Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Book Review - Thanksgiving Night

I've been back on a little bit of a fiction reading kick, and the most recent novel finished was Richard Bausch's Thanksgiving Night (2006). I have read a decent amount of Bausch's short fiction, a genre he is terrific in, and have also read his most recent novel, Peace (2008). Peace was a short novel, but I liked its sparse, tightly constructed framework. (I would link you to one of my brief reviews, but I read it right when it came out which was before I started blogging... so there is no blog entry...).

In short, this novel is the intertwined story of a handful of characters who are not related at the outset, but whose lives become intermingled over the course of the book. There are a couple of eccentric old ladies, a troubled middle aged couple with grown kids with their own issues, a single mom with two smaller children, and a few others mixed in for good measure. What you end up with is dysfunctional stew, with the various failings of many of the characters coming together to build to the requisite crescendo and denouement leading up to, at, and in the immediate aftermath of the titular Thanksgiving night dinner.

I liked the novel, but if I had a complaint at all, it would be that whereas Bausch's stories are very tight (as necessarily the case in a good short story), this novel meandered around a good bit over 400+ pages without ever really getting to the heart of the characters the way I would have liked, or hoped for.

3.5 stars out of 5. An entertaining enough read, but not great. I have no issue having spent a week of nights reading these 403 pages, but if I were recommending Bausch (which I would), I would say to start with his short fiction.

Next up: Canada (2012), by Richard Ford.

Monday, May 28, 2012


The estimate is in on my car, and I guess we really were hit as hard as it felt like we were. The body shop's estimate for fixing all the damage is $12,700 and should take about 30 work days. That's 5 to 6 weeks of calendar time. I guess I should get used to driving that rental...

Five days have passed since the accident, and I am happy to say that I am feeling almost 100% back to normal. For that I am thankful (as well as for the fact that I just found out that the person who hit us is properly insured).

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Not Again...

Back in October 2010, the impetus for me getting the car I have now was a random and unpleasant event. I was driving along, minding my own business, when a tree branch fell onto my windshield, shattering it and scaring me pretty badly. That car was older and nearing the end of its useful life, so the damaged windshield was the straw that broke the camel's back. The Accord is the result. Not great car karma, but I got a beautiful new car as a result.

Today, the Accord had its turn at being randomized, and in a much more unpleasant way. To make a long story short, while at a complete stop at a red light, I was rear ended, and hard. It was a bright sunny morning, dry roads, straight stretch with perfect visibility. Rush hour traffic. No sudden stop. But for whatever reason, the driver behind me completely overlooked the need to stop, something that the other twenty or so cars stacked up at the light on a major road had remembered to do. Texting I suppose, but I have no way of knowing for sure.

I was hit hard enough to push me into the car in front of me, and it turned into quite a scene. By the time all was said and done, we had a fire truck, two ambulances, two cars of state troopers, and quite an audience. The car that hit me is probably totalled, mine has a lot of cosmetic damage (and I hope that is all), and the car in front of me has a dented rear bumper. Knowing how hard the hit felt, I am amazed at the fact that the rear end of my car doesn't look much worse than it does.

Much more important are the people, of course. The woman in the car in front of me was fine, having been bumped into not that hard. The woman in the car that hit us was bleeding from the forehead and very shaken up. I heard her telling the paramedics that she was pregnant. She was taken by ambulance to a hospital with a trauma center to be cautious. I had picked up a friend from dropping her car to be serviced, and was bringing her to work (we work together). We were going to swing by Starbucks on the way in, and she was digging for a gift card in her purse when we were hit. Her head hit the dashboard and dazed her. She ended being ambulanced to a nearby hospital strapped to a backboard because of the blow to the head and the potential for a neck injury. Scary stuff to see a friend in that position.

