Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Tooth Fairy

Keith's gone on a business trip for a week (half of that time he's spending in Cancun, which he reports is hot -- poor guy). So, I thought I'd take the girls to see a movie yesterday. Our choices were rather disappointing . . . "Avatar"? Not for us. "The Princess and the Frog"? Leslie said no, and I haven't heard great things about that one from my friends. We finally settled on "The Tooth Fairy". My thoughts on the show:

- I have a feeling that Dwayne Johnson might possibly be a pretty good actor if he had decent material to work with. I don't think I've seen him in anything that wasn't Disney-type kids' fair -- maybe some of his other movies are better. But in the three shows I've seen him in, he's played basically the same character. And no doubt, he does the arrogant super-athlete bit very well, but it's getting old. I see occasional glimpses of the possibility of depth in his performances. I'd love to see if that's an illusion or not. Someone give the man a real script.

- I love Julie Andrews. She also seems to be playing the same character over and over again lately (even Eastin commented on that). But for Pete's sake -- she's Julie Andrews!! Just looking at her smile and listening to her talk take my blood pressure down a few notches. (Except in the Eloise movies -- not even the divine Ms. Andrews can calm the nerves that bratty child sets on edge in me.)

- Someone apparently couldn't sell a script for a Christmas movie, changed up the mythology a bit, and convinced some producer out there that this was an original idea. This had all the same tired plot and theme of the typical modern Santa Claus movie. Mr. Grown-up doesn't believe, destroys a child with his skepticism, meets said mythological being amid mishap and misadventure, and comes away a believer . . . with happy smiling children and a lovely girlfriend to boot. Blah, bl-blah, bl-blah.

- I've gotta admit -- The Rock is a pretty thing to look at. But almost too pretty. In the scenes where the biceps take a starring role, the muscle definition there is almost a distraction. What are all those ridges and bumps? Ew! And the man has overdone the teeth whitener a bit, I contend. Maybe they just look extra white against his dark skin, but seriously. Blinding. And distracting.

- Once again, I have to wonder at myself. I agreed far too much with the pre-conversion Rock character about the Tooth Fairy business. I ALWAYS had trouble maintaining the Santa/Tooth Fairy/Easter Bunny stories with my kids. And not for any "religious" reasons about the holidays (obviously, or the Tooth Fairy wouldn't be an issue). But because I have a real problem with flat-out lying to my kids. Movies like this would condemn me as a cold, imagination-less person out to destroy the dreams of children. Not so! I just have a real problem with flat-out lying to my kids. Encourage dreams . . . encourage imagination . . . but tell the truth!!!

Tonight we're watching "The Princess Bride". I have many friends that rave about this film, so I have high hopes for an entertaining experience. Let's hope those dreams of mine aren't crushed in a shower of cliche and mediocrity.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

I Swear. On Occasion. Sorry.

I just found out that one of my daughter's friends is now reading my blog, and that made me pause for a moment and reflect frantically, "Have I used any bad words in any of my posts??" Then I remembered that my own daughters read this on occasion, too, and would have let me have it if I had. So, I'm probably good.

Some of you will be stunned to hear that swear words ever pass my lips. Very rarely. Certainly not habitually. Almost never publicly. But I have become something of a connoisseur of language. I love to play around with the cadences . . the rhythm . . the connotations and tones of particular turns of phrase (not that I've become any master at it, yet). And actually, I've found times where the most accurate verbal depiction of a thought, mood or moment included a word my father would have washed my mouth out with soap for.

My youngest and I had a talk about foul language recently. There's a certain "b" word that her father and I long ago labelled as a bad word for her -- a word that is used by almost all of her friends and probably on every kids' TV show she watches. In fact, Keith and I use it, too (she just doesn't hear it). It's not a terrible word. The only reason we told her not to use it is because she had many friends at the time whose parents had forbidden them to use it, and we figured we didn't need to rock the boat there. And also because there are nicer terms for the body part she sits on that we wanted her to learn to use first.

I explained to her that there are different categories of bad words. There are some words that, really, we don't think of as bad -- they're just not as polite as other words, and you should be in the habit of speaking politely. Her "b" word fits that category.

