Monday, April 20, 2009

No Banjo Today & You-Tube

Well, banjo instructor Dave Landreth called and said he was canceling class for tonight. He also said it's a good thing I got a camcorder! I'm really looking forward to doing some recording next week. In addition to recording Dave playing the tune of the week (so I can learn it) I also want to record each of the students playing a tune. Maybe they'll let me put it up on You-Tube. That would be fun.

I am really getting addicted to You-Tube. I keep watching videos of border collies doing one thing or another. I sent Carol, my fellow Lawrence anthropologist, a link to a video of 3-week-old puppies. She enjoyed it, but then I found one of 4-week-old puppies herding ducks! So I sent her that link.

So now I'm going to go look for clawhammer banjo on You-Tube.

Today is my birthday!

Today is my birthday. Last night my friend Charlie came over. He brought Slumdog Millionaire and Subway Sandwiches, and I had beer for him (as usual). That was fun. Charlie is always fun. Camille was supposed to come over today, but I'm glad she didn't, because I didn't feel like paying $30 to go out to lunch with her for my birthday. She says she has a couple presents for me, but that one hasn't arrived yet. She is coming over tomorrow. We will probably go to the gym. Mark called. His birthday was last week, and I asked him if he wanted a Flip Video for his birthday. He didn't have to think long about that one! I told him I was going to get him the 30 minute one like I have. I am sure 30 minutes will be enough for him. It's enough for me. Okay, so it only comes in white. Who cares?!!!?! Tonight I have banjo class. I don't know the tune for this week because I was unable to meet with anyone in between to get it down. I wrote the banjo teacher a note telling him. I told him I would record him from now on. I hope he doesn't kick me out of the class! That would be a fun birthday present!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Tomorrow's My Birthday!

Tomorrow is my birthday. Charlie called this morning and sang me "Happy Birthday" over the phone and said he was coming over tonight with a movie and what did I want to eat? I made a simple request -- Subway. Fancy birthday fare, right? Camille is coming over tomorrow and I don't know what we'll be doing, but I have a banjo lesson Monday night and I will need to spend a lot of the day practicing, so spending the day with Camille isn't going to work. We'll spend some time together, but I really want to practice the banjo. I really need to, too, because nobody met with me this week to help me get the tune wired. I need to work it out for myself. Some birthday. Grrrr.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Reading Kurt Vonnegut

I am still reading Vonnegut. This time it's Breakfast of Champions. This book, like Cat's Cradle, is very depressing. I didn't find Slaughterhouse-Five this depressing. It's clear right now, in Breakfast of Champions, that something really terrible is about to happen. I hate that I can barely put this book down. I know I'm going to finish it tonight, and that's depressing.

Martha Stewart Website -- Crochet

The Martha Stewart website ( has a section on crochet and there are some great projects in there. I looked at a couple of the granny square pages, and found a page with instructions for granny squares, but the unusual thing was that the squares were done with delicate thread or yarn and a small hook. They are wonderful! There is even a bookmark made of a chain of little tiny granny squares. The potholders, instead of being a single granny square, are made up of several (for example, nine). Using finer materials and hooks produces some great results! Not your ordinary granny square potholders!

Ace on You-Tube

I put a video of Ace playing with a ball on You-Tube. It's at:

Ace on You-Tube

I recorded it with my new Flip Video camcorder.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Cat's Cradle, Slaughterhouse-Five, and the Fire-bombing of Dresden

I'm reading Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle. I'm pretty sure I read this before -- the words like granfalloon and karass are familiar to me, but I don't remember the story, so what the heck if I'm reading it again, huh? My daughter loaned it to me, along with Breakfast of Champions. I really liked Slaughterhouse-Five. I didn't know anything about the bombing of Dresden, except that beautiful Dresden was destroyed, so I got Slaughterhouse-Five because it was about Dresden. After that I got interested in Vonnegut.

My friend John in Orange County, California, told me that the bombing of Dresden was much like the bombing of Guernica by the Germans. He said to this day the Spanish won't allow Lufthansa to land because Lufthansa planes bombed Guernica. But the Germans allow us to land our planes there despite the destruction of Dresden. I guess that is because the Germans lost the war, so they have to take what they got. My cousin Curt Siodmak -- he was 92 when I corresponded with him -- was very bitter about the bombing of Dresden. It was in his autobiography. It makes me hurt to think about it.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Gym

I went to the gym with my daughter and it wasn't as bad as I anticipated, although I listened to a podcast (The Paracast) the entire time. I worked out on the cycle for thirty minutes and then did some leg work on the machines. Camille had to go to work so we only stayed for about an hour. We are going again tomorrow and I'll do some upper body work then.

Not doing any stitching right now...

I'm not doing any stitching right now. In fact, all I am doing is coloring mandalas while I'm on the phone, reading sci fi magazines (pulp fiction no less), and doing Sudoku. I'm going to be forced to go to the gym this afternoon as soon as my daughter has lunch over at the other house (she wanted to have lunch out with me, but I told her I can't afford to do that all the time). It's not that I don't want to go to the gym, but right now I can't find the pouch for my iPod that clips around my upper arm. I get so bored when I'm riding the exercise bike (and even more bored on the treadmill). At least the machines aren't boring because they keep you busy and in the moment, but I absolutely hate being bored, and thus I don't like exercise in general. I am absolutely dependent on my iPod to get me through the experience.

