Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Best Books!

So I am so glad to share with you what we think are the best books of 2013...not that they were published in 2013, but that we read in 2013.


These are the books you should read this year. I don't want to spoil them or give you too much...so I'll give you a picture, and the feeling of the book, then it's up to you.

Night Film 
by: Marisha Pessl

The Night Circus
by: Erin Morgenstern

So evoking, imaginative, dark and magical.

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane
by: Neil Gaiman

Sort of Dark...sort of, Pretty...sort of, a coming of age story...sort of, beautiful...not sort of.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette
by: Maria Semple

Uh SO GOOD! Funny. Fun. Read it.


I'm always such a curmudgeon about books. I can't get into fiction. I try all the time, and my 2014 resolution is to try harder. But I did read some fantastic non-fiction this year:

 1. The City of Falling Angels, by John Berendt. The mysterious burning of the Fenice Opera House in Venice. 

2. The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend, by Glenn Frankel. The making of the 1956 John Ford western, as well as the controversial story that inspired it.

3. Majestie, by David Teems. A fascinating and witty look at the king behind the King James Bible.

4. Spook, by Mary Roach. Written by the same author as Stiff, here she looks at ghosts, paranormal activity, and the afterlife. You know I love that stuff.

5. Untouchable, by Randall Sullivan. The strange, strange life and tragic, tragic death of Michael Jackson.

6. Alix and Nicky, by Virginia Rounding. A dramatic and intense look at the last Tsar and Tsarina of Russia.

But, and this will shock my PTA mates, I did read a little fiction!

1. The Apostle, by Sholem Asch (Because I played Paul for the New Testament series and I needed to know what he was about.)

2. Ragtime, by EL Doctorow (Because I directed it.)

3. Hawaii, by James Michener (Because I went there and I fell in love with it.)


I think I've already written about 7 posts with book recommendations this year, so I'll keep it simple. When I peruse my Goodreads list of books I've read, one really jumped out at me as a book that made me think and haunted me for weeks after I read it and it was...

 The Tree House by Douglas Thayer. Doug Thayer was a writing professor at BYU, and while I never took a class from him I did take a couple from his wife. This book is the story of a mormon boy growing up in Provo, Utah around the time of World War II. It's not preachy or didactic at all, even though it is clearly about mormonism and missionaries. The protagonist, Harris is interesting and noble but also flawed and realistic. It's truly a masterwork. 

Honorable Mention goes to Dracula by Bram Stoker. What? You've never heard of it? Yes, I'm sure you already knew this book was great. But I have a "condition" I like to call the "Dawson's Creek Syndrome" which means that I have a hard time consuming any media that was produced before 1998. I just can't read Jane Austen. Or Dickens. Or watch Bringing Up Baby even though Chris tried to make me and all I remember is that Katherine Hepburn was born on the side of a hill and I think there was a dinosaur. Or is that a totally different movie from the 80s called baby about people who raise a brontosaurus? I don't know. But my point is is that this October I listened to the audiobook of Dracula (read by Alan Cumming and Tim Curry and many more) and it was spooky and smart and terrifying and amazing. I loved it.

And my guilty pleasure was The Memory of Light by Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan. I wrote about this series (The Wheel of Time) last year which I started reading when I was 15 years old. The Memory of Light was the conclusion and it was everything the finale to a big, giant, epic fantasy series should be. Satisfying, exciting, question-answering and emotional. I loved it. I want to read it again.


Of the books I read this year, here are the best and/or most impactful/memorable of the list:

Pronto by Elmore Leonard
I love the TV show "Justified" so I wanted to trace the character roots of Raylan Givens to his origination. This is the first book the marshal appears in and it's quite entertaining if you like books about Florida, the Mob, double-deals, Italy, and ... Federal Marshals who are flawed and brilliant. I guess you could list this as my Guilty Pleasure.

“She wondered what he looked like with his hat off and wondered again if he knew he was funny.” 

Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson by Lyndsay Faye
Ever since I first heard about Jack the Ripper, I've been fascinated with the story and maddened by the fact that it remains unsolved. I've also admired the character Sherlock Holmes and his incomparable brilliance. Naturally, then, this book—where Holmes is enlisted to help solve the Ripper case—was perfect for me in many ways.

"Besides, Watson,” he added, with a glint of humor in his grey eyes, “you, after all, are a man of the world. We must put your skills to use, for there is no greater tragedy on God's green earth than that of untapped talent.” 

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
I'd seen the movie and the book still got my heart racing. There's something about the suspense that this book creates, even if you already know the ending. And that ending. Reading it makes so much more sense than the movie. So glad I read it.

“You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.” 

City of Thieves by David Benioff
I tried to read it once and stopped 10 minutes into it. I came back to it and it hooked me. Something about two young WWII-era Russians sent on an impossible mission behind enemy lines that makes you thankful for central heating.

“The fire was silent, the little houses collapsing into the flames without complaint, flocks of sparks rising to the sky. At a distance it seemed beautiful, and I thought it was strange that powerful violence is often so pleasing to the eye...”

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
It's a beast. It's so wide. Vast. There is so much happening and so many characters to love and to hate. And all the while you're being pelted with bits of useful philosophy you can use in your own life. I've never read anything like it.

“You can be shaped, or you can be broken. There is not much in between. Try to learn. Be coachable. Try to learn from everybody, especially those who fail. This is hard. ... How promising you are as a Student of the Game is a function of what you can pay attention to without running away.” 

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
This book. My eye sockets were red and dry after this thing got done with me. This may sound dramatic but it's an experience that I can't really put into words. If you think you've seen all you can see or read about WWII, then read this.

