Real life conversation

(as Lifesong by Casting Crowns plays in background, our worship pastor reviews plans for upcoming service with various members of the tech crew. Lifesong ends and another Casting Crowns song plays over the house speakers.)

Light Tech: Is the offertory a live song?

Worship Pastor: No. It's a song called
Fire Rain Down.

LT: I know what it's called. Is it a LIVE song.

(sheepish) Yes.*

* I have the utmost respect for our pastoral staff. However, they occasionally make me laugh, and they frequently show their humanity. In this Lifesong/Live song confusion, our worship pastor was able to laugh at his mistake. I suppose it is better to say stuff like that backstage than on stage.


PCSD: Post Christmas Stress Disorder

This year started with nothing out of the ordinary. Open stockings, family breakfast, the in-laws come over, open presents, Christian watched a movie while dinner was cooking, the girls took a nap, eat dinner. Nothing unusual.

After dinner, Bekah's dad went home. The kids played in the family room. And I disappeared upstairs for a little while to play my guitar. I anticipated Bekah and her mom to spend that time after dinner chatting. Well, they did chat... but Bekah also used that time to assemble the kid toys that the girls recieved for Christmas.

When I emerged from my room and peered down the stairs... it looked like Barbie barfed all over our living room.


Christmas music for the bah-humbug crowd

For some people, Christmas music has the tendency to spark that corner of the mind that triggers a mild form of temporary adult onset Tourette syndrome: excessive blinking, uncontrollable twitches, and random bouts of profanity. It is these people who fear the first sound of sleigh bells and “ho ho ho.” There are those like Marcus Kellis at the UI Argonaut who complains that Christmas music is nothing more than “the same songs year after year from the same performers.” Many true music fans (and I do consider myself a true fan of music) despise Christmas music; they believe that the soundtrack to the holidays is nothing short of atrocious.

I can empathize with them. During my days working at Old Navy, I dreaded the holiday shopping season. It wasn’t just the savage shoppers, slogging through tables of sweaters and rugby polos like Hurricane Santa. It was the awful Christmas music - think Bing Crosby meets the Macarena.

However, aside from the holiday music torture offered by stores like Old Navy, I typically enjoy Christmas music. Now, those of you that know me personally might find that to be a bit out of character – a hip-hop fan who grew up in a Seattle suburb at the height of grunge’s heyday. And I’m not a big holiday person. However, if it wasn’t for Christmas music, I don’t think I’d be able to cope with the Christmas season.

So, in an attempt of a small Christmas miracle, I am composing a list of those Christmas songs not often heard. Those kinds of songs that could make the hardest hearts grow three sizes, the music that I use to prepare me for what is supposed to be the most wonderful time of year. If you are a Scrooge (or Grinch) this list is for you.

Eager and hopeful yet melancholic. Jim Adkins (Jimmy Eat World's vocalist) admits his mistakes, but still wishes a merry Christmas to the girl he's wronged.

2000 Miles
Originally by the Pretenders and recently remade (with slightly altered lyrics) by Coldplay is about missing a loved one at Christmas. It is also an example of overstating the obvious in song: "2000 miles is very far through the snow. " Thank you Captain Obvious. I would have never figured that one out on my own. Aside from that statement, 2000 Miles is still a lovely song.

Blue Christmas
One of the most recognizable song on this list, Blue Christmas is also one of my favorite Christmas songs. It's been recorded by several different artists, but these three have the best versions: The King of rock & roll Elvis, bluesy rocker Sheryl Crow (who's recorded two different versions), and DIY indie rocker Bright Eyes

(Christmas Is) The Saddest Day Of The Year
Another song that blends loneliness and yuletide. For Jill Sobule, Christmas is filled reminders of a missing loved one.

Christmas Song
Most of us idealize the nativity with a cherubic baby Jesus with a halo above his head - the most peaceful baby in all recorded history. Dave Matthews (and frequent collaborator Tim Reynolds) sing what I think is more of an honest telling of the Christ child - "One healthy little giggling dribbling baby boy" who "Kept his mother Mary worried." Dave's song continues past the manger scene to tell the full story, a story filled with "Gamblers and Robbers, Drinkers and Jokers, all soul searchers like you and me." Like Dave's song, Jesus' birth is only the beginning of the story.

Happy Christmas (War is Over)
Another recognizable song. Although I think the only reason anyone knows this song is because of the singer who penned the lyrics: John Lennon. Since then Lennon's demise, many artists have re-sung "So this is Christmas, what have you done." Some versions work well (like the covers by Sense Field, Thrice, and Sarah McLachlan.), but most sound a bit pretentious.

