Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I'm Not Usually Impulsive, But...

I have thought for a long time that it was time for Heather to learn to play a new instrument. I took eight years of piano lessons and three years of French horn lessons, all decidedly classical in nature. I don't have a French horn (do you have any idea how much those things cost??), but I love my baby grand piano. Over the last few years, I've been trying to switch my piano playing style to allow for more flexibility with what's written, and to try to improvise more to what's going on around me. This is a necessary skill to learn if one wants to play with a group of other musicians. This need came up while I was trying to play keyboard with the praise team at my church. You try playing with guitarists, drummers, bass players and vocalists of varying skill levels and tell me you don't have to improvise! I can't say I'm particularly good at it, but I have gotten better over time.

So this brings me around to the next instrument for me to learn. I thought about soliciting suggestions from my readers here, but you'll have to reread this post's title. I decided that I would learn to play guitar. It seems to be easy enough to pick up a few chord fingerings and a few strum patterns, and be able to play some common tunes, but certainly complicated enough to provide years of further learning and technique refinement. I knew I wanted one with a pickup, so I'd be able to easily be mic'd one day when I might need it, but not an electric guitar, so I'd still be able to play acoustically. This was my plan.

I went to a guitar store here in town and asked a bunch of questions and held several guitars and generally was a pest for about an hour. The folks there were very patient, answering my questions and explaining lots of stuff to me. At the end of it, it appeared I had more research and deciding to do, so I thanked them and headed home. I decided that I didn't want to mess with trying to learn classical guitar (note the eleven years of classical music training described above, and what it's done for me). After a few hours of research, I felt armed enough to dive into the craigslist waters. And what would you know, I found one that seemed to fit the bill -- a Stella blues guitar from the 1950s. I love my 1927 mahogany piano, and figured I could continue the trend of having instruments older than myself. I called the guy and found that it had been retrofitted with a pickup, and was ready for me to come check it out. I went that afternoon to a warehouse where, apparently, all the local bands practice. I walked in and picked up the guitar, and everything fell apart. See the guy is selling three guitars, and no one wants old ones, so he figured I was calling about this other one, but the one I was thinking I wanted is a parlor guitar (not full-sized) and has no pickup. While it was one cool little instrument, it wasn't what I was expecting, and I chose to walk away.

My husband suggested eBay, but after my experience, I decided I didn't want to buy a guitar that I couldn't hold in my hands first. Down, but not out, I went back to craigslist. On a whim, I searched for a bass guitar, instead. I found a lovely bass, being sold by someone who obviously needed the cash. I had thought, flippantly, in the past about learning to play the bass, but I had lots of excuses. It's hard to sing along with at a campfire. I'm not cool enough to play bass. I would be relegating myself to playing harmony. My husband won't be able to fight off all the drooling men when I become one of those hot bass playing women. Oh well. I called the dude selling the guitar, played it a bit in a park, and walked away with a sweet new instrument to learn to play. Oh, and I got a good deal, so maybe I'll still get a regular guitar one day.

And now I just have to figure out how to play it. And I have to get an amp. Anyone have any pointers they can give me to good information for learning to play this little four-stringed wonder?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


This weekend we made multiple-daily trips over to the Old Mission's parking lot. Why would we go, repeatedly to a section of asphalt? Because this weekend was the I Madonnari street painting festival. It was a lot of fun to watch the progression of the various chalk masterpiecens. I went over on Friday afternoon as the painters were taping off their areas and sketching out their grid or the general shapes of their planned project. On Saturday, you could see segments of pictures be completed, and Sunday and Monday added more parts. It was neat to see the artists at work, wondering what they were doing with certain colors, and seeing how their art took form. It almost allowed us outside viewers an insight into how the creative mind works.

Of course, I thought about taking this challenge on in a future year. I've worked with pastels before, and I wasn't too bad. And then I realized there is a reason I work with computers. It's because I hate kneeling on the concrete for three days straight.

Bravo to all the madonnaras of this year's festival! I really enjoyed watching you work!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Rules are Made to be Broken

I have long known that I am a rule follower. I also create new rules for myself all the time. One of my personal rules is that I read every post by a particular blogger before I decide to add links to them off this page. I've alluded to this rule of mine before, so it's not like this is something new in my brain.

However, in every growing, changing organism, one must step out of one's comfort zone and try new things. So, in my own little way, I've now linked to two blogs without reading every entry ever posted. I'm not sure if Tom and George should be flattered that I accepted their blogs without having to read it all, or offended that I didn't spend the time to read all that they'd spent time to write. All I can say for myself is that some of the politically-targeted posts become a little harder to "get" when you're not in that particular climate anymore, and they've both been posting for a long time. Regardless, you should all go read their blogs. Now.

