Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Weekend;

The weekend was pretty good.  I was actually a little sad to see Christmas go this year.  Some years I end up feeling like Christmas has worn out it's welcome by the time it's over with, but this year it seemed to sneak up on me a bit, and I felt like I only had about a good, solid week of feeling "in the Christmas spirit" before the whoile thing was over.  Oh well, if Christmas left me wanting a little more this year, that must mean that I had a good holiday!
So this weekend was good.  It was nice to relax, unwind a bit, and get some basic chores done.  Amy did some cooking this weekend (salmon with avocado puree on Saturday night, and baked ziti on Sunday- both excellent), and we potted some plants and ran some errands.  Went to the grocery store.  We've been watching Treme.  I went for a bike ride on Saturday.  We took down Christmas decorations in the house, but left up the outside lights to stay festive into the new year. We played some Xbox (Halo Reach).  Amy and I are both entertained by some video games, and I like playing them with her. 
(Sunday involved potting some houseplants.  Cassidy
provided supervision)

 
 
On Sunday afternoon I rode my bike over to Strange Brew to listen to some music. Which brings me to my next thing.
Everyone out there?  Everyone listening?  I'm going to try to start a new project.  It's gonna be a new blog, actually.  I want to try to focus on Austin music.  I'm going to try to shoot for two entries every month (hopefully at least one) that feature some local music act that I've seen perform in a local venue.  I want to focus on acts that are from Austin, and focus even more on acts that are maybe a little less well known and not well-established.
I don't know- maybe this whole thing will crash and burn pretty quickly, but I want to try it out.  It's going to be called ATX Note Book (get it?  music?  notes?  see what I did there?), and I hope you come over and check it out.  I'm hoping it will be fun, that it will encourage me to go out and see more live shows, and that it will serve as a place to document a part of Austin's live music scene that just isn't discussed as much as it deserves.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas 2013 in Pictures

We had a nice Italian dinner at La Traviata the weekend before Christmas


On Christmas Eve, after church, Amy and I had the family over
to the house for appetizers, drinks, and cookies.  Here's the spread.




On Christmas Day we went over to my parents' house
to celebrate with our family, Dick (Jamie's dad), and our friend, Juan.




The day after Christmas Amy and I went for a hike on the Steiner
Ranch trails with my parents.  This trail looks out
over Lake Austin.

That evening we had a nice dinner with our neighbors, Mandy
and Kate.  Christmas having drawn to a close, we went back to
L-I-V-I-N...



Merry Christmas! Now on to 2014!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Pre-Christmas

So a quick update for the pre-Christmas run up.
It's been busy lately.
Last Thursday we had our office holiday luncheon, and that same evening we had our office Christmas party at Threadgill's.  Both events were pretty fun.  My experience is that if you go into these events with some pretty reasonable expectations, they can be pretty fun.
Anyway, I got a chacne to share some holiday revelry with the co-workers. 
I'm not sure what we did on Friday night.  We ran an errand or two on the way home.  We were both sort of tired.  Amy made some good salmon.  I think we just watched Treme and sort of hung out.  It was a pleasant evening, but pretty low key.
Saturday we ran errands and did grocery shopping and chores.  In the evening we went to La Traviata for a nice Italian dinner with the family.  Amy and I are trying to start a sort of new holiday tradition in the Steans family, we have decided, where we try to go out for a nice Italian dinner at some point around Christmas or New Year's.  We went to Vespaio a couple of years back for New year's Eve dinner, and that was fun, too.  Good food, good wine, and lively conversation.  We had a really nice time on Saturday night.  I had never been to La Traviata before (although it's been around for a long time).  I really liked it.  In addition to having good food (I had cioppino, and it was very tasty), the restaurant is an old-fashioned, kind of cozy space.
Anyway, we had a nice dinner Saturday night.  It was a good chance to hang out with the family.
Ryan and Jamie had ridden downtown with us to go out to dinner, and on the way home we decided to detour and drive around a little bit to look at Christmas lights.  The lights are not exactly densely packed in South Austin, but we did find some lights, and a couple of pretty impressive houses.
Afterward, Ryan and Jamie stopped by the house for a cookie, AND to have Amy and I take part in one of the single worst Christmas traditions of all time.
For those who don't know, my brother, many years ago, created the legend of Santor- some sort of weird, creepy Christmas spirit who is apparently meant to represent everything this is wrong and disappointing about the Christmas holiday.  This year was our turn to take part in the legend...


