Morning Meditationals

I've been regularly and diligently meditating every morning for about 15 minutes. I rarely skip it, although I missed a few during the intensive rock-n-roll road trip to SXSW with Sunspot in mid-March.

I find meditation to be remarkably beneficial and a great way to start the day. It's kind of a zen disciplinary exercise that simultaneously achieves a small daily goal and readies my mind for the day. I think it helps me handle stress better too.

When I first started daily meditation, I used to find guided meditation soundtracks on Youtube to listen to while I did it. Now I just select music from my archival CD collection, which accomplishes two things. It improves my focus, because I tune in on the music rather than extraneous thoughts, and I revisit music from my collection that I have not listened to for a while.

This morning, I withdrew a quasi-bootlegged Grateful Dead CD, "Dick's Picks Volume 9," from my CD rack. Some guy named Dick used to go to pantloads of Grateful Dead shows and record them, then make CDs and sell them. I am not sure if these can be called true bootlegs, because the Grateful Dead fully endorsed people like Dick taping shows and sharing them around. Conversely, I think the intent was that such recordings should be shared for free amongst fans of the band and I am pretty sure the many volumes of Dick's Picks that were made were sold for profit. Nonetheless, I believe Dick had special permission from the band to do what he did, so I still don't think his "picks" were bootlegs in the truest sense, but it seems like a good topic for me to look into and write about for a subsequent post.*

In any case, I did a full 30 minutes of meditation this morning because these jams that the Grateful Dead perform live tend to go on for quite some time and I might only hear about a song and a half if I limited my meditation to 15 minutes. The GD are an OK band, even if their songs tend to be a bit languid. They weren't too obsessive about tuning all their instruments perfectly or singing on key, but the song structures and chord progressions are pretty interesting. I'd like to have a band that covers Dead songs with a bit more energy and edge, maybe in a grunge or punk rock style.

*Quick and Dirty Note: Dick was an audio archivist for the band and worked with the band's studio recording engineer to master the live recordings for commercial publication. When Dick died, a dude named Dave took over the role (Dave's Picks).


We Tied the Knot

Deborah and I got married on Saturday. It was a small and awesome "courthouse" affair, but since the courthouse was closed on Saturday, the judge (aka, justice of the peace), one Paul Higginbotham, came to us instead. We sealed the deal a little after 3 PM at Deborah's parents' house on Lake Mendota. We wanted to do it outside on the deck or in the backyard, but it was too windy and everyone's hair and dresses would have blown all over the place. The living room worked just fine for the short and sweet proceedings. We didn't want a big, expensive, conventional wedding and so we didn't have one, something that many people couldn't seem to get their heads around at first, although all eventually did. We didn't want a lot of gifts or glam. Definitely no churchy stuff, both of us being dirty atheists. We kept it very modest and it was perfect in every way, exactly what we were hoping for. We didn't send out any invitations and told our immediate family that in-person attendance was totally optional, so with the exception of my parents, who flew out from Ohio, attendees were mainly all family that lived nearby in Madison WI. I ran video of the parsimonious ceremony using my smart phone so Deborah's and my siblings, living in Florida and Colorado, respectively, and Deborah's parents, on an Asian cruise, could watch it if they wanted to at their convenience. The wonders of modern technology...

After the paperwork was signed, the eight people in attendance (me, Deborah, Devon, Gretchen, Julie, Josh, and my mom and pops) all went out for a fantastic dinner at a fancy Italian restaurant called Naples 15, downtown. I highly recommend this place. Great food, fun staff. The chef had called Deborah ahead of time to arrange a special five course meal for our group, not even aware that it was a wedding party. There was a pantload of food, all of it amazing. We couldn't eat it all, and we gave the leftovers to the kids, Josh, Devon, and Gretchen, so that Deborah and I would not be tempted by it on Sunday (Side Note: I gained six pounds between the Saturday night feast and Sunday morning, most of it just actual food weight that should dissipate soon.).

Deborah and I have been living together as domestic partners for over a year now, so the wedding was, for us, frosting on the cake, figuratively speaking (there was no actual wedding cake, though the dinner at Naples 15 included a dessert of angel food cake, with pear sauce, not frosting...).

