My daughter and her friends like to think that they invented Friendsgiving. A few years back when they were in college, they decided it would be fun to have their own Thanksgiving feast before heading their separate ways to celebrate the holiday with their families. Ironicially, it was a friend from “across the pond” who came up with the idea.

Friendsgiving started out small: just six friends who lived together and played together when they weren’t meeting the demands of school work. Each of them contributed to the feast, which included the traditional staples of turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and green beans.

Over the years as their friendship circle grew, so did Friendsgiving. By their great good fortune (and no doubt some strategic planning), they found themselves transplanted to New York City after college. They continued to live and play together, and as they did, they added on to their small group. Soon they were needing two turkeys for the feast instead of one. By this time, Friendsgiving had become “a thing,” as my daughter would say.

This year there were 35 friends gathered in an apartment celebrating their friendship with wine, turkey, and all the trimmings – and then some. Friends have gotten creative over the years. My daughter, who has become a vegetarian, tries new ways to make veggies delicious. At the latest Friendsgiving, the hit of the party was a butternut squash ravioli.

Maybe they didn’t invent Friendsgiving. But I admire my daughter and her friends for the strong ties that bind them and that led them to create their own “family” holiday together. These days, families can be fractured by divorce, illness, estrangement, and even death. The Thanksgiving Day meal itself can be fraught with family squabbles. How lovely it is that these friends have found a way to celebrate their close and enduring camaraderie.

To all who cherish their friends this holiday, I’d like to say, “Happy Friendsgiving.”

Finial Moment



A beautiful memory from fellow blogger Stuart M. Perkins for this family-oriented holiday week


Friends and I enjoyed brunch the other day. Afterwards, I suggested we stop by the local antique store to see what was new…

No one got the joke.

Still laughing at myself, because it never takes much, I held the door for the others as we entered and went our separate ways down cluttered and dusty aisles.

We hadn’t been there long when I saw, tucked between Mason jars and wicker baskets, an old Thanksgiving decoration like one Mama used when I was a kid. It was a turkey with a cardboard head but the rest of it was the honeycomb style that opened and latched onto itself, giving the turkey a big round body. Its cardboard head was bent and its big round body didn’t latch anymore, but I held it up to look at it and wondered whose it used to be, where they might have placed it…

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Snow Surprised


IMG_0524.JPGA rare pre-Thanksgiving snow is falling outside my kitchen window as I write. Although I wouldn’t go so far as to say I welcome the winter white, it was lovely to wake up and view our trees and lawn covered with snow.

Last night my teenage daughter came home happy and glistening. She and her friends had gone outside in the snow that had just started falling and found it to be wet and packable, perfect for snowball fights and snowman building. Indeed, this morning as I drove slowly through our little town, I saw numerous children, puffy like the Michelin man in their snow pants and coats, happily making snowmen or dragging sleds to the local hill. Parents of toddlers pulled them in little seated sleds along the slick sidewalks.

A snowy day is perfect for an extra cup of coffee, a warm throw blanket, and a good book or a college football game on TV. Even a walk outside is not so bad since the temperatures haven’t taken a precipitous dive yet. An early season snow has trouble sticking on the warm sidewalks and driveways. Sure, there will be some snow cleanup later. But for now, the world outside reminds me that winter is coming, and that means holidays and family and mulling spices scenting our household.

By Thanksgiving the snow will have melted. This snow is just a warmup (or a coldup?) for the months ahead. So welcome, snow. It’s kind of nice seeing you again.


Strange Bedfellows



Remember Freedom Fries? After the Bush Administration invaded Iraq, French officials were vilified for criticizing the American government. Ironically, what France was saying has now come to pass. The French worried that an invasion of Iraq would destabilize the region and lead to an increase in terrorism. Guess what?

The sad irony is that France, not America, has paid a horrific price for that destabilization with the recent series of coordinated terrorist attacks across Paris.

Back in the early 2000s, anti-French rhetoric was rampant in America. The French were portrayed as weak and cowardly, and President Bush scathingly declared that the U.S. was not going to seek approval for its foreign policy decisions from the likes of France. Demonstrators poured French wine into the street and changed the names  French fries and French toast to Freedom Fries and Freedom Toast.

