Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas

I'll be spending tonight and tomorrow with my family for Christmas. We'll eat way too much food, hopefully make a fire and toast marshmallows, and play a ton of games. It should be a wonderful couple of days. I hope wherever you are, you have a very Merry Christmas full of food and family and friends and warmth. Particularly warmth. We could use it this year.


10 Minutes

I have the words "Ten Minutes" on the chalkboard above my bed. These two simple words have changed the way I see myself and life in general. For years I've had big plans of things I'm going to do. Books I'm going to write. Weight I'm going to lose. Skills I'm going to learn. But I always seem to get overwhelmed by how much work it takes to actually achieve these goals. And I always say that if I can't dedicate myself fully to my goal, than it's not worth even trying to achieve anything. In short, I give up. Pretty quickly.

The "10 minutes" idea came into my life after I started learning guitar. My father recommended practicing at least 10 minutes per day. Mostly because my fingers had not developed the strength or calluses needed. But I started thinking about how 10 minutes per day didn't seem like much. I could do that. I can do anything for that amount of time and I know I have at least ten minutes that I could spend each day. Each day I play, at least 10 minutes and most of the time longer. I've also started writing at least 10 minutes per day. Often longer, but at least those few minutes.

And I've realized that breaking my goals into small manageable chunks makes all the difference for me. I don't feel odd about writing when I'm only doing 10 minutes. I don't get self-conscious and stop writing. I don't worry about if the writing is award winning. I just fill those 10 minutes and by the time they are over, I'm normally full tilt into something I've been meaning to write. I've been strength training for at least 10 minutes a day. Everyone can strength train for ten minutes. In fact everyone can dedicated ten minutes to almost anything.

Suddenly things don't seem so insurmountable. I feel like I can achieve all sorts of things, in just 10 minutes per day. And those are minutes that I always feel I have available to spend. If I told myself that I'd be writing for an hour, my mind would say that I don't have that kind of time. I'd talk myself out of it before I even started. But my brain never balks at 10 minutes. I have that kind of time. And using this one little trick, this one little thought, I'm starting to feel better about those goals. Suddenly I might be able to achieve things.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

My New Obsession



Meet my new obsession. I'm not sure what to call him yet. I'm leaning towards Jonsi, after the lead singer/guitarist for Sigur Ros. Mostly because he makes beautiful sounds that make me happy. Well...both of them do.

This past year I decided that I want to learn an instrument. I learned the saxophone when I was in grade school but I hated it. I tried the piano at 12 but when I realized I wasn't going to be the next Chopin, I gave up. Neither instrument was practiced enough. This time I knew I wanted to take my time and learn to play slowly, by practicing consistently. The guitar seemed perfect. My father has played guitar the entire time I've been alive. He started taking lessons shortly before I was born when he was 33. Now at 37 I've decided it's my turn.

When Jeff and I came home from St. Louis after Thanksgiving, I went over and my dad taught me the very basics. I learned how to hold the instrument, how to strum with the pick, how to read TAB, and three basic chords. He sent me home with a lovely guitar, an instruction book, an electronic tuner, and some picks. He also sent me home with the directive to practice. And I've been taking him seriously.

I play every night. At first I could only practice for about ten minutes before my fingers hurt so much I had to stop. I'm learning with nylon strings thankfully (Thanks Dad!) but it still hurt for the first week or so. This week I can play for 40 minutes or more a night. I've developed the calluses I need on my fingers. I'm learning my chords. I'm taking my time with this. And I'm practicing hard and I'm not getting frustrated. Suddenly I'm looking at my favorite songs and wondering what key they are in. I'm excited to practice, even if it's just playing with some finger picking.

But the big thing for me is that I'm learning. I didn't think I could learn an instrument. I had told myself that I just wasn't musically inclined. It feels good to have the discipline to practice everyday and the ability to learn. My chord transitions are smoother today than they were two days ago. I feel good to be taking my time. It may take me years to learn the guitar but I'm okay with the slow pace. It feels good to learn and to try.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Grzegorz Wrobel

I read a lot of art blogs. If I like an artist I'll write down their name and go back eventually to look at the rest of their work. Today I read Parka Blogs (one of the best resources on art books) who did a profile on Polish artist Grzegorz Wrobel. Wrobel is an architect so his paintings are often of buildings and cityscapes. The moment I saw his work, I not only wrote down his name but I went out looking for more of his work. I think I'm in love.


Watercolor is one of the hardest mediums to work in. It's unforgiving of mistakes and there is a certain loss of control you have to accept with it. Colors bleed into each other. That just makes Wrobel's work all the more amazing. These are watercolors. And they are so detailed and precise that I'm left shaking my head as to how lovely they are.


