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Tax Day: What If You Didn’t Have to Pay?

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014 - by Walter Hudson

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As the father of a young family, I have taken a fanatical interest in my household finances. Curious whether I could squeeze more juice out of our budgetary lemon, I took a look at our monthly expenses as a percentage of our take-home income.

To my astonishment, I found that 84% of our take-home income goes to essential expenses. By “essential,” I mean items which cannot be cancelled or reduced. These are things like rent, fuel, insurance, and groceries. We already minimize these expenses as much as possible.

To my further astonishment, I found that all of the elective expenses in our monthly budget, things like Netflix, hosting my websites, and maintaining a subscription to Star Wars: The Old Republic, total up to a mere 3% of my take-home income. If I really cut to the bone and went without my entertainments and hobbies, I would hardly save enough to speak of. This proves problematic, because I have outstanding liabilities which must eventually be met, not to mention things which I would like to save for – including stuff like retirement.

I hold down three jobs. My wife has two. So we’re not exactly slacking. Be that as it may, I figure we need to conjure up a way to bring home a certain amount more per month in order to advance beyond treading water to actually getting somewhere.

As it turns out, I already earn more than I figure I need. The only problem is that I don’t get to keep it. It gets confiscated before I ever see it and sent to state and federal government.

If I could actually use what I rightfully earned last year, I would be able to pay off every outstanding bill. I would be able to replace my aging laptop with a decent machine that could get me through the next five years. And I would have enough left over to put a serious dent in my auto or student loans.

How about you? What could you do with the money you lost to government last year? What happiness could you pursue? What values could you secure? Leave a comment below.

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Happy #RexManningDay, Empire Records Shoppers

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

For those of you unfortunate enough to not have grown up Gen-X, today is #RexManningDay, the day in the fictional world of the film Empire Records during which pretty boy “pop star Rex Manning was scheduled to do a CD signing at Empire Records, one of the last vestiges of what has come to be known as “independent rock”.

Released in 1995, Empire Records celebrates the small independent music store, planting the seed for what would eventually become Record Store Day. A Breakfast Club-esque group of staffers celebrates alt rock and all things un-pop while ex-Hippie store manager Joe Reaves (Anthony LaPaglia) struggles to keep his uptight yuppie brother from selling out to a chain music store. All sorts of drama ensues as Liv Tyler and Renee Zellweger fight over guys, Robin Tunney dabbles with suicide, and Ethan Embry gets accidentally high to Gwar. A lot of great music is played, culminating in a rooftop concert that raises enough funds to keep the store open, proving there is a good side to community organizing after all.

Of course, there’s an official website for Rex Manning Day, but if you’d like to travel even further down memory lane, check out 13 Favorite Empire Records Memories, get 9 Fashion Lessons from the movie,  or read 5 Fun Facts about the film. Better yet, head on over to your local record store and celebrate the things that make America great: small business, independent music, and a healthy dose of snark.

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The Girls Season Finale: Second-Guessing Steinem Feminists

Friday, March 28th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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If there’s one refreshing thing to be said of the season finale of Girls, it’s that Lena Dunham is not a stereotypical feminist after all.

The series finale of Girls opens with Hannah bumping into Adam’s looney sister who is now living with her equally nutty downstairs neighbor, Laird. Newly returned from a hippie commune, the pair are expecting their first child. Hannah asks and is granted permission to touch Caroline’s womb, which she does so with an expression of both doubt and awe. In the next scene, Hannah walks into her own apartment and she touches her own womb in absent-minded contemplation. She is then quickly distracted by an acceptance letter to graduate school in Iowa.

In her typical selfish fashion, Hannah presents her grad school acceptance to Adam minutes before his Broadway premiere. If it wasn’t so sweetly presented you’d think it was a vengeful move. Consequently, Adam feels that his performance has been thrown off. As a result, their relationship goes into full meltdown at the stage door after the show. Adam is outraged that Hannah presented her success to him before he went live: “Why can’t anything ever be easy with you?” he questions angrily.

The well played plot point mirrored Shoshanna’s own struggle at Ray’s rejection. “If memory serves, you’re the one who jettisoned me a while ago,” Ray comments before Shoshanna interjects, ”I want you back,” explaining, “I made a mistake…this entire year of freedom was just f-ing stupid…you make me want to be the best version of myself, and I just want to pretend that I was never not your girlfriend before.” “You pushed me forward in a lot of ways and I’m eternally grateful for that,” Ray explains before finishing with, “but right now, we’re in two different places with very, very, very different goals.”

In the post-episode commentary, Dunham focused on the idea that “relationships aren’t easy,” but the full impact is smarter than that: The episode that begins with the announcement of a pregnancy ends with Hannah’s excited expectations for what Iowa may bring. Embracing second wave feminist legacy, Dunham’s pregnancy metaphor introduces the next battle in the Children versus Career war, questioning the point of male/female sexual relationships.

