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Ashton Kutcher at the Teen Choice Awards: Could there be virtue in Hollywood?

I’m going to suggest something that surprises me.  Watch the video of Ashton Kutcher speaking at the Teen Choice Awards.  If you are parents of teens or preteens, play the video for them.  Trust me on this.  Kutcher delivers a message that kids need to hear.

 

I’m not a fan of Hollywood.  I see it as an insulated bubble bursting with inflated egos and self-indulgence.  Ashton Kutcher, however, appears to have stayed grounded.

Did I just make that statement? This is the guy who stars in Two and a Half Men, a show I believe has few redeeming qualities.  Kutcher is funny, charming, good-looking, and he probably has an ego to boot, right?

Maybe I rushed to judgment too quickly.  Ashton, or Chris — his name before he became Ashton — Kutcher is no empty suit.  Peel away the layers of good looks, youth, and charisma and you find something more meaningful:  brains and virtue.

Kutcher talks about real-world opportunity — rather than wait for the big break Hollywood opportunity. “I believe that opportunity looks a lot like hard work,” says Kutcher.

He elaborates further about the jobs he had before becoming an actor — jobs that made him sweat, jobs that got his hands dirty.  This honest work was never beneath him.

I’ve never had a job in my life that I was better than.  I was always just lucky to have a job, and every job was a stepping stone to my next job.  And I never quit my job until I had my next job. (Kutcher, Teen Choice Awards)

This is such an American value. As a midwesterner, I also like to think — while not exclusively — this is a strong Midwest value. Imagine teaching our children that it’s more noble scrub floors then take a handout.

Kutcher then shifts to “being sexy”.  While much of the entertainment industry peddles it’s version of “sexiness” to children, Kutcher raises the idea of sexy to a new level.  He puts a classy, cerebral spin on on a corporeal concept.

The sexiest thing in the entire world is being really smart, and being thoughtful, and being generous.  Everything else is crap.  I promise you.  It’s just crap that people try to sell to you to make you feel like less.  So don’t buy it. (Kutcher, Teen Choice Awards)

Maybe it takes a charismatic actor to shatter many of the Hollywood tropes on “being sexy”.  Tropes such as “perfection as sexy” or “wicked as sexy” or even “raunchy as sexy” are part of the “crap” that the entertainment world pushes on us. (My apologies for the language, but sometimes an ugly word best conveys an ugly point.)

In Kutcher’s final, but important point, he tells kids to do more than live the life some individual or group has assigned to them.  He tells them to “build” their own life.  Now that is a unique, American ideal.

Christopher Ashton Kutcher possesses admirable qualities:  a strong work ethic, humility, intelligence, compassion, generosity and practical idealism.  These are virtues most of us want to see in our children.  Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing more of this portrayed in Hollywood as well.

A Tale of Two Siblings and a Kids’ Triathlon

It’s August, time for the annual YMCA “Just Tri Youth Triathalon”.

8:30 Saturday morning, we arrive at our local Y for my children to compete in the triathalon.  I welcome the sunny, seventy degrees after last year’s sticky temperature of 85.

It’s busy, but not crazy busy.  Volunteers hand out race packets.  Moms pin race numbers onto Just Tri shirts while dad’s line up bikes and helmets for the second leg of the race.  My stomach does it’s 77th somersault:  What if they don’t finish?  What if they get hurt?  Sick?  Kidnapped by aliens?

Crazy thoughts.  But I’m a mom and I worry.  It’s what I do.  Then I remind myself not to suck all the fun out of this.  I wonder how much of this performance anxiety I pass onto my children. (Mental note: Add this to my ongoing “mother-guilt” list.)

A Sister’s Tale

swimming girls competition YMCA

9 years old and ready to take o n the world.

A short prayer, then I rush my daughter to the pool. Armed with my camera, I’m ready to capture every kick, every breath. She’s practiced flip turns, honed her strokes, and increased her endurance.

Swim cap on, goggles on — now she’s ready.  She races her heart out, finishing first in her heat.

kids biking YMCA triathalon

Two miles of biking ahead.

Dripping wet, she runs from the pool to the bike.  She’s not as confident with her biking, but confident enough for her nine years.  Her dad reminds her, “Just do your best.”  Then for an extra push he yells as she pulls away, “Try to beat last year’s time.”

