Saturday, December 20, 2008

Our year in pictures

Well, our Christmas newsletter has finally gone out. (Whew!) We wish we could send it to every reader of The World of Wombat, but due to the stifling economic slump and the fact that we chose to have two major surgeries to pay off in the middle of it, we've basically had to limit our Christmas mailing list to either (a) friends we've known longer than 25 years (both of you), and (b) those within walking distance, to save postage.

But fear not! Because you, as a regular reader of this blog (both of you), you have a benefit our Christmas letter recipients don't (or at least don't unless they come here) -- you not only get to see our year in pictures, but you get descriptions of what the pictures are!Clicking on the photo montage above (or clicking here) should take you to a full page-sized image on Photobucket for greater detail. As to what the pictures are, here is the key:

1. From our late December 2007 Disney trip, Brandon, Benjamin and I on our first late-night outing to the Magic Kingdom. The "ice lights" decorating Cinderella Castle are stunning, and it actually snowed on Main Street!

2. From the same trip, Becky and Benjamin relaxing on Castaway Cay, Disney's private island, on our three-day Bahamas cruise aboard the Disney Wonder. It wasn't too cold, but it wasn't exactly warm, either!

3. Brandon and Benjamin in full costume for the Armstrong Middle School production of The Clumsy Custard Horror Show. Benjamin played the valiant Sir Cumference, while Brandon was the aptly named King Dumb.

4. Brandon playing some tight defense in his East Plano summer basketball league.

5. From the Disney trip, Becky relaxing in our luxurious home for the cruise, the Walter E. Disney Suite. (It's not the greatest picture of her, but it shows a little of this huge suite we were able to enjoy.) We still aren't sure how we wound up with the best passenger space on the ship -- we got a call from the Disney Cruise Line about two weeks in advance offering the upgrade. And this is the second of three cruises on which we've been upgraded to the concierge level!

6. Mannerchor Gesellschaft in concert, December 2008. The Mannerchor is a society for male singers in Plano. This was Brandon's second year with the group, and it is always a wonderful performance.

7. Benjamin in the Walt Disney Suite. This picture shows part of the living room, and the dining room is visible in the background. There were several other rooms in the Suite -- and a 40-foot veranda all our own! (They made us give it back, though.)

8. A decent family picture of the four of us in front of Cinderella Castle. Both boys have grown several inches since this picture was taken at the start of the year.

9. Benjamin singing wholeheartedly as part of a children's musical at our church, The Heights. He's enjoying this year as a sixth-grader, his last in the children's program, since he's able to get some great solos and leading roles. Both he and Brandon really enjoy performing. (Wonder where they got that?)

10. Brandon and Benjamin dressed up for Easter. If you look closely at the Disney pics and compare them with this one, you may notice that the glasses were a new thing in Brandon's life this year.

11. The boys driving/riding on the "EZ-Go" (golf cart to me) at "The Farm," which for us is not the CIA Agent training grounds but is instead some family land in East Texas. Riding shotgun is Brandon's friend Michael Demings (who's around here enough he's almost family!).

12. Brandon and Benjamin pose with all of their many, many stuffed friends. The occasion was the visit of Flat Wallaby and Mini-Meghan, who are posed among the friends. (Explaining who they are and why they were visiting is way more than I want to get into in this post.)

13. Our formal portrait from our cruise aboard the Disney Wonder, with Becky's parents Bob and Linda Murdock. In the center is our good friend Mickey Mouse, who also is around here enough that he's almost family.

14. A portion of The Vocal Majority Chorus from our Spring Show, The Best of Broadway. That's me, Brad, on the upper right. I may be in the group (I'm still officially a rookie after almost two years -- haven't won my own gold medal yet, you see), but may I humbly state that if you've never seen the Vocal Majority in person, you owe it to yourself to do so. (Tickets are on sale for our next Spring show series, Back to Broadway!)

15. Becky and the boys with my parents, C.S. and Gail Randall. The occasion was Benjamin's fifth-grade "graduation" at a local park. We no longer have any elementary school kids!

16. A group shot of the full Vocal Majority, this time in concert with the San Angelo Orchestra. That was an amazing experience (I'm on the top row, third from the right). I've been on the VM "injured reserve list" for a few months with my ankle surgery and have missed two show series and a District competition, but I can't wait to rejoin the group after the New Year.

That's it! If you really want more, let me know... But hey, I did great to whittle this to just 16 pics from our entire year -- especially considering I took over 1000 photos on just our Disney trip alone!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

More fun when it's optional

I have long held to the belief that just about anything in life is much more enjoyable when it is optional.

I first noticed this in college, where the norm for me was slogging slowly and painfully through assigned readings in textbooks or literature, even when the subject was one I liked. I'm normally an avid reader, but somehow the idea that a particular text was mandatory -- was homework -- made it a drudgery. But then to my surprise, several months later when the class was behind me, I could pick up the exact same textbook or story and find it fascinating.

With my recent surgery, I'm experiencing the same thing. People would see me hauling my useless leg around on the scooter and say, "Wow, that looks like fun!" (One precious little girl even greeted the scooter with an awe-filled, "Cooooool!!!!!")

Um, no. While riding a scooter in general is fun, somehow the fun evaporates when it is your only mode of transportation -- when you can't move even a few feet without it. I came to be competent using it, and eventually did find a measure of enjoyment in rolling down long hallways and inside courtrooms, but it never rose to the level of "fun." And now that I'm on crutches and the scooter has been sent back to the medical supply store, I can't really say that I miss it.

