Monday, January 27, 2014

Snowpocalypse and Weekend Update

Hey!  Hope everyone is doing just fine.  I guess we're in midwinter now.  The weather here in Austin has been a little crazy.  Last Thursday night the temperatures dropped down into, I guess, the twenties, and we got some precipitation mixed in with freezing temperatures.  This, of course, set the stage for Austin's SNOWPOCALYPSE 2014!  By Thursday afternoon, with temperatures just starting to drop below freezing, and with no ice yet in sight, the City of Austin sent it's road crews into high gear, coating bridges and overpasses with large amounts of de-icing crytals (I'm not sure what they actually use, but apparently salt is obsolete at this point).  The first casualties of the snowpocalypse, in fact, were apparently caused by cars sliding not on ice, but on de-icing material that had been spread on the surfaces of highways like IH-35 and 290.  Anyway, we did eventually get some legitimate sleet and freezing rain, and between 5 p.m. and midnight Austin emergency services ended up responding to at least 109 crashes
Soooo... Friday was delcared a snow day, with local schools, government offices, and the university shut down.  Suddenly Amy and I had an unexpected, but very welcome three day weekend on our hands.  Texans, and Austinites in particular, love a good snow day.  It's a day when you're not only free from going to work, but a day in which you are actually encouraged to avoid getting in your car and going anywhere.  The whole point of the snow day, after all, is to avoid the death trap of icy Austin roads.


Of course, a person still wants to enjoy their snow day, so by 11:15 I was out the door and shuffling my way (carefully!) over to our nearby movie theater to try to catch a flick.  I was foiled on my first attempt.  The theater, perhaps wisely, had decided to open late so that their employees didn't have to drive on the roads to get to work.  I walked around a bit, trying to imagine what it must be like to live in a bitterly cold place where people have to struggle their way through a frozen wasteland as part of their day to day existence (Lubbock and Dallas came to mind), and then I walked home.  I did a few chores, and then I went back to the theater in the early afternoon. 
I saw Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, which turned out to be a pretty mediocre spy flick.  It seemed like it didn't really know what it wanted to be.  It started out as a more reality-based espionage thriller, with our undercover hero, Dr. Jack Ryan, working as an analyst on Wall Street, essentially performing high level forensic accounting in the hopes of tracking terrorist money transfers.  Of course, eventually Ryan is called into action and ends up in a situation where people are trying to kill him.  Plausibly, he seems extremely rattled at first.  Ryan, as he repeatedly protests, is trained as an analyst and not as a field agent.  It takes about 10 minutes, though, for our hero to go from economics nerd to Rambo, and his handlers at the CIA seem more than happy to repeatedly thrust an untrained analyst into life and death combat scenarios that would tax the skills of a green beret ninja.  By the end of the movie, Ryan's character felt like a bit of a stretch, and the enemy's conspiracy felt artificial and forced.  I generally like Chris Pine, but Harrison Ford did a much better job of bringing the awkwardness and sense of discomfort to Tom Clancy's analyst-turned-hero character.  Pine's character felt more like Jason Bourne, which just isn't all that appropriate for a depiction of, well, Jack Ryan.

By Friday night the ice had melted and the roads had cleared.  We headed over to our friend Reid's house to play some games with friends.  We played a game called The Resistance: Avalon.  The game was pretty cool.  It involves secret identities and trickery and people trying to figure out who is on their team and who is working against them (kind of remind me of life at the courthouse!  Hahaha!!).  It's sort of based on the King Arthur stories.  Anyway, we had a lot of fun playing it.  We also played a game which involved telling fairy tale stories with cards.  I never really got the hang of that one.  Not sure it was my favorite, but by then I was a little tired and worn out, so maybe I need to give it another shot at some point.  Anyway, it was fun to see Reid and Jim and friends.  Very nice of them to have us over.

Saturday we had breakfast at Magnolia Cafe and then ran some errands.  We did some chores and took Cassidy to Joslin Park.  The weather was beautiful, and it was hard to imagine that the town had been iced over the previous morning.
Saturday night we went to Bass Concert Hall.  As a Christmas present for me, Amy had gotten us tickets to the KUTX first anniversary birthday extravaganza.  There were three acts:  Thao & the Get Down Stay Down, Iron and Wine, and Neko Case.  All three were really good.
We had seen Thao & the Get Down at this year's ACL Fest, and it was good to see them again.  Their music is different and catchy and funky.  Not all of it is immediately accessible, and I felt like I had a much greater appreciation for it this second time around.  They're a cool band.