Now normally modern cityscape paintings leave me cold. But these are magical. There is an unearthly quality to them. The soft colors and focus makes everything stand all the more for me. It makes me look a little harder at what would have been an ordinary street scene. His palettes are perfect for the scene he is working on. And the details make the images seem all the more real and unreal at the same time. I was blown away by his work.


As with any artist I write about, I recommend you go out and take a closer look at the rest of the artist's work. I only choose a couple of images that strike me. All of this man's work is magical.

Wrobel's website. Sadly my Polish is not so good.
His Deviant Art site.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Sunset on the Road



Jeff and I headed to St. Louis to see his family for Thanksgiving and on the way down I took these photos of the sunset. I love my camera for these kind of shots.



Of course I couldn't get photos without the dirt on the windows (above fuzziness)


The windshield wipers making an appearance.


But you can see how lovely the colors were.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

No Service


Two weeks ago Jeff and I drove towards northeast Iowa for an evening (you'll see more pictures from that trip). We had no real plans, just a hotel in Davenport that night. As we were heading out we passed through the town of Grundy Center and Jeff decided to drive around the main square. There was a nice county building in the middle of the square and some shops. We were about to head back onto the road when we turned one of the corners we noticed an abandoned church that demanded more attention. It was slowly being reclaimed by vines and the effect was fascinating. We stopped and walked over to take pictures. I would have taken more but there was a dog barking on the other corner the entire time we were there. I just love the look of the ivy and the general rundown state of what was once a very lovely building (although the Weber grill is a bit confusing).



Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Selfie with Hat

I'm not a fan of selfies. I take quite a few pictures lately but most of them are not of myself. I don't always like to look at pictures of myself and I certainly don't like the reaching and odd positioning that most selfies require. But since the Oxford English Dictionary has decided to celebrate this word, I'm going to post one. Mostly because of the hat.



I realized that in all my pictures I don't have a single one of me in this hat, which seems amazing. I love this hat. I've practically worn out this hat I've worn it so much. Jeff and I were in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and while walking, we happened upon this old dying shopping district. There were two maybe three stores left in a whole four block area. We stopped into the sporting  goods store, and I decided to buy something. After all we were on vacation and the man running the store was incredible sweet. He told us old stories about when he was a pitcher. I wish I remembered his name. I'd look him up.


I needed a new hat so I was check out his stock. And the hat you see is the one I kept coming back to. I'd look over the hundreds he had but I kept coming back to that hat. So I asked. I thought it was just an odd Boston College logo. He informed me that it was for a minor league baseball team in New York, the Brooklyn Cyclones. And I knew at that moment that I had to have it. I love minor league baseball. I love obscure teams, that people outside of the city of origin might not know. I'd certainly never heard of the Cyclones. I love that I bought a hat for a minor league NY team in Fort Lauderdale. And I loved the hat. I bought it and I've hardly taken it off since. Twice now I've had to wash it but it's still going strong, although it was blue when I bought it. I just hope that the Cyclones are still playing when the hat finally wears out. I'll need to buy another one.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Halloween

The Cardinals were playing the series at the time. Jeff slaved over that one. 

In October, one of our good friends came down from Minneapolis and stayed with us for a couple days. Since it was right before Halloween we decided to carve pumpkins one night. Jeff and I had bought a few to carve and it was a great night. I roasted the seeds (which didn't last two days) and we had jack o'lanterns on the porch for a couple days. The first night we went out with candles and lit them up and took pictures. I love how the camera takes dark shots. The ones above are both Jeff's pumpkins. The ones below were Josh and mine.

 Left to right: Cooperative, Josh's, mine

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Rainy Day

It's November and it's raining. I woke up to rain and fog and lovely 50 degree weather. A rare treat this late in the fall. I love rainy days. I feel more energized on rainy days. I get more done. I'm sitting writing right now but I thought I'd actually post a picture since I promised to post one daily. Oops. I have to learn not to make these kind of promises.


This is from a trip that Jeff and I were taking up to Minneapolis this summer. The storm clouds up ahead were impressive and a bit intimidating. But we kept driving anyway. By the time we got up there, it was just the tail end of the rain. But I snapped some pictures of the rather scary clouds.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Misty


This is my favorite picture of my kitty, Misty. I've taken well over a hundred photos of our spoiled kitty but this one is probably the cutest. I love the light and the look on her face. As she gets older I realize how wonderful it is to have photos and videos of her.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

In the Spirit of Fairness

To be completely fair and honest, I wanted to show you the difference that the Super Vivid setting on my  camera has on the pictures I take. Here are two pictures, of the exact same tree, taken seconds after each other. The first one has super vivid, which should be apparent.


