12.23.2008

What's your fiscal responsibility scheme?

Normally, I'm not the best person to ask about finances. I dislike numbers, and do much better with words and intuition. My excuse is that I learned to read when I was 3 years old, and skipped the first grade, thereby missing out on the basics of arithmetic. Not that I did badly in math--I usually made A's, until I stretched a little too far my senior year in high school and took solid geometry. Made my very first C in that class. I was devastated.

Numbers affected my musicianship until I learned the technique of breaking the rhythm down to the smallest note value and setting that beat up in my head. This was especially helpful when studying Bach. Subdividing the beat allows you to navigate his sixteenth-note-rich, long, sinuous melodic/rhythmic schemes successfully. That technique, plus a "cheat-sheet" of Baroque ornamentation led to many hours of exploring the six Bach flute sonatas--arguably the pinnacle of the flute repertory.

I was also sadly lacking in knowledge of finance. My dad was a minister dedicated to serving poor rural communities, which necessarily dictated an extremely modest salary. I made up a joke about this, telling friends that we were always poorer than the proverbial church mouse. While this had some truth, we also had alternative resources. We always had a vegetable garden, and frequently chickens or part shares in a pig or steer. We put up a lot of food, and dad supplemented by hunting whatever was in season. It was as much a sport for him as food on the table, but I learned many valuable skills--how to field dress deer, clean and fillet fish, dig buckshot out of quail, and prepare such oddities as frog legs and rabbit.

Unfortunately, the only thing I learned about finances was how to alternate monthly bill-paying, keeping our balances due to 60 days rather than 30. Most dry goods establishments would generously allow the local ministry the option of layaway or payment over time (no credit cards back then), which meant that we could have at least one pair of school shoes and one pair of Sunday shoes that fit. I did learn the honorable practice of barter, which I engage in to this day.

Both sets of grandparents were adept at making a living from the land. My maternal grandparents always had a huge garden and put up all kinds of food. Mamaw was also an expert seamstress. We would draw pictures of outfits, and she had the uncanny ability to find patterns and materials and reproduce whatever our imaginations could dream up. We regularly received boxes of dresses, pajamas, skirts and blouses, always with a small box of Papaw's fudge, made with pecans from the tree in their backyard they planted when I was born. Along with hand-me-downs from the church, this was our entire wardrobe. I got my first store-bought dress when I was 11.

Paternal grandparents were farmers, as was my dad before he was called to the ministry. It was a hard, sometimes cruel life. Cotton, before the boll weevil wiped them out. Turkeys, beef cattle, even a stint as a butcher when the topsoil was gone, blown away in the 50's on the southernmost fringes of the Dust Bowl. My grandmother was blind, which didn't stop her from her farmwife chores. She cooked, did laundry, fed the chickens, gathered eggs, all by touch. Should I ever lose my sight, I know I can make my way in the dark, at least in familiar territory.

What we lacked in coin, we made up for in education, literature, intellectual discovery. self-reliance, the arts, and family. We were rich in imagination and resourcefulness. I have come to believe that these experiences were worth much more than mere money, and serve me well in the present economy. After all, I've had lots of practice. This is not to say that everything is hunky-dory. The world has changed. But this background gave me a modicum of self-confidence that keeps fear to a minimum.

In a nutshell, my fiscal sheme is simply to live as simply as possible, while maximizing resources. Nothing earth-shattering, but that just might be all I need.

12.09.2008

Sleeting in Austin


My pals in the cold north will say, "and?" To which I would say, "yeah, but it was nearly 80 yesterday, and in the upper 70's today." Only worn a jacket twice all fall. I horrify my colleagues showing up in Birkies and a short-sleeved t-shirt. And then turning on my little fan. Drives 'em nuts.

What makes it weird is that it's also thundering and lightening. Major wind. The air is full of leaves. Raining leaves. All adds up to a late winter storm that doesn't have enough moisture in it, yet is perfectly able to freeze your toes off. Tomorrow I wear my storm jacket to work. They haven't seen anything yet. I have a wonderful Stockholm jacket that is good to below zero. But I need to be in Stockholm to wear it :) Shout out to Nick and Mia and the kids.

This will get my butt in gear to pack. I might try bundling this time, just for grins.

Is anyone else having problems with comments? Kay alerted me that she was unable to add a comment, so I checked my settings. They seem to be in good order. So I'll zing Blogspot and see what's up.

Photo--Prague, Czech Republic

12.07.2008

Dear Mr. Obama





The indie news is full of chatter about our president-elect's unprecedented inclusion of the public in brainstorming public policy. Mr. Obama is as close to a genius as we've had in the White House. He recognizes the importance of using the more human side of current communications technology to get a reading on how the country is doing. This implies many good things. 1) we are all interconnected 2) change cannot occur unless you can convince the average citizen to buy into it (spiritually and financially) 3) might as well use the tech we've developed for forming community consensus to the good rather than the instrument of fear it's been the past 8 years.

As I toddle around this city, I never cease to be dazzled by the memories of old Austin subdurally while high-rises are dominating the skyline. Since the last time I posted on the phenomenal growth here, I've learned a few things. Texas added 200+K jobs in the last few years. It feels eerie, because I'm hearing of large groups of people being laid off in TX. They gutted the UT HS Center in Galveston, cutting loose thousands of medical faculty and practitioners. Various cost-recovery groups on campus are paring staff.

What keeps me on an arguable even keel is focusing on the locations in Austin that were a product of the New Deal. The beautiful, functional, efficient buildings and public works that pulled Austin out of the Great Depression and all over the country. These works are still working, folks. That's a pretty hefty testament to what we Americans are capable of.

So once again, I allow myself a few moments of unbridled, unadulterated hope. That this man who will be our president HAS learned from the past. Is smart enough to use his pooh-poohed "community engagement" skills to educate and illuminate a viable path through the current daggy landscape. I want to help. And if there's any way I can get the word farther upline, I'd love to have a hand in forming the new America.

Now, to figure out what that might look like. Most certainly end-of-life care and the aging population as part of health care, especially now that we know he will bring all the internet capabilities to bear. This also contains the seed for more cross-generational brainstorming and problem solving, which is crucial to all of us.

Mostly a more humane awareness of community and fractals thereof. Yes, after such a long absence of any idea where we're going other than to you know where in a you know what, it's almost scary to feel hope creeping in, almost as if I acknowledge it, it will get yanked out from under my feet. I refuse to live that way any more. No bullying allowed!

11.16.2008

Meme is not just a musical warm-up exercise

Kay at Kay's Thinking Cap tagged me with that meme. You know, the one that asks you to reveal all the sordid, mucky details you've swept under the rug about yourself. The one about your ex- that makes it to the top of Google rankings and gets you into a world of trouble.

Just kidding. I don't have secrets. I just have multiple lifetimes of juicy living. And no more than half are X-rated. Yet.

Back to the meme. I'll be tagging some folks, irritating the heck out of some of them, I'm sure. It's kinda like getting those "send this 'friends forever' cutesy poem to everyone in all your address books in the next ten minutes or your cat goes in the river" e-mails.

Memes do two things for me, though. They usually call for at least a brief moment of introspection, which is usually a good thing. They also alert me to blogs that I usually fall in love with. When you're an elderblogger, you tend to meet exceptional people with interesting experiences and decent writing skills, messing around in non-traditional media (for that age group).

When I wrote as The Good Musician, I posted some pearls of wisdom from Margaret Hillis, long-time conductor of the Chicago Symphony Chorus. The coolest thing happened. One of the comments was from a person who adjusted my faulty memory regarding the specific performance in the conversation. It was a thrill to correspond with someone else who had worked for her and appreciated her as much as I did. I savor the essence of music distilled by a lifetime of peak musical experiences. Then share that joy with other music lovers as often as possible. Doesn't have to be classical. I still get turned on by CSNY, tears my heart out. Standing 6 feet from Janis onstage at the Texas International Pop Festival (whole roll of photos--her gorgeous purple and blue outfit), begging me to take another little piece...

Geez, haven't even gotten into the meme yet. Guess I'm not s'posed to yet. Still sore from the concert last night, still have those tone clusters in my head, still awash in the ethos. Doing my own internal debriefing. Music reviews 'R Us.