On Sunday, Deborah and I were pretty wiped out, notwithstanding the relatively low stress wedding on Saturday. We lazed about for most of the morning and in the early afternoon, we took my parents out to lunch at Ha Long Bay, a fabulous Thai resturant on the east side of Madison. Then we went over to the Memorial Union Terrace on the campus of the University of Wisconsin - Madison and chillaxed overlooking the lake. My mom and pops got a couple cones of the infamous Babcock ice cream, made from milk from cows at the UW's Research Dairy Barn.*

Right now, I'm free writing at the Mezz, a little common area with a bar on the second floor of the Festival Foods grocery store downtown. This morning, I had breakfast with my parents at their hotel before taking them to the airport. After they left, I drove over to the airport cell phone lot and turned on the Uber and Lyft driver apps. In short order, I got pinged for a ride from an arriving air passenger. He was a university professor from Austin TX, in Madison for the day to attend a meeting. After I dropped him off at his destination, the Fluno Center on campus, I decided to head over to the Mezz to do a few hours of writing. I left the Uber and Lyft apps on as I drove in that direction. I got pinged again for a ride on my way there and, fortuitously, this passenger was going to Festival Foods also. It could not have worked out more perfectly. I dropped her off, parked, and came up here to the Mezz with my writing utensils (Android tablet, bluetooth keyboard, notebook, pens, and my phone to use as a wireless hotspot for wifi so I don't have to trust the Mezz's public free wifi).

This concludes today's free write. Time to go write something useful. Bye now. 

*Note: I can't back this up.


Zombie Worship

Sunday is Easter, but I don't worship zombies. So it will mostly just be a regular Sunday for me of enjoying life to the fullest possible extent. The weather is supposed to be nice, so I am wishfully thinking I'd like to get out for a bike ride on what will be my first official full day of wedded bliss to my soulmate Deborah. This may be overly optimistic though. My folks will be in town this weekend (for Deborah's and my small and intimate Saturday wedding) and I want to maximize my time with them during their short stay. They leave Monday. There may be a parsimonious way to make the bike riding correspond to the maximum socialization quotient, but I doubt it. So I will probably just sneak away to the gym for a short workout when it is most convenient for everyone else, and then we'll probably just spend most of the rest of the time enjoying the good weather from sedentary positions on the back porch of our house.


Rare GUPPY EFFECT Sighting

Contact: Joe Leonard (info@cactusjoeproductions.com)

April 2, 2017 (Madison WI) - The local rock-n-roll power trio GUPPY EFFECT plans to make a rare appearance this afternoon to whip up a couple hours of prohibited original rock-n-roll music, which has put many area pop music fans in a tizzy, notwithstanding that it is only a rehearsal.

"This kind of music is so contrary to the conformist values of mainstream pop that it endangers our children," said Bob Crotchett (34) of Fort Atkinson WI. "They claim this is only a rehearsal, but that inevitably leads to live public performances down the road and the next thing you know...your kids are throwing goat signs all over the place."

The FDA requires a black box warning label on all music produced by GUPPY EFFECT. However, studies have shown that the youth of today are enticed to seek out the proverbial "forbidden fruit" when they are told they should not consume it. Bands like GUPPY EFFECT have been accused of exploiting human nature with their catchy brand of old school rock-n-roll and vocal harmonies.

"When kids are exposed to misfit, unconventional, and...my God...ANALOG music, they start to become free thinkers and disenfranchise stupidity," Crotchet said. "Once their addiction to commercial pop music is broken it's nearly impossible to win them back. They start leaving the comfort of their computer screens and social media networks to go attend real live music shows at seedy, unregulated venues, exposed to actual flesh and bone people who could do them real harm."


10 Minutes - Today Was More Productive Than I Thought It Would Be

First off, happy birthday to my buddy Branden M. I think he still reads m'blog...?

I had anticipated today to be somewhat inefficient from a productivity standpoint, but it exceeded my expectations, which is always a good feeling.