Now suddenly the French are our beloved brothers and sisters, and we stand in solidarity with them. Photos of the Eiffel Tower are scattered all over Facebook. Don’t get me wrong. I think we should show solidarity with the French. But I am disgusted by the hypocrisy of conservatives who only cozy up to someone when it’s politically expedient to do so. Any pretext to enmesh our military more deeply in the Syrian civil war will do.

The about face on France reminds me of the past animosity between conservatives and American Jews. For the most part, Jews in America have leaned to the liberal side in the political sphere. During the Fifties, at the height of fears about Communism, Jews were often persecuted and viewed with suspicion. Likewise, many conservative Christians vilified Jews and blamed them for killing Christ. But in recent times, as Evangelicals have seen in the state of Israel a path toward Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ, they have embraced Jews in an awkward hug. Neoconservatives see Israel as an ally and focal point in their hawkish policy positions on the Middle East. Once again, politics turns enemies into unlikely allies.

Most tragically to me, just a few weeks ago, conservative politicians were waving around photos of Syrian refugees pouring into Europe or washed up on shore, drowned. Their aim was to pressure President Obama into increased military action, including “boots on the ground,” something the president has rightly been reluctant to do. Now, after the Paris massacres, these same politicians are advocating that we turn Syrian refugees away on the grounds that some of them may be terrorists.

Conservatives have been shameless in pandering to whatever segment of the population they think will advance their agenda. So if they buddy up to you, be careful. Their friendship comes with strings attached.



Let’s Stop Blaming Islam


The-Battle-of-JerichoIn the Hebrew Bible, also known as the Old Testament to Christians, God tells his chosen people to enter the Promised Land and “put the ban” on every town and city they encounter. To put the ban on a city meant to wipe it out completely: kill every man, woman, child, and animal; destroy every building and possession, and burn the city to the ground.

How many modern Jews and Christians believe that they should go around wiping out unbelievers by killing them and burning their every possession? The answer, of course, is that these stories are part of an ancient holy text, and they are to be interpreted in the light of what they might mean to people in a spiritual sense. In a spiritual sense, God was telling his people to rid themselves of vices, obsessions, and associations that keep them from holiness.

In light of the recent horrific terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut, and elsewhere, critics have begun denouncing Islam itself rather than just the barbaric fanatics who have twisted the religion into a violent call for jihad around the world. So the same people who realize that stoning adulterers, while in the Holy Bible, is not a justifiable action in modern society, turn around and assume the jihadists are truly representative of Islam by harking back to a quite literal interpretation of its holy book, the Koran.

ISIS quite literally wants to create the conditions laid out in the writings of the prophet Muhammed and bring about the apocalypse. (“What ISIS Really Wants,” The Atlantic, March 2015) Conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg put it well when he called this movement “medievalism.” It should be obvious that the vast majority of Muslims do not subscribe to this medieval interpretation of their religion. In short, ISIS doesn’t represent Islam any more than the Ku Klux Klan represents Christianity.

The danger of the current hysteria is that people will lash out at Muslims and Middle Eastern people in general. Numerous governors have already stated that they will refuse to house and help Syrian refugees on the grounds that terrorists might be infiltrating their numbers. This kind of fear-mongering and thinly disguised racism has been seen in this country before.

In 1942, shortly after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, 120,000 Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps across the country. Today, America recognizes this action as an egregious violation of Japanese Americans’ civil rights, and reparations were paid to surviving families of those unjustly imprisoned.

What is happening in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Africa, and even in the beloved capital of Paris, France, is frightening. It requires a concerted effort on the part of our allies to help end the reign of terror imposed by such groups as ISIS and al-Qaeda (Remember them?). But let’s all take a deep breath and use our reason, as well as our heart, to direct our actions in the upcoming months and years.

Rather than blaming Islam, we need to work with Muslim countries around the world to stamp out the fanaticism and promote the ideals so beautifully represented by the red, white, and blue.



