Month: December 2013 (Page 1 of 3)


That’s what the family calendar on the refrigerator shows this morning. Three hundred sixty-five days down, zero to go. Which means, though the sun will rise in the morning and the normal work-week will continue (for some) on Thursday, today is still an end and tomorrow another beginning.

2013 was, for the most part, great for our family. Three big family trips (Disney in January, spring break in Florida, Boston for a family wedding). Girls soccer and swimming and tennis lessons. L. in pre-K. S. in a new job. Plenty of water fun, despite the relatively cool and wet summer. One winter that lasted too long, followed by another than began too early.

Then there was the Pacers pushing the Heat to a game seven. The Royals’ August run. Wiggins joining the Jayhawks. Peyton coming home and getting beat. Another division title for the Colts. And a bunch of fun and interesting high school sports assignments for me.

The year was not perfect. No year is. But we were spoiled rotten. I think we used our travel allotment up for awhile, so it’s going to be basketball and good TV shows that get us through this winter instead of counting down the days until we head to warmer climes.

If you’re celebrating tonight, be safe. And may your 2014 have more good than bad, more health than illness, and more laughter than tears.

Holiday Weekend

I woke up early this morning, for no real reason. I had been sleeping until 8:00, even 8:30, much of the past week. Something caused me to wake up shortly after 6:00 today, though, and after trying to fall back to sleep, I gave up. I went downstairs, made coffee, and enjoyed the silence of the morning with my current book. S. was off to work early and the girls all kept with their holiday trend of sleeping in. It was wonderful.

Then the girls got up. First L. at a hair before 8:00. The other two came down about 20 minutes later. Within seconds M. was bossing everyone around and being rude to C.. While eating their breakfasts, C. and L. were arguing about everything and L. was complaining that C. kept touching her.

Silence, and tranquil morning, broken.

Shame I wasn’t dropping them all back at school today.

Our big event of the weekend was the first family trip to an ice skating rink. This came almost exactly 28 years after my first, and last, attempt at ice skating over Christmas break of my freshman year of high school. Fortunately S. can skate, and we went with our neighbors, who can all skate, too.

Our girls took to the ice very well. They all used plastic walkers to stabilize themselves as they got comfortable. It took about a minute for C. to take off running with her walker, absolutely comfortable and in full-on, excited C. mode. L. was slower, but equally calm right away. And M. was much more cautious, as I could have predicted, but found her footing surprisingly soon. By the end of the evening, she was actually skating around on her own, albeit next to the boards and with her friend right next to her. C. and L. both took turns with skating adults holding a hand and doing most of the work on their own.

What about dad? I made a pathetic loop of the rink, either hanging on to L.’s walker with her, or clinging to the boards. After that lap, which seemed to take about an hour, I wisely got my ass off the ice and stayed out of everyone’s way. I really should have picked it up when I was eight, because it sure ain’t happenin’ now.

The girls can’t wait to go back. I’ll need to find some aunts or other friends who can join them on the ice. I think I’ll just watch from the stands next time.

M., C., and I played our first game of Monopoly together Friday. It took about three hours over three lengthy sessions. C. was enthusiastic, but didn’t grasp the economic component of the game. She once bid $550 for an auctioned property that was listed at $200. I believe the bid before she went big was $115. I gave her the option of backing out, but she was excited to be buying something and went ahead. Of course, she’s in first grade so the consequences of spending too much are kind of lost on her. No surprise, she was the first to get eliminated.

M. hung on a little longer, but dug herself a hole and had to sell off all her properties, which I snatched up. The end was swift and just, but she was gung-ho to play again soon after.

We were playing by the traditional rules, since I hadn’t played since grade school, but I think we’ll make the switch to the faster-paced version the next time we try.

Times, and interests, change. But parents and kids playing board games together is one of the great, enduring traditions of Christmas break.

