Note From Jon


Monday, December 29, 2008

Plenty of Play(s)!

No matter how I choose to interpret my New Year's resolution, 2008 was wildly successful. So successful in fact that I'm not entirely sure what I should resolve for 2009. Between reading Crossworld, Wordplay, a visit to Stamford—former home of the American Crossword Championship, and my Christmas gift subscription to the Times crossword archive, I am tempted to resolve to submit a crossword to the Times. But I've still got a couple of days to finalize my resolution (and having two punny ones last year worked out quite well so maybe I'll double down). Do I need to have some cross words with someone (or rather let them have some with me?)... yeah maybe.

While our circle of friends didn't formally continue our tradition of swapping mix CDs, I did receive the fantastic ABCD 2008 (A.B.'s CD of course), and I will once again post my own year's soundtrack to accompany the photo slideshow above (or for the resourceful—and bored—to create your own copy of my CD). One of the few things that got worse this year was my internet access at work—they blocked NPR's Discover Songs—but I still found plenty of new music listening to KEXPlorer. As a result I decided to include only songs which were released here in 2008. I believe I succeeded—with one exception that I couldn't pass up.
  1. My Year In Lists by Los Campesinos! - A fun, poppy Welsh (despite the name) band that easily had the most appropriate song for starting a Year's Best Music List.
  2. Journey of the Featherless by Cloud Cult - My band and album of the year for 2008. They score bonus points for being great live, having two artists doing realtime paintings during the show, and printing all of their CD materials in a sustainable manner. They also offer great advice if you happen to be flying anywhere: "If you ask a goose a question he never shuts up".
  3. Too Drunk to Dream by The Magnetic Fields - Another phenomenal band that I didn't discover until this year. Their 69 Love Songs is a true classic, and this pick from their Distortion album helps inject some humor to this list (and irony, since I don't drink). In addition their concert was truly magnetic for my friends as we saw AB, Melissa and Chad, and Jon Wye (who makes great belts!). One final thing that makes them great? They wrote the only song I know of about my city, Washington D.C.
  4. Old Old Fashioned by Frightened Rabbit - Serious contender to take my album of the year from Cloud Cult. I'm psyched (that's relatively Old Old Fashioned slang now) for their show next month... except that it is the night before inauguration and getting to and from the show could be an adventure.
  5. I Love the Unknown by Eef Barzelay - Made the honorable mention list last year and released a great new album in 2008 with this track as a bonus from the movie Rocket Science. The chorus was stuck in my head at various times throughout the year and particularly memorably during my Century ride as I passed mile markers 70, 80, 90 and 100 for the first time ever.
  6. Inni Mer Syngur Vitleysingur by Sigor Ros - While I didn't take my Recession Vacation to Iceland like I considered, I did find the new more-upbeat-than-usual album from these Icelanders.
  7. Jocasta by Noah and the Whale - Perhaps it's because the vocals reminded me of another favorite band I found this year: Neutral Milk Hotel (they haven't made new music in a decade so I'm not including them but you should listen anyway if you don't know them)
  8. Lolita by Throw Me the Statue - One of two overlaps between the ABCD and my list. Some of their songs have a hint of The Postal Service to them, which as you'll see I am clearly craving.
  9. North by North by Faded Paper Figures - I found these guys in the last few weeks and their songs remind me even more of The Postal Service. Why oh why is there not a follow-up yet!?!
  10. Oxford Comma by Vampire Weekend - Overhyped? Perhaps, but it's a fun album nonetheless and this song was wonderfully influential in my life this year.
  11. Oh My Heart by James - The best show of 2008 (even sweeter since I'd waited 14 years to see them again). Between Flight of the Conchords, The Magnetic Fields, Bishop Allen, Cloud Cult, and James all of my concert dreams came true in 2008. The only problem is that I couldn't pick a song from their album. Frankly, I'm not a huge fan of any songs on this album... but amazingly I loved those same songs live. So this song is mostly here as a placeholder and I recommend catching them on tour instead.
  12. Now by Mates of State - I thought I'd remember this band mostly from the sadly humorous experience we had losing the tickets to their concert in November, but as I reviewed some of my favorite music this year I found I loved several of their songs (without realizing it was them). I'll be much more ready to hear them when they come back around... and much more vigilant about the tickets!
  13. Little Boxes by Persephone's Bees - Supposedly there was a Mates of State recording of Little Boxes from this year but I couldn't find it, but while searching I found this version... in Russian! One of many versions recorded for one of my favorite shows I found in 2008—Weeds—when I heard them say Krasnaya (Red) I knew I had to include this version... even if it was from 2007.
  14. Vanished by Crystal Castles - The second overlap with the ABCD marks the second half of my list where I am including individual songs I enjoyed this year without necessarily getting into the band.
  15. Taking the Farm by The War on Drugs - And someone accused an Arcade Fire song I played last year of sounding like Springsteen...
  16. More Bad Times by The Presidents of the United States of America - Yes, I guess they are the same ones who made Peaches and Lump so long ago but I really like this new one... especially because it's a cover from the under-rated Ed's Redeeming Qualities.
  17. First Sight by These United States - A local band I need to investigate further... especially since they also remind me a little of The Postal Service
  18. Say Hey (I Love You) by Michael Franti and Spearhead - Just a damn happy song by a favorite of mine from Def Poetry Jam.
  19. Sax Rohmer #1 by The Mountain Goats - With all the new music I've heard, these guys have one of the few sounds that I can always pick out.
  20. Tree Hugger by Antsy Pants - Can you tell I had a sickeningly sweet upbeat year? Get used to it (and check out the video link for the song)
  21. Write it all Down for You by Elliott Brood - One of the very few non-electronica songs to get a positive comment from Darren so it's got to have something going for it.
  22. Lost Coastlines by Okkervil River - Not much to say except I can't believe they actually started their show on time at 8pm... causing me to miss most of my favorite song: The President's Dead from last year's list.
  23. Where You Belong by Kael Alden - So I found this song while researching Faded Paper Figures. This was a side project for one of their day jobs for a Lexus commercial, but I really liked it so I'm closing out the list with this last favorite song I found in 2008.
Here's to 2009 finding some way to surpass 2008 :-)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

