Tuesday, February 25, 2014

January Wrap-Up

Blatantly stealing this idea from our daughter (with some modifications). It'll be a bit of a trick to remember what I did in January since we're already halfway through February (Edit: I wrote most of this 5 days ago and am only now getting around to posting it), but I'm going to try. This looks like a fun way to track things throughout the year and I love reading hers, so here goes . . .

Books I've Read 

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell


I absolutely LOVE this author and everything she touches. This is her first novel. My favorite by her is her second book, Eleanor & Park, for its beautiful simplicity and the way she handled some *really* tough topics that some teens face - BIG kudos to her for having that kind of bravery and for not whitewashing it. This book had a simple premise and addressed relationships and ethics. I loved it. The ending was kind of not quite what I expected and felt a bit jolting at times, but truth be told, I wasn't sure what I expected would happen given the storyline. I love how she makes her characters come to life. She excels at making things feel so real.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein


I absolutely loved every minute of reading this book with the kids. It's full of puzzles and riddles and fun characters. It is a ton of fun to read. Great books for kids and families. Bonus that we'd met the author at a literature festival and he had brought the story even more to life with his fun stories and great personality. Get this book and read it with your kids - you will NOT be disappointed. In fact, you'll have so much fun.

The Giver by Lois Lowry


I read this one with the kids, too. This book definitely makes you think and tackles some really deep concepts. She explores what it would be like to live in a society that is guarded and regulated in such a way that no one feels any kind of pain. Sounds great, right? Read the book and then tell me what you think. Great book. I love that she felt kids could handle it. She handled it expertly. The movie comes out this year, too.

Movies/TV Shows I've Watched

A little note here that Mother Nature was hell bent on making sure that Mark and I could NOT get to the movies we wanted to see while they were in the theaters. Our schedules are crazy enough that even trying to get to a movie is a trick and a half. Add snowstorm after snowstorm after snowstorm and you have mountains of snow and a list of missed movies, including "August: Osage County" and "American Hustle." 

"Apollo 13"


Got it from the library and watched it as a family because it is a classic film to watch and went really well with our study of the 1960s. Plus, Modern Family had an episode that spoofed a classic scene in the movie, so that prompted us to watch it even more and catch the pop culture reference. We love spoofs! It's a suspenseful, interesting movie and we all enjoyed it, even if it felt a bit long at times. Bonus that we caught an editing goof - at one point in the movie, you see a cameraman near the feet of the astronauts while they're on the shuttle. HOW did that not get caught before and how much must that have sucked for the director and actors and editors to see that during its premiere!?

"Saving Mr. Banks"


Saw this one as a family at our great little indie theater in our small town. We all enjoyed it. It was quite emotional. A beautiful story of redemption. Great characters, great actors. I love Emma Thompson and Paul Giamatti. Sad irony - after the movie, I commented on how much I love both Paul Giamatti and Phillip Seymour Hoffman and how I often think of both of them whenever I think of either of them, as they both play so beautifully such conflicted characters, and when I got home, I learned that Phillip Seymour Hoffman had died. Very sad.

"Stuck in Love"


Saw this one on our Netflix, read the premise, and was intrigued, so I watched it while I was laid up with my hurt neck. It is about a family of writers who all struggle in one way or another, due to family dynamics and being human. It has a great cast and I had no idea I was finding such a gem of a movie. I love when you watch something you've not heard of before and it's such a great find! The music/soundtrack was incredible. I told a friend about it (he loves Kristen Bell) and he watched it THAT day and texted me to say how much he enjoyed it and agreed that the music was great. Very much my kind of movie and one of the best I've seen in a while.



Mark and I are marathon watching this show and enjoying it very much. It's highly addictive! We had caught an episode a while back and had decided not to watch it as it seemed kind of heavy (and I tend to avoid stuff that's too heavy), but we tried it again and I'm really glad we did. It's not as heavy as I feared and yet they tackle some pretty heavy, real issues (Asperger's, infidelity, racism, infertility, adoption, veterans, job stress, etc.). I think the teens are all awful, though (so are some of the parents!) and I hate to see all that cliche teenage angst, as if they ALL have attitudes and are lippy. Bah!

I love the characters in this series (I love to hate some of them!) and the family dynamics fascinate me. I mean, the Bravermans are pretty enmeshed and it begs the question - which is better, an enmeshed family that's there for you when push comes to shove or a distant family without closeness? Most of the time, we vote enmeshed. Sure, there's probably a healthy balance somewhere in the middle, but on the enmeshed-distant spectrum, for all the drama and meddling, you know they love and care about you.

I love when they get the fever - there should be more dancing in the world in our living rooms and yards! We love Crosby and Jake, but boy oh boy do we hate Adam Braverman - what a jerk! I know people like him and think he's so responsible and upright, but someone please remove the stick up his butt, because he's so freaking uptight!! Do. Not. Like. I like Kristina, but I hate their parenting style with Haddie. They clearly have control issues and love to be dictatorial. Blech. Mutual respect, anyone? Wow, I clearly have a lot to say about this show . . .