Likewise my handicap parking privileges. Yep, I have a pair of those blue handicap parking tags, one for each family car, because of my infirmity.

I'm not proud of this, but over the course of my life there were many times when I wished I had the privilege of parking in those nice, close-in handicap reserved parking spaces. Admit it, you have, too. When the mall is packed with cars filling all the normal spaces out to the street; when last-minute grocery shoppers have taken all the good spots, preventing you from your last-minute grocery shopping; when you just don't want to walk much farther -- those empty spaces marked with the blue-and-white signs look awfully enticing.

Well, I have that privilege now. And like the textbooks and the scooter, it would be a lot more fun if it were optional. As it is, any extra distance I have to travel can be a literal pain, so the tags are a necessity (as they should be).

Now, my handicap access is temporary, which is extraordinarily good news -- it means my disability is also temporary. Having been given a small taste of this "privilege," I cannot begin to imagine having any disability which is permanent. I'll happily stop using the tags when I am able.

But a year or so down the road, I might just have to ride a scooter around in a handicapped space. While reading an old textbook.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Finally, confirmation?

I'm making progress on my post-orthopedic-surgery healing. Today my surgeon cleared me to start walking again, for the first time in ten weeks! Granted, I'm on crutches, can only put so much weight down, I move slowly, and I get sore and cranky pretty quickly, but I am walking. The process may be slow but at least there is measurable improvement.

As I've written before, my right ankle now contains a collection of metal plates, pins, and screws to hold the new bone arrangement in place. Well, today's doctor visit also brought a mild surprise -- one of the screws on the right-hand side did not hold to the bone as well as planned. It doesn't seem like it will be a problem or affect me for the worse, though. That's the good news.

The bad news is this: my family now proudly trumpets that they have medical confirmation that I have a screw loose.

Sigh. At least so far I've been able to keep them from saying "another screw loose."

Friday, October 31, 2008

Life on wheels

Things I've learned since having ankle/foot surgery:

* From now on when I play the "I Never" game, I can no longer use the phrase, "I've never broken any bones." Now I have to say, "I've never accidentally broken any bones"!

* Using a knee caddy scooter (pictured at right) has its pros and cons. It gets all kinds of great reactions -- usually sympathy or curiosity, but occasionally awe (The best reaction so far, from a wide-eyed five-year-old girl: "Cool!"); and hey, I get to ride a scooter in court (with the permission of the judges!!).

The downside: I don't really have a choice in the matter. It would be a lot more enjoyable if I didn't have to use it, even just to get from one piece of furniture to another in my own home!

* I really miss rehearsing and performing with the Vocal Majority! Yes, it requires a lot of time and work (work which was getting increasingly painful as my ankle deteriorated before surgery) but the feeling of being inside those clean, tight, ringing chords with the world's best men's chorus of its kind is something you just don't get over quickly. I need my fix. Plus they're just an awesome group of guys to hang around with.

I may miss it the most this next weekend. VM will be spending several days in the resort town of Hot Springs, Arkansas, at a luxury hotel, eating great food, relaxing and sightseeing, at little cost to the members. The chorus will perform four shows over four days (sold out for months, with a waiting list) to an extremely appreciative audience, and otherwise the time is their own. Sigh.

* Being waited on hand and foot and being chauffeured everywhere (I can't drive yet) is kind of nice, but like the "fun" of the scooter, it would be a lot nicer if it were optional rather than a necessity.

* Finally, I've learned not to take Benadryl to control itching or other symptoms of allergies. Turns out I'm horribly allergic to Benadryl!!

Friday, October 17, 2008

The World's Greatest Procrastinator

I am the World's Greatest Procrastinator.

Oh, I've had the basic skill at putting things off for years. My motto has been, why put things off until tomorrow when you can put them off until the day after tomorrow? But my latest accomplishment wins me the title, hands down.

As you can tell by scrolling down, my last post here was on September 10. I knew I'd blown off posting here for a while, and I actually have a decent reason -- I had some pretty major surgery on my right foot and ankle on September 22, and while I was convalescing at home, my internet access was limited to a dial-up on a laptop with a really slow modem. That, plus the fact that it's hard to feel creative or entertaining when your lower right leg is encased in a hunk of concrete and pain meds make it difficult to focus on the screen.

Tiny Tim"God bless us, every one!"

But the delay in posting here is not what makes me the World's Greatest Procrastinator.

Although I still have to keep any weight off of my right foot for a month or two more, I'm getting more and more able to get around as time goes by. It helps that after removing the aforementioned hunk of concrete to take my stitches out last week, they put a new cast on which is much sleeker and lighter. It no longer takes a load lifter and two burly construction workers just to help me turn over in bed. (I do miss them, though. Sven, Roger, call me some time.)

I use a knee caddy -- basically like a four-wheeled modified Razor scooter that I kneel on with my right foot dangling behind me -- to get around, and I have to be chauffeured everywhere. (It's difficult to push a brake or gas pedal when you can't bend your right foot at the ankle.) I've just completed my first full week back at work, and with a few adaptations -- like handling the stares when rolling into court, or just sitting up real tall instead of "all-rising" when the judge comes in -- I survived. It exhausts me more than it used to, but it's do-able.

But why am I the World's Greatest Procrastinator? It's because this surgery basically corrected a birth defect.

