Favorite Book of the Year . . .

I bought Jonathan Tropper's fifth novel "This is Where I Leave You" in 2010/2011 (shortly after it came out). I had read a review of it and it looked promising. I enjoyed Everything Changes (Tropper is a fantastic American writer I would put in the same category/genre/wheelhouse as Nick Hornby).

I just never cracked the cover. I always something else to read or do. It got caught up in a stack of books and chaos ensued and the next thing I knew it was nearly two years later and I was moving out of the family home. It got thrown in one of my many book boxes.

I cracked the cover the week I found out I was losing my job in January, 2013. The timing could not have been better.

The novel tells the story of the Foxmans - a family with significant dysfunction and a recently-deceased father. The children all return home (their own sub-crises in tow) to sit shiva for their patriarch and things get awkward from there.

At once funny, sad, encouraging, and challenging, the central character, Judd's, story unfolds. His wife has left him for his boss, following the loss of a pregnancy, and some general woes between them. She returns to him - pregnant. In the meantime his mother (who prides herself on being a fantastic mother) is in deep denial about her children. Judd's sister (Wendy) is in a sad, lonely marriage. Paul (a brother) can not seem to get his reproductive boys to swim. Phillip (the youngest child in every sense of the word) is trying to be an adult to no success. None of the Foxmans is who they might want to be.

The angst, frustrations, sadness, and fun (there are genuinely hilarious moments in the book) just sort of takes over from there.

I don't know if this book would "work" for women the way it worked for me but it would certainly work. I also don't think readers have to be going through a divorce, feel like a black sheep within their own family, and have Jewish intentions for it to "work" for them (I think people in my age bracket and relative life context could appreciate it). I would suggest this book for anyone that ever does that "this will be fine" deep breathing thing before they walk in to family functions and/or any one that has ever wondered what they are going to do about "life" (not any one specific aspect . . . all of it).

Sidebar . . . they are making this book in to a movie so read it now before it gets ruined by Jason Bateman's one-dimensional, barely-funny shtick in late-2014.

I can't just mention one book this year (I have done a LOT of reading in 2013) so if the above doesn't strike your fancy I read some great Judiaca/Jewish Learning (I'm going through conversion and I'm a happy sponge - leave me alone - but I really do think anyone would enjoy these reads) Invisible Lines of Connection, The Book of Job: When Bad Things Happen to Good People, and my current read Yiddish Folktales (apparently nearly all Jewish yarns involve stupid or lazy children) is great, The Liars Gospel (NOT the indictment of Christianity you might presume, I promise). Jewish reference not your thing? I didn't read as much randomness this year as I normally do but some general reading I would endorse includes; The Fourth Bear, How to Be Alone, re-reads of short story collections Cathedral, and Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, and, finally, a terrific biography, FDR: The New York Years.

I have a pile of books waiting for me to spend some quality time with them in 2014 but I ALWAYS appreciate reading recommendations. Got any for me?


Favorite Film of the Year . . .

I probably saw more movies in 2013 than I have in the previous thee or four years. Movies, for me, have become a bit of a frustration. They are all franchises and sequels/prequels/reboots/re-imaginings/and so on. I don't follow pop culture enough any more to know who the best actors and actresses working today are. I just sort of float around shaking my fist at the cost of popcorn when I go to The Warren.

Why was this year different? I spent half of it unemployed! $5 Wednesdays and matinee ticket discounts and the relative low cost of three hours of your otherwise "empty" day gone seemed like a welcome respite. So I saw some horrible stuff and some great stuff. Low brow, high brow, etc.

I'd be a liar if I said Fast Six was the best movie I saw this year (as AMAZING as it was) and I would like to talk about how much I loved Pacific Rim but I fear I would actually cease to exist the minute I hit publish so - instead - here is my real favorite movie of the year:


This is not a spoiler, Robert Redford (credited as "Our Man" in the movies credits that reminds you he is the only actor in the film) is part of the "all" that is lost in All Is Lost.

The movie is about a man on a solo voyage in the Indian Ocean who has his (presumably) idyllic boat trip destroyed by a shipping container left bobbing in the water. From there, it is all about survival and the way man looks at challenge and how they deal with challenge. It gets BAD for him. He's alone. He's running out of food. His radio stops working. He goes directly in to a storm path. There are sharks that are waiting for him. He is alone in every sense of the word and then you get your first real insight to "Our Man" when this happens . . .

13th of July, 4:50 pm. I'm sorry... I know that means little at this point, but I am. I tried, I think you would all agree that I tried. To be true, to be strong, to be kind, to love, to be right. But I wasn't. And I know you knew this. In each of your ways. And I am sorry. All is lost here... except for soul and body... that is, what's left of them... and a half-day's ration. It's inexcusable really, I know that now. How it could have taken this long to admit that I'm not sure... but it did. I fought 'til the end, I'm not sure what this worth, but know that I did. I have always hoped for more for you all... I will miss you. I'm sorry.

That is when you realize that if this guy is in the Indian Ocean or at home in the suburbs (let's presume he has some wealth and a suburban life accordingly (?)) that he would be alone and staring mortality and life decisions in the eye on any given Saturday.

Redford is fantastic as an actor in general but this role is amazing (if I could have looked half as good at 17 as he does at 77 my life would be a totally different thing by now)) as he has no cast members to interact with and very little dialogue to share - just his body, face, actions, and tone. You feel claustrophobic, scared, stressed, and alone with/for him.

The filmmakers (one review I read pointed out that there are 17 producers on a film with one actor in it) did their jobs, too. The movie never feels trite or pushed. You just feel a general sense of dread and, in a way, you are waiting for the inevitable . . . or what you presume to be inevitable. Does he live? Does he die? Go see the movie but in the meantime - I hope you would take away what I did . . . nothing is "over" nothing is "lost" and nothing is "forever" - we have skills, smarts, resources, and opportunities that are constantly available to us to simply use to our advantage.

If you ever feel lost it is because you are not looking around enough to get re-oriented.

A fantastic movie that I hope is handsomely rewarded at awards season if only so more people will go see it.

What did you see? What did you like?

DISCLAIMER - As I write this I have not yet seen "Saving Mr. Banks", "August Osage County" or "Monuments Men" - two movies I have very, very high hopes for. 


30 Favorite Songs of All Time . . .

I post and talk a lot about music on this blog. Truthfully . . . I listen to a LOT more music than I might ever talk about. I have music or a podcast playing just about every waking moment of my day. I don't care for heavy metal, most classic rock, or twangy/true country but . . . beyond that . . . there's not a lot of stuff I dislike.

I had someone ask me the other day (after my favorite albums list) what my ten favorite songs of all time are. Well . . . here is that list plus twenty (in actual order of preference) more for good measure. You've probably heard of most of them but if there is just one here you do NOT know, my work is done. Yes, yes, yes. I KNOW that almost all of this list is POP music. That is fine. Trust me.

Please to enjoy.