Games I've played

Our family LOVES games. I wish I had thought to keep track better and I'm probably forgetting some, but here goes:

Candamir - we got this one for Christmas from Mark's parents and we really enjoy playing it a lot! Probably one of my new favorites for sure.
Settlers of Catan - one of my favorites, especially the Cities and Knights edition
Pit - a discovery of an old classic! So fun with friends!
Trivial Pursuit, Family Edition - So. Much. Fun. to play as a family
Order of the Stick - long, but fun game as a family; based on spoofs of D&D games everywhere!
Ticket to Ride - another favorite
What's it Gonna Take? - a game we got from the Johnsons for Christmas, fun game where you answer interesting questions and get to know one another's limits
Livingstone - the Johnsons got it for Christmas and brought it over and we all played and had deep conversations
Carcassonne - We own this one and the Johnsons got it for themselves for Christmas and we played this together
Chess - a classic, especially fun when you're trying to beat Ivan the computer!
Othello -  I play this with Max now and then
Dungeon Dice - We got this for Max for his birthday. It's an old game on eBay but it's a lot of fun!
D&D Clue - Fun variation of Clue, great pieces and characters. Another Max birthday gift.
Laser Maze -Another Max birthday gift. He LOVES logic games and is crazy good at them. It blows my mind to watch him play this.
Pizza Dice - an easy, quick, fun game where you try to roll the pizza toppings dice and make a pizza first. A fun game!
Story Wars - a story telling game sort of like Snake Oil or Apples to Apples, but way more fun and creative. A perfect game for our family - creating, debating, and laughing.
Smallworld - I play this with Max a lot when Kate volunteers at the library; it is a game that has really grown on me. I like it a lot! Another European Tabletop game that is so much better than typical American games (sorry, USA).
Mario Kart - a great standby that we all enjoy playing together
Zumba Wii - a fun, family game that gets us moving and laughing
Just Dance 4 - ditto the above

Other Things I've done, Places I've visited, etc.

* Rang in the new year with 2 straight days of fun and games Folson-style
* Threw a really fun "Amazing Race" all-over-town party for our son's 11th birthday
* Celebrated my daughter getting her braces off . . . eating wings right off the bone! Her BFF joined us, too.
* Complained about the stupid polar vortex cold
* Thing 1 and I had lunch with a local author
* Started an effective chore chart with the kids - and they're cooking more. :)
* We celebrated Thing 1 getting published with a sushi boat dinner!
* Celebrated my good friend Linda's 60th birthday with a surprise lunch party
* Celebrated Dave's birthday with a group of great friends - Indian food, cheesecake, and lots of laughs
* Dealt with a neck spasm that had me unable to move my neck for 2 days - very scary and painful
* Was disappointed with the Grammys this year - Ed Sheeran should have won.
* Had lots of kids over, particularly Thing 1's BFF and Dave's boys during Dave's hospital stay
* Happy Hour appetizer feast at Houlihan's with the Dick and Linda and family
* Mark and the kids attended another silent movie at our local theater - this time with our good, empty-nester friends who are simply awesome with our kids (I was unable to go due to hurt neck and stupid cold making neck worse)

Pictures from the Month
A boy and his dog

"I'm not amused."

Braces off! Let's eat wings!

The Intrepid Amazing Racers

Such a fun birthday adventure all over town!

He's 11!

Celebrating being published with a sushi boat!

She keeps getting taller and taller . . .

Siblings and friends :)

The author signing a copy of her book for us!

A girl and her dog

Wow, I often worry that we're not doing enough fun stuff or school stuff or reading, but holy moly, writing that out sure puts things in perspective! I think that's a pretty great list.
How was your January?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

My Dad Would Have Been 79 Today.

Dear Daddy,

Happy birthday, I guess. Whatever that means. Sorry, I'm not feeling particularly celebratory. If I'm being honest, I'm angry today. I miss you and it's not fair. I feel invisible - people don't always know how much it all hurts, even and especially years later.

I'm not mad at you. I don't know who to be angry at. But I'm angry that you're not here. Your grandkids are amazing people and you would've enjoyed watching them grow up into remarkable adults. I hate that you're not here with us, talking to us, hugging us, encouraging us.

I thought you'd be here teaching our kids to fish and play tennis. I thought you'd be here for recitals and birthday parties and award presentations. I thought you'd be here for barbecues or taking the bones out of delicious pieces of fish and giving the best parts to our kids, like you used to do for me when I was little. I know you would've liked to have been here.

Sometimes I have questions I'd like to ask you, but I can't, and I'm jealous of people whose dads are there for them. I'm jealous of big, happy, supportive, extended families who are there for each other, even on TV shows. I see neat pictures of daddys and daughters and smile and wonder if we have one like it, and if I can't come up with one, I'm overcome by the sadness that there's nothing I can do about it now. Those kinds of reminders and thoughts are hard. Because of a last-minute problem, there wasn't music at our wedding, and I didn't ever get to do the daddy-daughter dance I was so looking forward to. All these years later, Mark and I think about doing some kind of vow ceremony on the beach and I'm sad that I can't ever make that up to you or to me - our daddy-daughter dance. I had the song picked out from the time I was young.

I turn 40 in a couple of weeks and you know what? My dad should be alive to celebrate with me. I hate death. It sucks. I was 33 when you died. That's too young. I know that many others have dealt with their dad's deaths even younger, so I often feel like I can't complain, but then I talk to people who are older and whose dads are alive and I feel jealous.

I know. This letter makes me sound like a real charmer. Thing is, I'm not usually like this. But I have my moments. Doesn't everyone? I am pretty good about having a good attitude and making the best of things, but sometimes I'm tired and spent and angry. This is one of those times. And it's okay, and healthy even, to feel different emotions and be honest about them.

I feel like I so often talk to people whose problems are so much bigger than my own, and while that makes me grateful, I also think it makes me almost-constantly dismissive of my own issues. Like how can I possibly complain compared to so-and-so, you know? And over time, I start to feel very small and insignificant, even though I struggle with my own stuff, too.

If I'm being honest, sometimes I get tired of being there for everyone else while burying my own stresses deep down, feeling invisible and inconsequential myself. What a pity party, right? That's not how I mean it. I just mean it as honesty. Like I said, today I'm angry. And sad. And lonely.

None of this is coming out right. Maybe I shouldn't even bother with this. But I feel like I should recognize the day somehow. Usually we eat pizza in your honor, but I guess today I'm not feeling great, and I think it's fair to be honest and real about my feelings.

Ever since you died, I know it's been hard on Mom the most. I know that. No question. And I talk with her, I cry with her. I don't always know what to say when she cries. I let her know I'm thinking of her especially on the anniversary of your death and on your wedding anniversary, stuff like that. I try to look out for her, but it's kind of weird, I guess, because I feel like I'm the kid, the baby of the family, and I need some looking out for, too.

