Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Slow Transformation VIII: The Bathroom Completed

You may remember that back in May, this entire renovation began with the bathroom. In the house, it was the one room that always bothered us but that we had done nothing about for five years. The upstairs bathrooms were worse, but we fixed them within the first year of our buying the house. Downstairs we figured was mainly for family, so it could wait.

It had bad wallpaper, carpet on the floor, bright blue paint, and an ancient vanity that gave you no room to put things you might need in a bathroom like soap and toothbrushes and towels.

So I spent last May ripping off wallpaper, painting the room (twice - it took a while to find the right paint), and cleaning the floor. In June, we put down the new flooring and put in a new vanity and towel ring. In August, I ripped up the floor where there was a leak and put down new flooring and installed a new light fixture. This month, I've hung a new mirror, added a shelf, and we picked out towels and a rug. With this portion of the renovation finished, I can finally see the light at the end of the project. Here's a bit of a comparison for you between May and this morning:

I'm very glad to have that piece done, and the bookshelves are close to finished. Once I get the doors on and touch up a few areas of paint, I'll be ready to call the entire room finished.

At least for now.

Monday, September 28, 2009

I'm Totally Fit

I remember when my brother got his Fit and tracked the fuel efficiency, I was amazed by the 37 miles he got to each gallon. So I decided to start tracking my Fit (which is the next generation after his) and let you know what I found.

I had my first fill-up yesterday after driving 389 miles I put in 8.97 gallons to fill the tank up, which means I averaged about 43 miles to the gallon!

Who knows how that will level out as the engine gets broken in, but considering that I used to average about 14 miles to the gallon, I don't think there is any way the old bank account (and the atmosphere) won't feel a difference.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Noah Learns to Jump

None stop excitement around our house these days, especially since Noah has determined that if Sam can do it, he can to. That means that in the backyard, if Sam climbs the ladder to the 6-feet-off-the-ground treehouse, Noah does it to. And if Sam thinks pushing Noah down is funny, then obviously Noah pushing Sam down is funny too. We've had lots of bumps, bruises, and close calls recently from this new policy of Noah's.

Perhaps most funny of all is that Noah has decided that if Sam can jump, so can he. You can see the results for yourself:

This policy may cause problems when Sam starts driving.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mozart Died of...Strep Throat?

Did you happen to see this article last month? After years of speculation about kidney failure, mercury poisoning from syphilis treatments, fevers, and (my personal favorite) trichinosis caused by consuming undercooked pork chops, a group of researchers believe they have figured out what killed Mozart - strep throat.

We've always known from eye witness accounts that in his final days Mozart's body was so swollen that he couldn't move in bed and that he was covered in rashes and spiking with alarming fevers. What we haven't known was that Vienna that winter was suffering through a rise in streptococcal infections, which can often lead to glomerulonephritis where the kidney's blood vessels are inflamed and the body swells.

So how do you treat strep? With antibiotics like penicillin, which Alexander Fleming discovered in 1928, 137 years too late for Mozart.

The case is logical and is as good a theory as any and I was truly interested to learn about the research. But do I really have to tell my students now that Mozart died of strep? The old jealous Salieri killing Mozart by having him write his own Requiem mass is a much better story.

Monday, September 21, 2009

They Come in Threes

We've had an eventful few weeks, from the conference, to getting a new car, to Sam repeated throwing up in said new car and everywhere else yesterday. But for some reason, our house has come under the most fire the past month. You remember the incident of the bathroom floor. I spent the days around the conference frantically digging a new drainage system for our backyard next to the house so we wouldn't have to worry about flooding under the new flooring again.

Then, two days after I finished the new drain, we heard a loud crash right after we had gone to bed. I jumped up to make sure both boys were in their beds and hadn't fallen out before collapsing back to sleep, figuring I would find out what the crash had been in the morning.

This is what I found in our backyard:
That's right, a giant limb had fallen from a tree in the backyard, hit the ground and then the broken end somersaulted into our house. The only reason it did not come into our bedroom was that it hit a supporting wall joist.

You'll also notice that there is a rather dead looking bunch of leaves underneath the branch. During the summer, we had a tree next to the house die on us, so when we had the branch removed and the wall patched, we had the tree removed as well:
Ah, if only that were the end of the saga. Early last week we began noticing that the refrigerator was not as cold as it normally was. I attributed this to Sam who has taken to standing with the refrigerator door open, longingly looking at the things he can't eat. I just figured he had finally noticed the knobs that control the temperature and turned them down.

