Thursday, December 29, 2011

I even have my old hoop skirt slip somewhere...

I am a mom to boys--no girls.  I long ago gave up the notion that anyone would ever be interested in wearing any of my old prom dresses (I still have them all) or my wedding dress.  That is a shame, because the wedding dress in particular was so pretty.  I remember the day and the store where my mom and I found that dress.  It wasn't quite what I had thought I would pick out, but when I slipped it on, I knew it was the perfect dress for me.  That was almost 20 years ago, and that dress is stored somewhere in one of the closets at my mom's house.  It may not be worn or even seen again, but it's there.

I thought about that dress and the whole process of planning a wedding as I was reading The Magic Room, a new book by Jeffrey Zaslow that I was sent to review for BlogHer.  It was one of the most interesting concepts I have read in years.  Zaslow centered his story around Becker's Bridal shop in Fowler, Michigan--a multi-generational family owned business that has sold dresses (and dreams) for over 70 years.  The 'Magic Room' is a special part of that shop that is surrounded by wall-to-wall mirrors and track lighting, with a pedestal in the center for brides-to-be to check out their selections from every angle.  But it was much more than a story of that shop.  The Magic Room was filled with individual stories, and statistics and trends.  In many ways it was like a sociological treatise of love and marriage in American culture, and I just love that kind of stuff.

The subtitle is "A Story About The Love We Wish For Our Daughters", and it kept bringing me back to the idea that I need to be praying for those girls that will grow up to be my sons' wives.  This wasn't a 'always a happy ending' type of book, which I enjoyed reading, because life doesn't always bring happy endings.

But this book, like life in general, IS about hope.  And who couldn't use a little more of that?

The Magic Room is one of the featured books being discussed right now at BlogHer, and there are already some pretty neat discussions taking place there.  You ought to check it out and add you two cents worth.

Disclaimer:  I received a complementary copy of The Magic Room for review purposes, and will be compensated for this review by BlogHer as well.  Isn't that nice of them?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

From Potter to Pooh - My Year in Movies

For What It's Worth -- here are the movies I saw (and a few I didn't) in 2011 ---

Courageous - great message that made me cry more than any other movie has in a long time.  Very well made.

Footloose - I wasn't sure how well I would like this remake, but they did a good job with it.

Winnie the Pooh - such a fun movie.  There were quite a few laugh out loud moments thrown in for the adults, but none of them were double entendres.  What a nice change.

Tintin - We went to see this yesterday--the boys because they are full of testosterone; me out of curiosity to see what Spielberg and Jackson came up with.  The boys loved it.  I thought it was the best animation I have ever seen.  Appparently, children all over the world are familiar with the story of Tintin (a young reporter in England), but not children in the US.  I wonder why not?

The Help - amazing, must see movie.  Must see for me, anyway.  It was so well done.  This book caused a lot of debate, both in and out of the Deep South, and many refused to consider watching it because they thought it glorified slavery/maids.  Wrong.  I thought it empowered them and told a different side of the story. But, since my skin isn't dark, I could be mistaken about this.

Toy Story 3 - Another tear jerker (as a mom), but freaky and scary for young kids.

Harry Potter finale - midnight showing.  Enough said.

Breaking Dawn - not the midnight showing.  Was disappointed by the obvious attempt to milk this series for all the money it can by breaking it up into two installments.  Fail. Not to mention the movies are pure puff pieces anyway.

The Deer Hunter - I saw this on HBO, and watched more out of curiosity than anything else, since it is considered by many to be a classic.  I'm not sure why--the plot and the characters seem contrived and shallow.  I was taken by surprise by the Russian Roulette scene.  Apparently, this is what brought that phenomenon into American pop culture.

Gnomeo and Juliet - very good, under-rated movie.

These are the movies I had to google (2011 movies) because I had forgotten about them, which probably says a lot about the impression they made on me:

Puss in Boots - better than I thought, especially since I don't like the Shrek movies

Mars Needs Moms - totally under-rated, which is unfortunate but not surprising

Mr. Popper's Penguins - I went in with less than favorable expectations, since I don't like Jim Carrey movies, and this one really deviated from the book.  If those two things were taken out of the equation, then this movie was OK.

Cars 2 - OK for a remake of a very popular movie that changed almost all of the characters and story line components.

Dolphin Tale - loved it.  I didn't think I would.  It make homeschooling seem normal and fun, not deviant and strange.

The Muppet Movie - cheesy, campy fun.  I liked it, and wasn't sure if I would.

Pirates of the Caribbean 4 - I went to see this with someone else who got to choose the movie (She wanted to see The Hangover 2.  Umm, no).  I remember the girl had long black hair.  That about sums it up for me.

And then, there were the movies I didn't see, but 'reviewed' anyway -Soul Surfer, The Green Hornet, and Super 8. (Just because I am opinionated like that.)

My google search revealed some of the upcoming movies--some good, most not so good.  Brave New World (love the book)?  The Hobbit?  And Titanic in 3D?  What a way to capitalize on the highly over-rated movie with such a blatantly gratuitous nude scene.

Of course, I'm sure everyone will bursting down the theater doors to see Terminator 5.  It is so reassuring to see creative excellence won't be stifled in 2012.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Money tree is planted right next to the Juicy Fruit tree

Two really cool things happened yesterday that were attitude changers.

First off, I tried to go by the post office to buy some stamps to pay some bills.  There were no parking spaces, but I could see the line outside the main lobby doors.  I quickly decided to drive on over to Kroger, where I could pick up a few things and get stamps at the check out lane there.  I ended up getting things I didn't need immediately (and forgot the toilet paper and aluminum foil, which necessitated another quick store run later), and when I went to check out, the lady told me that they had just sold out of their stock of stamps.  For the entire store.  What?!?

Anyway, as I was leaving, I told the check out lady that I hoped people were extra nice to her today--which has become my standard parting line this month.  She then told me that one of her customers had just come by and handed her a gift card and told her to have a Merry Christmas.  It was obvious that the cashier was still in a happy semi-shock, and had been very blessed by this simple act of kindness.  I was blessed by it, too.  I had never even considered doing something like that--there is never any extra money left over at the end of the day--but I love the thought.  I will keep it on the back burner in case my money tree ever starts growing.

