Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 -- My Personal Highlight Reel

My favorite time of the entire Holiday Season is this week between Christmas and New Year's. Pressure's off, house is in a big enough to make you really want to do something about it. The days alternate between accomplishment and laziness. It's a time to look back and look forward. Transition, if you will. And while it's tempting to post my resolutions in some attempt at accountability, I'm taking a moment to pause and look back at the year made famous to be our last, ever, and ponder a dozen of the high points.

1. The Last Weeks of Summer--in which a weird set of circumstances left us with a 10-week stretch without a pay-day. It was a time to see God work amazing financial miracles, and I learned to stretch, shop and cook like I never have before. I've brought a lot of new habits into our breathing-room budget. Pre-peeled baby carrots are a luxury I might never visit again.

2.  My boys--of course. Seeing Jackson land the job at a frozen yogurt place--a job for which he'd been patiently waiting for almost a year. Seeing the change in Ryan over a summer of lifeguarding at a water park--one day he was just standing taller, with more confidence. Speaking of taller...seeing my youngest, Charlie, finally grow to be taller than me. Some bittersweetness there!

3.  My amazing husband, Mikey, losing 50 pounds. Nothing fancy--just counting calories and playing disc golf. Love seeing his health improve before our very eyes!

4.  Spending a week playing "nanny" to my friend's beautiful daughter, Lorelai. It was right in the midst of a whirlwind of difficult days in our home. It was truly like a mini-resort leaving the world of drama-ridden teenagers to spend endless hours snuggling with a baby.

5.  Ferb. One day, during the last week of school, with absolutely nobody's blessing or permission, one of the boys brought home a kitten. Today she's a spoiled, clueless, enormous cat, and I adore her!

6.  The Family Reunion -- In all, we had about 6 hours together, but how sweet to gather together 5 generations, 10 family groups, aged 90 to 1. All of us loving each other, and loving the Lord.

7.  Losing the Christy for Forsaking All Others. Yeah, it would have been cool to win, but then I wouldn't have had the awesome experience of sitting in a bar with my agent, Bill Jensen, and drinking a beer while debating the false church in the book of Revelations. All in a fancy dress!

8. Winning Mentor of the Year at the ACFW conference a few weeks later--because as much as I know God has called me to write, I know He has called me to work with other writers.

9.  Ditching our DVR. At first, it was a grand gesture to reduce a monthly bill, but while I don't really watch less TV, I find my watching infinately more purposeful! Of course, that all might change when Mad Men starts up again...

10. Summer movies--one luxury we kept in the tough times. One theater has $5 showings in the late afternoons, so we had a regular Sunday "date" with another couple. Best movie of the summer? Hands down, Premium Rush. Worst? The Master. (I will not honor it with a link.)

11. Giving up, cutting back, cutting down on church commitments. God just very clearly told me--"Stop." And I did. A few weeks ago I talked to a woman who, in the middle of our conversation, confessed she had no idea who I was. It felt wonderful.

12. The constant, ever-present, day-by-moment-by-second renewal of God's faithfulness. They aren't just new every morning, they are new with every breath. This year, perhaps more than any other, is testament to that.

Friday, November 30, 2012


All month long I've been reading my friends' and family's posts on facebook for the 30 Days of Thankfulness. And, with every post, I've felt more and more like a slouch for not participating. But, that's me--this frustrating combination of hating to be late, but always missing deadlines.

So, as we cling to this final day of November, I'm clinging to the caboose of gratitude and giving it a twist. Here, in brief, are a few things I'm grateful NOT to have:

1. My DVR. I know, I know...I'm such a TV junkie, I never thought I'd be able to handle not having immediate TV at my fingertips. But we're saving about $80 a month, and I'm watching a lot less TV. With that, I'm not missing anything. The only real casualty was not getting to see the final 4 episodes of America's Next Top Model, but the love of my family ushered me through that dark time. I hear the blonde chick won, right?
              1 (a) -- I'm actually thankful for the new American Idol judges, because now I think I can be free from the burden of watching that show. On a side note, here's a great song from the original AI winner, Kelly Clarkson, whom I love. It is called, appropriately, "Thankful." Have a listen...

2. A gym membership--yet another casualty of our budgetary down-sizing. Because, for every day I went to the gym, there were at least 5 that I hated myself for not going, and then that one day a month seeing the membership fee sucked out of the checking account that left me riddled with more chubby guilt than any eliptical could erase. Instead, I have a dog who loves to go for walks, and a beautiful track where deer come out at dusk. And, no, I haven't taken advantage of either of those for about 6 weeks, but at least they're free!

3. Daughters. Sorry, y'all, but I'm barely a good mother, I know I'd never be a good mother to a child who might actually crave my attention and opinion. My sons are sweetly reticent and low-maintenance. We enjoy our comfortable silence and low-scale drama. If I were saddled with a creature  prone to cry, I'd lose my mind.

4. A million dollars. Really--in light of the recent Powerball excitement, it might seem strange to be grateful not to have excess money. It's been an incredibly tight year for the Pittman family--these past few months more challenging than any since the early days of our marriage when I stole toilet paper from the faculty restroom. (I figure I'd eventually be using it anyway, so why not at home?) But, I've learned so much about myself, our family has learned so much about what really, really matters in life. We've found joy in such simple, small things, and most of all, we've been AMAZED by God's provision and faithfullness. When I look at our budget and then look at what we have, it doesn't compute. It doesn't balance.  I'm tempted to think God is just as bad at math as I am.

5. Finally, I'm grateful NOT to have the burden of my sin--God's grace is sufficient to carry that all away, to leave me fresh and whole moment by moment as I look to Him for daily refuge. I'm thankful to have such a strong heavenly Father to take my burdens away, to soothe the emotional, crazed daughter the way I myself could never do. (see #3) I think maybe I stayed away from posting my daily thankfulness because i just couldn't winnow it down. I'm overwhelmed wih blessings--too many to begin to name. Enough to breathe gratitude in every waking moment.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Everything I Meant to Say...

