Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Cowboy Mambo

Flowers at Live Oak UU
Photo by Suna
We are flowers growin' in God’s garden
And that is why he spreads the shit around
—David Byrne

After choir rehearsal and prior to the start of the service, I was moved to go outside and admire the flower gardens that grace the front of Live Oak Church. These beautiful beds are designed and maintained mostly (if not totally) by a very talented German woman who attends the church. I stood outside admiring them for much longer than I usually would. When I first paused to admire them, I was strick by the thought that we would all miss her when she is gone.

Now I am not given to these forboding thoughts overmuch, but I do know that she is battling a serious illness right now. So the purpose of this post is to ask my readers, if any, to send gentle and healing thoughts her way.

We will all miss her when she’s gone. I just hope that’s a long, long time from now.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

If I Only Had a Brain

And my head I’d be scratchin’
While my thoughts were busy hatchin’
If I only had a brain
The Wizard of Oz

I had to make a quick run to the store tonight for supplemental supplies. I found what I needed without problem. Where the problem arose was when I tried to check out.

Following Wally World’s lead in lowering costs at the cost of customer service, The Butt has drastically reduced the number of checkers it hires. This is understandable in an industry with a low profit ratio. They have also shifted some of their work to their customers by installing self-check registers. Personally, I think this is a great idea. It lowers costs and speeds up check-out by increasing the number of available registers. Or so it goes in theory.

Somebody got the bright idea to close to of the self-check registers two and a half hours before the store closed. Note that there are only four self-check registers in this store. That sent customers queuing back into the frozen foods because of a dearth of attended registers. and these two registers closed.

I was not happy about this situation, so I asked the attendant. You know, the high-school kid who stands at a computer screen waiting for customers to scew up the self-check process. He looked puzzled that I would even care. “I don’t know,” he opined. “They just tell me to close them at 9:30.” It was 9:25.

My “How does this make sense?” reflex twitching, I asked to speak to a manager. There were two but neither was available. Finally, someone realized that S. was on break. The other one, M., was no where to be found. There had been some skateboarders frolicking outside earlier, but she was neither outside dealing with this threat to public safety nor in the office writing a report. After about ten minutes, M. showed up, followed shortly by S. returning from break. She explained to my forehead, “We just close them at 10 every night.” Remember, it wasn’t ten by the time I left the store.

But why? “It doesn’t cost you anything to leave them open, not one cent. All it does is irritate your customers to have to wait in line while unused resources are in sight and turned off.”

“Well,” she said to my forehead. At least S., who did not speak during this encounter would meet my eyes. M. was apparently too superior for making manager by her mid-to-late twenties to meet my eyes. “I’m sorry you’re upset.”

Translation: “I don’t care. I just need to make polite noises, and you’ll go away.” To this point, I really wasn’t upset. I simply wanted to understand something that appeared to run contrary to reason. But now that she told me I was, I felt the adrenaline pouring into my bloodstream. I told her this behavior was unacceptable and I would be writing to their district manager. I left to a confused refrain of “I'm sorry you’re upset.” She was apparently unable to figure out why her magic charm failed. I would say she was challenged by the position, but that might not be accurate. Challenged by human interaction is most definitely the case, however.

Will this experience cause me to stop shopping at the local The Butt? No.

Will it cause me to move some of my purchases elsewhere and treat The Butt like a convenience store? You betcha.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Texas Cookin’

Fake Enchiladas These are not real enchiladas.
Where’s the beef? Where’s the grease?
Photo credit: Leonor’s Restaurant
Get them enchiladas greasy
get them steaks chicken fried
>Sho’ do make a man feel happy
to see white gravy on the side

—Guy Clark

I decided to join Suna in posting a Friday Feast. Here is this week’s menu:

Appetizer: How are you today?
Antsy. Frustrated. Excited. Happy.
Soup: Name 3 television shows you watch on a regular basis.
  1. The Daily Show
  2. The Colbert Report
  3. Football
Salad: What’s the scariest weather situation you’ve experienced?
I can’t think of one. When I was a kid, I used to really enjoy hurricanes because we got out of school. I didn’t know to be afraid of them. Actually, I am more afraid today of the things engineers do to protect us from storms than of the storms themselves.
Main Course: If you could wake up tomorrow morning in another country, where would you want to be?
I loved Canada and Panamá, but I would have to say that waking up next to Suna is more important to me than which country we are in.
Dessert: What do you usually wear to sleep?
I’m like an actress whose name I can’t remember. She said, “I used to sleep in the nude…before the earthquake.” No earthquake, but I learned my lesson when a drunk slammed his pickup into the light pole outside my bedroom one night. Fumbling around for clothes before I could go make sure nobody died slowed me down too much. BTW: nobody was even seriously hurt, although the guy whose sister was in the truck was not happy with the driver. Mayhem may have ensued at a later date.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Natural Beauty

False Sierra Effect of Clouds on the Horizon
What a lucky man
to see the earth
before it touched his hand
—Niel Young

This post is much like one of Suna’s “Grateful Monday” posts. I had a really nice experience taking the kids to school this morning.

We had just turned onto the toll road when Football Fan, who is our primary source of information for all things football (from high school to pro), asked, “What’s that?”

In my serious, adult-like manner, I didn’t take my eyes off the road. “A mini-van.”

“Oh,” said Football Fan, not wanting to say that the adult in the car could be a real idiot. “I’ve never seen one like that before. It looks like mountains.”

It was then that I realized he was looking at the horizon. Young people do that, but we forget as we get older. The sunrise was peaking though a bank of low-lying clouds, creating what I false sierra because I don’t know the official meteorological term for this formation. The effect was stunning. There was one thunderhead that looked like a mesa protruding from the main bank, or maybe between us and it.

I have seen similar formations on the coast and in the desert, but I have never seen one so beauteous—probably because I need external motivation to be awake and outdoors at sunrise. Unfortunately, I did not have a camera with me, so the picture for this post is a composite.

Thank you, Football Fan, for reminding me to look up and look to the horizon, for reminding me that nature surrounds us with beauty every day if we just bother to look.

Monday, September 24, 2007

He Ain’t Heavy…

Doing Homework Together
The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
—Bobby Scott and Bob Russel

This is just a quick note to talk about brothers. This picture shows where brothers matter. They stick together and help each other.

Beccano was very upset about doing his homework. He was so upset that he could not remember how to do the math. TubaBoy sat with him for a while and did what he could to help without doing it for him. I was very impressed with TubaBoy’s teaching style.

Beccano eventually made the choice that having tomorrow night free to play Halo 3 was more important that catching the season premier of Heroes. This is just one of the many difficult choices he will have to make as he grows into manhood and learns that you really can’t have everything.

I am very proud of both boys for how they worked together and the decisions they made tonight. Both are remarkable, mature young men. I am amazed at how seemlessly they alternate the roles of big and younger brother. They really do look out for one another.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Piano Improvisation Number 1

McNeil High School Drum Line at Belton Drum Line Invitational Competition
Photo by: Suna

It was a weekend of music—occasional, programmatic, and metaphoric. There was Friday night football, a Saturday afternoon drum line competition, and a Sunday morning debut.

Marching Band

The weekend started Friday night with a trek to Belton to watch the McNeil football team take on the Belton Tigers, whom I kept thinking of as the Bulldogs from last week. We sat with some other band parents, one of whom was upset that the band did not act like the one she was in 12,543 years ago.

At one point, Belton scored a TD. They paraded three B flags in front of the home stands in celebratory ecstasy. I wondered why they were celebrating the Better Business Bureau. There were several other moments of near humor as we watch McNeil squeak by 25-23. Like when I noticed Belton’s twirler had the same swirling flag as their dancers. I said, “Look. The twirler has a swirly thing, too.” But all some of the other parents heard was, “The twirler has a swirly.” They wondered what a toilet was doing on the field.

