Monday, December 29, 2008

New Year's Resolution #5

I will go see/hear the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

I'm ashamed to admit I've lived in this city for 15 years minus 3 and I've never been to see and hear the CSO. I've been to Symphony Center once, to see Mavis Staples (doing a tribute to Mahalia Jackson, many years ago), and I've heard the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra on a number of occasions, but never the CSO. Now that I've been to Second City and taken classes at the Old Town School of Folk Music, this is #1 on my list of things I will hate myself for not having done if I leave Chicago.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Very Burton Christmas

7:45am - My alarm goes off. My alarm being my bladder. Linnea doesn't come until 9am, but there's no going back to sleep now. I check the kitchen and am disappointed to find that Santa did not do the dishes as I had hoped. I grab a jacket (the kitchen has no heat) and dig in.

I contemplate throwing a Christmas CD in the boom box that's in there, but turn on the radio instead. I am treated to the very pleasant sound of David Sedaris reading from his hilarious Christmas book "Holidays on Ice". It's going to be a good day.

A few minutes later David is cut off. This is just Weekend Edition playing an excerpt. The news kicks in soon and I'm reminded of Simon and Garfunkel's "7 O'Clock News/Silent Night". I turn to XRT in hopes they're playing Christmas music, and am treated to INXS instead.

After making a dent in the dishes I move on to tidying up the living room in preparation for its imminent demolishing. I remember a year past when VH1 Classic showed Christmas videos all Christmas day and look for this. They're showing a Kiss concert. I turn to TBS' day long A Christmas Story airing and find it at my favorite scene - the department store Santa. I just love that kid in the aviator outfit in front of Ralphie in line. I love Ralphie's awkwardness and wanting nothing to do with her (him?).

8:55am - Linnea arrives. I manage to convince her to take her coat off before she starts opening presents.

9:15am - All presents have been opened. She is pleased.

9:20am - I am helping her open her new doctor dress-up/playset. A strange look comes over her face. I ask if she's okay. She says "I just can't deal with all this stuff" then immediately says "just joking". This is troubling. I've never seen her get visibily stressed out like that before. I've been fairly relaxed all morning and I don't think she's picking it up from me. Divorced holidays are stressful on kids, I remember all too well my own experiences. I'm just as troubled though by the "just joking" comment - if that's really the way she was feeling I don't want her to feel that she has to mask it. She moves on pretty quickly though and makes a very cute doctor.

10am - Linnea ate at her mom's but I'm getting hungry. I make eggs, which for the first time I can remember, come out perfect. The coffee is perfect too. Merry Christmas to me.

11am - Linnea wants to play her new Winnie the Pooh Uno game. It's pretty easy and she mostly gets it, but she doesn't want to give up all of her cards, which is of course the idea of the game. I win the first round and she's pouty. Given the option to just goof around with the cards on her own terms she chooses to play another round, which she wins, mostly fair and square.

11:20am - The Lego pirate play set gets opened. This is her first "big kid" Lego set - normal sized pieces with directions so you can make it look like the things on the box. She does amazingly well with it. We put together a few of the items based on the directions and she is patient and helpful. She then decides she wants to put the ship together however she wants, so I let her and she makes a decent little raft.

1pm - Tomato soup and a sandwich for lunch. She wants to watch her new Scooby Doo video.

3pm - My mom, stepdad and Grandmother call. Linnea doesn't want to stay on the phone for more than a second and doesn't really want to let me talk. I juggle this for awhile until Linnea spills M&Ms all over the floor and I take my leave of the call.

3:10pm - M&Ms cleaned up. Linnea is doing her new computer software. I play some Rock Band on-line battles. I find there's no better day than Christmas to up my rankings....people get it for Christmas, decide they're ready to play expert right out of the box, and I get to squash them. It's the little traditions that make the holidays special.

4:00pm - Linnea wants to watch the other video she got today - Curious George movie. That movie is the only context in which I can stomach Jack Johnson music. I'm all tuckered out and try and doze on the couch while she watches the movie and squirms all over me.

5:30pm - Chinese food has been ordered from Koi. Linnea is on her second viewing of the Scooby Doo DVD. Normally I wouldn't let her watch so much TV, but it's Christmas. Heck, I'm still in my pajamas.

6pm - Chinese food arrives. I ordered a couple of sushi rolls in addition to fried rice and crispy duck. The sushi is horrible - very little fish buried in enormous amounts of rice. I will never order sushi from there again. The fried rice and duck are good though.

8pm - Against much resistance I start moving Linnea towards bed. We finished reading Stuart Little last week (the first long-form book she's had read to her) and she wants to start it again. I all of sudden remember I had intended to get her a new similar type of book for Christmas. Whoops. We start it over and I make a mental note to pick up something this weekend. Charlotte's Web maybe?

