Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Busy times, y'all

When December gets here...

... and you're seeing one well-thought-out, content-rich post after another...

... and I'm talking about all the progress I am making with all the piano time I am sure to have...

... and I'm even posting recordings and clips of me, and Jillian, and Jason, and (who knows?) Rowan...

... it may cause you to wonder: "Does this AW2PP guy work? What does he do all day, that allows him so much time for this kind of frivolity?"

At that point, return in your mind to right now. And know that I spent a good chunk of September, October, and perhaps even November banking that time. It's the nature of my line of work (Software Technical Sales) to be cyclical in terms of workload, which large variance between peaks and troughs. Right now, I am certainly in a peak, with what amounts to three full-time activities needing attention simultaneously. Not that I'm complaining, mind you... the last thing you want in sales is to have nothing to do. It's a good thing to be swamped, given the economic climate.

There is still no piano in the house, which perhaps is just as well. If there was one here, I'd be biting my bottom lip at not being able to put any time into it. I haven't spoken with September October Santa on this topic. Maybe next post, I'll have some ideas.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Chubster Joey

"Stop growing up so quickly! You're going to grow out of those Stage 1 diapers, and we still have 152 of those left!"

Clearly, the feedings are going well.

Things that cost around $4,500

Hailun 125. This would probably the first (new) piano I would try out, if I were in the market.

1,300 shares of AIG.*

* - Which, as recently as this time last year, would have cost you around $100k.

Kawai K-2. Almost certainly the next (new) piano on the list.

Some random Yamaha Clavinova (their line of high-end digital pianos). Yamaha is notoriously opaque when it comes to Clavinova pricing. The cynic in me says this is their attempt to align Clavinovas with the rest of the piano world, which is equally secretive about pricing. I am sure there is one somewhere in the lineup that costs mid $4k.

A new wine cellar. Nothing fancy, of course.

(Bonus points for anyone who can identify the gentleman in that picture. Hint: it's not me.)

A cruise for 2 to St. John's. *

* - I'm guessing here. It's been a few years since Sue and I have made this trip.

"A year's worth of babysitting. So I could run errands." - Thanks, Sue, for the contribution. Way to dream big there.

1.25 acres of grass seed and straw. *

* - It's more than that, of course. There's the two days it took the gentleman and his tractor to clear what had been there before (for many, many years before, in fact). There's the labor for the army of gentlemen who distributed said grass seed and straw throughout our yard. And some odds and ends here and there, to complete the package. For now.

I think we made the right call. In fact, if you look really closely at that last pic, you can see that, as of day five, we already have little spits of grass coming up. And while there are many frivolous yet exciting things in the world, you'd be surprised to find out how happy this makes me.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Chopin needs more Cowbell!

Consider the following list of songs, and ask yourself, "What do they have in common?"

  • Rock Lobster (B-52's)
  • The Devil Went Down To Georgia (Charlie Daniels Band)
  • Halfbreed (Cher)
  • Suite Judy Blue Eyes (Crosby, Stills, & Nash)
  • Anything by Credence Clearwater Revival, Def Leppard, or Jimmy Buffet
  • You Spin Me Round (Dead or Alive)
  • Mississippi Queen (Mountain)
  • Honky Tonk Woman (Rolling Stones)
  • Roxanne (The Police)
  • Creep (Radiohead)
  • Gold Dust Woman (Fleetwood Mac)
  • Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin)
  • Beds Are Burning (Midnight Oil)*
  • Late in the Evening (Paul Simon)
  • Limelight (Rush)
  • Dance to the Music (Sly and the Family Stone)
  • Unforgettable Fire (U2)
  • Oye Como Va (Santana)
  • Don't Fear the Reaper (Blue Oyster Cult)

* - For a real thrill, next chance you get, try to sing Beds Are Burning while smiling. I defy you on this. It is not possible. You cannot simultaneously smile AND sing this song. You will either laugh (and thereby stop singing) or do as the singer does, and scowl (and thereby stop smiling).