Rupert Holmes once penned a beautiful line regarding two characters parting in the series Remember WENN: “This is what happens to love when people are in love.” Love is more than a sexual high, a status symbol, or a comfort zone. Love is required work, firstly on the part of one’s self. In their me-driven environment, second wave feminists created the idea that a romantic relationship, not unlike a commune, is nothing more than the temporal cohabitation of two individuals with shared interests. That ideology gave birth to the “Selfie Generation” of which Hannah Horvath is Queen.

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The Latest Outbreak of Golden Calf Syndrome

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

goldencalf

There’s this great story in the Torah that goes a little something like this. The leaders of Israel went up on a mountain for a private conference with God, per His request. With the bosses away, the Israelites decided to throw a party. Grateful to their God for freeing them from slavery, they shaped a golden calf to symbolize Him, worshipped the calf as God, and partied on. When the leaders came back down from the mountain, they were less than pleased. Tablets were smashed, God rained justice, there were a lot of irreversible layoffs. The common understanding of the tale says that God destroyed the Israelites because they worshipped the calf as a god. In reality, their sin was creating an image of God that suited their own liking, then worshipping Him as they wished.

Hollywood, and American culture in general, suffers from Golden Calf Syndrome. Whether you blame it on the instant gratification of social media or simple human impatience, God doesn’t communicate every 5 seconds in 140 characters or less. That’s not enough for us as a culture, so we’ve made a nasty habit out of satiating our need for the Almighty by forcing Him into a box of our own liking. Habit has become trend to the point that we don’t even realize when we’re trying to force God into our mold.

Take, for instance, the conservative Christian idol-worship of Matthew McConaughey for “daring” to use the name “God” in a sentence at the Oscars. Upon remarking on the huge stretch of the imagination performed by Christians (and some Jews, I’m sure) in thinking that McConaughey’s use of the G-word somehow referenced the God of scripture, the common, rather lackluster response I received was best phrased as, “Take it where you can get it.”

One comment, however, caught my eye.

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Thank God! Who Is He, Again?

Monday, March 3rd, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Matthew McConaughey thanked God for his Oscar win last night and the conservative crowd went wild.

McConaughey’s speech sparked a feeding frenzy for conservatives to outdo each other when it came to applauding him, while simultaneously taking shots at liberals. Rick Perry tweeted Monday morning, saying, “Texas boy counting his blessing.” His tweet linked to a Breitbart piece titled “Matthew McConaughey Praises God in Acceptance Speech, Hollywood Crowd Grows Quiet.” On Twitchy, Michelle Malkin’s site, the speech ran as “Matthew McConaughey rattles Oscar crowd, wins hearts by thanking God.” Fox News got in the game with the headline, “Matthew McConaughey one of few to thank God in Oscar acceptance speech.” And so on.

As the Daily Beast points out, McConaughey’s God-nod was most likely reassuring to a Christian population that’s been ostracized more than not:

In recent decades, religious figures are often found more often in niche movies, wrote Cieply, or if they are in major pictures, they “are often hypocrites and villains, driving plot lines that make, at best, a token bow toward the virtues of a faith-based life.”

One need look no further than a recent episode of the hit Scandal, in which the evangelical female vice president who murdered her gay husband claims she is not culpable because the devil made her do it.

Fair enough. I’m sure the Son of God giddiness also contributed to the Tweetfest, despite the fact that McConaughey never did specifically go beyond the name “God,” let alone drop “Jesus” during the speech. He did, however, express conviction that Miller Lite is served in heaven, which I’m sure won over the Duck Dynasty crowd.

What most conservative Oscar watchers failed to lavish with praise wasn’t the mere thanking of God, but the praising of Him by singer Darlene Love. The career backup singer celebrated 20 Feet From Stardom’s Best Documentary win by singing the refrain from the hymn His Eye Is on the Sparrow:

I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

The refreshingly simple, faith-laced, joyful lyrics made up the majority of her acceptance “speech” and were received with a full-house standing ovation led by an incredibly enthusiastic, non-religious Bill Murray. Where’s the barrage of Tweets about that?

McConaughey returned to his pot-smoking, bongo-banging self by the end of his speech, concluding with:

…whatever we look up to, whatever it is we look forward to and whoever it is we’re chasing — to that I say, alright, alright, alright. And then I say, just keep livin’.

It’s a generic statement that illustrates God is “whatever” and “whoever” and, therefore, “alright, alright, alright.” I have yet to read a conservative commentary that points out the many ways this level of ambiguity has eroded our nation’s ability to put faith in the God of our ancestors, let alone have faith in ourselves, both as a free nation and as individuals with free will. But hey, that’s cool; an actor said the G-word on stage and it got captured by social media, which makes it count.

