Wednesday, February 22, 2017

What makes a house a home?

This morning, I got up and showered, took Kate to her college classes, came home and cuddled with the dog, had some breakfast, and then got ready to sit down and take care of emails (which is a catch-all phrase for family stuff/scheduling/schooling/appointments/correspondence/errands/to-do lists, etc.). It was chilly, so before I sat down, I flipped on the fireplace and grabbed a blanket to cover my lap.

As I was reaching for a fuzzy blanket out of our basket of many fuzzy blankets in our living room, I had the immediate thought that these blankets are part of what make our home "homey." In the winter, we're all always grabbing blankets for our laps or to cuddle with. When we watch TV, we're often all on the couch with fuzzy blankets covering our legs. Sometimes we each have our own. Sometimes we share. But there are always blankets. Scout loves them, too.

That thought gave me the idea for this blog post. I thought it could be fun to challenge myself to come up with a list of 10 things (tangible and intangible) that makes our house a home. My mind is racing today and I'm struggling to focus and concentrate, so I'm going to stop right now and write this blog post. Here we go - just posting what comes to mind off the top of my head:

1. Our basket of fuzzy blankets. I've already talked about these, but let's officially list it as #1.


2. Emotional safety. Everyone is safe, in our home, to speak their minds, share their feelings, have their feelings, have their opinions, and talk about anything. No restrictions. If someone is sad or angry or happy or excitable, we try to be understanding of one another. Sure, we all have our times when we're a little irritable or short on patience, but by and large, this is a safe place to be. No one gets angry at anyone else for having an opinion that's different or for having whatever feelings they're feeling. I like that our kids can come to us with anything - excitement, frustration, and questions - and know they're not going to get yelled at or mocked. We are sarcastic and snarky sometimes, but we are not mean and do not make fun of each other.

3. Talking. So much talking. We talk all the time. We talk at mealtimes. We talk before bed. We pause what we're watching and talk during shows. We talk in the car. We talk in the middle of the afternoon. It doesn't much matter. We enjoy talking and sharing with one another and I love it. We know each other and share and listen and it's lively and comfortable and wonderful.

4. Games. We have so many board games. We play games a lot. Sometimes we go on streaks where we play a game (or lots of games) repeatedly for days in a row. Sometimes we have weeks of lots of game playing. Sometimes we have stretches where we don't easily get to play, but we always come back to games (and yes, we talk during game play, too). We also have a ping pong/pool/air hockey table and that's often a room we go to in order to take a break from the grind and challenge one another to a quick game or a quick tournament. I love it. Again, I've always wanted that kind of home - one where being playful and creative and happy is the basis for not only how we furnish and decorate our home, but also how we live in it.



5. Music. We often have music playing as we prepare meals together, set the table, and sometimes just for fun. We play music when we get together with friends and play games. We play music when we celebrate New Year's. We listen to all kinds and lately it's been a lot of Broadway. When I put mine on, it's either that or lots of 80's pop. At Christmastime, we play so much holiday music. We watch the Grammys together. We geek out reading articles about songs and musical artists we like. It's happy. I love to dance and can't seem to help myself when the music is on. I also love to sing along and everyone knows if they ask me something while I'm singing, I have to finish singing before I answer them. I almost can't even concentrate if music with lyrics is playing. Sometimes Mark and I dance in the kitchen. And when I'm dancing and singing, I don't even care how silly I might look or whether or not I'm getting the words perfectly. I'm just happy and having fun. And we're all enjoying one another.

6. Scout. Neither Mark nor I grew up with a dog. We had no idea what we were in for when we got Scout. She brings SO MUCH LOVE, JOY, and ENERGY to our home. So much. I have never in my life felt so loved like this. She is a lot of work but oh so worth it. She is, at turns, cuddly and playful and sweet and demanding and feisty and mischievous and energetic and mellow and hilarious and and and . . . well, you get the idea. She definitely makes our house more homey. We love her excited pants, her pitter-patter walk, her hops, her licks, her wet nose kisses, her pawing us, her snuggles. We love our Scout!!


7. TV shows. It's funny. I kind of hate the sound of a TV that's on, but  more specifically the sound of a TV that's on mindlessly. Like just on for noise. It's like nails on a chalkboard. But for us, the TV isn't something that someone flips on and then clicks through for hours on end. It's something we turn on to watch stuff together. It's deliberate. We flip it on sometimes at lunch and eat around the coffee table while we watch yesterday's Trevor Noah. We all get excited on Tuesday nights to sit down (with blankets and sometimes snacks) and watch "This is Us." We laugh as we watch episodes of "Clarence." We binge watch shows like Friends, The Office, New Girl, Glee, Frasier, Malcolm in the Middle, and more. We have our Gilmore Girls tradition that we've all shared. We sometimes watch a news special about Lin-Manuel Miranda or Taylor Swift or something else we're interested in. But whatever it is, we're interested and if we don't all watch it, we take the time to know, "Hey, Max really likes Invader Zim" or "Kate really likes Castle." Mark hardly ever watches baseball, but when he does, we ask him questions and he teaches us. Kate binge watched Castle and I got inadvertently sucked in and loved getting interested and sharing that with her. Mark now watches Supernatural with her. Max wanted to watch The Office, so Mark is watching that with the kids (and I get sucked in now and then, too). I recently watched the entirety of Frasier with Kate and now am starting up Glee with Max (I had gotten to about season 2 or 3 with Kate, but it's been a while so we're casually starting over). It's funny - a few weeks ago, I was thinking of writing a blog post all about TV shows and how much we learn from them due to the conversations that come from watching them together and maybe I still will, but I guess I'm alluding to that a little bit here, too. We love sharing hobbies and this is one of them - a love of good television and pop culture.

8. Food. All kinds of foods, but especially savories and meals from all over the world - Japanese, Indian, Mexican . . . we love it all. We love to try new things. We love to eat out and get take out. We love to cook. When we watch something special like the Gilmore Girls revival or an Awards show, we often make themed foods or appetizers. When Obama was inaugurated in 2009, we made Obama cookies and cooked Kenyan food. When Prince William and Princess Kate got married, we got up early and watched while eating tea and crumpets. When we watch awards shows, we sometimes make a bunch of little savory appetizers like pigs-in-a-blanket or salami pickles or mini egg rolls. We're not opposed to ordering in at 10pm or spontaneously suggesting a fun food outing. New restaurant? Let's check it out! And cooking. So much cooking. Our house often has the smells of such good cooking. We enjoy food as a hobby. We eat pretty healthy overall, but boy do we have fun with it.

This picture is a just because candid - Mark recently got me flowers to bring some light and cheer to these gloomy winter days and you can see the lived-in nature of our home (calendar, pencil, book on the table), books in the background, fandom art on the walls, etc.


9. Books. Shelves and shelves of books. Books in nearly every room. A basket of books from the library. Piles of books we're reading. Boxes of books from overflowing shelves. Books we read ourselves. Books we read together. We share stories. We read books. We listen to podcasts. Right now, the whole family is listening to Trevor Noah's "Born a Crime" and it is excellent! We're enjoying it so much. We listen in the car and at home while we eat our meals. I've read the Harry Potter series 3 times so far - once myself, once with Kate, and once with Max. It's so special. There are quotes on our walls from the Harry Potter books. Fandom stuff all over. Another book that is special for me to read with the kids is "To Kill a Mockingbird." I've read it with Kate and will read it with Max soon. We all like all kinds of books. I'm so glad books are a big part of our home.

