Year in Review: 2014 Uber List

How did I do?

Here’s my list from last year:

1. Ask for a raise. This is kind of a cheat. I already have a meeting scheduled, and my reasons worked out. Now I have to sit in my bosses office and say, “It’s time for me to get a raise.”

I’m pretty terrified.

2. Update and promote my blog.

3. Redo the front closet and paint the hallway going up the stairs.

4. Write and publish something not blog or work related.

5. Find a new brand of pants that fits. And buy all the colors.

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1. I got a raise. It has gone poof this year, but that is a story for another time. (Think health insurance premiums.)
2. Um… I did make a few tweaks. And I’m more active on Facebook. But I need to do better.
3. Front closet: yes. Hallway: no.

Front closet redo

Front closet redo

Up-the-stairs hallway.

Up-the-stairs hallway.

4. I did branch out a little bit. I guest posted here and here a few times. I wrote copy for this guy.
5. This one hasn’t worked out so far. But, I don’t shop that much either.

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I have my word of the year, and lots of thoughts about it.

My uber-list for 2015 is shaping up, and it will be short and sweet like 2014’s list.

Onward!

Random Thoughts: The Seven Things Edition

1. Two nights ago, M complained about his ear hurting him. He didn’t have a fever, but I gave him some Advil because it was bedtime, and I didn’t want him to be in pain. When I picked him up from daycare yesterday, one of the women told me that he had had a scab in his ear. When I looked in it, there was a bunch of gunk there, which shouldn’t be there because he has tubes.

So, off to the doctor we go.

2. Our health insurance plan changed (thanks, Corporate Employer!), and it’s stressing me out. We’re about to see it in action.

3. Kate sometimes gets worked up. Gets upset or agitated, and she can’t get calmed back down. Dan and I have gone around and ’round about what to do about this. She gets anxious, she gets angry, she gets sad, and she doesn’t know what to do. After a long discussion, we’ve decided that the three of us (me, Kate, and Dan) are going to find ways to help Kate “put on the brakes”. That’s what we’re calling it — putting on the brakes, as in, “Kate, you have to put on the brakes.” And then we have to come up with behaviors and strategies to help her do so.

Wish us luck.

4. Our January weekends are all booked already, which isn’t exactly surprising or unwelcome. It just seemed to happen so suddenly. This weekend is a three-day weekend for the children and me, and it’s not completely booked up — we have one social thing to do Sunday afternoon. And we have to finish packing up Christmas. My parents will be in town next weekend; and the weekend after that is my birthday weekend, which I’ve already planned. So: all good, just busy.

5. Speaking of being booked in January, I am auditioning for Listen to Your Mother, which is coming to Pittsburgh for the first time. If you’re interested, check out the details here. Um, I have an essay to write. BRB.

I doubt I’m going to be able to top my friend Kim’s performance, but I hope to do her proud — if I even make the show.

If you have a story about motherhood — whether or not you’re a mother — you should consider auditioning too.

6. I just want to get something posted today, which is why I started this and now I can’t think of seven things. Hashtag pathetic.

7. Here’s proof that 2015 so far is as good musical as 2014. As far as I’m concerned, anyway.


— Belle and Sebastian, “Party Time” from their new album Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance

Thoughts on an Afterlife

Thoughts on an Afterlife

I’ve been ruminating on this post for some time. I blame Stephen King.

Dan bought me King’s latest novel, Revival, for Christmas. I finished it some time ago, my first book of 2015 — and it’s good. I would recommend it if you are a King fan. Compelling story-telling, as always.

*Spoiler alert* (skip on down to the ++)

Toward the end of the book, we, of course, get what we came for: a good dose of nightmare imagery from the King of Horror. A peek into what lies on the other side of the earthly curtain.

Our protagonist is a boy when he first encounters charismatic minister Charles Daniel Jacobs. These two men are destined to encounter each other over and over again, and each is dealing with his own obsessions and demons. Finally, our protagonist, having been cured of his heroin addiction through the application of “special electricity” by our antagonist, finds himself witness to a breach into the afterlife.

And it’s horrible, a terrifying landscape of dead souls prodded through a barren valley by ant-like creatures. The sky is a void hiding “The Mother” an insectile being from the Null. This, according to King’s character, is what awaits us when we die.

No God, no peaceful afterlife, no heaven or nirvana — not even a blank void of nothingness. A version of hell awaits every person who is alive.

The depiction of this afterlife reminds me of other King novels, including Lisey’s Story and From a Cadillac 8 — neither of which I liked at all. I pretty much hated Lisey’s Story. Too fantastical for my tastes, I suppose.