Alright, alright, alright.

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18 Reasons Why You Wish You Were in Israel Right Now

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

With 49 states buried in snow and most schools in the northeastern U.S. looking at anywhere from 7-10 snow days to make up, our country is ready for a warm up of national proportions. Throw on your heat lamps, put on a bathing suit under that fleece, and cuddle up to these 18 (the number of chai or “life”) warm images of sun, beach and desert (sweet, hot desert) from Israel.

Waking up before sunrise - totally worth it! </p>
<p><a href=Just an abundance of #beauty. #HulaValley #Israel #freedom #River #Mountain #Green

Good morning! בוקר טוב! Bonne journee! Доброе утро! Всем прекрасного солнечного дня! #flowers #instaflowers #nature #4simply4 #ig_treasures

Flowers of the Negev Desert. Цветы пустыни Негев. #israel #ig_israel #gf_israel #e_srael #hapitria #allunique_pro #israeli_moments #Israel_PhotoGraphers #ig_treasures #4simply4 #nature #desert #negev #naturehippys #Naturehippys #ig_captures #ig_captures_nature #power_group #ihavenicepic #nature_uc #awesome_foto #floralfix #_nature_features #ig_diamondshotz

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7 Basic Steps to Help You Complete your ‘Get Healthy’ New Year’s Resolution

Saturday, March 1st, 2014 - by Becky Graebner

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“Exercise more” or “lose weight” are both popular New Year’s Resolutions.  Unfortunately, sometimes our busy lives, lack of willpower, insecurities, or confusion as to where to start keep us from accomplishing exercise goals.  It doesn’t need to be this difficult.  You need to do as Nike says and “just do it.”

Here are 7 steps to get you started:

Step 1: Make Exercise a Priority in Your Life

Only YOU can force yourself to work out, run, play kickball–whatever you do.  You need to make the conscious decision to make time in your schedule to get some activity in. Look through your calendar.  Make two categories—label one MUST-DO ACTIVITIES and the other WILD CARD ACTIVITIES.

“Must-do activities” are things you have to complete that day in order to survive/avoid jail—such as, take a shower, cook dinner, pick up the kids, do laundry, or complete your taxes.

“Wild Card Activities” are things that you would like to do after the “must-dos” are done and aren’t necessarily time-dependent.  Examples are: spray-paint the ugly, rusty mailbox, finish the last chapter in that funny book, watch that movie you borrowed from your neighbor, etc. Sort your activities into these two categories. For most people, “exercise” ends up in the WILD CARD ACTIVITY section. This is a no no. The key is to train your mind to view “exercise” as a “Must-do” activity–and follow through.  As soon as you convince your brain that exercise is a priority, your body will follow.

Step 2: Hold Yourself Accountable

Tell your spouse, friends, kids that you are planning on making a lifestyle change.  They are sure to be encouraging and might even join you!  If others know about your new commitment, they will be sure to ask you about it…and you won’t be able to hide on the couch, eating chips.

Other ideas:

- Join a work-out class or running group—having other people around you, sweating and feeling miserable (with you), will motivate you to keep going.

-Bring the family dog on that jog or roller-blade ride—he will have limitless energy and will keep you smiling through it all.

-If you really need someone to keep you in line, hire a trainer or get your fitness-guru friend to help out.

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What if They Gave a Review of Your Life and You Had to Come?

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014 - by P. David Hornik

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Editor’s Note: Click here for Part 1 of P. David Hornik’s new series: Near-Death Experiences—A New Take on Life, Part 1: Sam Parnia Explains Where the Field Is Leading. And click here to see his previous articles on the subject here: Do You Believe in Life After Death?

Out-of-body experiences, tunnels, bright lights, deceased relatives, a being of light—and life reviews. These are the most commonly reported elements of near-death experiences. They have been reported now for decades from all over the world, across cultures and religions. Of all of them, the life review may be the most difficult to imagine and “otherworldly.” Out-of-body experiences, encounters with dead people, mystical experiences of a deity—all these have long been on record outside of NDEs as well. The tunnel experience seems to have been represented in a painting by the Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch over five hundred years ago. Life reviews, however, may be the most “exotic” compared to our familiar modes of perception. Dutch cardiologist and NDE researcher Pim van Lommel quotes this life-review account of one of his patients:

All of my life up till the present seemed to be placed before me in a kind of panoramic, three-dimensional review, and each event seemed to be accompanied by a consciousness of good or evil or with an insight into cause or effect. Not only did I perceive everything from my own viewpoint, but I also knew the thoughts of everyone involved in the event, as if I had their thoughts within me. This meant that I perceived not only what I had done or thought, but even in what way it had influenced others, as if I saw things with all-seeing eyes…. Looking back, I cannot say how long this life review…lasted, it may have been long, for every subject came up, but at the same time it seemed just a fraction of a second, because I perceived it all at the same moment. Time and distance seemed not to exist….

