Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Grammys Are Coming -- Part 3

I've talked about the Song of the Year and Best New Artist categories. Now it's on to the Album of the Year. Obviously, this one took a little more time since there are a lot of songs to listen to. I could have just listened to samples and gone from there, but I feel like a really good album should be great from start to finish. Each track has a purpose and when you put them all together, the listening experience should transcend any one, single song you hear on the radio. There should be a reason that these five albums are in this category, and there should be a really good reason why one of these will take home the Grammy over the other four and all of the other albums released last year.

(Interesting thing I noticed--two albums have a very short list of people who worked on the album. Guess which ones they are.)

* * * * * * * * * *

Sound and Color, Alabama Shakes

OK. Stop what you're doing and find a way to listen to this album. Brittany Howard is one of the best songwriters we've got right now. When I saw that Alabama Shakes was nominated for a Grammy again this year, I was excited. Their debut album is so good. You will be hard pressed to find a singer and band with more soul and emotion than them. From the opening notes to the final refrain, this album was impressive. Seriously, impressive.

Blues rock, roots rock, southern rock, whatever. This is just good music. You can definitely hear their southern roots in every track, but it's not so heavy-handed as to make you feel like you have to love Country or Americana type music to enjoy the album. There are artists that just bring you great music, whatever the genre. In fact, they defy genre. Alabama Shakes is that kind of group. This was a fantastic album.

Favorite tracks: Where to start? How about the first three. "Sound and Color," "Don't Wanna Fight," "Dunes." And then you can keep going down the line.

Just one of the great songs on this album--seriously, could she be more soulful?

To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar

If you read my earlier post about the Song of the Year you probably won't be surprised to hear that this entire album was rough to listen to. There is the obvious language to contend with. I'm not a prude, and I can 100% appreciate why Lamar chooses the words he does. There is a meaning and feeling he is trying to convey, and that's the way he does it. I can live with it. It makes sense to me. I will say that I didn't find his album, as a whole, to be exploitative or demeaning, like a lot of hip hop can be. There was a definite social agenda with the work that comes through.

Mostly, this album was rough because I felt like I was intruding on a space not meant for me. There have been a lot of takes on the album, and I realize that my take is completely reliant on my own experiences, which differ from Lamar's in about every way conceivable. He takes the 16 tracks and weaves a story of Black America as seen through his eyes and experiences, and attempts to convey some sense of suffering, anger, and ultimately (I think) hope that things will get better. He is realistic, but still manages to give the listener a little bit of optimism.

There is a lot in the album musically that is appealing. The music of the rap and hip hop music I remember from my teen years was a lot simpler. Straightforward beats with simple background riffs dominated the albums. Lamar manages (along with a huge team of writers and producers) to incorporate jazz, funk, fusion, spoken word, old school hip hop, and a number of other styles into his music. I think the variety did a lot to bind the album together and make it more listenable for me, even if after listening to the album I feel a little bit like it was a work I wasn't meant to listen to.

Favorite tracks: Two stood out, probably because of the musicality of the songs. "Alright" and "i."

[Again, We are a family that doesn't believe in censorship, but given the nature of the album I decided not to embed any videos here.]

Traveller, Chris Stapleton

I had never heard of Chris Stapleton before his nomination, but apparently I should have known him before now. For one thing, he has literally hundreds of writing credits on big time albums. He is one of those artists that is finally getting his "moment." Anyone who has read anything I've written here about music knows by now that I'm not much of a country fan. I have a handful of artists that I enjoy, but I normally don't really get into the genre. I will say that Stapleton has managed to make the good ol' outlaw country cool. I'm not going to lie and say that he'll dominate my playlists anytime soon, or that I'm going to play his album on repeat. It's just not going to happen.

What I will say about Stapleton is that his songwriting is impeccable, whether its the lyrics or music. All of it hints at his immense talent. And "hints" is probably the wrong word for it. It proclaims it. It trumpets it. It makes it so obvious that no one can miss it. All in all, the album was deserving of its place here in the Album of the Year category.

Favorite tracks: "Nobody to Blame," "Tennessee Whiskey"

(If you want to see a real treat, find the video of Stapleton and Justin Timberlake performing together at the CMAs.)

The title track, one of many smooth and very good tracks

1989, Taylor Swift

From the time I heard she was doing an 80s concept album, to when I actually heard it from beginning to end, I thought this idea had a lot of potential. I think she pulled it off. For the moment, I'm going to ignore all of the controversy surrounding Swift's videos for "Wildest Dreams" and "Bad Blood." I'm not going to comment on my opinion on whether she is just a "white feminist" or embodies all that is good in the feminist movement at large. This is about the album and whether or not it's the best.

She did a great job capturing a lot of styles from the 1980s. That was a time when the music was fun and less serious in a lot of ways. It's not to say there wasn't any meaning behind the songs, but people didn't take themselves so seriously. Artists released albums with songs people wanted to dance to, or break up to, or cry to. Taylor Swift did it. This is a very good album with several excellent tracks. I think making a clean break with the country genre on this album was the right move. This is a pop album plain and simple, and it holds up against the many other pop albums released last year.

Favorite tracks: "Blank Space," "Wildest Dreams," "I Know Places"

There's something eerie and "not" Taylor Swift about this one

Beauty Behind The Madness, The Weeknd

You know, I thought about spending some time actually discussing this album, but I just can't bring myself to do it. I was so disappointed that I didn't even finish listening. I got less than half of the way through and gave up. And I was a little bummed because Ed Sheeran is on there somewhere, but it just wasn't worth it. So many of his songs were filled with misogynistic, unnecessarily racy, oversexed lyrics that any musicality was lost. He has a great throwback voice, reminiscent of the R&B of the 80s that I love, but this album was awful as far as I'm concerned. Watch, he'll probably win now.

