Sunday, December 30, 2012


If you have a fourth grader in Virginia, they're taking Virginia History as part of the school year ciriculum.  SInce I was born and raised outside of Virginia, my knowledge of the state's history was squat.  As a result, when helping our fourth grader study for his Virginia history tests, I found myself intrigued by the material.  Yeah, hundreds of years of history and a myriad of humanity was dumbed down to fit the school year cirriculum and time constraints, but what I learned working with our son was enough to inspire me to pick-up and finish my final book of the year.

Title:  Savage Kingdom: The True Story of Jamestown
Author: Benjamin Woolley
Company: Harper Collins
469 pages
Grade: *** stars

Comments:  Interesting read and left me with a far better understanding of Virginia's early history.  Difficult to slog through the segments that quoted "old English" language and when the book turned to then-contemporary English politics, it was all but incomprehinsible.  The book would have also been stronger had it focused more on day-to-day life in Jamestown and the other early settlements and less on the sponsorship politics.  Still, it was a fun read and I know way more about Captain John Smith, Virginia indians, and the roots of our country,  My gawd, those people were strong, though it was somehow heartwarming to see that they suffered from the same personal and collective shortcomings that we still have 400 plus years later.

I think my fourth grader's teacher would be proud of my work in this area. 


I hadn't really noticed it until I took down this year's collection of Christmas cards.  Whereas most of the cards we use to get were divided into two categories - traditional religious themes, or funny, this year we saw a distinct change.  Those earlier categories were literally wiped out by family photos; notably children. A stunning 60% of the cards we got showed photos of the family, or more likely the kids.

The good news is that we only got one yearly family 'highlights' biography and it was in rhyme so we couldn't really make sense of it. 

Guess the next change will come in a decade when all those kids have moved on to college, or beyond.

Sunday, December 23, 2012


My 2012 favorite things list:

Proudest moment:  Our nine year old scoring a winning goal in Fall soccer.  Never would I have expected that outcome.

Second prodest moment:  Long story short - our nine year old saw another fourth grader picking on a first grader and went out of his way to stand up for the little girl.  Needless to say, the bully wasn't very happy with our kid.  We're so proud of Ryan for standing his ground and doing the right thing.

Best concert:  Unless you live in the Washington, DC area you've never heard of her which is a shame since the woman is an amazing perfomer - Mary Anne Redmond at Jammin' Java Vienna, Virginia.  Small, intimate setting and a mix of longtime fans and the singer's friends made for a wonderful time.

Second best concert: I'm surprised by this pick myself - Steve Miller Band at Wolftrap.  Maybe because my expectations were low, I had a wonderful time and Miller sounded great on a mixture of hits (all of them from my high school and college days) and blues material.  It was fantastic and I can't wait to see him again.

Biggest concert disappointment: Rush at Jiffy Lube Pavillion.  They played a lot of stuff of the new album (Clockwork Angels) which I hadn't heard and didn't particularly like.  In contrast, they were killer the last go around which was more of a hits collection.

Favorite family event:  Walking up, down and all around Sugarloaf Mountain.  Our nine year old outwalked Elissa and myself. - I was wondering if we'd make it back to the car   Luckily we stumbled onto Sugarload Mountain Vineyard as we were driving home.  The wine wasn't fantastic, but after spending all day hiking, it was cold and served as the perfect way to end the family outting (no, the nine year old didn't have any wine).

Favorite book:  Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis   It cam out in 2003, but I never thought a book about statistics and baseball would be so fascinating.  Spellbinding read from start to finish.  

Second favorite book:  Confederates In the Attic by Tony Horowitz.  Hardcore civil war reenactors and the impact of the War Between the States some 130 years later. Simultaneously educational and funny as all.  One of the few books that I think I could read over and over again.  I'd love to read a follow-on.  What happened to the people Horowitz met.

Favorite movie:  Moneyball.  Yeah, it wasn't as good as the book, but I still enjoyed every minute of it (wife fell asleep watching it).

Favorite restaurant or meal:  I can't think of a single killer meal I had at a restaurant over the past year and I'm not particualrly picky.  As a result the best meal I had was Elissa's 100% crab cakes - literally nothing but crap and butter.  To die for ...

