The Briefcase

The Briefcase

Thursday, March 24, 2011


The Traveling Circus and Snake Handling Show, 
aka Seanan McGuire's Latest Book Release Party

So last Saturday we piled in the car in the pouring rain and went on up to San Francisco for Seanan's book release party for her latest book, Late Eclipses, at Borderlands Books, which is an invitingly warm and cozy place filled with bookshelves floor to ceiling along on Valencia Street. The place was packed when we got there, filled to capacity and the band was playing. We were late and so we missed most of their first set, which included some of my favorites. Ah well.
Part of the band; Seanan and Tony joined in at various points also.
I was a bit overwhelmed by the crowd at first (I don't usually do well in big crowds for whatever reason) and I was almost ready to squiggle back out the front door until Paul reminded me of my camera in my backpack. And oddly enough, pulling out my trusty camera and going into 'look around for visual candy' mode helped me relax tremendously and see everyone there as interesting individuals, rather than as a big mob. So I took lots of pictures throughout the evening; the quality of the shots is grainy and blurry, but most of them are up for people to see if they wish over at my Picasa album site. (Picasa will let you look through them as a slideshow or even buy prints if you feel so inclined.).
Seanan answers questions, as well as imitating a zombie...
Seanan puts on a darned fine book release party. Cupcakes were served, Seanan was her usual wild and entertaining self, joking around, answering questions, signing books for a huge pile of people who waited patiently in line towards the end of the evening. And of course there was the live music from the band, formed this time of Betsy Tinney and her cello, Vixy and Tony, and the Bohnhoffs, and of course Seanan herself. It all made for a wonderful combination of songs and styles and created a festive party mood for the entire evening.
Party atmosphere!
There were raffle tickets and plenty of prizes, balloons which ended up being given to the kids and several Q&A sessions inbetween music sets and book signing.
Balloons make a late night better.
Seanan signed a variety of goodies.
Seanan and her mom take a moment.
Kate ran the signing table with great aplomb.
singing with multi-part harmonies
Jeff smiling!!
Vixy and Maya
Answering questions.
Tony noodling out a part in the back room .
Stealth knitting of socks during a music set.
Best-dressed.
The Borderlands staff sold a bunch of books with patience and good humor.
Well, there's a sampling. The photos don't really do it justice. Seanan throws a great book release party.

Authors have amazingly difficult jobs, when you think about it. They have to be multi-tasking, multi-talented in so many ways. Not only do they have to be good writers, constantly working at getting better at their chosen craft, but they also have to combine a whole different set of skills in order to be successful as writers. I've heard people say "oh, they're so lucky that they got published", or "how lucky that that extra stuff required of authors now comes so easily to them" and you know, there's not much luck involved at all. It's a lot of hard work, being prepared for any opportunities that come along, doing the research to know what's necessary to get published and promote oneself in this day and age. Luck is a myth and none of the authors I know have had a lick of luck; they all work damned hard for where they've gotten. So I don't want to hear any more comments about how lucky someone is or how easy somebody's got it. The old cliche about 'Luck favors the prepared' is true.

Seanan works mind-bogglingly hard on her writing, but she also is quite savvy about social media, having an active blog as well as her own website, and she puts a lot of work into setting up guest appearances (book release parties among them), keeping up with reviews and fans and all the many other things that writers need to do now in order to become successful in any way. All of that is in addition to all the time she spends writing (she's incredibly prolific). She works full time at her day job and still finds time to write her books and her poetry. She writes and performs her own music, and does many guest spots at various conventions. She jokes that she doesn't sleep much, but it's really not a joke.

She works so hard, and we've watched Seanan work hard for many years to get where she is right now. I've heard some people say that she's an overnight sensation because she's had three books published in a single year, she catapulted onto the New York Times Best-Seller List, she was nominated and won the John Campbell award for best new writer, all in this past year. But the bald fact is that Seanan has been working flat out like a demon for years to get here. She's worked hard at all of it. And she hasn't sold her soul to the devil to achieve it all; she's still her own lovable, quirky, weird and wildly intelligent self that we know and love.

