Wednesday, December 31, 2014

on the bookshelf

I just finished the last few minutes of "Full Dark, No Stars" by Stephen King... this is a milestone for me, as it's the 35th book read through in 2014... my goal was in fact 35, and after missing my goal in 2013 (I got to 27 of 30), it's rather exciting.

It almost didn't happen... I read Stephen King's "A Good Marriage" back in July, and earlier this week, started "Big Driver", also by King. I was horrified to learn that these aren't small books, they are in fact novellas, both a part of "Full Dark, No Stars", along with two other novellas. So I did what anyone would do... I downloaded it off of Audible, and read the three novellas--"1922", "Big Driver" and "Fair Extension"--that I had not read yet.

And yes, audiobooks is considered reading... I pay better attention, and I can listen/read while driving, doing dishes, laundry or at work. So there.

But that left a whole in the list? Take out "A Good Marriage" and add the whole set of "Full Dark No Stars", and I still only have 34... so I grabbed my copy of Lou Mongello's "102 Ways to Save For and At Walt Disney World", and read the last 20 pages... I've been reading it all along since it's release earlier this year. So I finished it, and it counts.

I'll go through those in an upcoming post, giving you the list of books I read, and my thoughts and recommendations on them.

But that leads us into 2015... my goal for 2015 is 40 books read. And though I don't have a complete list of books to read in 2015, after reading Jon Acuff's latest post, I decided a small list would be a great place to start... so though there will be at least 30 more on this list under the "already read it", here are the first 10 books I'll likely start with... in no particular order.

But first, here's a couple of re-reads on tap:

This book is part non-fiction, part embellishment,
part horror, part comedy, part strange, all
fantastic.  Like my life.
"Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil" by John Berendt... I haven't read this book in about 15 or 16 years, and remember loving the heck out of it. Ready to jump in early 80s Savannah.

"Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets" by JK Rowling... the first book of 2014 I read was "Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone", and my intention was to re-read the entire series. I try to do it about every 18 to 24 months or so, and I'm overdue now... but instead of "Chamber of Secrets", the second book I read was Elizabeth Smart's excellent "My Story". So, maybe the first book I'll read every year will be a Harry Potter book... or maybe I'll read the rest of the series. Guess we'll find out on January 2nd.

"'Salem's Lot" by Stephen King... my favorite of Stephen King's writings... or, maybe, my favorite one that I'll read and re-read--I think "It" is my favorite, but it's just so, so long that I can't just pick it up whenever.

Now... for the first time reads, these are likely to be my first 10 books read this year.

"Anne of Green Gables" by LM Montgomery... I do need to read more classics, and both this and "Great Gatsby" are on my list for 2015, but I'll likely read Anne first.

"Bossypants" by Tina Fey... I grabbed this one this past weekend, intending on this to be the final book of 2014, until I figured out my "novella" problem. So Tina, who I have really gotten a thing for in the last year or so, will have to wait a few weeks.

"Dark Places" by Gillian Flynn... She's the hottest thing going now in authors, with the explosion of "Gone Girl", but I've learned that it's sometimes the early work that ends up really standing out (see "The Firm" and "Time to Kill" by John Grisham)

"The Disneyland Story" by Sam Gennawey... I think (hope) this is the history of Disneyland, from construction to opening in the late 40s and early 50s. The preview makes it sound like it, but previews have burned me before.

"Do Over" by Jon Acuff... I'll admit it, I'm an Acuff Apologist. I really like the guy personally, and though he does write some boneheaded stuff sometimes, his writing really connects with me--perhaps its because he and I are about the same age and are in the same Pop Culture bubble, or maybe I started reading Acuff Astuff at the right time in my life, or maybe both. This will be released in April.

"Foxcatcher: The True Story of My Brother's Murder, John du Pont's Madness and the Quest for Olympic Gold" by Mark Schultz... there is a movie out there now with Steve Carell, who is getting wide acclaim, and Mark Ruffalo, who is getting some acclaim, and Channing Tatum, who is great in "This is the End", and I'd like to see it. I'm always intrigued by true-life murder mysteries, and I look forward to this one.

She is also the designer of the Purposeful
Planner that I posted on my Facebook page
and Instagram recently.
"Gray Mountain" by John Grisham... Anytime he releases a new book, I pick it, despite my better judgment. More often than not, I'm disappointed by the ending of a story that up until then, was a great tale. However, "Sycamore Row" was excellent from front to back, so we'll see what happens with this one.

"The Simplicity Project" by Corie Clark... I love it when my friends write books, though I then have to go get a copy (and I still need to get a copy of Justin Fisher's new book, "Crossroads: Subtitle Here", and read it in 2015), and my friend Corie wrote a dandy that will hit you in the head--all about decluttering and living much more simple than we all do.

"Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail" by Cheryl Strayed... this is the book that has Reese Witherspoon in the title role for the movie adaptation. At publishing time of this column, I had not seen it yet, but look forward to the book.

"You Can't Make This Up: Miracles, Memories and the Perfect Marriage of Sports & Televsion" by Al Michaels... When I heard that Al Michaels had a book coming out, I was kind of excited, because he has seen and done nearly everything sports related in the last several decades. Bob Ryan's book is also on my list, but I'll read Michaels book first.

So what about you?  What books are you definitely going to read first in 2015?  And if you said "Based on the stuff you are reading, you'll love ______", what would be in that blank?

Friday, December 26, 2014

top ten blogging in 2014

At the risk of being one of those blog sites who says "Hey, everyone come see how good I look!" or maybe "Hey, everyone come be moved by my brilliant words and the amazing way I put thoughts into verbal emotions!"... I thought this year's end might be a good idea to do something different.

For the first several years of the blogsite, maybe 2005 to 2011, I did a "Coolest 100 Things of the Year", and they were a collection of people, music, movies, events, life happenstances, books and more that I experienced or discovered for the first time in that particular year... and I'll honestly say, sometimes it was met with controversy over who/what got in, who/what got out, and a lighthearted look back for me turned into a little drama here and there, which made it not worth it. Oh, and I got lazy (what's new?) and even finished my favorite 100 things of 2011 IN the year 2013. I decided that was that for that segment.

But now, I look back at the year on the blog, and see that I've managed 85 posts (not counting this one). That number seems a bit inflated, as I participated in--and succeeded--in a challenge that had me blogging 33 straight days from late September to early November. Considering that is more blogging than I did from March thru September in total, "85" is a deceptive number, but here we are anyway.

January set forth my first writing challenge of the year, where I attempted to write an average of 500 words per day for the month. Then I set my goals for the year 2014, in Part One and then Part Two... and will probably give a post next week to let you know how I did (batting .300 is great in baseball right? Why can't it be okay for real life?).
As I mentioned before, October brought a 31 Day writing challenge, which I #humblebrag in saying that I more than completed. There are other challenges I failed to meet, like my attempt to take on the 100 Happy Days phase that is/was all over Instagram and Facebook, and what I was to call "My Summer of Happy", with 100 posts about things I enjoy. But I've come to learn that I can't give myself a topic, such as "Happy things", and expect myself to blog about that same topic for post upon post upon post... mostly because I'm all over the map, as anyone who has been here more than a few times will see.

So, for anyone new to the blog, or if you just want the good stuff, here are the ten posts this year that I really, really liked. And that's not including my homage to the late, great Casey Kasem... thoughts on Clint Eastwood's "Any Which Way You Can"... thoughts on Pitbull both here and here (yes--TWO posts about Pitbull. What.)... and writing with and without a filter.

2014's Top Ten, as chosen by me, based not only on popularity but also how much pride I had in it when re-reading it..

10... We decided to start (or, start again for the 10,000th time) on our spring cleaning. And when you have a pile of junk in the garage, it's worth documenting some of the strange things you come across. My friend Writer Chris Holmes said this was one of his favorite posts I've ever written... for pictures of not only rubber chickens and Microsoft 2003, but also the General Lee, here's "Things We Found In the Garage" from January 5th.

9... Sometimes as a writer, you just have to write, and sometimes it doesn't make any sense at all. Sometimes it's just a bunch of random words late at night that for whatever reason, a bunch of people tell they read and laughed at and enjoyed. What did I write? Nothing but the "Things Carly Simon Made Me Say Late at Night" from January 27th.

