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Mindfulness Retreat

  As experiences go, I’ve always looked to spreading my wings, flying off to some foreign land to experience the food and culture of a society I had little to no connection with. Or if not, a far off place, an activity I never got around to doing within driving distance of my home. I never expected to be a part of something that actually required NO action. At least not in a way I had previously thought.
Last weekend, I participated in a mindfulness retreat.
I had heard of these retreats and thought they were relegated to yogis or naturalists looking to reach the next echelon of higher understanding. I want to know things as much as the next person but that’s what I thought school was for. Not sitting in a room with dozens of others, not speaking and barely acknowledging each other. I respected people who did but it didn’t seem like something for me.
I have one of those brains that has been shaped and saturated with T.V. and internet signals so any moment of silence feels awkward and harsh. I check my phone constantly like a little kid tugging on his momma’s pant leg in need of attention. I listen to music and/or podcasts/audiobooks like I have an IV attached to my eardrum. Silence is something that almost hurts.
And silence was something I had to embrace.
For six hours, including lunch and bathroom breaks, we practiced mindfulness. We alternated mindful breathing, yoga, walking, eating, and sitting. During each one, we attuned our thoughts to only our bodies. Whether it was the movement of our lungs as we breathed or the movement of our ligaments as we walked, we focused our thoughts on the present moment of our bodies.
At least we tried. While I could focus on my muscles during the more active of the meditations, my thoughts wandered profusely during the sitting and laying positions. Focusing my thoughts on my breath became boring.
The first half of the day was a real struggle, concentration wise. Then, roughly three hours in as lunch time approached, my hunger pains became another cause of focus loss. I was beginning to think I wouldn’t make it.
But something happened after lunch. After another unfocused sitting meditation, I seemed to get my second wind. I was somehow blocking out my extraneous thoughts. Somewhere between lunch and another walking meditation, I had managed to settle into a clear and focused mind. There was no internal chatter. I didn’t think about it at the time. Only after we talked in small groups afterward did I realize how mindful I had become. My wife even noticed, pointing out how mindful and slow I had been walking. I had also noticed how energized I felt compared to how I started; in a haze of lethargy. By the time our teacher rang the final bell, I felt as if I could do another couple hours of mindful practice. 
I was still glad to be done.
When speaking about it later, I told my group that the day had felt like running a marathon. The beginning was spent tired and finding my pace. It wasn’t until getting my second wind after lunch that I settled into my body and mind. It was then that I found my true enjoyment in the day. I had accepted where I was. I had accepted my occasionally wandering mind. I had accepted that I would be there until seven o’clock and I might as well give myself over to the process. 
The experience was so different and unique that I would encourage anyone interested in the subject, or not interested for that matter, to give it a try. I’m glad I did. 

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  Still standing after nearly three hundred years, The Alamo is an experience to walk into. Having known very little about The Alamo other than there is NO basement (Pee Wee’s Big Adventure anyone?), I enjoyed standing in a building that played such an important part in the history of the United States. That being said, there wasn’t much to look at. Much of it was closed off although the previous day I had seen a line going into the back so maybe we went at the wrong time. What I really enjoyed about the building is that it is nearly three hundred years old and standing downtown amidst hotels and malls containing Taco Bells and Hooters. I may be wrong but I don’t think the history of Hooters is quite as grand as The Alamo. The juxtaposition of the different eras is something I don’t get to see often so it stood out to me. I’m from Seattle. There is very little that is three hundred years old downtown. 

 Around the corner from our hotel stood La Villita, a small village of local artist’s shops. Several were closed, or closing when we got there. It was late in the afternoon so we were prepared for some of the closures. Even so, we were able to see lovely art and craftwork that, had we the money, we would have cleared out half the stores. Even though we didn’t have the money, we had a fun time walking the village and seeing everything. 

 The Historic Market Square stands in the heart of downtown and takes up half a city block. Within its walls awaits a series of small shops, many with similar inventories but unique treasures can also be found if one looks hard enough. Fedoras of different colors, small musical instruments, stone carvings, artwork and sculptures, hot sauces and seasonings, knick-knacks, magnets, and other souvenirs can all be acquired. But look sharp! Items can vary in price from store to store so a thorough search is needed to obtain the best deals. For example, I wanted a small guitar to take back home. The price between the various shops ranged from $10 to $16 – not a small difference and well worth the extra time it took to check out every option.  

