Thursday, December 31, 2009

Good riddance to bad rubbish

So here we are. It's New Year's Eve. I work today but at least I work during the day thanks to someone at work taking pity on my soul and trading with me. Good friends old and new are scheduled to arrive for NYE festivities tonight and I'm excited about that. I still have to put the NYE playlist together on my iPod, but I should have time after work to do that. It should be a fine cap to a year that by almost all accounts could have been much better.

"Good riddance to bad rubbish"
is something I always remember my dad saying when I was growing up and I can think of no more fitting phrase as we get ready to say goodbye to 2009. I'm fond of saying to Heidi that apart from our westward vacation this summer and her books getting published, 2009 was one of the worst on record. Like most things in life, that's an overgeneralization and doesn't strictly apply, but when I look back at the last year, I can't help but think "good riddance to bad rubbish."

Certainly, there were good things, but it seemed like for every good thing, there was something massively sucky. 2009 was the year that we saw one of our (much younger than us) good friends walk just a little too closely to death's door. My wife spent the first half of 2009 fighting a mystery ailment which saw her in almost constant chronic pain and while it at least has a name now, she still has her good days and her bad days. The economy, while recovering, is still in the shitter for the most part. Our car defined "rise of the machines" as we ended up doing about 3000 bucks worth of repairs on it over the last 12 months. Most of it was scheduled maintenance to keep us from having to buy a new car, but still. And despite all my effort to pay down a significant portion of our credit card debt, we have a bit more at year's end than we started with.

It would be easy to sit and wallow in the bad but as this year comes to an end, I'm going to do my damndest to focus on the positive. Almost all the crap events of the last year have a silver lining, and while I'm not going to be all Pollyana about it, I am going to choose to focus on the positive.

I don't do resolutions - they just set you up for failure - but exciting changes are afoot in 2010. I'm going to start preliminarily looking at board certification although in exactly what I haven't decided. It probably won't happen in earnest until 2011, but looking at the web site makes me think I need to start the wheels turning now. I have not done anything outside of the required continuing education to keep my license current to really further my career since I graduated and this seems like a logical next step. And as per my usual at this time of year, I am going to continue to redouble my efforts to pay down credit card debt, especially in light of what looks like the loss of the great promo rate we have right now (although you can bet your last dollar that I'll be negotiating that come March.)

But for now, let's bring on the party. Just because 2009 was not the greatest doesn't mean that we can't have a little fun at year's end.

Back tomorrow with some highlights from this year's blogging. But for now, let's have some ABBA, because they almost always make things better.

Friday, December 25, 2009

In which I didn't get 3rd degree burns in my crotch

Well, Christmas 2009 has come and gone - it was a good one around here. Usually it's just the three of us and the 5 cats, but this year, my wife's sister Hillari was here for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Heidi really liked having her here because (as was previously mentioned) I worked. It was a double-win because she had invited the Central Iowa Authors NaNoWriMo group up tonight. Although it was certainly not for lack of trying, they weren't able to navigate the icy roads between here and Des Moines, so that was pretty much a bust. The plus side is that they are all invited to New Year's now.

The morning before I got to work was laid back and non-stressful which is how Christmas morning should be. We got up at the crack of dawn and opened presents and all that good stuff and we had a good hot breakfast as well. There was the small trifle of snowblowing the driveway and although there were only a couple inches of snow, it was the wet and heavy snow that likes to gum up your snowblower. Pushing against it with the snowblower also gets tricky as it is so heavy you frequently have to take smaller cuts through the snow in order to move it. What I thought would take 30 minutes was more like an hour but it was done so I couldn't complain.

I came in and got a cup of coffee and sat down with Anna who was watching Barbie: A Christmas Carol. Call me crazy, but those Barbie movies are actually pretty good for young girls and Anna enjoys the hell out of them. As is my custom when I sit down in that chair, it wasn't long before my eyelids started drooping and I was weaving in and out of consciousness. There I sat, not quite conscious and holding a half-full cup of coffee in my lap. I should have know that this was a recipe for disaster.

It didn't take long for me to doze off to such an extent that I lost muscle tone and my hands let go of the coffee cup. It tipped over and started spilling all over my pants and the chair. I woke up with a start, half convinced I'd lost more than just muscle tone, but it didn't take me long to figure out it was coffee. Had that coffee been just out of the pot, I shudder to think what might have happened.

Fortuanately, it had cooled quite a bit and was not a threat. I'm fine but I do have a good idea of what it must feel like to wet your pants.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy happy joy joy

It's 2 days till Christmas and we're due to get ice, rain, thunderstorms, and heavy snow all before Saturday. The next thing you know, there'll be a tornado. Anyway, I work Christmas this year which always causes this outpouring of grief and sympathy from people but really, I haven't worked it since 2006 so it really is my turn. And I do have the weekend off so no big deal.

So since the weather it so much crap, I took advantage of the last day at home and finally watched "The Post-Modern Prometheus," a 5th season episode of The X-Files. It had been built up by many an X-Phile, so I was half waiting for it to be disappointingly underwhelming, a victim of my own lofty expectations. I am happy to say that nothing could be further from the truth. It was everything I love about The X-Files - intriguing, unpredictable and a little bit scary. While the mythology arc of The X-Files is endlessly fascinating to me, sometimes it's these one-off episodes that stand out the most.

For those that don't know, "The Post-Modern Prometheus" is an homage to the Frankenstein story. Frankenstein's Monster is, in this case, The Great Mutato. He is the product of genetic experimentation gone horribly awry and as a result, he has been hidden away from the rest of the townspeople. All he wants is a mate, someone to be wih and to spend his life with. The pursuit of that goal, through some rather questionable tactics, is what leads Mulder & Scully to town.

This episode shines because of strong writing and the strength of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in their roles. Anderson, as Scully, is always the skeptic, the foil to Mulder's unfailing belief. At one point in the episode, Scully asks "Is there anything you don't believe in, Mulder?" which he (wisely) never answers. Additionally, Cher plays a rather substantial role in the story, after we find out that The Great Mutato is a huge fan of Cher's, based upon her portrayal of Rusty Dennis in Mask.

I've mentioned in previous X-Files posts that Mulder & Scully are always written so serious and the characters always have to play it so straight that when they do get a chance to be funny or let their hair down a bit, it's jarring at first and then such a relief. We don't get quite the "funny" in this episode that we got in "Detour" or "War of the Coprophages," as the subject matter of the episode doesn't really lend itself to comedy. Instead, what we get is joy and happiness that is also frequently denied the viewers when watching Mulder & Scully. Mulder especially, never seems to smile, and Scully is equally serious. But at the end of "The Post-Modern Prometheus," you get a glimpse this. Mulder & Scully inexplicably take The Great Mutato to a Cher concert (a lookalike playing in the tiniest venue EVER), and while the excitement and joy in The Great Mutato is obvious, you can see it in our intrepid FBI agents as well - especially Mulder. Have a look:

I love how much he is smiling in this photo. And then, many X-Files fans probably got what they wanted when Mulder asks Scully to dance. I still don't buy the sexual tension between them - I mean, yes, it's there, but it feels almost incestuous.