10. Pictures. We have pictures all over the place. In frames on the mantel. In frames on the wall. We have a digital frame that goes through old pictures. We take family pictures every couple of years. We have scrapbooks. We have home videos. It all contributes to a hominess. I've never wanted a stuffy home. I've always wanted a place where people can feel comfortable and relaxed and welcome. This isn't a museum. It's our home. I like things clean and sanitary. Neat even. But it's also lived in. Because we live here. And I like it that way.




So, here's something funny - know how I wrote this post because I was feeling so distracted? Well, writing certainly helped. Then, I got distracted again and it wasn't until I was climbing into bed that I remembered I didn't post it. :P See? So yeah, I wrote this yesterday, but am posting it now.

So, I'm curious to hear your thoughts - what are 10 things (tangible and intangible) that make your house a home?

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Valentine's Day

This hasn't ever been a big deal kind of holiday for us. Sometimes we celebrate it. Sometimes we don't. Sometimes we do something like a kids' party or daily love notes and sometimes we're super low-key about it. We usually do something, but what's nice is that we tend to be on the same page.

This past year, I put up daily hearts on the kids' bedroom doors as well as on ours (for Mark) telling them things I love about them. This year, Mark and I both weren't really feeling it and kept things easy.

Mark went into work early yesterday and went out of his way to pick Kate up from her classes just so I could rest longer (I've been dealing with chronic neck pain and the cold tends to exacerbate it). In his text to me he said to consider it his Valentine to me. Now that is a great Valentine! I put a cheesy Waitress-themed (Broadway) Valentine on his Facebook wall. That's how we rolled this year.

The kids got valentines from a woman here who always does something sweet for them on these kinds of holidays. She puts together special things for her grandkids and always makes two more for our kids. We're so grateful for her thoughtfulness with that. They always get valentines in the mail from their great grandma as well. They opted out of going to the homeschool group's party - they're outgrowing it, I think.

It was a full day of work, classes, a dentist appointment for me, Max's book club, Kate's critique group, etc., but we managed to sneak in a few Valentines treats.

We got Valentines for our kids - flowers and chocolates:


And Kate made heart-shaped chocolate chip cookies for us to eat while watching "This is Us" as a family. Perfect!


How was your Valentine's Day?

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Grammys Are Coming--Part 4 (2017)

The category I saved for last is Album of the Year. Mostly, I was trying to buy myself some time since I wasn't familiar with four of the albums, and one is old enough that I had to completely remind myself of it. I think there is a clear winner in this group, but there have been surprises before. Overall, I'm sort of underwhelmed by the choices this year, and I'm not sure if that's just my personal taste, if the Grammy committee missed something way better out there, or if the field just isn't that strong this year.

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25, Adele

Adele is great. Her voice is magic and you always feel like you're hearing someone at her best. I do think a lot of her music starts to blend together. With that said, her songwriting is fantastic, her recordings are always impressive, and her passion is unmistakable. So, the album is a great listen and worthy of attention. It definitely holds its own and then some among this group.

Instead of posting the same song again, here's another track from her album, albeit performed somewhat live.



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Lemonade, Beyoncé

This album is something pretty unique. Beyoncé covers a lot of styles and hits a lot of important topics. It's a manifesto about black power, feminism, Southern stereotypes, and more. The fact that it was actually released as part of a one-hour video presentation should say something about the work itself. It's a concept that can't even be fully appreciated without the visuals. After listening to the album, I can see why the questions about her and Jay-Z came flying fast and furious. There are several lyrics that hint at problems. I will say that rumors about celebrity couples don't faze me anymore.

Here is another single from her album. Trigger warning: there is a lot of underwater imagery in the beginning that may make some people feel short of breath.



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Purpose, Justin Bieber

I will probably never be a Bieber fan. We have too much history and there are things about his singing style that I find unlikable. His voice is still too nasally for me, and after all of the Kate McKinnon impressions on SNL, I find it very hard to even look at him without laughing. Leaving all prejudice behind, I will give him credit. This is a very mature album that is constructed very effectively. The title is a bit presumptuous, and some of the lyrics are a bit on the nose for me, but I will admit that I was wrong when my first inclination was to dismiss it.

This is the title track, and it's a good one. I still find something about Justin Bieber very irritating whenever I see him, but I recognize this is probably rooted in a lot of my earlier judgments of him. I'll give him props where props are due.



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Views, Drake

Drake has never been an artist I cared much about, and even after this listen, nothing has changed. I still don't get what all the fuss is about him. When I've seen him be interviewed he seems perfectly likable--probably because he's Canadian--but I just don't get it. This album is supposed to be unique for him because of the variety of styles he uses. Most of it is in the dancehall vein, and that may be why I don't really like it that much. Also, this is one of the albums that makes me feel like it was a weak year for music. Hey, it may just be my personal taste, so if he takes home the Grammy, I will applaud an artist that put out good music this year. I'm just not buying it.

I wanted to embed a shortened video to cut out the nearly two-minute intro to this video, but it wouldn't embed. Here's the link to "One Dance," which was one of the best tracks from the album. It gives you an idea of the style Drake's going for.

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A Sailor's Guide To Earth, Sturgill Simpson

Sturgill Simpson was a complete unknown to me when this nomination came in. I hadn't heard any buzz. I'd never heard of this album. Part of it is because it's not the genre I keep up on, but normally I've heard of the big releases from the previous year. He comes off as older than he is, but that's probably because he is squarely in the middle of the outlaw country world. His sound is most definitely a throwback to classic artists like Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard. The album was not my cup of tea, but not hard to listen to. It was a good concept album, and that's probably what thrust it to the front of the Grammy committee's minds.

"In Bloom" is a Nirvana cover, which took me by surprise.



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My Choice: Honestly, take your pick. I'm down on Drake and Sturgill Simpson, but that's probably just because my personal tastes don't line up. If I had to pick one, I'd choose Lemondade. Purpose is a surprising second choice for me.

My Prediction: Lemonade. I think that this concept album is the strongest top to bottom, and barring some sort of political bias that I'm unaware of, the Grammys are going to reward Beyoncé for her timely message.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Grammys Are Coming--Part 3 (2017)

So now we come to the Record of the Year. This is probably the hardest one for me to predict because defining the difference between it and the Song of the Year is not very easy for me. I tend to judge them all very similarly. It's kind of easy when a bunch of the songs appear in both categories, but let's not kid ourselves. I'm going with my gut on this one.

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"Hello"
Adele
Track from: 25

I could just copy my earlier comments on this song and they would stand, but I'll add a few more words. The recording is classic Adele. It's powerful, soulful, well produced, etc., etc., etc. It almost feels weird to be so blase about such a talented artist in today's day and age of hacks and wannabes, but it is what it is. This is a great song and deserves attention. I'm just not sure that it deserves a Grammy.



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"Formation"
Beyoncé
Track from: Lemonade

Again, another set of comments I could just enter here and it would suffice. Great track. Great production. The whole thing works for me, even if it's not my favorite of the group. What else can I say? Plus, I have to write more about Beyoncé in the last category.



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"7 Years"
Lukas Graham
Track from: Lukas Graham (Blue Album)

Yep. More of the same. This is a year where it makes sense to me that songs are appearing in both the Record and Song categories. This is obviously one of my favorites, and the recording is the same way. I like the way it sounds, and the overall production matches the songwriting.



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"Work"
Rihanna featuring Drake
Track from: Anti

When I consider the overall recording separate from the songwriting, I suppose this song can go here. I'm not impressed, though. From Rihanna's sloppy enunciation to Drake's tired raps, this club song just doesn't do it for me. I can probably come up with half a dozen recordings that I think deserve a spot over "Work." I half wonder if it's Rihanna returning to her island roots getting the Grammy voters excited. Look, I'm not a big fan of either of these artists by themselves. I actually am more impressed by the work Rihanna does when she's featured on other recordings.