There are several key components to a vocal chamber ensemble performance, beginning well before the actual concert. Preparedness--how successfully did the group organize and learn not only the material, but how to make an ensemble sound--how to listen and blend. How to present a musical experience the composer would love. How to relate what the composer intended to the listeners. What do the words mean? How does the composer use music to emphasize that meaning? Above all, has the group found the natural phrasing of the piece? The flow that the composer heard?

Professionality--how well did the group commit to making the best sound 100% of the time? Not wasting time in chit-chat or non-essentials while the group has a few precious hours together to get the ensemble sound in their ears, the transitions, the modulations to smoothly connect sections. How willing are the singers to blend rather than blast, use their ears as part of their voice--it's all connected--all the same physical mechanism. The vocal chords vibrate the whole body, and the ears are right next to the throat. Use those vibrations to inform your sound production to sing dynamically correctly and in tune. Critical skills for a professional ensemble singer--you have to be willing to match pitch and diction with every other singer in your group, which requires both ears all the time. That's just for openers.

Performance practice--I don't mean how you get up and down from the stage. I mean are you aware of how the Baroque sound differs from the Romantic. It's a little like role-playing. Baroque instruments sound like this, so their technique of playing them would be like this. The instrument couldn't sustain a sound like a modern one does, so there would have been more separation between the notes in general, a lighter, sparer sound. You can go fairly bombasto in the Romantic. Deep, lush, gigantic orchestras, hefty singing. A conductor friend once said that when performing in the Baroque style, think lace. When doing Romantic, think velvet. Your voice has to make that distinction as well.

Experience--if you prepare properly, you can improve your sound. You can build your skills and get better. Over time, the piece will viscerally become part of you. Those vibrations will have imprinted on your body as well as memory. As you work on a piece over the years, you learn what to listen or look out for. You've memorized it long before now, so that you can swim in the flow with your fellow singers and conductors to really enjoy the music and the experience. It never stops building. The music becomes an old friend, and as such, it's more and more satisfying.

The Music Is The Thing. Not you, not your ego, not your neighbor's annoying habit of humming their part when another section is rehearsing theirs. A rehearsal no-no. Destroys focus and concentration. Do that outside of rehearsal. The sounds need to be in your ears and head before they can be sung well. You might even say it disrupts the harmony of the group (pun intended). It isn't about you. It's about sharing what the composer wrote and felt with someone else as authentically as you can, using proper technique and musicianship. The difference between playing notes and making music is proper phrasing. You have to find where the arrival points are and the most musical way to get there.

Meanwhile, I'm sore from holding up music, breathing deeply, using lots of muscles to support a dimenuendo fading to niente, a four hour round trip by car to Round Top, an up til 3 a.m. visit with my best friend from Princeton Thursday evening and Friday morning, and incomplete recovery from the Thursday night concert. It's time to get a cup of tea, take a couple of anagesic, and take a nap!

Kay, apologies for the side-track--I really will do the meme!

11.12.2008

Concert of Hope--AVAE performs 11/13/08

The Austin Vocal Arts Ensemble sings "Poetic Voices," settings by contemporary composers of Shakespeare, Donne, Spenser, and other greats tomorrow night at Hope Presbyterian Church 8:00 p.m. John McLean weaves the lush sounds of Vaughn Williams, dello Joio (who passed away this year after a long, productive life in music), Barber, and Whitaker, calling on the considerable talent in the ensemble. A big hug for Nick and Julie Boltz, music directors and fabbo singers/pianist. They hosted AVAE rehearsals as well, allowing the ensemble plenty of time to learn the music in a superb performance space.

This has been a lovely concert period, getting to know a new director and new singers. John (or Mac) is a musical dynamo, with a vast amount of knowledge, warm-up and rehearsal technique, and visceral understanding of the gestalt of music. His tempi are always intuitive, and he brings his singers into his aura to take particular care in their execution of the piece, on every level. We always have a comfortable, satisfying workout. Or at least I do, from how well the group sounds, I assume most everyone else does too.

There's a run-out concert at the Festival Institute at Round Top this Saturday. So if you don't catch the program here, you can take a nice drive in the country for the Choral Festival.

Now, to load up my black folder...

11.06.2008

Recovering from PTSD


A few posts back I mentioned Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the Iraq and US citizenry. Seems other minds are thinking the same way. I subscribe to OpEd News, and Rob Kall has an interesting take on what he calls PPPTSD, or political, partisan post traumatic stress and "learned helplessness" in the aftermath of the last eight years.

I've also written about PTSD as an all-too-frequent outcome for significant others in an alcoholic relationship. It's tough to live in balance when your president is behaving like an alcoholic bully. Unfortunately, this kind of scenario turns violent quickly, and can put a lot of people in harm's way for what is essentially an adolescent hissy-fit. Best get a lot of distance.

There are new estimates that 300,000 of our military suffer from PTSD, and 320,000 have traumatic brain injuries. We should be helping those men and women out. It's real, and it's the right thing to do. We're going to need lots 'o nurses, doctors, medical facilities, counselors, mental health professionals as well as physical. There's a good place to put money for education. Taking care of our wounded. What a concept.

There's a lot of work to be done. This time I think we have a chance to get some things right. Truth, justice, and the American Way, in the broadest sense. Traveling and living abroad gives one an entirely different perspective of home. We're all on this planet together, and we'd be vastly enriched if we joined the global community. Trade, yes, but broadening minds as well. We all have a lot to learn, and a huge stake in working together to fix this joint up right.

Does anybody know if Mitchell's Herb Acre still exists? I think they were in Oregon. Carried lots of unique things, like saffron bulbs, and quite reasonable. That's my dream. To grow and sell herbs for women. Black and blue cohosh, valerian, angelica root, all those earthy, Capricorn herbs. Good for every stage of life, menarche, pregnancy, childbirth, menopause and beyond--saved my life. Get an Australian Shepherd again. And a decent computer system that will accomodate all my RPGs. I've already run out of room on my current rig. Dontcha hate that?

Our mom lived in Chicago for nearly 35 years. When she died, we had a little ceremony at the end of a pier in the lake and scattered her ashes. It was stunning to watch them descend, the sunlight filtering through revealing curious fish attracted by the sparkles. To think that the cycle of life was complete.

And then on election night, watching the ocean of people in Grant Park, where I have been, with my mother, and know that she would have been on the Obama team from before his senate run. She would have been there to hear his first, historically and intellectually memorable speech that was the turning point in getting us up out of this muck.

A very long way to go, but I sure feel great about finding ways to help us all get back together again. Even to the point of considering...just maybe, you understand...actually attending my 50th h.s. reunion. Who knows?

The scary dude above is my character in Two Worlds. Insanely buffed in weaponry, armor, magic, and that certain savoir faire.

11.03.2008

Chief Technical Officer

I read somewhere that Obama will install a CTO should he gain the White House. Extra special good idea. Seems most of government tech development is military. Fat lot of good that does us. I would assume such a position would collaborate with all branches of government to upgrade communications so that e-mail doesn't get "lost," as so much has in the present administration. Use it as a real information tool.

Are you as obsessed with keeping up with the election stats as I am? The Daily Kos has a wonderful little tool to watch change as it happens.

Lots of good advice out there about protecting your voting rights. Don't pull the handle for a straight party ticket. Keep your camera phone handy to document anomalies or events. Report any sign of irregularity to a poll official. Don't believe flyers that tell you that you can't vote, for any reason. Take a camp chair or stool with you. Bring reading material, crossword puzzles, or knitting.

Above all, just get out and vote.

10.29.2008

Bach and the national depression

















I recently read a psychologist's observation that the nation of Iraq is suffering from PTSD. I agree, except for one thing--no "post" about it, it's still in a survival state.

I do believe, however, that America is sliding into PTSD from the last 8 years, the economy, the sinking ship of health care, and murder by proxy. Last weekend I felt a distinct shift in the O Fortuna. Velut luna. Status variabilis. It felt a lot like grief, loss. The old American dream lies in little plasticky pieces, shiny but devoid of any humanity. The almighty dollar sucked us all down the toilet. We forgot how to live in harmony with the earth and each other.