That's right, after 44 years of walking on this planet, a misalignment of my right ankle -- that's likely been there all my life -- finally had a negative effect, shredding a tendon. So... the surgery both repaired (actually replaced) the tendon and also broke leg bones so as to reset and rebuild my ankle so that it functions properly.

Four-and-a-half decades for a birth defect to appear should qualify me for the title, right?

I realize that being the World's Greatest Procrastinator carries with it some serious expectations, and I'd be jeopardizing the title if I posted here more often... but I'll try to come up with a new post every now and then anyway.

P.S. While we're on the subject of my superior procrastination abilities, I would like to remind a couple of female friends from my youth (each now grown and married with families of their own) of a certain incident in the summer of 1983, wherein they conspired to soak me with a bucket of water when I had done nothing to provoke them. I vowed then that I would have my revenge someday, somehow, when they least expected it. I haven't forgotten.

And 25 years later seems about right for the World's Greatest Procrastinator.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The first Obama supporters

Somehow, in all of my extensive fascination with presidential politics (snore), I missed that there was a hand sign for Obama supporters:

I was pretty sure I'd seen this before. Thanks to Google, I quickly located a rare photograph of early Obama supporters:

Heading out to Eden, yea, brother...


Thursday, August 21, 2008

The best thing...

...about those "Darwin fish" car thingies --

-- is that someone had to create them.

Think about it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Virtual monorail

Here's what's been taking up a lot of my spare time lately -- creating a virtual Walt Disney World in the Trainz 2006 railroad simulator in which to run their included monorails.


Friday, August 08, 2008

I just avoided a lot of work

My friend Diesel over at the always-entertaining Mattress Police blog wrote yesterday about a novel he's been working on (which sounds fascinating).

I suspect most of us who post to blogs regularly (okay, semi-regularly) (okay, at least occasionally) have dreams of becoming published authors -- or at least harbor the delusion that someone, somewhere, would be willing to pay us to write.

What intrigued me most about Diesel's post was not that he's already most of the way through actually writing this novel. He's a talented and creative writer, even if he spends much of his talent lamenting the fact that Huey Lewis doesn't get enough airplay any more. No, what caught my attention was the fact that he's already created a book cover for this novel that doesn't even have a publisher, using Photoshop and a graphic of a painting he found on the internet.

The cover, shown above, looks pretty cool -- but I couldn't help but think that Diesel made things too hard on himself. He spent hours upon hours writing a novel and then a few minutes creating a really sharp cover to help shop the novel around. Why not create the cover first, and then maybe get around to writing the book someday later???

With that in mind, here are some of my own upcoming books (publication details to be released later):
We'll start things easy, with a cookbook. I first searched for images of Chef Paul Prudhomme, since he and I are basically the same shape. But then I thought, if I'm already making up a book cover, why not make up a completely different physique? So that's my head on the body of the very fit Bobby Flay.

Of course I don't have to limit myself to books for adults...No, I'm not a noted child psychologist, and those degrees are fake. But hey, I haven't actually written the book, either.

This last one's going to be a little tougher for me to write, emotionally...You may notice that I'm wearing a skirt and hair bow. Don't worry, it'll all be explained in Chapter Four.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

This and that...

Jose, can you see...

Younger son Benjamin got to have another musical experience I've never had -- singing the National Anthem at a professional sporting event! He and the 100+ other kids in our church's children's choir were invited to sing before the Frisco Roughriders game last Friday (Frisco is a AA minor league team of the Texas Rangers). The performance capped off a week of The Heights' music camp. They performed the musical "Pirates of the I-Don't-Care-ibbean" on Thursday night -- Benjamin actually did play a character named "Jose"! -- and then sang at the game on Friday.
They did an awesome job, and this dad was pretty proud!

iPod, uPod, we all Pod

As much as I love new technology, I'm usually a slow adapter -- mainly because of my budget, not a lack of desire. My boys both bought their own iPods before I got my hands on a decent MP3 player -- and even then, mine is a refurbished Creative Zen, not an iPod. (Maybe I need to rethink how much allowance I'm paying them...)

In any case, it's dawned on me recently how I don't listen to CD's any more. I'm old enough to remember when they were the new audio technology in the mid-80's, and now they seem to be going the way of LP's.

Oh, my new Honda Civic has a CD player, but it also plays CD-R's filled with MP3's, and with that feature I can fit 9 or 10 albums onto one CD-R. But since getting my Zen, I've even stopped doing that. Now I just listen to my Zen in the car. The Civic didn't come with an MP3 input, but its radio is wired for it. (It's available as a dealer add-on for $100 plus labor, but I just found plans for the modification online and used about $10 worth of wires from Radio Shack.) Even 10 albums on one CD-R is no match for even my 4GB Zen, which currently has 671 tracks from 51 albums, along with over 2000 photographs, 20 videos, and a 1GB SD memory card inserted with even more.

This hardware shift doesn't seem to ruffle my kids at all -- after all, CDs are old technology to them, having been adopted a decade before they were born -- but it's pretty mindblowing to me. I find myself more and more starting sentences with, "Boy, I remember back when I was young..." Sigh.

I am consoled by the fact that they will have to face new technology themselves in coming decades, and they'll have to hear their kids saying things like, "Wow, Dad, you used to have to carry something with you to hear your music???"

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

How I spend my time...

Arggh!!* Has it actually been a month since I last posted???

Well, no, just 28 days -- if you count that brief snippet I swiped from Mark Cuban as a post. But still, it has been a while.