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"Stressed Out"
Twenty-One Pilots
Track from: Blurryface

I think Twenty-One Pilots has a really unique sound, so I'm cool with this recording being nominated. It's fun, different, and very catchy. I like how they're blending genres and trying a lot of new sounds. I heard a lot about them before I really heard much of what they are doing. We saw them on SNL a while ago and they were really good. I enjoyed watching them. This track is firmly in the middle for me, but I could be OK with them winning.



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My Choice: "7 Years" is still my favorite. I think the entire track from writing to production is great. It's the one entry here that makes me want to listen to more by the artist.

My Prediction: "Formation" is part of Beyoncé's biggest work to date, so I have a feeling it will be rewarded with this Grammy as well. It will be very hard for Grammy voters to separate this track from the overall work, despite how the category works. It's not undeserving.


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Grammys Are Coming--Part 2 (2017)

Part 1, Song of the Year is done. On to Part 2.

So, last year, I knew 4 of the 5 artists nominated for the Best New Artist Catgory. I had opinions on several, so it was really easy to take a listen and decide what I thought. This year, I have heard of two, and wasn't very familiar with anyone's work. This was challenging for me.

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Kelsea Ballerini

We've found a new country-pop singer-songwriter with a flare for writing catchy tunes about love and heartbreak in Middle America. If I'm being honest, after a certain point I have a hard time deciding how one is different from the next. Ballerini is talented, and she has a knack for writing songs that put her squarely in the middle of what will sell, but she pales in comparison to country artists like Kasey Musgraves. Kasey's songs are harder on the ears for someone who isn't a fan of more traditional country music, but her songwriting is more interesting.

"Peter Pan charted at Number 1 on the U.S. Country charts so I thought I'd include it here. It was probably the best of what I listened to from Ballerini.



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The Chainsmokers

This is a group that I had actually heard of since Max is really into electronic dance music (EDM) and I know he's got a song or two that he likes by The Chainsmokers. They have put out a couple of EPs in the past 2 years, and they do a lot of collaboration, like a lot of the DJs out there do. They are easy to listen to since most of their music is in the house genre rather than some of the more specialized electronic sub-genres.

Here's one of the tracks I listened to. It was one of the songs I enjoyed the most.



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Chance The Rapper

This is one of those artists whose name kept popping up, and I had no clue who he was. In fact, the first time I'd heard anything by Chance, it was a track from the Hamilton Mixtape, and it's not really representative of his style. I listened to his recent album, Coloring Book, and it was last of all the new artists for me to listen to. I wasn't expecting much. From track number 1 I was hooked. He's more than a rapper--he reminds me of a throwback R&B artist from my childhood. He's been bouncing around the industry for a long time, popping up in a lot of recordings as the "featured" artist, but his solo work is really strong. And props to him for doing an entirely streaming release on iTunes, which only recently is allowed to be awarded a Grammy.

So, this track is one of my favorites on the album. From the top I was hooked with a bass line and vocals that could have come straight out of a classic Jackson 5 cut.



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Maren Morris

The first song I heard made me think of Pat Benatar. I easily figured out she was a country artist before getting too far in, but her voice was a bit out of the ordinary for the "typical" Nashville sound. I enjoyed a lot of what she has recorded, and it is a bit more sophisticated than what I usually associate with newcomers in the Country world. There's an edge I appreciate that stops short of the blatantly ridiculous attitude that artists like Carrie Underwood display in an attempt to erase the saccharine image they usually bring initially. I'm not about to run out and buy all her recordings, but I could leave a tune or two on the playlist.

From what I can tell, "My Church" is Morris's biggest hit to date.



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Anderson .Paak

Here is another artist who has been "around" for a long time, writing and producing and collaborating, who is finally breaking out on his own. He is also nominated in the urban category, so I wasn't thinking I'd love what he's done recently. I'm not going to lie and say I like everything I heard. I will say that so much of what .Paak is doing hearkens back to earlier days of hip-hop and R&B, so I'm impressed. As far as I'm concerned, the closer your roots are to Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, Otis Redding, and the like, the better for me.

Here is the first track I listened to. I thought to myself, "OK. I can get on board with this guy."



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My Choice: I was going to say Anderson .Paak, and then I heard Chance the Rapper's most recent album. So, yeah, Chance is my choice. I think his recent work is really strong and deserving of attention. I'm just not sure if it will be enough to nab this Grammy. He is nominated for a total of 7 Grammys in a variety of categories.

My Prediction: Maren Morris has already won a CMA for the best new artist, so a Grammy seems a likely fit for me. Her diverse style and a bit more advanced songwriting give her the edge in my opinion.

Next Up, Record of the Year.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Grammy's Are Coming--Part 1 (2017)

I was hoping to get to this a while ago, but life has kept me from being able to listen to a lot of new music. Plus, this year the top four categories are filled with selections that were under my radar. It's been interesting to review these for sure. There were a few "oh, that song" moments, as well as "really?" moments as well. Last year I was 3 for 4 in the big four categories--Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist. I'm not so sure about beating that this year, but we'll see.

The first category I reviewed was Song of the Year. As a reminder, this is an award to the songwriters, and it is based on the lyrics themselves, not necessarily the recording and production of the song. I'm skeptical that the overall production doesn't factor into the judging, but on the surface, the nominations suggest that these songs are considered independent from the recordings. Not all of them appear in both categories.

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"Formation," recorded by Beyoncé
Songwriters: Khalif Brown, Asheton Hogan, Beyoncé Knowles, and Michael L. Williams II
Album: Lemonade

This song is the lead single on a pretty powerful album. The message is powerful, calling women together "in formation" to stand strong and fight the patriarchy. She completely and without apology embraces her "blackness," the complicated heritage of blacks in America, black culture, and the controversial imagery to come out of post-Katrina New Orleans. I admit that I am not familiar with the "deeper cuts" on Beyoncé's previous albums, but this track stands out to me as something with more depth. I'm not sure how it will all play out with the voters, especially considering how this is a song that has been embraced by social movements such as Black Lives Matter. The Grammy's haven't been shy in the past about rewarding activism, though.



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"Hello," recorded by Adele.
Songwriters: Adele Adkins and Greg Kurstin
Album: 25

This song was released so long ago that I had to shake out the cobwebs to remember it. Although, the endless spoofs of the song and the nature to overplay hits on the radio make it impossible to completely forget. Honestly, this is not my favorite Adele song, and I'm not sure if that's because her music tends to be very similar or if I just really didn't like it as much. There is no doubt that she is a great songwriter, and her lyrics are very well-suited to whatever message she is trying to convey.



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"I Took A Pill In Ibiza," performed by Mike Posner.
Songwriter: Mike Posner
Album: The Truth

It's interesting that this song was released a couple of years ago, but then it was remixed by a Swedish house band, SeeB, and got a bunch of attention. The song is the same lyrically, but I guess radio play matters. It's a remarkably honest song from a musician that has definitely struggled. Posner's written a lot of hits for other people, but this is one of his first big hits for himself. I was a fan of the song earlier in the summer when it was getting a lot of play, and I'm still a fan now.