Hurray! Banjo tune on the way!

Keith is sending me the recording of the banjo tune for this week, and will probably be able to meet with me on Sunday. Hurray!!! I asked him if I could video record him and I will try to send (if I know how to use the video recorded by then) a copy to Sebastian. I feel like such a dunce needing so much help with this class, but the teacher, David Landreth, thinks I'm going to do okay in the class. I wish I could get the tunes learned in class, but there is no written tab, and I can't keep up with learning it in mid-air yet. Hopefully that will change soon.

Not able to get this week's banjo tune...

I haven't heard from any of my fellow students about this week's banjo recording, and I don't know how I'm going to practice the piece for Monday. This one is really complicated and I'm just really worried about it. I'm going to have to bug my fellow student Keith to teach it to me. I feel embarrassed about not being able to learn the piece on the fly like everyone else. I hate depending on other people to help me. I am just hoping fellow student Keith doesn't mind helping me again on Sunday and can send me the recording.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Flip Video on the way!

I ordered a 30-minute Flip Video Ultra. It's the cheapest one, and I don't think I'll ever need more than 30 minutes. I got it so I can record my banjo teacher both visually and audibly. Until now, I've had to rely on other class members to send the recording (the teacher plays the music for recording at the end of each class). Now I will be able to record and send the video to everyone else!

I still need to buy a capo and tuner for my banjo. The teacher said I would need these, but I haven't bought them yet. I just paid for the session on Monday, like four weeks late. But it seems to be okay.

There is another session starting at the end of May, and I'm going to sign up for that one. I'm going to stay in this class as long as I'm in Saint Louis. There doesn't seem to be a folk school or a clawhammer banjo teacher in Jacksonville.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Banjo Update

Well, I went to banjo class. The teacher was late, so we spent half an hour playing other songs. We played Jake Gilly, the song from last week, for about half an hour total. I did fine. But the teacher didn't ask to hear us play it when he came in. He started right into the next song, which it was difficult for me to get on the fly. Grrr. So I'm going to have to wait for the recording to come in before I'll be able to work on it, and then I'll probably have to go to Keith or Sebastian to get the rest of it down. There are two chords in there, and I know where to put one, but not the other. Grrr. This is difficult!!!!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Banjo Lesson Today

Today my cleaning ladies came so I had to pick up, and I piled everything up on my bed, which I cleared off after they left. So I spent the morning busy, with the intent of practicing the latest piece on the banjo in the afternoon. And I've done it! All I need to do now is speed up. And I have an hour and a half in which to do it. Actually, I have the first half down and at speed, and I need to speed up the second half, which is more difficult for the right hand. Lots of drop thumbing. Good practice though.

The piece we are learning now is called "Jake Gilly." Last week and the week before it was "June Apple." I imagine we'll learn more of Jake Gilly today.

Still Not Smoking!!!!

Well, it's been -- what? -- two months since I quit smoking? I haven't gained weight and I feel good. I don't have many urges thanks to the Chantix. I'm also not replacing the cigarettes with food. Good for me! Hurray!

My daughter also quit smoking. I would like to think that I inspired her!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Magazines I Read

I get several magazines in the mail and buy some at Barnes & Noble. Here is a list of the magazines I read regularly:

Sky & Telescope
Scientific American
Fantasy & Science Fiction
UFO Magazine
Step By Step Beads
Cross Stitch Crazy
The CrossStitcher
Brain Boosters
Original Sudoku
Original Logic Puzzles

I don't get some of these every month, but a few of them (like BARk, the beading, and the sci fi magazines) I'm subscribed to. The science and astronomy magazines I pick up at the store, along with the British cross stitch magazines. I am subscribed to Brain Boosters, for example, but the rest of the puzzle magazines come from Barnes & Noble.

By the way, I often drop by Barnes & Noble after my therapy session in Olivette. It's on the way to Forest Park Parkway in Clayton just off the 170. I usually have raspberry cheesecake while I'm there and maybe get a puzzle magazine or a cross stitch magazine if there are any new British ones. Then I get back on the 170 and take Forest Park Parkway home.

Obviously I like magazines. They appeal to my various interests and I usually read them from cover to cover.

Where to get free Sudoku puzzles -- to print out

There are plenty of places on the web that have Sudoku to do online, but I prefer the kind I can do with pencil. Call me old-fashioned, but I like to relax while I'm doing puzzles and doing them online (except for the New York Times crossword puzzle) isn't as much fun. I looked around the internet, and found one site with printable puzzles.

Here it is:

Coloring Books -- A New Way to Meditate

Well it isn't exactly new. Monks from Tibet create sand mandalas as a form of meditation -- and then destroy them when they are finished because destroying the mandalas represents the transience of life. (Look at the picture here -- the monks are using straws to blow out the sand because the mandala is so detailed.)

