Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hittin' the town

Last night was more fun than I've had in weeks!

I have been mowing lawns for my sister's friends for a few month for a little extra cash. I don't mind mowing lawns in the least. Fresh air, sunshine (when the weather cooperates, anyway), exercise, and a visible sense of accomplishment when I'm done. The lawn at my current abode is a double lot of mostly weeds, spotted with kidney bean shaped garden patches, with a quadrant that tends to turn into a jungle after just a week. It's daunting and time consuming. The lawns at my sister's friends are a cinch by comparison.

One friend has a double lot, but there are no obstacles. I can usually finish in about a half hour, but have to get my lawn mower there, which is a trick with the trunk latch on my car broken and stuck shut. Her other friend has a single lot, no obstacles of note, and her own mower. She's been offering me $20 per run, which I've reluctantly accepted because I can use the cash, but is much more than is necessary for the 20 minutes it takes me to complete the job.

This gal is fun, intelligent, gorgeous, and just a blast to hang with. Feeling a bit guilty for bilking her for a Jefferson each time for the past couple months, this time I gave her an option: $10 cash or $5 and a drink at the new Rosie O’Grady’s Pub in Ferndale. There are a bunch of reasons we're not right for each other romantically, so I had no worries that this might be interpreted the wrong way. Thankfully, she chose the latter.

I headed over and did the mowing quickly, but efficiently, so as to avoid the rain that seemed eminent. When I finished, she suggested I head over to the bar while she cleans up from her home improvement endeavors. I head the ½ mile to the pub and find a table in the main bar area. Rosie O'Grady's used to be just a step above a dive bar. Nice, relatively clean, but a but worn around the edges - just enough to have 'character'. Rosie’s new digs are AMAZING! Not only is it huge, clean and new, but it has a very open floor plan, separate sections for covered patio, sidewalk patio, bar, and dining areas, DOZENS of flat screen TVs with local sports, and i t's boisterous without being so loud you have to shout to be heard by the person next to you.

I order my beer and wait. She shows up just late enough to be fashionable, and looking fabulous. We proceeded to have some great conversation, talking school and careers, dating stories, how much we both miss my sister now that she’s made the move to the West Coast, and life after divorce. She orders some pizza for us to split and we munched while enthusiastically playing their weekly team trivia game. We started out at the head of the pack in the game, but fell quickly behind when the subject matter moved from pop culture to modern music, then finally to my Achilles Heel, sports.

We were there for about 3 hours just swapping stories, playing trivia, eating, drinking, and having a blast. I’m not used to going out to local trendy ‘hot spots’, let alone with a gorgeous woman, so not only was I having a great time, but I was feeling like quite the envied stud! The tab was a bit more than I had expected, so I offered her a free week of lawn service.

One of the best parts of the evening was going home MUCH later than my roommate (or I) had expected, and putting on my best shit-eatin’ grin. He knows this girl and is QUITE aware of her beauty and charm. I just grin at him and he gets this look of total shock, assuming MUCH more than had happened. I just paused with my cat-who-ate-the-canary grin. I held it for about 5 seconds before I cracked. “We had fun at the bar the whole time. I just wanted to see the look on your face when you assumed…” Priceless. ;)

Doing a favor for a friend, a great night at the bar, lookin’ like a stud at a local hot spot with a major hottie, and making my roomate’s eyes bug out for a few seconds. Yea, awesome night!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Gratitude for what I have...

I met for dinner with an old friend the other day. Without going into detail, it got me thinking about what I have versus what how things could be. I have my health, I have 2 jobs (crappy-paying though they may be), I have friends and family willing to help me as needed (which I try desperately not to abuse), and I've managed to keep going without government assistance. I've never had to apply for unemployment, I've never had a financially crippling medical emergency (knock wood).

I've also never been without a job for more than 2 weeks in my entire adult life, and beyond that I've had between 2 and 5 jobs at a time over the past decade. On top of that, while the entirety of Michigan is in a labor panic and everyone is looking for work, I have 3 solid leads on better jobs. I don't have them yet, and none of them are what you'd call well-paying careers, but they pay a damn sight better than what I'm making now, but one of them is bound to turn out. In a state with 15.2% unemployment, and living 1/2 mile from a city with over 25% unemployment, I consider myself ridiculously lucky.

