It's a blog award! (not a leg lamp)

It’s a blog award! Thank you to Michelle at Some Girl's Website for recently bestowing upon me this lovely honor:

Michelle has a great blog, based on her made-up word “fraddle,” which she defines as, “the act or an instance of doing something for or with someone because you love them.” Therefore, I feel especially honored to receive an award from someone who developed an entire blog theme around such a fabulous made-up word and accompanying definition. So without further ado, let me pull out my crumpled paper, quickly put on a pair of glasses, and clear my throat…

(taps microphone)… “Is this thing on?”

(jumps as the feedback screeches)… “Oops, sorry!”

(glances at the crumpled paper)… “ Uhhh, I’d like to thank the Academy…”

When the dad in A Christmas Story when won a trivia contest and his leg lamp arrived in a fra-gee-lay crate, he proudly declared, “It’s a major Award!” I’m glad to have a major award of my own, and even gladder that it’s not a leg lamp. In all seriousness, if you’re reading this right now, thank you for taking the time to be a Farris Wheel reader (er, rider.) If no one read this stuff, then I might as well go back to writing by hand in my diary. But thanks to you all, my real-life friends and my newly-made cyber ones, I’ve been inspired to send the thoughts circling in my head out into cyberspace. And thus far, I have enjoyed it immensely, and I hope you have too.

The rules accompanying my award stipulate that I pass it on to 15 bloggers whose websites are particularly outstanding, ones that I have recently discovered. As a relatively new citizen of the blogosphere who has trolled these waters for less than a month, I have elected to postpone my award-bestowing ceremony until sometime in the future when I have a better grasp of blogdom.

So look out. You never know when I might be sending you a leg lamp.

Until next time,


If "This One's For the Children," then why aren't the previews?

What does this....

have in common with this?

Absolutely nothing. And that is the main idea for today.

Our family rarely makes a trip to the movie theater for several reasons. First, it’s not very often that a wholesome flick comes along that doesn’t make parents feel like they just lost two hours of their lives. Second, a family of four is required to take out a small bank loan to purchase tickets and concessions. I always stand there slack-jawed when the theater employee behind the glass window tells me what I owe. Third, why make the effort when the theater-to-DVD cycle is quicker than it has ever been? Just be patient and wait a few months.

But every so often, a movie comes along that’s so big…so hyped…that we discard the above objections, provided we are certain that the investment will be worth it. Prime example: the much-anticipated Toy Story 3, which opened nationwide last weekend.

I have never seen a child as hero-enamored with a fictional character as my 3-year-old son is with Buzz Lightyear. And why not? Buzz is brave, funny, confident, and in charge. A “right stuff” kind of guy. But underneath all that, he’s humble…thanks to that infamous life-altering, eye-opening moment when he discovered he wasn’t a real spaceman after all. My son could certainly have worse role models right now.

Little man has been looking forward to the third Toy Story installment since he learned some time ago that it was coming. We would pass adult acquaintances in the grocery store, stopping to chat in the frozen foods section, and he would, without fail, announce to them that Toy Story 3 was coming. While brushing his teeth at Grandma’s house, he paused with toothpaste dribbling down his chin to tell my mother that Toy Story 3 was coming. Every night at bedtime, he would clutch his own Woody and Buzz toys and ask how many days were left. How could we miss such a momentous occasion in his little life?

So there we were, shuffling to our seats, concessions in hand, alongside my children’s special friends and their parents. This was a big deal. The lights dimmed and the 25-minutes’ worth of previews began to blare. My children, who had only been in a theater once before, sat wide-eyed, absorbing every single audio-visual detail.

