Merry Christmas 2009

So this is it.

We’re at The Farm, and the last leg of our Christmas travels is coming to an end. All the gifts have been unwrapped and we’re on a roll of holiday-themed, feel-good movies. We just finished watching “The Family Stone,” which gets better and pulls harder on my heart with every viewing, and now “The Holiday” is playing. I think the latest Harry Potter film is up next.

Kates and I just finished putting Phoebe to bed. Tomorrow, we’ll say good bye to her for a few days and head home to pack our moving truck. Then on Wednesday, we head out to start that new adventure that’s been bubbling in the back of our minds for weeks

All of it made our bedtime reading tonight of “I Love You Through And Through,” quite a bit more sentimental. Not to mention our entire Christmas run this year. Since it’s the last night I’ll spend with Phoebe for at least a couple weeks.

* * *

Christmas Eve wasn’t as chaotic as last year’s -- Kates and I brought it up a couple times this year, and I’m sure we’ll be discussing it for years to come.

We woke up to a couple inches of snow on the ground, and I got the joy of shoveling our driveway and sidewalks one last time. Wet, heavy, back-breaking stuff. … I spent the remainder of the morning doing some last minute errands in the rain and sleet, while Kates finished wrapping gifts.

By late afternoon, we were getting ready for church, and at 5 o’clock, we were in our pew.

Things got off to a decent start, with Phoebe -- dressed this year in a red velvet dress with a holly pattern stitched on the trim -- working her way back and forth between the pew, lining the seat cushion with offering envelopes and scratching each one with pencil marks. As long as she was occupied, Kates and I could only shrug our shoulders.

Phoebe’s content couldn’t last forever, though. When Kates got up to direct her children’s choir and had to stay with them for the remainder of the service, Phoebe had a fit, screaming “Mommy!” and tried as hard as she could to squirm out of my grasp. Some friends sitting nearby tried their best to distract her by waving toys and making faces until finally I had to carry her out during a hymn.

She settled down, and eventually we returned to the church service. And Kates joined us for “Silent Night” and the lighting of the candles. By that time, Phoebe had squirmed most of her energy away and she was just fine in Mommy’s arms.

We greeted our friends afterward and wished them Merry Christmases; the goodbyes and warm wishes especially sweet for me because it may have been the last I see of them.

Back at home, we feasted on pineapple teriyaki burgers and sweet potato fries -- being one of our favorite meals this year, it seemed fit for our Christmas Eve. … We got Phoebe to bed and then took pleasure in the parental duties of arranging her Christmas gifts under the tree.

* * *

Christmas morning and Phoebe was whining for Mommy at exactly 7:02. It’s as if that girl has a built-in alarm clock. It seems like it’s always 7:02 with her.

Pulled from her crib, her diaper changed, she gingerly followed us to the living room and looked around the corner to see a half dozen gifts stacked for her under the tree. Teaching Phoebe how to unwrap her gifts, however, was slow-going -- more than an hour and a half slow-going … We had unwrapped about half the gifts for her before she showed any interest in doing it herself. And even then, she unwrapped them one strip at a time, tearing away small pieces of the gift wrap one at a time and daintily laying the strips on the floor.

When it was over, Phoebe had a new pair of puzzles -- one with trucks, cars and trains, the other with shapes. She had a new coloring book, some alphabet blocks, a pink Packers sweatshirt, and some items for her baby doll -- a milk bottle, a juice cup and a bib.

The grand finale was a Fisher-Price kitchen that Kates and I found at a resale shop during the summer. It was one of those fantastic deals we couldn’t pass up. … Between the phone that beeps when you press its buttons and the stove that makes boiling sounds when you turn the knob, Phoebe was utterly occupied for the rest of the morning while we ate breakfast and packed for our annual Christmas tour.

* * *

With a snowstorm sweeping across the bottom of the state, we drove into it to get to our first gathering with Kates’ father’s family on Christmas night… A roast dinner and gift exchange there, and we were on the road again around 9:30, heading to my parents’ home.

We arrived there around 11 on Christmas night, unpacked, got a decent night’s sleep. In the morning, after breakfast, Mom wasted little time getting us around the tree to unwrap a few gifts. The ritual was low-key and an oh-so pleasant contrast to the other gatherings … Phoebe got a small play house with figurines that can be set at tea tables. But her favorite toy -- perhaps her favorite of the whole Christmas run -- is the Fisher-Price “Sing n Learn Delivery Truck.” It took her little time to figure out every time she dropped a letter through a slot in the truck that the “A-B-Cs” started playing -- or there’s her name for it, the “A-Bs” -- and we rarely heard the end of it the rest of the weekend.

Saturday afternoon. We traveled to an aunt’s home for our gathering with my mother’s family -- all 29 of us, not including the 14 who were absent from this year’s gathering. Those gatherings are always rollicking good times with lots of food, games and laughter. … Phoebe entertained with her counting, worked up a sweat playing chasing games with Elliott, her older second cousin, and came away with a new doll to add to her growing collection.

