Friday, May 11, 2018

The Anything But Books Tag

Kate wrote a blog post a while ago with this title, and at the end, like she is wont to do, she challenged people to come up with their own lists. Since it's been a while since I've posted anything (Wow, life is busy!) I decided to do it on our blog instead of just in her blog comments. I actually wrote this post right after Kate did hers, but only now got around to posting it.

Here goes!

What is a cartoon you love?

I watched a lot of cartoons as a kid--anything LooneyToons, The Woody Woodpecker Show, Tom and Jerry, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, etc., etc.--but my favorite has always been Scooby-Doo, even the Scrappy Doo years. What wasn't to love? Crazy characters. Johnathan Winters. The Globe trotters. Meddling Kids. Epic chase scenes. Watching the "Supernatural" episode recently with Kate and Stacy was super fun.

What is your favorite song right now?

Ugh, favorites. The most recent song I pulled up to listen to is "Hamilton Polka" by Weird Al.

What is something you love to do that your followers would be surprised by?

First of all, I'd be surprised to find out I had any followers, but supposing I actually had followers, they might be surprised that I get nauseous when I think about broken bones or orthopedic injuries. I always love to do sports medicine, and orthopedics is super interesting to me, but when I think about a blown knee or bad fracture, I get queasy.

What is your unnecessarily specific thing to learn about?

I can go down pretty serious rabbit holes when I learn about a musical artist for the first time. I end up chasing down their complete catalog, listening to iconic songs, looking for other musical influences, and sometimes listening to those related artists. It's taking me a while, but I've been trying to listen to the entire Nina Simone catalog. Sometime last year I heard an NPR story about her (I think it related to a movie about her) and I become semi-obsessed. I've taken a break lately, but maybe I should get back to it . . .

What is something unusual you know how to do?

Recall seemingly useless trivia at odd times. I don't try to do it. It just happens. If only I could remember more essential things more consistently . . .

Name something you’ve made in the last year.

A creative Christmas gift for Stacy.

What is your most recent personal project?

I got the grill to work again today. It ended up being a far less involved project than I had anticipated.

Tell us something you think about often.

My wife, kids, and dog. I don't mention it as often as I think about them, but it's a lot.

Give us something that’s your favorite, but make it oddly specific.

My favorite Gatorade/Powerade "flavor" is blue. I drank it a fair amount last summer when I was trying to hydrate while fighting C. diff. Otherwise, it's been a LONG time since I drank it.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Grammys Are Coming - All the Parts

In past years, I've done a four-part series on the big awards at the Grammys, but this year, I didn't have it in me to do separate posts. I did actually listen to all the nominees for Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist, and I'm going to put all of my thoughts in this one, monster post. Skim if you'd like. Read in depth. Whatever. I just decided that since I took the time to listen to it all, I wanted to spew forth some random musings.

First of all, this is a weird year for the Grammys. You'll notice that the nominations are skewed heavily to the hip-hop side of things. I'm not sure if that is a concerted effort by the Recording Academy to represent genre and artists that have been ignored in the past, or if it truly represents the best of 2017. Honestly, I'm having a tough year coming up with my tops for the year, so I'm inclined to say these are the most impressive works of last year. Many of them are outside of my normal listening habits, but I found that I enjoyed more than I thought I would.

So, here are my thoughts . . .

Oh, and I've included Content Warnings (CW) since so many of these songs have the potential to offend. I'm not for censorship, but I do think people have the right not to be shocked if it can be avoided.


I'd heard of 4 of the 5. I'd heard music by a few of the 5. I enjoyed mostly none of the 5, for reasons I'll expound on. This is the toughest category for me every year since the criteria are a bit vague. "An artist will be considered for Best New Artist if their eligibility year release/s achieved a breakthrough into the public consciousness and notably impacted the musical landscape." Yeah, not hard to judge at all.

Alessia Cara

She is everywhere. She is everywhere. She has a great voice, and from what I've heard, she is doing a TON of great collaborations. I gave her solo album (Know-It All) a listen and enjoyed it pretty well. Here's a sample from that debut album.

Cara sang the version that played over the end credits of the movie "Moana."


I kind of like his retro sound, but it definitely comes off as young, or at least inexperience. It's quite possible he's going for that feel. He's another artist who is doing a lot of collaborations, and I'm thinking that may be super important for this category, since it's so broad and non-specific.

CW: You may fall asleep listening to his sedated style.

Lil Uzi Vert

Seriously, what in the actual hell?! I will set aside the fact that this guy plays into every sexist stereotype that exists in the hip-hop and rap world. Let's just talk talent. He is over-autotuned, super choppy in his rapping style, and not clever in the least. There is nothing on his recordings that I find original, groundbreaking, or ingenious. No way he should win this.

(If you really are that curious, you can look up a sample. I refuse to inflict this on anyone.)

Julia Michaels

I didn't realize who she was until I saw the first track of her album was "Issues." I'd actually heard this song before. I wasn't sure what to expect from her since her overt style wasn't really distinct. It turns out that she has a decent indie-pop sound, but nothing earth-shattering as far as I'm concerned.

CW: You may become confused and unable to distinguish Michaels from many other white, female indie artists.


Even though she is another artist who is collaborating a ton, I listened to her most recent album, "Ctrl." I definitely love her musical style. It takes me way back to the R&B I grew up on. I'm not a huge fan of her vocal style on that album, but I've heard her on other tracks that I enjoy. My favorite recording from her is "All These Stars" with Kendrick Lamar from the soundtrack for the upcoming Black Panther movie. Go figure.

CW: a couple of F-bombs. You may also develop the sudden urge to engage in vigilante-style justice.

My Pick: Alessia Cara
My Prediction: SZA


This award goes to the songwriter, or team of songwriters. It doesn't necessarily include the entire production of the recording, but I'm sure that plays in. Ultimately, we are looking at which of these songs is the most well-written, regardless of how it ends up being presented.

