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Choose Your Own Adventure Year


Choose Your Own Adventure.  These were in my library. There should be more.

Choose Your Own Adventure books. These are in my library. There should be more.

When I was a bookworm of a kid I loved to read books from the Choose Your Own Adventure series.  The books were unique in that at the end of each chapter you were confronted with 2 choices.  The alternatives would be things like, “to attack the dragon turn to page 10” or “to challenge the dragon to a dance-off turn to page 15”.  You’d pick an option, then read the results of that selection before facing another pair of choices.  Depending on the writer, if you chose the dance-off, you and the dragon might end up as Solid Gold dancers, or you’d be a crispy noodle in Chinese dragon stir-fry.


When I’d reached the end of the book, or the end of the sequences I’d chosen, I would go back and read the book again, picking the other alternatives (fainting goats/epileptic sheep).  Sometimes I would peek ahead all along.  Often a different result was better.  Occasionally worse.  Sometimes the alternative was just different.

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Erector Set Plane

erector set plane meccano constructionSaturday night, instead of going to a birthday party with friends, I stayed home sick and built an Erector set.  I’d never built one before, but received one as a gift last Christmas & didn’t crack it open until last night.  It was fun and not terribly difficult to build.

Invented 100 years ago, Erector sets use nuts, bolts, pulleys, and gears and I had the option of building 4 or 5 different things (that’s why I had extra parts left over).  I’ve seen some cool antique Erector sets at antique shops & almost picked one up once. I may do it yet.

For a long time I’d wanted to build one like the legions of children through the years.  It’s cool to think of this old cultural bit of playtime that included inventive and industrial components.  At least when I built mine, I was away from the tv and internet for a bit, so I do have some degree of self-control and completion.  Even though it looks like Frankenstein’s airplane, it’s swell and I’ll have to build another set soon.

My Family’s Christmas Rituals

he-man spiderman nativity

A special kind of nativity

We’ve reached that time of year where I shamelessly exploit my family Christmas traditions by noting that I’ve written a book called The Gentle Art of Starting A Cult:  A Do-It-Yourself Guide, wherein I compare certain family Christmas traditions to cult rituals.  It’s really all very harmless.  Ah, what fond memories.  < > Hope you had a great Christmas.


December Cruise

Cruise With A Mission Holland AmericaLast Sunday I climbed off a cruise ship after a fun week of rocking (and extreme rolling) and still felt the waves for 5 days afterward despite the solid stuff beneath me.  The cruise included a mission-y element and I met with some of my former college classmates and various church gang members as we traveled around the Caribbean getting our cruise on.  It was my first cruise.

The plan was to do projects at most of our ports (for schools, orphans, sick people, people needing new roofs, etc),  while we enjoyed the weirdness of life at sea on a fancy boat with an everlasting buffet.  However, because of bad weather (high waves and wind measured in knots) the boat couldn’t stop at the 1st 2 ports (including Jamaica), vases broke, & some folks got sicker than dogs.  Still, we were able to complete our planned projects in the Cayman Islands & did a few ad hoc things on the ship, so it wasn’t a complete foul up.  In fact, I really enjoyed my time and met some cool people in shorts who played Catchphrase in December.  I even got to climb a Mayan pyramid in Mexico.  That was awesome!

I might extrapolate deeper meaning from it all one day, but for now I just wanted to give a shout out to my Cruise With a Mission peeps.  So, hey.  Yo.  Miss you guys.  Merry Christmas!

And Merry Christmas to you, my fine goat-readers.

The secret phrase is motion sickness

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Christmas Album Favorites

Christmas with the ChipmunksAs you roast your chestnuts, drink your egg nog, and bake tasty Christmas cookies, you probably find it fun to set the rest of the holiday milieu by playing your favorite Christmas tunes on your hi-fi as you rock around the Christmas tree in your worst festive sweater.  I’m sure you have your favorite Christmas music and of course I have mine.  These are my 11 Favorite Christmas Albums.


My 11 Favorite Christmas Albums

andy-williams-christmas-albumby Jonathan Bing Perry

Whether you grew up listening to big band, prog rock, hillbilly, classical music, or some evil hybrid, you were likely exposed to some Christmas music at least a little each year and possibly relieved when the holidays ended.

Our vinyl record collection was crammed with Christmas music that filled the house for months and I grew to love it. It was the soundtrack to family traditions and youthful happiness.  I now have most of this music at my house and listen to it year round ad nauseum. To me, it’s like comfort food or anti-depressants. It hits the spot.