And even as a work of fiction, the story fell apart for me right at the end. My suspension of disbelief couldn’t deal with this imaginary afterlife. As part of the story, it makes sense. It is crushing to Jacobs because instead of being reunited with his beloved wife and son — who have been dead for years — he has discovered that Hell awaits.

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Sometimes Dan asks me if I think I will be reunited with loved ones when we die. He asks specifically if I think I will get to see Gabriel. In other words, what is heaven like? And I truly do not know; I don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on it.

If I were more romantic, I would like the idea of seeing my first son. Something about that thought brings me peace.

But what I do believe is that after we die, we are reunited with God. That there is a heaven. And that regardless of how we conceive of it, we enter a world of love and light. Such that it doesn’t matter if our loved ones are there to greet us or not. That beyond this earthly plane there is no more longing, no more pain.

The infinite nature of God, or heaven, is completely beyond our comprehension. Since we can’t wrap our heads around the idea of the infinite, I think we try to give form to what may be waiting for us. We guess, we hope, maybe, we dread. King paints a picture of terror; books like Heaven Is Real paint pictures of a welcoming afterlife.

I prefer to believe in the welcoming version, the version where we are in God’s presence for the rest of eternity. Maybe that sounds glorious, or naive, or hopeful. It’s comforting to me.

Do you believe in Heaven?

Presque Isle

Probably not what Heaven looks like. But maybe!

ETA: It’s From a Buick 8, not a Cadillac. h/t Adam Music! (Who didn’t answer the question. Boo.)

Kate is 8!

My dearest Kate,

That is you, up there in the blog site banner, with the elephant masks going every which way. That image says so much about you.

Oh my spirited girl! Your mind is awhirl with thoughts, and I’m not sure you can keep up with yourself yet. But you are trying to learn how to engage your big, creative spirit. You are at your best with a project in your hands. Otherwise, you bounce and vibrate, looking for something to focus on.

20141225_111249

You continue to amaze me. Your anger blazes up; your sadness is bigger than our household. On the plus side, your smile is bigger than your face, your heart bigger than your wiry little frame, and your love brighter than the sun. You are more extroverted than any 8-year-old in the history of 8-year-olds. You are a star.

Kate at 8

Kate the Great

The thing you need to work on for 8 is your worry, which is also large and very consuming. And I will try to help you. Your fretting knows no bounds; you sometimes give yourself tummy aches and headaches. Your father and I promise to help you deal with those worrisome thoughts.

And you and I need to be kinder and more patient with each other. I will do my part.

You will grow into your large spirit, of that I have no doubt. You reach out to others all the time, to talk, to help, to play.

Kate, you are great. Don’t stop reaching.

Love,
Mommy

The Persistence of Faith

Yesterday at Mass, a baby was baptized into the Catholic church. This was the first time I had seen a baptism at our parish, and I was oddly moved by it.

Flora was the only child to attend Mass with me yesterday. During the baptism, she leaned against me to watch the proceedings from our pew.

“Did I cry when I was baptized?” she whispered.

I told her I honestly didn’t remember.

The little baby kicked her feet during the christening and anointing. I was reminded of spending the day after each of my children was baptized leaning over to smell the chrism on their little heads.

I watched the parents, a young couple — “young” being a relative term; they are probably in their 30s, maybe late 20s. They beamed with pride and hope.

I, too, felt a measure of hope and pride. Hope because a church that is performing public baptisms is a church that can continue to grow and thrive. And pride because in the face of the challenges that the church faces, these parents decided to stand up and declare their dedication to said church.

I don’t think that Christians or Catholics in America are under siege the way some far right religious people might feel. There’s no “war on Christmas”.

At the same time, I do think it takes a certain amount of bravery to stand up and declare yourself among friends and family who may have different religious or spiritual beliefs.

I’m not a great Catholic, but I am a practicing Catholic, and I make no bones about it. I’d like see the Vatican change the policy about ordaining women; I miss Mass sometimes, usually on Holy days of obligation during the week; I don’t know my catechism by heart by any stretch of the imagination. I am a creed Catholic; that is, everything that is said during the Nicene creed, I believe, wholly. Although I do wish they would change that part about “for us men” and just say “for us.” I leave off the “men” when I pray the creed aloud in church.

And I also believe and try to practice Jesus’ first commandment, which is simply, “Love one another.”

I was excited to see that these parents and godparents were happy to participate in this child’s baptism. I wonder if they get questioning looks or snide comments from friends or acquaintances about their faith. Conversely, of course, I wonder if they married in the church and are baptizing their child in the church because of familial expectations. (I didn’t get that sense from them. They were *beaming* during the ceremony.)

