Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Engaged!

So on Monday night I proposed to Amy, and she said yes.  It was one of the best things that's ever happened to me.
Although I talk about our day to day lives on this blog, I keep a lot of stuff private.  I just don't typically see the blog as a place for putting extremely personal stuff up on the internet. 
But this is our engagement, and it's been one of the most important events in my life up 'til now.
I love you very much, Amy.  You're my best friend.  You've already made my life better in more ways than I can count, and I truly can't imagine living without you.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Weekend, My Bike; Beginners

The weekend was good.
Thursday and Friday I attended a seminar at the capitol on substance abuse and mental health.  It was pretty informative, and I learned about a new and interesting mental health treatment courts that they've started down in San Antonio.  We'll see if anyone decides to pursue something similar up here.
Friday night after my seminar I went out and bought a bicycle.  I'm not sure what got into me- whether it was just the really nice spring weather or a frustration with my unusually slow walking speed or what.  At any rate, in my ongoing quest to try to remain somewhat healthy (or at least never move beyond my current "chubby-functional" physique), I purchased a bike. 
My bike is from Wal-Mart, and it's definitely not fancy.  Being a big guy, my primary concern with getting a bike was to try to get something that would be sturdy enough to support me.  At one point I had wandered into a bike shop with a friend, and out of idle curiosity I had asked a salesclerk what kind of bike might work for a 6'7" guy who doesn't exactly have a super skinny frame.  The sales guy immediately pointed me to a $3,000 mountain bike and told me that nothing else would work for me.
I was sort of discouraged by this.  I was interested in trying out a bike, but I only wanted to try one out.  I hadn't really ridden one since I was a kid, and I wasn't even sure I'd like it anymore.  The idea of spending $3K just to see if I enjoyed pedaling around my neighborhood seemed a little preposterous, especially when I knew that I didn't have any interest in becoming a serious cyclist in terms of either distance or off road riding.
So I went to Wal-Mart and I bought a La Jolla Cruiser.  It has no shock absorbers, and I basically wanted as few moving parts as possible, figuring those would be the things that might give out in a big guy/inexpensive bike situation.
Here is my ride.
"Well, you have a sweet bike. And you're really good at hooking up with chicks. Plus you're like the only guy at school who has a mustache." -Napoleon Dynamite


So Friday night I pedaled around the neighborhood a bit on the bike.  It was fun.  The weather was beautiful.  Saturday I rode around a little bit more.  I ventured out to the grocery store just to see how the ride would go.  Yesterday I got up in the morning and rode to Taco Cabana to pick up some breakfast tacos.  It was very pleasant.  Beautiful weather, and it turns out that I notice my surroundings a lot more when I'm on a bike.  In the afternoon I rode down by my friend D.K.'s house and around her neighborhood and then rode over through Sunset Valley.  I'm within riding distance of frozen yogurt, a neighborhood bar and grille, a number of restaurants, a movie theater, and at least two supermarkets.  I'm happy with my bike.  I'm still a little wary about riding in traffic, but I can get to a lot of places using neighborhood roads.  If I end up riding it a bit, I might upgrade at some point, but for right now it seems just fine.

In other, non bike-related news, I got up on Saturday morning and went to have breakfast with Amy and her friend, Heidi.  They went for a walk on Town Lake, but I just joined them for the afterwalk breakfast at Magnolia Cafe (I love a good weekend breakfast!).  After breakfast we drove over to Mount Bonnell and climbed up it for a look around. 

