Sunday, December 28, 2008

Rolla, MO

What was once this:

Has become this:

Me=really, really happy.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Annual Christmas Eve Blog-Write

Years ago Melody started enforcing the new tradition of the Annual Christmas Eve Journal-Write. Whether or not any of us had written in our journals for days or even months, at least we would take the time to write at least a few pages at the end of the year. This is the first Christmas Eve I've spent at home by myself (meaning without any siblings), and it makes sense, since I'm the last single one, after Elise's wedding in May. And, while I was militant about keeping a daily journal as a missionary, I've done quite poorly since I returned. What I have done well, on the other hand, is blog regularly! So, I figured this year I would get with the times and update Melody's tradition for the 21st Century.

There have been a lot of festivities so far this year already, and I'm so glad I could be here for them. The last two Christmases have been really meaningful in their own ways, but I definitely missed spending time with the family and being a part of the events of which I saw many pictures and heard many stories. Tonight, contrary to usual traditions, Mom, Dad and I just stayed home and relaxed. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was on ABC, and it turned out to be the perfect movie for Christmas Eve (it even has Father Christmas!). I hadn't seen this film in years, and remembered now what a brilliant movie and near-perfect adaptation of the source novel it is. Then, later tonight I went browsing the blogs of friends and family to see if there were any festive Christmas posts, and what I found were both good and bad. I found some inspiring posts on Christ and His birth and what it means for all of us, and I found some that were really confusing, not even to do with Christmas, but current political trends, and certain personal feelings toward certain political figures, and certain bewildering, circle-running ideologies that skew toward the world and away from Christ. It kind of took the wind out of my proverbial Christmas Eve sails, but gave me a lot to think about, and heaven knows that's not necessarily a bad thing. I've been silenced before I guess, but not usually when I calmly and politely outlined my thoughts, even in dissent. Then there's always the controversy of those who are so against religion and God and Christianity in general that they try to take away even the mere mention of Christmas (our country is dying of PC!), or at least acidly protest it in loud and intolerant ways. Why is it hip and trendy to be any religion but Christian? It's really curious and bothersome to me. Anyway, I don't really know what the point of this post is, except to say that I really am grateful for what I have, grateful for my faith and freedom to express it, and especially grateful that Christ was born so that He could die for us and ultimately redeem us, if we do our part. Agency is such a gift, but it's so misunderstood and misinterpreted in these times and I worry about our misuse of it. I am luckily not to be the judge of the souls of humankind (who would actually want to take that responsibility on themselves?...), but I also know that we are commanded by Christ to judge righteously, and judge from behavior, right from wrong. Hurrah for the Light of Christ, and the Spirit's guiding promptings!

To end, I guess I'll just post my favorite Nativity painting by an LDS artist (Walter Rane). There are a lot of LDS painters, and the Nativity has been treated by them all, most likely, but I like Rane's textures and colors and drama, and how it looks like I'm actually seeing a scene that really took place, rather than a fuzzy, golden-glowy, modern-Mormons-as-models painting.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Let earth receive her king.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Not Allowed

I'm all for being festive, but some things are simply not aesthetically allowed.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


I ran across this today (check out a source here):

WTH? Here's to our President-elect and his baby-killing #1 priorities! I just do not understand how people can talk about murder of infants so nonchalantly, with such cavalier attitude and lanugage. I guess we're going to get change in this country after all, but nothing to do with education, foreign policy or the economy, but moral degradation and the ever-lowering of social standards!

Thov Vajtswv pab peb sawv daws.


Finals are over! And they were my best ever, I'm fairly certain! It felt great to have one test each day on Monday through Wednesday, a group presentation, and a hefty final paper (which is really quite interesting... perhaps I'll blog about it sometime), and then be done and done!

And now... I have bigger fish to fry...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Only in Sheboygan...

... Does this make news.

If you ask me, the owner of this poor creature shouldn't have been arrested for animal neglect for leaving his dog out, he should be arrested for allowing the dog to get that big.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Tale of Two iPods

Once upon a time I had two iPods. One was a Shuffle and one was a Nano. Approximately one week ago, tragedy almost struck both of them.