The one below does not. Now I'll admit that the one above looks more like what I was seeing that day in the bright sun. It is closer to the colors. Which might explain why I took so many pictures that day. All my pictures tend to be dulled just a bit from true color. But this has been the case with every camera I've ever owned. Either way, fake or real, that super vivid is a really cool feature for photos of the fall colors.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Daily Shots

Last November I got a camera for my birthday and wrote about it here. Over the last year the camera has become a regular companion for me. On the weekends I tend to grab it before I leave the house most days. It's light, fits in my pocket, and takes the kind of photos that I always wished I could take. I'm a little in love with it.

And I want to share some of my photos with you. In an attempt to make sure I post a bit more, and to show off some of the beautiful things this camera can do, I'll be posting a picture everyday. We'll see how long this lasts but I love the idea. This will push me to post and push me to get outside to take even more pictures. Win-win, in my book.


So here is my first picture. It was taken with the Super Vivid setting on my camera so the colors are a tad more intense than they would be with other cameras. But this is much closer to what I was seeing that day. It was one of the more glorious days we've had. This was taken right outside the Iowa Arboretum in Boone County. You'll see more pictures from that trip. I took well over 60 in the arboretum alone.


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Twitter

So I broke down and started a Twitter account over the last couple of months. A friend of mine talked me into it. While I was signing up I kept wondering how often I would use it. I am not particularly succinct. I have a tendency to use 20 words when 5 will do and I figured I would struggle using only 140 characters.  And that is true to a point. But I was missing the whole point of Twitter. I was worried about posting. Now I realize that Twitter is perfect for listening.

Once I started the account I saw how many of my favorite authors, artists, and musicians happened to have accounts. I started following people I admire, people who's work inspires me. And they posted things about their work and their lives. I found a quick easy way to tell artists how much I admire their work. And I quickly became obsessed.

I have a number of friends that I follow and I love to hear what's going in their life. I use my twitter account the same way I use Facebook. More reading and less posting. And when I do post I try to make it good, not just what I'm eating for lunch that day. If you are interested in seeing me struggle to keep my posts to 140 characters follow me over on @catbier. If you do, let me know you're coming from the blog and I'll try to follow you too. Twitter is fun!

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Green Room

On October 29th I decided that this was the year I was going to do NaNoWriMo. November is National Novel Writing Month and the NaNoWriMo organization offers a contest to see which writers can write a novel in a month. I've decided to unofficial try it. So my evenings and weekends and any other spare moment, will be spent working on my novel. They suggest about 50,000 words. I'm currently at 6,000. 


But my timing this year is perfect. My back bedroom is clean and ready for use. And to top that off, I decided to paint the place at the beginning of October. I had been talking about painting for months, as one of my friends can attest to. I debated between green and purple. I also debated when to do it. In order to paint, I have a couple of tons of books to move. So I kept putting it off. I had originally planned it to be a spring project, then a summer project, and finally a fall project. 


One Friday evening I came home and told Jeff that we were having dinner near the hardware store. We walked in after dinner and I picked up a lovely shade of green. It's called Lettuce Alone from Olympic paints. The woman at the counter told me it was an "interesting" color. I think she meant that in a good way. I came home that night and started moving stuff. I moved books and bookcases. I moved the bed. The next morning I got up and started taping and then I started painting. I spent the whole day painting and moving things. But by the end of the day, I had a green room. Along with a green paint brush, green ladder, green drop cloth, green edger, and partly green pants. I never said I was a tidy painter. 

A computer, green walls, and a thermos of coffee. All set to write. 

The end result is that I love the color. I love the room. It seems so much brighter and so much warmer. Most of the art I have on the wall doesn't really match but I've decided that I don't care. I love these walls. And I love my new place to write. I sit up here happily, basking in the cheerfulness. At least I have a good place to make my first novel attempt in over 15 years. Now if the book will only come out as good as the color.

 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Iceland

I'm not sure if it's the large amounts of Sigur Ros I'm listening to these days, but I'm being drawn across the Atlantic to the small island nation of Iceland. I should really blame Eric Weiner.


Years ago I read The Geography of Bliss and loved the book. But the section that fascinated me the most was Weiner's profile of Iceland. In the book he makes Iceland seem ideal (other than the weather of course) in that language and poetry are an integral part of life. Failure does not have the stigma that it does in our society. And best of all, there is a great openness and acceptance about the Icelandic people. Since then I've been dreaming of cozy cafes, sipping coffee, and reading poetry in Icelandic. I badly want to visit but my thought have even gone as far as to consider living there.


I have several pictures on my computer of Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland. I have even more of the Iceland countryside. I love the untamed wild look of the place. If you ever want to see beauty, just do a Google image search for Iceland Night. Even the images of snow and ice don't turn me away. While I have long railed against winter, my head seems to point further north. I look at images of northern Canada and Iceland with longing. The quiet northern places draw me with the lure of solitude and wildness.