There are people in my life who never once, not a single time since your death in 2007, have taken a minute even once to ask how *I* am doing. And quite honestly, that really sucks. Because I'm hurting, too. Even the thought of someone asking me how I'm doing makes my lip quiver and makes tears run down my face. Like I'm just waiting for someone to care about me. Ugh, I know I sound pathetic, right?

Everyone wants kindness and to be thought of. I try to do that for others. You taught me that. Well, sometimes it's nice to know that people are thinking of you, too, you know? I know it makes me shallow, but sometimes it's really hard to be there for others when you so desperately wish they'd be there for you and recognize that you're hurting, too.

I feel so alone in my hurt sometimes. No one else had my experience with you growing up. No one else grew up with the relationship you and I shared - that was particular to us. So I don't have anyone to empathize on that one. No one to talk to. No one who gets it. It's weird to go on without you.

I miss you. I miss feeling looked out for by you. I feel like you had my back. If I needed $5 for a field trip, you'd give me $10 "just in case." You never got angry with me. You always had a hug, an arm squeeze, a wink, a smile, a hug for me. You didn't ever want me to be lacking or stuck or struggling. You wanted me to have a good life. You and Mom worked really hard to give me every opportunity. I'm grateful for that. And I miss you. I wish you were here to see what's come of all that - to see me, my family, share life with us.

You didn't get to see our new house, our business, our sweet dog who we love so much. I often wonder what you'd think of her, and vice versa. I think she'd love you.

I didn't ever get to go on a trip with you as an adult. We were JUST getting to the point where we could establish ourselves and afford more . . . and then you died. So, you saw me in school, struggling, moving, starting out, stressed, depressed, in debt, but you didn't get to see the pay off of all those years.

And I didn't get to . . . I don't know, feel secure as an adult in front of you. I didn't get to go to Disney with you and our kids. Or have you to our house in a proper guest room instead of a basement. I always wanted you to be proud of me, and I know you always were, but what would you think now? I mean, I feel more secure than I did then, I guess, but I also feel like a kid who's struggling, too. Does that feeling ever go away? I may be turning 40, but I feel like I'm 18.

Kate got published in December - isn't that great? She writes all the time and she's talented and driven and responsible. Her stories show her depth and maturity and skill. She's beautiful and confident and smart, and I love talking with her and doing things together. She's sweet and snuggly - you would love it. She is one of my very favorite people. Max has a black belt in Taekwondo and I know you'd be proud of that. He is playful and handsome and considerate - he is so compassionate and I love to hear his deep, meaningful thoughts on things. While he's a goofball and energetic and funny, he also loves to snuggle. He enjoys tennis and pizza, too, by the way - two of your great pleasures in life. He, too, is one of my very favorite people. He's your one grandson. I was so thrilled to be able to give you a grandson. They are incredible. They both stand up for what's right. I love them both so much.

There are people in our lives who are like surrogate grandparents to our children and it means the world to me. They could never take your place, of course, and none of them try to, but I love that they work so hard to be there for us and for our kids. I always worry that the kids are missing out with you not here, but the love and attention of these good people make up for that a little bit and it means a lot to me. You know some of them (like Jim) and some of them never got to meet you, but I know you'd be grateful to them.

It always pains me to talk about you to people who haven't met you. How can I put you into words? How can I possibly explain the way you'd light up a room with your very presence, make people laugh just because you were smiling, and how you'd make every individual that you came in contact with feel like the most important and loved person in the world? How can I possibly convey that?

We do a memorial service every year on the anniversary of your death. We all light candles floating in a bowl of water and as we take turns lighting the candles, we say something we remember and love about you. Then we take turns blowing out our candles and say what we'd like to say to you if we could send you a message, the smoke representing our words. Kate cries every year. A couple of weeks ago, I was cuddling with Max in his bed - he was feeling kind of down - and I told him that I sometimes feel down, too. I told him that I missed feeling looked out for by you. And as I shared with him, I saw a tear trickling down his cheek. I asked him what was wrong and he told me he missed you. You are loved and you are missed.

I think you'd tell me it's okay that I'm angry. (See? I hate that I have to play this guessing game as to what I think you'd do because you're not here). You wouldn't try to change me. You wouldn't say meaningless platitudes or lecture me on my attitude. You'd tell me you love me and that you're so proud of me. You'd hug me. You'd love me. You'd help me. You'd look out for me. I guess I just miss all that. And sometimes it makes me sad. And I guess sometimes I feel angry.

I miss you, Daddy.


Thursday, February 6, 2014

Kid Interviews - Favorites of 2013

In which I interview our children. I usually do this in January. Oh well.

