Christmas vacation: Day 9

We departed The Farm Saturday afternoon for my parents’ – aka Grandma and Grandpa H. – home.

I had stayed up past 2 a.m. the night before working on a puzzle we started when we visited last summer. Never had a puzzle taken us so long to finish at The Farm, but this particular one was a doozy. Not only was the wilderness scene it depicted dark, but the puzzle was loaded with pieces that appeared identical to each other. The closer we got to finishing it, we began to find several mismatched pieces that didn’t belong in the holes in which we’d placed them. And then, to top it off, there really was a duplicate piece, which can be seen alone to the left of the puzzle in the picture below …

Just before we left, Phoebe also got her wish fulfilled by convincing Grandpa S. to take her sledding …

* * *

Our stays at my parents’ home contrast from our visits to The Farm. For starters, we’re not forced to “find things” to do like we are in the rural, old-fashioned environment of The Farm. It’s not long after we arrive at my parents’ place that Kates and I are plugged in and checking email – trying to catch up on any news we missed in our few days of being out-of-range at The Farm – and we’re enjoying the cable TV right along with my parents. Phoebe doesn’t have access to the Disney movie library or toys she does at The Farm, so she’s left to enjoy the toys we bring for her, or in some cases my mother will pull out a special game and some things for Phoebe to do. This time, Phoebe had my old Chutes and Ladders game waiting for her, along with some crayons and paper for her to draw with.

We arrived at my parents around 6 p.m. Saturday night. It’s about an hour drive from The Farm and both girls slept for most of it.

Quickly we settled in. Mom had some of her signature barbecue sandwiches ready to go for supper. We watched TV and caught up on the latest family news and headed to bed shortly after 10. … Now with Faye, who sleeps in the Pack n’ Play when we’re traveling, there’s no longer enough room for Phoebe to sleep on the floor of the guest bedroom. So, after much discussion – mostly it was Phoebe’s waffling on where she wanted to sleep – it was decided that I would sleep on the futon in the porch, while Phoebe and Kates would sleep in the guest bed and Faye in her Pack n’ Play with them in the guest bedroom.

At about 7 a.m. Sunday, Phoebe startled me awake, standing in front of me at the futon and whispering loudly, “Daddy, Mommy wants you to take Faye.” Long story short: Faye had not slept well, and Kates wanted me to play with and take care of the girls, who were now wide awake, so she could get some more sleep. I got out from under my cozy blankets and followed Phoebe back to the guest bedroom where Kates was standing and holding Faye out in front of her. “They’re all yours,” she said as I took Faye and Kates closed the door between us.

Kates slept for a couple more hours. Meanwhile my parents joined me and the girls for some play time in the living room.

* * *

That afternoon we headed to my Aunt Dana’s home for a gathering with my dad’s side of the family. There, we dined on soups, meatballs and other goodies while catching up on eachother’s happenings.

Before long, to my delight, the discussion turned to our family history. My ancestry research going strong for seven months now, I recently finished mapping out our family tree on a sheet of paper that extends beyond your standard kitchen table, and I brought it on our holiday travels just for this occasion. So I rolled it out on the table and let the others study it. In no time, they were recounting their memories and drawing realizations from the names on the sheet of paper before them. It’s a shame none of us thought of trying to gather more of our family history and ancestors’ stories 20 years ago, we said.

At another point, someone mentioned that it seems like it’s been a long year. To which my aunt replied, “When you think of all we’ve been though this year, it has been a long year.” And now that I think about it, it has been quite a year for our extended family, with a college graduation, a new baby, job changes and my Grandma H’s declining health, beginning with her stroke last January, which has prompted a whole series of episodes and decisions families must deal with when such things happen.

Eventually, by mid-afternoon we said our goodbyes and were on our way. Kates and I agreed to take the long way home, partly to give the girls another opportunity for some nap time during the 30 or so minutes it takes to get from my aunt’s place to my parents’. We drove through the old downtown and up the hill to my old neighborhood and past my childhood home, past the hill that Joel and I used to spend entire afternoons sledding down during the winter months. Then we drove past the lake and the cottages-turned-to-mansions, and past Grandma H’s house, which is now vacant. With the trees that lined the streets covered with a fresh snow, the refurbished downtown and the restored Victorian homes, the city never looked so beautiful and picturesque to me as it did today.