8... The fervor of the "Washington Redskins is a racist nickname" hit a fever pitch this past summer and I sat back and watched carefully, deciding where I fell on the issue (which is, that "Redskins" is not racist, or if it is, it's suspect to suddenly come after it now, after all this time). However, when a select few members of the University of Mississippi release a report saying how they are offended by the school's "Rebel" mascot... well, I just had to join in and declare "Ole Miss is Racist!". From August 9th.

7... I think one of my favorite posts from the last several years was actually one written in 2013, all about inclusion, which I'm passionate about (and likely fail miserably at doing). Another story was brought up in my mind this past spring, as I noticed on Facebook a high school friend of mine was having a birthday. I hadn't thought about him in years, and yet, the story of "Kenny Weeks & Wall Street Football" came rushing back--and had to be shared. From March 5th.

6... I love discussing pop culture, and I love making lists. So when I can do the two of them together, and talk about OutKast, Garth Brooks, Expose, Bob Seger, Janet Jackson, Taylor Swift, Fergie and more, I do it. All are including in my "Playlist for Hustla's", from January 17th.

5... With recent events in my own life (that I cannot share right here on this site, but you are welcome to ask about it), the words "leap of faith' stand out strong in my heart and mind. So re-reading this one made me smile. Because sometimes, you just have to get on that skateboard of life and ride... worried about safety? Remember that "You Can't Be Safe on a Skateboard". From February 4th.

4... Sometimes its the memories we have from our childhood that resonate with us 30 years later, much like this story from Samson Elementary, involving GI Joe, Wonder Woman and an unnamed kid who's spoils fuel the creativity of an unpopular 5th grader. It's all about getting "Clarity from an Invisible Jet", from February 10th.

3... Every year on his birthday, I make a note to Campbell, something I hope he will read when he gets older. This year's letter was popular with readers. From November 30th, "To Campbell, on Your 3rd Birthday" (his b'day is December 1st, it just got published literally 20 minutes from midnight, giving it a 11/30 publish date instead of a 12/1 date. Details, details.)

2... Ah, marriage. And pride. And pride in marriage can be a bad thing sometimes. It's a little story about butting heads as a husband and wife, and a lesson that "Pride Goeth Before the Squeeze" from February 24th.

And my favorite post of the year that I've written...

1... Autism is tough. It's a hard thing to push through, and it's tempting to wallow in parental misery about all the things you are missing. But one thing we are learning, re-learning and telling ourselves over and over is that The Lovely Steph Leann and I have to remember to "Don't Mourn the Can't, Instead Love the Can"

So there ya go... if you like one or more of those posts, then you'll enjoy the blog. If you clicked on a couple and decided "this guys sucks!", then I have a feeling this blogsite won't be for you. But you should come anyway, in case I write something that you do like! 

Thanks for reading.

Monday, December 22, 2014

the gift of the mayo

We have a friend named Rachel. She's in her 20s, and adorably cute--I used the word "mousy" once as a compliment, and thankfully, she took it as just that. She's been married to her soulmate boo Brett for many months, and The Lovely Steph Leann and I really enjoy her company when she's in town.

A few weeks ago, she was in fact in town, working on a local conference, and let us know where she'd be. Obviously, we made plans for dinner, and while The Lovely Steph Leann couldn't make it, our friends McQ and her new hubby JP came, as did our friend Amy McL... we agreed to all meet up with Rachel at the brand new Newk's eatery that had opened the week prior.

And it was a grand time, with laughter and love, fellowship and friendship, with old friends like Mc!, Amy McL and myself sharing tales of many days before, while new friends like JP listened intently and chimed in, and Rachel shared her own stories of her job and her new married life. 

I had Campbell Isaiah with me as well, and Rachel and Campbell have formed a friendship... well, sort of. When she stayed at our house a few months back (on the eve of McQ's and JP's wedding, no less), Campbell took to Rachel immediately. While she tried to work on a project on our dining room table, he kept coming up to her, interrupting her with his cuteness. She would hug him, or play with him, or show him a little love, then turn back to her project... and then a few minutes later, here he comes bounding up again. The Lovely Steph Leann would call for him to step back, to let her work and to quit bothering her, but Rachel insisted it was no bother--and I believed her.

She and Brett have no children of their own, and will probably "be married" for a while before they do, but more than once she's told me that she wants a baby sooner than later. So the notion of Campbell coming up and showing her attention is just a little slice of paradise here on Earth for Rachel Mayo.

Granted, Campbell does do this kind of interaction with a few other people--but it is only a few people. He's not shy, but he doesn't just love on just anyone. Don't know his criteria yet, but Rachel meets it.

I can't tell for sure, but when he saw her again a few weeks back, I'd like to think he remembered her, and in fact did give her a little Campbell Kiss (which is, take the pacifier out, lean over, plant his lips somewhere on your face--usually your lips, but it can be your cheek, nose, chin or elsewhere--put the paci back in and turn away like "that's all you get, so enjoy it"). Usually I have to say "Campbell, give ____ a kiss" for him to do it--with Rachel, he did it on his own.

So it's easy to say out of the hundreds of people I've become friends with through social media networks, Rachel is someone who has connected with our family more than most. Yes, we met Rachel through Facebook... and it's hard to explain, so I just won't try right now.

Campbell is a very sensory oriented child. He knows how to work a cell phone like crazy, as he flips through apps and can take pictures (not very good ones, but on par with some that are on Facebook pages belonging to the 19 year old who bought an expensive DLR camera and decided to come up with a catchy name for their newly opened photography business, despite not even knowing what DLR stands for--can you tell I find this to be extremely funny?) and he loves the stocks applications, where he watch the lines up and down, and things refresh.

Currently, he has an iPhone 3 to call his own, though it's a little older and worn, and it's battery dies down fast from the three or four straight hours of use he gives it at one time.

The crown jewel of gifts for Campbell would be an iPad. He is in therapy at a local place here in town, and they use iPads during their sessions to teach various things. While the iPhone becomes like a babysitter sometimes for Campbell, an iPad would be an invaluable learning tool, once we get the right apps on it.

But they are expensive, which is why we haven't gotten him one yet. 

So imagine my surprise when Rachel did.

At the end of dinner, Rachel pulls out a bag and says, "This is for Campbell's birthday! Happy birthday Campbell!" I smiled, thinking a book or a toy of some sort, and appreciative of Rachel's thoughtfulness. I debated about whether to open it there or wait til later, but decided to open it there--I pulled out the green tissue paper, and grasped something that felt firm like a large book, but cold to the touch.

I pulled it out, pulled back the tissue and there was a silver iPad in my hands. I looked at it, and looked at Rachel, back to the iPad and back to Rachel. I simply said, "This is an iPad? Rachel... I mean..."

She smiled and quickly explained that they had gotten new versions, and she wasn't sure what to do with that one. She apologized for it having her name on the back, said that she knew it would help Campbell to have one, and then added for good measure, "I wouldn't want anyone else but Campbell to have it." 

For one of the few times in my life, I was rendered nearly speechless. I stammered a few words of something, then wiped a couple of tears away noticed how badly my allergies were acting up, and how much dust was in the restaurant.

She got our son an iPad. It was as good as brand new, it's in nearly flawless condition and it looks amazing. A little boy who she only knows from pictures on Facebook, from the stories I briefly tell on social media and on this blog, she has taken to her own heart to love, and to encourage and love on myself and The Lovely Steph Leann...

...who, by the way, had much the same reaction when she opened the bag at home. She was nearly floored too, and was nearly speechless as well. 

By the way, we haven't given it to him yet. Two things we are waiting on--first, to get a cover for it. No parent gives their children any sort of electronic anything without some sort of protective casing to go on it. Second, we are waiting to talk to his therapy teachers to find out the best way for Campbell to use it. Like I said, the iPhone is really for play, so we want the iPad to serve a real purpose.

And no, I haven't used it for my own benefit. Not saying I won't watch a movie with it or something in the future, but it is in fact Campbell's iPad, and even is now labeled that once you plug it into iTunes.