Last Saturday night, 700 people witnessed a miracle. Me, speechless.

Gals at the gala: (l-r) Raquel, Anita, Moi, Sandy, Elizabeth
I was on the stage at the banquet that caps the annual American Christian Fiction Writers Conference. Moments before, I had the honor of being named ACFW's Mentor of the Year. I knew I was a finalist for the award, but as I never really pictured myself winning, I hadn't prepared a speech. I had a few ideas of what I might say, and if I'm going to be at all honest, I'd run through a few phrases in the shower, but when I got up to that podium, holding that bouquet of roses and lovely award with my name etched in the glass, well, my head went empty. That doesn't happen to me often. I'm glib on my feet, usually. And now, looking back, I feel like my lack of preparation was an amazing show of disrespect to my wonderful friends who cared enough to nominate me in the first place.

So...what I'm sharing with you now isn't exactly what I'd planned to say in some acceptance speech. It actually comes from my sermon notes from the Sunday before the conference.

The text: John 15: 5-8
  “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

Years ago, before I even knew about the existence of Christian fiction, I knew I wanted to be some sort of writer. I clearly remember reading these verses and thinking that, if I didn't follow through in some sort of obedience, God would dry up my very ability to write. Then, last Sunay, as this was the focal point of the sermon, I sat thinking about how far God had brought me. Until that moment, if anyone had ever asked me about the "fruit" of my writing, I would have told of my novels--Nine of them!--and my Awards and Almost-Awards. But that Sunday, God spoke just as clearly to me as He had all those years ago. My fruit wasn't on my Amazon Author Page. My fruit was in the lives of people in whom I am invested. One point our pastor made was that a healthy, fruit-producing vine remains green--healthy enough to produce a crop year after year. My writing friends feed me. I nourish my own career by trying to clear a path for others. My stories thrive because of my critique group, and I yearn for the professionalism of writing-centric conversations.

So...yeah. That's what I meant to say. You know, all eloquent with scriptural references and alliteration and the occasional clever twist of phrase. It's just never easy for me to talk about myself. About my books? Sure. About YOUR books? Absolutely!  Instead, I was all weepy, weepy, bwah, bwah, bwah...ill-prepared for the magnitude of such a blessing.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Happy Birthday to My Magic Man

Earlier this summer, women were flocking to theaters to see a little film called Magic Mike. I don't know much about the story line, but then I'm pretty sure few of the women dragging themselves out of the theater did, either. Something about strippers and oil and that odd fashion choice of opting for a tie and vest while eschwing the shirt. (That's ESchewing ladies, not chewing...)

Anyway, not me. I didn't see it. Didn't have to, because I have my very own Magic Mike at home. I, affectionately call him "Mikey," as do his older brothers and now--somewhat to his chagrin--so does a whole family of facebook strangers. And, today is his birthday.

Such a goofball, but I love him!
I call him "Magic," because he is. Anybody who could live with me for 22 years and not be under felony indictment has got to have a spirit of supernatural patience. Today he spent his birthday getting my van tire fixed (again) after I drove clear across town on a nearly flat tire (again). He's spending his evening at church orchestra practice. He is a strong man of God who loves his family, serves his Savior, and makes me laugh every single day.

Mikey's a big guy with a bigger IQ and a photographic memory. He loves Vampire novels and kittens equally. Some men spend their time on questionable websites, my Mikey rarely navigates away from anything Disney related. He knows just enough about absolutely everything to make him the perfect guest at any party. He never makes me watch football, yet he indulges my Investigative Discovery addiction. (though he refuses to spend even five minutes with the Real Housewives of...anywhere.)

Quite simply, I love him, and I don't know anybody who doesn't. In fact, I kind of think that not to love Mikey is a sure sign of psychopathy.

My mother always said that few people are able to love each other equally, and I think that's true. I don't think Mikey loves me any more than I love him, but he's better at it. Less selfish, less demanding, less...crazy. I thank God every day for bringing us together.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Back to $chool

Notebooks, pens, Fiskars scissors--ahhhh...the great big bins of back-to-school. It is the only form of shopping that I actually enjoy. In our household, it is a celebration of near holiday proportions. Or, was. With two boys going into their Senior year, and my taller-than-me "baby" in eighth grade, our supply lists have diminished to little more than a few composition books and fancy gel pens. I'll never forget the first year I didn't have to buy Crayola crayons. I nearly cried.

I can understand, though, how it's not everybody's favorite thing, and after overhearing a conversation between a befuddled father and his eager secondish-grader son, I thought I'd share a few tips that made this a painless experience for our family.

1. Look at your kid's supply list, and estimate a total for everything. I usually went for something between $30-$40 dollars. Even the most egregious list should fall in that range. Then, get the cash, and hand it over to your child. From here on out, he is the consumer. Whatever he doesn't spend, he keeps.

2. First shop-stop? Home. Seriously, several items on the list are lurking under your roof. Maybe your daughter brought home her Fiskar scissors at the end of last year. They're still good. You probably have a red pen and a yellow hi-lighter. Sure, brand-new stuff is fun, but so is saving money. Designate a box or basket for a gathering place for things you find at home.

3. Watch the ads and hit the stores. Once. Designate a day (better still if you can go in the morning when stores are less crowded) and make it an event. Include lunch or a movie if possible, but make it a point to get (almost) everything on the list. I usually tried to get it all done at one store. The little bit you'll save probably won't make up for the gas you'll use. And, major stores like Target and Walmart honor their competitor's ads. Take them with you.

4. Remember, the kid is the consumer. This spiral is .25; the one with the cute puppy on the cover is 2.50. Let her decide. Do a math lesson and see if it's in her budget. It might mean not buying a new pencil box. She might have to make do with last year's lunch box. It's a great opportunity to teach real-life budgeting.