So, I ended up having to go to the post office anyway.  I parked a mile away and made my way to the back of the line (I was number 18 at that point).  I was somewhat encouraged by the fact that all 3 check-out lanes were open, which rarely ever happens.

The lines moved fairly quickly, considering most of the customers had multiple packages that needed to be tracked and insured. (Tell me again why the post office decided to remove those self serve stamp machines from the lobby?)  I was about half way through the line (and in the actual check-out room) when a little boy and his mom walked in and kind of stood to the side.  I didn't particularly notice them, other than thinking the boy looked cute in his fuzzy animal hat.  Then, after the next customer was finished, they unobtrusively walked up to the counter with a cardboard carrier of cups of hot chocolate from the coffee shop across the parking lot, as well as individual bags of muffins that the boy had decorated.  The mom announced to the workers that  this was just a small token of appreciation for all of their hard work and patience this time of year.  

Well, let me just tell you--it was like that scene from the Grinch, when his heart grew.  Ooh and ahhs were spoken all over that room, and the attitudes were immediately changed.  Thanks were spoken, and that mom and her cute little boy left.  It was quickly back to business as usual, with all the packages and stamps and all, but for a small group of us who just happened to be lucky enough to be in the lobby at that time, perspectives and attitudes were changed.

At least they were for me, anyway.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Cancun for Christmas

Leave it to Facebook to make moms everywhere feel like underachievers and slackers.  What better time than December to fill us in on how the other folks celebrate, and by extension, just how seasonally inadequate we really are.  Case(s) in point:

Elf on the Shelf – This is a stuffed elf (and book) that magically shows up sometime around Thanksgiving every year.  Apparently, the point is to have him move and do mischievous things each night while the kids are in bed.  I think he was originally just supposed to move from one place to another each night, but of course, now there are ‘expectations’ that he do something funny or destructive, like unwrap presents, or bake cookies and leave the mess until the next morning, or UNDECORATE the Christmas tree.  Are you kidding me?  Undecorate the tree?  And what about those cookies?  At our house, they would be carried away by the ants and roaches before dawn if any food-like crumbs were left out after the lights are turned off for the night.  I have talked to many kids (and moms) that are all into this phenomenon, and they seem so happy, and I am sure this will be a loving, fun memory they carry into adulthood.  I’m afraid my kids would need therapy (nightmares of the Chuckie doll variety), so this trend will just have to miss us.

Pretty pictures in coordinated outfits – I love looking at these photos.  I really do.  I never cease to be amazed at how everyone looks happy and loving and glad to be there.  This in no way represents my family reality.  Forget color coordination.  We are doing good to be adequately clothed for the weather in clothes that for the most part fit.  If my pants aren’t elastic, then they are probably unbuttoned, just sayin’.  Plus, I have tall boys—too-short pants are always a possibility.  And, being nice to each other, even for the four seconds it takes to snap that picture?  Yeah, right.

Santa pictures – a specialized photo taking opportunity, that tends to also involve pets and/or small farm animals.  Have you seen the lines?  Are you kidding me?  We did try to make it to the free photo shoot at Bass Pro a couple of weeks ago, but that line reached almost to the front of the store, so we turned right around and left.  The boys were dressed in T-shirts and unmatching shorts.

Vacations – extravagent and otherwise—Yeah, right.  Why should this year be any different from years past?

Santa/No Santa debate** – People have very strong opinions on this issue, and a lot of them are more than happy to share them online.  And by share, I mean some of them argue, debate, name call, and otherwise embarrass others who for the most part think the same way they do.  I am becoming more and more convinced that the most ignorant people in any given group are usually the most vocal.  I’m guessing Jesus would have very well reasoned opinions on this issue as well, but I’m not so sure He would use the Facebook status comments section to make them known.  I don’t know; I guess could be wrong about that.  I just think that a person can be totally right about something and still lack discernment about sharing it with everyone else.

Christmas time is stressful enough with the added pressure of comparing ourselves to everyone else.  It may be a good idea to unplug for awhile, and reflect on the real reason for the season.

**For What It’s Worth—our boys have never thought that Santa is the one that brings them toys.  They wake up on Christmas morning with a toy stash, and stockings, and all the other goodies, but they know who bought them and put them there.  I can guarantee you that they don’t feel deprived, and the magic continues into the teen years, as opposed to being cruelly burst by some mean kid at school who ‘tells them the truth’ about Santa.  It also takes away the frustrating myth of naughty/nice kids.  Everyone knows that some of the meanest, most rotten kids get the really good stuff every year.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Night of the Living Dead Christian

About a year ago, I read an amazing book called Imaginary Jesus, by Matt Mikalatos.  I was so intrigued and excited about it that I told just about every Christian reader I know about it.  It was such an interesting concept, and very original.  (You can read that review here). 

So, I was very excited to see that he had written a new book, called Night of the Living Dead Christian, with the subtitle ‘one man’s ferociously funny quest to discover what it means to be truly transformed’.  Again, it was such an interesting idea. This is how the back cover describes it:

Night of the Living Dead Christian is the story of Luther, a werewolf on the run, whose inner beast has driven him dangerously close to losing everything that matters.  Desperate to conquer his dark side, Luther joins forces with Matt to find someone who can help.  Yet their time is running out.  A powerful and mysterious man is on their trail, determined to kill the wolf at all costs…

This doesn’t sound like standard Christian fare.  In fact, that is why I think I like it so much.  I chose to review the book based solely on the fact that Mikalatos wrote it, and was curious to see what he would do with the whole monster thing.  I wasn’t sure I would like it as much as I did Imaginary Jesus, because it could come across as kind of silly or hokey.  But, like before, this book was brilliant. 

The general idea of the story is that a man (Matt) befriends his neighbor, who happens to be a werewolf that has driven his family away and is desperate to be released from his torture.  Thrown in are a mad scientist, his robot android, a vampire, a monster hunter and an ego-maniacal preacher, among others, who interact and deal with the monsters in various ways.  Beyond the very funny dialogue that combines pop culture humor with some pretty deep theological discussions, there is a story of how to deal with evil desires and impulses, and how to people spend so much energy keeping these impulses from becoming known or taking over.  In essence, it is a story of hope.

