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  • December 23, 2008

    The Living Room

    When I write this blog, I kind of doubt that anybody reads it.  I see stats, but I typically assume that those hits are all coming from my dad (hi, Dad).  One thing that struck me at the Midwest Clinic last week was the number of people who mentioned the blog to me — even citing specific entries.  I got all sorts of comments, from “I like your blog, but I can’t send my students there because the content isn’t always G-rated” (true) to “I like the food pictures, but you’re getting fat” to “you really offended Mr. X with your entry about Y, and I suggest you apologize.”  (What’s surprising about that last one is that I only heard it once.)  The most surprising comment I heard, though, was “I really like the home improvement pictures.”  Seriously?  I thought people would be bored by those.  There may only be one person reading who likes those entries, but for that person, this entry is for you…

    I came home from Chicago on Saturday morning to that New House Smell. Several weeks ago, we ordered a rug for our living room, but we didn’t know when it would arrive.  It was delivered, unbeknownst to me, on Friday while I was in Chicago. AEJ had wanted to surprise me with it by having it installed while I was away, but she ran into some bad luck with the delivery guys getting it dirty, and had a horrible afternoon on Friday trying to arrange for rug cleaners to come to the house to fix their damage.  Why was it such a pain to clean the thing? Because it’s French Vanilla. (The delivery guys said, as soon as they saw the rug, “You don’t have kids, do you?”  That would be “No.”  Granted, I think I’m known for my love of kids — or wait, maybe not.)  By the time I got home on Saturday, it was perfect, and our living room was finally a real room. There are still a few little changes coming — like hanging window treatments — but this is now the Most Pleasant Room in the house.

    Let’s start with a “Before” picture of the room. I took this picture when we closed on the house. Note the beige wall-to-wall carpeting.

    And here’s the room now.

    Here’s another angle, before.

    And after.

    Another before…

    And after.

    There’s a big range of furniture in here, including budget items like the side-tables that AEJ found on Craigslist. These used to be dark wood-stained with some ugly-ass knobs, but she painted them a high-gloss white and put mirrored pulls on them.

    At the other extreme is AEJ’s critter chair from Oly Studio, or as I like to refer to it, her throne. Check out the sweet paw feet! She originally added the  sheepskin throw to keep the cat from jumping on top and scratching the leather (he’s done this before — he is, after all, a cat), but we love it. The end of it kind of looks like a fuzzy tongue.

    Here’s a detail of one of the feet.  It even has tiny claws.

    So that’s the living room. We’re making progress on the family room (the Plexiglass center speaker stand was delivered today!), but I’m holding off on pictures of that room until the fireplace is refaced. (Tile is ordered, but it’ll be a few more weeks.)

    In the meantime, our cat Loki wishes you a Merry Christmas. (Is there anything cuter than Loki wrapping paper?!  The correct answer is : “no.”)

    14 Comments

    December 21, 2008

    Midwest Food

    I’m back from a busy four days at the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic in Chicago. I saw lots of friends, drank a few too many cocktails, had some great food, and tried not to get into too much trouble. Let’s focus on the food.

    Tuesday night — my first night there — was low-key (as opposed to Loki) with dinner at the Hilton. The weather was awful outside (it took nearly 3 hours to get from O’Hare Airport to the hotel by cab), so I decided not to brave the elements. Fish & Chips at Kitty O’Sheas it was. No pictures of that, though. Just imagine dimly-lit shiny fish, and you’ll get the idea.

    Wednesday night, it was the annual dinner with Rick Clary and Jonathan Newman. This year we went to Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse, where you’re given your pick of cuts of meat.  (This photo could also be called “How to Horrify AEJ’s Vegetarian Brother.”)

    Newman ponders his meat.

    Dinner was fun and tasty, but admittedly not very photogenic. (Beef never looks like much, unless you’re talkin’ about me — ZING!) Dessert, though, was one of Harry Caray’s Sweaty Balls. (I may not have that exactly right; my memory is a little hazy.)

    Friday dinner was at MK, a nice, quiet, out-of-the-way restaurant (relative to the convention).

    For dinner, I had the scallop special.

    The bison looked pretty spectacular, though.

    Desserts were pretty, and mighty tasty.

    And who can resist banana bread pudding?!