    
 The Briscoe Western Art museum is a three story museum containing artifacts and relics from the old west that stands just off the Riverwalk. With its air conditioning, it was a great place to take refuge from the Texas heat. Within its walls were displayed weapons used in the Battle of the Alamo, every kind of spur throughout history, and authentic artifacts from hundreds of years ago. These included old banjos, uniforms, and saddles. I had no idea how adorned some of these artifacts were but seeing them in person, I really saw that the art of pimping one’s ride was around looong before the MTV show. For those that need a little more description about the specifics of the actually Battle of the Alamo, check out the scale model. It shows in detail where Texas’s favorite heroes, as well as villains, were positioned in the battle, as well as Calvary placement, cannon placement, and attack and defense patterns. The last thing I’ll mention about the museum is that it was free! Between 4pm and 7pm on Tuesdays the museum is free to attend. One only needs to sign in at the front desk. You can’t beat that! 

   
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my thoughts about my few days in San Antonio. I wasn’t able to do everything I wanted but I’m glad for the things I did. Please leave a comment if you are so inclined. Thanks! 

 

  It’s my first time in Texas and I’m seeing far less sunshine then I expected. An omnipresent cloud has covered San Antonio since our arrival Saturday night and the only glimpse of sunshine occurred last night while we were visiting the Tower of the Americas. It made for some great pics but as we’ve entered the first days of summer officially, I expected more. As it stands, we’ve seen more rain and clouds then Seattle has seen in the past month.

Unfortunately, it’s put a delay on some of the things we wanted to do and because our stay is so short, there is a good chance the delay will be more then a few days. Hot-air balloons, rodeos, caverns…will have to wait. Between the weather, my wife’s conference meetings, and short duration of our stay, some things just had to get cut.

   

  

  

 What I have been able to see has been well worth the trouble and a must for anyone visiting this beautiful city of San Antonio. First, the San Antonio River Walk is something for anyone from out of town to experience. Located in the heart of San Antonio, the River Walk boasts a number of restaurants, gift shops, and boutiques that a traveler could spend an entire day exploring. In several hours, I still only managed to scratch the surface of what the River Walk had to offer. I plan on going back. 

   

    

  

 One of the other activities my wife and I were able to try out was the Tower of the Americas. Also located downtown, the tower stands against the skyline with an observation deck that gives a three hundred and sixty degree view of the surrounding area. Though it stands nearly twenty feet taller then Seattle’s Space Needle, the Tower is not nearly as visually pleasing (sorry Texans!). However, some of my favorite pics came from here. One thing I found surprising about the tower is that I enjoyed the view from the elevator’s west facing window more than from the observation deck. This was most likely due to the overcast day and the tinted glass of the observation deck where the elevator glass was completely limpid. As a result, the clear view of the setting sun was a sight to behold. Also included with our ticket price was a screening of a 4-D short film called The Skies of Texas, a ten minute commercial for the state, which was humorous in a cheesy, forced-fun kind of way. The floor moved, small air jets whipped our legs when a snake slithered away onscreen, and light water sprayed our faces when a bull snorted. I don’t think it’s what they were going for but I couldn’t help myself from cracking up. That being said, both were well worth the price of admission.

We still have a few more days in the city and I am excited to experience what there is to offer. I will report back on The Alamo, free museum Tuesday, and a possible surprise or two. Happy exploring!

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I’m approaching 20k words on my novel and it’s going pretty smooth. I have a good momentum and even being in the midst of a few projects and family visits, I have a clear view of where I’m going. Of course there are blurry spots. I’ve even written through a few.

But as I near one of my word count goals, the subject of editing has been whispering louder and louder in my ear. I know it’s a vital part of the writing process and very important if I ever want to have my novel published, or even read.

But when do I edit? Like I wrote, I have some momentum in developing the plot, characters and theme and would like to keep that going. It feels like beginning to edit at this point would be a huge wall to the momentum I’ve gained and I’m afraid of losing it permanently.

I’ve heard Stephen King finishes a complete manuscript and even moves on to something else before he begins to edit. I’ve heard others edit as they go. I’ve also heard people going back to edit every fifty thousand words, or twenty thousand words, or even every chapter.

All of these seem legit and workable depending on how the author works so I was wondering what fellow writers do, when they edit and any tricks or tips when they finally do edit.

Have any advice? Have any comments? I’d love to hear about it.

It seems like I’ve been at this forever but I’m finally getting it together! I’ve missed writing here on wordpress and commenting back and forth with the great writers that are everywhere on this site. Below is the reason I’ve been away. My album is finally finished!!