It is hard to explain just how Mikalatos does this so effectively, but a blurb by Publishers Weekly on the back cover sums it up very well:

“Startling, contemporary, meaningful…Mixing questions of suffering and free will with a nexus of weirdness, Mikalatos throws Christian fiction into the world of Comic-Con and Star Wars.”

The older I get, the more I embrace weirdness and Comic-con-ness.  For an author to be able to produce a work that not only incorporates these types of quirks, but celebrates them, while at the same time not diluting the message of Jesus, is someone I want to continue to read and support.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Probably Not What Queen Had In Mind (but I like it)

I have always loved puppet shows.  It seems like most of the churches I have been a part of have incorporated them in some way.  The itty-bitty church I grew up in even had them.  I can still see the exact movements of the blue headed and the bald headed puppets as they sang "Excuses, Excuses, you hear them everyday...".  My church now doesn't have them in 'big church', but they were definitely the highlight with my boys when they were in preschool.

I have noticed this particular puppet presentation on Facebook for a couple of weeks now, but just watched it for the first time this morning.  Wow--puppet shows sure have changed.  I can't even imagine Mrs. Nance, the 80-something year old puppet director at one of my churches, even for one minute considering allowing 'her puppets' to perform something like this.  But, it sure did make me smile this morning.

Bethlehemian Rhapsody
Bethlehemian Rhapsody
Now, I'm thinking about the power of music to encourage and change funky attitudes.  So, in my continuing effort to clear out my CD collection, I am giving away a couple of CDs today.  Today's giveaways are A Christmas Reunion and Christmas Dance Hits (like a techno-remix of Christmas classics).  If you would like either of them (and live in the continental US), just leave a comment telling which CD you would like, as well as your favorite happy song--that song that always makes you smile.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The 70s in 6 minutes (well, really 9 minutes)

I have been up for several hours now, but this is the first thing that has made me have a prolonged smile today.  This may explain a lot about why I turned out the way I have.  Thanks for the smiles, Tim Hawkins!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

An hour and 40 minutes away

In just a couple of hours, I will be heading home.  Not the home I have made with my husband and children, but the original home with my parents and siblings.  It is a home of lakes and land, ducks and bright stars at night.  I was blessed with an almost idyllic childhood, and I don't take that for granted at all.  Most of my childhood friends no longer have that 'place' to return to, but I am so glad that I do.

I stumbled upon this song and video (Childhood Summer, by Sara Groves) this morning, and it just seems to capture the mood today.  It seemed like a good one to share, especially for anyone who may not have that place to return to.
I hope everyone has a survivable Thanksgiving.  I heading over the river and through the woods, to go sit by the lake and watch a sunset.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Psalm 69:29

I've come across a lot of people the last few days that are just beaten down--sick, sad, broke, discouraged--you name it.  I listen or type out encouragement, but even as I do this, it seems so inadequate.

Sometimes, platitudes just don't cut it.

Sometimes, the best thing is to just be quiet and listen.  And pray.  And care.

Really care.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Living With Four Y Chromosomes

Boys are different.  Growing up with brothers and being friends with a lot of girls who had brothers, I kind of had a jump start into this different world and reality of what it means to be a boy.  Boys are loud and tough.  They love to wrestle.  Good hygiene is optional.  Cleanliness in general is relative.  They will turn anything into weapons, and follow the beat of an entirely different drummer than girls do. 

And this is a good thing.  A very good thing, as a matter of fact.

I love being the mom to boys.  I can still remember the moment I realized that life in our home would always be different and that I was in the minority.  It wasn’t when we say the ultrasound for boy #1 that it hit, or even when he was born.  It was about a year later and I was sitting on the floor folding clean clothes.  Before he came along, there had been only three piles—one for me, one for my husband, and one for the towels.  Now, there were four piles, and the new one looked very much like my husband’s pile, just with smaller dimensions.  Over the years, we’ve added two more boy piles, and the dream of ever having all of the clothes washed at one time has become just that – a dream.

Like a lot of parents, I have read a lot of books and articles over the years about boys.  I have listed to radio broadcasts from Focus on the Family and Family Life Today.  And, of course, there has been the on the job training.  I have used and stored away some good information.  There have been books that I have skimmed over, and some that I have kept for future reference.  So, when I got the opportunity to review the book Raising Real Men, by Hal and Melanie Young, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  The subtitle was Surviving, Teaching and Appreciating Boys (good subtitle--and philosophy).  I figured there would be some good information, but didn’t know how much would be recycled from other sources.

I began reading it a couple of months ago, and was immediately struck by how different this book is.  It is part informational, part guidebook, and part resource materials.  But, it goes beyond that.  Covering topics such as discipline, games and warfare, the Youngs address these areas in extremely practical and boy specific ways (and yes, boy specific ways do matter).  Here are just a few of the hundreds of nuggets of wisdom that stood out for me:

"Without question, we have an absolute responsibility to give our children physical protection; they are dependent on our care to provide their food, clothing, and shelter, and to shield them from those who would exploit or abuse them in some way.

That protection shouldn't become the unmanning of our sons, though.  Boys need to have the freedom to take reasonable risks.  You don't let them play in traffic, but you shouldn't cringe in horror as they climb the jungle gym.  If they grow up fearful of risk, they are missing an important part of being a man.  A carefully considered risk, prayerfully undertaken, is not recklessness."  (page 51)

On Racing to Win:

"Mothers are made to nurture.  They want everyone to be happy.  They want everyone to win.  They try to rewrite the rules of our board games so no one loses, and delight to find toys that feature "cooperative play." It extends into the schoolroom, too:  the idea of cooperative learning where students work together in groups and everyone shares the same work and same grade was definitely invented by women.

