Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday Night Videos

Since my trip to Jamaica, I've developed a new respect for coconuts. Previously, I viewed them as nasty tasting things people shredded up to ruin otherwise edible foods, but after sampling unripe, "green" coconut, I've come to realize they can be fairly palatable. So in honor of this discovery, here's Harry Nilsson's classic "Coconut".

And if gorilla costumes aren't your cup of tea, here's Kermit the Frog.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... John Cafferty.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

The scenic route to a home photography studio

Some of you may vaguely be aware that The Wife has a photography business. Her business has grown steadily over the past two years, actually surpassing the milestones and goals set forth in her business plan (this is good), to the point that last fall we decided she needed some studio space. The bulk of her work is on-location, weddings, events and portraiture, but occasionally jobs come up that simply call for the controlled environment of a studio. Plus, she wants to experiment more with lighting techniques, which also requires a studio. In light of that, we agreed that we'd convert garage into a home studio.

That, my friends, is easier said than done. Our old house in Temple had a large attic quite suited for storage, as well as extensive closets and other storage areas. Our current home in New Braunfels does not. The attic is tiny and cramped, and the closet space is quite limited--typical of modern subdivision building designs. The upshot of this is that the garage has served as a storage unit from Day One--table saw, lawn mower, comic boxes, bicycles, wagons, Star Wars toys, Little People toys, Christmas decorations, you name it. The most viable option was a storage building for the back yard. From then to now, the idea lay fallow, other than an occasional cull that went to local charitable thrift stores. But this spring changed things. The Wife has been booked nearly solid for the month of April, and May looks to continue that trend. Fantastic! But it drove home the fact that the studio couldn't be put off any longer.

I spent an entire weekend clearing out, cleaning out, throwing away and donating a huge swatch of accumulated detrius. A trip to Lowes resulted in a 10x8 garden shed kit and plywood flooring (this one hurt--the cost of the shed would've gone a long way toward buying a particular lens The Wife wants, or a couple of photography software programs). I took a shovel and hoe and went to work in the backmost corner of the back yard, clearing out rampant weeds and smoothing out the largest irregularities to approximate a level building surface. This is not an afternoon project, mind you. I put together the edges of the building's floor several days ago, and yesterday I completed the internal floor frame. Happily, once all that was put together, I discovered that the width of the floor is indeed level! Joy! The depth of the building is slightly less so, but a few bags of sand should shore that end up nicely. With the floor frame completed, and feeling quite industrious from that accomplishment, I pulled out the plywood for the flooring and sprayed down the surface with copper-based insect repellent to guard against termites and other nasties. Today, if things go according to plan, I will spray them down with weather sealant so they'll be ready to cut and install this weekend. The walls and roof need a calm day with no wind for erection, and I haven't had any of those for quite a while. Still, I can put together all the braces, beams and supports in the interim, waiting for opportunity to present itself. I hope to have the building finished within a couple of weeks (yes, I know this is a small building, and Tim Allen would have it finished in 30 minutes. I'm not him).

A 10x8 storage building isn't large enough to hold all the contents of our garage, even with my recent culls. I know that. But it will hold the biggest items, the bulk of them, and give us breathing room to deal with whatever bits and pieces are left over. Then the real work begins. I can't wait...

Now Playing: Pandora The Swingle Singers
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Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday Night Videos

In my younger days, when cable was a big deal, we had Showtime in our house (whereas all the cool kids had HBO). I remember when the movie "Eddie and the Cruisers" came out, because Showtime played it incessantly. I never actually watched it, though. The same can't be said of the Springsteen-esque John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band and their big hit from the movie, On the Dark Side. It's pretty catchy and I like the piano there. The band had a few more hits, but never quite equaled the success they found with "Eddie" despite contributing to the soundtrack of the sequel (which I've not seen either).

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Charles de Lint.

Now Playing: Aerosmith Greatest Hits
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Thursday, April 21, 2011


Goodness, but it's been quite challenging finding the free time to wrap up my Caribbean report. Sorry about that. After Grand Cayman, our final port of call on the cruise was the island of Cozumel. While on the ship, I'd stepped on a slick spot on the floor of the atrium and had a hard fall the night before. I'm not entirely sure how, but during my abrupt descent I'd managed to twist in an attempt to catch myself and my shins caught the full brunt of the impact. The pain was staggering. I limped back to our cabin, took some painkillers, and hoped it wasn't as bad as it felt. I'd managed to deeply bruise myself--bone bruise, whatever. It hurt to walk. To give you an idea, this spill happened a full month ago, and my left shin still pains me if I kneel on it. This development posed a problem for our final port of call. Again, we had no interest in the chain restaurants and shopping malls that cluster around the cruise terminal. We were there for the Mayan ruins of San Gervasio. Which would involve a lot of walking. Which I wasn't in terribly good shape to attempt.