I'm only starting to learn more about the country beyond the basics that I've read. The more I've read the more fascinated I've become with the place. It continues to be listed as one of the happiest countries on Earth, that despite the months of hard winter. While I'd probably visit in the summer, I would love to go one year in winter to see the Auroras. Lately I've begun listening to a few Icelandic language lessons. I've spent hours on travel sites looking at hotels and places to see. I probably won't be going anytime soon (Jeff is a little short of vacation) but I'm more than content to dream and plan. I never thought a cold island would draw me, but I can't wait to travel there.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

The National at the Starlight

Okay, this is the last post I'm going to do about The National. I promise. Three might be more than I should do but I couldn't pass up telling you about last Friday where I finally (after two months of waiting) got to see them in concert.


Shortly after I became obsessed with the band, I went onto their website to check their tour listings. Normally when I do that with a band they are touring Europe or the Northeast or something. The bands rarely ever have anything close. But I looked at The National's schedule and one date stood out for me. October 11th, Kansas City's Starlight Theatre. They were three hours away in a cool open air auditorium.


I quickly used my powers of persuasion on Jeff, meaning I might have begged a bit and promised that it was the only thing I would ask for for my birthday. He said yes and we proceeded to buy tickets. This was the end of July/beginning of August. I printed the tickets, hung them on the fridge, and waited, mostly impatiently.


So when the concert finally rolled around, I took a half day on Friday so we could head down early. We got to the theater about 6:30 and sat through probably the oddest choice of an opening band I've ever heard. Sadly even live I was not a fan of the opener. It didn't help that they had their bass cranked up so high that it hurt my throat. But I sat through it, waiting for The National to take the stage.


As they were setting up the stage I noticed that the drummer was in the back warming up and testing out his drums. I took some pictures of Bryan although with the smoke effects they were testing only a couple came out. Then the band took the stage and I was instantly in heaven. They sounded so good. I was that annoying fan who sang along, took hundreds of pictures and video, and danced in my place. I'm sure I annoyed the girls in front of me as I screamed out "Squalor Victoria" along with Matt.


The band played for 10 minutes shy of two hours. They did four songs as part of their encore, including Mr. November where Matt wandered out into the crowd. Sadly his microphone detached and we lost his audio for most of the song. But it was great to see him wandering among the fans, screaming out the lyrics. They played almost two dozen songs and I knew every single one. Even Jeff had a blast and he normally hates anything with live music. They had played most of the ones he really wanted to hear.


But the best part of the concert was watching the band on stage. I'd seen videos of them performing (lots of videos) but it was different to realize that they were right there in front of me. I've mentioned before that I have a bit of crush on Bryce and getting to see him play (we were on his side of the theater) was incredible. He's incredibly dynamic on stage. I even got video of him bowing his guitar (below).  But each member of the band was wonderful to watch. Matt with his pacing and primal screams and wine drinking. Bryan with his incredible drum work. Scott bouncing along to his bass playing. And Aaron rocking out on either the guitar or the piano. And the sound was amazing. When they finally wrapped up, with the whole crowd singing Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks, I just didn't want it to end. An amazing night, one that I won't forget for a long time.

Edit: I have two videos that I'm trying to upload. But blogger doesn't seem to like them. I'll keep trying so check back if you're interested.

Monday, October 7, 2013

My First Apple

In 2004, my poor Gateway computer (remember those) was on its last leg so I decided that to be a real writer I would get a laptop. I could just picture myself sitting in cafes cranking out masterpiece after masterpiece, while sipping cups of green tea and black coffee. I could picture it vividly. I could even picture the computer, shiny and white with that pretty glowing apple on the back. Apple was pricey even back then, but I'd heard good things about its user friendliness. So Jeff and I went to the store and bought me an iBook G4. And I loved it.

My only previous experience with an Apple had been the Apple IIe that my parents still have down in the basement. For those old enough to remember, they had a big floppy discs that programs were loaded onto. I played Brickout on that machine for hours. But my iBook was miles away from that. It was portable and sleek (by those days standards). It had decent battery life and relatively fast computing power. I quickly found it to be indispensable.


I used that computer daily for about three years, 2007 or so when I started playing World of Warcraft regularly. The iBook didn't have a video card so playing got a little tricky. The game was slow and took forever to load screens. I would get impatient waiting. We had bought Jeff a Powerbook for him to game on so after a couple of weeks of listening to me complain, Jeff and I went out looking for a desktop. We didn't comparison shop at all. By this point we were a dedicated Apple household. We bought a lovely iMac. The screen was just a bit smaller than our TV (which tells you more about our TV than our computer). I gamed on it heavily for years, until I stopped playing. Then the iMac moved upstairs to make room on the kitchen table for things like eating, and living.


But I spend most of my time downstairs so I dug out my old iBook and plugged it in downstairs. It still worked even though it wasn't as fast as the iMac. It was clunky and heavy by today's standards but it still connected to the Internet, still wrote emails, and still allowed me to write from the comfort of the couch. And I've used that computer constantly up until this week. It's finally dying. The battery has been long gone and Apple no longer makes replacement batteries for it. The processor has reached the point that it's so slow that it's painful to work on. It's having problems opening simple things like Word and Excel. I'm sure it's not as protected as it should be. It's time for it to go.

