Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The First Day of School

I haven’t been in a classroom in roughly a dozen years, but for the first time since then, I’m a student again. Tonight was my first day back to school in an effort to right a wrong, silence a little voice and to further my education.

Surprisingly, it was what I expected. We didn’t do anything of importance, and the routine of a first day of class was very familiar, bicycle riding-type familiar. He passed around the sign-in sheet and the syllabus, and then proceeded to read it to us, afterwards, explaining who he was and what we should expect from the class.

I felt as though I had an edge on everyone else. Since I prepare more for everything I do in my life now more than ever, I had already read two textbooks on the subject (and 1/3 of the assigned textbook) and I had even practiced some of the assignments in those books.

I was excited to go to class again, but I should have left about 10 minutes earlier than I had, because by the time I had parked and briskly walked to the Engineering Building, found the classroom (I actually found it a couple of weeks ago—remember, I am prepared), and sat down, the class had just started.

Tomorrow, I have to run to an architectural supply store to get all of the equipment I’ll need for the class, about $75 bucks worth of things. At least I’ll have them.

Architect, here I come. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Guitar Hero

I’ve always enjoyed a finely played instrument, and my favorites have been any sort of style that evokes talent, someone who can really jam our a tune on a banjo or a harp player, for instance. Any jackal can plunk out the first twenty notes to chopsticks on the piano, and it doesn’t take a whole lot of skill to strum a couple of random chords on a guitar. But it takes great skill to display talent, which sounds redundant until you take into consideration that the great majority of songs these days (at least the “these days” I’m referring to are the days when I actively listened to modern music, whose years past are entering the double digits)…anyway, the great majority of songs can be completely played with just a few chords. That’s it, and it reflects poorly on the people who play them and think they have talent.

Of course, who am I to pass judgment, as I only know a couple of chords on the guitar and I can’t, for the life of me, put them to any melodic use except to make the dog’s head turn sideways. But, I just picked it up a month or so ago, and I only seem to have time to plunk out a few notes and some fake solo riffs for about 10 minutes every other night or so… at least until my soft sissy fingers start to hurt.

My brother Jason has been playing various guitars since he was probably 10 or so, whenever he got his first one for Christmas, and it has always been something I’ve envied as he’s really good. Thanks to genetics, I didn’t get the musical talent traits he picked up, but I figured that, though some people are born with talent, anyone can learn.

So, always one to support his little brother’s interests, at least when it comes to music, he gave me one of his guitars and a book for Christmas on how to play. I’m not very good. Frankly, I stink. The kid next door has a trombone that he got for Christmas, and he’s like Glenn Miller with the thing… here I am hardly able to master simple chord progressions. But then again, I’m teaching myself, which is a mistake, but what’s worse is that I’m teaching Natalie and Matthew too.

For his birthday, Matthew too got a guitar, and though he finds more enjoyment in harshly plucking the strings which sounds more like he’s pulling the feathers off of a bird, at least he is taking an interest. Natalie, on the other hand, is very happy with it on her knee, and every couple of days or so she comes into the office—like she did just a few minutes ago—and says, “Daddy, can you give me a guitar lesson?”

And so we do. I tell her how to hold the guitar, and she prefers other methods, like laying it flat or holding it towards her so she can better see the strings and hear the music. Tonight we learned how to change the sound of the strings by pressing down on them at the different frets. She was delighted to learn a new word.

Then she made up a song. She strummed on the strings, covering a few from time to time to make different sounds, and sang about the colors of the rainbow. The lyrics were Natalie pointing out different things in the room that were different colors, and sometimes they rhymed too. It was cute.

Of course, then I took her picture (the one at the top)…and she got mad and left.

Perhaps she is practicing for the paparazzi.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Decluttering the Toys

The grumpy old man in me hates toys. Most of the time, at least in our house, they end up scattered all over the floor in heaps of plastic jetsam, spreading out across the room like some kind of brightly colored plague and can only be corralled together again after a family-wide effort… an event that is rarer than a blue moon. I'm left fearing for my safety when I roam the halls in the pitch blackness of night. Nobody should live in fear like that.

When Natalie was a baby, we bought this multi-bucket contraption that soon enough was brimming at its tops with toys, and for the last four years of my life, a big part of my to-do list involved organizing all of the toys into like themes and putting them in the various bins.

Then along came what I refer to as the Little People Invasion, and a town, albeit a little one, sprawled out across the playroom, complete with a school, a small liquor store and a red-light district near the airport which is frequented by pirates and a fully-manned basketball team of Micheals. There is no reason to put those toys away because—and I’m the only one yet who seems to believe this—but the Little People reassemble their little town in the middle of the night while everyone is sleeping. I’m not surprised if they send small groups of them out on exploratory missions to decide which will be the next room to conquer. There’s already a small colony of them in a corner of Matthew’s room, and I’m just waiting to wake up one morning to find a Little People farm in full production at the foot of my bed, plowing up my comforter.

Since we outgrew the multi-bucket contraption, I set my mind on finding something else that would better contain the toys, something where Matthew and Natalie could each have their own space in the common play room to keep their things. Most importantly, I wanted something that would be easily accessable but would hide everything. My original idea was to build a bookshelf-like storage unit with cubbyholes in which small boxes could be filled and fitted, and the plan has been on the long list of things to do and probably would never get near the top. At least any time soon.

Instead, Target has exactly what I have been looking for, a bookshelf cubbyhole system that has enough room for nine boxes each, but they never had two for sale at the same time. Since I’m not one for piecemeal—do it all or don’t do any of it—I never bought one only to wait for the other. My luck, they'd quit production of it or change the style so much that the two wouldn't match.

Yesterday, after dropping off Natalie at school, I felt especially tired and I knew that if I just went back to the house, I’d end up falling asleep on the couch while Matthew watched TV. The side-effect of that, besides Matthew becoming a couch potato, was that I would waste most of the day being tired because mid-morning naps will ruin your afternoon—it’s a proven fact. Instead, we went and got from AAA the license plates for the trailer and then headed to Target.

I wasn’t thinking about organizing anything, as I just wanted to walk around a little and people watch while Matthew looked at all the toys. Everything he saw, he’d exclaim, “Look what I found! Look what I found!” as if whatever it was was lost and he enjoyed the Eureka! moment in discovering it again. It was cute, and Old Blue Eyes always gets smiles hobbling down the aisles.

At any rate, I was patting myself on the back for making several circuits around the Target aisles without buying anything, as I have decided that 90 percent of the things we buy at Target (well, anywhere really) aren’t necessary. The cart only held Matthew; that is until we walked by the storage aisles, and it dawned on me that we could take a look at the cubbyhole bookshelves… like I’ve done most every time I go in there. Of course, on the day I was proud about not buying anything, they had two of them, and I figured I should take this as a sign to organize the playroom for once and for all.

The canvas boxes were sold separately, of course, and to be fair, I got two of each color so there wouldn’t be any confusion or who has what, even if that means that Matthew also gets a pink one. I also decided to leave a few of the cubbies empty so they could accommodate those things that don’t do well in boxes, like coloring books and larger items, etc.

Once home, Matthew and I put them together and ta-da! Organization, not only more effective than the previous system, but much nicer to look at too.

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