Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Update

Hey!  I'm a little off my normal schedule in terms of making posts.  Things have just been very busy over here in Steanso land.

Let's see, where were we when I last left off?  Well, last week I was in Dallas for a work trip, but the week before that...

(Unplugged at the Grove)
On Thursday night, July 18th, we went to see Shinyribs play.  It was one of the free Unplugged at the Grove performances over at Shady Grove, and the weather was astonishingly pleasant for a July evening in Austin Texas.  Shinyribs is a band fronted by Kevin Russell of The Gourds ("Shinyribs" is actually, improbably, his nickname), and they're a really fun Texas band.  Kevin Russell is originally from Beaumont, but he's been playing in Austin for a long time.  He's got a great voice, catchy tunes, and fun lyrics.  It was a really fun night.  It felt very Texas-y out there under the big trees, listening to Shinyribs and drinking a beer.  After the show we went up and talked to Kevin so Amy could ask him about the ukulele chords to one of his songs, "Poor People Store".  He's a really nice guy, and he emailed her the chords the next day!

(Amy with Kevin Russell)
 
 
(Grupo Fantasma!)
So that was Thursday night.  On Friday we went to see another free concert, this time Grupo Fantasma over at the Music Under the Star series in front of the Bob Bullock Texas History Museum.  There were a lot of people at the show, but the crowd was friendly and enthusiastic.  We bobbed and danced and listened to funky Latin salsa-y dance music as the sun went down and the lights came on.  Austinites LOVE a free concert!!



On Saturday we went out to dinner with my family at Hudson's on the Bend.  It's a nice restaurant, and the meal was very good.  Hudson's has a lot of interesting and sort of unusual game on their menu (rabbit, pheasant, venison, etc.), but I ended up having some hot and crunchy trout.  A little less adventurous, but very good.  Anyway, we had a good time.  It was nice to have dinner with the fam! 
My parents left on a long driving trip to Upper Michigan the next day, and I left on Sunday for a legal education seminar in Dallas.

(my Dallas hotel room at sunset)
I was in Dallas from Sunday night through Thursday.  I stayed at the Westin Galleria.  Amy's mom came to town to hang out with her while I was gone, so she got to spend some quality mother-daughter time with Jean while I was further north. 
The conference was fine.  I learned some new law and collected a lot of CLE (continuing legal education) hours.  I went out with coworkers one night to see The Conjuring (which was scary and well executed, but derivative of about a dozen other movies).  Another night I went out to The Flying Saucer with some friends to have a beer.   By Thursday I was more than ready to get back to Amy and get away from hotels and shopping malls. 




I got back to Austin, and on Friday we went to see Bill Carter at Strange Brew.  I've seen Bill Carter once before at Strange Brew, and I've mentioned him before here on The Adventures.  Anyway, neither of the shows where I saw Carter were super well attended, which is a shame because both performances were great.  He's really good.  Carter has good songs with great lyrics, and when you see him in person he gives you enough backstory about his music to make you understand how personal and meaningful it really is.  He's also got a good voice.  In short, he deserves a lot more attention than he's received lately (a fact which is reflected by the title of his most recent album- Unknown).  If you haven't seen him, I strongly recommend that you go check the guy out.  He's a great Austin songwriter, and he deserves a more dedicated fanbase!  (or at least a larger one)

Most of the rest of our weekend was fairly low key.  Amy has made chicken stir fry and some broiled salmon with spices on it.  We ran some errands and relaxed, mostly.  On Sunday afternoon we met up with some friends for lunch, and in the evening I went to band practice.  It was a nice, relaxed weekend, especially after having been out of town.

(Van Wilks joins The Apostles onstage)
And now it's a new week!  Last night we went to see The Apostles of Manchaca (which features Jeff Plankenhorn and Malford Milligan), once again over at Strange Brew.  It was a fun, friendly show.  They had a number of talented guests join them onstage, but my favorite songs were the ones where Plankenhorn and Milligan just settled into a soulful groove and created a mood.  There were some every cool moments like that.  Anyway, it was a fun show.

I feel extremely fortunate to live in a place where I can go experience things like that on a Tuesday, eating dinner at home and then seeing live music within a mile or two of my house and still having time to make it home and get in bed before it's really late.  I'm glad that Amy really likes live music, and I love sharing so many of these these things with her.  I will not take these things for granted.

Well, that's it for now!  Hope everyone is doing well!






Monday, July 15, 2013

Update

Hello!  How's everyone doing?