“The only thing worse than a boy who hates you: a boy that loves you.” 

The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell
If you fancy yourself a storyteller, this is required reading. But it's also just packed with wisdom.

“I don't think there is any such thing as an ordinary mortal. Everybody has his own possibility of rapture in the experience of life. All he has to do is recognize it and then cultivate it and get going with it. I always feel uncomfortable when people speak about ordinary mortals because I've never met an ordinary man, woman, or child.” 

The Brothers K by David James Duncan
At the top of the list of my favorite books. It's funny. It's tragic. It's infuriating. It's brilliant. It's about a family that, by the end, becomes as real as any family you've ever known. That's perfect writing.

“I wish there really was such a thing as a Time-Clock Puncher, though. I wish some gigantic, surly, stone-fisted Soap Mahoney-type guy went around the world smashing every clock in sight till there weren't any more and people got so confused about when to go to the mill or school or church that they gave up and did something interesting instead.” 


I am not as well read as Brett. Or anybody else reading this. Though I probably read more contemporary fiction this year than ever before.

I really enjoyed John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. John Green is just a clever, clever writer. While reading it I just kept thinking, "How did he come up with THAT line" or "That's movie dialogue, right there." I cast the movie in my mind while I read it. I appreciated the humor with with which he approached this heart-wrenching subject of youth with cancer. It was really a wonderful read.

The book that stayed with me for some time after I read it, however, was M.L. Stedman's The Light Between Oceans. It was the last few pages of this book that just wrecked me. The description on the inside of the book: 

After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.

Tom, who keeps meticulous records and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel insists the baby is a “gift from God,” and against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.

Monday, December 30, 2013

PTA's Best Music of 2013

Welcome to 2013 through the eyes of PTA! At least, as far as entertainment consumption goes. This week we will roll out our top picks as follows:

Monday – Ken: Music
Tuesday – Patrick: Books
Wednesday -  Chris: Movies
Thursday – Josh: TV Shows
Friday – Brett: Tech

So, let's talk 2013's music!

I don't expect you to pity me (please, don't), but time was I used to be tragically hip when it came to music. But somewhere over the past decade, discovering new music took a back burner. I don't know why, exactly. I still love great music. But now I'm kind of content to just take recommendations from people I trust. Which is why most of my top picks are going to be music you see noted by my friends here on Part Time Authors.


So, this year I was partial to The Civil Wars and Haim. Beautiful and catchy. But I'll let my peers tell you more about that. According to my iTunes, the song that got the most play in 2013 – and this may be partially because of my children – which may be a big part of why I like listening to it, is Imagine Dragons' “I'm On Top of the Word.” It's upbeat and makes me smile every time I listen to it.

Perhaps it should be a “guilty pleasure,” but I also enjoyed the Pink songs I heard on the radio this year. I actually don't own any of her songs, but when she came on the radio, every time, I let it play. She kind of fascinates me. This tough but vulnerable lady. She reminds me of a girl I knew my junior year in high school. We had an accounting class together. She was this tough, but pretty girl who wore ripped jeans and bandanas and could swear like a sailor. I was the clean-cut Mormon kid who sat next to her in the corner of the room. But I could make her laugh. And we chatted every day like we were on an elementary school playground. At the end of the school year, just before I moved from California to Hawaii, she said to me, “I wish we had gone out some time.” To which my mouth answered, “Yeah, me too” but my brain answered, “Don't you dare. You have no idea how to survive in that world.” And Pink reminds me of her, so I can't help but root for her and feel like we would be friends. Like I would get her. (I flatter myself.) Plus Pink has some pipes!

This year has been a whirlwind of Music, there has been new music and there is still the old stuff laying around your car door pockets.  I used to be real into music and a great source to come to when you needed new and upcoming music...but that was the Cranberries and Lisa Loeb and I've not got much else since then.  Lucky for you Brett and Josh and Chris are weighing in...they will have something to say.

However, my favorite song this year was Pink and Nate Ruess.  So, yeah, now it's on FM 100 which means it can't be cool, but I super love both these singers.

Here is the link to a live performance and the thing is...Pink is a singer.

She does everything she can to trick you into thinking she's rough and killer and super duper cool...but she is so casually effortless when she sings.  It's always controlled, even Nate is reaching for some of his notes in this video and Pink is all, 'Ahh, I'll hit those for ya buddy.'

So good.

Also, when I was looking for that link I found this one....

So I guess I liked FUN this year...and forever Janelle Monae.    


Full Albums:
The Civil Wars: The Civil Wars
Mideau: Mideau
HAIM: Days are Gone
Father John Misty: Fear Fun
First Aid Kit: The Lion's Roar
Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires of the City
Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel...

If I had to pick my favorite song from 2013?

How about two: "Funtimes in Babylon" Father John Misty and "Dust to Dust" The Civil Wars

OK, how about three: "Diane Young" Vampire Weekend

I already posted about Haim, my latest band obsession, and they are definitely the top of my list for 2013. But if I had to pick a song that really stood out to me this year, it's Royals, by Lorde.

The funny thing about 2013 that I will always remember is that this is the year that my kids (ages 9, 8 and 4) started getting into music. I would come home and they would be having dance parties up stairs to music they chose and put on the AppleTV and not something that I chose for them. My sons also decided this year that they needed to listen to the radio when they go to sleep, which means that song lyrics are being implanted into their minds subconsciously. And I will never forget when we were driving in my car and Royals came on my iPod and all my kids started singing along and knew every single word. I'm not sure how appropriate it is for an 8 year old to be singing about Cristal and tigers on a gold leash, but whatever. The song is catchy and fun to sing and I love Lorde's voice and am freaked out by the fact that she was 16 when she recorded that song.

