Wednesday, November 30, 2016

to campbell, on your 5th birthday

Dear Campbell,

You LOVE to swing. Actually, you just love to play
outdoors, swinging or not. You love to bring your shoes
to me, hoping to get them on so we can go out--even
if its bedtime, you'd still rather go out and play.
You are five years old.  FIVE YEARS OLD.  That means for 5 years, you have been a part of our lives... born two weeks early in 2011, though I guess I could say you've been a part of our lives for even longer.  Your mom carried you for 8 1/2 months, and we prayed for you, hoped for you, couldn't wait to meet who you'd be even before you were even conceived.

And we can't imagine life without you.

Okay, we maybe could, as we'd probably go to the movies more, and probably to Disney World a lot more... but what fun would that be?  You make our lives... interesting.  And joyous. And full.

So, let's talk about your year so far... frankly, my favorite movie so far as been "Arrival", starring your dad's main Hollywood squeeze Amy Adams (don't tell mom), but "Magnificent Seven" was also pretty great, as was "Doctor Strange" and "Zootopia" and "Captain America Civil War".  Who knows how many Marvel movies will be around by the time you read this.

Your dad's mancrush, The Rock, also had a movie called "Central Intelligence" and became the Sexiest Man Alive, according to People Magazine.  I think I was a finalist, but they didn't call me like I thought they would.

For music... really, who knows. Seriously, kid, I stay stuck on 90s nostalgia.  There is a group called The Chainsmokers, but that name just weirds me out so I don't listen to them, really.

On TV, we started watching a few shows like "Designated Survivor" and "This Is Us" and "Westworld" but the gem of the year is called "Speechless".  Its a family with a handicapped, special needs son, its a comedy and its wonderful.  I'm sure we woke you up from laughing... sorry about that.

Speaking of sleeping... you finally got to your big boy bed!  It was fiasco getting the bed together with the mattress, but your mom and I can finally stretch out in our own bed -- especially since when you slept with us, you tended to toss your arms and legs all over the bed. And us.  You are still working on it though... you still wake up sometimes at 5a... or 630a... or 2a... you crawl out of bed in the dark, go around the rails on your bed, then run down the hall to our room.  Thankfully, you stopped turning the lights on, but still, you do scare Mom when you get right in her face.  I randomly wake up during the night and there you are, your knee in my back.  If I didn't love you so much, you'd sleep on the porch.

At the last minute, your mom managed to get you a
Jake & the Neverland Pirates costume. You might be
the cutest pirate ever.
I gotta tell ya, kid, you are leaping and bounding in the milestone department.  You probably didn't notice how dusty it was in the house on the day you finally called me "Daddy" and not "Gaga".  Well, truthfully, its a combo of "daddy" and "daggy" and "gaggy", but it's almost perfect.  And when you look at me and yell "DAGGGYY!!!", I can barley stand the love.  Heart explode and all that such stuff.

You know how to spell your name now, Campbell!  There you were, staring at a plaque that your Aunt Brynn & Uncle Tyler got you for Christmas, and you just started spelling...

"CEE!! AH!!! AHMM!  PEEE!! BEEE!!!! AH!!! EHH!! EHH!!"

...and it was incredible.  I thought your mom and I were going to literally scream with joy.  Your other big word is

"CAT"... "CEE!!  AHH!  TEEE!" and then you yell "CAT!".

And let me tell ya, you spell the heck out of those words all day long.  And we love it.  Heck, sometimes when we aren't even paying attention, you break out into the ABC song! (you do struggle from letters K through P, but you get a pass. For now.)

Some of your favorite toys so far this year were empty egg crates (you love opening and closing them)... your numerous iPhone and iPod products you have (thanks to our friends Rachel and Mark and Bill and others)... various musical toys you have had for years now... and of course, your spelling games on your iPad.

You finally learned the potty!  This past May was an insane weekend, but with your amazing Mom taking the lead, we were able to train you to actually pee in the potty (okay, we help you aim, but still)... and you definitely know how to sit on the seat and unload.  Man, can you drop in that bowl... whew.  I'm hoping when you read this, you'll have learned how to identify your need for the bathroom without just dropping trou in the living room and letting us lead you to the bathroom. One day you'll get it that you can go faster if you pull your pants down while at the toilet than doing it in another room and shuffling there.  Just sayin'. We'll get there.

