Category: Writings

life without internet – binge tv detox and family board game recommendations

Like an abused crack whore running away from her drug dealing pimp, I just wanted out. It’s been two weeks since I took the modem and cable TV box to the drop-off center for Comcast. If you have not had the pleasure of visiting Comcast’s drop-off center, it’s every bit as fun as the DMV with the bonus excitement of customers arguing loudly about their internet speed and the convenience charges on their billing statement. I wasn’t there to negotiate or argue. I was there to make a change…kinda like Ewan McGregor at the end of Trainspotting, but less ironical.

I knew I had hit rock bottom when I reviewed my viewing history on Amazon Prime Video. I had spent hours watching pawn shop owners haggle with customers over the price of antique Civil War weaponry and still-in-the-box Transformers toys from 1984. I had watched The Office Season 3 almost four times. My wife had watched every show and movie on the “Because You Watched Pride & Prejudice” recommendation list. We had a problem.

In all seriousness, our addiction to on-demand TV binge watching was not healthy. We noticed increasing tension in our family. The kids were fighting with each other, we were yelling at the kids, and my wife and I were arguing with each other. Anything that did not help nurture positive relationships needed to go. So, bye bye went Comcast….but then what?

I grew up playing board games and card games, and I love them (well, many of them). I played lots of Risk, Monopoly, Scrabble, Chess, Hearts, Stratego, etc. I also enjoyed the party games like Taboo, Guesstures, Scattergories, Pictionary, Balderdash, etc. So, I wanted to exchange our solitary TV watching time for family game playing time. Games are relational, educational, fun, and can build lots of valuable skills. All these great benefits wrapped up in activities we can all enjoy? Win! But…the problem is most of the above mentioned games would not be enjoyed by a kindergartener and 7 year old. And, I would take no pleasure in annihilating my 5 year old son’s armies off the face of the planet in a game of Risk.

Another problem is most children’s board games are awful. Some are ok for teaching kids valuable lessons – Candyland teaches colors and Chutes & Ladders teaches counting and how to deal with disappointment – but most are boring after a couple of plays. Also, I can totally kick my daughter’s ass at games like Ants in the Pants and Pick Up Sticks…I also dominate her at Hungry Hungry Hippos. To make things worse, many of the children’s games you find at retail stores are just cheap remakes of classics with the Disney Princesses or LEGO Batman slapped on the box and stickered onto plastic pieces.

So, I went on a mission to find good board games for our family using the following criteria:games

  • Gameplay and Replay Value
    • Are the rules clear?
    • Will we play the game after a few times?
  • Quality production
    • Are the pieces and packaging solid?
    • Is the artwork and design good?
  • Family Friendly
    • Is the game fun for kids and adults?
    • Do the kids have a chance to win?

It’s only been a couple of weeks, but so far we love family game time. More than the games themselves, we love spending time with each other, laughing, learning, and growing our relationships. Here are 5 great family games that I found and purchased. I’ve given a brief description of each game and rated them on a scale of 1-10 using the 3 categories listed above.  I encourage you to give them a try with your family, or come over and spend an evening playing with us!

Ghost BlitzGhostBlitz_clear_background

This game is played with a deck of cards and 5 game pieces that sit in the middle of the players. You flip the cards one at a time. For each card there is one object that either matches perfectly or doesn’t match at all. The first player to grab the correct object wins the card. The player with the most cards after going through the whole deck is the winner.

Gameplay and Replay Value – 8

The rules are well done and there is also a fun little story in the rulebook that adds depth and helps the kids get excited. There is a rule that you must give up one of your cards if you grab the wrong object. This made the game difficult for my 5 year old, so we exempted him from that rule.

Quality Production – 9

Nice wooden pieces, fun artwork on the cards, and a sturdy box. Again, the story in the rulebook is a nice touch.

Family Friendly – 7

I do have to put the brakes on a little bit to keep this game competitive, but with the rule tweak to help the kids, they are actually pretty fast at grabbing the right object. The kids love this one!

Animal Upon AnimalAnimal_Upon_Animal

Each player has a pile of 7 different animal pieces. You take turns rolling a die and stacking your animals on top of the big alligator piece. The first person with no animals left in their pile is the winner.

Gameplay and Replay Value – 8

This is a good dexterity game. The rules are easy, but sometimes it’s a little unclear how to keep going after a big crash. The single die has different sides that change up the game and result in a good variety.

Quality Production – 9

The wooden animal pieces in this game are excellent. This game will last forever as long as your dog doesn’t chew up the hedgehog and sheep pieces. Nice box and artwork.

Family Friendly – 8

Being a dexterity game, it is pretty easy for me to win against my kids. They still enjoy it and they get better every time. The pieces don’t fit together well, so stacking is challenging even for an adult.