Sunday afternoon. We headed to my grandmother’s house for our annual Christmas gathering with my father’s side of the family -- that one consisted of Great Grandma, five aunts and uncles plus my parents, four cousins and three significant others, plus me and Kates, and four great-grandchildren.

Three of those grandchildren were born last year within seven months of each other, which made the afternoon a little more interesting. Last year, those kids arrived in car seats and weren’t even crawling. This year, all of them were walking and talking and taking in their new surroundings …

And there, the family had voted to abandon a gift exchange in the spirit of the true meaning of Christmas -- spending time as a family and enjoying each other’s company and conversation.

Although, gifts were still handed to the little ones. Among them, each toddler received a snugly bath blanket/towel (See picture).

Sunday night. We headed to the farm. Phoebe was so zonked she barely stirred when we stopped to say goodbye to my parents and again for gas …

As we traveled the winding country roads, we watched one of the most beautiful sunsets in recent memory. The sun was a fiery orange glow setting behind the darkened trees that line the ridges and valleys. The snow-lined roads only added to scenery. Around every bend in the road, there was another landscape so pretty I wanted to stop the car, get out and take a picture. But I had to keep driving.

Soon we turned onto old Highway 58 and Kates counted the barns. The eighth barn after the turn marks our destination …

1 … 2 … 3 … 4 …. 5 … 6 … 7 …

We traveled over the hill and there was the old farmhouse, lit up and waiting for our arrival.

“Serenity,” I said.

Inside, the house was decked out for Christmas. The tree stood aglow, adorned with snowflake ornaments and wrapped in white lace. Logs were burning in the fireplace. And the stockings had been hung on the magazine rack with care.

Once we were settled, our final gift exchange commenced with Kates’ parents, Orrin and Kelli. And once again, we were overwhelmed with their generosity … Phoebe got a Mr. Potato Head and has taken more interest in wearing his glasses than anything else. She also got a talking Elmo doll and a crate of accessories for her new kitchen.

Like a lot of things throughout these last few weeks, this one has been a bittersweet Christmas. One for the ages, you could say. With the tough year our families have endured, and all the changes to come, every minute spent together, every memory painted seemed to be more meaningful … Which made the fact that I mistakenly hit a button on my camera and deleted all of the pictures I’d taken the last few days a whole lot harder to swallow.

Here’s hoping my mind can store the images a lot longer than my camera could.

Our four days of Christmas, by the numbers ...

Miles traveled: 285, roughly -- not including the 160 or so we have to travel home tomorrow.
Mountain Dew cans drunk: 4
Gift exchanges: 6
“Sesame Street” themed gifts: 4, including an Elmo doll for Phoebe and the 40th anniversary DVD set, which I had on my list.
CDs: 5 -- including three “Glee” soundtracks, two of which are duplicate copies of Volume 2
Alphabet themed toys for Phoebe: 3
Puzzles: 4 -- three of which went to Phoebe
Candy canes Phoebe snatched out of the family stockings when we weren’t watching her on Sunday night: 7


20 months

We have a 20-month-old now.

This might have been the most exciting month of Phoebe yet …

The little girl, it seems, is learning new words every second, and she’s stringing them together in three, four or five-word phrases … Several days ago I was escorting her to the back door, having just brought her home from the daycare. We were walking onto the deck when I dropped my house keys. Without missing a step, Phoebe said, “Daddy daubummed the kees.” (“Daubummed,” you may remember, means “dropped” in Phoebe-speak.)

She’s also counting -- to 10. … A few weeks ago, Kates was traveling with Phoebe when, out of the blue, she began counting. Kates told me about it that night while we were eating dinner, and again, Phoebe started counting to 10 -- one, two, wee, woe, why, six, deben, eight, nine, ten! And every night since then, we’ve counted on Phoebe entertaining us with her non-stop counting, clapping her hands to the beat of every number …

The last couple days, she’s even started counting to 20 -- sort of. After 10, she skips to debenteen, eighteen and nineteen. … We’ll get her counting straight through eventually. For awhile, she was skipping seven and nine, too.

* * *

For Phoebe these days, it’s all about repetition. She loves stacking her blocks into a tower and pushing it to see it tumble onto the floor. She loves playing with her puzzles, pulling pieces out and putting them back in repeatedly. She also loves coloring -- still -- which consists of her pushing crayons across the page a few times. Then she steps back, gazes upon her work, considers it good and flips the page to start the process again.

She loves opening and closing doors. Some nights we’ll catch her walking down our hallway just to close all the doors to the bathroom and bedrooms. Once all of them are closed, she’ll return to the living room to continue what she was doing.

Phoebe also can be found pulling her spoons from the bin where we keep her cups and utensils, and laying them in rows on the floor. When she’s finished, she collects them in her hand and -- starts the process again. She does the same thing with her diapers.

