Wednesday, February 17, 2021

rush is right

 Rush Limbaugh died today. Here are my thoughts. They are my thoughts, and while I usually have no problem with dissenting opinions, if you decide to take this time to trash, insult, and make false claims, I'll just delete your comment. Simple as that.

One of the compliments I hear often when I discuss politics on a random thread, or the rare times when I post here, is that i don't make it personal, I come at it with facts in my pocket, and am amenable to changing my mind on certain things. It doesn't happen a lot, but it has happened. And sure, you may not agree with anything I say, and that's okay, sometimes even the same facts are used to strengthen an opinion on both sides.
Now, what I'm about to say may put one sentence in your mind that will be hard to forget, that being "Well, no wonder he thinks all that stuff he thinks". And I have no problem with you thinking it. Because I don't hold a belief in any opinion anymore without having reasons why. But it wasn't always this way, but probably in the last 10 years or so.
Where did I learn this? Rush Limbaugh. I've already scanned social media and seen some of the disgusting things said already, about "burning in hell" and "lies and vitriol" and such, and it makes me think back to what Rush always said -- you cannot understand his show by listening for one day, or even a week. He, maybe jokingly, maybe not, said you have to listen to his show for six weeks to make an accurate assessment.
In college, I was on the air for 2 hours every day at WTBF, playing the best of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, then worked the board for the first hour of Rush, from 11a to noon (CST). I was a Democrat, thought Bill Clinton was cool, and honestly, paid no attention to politics. Beyond six weeks, I listened for 9 months and while I wasn't sold, it taught me a different perspective... or, as I'm proud to say most people cannot say about themselves, it taught me there IS a different perspective.
Rush never told me or anyone who listened what to think. He was like all shows that did play a sound bite and he picked the context in which to discuss it, which left me with no option but to go find the full context -- and way more often than not, his context was correct.
All told, I've listened to his show pretty much daily since 1996, ended up voting for Bob Dole in my first Prez election, and have learned an infinite amount of history, wisdom, and strategies for debating and arguing my point. I didn't always agree with Rush, and sometimes he was bombastic. I would hear CNN take a Rush bite, or see people on twitter say "OMG RUSH SAID THIS EVIL THING" then see the "evil" thing and laugh, knowing the full context and weight of what was actually said.
He wasn't perfect. His nicknames were usually hilarious, occasionally too much, but many times on point. He had a Rx addiction problem many years ago that he openly discussed and took time to deal with. And no, he didn't make fun of Michael J Fox. He made a point about how Fox was being used by the media, a point that I agree with to this day.
Rush believed in American exceptionalism, and the pure belief that capitalism will help a nation thrive, conservative works, and that liberalism doesn't. Extreme positions? Maybe. But I'm not seeing a whole lot of evidence to the contrary.
The media overall hated him but wouldn't be where they are without him, playing those very same soundbites out of context. Hannity, Shapiro, Beck, would have had a much harder road had it not been for Rush. He lived in the heads of so many in the media, and even when they tried to compete (Air America anyone?) they failed miserably. By the way, I listened for a week to Air American. It was so freaking bad. Chuck D and some other dude spent a whole hour making "W Bush is so dumb" jokes. Like, what? Where was I?
Not until the advent of podcasting did Rush have any real competition -- and even then, it was a different medium.
I will miss Rush immensely. When he announced he had Stage 4 cancer last year, I knew we didn't have him for much longer. And when he came back on the air in January, I knew that his time was even more limited, and I smack myself for never trying to call in. He was my afternoon news update, a break from the I HATE TRUMP SO MUCH WAAAAA screaming that CNN, and even some parts of Fox, gave me daily.
Finally, Rush openly professed a love of God, and more pointedly, a belief in the fullness of Christ. So while Twitter is flush with "he's burning in Hell!" tweets from people who said the same about Billy Graham, if you have a belief in the Bible -- the whole thing, not the warm fuzzy parts -- then rest assured, Rush is having a pretty good day right now. (I've legit lost 3 followers in the 20 minutes since I tweeted about my mourning for his passing)
Thanks Rush for all you taught me. You get some rest now. After 25 years, I think your tens of millions of listeners and fans can take it from here.
your friend and loyal patriot
d$
xoxoxo

Thursday, January 07, 2021

late night you tubery: the music video

So I originally wrote this as a Facebook post over the course of an hour, but I realized it was way too long -- heck, I never read long FB posts, so why should you? Figured I'd copy and paste my ramblings here, and then if you wanted to come see them, then ok.

Here are my random thoughts... So I'm making the kid's lunch for tomorrow, and getting his supplements ready for the next few days. This is normally a task I'd knock out in 20 minutes, but it took me over an hour tonight. Why?

Well, I made the decision -- right or wrong -- to open up YouTube and let a music playlist go... and because I've watched these videos a ton, it knows what I want to see... and as each video played, I had some thoughts.

“Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke.  I love this video, but not for the reason you think... no, I love it because I love watching T.I. do that ridiculous dance he does. T.I. Dance gives me joy.  Also, this is a great parody of "Word Crimes" by Weird Al.

“Timber” by Pitbull ft Ke$ha. Was anyone else shocked when they found out that awesome female voice in the backup was the same voice that actually sang “brush my teeth with a bottle of Jack” in that ridiculous “Tick Tock” song?

“Cake By the Ocean” by DNCE. Anyone else still weirded out by whichever Jonas that is dropping the F bomb so many times?

“Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye. Has to go down as one of the best one hit wonders ever. Also does anyone else nearly scream the “Cut me out” part? real quiet “you didn’t have to” then loudly “CUT ME OUT!!!” This song is so great. The video is paint by numbers on acid. And if you don't like feet, the first 10 seconds of this video will give you the skeeves. 

but you treat me like a stranger and it
FEELS SO ROUGH
“Fireball” by Pitbull. Who put another freaking Pitbull on here? (Hint-it was me. I like Pitbull) Also, the “we’re taking we’re taking we’re taking it down/bringing it back” part is a bucket list item of mine to do on stage with a raucous crowd. One day. 

“Ex’s & Oh’s” by Elle King. First up, Ron Schneider’s daughter. Wat. Second, this is an Incredible driving song. Great drums. Good for counting.

“Run-Around” & "Hook” by Blues Traveler.  Let’s be real. Anyone can learn “WAP”. You just say a bunch of raunchy words and try to have as little talent as possible. Blues Travelers songs take some real work to learn. And “Run-Around” and “Hook” is one of the best one-two punches by any band ever. “Hook” has Paul Schafer, but “Run-Around” has the Wizard of Oz theme, and is slightly more fun to sing. Advantage.

“Impression That I Get” by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. AAAAAAAHHHHH NEVER HAD TO KNOCK ON WOOD BUT I KNOW SOMEONE WHO HAS WHICH MAKES ME WONDER IF I COULD... you know it. Keep going it. Flailing around enhances the experience. 

“Flagpole Sitta” by Harvey Danger. I legit just laughed when this song started. It’s so stupid... and so freaking catchy... plus the lead singer (I found out later is Sean Nelson) looks like a total dork, which helps me relate. "Been around the world and found that only stupid people are breeding" is a line that just owns me.  And no kidding, I just hopped across the kitchen to the fridge to the beat of this song...

“Cumbersome” by Seven Mary Three. It’s an outrage, nay, a scandal, that 4 Non Blondes get their suck tune** on heavy rotation on SiriusXM and I never hear this song. Cumbersome freaking RULZ. And I nearly blow out my vocal cords doing the raspy voice. Worth it.

**the song I reference here is "What's Up". I have determined that I hate this song more than any other song in the history of life. I deplore this song. Were I being tortured, I could endure toenail pullings and teeth drilling, but continuous play of this might make me tell the bad guys where the money is. Toss in my 2nd worst most hated song ever, "Get What You Give" from the New Radicals, and maybe my 3rd most worst hated song ever, "Anything By Cardi B with Special Emphasis on Bodak Yello", and frankly, I'm just going to die of awesome deficiency.

I have a hard time dealing with how
adorable she is in this video.
FINALLY

I have two fave songs in the whole wide world, ever. Like all time. Not ironically, like, legit 1a and 1b. 