Coolest thing I acquired this year:  Northwestern Saturn Bubble Gum Machine and new gumballs to go in it.  How early '60s can you get?

Second coolest thing I acquired this year: Piece of Rick Abrams artwork - Lifesavers

Favorite album of the year:  Sandy Denny "Who Knows Where the Time Goes" - amazing 43 track retrospective covering all facets of her career.


Over the years I ended up with a big collection of vinyl albums (showing my age here) and last year I decided I simply didn;t need 30,000+ LPs so I started listing them for sale online.

Occasionally I get questions like this from potential buyers:


I am interested in your Led Zeppelin II listing.

- Can you tell me what all the numbers and letters are in the runoff area / deadwax between the last song and where the label starts on both sides of the record? They are all around the label and can be a little faint so you need to look at them in the light.
- Also, what are the letters and numbers just underneath the song listing on the labels?
- Can you provide a picture of the inner sleeve

- Can you provide photos of the LP cover edges and corners
- Does the LP have a musty, or smokey smell
- Can you tell if the album has been played excessively
- Are there any names, or writing on the cover, or interior of the sleeve
- And, what is the address at the bottom of the label?

To pull the album and answer all of the questions would take me 20 - 30 minutes which admitedly isn't a great deal of time, but I have better things to do with my life.  Add in this is a $20 LP and you can see the costs-benefit analysis isn't in this buyer's favor.

Short answer to the customer:  "Thanks for your interest, but the LP is sold."






SUBJECT:  Fiscal Year 2013 Joint Committee Sequestration Impact on Christmas

The Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) established the Joint Select Committee of
Deficit Reduction (Joint committee) and charged it with developing a proposal to
achieve at least $12 trillion in deficit reduction.  Last November, the Joint
committee announced that it could not reach agreement on a deficit reduction
plan.  This failure triggered an enforcement mechanism of automated funding cuts
in Fiscal Year 2013, know as sequestration, above and beyond the reductions
already reflected in the FY 2013 budget.  These actions will have a direct
impact on Christmas planning and operations.

The additional cuts required under the BCA are very large and the existing law
requires that FY 2013 cuts be implemented in an indiscriminate, across-the-board
manner that will greatly exacerbate their adverse effects.  These large cuts
would lead to devastating effects on Christmas and potentially other holidays. 
In anticipation of sequestration reductions, the following actions are directed:

NAUGHTY OR NICE LIST:  As maintained by the Elfs record keeping department (ELF
01), the prior "three strikes and out" rule is immediately modified to reflect
"two strikes and out".  Any individual who has incurring two 'naughty' strikes
during the 2013 calendar year will automatically be placed on the 'coal for
gift' list.  As an additional savings action, only two lumps of coal will be
left in stockings rather than the traditional three.

CHRISTMAS LIST LIMITATIONS:  Christmas wish lists will be limited to twelve items in
priority order.  Any lists exceeding the limit will be discarded.  No exceptions.

BANNED CHRISTMAS GIFTS: Santa will no longer take orders for ponies, full sized
monster trucks, or baby brothers.

BATTERIES: Batteries will no longer be provided with gifts.

PACKAGING: The Elf packaging department (ELF 02), will reduce use of wrapping,
tape, and bows by 30%.  For the 2013 Christmas season, award winning wrapping
will be replaced by 'adequate' wrapping efforts.  Elf wrapping specialists are
encouraged to examine opportunities to 'go green' using a variety of colorful
newspaper advertising instead of more costly Christmas wrap.

REPLACE CANDLES AND TRADITIONAL INCANDECENT LIGHTS WITH LEDS The Elf facilities group (ELF 03) will immediately replace all candles and traditional
incandescent colored lights with LED lights.
                                                                                                                                                         INCOME LIMITS:  Unfortunately Santa be forced to impose a form of 'needs testing' testing on Christmas recipients - basically ceasing deliver of presents to families with a combined, post-tax annual income of $500,000 (subject to further adjustment if needed).  An exception will be made for families who have incurred job loss within the last three months, or are facing other unique circumstances.  Prior to delivery of any gifts, families will be asked to submit a completed and signed SC-201 form (request for Christmas gifts exemption form).  By Dec 24, 2013 ELF 01 will collect, review and forward a list of families approved for gift delivery under the exemption clause to Santa Claus (SC 01)

OTHER GIFT BANS:  As further cost cutting initiatives, no gifts will be
delivered to homes with the following types of Christmas displays:
      - Pink metallic trees
      - Celine Dion's "Christmas Classics" on their family CD,or iPOD play lists
      - Any type of Budweiser Christmas ornament hung from their tree
      - Families leaving Santa healthy, or glutton free cookies, or snacks.