Anyway... thank you, Rachel. You are beautiful and wonderful, and we love you greatly. We hope you have an incredibly awesome Christmas, take care of that man of yours, and you'll always have a place to stay when you come to town. And a little boy who will greet you with a hug and kiss. 

Find Rachel's Etsy shop, Rachel B Designs, by clicking here.
You can find her on Twitter @rachelcmayo and on Instagram @rachelbodinemayo

Sunday, November 30, 2014

to campbell, on your 3rd birthday

Dear Campbell,

Celebrate! Today you are three, count 'em, three years old! Your Mom and I were just saying to each other a few minutes ago how we can't believe that three years have gone by since the day you were born. 

So, let's talk about the last year, since I wrote you a note for your 2nd birthday... movies? My favorites of the year are, as typical as it may seem, superhero films, like "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Captain American: the Winter Soldier" and Disney's "Big Hero 6". Christopher Nolan directed this grand space epic called "Interstellar", and it looks awesome and is in fact, just average. A little seen movie came out this summer called "Snowpiercer" that I recommend you find and watch... it's pretty amazing. And of course, "The LEGO Movie". There might be five of them by now, but the original is pretty great.

The music that really hit big, for me anyway, was the Cuban rapper named Pitbull, who had a song called "Fireball", which made me smile all year. This chick named Jessie J teamed up with this other chick named Ariana Grande and made this rockin' pop song called "Bang Bang", which I'm addicted to. Neither me nor your mom like the Nicki Minaj part... and honestly, when you do read this, I wont be surprised if you have no clue who Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj are, because nowadays, musicians come and go quickly. Even the ones thought to have had staying power fizzle fast--Lady Gaga, anyone?

You, getting ready for school
Back to music, Meghan Trainor had this catchy little ditty called "All About that Bass", but do me a favor, either find my iPod or head to YouTube and look up the version by Scott Bradley and the Postmodern Jukebox, featuring Kate Davis. If you appreciate this version even more than the original, I'll know I raised you right.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a little album called "1989" by Taylor Swift, featuring what is sure to be a classic called "Shake It Off". Enjoy.

We've seen you grow a lot this year, Monkey Butt. We've gotten you involved in more therapy and group sessions, and you are signing like crazy now... you have the sign for "more" down pat, and you use it without restraint when it comes time to eat. More. More. More. And on and on.

You have learned how to sign "open" as well, and frankly, its adorable. I think you are on the verge of actually jumping up and down, but you aren't quite there yet. No, you aren't talking just yet... but you babble incessantly. On one hand, its incredibly cute and encouraging... on the other hand, sometimes at 6am, it's a little much for me to deal with. I wish you'd pick your times more selectively about when you decide to loudly start talking your language. 

You rode your first roller coaster this year... in fact, a few weeks ago. It was all kinds of amazing, by the way. When we were in Disney World at the beginning of November... and can I say, you've just had your second Disney World haircut already--you've been to WDW three times and Disneyland once, which is about four times more than many people go in their lives.

Anyway, you were just tall enough to ride The Barnstormer, a small kids coaster in Storybook Circus in New Fantasyland. Your mom, Pops and myself were a little nervous taking you on, but you sat with Mommy, and as the coaster car slowly made it's way up the hill, I could hear you. You were giggling, you were squealing, you were laughing and having the time of your life. I wiped away tears, as my smile nearly broke my face.

The Cast Members then let you ride again, this time with me. I heard your laughter and delight up close this time, and felt you pat my arms in excitement, and watching your face and you smile and laughed, looking around at the bright lights of the Disney World night, staring in wonder. And the Cast Members, one of them almost crying herself when she heard our little story of who you were and how this was your first coaster, let us ride twice more. This time you rode with Pops and you couldn't get enough.

You laughed at the teacups, and you even recognized some characters, as you smiled big when you saw Tigger bouncing on The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh ride. This was a huge thing for all of us, but especially for you.

Campbell, you are our son, and we love you so much. And you are loved not just by your Mom and Dad, or your Pops and GG or aunts and uncles or your Granny and PawPaw, but by so many other friends and people, some of whom have never even met you, but only seen your picture and heard the amusing stories and the funny stories and the heartbreaking stories. 

The teacups... I love spinning you around, kiddo.
You are prayed for more than you will ever realize, by so many people. My first and foremost prayer, even in front of you coming through the autism that hinders you, is that you will find Christ one day, and know He is your Savior. Everything else is just blessings under the bridge. Though I do pray that what keeps you held back--you are three today, but still at around a 15 month level developmentally--will just fade away. I am positive it will, I am positive you'll catch up to everyone and positive that you will live the life that He has for you.

I just hope you can look back where you are as you read this and know that your Mom did all she could for you and that I tried as hard as I could as well.

You are handsome, you are strong, you are a whiz (anyone who has seen you move two chairs into position so you can properly climb them in order to reach a cell phone hidden in the middle of the dining room table will attest to this) and you are a mischievous little boy, just like all other three year olds.   By the way, your fascination with phones and tablets is a little crazy... hopefully, by now, you've learned that just because you see a phone, that doesn't mean it's yours. 

But you know your way around one... it's funny to watch you play with one, swiping and moving things around.  And for whatever reason, the stocks app fascinates you.   Oh, and this year, you also learned to paint... "He takes his time with the brush," says your teacher.

Told you that you were smart. 

Three years old looks great on you, Campbell Dollar. 

Love you, Monkey Butt

--your Dad

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

hey thanks

It's Thanksgiving time once again! From outta nowhere, the holidays are bearing down on our faces, because for some reason, Christmas is in December this year. Doesn't it feel like 2014 just barely got started? I'm not sure I'm finished with 2013 yet, and all of sudden, I have to deal with 2014 going away forever.

So here's something I've never done and thought it might be fun to do... give thanks. I've given thanks before here and there, but I figured I'd go big or go home... 100 thanks in a single post. Let's go!

First, let's get the big ones out of the way... my Savior, Jesus Christ (1), for whom it's all for. I hope my words encourage in a way that pleases Him. The Lovely Steph Leann (2), the best helpmate I could ever ask for, because she gave us Campbell Isaiah (3), who is a pretty special kid--he turns 3 in a week! What!

My job is secure (4) and that's a big deal. And it's not hard work either (5), which means when I go home, work stays at work (6) which makes for very low stress. And of course, there is my other job, being a Disney Travel Planner, and I am so excited to put more time into doing it! (7). Cause I'm good at it.

Here's a few things/people to be thankful for this year...
I mean, there is so much to be thankful for, so many blessings all poured into my own life. Things are looking up (8) more than ever... Campbell is making great strides in his development (9). No, he's not talking yet, but he's in a solid Mother's Day Out program at CASA (10) and in a great therapy program at Mitchell's Place (11). Insurance is covering much of the cost (12), so that's a huge answered prayer for us. He's signing more (13), and he is much more directional than he used to be (14), like when he leads me to the recliner, then pushes me to sit down, just so he can sit in my lap. That's worthy of a thanks (15).
We paid our car off this year (16) so that helps our budget tremendously, and it's one piece that's helping us form our plan for me to go full time with Disney Travel Planning (17). But I'll get into that later.

Got a new phone this fall (18), bumped up to an iPhone 5, which is nice. I love voice texting (19) though autocorrect is a bit of a hassle sometimes.

The San Antonio Spurs won the NBA title (20) for the fifth time, and the Baltimore Orioles made it into the baseball postseason (21). Can't say I have much thanks for the Florida Gators OR the Troy Trojans for the way they have played this year, but both Florida (22) and Troy (23) are looking at new coaches next season, so it's time for a re-start. Overall, though, the college football season has been incredible (24) and anyone who thought this four-team playoff would ruin the regular season is crazy, because it's done nothing but heighten the importance of dozens of games (25) that by now, wouldn't mean much except for bowl positions. And, of course, even though I didn't make the playoffs of The DFC, the football pick'em that I've run for now its 15th season, its still be a great season (26). Congrats to Big Eddy McBroom and Steven Ray for making DeuceBowl XV, set for this weekend.
I can also give thanks for the movies (27) and most notably, The Deucecast Movie Show--we are on a digital network now, Shotglass Digital (28) which is like being picked up for syndication. Pretty exciting... new episode dropped today (Tuesday) and is all about our own movie thanks. We owe a big thanks to the hosts of the TechnoRetro Dads podcast, especially one of the hosts who calls himself Shaz (29), and I am very thankful for my own co-hosts Mikey (30) and Pinky (31) and the rest of the Deucecast team, like Tommy Mac, Shawn and our endless rotating guests (32).

