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The 10 Dumbest Fireworks Fails

Friday, July 4th, 2014 - by Paula Bolyard

Freedom in the United States of America doesn’t just mean expressing your freedom of speech or your right to petition the government. Sometimes, it’s about the freedom to fail … and fail we do … especially, it seems, when beer and explosives are involved.

[Warning: Language advisory]

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10) Brazilian Rocket Science

I don’t know any Portuguese curse words, but I’d venture a guess that this video from São Paulo contains some choice epithets. Never, ever, ever hold the fireworks in your hand. Just don’t.

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Why Was Jesus Born Jewish?

Sunday, June 1st, 2014 - by Myra Adams

Jesus was Jewish and that is a fact – NOT my opinion.

About a decade ago at a friend’s party I began chatting with another guest who, in the course of our conversation, informed me that he was an Orthodox Jew.

This information gave me an opening to ask my favorite question, “Why was Jesus born Jewish?”

His answer was memorable, “Jesus wasn’t Jewish,” he replied.

My jaw dropped and I was almost speechless. Initially I thought he was kidding until realizing he was not.

Then, after a short conversation volley he said, “Well, that’s your opinion.”

Years later I have never forgotten that incident because the fact (not opinion) that Jesus was born, lived and died a Jew is one of the few universally accepted Biblical “facts.”

As one who was born and raised a Jew — but since 1975 has believed that Jesus was and is the Messiah — I have made a hobby out of asking traditional Jews, “Why was Jesus born Jewish?” The reason I continue asking this question is because the answers or I should say non-answers are always so intriguing.

Here are three examples (but you will have to read to the end for the most recent and intriguing example of all.)

A fews months ago, I posed “the question” to an old friend who is a secular Jew, not religious, but very proud of his heritage. His replied, “I don’t know. I guess Jesus had to be born of some religion so it just happened to be Judaism.”

My husband loves to tell this true story he calls, “How Myra Accosted a Rabbi at a Bar Mitzvah.”  A few years back we attended a Bar Mitzvah of a friend’s son. Afterwards at the reception, using my sweet, inquisitive voice I asked the Rabbi, “Why was Jesus born Jewish?”  My husband describes the Rabbi’s face as looking like he had just encountered Satan. After gaining his composure the Rabbi answered, “No one has ever asked me that question,” as he quickly excused himself and dashed to the opposite side of the room.

Then there was the time I was having a heated argument with my non-religious Jewish father (now deceased) about Jesus and my conversion to Christianity. My father had great disdain for ALL religion because he strongly believed that religion was the root cause of every war in human history. During the course of our discussion I asked him, “What was the religion of Jesus?” He replied confidently,  “Jesus was Catholic.”

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Untold War Stories: My Family’s Secret Agent

Monday, May 26th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

John Phillip Sousa on 33 1/3 blasts from the Hi-Fi — yes, you heard right, “Hi-Fi” —  conducted by my flag-waving Grandfather, proudly standing at attention at 8 o’clock in the morning in the doorway of his open garage, wondering why it took us so long to get there. We may have been at the shore, but Memorial Day was not about a barbecue on the beach.

My grandparents lived down the street from my Great Uncle and Aunt. My Grandfather idolized my Great Uncle (his brother), naming his only son after his brother who had spent World War II as a gunner on a Navy ship in the Pacific. Having broken his back before the war, my Grandfather wasn’t able to get into the military during the conflict. Instead, he busied himself crafting knives to send to his buddies overseas (yes, they censored letters, but allowed knives to be carried through V-Mail) with the instructions “leave them in the enemy’s guts and I’ll make you a new one when you get home.”

My grandfather also played a key role in the war effort, one that goes overlooked when we take the time to honor the troops on Memorial Day. Recruited by the FBI in 1940, my grandfather and his father played a key role in the creation of the Iowa Ordinance Plant, the largest shell and bomb loading facility in operation during the war.

In the autumn of 1940, when a fairly isolationist population still dismissed the idea of entering into Europe’s conflict, my grandfather was pulled out of his job as a tool and die maker by two fairly typical FBI mugs. They strapped secret plans for a military facility, designed by Day & Zimmermann, Co., to his body and handed him a train ticket and a gun with the instructions, “Don’t be afraid to use it.” At the age of 23, my grandfather was the perfect cover: “If anyone asks, you’re on your way out west to go to college.” His job was simple: Escort his father, recruited by the government for his skills as a tool and die maker, to San Francisco to convene with a number of highly skilled Americans engaged to prepare America for war.