And while Matt didn't get a whole blog post announcing his arrival to the HIAHS world of link-worthy blogs, I did try to point you to his site when I added his site. And he's only been posting since January, so you have no reason not to be able to read the whole posted history there. And you should, so you can celebrate with them one day when they get to have a baby.

Friday Random Ten

Today's random ten has a little more variety than last week's, but I still have a lot of music to load into my iTunes land. I'm not sure when I'll get to that -- I have to go all the way from the second floor to the basement to get to the rest of the CDs, and two flights of stairs are apparently difficult for someone doing a triathlon in two weeks.

Forever Yellow Skies by The Cranberries, To The Faithful Departed
Leader of the Laundromat by The Detergents, Dr Demento 25th Anniversity Collection
Los Peces En El Rio by Mannheim Steamroller, Christmas Live
Scum Sweetheart by Audio Adrenaline, Don't Censor Me
Nightlife (Live) by B.B. King, Live At the Apollo
You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome by Madeleine Peyroux, Careless Love
Hard Times by Wayne Watson, A Beautiful Place
Crazy Times by Jars of Clay*, Much Afraid
For All You're Worth by Petra, No Doubt
I Am...I Said by Neil Diamond, The Essential Neil Diamond

The one novelty song on the list is a parody of "The Leader of the Pack" from the '60s, which I've blogged about before. This version, even though the laundromateer throws the singer's clothes in front of a garbage truck upon being dumped, did not cause me any tears and sadness. The Christmas song in the group didn't sound Christmassy at all, so it wasn't disjointing. Otherwise, I really enjoyed the transition from B.B. King's strong, deep voice to Madeleine Peyroux's light, sweet one. And I liked the irony of having a song about hard times and crazy times next to each other, when we're living through hard times in a crazy world now.

*Acts I've seen live. I haven't been to many concerts in my life, but if Jars of Clay keeps showing up in the list, I'll keep having asterisks to put in place.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Lease on Life

Moving from the Austin housing market to the Santa Barbara housing market made this an easy choice for us. When you can't buy, you have to rent. Closed case. This wouldn't have been our first choice, but there are a couple of things we had forgotten about renting, and we have become reacquainted with those benefits.

The biggest benefit is the house maintenance, or the lack thereof. When we moved in there was a non-working furnace. Since then we've had poles fall over in the back yard, a mouse infestation, and a garbage can mishap. In every case we just call the landlady and magically people fix things without expecting money from us. It's been shockingly great. We haven't had to dig through the phone book to find someone that is (hopefully) reputable, and we just generally haven't had to worry about anything. I did change one light bulb once, but that's about it in the maintenance department.

Then, since it's not our house, the owner is the one who is responsible for the yard. I can't remember the last weekend when we didn't need to work in the yard. Not that we worked in the yard every weekend by any means, but we needed to. Now, we don't. A gardening trio comes every other Monday to make the yard beautiful, and we just eat the ginger and the oranges that grow there. And the grapes, once those are ready. We're not even responsible for the water bill. Crazy, I tell you!

Renting is phenomenally cheaper than buying in this town. We are living in a much more expensive part of town than we could afford to buy in, and we're sort of getting spoiled. We have a bigger place than we did in Austin, but we're still putting away a decent amount each month. How weird is that? By the way, we love this part of town -- anyone want to donate to the Help-Heather-Buy-The-House-She-Lives-In fund? Nobody buy this house while we're working on building up that fund, okay? Fat chance, I know. Our furniture has made this place seriously appealling and it's starting to annoy me. If one more realtor tells me how great our furniture looks in the house (grrrr)...but back to the point at hand...

With all the time and money we save not working on the house or in the yard, we can actually enjoy our weekends. Some of this comes from my fancy schedule where I'm done working at 3pm and have this whole giant afternoon to do the stuff that has to get done, but some of it is that there is just less stuff to be done. This weekend we went to the Botanic Gardens, and figured out what that nifty tree we saw on our first hike was. It had this dark, smooth bark, and these light green leaves, and the almost backward-ness of this coloring was really pretty. Well, now we know it was a variety of manzanita. And now we've seen about 30 more varieties from groundcovers to bushes to trees, some with berries and some without, and I believe I am smitten. Then we drove to the top of La Cumbre peak. It's only 4000 feet, but next time we go to the top of that mountain, it'll be on bikes.

