Five for Friday

I hope that everyone had a fantastic Thanksgiving and Black Friday. With those two days behind us, the Christmas season has officially begun. And I'm continuing my list. This week: the playable.

1. The Beatles Rock Band: I'm a fan of the Beatles' music, this is an easy and fun way to introduce my kids to their catalog. Actually, it could get them interested in music in general (beyond the theme songs to Superhero Squad or Scooby Doo)

2. Donkey Kong Country Returns: Back in the days of the SNES, I used to play Donkey Kong Country for hours. I think it's the first video game I ever beat on my own. You might call it nostalgia, I call it fun times.

3. GoldenEye 007: When I moved out of my parent's house and got my first apartment with a couple of friends, there were two consoles in our pad, my Playstation and Shane's N64. Out of our combined collection of games, the original GoldenEye 007 was easily the biggest time sucker. It's the game Shane and I spent Halloween night playing. Many consider the original as one of the greatest games of all time. The new version features new content and expanded game play. It might even be better than the first.)

4. Call of Duty: Black Ops: At this present moment, the games we have available consist of Mario Cart, a Go Diego Go game (for Christian), and Disney's Cars. I'm in desperate need for some grown up games. The COD titles are as good as it gets on the Wii in that arena.

5. Disney Epic Mickey: This might be a kid (ish) centric game, but the game play and concept is unique enough to make it worth the notice. Looks like something that I can enjoy with the kids and possibly use to lure Bekah into the virtual world.

honorable mention: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11: Ignoring Tiger's personal issues over the past year, EA's annual game with his name is easily the best golf game you'll find on any platform. Bekah and I killed an obscene amount of time on the X-Box trying to outplay/outdo each other during our first few years of marriage. She's got a competitive streak in her, and if we're going to compete against eachother - Tiger Woods Golf is better for our marital health than a game of RISK.

PS: We've had our Wii for a year, I'm puzzled we don't yet have these games: Wii Sports Resort, Wii Fit, New Super Mario Bros., and Chicken Riot.


Thanksgiving recap

In case you were too busy to follow along on Twitter (which I assume is all of you), here's a recap of how the day went. (note: @msforster is my sister-in-law)

6am - Awake. #possiblycrazy
7am - Axe mint shampoo: smells like you're rubbing toothpaste in your hair. But I kinda like it.
7am - Speaking of which, I'm out of the shower and every one is still asleep. Zu is usually up by now.
7:15 - Mmmm. Peanut butter cookie for breakfast. #yum
7:20 - Attempt number 2 to wake my wife. Bribing her with coffee.
7:21 - And she's awake (daughter not wife). Sending Zu in to wake up her momma.
7:30 - Bekah waking attempt number 4.
8:30 - Snow: shoveled. Kids: dressed (mostly). Dogs: pottied and on their way to the sitter in Rathdrum.
8:30 - Ps: Bekah woke up on the fifth attempt.
8:35 - @msforster aren't you supposed to be working?
8:36 - (from @msforster) @niccasey I got off way early! Which is good cause we haven't packed yet... #oops
8:40 - Christian is in time out until we leave #goodstart
8:55 - Father-in-law: "Ack! It's snowing." Should I tell him it's been snowing all morning?
9:15 - Last chance to potty.
9:30 - Leaving a half hour behind schedule. #normal
9:40 - I've got my Nos, Bekah is getting her Starbucks latte #humanfuel #fortheroad
9:55 - TSO's Carol of the Bells - awesome driving music.
10:10 - Cause for concern: we're following a car with California plates. #Californiadrivers
10:45 - Worley
10:55 - Muppets 12 Days of Xmas. We're laughing every time Piggy sings "5 golden rings"
Noon - Plummer to Moscow - difficult to tell where the ground ends and sky begins.
12:10 - Finally in Moscow.
12:15 - Picking up the sister & brother-in-law. While we're here... Pit stop.
12:16 - And change JJ's bootie. He pooped in Plummer and we've been breathing the fumes ever since.
12:20 - And it's snowing in Moscow.
12:45 - We're off. Again.
12:55 - Pray for the car. Please no engine failures.
1:30 - Road conditions on the Lewiston grade: much better than expected. Hopefully it stays that way until after we've left town.
1:40 - Directions from Cd'A to Lewiston: drive south til you smell it.
2:20 - Sign of the apocalypse: a Geo Tracker with a snowplow attachment.
2:35 - Just finished mashing the thickest batch of mashed potatoes in human history. #stickypotatoes
3:15 - Bekah's grandma has a bookshelf full of books on Idaho history. Fascinating.
3:25 - I've been hungry all day. Now that it's dinner time, I'm no longer hungry. Weird.
3:45 - "No, Momma. Don't tell. Don't be thankful." things my daughter says.
5pm - Having an after-dinner tickle fight with my daughter. This is how we celebrate holidays. #guesswhoiswinnig
6:15 - I'm 20% into The Passage. The kids are settling down for a bed-time movie. Bekah's older sis has crashed for a nap (possibly for the night).
7:10 - It's Wii time.
7:30 - Wii bowling says "nice spare." Wife says "nice spare tire."
8:05 - Mom-in-law to my wife "let me try (Wii golf) I can't make your score worse."
8:15 - I beat Bekah at bowling by 2. Beat her at golf by a lot. We should play video games together more often.
8:25 - Now my mother-in-law us Wii bowling. Epic. Wish I had a video camera.
8:45 - Black flyday: what Bekah's mom calls black Friday.
9pm - Back to reading. Then I think I'll call it a day.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.