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"Love Yourself," recorded by Justin Bieber.
Songwriters:  Justin Bieber, Benjamin Levin, and Ed Sheeran
Album: Purpose

I don't remember when, but Justin Bieber performed this at some awards show, and I was amused, but not impressed. Part of it is the difficulty I have taking him seriously at all, but I will give him credit for maturing and trying to reinvent himself. It's not half-bad, but does come off as a sort of mediocre break-up song. It's petty and lacks much depth. I'm a little surprised Ed Sheeran wrote it since it's not as deep as his usual fare, but I'm not surprised it got scrapped from Sheeran's third studio album before being picked up by Bieber.



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"7 Years," recorded by Lukas Graham
Songwriters: Lukas Forchhammer, Stefan Forrest, Morten Pilegaard, Morten Ristorp
Album: Lukas Graham (Blue Album)

Lukas Graham is a Danish pop band, who before I started listening to do these reviews, I would have assumed was a solo artist. Anyway, this song has some serious depth. I was pretty amazed overall. The message was consistent and progresses nicely through the entire track, which makes the overal lyricism of the song pretty great. When I get a chance, I will definitely need to see what else they've done.



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My choice: This one is tough this year. There are several songs here that I like, but not one that jumps out as the best in my mind. If I had to pick one, I guess I'd go with "7 Years," but that could change in the next five minutes if I were to hear a different song on the radio.

My prediction: With all that's going on in the world right now, coupled with how many hip-hop and R&B artists are being recognized in the big categories this year, I think this may be a Beyoncé kind of year. And it would definitely be deserving--no Kanye campaigning necessary.

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Next Up, Best New Artist

Monday, January 30, 2017

There's a madman at the helm!

The past 10 days have been hard. Trump/Bannon . . . what a nightmare. This isn't the America we all know and love. I can't believe that all the protests we're seeing in the streets aren't images of some foreign country but of right here in the USA. If there is one good thing to come from a Trump presidency (that's hard to say), it's that people are awake and involved.

I'm sleeping poorly. Too much news. I'm involved locally helping to head up a group of over 200 people who are all resisting hate, running for local office, energizing the base, organizing events, fundraising, protesting, you name it. There's a lot of work to be done. Seems like more and more every day.

Kate and I were going to go to the march in DC. We had friends who were going to stay the night and drive down the next day. I was really nervous about it but also wanting to go and support Kate's desire to go and get involved, too. She got sick and we stayed home. It ended up a good thing that we didn't go, though I do feel like we missed out on something amazing.

So we marched in solidarity in our own way from home. We came up with a family "resistance" plan, watched feminist and activist movies, and donated to organizations that help women. I'm proud of my kids and their desire to be informed and involved.




I can tell I'm stretched thin, because the other day I went to cut a slice of homemade blueberry bread to toast and when I reached in to grab the loaf, there was already a cut slice there and I felt like that was a major win as well as a big relief. When an already-sliced piece of bread can make you feel that way, you may be doing too much. :P

Everything is in full-swing with a return to a more normal schedule for us, which was a weirder adjustment than most years because going into the holidays and coming out of them, we've had house guests.

Mark's parents came for a 10-day visit that included Thanksgiving and we loved it. We had such a great time! We played games and ate a lot of good food. It was so nice to spend the holiday together. It was pretty low-key overall, except that we did go to New York City and they took us all to see a Broadway play ("Something Rotten"). It's extra special that it was Max's first play on Broadway as well as Vivian's, so they got to experience that together. We had so much fun! They also helped us decorate for Christmas and took us out for Mexican and Sushi. We celebrated their birthdays. And did I mention we played a lot of games? Well, we did. And it was lovely.

And then Mark's brother, Michael, came to visit after Christmas and was also here for 10 days. Guess what we did. Yep, food and games and food and games and politics and games and food and politics and games. It was great. It was especially nice for Mark and Michael to get good brother time together - they went out to eat, caught a movie together, hung out at Mark's work, visited Wilbur's Chocolates, stopped at our local bookstore/gamestore.





I loved seeing my kids enjoy time with an uncle like that, too. They played so many games, talked about stuff, joked around. It was really fun. Seeing them in the role of niece and nephew like that makes me so happy. Every year at Christmas, the kids get a gift from an uncle's family (we rotate) and we got to see them all at the reunion in California. The uncles keep in touch on various social media. Since the reunion, 2 different uncles have come to visit, as well as grandparents. I'm grateful for this. It means a lot to us.


Kate is taking a fairly full load of classes at the local community college - 13.5 credits, including a science class with a lab. She's loving it. She is also preparing for the SATs and practicing driving. With all this, she's taking a well-deserved break from working this semester and will go back after that. We're looking at doing college visits, too. And she's busy preparing for various writers' groups and camps. She volunteers at the local theater to help usher people to their seats for plays and shows. It's neat, because she gets to stay and see shows when she wants, too. She just got asked to yet another school dance, so we're getting ready for that as well. Always neat stuff going on! Oh, and she's recently won more contests and awards! Her writing blows my mind. Sometimes I have to sit and catch my breath while I try to absorb her immense talent and depth. I'm so lucky I get to be her mom!


Max is taller than I am now. I swear, I can SEE him growing before my eyes. Yesterday, for the first time, I thought I could hear his voice getting deeper, too. He's also transforming from little boy to young man. I remember seeing Kate make that transition from little girl to young woman. It's a very poignant and distinct transition that you can see, observe, and embrace. It's bittersweet, but more sweet than bitter. I love seeing who they are and what they love and hearing their thoughts on things. I love seeing them mature into adulthood like this. They're amazing people.



I see Max getting even more responsible - doing things without being asked, staying on top of responsibilities, etc. He loves to play outside with the neighbor kids and he's often online with any number of different friends playing any number of different games. He's a social, happy kid. We've been having fun celebrating his birthday and enjoying his birthday party. He loves learning and especially enjoys math and science. Both kids know their stuff when it comes to politics, government, and current events. He is loving piano and taekwondo. He designs games, plays games, draws, takes pictures, and writes music. He can talk about anything. He and Kate are getting involved with a local, teen theater group and both are excited about that. He volunteers and helps teach kids at the taekwondo studio as well as the library when they need help. He loves the show "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" and we all enjoy listening to that podcast. He enjoys political satire, as we all do. He's doing great with school stuff and also gearing up for getting a job. And it's coming up on comic-con season and checking out summer camp opportunities, so that's all exciting. And in all this, he loves to snuggle with me, hug me, and put his arm around me. I love this kid!




Scout gives us so much joy and so many snuggles. She is, at turns, feisty and demanding and sweet and cuddly. She constantly makes us smile and laugh. We adore her. She is the best!



Mark is busy with work and family. There's always stuff going on here. He's reading a lot about race relations and listening to lots of audio books. We've been working on various projects and goals. Always learning. He does a good deal of the driving around to evening activities for the kids, too, as well as participating in taekwondo with Max and seeing action movies with Kate. And we're both busy homeschooling our kids and generally keeping up on all the things! We're in the middle of so many things and yet are trying to do less for sanity's sake. The old van is on its way out, so there's car shopping to do soon, too. It feels like it's always something - oil changes, dentist appointments, dress shopping, errands, work, activities, meetings, projects, etc.







In summary: thank goodness for finding that someone has already sliced the bread. Every little thing, right?

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A New Year and TWO New Posts Below

One from Mark and one from me. Enjoy! :)

Monday, January 2, 2017

(Mark's) Year In Review - 2016

When I did the 2015 review post, I hoped it would be one of many more posts on the blog from me. Yeah, that didn't happen. I did do a few posts on music, which I really enjoy, but I didn't do enough to chronicle our wonderful (and sometimes hectic) life. So, here I am, another year gone, and another review to write, complete with goals and ambitions for 2017.