Now, there is another level of words that I have no problem calling unacceptable. They are simply vulgar. You all know the ones I'm talking about. I've known people who were all but unable to communicate without sprinkling every sentence with such vulgarities. I pity them. Such a sad intellectual state to find oneself in. No excuse for that language. Ever.

However, there are other words that, frankly, I don't quite understand why they are considered swear words. They aren't rendered naughty because of the context we use them in -- in fact, we've all found nice substitutes for these words (darn, heck, shoot), and the sweetest, little old religious lady in the world wouldn't blush at the substitutes. Why in the world we decided that the "d" word is shameful, but "darn" is just fine . . . it's beyond me. I mean, a word is a word -- a combination of consonant and vowel sounds. They don't have inherent goodness or badness. Their value is in how they are used. And if the two "d" words are being used in the same exact way, why is one naughty and the other not? Weird.

Basically, I told Eastin, you need to avoid those words for two reasons. One, people will judge you by the way you speak, and many people out there will think less of you for using those words. And two, because it's easy to get into a habit of using such words to add emphasis to anything you say, which is intellectually lazy. Get a vocabulary, dude.

About being judged by how you speak: There was a woman in one of my grad school classes who talked like a hillbilly. She was apparently quite intelligent and all, but she talked like a hillbilly. Ain't this and don't nobody that. She was sharing her frustration with us one day about her recent job search not going well, and the professor wondered aloud if her incorrect grammar had anything to do with it. She blushed and said timidly, "I use bad grammar?" The woman had received a high school diploma and a bachelor's degree, worked in education for two decades, been admitted to a graduate program . . . and nobody in all those years had ever told her she didn't speak correctly. "Can you imagine how many opportunities I may have lost, how many doors may have been closed to me, all because I sound like I'm stupid?" she fumed, "and nobody ever had the guts to tell me?!?"

So, I'm not making light of foul language. Words matter. After all, Jesus is called The Word (John 1). But, I still wish the world could lighten up a bit. I'm actually less worried about my kids using mild swear words than I am about them using hurtful, deceptive, dangerous words. Priorities, people.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Not Ready for Simon Cowell

Wow -- haven't blogged in a week. I've been busy dancing and writing. My dance teacher started a cardio dance class that I enjoy -- and need -- but it takes up two of my morning "free periods" each week. And I've been writing dramas: skits for church services in the next couple months AND finishing up "Pilgrim's Progress" for the homeschoolers, who audition next week.

But I haven't been too busy to watch American Idol. :) I'm really going to try hard not to get so hooked on it this year, but with my girls watching it all the time, that may be difficult.

These early rounds aren't as addicting to me as the later ones are, probably because I haven't become attached to anybody yet. Keith, on the other hand, thinks the early rounds, with the really bad singers, are the only interesting thing about the show. They can be entertaining, for sure, but I also hate to see people being crushed and made a fool of, even if they're making fools of themselves.

I read that the auditions in front of the judges which we see on television only come after two or three other rounds of auditions in front of producers. When these people are called in to sing in front of the judges, they are told, "Some of you are here because you're really good; some of you are here because you're really bad." Apparently they're not told which category they belong in, and judging from some of their reactions, many of them are quite mistaken in their assumptions.

That's one of the fascinating things to me about these early rounds -- how so many of these people are so dreadfully deceived about their abilities. I mean, to be that bad, and to honestly think you were called to audition because you were among the cream of the crop . . . how can one be SO very self-unaware?

Personally, I don't think I would ever be in that position. I doubt my abilities all the time. Even when I have a lot of people praising my skills in an area, I always suspect that they're just being nice . . or that they don't really know what they're talking about. Any REAL actor would do a Simon-Cowell-eye-roll at me on stage. Any REAL teacher would give me the Kara-DioGuardi-"sweetie-I'm-sorry"-brush-off. Any REAL writer would do the Randy-Jackson-"for-me-for-you-naw-man" response, even if he had "mad love" for me.

I'm trying to decide if this attitude of mine shows appropriate humility or inappropriate diffidence. If it has served me well or held me back. I know that it has taught me over the years to not expect profuse praise, so I don't make it my ultimate ambition to get that praise -- which is good. But it may have also kept me from taking some risks that I thought I wasn't up for.

