Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Let's Talk Fall TV Premieres!

(Image courtesy of Flickr)

After the weighty subject of faith and politics, I'm feeling the need to tackle something lighter.  So, inspired by Sunday's Emmy Awards and these weeks filled (finally) with season premieres, let me tell you what I'm looking most forward to television-wise this fall!

First, I should note that we don't do a lot of drama series around here these days.  Partly because our favorites have wrapped up in recent years, and partly because both Mark and I find it difficult to devote  the emotional energy to hour-long dramas - particularly since having kids.  I had to give up crime-based shows shortly after Maya was born because I suddenly couldn't handle the subject matter.  And even series like Parenthood, which so many friends love and insist that I watch ... well, yeah.  I'm sure it's an excellent show, but the whole "ohmygosh I cry during every episode" thing is just not really what I'm aiming for in my television viewing at this point.  I know we're missing a lot of good stuff, though, and I'm teetering on the edge of switching on Mad Men some evening now that it's available for streaming on Netflix.

Also, I have not started Downton Abbey yet (I KNOW), but will sometime.  Pretty sure that's not one Mark would be into, but maybe one of these days when I'm folding laundry or something.

ANYWAY.  On to what we do enjoy!

Modern Family

I'm hoping people don't become fatigued by all of the hype this show gets around Emmy time, because it's honestly well-deserved.  While the third season seemed maybe less genius than the first two, it is still the most consistently funny sitcom of its kind around, and one that we know we'll enjoy each and every week.

The Middle

I've said this for years, and I'm glad some entertainment reviewers are starting to agree:  The Middle is one of the most overlooked comedies on television.  I'm not sure if it's the relative lack of edginess or that it's been overshadowed by the more strongly-hyped Wednesday night ABC offerings, but we are hooked.  Patricia Heaton's character is authentic and so much more likeable than her Debra from Everybody Loves Raymond.  Neil Flynn (who we adored on Scrubs) is always solid, and the three actors who play the Heck kids - Axl, Sue, and Brick - are seriously fantastic.  So much depth and quirk and heart in their performances, and they totally steal the show.

New Girl

My hands-down favorite last season.  We started watching after enthusiastic recommendations from friends, but weren't sure going in that we really wanted another sitcom in our lives.  Well GUESS WHAT. WE DO.  Zooey Deschanel is as adorably brilliant as she is in ... well, anything.  But the major surprise for me is the three guys on the show.  I expected this to be basically a Zooey-driven vehicle with the other characters as merely support, but nope. Jake Johnson as Nick is sarcastic and lovably neurotic, Lamorne Morris as Winston is equal parts well-adjusted and insecure, and everybody who's seen the show knows that Max Greenfield's Schmidt is brilliant.  That character could have been so different in other hands, but Greenfield plays him with so much heart that even Schmidt's most socially-inappropriate behavior is just ... Schmidt.

Such a fun show.  Not a family friendly show, mind you, but ridiculously fun.

Parks and Recreation

Somewhere around the time that Michael Scott was preparing to leave The Office and 30 Rock started sliding into storylines that just didn't work anymore, Parks and Recreation shot past them both as our favorite half-hour of Thursday night television.  I had a hard time connecting with the characters at first, but they've all developed so well, and my goodness the writing is smart.  Another consistently-good show.

The Big Bang Theory

Another one that we resisted for years because we didn't catch it from the beginning, we gave in and borrowed the DVDs a few months back and (as predicted) really enjoyed it.  I'll admit that I still have a hard time getting past the audience laughter (partly because I'm not used to it anymore [see all the previous shows I've mentioned], and partly because I feel like it's sometimes excessive in this show. Yes, Sheldon is hilarious.  But not every single line he utters is laugh-out-loud funny.)  That little complaint aside, though, we're looking forward to seeing more of this gang.  (Still a season behind, but last season is on it's way to us thanks to the wonders of eBay, so we'll be caught up soon!)

Other notes:

- I'm still a Survivor viewer (on my own, as Mark's never been into this one), mostly just because I've watched from the beginning.  Last season was such a snooze-fest I gave up partway through, but I think this one may have potential with the returning players. (Season Two was my all-time favorite, so having Michael Skupin back is fun just for nostalgia's sake.)

- The Office was almost un-watchably not funny last season, but Greg Daniels is back to produce the final season, and I could tell immediately from the premiere last week that it seems promising.  That moment with Jim and Pam talking to the documentary producers?  INTRIGUING.

- Thanks to my friend Chelle and her DVD collection, I'm now about halfway through Gilmore Girls, which is so delightful that I'm kicking myself for not having started it before now.

- Netflix has provided us the opportunity to catch lots of things we normally wouldn't, as we choose not to pay for cable.  From White Collar and Psych, to old sitcoms like Cheers, Frasier, and Newsradio, to all of the Storage Wars, Auction Kings, American Pickers, Ice Road Truckers, Cake Boss, BBQ Pitmasters - type series, we always end our evenings with a snack and some selections from our heavily-loaded queue.