She pedals two miles like there’s no tomorrow.  She is my competitive one.  Everything is a race, a chance to improve. She seamlessly transitions from biking into running.  She runs with all her energy, focused on finishing.

Parents form a united front.  We cheer for each little athlete racing by us.  Our kids compete against each other.  Yet, we’re in this together.  My friend’s seven year old daughter pumps her tiny legs like the “little engine that could”.  She looks so small on the giant stretch of asphalt.  Her mom snaps a picture from her Iphone as she rounds the next corner.

More racers fly by us. We encourage them to stay strong.  Regardless of where they are in the race pack — first, last, or somewhere in between, they all give us a lesson in strength, courage, and determination.

My daughter races to the finish line, still strong and still confident.  I’m filled with pride and happiness.  She shows more confidence and strength at nine then I did at twenty.

A Brother’s Tale

A momentarily lapse into seriousness.

A momentarily lapse into seriousness.

Then it’s my son’s turn, more tummy somersaults.  He is in the older group:  his swimming distance is double of the younger group, biking, more than triple. The temperate seventy degrees inches closer to eighty.  It’s not a bad temperature but the asphalt feels hotter, more dangerous.  Doubts creep in.  Did he train enough for the swimming? (No.)  Can he handle this? (Yes, on his terms.)  Where my daughter is super-competitive, my son is Mr. Laid Back.

The 11 to 14 age group lines up for the pool.  Swimming is his most challenging event.

swim kids triathalon YMCA

He is swimming hard.

He chose to practice swimming only once.  Once.  Instead of swimming, he trained by running.  His father and I told him to cross-train for the other events, but he’s eleven and knows all of life’s mysteries.  Besides, he’d rather run while listening to his ipod than struggle (and possibly improve) with something he doesn’t enjoy.  Since he’s 11, I thought I would let natural consequences take place.  They did.

He struggled for the last 50 of the 200 meters.  Unlike my daughter, he swims to  get it done.  He doesn’t hate it, but he doesn’t love it either.  He swims to get to the next event, biking — his favorite.

I watch him buckle his helmet and it seems to take forever.  Then it’s time for a drink, then to check his helmet, then another drink.  I yell out his name and cheer for him.  This is also my way of telling him to hurry.  My type A personality sometimes clashes with his laid-back personality.  I want to see a sense of urgency — hurry with those buckles, hurry with that drink, hurry to get on that bike.  But he’s not hurrying and it’s not my race.  So after one “Hurry, get going,” and one elbow from my husband, I smile.  Then I bite my lip until it almost bleeds.  Finally, he rides.

biking boys YMCA triathalon

Back in his comfort zone, there’s no stopping him now.

Six miles later, he climbs off his bike and runs his heart out. This is the last leg. Swimming slowed him down.  It sacked his energy, but he doesn’t let on.  He puts one foot in front of another and never looks back.  He crosses the finish line.  Once again, my heart swells with pride and happiness.  Finally, I can breathe.  No injuries, no illnesses, no alien abductions.

Happy Endings and a Sigh of Relief

My children survived.  My son finished the race on his terms, my daughter on her’s.  I learned to let go (a little).

triathalon YMCA kids

They will always be my champions.

awards

It was an intense morning, but intensity isn’t always a bad thing. There is nothing like setting a goal and then seeing it through. Goals are funny things.  They become habits. Sometimes they  become lifelong habits that bring out the best in us.

Kids 4 to 17 can participate in the YMCA Youth Just Tri Triathalon.  It’s not gym class or the the typical sport’s arena where only the best can participate.  Children from all athletic levels are welcome. Just trying — alas, the “just tri” in the name — is encouraged.  Training for it gives kids a physical activity to focus on during the summer.  Completing in it gives kids a sense of satisfaction.  I encourage parents to check into it.  I believe many local Y’s sponsor this event.

Raspberry Crumble

Enjoy fresh-picked or frozen raspberries in this easy raspberry crumble.  The almonds and vanilla complement the tangy-sweetness of the berries.  It’s comfort food for the summer. I especially like to use the wild black raspberries that grow by us, but red raspberries also taste great.

This isn’t a true crumble.  It’s more of a cross between a bar and crumble.   Half the crumble topping is pressed gently into the bottom of the pan to form a crumbly crust.  The remaining crumble is used for the top layer.  The raspberry filling is sandwiched between the two layers.

