Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Four Christmases?! Amateurs...

Merry Christmas, my loyal followers (all 5 of you)!

So, I heard about this movie "Four Christmases", starring Reese Witherspoon & Vince Vaughn. All I could think was, "JUST four!?"

This year is an oddity for us, as we're cutting out our annual trip down Monroe ways to Ida for my cousin's Christmas Eve bash. It's usually the biggest family gathering of the year for my side of the family, with anywhere from 20 to 30 people in attendance. The only problem is, it's in Ida (a good hour's drive). After totaling my car, nearly killing myself and family, and spending the wee hours of Christmas morning in the ER, we figured maybe this was the year we decide to forgo that piece of the holidays and spend Christmas Eve at home.

Usually, this is how Christmas plays out for my family...

Christmas #1)
Christmas Eve, I'll innevitably be working for at least the first few hours of the day. I'll head home about 3ish and we'll spend an hour or so packing up gifts, fudge, cookies, and kids to head to Ida. We usually get there later than most of the family who had the entire day off, but we have an absolutely WONDERFUL time catching up, eating fabulous food, singing carols, opening gifts from extended family, and enjoying the festive atmosphere my cousin manages to muster up every year.

From there, we'll head home, and (when the weather and mode of transporation cooperate, anyway), shuffle the sleepy younglings into the house to lay cookies, fudge and milk out for Santa (along with a few carrots for Rudolph). Then we'll spend the next couple hours filling stockings, wrapping presents, having a drink, and hit the hay.

Christmas #2)
Christmas morning is at home. The kids wake us up at some sort of reasonable hour, having worn themselves out playing with extended cousins the night before. We'll open gifts, have breakfast, maybe watch a Christmas special, and play with our gifts a bit. Afterwards, we'll start gathering more gifts, kids, and a contribution to the next piece of the Christmas Mele...

Christmas #3)
We'll drive to the in-laws' for The Wife's family Christmas. We'll pile though the door and unload the gifts to the already huge pile under the tree. Before we start tearing into wraping paper, we'll spend an hour or so eating the Ferris Traditional Candy Cane-Shaped Coffee Cake as Mom-In-Law & The Wife do some can't-wait-till-later prep for the dinner with her cousins later in the afternoon.

Finally, we'll start the gift-giving. We do this one gift at a time (which drives me nuts, but the kids seem to be fine with). When all is said and done, the kids spend the afternoon with ther toys and we finish prep for dinner. The Wife's cousins come over about 4 and we socialize before dinner. We'll often play some board game or something, have the Ferris Traditional Christmas Pudding and head home about 10ish.

Christmas #4)
Sometime the next afternoon, we'll head to my grandfather's to have Christmas with my more immediate side of the family: mom, uncle, grandfather, & sister. We usually order pizza, open gifts, and just enjoy each others company.

Christmas #5)
Usually in the evening the day after Christmas (sometimes a day or two later) we'll head to my great uncle's place for ANOTHER gathering with my extended-extended family. We'll see cousins we only bump into here, munch on more great food, and catch up a bit. This one I'm not always so fond of, because the inevitable questions arises, "So how's that degree coming?" I'll cite the usual excuses for being a gnat's hair away from my degree, which is usually met with the typical pitiful look of dismay. Ugh. Regardless, we usually have fun and the kids will get some nice little gift from my great aunt and uncle that they'll enjoy much more than anticipated (or at least show polite enthusiasm toward), and we'll head home about 8 or 9.

We've followed this pattern to some degree of reliability for the past decade or so, with the occasional kink in the plan that we'll usually roll with. Every year we say that next year we'll scale it back and forgo some piece of it. This is the first year we're actually following through with it. I'll miss the gathering in Ida, as it's the one piece of Christmas left from my childhood (and several generations back) that has remained fairly consistent throughout the years. Still it'lll be nice not to have the mad dash out the door and frantic scurrying on Christmas Eve.

This year will be different, but families change, traditions form and evolve, and life goes on. I fully expect a wonderful and relaxing Holiday season.

...especially with 5 days off in a row. Haven't had that in a LOOOOOOONG time!

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Final Countdown...

BIIIIIG weekend...

Friday...well...sucked. We got blasted with about 8 inches of snow early Friday morning. While the kids got the day off, I didn't. Driving sucked. No witty analogy, no clever euphemism - just sucked. Getting to work wasn't that bad. The roads were snow covered, but passable. On my lunch break, I decided to get some gas so I wouldn't have to delay myself anymore than I inevitably would anyway on the way to Blockbuster for my shift there. After trudging through calf-deep drifts to my car and gunning the engine to get the momentum to get out, I managed to crawl to the gas station 2 blocks away. I knew it would be bad when I saw a tow truck pull in, skid, nearly hitting my car, and get stuck a mere 2 inches from my bumper. I threw in 5 bucks and crept out to the streets. Due to f*cked up traffic patterns, I ended up having to try turning around in the parking lot of a strip mall - an unplowed parking lot.

I pull into what I presumed was a parking space and immediately got stuck in a snow drift. For the next 15 minutes, I tried rocking the car, turning the wheel, and shouting expletives at my tires (ya know, for traction). I finally gave up and went inside to the Coney Island for lunch. I had a nice chat with my dad on the phone, and then called work to tell them I was stuck 2 blocks away and would be late coming back. I then spent ANTHER 15 minutes trying to free the Blue Bomber II until I manage dot move enough snow to get out. My tires are now smooth as a baby's bottom, necessitating REDICULOUSLY careful driving until I replace them. Chalk up another item to the Christmas Wish List...

Saturday was spent clearing stuff out of the house and cleaning. I made a HUGE drop off to the Salvation Army of old clothes, unplayed with toys, and other odds and ends, finally packed away my summer clothed, did some dishes, and ran some items to the shed. With the plan to have Christmas Eve in our own house for the first time...well, EVER...we want to have place as uncluttered and functional as possibly by Wednesday.

That night I had a gig with the quartet to do a private Christmas party at a home in Rochester. In order to get weekend nights off of work at Blockbuster, I often barter the quartet's services to my manager by offering to sing there before the gigs. We met there and were greeted not only to the usual mele of customers, but my sister, uncle, and an old friend, Chris, from my drum corps days who saw my posting on Facebook! We tried out a few of our songs and sounded great. MEGA thatnks to ur "groupies" who came to cheer us on! (And I hope I didn't traumatize Chris's son, who burst into screaming terror at my enthusiastic greeting.)

From there, we headed out to Rochester with the help of Lou's GPS system. We decided to take Rochester Road straight up, which was a fine and logical idea - until we hit about Auburn Road or so. I had never heard of the Downtown Rochester Light Fest. Apparently, all the stores in Downtown Rochester cover themselves in sheets of lights. Quite a spectacle, to be sure, but not nearly as bright as the fury on my face as we got caught in the 3 mile backup with no way out. We got there about 45 minutes later than planned, but thankfully, the hostess was more than understanding. We proceeded to do a GREAT set (about 15 minutes more than we had planned) for the enthusistic and responsive crowd of about 15 people. She offered for us to saty a bit and enjoy some of the great food, wine, and conversation. We had a great time, finding plenty in common with the other party patrons and even sang a few extra songs. It was an absolute blast and we likely made another few future customers. From there we headed back to Blockbuster to get our own cars and I met Sonya, her brother, and his friend at the Coney Island. Sonya spent much of the time I was singing, cleaning the carpets, and wanted to blow off some steam with fun people. Thus rounded out a VERY good night.

Sunday started out with very little motivation, but we got moving eventually, as the kids were now with their grandparents in Flint. We tidied up the living room, and did a HUGE blitz of the kids' room. The house is starting to feel MUCH better.

Happy Hanukkah to all of my Jewish friends! More on the uncoming Christmas Mele to come!

Monday, December 15, 2008

In A One-Horse Runaway Sleigh!

The gifts are half-bought, the bills are mostly paid, and the financial well has run dry. This last paycheck was nice and hefty (relatively), but all of it went to the wolves at the door. It's not going to be a skimpy Christmas at the ol' Keiser house, but it's not going to be bountiful by any stretch. The kids are pretty well taken care of with only one or two (rather important) odds and ends to get, but I usually get Sonya something huge on her list every year. I've usually sold one of my instruments or used quartet gig money to get it, but I've been so busy, I haven't had time to hustle up a buyer or eBay any of the remaining, dwindling orchestra in my shed. As for quartet gigs, most of what we've done latley have been freebies. We have a paying gig this weekend, but that money's slated to fix the heat in my car, as is the unexpected money for the use of my picture of my French Fry costume from Flicker (see previous post).

This means tightening my financial belt and putting a padlock on my wallet until the next big paycheck comes in...Christmas Eve. Let me make this very plain - I HATE BUDGETS!!!! I don't go hog wild or make any big purchases. I do, however, nickle-and-dime myself to death. Between fast-food meals going from job-to-job, morning coffee, and the evil cigarettes, I can easily go through $50 a week in pretty damned unnecessary expenses without even thinking about it. This week, I have put my bank card in the dark recesses of my wallet (necessitating thoughtful, rather than reflexive use of it). This usually makes a BIG difference, as the additional 2 seconds it would take me to dig it out usually slay the "gotta have it" demons.

I don't spend recklessly. I buy clothes at Steve & Barry's and other purveyors of cheaply made, foreign crap, I compare price-per-ounce prices at the grocery store, I drool over impulse buys and walk on buy, I dig through clearance racks, and I usually only buy clothes of the barest function when absolutely necessary.

I do have a weakness for bottles of Diet Coke and comics, though. I usually "treat"myself to about $20 in comics a month and a Diet Coke in the car. I don't "treat myself" to things like iPhones, techno gadgets, new shoes or even a fance ice-scraper for the car. Still, these days, I have to watch every penny. Sonya is big on that and I often resent her when she suggests I reighn in my discretionary spending, as I don't think I do much. Thinking about it, though, the nickle-and-dime stuff has been addin up a lot.

So, my pre-New Year's resolution is to watch myself more (mostly out of sheer necessity). The bank card stays in the dark corner on my wallet, work on cash only whenever possible, and pause before adding wnything to my shopping cart.

God, I hate budgets...

Monday, December 1, 2008

Mem'ries, in the Corner Of My Mind...