White Elephant leads to Airing of (rhymes with) Grievances

Let me just state that there was NOT an official theme to this year's White Elephant gift exchange (in fact a look at last year's photos should show things weren't any more risque than usual). It is possible the profusion of penis gifts was the result of the many happy couples (some of whom met at our parties) passing them along to the many eligible ladies in attendance—perhaps as a not so subtle way of letting Darren and I know that the matchmaking reputation of our parties will diminish significantly if we can't get more single guys out! While several have fled to the West Coast, we've still got a few locals who just failed to show up. However, as I think the photos will attest, no one's enjoyment was significantly diminished.

Special Thanks to:
  • Diana for reprising her role as the Cookie Baking Goddess, slaving away in our tiny kitchen to provide hours of decorating fun and desserty goodness (we're working on a new kitchen for you for next year).
  • Sara for taking Jan Louis' role as honorary Cuban and provider of rice and bean sides for everyone (and for cleaning up afterward... even without a Porcupine scrub brush)
  • Everyone who brought food, decorated, or helped with all of the endless tasks that come up during a party (and for keeping the regifting tradition alive for so many past favorites)
When it comes to posting photos online, I try to err on the side of... humor, so if you are uncomfortable with any of the photos of you on here please do let me know and I will be happy to take them down without harassing you... much :-) You can also find additional photos (and a few which I borrowed for narrative purposes) from Carmel and Brooke, or by friending Mary, Denise, or Linny on Facebook.

