Saturday, December 14, 2013

Have we finally gone too far with this tree?

That is the very question we were asking ourselves today as we watched three guys, one of them quite big, load this year's Christmas tree atop the van.  (As we were buying it, one of them had asked us if it was a tree for a church or a private residence.) 

Click on an image to see a larger version.

The view from the front was even more unsettling.

Yes, we made the roughly three-mile drive home very, very slowly, with Scott following us in his car and both of us using our flashers to warn other drivers of our slow progress. 

Cutting the tree free and rolling it down the side of the van was not hard; I was able to manage that part by myself.

Pulling it into the front hall, though, was a trying task that gave me more motivation to get back to the gym and that involved four of us, with me alone on the heavy end.  Here we are on a break, with Scott cheering our progress so far and Sarah smiling a grin of terror at the work still to come.

Note to self:  I hate how fat and weak I've let myself become.  I definitely must fix that.

Amazingly, thanks to good planning and having five of us helping lift the beast, the rest of the setting-up process went more smoothly than in any year in recent memory.

Scott in shoes is about six feet tall, so this picture should give you a better sense of the size of the tree.

It's a very good thing that we own a lot of lights and ornaments.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Wondering what to give your friend who likes to cook?

Wonder no more:  Try this cookbook from Chef Gabriel Rucker and the fine folks at Le Pigeon, one of my all-time favorite restaurants.

Yes, I already own a copy.

No, I don't make any money from you buying this, nor did Gabe ask me to plug it.

I just think it's awesome and wanted to recommend it to you all.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Telling a twenty-minute story in five minutes

Last night, I headed over to Motorco in Durham for the Monti StorySLAM event.  The last Monti event of 2013, this one had as its theme "Stranger."  Though I waited too long to buy a ticket and the event sold out, thanks to Gina's email messages and phone calls, the executive director, Jeff Polish, decided he would sell me one ticket on my promise to put my name in the jar as a possible storyteller.  I wanted to do just that, because the theme had reminded me of a bit of new material I wanted to try out for the new spoken-word show on which I've been taking notes from time to time.

I learned all of this a little less than three hours before the event started, however, and I had to work right up to when I climbed into the car to drive there, so I didn't get the planning or rehearsing time I would normally have taken.  I had, though, thought about the bit off and on for a while, so I wasn't totally unprepared.

I had a very good time listening to the stories.  As I did, though, I realized a few things.

First, the audience--a drinking crowd of about 200 in a bar--quite reasonably above all else wanted to laugh.  I should have figured that out, and normally that would be fine for me, but my story was a more serious one.  As I listened to others, I made some mental adjustments to work in more humor.

Those changes, though, led to my second realization:  my story was way, way too long to tell straight-up in five minutes, much less with humor.  As best I can now figure, it'll end up consuming about twenty minutes of a show.

Finally, I realized that because of those two facts, there was no way I was going to win.  Winning the competition obviously would have been nice, but I had come to try out the material, so I stopped thinking about anything other than the story.

After the intermission, I was the first storyteller.  I ran over the five-minute mark but under the six-minute limit, after which you lose points for running long.  The crowd applauded loudly and enthusiastically.

I ended up in third place.  I criticize myself for not doing better, because had I hit on those insights earlier I might have been able to rewrite and shorten the piece in my head, but other than that, I'm fine with the result.  I now know a better way to tell the story, and I also now see how to make this fundamentally emotional story funny and, I hope, ultimately still moving, so I gained from the experience.

I thank Jeff and his team for putting on a good show and letting me be part of it.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

American Hustle

The Carolina Theatre, the prettiest movie (and show) house in the area, recently became one of the more than fifty theaters showing the New York Film Critics Series of advance screenings of independent films before they're widely available.  Last night, a group of us headed over there to see American Hustle, the latest offering from writer/directory David O. Russell.  Silver Linings Playbook, his previous film, was one of my favorites of last year, so I was quite excited about this one. 