Christmas 2013

First, my obligatory annual statement about how fast Christmas flies by when you’re an adult. The time from final dismissal before Christmas break for the girls to about 9:30 last night, when the kids were all in bed, most of the clean-up was done, and we could just sit and relax seemed to pass in a blur. I think that’s because we had a fine Christmas.

As is tradition, we had an uncle and two aunts join us for Christmas morning. I’m pretty sure our girls have never opened gifts with just S. and me, and we’re glad that someone is always willing to come hang out with us during the craziest 20 minutes of the year.

The girls did well. M. got the Monopoly game she requested, some My Little Pony stuff, and a new outfit for her American Girl doll. She also got Wipeout 3 for the Wii in her stocking. An interesting combination of gifts that fits a nine-year-old who sits between little girldom and pre-teendom.

C. got a Crayola Melt ’n Mold machine, which will cause trouble at some point, we are certain. She also got a Nintendo DSi and an outfit for her doll plus a Wreck It Ralph game for the DSi in her stocking.

Finally, L., who cleaned up. She got the obligatory new American Doll outfit, but she also upgraded from her Bitty Baby to Saige, the official doll of the year for 2013. Then she got a Hot Wheels racetrack and a four-pack of cars. Despicable Me 2 was in her stocking. Finally, with C. getting the new DSi, L. got her old DS. Like I said, she cleaned up! And another girl with a funny combination of gifts, hers being dolls and race cars and technology.

They didn’t get everything on their lists, which they knew coming into the day. But I’m pretty sure they were happy, because there were never any comments of, “Well, what I really wanted was…”

Later in the day, the girls got bean bag chairs and fuzzy blankets from their Mimi. For the rest of the day they never put them away, dragging them to each room they were sitting/playing/watching TV in. They even wanted to sleep in them last night.

By the way, M. never showed any outward signs of doubting Santa. As a parent, especially a parent who is really into all the trappings of the holiday season, I must admit I’m conflicted about that. For the past 2-3 Christmases, I’ve approached December with the worry that it would be the last all-kid Christmas in our house, knowing M. would figure things out at some point. So, one one hand, I’m pleased that the kid magic of the holiday endured another year. I’m not looking forward to the sullen teen years when the girls are shitty with us because we got them the wrong things.

On the other hand, sometimes I think to myself, “She is nine now. I knew when I was nine. How can she not know?” Other parents will understand this mental conflict. She’s not the type of kid who would keep it to herself if she knew. At least I don’t think so. Maybe I should give her more credit.

Anyway, Christmas 2013 was one in which all three girls were still very much into Santa, the Elf on the Shelf, and all the other secular, kid-oriented mysteries of the season.

As has been the case in recent years, we hosted most of the family Christmas Day activities. We had the immediate family over for brunch after gifts. Then more extended family came over in the afternoon for dessert. I think we had 14 in the morning and 21 in the afternoon, which is light for us. Two wings of the immediate family were not here this year, accounting for eight people. We did have one of our Denver residents and our Boston representatives in town, though.

So, Christmas Day was terrific. S. is back at work today, but there are still relatives in town for a few more days. We have a family game night on the agenda for tonight. There will likely be some playdates and kid-trading with the neighbors between now and when school resumes on Jan. 6. And, hopefully, lots of good times where the girls are having fun with their new loot.

I hope all of you had great Christmases, too.

Kid Catch Up

Here we are. Two days left on the Advent calendar. A couple loops left on the Christmas ring chain C. brought home. Done with school for the year. The cookies have all been made. Christmas day menu planned. Yep, it’s Holiday DEFCON level 1.

All three school programs went well. M. shined as Mistletoe the FBI agent in her grade’s The Christmas Files program a week ago. She had one minor hiccup with a line, but caught herself quickly and powered through. We had worked on her lines with her, but had not heard the duet she had with another of the FBI agents. They did a fine job with that, too. M. got a laugh for a line that was clearly written for her. After the Christmas mystery is unraveled, M. shouts, “I knew it!” Which is sooo M.. She always knows everything.

