Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Pepe Romero Day!

Did you know that Saturday, October 15 was officially proclaimed, by Mayor Adler himself, as Pepe Romero Day in Austin and Austin proclaimed as the Classical Guitar Capital of the World? Me neither! But when the lights went down that evening, Pepe took his seat and propped his foot up on his stand, it was pretty obvious why.

Thanks to the Austin Clubhouse (austinclubhouse.org) and their relationship with Austin Classical Guitar (austinclassicalguitar.org), my son and I were able to join a group that attended the sold-out Austin Classical Guitar International Series Opening Night at the AISD Performing Arts Center featuring Pepe Romero.

Arriving at the PAC for the first time, I was surprised by its beauty (and its ample parking). Our group carefully rolled into the parking garage as we were in a large van and it looked like we were going to hit the roof. Lots of laughter started the evening off right! Our short walk to the atrium brought us into a well-lit lobby peppered with displays from Austin Classical Guitar as well as representatives from AISD's guitar programs. My son's guitar teacher from McCallum High School was there as well. Very cool.

Once we got to our seats, we saw that the stage was filled with chairs. Was Pepe going to have a backup band? After a wonderful introduction by the emcee, we were treated to a opening song from the William B. Travis Classical Guitar Ensemble. They were wonderful, and after they completed their song, Pepe came out on the stage to wild applause.

Pepe started without a word and the audience was silenced until he lifted the spell to let us raise him up with the first round of raucous applause. While over the night, I only recognized two of the songs, his technique was incredible and he truly mesmerized the crowd.

Would you like some education about Freedom with that?
Partway through the show, he stopped and spoke about his background and I was able to get a bigger perspective on how he fits into the world and why he had spent so much extra time here in Austin working with students and guitar groups. His father was unable to take his music outside of Spain by Fascist dictator Generalissimo Francisco Franco (1892-1975) due to Celedonio Romero’s participation in the Spanish Civil War against Franco. Pepe truly cares about freedom, freedom through music and music education, so he travels to spread the word and his and his father's music.

My son has been playing guitar for years and I was very happy to have this opportunity to have him see such an amazing artist. What I didn't expect was that he told me that he saw "at least 15" new guitar playing techniques that he wanted to learn. That was worth the whole trip.

Thank you, Austin Clubhouse! I'm looking forward to the next outing.

Want to learn more about Pepe? Here ya go!

This week's edition of Classical Guitar Alive! features a look at how political events have shaped music history from the 16th Century to 20th Century. Pepe Romero tells how his father Celedonio Romero (1913-1996) was prevented by Fascist dictator Generalissimo Francisco Franco (1892-1975) from concertizing outside of Spain, due to Celedonio Romero’s participation in the Spanish Civil War against Franco. The Romero family immigrated to the USA in 1957, and then performed world-wide as Los Romeros Guitar Quartet. Pepe Romero performs his father’s flamenco-based work, “Concierto de Malaga”. Pepe says “Because my father was in Malaga, he fought against Franco’s forces. He was in a group of artists and musicians that were very liberal thinkers that wanted freedom for Spain, and that whose ideas were the very opposite of what Franco and the Fascist government stood for. Therefore, many of them had a much worse fate, like Garcia Lorca, Antonio Jose. And my father was just prevented from leaving Spain … and he performed magnificently-inspired concerts for us.”

When I think of Austin Classical Guitar and the extraordinary work they are doing for the Spanish guitar, it fills my heart with happiness.

I see Austin as a wonderful center where young people have the opportunity to learn, love and experience the wonders and mysteries of my beloved guitar.

I have had fantastic experiences in Austin with the guitar and truly consider Austin to be one of the most inspired places on the planet. Matthew and his team harness this natural energy and weave it with the guitar and her music, making it thoroughly enjoyable and uplifting to the beginner player as well as the seasoned professional.

I look forward to my return!

- Pepe Romero

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Chicon Street Poison Ivy Journey, Part Two - It's Worse Than Expected

Hey there!

It's been a week since I really went through the yard. My son and I have been dealing with poison ivy on our hands, arms, and legs for a week, and it's finally getting better thanks to our friends that have been making good suggestions and offering helpful product advice. 

To get rid of the pain / itching, my best results come from a combination of Poison Ivy Soap and a Poison Ivy Wash. I got the soap from a friend and the wash from HEB, I recall. You can use them over and over and during the wash, the itching stops. Big props to them as they can be used any time you notice you're itching. When I notice I want to start scratching, which is heavenly when you get into it and painful when you stop, I can sit by the edge of the tub in shorts and suds up until it's all good. While washing, and especially after drying off, you can feel the relief palpably and, in my opinion, it's as if it never itched at all. 

