Tag: movies

day 12: random things

I am grateful for…

…being self-published, so if I don’t have much to say, I just don’t
….friends who understand and friends who don’t
…Sonic limeades
…my puppy, even when he is smelly

…my daughter-in-law (that sounds so weird)/my friend’s perfect-sounding new job
…that this brrrrcold front will only be here for one day
…living next door to the cutest little 6 month old boy in the world
The Blacklist
…our awesome comfortable couch that was purchased from consignment at the exact price we sold our old couches for
the sound of my daughters reading
…that I knew more than 5 people at tonight’s PTA meeting

plan disney
…that it looks like next year will include more travel than this one. I’ve become quite the homebody, but sometimes I miss going.
Thor: The Dark World. It was quite entertaining.
…fun conversations about movies and TV
…thoughtful conversations about much deeper things
…my husband‘s adorableness when he’s watching Kentucky basketball, doing the dishes, troubleshooting a work problem, or brushing our girls’ hair
the beach is still there, even if I haven’t seen it in 2 weeks

Grace Unplugged: Go ahead. Chase your dreams.

I am cynical about entertainment that is marketed to the mainstream and labeled Christian or faith-based, and there’s a reason for that.

… a lot of it is bad.

Sure, there is the Veggie Tales franchise… fun, educational, and sometimes downright brilliant. And there was The Passion of the Christ, but as excellently done as that was, it was like being beaten over the head (painful and life-changing), so it’s not exactly on my frequently played list. Occasionally we get a gem like The Blind Side or Walk the Line or even Angels and Demons or Constantine (I will be happy to make these arguments some other day), that isn’t overtly Christian in its message, but the message shines through anyway. (I had a hard time coming up with those examples. Surely there are more…!)

But for every one of those, we have a Left Behind…or a Joyful Noise… movies that are so cheesy (the former) or so blatantly cliche or even disrespectful to living a Christian life (the latter) that I’d rather disassociate myself with them than talk about them at all.

I also want to note here that I am talking about mainstream entertainment. I don’t consider movies like Courageous to be mainstream. There might be some crossover, but these movies are mainly going to appeal to churchgoers. 

grace-image7Bring on the email invitation to a screening of Grace Unplugged that was sent to our church staff this week. A free movie? Check. A movie featuring a Taylor Swift-esque teenage girl, original music, and a former rock star Dad? Check. (This upped my intrigue considerably). Along with two other families in our church, we went.

You know how you know in the first few minutes of a movie if you are going to like it, hate it, or tolerate it? That happened. And I knew… I was going to like this movie. What was surprising to me? I identified with, was touched by, and absolutely loved this movie. I have been Grace, I have been Grace’s parents, and I, too, have been touched by the grace that is the thread through them all.

Grace Unplugged is the story of an eighteen year old girl, an only child of a worship pastor who was once a one-hit rock icon. The Dad, Johnny Trey, has distanced himself completely from that past and enjoys a quiet existence with his wife and daughter. Grace and Dad lead worship together at church, but it’s clear from the first scene of the movie (which is cleverly communicated through facial expressions) that they don’t jive musically anymore. He wants to keep things pretty straight-laced, and she wants to set them free.

Enter plenty of teenage angst, nothing new, nothing far removed from Ariel and her dear ol’ preaching daddy in Footloose. Except around this time, Mossy also enters. He is Johnny’s former manager, and through a series of “only in Hollywood” events that are somewhat believable because of our reality show/You Tube age of entertainment, Grace ends up in Los Angeles with a record deal, an AR rep, a sizeable advance, a music video, and plenty of… new angst.

I won’t tell you how it all ends (I will say it is not totally predictable), but because I think this movie is so worth your time, I’m going to tell you why this stands out as a quality movie~

GU__039111. Christians are people, too
How many TV episodes have you watched in which the protestant character was a freak of some kind? Hollywood makes fun of everything from prayer to intentional virginity as though those behaviors are alien or sinister or unheard of. Characters are often portrayed as one-dimensional, as though being a Christian means we exist in a tunnel of our beliefs and nothing else matters to us. Guess what? We dress like normal people. We argue like normal people. We have friendships, dreams, contentions, jobs, and desires like normal people. Grace Unplugged got this right all the way through, and that, simply put, impressed the crap out of me. (Yep. Even my pastors say “crap”).

Of note: the pastor and his wife (played by Chris Ellis and Mary Shaw) were friends of Johnny and Michelle, Grace’s parents. Though they were dressed a bit formally, they were also portrayed as human… warm, gracious, knowing, everyday people, who offered friendship and wisdom to a hurting family without thumping a Bible or quoting a bumper sticker. They were only in the movie for a few scenes, but I loved them.