The only way this episode could have been improved is if the producers had gotten their original wish and had Roseanne Barr and Cher cast in the episode. Both declined citing scheduling conflicts, although I remember reading somewhere that Cher regretted not appearing in the episode. The song placement felt oddly like a commercial for Cher's It's A Man's World album, but since the episode aired a full year and a half after the release of that album, we can chalk that up to me being cynical.

One of the all-time best episodes.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Best of 2009: Songs of the year

(Edit: The title of this post is fixed. Apparently, I don't know what year we're living in. I'm ready for the nursing home. Thanks to Mike for pointing this out.)

I was going to post this list a little bit at a time, but time has slipped away from me so you're getting it all at once. This year's "songs of the year" post has 18 songs and the overriding theme is definitely "familiarity." 2009 is going to go down in history as a year that I really did not find any new artists to follow. So much of 2009 really sucked, and taking solace in the new songs of tried-and-true, familiar artists was kind of the sonic equivalent of comfort food. There are some new acts on here, but mostly, you can tell that it's a very Dan list. Which it pretty much is EVERY year.

This is long and I've tried to keep my comments brief. As usual, in no particular order.

"Celebration" / Madonna
The lyrics could have been written by an eight year-old and it left my friend Jeff and me asking the question "do we really need another Madonna song telling people to get on the dance floor?" But it also wiped that nasty Hard Candy taste right out of my mouth and provided a good look back while giving a glimpse of what may be yet to come.

"Shining Light" / Annie Lennox
One of two new songs on Annie Lennox's best-of CD from earlier this year, it plays like an Annie Lennox original even though it's a cover. She's a perfect fit for this song.

"Method
of Modern Love" / Saint Etienne
One of the first songs I heard in 2009 and I'm still playing it like it I just heard it yesterday. A killer hook in the chorus coupled with a brilliant bridge (which even SPELLS!) assured this a spot on the year end list before we even got to February.

"Stuck on Repeat" / Little Boots

I mostly don't like Little Boots. I maintain that if I want to listen to Kylie, I'll listen to Kylie and not a pale imitation of Kylie. That said, "Stuck On Repeat" is a song that lived up to its title this summer.

"Love Comes" / Bananarama
It's not rocket science, but who says it has to be? I maintain that the ladies in Bananarama have the most generic voices in pop music, yet somehow, you can always tell it's them. Their 2009 album Viva followed in the direct footsteps of its predecessor Drama, but considering the strength of that record, that was a very good thing indeed.

"Man In The Mirror" / Casey Stratton

Of all the covers of Michael Jackson songs that came out in the aftermath of his unexpected death this year, this was far and away my favorite. It doesn't hurt that "Man In The Mirror" is one of my favorite MJ songs, but Casey manages to put his unique stamp even though his version is nearly a note-for-note remake of the original. What's most impressive is that every voice on that recording is Casey's. You can download it here for free (and guilt-free).

"Strange" / Reba McEntire
I went through a brief Reba McEntire phase about 15 years ago but after the Read My Mind album, I really lost interest outside of a few songs here and there. I don't know what possessed me to listen to this new Reba song when I hadn't liked a song of hers in so long, but I'm glad I did. It hearkens back to mid-90s Reba and is it just me but are country artists the only ones still bothering with clever videos any more?

"If Not Now Then When" / Basia
Man, I love Basia. I have tried to explain it, but I've given up. There's just something about her cheeseball music that effortless blends smooth jazz, bossa nova and pop. "If Not Now, Then When" could have easily fit on any of her albums, but it's so nice to have new material from her, we'll cut her some slack for lack of artistic growth.

"Main Event" / RuPaul

Seriously, the only way this song could be better is if it were a cover of Barbra Streisand's "The Main Event." Still, it's a great dance floor anthem with a liberal serving of (melo)drama thrown in for good measure.

"One of Those Days" / Joshua Radin
I'm not usually a fan of the breathy male singer/songwriters. Mostly, they just annoy me. But I got "One of Those Days" for free thanks to a Starbucks download of the week card, and I liked it so much I bought the rest of the album. It rapidly became one of the most listened to songs on my iPod last February and March.

"Riding the Crest" / a-ha

I found a-ha's latest album Foot of the Mountain to be a bit spotty, but it had some great songs on it. What I love about this song is how it is like "Celebration" in that it simultaneously captures a-ha's 80s sound while sounding current as well. So it's retro, but it's not. Regardless, it's top notch.

"Sing (Pete Hammond Radio Edit)" / Wynonna Judd
Much like the Pete Hammond remix of Alphabeat's "Boyfriend," I would have never heard of this song had it not been for Robbie over at Chartrigger. I always knew that Wynonna had the gay dance diva in her. More please!

"Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most" / Barbra Streisand

The most sedate of all the songs on this list, but Streisand still sings the hell out of it. I like the song no matter who is singing it, but I'm not crazy about the album in general (I won't be listening to it in 4 years like I still am Guilty Pleasures) but it's good for what it is.

"Alejandro" / Lady Gaga
I finally caved on Lady Gaga late this year. While the jury is still out on whether or not she's the "new Madonna," she's definitely doing the Madonna schtick quite well. With it's vaguely Ace of Base-ish quality, this Lady Gaga song edged out "Bad Romance" for a spot on this list.

"The Sailor Song" / The Gadsdens

A song from actually late 2007 makes the list because it finally got a proper single release in November of 2009. Driving and urgent and in a minor key to boot, it is great British pop from an exciting new voice.

"Hopes & Fears" / Will Young
My wife was obsessed with (as Paul from FizzyPop!! refers to him) Sir William of Young this fall when she was writing Double Blind, and this new song from his hits collection ranks as one of his best. And forget what I said about clever videos only coming from country artists.

"Pattern Of My Life" / Annie Lennox

I couldn't decide which of the two new Annie Lennox songs this year to include on this list so I just decided to include both. Like "Shining Light," this song is also a cover (of a Keane B-side!) but Annie once again completely makes the song her own. A good introspective song that appealed even to my 8 year-old.

"Million Dollar Bill" / Whitney Houston
And when I say "Million Dollar Bill," I am specifically referring to the Freemason's Club Mix of "Million Dollar Bill." Really, it was one of my favorite remixes of the year. I wish that Whitney's comeback had been more successful - I have always maintained that if anyone deserved a Mimi-like comeback, it's Whitney. Maybe, as someone else pointed out, there just isn't room for divas any longer, now that we prefer our celebrities of the YouTube and reality star variety. Nonetheless, a stellar track from a solid album.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The next best thing to being there

I know I said that I bought a snowblower with all the extra hours I worked working overnights last week. As it turns out, once Uncle Sam took his part, it didn't quite cover the cost of it. But really, like I'm going to work my ass off like that AND screw up my circadian rhythms and NOT do something nice for myself. Yeah right.

