About Kristen

A 30-something wife and mama of 3 (so far) living out my faith (Catholic) in the southeastern US.

Last Man on Earth?

Last night, after my usual laugh-a-thon that is Brooklyn Nine-Nine, I saw the first two episodes of the new show, Last Man on Earth. Previews indicated the show would chronicle actor Will Forte as a character who is, apparently, the last man on earth.

The first episode went pretty much as I expected, Forte’s character, Phil Miller, travels the country looking for survivors of a virus. He puts up signs in many places saying he is living in Tuscan and to come find him if anyone has survived. Initially, Miller dialogues with God and does what probably many of us would do, if we found no one else to stop us, he takes over a large house, steals food and basically does what he wants. He even mocks the Tom Hanks movie Castaway because of the character of Wilson. Quickly, however, the two years of solitude begin to wear on Phil. He goes to celebrate his birthday in a bar he frequented when alive. While there he thinks of his last birthday celebrated there with family and friends, now all gone. Soon, everywhere Miller goes, he brings with him an assortment of athletic balls with faces painted on them and even attempts to start a relationship with a mannequin.

In the end, Phil decides he will kill himself until he sees something unexpected, smoke from a campfire. Upon going to the campsite, Phil sees laundry hanging including a bra, meaning someone else is still alive and she is a woman. Kristen Schaal plays Carol, a woman bent on following the rules that seemingly no longer exist (like obeying stop signs when there is no traffic) and who tells Phil they have to re-populate the world, after they are married.

The show is interesting, I’m not sure if I’ve seen enough to say I like it or not. It is definitely an interesting premise, particularly for a television show. And one I’m not sure will succeed. The wikipedia page for the show lists other characters which I’m unsure if they will be fellow survivors or characters from flashbacks. While the friction between free-wheeling Phil and straight-arrow Carol is certainly making for more dramatic watching (and seriously, I wouldn’t have watched past two episodes if it was simply a one man cast), I can see where it possibly could wear thin quickly. The show’s creators were careful to add in a character who, despite Phil begging God for a companion, a female companion, is a foil to Phil, one whom he initially rejects. However, he is more than a little shocked when Carol begins to become more like him rather than a constant irritant. In fact, he dislikes Carol becoming more like him. It would appear that the third episode will still only show Phil and Carol. So, I’m intrigued as to where other characters may come in. But I’m still not sure what to make of the show or sold on it’s premise.

And it makes me think of other shows that appeared strange at conception but quickly proved to be successes. I think you’d have been hard pressed to find reality tv audiences of the early 2000s believing that a show about the survivors of a zombie apocalypse (The Walking Dead) would be a success. Much less a show about pre-WWI British aristocracy (Downton Abbey). So, we’ll see. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Jane the Virgin as a new show which, on paper, the premise and the genre (tele-novela) should never have worked. One thing is for sure, I’m glad to see writers and networks taking chances and experimenting and moving us further away from the brain-cell killing “reality” television.

Was it really love?

I follow the actress Zooey Deschanel on facebook. She’s got an adorable quality and she is generally upbeat. She also has started a websited called Hello Giggles. Today she posted a link to an article from the site.

The article describes a woman’s relationship where she broke up with a man who she says she loved. She describes the relationship as being full of excitement early on until they graduated from college. Then, all the little things that always annoyed her, she stopped ignoring. She stopped pretending they were endearing and decided they were deal breakers.

The author claims that there was love and it was genuine. And then one day, they couldn’t make it work anymore. They had to break up.

Having been married over 11 years (almost 12), and dating that person for 3 years and being engaged for a year, I can say that all relationships go through dry spells and growing pains and adjustments. And that not every relationship is truly love. There is lust. There is puppy love. There is new love. There is in-love. And then there is all the rest of it. Not all relationships will go through all of these. Sometimes getting to that point where you are willing to fold underwear with holes in it isn’t going to be possible. I’ve always said that we all want someone who will love us inspite of our faults, but mostly we’re just happy with someone who will put up with our shit. And clearly, there are relationships that will not survive. Does it mean there was actual love? Perhaps, sometimes. But I would not at all be surprised if in a few years this woman marries someone else and looks back and says, “Wait, maybe that wasn’t love after all?” Or maybe she will realize that there is deeper love than what she originally thought.