5. About that (almost) everything...Your supply list will include things like tissue boxes, zipper bags and Clorox wipes. That's great, but if your family is anything like mine, this is a crazy-tight money time. Yes, you need to bring 2 boxes of tissue. No, you do not need to bring them on Day 1. Let other parents who haven't read this do that. The teacher will be just as grateful to get those things from you later in September or October when they can be worked into your regular shopping list.

What are some other ways to make this a painless experience?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Sick Day Saturday with Stella

My Stella-bella had a bad day yesterday. Her nose was warm and dry, her belly swollen, her walk--when she walked--a bit unstable. All of those would have been symptoms enough to let us know that she was sick, but I didn't feel really worried until one other symptom popped up.
She wouldn't leave my side. Or my feet. Or the room.
Stella, you see, is not a clingy dog. She likes to be tucked into a dark corner, or stretched out on an empty bed. After all these years, she still endures a scratch on the head with all the enthusiasm as a kiss from your weird great-aunt at Christmas. But yesterday, she wove in and out of my feet as I walked from room to room, and she sat on my feet when I sat. She propped herself up against my while I was blow-drying my hair.
Mikey diagnosed it as tummy troubles (maybe she got a bit more macaroni-and-cheese than she should have), and that eased my mind. In fact, though I hated the fact that she was sick, I rather enjoyed her nearness. For those few hours, she was a bit of the dog I wished she could always be--calm, affectionate, dependent.
But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge. (Psalm 73:27)
I love to find refuge in the Lord, to curl up in His love and promises when I am hurting--and He is always there--but I need to remember, too, to seek Him when everything seems to be just fine.
Speaking of "just fine," by the afternoon, Stella was. Turns out it was just a little gas, and after a smelly confirmation of the diagnosis, she was off--curled up under the computer desk. Out of reach. I loved the fact that she felt better, but I missed her.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Lost and Found

Let me tell you about a beautiful, private, inspiring moment at the 2012 Christy Awards--something that no blog-follower, no attendee, no photographer could have posibly captured. As many of you know, the beginning of the evening consists of each nominee walking across the stage to receive a finalist's medal--this wonderfully heavy ornament suspended from a thick, royal purple ribbon--while laudatory comments about either the book or the author are read to the room. I confess to having no idea what was read about my nominated book, Forsaking All Others, mostly because my head was full with reminders of not to fall down or throw up. No, when I think back to that isolated bit of time, I recall two things: one, the feel of being enveloped in a hug by fellow finalist Liz Curtis Higgs; second, her words to me saying, "You have my complete permission to win," followed by some other beautiful things I am choosing to treasure in my heart.

Now, have you ever been hugged by Liz Curtis Higgs? If not, you are missing an opportunity to experience one of life's greatest comforts. She is a woman of such warm and Christ-like love, and she wraps it around you with soft, devine strength. During the three seconds of that embrace, she held me suspended between the hope that I might win, and the certainty that I wouldn't. There was this transference of assurance, a dream-like camaraderie. Had anyone told me five years ago that I would be sharing this kind of moment with her, I would have thought they were nuts. But of course, that's because it's impossible for us to see the intricacies of God's plan in our lives. Then I remember her comments on a piece I wrote for a contest at the Glorieta Christian Writers Conference. (She said I was "a hoot;" I won.) And I remember a blog interview she did after the release of my first novel in which she said I was "one to watch." (It became the first time I ever forwarded a link. To everyone I knew...) And now, like the third base in a baseball diamond, I have this little moment.

Still, it's just one moment in a mass of thousands. Liz gave me permission to win, but God gave me the strength to find contentment in remaining a finalist. I flew to Orlando on the wings of well-wishes, and the moment the first line of Lynn's book was read as the winner, I landed in the softness of the same. In "losing" the Christy, I found nothing but love from my readers, support from my family, and assurance of my true purpose in what I--and all those brothers and sisters in Christ who write for Him--do. It's an absolute truth that, in this case especially, there is no loss. We are not in a competition with or for readers, we write side-by-side for the glorification of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Both books in the Sister Wife series -- For Time and Eternity and Forsaking All Others -- were finalists for this award. And, no matter what I might write in the future, I think they will always be the most important works in my career. Thank you all for reading, and most of all, thank you for sharing Camilla's story with your loved ones.

***Deep breath...*** Now to see what happens with Lilies in Moonlight in September! Everybody be on high alert: I might need another hug...

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Totally Unsolicited Disney Advice (from a girl who wishes she were going with you!)

My family is just a wee bit Disney-obsessed. I marvel at God's wisdom for planting us right in the middle between Califonia and Florida (geographyphiles, grant me some grace...). It's been a few years since we've been able to go as a family, and as I see facebook posts about some of my friends about to embark, I'm filled with a sweet bit of envy, and an insatiable need to dispense advice, whether wanted or not.
Yes, I know there are all kinds of guide books and websites out there, but some things need a little personal touch. So, for all who might care to partake, here are my top 5  tips for your family's DisneyWorld vacation:

1. Unless you need to haul around a diaper bag (and truthfully, my #1 tip would be to leave any child under the age of 4 at home...) don't bring a purse/backpack into the park. Your park pass, a debit card, phone/camera and a bottle of sunscreen is all you need to start your day. Get everybody into a pair of cargo shorts, and dispense these throughout the pockets. You'll get into the park faster, because you won't have to go through the bag-check line, and you won't be messing with a bag. Also, if you aren't offended by their existence, go for Crocs as your shoe of choice. They're comfortable and, more importantly, water-proof, especially if you're headed to the Florida park. Orlando downpours are brutal!

