My latest commute book was Tolstoy's Writings On Civil Disobedience and Non-Violence. Coming on the heels of some lighter bus-reading, it made for a slight step up in terms of overall commentary. Despite having heard much about him over the years, I'd never read anything by Leo Tolstoy, and I think that this was actually a really good place for me to start, as it was basically a lot of shorter pieces that he had written to various people (letters that were more like essays) and although there was some definite overlap in the pieces, it was a little easier to digest in smaller pieces and yet as a whole flowed together very well. This was a random book I picked up at a thrift shop for 50 cents a couple years back, and I'm glad that I finally got down to reading it. Although I don't find myself taking the exact same viewpoints as Tolstoy, he did write out clearly a lot of the things I've been wrestling with in my mind over the course of the past 10 years or so.
Basically, all of his essays in the book tie back to religion in one form or another, but his criticism of churches themselves and his viewpoints on non-violence and civil disobedience resonate very clearly today. As a whole, his work seems to foreshadow the thoughts of Gandi and even Martin Luther King Jr. Like I've said with a couple other books I've read over the course of the past year or so, reading this book would be good for some of the members of the current administration.
I've had numerous people ask me lately about when Marianas is going to release some new music. In answering this question, I'd gotten used to saying "pretty soon" (my standard answer about two months ago), but that response has slowly morphed into "uh, hopefully in the near future sometime." In sort of a random weird moment, I was actually asked this very question by someone (a customer who recognized me) at the record store today when I was picking up a couple things, and I gave my well-honed vague response (with a small clarifier saying a rough goal was to have something by June).
In all honestly, we've been moving along with the tracks that we recorded the basic pieces of about two months ago. At times, the process has been somewhat slogging, and at others it has gone as smooth as butter. On one side, there are several things that have slowed us down a bit, as we not only find ourselves much more picky in terms of what we're happy with on these tracks, but we've also worked through some equipment hangups and some general issues that come with playing and trying to record the same parts over and over and over again.
To be more specific, our first album was somewhat of a fluke in terms of how we recorded it and what we left on the record. I think I've mentioned it here before, but there are many pieces of the first album that were recorded on a ten-dollar microphone and many pieces that were recorded (and left in place) as first or second takes. Rough spots and small flubs were left as part of the rough charm, and on a very basic numeric level, our most complex track on the first release occupied 10 different slots in the multi-track recorder.
To say that things have changed would be an understatement, as we're not only much more picky in terms of overall sound and performances we record, but every single track we're working on right now is more complex than anything on the first CD (typical tracks are clocking in at about 20 different tracks, with some having more elements). That doesn't always lend itself to actually being better music, but in this case I can honestly say that these newer pieces are far beyond anything we've done before. If you can believe it, we actually even rock out a little bit.
So, if you go back to my first paragraph above, I will say that my statement about having new music hopefully sometime in the near future is still true. We've lined up some live shows in mid-June and although we won't make any guarantees about having CDs with us at that time, it's definitely a goal to shoot for.
So, this weekend was rather interesting in that TG and I went car-shopping. I've had the same car since the beginning of my senior year of high school (almost 13 years, for those keeping track) and her truck is really nice to have, but not very practical in terms of comfort, so we decided to go ahead and look for something that had air conditioning (something neither of our vehicles have), got good gas mileage (ditto), and was more reliable. We had very specific things in mind when we went looking, and I really think that it helped us in terms of picking something out that will work for us. During the past couple of weeks, we discussed exactly the amount that we wanted to spend, the features that we were looking for, and even managed to narrow it down to the 3 or 4 different car companies that we were most interested in.
In the process of looking, we narrowed things down even more, and despite being tempted by a rather sporty Jetta Wagon, settled on what we feel will be a much more practical car in the Honda Accord. We got a several year-old used model sporting a mid-range number of miles, but we've been told by many people that Accords are not only pretty darn reliable, but seem to run just about forever (in addition to having air conditioning and getting good gas mileage!). So, we didn't break the bank and we got what we hope will be a decent car. There's always the risk of getting a lemon while buying something used, but we tried to take some of the guesswork out of it by doing a lot of research beforehand (including running a CarFax check).
Although I have quite an attachment to my Volvo (aka the Ovlov of love), I'm going to start putting the word out that it's now for sale. Although it has a few little issues, it's been a good car for the 13 years that I've owned it and it has never once left me stranded on the side of the road. Hopefully I can find someone who wants a reliable (and very safe!) car for short commutes or just to beat around town in. It has a bike rack and a sunroof, so it's perfect for the coming summer.