So what have I being doing with myself since the last entry here? Well, lots of things, but here are the main ones:

1. Singing with Swedes.
2. Burning myself.
3. Repairing chasms in the Earth's crust.
4. Building Walt Disney World.
5. Helping a village in Uganda.

"Yeah, yeah, Wombat, sure you have," I hear you saying. (Yes, I can hear you where you are. Yes, you. Stop looking around, you can't see me.) But those things are all certifiably true. (Where does one go to certify such things?) Here are the facts:

1. Singing with Swedes. The Vocal Majority had the honor of hosting a men's chorus from Sweden, the Entertainmen, in June. The Entertainmen were traveling to compete in Nashville at the international convention of the Barbershop Harmony Society, but wanted to come to Dallas first and spend some time with the VM. Apart from rehearsing together, we got together with the Fort Worth chorus, the Texas Millionaires, and put on a show for each other. The Entertainmen were wonderful, fun, and sounded awesome, and a good time was had by all. It gave new depth to the society's anthem, "Keep the Whole World Singing," when the three choruses gathered together at the end of the show to sing it.

2. Burning myself. Two hours, blazing Texas sun, outdoor swimming pool. Yes, I did use sunscreen -- SPF 45 -- but roasted a bit nevertheless.

3. Repairing chasms in the Earth's crust. Okay, I may have exaggerated this one a wee bit. My house is blessed with a big yard -- although I say "blessed" with some degree of sarcasm because of the care it takes, especially since yard work is not my favorite thing in the world. And my big yard does not have an automated sprinkler system. Or any sprinkler system, for that matter. So, it is dependent on me to give it the water it needs, poor thing. If my neighborhood held a "brownest grass" competition, I'd take first, second, and third places.

I'm finally getting my act together, but only after cracks started to show up in the dirt large enough to swallow a minivan.** Since I'm making up for lost time, I'm hoping that I can get it almost back to normal before any watering restrictions kick in. (It's also possible that I could be the cause of watering restrictions. I can just imagine the conversation between city officials: "The reservoir's water level has dropped a foot in the past day! What's going on?" "Oh, Wombat is trying to rescue his dry yard.")

4. Building Walt Disney World. From the comfort of my computer chair, I might add. My wonderful family got me this incredible train simulation program, Trainz, for Father's Day. It comes loaded with all sorts of scenarios and geographic areas to explore, and you can drive all types of trains or just order them around and watch them run. You can also create your own worlds, molding the landscape, adding trees and buildings, and laying tracks. It's like a virtual model train kit.

Some brilliant person with too much time on his hands actual used the program to create the Walt Disney World monorail trains and track as a add-on to the program, along with the Contemporary Hotel -- the giant toaster-shaped building that the monorail runs through.

What he did not create was Walt Disney World itself, for the monorails to run in. And so I (a less-than-brilliant person but still with too much time on my hands) (when I'm not singing with Swedes, at least) have taken it upon myself to recreate Walt Disney World within the program, or at least the parts of it that the monorail runs through -- over 3.2 square miles of theme parks, roadways, trees, lakes, and parking lots! I've had to learn a lot, particularly in the area of 3-D object modeling, but it's fun and interesting. (And it costs much less to visit this Disney World!)

5. Helping a village in Uganda. This one's serious. I haven't gone over to Uganda, but my family has just begun sponsoring a child through World Vision International. Nabiiru is six and lives in the region of Kyalulangira*** in southern Uganda, a location which my church has adopted as a missions focus and which is at the earliest stages of World Vision intervention. It's amazing how much impact $35 a month can have in an area where people have almost nothing, and I certainly can do with one less time eating out each month if it means making a difference! My boys and wife and I are excited about this opportunity and are looking forward to hearing from Nabiiru and seeing the changes that are made in his life. Check out the World Vision link above to learn more.

So, you can see I keep busy. Almost enough, perhaps, to excuse not writing here. So... what have you been up to???

*Pronounced "Arggh."
** I'm exaggerating again. The cracks would barely swallow a moped.
***Pronounced "Arggh."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Act like it

I agree with Mark Cuban -- this is a great saying:
Today is the youngest you will ever be. Act like it.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

TOP NINE: Things I've learned after a year of performing with VM

One year ago (June 14th to be exact), I passed my final review with the Vocal Majority chorus and became "riser qualified" -- that is, able to perform with the group in public. Hey, rehearsing is fun and amazing by itself, but nothing beats getting in front of an appreciative crowd. And so far, every audience we've had has been extremely appreciative.

So I've now done a full year's worth of show series -- Fall, Christmas, and Spring -- plus many other individual shows; I've been a part of one new CD and will be starting to record the next one tonight; I've sung with the group at an international convention before 9,000 people; and I've had a full year of camaraderie with some of the greatest guys on the planet.

But with time comes experience, and with experience comes wisdom. Theoretically. But wisdom does not lead to this...

From the great minds at the Wombat Institute for Socio-Economic Research and Short-Order Cooking School:

Top Nine things I've learned after a year of performing with the Vocal Majority:

9.
Making up your own harmony line is strongly discouraged.

8. Same with choreography.

7. Collectively the members have so many gold medals, you can regularly find them left in dressing rooms, bathroom stalls, window sills... (The medals, not the members.)

6. Jim Clancy's mantra is true: Hard work is fun when improvement is evident! Seriously, I love how the group is on the top of the world for this type of chorus, yet is never satisfied and always working to get better.