We are all going to have to learn to get in touch with our selves again, ask some hard questions, before we can reach each other. We have to put people first again. We've become so cocooned in stuff, stuff made up of the earth's dwindling resources. We don't have to live as voracious consumers. Geez, I'm beginning to repeat my old rhetoric from the 60's and 70's.

Actually, there are solid analogies. Regardless of whether one equates the Iraq and Viet Nam wars, the effects on America have been even more devastating. The attitudes are the same from some of the military--not all, thank goodness. Arrogant slaughter for financial gain. Purely and simply.

I wish everyone in this country could see what life is like outside the borders of the USA. There's no excuse for not, really, if the media would practice real journalism.

I heard Molly Ivins speak not long before she died, and she talked about the death of real American journalism, especially the print variety, newspapers, specifically. One of her points described how today's newspapers have lost touch with the local, the community. The reporting is superficial, and narrows rather than expands knowledge. Not to say there aren't brilliant writers out there, but what is thoughtful and rational and workable is overlooked for the sensational, the froth.

On the other hand, I had a fabulous conversation with a friend about Bach and his music. My friend attended the Bach Cantata Project at the Blanton, and commented on the use of biblical text throughout. It gave me an opportunity to describe the cantata as a form, which is easily translatable to a computer geek. It was mind-blowing to think of it in that context, after a lifetime of relating to Bach in a distinctly non-technological way, not counting the early synthesizered "Switched On Bach" of the 60's. Sensual to the core, at the same time appreciating the beauty of the exquisite interface between sound and mathematics.

It is only fitting that I was able to visit his last musical posting and gravesite--St. Thomaskirche in Leipzig--in my own elderhood. Looking back for decades of being completely surrounded by Bach, something for all of my musical capabilities. Keyboard, vocal, instrumental, monumental, playful, serious, solo, full orchestra and chorus and everything in between--he wrote something for every facet, every mood. Even though they were different periods, I think of Bach as an extension, an evolution of Shakespeare.


For words are music, too. Human sound lifted up. Music, particularly Bach's, physically resonates with the human body, making it an instrument. Which reminds me. AVAE's first concert is November 13 in Austin, November 15 at Round Top.

I had a teacher when I was in my 30's who said music was mathematics in technicolor. Now that I'm in my 60's, I have a deeper understanding of what she meant.

10.21.2008

Bill Evans is my favorite jazz pianist

And a friend sent this gorgeous video of his hands, doing wonderful things to George Russell's Stratusphunk.
I fell in love with Bill Evans in 1963, the first time I heard Waltz for Debby with his trio. Chopin-esque in structure, with a jazzier harmony. Tres cool.

10.19.2008

Wayne Wang puts new film on YouTube

That's a pretty revolutionary idea for a major director to release a new film on YouTube and NOT in the theaters. It's an extraordinary film.

While watching The Princess of Nebraska, a beautifully shot slice of life about a young woman who is four months into a student exchange program...and four months into something that can change her life. She finds herself in San Francisco, bewildered by how out of touch Chinese-Americans are with contemporary China and the digital native teenagers' milieu.

I'm not crazy about YouTube, but they have one feature I love, The YouTube Screening Room. You can watch/embed new film from around the world, and that's one of my passions. Even though I know video is a technical problem for many people, I'm tempted to embed more of it on FOP. I researched and embedded a lot of video at The Good Musician, and it can add dimension to words. I'm also mulling transporting to WP.

10.12.2008

Monarch Butterflies Mean Fall in the Hill Country

Saw my first Monarch of the season on campus the other day hanging around the trash barrels outside JC. Sometimes the variety of wildlife on our campus is rather jarring. Like don't ever, ever pick up a dead bat. And there are jillions of bats in Austin, not only under the Congress Street Bridge. They're behind signs in every strip mall. They are under most every bridge up and down Lady Bird Lake (I love that!).

Hope there are more. Monarchs, not dead bats. I can remember an October in north Texas when the Monarchs coated the wisteria, trees, bushes, any leaf or twig for several days, then move on. That was in '54 or thereabouts. We see very few these days. Still, it's a gas that the Hill Country is on the flight paths of most all migrating songbirds and butterflies.

Here's a fantastic educational science site for elementary grades. That's where I got the photo of the butterfly, BTW. Excellent resource for any age :)

I had forgotten that the Viceroy butterfly mimics the Monarch, rather like a Monarch in clown face. Features just slightly overdone. This is a Viceroy--can you see the difference?

10.11.2008

There's a Fungus Among Us








This big guy is about fourteen inches across. It only grows in autumn, when the humidity reaches a certain point, and when it cools down to the lower 90's/upper 80's in the day and the 60's-70's at night. It will continue to grow until it disperses its spores, or someone or something squashes it.

Texas has some of the strangest fungi. Somehow it's unexpected.

Gladly for Adlai

I recently posted on Blog Sisters about my earliest awareness of politics. In case you can't access that link, here's the post:

Originally posted in Blog Sisters, September 27, 2008

"You've really gotten us into a mess this time, Ollie!"
Comparing Laurel and Hardy to McCain/Palin is a stretch, but if the financial mess we're in now doesn't focus the country's attention on the sorry state of affairs from eight years of insanity, then we deserve to crash.

The presidential campaign of '52 was the first I was old enough to remember, and it seemed so exciting and patriotic back then. We'd just come out of the war, the country was booming, and yes, there were problems, though they seem elementary compared to now. After listening to Stevenson and Eisenhower speak, I expected that the academic would easily beat out the old war horse. That was my first lesson in the short-sightedness of the American public. When I questioned my parents why Stevenson lost, my mom said, "He was too smart for the average American to understand." It didn't make much sense at the time. Unfortunately, she was right.

What does it take for your average American citizen to wake up to the fact that we've shot ourselves in both feet, at home and abroad? I traveled in Central Europe this summer, and was impressed by the sight of wind turbines twirling in swirling wheat fields. We are so terribly out of touch with what's going on in the rest of the world--all we see through the MSM lens is strictly US-centric. We've been salted down, wrapped in cotton wool, and isolated from reality.

Same thing when I lived in Australia for two years. There's so much more going on out there than Americans know. It was a relief to live a life in which American doom and gloom and rotten capitalism was reduced to an 11:30-midnight slot every night, and to have the choice to simply not watch. I learned about countries I'd never heard of before. Saw island nations strip mined by American megacorporations, the population decimated when the silt from runoff ruined the fishing economy. Watched the New Zealand Navy surround the French islands where Chirac conducted an underwater nuclear bomb test. Did this news ever make it to the US media? My guess is the O.J. fiasco pre-empted news of any value.

For all our bluster and misplaced pride, the US has slipped into a Third World existence where we have higher infant mortality than a couple of dozen countries. Our education system is abysmal. Le Monde and other overseas newspapers were solidly behind Obama this summer, and doubtless still are. Even the old standby, American Express Travelers Checks, were in bad odor. If Europeans would accept them, they charged an exorbitant fee, telling us that by the time they got their money back from AmEx, the dollar would have devalued enough to justify the up to 50% fee.

I learned the hard way that when you finally leave an abuser for good, that's when they deliver the coup de gras. For the unpardonable offense of extricating yourself from a toxic relationship, the abuser seeks to get their last, hardest licks in. That's the one thing I fear for America. That the "October Surprise" will result in either martial law, another stolen election, or both.

It is so frustrating to see the rest of the world taking steps to strengthen their populace and economies, while our particular brand of capitalism only leads to an acute concentration of wealth in the hands of sociopaths, and the common wo/man is crushed beneath the wheel of greed.

OK, de-comissioning the soapbox for a while. Please go vote.

B-Political Blues

I love to hear Little Feat sing "A-political Blues." Here's a 1977 London video featuring Lowell George and Mick Taylor.



Then there's a 2006 version in Portland, Oregon with Paul Barrere doing the honors.