It doesn't hurt that Jeff and I recently broke down and bought an iPad. I love the portability of the tablet and the quick speeds. I do most of my web surfing on it. I've even installed a Twitter app to see if I can figure out how (and why) to use it. But the iPad isn't perfect. I hate to write long emails on it. We don't have a keyboard for it, so I'm struggling to write blog posts on it. And I won't even think of creative writing on it. Most of my writing is done on the iMac upstairs. But when I'm downstairs I still look at the iBook longingly. I haven't brought myself to get rid of it yet. I've had that computer for nine years now. I've used it regularly for all that time.  That's nearly miraculous in today's technology world. I'm sad to see it go. But I know it's lived a long, long life. And it made an Apple convert out of me.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Not So Killer Wasp

While the news is buzzing about the killer hornets in China, I thought I'd share my not-so-deadly wasp that I took pictures of three weeks or so ago. We have mud wasps that have decided to build a home right outside our door. This is the second nest they've tried to build there in the years we've lived in the house. We'll have to call someone to come and take care of it. I'd think about doing it myself, but...well...I'm not insane. Bees I like, wasps I do not.

So we often have wasps flying around the front of the house and one afternoon I found a very cooperative subject sitting on the window. It was one of our 100 plus days last month and I think it was trying to suck the cold air-conditioning through the window. I snapped pictures, I changed settings on the camera, and I took even more pictures. The one below is my favorite. I think the lighting works. I just love how much of this odd strangely beautiful creature you can see. And I love the big eyes. Of course I'd still kill one if it came indoors.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Long Two Weeks

These last two weeks have been some of the longest of my life. I didn't think it was possible for time to go so slowly. If I needed proof that time is relative, this was it. When I last updated the blog, my father was being transported by ambulance up to the Mayo Clinic. I had spent most of the day before with him at the hospital and had gone to see him that day (Tuesday) over lunch. He was taken that afternoon up north.

That evening, at 9, my mother called to say that my father's surgery was planned to be the next day. She was heading up to Rochester and she asked if I wanted to go. I wasn't about to let my mother go up alone, particularly not at that hour. So I quickly emailed my boss to say that I wouldn't be in the rest of the week and headed north, riding with my mother. When we got halfway up, my father called to say that now the surgery would be on Friday. But we were far enough along that we continued on. And it's a good thing we did.

On Wednesday we saw my father early in the morning. And things seemed fine. Until they didn't. My father complained of problems focusing his eyes, double vision, and that's when I noticed that he was slurring his speech. He was having a small stroke right in front of us. With this new complication, the surgeons rushed the schedule and managed to get him in on Thursday. I've never known a longer afternoon. They took him in for prep at 3 and we didn't hear anything until 10. I didn't know seven hours could go so slow.

Hospital time is slow time. For us waiting, for my father waiting to get surgery, for my father recovering from surgery. He is supposed to be heading home today after a slow but successful recovery. He said that the pain was less with this one, versus his initial 24 years ago. I just can't be more grateful that he had his fainting spell which allowed us to go into the ER that night. I can't be more grateful that the surgeons moved us up in their schedule. I can't be more grateful to the nursing staff at both hospitals that took such fantastic care of him. And I can't be more grateful that his heart restarted on the operating table. It's been a long two weeks, but for the moment I see a happy ending. But it's a reminder to me that life is precious. And even slow minutes are precious minutes.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What's Important

Last week my father texted me to say that he probably had the flu and wouldn't be able to get together one night. On Saturday my mother called me to say that it wasn't the flu. Dad had a blood infection. A serious blood infection. He'd finally gone to see the doctor and that he would be starting heavy rounds of antibiotics that day. Even more worrying, my father has an artificial heart valve that was put in almost 25 years ago. If the valve became infected it would mean another heart surgery.

On Sunday my mother called to say that they were admitting my dad to the hospital on Monday morning. They wanted to watch him more closely. He still had high fevers. Thankfully on Monday we found out that his valve was apparently not infected. He'll most likely not need another open heart surgery. Now it's just a matter of blasting him with enough antibiotics to kill the bug. When I saw him on Saturday, before the hospitalization, he looked gray and pale and weak. He was clearly sick, clearly hurting. And I went home with a pretty heavy  heart. But the news on Monday and seeing the return of his appetite and color has made these last couple days a relief.