This was a fantastic weekend. True, it wasn't one of the nice, extended ones many of you got to enjoy (lucky bastards), as I had to go to work at the office on Friday and Blockbuster Friday & Saturday. There were, however, enough "moments" that will stick in my mind forever to make it rank right up there in the "holiday memories" subfolder in the hard drive of my mind.

Thanksgiving went great. Aside from my mom skipping out on the family holiday (again) at my in-laws' house, it went as smooth as any holiday I can remember. We woke up a bit later than an average day, watched the parade in TV, got the food made, car packed, and hit the road in plenty of time. We spent the afternoon playing board games and chatting with family, had a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat (Officer Obie not included), I managed to sneak in a turkey-induced nap, and we lazed around the house until finally packing the car up and heading home. Nothing remarkable, nothing crazy, no mad dashes. Absolutely perfect.

Black Friday was all about the paycheck. After making a quick stop by the comic shop to check out Chris's specials, I spent the day at work in the office. It...was...dulllllll. No point in calling up clients, as they would all (theoretically) be to insane with customers to bother with sales calls. Not many clients calling in for the same reason. I did get a couple orders that made it worth my while to go in, though, and had a few nice chats with my coworkers.

From there, I headed to work at Blockbuster. Crazy insane busy, The District Manager popped in for a vistit, necessitating much straightening up and flying right, and I didn't get home till about 10:30.

Saturday morning, my wife and son had a parade to do with the unicycle troop. That left my daughter and me to ourselves for the day. After the initial flurry of activity to get the wife and boy out the door (they woke up late), my baby girl crawled into bed with me and snuggled with me, giggling and poking my nose until I woke up. After I got showered and dressed, we spent the next hour or so making my great-grandmother's recipe for chocolate-peanut butter fudge. I measured, she poured. We stirred, laughed, tasted, snatched chocolate chips, and had a wonderful time.

After pouring the fudge into a pan to set, we sat and watched a movie on the couch, all the while she snuggled under my arm. As the time ticked by and the other half of my family was still MIA, we finally figured it was time for lunch. We were missing one ingredient from anything I could think of, so we got in the car and headed to Taco Bell. We sat in the dining room, eating, goofing around, and truly enjoying each others' company. About this point, my precious 5-year-old baby girl said, "Daddy, I'll always hug you - even when I'm a teenager."

Fudge makings - $6
Lunch at Taco Bell - $7
A day with my daughter I'll never forget - Priceless.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Remarkable Example of Greed and Avarice (2008 Edition)...

It's Black Friday, and what does that mean? GREED!

It's a trait I try to avoid, but I'll indulge myself (as if I didn't enough last night) and give my Christmas List for the year.

1) Money to pay off this damnable college bill
I'm at the trailing end of my degree, but 2 things are holding it at bay: money and time. Time is, as of yet, not something that can be saved in a bottle and presented with a pretty bow. The $950 remaining owed to Wayne State, however, can even be paid online! Best not to give me cash for this one, as it will inevitably go to the general "tackle the Mt. Billmore" fund. Make it out to Wayne State University so I won't spend it on other silly things like heat, water, or electricity.

2) Money for Car Repair.
Between the Earth shaking rattle of my exhaust and the arctic temps in the cabin, I'm still very thankful the ol' rust bucket gets from A to B. Still, it'd be nice to do so with some subtlety and without cracking the icicles off my nose before heading inside.
Exhaust repair and heater core installation - $450. Avoiding a deaf Paulsicle - Priceless.

3) Digital Camera.
Nothing top-of-the-line. Just something adequate that takes movies as well. The minimum pixel count available these days is WAY more than I'll likely ever need, and the only bells and or whistles I want are a good close-up/macro setting and video capability.

4) 320GB (or more) portable Hard Drive
My in-laws were kind enough to get me a 160GB last year, but unfortunately, that spawned an uprising in my desire to have every movie known to mankind. After one year, it's already full, and has much more waiting to be backed up from my laptop. The price on these things has dropped ridiculously. Whereas you used to pay about a buck per GB, now you can get them for as low as 30 cents per GB. Help me fill my cinematic addiction to dumb comedies, sci-fi movies, old TV shows, and vintage cartoons.

5) New Batter for my Laptop
The batter in my laptop hasn't been particularly functional for about a year. The laptop works fine on a power cord, but the batter only lasts about 30 seconds off the cord. I have a Compaq Presario C500. I've seen them in the MicroCenter flyer for about $100. It'd just be nice to not have to find an outlet every time.

6) Archos Media Player
I'm not positive about the model number, but they have them at Blockbuster for $99 (no, I don't get a discount on that, unfortunately). It does everything my media player does...and more...with a bigger screen...and Wi-Fi. I love Archos products. They provide 5x the functionality of any other brand and about half the price.
This one isn't a mandatory, as mine still works fine, but it'd sure as hell be nice.

7) New Cookware Set
Our large frying pan of 11 years finally bit the dust last month, and the rest of its clan are showing their age. Sonya wants something "nice", but I'll take anything that is new. Just a good, sturdy, standard set with 2 saucepans, 2 frying pans, and a pot to make veggie chili in.

8) New Queen-sized bed sheets
Our bedroom decor (if you can call it that) is neuvo-clutter, mostly in light blue and tan. We currently have maybe 2 sets that work, and I think both have holes in them somewhere that are due to get bigger when I snag my toe on it in the night. No need for a full bed set with pillow shams, skirt, and comforter. Just the top & bottom sheets and pillow cases. Maybe a new pillow or two, as our cheap synthetic ones have deflated quite a bit over the years.

9) Clear out my 'hold box' at Comics & More
I have been going there for maybe 8 months and my box has seen levels anywhere from empty to "oh my God, step back!". It's somewhere in the middle right now, but I've told the proprieter, Chris, not to let me see it until after Christmas. I may add to it, but not subtract until after the holidays. He also provides gift certificates! (Comics & More, 28059 John R Rd, Madison Heights, MI 48071, (248) 399-3213).
If you ask for my box, he'll likely give you the Club Member discount (but he discounts stuff for me and gives me freebies so often, I wouldn't count on it).
I have several specific issues I'd like that he doesn't have in stock. I'll probably edit this entry later once I've counted and compelled them, so thet can quickly be dispelled (EEH!).

Baby Elephant Gifts (AKA: I know I'll never get these, but they're on my list every year, anyway)

1) Bach 42BO trombone
I've wanted one of these for years, but it's become less practical now that my ensemble requirements at ol' WSU are complete and my performance focus has shifted to barbershop. Still, it'd be freakin' sweet.

2) New Car(s)
For practical day-to-day, a 2008 Subaru Outback in blue. Hatchback, roomy, and good on gas. Subarus are "can't kill 'em" kinda cars that frequently exceed 200k miles. Repairs can be a bit pricey, but are FAR less frequent.
For the "inflate my ego" car, a 2008 BMW Z4 Roadster, Monaco Blue Metalic, Sport Package, convertible with tan roof. Standard rims, because...ya know..."my rims never spin, to the contrary...".

3) New House
Need out of the matchbox in Hazeltucky. Something with 4 bedrooms, full finished basement, garage, decent yard, prefferably in Royal Oak or Madison Heights. Central air would be nice, too.

4) World Peace, Universal Harmony, end to war...all that junk.
I just can't be totally selfish, even for a list like this. Not in my nature.

That's all I can think of for now. For those of you who aren't Bill Gates, geek stuff, gift cards to techno-gadgety stores, comic shops, and other institutions of Dorkitude are always appreciated. Also, if one of you could invent a time machine or a serum to give me Hiro Nagamura's time/space manipulation ability...that's be just super.

Happy Shopping, everyone!!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Few Randon Ponderings...

Working on a holiday weekend sucks...

Murphy's Law states that whenever I fill up my tank at what I think is a great price, the price will drop by a dime the next day...

There IS no "good time" to put up Christmas lights. Logistics or weather always get in the way...

If I just won the lottery for about $200k (and kept my job, of course), my financial problems would be solved...

What I WANT to do will never pull in enough money on its own to keep me financially afloat...

Wasting time thinking about "what if" scenarios doesn't solve anything...

What I have is good enough, and much more than many have. Time to share what I can spare...

Sharing what you have doesn't have to cost money or even time. A simple smile and kind word are worth more than money to most...

I get more pleasure making people happy by sharing my talents and making small kind gestures that I ever do by giving money or material goods...

I'll still throw my change in the Salvation Army kettle every time I one and donate my garage sale leftovers to charity...

I am a wholehearted believer in Karma...

Giving of yourself is inherently selfless. If not, it's bartering. Consider this next time you contemplate your motives for doing something nice...

I enjoy giving gifts that are appreciated. I don't focus on the price tag. It's the thought that counts, and the smile that's the payoff...

Conversely, if I sacrifice something of myself, I'm disappointed if it's not appreciated...

Michigan "snain" is not festive...

I love shopping. I just rarely have the time or money to do it...

I have a major craving to make some holiday fudge and bring a heaping plate to work for everyone...

I don't formally 'pray' often, but I often think of friends and wish them well...

I am ridiculously blessed with true friends, no matter how rarely (if ever) I see them...

With true friends, you will never hit rock bottom.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Giggidy-Goo and Thanksgiving, too!

So we had the gig at Goldfish Tea. Not or best venture. 7-9pm on a Sunday isn't exactly "tea time", I guess. Probably why the owner wanted some entertainment - to draw people in. She may have broken even...almost. We had about 10 people of ours show up, and that was almost the entire clientele for the evening.

We sang...okay. It's been a while since we've been in the groove of real practicing, so there were plenty of brain farts - forgotten lyrics, mixed up verses, couple of sour notes, etc. The past few rehearsals were mostly spent on learning our next chapter show feature song, which we are to debut for the chorus tonight. It's long, complicated, wordy, and fun as hell. KILLER tag to it!

This week is going to be interesting. We're going to the in-laws' in Flint for Thankgiving dinner with the family. Sonya's making rumblings of trying to hit the parade downtown. I love the parade, but am not so keen on getting up at the butt-crack of dawn to stand in the cold for 3 hours. I have a few friends (band directors, mostly) in the parade, but I'm just as happy to wave at them through the tv screen while snuggled under a warm blanket.