Well, I got the B-Political Blues
Just as blue as I can be
I got those B-Political Blues
Blue, blue as I can be
There's some big old bad politicians
Tryin' to make a fool out of me

I went down to the local courthouse
Put my ballot in the box
Went right down to the local courthouse
Put my ballot right into that box
But when all the votes were counted
Somebody tampered with the locks

10.08.2008

45th high school reunion

Photo by Eryn Snowden-Rawley--it's the real thing

Growing up in the SE quarter of the US, I've lived a fair number of places and traveled throughout. As a consequence, I attended five grade schools (and I skipped first grade), two junior highs, and three high schools. By the time I got to my senior year, I was in a small, NE Texas school, with 60 in the graduating class. Now in addition to being 45 years ago, the only students I knew at all were in band.

I've since communicated with less than a handful of those folks, and I can barely associate the person with the matching school, let alone their names. I certainly wish them all the best. What I remember, of course, are clips of extraordinary events, and I haven't reviewed those particular tapes in a very long time.

Three very different bands, marching 8 to 5 and 6 to 5. No rifles or flags back in them days--twirlers and cheerleaders all the way, an occasional pep squad, which morphed into flags/rifles rampant on the gridirons of today. My loyalty and school spirit was based on the music. The color of the uniform didn't much matter.

In a way, it was difficult, considering the teen-age angst, the post-war cookie cutter existence. On the other hand, I really loved being a fringe dweller. Imagine--three dramas for the price of one adolescence. Spread over several states, I had the most delightful opportunity to see new things, hear new voices and music, and participate in distinctly different communities. I learned the value of observing and enjoying life from many perspectives. I learned to appreciate honesty, minimize the superfluous, and to step into the void, knowing that it would at the very least be an exciting adventure.

I didn't particularly like my senior year, going from a 4A to 3A band (I didn't give a shit about football--too busy in the stands and on the field), I had just gotten the piano chair in the jazz band, and I was going to be the sr. correspondent to the local newspaper. Poof--that all disappeared, and there was a twist at the new school. Something called "senior date" pretty much locked down the pairing up for the boy-girl events well before classes started. It was pretty grim, kind of like being on lockdown. I didn't mind not having a date, but I did get a little annoyed that somehow someone dumped someone else, and someone convinced them to invite me to the sr. dance, sort of like a "save face" scene for the boy, what with me being the safe, proper preacher's daughter, damsel in distress 'cause she didn't have a sr. date, who was rather taken aback that it was such a political thang, because the after-graduation party was a different story. The preacher's daughter got dumped, and the boy went to that party with someone else. Ho-hum. One of my five shortest relationships.

Notice that I'm hardly bitter about that--we graduated on a Friday night, and I started college Monday morning. Never looked back. The next two years were amazingly liberating, as I undertook to make up for lost time.

Sitting here in Austin, surrounded by some of the most open-minded thinkers in the world, I wonder what those former classmates are thinking about the current conditions of our country. Would we recognize kindred souls? Could we withstand the clash of radically different ideals? This is one of the primal issues that concern me about every class reunion: how far have we really come from violent racial hate? I use those words carefully. My grandfather told me tales of tarring and feathering black people, barely 20 years earlier. There was a sign that hung over the main street for decades. "XXXX, Texas. Blackest Land, Whitest People." As I recall, it was neon. It was still in place for several years after I graduated. New college friends plotted with me to take the sign down. One plan included something with a convertible and deep sea fishing tackle.

Two subsequent events make this issue particularly sensitive for me. My family is mixed. I only think about it when we run into a biased individual. The first incident involved a photo Christmas card of my daughter holding up her new baby cousin. A few years later, I was visiting an elderly in-law, and saw that she had carefully cut out the baby boy and stuck the remaining defaced photo of my daughter on her dresser mirror. I was gobsmacked. A tiny, premature, 4-pound infant was so difficult for her to accept she excised her denial and disposed of it. I get that it would have humiliated her to her friends. I also get that she was eaten up by hate.

The second incident was when I recognized disgust in the eyes of someone who visited me in my office. I have photos of my family around me to help de-stress at work. This person asked, "Who are those guys?" and when I told him, a wall slammed down. It didn't matter that the photos were professional comps, and that the gorgeous boys were models. That old sense of Texas tough guy, really only a mean bully, using disdain and contempt in an attempt to dominate the situation, especially when it involves a female, or persons with darker skin pigmentation. It was sickening and more than a little scary. Been through way too much of that shit to put up with it ever again.

So while I try to have as few preconceptions as possible, I would much rather go to my college reunion, which just happens to be in northern California, in an idyllic setting, full of peace-loving liberals, friends and fellow musicians with whom I'm still connected, and the very best place in the world for a little girl to grow up. I'd just as soon take a walk on Dillon Beach, hike up to the esteros, see if there are still scars from Christo's running fence. Buy a fresh abalone off a local diver, pick some dulse off the rocks, and build a fire in the shelter of a cliff. Greet old friends of nearly a decade, warm hugs and outpourings of humanity, caring, catch up on the 5 kids who were born at home in the bicentennial along with my daughter. Be free. Not worry about Americans plotting to kill other Americans.

I can't go back to those old shackles of high school.

10.05.2008

October is National Disabilities Awareness Month


The 2008 slogan is "America's People...America's Talent...America's Strength!" Not too crazy about the exclamation point--the slogan is strong enough to stand without it. Good marketing strategy for Boomers and technology as well.

So let's deconstruct. "America" mentioned three times. Focuses attention on the fact that one in five Americans* has a severe disability. There are government online fact sheets with loads of data--the U.S. Department of Labor, that may be compliant but not necessarily usable. Small type font. Navigation background and link colors clash way too painfully to browse. The press release is the perfect example of a factual, cold, dry legislative writing style which is great, but doesn't invite further investigation--chalk it up as a reliable source to link, and move on. I got out as fast as I could bookmark it.

If you're looking for a ride that glides through the architecture like a Ferrari in the Hill Country, check out WorkWorld, the Virginia Commonwealth University Employment Support Institute program. This site is an excellent example of a well-designed, usable information architecture that zips you to the fact you want--quick and easy. It's comfortable, draws me in--larger font size, no retina-searing colors, well-labeled, you always know where you are and how to get back. Now what researcher in their right mind would not just love to have that experience every time we go source sleuthing?

*This U.S. Census Bureau fact sheet is awful to look at, but wowie--what a great compilation of statistics, in a user-friendly presentation. Note especially the numbers in Education, Plugged into the Net, and Serving our Nation figures. That's where I got the one in five factoid.

Back to the slogan. "People...Talent...Strength." I often think of all the returning Iraqi veterans who suffer from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). America will have more and more talented, strong folks needing to access the internet in ways that are easy to install from the get-go, and are good for everyone. We're all going to need it, sooner or later.

So take a few minutes to check out these sites, and see if you agree with my review. If you learn just one new thing about transforming disability into usability, that would be loverly.

Here's a random photo, apropos of nothing, I just like the cool blue and green glass sculptures against the limestone background. Austin Civic Center, SE entrance.

9.26.2008

Presidential Debate a real stomach churner

I made myself watch the debate, despite the fact that I had to make a conscious effort to keep my stress level down. I love what Jim Lehrer did, or tried to do, in encouraging the candidates to speak directly to each other. I grow weary in the last stretch, let's get it over with, already. I've never been so ready to vote. Gee, would I sound like McCain if I said, "I first voted in '68, and in most every pressie, plus lotso state and local elections, and I can say we've never had so much at stake in our country. "

It was so painful to hear McCain's litany. He never once addressed Obama face to face. To be fair, Obama was a little uncomfortable at first about the degree of engagement that Lehrer was attempting to promote. Once he got into the swing of it, he addressed McCain, Lehrer, and the TV audience.

By the end, Obama had just hit his stride. McCain was flagging. It took a lot out of him. He couldn't get Obama to succumb to his bullying. Obama stood up to the insider smears, never taking the bait to lower himself to McCain's tactics.

You could see he was a little pissed at McCain insisting on trying to tarnish Obama's character, while never quite answering the question. From where I was sitting, Obama focused on actions, and never smeared McCain's character--only the Bush administration's bad judgment and decisions. McCain could hardly find anything good to talk about.

