Friday, December 31, 2010

Out with the old, in with the new

It's New Year's Eve 2010...well, not REALLY. As I write this it's a few days from now but the last thing in the world I will want to be doing on NYE (or have time for, for that matter) is blogging. In a few hours, my baby sister is getting married and we are going to party. This photo was taken earlier this week and as I said on Facebook, it's full of awesome.

That's my new brother-in-law Andrew posing in front of the Englert Theater, the spot where tonight they will exchange their vows, say "I do" and have one hell of a NYE party.

Last year when I wrapped up 2009, the title of the post was "Good riddance to bad rubbish." I'm happy to report that 2010 has been a massive improvement on 2009. If it hadn't been, I daresay I would have been ready to throw in the towel. We didn't have an epic vacation (Heidi did, I didn't) and Heidi's been short on new releases as the year wraps up, but I look back on 2010 with much more satisfaction and happiness than I did at 2009. Although it got off to a rough start for me personally, I have to say that I'm in a better place than I have been in a long time. And while Heidi still struggles with chronic pain of a nebulous etiology, she seems to be more at peace with it overall and isn't letting it run her life like so many people with chronic pain seem to. Just like I've learned that my anxious brain is not the boss of me, she doesn't allow her chronic pain to be the boss of her. Oh sure, we both screw up now and then, but I think overall, things are much better than they were a year ago.

Toward the end of the year, I had a big revelation that this year, no one could accuse me of not living. It's so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day birth/school/work/death. I took chances and stepped outside my comfort zones. I had some great successes and some massive failures. I worked hard and played hard. I met new people. I was a wise man and amazingly foolish as well. In the end, I was human and I LIVED.

I don't really regret anything this year. Even the times I have behaved poorly or acted like an idiot have shaped me into something that I wasn't as 2010 dawned. As I always say, we're all an amalgam of all our experiences - good and bad and in between - so be careful what you wish away.

Happy New Year to everyone. We'll be dancing tonight and ringing in 2011 with class and style.

Year of 25 Books: #25 - It's Kind of a Funny Story

Well, it was definitely down to the wire, but I have accomplished my goal of 25 books this year. I stayed up a little later than I probably should have the night before last (considering how early I had to be up yesterday morning) finishing the last book of the year, Ned Vizzini's It's Kind of a Funny Story. Heidi picked this book up for me in late October because she thought it sounded like something I might like. Not surprisingly, she was right.

It's Kind of a Funny Story tells the story of Craig Gilner, a 15 year-old guy from Brooklyn who is, not to put too fine a point on it, kind of messed up. He's depressed and way too hard on himself and ends up attempting suicide - only he calls the suicide hotline before he actually goes through with it. On the advice of the suicide hotline counselor, he goes to the local ER and checks himself into a the hospital's psychiatric wing.

A young adult novel, It's Kind of a Funny Story is a pretty fast read and overall quite enjoyable. The major arc of the book is watching Craig change, realizing that he's not the only one in the world that's screwed up and actually, many are in much more dire straits that he is. I think that's one of the funny parts of adolescence - the fact that no matter who you are or how great you teenage experience was, we all felt a little bit isolated. I remember thinking that there was no one on Earth who could understand what I was going through as a teenager (that is to say, the normal process of growing up and figuring out who you are.) That was compounded by the fact that pretty much everyone around me was doing the same thing. For Craig, this glimpse at others' realities provided him with a valuable tool to fight his own depression and anxiety.

I have to give Ned Vizinni credit - it's hard to write a character like Craig and make him both realistic and likable. Most teenage protagonists of books like this come off as very Holden Caulfield-ish - whiny, self-absorbed and completely unsympathetic. Craig was at times all of these things, but ultimately, I rooted for him because his character was very "everyman" or rather "every broody teenager." I really enjoyed watching his transformation. Everyone's screwed up - we just have different ways of showing it.

A good novel that is an easy read. It was a nice way to round out my 25 book challenge. I don't know that I'll do this on the blog next year - the book posts seem to be the least read - but who knows, maybe I will keep on blogging the books I read but just not in this form. We'll see what 2011 brings.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Year of 25 Books: #24 - Methland

Methland was one of the last books I read this year and was the direct result of a recommendation a pharmacy classmate of mine made to me on Facebook. Before I read this book, I was not exceptionally knowledgeable about the meth epidemic. I knew that it was bad, that rural America had been hit disproportionately hard by it and that the pseudoephedrine laws in Iowa were a direct response to the rising number of meth labs. I figured that I would get an education. I didn't know the half of it.

What drew me to this book was the local connection. While it speaks about meth in general, author Nick Reding followed the meth problem in the eastern Iowa town of Oelwein. Oelwein is like a hundred other rural Iowa towns in that it has been pretty much forgotten in the new economy. Now that family farming is becoming a thing of the past and most of the money that is made from farming is not spent in the small towns surrounding the land, it was in danger of drying up and blowing away or alternately, exploding like so many of the meth labs inside its city limits.

Reding introduces us to a cast of characters in Oelwein - the mayor, the doctor with a serious alcohol problem and the county prosecutor whose parents still farm the land outside Oelwein are the main players in Oelwein's battle with meth. We meet meth addicts and meth producers. And what's amazing is that Reding treats all these people with compassion. He doesn't really make excuses for them, but he does understand that what's happening to rural America is very much a chicken/egg situation. Is rural America deteriorating because of drugs or are there drugs because of the deterioration? It's hard to tell.

But Methland is so much more than a story about meth in the Heartland. It's a scathing indictment of current economic policies. Reding is pretty ruthless in his indictment of "big food" - corporate farms that have bought up most of the land and the big conglomerate food producers that are now the only game in town. His tale of how Ottumwa became the meth capital of Iowa is all too familiar. Meat packing plant consolidated, union dismantled, wages slashed to 50% of what they were, benefits stripped. That hits right to the heart of a town's economic base. It's no wonder that many turn to drugs - either using or selling or both - in such a hopeless environment. (An aside: I've been to Ottumwa. It does not appear to be as bad as Reding paints it, but hey, what do I know.)

A riveting book that deserves to be read (despite a few factual details that this Iowan picked up), this was more than worth my time. Thanks to Alisa Shields for the recommendation!

Year of 25 Books: #23 - Talking to Girls About Duran Duran

When I read Rob Sheffield's Talking to Girls About Duran Duran this summer, my friend Mary was never very far from my mind. This is the kind of book that I knew she would eat up (although not as much as Confessions of a Prairie Bitch, which she got for Christmas.) I had really loved Sheffield's bittersweet memoir of his young wife's death in Love is a Mix Tape and just reading about his newest book made me convinced I would love it just as much as I did Love is a Mix Tape.

Was I right? Yes and no. Talking to Girls About Duran Duran lacks the cohesiveness of his previous effort. Rather than tell one big story, Sheffield settles for telling a bunch of little stories from his adolescence and young adulthood. Each chapter is a new story and a new song. Sometimes the song relates specifically to the story, other times not. The thing I really appreciate about Sheffield is that he really really loves pop music. Reading his words, there's no mistaking it. He grew up just slightly ahead of me (he is six years my senior) so his pop music experience is one that is very different from mine. Additionally, his musical taste has a small sliver of overlap with mine. Even so, I related to it not so much based on the specifics of his story but because pop music was really in his genes. I recognized myself in more than a few spots.