This recipe doubles a typical crumble topping to make enough for the bottom layer.  If you want a true crumble, just make half the crust amount; put the raspberry-sugar mixture directly into the pan and spoon the crumble over the top.

Berry Filling

1 quart (approximately 4 cups) of black or red raspberries
1/4 cup of sugar

Crumble Topping and Bottom Layer Crust

1 cup of flour
1-1/2 cups of old fashioned oats
2/3 cup of brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) of softened butter
1/2 cup of ground almonds
1 teaspoon of vanilla

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 8×8 pan with non-stick baking spray.
2.  Place cleaned raspberries in a mixing bowl.  Add 1/4 cup of sugar.  Gently stir sugar in raspberries using a large spoon.  Put the raspberries aside.
3.  In a large mixing bowl, stir in flour, oats and ground almonds.
4.  Cream together the brown sugar and butter.  Add brown sugar, softened butter and vanilla.  Mix with clean hands, incorporating all ingredients until it resembles a coarse meal.
5.  Using about half of the mixture, press down into bottom of the 8×8 pan to form a bottom layer crust.
6.  Top the bottom crust with raspberry mixture.
7.  Spoon the remaining crumble mixture over the top of the raspberries.
8.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Let cool before serving.  Serve with vanilla ice cream or whip cream.

Moving Beyond a Me World: Life Lessons from Lou Holtz

What can we learn from Geraldo Rivera and former Notre Dame Football Coach, Lou Holtz?

Plenty. First, we can learn how to behave. Second, we can learn how not to behave.

This past weekend, Geraldo tweets out a picture of himself in just a towel with the caption, “Seventy is the new fifty.”  Clearly, alcohol and social media don’t mix.

But is it really about drinking and tweeting? I believe the problem is deeper.  A “me-centric” pathology has invaded our society.  Even decent people show symptoms.

Geraldo’s misadventure comes on the heels of a Lou Holtz guest spot on Huckabee.  While Geraldo tweets his ego-centric view of “Seventy being the new fifty”, Lou Holtz speaks from a different mindset.

Holtz addresses the problem of athletes committing crimes. He breaks it down to the choices we make. Make bad choices, you’re going to have problems.

So, how do we make good choices? Holtz offers three simple rules to guide our decisions which I’ve paraphrased below.

  1. Do what’s right.  If you’re not sure what’s right, open up your Bible.
  2. Do your best.  You have the right to fail if you choose, but you don’t have the right to bring other’s down with you.
  3. Do and care for others.  Don’t walk into a room and think it’s all about you.  Focus on someone besides yourself.

Imagine a world that followed these rules. Pick a current social problem:  Examine it closely.  Would this problem exist if people had followed this advice?  With the exception of illness or natural disaster, the answer is probably no.   I realize we are mere humans with a sinful nature.  But shouldn’t this be the standard we set for ourselves and our children?

Holtz’s third rule, “Do and care for others” seems to cause the most pain. It snags the best of us.  Our busy lives leave us little energy or time to think beyond our little worlds.  Rule three violates everything that our me-centric society glorifies.  I think it tripped up Geraldo Rivera more than the alcohol.

We live in a world obsessed with self and image.  I remember a line from the movie, Devil’s Advocate.  Al Pacino,  who plays the Devil says, “Vanity, definitely my favorite sin.”  The real Satan couldn’t have said it better himself.  This is the sin that gets humans every time.  It’s the “me” drug that leaves you empty with nothing to offer the world.  We either fight it, or it eats our soul.

My son and I talked about Coach Holtz’s advice, especially to care for others.   He is at the age where he hears a lot of trash talk from friends.  He’s also  inundated with popular culture’s me-centricity.  We came up with a list of ideas why rule three is so important.

  1. It is integral to our faith.  Jesus commanded us to love one another (Matthew 22:39).
  2. Reaching out to someone could positively impact someone’s life.  Even a simple smile can bring comfort to someone in deep pain.
  3. A selfish life is shallow and empty.  All the worldly accomplishments mean nothing if it’s all about “me”.
  4. Ego-driven motives enslave us to our base instincts.  We become ruled by every self-satisfying whim.  Eventually we can’t get enough and nothing makes us happy.
  5. We cannot be fully human if we don’t care about others.  God created us to love.  Love entails responsibility and even work.
  6. So many doors open when we stop navel-gazing.  We have so much to learn from others, especially those who have walked a different path in different shoes.  Show interest another’s life and you’re likely to learn something new.  No person is beneath or above another.
  7. Finally, self-centered people are bores.  Really, none of us are that interesting to be the sole focus for any length of time, divas, pop stars, celebrities, athletes, media and political starlets included.