The weekend was pretty good. 
Thursday night I briefly attended an office happy hour at Donn's Depot.  I got there late because of Veteran's Court.
On Friday I saw Pacific Rim.  It was a pretty fun movie, and, I guess, just about what I thought it would be.  It was over the top and sort of silly at times, but Guillermo del Toro knows his audience.  The movie didn't take itself too seriously, but at it still managed too pull off its melodrama with a bit of emotional weight.  When you're making a movie about giant robots that fight giant dinosaurish monsters, it's probably a bit tricky to hit exactly the right tone.  You don't want the thing to get too serious (since the premise itself is- let's face it- pretty ridiculous), but you don't want it to be so goofy that the audience doesn't feel any sense of genuine tension or drama.
Pacific Rim was pretty good, but I thought they could have done a few things better.  I could have done with less of the wacky scientists and would have enjoyed more on the backstory of Raleigh Beckett's fellow jaeger pilots.
I guess that some of my issues with the movie are the same sorts of issues that I seem to have with a lot of movies these days- they seem to just have too much story crammed into a two hour window, so nothing ends up getting the attention that it deserves.
Also, I don't know why these CG action sequences always have to take place in the dark.  There were several times when I just couldn't tell what the heck was happening on the screen.
Overall, though, a fun movie.  I like the giant robots and the huge monsters.  I watched Pacific Rim and then I had to go home and watch the first half of Cloverfield.  Very different movies.  Even though the monsters (aka, kaiju) in Pacific Rim probably do more damage than the single monster in Cloverfield, somehow the monster in Cloverfield seemed a lot more scary.  Pacific Rim was more of an action/combat movie, and Cloverfield more of a horror type of movie.
Friday night Amy worked late.  I brought her some dinner so she wouldn't go hungry while she was busy with the law making.

Saturday we had breakfast, and I went for a bike ride.  Stopped in to see Jamie (Ryan was out of town in Canada for work).  I rode around South Austin.  I've been trying to find some new routes down there.  After, we went to Lowe's and bought a shelving system, and we went to the grocery store.
Saturday night we went to Stubb's to see Fitz and the Tantrums.  The band played really well.  Funky and soulful.  They have a lot of energy.  Stubb's, of course, is an outdoor venue, and it was pretty hot on Saturday night.  Even at 10 o'clock it was still about 95 degrees. 
(Amy loves a July dance jam)
Also, I've said this before in relation to other shows, but it bears repeating- the sound at Stubb's is extremely uneven depending on where you're standing in the venue.  We started out sort of standing in the center of the back of the crowd, and the sound was very heavy on bass and muddled, with the vocals and saxophone largely lost in the mix.  It sounded like the band was playing underwater.  We pushed our way closer to the soundboard, though, and the sound was much better. 
They really need to get some of those issues ironed out at Stubb's.  This isn't the first time that I've been there when the sound was all out of whack.  Maybe a second set of speakers closer to the back?  It's just not cool that different people at the same show may have utterly different experiences depending on where they end up standing on the hill.  Not everyone in the venue can squeeze in next to the soundboard.
Anyway, the band played well, and it was a good show.  They seemed to genuinely appreciate the enthusiasm of the audience.  And it was pretty impressive to see so many people out there bouncing around and really enjoying themselves on such a warm evening.  It brought back memories of some of the shows that I used to see in college in clubs that were little more than barely air conditioned warehouses.  Sort of a midsummer dance party sort of thing.  We had a good time!

On Sunday we got up and went to breakfast.  Kerbey Lane.  Pancakes and eggs.  Yum!  We ran into Andy and Rami and Baby Wilson.  It was cool to see them!

After breakfast we went to Barton Springs.  We floated in the water and cooled off and relaxed.  Surprisingly, a few clouds started to roll in.  Given the fact that it had been about 103 the day before, we were okay with a few clouds.  We still got some sun.
Sunday afternoon my dad came over and we put up a closet organizer system in Amy's closet.  Thanks to Dad for coming over and making sure I got the thing done right.  Amy seems pretty happy with the finished project.
Sunday evening we had Mono E practice over at Reed's house.  Jim couldn't make it, so I played bass.  It had been awhile.  We sounded pretty decent.
Amy made chicken tinga, so when I got home from band practice we had it for dinner.  It was very good.  One of my favorites!

And that was the weekend!  Very good, but over in a flash!

Hope everyone else had a good one. 
Today we have rain.  That's a sort of miracle during July in Austin, Texas.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Mental Health Docket Video

This video is a few years old (maybe 2008?).  It was made by an intern at the Travis County Mental Health Public Defender's Office.  It's meant to highlight the defender's office, but I think it also does a pretty good job of demonstrating the objectives and function of the Travis County mental health docket (aka, the "Special Reduction Docket") as a whole.  While the defense attorneys have a primary goal of protecting the rights and interests of their clients, and the prosecutor has a primary interest of safeguarding the people out in the community, I think everyone on the docket sort of works with an eye toward improving living situations and overall health so that future crimes won't occur. At our best, we try to combine treatment, social work, and accountability.  The idea (which I fully endorse) is that healthier people make the community safer. 
I'm posting this in case anyone out there hasn't seen it, but has an interest.  Hope this doesn't come off as too self aggrandizing.  I'm only a very small part of the video (and one cog in the program), but the docket has been a big part of my life for years now.  I'm happy and proud to have been a part of it!