This is a link to the digital album. Please listen to the samples and download if you like what you hear. I’ll post a link for the physical album once I get that sorted out. Do people even buy cds anymore?? I guess I’ll find out.

The Snowman

Now that it’s almost Christmas, I can start to relax and think about the things I love about Christmas. Although my lovely girlfriend and I won’t be able to be together on Christmas day, I’m looking forward to spending time with my family and friends, Cinnabon on Christmas morning, and movie theater popcorn later that day.

I’m also looking forward to watching a movie that I watch every year called The Snowman. Based on the Raymond Briggs picture book of the same name, The Snowman follows a young boy who makes a snowman that magically comes to life and takes him to the north pole to meet Santa Claus.

Released in 1982, the animation is rudimentary by today’s standards but there is warmth and heart in the images. Every pencil line seems to have a life of its own and even in the “static” scenes, the background is alive and moving. Like reliving a memory from childhood, the images are not clear or even well defined in places but there is just enough balance of open space and detail that activates the imagination that newer, digitally animated films have a difficult time delivering. This ascetic gives the film a surreal, dream-like quality which is perfect for the story being told. Despite this, or maybe because of it, there is a coziness throughout the film. Whether the scenes are inside or out, the lack of dialogue coupled with the soft visual style lends itself to easy watching.

Except for a brief, live-action intro and sung lyrics in one of the songs, there are no words spoken for the duration of the animated story and I love that. Every emotion, joke, and nuance is expressed through the pencil drawn animation and a Peter and the Wolf-like score. Childish excitement is accompanied by string flourishes, surprises are accentuated with trumpet blasts, and so-on. Both visuals and musical score could work on their own but together they provide a wonderful yet melancholic tone.

The tension between the mediums is best represented during the flight sequence. Here is a scene that is full of excitement and wonder. The Snowman takes the boy’s hand and begins running through the snow. Suddenly, they take off, their feet leaving the ground and the houses and fields grow smaller and smaller beneath them. Visually, this scene is one full of excitement but the tone is anything but. While the two are flying hand in hand, the song “Walking in the Air” plays. It is a wonderful song but is so melancholic that it twists the scene into something else. It’s no longer a simple, fun journey. There is gravitas. There is substance and depth. The journey is no longer just exciting – it’s important and a moment in time that will change the young boy forever. Moments like these happen rarely in film, let alone animated film, which is why it’s stayed with me so long.

It’s this aspect that keeps it from being in the same zeitgeist as more popular holiday fare like A Christmas Carol or Merry Christmas Charlie Brown. It’s not a feel good movie. It doesn’t end with shouts of joy down main street or a bunch of kids singing around a christmas tree. This isn’t Frosty the Snowman. The ending is very real and logical and doesn’t hold back in order to get a cheap “everything will be okay” feeling.

This film doesn’t just celebrate the Christmas spirit – it celebrates experience and life and the fleeting moments that make life worth living. It’s beautiful and tragic and one of my favorite Christmas films of all time.

Some Cold Cures for Voice

I never used to take medicine when I had a cold. I’m a firm believer in letting a cold run its course and dealing with the effects by trying to ignore them. Whether it was painful to swallow or if I was hacking up thick globs of mucus, I took nothing. The only remedies I would try would be drinking lots of water and eating lots of garlic and soups…not necessarily together.

Now that I’m trying to make my way in the music business and singing in front of people, I’ve turned to all kinds of natural cures. I take NyQuil to sleep because I’m congested and having to breath out my mouth is not a great way to catch a few z’s. Besides that, everything else I take or try is pretty natural.

Here’s a list of my sickness remedies:

  1. Emergency-C three times a day
  2. gargling salt water once an hour
  3. hot tea throughout the day – alternating Throat Coat and Gypsy Cold Care
  4. pho or other kind of broth-y soup when I can
  5. throat drops when I’m not doing these other things

There are other things I’ve had recommended to me that I haven’t tried such as using a neti pot once a day and drinking non-alcoholic hot toddies. The strangest one I’ve heard is in case of chronic cough, use Vapor Rub on the soles of your feet, under your socks for three days. Now there are pressure points in the feet that are connected to various parts of the body so this COULD be something but I haven’t suspended my disbelief enough to try it. Mostly because the cough drops have been doing the trick so far and my cough has been mild at that. But maybe if my cough gets worse you’ll be hearing about my socks smelling like menthol.

I’m always on the look out for more cold remedies (as I’m sure more people are now). Have any good ones? If so, share the love!