This is only one account, but anyone who has delved even modestly into the NDE literature as I have knows there are numerous other, remarkably similar ones.

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Student Survival Tactic: Think Big

Thursday, February 20th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Most folks first became aware of Dr. Benjamin Carson when he dared to speak out against Obamacare in front of the architect himself at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013. I had the privilege of meeting Ben Carson about 20 years earlier when my mother handed me his book Think Big. At the time, I was an above-average student who struggled in the public school environment. Despite being intellectually acceptable (but economically unqualified) for entrance into a prestigious private school, my own public institution refused to allow me to skip a grade because they felt I’d suffer socially.

As if being the #1 nerd in the room qualified me to be crowned Prom Queen.

An outcast, I’d spend most of my time feigning illness or sick with stress, looking for a reason – any reason – to get out of going to school. I knew my mother was right; I couldn’t run away forever. But, I didn’t have a reason to care enough to face my battles. What I needed then is what so many young people need now: A perspective greater than their own. They need to learn how to Think Big.

And so my mother encouraged me to encounter the story of Ben Carson, a young African American boy from the projects who rose out of the ghetto mindset by seeking a perspective greater than his own:

“I am convinced that knowledge is power – to overcome the past, to change our own situations, to fight new obstacles, to make better decisions.”

Carson’s illiterate mother required her 2 sons to turn into her 2 book reports a week. This practice turned Carson into a habitual reader, classical music listener, and Jeopardy! aficionado. His love of learning and imaginative fascination with science developed into the desire to become a neurosurgeon:

First, we cannot overload the human brain. This divinely created brain has fourteen billion cells. If used to the maximum, this human computer inside our heads could contain all the knowledge of humanity from the beginning of the world to the present and still have room left over. Second, not only can we not overload our brain – we also know that our brain retains everything. I often use saying that “The brain acquires everything that we encounter.”

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The Blue Steel Right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

Monday, February 17th, 2014 - by Michael Walsh

What God carries, any way He wants to

Every American should rejoice over last week’s stunning 2-1 Second Amendment decision in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which invalidated San Diego’s unconstitutionally restrictive infringements regarding the right to bear arms. The irony will be lost on no one, especially on the Left. Per the Los Angeles Times:

In a significant victory for gun owners, a divided federal appeals court Thursday struck down California rules that permit counties to restrict as they see fit the right to carry a concealed weapon in public.

The 2-1 ruling by a U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel would overturn restrictions on carrying concealed handguns, primarily affecting California’s most populated regions, including Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and San Francisco.

The majority said the restrictions violate the 2nd Amendment’s guarantee of the right to bear arms because they deny law-abiding citizens the ability to carry weapons in public unless they show they need the protection for specific reasons.

“We are not holding that the Second Amendment requires the states to permit concealed carry,” Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain, a Reagan appointee, wrote for the panel. “But the Second Amendment does require that the states permit some form of carry for self-defense outside the home.”

Whoa! What?

You can read the court’s decision here. And you should, because this one is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where (in a rare departure for the 9th Circuit) it is unlikely to be reversed. The final constitutional victory over the Suicide Cult of the Left may be at hand, and the explicit promise of the Declaration of Independence settled once and for all.

Quoting liberally from the Supreme Court’s landmark Heller and McDonald decisions, the circuit court essentially said that while the state may regulate the manner in which handguns may be carried for personal protection, it may not do so by making it practically impossible for law-abiding citizens to afford themselves the protections — both constitutional and physical — of the Second Amendment.

We are well aware that, in the judgment of many governments, the safest sort of firearm-carrying regime is one which restricts the privilege to law enforcement with only narrow exceptions. Nonetheless, “the enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table. . . . Undoubtedly some think that the Second Amendment is outmoded in a society where our standing army is the pride of our Nation, where well-trained police forces provide personal security, and where gun violence is a serious problem. That is perhaps debatable, but what is not debatable is that it is not the role of this Court [or ours] to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct.” Id. at 636. Nor may we relegate the bearing of arms to a “second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees that we have held to be incorporated into the Due Process Clause.” (McDonald, 130 S. Ct. at 3044.)

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A Day in the Life of the Fest for Beatles Fans 2014

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Beatles-themed sensory overload: That is how to describe The Fest for Beatles Fans in New York City, held from February 7-9 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Fab Four’s appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. What’s it like roaming a Fest that fills four floors of a New York hotel with musicians, historians, artists, authors, yogis, meditators, the famous and well over 8,000 fans from 40-odd states and five continents? Take a look at a day in the life of The Fest.