30) Ya Hey, Vampire Weekend - One of only two songs on this list released this decade this song is just plain fun and lighthearted but has a very serious message. NO ONE in music today does lyrics and music quite like Vampire Weekend. That's ivy league product, yo.
29) Lately (MTV Unplugged), Jodeci - A cover of the Stevie Wonder ballad about infidelity, doubt, and longing . . . this song can make you sad but the strength of the voices of KC and JoJo is worth the listen (sidebar - they wore leather pants and oversized leather vests during the MTV taping so that is funny).
28) 2 Legit 2 Quit, MC Hammer - Laugh all you want but this song was amazing in its day and the video was a legitimate sensation. I STILL find myself toe-tapping and hand-gesturing when it comes on. The Macarena . . . not. so. much.
27) Circle, Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians - I didn't understand this song when it first came out but I loved it because Edie Brickell sang with such warmth, concern, and sadness. I still play this song when I feel lonely (that's truth).
26) Umbrella, Rihanna featuring Jay-Z - I don't know how to explain how much this song just gets trapped in my head and rains down on me (get it?) from the inside. The perfect "summer hit" and it will always remind me of when and where I was the first time I heard the song (another blog post for another time - remind me).
25) Ave Maria, J. S. Bach/Charles Gounod - I won't put too many classical pieces on here but if you do NOT like Ave Maria . . . I don't think I like you, good sir.
24) Deliciously Down, Cree Summer - So Lenny Kravitz was married to that woman from The Cosby Show/A Different World and Cree Summer played her roommate (or a bit part) and Lenny Kravitz dug her sound so they made an album together. The whole record is amazing. This is my favorite song from it. And a solid song in general.
23) Fantasy (Bad Boy Remix), Mariah Carey featuring O.D.B. - "Me and Mariahhh go back like babies and pacifierssss. Old dirt dog no liarrrrr. Kicking fantasy hot like firrrrrrrrre." I mean come ON, suhn!
22) Do Me, Bell Biv Devoe - A lot of people go straight to Poison when they think of BBD. Not me. No-no. The subtly of Do Me (that is sarcasm) makes it all the better.
21) Something to Save, George Michael - I was truly bummed when I realized there would never be a "Listen Without Prejudice" Vols. 2 and 3. Not because I like trilogies but because I really liked the political angle George Michael took between "Faith" and "Drugs in Public" (not an album - a behavior issue). This CD was solid and Something to Save was a good battle cry for people doing SOMETHING bigger than themselves.
20) Happy Ending, Mika - If you don't know and love Mika, you're missing out. He's Freddie Mercury only slightly more gay and eccentric. I can't really tell the story of why I like this song so much but it was very important to me at a weird time in my life. It is catchy to a point where you miss the sad message.
19) Heaven (Candlelight Mix), DJ Sammy & Yanou featuring Do - Yes. The remake of a Brian Adams joint. Yes. By a DJ. Yes. With a vocalist just going crazy with the lyrics and melody. I can't get behind the dance, trance, smash, or whatever other versions but this one . . . it is beautiful. It just works.
18) Today, Smashing Pumpkins - Freshman year of college. The world was new. This CD was playing all the time and, on any given morning, today really might have been the greatest day I'd ever known. College, man. College.
17) All Apologies, Sinead O'Connor - Yep. A remake of a Nirvana song (and I HATE Nirvana (long story, different post . . . seriously - remind me) by a woman who is no stranger to controversy but has probably n ever actually apologized to anyone for anything. Which makes the song all the more perfect when vibrating off her pipes.
16) This Woman's Work, Kate Bush - Just watch this clip from She's Having a Baby. If you've never seen the movie and don't want it spoiled (it is a truly wonderful 80s movie) turn it off at 6:54. What a beautiful song about women, strength, babies, dads, and love.
15) Someone Like You, Adele - I love Adele. This is well documented. This song (the other song from this decade to make this list) is a great example of why. It makes you want to hug her or go look up your exes. Or hug your exes? Look her up? I can never figure it out.
14) Celebrate Me Home, Kenny Loggins - Kenny Loggins gets way, way less respect than he deserves. Celebrate Me Home is one of my favorite holiday songs of all time and is also a wonderful song in general. Family, man. Family.
13) What's Golden, Jurassic 5 - A really good rap anthem asking you to remember, fondly, the days of balling, shot calling, and yes y'alling. I will do that for you, Jurassic 5. All you had to do was ask me to.
12) Come to Me (Peace), Mary J. Blige - No one knows pain like Mary J. Blige and no one opens up their pipes exactly like Mary J. Blige does. This song is a fantastic example of the pipes and the pain and the fact that forgiving and forgetting could be the only thing between impasse and happiness.
11) Good Mother, Jann Arden - Makes me think of my own mother. That should be all the reason you need to justify this song being in this position on this list.
10) Pearl, Paula Cole - I love this song. It is about going in a grain of sand and coming out something better and speaks to the notion of balance in life and trying to find the right place for you to develop in to your best self. We should all aspire to be the pearl.
9) Satellite, Dave Matthews Band - I'm not justifying this one. You all get it.
8) I'm Going to Make a Cake, Philip Glass - I'm obsessed with The Hours as a piece of profound sadness that can break any person on the edge by the time Ed Harris exits his apartment. The score is equally amazing. This track, which plays while Julianne Moore's character struggles to honor her loving husband with a cake only to have it all come apart at the seams is exactly why so many people are so sad in this world . . . they take on things they should not and they expect things from themselves that are not fair. Make less cakes - be happier. Or just watch The Hours and cry until it feels good again.
7) I'd Die Without You, PM Dawn - This might technically be the longest-running number one song on the pop charts of all time except "I Will Always Love You" by Whitney Houston. I prefer this song. Finger snapping? Rhythmic moaning? Piano flourishes? Yes. Yes. Yes. Amazing pop balladry and can you imagine the lucky woman a man played this for? Swoon.
6) Both Sides Now, Joni Mitchell - Everything "I'd Die Without You" is not. Sad. Hopeless. No one to sing it to . . . this woman is alone and hurting. They use this song brilliantly in Love Actually but I first had my heart broken by it about a decade earlier. So good. SOOOO good.
5) The Funeral, Band of Horses - If I have a meeting, discussion, opportunity, or challenge ahead of me this song gets me ready. The basic point of the song is that you can die at any time so hold nothing back. Take no prisoners. Accept nothing "less". Not a bad way to go through life.
4) Thank U, Alanis Morissette - If this song doesn't exist, I don't finish graduate school and I don't have the life I have now (I'd probably have a different one but it would not be the same for certain).
3) I'll Be There For You/You're All I Need, Method Man with Mary J. Blige - Yep. TWO Mary J. Blige appearances and I put a rap/R&B duet in my top three songs of all time. Give it a listen - you'll understand why, you suburban pretenders.
2) The Luckiest, Ben Folds Five - I loved this song from the first time I heard it (the original version is great, the "live" recording on Ben Folds Live is better, some a Capella renditions are very, very legit). The notion that your life and who you meet and love is sort of predetermined is a wonderful, wonderful notion. Not getting many things right the first time (as the lyrics point out) is a far more realistic way to plug along.
1) Heartbeats, Jose Gonzalez - Happy, loving, tender, encouraging, and not entirely clear in its motives or intents ("Would I be good enough to lean on?") this song is infectious and second to none in my never humble opinion. I first fell in love with it from this brilliant Sony Bravia extended commercial (no special effects - that really is hundreds of thousands of rubber balls coming down the hills of San Francisco) but it has stayed with me ever since.