First, on my way back to my car after church meetings on campus, I noticed my Nano in its protective leather case lying on the parking lot next to my car. It looked as though it had fallen out of my pocket as I left my car earlier that morning, and also looked dangerously in the line that the car next to me would have taken to park after me. I picked it up and amazingly noticed that it looked virtually unharmed, and when I tried playing it in the car, it worked perfectly. I figured the car next to mine must have gone right past it, without actually running over it. It wasn't until several hours later when I was plugging it into the computer to recharge/reload with podcasts and new music that I noticed something odd: The adapter to the computer wouldn't fit into the iPod's slot, even though it had previously clicked into place easily. I realized with a sickening pit in my stomach that it must indeed have been run over, and the slot had been narrowed ever so slightly, making it so that the adapter would not fit...

Second, after going on a run last weekend, I foolishly ran a load of laundry without checking the pockets of my shorts. It wasn't until I loaded up all my darks in the dryer and heard the loud rattling of something not clothes-ish being tumble-dried. I thought perhaps it was just the buttons on my jeans, but instinctually opened up to check, and imagine my horror when I saw my poor Shuffle, headphones and all, tumbling around with my darks!!! I usually don't put it in my pocket after running, but for some reason this day I had. I examined it and noticed that it looked and smelled linen-fresh, but I realized that this poor device had been soaked, soaped, spin-cycled, and now, even tumble-dried. This was especially frustrating, since, you may or may not recall, this is not the first time I've soaked an iPod...

Fortunately, and amazingly, the end to both of these tales is happy.

...After panicking about the grim prospect of using my Nano until the battery slowly died, with no hope of recharge, and after a little bit of working the slot and examining the negligible damage, the adapter suddenly clicked once more into the bottom of it! It takes the slightest bit of coaxing but the hearty little device is otherwise unharmed. So the Nano is so small and thin that it can be run over by a 4-Runner and still be in nearly perfect condition?? Amazing!

...I went about this wetness predicament quite differently this time. I did research again online to discover the best way to handle a possible resurrection of a drowned iPod, and found that this time, my chances were infinitely better for many reasons: 1) The iPod was NOT playing when it was soaked, in fact it was switched to "off," 2) The headphones WERE plugged in this time, rather than leaving a wide open entryway for the water to go into the inner-workings, 3) I did NOT immediately turn it on to see if it would work, but rather waited several days, 4) The Shuffle apparently has no inner moving parts, which leads to less likelihood of it going on the fritz, 5) It had plenty of time to dry, not only in the dryer, but also in front of a desk fan for several days, and 6) It was probably in the pocket of my shorts for the duration of the wash (I don't know if this would actually affect it in any way, but it seems like it might). SO, after several days, as instructed and with the slightest apprehension, but with Julie's moral support and encouragement, I plugged it into its adapter, and a few long seconds later, the little light started blinking and it appeared in iTunes, starting syncing with my running playlist and I was back in business. So the Shuffle is so sturdy and resilient that it can be soaped and squeaky clean from a turn in the washer and eventually work like new (not to mention smelling so nice and clean)?? Incredible!

The moral of these tales is that I'm either cursed or clumsy or irresponsible, or some combination of the three, when it comes to handheld electronics on which I rely far too heavily. I know I have two of them, but they have their unique advantages, and if one were to disappear, it would be quite a weight on the temporal side of my heart.

So, much to my astonishment and pleasure, both iPods are still in working order, both appearing almost as if nothing had ever happened. It's a Christmas miracle!