I think Pope Francis has introduced a freshness into the public Catholic face, and I couldn’t be happier that he is the leader of the church in the world. But the things that he preaches are not new to us practitioners of the faith. It’s a relief that the focus is being taken off of sexual ideology, and the conversation is once more focused on loving *and serving* each other.

I know that sometimes people think we faithful are judgmental, or old fashioned, or stuck in the past, or irrational. (Granted, some religious people are any or all of these things.) But the church is a living breathing organization of real people as well. The people in the church, from the Holy See on down, are imperfect, thus the Catholic church is imperfect. But we’re trying. The best of us (and I don’t necessarily count myself among the best) are trying to live and serve God, and bring the message of Jesus to everyone.

++

On Christmas Eve, I tweeted:

One of my friends marveled that they make faith so hard. I wasn’t quite sure what she meant, unless she was speaking about faith as a set of rules to follow — which is not how I think of my faith. I find my faith very freeing. It’s not difficult for me to be a person of faith. Although, again, I am not a great Catholic.

Looking at those parents holding their child as the priest performed a baptism, I was heartened. For the Catholic church, as well as for my parish. They truly gave the sense that participating in the sacrament was a joy, not a chore. And I hope that more Catholics feel joyful when it comes to their faith than don’t.

Catholic Books for 2014

Two books my parents gave my family for Christmas. Can you say, “Mixed messages?”

Year in Review: Album of the Year/Artist of the Year, 2014

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photo credit for banner image: Brad Searles

Early in 2014, I was patiently awaiting the new Black Keys album; their single “Fever” clearly pointed a band in a new direction, and I was looking forward to Turn Blue.

In the meantime, I needed something new to listen to. I poked around on Spotify, but didn’t find anything interesting to me. I headed over the First Listen on NPR Music.

“After a 16-year-hiatus,” I read, “the Afghan Whigs are back with Do to the Beast.”

Oh, yeah, I’d heard of them. I had never really listened to them, though. Wonder if they are going to be any good after a 16-year-hiatus.*

*click play*

The opening track kicked down the door to my aural pleasure center, and I was utterly, completely hooked.

Do to the Beast (D2TB) got more listens from me this year than any album on my top 10 list. It’s not an album of singles, for one thing. Almost any other album today, I can pick or choose a song or two, and then move onto another artist. But with Do to the Beast, I have to start at the top and listen all the way through.

The music is driving and virile, haunting, full of dark imagery, vengeful wishes, and regret. Front man Greg Dulli is a charismatic motherfucker. He is not a pretty boy; he doesn’t have a huge vocal range. But he unmistakably knows how to get a listener’s attention. “If time can incinerate what I was to you,” he wails on “Parked Outside”, “Allow me to illustrate how the hand becomes the fuse.”

Greg Dulli, leader of Afghan Whigs

Greg Dulli, image by Janet Gray

Like its predecessor Gentlemen — released this year as Gentlemen at 21 — Do to the Beast seems to be about the dissolution of a significant relationship. Unlike Gentlemen, which Dulli fully acknowledges is about an explosive breakup, Do to the Beast is the fuller, more mature reflection on the way things fall apart. There is a third player in this dynamic — “It kills to watch you love another,” Dulli sings on “It Kills.” On “Lost in the Woods”, my favorite on D2TB, he sneers, “Surprise, surprise, I’ll have you know I’ve come to see you die.” Later on the same track, he laments, “Baby, sitting outside in the cold, I can see that you’re not alone. That’s vanity swallowing you.”

The other outstanding track, for me, on D2TB is the no-holds-barred “Matamoros.” Clocking in at a lean 2:43, in the midst of a chugging bass line and swooping guitars, Dulli blows up the scene, hurt and lashing out at a betrayal. “I’m so excited you decided to come over and beg,” he sings, and one can picture him leaning back and lighting up a cigar, enjoying the groveling. “I’m over you.”

The great thing about discovering a band that’s relaunched itself is that there’s a whole backlog of great music to plunge into. Dulli, having disbanded the Whigs in 2001, continued to make music with the Twilight Singers, and with Mark Lanegan of Screaming Trees fame, as the Gutter Twins. (Hence my earlier * — this guy never stopped making music.) This iteration of the Afghan Whigs features Dulli and bassist John Curley, the only two original members. Yet the music explores the themes of earlier Afghan Whigs albums, fusing bombastic rock sensibility with swaggering R&B sensuality to talk about love, lust, betrayal, longing, and revenge.