Viva Topo!viva

Each player has a small family of mice. You roll a single die and try to get your mice around the board and into Cheesetopia before the big hungry cat makes his way around the board and eats you. If the cat is close behind, you can choose to forego Cheesetopia and hide in a safe house that gives you less cheese, or you can press your luck and hope the cat doesn’t catch up. The player with the most cheese wins.

Gameplay and Replay Value – 9

The rules are simple and easy to understand. The plot is cute. There is a nice little story to read to the kids before playing the game and it helps them understand the gameplay. Even though every replay is similar, it has enough variety and randomness from game to game that I imagine we will play this one all the time.

Quality Production – 10

The pieces in this game are simply great. The mice, cat, and die are wood pieces. The artwork on the board is very nice. It doesn’t get any better than this for a board game.

Family Friendly – 9

We definitely all enjoyed this game…a lot. The game mechanism for the cat is what makes this game great. As he gets closer, things really start to get intense! The strategy is a simple “press your luck”. My 5 your old doesn’t quite get the strategy sometimes, but he actually won the first 2 games we played, so what do I know?

Loopin’ LouieLOOPIN-LOUIE

Louie is a pilot that flies around in a circle wreaking havoc on each player’s chickens. Louie is attached to a battery operated swinging arm that moves up and down and has a swivel on the end. Each player has barn with 3 chickens roosting on top and they must be protected from Louie’s plane. Attached to each barn is a flipper that can be used to block Louie and spin him up into the air. Here’s video that shows the action.

Gameplay and Replay Value – 7

The rules are easy. The mechanism for the plane works great. The chickens work on a gravity system, so you only lose one at a time and the next slides into place. There’s not much to the game other than smacking your flipper kinda like Hungry Hungry Hippos.

Quality Production – 8

It is made of plastic by necessity, but it is quality plastic. It has nice stickers to liven up the pieces and make it colorful. It seems like it should last, even with rough play, but you just never know with battery operated and plastic stuff.

Family Friendly – 7

It is fun, but only for a little while. This does happen to be my five year old’s favorite of the bunch if that says anything.

The Magic Labyrinthfinal_magiclabyrinth71

The bottom half of the box is used to set up a maze with adjustable wooden walls. The game board is set on top of the maze (so you can’t see the walls). Each player has a wizard piece that sits on top of the game board. The wizard has a magnet on his feet and there is a metal ball the goes on the underside of the board beneath the wizard’s feet. As you move from square to square collecting magic symbols, you are in danger of running into a wall that causes your metal ball to fall. When this happens you have to start over from the beginning. The first wizard to collect 5 magic symbols wins.

Gameplay and Replay Value – 9

This is a remarkably well thought-out game. The rules are easy to follow. The setup of the maze is simple and can be changed every game for endless variety. Sometimes my son will slowly move his wizard and feel the ball starting to hit a wall and want to move back, so, we made it a rule that once you start moving in the direction of a new square, you must complete the move.

Quality Production – 10

This game is a delight to play. The design of the game board is innovative. The wizard pieces are solid wood. The artwork is truly fantastic. The artist is Rolf Vogt, and I would buy any game for which he did the artwork.

Family Friendly – 10

We all love this game. I would honestly play it with my adult friends, and it would be fun. The kids win just as much as we do. This one is destined to be a family classic.

time is on my side

I would like to solicit your ideas and feedback regarding a newly acquired surplus of time. This week, I changed locations for my place of employment. Details aside, my total daily commute went from about 90 minutes to 20 minutes. That’s 70 extra minutes! I did some rough calculating, subtracted weekends, holidays, vacation days, average sick days, and came up with a number for the additional time I will have this year.  I just gained 11 days, 17 hours, 10 minutes, and 12 seconds!the_persistence_of_memory_-_1931_salvador_dali3

I must now decide how I will spend this wealth of moments. A friend of mine asked, “Why do you even need to decide? You can just sleep more.” This is exactly my point in being intentional with this specific amount of time. I could just sleep more. I could just watch 2 additional re-runs of The Simpsons daily. I could just take time for granted. I don’t want to do any of these things….but I will. Unless, I make some plans and steward this time with care. That’s where I would like your help.

