12.31.2009

The 2nd day: a bleak midwinter

I think we (in North Idaho at least) are feeling this.

Song: In the Bleak Midwinter
Artist: James Taylor
Album: James Taylor at Christmas

It is a shame that this carol is not more well known. In my opinion it is one of the most beautiful of traditional carols. Take the eloquence of the final verse:

What can I give him
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb
If I were a wise man
I would do my part
Yet what I can I give Him?
Give my heart.

And I'll leave that as my final wish of 2009. If all I have is my heart to give, then my heart will be my gift.



And with this being my final post of the year, I want to say thanks for following along. Enjoy your waning hours of '09 and I'll see all y'all next year.

12.30.2009

Holiday tidbits

For those of you who were not able to follow my facebook status updates on Christmas Eve, Zu was practicing her Linda Blair imitation. Once in our bed, once on the couch, and twice on the bathroom floor. She was vomit free Christmas Day, but revived her act the day after. Culprit: stomach flu.

The Tank caught Zu’s bug. He was half awake Sunday morning when the other kids got up. He fell asleep on the couch while Zu and Chritian played. He slept through breakfast. He slept through JJ’s crying and the bustle of Bekah preparing for massage/spa day with her older sister and mother. When Bekah’s older sister made herself some Ego Waffles, Christian and Zu asked if they could have some. This was enough to wake The Tank. He sat up on the couch and said “Me too.” We only let him have half a waffle since we knew he was sick. He sat at the table with the other kids and stared at his half waffle. When Zu and Christian finished their snacks he followed them to the living room… waffle in hand. I saw him on the couch vise like grip on his Ego, thin slit eyes gazing into nothing. “Are you done with your waffle?” I asked. “Uh-uh.” I instructed him to sit back at the dining room table until he was done eating. I discovered him 15 minutes later (still clutching his waffle half) asleep on the floor between the kitchen and dining room. I tried to wake him to get him to a more comfortable sleeping spot. He woke enough to realize that he was still holding something edible and took a bite. He sat up and chewed. A few minutes later, he was back asleep on the floor with the half Ego (minus a bite) in his grasp. He slept most of the day. Thankfully, he avoided the regurgitation. (However, my brother-in-law got it Saturday night into Sunday, and I got it last night and am now fighting it off. I'll spare you the adult details.)

We got a Wii. It was our big family gift for the year. There are so many fantastic puns that come with a Wii. Are Wii there yet? We Wii. Wii shall overcome. And after a bit of tennis and boxing… Wii hurt. Although, when you say you need a Wiimote, it sounds like you’re speaking with a lisp. And after playing with the Wiimote, the DirecTV remote seems big and clunky.

Christian beat his first video game. It took him two days. I'm so proud. Thanks to his age, he finds more pleasure in the act of playing than in the accomplishment of finishing. The second and third times through the game were equally enjoyed.

Did I mention I have Wii hurt?

Alas, I must go and allow you to return to wherever your internet connection leads. I have a date with a peculiar porcelain fixture and I'm afraid if I wait too long their might be a disaster. I hope you all enjoyed your Christmas and experience better health than I.

12.25.2009

The 3rd Day: It's Christmas Morning

When I was a little kid, I had no problem falling asleep on Christmas Eve. Staying asleep on Christmas morning was a different story. My parents had our stockings stuffed and hanging sometime during the night, ready for my brother and I in time for our awakening. I would rise at some ungodly hour and stumble out to the living room like an intoxicated monkey.

My parents were weird. They let us open our stockings as soon as we woke up and I took full advantage of their rules. Presents had to wait, but stockings were fair game.

As early as I possibly could, I tore into my stockings with with the gentle ferocity of an F2 tornado. If it wasn't for the fear of what creative punishment my parents would inflict... I would have been the kid jumping on their bad saying "wake up wake up wake up wake up wake up wake up wake up wake up wake up wake up!!!!!" So instead I would fall asleep on the couch watching the Christmas lights on the tree and wait for the sun to peek over the horizon. My older brother was the next to get out of bed, and he usually found me asleep on the couch, buried under my stocking stuffers.

I'm starting to see that irresistible curiosity in my kids. They are early risers 359 days a year (there are six days a year they sleep in but Christmas is not one of them). And this morning I saw the same eagerness to tear into the gifts and stockings that I once possessed. The stalking look of a lion about to pounce on a gazelle was too familiar. Today's song is in honor of that excitement.

Song: You Gotta Get Up
Artist: Five Iron Frenzy
Album: Happy Christmas

You gotta get up, it's Christmas morning.



And (since I missed posting yesterday) You're getting a bonus song. It is one you have to see to believe. And a big hat tip to my brother-in-law for finding the video. In other words, if you're reading this on facebook, click on the "View Original Post" link.

12.23.2009

On the fifth day of Christmas I completely lost my mind

This morning, an observation struck me like I was the final player on a losing dodgeball team. With the exception of the first song I posted a week ago, my 12 songs of Christmas series has been a six song string of moody down-tempo ditties. I sure know how to get a party going - talk about a joy killer.

Have you had your fill of bittersweet music? I have. At least for now. I need a faster tempo. I need silliness. I declare that tonight we have some fun.

Song: Come On! Let's Boogey to the Elf Dance!*
Artist: Sufjan Stevens
Album: Songs for Christmas**

Prepare yourself for pure, unashamed, goofiness. It is full of whimsical.***



*Gentle reminder: If you're reading this via facebook's notes, you need to click on the link that says "View Original Post" if you want to watch the video/hear the song. (for some weird reason YouTube videos do not survive the Blogger to facebook importing process)

** You really should get this collection. The traditional carols (O Come O Come Emmanuel, We Three Kings) and hymns (Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, Amazing Grace)are soulful and charming; they could melt a snowman's heart. Yet the serious is offset by wholly original tunes like the Elf Dance above. Besides, with song titles like Get Behind Me Santa, Did I Make You Cry On Christmas Day? (Well, You Deserved It!) and Holy Holy Etc... you can't go wrong.

** Like how I used an adjective as a noun? I know, I'm full of awesome.

12.22.2009

The 6th day, those far away

I'm excited for Christmas this year. That is significant in the fact that (usually) I don't enjoy Christmas. I like Christmas music, and that is further proof that I'm a walking contradiction... but that's beside the point. I've dreaded the past few Christmases - mostly due to our feeble attempts to make it a magical holiday for our kids and my memories of Christmas of childhood past and financial stresses coupled with the chaos that comes with the ever-changing headcount that only foster parents can appreciate. For the past few years, Christmas has been a date of impending doom.

This year is different. My excitement is genuine. This is a good season. Our daughter's adoption was finalized this past year, so this is her fist Christmas (officially) as a Casey. Christian is old enough to get presents that Daddy wants to play. And we, as a family, are making progress rather than just hanging on.

I also get to spend the holiday with some fantastic people. Bekah's older sister is coming up from Moscow with her husband. They are some of my favorite people in the world. He's a musician and she's a writer, so I get them. And they get me. And I don't have to pretend to like football to hold a conversation with them. Our friend David will be here on Christmas Eve for dinner and family game night. The last time he came to hang out he laughed like a monkey and teased Bekah about the South Dakota accent she's never been able to shake in the six years since we lived in Sioux Falls. Of course my wife will be there. This is our eighth Christmas together. (and I must point out that this is the most well executed Christmas we've ever planned... except possibly the year we drove all day from Sioux Falls to Cheyenne to surprise my parents)

But as much as I look at this Christmas with the eagerness of an anxious five year old, it's not complete. Which brings us to the next song in this serries.

Song: 2000 Miles
Artist: The Pretenders
Album: Learning to Crawl

This song is like a disconsolate seraph. So much beauty and so much sadness. Chrissie Hynde's voice is the definition of melon-collie and the arrangement is hypnotizing. While the band insists it is not a Christmas song, it is one of the essentials that I have to listen to at least once during the holidays. I feel like Christmas isn't Christmas if I don't hear this song.

It's about loss and missing people. And when I listen to it, I am reminded of those people I miss. My parents, brother his family, and mom's side of the family in and around Cheyenne; my dad's side of the family in Oklahoma City, the guys from the Tommymonsters in Boise (and the extended group of friends we hung out with down there), my little sister in Texas, the group I used to play poker with in Seattle.