“Love Song” by Sara Bareilles is one of them. This song is perfect. Flawless. And the video is also awesome. I listened to it, then restarted it so I could watch it before I went to bed.

Okay, that's it. I also saw "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley but forgot to write it down, so... next time.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

the not top ten best books of 2019 (part 1)

So, hey!  Happy New Year!  So you may be thinking "Oh, it's the last day of 2020, so this must be the favorite book list of 2020, right?"  Nope... I have had this draft, half-written, in my drafts for 8 months, so I thought since 2020 is not officially over yet, it would be a good time to finish it...

So here is my report on books read in 2019:

Every year, I list my Top Ten Fave books of the year, and while they can be from any year, they have to be first time reads for me.  In 2019, I actually only re-read two books, both I've read several times through the years, leaving the rest as brand new.  Of course, when I say "read", I do mean audio, because that's reading too... to the tune of 344 hours listened to via Audible.

So let's look at the books I read that didn't make the top ten... and I'll number them - not by the order in which I read them, but just to keep track of how many (for my own purposes because I'm bad at math)

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THE COMEDIANS
These are a handful of books written by actors and stand up comics, usually telling their story with lots of jokes and such

I was all in on the first season of "The Unbelievable Kimmy Schmidt" on Netflix.  The star, Ellie Kemper, I found to be just flippin' adorable, and so when she released (1) My Squirrel Life, a memoir of sorts, I had to grab it. In fact, it was the very first book of 2019 for me... and I was delighted. Its short, its sweet, and it's fun... though I cannot tell you that I remember much about it. I just remember liking it.


When my friend Amarylis (by morning, up from San Antone) said she had read David Spade's
(2) Poloroid Guy in a Snapchat World, I nodded. I had been circling that one for a while on Audible, and was trying to decide if I wanted to read it.  I finally pulled the trigger, and liked it. He's got another, Almost Interesting, and I'm undecided. Perhaps.

Another comedian I enjoy is Greg Fitzsimmons, and had heard Fitz discussing his book (3) Dear Mrs Fitzsimmons on the Adam Carolla podcast.  The book is somewhat of a memoir of sorts, told through a series of letters filled with funny stories of growing up.  I found it amusing, but it wasn't my favorite.  It was a well done book, just not my jam.

Finally, Annabelle Gurwitch, who I've always loved from the old school Dinner & a Movie program on TBS, put together a collection of monologues and essays called (4) "Fired! Tales of Jobs Gone Bad", as she, plus comedians like Taylor Negron, Paul F Thompkins, Dana Gould, Paul Feig, and more tell tales of how they were kindly -- and unkindly -- asked to leave various jobs. Hilarious.

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RE-READS

Might as well toss these in... the two books I re-read this year are Richard Paul Evans (5) "The Christmas Box", a short but lovely little story of a family moving in with a well-to-do matronly saint of a woman, to assist, and discovering that family is the most important thing. It's a great story to help that Christmas spirit.

Another re-read is one that I read once every 2-3 years, so I'm likely on my 4th or 5th reading of (6) "Salem's Lot" by Stephen King. Its one of my all time favorite books, and while somewhat dated (it takes place in the fall of 1975), its thrilling. If you didn't know the main villain of the book going in, it's a masterful way of slowly unspooling the horror of the story. 

Speaking of Stephen King...

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GRISHAM & KING

My unspoken, unconscious vow to read all Grisham novels continued in 2019, as I read the older classic (7) The Chamber, about an idealistic law student who is trying to save his racist grandfather from the electric chair. Grisham books are never bad, but this one was a little sluggish... I also watched the movie of the same name, starring Chris O'Donnell and Gene Hackman, aka, "The movie where Hackman destroys O'Donnell in every scene he's in".  So, I can say that The Chamber part of my life is closed for good.  Not so with (8) The Reckoning, however, which tells the story of Peter Banning, who one day long ago drove into a small town and shot in cold blood the local preacher, then gave himself up.

The power that Stephen King has on me is pretty ridiculous, as I do read -- and always have read -- anything he releases.  It's a little personally unnerving, as he politically hates me, but I'm still a fan.  One book that had previously eluded me, and intimidated me, was (9) Four Past Midnight, which contains four smaller... and smaller is a relative term, as this sumgun is just under 30 hours on audio... novellas, including "The Langoliers", about a very unfortunate, dark flight into madness... "Secret Window, Secret Garden", about an author who's own characters are driving him into madness... "The Library Policeman", about a library who's secrets are simply madness... and "The Sun Dog", my favorite of the bunch, about a very sinister Polaroid camera. And yeah, madness.

I dug the book as a whole, and it skirted my Top Ten, as did The Reckoning, but both authors have books in my Top Ten of 2019 already.

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THE WRASSLIN BOOKS... AND ANOTHER SPORTSER BOOK

Read two books on the fake sport that I love so much... and yes, I realize that while it's fake, the injuries are very real and so on and so forth. but nonetheless, first up was (10) Best Seat in the House, by former WWE and now current AEW announcer Justin Roberts. One of Roberts lifelong goals was to be a wrestling announcer, so it gives his take on his pursuit of, and finally achieving that goal -- and as all know, sometimes that goal isn't all we wanted it to be.  It's got some great stories, and I believe him, though it does come across as a little whiny in a few spots.

The other was by a guy named Sean Oliver, who has been around wrestling for a long, long time. In this book (11) Kayfabe: Stories You're Not Supposed to Hear from a Pro Wrestling Production Company, he does in fact tell some stories, though I'm unsure of whether I should have heard them or not.  The book is more of a history of his production company, Kayfabe Commentaries, which does extensive interviews with past and present wrestling superstars, and releases them on DVD and digital. The book does chronicle stories from the world of WWE, WCW, ECW, and more, and though I enjoyed the stories, it did come across as a long advertisement for his studio.


For the uninitiated... "Kayfabe" (kay-faybe) means "in story". As in, when wrestlers are in a match, they are in character, and you stay in character before and after a match. You never "break kayfabe" unless it's something major, like a serious injury, or you are "shooting", which means you are talking real life in a ring. When someone breaks kayfabe, and shoots, it's always entertaining. See CM Punk's "Pipebomb" or Nash & Hall's big hugs before they left WWF in the 90s.

While not Wrasslin, it has nowhere else to go, so I'm sticking Jeff Pearlman's (12) Football for a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL here. The subtitle explains it all, and it's an excellent bit of sports history, and the words "crazy rise" and "crazier demise" are right on point. It's a wild story, and yes, Donald Trump added to that second part.  

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ONE SHOTS

Does it count if there is only an audio book, and not a tangible book?  Well, I'm counting it anyway, so there.

Author Curtis Sittenfield wrote and released a short book called (13) Atomic Marriage, about a hotshot Hollywood writer who is sent to a small Alabama town to interview a pastor who has written a book about marriage. A 12-step process, actually, on how to stay together physically, emotionally, mentally and so on. Of course, Heather, the writer, has her doubts on what this Alabama hick can teach her (and honestly, I was a little timid on how it would treat the South) but to my, and the reader's, delight, that's not at all what happened.  It's a wonderful little book, even with the ending that seems to just... well, end. I liked this quite a bit, and I wished it was actually longer.

In all my years of listing my Top Tens, the first time I ever listed a book purchased at a book fair was... well, right here. (14) "Where is Walt Disney World", part of a "Where Is..." series, this one by Joan Hulab. It's pleasant, written on a kid level, giving general history and location of The Most Magical Place on Earth.  

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STAGE PLAYS & SCRIPTS

I'm a huge fan of stage plays and screenplays. I have a few on my bookshelf, and I like the way the word is presented, as opposed to a narrative (much like "Harry Potter & the Cursed Child" is done, but I just can't bring myself to read it yet.)

So I knocked out several of these, including (15) I Love Lucy: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Sitcom by Gregg Oppenheimer, about the creation of the classic television show by way of Lucy and Desi. Enjoyed it, though wanted more from the story.

David Mamet is one of my favorite playwrights and so I found (16) Speed the Plow to read. It's about a Hollywood producer's who's influence is tested when he's torn between a promising script and a hot chick. If I had a dime for every time I had to make such a decision...

