Monday, November 30, 2009

Wish I Had This Shirt When I Was In Grad School!

Back at Vanderbilt, I ran afoul of an organization called the Campus Crusade for Christ. Rabid little bunch, they were. One of their members made it her personal mission to "save" me from my misbegotten ways - when actually I was pretty well behaved at the time! Anyways, there were theological arguments galore and name calling ("Blasphemer!" "Loony!"). Always are, in situations like that.

At any rate, I saw this shirt today while killing time before I get to go home. If only I had this shirt in those days. Probably would have driven the poor, naive thing to madness! And that's something this pirate can get behind!
In case you're looking for something to get me for the holidays, you can find the shirt here.

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This Pirate's Gone A' Plunderin'!

15 minutes until lunch, so I figured I'd fire off a quick note as to why I'm dancing a jig today. First off, I think my cold has just about passed, and the weekend went very well. Add to that a Christmas bonus arriving unexpectedly early, and today's cyber Monday shopping spree, and you have one happy pirate!

After a brief misunderstanding regarding the allocation of gold with One Ring, I ordered a brand new guitar from Woodwind and Brasswind. Yes, I could have gone through Guitar Center, where I tested it, but I found out that Guitar Center is now owned by Musician's Friend, and after running into a world of frustration from them when my SG arrived with a slightly warped neck (and they wouldn't replace it due to it being a "discontinued item," but instead offered me a much cheaper model as an "even exchange." All of which is odd, since that was a year ago, and today I found the exact same package for sale!), I decided to go with another vendor. All of that to say is that the order's in, and hopefully within a week or so I'll be playing away on a guitar more suited for blues inspired rock (a'la Cream, Pink Floyd, and Eric Clapton). Here's a pic of the model I ordered:

Meanwhile, One Ring and I had one of our "craft dates," this time making things with polymer clay. We used to do this a lot, making Christmas ornaments and other things to sell at the church craft sale. But since we moved out here, we haven't done that as much. So yesterday we sat down. One Ring made a snowman (she loves snowmen!) while I continued my obsession with all things Elphaba (from the musical Wicked, in case you've missed a few previous posts). Here's the photos of my attempt and One Ring's success:

Anyway, happy cyber monday (get your online shopping done? I sure did, and picked up roughly half of One Ring's gifts!) And yes, I did pay for them, although the idea of pillaging, looting, etc. does sound good after trying to avoid crowds this weekend. Wonder what Wal-Mart would look like after receiving a few broadsides and being stormed by pirates? Ahh, what fun things to imagine!

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Yep, It's Like That

The President of the United States has just given all Federal Employees 59 minutes off today! Yes, 59 minutes. Not an hour, because apparently that would cause untold calamity over in accounting. So i am leaving in just over an hour! So despite the weirdness involved, I say:

Thank YOU, Mr. President!

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I Don't Want to Work

Not today, anyway. Had a rough night with the dogs - or rather, with just one dog, Kona. She has a habit of running outside (through the dog door) whenever she hears a neighbor's dog barking. Then she barks - loudly, I might add - for a few minutes until I guess she speaks her mind, then comes back inside. Normally this isn't too bad, but when I want to sleep, it's a pain. Especially when she does it over and over and over again.

So I'm here, at work, and on my second cup of coffee of the day. Nothing is scheduled, though I need to follow up on yesterday's clinic. Blech. I don't like some of my patients face to face. Now I have to call the ones that really screwed up on their drug screens? Double Blech.

I should have called this post "Attention Deficit Entry," because I've jumped from one thing to another when I should be writing this! Still, it could always be worse.

I was lucky enough to go guitar shopping last night while One Ring attended a meeting. I think I found one that will totally meet my needs / desires for the sound that I've been hunting for. I've really been influenced by blues inspired rock, a'la Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton (and every group in which he played - Cream, Derek and the Dominoes, etc.), and so forth. So I need a guitar that has at least two single coil pickups. I didn't want to sink the money into a Fender, since I'll never be able to afford an American one (over $1,000) and I haven't heard anything good about the Made in Mexico or China varieties. So I've been trying to find something with the right configuration for under $400 (the highest amount of money I can conceive that I can raise without hitting the credit cards). Here's what I found:

This is the Laguna 300AVB. It has everything I need - locking tuners, tremolo bar, single coil pickups (good ones, too!), and seems comfortable to play. Of couse, the finish isn't half bad, either. It's about $350, so it may take a few weeks to come up with the cash, but no worries. Rumor has it that I have a Christmas bonus coming, so I may be able to pick it up after the holidays. It's a guitar I can definitely grow into, since I forsee myself playing for some time to come.