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The Sacrifice of One

Monday, May 26th, 2014 - by Paula Bolyard

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It’s easier somehow, to think of “war casualties” as stark numbers on a spreadsheet, disconnected from the human lives attached to those numbers. Unless a combat death suddenly crashes into our safe little world, we seldom stop to think of the lives represented by those casualty numbers we hear on the news — the families whose lives were shattered in an instant and for whom there will alway be a missing piece. The little boy who was too young to form memories of his father who was killed in action. The father who won’t be there to teach his son to throw a baseball or ride a bike or be a husband. The daughter who won’t have her father there to walk her down the aisle on her wedding day. The mother who will grieve the death of her daughter until she takes her dying breath. For those families, there is no list of casualties on a spreadsheet. There is only one casualty that matters — the one that turned their world upside-down and left a permanent void in their lives.

Memorial Day is the time we set aside each year to remember and to show our gratitude for those who paid the ultimate price to secure the blessings of liberty for the rest of us. As we honor that sacrifice, let us also remember the families who bear the terrible burden of carrying on without their loved ones. Those families who will always have an empty place at the dinner table and an ache in their hearts.

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Debunking the Jewish Mother Stereotype

Sunday, May 11th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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What is wrong with my children? Why won’t they let me completely immerse myself in their lives?!

Beverly Goldberg, The Goldbergs

Last week, my husband and I fell over laughing at the best line in the entire first season of ABC’s The GoldbergsJust renewed for a second season, the autobiographical series created by Adam F. Goldberg (no relation) features, in his own words, “the orginial sMother” Beverly Goldberg, archetype of Jewish moms the world over. In his comic genius (complemented by Wendi McLendon-Covey’s masterful performance) Goldberg has managed to take a figure much-maligned over the past few decades and craft her into a clan leader who is as lovable as she is obnoxious.  With her ballsy, brash bravado, Beverly is the living, breathing Jewishness in a show otherwise lacking in Jewish culture. For The Goldbergs, Jewish is not about kashrut, holidays or simchas; it is about a mother who smothers her children with equal parts love, confidence, and overprotection.

Thanks to Freud and Friedan, Jewish moms have taken a beating over the past few decades. Friedan used her own mother’s discontent with being a housewife as the impetus for her brutal criticisms of motherhood and housewifery, going so far as to describe the latter using Holocaust imagery. What Friedan failed to note early on was the antisemitic influence on her mother’s behavior. Not only was her educated mother forced to become a housewife the minute she married, she was also the victim of lifelong antisemitic prejudice. This attitude, something internalized by both mother and daughter, would later come out in brute force through Friedan’s feminist critiques of the Jewish mother. It was a position that Friedan would eventually come to regret. According to historian Joyce Antler:

…in later life [Friedan] has joined the modern aspirations of feminism with the popular emblems of her Jewish heritage, understanding that the myth of a controlling, aggressive Jewish mother has been as dangerous to the self-esteem of Jewish women (including her own) as the earlier “feminine mystique” was to all women.

The real-life Beverly Goldberg views her son’s television show as a “validation of everything she’s ever done.” I’d take her observation a step further; I believe Adam F. Goldberg’s seemingly simple, humorous portrayal of “the original sMother”  is a much-needed cultural validation of the Jewish mother figure at large. Beverly Goldberg may not have the zaftig figure of her televisual predecessor Molly, but she has a zaftig heart, one that infuses the kind of family love into a sitcom setting that hasn’t existed since the Huxtables went off the air. In the midst of intense cultural debates on the value and future of motherhood, Beverly Goldberg’s intense devotion, undivided attention, and proclivity for jaws-of-life hugs are refreshing.

Happy sMother’s Day to Jewish moms around the globe. Just please remember to let your kids come up for air once in a while.

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Who Are Your Favorite Fictional Moms?

Sunday, May 11th, 2014 - by PJ Lifestyle Pop Culture Debates!

In partnership with the new fiction publishing platform Liberty Island, PJ Lifestyle is going to begin promoting and co-hosting a series of debates and discussions about popular culture. The goal is to figure out what works and what doesn’t so that in the future we can promote and create better fiction and culture of our own. These are public brainstorming sessions for writers and culture advocates interested in developing a more vibrant popular culture. You’re invited to submit your answers to any of these questions — or a related one of your own! — that interests you:

A) in the comments

B) Via email to PJ Lifestyle editor Dave Swindle.

C) at your blog, then let us know in the comments or via email. 

The most interesting answers may be linked, crossposted, or published at PJ Lifestyle. 

Liberty Island: A Gen-X Gandalf Mom Casting Thomas Sowell Spells

See also, from some of the moms at PJ Lifestyle:

Rhonda Robinson: 3 Steps to Rediscover the Lost Art of Mothering

Bethany Mandel: 8 Reasons Why Breastfeeding Is Best for Moms Too

Rhonda Robinson: 10 Myths from the Mommy Wars

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Mexico’s Best and Brightest Celebrate Cinco de Mayo in America

Monday, May 5th, 2014 - by Bonnie Ramthun

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Imagine a new country suddenly emerging somewhere in the world, a country based on America’s old Constitution and nothing more. This new country has no taxes, a strong military, a free and open press, and a limited government.