I thought I was fine, but when the ambulances were gone and things settled down somewhat, I got in my car to see if it was drivable, and realized I had a bit of a headache. Since I wanted to see if my friend was ok anyway, I drove myself to the hospital that she had been taken to and checked myself into the ER to get looked at as well. I know my head bounced hard off the headrest, and there is no sense not being careful about your head. Three hours later we had both been checked and cleared to go home. I had nothing major, and she might have a mild concussion, but nothing dramatic we hope.

(Day plus 2 update): I have a stiff neck and upper back, and have had some minor intermittent headaches and dizziness. My friend is experiencing the same, if a little more so than me. Given how hard we were hit, it could have been worse, and for that I am thankful.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

In the Shadow of Marcy

As May 20th has come and gone, there is only one month left until the Boys' camping trip of 2012; a return to the Adirondacks. Well, a return for all of them, and a first venture for me. The lead-up to this, compared to the Dakotas trip of last year, is very different for me.

For the Dakotas I planned, ordered trail guide books, prowled hiking websites, created packing lists, fiddled with my gear, and just generally basked in the glow of the impending trip. This year... not so much so. And I'm not really sure why not. It's not that I need this trip any less than last year's. If anything, work has been way more stressful recently than it was at any point in recent memory, and not having been to the Adirondacks before, it is not that the thrill of a new place to see is any less relevant. Perhaps I am missing the thrill of a trip that requires flying. A trip to some place very significantly different from what the world looks like around here. Perhaps I am feeling guilty about missing my little one's birthday. Perhaps the first trip of this sort is the one that really gets the juices flowing. I don't know. Maybe it's just that I am so darn busy that it's hard to claim the intellectual and emotional real estate to get excited about anything right now. I suspect that is it more than anything.

Whatever the case may be, I do have prep work to do. I haven't needed any quantity of hiking/camping clothing since a year ago, so I need to inventory what I have and see if I need anything. Rain gear is always important on a trip of any length, but much more so in the Adirondacks than in the Black Hills and Badlands. As I have noted before, I could use a mini LED camp lantern (just because). And I still would like to look at camp cooking gear. Again, just because.

I'm also concerned about brother Dave. I did something to my back a couple of weeks ago that basically immobilized me for a day or two, but it was muscular and passed fairly quickly with no lingering effects. My familial Aikido master has done something to his back that is more concerning, as it doesn't seem to want to go away. I worry (as I am sure does he) about his ability to enjoy this trip fully. But we have 5 weeks to go and will hope for the best.

So, at this point, 29 days until blast off, and hopefully that special something, whatever it is, will be arriving shortly.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Longwood Gardens

Sunday was an absolutely beautiful day, with sunny blue skies, puffy white clouds, and a nice cool breeze on a warm day. In other words, perfect for a stroll around Longwood Gardens. Nothing to write about that I haven't written about many times before, but here are some nice pictures.
My girls
Yellow rose
Interesting shaped pink rose
"Chinese Tower"
Grace at the perennial garden

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Heat of the Moment

There was a side benefit to the Willie Nelson concert that we saw a couple of weekends ago - I got a chance to take a look at the Keswick's schedule of events for the foreseeable future. There was one thing that caught my eye; the 30th anniversary tour of Asia, one of my favorite bands growing up. They are touring with the original lineup. John Wetton on bass and vocals (from King Crimson). Steve Howe on guitar (from Yes). Carl Palmer on drums (From Emerson Lake and Palmer). And Geoff Downes on keyboards (from Yes, and the Buggles - "Video Killed the Radio Star" - the very first video ever played on MTV).

Asia certainly had immense MTV-driven popularity for a short period of time, especially in 1982-1983, in the middle of my high school years. For a while, you couldn't turn on MTV without seeing one of a half dozen videos, and they were played on the radio constantly. Among my friends, there seem to be two schools of thought on them; great band, or sellout pop supergroup. I suppose both are true. There is no denying that all four were fantastic musicians with terrific pedigrees, but it is also hard to deny that the music (as complicated as it is technically in many places) was entirely catering to the pop market. I obviously come down more on the side of "great band". I have always liked the kind of music that some would find over-produced; melodic stuff with layered harmonies, lush keyboards and all that. "Pretty" songs. These guys certainly did that, and mixed in some amazing musicianship while they were at it.