I'd love to spend one more Christmas with my dad's parents, or crash in a recording studio with Steve and Tommy again, or see Sarah and Steve and their two boys, or, or, or... In my dream world, I'd be able to spend Christmas with Bekah's side of the family and mine, and my B-Town friends. That ideal Christmas doesn't exist, so I'll take what I can get. Because in reality, what I have is great.

12.21.2009

7th day: my turn

From my wife's favorite Christmas song to mine.

Song: Happy Xmas (War is Over)
Artist: Sarah McLachlan
Album: Wintersong

The John Lennon classic. While Lennon's original version is fantastic, there have been countless remakes. Among them: Sense Field, Thrice, U2... and even Gregorian chants. Of the cover versions, Sarah's stands out like a Mensa member at a beauty pageant.

And I couldn't resist this video - Sarah working with the kids that performed the choral background to the song. It gets what (I think) Lennon intended when he wrote the song. We should embrace the holiday with the faith of a child.

The lyrics say it all. For old and young. Rich and poor. Weak and strong. The method of celebration varies, but we all celebrate the day. That single message of hope is universally understood. And maybe, one day... we can live without war. Maybe.




ps. Wintersong is a great album - her versions of In the Bleak Midwinter and The First Noel set the pace for one of the best Christmas album in recent years.

12.20.2009

On the 8th day... one for my wife

I don't brag about Bekah as often as I should. She truly is a remarkable woman.

This past week has been a busy one for her. If I don't give her a big kudos for this, I should be ashamed of myself. She helped organize, direct, and host one of the biggest parties I've ever witnessed. It was all to benefit foster parents in our area.

12 weeks of planning
83 families
256 kids
$75 price limit

In our weakened economy, every kid received gifts. Bikes, art supplies, video games, books, and clothes. Bekah and the wonderful team she works with pulled off a great party. With donations from local businesses, and the grace of PFHS for letting us use their facilities, we had success.

To my wife, and her coworkers: job well done. There are 256 kids having a happier Christmas thanks to all of your hard work.

In honor of the love of my life, today's musical number is her favorite Christmas song.

Song: Breath of Heaven (Mary's Song)
Artist: Amy Grant
Album: Home for Christmas


12.19.2009

On the 9th day - a Christmas Song

We are off to a Christmas party so this will be a short post. With four kids to dress and get out the door on my own this morning (Bekah departed long ago to set up the party) I'm not sure if I even have time to think. But I wanted to give you a song before I got wrapped up in today's festivities (chaos). Enjoy.

Song: Christmas Song
Artist: Dave Matthews Band
Album: Remember Two Things (and A Very Special Christmas 3)

No great words of wisdom today. The lyrics of this song say enough.

"The people he knew were less than golden hearted
Gamblers and robbers, drinkers and jokers
All soul searchers like you and me"

"Father up above, why in all this hatred do you fill me up with love?"

12.18.2009

The 10th day (only a week to go)

"on the seventh day he (God) rested." Genesis 2:2

If Eddie Vedder was a Christian, I'm sure this would be his favorite verse. Do I have any evidence that Pearl Jam's lead singer would chose this ove the many other verses in the Bible? No. It's just a hunch based off of a Christmas song his band released as a fan club single almost 20 years ago. Since Eddie's birthday is the day before Christmas Eve, I feel obligated to include one of his songs on my list.

Song: Let Me Sleep (It's Christmas Time)
Artist: Pearl Jam
Album: Originally Released as the 1991 Fan Club Single (available on Lost Dogs)

There is a bit of logic in this selection, provided you can follow my random stream of consciousness. It is seven days before Christmas. On the seventh day of Creation, God rested. And sleeping is an excellent method for resting. Yes, that is the way my brain works. I live in a magical world. It's a wonderful place; you should come and visit sometime.

But there is more logic than that. Think for a moment. Are you ready for Christmas? It's only a week away. Are all of your decorations in their rightful place? Are the stockings hung with care? Do you know what you're giving to all of your family and friends? Have you completed all of your shopping? Are all of the presents wrapped? Have you mailed your Christmas cards? Have you BOUGHT your Christmas cards? Have you attended all of your parties? Is the Christmas menu planned? Are you ready for your family to visit (or to visit them)? Are you going to get it all done between now and then? Did you know Walgreens is open on Christmas day? Do you need to rest?

If you answered "no" to a majority of the first 13 questions I asked, your answer for the final question should be "yes." You need to rest.

Why do we spend a whole year with schedules packed to overflowing, exhausting all of our energies, just to finish our year with busier festivities? Why don't we ever stop to rest? With the stress of retail crowds, impending socialization with family you may or may not like, tightrope budgets, shorter daylight hours, and colorful (occasionally obnoxious) lights flashing everywhere, we probably need rest now more than any other time of year.

I get (as a parent) wanting to make Christmas the most enchanting experience that I can for my kids. But as a busy adult, I also want a nap.

I think Eddie gets it too. "When I was a kid, what magic it seemed. Oh please let me sleep it's Christmas time."

Go ahead, rest. You need it.

12.17.2009

The 11th day: Always Winter

Continuing my Christmas music thread, it's time for song number two.

Song: In Like a Lion (Always Winter)
Artist: Relient K
Album: Apathetic EP (also on their Christmas album)

Winter is a funny thing. People's opinion of winter is about as split as public opinion of anything these days. There's no middle ground. It's either an abomination or it's the most wonderful time of the year. Depends on who you talk to.

Here in North Idaho, winter often seems to be a neverender. There is a chain e-mail that's been passed around that is a NI version of "you might be a redneck if..." One of the jokes in the message states: you might be from North Idaho if the four seasons are almost winter, winter, still winter, and road construction. Such an exaggeration, but there is a shard of truth there. North Idaho winters can be brutal, like an angry rhino on ice skates - it's not pretty.

Actually, it is pretty, in a Thomas Kinkade painting sense of the word. But your satisfaction with North Idaho winters is largely going to depend on your outlook on all things cold and snowy. With five ski areas within two hours of Coeur d'Alene, we're in a winter sports mecca. But for the many that have moved here from California (or in the case of my friend David, Phoenix) it is difficult to adjust to our unbearable winters.

So it seems that winter here is without end. Either you like that fact, or you despise it.

Enter Relient K. Yes, I know they're a punk rock band on a hip-hop label. Yes, I know punk purists would beat on any brat that describes Relient K as punk rawk. So I've given them my own classification: pretty-boy punk. They like power chords, distortion, and snide humor, but they also wear their heart on their sleeves and sing with the pristine voice of a church choir dropout. They can rock a punk beat, but they thrive in their mellower moments.

In Like a Lion (Always Winter) is one of those moments. Inspired by (and originally intended for) The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, the song never quite made it to the post movie compilation album. Yet it is one of my favorite Relient K songs. It's not technically a Christmas song (the lyrics borrow from CS Lewis' story that in Narnia, it's always winter but never Christmas). I think there are a few North Idaho residents that feel that way. Winter starts and never ends. And sometimes we forget about Christmas.

Matt Thiessen (Relient K's frontman) shines in his lyricism as he balances the kiddish joy of the season ("It's always nice to look out the window and see those very first few flakes of snow") with the begrudging acceptance of icy weather ("When February rolls around I'll roll my eyes, turn a cold shoulder to these even colder skies"). We in North Idaho get that. It's gorgeous to look at, but it's cold, and we don't want to drive in it.

And while In Like a Lion is not a Christmas song, it bellies the true meaning of the holiday in a way that is not achieved by many traditional carols. "Yet in the midst of all this ice and snow our hearts stay warm cause they are filled with hope."

When you break down the "true meaning of Christmas," you are left with what should be the true message of Christianity: hope.

These past few years have been a struggle for many people. With a crumbling economy, war raging in places far away from home, roughly 7 out of every 1000 kids in the US in foster care, and friends and family falling victim to cancer and other illnesses... it should be clear that we live in a world hopeless and hoping for something to hope for. We need that message now like a banana split needs ice cream.

While you "Sit here and wish for this world to thaw" it is my wish that you all find ways to spread hope to those around you.

12.16.2009

On the 12th day of Christmas

With Christmas approaching like a malnourished wolf hunting its prey, I figured now would be an opportune time to highlight some holiday appropriate music. So put away the holiday appropriate sweaters and dig out the old jukebox (AKA iTunes) to add a few songs to your Christmas playlist.