(colleague returning from a smoke break)

"Sheesh, it's colder out there than it is in here."

editor's note: isn't that the way it's supposed to work?


Goodbye Superman

My dad didn't talk much about his childhood. The stories I heard about him growing up were few and far between. I knew he loved muscle cars and was bored with Kansas. I knew his older sister was the perfect student and he was a bit of a rebel.

But there was much I didn't know. I didn't know what it was like for him to grow up in the 50s, or to be a teenager in the 60s. I knew very little of what kind of parents his parents were to him and his sisters.

Sure, I did hear a few "I was your age once" talks. But the end result was less "I know what you're going through" and more "don't repeat my mistakes." As little as I knew the childhood version of my father, my understanding of the younger version of his father was unsubstantial.

Realistically, my vision of Grandpa Casey is more myth than man. With my grandparents living in Oklahoma and my family in Seattle, I didn't often get to see them. I know he served in the military, but he didn't talk much about his days in the war. He was a mechanic and a trucker who had driven every mile of interstate highway in the continental 48 states. He would stop and visit every time he had a delivery in western Washington and I remember staring up in wonder at the size of the tires on his big-rig. He wore a cowboy hat, had a handlebar mustache, and grew chops that could make Elvis jealous. As a seventy year old man, he was in better physical shape than I was at twenty. Even in his retirement Grandpa continued to work out of his garage, fixing engines, welding metal art projects and iron gates.

With my limited grasp on my grandfather the person, I've created a superman image in my head. That he was a man's man - the definition of manliness. That he was made of steel, could bend iron bars with his bare hands, and knock down brick walls.

Of course, this mythological construct was fueled by the one and only story my dad told of life with Grandpa.

My dad was about the age my son is now. Grandpa was napping on the couch in their home. My dad thought his dad was invincible and wanted to test that theory. So, dad took a clothes pin, crept up to his sleeping father, and stabbed Grandpa's arm with the clothes pin.

This story and my rare interactions with Grandpa made him Superman in my eyes. Then I found out he had cancer.

Radiation seemed to be helping. He was strong; I was sure he'd be a survivor. A year passed. He was fragile but still with us. He continued to make efforts in his garage workshop.

Before starting his treatment, Grandpa and Grandma celebrated their 60th anniversary. Bekah and I packed up the kids and traveled out to Yukon Oklahoma to celebrate with them. Grandpa drove us to the airport to drop us off when it was time for us to go home. He helped us unload our bags and get everything to the ticket counter.

Zu (who was almost 2 at the time) interrupted his walk back to his car. "Gampa," she shouted, "WAIT!" Grandpa stopped and turned around. Zu ran from the ticket counter, across the airport lobby, out the doors to the passenger drop off area where Grandpa was waiting by his parked car. He squatted down in time to receive her embrace. Zu wrapped her arms around Grandpa and had one thing to say: "I love you."

I walked up behind her to carry her back to get our tickets and head through security. As I picked her up, I said one last goodbye to Grandpa and I could see he was choking back tears - trying not to show his emotions.

We were back in Oklahoma four weeks ago to say goodbye one last time. He recently he went into the hospital for surgery on some benign masses. One surgery turned into two surgeries and instead of going back home, he stayed at the hospital with complications.

I don't want to complain about his fight with cancer being unfair. Fairness is such a subjective ideal. Sickness is a matter that plagues the noble and the corrupt. For me, Grandpa's battle with cancer didn't make sense. This strong man - this manliest of mankind - succumbing to sickness, now laying weak in a hospital bed. I never imagined his last days would be like this. It may be irational, but I always thought Grandpa would go in a car crash or some improbable accident. My logical mind couldn't rationalize how this superman could fall to such irreparable frailness.