John Curley of the Afghan Whigs

John Curley, image by Janet Gray

The other great thing about discovering the Afghan Whigs now is getting to see them hit the tour circuit again. I saw them in September, and got to meet the band members after the show (along with about 100 of their biggest fans). This band is known for their stage show, their loyal and obsessed fan base (among which I can now count myself), and for sticking around afterward for meet and greets. And hugs.

The author and Greg Dulli

Me and Greg Dulli after the Pittsburgh show. I can’t stop grinning.

Who topped your list musically or artistically in 2014?

Year in Review — More Music 2014

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I’m sorry, I can’t let the year end without mentioning these artists and sharing one more video.

Warpaint, Warpaint
Jeff Tweedy, Sukirae (such a pretty little album!)
Supernova, Ray LaMontagne
Beauty & Ruin, Bob Mould
Damian Rice, My Favorite Faded Fantasy (should’ve been in my top 10, but I misplaced that list)

And finally, a fun little LP from Jack Antonoff of fun. fame: Bleachers, Strange Desire. I believe I called their single “I Wanna Get Better” the 2014 summer anthem for the dysfunctional. The video bears me out.

Year in Review: Top Albums of 2014

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2014 was a fantastic year for music. Whether you are a fan of pop, country, rock, punk, or alternative, lots of new music hit the airwaves this year.

And it was good.

Here’s a short list of albums that did not make it onto my top 10:

The Both, The Both
Pixies, Indie Cindy
Jack White, Lazarreto
Little Daylight, Hello Memory
KONGOS, Lunatic
Future Islands, Singles
St. Vincent, St. Vincent

Plus Sleater-Kinney released a single, “Bury Our Friends”, which bodes very well for their upcoming 2015 album, No Cities to Love.

I cannot wait.

Here are my top 10 albums for 2014.

10. Hunger Games, Mockingjay: Part I Soundtrack. 

Although I feel they made a faux pas by not including Jennifer Lawrence’s version of “The Hanging Tree” on this release, it makes it onto my list on the strength of the Lorde’s contributions, including “Yellow Flicker Beat.”

9. Weezer, Everything is Going to Be Alright in the End

This album captures the idea “return to form” for this long-lasting and prolific band. In my opinion, Weezer’s album’s have been uneven at best. This makes me recall the heydays of The Blue Album and The Green Album, and I believe Rivers Cuomo may be right: Everything is going to be okay.

8. Protomartyr, Under Color of Unofficial Light

This band brings forth a dark and brooding sound that gets into my bloodstream and won’t leave. The lead singer sounds like someone, but I haven’t been able to place my finger on whom. Part ’90s-influenced, and part utterly unique, I can’t stop listening to what Protomartyr is creating.

7. TV on the Radio, Seeds

This was a late entry, and I had to rewrite my list because of it. Seeds is a continuation of TV on the Radio’s exploration of music and sound. They can bring the poppy, like the do on “Could You”, and they can bring the noise experimentation like they do on the opening track, “Quartz”. Seeds needs a lot of listening, and it deserves it.

6. Azealia Banks, Broke with Expensive Taste

Pretenders to the throne, step aside. I’m looking at you, Iggy and Ariana. Azealia Banks puts you all to shame. Sassy, dirty, and not afraid of her quirks, Azealia is going to school all y’all.

5. The Both, The Both

This came out early in 2014, and stood the test of time. Aimee Mann and Ted Leo team up to make the most of both of their talents. Pretty and poignant, funny and bittersharp, these features two veteran artists at the top of their game.

4. Jenny Lewis, The Voyager

Another veteran of the singer-songerwriter/pop life, sweet-voiced chanteuse Jenny Lewis comes back to the scene with wry observations on being the oldest, singlest woman in the room.

3. FKA Twigs, LP1

This is the weirdest, sexiest album of the century so far. Deceptively cute-looking, FKA Twigs (Tahliah Debrett Barnett) lets her darkest, most seductive fantasies flow. Her voice is high and breathy, yet powerful, and she captures a lot of desire, insecurity, and longing over the course of these 10 tracks.

2. The Black Keys, Turn Blue

I am surprised that this came in second place on this list. I truly feel it was one of the best albums this year. I have enjoyed hearing the evolution of The Black Keys from a two-piece garage band into their current iteration. Given access to the toys in the production room, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney turned the story of a bad year into a classic rock album. From the seven-minute opus of “The Weight of Love”, I knew they were doing something different. I know long-time fans are not in love with this one, but I Turn Blue leave no question, to me, that The Black Keys have more to show us.

My number 1 pick and Artist of the Year coming before Jan. 1, I promise. In the meantime, what was your favorite album of 2014?

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