Another favorite little subplot was Michelle’s struggle out of the spotlight. Her husband was obsessed with their daughter’s career and her rebellion, and though Michelle was quiet and prayerful in her reaction, she was also determined. She wanted her husband’s attention and his love. You go, girl. Get yours. Christian women have needs, too!

2. Christians do not live a life of constant extremes
One of my favorite scenes in the movie was a small one, but it involved Grace LYING to her parents and SKIPPING YOUTH GROUP to go to… the movies, alone. Why did I appreciate this so much? Because pastor’s kids or Christian kids are often portrayed in media and in society as all good or all bad, and that is such an unfair picture. So many other movies would have shown her skipping and going to a bar or meeting up with some skeezy guy, and while that happens sometimes, most of the time, the decisions kids make that go against their parents are more innocent than that. They are striving for independence and identity, not necessarily hellfire and brimstone.

GU__026713. Established actors are capable of playing Christians
It was good to see familiar faces in this movie, James Denton (Johnny) and Kevin Pollack (Mossy) being the most familiar. And while I had personally not heard of AJ Michalka before, she has been around, and her portrayal of Grace was lovely and solid, as were her musical performances. I didn’t once feel like I was being pandered to, or that I was watching someone’s daughter get a chance at her big career. And I’m sorry, but it was nice to have a break from Kirk Cameron. Seriously.

I should also mention here that newish Christian contemporary star Jamie Grace has a small role in the movie as Grace’s BFF. I appreciate the use of Jamie in a small role (it was her first acting role, and she was passable, but not earth-shattering). This allows for some name recognition in the church-going community without putting someone in a starring role who would not have been successful. Kudos to the movie makers here.

4. A good movie stirs conversation
We brought our 5.5 and almost-7 year old daughters to this movie. Our youngest was enthralled by the music, and as she is a fellow blond with a guitar and an attitude, her dad and I could totally see her going the way Grace does. Our 7-year-old leaned up to me at one point and asked, “Who is wrong? The daddy or the girl?” I told her, “They both kind of are… we will talk about it later.” I love that my child was noting the family dynamics at play, and I will have the opportunity to reinforce that parents love our kids a lot, but we don’t always get it right. I appreciate the kind of entertainment that opens up the door for heart checks and heartfelt discussions. In this case, family relationships are forefront. That time of transition from adolescence to adulthood is hard – on kids and their parents. When Johnny looks up and tells God, “She’s yours now,” I was rocked… because I have had to have that conversation with God about ALL my kids, even the little ones.

5. A life of faith permeates our actions, all the time
Perhaps this seems contradictory to points one and two, but it is not. I personally enjoy a relationship with Christ and a relationship with pop culture, but one will always trump the other. When you are a believer in Christ, His teachings and His character affect everything about you… to different degrees because we are in different places on our journeys. I love how this was shown in the nuanced reactions of Grace to things like alcohol, provocative dress, and manipulative relationships. She wasn’t all in or out… she struggled with these complex issues, with trying to balance what her heart knew to be the right thing and what her own intense dreams had convinced her she needed. So she drank a little, and she kinda of liked it, but she didn’t become an alcoholic, she didn’t drink and drive, and she didn’t sign up for AA and Christian counseling after a few weeks of social drinking . Sometimes, we need to calm down and trust that people, even our kids, will figure things out because the Holy Spirit – the voice of the Father – their relationship with Christ (pick your favorite/they’re all the same) IS leading and guiding. Some people listen too late, but most people are not going to listen to finger-pointing and craziness.

Another fine example of this was the character of Quentin, played by Michael Welch. I admit: I loved him. I loved him in a “I wish I had known him when I was 18/I hope my daughters know him when they are 18” kind of way. He was sincere, helpful, and kind. When he said, “My mom made these cookies for you” and “I’m praying for your song,” it wasn’t hokey… it was sweet. It wasn’t, Grace, you’re supposed to be a Christian. Quit acting like a pagan and get to the altar. It was, I see you’re out of your comfort zone and exploring, and getting close to a dangerous place, and I’m here to point you toward safety, ok?