And he really put his foot in his mouth, unintentionally ratting on his homies, when he said, "I'll make sure that American soldiers never torture anyone again." That "again" was pretty much a public admission that that is in fact what has been going on since we invaded Iraq, of course before, as well, but not as systematically systemic. McCain is still talking about physically, forcibly taking over Iraq, hardly any mention of diplomacy, or of tackling the real problem in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

McCain would cut funding to everything but the defense and 2 other things I can't remember. And institute consumer-purchased health care. Without regulation in the industry, it will STILL be too expensive to purchase. Not a word about education, but lots about 'roiding the military.

It will be interesting to see if either of them changes their tactic in the next debate. Oh, gee, I guess I'd betterremember to get some heavy duty antacid for the VP debate.

9.18.2008

Closet cleaning time

It occurred to me that this is the perfect time to clear out old clothes and stuff. And more stuff. Start putting redundant kitchen utensils, the things that I really don't need, are cluttering the place up, and would be better used in a shelter or someplace around Austin. Maybe get a drive going or something.

To that end, I began cleaning up the computer area. As I stretched under the desk to snag the last yellow page, I glanced at it.

"I need to clean up my writing space."

That's all. No telling how long it had been there. Six months? A year?

Then I starting thinking about one of those listy things, you know, "Nine jilliondy leventy thousand things I found under my desk." Don't ask me to put that in numerals.

Apropos of nothing, I really like Cynthia Boaz' latest post on Palin. We graduated from the same college. Which is not why I like her writing. I like her writing because it's how I'd love to be able to write. That's my secret goal as a writer. Find other writers who reach in and rip my heart out by way of my imagination, with a strong, authentic, and truthful voice. Molly Ivins was one.

My friends Little Feat are going to be on Conant O'Brien this Monday night, Sept. 22. They'll be a treat. Dave Brubeck is at Jazz's Alive in San Antonio this Saturday. He wrote some stuff for a friend of mine, THE most gorgeous baritone, Kevin Deas, and there's at least one recording out somewhere.

I'm disturbed by the number of PC games I discovered everywhere...30 and counting. Well, that's what e-Bay's for. Anybody interested in an alpha list of what I'm chunking? Would it be obtuse to say that I'm bored with the computer games I have? If anyone knows of a great game along the lines of Oblivion or Two Worlds, anything with Radiant AI, let me know. It must be my vagabond tendencies. Or childhood fantasies. Or both.

Craig Ferguson on Late, Late has demonstrated an incisive, observant critique of American politics and voters. He's a recent citizen, and takes it dead seriously. He offers a fresh and patriotic perspective on what it really means to be an American.

News flash: Two Worlds is coming out with a new TW: Temptation. I'll HAVE to sell off my old games to get it when it comes out. Kinda like videos. Some movies I like to see in the theater, some I'm more than willing to wait til it comes to the local vid store. You know you're pretty deep into gaming when you buy a new game at full price, even though you know that if you wait a year or so, it'll go down. Or browse Half-Price Books or other book stores, or even Good Will and St. Vinny--sometimes you can find something there.

Or I could be cleaning up my writing space.

9.14.2008

Austin has rain

but it's not from Ike, except for the water in the air. This midnight rain is the result of a cold front from the NW shoving Ike north and east. Set a record high temperature today, 100 degrees. We'll have a little cooler weather, which around here means upper 80's. Extremes in weather.

OK, enough about weather for a while. It's unsettling and exhausting.

9.13.2008

Ike update

Even though we got nary a drop of rain, we got winds, and a staggering amount of evacuees. Yes, a friend confirmed, bumper to bumper traffic as the second wave of evacuees come struggling in after having to find a place to sleep on the side of the road. It has been interesting to see the plan in action. I'm glad that we have some assistance for those who could not evacuate, and that the rescue team is on the spot looking for folks and bringing food and water.

FEMA whosits and the guv have the Texas coast locked down tighter than a drum, with not only our fine Texas National Guard folks, which I appreciate and have not a huge problem with, but with "Private Organizations" which spells Blackwater to me. I have a huge problem with that. Those folks should be leaders in alternative energy development and production, not mercenary soldiers.

The size of the locked down area is larger than New England, not counting the gulf waters. Keep in mind that as much as 2/3 of the state will be affected, in addition to portions of at least two other states and Mexico. Texas has a border to protect, and you can rest assured that they will not have let that coverage lapse. This means that a goodly percentage of the Texas Hurricane Task Force will necessarily be non-U.S. military personnel. i.e., Blackwater and the like.

The evacuees will stay in place until the guv says they can go home. It could take several days, if not weeks, so yes, even though we stayed dry, windy, parched, Ike will directly affect our lives for some time to come. I welcome those who did the safe thing and evacuated their family, I think we all will.

Interesting times.

Ike is a monster

O M G. Here is a video from the space station, via KXAN.com local NBC affiliate in Austin. Ike is gigantic.

Galveston just lost emergency power and there are electrical fires throughout the city.

The cold front from the north will lessen the effect on Austin.

I was just reading comments on one of the sites, and some Austinites were saying that folks are panicking and buying the stores out of water and food. Long lines at the gas pump. If this is true, then I'm glad I got gas yesterday, that I have stuff to eat and drink, and cat food. (See earlier post).

The big problem will be losing power. I can't deal with that. It will still be in the 80's, and stiflingly humid. No AC will be a definite threat. The utility company has posted their fleet around town to better deal with outages.

9.12.2008

Ike is as big as Texas


This is a NOAA satellite image of Ike's water vapor footprint. Hope they don't mind me using it. If they do, I'll remove it. Ike is a monster.

There are storm surges along the entire coast of Texas, Louisiana, Miss, Ala, and Florida. And then it takes a turn north and east and will drench my pals in the mid-West.

Tip of the hat to St. Louis, Chicago, Cincy, Indy, Arkansas, been there, can imagine the potential water chaos.

Hispaniola is pretty much wiped out. Ike took an excruciatingly long time to pass over them. I'll see if I can find some more photos.

Galveston Island will be the straw

that cracks the back of American oil, courtesy Mother Nature. Unfortunately the little people will pay for it. Where are we going to put all of our coastal inhabitants, in the short term, never mind whether global warming exists or not. Doesn't matter. Our primary focus should be to re-evaluate the misery most of the population is in, not to mention squandering trillions of precious things, and I'm not even counting the money. Following an ego-ethnocentric bunch of yahoos who thought they didn't have to act like human beings to get what they wanted, we have wasted so much of America's valuable resource, we the people.

We are in perilous waters, captained by maniacs. Incursions into the territory of former allies, more innocent human collateral damage. And I'm watching a 900 mile wide whirligig of cloud get ready to wipe one of my favorite places right off the map. There are thousands of folks who defied the evacuation order and stayed behind. They are now calling for help. The rescue units can no longer get to them. This will be worse than Katrina, and it will claim many lives, much more precious than possessions or oil.

Ike' 50 mile wide eye is due to hit Galveston around one a.m. We will get tropical storm conditions to max out around six a.m. I will definitely be facing southeast sending good thoughts to those in danger. Settling into twenty-four hour hurricane watch.

Linus came in long enough to eat last night, found me and gave a great yowl. Then he disappeared, until I opened the door to let him out. I think he said, "Ike's coming, get your shit together...and my food, while you're at it."

9.11.2008

DNC--Report from the field

A dear friend of mine, Linda Black, attended the DNC and wrote a spectacular account of her experience. I asked her if I could share, and she said yes. So tonight we have a special guest blog eye witness report. Thanks, Linda! Here's her story.

