Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tomorrow: Accountability April!

I know I promised y'all a post about Larry's benefit. And I shall deliver one. Unfortunately, I'm farther behind on another promised post, and I've already advertised this one on twitter.

About a month ago, Karina (a blogging friend) and I discussed our goals for our NaNoWriMo novels. We both wanted to read them, finish writing them, and do a round of editing. But that takes motivation, energy... things that are lacking a mere four months after finishing the insanity that is NaNoWriMo.  So Karina, being the brilliant idea chick that she is, came up with the idea of Accountability April.  

How many people, she wondered, started a New Year's resolution only to see it falter a couple of months into the year? How many people would like to lose 10 pounds or start journaling or read more or pray more or ________ [fill in your goal here]?

If your goal can be accomplished -- or kick-started -- in a month, then comment on this post and join us in April as we encourage each other to reach our goals. I'd love to hear about what everyone has in mind, although you're welcome to keep your goal private if you'd prefer not to share it.  You can still check in and let us know how you're doing as well as seeing how others are doing.  And oh hey, leave your twitter name if you have one too so we can all follow each other there as well. Mine (linked earlier in this post) is lisareid, and Karina's is CandidK.

I can't wait to see what happens next month!

Monday, March 30, 2009

What I Did This Weekend, Part 1

This weekend we attended a benefit for my brother-in-law Larry, who I've talked about before once or twice.  To recap briefly, Larry suffed a spinal injury in late November and is still working toward what we still hope will be a full recovery (one never knows with these things).  

It's now been four months since Larry's car accident, and he's been sent home from the rehab hospital; the insurance will no longer cover it.  Unfortunately, insurance will also not cover the home nursing care he requires, so my niece Courtney pulled together a benefit for her uncle complete with two bands, two t-shirts designed just for the occasion, a live auction, silent auction, BBQ lunch, jumping castle for the kids, and assorted other attractions.  I have no idea how she did it all in two months.

Her request to me was simple: could I please make a jewelry set for the silent auction?  Why yes, Courtney, I believe I can handle that.

What, you just meant one set?  I believe you're talking to the wrong person.  I only wish I could have done more.

This first necklace is green Czech glass with some unknown brown gemstone bead and black rondelles.  As with most of the jewelry, my mother-in-law outbid the competition and walked away with it.

The next necklace is the only one I was unsure of.  It's unusual enough that I wasn't sure anyone would really go for it.  Apparently I needn't have worried; there were several bids.

When I showed him what I'd made, my roommate pointed out that I didn't have anything in spring colors; it was all earth tones.  So this pink and purple glass necklace was the last one I made.  I love pink and purple and have always loved the bead I used as a pendant; I had a hard time giving this one away.

Turquoise will always make people happy in Texas.  This is turquoise, onyx, and blue lace agate -- a lovely stone with bands of light blue and white.  Pretty sure this one ended up with my mother-in-law too.

The long animal-print-looking beads in the next one came from my friend Cindy, who helped me bead several of these.  We wanted strong colors to go with the black and white beads, so she picked the malachite.  We had a hard time finding another strong color after that though; red was too Christmasy, and most other things looked wrong.  Fortunately I had these great royal blue cats-eye glass beads that were just right.  Larry's niece, who lives near me, bought this one.

I loved this necklace, made with unakite and garnets. I felt the bidding was too low, so I bid on it myself -- and won it! I haven't decided whether I'll keep it or use it as an item for another silent auction (for my church's women's retreat) in a month.

Again in this necklace, the main beads were my friend Cindy's.  She had looked for beads to go with the striking striped wavy yellow beads, but nothing seemed right until she found my oval wavy black beads. A match made in heaven! My mother-in-law thought so too.

Courtney had specifically asked me to create a necklace using beads I made, and this is it: there are three of "my" beads in this one (the pendant and the two lentils).  The base glass is dark purple, with lots of decoration in the silver glass I've been enjoying so much.  They're strung with purple shells, neon pink pearls, and green aventurine.  This one was the most popular of my pieces; my mother-in-law complained that it was priced out of her range.  The winner beamed and the woman with the second place bid was none too pleased (I did give her a business card, of course).

These simple black and white earrings are striking and fun.