1. What did you do in 2016 that you’d never done before?
I took Stacy away for an overnight trip to New York City to see two Broadway musicals. It was the first time since having children that Stacy and I have gotten away, just the two of us, and it was so fantastic. We haven't had family near us to help out, so we haven't really had the chance, but the kids are old enough to manage things at home (we did have a friend come and stay the night with them and get them to college and activities the next day). We rode the train in together (so nostalgic for us), saw "Waitress" and "Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812," ate sushi and tapas, and stayed in a fun little "guest house" on Restaurant Row. It was fun to plan the trip and get away together. Maybe we'll do it again sometime.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
A few things went well in this department, and many did not. I will make resolutions of a sort for 2017, and I've been giving a lot of thought to how I should frame them so I give myself the best chance of success.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
My brother's family welcomed a new addition this year.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Last year I lamented my hope for humanity. This year I mourn its lost dignity as well. No one truly close to me died this year, though.

5. What countries did you visit?
Sometimes I feel like I already live in a location foreign to all that makes sense to me. No new legitimate countries on the map, though. We did manage to visit Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Delaware.

6. What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016?
I'd like to have the ability to look back on this next year and say, "Mark, you've succeeded in just about every important goal you've set for yourself this year."

7. What dates from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
There are lots of events from this year that will stick with me, but I'm choosing December 20th. Stacy and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary this year, and it included a new proposal from her to me. That touched me more than I can even express.

Our son turned 13 and our daughter turned 16, as well. Two teenagers! And a driver! There were a lot of milestones this year, and most of them make me feel too old for this.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Honestly, I don't know that I have anything I'd point to as an "achievement" from the past year. That doesn't mean it wasn't a good year, and it doesn't mean that nothing great happened. It just means that I have a hard time identifying something I'd list in this way. Does resoling my own Birkenstocks count?

9. What was your biggest failure?
Last year I sort of sidestepped the term "failure." I still think it's pretty emotionally charged, and that if you learn from unfortunate events and circumstances, you remove "failure" from your life altogether. I will say that over the course of the 2016, those who mean the most to me have not always felt that I cared as much as I do.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Nothing I'd put on a health history. I haven't felt as healthy and as fit as I think I should at my age. I have a chronic sense of fatigue (not chronic fatigue) that is ever-present, though.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Tickets to "Hamilton." Stacy saw the announcement in May that they were releasing a new batch of tickets, and we jumped on it within minutes. We didn't go until December, but paying normal prices was a good thing. And this is an experience our entire family will forever remember sharing together. It was one of those cultural milestones that we were able to experience in the moment it was happening.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
My wife's. Without going into specifics, I feel like Stacy made the most of 2016 and lived quite bravely and with integrity. If I can live my life with even a fraction of her dedication to principles, I would be a much better person, that is for sure.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Well, here's what I said last year: "I will say this, though: if an advanced species were to arrive on Earth on this day, I would want to hide Donald Trump somewhere far from sight. That dude is a complete blight on humanity and is quite possibly the worst representation of the vast potential humankind has."

This year, he's in there, but I'm going to lump in all those people who used his candidacy and eventual win as an excuse to fly the flag of hatred and bigotry high and proud. I won't get too political here, but I will say that his atrocious behavior has led to an explicit demonstration of the legacy of hatred that has never really left our society.

14. Where did most of your money go?
As per our norm, our mortgage, student loan payments, and health insurance premiums. Other fun expenses include college tuition payments (more affordabe at the community college level, but a chunk of change nonetheless) and medical costs (nothing one would typically consider, "serious"). With the size of our insurance premiums, we really shouldn't have to meet such a crappy deductible for the most basic of care.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
One of my shortcomings is that, while I have things I really enjoy, I have a hard time identifying the things I'm excited about. A few that come to mind are seeing "Hamilton" as a family, taking Stacy to New York City, sharing "Rogue One" with Max and Kate, and seeing the Doctor Strange movie with Kate.

16. What song will always remind you of 2016?
Since this year was the year of Broadway for us, I will forever think of 2016 when I hear "My Shot" from "Hamilton," "A Musical" from "Something Rotten," and "You Matter to Me" from "Waitress." And Russian accordion music will forever remind me of seeing Josh Groban on Broadway.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder? Neither. More content, I suppose.
b) thinner or fatter? Probably fatter. I sure feel that way, even if the numbers are still in the same ballpark.
c) richer or poorer? My life is richer. Financially, it's hard to say. I feel like the world keeps taking away any gains we make, so maybe poorer? On paper we're richer, but day to day it doesn't always feel that way.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
I wish I'd had the courage to sing along to more songs in the car. That may seem silly, but I have major hangups that I'd like to overcome. Also, I wish I'd danced more, for a lot of reasons, but mostly because Stacy loves it so much. I wish I'd made her a little happier, too. I know it's not anyone's job to "make" anyone else happy, but I wish I could have helped a little more.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
"Checking out." I felt present emotionally for most of the year, but there were several times where I definitely lived life on autopilot and missed out.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
As we always like to, together as a family. We had a great meal, listened to music, opened presents together, played games, and laughed a lot.

21. Did you fall in love in 2016?
Yes, every day more and more with my soulmate. I wrote this last year, too. It's still true.

22. What was your favorite TV program?
Why don't I change this question? I don't like "favorites." Anyway, "This Is Us" is phenomenal. This is probably my favorite show on TV right now. So, that's what I'll say. It's been really nice to share as a family as well. I also started watching "Supernatural" with Kate this year, and I really enjoy it. My viewing partner makes it better. And watching "Star Wars Rebels" with Max is always great.

23.Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
I normally avoid "hating" anyone. That's a pretty strong word for a very serious emotion. But, yes, there is someone. For fear that uttering his name will trigger NSA and FBI investigations, I will keep it to myself.

24. What was the best book you read?
Damn. "Best" is just a clever way to say "favorite." And I'm not pleased with those questions. Maybe spelling it like a Brit will make it easier. Anyway, here are a few favourites from 2016:

11/22/63 by Steven King--I devoured this book in no time flat. It's an alternate history/time travel book about the assassination of JFK. The Hulu series with James Franco was good, but didn't touch how great the book was.

Several of the Fullmetal Alchemist manga series by Hiromu Arakawa--Max loves this series, so I started reading it. I'm really enjoying it.

All of the Black Panther comics by Christopher Priest--the continuing story through the 1990s about the king of Wakanda was very entertaining and deep at times. I'm not normally a big comic reader, but this series was fun to work through.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah--this autobiography is fantastic. I learned so much about Apartheid and growing up in South Africa from Noah's book. I listened to the audio book, and it was worth its weight it gold. As funny and as insightful as he is, he is a terrific writer, too. I'm looking forward to sharing it with the family.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman--this is a pleasant fantasy story set in a typical fantasy world. I've heard the movie is better than the book, so I should probably check it out since I really enjoyed the story.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
"Hamilton" and the "Hamilton Mixtape." Kate really discovered them first, so she was the guide on my own discovery tour. I know I've listened to a lot of different artists this year, but most of my side treks have been spawned by these works. I can't say enough about how inspired Lin Manuel Miranda's work is.

26. What did you want and get?
More time with our family. As busy as we were, there was a lot of together time.

27. What did you want and not get?
A big lottery win. You have to play to win, however, so I shouldn't be surprised, but either way, it didn't happen.

In all sincerity, what I did not get was very personal, and that probably speaks to how much I really "wanted" it. Self-assessment and realization is painful, but that pain should give rise to something better.