Awesome Beatles historian Bruce Spizer and the moron at Capitol who kept turning down The Fab Four's early hits. "Harmonica-Americans don't listen to harmonica." #NYCFEST14

Beatles author and historian Bruce Spizer opened Saturday with a presentation on how the Beatles conquered America, no thanks to Dave Dexter, Jr., the Capitol Records guy who rejected hits like ”Love Me Do” and “Please Please Me” because they had “too much harmonica.”

Dear Prudence Farrow talks India, the Maharishi and TM #NYCFEST14

Dear Prudence Farrow spoke about her spiritual journey in India with the Maharishi and the Beatles before leading an introductory transcendental meditation session. The room, dubbed the Ashram for the occasion, was so packed that more chairs had to be brought in for the standing room only crowd.

The line to see Good Ol'Freda #nycfest14

Good Ol’Freda Kelly, secretary to Brian Epstein, manager of the Beatles, and president of the original Beatles fan club, is signing autographs! Quick, get in line!

Good Ol'Freda! #NYCFEST14

Still down to earth after all these years, Freda hates being the center of attention but enjoys being with the fans. Her grandson, a toddler, was happily drawing next to her. “Would you like Nile’s autograph?” she casually asked, to which I happily agreed. Good Ol’Freda is the Queen of Beatles Fans: regal, royal, lovely. Her documentary Good Ol’ Freda is a must-watch.

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Green Up, Chill Out

Monday, February 10th, 2014 - by Hannah Sternberg

This week’s gardening music:

For Part 1 of this gardening series, sprouting seeds, click here.

When I was searching for seeds on Amazon, I noticed that the same companies that offered the highest-rated herb variety packs also sold “survival garden” seed packages. These packs contain a selection of hardy vegetables that provide a range of important nutrients, the perfect addition to your survival bunker. Of course, they aren’t much help if you don’t know how to grow them.

A simple herb garden won’t sustain you in case of a global disaster, but it is a good way to learn basic gardening skills. Most common herbs go easy on the gardener — Mediterranean herbs like thyme and oregano don’t require a lot of water, so a day or two of forgetting your new calling won’t kill them. Woody herbs like lavender and rosemary are difficult to start from seed, but once they’re well-established they’re extremely hardy. Leafy herbs like basil take minimal tending — just put them in a sunny spot and they’ll fill your garden or kitchen with beautiful fragrance even when you’re not cooking.

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Paul, George, Ringo & the Prophet John

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

The Beatles Generation in the #USSR #socialism #music #beatles

As the world mourned the loss of Soviet evangelist Pete Seeger last week, I encountered stories of real Soviets who found God, not in the hammer and sickle of the USSR, but in the smuggled bootleg lyrics of the Beatles.

How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin is a fascinating narrative detailing Soviet Baby Boomers’ covert love affair with the Fab Four. Interviewing a variety of Russian Beatlemaniacs, including many post-Communist music scene movers and shakers, over the course of nearly two decades, British filmmaker Leslie Woodhead discovered that The Beatles were much more than a band in the U.S.S.R. For many Soviet teens, The Beatles were a glimpse at independence, freedom, and even God.

The idea that a rock and roll band could provoke the understanding of the intertwining of God and freedom, let alone inspire a search for the divine, is one that is largely lost on an American audience. After all, as Soviet teens risked Kremlin hellfire to listen to Beatles tracks, their American counterparts in the Bible Belt were throwing their records on bonfires, forced by a religious hierarchy that saw John Lennon and his band as a threat to Christ. Rock music then became the stuff of hippies, the class that scoffed at religious institutions and, like The Beatles, sought divine encounters and self-empowerment through eastern religions.

Arguably, the advocates of Beatles burnings did more to harm Christ’s reputation and following than John Lennon ever could. After all, as he explained, his ironic quip about Jesus was more of a warning than a declaration:

“I’m not anti-God, anti-Christ or anti-religion. I was not saying we are greater or better. I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I’m sorry I said it, really. I never meant it to be a lousy anti-religious thing. From what I’ve read, or observed, Christianity just seems to be shrinking, to be losing contact.”

Ironically, it’s a warning that post-Soviet leaders like Vladimir Putin have heeded with their own political purposes in mind.

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How Not to Turn Into The Shining This Winter

Thursday, January 30th, 2014 - by Hannah Sternberg

Tonight’s Gardening Music:

It’s just about the time of year I start to get the desperate, painful feeling that I’ll never see a green growing thing again. The Polar Vortex isn’t doing much to help my cabin fever — I used to get through long winters in Vermont by imagining that somewhere in the continental US (a limit that made the place seem more geographically accessible) it was warm. Now I live below the Mason-Dixon line, my postage stamp front yard is covered in snow, and I heard it was freezing in Florida. Get me out of here.