(17) The 64th Man, by Bryan Tucker and Zach Phillips, is about a washed up athlete trying to get back in the league while dealing with his own love life and family. I found it... boring. 

Neil Simon is one of my favorites, and I've been picking his plays up all along for the last few years, and in 2019, I liked (18) Lost in Yonkers, a Pulitzer & Tony Award winning play about two teens living with their grandmother in Yonkers during World War II.  The other Neil Simon play I read in 2019 will be coming later.

Another drama that I didn't enjoy as much, though still was drawn into, was (19) Dinner with Friends from Donald Marguiles, a Pulitzer Prize winning story of two couples, their secrets, divorce, and friendship. It's heavy. 

Finally, there was (20) Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers, by Geoffrey Cowans and Leroy Aarons, about the struggle the Washington Post had to release the classified US documents about the Vietnam War.  It was engaging and tense, even though I knew the outcome.  


And then Check out the TOP TEN BOOKS OF 2019

the not top ten books of 2019 (part 2)

Make sure you check out part 1 of the books I read last year that didn't make my Top Ten... and then be sure to check for my Top Ten Books of 2019.

The numbers continue from the previous post -- again, not in the order I read them, but just to keep up with what I've listed. Also, again, bad at math and all that. 

BE MORE ORGANIZED AND IMPROVE YA SELF

While I'm not necessarily into "self help" books, I do read some if I really like the concept and the author.  I'm a big fan of Ashley Eckstein, the voice of Ahsoka Tano in "Star Wars: the Clone Wars", and a legend around Star Wars circles, and while I did enjoy (21) It's Your Universe, I recognize I'm not the target audience.  But, even not being a chick, this book still is good for everyone. 

It's her story of becoming a voice over artist, and eventually becoming the voice of Ahsoka Tano (though Rosario Dawson is playing her in The Mandalorian, and I'm excited about this, because I love Rosario Dawson hey boo).  It's a book about setting a goal and going after it, and I aligned with it nicely.

I'm also always looking for great books on the clean up process, because... well my house needs a good clean up. Hence reading Robin Zasio's (22) The Hoarder in You. Zasio is known for being one of the main people in the "Hoarders" series on A&E, and while nothing here is revolutionary, it's still a good reminder of how truly easy it is to get organized, it's just having a plan and doing it.

If you are kicking yourself for not accomplishing all that you wanted in 2019, or even 2020, though that's an entire other discussion, then... well, (23) In Conclusion, Don't Worry About It, the book by Lorelei Gilmore herself, Lauren Graham.  Lauren, a Gilmore, a Braverman, and eternal hotness, gave this speech to her high school in a commencement speech, and we got to enjoy it book form. It's worth the brief time it takes to read it.

It's always fun to be reading a book by an author who winds up sitting about five feet away from you as you read. Thus, the situation I found myself in in a Embassy Suites lobby as I was reading (24) Get Weird, while author CJ Casciotta sat nearby. He was there to speak at a conference, and I was there to listen, and it was all around a good time. It's a book about not fitting in, about using your creativity to the fullest, and about being weird and embracing that weirdness. I felt seen.

Lee Cockerell, a retired VP of the Walt Disney Company has a series of books, and this one spoke to me the most... (25) Time Management Magic was some magic I could really use.  Let's be real, nothing here is mind-blowing -- it's all basic concepts, but like Zasio's book about not being a hoarder, its advice we need to be reminded of frequently. Plus, it helps that he also has a background in the Happiest Company on Earth, which really spoke to me.

As a sidebar, he's pretty liberal in his politics and legit came after me in a thread where I wasn't addressing him nor responding to something he'd said. It was bizarre. 


Finally, one of the most popular podcasts around, The Popcast, saw one of it's hosts write and publish a book in 2019. (26) The Wondering Years: How Pop Culture Helped Me Answer Life's Biggest Questions is by Knox McCoy, and is a solid book. Knox, a Christ Follower, weaves boy bands, reality television, current musical artists and more around a number of spiritual and Biblical quandaries with God and the Christian Walk.  Believers would likely enjoy this and Knox's take -- he's quite brilliant, actually. Barely missed my Top Ten. 

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TRUE CRIME

An author I always check on for new material is Kathryn Casey, who is based in Texas and seems to be covering every major murder and sensational court case in the state -- her book in 2019 was (23) In Plain Sight: The Kaufman County Prosecutor Murders, telling the tale of Kaufman County Assistant DA Mark Hasse, executed in broad daylight, the massacre that followed, and the couple who did it. I enjoy most of Casey's stuff, and while I haven't really like the style of the last few, this was somewhat of a rebound. Good, not great.

Bryan Burrough's (24) The Demon Next Door tells how he learned that a high school classmate of his, Danny Corwin, ended up becoming a serial killer. The book is just okay.

Amanda Lamb's (25) "Love Lies: A True Story of Marriage and Murder in the Suburbs" (true crime subtitles are long) tells of how Nancy Cooper's strangled body was found in a ditch in North Carolina, while her husband claims she went out for a jog and never came back. You might know where this is headed.

(26) "Twisted: The Story of Larry Nassar and the Woman Who Took Him Down", by Mary Pilon and Carla Correa, is the first of several books & films I consumed about the Nassar, the douchebag doctor for the US Gymnastics team, and how the women he sexually assaulted found the bravery to come forward. Takes you through the first few women to speak up, then the women who followed, and Nassar's world that crashes around him. Very informative and very detailed. This is where I toss in that trigger warning thing. 

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ENTERTAINMENT

Final three books on this "outside the Top 10" list all fall under the entertainment and pop culture category list. 

(27) Best.Movie.Year.Ever: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen by Brian Raftery essentially just looks at a pivotal 12 month period in cinematic history -- some of the biggest movies and pop culture touchstones came out that year.  Fight Club, The Matrix, The Sixth Sense, American Pie, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Magnolia, and so many more are all discussed, with interviews and soundbytes from Sofia Coppola, Reese Witherspoon, Taye Diggs, Matthew Broderick, and loads more. Any movie fan would love this -- in fact, while I did my list and ranking in January of 2020, I'm not even sure why this isn't in my Top 10. But I'll go with what I have, though I may re-read this one soon.



I read two books about the making of, and behind the scenes of, the show Friends. Both are excellent, but the one I liked 2nd best of the two is (28) I'll Be There For You: The One About Friends  by Kelsey Miller. Like the other (which you can guess will be in the Top 10), it's an indepth look at the creation, the casting, the premiere, and the seasons -- good, excellent, and mediocre -- that followed. If you are a Friends fan, you can't go wrong with I'll Be There For You, but I like the other just a little more. 

And then, (29) Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV by Brian Stetler, is another who's subtitles give you the sense of the book. It concentrates mostly on the battle between The Today Show on NBC and ABC's perpetual 2nd place "Good Morning America", and how the latter slowly chipped away at the former's decades long dominance. The book was written in 2013, years before the (deserved) fall from grace of Matt Lauer, but you can see just in his actions and words that, knowing now what we know about his douchecanoery with his female coworkers, things were not well.  It does paint a rosy picture of how NBC treated Ann Curry, and I can believe it. 

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AND THE KIDS BOOKS

Finally... books 30 to 33... 

One of the joys of being a dude who works from home is that I am able to attend school functions with my kid -- including showing up and shopping with him at the yearly Book Fair (here's to hoping 2021 will bring this back to us. Who doesn't love a good book fair?  Back in my day, I'd show up with $15 in my pocket, I'd walk out with a Beverly Cleary book, the latest Bill Wallace novel, a Star Wars read-along, a poster of a Ferrari, a Trapper Keeper folder, and some pencil erasers shaped like West Indies Komodo Dragons.  Now?  $15 might get a two books from the pre-school section and a sheet of glitter stickers.

I said earlier that "Where is Walt Disney World" was the first book I've ever listed purchased at a Book Fair... I should have said "purchased FOR ME", as these were books I bought at my kid's book fair, that I read, and that I count on my list -- you'll see why in a second.

Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Rusker... Mighty Mighty Construction Site, also by Rusker... Going on a Bear Hunt by Helen Oxenbury... and Me & My Dad by Allison Ritchie.