For my guilty pleasure: Let It Go by Idina Menzel on the Frozen soundtrack. We saw this movie with the kids on Christmas Eve and my 4 year old daughter loved it. If you haven't seen it, this is the song where one of the protagonists, Elsa, decides it's time to be herself and stop being controlled by her fears. So it has a cute message. And, no surprise, Idina Menzel wails on it. So yes, I love to see my 4 year old walk around the house singing it. And yes, I've been known to belt it out in my car while driving down I-15.

This was a good year for music. I found a lot of completely new stuff and many of my old favorites released new music as well. The one band that I kept coming back to was Friska Viljor (They’re Swedish.) Here’s a quote from their Wikipedia page:

"So now, there you are, maybe with a little circular plastic piece lying in front of you. Or maybe you have just recently heard of this band and you are now looking at their story on a shiny screen. Anyhow you may not believe it, but that little plastic piece combined with a stereo, or clicking on a sound link on this screen, volume cranked up of course, brings all that life, joy, playfulness and freedom to You, with all the energy that once was dedicated to a now lost love."

And, as it stands now, are my favorite albums and songs from 2013:

Full Albums:
Friska Viljor - Remember Our Name
Mikal Cronin - MCII
The National - Trouble Will Find Me
San Fermin - San Fermin
Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City
Matt Pond - The Lives Inside the Lines In Your Hand
Phosphorescent - Muchacho
Avicii - True
Local Natives - Hummingbird
CHVRCHES - The Bones of What You Believe

Honorable Mentions:
John Wizards - John Wizards
London Grammar - If You Want
John Grant - Pale Green Ghosts
The Annuals - Time Stamp
The 1975 - The 1975

Janelle MonĂ¡e - Dance Apocalyptic
Lorde - Royals
Avicii - Hey Brother
JT - Suit and Tie
Daft Punk - Instant Crush
Katie Perry - Roar
Get Free - Major Lazer
Hopeless Wanderer - Mumford and Sons
Tegan and Sara - Closer
Mount Moriah - Younger Days

(Josh here: For your listening pleasure, a spotify playlist of our picks. In the case of whole albums, I just picked a couple tracks from each, and I have no idea if those were the best tracks or not. Remember: I'm the one who picked a song from a Disney movie, so I am not the music authority.)  

Friday, December 27, 2013

Brett's Favorite Ken Posts of 2013

Ken. What can I say?

He's probably PTA's most prolific and consistent writer.

Of course, I think everyone on this blog has their moments of staggering genius. It's an honor just to be on here with all of them. Patrick's posts are poetry. Chris is effortlessly funny. Josh tells it like it is and does it with heart.

Ken posts on Monday and always kicks the week off right. But to pick my favorite post(s) of his is like asking Ken to pick his favorite child. I can't do it. I am not lying when I say every single post he writes is great. They are each thought out, funny, touching, and entertaining. I'm lucky if I remember to post something. Not Ken. There he is each week publishing another winner.

So, even though it's really impossible to choose, here are a few of my favorites from Ken this past year:

Rattlin' & Hummin' - "'Are you heading to Salt Lake?' 'Yep,' as he opens his car door. 'Can I ride in your truck?' 'Yep,' as he gets in and spits out his chew. He leans out the window to explain how I can't sit up front because they have some equipment up there. I looked. It was true. They also had some in the back, up against the cab. I threw my bag in the back, and climbed aboard."

Parental Discretion Advised - "You want I should tell you why I was not allowed to watch the Dukes and Boss Hogg squabble over bootlegged moonshine in Hazzard County? 'Because those shows are stupid,' said my dad, laying down the law."

Molokai Style - "When you tell people you lived on Molokai, you get one of two responses. 'Never heard of it' or 'Isn't that where the lepers are?' You are correct on both accounts. For the most part, even people who live on another Hawaiian island raise their eyebrows and are most surprised to hear that there are people alive and well on Molokai."

If You Like Me, Check This Box - "About 25 minutes into every class, I would receive a love note from Katie. As if we were in junior high. They were always thoughtful; but my favorite part was that she would write the note, fold it up, and on the outside of the paper write: 'Pass this note to the handsome, dark-haired man on the front row named Ken.' She would then sneak in the door of this monstrous classroom, tap the suit in the last row, at the top of the stadium-style seating structure, and hand him the note. The guy would read the instructions to pass it down, and he would hand it to the guy in front of him. Down and down. Down and down."

Enjoy these posts once again and here's to a great 2014 on PartTimeAuthors.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

My favorite posts

I like to fancy myself a writer, and the only thing that makes that so is this blog. You see, if you are a writer, you have to write. You can't only think about writing, or only talk about writing, or only outline or plot summarize or whatever. You have to write. So the fact that I am forced to write something once a week is good for me and I am glad I do it and it allows me, in a very small way, to call myself a writer. 

The funny thing about writing a blog (or I guess anything, really) is that you never really know what people are going to respond to. Sometimes you slap something together in 15 min and it gets a ton of likes and shares and comments. And sometimes you really pour your heart and soul into something and it goes nowhere. But it is nice when the something you really worked on takes off. 

So, because I am a narcissist, I am going to share TWO of my favorite posts. The first, is one I thought long and hard about and worked on. It got a lot of play, mostly because Design Mom mentioned it in her A Few Things post back in October. It was

And the other, which I sort of threw together, mostly to help myself work out in my own head what I was trying to say was

Brett joined PTA after it was already founded and we're grateful to have him. First (and least importantly) , because we had no one to write Friday posts and so we had a terrible rotation system that never worked and we were always forgetting who's turn it was to post on Friday. But mainly (and most importantly) because he is a thoughtful and poignant writer. Sometimes it is a piece of poetry he's written (I'd never be brave enough to share poetry so publicly) like Anticipating Autumn. Other times it is a YouTube video you haven't seen but makes you think like When happiness can come rushing in to meet the sadness.  And every once in a while it is a really powerful piece that stops you in your tracks. His post this summer about depression was just that. 