I'm so happy that she's now getting recognition for all that hard work. And of course it doesn't end; she'll keep working flat out to write more books, make more appearances, write more songs and start a new album along with everything else she does. I think she deserves another Mad Hatter cupcake with a Diet Dr. Pepper at the very least.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011


This Dog.

You see this dog? This is what he looked like when we first got him. He still looks just like this.
Yoda Bob Dog doing what he loves best: running.
See this sweet, harmless little mutt dog that we got from a rescue place two years ago? This is Yoda Bob Dog. He looks harmless enough, right? He's well behaved, he's friendly (unless you ring the doorbell or knock loudly, then he sounds like a vicious pack of rabid wolves), he's very affectionate.

He stays home a lot. I try to take him on walks fairly often, but work and kids and my crazy schedule don't always mean regular walks. He stays home alone a fair amount, and it's not usually a problem; he gets chew bones and he has the three cats for company and he seems pretty content most of the time. All of us have one of those days every now and then, though. Even Yoda. Yesterday. Yesterday he had one of those days.

Yesterday I got the boys home from school and we dived into homework and science fair projects. Riley is doing a project on seeing what happens to bones when you put them into acids and bases and coke over an extended period. Well, since the science fair deadline is fast approaching, he's running low on what qualifies as an 'extended period' for his science project, so we were getting that project in gear, and all was going well. We had the bones and the containers ready, but we ran out of time to get it all put together before we had to get Casey to his piano lesson, so we left the project in what we thought was a safe place on the table with the bones in safe places. We thought.
You know that face. The uh oh, I'm in trouble, please love me anyway face.
Oh, is it that obvious? You already know where this is going, right? Yeah. Guess who got up on the dining room table and carefully, neatly, snagged some of the precious bones for the Science Fair Project delicately out of their container, took them away to hide and then chewed them?

It took a little while to figure out what had happened when we got back; Yoda was acting incredibly guilty, slinking around and hiding, so we knew something was up. Riley eventually discovered that some of his bones were missing, and then we started finding the evidence. Yoda got yelled at, swatted and put out in the back yard for an extended time out while we attempted to salvage the bone project. The bones were chicken bones that had been carefully cleaned and prepared (don't even ask about the stench from the extended bone cleaning process). So we salvaged some of them, found some other bones we could use to fill in on the project and managed to salvage the project with some new measurements and data. Yoda languished pitifully outside for some time, then went off and disappeared in the depths of the back yard for awhile, and finally Riley begged me to let him back in, saying that he'd been in time out long enough. So he let him in, and the stench that came in with him and immediately permeated the entire house was indescribable. He'd gone and rolled in something in the back yard. Whether it was cat poo or something dead I'm not sure, but it was amazingly vile. And it was smeared in great quantities all over his head and neck.

After dragging Yoda out of his little bed under my desk (and getting the Vile Goo all over myself as well), it was off to the bathtub with Yoda and Riley and me, where we proceeded to give the dog a bath with Dawn dishwashing liquid. I have found through hard-won experience that Dawn cuts through just about any horrible smelly substance that an animal has rolled in; soaps or shampoos or even dog shampoos don't do as well. Yoda got well washed and Riley had a long hot shower after Yoda was done and I got soaked between the washing and the dog shaking off water after. Stupid dog.

Still watching Yoda to make sure the bones didn't do anything bad to his insides, but he seems fine. And he's very relieved that he's not banished forever. Though I was sorely tempted. Dogs.








Sunday, March 20, 2011

Casey's California State Competition In Gymnastics.

Friday was a very long day. We left around noon to drive down to the middle of California's Central Valley, near the Harris Ranch off of Highway 5. It ended up being like a 3 1/2 hour drive each way. Turns out that there's a gymnastics academy in Visalia. Normally their team has been making a very long commute to all the gymnastics meets in the northern California area, but yesterday they got the last laugh, since the State Competition was held in their area, near Lemoore. The land there is amazingly flat. Prairie flat, no hills. Well, it is the Central Valley. But I digress.