Ramón Ayala, Justin Bieber, Jason "Poo Bear" Boyd, Erika Ender, Luis Fonsi & Marty James Garton, songwriters; Recorded by Luis Fonsi &; Daddy Yankee Featuring Justin Bieber

It's trash. The beat is catchy. The Puerto Rican rap sounds cool and exotic, but when you translate the lyrics, you realize it's another misogynistic song about a sex-crazed guy luring a woman in. There is no message. No irony. No subtlety. The lyrics aren't clever or deep, so it misses in a songwriting category. It really upsets me that this track is here over any number of Sheeran tracks from his album.

CW: Ridiculous Latinx stereotypes. And Justin Bieber.

Shawn Carter & Dion Wilson, songwriters; recorded by JAY-Z

I can't believe I'm going to say this, but this is such a good track. The lyrics are spot on and completely nails the message he is going for. The story goes that he woke up at 4:44 am and had to write this song, so he did. And he named the entire album after this track. As an aside, I love Kim Burrell on the recording. I'm not sure if that really matters in the songwriting category, but still, it had to be said.

I wish I could find just the recorded track, but the official video is all that's out there. I did start the video well into it so you can hear a better representation of the song.
CW: profanity, brief video clips of violent acts

Benny Blanco, Mikkel Storleer Eriksen, Tor Erik Hermansen, Julia Michaels & Justin Drew Tranter, songwriters; recorded by Julia Michaels)

All in all it's not a bad song. I'm not wowed by it or anything. I think the way it goes at troubled relationships and toxicity in love is good, so there's that. I don't know that I any stronger feelings that that, though. Like I said, it's a decent song. Another song that pales compares to many of the Sheeran tracks.

(The video is up under the info about Julia Michaels,)

Alessia Caracciolo, Sir Robert Bryson Hall II, Arjun Ivatury & Khalid Robinson, songwriters; recorded by Logic Featuring Alessia Cara & Khalid

This is one of those songs with a really catchy hook, and it definitely has a great message, and I'm glad people are trying to bring awareness to suicide and suicide prevention. It's a nice collaboration, but it's a little bit repetitive, so if I'm being honest about the songwriting, I don't think it measures up. But that is not to say it isn't a great and important song.

Disclaimer: I haven't seen the video, but the song is good.

"That's What I Like"
Christopher Brody Brown, James Fauntleroy, Philip Lawrence, Bruno Mars, Ray Charles McCullough II, Jeremy Reeves, Ray Romulus & Jonathan Yip, songwriters; recorded by Bruno Mars

I'm just not that impressed with the song. It's catchy. I'll give it that. I suppose that's a trademark of Bruno Mars. He writes songs that get stuck in your head, and that's not a bad thing. The lyrics are decen, but it doesn't feel new and innovative, like some of his early songs have been. More on this later, but I'm sort of disappointed in general with his most recent album.

CW: feeling of immense inferiority when considering your own dancing skills.

My Pick: "4:44"
My Prediction: "Despacito" (Lord help us all!)


This award goes to all the people who worked on the album from artist to recording engineers to songwriters and featured artists. You have to consider the album as a whole. When I first saw the nominations, I was disappointed. Have I mentioned how I wish we had some Ed Sheeran up in here? I will say, though, that I found some surprisingly good listens here. I wasn't blown away by all of the recordings, but I didn't hate listening to most of this.

Awaken, My Love!
Childish Gambino

Donald Glover is everywhere these days, so why not the Grammys? I was not sure what to expect since other things he's done have left me really disappointed. This was the first album I listened to in the group, and I was shocked. I loved the overall approach. He channeled a lot of older R&B, soul, and rock artists (I even heard some vocals that had to be inspired by Prince), so of course I loved that. His vocals a little all over the place, but that's probably intentional in his overal presentation.


This is essentially an apology album (or at least has several tracks in this vein). It's a response to Beyonce's Lemonade, and it's a good one. From top to bottom, this album hits it all. It feels like he's had an epiphany and had to translate that into a very solid hip-hop album. I'm not normally a fan of JAY-Z's style since it's very herky-jerky and not as smooth as I'd like. I'm going to say that I really enjoyed this one. And the irony is not lost on me that he could win several Grammys this year while his wife did not win many that she really should have last year. I'm waiting for the backlash if he does well.

Kendrick Lamar

I'm a big fan of Kendrick Lamar. I'm a bigger fan of his To Pimp a Butterfly album than of this album, but this one is still good. He's definitely a genius of the concept album. All the tracks tell a story and flow. And his lyrical style is like fine-crafted poetry. It feels like an extension of poetry coming out of Harlem in the early 20th century. Damn. is more harsh and militant, but in the end Lamar seems completely possessed by purpose.


For fans of Lorde, it's a great album. Songs all sound familiar and typical of her style. There is great songwriting and lyrical styling, and if you love good alternative rock of the 80s and 90s, she definitely has you covered there. My only criticism is that it doesn't strike me as horribly different from her previous work. I really enjoyed it, but I didn't "this is the Album of the Year" enjoy it.

Since the other nominees have videos elsewhere on this post, but Lorde doesn't, I'll leave one here for you.

24K Magic
Bruno Mars

This was easily my biggest disappointment of the category First, the good: as is so typically awesome of Bruno Mars, he shows off all the R&B styles you could ever want, proving he is a brilliant student of the genre. I heard the styles of Bobby Brown, New Edition, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, El Debarge, James Brown, and more. Musically, it was phenomenal, especially for fans of old school R&B, which shows again why if I were to ever be a touring musician (which I would never), his back-up band is the place to be. Now, the bad: this album played like one giant brag about being rich. He reminds us what it's like to have more money than you need, and why men with money have historically gotten to be so stereotypically sleezy. I mean, the title is 24K. And his music videos don't even try to throw us off the track.