Favorite tracks: Yeah right.

[No video. I don't want to waste your time.]

* * * * * * * * * *

My Choice: Of all of the albums here, Sound and Color by Alabama Shakes was my favorite. Top to bottom, music and lyrics, it is the best of the five in my opinion.

My Prediction: This one is tough for me. I can see it going many different ways. Something in my gut says that 1989 by Taylor Swift will rise here. I could make a case for To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar, but that would buck some serious trends since the album seems way too edgy for a mainstream win.

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Next Up, Record of the Year.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Grammys Are Coming -- Part 2

You've (hopefully) read my review of the Best New Artist category, and if not, please do. It's so great. There are SO many wonderful insights. You will feel smarter almost instantaneously! /facetiousness

Now it's time for my take on the Song of the Year category. To be honest, every year for a while now I find myself going back and trying to remember the difference between the song and record category. I feel like I finally get it, but even then, I found myself going back to the Grammy site to make sure I get it. Anyway, the Song of the Year goes to the songwriter or songwriters. It ignores (although, I'm not sure you can completely ignore it) the actual recording and production. For each of the nominees I've included the artist who recorded it and then the songwriters who would actually win the Grammy. Granted, most recording artists who achieve this level of success are probably contributing to the writing process (and for these five nominees, that's the case), but that's not always a given. I've also included the album where the track appears.

* * * * * * * * * *

"Alright," recorded by Kendrick Lamar
Songwriters: Kendrick Duckworth, Mark Anthony Spears, and Pharrell Williams
Album: To Pimp A Butterfly

OK. I'm going to say right up front that this song is a tough one to listen to, if for no other reason than it's raw and honest about life in Black America, especially the poor urban population. It also makes liberal use of the n-word, which can be a bit rough to hear. It's a song of hope within a world that seems hellbent on holding people down. I have no personal experience that can even come close to what Lamar and his peers have been through, but I can certainly get a sense for what their experiences mean. It's like reading African-American poetry and literature that came out of the Harlem Renaissance. It comes as close as you can to explaining to a person of privilege what it means to be oppressed and what it means to look for hope. I can't say that I'm a particular fan of Lamar's specific style, but this guy is talented. He is a musician among wannabes, not just someone with an ax to grind.

[We are a family that doesn't believe in censorship, but given the nature of the song I decided not to embed a video here.]

"Blank Space," recorded by Taylor Swift
ongwriters: Max Martin, Shellback, and Taylor Swift
Album: 1989

Taylor Swift is a favorite around our house, and I am very familiar with this song, including the brilliant music video. Like her other great songs, this one tells a very clear story of tumultuous love, and it belongs right up there in the canon of Taylor Swift relationship songs. I'm not as enamored with the song as some people are, and it's not just because Swift is, as a rule, overexposed. For whatever reason it doesn't jump out as one of those "wow" kind of songs, and she has several others that do that for me. Maybe it isn't fair to compare this to her other works since it's being nominated this year in this category for what it is, but it's hard not to.

"Girl Crush," recorded by Little Big Town
Songwriters: Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna, and Liz Rose
Album: Pain Killer

I had to actually go find the background on this song before I fully appreciated it. The title is misleading--it's really a jealousy/breakup song, not what it seems from the title. And honestly, even if the song is about a woman having a crush on another woman, who cares? As John Mayer said, you love "Who You Love." Anyway, the layers of meaning within the lyrics give the song some extra depth, and it's a pretty good song all in all.

"See You Again," recorded by Wiz Khalifa with Charlie Puth
Songwriters: Andrew Cedar, Justin Franks, Charles Puth, and Cameron Thomaz, songwriters (Wiz Khalifa Featuring Charlie Puth)
Album: Furious 7: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

So, I see this is from a movie about dudes driving cars too fast and putting on airs of bravado and machismo, for the seventh time! But this is about the song and the songwriters, so I gave it an honest listen and looked at the lyrics. It's a very touching song about two friends who are like brothers and all that comes with losing someone like that. It's not the most lyrically complex song I've ever heard, but it's a really good song.

"Thinking Out Loud,"
recorded by Ed Sheeran
Songwriters: Ed Sheeran and Amy Wadge
Album: X

Ed Sheeran is brilliant. You could go grab just about anything he's done and put it in this category. His songwriting is that good. When I first listened to his album, which I had been anticipating for a while, this song is the one that I immediately said would be big. It wasn't the first single released, and I can see why not, but holy crap! This is the kind of song that defines an album. The nature of mainstream radio play these days is that stations play songs to death, to the point where we just wish they would go away and never come back to haunt us. This is a big reason I don't really like the radio that much. But "Thinking Out Loud" is one that I could listen to again and again and again, and so much of that is because of the lyrics Sheeran has strung together.

* * * * * * * * * *

My choice: In case it wasn't obvious from my commentary, "Thinking Out Loud" is my choice without hesitation. I don't think the others come close, except for maybe "Alright." Not to take anything away from the other songwriters, but I think this song is that good.

My prediction: Ed Sheeran has gotten the shaft, in my opinion, in past years. He has several nominations but no wins. He's been up against some pretty incredible talent, but I find it hard to believe he hasn't taken home even one Grammy. I think this year might be the year for him.