2. If you're staying on site, get the meal plan. You will save money in the end. And, unless you're a total foodie, forego the more expensive restaurant experiences. The counter service meals throughout the four parks are amazing. Trust me, you're not going to be limited to hamburgers and chicken nuggets unless you want to be. My personal recommendations from park to park are...
Magic Kingdom--Breakfast at the TomorrowLand Terrace
MGM Studios--Pizza Planet Veggie Pizza
EPCOT--The Sandwich shop in Norway-OR-Sunshine Seasons--great variety, and a cool experience
Animal Kingdom--Yak and Yeti (I've had dreams about the Honey Chicken)

For those headed to California...our first stop in the park is always Bengal Bar-B-Q in Adventure Land. Very yummy skewers of various meats and veggies. Also, a MUST is the Dole Whip pineapple "sherbet" (?) outside of the Tiki Room.

Obviously, not a professional shot!
3.  Absolutely let the park photographers take family portraits for you. They can do fun things, like blur out the background, etc., and they know exactly how to position you for the best picture. They'll give you a little card with a bar code on it, so you can check your pictures out later and buy or not buy as you wish. Totally worth it to get that one, perfect 8x10 for the frame you'll buy at the giftshop.

4.  If you buy no other souvenir, buy a picture frame at a giftshop. Also, realize that the Disney Emporium either at Downtown Disney or on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom has just about every single souvenir, T-shirt, hat, photo album that can be found in the multitude of other, smaller gift shops. You can get all your shopping done in one stop, if that's your thing.

5. Absolutely buy the little box of short bread cookies (I think they're stll only, like, 1.50/box). I always like these for a final Disney snack on the plane ride home.

So....have fun. Get a fast pass for me, and post your pics on Facebook!! Also, if you have tips of your own, please leave a comment. It's a small world, after all!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Idol Idle

You know how it is when you go on a diet? And you're all excited and committed and gung-ho, and you go to the grocery store and buy cottage cheese and pineapple and boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Then, somehow, it's two weeks later and you find yourself alone in your kitchen with a handful of semi-sweet chocolate chips while you're waiting for the pizza to arrive? Yeah--that's what kind of happend to me this season with American Idol. Don't get me wrong, I'm still a fan, but for the first time since its inception, I've missed an episode. Or two, or--gulp--four. The season it was Clay vs. Rueben? I left my son's school Honors Awards ceremony early (after he got his Character Counts yadda-yadda ribbon) to see the finale.
And now...I haven't watched since Colton left. And, it's not like I had some uber-allegiance to Colton. I'm not one of those who says, "That's it, Idol! I'm through with you!" It's just that life crept in, and somehow catching up on my DVR just never happened. Odd, because I'm rarely one to prioritize work and family over good television, but there you have it. Everybody, it seems, is a little bored this year. Not much facebook chatter. Why, I remember last year frantically typing away on no fewer than three comment threads song-by-song, only to find myself now scratching my head because for the life of me I can't remember who beat Krystal Bowersox. Was it Lee DeWyze? It seems like the whole world has forgotten.
It was a season so full of promise--and, by and large, they kept to that promise. No real clunkers. Once curly-top popped, I could envision anybody winning. Even Hollie, after the last few weeks. Maybe a show is dull once everybody is turning in a good, solid performance time after time. Maybe the production value of the performances just became too exhausting. I kept waiting for exploding pianos or trees full of spider monkeys singing back-up. Maybe I needed a shorter program wiht fewer awkward duets or trios. I dunno...
I don't even know which songs the judges picked for each of the contestants, and yet I've lived a busy, productive life. I kept meaning to update my facebook status with a plea for Phillip Phillips to sing "Free Falling"--but never got around to it.
So, it's Jessica and Phillip. OK. No surprise on Jessica's part, and genuinely pleased for Phillip. The "winning" song was, traditionally, awful. Poor Jessica, perched with that awful ballad, while Phillip gets to sing the straight-to-the-insurance-commercial song.
For what it's worth, my vote's for Phillip. But then, this is a girl who missed out on story time because she was frantically dialing for Bo Bice...

Friday, April 13, 2012

Happy Hollie-Day!

Ryan does it every year when it's time to whittle the contestants down from seven to six. Three on one side of the stage, three on the other, and a safe #7 left to decide which group is which. Jason Castro sat down on the floor between the two, starting the trend of refusing to choose, and last night Skylar did the same. Even though it was a no-brainer, with Hollie, Phillip Phillips and Colton--Hollie a veteran of the stools of doom--on one side and class pets Jessica, Joshua and Elise on the other. And then--shock of all shocks--the pets are in danger.

The Idol universe is a cruel one, not for the faint-hearted, and while all they hype left the judges in shock (or, more likely, mock-shock), me, not so much. Some question the voting practices, thinking there must be a fix or manipulation, but I don't think so. I could be wrong, but I'm going to continue on as if I'm not.

Let's face it, the producers tried everything they could to shut down Holliebot Wednesday night. Suggesting the self-reflective "Perfect" song in which the lyrics beg our girls to love themselves the way they are. Who could miss the irony of our Hollie turning those very lyrics on herself, and not believing one of them. Don't get me wrong, she's a beautiful girl and a GREAT singer. I listened and relistened to her performance. No, not perfect, but far from awful. But watching her sing--it's like watching math happen. And not cool, sexy math like Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting.  And, oh, that critique, with JLo offering the Judas Kiss of "You look beautiful tonight," and culminating in, "We'll see what happens." All while the audience sat in absolute silence, like Jimmy Iovine had paid assassins set to silence the first "Boo." And if that's not enough, adding her to the trio with J and J, like she's the kid who was absent on lab-partner-picking day and the teacher had to go from duo to duo saying, "Is it OK if Holliebot sings with you?" Luckily Elise and Phillip Phillips were out sneaking a smoke at the time.