5. Part of the key to performing in a world-class group like this is to look like you always know what you're doing, even if inside you're terrified that you aren't sure of the notes. Or words. Or moves...

4. Body shapes may change over time, but costumes do not always adjust to match. (Lose weight, Brad!)

3. Being in a group like this is just the right amount of "fame" for me -- enough that I occasionally get recognized, or fawned over when people learn I'm in the VM, but not so much that it disrupts my life.

2. There is still NO number two -- not since 1978. (The chorus has won every competition it's been in in the past thirty years -- 31 separate competitions in a row!)

And the number one thing I've learned after a year of performing with the Vocal Majority:

1.
Rookies are the backbone of the organization. I will hold to this belief firmly, until I win my own gold medal and no longer am one.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Urgent Memo

To: Whoever changes the automatic air freshener canisters in the employee bathrooms

From: Wombat

As you might figure, I'm trying to lose weight, and -- I don't know any way to put this delicately -- I bet I'm not alone among my co-workers. So when you select what scent to put into the automatic air freshener, could you please pick a scent other than "Buttercream"???

Thank you.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Vote!

I made the top ten in Diesel's latest caption contest over at Mattress Police! Go-eth thou and vote!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Another Wombat Book Club entry

It's been several months since I found the wonderful and funny Crummy Church Signs website and wrote about it here (see "I'm not alone!!!" from October 2007). The website is just as funny as always -- actually, funnier, since I'm now a regular contributor -- even if the subject matter is still sad and annoying.

As a reward for redesigning the Crummy Church Signs title graphic, a task which took all of 30 minutes of an otherwise slow day, CCS blogger Joel Bezaire sent me a free copy of the book based on his site -- Crummy Church Signs Volume One, 2004 to 2007. What a deal!

The book arrived yesterday, and It. Is. Hilarious!!! It is 178 pages of the very best (or very worst) church signs from the first several years of the website, along with Joel's wonderfully snarky commentary on each one.

I couldn't put it down. No, really. I know, I've read other people say that about books, but this time it was true. When I started reading it, I kept turning the pages, even though I had other things to do, and before I knew it I was at the end of the book, wanting more. Better yet, I was laughing all the while -- occasionally loudly, startling my family. It's a hoot.

Joel is doing a great service in pointing out this stupidity that some churches repeatedly unleash on the world, and he does it in a really entertaining way... so if you need a laugh -- or if you want a great gift to give the person who does your own church's stupid sign messages -- buy this book!!! It's available through humor-blogs.com. And then visit his website for some newer (funny!) crumminess!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Home at last

The trip report over at Wombat's Disney Adventure is complete at last, after four months of writing and posting. (Whew!)

With that report finished, I am finally free to devote more time to coming up with many pithy, entertaining posts for The World of Wombat. It won't happen, but I'm free to do it!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Show time

I'm just a bit worn out.

The Vocal Majority's Spring Shows were this weekend, three performances of the "Best of Broadway." They were a blast as always, but also very tiring -- we always put every bit of energy we have into our performances. I'm kind of surprised I wasn't nodding off while I worked a camera in church on Sunday morning.

As if the three shows weren't enough, my church, The Heights, also teamed up with Hillcrest Baptist in Cedar Hill to perform the amazing modern oratorio "Saviour" this weekend, on Saturday night at The Heights and on Sunday night at Hillcrest. I was with the VM on Saturday night so I missed that presentation, but I joined the choirs for the Sunday evening performance.

(I've warned our music minister that he needs to check the VM calendar before scheduling anything big again. Here's a heads-up, Trent: Fall shows are September 12 and 13, and our Christmas shows will be on December 4, 5 & 7!)

Anyway, it was quite a wonderful weekend. There's not a final count, with VM I likely performed for over 3,800 people in the three shows, with maybe another thousand at the one performance of "Saviour."

That's a fun, full weekend for me, but it will be another couple of weeks before my body fully recovers. Maybe more, since VM has another show, with the San Angelo Symphony, this Saturday!

Friday, April 11, 2008

What a trip...

For those of you who haven't been following my Disney trip report over at the Wombat Disney blog, it's still going.

It's over three months since the trip ended. No, I haven't been slacking off -- I do post pretty regularly, trying for at least ten segments a week. But I'm only about 3/4 of the way into the trip.

I never expected it to take this long, but the blog format has apparently made me add more detail than ever before. When it's done -- perhaps sometime in October 2009 (kidding!) -- I'll have a great report to help remember the trip for years to come.

As a bonus, the blog allows me to share our adventure with a lot of Disney fans who, like me, enjoy reading about other people's Mickey vacations when they can't be there themselves. I added a stat counter to the blog, and it's amazing to see the interest -- over 300 different people reading the report this week alone.

Even more amazing is where those readers are from. I'd expect most of them to be from the U.S., and they are, but over 25% of the readers are from other countries. The United Kingdom has the second highest numbers of readers, followed by Spain, Canada, Brazil, France, Portugal, Italy, Argentina, and 22 other countries!

As regular readers (both of you) might predict, I will positively state that I will post more interesting and/or entertaining articles here at The World of Wombat just as soon as the trip report is done. And, as regular readers might also predict, I'm probably lying (if not about the quantity picking up, at least about the "entertaining" part).

Hang in there!

Monday, March 31, 2008

VM, competition... and me!