The blog is going strong (33), by the way, for which I'm thankful for. I successfully made it through the entire month of October, blogging every day (and some extra) and made it like, 32 days straight (34)... which, if you've followed this blog long, you'll know I've tried similar challenges and have failed miserably. My friend Corie Clark (35) really pushed me on this, along with a few others, so thanks for that. Corie, by the way, wrote a fabulous book about making life simple, called "The Simplicity Project". Full disclosure, I have't read all of it yet. But I've followed along on the challenges online, and will have it read and impletmented by years end.

If I get on the subject of friends, I could be here forever... but I'll tell ya, there are a few people who have really made me a better version of d$. Remodeling Clay host Clay Shaver (36) is a solid guy, as is Writer Chris Holmes (37) (who has his own book, mind you). A fellow named David Mike (38) is an extremely good encourager in all that I, and others, do, and his story is pretty incredible.

Thanks to Rachel Mayo (39) for being awesome--and extremely photogenic. No kidding, that chick can look great in an Instagram picture. May Bohon (40) likes to check in on me, which I appreciate, and Angie Buchanan (41) has also been pretty gracious to me and the family this year as well. And Amy Campbell (42), master of LinkedIn and owner of a resume company called the Red Checker, has also been pretty great to me this year.

I always have thanks for My Best Mate Wookiee (43)... I have been able to chat again with my friend Nikki (44) and my friend Laura (45)... and funnily enough, doing Disney Travel has helped me reconnect with my long lost friend Rebecca (46). I get a kick out of reading my friend Missi's (47) posts (she's one of my favorite people on social media.  and gorgeous)... I'm thankful for the new friends in our lives, like the Kilgores (48) and the Rileys (49) that we haven't gotten to know... for the returning friends, like the Tucks (50) who returned to our lives... long time friends like DeNick & DeLisa (51) who are always helpful and generous... and the friends who have been here all the time, like the Rays (52), and Hurricane Rhett and Amarilys by Morning (up from San Antone) (53) and all the other families that we love (and love us) at Valleydale Church (an sbc fellowship) (54). 

Also, I've planned trips for three different women that I dated in college (and their families). I wasn't saying "hey thanks" for that, I just thought it was worth a mention.

So thankful for Taylor Swift's new CD "1989" (55) and of course, "Shake It Off" which is my Song of the Year thusfar. Then again, it comes out just ahead of Pitbull's "Fireball" (56), which I blast everytime it comes on. But lest we forget Colbie Caillet's new CD (57), which is marvelous in it's own right. And Garth Brooks is back (58) and better than ever. Thanks Garth. You are the man.

My friend Teri Mo (59) made one of the best comments (60) I've ever had bestowed upon me, saying (paraphrasing), "I think d$ is great at getting his political points across, he's never disrespectful, he tries to stick to facts and I appreciate that." Fabulous comment.

We discovered a new place to eat this year, Urban Cookhouse (61), which is awesome. It's up at the Summit, and we frequent it about once per month. And to top it off, we are pretty fond of Steel City Pops popsicles (62), which The Lovely Steph Leann and I have probably had about 300 each so far this year. Addiction is a bad thing, kiddies.

You know what else I'm thankful for? Whataburger Patty Melts (63) without the onions. It's so, so good.

I'm still very thankful for Walt Disney World (64) and all the dreams and opportunities it holds. Campbell rode his very first roller coaster there, The Barnstormer (65) and it was truly magical, as he laughed and giggled and squealed the whole time. We went a few weeks back with The Lovely Steph Leann's parents, Big Daddy Ron and Mama Ruthless (66), and had a pretty great time. I'm thankful our room wasn't that expensive and was pretty large in size, and it was comfortable... I had stayed in Art of Animation (67) before, but everyone else was enjoying it for the first time.

The food is always great, as the Epcot Food & Wine Festival was going on, but the best part was the Captain's Grille (68) at the Yacht Club, likely my favorite meal of them all.

I'm thankful for my friend Aimee Sale (69), a fellow travel agent, who has been willing to help answer questions on the fly when needed, as well as my own agency owner, Frances (70), who has been an amazing travel agency lead.

My friend McQ (71) got married (72) this fall! It was a long time coming, I think, for her and her boo Jason, and it's so great to see them so happy... and I was honored they asked me to help announce (73) and I was thankful to be a part of the festivities.

The Republicans won the Senate in a landslide election (74). I'll say that I'm thankful for that, but I'll hold off on any further apprecation until I see what they will do... or won't do. You know what, they make me nervous (-74). I'll say I'm thankful that we live in a country where we can elect our leaders (74).
Survivor (75) is good this season. And The Lovely Steph Leann has got me watching HGTV, and I'm kinda hooked on "Flip or Flop" (76).

I'll always be thankful for my iPod (77) which helps me get through the day. From Adam Carolla (78) to Alison Rosen (79) to Rush Limbaugh (80) to the bevy of Disney World Podcasts (81) I listen to, I'm thankful I have it here. (82) also is owed a thanks. I've been a customer for years, and this year have been able to pick up gems like the memoir of one of my favorite, Judy Greer (83), and listen to Stephen King's "Mr. Mercedes" (84), which is excellent. The Harry Potter audiobooks (85) will always be some of my favorites because of the masterful performance by Jim Dale (sadly, not on Audible--I had to get them from the library).

I'm thankful that my home is less than one and a half miles from my office (86)

I'm thankful that I was able to give up three months of no sodas, called the #NoSoda30 (87). I drink some Coke now, but I've curbed my consumption.

I'm thankful my mama still loves me (88).

I'm thankful for my extended family, both with Randy & Angie, my bro/sis-in-law, and kids (89) and my other bro/sis in law, Tyler & Brynn (90).

I'm thankful that yesterday I spilled a little grease from an Arby's cheese stick on my pants and got juice from some squash on my shirt... and that was the extent of my Monday worries (91)

I'm thankful I can still afford to splurge a little and frequent Kingdom Comics (92)

I'm thankful that I got to spend a weekend at the Alabama Phoenix Festival (93) downtown, a nerd convention that I actually sat on discussion panels for.

I'm thankful for Sharpies (94). They rule.

I'm thankful for the WWE Network (95), allowing me to watch every Pay Per View without the expensive price--and the fact that Sting (96) showed up at Sunday's Survivor Series.

I'm thankful for Doug Benson's Doug Loves Movie podcast (97), perhaps my favorite podcast. Oh and for Serial (98), which is an amazing podcast experience. 

I'm thankful that another year is almost over--not for the time has gone by, but that life is good (99).

And I'm thankful for you (100), for reading this blog as much as you do.  You don't have to, yet you keep coming back, and I appreciate it more than you know.  You fulfill the "writer" part of my "writer/blogger/podcaster/travel specialist" bio.

Finally... if you read this, and you wonder "Where am I?" (like my friend Katie (101), who is likely to text me and say "Where am I?"), then consider this number-- 102 -- that you are in.  Thank you. 

And Happy Thanksgiving.

Update... I completely forgot to mention this, and realized it a day after I posted this column... thank you to the men & women in the armed forces who are protecting us right now... thank you to the police, emergency and fire department workers who are keeping us safe as well... and thank you to those behind the retail counters, either being forced to work because of a crap schedule or because you need the money badly... thanks for doing it.