We went to visit him at the hospital three times while we were in Oklahoma. The first night, Bekah and I went to see him with my cousin. We stayed for a while, holding his hand while he drifted in and out of sleep. When awake, he kept staring at me, tears in his eyes, and the closest thing to a smile his diminished strength would allow.

"That little girl of yours..." he told me. He recounted the story of Zu's emotional farewell at the Will Rogers World Airport two years earlier. The one thing he needed to tell me was how much he loved my daughter. Not the time I lost a sock in his semi cab somewhere on the roads between Cheyenne and Yukon. Not his visit to Seattle for my high school graduation. Not the drive up White Bird Pass in the snow two days before my wedding. No marital advice. No life lessons. Just the knowledge that my daughter was important in his life.

And the peace given - intentional or not - that if my daughter's life held such an impact in the one time he had ever seen her, then how important was my life in the few times he had seen me?

While in Oklahoma, my dad and I stood by the Survivor Tree at the Oklahoma City National Memorial and had what is possibly one of the realest conversations I've ever had with my father. He acknowledged that Grandpa was going soon. Dad said that we take pictures to remember what must never be forgotten. Between the two of us, we got some valuable pictures. Of Grandpa holding JJ's hand. Of Zu giving Grandpa a kiss. Of my niece playing her cello in a private concert for Grandpa. Of the family together to remember Grandpa's life and to bid him farewell.

This morning, Grandpa's fight ended. Superman went home.


Continuing the list

While I was growing up, my parents would make me hand-write a wish list every Christmas. This exercise was part torment as I hated writing. But there was an upside.

One of my aunts worked at JC Penny. Because of her employment, my parents' rules for my wish list was that every item had to be available in the annual JC Penny Christmas Catalog. As much as I dreaded the prospect of putting pen to paper, thumbing through the catalog was one of my favorite holiday traditions.

I'm not sure if it was the crisp feel of the new glossy pages, the smell of ink, or the pipe-dream wonder of all the toys that could (but likely would not) be mine. Clothes, toys, video games, random swag... all of it cooler than what I all ready possessed. It was the candy store of my childhood imagination. By junior high, I realized that I had (roughly) a 2.7% chance of finding something from that list wrapped under the tree on Christmas morning. Yet my parents continued to subject me to the ritual of writing that list with the same arbitrary regulations until I moved away.

As special as that catalog might be considered, it had one flaw: no books. That is where part 2 of my grown-up Christmas list is headed: the readable. Books I long to read and would love to add to my book shelves. (ps: This list was too epic for my typical Five for Friday posts, so you get it on a Saturday.)

Donald's account of his personal search for faith
Essays and stories about the relationship between suffering and creativity

A collection of observations of the horror genre from a Supernatural Liturature class King taught at the University of Maine

4. The Hip-Hop Church: Connecting with the Movement Shaping Our Culture by Efrem Smith and Phil Jackson
A look at how hip-hop has impacted the modern church and what the church can do to engage hip-hop culture

5. Decoded by Jay-Z
The stories behind many of Jay-Z's songs and his perspectives on the music industry

6. The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons
A challenge for Christians to be "provoked, not offended; creators, not critics; called, not employed; grounded, not distracted; in community, not alone; and countercultural, not relevant"

7. Spiritual Journeys by various authors and contributors of Relevant Magazine
A profile on the lives of 12 musicians (Johnny Cash, Moby, Wyclef Jean, etc.) and their relationships with God

8. Giving by Bill Clinton
The former president's challenge to change the world through the giving of our time and resources

9. Gazelles, Baby Steps And 37 Other Things Dave Ramsey Taught Me About Debt by Jon Acuff
The financial lessons of Dave Ramsey told through the satirical wit of the author of Stuff Christians Like

10. Hipster Christianity by Brett McCracken
A warning against altering the message of the gospel in an attempt to make the church cool



Career Choices

My two older kids have made their decisions. Their path into adulthood has been selected. Zu told Bekah, "When I grow up, I wanna be a doctor." Her reasoning? Zu thinks that if she's a doctor, she'll be able to help JJ get better. With JJ's medical history and inevitable potential for future hospitalizations, Zu's sentiment is as noble as it is ambitious.

But Zu isn't the only child in our house with lofty employment ideals. When asked what he wanted to be, Christian responded, "It doesn't matter what kind of job I have when I grow up because I'm going to be a superhero."

Where's a good fairy when you need one?

It has happened. And if you can't tell from the picture, Christian is excited like a can of gasoline tossed onto a bonfire.
He has lost his first tooth (look for the dark gap in the bottom half of his cheeky grin).

Good Morning Daddy!