My son seemed to really get this.  He agreed that we (my son and my self included) get hung up on our own lives.  We both vowed to do better.

Later that day, I walked into the room and heard his iPod blaring a song that epitomizes our society.  (I refuse to name the song or the singer.  Neither deserve the attention.)  The singer, if you can call him that, proclaimed, “When I walk in a room, guess what I see.  Everybody turning to look at me.”

Ughh….I informed my son any stares were probably because the guy was acting like a fool. Looks like we need to review rule number three.

Tweeting out pictures of yourself in a bath towel is foolish behavior also.  But it’s a symptom to a bigger problem.  What Geraldo did is no worse than viewing others as an extension of you’re own ego. If only each of us could follow Holtz’s three rules for making decisions, our world would look very different.

A Bittersweet Tale of Raspberry Picking

Black raspberriesMy day began with thorns and raspberries.  It ended with hives and an emergency room visit.

The most magnificent black raspberries grow on our property.  We wait all year for July — or raspberry month as we refer to it — to roll around.  We toss them on cereal, mix them into smoothies, or bake them in a raspberry crumble.  We also freeze a large portion in quart bags.

I only picked three quarts.  In the past, our crew of berry pickers (aka our family) brought in three times that amount. This year, the crew consisted of one person — me.

My husband was busy cutting down dead tree limbs, and the kids took cover in the house to avoid swarming bugs.  The wet spring brought a deluge of tiny, biting, black flies to southern Wisconsin making the outdoors miserable.

But I wanted raspberries in a big way.  So I showered myself in bug spray and plopped berry after berry into my bucket.

The bug spray did nothing.  The flies dive-bombed at my head and neck.  I swatted and slapped.  The nasty, little parasites continued to buzz and bite.

It was time to pull out the heavy artillery.  I sprayed deet on my clothes and shoes.  This gave me some short-term, minimal relief.  Now I only had to deal with thorns.

Thorns and raspberries go together.  The pricking and scratching make this delicacy that much sweeter.  In the past, the kids would pick along the perimeter of the raspberry patch, avoiding most of the tangled, thorny branches. My husband and I, however, would wade deep into the spiky brambles to reach the remaining berries.  (My Little Z at 2-1/2 doesn’t do any picking.  I don’t want her picking something that isn’t a raspberry and popping it into her mouth.)

This year, it was just me and ten million biting flies. I gathered my 3 quarts and moved onto weeding the garden.  The bugs swarmed around my head once again.  But they weren’t biting.  Or so I thought.

Twenty minutes later my lip tingled, then swelled.  It was time to take cover.  As I walked toward the house, I felt lightheaded.  Once inside, I took some Benadryl, praying it would act quickly  The entire time, I thought of our beloved Collie who recently died from an allergic reaction to a wasp sting.  I calmed myself knowing that I was probably more resilient to allergic reactions than a dog.

Even with the Benadryl, the tingling sensation spread to the side of my mouth and cheek area. So we made the trek up to the ER afraid the swelling would spread to my tongue and throat.  Once we arrived, the Benadryl started to kick in. I still had a dizzy head and a fat lip that looked like a bad collagen injection, but the swelling didn’t spread.

The nurse noticed hives along my arm and shoulder.  The doctor ordered an epinephrine shot and more Benadryl.  Finally, relief!  When I got home and showered, I found hives (swollen bug bites) covering my waist and back.  All of this resulted from these pin-sized, pesky parasites!

At the end of the day, I froze a meager two quarts, and threw the rest into a simple raspberry crumble. So much for frugal living.  This was an expensive “living off the land” endeavor.  After all the drama, I promised myself to savor every juicy, sweet berry.

If you’ve never tasted ripe, black raspberries picked fresh from the vine, I encourage you give them a try. They have a deeper flavor than red raspberries, less tangy, more sweet.  They also have a mild earthy taste that adds complexity.