Would you pack your bags? Let’s head out for the Atlantis of Atlas Shrugged, or Sarah Hoyt’s Eden colony in Darkship Thieves, or Heinlein’s lunar base in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. We’d miss our old home and feel sorrow over leaving our old country, but to be free of the increasing weight of totalitarian government? Color me gone, and my family too. We did it once, generations ago, when we got on a boat and headed to America. We could do it again.

This is why Mexico is a failed state. Rebels who object to a government unwilling to preserve individual liberty and protect private property have an Atlantis shimmering and beckoning on the horizon. They’ve packed their bags and moved here, some legally and some illegally. Some have died in the deserts of the American Southwest, murdered by coyotes or succumbing to thirst, willing to die to gain freedom.

Left behind are the people who either engage in corruption themselves or have no energy to fight it. Consider Michoacan, Mexico. Almost half the state’s population lives in the United States. Those left behind endure passively as corrupt government officials make deals with drug cartels and refuse to protect people’s safety or private property. Their rebel for liberty, their Patrick Henry or Thomas Jefferson or Ben Franklin, isn’t around. He’s moved to America.

Cinco de Mayo celebrates the victory in 1862 of a small, ill-equipped Mexican force over the powerful French army at the Battle of Puebla, southeast of Mexico City. It took another five years before Mexico gained independence, but the 5th of May is celebrated as the symbol of Mexican freedom. Today’s rebels should fight to free Mexico and turn her back into a vibrant and wonderful country, but I can understand how the lure of freedom in their neighbor to the North is too much.

Because if you had a free country to emigrate to, would you stick around here and fight it out, or would you pack your bags?

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Images courtesy of Shutterstock:  Bilha Golan, Iurii

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Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day the Irish Way: Get Drunk!

Monday, March 17th, 2014 - by Bonnie Ramthun

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Saint Patrick’s Day is an outrageous celebration of my Irish heritage. On that day adult Americans of all ethnic backgrounds feel free to wear green derby hats and shamrock necklaces, pack into bars and pubs to drink green beer and, if they’re really serious about celebrating the Irish way, end the day by vomiting and passing out in the gutter.

I’m offended by this, and it has to stop! Okay, just kidding. I don’t care a bit. The Irish are a fully integrated ethnic minority in America and St. Patrick’s Day is proof. You know your heritage is not an issue when you can poke fun at yourself.

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I don’t know how to make the Martin Luther King holiday as genuinely warm, funny, and celebratory as St. Patrick’s Day, but I’d like to try. Just last month a school system had to apologize for serving a lunch of fried chicken, cornbread and watermelon on Martin Luther King Day. How sad that the African-American holiday commemorating such a great man is about grievances and not praise. Why shouldn’t we all celebrate Martin Luther King day with soul food, vibrant African designs and colors in our decorations and celebrations, and a sense of fun and gratitude?

I fear that instead of moving towards celebrating Martin Luther King Day as a positive affirmation of African-American heritage, we’re moving in the other direction. Columbus Day has come under such attack that this brave Italian hero and explorer is accused of genocide and celebrations in his honor are protested. The very word “Christmas” has been banned in some schools. How long before someone wants to ban St. Patrick’s Day?

May this never happen. Long may the green beer flow in the pubs of America on St. Patrick’s Day. May the green derby hats continue to be perched on the heads of all, may the Leprechaun decorations continue to be ridiculous and offensive, and may you always feel free to be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.

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images courtesy Shutterstock: Patryk Kosmider

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Purim: The Cure for Vashti Feminists

Sunday, March 16th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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There are a lot of great lines in the megillah of Esther. The one most often quoted comes from Mordecai: “Who knows whether you didn’t come into your royal position for such a time as this.” It smacks of drama and makes for an excellent movie poster catchphrase. But, it wouldn’t hold half its meaning without the point-blank observation of evil Haman’s wife, Zeresh.

Upon listening to his frustration over Mordecai’s refusal to bow to him, Zeresh tells her husband to hang Mordecai. But, when she finds out Mordecai is a Jew, she does a complete 180 and admits:

If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is a Jew, you will not get the better of him; on the contrary, your downfall before him is certain.

And this is before Esther convinced the King not to massacre the Jews. It’s refreshing to know our reputation precedes us. But it isn’t a reputation we Jews are always glad to have; we aren’t exactly in it for the fame. In fact, like Esther, our first instinct is to keep our heads down and fit in with the rest of the crowd.