* * * * * * * * * *

Next up, Album of the Year

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Grammys Are Coming -- Part 1

The Grammys are coming up and most years I find that during the show I discover new artists and songs and albums and all sorts of great stuff, so I spend an inordinate amount of time "catching up" after the show. This year I thought I'd get ahead of things and try and learn a bit about all of the nominees before the actual awards air. Trying to familiarize myself with ALL of the categories is practically impossible for me, though. I have a family. I work. I don't get paid for listening to music and writing about it. So, I decided to listen to the nominees in the "big four" categories: Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist.

The 58th Annual Grammy Awards air on February 15th, so I have a little less than two weeks to get my thoughts out there. This post highlights the nominees for Best New Artist. I'll give a little information about the artist, my impressions, my choice, and my predictions for what will really happen. I'm not in the industry, but I love music, so I'm curious to see how my choices compare.

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Courtney Barnett

Courtney Barnett is a singer-songwriter from Australia who released her first full-length solo album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, in 2015. She falls into the Indie Rock genre, which is sort of a catch-all for a wide variety of styles. I listened to the whole album and was immediately transported back to the world of 1980s alternative rock. At times it sounded like Natalie Merchant and 10,000 Maniacs, and other times I thought I was listening to the B52s. It was well worth the listen.

If I'd known there was a clown in the video, I may not have finished the song.

James Bay

James Bay is an English singer-songwriter and I've seen videos of Ed Sheeran appearing on stage with him at a Bay concert. That's always a good sign. His album Chaos and the Calm is phenomenal from top to bottom. I first learned about Bay while watching "Jane the Virgin." The song I heard was so haunting and beautiful that I had to immediately look it up. And there he was.

My favorite from his album, even if the song is a bit melancholy.

Sam Hunt

When I first started listening to Sam Hunt's album, Montevallo, I wasn't sure if he was a country artist or just plain old folk rock. The line is definitely blurred recently, that's for sure. He's country. And honestly, some of his songs are just plain ol' ridiculous. I have learned to appreciate more and more country music through the years, but the glory of wild beer parties and "tenderness" of small-town break-ups just don't do it for me. That aside, it's a decent album. At times he reminded me of Keith Urban, but while I own a few Urban albums, I don't think Hunt will be added to the collection. Interestingly, Hunt was a college football player who ended up learning guitar and getting into the music industry after a professional football career didn't pan out.

If the trailer parks of the American South depress you, don't watch the video--just listen.

Tori Kelly

Tori Kelly was an American Idol contestant, but it's not clear how far she actually made it. Based on the fact that there is no mention anywhere of her appearing in the live shows I'm guessing she was a Hollywood wash-out at best. She ended up doing covers on YouTube and caught the attention of the record industry. She's got a very current, pop sound, but her guitar work is far more interesting than the usual mainstream stuff you hear. I first heard Kelly when I heard a recording on the radio that I knew had Ed Sheeran on it. Yep, Sheeran and Tori Kelly. Pure gold. It's got to be the best track on her album, Unbreakable Smile.

Want to record a surefire hit? Ask Ed Sheran to sing with you.

Meghan Trainor

OK. Meghan Trainor is probably the most recognizable of the group at this point. She's been on the scene and quite honestly, I feel like I've heard too much of her for her to be in the new artist category. But hey, by the Grammy standards, this past year was the year she burst on the scene and really made a name for herself. "All About That Bass" and "Lips Are Movin'" really got under my skin and I pretty much want to vomit when I hear those songs. Then she recorded "Like I'm Gonna Lose You" with John Legend and my nausea subsided. When I go back and listen to some of her recordings I can now appreciate her retro sound, and while it's not my favorite, I see her talent and the reason she's nominated this year.

Yeah, this is the song that made me listen again--it's in our playlist.

* * * * * * * * * *

My choice: Honestly, I've got to go with James Bay. I think his album is the best track for track, and I just love that British singer-songwriter sound.

My prediction: I'm thinking Meghan Trainor, if for no other reason than she's been fortunate to have a lot of exposure, and I think that really helps. Looking back over the past 20 years, only Bon Iver and Esperanza Spalding bucked the trend, in my opinion.

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Next up, Song of the Year

Friday, January 29, 2016

Monday, January 25, 2016

For Mark

Thank you for seeing my magic . . .

Friday, January 22, 2016

Colds and Copays and Contest Fees . . . oh my!

It's no secret that I'm not a fan of winter cold and weather. There are things I like about winter - nostalgic things like thinking about Mark and me our freshman year and how we'd stay out in the cold just to be together, our first kiss, walks in the snow, our wedding, the holidays, spending quality time as a family during FMLA leave our first year of residency, Max's birthday, things like that.

But being cold? Not so much. Snow? Won't drive in it. Sickness? I'm a germaphobe.

A couple of weeks ago, Mark lost his voice. He wasn't sick - it was just ridiculously cold (like well below zero with wind chills) and just going in and out of that at two different work locations while talking non-stop to patients all day . . . well, it really messed with his voice. And trying to recover from that when you're going in and out of that at two different work locations while talking non-stop to patients all day doesn't exactly expedite things.

Now, there is a big storm coming. Snowmaggedon! Anywhere from 3-24 inches. Still not sure even though it starts in less than a day. We live in an area where, for whatever reason, it's either huge or nothing and they don't know until it's closer.

Kate started physical therapy this week for her dislocating knee. Apparently, between her flexibility and rapid growth, it's made it easier for her knee to dislocate at times. Add to that all the walking she does at work and it's no wonder she's had issues. They measured her knee caps and taught her some exercises and we're hoping it all works. We have a new insurance plan thanks to the Affordable Care Act (hahaha, that first word is funny) and our rates went up over a hundred dollars a month and it continues to cover very little so it feels like we're paying monthly premiums so that we can pay out of pocket anyway (reference the co-pay for each time we go to PT: $85).

