Jon Anderson Show

When I was growing up, I had musical tastes decidedly out of step with my peers. I went through a year or two of listening to nothing but The Beatles, then only gospel music for a while, and loved to blast early Andrew Lloyd Weber (on vinyl) and the Star Wars soundtrack (a much-loved gift from my folks) on our stereo. (I also enjoyed cranking up the car radio as loud as it would go to play “Puff the Magic Dragon”, though that was mostly to confuse the people we drove past.)

One of my very favorite albums, however, was Yes’ Close to the Edge. Since it was released when I was two years old, none of my friends had any affinity for it. I don’t recall ever trying to share it with anyone or convince others of its delights: it was my personal music space that I loved, a place to go to be alone and to enjoy that solitude. In a way, I think sharing it or finding someone else who loved that album might have ruined it for me.

Over the years, however, I haven’t kept up with the band or their goings-on. It was therefore with some astonishment and considerable delight that I read my friend Barry Brake was going to be conducting a choir that would be backing up Jon Anderson, the band’s distinctive vocalist, on Monday at the Majestic theater in San Antonio. I enthused with Barry, who is immensely gifted both as a musician and as a finder-of-interesting-opportunities, about his chance to meet and work with “one of the greats.” He reciprocated by offering to help us lay hands on tickets for the family to come down and see the show — largesse I was thrilled to accept.

To sweeten the deal even further, it turned out that Jon was being backed up not only by the choir, but also by the Youth Orchestra of San Antonio, an excellent symphony orchestra with which I played as a teenager. Though none of the people associated with the group were the same as during my era, it was an added delight to see that group performing again. (And to observe that Orchestra Nerds still look the same 25 years later.)

So Monday night, we all trooped down to the delightful Majestic theater for the show. We arrived early enough for the curious to go roaming through the place, giving ourselves a tour of its baroque wonders as we waited for the music to start. Finally, the lights dimmed, YOSA played an introductory musical segment, and Anderson took the stage.

He was terrific. Even at age 66 after having dealt with some significant health issues, he has a great vocal instrument, and smoothly transitioned from soaring melodic lines to staccato percussive stylings with apparent ease. His trademark high-pitched range is intact, and carries over into his speech. He did a mix of songs he’d done with Yes and his solo work, and was backed up ably by the orchestra and choir. While he apparently performed solo at other points in his tour, I was glad for the additional musicians on stage with him. (After all, what’s “I’ve Seen All Good People” with only a single singer?)

While it was clear that, of our group, I was the one most enjoying the show, the evening as a whole worked out to be a delight for everyone. Maggie, while not much into the performance, enjoyed exploring the Majestic and picking out all of the decorative details. The Brakes’ company is always a delight and, since it was the start of Spring Break week for the young folks, we were able to all troop to Chacho’s for absurdly large piles of nachos and cheap margaritas afterwards.

So big thanks to Jon and Barry for the great start to our Spring Break week!

Little Shop of Horrors

This past January, Abigail had her first experience with the theater. Her high school was staging a production of Little Shop of Horrors, for which she auditioned and got several parts. Given her expressive and dramatic nature, I fully expected her to really cotton to the experience, and was not disappointed. I have a bit of a soft spot for that show, as friends of mine have been in it and I played in the pit band for it at Texas State a couple of years back, so was particularly pleased that would be her inaugural theater experience.

She came back from each rehearsal thrilled with the chance to be part of the show, overflowing with stories about the various things she had worked on that day. All the while, she was accreting a new collection of friends involved with the show whom she seemed to quite enjoy. Rehearsals went on for a long while, with the director eventually pushing the performances back a month or two from their original schedule.

Finally the show started in mid-January, with a scheduled run of three weekends. We had been planning to go on opening night, but Abigail was nervous, and asked that we hold off until the next weekend. We were a bit indignant that some of our friends were getting to see her before we did, but were OK with giving her a little more time to prepare.