Black Friday will be NO picnic. The office is open, but all are welcome to take the day off. However, you must use vacation time to do it. As I will need to use 1.5 days of vacation time for Christmas Eve and the day after Christmas (office is closed both days, but as a newbie, I'm forced to use vacation time), that leaves me only one vacation day left. I want to use that the Monday after Christmas for a 5-day weekend. So Black Friday, I work from 9-6 at the office and 6:30-11 at Blockbuster - a 14 hour day with no time to shop...yay.

Other than that, no big news from me this week. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. Special shout-out to the Mays. You'll be in my prayers, as always, guys.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Ya Gotta Know The Territory...

Without getting into too many details, being in sales right now sucks the big one. Right after the market crashed about 3 weeks ago, my sales took a SHARP nosedive to about half what they were beginning to be. I was finally getting to the point where my commissions would equal my pay from my last job, then PFFT! It all but evaporated.

It's no secret that this economy is hitting everyone somehow, but this is the first time it's really hit me, personally, this hard. Usually, markets fluctuate, consumer prices rise and fall, the cost of gas goes up and down, and I usually just make a minor adjustment to my spending to compensate. I don't have any investments to speak of, I've been paid hourly at any given job, so my check doesn't move much. I want more money, I just arrive 10 minutes early or stay 10 minutes late here and there. On occasion, I pick up an extra part-time job or freelance music thing to pay an extra bill or get a couple extra bucks. I've even sacrificed some of my instruments on eBay to get Christmas gifts.

Now that my check is directly effected by sales, I'm beginning to realize how bad things are right now. I actually had a day of NEGATIVE sales early this month (no sales + a return = money out of the paycheck). I have a difficult territory to begin with. More so than the rest of the sales staff, due to a number of circumstances that - well - they are what they are. I spend about 1/3 of my time cold-calling, trying to find new clients to increase my base. It was difficult during the spring slump, some marketing delays made things harder in the fall, and now - just when we're supposed to be insanely busy - this happens.

There are some tools the management could provide the sales staff that would help, but at this is what it is. Things have picked up the past few days as we get closer to Black Friday, but nothing like what it's supposed to be.

I've always thought I'd be great at sales. Maybe this wasn't the right time.

Here's hoping things get better soon for everyone.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Doin' The Barbershop Strut...

The try-out went... (wait for it)... GREAT!!!! I couldn't have felt more comfortable. I had a great rapport wit the guys. As soon as I stepped in front of them, all the years of teaching marching bands came back - the good and a tiny bit of the bad.

The bad was mostly just a few conducting techniques that work well for marching band, but not so much with chorus. My baritone, Dave, who has two (count 'em - TWO) vocal music degrees, dropped me an e-mail the day before, reminding me of some of the differences (left hand for expression & cues, no mirroring, eye contact is MANDATORY, etc.) and I started off with a couple of the old bad habits, but quickly remembered them. I was comfortable enough with the guys to tell them to call me out on those things, but fortunately, they didn't need to again. I empowered chorus, humanized myself to them, created better mutual communication, and best of all reminded myself enough to not make the same mistakes again.

I had a "lesson plan" in mind on my way up, which I went over in my head several times (in my ice box of a car). When I got there, however, they went through "I'll Fly Away" and I saw some great ways to improve that. As their interim director/bari section leader stepped down, I asked him if I played with that one a bit, with the understanding that I tell the chorus that whatever I teach is subject to "unlearning" after I leave. He said to go for it - so I did.

I had planned to work on moving ending consonants to the beginning of the next word - a good and simple trick to smooth out phrases, line up attacks, and make awkward skips easier. I did go over this, but while singing "I'll Fly Away" with them, I noticed the interim director trying to find spots for unison breaths, and there simply aren't many good ones in the music. I stepped up and taught them stagger breathing. after about 1/2 hour, a little sectional work, and calling out an individual or two (with a friendly grin, of course), we had 2/3 of the song sounding a billion percent better. Even their facial expressions and body language improved and that's not even something we covered!

As they got better, so did I, making more eye contact, using my left hand more for dynamics, moving around, mouthing words and using facial expressions. I started having more fun than I EVER had in front of a marching band!

I didn't think I stood a snowball's chance at this gig when I first e-mailed the guy in charge of the search committee. Now....I want the hell out of this job. If I could do this for free, I would. It went better than I could have possibly imagined. They spend the next several weeks trying out a couple other directors.

Now begins the waiting game. This suspense will KILL me!!!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Baby, It's COLD...Inside!

I have an "audition" with the Lansing chapter for the director's position tonight. Oddly enough, it's not my 'lesson plan', conducting skills, or rapport with the members that has me concerned - it's the drive there.

When I bought my current automobile from Charity Motors to replace my Isuzu (which so valiantly sacrificed itself to save my family and me), it apparently, unbeknownst to me, had a bypassed heater core. This mean NO a family winter. This leads to freezing kids, frosted windshields, tingly toes, an with an hour-and-a-half drive to Lansing, a VERY uncomfortable drive. I have to keep the window cracked so the interior windows don't frost over and bundle up as if for extended deep-sea diving (thank you Jean Shepherd). It was MOST unpleasant last time I made the drive, but this time, I'm prepared. I have 4 layers of shirts, my long wool coat, gloves, and plan on stopping for a hot cup of coffee on the way.

I don't complain about my car much, mostly because there's little point. It has a laundry list of repairs that need done and resembles something that might suit for a first car for a kid enrolled in an auto shop class. It's a teal-blue 94 Mercury Tracer Trio with no heat, no A/C, some busted trim, a loose and rattly exhaust, nonfunctioning thermostat, quirky tachometer, leaky front driver's tire, and the obligatory rust and dings for a car of it's vintage. It's loud, uncomfortable, an doesn't like the cold, but it gets from A to B, starts, stops, and (so far, knock wood) hasn't pulled a "Blues Mobile" and disintegrated into a pile of parts.

Also, there's simply no money to get these issues dealt with right now. Sales is not the most lucrative job to be in right now. With the econemy the way it is, bills overdue, and Christmas coming up, it looks like I'm going to have to tough it out with Blue Bomber II for a while longer. With the job market dwindling, unemployment at record highs (especially in Michigan), and forclosures becoming commonplace, I'm glad to have a job (well, 3 - soon to be 4, actually), and a functioning car, no matter how quirky.

Well, I'm off to have another wonderful day selling 1/4 of what I need to to make the same money I did this time last year. But after that, it's "Mush! Mush!" off to Lansing to wow and amaze the guys in Lansing with my amazing musical talent and knowledge...

...or at least not fall flat on my ass. Hell, I'm surprised and thrilled I made it this far in the process!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Happy Life Day!!

I plan on celebrating by watching by digital bootleg of the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special on my lunch hour. For those of you not so luck to have this, here's a little bit of Star Wars Celebratory music for ya, in my favorite style.

Prepare for the ultimate in geek...

Yub nub, eee chop yub nub,
Freedom, we got freedom,

Toe meet toe pee chee keene, g'noop dock fling oh ah.
and now that we can be free, c'mon and celebrate.

Yah wah, eee chop yah wah,
Power, we got power

Toe meet toe pee chee keene, g'noop dock fling oh ah
and now that we can be free, c'mon and celebrate.

Coat ee chah tu yub nub,
Celebrate the freedom

Coat ee chah tu yah wah,
Celebrate the power

Coat ee chah tu glo wah.
Celebrate the glory.

Allay loo ta nuv
celebrate the love

Glo wah, eee chop glo wah, ya glo wah pee chu nee foam,
Power, we got power, and now that we can be free,

Ah toot dee awe goon goon daa.
it's time to celebrate.

Coat ee cha tu goo (Yub nub !)
Celebrate the light (Freedom !)

Coat ee cha tu doo (Yah wah !)
celebrate the might (Power !)

Coat ee cha tu too (ya chaa !)
celebrate the fight (Glory !)

Allay loo tu nuv
celebrate the love

Allay loo tu nuv
celebrate the love

Allay loo tu nuv
celebrate the love

Glo wah, eee chop glo wah.
Glory, we found glory

Ya glow wah pee chu nee foam,
The power showed us the light

Ah toot dee awe goon daa
and now we all live free

Allay loo tu nuv.
celebrate the love.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Oh, the Weather Outside is Frightful...

The first noticeable snowfall of the season! I headed out last night to pick up some milk & pop, and I could hear Suzie Snowflake tapping on my window. Pellets of good ol' Michigan "snain" were tap dancing on the hood of my car. When I awoke this morning, it had changed to full-fledged snow. Not much, mind you, but enough to add a festive canvas for colored lights and holiday music on the radio.

Thankfully, I don't have far to commute to work, and it's all surface streets, so I was more fortunate than many of the other commuters on the roads today. I started out listening to the local "All Christmas, All Season Long" station, but switched to my usual "All News, All The Time" station to see what what's up with the world this morning and heard the longest traffic report in a long time. Seems we Michiganians are a bit rusty with the winter driving. Be safe out there, folks. Better late than dead.

The quartet had a rehearsal last Thursday. It used to be, I would look forward to quartet rehearsals, but with some trepidation. I enjoyed singing and harmonizing, but much of the rehearsal was spent bemoaning personal lives, arguing over repertoire and interp, rehashing tips from chorus coaches (which rarely applied to quartet), going over boring standards, and fixing wrong notes (or cringing and ignoring them) in one or more parts. These days, with this new(er) configuation of the quartet, the repertoire is more challenging, the chords ring a LOT more, the songs MUCH more fun, and we can pick up new ones VERY quickly. I LOVE rehearsals again! We can easily start around 7pm, and the next thing you know, it's 11pm and we have to force ourselves to break it up.

Lately I've been introducing songs I've recorded for my client quartet in Nevada. I've always been a Sinatra fan, and their quartet - aptly named Rat Paq - focuses on tunes of that ilke. With our next chorus show focusing on songs of the 50's, there were a few tunes I recorded for them that fit squarely in that box. Being cool songs, with great arrangements and with learning tracks provided by yours truly, I though this would be a good idea.

It wasn't a good idea, it was a GREAT idea! We tried a tune called the "Flying Sinatra Medley", utilizing "Fly Me To The Moon" and "Come Fly With Me". After MUCH convincing of our lead (who wanted to do something rock n' roll), we tried it out and it sounded promising. Rough, but promising. This week, at the behest of our bass, we gave "In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning" a try and it RAAAAANG! There are some great chords, wonderful room for interp and dynamics, and it's just a sweet balad. After 2 runs through, we found ourselves talking about a new contest set.