Fortunately, the perfect splurge presented itself Tuesday. As was well documented, I missed Kylie Minogue's very brief but hugely successful North American tour in October. Well, the New York show was recorded for posterity and has been released as a live digital album! Sadly, there is no DVD in the works. A DVD would be perfect as her shows, much like Madonna's, are at least half about the spectacle of the show.

It's kind of funny, I didn't even think twice about spending the money even though I have at least 4 live Kylie shows in my iTunes library - those being Kylie Fever 2002: Live in Manchester, Showgirl: The Greatest Hits Tour, Showgirl: Homecoming and KylieX2008: Live at the O2. A couple of these are admittedly audio rips of the DVD, but Kylie has been most generous throughout her career by providing fans with numerous live albums.

At first glance, Live in New York seems like a rip off. Kylie's tour of North America is kind of an amalgam of her last few tours, taking the best parts of each of them, throwing in some new costumes and a few new arrangements and calling it a new tour. Most if not all of the songs sound identical to the other tours. So what makes it worth buying over and over again?

Well, to be honest, it's Kylie. She takes what is arguably a paper thin voice and puts it to good use. All the hits are there as well as many fan favorites. She interacts with the audience in a way that we Madonna fans can only dream of. She is so joyous and excited to be singing, as if 20 years on, she still can't believe this is happening to her. So it's always worth it. Every. Single. Time.

I hope it doesn't take another 20 years for Kylie to tour North America. Listening to this CD makes me want to hook up my Region 0 DVD player and watch KylieX2008 right now, but really, I have to get to bed.

Best of 2009: Time warp

As has been my tradition the last couple of years, I wanted to do a post that highlighted some of the stuff that really became part of the soundtrack of the year while not having the good fortune of being released this year. Sometimes it's stuff that I've newly discovered, sometimes it's recently rediscovered - it really doesn't matter. The funny thing is that the list seems to keep shrinking - the first year I did it, it was 5 albums. Last year, it was 4 albums. This year, it's two songs and an album.

"Reverse Psychology" / Laura Branigan

I don't even remember how I happened upon this song. It's from the late Laura Branigan's self-titled 1990 album, an album that came long after Branigan had stopped having hits. The song is hopelessly dated and, as one reviewer pointed out, sounds like it could have played over the credits of any 80s romantic comedy. Both points are accurate, but they say them like they're a bad thing. This song went into incredibly heavy rotation on my iPod in late May/early June of this year. I was drawn in by the cheeseball late 80s synths and incredibly hooky chorus. (which you can hear for yourself in the iTunes snippet) And besides, any song that can use the words "reverse psychology" in the lyrics, let along use them as crucially as this song does, gets bonus points from me. It has enjoyed a year-end renaissance as well as it's usually the first song I listen to on my walk into work each day.

"What's He Got?" / Graham Coxon

I had no idea who Graham Coxon was the night that one of my friends from high school referred to a mutual friend as a "Graham-Coxon look alike" on Facebook. I had to go and find out if there really was a resemblance (there was), and much like "Reverse Psychology," exactly how I stumbled across this song I still can't quite recall. The thick British accent over witty lyrics is what does it for me on this song. I loved this song so much that I went through and listened to samples of other songs of Coxon's. To my great surprise, I have found no other song of his that I really like. All the songs I've heard appear to lack the playfulness and great melody present in "What's He Got?" Although I am warming a bit to "Sorrow's Army" from his latest album, it's no "What's He Got?"

Boston / Boston

I owe this year's fascination with Boston to my friend Matt, who is a pretty big Boston fan. He and his friend Lance do a weekly podcast and one of the topics early in the year was "Timestamp Songs" and he mentioned Boston's "Foreplay/Long Time" as one of his. One thing you should know about Matt is that even though both of us are passionate about music, we have maybe a 5% overlap in musical taste. This has actually been a good thing because he's gotten a chance to appreciate the finer points of Madonna's album tracks, and he's contributed pretty much every a cappella song in my iTunes library. Anyway, Boston has always existed for me much like it does for most people - we all know "More Than A Feeling," "Don't Look Back," and "Amanda." My biggest exposure to Boston was via KGGO radio when I went to Iowa State in the early 90s. It seemed like every other song was a Boston song. So when I finally got around to purchasing Boston's debut album this summer, it was almost as if I had heard the whole thing before. Having memories associated with songs you've never heard before can be a bit trippy.

For me, Boston typifies the whole KGGO/classic rock experience, one that I have a love/hate relationship with. I do really like a lot of it, but being 18 and having KGGO blaring out of every dorm room on the floor was one of the first moments in my life that I can recall thinking "hey, the music you like is not what most guys like!" It has taken me years to stop being embarrassed of my musical choices and even now there are still vestigial remnants of it in spite of my I-don't-give-a-shit attitude when it comes to what most people think.

Boston's place on this list was sealed on our trip west this summer. Nothing warmed my heart more than driving through the Rocky Mountains with Anna sitting next to me singing the chorus to "Rock & Roll Band" at the top of her lungs. (Heidi was in the back seat of the car trying not to freak out about the mountain roads.)

All three of these things speak to a big part of why I love pop music so much - it seems like every song reminds me of SOMETHING. There was one weekend at work during which we were listening to the radio and it seemed like every song that came on, I had a story for it. It's why I write about it so much, and why the oldies really do hold a firm grip on me.

But the rest of the lists will be about stuff from this year. I'm not old and crotchety yet!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Break's over

As the lifeguards at the Carroll Rec Center would say, "BREAK'S OVER!" After taking it easy on the blog for the first half of December, I will be back tonight with the first of my 2009 best-of posts. There will probably be about 3 or 4 of them depending upon how motivated I am.

In the meantime, I was discussing with a friend the other day about the last time Madonna made a brilliant video. It's certainly been a while (the Confessions videos were God-awful), but I think I figured out which one it was.



Even though she ended up having to settle a lawsuit over ripping off someone else's work without permission (certainly not the first time she's done that), it's 100 times more visually interesting than anything video that's come out since.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

When it rains, it snows

Apparently, after a month of daily posting, I'm reaching for the stars and going for a post every 5 days. But in my defense, I did work a run of 5 overnights and no sooner was that over than we got walloped by the first winter storm of the season which left 13 inches of the white stuff on the ground in less than 24 hours. This is big even for us - folks in the Dakotas and Colorado and Michigan would scoff at this, but it pretty much paralyzed the state. Anna STILL doesn't have school today, probably due more to the fact that the roads are not completely cleared.