And if that doesn't work, there's always this one. It's the Douglas (Chinese Clone of a Fender Fat Strat) SI-13. Cheap as all get out, but the reviews seem to be okay, and given my current skill level, might not be a bad choice. And at $109.95 - with a Floyd Rose tremolo and locking tuners, no less - it's ridiculously cheap. Probably too cheap, given that the body is made out of Paulownia wood, whatever the heck that is. Then again, maybe not. Here's what Wikipedia's entry says about some of its uses:

The fine grained soft and warp resistant properties also make Paulownia wood exceptionally suited for making wooden surfboards. Tom Wegener of Noosa, Australia, his brother Jon of Hermosa Beach, California, and more recently "Empress Surfboards" are amongst the shapers who pioneered its use. Unlike those made from balsa wood, the resulting surfboards do not need to be glassed.

More recently, it is used as body material for guitars . The light weight , and resonance of the wood make it perfectly suited as high grade tone wood .

And there you go. Well, I do need to get to work. Had a patient just walk in my office, disgruntled and blaming everyone but himself for his problems. Sheesh. Days like this make me wish I was back in the church ... almost.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Lots of Craziness Going On!

But today, thankfullly, has been quiet. Which is great, considering that the last two weeks have been plain nuts. Not all of it has been bad, though. Just very, very busy.

Not a lot, in retrospect, seems worth reporting though. I went to see Queensryche (and no, I can't figure out how to put an umlaut over the y - the existance of which makes about as much sense as Motley Crue's umlauts) in concert at a local dive. Great show, and I did take some pictures with the camera in my cell phone, and I'll show them in a bit. However, I realized just how old I have become.

For one, I was only three or four rows back from the stage, which was awesome, however it didn't do much for my desire to keep the three foot personal space boundary line intact! Yeah, I'm a "keep your distance" kinda person. But I put that aside for the show. I last saw them around '92 or '93, and they were just as good then as now. But after standing around for an hour to get in to the club, then another hour to wait for the show, then three hours of music, my feet and legs were killing me! And when you've reached the point that pain outweighs the desire to see a favorite band play, it's time to call admit that your wild party days are behind you!

The other thing that got on my nerves was the amount of drunk people crammed into a really small place. Guess I have a low tolerance, being that I work with them and used to be one on many an occasion myself.

But again, great show and I did have a great time. Here are the pics:

First blurry photo of lead singer Geoff Tate. It's amazing how little his voice has changed over the years. Great stage presence. He also did an awesome job explaining the story behind their latest album, American Soldier, which sampled portions of interviews conducted with hundreds of servicemen and women who are serving or have served in every war from WWII to the current Iraq and Afghan conflicts.

This is a shot of rhythm guitarist Parker Lundgren, who is married to Tate's daughter. Guess making him part of the band is either a perk of marrying into the family or a way of keeping an eye on him!

And finally, this is a shot of Tate and a little girl who was rumored to be one of his daughters (he has 3), during a duet from the American Soldier album. It was cute, and although she looked like she didn't want to be there for most of the song, she got a lot of cheers and applause when she was done her solo.

So that was on the 11th. I had to be at work the next day, so I hurt like all get out. It was worth it, though. One week later, on the 19th, I taught a class at Vanderbilt Divinity School on the relationship between spirituality and addiction. Basically I lifted up a theory I have that spirituality is the first casuality of addiction, and that pastoral care providers need to be both vigilant and prepare to help addicts with their spirituality during recovery. I thought it went very well, and One Ring and her professor (who asked me to come and speak) echoed that sentiment. I enjoyed it alot, perhaps too much, because now it's hard to come back here, where by and large any contribution I make is ignored unless I'm bailing someone out of trouble. Yeah, that's cynical but I'm a government employee. Deal with it.

I talked with One Ring about it, and she stated that if I enjoyed teaching and wanted to go in that direction, we could work on me getting the additional degrees and training necessary. I told her that I'd look into it when she finished her dissertation. For the time being, though, that's taking top priority.

