Monday, August 27, 2012

The Weekend

Well, the weekend was pretty good.  Amy's back in town, so, of course, that helped to make it better.

Friday night we went over to go play games with friends.  We ended up playing Modern Art and Ra.  They're both auction/bidding games.  Somehow Amy and I actually ended up moving out of our traditional last and second to last places this Friday.  Is it coincidence that Amy did so well in a game that essentially involved strategic shopping?  Hmmm... ;-)
Anyway, we had a good time, as always, at game night.  We both really enjoy it.  Thanks to Reid, Jim, and Ben for having us.


On Saturday our friend Jaci came over, and we all rode out to Blanco State Park together to meet up with another friend, Heidi.  Heidi is moving to Lubbock soon to work in the Texas Tech library system, so this was a last chance to hang out this summer before she heads for life up on the caprock.
Blanco State Park was nice.  The weather was very agreeable, the park wasn't at all crowded, and it was nice to float in the river and just relax.  We swam a bit, laid out in the sun, and had a picnic lunch with sandwiches and watermelon and hummus (and oh yeah- Jaci brought Nutella.  How have I not tried this stuff before?!  It tastes way too good to be good for you...)
Our trip to Blanco turned out to be a really pleasant way to spend a Saturday.  Nice place and good company.  We need to get out into the hill country more frequently.
Saturday night Amy made a dish that had rice and chicken and peppers.  It was good.  Afterward we watched Back to School.  I'm not exactly sure why it was so important to me that Amy see this movie, but for some reason I really wanted her to check it out.  It's still pretty funny, and I think she enjoyed it.  At any rate, now Amy will be able to recognize the Triple Lindy when she sees me perform one at the neighborhood pool.

On Sunday I went for a bike ride, and we went to the store.  We had a Mono Ensemble practice.  Everyone showed up and we sounded pretty good (especially loud this week, maybe).  Amy made tasty fish tacos for dinner.  We watched Boardwalk Empire last night.

It was a really nice weekend.  It went by too fast.

I hope you guys had a weekend and that your week is off to a good start!

Peace.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Happy Birthday, Dad!

(dad's working in an eye clinic here, I've been told, and NOT
serving time in a Kenyan jail)
Happy birthday to my dad, Rick Steans!  He's a great dad and a good man, and I don't know where I'd be today without him.
Dad retired last October, and he and Mom moved over here to Austin from Houston.  I know that the move and all of the changes that have come with retirement haven't always been easy (it's never easy to make those sorts of big life changes), but it's been really good to have them in Austin and have the chance to spend more time with them.  I haven't really lived in the same city with them for any period of time since I was in high school, and it feels good to have them around and get to see them more regularly. 


(the ol' beard is looking a little rough, but still
a pretty good picture of me with The Admiral)

Anyway, happy birthday, Dad!  You're the greatest!  Love ya!  I hope it's a good one.


Monday, August 20, 2012

Update

Well, I really have very little to report, but I thought I would just check in.  Amy is still out of town visiting her family in Arizona.  I miss her.
The weekend was mostly pretty low key.  I rode my bike quite a bit.  I rode over 26 miles on Saturday, and over 9 miles on Sunday.  That's really not much to brag about (more experienced riders, particularly those on road bikes, regularly ride 50 or more miles when they schedule a ride), but for me it's pretty good.  Also, when you're riding 20+ miles in the city, you just see a lot of interesting stuff.  It's kind of fun to see your neighbors out and about doing their thing on a Saturday morning.
Saturday night my parents got back a little early from a short trip to Houston.  I went out to dinner at Chuy's with my parents and Ryan and Jamie.  We had a good time.
On Sunday I had band practice with Mono Ensemble.  Everyone made it, and we sounded pretty good.  We've got a new song or two in the works, so that's always a good thing.
We have a show scheduled for Friday, October 19th, at the Carousel Lounge at 9:00.  Hope to see everyone out there for that!

Well, that's about it.
Hope everyone has a good week!


