Settled and confirmed

On this Sunday, the 29th day of January in the year 2012, whereas our family life was previously so uncertain, I do declare us ...


We've got a great house. All of the necessary boxes have finally been unpacked, and the belongings are put in their rightful place. And we have our dream television.

I completed our taxes today. And we had a good year. Better yet, I finished them a good two weeks before the Valentine's Day weekend, which has typically been the weekend I've done them the last few years. But best of all, we only had to file one state form this year -- a nice change from the two or three Kates and I have filed together every year since we married.

I'm free-writing and journaling regularly again, which is a good sign of how content I am. So far, I'm sticking to my resolutions.

Life is pretty good right now. We're comfortable enough with where we are that I no longer feel the need to call this latest chapter our "new adventure," as we've done since the transition to this point started a little more than two years ago.

Rather plainly, we're entering a phase now where we're just here. Navigating life in The 'Ville. It's where we live now. It's home.

Sure, I still have those mind-blowing moments when I look around and think, What the heck am I doing here? I had one of those moments yesterday when Phoebe and I walked over to campus for the basketball game. As I sat in the bleachers, watching the game with Phoebe on my knee, there was a moment when I felt the surreality of me watching my college alma mater, in the same arena I'd watched so many games a dozen years ago -- and now I'm doing it with my giggly 3-year-old daughter, who is totally in love with the college mascot. I had another moment this morning as we walked into the same church I'd attended during my college years, and now I'm attending the church as a full-fledged adult with a family in tow.

I wonder how much different it would be had my parents not moved to Wisconsin as I finished up my first year of college. The rest is history: I headed to Wisconsin that summer to work with my dad and help him settle into his new job as the manager of a camp. I met Kates that summer. We finished college three years later, married and settled in Wisconsin. We figured we'd stay in the state for life and never set a foot in The 'Ville again.

The twists and turns of life.

Our lives are hardly perfect, though. Kates and I have never felt the insecurities about our jobs that we feel at this moment, amid looming budget cuts and the lack of union protection we enjoyed in our previous jobs. It's going to be a trying spring. ... Then you throw in the complexities and burdens of living so far away from our extended family and the tug-of-war that inevitably comes into play with every holiday or significant milestone. Suffice to say, had we know that part was going to be so difficult, our decision to begin the adventure might have been quite different.

In his sermon this morning, our pastor discussed these themes. He quoted an old saying that goes, Worrying works -- 90 percent of what you worry about doesn't happen. So true. ... He went on to talk about how we're just living out this drama of life on God's stage. To follow him is an adventurous journey. ... Will it be easy? Probably not, but it's worthwhile. The journey is loaded with signs of confirmation along the way.

As my life's mantra goes: Take nothing for granted. It all happens for a reason. Relax, God's in charge.

It always works ... out.

Now, if you'll excuse me I have to start my 120-page journey of reading in my graduate book for this week.


Fun and games

OK, Buffalo Wild Wings® people, your website rocks.

Thanks to my friend Gina for tipping me off. ... Gotta admit, I'm not a fan of the food, so there's not a huge chance of me finding this site.

I could waste a lot of hours playing Chicken Joust and Wing Hut.


Prince and stuff

I've read 85 pages in "The Shaping of American Higher Education" -- it kept me up until 1:30 a.m. this morning, thank you very much -- and I've finished the written reflection for my graduate assignment this week -- one of these weeks I'm going to work "peachy keen" into a paper as a tribute to Kates. Now I can write about more pressing issues.

Like -- holy crap -- Prince Fielder signing with the Tigers.

Now, let the record show that I thought when the offseason began, if Prince didn't resign with the Brewers, the Tigers would be the next best fit.

Fairly quickly, the Tigers seemed to be out of the picture, thanks to a notion that Prince refused to play there because of a riff with his father. Whatever. (... Hey, Prince, accept the olive branch already.)

There was little doubt in my mind that he'd sign with an American League team because of the advantages he could give a team in a DH role. I never saw the Yankees or the Red Sox as contenders for his services because they didn't need him. Baltimore seemed like a decent fit. So did Anaheim until they swiped Albert Pujols from the Cardinals. I never took the talk of Seattle seriously.

But Detroit. He would stay in the midwest. Detroit is built on hard-working, blue collar fans -- just like Milwaukee. He could rotate playing first base and DH and be part of a fearful one-two punch with Miguel Cabrera. Prince could help Detroit finally reclaim a world series title and get a deserving Jim Leyland one more before he has to hit the road.

I should also say I did love the ideas floated of Prince signing with the Cubs because of his connection to Dale Sveum, but Theo Epstein never let those rumors persist.