The Iron and Wine set was really cool, too.  Sam Beam has really beautiful, haunting songs.  His father joined him onstage for his set, and accompanied him on a combination of instruments, ranging from banjo to mandolin to possibly some guitar.  That definitely made the show feel special.  In addition to being a great singer-songwriter, Beam has a very comfortable, relaxed, funny presence as a performer.  I've seen him several times now, and I've repeatedly been struck by how his relatively upbeat personality kind of lays at odds with the more somber music that he performs.  In fact, he even made a couple of quips about the fact that his "sad music" might not be the ideal choice for a birthday party.  Whatever.  He was great.  I guess he's moved out of state, but it was nice to have him back in Austin for the night.

Neko Case closed out the evening.  She and her band were also great.  We had seen them at ACL Fest this year, as well, but their ACL Fest was marred by bad sound quality, with an extremely loud Atoms for Peace set on a neighboring stage stomping all over the quieter numbers performed by Neko and her band.  So it was great to hear Neko at Bass, a performance hall with great acoustics and a quiet, respectful audience.  The venue may have been a little more formal than than the band was expecting for a birthday party, but it was a great place to showcase their talent. 
The tempo of Case's music can range from slow to driving, and Neko her band is sort of large and plays a wide variety of instruments.  The songs, though varied, all kind of tug at the heartstrings and evoke emotion.  Neko's specialties, fueled by the harmonies of her uniquely talented backup singer, Kelly Hogan, seem to lend themselves to heartbreak and sorrow, but almost any sort of angst will do.  Case and crew rip through "Man", a rocking plea in defense of masculinity, with an interesting combination of bravado and desperation.  From nuanced and complex to achingly simple, Neko Case performs songs that conjure up feeling in a way that surely instills envy in a lot of other artists.
Anyway, it was great to see her.  It was great night!  Thanks for the tickets, Amy!

(a moment on the balcony at Bass Concert Hall before the
start of the show.  UT Tower in background to make it legit)

On Sunday Amy made us breakfast (eggs, sausage, hashbrowns.  Yum!).   We took Cassidy to Garrison Park.  We walked around and then sat in the sun and did some reading while Cassidy hopped around.
Sunday afternoon I went over to Strange Brew for a while for the Sunday Bedlam.  I'll probably post about it at some point on my new blog, so I'll hold off on writing about it here.  I only was there for about an hour, but I had a good time.

Amy made pasta with Italian chicken sausage, spinach, and wine sauce for dinner.  It had both penne and rotini pasta.  It was excellent.  Had it with some salad and bread. 
 

And that was pretty much the weekend.  It was a good one.  The extra day off was really nice.  There's a chance of more freezing rain again this week, so all of you Austinites stay safe!

Peace.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Update

Well, we had a three day weekend because of the MLK Day holiday.  Amy hadn't seen her family in a while, so she flew home to Arizona on Friday, leaving me pretty much unsupervised for the weekend.
Despite her absence, I have no Hangover-style stories of debauchery and depravity to tell.  Friday night I watched TV and went to bed early (still fighting the ol' cedar fever, ya know).  Saturday Dad came over and helped me fix a broken cabinet in one of our bathrooms.  That evening I went to dinner with he and Mom at Maudie's.  It was really nice to hang out with them and catch up.
On Sunday I ran some errands, did some chores, and got some exercise.  In the afternoon I went over to Saxon Pub to see Ray Bonneville perform.  It was a really good little show.  I recommend him highly.  If you're interested in what I thought of the show, I'll be putting a post up on my new blog, ATX Note Book (check the Hot Links section on the right of this page).
Sunday evening Reed, Jim, and Frank came over to make some music.  We had a good time playing.  It had been a while since we had gotten together, and it felt good to play.
I'm not really sure about the state of Mono Ensemble as a gig-playing musical entity these days.  We enjoy getting together to play when we can, but it's pretty hard to get people together often enough to learn new material and even harder to get things worked up well enough to play them in public.
We still enjoy playing, though, so we'll keep getting together to practice.  I guess time will just sort of tell in terms of playing shows.
Anyway, it was good to play on Sunday night.  On Monday, MLK Day, I did some laundry and then went shopping with Ryan.  Every once in a while we hit a couple of stores together since we both have to buy big and tall clothes.  When you bring more average sized people with you to those kinds of places they get bored pretty quickly because nothing will fit them.  Which is sort of the way we feel in normal stores.  Anyway, that's why we go together.  We bought a couple of shirts and grabbed some lunch.
After that I picked up Amy from the airport.
Which felt really good.  Nice to have her home!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Update