The first few previews were typical for what one might expect would precede a movie like Toy Story 3… something tremendously annoying about talking cats and dogs in space, a new Rapunzel-type story from Disney, and the upcoming triumphant horse movie, Secretariat. Then, as a captive audience, we were assaulted with a too-long trailer for the new M. Night Shyamalan movie The Last Airbender. It was dark, nightmarish, violent, loud, and creepy – like a million other previews I have seen in my lifetime, featuring the standard, run-of-the-mill, computer-generated excessiveness designed to shock and awe. To me, it’s all just more of the same. My daughter, on the other hand, covered her eyes. My son, who has incidentally been struggling with bad dreams these days, was simultaneously horrified and fascinated. He watched the entire trailer and then turned to tell us that he did not like it.

My question to the Hollywood powers-that-be is this: why were we subjected to that? It’s not at all what we bought. We paid for family entertainment. How did five minutes of nightmares creep into that package? It is not due to an oversight on the part of movie industry forces (“Oops, we let that one slip through the cracks!”) Instead, it is a very intentional effort to target older members of the audience at the expense of the younger ones.

The opposing viewpoint would tell me that my children might as well get used to what they will see in popular culture. Previews that look like they came from the pit of hell sometimes pop up during prime time baseball games. It’s like a drive-by shooting. But at least when that happens, I hold in my hand the power of the remote control, ready to zap them back to the pit from whence they came.

Not so in a movie theater.

As it turns out, my suspicions were correct. According to a September 2009 Chicago Sun-Times article featured here, "The Motion Picture Association of America's Classification and Ratings Board substantially changed its policy earlier this year so that promotional clips from upcoming films no longer need to be suitable for ‘general’ audiences. The change went into effect without any announcement or opportunity to comment.”

In the past, the green band that flashes on the screen before a trailer assured us that the trailer itself is “approved for all audiences.” But now, some of those green bands say, “Approved for appropriate audiences,” which means that very young audience members have simply become unfortunate casualties.

Some might say that I should show up to a movie 25 minutes late to bypass the previews. I could, and I probably will now. But I shouldn’t have to. I should be able to reasonably assume that previews for a G-rated movie will be G-rated previews, or at the very least, unobjectionable ones. Here’s a rule of thumb for movie-industry types: If it’s directed by M. Night Shyamalan, it probably does not fall into the “little kid” category.

Yes, they will grow up one day. They will become more mature, no longer tormented by scary images that can replay themselves in the form of bad dreams at night. But for now, they are little children, being forced to grow up faster than we did in millions of tiny ways, thanks in large part to movies and television. The inappropriateness of one preview is just a small part of a larger problem. Those of us in the adult world are supposed to protect them, not push them to see what could adversely affect them. But obviously, expecting Hollywood to protect children is like expecting a hawk to look out for the best interests of a chipmunk. It is even less logical to expect anyone of note to respond to one parent’s complaint.

But I am mama bear.

Hear me roar.

If you would like to join me in expressing concern about this issue, contact the MPAA:

Chairman/CEO Bob Pisano
1600 Eye St.
NWWashington, D.C. 20006
(202) 293-1966 (main)
(202) 296-7410 (fax)

Now, at the risk of detracting from my mama bear ferocity, I am going to close today’s post on a lighthearted note with an oldie-but-goodie from 1989 – because if “this one’s for the children,” shouldn’t the previews be, too?


Dude, Where's My Car?

There is something therapeutic about sharing one of your most embarrassing moments with the world. At least, that’s the idea I’m starting out with today. Let’s see if I’m right.

It was 1995. I was a wide-eyed college freshman and first-time car owner. Technically my dad owned it, of course, but it was my car. A 1990 Geo Prizm that sported a hatchback. I had wheels. (Cue the “Oh Yeah” song from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). Mine was light blue, but you get the idea from this picture:

I named her Prissy. I drove her all over my college town of Florence, Alabama, finally free from relying on the good-will of my friends.