I had a new experience with the Vocal Majority this weekend, one for which the group is perhaps most well-known, but which involves only a fraction of the group's time -- competition! The VM is known worldwide for having won the gold medal in the Barbershop Harmony Society's international chorus competition an unparalleled eleven times, the last ten in a row, but in reality most of the group's time is focused on other things: primarily shows, concerts, or new CDs. Competing keeps the group sharp, but entertaining is much more the heart of the chorus.

In the BHS, when you win the international chorus championship you are not eligible to try for it again for another three years. Because the VM won its eleventh gold in 2006, the earliest we can compete for it again is in the summer of 2009, but the cycle of competitions leading to that opportunity begins well in advance -- first at the Division level, then the District, and then onto the International. This weekend's competition in Oklahoma City was the Division contest that leads to the District contest in October, and then eventually to the 2009 international stage, to be held in Anaheim, California.

Since I'm new to the VM, and to the barbershop world as a whole, it was my first time to compete. It was a very interesting experience. I guess the most shocking thing to me was this: we work as a chorus (and individually) for months on every aspect of our two competition songs -- every vowel and consonant sound, every step, every hand motion, every turn of the head, every emotion, every facial expression, every little subtle nuance, from curtain up to curtain down, over and over and over -- and yet the actual competition is over in a flash. We got onto the risers, were introduced, the curtain came up, and it seems like the next thing I knew, the curtain was down and we were walking off stage.

I vaguely remember performing, but the entire experience felt like it was over in thirty seconds. It's amazing that on those relatively fast flashes of time every three years hang the evaluation and reputation of the group. How incredible.

Brandon came with me for the trip, due mainly to a paperwork mistake that kept him out of a district science fair competition that he'd earned a place in, but I was happy to have him along. He had been wanting to go anyway, so it all worked out. We left at 3:30 Saturday morning and drove straight to Oklahoma City for an 8:00 chorus call. The competition was from 10:00 to 12:30, then we had the afternoon free. We drove 40 miles to the east to take a quick tour of the campus of Oklahoma Baptist University, which I attended for a year and a half. It Brandon's first time to see it, and my first time back in almost 24 years.

Then we went back to Oklahoma City, checked in at our hotel, and crashed for a couple of hours before returning to the contest venue for the evening's "Show of Champions." VM was the closer, performing five songs (which turned into six when an unplanned encore was demanded -- good thing we keep a lot of songs active!) to end the show. Brandon and I finished our looooooong day with an almost-midnight dinner at the Cheesecake Factory, and then headed back to our hotel. We drove home Sunday morning.

All in all, a very interesting, tiring, and satisfying trip. I'm sore as I always am after a VM performance, because of the power and intensity we pour into every move -- a point driven home by the fact that I now have an obvious bruise on my right wrist at the exact spot where my arms collide on a choreography move we do on Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho, a song we sang only twice, once in rehearsal and once on stage. I don't have much time to rest up, though, as VM is busy preparing for our Spring Show, Best of Broadway, in less than three weeks.

Oh, and the competition? Yes, we won our Division, scoring 1105 points out of a possible 1200, for an average per judge per song of 92.1 out of a 100. That's an awesome score at the Division level, and we're glad for it, but we're also still working on improving. It's been said in the VM that we don't really try to compete against other choruses; we compete against the 100. That's the score we work for.

So, I'm no longer a "competition virgin," and more amazing (and reassuring) to me, the VM is still able to do well in competitions even with me in the group! Next stop: the SWD competition in Little Rock in October!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Shalom Alechem

Yesterday was interesting... It started with a presentation in both morning services of my church of a Passover Seder, with explanation from the amazing Stuart Rothberg, a teaching pastor at Sagemont Baptist Church in Houston, of the many, many specific ways this 3,500-year-old ceremonial meal not only looks back to God's deliverance of His people from slavery in Egypt, but also forward to the coming of Jesus the Messiah. (This was my fourth time through a "Christ in the Passover"-type presentation, including one my parents and family celebrated together at home last year, and it never fails to amaze me. If you are a believer in Jesus, you owe it to yourself to see it sometime. If you are Jewish, ditto. Everyone else... ditto, too. What are you waiting for???)

For music, we also had the incomparable Dr. Maurice Sklar, one of the most impressive violinists I have ever heard. (And having played the violin -- poorly -- in my youth, I really marvel at and appreciate a true master of the instrument.) I was in an expanded praise team during both services, and we sang several traditional Jewish songs along with some newer ones written by Jewish believers in Jesus. (Dr. Sklar's tongue-in-cheek comment upon hearing us rehearse one song: "Eliyahu sung in a Baptist church? You are not far from the Kingdom of Heaven.")

So after that morning exposure to Judaism (admittedly with a Messianic perspective)... where better to spend my afternoon, than in synagogue, of course! The Vocal Majority performed a show at Temple Emanu-el in Dallas before an appreciative audience of around 300 people. It may have been the first time I've been in a synagogue, though I vaguely seem to recall going to one on a school field trip in my youth. From the little bit of exploring in hallways and classrooms I was able to do, I was struck by how much it resembled many of the hundreds of churches I've been in (absent crosses and pictures of Jesus, of course), a resemblance made all the more uncanny by the fact that the Temple's Cantor, our host, was the spitting image of a former music minister of mine -- except, of course, for the yarmulke.