I meditated a full 30 minutes this morning (goal is 15), with a jazz backing track, before Deborah and I went to meet with our accountant Pam at 10 AM to finalize taxes. We had a RAGBRAI planning meeting scheduled with our friends Sherry and Tyler for 11:30 AM across town, and I was afraid the time between meeting Pam and that would be too short to do anything productive, but I was wrong. I eeked out 30 minutes of jazz piano practice in the interim. The timing could not have been more perfect. After the RAGBRAI planning meeting, which spawned some action items, Deborah and I talked on the phone with Deborah's dad, who's a lawyer, about the ins and outs of making a prenuptual agreement before Deborah and I wed in a few short weeks. We didn't prepare it yet but were simply schooled on the various components of one, and it makes a lot more sense now (Thanks, Howie!). We then went to the gym and had a pretty good workout. I did about 15 minutes of weight machines and then 45 minutes on the exercise bike, sweating hard and burning over 500 calories. I completed my Duolingo language exercises while pedaling too. After the gym, I worked a few hours before heading home to watch some TV shows with m'honey.

Very little time was squandered today, yet we weren't rushed at all, and I like that a lot.


Strip Down to Texas Tour - Days 8 and 9: Full Throttle

The SUNSPOT South by Southwest (SXSW) rock-n-roll tour drew to a close on Tuesday morning as we packed up the van in preparation for the long drive back to Wisconsin from Austin TX. Before loading, I gave the van a once over, removing trash and cleaning out the cooler with soap and hot water to remove the residual funk it contained. Wendy had wisely put the jumbo cooler ice packs in Vic's freezer the day before so they were solid and cold when we loaded the cooler with water and some snacks (mostly apples and cheese).

A little bit after noon, we all hugged it out with Vic and bid him farewell and thanks for his hospitality. Then we piled in the van and departed, heading north on I-35. In Oklahoma City, around 7 PM, we stopped at a pizza place called the Wedge that Wendy had found via the Giant Internet Brain. They had salads, so I got one in an effort to maximize my vegetable consumption. We collectively decided that we would push on through the night without stopping until we got back to Madison, taking the driving in shifts. I drove first, until I was relieved by Mike some time after midnight. In Austin, we had usually been going to bed in the pre-dawn hours and our diurnal rhythms were off, so I wasn't all that tired when I ended my shift at the wheel but it was important to rest up for the marathon drive. So I took some Benedryl and an herbal sleep aid to force my mind into a light slumber. Sleeping in the van was not especially comfortable given the close quarters, but I was eventually able to position myself in a way that was tolerable and drifted in and out of sleep.

Stuart drove the last leg of the all night marathon drive and I slept most soundly between about 7 and 10 AM. All of a sudden I awoke and we were pulling into Wendy's driveway. Yay!

Everyone but Mike disembarked the van with their stuff. Mike drove home to the east side of Madison with the van and Stuart decided to drive back to the Twin Cities, foregoing Wendy's offer to take a power nap at her place before he did so. Wendy drove me home to Middleton and I thanked her for the fun and fulfilling opportunity to join SUNSPOT's 2017 SXSW road crew. Once I had my stuff unloaded into the house, I put in some laundry and headed upstairs to power nap until Deborah came home from work.

The End


Strip Down to Texas Tour - Day 7: The Horro'

With the departure of the band GLASS MANSIONS on Sunday afternoon, at the conclusion of the South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival, Vic's house became considerably less populated by rock-n-rollers and the living room couch became available real estate for sleeping. So I slept there Sunday night, substantially more comfortably I might add than sleeping on my thin camping mat on the floor of Vic's study. I slept hard and long and woke up very well rested Monday morning.

Vic's was far less frenetic than the previous mornings during the music fest shenanigans. I chillaxed on the back porch, drank some coffee, and enjoyed the perfect Austin TX weather. Gradually, we started to collectively embrace the idea of getting some food in our bellies, and around 2 PM, Vic took us to a great little vegetarian restaurant nearby, the Bouldin Creek Cafe, for a late breakfast (non-rockstars would call it a late lunch). I had a veggie omelette, marginally increasing the vegetation quotient of my road trip diet and significantly decreasing the refined starch quotient in favor of protein. After eating, Stuart borrowed Vic's scooter and took off on it to go visit a friend of his for the afternoon.