28. What was your favorite film of this year?
I'm not sure. I saw several good ones. Maybe "Trumbo." Stacy and I had wanted to see that one since we first heard about it and we finally saw it last week. What a great movie, and very timely, too. Also, I finally got to see "Sing Street," which everyone else saw earlier in the year. That was a great indie film with perfect music from the 80s.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? 
I turned 42, and decided to do almost nothing. We played some games, ate Mexican food, and relaxed. By August, I'm ready for some simple pleasures.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
As seems to be my usual, a to-do list with many more check marks on it.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2016?
I decided to follow up what was the zenith in personal expression that was 2015, with bold gestures in 2016. I showcased the finest in blending in and looking my age. Neat and tidy normally describes my appearance, but consistency will forever dominate my wardrobe. I did go to the store in pajama pants and a hoodie more often, and this winter I wore socks with my Birkenstocks more often when I wasn't planning on getting out of the car.

32. What kept you sane? 
Based on my current level of sanity, nothing. Having a fantastic wife who gets me and is able to talk about the many things that have frustrated me this year is something money can't buy. And my kids bring me a lot of happiness. Our dog, Scout, grounds me a lot, too.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? 
I couldn't get enough of Ta-Nehisi Coates. Given everything that's going on in the world, his voice is one we will look back to and say he got it. He is one of the few who is presenting an accurate interpretation of the issues we're seeing with race in our society, and he makes no apologies. Besides reading anything he's saying on current events, I've also really enjoyed his new take on the Black Panther comic series.

34. What political issue stirred you the most? 
Racial intolerance and equality, and general wealth inequality.

And while these aren't "political" issues per se, they lie at the root of most of our poitical problems: the diminishing ability of our society to understand opposing viewpoints, as well as a general decline in civility. I'm so frustrated by both.

35. Who did you miss?
I'm not sure. My most important people are right here with me, and I feel like life is pretty good.

36. Who was the best new person you met?
There is a family that has brought a lot of life and energy in to our lives, and that's been really great. We didn't officially meet them this year, but we definitely got to know them a lot better.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016. 
It's OK to slow down. Being busy is terribly rewarding a lot of the time, but sometimes I've got to make space for the quiet, down times, too.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
I read it somewhere between the pessimism that seems to jump out from this song, and complete denial about the passage of time. From John Mayer's "Stop This Train":

"Stop this train
I want to get off and go home again
I can't take the speed it's moving in
I know I can't
But, honestly, won't someone stop this train?"

And later:

"Don't stop this train
Don't for a minute
Change the place you're in."



Year in Review - 2016 (Stacy)

  1. What did you do in 2016 that you’d never done before? Became the mother of TWO teenagers, as my youngest turned 13! In addition to some serious birthday celebrating, we also threw him a surprise half-birthday party outside in the summer with all his neighborhood buddies since his birthday has been messed up at times by winter weather. Went away for an overnight trip to NYC with my husband - haven't done that since having kids. It was a wonderful trip and we saw two Broadway shows together there - "Waitress" and "Natasha, Pierre, and The Great Comet of 1812." Saw "Hamilton" on Broadway with Mark and the kids - amazing experience! Hosted a bunch of people I'd never met before at our home - for Kate's 16th birthday, we had a big celebration with several of her online Supernatural fan fiction-writing friends from all over the country. They are wonderful girls and it was a fantastic time! Started teaching my daughter to drive. Took my daughter to her first show on Broadway - Les Miserables! We went by train just the two of us and had such a lovely day! Helped my daughter get ready for her first college classes and her first school dance (homecoming with a friend). Saw Weird Al in concert with my family and a friend of ours visiting from out of town. Went to see a Broadway show ("Something Rotten") in NYC with my in-laws (it was my son's first show on Broadway and my mother-in-law's first show on Broadway as well). Yes, this has been quite a Broadway year for us! Visiting the aquarium in Baltimore. Visited Lavallette, NJ for a few days at the beach in the spring. We had so much fun! We enjoyed the beach, good food, joking around, playing games (particularly a new game my son has designed), and singing for our ice cream at The Music Man ice cream parlor! And our first night there, Morgan's family met us at a restaurant and we enjoyed each other's company for dinner and ice cream. Nolan even bought us our first orange creams! Took NOH8 pictures in Washington, DC. Watched the entire Gilmore Girls series with my son. Very special. Enjoyed the revival as a family when it came out. Saw "Allegiance" at the theaters (where they broadcast a recording of it) with friends and it was excellent. Saw "Book of Mormon" at the Hershey Theatre and it was honestly disappointing. It wasn't offensive to Mormons; it was just offensive in general. Where it could've been witty and clever (and to be fair, it was at times), it was way too on the nose, crass, and in your face. It was lots of shock value and that's not my kind of thing. We've had quite a year! Really, I know it's been a bummer year for a lot of people and that there have been a slew of celebrity deaths and a horrible election, but all of that aside, it's been a pretty great year for us. We're happy and tired.                   




  2.  
  3. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year? Well, I said this in my post from a year ago: "Less Facebook. More blogging." Honestly, I didn't do so well. Facebook, if I'm being honest, took a lot of my time this past year. I don't beat myself up too much for it. I'm learning to be gentle with myself. My therapist even advised me that as we work through my stuff, a little escapism like that is not only normal, but okay to do and good for me right now. That being said, I'd like to do less Facebook and more other stuff. Mostly this year, we're trying to do less, be home more, and not schedule ourselves too much. We want to be more available to play games if we feel like it and just generally chill. Be a little more low-key. Oh, and I'm really going to do the hibernation thing this year! Yay!    
  4.  
  5. Did anyone close to you give birth? My sister-in-law Emily gave birth to baby #5!

  6. Did anyone close to you die? No, thankfully. It's been a hell of a year for celebrities, though. The ones that hit me hardest were probably Alan Rickman and Carrie Fisher, because fandoms. George Michael was a big favorite from my teen years, too, so that was also a bummer. All 3 were pretty shocking and way too young.

  7. What countries did you visit? We didn't visit any other countries, but we enjoyed a visit to the aquarium in Baltimore, some literary sites and museums in Massachusetts, our annual week at the beach in Delaware, some time at the beach in NJ, a visit to DC, and we've spent a lot of time in NYC (at least 4 times for me!).     

  8. What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016? Downtime (and we're already working on that beginning with a winter hibernation). Hope, politically speaking. This past year was rough. The election process is way too long and the only person who I truly trusted and believed to be the best leader of our country was cheated out a nomination due to what I consider my (former?) party's greed and deceit. I'm Bernie all the way. The fact that an idiot fascist just got voted into the office of President in our country . . . I can't even. It's been dark since the election. For me and for many others. It's hard to hold on to hope sometimes. I try, though, by being politically active in my local community and by being vocal about national politics and social issues as well.   

  9. What dates from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? My son's 13th birthday and his two celebrations - a 13-hour party in January and a surprise, half-birthday neighborhood party in the summer. My daughter's 16th birthday celebrations - the visit from the Supernatural fangirl friends as well as a murder mystery dinner party here with local friends. Reading "Little Women" with the kids and then visiting Louisa May Alcott's house (as well as other places like the Boston Science Museum) in the spring. All of our trips to NYC to see so many Broadway shows! They are all special for different reasons - one to see one of my favorites with my daughter for her first time, a couple of days away with my husband to see two more, another trip with my in-laws to see one for my son's first time as well as my mother-in-law's first time, and, of course, seeing "Hamilton" (and the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island) as a family! And probably in an unfortunate way - the stupid election.   