It was made even more stressful by the fact that I went out last week to make sure the snowblower worked and it decidedly did not. Motherfuck, it was the last thing I needed. I figured that it was probably a clogged gas line or something, but I tried putting some fresh gas in it anyway and again, nothing. So I left it and decided to mess with it later. When later arrived, I noticed that there was a large puddle that looked suspiciously like gasoline underneath the snowblower. Since we had surpassed my abilities in dealing with it, it looked like I was going to have to take it in and have it serviced. Of course, with the "storm of the century" (as the local news was calling it despite the fact that there are still 90 years left in this century) bearing down on us, every place was swamped with repair requests.

When I was out there dropping it off, the guy showed me how the blade was damaged from years of use and how it was probably reaching the end of its life. I told him to try to get it running anyway, thinking that I'd limp by another season on this on and then save next year for a new one, because if there was any one thing I couldn't do, it was plunk down the cash for a new snowblower.

Well, the universe usually conspires to teach you a lesson, even (and especially) when you close your ears to it and the next day we woke up to snow coming down and rapidly deteriorating roads. I called out to the repair place and they said they'd probably have it done by 3pm, which was fine, but Heidi and I decided to stop out there after dropping Anna off at school. We talked to the guy and he proceeded to explain to us how we were looking at a couple hundred bucks worth of repairs AT LEAST. At that point, it was becoming clear to us that fixing it would ultimately result in throwing good money after bad so we made the decision right then and there to buy a new one.

It killed me to spend the money, but what are you going to do when they're talking about 10-14" of snow and you have a 100 foot long drive to clear?

In the end, we bought a mid-range Toro and even that cost a small fortune. However, it cleared the snow quite admirably over the last couple of days. It also started right up each time I tried it (electric start - I was not compromising on that) and here's hoping that it lasts until Anna's graduated from college.

If I had known that I was going to be buying a snowblower, I never would have replaced our TV the day after Thanksgiving. But you win some and you lose some. In the ultimate example of the law of averages, working all those overnights will end up just about paying for the snowblower (I worked a crapload of overtime covering those shifts). Easy come, easy go. I was hoping to buy something a little more sexy with all that extra cash, but I'll settle for functional.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

10 minutes

I have 10 minutes to update this blog, because in 10 minutes I need to (as Madonna would say) get unconscious.

I'm working nights. It was unexpected and I am doing 5 in a row. Never have I done this many. As of this moment, I'm 60% of the way through them. In exchange for all this, I'll work 60 hours this week and still manage to get Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday off work next week. A win all around except for Heidi and Anna who never see me except when I emerge like a hibernating bear to forage for food and get ready to leave.

In honor of that, let's have "Bedtime Story" - a song that has really grown on me over the years even though I only sort of liked it when it came out. The video always seemed overdone, but it's still visually like nothing else.



There will be more when I'm through all this.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

6 random songs

I'm staying up late tonight (not by choice - I've been up since 4AM-ish) so lucky everyone, I'm doing a blog post to ring in December right. 6 random songs from my iTunes library and no more than three sentences on each.

1) Dear Anne Sexton / Vanessa Daou
I love Vanessa Daou's Zipless album from start to finish - it has a very Erotica feel to it only without the couple of significant duds that otherwise mar Erotica. This is quite possibly the only song that has prompted me to move a biography of a poet into my to-be-read pile.

2) Let It Will Be (Live - Confessions Tour) / Madonna
I remember loving the choreography for this song on the tour, thinking how it had been so long since we'd seen Madonna dance that organically. I also remember that her vocals were God-awful during this song at that show we saw in Vegas. It's not much better on the DVD, but at least it still sounds live.



3) Whataya Want From Me / Adam Lambert
I bought the Adam Lambert album on AmazonMP3 for $3.99 on the day of its release. At first, it was only okay, but the more I listen to it, the more I like it. This song is written by Pink, and I honestly can't believe she didn't keep this one for herself.

4) Rubberband Girl / Kate Bush
I am not a huge Kate Bush fan by any stretch of the imagination, but I do like several of her songs and "Rubberband Girl" is one of them.

5) June Afternoon / Roxette
Man, Roxette is so embarrassing, but they really did do some pretty awesome pop songs. One of the first things I remember about Heidi is how Roxette was really the only pop music she listened to. Needless to say, her tastes have expanded significantly.

6) Say You Really Want Me / Kim Wilde
Kim Wilde's work is so amazingly uneven that sometimes I'm tempted to just write her off completely. But when she's good, she's brilliant - and this is one of those songs. It was never the hit it should have been (it has a killer bridge), but then at least it didn't suffer from overplay.



I would be interested to see what other people come up with. If you want to do it, go for it.

Monday, November 30, 2009

30 posts in 30 days

I started out on November 1st with a solemn vow to do a post a day for 30 days. For the most part, I have been successful. There are two days without posts, but there were a couple days with two posts. So there were 30 posts in 30 days and I'm calling that a win.

Heidi posted what she learned from her month long NaNoWriMo experience (remember that Hero is available from Dreamspinner Press on Friday!!) and I'd love to say that I could write a post about what I learned from a month of daily blogging.

Really, I didn't learn that much.

I guess the biggest thing I learned is that I have more to say than I thought I did. Those of you who know me personally know that I am not this talkative under normal circumstances. So in a way, this has been a good thing. It's also allowed me to do some posts that have been ramming around in draft form (i.e. inside my head) for a long time. The ISCABBS post is one of those (update: the lost has been found) as was the Michael W. Smith post. Others were very random, like the neurological closeness post and Ouija board post.

It didn't gain me a ton of new readers despite how bloggers everywhere tout daily posting as the way to get new readers. I got at least one new reader for certain (and a new blog to read) but really, I'm comfortable in my obscurity.

Trust me, I'll still be here in December but I will not be this prolific. So I hope everyone enjoyed it. I know I did. I always refer to this blog as a labor of love, and sometimes the emphasis is on the "labor" part, other times the "love" part.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Holiday preparations

As is pretty much custom around these parts, we put the Christmas tree up today. I lugged all of it up from the basement and to the porch yesterday afternoon and then this afternoon, while Heidi was at the gym, Anna and I pulled it all inside. Every year we laugh at how big the tree is. We bought it when we moved into our first house in 1999, after years of apartment living and having to settle for the scrawniest artificial tree you have ever seen. We got it home and immediately it was too big for any space in our house. But it's still around and it fits better in this house than it ever did in the other one.

We came to the rather startling conclusion that we had not a single strand of lights in the house, so we had to run out to Target to buy some. We are now comfortably outfitted for Christmas lights until next year when I plug them in and half of them don't work. This is always balanced out by the plethora of ornaments, some going back to both Heidi's and my childhoods, but most just ones we have accumulated in our 14 years together. Amidst all this, Anna and I did our annual dividing of the Christmas music into "booty shaking Christmas songs" and "non-booty shaking Christmas songs." We added one other category - "party-pooper songs" - of which we decided "Hard Candy Christmas" is one even though it is Dolly.

So here's a shot of the finished tree - it looks pretty good this year. Actually, it looks about like it does every year, but that's probably part of what is so comfortable about it. It's also hard to take a picture of a lit Christmas tree, so this is as good as it gets.