Finally, we ventured forth to the 80 seat Black Box theater at the high school, a tiny venue that sold out regularly, but which the director hoped would help the actors better connect to the audience — a good strategy, given that we nearly had actors in our laps at several points. Abigail got to be a member of a crowd scene during Downtown, a TV reporter, a guest on the radio show Seymour was a part of, and a tortured dental patient — a role in which she was able to exercise her considerable talent for ear-splitting screaming. She did a terrific job all around, and it was great fun to see all her work pay off at last.

In addition to Abigail’s thespian talents, we got to see some of Emily’s work: she and the other members of the Art Club had worked together on the various puppets for Audrey II, and did a great job with them. (The smallest of the puppets was entirely Emily’s doing, and looked terrific.)

“Well, what did you think?” I asked Abigail after the run was complete. “Would you do it again?”

thought for a moment about all the hard work, the funky hours, the blisters on her feet, and the stress of trying to keep up with schoolwork, responsibilities at home, and the theater. Then she smiled.

“Yes, definitely.”

Another Chapter for Mom

This past Friday, I got to be a part of my Mom’s wedding.

It was a remarkable and beautiful occasion — beautiful for most of the usual reasons: two people pledging themselves to love and care for each other until their bodies fail them in the task, a community of loving and supportive friends, and the chance for all us married folks to reflect on our own vows along with the couple at the center of the event.

But there were wonderful, unusual aspects to the day as well: both my mother and her new husband, Bill Liles, had been married before, and had previous spouses on hand to cheer and support them. While Bill’s parents were unable to make it down from Pennsylvania to attend the event, the best man had a cell phone in hand for the entire ceremony so that they could listen in and be a part from their home. There were a wealth of children, step-children, and grandchildren of the couple on-hand and involved. The church choir in which they met was there in force both to affirm their union and to provide some great music for the event. (Oh Happy Day!) My mother was celebrating her wedding the day before she celebrated her 70th birthday.

But the best thing of all, to my mind, was that it was the most joyful and happy I have seen my mom in years. Possibly ever. (And, while I don’t have the same history with him, Bill seemed similarly giddy.)

In spite of the fact that just over a month elapsed between the time they decided to get married and the wedding, everything came together beautifully (though not without a certain amount of scrambling). Marti, my mom’s sister, did an amazing job of pulling together the necessary planning, organizing, and communication. Kathy whipped together a lovely program in Word the day of the wedding. (This was especially notable, as she and technology are normally mortal enemies.) And I was honored to get to sing Steven Curtis Chapman’s “I Will Be Here” during the lighting of the Unity candle. (I was wryly amused that the rendition during the ceremony was rougher than any of my practice sessions, and that my doppelgänger brother actually received more comments on it than I did.)

But in spite of the hurried preparations, the evening was terrific and really reflected the character and personality of the couple. Joy, humor, beauty, silliness, tenderness, authenticity, love, and the odd slightly off-color comment were all there in front of the altar with them, and were clearly welcome companions.

So, best wishes and prayers to you, Bill and Diane, as you launch into this next chapter of your lives together. We look forward to walking it alongside you, and are delighted at the joy you have found in each other. Big love to you both.

Christmas Lists

The kids’ Christmas Lists are coming late this year because I had a wicked hard time (that’s for you, Yankee friends) getting them to sit down and write them out. Once I did, they had enormous difficulty coming up with items to put on them. This initially frustrated me until I realized: They’re having a hard time coming up with stuff they want. Our kids…are having a hard time coming up with things to ask people for! They’re actually pretty content! Upon reflection, I was delighted at how difficult generating these lists turned out to be.