She loves watching “Baby Einstein” movies -- repeatedly -- no matter how nuts the dingly music and flowery narration drives me. Watching them has become so routine for her that she’s learned how to turn them on. She says “TV on!” and knows exactly the buttons to push on our TV, DVR and DVD player to begin her movies. Or, she says “Moo on” and “Tiger on,” referencing the animal puppets that star in each video. … I‘ll admit, however, the videos are a wonderful distraction for her. She’ll sit on the couch, motionless and watching intently, so Kates and I can take care of other matters.

* * *

We can converse with Phoebe now in ways we couldn’t before.

She can tell us what she wants with simple words like “no!” or “yeah” or “yep” or “ok!” Or with foods -- like milk, chicken, apples and crackers. She calls Cherrios “ra-ros,” and, one of our favorite Phoebe words is “na-ma-nae” for watermelon.

She’s climbing stairs like a champ. She loves twirling in circles until she's too dizzy to stand. She runs and she gallops through our hallways. And she loves climbing on the “big bed” to read stories before she goes to bed.

She’s growing fast, and there’s no slowing her down.

Closed past, open future

After more than seven years -- and a dozen years before that, if you count my schooling -- my career as a newspaper man is finished. … For now, anyway. I won’t say I might never return. After all, I’m still a media guy -- just in a different realm.

I finished my last story around 10 a.m. yesterday. Interestingly, it was a story about the pursuit of the American Dream -- going back to school, pursuing a new job -- and local residents’ hopes and goals for 2010. ... Deleting years worth of e-mails and reference material from my computer, and cleaning files from my desk, just felt weird, but I got that done, too.

The last several days have been filled with dinners and gatherings in my honor. At first, I didn’t want the attention, but Kates reminded me I had to enjoy it and allow people to express their good-byes … Last week, a couple of my baseball buddies bought me dinner at one of our favorite burger joints, and they presented me with personalized wood bat. The next day, a group of co-workers took me to lunch at a pizza joint downtown.

On Saturday night, we celebrated at our house with Jon Troast, and then there were multiple gatherings yesterday for my last day, including a luncheon with sub sandwiches and speeches and gifts and heartfelt goodbyes.

For years I’ve watched and listened to my cohorts give their goodbye speeches -- some railed against the company and served up rallying cries for our union. Others said little more than a thank you. For weeks, I’d thought about what I wanted to say.

I'd wanted to talk about how I arrived there just months out of college, and how I sort of grew up in my time there; I got married and had a daughter. I wanted to tell the story about how great of an impression the city editor made on me when I interviewed for the job, and how he was a big reason I accepted the job -- and then left the day after I started work there, which showed how much of an impression I made on him (Insert crowd laughter).

My editor gave a schpeal about how the company hired me seven years ago to handle crime coverage and hoped I would grow to take on new things and be involved in different projects throughout the newsroom. I did that, he explained, producing features and entertainment stories, and working on our short-lived Internet Connections desk. He concluded by saying the company wished me well, although they were sad to see me go, yada, yada, yada ...

When my turn came to speak -- pfeeeeeew -- the mind went blank, and the best I could do was talk about how difficult a decision it was to leave, and how much I enjoyed working there, and how it had become a second home to me. I offered thanks for the friendships and everything my colleagues had done for me over the years. And that was it.

Last night, we celebrated over drinks and free pizza with a party at a popular joint. My cohorts and friends, past and present made appearances, all of them having a special place in my heart and memories -- Laura, Deneen, Joe, Liz, Dave, Darren, Gary. Even the chief stopped by, and a sheriff’s sergeant presented me with a challenge coin representing my fair coverage of their agencies over the years and offering luck in my new challenge.

I was blessed to be surrounded by so many people -- especially while snow was steadily falling outside and the roads were slick with precipitation.

The conversation was wonderful as we discussed my emotions and outlook heading into my new life, and reminisced on past accomplishments. There were jokes about how I should have gone off script during my last Weekday Report and instead offered a timeline of my “greatest hits” … “December 12, 2004, police shoot man armed with knife …” A true story.

There were some interesting revelations. Like when Joe informed me I was being replaced by a pool of three reporters who were going to rotate covering the crime beat. Another came when Darren inquired about my new responsibilities and mentioned I always seemed to be a person frustrated with my position. I answered a simple “Yes.” He had said it all by saying very little.

Kates and Phoebe joined us eventually -- after I had to make a run to rescue them. As Kates was leaving the house, with Phoebe and her bag in tow, she realized she didn’t have her purse -- which had her house key and car key. Kates had locked herself out of the house … Luckily, our neighbor was outside shoveling and let Kates and Phoebe inside where they could try to reach me. That took some time, though, because I couldn’t hear my cell phone above the commotion in the restaurant. Finally, Kates called the restaurant phone, a hostess corralled me and Kates explained the situation -- forcing me to drive home to unlock the house and bring Kates and Pheebs to the party.

As our gathering was coming to an end -- after we’d spent nearly three hours swapping stories, laughing and chowing free pizza -- the good-byes were bittersweet. The people around that table have become some of my best and closest friends, and I have no doubt a couple of them will remain that way.