My climb to the top of Mount Bonnell was powered by some tasty
Magnolia  breakfast fuel
Saturday afternoon Amy did some homework, and I exercised.  We did some shopping, and then Saturday night the family (con Jamie y Ryan) joined together for a dinner at Hyde Park with our family friends, Barb and Paul Smith. 
It was really nice to see Barb and Paul!  They're from Upper Michigan, and they've been friends of ours for a long time.  It was good to have a chance to catch up with them and hear about their family.  We had the privilege of being with Barb as she tried out her first chicken fried steak (sort of a rite of passage here in Texas, right?), and Barb and Paul did an admirable job of selling Amy on the virtues of a trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (which is not only a beautiful place, but personally kind of special to me after having spent so much time there as a kid).
At any rate, it was a nice dinner, and we had a good ol' fashioned Steans family hang out with the Smiths.  Hope to see them again soon!
Saturday night we watched Beginners.  I enjoyed it.
I'd heard an interview with Mike Mills, the writer and director, on NPR, so I knew a little bit about what to expect.  Beginners is Mills's semi autobiographical tale about his father, who comes out of the closet after the death of his wife after 45 years of marriage.  The protagonist's father stays faithfully married to his wife, but they have a strained relationship, and having only recently embraced his sexual orientation in the latter years of his life, he sort of leaps out of the closet after his wife's death in one colossal bound.  Sadly, soonafter he develops terminal cancer and eventually dies (these technically aren't spoilers because the movie takes place in a nonlinear style, so you know a lot of this stuff very early on).  Oliver, Mills's fictional stand in, struggles to digest the lessons learned by the final, fulfilling years of his father's life, and to incorporate those lessons into a new relationship.
The movie, while dealing with some pretty heavy subject matter, mostly manages to avoid excessive sentimentality, and, at times, is pretty darn funny.  The nonlinear narrative structure, including the death of the father foretold at the outset, steers the film toward introspection and away from simple emotional reactions.
I liked it.  It's a movie that depicts a certain form of courage and heroism, and I found it kind of intriguing (although I'll admit that having heard Mills's short NPR interview beforehand somewhat contributed to my enjoyment).  As I get older I have more and more appreciation for stories of bravery that don't involve machineguns, spaceships, or ninjas (although I still love machineguns, spaceship, and ninjas).      

On Sunday I got up and rode my bike to get some breakfast tacos.  Then we went to church.  Then I ran to the store.  After that I took a big ol' long bicycle ride to scope out places some possible future biking destinations.  After that I mostly just hung out with Amy for a while. 
For dinner Amy made some kind of very delicious tacos (they were in the slow cooker all afternoon, so I was dying to try them by evening).  They were called tinga, and they were great, and I hope they return (we still have leftovers, so I'm good for now).  Amy has gotten really good at cooking Mexican food, and a lot of it is actual Mexican food and not Tex Mex, so it's tasty, but it's not the normal Tex Mex cheese pile (although I still do love the Tex Mex, but, you know, it'll kill you if you let it).  Amy also has a recipe for chilaquiles that I love, and other things as well (she's also good at other kinds of food, but the Mexican thing has just been sort of unexpected).
Other from that, we just sort of chilled out.  I played some of the Batman: Arkham City game that Amy got me for my birthday, and she helped me out when I got to some hard parts.  It's a really cool game.  Amy likes watching me play it sometimes because she says it's like watching a movie.  Nice artwork.

And that's it!

It was a great weekend!  Hope the weather holds up for the next one.

Peace to all of you guys.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Phantogram

When we saw them at the Mohawk, they didn't have enough vocals in the mix. But the bass punched through your chest.  I want to see them again.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Burfday Weekend

Howdy.  Hope everyone is doing okay!
So the St. Patrick's Day/SXSW/birthday weekend was pretty good!  After work on Wednesday I joined a couple of friends and went to see a little bit of SXSW music downtown.  We ended up going to the KEXP showcase at Mellow Johnny's bike shop.  A bicycle shop sounds like a pretty weird place to hear live music, but it was actually pretty cool.  They have a big ol' warehouse style space, and when you clear out some of the bikes, add a small stage, a set up a decent PA system, the whole thing sort of works.
Wednesday we saw a guy named Alan Stone.  He's an awkward, skinny, white kid who sings soul and R&B.  That sort of description might raise an eyebrow or two among the cynics out there, but he actually has a really good voice, and he performed with a lot of energy and enthusiasm.  If you like the R&B/soul singer type thing, he's definitely worth a listen..