One other thing that got pulled out of storage are the holiday mugs. People give us mugs all the time - which is great as one can never have too many mugs. (although we really are starting to test that theory) Holiday mugs are always dicey because they only get used for about 6 weeks out of the year. Anyway, there's one mug that I particularly like. I don't even remember where it came from or who gave it to us, but it's one of my most-favored holiday mugs.


What I like about it is how it seems to depict such a worry-free existence. They don't have to worry that the 4-day weekend ends today or that they'll inevitably spend too much on Christmas. All he has to worry about is riding in that open sleigh and making sure the dog follows you home when you're bringing back firewood. But the more I thought about it, that's all an illusion. They have to worry about tuberculosis and diphtheria. They have to worry about the baby having a good chance of not seeing its first birthday. So it helps me put things in perspective. I'll keep my first-world problems (as a friend of mine refers to them) and let the people in this scene worry about vaccine-preventable diseases.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Chalk drawings

This is what I saw on the driveway today when I got done cleaning out all the gutters.

She told me she added "for my dad" in case anyone was wondering.

The nature of the beast

We take the connectivity the internet provides us for granted nowadays, but I can still remember my first foray online. Like many other pharmacy students at the University of Iowa, it was at the green-screen CRT in the Learning Resource Center of the pharmacy building. A classmate of mine told me about something called ISCABBS that she used. An electronic bulletin board? What would I want with that? But I let her talk me into it.

As you might expect, I was hooked from the get go. For those that don't know, ISCABBS was one of the largest bulletin board systems in the world at that time. It still is, for that matter, but that's not really saying much. During the 90s, it was THE go-to bulletin board, especially for those of us on the U of I campus (because it was affiliated with the University of Iowa), but also for users throughout the country. You could log on and instantly be amongst hundreds upon hundreds of other users. It was so popular that very frequently, users would have to wait in a queue for an open slot, although U of I users were given priority and I never once waited in a queue. Once inside, there were about a hundred different forums covering a wide array of topics.

In addition to this, it allowed you to eXpress message (or simply "x") other users. It was a rather primitive version of instant messaging, limited to 5 lines of text (a fact I would not have remembered without the help of the Wikipedia article on ISCABBS.) Using this functionality, users could interact in real time. And it was in this environment that I made my first online acquaintance.

We met through the much-dreaded "random x" but I was a newbie so I didn't mind it so much. He was from northern California and a computer science major. He contacted me because of some long-forgotten detail in my profile that he liked. He was also, incidentally, the first gay guy that I ever met - or at least the first one that who was out about his sexuality. Looking back on my life, there were MANY gay people in my life, they just weren't out of the closet. Despite that, his orientation was a non-issue even then and I think, in a small way, meeting him and becoming friends with him helped cement my interest in LGBT issues and my eventual transformation into a straight ally.

Anyway, we struck up quite a good online friendship. It survived many years of me changing handles on ISCABBS, my undergraduate graduation and the gradual decline of ISCABBS as the web became more and more prominent. After that we lost touch and I never really knew what became of him although I always kind of wondered. While I figured losing touch was the nature of the beast - people change and move on - it never set all that well with me and I always felt a little bit bad about it.

Over the years, I've made sporadic attempts to find him on the internet, using my best Googling abilities. This proved less than successful as his name is a very common one and he also shares it with a celebrity, so trying to pin him down just never seemed to work out. But the other day I decided to try Facebook, which can limit a name search to a school (I remembered where he went to school) and lo and behold, I got a match. I figured what the hell and I sent him a message. Time will tell if he actually IS that person and even if he is, if he'd even remember me.

In the 15 or so years since the internet and the World Wide Web have come to be a part of everyday life, I've had the great fortune of meeting a lot of really cool people whose paths I would have not otherwise crossed. For this I am very grateful. As I so frequently say, this is not our parents' generation and the places we find friends is not going to be as simple as the Elks club or the progressive supper at church. Online friendships can be very ephemeral, disappearing as quickly as they appear, but sometimes that is half the draw. Heidi and I always liken a new e-mail friend to a crush - all the rush of emotions are there - but it's what happens after the glitter fades (as Stevie Nicks says) that determines where it goes. I've had my share of flame outs and false starts, but I've also managed to cultivate a fair number of what I would consider close friends across not just the country but around the world. In so many ways, online friends are a mirror of all our relationships, especially as more and more real life relationships are being maintained across the series of tubes thanks to Facebook.

All the green screen CRTs are but a memory at the U of I and ISCABBS, now no longer associated with the university, is a shadow of its former self (I logged in today as a guest and there were 16 users online). But I will always have a soft spot for it. And Steve, if you're out there, this post was for you.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

No need to ask

I would not qualify myself as a Sade fan - like many artists, she has always kind of existed on the edges of my musical taste. Her music is pleasant enough but I never bought any of her studio albums. Rather, I was satisfied with her hits collection The Best of Sade, even though I flirted with her debut album Diamond Life rather intensely via the Iowa City Public Library when I was in pharmacy school. I finally purchased Diamond Life tonight from eMusic. Buying from eMusic always feels a little bit like stealing, but hey, it's their business model.

Sade has a new album coming out in February, a fact I know only because of my friend XO who has done a great post on Sade. I, sadly, only have two Sade stories worth telling. The first involves, as you might expect, her best known song "Smooth Operator." That song is definitely of the 80s but doesn't sound like an 80s song. My father always used to tell us that it was his "theme song" - mostly because of the line "We move in space with minimum waste/Maximum joy." We always kind of rolled our eyes at that, but it was my dad all over. I can't help but think of my dad when I listen to that song.

My second Sade story comes from 1995, and it was what ultimately led me to purchase The Best of Sade. I was at a the house of a friend of my roommates, and one of the guys that lived there had this most amazing CD collection. In it was The Best of Sade, and he played some of it for us. As I mentioned previously, I had already had Diamond Life out of the ICPL on a semi-permanent basis, and knew some of her other singles, but this was the first time I had ever heard "Never As Good As The First Time." I was hooked in the first few notes, and by the time she got to the lyrics "it's like the weather/one day chicken/Next day feathers" I knew that I was going to buy the album. "Never As Good As The First Time" is still probably my favorite Sade song.



That guy's CD collection was oddly influential to me as it also prompted me to go out and purchase a Level 42 best-of and also exposed me to the Tina Turner's "Nutbush City Limits (The 90s Version)" from her Simply the Best collection and the Prince song "Pope" (which I could not stop thinking about when they were choosing the new pope after John Paul II died.) For as musically influential as he was, you'd think I'd remember his name, but alas, it is lost to history.

(and yes, I realize Sade is a band, but I'm too tired to go back and fix it.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

She's on a roll

Heidi got the cover art today for her second novel, Special Delivery, which is due in February of 2010 from Dreamspinner Press. She sent me the photo in my email today to show me and I have to admit that it's pretty much EXACTLY like I pictured it, only in my mind's eye, they were looking in the other direction.

