Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Christmas 2017

Merry Christmas!  Well, Christmas has come and gone, and 2017 provided a pretty festive, jolly holiday.
Last Thursday I went to the Austin Trail of Lights in Zilker Park with Amy, Raylan, and my parents.  I don't think I'd been to the trail of lights in many, many years.  I certainly hadn't been to visit it during the current era, with lot of complicated displays and live music and rides and on-site Santa Claus.  It was a fun evening.  Raylan had a really good time, of course.  We went ahead and bought a zip pass, so we got to get in an hour or so before the general admission gates opened.  There were still quite a few people there, but it didn't feel too crowded.


The Zilker Christmas Tree.  Obligatory Zilker Tree picture.

Raylan rode the merry-go-round with Grandma.
When I asked him how he liked it, he said,
"It went up and down.  It was loud."

I mentioned that Raylan liked the lights, right?
Christmas Eve was on Sunday this year.  I think Saturday was spent running around and trying to get some last minute errands resolved.
Our Christmas Eve was a little unusual this year in that they held a service in the morning.  We ended up going to the morning service in order to accommodate Raylan's nap schedule and so we would have more time to make it over to Ryan and Jamie's house in the evening.
The Sunday morning service was pretty nice.  Raylan made it through a little more than half of the service, which was more than I was expecting out of him.

Raylan and Amy before church

Family picture at church

Grandma and Papa with some little kid
After church we got home and got Raylan out to ride around on his bike.  The weather was cool and clear and nice.  We headed up to Joslin Park to go to the playground.  Rylan is getting really good at riding his balance bike.

This tree was bright and colorful enough to fascinate a
two year old

Working out with Mom on the exercise equipment at the park
On Christmas Eve, Ryan and Jamie had all of us over for a dinner/party gathering.  Doug and Kristen were in town from the Bay Area.  Susan, Mom, Dad, Dick, and Juan Diaz were there as well.

It may something about me as a person that I mostly forgot to take
pictures of people at Ryan and Jamie's house, and yet I have a
picture of the food.
We had a nice evening at Ryan and Jamie's.  The food was good, the company was pleasant, the house looked festive, and everyone seemed to have a nice time.  Raylan ran around like the little party animal that he typically is at social gatherings (plus, this time he had Scout and Lucy to "entertain").  Thanks to Ryan and Jamie for putting on such a nice Christmas Eve gathering!

On Christmas morning we got up and did the pretty traditional Christmas morning thing.  Rylan was really happy to open his gifts, and seemed genuinely thrilled to get them.  In fact, at one point he sort of got overwhelmed with all of the excitement.  He retreated to his room, where I found him sitting on his bed.  
He told me, "I need to rest."
Of course, the "resting" only lasted about 30 seconds before he sprinted back down the hallway to the tree to look for more presents.


Raylan started to yank presents out from under the tree, but I quickly
snapped this pic when he ran to his room for a breather.

Amy helps Raylan open a gift

I help Raylan open a gift

Christmas fever!



Raylan is fascinated and mesmerized by the marble run
After we opened presents and helped Raylan play with a few, Amy made a really nice breakfast (eggs, hash browns, sausage, English muffins, fruit).
I took Raylan for a ride on his balance bike, and we went to Joslin again.

Christmas seems to be working out okay for this kid.
After we got back from the park we loaded Raylan in the car and drove out to my parents' house in Steiner Ranch.  We got there sort of early so we could put Raylan down for his nap at their house.
Later on, the gang came over for dinner and to celebrate Christmas.  Susan, Uncle Donald, Ryan, Jamie, Doug, Kristen, and Dick were there with Mom, Dad, Amy, Raylan, and myself.

We had a really nice time!  Dinner was good, and the company was good.  Raylan woke up from his nap, and was happy to find that a party was going on.

Mom, doing a good job hosting her umpteenth Christmas celebration.
We had dinner, drinks, and dessert.  We opened a few more presents.

Amy and Uncle Ryan help Raylan figure out what his stocking stuffers are.

Doug, Kristen, Ryan, and Jamie keep things merry and bright over
on the sofa.

Mom snaps a picture of me talking to Uncle Donald

From left to right:  Mom, Kristen, Doug, Jamie, Ryan, Susan, Me, Raylan,
Amy, Uncle Donald, Dick, and Dad
We had a really nice time at Mom and Dad's.  We all left there feeling happy, jolly, and full.  Thanks to them for hosting!  It was a great way to spend Christmas Day.

And that was about it!  The Christmas holiday has been a good one at our house.

Raylan gets super involved with his train set on the day after Christmas
I hope everyone else had a good Christmas as well.

Peace, love, and joy to all of y'all this holiday season!


















