that the seminar was actually meant to combat that view of women in science fiction stories. Those seminars, offered over several years, were actually fabulous discussions about the portrayal of women in writing, movies, and fandom.

Fast forward to the present.
My son received some money for Christmas and went off, accompanied by Dad, to spend it. He chose a very geeky, science fiction/fantasy card game. It was marked for "10 & Up", the box looked fine and the price was good, so Dad approved it.

When he got home, my son eagerly began looking through the cards. He handed one to me, concerned about the picture contained on it.  It was of a  woman in an obviously adult bar, clearly topless though her nipples were behind an object. I took the rest of the cards and found several others that were not quite appropriate.

This concerns me.

I do question whether pre - and early - adolescents really need to be exposed to the concepts of pole dancers, extreme cleavage and men drooling when they can see through a woman's clothing. People have various opinions on what is acceptable for children so I will only say that I have rather conservative views on that and move on.

What bothers me more is the treatment of women.

 There is a card called "The Flasher" showing a naked man from behind, baring himself to a woman. The card offers game advantages when it is played against a female character. It makes very light of this type of attack on women and even makes it seem a good thing, since it helps you win if you play the card.

The "Spray - On Costume" card features a woman, and the "Wardrobe Malfunction" is also clearly a female one.

Almost every woman pictured has extremely large breasts and "flatness" can not be played at the same time as "Cleavage Stun."

This sort of thing can be harmful, like the constant portrayal of woman as "Bimbos in Bikinis."  It promotes a rather one-sided view of women to boys and could potentially affect how girls see themselves.  We removed the cards from my son's game and I will write the company that produces the game.

I just wish we were past this. Or maybe we need to revive those seminars.

Your thoughts?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Guns at School

I can't stay silent on this one.

The Newtown tragedy has ignited a debate about whether teachers should be allowed to carry guns at school.

I am a former school teacher. I taught severe special needs in public schools, collaborative schools and private schools for which tuition was paid by school districts. My students had cognitive impairments and serious difficulties with communication. Those difficulties often lead to frustration. Many simply cried, screamed or curled up when they became frustrated but others acted  out. Some students had emotional disorders that contributed to agrressive behaviors. My aides and I (and all the staff in the private settings) were trained in methods to safely restrain and contain students, in de-escalating situations and not becoming aggressive ourselves. In public school situations, other teachers would often not know how to react and could be afraid of my students. They weren't trained to handle them.**

In a public shool classroom, I once had a girl who was taller and stronger than me get in my face and threaten me loudly, dropping the f-bomb a few times. As I firmly directed her to a safe space, the school resource officer came racing down the hall, grabbed her, cuffed her and arrested her for disrupting a school assembly.

It was an overreaction on his part, but he never pulled his gun or looked like he had even thought of it. As an officer, he had received training in threat assessment. He knew she couldn't do real harm.


What if the threat had been stronger and involved her trying to hit me with a chair?
What if it had been a teacher from down the hall with a new gun license rather than a trained officer?
What if instead of a student it had been an angry parent yelling at me and then reaching in his pocket for a cellphone?
What if I had a gun in the classroom and the student had grabbed it?

In my state, to obtain a license to carry a gun, you must attend a firearms safety course which covers safely storing, carrying, firing, handling and cleaning the weapon and an overview of current gun laws. People are not taught to assess threats. Police officers receive that training. Teachers are not police officers. I do not think they should carry guns at work.

I don't think it would help much anyway. In most situations, would one of the teachers with a gun be close enough to act? Who would hide that teacher's students while he or she went to look for the bad guy? If the gun were locked up separately from it's ammunition to keep if safe from inquitive students would there be time to retrieve and load it? Wouldn't that time be better spent getting kids under cover?

As for armed guards at schools, I think that is something that should be decided at the local level. Conditions and opinions vary too much to make a national policy. I would harbor the same concerns about volunteers as I do about teachers carrying guns, though.

Right, my views.

What do you think?

**Please note: These were not students with Asperger's or diagnosed mental health issues. The majority of children and adults with Asperger's syndrome and mental illnesses are not violent or aggressive. When those who have conditions that make them more likely to be violent are properly assessed and treated, and if necessary hospitalized, they are ususally not a threat.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Me, Fire and the Christmas Pudding.