TRANSPORTATION EFFICIENCIES:  In order to further reduce operational costs,
Prancer and Vixen will be deactivated and put up for auction.

As a reminder, given 2014 and outyear cuts are likely to be even deeper, Santa
is looking for other cost cutting suggestions.  Please feel free to forward them
directly to Santa via email, or snail mail.  If you have any questions about
this guidance, please consult your chain of command.  My POC for this issue is
Elf Counsel (ELF 04).

Santa Claus

Thursday, December 20, 2012

My favorite 2012 music discoveries

Everyone seems to publish end of year lists and I'm no different ...   Here's my list of top-10 favorite albums over the last year.  Mind you, these albums weren't released during 2012, rather I discovered, or rediscovered them during the year.

Manassas "Manassas"  - Perhaps the best CSN&Y 'outside' project ...

Angel Pavement "Maybe Tomorrow" - Fantastic and totally overlooked late '60s UK pop

Claire Lepage & Compagne "Claire Lepage & Compagne" - Who knew that Quebec produced such a cool psych act?

Betty Davis "Nasty Girl" - Yeah, she could kick my butt !

Glenn Farina "Glenn Farina" - One of the rarest tax scam releases and it was actually really good.  Sold within three hours of listing.  wish I'd kept it now.

Majority One "Majority One" - I thought they were Dutch for all these years.

The David "Another Day, Another Lifetime" - Awesome US psych outfit that should have been a massive hit.

Wilson Pickett "Don't Knock My Love" - His last LP for Atlantic and almost as good as his mid-'60s classics.

Sandy Denny "Who Knows Where the Time Goes" - Amazing boxed set ...  what a talent

The Fox "For Fox Sake Vol 1" Great UK pop-psych and still affordable.  How can you not like that?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Time for a change ...

Charlotte Bacon, 6, 2/22/2006,
Daniel Barden, 7, 9/25/2005,
Olivia Rose Engel, 6, 7/18/2006,
Josephine Gay, 7, 12/11/2005,
Ana Grace Marquez-Greene, 6, 4/04/2006,
Dylan Hockley, 6, 3/08/2006,
Madeleine F Hsu, 6, 7/10/2006,
Catherine V Hubbard, 6, 6/08/2006,
Chase Kowalski, 7, 10/31/2005,
Jesse Lewis, 6, 6/30/2006,
James Mattioli, 6, 3/22/2006,
Grace McDonnell, 7, 11/04/2005,
Emilie Parker, 6, 5/12/2006,
Jack Pinto, 6, 5/6/2006,
Noah Pozner, 6, 11/20/2006,
Caroline Previdi, 6, 9/7/2006,
Jessica Rekos, 6, 5/10/2006,
Avielle Richman, 6, 10/17/2006,
Benjamin Wheeler, 6, 9/12/2006,
Allison N Wyatt, 6, 7/3/2006,

Rachel Davino, 29, 7/17/1983,
Lauren Rousseau, 30, 6/8/1982,
Dawn Hocksprung, 47, 6/28/1965,
Anne Marie Murphy, 52, 7/25/1960,
Mary Sherlach, 56, 2/11/1956,
Victoria Soto, 27, 11/4/1985,

Sunday, December 16, 2012

1.5 million words

Here's a meaningless accomplishment, but I did it so I'll note it.

Some of you may be familiar with a website called Rate Your Music.  It's a community of people who share a love of music and exchange reviews, information, etc. on bands, albums, concerts, etc.

Anyhow, over a four year period I've dumped 2,077 reviews with 1.5 million words of commentary on the website.  Note I didn't say it was valuable commentary - just commentary.    I'm not sure how many pages that would equate to, but at least to me, it seems like a small novel.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas with a bitter edge - thoughts to those who've lost loved ones

Earlier this week I was finally beginning to get into the holiday spirit and decided to pull together a list of my favorite Christmas tunes.  I'd started writing down songs and since I was home today with my sick 9 year old, decided to put the finishing touches on the project.   And then I saw the horrible news about the mass shooting of some 20 young children at a Connecticut elementery school ...  it makes me stop and wonder if there is any longer such a thing as Christmas spirit. 