There were so many different stories that to try to distill them into a short blog post is folly indeed. However, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the chapter that made me think of Mary the most - the chapter on the cassingle. Sheffield makes a strong argument that the short-lived format was an absolutely perfect format for the type of music that it contained. Introduced in 1987 and pretty much extinct by the mid 90s, songs like Tone Loc's "Funky Cold Medina" and Kriss Kross' "Jump" are as throwaway as the cassingle itself. I still remember the first cassingle I bought - Fleetwood Mac's "Everywhere." Why I did that I have no idea as I had already bought the album. The reason the chapter made me think so much of Mary is because one night nearly a decade ago, Heidi and I visited her at her apartment to ask her to be a godmother to our then unborn child. At some point during the night, she pulled out her cassingles and well, I was amazed. She had an amazing collection of cassingles, one that I'm pretty sure she still has.

My cassingles were taken to Good Will in a fit of decluttering madness several years ago. Sometimes I kind of regret doing that, but mostly I don't.

Talking to Girls About Duran Duran is an uneven but still worthwhile read. Lovers of pop music everywhere will find something that they can relate to. All I know is that anyone who can write so much about cassingles is on my list of "guys I definitely want to hang out with."

Best of 2010: 12 Favorite Blog Posts

My blogging pal Brendan did a post in which he highlighted his favorite blog posts of the year. I meant to do this last year, but life got busy and by the time got around to it, the ship had sailed (oddly, that is the case with SO many posts that never see the light of day.)

Inspired by his post, I have spent a good chunk of the morning scanning through the year's posts. There were fewer this year than in any year since 2005. Not sure why that is - I chalk a lot of it up to Facebook. Things that used to get a post now get a sentence and a link there. Some of the posts clearly did not stand the test of time. They seemed brilliant at the time, but not so much 12 months out. Still, as proud as I am of this space, I found 12 (+1) that really stood out for me. Here they are, again, taking a cue from Brendan, in chronological order.
  • Give It Up: One of those album posts that come out of nowhere - this time about Wilson Phillips' Shadows & Light. God, I loved that album more than I really should admit anywhere.
  • Monolith: Social media is here to stay. It's changed how we interact with people, and not necessarily for the better.
  • Easy Bake Pam: A not-so-great day ends with an impromptu baking of chocolate chip cookies in an Easy Bake Oven with Anna while she jams out to a song about a May-December relationship.
  • And Now for the Audio Portion of the Program: My friend Jeff and I try our hands at podcasting. This was our first and only attempt and ended with us rambling on for nearly an hour about Madonna - like that should surprise anyone. The podcast is still available to download if you're interested.
  • This Sweater is Old and Faded: I actually wore this sweater to work once this winter so far. For being a nearly 10 year old sweater, it's in remarkably good shape and not that out of style.
  • A Mere Heart Attack: Misheard lyrics - the subject that launched a thousand blog posts.
  • The (Non)appendicitis Was (Not) Rumbling: I'mincluding this post not because it was particularly witty or well-written - it's not. It was kind of a throwaway post. It has become, however, my most visited post of the year (next to the Madonna remixology posts.) Seriously folks, I don't know any more about rumbling appendicitis than Wikipedia. Move along.
  • Come Down Here for a Minute: This was one of many Stevie posts I did this year. It was also the one that came the most out of nowhere.
  • Get Out of Her Way: Kylie's "Get Outta My Way" video, as I have said before, reduced me to a screaming fanboy in the way that only Kylie can. My favorite song and video of the year.
  • Zen and the Art (and Calculus) of Dishwashing: Probably the nerdiest post of the year. And that's saying something. Who knew calculus would EVER apply to the washing of dishes?
  • Look Who's Evil Now: An account of my trip to Kansas City to see Evil Dead: The Musical - the bloodiest musical I have ever seen.
  • Private Dining: Probably my most personal post of the whole year. I was surprised to get the amount of feedback on it that I did - both in the comments section and privately to me in e-mail. It made me realize that it's not quite as awful to share those kinds of stories as I always think it will be.
And the plus one...

Thank you to EVERYONE who reads this space. The numbers are few, but I am thankful that anyone finds it interesting enough to come back to day after day. That's the best Christmas present I could possibly receive.

Best of 2010: The "I Don't Get It" Award

As I read all my favorite pop bloggers' year end lists, one artist keeps showing up that never had a hope or a prayer of making any of my lists. That artist is, of course, Robyn. She released an album's worth of material in three chunks over the last year - an unusual and ballsy move, I'll admit. Her songs have topped the lists of at least three blogs that I read religiously. But for me...nothing.

This is rather unusual for me. By rights, I should be all over it and Robyn should at least be in my Top 20 for the year. I looked in my iTunes library tonight to see if I actually had any Robyn songs in there and there is but one - "Show Me Love" from her 1997 album Robyn Is Here. I remember always getting that song confused with the song of the same name by Robin S, but I did kind of like it. So why can I not stomach anything else by Robyn when all these folks whose tastes I admire and respect can't get enough of her? What the hell is wrong with me?

I've watched some Robyn videos in preparation for writing this post and I think I know what it is. The music is good and right up my alley, but it's her voice that I just can't handle. It's squeaky and annoying and like nails on the chalkboard to me. It's the same reason I couldn't get into La Roux when everyone was creaming their shorts over them - the voice was so harsh I couldn't enjoy what would otherwise have been good music.

Who knows? I'm fond of saying that there's no such thing as bad music - just music that doesn't appeal to you. Even the stuff that makes me the most insane and crazy makes someone somewhere feel like I feel when I hear new Madonna or Kylie or even something more bittersweet like Mary Chapin Carpenter or Tracey Thorn. I try not to judge, but I know that Robyn, at least at this point, is just not for me. Perhaps at this time next year I'll be eating massive helpings of crow, but right now, I can't imagine it happening.

Honestly, I just don't get it.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Year of 25 Books: #22 - Summer Song

I've read a lot of m/m fiction between reading my wife's work for Dreamspinner and doing galley proofs for them as well. Summer Song was a book I had the distinct pleasure of proofing earlier this summer before life became so insane that I had to back off almost completely from doing any kind of proofreading. That said, I can't recommend this book highly enough. First time Dreamspinner author Louise Blaydon tells an intriguing story set in 1950s California, back when LGBT was just a random set of letters that don't carry the meaning they do now. Best friends Billy and Kit are returning to high school after a summer apart and something seems off, especially when Billy starts acting strangely around Leonard, the new student at their school.

So frequently in romantic fiction - not just m/m fiction but also heterosexual romance - the romance is so much the central relationship, that the other relationships in the story suffer. Friends and family members do little more than take up space on the page and are so often pulled from stock that the characters are cliched and frankly, not very believable or interesting. Not so with Summer Song. What I loved most about this book was how it effortlessly blended the story of Billy's love for Leonard with its ramifications on his friendship with Kit. I felt very invested in both relationships and thought that Blaydon did a exceptional job of showing how a close friendship between men - regardless of orientation - can be frought with some of the same difficulties that you see in romantic relationships.

This was one of those books that really made me feel good at the end because ultimately, it really was a love story that involved all the characters in some way or another.

Summer Song is Blaydon's first book for DSP, but I'm eager to read more from her.

(Yes, I really am going to get to 25 before the end of the year. I'm starting 13 days off right now and it WILL get done.)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Still a kid

A quick Christmas morning post before we go see my folks and other assorted family members. We have had an excellent Christmas morning. I am wearing the following T-shirt:

Mine has blood splatters on it and I don't have a tattoo and I'm not that built.