As the process drew on, and the Rangers and Nationals seemed to be the only teams hanging around, I was rooting for Prince to accept a Rangers uniform. The Rangers are now a legitimate contender and I see a lot of the same characteristics in their team make-up that the Brewers possess. ... Not for a minute did I see Prince landing with the Nationals and being happy in D.C. In some ways I felt sorry for him, that the process had drawn on so long, that maybe his big-time agent was calling the shots, and that maybe if he could do it over again he would stay put in Milwaukee.

Then, bam. Tuesday afternoon arrives and the reports come that Prince signed with the Detroit Tigers.

I'm already giddy about the idea of catching some Tigers games in Kansas City.

Meanwhile in Milwaukee ... The Division Champion pennant was hung, and there may still be hope for Ryan Braun. (Watch his acceptance of the NL MVP Award)

(Updated: 01.26.2012) Some good reads ...
a Tigers introduce Prince Fielder
a Were it not for V-Mart's injury, Fielder might have been a Dodger ... As I stated above, I felt the Tigers could have made a play for Prince at any time, but the Victor Martinez injury certainly made things more interesting.
a Determined to win, Tigers make Prince fit
a With echoes of A-Rod, Fielder deal gives Tigers a powerful punch
a Still a 'sad day,' Melvin says
a Prince provided Milwaukee many memories ... These are great. So many good memories. Especially the video associated with No. 3 on the list.
a Start your engines: Prince arrives in Motown

* * *
In other news, Ingrid Michaelson announced a new tour today. That literally circles the United States and never comes close to Kansas City, located quite conveniently in the middle of the country. And she's haunting me with ads for her new album appearing on nearly every web page I visit.

Seriously. Kansas City. Music black hole.

A short time later, those feelings were replaced with pure elation brought on with a Facebook posting by Ben Folds that read:
It's happening fo sho - Day 1 in studio with Robert and Darren through March. #NewBenFoldsFiveRecord
The post was accompanied with a photo of Ben and original Ben Folds Five members Robert Sledge and Darren Jessee rehearsing in the studio.

I nearly cried.

For the uninitiated, Ben Folds Five broke up in 2000. Ben Folds has put out some pretty good records on his own, but it's not the same. ... I was fortunate to see them in concert four times, including one incredible night in Omaha, Neb., during the Reinhold Messner period -- for more reasons than the BF5 performance, but that's worthy of a whole different post. Here's hoping the trio can recapture the magic.

(In the midst of my elation, my friend Laura also reminded me The Shins have a new album due out in March ... This is shaping up to be a great year for music.)

When I got into my car to drive home from work tonight, I cranked this.


Football double-checks

So the Patriots and Giants are heading to the Super Bowl. Joy.

I would have much preferred the Packers and the Patriots, but I'll take it. ... In a grocery-store conversation with a friend before the games this afternoon I predicted a Patriots-49ers Super Bowl matchup, forgetting for a moment that the Giants were the other team left in the mix.

Thinking about it later, I do have a lot of respect and admiration for the Giants. Plus, one of our former 'Cats has become a key player for the Giants defense, and our fans are pleased to have him representing us in the Super Bowl, which he did in 2008, too. Furthermore, I like the Giants resiliency, and I think I'll be rooting for them to take it to the Patriots again in the Super Bowl.

Either way, both the Patriots-Ravens and the Giants-49ers proved to be fine games.

To fill the void of the Packers not playing today, I thought I'd post a pair of Aaron Rodgers commercials making waves.

The first is one of the latest entries in the State Farm series featuring Rodgers, which you've seen if you've been anywhere near a TV projecting an NFL football game the last couple weeks. Raji's dance makes me laugh every time ...

The second is a regional commercial for a Wisconsin bank that my sister-in-law -- who works for the advertising agency that produced this commercial -- described to us during our Christmas visit. Among other behind-the-scenes stories and fun facts she told us: Aaron's line near the end -- "Is this part of the deal?" -- wasn't scripted. (As a side note, Sister-in-Law also was involved in December's amusing Mittengate. See for yourself.)

In other news, Joe Paterno died today. Truly a surprising and sad turn of events the last few months at Penn State ...

Some good reads ...
a Too soon to determine Paterno's legacy
a Joe Paterno dies, leaving a record for others to debate


This week in numbers

0: Minutes I watched of the premiere week of “American Idol: Season 11.” ... Our interest in
Idol has dropped off big time -- with much of America, it appears. Last year, Kates and I watched a few early episodes, and the finale. I picked out Scotty McCreery and his million-dollar country voice the night he auditioned and proclaimed then that he'd win it all. Lesson learned: Investing three nights a week in those two-hour drag-a-thons of half-hearted critiques and mostly decent music just isn't worth it.  

1: Number of U.S. senators I met this week. Sen. Roy Blunt paid a visit to our campus Wednesday.

3: Number of crazy, Inception-like dreams I had between Wednesday and Friday nights, which featured everything from swimming across Lake Michigan to get to downtown Chicago to enduring a violent earthquake in an underground subway station.