   

Don't ask me to explain it.  I can't.  I'm not even sure I support it.  And yet there he is.  Santor.  In my house.  With... my wife and my dog.
Ummm....
Yeah.

Sooo....  moving on... 

That was Saturday.
Sunday we did some more shopping and running around.
Amy did a little baking.  Sunday night we ended up (sort of at the last minute) going to see American Hustle at the Westgate movie theater over by our house.
We both enjoyed it.  Good performances all around.  It managed to be dramatic without being melodramatic.  Funny without being ridiculous.  Christian Bale and Jeremy Renner both sort of played against their usual type, and both did a good job.
I'm not sure how closely the plot of the movie mirrored the facts of the actual Abscam sting from the 70's, but it sounds like it must've been a pretty crazy sequence of events if even half of the story from the film is true.

Anyway, we enjoyed the movie.

It was a nice weekend.  Now Christmas.  Try not to think about Santor.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Aidos, Mack Brown!

Just a quick, belated blurb to wish UT's head football coach, Mack Brown, a happy quasi-retirement as he steps down.  I recently blogged about Mack Brown and the possibility that he might step down as head coack or be forced out.
Well, the somewhat inevitable has come to pass (UT fans being the impatient little rapscallions that they are), and Mack Brown will be headed off into the sunset.
Personally, I remain thankful for his service, and I'm still not sure that UT is making the right decision.  As my brother and some other people have pointed out, UT fans have pretty short memories.  For many years before Mack Brown the UT football program was sputtering and coughing along.  Those of us who still remember the Akers, McWilliams, and Mackovic years know that even Mack Brown's performance in recent seasons was not, in the end, all that bad.  By winning a national championship in 2005 and putting together really powerful teams through at least 2008, Mack Brown set a standard for UT football that was simply difficult to maintain. 
I think that a new coach may have the potential to reinvigorate the UT football program, but positive results are far from certain.  Essentially, I think UT has just removed a proven commodity in favor of taking a big gamble, and the university is still going to be stuck paying out significant money to Brown on the remainder of his contract (a process which is, apparently, standard operating procedure in the lucrative world of college football, but which still seems kind of strange, given the fact that the university is struggling with money issues in so many other areas).

Anyway, thank you for your service, Mack!  You us many, many happy hours of college football, including a national championship and some other amazing games.  Your tenure at UT has been a really fun one, and it helped to keep UT fans invested and rallied behind the program.

(Mom, Dad, and I enjoy a game inn October of 2009 featuring Mack Brown's
Texas Longhorns versus Colorado.  The good guys won.  38-14)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Update

Hey!  How's it going?  How are you?  Yes, YOU!  Feel free to post a comment and let me know!  I like to hear from people.
So, it was sort of a weird week last week.  Highs and lows, I suppose.  I mean, I don't mean to be too dramatic.  The big low of the week for me was probably getting a touch of the stomach flu. 
Buuut... the week started well.  Our friend Josh came into town from D.C. for work, and stayed with us for a night.  We took him out to a Monday night football game party over at Adam and Katie's place to watch the Dallas-Chicago game.  There was beer and chili and yelling-  a proper football celebration.

(Chicago fans enjoying their
Monday night)
We had fun, even though Chicago pretty much manhandled Dallas (Josh is a Dallas fan- Katie and Adam pull for Chicago).  I don't watch too much NFL football anymore, but when I do, I'm mostly a Packers fan.  So I kept my mouth shut, since the Packers are pretty much hated by Dallas and Chicago fans.  I keep wanting to become a Texans fan, since I spent most of my childhood rooting for the Houston Oilers, but the Texans have just not been very good...