I can’t tell if what this writer is describing is, was or ever would have been love. I’m not sure if she knows either. I can only say that I the one person I really loved enough to stand in front of God and my family and vow all those things to…I wouldn’t break up with over the zillion little things that drive me crazy.

Making the Case for Juno as a pro-life tool for young people

Last month, I intended to write this whole post about entertainment that valued life and what not and then strep throat and the flu ripped through our house with reckless abandon and my biggest pro-life goal in those moments, was keeping my family alive.

I am a fan of Jason Reitman’s film Academy Award nominated (and winner for best screenplay) film Juno. I think it is uplifting without being cheesy and brutally honest without being demoralizing. I’ve come to realize, in the last few years, that in a lot of pro-life circles, I’m in the minority in this opinion. Particularly when it comes to using this film to educate young people on the pro-life options truly available to them should an unplanned pregnancy occur.

First off, I am told that Juno promotes teenage sexuality. I hate to let people know, but teenagers were having un-wed sex long before this movie came out. And it’s been promoted much more romantically (no pun intended) in many other places. If anything, I would argue that this film makes a powerful case against sexual intercourse outside of marriage. Juno and Paulie barely speak to one another after having sex just one time. They were clearly caught up in the moment and while it may not be outright regret, the awkwardness bothers the friends tremendously. And while Juno tries to down-play the actual sex, or “the sex” as she tells the receptionist on the phone at Planned Parenthood, she is clearly bothered by how things have changed between herself and her best friend. Listen up kids, sex changes everything. Everything.

Second, I have been told this movie not only encourages teens to have sex but gives them an easy out: find a rich couple to take your baby. WRONG!!! If anything, this film shows what I’ve heard adoptive parents refer to as the “divorce” or “painful separation” that occurs in an adoption in it’s most honest form. After Juno rejects having an abortion while sitting in the reception area of Planned Parenthood, she has to figure out what’s next. Having only told her best female friend, Leah, that she was pregnant, she shows she is mature and knows she is not ready to raise a baby and they set about finding prospective adoptive parents. Although they find a couple fairly easily and Juno’s dad and step-mom sign off on the deal (more on that in a minute), it’s not all wine and roses for Juno. Despite agreeing to a closed adoption with Mark and Vanessa, Juno develops relationships with them. Particularly with Mark. Her step-mother Bren cautions Juno that the relationship (which Juno views merely as a friendship born out of a mutual love for similar music) is borderline inappropriate and that Juno should not be inserting herself into the Loring’s lives. Juno is hurt by Bren’s assertion because as she views it, these people will be raising her child and she has become attached to them in a way. To complicate matters, when Juno comes over to the Loring’s home to show them an ultrasound of the baby, she finds out Vanessa is picking up extra shifts not only to take more time off when the baby comes, but to buy baby gear. When Juno says she thought the couple’s friends would give them those things at a baby shower, Mark and Vanessa reveal this isn’t their first rodeo. They’ve had at least one failed adoption prior which sends Juno reeling that they would even consider her changing her mind. And in the end, Bren’s advice that Juno’s involvement with the Lorings (particularly Mark) is inappropriate, turns out to be prophetic when he decides to leave Vanessa (an action he claims Juno inspired) which threatens to de-rail the adoption late in the pregnancy as Juno wanted a mother and father for her child.

Another thing I am told is that this movie is not good for young people as it doesn’t portray enough shame on the part of Juno and her family. Sigh. I don’t think I can ever win this argument as it is subjective, but here goes. Juno struggles to tell her dad, Mac, and step-mom, Bren about the pregnancy. She’s already decided to have the baby and give him or her up for adoption and approaches her parents with Leah as back-up. She struggles but gets it all out. Her parents are disappointed. The dialogue following her announcement says it all:

Mac: Did you see that coming?

Bren: Yeah…but I was hoping she was expelled or into hard drugs.