Friday, December 22, 2017

TV Review: The Punisher (TV Series)


I finished watching The Punisher on Netflix last week.  Although I haven't picked up a Punisher comic in years, I used to sort of collect them back in Hugh school, and had a bunch of the issues from the first unlimited series featuring the character, which started around 1987.
My brother and I were both reading some superhero comics at the time (a lot of X-Men and Batman and stuff), and The Punisher seemed like a sort of answer to a fairly logical question that I had about superheroes at the time- the question being: why couldn't an average Joe just get himself some high powered firearms and fight villains?  Why do you need superpowers to do that?
Well, the answer, as the comics sort of make clear, is that fighting bad guys by just relying on guns sort of turns the whole operation into a blood bath.  When your superhero is fighting crime by unloading on bad guys with an M60, the line between superhero and deranged vigilante gets blurred pretty quick.

Nonetheless, I found The Punisher to be an interesting character in theory, even if he was not always utilized very well by the writers.  He was a military veteran who's family had been killed by criminals.  This, of course, sends our super soldier protagonist over the edge, and he ends up wreaking all sorts of havoc in pursuit of... well... punishment.

The comics were okay back in the day, but a bit one dimensional.  Mostly I read them as a kid because of the cool descriptions of the weapons and the inventive ways that The Punisher would take out the bad guys.

I'm not sure what's been going on in the comic books in recent years, but the new show is better written and much more nuanced than the old comics ever were.

Frank Castle, aka The Punisher, is a combat vet from the Afghanistan War who ended up working for a top secret kidnapping and assassination squad while deployed.  The cast of characters on the show include a bunch of other vets, many of whom are struggling with PTSD and other issues as they attempt to reintegrate into civilian life.  As in the comics, Castle's family gets killed, although this time their murders appear to be linked to Frank's secret work while deployed overseas.

I liked the show a lot.  It's still based on a comic book and keeps the vigilante plot line intact, but the themes surrounding returning vets and the difficulties that they face after combat deployments are grounded in very recognizable real-world issues.  
I was impressed that they had taken the sort of "Rambo-esque", action movie style star from my childhood comics and turned him into a more fully realized literary figure.
Anyway, if I had come to the show with no prior history I'm not sure how I would have felt.  As someone who had an appreciation of the evolution of the character, however, I really enjoyed it.
 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Update

So, how's it going?
Things are pretty good here, albeit slightly hectic, as is usual around holiday time.
On Thursday of this week we had our yearly Travis County Attorney's Office holiday luncheon during the day, and our office party in the evening.  It's kind of weird that we have them both on the same day, I guess, but such is the tradition.  I made it to both events, and they were each pretty fun in their own way.  The holiday lunch has pretty much everyone from the office gathered together for a meal, and it's always sort of fun to see the people from all of the different sections gathered together in one place (a lot of us barely ever see each other normally, except to sort of say hi on the elevator or when passing in the hallway).  The holiday party at night is open to defense attorneys, judges, and people from the courthouse that we do business with.  This year the theme was "holiday getaway", and there were some wacky Hawaiian shirts, leis, hula skirts, etc.  There was also a photo booth...

Believe it or not, these people help decide who gets
convicted of crimes in our county
Anyway, I had fun at the party.  My Mom and Dad took Raylan (thanks!), and Amy stayed home and had a "Mother's Day In", relaxing and catching up on her favorite shows.
Saturday we got up and went out to La Posada for breakfast.  We took Raylan on a tricycle ride to the park, took care of some chores, and ran some errands.  We also played with Raylan a bit at home.

In case you were wondering whether Raylan has outgrown his
fascination with washing machines and dryers...


The big kid slide is pretty fun, Dad, but you gotta take it slow and
make sure you don't slide down too-  

"WHOA!!!!"
No such thing as a self?  Then, Buddha, I guess you won't be able
to get this car off yo head by yo self!  Hahahahaha!!!! 
On Sunday we did a few other shores, played with Raylan some more, and took Raylan to Hoppin' House in the afternoon (it rained on Saturday afternoon, and stayed intermittently misty and damp on Sunday).


"I am so excited!  I looove Hoppin' House!"
Sunday night I got together with Frank and Reed for band practice.  It was fun.  We sounded pretty good for a three man band with no bass.

Monday morning I went to Raylan's school and played a few Christmas songs for the kids.  They warmed up to the music and started dancing after a couple of songs (Amy was there, and she makes for a great cheerleader/toddler drill sergeant).
We all had fun.

Luckily I've had a lot of practice playing for crowds that stare
at me blankly.

So many objects to show Amy.  So little time.

So that was the weekend, pretty much.  Good, but it went by really fast.
After Christmas I'm gonna take a nap.


