Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Letter

(The following is our annual end of year letter which typically goes out in Christmas cards. If we missed anyone this year, here's what's going on!)

Hello again, Christmas 2009
You likely received this a little late this year, as the Foster family has become quite time impaired these last few months. It’s been a busy year, and just getting busier as we go.

Been a big year for some Fosters. In June, Zack graduated High School up in Washington, and now that we’re back in Arizona, has started his life as a college student. He’s pursuing a criminal justice degree as if it was a speeder in a red ‘Vette. Indeed, the Foster formally known as “The Boy” (hard to call him that when he’s 6’2” and 210 pounds) has basically become “that guy who lives in my spare room.” He’s also working and driving, and seems to actually be a productive member of society. Let me please take a chance to look at those who doubted us back when he was still in diapers and say, “ha.” He’s a good man actually applying his potential with the intention of making the world a more just place. We should have gotten him a Cape for graduation. Very proud of him. (Though around the house I still call him “The Boy.”)

Hannah has also gone through a transition since we’ve returned to the land of mesquites and paradoxically bad Mexican food; the younger Foster has turned 15 and started High School. Indeed The Daughter is currently attending her parents’ alma mater and even in the same JROTC Battalion in which her dear Dad was a cadet many, many years ago. Oddly, my too-brilliant, overly sarcastic daughter is taking to her military class very well, perhaps applying her love of Orwell to the idea that no one is safer from The Man than The Man. Wherever did she get the idea a snarky non-conformist with a sharp tongue could actually be happy in a military setting? Do you hear that? That’s my glee buzzer from when I see her in uniform. It is so good to watch her truly enjoy something in our incredibly poor public education system.

Speaking of education, did you hear I’m dating a co-ed? The Lovely Jennifer is not only getting her Associate’s in the Spring, she’s already well into her Bachelor’s! Now, the flip side to having a wife who is a smart, hot college girl is that she’s also a smart, serious college girl and her workload is staggering. I don’t know how she does it, but she’s taking a full class load and still keeping Zack, Hannah, and I out of jail and the hospital. It does mean shoving 26 hours into every 24 hour day, but she’s tearing it up and only rarely taking tension relieving swings at my head. All this while putting up with the fact Sierra Vista, Arizona has neither a Thai nor Indian restaurant. She is definitely looking curry deprived.

Dodging those blows has kept me fleet of foot however; quite helpful with my new hobby. For those who don’t know, my 37th birthday brought me the realization My Firm (which I do truly love) was trying to make me old before my time. So to convince myself I shouldn’t let the Army break me down I decided to run a marathon. Training is going well, with a target date in May. I am running about the 12 mile mark right now. Looking forward to June when I get to sleep again. Oh wait- I am starting a Master’s in February, so I will be joining the three out of four Fosters submerged in academia. So much for sleep…

And a sad note- we lost our dear dog Cleo this year after 10 years of her being the best dog in the world. A month before she died though she got to go on a big road trip and even ran with horses and dogs in Idaho. We miss her, but we know that dog lived her life well-loved. Her cat misses her too.

So, as we bid good-bye to 2009 and look forward to 2010, I don’t think we’re going to find all those hours we lost, but when we do finally catch up with ourselves, the future is looking… pretty OK. And not just because of that groovy new Star Trek movie.
Much love to you all, and as always we pray that next year be better than last year,

Daniel, Jennifer, Zack, Hannah and Patches

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Swift commentary on Country Music

Remember when this happened a little while back? I remember the outcry for poor little Taylor Swift, and what a jerk Kanye was for doing it. And indeed I too felt a twinge of pity for Ms. Swift who afterward stood on the stage in mortified paralysis like a 19 year old girl (which, well, she is). I had listened to her album before, and it hadn't done much for me, but she was a nice girl and all, so maybe Kanye was a jerk.