As an added bonus, black raspberries are high in antioxidants, especially vitamin C.  One warning — black raspberries can stain skin and clothes.  When I’m done picking, my fingertips are tinged with purple blotches.  (Black raspberries are even used as a dye.)  If  you make it past the thorns, purple stains, and biting gnats, black raspberries are worth the effort.

photo by: quinn.anya

Heartbreak and a Dog’s Brief, Beautiful Life

Yesterday, our dog, Scout, a loyal and faithful member of our family, died unexpectedly.

Today, we grieve and question the cruelty of life. Scout doesn’t wake me this morning.  Little Z has no one to feed.  The food dish is gone.  My brave boy has removed many of his belongings to protect his not-so-brave mother.  My daughter sobs into her cereal.  My husband walks through the house lost.  I walk out to the garden alone, knowing he will never walk with me again.

Scout, kids, and snow

At times, I hear the click-click-click of Scout’s walk on the wood floor.  But it’s my mind playing tricks, a memory so vivid that it invades my present reality.  Then I’m visited by deafening silence.

Today, we inhabit a very different world.  There is no barking at squirrels, birds, or the wind.  (Yes, sometimes our crazy collie barked at the wind swooshing through the tall grass.)  I look out the window but he isn’t there.  I see the forgotten frisbee he played with yesterday, but no Scout.  There’s no dog running after laughing children.  There are no laughing children.

Yesterday morning, our home was filled with laughter and barking.  By noon, everything changed.  Panic and worry disrupted our quiet, comfortable Sunday.

Why was he panting so hard?  The panting was followed by excessive drooling.  Then there were short little moans.  This didn’t make sense.  He was up to date on all shots.  He was a four-year-old collie in good health.  We didn’t have anything dangerous in the yard.  We were outside with him and could see him in plain sight.  He did his usual barking, running — enjoying every bit of life.

Sometimes life throws us a heavy sucker punch.  It can bring us to our knees and cause us to question everything we think we know.

This is where faith comes in.  I believe Scout was a gift from God.  I pray we were a gift to him, bringing him love and companionship.  Scout taught us about unconditional love, loyalty and bravery.  He taught my children responsiblity and to respect all God’s creatures.  He comforted each of us during difficult times, only asking for food, a throw of the frisbee, and a belly rub in return.

DSC_8599We don’t know what happened, which makes the grieving more difficult.  It’s hard to get closure on a sudden and unexplained death.  

The vet thought Scout had an allergic reaction to wasp stings, but it was only a guess.  After rushing him to the emergency clinic, he perked up. Things were looking better. The vet gave him an antihistamine and put him on an i.v.; he then told us, he might be able to go home that evening. Four hours later, Scout died.

Scout remains in our hearts.  In his short time on this earth, he gave more to this world, and our family, than many humans give in their 80 year lifespan.  Now God called him home, sparing him from the ravages of aging and pain.  I keep telling myself and my children that his life had meaning that will survive beyond his earthly years.  Unfortunately, it’s cold comfort tonight as I reach out to pet a dog who isn’t there.

Gosnell, Abortion and Infanticide

What do you associate with the name Kermit Gosnell?  Butcher, misogynist, child killer? These all seem like fitting labels.  The words “doctor” and “do no harm” are certainly not words that come to mind.  

Doctor Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia doctor butcher, performed abortions, including partial birth abortions, on thousands of woman during his 30 year career.  Gosnell ran a virtual slaughterhouse at his clinic, benignly named The Women’s Medical Society. The clinic’s filthy state rivaled third world conditions. The putrid smell of urine and cat feces was just the beginning of the horror story.

Gosnell infected women with venereal diseases from using unsterilized instruments, punctured their internal organs, over-medicated them with expired and dangerous drugs, and allowed unlicensed staff to administer drugs and medical care.   His actions caused the death of at least two women. 

As if that weren’t enough, Gosnell violently murdered the most innocent and helpless human beings, aborting many babies beyond the legal 24 week period.   And he made millions committing these attrocities.

No Hindrance to Profit

Killing babies in the womb didn’t line his pocket quite enough, however.  Many 20, 24 and even 30 week abortions could not be performed in the womb.  The baby was just too large and too well-developed.  By 20 weeks, it’s difficult to dismember an unborn baby in the womb. This inconveniences the abortion provider.  

Enter the draconian partial-birth abortions: labor is induced; part of the baby emerges from the womb, feet first; the baby’s head is held in the birth canal long enough for the doctor to kill him. Since the baby’s head is still inside his mother, our legal system doesn’t term this infanticide.