Friday, December 12, 2008

More Christmas Bells

Yesterday was eventful for a few reasons: My last ever Psych Stats class, my last ever Psych of Gender class (including my presentation that went rather well--perhaps I'll post the powerpoint of it up here sometime), and the annual Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas concert! There was a huge fiasco getting there and getting in, and thanks to my class, we were pretty late, so our seats were given away and we were denied entrance into the Conference Center. It's amazing, they almost always have a few extra seats during General Conference, but come the Christmas concert, people are practically breaking the doors off their hinges to get in! When we were refused entrance, we were invited to head to the Tabernacle across the street, so we did (and there were PLENTY of seats available there...), but when we entered, the concert had started, and the choir, orchestra and dancers were there on the screen, but... where was the sound?!? As the ladies next to us said as they walked out, "they can get it to play in Europe, but they can't get it to work across the street??" Eventually a tech guy appeared, turned a knob, flipped a switch and the sound came on. Eventually again, the lights were dimmed and it was finally like a concert.

Although we were unable to get into the actual venue, and as I'm quite sure the experience would have been rather enhanced by that difference of seating, it was still a really nice concert. The guest soloist was the amazing Brian Stokes Mitchell (whom you may or may not remember from my post on a previous Motab concert, and whom I'm not going to bore you gushing about again), who charmed the audience with his style and personality, and the guest narrator was Edward Hermann, who provided a moving and inspiring recount of the story behind they hymn "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day". It's really interesting how every year the choir gives a consistent concert, but manages to make them different, tailored particularly to the style of the guests. I do want to say that last time Brian came to sing with the choir, I kept hoping he would sing "Through Heaven's Eyes", which he recorded for the soundtrack of The Prince of Egypt, but he didn't, until this concert, when he did! And now it shall forever be a Christmas song to me. Also, just as I was thinking of it, they started "Whence Is that Goodly Fragrance Flowing?", which I certainly love (see previous post). Of course there were dancers, bell ringers, and the flawless Orchestra at Temple Square, and in the end, Mom, Dad, Elise, Jeff, Lacie and I were really glad we went. Temple Square was gorgeous as ever (albeit with a shocking lack of snow) and the company was nice. I know they release it on DVD, so we could have just waited until next year to see it at home, but I really needed this, and it was a great way to end up my last official day of classes.

And as ever, thanks ever so to Britney and Belinda for getting us tickets! Whether or not we were able to get in, we were certainly in attendance. Well done for another year!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Christmas Bells Are Ringing...

That title would refer to lyrics to a few songs. It can be reference to whatever you each would like.

So yes, as I said, now that Thanksgiving is over, my iPod is full to the brim with Christmas albums. Umm... I really like Christmas music. If you didn't know that about me, it's high time you did. Music in general has such power in many ways, and Christmas music especially. Now and then in July I get in this funk and the only thing for it is to listen to Linda's "O Holy Night" or Donny's "Mary, Did You Know?" or something. I'm especially into music that is unabashedly non-secular. Of course I love "Sleigh Ride" and "White Christmas" and such, but the ones that I love best are the ones that aren't afraid to call a spade a spade and celebrate Christmas for what it is. Interestingly, I'm willing to overlook a certain amount of the element of cheese when it comes to Christmas music (it kind of goes with the territory sometimes), but I also have my limits. For example, I realized that Dickens's A Christmas Carol has been made into at least four different versions of musical (including the Muppets' immortal offering), some of which have made the most of the source material, leading to an emotive, mixed list of storytelling songs, but some of which just mangled it. Also, I sometimes get the feeling that an artist or studio just throws a Christmas album together just to get it out there, without really caring if it's an actual quality album, which is sometimes quite obvious, and then kind of bothersome. Regardless, I usually will give most Christmas music a chance at least.

Now then, I was looking through my iTunes Christmas music playlist and I realized that I have upwards of 96+ albums of Christmas music (not to mention the singles and songs from shows and movies)... I mean, seriously... I'm a packrat. The good thing about it is how nicely they all fit right here on my hard drive and/or iPod, and I don't have to drag a big book of CDs around in the car and elsewhere like I used to.