How about you?  What's on your list of most-anticipated shows this season?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A plea for the final weeks of this election season.

I’m really over politics.  I imagine it could be an interesting hobby, and I’m not suggesting that it isn’t important to pay attention and do our civic duty.  I know there are those who are called to get involved at all levels, and that’s fine.  I’m just tired of the divisiveness; weary of what it can do to relationships.  I’ve lost friendships over misinterpretations of political stances.  I’ve cut liberal-leaning news programs and conservative-leaning radio stations out of my life because I just can’t with the half-truths and the fear-based rhetoric.  I’m really ready for this election to be over – come what may. 

This will be my only political post of the season, and I hesitate to say anything at all, a la my self-imposed “no politics on Facebook” rule.   Others have written similar manifestos far more eloquently and thoroughly than I ever could.  But we have, what, a month-and-a-half left in this election cycle?  And I just wanted to put out a little plea – particularly to my fellow Christians.  It’s one that I’m addressing to myself as well.  Because I am the first to admit that I’ve done my share of complaining the last four years, and griping during the eight years previous.  I’ve peppered political conversations with sarcasm and not-so-thinly-veiled insults toward parties and leaders, and I’ve rolled my eyes and made assumptions and acted in many other ugly ways that make me internally facepalm.  I’m speaking to everyone and no one in particular and most of all, myself.  So when I ask “Could we … “, please know that I mean the “we” part not rhetorically, but literally. 

(And also, you don't have to listen to me.  It's really fine, and we can still be friends if you disagree.)

(Enough disclaimers?)

Here goes.

In the seven weeks before Election Day …

Could we speak and act objectively?

Many of us may have already picked the candidate who will receive our vote in November, and feel confident in that decision.  When we lose objectivity, though, lacking the ability to constructively analyze our candidate’s weaknesses or to say anything at all positive about their opponent, then we are not really being truth-tellers.  When we can no longer see anything beyond caricature or sensationalism, we lose the ability to engage in helpful dialogue about our agreement/disagreement over policies and end up stuck in the bitter cycle of character assassination.  And we also lose our credibility.  Because people stop listening when all they ever hear from someone is why their candidate can do no wrong or the other one is evil incarnate. 

If we can all, at the very least, agree that these candidates are people who love their families, love their country, and want to have a positive impact in the role they seek, then – regardless of how we feel about their plans - we gain back the ability to have good conversations and honest influence (and we’ll find our hearts in the right place to pray for them too).

Could we resist becoming pawns in the game?

The cable program talking-heads can be hard to ignore, and the opinion pieces extremely compelling. It’s easy to become addicted to the emotional rush of what we believe is righteous anger or a hatred of injustice.  If we’re really honest about it, though … isn’t it true that (to a large extent) we’re being played?  The executives and producers and advertisers benefiting financially from many of these talk shows and editorials do not want us to find common ground.  They don’t want the parties to work together. They don’t want respectful discourse.  They want us riled up, angry, and afraidThey want us ready for a fight and convinced that the only way to arm ourselves is to take in more of what they offer.  The campaign organizers are invested in dredging up any dirt they can on the opposing party, trumpeting out-of-context soundbites and years-old personal discretions triumphantly to anyone who will listen.  Is it any wonder that these campaigns end up spending a sickening amount of money to sling all of that mud? 

What if we didn’t take it?  What if we stopped buying it?  What if we turned it off and insisted on a political season that respected our intelligence and didn’t turn us into game pieces?  Could that turn the tide from an every-four-years bloodbath to a constructive, respectful debate over the things that actually matter?

Could we remember His Kingdom over any earthly one? 

No political candidate or party or Constitution can save us or protect us from the evils of the world.  Human systems will always be flawed.  Our country was not a utopia when it was established, was not Mayberry in the 1960s or 1990s or 2000s.  Well-intentioned leaders have come and gone, found success and made mistakes.  Political power has changed hands time and time again.  These things will continue until Christ returns, because God’s Kingdom is the only one that is whole and holy, right and righteous.  Let’s vote for the platforms we identify most strongly with, but let’s not expect any administration to do what is only God’s to do. 

Could we remember that lack of strong political involvement does not mean lack of strong conviction? 

For some, politics feels like a “battle of two evils” game that makes even a vote for either side feel disingenuous to their faith. Others have a difficult time choosing a party because their values fall on both sides of the line, and believe that neither has the monopoly on life, justice, or compassion.  Still others have become so disheartened by divisiveness and broken relationships caused by political positions that they opt to just stay out of it – whether outwardly or altogether.  

