28 June 2016

Keeping my head down.

The thing is, I'm not sure what the purpose of this blog is on a daily basis.

I use Facebook for keeping up with friends and sharing day-to-day events.

I use Twitter for general snarkiness.

I contribute to the UCI Sound Design blog for UCI-related news.

I keep a blog on my professional website for other work-related news.

I share family photos using Notabli.

It occurs to me that the times when I've used this blog the most effectively have been times when I have a lot of text and media to communicate.  Usually, that's a travelogue, but sometimes there's a longer piece of text that I need to expand on.

So, even though it's been over a year and a half since I last posted here and it will probably be a while before I post again, I think I'll keep this, for two reasons:
* long-form memory-keeping
* the list of links on the right-hand side of the page, which I check every day.

28 November 2014

A Guide to Gift-Giving for Long-Distance Givers

Here in LA, most of us are transplants from elsewhere in the country. My family is in Virginia, and my wife’s is in Missouri and Washington State.  Every January, as the holidays wind down, I hear lots of stories about gift-giving gone awry due to the great distance (physical and psychological) between gifter and giftee.  Of course, the gifts are given with generosity of spirit and magnanimity of soul, but despite good intentions, the process of giving and receiving can often miss the mark and cause more stress.  I hope that I can mitigate some of that stress by compiling a small collection of guidelines for long-distance gift-giving.  Follow these guidelines, and the gift-giving-and-receiving process will be more focused on the spirit of the season and less on the stress of commerce and retail.

  • If the recipient will be flying, avoid giving large gifts.  No microwaves, no cases of wine, no bulky sports equipment.  If you want to give something that’s sizable, consider giving them a photograph to open in person. My sister Denise suggests that if you want to give large gifts to travelers far from home, the giver should take responsibility for shipping the gift back to the recipient’s home. Think of the shipping postage as part of the expense of the gift.
  • Unless you are absolutely sure of the recipient’s taste and size, make sure you give gifts that the recipient can return in THEIR hometown, not yours.  National chains (Macy’s, Target, etc.) allow you to buy at one store and return at another.  Or, perhaps there are local boutiques in your recipient’s hometown that you can shop via the internet?
  • Even if the recipient is visiting you, restrain from buying from local boutique in your hometown. If the gift doesn’t work out, your recipient will need to spend time during their visit returning the gifts instead of spending time with you.
  • Are you shipping a gift?  Confirm the shipping address with the recipient.  Many people have different addresses for receiving letters and packages, and if you send packages to a mailbox, they can often end up disappearing.
  • Are you buying for children?  Bring the child’s parents into the conversation for great gift ideas.  Says pal Lael:  “Many of us are trying to give our kids the joy and excitement of presents while also balancing it with teaching the "true" meaning of this time. Perhaps you could take the kids on a special holiday outing instead - to see Santa, or ride a train - creating traditions and memories is how we'd like to teach our kids about this season.” Here are two great guides for kids via I Gave Up By Noon and Nourishing Minimalism 
  • Make a donation.  It’s a terrific way to give something with meaning for more than just your recipient.  Says friend Katherine: “We're doing that for the adults on my side of the family this year, and we're having a lot of fun choosing a charity that will be personal to each family unit.”
  • Give a membership. Meredith says that she and her sister “giving annual memberships or admission tickets to a museum or other local attractions.” It’s a gift that you can personalize and can be enjoyed for a whole year!
  • Don’t give crap.  Are you sending your loved one a candy-cane filled with M&Ms?  A bobblehead Santa?  If so, please reconsider.  Nobody likes crap.
  • Gift cards, gift certificates, and cash are always welcome, though some think they’re too impersonal.  You can make them less impersonal by buying a gift card for a specific store that’s local to the recipient.  Was there a boutique that you discovered the last time you visited your sister?  Buy her a gift card for that place, and when she calls to thank you for the gift, you can have a nice time remembering your trip.  See!  Much nicer than a boring sweater from Macy’s.