These purple earrings have gold dots on them and purple Swarovski crystal dangles.  Again with the purple!  I wanted to keep them too, but they looked great on my mother-in-law; she wore them to dinner that night.

And last but not least, I really did love these beads when I made them.  I wanted them but always had a sense they wouldn't be mine.  I'm glad they went to a good cause.  They are three different types of the fun silvered glass -- sort of an experiment that turned out really well.

So now you've seen what I made for the benefit.  Tomorrow I'll post the pics I took while I was there and tell you a bit about the day.  It's really too much for one post.  It was a LONG day.

Ah... I will leave you with one more thing.  This is the web site for Larry's benefit.  You can click around and see some of the different stuff... but don't miss the video under the "Larry's pics & videos" link.  He's come a long way.  He has a long way to go, but he's come a long way. 

[Note that I had to view the video using Internet Explorer; it wouldn't work for me using another browser.  It's kind of picky that way.  But it was worth it, at least to me, to see it.]

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Bit of Heavy Weather

Here in central Texas, we don't get earthquakes, or tsunamis or hurricanes -- although occasionally we get the leftovers from a hurricane.

We do, however, get tornadoes. And hail. And today was one of those days.

When we got the weather report and heard the first small hailstones on their way, I sent my hubby outside to cover the car with our thickest, heaviest blanket. It weighs about 15 pounds when it's not soaking wet. The side you can't see is all quilted denim, handmade by my aunt. No, it's probably not the sort of thing you might think of to put on your car, except that it's the thickest blanket we have, and I knew it would protect the poor car. (Only one car fits in our junk-filled garage, and that's my precious convertible two-seater sports car. This car, although newer, is relegated to the driveway.)

Hubby stayed outside to watch the storm. I couldn't bear to watch hail damage as it was occurring, although once the hail really started, it was so loud that I had to go outside and see it.

We had heard the hail was going to be 2.5" in diameter. But seriously, when was a weather report on hail ever NOT exaggerated? I've heard of "golf ball sized hail" many times, but I've never seen it.

However, this hail was impressively sized: enough to cause damage. I grabbed my camera and made my hubby into a hand model.

The car didn't sustain any damage that I saw. I hope my roof survived as well. Many of the roofs in my neighborhood have been replaced in the last couple of years due to hail and windstorms. We were thinking this might be the last straw for our roof. I guess we'll see tomorrow if any shingles blew off.

So, how's the weather where you are?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Nothing Like Meeting Friends and Strangers

For those of you who aren't gaming geeks, feel free to skip on this post.

I haven't talked a lot about my World of Warcraft (WoW) involvement, despite the fact that I spend a lot of time with these people, despite the fact that a lot of them are "real life" friends who I see regularly. I don't know why. Maybe it's because it doesn't seem to fit in with the bloggy nature of most of the other cool bloggers I know.

In any case, I had a blast this past Saturday night with a group of people I play WoW with. Many of them were people I'd met before, but some of them came into town just to hang out with us, and that made for a great time for all.

I'll use real names and game names so that translation is possible for anyone who knows these people in-game, and so that it's readable for those who don't and try to struggle through this post anyway. Poor misguided souls.

Josh (Ataraxia) came into town on Saturday morning from Atlanta. We had agreed to a potluck dinner on Saturday night with Josh as main chef.  Our first order of business was to get Josh some real Texas barbecue, which we did at Rudy's.  I took a pic of Josh washing his hands in the Rudy's hand jacuzzi, but it was unfortunately out of focus.

We went back to the house, where Vic (Lucient) had shown up from Temple, about an hour away, and was waiting for us.  After hanging around the house and playing Rock Band 2 for a bit, we headed to get Vic and Josh some Tex-Mex. If you've been missing my food photography, you'll be very happy to see this next picture. Look, it's a plate full of cheese!

I understand there may be corn tortillas, meat sauce, rice and beans in there somewhere too, but mainly there's cheese on that plate. Trust me; I know. And this was after we ordered a large queso. This place has arguably the best queso in Austin (y'all can yell Taco Deli at me if you want; I'm gonna call it a tie).