Hmm. I'll have to watch that in myself this year.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

On Knowing the Truth

I'm writing a script adaptation of Pilgrim's Progress for our middle/high school homeschoolers to perform in March, and we're in the middle of registering kids for the program. A friend of mine, whose daughter is a natural ham (I wrote a couple parts in the script with her in mind), told me that they won't be participating because their family has doctrinal issues with the book.

Well, for Pete's sake.

Call me stupid, but it really never occurred to me that anyone in our Christian homeschooling group would have issues with the content of Pilgrim's Progress. Kim, my beloved producer, enlightened me a bit; she said that some people may read it as Christian (the main character) earning his way into the Celestial City (heaven) with his good works. That's not how I read it. And that's not how I intend my adaptation to be understood. I'm going to go back now and re-read what I wrote to be sure I'm clear on this point -- because it's entirely possible that John Bunyan had some Arminian-extremist leanings that got past me. ( -- look it up)

But getting past the theological discussion this prompts . . . my friend's (and she is a good friend) decision perplexes me. Only here in Iowa, among the homeschoolers, have I met parents who seem to be concerned with their children being led astray by doctrinally unsound Christians more than with them being led astray by the lies of the world. I don't get that. We're usually talking about minor differences in emphasis or wording here.

My former pastor called it "salvation by information". The idea that we are saved by knowing the truth -- the exact truth, on every detail. Any deviation from my version of the gospel leaves you in jeopardy. But it seems to me that being saved by what we know is as much a fallacy as being saved by what we do. To paraphrase the prolific apostle, Satan and his demons know what's true even better than we do, but it's not saving them.

Yes, there is basic truth you must know and understand to be saved. There are basic actions you must take to be saved ("confess with your mouth . . believe in your heart . . "). But it really boils down to having a right relationship with God. Personally, I believe this leaves room for the salvation of those whose doctrine is way off and those whose behavior is completely out of line. If the relationship is genuine (and who knows that but God), then it is also always developing -- and the doctrine and behavior usually "fall into line" over time. If they don't, I suppose we do have a right to doubt the condition of the relationship -- but always with the humility to know we could certainly be wrong.

The truth is, nobody's eternal destiny is dependent on their knowing truth to perfection. And that truth should fill us with boundless gratitude.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sleep Update

I'm sick of talking about my sleep problems. Consequently, I assume everyone is sick of hearing about them, too. I feel like such a tiresome person relating all this to people over and over again, with no resolution. But some of you are asking, so here's the latest.

My primary doc gave up last fall and recommended me to a neurologist. The neurologist ordered another sleep study done, which happened in December. A couple weeks ago, I saw the neurologist again only to have him tell me that, after looking at the study results, he has no idea what the problem is. I unknowingly woke up an average of 10 times an hour (better than the 25 times an hour during my sleep study a year ago), but he saw no reason why I would be waking up.

So, he referred me to a sleep specialist in Omaha, whom I saw last week. She at least didn't have the same look of confused hopelessness my primary doc and neurologist did. After about an hour of copious note-taking over the details of my life and my problem, she came up with a few hypotheses. She wants me to quit taking Echinacea, as I've been doing daily for several years. She wants me to get my dental work taken care of so the dentist can make me a sleep guard, just in case the teeth-clenching my dentist suspects I do is the issue. She wants me to try to get more aerobic exercise. Yeah, I need to do that anyway.

She also gave me a new medication. One that has no risk of dependency, so I can take it every night -- and she wants me to take it every night. I can take between 25 and 75 mg of the stuff. Last night I took 50mg. I got in bed at about 10 . . . feel asleep sometime after 12:30 . . . woke up off and on until 3:30 . . . stayed awake from then until I had to get out of bed at 6:45. Ridiculous. And this is not a terribly unusual night for me, folks -- at least when I'm off the Ambien.

You see why I'm tired of talking about this? Nothing new. Nothing encouraging. Whine, whine, whine.

Friday, January 15, 2010


I used to tell people that when I grew up, I wanted to be a big black woman. Seriously, think of the big black women you've known in your life. They are powerful. They can just look at you and make you cry.

I think there's one deep down inside of me somewhere. She threatens to pop out usually when I'm disciplining my girls. I may be straining myself to force out a calm "That's not the way we talk in this house." But everything inside of me wants to spit out, "Don't you give your mama that kinda lip!!!!!!"