There is a local place here called Let's Play -- I can only guess it'll be around when you are reading this, and I'm sure we'll go many more times. I bring that up because it was a thrill to watch you conquer your fears... you did the ropes course there all on your own.  I mean, its a small one, lots of pedestals and ropes and bridges and tunnels, with a big net under it, but it was amazing to watch you run up to the steps, climb up, climb down, up and down and back up, then go on the little platform, then back and over and over and over... and slowly start easing your way through the course.  And I watched you from a bench, I didn't help you do any of it.  You did it all on your own, kid, and it was incredible.  You did the same with the big bounce slide thing and the other bouncy inflatable thing... if only we could get you to conquer that fear of the vacuum or the shredder or the hair dryer when they are turned on.

Here is your mom and you at a Kulture City event
last spring. You are adorable. So is she. 
Campbell, your eye contact is great, and you look at people when you say some words. You know your colors, you know many of your letters, you can do many things on your own now and I know hearing you actually say sentences is not too far away.  Mitchell's Place, your school, is doing so much for you, and Ms Kia and Ms Alison love you so much and are doing wonderful things with you!  And Kulture City took us to the zoo for an event, and though you weren't keen on a giraffe licking your hand (who is?), I know you love the animals.

This is a total cliche, but I will say it... Campbell, you may have autism, but it does not have you.  I feel like you tell Autism to "Suck it" every day, in your own way.  We'll help you keep it up.

Campbell Isaiah, you are so, so loved by so many people. Your family, your friends, our friends, even people who haven't met you in person ask about you and follow along in your pictures online.

Finally, I wanted to mention this election year.  We had two candidates -- Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump -- and Trump won.  This country is crazy right now, with all sides yelling at each other, people hating on each other because of gender or skin color or religion and all that.  I'm glad you don't understand any of this right now. Your world ends when we refuse to shuffle the cards for you (because we are trying to have dinner, so please just watch Elena of Avalor or PJ Masks til we are done... please?) and this is the only kind of oppression we hope you deal with for a long time.

Right now, you know nothing of color or religion or anything of the sort. All you see are people. All you see are hugs and smiles and maybe hands with phones in them that you can try to grab, but I want you to be this way for a long time. You are affectionate and love everyone right now. Even people who take your toys or snap at you... you forget the wrong nearly immediately.  You won't always be able to be this way... but stay this was as long as you can.

Keep loving people, Campbell.  Your mom and I want to do our best to make sure you are grounded in God's Truth and the love of Jesus, but more than anything, I want you to love God... and love other people.  And we can sort the rest out as we go.

I love you, son.


(last year's letter for Campbell's 4th birthday, with links to previous letters)  

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

the last 18 years

perhaps its bad form to point out the flaws, but you lose the strengths of doing anything only sparingly, and writing is no different.  Grammatically incorrect and structurally derp, please forgive the way its presented and just take the message... 

Today is an important day in the life of one d$.  It was on this day in 1998 that I moved to Birmingham, Alabama.  I knew no one, I had no church, I didn't know my way around... but I chose B'Ham.

Why, you ask?  Well, my original intent was Mobile, a city that I still think is cool.  My other options were Atlanta and Nashville, because I'm more of a city guy... or was when I was 23 anyway.  But job offers had not come from Mobile, but I did get one job offer from Birmingham, at a little place called Designers International.

Now, if I could go back, there are a number of things I would tell 23 year old d$ to consider before shaking Rob Zuckert's hand and agreeing to work for this company.

First, what will I be doing?  The answer ended up being going door to door, store to store, parking lot to parking lot, selling knock off perfume out of a box.

Next, ask what my starting salary would be...  The perfume was $22 a bottle, so anything price I got beyond the $22 was mine to keep.  My first week in Birmingham, I made $7.  I wish I were kidding...

Finally, ask where the door was so I could leave... this was a disaster, but that's another post.

No, the main reason I moved to Birmingham was for a girl named Amy Wible, because I thought we'd go out.  When the girl you dig says "Move here and we can see each other!", you move.  Or I did.  As it turns out, we actually didn't see each other for another 2 years, but that is also another story.

But, this day in history... my friends Allysong, Shelby, Eddie, Troy Mac, Claire and a few others helped me load my stuff into my car and into another, and we drove to Birmingham together to unload it into my new, $435 per month loft at Carousel Apartments on Lorna Road.  My friends were so cool, in fact, that we drove back to Troy, loaded up the rest of it and came back... the guys spent the night with me, the girls with Allysong (who was from Alabaster, a Birmingham suburb), and early the next day, they drove back to Troy, Alabama.  Without me.  I was on my own.