If you missed it the first time, please read it. Or if you read it the first time, please read it again. It's worth it. And it's one of those post that you can tell Brett really poured his heart into and got a lot of play. People, rightly so, loved it. And so did I.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

all hail, josh!

I have maintained for a long time that Josh Bingham is the funniest person I know. He really is. And I know a lot of funny people. But Josh is effortlessly funny, and nobody makes me laugh harder or longer. There's something about the way he phrases things, or fails at accents, or impersonates people that gets me. He's confident in his humor - he's never desperately forcing it on you. When it's there, it's amazing, and when it's not there he's saying something insightful or wise instead. He's a well-rounded personality. He's a great friend. He's also a fantastic writer. So here are my two (sorry, two) favorite posts of his this year:

Why Are Our Expectations of Dads So Low?

We Can't Have Nice Things: My Thrift Store Fail

As for recommending my favorite post of my own this year? Probably when I narrated this disaster of a national anthem.

Happy 2014 PTA readers!

Monday, December 23, 2013

My Favorite Posts, 2013.

Patrick's Daisy and my Becca and Lucy, last October. 

Well, if you read much PTA then you know ‘round these parts we are all about year-end wrap-ups.

This week we present a “Best Of” of sorts. Each of us has selected 2 Favorites from this past year - something we wrote ourselves, and then something written by another PTA. To prevent each of us from only selecting Josh’s posts as our favorites, we have opted to select a post from the person who writes/posts the day after us. That means I will link to my favorite post that I wrote this year, and then I have the privilege of linking to my favorite post from Patrick.

For my favorite thing I wrote this year, I am going with The Slump. This was the post I wrote about my period of unemployment. It still makes me happy and grateful when I read it.

For Patrick...this was a difficult selection process. I love Patrick’s writing. I love that I get to be friends with Patrick. Our differences highlight our similarities, I think. Patrick is uber-talented, and I can’t sing, play an instrument, or pole-dance like Patrick. He is stylish, and I can’t style my way out of a wet paper bag! But we like laughing together. We like each other’s children. And when Patrick writes about being a father, I want to stand and applaud. So I have chosen Patrick’s post, Being Dad.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Serving others: the gift I always forget

I want to be better about service.

I always feel like I'm too overwhelmed to help. I remember the proverb in Luke 4:23: Physician, heal thyself. I often feel like before I can really serve, I need to be happy enough with myself, healthy enough to do so. However, the trick is that part of healing ourselves only happens when we serve. So, I start small. I help my wife more. My kids. I try to offer encouragement to others.

But I don't take my kids to soup kitchens. Or to nice old ladies' houses. I have in the past. And it makes for a marvelous experience and, at this time of year, a more memorable Christmas.

I want to do that again. Feel that again. So, I guess I'm trying to say that, along with the physical gifts we give, maybe we can do something for someone else that will ease their burden a bit.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays.

[Note: this short was made by a wonderfully talented team led by my friends Jed Wells and Gavin Bentley. My wife put in hours hanging lights on all of our neighbors houses and made everything look good. Our house, tree, and family has a 2 second cameo.]

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Best Christmas Gift Book Ideas for Oddly Specific People on Your List: 2013

As a blogger, I have a really bad habit. You see, I have a terribly short memory and will frequently come up with "ideas" for posts, only to realize (usually after I have written and hit publish) that I basically already wrote the same blog post a year ago. So as I was thinking about a blog about gifting for the holiday season, in my head I started re-writing this post that I wrote a year ago. But then I realized that if I made it a series and did it every year and it was intentional, I wasn't plagiarising myself, I was just creating repeat content. So I present you with The Best Books to Buy as Gifts for Oddly Specific People on your list.

For your brother who is a bibliophile, but also want to work at Google and recently moved to San Francisco
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.

Clay was a designer for a popular tech company, but when the bubble bursts, he needs a job and begins working as a night clerk at a mysterious old bookstore. He soon notices that the clientele are odd, come in the middle of the night and seem to borrow books in telling patterns.

The book is part mystery, part love letter to books, part techno-nerd geek out. I listened to the audio book and it would be a great one to listen to with older kids on a long holiday road trip.

For your Aunt who loves "The Jerk" and is slightly neurotic and just created her Match.com profile.

The Pleasure of my Company by Steve Martin

Remember when Steve Martin was just that one funny guy in those funny movies? And then you found out he was a writer and you thought "Vanity project!" and then you read one of the books and it was touching and beautiful and artfully written? And you really wished Steve Martin would stop sucking up all the talent in the world.

This book is the story of Daniel,  a bit of a recluse who watches the world go by from the safety of his Santa Monica apartment. He's neurotic and odd but completely charming and his story will warm the cold dark cockles of your heart (I've never actually used the word cockles in a sentence before and I am feeling pretty good about it.)

For your Dad who just got a Kindle Fire and keeps saying he really wants to "get into these graphic novels the kids are always talking about" and loves Star Wars, Romeo and Juliet and really weird sci-fi.

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

This was my first foray in graphic novels written for grown ups and I thought it was awesome. It definitely has some adult content, so please don't give this to your 12 year old nephew. The artwork is great, the story is odd and crazy but fascinating, and I can't want to read volume 2. And then wait a billion years for volume 3 to come out.