It's going to be a busy season for the quartet. We have a gig performing with the chorus at Henry Ford Village this sunday, another at the Goldfish Tea in Royal Oak on Sunday the 23rd (7pm-9pm), and the Hazel Park City Hall on December 13th (6pm-8pm) for a neighborhood enrichment event. We're brushing up our Holiday tunes for these and sounding good. I'm hoping this may lead to a few more gigs, so I have to print up some more business cards. I'm realy looking forward to getting out and performing with these guys again. It's been over a month and I'm jonezing.

Work is getting a bit...discouraging. Sales is not a good line of work to be in at this point in our economic history. The family budget is getting strained, bills are piling up, and our savings is getting tapped more than I'd like before the Holiday season. Hopefully, the Christmas shopping rush will hit soon and things will pick up. It would help to be given the tools to be able to compete, but that's a rant for other venues (non public). I may need to look for a 4th job. I'm not sure where I'll fit it into my 55 hour work week, plus family commitments, recording tracks, and quartet gigs, but I'll do what I gotta do. There's still the potential of the directing gig in Lansing, but that won't even be decided for a few months.

Okay, time to head to work and hit the phones. Gotta keep the heat on and food on the table.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"It's Gonna Be A Great Day"...

It's all been said over the past 9 hours. As is my usual M.O., I won't bother to write a lengthy blog just to echo the chorus.

Suffice it to say, I'm encouraged. I'm hopeful. I'm inspired. I'm also something I haven't been able to say with so much conviction in my lifetime...

I am proud to be an American.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Haul Out The Holly...

Last week, I caught a coworker of mine humming a few bars of "Sleigh Ride". This ALWAYS starts the Christmas Season for me. It's my favorite holiday song. My fist hearing of the year is usually much earlier. Last year, as I recall, the first real noticeable snow was the first week of October, and the local radios stations followed suit by starting their holiday song rotation VERY early. My first hearing of the song occurred the same day as the snow, via a snippet in a commercial.

Last night, I filled my MP3 player with my Christmas music folder. As I piled the kids in the car this morning, I cranked up the classing Arthur Fiedler/Boston Pops rendition of Sleigh Ride.

With the economy the way it is, jobs scarce, and people shaking in their IRAs, I don't expect this to be the most successful in commercial Christmases. Maybe, just maybe, however, this may help people get back to the spirit of the season again. Peace, love, joy, and family. I love hitting the malls and stores, hearing the seasonal music, the lights and decorations, and all the ricketa-racketa, but it's rarely about buying expensive things, for me. I love getting the perfect gift for someone, but love it even more when it's some inexpensive little thing (or even homemade) that they mentioned months ago and completely forgot about. THAT shows caring, attention, and that even *I* pay attention once in a while.

I'm way behind on taking notes for such things this year. Hopefully, I'll have some brainstorm for the key people I have in mind.

Anyway, I'm just rambling now. Bring on the tinsle and sleigh bells. Let's DO this thing!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

After a good decade in retirement, I dug out the 'ol Silent Bob costume for the party at work today. Not in much of a mood to celebrate there, to be honest. Long story, but I'll save that for a locked down MySpace blog, maybe.

Anyway, expect plenty of pics on my Flickr page tomorrow of Silent Bob, Anakin Skywalker, my Little Princess, and (insert Sonya's costume here)!

Hope you all have a great time amongst the little ghouls and goblins. Remember, save those disgusting marshmallow peanuts for the teens that come around with no costume.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"I Dreamed A Dream"

Ever since I was in high school, I've dreamed of leading a musical group to arise from the ashes and become a formidable musical force in performance and possibly even competition. I focused this drive into my own milieu, concentrating on instrumental music - specifically high school band. For 14 years, I spent my falls running around like a madman between band and drum corps rehearsals and competitions, while I frantically juggled family, school, and work.

Then, about 6 1/2 years ago, I fulfilled a small part of my destiny by joining the SPEBSQSA (AKA: The Barbershop Harmony Society). Being a 3rd generation barbershopper, I had always enjoyed barbershop harmony, even dabbling in a few quartets in high school for singing valentines and a concert or 2. After 2 weeks, I was recruited into 2 quartets for an upcoming performance on a part I NEVER thought I'd sing - tenor.

Since then, I have been part of a district champion chorus, competed with my quartet on the contest stage, made a few bucks here and there doing gigs with my quartet, brought smiles and tears (the good kind) to people's faces, and made countless friends from around the world through the fellowship of this fraternity of music. Now, it seems, my dream and my new musical focus may be converging....and it's about damned time.

Last night I drove 1 1/2 hours to a "nearby" chorus to speak with their director search committee. Not having the background in conducting a barbershop chorus (which is dramatically different that conducting other vocal or instrumental groups), a district or international medal, or even a completed degree, I thought the chances rather slim, but worth an inquiry. I figured my background in teaching and personable nature might be at least enough to have them listen to me and get a polite "thank you, we'll let you know," at best. Well, I was wrong. Pleasantly, delightfully wrong.

I spent the better part of an hour after their rehearsal, talking with the members of the committee. They asked brilliant questions, each one of them I felt comfortable and prepared answering. They seemed impressed with my answers, smiling, nodding, and taking notes as I spoke. From what I gathered by their questions and occasional comments about previous directors, they seemed to want exactly what my strengths were: teaching, ability to handle a variety of talent levels, and an open and accepting attitude. I made it clear that I welcome contrary ideas, have no intention of being the sword wielding despot, and view the position of director as member of the chapter team. I make the chorus sound better. I don't decide the direction of the chorus, I don't have veto power, I am not the "decider" - the chapter and its leadership is. They liked that.

So as it is now, I feel I am a strong contender. This is a MUCH better position than I felt I would be in. They still have 6 other candidates to interview before they begin to whittle down their options. Within a couple of months, they will narrow it down to 2 or 3 and bring each one in to lead a rehearsal. By January or February, they will decide and allow their new director to ease into the job by assisting in rehearsals and conducting a song or 2 in preparation for their annual show, before taking the reigns.

I doubt the pay will be much more than just enough to justify the mileage and time, but beyond being something to add to my resume, it the realization of my dream. I would be directing a musical group and helping them to improve as musicians and maybe even win a few contests. A kicker of this is, it happens to be my dad's old chapter.

I'm not holding my breath for it, but DAMN if it isn't exciting!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Convention Recap, Part 2: "Damn, damn DAMN!!!""

That title is a bit deceiving. Nothing bad really happened, but...let me explain...

The morning went as hoped. I got up, got prepped, and got Courtney moving just fine. We got to Aunt Val's about 7:45am, and was greeted at the door by my sleepy-eyed sister. She popped on the TV miniseries of Alice in Wonderland and my sister and daughter plopped on the couch for the next few hours. meanwhile I hit I-94 to head to Battle Creek.

Usually a 2-hour drive, I had heard that construction had completely screwed up the route (Hooray for MDOT, yet again). Thankfully, being early Saturday morning, traffic volumes were light, and I didn't have to hit the brakes very often. I made it to McCamly Plaza Hotel to meet up with my chorus in plenty of time. I run into the building straight to registration, then hit the bathroom and put on my stage make-up. As I head to our initial warm-up room, I'm greeted to a flood of my fellow VERY greateful Gentlemen Songsters exiting to walk to the contest site, 2 blocks away. I meet up with myquartetemates, Lou and Dave, and we walk to Kellogg Auditorium.

As we walk, I'm regaled with tales of the previous night's quartet prelims. Apparently, a less than stellar assortment. Last year when we competed, the field was chock-full of top-notch quartets, some of who soundly whipped our collective butt. This year, the bar was much lower. I would find out later how much so.

We arrive at the warm-up room at the auditorium and I'm greeted to a greatly relieved director. He relayed that one of our miniscule gaggle of tenors called out sick. We were down to 3 tenors in a chorus of about 40. Being in the front row and having a greater lung capacity than most of the septagenarians in the chorus, I add more than my fair share of sound to the section and was direly needed. It's nice to feel apreciated!

We went out and did a very good rendition of our contest set ("Who's Sorry Now" and "Sing Me That Song Again"). Not our best, but far from our worst. We rehearse in a church basement with a concrete ceilings. It's a lot easier to ring and balance there when you can hear everything mushed together. From there, Lou and I headed back to the hotel to change into our "civies" and grab some lunch at the local pub - one of the few establishments open in Battle Creek on a Saturday (I swear I could see tumbleweeds rolling down the street).

Much of the afternoon was spent playing on my computer in the lobby of the hotel, as I hadn't connected with my roommates for the evening yet (Paul & Rob from Chodiology). I grabbed new copies of the Polecat and Yuletide Favorites songbooks at the Barbershop Shop, as mine seem to have disappeared over the years. I managed to resisting the temptations of coffee mugs, CDs, and a variety of other musical kitsch. I was able to fit in a few tags with some other loiterers in the lobby. The favorite of the day seemed to be "The Shadow Of Your Smile, which I had recently recorded for my quartet clients in Nevada. Here's a not-so-shining example:

Then it was time to watch the quartet finals. I met up with a kid from the Grand Rapids Chapter, Pat, and we head up, talking geek stuff. For once, I actually arrived in time for the entire finals show. Last year, my quartet, Coda Honor, barely missed making mic testers for the finals show. A disappointment, but not a bad showing for our first contest, scoring just shy of a 60. This year, we decided not to compete, as our bass was in Galveston for a month helping with disaster relief and we didn't have time to prep our contest set. However, as I watched quartet after quartet strut their stuff for the appreciative audience this year, a single though kept occurring to me: "We're better than that".

Now, don't get me wrong. Every quartet up there deserved to be there and were quite good, but with all of the progress Coda Honor has made over the past year, we could have easily made 4th.
Well, maybe not easily. Having the last month to practice would have helped. Nevertheless, it was frustrating to watch these quartets up there and not be waiting in the wings to do our set. Hence the title of the blog.

I was supposed to meet with the chair of the Lansing Chapter's search committee to discuss the open position of director there. I didn't hold a lot of hope for getting the position, but figured I had enough qualifications to justify applying. I sent him a text and voicemail, letting him know where I'd be, and spent much of the first hour after the show in the lobby, hoping he'd spot me (I told him to look out for my shoes - they're kinda hard to miss). After an hour or so of playing on my laptop and chatting with friends, I made the rounds of the hospitality rooms and tagging in the hallways and lobby. Apparently, I also spent the evening narrowly missing aforementioned committee chair. Once again, damnd, damn, damn!