One spring afternoon, I grabbed a McDonald’s hamburger for lunch (the food of champions, as far as I was concerned), and parked my little car in the dormitory parking lot for the afternoon.
Later that day, on my way to ensemble practice, I headed straight for the parking place I had snagged earlier. I looked around, feeling panicky. Where was my car?!? I surveyed the entire dormitory parking lot, to no avail. Rational thought falling by the wayside, I immediately determined that my Geo Prizm had been stolen. That’s right. Lifted right out of the parking lot by some villainous thieves who had coveted the awesomeness of my hatchback. They had taken my Prissy from me, and I would never see her again.

I rushed back to my dorm room, emotions rising and heart pounding. Following through on my knee jerk response, I reached for the phone and made several calls…to my parents, to the director of the ensemble who sympathetically said he would tell all of my friends and they would pray for me, and to the police. Yes. I called the police to report a stolen car. They calmly told me they were on their way.

I rushed to the elevator and pushed the down arrow button to go meet the police. Alone, in that rickety old elevator on the way down, my rational thought, which had been rudely shoved aside earlier, began to make itself heard. Loudly.

“Jennifer,” it said. “You drove to the library on campus after you got back from McDonald’s. And you WALKED back to the dorm. Remember?”

I wanted to slump to the floor of the elevator. My friends still tease me to this day.

Few things make me more aggravated at myself than forgetting something. It is a trait common to mankind, bestowed more prominently on some than others. No one remembers everything all the time. That’s why the inventor of Post-It notes made a fortune. People forget keys, important dates, items that should have been packed, meetings, groceries, and, as I’ve just proven, where they park their cars. It’s as if our brains can only hold so much information…anything over and above that set limit is subconsciously labeled “FORGET,” against our wills. We certainly don’t want to forget important things, but sometimes they fall through the mental cracks. Human beings are limited.

Sometimes, people forget the big things, too.

The people of the Old Testament, who notoriously walked away from those Ten Commandments, knew that they were prone to forgetfulness. On several occasions, the Bible records instances in which they set up piles of rocks called “standing stones,” (the first Post-It notes), to remind them of some great work that God had done. The old hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” says, “Here I raise mine ebneezer, hither by they help I’m come.”

I always thought the word “ebeneezer” sounded so antiquated and strange. I had never heard it used alongside anything other than Scrooge. But it means this:

"Stone of help, the place where Samuel erected a monument, in grateful remembrance of the divine help, given in answer to prayer, in a great battle with the Philistines. The same place had before witnessed the defeat of Israel and the capture of the ark." (1 Samuel 4:1; 5:1; 7:5-12)
Source: Smith’s Bible Dictionary

So in modern terms, that line in the hymn means, “Here I put up my monument to God’s faithfulness in my life. It’s only by his help that I’ve come this far, and I don’t ever want to forget it.”

My mom says, “Never forget in the darkness what God has shown you in the light.” That means, put up some ebeneezers here and there…you never know when you’re going to need them. They might be big rock piles (figuratively speaking), the results of dramatic, life-altering events. But sometimes they’re just your own small reminders that the hand of God is at work. Either way, we would do well to dot our life-landscapes with them, very intentionally.

I raised an ebeneezer on that day in 1995…not just because my car had not been stolen by villainous thieves, but also because I learned a humbling lesson about jumping to conclusions, one that I still need and have never forgotten.

Sometimes I put up my rock piles by writing them down. But they could just as easily be shared verbally, meditated upon, or raised up in some other creative way. The point is that we remember, just as Jesus gave us the bread and the cup by which we remember His sacrifice for us. Forget your keys…forget your entire car…but don’t forget to raise your ebeneezer. It’s hither by His help you’ve come.


Bigger than My Imagination

In their latest TV commercial, AT&T features the song "Pure Imagination" from the classic 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The voice over says, "Remember when you were 5 and anything was possible?" Children's drawings dreamily float and fly around big-city skyscrapers. The AT&T logo flashes on the screen so quickly at the end, you almost miss it. Have you seen it?