4: Number of days I worked, thanks to Monday’s holiday.

5: Number of times I ate pasta for a meal between Tuesday and Thursday. Kates whipped up a delicious mix of meat and noodles for dinner Tuesday night, and I could eat the leftovers for several more days if there was more to be had. But that number also includes an awful bowl of something served up at our weekly church dinner. It quite possibly might have been the worst thing I’ve tasted in my life. It smelled like the remains of a fire-charred house.

6: Hours of sleep, on average, I’ve had each night this week.

7: Temperature Thursday night. It was been bitterly cold this week.

10: Hours I spent in graduate class this weekend. But it was one of the most engaging class sessions we've had yet, complete with designing organizational charts and board games based on the history of higher education.

12.5: Percentage of state funding our university will lose next year as proposed by the governor this week. It would be a drastic cut to our university, which is already “doing more with less” amid cuts each of the last two years. Programs will be erased and people will lose their jobs because of this.

12:30 a.m.: Time Phoebe awoke Thursday night/Friday morning to give me a hug. ... I had stayed at my office late to work on some of my graduate research, and my mind was too wound up to sleep when I arrived home around 11 Thursday night. So I stayed up a couple more hours, catching up on some TV. At 12:30, I heard someone coming down the hall, and as I listened closer I realized they were the footsteps of Phoebe. When I turned around, she was standing at the top of the stairs, cuddling her blanket. She looked at me and mumbled, "Daddy, you weren't here to give me a hug." My heart filled with pride, I got up and gave her a hug. Then I scooped her up and took her back to bedm and she promptly fell back to sleep. Arguably the highlight of my week.

14: Years since I was a journalism student taking the university's professional media writing course, which I've been asked to teach Monday.

103: Pages of text I read in two nights to prepare for my graduate class this weekend. … This is the kind of the number that I tease Kates about, saying she could read that many pages in about 20 minutes. I, on the other hand, am a notoriously slow reader.

1,807: Total number of words I wrote Thursday for two significant pieces explaining our university’s stance on issues, recent accomplishments and upcoming initiatives. I used quite a few of these words in the process, but I'm quite proud of how the articles turned out.

Musical highs and lows

This was my music discovery of the week …

Sara Bareilles is brilliant.

Speaking of brilliant …


Hello from ant1mat3rie on Vimeo.

Those are the highs.

The lows?

It was announced this week that Death Cab for Cutie is touring this spring. With an orchestra.

They'll be hitting Chicago. Milwaukee. ... Kansas City? No.

I know I've said I wasn't impressed when I saw Death Cab in Milwaukee a few years ago. ... But I'd like a do-over. And they're playing with an orchestra!

Guster recently announced they're heading back to Milwaukee, too. They've played there three, maybe four times since our move. But no Kansas City.

I'm beginning to think Kansas City is a black hole for good rock bands. What gives?


Our big weekend

Neither of us had to go to school today, thanks to the Martin Luther King holiday, although Phoebe and I did walk up to the campus this afternoon to join a welcoming party for our cheerleading squad, which returned to The ’Ville from winning the national championship in Florida this weekend. Woo hoo!

We spent the day playing games, and enjoying the 50-degree weather outside. Tonight, Kates and I watched Betty White’s 90th birthday celebration -- which was a hoot! -- and now we’re watching my beloved Jayhawks hand Baylor its first loss of the basketball season.

But those were hardly the highlights of this weekend.

* * *

Saturday we woke up with one goal in mind: Purchase a new TV.

In case you haven’t been following along, let me catch you up. Our previous big screen TV -- a dated Samsung model that we bought shortly after we purchased our first home and was probably one of the last “big box” TVs to move from an electronic retailer’s shelf -- blew up in the midst of Roy Halladay’s no-hitter during the 2010 baseball playoffs. At the time, we were in transition and in the midst of our maddening home search, so replacing the TV wasn’t a high priority. We made do with a small TV left over from my college days, and got by, for the most part. … Last spring, we finally found our perfect home, which features a large living room wall that was begging to be outfitted with a new, large flat screen TV. Since then, we’ve been saving our pennies and waiting for the right time to act.

So Saturday we headed to the nearest Best Buy. We were on the lookout for a smart TV with a crisp picture, pure and simple. A picture that wasn’t so bright it ruined the magic of film and television. Something around the 40-inch range.

Samsung and Vizio were the brands that had caught our eyes in our months of research. But as we wound our way through the aisles and reviewed the store’s selection, we kept coming back to a 42-inch Panasonic plasma model with internet capabilities and various web apps. … We liked the picture quality on the LCD models better, but those, we learned, don’t come with internet hookups. Kates and I went back and forth, paced the store aisles some more, and nearly decided to put off our purchase for another time.