Ending Corporal Punishment



My daughter was assigned to write a position paper, and she chose to take on the issue of corporal punishment. Her research and our conversations about the subject highlighted for me the reasons I have always been against using force and physical punishment on children.

My main objection is simple: It’s wrong to hit another human being. In a civilized society, people need to find other ways of resolving conflict, venting our anger, or getting others to do what we want. Violence begets violence. When a mother showed up at the Baltimore protests last summer and started whaling on her son, the internet lit up with support for this “tough love.” All I could think was, No wonder the kid thinks it’s okay to throw rocks at police.

Corporal punishment appeals to parents because it works in the short run. Parents who rule by fear get immediate compliance. But the child doesn’t really internalize the concepts of right and wrong the parent may think he or she is teaching. All the child really learns is that the bigger, stronger party has the upper hand.

I remember watching an episode of the reality show Super Nanny some years ago. In the episode, the parents were constantly swatting the children to get them to behave. But the hitting did not create a peaceful household. Instead, the children became increasingly emotional and unruly. Super Nanny stepped in and showed the parents more effective techniques to get the children to behave.

And this is another problem with corporal punishment. Numerous recent studies have shown that corporal punishment is ineffective in the long run. Children who are spanked or hit may behave well when the parent is around, but their behavior deteriorates when they are away from the fear of being hit. Furthermore, physical punishment in childhood is associated with increased aggression and mental health problems later in life.

Another issue is that for too many parents, spanking as discipline crosses the line into abuse. The recent cases of Adrian Peterson and his 4-year-old son, as well as the “church members” who “disciplined” a 17-year-old to death, graphically underscore this problem.

Discipline should be about teaching a child, not about asserting power. While it’s more time-consuming to use logical consequences and other discipline techniques, in the long run, children will develop lifelong values within the context of a mutually loving, respectful parent/child relationship.

A Pox on All You Starbucks



Recently, Starbucks cafes had the nerve to release a plain red cup as their sorry excuse for a holiday design. Christians were justifiably outraged that the design lacked snowmen, Santas, reindeer, or any other traditional Christian symbology to mark the Christmas season. Today, I want to stand in solidarity with Christians who rightly assume Starbucks “hates Jesus.” But I would like to take the anti-Starbucks rhetoric even further to encompass all the real and theoretical belief systems that could be offended by the atheistic Seattle-based coffee chain.

In solidarity with my Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters, I take umbrage at the fact that Starbucks serves food items containing ham and bacon, forcing them to endure the delectable yet non-kosher aromas of cooked pork assaulting them when they visit a Starbucks.

And did you know that some Starbucks now serve beer and wine? What’s a self-respecting Baptist, Mormon, or Muslim to do with that affront?

In fact, the whole idea of Starbucks should be anathema due to its shameless promotion of caffeine intake, thereby offending Mormons and Seventh Day Adventists alike!

Furthermore, the chain was named after a character in the novel Moby Dick, a classic that, as an English major, I should have read but didn’t. Must I revisit my own shortcomings every time I see those block white letters on their green signs?

I say it’s time to rise up in solidarity against Starbucks and its shameless refusal to cater to our every need and insecurity. So this holiday season, no matter what your religious persuasion or personal ideology, I urge you to forgo your peppermint mochas and teach Starbucks a lesson.

That’s a surefire way to keep Christ in Christmas, dontcha think?

What’s in a Name?


What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

-William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Do you like your name? I have not always liked mine. Mary Frances is too goody-goody sounding, a sweet little Catholic girl worrying that her black patent leather shoes really do reflect up. And being named after the Mother of God? Well, that’s a tough role model to live up to.

When I was growing up, the name Mary was exceedingly common. There were lots of variations and add-ons: Mary Ann, Mary Jo, Mary Pat, Mary Lou, Mary Catherine. A family friend was named Mary Kateri, and I used to find that name humorous until I learned that Kateri is a Catholic saint. In any event, I grew up with an image of being innocent, proper, maybe even a bit prudish. I have lived a pretty circumspect life, seldom swear, and generally try, albeit unconsciously, to live up to my sacred name.