For you Spotify people (note that "What's Golden" by Jurassic 5 is not available for streaming for some reason so you get just 29 tracks).


Spoil . . .

I recently  chatted with someone about food and food choices.

Later in the evening I started thinking about food again (this is my constant obsession, people) and how few fruits and vegetables I eat and the fact that one of the "main" (to show you how weird my brain is) reasons I don't buy and eat more produce is because it spoils "so quickly."

This, of course, morphed in to an inner-monologue soap box rant about spoiling (that may have referenced Elf on the Shelf and Christmas traditions in general - 'tis the season).

Anywho . . . the point (yes - this blog post technically starts here) is - If you look up the word "spoil" in the dictionary (or Google it) you will find that there are several definitions . . .
  1. (Verb 1) Diminish or destroy the value or quality of
  2. (Verb 2) Harm the character of (a child) by being too lenient or indulgent
  3. (Noun 1) Goods stolen or taken forcibly from a person or place
  4. (Noun 2) Waste material produce from an excavation 
None of them are good. None of them are anything you would really want. The interesting part? All four of them are about human behavior and decision making. There are not a lot of words in the English language that are nouns and verbs. There are even less words that are both and that all seem negative. There are even fewer that are negative because of human behavior or decisions.

No one wants to be associated with spoil. You don't want to ruin or misuse things, you don't want to harm a child as they make their way to "self" and you don't ever want waste materials or things you only came in to through attack. Ideally you want the opposite of all these things . . . you want to improve the value of things, raise great children, earn things through hard work and times of peace and develop things without a lot of unwanted waste or leftover stuff. 

Yet lots of people want to be "spoiled" or to "spoil" someone. Often in adult relationships, frankly. They want to deluge them with gifts and affection, time and attention. They want to make their lives easier in one or more ways. They want that to be reciprocal and it is celebrated and thought to be the key to a long and healthy relationship.

I don't judge (all that often (that is sarcasm)) and I see the grand gesture associated with spoilage. I think if you can find a healthy balance between spoiling and being spoiled and as long as it is only in positive and productive ways that make everyone happy you should embrace spoiling. But how often do we "spoil" in misguided ways? How often is "spoiling" left unseen or unappreciated? How often does "spoiling" come out as wasteful as so much excavation product? 

I want to be present in a relationship. Kind. Give and take. I don't know if I've ever really aspired to shared spoiling. It is almost too hard to do it "right" and to have it be something that is truly mutual and truly positive. 

All too often you're just left with a bag of ruined Cuties and hurt feelings.


Merry Christmas . . .

Well . . . it is that time once again. The celebration of the birth of the Christ child by all believers, retail establishments, and our church-free federal government. Having been raised a Catholic and having a daughter that enjoys both sides of the Judeo-Christian coin the day is still special in many ways. A nice opportunity to spend family time with my ex and my daughter and a  good excuse to call my family (something I do too rarely). It is also a good chance to just sort of mark a year but I do that post too much.

So, instead, I will simply wish all of you - no matter if you are celebrating or not, alone or surrounded, happy or sad, warm or cold, drunk or sober, good or bad, content or yearning - a very, very Merry Christmas in the slightly boiled-back sense that it is intended . . . that life begins, salvation can be had, and nothing should ever bring us true dismay.



Pay It Forward/Merry Christmas/Ugh . . .

Sooooo I am "working" today (using quotes to showcase the relative nature of the word) and my morning routine was altered by taking the kiddo to her grandparent's house so I figured I would swing through McDonald's to get an iced latte thingy vs. my normal bucket of Diet Mtn Dew (no quotes because it is a literal representation of the cup I drink from).

So I wait my turn and when I drive up to the window I expect to be charged about $3 for my drink but to my true delight, the car in front of me decided to Pay It Forward (Christmas Edition). What is a guy to do? Pay. It. Forward.

"Fantastic," I exhault. "I'd like to pay for the car behind me, please." (hands debit card to cashier).

"That is very nice of you," I'm told.

Get receipt, look down . . . $39.46.

Yes. The car behind me got nearly FORTY DOLLARS of McDonald's breakfast (for the record that is like one of EVERYTHING). 13x my intended cost for the morning later, I pull forward and try to focus on the joy of a free coffee and the (presumed) joy the guy behind me got a few seconds later. I really did feel good about it but my wallet is not sure it agrees.

Merry Christmas (to all who indulge)!


HELP! My Child Has a Vagina and I Do Not . . .

Dear Mommy Bloggers of the World -

What? You made your own baby food? WOW! You can get life-sustaining fluids to come out of your breasts? Geddoudahere that you sacrifice sleep, personal hygiene, and even your social life for the sake of your bundles of joy. You worry about your kids in the world you are raising them in? Egad! I'll bottom-line you here . . . we nit-wit dads refuse to believe that you just know how to raise a healthy, happy, well-adjusted human being that came out of your belly or came in to your life through your extra love to give. We are sooooooo grateful that you blog about how amazing you are so we have a place to binge on the scraps of your parenting feast.

THAT is sarcasm . . . Wanna' know what else I get sarcastic about? How TERRIFIC and insightful this list (and any other time you moms "help" us dads out) is - the name alone makes me punchy . . . "What Little Girls Wish Daddies Knew".

I'm not saying all you mommy bloggers are guilty of this but . . . are you fist f*cking me with this post?! This list is full of nothing more than rambling angst. There are parallels made that make no sense. There are conclusions drawn that have no basis in reality. There are gender stereotypes (for we fellas and you ladies) that you'd think such a fantastic mother (and "counselor") would not play in to. Am I right, other mommy bloggers?

Let's make a deal, ladies of the blogosphere . . . you stick to your own parenting experiences exclusively and share your arts and crafts photos, your helpful kitchen tips, your struggles to find work/life balance (something men are apparently exempt from) and all the other domestic stuff you blog on and on and on about as either a way to justify the resentment you carry toward your youth or the overly warm, and glowing reflection your childhood offers. Share these thoughts with just you and those who chose to read your blog (women or men, parents or not). NO need to offer your pearls to the general public.

Want to criticize your father or the father of your children for the way he handled/is handling his girls? Fair enough. Do that face to face. NO need for a blog post for the world. Want to help me (Sean C. Amore) be a better parent? Pound sand.

I am confused about exactly FIVE things as a parent . . .
  1. Styling my daughter's long, textured, curly hair that she is very particular about.
  2. Stepping out side of my wardrobe of khaki, navy blue, white, beige, grey, and brown to bright-brights and bold patters in my kid's closet.
  3. Getting my little sweets to love math, science and homework (three things I didn't love as a student) more and to slow down with and perfect her handwriting. 
  4. The doubt that her mother's and my divorce has put undue strain on her.
  5. Addressing and developing her multi-racial/ethnic sense of "self" as a 100% white person.
Know what the key takeaway is there? ONLY the first one has anything to do with gender (NO disrespect to the parents out there with long-haired boys (they are rare)). And while it CONFUSES me, I do just fine with it and I've never made it an issue or wedge between the kid and me. Now - if ever I needed help from you, Mommy Blogger . . .  I've been researching and pricing out flat irons lately and those confound me . . . got any tips? I digress.