The guys of course spent some time fidding with their phones, taking pics of the food and each other. I took a stealth photo of them while they were doing that. I'm sneaky like that. Vic is on the left; Josh is on the right. They both have great smiles and are a lot of fun to hang out with.

Next stop was the HEB (grocery store) where Josh and I stocked up on everything we'd need for the party.  As we checked out, Josh gave his approval to our mother lode of grocery goodness.

Now on to the party pics! Marc (DB) stopped by before the party started to drop off this amazing looking cake, which he called a Strawberry-Crown Trifle, or his three-hour cake.  Marc doesn't cook often, but he's an amazing cook when you can get him to do it.  The cake was, shall we say, highly alcoholic (the leftovers are making my fridge smell like a distillery even now), but it's all kinds of yummy. In this pic I'm on the left and Pat (Bliadd) is on the right. Apparently when Pat indulges in his own Mexican Martinis he earns the nickname of "Chatty Patty."  I worked with this man for 4+ years and have never heard him talk as much as he did that night.

Vic doesn't indulge in alcohol at all, but he did pose for us in a highly amusing manner. I couldn't resist posting this one!

This is Robert (Tyrinia) pretending to be a Rock Band guitarist. Don't let him fool you; he's playing on easy mode. I'm a fine one to talk since I can't get past medium myself, but I gotta call him out...

And this is Son the Older (Fedarden), who is a legendary Rock Band drummer, playing most songs on expert mode. Sick and wrong, I tell ya. Note the look of intense concentration. His shirt says, "HELLO! My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." Josh hadn't seen the movie. We threatened to not let him go back to Atlanta until he'd done that bit of homework!

Here you can see Travis (Holyspit) on the left and Tai (Drakolan) on the right both blaming Josh for something. Why is it always the warlock's fault?

This is Karla (Pat's wife, who doesn't play WoW) and Pat.  How she survived the evening with all of us, I do not know. We had one other spouse, but she left early with their toddler, who had to go to bed. Karla hung in with us until the bitter end. Brave woman.

This is the aforementioned Marc (DB), who showed up again near the end of the party, having left to go to dinner with his uncle for his uncle's birthday in San Antonio. Marc is also a Rock Band legend on both drums and guitar, and he was kind enough to bring us his extra guitar for the party so more people could play. 

Last but certainly not least is our group pic (minus Marc, who came back too late to be included). I put numbers on people, but they're pretty hard to see; maybe you can make them out well enough. The key is below the pic.

1. Edward (Bizzarro) (who says he never smiles in pictures - HA!)
2. Tai (Drakolan)
3. Son the Older (Fedarden)
4. Pat (Bliadd)
5. Brad (Elfhorn)
6. Vic (Lucient)
7. Travis (Holyspit)
8. Josh (Ataraxia)
9. Lisa (Gnostica)
10. Robert (Tyrinia)
11. Becky (Findah)

Thanks everyone for coming. It was a great time. We'll have to do it again sometime!

Friday, March 20, 2009

March Moto Madness

Today I did a couple of things I've never done before: drove myself on a motorcycle, and popped a wheelie on a motorcycle (I wasn't driving for the latter).  I've ridden on motorcycles dozens of times -- mostly in my errant youth -- but I'd never been the driver until today.

My husband's co-worker Ron owns land and 3 dirt bikes, and miraculously, one is short enough to accommodate my stubby legs.  Hubby and sons had been out to ride the bikes once before, but I was sick that day, so I didn't get to go.  Today, I was happy to get to go along.

Ron has two 250cc bikes and one 80cc bike.  Only he and hubby were really tall enough and accomplished enough to ride the big bikes, so the other four of us (me, both sons, and Arlyn, who is Son the Younger's best friend) took turns on the 80cc bike.  Unfortunately, we forgot the camera, so there are no pictures to commemorate the event.

My boys and I learned to drive on manual transmissions, so it's not a huge leap to learn to drive a motorcycle; it's just a lot to think about at once.  I had trouble with the clutch letting out so far away from the handlebars since my hands are small.  Once I figured that out though, I had a great time buzzing around the field, switching gears, leaning into turns, all that good stuff.

Ron took me for a ride on the big bike, which will wheelie pretty easily if you goose it hard enough.  So he did, and we did -- very briefly.  I wish there was a picture, but whatcha gonna do.