I don't want to steal any of Heidi's thunder, but this is one of my favorite stories she has ever written. The fact that it's a gay romance and that I am not exactly the target audience for this book is really beside the point. I know that many think that I like everything that she writes and, well, they would be right. The fallacy that many people fall for is that me liking all her stuff is in the fine print of the marriage license. Nothing could be further from the truth. Naturally, I'm going to be biased, but there's no guarantee that whatever comes out of her iMac is going to appeal to me.

But Special Delivery is a little bit special to me, because it's the only thing that I'm aware of that I really and truly encouraged her to finish. I don't remember the origin of the story exactly, although I think it started out as a short piece that quickly outgrew the short story format and graduated to novel length. She had an early draft that featured Sam and Mitch, but the set up was completely different and, as will frequently happen in first drafts, she wrote herself into a corner she couldn't find the way out of. But I always liked it, even though it didn't really have any conflict to speak of and the characters were quickly running out of things to do. But it had Kylie references and an iPod named after someone from one of my all-time favorite movies and well, I was sold. But she had hit the wall and couldn't find the way out, so that seemed to be the end of Sam & Mitch.

Not if I had anything to say about it.

No sooner had she given up on it than I was on her case to pick it back up again. My refrain was always "I wanna know what happens next!" And so she picked it back up again. Aided in no small part by our trip out west in June, she has crafted what is not just a romance, but also a physical and emotional journey. In many senses, it's a road book. I told her this early on and I stand by my assertion.

See, here's the thing. The fact that the sexuality of these characters is not the same as mine doesn't matter one bit. I end up relating to them anyway because Heidi does this incredible job of making the characters so REAL. There are conflicts and motivations and crazy risks taken. She manages to bring you along every step of the way. I feel for these characters, through every twist and turn and up and down. So much of what is experienced is part of the human condition, regardless of orientation.

I always say that I like her contemporaries more than her historicals because I like the soundtrack for the contemporaries better. She always borrows liberally from my iTunes collection - something she did quite extensively during the writing and revisions of Special Delivery, as well as her NaNoWriMo novel, Double Blind. Our musical tastes are overall compatible, but have only thin areas of overlap. So when she's coming down to my computer with the flash drive asking for Olivia Newton-John songs, somewhere in my youth or childhood I must have done something good.

For all the communities and groups that Heidi's a part of that center around writing, I think that if you asked her, she'd agree that writing is ultimately a very solitary activity. Even as her husband, I have only been able to be involved in it insomuch as I read everything she writes, do copy edits on early drafts, and the itsy bitsy detail that I earn the salary that has made her pursuit of this dream just that much easier. But as far as being directly involved, as a rule I'm not. But with Special Delivery, I was. In my own small, but direct way, I helped make this story come to life.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Paranoia

This little sticker is on the inside of the cabinet in the downstairs bathroom in our house. It has been there since we moved in 5 years ago and for God-only-knows how long before that. Heidi and I refer to it as "our daily dose of paranoia."

It really speaks for itself. I see it every morning as I get ready for work.

But really, indigestion = cancer? If that's the case, we're all doomed.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

There's a spy

From one of my favorite out of print albums, Animal Logic. "There's A Spy (In The House Of Love)"



I have blogged about Animal Logic (both the group and the album) before, which makes this quite possibly the only blog in the entire blogosphere with two posts devoted to the now-disbanded group. They were supergroup-ish, as they had the drummer from the Police and Stanley Clarke who is farily well known. Vocalist Deborah Holland was new to the scene, but hell, she could sing. Anyway, they are a "supergroup" much more in the vein of what I am likely to listen to compared to most supergroups even though the use of that moniker is, admittedly, a stretch.

"There's A Spy (In The House Of Love)" was their only hit - I remember it being on the radio quite a lot in the spring of 1990 although I had never seen the video until now. My favorite story about that album is how my friend Kelly gave me a "for promotional use only - not for sale" copy of the cassette because she thought I might like it. She was right, even though it took me several years to realize just how much I liked it. I played the hell out of this in the spring of 1995. If you saw me walking campus during that time period, chances were high that I had this cassette in my Walkman.

Sadly, you can't get it digitally anywhere, but you can get their not-as-good second album from iTunes now. They are very October Project-ish in that they have such a finite number of songs that you just appreciate what you have.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

I wear boots all summer long

I was thinking today about how much Stevie Nicks' The Wild Heart needs a remaster. The version that I have is so soft and muted. While turning up the volume of the individual tracks inside iTunes has helped some, it just doesn't sound as crisp as her later recordings. Even Bella Donna sounds better!

I've always maintained that The Wild Heart is the bridge between the acoustic/classic rock of Bella Donna and the full-on synthesized sound of Rock A Little, blending both elements with great success. I appreciate both of these aspects of Stevie's solo career and so, as you might imagine, have a great deal of fondness for The Wild Heart. I have purchased it three times - twice in high school (once to replace my lost first copy) and then eventually on CD when I was in college. I also, many years later, managed to acquire a copy of the vinyl, so I suppose I've actually purchased it four times.

I always loved "Nightbird" which rounded out side one. A loving tribute to her friend Robin who died from leukemia, it is classic Stevie in that it is part poetry and part head-scratcher. It was one of the first places where I noticed a recycled lyric ("just like the white-winged dove") and while many could interpret that as lazy, I prefer to look at it as hooking the songs together.

Anyway, here's "Nightbird" from the early 80s. I love the comment on the YouTube site that says that Stevie manages to mix the serenity of an angel with the challenging expression of a porn star - a comment that could apply to so much of her career and not just this isolated video.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The -ize have it

In so many respects, it's hard to specifically identify why one song is appealing and why another isn't. One of my rules for living is as follows: There is no such thing as a bad song - rather those songs that I dislike just don't appeal to me. I say this because so much of what I listen to could be characterized by so many people as "bad music" or "fluff music" or simply inconsequential. However, they don't know how good it makes me feel when I listen to it. So I'm always a bit loath to judge someone else's taste, knowing full well that there's a good chance that their "bad music" makes them feel just like the music I listen to makes me feel.

The function of all that nonsense above was really for me to state that I have identified a key characteristic in some of the music that I really love. For me, it's all in the rhyme.

The best song on Hard Candy is "Devil Wouldn't Recognize You." Madonna deserves to be proud of that song. It has eked its way into my top 20 Madonna songs which is truly a feat considering it's a song from Hard Candy. Anyway, the rhyming structure in this song just kills me. Look at this part:

I barely couldn't, I barely couldn't recognize
I still played right into it
Who am I to criticize?
Somehow I'll get through it
And you won't even realize
Falling through your own disguise.