Wash off after 3 mins
Wash as often as you like

Over the past few days, I tried to learn more about poison ivy. Here are the resources I got the most from: 

How to Identify Poison Ivy
This is a great visual quiz that really sprained my brain until I think I finally "get it." 

How to KILL Poison Ivy with no Chemicals
This Farmer's Almanac page describes a saltwater / soap solution that I'm trying. 

Today, I went through the yard to see if I could find the place that had the poison ivy. I looked all along the fenceline, which is where we felt must be the place. Our back neighbor, T, knew his kids would play in the back corner of his yard so he told us it might be over there. We hadn't gone back there yet because we found out we HAD poison ivy rashes and didn't want anything to do with it at all, but this weekend I wanted to see if I could figure out where it was. I thought we might have a few small vines.

I went to the back and didn't see anything on the ground. Maybe we got it all!? I went along the back fenceline and then into T's backyard. Still nothing. Then I looked up into the trees. Wait... is that? No... trees don't have three leaves like that, do they?

I was WRONG. That wasn't a tree. It was a bunch of huge, branch sized vines. Here's what I found.

Where is the Poison Ivy? It's there, somewhere!

Well, I found it, but it was a little worse (!) than expected

Here are some detail pics of the leaves / vines in case you want to get a closer look.

During my exploration, the back neighbor kids came out and I showed them the Poison Ivy and explained what to avoid, how to identify it, and told them what I was doing to get rid of it. Their dad came out and I explained the whole thing including the "plan." He was very appreciative about my finding it and doing something about it. He didn't know exactly how his kids were getting Poison Ivy, but he knew it was from that corner of his yard. Now he knows! 

Here are some closeups on the vines themselves. I get itchy just looking at these. Look at the hairy roots! When I was taking these, our side neighbor (she shares this fence with me) came out and was shocked at what we were looking at. She said she was going to speak with her landlord and maybe we can get some help from them. More as that develops.

The "Solution," Literally
One gallon of water, one cup of salt, 8 drops of soap, from the site above. I started by spraying the smaller plants along the fence, pretty much anything that was green, just in case. Then, I found the mess above. I used 3 gallons of it (so far) and I'm going to ratchet up to bleach next. 6 parts of water to one part bleach. Bleach breaks down into salt and a few other things, and the salt in both solutions causes the plants to DIE. It should get into the roots and kill these things. A typical root goes 8 inches down, according to what I've found so far, and I can't IMAGINE how deep those huge roots go into the earth. I have to do something extreme, I think. 

When we go after this full force, it's going to be duct taped clothing (that I'm going to throw away), disposable shoes, and some way to pack all of that Poison Ivy so it doesn't get on anything. It is going to be a HUGE deal, unless we can hire a company to come take it away. Maybe our collective landlords can help?  

Okay, gotta take my last batch of saltwater out there. More as it develops. And I hope it's not a new "I Have Worse Poison Ivy" post you see next. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Chicon Street Poison Ivy... An Unexpected Journey

Last weekend, my son and I worked for so long in the yard and made so much progress. When we were doing some work on the back neighbor's yard on the other side of the fence, the neighbor pointed out that some of the area we had not touched (it was further down the fenceline) had poison ivy on it. We were really glad we didn't touch it, but we knew that we'd have to get back there and take care of it next weekend. Phew! Crisis averted.

However, yesterday (10/18) there was no doubt that we had indeed encountered quite a bit of it. I thought it would be instantly itchy, but apparently it can take days to appear and then last weeks before clearing.

Last night we started some new treatments. Calamine lotion, baking soda paste, Benadryl, and a new soap. Today a friend brought over another new soap. This one contains jewelweed, which gets some good reviews online.

Our New Yardworking Clothing Line
Doing the research on how to treat this stuff, I've found that there are HUNDREDS of home remedies that are all supposed to be the best. I'd like to try all of them!

Before we get back into that yard, we're going to get 100% up on what poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, etc. before we even walk out there. We have to clear the rest of that fence and we also need that poison ivy to NOT be able to come back.

Here's one of the sites I believe it taking this stuff seriously.

I found a formula that I'm going to consider for treating the area in the lawn. This is to spray on the leaves so it'll get pulled down to the roots and kill the plant completely: 
It Doesn't Look Bad
"Make a mixture of 1 cup of salt, 1 gallon of vinegar and about 8 drops of dish detergent. Combine the salt and vinegar in a pan and heat to dissolve the salt. Allow it to cool, then add the liquid detergent and put the mixture in a spray bottle. You can spray the poison ivy or pour on the plant. This will kill all vegetation, so be sure to get it on the poison ivy."
Next time I get to a neighborhood meeting, I'm going to bring some show and tell. Pictures on the internet, an actual plant (in a clear plastic bag), soaps and other medicinal items, and a warning that you have to DIG UP the plant to get it to stop coming back. I read yesterday that their roots can go 8 inches deep!