That said, here’s what did finally emerge from the process:

Maggie's List

Maggie's List

Liam's List, Page 1

Liam's List, Page 1

Liam's List, Page 2

Liam's List, Page 2

Abby's Christmas List of Doom

Abby's Christmas List of Doom

Emily's List, Page 1

Emily's List, Page 1

Emily's List, Page 2

Emily's List, Page 2

The Need for Beauty

I don’t often post mere links to other people’s essays here, but The Need for Beauty mirrors some of my own thoughts and challenges as a parent and a creative person so nicely that I couldn’t pass it up without pointing more folks towards it. Well worth a read, especially for people who fall into both of those camps.

Tonight’s Excitement

The series of events:

  1. We offer to look after our neighbor’s dog while she’s away.
  2. Our neighbor deposits her keys with us and leaves town.
  3. Liam’s friend Noah comes over to spend the night with us.
  4. We go have spaghetti dinner with friends down the street.
  5. Liam, Noah, Maggie and I return to the house so that they can get chores done.
  6. While I’m sitting in the bedroom, Liam says “Dad! Come quick! Noah can’t breathe!”
  7. I run into the living room. My throat immediately starts burning.
  8. We rush everyone outside.
  9. Liam was worries about Noah, Maggie, and the cats, who are sitting in the front window looking at us.
  10. I hold my breath, go back in and grab the cats. We toss them in the tent we already have set up in the front yard.
  11. Kathy, Abigail, and Abby’s friend Ethan arrive. Kathy and Ethan go in for a moment and quickly get driven back out of the house by the chemical burning.
  12. We call 911, explain the situation, and have a fire truck and ambulance parked outside in about 3 minutes.
  13. After hearing about the situation, the firemen suit up and go inside while the paramedics talk to all of the kids and take their vitals.
  14. The remaining firemen quizz us about cleansers, chemicals, or anything else that might have been spilled. We can’t think of anything.
  15. One of the firemen asks whether we had pepper spray or mace. We answer “No” at first, but then remember that our neighbor’s keychain has some sort of black cylinder attached.
  16. Kathy asks the boys whether they had touched the keys. They assure her they hadn’t. Then she calls Maggie (who has gone over to the neighbor’s house) and asks her. She told Kathy that she had squirted out some of the contents, but had no idea what it was. Mystery solved!
  17. The EMS and firefighters wrap up. We sheepishly thank them and wave them on their way.
  18. Noah’s mom shows up to retrieve him.
  19. As Kathy is explaining the situation to Noah’s mom, she squirts the pepper spray again to demonstrate what happened, upwind from everyone, setting off another round of coughing, irritated throats, and amused recriminations.
  20. Our coughing ends. We repatriate the cats. All is back to normal at last.

Summer Days Out

This has been a fairly quiet summer for us. We’ve had no huge adventures, as we’ve recently had to replace both a minivan and our home HVAC system, leaving us with very little money for substantial trips. I have, however, had the chance to take each of our children out for a day on the town — a long-time family tradition that is always a great deal of fun.

Liam’s outing was first. I planned a day in San Antonio for us starting at the San Antonio Museum of Art. (We didn’t actually make it into the museum, but used it as a base of operations because their free parking lot left us more money for other things.) We strolled down the new Museum Reach, one of my favorite stretches of the Riverwalk, enjoying the sights, reveling in the engineering of the new locks, chatting with the guy who runs the Segway tours (he once knocked Steve Wozniak off a Segway), and taking turns snapping away with the camera. We eventually emerged at the Alamo, got a snow cone, and gave ourselves a tour of that historical site and its historical gift shop. A visit to the Guinness World Records Museum followed a hamburger lunch at Fuddrucker’s. (My mom used to take us to the original one at 410 & Broadway; it’s neat to see Liam’s youthful enthusiasm for the burger place mirror my own, and to once again enjoy a giant burger smothered in that awful/wonderful cheese sauce.) We eventually wandered back to the car and joined my brother and our friend Jonathan for a minor league baseball game, which was tremendous fun in spite of the Missions’ hideous uniforms. A visit to Herbert’s Puffy Tacos capped a terrific day.