The WORST part about this and every other time you pour the soul-warming honey of your wisdom on to us dads, mommy bloggers?! NONE of you ever give us tips on how to style our little women's hair (or whatever real problem we face)? Your blogs just MAKE FUN OF US FOR NOT KNOWING HOW TO STYLE OUR DAUGHTER'S HAIR while you clear your way to another post about how to "brilliantly" trick your kids in to eating their vegetables or how great your Elf on the Shelf makes you! 

Look, ladies, if my kid grows up with self-esteem issues it will be that she has too MUCH of it. I'll never be a sexist in front of her. I'll never be weirded out by her body or its changes or her menses (yes, I said menses) beyond the liability that I've never actually used a feminine hygiene product to give her context. I have and will play "dress up". I've worn make up and nail polish. I've had my balding hair in bows. I have and will do whatever my child wants to do and will initiate and participate in any conversation we want or need to collaboratively have until she tires of spending time with me. You'll never find a hole in my parenting confidence or performance that your blog can fill or help or supplement in any way. I don't know a father (regardless of number or gender of children they are co-raising) that has any issues you help with.

So while you sit atop Superior Parenting Mountain and pass down these rules for how I might/should act in front of my child please know that it is condescending and unneeded. NO dad/man reading a mommy blog does not already know the crap you are spewing (he's there, he's interested, he's ahead of the curve) and - frankly - this crap would fall upon deaf ears for any father who might actually want or need your drivel.

I've already got your rules covered and I hope and pray my own daughter grows up seeing stuff like this for what it is . . . dullardry (not a real word). 

Live your life. Be happy. Raise your kids. Keep them happy. Love your family and friends. Do what you can to ensure that they are happy. Read and like and forward and kiss-ass all over each others blogs. Hope it makes you happy. But STOP with the over-cooked madness where you think your own parenting translates to some sort of golden rule that all parents can benefit from, be in awe of, or learn from. There is a reason that kids get two parents . . . more than that is chaos. 

Sincerely - 

Parent with a Penis aka "Daddy" (which is a term I'm fine being used less and less frequently in my home)


Sunday Funday . . .

Do yourself a huge favor - become a fan of Aloe Blacc at your earliest convenience.


Holiday Playlist . . .

Merry Christmas, to those who partake. Here is my Christmas gift to you - a little playlist to put on in the background while you deck said halls, trim said balls, and try to avoid climbing the walls. Please to enjoy!


Sean's Top 10 "Heynow" Women of The Moment . . .

It has been a year since my pervy nature truly bled in to this forum and I ranked the ten women who flick my proverbial Bic for all the world to see (and, for the record, over 900 of you have gone to look). So, without any more delay (I'm sure you are alllll curious) here is the 2014 edition.

Some key takeaways . . .
  • I clearly don't pay much attention to pop culture anymore. I don't have a single Kardashian on the list (and I'm told the nightmare-of-a-mother is available). I don't have any idea what the kids are watching on TV these days or who the latest Adult Contemporary chanteuse du jour is (let's presume it is Celine Dion . . . still)
  • I binge-ate "Drop Dead Diva" on Netflix this fall. It is not a terrible show by any stretch
  • I listen to a lot of NPR
  • I know Rachel Maddow is not "for me" and I'm fine with that
  • This list seems to be much more about mental stimulation that physical beauty (even though all these ladies are very, very lovely - as are ALL of you . . . especially you, gurrrrl) which doesn't mean that I'm an evolved man or that my age has finally outgrown my lust (let's not get crazy) it probably just means that I'm more dedicated than ever to the notion that brains are sexy
  • Funny is still important - all ten of these woman can and will make you laugh (Anna Netrebko the least, at least in English)
  • The average age of these women is 48.9, down slightly from last year. This means relatively little but might be worth noting.
Please to enjoy . . . and feel free to agree/disagree/comment/etc. 

#10 - Brooke Elliott
AGE - 39
WHERE YOU KNOW HER FROM - You probably don't.
WHAT I LIKE ABOUT HER - She's very purdy and carries herself with a lot of confidence. She is very funny and can sing. I'm a simple man, people.
#9 - Anna Netrebko
AGE - 42
WHY SHE CAUGHT MY ATTENTION - Google Play Music (I listen to a lot of opera - don't ask). I only recently Googled her to see what she looked like. Hey now!
WHAT I LIKE ABOUT HER - Even if I were blind, I would be smitten. Just LISTEN to her sing. Oy vey.

#8 - Hillary Clinton
AGE - 66
WHERE YOU KNOW HER FROM - American politics done right
WHY SHE CAUGHT MY ATTENTION - 1992. Her husband got caught (allegedly) up to no good and she's been important to me ever since.
WHAT I LIKE ABOUT HER - Hillary Clinton is brilliant. She's bright, engaging, funny, and has been "hated" her entire professional career but she gives exactly zero f*cks and she might just be (pretty please) our next President of the United States. What's NOT to like?!
#7 - Melissa McCarthy (#10 in 2013)
AGE - 43
WHAT I LIKE ABOUT HER - She's wickedly funny and super attractive. The end.

#6 - Amy Schumer
AGE - 32
WHERE YOU KNOW HER FROM - Her Comedy Central show
WHY SHE CAUGHT MY ATTENTION - Roasts - the old ones.
WHAT I LIKE ABOUT HER - The baby of the bunch . . . she is very bright, very crass, very funny, very beautiful and doesn't seem to take any of that all that seriously - and she doesn't seem to like other people to take themselves too seriously, either. Win.

#5 - Renee Montagne 
AGE - 64
WHAT I LIKE ABOUT HER - She's the first woman to speak to me most mornings (Kate Clause being the other but I can't put women I actually KNOW on this list) and she is wide awake and doing her thing at 4 AM PT (she's in LA). That's a good egg, people.
#4 - Nigella Lawson (#2 in 2013)
AGE - 53
WHERE YOU KNOW HER FROM - Cooking shows, media empire
WHY SHE CAUGHT MY ATTENTION - The cover of a cookbook a long, long, lust-filled time ago.
WHAT I LIKE ABOUT HER - She makes everything seem somehow sexual and she can make journalists interviewing her blush. Sure, sure - the cocaine thing is a turn off - and the divorce is temporarily problematic but I'd still let her eat crackers in bed.

#3 - Meryl Streep (#4 in 2013)
AGE - 64
WHY SHE CAUGHT MY ATTENTION - Bridges of Madison County
WHAT I LIKE ABOUT HER - Everything. Truly. She's just wonderful.

#2 - Rachel Maddow
AGE - 40
WHERE YOU KNOW HER FROM - MSNBC and general punditry
WHY SHE CAUGHT MY ATTENTION -Her Air America radio show in 2004
WHAT I LIKE ABOUT HER - She's very, very bright. She is extremely funny. She is beautiful. She makes cocktails that are anything but boring. She wears crazy sneakers in her real life.
#1 - Connie Britton (#1 in 2013)
AGE - 46
WHERE YOU KNOW HER FROM - This list, last year.
WHAT I LIKE ABOUT HER - As I said last year, there's not enough time or space on the World Wide Web to really tell the story. She's purrrrddddy. We'll start, and end, with that.