My Pick: 4:44
My Prediction: 4:44


This award goes to the team of artists, producers, and engineers involved in the best single recording of the year. Songwriting is not a part of it, but I'm not sure it can be completely taken out of the mix. 

Childish Gambino

Top to bottom this is a great track, and is one of my favorites from his album. From the start you get the distinct impression that this will be very unique. This track also has a very heavy Prince vibe to it, which isn't a bad thing.

CW: potential for nightmares after seeing this image for the entirety of the song.

Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee Featuring Justin Bieber

See my Song of the Year thoughts. I don't know how much more I can say about this song. I will say that it is way more appropriate for this category, but the fact that the lyrics are so subpar, there's no way I can get on board with this song for Record of the Year.

The video is up there somewhere in the post. I just can't do that again.

"The Story Of O.J. "

I heard the first bit of this song and realized I was in for something special. This is a fantastic record. It hits at big issues in the Black community, and these are things that can only be said by someone born and raised in this community. The ultimate message is whatever "kind" of black person you are, you are still black in this country. And what are you going to do about it? OJ tried to distance himself from the Black community and in an ironic twist, probably needed that association to be acquitted of a major crime. The track is phenomenal. And any recording that samples Nina Simone is going to be something special.

CW: abundant use of one version of a racial slur, exposure to an artistic representation of minstrel show stereotypes, an F-bomb or two.

I will say that this video is brilliant, as far as I'm concerned.

Kendrick Lamar

This is a super deep track, which is not unlike nearly all of Lamar's work. It's filled with irony as he talks honestly about his accomplishments and the dangers of not remaining humble. It also points out how a rise from nothing will invariably include people tagging along. And those people aren't always the best to have around. I hoped for more from him, but I can see why the track is nominated.

I posted the "clean" version. It just seemed more appropriate than a paragraph of CWs.

"24K Magic"
Bruno Mars
I swear Bruno Mars is a direct musical descendant of the Jackson 5. This track takes me back to the early 80s and all the styling that was coming out of Motown at that time. The production quality on this song is off the charts and just feels right. I'm not a huge fan of the song and it's message otherwise but can't deny that it is well-produced.

CW: exposure to Las Vegas and it's extravagance, scantily clad women, some profanity, the irrepressible desire to getcha groove on.

My Pick: "The Story of O.J."
My Prediction: "The Story of O.J."


Ed Sheeran  was nominated for Best Pop Solo Performance ("Shape of You"), and Best Pop Vocal Album (Divide). Definitely check it out. OK, since you begged, I'll post a video of my favorite track from his album.

CW: the desire to visit Galway, Ireland and do step dancing with Saoirse Ronan.

Taylor Swift isn't to be found in the big awards, but she did receive a nomination for Best Country Song "Better Man" written for Lady Antebellum, and the Best Song Written for Visual Media "I d/on't Wanna Live Forever" ("Fifty Shades Darker"). She's a talented songwriter to be sure.

Alabama Shakes was nominated for the Best American Roots Performance ("Killer Diller Blues"). Anything they do demands some attention.

Iron & Wine is nominated for Best Americana Album (Beast Epic). I recently learned about him because of a rabbit hole I dove down after a friend talked to me about Dawes and work they have been doing. Iron & Wine was an artist suggested to me during my searches. He has a great folksy Americana sound without getting too close to the country/bluegrass side of things.

Lin-Manuel Miranda is never far from the Grammy stage. "Moana: The Songs" was nominated for Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media, and "How Far I'll Go" was nominated for Best Song Written for Visual Media. He's still looking for his Oscar to complete the PEGOT, but another Grammy can't be disappointing.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Living the Dream

A week ago, our family attended a celebration of diversity and poetry for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. One of the slam poets that night said, "Raise your hand if you have a dream."

I hesitated and gave it thought. I didn't raise my hand. It felt like the kind of thing you *should* respond to with a raised hand, but I didn't.

The thing is, I didn't feel wrong or uninspired or depressed. I mean, I've always got dreams and goals of varying degrees. It's just that when I think about some overarching dream, nothing big calls to me. However, that is not to say that I'm not content.

I was sitting there contemplating my reasoning for not raising my hand and thinking to myself, "But I already AM leaving my dream."

Honestly, my grandest dream as a little girl growing up was to someday be married to my best friend and have a family together. There is a lot of talk in society today about what is and isn't feminist and, sometimes in that process, career becomes synonymous with feminist and marriage/home become synonymous with anti-feminism. I don't agree with that at all. As I've stated before, feminism is about choice, whatever that choice may be, for every woman out there.

I don't think it's anti-feminist to speak about falling in love and relationships and all of that. I grew up hearing those things from people I looked up to and they inspired me and gave something to look forward to.

I knew I wanted togetherness, peace, closeness, happiness, fun. I wanted something that I couldn't name as a child, but that I can name now: emotional safety. And I have that. I'm married to my best friend and I have emotional safety with him. I love being married and being part of a partnership. I love relationships.

I also absolutely LOVE being a mom. It's so much fun and I get to love these two amazing people and do my best to guide them and help out with life. How lucky am I?!?

Nothing in the world makes me happier than hanging out with my family and that is the honest-to-goodness truth. I love adventuring with them and I absolutely LOVE simply hanging out as a family playing games and eating take-out or watching TV/movies together.

So yeah, when someone asks me to raise my hand if I have a dream, I sometimes feel conflicted, because what if you're already enjoying that dream? That doesn't mean you don't have a dream. It means you're a lucky one who gets to LIVE it.

It's hard to talk about this sometimes, because you worry it comes off as braggy or because it just seems like a weird thing to admit (we can't win as humans, right? If you are happy, you're bragging; and if you're not, you're complaining). You feel like you're supposed to quietly go about your life and maybe you are, but this blog is sort of a journal for me and this is something that I've been feeling and that has been on my mind, so I figured I'd post.