So--when Ryan first pulled these two girls, Holliebot on one side of the stage, B.B. Chezon the other, I knew Holliebot was safe. One, because Ryan's not exactly subtle when it comes to trying to build suspense, and Two, because you'd have to be pretty heartless not to throw Hollie some love during voting. On top of that, this is America, gol'darnit! We do not like being told what to do. Little Hollie is the Ron Paul of American Idol; Jessica Sanchez is Obamacare. Sure, she'll probably win, but not without a kerfluffle of a fight.

So, after sweeping Jessica free from the jaws of going home, there are no more saves. Now it's just a bunch of vocal gladiators battling it out. Contrary to what Randy would have us believe, none of these kids deserve to win. It's a sport, a game. They're hand-picked and equally matched. And, besides, dude, she's right there. Behind you. And we all know you're basically saying Hollie should be going home. Not cool.

I'm pretty sure Randy will never read this, but don't tell us we're wrong. We have power. We got Diana DeGarmo all the way to #2 and gave the whole shebang to Lee DeWyze. Ever hear of Taylor Hicks? Be very careful, or your bosses will be investing a lot of money in a future Disney animated princess voice.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Grab your Swatch and Cut Your Mullet!

Here I am in the 80's.
 It's not in the frame, but trust me,
there's a Red Solo Cup
in my hand...
I am a child of the 80's. Well, a teenager, Middle School, High School, and College student of the 80's. I lived in that magical time between LPs and cassette tapes--back when, if you wanted a mix tape, you held your tape recorder up to the radio during Saturday's broadcast of American Top 40.
And so, I always approach Idol 80's night with a bittersweetness. As much as I love the decade, it's hard to say it was the king of the music decade--even if it gave us a revitalized Queen of Soul and a freshly crowned King of Pop. So, how did these young upstarts do with my decade? 'Meh? The best they could, I guess. A far more interesting concept, though, is the revelation of BiBi Chez--Jessica Sanchez's altar ego. (and, btw, totally guessing on the spelling of BiBi Chez, but I'm assuming she adopted the spelling of the Israeli Prime Minister, no?)

Now, if you're anything like me, you're thinking--who do you think you are, Jessica Sanchez? Don't you need to establish one ego before creating an alternate? But then, if the indulgent home movies are any indication, BiBi's initial ego has had years to grow and blume into the pubescent masterpiece that has tapped its way into your heart like so many fingers on a microphone. And so, I shall from this point forward refer to ALL contestants by their alter-ego name of my choosing.

Deandrebarge. Sure, it's long and complicated--not unlike his hair.  I'm not a huge fan of Deandrebarge himself, given that I have stretchmarks and a healthy IRA, but I totally get his appeal. As long as he stays far, far away from Kenny Rogers songs, he'll be fine, although at this moment I'm hearing an imaginary "Ruby" in a fine, fine falsetto. (and later, I'll be equally glad to have been spared another Dolly tune)

Elincense. Because doesn't she look like she'd smell spicy? Like that girl in high school who carried a leather fringed bag and smelled like patchouli?  Actually, I must cry "foul" on Jimmy Iovine. When, ever, has anyone benefitted from singing a Foreigner song? But, oh, my-my-my...that duet with Phillip Phillips was burning hot! I predicted in an earlier post that we'd be seeing the benefit of additional group numbers in the vetting process.

DUET break! Ah, Colton and Skyler--it's like watching the musical equivalent of Nancy Grace on roller blades. Don't try to understand, just go with it...

PP--because, really, doesn't he always look kinda like he needs to go? Apparently I am the only one not blown away by PP tonight--including the judges, and my esteemed facebook friends. It's just a shame. That's all. Until that hot, hot, hot duet with Elincense.

DUET BREAK!! If, indeed, Hollie was excited, she hid it quite well. I can't see her pleasing or squeezing anything. Even the little shot of fireworks at the end seemed sad. Really, watch it again. I didn't know pyrotechnics could look so sad.

thus far, the Nike commercial has been the most entertaining number of the night...

Joshuaretha. All in soul-filled love. His voice is amazing even if his jacket needed to be thrown into the legion of ominous red candles marching behind him.

Holliebot. Poor girl, you can see in her eyes how she's already thinking of exactly how she's not going to think so much. I'll bet she's made a list on color-coordinated sticky notes: Yellow for high notes; green for low notes; blue for dance moves; pink for blinking. Not a good sign when the audience is dead silent during a pretty disheartening critique. At least she didn't have to follow...

BiBi Chez. All I gotta say is BiBi gettin' yahoo! Randy was exactly right to compare her to Whitney. Effortless. A pure, perfect voice. Can you imagine the Disney movie she and Holliebot could make?

Colthawk. Because that's the best explanation for his hair. Here's hoping he'll break the Idol curse of "Time After Time." In season 4 Nadia Turner (another outspoken Christian singer) donned a faux-hawk, sang the song, and got voted off. (can't find a clip, but trust me!) But...good for him to give props to the arrangement and the drummer! And for trying not to look totally awkward when paired with...

Red Skylar Cup. Tonight, I became a fan. Really--that was a beautiful choice, though I'm pretty sure somewhere Holliebot was carefully stamping a foot, saying, "I wanted to sing that song!"

No-brainer prediction tonight: We'll be pulling the plug on Holliebot tonight, because they'll save anybody else.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

You Made Me Get Up

If there was one lesson to be learned on last night's American Idol it's this: you can run from Tommy Hillfiger, but you can't hide. Last week some of the contestants chose to stray away from last week's fashion advice, so today they were locked in a little room with samples at the ready. "Look, Phillip Phillips! A gray t-shirt!" That'll teach you to be who you authentically are.