He might not be what you expect, but Alan Stone makes
the ladies wanna cry
You rarely think of a Wedding Present being found
in a bicycle shop


On Friday I got up an worked out and went to go see a little more music while Amy worked on school stuff.  I saw The Wedding Present, once again at Mellow Johnny's.  They're an indie rock group out of England, and they've been around a long time.  I enjoyed them.  Just a good, solid rock band with decent lyrics and some catchy tunes.



After The Wedding Present I just sort of floated down West Sixth Street a little bit listening for music.  Ran into a friend at Dogwood (McCrimmon), and hung out to watch Mike and the Moonpies.  They were good, and for some reason the people at the the bar gave me two free beers. Funny how the little things end up really making you happy.

The really weird thing is that this is not the first band that
I've known about that was named after moonpies and had a guy named Mike in the band (see
Operation Moonpie Face Destroy)
After listening to a little more music on 6th I wandered home in time for Amy to be finishing up on her homework so we could go to the movie.
We went to see John Carter.  I know that the movie has gotten some pretty mixed reviews, but I rather enjoyed it.  Of course, the movie is based on a book from 1912, so it's heavy on fantasy and fairly short on the science part of science fiction, but it's a really fun ride.  I'm not sure why people were so quick to bash on it in their reviews (well, the studio ended up spending a ridiculous amount in making this movie, so people had high expectations, but that's really more of a fanboy criticism, and I couldn't care less).
Anyway, Amy and I both enjoyed the movie.  Seemed like a nice fit for Spring Break.
Thursday night we went out to dinner at Curra's with Ryan and Jamie.  It was really nice to do some birthday celebrating with them.  We had some margaritas, ate some Mexican food, and talked about life, work, family, and the chaos of SXSW.  Seems like all of our schedules have been a bit busier lately, so it was nice to get a chance to hang out!

On Friday we drove over to Houston to hang out and see some friends.
We got to town and went to the Museum of Natural History to see an exhibit that was filled with recovered artifacts from The Titanic.  It turned out to be a really impressive experience.  The items that were recevored were curated and presented in a way that really sort of drove home the story and the tragedy of the Titanic disaster.  The exhibit did a good job of conveying both some of the most impressive features and grandeur of the ship (the luxury in first lcass was ridiculous, and it's crazy to hear about how much fuel the ship consumed) as well as personalizing the stories of the less affluent passengers who had scraped together enough money to book a third class ticket.
I guess that a lot of us have seen Cameron's film by this point, but the exhibit made the whole experience just seem much more real (the roance and adventure of the movie, in a way, sort of detracts from the fact that the real story of the Titanic was one about peope just livign out their everyday lives).
Also, the exhibit contained some background on the challenges presented by recovering artifacts from a ship that's resting under two miles of ocean, and that was extremely interesting to hear about as well.

(don't really wanna guess how many times we've
repeated this scene in various bars over the years)
(Amy and I with Richard and Joy.  Cops apparently don't take
the best pictures, but you don't really want to
criticize their efforts too much...)
On Saturday night we met up with my friends Lee and Richard, and their respective wives, Sarah and Joy.  I've known Lee since sixth grade, and Richard and Sarah since my college, and they're some of my oldest, bestest friends (I met Joy more recently when she started dating Richard after college, but she's pretty great, too).
Anyway, we had dinner at a Vietnames place called Mai's and drinks afterward and did a lot of catching up.  Amy got to meet everyone, and everyone got to meet Amy, and that was really nice for me (and for everyone else, too, I think!).
It was just a really nice birthday moment for me.  All of these people have been and continue to be important people in my life, so I couldn't really think of a better way to lead my way into my 40th year (gulp!!).