But then the more I thought about it, like a jerk myself I found myself chuckling a bit. Then it went further. Every time "Love Story" or "You Belong With Me" came on the radio, I would find myself immediately switching to NPR or listening once again to my burned CD of the soundtrack to "Streets of Fire" to keep from hearing her saccharine sweet warble. What was it? Why was the sweet young girl quickly climbing to a place of disdain on my list which featured such nemeses as Paris Hilton, Fred Durst, Julia Roberts, or she who will one day fall to my wrath, Celine Dion? Then it hit me- I hate modern country music, and Ms. Swift was the final step in the nefarious plot of Nashville execs who made me hate country in the first place.

You see- she's a "crossover" star; perhaps the ultimate. Country, once the refuge of real people singing about real emotion had since the late 60s been slowly morphing under the hands of Nashville producers toward the pop arena. Pop music in general is fluffy, non-offensive, fake happy moments as sung by pretty people. This was why legends like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, David Alan Coe, et al made a break for Luckenbach, Texas in the 70s. They weren't pretty nor poppy- neither were a lot of the classic Country stars. Once, Country stars looked like this:

Faron Young

Kitty Wells

Hank Williams Sr.

Patsy Cline.

Legends. Not pretty people. Now?

Jake Owen

Faith Hill*

Keith Urban

Sara Evans

That's what you basically have to look like to make it in Country Music today. Don't believe me? Ask Shelby Lynne:

This is Shelby's first album, "Sunrise," released in 1989. It's solid country. This is Shelby's sixth album released ten years later:

This is how Shelby showed up to accept her Grammy for "Best New Artist" for that album.

She broke the code.

Truly talented yet physically unattractive people aren't going to get far in popular music today- and country is going after that pop crowd. Look what happened when the adorable Kelly Clarkson went up (gasp) three dress sizes? Magazines, websites, etc. dropped the f-bomb: FAT. Pop music requires pretty and if country wants in, it must be pretty. Taylor Swift is that last step, getting completely equal play on Pop and Country Radio, crossover awards, etc. She's singing pop songs, made country firendly by nothing but a steel guitar. Is she talented? Somewhat, but she's no Patsy Cline.

But who's going to look better in this outfit?

Sorry Taylor, you're on my list with Paris and Celine. Go get 'er Kanye (though he's still a jerk).

* I am going to grant Faith Hill one small piece of reprieve; the song "Cry" is full of heart-wrenching emotion as the singer covets pure schadenfreude from the lover who jolted her. "Show me you feel a little more pain..." That's old fashioned Country right there.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Spin and Counter-Spin

So this greeted me on my Google homepage a few days ago. I draw your attention to the stories on MSNBC and FOX News indicated by my hastily added arrows. Same story, different spin, both inaccurate.

That, my friends, is what passes for news in America. Well, that or what CNN did, which was ignore it for a while...

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Just a quick update!

Letting you all know I am not dead, just dreadfully busy. I should be back here with some biting sarcasm and cool commentary soon, but here's some quick hits:

-Read Max Brooks' "World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War." Ken Burns meets George Romero in what is probably the most politically insightful book I've read in a while. Besides the obvious horror elements, Brooks does a great job showing how various governments and cultures deal with what is essentially an outbreak of a horrendous disease. Makes you want to get your swine flu shot.

-Read Cormac McCarthy's "The Road." Possibly the most poetically sad book ever written. If you have been feeling down, don't read it. It's fantastic, but yikes- a downer. Hoping to see the new Viggo Mortensen film version soon.

-Bought a Blu-Ray player in order to buy Star Trek in HD. That's really all I wanted it for.

- Haven't touched a guitar in a month, and my mandolin in about three. Must rectify this.

-Marvel Comics' stunning 1980s war comic "The 'Nam" is finally coming out in trade paper back. That makes me happy.

-Jack White produced an album for Loretta Lynn in 2004 called "Van Lear Rose." I am a criminal for not knowing this sooner.

Hope to catch up more soon... ready for some holiday time off!