Monday, August 13, 2012

Treme

So right before we went on vacation to Charleston, Amy and I finished watching Season 2 of Treme.  For those who don't know much about it, Treme is a TV series (from HBO) that follows a group of New Orleans residents as they struggle to put their lives back together and rebuild their community following the destruction and devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina.  The show derives its title from the name of a neighborhood in New Orleans that is known for its lively feel and the large number of musicians who inhabit it.
Amy and I have really been enjoying the show.  It was produced by Eric Overmeyer (Law & Order, Homicide) and David Simon (Homicide, The Wire, Generation Kill).
The show features a truly ensemble cast (it would be hard to say exactly who the central character of the show might be), with storylines that follow musicians, chefs, lawyers, college professors, cops, DJs, politicans, and others as they struggle to find their footing in a dysfunctional city that's trying to put itself back together in the wake of a massive catastrophe. 
I have to admit that, on a personal level, one reason that I love the show is because of the music performances that it features and the focus on music that occurs in the storylines.  Very few shows have not only invested themselves in such a clear love of music (the sound quality is typically really strong- even when shooting in a crowded club), but also featured its creation and performance as such a central component of the plot.  Treme constantly reminds viewers that music is an absolutely vital part of not only the cultural heritage of New Orleans, but also of its identity as a modern city.  And the focus on musicians goes far beyond simply romanticizing their work.  It also reflects the day to day trials and tribulations of being a working musician in a city that's chock full of talented performers, but considerably less populated in terms of lucrative recording contracts.
Still, Treme does a great job of capturing the atmosphere of the music venues, the enthusiasm of the crowds, and the sound of the acts (and there's been a whole laundry list of famous musicians featured, from The Subdudes to Dr. John to Kermit Ruffins to Trombone Shorty and many, many others).  All in all, the audience gets a pretty good feel for why a person might struggle and sacrifice for love of music in a town like New Orleans.

Treme has received a generally favorable audience reception, although not, perhaps, an overwhelmingly positive one.  Part of this, I believe, is due to unfair (and possibly inappropriate?) comparisons to The Wire.  The Wire, another one of David Simons' creations, was a five season sprawling epic about Baltimore's organized crime, police, and the social and governmental systems that touch on both.  Without a doubt, The Wire was a truly great show, but it was something very different from Treme.  The Wire was a show, perhaps not of simple good versus evil (the characters in Simons shows are, thankfully, almost never strictly good or bad), but still it was largely a show where outright conflict played a central role.  Cops fought drug dealers.  Politicans fought one another in elections.  Police officers battled one another through the internal politics of the department.
I'm not saying that The Wire was without nuance, but all of this obvious conflict translated into a dramatic tension that was, in my opinion, often easier to grasp than some of the stuff that's going on in Treme.
On Treme, many of the conflicts tend to be more internal.  Characters struggle with depression and a loss of hope and a need to preserve the cultural traditions of a city that they intimately know and love.  The dramatic tension on Treme doesn't really arise from watching to see if one character will triumph over another, but, instead, in waiting to see if the City of New Orleans and its citizens can rise again in the face of devastating loss.  Business owners struggle to make a living in a city with a damaged infrastructure, residents struggle to repair their homes while fighting the urge to abandon their city, musicians struggle to find paying gigs in the midst of a bruised tourism industry, and everyone struggles to keep Mardi Gras and other traditions alive in a city that's still reeling from the storm.

I also really find something very impressive in the sense of place that Treme brings to its audience.  Treme captures the sights, sounds, and feel of New Orleans in a way that very few shows have managed to pull off.  The first season of the show depicted many of the more familiar places in the city, some of them quickly recognizable to former tourists, but it feels like the show has expanded into other neighborhoods and locations by season 2.  I really think that Treme manages to capture the vitality and spirit of New Orleans without simply becoming an advertising promo for the city's visitor's convention and visitor's bureau.  The lively, life affirming culture of the people who live in New Orleans is prominently featured.  Even the funerals have dancing and music, the food is amazing, and the city has raised partying to an art form.  Also, as far as American cities go, New Orleans is an old place, and the many traditions that have developed within it constantly remind viewers of the city's unique flavor (e.g., king cake, second lines, mardi gras parade krewes, etc., etc.).
But against this are set the realities of life in New Orleans, some of which have been caused by the destruction of the hurricane, and some of which were already present, but have been subsequently exacerbated by the storm.
Violent crime is a terrible problem in the New Orleans.  Although most of the areas frequented by tourists remain heavily patrolled and relatively safe, crime runs rampant in many other parts of the city, and New Orleans continues to have the highest murder rate, per capita, of any city in the country.  Treme doesn't let you forget this.  Bars get shot up, shots ring out during second line parades, and the show's characters suffer the effects of violent crime.
Police and political corruption have run rampant, both before and after the storm.  The show features investigations into numerous examples of police misconduct and depicts a culture of apathy and misconduct within the police force.  Apparently the show mirrors reality.  Earlier this summer the U.S. justice department announced a major intervention plan in New Orleans meant to overhaul the operations of its police department, weed out corruption and return a stronger emphasis to law enforcement.  Needless to say, such action on the part of the federal government is uncommon and only arises in response to emergency situations.  Treme reminds us that there are good cops in New Orleans who are trying to do their jobs and help the city get back on its feet, but the dysfunction in the New Orleans police department is real.
Similarly, Treme has focused on political corruption in New Orleans politics, particularly as it has arisen within rebuilding efforts (one might assume that the corrupt politicians have been there the whole time- the rebuilding simply presents a new opportunity).  Once again, Simon and crew haven't strayed far from reality in making Treme.  As recently as last month a city council member in New Orleans pled guilty to federal corruption charges after funneling federal rebuilding funds into his own nonprofit organization (and he's definitely not the first).
This is what David Simon does very, very well.  As a former reporter, he excels at studying news stories and trends and understanding the individual human dramas that lie behind them.  He gets the feel of a place and then introduces us to a number of characters, hopefully ones that we can build emotional connections with, and makes us understand and connect with a city in a way that runs much deeper than simply scanning daily headlines.  The Wire did a great job of depicting Baltimore in the first decade of our new century, and now Treme is doing the same thing with New Orleans.
At any rate, I think Treme is a great show.  It's different than The Wire, but in its own way, I think no less compelling.
Check it out.  I guess it's not for everyone, but if you give it a couple of episodes to grow on you, I think there are a lot of people out there who won't be sorry about having given it a chance.