A short taxi ride took us to the interior of the island, and we entered the federal park ready to enjoy the thousand-year-old ruins. I was looking forward to getting a lot of good photographs, but I did have to contend with certain challenges, as the following picture can attest.

The park grounds are clean and well-maintained. The thick forest comes right up to the edge of the maintained paths and lawns surrounding the various ruins. It's not hard to imagine the jungle taking over completely in short order if the landscaping were ever discontinued. Likewise, it would be extremely easy to get lost by venturing off the path, as the land is flat with little in the way of landmarks other than the ruins themselves. The park is laid out, more or less, in an elongated triangle, with clusters of ruins at each point. The largest collection of ruins is the Plaza Central, right at the entrance. Many of the ruins are poorly preserved, but it's clear this was once an impressive city. During this time, I'd inadvertently switched the camera to fully manual operation, and my settings were off--way off. None of the shots I took here came even close to turning out, which just underscores the need to always, always check your camera settings.

Probably the highlight of San Gervasio was Murcielagos (at least, I think that's the name of this particular ruin). One of the most distant sites in the park, there is an impressive round structure tourists are actually allowed to climb upon. After seeing so many of the buildings roped off to ensure preservation, it was nice to be able to get up close and personal.

The Murcielagos area is speculated to have served as the residence/estate of the leader of San Gervasio. Obviously a very wealthy person, the remains of the building are expansive and fairly well-preserved. From the round structure, you can see the remaining walls and the one surviving building which currently serves as home to a colony of bats. We spent a great deal of time here, as it was the most interesting and "user friendly" of the various sites in the park.

Murcielagos also got me excited for another reason entirely. That plant in the photo above, I've since learned, is passiflora biflora. At the time, all I knew was that I'd found a small passion flower of the decaloba type growing amongst the Mayan ruins. This made me very happy.

We continued on to Nohoch Nah (The Big House) pictured above. It is the best-preserved structure in the park. Unfortunately, the doors were closed and we couldn't go inside to see the preserved coloring on the wall. It is somewhat isolated, but connected to the Plaza Central by what was once a white limestone road, but is now broken up by trees growing from among the road stones. It's quite interesting.

I did, of course, attempt some infrared photography. There were lots of clouds--as was the case with Grand Cayman--so getting good exposures was a challenge. I did manage to get a decent shot of Ka'na Nah (The Tall House) above, which is thought to be a worship temple for the Mayan fertility goddess Ix Chel. The entire site of San Gervasio is thought to have served as a religious pilgrimage destination for worshipers of Ix Chel. Below is another view of the round structure at Murcielagos, also in infrared. These are obviously false-color images, but I plan to go back through my shots and convert some to black-and-white duotones and tri-tones, to bring out more of the rich texture in the stonework.

All in all, San Gervasio isn't as sprawling and overwhelming as Chichen Itza or Uxmal, and it can't compete with the stunning beauty of Tulum, but for people with an appreciation for ancient civilizations and ruins, it's not a bad place to visit. Birds and other wildlife can be heard in the woods, just out of view. There are probably more varieties of butterflies in the park than any other natural setting I've ever been to. There are also lots of iguanas--so so many, or so large as those at Uxmal, but iguanas nonetheless. Things to remember when visiting San Gervasio: 1) it is humid. It wasn't all that hot, but Houston in June is an apt comparison. You're going to get sweaty. 2) There are mosquitoes, so remember bug spray. I'm not talking life-threatening clouds of the blood-sucking monsters, but they're annoying enough to distract you from the park and diminish your enjoyment.

And for those of you wondering, yes, I managed all that walking fairly well, if a little slow. I recommend not doing any severe damage to your legs beforehand if you plan on such excursions, though. For more images from our San Gervasio visit, check out The Wife's gallery at Lisa On Location.

Now Playing: Billy Joel My Lives
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Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday Night Videos

I met Charles de Lint back around 1994 or so, when I ended up being his guest host (quite by accident) for Aggiecon. Turns out I'd been a fan of his work, but hadn't connected said work to his name. I've kept in friendly contact with him and his delightful wife, MaryAnn Harris ever since. In addition to being a fantastic writer of fantasy literature (and SF, too, on the very rare occasions he ventures there) de Lint is an accomplished musician. He and MaryAnn tend to give acoustic concerts or just hang out and jam at pretty much every literary convention they attend. Many of us have been pestering them for years to record an album. Now, finally, they have. Charles' first album, Old Blue Truck, is available for download (as well as MaryAnn's debut, Crow Girls). "Cherokee Girl" is the first video from the project. Let's hope it's only the first of many.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Harry Belafonte.