6. Chasing our dreams/art is not a sin
Rod and I related to this movie on the level of entertainment versus {music} ministry. We have been involved in both. We have followed our own dreams, and we have followed God, and we have tried hard to find the merging of the two, and sometimes we have failed, and by His grace, we have come to a good place. But here’s the deal, folks: God made us. He gives us the talents and drive that we have. I know we can get lost in those things and glorify ourselves, but there is nothing abjectly wrong with a singer singing, a writer writing, an actor acting. We don’t tell football players they should only play on church leagues, and we don’t tell doctors they should only have Christian patients. So why in the world do we give our young people such a hard time about how they use their talents? The main pop song of the movie is called, “Misunderstood.” It made me want to shout just as much as the main Christian song, “All I’ve Ever Needed.” I love music. Music speaks to me. Music made by the Beatles, Tori Amos, Bon Jovi, Ella Fitzgerald, Amy Grant, The Isaacs, Johnny Cash, Oak Ridge Boys, Chris Tomlin… it all speaks to me.

I admit, the ending of the movie and how all of this was reconciled in Grace’s life and career was a bit safe, but I do appreciate the idea that you don’t have to stop being yourself where you start serving God. The two co-exist. And that is a message worth repeating:

“Sometimes, chasing your dreams leads you right to where you belong.”

That is a mainstream message of faith!


 click the banner to see the trailer

“Chicago feels smaller today”

The news broke as it so often does these days: on Facebook.

Immediately, I tried to go to the Sun Times website. It would not load, so I went to Chicago Tribune instead. There I read the headline about Roger Ebert’s death, and the essay about his life.

I posted my own thought on Facebook, and one of my oldest Chicago friends pointed me to the WBEZ stream, the whole show being dedicated to discussion about Roger.

And that led me to this tweet:


And that led me to this thought:

twitter screen-at the moviesDays like today, when pieces of my childhood, pieces of my life in Chicagoland, are gone not just from me, but from the world, my heart is never more there.

We used to have a little black and white TV in our kitchen, and roger and Gene Sikel’s At The Movies TV show, on channel 11 {aka PBS} is one of the shows I most remember being on it. As a teenager and budding journalist (my dream job is still “paid columnist”), I loved that Roger was a graduate of University of Illinois, my dream school and where I eventually attended for a year. As an adult, I still always turned to Roger’s movie reviews first…and sometimes found myself stirred or angered by his social commentaries on Twitter.

I heard him described 100 times on Thursday afternoon as “prolific.” ‘Tis true.

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever think of any place but Chicago as home. I still go to Chicago websites for news. I  know what the weather is like there most days. I hold allegiance to their teams, museums, colleges, Mexican restaurants, and airport. And even though it would be entirely sensible, I have not been able to change my area code form “708” just yet. And upon hearing the news of Roger Ebert’s passing, just a day after hearing about his recurrence of cancer and lovely turn of phrase, “leave of presence,” I found myself more than a little homesick.

In these past few weeks, I have made big strides in solidifying the south strand as my home. We have found doctors… local-owned favorite shops and restaurants…shortcuts. I am in the mix of things, like playdates and meal trains and gatherings. I get asked where to get hair done or what is the best movie theatre! I am so, so, so happy about and grateful for this.

But for now, my home is still divided a little (hence the title!) {Chicago-lina, if you’re new here). I first heard this beautiful song the month we moved, when Rod and I were sitting in our still-not-quite-unpacked living room and watching the season/series finale of the great show, Chicago Code. I can’t imagine moving away from my beach, from the blue and green and salty air and basket full of flip-flops, but sometimes, often really, I still dream of Chicago.

Recently, the same dear, talented, lifelong friend I reference above sent me pictures she took of our “See YouS Later” party. Here are a few of my favorites, and just a few of the reasons my diverse, sweet home Chicago is close to my heart always:

Mort Castle and Miranda
Mort Castle and Miranda
My Gramma, Aunt Janice, baby cousin Gavin, and Dad (Paige laughing in background)
My Gramma, Aunt Janice, baby cousin Gavin, and Dad (Paige laughing in background)
Me, Rick, and Bex
Me, Rick, and Bex

The B-I-B-L-E

“Blessed are the Christians who challenge The Bible Series in its Biblical correctness yet be the same ones who sing scripturally incorrect gospel and worship songs.” –Sue Duffield


bible memesWe watched The Bible five Sundays in a row. Our church, like many, made it an event. We had in-home viewing parties, our pastor tied it in with his sermons, and we Facebook’d it like the Oscars or something.

Basically, Christians who also happen to be fans or followers of pop culture get Excited when Christian-based entertainment is offered that is not cheesy, cheap, or that panders. It is rare.