My husband is English and one of their customs is for the mother of the family to bring a flaming Christmas pudding to the dinner table for the holiday dessert.

Basically, she pours brandy over the pudding ( a fruitcake-like thing), sets it on fire, and carries it from the kitchen to the dining room.

I have never done this, but I would like to add it to our celebration this year, to give an extra taste of the family's English heritage. Sounds ok, right?

The thing is, I am afraid of fire. I don't even light matches.

Well, over the past few years I have been working on this at CYC. A friend of mine has been helping me to overcome this fear. This past conference,  with his help and encouragement, I put a log on a big fire and helped light another one.

So, maybe I can do this.

My husband wouldn't have a problem with lighting and carrying the pudding, but I want it to be a surprise for him. My son loves fire, so he'd probably do it, but I think that might make me more  nervous than carrying it myself.

So .... deep breath. I am going to try it!

Are you trying anything new this year?

Have a Very Merry Christmas!!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Song for Sunday: It Came Upon the Midnight Clear.

"O Little Town of Bethlehem" has always been my favorite Christmas carol, but this one is pretty high on the list, too. As a child I always thought we never sang it enough. I was always intrigued by the lines about the prophets and the ever-circling years.

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold;
“Peace on the earth, good will to men,
From Heaven’s all gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever over its Babel sounds
The blessèd angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife
And hear the angels sing.

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophet-bards foretold,
When with the ever circling years
Comes round the age of gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

     ~Edmund Hamilton Sears

What's your favorite Carol or Christmas song?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Gratitude Jar

This picture showed up on my cousin's Facebook page. 

Photo: Love this....

I believe I will institute this at my house next year.

It will give us a chance to consistently reflect on our blessings and cultivate gratitude.. and we have plenty to be thankful for!

It will also, I think, keep us focused on the positive. That can only be a good thing. 

Have you ever tried anything like this in your home?

How'd it go?

Do you think you might try this next year?

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whateveris lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Phillipians 4:8

Monday, December 17, 2012

Songs for Sunday: Don't Ever Sell Your Saddle and The Gambler

My musical tastes are pretty eclectic and I go through phases of liking different genres. I have enjoyed country music at times and, although it's not at the top of my list at the moment, two country songs have been on my mind this week. I haven't heard either in years ..... or at least hadn't until tonight.

This first song is Don't Ever Sell Your Saddle by Randy Travis. The line that stuck in my head was "only fight if you have to cause there's always a faster gun
and you'll know a hero from a coward when you see which way they run."

(Side note: We saw a few who ran the right way in Newtown .. teachers, a custodian, an office worker who kept calm and made decisions that kept some kids safe. Some gave their lives. God bless them all.)

The other song was Kenny Roger's The Gambler. Specifically, the first half of the chorus: "You gotta know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, know when to run."

I didn't know why I had these songs in my head until tonight. My son and his friend were arguing and his friend said that Jordan automatically had to be right whenever they had a fight. He wouldn't give in.

Immediately, The Gambler came to mind and I sang a bit of it. (Not too loud. I don't sing so good. ) I made a connection. Jordan needs to be taught "when to hold them and when to fold them." When he should stick to his guns and when he should give in. Maybe he also has to learn to fight only when it's worth it, hence Don't Ever Sell Your Saddle.

God does sometimes give us reminders. Now, I just have ot figure out how to teach these lessons.

How has God given you reminders? Is there something your children need to learn?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Shock, Horror......Christmas

Along with everyone else's, my heart breaks for the parents and families of those children and teachers in Newtown, Ct. I cannot fathom the depths of their grief. There is nothing to say to them that will make a difference. I am in prayer for them.

It's not the time, yet, for political talk of gun control and changes in policies. It's time to mourn.

The nation is shocked.

And it's Christmas time. That the tragedy happened in such close proximity to this favorite holiday of children seems to make the horror grow. Christmas is about a baby, The Baby, who came to save us. We see it as a gentle time of birth and joy.

In the middle of the Christmas story, though, is a scene we don't often reflect on. The census is over, the baby has been born in the stable, the shepherds have visited. Two years have passed, the family has moved into a house and the star has led the Wise Men to Jesus.