Partial-birth abortion creates another set of problems for the abortionist. It turns out that killing an infant during the birth process doesn’t always work. The botched abortion results in a newly born, breathing human being. But Gosnell gets paid to kill — not deliver — babies.  

For Gosnell, this was a minor glitch.  He, or more likely his unlicensed staff, gave the mother a drug to induce labor.  The mother delivered a living, newborn baby.  Kermit Gosnell jammed scissors into the crying infant’s neck, opened the scissors and “snipped” the spinal-chord, an act that one of his staff described as “decapitation”.  When Gosnell couldn’t bother to show up, he showed members of his staff, how to “snip” the spinal chord to ensure “fetal demise”. Gosnell made money on death — the death of unborn and newborn babies.

State Ignores the Horror Show

Kermit Gosnell is charged with 7 counts of murder.  Based on court testimony, the real number is even more horrific.  Unfortunately, the state can only produce solid evidence for some of the more recent, known deaths.  For almost two decades, the state of Pennsylvania has turned a blind eye to the horrors that took place at The Women’s Medical Society.   

The Department of Health (DOH) inspected the clinic in 1993 and cited Gosnell for a number of violations.  Gosnell paid a convenient fine and then continued with business as usual.  It would take another 17 years before the DOH inspected the clinic.  During that 17 year period, the DOH received numerous complaints about Gosnell’s clinic.  A former worker complained to the state when a newborn baby cried for 20 minutes before a staff member went over and “snipped” her spine. Doctors who later had to treat some of Gosnell’s patients also filed reports with the DOH. Even attorneys contacted state agencies to file complaints.

And there were others.  People did notice.  Many tried to take action.  But the ones who held the power did nothing.  How could this happen?

The Price of Politics

Former Governor Tom Ridge (R), a pro-choice supporter, didn’t want anything to interfere with a woman’s right to choose.  So he eliminated the required inspections of abortion clinics. When he discontinued the inspections there was little or no oversight on abortion clinics.  Kermit Gosnell could get away with murder, and he did.   

Gosnell performed countless third trimester abortions. When abortion wasn’t feasible, infanticide was an easy replacement.  Women were drugged and butchered with unsterilized equipment. Gosnell punctured one woman’s uterus which later caused her to die of sepsis; another died from an overdose of Demerol he administered.  

Restaurants and hair salons underwent more scrutiny than this abortion clinic.  But the pro-choice movement had its day, women had unfettered access to abortions.  But they weren’t always legal, and they certainly weren’t safe for women.

It took an FBI raid for illegal prescription sales to uncover the horror at Gosnell’s slaughterhouse. Even Wes Craven would cringe at the FBI’s findings:  women lying on old, blood-stained sheets, cat fesces littering the floor, barricaded emergency exits, dirty and rusty instruments, bags of biohazard piled up in the basement. But the most heart-wrenching discoveries were the dismembered and intact bodies they found.  Inspectors discovered aborted babies in freezers, milk cartons, jars, even a cat food container. Some babies were around 30 weeks old, old enough to live outside the womb.    

Evil Triumphs in the Face of Apathy

This murdering pathos hid behind a medical license for years, killing the born and unborn.  Then he tucked body parts into jars as trophies.  He preyed on the most vulnerable populations, women in poverty and in desperation.  He opertated on them under filthy conditions, using dirty instruments.  The state could have stopped this if they would have heeded just one complaint.  But it didn’t.  Instead, politics and the pro-choice movement trumped life and human decency. Gosnell’s victims were pawns in a political game.  These human sacrifices should haunt everyone who turned away and allowed evil to flourish.  

Details of the case were drawn from grand jury testimony.

The Man Who Changed the World

“What are we going to do?” asked Peter.

“Change the world,” replied Jesus.

The History of the Bible premiered on the History channel on Sundays during lent.  If you didn’t see it, you can now purchase it on DVD.  It’s available through the History channel, Amazon, and Walmart. I guarantee all ten hours will hold your attention, bringing both tears and joy.  This dramatic retelling of the Bible shows God’s love for us and his mercy towards all who believe in Him.      

It’s hard to pick one great quote from this miniseries but the above exchange between Peter and Jesus ranks as one of my favorites.  Peter asks a simple question.  Jesus gives a succint reply:

“Change the world.”  And he did.  