Now Playing: João Gilberto and Stan Getz Getz/Gilberto
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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Guadalupe River State Park

So after doing a bit of yard work today (which consisted mostly of bagging up lots and lots of limbs I'd pruned from crape myrtles and pomegranates a month or so back) in 90+ degree weather, I decided it was time for a little relaxation. Since The Wife had a senior portrait session over in Gruene with Monkey Girl tagging along as her assistant, I needed something that would entertain both Fairy Girl and the Bug. I said to myself, "Self, we've got a Texas state parks pass, why not use it to go to Guadalupe River State Park?"

I'd never been there, despite it being only 30 mile away. The kids got their swimsuits while I put some drinks in an ice chest and we were off, just like that. Highway 46 winds through the Texas Hill Country, and I like it. It's a nice road, although it's been so dry the wildflowers were pretty sparse. I was surprised by line of a dozen cars waiting to get in at the park entrance, but it moved steadily and we were parked before 5 p.m.

Folks, Guadalupe River State Park is a pretty place. The main swimming area is at a large bend in the river, and on the opposite shore--the east side, more or less--is a towering limestone cliff sculpted by millennia of erosion. There are cypress trees that grow here and there, and large boulders in the river that have fallen from the cliff. Cliff swallows have nests way up under the stone overhang, and I'm certain bats roost in many of the caves dotting the cliff face. The river itself was cool and refreshing--not cold, since this is the upper Guadalupe and doesn't have dams and artificial lakes to chill it like the lower Guadalupe does. It was also quite shallow, ankle deep for the most part, but with sections waist deep. There were lots of minnows swimming around, along with occasional larger fish. Fairy Girl startled a two-foot long gar that was surprisingly agile considering how little water it had to swim in at that point. Damselflies were all over the place as well. Hundreds of them clustered together in sheltered areas, mating. They were bold things, readily landing on us as long as we'd hold still for a few moments at a time. While there were plenty of people there, it was nowhere near crowded. I can imagine the place is packed on summer weekends with thousands of folks escaping the Texas heat.

After a couple of hours, with the sun setting (the late-afternoon sunlight slanting through the canyon is gorgeous) we packed up and headed home. On the way out of the park, wholly unexpectedly, we came across four Axis deer grazing on the shoulder of the road. They were big and fat and sleek, looking far more healthy and attractive than the few scraggly whitetails we saw on the drive home. Axis aren't native, but many have naturalized after escaping from exotic game ranches that are common throughout Texas. I have a fondness for Axis, and it made me happy to see them. The two pickup trucks behind up probably didn't have a clue.

All in all, a pleasant spur-of-the-moment afternoon excursion. Some day, in the next month or two, I'll have to make a midweek trek out there in the evening to try for some golden hour landscape shots without dozens of families splashing in the river. I suspect we'll be paying regular visits to this place from here on out.

Now Playing: The Smithereens 11
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Friday, April 08, 2011

Friday Night Videos

Harry Belafonte is a great entertainer, period. I guess our Caribbean cruise is still sticking with me, because I've been in the mood for his calypso ever since we got back. I actually wanted to feature "Coconut Woman" today, but couldn't find a video online. So we'll settle for this performance of "Matilda", which is still pretty cool, any way you look at it.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Amazulu.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Career counseling with The Bug

So we're driving to the store, The Bug and I, when he suddenly blurts out from the back seat, "I want to be a construction worker when I grow up."

Me: "A construction worker?"

Bug: "Yes. So I can build things."

Me: "What would you build?"

Bug: "I could build houses and buildings and-- OH! I hope I build a robot!"

Me: "A robot? You could be a mad scientist if you build robots."

Bug: (long pause) "No, too many people would fight me. I'll just be a construction worker."

Now Playing: Jimmy Page & Robert Plant No Quarter
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Friday, April 01, 2011

Friday Night Videos

In light of this week's blogging about my Caribbean adventures, it seems only appropriate that this installment of Friday Night Videos feature Amazulu's "Montego Bay". Here's a little confession on my part--until a few days ago, I always thought this was a Madonna song. True story. When it came out in 1986, Madonna was putting out a bunch of singles from soundtracks, and her B-sides were getting copious airplay as well. And "La Isla Bonita" was just a few months from release, so in the midst of all this "Montego Bay" (which got quite a bit of airplay on Houston station KKBQ that summer) sounded just enough like a Madonna B-side that I made an easy assumption. The fact that I was vaguely aware it was a remake (Bobby Bloom hit the charts with the song back in the '70s) fed into my B-side assumptions. And that assumption stuck with me for 25 years. Goodness. Well, credit where credit is due, better late than never and all that stuff.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Blondie

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