Monthly Archives: December 2009

IMG_0319_smHeading to Des Moines in a few hours (yr so jealous, I know). Before I go, here’s a little treat I cooked up for whoever it is reads this blog and likes mixtapes made by out-of-it white dudes with iTunes: Download “Frenz ’10”. What the hay, right?

01 – Yo La Tengo – If It’s True
02 – George Harrison – What Is Life
03 – MGMT – Weekend Wars
04 – MC Lyte – Cha Cha Cha
05 – Kinks – 20th Century Man
06 – Volcano Suns – Jak
07 – Knight School – Pizza My Coat
08 – Oh No – Adventure
09 – Major Lazer – Pon de Floor
10 – Tobacco – Side 8
11 – Beach House – Norway
12 – Micachu – Golden Phone
13 – Fool’s Gold – Surprise Hotel
14 – RZA – Don’t Be Afraid to Call My Name
15 – The Cool Kids – Champions
16 – Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock – It Takes Two
17 – Ween – Friends
18 – Dosh – Magic Stick
19 – Georgia Anne Muldrow – Mr. President
20 – Vic Chesnutt (RIP) – Flirted With You All My Life

Here’s a fun experiment if you can get away with it: For a four-day holiday weekend, don’t stray more than 1/4 mile from your home. Have enough food and supplies to last it out. If you must see people, make them come to you. Even then, pretend your pajamas are clothes. When asked to justify yourself, say you are “creating your own traditions.” (Click pics to enlarge.)


By Christmas morning, it looked like a UPS truck had exploded under our tree.


Only two things on Jo’s list: a Pink Teddy Bear with Pink Stars (Sarah took that one) and a Hello Kitty Computer (my job). Moments after opening her new laptop, she got to work.


We are thankful for festive washclothes.


Scene from a ViewMaster, “Columbia River Valley” edition.


By noon there was a foot of wet snow, perfect for sculpting a fort. This one had windows. And appliances.


Behold the power of the plastic snow-brick maker ($2.99, Walgreens).


Hot prime rib and Yorkshire pudding? Dad: quit with the pictures and sit down.


This took hours. Of which we had no shortage.


It was a Christmas of costumes and curtsies.


Books ‘n’ Boots: Aunt Allie and Jo at Wild Rumpus.


Another family portrait of us trying to “help” Johanna compose herself.


Not quite in the spirit of the season, I ordered a bunch of mail-order gifts for myself. Check out that crazy-bad-ass thumb drive. Moving data. Taking names.


Would you believe we were the only Christmas revelers exploring the closed school next door after dinner? People don’t know what they’re missing.

What’s troubling my mind on a scale of 0 (no stress) to 10 (panic attacks).

> The swirling mass of plastic choking the North Pacific: 1.0

> Total economic collapse (or as Travis prophesies, “when the shit goes down”): 3.5

> That all skills I’ve acquired as an adult will be obsolete when the shit goes down: 4.0

> Wrinkles, gray hair and other signs of physical deterioration: 2.1

> That I’ve peaked: 5.1

> That my spouse has more friends than me: 1.4

> That the good I do is far outweighed by the good I don’t do: 4.7

> Teenagers no longer seem to think I’m cool: 2.6

> Failure to create a professional website: 4.3

> The fact that everything about my life may change in the next 10 years: 2.0

> The fact that nothing about my life may change in the next 10 years: 3.0

> Continuing inability to grasp the point of Twitter: 1.5

> The possibility that American democracy is an irredeemable hoax: 3.0

> I cannot identify 40+% of the bands on 2009 top 10 lists: 4.1

> I do not own a garment with sufficiently long sleeves: 0.9

> Being buried in 20 inches of ice-snow by Christmas: 0.0

Photo 78

I STUMBLED ON A COPY OF “THE MEDIUM IS THE MASSAGE” at the library this weekend, a 1996 reprint faithful to the stark and brilliant design of the 1967 original. As pervasive as the central idea now seems—that our information environment shapes thought, society and responsibility—there’s an unexpected freshness to the book (and it’s not just the crocheted tights everyone’s wearing).

Quite obviously, you hear its echo—if not its clarity—in every discussion of the web and social media. Those of us who straddle the 20th and 21st centuries like to reflect on our supreme cultural moment, celebrating the total erasure of old rules and means (today’s marketing book shelf alone has more “revolutions” than all of human history before 1901).