So, if the fashion advice fell a little heavy-handed, the song choice theme was brilliant. Basically, the aspiring Idols got to sing whatever/whoever/however they wanted. And, really, I thought it was overall the best night of Idol in a long, long time. Especially given how many contestants still remain. Usually we're still weeding out the whackos at this point. But last night, humbled by Auntie Steven's smack-down, even Heejun turned out a vocally stellar performance. (my favorite of his, ever)

So--quick thoughts:
Colton--maybe on slightly shaky ground since he sang first, and an unfamiliar song--but he's got a strong fan base and I love him. So...
Skylar--the Red Solo Cup is alive and well
Heejun--quite the crooner!
Hollie--ummm...has she always had that accent? I totally don't remember that.
DeAndre--I wouldn't mind just a few non-falsetto notes. It's like Barry Gibb meets Milli-Vanilli. But in a good way...
Jessica Sanchez--Still sings a bit like a sing-bot. Super talented, but I worry what'll happen if she doesn't win. Like, she might stomp off and kick a pony or something.
Phillip Phillips--OK, we get it.
Joshua Ledet--Good grief, I love this song--somehow it's more powerful when a man sings it. A female vocalists just sounds pathetic.
Elise--Let's just say I've watched her performance 10 times. Amazing.

My bold prediction--rather than predicting a bottom three, I'll say this: only Heejun and Hollie are in danger of actually going home. They'll save anybody else.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

And So It Goes

Billy Joel once wrote: 

"Don't go changing to try and please me / You never let me down before."
Sigh--if only that were true. But you know that Idol has let us down plenty of times before, and last night was more of a let down than not. Beautiful songs should be handled with care, and it's always a crap shoot when the night's theme comes down to songs from an amazing songbook. True artists will respect the timelessness of a melody and lyric; wannabe legends will assume they have to deconstruct and make it their own. I guess that's inevitable given the mix of feedback from the judges. "Make it your own!" "Don't lose the melody!" "You did your thing!" "You lost me!"

So--high points and low points:

Deandre managed to sound and look like an Uptown Girl while singing "Only the Good Die Young." Honestly--I understand if the kids have never heard these songs before, but I assume they can read, right? And at some point, Deandre sat it an Egnlish class while some underpaid civil servant tried to make him understand poetry. There's a story in the lyric--the story of coaxing the virginity out of a reluctant girl. For goodness sake, stop jumping.

Erika--I'm so glad somebody finally put the weave out of its misery (we can only pray that Colton will someday have the same sense of compassion for the critter atop the hawk). She looked GORGEOUS!! What, did Tyra Banks and the ANTM Make-over Machine stop by? And, oh, oh, I love that song. She was one of the few artists who sounded like they were singing a Billy Joel song. Like there should be a tip jar on the piano.

Joshua--I admit, I listened to this from the kitchen while doing dishes, and hated it. So I hit "rewind," watched it, saw the choir, and hated it more. So, on Eric Clapton week, is he going to bust out the choir robes for his rendition of "You Look Wonderful Tonight?" Love him, but again--read the lyrics.

Skylar--sorry, I am just not a fan. Maybe if, just once, I could hear her sing something--ANYTHING--that didn't sound like everybody in the audience was holding a Red Solo Cup.

Elise--again, she gets Billy Joel. Understands the essence of the song, but she's just not American Idol. I would love to be in a smoky jazz club or hotel bar and listen to Elise. A fellow AI fan and I debated a bit on facebook, and I've re-watched her over and over. That last note is little and low and amazing. Poor girl doesn't stand a chance.

Phillip Phillips -- we have a lot in common, as I often make up aimless, tuneless, wandering melodies when I'm looking for my keys or something. Good luck moving up, 'cause I'm tuning out.

Hollie--so cute. Totally don't remember what she sang. Oh, yeah, "Honesty" (to be honest, I had to check the DVR). Not a good sign. I just want to hug her and reassure her that she'll be 40 soon enough. She looked like Shelley Hack. That's rarely a good thing. (I made a link for you youngsters)

Heejun's act has officially grown old. Now, I'm all for sarcasm (see above and, well, just about everything I've ever written in the facebook and blog-o-sphere), but there's a time when a joke sacrifices respect on the altar of humor. Yes, I chuckled when he said that Jessica Sanchez was his fashion icon, but then I just felt uncomfortable. And, obvioulsy, Auntie Steven was not amused, either. I must say, though, I did like the way he changed up the melody on the last chorus. If nothing else, it'll make a nice "sing for your life" song.

Ah, Jessica Sanchez, bathed in the golden light as she sings of her dream. So very, very Disney...

And, finally, "Piano Man." My friend Tina correctly predicted that Colton would sing this song--and I waited all show for this. Because I love him--skinny jeans, faux-hawk and all. But, really, pillars of light? Shiny red piano? Would it have killed the AI producers to give him--say, a soft spot and an overflowing ashtray? I mean, he looked like the mother ship was ready to beam him up--maybe that was just Tommy Hillfiger's way to resolve the hair issue, I dunno... I'm just grateful a choir didn't emerge to join him on "La-da-di-da-da-di-da-da..." Aw, but I love this kid, loved the song, and I too thought his choice of chords when his voice resolved was stunning. (Auntie Steven was on fire tonight!!)

So--what did y'all think? Leave a comment...I just want someone I can talk to.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Chillin' Like a One-Legged Duck

Last spring, on a weekend-long double date to Disneyland, I was riding in the big blue boat, just about to enter Small World, when I looked over my shoulder and saw this duck. Now, Disneyland is full of wildlife--ducks and rabbits and cats all roam around freely, but this duck wasn't roaming anywhere. Look closely...the little fellow was balancing on one leg.

Nelson, husband of our double-date couple, is an avid sportsman and hunter, and he told me about ducks that--due to tourists and campers over-feeding--sometimes ducks will stay at a lake or pond long past the time when they should be migrating. And unexpected freeze will come, trapping them in the water. The only chance they have is to flap their wings and pull themselves out--sometimes leaving a leg behind. Sometimes it's a necessary sacrifice; other times, it's a matter of panic. A few hours' waiting might bring out the sun, warm up the ice enough to make it break.

Speaking of break--my heart broke for that little duck, probably because I know exactly how he feels.