Those Wise Men stopped on the way and spoke to Herod, king of Judea, who on hearing of a newborn king, went into a jealous rage although at first he hid that well. He learned that the baby was in Bethlehem.

Then he sent soldiers to kill all of the baby boys under two years old in that town.

Just think what it would have been like to be the parents of one of those children. Scripture describes it as "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more." Right from the beginning, because of the evil Herod, shock and horror were with us at Christmas.

Christmas is the incarnation. God came to a willing virgin and had a son. He took a human body, deigning to live among us, share our weakness, feel our temptation and avoid sin.

Look with me beyond Christmas to the Cross. Here Jesus feels the intense pain of bodily violence and the spiritual horror of separation from God. The Father feels what it is to lose a son. So God has been here, knowing the loss of His own flesh and blood, his own beloved Child. This is a grief He knows.

Ultimately, we go even further. Past the Cross, we find the Resurrection with it's triumphant victory over death and sin.

Right now, we are at Good Friday, in the midst of the horror, grief, pain. Easter may feel like a faint and distant hope, but it will come.

Lord, be with all affected by this horrible incident ... the victims, families, investigators. Bring hope, comfort and help. Guide our steps as a nation. In Jesus name, Amen.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Patience While Driving, Please

I used to teach cognitively impaired teenagers and young adults to cross the street. Well, I hope I taught them a lot of other things, too, but street-crossing was on the list.

We would venture out and learn this skill in the natural environment. Learn by doing. So, we crossed a lot of streets. At corners, at lights, in crosswalks.

Crosswalks could be an interesting experience, actually. At times a car would politely stop for us. My student, sometimes in leg braces or a wheelchair, would start confidently across.

And then a car would pull around and go past in front of them. Or maybe stop just short of the crosswalk. Apparently, they thought the car in front of them was stopped for no reason and they could just go. Or they were in a hurry and not thinking at all. Impatient, they just went.

This became my mantra: "Cars do not always do what they are supposed to do."

I used that mantra while teaching my son street safety as well. Recently, we had a demonstration.

We were coming out of the library. At the nearby crosswalk, an elderly couple was slowly crossing the street in front of a stopped car. The driver behind got impatient, failed to look, pulled out and hit the man sending him flying into the air.

At the sound of the woman's screams, my attention was called to the event, my old lifeguard training kicked in and I ran to the scene. I was beaten to the spot by an off-duty fire fighter who attended to the gentleman. I handled the onlookers, getting them to move away. The driver who had done the hitting remained on scene and the police spoke to him when they arrived. At that point, Jordan and I left.

But all the way home we talked about drivers that don't wait, cars that don't do what they are supposed to do.

Please, when you are driving out there, have patience. Remember that car in front of you is probably stopped for a reason. Be mindful of crosswalks and walk lights. Think how you'd feel if you hit someone.

Have you ever witnessed an accident or 
near accident caused by impatient driving?

Monday, December 10, 2012

New Year's 2012 Resolutions.

I made three New Year's Resolutions back on January 1, 2012 (New Year's Resolutions, etc.) I decided to look back and see how I have done.

Learn to use the breadmaker:

Accomplished!! I make bread with this machine all the time now and plan to learn more recipes. Got any good ones?

Learn to make candy:

Accomplished!! I make toffee and know how to tell the difference between the hard ball and the soft ball stage

Publish my game:

*sigh* I have gotten nowhere. I am really stuck on the dragons.

Scratch that. I just had the idea of googling public domain images of dragons and I found a few workable ones. maybe I'll get somewhere toward getting this done after all. I seem to get stuck at every step though. If these dragons work, I'll need to figure out how to make the paths really well, find miniture pictures of castle gates, finalize the design of the board and then figure out how to publish.

Well, at least the rules are ready and the game has been play tested, tweaked and retested and seems ready on that end. It really just is the artwork and publishing. Shpuld I self-publish? Try a small publisher? Go to a game convention?

I don't think I will accomplish this by December 31, but maybe I will get it done eventually....

How are your New Year Resolution's coming along?
What resolutions are you considering for next year?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Song for Sunday: Partners in the Mystery

Today's "Song for Sunday" is a fairly new Christmas song written by Ken Bible in 2000. We sang it in church this morning. The part that struck me was "Into darkness, into pain, unto death is given such a tiny precious life, such a gift from heaven!"