My dream, besides working at Designer International, was to catch on a radio station and maybe be behind the mic... after all, I did it for 3 years in college, so this can't be hard, right?  Or maybe work at a TV station, first in production and then perhaps, who knows, in front of the camera?

It's been 18 years since my dreams of my two years in Birmingham would surely spill into a great job in Nashville, TN, or maybe over in Atlanta, maybe with Amy, maybe not. Or maybe I'd just move to New York City for a year or so... but first, let me spend two years here, get settled, pay off some debt and then pack up and move on.

But a funny thing happened on the way to 2016.

I met a guy named Michael and ended up moving to Pinebrook Apartments with he and Shawn and Big Tom Johnson.  Then we moved to Briarberry Circle and founded The Deuce.

I joined Valleydale Baptist Church, now known as Valleydale Church (an sbc fellowship), my first -- and only -- church membership. I'm still there, despite all the changes.

I met Stephanie Campbell in our college & career group at church, and thought she was the cutest thing ever.

I got a job as a temp at Parisian Corporate, which turned into a full time sales assistant job.

I worked at a radio station as a sales assistant, and realized I didn't want to do radio as a career.

I worked at the local NBC station, again as a sales assistant, and realized it was the worst job I'd ever had.

I worked at a movie theater and learned that many high school students are lazy. But many work hard.

I reconnected with Amy and realized she wasn't the one for me (and she knew I wasn't the one for her) 

I worked at Starbucks because I decided I would pay off my debts and save up for a ring because I really, really liked that cute girl named Stephanie Campbell.

I worked at The Disney Store and it confirmed my love of all things Disney. And I realized that yes, you can have a complete broken heart when the job ends.

I worked at Starbucks again and realized, maybe years too late, it wasn't my life's goal.

I worked at Alabama Power, to help clear my head of Starbucks.

And then I became a full time travel planner.

I've been a ticket tearer, a perfume pimper, a make-salespeople-look-good'er, a barista, a shift supervisor, an assistant manager, a manager, a barista, a shift supervisor, an assistant manager, a shift supervisor, a Cast Member, an engineering contractor (!) and finally, a travel planner.
I helped start a podcast with some of my best friends, my Deucemates... I've been close to my Sunday Scho... er, Life Connec... uh, Life Gro... that group on Sunday mornings for over 10 years now... I've reconnected with my BFF Best Mate Wookiee after a few years apart... I've reconnected with my worst first date ever, Ginny Kochan... I've become friends with reality stars like Brooke from The Bachelor, now on NBC, and been put into the Million Dollar Hold by WWE Hall of Famer Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase... I joined the cult of Jon Acuff, and three years later, I can say names like "Clay Shaver" and "Rick TOOOOLIE" and "Debra Henessy" and "Liz Clark" as some of my favorite people on the planet, people that help push me to what I'm doing now...

In 18 years, I've written 1000+ blog posts... traveled the East Coast... watched 1000s of movies... read 100s of books... been to Disney World countless times, and even did the "four parks in one day" thing twice (while doing the water parks too, for a 6 parks in one day trip) and accomplished 50 attractions in 24 hours...

In 18 years, I got married to the cutest thing ever, The Lovely Steph Leann... we had Campbell Isaiah, who is the most amazing kid I know...  lost both of the people who raised me, but gained a mom who'd let me go 36 years ago... we paid off debt, we bought a house, we bought a brand new car...

And if I had moved to Mobile... I would have never had The Deuce... I would have never found Valleydale, and thusly never met The Lovely Steph Leann... I might've never met Clay Shaver or Liz Clark... Wookiee may have never come to see me in Mobile, so we would have been another case of "best buds in college, but lost touch over the years"... my life would be different.

Maybe worse, maybe just a lateral move in quality (I mean, who's to say that I wouldn't be talking about my life in Mobile, wondering what life would have been like had I moved to Birmingham instead?) but...

but... I like it like this.  For what was supposed to be a two year stop in Birmingham before moving to bigger and better... I somehow found my bigger and better right here.

Two years becomes 18, and 18 will likely become 25 and beyond.

Here's to the next 18.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

in the early hours of fathers day

"'s late at night and neither one of us are sleeping..." - "Just Take My Heart" by Mr. Big, 1991

Happy Father's Day and look, I still have a blog.

Ironic enough that I just spent the first hour or so of this, my 5th Father's Day (It's the 6th, if you count the pregnancy, which The Lovely Steph Leann does not, but I still want to give credence), getting my crying kid to go back to sleep.