Song: The 12 Days of Christmas
Artist: Straight No Chaser
Album: Holiday Cheers (live version available on Holiday Spirits)

The 12 Days of Christmas is to yuletide music what 99 Bottles of Beer is to road trips. It is inescapable. And it has experienced many incarnations aside from the traditional. Relient K put a pop-punk spin on the song (from the Let It Snow Baby… Let it Reindeer album) and the song got a hardcore makeover (X12 Days of XXXMASX) courtesy of From First to Last on the compilation A Santa Cause: It’s a Punk Rock Christmas. It is also a frequent target of parody (Bob River’s 12 Pains and Jeff Foxworthy’s redneck version are the two most memorable).

Enter Straight No Chaser. Their rendition of the 12 Days of Christmas is remarkable. It is the best version I have ever heard. It is the Cadillac of 12 Days. It eats other versions for breakfast. It… Oh, sorry, I got carried away. They originally performed the song as a college a cappella group in the mid 90’s. 10ish years later, one of the band members uploaded the video onto YouTube and they became an instant smash sensation. Too bad the band broke up after college. A record company bigwig saw the video, gave the group a record deal, and the group got back together. And the world is now a better place.

Why do I laud their take on the 12 Days of Christmas? For starters, it’s a cappella. Well done a cappella is why the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes. But more than that. I’m a fan of mash ups – the art of mashing multiple songs into a singular composition as if they were one song. To pull off an a cappella mash up, one must possess a special level of creativity and an off-kilter sense of humor. That is where the gentlemen in Straight No Chaser succeed. Aside from staggered stanzas (ala Row Row Row Your Boat), the song blends in a dizzying variety of others classics: Santa Clause is Coming to Town, Deck the Halls, Here We Come A-Wassailing, Carol of the Bells, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, I Have a Little Dreidel, and Toto’s Africa. Yes, that Africa.

You can see the song here:

12.12.2009

More Exercising

Christian was jumping on our small aerobics trampoline. The kids love that thing. As a parent, I like the fact that it's an easy way for the kids to expel excess energy. The conversation below is the final conversation I had with Christian before he went to bed.

Christian (jumping): Daddy, I'm getting some exercise.
Me: Good.
Christian: If you want exercise, you can have a turn after me.
Me: Thanks, but Daddy needs more exercise than that.
Christian: You mean... like jumping jacks? (he begins to do jumping jacks while bouncing on the trampoline)
Me: Something like that.
Christian: Oh.
Me: Daddy needs more exercise than jumping on a trampoline.
Christian: Really?
Me: Yes. The bigger you are, the more exercise you need.
Christian: Whoa. You must need A LOT of exercise.

12.03.2009

Coversations with my daughter

If you have ever had a two year old in your home, some of these anecdotes may seem familiar. Or maybe not. Zu is quite unique.


***

Sometime in the middle of the night (either before she fell asleep, or as soon as she woke up) Zu took off her pajamas. She wandered out into the living room at 6:50 this morning, looked up at me and said, “Daddy, I’m cold.”

“Well, you shouldn’t have taken your jammies off, sweetie.” I reply.
“But, Daddy… I’m COLD.” She might not know what indignant means, but she pulls it off with the greatest ease.

***

This is a common conversation in our car while driving around town.

“Daddy, I want to talk to you.” Says Zu.
“OK.”
“Can I talk to you, Daddy?”
“Yes.”
“Can I talk to you, Daddy?”
“Yes.”
“Can I talk to you, Daddy?”
“Yes.”
“Can I talk to you, Daddy?”
“What do you want to talk to me about?”
“I forgot.”

***

Zu is a social child. She doesn’t like (or know how) to play alone. She has always had other kids to play with. But now that is not always the case, and she does not enjoy it.

“Where’s Christian?” Zu asks.
“He’s at the store with Momma.”
“Where’s Mommy?”
“She’s at the store.”
“Where’s Nanna?”
“She’s at work.”
“Where’s JJ?”
“He’s taking a nap.”
“Where’s Christian?”

It is called short term memory loss. I prefer to think of it as circular logic.

***

Zu has stock answers for certain types of questions.

What shape is this? It is usually “Triangle!” (However, she is getting better with shapes; ‘triangle’ has become a default retort for shapes when she can’t think of the correct response.)
What letter (or number) is this? It is always “S!”
What color is this? Without hesitation, Zu always states “Red!”

But questions that begin with “Who is” are fun. Her immediate reply is “I am!” She says it with such zeal that you believe for a brief moment that Zu is the true center of the universe. This creates some interesting dialog.

“Who is the cutest girl in the whole wide world?”
“I am!”
“Who is Daddy’s favorite little girl?”
“I am!”
“Who is the best Daddy ever?”
“I am!”
Nooooo… You’re not a daddy.”
Lines of worry and bewilderment cross her forehead with a glimmer of sadness in her eyes. “I’m not?”
“No, I’m the Daddy.”
“You are!” She smiles again.
“Who is an epileptic elephant?”
“I am!”
Nooooo…”
“Who is my little Zu Bear?”
“I am!”
“Who is Jon Stewart?”
“I am!”
Nooooo…”

This exchange could go on for as long as you desire. The question doesn’t matter. The answer is constant. Narcissism is hilarious in an egocentric two year old.

***

I was rocking a full beard for a while – partially due to laziness, partially because we ran out of shaving cream and kept forgetting to buy more. When new shaving cream was purchased, I started to trim the beard down to a goatee. Zu came into the bathroom so Bekah could brush her hair.

Zu watched me and my razor – face covered with white foam.

“What’s wrong with Daddy?” She asked.
“He’s shaving.” Bekah replied.
“What happened to Daddy?”

Bekah supplied the same answer and Zu repeated her question a few times (she craves repetition). Bekah decided to use the opportunity to practice recognizing emotions. (We’re trying to get her to distinguish various emotions by making faces to see if she can identify when someone is happy, sad, mad, surprised, etc.)

“What kind of face does Daddy have?” Bekah asked.
Zu watched my razor cut a swath through my disappearing beard.
“That’s his seerwious face.”
Apparently, I have a serious expression on my face when I shave.

***

Zu knows coffee. And lemons. We were playing with some vocabulary flashcards last night. Word after word, Zu concentrated on the picture, mining the depths of her memory. She often recited the correct word, but none with the zest as when she saw coffee.

As soon as the she was presented the picture of a steaming teacup next to a caterer style coffee pot, she shouted out the corresponding word: “COFFEE!”

Later, when she viewed the picture of a mug (and the word was ‘mug’), Zu repeated her previous answer: “COFFEE!” I blame my wife for Zu’s familiarity with that rich, dark, hot beverage.

One of the flash cards displayed a variety of produce: bananas, strawberries, oranges, grapes… as soon as she saw it, Zu answered “Fruits.” She gave the same answer when the picture was a variety of vegetables; for now I am content to let her believe that carrots, peas, and cucumbers are fruit.

Subsequent flash cards displayed the individual fruits. The first one was a kiwi sliced in half.

“What is this?” I asked.
Zu thought and cocked her head to the side like a confused puppy. “What is it Daddy?”
“It’s Daddy’s favorite fruit.”
She looked at me then back at the picture but could not think of the fruit’s identity. “What is it Daddy?”
“It’s a kiwi.”
“Kiwi?”
“Yes.”
“A kiwi is your favorite fruit.”
“It is.”
X is your favorite fruit became a snowclone, as Zu substituted x for every fruit.
“A grape is your favorite fruit.”
“A strawberry is your favorite fruit.”
“A yemon is your favorite fruit.” (Zu pronounces all of her L’s as a Y)
When it came to the lemon, I added a brief caveat.
“Lemon is not my favorite fruit, but it is a fruit.”
“Do you eat yemons?” she asked.

“You have had lemons.” It is true. On a few occasions, we gave her lemons to taste. The resulting expressions of shock and disgust is such a satisfying experience. It’s even more gratifying if they forget the sour flavor and go back for a second bite. I highly recommend all parents of young children try this. (Unless, if your kids have a citrus allergy… then don’t do it.)

“I had yemons?” Zu pondered that fact for a while then gave me a solemn look with a stern lecture, “Icky, Daddy.”

***

Speaking of mispronouncing L’s as Y’s. We hear this consonant swap as often as people make Twilight jokes. She is a chatterbox. Honestly, I am not certain if she knows how to stop taking. However, this slip in her speech is the cause of one of her most endearing phrases: “I yove you.”