Since I'd finished the list, I'll upload it, but suddenly the list seems unimportant as do many other Christmas things ...  As a parent, my thoughts and prayers go out to the parents of those young victims. 

Mike Oldfield "In Dulci Jubilio"
'Tubular Bells' gets into the holiday spirit ...   Oldfield is the ultimate one man band.

Boney M "Mary's Boy Child" 
They were huge when I was a teenager living in Europe, though their quirky hybrid of disco, Euro-trash, and reggae moves never translated all that well to American audiences.  Shame since the song was a wonderfully goofy retelling of the Christmas story (I know Bobby Farrel was originally from Aruba, but his German accented vocals make me smile every time I hear it).  The accompanying video was even better.

Bruce Springsteen and the E. Street Band "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town"
I don't know why, but I take comfort in hearing Springsteen's ragged version of this classic.  Here's a wonderful live version of the Boss (and the late Clarence Clemmons) performing the song in front of a French (?) audience:

The Beach Boys "Little Saint Nick"
Funny, but this is one of the first songs I can remember hearing on the radio (AFN).  I guess that explains why it has such a special place in my heart.  This 1963 black and white Shindig performance is a gas - Brian, Mike and the rest of the band look so young - funny how the audience (most young girls), go crazy when Dennis Wilson is showcased.

James Brown "Santa Claus Go Straight To the Ghetto"
I know - an odd choice for a middle aged white guy, but there's a story to this one.  A friend gave me a copy of a James Brown album that had this song on it.  I instantly fell in love with the track and the combination of Brown's social commentary and Maceo's amazing sax solo.  Shame there's no video for this one.

The Waitresses "Christmas Wrapping"
Yeah, one of the best new wave songs ever ...  I know Chris Butler was the breains behind the band (and contributed the killer bass line), but the late Patty Donahue was the band's soul.   Y'all already know the lyrics, but just in case you don't:

Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band "Christmas at Kmart"
This may be a Washington D.C. thing, but the late Root Boy's tribute to the holidays has a special place in my heart - part of it may have something to do with having seen him at a Christmas concert at Radford college - to this day one of the wildest things I've ever seen (thanks Bruce).  There's no official video (Root wasn't that kind of guy), but you can hear this classic holiday tune at:

Bing Crosby and David Bowie 'Little Drummer Boy'
Yes, the setting and dialog was amazingly cheesy and this has to be one of the oddest collaborations in the history of music, but the fact it was so bizarre it lent the song a certain charm that's stood up over the years.  Always wondered what the two thought of one another.   Ever notice how Crosby's face seemed twice as wide as Bowie's ?

Darlene Love 'Christmas (Baby Come Home)'
She's such a classy lady with such an amazing voice and I can even forgive her for singing this tune every year on David Letterman:

Roy Wood and Wizzard 'I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday'
One of the obscurer choices (at least for most Americans), Roy Wood and company turning in their best Beach Boys impressions ...

Greg Lake 'I Believe In Father Christmas'
Hard to believe that a guy who was a member of one of rock's most pompous outfits (ELP), could turn out something as wonderful as this tune.  One of the prettiest things he ever wriote and still stunning after all these years.

The Kinks 'Father Christmas'
Ah, one of the greatest screw-you-for-Christmas songs !!  You have to love Ray Davis sentimenal streak ...  Who else would threaten to beat up Santa Clause ?

Slade 'Merry Xmas Everybody'
Another one that's probably not that well know to many Americans, but it's a chart perennial in the UK.  And since I've always loved Slade's sophistcated sound, a well deserved addition to the list.  This clip's from a 1973 appearence on the Les Dawson television show - nice to see them making a real effort to lip synch the tune.

Wham 'Last Christmas'
Okay, okay I'm showing my sappy side, but how can you not love this '80s classic?  For goodness sakes, remember George Michael before he took the weight of the world on his shoulders and when videos were short for $20 and didn't have big statements to make?