Names are an important part of a person’s identity. In the Bible, when God reveals his name to Moses, it is a pivotal moment. The name reveals who God really is and what His people’s relationship is to Him. Similarly, when parents name their children, they are often investing a lot of meaning in that name. Perhaps it is the name of a cherished loved one. Maybe it’s a way of carrying on their own legacy by naming their children after themselves.

And a person’s name affects how others see him or her. For instance, a study revealed that when applications for employment contained what is thought of as an African-American name, the applicant was 50% less likely to be invited for an interview.

Black names have come under a lot of criticism lately from both white and black Americans. Bill Cosby famously attacked stereotypically black names, even the venerated moniker Mohammed, as “ghetto” names. These criticisms reveal long-standing prejudices. The advent of unusual black names took off in the Sixties and Seventies, the age of black pride and a newly awakened appreciation of African roots. It also said to white America that blacks refused to be defined by the culture that has historically repressed them.

Let’s face it. Blacks do not have a monopoly on exotic names. Celebrities are notorious for coming up with unique names such as Apollo, Pilot, Kal-El, Bronx, Brooklyn, Blanket. The list goes on. And while there is some good-natured mocking of these names, when celebrities latch onto a name, it often becomes popular with ordinary Americans. The girls’ name Ava, for instance, has become hugely popular since Reese Witherspoon used it for her daughter. Furthermore, I may have made fun of Gwyneth Paltrow for naming her daughter Apple, but my own daughter is essentially named after a plant herself. The difference is that her plant name is in another language.

Economists Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, in their popular book Freakonomics, address the issue of what effect names have on our children. What they found is that for the most part, people can succeed or fail regardless of their names. An example from the book refers to twins named Winner and Loser. Loser turned out fine while Winner ended up in jail.

What’s in a name? Well, we have twice elected a president with the name Barack Hussein Obama. Maybe names don’t define us as much as we think. Time for this Mary to let her hair down?

School Discipline Not a Police Matter



This is not a post about police brutality or racial profiling despite the fact that the teenage girl at Spring Valley High School in South Carolina is black and the officer who roughly grabbed and tossed her out of her chair and onto the floor is white.

What I found incredible was that the officer was called in in the first place. The girl was not being loud, swearing, or threatening anyone in the classroom. She was committing what these days must be a common infraction: using her cell phone in class.

There were other ways to handle this situation, yet the teacher chose to escalate the situation by calling in first an administrator and then a police officer. The teacher could have quietly and privately asked the student to stop. He could have engaged her in the lesson by asking her a direct question. Asking her to leave the classroom was not the best idea. When she refused, he felt his authority was being challenged and therefore he had to act.

When I was a student teacher, I had a student who would literally turn his body sideways and look out the window for the entire class period. I chose to deal with him privately after class rather than create a scene in the classroom where the rest of the students were doing their best to learn.

The Spring Valley teacher could have dropped the issue and detained the student after class. If such intervention was unsatisfactory, he then could have involved a counselor or an administrator. He may have discovered more about the reasons for the girl’s misbehavior in that way.

It’s interesting to me that a number of students cut school to protest the firing of the school police officer. I am sure they view the girl as a troublemaker, and they may not be wrong. But student misbehavior usually comes from a struggle going on within that child. It would have been more beneficial for the teacher and the student to get at the root of the problem and help her rather than make her into a criminal.

The need for police officers in school is an unfortunate reality. School officers investigate incidents on school property and sometimes conduct searches for drugs or weapons. And certainly if there is a major altercation that occurs in school, it is beneficial to have an officer there to handle the situation.

But having a uniformed police officer come into a classroom to handle a matter of class discipline is not what we want to see in our schools. Ironically, calling in the officer created way more disruption than the girl ever had by using her cell phone.

Let’s remember that teens are still children. That frontal lobe in their brain is still developing, and they often make terrible choices. Teachers need to be role models, demonstrating calm and nurturing their students’ maturity as well as intellectual development.

Let’s hope the incident at Spring Valley High can be a learning experience for us all.