In the end, a store rep convinced me the plasma was the right television for what we wanted. We bought it, and didn’t look back.

Back at home, I unhooked the old TV and moved it downstairs to Phoebe’s playroom. I got the TV, now known as Phoebe’s new TV, rewired and she was in front of it, watching Dora in no time.

We unwrapped the new TV, set up its stand and hoisted it onto our entertainment cabinet. Setting it up was a cinch. I had it turned on and running just in time to catch the start of that crazy 49ers-Saints game (Talk about an unbelievable ending … ).

Seeing the TV in our house, Kates and I could hardly swallow what we’d done. It didn’t seem possible.

We bought a wall mounting system, but we dashed those plans and will return the mounting after seeing the amount of space the TV takes up sitting on our entertainment cabinet. The TV seems so large against our living room in comparison to the way it appeared in the store that I swear the store model was a smaller version designed to manipulate us.

Mission accomplished.

* * *

As we settled in for a night of testing our new TV, I turned on the Patriots-Broncos game, but that quickly turned into a one-sided affair. … Not that anyone was surprised. Tim Tebow has a long way to go before he can hang with the best teams in the NFL.

Just before halftime of the football game, a newspaper friend of mine in K-Town tweeted that Miss Wisconsin, Laura Kaeppeler, had entered the top 12 of the Miss America pageant. … Now, normally I couldn’t care less about the Miss America Pageant, but this year’s representative of our home state was from one of our hometowns!

As I’ve continued to keep tabs on the news of our old stomping grounds, I’d read stories about her rise through the pageant levels. I knew she graduated from Carthage. And that her platform was supporting and mentoring the children of incarcerated parents.

I changed the channel, and Kates and I were sucked into the excitement. We watched as she advanced to the top 10 and broke into the talent competition. Then, she advanced to the top 5 and was part of the question-answer portion.

Meanwhile, the buzz among our K-Town friends was building on social media.

Finally, it was time to announce the final results.
Fourth runner-up: Miss California.
Third runner-up: Miss Arizona.
Second runner-up: Miss New York.

Unbelievable. This girl from K-Town could actually be the next Miss America …

First runner up: Miss Oklahoma.

Oh. My. Goodness …

Winner: Miss Wisconsin.

We could hear the cheers that poured from K-Town bars and living rooms all the way down in The ‘Ville. Status updates and tweets related to Miss Wisconsin lit up our social media circles.

My friend Joe may have had the best quip with his Facebook status: “This is the greatest thing to happen to Kenosha since Al Molinaro.”

Hey, Joe. Let’s also not forget Alan Ameche, Orson Welles, Mark Ruffalo. The handful of kids who have appeared on "American Idol." And dozens of others who have gone on to great things. God bless, K-Town.

Here's a good post on how Miss Wisconsin became Miss America.

* * *

About a week ago I saw in the local newspaper that a few Royals players were making a stop in town yesterday afternoon to meet fans, sign autographs and rally support for the upcoming baseball season. Even better, the Royals mascot, Sluggerrr, was scheduled to be a part of the visit.

I decided to pitch it to Phoebe, a big fan of Sluggerrr’s, as a father-daughter outing. When I told her, she jumped up and down and clapped her hands like, well, a little girl.

When it was time to go, we headed to the sporting goods store to get a baseball. Then to the senior citizens center, where the even was being held. Jamming to the radio all the way, of course. “Daddy, stop singing because I can’t hear the music!” she said. It was a perfect.

At the center, we met a fair crowd of people waiting and sitting at rows of tables set up as if there was a potluck dinner. A work colleague and his son joined our table a few minutes later, as did a trio of college girls dressed in Royals jerseys. They kept Phoebe entertained, rolling her baseball back and forth across the table, until the players arrived.

Eventually, Billy Butler, Danny Duffy, Greg Holland and Royals great John Mayberry entered the building, and the crowd applauded as they took their seats at a table at the front of the room. The Royals’ radio announcer introduced each of the players and gave a quick outlook for the 2012 season. Then he invited the crowd to come forward to meet the players.

As Phoebe and I took her place in the line, she, of course, asked about Sluggerrr’s whereabouts. But there was no sign of him and I said he must’ve decided to stay home. … Barely a second later, Sluggerrr stepped through the door and Phoebe erupted. Phoebe, who’s never been one to pose for pictures, insisted that all she wanted was to give him a hug and a high five. No pictures.

We waited patiently as the line moved past the players. When it was our turn, Phoebe shyly rolled her baseball across the table to each player.

After collecting each player’s signatures on the ball, we turned toward Sluggerr. Again Phoebe waited her turn … And then she smothered him with a hug and gave him a high five, just like she wanted. In this picture, Phoebe is actually hugging Sluggerrr, but she’s buried by his crown.