On Thursday we went to a Christmas party for Amy's new office.  The party was really nice with good food, nice people, and a nice house with festive decorations, but halfway through the party I started feeling kind of sick.  We left the party a little bit early, and things sort of went downhill from there.  I felt pretty awful Thursday night, and missed work on Friday.  I hadn't been that sick in a while.  By Saturday afternoon I was doing fine as long as I didn't eat anything.
We stopped in at a Frito Pie party that a coworker, Erika, was throwing.  I was careful not to touch anyone or eat or drink.  We just stayed for a little while, but it was good to see everyone.

Saturday night we watched The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  I've heard that movie panned, sometimes fairly harshly, but I've seen it twice now, and I enjoyed it both times.  I feel like it has a few silly moments, but it also has a sense of humor about itself that the Lord of the Rings movies didn't contain.  (I liked the Lord of the Rings movies a lot, but they were fairly melodramatic, and at times, all of the earnestness and nobility started to wear on the cynic in me).  Anyway, we both enjoyed it, and hopefully we'll get a chance to see the new Hobbit movie when it hits theaters.  It's a long movie, but it was a nice way to pass the time, given that I still really wasn't feeling up to speed.

On Sunday we got up and I was feeling much better.  We went to Kerbey Lane and went to Target.  We took care of some chores around the house. 


We picked up leaves, and Amy baked cookies for work, and I got a little exercise.  The sun was out and the weather was nice.  We took Cassidy to our neighborhood park for a little hop, and she hung out with us in the yard while we cleaned up.

Sunday night we ate some fish and green beans, and I went to see Richard, a friend of mine from the courthouse, doing some improv comedy at a place called The Hideout Theater on Congress.  It was a good time and funny.  Richard's been taking some improv classes, so his class was performing last night, and following their performance were two other troupes who did similar bits.  The whole thing was a lot of fun.

And that was about it.

I hope you guys had a good weekend.  Stay healthy.  Wash your hands.  That stomach flu is nasty!!






Monday, December 09, 2013

The Weekend; UT Football 2013

Hey!  How's everyone doing out there?
Our weekend was pretty good.  The weather's been cold, but it's been helping to get us into the Christmas spirit. 
On Friday night we went out to dinner.  We went to Cypress Grill and had Cajun food.  We like that place.  It's just a small, neighborhood restaurant, but it has good food and friendly service.  I think we went home after that and watched an episode of Treme (which has still been pretty entertaining so far in Season 3).
On Saturday we ran errands and did some chores.  Our chores mostly involved accomplishing absolutely essential, critical tasks which were necessary in order to ensure the very survival of our household.  Obviously, erecting a 6 foot tall Christmas cactus in our front yard was one of the top things on that list...


(we've got spirit, yes we do....)