8:30 - Linnea is in bed and seems ready to sleep. I'm a little lost as to what to do with myself.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Music Round-Up

With the majority of my Christmas CDs still MIA, and likely never to be found, I've had to go searching for some new entries to bulk up the collection. In the process I've found some really, really good, and some really, really bad.

I was thinking today about who I really wish would put out a Christmas album. At the top of my list for some reason is Alison Krauss, so I went looking to see if she had anything out there. I found 2 tracks from compilations - "Shimmy Down the Chimney" and "Only You Can Bring Me Cheer". They were both utterly horrible. I removed them from my IPod and will be happy never to hear them again. The first sounds like it was produced completely on a Casio keyboard, and not a good one. The second is all Nashville and no bluegrass. I know she could do better; much better.

Others on my list of people I'd like to hear Christmas albums from? Nina Simone, though that will now never happen. Ron Sexsmith has a couple wonderful original Christmas songs out there already - warm and sentimental in a good way, without being the least bit sappy or cloying, and could probably put together a wonderful mix of covers and originals with his soulful melancholy vibe. The Decemberists have already covered one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs - Please Daddy Don't Get Drunk This Christmas - but I'm sure they could provide a few more Christmasy tales of sailors, gypsies, and doomed lovers.

Browsing ITunes' Christmas section I was intrigued by a new Killers single called "Joseph, Better You Than Me". Even though I can't stand their current single with the idiotic name I can't remember, and I did note that this track features Neil Tenant (Pet Shop Boys) and Elton John, I bought it anyway. Bad move. It went straight to the recycle bin with the Alison Krauss tracks. $3 poorly, poorly spent today.

My other ITunes purchase of the day was Weezer's Christmas EP. All "traditional" Christmas songs, and all pretty straightforward Weezerish renditions. I'm a moderate Weezer fan, and this one gets to stay on my IPod, but it didn't particularly excite me. It actually reminds me not a little of Manheim Steamroller.

There is a good bit of free indie Christmas music out there to be had, and I spent a good portion of my day listening to it. Sufjan Stevens makes a Christmas EP for his friends every year, 5 excellent volumes of which were compiled and released a few years ago. The general, non-friend-of-Sufjan public has to settle for one new track this year, found on the totally free Sounds Familyre Compilation "A Familyre Christmas Vol. 2". There's some interesting stuff here, from a mix of familiar and unfamiliar bands (to me), but not much will be making my regular Christmas rotation. Danielson was already near the top of my "wish they would put out a Christmas CD" list, and after hearing their track here, I'm even more convinced. The Half-Handed Cloud and Soul-Junk tracks are also worth a few listens. Last year's compilation is also available for free download at the same link, and is a bit less challenging than this year's.

Also free to e-music subscribers (does not count against your available downloads), or a mere $1.99 on Itunes, is the considerably more mainstream Redeye 2008 Holiday Sampler. Ron Sexsmith contributes a stellar track alongside other great stuff from the likes of Over The Rhine, Supersuckers, Elk City, and Apples in Stereo. Lisa Loeb contributes a very pedestrian Jingle Bells, which I was disappointed to hear as she's one of my huge guilty pleasures. I'd still pay $1.99 for the whole album in a heartbeat.

My two most pleasant surprises for the year were the new Raveonettes EP "Wishing You A Rave Christmas" (4 songs. Avaiable on E-Music or for $3.96 on ITunes) and the indie classic from Low, "Christmas" (8 tracks, available on E-Music or for $7.92 on Itunes). I had not previously heard much from the Raveonettes am very interested after hearing this. One cover (Christmas Baby Please Come Home) and 3 mellow but heavily 60's influenced originals; alternately fuzzy and shimmering, and all lovely. It's all streaming free at their MySpace page. The Low album shares a similar aesthetic while being considerably more lo-fi. Both albums are more pretty than depressing, but neither will have you rockin' around the Christmas tree.

That's about it for new finds. As to what I'm missing most from my Christmas CD collection - Bruce Cockburn's "Christmas", Aimee Mann's "Another Drifter in the Snow" (I do hold out some hope of turning this one up), a Louis Armstrong Christmas CD, and a Mahalia Jackson Christmas CD. If they don't turn up this year, I'll have to start looking into replacements.

Monday, December 22, 2008

New Year's Resolution #4

I will go to the dentist

There's a Simpsons' scene where Lisa asks the saxophonist Bleeding Gums Murphy how he got his name. He asks Lisa "You ever been to the dentist?". She replies, "Yes". He says, "I haven't".

While I've certainly been to the dentist before in my life, it's been a long time. Years. Many. It's a catch-22 for me really. While I can certainly scrape up the funds for a check-up and cleaning, I have a fear that it's not going to end there - that I'm going to be told I need more painful and painfully expensive work. So I don't go because I don't want to face this reality. But the longer I don't go, probably the more I'm going to need and the more expensive it's going to be. So the problem just perpetuates itself.