All in all, a very interesting but tiring day. My morning was filled with lots of music in minor keys and aspirated "ch" sounds and my afternoon was spent in synagogue. That's as much immersion in Jewish culture as this goyim has ever had.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

That Thing I Do

In That Thing You Do, the 1996 Tom Hanks-directed flick about a smalltime band in the 60's who unexpectedly find themselves with a hit record, there's an awesome scene, my favorite in the movie, where the band first hears themselves on the radio. The band members race to the drummer's family's appliance store and scream themselves silly as they turn on every radio in the place to the same station, and then bounce around in pure unadulterated joy. It's a fun scene.

I had a taste of that last night when I was on my way home from a Vocal Majority practice, rescheduled from last Thursday because of messy weather. I had just climbed into my car and I put my radio on my default news/talk station, WBAP, but they were discussing finance. I switched over to another talk station. More finance. Going down the row of preset buttons, I passed Radio Disney and landed on KAAM, "Legends 770," a local oldies station (although these days "oldies" apparently includes the 1970's!).

There was a beautiful, string-filled orchestra accompanying a men's chorus singing "My Special Angel." Hmm. I... think I know this song. In fact, I think I know the specific arrangement -- because the VM is performing it at a show this Sunday afternoon and I'd just pulled out the music recently to refresh my memory of it! They were playing a cut from the Vocal Majority's With Strings Volume II, which was released a few years ago.

Oh, I'd heard the VM on the radio before, long before I joined the group, but this was different. I'm in the Vocal Majority now, and the radio is playing us!

Okay, so there was no jumping around in an appliance store. And KAAM is a long way from being a station that plays current hits. And... I'm not actually on the album myself, having just joined the VM last year.

But it is pretty cool being in a group that occasionally gets played on the radio.

Friday, February 29, 2008

I'm better than: Brad Pitt

Welcome to a new feature here at The World of Wombat, "I'm better than," in which I attempt to show how celebrity and acclaim is not all it's cracked up to be. This I will do by offering evidence that I am superior to a particular well-known person.

The first subject, Brad Pitt, was an obvious pick, since so many people compare me to him. For one thing, we share the same first name. For another,... um,... we, uh, share the same first name.

Let the battle begin!

1. Brad Pitt has appeared in many movies and TV shows. I have seen many movies and TV shows.

Advantage: Me. Sure, appearing in movies and shows pays better. Much better, in fact. The guy is loaded with money. I mean, mucho dinero... I'm sorry, where was I? Oh, yeah. But seeing the movies and shows is much less work. And often involves popcorn.

2. Brad Pitt does have that money thing going for him. I'm sitting here writing to a blog that maybe a dozen people read. In a good month.

Advantage: Brad Pitt. Hey, I have to throw the guy a bone so he doesn't think his life is totally inferior. I'd hate to be responsible for making him suicidal.

3. If I were to sit on Brad Pitt, I'd crush him. If he were to sit on me, I doubt I'd even notice.

Advantage: Me. While the chances of either of us ever meeting, much less sitting on, each other is slim to none, at least I have nothing to fear from the encounter.

4. One of us is married to a very beautiful and talented woman. The other is married to Angelina Jolie.

Advantage: Me. What am I -- stupid???

So you see, by a margin of 3 to 1, I am better than Brad Pitt. That was easy.

If there is a celebrity or prominent person, from any field of endeavor, that you would like to see me compared to in future columns, please feel free to post a comment below.

I may or may not be better than Humor-blogs.com.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

February odds and ends

A few unrelated observations, mainly to pad out a new post since it's been a while:

- I went to change the battery for the first time in my younger son's watch yesterday, a watch which features Disney's prickly but lovable alien Stitch, a/k/a Experiment 626. I opened it up to see what battery number to buy as a replacement, and nearly fell over laughing when I read the tiny engraving on the old battery.

The number is 626.

Coincidence? I think not!

-
I'm in the midst of convincing my wife that we need to get a new digital camera. The old one still works okay, if you don't count the fact that it shuts itself off anytime you want to take a picture. Maybe I shouldn't have dropped it on that concrete floor this past weekend?

- The trip report is still going on strong over at its own blog, WombatDisney.blogspot.com. I've been accused of dragging it out. I can't imagine why, though. I mean, here it is almost two months after we got back and I'm already on Day 4 of our trip!

Okay, yes, I put in a lot of detail. But I write the kind of trip reports I like to read, full of detail; reports that let the reader feel that he is along for the vacation. No "we did this, and then we did this, and then we did this, and then the next day..." for me! So, be patient.

If you like, you can always come back in a few months and read the whole thing at once!

And finally...

- Happy Inappropriate Card Day!

It's always Inappropriate Card Day at Humor-Blogs.com!

Friday, February 08, 2008

One Year in the Vocal Majority

Today marks my first anniversary of singing with the Vocal Majority chorus!

One year ago, on Thursday, February 8, 2007, I walked into a VM rehearsal for the very first time. I was greeted warmly, handed a ginormous binder of music, and led to a spot on the risers -- and I was hooked before we ever got to a song! When the group began ringing chords in the warmup, they had me.

But for the record, the first song rehearsed that night, the first I ever sang with the chorus, was “Believe” from The Polar Express -- the group was about record it, as the title track to their new Christmas album. And introduced to the group that same night was our beautiful Jim Clancy arrangement of “What Kind of Fool Am I?,” which in July was performed to over 9,000 people at the Barbershop Harmony Society's international convention in Denver, one of four songs in our "swan song" set as the reigning champion chorus.