The Lovely Steph Leann left earlier today to head to Salt Lake City for a Young Living convention, not to return until after next weekend... so that's a whole lot of Campbell & Daddy time between now and then.  (if you are one of those snakes who like to rob people when they think the home will be empty, just know I work from home, so joke's on you, loser).

Aunt Becky is scheduled to come into town for half of the week, but with her age and lack of mobility, that's really just an extra eye on the little guy while I get shower at a decent hour.  Hashtag unnecessary rhymes.

The afternoon has been fine... Campbell & I both had lunch, and while he played, I watched a movie ("The Death of Superman Lives", an excellent documentary on the ill fated attempt at a Superman revival in 1999 starring Nicholas Cage.  Yes, that Nic Cage).  In the early afternoon, he and I visited Let's Play, a local indoor play area, and then ran some errands to Wal-Mart and dinner.  He was pretty beat, which was according to plan, but I made him hold out until after I finished the documentary I was watching in the evening (Part 4 of the also excellent ESPN 30 for 30 film "OJ: Made in America"), and by 8ish, he was dead to the world.

For those of you who are reading this and are unfamiliar with my 4 year old, he's on the spectrum.  Most of his 4 years have been spent being rocked to sleep, so I thought I'd turn on some super daddy skillz tonight and after his bath, after putting on his pajamas, instead of rocking him, I just laid down with him in the bed.  It took him a little while to sleep, but sleep finally came... out like a little light.

I came downstairs, then knocked out the final part, Part 5, of the OJ doc, then cleaned up the kitchen a little bit... the usual, with dishes, getting food ready for tomorrow, dishes, spraying and wiping down counters and of course, dishes. All of this while starting on the final 8 hours of the 21 hour audiobook "Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows" (it's a race to the finish now, as I've gone through the other 6 books in the last few months, and their length is really slowing my pace to finish 43 books this year... it's mid-June and Deathly Hallows is only Book 16! Where was I?  Oh yes...)

The kitchen cleaned, I sat down in front of the laptop to open it for the very first time today and was just making a slight change on a Disney trip for a family (if you didn't know about Campbell, you probably didn't know I plan Disney trips for a living. #ShamelessPlug), and was listening intently as Harry was questioning Mr. Ollivander, the wandmaker, about the Elder Wand when... I heard crying.

I paused the iPod, left the laptop and everything on and ran upstairs.  There was Campbell, sitting up in bed, in pitch dark... the diffuser I had going earlier had gone out, so I fumbled for the small bathroom light to turn on.  I flipped the switch, and he just looked up at me with a pitiful look... sniffling, he reached out to me.

I got on the bed with him, stroked his hair, laid next to him and let him cry for a minute. What about, I have no idea.  See, Campbell can't tell us these things yet. He has no way of vocalizing if things hurt, if he's scared, if he doesn't feel good... all we can do is just comfort and make guesses.

I asked if he had to "go potty", and his body language said that while that wasn't making him cry, he could probably go about now.  We went to the bathroom, he went, and we came back to the bed.  I re-set the diffuser so it's light could replace the bathroom light, and could also fill the air with some oil that may help him if he was congested.  Then I lay back beside him.

And he cried and cried.  No tears, so I suppose it could be night terrors, or it could be hurting somewhere... or he could just decide that it was time to cry, right now.  I lay there with him as he cried and sometime screamed in my ear. I had some patience, but regrettably, it was wearing a little thin -- The Lovely Steph Leann is always so much better at this than I am. And she's gone.  I never resent her trips unless this happens, then I wish she'd never leave.

When I've rocked Campbell to sleep before, I usually will pray out loud for him.  I  pray for his health, I pray that he will find Christ in His timing, I pray for his development and I always pray that Campbell will begin talking -- not just the words that he can say here and there, or repeat back when we ask him to say something, but to actually communication.

This time, however, my prayers were a little more forceful. I challenged God. I asked God "Why won't you help him?  I'm not asking you to make him a typical child, or to suddenly increase his development, but You know You could snap your fingers and make him talk. You know You could blink Your eyes and he'd be asleep, without any pain he might feel right now.

God, I have a kid who can't even tell me and his mom that he loves us. I can't play LEGOs with him, I can't enjoy milk and Oreos with him, I can't take him to see Finding Dory, when I'm at Let's Play, I have to watch him even closer than most parents watch their kids because he doesn't understand whats appropriate around other kids... why won't You help him?  Why do You refuse to?!"