If only it were that simple.

By Wednesday, we knew we had a problem, so I called for a repairman and he came last Thursday morning and in five minutes had replaced the fan motor to fix our refrigerator.

So if you are keeping count, that's three for the house and none for us. But the bottom level is almost finished, and once it's done, I'm counting it as a huge win for us.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What Japan Feels Like

Since I spent the summer I turned 18 in Japan on an exchange, I've often been asked to describe what it felt like to live in Japan, especially in Tokyo, a city where past and present collide on every street corner. I've shown my pictures, related my stories, but nothing ever seemed to come close to the texture of the experience.

Then, today, I came across the following video. Although the saturation of colors makes it seem hyper-real, this video is the closest I've ever seen at describing what Japan felt like when I lived there. Hope you enjoy.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Slow Transformation Part VII: Finishing up the Stairs

The project that has consumed my evenings for the better part of five months is finally winding down. I'm in the middle of painting the new bookcases (more on that later) and once they're in this weekend, I'll only have a few small things to fix from the great transformation of our downstairs.

During the week of the conference, I wanted a small project to work on. I had started the bookshelves, but knew they would take more time than I had that week, so I decided while I was sanding wood to use on the bookshelves I would sand, stain, and paint the stairs as well. Originally doing the stairs wasn't part of the grand transformation plan, but we discovered that stairs that have rested under dirty carpet for many years tend to need a little TLC.

First thing I did was fill in all the holes and divots that had formed over the past 40 years with a bit of wood filler. Then I went to town sanding.

Joy and I both decided we wanted the stairs to have a bit of a distressed look, so I didn't sand down the stairs to the most absolute smoothness. As you can see, the middle of each stair was still a bit darker than the edges and the filled in spots stand out ever so slightly.

I also only lightly sanded the rise on each stair because we decided to paint them to give the entire stair a bit of a lighter feeling.

The main point in all of this was to make the stairs feel smooth underneath our feet and give them a durable finish so we didn't worry about the kids dropping things.

After sanding, I put a thin layer of a light stain and then coated them with polyurethane. That process was fascinating because we couldn't walk on the stairs. So each night I'd put a coat on and Joy and I would run out of our garage and up to the front door when we heard Sam or Noah in the evening or when we wanted something to eat. I'm sure my neighbors wondered why we kept carrying ice cream into our garage those nights.

During the conference, I came home in the evenings and painted the rise before collapsing into bed. Only two coats of white paint and look what we have now:
(and yes, that's Noah wondering what is going on down there) I only have to figure out now if I want to put white quarter round down on each stair step.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Photos from the Conference

In case you're curious about how the 2nd International Conference on Minimalist Music looked, Scott Unrein has posted a great collection of the photos he took over the five days, including this one:
Scott has a great eye for capturing moments and just looking at the photos, I'm swept back to those times in sounds and smells as well as sights. Just click on the photo to get to his slide show.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Look, I'm Fit!

That's right, after almost a month of waiting to get my car, the gov'ment finally came through for us! The old truck held on (though I was very careful with it) for another four weeks and we didn't have to get the major work done on it that would be needed for a second four weeks.

The color is Blackberry Pearl (who thinks up these names) and it is extremely zoomy. As you can see, even Sam is into the car, all ready here for school this morning.

So if I don't blog for the next few days, you'll know that I'm vrooming all over town.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

2nd International Conference on Minimalist Music - The Concert

Let's face it, after having children the number of concerts Joy and I attended dropped dramatically. Back in our halcyon graduate school days we went to everything we possibly could, both in Urbana and in Chicago. We saw operas, symphonic concerts, piano and voice recitals, late-night improvs, avant-garde instillation. We poured every drop out of the opportunities presented to us. Once we moved and had Sam, however, going out became much more difficult. We now see a few concerts and plays and movies, but we pick and choose carefully and savor them more, in some ways.

I mention this as backdrop to my attending five concerts in as many days during the 2nd International Conference on Minimalist Music. And the best part of the concerts? I got to help plan who would perform and what would be performed. When we started planning this conference in earnest a year and a half ago, we on the steering committee (David McIntire, Scott Unrein, Jedd Schneider, and Andy Lee) put together a dream list of performers and performances. Everything on that list was featured last week. So to say the concert series was minimalist heaven for me is no understatement.