I love babies. I melt in their presence.

This song reminds of the difficulties for Mary that surrounded Jesus'  birth. A young woman, unmarried but engaged, finds herself pregnant and not by her fiancee. Indeed it would have been a scene of "Friends and family all upset, Joseph disillusioned." Joseph learned that Mary had done nothing wrong -- that she was still a virgin, having God's baby. He stood by her, but many would have shunned the young family. They would have looked askance at them, whispered behind their backs, perhaps worse. 

Today, we may find this difficult to comprehend because society has, in general, liberalized it's views about children being born outside of wedlock. While I firmly believe that the Bible teaches Christians to wait for marriage to have sex, I am glad that we no longer stigmatize the children of single parents and unmarried couples. Nor do I think that these children should be looked on as "consequences of sin." There may be consequences to such circumstances, some may even affect the child, but the baby itself is a blessing. Always. 

Be that as it may, back in first century Israel, Mary and Joseph would have had a tough time of it. Jesus, too. (This reminds me of story called The Long Silence.) This song reminds us of that.  

It also calls us into the grand story. Calls us to recognize this baby, as Simeon and Anna did, as the King of the Universe. 

Partners in the Mystery
What a blessing God has sent!
Now, before the wedding,
Virgin Mary, good and pure,
Suddenly expecting;
Friends and family all upset,
Joseph disillusioned.
Still they trust the guiding Word
Through their dark confusion.

See the tender Mary there-
Like so many others,
Young and scared and all alone,
Soon to be a mother.
Into darkness, into pain,
Unto death is given
Such a tiny precious life,
Such a gift from heaven.

In the temple, what a sight!
After years of waiting,
Now before his very eyes
There the Promised Baby!
There the Light of all the world!
There for all the nations,
Sleeping in his folded arms,
Heaven's sweet salvation!

What a privilege! What a call!
Partners in the myst'ry!
We who walk by faith become
Part of holy hist'ry.
Rich and poor, the young and old,
Fill the timeless story.
All who boldly follow God
See and share His glory.

Words by Ken Bible
Music: Traditional, arr. by Sir John Stainer
Copyright 2000 by Pilot Point Music

What new Christmas songs captures your imagination?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Frosting (A follow-up)

Following up from yesterday's post, Family Recipes.

So my aunt came over and we frosted cookies.

We had to tweak and stir and tweak some more, but we finally got it the right consistency. We had a great time.

I found out that my aunt uses a different recipe than my Mom did. My aunt didn't know where my mother got her recipe. My aunt got hers from her hairdresser. Neither of them used my grandmother's recipe.

Over the years though, my mother's and my aunt's techniques had begun to mirror each other. They each use a bowl rather than the board my grandmother used. They both began putting the cookies in collander, rather than on a rack, to cool. They both started dipping the coookies in the frosting rather than drizzling it over them.

I had forgotten about the collander trick. I think I'll use it next time.

I had a good time with my aunt this morning, sharing cooking tips and stories.

When has your family enjoyed cooking together?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Family Recipes

My grandmother always made the best Toll House Cookies. She used the recipe on the bag. The rest of us use that recipe, too, but our cookies don't come out like hers did. We have never been able to figure out what she did differently to what we do.

My mother was famous for her biscottis. They were small lemon cookies with lemon glazing. I think she got the recipe from my father's family.

I have been trying to make those biscottis since she died. I think I have mastered the cookie, but the frosting has yet to come out right. Tomorrow my aunt, my father's sister, is coming over to help. We are going to see if we conquer this frosting.

I hear many stories like this. Recipes have been passed down... but something is different. I don't know why that is. It would seem that if we use the same recipe and techniques, we should get the same results. I, suppose, that a person who makes a recipe standout must make minute, unconscious adjustments. They just have a flair for getting it right.

Are there any recipes like that in your family?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Jordan's Creche for This Year

We tend to decorate late for the holidays. We like to have a live tree and keep it set up for all 12 days of Christmas, so we generally don’t put the tree up until around the second week in December.

However, we do maintain a tradition of putting up a creche scene on the first day of Advent so that it can serve as a setting for family worship during the season.

Another aspect of the tradition, which we put in place when my son was four, is that he sets up the crËche on his own. There is no input from the adults.