We haven't stopped working on a refi for the new house (my god, it's taking forever!) but it's happening next week for sure and that will save us every month. We planned it all out so we'd have a bit more of a buffer for things like vacations and such, but then our health premiums went up as well as some other expenses and so much of that savings got eaten up elsewhere. So frustrating. This economy stinks.

The kids have been dealing with something flu-like: body aches, hot-cold sensations, fevers, headaches, sore throats, and Max even threw up a couple of times (which he HATES and which really sets Kate off - even on TV, she can't see/hear someone throwing up without getting really icked out herself) and it stinks. I hate seeing my kids not feeling well. They've been wrapped up in blankets and we've been giving them Saltines, drinks, Tylenol as needed, cough drops, more blankets. So sad.

Scout is a joy. She is such a snuggly comfort and also makes us smile and laugh all the time. Oh, how I love our pup!

We have two teenagers now and my head is spinning at how fast the time flies (hence things like trying to get to the aquarium this week, but that's been postponed due to sickness and snow). I love my family and nothing makes me happier than being home together and playing games and eating good food and watching shows together. And we talk a lot, too. I love it. I feel very, very lucky.

Max started piano lessons and he loves it. His teacher is great and he's picking up reading music like a pro. That's why he wanted to take more formal lessons and he is really doing awesome with them. I'm so proud of him. 

Kate won another writing contest and I read her poem today for it today and it blew me away. She amazes me. She entered another contest today. It has a higher fee than many of them ($50), but it looks fantastic and worth a shot. It's so cool - I hope she blogs about it.

And me? I've been busy with all of the above and lots of homeschooling stuff. It's going really well and it's something that we love and don't regret one bit. It's challenging at times, but overall totally worth it. It suits our family and lifestyle and we're grateful. The kids are thriving and things are good. I feel like I've already posted a lot about myself in my New Year's post, so I don't have a whole lot to add.

Just thought I'd check in and post because I really am trying to blog more and Facebook less. So far, so good.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Sometimes Homeschooling looks like . . .

We have two teenagers now. TWO TEENAGERS OMG WHERE DOES THE TIME GO?!? Ahem. Two teenagers. Every once in a while, I step back and take a mindful look at what homeschooling looks like around here sometimes. I've done posts like this before and it's nice to do one every so often - you can almost see an evolution of sorts. I hope so anyway . . .

So here we go. Sometimes homeschooling looks like this:

I love this. She's watching a video, taking notes, enjoying our dog, eating a snack (because she's hungry and not because it's some set, regulated time to eat), and talking to me in our home. We both even commented on how very cool homeschooling is right before I took this picture. It's when I thought to stop and take it in.I took the pictures and then over the next while, this post brewed in my head.

 And sometimes it looks like this:

He'd just finished meditating, as well as doing some video learning about cells, prefixes, and math. He practiced his piano and then organized and set up some Magic cards in a duel. (And he made his bed after I took this picture). :P Yesterday, he and Mark built a bookcase in his room and organized all his books, cleaned up a bit, and formed a To-Be-Read (TBR) shelf.

I took those pictures today at a couple of random different times. We've had a good day. It's been mellow yet productive and it's been filled with learning, and that is something we all enjoy and love.

We do some formal "school" learning, but most of what we learn comes naturally from conversations, outings, things we watch, discussions at the dinner table, sharing articles, reading books together, researching things we're curious about . . . you know, normal life!

We try not to distinguish between "school/learning" and anything else, because we have a learning-is-natural approach and it certainly shouldn't be a tedious chore. Sometimes this is referred to as "unschooling" - a term I once thought was code for 'lazy,' but over time saw was a lot of work and a natural, successful, effective approach.

That being said, we aren't so hands-off that we do absolutely nothing formal/planned (which is the approach of some unschoolers). But overall, our days are filled with learning in a playful, relaxed, natural way.

Here are just some of the topics covered today just in the normal course of the day:

- Cell cycles
- Geometry including congruent and complementary angles
- Prefixes
- A group violin lesson
- A piano lesson
- instrument practice
- Meditation
- The word "clandestine"
- Abraham Lincoln's assassination
- The similarities between Lincoln and Kennedy
- The Illuminati (not kidding)
- The Golden Globes
- David Bowie
- Peter and the Wolf (and how the different instruments represent the characters)
- Liesl & Po (a book the children and I are reading together)
- Read aloud, making a game out of it with dice
- Han Solo
- Benedict Cumberbatch
- Current events
- Feminism
- Gender Issues
- The etymology of the phrase "dark as pitch"
- comma usage
- Forming an X-wing group
- Knowing ourselves
- Handling anxiety and sensitivities
- Time management
- Laundry (collected, sorted, washed, dried, folded)
- Cooking
- Dishes
- Cleaning counters
- Baking
- Recipe following
- Setting the table
- Exercise (Zumba - the kids did this together using the Wii)
- Weekly planning
- History reading
- Sharing stories and things we've learned
- Gratitude
- Book Discussion
- Researching actors
- Galavant
- Catching up with our foreign exchange students
- The Proust Questionnaire and its uses
- Spelling
- Volunteering
- Calendaring
- Emails

Phew! That's honestly off the top of my head. The kids were able to sleep in as much as they needed to, eat when they wanted to, research things at their pleasure, contact their friends via phone or texting or Skyping, help with some house keep up, play, talk, laugh, cuddle with the dog in front of the fireplace . . . life is good. This homeschooling gig is a pretty great thing and we don't take it for granted. We feel very fortunate indeed.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

New Year, More Blogging

Just a heads up that as Mark and I make an effort to blog more, our children are doing the same. Our newly-minted teenager has a year-in-review post on his blog and has updated his picture and bio there, too (I know - he's looking so grown up!).