Monday, July 08, 2013

Update- 4th of July Edition

Howdy!  Well, we had a pretty nice 4th of July weekend.  Despite the fact that it lasted almost 4 days, it went by way too fast.

(party on the patio!)
Thursday I got up and went for a bike ride.  On Thursday evening we went out to my parents house
(The Admiral on neighborhood watch.
Actually, there was a small fire on the
hill behind the house.  No bueno.)
 
for a pretty traditional Independence Day cookout.  We ate burgers (both turkey and beef) and hot dogs.  Amy made some really good German chocolate pecan fudge bars and lemon icebox pie.    Our whole family was there, as well as some family friends and one of my parents' new neighbors.
We chatted, ate dinner, watched fireworks from the balcony, and lit some sparklers.  It definitely felt like the 4th of July.

On Friday Amy had the day off, but I had to go into the office for a while.  I had some problems with a flat tire, so I rode the bus.
Friday night we had dinner with Reed and Jen Shaw.  They were just recently back from a summer trip to Colorado.  We went to Jack Allen's kitchen, and then afterward we went back to our house for dessert.  It was really good to see them and get a chance to hang out and talk for a while.  We really enjoyed it.

Saturday we went to Barton Springs.  We ran into Ryan and Jamie when we got there, which was really cool.  Ryan let me borrow his float.  We hung out on the hill and cooled off in the water.  It was good to catch up with little brother because he's headed off to Canada this week for work.  (apparently they have libraries in Canada- who knew?)  By the time it started getting crowded at the springs it was time for us to leave. 
Saturday night we grabbed dinner at Central Market and watched Prime Suspect.

On Sunday we ran a number of errands.  We went to the book store, the auto parts store, the grocery store, and Target (the everything store).  I went for a bike ride around South Austin and rode through some areas that I had never ridden through before.  Nice ride.  Amy made some slow cooker ziti for dinner that was really good.  She said she usually makes her ziti in the oven, but this crock pot dish turned out really well.

Anyway, that was pretty much the weekend!  There was also some book reading, dog walking, guitar playing, and generally hanging out (it's kind of warm out, but you can still enjoy the shade on the back porch if you have your dog at your side and a cold beer in your hand).

Hope everyone is having a good summer!

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Arizona Weekend

Hey!  Hope everyone is doing well as we work our way toward mid summer!

Amy and I spent this weekend in Arizona!  We flew out early Thursday morning, and were in the Phoenix area through Sunday evening.
We had a really nice trip.
(meeting Nathan for the first
time!)
We arrived at Amy's parents' house Thursday morning, and were greeted by her sister and Amy's newest nephew, Nathan.  Nathan's an incredibly happy baby who smiles a lot and makes happy noises.  He's really fun to be around.  I met him for the first time on this trip!
Jean, Amy's mom, made a really nice brunch (with breakfast potatoes and an egg dish and coffee cake), and Amy's grandparents, Jerry and Carol, came by and ate some breakfast with us.  It was really nice.

Thursday afternoon I think we just sort of hung out and did some catching up.  I tried to do some reading, but ended up sleeping for a while (we had gotten up pretty early for our flight). 
Thursday night the family got together again for dinner.  Matt, Amy's brother-in-law, joined us with Amy's other nephew, Scott.  Greg grilled some chicken, and Jean made coleslaw, potato salad, broccoli salad, and crab cakes.  It was another really great meal.
Amy's parents and grandparents had just gotten back from a Scandinavian/Russian cruise, and Greg put some of the pictures onto a photo disk.  We watched them on the television before and after dinner.  The pictures were really impressive.  It sounded like they liked Sweden the best, but the pictures of the palaces in St. Petersburg were also pretty fascinating (although they said that the city itself actually had a bit more of a rundown feel to it).
On Friday Amy and I went downtown Phoenix.  We visited the Heard Museum, which features a large, interesting collection of Native American art.  Having lived most of my life in Texas, Native American culture isn't a major part of our social fabric.  In Texas, the white settlers seem to have had a fairly contentious, uneasy existence with Native American tribes, and possibly because Texas had just been annexed after being its own country, the federal government didn't really take great pains to establish reservations in Texas.  We still have Native American people living in Texas, no doubt, but we don't really have any large reservations in Texas as far as I know.
By contrast, in Arizona tribal reservations make up a quarter of the total land in the state.  There are a lot of Native Americans living in Arizona.  They've had a large influence upon the state and its history.