Now, let's forgive Madonna her rather questionable grammar (I barely couldn't recognize? Please.) and focus on the brilliance of all those "-ize" rhymes. The only way it could have been better is if she had found a way to use "tantalize" or "cauterize" (or any of the zillion words ending in -ize.) Certainly the music it the words are set to helps immeasurably - the minor key is another immediate hook for me, but it's that little part of the song that gets me every single time.


(The performance of "Devil" on the tour was almost worth the entire $160 admission price. I also want the sheet music so I can play the piano part.)

And don't even get me started on -tion rhymes, which "Celebration" does well, as does Pat Benatar's "Sex As A Weapon" - although I do take issue with rhyming "weapon" with "obsession" and "reflection." But it still works. Also do not get me started on the version of "Celebration" now featuring Akon. Dear Madonna, you do not need to rent rappers. They won't help anyway.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Not quite non-fiction

I just finished reading Bringing Down The House, the story of how a bunch of students from M.I.T. who, working as a team, counted cards and learned how to beat blackjack, taking Vegas for millions over the course of a few years. It's all Heidi's fault that I picked it up in the first place - we've been watching more Vegas movies than you can shake a stick at. We just finished a 10 episode series that we picked up at Wal-Mart for 5 bucks called Vegas: The City The Mob Made which taught us more about Vegas than we ever thought there was to know. The other thing we learned from this series is that there is more than one way to interview people rather than just having them look at the camera. One guy was photographed from below, focusing on his jowls, and another guy was always shot in a Streisand-esque profile, hiding the other side of his face. As near as I can tell, he is disfigured on that side from a nasty chemical burn.

So all this Vegas stuff has really piqued my own interest in it. I picked up Bringing Down The House because the movie based on the book (21) is in the watch-instantly Netflix queue. I know one thing for certain, it was a fast read. It started out a bit on the slow side, but wasted no time in getting to the action. After that, it read so quickly that it took me less than a week to finish it. And what was even better was that it was all true.

Or was it?

As it turns out, great literary license has been taken with the story. While it is based on "true events," the story told in the book is not strictly true, with some parts heavily embellished and other parts completely fabricated. Much like The Amityville Horror, a book debunking THAT supposedly true story I just finished reading, Bringing Down The House would not pass a polygraph test.

I don't have a problem with a little bit of literary license. Who among us is not guilty of adding little bits to a story to make it better? I've done it many times, but the difference is that when I have done it, I have not completely made up whole sections of the story and then tried to pass it off as true. To do this and then proceed to market it as non-fiction is misrepresentation at best and outright deception at worst. I suppose the reasoning behind the embellishment is to improve the narrative flow or to make the story more interesting, but if you're going to do that, please label it as a novel or other work of fiction. A similar argument was used in the marketing of The Amityville Horror ("who wants to read a book about a non-haunted house?") But if you make shit up or combine characters or change the order of things, you can no longer call it a "true story."

While I enjoyed the book, I found myself a bit mad at it for its dishonesty. Hidden in Bringing Down The House is an intriguing story, but you just don't know what to believe. That was distracting and made the book less than recommendable. I'm curious to see what is changed in the movie version - perhaps that version will be more accurate and true-to-life, but I'm not holding my breath.

A neanderthal thrust

I tweeted this a couple days ago, but I have recently rediscovered the Trouser Enthusiasts remix of Gloria Estefan's "Heaven's What I Feel", lovingly and very oddly named the "Neanderthal Thrust Mix."

On first listen, it should be everything I hate about remixes. It is over 10 minutes long, uses very little of the original vocal, and has a thumping beat specifically designed to give you a headache. But for some reason, it is one of my all time favorite remixes. It is not available for purchase anywhere that I can locate, and can only be found on the discontinued "Heaven's What I Feel" CD maxi-single.(although apparently you can still buy that for little or nothing.) As I recall, it was the ONLY good remix on the CD, even though I remember saying that this was the way to do remix singles - as in pack them full of remixes rather than going skimpy. Alas, in the never ending battle between quality and quantity, quality frequently suffers at the hand of quantity.

This song came from what is still my favorite Gloria Estefan album, gloria!, a statement that makes me wonder if it's okay for a 37 year old guy to have a "favorite Gloria Estefan album." What I loved about gloria! was how it forced her out of her interchangeable ballad mode and kicked her into more uptempo songs. Really, songs like "Can't Stay Away From You", "Anything For You", "Don't Wanna Lose You", and "Coming Out of the Dark" are really all the same song. So disillusioned was I with Gloria Estefan that my sister and I changed the lyric to Laura Branigan's "Gloria" from "feel your innocence slipping away/Don't believe it's coming back soon" to "originality slipping away/don't believe it's coming back soon." Gloria! functions well as a non-stop dance album, even though there are still a couple songs I could live without.

But the Trouser Enthusiasts Neanderthal Thrust Mix of "Heaven's What I Feel" REALLY took the album to the clubs. When I listen to it, I see one of two things. I see driving into a large city at late at night but not feeling the least bit tired. I also see it in the setting of a dance club where the strobe lights are so intense everyone's seizure threshold has been dangerously lowered. For me, the definition of a good remix is that it takes an already good song, being respectful to the original all the while steering it in a bold new direction. This remix does exactly that. How I wish they had gotten their hands on some of Madonna's songs. We could have been spared the repetitive hand claps of Junior Vasquez (be honest, every remix of his after "Secret" just turned the song into "Secret") and we might have actually gotten a good remix of "Nothing Really Matters."

Anyway, listen and enjoy.



(and yes, I just successfully turned a tweet into a blog post)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hero

This is the first of many chances I have to pimp my wife's brand spanking new novel, Hero, available from Dreamspinner Press as of 12/4/2009. It now has a completely finished cover and is in the "coming soon" section of the web site.

Here's the cover art, done by talented artist Paul Richmond.

As I said, it will be available in paperback and eBook form on 12/4/09. The link to buy will be here. You can bet I'll be back on 12/4/09 with another post. In the meantime, if you're interested, you can read an excerpt here.

And don't worry, Mariah Carey's "Hero" will not be playing over the credits of the LOGO made-for-tv movie. (not actually in the works, but one can dream!)

As bad as they said it was

Against my better judgment, but because I just had to see it for myself, I Netflixed Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen over the weekend. This movie was eviscerated by reviewers during its theatrical release, but that didn't stop moviegoers from making it the most successful film of not just the summer but of all of 2009. I guess there's no accounting for taste.

So it was with these expectations that I watched it, most of it yesterday and finishing it up this morning. What can I say about this movie that has not already been said? At nearly 2.5 hours in length, it is certainly a lot of movie. But the funny thing is that I just got done watching it and it has completely evaporated from my brain. I can't recall a single point at which the plot moved forward. Mostly, I just recall the grinding of metal, robot characters I couldn't identify and human characters I couldn't be bothered to care about.

This is one of those instances where the reviewers were right on the money. This movie is not recommendable, not even in a so-bad-it's-good way. There was a point earlier this fall that I entertained spending a buck and a half and going to see it in the dollar theater, but after having seen this monstrosity, I'm so glad that I didn't. Without the ability to fast-forward through the atrocious dialogue and interminable battle scenes, I'm not sure I would have made it through the movie.