White Elephant stats and awards:
  • 43 Participants (though Darren's numbering may have thrown off the official count :-) )
  • Running time: Just about 2 hours
  • Gifts stolen the maximum number of times: ABs CDs, the Cookbooks and Apron, and I feel like the Ice Cream maker was stolen 3 times but I can only remember 2.
  • Regifts from White Elephants past:
  • Four Years: Joanna and Pete's Smiley Clock (a record)
  • Three Years: Sarah's Oklahoma guidebook with Candy Panties, Diana's photos of past owners (now in album form), Carmel's Personal Jesus
  • Two Years: Snow Job (after a year hiatus I believe), CharAnn's Boy Band CD (in the Lost and Found gift), Darren's Twin Peaks (which he finished watching just in time!)
  • Best Wrapped Gift: Sara for the "Cucumber" Pokey, though runners up to Ehren's Trader Joe wrapping and Candice's White Elephant logo.
  • Best Gift Combination: Perhaps the "Cucumber" Pokey as well, or Carmel's "How to Find the Love of your Life" book and Jesus, but I'll go with the Joy of French Cooking books and the Apron.
  • Best Gift for Photo Blackmail: The Cucumber Pokey could sweep these but I'm spreading the wealth. Sorry Kristin :-) Enjoy the Bachelorette Party Baking Tray
  • Most Illegal Gift: Ehren's Lost and Found Cellphone. Hopefully it has a SIM card to swap out.
  • Best Cookie Decorating: Candice's gingerbread Shark.
  • Best Beer Decorating: Candice's six-pack of ReinBeer.
  • Winner of this year's Lost and Found gift: Elizabeth (how did I not let her know ahead of time which one it was!?!). She got bowls, a jacket belt, a Papa John's pizza case, a Boy Bands CD, and a sippy cup, but lost most of the "good" stuff to Kevin who had left a bag of clothes and schwag with Darren after their duathlon this summer.
  • And the 2008 Gift of the Year: I still can't decide between the "Cucumber" Pokey and Candice's Holiday Sweater, so I'm taking bribes.
Notes for year 6 (should one or both of us still be in the house next year):
  • For about 50 people the 9 chickens cut into 8 pieces was about right, as was 12 cups of rice, the black bean recipe serving 20, 9 sides of Yucca may have been about right, but we should get more than the 9 sides of Plantains.
  • Santa stayed on the roof this year (through the party at least), but he needs his own timer.
  • The backyard circuit is the same as the one along the back of the house so run the front left off of the Santa circuit.
  • Don't have Darren set up the numbers (alternately it could be a fun new tradition to leave out 20-25 and have two 43s and 44s)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Feliz Navidad

In keeping with the Spanish theme (and Darren's 1/4 hispanic heritage) there was really only one option for this year's "Manly Craft Project". You see ever since we spent all afternoon putting out Christmas decorations five years ago only to have our neighbors out do us by simply tossing out two giant inflatables, the holiday competition has been on. While our neighbors proved no match for us, we have continued the tradition of adding some new holiday flair each year. The first couple of years it was always a new inflatable, but those became so common that it was time to create something unique. The result was last year's custom crafted Festivus Pole. In solidarity with Darren's hispanic brethren this year it was clear we needed a giant Feliz Navidad sign!

While it is looking increasingly likely that our time in this house may be drawing to a close, I'll make some notes to guide future owners who may wish to carry on the tradition...
Notes to Jon:
  • We need one more timer for the outlet upstairs which runs the rooftop Santa

  • The back circuit is getting overloaded but the outlet by Santa is separate so run some of the power to the front off of that

  • The 3M adhesive clips don't stick in cold weather and take an hour to fasten so find a day in early fall to put a bunch of them around the windows

  • The additional rebar that the Festivus Pole attaches to (or the tension that Jeff put on the rebar inside the pole) has fixed last year's problem of a spinning pole

Thursday, December 18, 2008


It was an improbable run—especially considering we still don't know how we ended up making the playoffs—but after four years in the league 60-Finger Sanchez won the volleyball championship... and we have the t-shirts to prove it!

We entered last week's match and saw that we were tied for fourth (the last playoff spot) with one other team. Our matchup was against the 3rd Place Buddha Pat while the other team faced off against a 2-19 team. We figured we needed to go 3-0. We went 0-3. And yet miraculously we had an email from Sportsplex the next day announcing that we'd made the playoffs. We can only assume the other team forfeited their 10pm games and we'd won the head to head matchup to break the tie.

In the semi-finals we faced off against the 1st place Block Heads. Thanks to the best all around team play we've had, we managed to win the first two matches to advance to the championship game (where we'd lost last season). Our opponents in the finals? Buddha Pat. The team we'd gone 0-3 against the week before. We lost the first game in a close contest, then opened the second game strong on a 10-3 run. But they called time out and rallied all the way back to lead 19-16. We fought back to win the second game and even the match at 1-1 to force a tie-breaking game to 15. It was back and forth to 10-10 and then they broke it open to get a 14-11 match point. We managed to win a long rally to get the serve back and close the gap to 14-12. Despite the pressure of a single fault ending our season, Sara served four straight points for us to take the decisive match 16-14... and to claim our first t-shirts. Did the mention the t-shirts :-)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Painting the White House Green and Red

Our holiday decorations will be unveiled shortly, but in the mean time I did get a chance to tour another local house making a noble attempt to spread holiday cheer (despite the glaring absence of a Festivus Pole). Hopefully this post won't hinder my chances at serving as holiday consultant for the '09 Obama decorations (I was careful to avoid molesting the portrait of Hillary).