I wrote down some ideas. I want you to tell me your favorite (or least favorite) ideas, expand on them, and offer others that I haven’t imagined. All thoughts are appreciated!  Here’s my initial list of potential doings in no particular order:

  • Pay it forward. Give my wife extra time for herself.
  • Make loads of rubber band bracelets with my daughter.
  • Watch only 1 re-run of The Simpsons.
  • Edit and chop the Star Wars prequels down to one 50 minute film, and call it episode 5 ½ . To be viewed as a flash back at the end of TESB and before ROTJ. Read this for further explanation.
  • Exercise a bunch and get super ripped!
  • Sleep.
  • Learn some sweet cover songs on the guitar and play them at open mic nights. Any song suggestions?
  • Make silly movies with my son. Like this, this, and this.
  • Read those classic works of literature that all my smart friends talk about.
  • Become a regular at a coffee shop.
  • Start drinking coffee regularly.
  • Join my neighborhood council.
  • Buy a fixer-upper 70’s Camaro and put it my garage.
  • Learn how to work on old cars.
  • Grow a huge tomato garden, and give all my friends and family awesome tomato sauce.
  • Invent a diet fad and license the publishing rights.
  • ?????

the vonbeumerschutz – a beer by beer recap

photo3Yesterday, I participated in a backyard beer festival called The VonBeumerSchutz. It was also a sausage fest (innuendo intended). If I didn’t know anything about this gathering before going, it would have exceeded all my expectations for what a backyard beer festival could possibly be. The central event of the evening was a beer tasting contest. Each of the guests brought one of their favorite micro-brews to share with the other drinkers. By the end of the night, I tasted close to 40 different craft beers. Some were home brews, some from local breweries, many different flavors, styles, and colors. It was an excellent evening and you should check out the VBS Facebook page here.

The contest portion included a worksheet for taking notes and scoring all the different beers. After each of the 4 sessions, you would refer to your notes and vote for your favorite beer of that session. At the end of the evening, there was a final vote between the winners of each session to determine a grand champion. My friend, Marty, took the home the grand prize trophy for his excellent home brew. Here’s a pic of the champ.

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At one point in the evening, a few of my neighboring suds sippers peeked at my notes and made a couple of observations. The first being that I have no clue how to score beer. I know enough to know what color a beer might be when you tell me the style. I may have a good idea of how it will taste too…but that’s about it. I don’t know much about the brewing process or the geographical origins of certain styles. Other aficionados were noting the subtle chocolate, fruit, or nutty flavors and talking about the ‘finish’. For me, it was either “my belly wants more of that” or “that tastes like pure gasoline”. The second observation my neighbors made was that I’m a big smart ass. Rather than writing ‘like’ or ‘don’t like’ for each one, I just wrote what was on my mind during each selection. So, just to affirm that I am a smart-ass weirdo, I’ve transcribed my notes for each beer at yesterday’s wonderful festival. Here they are in the same order I drunk them:

Hub Lager – Meh…wondering why I still can’t grow a full beard. photo2
The Bruery Saison De Lente – Either somebody near me is wearing funky aftershave or Deep Woods Off.
Marty Goss Home Brew (the winning beer) – Yum. Feeling less hopeless about our nation’s health care problems.
Great Divide Fresh Hop – Freshy. Makes me want to go do laundry.
Rogue Bragot – Hmm sweet…could probably get my kids to drink this before bed.
Lagunitas Brown Shugga Substitute – Yeah! Humming that D’angelo song.
Paradise Creek Sacred Cow Milk Stout – Smooth coffee…and I don’t have to poop immediately; bonus!
Elysian Dragonstooth Stout – kinda like the last one, with cigarette butts floating in it.
Laughing Dog Anubis Coffee Porter – Pretty good I think…too bad I still have ash tray mouth.
Rogue Farms Good Chit Pilsner – I love good beer puns! (I also hate coffee stand puns)
Huckleberry Harvest Ale – This won’t put any hair on yer chest.
North Coast PraQster – Smells like Copenhagen chewing tobacco…reminds of chewing during class in high school.
Home Brew – I would boil fish in this…I’d also drink more of it. photo1
Russian River Brewery Supplicant – I’m glad I didn’t bring a sour beer.
Grand Teton XX Bitch Creek ESB (my selection) – I’m such a homer…but it kinda sucks.
Ayinger Celebrator Dopplebock – I like the way dopplebock sounds when you say it…but it tastes like dopplebutt.
Iron Horse Irish Death – Bon Jovi made a Celtic album. Also a good beer.
Steam Plant Double Stack Stout – good for flavoring ice cream
HUB Survival 7 Grain Stout – Reminds me of dating a 3rd cousin…too complex. (for the record, I’ve never dated a relative)
Kona Big Wave Golden Ale – Yep…but any beer is good while eating mustard brats from here.
Paradise Creek Dirty Blonde – Wouldn’t take it home to mom, but I’d still do it.
Iron Horse Lagunatic – Good breakfast substitute.
Home Brew – Tastes like it was made at home.
Sound Brewery Monk’s Indiscretion – Oaky afterbirth.
Rogue Voodoo Doughnut Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Ale – I’m glad we’re only sampling 1oz.
Nimbus Old Monkeyshine English Style Ale – Could shine a car too.
Maui Brewing Coconut Porter – Harry Nilsson was the American Beatle. Humming his coconut sonphotog.
No-Li Wrecking Ball – Great on pancakes.
Deschutes Black Butte XXV – This beer is James Toney circa 2006.
Beck’s Sapphire – I think sapphire is my birthstone. I wouldn’t drink this on my birthday.
Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA – Race Cars+Texas ranger+British = crap.
Harvester Brewing Gluten Free IPA – Like Ghostbusters, when they crossed the streams. (the hoppiest beer I ever had)
Lost Abbey Inferno Ale – Remembering the show Lost….shitty ending.
North Coast Brewing Old Rasputin – I wanna try New Rasputin…maybe it’s just as good and we’re wasting time. (MH joke)
Great Divide Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti – The hammer. Ready to go home now.