Last time they went riding, everyone wiped out and came back with small injuries.  This time, only Arlyn wiped out, and apparently she wasn't hurt at all.  She's tougher than me!

We had a blast, and we're already talking about how soon we can go back.  Ron was a great host and a patient teacher -- the perfect guide to have for one's first time on a motorcycle.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Any Excuse for Cleanliness

I've lived in my house since December of 1997, so it's been over 11 years.

I'm gonna tell you a literal dirty little secret: we've never had the carpets professionally cleaned. Until now. And I'm trying to be a better blogger, so I took before and after pics of the craziness for you.

Unfortunately, I didn't think of pictures until after Matt the magical steam cleaning man was done with my family room, where all the nastiest stains had gone to die, but we'll work with what we have, shall we?

My hubby tried to blame me for these stains, which happen to be under the table I bead on.  He ignored the 857 parties we've held in this house.  Um, sure honey, these stains are totally my fault.  I bring stuff in here and sling it around while I bead, wild woman that I am.

Ewww, right?  And here's what the same carpet looked like when Matt was done with it.  Matt was my new best friend by the time he was done in my house, lemme tell ya.

This was a nasty rust ring left by a really beautiful Tiffany style torchiere I have in my formal living room. Ooh, not good.

But that stain was no match for Matt the magical cleaning man!  I was shocked that it all came out.  Good work, Matt!  And you didn't even get any of that steamy residue on your cape!

So what precipitated this cleanliness, you might wonder?  Well, I was throwing a special party for my friend Jennifer, pictured below, and I figured it was a good excuse.

We had a lovely shower in my newly cleaned home.  Now I need to talk my hubby into letting me bring Matt back to do the upstairs!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

It's Still Rock 'n' Roll to Me

If you don't follow me on twitter and haven't heard me ramble about this, I've been excited about this for over a month now:

That's right... last night I fulfilled a dream I've had for, um, longer than I'd care to discuss.  We'll just say, since junior high.  I got to see Billy Joel live and in person.  The fact that he was playing with Elton John was a big bonus.

I had looked at the two dates they were playing in Texas, and unfortunately, I found out too late to get tickets.  Houston was way past sold out, and San Antonio only had single tickets available. At that point, I went to my good friend the internet and started looking in other places.  Since this was a once-in-a-lifetime event, I figured I could go ahead and spend the bucks for a floor seat.  Turns out I could get a 2nd row seat in Phoenix for $1600, or I could go to Tulsa and sit farther back for not much more than face value.  Hmmmm... I choose sanity.

Tulsa built their BOK Center about a year ago, according to some friendly folks we ran into at dinner before the show.  There was apparently some public curiosity about whether Tulsa could pull in big names with an arena.  Turns out Kevin Costner was right: if you build it, they will come. Here's a shot of the stage prior to the show.  You'll see that screen again later.

I went with my friend Heather. There are only so many people you can drive 15 hours and stay in a hotel room with over two days. She's a keeper. She also took all the pictures; I was afraid they'd ban my big DSLR from the arena, so I left it in the car.  Awesome photog job, Heather!

I'll grant you that her camera has a big ol' zoom on it, but this was a cool stage setup, and just being in the room with these two men was electric.  Elton is on the left; Billy is on the right.

These men can flat THROW DOWN on the piano.  Their styles are vastly different, though; it didn't take long before I didn't need visual cues to tell me whose hands I was watching.  Both are just stunning to watch play, to say nothing of their songwriting and singing talents. I went in with expectations set on "sky-high" and they exceeded all of them.

Here's a second picture of the two of them on that giant screen you saw before. They used this screen for all kinds of stuff: pics of the two of them, illustrations of stuff in the song (the stuff they played during "We Didn't Start the Fire" was really interesting and obviously historic), cartoony fun stuff, you name it. Great use of a set design element.

Also, since we were in an arena, there was the huge thing hanging over our heads with screens on four sides.  We weren't in the best position to get a good pic of it, but Heather got shots of both men on it.  Billy first:

Then Elton.

And if you want the real nitty-gritty details, here are my notes from the night, complete with set list.