Boys just don't think that way.  They love to try their strength, whether physical, intellectual, or emotional, against others.  They want to see where they stack up.  They love to compete; they love to win, and sometimes they would rather lose than not try.  Maybe some boys seem to avoid competitions, but they probably just haven't had a chance to compete on their strengths.  It's deep seated in the male psyche."  (pages 101-102)

On Love and War (and by extension, sex):

This is plainly an area where parents aren't talking with one another.  Mothers we've met, particularly homeschooling mothers, seem to be in denial about their children's sexuality.  It's as if the kids never quite leave the baby stage -- you know, when you dress the little girls in pink and the little boys in blue because, frankly, they still look identical any place but the bath tub.  Moms worry that talking to their children about sex will destroy their innocence and expose them to a Pandora's box of temptations.

Fathers know better, if they're honest about it.  They know that temptation is an ongoing battle for nearly every man, and it starts much earlier than most women realize.  Boys don't need exposure to anything to find sexual temptation; all the pleasure points are easily accessible, and they discover that fact before they can talk about it.  Parents will correct outward behavior that might be embarrassing ("Get you finger out of your nose! Keep your hands out of your pants!") but without some broader principle of why and how to avoid that temptation, curiosity will hatch into fascination and progress to real problems later on.  Peeking at risque magazines when they're ten years old is way down the road from the starting point."  (Page 199)

Good, good stuff.  If good information was already out there, they didn't reinvent the wheel.  Useful ideas were included and referenced on almost every page.  Topics included chores, stewardship, money, weapons and respecting women, among many others.  I can not recommend this book enough.  If it seems like you have all of the boy raising info that you need, you don’t.  You really should consider checking this book out as well.  I have learned so many new strategies and ways of looking at situations, and I have always considered myself well read on the subject.  I think that is why it has taken me so long to read the entire book.  It isn’t the ‘read and digest in one setting’ kind of book.  I’ve had to ponder it and apply it on a regular basis.  As I read Raising Real Men, I was reminded of the importance of what it is that I am called to do.

I am raising leaders.  Maybe not of ‘big’ things like companies or governments (but maybe I am), but they will most definitely be leaders of their families.  The question is—will they be strong, confident leaders, or weak-kneed, hen pecked leaders?  While I am not the final determiner in that outcome, I do have a very important role in their preparation.  And this book certainly helps provide a battle plan for me.  This one is definitely a keeper. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Momma's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Marry Vampires...

Well, this is the night--the one girls of all ages have been waiting on for quite a while.  The 4th installment of the Twilight movie series opens at midnight tonight, and my little class of girls that met yesterday were talking about it.  Facebook posts and statuses are all abuzz with it.  More and more commercials are being shown promoting it.  It will no doubt be a big money maker and potential change agent.  And this concerns me.

I went to see the first Twilight movie when it was released a few years ago because so many of the girls in my 3rd grade class had mentioned that they were going to see it and that they had read the book.  I saw it, and wasn't very impressed with it.  The movie was kind of boring and the main girl seemed in need of some major anti-depressants.  You see, she had just moved in with her father in the rainiest, cloudiest city in the continental US.  This was very important to the story, since this setting was necessary for the family of vampires that lived there.  She and one of the vampires were immediately attracted to each other (well, he really wanted to suck her blood out and had to stay away from her so he wouldn't attack her), and thus began this strange relationship.  Added to this was an old friendship with a Native American boy that turns out to be a werewolf in book/movie 2.

I wasn't pulled into the whole Twilight phenomenon based on that movie.  I left the theater wondering about the pull it seemed to be having on the girls I knew, so I did what any good seeker of knowledge would do--I checked out Wikipedia.  There I got the scoop of what the series was about, and figured I knew enough to be able to have a decent conversation about it with my girls should the need ever arise.

Then, the next year, I was given free tickets to the midnight showing of the second installment of the movie.  Those type of events are always interesting from a sociological standpoint, so I went.  It was one of the most interesting things I had seen in a long time.  The theater was packed, way before midnight, but not by young girls.  It was mainly women like me--middle-aged with children of various ages.  However, there was one big difference.  These ladies were taking this thing very seriously.  There were Team Edward (the vampire) and Team Jacob (the werewolf) shout-outs and T-shirts, and the excitement about this series could be felt in the air.  I watched another slightly less mediocre movie, and decided there must be something I was missing, because the movies surely couldn't be responsible for that level of devotion.

So, I checked those books out from the library, and did a little reading.  And of course, like most movies that are made from books, the books were better.  I could see the appeal to women.  But, reading as a mom and a teacher of girls, I began to become very concerned.  Here's why.  Bella (the main character) becomes obsessed with Edward.  Literally.  To the point that she does very dangerous and foolish things when they break up and Edward leaves town.  She even considers suicide if she can't be with him.  He attempts suicide in a (vampire) way when he thinks Bella has died and he doesn't want to continue to exist if she isn't alive.  She lies to her parents.  She is attracted to both Edward and Jacob at various times.  She is very physically aggressive with Edward (more so in the books than in the movies), and thinks his ideas about sex (no sex unless they are married) are very outdated and frustrating.  He can't help it--he was changed into a vampire in the early 1900s, after all, when such ideas were the norm.  My girls have mentioned several times how romantic it is that Edwards sneaks into Bella's room every night to watch her sleep.  Romantic--no.  Creepy and stalkery--definitely.

Which brings me to tonight's midnight opening of part one of the final installment.  (Yes, they learned how to milk that cash cow from Harry Potter).  Bella and Edward finally get married.  Yes, they have waited until now to have sex--no thanks to Bella.  And they definitely have sex, in a strange, violent, vampire-y way.  Since this was a relatively small part of the book, I am guessing that this part was embellished a lot for the movie.  And this concerns me.  It is one thing for grown women to choose to see this.  I think it is quite another for younger girls to see this without it having been filtered/monitored/viewed first by their parents.  All early indications are that the honeymoon scenes will be pretty graphic, even for a PG-13 movie.  If my Facebook news feed is any indication, lots of my now 6th grade girls will be there tonight, or definitely by tomorrow afternoon at least, with their mother's full permission and approval.