Monday, November 03, 2014

ole miss losses, auburn wins and florida still sucks

This is a few days late from my normal round-up, but here’s what I saw from this past weekend’s college football extravaganza

Their star receiver has the ball, running in the end zone with less than a minute to put Ole Miss ahead, forcing Auburn to have to score a touchdown in the remaining 20 seconds or so. It was perfect, as Auburn would suffer it’s second defeat of the season, likely being eliminated from the Football Final Four. Ole Miss would show the nation that it can rebound from an upset loss last week to an improving LSU, and even moreso, make the Egg Bowl, vs Mississippi State, later this season a monumental bout.

And yet, not only did Laquon Treadwell fumble the ball, he fumbled it as a result of his ankle being caught under a tackling Auburn player, an ankle that snapped, while his head gets clocked from the affronting tackler, and another flying Auburn guy coming in at the last second.

Auburn holds on, and are forced to subdue their celebration. It’s a brutal way to lose a game… because not only did they lose a hard fought, up-until-then excellent game against a top five opponent, a de facto elimination game, they lost it on a mistake made by a star player who was taken out of not just the game, but the season.

Like it or hate it, the Auburn Tigers roll on. They are a great team, perhaps the best team in the country… sure, they lost to Mississippi State, but if they play on a neutral field, I’d put my money on Auburn. I believe that Auburn wins out, including a win over Alabama, because they have played the most rugged schedule of anyone. And that Kansas State win, in Kansas, looks really good right about now.

They beat Ole Miss. It was a crazy ending, a heartbreaking ending, but they won the game. And move on.

Maybe their defense doesn’t look all that good, but they figure, heck, we’ll just score more points than you and win it that way. Texas Christian is going to win out, as the Big XII front loads their hard games. If they can get past Kansas State this weekend, and I think they will, an 11-1 Big XII Champ that scores like, 187 points per game will be hard to ignore come playoff time.

Like, every year until this year, State was that team that was always pretty good, but not really good, and most teams like Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, LSU and the like would be favored against… but if you weren’t prepared for them, they’d beat you and ruin your season. Well, now that Hail State has moved up into the echelon of top SEC teams—for now, anyway—Arkansas has fallen into that role. They almost beat Alabama. They were a play away from beating Georgia. They lost to State by a touchdown. And in two weeks, they’ll likely lose to LSU, but will make them work for it.

Like Arkansas is this year, and Hail State usually is, it’s the Mountaineers of West Virginia that cause the damage. Beating Baylor, taking TCU down to the final few minutes, they are the fly in the ointment of everyone who comes to Morgantown.

Sure, they beat Georgia. But let’s be clear… had they beaten Alabama, there would be cause for celebration. Had the Gators knocked off Ole Miss, or Auburn, then let’s tear the goal posts down. If they beat Florida State, especially in a blowout, then heck, it’ll be insane. But… they beat Georgia. Don’t get me wrong, Georgia is a good team and all, but everyone expects Georgia to lose one, maybe two games they are supposed to win. They already lost to South Carolina (that’s one) and then to Florida (that’s two). They’ll likely lose to Auburn at home, and still back into the SEC title game.

Freakin’ Will Muschamp. He was supposed to lose and all but guarantee his dismissal by the end of the year. And now? He has an outside shot to keep his job, especially if they back into the SEC East title and the conference championship. He can’t even get fired correctly.

We can all admit that at the least, the SEC West is a good division. I’ve been on message boards recently, and people are not bashing the power of the West, they are bashing ESPN’s eternal coverage of it. I can see that, but honestly, you are fooling yourself if you don’t put the West at the top in terms of “best divisions in college football”. What divisions will you put ahead of it? Exactly. Sure, you can argue for Florida State being the only thing that matters in the ACC Coastal Atlantic Leaders East or whatever division they are in (does it matter? No one cares about the ACC except for FSU, Miami, sometimes Clemson and VA Tech every third year), but the only people really defending FSU’s dominance are Florida State fans and that’s it.

The SEC West is four teams—and if you count LSU as the powerhouse spoiler, five—battling for supremacy. The SEC East? Like, what? Vandy sucks, Tennessee, though improving, won’t stop sucking til at least next year, Florida is all over the place, Kentucky continues to give you hope only to let you down after Week 6, South Carolina is nothing more than Spurrier’s hobby at the point, and that leaves Georgia and Missouri.. Mizzou has a shot at the title, but Georgia still leads the division… but Florida could still get in? It’s like, no one wants to win this division at all… which makes sense, because it’s a little like the play-in game in March Madness—hype and hoopla and celebration to win a game that puts you in another game, where you’ll be slaughtered by whatever the #1 seed is.

Either Georgia, Florida or Missouri is fighting to not be the team that loses by 27 to Alabama, Miss State or Auburn.

1. Mississippi State
2. Auburn
3. Alabama
4. TCU
5. Florida State
6. Oregon
7. Georgia
8. Ole Miss
9. Arizona State
10. Michigan State

1) Mississippi State… 2) Florida State… 3) Auburn… 4) TCU

Friday, October 31, 2014

the first scary movie

Out of the 2800+ movies I’ve seen in my life time, I can tell you the last 200 movies I’ve seen—I started last year, keeping track of each movie seen, typing them into my little note app… I saw 109 in 2013 (starting with Les Miserables on 1/1/13, and ending with RIPD on 12/31), and I’m up to 95 now for 2014 (starting with American Hustle on 1/2/14) and I just saw Hotel Transylvania on 10/27.

But what are the first movies I’ve seen? The first movie ever?

There are three movies that are interchangeable in my memory as my first movie I remember seeing. If I close my eyes, I can visualize snippets of each of the films--all very different movies, about as different as you can possibly imagine.
I cannot say one of these films is the absolute first film I ever watched, because who knows what I saw when I was under the age of movie accountability…
It could have been “The Muppet Movie”. My mom/grandparent’s good friend Cathy took me to the movies to see this great movie, and I remember Kermit on the log singing “Rainbow Connection”, and that scene where Animal takes the growth pills and busts through the ceiling of the old country store.

Or maybe, it was “The Shining”. Yes, that Shining, the one with the evil hotel, and Jack Nicholson, I saw that at the drive-in theater with someone, though I don’t know who. I’m pretty positive it was a family member.

Finally, it might have been “Any Which Way You Can”… wait, was that the first one? Or the second one? The other is “Every Which Way But Loose”… they both have Clint Eastwood as the oddly named Philo Beddoe, with Geoffrey Lewis as his friend Orville, and Ruth Gordon as Ma and Sondra Locke as Lynn Halsey-Taylor.

Random thought, sometimes when I take a drink from a water fountain, I see the name “Halsey Taylor” on it, which must be a water fountain manufacturer of some sort... when I see that name, I think of Sondra Locke and these movies. I might be the only person in the entire world’s population of 6 and ½ billion people to think of Sondra Locke that often, but there it is.

Anyway, I remember a big fight—Philo fought for money--and remember Philo, Orville, Lynn and Clyde, the orangutan, in a pick up truck, when they get pulled over by an officer on their way out of town, the officer tells them that he lost a lot of money betting on the other guy… Philo says, “Right turn, Clyde”, and you see this monkey arm out of the truck window throw a punch, nailing the officer in the face and knocking him out. The credits roll as the truck drives away on the desert highway. There’s this cool song that plays over the credits called “The Good Guys & the Bad Guys”, which, according to Wikipedia, was done by John Durrill… and thanks to the magic of iTunes, I just downloaded it like, right NOW, and am listening to this song for the first time in about… 20 years, at least. Maybe 25. My life rules.

I just checked on the timeline—it’s the second one. Oh, one more thing about “Any Which Way You Can”… well, a few more things, because this is my blog and I wanted to talk about this… first, the guy that Philo fights, Jack Wilson, is played a guy named William Smith, a bigtime character actor of the 60s, 70s and 80s. That cat has been in over 300 productions from TV and movies… “Any Which Way But Loose” is the first one, in 1978, and had the late, great Eddie Rabbitt singing the title track… Glen Campbell sings “Any Which Way You Can”, the main song from the 1980 sequel.

I had a completely different point for this post, before I got sidetracked by bad Eastwood films from the late 70s and early 80s…

My question is… what’s the first movie that scared you? I have an answer for myself, and it’s one word: “Poltergeist”. This wasn’t the first film I’d ever seen, as mentioned above, but it was probably in that top 20 or 50 movies I’d ever seen, ever. As a kid, I also remember snippets of “Time Bandits” and “ET” and watching “The Empire Strikes Back” (and later, “Return of the Jedi”) in the theater… but “Poltergeist”, I remember vividly.