L. did a fine job as Mary in the Pre-K acting out of the story of the first Christmas. The baby Jesus doll she held was ginormous, though. It looked like a 20 pounder, at least. She had a silly grin on her face the entire time. I asked her after what was going on and she just giggled. I think Joseph may have been cracking jokes or something.

Her’s was our final holiday program at St. E’s after seven years and ten total performances by our girls. We sat by a family that started with us back in the fall of ’07, when M. and their oldest were in the 3’s class. They still have one in the 3’s class and another that will start in the 2’s next fall. We’re pretty sure they’ll have the school record for most kids and most total years when they’re done.1

The first grade handles the annual living nativity at St. P’s, so C.’s class got to close out the school year with that on Friday. She was an angel, a narrator, and played a chime in a seven-angel performance of “The First Noel.” She did a fine job as well. She spoke very clearly and was easy to understand, which wasn’t the case for all the other performers.

There’s been some Elf on the Shelf controversy in our house this year. Completely predictable controversy, of course.

One morning a couple weeks back M. was the first to find Elfie. Given her personality, it was impossible for her not to immediately tell C. and L. that she found him and to point out where he was. They were not pleased.

So, two days later, C. and L. saw him as soon as they came downstairs. They immediately yelled, “There’s Elfie!” and pointed in his general direction. M. absolutely flipped out, screaming that they weren’t supposed to tell her. “It’s not fair! They told me where Elfie is!” She was literally crying. She’s nine-and-a-half years old.

I heard all this from the kitchen and intervened right away.

“M., knock it off! You told them where Elfie was the other day, so you can not complain when they find him first and show you. You can’t have it both ways.”

There may have been some more yelling involved. She and I are both pretty grumpy in the morning.

But she grasped that logic and shut up. I reminded everyone that they were not to tell the other sisters where Elfie was, and if that happened again, I’d send him back to the North Pole until next year. They’ve been good ever since.

“Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” has never been one of my favorite Christmas songs. But it’s on a kid’s Christmas CD we have in the van, so I’ve learned to change the chorus to be about the girls. Usually the girl that gets run over hates it, but the other two love it. And I always rotate through each chorus so everyone gets run over and believes at some point.

This year, though, L. really hates it. Any time it comes on, she pipes up from her seat, “Dad, can we skip this song?” Honestly, I don’t mind her request that much. My mom hated that song, so perhaps that’s a little bit of her coming through, too.

Finally, the girls watched the Grinch movie, the one with Jim Carrey, at some point when I was working or running errands or something. While watching, they figured out how to stick their top teeth out and push their noses up to look like the Whos in the movie. Which is kind of funny.

But what’s really funny is C. does it all the time. She’ll be sitting there watching TV, and she has her top lip flattened and her teeth sticking out. Or coloring. Or reading a book. Or taking a bath. It makes me laugh every time, partially because I wonder if she did that at school the last couple weeks. Would she be working on her rocket math or her art project and have her Who-look going as her little concentration tic? It won’t be so funny if she’s still doing it in February, but I like it for now.

Favorite Songs Of 2013, #1

1 – “Holy” – Frightened Rabbit
This is the fourth time FR has cracked my year-end list, and the third time they’ve grabbed the #1 spot. Yes, I’m a massive fan and this spot was pretty much reserved for them the moment I learned they would release an album in 2013. But still, they had to deliver. At least three of their songs were in the running for this spot, most notably “The Woodpile,”1 the song I nearly made co-#1.

I had to go with this, though. That driving bassline has been in my head since the first time I heard it back in February. It chugs along like a funky New Order track. And while Scott Hutchison is singing about wishing religious people would leave him alone, his sentiments can easily be applied to the endless string of folks who want to tell us we are, for any number of reasons, living our lives incorrectly. It’s a terrific sounding way of telling them all to just piss off.