It's questions I think I've struggled with subconsciously for a while.  Just... why.  Keep the autism, that's fine, that's who he is and who God made him to be.  But just fix that part.  That talking part. Please.

It was at this moment I noticed Campbell was quiet. He had nestled into my left arm, which was holding him, with his head on my shoulder.  Even in the dim light, I could see Campbell's eyes open. Big, wonderment-filled eyes.  They looked around before finally looking straight into mine.  Campbell and I laid there, eyes locked for probably no more than 30 seconds, but it was enough.

And in those eyes, God spoke to me.

He said, "d$... your question to me is 'Why won't I help him?', but what you are really asking is... 'Why won't I help YOU?' He knows nothing of LEGOs and Oreos and movie theaters. These are all things YOU wish to experience with him, for him.  These are not bad things... in fact, they are wonderful things. But these are not things for the two of you to experience.  You will have your own experiences that other fathers and their children will know nothing about. Because this is the plan I have for him. And for you."

As I finished this blog post, I ran back up to take this pic... and he was in
the exact same spot that I left him. Cute little guy, ain't he.
And it made sense. It wasn't what I wanted to hear, but it did make sense.  And yes, selfishly, I want those things. But I learned many years ago -- though I still struggle with it constantly -- to not mourn what I'll be missing with Campbell, but to celebrate what I'll be getting, what me and The Lovely Steph Leann will have in our son.

Well... I'd love to tell you that Campbell went right on to sleep... but he didn't.  He rolled over, cried some more, jerked his whole body so that he essentially butt-punched me in the stomach, accidentally (I think) smacked me in the face, and cried a little more.  But finally... finally, he closed his eyes for the final time tonight (I hope) and was gone.

Which allowed me to come down here and shut everything down... allowed me to jot down my thoughts here before I did.  I've this is my 4th re-read of the Harry Potter series, so I know that Harry, Ron, Hermione and Griphook are about to take on Gringotts (#NerdAlert) so no need to continue that tonight.

Happy Father's Day to you fathers out there. Take a bow.  And to those who are mourning the loss of their own father, I grieve with you, as the man who raised me passed 16 years ago.  And to those fathers who have lost loved ones, I nod to you as well.

Dads... remember... this day is about you. But it's always about them.  And always will be.

(ps... because it's now 207a, my usual terrible lyrical style was made even more terrible, so please excuse the bad grammar, misspelled words and lack of proper punctuation)

Friday, March 18, 2016

american idol's last hurrah

I'm not sure that anyone but myself, The Lovely Steph Leann and our friend Cindy Jo is actually watching American Idol this season.  Heck, I stopped doing Idol blogs years ago, even before the dumpster fire that was the Mariah Carey/Nicki Minaj season...

SIDEBAR -- I'm proud to say I've been alive for the entire five or six years that Nicki Minaj has even been a thing, and I'm proud to say I haven't heard more than five seconds of any Minaj song.  I know she has one called "Starship" or "Spaceship" or something, but I only know it because the title appears on my screen on SiriusXM, but I'm quick to turn it.  To be fair, she does add a little flair to the Jessie J/Ariana Grande song "Bang Bang" which I want to publicly denounce, but deep down in the iPod of my heart, it sits next to "Party in the USA" as "My Jams" 

OTHER SIDEBAR -- I don't know a lot about Jessie J, other than she sorta looks like a poor man's Idina Menzel.  And honestly, I'm trying not to like Ariana Grande because she's really flaky, but darn it if I actually kinda like her.  Let's move on.

Where was I?  Oh yeah...

Anyway, we are rocketing towards the finale like a Meat Loaf album title (wait for it) and most unexpectedly.  The Lovely Steph Leann and I have had more than one conversation about how Idol has been a mainstay for Fox for a decade and a half, making it a bajillionty dollars, and yet, it's as if the execs at Fox said "Get it done and over as quick as possible."

So much so that we are chunking two at a time in the past few weeks, not even a separate results show, and seriously, I freakin' miss the Silver Stools of Doom that the Bottom Three had to sit on to await their fate!

I figured they would have at least a full Top Ten, even after that quick slashing of the Top 24... but nope. Knocking two out, then two more, then another, all under the guise of "Judge's Save", giving the power to Harry Connick Jr, Jennifer Lopez & keith urban to pick the best of the Bottom 3 to remain.

Anyway, tonight's show was the Final Six, soon to be a Final Five, as the judges use the "last Judge Save".  I didn't even know we were calling it that.