We arrived home in time to settle in for the second quarter of the wild Packers-Vikings game (… Had the Packers played better during the first half, they would have won that game … I’m not sweating it though; they still won the division and clinched a playoff spot).

Mom made grilled ham and cheese sandwiches for supper. And we found “The Lion King” – one of Phoebe’s favorites – on TV.


Christmas vacation: Day 7

We were up and at 'em by 7 a.m. Wednesday. Kates was awake ahead of me and already busy packing in Faye's room when I got out of bed. I packed my suitcase and took the car for an oil change.

On this day, we were heading out for our 9-day holiday excursion to Wisconsin.

We left at 11 a.m., one hour later than we planned. And, miraculously, we didn’t make our first stop until 2:30 p.m. at a Culver’s in Newton, Iowa; both of the girls slept for most of the first leg of the drive – a welcome change from our summer trip when we were stopping at least every two hours. We were back on the road in 30 minutes.

Ben Folds took over the iPod for the afternoon and we went with The Weepies for the evening hours. And even though, Phoebe asked how much longer the drive was going to least every 30 minutes, she was surprisingly content during this trip with watching the passing scenery. She only watched one of her DVDs.

We didn’t have to make another stop until we passed the Iowa-Wisconsin border around 6. Although, at this point, there were two within 15 minutes – first, when Phoebe needed a potty break and then another when Faye started crying for a bottle. So we made a stop at a McDonald’s so all of us could eat.

* * *

As we drove through the Wisconsin countryside, the moon was bright and nearly full. I always love the way it reflects off the snow and lights the land. It got better as we drove further north through the bluffs and the abundant snow coated the trees. Like a painting.

Then it got worse as we tried a shortcut. Kates’ family suggested it, and she convinced me to take it. Even though I hate taking shortcuts I'm unfamiliar with. And everything I could have predicted in my head happened.

The supposed shortcut took us on treacherous county roads. And we got lost, making it hardly a shortcut at all. And we lost cell phone surface, so we couldn't call anyone to ask for some redirection.

If we followed the logic Phoebe offered during one of her random thoughts earlier in the drive: “If we get lost, then we have to go home.”

But we pressed on and arrived at our first official destination, The Farm, around 9:30.

Grandpa and Grandma S., Orrin and Kelli, and Chloe and Kitty, too, were all there to greet us.

The house was decorated for Christmas, and the stockings were hung near the chimney with care.

* * *

Overnight, Grandpa apparently made arrangements for Santa to come back to Wisconsin because when we awoke Thursday morning the base of the tree was covered with gifts.

The excitement wasn’t nearly as dramatic as our Christmas morning, but Phoebe again didn’t waste any time getting into the spirit.

Phoebe received a copy of “The Lorax” book, accompanied by the film on DVD. She got “Brave” on DVD, and that was accompanied by a Merida doll (See: Watching “Brave” below). And her crowning moment was receiving the LeapPad2, a learning and gaming system, decorated in pinks and purples with a Disney princesses theme. Phoebe was in her glory. … She received additional books, jewelry, clothes and a small pair of binoculars – or as she says, “bernoculers” – which stemmed from her fascination with Grandpa’s binoculars whenever we are at The Farm.

For Faye, there was the Fisher-Price “Love to Play Puppy” and the Baby Einstein Octoplush. She also received clothes and teethers, along some neat baby-sized vinyl books that are perfect for her to chew on.

Kates got several gifts for the kitchen and home. We got a couple DVDs – “Rent” and “Eat Pray Love.” … And (insert angel chorus) a backyard firepit.

* * *

After the gift-unwrapping party died down, I retreated to the porch to finish a borrowed copy of Tina Fey’s “Bossypants.”

Besides the fact that I’m a notoriously slow book reader, it took me awhile to get into “Bossypants.” It didn’t help that I dove in with high expectations and found the first half of the book, during which Tina describes some of her experiences growing up and theater adventures during her youth, underwhelming.

Once the book moved into her years with The Second City and “Saturday Night Live,” however, I couldn’t put down the book. My favorite section, hands-down, is her telling of her adventures impersonating then Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin, while trying to convince Oprah to appear on an episode of “30 Rock,” while trying to plan her daughter’s third birthday party. It was interesting to read Tina’s reflections on “30 Rock” and its evolution, too. … Funny how I thought “30 Rock” was awful and would never survive when it debuted, and now it’s one of our favorite shows (Alec Baldwin). And I recall watching those 2008 election episodes of SNL like they happened last year. Glorious times.