Give up? All songs on this list share two things. First, they are all great songs (YMMV). Second, they all prominently feature the Cowbell. Feel free to add your own. This is, of course, an abbreviated list, one that I culled while scanning the Cowbell Project at Geekspeakweekly.

In the meantime, we turn our attention to the last song on the above list, Don't Fear the Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult. This song is the source of the best 6 minutes Saturday Night Live has enjoyed in, say, the last 20 years (again, YMMV). Watch this, in the unlikely event you haven't already seen it.

This skit has been the creative fodder for countless websites. A new one that came to my attention this week is MoreCowbell.dj. The premise is simple. Any piece of music can be improved by adding cowbell. Therefore, MoreCowbell.dj allows you to upload your own music, then add a customizable layer of cowbell on top. Say, for instance, that you think Mountain's version of Mississippi Queen didn't already have enough. Find it in the database (or upload your own version), and dial in an appropriate amount of cowbell. In scanning recent entries, I was surprised to find works by Phillip Glass, Elvis Costello, Thelonius Monk (!) and Smashing Pumpkins.

So I took the natural next step, and uploaded what will probably be the first Chopin piece I ever play, the 20th prelude (Opus 28 number 20, in C Minor). Here is said prelude with 42% Cowbell.

Make your own at MoreCowbell.dj


Monday, September 15, 2008

Rainiest Day Eveh

Don't know if you heard about this, but we've had some rain the Chicago area lately. In fact, Saturday, it turns out, was the rainiest day in Chicago (recorded) history, as around 7 inches fell at O'Hare. 9 inches closer to us. Thankfully, the new house kept dry while raging torrents evacuated water from the neighborhood. To my untrained eye, whoever designed this neighborhood did very well, from a hydrological perspective.

Papa's house* (you know, the one visited by the funny looking dog with deer ears, a wallaby's rump, and Eeyore's tail) was less fortunate. It, like every other house in the neighborhood, had water in the basement. One day after the downstairs carpet was cleaned. (Insert head banging on wall icon here, as Papa surely would if he had a blog.)

* - Papa = Sue's dad, just in case you hadn't heard that. Of course, Grandma lives there too, but for some reason, it's always been Papa's house.

We spent most of Saturday there, ostensibly to help with the cleanup / dryout. As it turned out, there was little we could do, except watch Papa cleverly engineer a shop vac / hose contraption. This was briefly fascinating, but it wore quickly on both the audience and the performer, who preferred to be left alone. And since all the toys have already moved to the new house, this left few options on the rainiest day eveh... except... (Wait for it...)

Play the piano! (Piano-free posts didn't last long, did they? Did you expect them to?)

Yes, Ole Bessie hasn't made (and won't make ) the move to the new house, but remains firmly, stubbornly, where she's always been, at Papa's house. Jillian and Jason went pretty much straight to her, and picked up right where they left off. They didn't miss beat (sorry about inflicting that one on you, but it was screaming at me). Since, as you'll recall, Jillian promoted Jason from the Schaum Green Book, they began work on the Red Book, which Jillian herself hasn't yet completed. I'd guess, in all, they spent about 90 minutes between the two of them, catching up on lost ground. I was impressed with their progress, but equally impressed, if not moreso, with their interest.

Later in the afternoon, with cupfuls of water continuing to trickle out of the basement, I took my turn. You wouldn't believe it. I didn't. I had actually improved on things I hadn't been practicing, if that makes any sense. I can now do a slow, halting, hands-together version of Stella del Mattino. Go figure. I couldn't even do the RH part of it by itself before. And I did quite a bit of work on the two other Einaudi pieces I'd been working on, Limbo and Ombre. I was so happy with Limbo, I was sorry I didn't post a new clip of it for you. Next chance I get. And with Ombre, I can do those tricky triplet measures correctly about 3 times out of 4. For some reason, the triplets themselves don't bother me; it's the getting back to common time in the next measure that trips me up.

On the way home, I mentioned to Jillian that I had played so much, the backs of my hands were sore. "Wow, daddy, that happened to me, too. Our hands must miss playing piano."