* * *

Then, there was the Packers game, which hardly measured up to the highs of our weekend.

When the season started -- with that memorable win against the Saints -- I didn’t predict a trip to the Super Bowl for the Packers, as I did last year, thank you very much. There are a lot of variables that have to fall into place for it to happen again, I said. … Then they went and had one of the best regular seasons by a team in NFL history, going nearly perfect -- until that ugly loss against the Chiefs (which I did predict, by the way) -- and flying under the radar for most of the season.

But the playoffs mark the beginning of a whole new season, and the thought of the Packers having to face the Giants, Saints or 49ers to get the Super Bowl made me nervous. Few people denied it wouldn’t be easy. … I was glad the 49ers knocked off the Saints because I figured the Saints would be the toughest opponent of all. Then again, the way the Giants marched into Lambeau and beat the Packers a few years ago, I knew it was going to take a near-perfect game by the Packers for them to advance to the next round. And look

The Packers were hardly perfect yesterday. Today, everybody’s talking about the fumbles and drops. Fans are calling for the team to cut Finley and Grant. … But I don’t think the blame can be put on any one player. The Packers team that lost yesterday was hardly the team that rolled to a 15-1 record during the regular season. The defense, already one of the worst in the league, was plain awful against the Giants. Even Aaron Rodgers -- usually cool and calm -- appeared out of sync. His passes were off and he was letting his frustration show during that second half. 

Ah, but we could all take solace in our new Miss America. Wrote my friend Liz on Facebook …
OK, Giants, you had your fun, but we kicked your ass
in the Miss America pageant!

Mr. Rodgers also has this going for him. Miss Wisconsin to Aaron: "Call me."

I had hoped it wouldn't end this soon.
So here are some good reads from the game, and the Packers season ...
a Packers, Giants get boost from history
a History not on the side of Patriots and Packers
a Giants Knock Out the Champs
a Giants' stubbornness paid off in '04 megadeal that almost wasn't
a CBS' Simms: Packers-Giants a lot closer than 37-20
a Manning, Giants pull off unthinkable yet again; more Snaps
a Somber Week for Packers, and the Defense Does Nothing to Lift Spirits
a The Education of a Quarterback
a After dismantling Bears, MVP is officially Rodgers' to lose
a Are Green Bay Fans the N.F.L.’s Classiest?
a Survey says: Packers are America's Team
a Why They Call Green Bay 'Titletown'


Some music that somebody sent to me

Props to my good, music-loving friend Tom for sending me this one ...

He sent these music videos for me to check out earlier this week, and I had no idea what I was about to view. I'd never heard the song. In fact, the title, "Somebody That I Used To Know" makes me think of the song of the same name by Elliott Smith.

I didn't have a clue about Gotye, or Kimbra, for that matter. I didn't know this video existed. But judging by its nearly 40 million views, it's big.

So I clicked play and began watching it. At first, the video creeped me out. Then, Gotye began wailing the chorus line and my ears perked up. Around the three-minute mark, I caught myself smiling. And my mind was blown. ... The imagery is amazing.

Putting a cherry on top of this cake, Tom supplemented his mailing with this cover of the song by the one and only Ingrid. She puts her own stamp on the song. Add some slick editing. Mind blown again.


Time machines

This video makes me want to go right now to New York City to visit this clock shop. I'd take with me my parents' antique clock that hasn't worked in years and have these guys fix it. Kates' grandfather, a maker of clocks -- one of his sits on our mantel -- also would have loved this ...



Oh, girl

So Kates and I now know the gender of Baby No. 2.

I said I didn’t want to do this. But …

It’s a girl.

Another girl.


Kates and I went into the ultrasound last week with tempered anticipation. But deep down I think both of us really expected to hear we were having a boy.

As the technician began the measurements, I was glued to the monitor. The baby was rolling all over, waving its hands and gently kicking its legs. It was a joy to watch and the image on the monitor was a lot easier to make out this time around than the day we first saw Phoebe. It was great fun.

Then the technician got to the moment we’d all been waiting for. “Well, I think you’re going to be able to use a lot of the baby clothes you already have,” she said.

Kates’ eyes and mine caught each other, and neither of us really knew what to say. The technician looked at a couple other angles. And she was pretty convinced.

Suffice to say, Kates and I experienced a bit of a mourning period that night. As I’ve grown into an adult and a father, I’ve dreamed of sharing the wonderful experiences I had with my dad with a son of my own. Coaching little league baseball and backyard games of catch, Boy Scout campouts, solving problems and building stuff. Boy things. The father-son bonding. … We don't know what the future holds for our family, but it makes me sad that I may never get to experience that bond.

Geez, we'd even started to decorate the room -- in our heads -- and discuss names, for a boy.