For your sister who is the one that told your dad he should read all those graphic novels and was at the midnight showing of all the Marvel movies

The Girl Who Would be King by Kelly Thompson

This book is the story of two girls who's mothers both die tragically around the same time. They both discover that they have inherited extraordinary powers and have to decide how to use them. The book expertly jumps back and forth between the two girls points of view as one chooses to use her powers for good and one chooses less virtuous pursuits.

The descriptions sounds a little lame and obvious, but Thompson creates two distinct characters who are equally likable and interesting, even though one is good and one is evil. And their names are Lola LaFever and Bonnie Braverman. How great is that?

For your co-worker who loves the 1930s and was super excited for The Great Gatsby to come out and then, like most people was disappointed

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

It's hard to describe this book exactly. It's basically a story of a girl, Katey Kontent, who meets an upper class investment banker, Tinker Grey in a bar on New Years even in 1937. Its about class, New York, the 30s and has great characters. It's not the type of book I normally read, but I was hooked.

Did I miss anyone? I feel like this pretty much covers every oddly specific person on your list. And stay tuned - after Christmas we'll be sharing all the PTAs best books of the year.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

no shame

When I was eight years old I had a birthday party. My mom was really busy and, with nine kids, super sick of birthday parties. You know how most of us get a little cranky every time our child's birthday comes around? Because you have to plan it and you have to pay for it? And other people's dirty children come to your house and stink it all up? And there are all these gift and cake and decorative expectations? Expectations that can never be met? Well, my mom had to face that nine times every year. I'm surprised she didn't go Jehovah's Witness on us. I would have!

Anyway, she told me that instead of sending out invitations to my party I should just call my friends on the phone and tell them when it was. So that's what I did. My pitch went a little something like this:

"Hi, this is Chris Clark, I'm having a birthday next Saturday at my house from 3-5. Don't forget to bring a present!"

My older sister Page overheard me making these calls and was horrified. It never occurred to me that reminding my friends to bring a present was in bad taste. And, you know what? I'm still not sure that it was. It's a birthday party, and I wanted presents! That's all I really wanted. What if they forgot? Page was scandalized and tried to explain why it was tacky, but it didn't really sink in. Don't forget to bring a present! From the mouth of babes.

I still feel like reminding people to bring me presents on my birthday. I've learned not to do that out of tact, but I still secretly like getting them. I wish it weren't so shameful.

I know we have gift registries for weddings. Why can't we do that for birthdays or Christmas? Why can't I go to H&M or Lowe's with a laser gun and shoot all the things I want? Then I can post online (thank you, social media!) where I'm registered and you can stop by and get me something I really want? I would totally do the same thing for you! Imagine a world where we only got gifts we wanted! No tears, no fears.

Gift Certificates? Talk not to me. They mean well, but they feel so cold and lifeless in your hands, don't they? Sure, I'll get something I want, but I have to trade in a death chip for it. No thanks! I want something heavy and awesome to unwrap in my lap!

Anyway, I know it's never going to happen unless President Obama or Oprah makes it happen. And those people are so busy that they would never listen to little old me. But you can bet I would get them presents for Christmas, and they would get exactly what they wanted!

This Christmas, let's think less about giving, and more about getting. Come on, America!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Such a Good Story...or Two.

So....as I'm sure you know, because you follow every post I post with the vigor and vim of a toddler seeing snow for the first time, I have been using this December to search the world for crazy Christmas Traditions that would entertain us American's and remind us how lucky we are to live in a Nation where an overweight bearded man will creep down our chimneys and give us an x-box.  Well, all of this was to culminate today with David Sadaris' amazing Holiday Tale:  6 to 8 Black Men.  I don't know exactly what my plan was...was I going to plagiarize it? Summarize it?  Jazzersize it? Who knows. All I know now is that in my effort do whatever I was going to do, I found a Video of him reading that story by lamp light:  So whatever I was going to do it would never be as good as this:

And so what am I left with?  Now what?

A Story.

In my life I have come to learn the power of story.  I love to hear a good story and I love to tell one. My mother planted that seed when she would read to her "little boys" at night.  She had a Story Voice that was different then her Real Voice or even her Telephone Voice.  Her Story Voice was warm and rich and soft and lulling, coaxing you to dig in and listen or drift off to sleep.  She has always collected Children's Books and because of her, so do I.  There was always a hunt for a good story...pictures are very important to a children's book, but it takes time to sus out a great tale told well.

Perhaps my favorite book she ever discovered is a Christmas Story called, "Santa Calls" By William Joyce, who both illustrates and illuminates this story for young readers.

The Pictures are magic and full of details that you can catalogue as you are read the words, but it is the words that do the magic.  Joyce is unafraid to take a long time to tell you things that are important to his characters.  I know what you're thinking, when you see a full page of words in a Children's Book, but his voice is so matter-of-factly magic that once you get the ball rolling you will not stop.

The story is about two boys, Spaulding Little Feet, a young Comanche Brave and Art Acthinson Aimesworth, an inventor and adventure who also has a Sister, Ester. The three of them are called north to help Santa, though they don't know the reason.  The North Pole is more then you've ever imagined but exactly as it should be and my favorite character is Mrs Claus, a smart, pulled together (surprisingly skinny) woman, who would not stay behind as Santa heads off to do his yearly quest for the children of the world.

I hope that this last week before Christmas, you take every night to amaze and delight the little ones in your life with a wondrous tale either plucked from your a book or from your own life...and if you can't manage that...well, at least take 'em to 'Frozen', there is magic there too.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Gift Giving & Other Love Languages

Have you read Senor Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages? A fascinating read! And by “fascinating” I mean “easy enough for even me to understand.”