Also on Saturday I watched our Texas Longhorns struggle their way through a season ending defeat at the hands of the Baylor Bears.  It wasn't pretty.  Oh well.  Texas has had a weird season.  Obviously, with an 8-4 record and an unranked finish to their season, Texas wasn't super great this year.  About the best that can be said for Texas is that early in the season it looked like the team would be doing even worse.  When Texas lost its second and third games to BYU and Ole Miss, UT fans had legitimate reason to fear that UT would have a losing season.  Texas managed to put together a six game winning streak after that, though, including a victory over OU.
Anyway, Texas wasn't great, but our season wasn't as bad as everyone had initially feared.  Case McCoy cemented his position as starting quarterback once David Ash became injured, and the defense tightened up a bit once Manny Diaz got sacked and Greg Robinson was brought in to replace him.  In the end, UT wasn't as bad as I feared that they would be, but they were never going to be a strong enough team to be in contention for a Bowl Championship Series slot.  I guess the big question is whether Mack Brown will keep his job.  UT has a new athletic director, Steve Patterson, coming in who will probably feel less allegiance and loyalty to Brown than outgoing director DeLoss Dodds.  Brown has suffered a couple of very rough seasons in the last two years, but both of those seasons were, in the end, winning seasons, and Brown, of course, still has that national championship win from 2005 under his belt that can always be used to deflect a certain amount of criticism.  Brown has shown a willingness to make some changes (e.g., firing both Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis and Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz), but often those changes come long after the damage has been done.  Consequently, Brown's leadership skills fall into question as he always seems to be reacting to disasters of his own making rather than charting a path toward success.
Coming into his job at UT, Brown was touted as an exceptional recruiter.  Part of the means by which he accomplished this was by promising incoming players that he would stand by them and continue to to give them playing time (and room to improve) rather than replacing them at the first sign of trouble.  This philosophy has proven to be a double edged sword for Brown.  When his players have blossomed, it has served the Longhorns well to allow players to learn and grow from their mistakes.  When players have continued to falter and struggle, however, Brown has sometimes allowed them to continue to play long past the point where their continued involvement was causing significant harm to the team and their chances of success (and, of course, when the team isn't doing well overall, recruiting becomes more difficult, anyway).
I don't know what will happen with Brown.  He's given the UT program a lot of success, but the last few years have been difficult.  He makes a ton of money.  Last I checked it was around $5 million a year, and he was one of the highest paid coaches in college football.
But, of course, UT fans are demanding and loud and critical.  We're notorious for it.  I wouldn't say that we're fair weather fans, but when we see things going wrong with our team, we want them to get fixed.  For $5 million a year, it seems fair too have some pretty high expectations.
Anyway, UT will be playing in the Alamo Bowl again versus Oregon. 
We'll see what next season brings.

Saturday night Ryan and Jamie came over for dinner.  Amy made some really good chicken enchiladas with beans and rice.  We had some festive cranberry margaritas, and Ryan and Jamie brought cookies for dessert.  We watched The Colbert Christmas Special and The Nighmare Before Christmas.  We had a good time!

On Sunday we went out for breakfast and ran some errands.  Amy baked some really good cranberry muffins.  Sunday night I had band practice.  Frank, Jim, Reed, and I played, and we sounded pretty good (better on some things than others, but, on the whole, I thought we put up a strong effort all around).  It felt really good to play.

And that's it!  Still cold today in Austin, and rainy as well.  Everyone stay warm and dry!

Monday, December 02, 2013

Thanksgiving; Walking Dead and The State of Nature

Hey!  Hope you guys enjoyed your Thanksgiving.  Amy and I were fortunate enough to have a very nice one.

On the Friday before Thanksgiving, Amy flew out for Arizona.  Her family recently acquired a cabin in Munds Park, about two hours north of Phoenix, so she spent a day or two hiking around with her family and enjoying the snow.  She and her mother also hiked down into and back out of the Grand Canyon after driving up there.  She and Jean took some really nice pictures.  The place looked beautiful.

As I guess I mentioned, I went and saw some movies while she was gone and hung out with some friends and family.

On Tuesday evening I flew out for Arizona. 
I had a really pleasant visit with Amy's family, and we had a really nice Thanksgiving holiday.  Thanksgiving dinner was really good.  Jean and Amy and Greg put together an excellent meal.  We got to visit with Jerry and Carol (including a visit to their house) and Heidi and Matt (including a couple of visits to their house).  We got to spend some really fun time with the nephews, Scott and Nathan.


We went for walks and looked at some Mexican pottery and saw some pretty serious model trains and watched a little football.  Mostly we just hung out and talked and relaxed, which was good.  Sometimes you don't really realize how busy your day to day life has been keeping you until you get a chance to unwind for a minute.

(it's hard not to smile when confronted with very elaborate
model trains, constructed in painstaking detail by jolly,
retired men)





(cranberry margaritas and a picture in
front of the Tree of Life.  These things will
make you thankful!)

So we had a good Thanksgiving out in Arizona.
 