I had sort of mentally prepared myself for that possibility and the outcome. Kates hadn’t done so much, and when the realization of another girl in the family hit her a couple hours after we were home that night I think both of us were a little surprised at how hard it hit her.

After all, both of us grew up with younger brothers. Now we’re surrounded by friends and family members who have one of each. Having one of each certainly keeps things interesting and varied. We wanted that dynamic for our family, too.

Instead, Kates and I are asking ourselves how we’ll embrace the challenges of raising two girls. How will the younger one define herself? Will we be able to give her the same love and attention we’ve given Phoebe? … Two girls will present a different set of challenges we hadn’t thought about before. All of this talk is nonsense, I know, and I have little doubt these questions will work themselves out. With everything, there is a reason we were dealt this hand.

As I said, the mourning period only lasted for a night. We are having a baby, and that makes us very happy. For me, the mourning ended that night of the ultrasound, as Kates and I were heading for bed, and I stepped in Phoebe’s room to check on her. She was in a deep sleep, her hands resting easily on her chest and clutching her blanket. In that instant, she seemed so grown-up, and I knew this was meant to be.

I met Kates in our bedroom and told her, “Phoebe is going to be a great big sister.”

Here's our new baby girl ...



Over the weekend, while I lay on my deathbed, Kates and I caught a PBS showing of an "American Masters" episode featuring -- drum roll -- "Troubadours."

Don't know it? Watch the trailer ...

Annnnnnnnnd I've been on a Carole King/James Taylor kick ever since.

I stumbled on the documentary as I was flipping through the TV channels Saturday night. When I discovered it, it was already half-finished, but I was instantly mesmerized. I looked through the channel guide to find another showing in hopes of catching the whole thing. ... 1 a.m. Bam. DVR. Record. And Kates and I watched it in its entirety Tuesday night.

To hear Carole, James and the array of Laurel Canyon musicians tell the stories of the world famous Troubadour and their rise on the music charts was fascinating. Their stories added a whole new dimension to the songs, with a heart and freshness I hadn't heard before.

The documentary also made me wish Kates and I could do our night with James Taylor all over again. It's sad how those kinds of memories can blur and fade so fast. One of the reasons I blog and journal.

My vinyl of "Tapestry" has never sounded as good in my ears as it has these last couple days. And hearing Carole's daughter talk about the impact "So Far Away" had on her as an 8-year-old while her mother was gone for months touring -- it's a wonder I didn't listen to it more during those months two years ago that I spent away from Kates and Phoebe. And yet, hearing the song now rekindles the emotions of that time, not to mention the frustrations now of being hundreds of miles from our extended families.
So far away
Doesn't anybody stay in one place anymore
It would be so fine to see your face at my door
Doesn't help to know you're just time away

Keeping with the music theme, I also caught Coldplay's special New Year's Eve performance on "Austin City Limits" this week. Their first round was an instant classic, and their latest stood up just as well.

I've read a lot of mixed reviews about Coldplay this last year, about "Mylo Xyloto" (which I've not yet heard in its entirety) and the band's so-called identity crisis. This passage from The Washington Post is one that's stuck with me ...
Every Coldplay album seems a battle for its soul, between the stirring, philosophical, electronic band its members want it to be and the stodgy, sappy, British band it is. More than anything Coldplay has done, “Mylo Xyloto” exemplifies that push-pull.
Admittedly, the reviews have shaken my interest in the band a bit, and their recent SNL performances left me a little disappointed in the midst of an otherwise classic showing by Emma Stone.

So the ACL performance will go down as a redeemer that showed Coldplay, at its heart, is a great rock band. All the goods were there -- from "Yellow" to "In My Place" to "Paradise" to "Clocks," which maintains a place on my list of greatest songs, ever --  and every song kicked with more emotion and energy than the one before it.

The chemistry among the band members and with the audience was most striking. By the time the boys fired up "Viva La Vida" and had the crowd pumping its fists and chanting the chorus, I was practically doing the same in our living room.

Here's a couple good reads about the show ...
a In Defense Of Coldplay ... You can call me ball-less for liking Coldplay, too. I don't care.
a Paste: Coldplay New Year's Eve: An Austin City Limits Special

You can watch show in its entirety here ...

I did a lot of rambling to get my point for this post, thoughts that have been bubbling in me for weeks. And the music, as always, seemed to be the perfect kick start to putting it on paper, if you will ...

I haven't been myself these last few months, with pressures of work, grad school and family life all mounting and stretching me too thin at times. Our move to The 'Ville has changed me in many, many ways. Some for the better, some for the worse.

But in 2012, I resolve to get back in touch with who I am. To do a better job of living in the moment, and embracing it. To not sweat the small stuff. To laugh more. To be more spontaneous. To be more grateful for life's blessings. To get back to doing some of the things I really enjoy but have been lost in some of the chaos of these last two years. To reconnect with family and friends. To do better job of living and letting go.