a million plus five – a father’s day reflection

I watched from 100 feet away as my 5 year old son jumped again and again reaching for the lowest branch of a sycamore tree. There were 2 boys, older…maybe 9 or 10, up in the tree and two more of their friends on the ground near Daniel. It was too high for him, but I could not help but feel pleased by his determination to grab that branch. The older boys began chanting “Midget! Midget! Midget!”. My son does not know what a midget is, but he knows when he is being teased. When something of this nature happens at home with his sister, Daniel’s typical reaction is immediate violence. So, I was surprised to see a more rational response. He asked the bullies a direct question. “Who wants to get punched in the face?” Of the two boys on the ground, one took off running, which I guess meant no. The other (about a foot taller than my son) remained, so Daniel, obliged, clenched his fists and moved in to strike. I yelled, now from 50 feet away. DANIEL! He stopped and the older boy ran 20328_4264285480385_1165690306_naway. Daniel turned to me and gave me a dramatic “but Daaaaaaaad”. He started crying. We sat down near the playground of this sycamore treed, southern Oregon park. I wiped away his tears and told my son how happy I was watching him try to climb that tree. We covered the other bases of not punching others in the face and what midgets are. After about one minute and forty five seconds of sharing my fatherly wisdom, Daniel asked if I could be done talking so he could go play on the tire swing. This whole incident could’ve been a scene in a Jean Shepherd movie.

As I watched him play on the playground, the tears and teasing already forgotten, I wondered why he cried. Was it because I prevented him from exacting justice on his ridiculers? Was he scared that I would punish him? I started to empathize with him. Daniel is a young person of strong faith. Why did he continue to jump for that branch? He must have believed he could reach it. Frankly, I would have called it quits after one or two jumps. Is that because I’m smarter and more discerning? Maybe, or have I just lost faith.

As life goes on, my risks of belief are more calculated and mitigated. My courage lessens and complacency grows. It becomes easier to mock and ridicule the foolish and naive believers than to empathize with them. Think about the culture of sarcasm in which we live. Uninformed or contrary opinions and ideas are met with mocking criticism. This destroys courage and kills creativity and growth….and it’s happening everywhere (politics, education, all forms of media (blog posts), at the dinner table). If sarcasm is oppressive in nature and sincerity is liberating, why do we exercise the former and not the latter?

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When I was young, I was extremely competitive. I wasn’t a jerk and I didn’t take my ball home if I didn’t win, but I did believe that I could win or succeed at most everything I tried. I see this quality in Daniel. I think that’s why he cried. He believed he could reach that branch. His faith led him to jump and he was made to feel foolish for it. Kids are cruel, and I expect my son will continue to deal with bullies and name-callers as he grows up. When he becomes an adult and perhaps a father someday, my wish is for him not to join the ranks among the scoffers, the arrogant, or the naysayers. My wish for him is to be a man who believes he can move mountains.

We drove back to my father-in-law’s house from the park that day. I looked at Daniel in the rearview mirror. He was staring out the window at houses and cars passing by. This was our exchange:

Me: Do you want to go back to the park tomorrow?
Daniel: Yeah.
Me: Are you going to try climbing that tree again?
Daniel: Yep…but it might take me a few tries.
Me: That’s ok.
Daniel: Yeah…it’s gonna take like a million plus five tries.
Me: That’s ok.
Daniel: I know.

A lot of fathers have shared this sentiment, and it may be cliche but I don’t care. Daniel, you are my hero…and I mean that sincerely.
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month of may

May 2013 was an amazing month for music. So much good music was released that my ear stomach is going to burst. It reminded me of a recent jaunt to the Dockside restaurant in Coeur d’Alene. It was my wife’s birthday and she wanted to have brunch with friends. When we walked into the room where the spread of food was laid out like an amusement park, one of our dear friends (who had never seen this kind of buffet previously) actually started weeping while having visions of the afterlife and a heavenly feast. I ate several pounds of breakfast meats, made to order crepes, an everything omelet, had 4 different flavors of mimosa, and many dessert goodies. It was almost too much.