I like that the song has re-emerged in the public consciousness. I've even found myself singing that delightful lilting melody lately. (Incidentally, when I think of Willy Wonka, I always think of Gene Wilder, never Johnny Depp in a strange girly wig -- ew.) Willy Wonka was the man who sang, "There is no life I know to compare with pure imagination. Living there, you'll be free, if you truly wish to be." He was the man who dreamed his inventions into life...the more bizarre, the better. Fizzy Lifting Drinks, Everlasting Gobstoppers, a chocolate lake.

Do you remember when anything was possible?

I do.

I was Dorothy in ruby slippers. I was a private investigator who took on neighborhood cases for 25 cents each. I was a lemonade stand entrepreneur. I was a city planner of sorts who raked trails through the leaves in the backyard and mapped them out on paper. The flower garden was a fairy wonderland for Barbies and She-Ra Princess of Power dolls. I was Cyndia Lauper for Halloween in 1984. This is a picture from that era of my friend and me.

Those who can pretend possess a marvelous ability that, quite honestly, they take for granted. Most of them are 12 and under. They live in a different world than the rest of us. They know in their little heads that what they pretend is not real, but a part of them that believes that it is.

I say this because I remember looking into the brown eyes of my mutt dog Nacho as a kid and whispering to her, "Nacho, if you can talk, show me! Right now! I promise I won't tell anyone!" I don't think I would have been that surprised if she had.

Yes, I adore spending time with my own children. But when it comes to pretending, I am not on their level. They are much more advanced than I am. They are where I used to be. I try to contribute, but my own storylines fall short compared to the limitlessness of their imagined worlds. Below is a picture of today's shenanigans, Extreme Home Makeover: Bird Edition.

"Toyland, toyland," goes the old song, "Little girl and boy land, once you pass its borders, you can never return again." Believe me, I've tried. I can "play" at playing, but I'm too far into adulthood now for Toyland to let me back in. I can stand at its city gates and look in, amazed at the little citizens there, fully immersed in their play -- where their inventions and creations are just as real as Willy Wonka's.

They are little creators, made in the image of the Creator himself. So it stands to reason that they would make it their aim to turn their play dreams into realities. To see the ideas in their heads take shape in concrete ways. To make up stories as rehearsals for the dramas of real life ahead of them. That is imagination.

Think about this: the greatest, happiest, and most delightful things you imagined as a kid pale in comparison to all that the Creator has planned. Ephesians 3:20 says, "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." (emphasis mine) I'm not speaking of the "prosperity gospel" that many TV preachers favor. What I mean is that God's imagination is so much more expansive than ours. The difference is that whatever He imagines...is reality. Just as my children are in a different realm of imagination than I am, so the Father's ways and thoughts are infinitely higher than anyone's here on earth.

Willy Wonka could not wait to show the chocolate room to the golden ticket winners. He proudly opened the door slowly, relishing the suspense and watching their faces. "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him," says 1 Corinthians 2:9. I cannot even begin to speculate what lies on the other side of the door between here and eternity.

My imagination...is not enough.


Faith and Superman

The foreclosures of two large movie-rental chain stores in our area recently drove us to do the inevitable: sign up for Netflix.

It was easy to set up my "queue" of movies to come to my door...a little too easy, really. Because I have a 3-year-old he-man child obsessed with Buzz Lightyear and all things remotely like him, I decided that our debut Netflix flick would be Superman, the original 1978 version. (It did require some remote control finesse during the disturbing earthquake scene. I reserve the right to censor while I am still able.)

My children were fascinated with the man of steel, and so was I. It didn't matter that the special effects seemed primitive by today's standards, or that his red cape didn't quite flap realistically enough when he flew. He was a superhero who could do anything. The best superhero of all time, hands down. Something about them thrills the human heart. Hearing composer John Williams' theme song during the opening credits was almost enough to make me want to put on a red cape of my own and zoom around the room. (Almost. But I refrained.)