From the first phone call on Saturday until today, I've been in a bit of a daze. I spent part of Saturday with my dad, I spent most of Monday at the hospital with him, and I'm making it a point to see him every day. The news of his illness was a wake up call. It has reminded me that most of the issues I thought I had, aren't all that important. It reminds me that there are things in life that are important (family, friends, time, interests...) and there are things that are unimportant. I've been slacking at the office but I've been writing up a storm. I've been laying off social media but I've been spending lots of face-time and phone time. I've been telling people I love them. I've been making time. I've been doing the things that make me come alive.

As I watch my dad recover, and his color and personality return to normal, I send my gratitude out into the world. And I'm reminded of what I know is important and what I used to think was important. It's sad that it took almost losing my father to realize this, but I'm happy to have both the lesson and a soon-to-be healthy father. I'd rather not have just the lesson.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Poetry Saturday

Because I'm late for Friday.

I found this poem while looking for a Robert Service poem about daydreaming. I still haven't found the original one, but the moment I read the first stanza of this one, I was in love. This poem hit me right in the gut. It says so many things I want to say, particularly about how my job and my values clash. Sadly I know nothing about John Boyle O'Reilly, except that he lived from 1844 to 1890 and was an big Irish rights activist. I'll have to read more of his work. His tone sounds a lot like Service.

The Cry of the Dreamer
by John Boyle O'Reilly

I am tired of planning and toiling
In the crowded hives of men:
Heart-weary of building and spoiling,
And spoiling and building again.
And I long for the dear old river,
Where I dreamed my youth away;
For a dreamer lives forever,
And a toiler dies in a day.

I am sick of the showy seeming
Of a life that is half a lie;
Of the faces lined with scheming
In the throng that hurries by.
From the sleepless thoughts' endeavour,
I would go where the children play;
For a dreamer lives forever,
And a thinker dies in a day.

I can feel no pride, but pity
For the burdens the rich endure;
There is nothing sweet in the city
But the patient lives of the poor.
Oh, the little hands too skillful,
And the child-mind choked with weeds!
The daughter's heart grown willful,
And the father's heart that bleeds!

No, no! from the street's rude bustle,
From the trophies of mart and stage,
I would fly to the woods' low rustle
And the meadows' kindly page.
Let me dream as of old by the river,
And be loved for the dream alway;
For a dreamer lives forever,
And a toiler dies in a day.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The National

A few weeks ago I had mentioned that I was listening to the band The National regularly. I owned a couple of songs by them that were on constant repeat. Since that time, those couple songs have been joined by a lot more and I have become officially obsessed with the band. I have gone back through all of the bands earlier albums (they have 8) to listen to their older material. I have watched hundreds of videos of their songs. I've sought out articles on them. A full 10% of my main playlist is now made up of National songs. Seriously I'm thinking I'll need a twelve-step program soon.

 From the Sea of Love video (read about its origins here)

And this is not typical for me. While I quickly become obsessed with authors and artists, music is generally not something I've become infatuated with. This is the first time in my life that I can point to each member of any band and tell you their names. Even with really ultra famous bands I can't do it. But I can list each member of The National and what instrument/role they play. Of course it helps that they are a band of brothers. Aaron and Bryce Dessner are the twins who both play guitar. Normally they are up front and center with the lead singer. Scott Devendorf plays bass and often stands near to his brother Bryan Devendorf who plays drums. The only band member to not have a brother in the band is Matt Berninger, the baritone voiced lead singer.

Aaron, Scott, Matt, Bryan, and Bryce

The band members all grew up in Cinncinati but didn't really start playing music together seriously until they all moved to Brooklyn for various jobs. Most of their early work is about working in white collar jobs and hating it. It wasn't until after their breakout album Boxer that they were able to think about quitting and going into music full time. Aaron and Bryce are heavily involved in the music scene outside of the band and have even curated music festivals. Bryce, who is a classical guitarist as well and who I have a bit of crush on, has worked as a composer creating his own orchestral and classical pieces.

Some people have called the bands songs melancholy or morose but I actually find them very uplifting. There is a catharsis in hearing them that brings me back to songs again and again. Most of the lyrics are about tough times, heartbreaks, and sadness, but I often find myself happy while singing along. Poor Jeff has heard nothing but snatches of National lyrics from me in months. Luckily he's come to enjoy their music too, although he hasn't been bit with the same obsession. But the songs just pull me in. They are catchy songs that grow on me each time I hear them.


I have tickets to see them live for the first time in October in Kansas City. It's the only thing I want for my birthday. Having seen videos of their live performances, I can't wait to see them in person. Until then I'll see if there are any songs that I've managed to miss from their older albums and try not to drive Jeff too crazy.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Not in Nottingham

Perhaps it says something about me that one my favorite songs from any Disney movie is the rather downbeat, almost depressing, Not in Nottingham from Robin Hood. When I was growing up we watched Robin Hood a lot. It was one of my favorite movies and Robin Hood, that fox, was one of my first crushes. And Roger Miller's sad, hauntingly beautiful version of Not in Nottingham was the one song I would sing from the movie. 