In the mean time, I feel loved, appreciate, and respected for who and what I am. THAT is the biggest gift. As long as the basics are covered (food & shelter for me and my kids), if there is love and respect, I will always get by.

And how do I come about this love and respect, you may ask? The answer is simple:

I love and respect others.

I've pontificated on Karma and what-goes-around-comes-around plenty of times. Showing love and respect for those around you, no matter their differences, breeds something beyond goodwill. It goes beyond Biblical tenants of "turn the other cheek" and the more universal "do unto others" philosophy. It creates a personal mental state of peace. It allows one to better analyze one's own thinking and be more objective about one's personal beliefs.

Psychologists often cite that actions create belief. For example, if you make yourself smile, you'll begin to feel happy. That's a bit simple (and not always true, of course), but the concept isn't without merit. If you treat others with respect, even if you completely disagree or are even morally repulsed by their ideals, you may allow yourself to open you mind to more possibilities. It doesn't have to change who you are to consider a point of view you disagree with and you don't have to change your opinion to show respect. On the contrary, being weak-willed doesn't garner respect. However, not only will SHOWING respect by letting others have their say, not discounting their ideals out of hand, and paying honest attention to what they are trying to communicate, open your own mind to new possibilities for growth, but you've gained the appreciation of a wider circle of people, which can be beneficial for all later on.

I've started to ramble and get off topic. Hell, it's my blog. :)

Anyway, today, despite having to work to days of doubles in a row and being drastically underpaid for it, I'm happy. Not because I'm forcing myself to smile, but because grateful for what I have.. More than that, I'm realizing why I have the blessings I do: because I show love and respect at every opportunity.

I highly recommend it

Friday, July 17, 2009

Ya Feelin' Lucky....PUNK?!

I've never been one to seek out action flicks (aside from Sci-fi, of course), let alone want to LIVE one. Tough guys and explosions just aren't my bag unless there's extremely witty dialogue, space travel, aliens, or maybe Seth Rogan. It seems, though, that fate decided to add just a dose of Schwarzenegger to my life this week.

Wednesday is my night to have the kids for dinner. I was looking forward to it, as always. As I had quartet rehearsal later in the evening and would need to get the kids back to their mom in time for that, rather than waste my shorter time with them by actually MAKING dinner (and I'm usually VERY good about making them a full, well-balanced meal) I just picked up some pizza. Lou shows up a bit early to share in the movie we were watching (Midnight Madness - Michael J. Fox's film debut) and homemade s'mores.

As we're packing up to leave and I open the front door, I hear a *BOOM*. Being just a over a week past the 4th of July, I figured it was a local setting off fireworks...but it was still quite bright out. That's when I noticed the 1/2 mile long, 200 ft. high plume of smoke coming from the North.

It seemed to emanate from the 9 Mile Rd./I-75 area, and as I drove the kids home it seemed confirmed. My first though was that my favorite gas station had exploded in some accident. As we pulled up to 9 Mile via local back streets, we all looked East to see a HUGE plume of black smoke with enormous flames shooting skyward. Liam gaped for a minute when he exclaimed, "AWESOME!!" To which I replied, "In an action movie, it's awesome. When there are people involved...not so much.' He showed an appropriate amount of contrition (well, for a 9-year-old boy, anyway) and hoped no one was hurt. They didn't seem traumatized by the event in the least, so I dropped them off with their mom and proceeded to do what all good Americans would do - become one of the gawking masses.

I parked a couple blocks away, walked as close as I was allowed by the police tape, and called Lou to have him and my bari, Dave B., bring my camera down. Our bass was being re-routed through Hell's Half-acre and trying to get to my place for rehearsal. Lou and I never managed to connect through the throng of on-lookers, but he did snap a few pics before we met back at my place to wait for our bass.
Tanker Fire 7-15-09 (2)
Tanker Fire 7-15-09 (4)
Tanker Fire Aftermath (1)
We all had a good (if a bit short) rehearsal, choosing to focus on the music to distract us from the blazing inferno a mere 1/2 mile away.