In addition to the car shopping (which took up a good portion of the day on Saturday), we went and bought a good deal of veggie plants and got them in the ground this weekend. We have 8 green pepper plants, 8 cabbage plants (4 red, 4 green), 8 tomatoes (4 big boys, 4 cherry), 4 jalepenos, 2 strawberries, and some chives. The people at the greenhouse told us that herbs would be out this coming weekend, so we'll probably head back and get enough things to fill up our herb garden this coming weekend. In addition to the above, we already have oregano (loads of it), several raspberry bushes, two grape vines, onions, garlic, and some small basil plants in various stages of growth. Provided we get some timely rain (we're getting a nice shower as I type this), the garden should go off this summer. We're both excited about getting some organic veggies from our own backyard, and hopefully it won't involve a battle with the local wildlife in order to keep our plants and veggies safe as they grow. We've been through that before and we don't really want to throw down, but we will if we have to.
Since I finished my commuting book last week, I picked up Checkpoint by Nicholson Baker on the way out the door yesterday morning as my bus reading material. By the time I got to work, I was already almost 50 pages in, and by the time I got home (with about 10 minutes reading figured in at lunch), I was almost finished. I sat down in the living room while throwing the tennis ball for the dogs and finished the book up in about 10 more minutes, giving me a nearly 2-page a minute average for the short book.
Needless to say, it was an easy read, and if you haven't heard the premise yet, it's one that Baker actually found himself in a bit of a pickle about before the book was published. The book takes place all in dialogue style between two characters, one of which is discussing ways in which he is going to try to assassinate the president (GW Bush). The other character spends the length of the book trying to talk the other character down, and while his schemes for actually perpetrating the crime are hairbrained and ludicrous, the book is basically one long rant about the current administration (almost every single point of which I've heard or read somewhere else before) with some small hilarious tidbits thrown in for good measure. It's definitely not the typical Baker book, and in addition to feeling like a shorter book than it was, it ended rather abruptly (in retrospect, though, it was about the only way it could have and still not fall into a category that defies history).
All in all, it definitely wasn't one of my favorite Baker books and it was such a quick and almost uneventful read that it's hard for me to say much else about it. I guess it's an over-the-top portrait of the times or something, but I can't really recommend it. As if to force my brain into something with a little more grist, I started Leo Tolstoy's writings on civil disobedience and non-violence today on the commute.
This weekend, TG and I had what was probably out most productive weekend since buying the house in terms of things accomplished with landscaping and yard work. On Friday evening, we had 7 tons of topsoil delivered, and that night I hauled 7 full wheelbarrows out back where we'd had trees removed and filled in some spots that will no doubt sink a bit once soil condenses. It was a good bit of exercise, but nothing like we'd do the next day.
On Saturday morning, we got up and loaded a bunch of old broken bricks, branches, and bags of leaves and took them all to the landfill north of town. While there, we found some nice volcanic landscaping stones, then stopped at one of the large home centers on the way home and rented a garden tiller and bought some lumber. Once we got home, we started in earnest and TG spent time spreading scores of wheelbarrows full of dirt while I tackled the tiller for several hours. Somewhere in there, we fit in some lunch and then it was back to more work.
We slept in a bit on Sunday and had a late breakfast, then went back at it and moved yet more wheelbarrows full of dirt and cut up all the lumber and finished the raised beds we planned out back. We put one 4x4 foot bed just outside the back door which will become an herb garden, and we put an 8x8 foot raised bed in the area where we'd only had bare dirt since moving into the house. In moving all the topsoil, we also mixed some nearly-finished compost in with it all and generally tried to stir up the dirt as well as we possibly could. After small rainshowers came through all afternoon, we finally decided to pack it in once the rain started coming down steadily and completely caked our shoes with mud.
The final totals for the weekend are two brand new raised beds in back of the house (with nearly 100 square feet of planting space), as well as lots of spots in the yard and around the yard that are now filled in much better with topsoil (as well as seeded with grass). TG also managed to put down a small brick path and fill out the one that runs around the small raised bed. In addition, we also transplanted some plants and planted a couple more things that my family donated to our landscaping needs. In all, we moved roughly 5-6 tons of dirt in the past 2.5 days and the yard is definitely coming along nicely. In the next couple weeks, we'll be planting veggies in the garden and continuing to fill things in as we have time. Needless to say, we're both a bit sore, but very excited about how things are coming together.