The battle lines have been drawn.  My girls are definitely Team Edward.  Or Team Jacob.  But they have chosen sides and their hearts are engaged.  The bottom line is that they love the love story, and many (of my girls at least) are craving love and acceptance and romance, and are looking for it anywhere they can get it, even in a movie.  I just hope they don't come away from this particular movie with more confusion about true love and romance, or a convoluted sense of what it means to be a girl/woman/wife/mother.  I hope they have parents that are willing to have the tough conversations and not romanticize this fictional series themselves.  It has the potential to be a great means of starting a dialogue about boundaries and feelings and obsession.  It is even OK to just say no to this particular movie at this particular time.  It may not be the most popular decision some mommas have ever made, but it could possibly be one of the most important ones.

Am I being overly dramatic or overprotective?  Possibly.  But I do know this -- there is definitely a battle going on out there, and it is more that just between Edward and Jacob.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Footloose and Courageous--A Time to Dance

A couple of weeks ago, I went to see the movie Footloose, and wrote about my impressions of it here.  After that movie ended, I walked out of the theater and into the next showing of the movie Courageous, just a couple of screens away.  I don't normally get to see a movie in theaters very often, much less two movies in the same afternoon, but the stars lined up for me that day (meaning a grandmother showed up unexpectedly to watch the kids, and I found some serendipitous money in a shirt pocket).

I don't know if you have seen Courageous, or even heard of it.  A lot of my Facebook friends had seen it and given it status shout-outs, but I hadn't really seen it promoted very much, so I didn't really know what to expect.  I knew enough to take some extra toilet paper from the theater bathroom in with me, because it had a weepiness potential to it.  I probably should have taken a whole roll in, though.  It was that moving and that good.

The story follows 5 men (4 of them police officers), as they work, share life, struggle, and try to be good men, husbands and fathers.  Definitely not the kind of movie that is normally offered to the public.  You know, the ones with idiot men (and women) who are selfish and flighty and vulgar.  THIS movie was good.  And touching.  And thought-provoking.  It was very well made, and has been holding its own with the current movie releases for several weeks now.

I've found myself making comparisons between the two movies quite a bit, particularly with regards to a few of the fathers in the movies.  Both movies feature fathers who make tough decisions for their teenage daughters, based on their desire to be the kind of fathers that they feel God has called them to be.  They love their daughters, and they know too well the dangers of not placing protective barriers aaround their children.  They want to do the right thing, even when it is hard.  They both realize that they are not called to be their daughters' friends, but their fathers.

What is interesting to me, however, is how this protection is portrayed in each movie.  In 'Footloose', the father (Shaw) is acting out of a place of fear and control, and his daughter (Ariel) rebels against it completely, with potentially life altering consequences.  Ariel has no respect for her father or his rules.  However, in Courageous, there is also a father who has placed strict boundaries on his teenage daughter's behavior.  Although she does not fully appreciate her father's rules, she abides by them out of respect for her father, knowing that he has her back.  His protection is based on a long standing commitment and love.  And the speech he gives her at that restaurant with the promise ring?  Oh. My. Goodness.  It made me almost wish I had a girl.  Almost.  It sure did leave me hoping that my future daughters-in-law are being raised by daddies like that.

Then you have the whole dancing thing.  Anyone with even the most basic knowledge of Footloose probably knows where that father stood on the issue of dancing.  Maybe he needs a lesson in dancing from another of the Courageous fathers.  I had to keep my eyes closed for 'that' dancing scene--my measly tissue had gotten soaked way too early to make it through that scene unscathed.

Three fathers.  All loved God and their children.  All wanted to protect.  Some did a better job of it than the others.

Both movies have gotten me to thinking--what about me?  Am I doing a good job with my boys?  What lessons do I still need to learn, and am I willing to learn them?

And, to take the comparison a little bit farther--I call God my 'heavenly Father', so I have to wonder:  what kind of daughter am I?

Werewolves, and Zombies, and Vampires--Oh, My!

About a year ago, I read an amazing book called Imaginary Jesus, by Matt Mikalatos.  I was so intrigued and excited about it that I told just about every Christian reader I know about it.  It was such an interesting concept, and very original.  (You can read that review here). 

So, I was very excited to see that he had written a new book, called Night of the Living Dead Christian, with the subtitle ‘one man’s ferociously funny quest to discover what it means to be truly transformed’.  Again, it was such an interesting idea. This is how the back cover describes it:

Night of the Living Dead Christian is the story of Luther, a werewolf on the run, whose inner beast has driven him dangerously close to losing everything that matters.  Desperate to conquer his dark side, Luther joins forces with Matt to find someone who can help.  Yet their time is running out.  A powerful and mysterious man is on their trail, determined to kill the wolf at all costs…

This doesn’t sound like standard Christian fare.  In fact, that is why I think I like it so much.  I chose to review the book based solely on the fact that Mikalatos wrote it, and was curious to see what he would do with the whole monster thing.  I wasn’t sure I would like it as much as I did Imaginary Jesus, because it could come across as kind of silly or hokey.  But, like before, this book was brilliant. 

The general idea of the story is that a man (Matt) befriends his neighbor, who happens to be a werewolf that has driven his family away and is desperate to be released from his torture.  Thrown in are a mad scientist, his robot android, a vampire, a monster hunter and an ego-maniacal preacher, among others, who interact and deal with the monsters in various ways.  Beyond the very funny dialogue that combines pop culture humor with some pretty deep theological discussions, there is a story of how to deal with evil desires and impulses, and how to people spend so much energy keeping these impulses from becoming known or taking over.  In essence, it is a story of hope.

It is hard to explain just how Mikalatos does this so effectively, but a blurb by Publishers Weekly on the back cover sums it up very well:

“Startling, contemporary, meaningful…Mixing questions of suffering and free will with a nexus of weirdness, Mikalatos throws Christian fiction into the world of Comic-Con and Star Wars.”