When things began to wind down, I met up with my roommates and headed to the room. I open the door and find the district's resident Doo-Wop quartet, Full Throttle, in the room chatting and drinking heavily. We all spent the next hour or so in the room munching on junk food, drinking, and spitballing riffs that Paul came up with. One groove was particularly catchy, and Paul had Barry (the exhuberant and 'fluffy' lead from Full Throttle) riff some melodies. He started filling in whatever songs would fit, then began singing the text of the hotel welcome card. It was a blast.

Oh, MEGAkudos, Barry, in the impending baby Barry on the way (hence his celebratory mood)!

Once the rest of his quartet practically carried a VERY innebriated Barry back to his room (no easy task, even for 3 guys), Rob Paul & I hit the hay as conversation about life and family trailed off to snores.

Oh, the chorus made 3rd. Not to shabby!

An awesome, if slighly frustrating weekend.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Convention Recap, Part 1: "I Can't Get Started With You"

BOY what a weekend!! The weekend that almost wasn't.

I thought I had it all set. My dues were paid, my shift was covered for Saturday night, Sonya and Liam were heading to a weekend camp out with the Cub Scout troop, Courtney was going to be picked up by her grandma, I had a place to crash for the night, and there was enough money in the account to cover gas and meals...

...then it all started to dissolve before my eyes.

I took off work a bit early on Friday to drop some stuff with Lou and get a haircut. I stopped by the Blockbuster where my former manager, Bill (who owes me a LIFETIME of favors), was working. He had said he had someone who could cover my shift - no problem. He was a good salesman, which my current manager would be happy about. I popped in to say hi, verify things were all set, and thank him. I hang in the office door way and he says that he hadn't asked the guy yet, but it shouldn't be a problem, and I should call that evening from my shift to confirm as they were both working that shift. Somewhat reassured, I go about my errands.

When I get to work, I call up Bill's store and Jason, the guy who's supposed to cover me, answers. He tells me he's working his other job that night and can't cover me. This, plus being understaffed on my current shift and RIDICULOUSLY busy, set me in a foul mood all night. Hearing all this, my current manager, Kelly, started hitting the phones to find me a replacement, while I handled the never-ending, mile-long line at the register.

By 10:30, no one had been available. After I get let go for the evening, I call another half-dozen stores in the area to finally find one LOVELY, WONDERFUL, GOD-SENT gal - Monica from the Warren store - who would cover my shift. I nearly collapsed from exhaustion & relief right there. Content that the weekend was once again on schedule, I head home, expecting Sonya and Liam to be off at their Cub Scout camp out, Courtney with grandma, and the house empty.

After a mentally draining shift, I come home to find Sonya and the kids still there, and Jeremy, Leigh, and Jeremy's 2 high-strung dogs over for a visit. Apparently, Grandma's acquisition of my youngest wasn't as eminent as I was led to believe. I hit the phones once again and pray that my sister's offer to take Courtney early in the morning still stands. However, I had no clue how to hand off Courtney later on. Overnight at Aunt Val's isn't something we've done yet and I wasn't about to pop that on generous and accomodating sister unexpectedly. Thankfully, Jeremy offers to pick up Courtney and take her to her grandparent's in the afternoon. After working out logistics and making sure Val & Jeremy have each other's cell numbers (a mistake I made recently I'm not about to repeat), all is settled there.

This means I have to wake up at the butt-crack of dawn, shower, shave, get on my tux and make-up, get Courtney up and dressed and out to my sister's, then pray the Traffic Gods smile on me so I can get to Battle Creek before my chorus steps on stage at 11:30.

Coming Up Next... Part 2: "Damn, damn, DAMN!"

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My Semi-awesome Weekend...

(I couldn't think of a decent weekend-themed song lyric/title for this one)

Saturday started out simple enough: getting up and the kids moving and dressed. Sonya wanted to head to Canada with her brother to paint the cottage again, since the past month has left that kind of on the back burner to deal with her car's tire. This gave me much of the weekend to myself.

After a bit of tidying, I stopped by the comic shop to grab the IDW Comic Bios of the candidates. I didn't expect much of them, but they're surprisingly detailed and insightful! I bought both to be fair, balanced, and to hedge my bets as a collector. They don't include every vote and decision, but I must say they helped me gain a bit of respect for both candidates, warts and all. Neither changed my mind in the slightest, but they made my decision a bit clearer based on ideals, experience, and motives, rather than speculation and rumor.

After my semi-weekly pilgimage to the Comics & More, I headed to my sister's to borrow her lawn mower. It's been relatively dry lately and I haven't realy needed to mow the lawn for weeks, but it was getting about that time. I pulled up to find her waiting in her front yard for our friend Paulie B., who she had planned to have lunch with and go thrift store shopping with afterward. I joined them for lunch, though I had just had Taco Bell with the family before they took off. We had a great time sharing appetizers and chatting about everything from local music, to mutual friend gossip, to jobs and gigs. I had a blast catching up with baby sister and my aptly dubbed "inner child".

After dropping me off back at my sister's, I loaded up the mower and headed home. The rest of the afternoon was spent on mowing and chores. From there, I went to work at the video store. After work, with the family gone and no one expecting me home, I headed to my buddy Bob's for his weekly IPM internet radio show. I charged down the stairs just in time for one of the breaks between DJ's. We spent the evening over beer and music, playing Wii Bowling, discussing politics and life. Pure awesomeness. Dig it. I headed home about 1am and hit the hay.

Sunday, I spent the morning catching up with my parents on the phone. I try to call them once or twice a week, if possible. My dad and I discussed barbershop and family, as usual. She even payed my Barbershop Society dues online while we were on the phone (after some not-so-thinly veiled psuedo-begging). I then finally returned my mom's call. She calls me about 4 times a week these days, as my sister is kind of boycotting her (long story there - don't judge). She bemoaned my sister's behavior while I played the middle ground and voice of reason - my usual role. Regardless, it was nice to catch up with her and talk to her.

After that, back to chores. I got a lot accomplished before bringing the mower back to Val's and spending about an hour mowing her jungle - er - yard. Sonya and the kids got home while I was there (rather than the 10pm they often get back from weekend trips), so any recording I had planned was out. Bummer.

While checking my e-mail that night, I noticed a listing on the PioNet (Pioneer District of the Barbershop Harmony Society's Listserv) for a director position at my dad's old chapter in Lansing. I probably don't have the qualifications for a higher level, cometitive chorus (i.e. Harmony U., BHS Director's College, a gold medal, etc.), but I sent along a letter of interest anyway. If it pays enough to justify wedging it into my schedule, this would be a dream gig! I'm hoping to meet with the chir of the search committee at convention (assuming I can go). I don't expect much to come of it, but at the very least, I may be able to pitch myself for more learnng track gigs and maybe some coaching. We'll see. Networking never hurts.

A great weekend, mixed with socializing, productivity, and reconnecting with family I rarely see. The trick now is, I have at least 5 more songs to record for a couple groups sometime soon. With the weekly grind and the convention (or camp out) this weekend, I'll have to sneak stuff in a track or two at a time. I'll figure it out - I always do...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Bye Bye Blues?

(I've taken to titling my blogs with old songs, it seems. Thanks for the idea, Chuck!)

So I blogged about "Barbershop Convention Blues" last week. Well, it seems those blues MAY be over. I had some major hurdles to overcome to make it to the convention: dues, child care for my daughter while Sonya and the boy were at camp, hotel costs, and scheduling. The first was handled by my dad. I called her on Sunday, mostly to just do my usual catching up, but also - if I could work it in carefully - to ask if she would be able to loan me the money to renew my dues in time for the convention. After a wonderful conversation, she offered without me having to directly ask...well, not directly begging, anyway. I think one of the factors may have been that when I gave her my society password it was a direct reference to her. She got a kick outa that.

The second hurdle was child care for Courtney while Sonya and Liam were at the Cub Scout Campout this weekend. My wonderful sister has agreed to keep her from my departure time (butt-crack of dawn Saturday morning) until Sonya's mom hopefully picks her up in the afternoon. Some details have yet to be ironed out with mom-in-law, but that snag seems to have been mostly worked out.

Next came having a place to stay, should I be able to stay overnight. There is no way I could afford a hotel room this time, and even if I could, the headquarters hotel is completely booked, with the nearest available hotel a mile away. That kinda puts a crimp in carousing the hospitality rooms and lobby, drinking and singing, till all hours. I'm not comfortable driving more than a couple of blocks after any kind of real "imbibement", let alone a mile in the pitch black of unfamiliar streets at 3am. After a couple hours of exchanged IMs and cameraderie with Paul Ellinger (the lead of last year's champs, Chordiology), he tentatively offered a spot on his floor, pending confirmation with his baritone/roommate.

Now all that's left is to call every Blockbuster in the area, looking for someone to take my Saturday night shift at the video store. I have a manager that owes me a favor at another location, so I'm not terribly worried. They're already short-staffed for the shift, however, so I do need to find someone. No calling in sick or car trouble this time (not that I usually fake such things for a night off - I'm a pretty good boy as far as that goes).

Another possible obstacle is whether Sonya can make it to the camp out. Sonya has had what we think may be viral meningitis for the past week. She was exposed to a co-worker of her mother's who had it a couple weeks ago, and since then she's had a few days of total imobility and total feeling-like-crapness. She's on the mend and gaining back some energy and mobility, but whether she can handle the elements is questionable. If she can't do it, guess who does.

So that's where it stands. The finish line is in sight, the chorus had a GREAT rehearsal last night, my presence at contest is EXTREMELY encouraged (as close to a demand as our understanding and polite director can get), and only a couple more things to work out. I'm not crazy about getting up at the crack of dawn and driving 2 hours in mu tux and make-up (I hate that part) to jump on stage in a rush, but I am looking forward to helping my chorus start it's rise back to the top. If we sing anything like we did last night, we may start dong just that.

Coming Up: A Recount of last weekend

Friday, October 10, 2008

"I'm So Tired of this Dull Routine" (A Prayer for Friends)

I often complain about the regular necessities of my daily life: kids to school, work, home, rehearsal, chores, etc. Seems my life is scheduled to the second without a second of "leisure time" to spend as I wish. Lately, however, I've been very grateful for the lack of surprises.