Mac: That was my first instinct too. Or a DWI…anything but this!

They are disappointed, sure but they also aren’t happy. They would rather their child have been kicked out of school, addicted to drugs or be in trouble with the law rather than pregnant. That said, they back Juno up. And Bren, in particular, decides it’s best to get on board and help their daughter get through this than wallow in what might have been. When Mac says he’s not ready to be a “pop-pop,” Bren replies, “You’re not going to be a pop-pop. Somebody else is going to find a precious blessing from Jesus in this garbage dump of a situation.” That appears to set things on the course of supportive parenting. Bren gets right on getting her to see an ob-gyn and on pre-natal vitamins. And Mac refuses to allow Juno to meet Mark and Vanessa alone. He goes to their home with her and has a great line at the introductions, “Thank you for having me and my irresponsible child over to your home.” Mac has a much more difficult time accepting the pregnancy and eventual adoption than Bren does, and the pregnancy does bring Juno and Bren much closer together. When Bren takes Juno for an ultrasound, she defends Juno and her choices at adoption or even if she changes her mind and decides to keep the baby to the judgmental ultra-sound technician. And she never leaves Juno’s side during and after the birth of the baby. I would be hard pressed to say that these are examples of anything other than supportive parents and not parents glorifying an unwanted situation.

An odd argument against the film I read recently is that the screenplay was written by Diablo Cody, a former exotic dancer. And her former occupation is reason enough not to see. All I can say to this is that God can and will work through everything and everyone. Yes, Ms Cody at one time, had a less than desirable occupation, however, she managed to write a story that’s had a powerful impact and has gone on to win awards despite having a message so contrary to what popular culture preaches.

Throughout the pregnancy, Juno has conflicting feelings about her child’s father, Paulie. Initially she thinks everything will go back to being the way it was. Her parents agree not to tell Paulie’s parents about the baby being his at Juno’s urging and Paulie seems to be ambivalent regarding the adoption. As the pregnancy progresses, their relationship becomes strained. When Juno finds out Paulie is asking a girl out to a dance, despite her not typically wanting to attend such an event, she becomes jealous and confused by her feelings and confronts Paulie. Finally, toward the pregnancy’s end, Juno and Paulie decide they want to start dating. But their relationship changes nothing in the status of the adoption.  The situation regarding their relationship was executed very well. It’s something that teenagers don’t think about. Yes sex changes things and so does pregnancy. There is never a happily ever after guarantee which is why sex and pregnancy should never be used to hold onto a relationship.

The very painful decision Juno makes to allow Vanessa to adopt her child alone and the birth of the baby (Paulie chooses not to see the baby) reveal the very rawness of adoption. Juno sees the baby but he is almost immediately whisked away to Vanessa. Juno is comforted by Bren and Leah, her dad and Paulie. Each knows the pain and longing of letting go of the baby without it becoming overdramatic. This separation, this divorce, from the child’s birth family is shown in the tears and embraces of Juno’s family and Paulie. Vanessa chooses to pay tribute to it in her home where she has framed in her son’s nursery, the message Juno wrote to her on the back of a Jiffy Lube invoice after Mark revealed his plan to leave her, “Vanessa, if you’re in, I’m in. Juno.”

If nothing else I could see where this movie could certainly start a lot of powerful conversations between teens and young people and their parents. It is difficult subject matter, but I do believe when given the proper context by parents it can be a powerful learning tool. And not just the lesson that adoption is an option.

I also think Juno would not be under attack by the other side, if it weren’t such a powerful weapon in the arsenal. They finally, six years later, launched the counter attack with Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child. Robespierre was clever to not show her main character Donna, going through any discernment process in her decision to abort her child. Equally clever was the casting of Jenny Slate in the role of Donna. Slate was previously best know as the creator, author and voice of Marcel the Shell, a character who stars in a popular series of youtube videos and children’s books. And she concludes her film in a way similar to the way Juno ends, with the “parents” together, seemingly happy. Robespierre freely has admitted in interviews that she wanted to counter positive portrayals of women who choose to have their unplanned babies in Juno and Knocked Up (the Judd Apatow film in which a young professional gets pregnant after a one-night stand and has her baby despite her mother’s urging not to and it threatening her career). These movies are so threatening to the abortion industry and its supporters, that one of them had to make a movie to counter it. So, why wouldn’t we use a tool as influential as Juno to not only show the alternatives but to drive home the reality of pre-marital sex, teen sex and parenthood?