All can be read in 3 minutes or less.  So why would I put these four kids books on the list?  No, not to pad my stats. I think I get credit for these books because I read all four, every night, out loud to Campbell at bed time, and I read them every night for around six or seven straight months -- and that ain't even hyperbole.  So these count. 

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So there is my list of books that didn't make my Top 10...

The three that I would say were on the edge -- Knox McCoy's "The Wondering Years", Kelsey Miller's "I'll Be There For You" and Raftery's "Best.Movie.Year.Ever".  Toss in  "Football for a Buck" by Jeff Pearlman and Pilon & Correa's "Twisted" and there is the next five after the Top 10.

That's the Outside the Top Ten List... onto the Top Ten

the top ten books of 2019

If you haven't read the rest, make sure you catch up on The Not Top Ten of 2019 (Part One) and The Not Top Ten of 2019 (Part Two)

Without further scribble dabble scrabble, on the microphone I babble... here are my fave book that I read for the first time in 2019...

My 10th Favorite Book of 2019 - The Goodbye Girl by Neil Simon (1977)
As I mentioned, I'm a fan of plays and screenplays, and this is probably my favorite of Neil's... the story centers around Paula and her daughter Lucy, who gets deserted by Paula's boyfriend. Enter Elliot Garfield, a neurotic but kind actor, who shows up because the landlord has now rented the apartment to him... much to Paula's dismay, because she and Lucy are still living there. And you can see the conflict... and of course, romance coming at ya. The movie version was wonderful as well, garnering Richard Dreyfuss an Oscar for his portrayal of Elliot, and became the first RomCom to cross $100 million in box-office gross.


My 9th Favorite Book of 2019 - What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell (2009)
I tend not to read authors who are way smarter than I am... not just smart, but super smart -- but I am always drawn to certain authors like Michael Lewis, Randall Munroe, and of course Gladwell.  This is a collection of 19 essays first featured in the New Yorker. Each was handpicked by Gladwell himself for the book, all bearing a running theme of seeing the world through the eyes of others -- even a dog. Because, you know, What the Dog saw.  Right?

Broken into three parts, it discusses people who are experts but not known, the issues with predictions and basing actions on those predictions, and the failure of intelligence, spending a chunk of time on the fall of Enron, and finally, personality and sociological discussions on random topics (I know this book sounds crazy boring, but trust me, it's well written and well read.)



My 8th Favorite Book of 2019 - The Oracle by KB Hoyle (2012)
The first narrative of our Top Ten sends us back into the mythical land of Alithia, a place that Darcy and her friends discovered -- and saved -- a year prior. This time, pushed by the princely Tellius, they set out on a quest to discover the truth of a prophecy, something that will impact her life, for the rest of her life.

If you like Narnia, with a little Lord of the Rings quest, shaken and poured over some Harry Potter, then The Gateway Chronicles is worth investing time into. I did a more comprehensive write up a few yeas ago, when Book 1 ended up in my 2018 Top Ten.

As I mentioned before in that article I just linked to, mad props to KB, my friend and a writing idol, as she has successfully done world building... which the more I read and learn, the more I understand ain't easy. 


My 7th Favorite Book of 2019 - The Run of His Life: The People vs OJ Simpson by Jeffrey Toobin (2015)
As the 20th anniversary of the murders of Nicole Brown-Simpson and Ronald Goldman hit in 2014, there was a glut of TV specials and books and retrospectives on the whole thing -- everything from OJ & Nicole's relationship to the murder itself to the infamous White Bronco chase.  

While I watched both American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson, a narrative with everyone from Cuba Gooding Jr to John Travolta to David Schwimmer (!?), and the superior, incredibly good ESPN 30for30 documentary that tops out around 7 hours and 45 minutes (watch it in parts), it was this book that really filled in the gaps -- the background of all persons involved, what led to the murder, the suspicions that Toobin has about what OJ did and didn't do (by the way, I had no idea that Goldman and Nicole weren't together -- he was truly in the wrong-place-wrong-time), and the trial itself... and the absolute circus it became.  Yes, OJ got away with murder... Toobin doesn't push you one way or another, but the evidence is pretty stacked against OJ.

Also, 2020 was a difficult year for Jeffrey Toobin... he and Zoom are not the best of friends. Don't let his touching dismissal from NYTimes keep you from reading this book if you are interested in.


My 6th Favorite Book of 2019 - Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company by Bob Iger (2019)
One of the few non-King books I read as soon as it was released... ironically, I didn't even want to read it, I felt as if it might be a progressive manual for running a theme park. But Iger is the guy who brought Lucasfilm (aka Star Wars), Indiana Jones, Pixar, Marvel, and 73 billion dollars worth of 20th Century Fox to Disney, plus oversaw the creation of Disney+, among other things, so I figured it might be worth a glance.

It was.  It totally was. From his early days in production and management to working way to the Walt Disney Company, succeeding Michael Eisner (who was not in his save-the-company save-the-animation era, but in his ego trip, Imma get Walt's nephew Roy out of the company era) to basically become Mickey's 2nd in command. The book is surprisingly candid, spelling out both victories and mistakes, and he speaks with openness and honesty at major events like Shanghai Disney's opening (after it was well overbudget and sort of a disaster), the Pulse shooting in Orlando, and the alligator attack that took the life of a little boy right on the beaches of the Grand Floridian. 

Sprinkled along the way is leadership advice and bits of wisdom, but it was truly the Disney history stuff that really drew me in.  I would hope that the 10th anniversary will feature a chapter on how he resigned, then came roaring back to assist with the company as the parks shut down entirely due to COVID.

 
My 5th Favorite Book of 2019 - Generation Friends: An Inside Look at the Show That Defined a Television Era by Saul Austerlitz. (2019)
Much like "I'll Be There For You" from Kelsey Miller, this book also goes in-depth with the shows creation, the hiring and casting, the production, and the opening, middle, and closing seasons of the show. 

Why did I like this book better? More in-depth. In-depthier, if you will. Is that word?  Could it BE any more fake sounding?

Whereas Kelsey Miller's book hit the highpoints of many topics, I felt as is Austerlitz really dove deeper on things, from contract disputes to controversies to personal lives of the actors (without being schmaltzy or gossipy) and I just got more out of it.  

But either book will satisfy you. 


My 4th Favorite Book of 2019 - The Guardians by John Grisham (2019)
I'm an avid JG guy, though I have my criticisms of much of his work... many of his stories build to a great crescendo then just drop you cold with no real resolution.  Some start meh, get good, end meh. And then some start with a bang, build to a great climax, and then really give you the ending that leaves you satisfied. Thus is "The Guardians"

With a lawyer killed in his own office, a black young man named Quincy is arrested for the crime, even though we as the readers find it quite obvious he didn't do it. The one person who listens is a guy named Cullen Post, who runs Guardians Ministry, a non profit that can only take a few innocence type projects per year -- and of course, non-hilarity ensues.

Well written, riveting, and could actually qualify as a "page turner". One of Grisham's better novels in recent years (he did two at 2020 and both are great. We'll get to that on a 2020 list)


My 3rd Favorite Book of 2019 - Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou (2018)
Sometimes you find news stories and you kinda just become obsessed with them... truthfully, the US Women's Gymnastic team battle against Larry Nassar and Michigan State felt a little like that, as I read and watched multiple books and movies.  

And another story like that for me?  The story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. This story blows my ever lovin' mind. Holmes, charismatic and beautiful, even with the (possibly fake) deep voice that became one of her trademarks. Basically, a drop of blood can get test results back in minutes, using these incredible new machines and processes, courtesy of Theranos... and they struck multi-million dollar deals with Wal-Greens and Safeway... Holmes became a billionaire.

And it was all a sham.  

You'll read this with your mouth open, wondering how in the world someone could actually pull this off, even temporarily.

(You can also check out The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, an excellent documentary on HBO Max.  The doc and book together make for a great pair)


My 2nd Favorite Book of 2019 - The Institute by Stephen King (2019)
Pre-Covid, it would take me a week or more to go through a book, especially if the book tops 15 or 20 hours. This one, however, I knocked out in two days, falling behind on podcasts and other things that I had to do.  But it was worth it.