Nevertheless, Tina remains on my lists of celebrities with whom I think I could be really great friends and with whom I'd like to have lunch.

Kates laid Faye on me (Baby Whisperer) as I was getting near the end of the book. And when I finished reading, we took another good nap together.

* * *

Last night, we gathered ‘round the TV to watch “The Lorax” – it’s still good. … Then, we got the girls to bed with plans to watch one of the numerous adult movies each of us received in our stockings. When no one could make a decision, I pitched “Rent.” The idea was accepted and we popped it in, but only Orrin and I remained when it was over. At least I still think it’s good.

Today was Kates’ mom’s (aka Grandma S’s) birthday. Uncle Rod and Aunt Helen came over with Kates’ grandmother (aka Great-Grandma P.) for the festivities. We feasted on lamb the usual assortment of side dishes – including garlic green beans, corn casserole and mashed potatoes. Then, Kates’ dad (aka Grandpa S.) served the cake he made with Phoebe’s help, we strapped on our party hats and a good time was had by all.

Tonight we gathered ‘round the TV again, this time to watch “Brave.” Truth be told, we knew nothing about this flick other than it was another installment in the Disney-Pixar adventures and Phoebe had fallen in love with the girl with the long, curly red hair and wielding a bow and arrow, thanks to a strong marketing campaign this past summer that featured the girl on everything from Subway bags to billboards (and no overt depictions of any grizzly bears). Every time Phoebe saw the image, she would point and say in an awed voice “Braaaaaave!” Really, that’s all we knew about the move. For all we knew, the girl’s name was Brave. Blame Kates and I for failing to do our parental research.

As it turned out, the girl’s name is Merida, and she has never been one to abide by the customs of her Scottish kingdom. So one day, she seeks help from a witch, who casts a spell on Merida’s mother that turns her into a grizzly bear. It all ends happily, but the film is quite a bit scarier than any of us had anticipated, especially for little Phoebe.

Here's a good review of the film at Slate.


Movie nights

With the fall semester complete and a lull in my school year, Kates and I have been busy piling on the movies and clearing off our DVR these last couple weeks. It’s been great fun.

A few weeks ago, we caught “Up” on TV and recorded it on the DVR for a time that all of us could watch it together. It’s a movie that everyone who’s seen it seems to promote, and we had always wanted to see it. … Now? We think it’s overrated. The first 15 minutes of the film and the touching story of Carl and Ellie growing old together is wonderful. Then the film gets weird and feels like it doesn’t really know what direction it wants to go in. I'm not sure I'd recommend seeing it.

Last weekend, we wanted to introduce Phoebe to “White Christmas,” and I was sure I had it somewhere on a VHS tape. I headed to the basement to search the boxes we have stored of VHS tapes … I never did find it, but I did have a good time getting reacquainted with all of the great movies and classic TV episodes I recorded during my college years of the late ‘90s and early 2000s. And I found – I forgot I had this – a tape with the series finale of “Boy Meets World.” Score.

In light of recent events, I couldn’t help but watch it, and I was more than pleased that Kates and Phoebe actually joined me. … And when the tape kept rolling, we rediscovered “The Parent Trap” – the new one, “introducing Lindsay Lohan.” Phoebe seemed to enjoy it – and oh, the memories it brings back for Kates and I. … After spending the summer together, our long-distance relationship had just begun, and she was visiting me in Kansas for a few days before we both headed back to our respective colleges. We had seen the previews for “The Parent Trap” during our movie excursions earlier in the summer and wanted to see it. So when she visited we met up with some of my high school friends and saw “The Parent Trap” at the Great Mall of the Great Plains. Classic.

On the same video tape after “The Parent Trap” was “American Beauty.” It’s one of my favorite films of all-time, but I think we can all agree that’s one Phoebe won’t be seeing any time soon.

And tonight, Kates and I watch “The Hunger Games.”

Kates has read all of the books. I haven’t and I knew very little of the story going in. But I was still intrigued and interested in seeing the film, based on the trailers I’d seen.

The movie was beautifully shot. And I loved how it played to the senses – from Katniss’ disorientation after a fall and multiple bee stings to the ringing sound after an explosion. There’s a lot of action and, even while knowing Katniss’ fate, it definitely kept my heart pounding once the games were underway.