2 miracles I take away from this: 1) if I had left the house when I had intended to, and taken my usual route back to their place, rather than finish the scene we were watching for my son's sake, we'd have been ON that bridge when the explosion happened. This wouldn't have necessarily resluted in injury, but it would have been scary as hell and likely traumatized my baby girl, at the very least. 2) As the reports came in throughout the night and following day, I heard that despite the horrible traffic accident, destroyed cars, raging fire, collapsing bridge, and chaotic scene, absolutely NO ONE was killed! There were only 3 minor injuries!

It's not often I find myself in a position where I am grateful for divine providence. I tend to thank God more for wisdom, guidance, and patience, rather than for setting all of the physical pieces in place and kinetically 'making things happen', but in this case I find myself TRULY grateful for everything being just-so that despite a horrific scene and the potential for tragedy, everyone was able to escape with their lives.

I've said it before, I'll say it again: I'm not a Bible-thumper. In this case, however, for myself, my kids, the people involved in the accident, the firefighters, the EMTs, and the local community, I'll say, "Thank you, God, for intervening".

Monday, July 13, 2009

Musical & Computer Geerery...

I've been watching guys doing multitracks on YouTube for years. Guys like "Big O", "FinneyLee" and "BHSNerd" have been doing the coolest tags with unbelievable precision and with full video for a long time. This is one of the things that got me on my kick of doing learning tracks for other quatets for money. I've played with computer recording software for nearly a decade, from the cromagnon Sound Recorder bundled with Windows 95, to Cool Edit 2.0, to its only slightly bigger brother Adobe Audition 1.5, which is what I currently use.

I've always loved creating quality multitracks. There is no thrill greater than ringing a chord, as any barbershopper will tell you, and when you can't organize 3 other guys's schedules, you make due! Ever since I saw these video multitracks online, though, I've wanted to show off for the world. Listening to them, I realized that there were a LOT of guys infinitely better than I doing this, but a lot worse as well. More recently, I figured it might be a good way to drum up some business for my learning track business (which has been virtually non-existent lately).

The only missing pieces of the puzzel were decent video editing software and a webcam. Well, the webcam was easy enough - $15 at MicroCenter. The video software is a different story. I tried playing with Windows Movie Maker, which is clunky and good for little more that snazzing up home movies to the level of a high school AV class, circa 1990. To be honest, I didn't need much more than that technology, but this lacked even the simple 4-panel tool I needed to do a video multitrack.

This weekend, I procured Sony Vega. Vega is kind of a multitracker's standard, and as is my usual M.O., started playing right away. It works well and quickly with my Adobe Audition and turns out some good stuff! I started out with the tag to "The Shadow Of You Smile", being a track I've done before and didn't need to re-learn. With no tutorials and glimpses into the how-to manual, I turned out a decent product before turning in for the night. (you can find it on my YouTube channel, but I'm not proud enough of it to post it here.) The next morning, however, I decided to try again and use the bits and pieces I'd learned the previous night to try the "Flying Sinatra Medley" tag and cranked this out in under an hour:

I now have a new way to spend my dubiously copious "free time"! Check out my YouTube channel to watch for more!

Also, while talking with my old friend Ralph on Facebook chat, I started wishing I could combine it with my other buddy lists. I've used Trillian to combine my AOL, Yahoo, & MSN IM names for years and been pretty happy with it, but have been using Facebook more than anything else to chat recently. Trillian - even the new version, Astra - doesn't do Facebook chat, that I've seen. Ralph clued me into a new IM consolidator called Digsby. I downloaded it and absolutely love it! It's not a HUGE leap from Trillian, but it does simplify things enough to be worth it.

Other than that, this weekend, I went to see Wolverine and had some AWESOME steak at Texas Roadhouse with my good friend, Marney (Wolverine is fantastic - ignore the nay-sayers). I also went to my friend Dave's wedding reception/open house with my sister and mowed a friend's lawn. All of this while appreciating gorgeous, sunny weather.

God, I love summer! I can't wait until I finish my teaching degree so I can have the time to APPRECIATE it again!