Sorry to all that thought I never made it back from the convention. Reg and I were on vacation in the Black Hills of S. Dakota last week and this is the first chance I have had to tell you about my experience.
Thursday, August 28, 2008 was an incredible day for me. I attended the Democratic National Convention in Denver. You should know that I have voted in every national election since I turned 18, but have missed many state and local opportunities to vote and I have never volunteered or been a part of the election process other than voting. I have done my share of complaining and wishing things were different , but I never ran for office or participated in a protest or a demonstration, never even put a sign in my yard.
I was fortunate enough to get a seat on one of three buses co-ordinated by the Larimer County Democrats. I am registered as "unaffiliated," but they did not care. Our small bus of 24 people, including the driver, left Loveland at 11:00 am. About half of those people are actively involved with the Democratic Party and the rest of us were just people that wanted the experience. It was an energetic, fun group and we were all excitedly getting to know each other when all fell silent as our driver informed us that we were on the clothing optional bus. So, I just stood up and took off my shirt and, after a few surprised looks, we all had a good laugh. (layering is mandatory in Colorado so, yes, I was wearing another shirt underneath)
We arrived at the Pepsi Center at about 12:30 pm where some chose to wait for a shuttle to Invesco Field and the rest of us decided to walk. We waited in line with hundreds of others for about an hour during which time we were lured by vendors of t-shirts, ribbons, hats and anything else that could have a picture of Obama printed on it. Friendly, helpful volunteers were stationed all along the route offering ice, cold bottles of water which saved at least a few lives as it was blistering hot in the sun. After entering Invesco, I had hours to kill before much of anything was to happen which was fine because I found out later that we were lucky to arrive so early. There were people that waited 3.5 hours just to enter the stadium.
This down time gave me the chance to meet many people from all over the U.S. When I asked them why they were there, not one of them mentioned Barack Obama, Sheryl Crow, Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, Stevie Wonder or anyone else that appeared on the podium. They did say they were there because they needed health care, child daycare, elder care, somebody to care. They were there because they want an opportunity to go to school, to start a business, to own a home, to retire someday. Many mentioned that they just want to be a part of making our country better, getting out of the Iraq war was uppermost on some minds, and most parents said they want to be sure America is a country that their children and grand-children can be proud of. All of them told me that they felt they could make a difference by getting more involved. They all said that it is up to each of us to do our part to get what each one of us needs and deserves. I saw all of America--babies and octogenarians, Hindu, Christians and Jews, Muslims and Buddhists, black, brown, red, white and yellow, prosperous and poor, students and teachers, able and handicapped, unemployed, secretaries, and a ton of politicians.
But there was something that we all had in common, hope. Hope shone forth from every face in that stadium. Lights were not needed. We could have lit up the entire city of Denver with the electricity that pulsed through the crowd. It was a sea of red, white and blue--people clapping, cheering, waving what seemed like billions of flags and hoping to make a difference. I was bursting with pride in the state of Colorado which has become my home, my country, myself and all of the others that were there not because they think that a politician can "fix it," but because they think that we, the people, can.
After all the speeches and videos, music, food and fireworks, (which, by the way, were all fabulous) it was time to come back to reality. My reality was that myself and 79,999 of my new friends were all going to be trying to get home at the same time. Now, I have a pretty decent sense of direction but, unfortunately, the route I walked from the Pepsi Center to Invesco Field was blocked off. It was dark, I do not know the area well, and, remember, 79,999 others are with me. I had the most marvelous walk all around Elitch Gardens and a lovely stroll along Cherry Creek parkway neither of which leads to parking lot B10. I do not own a cell phone and so relied upon the help and directions of many locals that were absolutely delightful and friendly, but clueless. Because I have a good sense of direction, I ended up behind the Pepsi Center where all the forktrucks, trash bins, and loading docks are located--no parking lot B10. At this point it was very dark and none of my 79,999 new friends were anywhere to be found. So, of course, I remembered what they always told us in school--when you are lost, ask someone in uniform. Eureka! Out walked a security guard and when I told him I was lost, he loaded me onto a cart and delivered me to my bus just like a celebrity. After walking a good 2 or 3 miles at breakneck pace because I thought I was going to be late and miss the bus, and then arriving looking like a rock star with my own, private escort, I discovered that I was the first one back out of all 3 buses---go figure.
The purpose of this long saga is not to persuade you to vote for any particular candidate or support a particular issue, but to show you that the people at the DNC were just ordinary folks like you and I. All of those I met were committed to doing something to make a better country, a better life, a better world. I have never been so proud to be an American. About 70% of those I met had, like myself, never gotten involved in the election process except to vote. We were all willing to start doing something to bring about the things we want for our country because, whomever wins the election in November, they cannot change our country---it is we, the people, that can.
Peace, Linda

9.10.2008

Proof Hurricane Ike is serious trouble for Texas

The Texas/Arkansas game has been postponed. For that to happen is as rare as spotting a horny toad any more. They used to be everywhere--if not hippy- hopping around, flattened on the road. Horned frogs, not football games. I'll never forget the fragrance of horny toad pancakes baking on the asphalt every summer.

This is really serious. If Ike hits the refineries in and around Houston, which was just predicted on the ten o'clock news, then the world's largest refinery(ies) are forfeit. Not to mention putting the population in peril. Predicting category 3 at least, and wherever it hits, it's heading toward Austin. It will remain category 3 and 2 for quite a ways into Texas. That sounds severe, until you remember that there's a big old alluvial plain that stretches all the way to Austin to the west, and South Texas shares the Chihuahuan Desert with Mexico. Austin sits on the Balcones Fault, a very old, crumbly one, which is why we have so many springs and caves and the Hill Country. The fault marks a distinct change in elevation, with all of West Texas sprawled atop the Edwards Plateau and into New Mexico. I've always said that you could divide Texas into four discrete states, arranged primarily by geology. Western High Plains, Northern ag/lumber, South desert, East swamps.

We will feel this one. It will be horrible for the folks on the coast, but we are water starved. I've put my new special umbrella to work this summer. I've been wanting to purchase one for the last 14 years, ever since Australia. Finally did, and I'm glad. It blocks 90% of UVA and UVB rays and we've had a very sunny summer.

I recall a hurricane my family rode out on Matagorda Bay in 1950-51 or so, don't remember the name. Daddy was minister of the First Christian Church in Bay City, and it was small, but solidly built with brick. We lived next door in a tiny frame house. We had evidently picked up a hobo sign "kind preacher lives here," or the like, and on occasion while Daddy was next door in the church, we'd hear a knock at the back door, and my mom would serve up a big plate of food, open the screen door, and pass it out to a down-and-out, but always polite man who would sit on the back porch and enjoy a good home-cooked meal.

"Doctor Pepper, or Coke?" she would quietly inquire.

When the hurricane warning came, we opened the church to scores of Latino families who lived in adobe huts in the surrounding South Texas area. Not much bedding, but when the palm trees started blowing away, we were ALL glad to have a little space to try to sleep on the floor. No one panicked, we just rode out the night together. It was one of the many powerful learning moments in my life.

Update -- if Ike hits around Galveston (just S of Houston), then we will likely get flooding, winds 50-80 mph gusting higher, possible tornadoes (hurricanes frequently spawn tornados), and the like.

8.29.2008

Democratic National Convention

I frequently rail about the damage the Bush administration has perpetrated on America. I rarely comment on hope. But after watching the 4 nights of the DNC, I've got to say that I dare to hope again. Whether one is for Hillary or Obama, these last 4 nights have energized the Democratic party.

I was profoundly impressed with the strategy. A clear message, delivered with authenticity and passion, methodic, rational, honest...I dare say that there might be hope. The organizers did a phenomenal job of making the most of the opportunity. Thank goodness the Clintons are smart enough and astute enough to use their power for the good of the party, and not just the party, but the welfare of the country.

I watched tonight's installment with a friend who was severely abused by the Bush administration when he was in power in Texas. She spoke the truth (in a photograph) and he ruined her career. Her story is not so different from countless other Americans. An alcoholic bully, fronting a psychopathic cabal of politicians, has squandered our country, its people, its resources, its hope.

I miss my mother terribly tonight. Everything that she stood for, fought for, was vindicated tonight. She worked with Dr. King to register black voters in Texas in the early 60's. She championed Mexican American and African American students at a shit-kicker university in Texas in the mid-60's. She mentored brilliant minority artisans before it was outre. She even got us kicked out of a Black Panther meeting!

As Juan Palomo, journalist extraordinaire, stated in my mom's eulogy, "She was a feminist before the word was defined." The addition of women's and gay rights to the Democratic persona would have made her ecstatic. I can only comfort myself in the thought that it was women like her who forged the path, who made tonight possible.

I have written about the depression of the last 8 years, and how Bush's sociopathic characteristics trigger my personal Traumatic Stress Syndrome symptoms by reminding me of 20 years spent as the ersatz partner of another alcoholic sociopath.