    On Wednesday, I was fortunate to be invited to the University of Texas staff dinner. I insisted that I would only attend if I were driven by limo. I initially demanded a rickshaw, but the weather prevented that, so I agreed to this compromise. It’s the holidays, after all, so I was willing to sacrifice. I’m really very Christlike that way (at least that’s what people tell me).

    Traveling by stretch limo always feels like an indulgent joke, kind of like eatable gold. The neon lights don’t help.

    Dinner was at Joe’s Prime Steak and Stone Crab.

    This place was niiiiice. Cocktails were served before we sat down, and when I was asked, “would you like red or white wine?” I couldn’t help but feel a little like it was a test. If I picked white, would I forever be shunned? I opted for a vodka tonic.

    Every course was over-the-top incredible, starting with the crab (of course, with “crab” being part of the restaurant’s name)…

    … and moving on to a bright-tasting (with a perfect amount of tang) chopped salad.

    For my entrée, I had the “steak and tails,” a small Filet Mignon and broiled lobster tail. The steak was mighty good, but the lobster was the best I’ve ever had. What the hell was that crust on top? My best guess: crack.

    Steve Bryant (who just won the Revelli Award for the second year in a row — congratulations, Steve!) had the 16-ounce bone-in filet. Yes, the bone in — ’cause that’s how she likes it! ZING!

    Then there was the dessert. I had the peanut butter pie, which, if you like peanut butter like I do, was a whipped peanutty heaven.

    I loved it, but I couldn’t finish it. (I’m also not sure that vodka tonic is the perfect pairing for peanut butter.)

    Verena — who is now All-But-Dissertation (congratulations, Verena!) — had chocolate fudge pie. AEJ thinks that this looks like a muddy polar bear on a dirty rock, reaching to eat something on the right. AEJ sees animals everywhere she looks, which explains her design sensibilities.

    As I was taking pictures of this dinner, I thought this blog entry would serve as a great recruitment tool for the UT Music School. If you’re on the UT staff (or, like me, you have dirt on a staff member — kidding), this is how you eat. In all seriousness, thank you to the UT staff (and particularly to Dr. B. Glenn Chandler, Director of the UT School of Music) for making me feel like a member of their family. I’m still full.

    When I got home on Saturday morning, there was a note from AEJ waiting for me on my monitor. (She always writes me a welcome-home note when I return from a trip.) The note said, among other sweet festive things, “Santa says you need to put on your PJs and practice yelling “He came! He came!” – but not in a dirty way.
    Midwest is over, so get your mind out of the gutter.” Consider it noted.

    Merry Christmas!

    3 Comments

    December 15, 2008

    Ornaments!

    It was something like 78 degrees here in Austin this weekend, and I thought, WTF, it’s December, would a little cool weather kill this city?!  So this morning it’s 34.  That’ll teach me to keep my mouth shut.  34 is a little too cold, but I realize that’s nothing.  I think three years in LA made me soft.  I’m flying to Chicago tomorrow, where it’s currently 8 degrees.  Ouch.

    Although we’d had trees up (five of them — just counting the inside ones) for two weeks, we just put on the ornaments yesterday. We have some of the traditional things that we have every year, like Loki under the tree…

    … but this year, we have a few new things. First up, AEJ traditionally buys me a singing stuffed Christmas treat every year. These are those little stuffed things you find near the check-out at the drug store that have a little “press me” button on their hand or belly, and when you press it, a gramophone-quality recording of a Christmas song plays from the stuffed innards of the toy. We’ve build up quite a collection of these critters, and we don’t really have a good place for them, so AEJ decided this year that we’d just stick them on the tree.

    Not all of our stuff critters play songs. This critter, which I bought for AEJ a few years ago, is Cinnamoroll, one of the Hello Kitty characters, who has a “warm heart, wagging tail, and a smile just for you!” He (she?) looks pretty awesome on a Christmas tree, I have to say.

    Keep in mind that all of these things are at least 6″ tall, and without any kind of hooks, so they’re all just kind of stuffed between the branches. Here’s everybody’s favorite miner (wink, wink), Yukon Cornelius.

    The other thing that’s new this year is that the tree has kind of been taken over by AEJ’s new obsession : bottle-brush (or “buri craft,” whatever that means) animals. We’ve gotten a few over the past few years…

    … but this year we went crazy — and bought all of them. (That’s what we do. Nothing is in moderation with us, in case you haven’t noticed that.)