These guidelines are assembled from my experiences as a long-distance giver and receiver, and those of my friends.  If you’ve got any additional guidelines, feel free to comment, and next year, when I repost, I’ll try to include some of them!

24 September 2014

The last two days in Romania.

On Tuesday, I took a break from my work to walk through the cemetery here in Cluj.  It sits a few blocks south of the central square in town, on a hillside. It was beautiful, and sad, naturally.  Most of the gravestones had multiple names engraved, indicating either that multiple people were buried there (stacked, like in the Jewish Cemetery in Prague) or just in memoriam. I snapped a lot of photos of gravestones, in search of the oldest ones.

Here's a site from a relatively recent burial. Note the mounds of pine branches. It smelled like Christmas. I imagine it's a holdover from the days when the stench could be overwhelming.

This plot had five spaces for caskets, but it appears that the deceased are buried two deep. The little engraving in the middle of the edifice indicates which people are buried in which positions.

Dripping black paint? Creepy.

A Greco-Roman temple entrance on an Egyptian pyramid. Just covering your bases, I guess.

This is one of the oldest stones I found.

Later that day, after the cemetery and a bowl of warming soup, E and I headed down to the theatre to see our show open. The performance was good, but not great. Everyone in the company was a little thrown by the audience on Saturday night, and I think that there was more than a little bit of milking going on.  But still, it was a good show, and afterwards, E and I joined some of the company members for some pizza and beer to celebrate. One of the clowns, Catalin, joined us for the dinner. He and I went running together last week along the river in Cluj, and he suggested that we run, or if the rain let up, we go for a bike ride. A bike ride sounded more interesting to me. Cata said we'd ride about 20km (12.5 miles).  Sounded good to me.

When we met this morning, the rain was gone, the roads were dry, and it was a beautiful day. We hopped on some mountain bikes and rode into the Transylvanian mountains. It didn't take us long to get out of town, and once we did, Cata ducked us onto a mountain trail. The trail was not particularly fun - very muddy, and a little treacherous for me (a novice mountain biker). We didn't last long on the trail before he popped us out onto a road where we could ride without mud. We trekked up the mountain road, on pavement, gravel, dirt paths, etc. Up some fairly steep inclines. We rode through deep forest with sun-dappled trails. The last part of the incline was so steep that I fogged up my sunglasses by exhaling. We popped out onto a grassy hillside area, about 1200 meters above town, south, looking over some beautiful mountains. The air was cool and crisp. 

Cata took us around, past the observatory used by the local universities, up some more hillsides, before we got back on a road and began our descent. And what a descent! I was in the highest gear, pumping madly, and still wasn't adding much energy to what gravity was providing. We sped down the road, around corners, in and out of shadow and light. It took us a fraction of the time to get down as it did to get up. 

Here's the map of our return journey. The ride up was a shorter distance (we cut the corner where the distance/time marker is), but I think it was about 30 miles all told. My legs are a wreck.

Now, it's Wednesday evening, and E and I are about to head out for our last meal in Romania. Tomorrow, we get up super-early to catch our flight. I can't wait to go home!

16 September 2014

"These are the nuts of my Communist youth"

Yesterday, on our day off, E and I took a drive with A, our excellent guitarist, into the mountains of Transylvania.  Cluj is situated in the Transylvanian foothills, so it's not much of a drive to get out of town and into the countryside. A has been super generous with her time, and she offered to take us on a drive. We started in Cluj and headed west, towards a hillside town called Belis.

We made a few wrong turns, but soon we were on the right path, a narrow two-lane road into the mountains. We passed by a few lakes that were connected by a series of dams.  The mountains are old and smooth, like the Appalachians.  The houses were either Germanic or Communistically brutal. The weather was beautiful.

We tried to find a spot where E could go swimming, but most of the roads were high on the mountainside and the paths down to the shore were all private property. We found one public sunbathing area, and E was tempted to go in, but while debating the cold water, the tunnel on the other shore started spitting out water, creating an eddy in the cove that none of us wanted to deal with.