It’s hard to say good-bye, but the world is a much more mobile place now than it was 10, 15, 20 years ago. I can’t imagine not heading back to the Chicago area to visit family and friends, to take in a Cubs game and maybe make a trip to Summerfest. Cutting Chicago completely out of our lives seems unthinkable … Beyond that, with things like Facebook and Skype, now friends are just clicks away.

Then again, I suppose all of it is easier said then done. Just like I said I’d work at a newspaper for the rest of my life.

Right now, our future is wide open.


A living room concert

It's Sunday morning ... And life could not be more perfect right now, at this moment. Even this cold, gray December day and the snow on the ground aren't pulling me down.

Kates and I are sitting here at the dining room table. She's reading a book, and I'm catching up on e-mails, reading news articles and Facebook-ing on my Christmas gift. Phoebe is at her best, happy and content, scampering around the living room, playing with her blocks, her baby doll propped at her side.

"I feel like I should be doing something," Kates just said.

"Like what?" I asked.

"I don't know," she said with a laugh.

For a mere a couple hours this morning -- a rarity these days, it seems -- we're at peace and relaxed. Kates' winter break commenced Friday, so she has no papers to grade or plans to write. The house is clean and decorated for Christmas. There's no pressure, at this moment, to get something done ... Ask me about that again in another week when we're deep into holiday gatherings and preparing to load a moving truck.

Serving as the soundtrack for this state of bliss is the music of Jon Troast, whom we saw in concert last night -- at our house. He's playing on our iPod for the umpteenth time while I write this.

Kates and I got hooked on Troast last spring as he was beginning an ambitious "100 Concerts in 100 Days" tour during which he played living rooms across the country. An independent folk-rock singer/songwriter, Troast prefers to get his music out by playing in people's homes where listeners are engaged versus smoky bars where 50 or 60 people are constantly moving in and out of the door.

I interviewed him for a newspaper story, and Kates and I started listening to his music. We fell hard for his sound -- Kates called him the male version of Ingrid Michaelson -- and we signed up to host one of Troast's living room concerts. We couldn't nail down a summer date, but Troast had some dates open this month ...

So we scheduled a performance last night and invited some of our closest, musically-inclined friends to our house for a holiday party and "A Living Room Concert with Jon Troast."

We opened the doors around 6 and had a house crowded with good friends, food and beverages by the time Jon arrived around 6:45. Phoebe, dressed in her fleece Christmas pajamas and skipping from room to room, also was entertaining.

Around 7, we moved our guests to our downstairs den, which Kates and I had transformed into an intimate concert venue, lit with Christmas lights and candlelight ... Jon set up in a corner with his guitar and went to it.

He typically plays for an hour, but I think he went for almost an hour and a half -- and I'm not sure anyone wanted him to quit. I think it's safe to say that from the first song, our friends were finding as much enjoyment in listening to him as Kates and I have found the last nine months. ... The moment he launched into that first song, all I could think about was how amazing it was -- after all these months of listening to him on an iPod -- to be hearing him and seeing him live. There's nothing like that feeling, and it's one of the things I love so much about seeing my favorite artists in concert. And the fact that he was playing in our house ...

He filled the room with a fantastic cross of upbeat and mellow songs from all four of his albums. By the end, he must've played at least a dozen songs; I was having so much fun just listening to the music that I wasn't bothering with taking notes on a set list.

His set included the nursery rhyme-inspired "Dish And The Spoon;" the amusing "Living Room Tour" about his experiences on the road; a charming tribute he wrote about mothers he observed during his living room tour, "They Call Her Mama;" a touching song about his adopted sister, "Wedding Ring;" the sing-along fave, "Heaven's Got The Time." He also sang "Sunshine Love" and “Just Enough.” ... I requested one of my favorites, "We'd Be Good For Us," by singing the chorus in front of our crowd because I couldn't think of the song title. Jon took it and played it to perfection.

Listening to his music this morning, now I'm wishing I also would have asked for some more of our personal faves, like "Loneliest Girl," "The Longest Time," "Knock Down," "You're That Way," and especially "What We Become." Another time, maybe.

Jon filled the time between songs with stories about the music video he'd spent most of the day filming, and his experiences staying at people's homes and waking up to dog kisses. He took any question that we threw at him, mostly about his songwriting and recording processes. Kates also served him multiple glasses of water.

For the first half of the concert, Phoebe cuddled on my lap, nibbled on crackers and listened quietly to the music. Eventually she started swaying on my lap, and by the end she was dancing right in front of Jon with him graciously playing to her, too. (See the picture above from our friend Raechel.)

After the last song, Jon gathered us for a group picture -- something he does at the end of each of his living room concerts. We crowded his CD table, handing over cash for copies of his music and passed the discs around for him to sign. A few of us engaged him in more conversation, and learned some of his favorite artists are Coldplay, Norah Jones, Ingrid Michaelson and GusterSound familiar?