And finally, on that note, an anonymous benefactor (let's call her "Grandma MA") has come forward to play the role of September Santa. More updates on this exciting turn of events as events warrant.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

"Now watch as my assistant Jim attempts to wrestle the hippopotamus..."

"Is either of you a paleontologist? I am in desperate need of a paleontologist!" - Dr. Stephen Falken, War Games

I'm going to need your help. If any of you are zoologists, of if you know of one, could you pass this series of photos to them? Papa spied this critter in his back yard the other day, and opinions are divided as to what, exactly, it is. Some say it's a ratty looking dog, but that's not getting much traction, on account of the funny looking ears, and kangaroo-like rump. Others say it's a coyote. I say it's the long-lost okapi, but what do I know, I'm a computer guy.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Random things I remember from Hurricane Alicia

  • Tracking the storm for a very long time before it hit. I did this a lot, and had been disappointed that we made it to August before our first named storm.
  • Quietly rooting for it to target us in the Houston area, because I figured, in my 8th grade mind, that would be cool.
  • Filling the bathtub with water, just in case our water went out or became contaminated.
  • Mom waking us up shortly before dawn, so we could take cover in an interior hallway, just like we were supposed to.
  • Sitting there, bored, in that hallway for HOURS.
  • Listening to a little Rubik's Cube-sized weather radio play the same messages over and over and over...
  • Looking out the window and noticing, at about 10:00 AM, that our Houston Post had arrived.
  • Going out into the storm to get our Houston Post. (Later found out the winds were still whipping around 60 mph at the time. What crazy person is delivering papers in such weather?)
  • Cleaning up sticks and things in the very nice weather that followed.
  • The power being out for, gosh, two weeks. (Probably less, but memory is a funny thing.)
  • Getting used to being without power, even in southeast Texas in August. Such a thing is inconceivable to me now.
  • Grilling hot dogs for dinner pretty much every night.
  • Boiling water on the grill for spaghetti when we got tired of hot dogs. That was special.
  • Being told "They call them hurricane lamps because you can use them after the hurricane hits."
  • Watching a little battery-operated 5 inch black and white TV. One moment, in particular, stands out very clearly. My sister had some friends over, and we were trying to watch Friday Night Videos. A catchy tune came on, and my sister's friend Gina asked me, as the person sitting closest to the TV, who the group was. I did my best to read the very small text, and murmured something along the lines of "Every Thing and a Miss". That, friends, was our first exposure to "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" by Eurythmics*.
  • Being astonished when, a few minutes later, the power suddenly, finally came back on.
  • Being annoyed to find out that, even though power was on, cable was still not working.
  • Going to school a few days later and trading hurricane stories. Turned out everyone was pretty bored. Which is probably the best-case outcome, if you're going to ride out a hurricane.
* - That's Eurythmics, not THE Eurythmics.

Thoughts and prayers out to our family and friends hunkering down, fleeing "certain death" from Hurricane Ike.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

New house news

(As promised to 2ndSoprano, this meandering post contains new house pictures.)

Last Saturday night, we visited our new neighbors. They were having people over for a birthday party for their three year old. Yes, these are the same neighbors from whom we'd been anonymously (I hope) siphoning bandwidth. I was so locked into meeting new people, I missed the opportunity to fess up and request forgiveness for tapping permission to tap into their network.

The Comcast guy was scheduled to come hook us up (literally, and, I guess, figuratively as well), on Monday. Sunday evening, after an unsuccessful attempt to cheaply furnish the new house with undervalued treasures from the Kane County Flea Market, I tried to connect again. The network, which had been unsecured for days, was suddenly encrypted. Yikes! We've been detected! There went our last link to the outside world!

(We didn't even know anything about the Bears beating Indianapolis until the next morning.)

This may seem like nothing, but I feel awful about it. We should have gone straight over on day one and asked for permission to connect to their network when we first found it. Anyway, the Comcast guy showed up as promised, and as of Monday afternoon, we are on our own bandwidth. Most of us thought we were missing TV when we lacked it, but now that we have it, we're not watching so much. Not so with Ro', who has resumed ordering us to play her favorite On Demand shows.

"Daddy, come put on Barney!" Is age 2 too early to teach her how a remote works?