Meatless Recipes #1

So, this Lent, as our penance, we are becoming pescetarian. Essentially we will only eat fish and vegetables and fruits (and yes, some grains). We will allow eggs (as my children would starve otherwise and be totally protein deficient) and I will use butter and milk and cheese. This is a huge sacrifice for us as we have a weekly Taco Tuesday (and these kids won’t even eat chicken tacos…only beef!) and chicken nuggets are a staple. No matter, we persevere!

We open Ash Wednesday with tonight’s dinner (for Jeff and I, I’m under no illusions my kids will touch this recipe with a ten foot pole) with this Swiss Cheese Vegetable Bake a friend shared on facebook about a month ago. It does have cream and cheese in it, but we are omitting the bacon fat for vegetable oil (originally it is a low-carb diet). I’ll also only do half mushrooms since Jeff doesn’t eat them. At all.

I’m actually excited about this dietary change for us. I think it will be penitential because I’ll have to actually agonize over what’s for dinner rather than just default. Also, some days there will have to be alternates (for example, tonight Shelby will probably eat mac and cheese and the boys cheese pizza). I am hoping the kids will actually try some of the dishes we make. I even hope I can convert them to fish tacos!

Love in a time of Comfort Food

Hallie Lord has this amazing post about her husband Dan and how he cares for her when she is sick.

While Jeff is great when I’m sick at taking care of the house and kids and making sure the trains all run on time, aside from the occasional ginger ale run, he’s not great with the nurturing part of taking care of a sick wife. Or sick kid. Which is why he cleans up throw up while I comfort the sick child.

These last six months have been some of the sickest in our family. Ever. I’ve had the virus from hell that’s not the flu, the 24 hour stomach bug and a ridiculous cold. William’s had an ear infection and pink eye. Jeff’s had several bad viruses. And Joseph. Joseph’s had strep throat twice, an ear infection and walking pneumonia. (Mercifully, God has spared Shelby in all of this minus the occasional intestinal discomfort which she bears like a champ.)

Joseph’s second bout with strep throat was diagnosed last night. At the emergency room. Because he didn’t want a throat culture and didn’t tell me about any discomfort til after I’d gotten home from work about 4 pm yesterday. And our pediatrician has walk-in sick hours Saturday morning! But it wasn’t a sore throat he complained of. It was a pain in his neck. A pain that was an extremely enlarged lymph node. The tonsils on the inside corresponded with the lymph node. And a fever of 102. He NEVER fevers when sick. Off to the ER we went, I was fearing mono. 24 minutes after arriving, we were triaged and the nurse gave him Motrin (because, Mom of the year didn’t have any at home) and swabbed his throat. I was somewhat relieved when 45 minutes later back in the waiting area, the check-in nurse came over with a mask.

“First of all, ” she said, noticing his storm trooper jacket his great-aunts gave him for Christmas 2013, “I LOVE the jacket. And second, he’s got strep and needs to put this on.”

Almost 2  hours after we came in, we went back to a room to await a doctor or PA. The motrin had kicked in so Joseph wasn’t so grouchy and he enjoyed watching Cartoon Network while we waited. A kind PA came in and examined him. He was very worried about the lymph node and made me promise to bring  Joseph to the pediatrician Monday to have it re-checked. The other option was getting a shot of a steroid for the swelling (the PA was worried about an absess developing in the node) but none of us was excited by that prospect. Because they knew it was too late to get a prescription filled that evening, a nurse brought in Joseph’s first antibiotic dose. And we were discharged.

It should also be noted that Jeff currently has the cold I just spent 2 weeks with and a week recovering from. He had been home all day with all three kids (including a sniffly Shelby and William) while I worked and then cooked dinner and entertained Shelby and William for three hours while I was in the ER with Joseph.