And here are some random, unsolicited statistics about my Christmas music:

  • Favorite Christmas song: "O Holy Night" (despite its relative ubiquity... seems like everyone sings it), followed by "O Come, All Ye Faithful" (I also love Angels We Have Heard on High, for the "glorias", and "The First Noel", although it has some minor lyrical issues that are hard for me to get past).
  • New albums for this year: A Lovely Way to Spend Christmas (Kristin Chenoweth), A Christmas Celebration (Celtic Woman), White Christmas (Martina McBride), Joy to the World (Faith Hill) and Joy: A Holiday Collection (Jewel), Christmas Duets (Elvis Presley), Carol of the Bells (Emmy Rossum).
  • Number of Christmas songs in my iTunes: 1561.
  • How long it would take to listen to the entire collection straight through: 3 days, 18 hours, 17 minutes, 45 seconds.
  • Total computer space used to store said collection: 5.50 GB.
I know, I'm a little bit ridiculous about it. It just happened, okay??

And now, for those who are interested (and for the original purpose of this blogpost), I am going to outline my Top Ten Favorite Christmas Albums! I'll also include a brief review and my pick of the best track from each. While there are many that I like or love, there are a few that dominate the list. So, here they are!

10. This Christmas (98 Degrees, 1999)

Okay, don't judge me. I've had this CD for a long time, and it's just that good. They handle the sacred material considerably well, when you think about what they're usually singing about. The boys seem to be sincere with their handling of the pieces. Besides a kind of crappy album design (I mean, seriously, was that cover picture taken with someone's cell phone camera? And come on, Nick, everyone's smiling but you), the sound at least delivers.

Standout track: "Silent Night" (I really wish I could find a copy of it in the world without the sappy bass sending out a gooey Christmas message, but I still like how they pull out the last verse).

9. Barenaked for the Holidays (Barenaked Ladies, 2004)

So the crazy guys from Canada have a pretty interesting mix put together for their holiday album (and yes, I used the term "holiday" rather than "Christmas" for a reason... their album is decidedly mixed between songs about Christmas, Hannukah and even New Year's Day). True to BNL form, they are quirky and fun, and they don't try to take themselves too seriously, but they still manage to evoke some real emotion and even sing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus at the end of the final track. They also do a fun duet with fellow Canuck Michael Bublé.

Standout track: "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings" (duet with Sarah McLachlan) (It's a perfect blend of sacred and rock, and the medley goes really well together, even as a round in the final verse).

8. Christmas Portrait (The Carpenters, 1978)

So, apparently this can also be found in a two-disc set entitled "Christmas Collection" (disc one is "Christmas Portrait" and disc 2 is "An Old-Fashioned Christmas"), but in either case, the Christmas Portrait album is the best. Definitely a product of their time, The Carpenters are admittedly dated a little, but something about Karen's silken take on classic and new Christmas carols is kind of enchanting. They throw in some orchestral pieces and medleys for good measure, but whether for nostalgic purposes or just because you love her voice, it's a really nice album (despite her sometimes humorous chewing on the words).

Standout track: "Merry Christmas, Darling" (The ultimate in Christmas schmaltz, but still really touching. You know you love it, Chiv Keeb).

7. Home Alone (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, score by John Williams, 1990)

What could have ended up as a forgotten hack of a Christmas movie (as so many do) actually ends up now being rather an enduring, funny and touching film about the importance of family, and boasting a surprise score by the legendary John Williams. I hesitate to make bold statements, but I think some of the themes in this film are among his best.

Standout track: "Somewhere In My Memory" (A beautiful and soaring melody, which also serves as a musical cue to the film's emotional themes).

6. The Muppet Christmas Carol (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, 1992)

I've always loved the Muppets, and while I still think Muppet Treasure Island tops the list of funniest Muppet movies, The Muppet Christmas Carol gives it a total run for its money. Respectful of the source material, and yet genuinely funny, this film's soundtrack features songs performed by all the Muppet performers, as well as Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge. This is one of those versions of Dickens's Christmas story that actually does it justice. I'm pretty sure Charles would have approved of it.

Standout track: "Bless Us All" (Robin is touching as Tiny Tim, and you actually believe that Kermit and Miss Piggy are Bob and Emily Cratchitt, leading their children in an anthem of gratitude and praise).