11.25.2009

Live-blogging Thanksgiving?

Heh... just joking on that one. My wife would never allow it. But I may tweet bits and pieces throughout the day. If you're on Twitter, you can find me HERE. (Yes, I know, @ niccasey - so imaginative.)

In the meantime, I've compiled a 12 song playlist in the sidebar to your left. (if you're reading this in facebook, you'll need to click the link that says 'View Original Post' to see it) This will be playing in the background in my house during dinner. Take a look, perhaps you'll see something you know and love, or discover something new and interesting. And maybe you'll just think I have boring taste in music.

And if you don't here from me tomorrow, I sincerely wish you all a pleasant day of gratitude.

11.22.2009

Literary Quiz

Name the author:

"It was a gorgeous evening. A full moon drenched the road to the lustreless colour of platinum, and late blooming harvest flowers breathed into the motionless air aromas that were like low, half-heard laughter."

a. Ralph Waldo Emerson
b. Stephenie Meyer
c. Philippe-Joseph Aubert de Gaspé
d. Francis Scott Fitzgerald
e. Agatha Christie


Answer to come later this week. (Someone remind me if I forget)

11.16.2009

The Un-Friend

For the first time in my history with facebook, I unfriended someone. Such an odd word "unfriend." Sounds heavy. Sounds icky. Sounds spiteful. Sounds like "you spilled soda on my favorite pair of jeans so I don't like you any more." I've been unfriended before and it usually is for petty reasons. It is my opinion that most people unfriend their friends for inconsequential happenings.

I never thought I'd do it. I'm fairly discriminate in selecting my facebook friends. The people on my friends list are mostly family, coworkers, friends from church or Boise, fellow HBO regulars, and old friends from high school. There are only four people on my list that I've never met or talked to. (One is a writer I admire, one is the spouse of a friend I met via HBO, another is a friend of a friend, and finally a guy who played in a band with one of my best friends.)

I don't request to be added as a friend or accept friend requests without a good reason. There's never any anticipation that some day this friend is going to say something that will make me want to disassociate myself with them. I believe that the people I'm facebook friends with are truly interesting people and I have fond memories of many of them. It would be nice someday to sit in a coffee shop somewhere and catch up with some of these people - many of whom I haven't seen in 10+ years. But since we're scattered across the states, facebook serves as the next best thing. Since I can't kick back and reminisce over a double shot white chocolate mocha with them, I get their status updates. There is a diverse spectrum of beliefs and ideologies represented - some I agree with and some I don't. Regardless of our varied opinions, I appreciate (and am often entertained) by the thoughts and tidbits posted. It is a little glimpse into the humanity of people I have (at some point) shared a fraction of my life.

So why on earth would I willingly choose to end that? The victim was someone I grew up around - a family friend. He is more of my dad's peer, but his son and I used to hang out so he is someone that I respected. That's why his status update caught me off guard.

Let me put something into context first: When I said the views represented in my friends list were diverse, I used that word in the most literal way I know how. Various religious and political stances have a home there. I don't take offense when someone posts something I that opposes my opinions. In most occasions I find it challenging.

But this update was a doozie. First - a command to pray for Obama, followed by a biblical passage where David asks God to kill David's enemies.

I get that there are many people who don't like Obama. It doesn't bother me that people are opposed to Obama's agenda. The freedom to speak out against the president is part of what makes our country unique. Even those who say they hate Obama don't disturb me. I get it. But praying that God kills Obama? Really? That, I don't understand.

When Paul wrote in Romans 13 that we (as Christians) should submit to governing authorities because they have been established by God and that it is necessary not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience... when Paul wrote "If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor"... I don't think this is what Paul had in mind. How is praying for the president's death fit in line with Paul's teaching? It doesn't. And I can't stand by someone who thinks like that.

11.13.2009

Movie Review: 2012

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to set up a bank of TVs and simultaneously play a bunch of disaster flicks on them? The Towering Inferno, Earthquake, Armageddon, The Poseidon Adventure, Dante's Peak, and Hard Rain on a stack of six big screen TV's... I'm sure you haven't, but just in case you have wondered - Roland Emmerich was thinking of you.



Emmerich threw down the gauntlet when he blew up the White House in Independence Day. He is the man who set the standard for the modern era of the disaster genre. Yet, he's never quite lived up to the expectations he created. His movies have been more hype than substance (the quirky Godzilla and the plodding Day After Tomorrow are a couple of examples). Now with 2012 he aims to out do himself (and every other apocalyptic movie ever made) in both it's epic scale and epic duration.

Yes I said duration. It is a long movie. I'd recommend using the facilities immediately before the opening credits. Despite the long running time (158 minutes) Emmerich fills that time wisely. It's not the "when will this movie ever end" kind of Transformers 2 long... just the "my bladder is going to burst at any moment" kind. If it wasn't for the one liter of Mt Dew I chugged prior to the movie's beginning, I would have barely noticed the length.

The scenes of destruction (of which there were many) were evenly spaced - unlike some other movies that pack it all in to the fist 20 minutes of film (I'm talking about you The Core). While the dialog is not Oscar worthy, it's not a distraction. The conversations were practical (all though mildly predictable), punctuated with intentional humor, and a self-parodying outlook on the concept of cataclysmic events.

There are a couple of cheese ball moments (The Governator Schwarzenegger's cameo and an obnoxious fissure that splits a couple after the man mentions feeling like there is something separating them) but those clips are few and do not take away from the grandeur of the total and inescapable destruction that Emmerich celebrates for nearly an two hours and forty minutes.

As California sinks into the Pacific, a cruise ship and aircraft carrier are upended in tidal waves, buildings collapse, Yellowstone explodes, and Woody Harrelson goes crazy, you can't help but think how awesome it all looks. And while we know the story is completely implausible, we enjoy it. We know a puddle-jumper plane can't outrun (outfly?) a pyroclastic flow, but we sit on the edge of our seats to see it happen. We know that the earth will not open up to swallow the Vatican, but it makes compelling cinematography. And amidst the chaos is a plot. A decent one. And while some disaster movies center on one story, 2012 takes on a few. The strength of family, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Political and humanitarian ethics. Sacrifice and hope.

And with all that is splayed on the big screen during 2012, one of my favorite moments came after the movie was over (and I'm not talking about Adam Lambert's caterwauling during the closing credits). On my way out of the theater, I overheard two teen-aged girls talking.

"What sucks is like this is totally going to like happen like three days before Christmas," one of them said. (I wish I was joking.)

First of all... it's not. 2012 is a work of fiction - not a documentary. I won't get into the details, but the world will not end on 12/21/12. Astrophysicists, anthropologists, geologists, and many other scientific peoples have easily discounted the proposed meaning of Mayan prophesies. It is well documented. Google it. So I got a good laugh at the girls' academic naiveté, but I am also a bit puzzled by their arithmetic. The end of the Mayan long count calendar is December 12th of 20012. Last time I checked, Christmas falls on the 25th of December... every year. So, if I do my math correctly, 25 minus 21 is 4... not three. And the movie wasn't vague about the date. But I digress. The movie is well worth the price. Emmerich not only lives up to the expectations, but surpasses it. The sad misguided conversation of two girls who are prone to believe anything is just icing on the cake.

(And (Warning: plot spoiler) good news for dog lovers, a few corgis survive along with a king charles cavalier. Good news for alien lovers, so does District 9)

11.07.2009

bonus post

I could not resist... (and I can't believe my dad sent this to me.)

How long could you survive after punching a bear in the balls?

Created by Oatmeal

Identity

Today's blog post is on my other blog What's Inside.

11.06.2009

Rules for Karaoke

Under normal circumstances, I have a moral objection to karaoke. I'm convinced that karaoke might be a Japanese word meaning 'people who think they can sing like angels, but sound like circus seals.' However, with extended family visiting from out of town (cousins that Bekah hasn't seen in years) my wife hoodwinked me into going out with the family.

Did I sing? No. At least not with a microphone in my hand. While my moral objections would preclude me from stepping up to the mic, it does not excuse my ability to sing along as a member of the audience.

This is the first time I've "gone" to karaoke. There was one time that Jeff and I were eating in a Denny's and over heard some Japanese business men singing from an adjoining bar (one who was singing I'm too Sexy... filarious!). But that was more of witness by proxy, not actual attendance. So for my first true karaoke experience, I made a few observations. I've compiled those observations into a list of rules. These are rules that I think should be applied to anyone singing karaoke.