Saturday, December 16, 2017

Book Review- Leviathan Wakes


So I just finished reading Leviathan Wakes, a sort of space opera science fiction epic by James S. A. Corey (the pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck).  The novel is the first book in The Expanse series.
Amy and I have been watching the television series for The Expanse and really enjoying it.  The first season of the show essentially follows the events of Leviathan Wakes.  
The book was pretty good.  It has some details that aren't included in the show.
Overall, though, this is one of those rare instances when I think I'd have to say that I really prefer the show to the book.
There are a number of reasons for this.
For one thing, the show actually has entire plot lines (and good ones) that the book doesn't explore.  Since I've only read the first book, maybe some of these plot lines are covered in the second book and brought in to add depth to the show. Even if that's the case though, I think that the backstory (essentially, events which are unfolding on earth which end up having an impact on our protagonists up in space) seems best told in the manner and sequence that the TV show utilized.  Without the plot line regarding Earth and the U.N., the focus remains almost exclusively on a small group of characters, and it sometimes becomes sort of easy to forget how many powerful players must actually be participating in the solar-system-wide struggle that makes up the book's central story.

Additionally, in a sort of unusual twist, I found the some of the main characters on the show to be a little more well-developed and interesting that the portrayal of those same characters in the book.  A lot of time is spent on the novel's two main characters, Holden and Miller, but other characters, particularly Alex and Amos, seemed better developed on the show.  Maybe that had something to do with the actors wanting to breathe more life into their characters, or maybe it had to do with decisions by the screenwriters and directors to develop more of a truly ensemble cast.  Either way, there was something about the way that Alex and Amos were brought to life on the show that just felt more effective than the way that they were portrayed in the book.  I also found Naomi and Fred to just be a little more relatable on the show than they seemed in the book.

Finally, the special effects on the show actually help.  The authors of the book explain certain things pretty well (e.g., Ceres station and Eros), but some of the ships and other things are sort of outlined in much more vague terms.
The visuals created by the show involve design and artistic vision which manage to be cool to look at, while still keeping the whole story in a sort of "near future" context, where spaceships are powerful, awesome things to behold, but which are still bound by the laws of "real world" physics and mechanics (there aren't any interstellar warp drive engines or technology driven wormholes).  The visuals of The Rocinante, for example, on the show helped solidify the ship as a sci-fi classic in a way that the book didn't really manage to pin down right away.

Anyway, the book had some merits that the show didn't have or couldn't produce (obviously, reading the book gave a sense of what the main characters were thinking, and the protomolecule was actually a lot scarier in the book than it was on the show).
On the whole, though, I think I prefer the show.

Weird....


 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Update

Hello!  Hope things are going well for everyone.
We're racing toward Christmas here at a semi-frenetic pace.  Mother Nature stepped in this week to make things feel a little more Christmasy (Christmasish?  Christmaslike?) this week by bringing us over an inch of snow in the Austin area.  I really don't ever remember such a thing happening before Christmas here in Austin, although I could be wrong.
Raylan, having read quite a few stories about snow-filled Christmases, had asked several times about when it was going to snow, so I was happy that the little guy got to see some white stuff on the ground.  A Christmas miracle!
Both the Attorney General's Office and Travis County opened late so that the ice could melt off the roads a bit.  Our family braved the snow and went out to breakfast La Posada.  We got to see the snowy South Austin neighborhoods on the way there and back.  It was fun.








Someone must have been out building this guy in the dark as the snow
was falling on William Canon.  Raylan was impressed.
It's also the time of year when various work-related holiday events take place.  The mental health docket that I work on takes place twice a week in County Court 8, and this year Judge Barrera and his staff invited our mental health docket team to attend their yearly Christmas holiday luncheon.  It was really fun!  The food was amazingly good.  I'm not sure how they pulled it off in an office without a real kitchen.

The holiday buffet!  All homemade and delicious.

People wander in to celebrate once they're done with their
morning dockets.
So I had a nice time at the holiday luncheon.  I had to squeeze it in before a morning docket and and an afternoon docket, but it was still really nice.
On Saturday we did some chores and errands during the day.  Raylan got some time outside.  He's getting better at pedaling that tricycle.
Saturday evening my parents, Ryan, and Jamie came over for dinner.  Amy made King Ranch chicken casserole and salad.  She also made some sugar cookies, which Raylan got to decorate before dinner with some help from Amy and Mom.  He had fun with that.


For every sprinkle that made it onto the cookies, two went into
Raylan's mouth

Raylan gets excited when his people are all together.  He was
running around like a crazy person, here, and giving out the
occasional hug

Family dinner time!