Some dear friends of mine are going through a very tough time right now. Their baby boy is in the hospital with a mystery infection right in the middle of chemotherapy for a tumor on his kidneys. Their life has been thrown into total upheaval. Until now, they've dealt with it very well, adjusting their daily routine to accommodate the doctor's appointments, coordinating some somewhat specialized child care, and playing their work schedules like a delicate ballet in their itineraries.

Recently, however, their adorable baby boy has come down with an unknown infection, spiking his temperature into unnerving if not dangerous territory. Aside from jostling their son's surgery schedule, it's necessitated more time off of work than they had planned and sentry shifts at the hospital they most trade off. They're stressed, scared, and sleep-deprived.

I'm not particularly religious, in that I don't profess my beliefs very often of impress religion on others. I do, however, believe in the power of positive energy and thoughts in whatever form one chooses to project them. If you could all send a thought of encouragement, support, and good will - be it in the form of prayer, karma, cosmic energy, or what ever you believe in - I know they could use it right now. These are wonderful, talented, and strong people who I know will come out on the other end of this exhausted, drained, but nonetheless triumphant, but they can use all the help they can get.

"Hazak Ve'ematz" guys. There's a light at the end of the tunnel and David will be fine. You have all my love, thoughts and prayers.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Barbershop Convention Blues & Tina Fey: 7 Weeks ain't enough, and yet it is.

Once again, we're nearing late October and the Pioneer District's Fall Barbershop Harmony Convention. Unfortunately, it appears this one's not going to go at ALL like I had envisioned it 4 months ago.

My plan was to go up mid afternoon on Friday, compete with my quartet, make finals, compete with my chorus the next day, kick some ass at finals and maybe move up a spot or 2, and have an amazing night touring the hospitality rooms and singing tags in the lobby till all hours of the night. I'd built up a helluva weekend in my head.

Since then, the job hasn't turned out as profitable as I had hoped (still not BAD, but this economic apocalypse has slowed my sales growth a bit), our bass has been in Texas helping with disaster relief and is on call to do more at any minute, and Liam's Haunted Cub Scout Campout has been scheduled for the same weekend. Adding to the financial frustration, I just had to pay a $195 ticket for not having my current proof of insurance in my car and now a $200 "Driver Responsibility Fee" the state has started assessing to milk the average citizen for whatever they can get away with.

In order to make convention, I have to come up with gas money, food money, pay my society dues, arrange to sleep on someone's floor at the hotel, and coodinate child care for Courtney while Sonya and Liam are at the campout...but I haven't given up yet. It's not impossible. Difficult and improbable, but not impossible.

I wouldn't feel so bad about it, but our tenor section is a bit weak and we've already lost 2 of our front row. With all humility, having me missing hurts the presentation AND music scores. I truly don't expect my presence means the difference between winning and losing - Mt. Pleasant, Lansing, and Macomb have that to worry about. It would be nice to start building up our scores again, however, and set ourselves up as contenders again. We won 4 years ago. It's not out of the realm of possibility to do so again, but we need all the help we can get.

I'll keep exploring my options.

Meanwhile, on the campaign front...

When Sarah Palin entered the race, my first though was that she looks a bit like an older Tina Fey. For the past 3 weeks, Tina has made a return to Saturday Night Live to play the Alaskan Governor in opening sketches - absolutely BRILIANTLY! Just go Google it (NBC has managed to pull most of the clips from YouTube), and you'll see what I mean. The funniest sketch was her depiction of the CBS Interview with Katie Couric. It was absolutely hilarious in that, rather just picking a few catch phrases like so many of her predecessors (Dana Carvey's "Naa-Gaa-Daait" comes to mind), she quoted one of the Governor's lengthier responses nearly verbatim - and it was ROTF hilarious! That's funny and scary at the same time.

I'd love to see a lot more of Tina Fey as Palin, but God willing, SNL will only need her for another 4 weeks before Palin hops the first dogsled back to the tundra.

Plenty of other stuff to bore you with, but time's a wastin'. Gotta go earn my keep.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Cold Shower...

POSTPONED: Barbershop Convention Blues and Tina Fey-7 Weeks ain't enough, and yet it is.

Not figurative, but literal. We apparently neglected the gas bill, so they came and shut off the gas yesterday. Sonya's been sick, so she wasn't able to get to the door in time to hand the guy a check. So last night we had to grab some Little Caesar's and use the remaining hot water for a bath for Courtney. This left me to submerse myself in Arctic water this morning.

I haven't had a shower this miserable in 15 years. On drum corps tours, showers were like a box of chocolates - ya never know what yer gonna git. Usually, the schools have shut off the gas for the summer so they're ice cold. You get used to just praying for enough water pressure to actually rinse yourself off. Invigorating in late July, but in October - not so much. At this point in my life, I need a scalding shower just to loosen my joints in the morning.

Between the ice cold shower and frantic dash out the door to get the kids to school on time, and the fucktardedly basackwards traffic pattern the school parking lot creates, this is not starting off to be a good day.

To top it off, I'm greeted by my morning news radio announcers calling out the Financial Apocalypse. Great. Means my sales this week will be jack shit. I'm glad the debates last night didn't degrade into personal attacks and I commend both candidates for their restraint, but damnit. Someone needs to call out McCain for the Keating 5 Scandal and the S&L debaucle. This "deregulate then bailout" bullshit has to end. I'm used to being on the next-to-lowest rung of the financial ladder, but when that ladder's singing into quicksand and my shoes are getting wet, I get a bit pissed.

Oh, and that little "opinion meter" that CNN has of their focus group of Ohio undecideds - dat's da shizzle. Makes the debate MUCH more interesting.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Comics & More...

(Not-So-Subliminal plug for my buddy Chris's comic shop)

I am now a comic book geek, in addition to all my other geek cred. Yesterday, My buddy, Chris at Comic's & More (11 1/2 Mile Rd. & John R) had his 1-year anniversary celebration for his loyal club members, which I am proudly a part of. One full year of owning the store and he's starting to make some good headway. He opened for 5 hours with some special deals for club members only to make some room for new inventory.

Unfortunately, this didn't benefit me much. The good deals were for folks who had cleaned out their "box". He will gladly set aside issues for folks who can't afford (or carry) the mountain of material they find while they browse his tiny shop, and my box is fairly packed. I did get a nice chance to chat with him and check out his new ride (a classic mustard brown '74 GM Pimpmobile with under 40K miles he found for about $700 - score).

I started out with a modest box of early Bronze Age Action Comics I got for a quarter a piece at Dave's Comics back in the early 90's. A couple have appreciated in value (I have a Supergirl #1 I'm secretly proud of), but most are in mediocre shape and more for nostalgia purposes. Now, however, thanks largely to Chris, I have 2 medium archival boxes filled to capacity of Batman, Captain America, Star Treks of all kinds, Astoniching X-Men, Ambush Bug, Booster Gold, Earth X and even a mid-70's Spiderman featuring the cast of Saturday Night Live. I've even gone so far as to special order a copy of the new Greatest American hero comic, autographed by William Katt.

God help me, I'm hooked.

I spend most of my lunch break in the break room, thumbing through my newest acquisitions over a sandwich and cheese curls (being careful not to smudge the pages, of course). Today, I have a pile of vintage Star Trek, a brand new Star Trek: Mirror Image, and the newest Batman & Captain Americas to get through. I'd wish for more money to buy out my box, but that wouldn't help. I'd simply fill it again, spending within my limits and dreaming beyond them. My eyes are bigger than my storage boxes.

Sonya finally got her car back from Canada, after dropping the kids with their grandparents for the weekend and heading out with her brother. 2 days and a plethora of amusing anecdotes and frustrating tales later, we're finally a 2-car family again...thank God. While she was gone, I managed to spend the afternoon cleaning the house a bit and re-recording a learning track for my Nevada quartet that was about 3 weeks overdue. Productivity - score.

Yesterday was supposed to be Courtney's 5th birthday party for her friends. 7-9 kids were invited, but no one RSVPed. I ran to the Meijer at Great Lakes Crossing for some last-minute needs and to to pick up mom-in-law and the kids. We got there at 2pm, the supposed start time. By 2:10 (10 past the start time) we started to worry. By 3pm all that had come by were 2 of Courtney's friends from around the block, and they were only able to stay for about 20 minutes. We may attempt this agin, giving a bit more notice and calling for confirmations. Courtney took it well, having fun on the new swingset anyway and decorating her own tiara.

After returning from my run to the comic store, we gave up on the party and went for lunch with Leigh, mom-in-law, Sonya, and the kids at a local family diner. We had a fun afternoon, despite the bomb of a party.

That's about it for now.

Coming up next: Barbershop Convention Blues and Tina Fey-7 Weeks ain't enough, and yet it is.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Politics & Debates...

Some would ask why I don't blog about political subjects, such as last night's Vice Presidential Debate. The answer's simple: I don't have any more insight or anything to add to the discourse than any of the other millions of bloggers, activists, and pundits out there. I simply don't want to contribute to the already crowded discourse. I have no problem debating topics and will espouse my stance at the drop of a hat, but I rarely find the point in ranting about them, as my rant will simply echo 60% of the blogs out there, reveal no new info, and generally be a waste of time.

That being said, I'll make my one and only point about last night's debate: Are Democrats the only ones capable of pronouncing the word "NUCLEAR"?

All the rest has or will be covered by others. Go read 'em. I'm a strong-moderate liberal and am voting Obama...

...but most of you already knew that.

By the way, I finally got those videos of Coda honor's last performance up on my YouTube channel here.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

GREAT weekend...

A flurry of activity, as usual, but not the usual gotta-get-it-done kinda stuff.

Friday afternoon, my dad drove into town. After a semi-business trip (just enough to make the trip deductible) she decided to head back to Kansas from Jersey via Michigan. Makes perfect sense (?!?!??). Anyway, she pulled unto town Friday about my lunch break. We headed out to National Coney Island for a bite and catching up, since I was working both jobs that day.

After working the Blockbuster evening shift, I went home via AJ's Coffee Shop in Ferndale to catch an old high school friend Amy (Smith) Petty perform for a few minutes. This gal is an absolutely AMAZING talent! Her live version of her song "Broken Record" is positively jaw-dropping. She has a fantastic wit and raport with her audience and a voice so beautiful it'll make you weep. Her style is basicaly modern acoustic folk, a la Indigo Girls, if one were to draw similarities. I could only stay for a couple songs, but I am in awe of her abilities and was pleased to see so many faces from my high school days that I hadn't come across in years. I only wish I had the time to stay and chat with some of them.