After the last guest departed and we said our final good-byes, Kates and I just looked at each other and smiled … and then couldn’t stop talking about how enjoyable the evening was. We’re still talking about it this morning.

It was a perfect night of great friends, great food and great music.


Early Christmas

Tonight, it is my great pleasure to share with you that I am blogging on a brand spanking new laptop!

A Dell Studio, complete with its LCD screen, built-in Web cam, high capacity battery and wi-fi Internet connectivity.

Can you hear the angel chorus!?

Kates and I have been desperate for new computers for the last couple years. We put it off and went for more important purchases until finally we couldn't wait any longer. With the big move coming up, we knew we had to get new operating systems that would stand up for high-tech communication; web cams were a necessity ...

So we caught a holiday deal and went for it -- one for each of us. They arrived on our door step this morning, and Kates and I were in heaven this afternoon as we started them up and lovingly stroked their keys -- just the two of us, while Phoebe was away at the daycare.

Now I'll be saying goodbye to my old HP laptop, my good friend and partner in the digital age since July 2001 ... For a few months she was the latest and greatest model, and I adored her -- until Windows ME turned into a dud of a computer system and it was replaced within a year by the much-improved Windows XP ...

When I bought the thing, I was naive enough to think that if I took care of her, I would own that laptop for the rest of my life... Riiiiiiiiiiiight.

Within a few years, the system had fallen so far behind other upgrades that I couldn't use newer music, photo or file-sharing software. My Internet browsers constantly froze, making any blogging or e-mail use a horror.

And even when I did install a Windows XP upgrade, it loaded up my system so much that any program ran at a snail's pace. My Internet browsers continued to freeze or they just shut down from any number of error messages. Some programs I couldn't access at all, even if I rebooted the system.

The fan sounded like a table saw cutting through a 2x4, and I bandaged most of the cover with masking tape because it was filling with cracks. For the last two years or so, every time I turned on my laptop I feared it would die on me right then and there ... The good part about that is it got me into a routine of storing very little on my hard drive and backing up everything.

Kates computer, meanwhile, was a desktop PC she purchased in 2002. It hasn't given us near the problems my HP laptop did. But it also has suffered from years of wear, and we feared it also was on the verge of a major crash.

Now, I'm typing away on a slick machine with a glossy, white screen. And it's so quiet I can hear myself think.

Two weeks in review

Forgive me for not posting a lot of substance lately … The roller coaster ride hasn’t stopped since “the announcement” a couple weeks ago. Although, this stretch has been much more enjoyable than it was in the weeks leading up to our big decision.

Suffice to say, I've got a lot on my plate right now --- it seems I can barely think straight ...

For one, we forgot our niece's second birthday. We bought her gift weeks ahead of time, and then forgot to mail it. I realized our mistake at about 4 o'clock on the afternoon of her birthday.

Last night, I took a Christmas card to our neighbor’s house and it donned on me when I got back to our house that I never signed the card. Left it completely blank and sealed it in the envelope.

* * *

I got my car repaired

The bumper was replaced, and the repairmen even took out a small dent on my driver’s side door that bugged me every time I stepped to my car. It appeared there within weeks of me getting the car brand new; some careless passenger swung his car door into the side of my car door and -- ding -- that dent appeared. For seven years, it’s pained me … Now, it’s gone.

The body shop did a fabulous job with the repairs. With the new paint job and the wash and cleaning they gave it afterward, it was like picking it up brand new all over again.

I wasn’t so happy about the time it took for the repairs. … I took the car in last Tuesday and someone from the shop was calling me at least once a day to give me updates on the repairs. On Thursday morning, the caller told me the new bumper had been ordered, and they expected to have it put on, painted and ready for me to pick up that afternoon …

But in the afternoon, I got another call informing me the wrong part had been shipped and the shop was waiting to replace the wrong part. A couple hours later I got another call that the replacement part hadn’t arrived, and the repairs wouldn’t be complete for another day … Which, in turn, meant I had to pay for another day on my rental car, which, by the way, was a smooth-riding Mitsubishi Galant.

When I finally did get to pick up my car, the guy who presented me with all the paperwork -- let’s call him the cleanup guy -- gave me this schpeal about how I would be receiving a customer satisfaction survey for the repairs and it was important that I give them “10” ratings on every question. “We want to see 10s all the way across the board,” the cleanup guy told me.

“Well, I would give you 10s all the way across the board, except for the timeliness factor,” I told him, and I went on to explain my frustration about the car not being repaired in the timeframe they told me.

The cleanup guy tried to reason that it wasn’t their fault and blamed it on the company responsible for shipping the parts. He suggested that if I didn’t give them a 10, then the repair shop was going to have to show that to the parts company and explain that their business is being hurt because the wrong part was delivered.

Um, ya think!? Isn’t that the point of your fancy customer satisfaction survey!? So I can voice my thoughts on the service!? … If you’re having problems with your parts vendor, then you better get them fixed.