The story starts with a guy name Tim, who leaves his job and find himself working for the sheriff's department in small town South Carolina.  Then it shifts to a 12 year old boy named Luke who is kidnapped out of his room in Minnesota and taken to a place called The Institute -- a secret shop that does experiments on kids, then when the kids are run through, they are put into the "Back Half", where the kids never return from.

Luke is a crafty little lad, though, as the story progresses, you'll find he isn't one to take orders. He and his merry band of other kids trapped at The Institute decide to fight back. And of course, Tim from South Carolina finds himself in the middle of this same story. 

I was caught up in this story and saw it through to the very end, one hour after another, and when it was over, I put down my earpods, sighed deeply, and smiled. Because that's what a good book should do.  


My Favorite Book of 2019 - The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M Graff (2019)

I've spent the last 9 years thinking that "102 Minutes" from Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn was the best book ever written on 9/11.  And to me, it was. Until I read "The Only Plane in the Sky"

First, know that I'm a fan of oral history in books, as I love hearing the stories from the people themselves (even if they don't narrate the book itself in audio version), and in this one, it starts from early on that Tuesday morning, carrying you through the entire day and beyond.

Soundbites from Rudy Giuliani (remember when it was okay to like him?) and George W Bush and reporters and policemen and firemen and those working in the offices of the towers and paramedics and so many more. You know what happened that day.. but yet, you'll still be engrossed in the words of those were in Manhattan and in Washington and sitting at home, awaiting their loved ones to call them from United 93. 

This book blew me away. 



Up next, in a few days... or weeks... hopefuly not months... the Top Ten Books of 2020 -- more King, more Grisham, some Psycho, a helping of Karen McManis, some Neil Simon, the wild west and dreamy former Fox News anchors and so on and so on and such... twas a good year to read books, even if it was a terrible year to do just about anything else.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

to campbell, on your 9th birthday

I was just taking a look and realized I've blogged just one single time in 2020, and it was my thoughts on a hate crime and tragedy.

May my words be much lighter and full of more love here.  

Here is my annual open letter to my son on his birthday. 

Riding with your Dad, cheesin, wearing
Mommy's vintage Leia shirt from 1983

Dear Campbell, 

My my what a year it has been.  As you get older, begin to understand pop culture and catch phrases and references, "2020" will be one for the books.  

So, there was this pandemic, see... basically, a virus came into our country, swept through the country, scared a lot of people, many people died, many more got it and were fine, and so on.  I'm sure you and I will talk about the finer points of all of this one day, but 2020 was the Coronavirus year. 

It didn't start out that way. January was a fine month, fine indeed, and I even got to go to Disneyland for my job and meet some really cool people -- I talked about you a lot.  Kobe Bryant, a legendary NBA player died in January from a helicopter crash, the Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl, and the only music I really enjoyed from 2020 was a song called "Blinding Lights" from The Weeknd and music from a chick named Dua Lipa.  

There was also some song released called "WAP", but you aren't allowed to listen to it -- not so much because of the lyrics, but because I'm raising you to have taste.

It's hard to even talk about 2020 movies this year because so many of them came out on streaming services. Someone told me the other day "Can you believe 'Birds of Prey' came out THIS YEAR?!" and I actually had to go look that up to confirm, because this year has been so insane.

I keep going back to how crazy this year has been... in March, enough people had gotten this virus that basically the country shut down.  Movie theaters closed. Many restaurants closed, and the ones that did stay open only did drive thru or curbside. Wal-Mart decided it was going to close at 6pm instead of being open 24/7, grocery stores closed at 5 or 6, churches closed doors and went online, and when you came home for Spring Break, you didn't go back, as schools went virtual.

And it was really, really tough.  On our entire family. Your Mom started working from home, and we still had to get you up to try to do things online with your class -- and of course, you weren't really into that, so that was a struggle. Truthfully, I feel guilty sometimes because I feel like me not pushing you more may have set you back further, but I promise, we did what we could. 

This summer, we did our best to stay busy... we started riding bikes together, and honestly, that was a proud moment as a Dad for you. Yes, the training wheels are still on, but we'll get there. We hit Splash Adventure four or five times this summer, including once when you sat up on the 75 foot tall slide and nearly gave me a heart attack. 

You spent a little time with your friend Hillary, kinda your BFF, and watching your face the day Jack & Lily stopped by this summer was so amazing.  I hope your first instinct is always to give a handshake or a hug when you see your friends. 

2020 was the year you went all in on trains. 
Obsessed with Thomas, and in your Mom's
absence, we went on train hunts.

It's been fun to watch you at Next Levl too... I've watched you conquer those trampolines one by one, climbing up, falling backwards, failing to get back up to the ledge, whining, then trying it again. You persevere, Campbell -- its one of your attributes. 

You did get to go some this summer to a shortened summer school schedule, and you finally got to go back in September, albeit a crazy schedule. 

The Disney trip we had planned for March, the one where you saw the doctor in Florida was pushed back to May... then June... then September... then late September... but we got to go!!!

And you had your first waffles and pancakes (and syrup, which you dipped everything in, from your bread to your meat). And your first ham sandwich. And your first hamburger.  

And I'm proud to say, your first Blue Milk from Star Wars Galaxy's Edge.  And you loved it. 

Of course, you went all in on trains, including Thomas the Tank Engine -- our living room floor looks like a flippin stockyard. And all in on YouTube... by the way, you are obsessed, and probably need an intervention. 

Then... November came. 

And Campbell, this is where I have to brag on you and tell you how proud I am of you.  Every year when I do these online letters to you, hoping that one day you will read and absorb, I try to teach you a little something. Last year, we talked a little about kindness.  The year before, it was about Truth. And before that, it was Respect

This year? Adaptability.  And you showed all of us how good you are at it. 

I went away early in November for a few days, and Aunt Becky came to stay with us. And she was already not feeling great. Mommy had to take her home, to Aunt Becky's house, while you and I stayed here together... and no, you weren't happy that first night, but when we called to talk to Mommy and Aunt Becky, she (Becky) asked you "How much does Aunt Becky Love you??".  You replied "SOOOO MUCH" -- that was your thing with her, remember?  I don't know if you know, but that would be the last thing you'd say to her. And honestly, that's a good one to go out on.

Aunt Becky went to the hospital and didn't get better, then Mommy got sick with -- you guessed it, coronavirus.  And when Aunt Becky went to be with Jesus, Mommy and I fretted over how to tell you.  

On a Sunday afternoon, I finally just gave it to you -- Aunt Becky passed away and wouldn't be coming to see us anymore. You looked at me, then put on your shoes and were ready to go.  

Do you remember that day? I think you processed, and did so for much of the day. 

Your mom was gone for over two weeks... and you handled it like a champ. You didn't meltdown (much) you didn't freak out (much) and you didn't cry and scream because routine was so insane and upside down. You handled it. 

One of my fave pics of us, after getting soaked on
Splash Mountain, me losing my hat, and you having
just come down from a meltdown of epicness. 
Just the two of us. 

And I cannot tell you how proud I am of you for that. Had you had freak out moments, had you melted down every day, I'm not sure I could have handled it. 

But God took care of you, and me, and of course Mommy, who came back to us after 16 days, healthy and maybe a little tired.

Campbell, you adapted. You rolled with it, and kept on. And that is a huge trait to have. 

I know this letter is so much different from year's past, when I just gave you a recap and told you your accomplishments, but this year has been different, so it works somehow.

Welcome to 9 years old, my dear son. We love you more than you'll ever know... and still can't compare with the love that Jesus has for you. This year we began our nightly prayers together, and we'll keep praying for our family, for our friends, for our church and our pastor, for our country and our President, and that one day you'll find Jesus in your heart. Honestly, I've thought for a while now that you have your own conversations with God internally. He knows how to talk to you in ways we can't. Hopefully, you can tell me on your own one day if I was right. 