Speaking of “the crowd”, modern feminists have managed to twist the humble Jewess into the villain of the tale, instead opting to celebrate the Persian Queen Vashti for her refusal to appear before the King at his whim. Think: Her body, her self, Persian style. Docile, compliant Esther, meanwhile, is a mere pawn whose beauty comes in handy to persuade the patriarchy to let her live another day. This simplistic interpretation, totally ignorant of the promise and perspective of God, relies on the feminist myth that a woman’s worth is in her ability to manipulate her body to her advantage. Esther could never be considered a hero to these women, because she was inspired by a sense of purpose that outweighed the importance of her own skin.

“Don’t suppose that merely because you happen to be in the royal palace you will escape any more than the other Jews. For if you fail to speak up now, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from a different direction; but you and your father’s family will perish,” Mordecai warns before adding, “Who knows whether you didn’t come into your royal position precisely for such a time as this.”

Vashti Feminists like to think the story is about Esther using her body to pursue the King’s favor. In reality, Esther pursues God’s purpose for her life and the life of her nation, Israel. She didn’t choose to sacrifice her body to the Persian King’s whims. On the contrary, Esther chose to devote herself, body, mind and spirit, to the living promises of God. The King, the death decree, even evil Haman, all of them were nothing more than plot devices in the ongoing love story between God and Israel. Esther, Queen of the Shadchans (Matchmakers) arrived on the scene as a reminder that “relief and deliverance will come”.

Esther was just a regular Jewish girl, redirecting her focus away from herself and onto the bigger picture of God’s plan for humanity. Crowned with the desire and humility to walk in faith, she is remembered as a Queen among her people. Vashti-feminists are oblivious to this plan and the honor it bestows, because their focus remains on the image in the mirror, not the person within, let alone the others who may be around.

Thank God, Esther decided that fitting in with the crowd was a bad idea. Had Esther followed feminist mantra, she would have dismissed Mordecai’s warning and followed the example of Queen Vashti, only to wind up exiled or dead. Instead, she trusted that God’s plan involved every part of her, including her beauty, and used all of her gifts to that end. Typical feminists favor Vashti because they worship tragic beauty; Biblical feminists admire Esther because she plays to win.

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Purim: A Wacky Tribute to Life

Saturday, March 15th, 2014 - by P. David Hornik

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The wackiest of the many holidays on the Jewish calendar is Purim, which falls this year on Saturday evening and Sunday (and a day later in Jerusalem). Purim commemorates the Jews’ deliverance from a genocidal decree of the Persian Empire sometime in the 5th century BCE. Its story is told in the Book of Esther, the last of the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible to be canonized.

Purim, as laid down in the ninth chapter of Esther two and a half millennia ago, is a joyous day, marked by a festive meal, the sending of food gifts, the giving of charity, and the public reading of Esther (mostly in synagogues, though in Israel you can tune into synagogue readings on TV). The Talmud even tells you to get drunk on Purim until you can’t tell the difference between “cursed be Haman” (the villain of the Book of Esther, who is eventually hanged) and “blessed be Mordechai” (a good guy, who eventually becomes the king’s second-in-command).

At some point in medieval times Purim also became a costume holiday. While, in today’s Diaspora, Purim is mostly celebrated by observant Jews, in today’s Israel it’s a countrywide event and you can see colorful, often bizarre costumes everywhere, along with carnival processions on city streets (a custom begun in a then brand-new city, Tel Aviv, in 1912).

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If You Could Have a Private Dinner with Any 5 Presidents, Whom Would You Pick?

Monday, February 17th, 2014 - by PJ Lifestyle Daily Question

PJ Lifestyle editor Dave Swindle offers his choices to get the discussion going…

Venue: Club 33 at DisneyLand

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5 Presidents:

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1. and 2. Both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams together.

3. Abraham Lincoln

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4. Ronald Reagan

5. Valerie Jarrett

This dinner would last approximately 12 hours and would include multiple courses. It would need to take that long because its purpose would be to give Jefferson, Adams, Lincoln, and Reagan the opportunity to convert the current shadow president, Valerie Jarrett, to the ideology that unites the four of them — revolutionary classical liberalism. Afterwards, her brain finally dethawed from the socialist ice box, having realized the great evil she has perpetrated against the American people, she would resign from the Obama administration and provide Republicans with the evidence needed to impeach the president, in exchange for immunity from prosecution and for agreeing to assist the 2016 Republican nominee defeat Joe Biden (the only Democrat remaining who will be dumb enough, and untainted by whole-scale criminality, to try and run). With Jarrett having renounced her faith in Alinskyite stealth socialism, and converted to Christianity or Judaism (let’s pretend the latter — as that’s more amusing), Hillary will be horrified. She’ll know that at this point Jarrett has collected too much dirt on her to even survive a primary, and she’ll retreat to her back-up, Plan B identity of finally divorcing Bill and then reinventing herself as a New Age Oprah-style Baby Boomer goddess feel-good cultural figure.