There was no opening band.  The stage started bare; the pianos rose out of the stage, complete with dry ice and all that wonderful stage-y stuff.  They began by playing and singing together, trading verses in each others' songs.  They then played individual sets (Elton first, then Billy), coming together at the end for another set together.

The entire concert was three and a half hours -- longer than Heather and I had dared to hope. They played every monster hit and many little-known songs. Every song that Heather had been dying to hear was played, so she can now die happy. I would have loved to hear some that were not played, but they were never hits, so no complaints from me.

We were sitting quite a way back from the stage, on the left edge of the floor seats (or stage right for you theater types).  The couple next to us were also huge Billy Joel fans and were very nice. There was a group of four people in front of us (two couples) that was, er, interesting. Both women had bought flashing LED glasses frames that they wore throughout the show. Fortunately, the stage lights were brighter, and we didn't notice them most of the time.  

Set list (songs are in bold; my notes are not): 
Elton and Billy together:
Your Song
Just the Way You Are
There was a woman two rows in front of us, clearly intoxicated even before the show, who was dancing energetically to the two slow opening songs.  Ummmm, ok...
Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me
My Life
Billy sang backup on this one -- his own song!  I found that amusing.

After "My Life," Billy left the stage, and Elton did his solo portion of the show.

Elton's solo set:
Peachtree Road (I have this title wrong, but I didn't recognize the song)
There was one person standing on the floor during this song.  Perhaps you might guess where he was?  Yes, that's right: directly in my line of sight to Elton.  Granted, Elton wasn't who I was there to see, but still, I thought it was rude.
Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting
Burn Down the Mission
Mad Man Across the Water
Tiny Dancer
I noticed on this song that Elton wasn't even trying to hit the high notes in his songs.  Either another singer or the keyboard player would hit the high notes, and he would take a lower note. It wasn't terribly distracting, but I noticed it because I was looking for it; Heather and I had wondered if these guys would still be able to hit those notes (Billy still hit all his, which impressed me). Elton's voice is still amazing -- his tone is beautiful, and his voice is strong and resonant. He just doesn't have the range on the top end that he once enjoyed.
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
He had the audience singing along to hit the high notes on this one.  We didn't mind.
This was the one I most wanted to hear from Elton.
He did probably a 10-minute jam on this song.  I thought he was finished with his set after this, but he faked us out.
I'm Still Standing
Crocodile Rock
This song is even more fun live than on a recording.  We had a great time dancing around to it.

This concluded Elton's set. He received a long standing ovation, walked around the entire stage (which was more or less done in the round), and shook hands and signed autographs before exiting. I was pointing up at the screens and telling Heather, "For only $1200 more, that could have been us!"


So, up next was Billy's solo set.  And holy cow, Elton had done 11 songs with some seriously long jams!  What did we have to look forward to?  Lots of great stuff, as it turned out.

Billy's solo set:
Angry Young Man
I wasn't really familiar with this song, but I figured that would be the exception to the rule.  In fact, it was the only exception.
Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)
By this song, Heather and I and the couple next to us were on our feet, singing along and dancing.
Billy introduced this one by saying it was "what used to be commonly referred to as 'an album cut.'" He told us it was a great tune and urged us not to use this time as a restroom break. Since "52nd Street" and "Glass Houses" were the first two Billy Joel albums I owned (and I do mean albums -- I had them on vinyl originally), I knew every word of this song.  And I will never hear it the same way again.  Not the album cut I wanted from "52nd Street," but whatcha gonna do?
Don't Ask Me Why
Another great tune from "Glass Houses."
She's Always a Woman
Like he could get out of there without playing this.
Scenes from an Italian Restaurant
This was the one that Heather most wanted to hear.  She learned to play piano because of Billy Joel, and she and her dad and brother used to play this tune together (dad on guitar, Heather on piano, brother on either bass or the egg).  It holds a lot of emotion for her. I was so glad he played it.
River of Dreams
Another great one to sing and dance along to.  I was seriously feeling bad for the people in the non-floor seats who were all sitting down.  We were having so much more fun.
We Didn't Start the Fire
Billy played guitar on this, and did some crazy things with the mic stand, throwing it up in the air and catching it.  At the end of the song, he threw it literally the length of the stage to one of the other musicians, who caught it. Wild.
It's Still Rock & Roll to Me
More singing and dancing.  I love me some Billy Joel.
Only the Good Die Young
Still more singing and dancing. Seriously, the man is an amazing entertainer. Loved it.