So we drove with one of Casey's teammates, Griffin, and his mom, Kathy, through some of the hardest rain we've had so far this winter. We got into Lemoore, drove past the big showy Tachi Palace, a reservation gambling resort, (and I stupidly made a joke about the Tacky Palace; I think it's actually pronounced Tah-chee) and drove on past it through open fields to the Tachi Yokut Reservation, where the meet was actually being held. The Santa Rosa Rancheria Tribal Center was new and quite nice, with a full playground inside the compound and various buildings for various community activities around the center, including a big gym where the meet was being held. I had no idea there was a reservation out in that part of the Central Valley before this; but it's really good to see that the tribe there is doing well thanks to the Tribal gambling agreements. It's revitalizing their tribe and helping raise their educational levels as well as their economic levels. More power to them, even if I don't gamble myself.

The actual competition was pretty tough; all of the best gymnasts from around the state were there, so there were some really amazing scores and phenomenal athletes competing there. Casey was on rings first, but didn't have as strong a routine as he has done in the past; I don't know whether he was psyched out or whether the long drive affected him or what, maybe a combination, but he didn't have as strong a showing as he's done at other meets this season.
 
Casey at the beginning of the rings routine.

Pommel. The judge on the far right has been involved with Boy's Gymnastics for over 50 years, I think.

The Mushroom, part of the pommel horse routine for the lower levels.

Mike spots Casey on the third flip in a row on the warm-up for the floor routine.

Griffin, Coach Michael, Nathan, Casey after the meet. Relieved. Goofy.
Casey did still place 7th on rings, earning a medal, but I know he was disappointed in how he did, especially on the parallel bars, where he had a serious balance bobble issue on the first handstand. He still got a respectable score on that, surprisingly, though it was really hard to watch as a parent. Heart in the throat wondering if he was going to have a serious fall and all that. He didn't fall, by the way, he managed to recover, but it was a near thing. Despite all of that, he still came in 17th all-around of the boys competing at Level 6. So he qualified to go on to Regionals, along with his teammate Griffin, who squeaked in under the wire to qualify as well. Hopefully driving with our noisy, rowdy crew hasn't put Griffin and his mom off from traveling together again in the future!

The drive home was easier, since the rain wasn't as heavy, and we played a lot of music for Kathy while the boys played hand-held games in the back and eventually crashed out. We introduced her to the music of Sam Baardman, which she really liked. There's some samples to listen to here, including Solar Flare, the song that Dave and Tom have made so popular in filk circles. (Paul and I want to work up a version with guitar and harmonica, eventually. Love that song.)  I'll also mention that Sam is a highly accomplished photographer and his dedicated photography website is a real treat for the eyes. So thanks to our long drive, there's another Sam Baardman fan out there now. :)

So, next month, Casey goes to the Western Regional Championships in Oakland, which is fortunately close to home and therefore affordable. Next year Regionals are in Hawaii, which will be a lot more problematic in so many ways. But Hawaii! It's a whole year away, though, so who knows what'll happen. I've never been to Hawaii... But money, and time off work, and all the hassles. But Hawaii!


Friday, March 11, 2011

Where I Live
What makes a place home? The land? A place? A set of things? The people? Contentment with life, the loveliness in the hills or in the flowers or in the faces, perhaps...

I've been having a hard time thinking about what I could say about the topic of 'where I live'.  Maybe because I grew up not considering any place really home, with all the moving we did and thinking that everyone lived out of boxes in their rooms. But I've come to realize that I have learned to put down roots, and the wider answer of 'where I'm from' has to be answered with 'California'. Born and and raised in enough parts of it to feel pretty much at home anywhere in the whole big state. I like this place with its vast variety of landscapes and incredible diversity of people. I feel connected to the land almost any place I go in this state and I get choked up about it if I think about it too closely.
Mojave Desert, California. Snowy Sierra Nevadas in the distance.