Thing 1 - Age 13 (turns 14 in a couple of months!), 8th Grade

Favorite Color - Yellow
Favorite Food - Sushi
Favorite Drink - Butterbeer from Harry Potter World
Favorite Board or Card Game - Settlers of Catan (Cities and Knights) and Snake Oil and Catch Phrase
Favorite Wii Game - Just Dance 4
Favorite Online Game - Minecraft
Favorite DS game - Harry Potter Legos
Favorite Hobby - Reading and writing
Favorite non-electronic thing to do - Reading and writing and playing with family and friends and Scout
Favorite thing to do outside - Capture the Flag
Favorite Book - Harry Potter Series and from this past year - "Eleanor & Park" by Rainbow Rowell
Favorite Movie - The Harry Potter movies, The Hunger Games, and Catching Fire, and The Way, Way Back
Favorite TV show or Cartoon - Gilmore Girls :)
Favorite Restaurant - Wasabi
Favorite Outdoor Spot - "The swinging bench at the local park"
Favorite Animal - Puppy
Favorite Fruit - Kiwi
Favorite Flower - Sunflower
Favorite Tree - Weeping Willow
Favorite Vegetable - "I really don't know what my favorite vegetable is. I don't know. I like all vegetables; I don't really have a favorite. Can I say Caesar Salad?"
Favorite Snack - Popcorn or M&Ms or both 
Favorite Stuffed Animal - Menedy (stuffed cat)
Favorite Sport - Quidditch
Favorite Dessert - Cookies
Favorite Place to Vacation - The Beach or Harry Potter World
Favorite Houseguests of 2013 - "The Johnsons"
Favorite Ice Cream Flavor - Chocolate Peanut Butter and Double Dunker
Favorite Smell - Baking cookies, a new box of crayons, and books
Favorite Aisle in Department Store - Office Supplies
Favorite Song - "Safe and Sound" by Taylor Swift
Favorite Group or Singer - Taylor Swift, The Civil Wars, and Imagine Dragons
Favorite Season - Summer
B.F.F. - Kirsten
Favorite Room of the House - My room and the computer room
Favorite Day of the Week - Fridays in the summer, because of Park Days; Thursdays, because that's when Kirsten comes over
Favorite Event of 2013 - The Johnsons moving here, the Taylor Swift concert, Writer's Camp, going to the beach, and getting published 
Favorite Errand to Run - Going to the library
Favorite Outfit - Anything comfy with mismatched socks
Favorite Instrument to Play - Violin
Favorite Phrase - "Mulligan! (You know what I'm talking about, Rich!)"
Favorite Thing about Daddy - "He works hard to make everything nice. It's hard to pick one thing."
Favorite Thing about Mommy - "How you're thoughtful and like to spend time as a family. Oh, Gilmore Girls! That, too!"
Favorite Thing about Your Sibling - "How goofy he is and how he always rushes to tell me things whenever something exciting comes up."
Favorite Thing about Scout - "How much personality she has and how we're always scrambling around to please her and the different expressions she gets on her face when certain words are said like, 'stinky,' 'b-a-t-h' and 'mailman.'"   
Favorite Christmas Gift of year - "I can't pick a favorite, but I really like all the writing supplies I got from you and Daddy, the CD player from Max, the Okay-Okay (Fault in our Stars) fingerless gloves from Kirsten . . . I like everything I got."
Favorite School Subject - "We don't really do school subjects. I like what we do for history - reading books, watching documentaries, Crash Courses, rather than just reading from a textbook. I also like reading together as a family."
Favorite Family Tradition - "Everything, but especially NaNoWriMo, themed birthday parties, and the yummy treats we make around Christmas time like biscoitos and 'Christmas crack.'"
Favorite Homeschool Group Activity - Park Days
What do you want to be when you grow up? - An author, though hopefully sooner than when I'm grown up (Me: You got published this past year. You are an author!)
If you could change anything about the world . . . - "I watch far too many time travel movies and TV shows to know that if you try to change something about the world, it usually ends up causing more problems. That being said, I'd like to see world peace and equality for all."
If you could have any superpower . . . - "Flying."
Weirdest thing you can do - "I can turn one foot backward and one foot forward at the same time."
Best thing about you - (Me: Max's least favorite question; Kate: Yeah, mine, too.) "I'm a good friend. I can talk to anybody - adults, kids, toddlers, whomever. I don't know. I don't really know what to say that. Scout would appreciate for me for my tasty hands . . . as she licks me (seriously, the dog licks her hands like an ice cream cone anytime she's near her hands!). I'm creative."

Thing 2 - Age 11, 5th Grade

Favorite Color - Silver
Favorite Food - Pizza
Favorite Drink - Birch Beer
Favorite Board or Card Game - Yu-Gi-Oh!
Favorite Wii Game - Mario Kart
Favorite Online Game - Minecraft
Favorite DS game - Star Wars: Force Unleashed
Favorite Hobby - Playing Yu-Gi-Oh! (the card game) and creating games
Favorite non-electronic thing to do - Playing tabletop games or creating a game
Favorite thing to do outside - Adventure games, LARP (Live Action Role Play)
Favorite Book - The Two Towers (Lord of the Rings)
Favorite Movie - Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
Favorite TV show or Cartoon - It's a tie between Invader Zim and My Little Pony - Friendship is Magic
Favorite Restaurant - J&S Pizza
Favorite Outdoor Spot - Park/Playground - "near the two trees by the downhill slide"
Favorite Animal - Bald Eagle
Favorite Fruit - Kiwi
Favorite Flower - Nightshade
Favorite Tree - Blooming Cherry Tree
Favorite Vegetable - Caesar Salad
Favorite Snack - Pretzel M&Ms
Favorite Stuffed Animal - Zip (stuffed eagle)
Favorite Sport - Tae Kwon Do
Favorite Dessert - Mint Oreos
Favorite Place to Vacation - I really like to go to the Renaissance Faire
Favorite Houseguests of 2013 - "Rich and Brennan."
Favorite Ice Cream Flavor - Mint Chocolate Chip
Favorite Smell - Spearmint and freshly mowed grass
Favorite Aisle in Department Store - Games/Trading Cards
Favorite Song - "We'll Be Coming Back" by Calvin Harris, featuring Example
Favorite Group or Singer - Ellie Goulding, Bruno Mars, Europe
Favorite Season - Fall
B.F.F. - Rich and Brennan
Favorite Room of the House - my room and the computer room
Favorite Day of the Week - Friday and Saturday
Favorite Event of 2013- The Johnsons moving here and going to the beach with them
Favorite Errand to Run - Going to the book/game store
Favorite Outfit - "I really like this" (he points to what he's wearing) - gray shirt striped with black and purple
Favorite Instrument to Play - Piano
Favorite Phrase - "Sometimes my imagination gets away from me, too, and then it comes back with cake!"
Favorite Thing about Daddy - "That he's up for doing anything and that he loves me."
Favorite Thing about Mommy - "There's a lot of things for you AND Daddy. How you love us very much - that you put us first, always."
Favorite Thing about Your Sibling - "How she's kind and loving and plays with me sometimes" (and then in a whisper, "but very rarely!")
Favorite Thing about Scout - "How she's cute, energetic, loves playing, and loves cuddling, and gets excited when we come home."
Favorite Christmas Gift of year - Everything. I can't pick one. I love the Rogue Shadow Lego Set (Star Wars), the gaming supplies that you (Mommy and Daddy) got me, and Pinkie Pie stuffed animal from Santa/Kate, and the Stampede Nerf Gun from Gramsy and Pops
Favorite School Subject - Chemistry
Favorite Family Tradition - My birthday parties, and opening Christmas presents on Christmas Eve and NaNoWriMo
Favorite Homeschool Group Activity - Park Days
What do you want to be when you grow up? - A game designer
If you could change anything about the world . . . - "Peace and happiness."
If you could have any superpower . . . - "it would be . . . I want two superpowers: jumping really high and teleporting."   
Weirdest thing you can do - "Make it so both of my eyes are just white."
Best thing about you - "Oh, I don't want to do this! Everything I say is going to sound like, 'Oh, I'm the best' and I don't like that. (Me: It's good to know your strengths. Go ahead.) Ugh, I don't know how to say this! I like how I'm kind to people and how I'm good at Yu-Gi-Oh . . . this feels really awkward, just so you know . . . how I'm good at video games and that's it. I'm going to stop there."     