But the gift that Heidi got me that was the MOST appropriate for me was the vintage Fisher Price Little People Farm. Found at a souvenir shop in Dubuque near the 4th Street Elevator, it was apparently a bargain at $55.00, especially considering its condition and the fact that it looks like pretty much all the pieces are there. I was so enamored of it then that I took a picture of it...

...never dreaming that it would show up on Christmas morning.

Yep, that really is me. I am that nerdy. And yes, I look that good doing absolutely nothing to myself. It's worth it though.

Anna is as excited about it as I am! She had warned me that when she and Heidi were wrapping it, she wanted to play with it which had me all curious. Now I know. We'll have to clear off a space in my office for it, somewhere where she can reach it.

Now, if I can figure out how to make the moo sound when you open the door my notification ring tone on my phone, it'll be the best Christmas ever.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Best of 2010: Retro song of the year

I started writing this post on December 14th and it has seen a lot of versions. It's been much harder to write than I initially thought it would, but what the hell. Anyway, when I round up the best of the year, I'm fond of including a song or two that didn't have the good fortune of being released during the year but still contributed heavily to my personal soundtrack. This year, that award belongs to a single song and that song is Kim Wilde's "It's Here." While released 20 years ago, I simply can't imagine 2010 without this song. It was a huge part of my summer soundtrack and as the year has come to a close, the lyrics have taken on even more meaning. The fact that it is a classic pop song with a killer hook and fantastic bridge is just icing on the cake.

First, listen:



As I wrote earlier this year, Kim Wilde is terribly uneven. However, when she's good, she's fantastic. How can you resist that soaring chorus? That keyboard work is a relic of the late 80s and early 90s but somehow still sounds fresh. It's the music that drew me in on this song but what kept me and has turned it into 2010's retro song of the year are the lyrics. Like most good pop songs, the lyrics seem almost throwaway but the more I listened to them, the more they seemed oddly appropriate. Let's just take the first verse and chorus:

I've been looking all around the world
To see what I could find

Just a lot of broken promises
And people left behind

Oh and the - pain of being lonely

Is what everybody fears

Yeah, it took a lot of time for me to realize


It's here, looking me in the eye

It's here, here all the time

It's here, I've always tried to find a way to go

But now I know

It's here


I'm fond of telling the story about how a college friend of mine, after a bad breakup, was talking to me and said "a pop song shouldn't know how I feel!" My response to her was that if it doesn't, what's the point? "It's Here" really makes that point well for how 2010 has played out. In many ways, it was a watershed year in which a lot of the work I've been doing in life came to fruition, so much so that it could be the theme song for the year.

And it's funny because truthfully, I almost lost this song as soon as I gained it. Really though, it was too good to lose and in the end far, far to relevant to my life up to this point. Longtime readers will know how the lyric "the pain of being lonely is what everybody fears" resonates with me. As a Gemini and an Enneagram 4, that's kind of just how the ball bounces for me. Even surrounded by people, I can still feel lonely, sometimes painfully so. But what Kim Wilde and this year has taught me is that it will never go away, not until I realize that what I'm really looking for is a better, more honest relationship with myself.

She says it so clearly - "it's here/looking me in the eye/it's here/here all the time." It's kind of like when Dorothy Gale says "if I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own backyard, because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with." I suppose this is pretty par for the course for someone in their late 30s. I think when you start bumping up against 40 things change for you, whether you like it or not.

If you haven't figured it out, I have taken the advice of this song to heart. Even before I heard the song at about mid-year, I was already trying to cultivate a better relationship with all the versions of me - the scared kid, the lonely college student, the hopelessly nerdy adult, the ubercompetent pharmacist, the father and husband that feels like he's flying blind most of the time. My Christmas gift to myself this year is to listen to and take better care of all the parts of me. I've already worked hard on it and only when both sides of the Gemini are in balance can there be a little bit of calm.

Who knows, maybe there will never be complete calm - would life be boring if I stopped thinking about this kind of shit? Probably. But at least we'll have this great Kim Wilde song to remind me of what's important when the going gets tough. (I won't whip out that Billy Ocean song even though it's probably in my iTunes somewhere. Update: Just checked. Yep, it is. And I'm playing it in spite of myself.)

And that is what the retro song of the year is all about, Charlie Brown.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

This grinch won't steal my Christmas

Tonight at supper I was perusing the news and I came across this link and the little bit of Christmas spirit I actually had evaporated. For those that don't want to subject themselves to the article, resident arch-conservative and gay-hater Bob Vander Plaats is at it again. He's calling on the remaining four Iowa Supreme Court justices that authored the state's 2009 unanimous ruling that allowed marriage equality in Iowa to resign at the Condition of the Judiciary speech. He says that they should do this because had they been on the ballot with their three former colleagues, they would have been booted from the bench. He then goes on to make a completely nonsensical metaphor comparing someone to teenagers fleeing a beer party but for the life of me, I can't figure out who he's talking about.

This made me equal parts sad and fiery angry. I am so tired of this guy spouting off. I am so tired of him thinking that he speaks for the majority of Iowans. Sure, he might have been speaking for a slim majority of voting Iowans in this election, but that's not the same as speaking for all Iowans. I am especially weary of his smug assurance that he's right, all the while continuing to preach hate, intolerance and prejudice. It makes me want to smack him every time I see him on the TV or in the paper.

As if this weren't bad enough, he speaks of the ills of gays and lesbians serving as foster parents and how those in the LGBT community can be teachers as long as they don't rub our face in it. Oh, and the repeal of DADT will "endanger the military." To add insult to injury, three incoming freshman legislators are drafting impeachment legislation against the remaining justices for...DOING THEIR JOB.

This is the problem with feeling passionate about an issue. Things like this REALLY wear you down. I would like to believe that, as they have been saying all year, it will get better, but with Repubs in charge of the Iowa House and in the governor's mansion, things have a much higher likelihood of getting worse before they get better. Right now, one man (Mike Gronstal) stands in the way of writing discrimination into Iowa's Constitution and you better believe the Republicans are after him.

But instead of feeling defeated, I'm going to turn that negative energy into something positive. Now more than ever we need people to speak up in favor of marriage equality. Being a silent supporter is not good enough right now, not when we're being drowned out by the opposition. I still can't do cold-calling, but I will continue to advocate for the rights of all LGBT Iowans and stand against the idiot prejudice and intolerance. These kind of setbacks are bound to happen. As a friend of mine says, the march forward on progressive causes are frequently two steps forward, one step back.

So my wish for Bob Vander Plaats this Christmas? Originally it was for him to shut the fuck up and go far far away. But now, I just want his heart to grow three sizes. I know that it probably won't happen, but Christmas is a time for miracles and if anything would count as a miracle, that would be it.

I'm also not going to let local politics ruin my Christmas because that would just be plain stupid. It looks like we might be snowed in tomorrow, but we have many festivities planned for the next few days. And next Friday, my little sister gets married AND all three Cullinan siblings will be in the same room - something that doesn't happen very often. I'm looking forward to it.

I may do a couple posts tomorrow if we're snowed in, but I have Heidi's presents to wrap so who knows. If not, Merry Christmas to everyone reading.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Stay golden

This weekend was the first of a few Christmases we have lined up this year. I can't keep track of how many there are actually going to be or when they're going to take place. I've kind of adopted the attitude of "you just tell me where to be and when to be there. Provided I'm not working, I'll show up." Truthfully, I find it to be much less stressful just to go with the flow rather than getting worked up and end up not enjoying any part of the holiday.