The older I get, the more I embrace weirdness and Comic-con-ness.  For an author to be able to produce a work that not only incorporates these types of quirks, but celebrates them, while at the same time not diluting the message of Jesus, is someone I want to continue to read and support.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Zombie Church

This past weekend my husband and I had one of those rare opportunities to spend a little time just talking.  Not about discipline or bills or what I need him to fix/kill/find, but we got to go on a deeper level.  Given enough time, our talks generally come around to church related issues.  Not so much our particular church, per se, but the Church at large.  Because he is on staff at a church, and because I spend a lot of time and energy on people who don't attend church, we come at our opinions from a variety of viewpoints.

As a sociologist, I tend to look at all sides of an issue, kind of like a good debater or litigator would do.  How can a person adequately articulate a view, if they don't at least understand why a person might have an opposing viewpoint?  This is kind of how my husband and I flesh out issues, and this discussion was no different.  Basically, we talked about why people don't go to church/leave church/just go to church without any intent of becoming involved. (It is amazing where we can go in a discussion without any kids around to interrupt).  This time, though, a lot of the talking points came from the latest book I have been reviewing, called Zombie Church.

I chose to review Zombie Church mainly out of curiosity.  I wasn't familiar with the author, Tyler Edwards (the lead minister of Cornerstone Christian Church in Joplin, Missouri).  But I liked what I read on the back cover:

Liars. Hypocrites. Men, women and children who attend church because it's what they are supposed to do.  Just going through the motions.  These are the undead--people who are disconnected from the Spirit of God--who are spreading a virus of passivity, or worse.  No one is completely immune.

In this challenging, culturally relevant book, Tyler Edwards spotlights the very real but often ignored lackluster attitude of today's believers.  An attitude that can infect an entire church.  Using examples from popular zombie movies, Edwards will help you recognize the symptoms and show what you can do to awaken the undead.  

Now, I have to admit, I was somewhat skeptical.  This could either be done very well, or just be lame.

It was not lame.

I try not to mark or write in books anymore, in case someone else wants to read it.  I don't want my marks to be a distraction.  However, from the very first page, I found myself wanting to write.  And mark.  And highlight.  Just about everything.  I eventually did mark some, but realized I was basically just highlighting everything, so I stopped again.  Practically everything Edwards wrote was like a zinger popping off of the page,  For example:

Following God does not mean we live without consequences or that those consequences will always be good.  When you take a stand for Jesus, you might lose your job, you might lose friends, you might alienate your family, and one day you might even be beaten or thrown in prison.  You even might die.  The faith hall of fame in Hebrews 11 tells the stories of men and women who were miraculously rescued from death.  This is to set the standard for our faith, however, not the standard for God's response. (page 37)

I think that God is bored with the petty faith of our American churches.  When is the last time we did something that would require God to act?  When is the last time our churches stepped out in faith to do something so big, we would need God to be a part of it?  I'm not saying we haven't done anything.  We have accomplished some great things, but for a nation of "Christian" people and two hundred years of working at it, you would think we would have accomplished a lot more (page 151).

Zombie Church is convicting, and relevant, and good.  It was also very interesting.  The whole zombie angle was done well, and I can think of several friends that would be interested in this book for that fact alone.  Edwards took truths and concepts that are widely known in some religious circles, and expanded them to include and engage a whole new subculture.  Kind of like Paul did with all those heathen Greeks and Romans.

Paul even changed his name to fit into the cultures he was trying to take Jesus to.  I always have liked that guy.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Everybody, Everybody Cut Footloose!

Like a lot of other people my age - those of us who had the privilege of growing up in the '80s - I was more than a little skeptical when I heard that someone was doing a remake of the movie Footloose.  Not many remakes can stand up to the nostalgia factor of a good original, especially iconic movies.  And Footloose was definitely iconic.  Catchy music, teen angst, dancing feet/shoes, Ren reading out of Ecclesiates (a time to mourn, a time to dance...)--the works.  I can't tell you the last time I saw the original, but I can still remember the lines, lyrics and moves.  Maybe that is because I saw it before the beginning of the brain cell die off after each kid.

Anyway, so I went to see the remake today more out of curiosity than excitement.  I had heard that the theme song was a country version, and not Kenny Loggins, but that was about all I knew going in to the theater.  There weren't many other people there, which probably doesn't bode well for opening weekend box office receipts.

It turned out to be a very good remake, in my opinion.  Large portions of it were lifted out of the original, with the same dialogue, reactions, and even the lighting of the scenes.  The music was very different in places, but it seemed to fit.  The characters were well cast, and made the roles their own.  There were a few significant changes, such as why Ren moved to town, and his relationship with his uncle, which I liked even better in this updated version.

However, the drama and the angst and the dialogue in this version were definitely increased.  I remember this to some extent from when I was a teenager, but seeing it as a parent and middle school teacher made me filter it in a very different way.  It is not a movie that I would want my younger children to see, and I cringe just thinking about the words and phrases and images that will now be impressed on the minds of the many students that I know will have seen Footloose.  It is rated PG-13 for a reason.  There are very good, detailed movie reviews online, and I wish more parents would us that as a form of review criteria before ever taking their kids to any movie.  But I digress...

A key scene in Footloose is when Ren is giving his speech to the town council, trying to make his case for why the Senior class should be allowed to have a dance within city limits.  He states how it won't be too long before they all graduate, and have jobs and families with responsibilities, and won't be able to really enjoy life like they are able to as a teenager.  I remember me and the girls I was with cheering out loud in the theater years ago, like we totally agreed with him and appreciated his stand for teenagers everywhere.

There wasn't any cheering today from the group I was surrounded by.  But I sure had a big grin on my face just remembering.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Quote of the Day - Einstein

Everyone is a genius.

                         But if you judge a fish
                         on its ability to climb a tree,

                         it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.

                                                                             - Albert Einstein

Friday, October 7, 2011

Pretty little girls in teeny, tiny dresses

I am a mom. To three boys.  No girls.  As an exclusive 'boy mom', I am sure that I see things a little differently than mixed-gender or girl only parents.  I am deeply aware that, for better or for worse, I am the model of what it means to be female, for a little while at least.  I lay the groundwork for ideas and standards they will carry into marriage and what they will look for (or not look for) in a wife.