You know what I mean--life is good, life is easy, you're just swimming--unruffled on the outside, paddling like crazy underneath--and then...Freeze. Maybe it's one too many obligations, maybe it's the sure thing that didn't turn out to be. A broken relationship, a financial crisis, illness, betrayal, death.

You can't move. You're frozen, and it's either sit and starve, or flap for freedom. Because there doesn't seem to be any hope for a thaw. And the sun seems so slow... I can't tell you how many legs I've lost because I was too impatient to wait for warmth.

But, then again, I look at what happened to that little duck. Somehow, he ended up nestled in a land of topiary, still and peaceful as boatloads of happy people pass by. How did he get there? Only God knows--but surely God loves this little Duck. And, you might be an odd little duck, but He loves you too! When you feel life freezing around you...wait. And if you've already flapped your leg off, know that He will carry you. He's a big God in a small world.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Everybody Needs a Waffle Iron

Years ago for Christmas, after the usual assurances that, if the gift wasn't perfect, we were perfectly welcome to exchange it, yadda-yadda, my grandmother gave us a waffle iron. Because, as she said, everyone needs a waffle iron. Never mind that, in all my growing-up years, my mother never made me a home-made waffle, or that Mikey and I, newly-weds at the time, found the the idea of making waffles borderline insane. So, given her implied blessing, we exchanged it for a Salad Shooter. Because, you know, everyone needs one of those.

Orpha Ogg (Grandma), Darla Hapgood (Mom) and Me!
Only two of us are known to have ever made waffles.
Two years later, guess what we unwrapped? Yep, and we kept that one.

Last week, when my youngest son seemed once again disappointed that our meager breakfast offerings ended with cereal and/or toast, I asked him, "Well, what would you like? Name it, and I'll get it."

He said, "Waffles would be nice."

Bear in mind, my children have not lived poor, waffle-less lives. We've had waffles a-plenty--those nice, frozen ones that taste a little like the cardboard box they came in. But the moment Charlie made his wishes known, I knew I'd be bringing out the waffle iron. And, oh, how yummy the house smelled this morning with the steam pouring out; how beautiful the stack of big, golden waffles piling on the plate. All those years ago, Grandma told me that everyone needs a waffle iron; it wasn't until today that I realized how very right she had been.

Today is Grandma's 92nd birthday. What an honor and a blessing to have her in my life. She is a tiny, strong, feisty woman. Think of a brunette Betty White minus the vulgarity--because my grandma is a lady with hair that has naturally refused to go gray. She's the sole Democrat at the Sunday dinner table, which keeps our conversation clear of politics--partly becasue we don't want to offend her; partly because we're afraid she'll convert us. I've never seen her back down from a fight, but I've never seen her gloat in glory. She loves the Lord; she loved her husband for more than 50 years, loving him with the same giggling spark today even though the Lord she loves took him home 23 years ago. She makes an amazing cucumber salad (which I've never been able to replicate) and these thick, home-made noodles that make you weep for the Old Country--even if you don't know exactly what the Old Country is. And--we serve our noodles on a bed of mashed potatoes. That's right. Carb-on-carb. Take a lesson, kiddos.

I think Grandma has enjoyed a near-century of health and happiness because everything she is can be summed up in one statement: Everybody needs a waffle iron. Seek simplicity. Love your family. Stick to your principles. Eat a good breakfast.

And the next day? Do it again.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Let's Get Our Idol On!!

I've got just a couple of hours to put my stamp on history. Later this evening, America will be given the chance to vote in the second most important contest of 2012. Forget Ron Paul and his adorable eyebrows, Mitt and his curiously Ken-like hair, Rick and his glorious sleevelessness, Newt and--well, I think most have already forgotten Newt. Nope, kiddos, it's time for our nation to come together, dialing fingers poised to go...and vote. Because THIS is American Idol.

So--my prediction. I'm not foolish enough to project a winner, but I do, really, honestly, firmly believe that--based on what we've seen so far--we are in for the best season yet. I know, I know...they say that every year. But this year, something's different. Maybe the producers are feelig the heat from The Voice and have decided it's not nice to waste our time with Sanjayas who clearly have no shot at winning. Maybe they've fallen under the spell of Adele and recognize that singers worthy of Grammys are singers who sing. Whatever the reason, I am really jazzed about this new season, and here's why.

1. The Vegas round. It's no secret (for those who care anything about me...) that the American Idol California group round is my favorite night of the season. But, Group Round Redux in Las Vegas let us see what these singers can do with a little real rehearsal time. Just watch this! Or...THIS!! I mean, sweet dancin' Moses!!  Performances like this show true talent, in singers who can function in harmony with other singers, no just trying to over-run each other.

2. The "final elimination" show--you know, that long, long walk, was stretched over 3 hours. Now, for people who don't "get" Idol, well, they might have a hard time with that, thinking of it as a waste of TV time. (I mean, it's not as riveting as watching unlucky-in-lovers hand each other a rose, but...whatever). The deal is, taking their sweet time with that show gave us enough time to really look at the performance history of all of the top 24, so maybe those first viewer votes will be a little more meaningful.

So, really, really--with a heart full of hope--I'm predicting a deeper, gentler, overall more entertaining Idol season. And, in response, I'm going to try really, really hard to hold back on the snark unless absolutely necessary. (unless America votes through that terrible little cowboy.........)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Favorite Valentine...

(Re-sharing from last year...)

Every year for Valentine's day, my Mikey finds some quirky way to present me with my box of chocolates. Years ago, I opened my eyes to find myself staring right at it as it nestled on his pillow. I went straight from dream-land to treat-land, popping two or three before I even crawled out of bed. What a yummy, decadent way to start the day, even though it would soon dissolve into the normal chaos of trying to get two grown-ups and three little boys ready for a day of school and work. That's how I lost track of my chocolates, leaving the open box sitting right on the foot of the bed, which wouldn't have been that big of a deal if it weren't for ... the dog.