The Weekend

Well, Amy's out of town and visiting her family in Phoenix, so I was on my own this weekend.
It's weird having her gone.  I was single for a long, long time, but now Cassidy and I are definitely thrown off our game when Amy leaves town.  I miss you, Amy!
Friday night I didn't do too much of anything.  I went for a ride on my bike, and managed to really mess up the shifters.  I watched Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  It turned out to be a pretty good flick.  People did some bad things to chimps in that movie.  That whole ape takeover?  Turns out we had it coming.
On Saturday I got up and worked out and took my bike in to the bike shop for a tune up.  Turns out I had not only gotten a kink in a shifter cable by snagging it on something, but my cables had already corroded quite a bit, mostly from my sweat after riding around in 90 and 100 degree temperatures.  Oh well.  Not a major repair, but my bike is in the shop for a few days.
Saturday I met up with my parents and Ryan for lunch.  Ryan's mother-in-law, Judy, is in the hospital because she had problems with a blood clot in her brain, so, to say the least, things have been very tense at Ryan and Jamie's place as Jamie's mother has gone through surgery and begun a slow recovery process.  Our thoughts have definitely been with them.  It was good to see Ryan, and hopefully it was good for him to get away for a little while.
Saturday night I went over to my parents house.  We ended up going to see The Bourne Legacy.  It was pretty cool.  Almost exactly what you would expect to see in a Bourne flick, except with Jeremy Renner in the new super agent role.  My only real complaint about the film was that it definitely felt like it was just meant to be the first chapter in a new set of movies, almost to the point where it barely felt like a stand alone film (the conflict in the movie never really came to a very satisfactory conclusion of any kind).  Also, one or two of the action scenes pressed the bounds of plausibility in a way that I think the first Bourne movie, at least, might have tried a little harder to avoid.  Spy movies often push the bounds of reality, but one of the sort of cool things about the first Bourne movie was the fact that it left you believing that a really, really smart, physically fit guy might actually be able to pull off most of the stuff that you saw in the film.
Anyway, Bourne Legacy was an entertaining ride.  If you like that sort of thing, check it out.
Sunday I rode my old bike (my slightly undersized cruiser) to the store and then up to Garrison Park's pool.  I actually swam some laps (turns out that sort of thing will make your shoulder sore if you haven't done it in a while) and just hung out.  Water, sun, and music on my iPod.  Sunday afternoon/evening I had band practice.  All five of us showed up, and we sounded pretty good.  Maybe we'll try to schedule another gig sometime soon.  Took Cassidy for a walk.
And that's been it.
I miss Amy.  It'll be good to have her back on Friday.
Still thinking about Judy and the McBrides and Ryan as Judy begins her recovery from surgery.
I hope everyone's week is off to a good start!

Peace.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Charleston!

So Amy and I just got back from a summer vacation/post bar trip to Charleston, South Carolina!
It was a really nice trip.  Charleston is a really cool city, and we had a great time.
Like most adventures, it had a mishap or two, the most notable of which was a minor accident (it ended up as only a fender bender, but could have been much worse) in our rental car at the beginning of the trip as we were just leaving the airport.  It was sort of a drag to start things out this way, but we were able to put it behind us pretty quickly and move on to genuinely enjoy the rest of our vacation.
And the rest of our trip was really cool!

We stayed at a VRBO comprised of an apartment which was attached to a historic home in downtown Charleston.  It was in easy walking distance of lots of restaurants, bars, and entertainment spots along King Street.  The first night that were there we walked a couple of blocks over to Dave's Carry-Out, a place that stayed open late and served fried shrimp and fish.  The food was great, and while we were waiting for it to be cooked we hung with a few locals and cheered for Gabby Douglas to kick some butt on the uneven bars.  It's crazy how the Olympics can get you cheering along with people in support of sports you ordinarily wouldn't care much about...
Friday we got up and walked over to a coffee house, and then walked over to the ferry for Fort Sumter.  On the way to the ferry we stopped in for just a second at the Charleston Public Library.  When you travel with a librarian, you have to be prepared for these sorts of things.