This isn't where I live now. It's one of the many places we lived when I was a kid. I took this picture on my first camera, a little Kodak Instamatic, when I was around 8. California was the one consistent thing about all the various places we lived. My folks both came out here from Missouri, and they liked the weather and the people enough to stay even though they moved around a lot. I liked living in the Mojave Desert; having to ride a yellow school bus to school every morning and afternoon (2 stops after the boy who lived out at a silver mine), walking home on the washboard dirt road that started at the saloon and went off into the desert, hopping and skipping along the ridges in the road after awhile because the soles of our shoes got so hot. At that point we lived in a tiny rental house on the outskirts of town. There was lots of spiky, dangerous cholla cactus that grew just along the fence line and people rode their horses past our yard. My sister and I ran around in the desert all the time catching lizards and horny toads and learning to avoid scorpions and how to watch for rattlers and recognize sidewinder tracks. We moved into town there, then later left the desert to chase jobs in other places like San Diego. I eventually left home and went off to college at Davis and finally ended up in the San Francisco Bay Area.

I love this area; there are so many things within easy distances and there's not much missing in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. I know it pretty well now through exploring all over, going for drives on little twisty back roads through the redwoods and all. I started a collection of pictures called 'home' over on my Flickr site and when I look through it there are pictures of my house and garden and all, but also pics of the Bay Area, some of my favorite haunts, as well as pics from all over California. I love having that feeling of connection to all these spread-out places.

Mission Peak from the Niles District, Fremont, California
This was taken recently, over in the Niles area of Fremont. I realized that we've lived in the Fremont area now for over 20 years. I think it's closer to 30 years, actually. We moved to this part of the San Francisco Bay Area from Davis so that Paul could go to work at Atari Games and I could commute to art school in San Francisco. The Bay Area is one of the most expensive places to live in the whole US; within the area Fremont was one of the most affordable but still a nice town with lots of diversity, a progressive attitude and hills and preserved wild areas to hike around. And somehow we've stayed, had our kids here and they're growing up here in this town. They've gone to the same primary school since Kindergarten, which seems very odd to me, but it's normal to them to have friends they've known most of their lives. They've lived in the same house all of their lives. Now and then it makes me stop and marvel at what that might be like, the consistency of friends and family and places in their lives.
Our front side yard.
Living in the same house for years now has grown into something I hold onto tightly. I do sometimes resent all the care and upkeep that doesn't happen around our place, since I'm the one who has to do it and there's never enough money to maintain things as they need to be; our back yard is big and wild and overgrown. There are Pine and Redwood and Sequoia trees I planted as seedlings in the back yard 10, 15 years ago that are huge, towering trees now. They are wonderful majestic presences back there, and I find myself hoping that they'll be allowed to stay there growing ever taller, long after I'm gone.

I found out just how attached to this place I was a year or so ago when Paul's unemployment and my inability to bring in enough money made us seriously look at relocating somewhere else where there might be jobs. I was very resistant to the idea of leaving my house and this area, clinging desperately to the hope that we'd find more work again here. We did eventually, but costs are still high and salaries have lowered; finances are still a big problem. These are tough economic times all over, though, and it still seems to me that things might not be any better in other places. After all, I grew up in a family that chased the dream of better times, better places all over California. And Buckaroo Banzai was right; no matter where you go, there you are. And all of your problems do come with you.

It doesn't feel sensible, or rational, to have grown so attached to this house, this town, the community of friends that I hold dear, but it's happened slowly over time, imperceptibly. I see clouds out over the Bay sometimes while I'm out running kids around and it makes me take a deep breath or two. I have formed deep friendships here, put down roots, which I used to think I'd never be able to do; having to leave here would be very hard now. I'm not sure if it's a side effect of growing older, having kids or having to take responsibility for a lot of hard things, but sometimes I find myself despairing over local and wider politics and economic situations, which I never did when I was more of a transient presence in places I lived before. I have more at stake now, and I care about what my kids will have to deal with. I find my deepest wish for them is that they have long, happy, fulfilling lives, and if I can help that come about by being more involved in the wider community, then it seems like I have to try. It's really hard; my introvert tendency is to want to back away, but having local friends helps pull me out of my shell.

I joke that if we ever had to move we'd be in deep trouble, but it's not far from the truth, since we've accumulated a lot of stuff over the years we've been here. I'm rather a packrat and Paul is worse. I like lots of colorful things, well-crafted artistic things. Seeing other artists' work all around me is inspiring and gives me more ideas, though the clutter does get out of control. I like having things where I can see them, otherwise it's like living out of boxes again and I find the old saying of 'out of sight, out of mind' to be true. I'm too sentimental, it's true. I get too attached to things and to lose them is painful. When you combine two packrats and two kids and all of their accumulated stuff, it gets more than a bit crazy.