Maggie’s outing was next. She had not only lobbied hard to go to Schlitterbahn, but had actually put together an elaborate schedule to make the most of our time there. (“We’ll go to Dragon’s Revenge first, because the line will be shorter. Then we’ll go on the crocodile river, because you don’t have to wait for that…”) With that kind of investment in the idea, I couldn’t refuse. The staff makes subtle tweaks to the various attractions each year, so it was fun to enjoy the usual pleasures of the park while watching for improvements. The lines were punishingly long at times, but Maggie didn’t seem to mind waiting while we played various games and chatted. It’s a great place, and we had a great time, as we always do.

Emily and I returned again to San Antonio for a visit with Paul Soupiset at Toolbox Studios. Paul is a tremendously talented artist/graphic designer, and in many ways a kindred spirit. The time there was great for Emily, as she got another glimpse of what life as an artist could look like, and great for me, as I got to enjoy the company of an old friend while we shadowed him through much of his work day and enjoyed lunch on the river. Later, Emily and I slipped over to the Rivercenter to see The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (better than I expected), and then dropped by Target and Panda Express before catching a bit of Brave Combo at their summer concert in the park. I particularly enjoyed this outing, as Emily and I have had a pretty strained relationship at times in the past, but are enjoying each other’s company a good deal more these days. Knowing that she has only a year more before she’ll likely be moving out on her own, and that this is possibly the last all day outing I’ll have with her as a member of the household made it that much more bittersweet.

Abigail and I bucked the southward trend and headed to Austin. We started with a visit to Tacodeli, to which neither of us had been before, but which immediately catapulted itself into the upper ranks of our favorite places to eat. The Build-A-Bear workshop was next, where Abby chose a panda with a UT bandanna. (She was considering an A&M bandanna to torment her beau, who is a huge UT fan, but eventually decided on the path of peace.) After a bit of mall-wandering, we ended up at Dragon’s Lair, a terrific comics and games store. As I had expected, Abby was very excited by the Doctor Who toys there, and I enjoyed browsing the games with her, talking about GURPS stuff a bit, and pointing out the comics that my friend Ross publishes. We then had an outstanding Thai Lunch at Madam Mam’s, followed by a viewing of Inception at the Alamo Drafthouse, the best cinema in the free world. The last chapter in our romp was a visit to Town Lake Park, which has an extensive and beautiful walkway along the river. We enjoyed the sunset while watching dogs play, seeing the kayakers paddle by, and issuing sotto voce encouragements to the passing male joggers to invest in less revealing shorts.

Reflecting on these trips, I’m once again struck by how marvelously blessed Kathy and I are to have such terrific, interesting, distinct, engaging kiddos. While the demands of parenthood are great, so also are the rewards. I know this chapter of intense daily involvement with these amazing young people will eventually pass, but until that day comes, I’m awfully grateful to have opportunities like these to make the most of the time that we have.

15th Anniversary Weekend

Kathy and I spent this past weekend down in San Antonio to celebrate our 15th anniversary. We had considered traveling farther afield in recognition of the significance of the milestone, but after recently replacing both our van and our home’s air conditioning system, we decided that something more modest would be in order. Since we love the Riverwalk and being able to comfortably walk around a downtown, we decided that would be a great destination for us.

Our plans to start off with tubing on the Comal River — at 3 miles long, the shortest in Texas — were foiled by the recent flooding in New Braunfels. We instead spent the day lounging about the hotel, enjoying some terrific food, and walking the Riverwalk with Adam, my stepbrother, and his wife Celeste. Since we rarely have opportunity to spend time without a juvenile escort from one side or the other, it was a rare treat to simply meander about and have conversations with actual pauses.

I had an idea that on Saturday we should do something truly grand. We started with a game of Carcassonne, got some mexican pastries and a huge glass of horchata to share (yum!), chatted with a photographer we met, did a little shopping for gifts for the kid, and then went back and took a nap. Given how much we have going on around the house most days, the luxury of being able to have a snooze at the same time was a nearly unprecedented delight.