The band program, however esoteric and inaccessible, is coming along well. The band looks and sounds much better with each passing week. I still don’t get the somnaphobia theme—as if the kids don’t have enough to worry about without being programed for insomnia.

Beccano and Cymbals
Photo by: Jim Jones
Drum Line

Saturday brought another trek to Belton, this time to watch a drum line competition. Beccano played the swirly cymbal and a crash symbol. He did really well, although I think some of the other bands may have scored better because their music was more accessible. McNeil’s music was written by one of the directors and was very difficult. I was impressed by the students’ ability to memorize it and play it so well.

Round Rock High and Cedar Park High were two of the other star bands there. Cedar Park had 50 people in their drum line (the part on the side line that does not march). For comparison, Belton calls their band the Marching 100. Both of these bands were very impressive, and their selections, while no less difficult, were much more accessible.

Piano Improvisations

So we wrap up the weekend in church on Sunday morning. The music director’s son played a mini-recital for the prelude and postlude. He is currently studying music in college, and the two pieces he performed were piano improvisations he had composed. (How can an improvisation be composed?) Both had nice timing changes and interesting accidentals. I can’t remember which one had a large section based on minor seconds.

The improvisations tied in nicely with the first sermon delivered by our new intern minister. His sermon was titled “No Wrong Notes.” It was inspired by a jazz pianist at the resort where he honeymooned this summer. The guy told him, “In improvisation, it doesn’t matter which note you play. There are no wrong notes. What matters is which note you play next.”

This philosophy ties in nicely with UU theology. Life is one long jazz improvisation, and we are all in the band together. There are no wrong notes so long as we follow up with a correct action. The sermon was much longer and much more eloquent, but that was its thesis.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A Good Year for the Roses

Julia Childs Rose
Photo by: Weeks Roses
What a good year for the roses
Many blooms still linger there
The lawn could stand another mowin’
Funny I don’t even care
—Elvis Costello

It was a good year for roses at the Granger house, despite the neglect I visited on them. They all did well, except for the Julia Childs in the front hedge, which was somewhat overtaken by the grass. Hopefully, it will recover.

The good news is that I finally closed on the house today. I should have cash in the bank tomorrow and several fewer bills to pay each month. This chapter is finally over.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Red, Red Wine

Frontera Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot

Just had to say a few words about this wine. I don’t speak wine-ese, but I think you’ get the point.

Frontera (Frontier) is one of the labels of Concha y Toro (Shell and Bull) Vineyards of Chile. The bottle pictured is a wonderful blended wine: 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot. It has just the right balance of sweetness, acidity, and flavor. It is not too sweet, not too dry, a little fruity and still has a rich full flavor that reminds me of…ummm…wine.

This is a very nice dinner wine. We had this bottle with two different meals—beef and chicken. It complemented both.

When I find that elusive job, I am definitely going back for a few more bottles, maybe a case.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Are You Ready for Some Football?

Tubaboy plays at sunset
Photo by: Suna

Last night I went to my first high school football game in more years than I care to mention here. I’ll admit I went primarily out of a sense of obligation, but I really had fun. Not yelling-yourself-hoarse fun, but fun. I did yell.

I sat on the top row of the visitor section in Temple, right next to the sousaphone section of the band. Tubaboy was within reach. Becanno was hidden in the percussion section much farther down.

The team was expected to lose by a big margin, but they won 38-28, even though the QB threw five interceptions in the first half. There was some really good play on the field, and I found myself sucked into the vortex that is football fandom. I don’t expect to learn all of the players’s stats (or even their names), but there are a few really good players.

But the reason I went was the band.

They were very impressive for the first performance. They all seemed to know their parts; Tubaboy even had many of the pep pieces memorized. The marching program was on the esoteric side: “This is what really happens when you go to sleep.&rsdquo; I would not have known it was a nightmare sequence if it had not already been explained to me. It was visual enough, and the playing was good. But huh?

Next week is a home game. I look forward to seeing the performance from stage front instead of backstage (that is, the visitor’s section). Maybe it will make more sense then.