Unfortunately, I had a BIIIG day ahead on Saturday. Sonya & Leigh were heading out at the crack of dawn for a breakfast with their garden club and to set up the end-of-the-season festival at the community garden. I was expected to be in Flint at 11:30am for a gig at the Applewood Fall Festival with my quartet, and needed to make some progress on the house before I left, as we had a family birthday party for Courtney on Sunday.

So the morning was a whirlwind of getting the kids up, dressed and fed, living room tidied, cat box cleaned (yeech), meeting with my dad, dropping the kids, and then heading to Flint with my dad in her car. All of this, plus the never-ending construction that ALWAYS seems to be at its worst on Saturday afternoon, meant we got there JUST in time for the gig, but no warm up.

The gig was wonderful, as always. Wonderful weather, beautiful scenery, friendly people, appreciative audiences, and some GREAT cider. We sounded great with our substitute bass, Jack Day. Again, he's no Dave Conrad, but he's by far the best second we could hope for. I have a few pictures (courtesy of Lou's finace, Linda, and my dad) on my Flickr page. I'll have a couple video clips up on my YouTube page soon.

From there, we all headed to the local Red Robin for lunch and had a great time talking barbershop, the financial market, retirement (a foreign word to me), and stuff. It was a great end to a great afternoon. Then my dad drove me home and I headed to Blockbuster for another shift.

The party on Sunday went off without much of a hitch. We just had a simple barbecue in the backyard, and a fire in the fire bowl to let the kids roast their own veggie dogs. All of my close family came: my mom, dad, sister, grandfather, and Courtney's Auntie Leigh. It's a once-every-several-year occurrance to have my mom and dad in the same locale, so it was nice to have the family back together, if briefly. Courtney loved seeing her Nana, Grandma Paula, and Grandpa O, and, cof course, her gifts. She got a Disney Princess Sing-a-long toy from Grandma Paula, a sparkley rainbow rump rope from Grandpa O, and a My Little Pony from Nana. She also got a Bratz doll, but the wife and I aren't keen on that line of toys, so we may convince her to exchange it for something else - maybe another Barbie (not that she needs 10th Barbie, but better that than a Bratz doll).
I was able to meet with my dad for coffee before she left on Monday morning. It was such a joy to see her. Throughout my life, my dad has been my most consistent, honest, and non-judgemental supporter. We can have coversations is few words and know that we both understand. This was a great weekend, and my dad was a huge part of that.
(for those of you confused about my pronoun usage in this entry, my dad is transgendered. Let the curious questions begin...)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Garage Sale Soreness & Feliz Cumpleanos!!

Last weekend we tried to have that garage sale we'd been talking about all year. It didn't really fit our schedule, as we has a lot of other things that needed attention (cleaning up the yard for the Wicked With of the Park, heading to Canada to rescue Sonya's car, etc.). This, however likely being the last weekend with good weather and a flexible schedule, I managed to head to my sister's, grab a bunch of stuff and our old coffee table, mow the lawn, set everything up, and sell...5 items. We made all of $75 for all my efforts and sore muscles, but at least we got rid of a bulky piece of play equipment the kids had outgrown, an old student violin I no longer needed, and a couple DVDs.

Some highlights included selling my violin to a kid in a band who wanted to add a new sound to the band's eclectic trance/folk/rock sound. I let it go for $42 - worth every penny. Go check them out at their MySpace page Wave Eats The Walrus.

I had a nibble at my trombone. I have a Benge 165F I got off eBay a few years back because it was a huge deal and I always wanted an F rotor tenor trombone. It served me well in my college ensembles, but I prefer my Yamaha straight tenor and don't need it anymore. A high-school kid and his dad pulled up and started looking at it. As I was describing it to them, I noticed the Glassmen logo on the kid's jacket. I immediately started talking drum corps, complimenting their show this year, and immediately dropped my asking price by $50. The father took my card and said they'll "mull it over". Haven't heard back from them yet, but when I dropped by Hazel Park High's band rehearsal to say hi to the director - a friend of mine - I saw the kid in the trombone section. He's damn good. After reeling from my Marching Band DTs, I decided I may drop my price a bit more...We'll see.

Anyway, the set-up, tear-down, weed-pulling, lawn-mowing, and crazy nature of the weekend left me more sore than I've been since I started going to the gym regularly for the first time (11 years ago). It was that good, productive kind of sore, but sitting in an office chair all day made getting up to go home a bit tough for a few days. We still have a TON of crap to get rid of, though. Some I'll CraigsList, some I'll eBay, but most will find its way to the Salvation Army.

Yesterday was Courtney's 5th birthday. It was a crazy whirlwind of a party (as if we have any other kind). I came home to find Sonya had taken the kids off to pick up Jeremy, so that left me to tidy up the house a bit and get some water boiling for the tortellini. As Sonya, Jeremy and the kids didn't get home till a little after 7, it left the rest of the party a bit crunched so that we could get the kids to bed at a decent hour. We ate outside till the mosquitoes - no doubt angered at the disruption of their home when I pulled the weeds - began to wreak their vengence upon us. We moved inside for cake and presents. Leigh got courtney a Tinkerbell costume she absolutely adored. Liam got her a Webkins unicorn she went ga-ga for. Sonya picked up a couple books for her, and I - I was still recovering from putting up the new playset in the backyard from a few weeks ago.

She had a great birthday, but it's not over. With my dad visiting from Kansas, we're having a Keiser-Orton birthday gathering on Sunday. Next weekend, we're having the "REAL" party, with decorations and her friends. When Sonya's parents come back from Eurpoe, we'll have yet another party with them. This one day is turning into a downright festival.

Okay, time to get to work again. This weekend's gonna be a bit crazy. If I survive it, and they have internet access at the nuthouse, I'll write more soon.

Held at Applewood Estates, right next to Mott College in Historic Flint, MI!!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Schedule Tighter Than A Gnat's Ass...

I actually updated my Google Calendar yesterday - and it kinda scared the piss outa me. Not because I can't do it, but I got to see laid out in front of me how overbooked I can get. Pretty much any gaps in my schedule are commute time between obligations. This week's not exactly typical, but not off by much. Tonight is (unexpectedly) a bit free, but the later evening is filled with learning track stuff. I have to try and get the last 2 or 3 songs done for this quartet so I can now do another one for a fellow chorus member.

I was supposed to have quartet rehearsal with our substitue bass tonight to prep for our surprise gig this weekend at the Flint Applewood Fall Festival. This is our longest-standing regular gig. We've done this for the past 3 years running, along with occasional other gigs there for the Ruth Mott Foundation. We adore this gig. It's basically 3 hours of strolling around the beautiful grounds, singing what we want for small crowds of very appreciative patrons and volunteers. It's low pressure, gorgeous surroundings, friendly people...and a good paycheck.

This year, I started e-mailing our key contacts at Applewood about June, saying that we were booking up fast (a slight exaggeration, perhaps), and they should drop us an e-mail with the details soon so we can plan it in (yea - between opening for the Rolling Stones and our whirlwind sold-out European Tour). Anyway, 3 monthly e-mails went by with nary a peep from our favorite clients. I figured we'd been dumped due to budget issues. They usually start asking for us by July at the latest.

Last week, I get an e-mail from one of our contacts asking for names to put on the checks! ACK! With our regular bass out of town and a week to try and figure out how to cram this into my schedule (which is already packed in tighter than sausage meat in a casing), I sent out a flurry of e-mails and texts to the guys to see if we can do it. Luckily, we were all just free enough to fit it in. Being our best clients, an excellent opportunity to pass out business cards, a truly fun gig, and some much needed dough, I didn't want to pass this up.

I found out yesterday that our ringer bass can't make the only night I was available for a rehearsal this week, so we're going to do this one dry. I'm not worried. Our set list is mostly chorus songs we know backward and forward and we're so much tighter - even with a ringer bass - than we were a couple years ago, we'll still sound great. The trick is, this gig comes right in the middle of an extremely rare, semi-impromptu visit from my dad, and I want to try and fit in time to visit.

So I'm laying it all our in my Google Calendar yesterday and it goes like this:

Wed - 7:30: kids to school
9am: work
6:30: home, make dinner
8:30: kids to bed
9pm: Blitz-clean house
10pm: learning tracks
Midnight: bed

Thurs - 7:30: kids to school
9am: work
6:30: Home, dinner, family 5th birthday celebration for my baby girl
8:30: Kids to bed
9pm: Blitz-clean house
10pm: Learning Tracks
Midnight: bed

Fri - 7:30 kids to school
9am: work
6:30: work at Blockbuster
10pm: stop by AJ Coffee House to catch a friend's performance
11pm: home
Midnight: bed

Sat: - 8am: get kids up and dressed while Sonya head to a Garden Club breakfast
9am: MAJOR blitz-clean of house
10:30am: Meet with dad and head to gig (nice convo on drive)
11:30am: Meet with the quartet to warm up
Noon: Gig at Applewood Estates, Flint
3:30pm: Lunch with dad and quartet
4:30pm: Drive home
6pm: Work Blockbuster
10pm: Home

Sun: - 8am: get everyone up and moving, clean up, set up birthday party (Keiser Edition)
Noon: Courtney's birthday party for my side of the family

The rest of Sunday will be visiting with family and subsequent clean-up. Gonna be a FULL weekend.

Outa time. Gotta head to work. (deep breath)

Okay...let's DO this thing!!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Gawd, I love this show...

If you haven't seen the season premier of Heros yet, you may want to skip this particular blog entry. I won't include any details on plot points (no promises on the comments), just a thing or two about geek minutia (which is 90% of the apeal of the show, IMHO).

What a freaking awesome show! My favorite parts about this series are the gentle nods to their core audience - the geeks.

2 items stuck out: Online, they have episodes and clips. One of the preview scenes online was entitled "Our Lady of Blessed Acceleration". If you don't know where that's from, flee thee from my blog, infidel!