  1. Not to mention “State Hospital,” which was #11 a year ago thanks to its 2012 EP release. 

Holiday Jihad #2

Before some kid notes, another holiday jihad for you.

Years ago I sent a Christmas card to the parents of a college buddy. I found out later I had misspelled his mother’s name – I thought her name was Lara but it was actually Lura – and I was horrified. I quickly apologized and she shook it off, saying I wasn’t the first to make the mistake.

There’s a simple act of respect that goes into getting someone’s name right. It shows you value your relationship with them. That’s why I get all fired up when someone misspells a name on the address label of a Christmas card.

One family in particular has been sending us cards for nearly a decade with my wife’s last name spelled incorrectly. This is from someone who worked with S. for most of that decade. Keep in mind, S.’s last name was clearly printed on the uniform she wore to work. Her last name appeared on all kinds of paperwork that this coworker surely had to read. And we’ve sent this family our Christmas card each year, again with S.’s last name clearly printed on the return label.

But every year they spell her name wrong.

I get that we make it tough on people, having two different last names. But that seems like a basic part of sending Christmas cards: reviewing address to make sure they’re up to date, changing names after marriages, and ensuring the names you already have are spelled correctly. It’s an act of care and respect.

Anyone can make a typo. But misspelling a name, when you’ve had countless opportunities to see it spelled correctly, over and over and over again means you’re lazy, dumb, or an asshole. Or, perhaps, all three.

People…they’re the worst.

Favorite Songs Of 2013, #2

2 – “Song For Zula” – Phosphorescent.
It takes audacity to open a song with a line that mimics massive hits of both Bette Midler and Johnny Cash. But Matthew Houck, the man behind Phosphorescent, does exactly that here, when he sings “Some say love, is a burning thing. That it makes a fiery ring.” He definitely gets your attention from the first note.

Beyond that first line is a wonderful, mournful backing track. His weary vocals have the sound of too many nights at the wrong end of a bottle, seeking comfort for his pain. And the rest of the lyrics slowly lay out his case before he floors you with his closing lines,

“But my heart is wild. And my bones are steam.
And I could kill you with my bare hands if I was free.”

It’s a nuclear bomb of a song, one that will absolutely destroy you if you’re not careful.


Favorite Songs Of 2013, #3

3 – “Recovery” – Frank Turner.
I do love a good break-up song. So, no surprise that the top three songs feature two break up songs plus a band that I first fell in love with because of their most-excellent album all about getting your heart smashed.

Here Turner sings a very masculine break-up song. I say masculine because musically, this is a rollocking, sing-along with your boys while the pints are flowing at the pub song. Outwardly, it seems proud and defiant, telling the ex to piss off one last time. But the lyrics, which are top-notch, tell a story of a man who drove his love away and desperately wants her back. While he’s screaming with his boys, inside, the pain endures.


Favorite Songs Of 2013, #4

4 – “Wakin In A Pretty Day” – Kurt Vile.
This song was a lifeline during the endless winter of 2012-13. When the temperature refused to rise and it seemed like spring would never arrive, this was the promise that warmer, better days would eventually, finally, arrive.

Favorite Songs Of 2013, #5

5 – “In The City” – Caveman
It seems like each year there is one synth-heavy song that I can listen to repeatedly and just get lost within its layers. Here is this year’s example.

At first listen, this would seem to be a rather cold, serious song. Each note sounds carefully planned. The transitions are perfect. The ratio of dense synths to delicate yet distorted guitar feels as though it was arrived at through careful mathematical study. The drums are big enough to propel the song forward, but not so big that they dominate. This is a professional song, not one arrived at through reckless experimentation.

But this is far from a lifeless, sterile song. The vocals balance the musical mix wonderfully. As the synthesizers build in the last third of the song, making the song’s base even firmer, the guitars gain life and soar, tugging in hopes of escape.

It is spooky and lush and utterly gorgeous.


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