But last night's Christmas was what we lovingly refer to as "Tina's Christmas." It's called that because of a 15+ year-old inside joke that started between Heidi, Jeff and me. It refers to Christina "Tina" Crawford, adopted daughter of Joan Crawford and author of celebrity tell-all turned camp-classic Mommie Dearest. Don't ask me why the joke started, it just did. It's part of the history now and honestly, if it weren't there, life would be A LOT less interesting. But Tina's Christmas is tradition now, so much so that we book it a year in advance and God preserve your soul if you schedule anything else on that weekend.

Food is consumed, gifts are exchanged, alcohol is drunk, games are played. We always try to outdo each other when filling out the tags on the presents. This photo below gives you a pretty good idea of what I'm saying.

The best part of this was when Anna was passing out presents and she said "Who is La Bouch?" (pronouncing it so that it rhymed with "ouch") Close, but no cigar Anna. Among the other people receiving presents last night were Richard Burton & Liz Taylor, Barbara Mandrell, Dexter, 'Lizbeth Walton, Wonder Woman, Starbuck, Liza (from David Guest) and many others I can't remember. Seriously, it's the best part. It gets so bad that sometimes the gift giver has to think about who it was really for. It's kind of a very camp Christmas.

And somewhere along the line, Santa started to visit early. We're starting to push up against the age where Anna might start to not believe in Santa for much longer (she's 9 and not showing very many signs of disbelief) so we kind of milk it a little bit. Last year, he brought everyone pajamas and this year was the same thing. We orchestrate this quite elaborately to perpetuate the belief. Anna was really anticipating this to happen this year and so when it did, she came down the stairs declaring that she KNEW it would happen because she still believed.

Of course, a man in a red suit did not actually visit. We all had drawn names to see who would buy pajamas for who and Jeff got my name. We all had e-mailed our pajama sizes and preferences and I think for the most part, everyone was pleased. Inside my package was a pair of flannel pants and a big navy thermal shirt that I wore to bed last night. Also in the package was a T-shirt that might only ever be a bed shirt, I'm not sure. I did wear it today. I think the image kind of speaks for itself.

Really, coming from Jeff, it's a perfect gift. The Golden Girls is beloved by gay men far and wide, but he and are among the few straight men I know that enjoy the HELL out of it (although I do know of at least one other - you know who you are.) It really is - pardon the pun - comedy gold. The writing is so strong, the performances so perfect that even in the later seasons when Blanche was ultra slutty, Rose extra dumb and Dorothy extremely bitchy, it still didn't suffer. I've seen every episode multiple times and Heidi always says that watching me laugh my head off for the hundredth time is, for her, the best part of watching it. My friend Mary, who was also at Tina's Christmas, is fond of saying that in high school, while her friends were out getting laid on Saturday night, she was at home watching The Golden Girls. Well, so was I.

What I love about this gift is its subtle meaning. In many ways, what Tina's Christmas is all about is how everyone is loved for being exactly who they are, despite AND because of their flaws. These folks are our family of choice and it's so important to me that this continue in some form or another for as long as it can.

I've spent a lot of today in a funk I couldn't quite shake. That's not all that unusual for me after a flurry of activity. When the party's over, I'm more inclined to quiet introspection than anything else. It's not about turning it into something sad or melancholy, it's just about the transition. Tomorrow is back to work for four days and then a few more Christmases. I'm not getting that much time off around Christmas but I am taking eleven days off beginning December 30th for my sister's wedding on NYE. Then it'll be a week of trying to catch up and unbunge (as my brother always says) from the hustle and bustle of the season and get back to normal.

I would end this post with a "thank you for being a friend" gag, but really, it's too obvious. To all those who are family of choice to me - those present last night and others as well, just listen to that damn cheesy theme song and know what it's all about.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Best of 2010: Songs of the Year

I'll admit that I kind of didn't want to do this post this year. Reasons for that stemmed almost exclusively out of laziness (it takes forever to write these), but then I decided my year-end best of CD which I give out every Christmas was too fucking good not to share. The first round of CDs go out to close friends this weekend so I figured that now would be as good a time as any to reveal the contents. Many of these songs came from the summer which was a fantastic summer for music. This list is 17 songs long, I'll keep my comments as brief as I can. The final CD will have one more song - the retro song of the year - but that post is proving harder to write than I anticipated and will probably see the light of day next week sometime. So without further delay, here we go. (Sorry pop children, no Robyn. I just can't do it.)



1) Get Outta My Way / Kylie Minogue
Usually, these lists are in no particular order, but the #1 song on this list is the #1 song of the year for me. No other song even came close to defining 2010 like Kylie's "Get Outta My Way" did. I was obsessed with this song in the late summer and I still play it like it came out yesterday. It fit Kylie like a glove and I predict it will be a Kylie classic despite its poor chart performance even overseas. The lyrics were empowering and kiss-offish in just the right way. It also had a video that I dissected in a late summer post that reduced me to a screaming fangirl in a way that only Kylie can. Not since 2007 when Debbie Harry's "Two Times Blue" dominated my listening has a song come so close to wrapping up the whole year in 3 and a half minutes. "Get Outta My Way" did just that and for that reason, it is 2010's Song of the Year.

2) King of Anything / Sara Bareilles
I wasn't sold on Sara Bareilles' first album, although I did like "Love Song." I picked up her second album Kaleidoscope Heart on Amazon MP3 for $1.99 on the strength of "King of Anything." If there's anything I like, it's a defiant kiss-off song, and "King of Anything" delivers that in spades. Intelligent lyrics and a piano driven melody don't hurt it either.

3) Telephone / Lady Gaga & Beyonce
Is Lady Gaga backlash about to start now that I've finally given in to her charms? My daughter and I adore this song - we sing along to it in the car all the time and she knows the lyrics better than I do. It does what every fantastic pop song should do - burrow into your brain and never leave. Easily the best phone song since "Hung Up."

4) Shame / Robbie Williams & Gary Barlow
It's kind of fashionable to hate on this song, but I really really like it. I think it's the fact that it's a duet between two men which I feel is something of a rarity. The song is not going to cure cancer but it's catchy and cute and sometimes, with pop music, that's all you really want. I also enjoyed the Brokeback Mountain-ish video. Those two guys (who are, for the record, both straight) really just need to get a room.

5) Jona Vark / Gypsy & the Cat
My friend Steve is the only reason I know about Gypsy & the Cat. He thought I might like "Jona Vark" since it was "very Fleetwood Mac-ish." He was right and I've played the hell out of it in the last quarter of the year. G&tC have an album out that is only available in Australia and I think I'm going to have to figure out how to procure a copy. Cool electronic music that doesn't leave your head hurting when you listen to it.

6) Rocket / Goldfrapp
What if Goldfrapp had recorded the soundtrack to Xanadu? I think that with their album Head First which was one of 2010's first perfect pop records, you get at least an idea of what it would have been like. I heard "Rocket" very early on in 2010 and it has stuck with me all year.

7) Oh No!/ Marina & The Diamonds
Another song that Anna has really taken a liking to, Marina Diamindis is one of my favorite new artists of 2010. This isn't surprising as she has a big female voice most people are used to me loving pretty much instantly and she is classically beautiful as well (check out the "Shampain" video if you doubt me - or better the "Hollywood" video.)

8) Hormones / Tracey Thorn
"Hormones" is the most bittersweet song on this list (quite a feat considering Mary Chapin Carpenter is represented here as well.) A mother's ode to her daughter whose hormones are "just kicking in" while hers are "just checking out," the bittersweet is surrounded by a great melody and other lyrics that can cause dads to see the women in their lives with respect. As the dad to a daughter who is "only half grown up," it sure resonates with me.