Wendy and Mike run a weekly paranormal podcast called "See You on the Otherside," that focuses on paranormal phenomena and ghosts and conspiracy theories and whatever, and they had an agenda for later in the day to film footage for a video podcast about haunted sites around Austin. Normally, their podcast is audio only, but they wanted to do a video supplement for their loyal podcast fans, as I understand it. About 4 PM, Mike, Wendy, Vic, and I piled into the SUNSPOT van and drove out to the Oakwood Cemetery in Austin where we captured some video for the podcast, including a musical performance by Mike and Wendy at the gates of the cemetery about 7 PM, just as it was closing for the night (it has gained notoriety in recent years as a late night hangout for teenagers and the occasional quasi-Satanic midnight sex party, forcing the city to close it up at night at the behest of local residents).

After a quick stop back at Vic's to freshen up, we headed downtown to the Driskill Hotel, a supposedly haunted site, where Mike and Wendy interviewed a couple of local Texas ghosthunters named Billy and Mark, who host a PBS show about the paranormal called Strange Town. Part of the interview was taped at the Driskill Bar over a couple rounds of Shiner Bock beer (possible sponsor?) and the rest across the street at another putatively haunted site, the Buffalo Billiards Bar, which used to be a brothel.

I should pause here and let my readers know that I am a total skeptic of the paranormal and have never experienced anything that could not be explained by science and the Laws of Nature. There is a reason they call seeing ghosts and hearing haunted sounds "parapsychology," because they happen in the internal realm of the mind, which is capable of extraordinary beliefs and sensations and imaginings that are not bound by external, objective science. The keyword here is PSYCHOLOGY. I have never seen any report of a paranormal happening that was verified by science. In fact, there is a guy named James Randi, a retired stage magician and paranormal investigator, who until his retirement in 2015, offered a $1 million dollar prize to anyone who could demonstrate evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event under test conditions agreed to by both parties [SOURCE]. No one ever won the prize.

That doesn't mean things didn't happen or weren't experienced by the person or persons reporting the happening, just that they did not meet the scientific standard of proof, mostly reproducibility, but also strong concrete evidence confirmed by objective third party observers. And a million bucks would, I should think, be a pretty strong compulsion to do the rigorous scientific work of proving the existence of ghosts and whatnot. Blurry, unidentified blobs and light reflections that loosely resemble humanoid shapes or spaceships don't cut it for me, but if they do for you, that's great. They don't for James Randi though either. Bear in mind, the human brain is quite good at finding meaning in random shapes. Just the other day I saw the face of the Olympian god Zeus in a cloud formation (though it might have been Thor...but it wasn't a storm cloud, so that's why I am leaning toward Zeus right now).

On the spectrum from skeptic to true believer, I think Mike and Wendy are closer to my skeptical end of the spectrum, but definitely more open minded than me to the possibility of science-defying paranormal weirdness. Billy and Mark seem to fall considerably closer to the true believer axis, I think. They presented some kind of handheld device to Mike and Wendy that could supposedly "translate" localized paranormal happenings into meaningful English words, and the thing was going off like crazy at Buffalo Billiards whilst we were upstairs in the dark and dingy closed off part of the establishment. I have no idea how authentic this ghost sensor was. If it was credible, they missed a huge opportunity to win James Randi's million bucks, but maybe they weren't aware of the challenge. For all I know, they might have built the contraption themselves. It's one of those things some people will willfully suspend their disbelief for, but until I see the peer-reviewed published journal article in Physics Today, I will disbelieve heavily.

At one point in the video footage Mike and Wendy captured, Mark appears to sense something behind him and turns around to look. A moment later, their paranormal Tricorder thing on the table lights up with a new word. One could find a correlation in those two near simultaneous events, but it could also be pure coincidence, or maybe even a gimmick of some kind (presumable Billy and Mark are familiar with how their device operates...so I will just leave it at that). A broken clock is right twice a day, after all. But like I said, people can believe what they want. I am happy to be the token skeptic playing Devil's Advocate and I think that's mission critical to keeping everyone honest when it comes to paranormal phenomena. Leave your thoughts in the COMMENTS below.