Just for fun, I'm including the song here. Go ahead and click on it. You can listen to it while you read the rest of this post.

Watching the movie as an adult was a different experience than watching it as a kid. Maybe I ponder the deeper meanings of things more these days, or maybe they were just too deep for me to understand back then. But this time around, it was clear to me that the story of Superman contains some undeniable biblical parallels. Not perfect ones, of course, but parallels that were too interesting for me to ignore without sharing them. So without going into too much detail here (I hope), allow me to make four quick observations about it:

1) The father sends his only son as a baby.

Superman's father, Jor-el, sends him to planet Earth as a baby, Moses-in-the-bullrushes style, in his own little spaceship to protect him from the destruction of planet Krypton. Earth is a "primitive" planet, and Superman's mother worries that her son will feel isolated and alone there because of his great powers. As he places the baby in the ship, Jor-el (played by Marlon Brando) says in his deep, baritone voice, "He will never be alone. All that I have, all that I've learned, everything I feel, all this and more, I bequeath you, my son. You will carry me inside you all the days of your life. You will make my strength your own, see my life through your eyes, as your life will be seen through mine. The son becomes the father, and the father, the son."

1 John 4:14 says of Jesus, "And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world."

Not only does Jor-el send the "superman" baby, he bequeaths him all that he is. Hebrews 1:3 says, "The Son radiates God's own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command." Jesus himself said in John 10:30, "I and the Father are one."

2) The son has humble beginnings but fulfills a great destiny.

Clark Kent grows up as a farm boy in Smallville, Kansas knowing that he is different, just as his birth mother fretted. His earthly parents are named Martha and Jonathan (dare I compare the M and J names to Mary and Joseph?) Jonathan tells him that he is meant for greater things, and Clark ponders the purpose of his life alone in the cornfields. Finally, the day comes when he tells Martha after Jonathan's death, "I have to go." And then the miracles begin...saving Lois Lane, preventing accidents, thwarting bad guys. Jesus began his earthly ministry at a definitive point in time, after spending years growing up as a humble carpenter's son.

3) The son retreats to commune with the father.

Through Kryptonian technology that the audience just has to accept, Superman often visits the "Fortress of Solitude" to speak with Jor-el (or, at least, to speak with a large, transparent hologram head that does not seem to creep him out in the slightest.) He tells his father of his struggles, asks him for help, and receives advice there. In the gospels, Jesus often retreated from the crowds and found solitary places to pray to the Father.

4) The son is the light and the way.

Jor-el tells his son about the people of earth, "They can be a great people if they wish to be. They only lack the light to show them the way. For this reason above all - their capacity for growth - I have sent them you, my only son."

John 1:9 "The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world."

John 14: 6 "Jesus told him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life.' "

In real life, there was never a flying man in red boots who swooped in to help people in their times of need. Instead, we were given the real super-man...the humble carpenter from Nazareth, the one who came from above to give his life as a ransom for many, the Son of God who lives to intercede for them. He came, not just because the Father thought we had a capacity for growth, as Superman's father said of the people of earth, but because of God's deep love for the people he had made who needed a Savior.

That night, as I tucked my he-man child into bed, he drowsily prayed, "Thank you God for the mailman, who brought me the Superman movie today."

Thank you God for sending your super-man...to us.


Everybody Knows a Little Place Like Kokomo

I've got the Gulf Coast on my mind.

"Everybody knows a little place like Kokomo," sang the Beach Boys in 1988. "Now if you wanna go and get away from it all...go down to Kokomo." I wonder if the Beach Boys knew that the only Kokomo in the world is in fact not on a tropical island, but rather, a city in Howard County, Indiana. The word sounds kind of exotic, though, like it could be some sort of Hawaiian coconut, so I guess they hijacked its meaning for their song. And because they were talking about a dreamy vacation spot, nobody seemed to mind...or realize it, for that matter.