We ate some more wonderful food that afternoon, went out to Mission Concepción for a bit, and then prowled the Riverwalk some more, reveling in the unhurried pace and the chance to soak in each other’s company at length.

Sunday saw us heading for St. Thomas Episcopal Church for a Jazz Mass service, at which our friends Barry Brake, Darren Kuper, and Greg Norris (a.k.a. The Jazz Protagonists) provided the music. We were delighted to also bump into Paul Soupiset and Jason and Erin Young, who had come down for the mass as well. The service was terrific, the music both organic to the service and thoroughly delightful. We afterwards enjoyed the afternoon with the Youngs, Barry and his wife Catherine, with a too-brief stop to visit my dad, my step-mom, and my sister Meara before finally heading back home for a happy reunion with the kiddos.

Our excellent, unhurried, relaxed weekend, full of good friends, good food, and beautiful places was just what we needed. Many thanks to all with whom we got to visit over the weekend, and especially our dear friends who were gracious to take good care of our spawn while we were gone: Faith, my Mom, Steven & Christina, and Sam & Alba. You guys are great, and we deeply appreciate the generosity and love you showed us and our young ones.

A Few More Thoughts on GURPS

About a week and a half ago, Abigail, Liam and I got together with their friends Ryan and Eleen, my cohort Jason Young, and my brother Chris for another round of GURPS, the tabletop roleplaying game we’ve been enjoying lately. I had been planning to run an adventure in a Science Fiction setting this time around, but time grew short, so I instead grabbed one of the free D&D modules that’s available on the internet and quickly adapted it. Science Fiction is still certainly in our future, but since I have to do more inventing for that, it’s going to take a while longer.

The session went well: I got to use the GM’s Screen I received for Christmas, the players got through a little bit more than I expected them to, and found the dungeon guardians less of a challenge than I’d thought they would, due mostly to Liam’s somewhat unbalanced combat specialist character. Kathy very graciously kept us all supplied with food and drinks throughout the 6 hour long play time.

One interesting thing I noticed this time around was the marked difference in how the younger folks and the adults approached the game. Jason was playing as Gront the Dwarf, who would be a familiar sort of figure for anyone who saw John Rhys-Davies’ version of Gimli. Chris’ character went by the nom de guerre Jimmy Softshoe, and had the interesting quirks that he only referred to himself in the third person and he hated poetry. Both of the adults really engaged with and enjoyed the role-playing aspects. Jimmy screamed in frustration when the party encountered a sphinx with rhyming riddles, and Gront gruffly exclaimed “no tossing the dwarf!” when the party faced a chasm they had to cross.

The kids, on the other hand, almost entirely ignored the role-playing aspects except when forced to deal with them. (Liam, for example, wasn’t allowed to participate in decision-making and problem solving because his character’s intelligence was too low.) They instead spent hours beforehand figuring out how they could use their allotted points to make their character the most effective fighter (in the case of the boys), or finding the perfect character portrait for their winged elf (the girls). Even after traversing a particularly tricky obstacle, Ryan asked me “Was there a better way to do it?” still apparently thinking about optimizing the game system rather than having successfully navigated an obstacle.

But regardless of the play style, everyone enjoyed the time a great deal. I really like the cooperative spirit that develops during these things, and look forward to our next session.

The Long Broccoli Con

When I was  12 years old, I was not a vegetable eater.

This was a problem, because my dad and his wife were on the Pritikin diet at the time. For those of you not familiar with this diet, it allows you to eat anything at all, as long as it doesn’t taste good. Thus, unsalted steamed vegetables, boiled chicken and water with (oh, luxury!) a squeeze of lemon were mainstays of our dinner hour — items no self-respecting American tween wants anything to do with.

I would have simply gone on a hunger strike, or subsisted on cans of tuna I’d smuggled in and secreted into my bedroom, but for one problem: the 3 bite rule.