Well, the weekend was pretty good.  Sort of low key.  Amy had a periodontal procedure performed on Thursday, so we sort of took it a little easy this weekend (she's a trooper, though, and her minor surgery didn't slow her down nearly as much as I had been afraid it might).  We spent part of the weekend dealing with exciting things like grocery shopping and visits from our pest control company.
On Saturday night we went to Strange Brew to go see a South Austin band called The Dimestore Poets.  They were pretty good.  I'm going to blog about them over on my new music site, ATX Note Book, when I get a chance.
So we had a nice time Saturday night.  We had thought about trying to meet up with some friends at Broken Spoke after Dimestore Poets so we could catch Dale Watson, but between Amy's mouth surgery and my cedar fever, we were just a little worn out.  We ended up heading home.  I hope to catch him some other time, though.
Sunday we went out for breakfast at The Bakehouse.  That place is okay, but... just okay.  I wish it was a little better.  It's close to our house, and it's been a local South Austin business since forever, so I want to support it, but... it's just sort of medium. 
After breakfast we just ran errands.  Among other places, we went to Breed and Co.  Amy was thoroughly befuddled by the Breed and Co. experience.  I hadn't been in there for a while, and going back, especially with someone who had never been before, I had to admit that it is a strange store.  You can buy your painting supplies, construction tools, fancy dinner plates, greeting cards, and leather attache cases all in one place.  They have interesting things, but Amy kept asking me, "What is this place supposed to be?", and I didn't know what to tell her.  It's an odd (but interesting!) store.
Anyway, we got a gift certificate for the store from Reed and Jen for our wedding, and we used it to buy a really nice windchime, which we've been wanting to get for a while.  It was perfect.  Thanks, Reed and Jen!
Sunday night Amy made some really good soup which was a sort of Thai chicken noodle dish.  It was really good.  I've been having allergy problems, and it was good to have some hot chicken soup with a little bit of spice to it.  Made me feel better!
Amy also made pudding this weekend.  Vanilla.  Vey good.  Dangerously good.  As I told her, it was a good treat, but it might be a little too tempting to have it around the house on a regular basis.
Later that night we watched Treme.  Really, really like that show.  We're almost done with season 3, and I think they only made about half a season for season 4 before having to close it out.  It's just a real shame that Treme didn't find a bigger audience.  Even The Wire didn't really do as strong a job as Treme has done in terms of capturing so many aspects of a city- both positive and negative.  As Wendell Pierce said in a recent Rolling Stone article, Treme has not only broken new ground in terms of the way that music is portrayed on television, but the show will serve as a sort of document that accurately depicts the culture and art of New Orleans during a certain point in time.  I agree.  I think people will be watching Treme for years and years, and I think the show will slowly snowball in popularity long after it's off the air (The Wire had a similar progression).  New Orleans is one of the most unique places in the world, and Treme portrays the city in the early days of what was literally a fight back from the brink of nonexistence following Hurricane Katrina.  Very good show.
Anyway, that was our weekend.
Hope you guys are doing well!

Monday, January 06, 2014

The Weekend

Hey!  Hope everyone's doing okay!
We're into January now.  January and February are traditionally not my favorite months.  They can seem like a sort of dark period between the festive holiday season and the fun and exciting Austin spring time.  These months cold and dark.  Also, if you live in Austin, January and the first half of February bring cedar fever season.  The cedar pollen counts get so high in Austin that even people who don't normally have allergies frequently develop symptoms.
But this year I'm working really hard at maintaining a positive attitude through the winter months.  I'm taking allergy medication and trying to exercise every day (which seems to make me feel better in terms of allergies).  Anyway, trying to keep my chin up this winter.  I guess that I'm sort of typing all of this in the hopes of strengthening my resolve.

But, annnnywaaay....