That’s, of course, if we imagine that Hillary would avoid being swept up in the Obama administration prosecutions. Surely someone would roll over on her at that point, right? As the ship sinks, all the rats will flee. Or does Jarrett have the evidence on hand that she needs to make sure Hillary is no longer a threat to anyone?

Hey, if we’re dreaming of a fantasy dinner with presidents, might as well dream big, right?

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image via eater.com

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Why Do Moms Hate Valentine’s Day?

Friday, February 14th, 2014 - by Bonnie Ramthun

Why do moms with kids in elementary school hate Valentine’s Day?  Let me count the ways.  Elementary schools have Valentine’s Day parties where cards are exchanged between all members of the class.  First, moms have to travel to the store and purchase boxes of cards.  If you’re not super organized and you don’t get to the store early enough, you end up with the dregs, the cards that no little kid wants to give or receive. One year all I could find was a super creepy Chinese knockoff of Ken and Barbie. Not my best year.

These days candy has somehow crept into the yearly Valentine’s Day card offering, so if you don’t have cards with candy attached your child may burst into hysterical tears. Nobody wants to be seen as the lame kid in class who doesn’t offer candy.  I have friends who spend the night before Valentine’s Day frantically attaching candy to cards with scotch tape.

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But wait, there’s more to do.  Moms have to fill out the cards for each child in the classroom, after they procure the list from the teacher, and heaven help you if you misspell or forget one. At one point I had three children in elementary school and that equaled around 78 cards filled out, by hand, for Valentine’s Day. If you’re an especially dedicated mom you make your child sign his or her name to the cards, which is difficult and stressful to the child. They can burst into tears when they have to sign their name to the classroom bully’s card, or to a secret crush. Their little hands get tired. Any moms want to admit they signed Valentine’s Day cards using a forgery of their child’s handwriting?  No?

Then there’s the Valentine’s Day school party, where the kids get over-sugared, over-excited, and over-stimulated with the excitement and come home in exhausted tears with bags of candy and cheap cards that mom now has to deal with.

This may be why some husbands arrive home on the Most Romantic Day of the Year with flowers and chocolates only to find out that mom is already in the middle of a date with a bottle of Chardonnay.  Yes, dear husbands, moms of elementary school kids love flowers and chocolates for Valentine’s Day.  We’ve earned them.  Just don’t give us a card.

Please, not a card.

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Image courtesy of Shutterstock: Brent Hofacker

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3 Simple Desserts for Your Special Valentine

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014 - by Becky Graebner

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Valentine’s Day is coming up which means some of you may be running around trying to decide what to do for the occasion.  If you’re staying in and cooking, here are three, simple dessert sauces that can pair easily with things already in your kitchen.  Sometimes, a simple and classic dessert is the best dessert. Spend less time cooking and more time with the people you love!

All of these recipes an be found in my favorite, handy-dandy sauce cookbook, The Top 100 Quick and Easy Sauces.

1. The Classic: Chocolate Fudge Sauce

Ingredients:

heaped 1/2 cup packed brown sugar

heaped 1/2 cup sugar

2 oz. good-quality semi-sweet chocolate (broken into squares)

4 tbsp. butter (diced)

3 tbsp. light corn syrup

vanilla extract (a few drops)

4 tbsp. light cream

Directions:

Grab a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the sugars, chocolate, butter, and corn syrup.  Heat the mixture slowly until it is smooth.  Stir continuously.

Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer over low heat for five minutes. Stir continuously.

Remove from heat.

Add the vanilla extract and cream.  Mix well.

How to serve: pour this over ice cream, sliced fruit (strawberries), or baked goods (hello, double chocolate brownies!)  Add some pink, red, and white jimmies for decoration.

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Martin Luther King’s Discriminatory Dream

Monday, January 20th, 2014 - by Walter Hudson

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Take the time to listen to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech today. Then ask yourself where his message would fit in today’s political discourse.

He references the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. He pleads for real justice, the abolition of force-wielding institutions of racial segregation, not the false “social justice” of material provision. He explicitly condemns hatred and violence, recognizing whites as “brothers and sisters.” Most powerfully, he concludes with the exhortation to “let freedom ring!”

Who among those laying claim to King’s legacy sound like him today? Who among the organized Left advocates for objective freedom and true justice? Who rejects hatred and fosters the healing of racial divides? Al Sharpton? Jesse Jackson? Van Jones? Barack Obama? Who?