Have It All
Isn't that every kid's Christmas wish - to have it all. And if not every kid's wish, then it is at least the wish of every true capitalist. Here, Ace Troubleshooter mocks that materialistic aspect of modern Christmases, "Squalor, impulse, crowding, 'tis the season." Yet what our culture has made profane still remains holy, and Ace Troubleshooter focuses there - "Though it's brazen and defiant, please be born in my heart."

Holiday Song (Happy Holidays)
One of my favorite songs on this list. Jason Martin (Starflier 59) begs a significant other to stay for the holidays in his trademarked brand of shoegazing blues-rock.

I Hate Christmas Parties
Matthew Thiessen says it all in the chorus of this anti-festive ballad: "I look under the tree, but there’s nothing to see, 'cause it’s a broken heart that you’re giving me."

If We Make It Through December
This is classic country, and classic pessimism. However, with today's economy, this 25 year old Merle Haggard song is more timely than any other on this list. While the songwriter asks "why my little girl don't understand why daddy can't afford no Christmas here" he believes that everything will be fine " If we make it through December."

In Like a Lion (Always Winter)
Relient K borrows some inspiration for this song from the Chronicles of Narnia - a place where it's always winter but never Christmas. C.S. Lewis would be proud.

In The Bleak Midwinter
Easily the oldest song on this list (written prior to 1872 and published in 1904). This is also the only hymn on the bah-humbug list. However, this beautiful hymn asks a simple (yet stunningly complex) question - "What can I give him, poor as I am." Both Jars of Clay & Sarah McLachlan have recorded a phenomenal version of this song.

Joey Had A Smoke
I always wondered what that conversation between Mary and Joseph was like after Mary was told by the angel that she was pregnant. My guess is that that conversations was slightly awkward. That's what Meg & Dia's song is about. And they do it from the perspective of a couple of modern day teenagers in an empty apartment.

Let Me Sleep
One of Pearl Jam's first fan club singles, Let Me Sleep is another of my favorite Christmas tunes. The chorus explains it all: "Oh when I was a kid, how magic it seemed, please let me sleep it's Christmas time."

My December
This song from Linkin Park really isn't a Christmas song, but I can't make it through the holidays with out hearing it at least once. Winter is my favorite season, and this song fits in with my preference for colder weather (not to mention the waist deep snow we have outside right now).

No Smiles on Christmas
Bleed the Dream's song seems true for too many people - Christmas doesn't hold any good memories. It' is kinda hard to look forward to Christmas when looking back is dismal.

Of Two Bearded Men
The two bearded men in this song are Jesus and Santa. This song by pop-punkers Number One Gun looks at what these two might think of the other.

Old Borego
Switchfoot is modern rock with a touch of intellect. Many of their lyrics would seem abstract without a basic understanding of classic liturature. In Old Borego, Switchfull describes their Christmas on the road as a Charles Dicken's poem.

The Only Gift That I Need
Dashboard Confessional seems to be the poster child for wearing you heart on your sleeve, and that tradition continues as Chris Carrabba sings of unrequited love as he has to wait till spring to get the only gift he needs. (hint: it's a girl)

Someday at Christmas
Stevie Wonder sings in his classic R&B style, Pearl Jam stays true to the original but adds a bit of distortion, and Remy Zero does their best U2 imitation. All singing a song (much like Lennon's War is Over) that longs for a utopian Christmas.

Sometimes You Have To Work On Christmas (Sometimes)
For a few years (between graduating high school and when Bekah and I got married) I had a tradition of going to the theater on Christmas day - after dinner of course. [Funny story, the year Tommy Steve and I went to see LOTR, a Boise news crew was out interviewing people coming in and out of the theater. I saw them coming for me, their cameras and microphones aimed at me like medieval weapons. I didn't feel like being on the evening news so I faked a cell phone conversation to avoid being interviewed.] Well, I spent six Christmases at the movies never thinking of the cineplex's employees - stuck working on Christmas. And that's what Harvey Danger's song is about - sung from the perspective of one of those poor souls who have to work on Christmas... in the theater. "The restaurants are closed. So are the record shops, the banks, and bars, and Bartel Drugs. And so's the half price bookstore. But the movies are always open."

What A Year For A New Year
More of a New Year's song than a Christmas song, Dan Wilson (of Semisonic) looks at the holiday season the same way we all should... a fresh start.

What We Call Christmas
When a song starts with the lyrics "Did they talk about your mom," no one expects a holiday message. However, Bleach pulls it off with a song about how hard Christmas can be for kids in broken homes and the parents (and step-parents) that try to make it all work.