Growing Old . . .

I like when 16-year-olds lament the notion of getting old so compellingly. Why don't we ever cry out for "maturity now" like we do serenity?


Why I Blog . . .

Why blogs first became a "thing" (please do not fact check me oh ye of the early adoption) in the late 1990s they seemed to me to be just a bizarre thing . . . why would you EVER want to share your personal life with the world?

I should clarify here that I'd kept a journal (no, no GIRLS have diaries - "men" journal (yeah - I just made it a verb)) since the mid-80s. I had 15 years of my thoughts in books and on scraps of paper. Doodles and promises, receipts, and napkins. This felt right to me. The only person to ever read the contents of these books would be me, my parents when I died prematurely, and the general public when my first memoirs were published (I'd call them The New York, Connecticut, and Early-DC Days)

I didn't dip a toe until my days working for IBM when my office mates and I decided it would be amazing fun to chronicle our office shenanigans. We made a total of five posts including one announcing why we were starting the blog and one explaining why we were stopping. It felt very awkward and forced in the middle.

My next attempt at blogging came several months later when I had gastric bypass surgery and was asked to share my journey with my peers. What came out of it was something that felt very, very personal and that lasted for years. I stopped blogging on that site right around the time I felt I might be gaining weight again and in the early moments of my realization that my marriage might be heading for trouble (long before it was confirmed). To continue on that blog would have felt very forced.

By this time I had Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Pay Attention to Me NOW, and several other social media platforms with which to graphically over-share my every thought and emotion. I think back to my first dip in blog pond and think . . . How QUAINT, fat man!

As my marriage tanked, my weight grew, and my general sense of focus and control diminished, I sorta stopped blogging (seven or eight posts in nearly two years after years of blogging daily). Things were just too chaotic in my brain to dump my feelings out there by the paragraph.

Then, about 14 months ago, my friend Walker asked a very simple question about . . . why I don't blog more often and that was all it took. I decided I would just figure out a way to elaborate on whatever stupid thought was in my head on any given day and they are STUPID thoughts.

If you read my blog regularly (and if you do WHY - ain't you got no friends or nothin' better to be doin' with yer time?) you can probably vouch that there is no rhyme or reason to the time we share here.

Some people blog about diets. Some about parenting. Some about sneakers, wine, girls, or sports. Some people blog about funny stuff. Some share tales of woe and despair. I can honestly say I've covered every one of those topics and many, many more.

Here's the thing (and forgive me for saying this) but I don't really blog for any reason at all. I don't want to collect readers (I appreciate the 100 or so of you that stop by every day), this is not a bridge to a writing career or an attempt to make money in the exciting, emerging, digital economy, and I don't want to be seen as an influencer, taste maker, or informed voice.

I am not (unless otherwise directly indicated in a post) looking to illicit emotion or action. I don't want to inspire or deflate you. I would like it if you laugh (at the funny-ish) stuff or shake your head in agreement or disdain. I'd like you to think about my posts at some similar moment. I guess I want the basic "response" that, much like a high school art show, implies an appreciation to the effort and the notion that it was time well spent to swing by and stare directly in to the Crack of Sean.

There is a lot going on in my brain these days. I have sadness, regret, hope, excitement, wants, needs, and questions. I'm exploring all that crap and more. I apologize if you read these posts and see something grand and/or yourself in them (I'll tell you, offline, when they are "about" or "for" you and will explain why I am sharing it with the masses) or if you think I'm judging or minimizing you or anyone but Elf on the Shelf owners in any way.

NEVER my intention . . . I keep all my truly petty gripes for my journals to be published a later date (The Kansas Years, by Kenneth Davis).


Romance . . .

This seems pretty "romantic" to me.
I had a great conversation with a friend the other day about how "romantic" the holiday season is. Apparently the short days (that bug the crap out of me) and all the twinkling lights, carols, peppermint scented/flavored everything, and hustle and bustle put her in quite the amorous mood (she's single, fellas - let me know if you want her digits). I started asking questions about the use of the word "romantic" . . . did she mean "warm" or "loving" or "nostalgic" or "quaint" or did she actually mean romantic?

Romantic, for those without a built-in or readily-available dictionary officially means "inclined toward or suggestive of the feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love". So where is the "love" in the holiday season in this case? Is it love of shopping? Holiday parties? Peppermint scented/flavored everything? The excitement I get . . . the mystery I do not. But she was SURE that she meant romantic. I still think she meant amorous because the conversation hooked directly south as I started in with some sordid tale of Naughty Elves and peppermint "sticks" (I'm 12 years old, people) and she didn't seem disinterested in the yarn I was spinning.

So is this time of year "romantic"? And is "romance" something we can label as a universal (quick answer - no. Much like "beautiful" the word means too many things to too many people)?

I'm not much for romance, I don't think. I like to be affectionate. Hugs are free, people. I have been told I am a flirt (this I dispute wildly). I like to tell people that I find attractive, interesting, engaging, or lovable that they are one/some/all of the above. I don't mind looking foolish in these pursuits and statements. But I don't know that I've ever really put much effort or energy in to romance . . . because, for me, BEING romantic is a choice - not a coincidence.

I think the most "romantic" thing I've ever (intentionally) done was, oddly enough, in the days just before Christmas, 2004. I was engaged to be married. We had lost a pregnancy in a horrible ectopic misadventure a few months earlier and it was our first Christmas living together. We were driving to Upstate on a cold but cloudless December night. Pennsylvania's stretch of Route 81 can be a lonely stretch and we had been chatting away about all sort of things. I took a random exit and parked the car. I put The Blower's Daughter by Damien Rice (one of the saddest and most anti-romantic songs ever recorded, frankly) on the car stereo, walked around the car, opened the door, took my beautiful passenger by the hand and we proceeded to dance on the shoulder of the road for about five glorious minutes. We never spoke. When the song ended I walked her to the car, shut her door, walked around the car, got in, put us in drive and got back on the highway.

I asked my now ex-wife about this incident the other day . . . did she remember it? What was her takeaway from it? We both remembered it fondly. And by "it" I mean that dance and, more importantly, that phase of our life. The window after the adversity of our lost pregnancy and the excitement of wedding and life planning.

Maybe it was more than just those five minutes that was the most romantic thing I've ever done . . . maybe that was not a romantic thing at all (John Cusack would probably call me a "douche" if I told him the story, right?) and maybe the whole notion of romance is something we only really feel in that moment or in the thoughts and gestures that initiate it. Maybe romance, like fibromyalgia, isn't real at all (calm down everyone out there that has it . . . I believe it is totally real for you). Maybe it is just a sticker we slap on something after the fact when we want something to point at when we look back on love in bloom. Maybe romance is something that happens all the time and we just don't see it or feel it. Maybe romance is in shopping bags and holiday parties and shorter days and twinkling lights.

Maybe real romance is in the moments and hours you spend driving the dark stretch of highway with peace, love, and happiness between you more than the few minutes you spend on the shoulder of the road.


Short Days . . .