Finally, as I was driving the other day, I heard Will Smith's great remake of Bill Withers classic "Just the Two of Us"... from a father to a son, here are the lyrics I'll leave you with:

Feel the strife, but trust life does go wrong
But just in case, it's my place to impart
One day some girl's gonna break your heart
And ooh ain't no pain like from the opposite sex
Gonna hurt bad, but don't take it out on the next, son
Throughout life people will make you mad
Disrespect you and treat you bad
Let God deal with the things they do
'Cause hate in your heart will consume you too
Always tell the truth, say your prayers
Hold doors, pull out chairs, easy on the swears
You're living proof that dreams do come true
I love you and I'm here for you
With love,
Dad

Friday, May 08, 2020

thoughts on ahmaud

Ahmaud Arbery.

I don't speak about a lot of social justice, because I personally think much of it is political and for show, and it drowns out the real cases that need to be seen.

Full disclosure... I actually am a half minority -- Mexican dad, white mom, and grew up in a tiny south Alabama town who had a small, but not tiny, minority. And while my town wasn't racist, it was a byproduct of the south in the 80s, much like most other towns then... and unfortunately, with some places, now.  But I spent five years in a larger town in college, a much more diverse town, and then the last 22 in the big city of Birmingham.

Back to Ahmaud... this is something I had to work through. It's easy to say "didn't you see the video? what more do you need?" but give me a little grace on this, if you don't mind.

I'm someone who tries to look at everything and figure out what happened -- I'm usually not quick to comment on an event like this until some time has gone by for me to figure out my thoughts. And I did this same with this... I mean, I've seen the video... or at least what I could find. There are uncut versions of it, but I didn't search too hard... what I saw was enough.

So let's walk through this together.

A guy who was jogging and was killed.

This wouldn't be news in our country, because this stuff happens, right?

Then you pull back a little.

Oh.

He was a black man jogging. And he was murdered by two good ol' boys in a pick up truck. This is news in our country, and yes, this stuff does happen.

(by the way, I use "rednecks" and "good ol boys" here very loosely, because I know both rednecks and good ol boys in my own life who are amazing people... its just a nickname I've given the three men in question. Don't read anything into it)

Then you pull back a little further, as much as we can at this point to examine what we know. A video of a Ahmaud jogging through a predominately white neighborhood. Ahmaud comes across a parked truck, he cuts right around it, and someone (the son, apparently) gets out of the driver side, shotgun in hand, confronts him as Ahmaud comes around the truck.

We see this video because a third man is filming on his cell phone from a car that was seemingly following Ahmaud. The video is a little shaky, and it catches both the son and Ahmaud in a struggle, shotgun between them. We hear several gunshots, and the video that I've seen cuts off before he is shot. Again, there is an uncut version out there that shows him being shot and falling to the ground, but I didn't see it and don't care too.

Despite this looking as cut and dry as possible, there are some lingering questions that need answering...

First, didn't these guys think he was a suspect in a recent string of break-ins?
Okay, let's go with that. So instead of running away fast, hiding, Ahmaud is jogging -- not running -- jogging in broad daylight. Plus, even if he had been spotted climbing out of a window and was running with a handful of diamonds in his hand, that's a call to the cops to say "Hey, we think this guy is a suspect, come get him".

Wasn't one of those dudes law enforcement?
I heard it was former, but let's go with this too. Consider this - in our society, if you don't understand what a black man thinks when two rednecks in a pick up truck pull up and ask you to stop, you aren't paying attention.

I'm guessing they didn't say "Hey man, did you see The Last Dance?" or "Hey, can you tell me how to get the Super Walmarts?", rather I'm pretty sure they were yelling. From the video, I am presuming they were yelling at him as he approached. What do you do? You let him run right by you and then make a phone call -- "Hey, I used to work for you guys, I think we have a suspect, come get him." Right or wrong, racist or not, Ahmaud lives, and you are a douchebag racist for calling the cops on a black man because he looks guilty.

But wasn't it self defense?
If there was one guy, you might have a chance at that. We only see Ahmaud jogging, the truck stopped and the son fighting him over the shotgun. They shot him twice. If you want to subdue him, there are THREE country boys there - two in the truck, one filming -- to do so.

Yet, only the son went after him. And again, of course Ahmaud is going to fight back.

THE AGGRESSOR HAS A SHOTGUN YOU EFFIN IDIOT.

I'm no videologist, but my guy is wearing running shorts and a t-shirt and it's very, very obvious he's unarmed. If you argue he may have had a knife, remember there are THREE people to subdue him... or THREE people with phones to call authorities.

But no phone calls were made. They shot him twice.

Once, you can maybe MAYBE pass off as an accident... you back up, call the police immediately, and then give your story.

Far fetched, but maybe.

Twice, though... that's murder.

I'm even willing to believe they didn't initially intend to kill him -- but I am convinced they wanted to hurt him, maybe hurt him bad. And when they shot him once, they shoot him twice to make sure he doesn't talk. You can say I've seen too many episodes of Law & Order, but you can't keep him from talking unless you keep him from talking.

Aren't they innocent until proven guilty?
Yes they are. We see what the video shows us, it's what happened before and after that we don't see that is the question. But the fact is, these men shot and killed someone jogging through his own neighborhood because he looked like a suspect, so it's not whether they did it, it's the "why they did it" that will remain the question.

They had options. They had ways to subdue him if they felt like they should have, and then we are having a different conversation, one about assaulting a likely innocent black man and we get the fallout from that instead. And Ahmaud lives.

But you don't know what happened, what he may have done before you see this video?
This is true. We don't know. One side will portray Ahmaud as a choir boy angel, the other side will portray him as a gangbanger murdering drug addled criminal. Usually, I'd tell you the truth lies somewhere in between, but screw that. Not here. Not in this case. No "what you don't see" could truly justify lying in wait for someone to attack and then kill them.

It doesn't matter what he did, what his life was like, how he treated our rednecks in question. What mattered is if they truly wanted to capture him because they thought he committed a crime, there are 100 ways to do it where Ahmaud doesn't even get hurt. This was a murder.

For the record, I think Ahmaud was a regular dude with a regular life, a guy that most of us would probably hang out with...

This was a murder. A flat out killing. Would assassination be too strong a term?

Personally, I think they intended to get him, to hurt him. I think they waited for him, confronted him, and when just hurting Ahmaud wasn't enough, they murdered him. And it's abhorrent. It's disgusting.

We can also talk all day long about why this happened in February, and why the men were just now arrested here in May, and to that, I have no answers, mostly because I don't know those facts. I can give my thoughts on that later, when more of that part of the story comes out.

But right here, right now, these men murdered Ahmaud Arbery. Maybe they did it because Ahmaud was black, or maybe they did it because he just happened to be the guy they didn't like -- I lean towards the former - but make no mistake, these guys murdered him in cold blood. And its revolting. And disgusting. And this is a case that justice needs to be done with due process according to our laws -- and these men must be punished.

I've spent my life supporting the death penalty and over the last few years, have changed my thinking on it not because I don't support capital punishment but because I feel like we get it wrong too many times. But I don't think this would be getting it wrong. Sometimes the video doesn't tell the whole story. This video shows enough. The questions I've asked have no answers other than it was a premeditated crime.

I'm proud to see nearly everyone I know rise up for this. I surf Twitter and FB on the regular, and haven't seen one single instance of anyone supporting the rednecks in question (aside from a Facebook group that exists called Justice for The Rednecks -- they don't get the right of me mentioning any of their names) ... rather friends both liberal and conservative and in between all are behind this.

And let's be real here, whether you agree with this or not, or whether this statement makes you angry or not, the truth is that every death of a minority at the hands of law enforcement doesn't mean it's racially motivated, and in the case of law enforcement, doesn't mean it's unjustified... but anyone who agrees with that statement must also agree that sometimes it IS racially motivated and it IS unjustified.

By the way, this isn't an invite to send me a list of names that you think were innocent until they were murdered by authorities. I can write thoughts on those stories on another day. 

It saddens me that something like this either is, or will be, turned into a political statement by those who have the power to make changes, because sometimes it is a clear case of bad men doing bad things to an innocent man.

We as a culture, must be smart enough to recognize when the uproar is necessary.

In the case of Ahmaud Arbery, it's totally necessary. 

He deserves justice. And I think he's going to get it.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

to campbell, on your 8th birthday

Dear Campbell,

This is your annual letter - its meandering, because I have so much to tell you, so much to remind you of, to say, so just bear with me as I try to recap your accomplishments and struggles, and the year as a whole... 