The truth, laid bare for the discerning to see, is that those who most vocally lay claim to King’s legacy fundamentally reject his noble dream. Recall that quote most cited whenever King is evoked:

I have a dream, that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will no longer be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

Consider what such a nation requires. In order to judge someone by the content of his character, you must remain free to do so and to act upon that judgment in pursuit of your own happiness. Effectively, you must be free to discriminate, to judge this as right and that as wrong, to deem one person good and another bad. Liberty proves foundational to King’s dream. Yet those laying claim to King’s legacy stand opposed to liberty at every turn.

We cannot force individuals to judge others by the content of their character. Any attempt to do so, any attempt to abolish racism by state decree, will fail on account of its ignoring the primacy of choice in the formation of values. King’s dream can only be achieved through persuasion, by appealing to reason and securing individual consent. Consequently, the world necessary to foster racial harmony counter-intuitively must tolerate offensive attitudes and choices.

True, under liberty we may never reach the ideal. But we’ll come a hell of a lot closer than under any other condition.

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Tu Bishvat, Israel’s Holiday of Trees

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014 - by P. David Hornik

PJM-Tu Bishvat-1This Wednesday evening and Thursday mark the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat (the name refers to the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shvat). Also known as the New Year of Trees and as Israeli Arbor Day, it’s a minor, nonbiblical holiday, its source in the Talmud. But quite a to-do is made about it in Israel.

The Talmud specified Tu Bishvat as the day on which the annual agricultural cycle begins. Considering that the holiday falls in January or, at best, February, this—the middle of winter—may seem a strange time for agricultural rebirth. It is, though, the time in the Land of Israel when—amid the cold and damp, but with sunnier intervals—you start to see the first white and pink almond blossoms.

You also see packages of dried fruits (dates, figs, apricots, pineapple) and nuts, especially almonds, everywhere. In the Diaspora, Tu Bishvat was marked by eating fruits of the Land of Israel. In the European Diaspora with its cold winters, that meant dried fruits. Now, back in the Land of Israel, they’re ubiquitous at this time of year.

But on a deeper, more ideological level, Israeli Tu Bishvat has become a day of massive tree planting. The custom began in 1890, in the early days of Zionist settlement. A bit later—about a century ago—it was adopted by the Jewish National Fund, which made Tu Bishvat a day to fight malaria by planting swamp-draining eucalyptus trees.

By now the Jewish National Fund has planted over 240 million trees in Israel, adding 12,500 acres of new forest every year. On each Tu Bishvat it holds tree-planting events in forests; about a million Israelis take part in them including large numbers of schoolchildren.

Mark Twain, touring the Land of Israel in 1867, not long before Zionist settlement began, described it this way:

…[a] desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds—a silent mournful expanse…. A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action…. We never saw a human being on the whole route….There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere….

 He wouldn’t recognize it today.

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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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3 Reasons to Get Addicted to Call the Midwife

Sunday, December 29th, 2013 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Haven’t yet caught an episode of the BBC/PBS smash hit series Call the Midwife? Here are three reasons from writer/producer Heidi Thomas why you need to watch this groundbreaking feminist masterpiece:

3. Call the Midwife provides female role models who embrace professionalism, not porn.

“I remember an RAF Careers Officer coming to my school and telling us about the wonderful work we could do in the RAF… as catering assistants! We were furious to hear we would never be allowed to be pilots. Now every profession a girl would wish to consider is open to her.

But I think the Spice Girl, Girl Power thing veered a lot of young women off course, because it was about investing your self-worth in your physical persona, sexuality and “attitude”. I love the idea that we have put the notion of professional women right up there in front of a new generation of TV watchers.”

2. Call the Midwife is the antidote to bad girl TV.

“One of the things they enjoy the most is playing women who are actually nice to each other. Because as young attractive actresses, they are often only offered parts where women are in opposition to one another, where they are catty, or bitchy or quarrelling over the same man.

“They love the idea of women living together in a supportive community dedicated to their professions and to the service of other women, which brings us back round to your thesis about Call The Midwife as a feminist piece.”

1. Even the boys in your house will become addicted to this show about midwives, nuns and babies.

“One interesting thing we learnt, from a breakdown of our audience figures, is that numerically, more men were watching Call The Midwife than Top Gear…”.

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It’s Time to Make a New Christmas Resolution

Saturday, December 28th, 2013 - by Rhonda Robinson

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Sometimes Christmas just doesn’t turn out looking like we think it should.

In spite of thirteen weeks of planning, and even getting my Christmas cards out for the first time in about ten years, this Christmas was hard.