I started coloring mandalas at my therapy sessions because I had anxiety and my therapist had colored pencils and mandala drawings to color. I found it so helpful that we have continued to use the mandalas in therapy. The therapist also participates, coloring her own mandala.

Although my anxiety is now mostly gone because of a medication decrease, I decided to get my own mandala coloring books and some decent colored pencils. I got 36 fine Prismacolor pencils and 36 regular professional Prismacolor pencils. I also got some coloring books that are mandalas or designs or of a spiritual nature. The manufacturers of the coloring books are mostly Dover and MindWare. I like the MindWare books better. I have just about finished with one of the MindWare books, Celtic Mosaics. I don't know which one I will do next. But I am being disciplined about it. I am finishing one book before going on to the other.

By they way, there is a great website directing you to all sorts of grown-up coloring pages. It's called Best Coloring Pages and it's at Thus, it's easy to find online coloring pages if you don't want to spend the $3.95 or $4.95 for a coloring book at The only problem with the websites is that there are a limited number of coloring pages appropriate for meditation and relaxation. There are some mandalas, but not many. There are Mary Engelbreit pages, which some might find enjoyable (I colored some of these myself and liked doing them) but they may not be for everyone (especially guys, hehe). The Mary Engelbreit pages are at

Although it's probably preferable to color mandalas than other shapes, I have found that some of the rectangular designs from the MindWare books are sufficiently similar to the mandala circles in structure to be of use. I think anything with a balanced design is relaxing. It may also be relaxing to color some of the more spiritual designs that include more intricate patterns. I have one book of wizards -- both male and female -- that fits this category. It is called Wondrous Wizards and is published by Dover.

Good luck with your coloring adventures! What's next? Paper dolls?

Cleaning the House Myself????

I have cleaning ladies. They are from Molly Maids. It costs me $70 a visit plus a $10 tip. I had them come every other week for a while, and then about three or four months ago switched to every week. But my expenses have increased and I just don't have the money any more. I haven't cleaned house myself for years. I have been thinking about this and wondering if I will have the consistency to do it myself. I wish I could have them come once a month. That would really help. But if I have to do it myself, I would have to go out and buy such things as a mop and a feather duster. I would have to accumulate some rags. See what I mean?

I am thinking about spending some time cleaning the house for three days (today -- Wednesday -- tomorrow and Friday) and if I can do it I'll cancel for Monday. That would be a sort of trial. But my fear is that I won't be able to keep it up. I don't know how this would work. I would have to get into the routine of cleaning every morning, just like I take the dog out every morning. I haven't done this for years.

See the dilemma? I'm not accustomed to cleaning the house myself, and I don't know whether I'll be able to do it.

UPDATE: Well, I'm not good at cleaning the house myself. I'm just not motivated. I tend to pick up just before the cleaning ladies come, and then I still don't do a great job. But at least the house is clean, even if it's still cluttered. So I'm going to have them continue to come every other week.

Monday, April 06, 2009

I did it!

It has now been about seven weeks since I quit smoking! I have been taking Chantix, a medication my PCP prescribed for me. It has really helped with the cravings. I rarely have the urge to smoke, and when I do, it goes away pretty quickly. My quitting has even inspired my daughter to quit. She is using Nicorette.

The best thing about quitting smoking is how I feel in the morning. I wake up feeling really good. I am also not coughing, except that sometimes my throat still feels a little itchy. But it isn't like it used to be.

I think the Chantix is also preventing me from gaining additional weight. My weight has remained stable. I need to lose a little weight (just one pants size) but I haven't put any weight on since I quit smoking, which is a first for me. The weight is what always makes me go back to smoking.

I highly recommend Chantix. It is VERY expensive, but not more than smoking a pack a day.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Banjo Lessons

I started taking clawhammer (old timey) banjo lessons again, at the Folk Music School of Saint Louis. This place is great! So professional. My teacher is David Landreth, who is a very fine banjo player (I understand the best in the area). He's a tough and demanding teacher, which really is great because it requires discipline and practice. It's a hard class because there is no tab (written banjo music) and one has to learn in class. I am having trouble keeping up (there are five people in this class), and need to meet with people between classes to catch up. Eventually I hope to be able to get the stuff down in class like everyone else. Dave has confidence that I will be able to do it. He said he knows I could do it or else he would have kicked me out!

I think I would like to stay in Saint Louis for a while to continue with the banjo lessons. I will be here for another year because Camille will be going to Forest Park Community College for the next year, and I plan to stay here (and delay my move to Jacksonville) until she goes away to school.

Mark gets into NYU!

My son Mark, about to turn 23 and living on the Upper East Side of NY City with his girlfriend Sarah, just found out he got into a literary journalism program at NYU! He applied a week ago and already had lunch with the head of the program, and he told Mark that he would get in no matter what. Mark will also get some money (one rarely gets support in a master's program) and will take out student loans for the rest. He will continue to work at the coffee shop. This is great news! What else to do in a recession but go to grad school? I am so proud of him!