I'm not sure what happened this year... I'm not sure when you turned the corner or at what point -- maybe minute, second, week, day, hour -- you suddenly became a premonition of who you are going to become. All this week, I've looked at your mom and whispered, "Can you believe we are about to have an 8 year old?" and she just shakes her head. Because I think Year 7 has been the biggest year yet for you.

Let's recap a little, okay?

My favorite book so far this year was a book about 9/11, but your favorite is a four way tie between "Me and My Dad" and "Mighty Mighty Construction Site" and "Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site" and "Going on a Bear Hunt".  A four way tie because I've read all four of those books to you just about every single night since probably early spring, when you edged Jack B Ninja out of the rotation.  My book goal for the year is 50, and I'm only on 34, so I probably won't get there, but I plan on counting those four, if only because I've read them so much, I know them by heart. Can't tell you how many times I've literally recited "Bear Hunt" front to back to you in Wal-Mart.

"Avengers: Endgame" ended the 10 year long Marvel storyline at the movies, and I'm excited for you to get into these in the coming years. I also loved "Knives Out" and "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood", though I don't expect you to see either of those for a while. On that last one, a long while.

Can't tell you a lot about TV, honestly -- there are over 500 TV shows on the air this year, and I watch hardly any of them... though Disney+ dropped in November, and boy have we been feasting on "The Mandalorian" and "The Imagineering Story" and the quirky Jeff Goldblum show.  And you've enjoyed a movie or  two here and there...

President Trump is still there, and as I said last year, politics remains a nasty business. But Trump did sign a pretty great autism bill this year that will hopefully help you for years to come (having said that, I don't know all the specifics, but it seems solid).  My contention has always been that I want you to make up your mind on what you believe, but know why you believe it, not just taking an opinion off of a news network or social media platform as gospel.  Otherwise, let's talk about this when you are older.

So many friends this year. Seriously... sometimes I want to tell myself, "The teachers are just trying to encourage you by saying he has lots of friends", but no -- I've seen it in action this year and last.  The kids around you love you at school... maybe its because your hugs are indiscriminate, maybe its because your affection is unconditional, or maybe its because you like to smile and giggle and laugh all the time. Either way, I hope it never stops.

We got to go to birthday parties at soccer parks and trampoline parks and gymnastic parks and more, and of course, a class field trip to McWane Center, where you were all over that "Itty Bitty City" display and that play firetruck set up. And one of your buddies, Jack, was all over you -- it was so great to see it.

Our trip to Disney World in March was fantastic... the awesome Cast Member gave us a short wait time for your new favorite ride, Slinky Dog Dash (dude... you LOVED that attraction...) but man, that head banging thing was terrible. We were worried about you for weeks and weeks, watching you just suddenly bang your head on everything. We hope and pray that is a phase that never, ever comes back.

Your first horseback ride was last December, right after
you turned 7, but you loved it so much you did it
here too. 
Your year also included more swimming lessons with Ms Keri, and some over the summer with Ms Beca, horseback riding with Ady's Army events, lots of playground and park times, and even riding in a race car around a racetrack.  You saw your first movie in theaters -- "Toy Story 4" -- and by "saw" , I mean "you ran around until Mommy and GG finally had to take you out because you were running crazy.  You did, however, get to see your first symphony concert, and we gave you a little room to move... and you lasted the entire 30 minutes. GO YOU.

And wow did your musical side come out this year -- you're already playing piano, and your teacher Ms Alaina is sure that you can tell tone. Plus, as much as you love to sing, who knows what you can do with that!

Remember how I've told you before that you got into movies like "Rio" or "Cars 2"?  Well this year, it was Toy Story movies.  I think I've seen Toy Story 2 about 388 times this year... and you know what, that's okay too. And let's be clear... you liked the commercials off of the DVR recorded movies just as much as the movie itself. Hence your fascination with Fiji Water and Liberty Mutual (Ibah-tee Ibah-tee IBBAAAHTEEE) and Farmer's (We Ah Fahmah Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba) and so on.

Your talking has gone through the roof. I don't know how many words you have, but I daresay in the hundreds, maybe thousands by now. You can site read like a beast -- at the end of the year "awards", your teacher Bette Davis Eyes gave you one, saying, "This boy reads every word he sees, so the Best Sight Reading Award goes to... CAMPBELL!"  And your classmates cheered as you wandered up front, got your certificate that your mom and I gooed over while you were just Meh, and came back and finished your ice cream I got you.

You're reading is incredible. You read words I didn't know you'd even know... that's my fault, I should always assume that you know what is up, but forgive me for not giving you the benefit of the doubt sometimes. Of course, we still can't make you fully grasp the concept of "If you eat breakfast, we can leave. But you can't leave until you eat. This then that." but we'll get there, I'm sure.

Mitchell's Place will always be a part of our family, as it truly
changed your life, our lives, and the trajectory of our family. And Jordyn
and Audrey (and Piper too!) were a part of that.
You finally ended your tenure at Mitchell's Place, and it was difficult. We loved Jordyn and Audrey, they were amazing with you, and I know you loved them -- and all your MP gals, like Whitton and Glenda and Emily and Emil-I-E and Emma Leigh and I'm not making those up, there were that many Emilies.  You still ask to go there from time to time... maybe one day we can visit. Or you can -- if you are old enough to read this, you might even be driving by now!


Myself and your mom had to make some tough decisions about you this year too. We had two therapies in front of us, one recommended, one fairly new but had seemed successful with those around you... so after weeks of praying about it, seeking wisdom and counsel, we went with the new therapy. And kid, you are rocking it.

I've been there when you are answering open ended questions, giving answers that proved you were listening, even though you were running around the room Mach 3 with your hair on fire. Several of the therapists have had the same conclusion -- you are brilliant. You are more perceptive and smarter than any of us know or give you credit for, we just have to figure a way to bring that out. I'm confident we will.  It's your world, Campbell, we just get to live here.

You left your beloved Mrs Carnes (aka Bette Davis Eyes) last year in kindergarten and moved to 1st grade, with Mrs Coston, who you also love. You got some new classmates, but some from last year were still in your class. I know you love you some Lilly, as it's been awesome to watch you two play together at Next Levl park or when we all went to the pumpkin patch -- she even asked to sit with you on the way back, and just last week, she all but ditched the friends she was with to run with you at Next Levl.

And your new friend Hillary is quite awesome too -- she loves your attention, and she loves giving you the same, and it's no wonder you guys are fast friends. I hope this keeps up as you get older, and both Lilly and Hillary, and several others, will know that they are a part of your story as you grew.

Watching Hillary read to you was pretty amazing,
and it might have been a little dusty on that
porch that afternoon.

Your anthem this year has to be "In the Light" by DC Talk. See, you used to go to kid's choir, until you finally just grew tired of it -- but we got a CD to play in the car, which you just lapped up in every ride. But I decided to add a little more fun stuff to it, notably the "Sister Act 2" version of "Joyful Joyful" and "In the Light"... took you a little while, but you got into it... and now you sing "In the Light" all day.

We know that God's word does not come back void, so singing a song about a desire to forgo ourselves and be immersed in the goodness of Christ is surely not being sung in vain. Even when you get upset and then ask me to sing "IN DA WITE SING IN DA WITE" because it comforts you...

No kid, you don't get that when you've disobeyed.

Same with your mom and "HOUSA FUN SING HOUSA FUN" (which is a song called "Get a Little Crazy", where he takes the line "all in this together and we're having fun" and turns it into "Housa fun".)

Okay, let's wrap this up... in the last few letters, I started introducing some things I wanted you to know about, including "respect" and "truth". I want to tell you about "kindness" today. I've watched people treat you with such pure and loyal kindness this year, I want you to understand it and not take it for granted.

Kindness is treating someone with respect, no matter who they are and where they are, and perhaps treat them with understanding, care, and love.  Perhaps going above and beyond for someone in a way they wouldn't expect. Like saying hello to the kid by himself on the bench, or even playing with him. By not joining in when other kids make fun of someone, or even sticking up for that person. By helping out someone who needs a hand, even if it inconveniences you.