So, raise your hand if you have a dream?

*Raises hand.*

Sunday, January 7, 2018

(Mark's) Year in Review - 2017

I do this post every year, and if I'm being honest, it's just something fun to do to remember the past year, mixed with some reflections and possibly some new resolve. For many reasons, I've felt a draw to doing this post more than in the past. I know I've felt like I really need to do this post to clear my head and set myself straight for the year. So, with all of that build up, here's to 2017!

1. What did you do in 2017 that you’d never done before? One big thing, I'll save for later in this post. Most of the things I've never done were attached to other people in the family. I don't know that I can recall any one thing I did that was new for me personally. New things this year include visiting several colleges I've never been to so Kate could see them. I took the kids to New York City by myself so they could see "Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812." That was fun to take a train and spend the day together in the city. We left Scout at home with a house-sitter for the first time so we could go to the Gilmore Girls Fan Festival. I competed in a large X-wing Miniatures tournament with Max.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year? In many ways I feel like 2017 was a difficult year for me personally. I feel stagnant in some ways, and I feel like growth in some areas were offset by losses in others. I've learned to accept the good with the bad, and to apply all of it to the sum total of the experiences life loves to give me, so I refuse to let a year like this get me down or ruin 2018. I'm going to pick one phrase to live by and try and stick to it. This is something Stacy's done for a while, and I think it gives me the best chance at succeeding.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth? No one that I can think of.

4. Did anyone close to you die? I am fortunate to have been spared this heartbreak this year.

5. What countries did you visit? No foreign countries this year. As has become our norm, we did venture out to several states in the course of our many activities. We spent time in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. Hopefully next year's post will include something more exciting.

6. What would you like to have in 2018 that you lacked in 2017? I would like to feel a lot healthier. I'd also like to have a clear vision for where I am headed professionally, as well. I feel content in many ways, but because of circumstances and my own inner restlessness, I need to do some tweaking.

7. What dates from 2017 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? June 3rd. One of the worst days I've experienced in a VERY long time (see #10 below). Most of what is etched upon my memory is the myriad emotions that my family experienced that day.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year? For someone who grew up trying to rack up achievements, it feels strange to not know what I can point back to in 2017 as an "achievement." Maybe I've grown accustomed to framing things differently, and maybe it was a fairly normal year in that regard.

9. What was your biggest failure? I still refuse to view anything as a true "failure." Looking back, I could say that I wasn't always as present as I would like to be for those around me. I'm working on it, and I feel more connected with myself overall. That's only going to help.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury? In June I had emergency surgery to repair an umbilical hernia. Unfortunately, I also had a section of small bowel that became trapped and needed to be removed. During the recovery period I developed C. difficile colitis. Twice. It was a couple of months before I even felt somewhat better. At this point I mostly feel better, but there are times that certain foods remind me that I did go through a big illness.

As hard as it was for me to go through all of that, I really feel badly for all that Stacy and the kids went through because of it. The suddenness of the surgery was jolting and terrifying for all of them, and I still have a hard time wrapping my mind around what they had to do to in that moment to keep on going. I can't even begin to express my admiration and appreciation for how they stepped up and took care of me. Besides attending to my medical needs, they were also there to support me emotionally as I experienced setbacks, and there were several. Even as I sit here typing this, I can feel myself welling up with tears as I struggle to attach words to these emotions. There simply aren't enough words that carry the weight of what Stacy, Kate, and Max mean to me, and what they have done for me. I love them with all of my heart.

11. What was the best thing you bought? Tickets to the Gilmore Girls Fan Festival in Kent, CT. Stacy posted about it here so I won't give you another recap, but all in all it was SO incredibly fun. She doesn't always get a chance to geek out on one of her loves like this, so it made it extra special to do that with her.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration? My wife's. Kate's. Max's. Daily I find reasons to be impressed by Stacy. There are unseen forces that require her to exert a lot of emotional energy to be the kind of wife and mother that she wants to be. Her success in this department shows the kind of resilience she has and how hard she is working to be her best self. If I can follow her example, even a little bit, my 2018 will be fantastic.

Kate quietly wows me all the time. Whether it is as a writer, college student, homeschooler, employee, or daughter, she goes about her business with dedication and confidence. I am proud of how she has faced challenges and continued to put her best foot forward. I am impressed and how well she knows herself and how this knowledge is shaping her future even now.

Max is maturing by leaps and bounds every day. I can't tell you how many times I have had reason to smile knowing that that kid is smart and clever and so incredibly kind. He is learning to challenge himself even more and to expect more from himself. I so often see wisdom in was he says and does and he reminds me that there are so many ways to be a good parent.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? For the third year in a row, it's political. There is the ongoing feeling that our president and his most rabid supporters have missed what it means to be human and to care for someone besides yourself. What else can be said there that hasn't been said a million times over? I'm also disappointed in the "liberal elite" that refuse to take ownership in the problems we have in this country, and somehow feel self-satisfied that at least they didn't vote for him. So many words have been written about how that attitude isn't going to fix anything, and I don't really have that many unique ones to add. Suffice it to say, if people don't learn to be more tolerant of people as a whole, this whole country will continue to burn to the ground.

On a more intimate level, there have been a handful of people who have shown their true colors this year. Some were more surprising than others, but either way, it hurts and it sucks. And when you consider how much Stacy was trying to do this summer with my health issues, having people close to you disappear (and feel completely justified) adds huge insult to gigantic injury.

14. Where did most of your money go? Like last year, our mortgage, student loan payments, and health insurance premiums. There were also larger than usual medical expenses, most of which just went toward our gigantic deductible. We had some travel and entertainment expenses, as well as college tuition and other fees. Again, being able to do the dual enrollment program at the community college helps, but it's still a big chunk being spent.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about? I was really excited to see the kids perform in "A Christmas Carol." The Gilmore Girls Fan Festival loomed large on the calendar all year, in a good way. The new Star Wars movie (so worth the hype). Once I knew it was a thing, "The Greatest Showman" got us all a bit excited.