Who do we have?  Sonika Vaid, with her old school Demi Lovato teeth gap... Tristan McIntosh who, for the life of both myself and The Lovely Steph Leann, we cannot figure out how she made it this far... Mackenzie Bourg, who strikes me as very toothy... Dalton Rapattoni, the token eyeliner-wearing guy on the show... Trent Harmon, who is The Lovely Steph's Leann's favorite and seemingly a pretty cool guy... and La'Porsha, the big haired prohibitive favorite who can not just sing, but SAANG.

Here are my thoughts on tonight's episode...

First... Harry made some comment about how this is the final night to use the save, and said something about how everyone is bringing it tonight because they haven't used it yet... but actually, when he said it, the Judge's Save had been used about 10 minutes prior to save Sonika.  This show IS live, right?  Are they pulling a Seacrusty Fakery on us?

Second... Olivia Rox should still be here.  Avalon shouldn't have lasted this long, just like Tristan.

Third... If Idol were to continue, La'Porsha's version of Mary J. Blige's "No More Drama" would go down in A.I. folklore as one of those seminal moments on the show, a la "Summertime" by Fantasia or David Cook's version of "Hello" or Carrie Underwood's "Alone"... something you remember for years to come.

Fourth... While it's never a wrong time to have the performance of your season, like MacKenzie did tonight, it's not quite as magical when you blow everyone away with a tender version of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" only to have everyone be blowered awayer more when La'Porsha comes up.

Fifth... This is perhaps the first season that I could see anyone in the Top Four actually winning and being successful (which is a relative term for Idol, because though we have Kelly, Carrie, Daughtry and a few others, we also have DeWyze and Bowersox and many more forgotten names).  I say four because Sonika will likely be dropped next week.  It's time.

Sixth... Do you mean to tell me that Idol listened to the fans and American actually chose "Wild World" by Cat Stevens?  I'd almost guarantee that 88.4% of the Idol audience had no idea who sang "Wild World", and probably 67.9% of that group may not even know who Cat Stevens is.  I smell shenanigans.

Seventh... Its a joy to watch J-Lo, Harry and keith do their thing, because you can tell they truly are having a great time.  People complain that since Simon left, it's gone downhill, but I am one of those people who didn't watch for the disasters, I watched for the talents.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed William Hung and "Pants on the Ground" like anyone else, but I have really reveled in watching the real artists emerge (long live Julia DeMato!), and our three judges feel the same.

Eighth... While not in this episode, go out and find Kelly Clarkson's version of "Piece by Piece" from a few weeks ago, her new song.  Holy crap.  It might be the best performance Kelly has ever pulled off.

Ninth... Speaking of returning Idols, what is Adam Lambert doing that he can't take 2 hours and sit at the table and judge?  Or work with the Idols a little?  Seriously... Kelly Clarkson is like forever pregnant, but sat right down and did a great job helping the Idols, and THEN performed.  I give a pass to Carrie Underwood but Adam Lambert?  Sit yo' butt down and talk to these kids.

Tenth... I'll admit, I like Tristan, but I agree with Harry when he says that she's uber talented, but just not ready for this.  Which is annoying, because he was one of the three people that put her into this Top Ten limelight, but there it is.  She sang a Martina McBride song for the 2nd week in a row, and while last week's "Broken Wing" saved her bacon (she did it justice), this week she did a piano ballady version of "Independence Day".  That's not a song you can make into a ballad, or at least not easily.  And while she sang okay, the song lost its umph with her version.

Last point... Tristan and Sonika were in the Bottom Two, and had to sing to try and earn the Judge's Save.  While Tristan did the aforementioned "Independence Day", Sonika chose to sing, "Demi Lovato's 'Let It Go'"

This led to a deep chat between myself and The Lovely Steph  Leann, because I was somewhat bugged by the fact that it was "Demi's 'Let It Go'"  I immediately piped up with "That's Idina, not Demi.  What the heck?"

The Lovely Steph Leann:  Yeah, but Demi did it
Me: No, Demi did a version of it.  That's Idina Menzel's song.
The Lovely Steph Leann:  Yeah, but Sonika is doing Demi's version of the song
Me: Then Seacrest should say that she's doing Demi's version of an Idina song.
The Lovely Steph  Leann: It's just like when the Carpenter's did "Ticket to Ride".  You don't say they did the Beatles "Ticket to Ride", they did their own version of it.
Me: (Pause): Yeah, but still.