Those for whom politics is a fun hobby or an area of passionate involvement may have a difficult time understanding any of these positions, or interpret them as apathy toward our country, our children’s futures, our Christian faith, or important issues that fall within the political realm.  They may believe that if more people just knew what they know or read what they’ve read or see what they’ve seen that they would be educated into making what is clearly the correct choice.  But usually apathy or lack of information is not the issue at all.  As deeply as some feel called to political involvement, others feel called to step back or step out because of - not in spite of – strong conviction.

Could we avoid generalizations?

There are plenty of Democrats who are passionately pro-life, but feel that the Republican stance has amounted to rhetoric while the Democratic platform has shown more effective results in actually reducing abortions.  There are plenty of Republicans who recycle and conserve energy, and care very much for the plight of those in poverty, but who feel that the health care reform bill that passed was tragically flawed and harmful, and also believe that the Church should be responsible to be the hands and feet of Christ rather than relying on the government.  We can agree or disagree with where they come out on these issues, but let’s please not paint one another with a generalized brush that assumes the worst.  Particularly among our brothers and sisters in Christ.  It’s just so destructive.

Could we stop the mocking? 

The two convention weeks about did me in completely.  In school right now, Maya is memorizing Psalm 1, which notes that blessed are those who do not “sit in the company of mockers”.  On Facebook the first convention week, my news feed was full of taunts, eye-rolling, and complaints about that “group of out-of-touch imbeciles with their heads in the sand”.  And the next week there were sneers and cackles and references to the “room full of baby-killers”.  My heart broke over all of it, because I understand passion and I understand conviction, but I do not understand this.  There are people on the other end of these vitriolic word-grenades, and they might be wrong about some things or everything, but what does this tactic accomplish?  Isn’t even the hard truth we speak to be rooted in love? 

(And as a little side note … if one must put up a message calling a large group of people “idiots” or an entire voting base “scumbags”, then could one pretty please not post a chirpy scripture passage an hour later?  It’s just that it sort of makes my eyes bleed because … I can't … the association … do you know what I mean?)

Could we hold our political behavior – as with other areas of our lives – to the measure of the fruit of the Spirit?

It is good and right to stand firm in our faith.  As Christians, we will differ in our opinions about how much or little that should translate to political involvement.  And as we each seek to follow Christ more closely, we may differ in the way that our walk with Him will influence our votes.  This can be uncomfortable, particularly as with every four-year cycle we enter a new period of sky-falling hysteria and encouragement all around us to take sides and throw punches.  Yes, let’s stand up for what we believe.  But let’s cloak that standing up in the ways of Jesus, yes?  

Let’s study truthfully, listen discerningly, pray faithfully and act accordingly.  But most of all, let’s rise above the ways of the world and remember the fruit that reveals the Spirit living within us.










(Galatians 5:22-23)

When I sit and stare at those few simple words – this Truth - really breathe it in, I’m humbled and convicted and overcome by the beauty and power.  Life-changing.  Do we dare to believe it's world-changing?

Let’s be thankful that no matter what happens, He is in control.

(And it will all be over soon.)

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Friday, September 7, 2012

Staying Organized in the New Season

(Image credit: Flickr)

The switch from laid-back summer to full-schedule fall feels a little jarring to me each year, even though I'm usually ready for more structure once September rolls around.  As lessons and activities begin to cover our calendar, I'm working on staying further ahead of the game this year.

Today I'm posting over at Grace for Moms, with a list of life-organization tips that I'm aiming to follow this fall.  Join me over there?

5 Steps to a More Organized Fall Season

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

An Insta-Baby Update

Back in July, a post I jotted down in five minutes at 11:00 PM one night became one of the most popular ones ever here at In the Backyard.  It was the story of my new niece, born as a total surprise (and delight) to everyone.  She was early (although no one is quite sure just how early), and after dropping some weight in the hospital at first, came home at right around five pounds.

Now that it's been nearly two months, I thought maybe it was time for an update on that teeny tiny little girl.

This is Emery.  Fully twice the size she was when her cousin Maya first held her, she now tips the scales at over ten pounds.  She has wild curls, several chins, and a propensity toward falling asleep sitting straight up.

My kids, wanting to give her a rhyming nickname, call her "Emery Celery", which my sister and I often shorten to "Em-Cel", a la J-Lo.  Or in further homage, "Emmy from the block" (don't be fooled by the rocks she got).

It's been really fun to watch her grow so quickly.  As evidenced by this text conversation with my sister a few weeks back:

Her: "Em-Cel hit eight pounds!"
Me:  "Hooray!  She's enormous!"
Her:  "I know!  She's the world's most giant baby."
Me:  "We'll take her all around town with an oversize pencil and clipboard."
Her:  "Eeeeeeeeeeagle!"

I'll stop the update there, as this post has probably reached maximum pop-culture-reference saturation (although ten points to anyone who got them all).  Basically we just love this little girl, and are so glad she's here.  And it's fun to look back and say, "Hey, remember two months ago when we didn't know she existed?"