On Sunday we went to the Fine Arts Museum.  We walked through a good part of the museum and visited the King Tut exhibit.  The King Tut exhibit was also very cool.  They did a good job of explaining and describing the statues, jewelry, etc., etc..  It's always amazing to me to look at these things, many of them over 3,000 years old, and imagine people using them.  What amazes me is the intersection between strangeness and familiarity in the different cultures over huge stretches of time.  On the one hand, the Egyptians were firmly committed to belief in an afterlife that allowed for a large number of dieties, potential godhood for the ruling class (achieved through the establishment of funerary cults), continued possession of material goods, and living bribes that would allow a person to avoid forced labor after death.  Egyptians built temples and founded longstanding, self-serving worship societies to satisfy these beliefs.  These sorts of things seem pretty alien.
On the other hand, sitting their looking at their necklaces, sandals, earrings, jewelry boxes, beds, and toilet seats, it's also easy to feel like many aspects of the fundamental human experience haven't changed much over thousands of years.  We pride ourselves on our computers and our knowledge of quantum mechanics and our allegedly evolved sense of justice and human rights, but people are still people.  We still want to find a way to live forever (be it in the Egyptian afterlife or Christian heaven or the binary world of the singularity) and we still put on our sandals one foot at a time.
Anway, the King Tut exhibit was good.
When we were done with the museum we drove around the Rice University area a bit so Amy could see a touch of Houston, and then we came home.
Sunday we shopped and exercised and relaxed.
Really, really good birthday weekend!!!
Hope that all of you have also been doing well.




Monday, March 12, 2012

The Weeknd; ATX & The Golden Age

The weekend was good, although kind of weird.  Amy went to Phoenix to visit her family this weekend, and when she's gone I not only miss her but get a little disoriented and discombobulated.  She flew out Thursday. 
Friday I went to dinner with my parents and my family for a little informal celebration of Mom's birthday. 
It was a nice dinner.  We went over to Brick Oven, and Ryan, Jamie, Susan, Ciara, Mom, Dad, and I all managed to brave some pretty serious rain in order to spend some time together.
On Saturday I ran a couple of errands and exercise, and then Dad come over and we hung some new closet doors in my spare room.  The job ended up being a bit more challenging than either of us initially realized, but it turned out pretty well in the end.  We had a good time hanging out and doing a manly home improvement project (even if we struggled with it a wee bit).

Saturday night I had dinner with my parents and we ordered up Midnight in Paris to watch on cable.  I really enjoyed the movie.  I really hadn't read a whole lot about it, and if it was meant to be a profound piece of art, I'm not sure it succeeded on that level, but as a piece of witty, escapist entertainment with a charming message, I thought the movie was a good one.
I don't mean to give away too many spoilers, but one of the main themes of Midnight in Paris deals with the idea of "The Golden Age"- the perhaps somewhat romantic notion that some other, earlier, period in history was the "best" era to live in.  Midnight in Paris explores the idea of a golden age by following its protagonist, Owen Wilson's Gil, as he magically travels into the Paris of the 1920s, meeting many of its greatest writers and artists as he goes.
After the movie I ended up talking with Mom and Dad a bit about the idea of a golden age and about whether there there might have been other time periods that we'd prefer to live in as opposed to our own.
As I was driving home later I couldn't help but think about the fact that an awful lot of the satisfaction or dissatisfaction that people feel in terms of living through any particular period in time must come not only from the actual years a person is experiencing, but also the location in which their life is taking place.  The movie, of course, references this indirectly through the fact that the film takes place entirely in Paris, but it doesn't really discuss the fact that life in other parts of the world during the 1920s probably wouldn't be considered a "golden age" by almost anyone's standards (Germany, in fact, experienced an economic downturn and a growing fear of Russian communism in the 1920s that helped to fan the flames of its developing fascist movement).  In Paris, though, a center of cultural and social achievement,its easier to see how a person might have more easily come to the belief that the 1920s truly consituted a golden age.