My wife’s Dockside birthday brunch is to food as May 2013 is to music. It was almost too much. So many great albums were released that I have not had time to digest all the music I’ve consumed. For those of you who don’t keep up with new releases or if you were in a coma last month (maybe you had brunch at The Dockside), I’ve posted some of the best releases from last month below (4 major recording artists and 2 of my favorite local bands from Spokane).

Modern Vampires of the City
by Vampire Weekend
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The first two albums from VW didn’t grab me. I couldn’t feel a connection between the music/rhythms versus the lyrical content and melodies. This album, however, knocks it out of the park.

Once I Was An Eagle
by Laura Marling
laura-marling-once-i-was-an-eagle-1368722617
I first heard Laura Marling a few years ago when she was singing with Mumford & Sons. I think about each of their most recent offerings. While a don’t like a lot of the choices Mumford and Sons made on their last album, I love just about every choice and risk Laura Marling made on hers. This might be the best album of the year.

Trouble Will Find Me
by The National
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Another brilliant record from one of my very favorite bands. It’s different than High Violet for which I’m thankful. To be clear, I love High Violet. I just prefer when bands take different directions and explore new musical avenues. This album will take a few listens to start catching all the nuances.

Random Access Memories
by Daft Punk
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One of the more hyped albums of recent memory. When the teaser came out, I pretty much crapped myself. I love the end result, although I’ve heard a few negative things from some of my friends. These particular friends simply aren’t ready for retro cyber disco jams made by robots from the future.

Off My Chain
by Cathedral Pearls
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One of my favorite Spokane bands. CP wrote, recorded, and released these songs in the span of a few months as a DIY project. The songs have a congruency and intimacy that comes across nicely as you listen to the album as a whole. Caleb Ingersoll did a really nice job mastering these tracks. You can listen to and buy the album here.

Les
by Dead Serious Lovers
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Technically, this album was released on April 30th, but that’s close enough. Another great Spokane band. This album is definitely worth your time…unique harmonic structures throughout, lyrics that tend to be sullen and sometimes cryptic but always poetic, and great melodic hooks. You can listen to and buy the album here.

the pantheon of great animated movies

If the internet is good for anything, it is good for having a list for almost everything. (See listverse.com). Top 10 lists can be definitive, but many of them are extremely bias and are mostly conjecture. We all tie a bit of our identities to the things we like, the things we think are best, and that’s why we’re drawn to lists. If we agree with the list, then our very lives are validated and all is right with the world. If we disagree with a list, then the author is either trying too hard to be a cool smartypants, or is an uneducated ass-face. So get ready to give me either high-fives or punches in the face as I present to you the first of my “Pantheon” lists of great movies.

A couple of quick notes:

  • There is no hierarchy or particular order in the Pantheon.
  • Each Pantheon will have 5 to 7 movies.
  • Each genre has its own Pantheon, and genres will have specific parameters (for example, “Jerry Maguire” is not a sports movie…which is a moot point because that pile wouldn’t be in the Pantheon anyway).
  • I have an open mind, and I’m willing to hear your arguments. I’m totally willing to bump something out of the Pantheon if you can make a good case. So, please chime in and make comments. Also, if your movie gets into the Pantheon, I’ll buy you an ice cream cone. Seriously.

First up, a genre very dear to my heart, Animated Films. I love watching cartoons with my kids more than they do…and yes, I did solicit their opinions for this list.

Akira – The landmark “Japanimation” film. If you’ve ever wondered who actually watches stuff in the “Anime” category on Netflix, it’s all those kids who watched Akira in the late 80’s and got hooked. I remember watching this when I was 10 years old. I’d never seen anything like it, especially when the first motorcycle gang fight against the clowns happened. This movie is in the Pantheon because it successfully bridged anime into an American sub-culture.

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Pinocchio – There has to be a classic Disney film in the Pantheon. Walt Disney considered Pinocchio and Fantasia to be his masterpieces. I went with Pinocchio for the Pantheon over Fantasia because of the strength and timelessness of its narrative.

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Wall-E – Choosing a Pixar was tough too, but I landed on Wall-E for a few reasons. The film succeeds with basically no dialogue for the entire first act. It makes poignant political statements without being heavy-handed. Most of all, Wall-E reminds us of our creative potential as humans, and begs us to not trade beauty for convenience. Amazing!

Wall-E
My Neighbor Totoro – In so many modern children shows and movies, adults and children are pitted against each other. You often have a child protagonist and a mean, bossy parent or teacher (or whatever authority figure) in the child’s way of so-called happiness and freedom. My wife and I have tried to avoid these films (and there are many), and we have been delighted by the way most Miyazaki films approach family relationships. In My Neighbor Totoro, the parents and grannies of the world are loving and therefore loved by the children. The parents aren’t portrayed as obstacles, but as nurturers. Also, consider how fast-paced children’s movies are in our current ADD culture. Miyazaki films move at a different pace, and there is enough beauty, adventure, and mystery to hold any child’s attention.