These are my favorite Christmas albums.


andy williams merry xmas album1. Andy Williams-Merry Christmas
2. Andy Williams-The Andy Williams Christmas Album

These 2 gems of the ’60s are fantastic, combining a smooth baritone voice with great big band-ish arrangements by Robert Mersey.Classics include Happy Holiday/The Holiday Season, It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, Sleigh Ride, and Christmas Holiday. Andy Williams had terrific Christmas TV specials where he sang with his brothers and the Osmonds on beautifully staged sets. About 15 yrs ago my family saw AW’s Christmas show at his theater in Branson, MO, and though he’s much older, he’s still sounds great. For me Christmas isn’t the same without Andy Williams.

bing christmas3. Bing Crosby-Merry Christmas
Irving Berlin’s White Christmas was the perfect vehicle for Bing Crosby, or perhaps it was the other way around. Either way, it was a perfect marriage of sound. This bestselling song even became a feature of a few Bing movies (including Holiday Inn & White Christmas). White Christmas is included here with 11 other Christmas songs rendered with Bing’s unmistakable voice. My other favorites are Christmas in Killarney, It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, and Mele Kalikimaka.  Who can resist the piano tinkling beginning of Jingle Bells?  (And, no, his Little Drummer Boy duet with David Bowie is not here. That came almost 20 years later, but it’s way awesome.)

britten ceremony4. King’s College Choir: A Ceremony of Carols, by Benjamin Britten
I was introduced to this Christmas Cantata when I was about 12 and sang it in the Waco Boys Choir with my brother Jay. In 1942 Britten adapted Middle English & Latin texts into a cantata setting for a boys’ choir with harp accompaniment. The melodies, harmonies, and rhythms are unparalleled. The recording I have is from Argo and it includes Britten’s ‘Rejoice in the Lamb‘ and ‘A Boy is Born‘.  This is one of my favorite pieces of choral music.  I’ve even messed with writing my own Christmas Cantata and Britten’s work is what I’m aiming for.

ed ames christmas5. Ed Ames-Christmas with Ed Ames
This is one of those albums we had on LP and that’s the only way I have it now and of course my record player is on the fritz. My favorite songs are The Ballad of the Christmas Donkey and Sweet Little Jesus Boy. I really don’t know much about Ed Ames, but it occurs to me that we had plenty of Christmas music by baritone crooners circa 60s (we never had Sinatra, though).

Other Notable Music
6. The Messiah, by Moe (CB) Handel
Probably most recordings will serve adequately, except for some modern-day renditions (read crappy 80s rockified/soulified). There are plenty of highlights in Handel’s most renown work, though much of it is essentially a collection of themes and variations with nutty ornamentation to show off how long singers can go without breathing. Still, there is a soft spot in my head from having sung it so many times and it has wormed its way into my life. Pre-puberty I sang the alto solo, O Thou That Tellest Good Tiding To Zion, at an opera house in Mexico.  A few Christmases ago I sang along with some of the other choruses when my brother’s church had a sing-along. The Messiah was the climax of the program and I was reminded how much I really do love it.

nutcracker ormandy7. ‘The Nutcracker’ Ballet Suite, by P. I. Tchaikovsky
Sugar Plum Fairy.  Sugar Plum Fairy.  Great delicate and mysterious music. Another total Christmas piece. Excellent stuff. Definitely required Christmas music.  The ballet can be pretty good, too, though I usually manage to fall asleep somewhere in the middle.  Something about extended dream sequences.   The classic album I like has Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra.

8. & 9. Music Box Christmas music
We had 2 LPs of Music Box Christmas music: ‘The Charm of the Old Music Box‘ and ‘A Music Box Christmas‘. These were both pretty cool.  I’ve always enjoyed the sound of music boxes and combining that sound with Christmas music makes something pretty magical.

10. Mannheim Steamroller-A Fresh Aire Christmas
Yeah, I like this one, too.  Part electronic gizmo, part elevator music.  The main dude is from Omaha, not far from me.

chipmunks11.  The Chipmunks-Christmas with the Chipmunks
Ok, I’ll throw a bone to my friend Roland, who digs the C-munks in an unholy way.  My brothers and I grew up with the squeakiness of Alvin, Simon and Theodore, and were pretty fond of the beasts.  My young nephew kept asking to hear it over and over 2 Christmases ago and we humored the boy at the risk of our sanity.

(One of my friends suggested I make a list of ‘bachelor Christmas music’ that might include Rat Packers like Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.  These guys seem like the appropriate martini bachelor types who would hold up the genre with aplomb and fit neatly with bachelor pad entertainment.  Oh, and Perry Como.  But I didn’t listen to them so much.  I’ll catch up with these dudes later and maybe next Christmas provide a comprehensive swingin’/chillin’ bachelor Christmas list full of Rats, Nats and Comos.  The baritone crooners I have included, Bing, Andy and Ed, will narrowly fulfill my bachelor-style music requirements for now.)

-What are your favorite Christmas albums and why?  Did any of your favs make my list?

The secret word is crooner.

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