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Short Treatise on Music (Or, Where I Explore Our Personal Catalog of Music)

Lately, on my way to the hospital in the morning, I've been trying to listen to less talk radio and more music. If any of you have ever commuted anywhere you know that morning radio is problematic for two reasons: 1., the DJs are beyond annoying, and 2., they hardly play any music. I love NPR, but sometimes the news in the world is so depressing that I need a break. So, I've been listening to a lot of music lately and I thought it would be fun to do a post all about music. Plus, LMW keeps saying she'd love to see a music post from us so here I go.

* * * * * * * * * *

Trying to do a post about "music" is tough because it's so broad. How do I approach it? What do people care about when it comes to music? What do I care about?

I decided to channel my inner Jack Black (there is very little) and do it in the style of Barry from "High Fidelity." Here are a series of Top Ten lists to consider. Maybe I'm channeling my inner David Letterman instead.

A few caveats. All of these albums and/or songs come from our own collection. I decided to limit it that way so I could actually stand half a chance at finishing this thing. So, if you take issue with my lists, it may actually be more of an issue with our music collection than my musical tastes, but either way, these are my opinions. Any attempt to discredit any choice based on logic will fail because right here at the onset I'm saying, "This is what I feel, so deal with it!" ;) Also, each list is not necessarily in order from best to worst. I just wrote them as I thought of them.

(I am open to learning about more and would love to hear from anyone who wants to. I love discovering new artists or artists I really should have appreciated from the beginning.)

* * * * * * * * * *

Top 10 Jazz Albums

Jazz is my first love so that's why I started here. This list could change on a daily basis, but here it is for now.

1. Miles Davis, "Kind of Blue"

Any jazz collection missing this album can no longer be classified as a jazz collection. It instantly becomes a misguided attempt to appear cultured and knowledgeable. I'm not judgmental at all. :P "Kind of Blue" has got to be one of the seminal albums of all of jazz recording history as much for its simplicity as anything else. The actual melodies and structure is not very complex, but the things that Miles, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly, and the others do on those recordings is nothing short of incredible.

2. John Coltrane, "Giant Steps"

Love him or hate him, Coltrane's style is one of a kind and most tenor saxophone players claim him as a major influence. You could buy the album just to hear what Coltrane did on one track, "Giant Steps," and you still would have gotten the steal of the century.

3. J.J. Johnson, "The Eminent J.J. Johnson," either volume

I fully admit that I am biased so of course J.J. Johnson, arguably the greatest jazz trombonist ever, is on my list. I could easily pick any album he's ever made, but these two in particular are great representations of what he is capable of. "Turnpike" in particular has one of my favorite J.J. Johnson solos ever.

4. Dave Brubeck, "Time Out"

Brubeck's piano style is so unique and instantly recognizable, and "Take 5" is such an iconic sound. The entire album is worth a listen, too. His use of alternative time signatures is something that always blows me away no matter how many times I hear the album. (While it wouldn't make my Top 10, Brubek's interpretation of the music from "West Side Story" is phenomenal as well.)

5. Harry Connick, Jr., "We Are in Love"

I know Harry is getting a lot more popular with his time on "American Idol," but he's been cool for a lot longer than that. I remember hearing this album for the first time back in 1991. My friend Tony told me to listen to it while we were riding a train to Vancouver on a band trip. Thank you, Tony. Harry had already done the "When Harry Met Sally" soundtrack, and he covered a lot of jazz standards on his earlier piano album, but this is an album filled with originals for his big band. It epitomizes what he has brought to the jazz world.

6. Wynton Marsalis, Standard Time (any volume)

Marsalis has recorded a lot of albums in a lot of styles with a lot of different groups, but his Standard Time albums are the best. He covers just about every jazz standard you have ever heard and his style can be downright haunting. He also infuses just the right amount of New Orleans without becoming completely Dixieland.

7. Charlie Parker, Jazz at Massey Hall

Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach. "Perdido," "Salt Peanuts," "All the Things You Are," "A Night in Tunisia." I really don't have to say anything else.

8. Benny Goodman, "Live at Carnegie Hall"

If for no other reason, this album is on the list for its historical impact. This was the first big band to hit the mainstream by performing at such an iconic venue. "Sing, Sing, Sing" is the one track you have to listen to. Gene Krupa's drum solo is one of the great solos you will ever hear.

9. Dizzy Gillespie, Birks Works: Verve Big Band Sessions

Not everyone realizes that Dizzy had his own big band. He did, and this recording is phenomenal.