The biggest one, though, was a WONDERFUL choice of a cameo. William Katt has seemed to crawl out from under the rock of obscurity in the past couple years since the debut of the Greatest American Hero DVDs. If you need an idea of how much I love that show, just look to your right at my profile picture - 'nuf said. Between a smattering of small parts and some unfortunately little-known films (go see "The Man From Earth," BTW), his own comic book series, the impending debut of a Greatest American Hero comic series, and the production of a movie adaptation of that shhow in which he is most certainly slated for a bit part or cameo, the guy in the red jammies is making a comeback!

He had a very brief, 2-scene cameo in last night's Heroes season premier. I caught his voice immediately and once I saw that longish curly mop of his, my jaw dropped. It was a similar reaction to seeing the license plate on Kaito Nakamura's limo read NCC1701. Nothing that the casual viewer would catch, but the UberGeeks out there eat it up. I sat there in stunned silence for a second, then as the commercial came on, I flailed wildly and shouted "FUCK, YEA!" as my wife and brother-in-law smiled and shook their heads incredulously. if they didn't expect exactly that reaction...

My only problem - they killed him. Now, this IS Heroes, so that doesn't necessarily mean we won't see him again. Between time travel and spontaneous healing abilities he could be back as a regualar, but it's not terribly likely and it was a dissapointment nonetheless.

Still, it was a freaking awesome show and I'm once again hooked. From plot twists in the first 3 minutes of the episode, to new powers, to political intrigue, to convoluted bloodlines - this show never stops. I'll be glued to my tv/computer all season. Yes, it rips all all KINDS of Marvel characters and plotlines, but I believe it does so lovingly and as an homage to the comics, not simply as a way to not work so hard or rip off ideas. They're carefully chosen, woven carefully together - and at least they avoid spandex.

Geeks of the world, REJOICE! HEROES has returned!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Out of Frustration Comes Fun...

Our next door neighbors are lovely people. A mother and daughter who, unfortunately, have a bit more house than they can handle. These ladies have been wonderful neighbors for the entire 11 years we have been at our current residence. Blunt and no-nonsense, to be sure, but friendly, helpful, and easy to get along with.

In the city of Hazel Park, we have one particular code enforcement witch that is on a power trip. She routinely harasses these poor ladies for minor violations. Yes, their yard gets a bit unkempt at times, but with big trees in their yard and a fence around the periphery, it's hardly an eyesore. This code enforcement witch has often asked for access to our yard to take pictures of their yard to use against them. We, of course, tell her no. Aside from being good neighbors, we figure if it's not an eyesore from the street or a breeding ground for vermin, it's not a problem.

Now our neighbors are going into foreclosure for various reasons...and the witch has trained her flying monkeys square on us next. She stopped by last week, complaining of "improper storage" on our front porch and backyard (from what she was able to see across 3 yards from the side street), and handed us a warning to have it cleaned up in a week or get a citation. The warning quotes a snippet of the city code that says anything other than "patio furniture" must be stored indoor or in a shed.

Now, I'm NO fan of clutter, but having 2 kids it's often unavoidable. Our front porch usually has Liam's roller blades, a gardening tool or two from weed-digging, and a tub of sidewalk chalk. The past 4 months or so, it's also had a pile of stuff from Sonya's trunk from when she had to clear some room for other things. Our backyard has been in transition all summer. Between the gazebo, the new swing set, the 12' inflatable pool, and preparing for a garage sale this week, I can barely turn around in our backyard.

So yesterday after work at 6:30, I stop by the grocery store for charcoal and a couple other necessities, I come home, make dinner, and proceed to clean up the yard while Sonya talks on the phone. I clean up the stray garbage, pile up the remaining wood for the firebowl, put the toys away, put some garage sale items back in our overcrowded shed, and place the firebowl in the only remaining spot in the yard with space enough for a few chairs around it.

As I'm setting up the firebowl, my best friend Lou stops by unexpectedly. At first I'm a bit frustrated at the interruption in my momentum, but figuring I had accomplished enough and it was getting dark, I grab each of us a beer and start a fire. A few minutes later, our friend Leigh comes by, followd a short time thereafter by my brother-in-law, Jeremy. We spent the evening by the fire laughing, swaping stories, discussing life, love, politics and generally having an impromptu party. It was a perfect night for it.

I'm sure Wicked Witch of the Park will still find something to cite us on, as we're clerly on her shit-list and her newest favorite target, but at the very least, the clean-up spawned a wonderful late-summer evening with friends and atmosphere.

More detail on the Wicked Witch of the Park to come, along with Garage Sale Prep, Rescuing sonya's Car, and anticipating a very special visit!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sharing my Fortress of Solitude...

I'm mostly just writing this one because I have the time (all of about 20 minutes) before work.

Kids are doing well in school. Courtney loves Kindergarten. Liam's getting a much better handle on his behavior so far this year in 3rd grade. Let's hope he can keep it up.

Sonya saw her parents off on their European vacation yesterday, meaning that we get to borrow their car while they're gone. Since Sonya's car is still stranded in Rondeau Park in Canada, the extra vehicle will be nice. I'm very picky about my car and lending it out. It's my Fortress of Solitude, where I can listen to MY music, think MY thoughts, keep MY stuff, and just be ME. Lending it out to anyone is difficult for me, no matter what pile of rusted-out junk I drive. Conversely, I don't like borrowing other people's cars, either. I hate imposing and get fidgity about making sure everything is EXACTLY as it was when I got it - from the pennies in the ashtray, to the seat and mirror positions, to the gas level in the tank (to be fair, I'm not as careful about the minutea when I'm forced to drive Sonya's car). That's how I am when I have to impose myself on anyone. I believe in imposing as little as possible and leaving as little a footprint as possible.

The past few days, I've had to share my car with Sonya. Not fun. Sonya's car is usually a flurry of stuff of varying degrees of importance, from dishes left behind from a hurried rush out the door with food in hand, to toys and changes of clothes left from visits to Grandma & Grandpa's house, to supplies and important forms for the Cub Scouts and school. Her trunk is...I don't even want to get into that...

I let her borrow my car for 2 days to run errands and get the kids from school while I was at work, and my car quickly became similarly cluttered. Not as bad, but noticable. After one day I came home from work to find it scattered with some of the kids stuff (I usually clear it out after every trip), 3 umbrellas (none of them mine), and 2 baby gates Sonya picked up for her brother to coral his dogs. Now, I'm no Mr. Belvedere. Being my portable locker and home-away-from-home, it gets its fair share of clutter, but it's usually minimal, garbage is contained to a single garbage bag, and non-essentials are kept to a minimum in the "wayback" of my station wagon. There's rarely more back there than an emergency tool kit, blanket, bag of barbershop music, empty deposit cans from my journeys (excised once a week), and some reading material. Mind you, I don't feel she was inconsiderate or disrespectful. It's not like the car was suddenly a garbage dump. She was just being herself. I don't fault her for it, but I'll just say I'm glad to have my car to myself again. I'm just that picky about my Fortress of Solitude.

The quartet was supposed to have another gig this Sunday with our fill-in bass, Jack Day. I got an e-mail from the organizer yesterday canceling our participation. I'm dissapointed, and yet relieved, because we're going to try and have a garage sale this weekend and prepping for that with a quartet rehearsal in there somewhere to prep for the gig was going to be a real hassle. On the other hand, I like the idea of getting $65/hr to do something I truly enjoy. I should develop a cancelation fee policy. Oh well...

Work's getting better. Ups and downs, but I'm slowly building my client base by "resurrecting the dead" and contacting a bunch of former customers who haven't ordered in years. Still a very gray...gray office and a bit isolating, but not bad. At least it's climate-controlled, clean, and there's no one there I dislike. Even made a friend in one of the warehouse workers - a fellow 30something geek who happens to live real close by. He was gracious enough to play chaufeur for me the past couple days so Sonya wouldn't have to load the kids up in the car to get me.

Well, 10 minutes to get to work. Better skee-daddle.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Mr. Mom...

Okay, so at this point I'm home with the kids, not sure if Sonya will be back for the morning melee of getting the kids off to school and me to work. The first few days of school this year went fairly smoothly. Sonya got up and made breakfast while I showered, we both assembled my & the kids' lunches while they get dressed and eat, I pile the kids in the car and we get there right on time. This time would be different.

Getting such a late start from the cottage in Canada, Sonya decided to just stay there the night and return the following day in time enough to get the kids from school. So I woke up a couple minutes earlier than usual (which means when my alarm actually goes off, instead of after one hit of the snooze bar) and get everyone assembled and out the door (mostly) on time. I was pretty proud of myself! No arguments, no excessive tardiness (only 2 minutes late), just a relatively smooth morning. After stopping by the district court to pay a traffic ticket, I pop home to grab one last thing before work, notice Courtney's sandwich sitting on the stove, and drop it to her classroom and still get to work 15 minutes early.

Something in my gut said I would be picking up the kids from school...

Sure enough, just after I get back from lunch, I get a call from a flustered Sonya. She was having car trouble and was still at the cottage. I talk to my office controller and take 1/2 of a personal day. I stop at my buddy Chris's comic shop on the way to the school to chat, and arrive in plenty of time to get the kids. We had fun hanging on the playground playing for about 1/2 hour, then went home to play on the new swing set and have dinner.

Shortly after the kids are in bed, I get a call from Sonya. She's had a tire with a steady leak for months, if not years, now. Unfortunately, there are no gas stations near the cottage to fill it up. It was completely flat, so they tried to change to the donut, busting off 3 of the 4 lug nuts in the process - not good for an hour and a half drive. They had a lead on a local guy who could fix it, but not till tomorrow, so once again, I'd be left to do the morning shuffle solo. No biggie, I figure. I handled today fine, tomorrow should be just as good.

Then I heard a heavy, wet coughing in the kids' room, followed by a heartwrenching cry for daddy. When the weather changes as it did yeaterday, it's not uncommon for the kids to get a bit congested, but this crescendoed to a constant hacking cough. My baby girl was sick.

I escorted her to my room and the bigger, more comfy bed and let her sleep there. About 4 am, I got up to get her some cough medecine. At this point, I knew I was going to be taking another personal day from work.

Today, Liam got up and moving, showered, fed, and dressed with nary a complaint. We got him off to school in plenty of time. His baby sister is still sleeping in my bed. I've been popping in to give her snuggles and reassurance. She feels miserable, but smiles when I lie down next to her and give her a hug.

Now's not a great time for me to not be at work, to be honest. I need to start re-building my client list - a LOT! But, being here, taking care of my sick child, I know I'm where I need to be right now.