There are three our four weeks out of the year (going on now, candidly) that I really don't like. They are the short days of mid-December through mid-January. We all (some of us) know that because of the way the earth travels around the sun (if these two things are even real and if one moves at all) these are the weeks where our part of the big, blue ball is tilted away from the sun which means, simply, shorter amounts of daylight and colder, bleaker weather.

I'm from Upstate. We get REAL winters there. Four/five months long. Cold. Snow. Wind. Ice. No excuses. Tough. And I'm fine with that. Give me some rock salt, a shovel, a warm set of mittens, and some tea when it is over and I'll make it work but these short days and grey skies can't go fast enough here, there, or anywhere.

I hate that I'm heading to work and the sun is still not really up. I hate that the sun will be down by the time I leave work. I hate that the sky will likely be grey for the duration in the middle. It doesn't depress me - it just frustrates me. It reminds me that opportunities are quick, windows are small, decisions have to be made, and darkness will almost always beat the light if you're not smart with your time.

Of course six months from now we'll have hot, sunny, long days when the sun will beat down on us with reckless abandon and I'll complain about how much I hate the heat and how much I still miss the more moderate summers of Upstate.

Maybe I'm just one of "those people" that always wants what I don't have and that doesn't ever really appreciate the moments - grey and short or bright and long - when they are mine. Maybe I'm just one of "those people" that really does obsess over the weather and the world all the time. Maybe I'm just one of those people that doesn't like a bleak world to hang over me. Maybe I'm all of the above.

Either way - hurry up, mid-January.


10 Favorite Musicians/Bands of All Time . . .

I shared a few mugs of tea with someone the other day and they told me they thought I had "great and eclectic" (I can't make this stuff up) taste in music and they asked me who my favorites were. I started to talk about my favorite albums of all time but I was challenged for favorite ARTISTS. This changed things. Here, four days later, is my top ten list.

A few disclaimers - to make the cut someone has to have at least two or three albums out and has to have been around for longer than 15 minutes of fame. You'll note some of these folks have been around since before I was even born. This is better. Longevity is not easy in music or mugs of tea.

10) KT Tunstall - You may know her Horse and Cherry Tree song and nothing else . . . a shame. She's incredibly talented and writes almost everything herself and also plays a lot of the instrumental tracks herself, too. I don't know why this woman is not more popular in the world. I will stop searching for something else to listen to every time she comes on. FAVORITE SONG - Suddenly I See

9) (Sir) James Galway - Fun fact . . . I started playing the flute at the age of 10 and never really stopped (I played as recently as two weeks ago). I listened to a lot of James Galway as a kid and still do. He is one of the world's most accomplished flutist and he is a great ambassador for an often dismissed instrument. His Flight of the Bumble Bee is humbling (watch his fingers fly). FAVORITE SONG - Danny Boy

8) Alanis Morissette - Ahhhh. My girl Alanis. I've loved her since Jagged Little Pill and probably always will (many think her music has declined over time . . . I totally disagree). It has been interesting to watch her evolution as a woman and entertainer. FAVORITE SONG - Thank U

7) Adele - Oh, baby. This woman is truly special. She's amazingly talented, charming as could possibly be, and is willing to just put it all out there in moments of happiness and sadness. If you've never seen her "Live at Royal Albert Hall" DVD - fix that. It will sorta blow you away. I hope this woman makes music for 50 more years . . . even if her albums only come every three or four years. Worth the wait. FAVORITE SONG - Hometown Glory or Make You Feel My Love (tie)

6) Barenaked Ladies - Okay . . . to clarify. These guys are a favorite of mine from freshman year of college when I settled on my favorite of EVERYTHING in this world (approximately). They have changed a lot over the years and they have had some albums that didn't exactly wow me but I actually think they are doing just fine on their last few efforts. If you've never seen them live - do so. They are wonderful showmen. FAVORITE SONG - Call and Answer

5) Prince - I mean, c'mon. Seriously. This guy has more talent in his little, tiny, itty-bitty body than people three times his size and he gives exactly zero clicks (literally - he has no website) what you think about him or what he does. And he's not had to worry about that very much over the years. It is also important to note how many songs other people have recorded and become famous with that flowed from his brain/pen. FAVORITE SONG - Still Would Stand All Time

4) Jay-Z - Shawn Corey Carter is my favorite solo rapper of all time (Christopher "Notorious B.I.G." Wallace is my second favorite). Everything he's ever done (except married the dreadful woman he chose to breed with) makes me happy and he has evolved so much over the years. Can't say enough good stuff about Jay-Z. FAVORITE SONG - Young Forever

3) Philip Glass -  Philip Glass doesn't make music, he makes audio sculptures. His music is rich, sparse, complicated, simple, tangled, and engaging. I can't think of too many other composers with pieces that make my brain hurt like some of his do. I don't love everything Philip Glass has born but the percentage of "hate" stuff is very, very small. FAVORITE PIECE - I'm Going to Make a Cake

2) Stevie Wonder - I don't care that it has been a lifetime since Stevie Wonder put out something truly amazing (his "Overjoyed" duet with Celine Dion is an exception . . . it is wonderfully guilty of pop cheesism) . . . it was decades and decades of amazing productivity that preceded the run. Steve Wonder is truly an American Treasure and he can't even see that (See what I did there? Horrible blind jokes, folks.). Luckily I can. FAVORITE SONG - As

1) Ben Folds (Five) - Ben Folds is our generation's Elton John and/or Billy Joel. He might even be bigger than them because he has had success in a musical environment that was not inclined to like him and his influence is diverse (search for" Ben Folds, a capella" and see all the inspiration) and his personal life has never really been a focus (rare in this era of entertainer). He has a TV show and he's done movie scores, etc. He, like Adele, is someone that I think I'll listen to until their last breathe - or mine - whichever comes first (probably mine). FAVORITE SONG - The Luckiest

Who are your favorites?


Well SH*T . . .

So my car (aka Walter Sobchak) was likely totaled (UPDATE - They are fixing my car. I'll get him back on January 7th-ish) last night. No reason for the specifics beyond that I was alone in the car, I had my seat belt on, my hands at "10 and 2", and the woman who went medieval on my buttocks is fully responsible. I'm fine. The rest is all pops and buzzes.

This was, I'm sorta timid to say, the first serious car thing I've ever been part of. I once messed up my mother's minivan when I hit black ice on New Year's Day in Upstate and spun around a few times before backing down a steep hill then hitting a tree to stop my long, slow decline. I've had a few "little" things over the years but nothing that made me do the whole "slow motion" actualization and even slower motion watching the whole thing happen in disbelief. And yet - there it is/was . . . all three seconds that felt like three hours of it.

I'm pleased to say that my life did not flash before my eyes (just my evening plans) and I kept my wits about me and was able to actually process all the things that went through my head in the three seconds of hard-driving action I was victim to. Wanna hear about them? Sure you do - you're here, right?