Next weekend we have an appointment with the chalk-drawing festival that goes down on the grounds of the Old Mission. No worries -- you'll get an update of that, but I'm looking forward to it. The great weekend excursion opportunities make me want to cancel that trip to Texas in a couple of weeks for the company summer party and the annual triathlon of the women in my family. But I won't -- it'll just make me enjoy the weekends when I'm in town that much more.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Friday Random Ten

After realizing that all the cool kids are doing it, I decided to try it out. Well, some of the folks that blog regularly that I read, anyway. Most of my CDs ended up in storage before I could get them all uploaded into my iTunes library, so I have a limited selection. It's also old, and not too many unknowns in my pile of stuff. I'll have to work on that. In the meantime, here is my first edition of the 10 random songs that iTunes gave me to work with on a Friday afternoon.

Liquid by Jars of Clay*, Jars of Clay
Heart To God, Hand To Man by Geoff Moore & The Distance*, Evolution
Babka Breakdown, Country Cooking (random bluegrass instrumentals)
No Need to Argue by The Cranberries, No Need To Argue
Particle Man by They Might Be Giants, Dr. Demento 25th Anniversary Collection
Crash Into Me by Dave Matthews Band, Crash
I'm Gonna Fly by Amy Grant, The Collection
Night On Disco Mountain by David Shire, Saturday Night Fever
Dancin' Fool by Frank Zappa, Dr. Demento 20th Anniversary Collection
Maybe Tomorrow by Sixpence None The Richer, This Beautiful Mess

This was a very jarring set -- from upbeat bluegrass to low-key Cranberry-land to Dr. Demento. And what's up with two different novelty songs ending up getting thrown at me? It sure was nice to end with Leigh (Bingham) Nash's airy vocals, and that made me want to go relisten to that whole album.

*Acts I've seen live. I haven't been to many concerts in my life, so you won't see too many of these asterisk thingies in the random 10.

"We Bleed Maroon"

I'm not a big fan of country in general, but I did go to Texas A&M. That means if you want to go out, you'll have to listen to country music. And I have to admit that I like a good two-step with a good strong dance lead. I have one country CD in my collection, and it's a Garth Brooks collection. When my husband and I started overlaying our CD collections, this was the only duplicate -- and his only CD in the country genre as well. It's one of those silly coincidences that seems more important than it really is.

So, country music always intrinsically reminds me of A&M. And then a friend sent me a link to a song called "We Bleed Maroon" by Granger Smith who recently graduated from A&M. He's, apparently, already an established country singer, and this was his tribute to A&M, the kids that died in the bonfire accident a few years back, and to the Aggies that have fought and died in various wars. It's the most overtly Aggie song I've heard since I quit living on campus. I really enjoyed it in a sentimentally sad sort of way, and I hope you like it, too. I can't say every part of the song will make sense to folks who didn't attend this institution, but I think parts of it are universal.

Let me know what you think. I'm curious to know if it translates to non-Aggies.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Big Plans

Last night, on my flight back home, I ended up sitting next to a little girl. It was a long flight, and she was obviously bored (I can't remember how many times she read the airplane safety card from the seat pocket in front of her), so she started telling me about herself. She's 14, but she'll be 15 soon. Her mom lives in Texas and her dad lives in California, so she travels back and forth a lot. She generally spends a couple months with one parent and then switches to the other. As a result, she doesn't go to school much. It takes them a while to figure out how long she's staying and then they get around to getting her enrolled, and then she leaves again. She's been in Texas since February, but since it's May and school's almost over, she won't bother going again until the fall. She also has a boyfriend that she's been with since she was 9. They are getting married when she turns 18 -- she already has a ring. She has two older brothers who are really good friends with this guy, and everyone approves of their plan. Her mom just wants to make sure she waits until she's married before she has kids, so this seems the best way to do that. Once they get married they'll honeymoon in Amsterdam before they settle in Colorado, because it's pretty there.

Now, I realize I got all this information from her perspective, so some of it may be off, but it still scares me. I'm not planning to write about how her family is failing her from a gazillion directions. Instead, I'm more concerned with all the plans she's made and how set she is on them and how devastated she'll be if things don't go according to them. And, let's face it -- that seems likely. This is pretty forefront in my brain, since I just divulged how I had these plans about imaginary children on a very real timeline. I hadn't figured out what schools they'd go to or which sports they'd participate in or anything like that, but I still had enough figured out in my brain to be disappointed when my expectations were delayed again and again.

Or, I could just be bitter that she has so much confidence that this will all work out and I wish I could still have that kind of hope. Instead, I find myself rewriting plans in my head all the time with caveats and alternate paths and worst case scenarios. I hope this girl's can be the kind of hope that turns a person into an eternal optimist.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Happy Mother's Day?