In the meantime, I'm keeping up with guitar lessons and other creative outlets that help me keep my sanity. Yes, I'm still working on "Comfortably Numb," but I'm on the second solo now, having proven that I can keep up with the CD during the first solo and chord progressions. This one, however, is a whole different creature and a monster. I'm also looking at getting a second guitar, this one with single coil pickups (like a Fender Stratocaster, for example), so I can get a more bluesy, clean sound than my humbucker equipped Epiphone SG-310. In the store the lowest price I've seen for a cheaper guitar that meets this requirement is around $200, but I've seen used guitars for about half that. So we'll see. One Ring isn't too keen on my spending more money right now, but I may be able to win her over. : )

This is one of the candidates that I was looking at here. It's a Yamaha Pac112J. My guitar teacher recommended it. Despite the low price, the quality is amazingly high, and with the humbucker in the bridge position you are able to play just about every style of music out there. The used music store just emailed me some pictures of it. I'm concerned about some scraping around the jack, but if it turns out that there's no wiring damage, this one is a front runner.

Okay, the day's just about over. More later.

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Crafts and Spirituality

It has occurred to me, now that Halloween is past (sob!) and life is returning to normal, that I haven't spoken much about spirituality, religion, or - gasp! - even piracy. While the latter could have been taken care of by mentioning developments in Somalia waters (kidnappings and continued harassment of shipping) or even my almost dressing up as a pirate for One Ring's colleague's Halloween party (that was nixed due to the outrageous prices of costumes and my constant nitpicking about historical accuracy), to be honest nothing much is going on in the pirate fandom world to warrant a post from yours truly. However, in the world of my crafts and hobbies, much has been happening, and since these can be related to spirituality, I figured I'd go off on that for a while, as it's Monday and I don't feel much like working (and I'm only working a half day due to a doctor's appointment. Woot!)

Back in the dark ages, when I was training at a Catholic retreat center in the art of Spiritual Direction, I approached one of my instructors with an issue that kept coming up. Due to my ADD, bipolar disorder, over caffeinated state, or just being weird, I found it hard to sit in silence and empty my mind of thoughts. In fact, there are many nights where I am unable to sleep at all due to "racing thoughts." For those of you blessed enough to not experience this, here's what it's like: Go to your the electronics section of your local Target, Sears, or Wal-Mart. Then turn all of the televisions and radios to different stations, remembering to also crank the volume up. Then sit back and enjoy the chaos. Yep. On a bad day, that's what it's like inside my noggin'. I say this not to inspire pity or sympathy, but rather to set up the wisdom of my teacher's instructions.

So what my spiritual director (all SD candidates had to receive direction while in training) told me was this: in order to quiet the mind, do something while meditating that will keep your hands busy. He then asked what I do for fun. I answered, "Origami and candle making." he said, "Great. Meditate while you're folding or sitting out there watching the wax melt."

And that's what I do. Now that the weather's cooled off a bit, and the candle shop / garage (after destroying two kitchens, One Ring no longer lets me melt wax in the house!) is tolerable, I've been setting things up for the holiday season. I made two pumpkin scented pillar candles and experimented with textures - one is mottled and the other is rustic in nature. This week I need to make some container candles for my in-laws to give as gifts, and one of One Ring's colleagues also put in a request for one or two. Add to that the ones that I want to make for the Christmas season, and I'll be pretty busy.

When I'm not making candles, I use origami to calm my mind. I've posted pics of some of the folds I've completed at work, and I've also posted the Haunted Mansion paper model that I've been building. Both activities have really helped me get the "monkey mind," as the Buddhists call it, under control. The concentration required keeps me in the moment, where I can experience life as it is, here and now, without being distracted by memories of the past and hopes and fears of the future.

So here's some of what I've done recently:

The lotus is, of course, a Buddhist symbol of enlightenment. I recently found the diagram online, and after a few days of making mistakes, finally figured out what I was doing wrong and got it right (origami works like that sometimes!). After doing a small one at work, I folded a larger one out of a 12"x12" square of mulberry paper that I picked up from the scrap booking section of the local craft store. The finished lotus was large enough for me to put a tea light holder inside. I thought it turned out pretty cool.

I had to convince One Ring that there was no danger of fire, since the candle flame did not come into contact with the paper, and paper won't ignite until it reaches 451 degrees F (Hence the name of the famous book, for all you trivia types out there!).