This line sets up everything for the New Testament.  Much of the change happens after Jesus’ death and resurrection.  His disciples go out into the world, delivering his message of love, grace and redemption. 

And the world changes.  Rich and poor, educated and uneducated, young and old, open their hearts to Christ. They become the first Christians.

It begins with the people of Palestine.  After Jesus’ death, the disciples feverishly preach the message of Jesus.   The world begins to change with each new convert.  Love and grace temper justice and sin.  

Following Jesus’ command, the disciples branch out to the far parts of the world including Egypt, Persia, Ethiopia, even as far west as Rome and Spain.  First the Jews, then the Gentiles become followers of Christ.  Like the disciples, many of the these new Christians are persecuted and lose their life.  This doesn’t weaken Christianity.  It strengthens it. 

Saul, a Jewish-Roman citizen — and possibly a pharisee, persecuted the new Christians, believing they were heretics.  Then Saul finds Christ.  Actually, Christ finds him.  

On a trip to Damascus, Christ comes to him in a vision.  Saul repents, believes, and changes.  Jesus uses a persecutor to deliver his message, showing the power of belief and forgiveness.  Saul takes the name of Paul and writes between seven and thirteen of the epistles.

It amazes me how Jesus chose a persecutor to deliver his message of love.  But Paul has a true conversion, leaves his cruelty behind and writes some of the most beautiful Bible verses.  Many of us recognize one of his most familiar writings in 1 Corinthians chapter 13:

(4)Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant (5) or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; (6) it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. (7) Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (8) Love never ends….(13) So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (2001 ESV, Hosanna Ministries)

From hatred to love, that’s the power of Christ.  

Eventually many Romans give up their pagan gods for Christ.  Christianity spreads over the next few centuries.  Sometimes secretly, eventually more deliberately and openly.  The face of the world changes.  More importantly, the human heart changes.  

Finally, mankind has hope for something better. The life, suffering and death of Christ frees us from this mortal coil.  Regardless of how bad things get, we can choose to accept the gift of eternal life.  

First, we must believe.  Then we must love:  Love God with all our heart; love others as we love ourselves.  ”Loving others as we love ourselves” challenges us at times, especially when it comes to loving those who harm us.   Still, we can decide to love in spite of human weakness.  And that is how each of us can “change the world”.

Flu Season Foods to Keep in the Pantry

After a recent onset of stomach flu, I’ve made a list of soothing foods to to keep on hand.  These are my favorites to combat stomach problems and dehydration. I want to avoid any emergency grocery runs when I’m sick.  Stocking up ahead of time makes better sense.  

Real Chicken Broth

First, I vow to keep real, chicken broth on hand.  I don’t use the sodium and chemical-laden powders.  They offer no nutritional benefits and are just plain bad.  If you don’t believe me, read the label.  

Broth makes a great base for chicken and rice soup.  It’s simple to throw together and easy to keep down.  I also believe it speeds healing.  If your stomach can handle it, throw in some celery and carrots for a healthy meal. (Of course, this assumes your up to slicing and dicing vegetables.)   You can also just sip the broth like a tea.  

You can make your own broth ahead of time and then freeze it.  This is the healthiest and cheapest option. Another option is to purchase a quality broth from the supermarket.  I like the one Costco sells by Pacific Coast Foods.  It’s organic and comes from free-range chickens.  Ten 32 ounce cartons sell for around $10.  Swanson is also a good brand that can be purchased individually at most supermarkets. 

Minute Rice

I realize this is probably the least nutritional of all rices, but when illness strikes I want something quick and foolproof.  Minute rice does the job.  The rice helps absorb stomach acids that wreak havoc on your body.  You can throw the rice into a soup or just eat it  plain.  

Saltine Crackers

You had to know this was coming.  What good is soup without crackers?  More importantly, crackers may be the only thing you can muster up the energy to grab.  Kids can nibble a few without too much effort.  Like rice, it fills the tummy with starch to absorb all that nasty acid.  

Seven-Up (or Sprite)

Seven-Up alleviates nausea for me better than anything else.  I know Gingerale works better for many people. Unfortunately, gingerale makes me gag.  

We’re not soda drinkers and seldom keep it in the house.  I think soda on a regular basis is terrible for your health.  But when I have any type of nausea, white soda and crackers offer some relief.   Like candy, I think soda doesn’t hurt if it’s a treat.  