These last four nights have been a capstone to my own healing, my own recovery. It doesn't matter whether it was Hillary or Barack who got the nomination, the most important thing is a valid, viable alternative to the insanity of the last 8 years.

Does this sound like hyperbole? I assure you it is not. It is what I live with day to day. Tonight I was able to acknowledge and validate my own journey, and those of countless brothers and sisters who have been through the same distress that I have.

But most of all, I miss my mom, and know that if she were here, she would have been in Denver, would have thrown her entire self into the changes that must come about, must occur for us to be a Good American once again.

8.26.2008

Music posts

The folks at b5media were kind enough to export all my posts from The Good Musician so that I can now access the content. I really enjoyed researching and writing for them, even though they are a news group, which is not particularly my style, except in blogging about education. I'm thinking about adding those posts to FOP, but don't know if my peeps would enjoy that or not. Have an opinion? Let me know.

In the meantime, our friend Glenda the Good Witch at UT has set up a university-wide blog, and our division has assigned six of us to populate The DIIA Blog. It's live, accessible from the UT Web site, and when our new Web site is launched, we will host it there.

The DIIA Blog will feature posts on education in the 21st century. Instructional technology, pedagogy, theory, and news from higher education. Team blogging is very stimulating. More ideas to bounce around, which generates more post ideas. We have technical, assessment, pedagogy, and blogging expertise represented on the team, and will invite guest bloggers from time to time. I am the official elderblogger of the bunch. Should be informative, fun, and help add that human touch to faculty development, which can sometimes be rather dry.

At the moment, we're brainstorming a sub-title. I NEVER have trouble brainstorming, but for some reason, I am not inspired to come up with anything, I suspect because our division has such a broad range of services. It's a challenge to come up with something that covers all the above and much more, while avoiding long, drawn-out, acronym-laden blurbs.

Once our Web 2.0 is live, I'll add the link to the FOP blogroll for you educators out there.

8.19.2008

What a long, strange, HOT Austin it's been




It's the hottest summer in years, and the electrical wiring in my place burned up. No A/C for ten days. "Couch surfing," as my sister puts it, trying to find someplace cool to sleep, and plug in the C-PAP.

Place really needed re-wiring anyway. Probably the original string, ca. early 1930's. Second floor, no insulation except for limestone exterior walls, leaky windows, so it gets really hot if the A/C isn't on. Like in the vicinity of 110 or thereabouts.

Now, in that kind of heat, my body shuts down. I want to hollow out a hole under a house next to some cold water pipes, and stay there, all day long. From the time the sun comes up til around 11-midnight, it's an oven. Fruits and vegetables dry in a day and a half. I've seen this. Regularly.

It's a strange relationship we have with our domiciles. At least mine have always been. Maybe it's that parsonage habitual moving, but always at least a small home base. That's pretty remarkable, considering I moved halfway round the earth and back, to find that the U.S. had gone ballistic, and the cost of living jumped dramatically those two years.

Especially in Austin, my treehouse in the safest place for me in Texas. If the weather doesn't get you, the freakin' cowboys and, yes, frat boys drown the town in alcohol and slaughter folks all over town, especially on I-35, the busiest interstate in the country. An over/under right next to the capitol and university, with trucks from Mexico blowing soot and smoke in the air, it can get a might difficult to breathe.

From the sleepy 1968 town with a radical student population, to a small '80s city, just developing Hwy. 183, to the dip at Dell and all of a sudden at least five skyscrapers nearly finished downtown. And there are more going up. It looks like a 33% growth in the last 10 years to me. I have no idea where all these people are going to come from, or what they'll be doing, but it appears to be booming in commercial real estate. McMansions are popping up like mushrooms in the older neighborhoods.

I realize that people want their property to have value. I know from a lifetime of living in parsonages in one sense or another, that houses need upkeep. It still amazes me that I live less than 10 blocks from where my dad lived in the '70s. Blows my mind even more to flash when I'm driving in the 45th St./Letter Streets and see a neighborhood of brick bungalows my dad built in the 30's for the CCC. Good stuff, gorgeous and very organic stuff, but getting old and wanting repair.

I am back in my treehouse now, all of the above happening during the busiest time of the year at work for me. I sorta coasted on the top of the wave, and had a fully WNL blood report a couple of weeks ago, so life is good.

The photo is at Riverside Drive and South 1st St. just before the bridge and onto Lavaca. The Austin skyline is totally unrecognizable and has effectively hidden the capitol in a little bowl.

7.28.2008

Fired up about work

This guy is climbing out of a manhole in Bratislava, Slovakia. Notice how the top of his helmet is all shiny? Folks rub it for luck.


I just got a promotion at work, and will get to use a lot of my favorite expertise to do it. Like blogging, promoting good stuff, networking, designing, and working with cool, very smart, creative people. What's not to like? Working for decades in non-profits and other universities, I'm accustomed to getting the best artistic value while running on a modest budget.

Looking forward to applying a little social networking to marketing, maybe even in a virtual environment. Both music and IT. At first, I wasn't so sure about how music and technology would mesh in my life. Now I know. It's the Saraswati principle. The Hindu goddess of music AND the sciences.

The first time I took an HTML class, I was struck by how the code resembled musical forms. The closing tag = a cadence. There's an arc of tension in both that is equally important.

7.25.2008

Barbara Jordan: the Constitution's staunchest defender

They should round up all of Congress, and replay the clip of her famous speech about her utter and complete faith in the Constitution of the United States. Barbara Jordan KNEW how nasty it had been and could become in an augenblick. You can't say she didn't warn us. We need her now. Or at least call her and her rock solid politics to mind and heed what she says. We need someone who will defend the Constitution as astutely as she did.

That's something relatively new in aging for me. Living long enough to have seen a pretty interesting chunk of politics, from Truman on. It was always on our radio, and TV when we got one.

I miss Barbara Jordan, one of my earliest sheroes. I miss Nina Simone, as well, and talked about her at The Good Musician.

7.21.2008

So long to The Good Musician

This is one of the many altars, or groupings of art in St. Vitus basilica in Prague. This piece is solid silver, one of a grouping of five. It's quite stunning, as virtually everything else is gold.

The Good Musician blog will retire on July 31. It's been an interesting four months, I've certainly learned a good deal about the world of blogging for pay. I loved the writing discipline, and at the same time had a great lesson in my personal boundaries and commitments. b5media are the greatest--supportive, congenial, and their admin is superb. I hope to work with them again.

Freakin' hard work. My lovely readers are familiar with my freewheeling style, and I believe that's when I write my best. Or at least my most satisfying. Not to say that I am not quite proud of my work as TGM, I was in heaven writing about music. Fried Okra Productions and the people who pop in and say hi, and share fascinating ideas and stories, is home. I missed it.

Of course, that's all very self-serving. It's kinda like my relationship with my flute and my voice. I got my first flute at age seven, a Bundy nickle plated wonderful shiny music-making real instrument. Of my own. To play as much as I wanted. A black case with blue velvet lining. A St. Louis music store sticker nestled by the cleaning rod.

I've sung all my life, except for a period from age 12 to 18, after a grumpy church choir director made a snide remark about me being too sick to sing, but singing anyway, and lousing it up, sneezing, head aching, NOT wanting to be there. Withered my little feelings so's I didn't sing again til college, and by that time I was heavy into the instrumental groove.

For a very long time, through grad school and as a performing musician. Then I got tired of being so focused on going to the edge of flute playing. I just wanted to sing for a while. So that's what I've done. Taken lessons, always a member of the muni chorus, paid section leader, contractor, ringer, et al for several decades now, and I like a chamber chorus to keep my chops up. Or just any singing, wherever--Ballet Austin, ASO, Festival at Round Top, Georgetown Festival of the Arts.

Over time, I've learned to supplement singing by combining it with arts management. Dashing up on stage at the last second after hauling a portativ organ in my station wagon for 80 miles, my entire wardrobe was black so that I didn't have to worry about changing into concert gear in addition to putting the show up.

So where was I? Comparing TGM and FOP. Different instruments. Exceedingly cool at different times. So what do I do? My head is into repertoire at the moment, working with a group of musicians and admins to set programs for this year, while supporting the group during the transition in conductors. Listening to scads of music, going through old programs, awash in fond memories. There's so much good music out there. You might think about searching out the chorus in your town and having a listen.