According to Captain Gary Chapman, love is spoken in five different languages. You want I should spell them out for you? Done. They are 1) Physical Touch, 2) Acts of Service, 3) Gifts, 4) Quality Time and 5) Words of Affirmation.

One of these is your “love language,” that is, the way you feel loved. (No, Eating is not one of them. But mark my words, Sir Chapman has a sequel in the works, and it includes a title somewhere along the line of The Sixth Love Language: The Most Delicious of All.)

As I read Sergeant Chapman’s theory, it made me feel like a genius, because I was pretty sure I was multi-lingual. I spoke several of these love languages, if not all of them. Give me a hug (physical touch), and you bet I’ll feel loved. But give me a hug while telling me how smart I am (words of affirmation), pulling money out of my ear (gifts), and brushing lint off my shirt (acts of service), then I really feel loved. And if you make it a long hug, then that’s quality time, and we just covered all our bases, and I’m feeling more loved than Santa Claus.

After a more thorough reading and much deliberation, I have concluded that my love language is actually Words of Affirmation. Although after seeing this sketch, I think maybe I need to become more adept at the love language of Gifts.

According to Saint Chapman, the reason it is so difficult for me to narrow in on my love language is due to his theory that if you hear your love language spoken regularly and your Bucket O’ Love (scientific term) is full, then it’s difficult to detect which language is yours. Or, if you feel absolutely no love, and your Bucket is plumb empty, then it is equally difficult to determine what your love language is. But if you know Katie, then you know that my my Bucket runneth over. But I think there's still room in that bucket for more gifts!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Terrifying, Magical Singing Elves

By far, for me, the best part of Christmas is the music. Well, and the food. Well, and the gifts. But I love the music so much. I’m totally fine with hearing it creep in during November. I love playing it my car, playing it while I am cleaning my house, playing it while I am baking delicious holiday things to eat (because, seriously, the BEST part of the Holidays has to be the food. Or the gifts. Or maybe its the music.) I love singing holiday songs. I’m not an amazing singer by any stretch of the imagination and I think that everyone, at least once in their life, should sing carols in a large group for an audience. Maybe you join a local or ward choir. Maybe you go to one of those Messiah sing-a-longs, but there is something magical about communal singing that just makes you feel the spirit of Christmas.

I know some people don’t love Christmas songs. They think they are too annoying or too saccharine or too ubiquitous during this season. They want them only played beginning on the Friday after Christmas and playing until December 25th. No more. I heard once of a group of friends who played a group game every holiday season called “The Drummer Boy Challenge.” The game would start on November 1st. You would go about your normal errands and lives, but if at any time, you heard “The Little Drummer Boy” paying in a public place, you were eliminated. The person who went the longest without hearing the song anywhere was declared the winner. Obviously you have no control over when and if you hear that song, unless you just stayed in doors all day. But it adds a certain menace to the season that feels appropriately festive.

Last year, I posted a Spotify playlist of some of my favorite, unusual Christmas songs. I think it’s still an winner - in fact, I’ll post it at the bottom of this post again. Consuming the vast amounts of Christmas music that I do has made me realize that there are some artists that definitely should be recording Christmas songs. And other’s that shouldn’t. Twisted Sister should probably stay out of the Christmas Album game, as should David Hasslehoff (Do you remember when Heidi Klum had a Christmas single? Auf wiedersehen, indeed.) . The album that has been getting the most play for me this Christmas is Annie Lennox’s Christmas Cornucopia. One of her songs is on the playlist, but you really should go listen to the whole album. Annie Lennox makes me thing of a bizarre and beautiful Christmas Angel who is equal parts terrifying and awe-inspiring. I imagine that her and Tilda Swinton ride sleighs made of ice pulled by albino reindeer and wear fox skins while they listen to this record. It’s odd and magical and amazing, just like a holiday where we imagine a magical elf puts toys in our socks.

I love to buy new albums and expand my never ending Holiday playlist. Please come over to the Facebook page and let me know what albums should add to my list. After all, it’s pretty clear that other than food and gifts, holiday music is the best part of Christmas.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

angel of death

I'm not sure where it originally came from, but once upon a time somebody decided to roll snowballs around their yard and make giant snowy human figures out of it. Today, we continue the tradition by making a snowman, putting crap from our kitchen all over it, and then watching it slowly die. It's not a Christmas tradition, per se, but so many of our holiday favorites revolve around snowmen. Particularly snowmen who "come to life." My disdain for Frosty the Snowman is widely known, but there are countless other examples, including Dianne Jackson's charming "The Snowman" animated short from 1982. They all follow a similar pattern: child builds snowman, child really believes, snowman comes to life!

I can understand how this might be a fantasy for a child, since children have little control over their lives and they seek opportunities to create something that takes on a life of its own without any input or administration from parents or adults. I get it. You're going to make that snowman, you're going to put crap from your kitchen on it, and late at night when nobody is watching, it's going to sparkle, come to life, and dance around with you.

But let's pretend you made a snowman as an adult. You spent all day in the front yard pushing around balls of snow. They get heavier and more cumbersome with each push. Eventually you hit strips of grass, and your snowball now has mud, leaves and shards of grass all over it. I know you know what I'm talking about. And your front yard is no longer placid and snowy, but trampled like a war zone and skinned of white. It's a muddy, barren field of dreams with a giant plop of snow concentrated somewhere centrally. No worries! It's going to snow again and your snowman scene will look just like it does on movies and TV! Everything white, everything smooth, and everything untouched - as if by an angel. But it doesn't snow again.