16. What song will always remind you of 2017? Anything from "Waitress." Stacy took Kate to see Sara Bareilles perform in the summer and Max to see Jason Mraz perform in the fall. And seeing the show means the music plays a lot in our house. So, yeah, all the "Waitress" songs. I'm not sure that any other songs stick out.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you: a) happier or sadder? I always feel pretty happy about life. I'm probably a bit more contemplative right now, though. b) thinner or fatter? About the same. It's been an up and down year. c) richer or poorer? Like last year, my life is richer. Financially, I feel like it's a constant game of ping-pong, but we are managing to save, so richer to some extent.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of? I wish I'd done a little more sitting and taking it all in. It's something I'm working on, to be sure, but it doesn't come as naturally as it should. Stacy is good at helping me pause for a beat and experience the here and now.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of? This one is hard to say. The year was a blur in many ways, and it's not easy to look back and see the patterns. I suppose I wish I had thought a little less and just done a little more.

20. How did you spend Christmas? My favorite way--home together as a family. After a very busy 2017 in general (and specifically, the last few months of the year), it was wonderful to be able to hang out, eat good food, play games, and smile a lot.

21. Did you fall in love in 2017? 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? I'm still really enjoying "This Is Us." I love coming together as a family to watch it together. We've also recently discovered "Brooklyn Nine-Nine." It's super fun when a show can make us all laugh so consistently. There are plenty of things that I enjoy watching, mostly because we all share it.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year? I don't think so. There have been plenty of people that have just proven and reproven that they are worthy of disdain, but no one new I can come up with. Lots that have irritated me and disappointed me, though.

24. What was the best book you read? "Best" is tough. I had several this year that were noteworthy. Doing more audiobooks this past year was key. I could listen during my short commute. And with the various activities the kids had, I had plenty of opportunities to listen during solo car rides and while sitting and waiting for them. Looking back over my Goodreads account, here are my favorites (in no particular order):

*American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. A Brit's take on Americana, mixed with thoughts on the "new gods" of America. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
*The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro. Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize this year, so I thought I'd read something by him. His fantasy novel was excellent and a lot different than other fantasy I've read.
*Boxers and Saints, by Gene Luen Yang. He is a wonderful graphic novelist, and his two part series about the Boxer Rebellion was fantastic.
*A Man Called Ove, by Frederik Backman. Stacy selected this one for our book club, a story about a grumpy old Swede who would rather be left alone, but can't escape becoming an integral part of his neighbors' lives.
*The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell, by W. Kamau Bell. Part biography, part social commentary, Bell's book was super interesting. For a wild experience, look up the first episode of his "United Shades of America." Big black guy goes to the deep South to attend a KKK cross burning. Seriously haunting.
*Several Black Panther Comic books from various series. The more I read in all the series (Black Panther, The World of Wakanda, Black Panther and the Crew, etc.) the more I get sucked in. No matter who is writing the books, the stories are great.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery? I don't have a lot that I can think of. I'm always listening to a song here and a song there as I encounter them, but nothing is sticking out as my "greatest" discovery. Watching "The Greatest Showman" and listening to the soundtrack has been really fun. There is some excellent music in that movie. Normally I discover new music as I listen to all of the Grammy nominations at the beginning of the year. 2017 was pretty disappointing in that department.

26. What did you want and get? To see my kids share a wonderful experience together. Watching them act together in "A Christmas Carol" fit the bill. I also had a nice holiday season with my favorite people. That's always high on my list.

27. What did you want and not get? More time to explore my creative pursuits. That's entirely on me. Between life circumstances and my own focus, I didn't make the time necessary or set myself up for success.

28. What was your favorite film of this year? "The Greatest Showman" was really good. I thoroughly enjoyed "Star Wars: The Last Jedi." Kate and I saw "Wonder Woman" together, and that was pretty great. We started the year by trying to see a bunch of Oscar movies, many of which were good. "Moonlight" was excellent, and is a movie that has improved in my mind the more time has passed. "La La Land" was a lot of fun to see. I was worried all of the hype might ruin it, but it didn't.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?  For 43 we went out and had some low-key family fun. We went to get Mexican food in Harrisburg, played mini-golf on City Island, and played some games at home. All in all, a pretty fantastic day.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? There isn't one thing that would do that for me. Considering how rocky 2017 was, I'm feeling pretty satisfied with how it ended up already. Well, maybe not having major surgery and recurrent intestinal infections would have helped.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2017? I could work on this a bit more. Steady and reliable are decent adjectives for a lot of things, but maybe not a fashion concept. I did try out a subtly different haircut and like that, and my glasses are a bit bigger and a little more stylish.

32. What kept you sane?  My family, for sure. 2017 could have been a very disastrous year if not for Stacy and her influence on me. It may have cost her some of her own sanity, and that fact is not lost on me. But honestly, she's helped me more than she could ever know. The kids are great and I love being near them and sharing life's grand adventures with them. And Scout is one of the most grounding (and horribly feisty) creatures I've ever known.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?  Hmmm. That's a good question. 2017 was a year that soured me on a lot of people, and it affirmed my long-held belief that we should admire the qualities in people that are truly worthy of admiration, but be careful to not deify them as a whole. I'll say that the way Bernie Sanders keeps fighting for what he believes to be right is impressive. His campaign wasn't just an exercise in grandstanding. It was a way to get his message to more people, and he hasn't stopped spreading that message.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?  Intolerance and equality still reign supreme, and there have been many rants and discussions on this topic around here. We even had the chance to hear two excellent speakers, Ibram X. Kendi and Ta-Nehisi Coates, speak in our area, and that was enlightening. I will say that the separation of church and state loomed very large throughout the year, especially as we see the makings of a pseudo-theocracy developing in this country (as well as an oligarchy, fascist regime, etc.).