All told, the whole ordeal set me back $722.01.

I so can’t wait to get that survey.

* * *

Earlier this week I had an assignment at one of the local high schools to interview five students who were participating in a finance exercise …

They were five great kids -- three girls and three boys -- who were easy-going and engaging to talk to. The chances I get to interview and interact with young people is one of my favorite parts of my work …

At the end of the interview, I asked the routine question, “Do you guys have anything else you’d like to add?”

“You have really pretty blue eyes!” blurted one of the girls, who had shown throughout the interview that she was a free-spirit, unafraid to say what she was thinking.

“Oooh-k, thanks,” I said and tried to brush it off while the others giggled.

Awkard? A little … But it came in a totally open setting, in front of a group of people, from an innocent high school girl, who clearly meant for it to be nothing more than an innocent compliment.

In a strange way, it sort of made my day.

* * *

I’ve been on a big Paul Simon / Art Garfunkel kick lately …

There have been so many nights lately on which I’ve come home and, in my search for some tunes, yearned for something that wasn’t too upbeat, and yet so mellow it made me want to sleep … Simon & Garfunkel fit the bill -- a perfect blend of rock-solid guitar and soft melodies that is easy on the ears.

Mrs. Robinson” is a great, great song. “Graceland” and “Sounds of Silence” are two great, great albums.

* * *

How sweet has “Glee” been the last couple weeks …

I think I speak for a whole lot of people when I say thank god Will finally figured out Terri’s fake pregnancy … Although, I never saw the intensity of their kitchen confrontation coming. Kudos to the “Glee” writers for going dramatic and not schmaltzing it up with an angsty pop-rock song.

Thanks to that “Mattress” episode, I haven't been able to get "Jump" out of my head … The “Glee” kids’ version of the song just might be better than the original, and filming that mattress video looked like it was loads of fun to do. It was easily my favorite musical number of the season …

Along with “Somebody to Love” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” from last week’s “Sectionals” finale.

And how could you not get giddy over seeing Will and Emma finally share a kiss to the build-up of “My Life Would Suck Without You” !?

Great TV.

* * *

My beloved Bearcats won another championship last weekend.


I was sooooo tired of hearing sports commentators call them the Buffalo Bills of Division II football …

Sheesh. How many teams GET to four straight national championship games. And the one they won last weekend was their FIFTH consecutive appearance in the championship game -- the only team to do so.

AND they won back-to-back championships in 1998 and 1999.

Commend the program already for its stronghold at the top of Division II football!

Last weekend’s comentators seemed to care more that Notre Dame’s new hire coached at Grand Valley -- Northwest’s opponent in the game -- five years ago than they cared to discuss Northwest’s storied history in the championship game.

About that game. It wouldn’t have been half as fun if it wasn’t another heart-pounder -- which seems to be the way the Bearcats prefer to play their championship games.

I caught most of the first quarter at home and my behind never saw the couch.

Northwest was steamrolling Grand Valley in that first half. Their first drive, for instance -- six plays, two minutes and, bam, they were in the end zone. Then, all of a sudden, it was 21-0.

That’s the way we left it as we loaded the car and drove across the state line to spend the afternoon with Ray and Leah and meet Baby Audrey. Thank gooodness for DVR; all I had to do was pray that we didn’t have a power outtage.

Fast forward to the third quarter and, bam, all of a sudden it was 23-20. There were penalties and dropped passes, and suddenly it seemed everything was going wrong. The nightmares of the past championship games were rearing their ugly heads.

Then, in miraculous fashion, Northwest turned a 4th-and-four pass play into a 26-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, and the Bearcats held on for the title.

When it was over, I breathed a sigh of reliefe and erupted in giddy laughter. Kates and I looked at each other and grasped hands in pride.

Now we could say we were moving to Titletown.

A Police Department Christmas

Here's a must-see from some of the guys I've covered and written about nearly every day for the last seven years...

A local Police Department's rendition of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." It was written, sung, acted and edited by the officers as a morale booster at the end of what has been a difficult year ...

They posted it on YouTube last week and it has all the makings of a viral hit. More personally, for me, it was an absolute delight to see these guys showing themselves in a different light than most people, including me, are used to seeing them. It's even more special for me considering I'll only be covering them for another week.

Here's my story ... and here's a local news segment on the video.

Here's the video ...


The Hot Stove

… So I opened my e-mail alerts this morning and saw this news about a three-way deal that would send Roy Halladay to the Phillies and Cliff Lee – CLIFF LEE! – to the Mariners.

Say what!? How in the world could the Phillies part with Cliff Lee, I thought. But the Post story does put it into perspective.

Some more quick thoughts on other recent baseball moves …

I was soooooo hoping the Cubs would land Curtis Granderson … but that dream was wiped out in a hurry. Damn Yankees.

I really like the idea of John Lackey wearing a Red Sox jersey … Though I’ll miss seeing him pitch for the Angels.