1. For all intents and purposes, Stairway to Heaven is the song that never ends.
2. So is Hey Jude.
3. Rockin’ Robin is a bad song choice when you are intoxicated.
4. If you unintentionally change the lyrics of Don’t Take the Girl to Don’t Take the Squirrel, you had too much to drink. Please take a cab home.
5. If your voice sounds like a tranquilized Fozzie Bear, you should not be singing karaoke. However, people will still cheer you on.
6. Don’t sing serious songs.
7. Singing as a duet or group is a great idea. The other voices mask any flaws in your own voice.
8. When the majority of song choices have been in the country and classic rock genres, Filter’s Hey Man Nice Shot and anything by Rob Zombie would be considered odd picks. You might think it’s a good idea, but it’s not. Trust me… it’s not.
9. Do not ever shout the words “I rock” during the instrumental break. Especially when singing a country song. Especially when the words “I rock” are the only two words that you didn’t slur.
10. If you sing a song by Hank Williams Jr, don’t be surprised if someone in the crowd mocks you.
11. Falsetto is not recommended.
12. Please, no Janis Joplin imitations… if you’re a guy.
13. If your singing voice isn’t that great, it is always better to follow the “holy poo that was atrocious” guy than it is to sing after the “hey she’s kinda good” girl.

Did I miss any rules?

11.03.2009

When I grow up...

Christian announced his lifelong career goals today.

"Daddy," he said, "when I grow up I want to be a storyteller. That's right, I want to tells stories to people ever day when I'm a grown up."

His aunt Miriam would be proud.

11.01.2009

Useless Talents (post Halloween edition)

I meant to post this yesterday, but I got caught up in the festivities. So what if it's a day late.

Useless Talent: I wish I could lie to people and scare them for a living. And get paid for it.

10.30.2009

Don't Fear the Poo

There have been occasional debates about whether or not real men change diapers. I don’t know if there is a correct answer for that debate – no absolute axiom dictating the relationship between real men and really loaded diapers. I know men are (and should be) disgusted at the concept of manhandling a poo-filled Pamper. But I believe that most men are capable of setting aside their distaste for BM long enough to provide relief (and freshness) to their non-potty trained offspring. When dairy air begins to waft from the derriere of their bumbling baby, I’d assume that most men do not do what my father did: strap their child (and their putrid britches) into a car seat and drive across town to a friend's house to have the friend change the diaper. (ps, thanks Dad!)

For now I am working with the hypothesis that real men do change diapers. I am a real man and I change diapers. Now, my reasoning may be some sort of logical fallacy – perhaps a false attribution – but for now it is all I have. I am a real man who changes diapers. And I know I’m not alone.

When my brother and I were little, my parents made a deal: Mom handled the dirty diapers, and Dad handled the vomit. Not a bad deal. My wife and I also struck a deal when Christian was born but Bekah did not want sole responsibility for 100% of the diapers in our household... and I have a weak stomach for things that were once in a stomach. So we made a slightly altered agreement: he or she who smells it first changes it. That adjudication didn’t last and soon turned ugly. Before long, Bekah would ask me if our kid was poopy. “I don’t know, I don’t smell anything,” I’d reply. Then she’d shove baby booty in my face and say “SMELL IT!” Not fair. (But on a positive note, I got really good at holding my breath.)

We’re now working with a surrogate protocol. I change diapers when ever it is convenient for me to do the duty. The problem with this arrangement is that my definition of “convenient” is radically divergent from Bekah’s. I consider it conducive for me to be the changer of diapers if I am in the same room. Bekah thinks it more befitting for me to handle the soggy bottoms if I am within a five mile radius. I hope you see the same disparity that I have suffered.

Alas, I frequently have a soiled tush in front of me that is in need of changing. And, our tenure as foster parents has awarded us with a greater opportunity to experience the woe of excrement. (For six months this past spring/summer we had four be-diapered butts in our house. Graciously, we’re now down to two.)

I cope. In fact, in order to contend with this great effluent challenge I’ve dubbed the diapers after great horror movies. I’m not sure why I do this. It may have something to do with human nature's compulsion to name things. It might be my deranged sense of humor. Whatever the reason, diapers of my changing are often designated a title worthy of Hollywood’s Halloween horrors. (Oooh, alliteration!)

Here are some of the monikers I’ve given to my kids’ passings.

Something Wicked this Way Comes
It Came From Outer Space
The Omen
Night of the Living Dead
Ghost Ship
Children of the Corn
Nosferatu
Army of Darkness
Salem’s Lot
Phantoms
Gremlins
The Sound of Music

OK, so that last one isn’t technically a horror movie. But if you ever walk through my front door and hear me singing “these are a few of my favorite things” you’ll know why.

10.29.2009

Recent observation

My son sings in monotone. And he slurs his words. Eat your heart out Brad Roberts.

10.25.2009

Useless Talents

I wish sweat would come in scents other than B.O. Like vanilla, freshly baked bread, or cedar. Then it wouldn't matter how hard you’re working. You might feel (and/or look) like poo, but at least you smell clean.

10.23.2009

Useless Talents

You’ve probably heard of them: animal whisperers. There’s a Dog Whisperer TV show. And the movie about horses. People who seem to be able to communicate with a certain species of animals. I’m pretty sure it’s a bunch of bunk from people pretending to communicate with our furry friends because they don’t know how to communicate with real people.

But if it were real, I’d like to be a hamster whisperer. I’d tell my son’s hamster to quit chewing on her cage.

10.22.2009

Useless Talents

I would like to be able to stand on one leg for a record breaking length of time. I don’t think my multi-tasking skills are polished enough to accomplish anything while standing on one leg. But at least I could say "Yeah?! Well... I can stand on one leg longer than you." I’m sure that would end any argument.

10.18.2009

Movie Review: Law (-) Abiding Citizen

Step 1: You watch as home invaders rape and kill your wife and daughter. Step 2: The guy who killed your family goes free due to a flaw in the justice system. Step 3: You seek revenge. On everyone.

Sounds like a run-of-the-mill "vengeance is mine" movie plot. After seeing the 20% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, that is what I was expecting. I was anticipating a plot I’ve seen a million times: the everyman seeks vigilante justice when the legal system fails. Even the plot summary on IMDB states "An everyday guy decides to take justice into his own hands."



(WARNING: the following may contain some unintentional plot spoilers)

I was pleasantly surprised by the film, despite the grammatical error in the title. (It should be Law hyphen Abiding, not Law space Abiding. Sheesh.) Citizen starts off with a bang, like a baseball bat to the face. Actually it was literally a baseball bat to the face, but all things considered, I like the simile. The story begins through the eyes of the protagonist Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler of 300) as he watches his wife die and daughter taken away. When the worst of the two criminals flops on the not-as-bad guy, we follow the case into court to watch the plea bargain play out, only to see Shelton in the background watching the evil dude shake hands with the prosecutor Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx from Ray, Collateral, The Soloist, etc). 10 years later, one of the two home invaders is at the end of his death-row sentence. The execution doesn’t go according to plan, and the murders (paybacks) begin. Shelton is arrested, thrown in jail, and continues to kill people from behind bars. Each escalating killing portrays a staggering work of genius and Rice (with police in tow) race to end the massacre and keep Shelton in prison.

Yet, to describe Law Abiding Citizen as the typical revenge flick overlooks some key elements.

1. The movie’s hero (anti-hero?) is not a normal guy. He’s a tinkerer (as one character in the movie states). With a little foreshadowing, the opening sequence shows him to be adept with electronics and robotics. As the story unfolds, we discover the guy is extraordinary, intelligent, and diabolical. While there is an element of righteous anger that motivates his revenge, there is also a mastermind design behind the brutality that could not be carried out by an "everyday guy."

2. Most revenge plots have one bad guy: the person who escaped justice. Once that person has been killed, the hero can carry on with their life in peace. Not this movie. The brutal killings of the two home invaders (the first one startling, the the second graphic – both disturbing) are just the start for this Citizen. The bad guys in this movie are not the people who first committed the crime, but the entire justice system. The courts are corrupt and Shelton wants to "bring the whole system down." So the scope of retribution span beyond the two thugs. It includes their defense attorney, the judge that threw out key evidence, the prosecutor that made a deal with the guilty defendant, the district attorney, the DA office’s staff, and the mayor. Whew. Talk about a hit list.