Remembering this band, it has been fun going back and finding all the old songs and videos on YouTube, like Heat of the Moment, Sole Survivor, Only Time Will Tell (recent live version here), Don't Cry, Open Your Eyes, The Last to Know, and Wildest Dreams. Or lesser known songs that I aways liked such as Daylight. It's interesting that many of the best live videos of Asia from back then are lifted from the 1983 "Asia in Asia" concert from Japan that was broadcast on on the radio and shown on MTV (featuring Greg Lake in John Wetton's place). Not surprising I guess, since this was way before the iPhone days when every second of live music is captured and posted so fast it's virtually streaming.

As always, looking at anything on YouTube sends you down a rathole of time spent following trails to all sorts of other stuff, such as Steve Howe, the guitarist, playing some of his classic acoustic songs from his years with Yes (and yes, he does look like Elrond from TLotR movies...).

Of course, no trip through YouTube would be complete without a check-in on what my all-time favorite band of 70-year-olds sounds like these days, so check here for a 2012 version (with not great sound quality) of a classic song. Or this one (with good sound). Or Driftwood, a song they rarely play.

So... other than a trip down memory lane, what's the point? Four seats to Asia's 30th anniversary tour in the 7th row, dead center, at the Keswick Theater on October 20. I can't wait.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Willie Nelson at the Keswick Theater - May 6, 2012

Courtesy of Dave and Lori, I did something that I never would have imagined myself doing; I went to a Willie Nelson concert tonight. My knowledge of Willie's music is perhaps a little more than the average person's, but probably not by much, and I wouldn't consider myself a huge fan. I appreciate that he is a musical icon, and there are some songs of his that I like, but that has been the extent of it. Until now (but I am jumping ahead).

The tickets were for a show at the Keswick Theater, a 1,300 seat theater in Glenside, PA. I had never been there before, but talking to several people who had been to concerts there led me to believe it would be much like the Tower Theater in Upper Darby. It was exactly that. An aging theater, a little shabby around the edges, but a nice old place complete with a bar in the lobby.

The show was to begin at 7:30, and as far as I could tell from the website, there was not an opening act. We arrived in plenty of time, almost got run over by Willie's tour bus in the parking lot next to the theater, and were in our seats with a glass of wine 15 or 20 minutes before showtime. The setting was very spare; a smallish stage with a plain black backdrop and almost no equipment on the stage. Minimalist might be an understatement. There was a beat up old acoustic guitar on a stand, a few amps, a piano, a couple microphone stands, and a pair of basses (one electric, one upright). On a small platform at the back was a lone snare drum and a stool. Minimalist.

At about 7:35 or 7:40, Willie and a few others walked out onto the stage, picked up their instruments and said "hi". A huge Texas state flag unfurled behind the stage, and Willie and his little band launched into their first song. They barely took a breather for the next hour and forty minutes. Song. Thank you. Song. Thank you. Song. Etc... The band consisted of Willie, a bass, a piano, a pair of drummers who took turns playing the single snare drum, and a harmonica player. That's it. Nothing fancy; this was entirely about Willie and the music. The majority of the time, the other musicians faded into the background and almost weren't there at all...

Dave and I both remarked afterwards how many songs he was able to cram into a one hour and forty minute show. As Dave put it, fifty songs at two minutes each. This is an exaggeration, but probably not by as much as you might think. The songs came fast and furious, and despite not being a true Willie fan, I knew most of them (as I think would most people). Our Dad having liked Willie, and having a few of those albums played around the house when we were high school or college aged was a contributor to that, I am sure.