JJ's caught some sort of a bug in tandem with another asthma flare. Bekah stayed up with him last night to monitor his breathing - hoping not to need the assistance of a trained professional. She gave up that battle shortly after 11pm. At 11:30 she roused me from my slumber and asked me to help her get JJ ready to make a trip to the ER. After getting JJ changed from his t-shirt and shorts PJs into something more winter appropriate, Bekah told me to go back to bed and left for the hospital.

I was awake for another hour before migrating back to the bedroom, tuned the TV to something on Investigation Discovery, and drifted into dormancy around 1am. A half hour later, I was startled into consciousness with a slap and a laugh. It seems the ER doctors pumped JJ full of steroids or some other stimulant and discharged him.

Upon his return home, JJ was ready to party. He shouted "Dada!" ran down the hall, burst into mommy and daddy's bedroom, ran up to my side of the bed, and slapped me with all the force his two year old arm could muster. My reactive scare back into the land of the living proved to be entertaining as JJ stood there and laughed at his dazed and confused father. Bekah entered the bedroom behind JJ, but not in time to prevent his torturous assault. She let me know they were home and dragged JJ out of the bedroom. For the next few minutes, all I could hear outside my bedroom door was the maniacal laughter and energetic shrieks of my toddler coming off of a medication high. Thanks KMC.

Elsewhere in the Blogosphere

And speaking of the kids, my wife has a new post up on her blog. Go show her some blogging love. (you know you want to)


Five for Friday: beginning my Christmas list

Halloween has past and Thanksgiving is hunting us down like a delusional turkey. That means the holiday shopping season is creeping into every corner of the retail world. Toss in the random fact that I heard my first radio Christmas song and the Holiday cheer is nearly unavoidable.

So, in that spirit, I'm posting the first of my grown up Christmas lists. Part one: the wearable.


Death and all her friends

Zu has always been a bit insecure. Part of it may be a result of spending a summer away from our home when she was 1. It is possibly a result of being an adopted child. And genetics might bear part of the blame.

She is empathetic to a degree not found in many adults. She feels the pain of others. When you’re sad, she’s sad. She is the girl going out of her way to brighten the world around her. Yet you add that insight to the other feelings endured by typical three year olds (temper tantrums, testing boundaries, feeling picked on by older siblings, impulses to eat things that are not edible), what you find is a girl struggling to express her emotions.

Along with the empathy, there is a deep bond with Bekah and me. I treasure this attachment, but it bellies Zu’s battle with insecurity. We cuddle with her, but she always begs for more time cuddling. She longs to be wherever we (the adults) are located. Zu she dreads the time of day where we leave for work or drop her off for school and she celebrates our return as we walk through the front door.

The mornings have become routine enough to be predictable. Zu is an early riser and is often awake before my alarm buzzes. She will greet me in the hall or the living room as I slog out of my bedroom. While I am preparing to leave for work (usually at the moment I get on my shoes or or pull my coat around my shoulders) we have the same conversation - nearly identical word-for-word - every morning.

“Daddy, where are you going today?”
“To work.”
“Please don’t go.”
“I have to, baby.”
“But I’ll miss you.”
“I’ll miss you too, love.”

This concept of missing me (or missing Bekah) is a common theme for Zu. I get home from work and "I missed you" are the first words I hear. She will tell Bekah “I missed you” when Zu gets home from school. Bekah and I will go out for dinner or a movie, leaving the kids with their grandparents, and Zu will let us know she missed us when we return. I always thought of this as how Zu expresses love or that it was her showing tenderness for the people that she cares about. That is sweet and endearing. But there is another cause for her concern: fear.

It was recently brought to our attention that she is scared of losing us. We never thought about it, but now that we know… it makes sense.

Since returning from Oklahoma, her insecurities have become more noticeable. She follows me around the house as I’m getting ready for work in the mornings and she cries when Bekah drops her off for school. She acts out if we leave the house - even if it is to run to the grocery store, or take out the trash. Whatever behaviors existed before our trip are now more pronounced. She’s acting out of fear.

When we were told that she is afraid of Bekah and/or me dying, my heart broke. The way Zu described it, she doesn't like it when we leave her somewhere because she is scared that we will die and not ever come back for her. This beautiful and wonderful child constantly living in fear; something about it feels wrong. No preschooler should be so equally adorable and somber. No kid should have to worry about such heavy topics like death and grievous emotional loss.

I'm not exactly sure how to help her. I'm not even sure I possess enough compassion to heal those wounds. In most moments, she is a normal, hyper, lovable, and playful little girl. But it's in those seconds as I open the front door, the instant that I must go, it is then that she needs me the most.