There are certain songs that just hit you the right way and stick with you through life. Almost thirty years after hearing that song for the first time, I'm still looking for a copy I can call my own. Disney has only once, to my knowledge, released the song in a physical form. It was part of the record soundtrack. Sadly, that record is one of the few that I can't find in my parent's house. We have the cover, but not the record. It's not on iTunes or Spotify or Pandora or LastFM. I'm not surprised that Disney would prefer to focus on the more upbeat songs from its movies but there is just something wonderful about that song. 

I'm clearly not the only one who loves the song. When I go looking for it, I find all sorts of covers of the song. Los Lobos did a version. Benjamin Baker did a version. I just found a version by Mumford and Sons. If you google Not in Nottingham, you'll find hundreds of covers with a couple versions of the original mixed in. But nothing that I can put on my iPod to hum along to later. So I'll keep looking. And hopefully find that old record. I'll wear out the needle listening to that song but it will be worth it. "Every town, has its ups and downs..." 

For those of you who've never seen Robin Hood or heard the song, check out the original here. And the Mumford and Sons version isn't too bad. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Photogenic


I went to the Henry Doorly Zoo on Sunday and I think I took three pictures of animals. And two of those were of the same animal. I was at one of the best zoos in the country and didn't bother to take animal pictures. I'll tell you it's because I had a more enjoyable subject. My nephew.


Jeff's brother Greg and his wife Jen came up to visit us this past weekend and brought their adorable 2 year old son Callen. I've mentioned my nephew before in this post. I took a couple dozen pictures of Callen and very few others. He's a cute kid. He's a good kid. And I enjoyed getting the chance to play aunt all weekend.


We went to the beach, we played on playground equipment, we went shopping, and then we drove to Omaha to go to the zoo. In between I played with my rubber duck collection, I got attacked by plastic dinosaurs, I read book, and I had tea parties. I spent the weekend making my nephew giggle, which in term made me very, very happy. Oh and I also spent time with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law. Thanks guys for coming up! It was wonderful.


And if you don't think the kid has a contagious smile, just watch this video.

video

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Trebuchet


A year or so ago, a friend of ours took us out into his backyard to set off bottle rockets. He had built a launcher and then used 2 liter bottles as projectiles. We pumped up the pressure, pointed the rocket upward, and pulled the firing cord. The moment the first one launched I was in love. I believe I squealed and pleaded to do it again. I might have clapped in happiness too. Since then I've become fascinated with launching things. And my new favorite idea about launching things is a trebuchet. I want to build one.


A trebuchet is a form of catapult, a siege weapon designed to launch heavy objects at a significant distance with much force. What's not to love? The trebuchet uses a counterweight to send objects flying. So not only do you have the thrill of watching things fly but you add heavy weights to make the contraption even more dangerous. I have to imagine that full sized trebuchets injured more people in their operation than just with the projectiles they threw. But it doesn't matter, I'm going to build one. Although ours will probably only launch water balloons.


But in the meantime, Jeff and I decided to start small. We bought a ready-to-assemble trebuchet at Gen Con this weekend. We assembled it tonight and I have done little else but launch the balls that come with it, along with some dice, across the room towards our table. Currently it has a range of only a couple feet (think 6 to 8) but I think with some adjustment to the firing pin, I should be able to get much farther. The box says it could fire up to 25 feet away. It just takes some practice. Now to play with it and hopefully get some slow motion video of it working. I'm still going to build a big one, but in the meantime the little one makes me squeal with happiness. I'm such a geek.

video

Friday, August 9, 2013

How to Sabotage Yourself...in one easy step

I'm beginning to think that my brain hates me. Or perhaps that I'm just my own worst enemy. Thinking, and particularly overthinking, has been the bane of my existence. I've done more to sabotage me than anyone could ever do. The moment I decide on something, there is a tiny voice in the back of my mind that starts to ask questions like, "do you really think that's a good idea", or "do you even know how to do that", or even "why do you think anyone would be interested in that". 

This has affected my social interactions, my writing, my work life, and recently my blogging. I spend so much time thinking about doing something, and whether it's a good idea, that I do nothing. I sit paralyzed, listening to the voices in my head tear down my ideas. A decent story idea suddenly seems hackneyed. Then completely cliche. And then the voice likes to tell me that I'll never have any original ideas. That I'm not a good writer, friend, person. It's a horrible type of paralysis.  

After years of this I understand why so many writers and painters were alcoholics. They are drowning out those little voices. They are keeping them busy. I haven't gone that route yet, don't worry. I've found music instead. If I can listen to music (as I'm doing now) I can keep that little voice busy listening to lyrics while I type away. Of course this doesn't work well for social interactions but I'm working on that. 