  1. I really don't like the flavor of gum I bought the other day but it is still in my cup holder. If I die the people that exhume my body are going to think I enjoy it. I do not. 
  2. At least I'm listening to KMUW. I'll die smarter than average.
  3. I don't know if I'm a kind enough person. I should be more kind. I'm not going to yell at this other driver for screwing up my entire week in these three seconds. (I honored this thought moments later.)
  4. My daughter is not with me. That is good. This person is going to hit somewhere around where she sits. I love my kid. She's really my favorite person in this world. I'm glad she is not with me right now.
  5. This is going to be a total headache to deal with.
  6. I have not kissed nearly enough women (or had nearly enough kisses with the same wom(a/e)n) in this life. I should start giving that advice to people whenever I am put on the spot. Yeah. No more "wooden nickle" advice and, instead, more kissing advice instead. I get creepier by the day.
  7. I really love this friggin' car. I don't want to be without it for even a day or two.
  8. I'm going to miss the Wichita Symphony Orchestra tonight and this is my favorite concert of the year. And part of one of my kiddo's Hanukkah gifts. Ugh. 
  9. I eat a banana every day. I am a good enough person. I am going to be just fine and my car is going to be just fine. I'll eat another banana in the morning. This is all just. plain. fine.
  10. My underpants were clean this morning. How many hours can you wear them before your mother's advice to always have a fresh pair on in case of a car accident becomes relevant?
The underpants were not relevant, number nine is the key, and number six is now on the top of my list of things to fix before being on the receiving end of my next t-boning (NOT a euphemism) at Bradley Fair.

Seriously, though, all is well. Life is good. Love who you love - hope they love you back. And do more woman kissing (as appropriate).


The Reason for the Season . . .

When was it decided that the reason for Christmas was GIFTS?

I don't mean that in some overly cynical "the spirit has given way to secularism" way . . . I mean it in a very true and simple way. When did that become the thing?

It has been a while since I was in a Catholic Church on Christmas Even (2008, I think?) but I don't remember any more than three gifts being given to the guy we are celebrating the birth of that fateful Bethlehem night. And those were gifts FOR HIM. No one brought anything (correct me if I am wrong, New Testament Scholars) to Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the postman, the nice woman at the receptionist desk, the vendors who sold the hay for the manger, or the boss upstairs. And yet - 2013ish years later . . . here we are. GIFT CRAZY.

Don't believe me? Have a three minute or longer conversation with a casual acquaintance in the month of December. Know how long it takes for the question to be asked "You get your holiday shopping done yet?" 0:42 seconds. That is an actual average time in five conversations I had this last week to test the theory. LESS THAN A MINUTE. Because that is what we think about this time of year. Gifts. Wrapping Paper. Scotch Tape. Gift Cards. Gift Receipts. Gift Exchanges. Gift Idea Lists. Gifts. GIFTS. GIFTS!!!

I know people that actually give gifts to people SIMPLY BECAUSE they know they are going to get one FROM that other person. WHAT?! Is that a real thing?! What if the other person is thinking the same. exact. thing? How about THIS for a gift "Hey, uh, Tammy (her name is Tammy in my head) . . . How about instead of giving each other gifts this year we just exchange a hug, a warm word of thanks and mutual appreciation, and a mug of tea?" Would that be nice? "Yes. Yes it would." (Tammy likes this idea very much.)

I had written this long post about how we were setting our kids up for heartache and disaster with the way we deluge them with Christmas gifts but I scrapped that post (I feared push back - long story) so I'll stick with adult-on-adult gifting instead and simply say that this whole thing has become CRAZY.

Let's stop. Let's slow down. Let's step back and just hang out the weekend of Thanksgiving. Let's have less obligatory office holiday parties. Let's stop with the "bigger and better than last year" battle cries for social activities and markings on the calendar. Let's stop with the show and spectacle. Because it is not needed and it is not even all that sincere for most people . . . it is obligation.

Let's be more genuine. Let's try to bake more cookies, sing more songs, break more bread, drink more good tea/wine/cocoa/goat's blood. Let's try to pretend that society's momentum does not tell us what to do - WE tell us what to do ("We run things, things don't run we." - M. Cyrus). Let's try to actually reclaim some sanity in the month of December and save some time, effort, and energy for things that really need our focus . . . family, friends, and faith - NONE of which need our money or loads of gifts to be nourished and fulfilled.


Goodbye, Mandela . . .

So the world is in a tizzy over the passing of iconic leader, inspired man, and consummate learner Nelson Mandela.

I appreciate some of the reflection and some of the discussion of who he was and what his legacy holds. I think honoring a man that did all that Nelson Mandela did is something we should all do. A completely UNFUN fact . . . apartheid didn't even start in South Africa until after World War II. Think about that . . . RECENT history, people. And Nelson Mandela was the lighting rod from its inception to its demise and after he received freedom from nearly three decades of unjust imprisonment he did what few would . . . chose the politics of inclusion when he and the 80% of the people that were seen as "less than" for all those years chose to embrace the 20% that held them down.

Few (VERY FEW) leaders - even the great ones of our time (or any time) would have made that choice. Power, ultimately, is about seizing an opportunity . . . sharing it is for later. Yet - there he was. And for that, we should all respect and admire him.

But here's where I get annoyed (yes, shocker of shockers I am annoyed). Nelson Mandela's death is NOT "sad" unless you are his immediate friend and family. He was 95. NINETY FIVE. He had been sick for years. His leadership and legacy has been solidified for decades. There was never going to be a doubt that the world would remember him for his role in changing the world (which is not hyperbole in this case, I don't think).

SAD is a word that we use to describe the death of 14 year old kids. Sad is the death of a promising cancer researcher. Sad is a lost pregnancy. Sad is the death of a young woman just starting a family. Sad is two people drowning because they could not get the doors open when a car falls from a bridge. SAD deaths are about people's lives and the roles they have or might have being cut short. Sad is about a life not starting or not doing what it was capable of or intended to do. Sad is about preempted potential leadership, legacy, and life.

The world will miss Nelson Mandela but only his immediate family and friends should be sad . . . the rest of us should rejoice in all the wonderful things his 95 years of life gave the rest of us.



One Paragraph . . .

I use clip art because THEY use clip art.
Soooooo . . . my parents do this HORRIBLE thing every year during the holiday season. It is horrible even by standards of general holiday misery (think fruit cake, company holiday parties, and Awkward Family Photos) . . . they write an Annual Amore Family Update.

Yeah. That's a real thing. HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE receive it every year. It is fifteen or so pages long (really two - it just reads as long as a chapter from Fifty Shades of Grey). It is basically my mother's version of the year that has passed on our family. And each of us gets a paragraph or two or three.

Some highlights over the years . . .

  • My parents implied I had personally gotten Hillary Clinton elected Senator for the Great State of New York in 2000 (in reality her campaign was a client of my PR firm and I was a part of our team that was part of her media team that was part of her team that was part of the team that was part of the team that was part of the . . . you get the idea).
  • My older brother's role in the toppling of South African apartheid was disclosed (no, he had nothing to do with it - but we were all in support of its demise)
  • Break-ups of otherwise casual dating between the three sons and the ladies who dared love us were shared for all the world

It is horrible. HORRIBLE. So this year my mother - either in her advanced age or in her advanced wisdom decided to honor our constant requests for them to stop writing and sharing our "news" with the world. Instead - she told US to do it.

Uh oh. Trouble. Now I have to sit down and figure out my year and what is fit to print or share with everyone my parents have ever known . . . perhaps literally. So I went through my own brain and tried to figure out what really matters.