We drove further up into the mountains, through a mountain town called Marisel that had lots of livestock and hay bales.

When we finally got to Belis, it was a bit of a disappointment. The town was virtually nothing, and we didn't even stop.  The journey was much more interesting, so we stayed in the car. The sun hitting the mist in the woods was beautiful, and the mountains in the distance looked like the Blue Ridge Mountains back home.  But with lakes.

Once we passed through Belis we continued north, heading back to the main road.

Between Belis and Huedin, A pulled us over to show us how to pick green nuts off of a roadside tree. She said that she did this all the time when she was younger. We stopped to pick some nuts, and then in Huedin, we stopped for a coffee. While we were at the coffeeshop, A went across the street to get a knife to cut the nuts open with. She came back with other things to eat, and we had a good time munching on nuts, Romania chocolates, and a Communist-era version of Fruit Loops, which seem to be made out of barley and food dye. As we ate, A told us about her childhood in Communist Romania. 

We got back into Cluj as the sun was setting, and we settled in for the night.  Just one week until the show opens!

And, as a bonus, here's a photo of Cicicu, one of the actors in the company, wearing a terrific terrible English shirt.  It just reminded me how much I'm looking forward to getting back to S and Los Ageles.

07 September 2014

A day off and a wedding

Today was our first day off since we've been here in Cluj. The week ended on a solid note, though it definitely had its ups and downs. We were briefly replaced with the need to replace our musician, which sent ripples of discomfort throughout all of us, but we were able to get that sorted out. Then, I had to go back to the drawing board, adding some music to some of the songs I had written. Plus, we had a number of absences in the cast this week, making it a little difficult to rehearse cohesively.

Thankfully, things seem to be going well. The show is in decent shape, and we're looking towards a much needed couple of days off.

Today, E and I were invited to the wedding of two of the members of the company. Both Dragos and Romina were in 'War of the Clowns' two years ago. Dragos is in the current show, but Romina couldn't make the commitment (she's got a baby on the way). Dragos was out for much of the week getting prepared for the wedding, and E and I were both delighted to join them on their special day.

The wedding wasn't actually a wedding. The civil ceremony happened three days ago, so today was just the reception & celebration. We traveled up a hill outside of Cluj to the Grand Hotel Italia, which was built a few years ago by an Italian developer with, according to the folks I talked to, mob ties. It's a huge building, with white marble and big open spaces. There were six different weddings happening at the same time while we were there.  A fancy joint.

The reception was lovely. As people wandered in, they were escorted to their tables (our tables were assigned, but our seats were not) and given a plate of appetizers (meats, cheeses, eggplant, caviar, bread).  E and I sat in the middle of a four table section that seemed to have been given over to the theatre.  As we ate and visited with some of the company members, the room filled, and the wedding party arrived.  D & R entered, raised a glass for the first toast, and then smashed the glasses in a box of rocks.  Then, we all sat down for the first course: ham-wrapped fish with rice. Yummy!

Soon, the music started. The music was a combination of American standards ('Fly Me To The Moon'), opera arias (some of the guests are company members with the opera company in town), and a handful of Romanian folk songs. I was hoping for more national flare, but as one of the other guests explained to me, filling the playlist with Romanian folk tunes is a great way to drive all of the young people away.

After the fish course, there was some dancing, mostly to American pop & rock.  E and I both had to escape the very loud room (89 dB, A-weighted) to the outside for a bit of quiet. Then, the main course: turkey and scalloped potatoes.  Then, more dancing:

As the night went on, the party kept going. Children were running around the dance floor and the lobby, a small fireworks display went off on the front steps (sponsored by one of the other wedding parties), I did a little dancing, and E spent some time talking to the son of one of the company members who wants to be a director when he grows up.

At around 9pm, we decided to call it quits.  The party, we were told, would go on another four hours or so, but we were both pooped, and I had work to do. We hopped a cab back into town.

Congratulations Romina & Dragos! Many wonderful years are ahead of you!