Through the years there have been some oddities to the scene. The very first year he set it up he had all the people and animals gathered in close to the manger wherein Baby Jesus was to be placed on Christmas morning. All but Mary. She was off in a corner by herself. I remember thinking that year that a new mother in her situation might be happy to have a moment alone.

Two years ago, Jordan set up a crazy scene. It looked like all the pieces had been dropped from a great height or a bomb had hit or something. I wrote two blog posts about that particular manger scene. It wasn’t exactly reminiscent of "peace on earth."  (Jordan's Strange Creche and A Broken World...Seeking Peace.)

This year, Jordan decided to be intentionally ordinary, to make the creche as normal as possible.

Well… Mary and Joseph are kneeling by the manger. The cow is in the stable. The shepherds have a tent. The angel on top doesn’t have cymbals hanging around her shoulders.

The villagers are going about their business in an organized fashion. There is no camel on the roof and nothing hanging from the loft or sitting upside down on the ladder. At first glance, it is quite ordinary.

But Jordan did leave his mark. A mother and child figure are visiting the stable. The boy has dropped his toys and a few musical instruments which are at his feet.

Over by the manger is a toy that the boy has left for Jesus. (You can see it in front of the sheep.) According to Jordan he was going to leave one of his "ok" toys but ended up leaving one of his best ones. (He figured his mother would want him to give a good one.)

There in the midst of the ordinary view of things is something new ….. although steeped in one of the central themes of The Story. Christmas is about receiving Christ and about giving our best to Him.

How will you make the Christmas story
new in your family this year?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Visit with the Aunties

Jordan's aunties from England are here for a visit.

They stayed with us a few days and then headed off into the city for sightseeing and shopping. Since Jordan doesn't get to see them very often, we went in to see them today. We had a walk around and ate lunch with them.

That meant, of course, that we didn't get much schooling done. We had also missed some last week as we visited and celebrated an early Christmas. So, we'll be doubling up over the next few days.

This time with David's sisters was important. Jordan learned a few things, too, about family history, how to handle his excema, how to navigate the transit system. This wasn't wasted time. 

Deciding what to put first each day is about priorities. last week extended family time took precedence. Starting tomorrow, school work and housework are highest on the list for a few days. Next week it might be something else. I am glad that homeschooling gives us this flexibility.

How do you set your priorities?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Song for Sunday: Jingle Bell Rock

I know, not my usual "Song for Sunday."

And probably, for the first Sunday in Advent (Happy New Year, by they way!) it would be more appropriate to choose "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" or "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming," but I am putting this up instead. 

It's a fun song and it reminds me of an old student, Roger.  He must have been about 19 or 20 when I taught him. He had some pretty significant disabilities and perseverated a lot. He knew the lyrics to a million songs, I think, and this was one of them. At one point, I thought he had the words wrong but discovered that "Giddyap, jingle horse pick up your feet" was right. 

I hadn't thought of Roger in years or decades until I went on the Holiday Stroll in town yesterday, and heard this song in multiple venues. 

As I said, it's fun and brings back memories. Hope you enjoy it. 

      Jingle Bell Rock

Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock
Jingle bells swing and jingle bells ring
Snowin' and blowin' up bushels of fun
Now, the jingle hop has begun

Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell twist
Jingle bells chime in jingle bell time
Dancin' and prancin' in Jingle Bell Square
In the frosty air

What a bright time, it's the right time
To rock the night away
Jingle bell time is a swell time
To go glidin' in a one-horse sleigh

Giddy-up jingle horse, pick up your feet
Jingle around the clock
Mix and a-mingle in the jinglin' feet
That's the jingle bell rock, yeah

Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock
Jingle bells swing and jingle bells ring
Snowin' and blowin' up bushels of fun
Now, the jingle hop has begun

Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell twist
Jingle bells chime in jingle bell time
Dancin' and prancin' in Jingle Bell Square
In the frosty air

What a bright time, it's the right time
To rock the night away
Jingle bell time is a swell time
To go glidin' in a one-horse sleigh

Giddy-up pony time, kick up your feet
Jingle around the clock
Mix and a-mingle in the jinglin' feet
That's the jingle bell rock, jingle rock
Jingle bell rock, rock, rock

                         -- Bobby Helms

What's your favorite fun Christmas song?