In my mother's defense - it is super, super hard. And uncomfortable. Here, without further delay, is my 2013. I sorta' wish I had toppled apartheid or something.

It has been a year of mixed happenings for Sean. His job was eliminated in early-January and he did not find work again until July 1st. In the interim he did lots of additional volunteering with various non-profit groups around town, interviewed a ton, and decided to run a half marathon. Now the Director of Brand Marketing for (company descriptors (excluded out of respect for the brave men that hired me)), he successfully finished his half marathon in October, lost over thirty pounds, and is very happy with work. Sean finalized his divorce in November. (Ex-wife's name (excluded for her privacy)) will always be a loved part of our family and we are glad this chapter is over for the kids. Sean is continuing his conversion to Reform Judaism and hopes to join "the tribe" (as he calls it) in the coming months. (Daughter's name (excluded for her privacy)), now seven and half way through second grade, is having a much more consistent year than her father. She has made a killing in Tooth Fair money, enjoys gymnastics and swimming lessons, is quite the reader, is in love with dinosaurs and the Eiffel Tower, and has become a bit of an "entertainer" with lots of signing, dancing, and story/joke telling. Our Kansas delegation seems well. 


Elf on the Shelf . . .

This lil' muh-fuggah right heah . . .
Fair warning . . . what I'm about to say is going to be unpopular in many circles. It is not consistent with the "Christmas Spirit" and it is not at all "live and let live" as relates to other parenting styles. For you see I have a new arch nemesis in the world . . . Elf on the Shelf.

Not familiar? GOOD for you (and what the heck rock are you under - to get you caught up, slavery is bad, healthcare is changing, and gay marriage is building momentum) but you need to understand it . . . there is a book and a doll/figurine/stuffed animal/creepy plastic-and-polyester thingy that has actually been around for like 560 years but has just really caught steam in the last few years.

What is the point of this thing? If you have horribly behaved children who don't seem to appreciate the holidays and all the gifts and crap bestowed upon them you buy this little jewel of commerce and you place the Elf around your home and he watches over your little anti-angels and his presence alone encourages your children to be better behaved so they are more deserving of their Christmas hauls come 12/25.

So . . . to summarize - you spend money on a doll (or the board game, magnets, additional stuffed animals, and other trinkets that the wheels of money have spun on) that will bribe/trick/encourage/motivate your kids in to being more deserving of the crap you spent the rest of your paychecks and maxed our credit cards on. How's that working out for you? Seriously.

And if you are a person that owns an Elf on the Shelf for nostalgia or fun and who doesn't actually feel like you "need" the thing (like some drunk who only sips Malibu and orange juice because they don't "need" to get drunk - they just like the taste of bad hooch and Tropicana) than you can not get upset here and accept my sincere tip of the hat for having a fun way to creep out your children.

BUT if you are the gross majority of Elf on the Shelf owners who found out about this "fantastic" little bastard from a girlfriend in your book club or Jan in the next cube over or the co-host of your favorite FM morning radio show . . . for shame. For. Shame.

Parenting is hard. You know what should be LESS hard? Having kids who act to your expectation year round and who are deserving and appreciative of your Christmas gifts accordingly Simple, right? And yet there is an Elf on the Shelf for BIRTHDAYS now - because kids can get rowdy when their "special day" (aka the annual reminder that they emerged from a vagina through the assistance of human nature and medicine alone - no actual accomplishment of their own at all) approaches. Don't believe me? GOOGLE IT!

You know where Elf on the Shelf is popular? Here. ONLY here. In the United States of Pandering to Our Children. Sure, sure - there are other cultures that will threaten kids during the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. Ever heard of Krampus? He's the bee's knees. He tortures bad children. You know the difference between Krampus and Elf on the Shelf? Krampus is LORE. Elf on the Shelf is a commercially sold product.

You know what the world doesn't have? The Developing World's Food Portion for the Day on the Shelf. Why not? Kids don't need motivation for what they NEED. Something 40% of American homes do NOT buy for their children? Additional Text Books, Source Materials, and Additional Study Resources on the Shelf. Why not? Education is apparently not worth the extra spend. Another example of how parenting in America is getting out of control? Even if Elf on the Shelf fails to keep kids in check . . . Santa still comes. No one in the history of coddling has spent the money on Elf on the Shelf but then taken a hard line and said "Not this year, kiddo." What would Jan think? How can you go back to book club? What would your "friends" have to "like" on Facebook if you don't post those 12/25 AM pics?!

Ugh. Ugh. Ugggggghhhhhhhh. Come on, folks. You're better than Elf on the Shelf. Just hold your children to a relatively moderate expectation of good behavior, kindness, engagement, empathy, and appreciation. If they can't suck that up for the first 24 days of December (and the other 341 days of the year) you're not doing it right . . . especially if they are still young enough to believe in elves, Santa, the tooth fairy, and all that other stuff anyway.

Save your Elf on the Shelf money. Have your kids pick a charity to give it to. More over if you get this little creep and stash him around your home and your kids can't pull off being "good" - hold them accountable. Give THOSE gifts to charity. Know what? Your kids will never disrespect the month of December again. I gahhhhh-run-teeeee!

And one last thing . . . curse you, Carol Aebersold and your co-author/daughter (Really? She gets co-author credit, you enabling boor!) Chandra Bell for the misery you have brought in to my life with your ill-conceived book and toy.


RIP, Paul Walker . . .

I won't belabor this point here. No real reason to. Bottom line . . . I'm bummed Paul Walker is dead. Not bummed on a personal level - I didn't know him although I know he leaves behind a daughter and friends who love him very much - but bummed on a "that sucks" level.

Here's a guy, 40 years old, who (and I really don't care what you think of the Fast/Furious franchise) co-starred in one of the most prolific and profitable movie franchises in the history of blockbusters (part seven is coming out in 2014 and, if Internet reports are correct, most of his scenes were shot so he will be in the movie - widely believed to be the last installment anyway) and who, frankly, brought me a lot of joy in that pursuit.

There is no reason for me to like Fast/Furious. I'm not a car guy. I don't even understand how hydraulics and nitrous oxide works. Literally. NO IDEA what the heck they are even talking about. Yet - there it is - six films that I've watched anywhere from seven times (part six) to 1,000,000 times (the first one). I even loved Tokyo Drift . . . yeah . . . I said it.

I rarely mourn pop culture figures passing and there are even some that the death of makes me roll my eyes in confusion - like the ones we glorify and revise history for (Michael Jackson (let's all agree - we had been making fun of him for 15 years before he died), Steve Jobs (horrible monster of a person), etc.). I'm a snob and a boor. Don't take these things personally or out of context.

The bottom line is that a guy that made a bunch of movies (let's clump Varsity Blues in there . . . fantastic fun in its context) that made me very happy is gone and he leaves behind people that did know and love him and fans the world over that will miss him.

Mourning is not an emotion most of the animal kingdom feels. I don't know if that is a good or bad thing but when I think of how it effects me and when/why it lands a hit in my head I wonder if maybe the dung beetle isn't way, way better off.

Thanks for all the fun, Paul Walker.