These thoughts, in turn, got me thinking about our the age that we currently live in and about the city in which I currently reside.  More specifically, thinking about a golden age and the idea of "right place- right time" made me very thankful to have been living in Austin over the last couple of decades.  I don't think that this sentiment is merely a byproduct of having spent the majority of my life here.
If you're looking at America over the last twenty years or even the world in general, Austin hasn't been a bad place to be.  In the midst of a very bad recession, we've managed to weather the storm pretty well (our houses still have some value, our unemployment rate isn't horrible, and our cost of living- while higher than some other places- isn't nearly as high in many places on the west and east coasts).  Other places have entire neighborhoods full of homes that are underwater (in some cases abandoned due to foreclosures), but Austin has suffered only a relatively mild donwturn thus far.
We're a city that has been heavily invested in technology and computers since at least the 1980's, riding a wave of revenue and affluence fostered by electrical engineering, computer programming, and technological innovation.  We've experienced varying levels of success for decades now, some times stronger than others, but it's bee a long time since we really experienced failure.  We've had some ups and downs, but even our downs have left us faring relatively well in comparison to many parts of the country.
We have a well educated population.  We have a large number of highly educated people coming out of The Univeristy of Texas and other universities, and our technology industry has drawn a workforce to the area which is highly skilled and trained.
We have some culture.  We host music events, book festivals, art exhibits, film festivals, etc.  The Austin City Limits Festival hosts around 70,000 people for three days of music each year, and people fly in from all over the country and world to attend South by Southwest for both the music festival and the film/interactive/digital conference.  We've got our priorities straight, and to prove it we put the new Austin City Limits Music venue in one of the most prime pieces of real estate available- in downtown Austin, right across from city hall, in a space adjacent to W Hotel. 
We have marathons, bike races, hot sauce competitions, and hippie laden birthday parties for fictional Winnie-the-Pooh characters.   
People row boats on Town Lake (pardon me- Lake Ladybird), run on the greenbelt, climb on the rocks, and float in Barton Springs.
We two step to country, snap our fingers to jazz, shake our fists at rock, and stand cross armed, swaying slightly for our emo.
We have crazy lots of restaurants, new ones constantly opening and unusccessful ones failing at a rate that makes it hard to keep up with them all.  Chefs are moving here and trying out their skills, and the populace seems more than willing to give them a shot.  We love food.  We love to talk about food.  Many of us like to make food.  Central Market and Whole Foods both got their start here.
We have microbreweries and dogs parks and food trailers and....
It all wears me out.

But there have been moments, maybe standing out on the Zilker Park hill with the skyline in the background listening to good music during ACL Fest, or stepping out into the night with Amy on the balcony at the Moody Theater after a really great Wilco show downtown, when I would have been very hard pressed to think of another place and time where I'd rather be.
And I feel lucky for that.   Incredibly lucky.  I must not take that for granted.  You live only once, and I'm incredibly fortunate to be in the place where I am in the time that I'm living through, surrounded by some really great people.

I'm not sure whether this is the golden age, but Austin, Texas, in 2012 will do just fine.





Oh yeah.  The rest of the weekend?  Sunday I rocked out.  Had one or two drinks with Reed and did some catching up.  It was good.
Sorry about my rambling.