(the soul eating kachinas)
(Andy Warhol once defaced this sarape
 with a magic marker.  I kid you not)
Annnyway, The Heard Museum was pretty cool.  They had some cool collections of pottery, rugs, clothing, and kachinas! (which were my favorite.  Probably everyone already knows this, but kachinas are little doll type things that represent different spirits)  The Heard was a really interesting museum. 
On our way to and from The Heard, Amy's mom drove us through some older neighborhoods near downtown Phoenix.  I really enjoyed that, as well.  I always find it interesting to sort of get a sense of how cities were established over time and to see the different approaches to homemaking that were employed by residents of different eras  (e.g., the older historical homes in Phoenix were mostly wood and shingle homes that were still utilizing things like front porches, while the newer homes have a sort of adobe-like look and tiled roofs).  I've been promised another trip downtown when we go back, so maybe I can do a little reading to get a sense of how the town was founded and how it has expanded over time.  Given the desert environment and the fact that people were obviously settling the area long before the advent of air conditioning, I'm just curious about what made them set up shop and decide to fight it out with the heat.  For earlier generations, you'd think it might have been the sort of terrain that they would have felt lucky to have safely managed to travel across.  Instead, some of them plunked themselves down and decided, "This is the place!"  They didn't flee when the first really hot summer came rolling around.  Plucky folks, no doubt.  I'm curious about how life out there in the Valley of the Sun evolved over time.

Anyway, on Friday we went to the museum.  We stopped off at a good ice cream place called Sweet Republic.  Amy found it after reading an article of some sort, and the ice cream turned out to be fantastic.  Unusual flavors (sweet corn!) that were all well executed.

(desert mermaid!)
In the late afternoon on Friday Amy and I went to the swimming pool near her parents house.  It was calm and cool and quiet and really, really nice.  It's a very pleasant place to swim, and it's wrought iron back fence provides a view of the mountains.  It's extremely hot in Phoenix, but it's so dry there that, despite the heat, you actually feel cold when you get out of the pool as the water rapidly evaporates off your skin.  After 10 or 15 minutes you're dry and warming up again.  Ten or fifteen minutes after that you're starting to feel sort of hot and it's time for another dip in the pool.  The pool that we were at had some sort of cooling system, and the water was very pleasant.

On Saturday Amy and Jean went to a day spa to go get massages, and afterwards they went to visit the nephews.  Meanwhile, Greg and I went to the music store to look at instruments.
Like most musicians, I like to look at musical equipment. 
Even when I have no intention of buying anything, I like to look.
When my 40th birthday arrived this past March, I decided that I was going to get myself a nice guitar.  I started with trombone in 6th grade, have been playing bass since I was in high school, and learned guitar sometime around my first year of college. Celebrating my 40th with a new guitar seemed like a reasonable thing to do.  Amy and her parents both thought it was a good idea as well, and Amy, Jean, and Greg contributed money toward the purchase of a new instrument (which I'm extremely grateful for!).
Greg knows that I've been looking for a new guitar since my birthday.  He also has taken up both ukulele and guitar in the past couple of years.  He plays in a ukulele group at a nice, big guitar store in Phoenix called Sam Ash.  Greg purchased a Martin guitar a while back, and I mentioned to him that I've always wanted one.  Ever since I was in college I've been really in love with Martin guitars and their sound.
Well, during his trips to the music store for his ukulele group Greg spotted a Martin D-35 that's been in the shop for a while.  He knew I had been planning on buying a nice guitar sometime in the near future, so he wanted to show me this one.  Given the quality of the instrument and the price, everything just sort of fell into place.
(my new guitar looks like this)
The D-35 is a Martin dreadnought, meaning it's a large guitar with a deep, rich sound.  It has a solid spruce top, ebony fretboard, and rosewood sides.  We went down to the store just for me to look at the D-35 and play it, but I ended up walking out the door with it.  I got a great deal on it, and when I asked why they had it on clearance, it was for no other reason than because it was a 2011 model, and they were trying to make room for more inventory (which seems like a sort of weird reason to mark down a guitar that should, theoretically, last for a number of decades).  I hadn't gone to Phoenix planning to buy a guitar, but I
I haven't had it for long, but I love the sound and the way that it plays.  I'm very excited about it!  It's kind of loud, though.  I hope Amy comes to love it the way I do... ;-)

Saturday afternoon I went back to the pool with Amy and Jean, and Saturday night Amy and I went out to dinner with Heidi and Matt while Amy's parents and grandparents babysat the kids.  It was fun!  We went to El Encanto and ate Mexican food (do we have pollo fundido in Texas?  I only seem to be able to get it in Arizona) and drank margaritas and told stories.  It was a very nice night, and we had a really good time hanging out with Heidi and Matt.

Sunday morning the whole family reconvened.  We got a last chance to hang out with everyone and play with the kids.  It was a pleasant morning and a good end to a nice trip.

Thanks to the Davis, Koffel, and Sinex families for having me!  I had a good time hanging out with y'all!  Look forward to seeing you when you come to Texas!!