10. Thelonius Monk, 'Round Midnight

I don't think Monk gets nearly the recognition that he should. His use of dissonance and his simplistic style probably turn off a lot of casual listeners, but listen a little more carefully and you'll see his brilliance. Plus, how can you not love a jazz musician with a name like Thelonius Monk.

Honorable Mention: Frank Sinatra, "Sinatra at the Sands (with Count Basie & His Orchestra)"

Pair one of the greatest band leaders with one of the greatest jazz vocalists and you get one incredible recording.

(At this point Stacy is probably screaming inside about me not including Michael Buble. I will say that he would make a Top 10 Jazz Vocal Albums list, probably multiple times, but he's not quite in my top jazz albums. I will say that he is one of the best live performers I've seen ever, though.)

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Top 10 Other Albums

1. Sting, "Live in Berlin"

How can you pick just one Sting album? Even among his live albums it's tough to pick one. I'm a little sad that I didn't fully appreciate the brilliance of Sting until the past few years. With that said, I fully appreciate him now. This live album features the Berlin Symphony and is incredible.

2. John Mayer, "Where the Light Is: John Mayer Live in Los Angeles"

Mayer is one of those artists whose music I will buy without hearing it first. I've never been disappointed. He is, in my opinion, a very underrated guitarist and songwriter. This live compilation contains so many of his biggest hits that it is a must have. His cover of "Free Fallin'" is one of the best I've heard, too.

3. Dave Matthews, "Live at Radio City (with Tim Reynolds)"

Dave is another artist that has sight-unseen status in our collection. His band does great work, but even better is his duet work with Tim Reynolds. He puts all kinds of unique twists on his own songs and if you have never seen Dave live, go do it. He's a great live performer. I'd even say that he is better live than in the studio. This album is slightly better than his "Live at Luther College" album, but I couldn't fault you if you like the Luther College recording better.

4. Europe, "Almost Unplugged"

OK, don't judge me. The first record (yes, vinyl record) I ever owned was Europe's "The Final Countdown." What a great song (and album, by the way). Who didn't love it? So, a few years ago I'm looking up Europe to see what they've been up to. Apparently, they did this great quasi-unplugged album and it's wonderful. Through this discovery I also found a number of more recent albums they've done, with even more mature songwriting. I kid you not. It's worth a listen.

5. Paul Simon, "Graceland"

Funny story. The 25th anniversay of "Graceland" was in 2012. In commemoration his label released a special anniversary edition of the album. I went to our collection to see how different it was and realized we did not own it. We have a small "best of" album but not this one. Almost immediately I went out and got the album. If you're not familiar with the history of this album look it up. And then listen to all of the songs. And then listen to Simon's commentary on the anniversary album all about recording the album. And then find the SNL performance of Simon and Lady Blacksmith Mambazo back in 1987. And then think about the significance of this album in light of Nelson Mandela's passing last year.

6. Ed Sheeran, "+"

I'm not sure how you say this album's title (much like that time period where Prince used some symbol for a name), but it's irrelevant when you listen to this recording. Ed Sheeran is un-freaking-believable. His songwriting is way more mature than his age (22) would suggest, and he is incredible live. He opened for Taylor Swift on the Red tour and I was blown away when I saw him. I wish we could have seen him in a full concert. For a fun diversion look up the music video for "Lego House." It's hilarious.

7. George Michael, "Listen without Prejudice"

First there was Wham, and then there was the whole rockabilly era, and then there was that whacked out, "what the hell" period for George Michael. Somewhere after "Faith" and before his seeming descent into madness, he released this album. It seems like a heartfelt apology for his earlier albums. I remember listening to this album in high school and every time I hear anything from this album I'm immediately taken back there.

8. Peter Gabriel, "So"

Here is another album I didn't fully appreciate until the past few years. In high school I was sort of a music snob, mostly listening to jazz music and dismissing a lot of other stuff. Don't get me wrong, I listened to plenty of R&B, rap, pop, rock, whatever. I just didn't fully appreciate it all. This album has all of the Gabriel greats and has definitely withstood the test of time.

9. Mumford and Sons, "Babel"

I discovered Mumford and Sons a few years ago when they were nominated for a Grammy as the Best New Artist. They didn't win, but I was intrigued. Their first album, "Sigh No More," is phenomenal, and it's hard to place one above the other, but I give the nod to "Babel." If you have the deluxe recording there is a bonus track of Mumford and Sons playing "The Boxer." It's blasphemous to suggest that Simon's original isn't the best, but I'm just saying . . .

10. Chicago, "Chicago 17"

Chicago has been around for so long it's tough to pick one album that epitomizes the group, but the closest I can come up with is this one. If nothing else, it has all the songs I remember from my teen years. They are classics in my mind. There is also a very heavy association with meeting Stacy and our early dating and married years. She is a huge Chicago and Peter Cetera fan so their songs immediately bring that nostalgia to mind.

Honorable Mention: Genesis, "Invisible Touch"; U2, "The Joshua Tree"

You have to draw the line somewhere, and on certain days U2 easily cracks the top ten, but this is another example of a band I didn't fully appreciate until later in life. "Invisible Touch" has so many of the classic Phil Collins era Genesis songs and was one of the few cassettes of pop/rock music that I owned as a teen.

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Top 10 Recent Discoveries (or Re-Discoveries)

Some of these albums are ones that we've very recently purchased or become aware of, and some of them are oldies (or at least not incredibly recent) that I've listened to again for the first time in a while and thought to myself, "Hey! That's really great! Why haven't I listened to it in a while?"

1. A Great Big World, Is Anybody Out There?

If you've been living under a rock, or if you don't EVER watch TV or listen to the radio you may not have heard anything by these guys, but you need to right now if you haven't. "Say Something" is one of the most beautiful duets you will hear this year. I caution you against watching the music video--it is a real tear-jerker. Really, all of the songs on the album are great. To give you an idea of how great they are, Christina Aguilera heard the original version of "Say Something" and immediately wanted to rerecord it with them. That's saying something for sure. Incidentally, both versions are on the album.