But this is the year, I promise, I'm going, and more sooner than later.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

New Year's Resolution #3

I will get rid of my cable

I've been promising myself I would do this for the last year or so. With the newfound ability to stream Hulu and Netflix to my TV, and the financial crunch being what it is, the time has come. No, I don't have any grand aspirations about watching less, reading more, getting out, etc...If I can't do all those things with cable, I'm not going to be drawn to them without it. If it's mindless entertainment I'm after, I'm sure to find it elsewhere. The reality is though that I'm not a major junkie. I rarely turn it on just to see what's on, but rather watch with intention. That's not to say I'm watching Nova or C-Span or anything.

So my plan is to keep it through the holidays then find some rabbit ears and one of those digital convertor boxes for the impending elimination of analog broadcasts, and make the call.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

New Year's Resolution #2

#2 - I will stop drinking soda in front of my daughter.

This has been such an area of hypocrisy for me. Whenever we go out to eat, I get soda and make her get milk or juice and then listen to her beg for sips of my soda. If it's not good for her, it's not good for me. I don't have it in the house, I shouldn't have it out of the house either. I haven't figured out what I will drink in its place. Water I suppose.

Friday, December 19, 2008

New Year's Resolutions - #1

Resolution #1 - I will blog about my New Year's Resolutions

It's nice to set myself up with a nice easy resolution I can knock out right away. Now I have some momentum and confidence to move on to the rest...

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

At Long Last, A New Mix CD

As I sat down to make this mix CD I remembered the main reason it had been so long since I made one - ITunes isn't compatible with Vista & my burner. I had found one registry fix that worked but was annoying and had to constantly be repeated, but even that doesn't seem to work for me anymore. It's a known issue shared by many, but I'm guessing patching their products to work with Windows isn't a big priority for Apple. So anyway, this took a lot of jockeying of files around, but here it is:

"Deck It Out In Fairy Lights - The Best of 2008"

1. White Winter Hymnal - Fleet Foxes
Easily one of my favorite songs of the year. I was actually upset when the radio here picked it up. I wanted to keep it all to myself.

2. Get Better - Mates of State
"Everything's going to get lighter, even if it never gets better". I have no idea what that means, but they made it stick in my head for a really long time.

3. Suffering Jukebox - Silver Jews
I don't know how anyone could ever be surly listening to the Silver Jews.

4. Heart of Stone - Chris Knight
The only song to make me cry in 2008. Kind of cheezy, but, yeah...

5. Why Do You Let Me Stay Here? - She & Him
She & Him is actress Zooey Deschanel (Elf & Almost Famous) and singer M. Ward. Zooey handles 95% of the vocals and wrote most of the songs. Sunny, soulful, a throwback to another time without being derivative. The concert I most regret missing this year.

6. Don't Tell Me To Do The Math(s) - Los Campesinos!
I haven't decided if this was my favorite album of 2008, but I know I listened to it more than any other. Amazingly they just released their second full length record this year, and it's almost as good.

7. Good Times - Colin Meloy
He's no Sam Cooke, but he could still put out an EP of him singing the telephone book and I'd buy it and like it.

8. Past Time - The Baseball Project
Combining 2 of my favorite things, baseball and Scott McCaughey. This had the look of a novelty album, but turned out to be a superb everyday use type of album.

9. Home - David Byrne & Brian Eno
I've never understood why I don't listen to more David Byrne.

10. Living In The Aftermath - Chris Mills
This guy is sadly underappreciated. This album came out pretty much under the radar this year, but is an alt-pop masterpiece.

11. Ooh La Ooh La - They Might Be Giants
On their third "kids" record, Here Come The 1,2,3s, TMBG have created a classic. It's all my daughter wants to listen to and it's yet to wear on me. They make good music first, and market it to kids later.

12. The Righteous Path - Drive-By Truckers
This overly long album didn't do much for me this year, but there are a few songs that stick out, and this is definitely the brightest.

13. The Twist - Frightened Rabbit
Apparently I'm into Scottish indie-emo-alt-whatever. Last year it was The Twilight Sad, and this year Frightened Rabbit. As far as I'm concerned Scotland can keep it coming.

14. Joke About Jamaica - The Hold Steady
Much like the new Drive-By Truckers, this was the first Hold Steady album to really disappoint me. They experimented a bit too much and it was lyrically disappointing. This song is hard not to like though.

15. We Call On The Author - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
By far the hardest/grittiest album I bought this year. I think Nick Cave could sing the phone book too and make it sound important.

16. No Baby I - Old 97's
Rhett Miller has got to be get near to his God-given limit of incredibly good pop-rock songs.

17. My Year in Lists - Los Campesinos!
Really hard to pick a favorite song from this album, but I think I listened to this one more than any.

18. Make No Plans - Marching Band
Rookies of the year? I liked this album alot, but expect that the best is yet to come.

19. Jigsaw - Mates of State
"You write the good songs baby...". Yes, she does.

20. We'll Get By - Gary Louris
Probably my number one musical disappointment this year. Can be appreciated in a certain mood, but not often. This track is a keeper.