35. Who did you miss? I don't think there is anyone I've missed. In fact, I feel like our circle of friends and family has resized itself satisfyingly well.

36. Who was the best new person you met? We met a nice couple through mutual friends and had a chance to share a meal or two with them. They are really nice and easy to talk to, and it's very pleasant to hang out with them. I can tell they will be nice friends to have. We also met a lot of people through the theater where the kids performed during the holidays. They made some really nice friends there.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2017. I am learning and relearning what I learned last year, which is to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I struggle mightily with this and I'm working hard to let it sink in. In fact, it's a renewed focus for me going forward in 2018.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year. Jamie Lawson is an Australian singer who records on Ed Sheeran's label (Gingerbread Man Records). He put out a new album this year, and the track "Can't See Straight" has a few lyrics that remind me of how lucky I am. It's a really sweet, classic singer-songwriter love song.

"Shooting stars shining down on your face
Dancing in the moonlight with you
You keep me calm when I'm a certain disgrace
You keep me on my toes with your moves

And you pulled me inside out and outside in
Give my heart palpitations, keep my pulse racing

Oh and I can't see straight when I'm thinking 'bout you
Yeah you make my head spin with the things that you do
I feel dizzy when you tell me you love me too
I can't see straight when I'm thinking 'bout you"

And if you want a nice treat, listen to the acoustic version he did with Ed Sheeran.

Year in Review - 2017 (Stacy)

  1. What did you do in 2017 that you’d never done before? Dealt with my husband having emergency abdominal surgery followed by 2 bouts of ensuing infections. Started touring colleges with my daughter. Saw my kids (Kate first followed by Max) discover a love of performing. Went on a trip to NYC with my son to see "Waitress" and met Jason Mraz! Attended a "Gilmore Girls Festival" in CT with my family and met all kinds of cast and crew - it was fabulous!  
  2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year? I think mostly yes. I said I wanted to do more "other stuff" outside of Facebook and I have. I also said we wanted to try to "do less, be home more, and not schedule ourselves too much . . . be more available to play games if we feel like it and just generally chill. . . . Be a little more low-key." I'd say we've done that and when we haven't, it was because we took on new adventures we wanted (theatre) or because we were dealing with stressful health issues. As for my winter hibernation, I'm doing pretty well with that, too. Cultivating Hygge!

    And y
    es, I'm doing the word of the year again and this year's phrase is "Live Imperfectly." I often let perfectionism get in my own way and I've been working on forging ahead without everything having to be just so. Let go of more, be okay with being a little messy, start or continue projects even if it's mid-week or even if my inbox isn't emptied first. Instead of approaching things with the attitude of "I'll do B once A is finished," I'm going to, more often, "Do B first." Learn from mistakes. Growth mindset. Live Imperfectly!     
  4. Did anyone close to you give birth? I can't think of anyone, but I do have a friend who is 9 months pregnant right now and due any day, so that's exciting. Kate and I got to help plan and attend the baby shower just a couple of weeks ago.

  5. Did anyone close to you die? Thankfully, no.

  6. What countries did you visit? We didn't visit any other countries, but we enjoyed a visit to Connecticut for the Gilmore Girls festival; lots of visits to colleges in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and Massachusetts; our annual week at the beach in Delaware; some time at the beach in NJ; and a few trips to NYC.     

  7. What would you like to have in 2018 that you lacked in 2017? A cleaning service. Totally serious. I joked that that's all I wanted for Christmas. My husband thinks that's a lame Christmas gift, though, so he got me games and wrote me poems, and we're getting a regular cleaning service anyway. :P    

  8. What dates from 2017 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? Getting to see a live taping of "Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me" with my son, his friend, and my husband (and almost getting into it with another patron). Seeing BOTH of my kids gain a love of performing (Kate in "Beauty and the Beast, Jr." and Max in "A Christmas Carol"). Mark's emergency abdominal surgery. That was so stressful. Seeing "Waitress" with each of my kids and getting to see Sara Bareilles with Kate and Jason Mraz with Max. And definitely the "Gilmore Girls Festival!"

  9. What was your biggest achievement of the year? Greater inner peace and a *much* better ability to boundary set and spot red flags sooner and with more ease. I feel like my answers to this question over the past several years show a progression of emotional health and personal growth that blows my mind sometimes, and boy am I grateful for how far I've come. Health stressors aside, it's been a perfectly lovely year again! I know I've got a ways to go, but I've come a long, long way, too.

    Part of me says go back and read the answer from this past year and amplify it and you've got a pretty good idea of how I'm doing.
    Things continue to feel a lot more balanced. I'm no longer chasing down that which no longer does me good. I'm no longer nervously trying to please people around me, particularly if they are moody or volatile. And, I'm finally beginning to not put up with poor treatment from others. Specifically, until recently, I hadn't even noticed that I was putting up with others treating me in a way that I wouldn't ever treat another person! And I hadn't even noticed! It took therapy as well as good friends and family to point it out to me. If I wouldn't treat another person that way, why on earth was it okay for anyone to treat me that way? Talk about a double standard. So much good enters in when space is cleared out by time wasters, time drains, and negativity. There's freed up space for new and good things, including greater peace! I'm seeing this in terms of gains, not losses, because that's what it is! Oh, and I got invited to moderate a couple of online groups, so that's been neat. I've started some groups as well and those are going well. One of them is cooking related and that's been nice as we cook lots and it's nice to have inspiration.

  10. What was your biggest failure? Like I say every year, I don't like to think in terms of failure. I like the "growth mindset" rather than the "fixed mindset" approach, and I hope this is what we teach our kids, too.   

  11. Did you suffer illness or injury? Other than the usual chronic neck pain and banging up my knee pretty bad when I fell down the garage stairs at one point, I've been pretty good. Mark's emergency abdominal surgery and subsequent infections were definitely stressful and I'm glad he's doing better.      

