This is a test by Jon Armstrong.

This is a test.

I love the holidays. Love them. The girls and I shopped for a skinny tree and Leta picked one with colored lights. I showed them the ornament aisle and they picked some great ones, including trimmings. Marlo’s favorite after the ornaments that were shaped like vintage lights from the 1950s was a 20 foot string of silver disco beads. Leta picked an insane garland with plaid (I’ll have to get one or two more because it wasn’t nearly long enough) and we decorated the tree while listening to Christmas music. It was a great time. Marlo didn’t break any ornaments and nobody wandered off. I’m hoping that I can show the girls this shot and we can have some fun in the coming days and weeks taking shots of each other. This is the first Christmas that I think Marlo will be excited for the presents. Not just excited Christmas morning because, hey, free presents! but excited days prior to the scurry down the stairs.

The colors and bokeh in this image remind me of bad Christmas LPs that my parents had at the back of the stack. They would creep forward starting the day after Thanksgiving until they were all rotated up to the front and since we didn’t have a proper shelf or rack, the records were leaned up in against a wall next to the stereo. The antique Victor Victrola Talking Machine had been modified to hold a modern stereo and the remaining slots were packed full of the lesser played and more highly prized discs in the collection. You can see images of antique Victrola phonographs here, here and here. I believe the model we have is the XE-XVI. My mom has it in her living room with the 1972 receiver she bought my dad for his birthday. I remember for Christmas that year or next, my mom bought my dad a Dual turntable and my oldest two brothers had to sneak it in the cabinet without my dad knowing about it. I still cringe thinking about the damage done to that Victrola to make a modern stereo fit. I just remembered that my dad had built a Heathkit tube amp and that was jettisoned for the one my mom bought. Which was transistor powered. Maybe they were still giddy about NASA and the moon? I would love to hear what that Heathkit sounds like today. Still, it was a cool stereo case and always a conversation starter for guests. I recall there was some furious jigsaw work to retrofit that turntable, a lot of very loud talking and storming back and forth to the basement. And then a lot of Brubeck and Erroll Garner was spun. And my dad was happy. I was banned from touching the stereo for several years, but that didn’t stop me. It made me treat vinyl like I was a Smithsonian curator. Do not harm the precious Kansas album or your brother will give you purple nurples other painful reminder not to touch the Kansas. I always wonder if the Library of Congress has mint pressings of Led Zeppelin II, etc. Detours. Christmas music.

Whatever version we had of “The Little Drummer Boy” ruined that song for me until I heard the David Bowie/Bing Crosby version:

How much pot, acid and/or coke was consumed by the producers of the special coming up with that duet? I’d guess the very perfect amount. It’s the only version I can abide. And only three times a year. Maybe four.

* * *

Affirmation: Don’t listen to the slaggy whores. Non-slaggy whores? Listen away.

  • Amanda Brumfield

    That smile is most excellent. Thanks for sharing your journey (gross) this year. You’ve helped me to remember that no matter how bad things feel or appear, giving up is not an option. Falling into a pit of self- absorption and pity is not acceptable. And most importantly, a well kept whore is a powerful thing. I don’t know what that means. Anyway, thank you. Rock on.

    • blurb

      You’re welcome. Keep on.

  • rspetersga

    my dad built a Heathkit receiver/amp and a heathkit TV too (from when you had to know how to solder – none of the newer snap together stuff). Unfortunately, 20+ years of being in the military, moving every 2 years, and weight allowances meant he gets rid of anything not used – so he got rid of his home-built Heathkits when he stopped using them. I still remember having to degauss the TV occasionally. I too learned to handle vinyl properly – by the edges only and use the discwasher – just a drop of cleaner – to remove the dust before playing. (He also got rid of his Dual turntable before I knew it, dammit – but I did get his Sansui speakers, though).

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  • Kristan

    Fun pic! Yay for holiday cheer. It’s good to see you smiling, and to hear it in your words. :)

  • Robyn Lewney

    Slaggy is such a fantastic and under-used word. :)

  • americanrecluse

    What a delightful photo, and I laughed when I got to this line: “I’d guess the very perfect amount.” Indeed.

  • Aero

    I’m confused by your affirmation and why you think it’s your best of the year. I promise I’m not being a troll, but it strikes me as pretty misogynistic, and that surprises me coming from you. Maybe there is something I’m not understanding?

    • blurb

      It was meant as a joke.

    • blurb

      Can you please explain how a joke affirmation using the word “whore” is misogynistic?


      noun ( pl. ironies )

      the expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect: “Don’t go overboard with the gratitude,” he rejoined with heavy irony.

      • a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result: [ with clause ] : the irony is that I thought he could help me.

      • (also dramatic or tragic irony )a literary technique, originally used in Greek tragedy, by which the full significance of a character’s words or actions are clear to the audience or reader although unknown to the character.

      – – –

      I was using the affirmation to portray the first instance of the definition of irony. Although your friends might argue that the third is more applicable to me. This entire year has been about moving away from dramatic or tragic irony and re-embracing the language of the primary definition. But as a regular reader, you know that already.

      Still, I’m confused by you reading misogynistic tones from the affirmation. Please do explain. I would hope you would be joined by your upvoters.

      • Aero

        Hi Jon. Thanks for the response.