My roommate and fellow contributor Becky Graebner has been tackling her cabin fever by cooking her way through Ina Garten and documenting it here. I thought I’d contribute some fresh herbs to her cause by pursuing one of my favorite hobbies, gardening. I’m fighting the Polar Vortex Blues by getting a head start on my annual kitchen garden. Follow me, step-by-step, in the coming weeks as I provide garden tips and inspiration — and let me know what you’re planning on growing this season!

Day One: No Gear, No Fear

I got my seeds today.

I know that for a lot of people, a big part of the pleasure of a hobby is acquiring all the paraphernalia — just talk to an amateur photographer and you’ll probably spend more time discussing accessories, upgrades, and programs than you will the actual photographs. But my usual approach to new hobbies (or the restart of old ones) is to keep it simple, and let the results guide my acquisition of more gear.

So tonight, I have three glasses of water and three packets of seeds.

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You’re Not As Happy As You Think You Are

Sunday, January 26th, 2014 - by Paula Bolyard

charles-krauthammer-things-that-matter

Last fall Bret Baier from Fox News interviewed author and Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer about his best-selling book, Things that Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes, and Politics. They discussed Krauthammer’s spinal cord injury that paralyzed him in his twenties while he was a medical student at Harvard. Krauthammer said,

“I made one promise to myself on day one. I was not going to let it alter my life except in ways where were, sort of, having to do with gravity. I’m not going to defy gravity and I’m not going to walk and I’m not going to water ski again. That’s fine. So that you know. But on the big things in life, the direction of my life, what I was going to do, that wouldn’t change at all.”

Krauthammer told Baier that he never entertained the possibility that he would walk again. He accepted his fate and focused on accomplishing his goals in life regardless of his disabilities. Despite overwhelming hardships, Krauthammer managed to graduate from medical school with his class and went on to a residency at Massachusetts General Hospital.

He ran into some unexpected problems, however, during his psychiatry residency, when all residents were required to attend “group therapy” once a week. Krauthammer refused to attend. “I thought, it’s a pointless exercise. So I was called into the chief’s office after about seven weeks of non-appearance.”  Krauthammer explained that he was there to give therapy, not receive it. “The chief of residency told Krauthammer he was in denial. “And I said, ‘Of course I’m in denial! Denial is the greatest of all defense mechanisms. I could be a professor of denial. I’m an expert at denial!’ Krauthammer said. The chief “was not amused.”

Krauthammer completed the required therapy, though he mostly refused to participate in the sessions:

“I’m not a big therapy guy…I don’t like to talk about myself…I’m not a touchy — I’m not a feely guy. That’s probably why I quit psychiatry. If you’re not into feelings and emotions and all the backstory then you ought to be doing something else.”

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‘Our Happiness Affects Others Profoundly. That’s Why Happiness is a Moral Obligation.’

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014 - by Dave Swindle

If you like this video please be sure and read the book that inspired it, Dennis Prager’s Happiness is a Serious Problem. It’s a real life-changer book that will provide some of the basic tools

And get caught up on courses you may have missed at Prager University here. Last week I blogged that their video on rent control is an effective way to “Explain the Folly of Big Government to Your Democrat Friends and Family.”

Click to visit Prager University.

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Your Feel-Good Youtube Video for Thursday

Thursday, January 9th, 2014 - by Becky Graebner
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This video titled “Uncle Henry Gets Surprised on Christmas” has only been online for a few days.  It already has more than 2 million views.  Why?  Because it’s a feel-good video that will probably make you tear-up and laugh.  (Humans secretly love losing control of their tear ducts in a surge of compassion and happiness.)

Watch Henry unwrap his Christmas gift and demonstrate what true happiness and appreciation look like.  This video gets me every time.

I hope you enjoy.

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The Existential Vacuum: Birth Canal of the Knockout Game?

Monday, January 6th, 2014 - by Rhonda Robinson

SadChild

Every parent has heard it — that dreadful lament of “I’m bored!”

Although it’s usually accompanied by dramatizations of actual pain, few parents have patience for it. Even fewer view it as something to be concerned about. That could be a deadly mistake.

I certainly didn’t view it as more than an annoyance. My children learned very quickly and early on that to complain of boredom was a bad idea. At least expressing it to me, that is. The first time those words would come out of a child’s mouth, I simply replied, “Oh that’s great. I have plenty of work for you to do. If you don’t know how to fill your time wisely, I will happily fill it for you.”

You would be amazed at how fast a child can figure out something else to do besides extra chores. One full dose of work instantly cures childhood boredom.

What about children who are never taught what to do with boredom? What do they grow into?

This week’s reading of Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning brought to light what could be the answer to a problem not yet conceived of at the time of its writing. Frankl explains,

The existential vacuum is a widespread phenomenon of the twentieth century…man has suffered another loss in his more recent development inasmuch as the traditions which buttressed his behavior are now rapidly diminishing. No instinct tells him what he has to do, and no tradition tells him what he ought to do; sometimes he does not even know what he wishes to do. Instead, he either wishes to do what other people wish him to do (conformism) or he does what other people wish him to do (totalitarianism). ….