If one's own little "Kokomo" is a specific location, then mine existed once, and still does, though not as concretely in my mind as it once did. Years and years of family vacations to Panama City Beach, FL during my growing-up years (and my husband's as well) have made it our Kokomo by default. But the face of the beach has changed. What used to be a strip of two-story mom-and-pop motels has turned into a long line of hulking, monolithic condominiums that cast long shadows across the land.

When I was a kid, my Kokomo was the Wave Crest Motel. It was a modest structure, brown and tan with turquoise-blue doors on the rooms, no carpet inside, bare necessities in the kitchenette, and the softest old white sheets I ever slept on, thanks to countless washings over their decades of life. Each room had its own enormous screened-in porch attached, overlooking the Gulf, perfect for dumping all my toys and floats. It was nothing like the cramped, closet-size obligatory balconies on modern condos.

My parents vacationed at the Wave Crest long before I was born. My dad says that the owner of the place, a kindly older gentleman, let him mail in a check once when he and mom stayed there as a young couple and came up short on what they owed. Tragically, that man lost his life years later when the small cottage he lived in across the street from the motel burned down. His ashes were scattered in the small garden of periwinkles in the motel courtyard, and then his son took over the operation of the business. One summer vacation, my mother created a stunning pastel chalk drawing of that courtyard, featuring the periwinkle garden as the focal point. She gave it to the son, and to our surprise upon returning the following year, we saw the drawing framed and hung in the motel office.

Below is an example of one of mom's "Wave Crest Series" pastels that hangs in my bedroom. This was the view from one of the motel's beachfront gazebos.

Another year, my mother engineered the sand sculpting of a nine-foot Gulliver lying spread-eagle on the beach, as if he had just washed up on shore, complete with 1700's-style sand-clothing and longish-hair spread out around his head. My 9-year-old cousin and I were proud to be assigned the task of combining water and sand in buckets during the construction process. Beachcombers came from miles around to get a look. Naturally, he didn't last very long.

Now the Wave Crest stands no longer. After it was battered by a hurricane, it was bulldozed, and the property now lies barren, literally gone with the wind. Driving past that spot is always a bit surreal. It is a sobering reminder to me about how time works...that a place that encompassed so many happy memories for me could just be...gone. Like Gulliver. Like the old Miracle Strip Amusement Park a few miles away from the motel - once bright, lively, and part of my childhood - now scary, old, and decrepit. Boarded up and shut down. Nature has taken over. Weeds and vines are winding their way over the old rides. I would rather see the place leveled than looking like a horror movie set.

But even with the disintegration of the Wave Crest and the amusement park, that beach itself remains my Kokomo. It's the place where I experienced a concussion, a marriage proposal, and a spiritual awakening, though not all at the same time. (Let it be noted that the concussion did not consitute a happy beach memory, but it's a memory nevertheless, and maybe a story for another day.)

Now that I have a family of my own, we still vacation in Panama City Beach, but we haven't found a spot to call our own yet. We are condo and motel-hopping each year, not loyal anywhere. We are Kokomo-seekers, confident that one of these days, we'll find what we are looking for. I can't help but wonder if we'll even have the chance this year.

I see the oil spill as a creature from the black lagoon that is extending its tentacles closer and closer to the shores...my shores...and I am heavy-hearted. Of course I realize that the disaster is much bigger than me. It's about an entire ecosystem stretching across several states that is hanging in the balance. But still, I feel a sense of ownership for this coast. As I have explained above, I have a history with it. I am sickened by the thought a black plague of oil lurking out there in the deep. A man-made disaster that man can't seem to fix. It is puzzling to me that the best and brightest minds on the planet can send people to space, invent iPhones and cochlear implants, but are unable to plug a hole in the ocean floor. The damage already done is tragic enough. I pray that it will be contained soon. Not just for my own little Kokomo, but for Louisiana all the way to Florida, and all the Kokomo's in-between.

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