What’s This
Some might consider Disney's Nightmare Before Christmas to be sacrilegious, others consider it classic. I'm in the latter group, and the music supplied by Danny Elfman is some of the most creative ever contributed to a Disney movie. In recent years, the Nightmare soundtrack has been remade twice with modern artists reinterpreting Danny Elfman's original songs. Out of the remakes, Fall Out Boy contributed my favorite version of What's This, a song sung from the perspective of someone who knows nothing about Christmas (but everything about Halloween) seeing the Advent festivities for the first time.

While You Were Sleeping
Casting Crowns is one of my favorites in the world of modern worship music. Time and time again their music not only draws you into worship, but also causes introspection. Definitely not worship music for the sheeple. Here they compare America to the Bethlehem and Jerusalem of Jesus' day.

Yule Be Sorry
Aaron Gillespie (UnderOath & The Almost) and Kenny Vasoli (The Starting Line) pair up for this song, which has a theme similar similar to the first song on this list. "Here I've made you a card, Not from the shelf, But straight from the heart, And here's what it says, I made some mistakes." Nobody's perfect, especially at Christmas.

That wraps it up. (Get it? Wrap? I know, I'm a nerd.) 26 songs roughly about 80 minutes worth of music sure to offset the absurd cheeriness of songs like Grandma Got Ran Over by a Reindeer. And if you're still feeling like a grinch, you should also check out Sixpence None the Richer's version of Thurl Racenscroft's You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.


Songs of cheer in inconvenient times

As I walked out of my office this afternoon, our receptionist was gazing out the basement window watching the snow accumulate. She turned away and walked toward me. When she saw me she shrugged, frowned, and shook her head in resignations. I could tell she was dreading her commute home.

I've been stuck teaching inside all day, and I've been eager to get outside and play. My melancholic tenancies + distaste for all things summer = I love snow. So our receptionist comes to say "hi" with a look of sadness on her face, and I'm on my way out the door excited to go home. I can't help but try to brighten her day.

"It's the most - Wonderful time... Of the year..." I began to sing. She rolled her eyes, but at least she smiled.

And suddenly I was reminded of another time when song sung in defiance of weather conditions brightened an otherwise dreary day. After graduating high school, I (along with a few of my friends) worked at a record store in Lake Stevens. During an evening shift, a strong wind storm slammed the Puget Sound area - knocking out power in many area homes. (I still have yet to understand why, but several people in the store to rent a video had no power at home.) But our store had power! So, with it cold outside, gusting winds, and no power for neighboring residents, our store was busier than normal.

Suddenly, at dusk, the store lost power. I was the lone cashier, a coworker was helping customers, and my best friend Jeff (also the assistant manager) was in the back room doing paperwork. The setting sun and windows across the front of the store barely lit the register area. The sales floor was darkening even quicker, and the windowless backroom was pitch black.

Poor Jeff had to blindly feel his way out of the backroom search for the exit, and fumble his way out to to store area. As he approached the cash registers, he began to sing. "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor..."

We closed the store early.


Tidbits: Oklahoma City edition

As we were getting ready this morning, Christian made a joke. And a funny one. And he's only four. When listing off who was in the room with him, he counted mommy and daddy, his sister Zuzu, his two cousins, and aunt... but he saved my brother till last. "And him," he said - pointing at Aaron, "He's my friend and he's BIG!"

Many of the eateries around Oklahoma City are (by outward appearance) scary, but none more frightening than a restaurant a few blocks away from our hotel. It's called Shorty Smalls. Aside from the redundant name, the outer decor was decidedly vaudevillian. The face adorning the Shorty Smalls sign looked like Danny DeVito in Big Fish. And (as if it couldn't get any worse) there was slogan painted in circus-themed font on the wall facing the main street: "We don't serve women, you have to bring your own."

This weekend, I have endured one of the worst hotel stays I can remember. There's a brief synopsis on HBO's wild card thread last night, but I will post the full story later.

I got to see three of my cousins whom I haven't seen in years (two I haven't seen since graduating in '97, the third I haven't seen in 15 years). The first time I met them, I spent a month visiting them in Kansas City. Their dad was a pastor at a small church and the four of us cousins buried a time capsule at their church. The Idea was that we would one day unearth it and see what we were like. I remember digging the hole, and burying the box, but I do not remember what we put in the box. That was sixteen years ago. Since then, they've gone over seas with their parents as missionaries, returned home, went to college, and became engaged and/or married to begin their own lives. I asked my cousin Al if they ever dug that box back up. He hasn't thought about that box in sixteen years but the moment I asked his face lit up. He knows EXACTLY where that box is buried. However, he doesn't remember what we stowed away in our time capsule.