What a year it has been! According to my notes, in this past year I have:
  • Received music for 93 songs! (One guy compared being a rookie in VM with “drinking from a fire hose.” It's true!)
  • Sung 75 of those songs in rehearsal with the chorus at least once.
  • Performed 54 songs with the chorus publicly.
  • Starting with the international stage in Denver, appeared with the chorus 17 times, including the three Denver appearances, three Fall shows, four Christmas shows, one high school show, four private gigs, one funeral and one wedding!
I’ve had some amazing musical experiences in my life before VM, but I can say without a doubt that in this one year I have sung more, been challenged more, learned more, and enjoyed music more than at any time in my life.

What a privilege to be a part of this amazing group of guys. I can't wait to see what this next year holds!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Does that casket come with tartar sauce?

I'm probably going to pay for revealing this, but one never-diminishing source of humor for me and my family is... a funeral home.

That's right, a funeral home. We pass by it every time we go to visit my in-laws, and the morbid jokes just haven't stopped flowing. And we've been passing by it for years.

What's so funny about a funeral home, you ask, Wombat, you sick marsupial?

Oh, it's not just any funeral home. This one used to be a Red Lobster.

I mean, it's obvious, even if we hadn't been in the area long enough to remember when it was a Red Lobster. Oh, they've repainted the roof so it's no longer the old trademark rust color, but it still has the same shape, the same windows, the same carport as the older-style Red Lobster. Check it out:And if you've got the same twisted sense of humor as me and my family, you can imagine the awful jokes that flow from imagining some sick restaurant/funeral home hybrid:
  • Instead of choosing between cremation or burial, they offer "smoking" or "non-smoking."
  • "Here's a pager -- it will flash and vibrate when we're ready to seat you."
  • "Service for Johnson? Hmmm... Did you make a reservation?"
  • "For parties with more than six pallbearers, an 18% gratuity will be added."
  • "Pardon the interruption, minister... but Ted here is celebrating a birthday today! Happy, happy birthday, from all of us to you..."
  • "Yes, we offer cremation services, but we prefer the term 'blackened.'"
  • ...and one that always makes us laugh for some reason, "Would you like drawn butter with that?"
Okay, I'll stop now, but feel free to contribute more in the comments section, and I'll use them the next time we drive by the place.

---
Humor-blogs.com will make you die laughing. With tartar sauce.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Random Musings

  • I'm home sick with an upper respiratory infection this morning. I was supposed to be singing with my church's praise team this morning, but that wouldn't work. I also had to miss the Vocal Majority's annual banquet last night, which is a bummer. If that doesn't tell you how gross I feel, consider this: I went to a medical clinic yesterday morning, and some other customer had given them four tickets to a Dallas Stars game yesterday afternoon. None of the clinic workers could go, and I was offered the tickets. I turned them down!
  • For my URI, I've been given (among others) a really weird prescription -- for "Magic Mouthwash." Anyone else ever have this stuff? It's not a brand, doesn't come in a prelabeled bottle, but it actually said "Magic Mouthwash" on the prescription pad and the same is typed on the Walgreens label on the bottle. It's something I gargle for my sore throat, a liquid mixture of Benadryl, Maalox, and Lidocaine. As you might expect, it numbs my mouth pretty quickly.
  • I'm slowly adding to our Disney trip report, so check there often. I've also started posting full-size pictures, more than can go with the trip report, over at Webshots.
  • It's been a while since I plugged Stupid Guest Tricks, a great group of people, most of whom have ties to Disney or other theme parks. You can find some very entertaining stories of the idiots that walk among us there. I'm in the midst of posting Stupid Guest spottings from my recent trip on this thread.
  • I have a new car. I did not want a new car, but I have one. My beloved little PT Cruiser broke a timing belt just before Christmas and destroyed its engine, meaning it quickly became an expensive paperweight. I found a wonderful little Honda Civic online and bought it the same day, but I didn't have the time I usually take to get excited about a new car. So... I've been warming to it slowly. It has a long sloped windshield and a digital dash that makes me feel I'm in some futuristic space vehicle, which the Star Trek geek in me likes. I also like that its radio can play CD-Rs loaded with MP3's, so I can copy 8 or 9 albums onto a single CD.
  • On the other hand, it's only after my PT Cruiser is gone that my wife Becky admits that she always thought it looked "weird."
  • I feel the need to lie down, so... I'm going to post another segment of the trip report and then crash. If I make it that long.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Day One complete - Day Two coming

I've finished posting the first day of our trip report over at WombatDisney.blogspot.com, detailing our loooong day of travel to Orlando.

Day Two postings (where we finally get to Walt Disney World) are coming soon!

Monday, January 07, 2008

Wombat's Disney Adventure

Hey all -- I'm back from my Walt Disney World vacation and Disney Wonder cruise, with lots of stories to tell, including some amazing magical experiences!

I've always written my trip reports in a present-tense, "you-are-there" format, to allow the reader to experience the magic of the vacation as we did. That will still be true this time, but I am making a few changes, starting with the fact that it's being posted on a blog.

Obviously, apart from the first few "prologue"-style posts, this trip report is being written after our return, but I will be taking advantage of the handy blogger.com feature that allows me to supply a specific time and date for posts to make it seem as if they are being posted as the trip unfolds. I've also decided to break up each day's events into multiple posts, rather than compile a single day into one lengthy post as in the past.

The first post -- written quite a while ago -- is already there, and new posts will be added frequently, so check back often. (Of course, this blog will suffer while I post there, but I'll try to let you know when I've completed each day's events.)

The trip report website? WombatDisney.blogspot.com!