After flu season you can always use the 7-up for a special occasion. (Our kids drink 7-up in a grown-up goblet on special holidays like Easter).  You could even use it to remove the tarnish from your silver, or dissolve the contents of a clogged drain.  Ok, I’m joking about the last two suggestions.   

Pedialyte for Young Children and Infants

I learned when my oldest children were small that straight water can be too heavy on a delicate tummy.  In my experience, Pedialyte battled their dehydration better than anything.  When severe vomitting or diarrhea hit, the pediatrician told me to give to them a teaspoon every fifteen minutes.  (Always check with your pediatrician first.)

Bananas

Bananas are an amazing food.  First,  they digest easily.  Second, they are loaded with potassium.  Dehydration depletes you of potassium, and potassium is necessary for your body to function properly.  The reboot of potassium gives an instant lift. Bananas also contain other key nutrients like vitamin B6, vitamin C, magnesium, and copper.   Bananas probably give you the quickest boost in one simple food.

These foods (and drinks) work best for my family.  Everyone has her own personal cure-all for stomach problems.  Once you know what works for you and your family, stock up on it.  Of course, you should always check with your doctor for her recommendations.  

I intentionally didn’t discuss any medications.  Talk to your doctor about pain relievers, fever reducers, etc. to find which are safe for you and your family.  Since we didn’t have fevers, we stayed away from  medicine.

Are you prepared when the flu hits?


Our plans abruptly shifted this weekend when the stomach flu struck.  I was totally unprepared this late in the flu season.   We lacked most of the staples that provide a bit of comfort, if not relief, during a stomach crisis — no crackers, no chicken stock, no 7-up.  I couldn’t even find a bottle of Pedialyte if Little Z got sick. We did, however, have rice and bananas which helped us through a tough 36 hours.  

My two oldest children and I had Saturday tickets to see the play, And Then They Came for Me.  After a rough Friday night curled in the fetal position, I knew I wouldn’t be going anywhere the next day.  My husband contacted the theater manager and explained the situation.  She graciously swapped our tickets for the Sunday performance.  With any luck, this would be a short-lived, 24 hour bug. It was a long shot, but it was our only shot.  (The last performance was Sunday.)

As providence would have it, staying home was a wise choice.  The flu hit my husband Saturday morning, then my son shortly after lunch.  When I say hit, I mean an all out sucker-punch-hit, especially for the little man.  I can only imagine my son’s misery if he would have been in the car — or worse, the theater — vomiting uncontrollably.  Nor would it would it have been pleasant for anyone else.

By mid Saturday morning, my husband and I quarantined ourselves in the bedroom as much as possible, praying the kids wouldn’t catch it.  Matt (my husband), who was in a little better shape than me, emerged from the sick room for diaper changes.  Extremely dehydrated, I stayed in bed unable to even drink water without feeling ill. 

My oldest daughter and son, both appeared healthy that morning.  They took over for us, monitoring and entertaining our two year old, Miss Z.  My son acted as the resident chef.  I suggested he make peanut butter and banana sandwiches.  That along with a glass of milk and some pretzels would make a decent meal unlikely to end up in the dog’s dish.  My son happily made lunch, and all three kids happily devoured everything.  

That happiness didn’t last.  It turns out, my brilliant idea of peanut butter wasn’t so brilliant, at least not for my son.  Within an hour, he was sick. My poor little man was fine an hour before, and then suddenly he was vomitting and unable to keep anything down. 

To compound matters, he had made everyone’s food!  How long before everyone else got sick?  My brilliant ideas were going to put us all in the hospital at this rate. 

As the day wore on, my husband and I felt a little more stable, just dehydrated. My son came back little by little throughout the evening.  Around 5:00 I asked him how he felt.  He responded with “kind of in the middle, not great but better.”  I took that as progress.  By the next morning, the three of us were almost back to normal, although a little weak.  

This has been an important reminder to me:  Keep a well-stocked pantry in case of illness or emergency.  Running to the store isn’t always an option.  It’s even more important if you live in a rural area or northern climate.  And we hit the jackpot living in a rural, northern part of the country.  Our roads quickly turn icy and snow-covered in the winter making a run into town hazardous.     

I now have my go-to foods to keep on hand during the flu season.  I urge families to make their own list and then stock up.  Take it from me, it’s worth the effort and the money.