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Beauty and the Beast – I love a good musical, and this one still makes me laugh and sing out loud. The story is classic and timeless, and has one of the all-time best villains in Gaston. You could argue that The Little Mermaid paved the way for Disney’s new era of animated films, but BATB is simply better and it solidified everything TLM started….and as far as “Disney Princesses” go, I’ll take Belle over Ariel any day.

if-you-give-trust-you-will-get-trust-beauty-and-the-beast-32448279-1920-1080

a bird in the hand…

I watched Silver Linings Playbook two nights ago with my wife. It had some heavy subject matters; mental illness, divorce, death, depression, OCD, domestic violence…and despite all this, it was whimsical, hilarious, and immediately earned a spot in the pantheon of great romantic comedies.

I don’t intend to review the film (although I may at some point), but it made me think about writing and the purpose of my blog. In the grand scheme, I don’t expect this blog to matter much to people outside of family, friends, and myself. If this is truly the purpose (connecting with family and friends, and personal catharsis), then I want the subtext to accurately represent my character. I think I’m failing to do that.

As I look through previous posts, I don’t think anything I’ve written is out of character, but it seems I mostly write about big, deep, complex, heavy things. I feel like I have to outdo myself every time…going deeper, more insightful, etc. Here’s a few examples of my recent articles that were 50% written but then given up on because I was too frustrated, perplexed, or overwhelmed with the subject matter:

  • Think Before You Publish: How to lose friends and look like an idiot in one easy step.
  • Why the media is making a big deal about gay athletes.
  • Mumford And Sons is the new Rage Against The Machine. (I might finish that one).
  • How singing competitions have caused us to become a judgmental bigoted society.

If this blog is sincerely to be about Sprung Rhythms or re-learning rhythms of life, then I’d do well to jot down the small things too: the stuff that seems inconsequential but actually matters most. It’s the stuff that’s real…not ideals, hypotheticals, or intangibles.  Here’s a few ideas of things you might see on the blog in the near future:

  • My “Pantheon” lists of great movies
  • Local music and art in Spokane
  • Daniel’s movies (The Banana Bandit series, and new projects).
  • Eating ice cream
  • Birdwatching
  • Stuff about my kids (which may annoy you because they’re so damn smart and cute.)

I want my family and friends to know about the real stuff I love and enjoy….and who knows, maybe I’ll start really loving and enjoying things more myself.

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healthy beauty – a new year’s reflection

Before today, I hoped to write a reflection of the previous year full of clever anecdotes, deep personal discoveries, and shiny pearls of wisdom for you to oogle at. I wanted so badly to have some profound insight regarding current, relevant happenings…maybe something political, like gun control…maybe something religious, like the “end of the world”…but, to be honest, I’m having a hard time thinking of anything that’s not sickeningly self indulgent. My 3rd child was born, I started a promising new job, I’m doing this, that, and the other thing…blah blah blah. Of course, I’m not saying these things are bad or that I’m a 100% selfish jerk (it’s only like 70%). It’s just frustrating when one’s writing goals are to make one’s self sound like a big, interesting, smarty-pants. One can exhaust one’s self! (those last two sentences were written in a snooty English accent)

Perhaps my cynicism is due to the recent news of my mother’s health and some thoughts I’ve had about beauty. The week before Christmas, I spent a significant amount of time with my mother in the Emergency Room at Holy Family Hospital as she dealt with intolerable pain. The drug she had been taking for cancer treatment had a number of unfortunate side-effects including high blood pressure and severe body aches. FYI – She is out of the hospital now, off the chemo drug, and is recovering at home. Treatment has been an up and down roller-coasting nightmare for that last three years. Mom has endured the ride in hope that recovery may be possible. Last week on Christmas Eve, her doctor, along with his “support team”, let her know that recovery is not possible (in his medical opinion), and his recommendation is to pursue “quality of life” rather than pursuing a cure. I generally understand what he meant by “quality”, especially in the physical sense. Mom will feel better (at least for awhile) if she is not on chemo-therapy drugs. Of course, I couldn’t help but think that there must be more to it. What would actually make her life something of “higher” quality? What would make for a beautiful last few years…months…weeks?
190995-Dock-at-Snowflower-Lake_view

As a measuring stick for what others find to be beautiful, I observed the things people are sharing on social media, photographing, discussing, etc. I wound up feeling slightly numb and a little bit icky. It reminded my of a visit to a friend’s lake cabin when I was a teenager. I remember walking onto the T shaped boat dock in the early morning, looking at the glass-like water. My walk broke into a run toward the end of the dock, anticipating a cold but refreshing plunge into the dark water. I dove in. My hands were the first to cut through the thick slime sponge that was lurking, invisible, about 4 feet under the surface. My head, shoulders, chest, and belly submerged into the muck and then stopped when my hands hit the actual lake floor. There was a moment of panic when I wondered if I was stuck. There was a second moment of panic after I pulled myself out and resurfaced. What the hell just happened? What was this brown, pungent goo on my face and in my ears? I had such high hopes for that moment…and I got covered in weeds and poop. It’s not completely fair to compare that particular dive into the lake to “diving into social media”, but it was the feelings afterward that were closely related. Why do many of the things we find beautiful or interesting end up feeling so shallow and gross?