Most of the African-American people I've known in my life who had it all together talked about their sassy mama who would whoop them if they took a step out of line. Kind of defies conventional wisdom that a mother who speaks with that kind of tone to her kids on a consistent basis will raise angry, disrespectful brats. That does happen in some homes, though. I would love to have lived with my friends' families for a few months and figure out how their mothers managed to thwart the conventional wisdom.

This all came to mind this morning as I was wondering why sometimes I am able to respond to my kids' misbehavior so calmly and sometimes I sass at them like an immature brat. As I hinted at in an earlier post, it seems to usually have to do with my perspective -- I get angry when I feel like what they're doing is an affront to me personally, a threat to my authority or dignity. And it also occured to me that these African-American mothers lived in cultural times when they were more likely to have experienced genuine affronts and threats to their dignity on a regular basis. Just wondering if there's a connection.

In any case, I gotta remember that my kids' bickering and whining and so on and so forth is not an attack on me, and not a threat to me. Not that I sit around consciously thinking that my girls are just out to get me. But I am the center of my own world, you know. I suspect that I unwittingly think everything is about me more than it is. I suspect we all do. I may be neurotic, but not uniquely so.

And, unfortunately, God did NOT make me a big, powerful, black woman. C'est la vie.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Good Preachers are Hard to Find

Once, sometime in the last few years, I was listening to a sermon while visiting a cute little very traditional church that struggles to survive year after year. The pastor was an okay speaker -- not fabulous, but he didn't stink up the place as I've known many to do. I happened to consider at that moment that, very likely, the vast majority of Christians in America probably spend the bulk of their Christian walk under the shepherding of just such a pastor.

And I realized then how much of an anomaly my own recent church experiences have probably been. I have been blessed to attend churches here in Sioux City, and in New Jersey, and in Springfield, that had pastors who were really excellent speakers. Great teachers and motivators. They were good leaders in other ways, too, but I don't think I have always had the appreciation I should have for how good they were from the pulpit.

Andree Seu wrote today about the importance of a sermon ending with the preacher telling us "how to do the thing". So true. All too often, a preacher will speak with great passion about the value of, say, walking in the Spirit, convicting and convincing his audience very effectively. But then he will stop short of explaining to his flock how exactly they are supposed to accomplish this wonderful thing. They impart the knowledge without instructing in the skill.

I wonder if this is because preachers are trained in seminaries, by seminarians. I haven't had any direct experience with seminaries, but I gather that they are much like the rest of academia. They're all about theories and concepts and doctrines. But the leap between a doctrine and it's practical application is one they would rather avoid, because it's more messy . . not so cut-and-dried . . lots of gray, fuzzy matter.

Not that I don't see tremendous value in the clear understanding and communication of concepts and doctrines -- believe me, I am quite the academic at heart. But people don't usually come to Jesus for doctrine. They come for life-change.

Anyway, I realize I have been very blessed to be shepherded by some amazing, gifted men whose focuses were life-change. Who seemed to start their sermon-planning by examining the needs of their people, not the index of their theology textbook. That's probably why their churches are not cute little very traditional churches that struggle to survive year after year.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Data Visualization -- So Cool

Somebody somewhere (probably on Facebook) pointed me once to a YouTube video that was a visualization of Obama's budget cuts, or something like that. It was fascinating. And ultimately, through a little investigation, I found a blog by the guy who made the video. The blog is called "Political Math" (, if you're curious), and I think the guy's name is Matthias Shapiro.

This guy takes data that's out there in the public domain concerning things like the national budget, the cash-for-clunkers program, the war in Afghanistan, etc. and presents the data visually so it is easier to understand. Seriously, you gotta check out the website and look in the archives. Some of this stuff -- particularly the videos -- is really great.

Apparently, this is a new, up-and-coming thing called "data visualization". People do this for a living. Yesterday, he posted a couple of videos of presentations about "Info Viz", and how it is the wave of the future. I am absolutely fascinated by this.

It reminds me some of Alton Brown's show, "Good Eats". One of my favorites. He doesn't just give you recipes and cook them in front of you -- he doesn't even just entertain you with his sparkling personality. He does "Info Viz" -- he gives visual demonstrations of the scientific principles involved in what he's doing. And you understand it. At least, I do . . . and I'm not a scientifically minded person.