There were the well known but kitschy. On the Road Again, To All the Girls I've Loved Before, and Mamas Don't Let You Babies Grow up to be Cowboys. Amparo and I both agreed that Too All the Girls made us both cringe, but we saw Willie perform it live, and that's something. Me and Bobby McGee.

The Beautiful. Always on my Mind, Crazy, and Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground. Classics like Georgia on My Mind and Night Life. The lovely Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain, which is the Willie song that makes me think of Dad more than any other. And my absolute favorite of his - City of New Orleans. (another good version of City here...)

There was a more recent song that I recognized from a CD I have; Beer for My Horses. A very old song that he re-recorded recently; A Horse Called Music. Yesterday's Wine. Whiskey River. I Never Cared for You. And the hilarious You Don't Think I'm Funny Anymore. Superman.

Several of these last songs I don't know, but I have to say that seeing an American music icon in person in a small venue made me want to document this while it was still fresh in my mind. Internet discographies have come to my rescue and provided the titles; I remember some lyrics or the choruses, and the titles become obvious.

As with many concerts we go to these days, we were on the younger side of average. I think more than anything this certainly says more about the kinds of music we like, but we like what we like. Much of the audience were obviously big Willie fans and had been to his concerts before, judging from attire, the back and forth singalong bits, and the obvious knowledge of the music.

After an hour and forty minutes, and having played just about every song of his I could have expected, he said "thank you, good night" and put down his guitar. While the band continued to play background fill, Willie went to the edge of the stage and began shaking hands and signing autographs. We figured he would do this for a minute or two then do an encore song. More time passed. More signing and shaking. More time, more signing and shaking. We began to debate whether he was done or not. But the band was still playing in the background. Then more signing. After a solid ten minutes, it became apparent that he was done, we all shrugged, and headed for the exit. Watching a legend sign autographs for ten minutes was less exciting than the music. As we made our way out of the auditorium, Willie waved goodbye one last time and walked off the stage as roadies began to pack his gear. Given the tiny amount of equipment on the stage, we joked that he and his band would be loaded up and on the road to the next city before we made it to our cars. He probably was...

Despite not knowing quite what to expect going into this, it was in many ways a magical night. It's not everyday that you get to see a living legend from about 100 feet away, and the music was terrific. His voice may have gotten a little rougher as he has aged (he just turned 79), but this is Willie Nelson after all, so how could you even really tell? I thought his voice was strong and clear for a man his age, and was every bit the trademark sound you would expect it to be. The biggest surprise to me, I suppose, was his guitar playing. I knew he played, but didn't know how well. I guess I thought his playing would be more along the lines of strumming along while he sang, but that was far from the case. Calling him a virtuoso would be an overstatement to all those technical masters out there, but in his own way he was just that; rugged, rough around the edges, but heartfelt and genuine. In other words, his playing matched his singing and his music perfectly. He played country, folk and blues riffs and fills, and even a few beautiful passages that sounded more classical than anything. This was all a surprise to me and a very nice one. It was a wonderful evening and a great concert.

Fan or not, I can't recommend seeing Willie Nelson highly enough. I loved it. And somewhere Dad is smiling...

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Painting Table - Medieval "Red" Knights

It seems like no matter what else I am painting (and I have been busy lately), I always enjoy sneaking a few more knights into the mix every now and then. I enjoy the liberty I can take in painting them however I want, and adding in as much detail as I feel like. Over the last week or so, while working on some Vampire Counts fantasy figures and some Lord of the Rings Rohan stuff, I knocked these out very quickly. They aren't the best painting I can do by any means, but they are a serviceable quality unit to bulk up my generic medieval armies. I would generally paint a unit of knights like this to have every one unique, but part of the exercise for this unit was to see how fast I could do a decent job while using one consistent color scheme with only minor variation. The answer is... I can do this very quickly. Quickly enough that there is another unit of knights parked by the side of my work area waiting to be tackled for when the mood strikes.
"Red" knights (Old Glory 25mm)
I just need to add a banner on the banner pole at right, and finish the bases.