I am not a girly-girl.  Not anymore at least.  Being girly and cute takes time and money and thought, which I have precious little of these days.  I can name many friends and acquaintances that are still girly and very stylish in their 40s and 50s (and beyond), and it almost always makes me smile to see them.  How they pull it off, I can't even imagine.  If I had time to think about it, I would probably envy them--but I don't, and that's probably for the best.  In the meantime, I do what I can with what I've got.  I do have a neon pink laundry room, if that counts for anything (probably not).

I want my boys to value girls and treat them like something precious.  Not just for how they look, which I realize is important, but for who those girls are.  Do they care about others?  Are they selfish?  Are they giving and kind, or do they complain about anyone and everything?  And this one is a biggie:

Are they modest?

This is a tough one for many people to define.  It is kind of like obscenity or pornography--I may not be able to specifically define it, but I know it when I see or hear it.  And sadly, I'm not seeing a lot of it these days.  And Facebook isn't helping, especially when I go trolling around on my teenager's news feed.  This is homecoming week at the local high school, and apparently there are all manner of occasions to dress up in pretty clothes.  Now, don't get me wrong, these girls (and guys) sure do look nice, and lots of couples are all color coordinated for their pictures.  (How in the world do those parents afford the whole package--dress, mani-pedi, hair stylist, etc.--is beyond me). What really concerns me is how little material the girls are actually wearing.

This year the dress style for girls seems to be short--very short--and off one shoulder or both.  They look pretty--all sparkly and shiny.  But I look at the couples all hugged up, knowing that they will driving away from whoever's house that they took that picture in with no adult supervision, and I wonder what those parents are thinking.  Do they not realize how teenage boys (OK, boys of all ages past 11) think?  Don't they know that boy is going to struggle all night long with wanting to touch that pretty exposed shoulder, and is probably thinking how easy it would be to yank that dress down that is barely covering anything anyway?  Even if they are 'just friends', why would you want to place your child in that situation?

I realize this sounds extreme and prudish.  I know that, and I'm OK with it.  I don't need the whole 'your kids are so sheltered--that is just how kids are nowadays' speech.  I just want to give my boys a fighting chance to keep their hearts and minds and bodies pure for that one person one day.  I want them to think their wives are the most beautiful people in the world, even if one day they are scarred and wrinkled and worn out.

So, parents of girls, if you could model and teach and encourage modesty, you sure would make my job a little easier.  I am trying to do my part to give you sons-in-law that you can be proud of.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Because I'm THAT type of mom

My youngest child has had a bad attitude lately.  He has always been strong willed and a challenge, but for the past couple of weeks he has become more and more snippy, and disrespectful, and mean.  He has missed two family vacations, as well as various extras that his brothers have enjoyed--yogurt trips, going to the park, etc.--with only minimal behavior change.  So tonight, I brought out the big guns.

He is dangerously close to not being able to have a birthday party in a couple of weeks.

I told him this, and he looked shocked, but skeptical.  Trying to call my bluff, so to speak.  Then the middle child yelled from the other end of the house (how he has that sharp sense of hearing one moment, but can't hear me tell him it is bathtime, is beyond me),  "She'll do it, you know!  It happened to me twice!".

That's right, twice.  Number 2 also missed his first Cub Scout Derby Race because he yelled at somebody that morning.  We made him go to the race and sit with all the other scouts, but he couldn't race his car.  Some well meaning parents were shocked that I wouldn't 'let this slide' because this race only happens once a year.  Well, I don't remember many things nowadays, but I do remember exactly what I said that day:

"I am much more concerned with the building his character than I am with his momentary happiness".

They didn't seem all that convinced, and treated me kind of strangely after that.  But you know what?  I don't answer to them, and I can't base my parenting decisions on what is popular or easy.  Goodness knows it would be so much easier if I could, but that is not how it works.

Will I have to pull the plug on another party?  Only time will tell, I guess.  I certainly hope not.  But if I do, I'll just remind myself that I am building character and making him into a better person.

And if I'm wrong, he can take it up with his therapist one day.  They always like to blame the moms anyway, right?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

We didn't start the fire...

Did you ever sing this song when you were little?

He's still working on me, to make me what I ought to be.
It took Him just a week to make the moon and the stars,
The sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars.
How loving and patient He must be-e.
He's still working on me.

I found myself singing that song in my head yesterday as I was listening to our amazing field trip presenter, Mr. Collier, speak to some of our art co-op students.  He was explaining that even though he may spend hours shaping and molding the clay, his pottery isn't complete until it is placed in the kiln.  The fire.  For a really long time.  In fact, if that part of the process is not done, then the pottery will eventually fall apart.  Useless.

It wasn't new information to me, but it served as a great reminder that things aren't always supposed to be easy.  In fact, many of the best things only become good, and right, and useful, when they are put through the fire.  Tried.  Tested.  Things like parenting, and teaching, and training our children.  Those things don't end.  We aren't ever 'done', but we are refined.  Made fine again, so to speak.

I thank God (literally) that He is so loving and patient.  He knows how much my family needs His example and influence.  He sure knows that there are way too many times that they aren't seeing that in me.

But, hey.  He's not done with me yet.  Right?

Monday, September 5, 2011

I could water ski when I was three

We just got in from a week long vacation a couple of hours ago.  It was a great one.  Relaxing.  We stayed at a 800 square foot house with an itty-bitty yard.  On the other side of that yard, though, was a big old lake.  I spent many hours on the back porch just reading and looking at the waves.  And swimming.  I love swimming.

It just so happened to be the same lake that I spent hours, and hours, and hours playing in when I was growing up.  I was, by far, a water baby.  My parents had a boat, so I was an early water skier, and had a kick tail tan.  Until college, anyway.  Then, as more and more of my friends moved away, I spent less time IN the water, and more time looking AT it when I came home.  Then, the babies came, and gravity pulled more and more on all body parts, and time constraints kicked in.  My kids may spend a few hours each summer at the lake with my parents, but that has been about it.

Not this week, though.  I didn't just sit on the sidelines watching my kids play in the water.  I got in there with them, for a little while each day, anyway.  I remember sitting at our apartment pool a couple of years ago, watching the kids playing, with all of the parents (myself included) on the sides, watching or reading or texting, but rarely getting in the pool with the kids.  The closest thing to adults being in the pool were the single, twenty somethings taking a dip to cool off while they were laying out.