I grew up watching the 1977 miniseries Jesus of Nazareth and the classic Ten Commandments. In my little world, those were the gold standards of Biblical representation on film, and both have stood pretty well against the test of time. Then in 2005, Mel Gibson gave us the phenomenal The Passion of the Christ. That movie was so challenging to watch, so raw and beautiful all at once, but alas, it showed only a portion of Christ’s life and a sliver of the whole Bible. I know I am one of many who wanted more.


The Bible miniseries is extra culturally-relevant because of the explosion of social media that has occurred since those other films were made. And from the night the very first segment aired, the debates began:



  • Why didn’t ‘they’ show Joseph’s coat of many colors, or Elijah and Elisha, or Ruth and Naomi, or _____ (other favorite Bible story)
  • Why are there LIQUOR commercials?! My eyes! My eyes!
  • Why is Jesus so good looking (/smoking hot/etc)? {Really, people? He is the King of Kings…why not?}
  • So and so did not say that at such and such a time. What gives, Touched-By-An-Angel Lady? You are going to mislead millions of people! (I especially enjoy this article… and pose to this author: Any of these ‘kingdom’ issues? Does it really matter if King Saul was peeing or pooping in the cave? REALLY?!)

I think it is safe to say that many, many Christian viewers missed the point.

And that got me thinking: maybe this series wasn’t for us.

I mean, if “we” are such experts on what the absolute correct details of the whole Bible are, and the order of importance of each, we don’t need to see a series.

And if “we” are so sensitive to what we watch that a Jim Beam commercial is going to send us straight off our holy high horses on to a bender, then by all means, we should avert our eyes. {I’m not talking about people who struggle with alcohol here, either… I’m talking about the pious}

I choose, rather, to participate in the dialogue. I don’t know “who” outside my circle was watching The Bible. But I do know that between 11 and 14 million people were watching it for 5 straight weeks. And what did they see?

– God made us
– we are flawed
– God loves us anyway
– God gives us amazing things, like children when we are infertile, strength to slay giants, protection from fires and floods and hungry lions, and second chances. And third chances. And many more chances…
– God came to Earth in the form of a man, His son Jesus.
– Jesus served humbly, loved politically-incorrectly, ministered supernaturally, sacrificed completely, died painfully, resurrected miraculously, and ascended to Heaven after leaving us a Spirit to comfort and empower us.
– The Spirit of God visited the followers of Jesus after His ascension, showed off by causing them to speak in different languages, and gave them power to Do His Work.
– God continued to speak with, inspire, and enable His followers to preach the good news and live in service to Him.

I saw someone today call the last two hours of The Bible a “weak and almost unidentifiable Gospel presentation.” I am not sure what he was watching. In particular, the representation of the “Upper Room Experience” (the different tongues, from Acts 2) was surprisingly 1) not offensive, 2) cooler than even I imagined it, 3) fairly self-explanatory.

In my own opinion, majoring on the minors is the tragic flaw of the mainstream Christian churchgoer. Literally *millions* of people saw The Bible series and heard the gospel. As a result, they might accept it, reject, research it, argue it, love it, balk at it, understand it better, care about it more, debate it, or pass it on. But chances are, they will not forget it…because when God sends out His Word, we are unable to ignore it.

Regardless of what details went askew (and I am willing to bet most of the quibbles are based on denominational theologies, but that’s just a guess, and that’s a whole other post…), 14 million people saw and heard that God created us, Jesus loves us, and that He is the way, not to mention that He calls, equips, heals, and walks with us still today. I’m feeling pretty excited about 14 million people hearing that! That they saw it with modern special effects and attractive actors is a method, not a new gospel.

Today, I visited my favorite entertainment website and saw they had finally paid attention to the series (and will mention here that it was the back page ad of their weekly mag a few weeks ago – prime real estate):

EW on The Bible ratings

Along with this, celebrities Tweeted their congrats to the producers… some of the same celebs who showed very little regard for Mel Gibson’s work in 2005. Columnists from a variety of outlets are reporting on a hunger for ‘religious entertainment’ and a new interest in Bible stories. A game app has been developed, and there are already talks of spin-off that will focus on Jesus. Maybe it will all end up a twisted mess, or maybe, these pieces will continue to break barriers and speak to people who won’t, just won’t, pick up a Bible or go to a Bible study.

Let’s at least agree that turning their eyes toward Jesus is a good thing…

The Bible – the book, not the miniseries, is available to read for free at many places on the internet. Check out YouVersion or Bible Gateway.