These five concerts were the meat of the conference, the events when the general public could experience minimalist and minimalist-inspired music. And each one lived up to the high expectations I had. Wednesday night, Mikel Rouse presented his film Funding. It was held at the KC Public Library and with it being free and the local-interest surrounding Rouse (he graduated from UMKC and the KC Art Institute) it was the best attended of our offerings. I've long been an admirer of Rouse's music and aesthetics (see these clips of Dennis Cleveland at U of I where I saw it to get a sense of his style) and his film did not disappoint. Easily the most traditionally minimalist of his scores, Funding is both a personal reflection on his experiences producing art in New York City from the late 1970s to 2000 and a meditation on the power of art to transcend economics, a message sorely needed today.

Thursday night, newEar, the local new music ensemble, presented the longest program I have heard them give in the past four years, an over-two-hour minimalist smorgasboard. There were early and forgotten pieces by Terry Riley, one of the founders of the style; drone-based multimedia pieces; texted, improvisatory pieces; strict process pieces; and, yes, pieces with a sparkling sense of humor. The concert was the most varied and in some ways the most challenging for its variety, but never less than fully engaging.

Friday night vies with Saturday night for my concert highlight. Sarah Cahill, a fabulous new-music pianist with an impecible ear for interpretation presented a concert of minimalist and minimalist-inspired pieces. Each work was an exquisite gem, including a reconstruction by Kyle Gann of an improvisatory work by Harold Budd and selections from Mamoru Fujiedo's Patterns of Plants. Rarely have I heard a piano recital in which every work is played with utter conviction and every work connects with the audience. Sarah is an artist who doesn't go through the motions, but rather inhabits each piece and opens the door for her audience and then invites them in.

Saturday night was overwhelming in every sense of the word. Legendary Charlemagne Palestine, who hasn't played in the states in years, gave a performance of his Schlingen-Blängen, and the name itself gives you a sense of his personality. Charlemagne always plays surrounded by teddy bears and with a glass of brandy close at hand. For the work, he manipulated an organ, slowly building up a chord of mind-blowing power, and then allowed his audience to walk around in the sound for a while. Harmonics that he was not playing spin through the air and you literally feel the work (some had to step outside because the sound is so overpowering). I've heard this work on CD several times and never have I fully understood it. His music is not expression, but experience.

The concert parade ended with a final experience, the premiere of a reconstruction of a lost early minimalist masterpiece called November. This four-and-a-half hour piano work is perfectly constructed and flows logically for its duration. Only the most stalwart stayed for the performance, but those of us who did recognized something monumental in the music. It was a fitting capstone to an amazing week of sound.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Better Late than Never

Ah well, my plan to keep you up-to-date on the concerts we had fell apart about the day I stopped sleeping. The conference is now officially over and officially a resounding success, so all that's left to do is recoup and get back to real life.

Before that happens, however, I will be providing a bit of a postmortem on the conference. Look for it in the next few days. Until then, enjoy the video that Scott Unrein, composer/musicologist/fellow conference planner, took of Charlemagne Palestine warming up for his nearly two-hour opus "Schlingen-Blängen" at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral Saturday night:

Charlemagne Palestine testing an organ from Scott Unrein on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Conference, Day 2

Day 2 of the conference is when we held things together and got over the few crises to keep the whole event going. Sarah Cahill was supposed to get in last night and have a masterclass this morning - her flight was canceled and we had to reschedule. We shuffled around two paper sessions at the last minute and had to print new (and more) programs. But the sessions were fascinating and all attendees seem to really be into the conference. Many students are making their way to the conference and entering the discussions they find. Conversations are producing new insights and connections. And I got to meet Charlemagne Palestine (more on that Saturday).

To top everything off, newEar gave a fantastic concert that, at over 2 hours, was easily the longest program they have ever done. There was a beautiful miniature work for cello and piano by Serbian composer Vladimir Tošić, the professional premiere of a companion piece to Terry Riley's called In C called Autumn Leaves, and a shimmering and moving work Sun on Snow by Barbara Benary. And, of course, this work, which has been on my list of pieces to do for a few years just for the amusement factor (it can really bring down the house, too):

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Conference Day 1

Since I'm going to papers and concerts all week, I thought I'd keep you up with what I'm busy doing by posting a few videos of the performers I'll be hearing. Tonight, we start off with Mikel Rouse, a composer and performer I've enjoyed since he brought his talk show opera Dennis Cleveland to Illinois while I was there. A year later, I performed in his setting of Cage's An Alphabet. Since that time, I've regularly taught his music to my classes, especially as he's an alum of UMKC. Here's a bit of what he's recently been doing.