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!