  10. What was your biggest achievement of the year? I recently recognized that this past year has included no drama with family or friends. It's been a perfectly lovely year. If you read my post from 2015, you can see more of the groundwork being laid for emotional health, boundaries, and self-respect. It's been an amazing journey so far. I'm not 100%, but I've come a long, long way. I've gotten far more in tune with my own personal radar and have been polishing it and trusting it and learning how to use it. I've learned to better balance time for myself instead of running myself ragged at my own expense while giving to everyone around me (my caveat being that I continue to enjoy giving to my husband, kids, and dog). I've become much clearer about recognizing takers and users and have learned to step waaaay back from toxic people (and I don't miss them!). I've learned to stop chasing down the love and affection of those who are clearly not interested in giving it - that's a LOT of self-respect to gain. I've learned to balance my time better with more time at home with family and less time running around (this is probably at least somewhat linked to the takers/users thing, but also just getting in better tune with what I want to do and what I don't want to do - I'm so tired of overextending and am valuing down time with family even more than usual - which is a lot!). I've noticed that, due to past betrayals and hurts, if someone close to me gets close to people I no longer trust, that while I've learned to not take it personally, I do get triggered, fearful, and I back away to protect myself from further, possible hurt. Whether or not that's the best response, it is my response, and for now it's a helpful and protective one and has been working well. By choice (and a bit of mental health necessity due to my sessions), I've gotten together with friends a little less this year, but when we have gotten together, it's been really, really nice. Things feel a little more balanced. I would also say that pulling off a birthday visit with all the "Supernatural Girls" and filled with fun "Supernatural" surprises was an accomplishment, as was surprising Max with a surprise summer half-birthday party. Oh, and getting my kids back and forth to York every day for a week so they could do a week of homeschool theater camp ("Peter Pan!"). I felt pretty awesome about that. Oh! And we got some home projects done this past year, too - the basement, our "command center," our magnetized spice rack, etc.

  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 have chronic neck pain, but no major illness or injury, thankfully.     

  13. What was the best thing you bought? Definitely the new (it's used, but new-to-us) van. Our other car was 17 years old and you don't realize how old your car is until you get a new one and the difference is astounding! It drives so smoothly and though we didn't opt for a lot of bells and whistles, it does have some cool features - some are considered standard, but they're super fancy to us. The seat warmers are pretty snazzy. And we also really like that we can hook our phones up to it and listen to podcasts, music, make calls (not that we do that much), etc. Plus, it's doesn't feel like it's falling apart! Woot!      

  14. Whose behavior merited celebration? I love my answer from a year ago. (That one is about Mark.) This year, I'm going to go ahead and say mine! I mean, I've seen growth and maturity in all of my family members - my husband, my kids, even the dog. I have a hard time giving myself credit or allowing myself to pat myself on the back sometimes. But on this one, yeah, I'm going to go ahead and say that I've worked damn hard this past year and have made a lot of progress. I consciously work to focus on all that I have and love and forget about the rest. I have continued to see a therapist over the past year and I've made mad progress. I no longer run around seeking the approval or attention of those who aren't interested. I just choose to let it go and focus on those who do care. I exhausted myself for years chasing down love and approval and now, to let that go and focus even more on myself, my family, and those who are there for us . . . the difference in my emotional health and mental energy is pretty amazing. I've got a ways to go and there's more to heal and work on, but already I feel like a more whole and healthy person. I'm pretty proud of myself. I have a *really* hard time doing nice things for myself or spending money on myself and these sessions aren't covered by insurance, but Mark and I feel strongly that they're necessary and helpful and worth it, so I'm proud of myself for continuing with it when normally I would stress about it or feel guilty (there is some of that, not going to lie). I'm learning what my triggers are and noticing how I tend to respond and am working on tamping down unhealthy responses. Nothing means more to me than being a good wife and mom to my family and I know that working on myself like this is not only good for me, but also good for my family. 

  15. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? Um, I recently found out that a friend of ours that we know personally has been involved in some illegal activity and that is a hard (and weird) thing to learn. Our whole family has felt shocked and amazed that anyone would do something like that. The moral compass is strong around here! :P Principles matter. So yeah, that's been weird to learn about. Again, I like my answer from a year ago and I'll even copy a line from it that applies even more now because I've actually gotten better at it: "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'm in far less one-way relationships. I've stopped chasing down those who would believe a rumor without asking first in order to clarify. I even wrote an entire email once to a friend of mine - it was asking what was wrong and explaining and expressing love and all of that. After I wrote it, I had the very clear feeling that I didn't want to send it. That I've worked too hard on myself to not have more self-respect than to keep chasing someone down, especially someone who tended to be moody and dismissive with me anyway. Just no thanks. So I didn't send it and I felt incredibly good about it! Also from a year ago: "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 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. It 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." I've been working hard on true relationships with those with whom I share interests or commonality or whose energy just meshes well. I've had relationships of convenience for years (you know the kind - you're in the same group and that's it). I've made a conscious effort to both turn inward and branch out. I do do nice and thoughtful things for others, but I don't go as crazy as I did before. As one of my good friends reminds me, "Chicken thighs are enough." (As in, a meal is sufficient; I don't have to knock myself out coordinating everything. So freeing!) From a year ago: "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 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." This has helped me in many areas. For example, my brother and only sibling has not spoken to me in 5 years. I have peace of mind and conscience that our interaction before he cut me out of his life was one where I told him I loved him. Someone suggested I reach out to him. No, I'm not the one who stopped talking to him. Even after our exchange, I learned from someone else that he "would never speak to me again." That was news to me! And when I interacted with him on my mother's Facebook page after that, his response was to block me entirely. He does not acknowledge my family, including his niece and nephew. And I understand that he's told my mother that if I were to call him or reach out, that he would hang up on me. Why on earth would I chase down that kind of treatment? This isn't about stubbornness. This is about self respect and boundaries. Society insists on some kind of severe family loyalty at all costs without taking into consideration that just because you share DNA doesn't mean it's a good or healthy relationship. I've learned that that phrase "family is always there for you" is, unfortunately, rubbish. Sometimes it's family and sometimes it's friends. Relationships take work and effort and love from everyone involved. I'm not interested in chasing down anyone - related or not - who clearly doesn't have the time of day for working on a relationship or for even asking how I am or being good to my kids. I'm good! I'm in a good place. It's a place where I no longer allow that kind of thing to conflict with my happiness or peace of mind. And honestly, less one-way relationships in my life save me work and turmoil, so it's not a loss. It's a gain. I'm modeling this for my children, too. You do work hard in relationships but you don't chase down those who have no interest in putting forth effort for you. I'm finding more balance in all of my relationships and it's making things clearer for me. I'm very grateful for good people in our lives.  
  16. Where did most of your money go? Outside of the normal stuff like mortgages and student loans? Probably therapy. Also, Broadway show tickets and travel expenses to NYC. :P Both are totally worth it.  

  17. What did you get really, really, really excited about? Broadway shows, taking NOH8 pictures, insights and progress in therapy, the Gilmore Girls reunion, a great visit from my in-laws, Jim's generosity, and my first away trip with my husband in years. I also got super excited about making my kids' big birthdays (13 and 16!) super special.    