5. Christmas At Home (Donny Osmond, 1998)

Although I'm a little disenchanted with the Osmonds of late, I can't disregard the joy this Christmas CD brings me. Donny has developed a fairly unique style, and I like to hear how he spins some of the well-known carols. He employs the help of his wife and kids for one track, and shows off his impressive range (with a few forgiveable howls).

Standout track: "Baby, What You Goin' to Be?" (I love how he mixes several tracks of his voice for a multi-layered and quite dramatic effect. Also, I've always kind of liked this song and I'm glad to hear a decent treatment of it. "Mary, Did You Know?" is also a nice selection, they're kind of companion pieces, asking questions to both mother and Child).

4. A Celebration of Christmas (The Combined Choirs and Orchestra of Brigham Young University, 1995)

Naturally, I'm drawn to the pristine, trained sound of the choirs of BYU, and this album has always been one of my favorites. While the sound quality of Tantara's releases is always curiously subpar (low volume levels... perhaps to do with the method of recording?), the content is always excellent. Featuring pieces by each of the four audition choirs at BYU, as well as the BYU Philharmonic Orchestra, BYU knows how to treat Christmas carols, and certainly aren't afraid to sing about, you know, Jesus.

Standout track: "Angels We Have Heard on High" (Having since become a staple of Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas concerts, Mack Wilberg's arrangement was first gloriously displayed in the de Jong Concert Hall, featured here. It starts with a soprano solo and ends with a brilliant climax).

3. Spirit of the Season (Mormon Tabernacle Choir, featuring Sissel, 2007)

While many of the Choir's releases are noteworthy (I debated about Sing, Choirs of Angels! for a long time before settling on this one), I decided to settle on just one for my list. Last year's Christmas release, featuring guest soloist Sissel (Norweigan sensation, apparently), is a wonderful blend of classic and lesser-known carols, and in some ways a sort of departure from their traditional Christmas releases. The Choir deftly handles Eric Whitacre, sings in several languages, and Sissel's crystalline, soaring soprano is extremely easy on the ears.

Standout track: "Like an Angel Passing Through My Room" (Written by one of the songwriters from ABBA, this is a gorgeous, touching and haunting melody handled beautifully by Sissel. Easily one of my new favorite Christmas songs).

2. Noël (Josh Groban, 2007)

Yeah, I'm on the Josh Groban bandwagon, so sue me! His baritone is remarkable, and he always has an interesting array of selections on his recordings. Noël is a very consistent follow-up to his previous albums, maintaining the feeling and variety that he usually displays (singing in Latin, Spanish and French). He doesn't disappoint his fans with his Christmas release (finally!). He does throw us a few surprises though, featuring duets with some surprising guest artists (Faith Hill, Brian McKnight, guitarist Andy McKee and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir!), and even features what some would call a Thanksgiving carol. Everything about this album is noteworthy, so I'll just let it sing for itself.

Standout track: "Silent Night" (I can still remember driving up John Street in Appleton listening to this first track for the first time, hoping it would sound a certain way, and feeling chills when it sounded exactly as I hoped it would. Although I wish he had sung the lyrics for the other verses, rather than repeating the first verse's words for the last, the modulation and background choir positively sparkle).

1. Christmas Stays the Same (Linda Eder, 2000)

Sure, maybe this is a biased decision for number 1, since I consider Linda the finest vocalist, perhaps ever, but after eight years (which surprises me), this is still by far the most enduring Christmas CD I can think of. This pick might be confusing to some, since she's not all that well-known, but this is a total winner. It always seems fresh and new, and while she has total respect for traditional and sacred Christmas material, she throws out a couple new and outstanding pieces, and features the Broadway Gospel Choir on some tracks. She's just a brilliant performer, and if you get a chance to see her Christmas concert on DVD, you will be won over as well.

Standout track: "O Holy Night" (Yes, I think I can safely say hers is the best rendition I've heard. It's not perfect, and the choir could back down a tiny bit, but she builds perfectly and adds her personal flair to make it exciting and powerful).

Standout track 2 (that's right, she gets two): "Here Comes Santa Claus/Santa Claus is Coming to Town" (It's just... brilliant. I don't know how else to put it. A fun and sparkling medley, sprinked with familiar jazz and Broadway themes, she pulls out the stops for the finale).