For me, the most damning thing about the movie was my inability to stay awake during the final battle scene last night. There I was, watching what was supposed to be the the most exciting (and probably most expensive) robot-vs.-robot scene in the movie and I couldn't keep my eyes open. It was with 15 minutes left in the movie that I turned it off and went to bed, saying to myself that I'd just finish it up in the morning. I'll forgive a lot of things in the name of seeing something cool on the screen, but this was more than even I could take. In so many ways, it was like watching a cartoon - even more so than the middle third of King Kong (the Skull Island part). I never believed that the robots were really there.

But perhaps the largest source of disappointment is that, no matter how much they may have co-opted the name and the image, these are NOT the Transformers of my youth. I was probably just a little bit too old for Transformers by the time they really hit, but I still liked them enough and I did watch the cartoon series after school. But the Transformers shown in the movie resemble the classic toys only in passing. They are ridiculously complex and (as has been stated by many a reviewer) it is almost completely impossible to differentiate one from another. During the battle scenes, it's just flying metal and you have no idea who to root for besides no one so that they will all die and the pain will end swiftly.

The biggest discrepancy between toy and movie comes in Devastator, the combination form of the Constructicons. I have a nearly complete Devastator on a shelf in my office - the only Transformer that truly remains from my youth. The movie version of Devastator vomits all over that, turning this:


into this:

I mean, seriously! We can put anything on the screen these days and this is what we get? Shameful.

I've learned my lesson. No way will the inevitable Transformers 3 reel me in.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Eight

My daughter turned eight today. I have told the story of her birth more times than I care to think about, perhaps best told in this very space 3 years ago on her fifth birthday. Her entrance into the world was not without the requisite drama but eventually she made it and, dang it all, she's still here eight years later. This is still my favorite picture of a minutes-old Anna, one that she will come to despise but is iconic in the my eyes.

It's hard to believe that she was ever that little, even though she was still "tall" for her age, even at birth. It's also hard to believe that her head ever gained a normal shape.

Every year she sheds some more "kid-ness" and grows up just a bit more. More and more frequently, I get a glimpse of the teenager she is bound to become. And as a result of being not only the only child, but the only grandchild with nary a cousin around to play with or compete with, I sometimes feel like her childhood has been a bit co-opted. But it is what it is, and I really wouldn't have her any other way.

We had a birthday party yesterday at Cardinal Gymnastics Academy here in Ames and then today, the grandparents came to visit and brought presents galore. One of the things that Heidi's mom brought was an old desk that Heidi used when she was a young girl, and now it sits in Anna's room. I took this picture of her working at it and I thought of my young self, sitting at my little desk doing math problems and science workbooks when the rest of the kids were probably out playing kickball.

Talk about being able to glimpse the teenager they will become.

As I have said before, being a parent has taught me the true meaning of the word sacrifice, both in terms of what you do for you kids and what you would do for your kids. I don't feel like being a parent is my entire life's work - if I had thought that, there would have been 3 or 4 more after her. But I do feel its my job to be there for her, not necessarily to shield her from life's injustices, but to provide that soft place to land when they become too much. Additionally, it's my job to help motivate her and realize her potential, knowing that the actual realization of that potential is entirely in her hands.

I love you kiddo, more than you know.

(And as always, happy birthday to Confessions on a Dance Floor - another thing that changed my life, although on a much smaller scale!)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Leaf triumph

Remember this insanity?

Well, on Thursday morning, Heidi and I turned it into this:

And then, this morning, I turned it into this:

It took 31 lawn & leaf bags and three trips out to the yard waste place here in town (which is free every Saturday in November), but they are no longer in the back of my pickup, no longer in the garage. Oh, sure, there's still some leaves on the ground, but as my dad says, it's not about getting everyone, no matter what the perfectly manicured lawns around town try to tell you.

It threatened rain all morning and the wait was minimal each time. According to one of the guys out there working, last weekend was horribly busy and the wait time was atrocious. It was also about 30 degrees warmer last weekend so I imagine that a lot of people were taking advantage of it.

I always cuss and moan and groan, but having it done is an undeniably good feeling. I've actually accomplished something today and it's not eve 10AM.

Now its on to the 8-year-old's birthday party.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The mister's Vegas mug

Heidi recently did a post on the coffee mug that is seeing her through NaNoWriMo. It's a Las Vegas mug with her name on it that my folks bought for her on one of their many trips to Vegas. I remember asking them to bring a couple back in 2006 after I had the epic fail of not buying one on my first trip to Vegas in May of 06 to see Madonna (seriously, we just barely made our flight as it was without me hemming and hawing over which mug to buy.) So over the years, they've purchased us several different Las Vegas mugs - my favorite being one that condensed the Las Vegas Strip onto one mug, highlighting the most famous hotels and landmarks on the Strip.

This summer, during our very brief stopover in Vegas, I found one that I liked better.

Here's the thing. When we went on our trip out west this summer, I knew that I was going to buy several mugs. It's kind of my thing - I buy one from just about every place I go. I still miss the mammoth mug of the U.S. Capitol that we bought when we went to D.C. in 2000. (I accidentally dropped it on a cement floor and watched it break. Jesus wept.) But what I knew we did not need were more Vegas mugs so if we were to stop there, I would not be buying one. We already have to cycle mugs out of the cupboard to keep them from overflowing.

However, I saw this and could not pass it up.

As you might expect, I hemmed and hawed over it even though it was fantastically cheap (it was certainly no more than 4 bucks.) What eventually tipped the scales in favor of purchasing it was how fabulously retro it is, down to the red dice and iconic Vegas sign. So many of the mugs in Vegas are trashy and gaudy and gross, this one was kind of cute. It was like the little mug that could.

So I purchased it. And it has slowly found its way into my most favored mugs. It's small which necessitates more frequent trips to the kitchen, but I kind of like its smallness. So many mugs are just monstrous nowadays and it's nice to see ones that don't take half the pot of coffee when you fill them.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Neurological closeness

It's kind of amazing to me sometimes the things that are adjacent to each other in one's brain.

A good example happened to me at work tonight. I was in the IV room making something, and rather than get up and go over to grab something off the counter, I rolled over to the counter while still sitting on the chair. This immediately made me think of Barbra Streisand. The reason for this is because it was her show-stopping performance of "Miss Marmelstein" in her very first Broadway show I Can Get It For You Wholesale, performed completely while rolling around the stage in an office chair, that put her on the map. I think the song is way too clever for its own good, but that is 90% of its appeal as well. The song was so stuck in my head I was obliged to play it on my iPod on the way home. (it resides in a playlist called "Highlights From Just For The Record...")

I wonder how many other people on the planet would associate these two things so closely. I would venture to say not many. Welcome to my brain. It's a fun place to visit.