3. You’re never sure who to root for. At first we like Clyde Shelton. There is an understandable empathy toward his actions. We cheer him on as he tells off the judge during his bail hearing (people in my theater were clapping). We nervously laugh at his steak dinner and later at an exploding cell phone. But at some point, we no longer see Shelton as a grieving father, but a maniacal lunatic. Nick Rice is a workaholic who seems willing to sacrifice his family’s happiness for his own political ambitions. Throughout the movie he stands by his choices maintaining an "I did the right thing" defense when we all know he made the wrong decision. We want him to man up. Eventually we begin to see him as the hero. (I consider this to be great story telling as characters that are too perfect or too flawed are not believable.)

4. It bucks the traditional ending. The moment we expect (Shelton gets the same deal that Rice struck with the bad man at the beginning of the movie) never happens. We want Shelton to earn his freedom for a while, but then we begin to think he belongs in jail.

5. This is not a feel good movie. The first death looks like a clip from a horror movie. The second fatality is a sociopath’s dream. (We’re spared the viewing of the dissection, but we see the results and the gory details are described within the prison interview room.) The third killing is clinical. The fourth is excessively bloody and the next catches you off guard. The final body count is in double digits. The language is vulgar. The cinematography is sharp and gritty. The pace is unsettling and quick. This is not the type of movie you walk away from thinking "I’d do the same thing if a couple of drug addicts killed my family and got away with it."

My only complaint about the movie is the amount of detective work that Nick Rice accomplished. I understand there is a bit of research that prosecutors have to do to build their case, but Citizen had Rice riding along with the police to every crime scene, and to make every arrest. Well, that complaint and the bad grammar in the title.

Overall, Law Abiding Citizen is not one of the best movies ever made. But it is entertaining. And that’s what movies should be about. I give it 6 exploding cell phones out of 10.

10.15.2009

What happended to the 90's?

Dear XM marketing personnel,

I spent some time this afternoon at work listening to The 90's on 9. Something is not right with that station, and it took me a while to figure out what it was. The problem: it wasn't the 90's.

First was Give a Little Bit by the Goo Goo Dolls. That song was released in 2004 as a part of their Live in Buffalo CD/DVD combo. And it's not even an original song. The original version was released by Supertramp in 1977. After that was Kings of Leon's newest single Use Somebody. And by "newest" I realize the song is a year old, but it didn't start to get popular until this past summer. Neither song was recorded in the 90's. I know this because I know everything. Since the people that program your song selections have shown they know nothing, I felt it apropos to enlighten you to the shoddy job they are performing.

Maybe the 90's on 9 isn't the best moniker for that specific station. If you insist on playing music that did not exist during that decade, you should try a different name. How about "If you went to high school in 90's this is what you'd listen to if you were ten years younger and uncool." I know that's a mouthful but it's more honest than 90's on 9. When the title of your satellite radio station lies about the the type of music it plays, what am I to assume about stations with more cryptic of a name - say Watercolors or The Bridge. And if I want to listen to a little Lisa Loeb or the Crash Test Dummies or The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, should I tune in to 80's on 8? So pick a horse and ride it. Either truth in advertising, or more of those unknowable names like Backspin, Lithium, or The Loft.

You don't have to take my advice; after all, I'm not in charge. But it is clear that your being in charge capabilities suck. While scientists have not yet proven that I have better taste in music than anyone, you should take my word for it. At the very worst, my taste in music is superior to the dunces that are currently working for you. You should hire me.

Sincerely,
A Music Snob

10.14.2009

Useless Talents

I always wanted to be able to read my own mind. Because sometimes, I would like to know what I was thinking.

10.11.2009

Smokey... Hazy... What's the word I'm looking for?

In the war of cooking bacon, the stove was winning. I couldn't tell the grayish tint in the air was a factor of my grease splattered glasses or the result of the bacon turning crispier than intended. Or both. The stove was taunting me; it was clear I was fighting a losing battle.

I had to do something before smoke started billowing from every corner of the house like fires from classic Saturday morning cartoons. That, and I didn't want to trip the fire alarm. Christian hates loud noises.

Fire safety experts recommend holding family fire drills so that you kids know what to do when the house is burning down. They recommend teaching younger kids to stay where they are so they don't get lost and disoriented in the smoke. It makes them easier to find/rescue. We don't have to worry about that with Christian. Every time our fire alarm has gone off he screams in terror. He is petrified and unwilling to move. I sometimes wonder which alarm is louder: the one attached to the ceiling, or the one in Christian's throat. I am positive that this is a traumatic experience for him.

Back to the burnt bacon.

The kitchen was filling with smoke. The oven fan wasn't helping so I cracked the kitchen window. No airflow. I needed a cross breeze. I walked out to the living room (also filled with bacon haze), and opened the window. Yes, I know the high temperature for the day was barely above freezing and two windows open would chill the house. But I did not want to set off the fire alarm. I'd prefer Christian not have to see a counselor about his fear of alarms when he's older.

It worked. Kind of. I prevented the dual alarm of Christian's shrieking triggered by the fire alarm triggered by the bacon I over cooked. However, The living room was still hazy when I called for Zu and Christian to come to the dinner table.

Leave it to a five year old to volunteer a synonym that you could never think of on your own.

"Why is it so foggy in here, Daddy?" Christian asked.

"Because Daddy burnt the bacon."

It's not smokey in here. It's foggy. And, for the record, the bacon was too crunchy for Christian's tastes.

10.08.2009

Useless Talents

I once saw a viral video from a public access show where a guy was painting while running on a treadmill. People would call into his show and ask "What the (bleep) are you doing?!?" And he would answer "I’m painting on a treadmill." "Why?" "Because I wanted to paint on a treadmill."

I wish I could paint on a treadmill. Actually… I wish I could paint standing still.

10.03.2009

These Thousand Hills

I'm a city boy. I grew up in the suburbs surrounded by hills and forests. My formative years were spent close to both the ocean and the mountains.

Prairies befuddle me. Flatlands depress me. I'm lost with out trees and large bodies of water.

I guess that's one of the reasons I never felt entirely comfortable in Boise. While it is close to mountains, the Treasure Valley is primarily situated on a featureless plane. It's too flat. And too dry. And brown.

In no conceivable context could I be described as a country boy. I thrive in chaos. I long for crowds and noise and bright lights. Punk rock & hip-hop and anything that defies the backwoods hillbilly.

I love road trips, but I always loathed driving certain stretches of northwest freeways. Eastern Montana, Northeastern Oregon, Southern Idaho, most of Wyoming.... rolling hills, big skies, and dry yellow grasses. Those vast expanses appear to be infinite and makes the cityscapes I love feel so distant.

Maybe I've been looking at that countryside from the wrong perspective.

This weekend, while driving back and forth between Moscow and Pullman, I noticed the same endless rolling hills that dominate most of the Inland Empire. Yet, I saw something different... and alluring. Those rolling hills with the patterned stripes of agriculture gained a hypnotizing quality I've never before acknowledged. For the first time in my life I'd admit these hills were stunning and amazing to see. It was indeed the amber waves worthy of our patriotic songs.

Maybe I'm getting softer now that I've passed 30. Maybe I'm beginning to see beauty in unusual places. I still prefer the city life - even if it is suburban living. But I may have gained a new appreciation for our area's rural scenery.

10.02.2009

Useless Talents


Wouldn’t it be awesome if your ears could whistle? You could play practical jokes on your coworkers. They’d ask “Do you hear that whistling?” And you’d say “What whistle?” They’d never suspect you because your lips aren’t pursed. If you were really good at it, you could talk with your mouth while whistling with your ears.

Then again, that frequent high pitched sound so close to your ear drum would give you a headache. Maybe it wouldn’t be so awesome.

9.30.2009

Cornucopia

I've mentioned before the varied fragrances that inhabit my workplace.

Today, my office was a cornucopia of puzzling scents. The basement smelled like popcorn and curly fries (not surprising since the basement houses our lunch room and someone left an uneaten bag from Arby's one one of the tables). The elevators smelled like a combination of body odor and nachos. As bad as you could imagine a cheesy armpit to smell, the elevator was preferable when compared to the rest of the building.