That's what this Political Math guy does. He takes the numbers and makes them understandable. I love it. I wish I could do this. I remember thinking many times that somebody should make an Alton Brown kind of show that explains the political issues that crop up each election year. (The trouble, of course, would be making the presentation unbiased and bi-partisan....)

This is more of that right-brained stuff I was reading about a while ago. Design, narrative, all that. We so need people who can communicate this way. I'm not sure I'm such a person, but I get SOOO excited when I see the work of those who are.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Up and Down . . .

So, the drama team thing. The meeting to announce my ascendance to the helm was postponed to this Sunday. (I'm actually getting a little bit of a head start on the job, though, because I had to cast and direct a skit for this coming Sunday morning.) I don't think the news will probably be a huge surprise to a lot of people. But I'm still anxious about how they'll respond.

The resigning director sent me a list a couple days ago of all the skits the group has done under her leadership and who performed in them. 214 skits in 11 years. Holy cow. Just skimming the list, I started to feel the history behind all this swallow me up.

I can't believe the emotional roller coaster I've been on over this decision. One day, I'm all excited about the possibilities of this group and feeling very confident about my ability to handle it all. The next, I'm wondering what ever possessed me to think I'm as good as all that. After rehearsal for this skit last Sunday, I came home depressed. After last night's rehearsal, I came home hopeful. And I don't think anything happened at either rehearsal to justify my reactions.

I was in charge of a drama team 12 years ago. A much smaller team at a much smaller church, all of the members chosen by me, so a much different scenario. But the couple years I headed up that ministry before we moved away were years of great spiritual growth for me. Mainly because I became so keenly aware of how little control I really had over anything and of what amazing things God can accomplish through me when I let him take the wheel. Apparently, those are lessons I need to learn again.

I think my anxiety will improve after Sunday's meeting and the question of the group's response to me is answered. Although it may take a couple months to really know if they're accepting me and the way I do things. Heck, it'll take me at least that long to figure out the way I do things. In the meantime, I'm back in the routine of daily (sometimes hourly) giving it all over to God again. It's His ministry, not mine. He's the playmaker -- I'm just a player. Gotta remember that.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Morning Blues

My first teaching job was at Blue Springs High School in the Kansas City area. I taught three classes of Junior English and three classes of kids who were all repeating Sophomore English. It was a miserable year. The sophomore repeaters was a tough assignment (and the juniors weren't all sugar and spice either). I had very little confidence in myself as a teacher yet, and my students stomped on what little I had every day, it seemed.

School started at 7:30am (as I recall -- it was some ungodly hour, anyway). Of course, I had to be there earlier than that, and I had a bit of a drive to get there. My defining memory of that year is waking up to a cursed alarm in the wee hours of the morning, getting out of bed in the dark cold, getting ready in the bathroom while Keith slept (he didn't start work until later) and desperately trying to not think about how much I dreaded my day. It was awful. It was all I could do to keep going sometimes.

I was remembering those days this morning as my girls got ready for school -- in the early, dark cold. The first day back after a break is always hard, so I expected the grumbling. But what I saw in their faces and heard in their voices was that same feeling I remembered from the year teaching in Blue Springs. I hate this. I just hate this. God, help me get through this ..... In fact, those were Leslie's exact words when she came home tearful after a difficult art class today: I just hate this.

I think it's mostly the Christmas-break-is-over blues. But I know it's hard for them to go every day. Eastin was whining this morning about wanting to be homeschooled again. Then she wouldn't have to get up so early . . . she would be able to do her work on the sofa instead of a hard desk . . . she would have more time to spend with her friends . . . I tried to remind her of the advantages of going to school, and because she's a trooper, she nodded and smiled. But I secretly sympathized with her. School is hard. Growing up is hard.

SIGH. Okay, okay -- I'm probably just over-reacting to a rough morning. All I know is, I wouldn't wish those mornings of hopeless, desperate dread I experienced that year on any of my grown, mature, adult friends, much less on my young, still-maturing daughters. It seems to me that sometimes we parents allow society to talk us into putting our kids in unacceptable situations just because we don't have the courage to buck the system and tell the Emperor he's naked.