The Pogues 'Fairytale of New York'
Yeah, lots of folks will shake their heads and argue this is about as Christmas oriented as an asprin commercial.  They're wrong, it's a wonderful Christmas tune ...  bless the late Kirsty MacColl.

Eartha Kitt 'Santa Baby'
Say what you wil, but the young Eartha Kitt was hot !!! and this early television clip was simply scorching.  I would have got her a '54 convertable ...  Still one of the sexiest Christmas songs ever ...

The Royal Guardsmen 'Snoopy's Christmas'
Goodness, the fact I can remember this tune from my childhood shows you how friggin old I am ...   Amazing how much simpler things seemed to be back in that era.  Great performance clip from an old Mike Douglas television program:

Brenda Lee 'Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree'
No way around it - this is a true Christmas rock classic.  Lee's performance is simply perfect.  Nice mid-'80s television clip of her doing the song, though I'm not sure what the fiddle player was suppose to do:

Bobby Borris Pickett and the Crypt Kickers - 'Monsters' Holiday'
Another one I remember from my childhood.  Yeah, it wasn't as funny as 'Monster Mash', but when you're seven, or eight subtlties aren't that important.   Another one where there's no video.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra 'Christmas Cannon Rock'
I debated whether to include this one as it occasionally strikes me as being a bit 'corporate'.  But ultimately it's a great Christmas song - no idea who the two female lead singers are (I'm too lazy to look them up), but the kick holiday butts.

Run DMC 'Christmas In Hollis'
I'm not a big rap fan, but there are exceptions and one of those exceptions is this classic Christmas tune and the amazing video that went with it:

Vince Guiraldi Trio 'Christmas Time Is Here'
I wonder how many times I've seen "A Charly Brown Christmas".  I'm in my 50s and it's still one of the few shows I'll change my schedule to see.   Is there such a thing as a classic classic?  If so, this would qualify.

Sting - 'Gabriel's Message'
Yeah, the Sting-meister can be an acquired taste and you can argue this has tenuous links to the season - it was featured on the first "A Very Special Christmas" album released in support of the Special Olympics.  Regardless, I love it.

Jon Anderson - 'Three Ships'
Admittedly I added this one for the quirky '80s feel and the Anderson's hysterical, low budget video.

Chris Rea - 'Driving Home for Christmas'
Another one few Americans have heard, but a sentiment many of us can identify with and the song's lowtech, each going feel is charming.  Always liked the $10 dollar video that went with the song.

Donny Hathaway - 'This Christmas'
The late Hathaway's an overlooked soul star who had a voice that simply wouldn't quiyte and this is an overlooked Christmas classic. Amazingly I couldn't find a live performance of the song.

Clarence Carter - 'Back Door Santa'
Ah, Clarence Carter ... the sad thing about this tune is that there are a couple of generations out there who don't realize that Run DMZ ripped off the main riff for 'Christmas In Hollis'.  Deep soul Christmas classics don't get much better than this one.

Moody Blues - 'In the Quiet of Christmas Morning'
Yes, they swiped the melody, but I love the subdued, classical feel the song has.

Moody Blues - 'December Snow'
Also off their 'December' album and one of the prettiest melodies they ever wrote.  The perfect melancholy song for life's losses.

Bob Seger - 'Little Drummer Boy'
Seger is one of my favorite singers and his gruff, take-no-prisoners version of the song is near perfect.  Here's a clip from a 2011 concert performance:

XTC - 'Thanks for Christmas'
I never know whether they're playing it straight or not, but on this beautiful pop song, I think Andy Patridge and company were being sentimental and playing is straightforward.  No video ...

Stevie Wonder - 'What Christmas Means To Me'
A classic Motown Christmas tune with one of those incideously catchy melodies that Wonder threw out seemingly without any effort.

John Cougar Mellencamp - 'I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus Last Night'
Funny that you don't think of John Cougar Mellencamp as being the kind of guy to throw out a fun, seasonal tune, but that's exactly what he did with this cover.  For goodness sake, he even seemed to be enjoying himself.

James Taylor - 'Some Children See Him'
I'm not overtly religious but I believe and this song has always struck me as what belief should encompass - openess and a willingness to recognize there are different answers to questions.

Somehow saying Merry Christmas just seems inappropriate at this time ...  hug your kids and tell them you love them.   =  )