I was sorry to see the Brewers let Jason Kendall go … Then he signed with the Royals, and it turns out I won’t miss too much of him since the Royals will become my home team again in January.

I'm cautiously optimistic about the Brewers signing Randy Wolf … See: Jeff Suppan.

I’ll bet few signings this offseason please me as much as the announcement yesterday that the Brewers are keeping Craig Counsell. … Beginning with his earlier days in Florida and Arizona, I love the way Craig Counsell plays the game and the steady veteran presence he has in the Brewers lineup.

On the other hand, I let out a long groan when I heard the Brewers had signed LaTroy Hawkins ... Dating back to his failed stint with the Cubs, I can't remember anything good coming out of the times I've seen him pitch.

And Hideki Matsui in Anaheim and not New York? … That would just be weird.

Just nine weeks until pitchers and catchers report.


Christmas cheer

This video's been passed around quite a bit recently ...

But in case you missed it ...


Song of the week

... So my song for this week is Michael Buble's "Haven't Met You Yet."

Not for any particular reason ... Aside from the fact I can't get it out of my head, and hearing it makes me happy.

I heard the song and saw its video for the first time over the weekend, and it charmed me so hard I had to rewind the DVR and show it to Kates.

It builds with the bubbling romance between Buble and his girlfriend, and the scene of them dancing down the aisle under those blaring horns sends happy chills down my spine ...


If you try sometimes, you get what you need

Try this for a dream sequence ...
Kates and I were hiking through an unfamiliar wooded area and there was a wolf with a beautiful gray and brown coat walking alongside us. The wolf acted sort of like a pet; it wasn't hostile toward us and we never felt like we were in any danger by walking with it. But there was something about this wolf that just bugged me. I was telling Kates that we had to get rid of it; somehow we needed to lose it ... Then, suddenly, we came to a stream in the middle of the woods, and our only option was to cross it -- we just had to figure out how.
Then I woke up.

I had that dream in early October, on the night I learned about what I considered to be an enormous career opportunity at my college stomping grounds in Missouri. The job opening presented a new media role for me, working at an institution I love. It presented new challenges I was eager to take on and an opportunity to earn a masters degree.

The opening appeared as I've been feeling as though I've done everything I can here, and that the only way for me to grow is to move on -- even while knowing how tough it will be to leave a place where I've grown so comfortable and become so attached.

For years I'd scanned job opportunities that interested me, and I occasionally brought them home to Kates. Most of the time, she'd shrug her shoulders or shake her head; I'd file them away and forget about them ... But this one was different. Kates' face lit up as she read it and she exclaimed, "This sounds perfect for you!" I just nodded and knew what we had to do ... Seeing so many of my cohorts come and go over the years, I'd developed a rule that said I wouldn't apply for any opening unless I saw it as a significant growth opportunity and I was confident I could do the job well.

This new opportunity was exactly that. I knew I'd regret it if I didn't at least apply for the job. After that, all we could do was wait and let the process run its course. If it wasn't meant to be, we kept saying, it wouldn't happen ... What I didn't anticipate was that that October weekend -- which began with my dream -- would be the start of what turned into one of the wildest emotional roller coasters of our lives.

* * *

As Kates and I discussed my dream over breakfast on that Saturday morning, there was little doubt in our minds that the wolf symbolized the burdens we'd been carrying and the stream represented a major decision in our future.

Later that same day, we were driving around the city, doing errands when we stopped at a traffic light. We noticed the license plate on the car in front of us read: "Itll B OK." ... We both laughed and noted it as another sign. ... Then, at church on Sunday, our pastor preached about "Living Fearlessly in a Fearful World" and leaving our security blankets behind.

To say we agonized about this decision would be the understatement of the century. We discussed all of the scenarios again and again -- and again. It consumed my thoughts at work and our dinner conversations at night. We talked repeatedly about how happy we are with the lives we live right now -- our house, our surroundings, our friends and the close proximity to our families. ... But we also believed it was the right time for a move and that there is much more for us to experience and accomplish. In some ways, this process was somewhat therapeutic because it forced me to gauge where I was in my life and think hard about what I wanted out of it. Sure I'd miss the romance of working for a newspaper, and I enjoy the adrenaline rush of a big story. But I was sure I didn't want to be writing about crime for the rest of my life.

* * *

Just when the first phase of anxiety had subsided in early November and I started to lose hope that I would be invited to an interview, I got the first phone call ... So two weeks ago, I boarded an early morning flight and flew to a snowy Kansas City. I spent a day checking out the real estate, took a toll of the business makeup and got peppered with questions from two interview panels. That same night -- exhausted and whirling with questions about my future -- I boarded a plane and flew home to Milwaukee.

More agonizing ensued, and in the days after that interview it seemed as though the winds changed. During that first phase, Kates and I could barely contain our excitement for the change, but a flood of doubts began filling our minds after the interview. Is this really the right move for us? Is it worth uprooting our family? Can we really sell our house in this economic climate? How is all of this going to affect Phoebe? Is Kates going to be able to find a new teaching job?