So here we go, 2012. Let's rock 'n' roll.


Christmas Vacation: Part II

Happy New Year!

And you don’t know how it good it feels to finally be able to write that, considering I spent the weekend feeling like I was near death.

I woke up at 6 a.m. Christmas morning with a sore throat, a telling sign I was coming down with a good old-fashioned cold. The next morning, we said goodbye to my parents and the cold had hit me full bore. On the say Kates, Phoebe and I were heading to The Farm. But more on that later.

By the time we arrived back in The ’Ville Friday night, my cold hadn’t subsided. Saturday morning it worsened. We hit a high of 63 degrees outside, the sun was shining, families were playing outside. And I was bed-ridden.

I barely moved all weekend. My nose felt as though it was stapled shut, with a gallon of snot stuck behind it. The right side of my face felt like it had been hit with a bowling ball. My nose had me in so much pain, I wondered if it was broken. … Saturday night, as I sat in bed with Kates -- she was experiencing some aches and pains of her own, which we’ve since connected to the new baby’s growth -- and did a little investigating on WebMD, we came to the conclusion I had probably had a sinus infection. Lovely.

None of the medicines I was taking were working. Obviously. After an awful night of sleep, Kates switched me to some high-powered Mucinex Sunday morning, but I remained in bed for the day. Watching football and praying for a miracle cure. … Monday morning, Kates was due back at school while I stayed home with Phoebe; Phoebe and I weren't scheduled to return to school until today. I tried getting out of bed to do some things in the morning, but found myself back in bed during the afternoon with a pounding headache.

I must say, though, Kates and Phoebe were so sweet. Kates brought me meals in bed, and cute, adorable Phoebe brought me an endless supply of her toys and hugs. At one point, she was cuddled on the bed next to me rubbing one of her homemade bean bags on my shoulder, asking me every few seconds if it was helping me feel better.

Finally, today I felt well enough to get out of bed. I’m still not feeling 100 percent healthy, but I’ve been standing upright for most of the day. So I count that as a win … I had to take a sick day from work, but I badly needed the extra day of rest.

Perhaps the worst part of my plunge into sinus hell was that it killed the end of my holiday break. Once we returned from Wisconsin Friday night, I was looking forward to spending the next three days working around the house and catching up on some reading, writing and movies. I wanted to start working on the baby’s room and begin taking down the Christmas decorations, as well as the general cleanup that’s always needed after several days away, particularly with our car. None of that happened.

I didn’t have enough energy to sit up in bed, let alone concentrate on anything other than what was showing on the little TV in our bedroom. I was completely immobilized for the weekend.

On the bright side, I did catch some good TV. Saturday night, of course, we watched the Rockin’ New year’s Eve in Times Square -- and yayed and nayed at the results of the network’s countdown of the top 40 New Year’s Eve performance. (Jennifer Lopez at No. 1!? Gimme a break.) After the football Sunday, I watched all off “60 Minutes” and caught this dude (freaking amazing … ), and I got hooked on “Unforgettable,” which is now set up as a series recording on our DVR. ... Monday, I spent the late afternoon and evening hours watching the college bowl games, which I'll admit were all pretty good games.

I probably wouldn’t have watched the games otherwise because my disdain for big-time college football grows with every year the BCS formula remains in use, a coach gets a multi-million dollar contract or a cheating scandal breaks. And let’s face it, all but one or two of these money-grubbing, corporate-controlled bowl games are pretty much meaningless.

So that was how I spent the last few days. As for our visit to The Farm …

* * *

As if my poor health wasn’t a bad enough way to start the second half or our Christmas break, I discovered a tear in one of the Forrester’s front tires as I was prepping it for our road trip. We weren’t going anywhere until I could get it repaired. So I was on the Walmart’s doorstep not long after the auto center opened Monday morning. Two new front tires, $230 and three hours later, we were on our way out of The 'Ville shortly after 10 a.m.

Despite my condition, I thought I was ok to drive. But shortly after we passed through Des Moines I knew I had no choice but to give up the wheel to Kates. She took over and got us through Iowa City while I slept.

Phoebe traveled like a champ, falling asleep during the early part of the drive and then again during the late afternoon, watching a couple movies on her mini DVD player in between. It wasn’t until the last half hour or so that she started getting a little whiny. … So Kates took a hold of the iPod and kept Phoebe entertained with some of her favorite songs: “Deer in the Headlights,” “Fireflies” and “Now,” among others.

We arrived at The Farm around 6:15 and began settling in. As I unloaded the car and carried our belongings inside, it struck me that we didn’t have as much luggage as in past years. Then I thought, that will change next year when we have another baby.