It wasn’t because of money; God provided plenty of work. It wasn’t because of unfulfilled Christmas wishes; I didn’t have any. In fact, in many ways it was a very sweet Christmas, filled with some of the most inexpensive, yet profoundly thoughtful, gifts I’ve ever received.

However, that’s seeing it in retrospect. After spending the bulk of Christmas Eve on the verge of tears, I finally realized what was really wrong.

Everything has changed — everything.

The Christmas stockings hanging on the mantle that I love so dearly remained empty. The little girls whose Christmas dresses they were made of were not here. All but two out of the six were miles away, busy creating Christmas for their own families. My little boys are both men now. There were no Brio Mec building sets under the tree for them, no wooden trains or slingshots.

Although we were blessed with a house full of friends and some family on Christmas Eve, and woke to the grins of six grandchildren and one thoroughly excited teenager, the house still felt empty. There were just too many faces missing. I wasn’t the only one that felt it.

I know. Children grow up.

This year, I made a decision. I’m changing everything. If I can’t have it the way it was, then fine. I’ll create a new normal.

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Merry Christmas from the Puppacita

Wednesday, December 25th, 2013 - by Bridget Johnson
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8-year-old Chi-Chi (aka The Puppacita) sporting her San Francisco 49ers fleece but finding Santa’s head scratches to be just as cozy…

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Peace with God Amid Christmas Chaos

Wednesday, December 25th, 2013 - by Paula Bolyard

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As I write this I am perched on the edge of a Christmas “celebration” threatening to become a cross between Christmas with the Cranks and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (complete with a Something-of-the-Month-Club gift for my husband, purchased online tonight due to my procrastination). My in-laws will be arriving in a matter of hours and the turkey is taking a leisurely candlelight bath in the kitchen sink right now because I neglected to take it out of the freezer 3-4 days before Christmas Eve as recommended and it is currently suitable only for bowling. The ham is in another county, caught in an internecine family “misunderstanding” which may result in the turkey flying solo on the big day. The presents are unwrapped, not a single cookie has graced my oven, and I am seriously considering punting on my one contribution to Christmas Day with my own family — the dessert.

In addition to the food and gifts and unsent Christmas cards — okay, no, I did not even purchase cards, let alone address and mail them — and while we are on the subject, I cannot even bear to open another one of those braggy Christmas newsletters to hear about everyone’s perfect life — and now I’ve lost my train of thought. This is what the Christmas “festivities” can do to a person.

As I was saying, add to all of this the heaviness in my heart for friends and family members who are struggling during what should be a joyous time of year — grieving lost loved ones, dealing with parents in the hospital and in nursing homes, struggling with health issues and marital difficulties. And then there is the migraine monster that battles for control of my head and my life.  Will this second round of steroids knock out this 2-week cycle?

When my husband walked in the door, sans meat, and announced the ham embargo, I lost it. By lost it I mean I completely checked out. I ran to the pharmacy before it closed and then came home and sat in the car in the cold garage on my own personal pity pot for a very long time. I let calls about tomorrow’s plans go to voice mail and then shut my phone off.

So, Merry Christmas, right?

As I desperately worked on an attitude adjustment tonight, I realized that the problems are not Christmas cookies and syrupy family Christmas letters or even a ham that is MIA.

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Christmas Carol Classic: Romanian Style

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Earlier this month the Jerusalem Post reported on a holiday program that aired on Romanian State television featuring a Christmas carol all about the Jews. You could make the argument that most Christmas carols — including famed favorites like Silent Night, O’Come All Ye Faithful, and Little Town of Bethlehem – are all songs about Jews, one in particular, but this ancient song promises to transcend those oldies and become an instant classic. The lyrics, translated into English, go something like this:

“The kikes, damn kikes,

Holy God would not leave the kike alive,

neither in heaven nor on earth,

only in the chimney as smoke,

this is what the kike is good for,

to make kike smoke through the chimney on the street.”

Reportedly the lyrics rhyme better in Romanian.

To clarify, the Romanian public broadcaster, RTV, that aired the live show issued a statement giving all the credit for the song and the performance to someone else – namely the Center for Preservation and Promotion of Traditional Culture. This statement led some to question exactly what constitutes traditional culture in Romania. Follow up reports indicate that “traditional culture” includes referring to Jews by the perjorative colloquial term “jidovi” when singing what are apparently 100 year old Christmas carols on live television.

Romanian Foreign Minister Titus Corlatean remarked, ”I strongly condemn any form of anti-Semitism, even more when it happens to be spread through a public media.” When asked what he thought of anti-Semitism when spread through word of mouth, he added, “Again, I’m against it – but not as much.”

From an educational standpoint, the Christmas carol brings a refined Romanian cultural understanding to the oft-touted holiday phrase, “Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men.” One news outlet elected to report the positive side of the otherwise disturbing story, deeming the song “inclusive” of Jews in the Romanian Christmas tradition.