Six flags over Amy
Fort Sumter was really interesting.  It was the site of the opening battle of the Civil War, and it was the site of repeated conflict throughout the war as Union forces attempted to retake the fort and Confederate forces held off their attacks.  Anyway, it was kind of weird to stand there at Fort Sumter and look out on the Charleston harbor.  The cannons and tour guides give you a sense of how far the cannons and artillery could fire (both from the ships and the fort), and it was kind of strange to think about the risks that people were facing on the ships, in the fort, and in the city of Charleston itself during the Civil War.  As the Union blockaded the port, even getting supplies in and out became a substantial gamble.

Big guns at Fort Sumter
Amy loves history and sunshine



this submarine would be a
tight fit for Steanso
Anyway, Fort Sumter was really cool.  The ferry ride to get out there was cool, too.  Nice to see the city from the water, catch a glimpse of some dolphins, and get a look at the USS Yorktown.  After Fort Sumter we wandered through another neighborhood with some historical homes.  We walked past the H.L. Hunley, a small, Civil War era submarine which was used in Charleston Harbor for the first successful submarine attack in history.


South of Broad
Friday night we went down to wander around Rainbow Row, Waterfront Park, East Battery, and the whole South of Broad area.  There were some really cool old homes down there.  The houses themselves were very impressive (large, beautiful old houses that had been extremely well maintained), and they also had immaculately maintained yards and courtyards with ornate landscaping. 
Amy on Rainbow Row

Desert Girl is initially alarmed by boiled
peanuts and deviled eggs
Friday night we went out to eat at a place called The Glass Onion.  It was a neighborhood restaurant with southern cooking, and the food was really good.  We had shrimp and grits and boiled peanuts and salad with okra.  The food was great, the restaurant was relaxed, and we both had a really nice time.
On Saturday we got up and walked over to a nice farmer's market in Marion Square Park.  We walked around to scope things out and shared a shrimp omelet. Amy had iced coffee.  Afterward we walked up King Street to Glazed Gourmet Doughnuts and got a lemon doughnut that we shared.

Amy as southern belle
Saturday afternoon we drove out to Magnolia Plantation.  I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it was different than I thought it would be.  I guess I had always sort of imagined plantations being surrounded by fields of crops, but Magnolia was more or less built on or near a swamp (like much of the lowcountry that Charleston sits in).  We took a boat tour through one section of the property that used to be drained and planted with rice back in the days of slavery when it was a working plantation.  Nowadays the location is filled with gardens and wildlife, from egrets and herons to some very large alligators.  Anyway, the Magnolia plantation has been owned and operated by the Drayton family for at least 15 generations, dating back to a founding in 1676, and it really was a beautiful place.
Apparently wearing my "serious
about food" face
Saturday night we had dinner at Husk.  We'd both been looking forward to eating there for a while.  Amy reads a few food blogs and sites and had told me about it, and I'd been interested in trying the place out since reading about it's founder, Sean Brock, in a Time magazine article a while back.  Anyway, Husk turned out to live up to its reputation.  The restaurant is in a really cool, old building on Queen Street, and the food was great.  The cooking is southern, and it sort of did a great job of exemplifying what southern cooking can be.  We had a pork chop, catfish, beans, and some cheese grits.  All of the food was fairly traditional, but with small twists that enhanced the flavor (my catfish was served with sweet corn and leeks).  Just a really good dinner. 
Afterwards we had a drink on King Street and headed home.

On Sunday we got up and went to Sullivan's Island to hit the beach.  It was really nice.  The water felt good, the beaches weren't crowded, the weather was nice (some clouds blew in and it started raining, but this didn't happen until right when we were sunburned and headed out, anyway), and the whole experience was just really relaxing.  It was a really nice way to spend the last day of our vacation.
Sunday night, after showering and watching the Olympics for a little while, we walked over to a nice pizza place called Monza for dinner and a few drinks.  It was a great way to wrap up the trip.  In the morning we hit Kudu coffee shop for a bagel, tea, and iced coffee, and then drove to the airport.

It was a really good trip.  Amy's been studying for the bar, and I've just been working a lot, and it felt really good for the two of us to just get away and do something different and have fun together.

Yesterday I weant for a longish bike ride, and Amy and I took Cassidy for a swim at the Barton Springs spillover.  Amy made chilaquiles for dinner, just as a tasty reminder that we're back in Texas.  Nice to be home.

I hope everyone else has been doing well, too!