But …

I found the whole premise just sick and wrong. And disturbing – kids fighting to the death, while adults behind the scenes control the game and manipulate it at every turn. From lighting the woods on fire and tossing fireballs at Katniss to making the sky go dark and inserting some kind of mountain lion to hunt Katniss and Peeta.

I have no interest in seeing the sequels.

Christmas vacation: Day 4

Our Monday began – as it does on every day that Phoebe doesn’t have school – with Phoebe coming to the master bedroom and asking if she could watch TV. The difference was instead of going to Kates’ side of the bed, on this morning she came to mine.

It was fine. It was 7:20 a.m. and I needed to get out of bed anyway so I could get Faye dressed and take her to daycare. Kates and I didn’t want to take Faye to daycare, but when we’re forced to pay even though we’ll be out-of-state for most of the next two weeks, we might as well get what we can out of their service. Besides, it gave Kates and I little more freedom to do other things.

“Purple striped onesie with purple pants,” Kates told me as I got out of bed, her eyes still closed.

So I dressed Faye. Strapped her into her car seat, and off we went. After leaving her at the daycare, I intended to run a few errands that included finishing my Christmas shopping. But as I was walking down an aisle at the grocery store in search of a specific gift for Kates, she called to tell me she had called the doctor’s office to ask about getting Faye in to have her ears checked. The receptionists said one of the doctors could check her if we could bring her right away. … So I purchased the gift and headed back to the daycare to pick up Faye and take her to see the doctor. We got in, the doctor checked her ears, they were fine, and I took Faye back to the daycare again.

Back at home, I joined Kates in cleaning the house. Actually, I joined Phoebe in cleaning her play area. Now is a good time to share this video, which I recorded – unbeknownst to her – a couple weeks ago while she was looking for a missing piece to one of her trinkets. The pile of toys she left during the making of this video had yet to be put away …

* * *

At around 2:30 Monday afternoon and I picked up Faye, because the daycare was closing down at 3. And when I returned, it was go, go, go. Kates showered while I took care of the girls. When she finished, she put them in the tub for baths while I showered. Kates dressed Phoebe. I dressed Faye. And we had just enough time to snap some pictures before heading to the 5 o’clock Christmas Eve service.

The service was wonderful. Partly because our family – of four! – was involved in it. We got a phone call from the pastor late in the afternoon during which he asked if, one, we would light the advent candles and, two, if Kates and I would read scriptures. We agreed, and as soon as Kates mentioned we were lighting the candles, Phoebe, who apparently pays attention in church after all, shouted, “I want to light the pink one!”

After a hymn and an opening prayer, it was time for our family moment. I carried Faye to the alter area and stood to the side of the advent candles while Kates led Phoebe to retrieve the candle lighter. Phoebe lit the candles with Kates’ help and we were finished. Success.

Back at our pew, Faye was barely staying awake, absorbing the family sitting behind us. And a few minutes later, her eyes were too heavy to hold out any longer. She closed them and fell asleep in my arms again … She did the same thing in church Sunday. I’ve become so good at calming her and getting her to fall asleep that Kates has begun calling me the “Baby Whisperer.” … I passed her to Kates when it was time for me to step to the altar to read my scripture. Then Kates passed Faye back to me when Phoebe said she needed a potty break. Faye stayed sleeping through all of it, not waking until the worship service was finishing.

And Phoebe sang the hymns! She learned “Away in a Manger” and “Joy to the World” in Sunday School while practicing for her Christmas program. But it never occurred to her that the songs would be sung during a worship service. To see the smile on her face and hear her singing the songs with the rest of the congregation was pure joy.

* * *

Our plans for the rest of our Christmas Eve included making a homemade pizza and settling in for some movies and family time.

Instead, the pastor’s wife invited us to their home, where they also were planning a meal of homemade pizza. The youth pastor’s family – which includes a 6-year-old girl and a 4-year-old boy in Phoebe’s preschool class – joined us, too. The kids – minus Faye, who was content sitting on the floor and playing with a couple of her rattles and teethers – played with toys in the basement, while the adults sat around the table conversing about the news of the day (the Newtown tragedy remains on everybody’s minds and was part of our conversation … ), church stuff and family Christmas traditions.

Perhaps the highlight of the night was watching the kids decorate a chocolate pan cake that was designated as a birthday cake for Jesus. They pressed so many candles and paper decorations into it that the chocolate frosting was barely visible when they finished. Lighting the numerous candles later created a definite fire hazard – but only a couple paper decorations were destroyed in the blaze.