I like having a clean, comfortable place where you come in and breathe a sigh of relief and relax from the pressures of the day. Keeping an immaculate, stylish house has never been at the top of my list. Life is too busy, too short and way too interesting to worry about an artificial set of standards imposed by... who? So instead we have a messy, chaotic house and I get embarrassed about the state of the house and I'm rather careful about who we invite over. I admit it's silly; anyone who comes over who's likely to be judgmental isn't likely to be a friend I want to keep around, so why should it matter? Still working on that one.
Casey reading "Through the Looking Glass".
If I question where I live, one of the questions has to be where does my heart live? With Paul and the boys, obviously, but I have found out the hard way that I need to take better care of myself, both my body and my mind and heart. If I totally give over everything of myself into taking care of everybody else I get angry, impatient, dissatisfied with life. It's proving to be harder than you'd think to actually consider my own needs as well as the boys'. I need to be able to create things; I crave that creative outlet. I do a lot of different stuff and it could be argued that I'm too scattered to accomplish much in any one area, but I get bored doing the same things for too long. A lot of the satisfaction in creating turns out to be in the process of learning new things, trying new approaches and reaching for new abilities, new skills. I need time alone to recharge, but I find I also need time to sit and talk with the boys at the end of the day, time to talk with friends too. I miss all of my long-distance friends and having visits with time to sit around and talk about life and everything are treasured things, intense bursts of social interaction that recharge me for extended periods.

My natural tendency is to be introspective and moody. I decided a while back that I had a choice and I could decide to keep a positive outlook and savor the small moments that happen in a day. Paul would snort and laugh to hear me say that, since he gets the brunt of the times when I feel overwhelmed and dissatisfied, but I do make conscious efforts to enjoy life. Life is short and unpredictable and the older I get the more I believe that those little moments only come along once. My working theory is that the key to a well-lived life may be the ability to recognize and enjoy those fleeting gifts. And yeah, it sounds sappy, but some things are cliche for a reason.

Debbie and I went on a walk around Lake Elizabeth recently, and we talked as we walked by trees in bloom about loss; deaths of family members and friends and how hard it can be to really talk about such things to others who haven't passed through those ordeals yet. We talked about feeling our own mortality and contemplating our own deaths and how quietly and matter-of-factly we considered it. And we talked about how it doesn't feel acceptable to openly speak of such things; it really disturbs people. And yet, if you never consider such things, how do you know what really matters to you and what you want to accomplish and see or do until it's really too late?

It's not as simple as a 'bucket list', it's about making choices all the way along about how you want to live and the attitudes you choose to live by and what you see and smell and listen to and savor in your life. It's about trying the best you're capable of to find the best path through the hard places, to live a positive, loving and meaningful life on your own terms without worrying about what society thinks. It's also about how you approach dealing with losing your loved ones or your own loss of health or eventual demise. It's such hard stuff and not something people want to think or talk about and yet everyone eventually goes through it.

It was such a relief to talk to Debbie so openly about it and find her attitudes mirrored mine so well. Life is such a gift, not to be wasted, and yet of course you can't savor every moment of every day; the mundane necessities of life continue on despite anything monumental that might be happening in our lives, and the very fact that life swirls on around you when one of these huge events happens can make everything feel very surreal. But I'm finding, after my own episodes of loss and bad health and bad luck with cancer and other issues, that maybe the little fleeting moments are the bits that stick, the ones I'll remember down at the end of the road. Those bits of beauty that make the breath catch in your throat, those chords of music that make you tear up uncontrollably, that thing a friend says that hits so close to home that you stop in your tracks, even if it's just for a few seconds. And maybe that's going to be enough to feel it's been a life well lived.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Consonance 2011

Wednesday already, and the week is slipping by me. I've been processing photos taken at Consonance like a mad person, and they're in a convenient album over on Picasa. Feel free to see them as a slide show to get the flavor, and if you want to download certain ones or get prints, please do. Just don't use them for commercial purposes without permission, please. Lots of pics of wild musicians hanging out playing guitars and such.
Tony and Jeff during open filking on Friday night.