9) Wonderful Life / Hurts
Hurts is so hard to figure out. I like their odd Pet Shop Boys meets Johnny Hates Jazz sound, but a little bit of them goes a long way. Their song "Better Than Love" made my summer list, but when it came right down to it, it was the more melancholy "Wonderful Life" that's had more staying power. It is kind of a cousin to Black's "Wonderful Life" in that you almost believe that it really is a wonderful life.

10) The Way I Feel / Mary Chapin Carpenter
So many good songs on The Age of Miracles, so little space. "The Way I Feel" is perhaps the most authentically Chapin song on the album in that it highlights her uncanny ability to marry her smarts and way with a lyric with a country-pop hook. This is a perfect driving song and whenever I listen to it in my truck, I just want to hit the road and drive for the horizon.

11) Broken / Madonna
There were enough Madonna leaks this year that it was almost as if we got a brand new album. Most of the leaks were of dubious quality and many were cast-offs from American Life (read: not very danceable) but "Broken" was a notable exception to this. Recorded during the Celebration sessions, this song is classic latter-day Madonna. Her voice is low and commanding and the chorus is as memorable as anything she's done in a long time. Miles better than just about anything on Hard Candy, I'm glad this saw the light of day.

12) History / Groove Armada (featuring Will Young)
Bubbling over with sexual energy, "History" is what Will Young really needs to be recording now. As has been pointed out by others, his songs seem oddly neutered. Not so with this. It was another January 2010 song that survived 12 months of really good music to earn a spot here. Here's hoping Will's rumored all-dance album takes a cue from this song.

13) Raise Your Glass / P!nk
I am oddly resistant to P!nk. Even though I like most of what I hear from her, I always feel like she's the token female artist that people that don't like female artists very much feel okay in liking. Why I let that perception keep me from enjoying P!nk's pretty good music is probably my loss. That said, "Raise Your Glass" is my favorite P!nk song since "Don't Let Me Get Me."

14) You Haven't Seen The Last Of Me / Cher
As the first new Cher song in almost a decade, it could have been 4 minutes of cats screeching and meowing and it would have made this list. Happily, it was a solid ballad the likes of which we haven't seen Cher do in a while. Complete with dance remixes, this whets my appetite for the long awaited new Cher album (no release date yet.)

15) Be My Thrill / The Weepies
I didn't like The Weepies Be My Thrill album as much as I liked Hideaway, but this is definitely a standout track that has got a lot of play as summer turned into fall this year.

16) Turn On The Radio / Reba McEntire
This is the second year in row that a Reba song has made this list. Do I dare declare that I am in the midst of a Reba renaissance? Time will tell, but this song had me at with the cheeseball line "Try to call, twitter me, text until your fingers bleed." And when the video ended up featuring Reba as the ultimate cougar, I knew this song would end up here come December.

17) Any Which Way / Scissor Sisters
Half a year after it came out, I'm still kind of warming up to Night Work. I don't know why - it's really everything I love about cheesy pop music and the Stuart Price factor which made Confessions on a Dance Floor and Aphrodite so appealing is hard at work here as well. That said, "Any Which Way" was an early favorite. It's also the only song from the year (that I know of) to mention L'Eggs pantyhose. That kind of obscure reference more than earns it a spot on this list.

And besides, I just wanted another excuse to post the picture of the Scissor Sisters' Night Work album cover - the album cover that launched a thousand "that was my senior picture" jokes.

Many of you can be expecting the CD with these tracks (plus one) so you can get your 64 minutes of Dan at any time you so desire.

Agree? Disagree? I'd love to hear it. Keep it clean. Or don't.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tweets from Walton's mountain

Thanks to following Alison Anrgrim on Twitter, whose awesome book Confessions of a Prairie Bitch I blogged about a couple weeks back, I am now rather inexplicably following both Grandma and Grandpa Walton. Yes, THAT Grandma and Grandpa Walton. She had retweeted something that Grandma Walton had tweeted and for whatever reason, I was sold.

I never even liked The Waltons all that much when it was on TV. I remember my mom watching it though, and I remember the theme song quite well. I don't know why, but it just never appealed to me as a kid although I do remember watching a few episodes. As you might expect, my grandparents LOVED it. How many people our age have memories of watching this show at their grandparents' house, or at least of it being on while you were there?

I only vaguely recalled the characters of Grandma and Grandpa Walton, but let me tell you, their tweets are hilarious. Much like Heidi and me, if you're only following one of them, you're missing 50% of the show. So I tweeted the following tonight.

If you're not following @, you're totally missing out.

Imagine my surprise when I got this in reply:


It cracked me up and I immediately retweeted it. My friend John saw it and said to me "I think you can retire from Twitter now." Indeed. Now that Grandma Walton has @ replied me (and compared me to John-Boy, no less), what is left to accomplish?

What I did find funny is that Grandma is Tweeting from Echofon. She has an iPhone? I wonder what the 3G reception is like on Walton's Mountain.

Much like Alison Arngrim's book made me want to go watch Little House, now I kinda want to go watch an episode of The Waltons. Almost.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Gone before it happens

This is usually the kind of thing I would throw up on Facebook with a one sentence commentary. I was on my way back from Ankeny tonight after finally watching the season finale of The Walking Dead. I had my iPod shuffling random Madonna songs. The first thing I will note is that it picked a hell of a lot of live shit. Do I really have that much live Madonna on my iPod? I didn't really think so...I only have one copy of each tour on there, something you can't say for my iTunes library with its five Blond Ambitions and two Girlie Shows and three Confessions Tours and 6 Re-Invention Tours. But one song that played was "Gone" which I have not heard in forever.

"Gone" is one of those songs that I always forget about, but it's right up there with "Nothing Fails" when I think of songs to counter the argument that Madonna "can't sing." No, she is no Sarah Brightman, but what she lacks in range she makes up for in heart. Sadly, it's that heart that's missing from most of her latest music. I'm hoping that she finds it again when she comes back with her new album whenever that may be.

Even though Jeff hates it (it is the last song on a Madonna album after all), I do kind of have a soft spot for it (and its sister song "I Deserve It") She even did it justice on the Drowned World Tour.



How I miss those (relatively) unaltered vocals.

Year of 25 Books: #21 - Charile & the Chocolate Factory

Anna and I read this book over the course of about three weeks this summer. We read a chapter or two before bed nearly every night. Although she'd seen the movie (the Johnny Depp one, not the Gene Wilder one), I wanted her to be familiar with the original book. I remember back when I saw the 2005 film, I wanted to keep Anna from seeing it until she read the book, but I think someone bought the movie for her for her birthday or Christmas one year and well, there went that idea. (PS - I'm not as keen on the movie now as I was in that blog post. Both the 1971 and the 2005 versions have their merits.)

I was in third grade when I was first exposed to this book - our teacher read us a chapter a day. I'm having a hard time remembering if I had seen Willy Wonka & The Chocoloate Factory but if I recall my reaction to the chapter that ends with them about to step into the chocolate room, I'm thinking I hadn't. The story is, of course, well known. Chocolatier (and general weird guy) Willy Wonka invites 5 children into his chocolate factory. The five kids are picked by luck of the draw. Concealed inside five ordinary Wonka bars are five golden tickets. The first four tickets go to kids that are of the least-deserving ilk. Appropriately, they are all gluttons to some degree. Then there's sweet innocent Charlie who lives in a one-room shack with his parents and four bedridden grandparents. It appears through most of the first third of the book that he will not get a golden ticket, but based on the title alone, you know that he will.

