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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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?"


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.


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.


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:


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.


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.
“Can I talk to you, Daddy?”
“Can I talk to you, Daddy?”
“Can I talk to you, Daddy?”
“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!”
“Who is my little Zu Bear?”
“I am!”
“Who is Jon Stewart?”
“I am!”

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.”
“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.”