    They’re really very cute — and Loki likes them.

    They’re like band directors though — always gossiping. “Did you hear who got the job at Southeastern Illinois State?” “OMG!!!”

    It was Randy Reindeer, one of the “turtleneck” conductors, as they’re called.

    Mr. Owl is shocked as well.

    I’m not sure if they’re greeting each other, or if this is just the end result of their holiday party.

    Macy’s only had one Gimpy One-Armed Rabbit, but we got it anyway, because we see past disabilities.  We’re selfless. It’s how we give back.

    Since the neighborhood is overrun with real deer, we decided to celebrate that with deer critters both inside…

    … and out.

    And Steve and Verena got us this nice reindeer ornament that now lives on our tree.

    It’s all very cheery.

    I’m off to pack for Chicago. 8 degrees and cocktails, here I come!

    4 Comments

    December 11, 2008

    Christmas oddities

    AEJ and I watched a few Christmas shows this week. First up was Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer — the stop-motion classic. We have it on DVD — complete and unedited (don’t get too excited; it’s not like there are extra booby scenes or anything) — but this year we watched it on CBS, who was claiming to have a remastered transfer. It did look better, but the editing was awful, with cuts in the middle of song verses. You suck, CBS.

    I think of all of the Christmas specials, Rudolph is my favorite, and the songs by Johnny Marks are the biggest reason why. I can’t help but think, though, when I hear “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Holly Jolly Christmas,” and I know he also wrote “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” I just think… Holy crap, those were some royalties.

    Also when watching “Rudolph” each year, I wonder when Hermey is going to come out. Hermey says he’s a “misfit.” He doesn’t want to “make toys,” he’d rather be a “dentist” (wink, wink). I know what you’re saying, Hermey, and you don’t have to hide behind euphemisms. It’s 2008, buddy. We’re cool with it. Come on outta there.

    Did you know that there are other stop-motion movies by the same team that made “Rudolph?” There are a few really good ones like “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” and “The Year Without a Santa Claus” (featuring the awesome Mr. Heat Miser / Mr. Snow Miser song, with the best trombone writing in any Christmas song everhere’s the MP3). I think maybe Mr. Heat Miser should take Hermie under his wing.

    There were also a few gawd-awful duds, though — like “Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey.” Seriously.

    We also watched “Holiday Inn” a few nights ago. I’d never seen it, but I knew it as the movie that introduced the classic song, “White Christmas.” This was the full, original version of “Holiday Inn,” watched via the cool new Netflix OnDemand streaming service. In most broadcasts for probably the past 25 years, the movie has been edited, cutting a truly off-key and bizarre number: “Abraham.” It seems the holidays at Holiday Inn really were all very, very white. So white that the song about Lincoln’s Birthday, celebrating Lincoln freeing the slaves, features two of the characters — one of them being Bing Crosby — singing the song in black face. I shit thee not. Bing F’ing Crosby — in black face.

    Here we were watching a cheery Christmas movie, and then there’s this black face number. It somehow didn’t seem malicious — just incredibly dated and out-of-touch. Still, I was shocked. (This is an actual image of me, captured during the number.)

    To close, due to popular demand (and because it’s become a tradition here on the blog), here is the recording of the Worst Nutcracker Ever. It’s the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, performed by an unknown ensemble, and emailed to me back in 2004 by John Corigliano. Happy holidays!

    7 Comments

    December 9, 2008

    Cat in the Hat

    Steve & Verena gave Loki some Christmas presents this week, including this little reindeer hat. At first, he was curious.

    So Verena tried to strap the little hat to Loki’s little head.

    I have a pretty fast camera, but this was the best I could capture before Loki tore the thing off. Apparently, cats and hats don’t really mix.

    Speaking of cats, we got a pair of ceramic Chinese lions yesterday. Because — why not?

    They’re typically used outdoors — flanking a front door, for example, maybe at your Shanghai palace (is that the name of a Chinese restaurant?) — but AEJ had the awesome idea to use them inside, flanking the center speaker of the stereo. It’s like they’re guarding the electronics. Their mouths are open, so it sort of looks like they’re singing Christmas carols. (Kind of like a 40-pound version of Billy Bass.)

    Note that these cats are willing to wear Christmas hats. That’s right, Loki, they’re throwing down.

    4 Comments