It seems that most of us are addicted to the sensual. Beauty has become limited to the things that look, smell, taste, sound, or feel good in the moment. Beauty becomes something that exists to be consumed…traded as a commodity. Momentary transactions that only continue to satisfy when they become more profane and sensational. When it is reduced only to our personal and subjective senses, we end up with societies (or social networks) that find it easier to criticize and consume, rather than nurture and cultivate beauty. Sadly, when I look at the things that grab my attention, and also when I share things that I hope will grab the attention of others, this “sensual, cheap, momentary” form of beauty is what I see.

Last night, as my 6 year old daughter was going to bed, she walked over to Nona (my mother) kissed her and said, “I love you Nona”. I thought about how one year ago, my daughter wouldn’t even say “goodnight” to Nona. She used to think that Nona was mean and bossy, but after a year of my mother’s patient kindness to her, Hannah now adores her Nona. This is beautiful. To think that my daughter is watching someone endure tremendous suffering, battle constant pain, deal with uncertainty, put up with annoying relatives (like me), and to witness my daughter watching someone, in spite of their unfortunate circumstances, pour out love and patience and kindness directly to her…..that is beauty of a kind that will resonate within me through 2013 and beyond.

I hope 2013 will be the start of many beautiful things.

photo Hannah and her Nona

changing your friend’s diapers – a reflection on political discourse and caring for people

Everyone has a particular reaction to political discussion. It can be saddening, infuriating, invigorating, but it seems like most folks are generally repulsed. I count myself among the squeamish when I see people throwing political daggers and dropping religious “truth” bombs. More than ever, especially with the advent of social media, it seems like the daggers are more piercing and the bombs more explosive. Admittedly, I’ve blocked certain “friends” from my news feed as to avoid their repeated offerings of nonsense. Seriously, what’s more annoying than reading some pile-of-BS post from someone who is obviously just parroting their favorite website’s opinions? Right?………well, I dunno. Even if I’m right, I don’t feel less annoyed or squeamish, so, maybe I’m not right.

I thought about this for awhile. It turns out that I’m not really annoyed by my annoying friends, but rather, I’m annoyed that they annoy me. Does that make sense? No? I’ll put it this way: It’s frustrating that somebody can make a stupid statement that causes me to be pissed off. Why does it even offend me?

You see, my 4 year old son is, by definition, annoying. He makes silly, uninformed statements all day long (with an unusually high-pitched voice). He ordinarily means no harm, but sometimes, his aim is definitely to provoke me. Granted, there are occasions where he is successful, but mostly, it doesn’t bother me. In fact, I find it endearing. Of course, my patience for my own offspring is quite a bit different than it is for somebody who I never spoke with in high school that is now my friend via the “like” button. I love my son. I’ve changed his poopy diapers and I still wipe his bottom when he makes a “messy”. I would not help 94% of my facebook friends if they had a “messy”. But wait…why not?

I wondered what would happen if I was in a situation with my estranged facebook friends which called for me to actually change their diapers. No metaphors, just simply a load in their pants. What if they were disabled and needed help…would I have compassion? Would I have mercy for them?

All ridiculousness aside (although I do think that comparing political opinions and loads of shit is apt), political opinions reveal things about us, and it’s not just who we intend to vote for. We all view the world from our own particular angle. We have come to our unique position by way of our parent’s influence, schooling, friendships, religion, etc. Sadly, most all of us have been bruised along the way. Some more than others. We hold passionately to what we believe will make our world a better place.

I recently had an opportunity to chat about religion and politics with one of my impassioned friends. We shared stories of our past, talked about our bruises and frustrations, and before we even shared a single opinion, we had something. We both knew that the other was “messy”. I think this is crucial. For the most part, the average U.S. voter knows jack squat about political economics, their philosophical origins, or the  historical formations and outcomes of any economic systems. So, most political opinions are unfortunately formed by the latest and greatest demagoguery, and this usually puts us at odds with one another. My annoyance at my annoying friends could easily become anger or even hatred. But, a simple act of sharing and learning one another’s stories (or mess) can build something that directly undermines anger and hatred. Compassion. If your political or religious opinions are leading to anger and hatred toward people, chances are good you are being duped. It doesn’t necessarily mean that your opinions are wrong, but do you really even know enough to have an opinion, and do you really want to hold tightly to ideas that cultivate hatred in you heart?