In winding down on Saturday (while listening to Arthur Russell), I finished reading Working by Studs Terkel and I have to say that it was one of the most entertaining books that I've read in a long time. Despite being the longest book that I've read this year (almost 600 pages), it flowed really well through the different sections and in certain places made me actually question my career choice and what I do for a living. Despite being written almost 30 years ago and suffering from some time-related issues (very little mention of computers, etc) in terms of what people actually do at their jobs, it never suffers from insight into the human condition and what people have to deal with during the time that they spend working both mentally and physically. It's an absolutely fascinating read. Some of the sections of the book are downright enlightening, and I not only felt slightly bummed-out while reading it in places, but also found myself laughing along with people a bit with some statements made in the book and was touched more than once by statements. I bought it on a whim while seeing it on the shelf at a thrift store and I would highly, highly recommended it.
Much to the sometimes annoyance of my very understanding wife TG, I've found myself following college baseball very closely this year. Most people probably don't know that I actually have a side that's very interested in sports (mainly college football and baseball), and the past couple years I've found myself really interested in listening to college baseball (home team of Nebraska) on the radio when there's a game.
When I was younger, I was really huge into sports, and still try to get out and shoot some baskets when I get the chance or play a round of golf. I used to follow both pro and college sports when I was in junior high and high school, but completely lost interest while I was in college. After college, I slowly started regaining an interest in some of the college sports, but could find myself caring less about the professionals.
I've actually had discussions with those who follow both, and some can't understand why I actually enjoy watching college sports more, when the actual athleticism and level of play is higher at the pro level, but I honestly have to say that those two things don't really matter to me. For one, with free agency, pretty much all pro sports have been destroyed in terms of following an actual team. Even in the early 90s when I followed sports a little closer, players stuck with teams a little bit more, but now the highest dollar almost always wins out and it's impossible to follow a group of players for more than one year. An argument could be made that college baseball is just as hard to follow, with good players leaving college early for the pro draft after three years in some cases, but in that case I would argue that the sheer enthusiasm (and sometimes downright reckless abandon) with which college players play still makes it more interesting to me.
Lastly, I figure I should also mention that I think part of my interest in baseball actually comes down to numbers. Another thing that a lot of people don't know about me is that I have a weird sort of obsession with numbers and patterns. I could care less about large number theory and actually working on equations, but small numbers, patterns, and percentages always seem to creep into my head. I can tell you how much I paid for anything in my entire house, I can often solve small adding or subtractions problems very quickly, and I find myself remembering odd combinations of numbers even if they often don't mean anything to me personally. Because of these things, baseball is just about the perfect sport to find interest in, simply because everything in the game revolves around numbers. There are batting averages, ERAs, hitting streaks, winning streaks, double-play combinations, and so many other percentages and numbers that fly out that listening to the lingo of the game is often a treat in and of itself.
So there, I have outed myself as a sometime sport fan. If you'd rather, I can pretend I never mentioned it and instead go back to discussing the new wave of young Norwegian electronic artists who seem to be popping up all over the place lately.
Last time I wrote, I had just fought through some sort of upper-respiratory thing with coughing and sore throat and the like and I thought I was on the mend. I had a rather nice week of feeling good, and then I was knocked sideways by some variation of the flu that kicked my ass like it has never been kicked before.
Apparently, while my immune system was still a bit weak and my defenses were down, this bug invaded my system and so just over one week ago on Friday I woke up feeling not so great but decided I would go into work anyway. As the day progressed, I felt my body and mind slowing down more and more, until at 2pm I simply decided that I couldn't focus on what I needed to be doing and went home. Upon arriving home, I fell into bed and slept for 3 hours, then woke up for an hour before slamming down into bed again for the night.
That cycle basically repeated itself for three days following, including one day where I didn't have the energy to drag myself out of bed until almost 4pm in the afternoon. My temperature hovered over 100 degrees for several days, but finally I seemed to expel it from my system and get back on the mend (after missing almost 2 days of work).
So, it's now almost a week and a half later and I again feel like I'm over with whatever sickness I had. At this point, I really hope that I've had all that I can have and can instead move forward. While I was sick, I barely felt well enough to even pick up a book or read or work at my computer, and I got behind on several things that I enjoy doing (including reading and writing reviews for my site). I went rollerblading yesterday evening and felt really good, then worked outside in the sun this evening and now I'm ready for the spring to be here full time and get busy with different projects (both inside and outside).
For those still paying attention, Marianas is still recording various bits on 4 different tracks and I swear they will see the light of day at some point in the future. Things are already far, far beyond the tracks on the first disc.