And then there's our soon-to-be-16-year-old daughter (where where where does the time go?!?) who is always writing and blogging - she has some real gems up. (Seriously, the time thing. We try to be mindful. We spend lots of time together. And yet IT FLIES.)

Then there's this sweetheart. We've had a good holiday.
Hope you have, too!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Two New Posts Below

Welcome 2016! 

Mark and I have both reviewed our 2015s below.
They're pretty honest and raw. 

We're also doing more blogging from here on out. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Year in Review - 2015

  1. What did you do in 2015 that you’d never done before? Started playing D&D in a group with my family and some good friends - so geeky, so fun. Attended a Foley Family reunion in California with all of Mark's side of the family. Loved it. Paddle boarded and kayaked for the first time ever. Spent a week away from Scout while she stayed with friends during our CA trip. We were really sad and I missed her so much. And I was so ridiculously happy to get back to her (our friends are awesome with her and we're very grateful to them for their help, kindness, and love of Scout!). Visited Cape May, NJ. Hosted foreign exchange students - a girl from Paris and a boy from Spain. Saw my daughter off to a week of writer's camp in college dorms. Saw my boy take his first flight. Taught our kids the Portuguese card game sueca and played on the beach as a family. A different kind of therapy - life altering. Sobbed the hardest I have since my father's death due to extreme emotional strain. Am thankfully in a significantly better place and feel happy, content, and hopeful. Situation has improved 20-fold. Hosted Mark's brother's (Greg's) family for a lovely visit during a beautiful fall. Weekly post-therapy lunch dates with my husband. Love them and love him. Saw Benedict Cumberbatch on the London Broadway Stage via satellite. Made a game room in our home (something we've been wanting to do for a while) and we're loving it - pool, ping-pong, air hockey . . . awesome.  
  3. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year? For several years, I have wanted to do the same three things - write, exercise, meditate. All things I feel good doing. Like I've said before, "I have this awful habit of wanting everything to be done/caught up/perfect before allowing myself to do something I want, which generally translates into not getting to things I want to do very much. I know better. I counsel people and tell them not to do that. I also tend to run around doing for everyone but myself. This needs to change." This year has had me getting help to overcome some of these self-defeating habits and I'm making progress in my habits, though there are areas where I'm really struggling. I have a ridiculously difficult time allowing myself good things or feeling deserving of good things. It runs deep and involves guilt, shame, and raw emotions. I often feel like there's a major wall/block stopping me from allowing myself good things. I'm still working at it and hoping for progress and trying not to get discouraged. This past year, I lived by the phrase, The Year of Não ("No" in Portuguese)/Now. See, "Não" is pronounced "now." So it has two meanings - saying no more (in order to say yes to myself more - as in, don't overextend and also, make myself a priority) and also doing things NOW - not putting them off. Happy to say I've done better with both. It's been much needed. So this next year? I'm looking to do this: "Less Facebook. More blogging." Facebook sucks me in in a bad way. Truth be told, I much prefer blogging and I miss it, so I'm back (and Jimmy, thank you for the encouragement - it means a lot).   
  5. Did anyone close to you give birth? Ronald and Alena.   

  6. Did anyone close to you die? No. Thankfully, no.

  7. What countries did you visit? No other countries, but we did visit California and had a wonderful time doing that. We also visited Cape May, NJ and we enjoyed our annual week at the beach in Delaware. And while we didn't visit other countries ourselves, we learned more about France and Spain through our great experience with foreign exchange students!    

  8. What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015? I wouldn't say I lacked these things in 2015, but I'd like to see more healing, more insight, more motivation, more work on projects, more writing, more compassion for self, more peace, more happiness. And it might be time for a new car for Mark. We have a really hard time allowing ourselves to spend money on ourselves, especially on big-ticket items, as we carry these student loans, but when we do (reference: new house, new fridge), OMG, it's so nice and enjoyable and we find ourselves saying things like, "Why didn't we do this sooner?!?" We tend to deny ourselves in the name of "trying to be good financially." So, I think it might be time to get that good feeling with what he's primarily driving (though I loathe car shopping)! 

  9. What dates from 2015 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? Our trip to the family reunion in CA. It was really great. Very grateful to my in-laws for making it possible and to our friends for their help with Scout.

  10. What was your biggest achievement of the year? Emotional Insight and healing. Learning to respect myself and have boundaries. I have been working SO hard. It's difficult to describe, but SO hard.   

  11. What was your biggest failure? Like I say every year, I don't like to think in terms of failure. It is what it is. I like the quote that says, "I never lose. I either win or learn."   

  12. Did you suffer illness or injury? I just reread what I wrote a year ago on this review and it was astounding to read it and think about how much more I've learned this past year. This year has been better. Grueling and a lot of hard work, but I've made progress for sure. There's more to go, of course, but I'm grateful for the progress made. At times I feel frustrated that I'm not better in certain areas or I feel impatient that it's taking a while. I get frustrated in areas where I feel more "stuck," but I think I'm hopeful. How's that for certainty? :P No major illness or injury otherwise, thankfully.     

  13. What was the best thing you bought? Really enjoying our digital frame of rotating inspirational and funny quotes. And the 3-in-1 table (ping pong, pool, air hockey) that we got the kids for Christmas has been a really big hit! 