Mother's Day has become an increasingly difficult holiday for me. In my more naive years, I assumed that getting married at 21 meant we'd start having kids by 25, and have a nice trio by 31. Three months from my 31st birthday that picture is clearly out of synch with the real world. Recently, I was playing with a friend's 3-year-old who announced, "You're a mommy like my mommy." They must have been talking about how mommies are adult women and daddies are adult men in daycare or something, and I seemed to fit the bill of a woman. Then, kids are one thing, but for some reason I had two women that sent me emails towards the end of last week signed off with "Happy Mother's Day!" I guess they thought they were being friendly, but it was depressing and hurtful instead.

Let me just try to be real clear here -- don't wish women Happy Mother's Day if they don't have kids. It's not Happy Woman's Day, and it's not the time to try to motivate people to reciprocate in kind just because you're so happy you're a mother. This is a holiday for people who actually are, or have been, responsible for the raising of a child. It's a time to thank your mother for how she helped you become the person you are today. It's also, unfortunately, a time to remind people who don't have kids that it's not a day for them.

I completely understand that some people don't want children, and are happy to have no part in this holiday (I doubt they want to be wished a Happy Mother's Day either). Others aren't in a place in their lives to be ready for that leap into parenthood. No problem. Some of us, however, wish we did, and would prefer not to be reminded that we're not there yet.

I've actually been reading blogs from a few folks struggling with infertility, some for a while now. Not that I'm actually dealing with the same sorts of medical issues that they are, but because I'm struggling with some of the same emotional issues. I'm ready for all the joys and pains that come with parenthood, and parenthood isn't ready for me. It's not easy to talk about, because it's not like we have any clinical fertility issues that we know of. I can't even bring myself to write about it here, but suffice it to say that we don't need an RE, we need a psychiatrist. So, we're not ready to go down any procreation paths. But I want to. Really. So quit trying to make me feel bad, and let me just celebrate this holiday as a daughter.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Back in Austin

I know, I know -- I've only just barely been gone from Austin, and I'm already back for a visit? Well, it's true. I can't help it if I still work for a company based in Austin (we had a work retreat this past weekend) and if my best friend decided to still have her baby here where she lives (silly people having babies in the town they live in).

So, I'm back for a week and a half, and it's been interesting. I haven't really missed Austin -- I've missed seeing people I love, but not really the city. Coming back didn't really feel like I was coming home -- I really feel like I'm visiting. I know I don't belong here. I couldn't even bring myself to tell someone to avoid a traffic trap I knew would be there, because maybe it's changed since I left. I've only been gone for six weeks, but it was like I was visiting a town I lived in in elementary school. However, I really don't think it has anything to do with not having liked Austin -- I loved it here. I think, instead, it comes from all the moving I've done growing up, and how easily the concept of "home" shifts for me. Austin just isn't home anymore, regardless of how long it used to hold that moniker.

No judgement, just an attempt at an honest look at my motivations and reactions. I love family and friends, and they make "home" for me -- not the place or the buildings or the restaurants.

However, if they could open a Chuy's in Santa Barbara, I really wouldn't mind. I even promise to act nostalgic when I eat there.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Working From Home

I officially work from home now. I have moved somewhere where my company doesn't have an office (read, outside of Austin), so I'm working out of my house. This is a new thing for me: I wake up in the morning, walk upstairs and start my workday. I'm still working my same Central time schedule, so I start my day at 6am, and am finished by 3 or 3:30.

This has plusses and minuses, as does everything, I know. The biggest plus is that I have all the time in the afternoon, all to myself. This will become a minus at some point in the future, but for now I'm really enjoying it. Here are the kinds of things I've been doing with my 3-5 hours before my husband gets home.

Running I go out my front door and I'm running in the foothills of the mountains. The Texas Hill Country has it's name for a reason, but out here I'm doing more hill work than I ever did in Austin. The first day I went out running I pretty much died after just 3K. Pathetic. And I thought I was training for a marathon at one point? I'm getting better, with a solid 5K yesterday, but the effort is more significant than all the people who pointed out I'd be running at sea level made it sound. I guess they didn't realize I'd be running from sea level to 600 or 700 feet in a very short run. One thing is sure -- I'll be in good shape if I keep this up. Also, I think my GPS running partner thingy has an elevation setting. I'll have to check that out.

