Today I am 43.
Today my blog is nine years old.
I just went back and re-read my previous birthday post and realized again what a great life Erin and I have. This past year brought new adventures, new challenges, and a greater appreciation of the blessings we’ve been given. Now that I’m finishing up my forty third year (or starting my forty-forth, I guess), I thought I’d take a minute to go back over some of the more noteworthy events of the past year. So, in no particular order, here they are.
Swam under the waterfall- Good friend Sean’s daughter Emily had, as her birthday wish, a scuba diving adventure. So knowing that I was certified, Sean asked me to come with them and swim a stretch of the San Marcos river in central Texas. We met early, suited up, and dove in. Before swimming the river, though, we had to first swim behind a low waterfall. Well, I’m not one for drowning-truth be told, heights don’t bother me a bit, but water is a big deal. Everyone has something they’re afraid of, and water is it for me. I’m also one to conquer fears and do what scares me, so I naturually had to get my scuba certification. But somehow, diving down and seeing the waterfall from underwater freaked me right the aych ee double hockey stick out. I resolved to do it, then chickened out, then decided that I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t face it. So off we went, swimming about 15 feet underwater right at the base this churning waterfall. If you’re not freaked out by water I can’t really explain it to you, but apparently my hindbrain starts shouting expletives at me whenever I put myself in this sort of situation. But did it I did. I’m proud enough of doing it that I list it here as evidence to myself to just shut up and do the thing that frightens me in the future.
Overworked- a confluence of too-good-to-pass-up gigs landed in my lap last year about this time. Unfortunately, they all had about the same due date. Between bulding Baylor’s new prop, writing 17 minutes of original orchestral music for BU, writing music for Rice (more on that later), doing work for Lifeway music and Word music mastering, and my normal Sing arranging, I had the unpleasant experience of a three month stretch where I was working 100-110 hours per week. Now, I love what I do, and will never complain that our lifestyle and work schedule offer us some really wonderful opportunities, but that particular period isn’t something that I want to repeat. Ever. Up at 6 or 7am, work until 1 or 2 am with (literally) no break longer than going to the bathroom (I ate most meals at my desk), for seven days a week and almost 100 days straight. I proved to myself that I’m able to do a lot more than I thought but by the time March rolled around I was completely exahusted and ended up paying for it since…
I got shingles: Yup! I was visited by the malady that normally infects the 60+ year old set. Fortunately, we caught it early and after a treatment of a few drugs had it under control. The doctor thought it was probably brought on by stress overwork and a severely lowered immune system. You don’t say? Anyway, as long as I’m rhapsodizing about my health this past year I might as well recall the time I:
Got hookworm; wait, what? Isn’t that for dogs? Well, no. If you do a lot of landscaping and work in dirt, it’s entirely possible to contract these little intestinal bloodsuckers yourself. They end up… well, I’ll just let you google it. It’s not super pleasant. Again, a treatment of drugs (just one dose!) and the little buggers were nuked. Which was nice, since we still had to deal with the repercussions of:
The ulcer I got. Oh, come on! About three years ago I started to notice some pain in my stomach area. After three separate doctors and several thousand dollars of testing we had it narrowed down to an ulcer caused by an h. pylori infection (and probably exacerbated by those long work weeks). I’m still recovering now, but I think we’re through the worst of it. Ain’t antibiotics and modern medicine grand? Okay, I promise. No more health-related stuff.
Landscaped and Gardened- Our front yard had been looking pretty bad the past few years, so after installing grass last year, we sprung for some really nice concrete flowerbed edges out front. We had a local garden consultant come over and help us decide what to plant, then we bought a bunch of really nice plants and put them in, then mulched, then enjoyed the heck out of the yard. Some made it through the scorching summer gloriously, some are sad little brown husks (which will be replanted soon), but overall we’re thrilled to finally have “real” landscaping.
Radio interview: in late December of this past year I was interviewed by friend Rick Thomssen for his radio show Talk of the Town in Temple Texas. We had a wonderful hour long chat about Sing, Music, Art, Ireland, and various other things. It was a fun experinece.
Spanish Rice: No, not the dish. A year and a half ago I was asked by Rice University to create 30 original songs for their STEMSCOPES science education course for K-12 students. The idea was to use the songs to introduce students to various scientific concepts (the water cycle, soil, planets, magnetism, forces, changes and properties, etc), and to tie these songs into the curriculum using video, Dance Dance Revolution, and several other multi-media educational channels. It’s been a tremendously gratifying thing to be able to work with my friend Andrew Ginakis at Rice to come up with these songs. I delivered the whole batch of 30 songs about a year ago and they liked them so much that they came back to me this year and asked if we could re-do them all in Spanish for the ESL crowd! I hired a great vocalist and we set about re-recording all the English lyrics in Spanish. I just sent the last of the 30 final mixes off to Rice last week. It’s probable that several hundred thousand to million students will get to hear my work and I couldn’t be more pleased with the results.