* * *

Phoebe was at it when the sun broke Tuesday, running up and down the stairs and around the house in her Christmas pajamas, helping Grandma S. wrap presents and bringing them down to the tree one by one. Poor Chloe was parked under the tree and wanting to pounce on every new gift-wrapped box Phoebe brought. 

Later, we were admiring Phoebe after she dressed herself in this colorful motif. Green and red Christmas socks, black leggings with polka-dots, a pink skirt, a white shirt and her sparkling red headband. When I observed aloud how colorful she was dressed, Phoebe exclaimed, “It’s Christmas!”

The day was a repeat of our stay at The Farm this summer, with Phoebe watching nearly every Disney movie she could find in The Farm’s movie library.

By early evening, Orrin and Kelli arrived. And after supper our gift exchange commenced. Chloe, who had waited patiently all day, got the first gift. Watch that tail wag ...

When the dust settled, Phoebe had another doll that goes potty, an Aaron Rodgers jersey, an oversized Dora the Explorer coloring book and a wooden princess dress-up kit. Better yet, she received a Woody doll and an orange teddy bear. So, counting the Woody doll as a legitimate alternative to a Buzz Lightyear, Phoebe had, somehow and totally unexpectedly, received everything on her very specific Christmas wish list except for the "Cars 2" movie. Amazing.

Among the gifts Kates and I received were some additional donations to our TV fund. I also received a vinyl copy of The Beatles' "Rubber Soul." And Kates got Bananagrams, the word game that's sweeping many of the families we know.

As soon as we could undo the packaging, we were at the dining table and playing Bananagrams until the early morning hours.
* * *

We filled the rest of the week with our usual Farm activities -- games, puzzles, movies, hikes and, of course, sleep. For the record, Phoebe also watched every version of Cinderella in the house -- Disney's 1950 version, Roger & Hammerstein's 1965 television version starring Lesley Ann Warren and "Ever After." In fact, "Ever After" got a showing at least once, sometimes twice, a day.

Wednesday was Grandma S's birthday, and we celebrating by having Uncle Rod, Aunt Helen and Great Grandma P. over for the day. We stuffed ourselves with appetizers and snacks before we could sit down for the main course, and then there was a chocolate cake for dessert. ... Intense games of Bananagrams dominated the remainder of the afternoon. And that evening Phoebe held Grandpa S. hostage to watch "Aladdin" with her, while the rest of us worked diligently on a puzzle.

Thursday, Uncle Alan, Aunt Linda and Cousin Andrew paid a visit. Again, there were bountiful snacks and appetizers, with more games of Bananagrams. Phoebe introduced Aunt Linda to the magic of "Tangled," and later we took one of our regular hikes to the bluff overlooking The Farm.

Thursday evening, Orrin, Kelli, Kates, Phoebe and I headed to town to pick up Grandma S. who had gone for the afternoon to help Great-Grandma P. move to a new room in the assisted living facility. On our way back to The Farm, we stopped at a Dairy Queen for supper, completed with ice cream desserts.
Our nightcap included a rousing game of Apples to Apples, and then ...

"Gremlins." As a child of the '80s, how I had yet to see this classic is unexplainable. It's been on my list of movies to see for far too long. Luckily, Orrin got it the DVD as one of his Christmas gifts, and we popped it in Thursday night.

I wasn't dissappointed and thought it was great fun from beginning to end, with believable special effects -- the way movies should be made. ... If the same movie was made to today, the gremlins and nearly all of the special effects probably would have been CGI. Blech!

* * *

Friday, after enjoying sunny weather with temps in the 40s for most of the week, we prepared to drive back to The 'Ville. While this was happening outside ...

After listening to a couple weather reports, we decided to go for it and pulled away from The Farm around 11:30 that morning. We pushed through the snow and sleet, and finally took a break around 3:30, stopping in Amana at Maid-rite for an afternoon snack.

Shortly after dark, Phoebe began getting restless and we employed the strategy we used when she got antsy late in our drive to The Farm. We played some of her favorite songs on the iPod, but this time her fit outlasted the songs, and we started traveling into Tantrum Town. Luckily, Kates stumbled on the Muppets album on my iPod -- an album I’d forgotten I had -- and with Phoebe’s recent discovery of the Muppets, it worked wonderfully. The music calmed Phoebe, and five or 10 minutes later she was sleeping.

By that time, we’d finally ditched the rain and sleet and had clear roads the rest of the way. Well, except for the final stretch through Iowa when our car came up on three deer standing in the middle of the road. We come up on two more before getting to The 'Ville.

We pulled into our garage at almost exactly 7:30. I think I say this every year, but I can‘t remember the last time I was so happy to be home, especially with my worsening cold. It had been a long day of driving, and I, of course, was feeling like I’d been run over by a truck.

I slowly unloaded the car while Kates prepped Pheebs for bed. By 9, all of us were in bed, and our house was dark. Our holiday travels complete for another year.