One day I had an epiphany of sorts.  I decided that it was crazy for the kids to be the only ones playing and having fun at the pool.  Did the statute of limitations on having fun in the water expire when a person's body was no longer cute, or small, or toned, or tan?  Was I going to let myself be a former water baby has been (wait, I'm not sure that makes sense...).  I decided that I wasn't, so I found a totally mismatched, unattractive swimsuit, and a few days later I went swimming with my kids.  And I wasn't just swimming; I was doing flips and dives off the side of the pool.  I used to do it all the time, so why not now?  I figured that I had better do it while I could, because the forties were now a reality, and who knew how much longer my body would hold out.

Little did I know that just a few months later, I would be in a car accident that would seriously hinder any attempts to walk correctly again, much less dive and flip.  More on that, and how I've adapted my expectations--but not my convictions about doing what I can, while I can--next time.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

"Why don't you go back to your double wide and FRY something!"

Just a few random thoughts for the day:

--There is a tropical storm heading this way.  It has stalled somewhat over New Orleans, and is causing major havoc with flooding.  I hate it for all those folks.  I have had this morbid fascination with going swimming in my childhood lake in pre-hurricane force winds since I was in elementary school.  Some big hurricane hit on the coast one year, and my older brother and his friends were able to go out on somebody's sailboat.  I wasn't allowed to tag along.  And now, three decades later, I still wish I could do it--riding along the white caps in the few hours before the lightning and rains come in.  Oh, well.  It is not therapy worthy or anything.  Just something I still wish I could do one day.

--I wish there was a Whole Foods grocery store in my area.  Or at least my state.

--I wish the stores in my area that do sell natural foods would make them reasonably priced.

--I wish more people in my area wanted to buy natural foods.  Then, maybe demand would lower the supply price.

--"Sweet Home Alabama" is on TV right now.  It is one of those shows I usually stop on when I am channel surfing.  So much fun to watch.

--According to my Facebook friends, college football is back.  This seems to be a very big deal.  I loved going to games when I was actually in college, but they hold no appeal whatsoever for me now.  The Saints, on the other hand...

--I'm pretty sure that whole empty nest thing is going to pass me on by.  Bring it on.

How is that for random?

Friday, September 2, 2011

And we knew who we were then...

Today's blog question:  How did you feel about returning to school at the end of the summer?

This one is easy enough.  I loved it.  I was smart enough, and popular enough, and outgoing enough (and apparently, also humble enough!) to do well in the school setting.  Since school didn't start at the beginning of August like it does around here now, it really did seem to symbolize the change in seasons.  I loved the ballgames, and blue jeans, and bus rides with friends.  School was not stressful at all for me, but more of a fun time to socialize.  Being a good enough memorizer and test taker took the frustration out of the actual school work.  This seemed to be the case with most of my friends. 

I do remember feeling sad for my classmates that did not thrive in that type of setting, though, whether it was academically or socially.  It was obvious that back to school for them meant back to purgutory.  I don't think that has changed very much over the years.  In a society and culture that values looks, money, smarts, and athletic abilities, school can be a dog eat dog world for those that don't measure up.  Yet another reason I have chosen to homeschool my kids.

But for me, back in the day?  Bring it on.  Plus, since we were home before 3:00, my friends and I could still put in a good hour or so of laying out time before we had to hurry home to get the house straightened up before momma got home.

(Singing out in my best Edith Bunker voice)--Those were the da-a-a-a-a-a-ys!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

WWJD? -- (I'm afraid I would be OUT of there)

I have finally finished reading Mugabe and the White African, written by Ben Freeth.  It was not an easy read, or an enjoyable one for that matter.  It reminded me of The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom in that respect.  One big difference between those two books, however, is that The Hiding Place tells of events that happened many years before I was even born.  Mugabe and the White African, on the other hand, chronicles horrible, shameless events that are happening as I type.

I wrote some of the background of the story in my last post.  Robert Mugabe is the current President in Zimbabwe, and he has openly and unapologetically changed that country's constitution to make it illegal for any white person to own land there.  In essence, all land is controlled by the government, and the land is taken from the white farmers and 'redistributed' to black peasants--on paper, anyway.  Freeth tells the story of his family's history with being African residents and landowners, and details Mugabe's reign of terror in much detail.  He documents specific dates, encounters, interactions and legal battles that have occurred over the years, which helps explain why Zimbabwe has gone from a land of prosperity to one of the poorest countries on earth in the relatively short time that Mugabe has been in power.

Of particular interest is the background and outcome of the international court case filed by Freeth's father-in-law, Mike Campbell, against Mugabe.  After many delays and postponements, the courts (in Namibia, not Zimbabwe) ruled in favor of Campbell, stating that the white landowners could retain ownership of their land. It was a great civil rights victory, but totally ignored by Mugabe and his government.  Freeth goes on to tell of how his family lived in constant fear, and their farms completely destroyed by Mugabe's henchmen anyway.  Mr. Campbell was so severely beaten, that he died just a few months ago from injuries sustained from ONE of the times he was beaten up.

There are so many details and stories in this book that bear knowing and repeating.  I couldn't help but think of the quote; "All it takes for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing".  Mr. Freeth was very clear in this book that he and his family feel called by God to fight this battle.  He wishes there were many others alongside them, but even if all leave, his family will continue to stand as long as possible to confront what he characterizes as pure evil and satanic forces.  I have heard various missionaries to Africa say that although it is something that most Westerners just can't grasp, the powers of evil and destruction are very real and evident is so many places there.  It sounds like just the kind of setting where Christ followers should be fighting, and this book chronicles one family's experiences with that so effectively.

This book has also provided much material for me and my husband to talk about.  Would I be willing to do what this family has done?  At what point do you just give up and give in and leave?  Do you potentially sacrifice your family for a belief?  How effective can being a martyr be?  Is it providential that I received this book to review?  Is it providential for anyone who might read this blog?  What do we do with this information now?