* * *

The Christmas Eve gathering ended around 10 p.m.

We were smart to stop off at our house and change the girls into their pajamas before heading to our pastor’s house. But before they went to bed, we wanted to make the preparations for Santa we didn’t quite get to do last year because Phoebe fell asleep too early.

This year, Phoebe was well aware of the magic of Santa Claus, believed in it deeply and couldn’t be more excited about the possibilities – and as parents it’s great fun for us to watch and share in. Phoebe insisted we put out cookies for Santa, and she picked out a variety – peppermints to ginger snaps – from a cookie collection Kates brought home from school. To my surprise, as we were preparing the plate, Phoebe also remembered that Santa didn’t eat all of his cookies last year (As I recall, we put out three and he ate 2 ½.). So she scurried to her play area, asking for a piece of paper and grabbing a crayon. She proceeded to write on the paper in big letters:


(… When I asked her if she knew how to spell Santa, she replied, “Yes. Remember I sang it in my Christmas program [To the tune of B-I-N-G-O]. S-A-N-T-A.”)

Eat all of it (... For the record, she asked me to write this line.)
Phoebe Faye ( … Underlined.)

Here’s the photo proof.

After setting the note by the cookies, we had to put the magic key out for Santa and spread the reindeer food. Without coats – Phoebe in her pajamas – the two of us went outside. I lifted Phoebe to the mailbox outside our door and she dropped the key inside. Then we spread the reindeer food – a concoction of pine needles and grass inside a paper bag – on the front lawn.

Once the girls were in bed and asleep, Kates and I performed our parental duty of populating the space underneath the Christmas tree. Then we headed to bed.

Our tradition of watching TBS’s “Christmas Story” marathon lasted about 10 minutes this year.

* * *

Christmas Day began around 8 this morning with the pitter patter of Phoebe’s feet across the hall. We always know when she’s coming.

“Today's Christmas! Get up,” she shouted, appearing at Kates’ bedside.

“It is?” I shouted, acting surprised.

“I'm going to go downstairs to see if Santa ate all of the cookies!”

More of the pitter patter of Phoebe’s feet as she scurried downstairs to the living room.

A gasp.

More pitter patter as she returns to our bedroom.

“He ate all of them! Even the peppermint.”

”Wow!” I said. “Are there a lot of presents under the tree?”

“Uh, I’ll go check!”

Pitter patter as she returns to the living room.

Another gasp.

”Mommy! Daddy! You gotta get up and watch me open all my presents!” Phoebe yells from the living room. “Get up!”

Then we hear more pitter patter and see the light go on across the hall in Faye’s room.

”Faye, it's Christmas! You gotta get up!” Phoebe says to her.

Those few moments alone made this Christmas one of the best ever.

Kates and I agreed to mark two of the girls’ gifts – the best ones, we thought – as being from Santa, and the rest would come from us. This year’s Santa gifts were, for Phoebe, the “Magical Learn & Go” from Vtech and a new set of pots and pans to add to her play kitchen. In contrast to last Christmas, Phoebe was very general about her wish list this year. Basically she wanted anything that had anything to do with princesses.

Faye got the “Move & Crawl Ball” from Vtech and a stuffed giraffe. Faye’s gifts were inspired by her daycare play. She has a giraffe like the one we gave her in her daycare crib, and the crawl ball is one of her favorite toys there. So we thought, If she enjoys them so much there, why not have them at home, too?

We milked the gift unwrapping for a solid hour. Then, Kates made pancakes and apple-stuffed sausages for breakfast. And we caught the end of the Disney Christmas parade on TV.

Both kids were enthralled and playing with their news toys at the foot of the tree. It was just the four of us. In our own house. And we had nowhere to go today.

Best Christmas ever. … And I’m not even thinking about the fact that our washer broke this afternoon.


Snow days

Let our Christmas vacation begin!

With the way the holidays fall this year, we’re taking advantage of a full two weeks away from work.

Although, Kates and Phoebe got their holiday breaks started two days early thanks to the snowstorm that blew over Wednesday night.

The weather forecasters had predicted a big storm – but like most storms, I refuse to believe it until I see it. … Wednesday night, we watched the thunderstorm from our dining room windows as we ate supper and thought, “There’s no way this is turning into a snowstorm.”