Yoga Alternating with my running, I've been doing a surprising amount of yoga practices in my living room. I can really see my flexibility getting better, but mostly I just do it because it keeps me from being sore after the running, and my back is killing me sitting in the crappy chairs we have for me to work from (to be corrected very soon, I promise you).

Movies Some afternoons I just want to watch a movie I really like. I had forgotten how certain story lines went, so I had to rewatch them. My husband likes to buy movies that were good for some reason, but then they often sit on the shelf, never to be watched again. I like to buy movies that elicit emotion or are thought-provoking or for some other reason are rewatchable. And then I watch them a lot. I can't tell you how many times I've seen Gattaca at this point in my life. What do you mean you've never seen it? Go rent it now!!

Crafting The box that was the most lethal to my unpacking endeavors was the one with all my craft stuff in it -- needlework projects and sewing projects and crocheting and knitting projects. Pretty much all of my in-progress projects had a bit more work done on them. None of them are done, but then you spend time on ten different projects, and see how close you get to finishing any of them. Who am I kidding -- the most fun is starting a project, not finishing it!

Shopping For those of you who know me well, this probably makes you think I've really become a Californian and decided I like shoes and clothing. Ha! I have three grocery stores in walking/biking distance, and one or more see me three times a week or so. For some reason I really like going to the grocery store because....

Cooking I've always enjoyed feeding people, but now I'm really enjoying cooking. I've made some elaborate meals -- curried chicken from scratch with lamb samosas and lentil soup; twice cooked pork with green peppers; ginger soy salmon with stir-fried asparagus; fajitas with spanish rice and refried black beans, which are surprisingly easy to make; ragu from scratch; etc., etc., etc. We've only eaten out a few times since our kitchen gear arrived in the moving truck, and those few excursions have further made us resolve to eat at home. We've eaten really well, and we've got more leftovers than any refrigerator should have to have. One of my goals with all the cooking is to not let any food go bad. This has required more trips to the store for odd ingredients to complete certain meals, and has also made me have to be creative with what's left over. Who knew the sourdough bread I made that didn't turn out so well would make great bases for a little pasta sauce, cheese and parsley all melted and toasted in the oven?

Baking Going along with the cooking, I've had this desire to start baking again. I've made bread, cookies, rhubarb pie, cupcakes, and more. Part of this has to do with the fact that my husband started biking to work most days, and that means he has 33Km round trip of biking exercise every day. My husband's a skinny guy, and since I can't have him wasting away, I have been having lavish snack spreads for him when he gets home at night.

I know, I know -- it sounds like I've become all domestic or something, but I'm really enjoying it all. Mostly I'm enjoying the time to just discover and rediscover things on my own. My husband is such a homebody that I used to never be at the house by myself unless he was out of town. This has been a great reversal for us, and one I, for one, am enjoying so far.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Making Lemonade

We're pretty well settled into our new place out here, and we're figuring out the working from home/biking to work stuff. We're also living in a house that is on the market, and that has led to some interesting challenges.

Since I work at home, that means I have to plan to be out of the house anytime they want to show it. This is the house.

There. Now it's been shown. Then, once a month, we have to be gone all afternoon for an open house. Why did we take a lease with those kinds of requirements? We really like the area, and wouldn't otherwise be able to live in this part of town. Oh, and this is the backyard. You can't see the orange trees, but if you were here you could smell them.

We really like the house. Also, we think the owner is asking way too much for it, and we don't think it'll sell.

Conveniently, they have to give decent notice for these inconveniences, so we're making the best of it. I plan trips to the grocery store when they show the house during the day. This past weekend was the first open house that we had to be gone for, so we decided to do more than go run errands.

We drove up to Ojai and went hiking in the mountains. The goal of the hike were the waterfalls in Matilija Canyon, but we didn't quite make it. The views were beautiful, with these dormant purple trees mixed in with the green ones up and down the mountain sides. The river made for pretty stop-offs and cool, relaxing breaks. And then we came to the spot along the river that meant we wouldn't make it to the waterfalls. We found a large, deep pool, and we had no choice -- it was time for a swim. We jumped in the nice cold water and enjoyed the sun through the trees. It was indulgent. Afterwards we laid on the rocks drying out and then headed back.

We did pass someone who was returning from the waterfalls, and he said they were the most beautiful he'd ever seen. But we just didn't have time. We'll have to go back, and make it an overnight trip next time. I'd be up for that. I mean, really, who could pass up the most beautiful waterfalls? We just got sidetracked by a great pool, and didn't quite make it. It was still a great hike -- about 6 hours, and we were glad we went.

There appear to be lots of these great hikes around here, so we'll have to make sure to see more of them.