Once we closed on the house last week, there were some loose ends to get taken care of. Things that weren't part of the house as delivered by our builder. Minor items, really, like landscaping*, window treatments, furniture, well water treatment, and downspout extensions.

(For some reason, my snarky sarcastic icon is failing me... imagine, if you will, that it worked, and that I placed it here.)

* - Seriously, the yard is so overgrown, the world's largest kindergartner disappears in the weeds when he goes out back chasing butterflies.

Early on, back in the pencil-to-paper stage of our house design process, I had advocated a prairie style design. We eventually eschewed (love that word) most prairie-style influences, in favor of a less horizontal, less formal, more generalized Craftsman-style house. Of course there is some overlap in these styles, and the preponderance of right angles in the house, inside and out, is a testament to this.

Prairie style in some respects... notice how clearly you can see our property line?

As a consolation prize for giving up a prairie-style design, the house came, instead, with a prairie-style yard. Which now needs to be dug up, and replace with copious amounts of grass seed.

Looking out to the back yard.

This process ain't cheap, and will eventually set us back thousands of dollars. Oh, and same could be said for those other items I mentioned a moment ago. They cost money, too. Mucho dinero. Y ya no tenemos much dinero.

Where am I going with this? Good news and bad news. The good news is that there is a really good place for a piano in the dining room.

Yup, right on that wall.

The bad news is that we've spent our piano money, such as it was, on other quite necessary things. So although I miss piano terribly, and though I think Jill and Jay miss it (we haven't talked about it, actually), and although I was sure I'd be playing Nefeli by now, truth is, it could be quite some time before Jillian, Jason, and I can restart our piano adventure.

Nefeli - Ludovico Einaudi

Nevertheless, I'll keep coming back here, and urge you to do the same. There's more to life than piano, after all. I do promise to let y'all at the Pianoworld and Einaudi forums know when we turn our attention back to piano-related material.

In the meantime, say hello to Baby Joey, almost six weeks old now.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Who has time for piano...

... when there is late summer fun to be had? Indulge me.

The World's Largest Kindergartner.

He can ride his bike just fine, but sometimes likes to slum it.

Rowan often has this look, where she's apparently been caught in the act of doing something she ought not. And there are times, like this, when it isn't immediately apparent what she's done.

Jason is explaining to Rowan why he can't pull her wagon while riding the tricycle.

She seems ok with it, but isn't sure what to do now that she's not going anywhere.

Wait, she has an idea.

Marlon Brando has nothing on me!

Believe it or not, the bandana was her idea.

When you're cute, you get away with things like mangling papa's hostas.

Jillian, in a rare moment of levity.

These are pics from one of our last nights at Sue's folks house. Pics from the new place coming up.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

And... we're in!

We've been in the new house, actually, since last Friday night. I think it was Friday night. It's hard to say, actually. Out here in the country, the specific days of the week have less meaning. We go to bed earlier, wake up earlier*, and don't watch nearly as much TV**. I hear something about a Republican convention, and that even the NFL is starting this week. Am I missing anything else?

* - Thank you 6:30 AM sunrise into east-facing windows in the kids' rooms.. whose design idea was THAT?

** - Of course, our significantly reduced TV consumption is due not so much to a new, back-to-the-basics lifestyle we've adopted in our new surroundings. No, it's much less noble than that. It's because WE HAVE NO TV because Comcast is taking ten days to get us hooked up.

Speaking of which, this is us right now:

Yes, we are pirating borrowing our new neighbors' bandwidth. We've been here not even a week, and already, we're bad neighbors.

We have not, however, subjected them to our piano music. Fact is, Ole Bessie has not made the trip to the new house, and in all likelihood, she never will. (Moment of silence... ... thank you.) I'll explain later, but for now, we're piano-less, and too busy opening boxes and figuring out where everything goes to miss it. Once things get settled in, we'll start looking for a teacher for the kids, and maybe for me. We'll also need to replace Bessie with something or other. What blog fodder! (Blodder? If that's not a word, it should be.)

Now, what box has the Mac-N-Cheese...?