You search your kitchen for a carrot, but who has full-size carrots anymore? You search your closets for that shiny black top hat, but golly where is it? You head into the coal chute to grab some lumps of coal, but that's right nobody has a coal chute. And don't forget that corncob pipe! Where did that go? Under the sofa cushions? No? So you find some crap from your kitchen and make a face and some buttons, and then you put your own personal scarf on it, and boy will you regret that.

Anyway, you are pleased with your snowman. It was a lot of work! Meanwhile, your friends are reading the scriptures and feeding the homeless, but whatever. You are proud of your snowman and proud that you spent an entire Saturday doing it.

That night you can't sleep. "What does my snowman look like at night?" you wonder. What if you were just to creep quietly downstairs and look out the living room windows? Why not? Who's it gonna hurt?

So you do. You peek through the draperies and there he is: stolid and pure, ethereal in the moonlight. Somehow he almost looks like snowmen do in children's books...if only he weren't so lumpy and...and...wait....what's happening? He's beginning to sparkle, and you hear the tinkling of bells. What is this? Holy crap - is he turning at the waist? Are you still asleep? You rub your eyes - that always works. But no, you aren't imagining anything! That snowman is alive. He's turning toward you and -oh my gosh- his stick arms seem to be reaching for you! The pointy tendrils are curling and unfurling toward you, as if he wants to take you in his arms. And then, can it be? Those quarters you used for eyes seem to be blinking. No, winking! He's winking! How is this happening? You feel a cold sense of dread, but you can't move. You are willing your body to move - but it won't! And then, just then, you hear a low pitched shuffling sound, like the tearing of the densest fabric and it hits you: he's moving. He has no legs, but somehow he is pushing his awkward torso towards you. He's literally beginning to blunder across the lawn in short, labored efforts. Why did you use that banana for a mouth? It's pure evil! The banana falls off. Now, a giant mute ice creature is lurching toward you, crackling stick arms reaching and cherry tomato buttons busting and dropping with each terrifying stagger. By now you are crying. You are crying because death approaches. And you've tried to be a good person, but it doesn't matter now. You built your own death.

Anyway, I'll let the rest of that scenario play out in your mind. You can choose your own adventure. Merry Christmas! But doesn't this make you think of building snowmen in a much more realistic way? Don't read this to your kids.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Time For Some Christmas Poop!

This week we are diving in deep to Christmas Traditions...and I have found a doozie, THANKS INTERNET!

Meet Tio de Nadal

Which in english means, 'The Christmas Log'!  He's so super cute.  So, here's what you do..in Catalonia that is.

First, you give the gift of the Christmas log.  Everyone is so super excited and they love him, they love him to death.

Next, you need to feed your log.  Kids stuff little treats into the hollow log day after day, night after night.

Then, you tuck your log in.  It's cold in Catalonia, so you need to cover him in a blanket and send him to dreamland.

Finally, on Christmas Morning, the grown up's tell the kids to leave the room and go somewhere in the house to pray that the log will give them lots of gifts.  After your prayers you toss your new best friend into the fire and literally tell him to...let's say Defecate...though that's not the word they use.  All the kids sit around singing songs to encourage his defecation.  If you don't have a fire place, then you beat the poop right out of him.  Kids thwack the log with branches to get his poop to come out. When you've beat him long enough then a grown up reaches under the blanket and low and behold the log has pooped Nuts and Candy which are then given to he waiting child and then the next kid comes up to beat the log. This goes on and on until the log finally poo's something like a Salt Herring, a Garlic Head, and Onion, or it just Urinates (the details of which were vague).

Now we here at PTA certainly don't want to poke fun at other cultures holiday traditions, and it should be noted that the Christmas Log only brings small presents and it's the Three Wise Men that bring the presents for under the tree...which is super sweet and is a better reminder of the Savior then flying fat guy. No, we wanted to just give a gentle nudge of a reminder of how everyone is different and everyone is beautiful and everyone loves to come together and tell the kids if they hit that log hard enough we will let you eat it poop.  The CHRISTMAS POOP!!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Meet Me Under the Mistletoe

When I was a teenager I was fascinated by the federal mandate that if two people found themselves under the mistletoe at the same time, they were legally required to kiss or suffer the consequences of the appropriate fines and possible jail time.

I secretly pined for the opportunity to somehow be at a Christmas party where romance was in the air and suddenly I and someone with whom I had been exchanging quasi-flirtatious advances for months serendipitously found ourselves under some strategically placed mistletoe, and it was just the nudge we both needed to move past our awkward teenage inhibitions and take our relationship to the next level: sharing our first kiss in front of a crowd of ruthless, unpredictable adolescents.

Of course I was juvenile in expecting such a thing to actually take place, and I blame Hollywood. For two reasons: One, there isn’t a single movie scene with mistletoe in it that does not involve people passionately, passively, or even reluctantly kissing under it. Whatever the back-story, they end up kissing because of that mistletoe. And two, I just think it’s been a while since we’ve blamed Hollywood for something.

The only plant-provoked kissing I’ve ever participated in was in 1979. I was 8 years old and not savvy to the rules surrounding mistletoe; however, I had heard rumors surrounding the effects of red roses on the women folk. And I happen to have one I fancied: My neighbor and sometimes babysitter, Christy Stovall. Christy was what is sometimes scientifically referred to as babe-o-licious.

Undeterred by the fact that she was 10 years older than me, I remember playing in my backyard that fateful afternoon and noticing my mom’s rose-garden. Beautiful red roses for the taking. And I remember the thoughts coming together as if I were solving a great mystery, putting together a delightful emotional puzzle.