I was 7, and the year was 1983. I lived with my Granny and Grandpa (who I called Mom and Dad growing up, as they raised me) in an apartment in Austin, Texas—they ran the joint, the Villa Rio Apartments… 4551 Airport Boulevard, Apartment 301, Austin Texas 78751… but for summers, my grandmother and I would usually go visit one of my aunts either in Florida, or like this summer, Hampton, Virginia, to see my Aunt Betty, my cousins Shannon, Frankie Jr and my cousin Marty, who I kind of idolized, cause she was older, really pretty, really smart and could do no wrong in my book. She’s still pretty awesome, 32 years later.

Anyway, don’t ask me how it came up, but somehow the film was on television. Perhaps it was a beta tape, perhaps it was one of those new fangled “VEE CEE ARE” things, but either way, the family was watching “Poltergeist” on tv… and it scared the living crap outta me.

The movie centers around the Freeling family, with dad Steven (Coach) and mom Diane (an 80s crush worthy JoBeth Williams), and their three kids, oldest daughter Dana (the late Dominique Dunne), middle child Robbie (Oliver Robins, who went on to do Airplane II: The Sequel) and the most famous of all, Heather O’Rourke as Carol Anne.

One night during a storm, the kids crawl into bed with Steven and Diane. This is back when there was little to no cable TV, and most stations when off at midnight, signing out with the national anthem, then going to a snow filled screen until early the next morning when they resumed broadcasting. Carol Anne is awakened, she crawls out of bed, seemingly being called to the TV… she gets up close to the screen, placing her hands on the front. She then watches some sort of white entity, a spirit come out of the television and then shoot into the wall of the bedroom. Carol Anne says, “They’re here…”

And this is where it starts. Crazy things start happening, as little as chairs sliding across the floor and glasses breaking on their own to a tree reaching into the window and trying to eat Robbie while he sleeps.

Let me say that again… during a storm, a tree uses its branches like arms, reaches into the bedroom window like you would reach onto the dashboard of a car from the outside, and grabs Robbie, trying to swallow and eat him. And while this is happening, Carol Anne is then sucked into the walls of the house.


Later, as they call in experts to find Carol Anne from whatever ghostly dimension she’s in, a Beast like creature shows its face, we hear the phrase “Go towards the light Carol Anne!” uttered for the first time, and after a guy sees a rotting steak move across the counter on its own power, he then rips his face off. Like what what.

This movie terrified me to no end… I’m watching it, mesmerized, and yet, now realizing that my house too is probably built onto an Indian Burial ground, just like the Freeling house. Like, I too will be be sucked into the wall…

Or worse yet…

...The house has been determined spirit free by the scientists who came… and of course, instead of hightailing it out of there with the family, they decided to spend one more night in the home. Big mistake.

Robbie is in his bed, trying to sleep. There is this clown puppet that he has in his room, again, I’m not sure why, and it’s resting in a rocking chair. Robbie looks at it, stares at it, then tries to throw his jacket over it to cover the clown face. The jacket slips off. Robbie hides under the blanket, then dares to look once more and…

…and the clown isn’t there. Okay, for me, at this point, I wouldn’t even be in that house, I’d be sleeping on a park bench if needed, but were I stuck in that room somehow, I would not do what Robbie does… no, I’m taking a leap off of that bed to the door, and hightailing it downstairs as fast as I could go.
But no, Robbie takes a different approach. He slowly looks over the side of the bed… sees only floor. And then he does what we would all do (and by “all do”, I mean “no one would do”)… he slowly peers down until he sees under the bed.  Nothing.  But as he gets up, the clown is right behind him, wrapping those skinny arms around Robbie's neck and then dragging him under the bed. 


Warning:  this clip contains scary clown things, and JoBeth Williams in her underthings being thrown around the room.  You may see "underthings", but trust me, ain't nothing sexy about this scene.  It's terrifying. 

Then, we see Robbie fighting off the clown... Diane outside yelling for help, falling into the swimming pool that they are installing, skeletons popping out of the water, then graves and coffins coming through the ground as the house collapses in on itself.  I mean, what's not to love when you are 7 and already afraid of the dark?

When I saw this film, it scared me for years, and I mean "years".  I wouldn't hang an arm, a hand, a leg or a foot off the side of  the bed at night, and wouldn't dare to ever look under the bed.  Ever.  Ever.  You die like that.  I was about 14 or 15 before this started being a little easier.  And my closet door also stays open, to this day.  I want to see the monster in the closet as it comes out to eat me.  I still think about this film from time to time.  I've seen it in recent years, and can see how it's a bit dated--some of the effects are a little off, and you can even see the way the clown arm wraps around Robbie's shoulder looks very fake... terrifying, but fake.  It's a great film.

Interesting story... at the time, it was cheaper to buy real skeletons and use them then have plastic skeletons manufactured, so that's what you see--real bones.  Also, JoBeth Williams wasn't bothered by the human skeletons, she was more concerned about the wiring around the movie set, and her being electrocuted due to the muddy water she was required to be in.  Producer Steven Spielberg got in the water with her, just off camera, telling her that it was safe, but if she died, then he would too.  Whatta guy.

Also, it's widely been rumored that director Tobe Hooper, who's credits included the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, didn't actually direct this film, but that it was Steven Spielberg who called the shots.  Both Spielberg and Hooper have vehemently denied this claim, with Tobe Hooper getting defensive many time about it... however, Zelda Rubenstein, the short little old lady named Tangina who plays a pivotal role in getting Carol Anne back from the spirits, has been very vocal when asked, saying that Spielberg was the only director she saw for the six days she filmed, and that "Tobe was only partly there"... this echoes the sentiment held by several other cast members.

And, finally, the movie is known for the "Curse of Poltergeist", due to the fact two of the cast members died at a very young age... Dominique Dunne, who played eldest daughter Dana, died six months after the film was released in June of '82 at the hands of her abusive boyfriend.  Dunne was 22.  And Heather O'Rourke, the Carol Anne character, died at the age of 12 in 1988 from complications due to surgery.   Also, two other actors featured in the sequels to the movie died unexpectedly.  The Curse is attributed to the fact they did use the real skeletons in the film.  And you can choose to believe it or not...

As for the sequels, stay away.  Both "Poltergeist II: The Other Side" and "Poltergeist III" are terrible films.  Just run. 

So there ya go.  What started out as a wandering journey through two of Clint Eastwood's arguably worst best worst craptastic films has ended up in the scariest movie I've ever seen.

Poltergeist is the essential scary movie, perhaps a perfect ghost story.  It's not gory, it's not violent, it just preys upon everyones fear of the dark, of what's under the bed, and the unseen.  It takes a simple snowy screen that we all have seen before and makes it sinister and turns a two word phrase spoken by a six year old little blonde girl--They're here--and makes it one of the most frightening things you can imagine.  If you haven't seen this film, you owe it to yourself to do so.

And the music on the ending credits... so creepy.  And the clown.  Yeesh, that clown.  I hate clowns. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

my aunt judy

(Warning. This is a true life story of my aunt and the ordeal she faced in 2011. Though I don't get too graphic, the things I say in this post are very uncomfortable and terrible.  Read with caution.

It's also important to note that this post is an emotional response to the program I'm watching, the "Surviving Evil" episode that centers on what follows in this post. This is the story that I know.)

I'm watching one of my favorite channels, one called Investigation Discovery. Usually, I fill up on Dateline NBC, or maybe a great episode of 20/20 or even 48 Hours. I'm a sucker for murder mysteries, true life crime, I've even read several books having to do with cold cases and such... Kathryn Casey is a marvelous author of murder crimes in Texas, and I've read nearly everything she's done.

Tonight's show on Investigation Discovery is a little different... it's a show called "Surviving Evil", and each episode centers around someone--usually a woman--who makes it through what is a brutal ordeal in her life. The hour long show features two stories... the first one was a girl named April Sykes, who was essentially set on fire by the man who assaulted her.