After dinner the grandparents and aunt and uncle helped Raylan
 put together a puzzle.  Seemed to be the highlight of his day.
So we had a nice dinner.  Very casual, but very fun.

On Sunday we played with Raylan some more.  More tricycle riding around the neighborhood.
Patrolling the mean streets of Western Trails.

2 years old, going on 14.

Amy did some babysitting for Shelly and Kit again (well, for Spencer- Shelly and Kit can mostly care for themselves).  I got Raylan his lunch, read some books with him, and got him down for his nap while Amy took care of Spencer.

Amy made tinga chicken tacos for dinner, and they were great.  Lots of good Amy food this weekend.

I had band practice in the evening, and it was fun.  Frank, Reed, Jim, and myself.  It had been a while since we played, and it felt good.

And that was the weekend!  Have a good week!

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Update

Hello!  Hope things are going well as everyone launches into December!
We've got our tree up (Amy ordered a new tree for us this year, and it looks nice), a few Christmas decorations, and some lights on the outside of the house.

Supah festive!
Let's see, what have we been up to....?
On Wednesday of this week we went to dinner with our friends Tommy and Kellie at the Kerbey Lane down on Guadalupe.  That was good.  It was fun to see them and catch up.

On Saturday morning we went to the Austin Nature and Science Center.  We met up with a few of Raylan's friends from school.  That place is pretty cool.  It has a few animals (some large birds, a fox, a bobcat, a prairie dog, and some animals in aquariums), a pond, a creek, and a large, sand "Dino Pit" where the kids can dig for dinosaur bones (cement).  The place has apparently been there forever, right on the west side of Mopac, just over Ladybird Lake, but I had no idea that it existed.  (which seems weird, since I've pretty much lived here my whole life and tend to think I'm not totally ignorant about my city).

Yeah, the pond is great, Mom, but we gotta keep mooooving!

Dorothy, I think that something BIG might have died in this sandbox....

Evie, Dorothy, and Raylan get to work on digging up
those dino bones.

Papa, how am I supposed to fall into the water with all of this
fencing in the way?

Pond

Raylan, Amy, and Sam

Dad, I keep trying to look at the filters, but the turtles keep
getting in the way.

Raylan, Alex, and Evie checkin' out the critters



"We went to the park yesterday and I made Papa chase me!"
(actual quote)

Evie and Raylan getting ready for snack time.
So the nature center was fun.  Raylan had a blast seeing his friends and running around.  It was also nice to get to see the other parents again and chat with them a bit more.

On Saturday evening Mom and Dad took Raylan to spend the night at their house.  Amy and I had a little date night.  We went out to dinner and went to see Thor: Ragnarok (which was a fun movie, but pretty ridiculous).  We also got some grocery shopping done.  Cause that's how we party these days.
On Saturday we went out for breakfast, and then Amy went over to babysit for Shelly and Kit.
Mom and Dad brought Raylan home, and Dad helped me hang some blinds (thanks, Dad!)

Later in the afternoon I went for a bike ride.  It was the first anniversary of the St. Elmo Brewing Co., and I'd been wanting to go to that place since it opened, so I rode my bike over there.  It was pretty cool, but also pretty crowded.  They had a bluegrass band playing, food for sale, and a few beer specials going on.  The beers that I tried were pretty good.
There were a lot of dogs and little kids.  There were also a lot of guys wandering about who worked at other breweries around town.  I ended up talking for a bit to a little group of guys who worked at three different breweries (Hops and Grain, 512, and Live Oak).  They all did different kinds of stuff at the breweries (one actually brewed beer, and two of the other guys were in marketing).  It occurred to me while talking to them that Austin is now employing quite a few people in its craft beer industry. Kind of cool.


St. Elmo's 1st anniversary

So I hung out for a while St. Elmo.  Then I rode back toward home.  I stopped off for a beer at Radio just to chill out there for a few minutes as well in a less hectic environment.  It's a nice place.


Radio

I got home, and Raylan was still asleep.  It seemed strange.  I felt like I'd been pedaling around South Austin for a while, talking to people, having a few beers, and then I got home and Raylan wasn't even up from his nap yet (he'd been sleeping when I left).  It was kinda nice.  I got to have some time away, and he literally didn't even know I was gone.  (and Amy got to do some cooking and relaxing without me pestering her)
Amy made some tikka masala for dinner in her new pressure cooker, and after dinner we all goofed around a bit, got tired, and went to bed,

Raylan helps Amy do the laundry in the new washer and dryer.
They have lot of lights and play little songs.
Raylan, already fascinated with appliances, is in love.
So that was the weekend.  It felt like it went by way, way too fast.
I hope you guys have a good week!