  12. What was the best thing you bought? I wish I could remember what prompted me to say to Mark, "This is nice. Why do we put off doing nice things for ourselves?" We tend to struggle with that - me especially. I think this was in reference to the Gilmore Girls Festival or perhaps the bigger deck we built a year ago, I'm not sure. But it is nice to enjoy ourselves!       

  13. Whose behavior merited celebration? Mark's, Kate's, and Max's.

    Mark and I have always felt we have an egalitarian marriage. We've never been afraid to think outside the box or do things differently than expected. Even then, there is always room for learning new things and enhancing our relationships. Several years ago, we started to learn about emotional labor. We read everything we could get our hands on about it. We love learning about societal assumptions and cultural trends and then questioning their value and seeking out changes, if necessary. This topic has been so eye-opening and I've got to give him MAJOR props for being so open about it, so interested, so willing. "Toxic masculinity" is not something I worry about with Mark as a husband or father. I love how willing he is to be vulnerable and how much he works at being his best and how he isn't afraid to be alongside me in my own struggles. He has been taking on more in his roles as dad and husband and this guy is truly enlightened and woke. I love this man. He is my best friend and I'm lucky to be married to him.

    Mark recovering from surgery/infections and teaching Kate to iron

    This, to me, is what it means to be a man
    Kate has been challenging herself in so many things. She has been moving herself outside of her comfort zone in her learning and experiences  She took on uncomfortable and difficult classes and not only earned an "A" after the professor scared everyone into thinking that would be impossible, but also made the Dean's list. She auditioned for a play, even though she was so scared and nervous. She blossomed on stage and discovered a love of performance. She pushed herself hard in SAT and ACT prep. It wasn't fun. It wasn't easy. And there were setbacks. But she kept on pushing through and approaching it all with an attitude of making it work and doing her best. It took a bit longer for her to get her license, due to various setbacks including Mark's surgery/infections and some backward PA procedures, but she persevered and didn't let it stop her. She took on the challenge of researching and visiting colleges and weighing out choices. She gave a lot of thought to whether or not to do a gap year. In all these things, I see her know herself and make good decisions for herself and I'm so proud of her in all she does. And while I love how hard she works, I also love seeing her enjoy and relax, too. She knows it's important and works on having balance in her life. And she does it with such seeming grace and ease! Though I know that sometimes it just looks that way and that the reality is that she works hard at it. I'm so proud of her.
    Max as Young Ebenezer
    I love this picture of Max in the dance scene
    Kate positively glowing on stage

    Max has been growing up before my eyes - not just literally (he has gotten SO tall these past several months!), but as a young man, too. I've always loved seeing my kids transition from kid to young adult, and I'm definitely seeing that in Max these days. He is growing into his own. I see the little kid in him when he's outside playing with the neighbors and when he's hanging out in person or online with his friends, but I also see the young man he is when he takes care of his responsibilities at home and in his education and in his interactions with others. I see him taking on challenges and trying new things. I see him work on himself as a person and think deeply about things, people, and the world. I saw him take on his first job and work so hard. I saw him deal with stress and challenges like a pro. I see him stand up for himself. I have so many people - kids and adults - come up to me and rave about what a great person he is and how easy he is to talk to. I saw him soak up a week of video game design camp and even get recruited for some pretty big stuff - college, experiences, classes. I saw him audition for a play even though he was SO nervous. He did it because he pushed himself and because he wanted to have that experience with his sister. He got cast and then they added more parts for him, including speaking lines - something he wasn't seeking and about which he felt pretty nervous - and he rocked it all! I saw him develop yet another game and pitch it to a big time game designer. This kid . . .this young man . . . I am super proud.   

    Also, a MAJOR shout out to BOTH kids for their all-in help when Mark was in the hospital and for those 2+ months that we was dealing with repercussions at home. They are amazing people!

  14. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?  I never feel comfortable naming names on this one, so I'll just say that this past summer has to be one of the most stressful experiences we've ever experienced and it confirmed to me something I already knew - family is not always there for you. I've already experienced that before, but this really took the cake. Of all of our extended family on both sides, only one person offered to come help us and that is my sister-in-law Jessica. I'm so grateful to her. Had I known how hard things would get after the surgery (with the c. diff. infections), I think I would've taken her up on it. It was incredibly stressful and I was taking care of literally everything by myself with help from the kids and good friends (to whom I am so very grateful). Trying to keep things normal for the kids while caring for and worrying about Mark was HARD. Someone on my side of the family even told us repeatedly that she couldn't help us because she couldn't travel and then promptly left on an international cruise. Pretty damn shitty. So I learn from that and take notes on how different families operate (like, "Okay, that's how it is? Good to know!") and work on building my own family to be a unit where we care deeply about one another and help each other and care for each other. It didn't appall me (though it appalled many people I know), because it wasn't terribly surprising. And it didn't depress me, because I wasn't going to lose time and energy over it. It did anger me, but I'm okay with that. It propels me forward. Instead of wallowing, I can be pissed and move on. :) And I am. 

    The following pictures are in chronological order from the ER to surgery to recovery to subsequent bouts of infection - I took many of these to keep my in-laws updated on his condition (ugh, these are difficult to look through): 

  15. Where did most of your money go? Medical expenses, hands down. And maybe gas money, too - between kids' activities, camps, theatre, trips, and college visits, we're doing a bit more out and about with teens!  

  16. What did you get really, really, really excited about? The Gilmore Girls Festival. Strides made in therapy. Seeing my kids on stage.     