RTV was forced to issue an apology for airing the performance. Both the Center for Preservation and Promotion of Traditional Culture and the folk group that sang the song declined to comment.

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The Santa Race Debate and Misplaced Christmas Priorities

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013 - by Bridget Johnson

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This Christmas season likely won’t be remembered as much for how Lodi residents helped replace the gifts stolen from the family of a soldier returning from Afghanistan as it will for the debate over the race of the fictional bearer of gifts.

It started with culture blogger Aisha Harris’ Dec. 10 op-ed for Slate in which she suggests replacing “a melanin-deficient Santa” with a multicultural representational penguin. Then it escalated when Fox’s Megyn Kelly empaneled three guests on her primetime show to discuss the piece and declared “for all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white.” Both women later said their comments were tongue-in-cheek.

Last week, I was pulled onto NPR, where I’m a regular contributor, to discuss the fracas with Harris and others — the fracas being an argument about the race of a fictional character who lives at the North Pole with elves and pilots a flying-reindeer sleigh to slide down a chimney with presents. Reactions there were varied.

My first thought was that, over the centuries, portrayals of Jesus and the saints have tended to reflect the culture of that region. The Netherlands’ Sinterklass looks wholly Northern European without much hint of the real St. Nicholas’ heritage in Asia Minor. Jesus was a Middle Eastern Jew, yet cultural representations around the world range from a Jesus with Asian features in the Far East to a black Jesus in Africa and a white, flowing haired representation in Europe. However the cultural interpretation, the legacy of the individual or meaning of their symbolism is not diminished. I doubt either Jesus or St. Nick care about the color of their skin as they do people emulating their works and listening to their words. Unfortunately, the black Santa debate has brought out a lot of ugly in what’s supposed to be a more inspired time of year, with comments left behind the cloak of anonymity on other sites’ stories including racist cracks about black Santa being on welfare or stealing toys instead of leaving them. That is definitely something neither Jesus nor St. Nicholas would utter.

Which leads to my ultimate conclusion about the great Santa debate, which I’ll explain on the next page.

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1 Partridge in a Pear Tree: Last-minute Stocking Stuffers

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

Today is Tuesday, December 24, 2013—Christmas Eve.  If we were having a literal countdown of the “Twelve days of Christmas” song, we would receive “one partridge in a pear tree” today.

Christmas is tomorrow…

Here are some last-minute stocking-stuffer gift ideas:

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Men:

Socks: Kirkland Merino Wool Blend Socks

Cuff links:  Ion-Plated Stainless Steel and Carbon Fiber Cuff Links

Wallet: Calvin Klein Mens Bifold Black Wallet

Scarf: John Hanly & Co. Irish Lambswool Scarf

 

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Wrap: Paisley Jacquard Pashmina Wrap

Ear Warmers: 180’s Tahoe Komen Ear Warmers

Earrings: 14K Yellow Gold Ball Stud Earrings (4mm)

iPhone Case: OtterBox iPhone 5 Defender Series Case

 

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Games: Bananagrams

Hat: Critter Cap Plush Wolf Hat

Movie: Despicable Me 2 DVD

Slingshot: Flingshot Slingshot Flying Screaming Monkey

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Your VodkaPundit Christmas Movie Guide

Monday, December 23rd, 2013 - by Stephen Green

Tis almost the night before Christmas — but there’s still plenty of time to load up the DVD player or stream from Netflix. So make lovely adult beverages for you and yours, and mugs of hot cocoa for the kids.

I should also mention that I’ve never once been able to sit through all of It’s a Wonderful Life, so there’s a good chance I’m a terrible person with retrograde taste in holiday entertainment. So with that out of the way, let’s look at what we do watch every year here at Casa Verde.

Love Actually

Apparently there’s some kind of bitter feud amongst the Love Actually-haters and the Love Actually-lovers, but I’m here to resolve those differences by gently reminding you that the Love Actually-haters are possibly less than human, almost certainly dead inside, and at the very least are incapable of simple human emotion.

Here we have every love story crammed into one breezy and perfectly paced gem of a movie. There’s romantic love, new love, young love, lost love, love that bridges the language barrier, brotherly love, lustful love, the love between a sister and her institutionalized brother, and perhaps the most touching of all, the love between a step-father and the son he finds himself caring for alone. The scenes between Liam Neeson and young Thomas Sangster are by themselves worth the price of admission. And every Anglophile will love Rowan Atkinson’s two pitch-perfect cameos.

There’s some language and some comical nudity, so this one might not be for the kiddos — but prove to me you aren’t dead inside and learn to love Love Actually.

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