BU Premiere music: I got to write what is probably some of my finest orchestral music for Baylor University’s big recruitment video. I was asked to do a 7:00 original piece with lots of heroic “Saving Private Ryan” sounding stuff. So much fun to really dig in and let my imagination roam free without the normal restrictions of a Sing act. Unfortunately, in the end the video ended up getting cut to around 2:00, which necessitated an awkward fade in the music from the opening thematic statement to… the closing thematic recap! While the practices of leaving out the entire development section isn’t the most musical of ideas, it was due to them not having enough video footage on hand. Oh well, at least I still have the full version. Speaking of Baylor, one really unusual and fun projct I worked on was the big:
Baylor prop: I was commissioned to build the 3d “BAYLOR” letters and logo/wordmark for the university. The whole prop is 19′ wide and 30″ tall and comprised of over $1000 in plywood. You can read the whole build log here. A wonderful, frustrating, dusty, crazy experience.
Heard Nessum Dorma live: Erin’s school was recently connected with the Austin Lyric Opera (they just separated a few months ago). One of the benefits of this was that we would occasionally get free opera tickets. So this past year we were given a few good seats to see Turandot (one of my favorite operas) and, for the first time in my life, I got to hear the famous Nessun Dorma done live. Just as thrilling as I had always thought. I remember hearing Pavarotti do Nessun Dorma on a PBS special back when I was a teenager and it just bowled me over. How great to finally get to see it live. *Bonus* our friend Matt Trevino played Timur in the role (not the character that sings Nessun). It was great to see him on the stage doing what he does so well.
Remodeled the Bathroom- Back when we bought our house (has it already been ten years!?!) we had plans to remodel the smallish master bathroom. Over the last decade we’ve focused on other areas to improve (my studio, various furniture pieces, the guest bath and guestroom, etc). This year it was finally the master bathroom’s turn. We spent several months accumulating all the stuff we’d need to complete the project (tile, paint, backerboard, etc) as well as making decisions on paint color and fixture finish. I also built a set of cabinets for above the toilet. The big day arrived and we spent the next three weeks laboriously removing vinyl, installing tile, painting, putting in new plumbing, and all the other details that go into a small-project-that-becomes-big. As is normal, we took the more-work, higher-reward path at every decision point, choosing to do things like diagonal tile with a border instead of horizontal floor tile, half-tiled walls, etc. It was a lot more work this way and probably added a week to the project, but every time we walk in there we’re thrilled with the results.
Went back to Ireland– in 2008 Erin and I took an 18 day trip to Ireland to get in touch with her Irish roots. We loved it so much that we decided to start saving for another trip. We tried to go last year but the Buddy Passes we were traveling on only got us as far as Washington D.C. (hi Matt and Jenna!). This year we made it all the way! We spent a wonderful 16 days in that lovely country exploring the North section this time. From Conemarra to Northern Ireland we covered it all. So now over the course of almost five weeks we can say that we’ve probably visited 80% of the major tourist spots and a heck of a lot of out of the way little hamlets and burgs. What a wonderful, quaint, ancient, and lovely place. By the way, while we were there I:
Touched a piece of history. Around 500 AD, Saint Brendan the Navigator supposedly set out from Ireland to bring the Gospel to the unknown parts of the world. You can read about the journey in Tim Severin’s wonderful book. This voyage has long been thought to be fictitious because nobody believed that it was possible to make a saltwater capable, open-sea, open-top vessel that wouldn’t disintegrate in the North Atlantic. Tim Severin decided to test the theory and so spent several years researcing and recreating the leather-hulled boat and retracing Brendan’s famous voyage on the open sea. The book is a masterful telling of the voyage and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves this sort of thing. While we were in Ireland we visited the Craggaunowen Project, a sort of Irish heritage folk park, and one of the highlights of the visit was a glass and steel building that housed Tim Severin’s actual Brendan Boat (see the link for a picture). I was almost as overcome as if someone had let me hold the Mona Lisa. To see this incredible boat and get to actually *touch* the thing was an absolute highlight of the trip. Of the year.
Built an Irish cottage: upon returning home we had to have a way to commemmorate the Ireland trip, so Erin and I spent several weeks building a small scale version of our getaway cottage in Ireland. You can read about the process here. It was a fun way of reliving the trip and being creative and we enjoyed putting it together. Now it sits proudly on the entertainment center so that we can return to Ireland whenever we want to.
Propped. I got to build another raft of cool props for the show again this year. I helped four different groups build all kinds of crazy props. From toilet stalls to half-size gypsy wagons to rock and roll stage platforms to platform beds and giant dollhouses. It’s an incredibly fun and rewarding part of what I get to do. It’s mainly the girls groups that hire me since the guys often have access to the tools. I love working with the girls since they don’t often get a chance to use power tools. They always leave feeling empowered. I’ve even had several call me for advice on basic tool sets! Had one build a beer pong table for a roommate and asked me for advice (!). We already have some fun props on tap for this next year, too. Can’t wait to show them off.
Spent another two weeks in Colorado. We have some friends who ask us to house sit every summer in Colorado. They have a beautiful house on the side of the mountain just above the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. We’re privileged to get to take care of the place for a few weeks every summer and get up into the mountains and trees for a pre-craziness recharge. We’re so grateful to them for the chance. They actually think we’re doing *them* a favor! Shhh!!!
So that’s it. A quick rundown of some of the highlights and memorable moments of year 43. I hope you enjoyed reading about them as much as I enjoyed living through them! I wonder what year 44 will bring.