        I take it the point you’re trying to make is that your “joke affirmation” is ironic because in the post that it appended you had written lovingly about your daughters. I…guess that is true? Which is why it seemed all the more jarring and offensive. At any rate, your affirmations have always struck me as earnest — maybe this is the irony you’re hinting at? I don’t know. If it was ironic, maybe it was successful, but it certainly failed at being funny, even if you meant it as a joke.

        I really don’t need to explain to you why the word “whore” is a misogynist word, do I? It’s derogatory and its negativity is implicit. So if I may:

        misogyny (noun):

        a hatred of women

        As I said before, I don’t think this is a fair descriptor of your character. I normally find you funny and thoughtful, but try as I might, I’m still a little grossed out by the affirmation. A rare miss for you, Jon.

        • blurb

          After re-reading your response, I think I need to clarify something. You said:

          “I take it the point you’re trying to make is that your “joke affirmation” is ironic because in the post that it appended you had written lovingly about your daughters. I…guess that is true?”

          Here is what I’m getting at: I’ve spent a lot of time this year writing serious affirmations. This affirmation is a joke. I thought by staging it as “my best affirmation ever” and then blatantly being over the top, readers would be able to see the humor; see that I’m not taking myself too seriously and that I’m doing ok. My daughters have nothing to do with the jokey affirmation.

          I hope that clears it up for you in terms of my intentions. I understand if you don’t think I’m funny or think the affirmation was funny.

          • Aero

            Thanks, I think I have a better understanding now. Happy holidays.

      • BeckyCochrane

        I’m a regular reader and the humor or irony went over my head. In different words, you’re saying don’t listen to the promiscuous prostitutes but it’s okay to listen to the non-promiscuous prostitutes. Which, I guess that could be funny if there was some kind of context, but coming at the end of a post in which you shared sweet observations or memories about your daughters and your mother, it was jarring. When I tried to figure out if I was being overly PC about the word “whore,” I exchanged the “slaggy whore” phrase for some other slurs and still couldn’t wrap my head around where it was coming from. Finally I just decided someone pissed you off and that person or people would understand your meaning.

        • blurb

          “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

          That’s what I was going for, but used stronger language.

          I have to say that I’m fascinated by all the comments around this. I’m not surprised about the different feelings, but the depth of analysis is quite something. Thanks for taking the time to share.

          • BeckyCochrane

            “Don’t let the bastards grind you down”: I use that a lot.

    • blurb

      Thanks for responding. Noted.

  • Pixelfish

    What’s a skinny tree? Is it different than other kinds of trees? *imagines an entire picket of bonsaied pines*

    I really enjoyed reading about the girls and would like to see a wider picture of their handiwork. I do think I miss the Xmas tree, but my husband and I have no way to store one in our apartment or anywhere to put one up. I miss relaxing on the couch and looking at the light bounce off the walls though….the whole way it warmed up a room.

    re: Music – My parents kept the living room closed off until we could all go in together. They would signal us entering by playing the Chipmunk’s Xmas album. I think that was as far as our family musical traditions extended.

    PS. Like Aero, I confess myself a bit disappointed in the affirmation for today, for similar reasons.

    • blurb

      A skinny tree would be one whose radius is smaller than trees considered normal. Help me understand your feelings around the affirmation.

      • Pixelfish

        Aha! I wasn’t aware that trees came in skinny. (Stifling impulse to ask if they come in tall and grande. Oh wait, impulse snuck through.)

        re: affirmation – Like Aero and Tornado, I felt it was misogynist language. I understand that it was shorthand for Don’t let the bastards grind you down, but whore (along with bitch, slut, and cunt) is part of a group of words used to denigrate women as a class. I understand too that you meant it ironically, but as with its cousin, hipster racism, ironic sexism still often promotes stereotypes and encourages a culture where folks feel free to use terms relating to women as an insult. I don’t assume you actually feel that way, but like using “gay” or “fag” as an insult, I feel that words relating to any class of person as insult are generally off the table, except for the class that wants to reclaim them. I hope that helps clarify.

  • Lilly O’Handley

    I LOL’d at the affirmation. This post was awesome from beginning to end!

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  • americanrecluse

    For what it’s worth (not much, I know) I read this affirmation as a reminder that every opinion is not as valuable as every other opinion. That just because someone says something to you, doesn’t mean you need to internalize it. “Consider the source,” as they say. And that is a good thing to know, and to remind oneself. So whether or not that’s what you meant, misogyny was the furthest thing from my mind when I read it.

    • Robyn Lewney

      I agree with you! Internalizing the words of others is something you have to own.

      • americanrecluse

        Turns out it was just a joke that went over my head (or possibly around the side). Ha!

  • blurb

    Thanks for responding.

    Still, it’s a joke. Maybe in poor taste, but definitely a joke.

  • Beth Rich George

    Honestly, I thought the affirmation to be neither funny nor offensive. Keep up with them, please. They are helping me probably as much as you. Going through a similar life challenge as you right now, only in my case the decision was a surprise as I had very little to do with it. I’m sad for you and Heather, but excited at the possibilities to come.

  • Pam Chang

    Usually your pictures are so serious. This is a delightfully different perspective!

  • Tenna Regnif

    Wow, interesting and such respectful discussion about the affirmation! Your affirmation has people’s “knickers in knots” as they say here in Australia. I laughed at the affirmation, it reminded me of my favourite quote from Joss Whedon, who said “Remember to always be yourself – unless you suck”. Happy Christmas to you all! :-)