The shenanigans inside the factory are more than worth the price of admission. Roald Dahl's imagination ran wild on this one. It is in this respect that the 2005 film adaptation of the book is superior to the previous because the technology allowed for more of this to be seen. But what it really is at its center is a morality tale - bad behavior is punished while patience and perseverance are rewarded with the keys to the factory.

I enjoyed this book this time around because it reminded me of how easy of a read it is for kids in the 8-12 range. I think that a lot of kids would really enjoy reading this, especially if they've seen either film version. I think it serves as a really good example of comparing movies based on books to their source material. Generally, they are never as good and it comparing the two really started a good conversation with my own kid. Even though I tried to convince her that when you read the book, you get to see whatever you want, I fear reading is way too solitary of an activity for my little social butterfly (how did two introverts birth an extrovert?) plus who among us isn't drawn in by CG effects and the ability to put anything on the screen these days?

Still, worth a reread.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Vinyl trim

Those of you who have been to our house know that in my office, I have a border of vinyl around part of the room. I love old album art and really kind of miss it nowadays. Anyway, there's always been a big blank section which has never been filled despite getting vinyl from people every time I turn around. Co-workers bring it to me, I get it for Christmas, my birthday, you name it. Well, today as we cleaned the house for the annual Very Tina Christmas next weekend (yes, that's a Mommie Dearest reference.) As part of that, Heidi helped me clean up my office and I decided to finally finish hanging up all the vinyl I had never gotten around to putting up.

Warning: my guilty pleasures are on full display here. Like that's ever stopped me before. I'll post the pictures in order as you go around the room. (Play along: Do we share any favorite albums and what else can you spot in these photos?)

Is it kitschy? Probably more than a little. But wow, is it ever Dan. Heidi asked me if when I walk in my office, I feel like it's "me" and yeah, I do. Almost all of these, from the Madonna and Stevie ones to the Linda Ronstadt and Helen Reddy ones that were given to me as a joke, have a story in my life. Fun times, sad times, but nothing I really ever want to forget.

Friday, December 10, 2010

She ROCKS

I had kind of a fair-to-middling day (at best) yesterday. No real reasons, just the way it worked out. Heidi, on the other hand, had what can only be described as a fucking fantastic day. The Rainbow Awards are put together by Elisa Rolle and are. as Heidi put it, pretty much the LGBT fiction equivalent of the RITAs. The winners were announced yesterday and Heidi was all over the place. Heidi's post is here, but I wanted to post the results here as well.

Best Gay Erotic Contemporary, First Place - Special Delivery
Best Gay Fantasy, First Place - Hero and Miles and the Magic Flute.
(They tied each other.)
Best Character, Third Place - Special Delivery
Best Writing Style, First Place - Special Delivery
Best Overall Gay Fiction, Second Place - Special Delivery


In addition to this, both Special Delivery and Double Blind were listed by Sarah Frantz at Dear Author as two of the best of 2010.

I am so amazingly proud of her that words can't possibly express it. I frequently say that she is living her dream, something that many people wish they could be doing but for whatever reason are not. She does all this while being an amazing mother to our 9-year-old and the best partner in my life I could ever hope to have. I love her so very very much and couldn't be happier that her dreams are finally coming true.

And hats off to Special Delivery, the little book that could. As I've said before, I had a small hand in making sure the book got finished and boy, am I glad I pushed her on it now!

Hooray for the man love! I never thought it would help pay the bills!

(she has three more books on the docket for 2011, the first of which will be out in February.)

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Last night a pharmacist saved my life

The title may be a bit melodramatic, but indulge me if you will.

We've had a trying few days around our house. Heidi's chronic pain flared up pretty badly over the weekend which saw us going to the urgent care clinic, redirected to the ER and then ultimately calling our family friend and doctor from when we lived in Washington to get some relief from what was the worst bout of pain she's had in a while. In the midst of all this, a symptom which Heidi had never exhibited prior to this weekend showed up. It started as involuntary twitching in her left leg and gradually got worse and worse until by Sunday night, she was having full body spasms. These twitches went away when she slept and could be almost "willed away" if she concentrated hard enough. But they were still undeniably there.

On Monday, we went to the physical therapist and the chiropractor. Both provided a great deal of relief, but after a few hours, the twitches were back. The chiropractor recommended following up with our regular MD, saying something about "brain stem lesions" and other such things that sent my brain which, left to its own devices will always concoct the worst case scenario, into hyperdrive. His thought was that the MD would refer us to neurology which seemed appropriate to me.

So we did just that - we visited our MD yesterday and he did just what we expected and referred us to neurology. He sent Heidi back over to the hospital for some bloodwork to rule out some of the more obvious things. I had left work to accompany her to her appointment and she sent me back to work as my presence at blood draws is not essential. I did, however, leave her in a wheelchair in the front lobby of the hospital. Jeez, what kind of husband abandons his wheelchair bound wife to go back to work? What a cad.

That was, until going back to work caused a light bulb to go on over my head.

I'll admit that I had thought of it previously, but had dismissed it. Heidi takes Effexor for the fibromyalgia-like pain that she has. She takes a mid-range dose as that's the dose where you get the effects for pain vs. the mood-elevating effects of its approved indication for treating depression and anxiety. She also takes trazodone at night, which is an old time antidepressant that we don't use anymore because the doses needed for effective treatment of depression are so sedating you end up looking like something out of The Walking Dead. However, it does have a place in treating mild insomnia which is what she'd been taking it for. She had been taking 25mg of trazodone at night, every night and had recently upped her dose to 50mg. In addition to this, she had been tweeking her dose of Effexor upward as her pain had been bad.

What's important to know is that both of these drugs affect a neurotransmitter called serotonin. What they do, in effect, is keep serotonin in the neural synapse instead of allowing it to be taken back into the neuron for reuse. This is what leads to the mood elevating effects you see with these drugs. Why the hell this works for pain is a fuck-if-I-know type thing, but it does. Sometimes, when you combine these drugs, you can get a drug interaction which leads to an excess of serotonin. Basically think Duran Duran's "Too Much Information" but instead "Too Much Serotonin."

This condition is what's known as "serotonin syndrome." When I looked up the interaction between Effexor and trazodone, I found the following:
Symptoms of the serotonin syndrome may include ... neuromuscular abnormalities such as hyperreflexia, myoclonus, tremor, rigidity, and ataxia.
It was a long shot - especially at the low dose of trazodone she was taking and there were many other symptoms she didn't have, but something easy and worth a try. I had her stop her trazodone and the doctor was already having her back her Effexor dose down to 150mg. The half life (the amount of time it takes half of the drug to be eliminated from your system) of trazodone is 3-6 hours and it's generally accepted that for a drug to completely clear your system takes 5 half-lifes. So if my theory held any water at all, about 30 hours from when she took her last dose of trazodone, her symptoms should really start abating.

We're past that point now, and her twitching is all but gone. She's gone from needing a wheelchair to get around to nearly baseline in that time. I'll never be able to prove definitively that I was right, but in my mind, I was. Nothing else changed. And as House always says, it fits. Mostly, I'm just glad that she's on the mend.