Coming Thursday: “The Top 10 Details That May or May Not Have Been Completely, Documentary-Level Accurate But That I Totally Loved About The Bible Miniseries.



food and movies

It has been a long and relaxing weekend. It started with a half day for Randa on Thursday – and concluded about 45 minutes ago when I put the girls to bed. In between was a few ‘events,’ but mostly, we stayed in… and cooked stuff, and were lazy.

It was nice.

The Movies

Paige and Kirsten and Josh have been quoting a movie since summer that I knew I would have to see eventually but felt somewhat cynical about. Turns out, Pitch Perfect is the (somewhat less inappropriate) Dodgeball of collegiate a capella films. Teehee. I have always liked Anna Kendrick, and Rebel Wilson is, of course, hysterical, but what I didn’t anticipate was that I would dig the music (especially discovering this song) and the sweetness of the friendships. And a Rocky reference never hurts.

juice packets and rocky

The other movie was Silver Linings Playbook. I have waited and waited for it to be showing near us, and I guess the Oscar nominations got it a wider release. Rod and I went to see it Sunday night, and I had high hopes. As a story, it didn’t disappoint. The ‘issues’ at stake were intense and messy and realistic and the performances were stellar. What took me by surprise (and was confirmed by my husband) was how much the lead female, Tiffany, reminded me of me in my early 20s. I mean, yikes… the temper, the rash/bad choices, the coping mechanisms, the fierce emotions and reactions. Oh, and the fabulous hair, of course :)







The Food
Other than watching movies, I cooked. This was coming off a 2-week fast and noting how less crap intake makes me feel less crappy. Even so, I managed to OD on pizza and Mexican food and discover a few great-tasting recipes and ingredients. Allow me to share:


I realize the whole of America (well, and Greece…) is already on this band wagon, but substituting Greek yogurt for sour cream, milk, etc. in a few recipes has been the Bomb Diggitay. For a Lia Sophia party I had on Saturday night, I used it in a Spinach Artichoke Dip = yum! Tonight, I used it and salt and a splash of milk for mashed potatoes and they were the best I have ever made. YAY for better ingredients.

Meanwhile, I baked some bread today. Even though Rod and Randa both like store-bought ‘barely bread’ better (what?!), it’s good for me to get in the habit of baking it again. Unfortunately, I used one of the loaves (I baked Italian) for a very, very naughty recipe. Darn The Pioneer Woman. (before you click, just know that it involved *2* sticks of butter and the 5 of us ate the whole darn thing…)

I also made homemade granola (note to self: needed more sticky-stuff, because half the pan is granola cereal…), biscuits and gravy for breakfast, and finally, finally, a passable substitute for my favorite soup in the world, served at El Cortez in Country Club Hills, IL, and ordered faithfully by me for the last 20 years. Yes. There is a menu item I have been faithful to for 20 years. Yikes. This one:

I still have some trial and error to get this perfect, and it will never be like it us “up there,” but in case you are interested in a little pizazz for your wintry chicken soup, here you go:

Kel’s Caldo-Whatsit Soup

3 or 4 limes
~about a pound of shredded chicken (I used leftovers from chicken tacos, but I am including the instructions for the chicken per the original recipe)).
1 tsp. kosher salt, plus more, to taste
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper, plus more, to taste
1 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium white onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced (I use my garlic press for this…nice consistency)
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
4 oz. chopped green chilies
3 cups water
1 1/2 tsp.  oregano
1/4 cup uncooked white rice
~garnish: cilantro, avocado, maybe a pinch of cumin, more lime!

Cut 1 lime into 4 to 6 wedges; set aside for serving. Juice as many of the remaining limes as needed to measure 1/4 cup.

{Season the chicken with the 1 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper. In a large saucepan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the chicken, skin side down, and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate}. Add the onion to the pan and sauté until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and chili and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the broth, water, lime juice, Chili’s, rice, and oregano, then return the chicken to the pan.

Increase the heat to high and bring the liquid to a boil, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover partially and simmer until the chicken shows no sign of pink when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife near the bone, about 40 minutes.

Transfer the chicken to a carving board and let cool slightly. Meanwhile, keep the soup at a simmer. Remove and discard the skin and bones, and shred the chicken into bite-size pieces. Stir the chicken into the soup. Adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper and garnish to your heart’s content. Warm flour tortillas dip nicely.

Serves 4 to 6.


beachy keenTomorrow I am going to go back to consuming more berries and lettuce than bread and butter. It’s about to be winter here in SC, and the next phase of my fast has started. If you see me, I’ll be wearing one of 7 things. More on that later this week… have a happy one!