7.16.2008

It furthers one to find a good teacher--I Ching

Change is inevitable. You can frequently turn it to your advantage if you keep a sharp lookout. Other times you just have to sit and grieve over the loss of a situation you held dear. And then move on.

Decrypting, our choral director is retiring from our group to focus on his university duties. This is as it should be, and everyone is pleased for him, and grateful for the time he spent with us. He is truly a gifted rehearsal technician and director, and coaxed the ensemble to shine. I was privileged to participate in some uncommonly good music making, singing stuff I adore. He will be sorely missed. I look forward to participating with him and other colleagues at the 2009 Georgetown Arts Festival.

So tonight I'm articulating my appreciation for two of the good teachers I've had the opportunity to learn from and grow with as a musician.

I especially am honored to have experienced the totally awesome Central Europe tour with our director and his wife, who is an equally gifted artist and teacher. I learned much from her about digital photography, both through her gentle tutoring and by observing her interaction with all the glorious sights around us and what her eye was drawn to. She created some absolutely gorgeous mementos of those dazzling experiences for the group.

Thanks, Kenny. Thanks, Star.

7.10.2008

Elderbloggers and Zona Rosa Austin

I have sorely neglected my first two writing loves: elderbloggers and Zona Rosa Austin. Rather than posting on FOP, I yearn to catch up with my elderblogger buddies and see what's going on with them. The eldersphere has been so supportive and, well...wise, it has become a real source of authentication and friendship.

So I am finding time to visit my pals online and see what they're up to. As well, I have missed practically the last year of Zona Rosa Austin, the group started by Rosemary Daniell, that also is a source of inspiration and support. I finally have a free Saturday to visit with my friends f2f and share our writing ups an
d downs. I have watched some fine writers develop in that group, and their successes and heartbreaks are mine as well.

Meanwhile, here are some garnets I picked up in Bratislava and Prague.

7.06.2008

Central Europe--more photos





These were taken at the Meissen porcelain factory. They do unbelievable, incomprehensible, absolutely gorgeous stuff, and have been doing it the longest of anyone in Europe. It was a treat to tour the showroom and workshop. I learned more about porcelain in one day than in my entire life.

And then learned that Dresden was full of Meissen porcelain, including the frauenkircher, the Lady's Chapel, which was destroyed in WWII, but rebuilt--the interior is brilliant white porcelain and gold. We were not allowed to take photos in the church.

Equally as stunning, there is a wall that runs an entire city block, several stories high, of German heroes and leaders through the millenia, painted on small squares of Meissen porcelain!
Nope, still haven't gotten them all on-line.

I am still awed by being in those places.

6.28.2008

Central Europe photos--Budapest, Hungary

Parliament House, Budapest, Hungary--view from Castle Hill

Frustration. So many photos, so little time to get them into an accessible viewer. Central Europe is enchanting and deeply touching. As a kid, I was fascinated with what the world was really like behind the old Iron Curtain. Another dream I never expected to come true, but has. Very cool beans. I learned as much about my self as about peoples who lived only in my imagination.

Just as I never dreamed I would live in Australia for a couple of years and perform with the Sydney Choir in the Opera House, I was stunned by the force of a dream so archetypal that it transported me to that part of the world. This time machine isn't linear, it's infinite. Following that theory out, I'll more than likely make it to Africa one day. My mom, daughter, and niece have all experienced it and come away (or not, Jet's in Kenya), profoundly changed.

Plaza of Heroes, Magyar Chieftains 8-14th centuries. Budapest, Hungary.

Central Europe is just like the US except that it is historically vulnerable to invaders from a huge land mass to the east. The Carpathian Basin is fertile, lots of agriculture going on. Significant numbers of wind generators dotted throughout vast fields of wheat. Ancient heroes praised and honored through enduring architecture and artistry. This area was a thriving commercial center over the milennium, alternating with
regular invasions by folks like Attila the Hun and various ostragoths and eastern aggressors.

Tomb of Saint Wenceslas (Szent Vraclav), Budapest, Hungary

OMG. The cathedrals, churches, palaces, municipal buildings, royal residences. Opulent artistic expressions that shine like jewels throughout. Is it Budapest, or Prague that has over 300 spires? The other isn't far behind. As we traveled east to west, the condition of these gems showed more funding for repair and renovation. Budapest is still struggling, but commerce is picking up. Go soon before the Euro goes into effect in January 2009.

Altars of solid silver, gold everywhere, walls inlaid with semi-precious stones. Garnets and amber abound. You're looking at the tomb of Saint Wenceslas (Szent Vraclav) in the Wenceslas Byzantine chapel, surrounded by layers of subsequent centuries and building--an unbelievable display of styles. AVAE sang in the middle of all this wonderment.

Parliament House, Budapest, Hungary at twilight, around 10:00 p.m. Same view as above but coming back down from Castle Hill. Charming, no?

Photographs were not allowed in some areas, like the frauenkirche in Dresden. This lady's chapel was all brilliant white porcelain and gold. Exquisite, not to be sullied by digitization. In some museums, you could pay for a license, sans flash.

Back to commenting out Photobucket--glad they insist--508 rocks, baby!

6.01.2008

Another Texas Summer

It was 100 degrees today. Summer is here. Time to drink more water, stay out of the sun's rays, eat lots of fruit. Making meals of a half-pint of blackberries, or a mango, yogurt.

Also time to get out after dark for musical happenings in parks and other venues.

Speaking of which, I am thoroughly pleased about meeting some great folks and musicians through The Good Musician. Posted an interview/review with Rick Blincoe, a seasoned local musician who just released his first CD, "Don't Bet the Farm." It is quintessential Austin cool.

Upcoming guests for TGM Exclusive Interviews are Steven McMillan/White Oak Trio, Will Taylor/Strings Attached, and James Neel/James Neel Music House.

5.24.2008

Digital cameras and the kitchen sink



Found some nice light the other afternoon. Here's what I saw--afternoon sun, my favorite crystals, a volunteer avocado plant.

The hail/lightning/wind storm fried my computer. I am exceeding all known equations of happiness to have it back safe and sound.

And to have a little time to take stock. Lots of transition at work, not good news on back, daily business, rehearsals piling up more than I would like.

In less than a month, I'll be schlepping a bag east to west from Budapest through Slovenia to Prague to Dresden to Leipzig to Frankfurt. Houston-London POE. Singing mostly gospel and colonial church music in the churches and cathedrals there.

So I'm delirious to have a few moments to practice with my wowie camera (present from my daughter) and get a grip on how the heck I'm going to negotiate ONE bag with concert gear (long, black 100%), music, personals, camera, and clothes for ten days. I saw a site that demonstrated "bundling," which I may try this time.

And to get back to Fried Okra Productions. I've missed it.

5.19.2008

John Slatin AccessU

A few years ago, Glenda Sims assured me that if I wanted to really understand accessibility, I should attend AccessU--it would entirely change my perspective on usability. This year I was able to attend the John Slatin AccessU, and yes, Glenda was right. The two-day conference, held on the St. Edward's University campus was an eye-opener and packed with information and tips.

The conference was renamed this year to honor John Slatin, UT professor of English, and director of the UT Accessibility Institute who recently passed away. John was sight-impared, and understood exactly what differently abled people need in order to access and use the Internet.

You know how I love paradigm shifts, how I reach out and snag any that look interesting...here's my big reification: applying accessibility guidelines to the Intranet makes access easier for EVERYONE, not just folks with disabilities. Consider the curb cut-out. You know, the mini-ramps at most streetcorners that allow you to more easily get a baby stroller, a dolly heaped with boxes, or a rolling backback across the intersection without having to negotiate a steep curb.

Chances are you use curb cut-outs on a regular basis. The next time you do, think about how difficult and dangerous it must have been for anyone in a wheelchair to safely and easily cross the street before cut-outs were available. A simple thing, but it can make the difference between living a relatively independent life, and a life hemmed in by barriers.

Plan in accessibility, and it's relatively easy. You'll have a much more difficult time refitting a site for accessibility--do it right the first time, and you're done!