The 3 bite rule was this: I was not permitted to leave the table until I’d had at least 3 bites of whatever made up the meal: three bites of your flavorless, slimy chicken, three bites of salt-free vegetable medley, and three bites of repellent boiled spinach. I combated this rule in various ways: hiding food under other food, putting vegetables in my shoe and walking on my toes until I could get to the bathroom and unload them, and even by sticking them to the underside of the table. (Sorry about that, folks!)

My parents, however, gradually wised up to most of these tricks, and thus I was left with no options when broccoli night rolled around. Broccoli was my arch-nemesis in the food world, my kryptonite, a sort of instant ipecac I wanted nothing to do with. I was convinced that Achilles podiatry problem stemmed from having a bit of the cruciferous vegetable covering his heel when he got dunked in the Styx.

“I’m not going to eat it,” I staunchly informed my dad.

“Then you’re not going to leave the table,” he rejoined.

“Ok, fine,” I said, adding under my breath “Let’s see who breaks first.”

An hour rolled past. Then two. Then three.

“Eat your broccoli and you can leave the table.”

“Nope. I’m not going to do it. I refuse to eat the broccoli.”

Four hours. Five.

“Come on, seriously, eat the broccoli. This is ridiculous.”

“No. I told you I wouldn’t eat it, and I’m not going to.”

Six hours.

“Sean, eat the stupid broccoli. You don’t want to be here, and I don’t want to be here.”

“Absolutely not. I don’t want to eat the broccoli, I told you I wouldn’t, and won’t.”

Six and a half hours.

“Well, Sean, I’m impressed. You nearly have my record from when I was a kid beat. I lasted 7 hours before I gave up and finally ate my vegetables.”

“What? Really? Well, I’m still not going to eat it.” But, I thought, I’m in striking distance of his record.

Seven hours and one minute, I ate three (doubtless infinitesimal) bites of broccoli and leaped up from the table, pumping my fist, waggling my hinder, and generally being obnoxious in the way that only a self-satisfied twelve year old boy can:

“I beat dad’s record! And I’m free! In your face, Dad! Haha, I’m more stubborn than you are! I RULE!”

Needless to say, this became an oft-recounted chapter of family history, told regularly over the next 20 years. As my own kids achieved vegetable-hating age, this became one of their favorite stories.

“Tell us about the broccoli again!” they said one night about two years ago when we were visiting Dad and his wife for dinner. (They are mercifully no longer on the Pritikin diet, so we’ll sit down to meals with them willingly. My step-mother, as it turns out, is a great cook when she’s allowed to use salt.)

So, I recounted the epic tale: the baleful 3 bite rule, the smuggling of vegetables, Scarlett Pimpernel-style, to their freedom, Dad’s and my epic clash, and my eventual heroic triumph over the oppressive forces of good nutrition. Yay me!

“You know what the best part of that story is?” my Dad asked my kids as I glowed in my remembered victory.

“What?” they asked breathlessly.

“It’s not true. I never sat at the table for 7 hours when I was a kid.”

I don’t know what happened for the next 15 seconds, because my brain completely froze up. Dad had never held vegetable vigil? Granddad didn’t make him stay at the table to finish his food? He made that up? Then that means…I didn’t beat him. He suckered me! That means that 25 years ago…DAD REALLY WON! NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

“I’VE BEEN LIVING A LIE!” I wailed. Every minute or so. For the next two hours.

I couldn’t believe that Dad had sat on that for two and a half decades. I was amazed both at his canniness and patience (and a bit at my own credulity). The long con is one of my favorite devices in stories and movies, and I now had a prime example from my own experience.

In a few weeks, I’ll be going down to spend a few days with Dad, who is still wheelchair bound in the wake of his car accident. I’ll have more than 7 hours a day alone with him, so I’m bringing chocks for the chair’s wheels. And a vegetable steamer. And broccoli. Lots and lots of broccoli.