I've read hundreds of self-help articles on how to get rid of these voices, or at least how to quiet them. They've suggested meditation, self-hypnosis, segmentation, even the music treatment I use. I've used free writing, self encouragement, and even mantras. One day I will learn a perfect solution to tune them out. Until then I have to do as Nike suggests and "just do it". Just do what you want to do and let time determine if something is good or not. More often then not, a bit of time and distance, makes things look clearer. 

"Don't think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it's good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they're deciding, make even more art." --Andy Warhol

Friday, July 19, 2013

Songs of the Week

Over the last three days, I've listened to The National's "Sea of Love" at least two dozen times. In fact I'm listening to it right now, on repeat. That and "Demons", also by The National.

I have a tendency to become infatuated with songs. Two weeks ago I listened to "Nomenclature" by Andrew Bird until I was humming it in my sleep. I simply could not get enough of the song. This week, I've moved my affection to The National. I was introduced to the band years ago after watching this rather enjoyable animation using their song "Slow Show". Using YouTube I listened to most of their music then. And then this week, I became obsessed.

I was re-listening to "Sea of Love" and happened to notice that the Dessner brothers (the guitarists) look a bit like a friend of mine. So of course I had to look for more videos. And that reminded me of "Demons". Now I can't stop listening. I bought a bunch of The National's song but these are the one one repeat.


Eventually I'll get tired of them. Or a new song will come along. But until then, repeat is my best friend. And these songs just keep getting better with each listen.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Patriotism

With the fourth of July behind us I finally feel that I can admit something. It's not a popular thing to admit right now but I don't really care. It needs to be said.

I'm not much of a patriot. Or at least I don't care much for patriotism.

I like this country. There are a number of nice benefits of living here. It is certainly a better place to live than many country in the world. But do I believe that this is the greatest country ever? Do I believe that everything the US does is great? That's where my patriotism begins to get a little shaky. I was young when I started to notice how the word patriot was bandied around in debates. It was often meant to be a conversation stopper. I watched us go to war (for the first time in my lifetime) and the cracks started to appear in the "America is wonderful" veneer. I suddenly started wondering if we were just as flawed as the other countries.

I started to read more about the ways that our country slips: torture, espionage, war-mongering, etc.... And the more I read the more I realized that we're not a perfect country. That we do some of the things that we rail against other countries doing. We just try to do them quietly and covertly. Now I'm not expecting our country to be perfect. That would be silly. But I am tired of the patriotic rhetoric that goes around, that says we are. I'm tired of the flag waving and political speeches that seem to say that we can do no wrong.

I got into an argument on July 4th about Edward Snowden. There was passionate argument on either side about whether he was a traitor or a hero. And one of the debaters asked me if I loved my country. And I paused to think. And I honestly couldn't say one way or another. Like I said, I like this country. But I think I could just as comfortably live in Canada.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Quotes

I found an old photo of an apartment I shared with a friend in college. On the wall above my writing desk were two quotes that I had created with letters cut out of magazines. I thought I was so creative to do that. The two quotes were favorites at the time and still are, even though I'd forgotten they were up there.

The first:
"And not when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived." ~ Henry David Thoreau from Walden

And the second is one of my favorite inscriptions from Robert Service, a poet who I've loved for most of my life.

I have no doubt at all the devil grins,
as seas of ink I splatter.
Ye gods forgive my literary sins,
the other kind don't matter.

I might have to put that one up over my current writing desk.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Neil Gaiman!


For those of you who don't know, the man sitting at the table is Neil Gaiman. And the woman looking slightly faint while professing her undying love standing in front, is me. I've been that close to Neil "freakin" Gaiman! Even just saying that makes me giddy.


If you're a friend of mine on Facebook I'm sure you're tired of seeing pictures of this man. But it's not everyday that someone gets to meet one of their heroes. So pardon me if I'm a tad over-enthusiastic. I have loved many writers. I have a couple writers who I've read all of their books. Neil Gaiman is on the top of both of those lists. So when I heard that Neil Gaiman would be doing his last signing tour I knew I had to find a way to go. The closest stop was Minneapolis so I started making plans. A friend, graciously, went to the bookstore to pick up passes for me. Another friend, as big a Gaiman fan as I am, went with me to the signing. We listened to him talk and read and then read from his even newer book. And I applauded and cheered. And then we waited, and waited. Three hours we waited for the chance to have our books signed. Thanks to my friend Josh for making me stay. Because it was worth the three hours.


Because for 30 seconds I got the chance to talk to my hero. I stood in front of him and babbled something about how much I loved all of his work. And he said something gracious about how it was all so different and I babbled more about how he was an amazing storyteller. And he signed two books with a beautiful fountain pen and I couldn't stop smiling for the rest of the night. Every time I open my copy of his book I smile. He was so gracious and genuine. And I can't stop talking about it. So here you go. More pictures. More talking. I just have to say it. I love Neil Gaiman!