  14. Whose behavior merited celebration? Mark's. He has worked so incredibly hard to gain insights, take ownership, and get more in tune with himself and his relationships; and the kids and I, in addition to himself obviously, are the ridiculously lucky people who benefit from his unflagging efforts. I love this man more than words can say. When we're good, we're an incredible team. I don't take for granted how lucky we are. It feels like 1+1=3 when we're in sync. I think that's why it's frustrating when we've felt out of sync. We know we're better than that. We're not the most efficient people in the world (because of all the talking and analyzing), but we like the reasons why we're not (you know, the said talking and analyzing). I am truly married to my best friend. I cannot say enough how grateful I am.  

  15. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? Several people's.(Buckle up - this is going to be long and I can't do paragraph breaks without it trying to number them, so). I usually try to be vague or sugar coat the answer to this question, but not this year. This has been a year of seeing people's true natures as I discover my own. It has alternated between disappointing and upsetting, and enlightening as well as empowering. I will start by saying that I am not a perfect person (no one is) and that I've said and done plenty of stupid things myself. I have been struggling emotionally for a couple of years now and I've shared that with people close to me, and am grateful for the understanding and support of good friends. Some of my emotional struggles, I've learned, have probably played into some of the stupid things I've said and done. Now that I have learned more and recognize it, I can take better ownership and do better. I've overextended at times. I've done things out of fear. I think I used to let myself get taken advantage of too much because I was acting in an unhealthy, codependent manner rather than one in which I respected myself. I take ownership of that. I'm learning to see the red flags and, instead of doubting them or pushing down the idea of them like I used to, notice them and be more cautious. I've discovered people lying to us, several times over (they think they got away with it, but they are sorely mistaken). I've discovered insecure people who badmouth and gossip and manipulate others in order to feel good about themselves (you know, the old put-others-down-in-order-to-elevate-oneself trick - that never truly works). I've discovered takers/people interested in relationships where the only discussions and activities are about themselves while anyone else's lives are ignored (I'm simply not interested in that kind of relationship drain). And I've discovered (and I don't know if it's this area, a matter of intellect, or what) people who will hear a rumor about a friend and immediately believe it (without ever talking to their friend in order to verify if what they heard was even true) and subsequently dismiss a years-long friendship just like that! Astounding! Between us, Mark and I have lived in 6 countries, 4 continents, 5 states (and a province), and in countless cities with countless roommates, and we've never seen this sort of prevalence before here/now, so I tend to think it's particular to both geography and culture/education level. There is one woman in particular who seems hell bent on being a gossip "in the know" spreading rumors to any who will listen. I am a big believer in this: if you have a problem with someone, go to the person and work it out. Remarkable how many don't do that. Well, I did talk to that woman and even if she backed off, damage done, right? Here's the thing, she seems to have done me a favor of sorts, because it really separated the wheat from the chaff. It's been so telling who has simply believed her and who hasn't. I've had close friends who she tried to poison, come to me and say, "Stacy, how long have I known you?" and go on to explain that there's a strong history there that some stupid rumor would never damage. Again, these are smart, well-read women I'm talking about here. So reassuring. Others, though? Easily swayed apparently. Sadly. This kind of thing used to tear me apart. Now, I'm learning to see what it means and not sweat it like I used to. Anyway, I'm just done with all of that. I'm beyond tired of being a doormat. I'm done. I'm done chasing down someone's affection or even their thoughts on things. I'm not a mind reader. If someone's mad, they're going to have to put on their big girl panties and say something or, as far as I'm concerned, I'll assume everything's fine. I started to ask at one point - even wrote an email to a friend and then decided not to send it. Not chasing that down. They're not chasing me down? I'm not chasing them down. This isn't junior high. I'm not going to be the girl who goes around constantly asking, "Are you mad at me?" If you are, come to me. I might ask once, but if it's not a situation where we're both working together, count me out. (Not to mention, if someone is so freaking moody and irritated all the time that I spend that much time wondering if they're mad, I'm likely not interested in the first place!) Those people. The ones where you find yourself asking, "Who are you mad at now?" Or "You're mad AGAIN?!?" They're such a DRAIN. If they're mad at someone all the time, you can be pretty sure they'll be mad at you eventually. Why it's taken me this long to figure out, I do not know. My good friend Laura shared with me a really good approach - she just figures that if someone is badmouthing her, she doesn't want to know about it because that's their business, not hers. And she's absolutely right! I've no interest in being in a 1-way relationship with people. People are thrilled to have you around when they need you, but the second you have a hard time and aren't there for them because you're suffering? Some are no longer interested. Well, what do you know! I'm a ridiculously forgiving person who overlooks all kinds of things in the name of friendship - I've looked past things with others but sometimes feel like I'm given no wiggle room for screw ups (or even perceived ones) myself. I'm tired. But I refuse to allow myself to be taken advantage of, because I won't devalue myself like that. More and more, I find myself stopping and really asking myself, "Do I even like these people or enjoy this?!?" and going from there (it's remarkable how often in the past I've not asked myself that question - like I was on freaking auto-pilot!). I'm being careful and not allowing myself to get immersed in others like I used to, not spend so much time on people. I'd give my ALL to help people, which sounds noble, but was also unhealthy and self-defeating. Just over a year ago, when I was depressed in bed, a friend I've had for over a decade said to me, "I'd like to see you not get so involved in helping people." It was not the kind of statement I was used to hearing, but it really affected me. It was honest. I saw that my inclination to help SO much was a coping mechanism that seemed like a good thing, but it can be too much. I lost myself in the process. Helping others is fine, but it needs to be balanced and, quite frankly, I appreciate being looked out for, too. I'm also not interested in relationships of convenience. I've allowed myself to have relationships of circumstance for years (you know, you're friends because you work together or you belong to the same group or whatever), but I've been making a conscious effort to both turn inward and branch out. Less is more. I'm enjoying simple pleasures and time at home with family and less commitments while also getting out to some new groups and places, and meeting interesting people and surrounding myself with strong, positive women and men. I've been reading a lot of feminist articles and they are so empowering. I refuse to buy that women are all jealous and catty as a gender group. Some are. Some aren't. I am choosing to be with those who aren't. These are the friendships I value - people who make me think, expand my mind, focus on things that matter, make me want to be a better person, call me on my crap (I especially appreciate a friend of mine who is able to straightforwardly point things out to me without ever using lack-of-understanding phrases like "let it go" or "get over it"), have fun, laugh, love me, gently push me, respect me, are open, are honest, and where we both look out for each other and build each other up. Since this question is more on the negative side, it lends itself to a kind of negative answer, but the truth is that so much good has come from what I've learned, not only in terms of insight, but also in terms of how I spend my time and with whom! My radar has sharpened and I feel better tuned in with more awareness and less fear. Hopefully I'm more empowered and less jaded. I think I used to just take whatever came my way, perhaps feeling that that's all I deserved or that I wasn't worth more. No more. I have value and won't devalue myself by putting up with mistreatment. I want to model these things for my children - good, empowering relationships. Strong women. Strong men. Diversity. I'm just plain old tired of cattiness and pettiness and really want no part of it. Intentional reciprocity? Sign me up. Anything less? Nope. (And bonus! I'm seeing how, by extension, my kids are enjoying great relationships with great kids due to this restructuring/refined approach.) The following are some quotes that have been inspiring me these past several months (I think you'll sense a theme - and though it may seem like I'm pissed at people, I'm really not! I'm simply more self-aware, informed, empowered, clearer, and wiser.):