  18. What song will always remind you of 2016? Definitely all Hamilton songs!    

  19. Compared to this time last year, are you:
    a) happier or sadder? Happier. And more at peace.
    b) thinner or fatter? About the same, I think. Maybe fatter. I do think my metabolism is slowing, so I try to eat well and be balanced and I try to exercise as well.  
    c) richer or poorer? About the same? Like I said a year ago (and now add to that that our daughter is taking college classes): "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. . . . 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." 2016 is a year where we splurged a little more (though, to be fair, we also cut back in some areas, too) - a new deck, a new van, trips to NYC. It's not like us really, but I think it's also good and related to personal healing. It balances out all the scrimping and saving we're always doing. It's important to have fun, too (and to not feel guilt about it!). Jim definitely helped us out, though, and we're grateful. It would've been a much more stressful year otherwise. We're not able to save for retirement quite the way most people do (no 401Ks, pensions, etc), but we do try. I'm so grateful for Mark's willingness and hard work that makes our lifestyle possible, especially making it possible for me to be home with the kids and for us to homeschool. Being a one-income family means we don't do as many extravagant things that many of our dual-income friends do, but we're okay with that because we prefer the day-to-day joys more than the big stuff overall. That being said, it's been fun to do more fun stuff, too. Those student loans hang over our head a bit, but we keep up on our payments and try to balance our lives. Our kids are getting older, so there's an even greater sense of urgency to have great experiences together.    

  20. What do you wish you’d done more of? Mmmmm, I honestly can't think of anything. Mostly, I feel pretty good about this past year. It's been a great year and a lot of fun. I have no regrets.  

  21. What do you wish you’d done less of? I'm going to use the exact same answer as this past year: "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. [me now: Hey! I think I've done been doing more of that!] 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." This continues to apply. I get pretty sucked into social media sometimes, especially lately with political stuff. I'd like to do less of that.

  22. How did you spend Christmas? In our usual way - 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 enjoy playing games and watching movies and simply spending time together! People often feel bad for us because we don't have extended family here with us at Christmas (and rarely ever have), but we're not depressed about it at all. We really love our holidays together! 







     
  23. Did you fall in love in 2016? Always. Mark and I celebrated 20 years of marriage this past year. 20 years of being married to my *best* friend. 

  24. What was your favorite TV program? "This is Us." Great new show that we all watch together and look forward to every time it's on.

  25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year? Ditto the answer from a year ago: "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." I'm disappointed in people sometimes, but I don't hate them. Hate is such a strong word and it's so icky (though admittedly, I have my moments of resentment - don't we all?). 

  26. What was the best book you read? I read a ridiculous amount of articles, so let's start with that. Okay, now books? I absolutely loved reading "Little Women" with the kids. I also enjoyed sharing "Rebecca" with them. I've read a bunch of graphic novels and I always enjoy those, especially memoirs. So for this one, I'll say "Nimona" and "Little Women." Two *very* different books.   

  27. What was your greatest musical discovery? Hamilton, thanks to the kids. I also love, love, love the songs from "Waitress" and one especially makes me cry nearly every time and is special to me thanks to some kind words from Mark about it and thanks to our special getaway that he planned for us. I feel very lucky to be married to my best friend and I definitely feel loved and do not take that for granted.  

  28. What did you want and get? A great year of more family time and fun. A new van. A bigger deck. New wedding rings (we have our old ones, but we got some fun, geeky, new ones for our 20th to sort of represent us now). Also even greater partnership and teamwork in my marriage and family. 

  29. What did you want and not get? Bernie Sanders to get the Democratic nomination (and then the presidency). Otherwise, in general, I've stopped wanting that which is obviously never going to happen. It's more peaceful that way.   

  30. What was your favorite film of this year? I kind of wish I could pick a Broadway show for this one, because it's possible we saw more of those than movies this year! I'm going to go with "Sing Street" as a definite favorite. I have a tradition with the kids of taking them on a date to their first PG-13 film in the theaters as a 13 year old and I try to find a good, indie film. This fit the bill excellently (good suggestion, Mark!). The music is great, too. Moana was also a terrific film.

  31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? I turned 42 - we enjoyed a nice, low-key day as a family. Mark made me a great breakfast sandwich, we got sushi and Starbucks, ate a lovely homemade dinner of chicken enchiladas, and played games. I also got delicious cupcakes from our favorite local delivery bake shop - chocolate, Irish cupcakes. Delicious! And around my birthday, I also get treated to lunch or dinner out by different friends, so I get to go out a few times and enjoy that, too. It's nice.     

  32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? A Bernie Sanders win. No question. 

  33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2016? I've been wearing more dresses, boots, a denim jacket with dresses. I've dressed up for Broadway shows. Otherwise, it tends to be jeans and shirts and sweaters mostly. But I have been wearing jewelry more and just mixing it up a bit more in general. Nothing drastic. I like to be comfortable and feel good about how I look, too. My Ravenclaw pants are probably the most comfortable clothing I've gotten in quite some time and I love wearing them around the house. Oh, and I went pretty Steampunk a couple of times, too. 

  34. What kept you sane? My family, Scout, therapy, the beach, games, TV, and some local groups we've joined and where we've gotten to know people and make new friends.  

  35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? Bernie Sanders, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

  36. What political issue stirred you the most? Inequality - by class, race, gender, sexuality, etc. I was also pretty put off by the neo-liberalism of the left and do blame it for at least part of the demise of the Democratic party's negative outcome in this past election. This Trump thing is a nightmare. I'm disappointed in both parties - Hillary and Donald are the best they could come up with? Shame on them all. Also, immigration. Seeing the whole word become so anti-immigration and anti-refugee is upsetting and alarming. Put all these things together and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that it hearkens back to a dark time in our history pre-WWII. How have people not learned? The ignorance and hatred must be healed and stopped. 

  37. Who did you miss? Gary and Vivian. We had such a nice, long visit with them that after they left, we really missed having them here.











  38. Who was the best new person you met? Well, there's the Faulkners (they're a lot of fun and our kids are close in age and their son even took Kate to homecoming this past year!), some other families we've met through some local groups, and all of Kate's Supernatural friends. I've also met some neat ladies through some groups I'm in online. We meet in person now and then for sushi and some really great conversation. I should've listed my therapist in this past year's wrap-up post, but I'll list him now, because he's great and I feel really lucky to have found him and am grateful for how much he's helping me.   

  39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016. That I don't have to act on fear. That I can listen to my gut. That I can scale back on the things that don't feed my soul and spend more time doing those things that do. I've always known this, but my very favorite thing in the world is spending time together as a family - playing games, traveling, watching TV, eating, watching movies, listening to podcasts, reading, talking, joking around, whatever. Nothing means more to me than being a wife and a mom (and yes, that can be, and is, a feminist statement, because it comes from knowing myself and my choices). 

  40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

    "You Matter To Me" from Waitress
    I could find the whole meaning of life in those sad eyes
    They've seen things that you never quite say, but I hear
    Come out of hiding, I'm right here beside you
    And I'll stay there as long as you let me

    Because you matter to me
    Simple and plain and not much to ask from somebody
    You matter to me
    I promise you do, you, you matter too
    I promise you do, you see?
    You matter to me

    It's addictive the minute you let yourself think
    The things that I say just might matter to someone
    All of this time I've been keeping my mind on the running away
    And for the first time I think I'd consider the stay

    Because you matter to me
    Simple and plain and not much to ask from somebody
    You matter to me
    I promise you do, you, you matter too
    I promise you do, you see?
    You matter to me

    And you matter to me
    Simple and plain and not much to ask from somebody
    You matter to me
    I promise you do, you
    (Out of hiding I'm right here beside you)
    You matter too
    (As long as you have me)
    I promise you do, you, you matter too
    (Out of hiding I'm right here beside you)
    I promise you do, you, you matter too
    (I do, I promise you do, you matter to me)
    I promise you do, you see
    You matter to me