The second story is my Aunt Judy Murrell.

Judy is the youngest sister of my mom and my other aunts, and has been single for a while now. She has two grown sons, my cousins, who are both in the military, tough guys, but solid men who serve our country. She also has a daughter named Jennifer, who is now in college.

Living in Andalusia, Alabama, she lives with her daughter, but lives a simple life, a single life... sometimes, many times a lonely life. And that's why it was okay for her to find favor with someone that in normal circumstances no one would ever want to really spent much time with. Judy is a wonderful woman... she is so proud of her sons, she's proud of her daughter, and she loves her family so much. 

Our little story is how when I was a baby, I would sleep on her chest... and go to the bathroom on her.  I was like, one, so don't judge too much. She's always been warm with me, with a big hug and she loves The Lovely Steph Leann and oh, does she love her some Campbell Isaiah.

In early 2011, Aunt Judy met Raul Del Toro, a smooth talker from Cuba who showed her just the kind of attention, said just the kind of words that a middle aged single mom from a small town wants to hear. They went out, they got close, and though he wasn't the ideal man in the eyes of Aunt Judy's older sister--my mom--or her daughter Jennifer, hey, it's Judy's life, right?

But over time, Judy began to notice something... Raul began to control more and more of the things she would say and do. He opposed her wearing anything like a tank top, or shorts he thought were too short, he made her quit her job at a local factory, convincing her that he would take care of her financially... he would routinely go through her cell phone to see if she was "running around" on him.

One night in March of 2011, he had a little too much, things got out of hand, he got violent and busted Aunt Judy's lip. She was able to call the police, and they arrived. She told police that she just wanted him to leave--Raul complied... why didn't she have him arrested for assault? He had already threatened to kill her if she ever had him thrown in jail. 

A few weeks went by, and he came back around. Smooth talking as always, he charmed his way back into her life, back into her small town Andalusia home. Jan, the sister (and my mom), had already convinced her to get a gun just in case, and Jennifer, the daughter, had already decided to not stick around when Raul was there. 

April 2011.

Raul was in Aunt Judy's home, and they began to argue again. This time, he wanted to see her phone to see what she'd been up to, and in a fit of anger, fear and maybe just annoyance, she threw it against the wall, shattering the device. It was then that the nightmare of the next 12 hours started for my Aunt Judy.

He hit her. He dragged her purse down, rifled through it and pulled out her drivers license, then burned it, to show her that she was a nobody. He then pulled out the gun that Aunt Judy had stashed away, telling her how he found it in the house already.

Raul dragged her into the bedroom, her OWN bedroom, in her own bed. She begged him not to kill her... or at least, not to kill her there--she pleaded that she didn't want her daughter to come in and find her, so if he was going to kill her, to take her somewhere and do it. Raul, in a random act of what he probably thought was kindness, agreed that we wouldn't kill her there. He would take her elsewhere. Either way, he expressed the fact that she would die very soon--but he told her he wasn't done with her yet. 

He went to the closet and began to pull out her clothes, using a knife to cut them, shred them, destroy them. Raul turned to my Aunt Judy and made her strip. He then attempted to rape her. When he was unable to do what he wanted, he did what might be the most horrific thing I can think of--he raped and assaulted her with her own gun. He hit her, he cut her with the knife... and then in a final show of humiliation, he dragged her in to the bathroom and chopped off huge amounts of hair.

Aunt Judy has always had big, poofy, thick brown hair and she has always kept it long, for as long as I remember... and he chopped it. He cut it. He tore at it. Leaving her destroy, leaving her used, leaving her... he wanted to leave her ugly, to make sure she knew that no one would want her. 

Raul Del Toro had been with her for nearly 12 hours. In that time, he raped, assault, beat and tortured... TORTURED... my Aunt Judy. And he degraded her. More than anything else, he degraded her in every way he knew how to do.

As the sun came up the next day, he made her put on a baseball cap, and then... then he hugged her and told her that he loved her. She asked that even though he loved her, he was going to kill her, to which he simply said yes.

He then dragged her outside to the vehicle in the yard. My Aunt Judy got in, and was forced to put the seat back. Raul Del Toro got in and began to drive to whatever spot he had decided to end her life. He was going to take her outside of town... and shoot her. If she was lucky, just a quick shot. But he said he was going to shoot her in the back and see how long she would crawl before she died. 

If you have lived in any small town long enough, or even in a neighborhood long enough, you recognize more than what you see on your left and right. You will recognize what you see up above too. So as my Aunt Judy lay back in the seat, bruised, bloody, violated, swollen, she could tell by the turns the car was making, and by what she saw in the upper part of the car window that they were going through downtown Andalusia.

This was now or never. She knew that if they got past downtown, past where people lived and worked, past where the town's businesses were just waking up, then it was over. If my Aunt Judy was going to act, she would have to do it now.

Instinctively, she grabbed the wheel and yanked it. The car jerked as Raul Del Toro tried to gain control back. The car swerved, around and swung into a Dairy Queen parking lot before it came to a stop. A struggle in the car ensued, and the gun, my Aunt Judy's gun, the gun Raul Del Toro had been holding, the gun was fired three times. Three gunshots blasted into my Aunt Judy, one in her chest, one in her pelvis and one into her stomach, shredding her spleen and kidney.

Raul Del Toro got out of the car and walked away. My Aunt Judy managed to get her seatbelt unbuckled, opened the door and fell out of the car in a bloody heap. She was able to stand up some, waving for help, before collapsing unconscious. 

I was at home. I got a phone call from Jan that something had happened. Something about her boyfriend or her ex boyfriend had assaulted her or hit her or something or... and shot her? Like, my Aunt Judy got shot? Three times? What are you talking about...?

Over the next 24 hours, I slowly got the details, those details that I couldn't understand because who does this to someone? Who sexually assaults someone with... a gun? Is this real?

My Aunt Judy lost a lot of blood that night. She spent many weeks in the hospital, suffered through many surgeries, and lost her spleen, her gall bladder and part of her stomach, as well as dealing with severe kidney damage. Family rallied around her, many prayers were said for her, and she slowly began to recover physically.

Emotionally, however, is a much longer recovery. Three and a half years later, she still cries at night, she still has trouble sleeping, she deals with depression. My Aunt Judy credits two things that keep her going--God and her family. She has faith in both.

My Aunt Judy is a brave woman. She dealt with more in 12 hours than most of us will have to deal with in a lifetime. She wasn't merely violated, she was destroyed in her own bedroom. 

As for Raul Del Toro, he walked away from the scene, and was actually picked up by the Sheriff's Department walking down the highway out of town. He had the wherewithal to do everything he did to my Aunt Judy, but didn't have the common sense to run and hide. And he's very lucky that John and Steven, my Aunt Judy's two sons in the Army and Marines, didn't get a hold him first, because that would have been a bloodletting the likes of which we haven't seen in a long time. 

Raul Del Toro is now serving two consecutive life sentences, and will be eligible for parole in about 25 years. I hope he receives in the prison bathrooms from an inmate nicknamed Sweet Sweetback that which he bestowed upon my Aunt Judy.

I love my Aunt Judy. She stands tall now. She deals mentally and emotionally with everything, and probably always will. But she survived. She lives. And for that, I thank God. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

reviewing 1989

A few days ago at Target, I bought Taylor Swift's new album "1989", or as it's been called in some places, "T.S. 1989", and here is a track by track review… keep in mind, when I write this, I’m hearing all of these songs but two (“Shake It Off” and “Out of the Woods”) for the very first time, and am writing this as I listen, not after I’ve heard the whole thing. So it’s like, a real time commentary.

Welcome to New York… I’m sure “poppy” is a word I’ll use a lot here, but this is definitely poppy. It’s a bubble gum version of Jay-Z’s & Alicia Keys “Empire State of Mind”, mixed with a just as excited, just as poppy version of “Party in the USA”. It’s a great lead off track and sets the tone for the album

Blank Space… This song is great. With “Shake It Off” and with this, Taylor has fully embraced the reputation of “date her, break up, get a song written about you” that has flown around her for years. This might be a contender for the favorite on the album two tracks in. “Got a long list of ex-lovers, they’ll tell you I’m insane, cause you know I love the players and you love the game…” This song is full of snappy lines just like that.