"Have you ever experienced anything that you couldn't explain?" Mark asked me at one point during the visit to Buffalo Billiards.

I immediately thought of the only incident in my life I can remember that had a sort of spooky, paranormal feel about it.

"Years ago, I remember waking up from a power nap and I had this weird sensation that something invisible crawled up on the bed and held me down," I said. "I couldn't move for a few seconds and I had to struggle to break its hold on me."

"Wow, interesting," Mark said, seeming intrigued. "So maybe there was something there..."

"Or maybe I was just having sleep apnea," I said. "Hard to know..."

Mark didn't talk to me anymore after that until we bid them farewell at the conclusion of the meeting with them. Both Billy and Mark were super nice guys, whatever their beliefs may be. I was happy to mostly keep my mouth shut and try not to roll my eyes too much.

We had been joined at Buffalo Billiards by a friend of Vic's named Emoo. She was definitely nearest to the paranormal believer end of the skepticism spectrum than anyone else there. She too came equipped with an electronic paranormal sensor gadget. It had a little retractable antennae and a ring of colored lights embedded in the plastic base, resembling a miniaturized version of the electronic children's game Simon Says. According to Emoo, the device was immune to actual real world EMF, including cell phones, and the appearance of a blue light meant something from the spirit realm was "present." The blue light flickered on a few times, but I never felt the presence of a goddam thing.

Emoo joined Vic, Mike, Wendy, and me for a late night dinner at Eureka Pub across the street from Buffalo Billiards. I got a "naked" (no bun) bison burger with a side salad and the portion size was huge, so I got a substantial amount of some actual leafy green vegetables into me, a rarity thus far on this trip. We all then went down the street to Aussie's Pub to have a few drinks (except me...the DD) in celebration of Wendy's birthday (Happy birthday, Wendy!).

We went back to the house and decompressed on Vic's back porch, chatting and sipping wine, before getting an "early night" to bed at around 3 AM. We were still all running on Rockstar Time, but we would be road tripping back to Wisconsin the next day and wanted to be somewhat well rested for the long drive from Austin to home.


Strip Down to Texas Tour - Day 6: Recovery Day

SXSW is effectively over. A few musical things are still going on, but Austin TX was noticeably quieter when we were out and about today.

If you recall, Vic hosted an after party at his house last night following the rocking performances at El Mercado by SUNSPOT, GLASS MANSIONS, and some other bands. Vic owns Music Madness ATX, the company that organized the El Mercado show, as well as the Brass Hall show of Friday night. That party reportedly went all night, though I succumbed to slumber at some point much earlier than dawn.

Everyone kind of got up at their own pace this morning, showering and drinking coffee and packing up. GLASS MANSIONS, the other band staying at Vic's house, had to hit the road in the late afternoon and Ben of SUNSPOT was flying home as well.

About 2 PM, a few of us walked the block down to El Mercado and had a nice brunch on their back patio. When we returned to the house about 4 PM, GLASS MANSIONS bid us farewell to continue their rock-n-roll road trip off to somewhere else and Vic took Ben to the airport. Wendy and I opted to take power naps on air mattresses on Vic's back porch. I don't know how long Wendy napped but I was out cold for about 2.5 hours and woke up groggy but highly rejuvenated.

I made myself some coffee-to-go and walked down to the so-called "Bat Bridge" downtown. Millions of bats live under this one particular bridge and at dusk they fly out in big swarms to feed, keeping Austin mosquito free (not really). My timing was impeccable. I arrived there about 7:30 PM, just as the sun was setting and the bats were starting to emerge in small swarms. I got some pics and video but I don't think they can do justice to the live experience. At the height of the bat exodus, there was a sound in the air something like the earie collective chirping sounds that cicadas make and I suspect that this was the aural effect on human ears of amplified bat sonar, or possibly it was just the sound of hundreds of bat wings flapping. But it was cool.

Mike and Vic arrived at the bridge soon after I did, and when the bat emergence had dwindled to a trickle, we walked down the street to Aussie's Pub for some appetizers. Afterwards, Vic drove us down to the State Capitol building and Governor's mansion, where Mike shot pictures for his and Wendy's upcoming paranormal podcast, focusing on haunted sites around Austin TX. I think they plan to tape the podcast tomorrow.