And as usual, she's right.  Still Idina's song.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Favorite Ten Books of 2015

Well, hi.

I won't blither on about not writing or blogging or how I miss it and so on and so on... done that already.  You can even read about that here.

The important thing is, here I am!

So, now that the first month of the year is over, I thought before the clock strikes midnight and I turn into a pumpkin... or at least, pumpkiner... I thought it best to get something in.  See that link filled side bar over there ----- >  ?  Well, if you miss a month, then a month doesn't show up because there's nothing there... and I really don't want to not have January 2016 there.

To my point... people who know me know I'm an junkie.  I'm so super busy right now the only way I can possibly "read" is by listening to audiobooks... I can listen while I drive, while I work around the house and sometimes as I sit and work on Magic on a Dollar fun Disney travel stuff...

You should read this book.  Okay, I should read this book, and I will
when I can. Its not on audio, so it will take some time.
My goal in 2013 was 25 books, and I did 27.  In 2014, I went up to 35, and knocked out 37.  And last year, I had a goal of 40, and got right to 40... I would have gotten a few more, but I waited the last two weeks of the year to sit down with my dear friend Kinda Wilson's new book "The Echo Factor", but was unable to find the time.  So sitting at 39 books, I panicked and sorta did a cheap move by going through a 90 minute book (I have done podcast episodes longer than that...) called "20,000 Days" by Robert Smith.  It was all about how we need to make the most of every day... and it was okay.  If you really want a book covering that topic, read my favorite book of 2014, "Moment Maker" by Carlos Whittaker.  That will change your life.

Back to the topic at hand.  This year, my goal is 43 books.  I felt 45 was just a little too much, and since I upped my previous goal by 3, I did the same for 2016.  At this writing, I just finished my 5th book of the year.

And don't even ask me about my movie goal... you will literally think I do nothing but listen to audiobooks and watch movies.  Okay, you asked, my goal is 150 new-to-me movies, and I'm currently at 20.  On pace for 240 films.  No way I make that, I promise you, but still.

SIDEBAR shout out to my friends Jessica Jobes and Writer Chris Holmes, who I have found myself with as "BookTriplets"... and shout out to Rick Theule and Megan Hall, also avid readers who's suggestions I take seriously. 

So without further meandering nonsensically, here are my favorite 10 books of 2015:

10) Outliers - Malcom Gladwell... My friend May Bohon recommended this, and its all about how success can be mostly attributed not to personal ambition but to our surroundings and environment.  This might also be the book that coined the idea that to be an expert in something, it takes 10,000 hours of doing it. I did like his theories, but I did feel like he put only a slight emphasis on hard work and ambition. Still, very well written.

9) Go Solo - Kelsey Humphreys... If you are going on a solo venture business wise, you need to read this book.  Lots of practical advice, lots of things to consider and think through.  I met Kelsey at a conference last summer (I actually took the stage to speak after she did!) and really liked what she's doing here.

8) Troublemaker - Leah Remini... That's right, Stacy Karosi from Saved by the Bell wrote a book and its all about her life in the scam known as Scientology.  And how she got out of it, and the aftermath since. It doesn't pull any punches, and really gets juicy when discussing her disdain for Tom Cruise... and her disdain is utter and clear.  She shares various stories of the ridiculous life she led and eventually left, and with her narrating the audiobook, its filled with great sarcasm and snark.

7) Gray Mountain - John Grisham... Breaking the mold of focusing on a single case, this story actually follows a young lawyer and her internship in a small Virginia coal mining town. In his writing, its evident that Grisham doesn't like the coal industry, but he does keep that to a minimum here with a few twists and turns, and this book has something that many of his books do not -- a satisfying ending.

NOTE:  I interchanged the next five books about four times.  What was #2 was #6 and #4 at one time, I swapped #5 and #6 about three times and the only thing that stayed the same was my favorite book of 2015.  So know that I love all of the following books nearly equally and only ranked them because I sorta had to.  

6) Finders Keepers - Stephen King... The second in what will be a trilogy (Mr. Mercedes was first, and End of Watch is coming in June to finish it), about Detective Bill Hodges.  Nothing supernatural, just a great suspense story of a boy who finds a big reward and then suffers its consequences. It's thrilling, edge of your seat tense and it has a fantastic finish.  Excited about the last one in June!