Everyone was in bed well before 11. Usually the kids are anyway, but even Jeff was. I was exhausted. I collapsed into bed. But as I fell asleep I dreamed of how I would take care of my ailing family tomorrow.

With Joseph sick as he is, and Jeff down for the count, we didn’t make mass this morning. Jeff was not up to caring for Shelby and a sick Joseph plus himself. Morning began with Jeff actually getting Shelby up. I was up shortly after to get the boys up. Joseph only wanted milk for breakfast and William had cheerios. I made the morning low-key. I had to get Joseph’s prescription and return something to a big box store. I got some motrin too and the pièce de résistance for my care plan. Food.

I had already planned dinner for today as meatloaf with onion rings and mac and cheese which is one of my favorite cold-weather comfort food meals. Nevermind that my children do not like meatloaf. I don’t think I’ll ever give up trying to get them to eat it. I’m 1/4 Italian, so it’s in my DNA that food is a cure. And being the wife of a chef and a lover of all kinds of food, I’ve also come to realize that really great food is food that evokes memories of a specific time and place.

Exactly like that.

Meatloaf isn’t something I remember eating growing up (although I know we did) but I have specific memories of Jeff teaching me to make it in our first apartment and working with hamburger with my hands for the first time.

I’ve also been obsessed with the PBS show A Chef’s Life which is filmed a short hour and a half away in Kinston, NC, very close to where Jeff grew up in Goldsboro. Chef Vivian Howard NEVER intended to move back to eastern NC until her parents made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. And since opening her restaurant and relocating her family to the area, she has made a study of comfort foods and ingredients. In a recent episode, she explored chicken and made fried chicken with the woman who cared for her grandmother. Seriously, watch this show.

So, feeding my family when they are sick is one of my favorite ways to show my love. Meatloaf for dinner and for lunch: soup. Jeff had actually made vegetable soup yesterday while he was home with the kids and so his lunch was set. Surprisingly, Shelby ate some of it too. She only really ate the broth, but still. New food and she wanted it. Joseph has preferred liquid and soft food (I can’t imagine why) and so I picked him up some chicken and stars. Because what kid doesn’t feel loved when they have chicken and stars. Yes it’s processed, but we can handle that every now and again. William doesn’t eat soup. William, in case you haven’t noticed, doesn’t eat a lot of things. He went from being my best eater to being the world’s pickiest. He had a peanut butter sandwich.

To see everyone with warm food in their bellies does my heart good. And I didn’t want to leave myself out. It’s cold and yesterday I had a hankerin’ (please remember, I live in the South) for some white bread. I’m a 100% whole wheat bread kinda girl and converted the whole family (including Sir Picky-Pants) but I just sort of needed a little white bread in my life. I made myself a tuna melt with the tuna salad Jeff and I made for my work lunches yesterday and had my favorite soup, tomato. Grilled cheese and tomato soup is an all-time favorite meal of mine that I hadn’t had recently and adding the tuna salad was just the ticket.

And I was surprised at dinner to see Joseph tried everything at dinner. He wasn’t a fan of any of it. But he did try. He wasn’t in a mac and cheese mood (normally a favorite). William ate oatmeal. Shelby ate the bacon off the meatloaf and mac and cheese. Jeff and I enjoyed the meatloaf.

I know, you’re all thinking, why such a big ol post about feeding my family. I’m not great at it, but I do enjoy it. And it makes me feel loved when someone cooks special for me. So, there you go. We’re sick (some of us) and we have full tummies and some of them get it was all out of love. I’ll take it.

Why One Version of the 23rd Psalm stands out to me more than most…

I linked to the Marty Haugen version entitled Shepherd Me O God in this post.

Not quite 20 years ago this past Monday, my mother’s best friend’s husband went home to God. He had had a battle with kidney cancer that was one for the ages. And he left behind a grieving widow, two young sons and many who loved him and mourned his loss.