The operations area smelled like poo. This effluent smell varied as you walked from one end of the building to the other; ranging from non-existent to someone-just-passed-gas to chicken-manure. I do not know the cause of the stank; it is an olfactory mystery. Before you assume I was imagining things, I must clarify one bit of trivia. I graduated from a school that had been nicknamed cow-pie high. My nose is attuned to putrid smells of methane, and I was not the only one to notice it. Thankfully the air around my desk was relatively free of derriere.

If there was one surprising haven within the wasteland assaulting aromas, it was the stairwell. The dank and dusty stench that one would expect in a typical stairwell was replaced with what smelled like vanilla hand lotion and chamomile tea. Again, I can not fathom the source of vanilla and chamomile. However, if I could find a way to move my cubicle into the stairwell... I would have done it.

9.26.2009

On Goals and Setting Expectations

A few weeks ago I gave a speech about goals. Not the importance of goals (I think we can all agree that goals are a good thing), nor on the act of setting them (which I think everybody should be setting goals for themselves). My speech was about accomplishing goals. Odd subject considering my track record of starting a million projects but only achieving a few.

It was about focus.

1. You can't focus on yourself. You need the emotional/material/financial support of others if you want to achieve anything remotely resembling greatness.
2. You can't focus on your competition or your obstacles. The things (or people) that stand in your way are distractions. While it's wise to know your limitations, you can't let it consume your thoughts.
3. You have to focus on the end result. The goal. You can't accomplish your goals if you ignore them.

Of course, the content of my speech was much more colorful and was illustrated by a story about kids playing in the snow and examples to support my three points. I'm sure some of my coworkers are beginning to view me as the office's own motivational speaker.

But I can't just speak those words without putting my own life behind it. I need to achieve some goals.

Recently, I'm finding more people in my life that write. Not just bloggers (which there are a few), but people who write for publication. One of my father-in-law's best friends recently published his first two books. My sister-in-law has a publisher and is waiting for her first novel to be released. Even my friend David is writing full length work (he and a cousin are competing to see who can write a better horror story by Halloween).

Here's my problem. I'm a "wow!" person (nothing to do with World of Warcraft). Jon Acuff talked about wow people on his blog once. Wow people are dreamers who have an endless supply of fantastical ideas, want to share them, but only carry out a small percentage of those ideas. His post is superb and you should read it. I have a couple of dozen story lines in my head. Chunks of plot and dialog. Characters (I promise it's not the voices in my head). There are several ideas (some of them might actually be great) but because of my WOW! personality, maybe one might actually make it onto paper.

I look at how long it took Miriam to finish her book. I did the math for my friend David and estimated he'd have to write an average of 3000 words per day in order to complete his horror story by October 31st. It is so much work. I'm not opposed to hard work. But I put in 9 hours a day at my office. And I need to spend time with my kids and my wife. Update my blogs (and facebook). Keep in touch with my parents in Cheyenne. And...

David and I talked about this about a week ago. To write like I'd really like to (and the way he'd like to write), it would be a full time job. I marvel at those pulp writers who turn out new books on a regular basis. The Dean Koontzs and Stephen Kings; the Tom Clancys and John Grishams of this world. The ammount of work that they have to put in to churn out story after story is staggering.

I don't have the capacity to sit at home and write all day. I do not have the financial flexibility to quit my real job and become a starving artist. But I do have a little time. There are fractions of peace where I can sit and write. (And for the record, my experiment this evening of trying to write at McDonalds while the kids played on the Playland didn't work very well... I got about one page worth written and spent the rest of the time trying to make sure the ogres [older kids] were not flattening my two preschoolers.)

But I do have a little time available to write. So I've set some writing goals for myself. I hesitate to publicize these goals; for those of you who are long time readers of this blog, you will know that previous goals I've posted here haven't turned out so well. (I haven't abandoned them... they're just "in process.")

It's almost as if by speaking of my goals, I am all ready dooming them to failure. But As I mentioned before, I can't focus on my limitations. And it's not about me... it's about my writing. And I need your support - in whatever way you choose to express it.

My goals:
1. At least two posts per week on this blog.
2. At least two posts per month on What's Inside
3. At least one post per month on My Life in Music
4. 1000 words or more per week for my non-blog writing

I know that in the grand scheme of things, 1000 words a week isn't much. If I'm aiming for a novel length story, it would take me four to five years to finish. But I'm hoping that I can increase my quantity as I find regular success in 1000 words.

How about you? For those of you that write, do you set writing goals? What kind of goals have you set?

9.24.2009

Food & Mr. Mom

Answer: 42. Yes, I know that 42 is the ultimate answer to the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. But it is also the number of ways that I can cook potatoes. And apples. There were apple trees in my yard growing up. And at my brother's house across the street. We had more apples than we knew what to do with. I'm like Bubba in Forrest Gump - talking about all of the different ways he could cook shrimp. If you replace the word "shrimp" with "apples" that would be me during high school. But I'm getting off the point. We were talking about potatoes.

Knowing 42 different ways to cook a potato can come in handy. From the time that I moved out of my folks' house in the fall of '99 through early '03 when Bekah and I got married, potatoes were one of the main ingredients in my diet. Mashed, smashed, and hashed (I know of at least 5 different varieties of hash browns). Sliced, diced, chopped, peeled, and cubed. Baked, pan fried, deep fried, barbecued, and eaten raw. Name it. I can cook a fierce potato.

But in my single and independent years, the official mascot of Idaho wasn't the only thing I ate. There were three things that were staples at my house. (four things if you include the crisscut fries from Sharies... smothered with cheese, chives, and bacon... with a side of ranch. But that kinda fits in the 'spud' category, and it technically wasn't at my house.)

My three staple foods:
1. The aforementioned potatoes.
2. Spaghetti
3. Nachos (speaking of Nachos... I have two funny stories about nachos. One that is funny in an embarrassing way and the other is funny in a you had to be there kind of way. I may post a blog about one of those two stories. I'll let you guess which one sees the light of day.)

The upside of such a limited menu is that it made grocery shopping easy. "10 pound sack of potatoes? Check. Pasta? Check. Meat? Check. Cheese? Check. Sauce? Check. Tortilla chips? Check. More cheese? Check. Oooh... Mountain Dew is on sale!"

And the downside? Well... I can't really think of a downside. It might not be healthy, but neither is eating nothing but Subway for a year and look how that turned out for Jared Fogle.

For three and a half years, that is what I ate. Nachos, spaghetti, and potatoes cooked 42 different ways. (although I must admit, it was more like 39 different ways back then... I've learned a few new methods from my wife.)

Why do I bring this up now? With JJ in the hospital, and Bekah staying there with our wee one, I find myself reverting back to my cooking skills of yesteryear. As I make mac & cheese for my older two kids... I make myself a plate of nachos. Tomorrow, I plan on something involving potatoes and a skillet (hopefully the kids will like it).

9.18.2009

Colbert Nation Interview



Wow... Well, I didn't grow up in Canada, and I didn't marry my bookie (although, she is my accountant), and good glory I've got a big head.

9.15.2009

Judging people

Someday, I believe scientists are going to discover a judging gene – a little code in the human DNA that makes us say crazy things like “Heathen! You’re drinking coke. Don’t you know all righteous people drink Pepsi?” The difficulty for geneticists in the research and discovery of this judgment gene is it’s abundance. It is a predominant gene. In fact, the existence of this genetic marker is so prevalent that everybody has it. (Except for Michael W Smith – he’s perfect.)

How do you pin point something so wide spread? It’s not like the swine flu (or as they say in Israel: the Mexico flu – pigs not being kosher). There’s no patient zero. Or is there? Remember “it’s the woman’s fault” Adam from the Garden of Eden? And since Adam was (biblically speaking) to pass judgment on another human – he’s a good person to blame for the gene of judgment. Even the name is telling: Adam – Hebrew for ‘man’ and a play on the Hebrew word adamah, which means ‘earth.’ Judging people is a part of mankind’s earthly nature.

Dang.

We all do it. We can’t help ourselves.

When Jimmy, Shane, T-dog, and I mocked/imitated the ridiculous postures of other drivers along I-5 from the backseat of the church van during our youth group’s road trips… we were judging them. The fact that I still refer to those other drivers ridiculous – over a dozen years later – shows that I’m still judging them. By calling gay guys ‘fags’ or referring to black guys as thugs we’re judging. When Joe Wilson interrupted President Obama’s speech to call him a liar, he was judging. And everybody who has been criticizing Kanye West for his stunt at the VMAs on Sunday is judging him.