After this song, Billy made his rounds of the stage, also shaking hands and signing autographs. Heather and I were both struck by how gracious both men were with the fans, and also by how much fun they seemed to be having playing, entertaining the crowd, enjoying the music, each other, and the fans. I don't think you can fake that.

Last part of the set:
Duo, part two:
I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues
Great tune.  On this song, as with many others, I noticed that Elton couldn't help singing along (away from the mic) during Billy's parts of the songs.  Billy did the same thing during other songs.  Also, during one song (and I failed to write down which one), Billy clearly came in at the wrong time and mouthed an exaggerated "Oops!" face at the camera.  Good stuff.
Uptown Girl
At the end of this song, a female (fan?  not sure) got onstage, dancing to the song.  She danced over to Billy, kissed him on the cheek, then went over to Elton and kissed him on both cheeks followed by a big smooch on the mouth. She then left the stage. I didn't see security hustling her off, and Elton and Billy just kept playing, but it was weird.
The B!tch Is Back
Again, not familiar with this song, one of Elton's.  The crowd was really into it, though. Bleeped the word cuz, y'know, I'm a family blog and all.
You May Be Right
I was happy to hear this one.  It was great as a duet.
Benny and the Jets
Billy took all the high parts on this.  Worked out well.  Another great singalong.
You Say It's Your Birthday
Not sure if that's really the name, but whatever the rock 'n' roll birthday song is.  They asked if anyone was having a birthday, then they sang it. It was cool, but there are other things I would rather have heard from them.
Back in the USSR
Candle in the Wind
Heather said later, and I agreed, that if she'd been asked she would have said that she could have gone a long time without hearing this song again since it was so overplayed back in the day. It was fantastic live, though.  Really beautiful.
Piano Man
Yes, they saved the ultimate singalong -- and their theme song -- for last. It had to be played.  It was epic.  They stopped playing and let the the audience sing one round of the chorus.  Wow: the power of 20,000 voices.

These men have been entertaining people for well over 50 years between them. They are serious about music, and they blew. me. away.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Babies and Beads and SXSW

Last weekend I got to meet a new little person.

I didn't ask permission to post her picture, so I won't post her vital stats.  Let's just say her name is NOT Valencia Orange, although I will continue to call her that for the humor value.  And she is beautiful.  I can't wait to babysit her and spoil her rotten.

In other news, I have been melting more glass.  The one on the right was going to be the same shape as the ones in the middle and on the left, but my hubby begged me not to squish it.  Now I want to make another one like it just to see who was right.

I had made the pendant to this prior to Christmas for my friend Heather.  I finally got around to making its two companion beads and stringing it.  Heather and I have a very exciting trip coming up this week (which is its own blog post), and following that, Heather will be going to Paris.  I'm trying not to hate her for that last part, but I think she should have cool jewelry to wear.

This is the completed bead set for a friend in Washington.  We agreed that I would make two sets: one for her to keep, and one for her to bead for me.  She does amazing bead work.  I have no idea what I'm going to make for me, but I think this is her set... unless I come up with something else.

Last but certainly not least, I met my friend Robin last Friday, who had been my Inspired Bliss editor for several months, when she came to town for SXSW.  If I were a better blogger, I would have pics of our meeting, but alas, that is not the case.  In another couple of hours, I'll pick her up for breakfast before taking her back to the airport.  We'll see if I remember my camera for that.  Ha!

Also on Friday, I picked up my friend James, who I haven't seen in years and who was also here for SXSW.  Again -- no camera.  My hubby and I went to lunch today with James and four other friends who all go back ten years or so.  It was great to look back at where we've been and catch up with where we are now.  James has gotten married, and he and his wife have had a baby, since the last time I saw him.  We don't often catch up since he's a Londoner, but it was great to see him.

This concludes the Cliff's Notes version of the last week of my life... stay tuned for Bad Bloggers Catch Up, Continued.