The existential vacuum manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom.

In most cases, when children announce their boredom, parents give them placebos rather than cures. They think it is not really a problem at all. By dismissing the issue as unimportant, the parent takes the path of least resistance and too often offers entertainment as a cure. (This is evidenced by the large sums of money willingly paid for gaming systems.)

However, if Frankl is correct, and it is a real issue, then we are in essence training our children to seek amusement rather than meaning. This could have deadly consequences.

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4 Simple Steps for a Happy January

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014 - by Bonnie Ramthun

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January settles in like a damp blanket. The cheerful lights and Christmas displays disappear, the decorations are stripped and put away, and the commercial air time is filled with ads for weight-loss programs, gym memberships, and help with tax preparation. Is there anything more depressing than watching relentlessly fit superbodies who’ve never eaten three slices of pie at a single sitting tell you how easy it is to get in shape? Your local store shelves are now packed with exercise equipment and diet books. The commercial intent of this month is to make you as miserable as possible and make you part with money you don’t want to spend. Don’t let it happen this year.

Here are four simple steps to a happy January. You’ll start February refreshed, fit, and renewed. Give these a try.

1. Don’t weigh yourself

Don’t throw your scale away, just put it in the closet. Don’t weigh yourself for the entire month. Maybe you’ve put on some weight during December (and most people do), but fretting about those pounds in January does nothing but make you unhappy and does no good. The majority of New Year’s resolution weight-loss plans don’t work.

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My yoga instructor asked our class today if we were ready for the “newbies” in January. The New Year’s resolution types get gym memberships, they resolve to lose ten or twenty pounds, and they fill the gyms for a week or so. They exercise outrageously, make themselves sore and exhausted, and stop coming to work out after the first week. Does this sound like fun? Of course not. This is a waste of money, time, and energy.

Unless you’re a member of OK Go, in which case never mind, you’re awesome.

Don’t buy expensive exercise equipment, don’t engage in some outrageous fitness plan, and turn away from advertisements that barrage you with fitness appeals. You can resist because you have already resolved to follow the Four Simple Steps. They are now powerless against you. You can laugh at the commercials now. I use the disdainful laugh from Christopher Lambert in Mortal Kombat.

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Does Injustice Grant The Right To Do Wrong Or The Opportunity To Discover Inner Greatness?

Sunday, November 24th, 2013 - by Rhonda Robinson

StevenChapman

Traces of pain were embedded in his voice.

I instantly recognized the man as one of my long-time favorite recording artists, Steven Curtis Chapman. The woman sitting next to him was obviously his wife. Although I’d never seen her before, I knew the look on her face as well as my own. It was the blank stare of a grieving mother.

Then I heard her say to Robin Roberts on Good Morning America,

“I’ve said, you know, somewhat coldly, ‘I don’t care whose lives are touched by this story and whose lives are changed or what good comes of it.’ As the heart of a mom, I want Maria back.”

“And that’s — you know, that’s what I want people to know is I want Maria back.”

There’s just not enough good that can be done, to ease the pain of losing a child.

The Chapmans’ five-year-old daughter had died just a few months before that interview in 2008– the pain was still visibly raw. Little Maria died after being hit by a car in her own driveway. It was a tragic accident to say the least.

People often try to comfort grieving parents by trying to show them some good. Their attempts usually compound the pain rather than relieve it.

In the Chapmans’ case the “lives touched,” by their daughter’s death, are real not just a Hallmark sentiment. The Chapmans expanded their charity to add Maria’s Big House of Hope for special needs orphans. They have carved an immense amount of good out of their sorrow.

However, there are people who commit crimes of destruction and violence in the name of injustice on a daily basis. We’ve all seen them captured on film. What about rioting in the streets over issues as trivial as a lost sporting event? There seems to be an air of justification in too many of those instances.

If circumstances such as these can be justified in the least, what of the liberated prisoners of Auschwitz?

Frankl explains:

“We have to consider that a man who has been under such enormous mental pressure for such a long time is naturally in some danger after his liberation, especially since the pressure was released quite suddenly…the psychological counterpart of the bends.”

They now had a choice on how they would use their new freedom.

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Are You Worthy of Your Sufferings?

Monday, October 21st, 2013 - by Rhonda Robinson

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Part I: Could You Find The Meaning Of Life Through The Stench Of Death?

“Fundamentally, therefore, any man can even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him–mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp. Dostoevski said once, ‘There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.’”

The common charge against the goodness of God, is that of human suffering. Could only a world without pain provide evidence that God is good and loving? The underlying assumption is that all suffering and sorrow is evil.

A distinction must be made — evil inflicts suffering. Not all suffering is destructive–or evil.