So it’s reassuring to read a dusty old pamphlet that waxes triumphant about the irrevocable changes wrought by technology and the unimaginable consequences. And to see that worldview perfectly intact 40 years on.

> Spoon – Everything Hits At Once

xmassmMy family agreed to give minimally for Christmas this year. That means my annual retail immersion is off, which is a relief (I have this thing about stores during holidays; the music alone makes me feel like a lunatic). I’m shopping ultralocal for the few people I need to buy for. For the rest, I’m trying out the concept of “gift hugs.”

The no-gift memo was not widely circulated. Thus we have already received multiple shipments of presents, some a full month early. One marked “open right away” included an advent calendar that is not so much a calendar as a giant suck hole for time—hundreds of minute pieces and cryptic instructions the size of a AAA map. The box said 15 minutes, but it took HOURS to assemble. Jo looooves it, naturally. I’m trying not to see it as another symptom of Western decline.

Saying “thank you” isn’t hard for me. It comes as naturally as “I’m sorry” and “I’ll have whatever’s cheapest.” Yet every December I am struck dumb by the task of acknowledging my clients. Some people are blessed with an instinct for smart and sincere giving; this is not one of my gifts. My five years of mediocre professional thank-yous have featured wines, chocolate, cookies, and, one shameful year, absolutely nothing for anyone.

I’m taking a different tack in ’09. Working on the premise that those fortunate enough to work in the commercial persuasion business have our personal needs pretty well covered—and that office people need more snacks like they need extra reams of 8.5 x 11—this year I’m eschewing the goodies in favor of a donation and a card.

The donation is to a fine literacy organization I’ve worked with in town. The card features a collage I made from vintage slides, an attempt to convey my game-for-anything attitude about the coming year.

I’m not sure people are going to get it, or care much even if they do. But at least if things go south for me in 2010 and I’m left unloved and unbillable, it won’t be because I didn’t say thanks.


I’VE FOUND A NEW PRODUCTIVITY ZONE in my day between 10 and midnight, so I’m jumping on this year’s handmade gift program.

Steve Davis a/k/a Hank Piece comes through with a new batch of tunes to share every year, and I haven’t reciprocated in a while. To say thanks, I made an homage in glass to a favorite family pastime of his: mushroom hunting. (Once when I came by to say hi to Steve’s folks, his mom promptly fried up some chicken of the woods for me, as if wild mushrooms were cashews.)

This fails to show the variegated morel pattern of the art glass I found (the light is terrible today). The crudeness of the piece seems forgivable when the subject is ‘shrooms. It looks like it was dug out of a gnome’s root cellar or something.


Here it is front-lit, which reveals another detail I like—vintage privacy glass from my gramps’ collection (the bumpy blue stuff).


There’s a lull in my business every December during which I subsist on snack-sized projects. “Seasonal slowdown” I guess it’s called. And things pick up again in January.

Nothing to worry about. I should be grateful.
Nothing to worry about. I should be grateful.
Nothing to worry about. I should be grateful.


After parking downtown today, I got notice that each of my appointments was canceled, one right after the other. Having earned no billable hours and one parking ticket, I actually LOST money. Christ.

I’m tutoring tonight at a cafe in Seward, as I do most weeks. At my last session, we studied next to an informal gathering of Communists (or maybe Socialists; who can tell anymore?). Four middle-aged white guys with little red books and a comic-book-convention air about them. I would call one of their mustaches Stalinesque, but in any other context it would be standard-issue North Woods.

The guy holding court (studded boots, tattooed hands, receding hairline) was denouncing the lack of revolutionary fervor among certain movement leaders (“They wear Birkenstocks!”). He lamented that no one had the nerve to stick it to the “pigs” like the old days. Someone was labeled “Trotskyite” with palpable loathing.

I love people who stand for something, however marginal. But this was just pathetic. I couldn’t believe grownups were waging these irrelevant internecine battles in their heads, let alone out loud. Acting as if the intellectual vanguard of the movement was right here on Franklin Avenue, between the Somali study group and the kid tagging his Mp3s.

Will the real revolutionaries please stand up—and bus their own tables?