The end.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Radiohead

So on Wednesday night we went to see Radiohead.
Radiohead is way cool.  They have a really unique sound.  Many people have tried to imitate them, but the other bands are always a couple of steps behind.  Their music isn't always easily accessible, but it blends electronic and acoustic instruments together in really interesting ways, always keeping an eye toward songwriting and emotional resonance.  They have a lot of different instruments and gadgets on stage with them, but I always feel like the sounds and the effects are well utilized in service to the tunes as opposed to some other bands that put technology and gimmickry before songwriting.
All of that being said, Radiohead isn't always easy to listen to.  They have a lot of noise and sounds in their music, but, like I said, it almost always serves a purpose.  Static and clicks morph into driving rhythms.  Screeching feedback resolves into haunting, beautiful melodies.  Songs appear within songs.  The lyrics conjure themes of alienation and confusion, and for a generation of fans who have come of age during an era when digital communication has supplanted many traditional forms of social interaction, the technology infused music drives the lyrical themes home. 
For listeners who are willing to spend the time to really listen, Radiohead is a richly rewarding band.
At any rate, the show was good.  Radiohead creates extremely well produced, complex studio albums, but they also do a great job of recreating their sound live on stage without relying too much on clicktracks or samples (those things are present at moments, but the band is willing to drag whatever instruments and gadgets they need onto the stage in order to recreate their songs without relying heavily on prerecorded material).
So really good show.  I had a good time with Amy and my friend, Ken, who joined us (Ken did not get a photo because Ken showed up later, right before it got dark). 
The Erwin Center still isn't my all time favorite music venue (it's just an old school arena with the usual echoey acoustics), but the concert sounded decent, and  Radiohead had a lights show that took advantage of the arena setting and kept things lookin' cool.
Anyway, good concert.  I remain convinced that Radiohead is a band that remains symbolic of its time.

Monday, March 05, 2012

The Weekend

The weekend was good.  On Friday night Amy made dinner (it was some really good pasta, but I've been told I talk about food too much on this blog) and I went to see a late night screening of Dune at The Ritz Alamo Drafthouse with Ryan.  I had a good time.  I hadn't seen that version of Dune in quite a while (more recently I've watched the television miniseries a couple of times).  It was just as strange as I remember.  I definitely think there's still room out there for someone to make a different movie version of Frank Herbert's novel (one that emphasizes the universal human traits that appear in the book as opposed to Lynch's focus on its alien qualities and strangeness), but I think that the 1984 version is a really interesting one.
Saturday I just hung out with Amy, and we had a really nice day.  We went to breakfast, ran some errands, and went to see The Artist.
I liked The Artist.  Not exactly the best movie I've ever seen, but I liked it (I'm still a sucker for great dialogue).  It was a good idea for a movie, and I thought that it was extremely well executed.  It would be easy to dismiss the movie as gimmicky (why make a silent movie in the modern era?), but I thought that the movie's style actually served the theme and story of the movie very well.  If you're going to make a movie about the transition from silent movies to talkies (or, on a broader level, about anxieties regarding human adjustment to new technologies), what better way to present that theme than through a mostly silent movie which has, in the end, the ability to transcend the medium that it represents?
Also, it was just impressive to see some modern day actors put to the task of expressing themselves without words.  And there was a cute doggie.
I'm not ready, by any means, to see an onslaught of silent movies, but I thought that The Artist had a message to convey that made its silence a little more than a cheap trick.

On Sunday we went to church.  Then we tried to go to the kite festival, but it was a zoo, so we split.  Instead, we sat outside at Homeslice and had a couple of slices of pizza.  Beautiful day.  Had a really nice time having lunch with Amy.
Last night I had Mono Ensemble practice, and we rocked out.
And that was it.

Really nice weekend.  I love Austin in the spring.

Belated Happy Birthday to Mom!

Well, I didn't make this post yesterday because I just really wasn't on the computer, but yesterday was Karebear's birthday, so happy belated birthday to her!  (and yes, I called her, so no, I didn't forget!)
She's been up in Tennessee visiting some family friends, and it sounds like she had a nice day with them, so that's really good.

Yesterday was also Jeff Wilson's birthday.  I still miss him.

Well, maybe a bit more later.  I have to run!
Happy birthday, Mom!!!  I love you!!

Friday, March 02, 2012

Three Prisoners

So this is another Wastewood song. I wrote it, and Reed and I performed it (well, Reed, of course, wrote his own drum part).  On this song I ventured into the dangerous world of met-ee-for.
It's about some people I know (and like!) who I thought were just sort of getting disconnected from the world and losing themselves in their own heads.  Maybe I was being a little dramatic about things, but I was trying to write a song, after all...