I'm happy to report that I loved American Hustle.  Smart, bold, frequently over-the-top, relentless in the pursuit of its theme, and yet always entertaining, the movie was a joy from start to finish.  If you've caught the trailer, you know the cast is also outrageously strong:  Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Robert DeNiro (in a very small role)--the list of strong actors in this movie is long indeed.  Each and every one of them turns in a stellar performance. 

The movie weaves into one coherent whole a love story, a con-man plot, a dissection of the American dream, and a coming-of-age tale, yet it never felt preachy; I loved every second of its 138 minutes.

I don't want to give you any more of the plot than what the trailer discloses, so I'll say simply that you should run, not walk, to your local theater to catch American Hustle as soon as you can. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Two unrelated things popping up frequently in my mind

The first is this song, which I've had in heavy rotation lately while doing various sorts of tasks at the keyboard.

The other is the show this trailer advertises, a show that I, like so many others, eagerly await.

I do not believe the two are connected, except by my brain.

Monday, December 9, 2013

On seeing Yo-Yo Ma

Last night, a small group of us went to the North Carolina Symphony, an unusual outing for me.  We were there to see the guest performer, world-famous cellist, Yo-Yo Ma.  The tickets were quite expensive, and the event was the night after the PT Seasonal Celebration, so I had initially been a little hesitant to go.  As little as I know about classical music and its scene, however, even I had heard of Yo-Yo Ma.

So, into the drizzling, 34-degree weather we went. 

I am so very glad we did.

The music was delightful.  Though, as I noted, I know next to nothing about classical music, I still enjoy it on the rare occasions when I listen to it.  Tonight's performance began with a Mozart piece, the Overture to The Marriage of Figaro.  A bit gaudy and definitely emotional, it was right up my alley, so I quite enjoyed it. 

The next two selections, a Haydn and a Brahms, were lovely, though I am positive I missed much of their meaning.

Yo-Yo Ma then appeared.  The orchestra launched into Concerto in A minor for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 129.  It was very pretty...and then he began to play.  The hall filled with such sweet, wonderful sounds that I was amazed.  Watching him play, seeing how much passion he brought to the performance, and listening to his music was enchanting. 

Afterward, he was gracious and constantly including the conductor and the rest of the orchestra in the ovation that the standing audience was very clearly directing at him.  After a great deal of applause, he sat again and explained that what followed was as close to a Christmas song as he could think of right then.  I don't know what he played, but it was wonderful.

At every point, he came across as joyful, in love with the music and performing, and so gracious, humble, and self-effacing that you could not help but instantly like him. 

If you get a chance to see him perform, do not pass it up.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The PT approach to winning

I mentioned in yesterday's entry that last night our company, Principled Technologies (PT), held its annual holiday party, the Seasonal Celebration.  At that party, my business partner, Bill Catchings, and I gave a few remarks at different points throughout the evening.

A couple of sections of our talks focused on winning and how we believe PT--and any company, really--ought to win.  I thought you folks might find those bits interesting. 

Here's the first, from about midway through the talks.

Our principles are not for sale.

If you see a PT logo on a piece of work, you know you can trust that work. 

Don’t get us wrong:  we want all the business we can get.  We are very competitive.  We want to win. 

Gore Vidal once famously wrote, “It is not enough merely to win; others must lose.” 

We have a different take on winning. 

At PT, it is not enough merely to win; we must win while sticking to our principles. 

Every day, work--life--brings us chances to compromise those principles, tempts us to make PT a little less than it should be, to make each of us a little less than we should be. 

We must refuse to surrender to those temptations. 

We must continue to do all we can to be the company we aspire to be.
Near the end of the evening's presentations, we added this bit.
We believe PT is a special place.  We aim to keep it that way, and we look forward to all of you helping us do that. 

Nelson Mandela, who died just two days ago, once said, “There is no passion to be found playing small--in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”  We believe the same applies to this company.  Our passion for PT comes from our belief, our complete conviction, that by not settling, by always striving to be the company we are capable of being, we can all benefit, we can all enjoy passion for our work, and we can all win--with integrity--together.
I'm very proud to be at PT.  We don't just say things like this; we try to live by them.


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