And there you have it! The following earn honorable mentions, since I really wanted to include them:
  • A Lovely Way to Spend Christmas (Kristin Chenoweth, 2008): Kristin's first Christmas album, and although I wish there were a little more emphasis on Jesus, she has some really remarkable recordings on here. Standout tracks: "Born on Christmas Day" and "Sleep Well, Little Children/What a Wonderful World".
  • Let It Snow! (Michael Bublé, 2007): Mostly I included this because it's the Christmas CD that the perpetually flat (by thaaaat much) Harry Connick, Jr. could only dream of. It's been released in several formats, but most recently as a six-track EP, which is fun and festive. His voice is the perfect combination of the Rat Pack style and contemporary sensibility. Standout track: "Let It Snow" (Live).
  • Merry Christmas With Love (Clay Aiken, 2004): This album kind of falls in the category I cited above, seeming almost like they just cranked out a Christmas CD because they wanted Clay to have one in the stores that year. Despite this, Clay has some memorable moments on here. Standout track: "Hark the Herald Angels Sing/O Come All Ye Faithful".
  • A Christmas Together (John Denver and the Muppets, 1979): Seriously classic, and again with the Muppets. I mean, to hear them singing Silent Night in its original German?? Not to mention Piggy's peppy treatment of "Christmas is Coming" and the classic "Twelve Days of Christmas". Standout track: "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas".
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas (Danny Elfman, 1993): Although I have trouble classifying this as a full-on Christmas album, I think it definitely deserves mention. It had a huge impact on me when it was released, and it's the perfect soundtrack to listen to in the gap between Halloween and Christmas. Standout tracks: "What's This?" and "Sally's Song".
  • Any and all Mannheim Steamroller... That's right.
  • Don't let's forget Tchaikovsky's glorious The Nutcracker Suite and Handel's immortal Messiah!
  • Final honorable mention goes to Christmas J.A.M. You know who you are!!!
And for a final surprise, here are a few standout tracks from albums that generally haven't earned full mention:

"Rejoice" (Il Divo)
"Whence is that Goodly Fragrance Flowing" (Mormon Tabernacle Choir)
"Christmas Wrapping" (The Waitresses)
"Dream A Dream" (Charlotte Church)
"All I Want for Christmas is You" (Mariah Carey)
"Christmas is All Around" (Billy Mack)
"There Is a Star" (BYU Combined Choirs)
"All Is Well" (Clay Aiken)
"2000 Miles" (Coldplay)
"Christmas Lullaby" (Mannheim Steamroller)
"Where Are You, Christmas?" (Faith Hill)
"O Come All Ye Faithful" (Katherine McPhee)
"I Saw Three Ships" (Sufjan Stevens)
"Step Into Christmas" (Elton John)
"The Twelve Days of Christmas" (Relient K)

Well done if you made it through! Really, it's your own benefit if you did. I love how I had a top ten and then kind of like ten honorable mentions. Oh well, that's how I roll! Now let's feel that Christmas spirit! It's out there to be found and to be shared, even if some are trying to silence it.

Born is the King of Israel.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Volunteers Needed! Compensation is a Warm Fuzzy.

For those who didn't receive my mass facebook message last night:

I'm part of a group in my Research, Design and Analysis class, and for our final group project, we're conducting a study on the correlation between fast food consumption, frequency and motivation for exercise, and overall happiness/life satisfaction. As such, we are in need of volunteer participants. All that is required is that you complete a short, anonymous survey, which will take approximately five to ten minutes. Anyone who has a few minutes, and hasn't done so already, please take the time to complete the survey so we will have enough of a sampling to calculate some statistics and make inferences about the population. We need participants of several demographics, so anyone is invited and encouraged to participate. It's painless and easy, and then you can say you were a participant in a psychological study!

Survey here.

Thanks everyone! I'll be sure and post some of the results, if you're interested, including what we've hypothesized, and how the results compare to our predictions. Yay for school.