  16. Where did most of your money go? Two mortgages until September. Fun! After mortgages, it would be probably be student loans. Then maybe food. That's probably followed by homeschooling/enrichment expenses (curricula, monthly fees, apps, books, tickets, lessons, field trips, events, contest fees, etc.). Property taxes is in there somewhere, too. 

  17. What did you get really, really, really excited about? Our first trip to CA in 13 years. We hadn't been there since 2002! There were so many years of simply not being able to afford it. We're very grateful to Gary and Vivian for putting on such a great event and helping us all be there together. Our weekend in Cape May, NJ. Our digital frame of rotating quotes. Seeing "Love and Mercy" in the theaters. John Cusack retweeting my picture with a message to me! Podcasts. Lots of dinners and game playing with friends. Our annual off-season trip to the beach. A wonderful, supportive surprise in the mail from Jim. Salsa's Mexican Grill opening right down the street (OMG, so excited)! 

  18. What song will always remind you of 2015? Rachel Platten's "Fight Song" - it really resonates with me and what I've been working on this year. Also, Latin music, thanks to "Jane the Virgin" - such a fun, new TV discovery for us. Thank you, Netflix!   

  19. Compared to this time last year, are you:
    a) happier or sadder? Happier and more empowered. Making progress.
    b) thinner or fatter? About the same, I think. Maybe thinner. 
    c) richer or poorer? Richer, I suppose, now that we aren't carrying two mortgages, but we lost quite a bit on the sale of the farmhouse, so I'm not sure. Finances are so confusing. Also, costs of all kinds of things have gone up (health insurance, etc.) regardless of the fact that our income has not. Oh, gas prices are cheaper (but we don't really drive that far/that much, thankfully)! Then there's stuff like retirement, college savings, etc. - we've had years where we've been able to save and years where we haven't. I don't know. Like I said, finances are confusing. 

  20. What do you wish you’d done more of? Mmmmm, probably blogging? Mostly, I feel pretty good about how I've spent my time this past year. I know I've been doing the best I can and that I'm healing and making progress. Sometimes I'm frustrated at how long things can take and I'm not always patient about it, but when I step back and look at the big picture, I know I'm doing so much better.  

  21. What do you wish you’d done less of? I'm pretty pleased with how I've spent my time overall, as I've been learning to be gentle with myself and allowing space for learning and healing. That being said, I've noticed how often I operate out of fear and I'd like to do less of that. Less fear, more intention. Along those lines, I can also get sucked into brainless things as a way of avoiding things I *really* want to do, so I'd say I wish I'd done less Facebook. 

  22. How did you spend Christmas? Like we usually do -- here with my fun family, eating great food, playing games, and enjoying how well we all know one another - such thoughtful gifts and so much excitement over giving and gratitude over receiving. We're really enjoying our games as well as our ping pong/pool/air hockey table. Oh, and we made two kinds of octopus (delicious!). My kids jumped in and helped make lunch on busy days leading up to Christmas (gourmet grilled cheese with tomato soup - yum!). We've had great meals. Mark made the most amazing breakfast I think I've ever had - an eggs Benedict bake with hollandaise sauce. It was scrumptious! It's also been so nice to hear from friends and family near and far this holiday season. We love the week between Christmas and New Year's and are super relaxed - sleeping, eating, and playing. Love!

  23. Did you fall in love in 2015? So so so very much. I have literally been moved to tears at seeing how loved I am by my best friend. And on top of that? I love him, too.

  24. What was your favorite TV program? The Goldbergs, The Big Bang Theory, and our new favorite, Jane the Virgin! I've also enjoyed Difficult People, Master of None, and Grace and Frankie on streaming. Oh, and Amazing Race! 