“You asked for a loving God: you have one. The great spirit you so lightly invoked, the ‘lord of terrible aspect’, is present: not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes us to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child…”

– CS Lewis, The Problem of Pain

It’s human nature to desire comfort and happiness. Most of us spend our days seeking the sort of happiness in this world as Lewis calls  ”comfortable guests” who live “happy in our own way.” And yet often we can have that along with many physical comforts, and still hold misery deep inside that can’t be explained or fixed by anything external.

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13 Week Countdown To Christmas: When Something’s Just Not Right

Saturday, September 28th, 2013 - by Rhonda Robinson

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As I walked into Costco, there it was–the Christmas aisle. Like a great-aunt showing up on my doorstep, Christmas in September brings a mixture of irritation, anxiety and familiarity.

It’s happening everywhere. Christmas stuff is quietly slipping in through the back door. I’m still mourning the loss of summer and trying to find my fall decorations–it’s just not right to start throwing Christmas at me. I’m not ready for it.

Then again, it seems I’m never ready for Christmas. You’ve probably caught a glimpse of me across the aisle and laughed. Yeah, I’m that lady. Shopping the last days, even minutes before Christmas with a closet full of unwrapped presents back at home. Sure, I’ll tell you it’s because that’s when all the great sales are–truth is, I always wait until it “feels” like Christmas.

This is problematic. I want to create the “magic” of Christmas for my family. I love the aroma of cloves and cinnamon mingled with fresh pine. Who can resist the warm glow of candles burning, a fire in the fireplace or a good excuse to dress up and go to a party?  The problem is, it seldom goes quite like I imagine it.

Why?

Christmas always takes me by surprise. Each year brings new excuses reasons. The common denominator is failure to plan. Instead, I let it sweep me away.

I’d really like this year to be different.

If I’ve just described you too, you are welcome to join me over the next thirteen weeks, as I attempt to create a holiday season that inspires family closeness rather than debt, feasts that bring communion and health rather calories, and beauty that inspires rather than commercializes.

Here is what we will accomplish together.

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Oh, the Wonders of Postmodern Marriage!

Monday, September 16th, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt
If you have to look through the keyhole, you probably shouldn't.

If you have to look through the keyhole, you probably shouldn’t.

The Telegraph assures us breathlessly that we humans have an insatiable curiosity over other people’s intimate affairs.

I overhear snippets of conversation from the open kitchen window that always make me wonder why two people who clearly dislike one another intensely stay together.

“Don’t you dare use that against me!” was one blast of unhappiness that drifted out into the crisp morning air last weekend. Back in July, the exchange was still more venomous. “Why don’t you just tell me what you want me to do, and I’ll do it,” snapped a man’s voice. “It would make things a hell of a lot easier if you did,” the woman sniped back with a mirthless laugh.

From the heavy build-up of resentment in their voices – and the name beside their doorbell – I know that they’re married.

The Telegraph’s Celia Warden leaps from this to explanations of why she finds herself fascinated by what is objectively none of her business:

Modern life has made things still more titillating. With gender roles having changed so dramatically over the past few decades, there’s no longer a single set of rules for husbands and wives to abide by – whatever the guy in the dog-collar gets you to repeat after him on your wedding day.

I know couples who get off on arguments (of the non-physical variety, I should add); men who relish being handbagged to within an inch of their pathetic little lives; and women I had pitied for marrying serial adulterers who turned out to have known all along and were simply relieved that their husbands had a distraction.

We’re a complicated bunch. We buy into the whimsical, Hollywoodian portrayal of romance while remaining chillingly pragmatic about its interpretation. In fact, today’s marriages (and relationships) are more like company mergers than Richard Curtis movies. When they do dissolve, it’s more likely to be because of a dire performance report produced on Excel PowerPoint by both or either party than any abstract, emotional reason.

Having grown up in a village and read Shakespeare, I’d like to inform the over-thinking Ms. Warden that all this is “same as it ever was,” both the infinite variety of human relationships and the intense curiosity of their neighbors.  It is my experience this type of article is usually an attempt to cover up behavior everyone knows is wrong by saying “things are so complicated now.”  And on the heels of it comes the desire to look into other people’s lives for their own good.

I’d like everyone to take a deep breath.  Humans have been forming relationships and families for a long time.  Every form of happiness is well known, and every form of unhappiness too.  And no mater how curious you are about other people’s private lives, they remain none of your business.  Doing so will be best for everyone’s relationships, including yours with your neighbors.

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Image courtesy shutterstock.com ©conrado

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20 Tips for Talking with Your Anti-American Acquaintances When They Say Dumb Things on 9/11 (Part 2)

Saturday, September 14th, 2013 - by Dave Swindle

Click here for Part 1 of this online dialogue I had about the causes of the September 11 jihad terror attack with a pack of secularist, postmodern progressives.

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