It would be wonderful to be able to share this with the community so that no one will have to deal with this when they are just trying to clean up their yards!

Now... back to my skin treatments. Damn this itches!

What do YOU use to treat this?

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Chicon Street Yard Improvements - Clearing the Fences

Continuing the saga of our move to east Austin, today was huge. First, our friend Kris came over and I surprised him with our new fire pit, which is a small galvanized tub (for now).

We had been burning some of our brush over the last couple of days and today we decided to get all of the brush taken care of before we'd stop. A few hours later, we put the last shovelful of sticks on while it all burned down to ash.

Once the brush was done, we discussed tilling the land and seeding it for new grass. At that point, my son woke up and we agreed that I'd buy him a new pair of Heely's for getting it all done and seeing grass sprout. It's going to be a lot of work.

Matt decided that he'd go for it, so he started raking the yard. Kris and I worked out that we wanted to have a compost pile, so we started moving a huge pile of wood, junk, and dirt from one side of the yard to the new location behind the shed.

This Area Is The Alley Owned By Neighbor Joe (Left Yard)

The Gulf Of Compost Must Be Crossed (Note House In Back)

New Compost Pile Behind Shed

It turns out that the side of the yard where that big pile was is part of the neighbor's land. It's an old "alley" that is still on the survey as his land. So, we're going to make it nice for him while we stay here. More info on that as this journey continues.

We have a wonderful family that lives behind us with a whole gaggle of kids that are really looking up to Matthew while he works in the back yard. Their family is very nice and the kids are playing in their backyard lots of the time, so we thought it would be nice if we'd cut down as much of the fence vines and low hanging branches so we could all see each other and talk freely. That was a lot of work, but the kids are very excited because we also went on their side of the fence and cut down everything so you can see through and above the fence easily. Very cool.

Pile Of Compost Prior to Move, Back Fence Still A Mess

Compost Being Moved


That work also resulted in a whole new bunch of brush that needs to be burned. This week we're going to have some more backyard fun burning that stuff in the fire pit.

I'm exhausted. Here's a new group of pics!

From Northwest Corner
From Northeast Corner
From Southwest Corner
From Southeast Corner

Until next update!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Our new Austin Journey starts on Chicon Street

I have always had a feeling that I was supposed to be born in Austin, so I got here as soon as the universe had me prepared, on my 21st birthday, 1988. I've watched the city change over and over. I've had friends that have been forced out of one area or another of the city due to affordability (tax increases and / or their rents being jacked) and I've recently had the squeeze put on me as well, so you're going to hear a little of my tale.

My time in town has taken me from southeast Austin to northwest Austin and more than a few points in between. Living on Rutland and east William Cannon in the late 80s gave me a taste of what the "edge" of the city was like when I got here, and since then, I've popped around a lot until settling and buying a home in which I have lived the last 18 years in southeast Austin just south of Riverside. Now I have a pretty good idea of what it is like trying to live and raise kids in a city that is by no means fair, balanced, or equal to its residents. Our school zoning situation itself could fill a novel.

It'll look friendlier soon!
We are selling our house in southeast Austin and have found a wonderful home in central east Austin at 2106 Chicon St, just south of Manor Rd. We're renting this time because I'm sick of the responsibility of being my own landlord. Owning is just overwhelming after everything our family has been through. It's time to start taking care of us.

What has been fascinating is that now that we are getting moved into the new place, I have a different sense of "ownership" to this home. The house has been maintained on the inside, but the yard has needed a lot of love. Something about the place speaks to me and I'm starting to want to live here. Like for a long time. And what's also been cool is that the landlord seems to be on my wavelength too, and has asked me to become part of the neighborhood development group, the Blackland Community Development Committee. I'm honored and I'm going to join.

There's so much to say about how we got here and what's happening and I'll try to get to all of that eventually. In the meantime, here's a little bit of photography to show you (and me) what I've been working toward.

The back yard was a mess.

Flattened that.

Here's the video.


After getting the back cut down to normal, I needed to get the brush on the fences and low hanging branches taken care of.

This stuff is encroaching!

We also have a front yard I have started after as well. 



We have some big plans for the place. More on those later. It's a journey!

Tonight is the first meeting of the Blackland Community Development Committee that I'm attending. I'll let you know what happens!