The weekend was good.  Friday night we stayed home and watched a movie.  PCU, to be precise.  PCU is a pretty ridiculous college movie from 1994 (I first saw it during my own college days) starring Jeremy Piven, David Spade, Jessica Walter, and Jon Favreau, among others.  The movie centers around a gang of misfit students who organize a giant party in order to raise money (in order to thwart a conspiracy to kick them off campus which was hatched by a conniving fraternity and a killjoy university president).  The movie's pretty dumb, but it's fun in it's stupidity, and it has some genuinely funny moments scattered throughout.  It also has that sort of party vibe that just makes you feel sort of good.  We had watched Back to School sometime in 2013, and Amy really enjoyed it, so we rolled the dice on this one, because it's somewhat in the same vein.  Pretty fun.
Anyway, that was Friday.


Saturday we ran a few errands. 
In the early evening we went to a retirement party for one of my co-workers, Kate.  The party was at the house which she lives in with her  husband, David, and it's a really nice place out in Westlake.  There were a bunch of people from my office and the courthouse at the party, and it was a good time.  We had a couple of drinks and chatted with people out on her porch, watching the sun set over the hills.
After the party we had dinner at Cypress Grill on the way home.  It was good.

Sunday we got up and had a good breakfast (eggs and sausage and hashbrowns).  We went to church.  One of our friends, Jessie, was being sworn in as a church elder at Central, so we were there for that.  Very nice.  Sunday afternoon we did a bunch of laundry and some chores.  Got a little exercise.
Sunday night we went to the Village Alamo and saw The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug.  Now I know that there are points where the Hobbit movies diverge from the Tolkien books, and I know that this constitutes a heretical crime from many purists, but... I've been kinda liking these movies.  Can they be a little silly?  Yeah, at times they can.  On the other hand, they have a sense of humor, and I find them to be fun.  I'm still not exactly sure that Jackson needed to split a single book into three movies, each one clocking in at over two hours, but, nonetheless, I've enjoyed the ride.  I know that a lot of people just think that Jackson wanted to cash in with these movies, and this is probably true to some extent, but I think he also just loves Tolkien's Middle-earth, and he can't resist the chance to make movies in this world for as long as he can.  Still, with these Hobbit movies he's definitely left the door open for someone to come after him and make a "more pure" adaptation of the books in movie form.  I've been enjoying Jackson's Hobbit films, but I'm not without some sympathy for the argument that Tolkien's writing (which are obviously time-honored classics) should be messed with as little as possible.
Anyway, I still think that the Hobbit movies are fun if you can go into them without taking them too seriously.  (and given that the original novel was written as a work of children's literature, perhaps it's not inappropriate to ask the audience to lighten up and just enjoy the ride)

Anyway, that was our weekend.  I hope everyone else had a good one.
It's very cold here in Austin right now, with temperatures barely expected to make it out of the thirties over the next couple of days.  Everyone stay warm and enjoy your January!

Friday, January 03, 2014

New Year's

Happy New Year, everyone!  2013, on a personal level, was a really good year for me.  Amy and I got married, and things have been really good with us.  We're really looking forward to 2014. 
Things at work are going well.  The mental health docket, veterans court, and other random prosecutorial jobs are all keeping me busy.  Amy started a new job this year doing environmental enforcement with the Attorney General's Office.  She seems very happy with it, which, in turn, makes me happy.  My family seems happy and healthy, and I've had the chance to spend some time with Amy's family and get to know them better.  That's been really good as well.
My band hasn't really been playing as much as I'd like, but we're still getting together when we can, and that's always good.  I still love making music, and I wish I had more time and opportunities to do it. 
Anyway, it's been a good year.  It almost feels unrealistic to hope that 2014 will be just as good, but... finger crossed.

To celebrate this year we went to a New Year's Eve party that was hosted by a couple that both work with Amy, Kellie and Tommy.  Their party was really nice.  It was festive, with good food and nice people.  We had a really nice time hanging out and chatting with folks and playing with their dogs.  It was a good way to bring in 2014. 
On New Year's Day we walked over to Central Market and had breakfast.  In the afternoon Mandy had some folks over, so we wandered across the street for black eyed peas, corn bread, and cabbage (and maybe a drink or two).  It was sort of the perfect way to spend the afternoon on New Year's Day.  We all sat around shooting the breeze, enjoying the beautiful weather, and being lazy.  It was very nice.

So that was how we rolled into 2014. 

Here's to a good year!  May it bring everyone some happiness and peace.

Cheers!