What makes this audiobook so good is that Al
does his own narration -- its like a trusted,
loved old uncle telling stories.
5) You Can't Make This Up - Al Michaels & L. Jon Werthem... My favorite memoir of the year, and its even better because Al narrates it himself.  Starting at the beginning of his career, he tells story after story of the small moments and the big ones too -- covering the 1989 San Fran earthquake and responding to 9/11 -- and he doesn't mind giving you a little guff for those he doesn't care for.  Like Howard Cosell.  Al don't like him no Cosell, trust me on this.  So much fun.

4) Dark Places - Gillian Flynn... The more I read this book, the more it stuck with me. It's the story of Libby Day, a child survivor of a family massacre that her brother is currently serving a life sentence for committing... but a few circumstances and chapters later, that is all drawn into question. Libby's unlikability is buoyed by a likable sidekick and all culminates in a heckuva ending. I enjoyed Gone Girl, but liked this one even more. (I had high hopes for the movie, and it was a letdown all the way around...)

3) Do Over - Jon Acuff... My favorite non-fiction book of the year, and the only book that I've ever (this year or other) re-started as soon as it was finished.  Read it twice in four days.  Jon Acuff writes what he knows, and what he knows is helping other people find who they are supposed to be.  I have had two Do Overs in three years... one in 2013, and one last August, and so this (along with "Go Solo" by Kelsey Humphrey) made for a great help in getting me started on my #LEAP of working from home.  Even if you are a little dissatisfied with your career or where you are in your life, I cannot recommend this book enough.  Tons of encouragement, instructions, guidance, life lessons and plenty of queso jokes.

Lots of language, but lots of fun
2) Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins... When Rachel takes the train, she makes up stories for the people she sees along the journey to work, stories that are better than her own sad, pathetic life.  But one day she sees something wrong, something suspicious, something that doesn't make sense... and this sends her into a spiral and sends this story into a slow burn thrill ride.  I guessed the ending a few chapters before it was over, but that didn't stop me from loving it just as much.  Can't wait for the movie, because I am excited to see what they do with it, and also because I love me some Emily Blunt.

1) The Martian - Andy Weir... Holy stinkin' crap this book was stellar and amazing.  Either you've seen the movie or you've heard of it, but it not, the story is that Mark Watney gets stranded on Mars after a Mars landing trip has an accident. The story follows not only Mark in a first person narrative, but those in his ship and those back on Earth as they try to save him. It's tense, funny, and though you'd think it would be technical, it is actually explained through jokes and in simple terms for us, the silly reader, to get.  This will be a re-read in a few years.

Other books I really enjoyed this year:
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton... The movie followed the book fairly well, but the book has more death and a main character who lives in the movie has their fate left unknown in the book.

Bossypants by Tina Fey... I love Tina Fey.

The Missing Ring by Keith Dunnavant... The story of how the Alabama Crimson Tide was essentially robbed of the national title in 1966 (and this was a legit claim for once).

Deliver us by Kathryn Casey... My favorite true crime writer tells tales and shares stories of the infamous murders and disappearances along The Killing Fields, the stretch along I-45 on the eastern border of Texas.

You Might Be a Zombie and Other Bad News by the Editors of One of my favorite humor sites culls together some of their funniest (true) articles, with titles like "Five Fight Moves that Only Work In Movies" and "Four Greatest Things Ever Accomplished While High" and my favorite, one that describes dolphins as "sex crazed thrill killers", the chapter called "The Six Cutest Animals That Can Kill You".

And books I re-read this year (that didn't qualify for the Top Ten of 2015, but were obviously great because I took time to re-read them):

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin... Loved it as a kid, and I actually didn't remember a single thing about it.  It was like reading a new book.

Salem's Lot by Stephen King... My favorite King book, and I go through it every few Octobers.

The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans... I love reading this around Christmas time.

Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone by JK Rowling... Re-read the entire series every few years.  Usually I go straight through, but in 2016, I may sprinkle them in all year.

And finally... books on tap this year... the aforementioned Kinda Wilson's "The Echo Factor"... Corie Clark's "The Simplicity Project"... Drew Barrymore's "Wildflower"... Amy Poehler's "Yes Please"... Jen Kirkman's "I Can Barely Take Care of Myself"... Ethan Bryan's "Catch & Release"... Justin Fisher's "Conehatta, Cerebral Palsy & the Cross "... a reread of James Stewart's "Disney War"... and more Harry Potter. Oh, and my buddy Clay Shaver has one coming out too...

That's obviously an incomplete list.  With the five I've read, plus those right there, that still puts me 29 short.