I looked over at my younger brother, Justin. “I bet if I give a rose to Christy Stovall, she’ll kiss me.”

“Why would you want her to do THAT?” he asked.

I asked my mom if I could cut one of her roses to give to somebody.

“Okay,” she agreed. “Who do you want to give it to? Your teacher?”

Was she kidding? Mrs. Colunga? Clearly my mom had not spent enough time volunteering in my third-grade class and standing next to Mrs. Colunga, who looked as happy as Droopy the Dog and barely had the restraint to not smoke directly in front of the students. I wouldn’t kiss her at gun point, much less under mistletoe; and certainly not by my own initiation with roses.

“Oh, I’ll find somebody.” And that somebody was a tall brunette with Jordache jeans and a voice that put butterflies in my stomach. Somebody who went by the name of Christy.

I took my rose and crossed the street to the Stovall house. My little 8-year old heart was thumping, but I felt pretty confident in my scheme. I knocked. Christy opened the door herself, and I silently handed over my rose to her. She reached out and took it; brought it up to her nose and inhaled it.

“Is this for me?” she asked.

I just nodded my head.

“Oh, you are so sweet!” she gushed, and then bent all the way down and softly kissed me on my left cheek. “Thank you so much; it’s beautiful.”

With a silly grin on my face, I shrugged my shoulders and turned to walk home, kind of shuffling my feet in an awe-shucks manner.

I could not believe I had pulled it off. I could not believe I conceived the idea, put the dominoes in order, knocked over that first one, and then watched everything magically come to fruition. It was genius. I was a quixotic mastermind! I had powers some men dare not dream of!

I like to think that since that day I have used my powers strictly for good. I’d like to think that; but Hollywood has really blurred the lines for me on what is “good” and what is “bad.” That Hollywood. They just go around making a mess of everything. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Santa was seriously injured, but he doesn't have to die

Photo from koikoikoi.com
Author's note: This contains my frank feelings about some Christmas traditions and will shatter the illusion for some younger readers. Parents be advised.

Our kids have stopped believing in Santa.

I told my daughter that if she stopped believing, he'd stop coming. Amelia didn't like that. Neither did my daughter. She has the Malibu Dream House on her list this year.

It was probably harsh of me. I was trying to joke about it. It's not like Christmas is canceled. But my point to them—that was missed—was when you stop believing in the Tooth Fairy, you're out a few bucks. When you stop believing in Tinkerbell, she can't fly. When you stop believing in Santa, Christmas Eve is a little less magical. Christmas morning is a little less anticipated. The Christmas spirit is just a little less bright. So, I tried to smile and laugh it off and then I went into my bedroom and cried.

I didn't always have such a pro-Santa agenda. When I was single, I had this idea that when I got married and started having kids, I'd never perpetuate the existence of a real Santa. I thought that maybe, if I read the myths and traditions surrounding Santa leading up to the holiday, made it clear they were legends, and then left a few gifts from "him," that Christmas could always be focused more on family and Jesus. My kids would know from the beginning that he was a part of Christmas tradition but not Christmas itself. But I married a woman with two kids who already believed and I wasn't about to stop that. I've never been logically sold on the idea of lying to my kids about a mythological man shaped by department store and Coca-Cola marketing. In our home, we've never used the jolly old elf as a bargaining chip, a behavior monitor, or threat. When there have been little questions, we've been vague. When the questions got specific like, "Are you Santa?" they have gotten the truth. So it's never been this huge dedication to the guy.

Here's a question: When we perpetuate this myth, what stops kids from reasoning that, perhaps, the other kind, gentle, loving Man they've also never seen is fiction? They both take the exercising of faith yet one turns out to be mom and dad. There's not a lot of physical evidence of God. For kids, at least Santa drank milk and ate cookies. One thing that helps is the The Spirt and, thankfully, that can be powerful.

So, is it better to not start the myth or is it good for them to practice this belief in someone they can't see so they can do it for other things? How should I have approached the Santa Let Down of 2013?

Someone shared this on Facebook and it intrigued me. Martha Brockenbrough wrote it for her daughter and it later appeared in the New York Times. Here are a few excerpts and you can read it in full here.

"I am the person who fills your stockings with presents ... the presents under the tree, the same way my mom did for me, and the same way her mom did for her. (And yes, Daddy helps, too.)

I imagine you will someday do this for your children, and I know you will love seeing them run down the Christmas magic stairs on Christmas morning. You will love seeing them sit under the tree, their small faces lit with Christmas lights.

This won’t make you Santa, though.

Santa is bigger than any person, and his work has gone on longer than any of us have lived. What he does is simple, but it is powerful. He teaches children how to have belief in something they can’t see or touch.

It’s a big job, and it’s an important one. Throughout your life, you will need this capacity to believe: in yourself, in your friends, in your talents, and in your family. You’ll also need to believe in things you can’t measure or even hold in your hand. Here, I am talking about love, that great power that will light your life from the inside out, even during its darkest, coldest moments.

Santa is a teacher, and I have been his student, and now you know the secret of how he gets down all those chimneys on Christmas Eve: he has help from all the people whose hearts he’s filled with joy.

With full hearts, people like Daddy and me take our turns helping Santa do a job that would otherwise be impossible.

So, no, I am not Santa. Santa is love and magic and hope and happiness. I’m on his team, and now you are, too."

I guess that's why I cried a little. I didn't want hope and happiness and magic to leave our home during Christmas. But it doesn't have to. It won't. It will still be in our Christ-centered activities. In how we treat people. In how we give to each other. And I bet, just maybe, there could be a little magic in our daughter's eyes when she drowsily, yet exitedly, opens that ...

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