But when I was turning out the lights on my way to bed late Wednesday night I peeked out the windows, and – lo and behold – the ground was covered with white powder.

At around 3:30 yesterday morning, my phone was ringing and we were implementing our emergency procedures at the university, calling for a late start. Kates' school district, meanwhile, canceled the school day entirely. Needless to say, Phoebe was pretty upset when we broke the news to her yesterday morning, because the school was supposed to have its holiday parties.

The school district canceled school today, too. So the holiday parties will have to wait until next month – after the holidays.

Now, the amount of snow we got was nothing compared to what we were used to when we lived in the great north. We got maybe two inches yesterday. Nothing.

I still hate snow, though. And I hate winter.

I took Phoebe outside with me yesterday morning so she could jump around in the snow while I shoveled the driveway. I finished the job in a matter of minutes.

Still, Phoebe loved every minute of it. And just for that reason, I can stand having some snow on the ground for a few days.

Here’s Phoebe making a snow angel.


Sunday blessing

Phoebe made it through her church Christmas program this morning.

After another bit of stagefright as I escorted her to her Sunday School classroom -- that included holding on to my leg like her life depended on it and begging me to stay -- another mother helped her with her angel costume and diverted her attention. ... I was able to slip out of sight peacefully, and the next time Kates and I caught her big brown eyes, Phoebe was dressed in a piece of white fabric with a circle of gold-colored garland attached to her head and stretching her body as far as she could to wave to us from across the sanctuary, grinning widely.

After weeks of practicing "Away in a Manger" and "Silent Night" together at home, she sang every word. We could hear her voice loud and clear. And it was wonderful.

The reminders of our children's innocence and the senseless violence in Newtown Friday were spread throughout this morning's worship. Through prayers, scriptures and the children's program.

And last night as Kates and I settled in our living room to watch "Saturday Night Live," the chills ran up and down our spines as the New York City Children’s Chorus performed the cold open. ... Well done, SNL. Well done ...


Numb for Newtown

I'm writing this today at our church as Phoebe rehearses with the dozens of other children for their Christmas program tomorrow.

Aside from the usual annoyances of Phoebe hanging all over me and refusing to put on her costume and Faye waking Kates and I much too early for a Saturday morning, it's been a good day so far. I grudgingly rolled out of bed about around 6 to rescue Faye and ended up cuddling with her on the couch; she went right back to sleep in my arms. The morning continued with Phoebe and I playing a game of hide and seek and us piling on Kates in our bed. Laughing and enjoying our time as a family.

And through it all, reminders of the awful tragedy in Newtown. Twenty children taken away from their parents. Seven more adults killed. Their lives changed forever. They'll never again experience the kind of morning I've had the privilege of having.

Yesterday was our winter commencement day at the university. I was settling into the press box of the arena around noon and preparing for the ceremony when I learned of the tragedy. I had logged onto Facebook -- because that's where we get all of our news these days, of course -- and saw a colleague's post ...
As I just left a bell ringing for a student who was tragically taken 3 months ago today because of a senseless act of violence and read the horrific reports out of Connecticut, all I can say is "why?" Praying for comfort for so many people right now!
She was referring to the bell ringing ceremony – a tradition carried out when one of our students passes – we had yesterday morning for the September death that is still affecting our little community.

And then another post ...
Following the news and I could throw up. Praying for all the families - I can't even imagine.
What the heck is going on?

So I logged onto Twitter to start putting the pieces together. A school shooting in Connecticut. The details were still somewhat sketchy, but my heart sunk deeper the more I read.

Words like awful, sick, evil, heartbreaking, shock, horror, unspeakable and unimaginable kept appearing. And so close to Christmas.

Within minutes, the arena was filling with joyous the family members and friends of our students, eager to watch the graduation ceremony. Traditionally, commencement day is one of my favorite days of the school year. But the news of the shooting changed my mindset completely. It was surreal. … In my mind, I compared the emotional toll it was taking on me to the emotions I felt amid the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

I kept thinking of Phoebe, and Kates, and their school, and how devastated I’d be if they were taken away from me so suddenly. … As morbid as it sounds, I’ve seen and experienced enough trauma in my news reporter career and beyond that the thought, “What if I never see them again?” passes through my mind every morning as we say our goodbyes and I see Kates and Phoebe off to school. Or when I leave Faye at the daycare. I always try to make sure I cherish those last giggles and never take anything for granted.