  25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year? I honestly don't hate anyone. Mostly, I'm simply feeling empowered about who I choose to spend my time with. It has to not be a drain. 

  26. What was the best book you read? This has been a bit of a "bleh" year in the book department. I did like "Calling Dr. Laura" - one of the many beautiful graphic novels Mark bought me this past Christmas. I liked "All the Bright Places." I listened to the audio of "Bossypants" by Tina Fey during our travel to and from CA and I enjoyed that! (Tina Fey is my soul sister). I read a TON of articles (it's seriously crazy). I need to read some better books moving forward . . .  

  27. What was your greatest musical discovery? A Great Big World. I didn't discover them this year, but their new album is great. 

  28. What did you want and get? Insight and healing. My inbox to zero! HUZZAH! (That took nearly all year). Also, a new fridge. It took the old one dying and Mark making it last longer by taking off the freezer panel and blow drying the ice for a while, but eventually, we went for it and it's so great to have room to put plenty of food again as well as have a functioning ice/water dispenser! (Thanks for the help, Mom!) 

  29. What did you want and not get? Woot! Again, we've done well. This past year, I said this: "I'd say more time/support working on taking care of myself." And, to a great extent, I've been getting that! But this question is about wanting something I did not get . . . hmmmmm . . . probably that ever-fruitless desire of wanting others to be more understanding. We can't control others; we are in charge of ourselves. A good life lesson. Also, to be able to do nice things for myself and enjoy myself without guilt. Like I said earlier, I'm struggling in this area and it runs deep so it's not something I can just turn on and off. I'm working on this and I think I'm headed in the right direction anyway. 

  30. What was your favorite film of this year? "Love and Mercy," hands down. I also loved "The Imitation Game," "St. Vincent," and "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." 

  31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? I turned 41 - the day itself was wonderfully low-key (just what I wanted this year), spent with my family and, of course, it included gifts and good food. We got home just before an ice storm hit and stayed in playing games and talking on the phone with friends, helping them make a pro-con list about which house to buy.  

  32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? A lottery win? Student loan debt forgiveness (can you imagine?!?)?

  33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2015? I've been making an effort to not deny myself or put stuff off (as I'm wont to do), working on not always saving things for special occasions only, but to do it now and enjoy it. Carpe diem and all of that. So, I wear what I want and sometimes that means wearing the nice jewelry or the pretty dress just because (and jeans and t-shirts when I feel like it), not putting off things we want to do, working on projects, etc. Like I said, it feels so good to be in sync!

  34. What kept you sane? My family, Scout, my therapist, friends, the beach, games, and TV.   

  35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? John Cusack (he retweeted a picture of me WITH A MESSAGE!) and Bernie Sanders. 

  36. What political issue stirred you the most? Inequality.

  37. Who did you miss? My dad. Also, the extended Foley clan after our wonderful reunion.

  38. Who was the best new person you met? My therapist. I'm very, very grateful to have found such a good one. Aside from that, we've made several friends in the area with people who share similar interests - tabletop gaming, Dr. Who, Sherlock, Harry Potter, food, geekdoms, fandoms, etc. It's been really nice to branch out and meet new, awesome, FUN people. But someone we've specifically met this year? 2015? Hmmmm. Mark and I met a waitress on one of our lunch dates and we really hit it off with her. We've since become Facebook friends (she left her Facebook contact on our receipt) and we've met her husband, who is a really, really cool guy. We don't get together with them a lot, but we've been out twice so far and we enjoy ourselves so much every time. We've also been meeting people through our kids - it's fun to meet their friends and their friends' parents.  

  39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015. That some things run so deep that they affect us emotionally and physically and take a LOT of work to heal. That we have internal family systems that work to protect us but sometimes, well-meaning as they may be, hold us back. That self insight and healing can make a world of difference, even if there's a long ways to go. Oh, and to stop putting off things that I really want to do - hosting foreign exchange students, going to CA, wearing that dress . . .  

  40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
    So much this:
    "Like a small boat
    On the ocean
    Sending big waves
    Into motion
    Like how a single word
    Can make a heart open
    I might only have one match
    But I can make an explosion

    And all those things I didn't say
    Wrecking balls inside my brain
    I will scream them loud tonight
    Can you hear my voice this time?

    This is my fight song
    Take back my life song
    Prove I'm alright song
    My power's turned on
    Starting right now I'll be strong
    I'll play my fight song
    And I don't really care if nobody else believes
    'Cause I've still got a lot of fight left in me

    Losing friends and I'm chasing sleep
    Everybody's worried about me
    In too deep
    Say I'm in too deep (in too deep)
    And it's been two years
    I miss my home
    But there's a fire burning in my bones
    Still believe
    Yeah, I still believe

    And all those things I didn't say
    Wrecking balls inside my brain
    I will scream them loud tonight
    Can you hear my voice this time?

    This is my fight song
    Take back my life song
    Prove I'm alright song
    My power's turned on
    Starting right now I'll be strong
    I'll play my fight song
    And I don't really care if nobody else believes
    'Cause I've still got a lot of fight left in me

    A lot of fight left in me

    Like a small boat
    On the ocean
    Sending big waves
    Into motion
    Like how a single word
    Can make a heart open
    I might only have one match
    But I can make an explosion

    This is my fight song (Hey!)
    Take back my life song (Hey!)
    Prove I'm alright song (Hey!)
    My power's turned on
    Starting right now I'll be strong (I'll be strong)
    I'll play my fight song
    And I don't really care if nobody else believes
    'Cause I've still got a lot of fight left in me

    No I've still got a lot of fight left in me"

    My voice. My story. I will not be silenced any more . . .