The whole purpose of this trip was to help celebrate my grandparent's 60th wedding anniversary. These two people have left an incredible legacy for us grandkids to follow - one of selflessness, serving, sacrifice, kindness, generosity, and hospitality. Their love for each other continues to have a youthful vibrance that I find to be nothing short of inspiring. I have much more to say about these two wonderful people. I could probably write a book about them. But in the interest of time, I will say this: she reads this blog. When she first saw me yesterday, she told me she loves it. She's a fan, but I know she's a fan of all her grandkids. She is immensely proud of what we are all doing in our very different lives. She says she's amazed by us, but I am continually amazed by her.


Familiar faces

The other night, I picked up dinner at Taco Bell for Bekah. It was to-go (I generally try to avoid the drive through), and the kid at the cash register looked familiar. Since I didn't grow up around here, the only places where I could know a recognizable face are work and church. When he took my order, he confirmed my memory.

"Hey, did you used to work at...?" he asked.

I nodded my head.

"Still there?"

I nodded again. And I knew why his face looked familiar. He is one of those students you never forget.

In October/November of '05, I was teaching a night class that had several high school kids - this Taco Bell employee was one of those kids. It was a difficult class; it was split between school kids who were there because they had to have a job and adults who needed/wanted to work.

The future Taco Bell employee was in the class with two of his best friends. Individually, they were decent kids, but together they were tyrants - disruptive and rude during class, disrespectful of their coworkers. I had to give them corrective actions for their misbehavior and attitude. The worst came during a lunch break the last week of class.

A police officer stopped by my desk looking for one of my agents. The officers had completed a building wide search for the kid and could not find him. As his supervisor, I should know where he was at. I told them that the class was at lunch - the kid was probably off site. They let me know it was urgent that they talked to the kid - he had made a threat of bodily harm to himself or someone else - if he returned to class, I needed to call them immediately.

He returned from lunch an hour late. I called the officer, and all was OK; they found him and had a chance to talk things through. However, the kid didn't show up for work the next day. Another employee (also a high school student) told me that the kid had been arrested during school earlier that day.

Considering his performance, attitude problems, and his incarceration induced attendance issues, he terminated him. His friends finished class; one quit within a couple weeks and the other cleaned up his act and turned out to be a good employee.

Part of me is always curious about what happens to some of the employees after we let them go. For this agent, I assumed he would carry a little bitterness and anger toward me because I fired him. Surprisingly, I was wrong. Three years later, not only did this kid recognize me, but he remembered my name. When I answered his questions about my employment, he smiled.

"How are things going? Are you keeping busy?" He had a dozen questions. Then he gave me the back story that I normally don't get for former employees. He's back in school now - going to college for computer repair. He was upbeat, eager, and optimistic - a completely different person than I remembered.

I always hate firing people - it is my least favorite part of my job. Even in circumstances like this kid's where there is no good reason to maintain their employment, on some level I always feel bad for them.

This visit to Taco Bell was the highlight of my week. That kid's tenure in my class was a rough time in his life. It was good for me to know that what I knew to be a negative experience did not end up as dire as I imagined. All is well. Maybe I could learn a lesson from him.


All things change

Welcome to my new layout. The old one was starting to drive me crazy. Internet Explorer was being difficult (burying my profile, links, and archives at the bottom of the page) and I couldn't figure out how to fix it. Other than that, the all-black thing was getting old. Yeah, well you know, grey is my favorite color (I just felt so symbolic).

All things change, including my blogs. It's the same old random thoughts with a shiny new skin. I've also be rearranging one of my other blogs, What's Inside. (recently updated with a new post)

Keep checking back as the changes are still a work in progress. My own personal links are here, but I'm still working on the blogroll (feel free to drop a note if you have a site you'd like me to include). The spaces below my traffic counters (on the left and currently filled with gibberish) will be used, so be watching for that. Also - a big kudos to whoever noticed the shameless pop culture reference in this post.


guest-posting & technorati

My post today is really a guest contribution on my sister-in-law's blog. It's a splendid story from my hometown... And while you're there, dig through some of Miriam's older posts. She's a wonderfully quirky writer.

In other news, I've recently discovered that (according to technorati) my blog has a rank of 885,701. Not that it's really noteworthy, or something to feel special about. All I learned is that there are 885,700 blogs deemed (by technorati) more important than mine. Hooray!


The holiday diet

Weight loss plan, Day 1: 186 pounds.

Am I crazy for wanting to start losing weight during the holidays?