I'm thankful for an awful lot of things this year.  A humbling number of things, really.  I'm extremely thankful to be married to Amy (amazing!), I'm thankful to be in good health and to have a good job, I'm thankful for my family, I'm thankful to have some great friends, and I'm extremely thankful to have married into a family that's as warm hearted, generous, and gracious as the Davis-Sinex-Koffel family.  I've been out Arizona about five times now, and they've been very welcoming and made me feel very comfortable each time.  I know that this isn't always the case when someone gets married, and I feel extremely fortunate to have such great group of people as part of my extended family.  

(a healthy helping of thankfulness from the Davis, Koffel,
Sinex, Steans clan) 
We got home Saturday night.  Unpacked.
Sunday we ran errands.  We did a couple of shopping trips, put up the tree, hung Christmas lights, and exercised.  Amy made a buttermilk baked chicken dish with bread crumbs for dinner and a side of some sort of slaw.  It was great.   
Afterward we watched an episode of Austin City Limits featuring Delta Spirit.  It was pretty cool.  We'd been at the taping for that one, and it had been a fun show the first time around as well.
 
After Amy went to bed I watched the mid season finale of The Walking Dead.

We had a really nice Thanksgiving!  I hope everyone else had a good one, too! 

(Okay- here ends the warm, fuzzy part of the Thanksgiving post.  Those of you who are interested in reading about quality zombie television programming may proceed).

Walking Dead is just relentlessly brutal.  I've never watched a show before that's been so consistently dark.  You keep thinking that the characters are going to turn a corner and that things will start to get better for them, but it never really happens.  At best, any happiness that the characters find is just a reprieve from the relentless tragedy that they continually face.
But the audience wants to see what will become of these people, and the show remains compelling because, but for perhaps one main character, you truly never know who is going to survive and who is going to die. 
Those who haven't seen the show might dismiss it as simple zombie fiction, but fans know that it's probably more about people than it is about zombies.  Zombies just happen to be the plot device that reduces humanity to- and keeps humanity in- what philosophers would call a "state of nature".  The philosopher Thomas Hobbes imagined the state of nature as the condition that humanity would find itself in without civilized society.  Apparently having a fairly cynical view of human nature, Hobbes imagined that humans would instantly fall into vicious combat over limited resources in a world without society's rules, and accordingly, he famously described the state of nature as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short"- adjectives which sound like a fairly apt description for life in America following the The Walking Dead's zombie apocalypse.
John Rawls, however, posited a slightly more positive view of human nature.  According to Rawls, inherent human behavior would naturally lead people, or those found in a sort of nature scenario, to work out rational, equitable agreements that would allow people to exist in a relatively harmonious fashion.  Sensing that widespread combat and violent, pervasive competition would create an environment that would be detrimental to a much greater number of people than the number who would benefit from it, Rawls believed that humans would naturally rely upon their innate sense of logic to create social structures in which people could peacefully coexist.
The Walking Dead uses its zombie-filled setting to dramatically illustrate the tensions between these sorts of competing philosophies.  One group of humans, primarily the group led on the show by Rick, try to reestablish society by way of cooperative labor, a system of rights-based justice, and democratic leadership.  Team Rick seems more in keeping with the Rawls school of thought.  Other groups, including those led by The Governor, struggle to survive by simply attempting to defeat other groups and individuals.  For this second type of group, competition trumps cooperation, victory trumps respect for individual rights, and leadership is won by way of force and/or deception.  The Governor and his ilk seem to represent a more Hobbesian worldview.



(There's nothing more festive than a gun battle in a zombie wasteland.
We can all agree to be thankful for the death of The Governor...)

Annnnyway, all of this to say that The Walking Dead is a good show.  It portrays people in life or death situations with their back to the wall, and it shows such circumstances bringing out the absolute best and the absolute worst in people.
I guess that I was oversimplifying things to say that the Walking Dead tunes in each week to see who lives and who dies.  We don't just want to see who survives.  We're just as interested in seeing how the characters survive.  We want to see the lengths to which they're willing to go, the lines which they aren't willing to cross, and the way that they live with themselves after they've suffered incredible loss and made impossible choices.
Given that it all stems from a zombie survival fantasy, it feels incredibly real.