What?!?! Did I just name drop the most arrogant person in the music industry? Why yes. Yes I did. And by calling him arrogant, I was judging him. See how easy it is to judge people. Piece of cake isn’t it.

This isn’t a circle of life, this is a chain of condemnation. Joe Wilson judged the president by calling him a liar. President Obama judged Kanye by (allegedly) calling Kanye a jackass. Kanye judged Taylor Swift by saying another nominee deserved the award that Taylor won. Judgment after judgment. We are all a bunch a judgmental individuals claiming a right that isn’t ours.

In the Bible, Jesus tells His followers not to judge people. That verse seems to be a favorite Bible verse for non-Christians. It’s the secular defense against judgmental Christians. Where Christians say “only God can judge me,” atheists say “don’t judge me.” This Biblical command is a universally understood truth: you shouldn’t judge people. Yet, we do it all the time.

Thankfully, this is not an arbitrary command where God says “do it or I’ll spank you.” We’re given the order, but we’re also told why. “By your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” So this isn’t an issue of ‘if’ but ‘when.’ We’re not left to wonder what will happen if we judge people; we’re told what will happen when we do. It’s not that we’re prohibited from judging, but encouraged not to. We are being warned that whatever method used to judge others will be used against us.

So if I say Kanye West is arrogant, aren’t I saying that I am arrogant? Wow. Or when another local blogger called Kanye a “rude bozo”, how does that reflect the person who made that statement?

What such negative judgments are really saying is that the person making the judgment is better than the person being judged. When someone says “Kanye is a rude bozo” I hear that person state “I’m better than Kanye.” What a horrible thing to imply. The truth is that we’re all fallible. We all suck equally. We’re all capable of mistakes.

Kanye West said something incredibly stupid. But I say stupid stuff all the time. The difference between us is he said something stupid in front of an audience of 27 million (according to the Nielsen ratings). My audience is much smaller. But what’s the difference between the impact of our stupidity? Kanye and I both have the power to hurt people with our words, so the amount of people watching doesn’t matter. Just because I have an audience of a couple dozen and he has millions doesn’t make me any better than him.

So be careful how you judge Kanye’s outburst. He’s just as human as you.

And maybe the lesson we need to learn is not to avoid passing judgment, but to change the way we judge. Give people the benefit of doubt. Always look on the bright side of life. Remember that mistakes are often the result of bad choices – not bad character. Don’t assume the worst.

We need to talk about it.

But… but… but…. Talking takes work. It takes effort. Yes. Yes it does. But it’s worth it. Can you imagine what our government could accomplish if they’d just talk about issues rather than arguing and throwing around insults and false accusations? (Remember when Sarah Palin said that her kid and her parents would have to face Obama’s “death panels”?)

Discussion is hard work, but it accomplishes so much more than snap judgments. That’s why Kanye’s appearance on Jay Leno is so significant. It would have been so easy for Leno to say “You were such a jerk. How can you live with yourself?” But that’s not what was said. Leno asked challenging questions without passing judgment.

So maybe scientists won’t discover a gene that makes us prone to being judgmental. But I’m still holding out for scientists to discover the difference between wise old men and crotchety old men. Because, if I had to choose, I’d rather not be grumpy when I get old.



ps. Kudos if you caught the Monty Python reference. Extra kudos if you caught the Hokus Pick reference.

9.12.2009

Much ado about reading

Recently, I've discovered/realized/lamented that I haven't been reading as much as I used to. I am still reading, just not in the same quantity that I have previously enjoyed. That is sad. That requires a remedy.

So I've been reading more - or at least attempting to devote more time to the written word. Here's what I've completed over the last couple of weeks...

The Adventures of Slim & Howdy by Kix Brooks & Ronnie Dunn
Brooks & Dunn are known more for their music than they are for their fiction, and there's a reason for that. They are fantastic song writers, but half-baked novelists. Slim & Howdy is not high caliber fiction - and it butchers English grammar. Where the book does succeed is in the art of storytelling. The book is believable as a collection of stories told by cowboys around some campfire. It's all tall tales from start to finish - entertaining enough, but I wouldn't recommend that Brooks & Dunn quit their day jobs. Unfortunately, it's too late for them to take my advice.

The Righteous Men by Sam Bourne
This is a fantastic thriller that plays nicely to religious conspiracies that follows Dan Brown's habit of blending historical and religious studies into a fictional tale. Unlike Brown, Sam Bourne doesn't pass off the fictional as true and doesn't make easily debunkable (and outlandish claims) as an insult to the church. The Righteous Men starts off like any good book - with murder. It doesn't stop there. Through the course of sixty some odd chapters there are another 35 murders, a kidnapping, torture, beatings, and some crazy religious rituals. The story blends ethics in journalism, a quasi-christian cult, an extreme Jewish sect, and an attempt to jump start Jesus' second coming. While it is predictable in parts, it largely keeps you in the dark as to who's really pulling the strings. My only gripe about the book is when the main character (a reporter for the New York Times) drives I-90 through Cd'A. The narrator states that Coeur d'Alene would be a "fascinating stop" because it's home to the Aryan Nations. It's a fail in two counts - 1: the Aryan Nations headquarters wasn't in Cd'A - but in nearby Hayden, and 2: the Aryan Nations had been shut down for 6 years by the time the book was published.

Biggie by Voletta Wallace
Supposedly, this book is Voletta's remembrance of her son the Notorious B.I.G. While it does shed some light on Biggie's life (although viewed through the rose colored glasses of a proud mother), it turns out to be more like Voletta's autobiography. It starts with her childhood in Jamaica, follows her to New York and chronicles her struggles as a single mother, teacher, and cancer survivor. The writing is simplistic, and occasionally harsh. Biggie's mom does reveal some unsurprising details of the life of Christopher Wallace before he became famous (like his fondness for food - says mom Wallace: "The name Biggie, he earned that."), but the narrative leaves out well known chunks of the trouble Biggie committed. She states that Big was out on the streets a lot, but never tells what he was doing. Perhaps this is a mother's naiveté, or it's willful ignorance. I suspect that Voletta is trying to build the most positive legacy possible for her murdered son.


And here's what's in my book stack (to be or in the process of being read)....

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
Red by Jack Ketchum
Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell (half finished)

9.07.2009

Brainwashing... Indoctrination... Terror!

Tomorrow, my son (like many other kids in Coeur d'Alene) is starting his first day of school. Elsewhere across the nation, President Obama will be addressing school kids on the nap-time channel (AKA: C-SPAN). There's been rumors and fear-mongering about the content of the Presidents speech. Some say that he will be force-feeding his political agenda on our kids, and the opposing side say that those that don't like the President are racist. I'm not ready to jump on either bandwagon, but there's got to be some truth out there.

First I must say, my kid is safe. I'm pretty sure they will not be airing the speech in Christian's pre-school class... and even if they did, the speech will be over by the time he gets there. I don't need to worry about opting out my son. But what about everybody else. Is there a valid reason to fear this message of setting goals and working hard?

Well, I've found it - the President's secret agenda. Buried in the Q&A section of the US Department of Education's website, I have found the true evil of this administrations purpose for speaking directly to our children.

Q: What is the speech about?
A: The goal of the speech... is to challenge students to set goals, work hard and stay in school.


(emphasis added)

There. That's the agenda. Stay in SCHOOL. And what kind of schooling is the president referring to? Public schools - a state funded public institution. Such a socialist. He wants our kids to stay in a socialist educational system. It's a system that takes money from the rich home owners and redistributes it to the poor - most of those students aren't even old enough to pay taxes. And some of those that are old enough don't even have jobs. They are just milking our hard earned tax dollars.

Oh, yes. There is much to fear. Our kids should give up on their dreams now.

And if you think I'm serious, you are probably one of those that are keeping your kids home tomorrow so that they won't be brainwashed by the President.

The real fear is that school budgets are being cut. And there are those out there who believe that schools should be stripped to the barest of academic basics. Kids are not the only ones who should stay in school. Parents need to be there. And so should the community. Please support your schools. It doesn't matter if you have kids enrolled or not. Investing in our schools is investing in the future of this nation. Go out at watch you local high school football team, or buy tickets to a school play. If you have the time - volunteer with a youth program. If you have the resources - donate. These young minds are the greatest resources this nation possesses.