After our chat, I don’t know that my friend and I agree about politics necessarily, but I do know that if I were to become crippled and incontinent, he would change my diapers….and I would do the same for him.

how do the crackheads feel?

I think most would agree it is a fortunate thing to have never used crack. Personally, I don’t know how being “on crack” feels. I imagine there is some sort of temporary satisfaction followed by severe regret, perhaps shame or frustration, and other disturbing consequences (kinda like eating a box of yellow Peeps during Easter, or watching a movie with Robert Pattinson). I don’t want to speculate too much, but as I was walking around downtown Spokane today, I found myself curiously empathetic toward those who I assume to be “crackheads”. I’m not talking about people who specifically use crack (although they are included), but more so those who are socially awkward. These are the folks who have an easy time making everyone within a certain radius uncomfortable by way of body odor, loud outbursts, or general creepiness. I was not empathizing with their body odor (although my wife would argue this point) or the loud crazy outbursts, but I did indeed wonder why and how people come across as weirdos or creeps. A little back story on my empathy…

I’ve had some moderately serious health concerns recently. Without being too specific, I needed to drop some weight. My weight was not the primary issue, but losing weight was definitely a good way to address the problems. However, my circumstances didn’t allow for physical exercise, and I couldn’t simply bang out P90X in a few months and get down to my fighting weight. So, with physical exercise not being an option, my doctor suggested an appetite suppressing drug. It would be only temporary and I could slowly work my way into some light exercise and eventually switch completely from medication to exercise. For the record: I trust my doctor. So, I got the pills and started losing weight. It was pretty shocking how easy it was. I originally thought “look at all these suckers paying the monthly “fat tax” at the gym…I’m doing nothing, I’ve lost 20 pounds in 3 weeks, and it only cost $6 at the pharmacy”. The problem with drugs, and I would have known this had I not been on drugs, is that they tend cloud one’s thinking. There is a reason that most rational thinking people would rather exercise and diet over taking medication. This informational video pretty much sums it up….

http://thetravisty.com/Saturday_Night_Live/wmv/Jimmy_Tangos_Fat_Busters.htm

Over the past few months, I have had so many awkward exchanges with people that I’m absolutely sure I’ve been accused of being a crackhead (probably by my own family). It’s not that I’ve been oblivious either. When you are on medication, you can attempt simple social transactions and watch them go very wrong right before eyes. Here’s an exact transcript of a recent exchange I had with a bank teller:

bank teller – How is your day going?
me – I’m really nice now…I..uh…it’s nice…I meant to say it’s outside…I mean…it’s nice outside…for everybody…not just me.
bank teller (slightly nervous) – Ok.
me – I’m sorry, I’m on drugs. (jokingly)
bank teller – (stares at me)
me – I’m not really on drugs…well sort of…it’s just medication to help me lose some weight. It’s actually way cheaper than going to a gym….so….yeah…
bank teller – (interrupts) Here is your $5 in quarters.
me – thanks, it’s for the parking meters…not drugs…haha…
bank teller – (doesn’t smile) …
me – sorry…bad joke….well, I’ll just go…(sliding the quarters off the counter into my hand, half of them dropped on the floor)….oh shit…..sorry.

I picked up the quarters off the floor and quickly shuffled out. I looked back as I was leaving through the door and the two other tellers were now standing alongside the teller that helped me, and they were all staring at me intently. I’m certain they thought I was a crackhead. This certainty led me into a state of deep insecurity. Here’s a few recent examples of how that insecurity affected my inner monologue – “What should I say to this person to seem normal? – What does that look mean? – Does everybody here hate me? – Should I explain that last sentence…no that would be weird…but if I just say nothing, that’s weird too…ugh”. I had been riding the snake into the downward spiral of social awkwardness.

The good news is that I’m actually getting healthy. I’ve lost some weight, started exercising a bit, and I’m pretty close to being done with my medication. I can again speak in full sentences, and now, I only make people feel semi-uncomfortable. If you’re a friend of mine, and I’ve been a total jerk or weirdo to you….I’m sorry, I am coming out of my funk and I’ll call you soon.

I feel for the “crackheads” because a lot of them won’t have an easy time coming out of their funk. Some of them never will. I walked through the downtown streets today and my eyes met with the eyes of several unfortunate fellow human beings. I smiled and said “hello” to each one, and every time, they just looked back at me with no reply. I thought about my recent “inner monologues”, and I wondered if they were thinking the same things. I thought about the frustrated & hopeless feeling of not being able to say the things you want to say. I thought about that spiral with every social interaction taking you a bit further, deeper. I wondered if these people felt better or worse after I said a simple hello. I don’t know how they felt….but for once, I cared.