Tim was soft-spoken and kind-hearted. He was a good husband and father. He was intelligent. He had a PhD in Chemistry but mostly, he just liked to be around his family and friends. His wife, my mother’s best friend Margaret, was as out-going and boisterous as Tim was quiet and reserved. She still is. They met at mass during the Sign of Peace.

And at his funeral, the Marty Haugen version of the 23rd Psalm was sung. On his tombstone, Margaret had put “My spirit will sing the music of Your name.” It was the first funeral I had ever attended. We sat with Margaret and her family. My mother, a nurse, had spent Tim’s last days sleeping on the floor of Margaret and Tim’s bedroom with Margaret in the bed and Tim in a hospital bed. We had spent Tim’s last Christmas, with Mass in their home. A transformer blew and we celebrated by candlelight. Just hearing the Psalm brings back so many memories of that time. I was on a retreat when he passed. I knew he was going to leave the world that weekend, but my parents insisted I go. Tim would have insisted I go. When I returned, my parents greeted me with hugs and tears. I knew it was over.

About the time Tim had passed, I had been listening to a talk on St Paul’s letter to the Galatians and the fruits of the spirit. In the days that would follow, it became clear to me the Holy Spirit planned that one out. And I thought on it a lot as I sang the refrain with the cantor at his funeral mass. One of my brothers and my mom eulogized Tim. My father and that same brother were pall-bearers. An old priest from the parish returned to con-celebrate the mass. People I had not seen in years came. People from Tim’s childhood in California flew out as did friends from his graduate school days in NY and Wisconsin. Co-workers. Parish members. Neighbors. For a quiet guy, Tim had affected many lives. Even the boys’ pediatrician came.

Tim’s gentle demeanor and quiet ways made him a shepherd. He made sure his boys attended mass and were kind and courteous to others. He drew people in with a more reserved kind of friendliness and easy-going manner. He did not let his intellect nor his accomplishment change who he was. And in his passing, the number of people he shepherded in his life, came back to thank him, and help shepherd him into the next one.

Over the years, I have been reminded of the loss of Tim in this life. His name was listed on the back of our wedding program as someone not physically there to share in the joy of our day. And each time I hear Shepherd Me O God, I am reminded of the gift of having him be a shepherd in my life. And of how I want to shepherd others.

No breaks, I just can’t get on my computer

The kids have been off school since Friday afternoon. They go back tomorrow. The end of their semester coincides with MLK Day so they get a four day weekend just two weeks after Christmas break.

And that means that mom doesn’t get much computer time for the four days they are off. One child has very important PBS kids viewing. The other two have very important Minecraft work to be done. For the moment, the two Minecraft children are busying themselves elsewhere and the one who enjoys PBS Kids videos? She’s busy watching Spongebob.

Last week was a cold, wet, and sometimes depressing January week. By contrast, this week has been sunny, warm and peaceful. Winter is my second favorite season after Autumn and I love cold weather and the bareness of the trees and all these sort of things. Seasonal Affective Disorder has never been in my cocktail of neuroses. But I guess it did play into my anxieties I was already drowning in last week. A huge load was dropped in my lap on top of other lingering issues and the weather wasn’t helping me at all. I’m a home body and love being indoors, but when I have no alternative, it stresses me out.

I did work a lot last week, but that, sadly did not help me much because it was unbearably slow because of the weather situation. And even my normal pick-me-up of planning hearty, warming home-cooked meals, failed me. Now, I’ve been battling a cold/sinus thing through all this and that definitely has not helped either.

But what has helped, is prayer. Both the prayer I have been doing and the prayers of others.

And today, I deactivated my facebook account temporarily (the personal one) because I realized I need to focus. Focus on God and my family and getting us back on track. We are readying our house to go back on the market in March and we have a lot of big decisions to make and I cannot be so terribly distracted by it at this exact moment in time. Blogging focuses me on the positive and on God. Obviously these breaks free me up more for writing but also for prayer, Scripture and all the little things I put to the side. Being two days back into school, obviously, I have the computer more to my disposal now and I intend to use it appropriately. I am not going to be perfect in this endeavor, but I do believe it will help me get closer to where I need to be.