Music cons used to be a very integral part of our life; time constraints and kids and lack of funds have made us really cut back on how many we can go to these days. It's a great bonus for us that Consonance happens once a year at a hotel about a mile and a half from our house. The boys love going. This year was the first year that Riley really felt like a part of the action; he joined in the Friday night drum circle, sat in on Joe Giacoio's Guitar Workshop (though it's hard to know at this stage how much he got out of it; he's now experimenting with Open D guitar tuning) and he joined the Sunday night Rock Jam. With great enthusiasm, as you can see:

Riley at the Rock Jam. Taken by John O'Halloran with my camera.
The concerts that I managed to get to were great; Margaret and Kristoph entertained the crowd with their usual impeccable performance abilities. Kristoph runs sound during the whole convention, as well as loaning all of their sound equipment for the duration of the con. It's hard to guess what Consonance would do without his generosity with his equipment and his skills and time.

Margaret and Kristoph.
Chris Malm, the International Guest over from the UK, played a set with a fun mixture of funny, sad and spooky songs that were all new to me.
Chris Malm in concert.
I loved his voice as well as his accent. Oh shut up. I know it's a cliche to love other people's accents, I don't care. Great performance all around.
The Guests of Honors' concert set was amazing and hilarious. Maybe you had to be there. It ended up with Joe's song about men wearing women's clothing and had a whole crew of guys wearing aprons on stage dancing and a bra that ended up being thrown into the audience...
How to explain?
Carla Ulbrich and Joe Giacoio are pro musicians who come to the filk cons when asked and join wholeheartedly in with the madness and chaos. Well, at their GOH concert they created a whole new level of crazy chaos and mayhem.Their soundcheck was a whole experience in itself.

 
Joe during the soundcheck. Best.Soundcheck.Ever.

Carla did a number of her funny songs, and read an excerpt from her new book, which sounds like a winner. I may have been wheezing the loudest at her list of things you don't want to hear when you've been diagnosed with a chronic illness, since it all hit close to home. Funny, poignant stuff. As one would expect from a wit like Carla.
Carla reads a list of What Not To Say from her new book.
Joe is one of the most innovative and unusual guitars players I've ever seen; he does wild percussive things with both hands while playing a song as well as singing. You'd have to see and hear it to believe it, really.
Joe gets crazy with his guitar.
Then he invited guys up on stage and launched into the song about wearing women's clothing. Now the rumor was that whenever he performs this song, the joke is on the volunteers and they end up slinking away as they realize what the song is saying. Not this crowd. Aprons got tossed up on stage, the guys donned them and formed a chorus kick-line while singing lustily along.

And there was the bra thing, too.
Let's just be clear; it wasn't Carla's bra.
A raucous good time was had by all, needless to say.
Kris, Maya, Jeff Bohnhoff with crazed interloper Debbie Ohi.
And all that was only up to Saturday night; I missed a number of great concerts because i was busy Saturday during the day. Sunday brought a whole new set of concerts and workshops.

At Joe's guitar workshop.
Paul's concert went smoothly and he did a number of funny and serious songs with the help of various guest musicians asked up to help out.

Debbie on flute, Paul, Vixy and Kathleen on vocals.
He also snuck in a few joke songs aimed at some select people. Debbie was prominently featured and swore revenge:
Paul's song about Debbie Taking Over The World.
And Jeff and Maya had their own concert, a tour-de-force of witty lyrics, soaring vocals and guitar wizardry.
Jeff, Tony, Maya and Vixy.
Jeff and Maya's daughter Kris joined them on a couple of songs as well.
Kris singing lead on 'Stuck On Tattoine Again'.
And Jeff got to rock out with his electric guitar:
Jeff bonds with his electric guitar.
And of course the kids all hung out together, soaking in the music as a natural way of life and having a great time together.
Amanda shows Casey how to make really big bubbles.
The next generation of The Zombie Apocalypse.
Amanda's mad bubbleology skills.
The kids in action.
Altogether a fun, satisfying weekend full of lots of great music, humor and good friends we don't see nearly often enough. sigh.