If origami is not your thing, Lord knows there are plenty of other activities that can calm the mind enough to allow the spirit to move. One Ring and I used to work with polymer clay and created Christmas ornaments and even a whole nativity set. For one reason or another, this activity fell by the wayside when we moved from one location to another. Probably the stuff got packed away and we forgot about it. We might not even have our clay and books anymore. But after seeing these on Deviantart by Shiritsu, I may very well give it another go! I love her cartoonish representations of movie and Broadway characters.

By the way, although crafts are good ways to quiet the mind, there's no reason why you can't do them with other people. One Ring and I regularly have craft dates or try to take classes at the local craft store, and as you saw recently, held a pumpkin carving party. It's a good way to connect with people as well as with your inner self.

Okay, back to faking work (or folding something!). Peace.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

It's Over! : (

Well, the Pumpkins were thrown out last night, leftover candy was sent off with my brother-in-law as a reward for his students, and One Ring is moving into her favorite holiday time of the year (Thanksgiving - apparently no gifts, no decorations, and working towards minimal drama makes it number one with a bullet). As for me, I'm in mourning.

It's not just that Halloween has passed us by for another year - and was once again almost eclipsed by the Christmas decorations which have been smuggled into just about every store I entered this month. It's just that, well, I think maybe I should have started the celebrations sooner, so I could have gotten more worked in. As it was, I spent most nights coming home from work, crashing, and thinking of what I would do if I had the energy, money, and time. Curse you, need for employment! You cause such a massive buzz kill!

So, I figure I'll do what other blogs seem to be doing in honor of the sad times: create a "best and worst of" list and talk about what I'd like to do if I get a promotion that's being talked about in mythic terms (It's coming, but we don't know when!). Here goes:

Best Movie: Trick 'r Treat. Close second, 1408. Both are scary without being gory -we don't do splatter horror. Unlike the chaplain with whom I work, the Saw movies are verboten in my house. Honorable mention goes to Ginger Snaps and Dog Soldiers. Both, in case you haven't heard of them, are werewolf movies. Le Pacte de Loupe (aka The Brotherhood of the Wolf) and Sleepy Hollow are also on my fave list, although I didn't get to them this year.

Worst Movie: Carnival of Souls. We actually saw this a few years ago, but it remains the worst horror movie I've ever intentionally seen during the Halloween season. The worst one we saw this year was The Innocents, followed closely by Let's Scare Jessica to Death - it was the ending that sent it straight into this category. Dishonorable mention goes to The Ninth Gate. Again, a confused ending and incredibly goofy glasses worn by the villian - played by Frank Langella - did this one in.

Geeky villians are so not scary! And his demise was one of the dumbest things I've seen in a horror movie.

Things I'd like to see more of in future Halloween celebrations: Better decorations. Yep, I'm one of those people who want people to decorate their yard in themes. I don't want to see someone's house look like a Big Lots truck overturned in their driveway! If you're going to have zombies come out of the ground, don't put a smiling scarecrow right next to them. And if you're going to spend the money on realistic looking headstones, try to make everything look realistic, and not place them side by side with cheap plastic ghosts.

I'm loving what people are doing in the DIY world of Halloween decorations (see links on the right), and part of the reason I love the Haunted Mansion in Disney World so much is that it's themed, and the quality of the displays is consistent. I think people should do the same. If you want a light-hearted theme, stick with it. Ditto with the gore factor.

Things I'd like to see less of in future Halloween celebrations: Ridiculous reality ghost hunting shows. Ghost Hunters (on the newly renamed SyFy channel) has been dinged repeatedly for faking hauntings, and I can only assume that all the other similar melodramatic programs - Most Haunted is by far the worst in my opinion (Hey, let's scream for no reason! That will help our ratings!) - pull the same stunts. Now we have Paranormal State and, get this, Extreme Paranormal, to add even more cheesy infrared camera shots and overblown stories of tragedies to our television diet.

Honestly, these shows come on every week, and every week they find "evidence" of ghosts and hauntings. Doesn't anyone out there find this suspicious? Sure, I could be swayed if evidence was found in one or two places every now and then, but everywhere, every time? With that kind of record, it stands to reason that ghosts and goblins and every other kind of supernatural being are crammed into every building, graveyard, nook and cranny of the world. Every person alive should be running into hauntings all the time. But we aren't. Which makes me wonder, with a very cynical mind, what's really going on here?

So let's tone those down, okay? And let's have the writers for those cheesy shows (and they do have writers, by the way - hmmm, wonder why?) create some scary fictional programming for us to watch. Just a thought.

Unfortunately, I need to get back to work. More later.

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