I had trouble paying close attention to the ceremony once it was underway, instead paying closer attention to the social media updates scrolling across the screen on my TweetDeck.

There were posts about President Obama tearing up during a news conference addressing the shooting

And reports that the shooter first murdered his mother, a staff member at the school, before targeting the children …

And more social media reaction by friends and colleagues …
The fact that someone wiped an entire classroom off this earth is sickening. We live in a cruel world. I'm going to hug my son a little tighter tonight, count my blessings and pray for those in pain

I feel physically ill right now trying to imagine my babies being taken from me. My heart breaks for all of the families in Connecticut.

It's supposed to be about cookies, milk, construction paper, and naps. Not being gunned down just for being there.
About midway through the commencement ceremony, Kates texted me with the news that Faye’s daycare called to report she wasn’t feeling well. Kates picked up the girls and took Faye to the doctor, where she was diagnosed with an ear infection. … The silver lining in that news was that it got Kates and I out of attending her school’s Christmas party last night. Given the day’s turn of events, suddenly the last thing I wanted to do was go to a Christmas party surrounded by elementary school teachers where a main topic of conversation was bound to be what occurred din Connecticut. I wanted nothing more than to be home with my family.

The commencement ceremony ended and I waited for the platform party and graduated to file out of the arena. Then I packed up by things and headed back to my office. I worked as fast as I could to draft our news release about the commencement ceremony, gather all of the related multimedia and uploaded it to our website, finally leaving my office around 6 last night.

As I pulled up our driveway and drove into the garage, another wave of emotion hit me, and I got the feeling I might break into a sob the moment I saw Kates and our girls sitting just inside the door. … I took a deep breath and kept my composure. When I stepped inside, Phoebe flashed me a huge grin, taking a break from her Disney Junior watching, and Kates was sitting on the couch with Faye.

Several minutes passed before Kates and I were could step into another room and acknowledge the tragedy outside of Phoebe’s earshot. Eventually we settled into our nightly routine of eating supper and getting the girls in bed.

Then, as Kates and I had the living room to ourselves, she asked about watching the news. Being the news junkie I am, I record the nightly news programs and watch them each night before going to bed. Last night, I had no interest in watching the television news coverage – simply because of television’s habit of sensationalizing these types of stories. There was still so much unknown, and I didn’t think I could take the speculation (Ken Tucker's commentary is dead-on … So is The Onion's, coming from a harsher point of view.)

But Kates insisted and we watched the NBC Nightly News broadcast.

At the end of the day, I have no profound opinions or observations of the shooting. And I won’t go off on a rant about gun control or treatment for the mentally ill. Like everyone else, I, too, am trying to come to grips with the whys and hows of yet another shooting spree taking innocent lives.


Concert for the ages

Of course, I watched the 12-12-12 Concert last night.

All of the performances were great. The collaborations were were especially stellar all night long.

But my honors for the best performances go to Adam Sandler's comical "Sandy Screw Ya," Chris Martin and Michael Stipe teaming up on an acoustic of "Losing My Religion." ... And pretty much everything Pink Floyd's Roger Waters and The Who performed during their respective sets.

Rolling Stone has those performances and more in its Top 10.

The New York Times also produced a great live blog that echoed so many of my thoughts on the night ... Particularly the comment about Alicia Keys asking a few times too many for “cellphones in the air.” So awkward.

The only real downfall was the length of the show. The networks carrying the concert had listed as ending at 11 p.m. central time, but it was well over midnight before it closed down. I ended up falling asleep midway though Paul McCartney's concluding set (The Nirvana reunion with McCartney, by the way, with all of the buzz surrounding it on the interwebs yesterday, I considered a bust ...) and woke up several minutes later to see all the performers on the stage together to close down the show.

But I'm hardly complaining given the talent and history jamming all over that stage last night.

Update 12.19.2012
Here's a good read from The New York Times: The Music Is Timeless, but About the Rockers ... Yeah, Roger Daltrey's unbuttoned shirt made me a little sqeamish, too.


Christmas with Mumford and Sons

... I let out a loud, audible laugh when I saw that headline scroll across my TweetDeck this evening. Funniest Onion headline I've read in a long time.

I don't get the hype over Mumford and Sons. Most of their songs sound the same to me ... But I do really enjoy "I Will Wait."