Being kind is the right thing to do. Truth isn't always kind, but telling the truth sometimes in the kindest thing you can do for someone. But don't let someone take advantage of your kindness -- if someone decides to abuse your kindness, then don't turn around and treat them with malice or anger. Just step back.  You should default to being kind to people, but hold strong to your convictions.

We love you very much.  Remember that Jesus loves you more than we ever could, though, and that he truly died for you and gave to you a gift that we could never match, and we always pray for you that one day you'll understand the gift of salvation.

Be respectful. Tell the truth. Be kind.  If you can do those things... continue to do those things... you'll be farther ahead than many people will get.

Eight looks awesome on you, Campbell Isaiah.

With love muchly,
Your Dad

Previous letters...
To Campbell, on your 7th Birthday
To Campbell, on your 6th Birthday
To Campbell, on your 5th Birthday
To Campbell on your 4th Birthday
To Campbell, on your 3rd Birthday
To Campbell, on your 2nd Birthday
To Campbell, on your 1st Birthday








Wednesday, November 06, 2019

the truth about free

As I get back into the swing of this writing thing, celebrating my own NaNoWriMo with what I like to call "NaBloWriMo", I've started working my way through my favorite playlist on iTunes, one I call "The Best Soy Latte That You've Ever Had and Me"... a collection of singer/songwriter tunes that I enjoy very much. And I'll list them as I write...

"One Hundred Years" by Five for Fighting

As someone who runs a small business, working solely on commission, I have to make every dollar count. So everything I do business wise results in one of two things -- either helping someone for free, or putting money in my budget. Either using the skills and experiences to give someone some free advice, or make some money to help put food on our table (or in Campbell's case, buy those expensive snacks he eats)

Thus begets the dilemma that nearly anyone who runs a small business runs into... how much to give for free before you charge?  And this isn't just an issue with at-home travel planners... its editors, photographers, website designers, life coaches, and anyone else who has a learned profession that can be shared with others.

"Jimmy Olsen's Blues" by The Spin Doctors

When someone comes to me and asks, "Hey, can you tell me the best time to go to Disney?", or "What is your favorite character meal?", I personally think its selfish and greedy to turn up my nose and say, "Nope, only if you pay me for that info."  Those are easy answers, even if a bit long.  At least the former is longer, as I have about 7 travel windows I always say... late January, early February, between Spring Break and Easter, between Easter and Memorial Day, late August, most of September, mid-November, early December... then again, do you want good weather? Low crowds? Lower prices?  Holiday decor?  Never a short answer.

The other is quite simply "Bon Voyage Breakfast" at Boardwalk.

Those are the same level of basic questions I may ask -- and have asked -- of a photographer (what is your favorite camera?) or a web designer (is there a ___ function on WordPress?) or an editor (do you put a comma if you are using an ampersand?).

"How Do You Mend a Broken Heart" by Rev Al Green

But then there are those -- and I never assume nefarious or shenaniganny reasons but rather they just don't know -- who will ask me flat out "Hey, can you give me a list of Fastpasses to get on which days?"

"Sure. Have you booked your trip?"

"Yep, we have a place to stay and already have our dining and tickets. We just need to know what Fastpasses to get"

(that happens more often than you'd think)

Or maybe "Can you tell me about Character meals?"

"Sure. Like what?"

"Oh, like do you have a list of all the character meals?  Which ones are hardest to get? Which ones would my kids like?"

(also happens)

And how do you find a way, without sounding rude, to say "I'm sorry, that information comes from experience and training that I have to reserve for those who have chosen to book their travel with me, and thus will me making me money even though they won't be paying on extra cent on their trip"?

I guess the answer is simply "That's the kind of info I get paid to help people with", but that does sound a little snotty, doesn't it.

"Something's Always Wrong" by Toad the Wet Sprocket, a little apropos of this post... 

I do just assume that most people don't know. I had one fella contact me with questions about his trip upcoming, and when I finally had to say that I couldn't really go on anymore without some sort of client agreement, he stopped talking to me... only to then contact me a week later to tell me that he had no idea this was a full time career -- he thought it was a side dish, something I just did for fun. He apologized profusely, I accepted happily, and we worked together -- sending his family was delightful.

Keep in mind that when you deal with Disney travel, especially to the theme parks, if you are on property, Disney will compensate the travel agent (or my agency, Upon a Star Travel and Concierge) and I get paid out of that... if you do it all on your own Disney doesn't cut that amount off of the price, they just keep it, so you pay the same amount regardless.

What does that mean exactly? Well, that means that you don't pay me anything for all of my help. I'm your virtual Disney assistant at no cost above what you are paying for your trip.

But... what if you are off property?

"There's a Light In Your Eyes" by Blessid Union of Souls

So if you stay off property and you ask for help, either I have to charge a planning fee, or I work for free. And you might be tempted to say "Oh come on, you are answering questions about Space Mountain and eating at the castle, what on earth do you have anything to charge for?", and to that I'd say that you'd be the person that would need my help the most if you were going.

"Possession" by Sarah McLachlin, my 4th favorite song of all time. 

Why do I charge $150 to help a family with a trip?  Because I've been dozens of times. Because I've spent on property what I estimate to be around 200 nights, and at least one night in every resort save for Old Key West, Contemporary, and Beach Club.  Because I've planned in what I'm estimating to be around 450 vacations for families by now. Because I read constantly, study before I do a Disney podcast, because I'm more prepared for your trip than you might ever be.  That's why.

"Sunrise" by Simply Red

But its the same for an editor... why does an editor charge thousands?  Because they've had thousands of hours pouring over page after page, trying to make you sound smart.

Why can a cake maker charge hundreds for a cake?  Because they've made hundreds of cakes, spending hours and hours on each one trying to make that Paw Patrol Puppy they made out of fondant pop, making you seem like a super parent.

How can a web designer justify charging $500 for a webpage? Have you ever tried to build a webpage? Not a custom page like Square Space or Wix, but a page that you design and build and host and own?  It's freaking hard. Its really, really hard.

Or the photographer, who has photographed 100s of weddings and has $10,000 worth of equipment... or the financial coach, who has helped hundreds of people pay off millions in debt...

"Wide Awake" by Katy Perry

You can absolutely hire that guy from Facebook for $100 to take some pics for you... after all, he bought a $400 camera, so he's a professional, right?

Just like you can get Sparky the Wonder Agent who went to Disney World in 2015 to help you with your trip, or you can ask the Facebook Moms for help... I've been on those threads, and trust me, Sparky and Facebook Moms are two sources you need to be careful of, because "I went in 2015 and I know all about it!" shouldn't be reassuring to you when planning your magical days.

Oh, this sounds so bitter, doesn't it? I promise you, it's not. It's really not meant to be bitter... and I can tell you why -- because when I first started, I would do anything I could to get business. I did stuff for free, I gave out information sheets that I had written for free, I handed out stuff to people for very little because I want them to like me, to work with me, and to refer people to me.

In fact, I had one family ask me a ton of questions once, all of which I happily answered. And I was pumped, thinking of the commission I'd get from this trip... once they booked.  Turns out, they booked on their own, using all of the intel I gave them.  I was very unhappy with them -- friends that they may be -- though I got over it. The Lovely Steph Leann?  She doesn't hold many grudges, but five years later, I'm still not sure she cares for them very much.

They've never booked a trip with me, though they've been a few more times.  They came back to me and asked more questions before going on their next trip... I answered pretty vaguely, which is what I do now, when I don't think I can trust where the conversation is headed.

"Creep" by Jena Irene (the American Idol performance, and by far my fave version of this song)

I'm not a selfish monster, however. I have helped people for free. Consulted with some people, giving information and experience to them for no cost, based on their situation.  I think most people with a service has done so in their life.  But I am at the point where I can pick and choose now, which is a great place to be.

"King of Pain" by Alanis Morissette (MTV's Unplugged version... magnificent) 

So now you know how it works. How I work.

Don't be afraid  to ask questions, because I'm usually very happy to help if I can... but don't be offended if I tell you that I can't give you all of that which you seek... you can spend the time on The Googles looking up the answers, or trying to navigate Disney's massive and many times overwhelming website... or you can just let me do it.

But probably not for free... because all these years later, I don't have to do it for free.