One of the biggest problems with sending my kids away to school is, I'm not there to see the situations they're in, to know if they're really unacceptable or not. I'm sure some of you would tell me I just need to trust God to take care of them while they're there. Yes, yes, of course. But I'm reminded of the story of the man trapped on his roof during a flood who turned away rescue boat and helicopter, saying, "I'm trusting God to save me." When he drowned and went to heaven and asked God why He didn't save him, God replied, "Look, dude -- I sent you a boat, I sent you a helicopter . . ."

Whatever. This is our life now, and we'll deal with it. But at the very LEAST, we should start everyone's school and workdays no earlier than nine. Like that would kill anybody.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Hello 2010!

I wrote in my last post about things that I'm happy happened in 2009. So, as I begin 2010, I'm considering New Year's 2011. Yes, really. I'm thinking, when I write my New Year's post next year, what are the things I want to be able to look back on in 2010 and be happy about?

Number one, I want my sleep problem to be solved. I also want to have lost some weight. That's not a crucial one for me (obviously, or I'd have put some effort into it before now!), but I do weigh more than I like, and I think I will feel better overall if I lose some fat and get more fit.

I want Keith to still enjoy his job. Again, never a given. I want to buy more locally-grown foods, for a variety of reasons. I've really become fond of my organic eggs I found at the farmer's market -- the store-bought ones look downright anemic anymore.

I want Leslie to have leaped her personal hurdles and be babysitting on a regular basis -- and loving it, like I know she will. That would include babysitting her little sister once in a while, which would make a lot of things in my life easier.

I want the girls to be happy and thriving in whatever educational environment they happen to be in by that time. And I want them each to have one or two really close friends. They have friends now, but no real "BFF"s, you know? Those are different -- and those take time.

I want to be heading up a successful, smooth-running drama ministry at Sunnybrook Church that touches people's hearts, uses people's gifts effectively, and doesn't keep me in a constant state of nervous tension. This is an intimidating venture for me, as is the homeschool drama program. Lots of potential for crashing and burning big time, here. But looking back on my posts from last year, a theme that seemed to keep cropping up was the need to step out boldly, to try things big enough that God has a chance to prove himself in them. David commented after one such post, "So what impossible things do you see laying before you?" Perhaps this is it.

I think those are the biggies. But I'd also like to find a good spaghetti sauce recipe. That's one that one of you out there may be able to help me with. Anyone? Anyone?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Goodbye 2009 . . .

It's a new year. Resolution time, yes? I'm not that big on making resolutions, but I am one for making goals (there is a difference). However, before listing the things I'd like to see happen in our lives in the coming year, I think I'll take a minute to list the things I am happy happened in our lives in the last year.

For one, we're settled in our new home and we're content. We've put most everything away and dumped a lot of stuff we needed to get rid of -- something I've wanted to do for a long time. The girls are established in their schools and have made friends. After such a huge upheaval, it's no small thing to have established a home again.

Our family had a lot of fun times together this past year. Disneyland, county fairs, ball games, traveling on the east coast, shows and concerts ..... a lot of new experiences. Even a demolition derby.

Keith is still enjoying his job. Not that I expected that to change necessarily, but it certainly isn't a given. It has happened before that a pleasant work environment has turned on a dime and become miserable. How awful to spend ten hours a day, five days a week, in a place that you hate. I wouldn't wish that on anyone, much less my husband.

I've found something of a niche for myself here: the drama thing. Kim and I have somewhat established a new drama program for the homeschoolers. And as of this Sunday, I'll be officially in charge of the drama ministry at Sunnybrook Church (the woman in charge resigned -- don't think I mentioned it here yet -- more on that another day).

And on top of it all, I'm still blogging. And enjoying it. What's more, people seem to enjoy reading it. It was at the new year last year that I decided to let go of the family-update theme a bit and branch out. I said at the time that you were welcome not to read anymore if you weren't interested in my public journal. And I meant that. But it has been very gratifying how many of you have continued to read. I suppose everyone has days when they feel as worthless as an artificial plant. But it's nice now when I have those days to remember when some of you have said, "I needed to hear that today . . you made me think today . . you helped me heal today . . God spoke to me through you today."

Very gratifying indeed. I'm grateful for you all! Thanks for adding meaning to my year!