2. Elvis Costello & the Roots, "Wise Up Ghost & Other Songs"

I'm not a big Elvis Costello fan. I like a few of his songs, but really his name is more entertaining than his actual music. Oh, and he's great as a guest on one episode of "Frasier." But for some reason when I heard about this album coming out I was very intrigued and the fact that the Roots are Jimmy Fallon's band intrigued me even more. This is a great funk-pop-rock kind of offering and has a lot to enjoy on it.

3. Esperanza Spalding, "Radio Music Society"

Female bassist with giant hair. Sounds like an SNL skit more than a recording artist but she is out of this world. She actually won the Best New Artist Grammy in 2011, which made her the first jazz artist to win that particular award. This recording is very accessible to jazz fans and general music fans alike.

4. Europe, "Bag of Bones"

And apparently Europe is still recording. They still sound the same, with a little added maturity. The songs are fresh and new but the feeling is still 1986. I'm a little jealous that Max ended up getting this album for Christmas and I can only "borrow" it. Although, in the world of mp3s I just uploaded it to the cloud and downloaded it to my iTunes and iPod and now I have access anytime. (Can you imagine if Doc Brown sent me to the 1960s and I said that sentence to my teenage father how he would react?)

5. John Mayer, "Continuum"

Not a new album. Not even one that totally has slipped under the radar. I was just in a John Mayer mood recently and decided to listen to this album all the way through. Challenge: Go find the track listing and find a song that is NOT great on this album. My favorite song from my relistening is "Dreaming with a Broken Heart." Simple, but great.

6. John Mayer, "Paradise Valley"

So I put two Mayer albums on here. So sue me. "Paradise Valley" is his most recent release and it is a really pleasant change from his early work. I am convinced that if it weren't for how strange he is, he would consistently get more credit for how phenomenal a musician he is. This album's genre would definitely be classified as Americana, and it goes down smooth, like Southern Comfort, or so I'm told.

7. Harry Connick, Jr., "Star Turtle"

Harry has 30 or so albums and we have all of them but one (at last count). It is almost impossible to choose just one to tell you to listen to. "She" is a gem no one really remembers, but lately I heard a bunch of songs from "Star Turtle" and was impressed. It's a concept album and I don't want to say too much for fear of not representing it well. Trust me. There are some great tracks on here.

8. Mikey Wax, "Constant Motion"

Wax is an independent artist who has slowly built up a pretty good fan base. He's a classic singer-songwriter and is the nicest guy you'll ever meet. We are horribly behind on blogging, but he did a house concert at our house a couple of years ago and was phenomenal. He's been working on a new studio album and there should be news about it sometime soon. In the meantime, support an indie artist and check him out.

9. Norah Jones, "Come Away With Me"

I feel like for a short time Norah Jones was everywhere and then she faded into a very tight niche. Her voice is instantly recognizable and this album is so soothing.

10. Trombone Shorty, "Say That To Say This"

This dude is so incredible talented it's ridiculous. First of all, he plays trombone so that's one point in his favor. His style is jazz-funk-pop-soul-whatever else brings that swagger. This is his most recent album and is an excellent sample of what he can do.

Honorable Mention: Phillip Phillips, "The World From the Side of the Moon"

American Idol winners are so easy to dismiss since so many people just figure they won a big talent show. Phillip Phillips is the real deal. I know a couple of his songs are on the edge of overplayed, but the entire album is great. If he's managed correctly he should have a very long career a la Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood.

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Top 10 "Obscure" Albums You Should Check Out

I use the word obscure only to say these are albums I haven't heard many people mention, or they may be lesser known for a variety of reasons. Some of you may take issue with me calling them obscure, but hopefully you see what I'm getting at.

1. Casey Abrams, "Casey Abrams"

It's not often that I can plug someone who didn't even crack the top half of the American Idol contestants in that year. Casey Abrams tried to do too many things on the show and ended up hurting his chances, but he is the real deal. He plays like 10 or 11 instruments on the album and does some really interesting work in the studio.

2. John Peter Lewis, "Stories From Hollywood"

Lewis was one of the weaker contestants in a weaker year for American Idol, but he fell victim to some unfair criticism by Simon Cowell. After he departed the show he bided his time for 2 years and then put out his first album. It's really strong and very unique. Funny story--we were watching "The Voice" this past year and there was a group called Midas Whale that I really enjoyed. I took one look at them and said, "Hey! That guy looks like John Peter Lewis." It turns out it was him. They've got an album coming out pretty soon here and it should be great. (We used to do an American Idol Review blog and I did a write-up about his album back in 2007.)

3. Darius Rucker, "Charleston, SC 1966"

Hootie's doing country? Yes. He has been for a few years. He's put out 3 albums as a country artist and while I'm not a huge country fan, I do love me some Hootie. I like a lot of songs off of all of the albums, but of the three, this is my favorite album overall. (His cover of "Wagon Wheel" is really fun, and it earned him a Grammy for the Best Solo Country Performance, but that recording is not on this album.)

4. Flogging Molly, "Drunken Lullabies"

This band is not obscure if you're into Irish punk bands, but most people I know are not. I really like Molly since they aren't too hard core into the punk side of things. Most of their music sounds like Irish Folk music or drinking songs infused with a heavy rock beat and sweet guitar work. This album is my favorite, especially the title track. 

5. Joshua Radin, "We Were Here"

A few of Radin's songs showed up on "Scrubs," and if you've ever seen the show, you know the music is really great. I listened a bit more to Radin's work and really liked this album. It's definitely on the mellow side, but sometimes that is exactly what you're looking for.