I always get ticked by the way the movies and TV portray pharmacists - you know, as nerds behind a counter without a single ounce of social skills. They are invariably balding middle age men with thick glasses that don't seem to be using their brains. Nothing could be further from the truth. I do this kind of stuff every day. Mostly, it is mundane stuff that is easy to catch and any pharmacist worth their salt will see it. But every now and then, I get something like this. And it makes all those years of fancy schooling worth every penny.

So hug your pharmacist (especially if I am your pharmacist - I like hugs) because some day, they might just save your life. Or at least stop you from twitching.

Get the point? Good. Let's dance.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Suit shopping for Frankenstein

At the end of the month, my sister's getting married. Not terribly surprisingly, I am invited to the wedding. However, I'm also IN the wedding. I haven't been a proper stand-up part of a wedding in a long time - probably not since I was the best man in my brother's wedding in 2004 (not counting my own wedding in 1997, of course.) This wedding is such a cool undertaking. Not only is it wedding, but it's also a New Year's Eve party. It's also at the historic Englert Theater in downtown Iowa City. From what I have gathered, there aren't traditional groomsmen and bridesmaids either, but rather an inclusion of family and friends in an unconventional way. And to further set it apart from other weddings, the guys are NOT wearing tuxes. And there was much rejoicing. All that's required of me to wear for this wedding is a black suit. This means I'm going to have to purchase a black suit as I don't own one. So today Heidi and I went suit shopping.

I own one suit and I think I've worn it twice. Once was to a job interview and the other time might have been to a wedding - I can't recall. I always say that I would rather imbibe a quart of hemlock than have a job that requires me to wear a suit to work every day. Hell, the job I have now doesn't even require me to wear a tie. I don't know what my aversion to suits is - I imagine it has a lot to do with societal expectations which I both like to meet and don't like to meet. I don't mind wearing a suit to something like my sister's wedding, but as an item in my everyday wardrobe? Forget that shit.

We went to a local place to look and we were done before we even got started since their low-end suits started at $350. Their higher end ones went up to $899!! That's almost a thousand dollars! I can't imagine any situation in which I would spend nearly a grand on one particular outfit. So we went out to JC Penney and looked there. What we found there was much more affordable. I had a lot of different brands to choose from that looked pretty good on me. I even found, after initially resisting, that a vest really DOES make a suit look better. There was one hiccup though.

My torso and arms are just too damn long.

Even 42L suit coat was short in the arms and sadly, that was as far up as most of them went. Well, there was one 44 regular that I tried on and that one was so tightly cut in the back that I couldn't button it. Those of you who know it wasn't because I was trying to pull the damn thing over a huge beer gut. I was also reminded of why I shy away from formal dress shirts. My neck is 17 1/2" and my arms are 36/37. I found VERY few shirts with that kind of arm length. The fact of the matter is I am just freakishly tall and I guess that even at 38 years of age, I'm still a bit disproportionate. Apparently, I'm still in my "awkward phase."

I think what we're going to do is go down to Dillard's in Des Moines tomorrow and have an actual salesperson help us. I need some kind of happy medium between the budget busting suits at the downtown store vs. the do-it-yourself approach of JC Penney. I bought my last suit at Dillard's and it served me just fine.

One thing I will say is that I looked much better in a suit than I remembered - my wife reminded me of that several times while I was trying them on. Despite the fact that I was bringing out the animal in her, I still would never actively seek a job that required me to wear them daily.

Some things you just can't compromise on.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

A telling moment

On Wednesday, when I was taking Anna to piano lesson, we were listening to her new favorite song, Marina & the Diamonds "Oh No!" She specifically requested it when we got in the car and we listened to it over and over again on the way. During one of the listens, Anna surprised me. Marina sings in the song "I always feel like I'm the worst/So I always act like I'm the best." Right after that, Anna says to me, in a moment of honesty, "Dad, that's how I feel sometimes."

Wow. I always joke about the apple not falling far from the tree when it comes to her. I told this to Heidi and she said "she is definitely your child." I wasn't really sure what to say to her at that point and looking back, I can't even remember what I said.

With the benefit of a day or two to ponder it, I decided that the most important thing I can do for her is to give her the tools to figure out that the former isn't true, so she doesn't have to waste energy on the latter. Hopefully, she can avoid believing that sentiment when she's 35 like her dad did. I told her this last night and she was predictably nonchalant about the whole thing but still. Someday she'll stop telling me stuff like that so I need to take every opportunity.

We see ourselves mirrored in our kids in the most bizarre ways.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

NaBloPoMo wrap-up

Well, I did it. Almost. While I missed one day of posting in November, I managed to get 30 posts in 30 days and folks, that's a NaBloPoMo success. So what in the hell did I get out of this second annual experiment in blogging?

Well, the first thing I got out of it was that I really do enjoy writing. I kind of already knew that, but whenever I do this I remember how much I enjoy writing about whatever the hell happens to cross my mind. Sometimes I can get five paragraphs out of it and sometimes not. Most of the time, the posts don't go in the direction I expect them to. Nowhere was that more apparent to me than in my private dining post, which started out as an examination of a day I spent on the Iowa State campus as a late 30-something and became something more akin to a confessional.

Last year I mentioned that I didn't think that posting daily upped my traffic at all and that it certainly didn't net me a ton of new readers. This year, I stepped outside my comfort zone and pimped this space a little bit more than usual. I linked to every post on my Twitter account and to most of them on Facebook. The advent of lists and the ability to control who can and cannot see content I post on Facebook has made me a bit braver in that respect. Doing that roped in a few new readers and saw some days' hits actually hit triple digits, although I think those were due in large parts to a whole bunch of apparently unrelated hits from Italy looking for a picture of Corpse Bride. I rarely get more than about 40 hits a day which is so minuscule in the grand scheme of things that it's the blog equivalent of a speck of dust. Not that I live and die by blog hits. Nor do I live and die by comments - although feedback is always nice. You simply cannot measure a blog based on the number of comments that it receives.

My favorite posts out of the month were the previously mentioned private dining, as well as the one with me confessing I've never done a shot, the Friends post and the Roxette/Heidi one. I am also pretty fond of the pictures I posted for Anna's birthday but there was not much actual writing on that one. I also did four of my book challenge posts. I'm never sure if those are worth the time or not, but I enjoy writing them so whatever. Skip them if they are of no interest to you.

There's no way I will keep this up in December, but I do want to try to blog on a more regular basis. NaBloPoMo always proves that I am not short on things to write about but what I am short on is time and energy. So we'll see how I do. What I am going to be doing is tweaking the site a little bit and adding in Blogger's pages options. You'll notice them along the top. There's an "about me" section that has nothing in it (apparently, I'm shallow and empty.) I'll also be adding a "greatest hits" section. There I will link to some of my favorite posts and the ones that continue to get the most hits. I think it'll help to serve as a starting point for anyone that may randomly stumble across this space or, more likely, someone I know personally that I send to the blog and keep them from being overwhelmed by the 1400+ posts. It'll be the zero-depth entry section of the blog.

Mostly, this month has been a fun time to write about what I like. And that's the biggest thing I learned. Write about what you love, not what you hate. Sure, there'll still be criticism of those things that do not live up to expectation, but I find that I am much more excited about writing about those things that I love and am passionate about. I'll also continue to share the occasional confessional post which might reveal more than I want it to, but honestly, it's in the little stories that we really get to know each other. And sometimes they're easier to write than they are to tell in person.

And THANK GOD I finally got more hits than just people looking for pictures of the monster from The Relic or trying to find out about rumbling appendicitis - probably the most common searches leading to this blog, although "Madonna remixes" is starting to give both of those a run for their money.