This was long before Stella, when we had a faithful old man named Neumann to fill our canine needs. Neumann was perfect--in any other situation, you could leave him in front of an open bag of chicken nuggets and he'd sit patiently by, the thought never entering his mind to do anything but sit and wait for an opportunity to obey. But, for some reason, on this day, I came home to find a mysterious trail of little brown papers, leading to the empty heart-shaped box. The only pieces left were two half-eaten coconuts. Not even my dog liked coconut.

Now, animal lovers everywhere, take a collective breath. Yes, I know chocolate is bad for dogs, and a phone call to my vet said to just sit and wait and watch...which, we did. We watched my Valentine's chocolates reappear all over our house. In the hallway, in the kitchen, the living room, the entry way, the bathroom. From both ends and possibley places in-between, my gived was oozed and splurted and plopped. And there was my Mikey, with a scrub brush and carpet cleaner, paper towels and Febreeze, taking care of every bit of mess.

I call this my favorite Valentine, because I love the lesson here. (And when I was a teacher, I told it to my students every year...). Love is a messy, messy thing. It's not enough to wallow in the romance of a pretty box of chocolate--you've got to be able to laugh and forgive and work together when it's in danger of going to the dog!

Happy Valentine's Day, Everyone!!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Happy Birthday, Laura!!

When I was 9 years old, I wrote a formal letter of protest to my elementary school librarian because the Little House on the Prairie books were shelved under fiction, rather than biography where I rightfully thought they should be. Mrs. Watson (I remember her still--an ancient woman who had those really skinny fingers and big knuckles so that her rings slid all around) gently explained that Laura had changed some of the facts of her up-bringing in order to make her stories more...well, story-like.


And so, as I grew up, and my Laura obsession grew with me, I had more opportunities to read more historical accounts of my hero's life. I learned that Pa was, really, kind of a loser. Never satisfied, never successful, and maybe just a little shady if that Kansas deal were to be looked at a little more closely. I realized that Laura spent much of her life hungry--physically undernourished. Looking at the generations that followed...wait, there were no generations that followed. Laura's only daughter remained childless. Mary never married. Neither Carrie, nor Grace had children of their own. This is what our family calls: Bummer Theater.

So, now, I applaud Laura more than ever for being able to infuse what was really an ordinary, and rather difficult existence, and turn it into timeless story. Her books embody a certain grace and mercy--a willingness to forgive what was denied to her, and an eagerness to hi-light the blessings. Warmth, food, shelter, music--these luxuries crowd the pages, making it impossible to imagine there were any times of trepidation. Even The Long Winter, easily the darkest book in the series (and, my favorite), comes forth as a triumph of the family, rather than the tragedy it played in the on-going health of her younger sisters. The picture here was taken just after the end of that winter. Look how tiny these girls are--but then, look at that balled-up fist at Laura's side. This is a girl determined to fight, destined to live well beyond her years.

Do yourself a favor. If you don't already have a copy of the books stashed somewhere in your house, go to your local library and spend an hour in Laura's world.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

It Goes to 11...

 I wasn't going to watch. Really. After last year, watching the confetti rain down on Scotty McCreery, each shred of it representing an ill-cast vote, I told myself, "I don't care. I can't go through that again. I can't go through months of wasted anguish and hours of conversation, facebook posts, blog posts, texting, squabbling...I have better things to do with those 2-3 hour a week--and that's just the watching."

I was resolved no longer to singers...

I practiced my resolve all year. I had a brief dalliance with The Voice, but the fact that it had both judges AND mentors...too much of a commitment. Plus, the complexity of the show, the whole system of it was way too much for a rebound obsession.

Then, during the summer, when the rest of the country was convinced that America's Got Talent, it only took watching one episode for me to decide that no, no. We really don't. Besides, AGT has those litte kid singers, and nothing freaks me out like a operatic 10-year-old. Creepy.

Then, I totally forgot about the X-Factor. I meant to watch it, really--hoping that Simon and Paula could re-kindle the spark we once shared. But there again, kids. ugh.

And I thought--hey! I can do this! I can live in a world where hopeful singers pander for audience support, believing in their marginally talented little hearts that they can BE somebody, they can be a STAR--and that can all happen without me. Go ahead! Hold my feet to the fire and ask me for even the vaguest description of the winner of The Voice, or AGT, or X Factor. I couldn't do it. I used to pity those people--those who don't know the difference between Kris Allen and Lee DeWyze, those who don't clearly remember the night Jennifer Hudson went home, or the last outfit Mandisa wore on the stage, or who auditioned only to make David Hasslehoff cry. People who don't remember JPL the pencil salesman, or who Carrie Underwood beat. Those sad, sad souls who've never seen From Justin to Kelly. (ahem...10 times). And now, I was one of them: the functioning uninformed. I was thinking: I can do this! I can beat the idol!

But then, 3 things happened.
(1) Kelly Clarkson performed on Saturday Night Live--more amazing than ever, bringing waves of nostalgia flooding o'er me...
(2) The show was already programmed on my DVR from last season (it's so hard to let go...)
(3) It was too cold and windy to walk the dog.

So I watched the first three minutes, that opening montage of hopes and dreams. Tears welled in my eyes (historical writers say stuff like that...), the sofa settled around me. A tiny black-and-white photograph of Taylor Hicks (stashed in the background behind Randy) reminded me of how much I LOVE this show.  Minutes later, a 17-year-old who BEAT McCheesy in a local talent show the year before busted out with a pure and perfect "Never Can Say Goodbye," capturing a pitch-perfect, unspoiled Michael Jackson. By the time Phillip Phillips did his own busting with an accoustic/country/funkified "Thriller," I was hooked.

So...what'd you think? Check back from time to time! Because...THIS is American Idol.