6. Paulo Nutini, "These Streets"

Remember that young guy from England who sang all about his new shoes? Well, I don't know why we haven't heard more about him, but his first album is a great listen. Nutini is a really talented musician that should be a bit more prominent on the scene.

7. Scrubs Official T.V. Soundtrack

The show is known for its music and this album is a fantastic compilation of some of the highlights from the first few seasons.

8. Quincy Jones, "Back on the Block" or "Q's Jook Joint"

One year Stacy bought me the huge Quincy Jones box set and there is SO much great music on there. Instead of listing the entire four CD set I'll cheat and give you a two-for-one. Jones produced a couple of albums with a variety of artists doing really interesting things. Bono and Ray Charles together singing the blues? Yeah, it's on there. 

9. Trombone Shorty, "Orleans & Claiborne"

My good friend Peter turned me on to Trombone Shorty, and when he did, I remembered that we'd seen him perform on the Christmas episode of "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip." (Don't get me started on yet another Matthew Perry television program that ended too soon.) Anyway, he and a bunch of New Orleans musicians were brought onto the show after Katrina, and they played an absolutely breathtaking version of "O Holy Night." I immediately checked out his first album and was hooked. 

10. Sting, "Songs from the Labyrinth"

Sting actually dug up some medieval lute music and recorded a whole album. It is not an album that will get you humming and singing, but this is an album that will increase your respect for Sting the musician about a hundred fold.

Honorable Mention: Weird Al Yankovic, "Alpocalypse"

Yeah, yeah. This seems like a really odd selection, but this recent album is as good as anything Yankovic was doing in the early 80s and 90s. Of course, you will need at least a rudimentary knowledge of recent pop music. "Party in the CIA." "Polka Face." "Skipper Dan." There are a bunch of great songs on here.

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All of Our Country Albums

I'd love to do a top 10 about our country albums, but the fact is we don't have that many. We're not huge country fans but there is some that we like. I'd comment if I had strong opinions or could compare it to much. I just hate to imply that we don't actually listen to all kinds of music.

1. Keith Urban, "Be Here"

2. Taylor Swift, "Fearless"

3. Billie Jo Armstrong and Norah Jones, "Foreverly"

4. Lonestar, "From Here to There: Greatest Hits"

5. Darius Rucker, "Learn to Live"

6. Keith Urban, "Love, Pain & the Whole Crazy Thing"

7. Lady Antebellum, "Own the Night"

8. Taylor Swift, "Red"

9. Taylor Swift, "Speak Now World Tour Live"

10. Taylor Swift, "Taylor Swift"

11. Darius Rucker, "True Believers"

12. Darius Rucker, "Charleston, SC 1966"

13. Wynton Marsalis and Willie Nelson, featuring Norah Jones, Two Men with the Blues

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Top 10 Songs I Wish I'd Written

Let me just say that I wish I'd written far more than these 10 or 11 songs. It's almost harder for me to pick out the songs that I'm glad I didn't write. These aren't necessarily my favorite songs overall; they're just songs that I think are incredibly well written.

1. Peter Gabriel, "Book of Love"

In my opinion, the best love song ever. I know I've mentioned it before but I just have to say it again. It is possible that I'm a bit biased because the song was used at the end of the "Scrubs" series finale, and I think that's one of the top 2 or 3 finales ever.

2. Elton John, "Your Song"

Honestly, Elton John's original isn't even my favorite version of this song, but how can you not love these lyrics? Until I became aware of "Book of Love" this was my number one love song of all time.

3. P!nk, "Just Give Me a Reason"

Brilliant duet. Just brilliant. It may have gotten a little overplayed over the past year, but it's still an example of excellent songwriting.

4. John Mayer, "Gravity"

This song is what put John Mayer on my radar. Yes, he already had a number of hits, but I heard this song at the end of an episode of "Numbers" and had to immediately look up all that John Mayer has done.

5. Sara Bareilles, "Gravity"

No, I don't have a thing for unseen natural forces. It just happens this is another great song with a familiar title. Like Mayer's song, this one also sent me scrambling to find more from Bareilles, and I was pleased to find all kinds of goodies I hadn't realized were hers.

6. Sting, "A Thousand Years"

The music and lyrics are fantastic on this song. Really, I could pick any number of Sting songs and put it here. I could probably make a list of Top 10 Sting Songs I Wish I'd Written

7. A Great Big World, "Say Something"

If you haven't heard this song, find it and listen to it (don't watch the video unless you want to bawl). Then really listen to the lyrics and see why I'm saying this. The music is simple, but such a perfect accompaniment.

8. Fleetwood Mac/Stevie Nicks, "Landslide"

This is also one of the top songs I wish I could play, too. It's, in my opinion, an iconic song from beginning to end. It definitely passes the "sigh test." You know that feeling when a song comes on and all air just leaves your lungs involuntarily and you are immediately transported to another plane of existence? Yeah, that.

9. Dave Matthews, "Mercy"

Dave is another musician that has very interesting lyrics. This is a fairly recent release so it's the DMB song that makes the cut, but at any point in my past I may have given a different answer, and all those songs would still be so awesome.

10. John Hiatt, "Have a Little Faith in Me"

Maybe it's the raspy voice. Maybe it's the great piano background. Maybe it's the lyrics. Actually, it's all three. Recently, this song came on in the car and it hit me that I wish I'd written this song.

Honorable Mention: Paul Simon, "Call Me Al"

Why do I wish I'd written this song? Let me answer by posting my favorite sequence in the song:

A man walks down the street
He says why am I short of attention
Got a short little span of attention
And my nights are so long
Where's my wife and family
What if I die here
Who'll be my role-model
Now that my role-model is
Gone Gone
He ducked back down the alley
With some roly-poly little bat-faced girl
All along along
There were incidents and accidents
There were hints and allegations

How can you not love this song? Paul Simon's songwriting is so unique and fantastic.

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So, how'd I do? What are your thoughts? What did I miss? Comment and let us know!