About 11 PM, Vic took me over to the grocery store near his house and I scored some frozen pizzas for a late night dinner for the remaining group, comprising me, Mike, Wendy, Stuart , Vic, and Norman (Vic's roommate). We cooked up the 'zzas and bantered on the back porch for a while. I eventually went inside to fall asleep on Vic's comfy couch, now available for sleeping on since GLASS MANSIONS had left.


Strip Down to Texas Tour - Day 5: El Mercado

The day started characteristically enough...I woke up a little bit before noon, took a quick shower whilst everyone else slept (except Stuart, the only one who gets up earlier than me), made some coffee in Vic's one hitter machine (I had to acrobatically lean over the air mattress and its occupant that consumed most of the kitchen floor to accomplish this), and decamped to the shade of the back porch to drink said coffee and squeeze in my 15 minutes of daily meditation.

Vic went out and bought a metric pantload of breakfast tacos for everyone. It was exactly what everyone needed and it hit the spot (we love you, Vic!).

Stuart and I decided to walk downtown to scope out the SXSW musical action on 6th Street. It was about a 30 minute walk, and much needed exercise. When we got downtown, we went into an Irish pub that was showcasing Australian musicians and stayed for a couple of acts. The rest of the SUNSPOT crew had taken the van downtown and were waylaid by bad traffic, but we eventually caught up with them at Touche Bar. The group walked a few blocks up 6th to the Star Bar where Roy Elkins, CEO of Broadjam, was hosting a small social. Broadjam is a Wisconsin based company that specializes in music licensing, such as soundtracks for film and TV.* I was surprised to see the ex-guitarist, Joe, of now defunct Madison glam metal band TIGER CLUTCH bartending at Star Bar. I miss that band.

Mike of SUNSPOT had Broadjam duties to attend to, and the rest of the band needed to prep for their show at El Mercado tonight, so once again Stuart and I branched off and ended up at Darwin's Pub where a surly goth looking waitress served us gyros, our lunch. She passive aggressively switched Stuart's and my orders, which we didn't detect until we had taken a few bites, but that was rather inconsequential to us getting some grub into our bellies.

Stuart was coordinating to meet a friend downtown, but I was eager to keep moving and get more exercise. So I hoofed it back to Vic's, mostly uphill, stopping at El Mercado on the way to check out the venue for tonight's SUNSPOT show. The other band staying at Vic's, GLASS MANSIONS, was also on the bill, so I was looking forward to finally getting to hear them rock.

Phase 2

My buddy Brad, who lives in Austin, met me at the El Mercado Mexican restaurant, which is only a block from Vic's house. We ate some pretty grubbin' food before heading into the attached music venue, called Backstage at El Mercado.

The second of the six bands on the bill had just finished rocking and SUNSPOT, who were playing next, were loading in their gear. I helped Mike set up his Twitter livestream and then Brad and I watched SUNSPOT's great set. The venue had great sound and lights, which made it even more impressive. The bands that followed SUNSPOT were all rocking too. GLASS MANSIONS played great music that I will describe as heavy techno synth pop with grungy guitar overlaid on top. It was sweet. The last band was J AND THE 9s, fronted by an energetic chick singer named Jeanine. All the bands had at least one female member, which was cool, though I am unclear on if that was accidental or by design.

Broadjam was the primary sponsor underwriting the El Mercado show and Roy Elkins gave a presentation about Broadjam and its services for musicians and songwriters, offering discounted memberships for those supporting the El Mercado performances and its organizer, Music Madness ATX, which is Vic's company that promotes musical happenings around Austin TX.

After the last band, everyone came back to Vic's for an after party. He had bought a keg and some sandwich trays earlier in the day. It was been reported to me the next morning that the party continued until the break of dawn, but I went to bed long before that. The party was still going strong when I did, so the reports were likely true.

Here are some overflow pictures from the day.

*Broadjam.com is a global community and resource for musicians and their fans with a library of 500,000+ songs and 150,000 members. Broadjam helps musicians promote their tracks and has music licensing opportunities to get independent songs in films, TV shows, and ads.