Style… This is the most 90s song I’ve heard in a long time, and for me, that’s a great thing. Yes, poppy, but a little darker than that, and more adult as well. Taylor doesn’t curse in her songs, and never directly addresses the bedroom activities that many songs go to immediately, but the insinuation is there—“…takes me home, lights are off, he’s taking off his coat…” Maybe its prayer. Who knows.

Out of the Woods… This is the second single from the album, released a few weeks ago, rumored to be written about Harry Styles… or one of the One Direction guys, who knows. I’m not a huge fan of this one, especially when it’s following the marvelous “Shake It Off”. Still, it’s not a bad track, it’s a little catchy, and you’ll find yourself “are we outta the woods!!??” a few times today.

All You Had to Do Was Stay… So far, I’m getting the impression that she’s addressing several of her past boyfriends, famous or not… Adele made a bajillionty dollars with her incredible album “21”, an entire album full of heartbreak and lost love. To say Taylor Swift is “Adele Light” is not only unfair to Adele, but also to Taylor, but in the same manner, the comparisons are there to me. It’s another song of “why did you leave, you should have stayed here” (not lyrics, just sentiment). She pulls it off though, it’s a quirky song.

Shake It Off… Taylor Swift, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways… everything I’ve ever loved about Taylor is wrapped up in two songs—“You Belong To Me”, not only my favorite Swift, but one of my favorite songs of all time anywhere… and this one. I am not tired of this, don’t know when I will get tired of it, and have heard it 2 dozen times at least. The video just adds sprinkles to an already great hot fudge sundae.

I Wish You Would… Seven tracks in, no ballads yet. This song is sort of the like the uneven sequel to Track 5, “All You Had to Do Was Stay”. Sung well, very wordy, but almost a retread of what we’ve heard. Having said that, if this catches on as a single on the radio, I’ll say the same thing about Track 5. 

Bad Blood… One of the only reasons I like “Bang Bang” by Jessie J with Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj (it’s a problem when the artist credit is like, 4x as long as the song title) is because it’s just darn fun to sing. Same with “I Love It All” by Icona Pop. This song might just fall under that category, cause it’s a loud proclamation of “Get Up Out My Face” to her ex-man. “Band-Aids don’t fix bullet holes, you say sorry just for show”… indeed.

Oh, and I have a real conflict with myself because I happen to like anything associated with Nicki Minaj.

Wildest Dreams… Not quite a ballad, I really like this track… it’s a little haunting, very seductive and very pointedly saying, “We had it all and you’re gonna miss it.” (again, not lyrics, but sentiment). The boy she’s been pining for over the last few songs is now being told that he’ll have her in his wildest dreams now, and that’s is. Burn.

How You Get the Girl… If there was any return to her country roots, this song is the one that does that.  Still pop, but it’s got more twang to it than anything I’ve heard.  This totally reminds me of "Some Kind of Wonderful", and how Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson) is trying to help Keith (Eric Stoltz) get the girl, Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson), when it’s in fact Watts who wants Keith more than anything.  Here’s how to get the girl… okay, here’s how to actually get me.  To me, this will be a track I’ll remember—one of the more different songs on the album thus far.

This Love… And now we have our true ballad.  I like it.  This album tells a story… started bright, got hurt, rebounded and is finding balance again.  Soft, a little reminiscent of old school, pre-skank soft Mariah Carey.  “This Love is alive, back from the dead, these hands had to let it go free and this love came back to me…”

I Know Places… Trying to hard. That’s the first thing I thought when this song started. The chorus is strong, and well written lyrically, like most of her stuff, but the verses are a bit much. Seems like she’s trying to be “out there” with her sound on this one, and for me, it just doesn’t work as well. I’m glad she doesn’t lead off with this song, it wouldn’t work. And she does say “damn”, so I stand corrected on Taylor not cursing. 

Clean… This one, however, has a great beginning. And the line “You’re still over me like a wine stained dress I can’t wear anymore” is both hilarious and cutting, and I love it. This is the song where she finally breaks free of the one who kept her down, be it Mayer or Styles or Warren Beatty or whoever else she dated. I really enjoyed this song.

Thus ends the regular version of the album. However, as mentioned above, I purchased Target’s Deluxe Version of the album, with bonus tracks and “songwriting memos”, whatever that is—which we’ll find out in a few minutes, I guess.

Wonderland… If you couldn’t get it from the title, it’s a play on the Wonderland from the Alice in Wonderland type story… no mention of Alice though, more of a finding-paradise-that’s-not-paradise-together type Wonderland. Bonus points for mentioning the Chesire Cat in the lyrics. I would imagine this video will have Taylor in a small Alice dress running around a strange world full of strange creatures. Not that that’s a bad thing.

You Are in Love… Another sort-of ballad, well written, well done, though it may would benefit from a little less production. I do like this song a lot, though, and it’s melody. Kudos for a beginning that sounds like the opening chords of Christopher Cross’ “Sailing”. I’m positive this isn’t what she was going for, but it’s a bonus to me.

New Romantics… With a slight sound that differs from Taylor’s usually voice, this one song is probably the poster child from her departure from country to pop. This song maybe a perfect pop song.

In summary...feel like this entire album is telling a story… the arrival “Welcome to New York”, the warning of dating Taylor, “Blank Space”… the romance with “Style”… the trouble with “Out of the Woods”… the pining and regret with “All You Had to Do Was Stay” and “I Wish You Would”, with the ignore-the-haters “Shake It Off” in the middle… the vengeful “Bad Blood”… the flaunting of “Wildest Dreams”… the new or maybe rekindled romance of “How You Get the Girl” and “This Love” and “I Know Places”… and finally, the freedom of it all with “Clean”.  The extra tracks are just that.

Bottom line? I loved this album. Even the tracks that weren't my favorite were still good... my favorites however, beyond "Shake It Off", will likely be "How You Get the Girl", "Clean" and I really like that "Blank Space". Check it out.

And because Taylor Swift....

Monday, October 27, 2014

being a fangirl

I bought Taylor Swift’s new CD, “1989” today. For whatever reason, it came out today, on a Monday, and not on a Tuesday. Right before I got to work—or better yet, I parked at work and walked up a slight hill to Target, and was at the door at 7:50. And then remembered that they didn’t open until 8. Because my primary purpose in going was to buy Taylor Swift’s new CD, I suddenly became one of “those fans”, as in, standing outside the store, waiting for it to open.

What makes it worse, was there were three 20sometthing chicks standing right behind me, ready to go in and do the same. They opened the door, and I walked quickly—but not too quick, as I wasn’t that desperate—to the left, to Target’s music section. And, even though they’ve been closed since 10pm last night, the shelves that would hold new CDs were empty.

A Target dude asked me if I needed help, and I was thinking, “Really? You have to know this is the biggest album of the year, right?” I told him, a little sheepishly and low voiced, “The new Taylor Swift CD?”


So there’s that.

He asked me if I’d rather have the regular or deluxe version, and I just responded, “Can you bring them both out?” He agreed and disappeared into the back. The three girls who were around me outside then joined me in the music section. Another Target girl came up and asked all us if we needed anything. 

And doing the creepy loser thing again, without thinking, I cheerily said, "Oh, we are just waiting on the new Taylor Swift CD!" I then wanted to facepalm, but decided against it. Finally two people came from the back, each holding boxes, handing out regular and deluxe version of the new album.

Walking to the register, I was not only the first customer actually in Target this morning, I'm the first person to check out. If Target doesn't make another dollar all day, they will have at least made $15.68--enough for a Taylor Swift deluxe edition of "1989" and a Twix Bar. 

The Medea type lady at the register looked at the CD that I handed to her. "Who is this? Is she new? We keep playing her movies and videos in the music department, so I thought she must be new..."

"She's got a new album out today, and it's supposed to be a big deal."

"Oh, okay... figured she was new."

Got my CD. Went to work. 

How is it? I wrote a track-by-track commentary, and you can find that by clicking here...