Thanks for continuing to read and thank you for sharing the month of November with me.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Year of 25 Books: #20 - Rats

Think of the things that would make a perfect book. Mutant rats? Check. Mutant MAN-EATING rats? Double check. Mutant man-eating rats headed from a dump on Staten Island towards Manhattan to feast on limitless flesh? Triple effing check. How could a book like this go wrong, especially when it's written by esteemed Pulitzer Prize winning young adult author Paul Zindel?

Let me count the ways.

As I alluded to, Rats is all about gigantic mutant man-eating rats that bred underneath a Staten Island dump that had been sealed over with asphalt. I guess it was the buildup of methane that caused them to mutate, but they escape and much calamity ensues. I'll admit that I picked up Rats partially because it is a paltry 203 pages, but I thought that with a set up like that, I couldn't miss. I'd have an easy entry into my 25 books AND have an enjoyable time. It sure starts out with a bang as a landfill operator on his last day on the job decides to take his BB gun out to kill some dump rats. Like something out of Creepshow, the rats descend on him until he is nothing but pieces. All of this is described in great gory detail as if this were a Stephen King or a Brian Keene novel.

Then the main characters got introduced and it was all downhill from there.

Because this is a young adult novel, the main characters are teenagers, the son and daughter of the widowed landfill director. When the rats start coming up through toilets and other pipes, they know something is wrong. What follows is a confusing and nearly unreadable mess that I'm not sure I would have even been terribly interested in as a 14-year-old boy. Plot lines show up and then are dropped. Things are never adequately explained. There's some business with their pet rat Surfer - does he or does he not communicate with the rats? The world may never know.

There is the inevitable meetup with the king rat but at that point, the book is so cartoonish I half expected him to be wearing a crown and holding a scepter. The ending is nonsensical and abrupt and left me scratching my head.

Needless to say, I don't recommend this book at all to anyone of any age. The gory parts were cool, but the parts with the whiny kids and the ineffective adults more than canceled that out.

I expected much more out of the man that gave us The Pigman.

(I know I promised the NaBloPoMo wrap up post tonight, but it's going to have to wait till tomorrow. The plague is descending on me and I want to do that one up right.)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Through the cracks

There are so many movies that I really, by rights, should have seen but for whatever reason, I missed. I have never seen Dirty Dancing all the way through. Same for Sixteen Candles and Pretty In Pink (must be a Molly Ringwald thing.) I've missed most of the Die Hard sequels, haven't seen a Bond movie since Goldeneye and couldn't be bothered by most of the Coen Brothers stuff. And perhaps most glaringly, I've mostly shrugged my shoulders at the oeuvre of Judd Apatow. Looking at his filmography, be he producing, directing or writing, I've missed most all of them. No Anchorman, no Talladega Nights, and until today, not even The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

So I decided enough was enough. The 40-Year-Old Virgin has been hanging out in perpetual limbo in my Netflix queue forever. I finally decided to move it to the top of the queue and even though I've had it for about a week, I just got around to watching it today. I knew quite a bit about it already and really, it's kind of one joke movie. But what the filmmakers did with that one joke was pretty amazing. That they managed to take what basically has the lifespan of a Saturday Night Live skit and turn it in to a 2 hour, 13 minute film was nothing short of astounding.

I'm not going to bother recapping the movie as I'm sure I'm the last person on Earth to actually see this movie. Suffice to say that Steve Carell is Andy who is the 40-year-old virgin. His co-workers at a Best Buy-ish type place find out about his lamentable state and make it their life's goal to help him shed his virginity. Funniness ensues, some predictable, some not so much.

I found the movie to be funny but not hilarious. I never once laughed out loud. I'm not a huge fan of humor that relies on embarrassing the protagonist so badly that I have to watch through my fingers. This is not a horror movie so I shouldn't be experiencing that mildly uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach. I also think I might have found it funnier had I not known so much about it going into it. The scene with the chest waxing was more ridiculous than funny and knowing what was going to happen definitely took some of the funny out of it. Naturally, the best thing about this movie is Paul Rudd. The man steals every single movie he's in.

It was worthy my time but ultimately, I don't need to see it again. If it was only mildly funny the first time, I can't imagine it holding up well on repeat plays.

I have a feeling that I'll feel this way about The Hangover as well. Everybody has told me it's the funniest movie EVER (my sister would have a field day with that statement) but I just can't shake the feeling that I'll walk away from that underwhelmed like I did The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

Back tomorrow with the NaBloPoMo wrap up post.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

This is the rhythm of my life

Wow, we're on day 28 of NaBloPoMo - it seems like it just started and here we are, almost to the end of it. I'll save the wrap-up post for day 30, but I really felt like that needed to be said.

Tonight's post will be brief as I'm pretty wiped out. The last two days I've worked at 7AM and because of that, I've been up before 6 both days. The amazing thing is that I managed to make it to work on time at all this weekend. Both mornings my alarm went off at 5AM and I turned off my alarm and went back to sleep. I have my own internal clock to thank for keeping me from completely oversleeping. Yesterday I got up at 5:20AM and today it wasn't until 5:45AM that I hauled my ass out of bed. And to think that in college, I couldn't get out of bed for 8:30AM classes. Sleeping that late is sleeping in these days.

I went to my friend Matt's tonight to watch episode 5 of The Walking Dead. The episode itself was a little bit of a let down - Matt put it best when he said "I'm just not scared enough of this show" - but the company was great as always. He and his wife are the perfect people to watch this show with. Next week's episode will rock though because, although it seems like we just got started, it's the season finale. I'm hoping a little bit of light gets shed on what caused the zombie apocalypse, but I'm not holding my breath. I know next to nothing about the graphic novel (and I'm keeping it that way for now) but this show seems very intent on keeping the origin story a secret. Not that it really matters, but you know me. I want to know WHY and HOW the zombies came to be. I want a nitty-gritty scientific explanation to give reason to something that is so unreasonable you can't even fathom it. So we'll see what happens.

I drove back up to Ames at around 10:30PM and was, like I said, pretty tired from my early morning and day of work. I was not in real danger of falling asleep on the drive home, but I figured I'd leave nothing to chance. After gassing up (gas is 11 cents a gallon cheaper in Ankeny than in Ames - WHY?), I fired up my Genius playlist based on Snap!'s "Rhythm Is A Dancer." It is kind of my 90s Eurodance playlist, but it's confounded by the presence of things like Girls Aloud, Katrina & the Waves and Take That. Genius is not so genius in this case, but it did make for a nice mix. I figured that there was no way I would fall asleep listening to the sounds of Corona, La Bouche, Black Box and Real McCoy.

It turned out to be just what I needed. And in the end, I've finally settled on Corona's "Rhythm of the Night" as being my favorite of that type of song. La Bouche's "Be My Lover" is a very close second. I even picked up Black Box's album Dreamland last week on eMusic and haven't been disappointed. "Rhythm of the Night" is a time machine to a time that was not necessarily simpler, but one that seems so now in retrospect. You have to be careful not to idealize the past; it's so easy to do. But with a song like this, how can you not?



I wonder if that lady actually sang that song or if she's lip syncing while someone less photogenic actually did the singing. I totally want their full length album. It's on Amazon for 65 goddamn cents. Someone buy it for me for Christmas.

Speaking of photogenic, check out the Corona artist photo from last.fm. It's a hoot.


I heart it. That's the kind of look Heidi should go for, right?

Back tomorrow with something more substantial. For now, I'm going to get unconscious.