  17. What song will always remind you of 2017? Probably Waitress songs as well as anything and everything from "The Greatest Showman" soundtrack. Oh, and Wassail songs. :P    

  18. Compared to this time last year, are you:
    a) happier or sadder? Happier. For sure. Invigorated.
    b) thinner or fatter? Fatter, I guess. Or about the same. I'm feeling the slight pull of middle age. I watch what I eat and am working on exercising more consistently.  
    c) richer or poorer? We're rich. So rich. I'm not talking money. I'm talking what matters. Like I said a year ago: "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." And that's what I mean when I say we're rich.     

  19. What do you wish you’d done more of? I don't know. We had been looking forward to working on some projects and then the surgery caught us off guard and pushed off a lot of things that we didn't get to, but aside from the scary surgery and difficult summer with all of that, it's been a good year.  

  20. What do you wish you’d done less of? Um, that summer of stress and worry and health stuff was not at all a fun way to spend several months. I was running on adrenaline and didn't realize how much until after several months when things calmed down and my anxiety skyrocketed. Everything eventually stabilized and it's all good now. 

  21. How did you spend Christmas? In our usual way - here as a family, eating great food (we did the feast of the 7 fishes but did it surf-n-turf style so there was plenty of food that Max likes, too, since he's not as into seafood as the rest of us), playing games, and enjoying the holiday together - such thoughtful gifts and so much excitement over giving and gratitude over receiving. Leading up to it, the kids were really involved in their play ("A Christmas Carol") and were sick with awful head colds the second week, too, so some of our usual holiday cooking was pushed back a bit, but we got ahead on shopping/wrapping, so that was nice! We've been playing a lot of games and watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine and simply spending time together. We really love our holidays together! 

  22. Did you fall in love in 2017? Of course. I'm happily married to my best friend. There are ups and downs, but this past year has (again, stressful summer aside) had a lot of laughter and playfulness and I loooooove that.

  23. What was your favorite TV program? We've recently gotten rather addicted to binge watching "Brooklyn Nine-Nine."

  24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year? Nope. I read a great article a while back about how friendships vary - some are for a reason, some are for a season, and some are for a lifetime. I'm appreciating all relationships for what they are and not forcing any of them to be something they're not. Caution, yes. Hatred? No. Well, I take that back. I kind of hate (with a touch of pity) Trump.   

  25. What was the best book you read? My top 2 favorite books this past year were "Born a Crime" by Trevor Noah (audio version is excellent) and "A Man Called Ove" by Fredrik Backman.   

  26. What was your greatest musical discovery? "The Greatest Showman" soundtrack. I love it!  

  27. What did you want and get? A more low-key year

  28. What did you want and not get? The garage cleaned out. An impeachment.     

  29. What was your favorite film of this year? "The Greatest Showman." I related SO HARD to the Michelle Williams character. I was sobbing by the end of the movie. It was captivating and beautiful. 

  30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? I turned 43 and we enjoyed a nice day as a family. We also threw me a summer-themed birthday party with a ton of people and it was really fun! I especially liked the photo backdrop we did.     

  31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? No scary surgery. 

  32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2017? The same. Nothing profoundly different. In general, I care about looking presentable, but also comfortable. Sometimes make-up, sometimes not. It varies.

  33. What kept you sane? My family. Scout. Good friends. My therapist. Most especially, when things got stressful this past summer, friends brought us meals, picked up groceries, gave rides to the kids, were listening ears for me, were available, were present. Lisa, Shannon, Tiffany, Angie, Devany, Desiree, the Dickinson, Linda, Pat . . . I'm worried about leaving someone out, but really, so many good people. Linda showing up at the hospital meant so much to me. Our friends here saw that no extended family were coming and they jumped in all they could and helped us survive. Friends from afar also helped out - Matt, Peter, Jimmy . . . so many good people doing what they could to ease our burden a bit. How lucky are we to know so many good people?!? Jim and my in-laws both helped us out with the financial stress of hospital bills and lost work. We are so grateful to everyone who helped us through a rough time.  

  34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? Hugh Jackman. Trevor Noah. Jonathan Pie. And still Bernie. 

  35. What political issue stirred you the most? I've pretty much been consumed and appalled by the idiot in chief and even more upset with every member of Congress who does nothing to stop him. They are complicit. 

  36. Who did you miss? Denise and Robynne. I've been missing both of them lately, and reminiscing on how much fun we all had together before they moved away.

  37. Who was the best new person you met? Our Gilmore Girls friends were so much fun and we continue to be in touch with them. I'd also say Kelli - that's a burgeoning friendship that I'm enjoying. Also, it's so fun to meet all these new theatre people through the kids. I love seeing them develop such nice friendships, too.    

  38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2017. That it's possible to get better. To spot red flags and recognize them as such. That anger is a valid emotion and can propel me forward. That people are who they show you they are - believe them. That I can listen to my gut, because it's right. That I can feel happier and stronger.   

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

    "Tightrope" from The Greatest Showman Soundtrack

    Some people long for a life that is simple and planned
    Tied with a ribbon
    Some people won't sail the sea 'cause they're safer on land
    To follow what's written
    But I'd follow you to the great unknown
    Off to a world we call our own

    Hand in my hand
    And we promised to never let go
    We're walking a tightrope
    High in the sky
    We can see the whole world down below
    We're walking a tightrope
    Never sure, never know how far we could fall
    But it's all an adventure
    That comes with a breathtaking view
    Walking a tightrope

    With you, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh
    With you, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh
    With you

    Mountains and valleys, and all that will come in between
    Desert and ocean
    You pulled me in and together we're lost in a dream
    Always in motion
    So I risk it all just to be with you
    And I risk it all for this life we chose

    Hand in my hand
    And you promised to never let go
    We're walking a tightrope
    High in the sky
    We can see the whole world down below
    We're walking a tightrope
    Never sure, will you catch me if I should fall?
    Well, it's all an adventure
    That comes with a breathtaking view
    Walking a tightrope

    With you, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh
    With you, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh
    With you
    With you, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh
    With you, ooh, ooh, ooh
    With you