Kates summed up the changing tide perfectly: The dream had suddenly become a reality. And it scared us.

It seemed every place I drove past or person I conversed with here triggered a positive memory. Realizing all the places and people we would be leaving behind made our decision so much more difficult. Our church family. Phoebe's day care. Our house. The library. My baseball league. Lake Michigan. Frank's Diner. The Chinese place we always go to for our Asian fix. The train. Milwaukee and Chicago. The Brewers, Cubs and Packers. Summerfest and the concert venues. The museums ... The list goes on and on, and we could include everything from our dentist to our car repairmen. We've really enjoyed the big city perks.

But Kates and I also had been looking forward to the charms of life in a small college town. Going to the football and basketball games. Taking in the entertainment and cultural events on campus. The recreation. A new church. The locally-based restaurants and businesses. Trips to Kansas City. New friends, and reconnecting with old ones. A simpler lifestyle.

* * *

Phase three began Nov. 24, when I got another phone call during which I was offered the position. The agonizing continued as we discussed all of the scenarios with our families over Thanksgiving dinners and sought advice from our closest friends ... Knowing our futures were at stake, the decision kept us up at night, made our stomachs churn and ruined our appetites for a couple days. Tears were shed, and on the eve of my deadline to make a decision, Kates and I went to bed thinking our future involved staying put.

But on Tuesday morning, the winds reversed again. Something clicked, and Kates called me at work. "We have to do this!" she said.

"Yeah!?" I confirmed.

"Yeah. We have to do this," she said. I sensed an urgency in her voice.

"Ok!" I said.

"Ok," Kates said. Both of us burst into laughter, completely comfortable with the decision and feeling the weight of the world lifted from our shoulders.

On Tuesday night, I gratefully accepted the new job. On Wednesday morning, I resigned my position at the News. And I will begin 2010 working a new job in Missouri.

* * *

All along, everything in me and around me was saying that we had to go after this opportunity. I'm a man who strongly believes everything happens for a reason, that there's a grand plan for all of us. I was finding the signs in everything from the songs playing on the radio or in my head, to the conversations I was having with friends and coworkers.

Kates and I had been counting on the Olympics in Chicago, but that fell through; Chicago's had a rough year ... Joel and Stephanie just moved to Missouri, and my father's looking for a job. Perhaps he and Mom can join us ... Even Big Bird decided to leave Sesame Street -- although he changed his mind ... And then there was this recent column from Joe Posnanski.

Throughout the process, I prayed for signs to lead me in one direction or another, and all of those prayers were answered.

We know the months ahead won't be easy, but we are prepared to do what we have to do to make the best of it. We've started referring to it as "a new adventure."

So I'll end this post with another dream sequence ...
It was night time and I was walking across a campus. I opened a door and stepped into a large building. It was pitch black inside, but I knew exactly where I was -- I was within the halls of my future employer. I walked up the staircase to the second floor and headed to my office. Once I got there, I flipped on the light switch, took my seat at a desk and began working.
Then I woke up.

I had that dream on the morning I was offered the job. It was then that I knew where I needed to be.


Crash landing

I've been riding an emotional roller coaster the last couple weeks that hit its highest point Tuesday night ... But we'll talk about that later.

On Wednesday morning, my high was marked with a crash. I'm fine, but my Little Green Machine -- not so much.

I had just finished making my daily run to the municipal building to check the fire station reports. I'd had good conversation with some of the guys there, and I had a skip in my step as I went to my car.

In my routine, I started the car, flipped on the radio and started backing out of my parking space. I looked to my right, continued backing and then looked in my rear view mirror and saw a blur of red flash behind me.

In the ensuing split second, I tried to put my put on the brake and hope that I'd avoid whatever I had coming. But there was a jolt, and I knew.

When everything stopped, I looked behind me and saw a red work van. The other driver and I got out of our cars, me looking at my damage and he looking at his. Both of us were shaking our heads in disgust. I had grumbled about not being more cautious, he called himself out for passing me to closely behind me on his way to a parking spot across the aisle. My rear bumper was cracked and scraped, his rear quarter panel had a dent.

For the record, I've never been involved in any serious crashes, as a driver anyway. But I've had a few minor -- and irksome -- fender benders. And this one was soooo not what I needed right now.

We called police to file a report. I had to take a drug test because it occurred while I was working. I filed a claim with our insurance company. And last night I spent a good 15 minutes on the phone with an insurance adjuster answering questions and providing my recorded testimony as to how the accident played out.

Today, while doing my daily check of police reports, I got to experience the joy of taking notes from a police report involving me.

As my brother told me yesterday, "No good news comes without some bumps, scratches or dents."

Now it's snowing and the weather people are calling for up to 6 inches. Great ... So much for my dreams of having a winter so mild that we'd get no snow.

At least this year we avoided a major snowstorm on Dec. 1. (See 2008, 2007, 2006 and 2005.)