Archive for the ‘ Odds & Ends ’ Category

a violin? am i nuts?

So I went and ordered a violin. Knowing my propensity towards starting things and not finishing them, and acknowledging the fact that my aging body may not let me continue to do some of the things I can do now, I limited my purchase to a beginner violin. I tell you, you can really spend some bucks on a violin. Way more, actually, than would be justifiable by any level of playing that I may reach.

I think I made a wise selection. I did buy it through Amazon, but I corresponded with the supplier of the violin before I made my choice. There are many low cost models available, but I wanted to make sure I got the best value for my money, so I decided to order a violin which would be supplied already checked out and set up by a luthier. I did not want to have to guess whether I was setting it up correctly or not, because for right now I plan on teaching myself, so I won’t have a teacher to check out the violin for any mistakes I made.

So yes, I am planning on using the internet, books and DVDs to learn. I may consider finding a teacher if I am confident that I will keep playing, but that is far from given. I suppose it would actually be smarter to have a teacher from the beginning because it may help avoid developing some bad habits, but I’ll take my chances.

I have to admit it I approach playing the violin with more trepidation than any other instrument I have learned (and am learning) to play. I failed at it in sixth grade, but I have matured a little bit since then. Still, there seems to be a lot to learn to get to the point where I can play some of the things that I want to play. When an online teacher say that you shouldn’t even begin trying to do vibrato until a year after you start learning, I say that I may not have that long! That makes things a little daunting. Still, what do I have to lose except a few dollars? If it doesn’t work out, I can always sell it or contribute it to someone else who might like to learn but can’t afford even a beginner violin.

Maybe someday I will actually be able to play something decent on at least one of the instruments I own. That list includes guitar, banjo and ukulele, and now violin. Or maybe I’ll just continue to futz around with them until I can no longer do so, with no expectations of excellence. Sounds about my speed. I gave up on the piano and saxophone long ago. While it would still be nice to know how to play the piano, it is not on my radar at this time, and I will leave the saxophone playing to my brother-in-law, who is a professional (and a damned good one, too).

By the way, if you ever consider buying a violin, the people at fiddlershop.com (also on Amazon) were good to me and I recommend them. They go over the instruments before they send them out so that you can just touch up the tuning and play it out of the case when you get it. Mine is supposed to arrive today and if I have any problems I will come back and say so in this post, but I don’t expect any.

It’s kind of exciting to get a new instrument, but I still feel a bit foolish thinking I can learn to play the violin with any quality at all. Let’s hope that I can at least get better than I was in sixth grade. I’m not holding my breath, though.

thought for the day – march 22

The older I get, the more people I have to miss in my life.

playing instruments

I listen to music more at work than anywhere else. It’s the one time that I am in one place for an extended period of time when I am alone (more or less), and music helps the day go by a little easier. This morning I was listening through Amazon Music (no plug intended, just what I happen to use) to music by Henry Mancini. Yeah, I’m an old fart, I thought that went without further explanation. Anyways, on came one of my most favorite pieces of music – Moon River – and I thought I would just make a note of it here. It was a favorite of mine when it first came out and it has not lost it’s appeal. Just my kind of wistful, longing imagery.

There are other songs that I like and that have influenced me, most often by making me want to learn a musical instrument. I love Stranger on the Shore, by Acker Bilk. I mistakenly thought that he was playing a saxophone, when he was actually playing a clarinet in a lower-register style. It was enough to make me think that I should play a saxophone, so I briefly did so in junior high school. Like all of my musical instrument attempts though, this shortly fell by the wayside.

Another song, Sleepwalk, by Santo & Johnny, got me on the guitar path, though that was years in the coming. The first time I ever heard the song was at my uncle’s wedding, played by the wedding band. (A long time ago, my friends – and heck I was only, what, ten?) Anyways, once again, I mistook the instrument. I thought the slidey part of the music was a regular guitar. I didn’t realize that it was an actual slide guitar. Hell, I didn’t even know such a thing existed. Anyways, along with every other kid’s ambition to play the guitar in the ’60s, I was inspired by that song. While I never made it to anything near real proficiency on the guitar, I have one and I intend to play it at least moderately well . . . eventually.

My interests haven’t been limited to pop music. Being Norwegian, when Song of Norway came out (a movie about the life of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg), I just had to learn the piano to play Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor. I was nineteen or twenty at the time and still living at home with my parents. Since I was working at the time, I had the means to buy a piano. Actually, I had the means to put money down on a piano and make payments on it. Like so many things in my life, the payments lasted longer than my interest and eventually the piano went back. Imagine the dismay of the delivery men when they showed up with the piano and found that I had to have it put in my bedroom – on the second floor! Then imagine them being pissed off that a short time later they had to come back and move it down from the second floor. Not one of my better decisions in life.

What other instruments have I played? Well, again for a short time, I played the violin in grade school. In retrospect, I feel bad for my parents during that period. Practice time must have been a real joy for them. I have also played the banjo and still intend to relearn it. I took lessons for the better part of a year and enjoy it, but it sits in the closet at the moment.

My latest kick, however long it is going to last, is the ukulele. It’s really popular right now, but I didn’t even realize this when I decided to try it. I just wanted (what I thought would be) an easy instrument to play well and that would get me back to playing the guitar and banjo. I smashed my middle finger on my left hand with a hammer some time ago and broke the bone in the tip of my finger. It has been extremely painful trying to play the steel-stringed guitar and banjo ever since. Part of my theory of getting back to them is that if I play enough on the nylon-stringed uke, my finger will build up enough callus and resistance to pain to allow playing steel strings again. If not, my uke wasn’t a big investment. To tell the truth, though, playing the uke well is as much a challenge as a guitar or banjo and I’m enjoying it in its own right. We’ll see how long it takes for me to give that up, too.

I do think that the ukulele is probably the last instrument that I am going to attempt to play. Um, well, other than that hammered dulcimer that I’ve been thinking about building for many years. If I ever retire, maybe there will be time for that, too. Somehow, I kinda doubt it.

blizzard of ’67

Fifty years ago today was the great Chicago snowfall of 1967 – twenty-three inches of snow before it was over. I was sixteen. The only thing that I directly remember is walking to my job at Jewel as a stock boy. The snow was already about ten or so inches deep and there were no cars moving on the side streets of our small town to the west of Chicago. It was a major effort to walk through that snow. I finally made it to the store and found people stocking up on whatever they would need (or could get) for the next several days.

Part of my job was to round up the shopping carts, but that was impossible to do. Instead, as a customer would leave, they would pull their car around to the door and we would load the groceries from there. I know that the store was not open long after I got there, maybe only three or four hours or so. It was to the point that every store around was shutting down just so employees might have a chance to get home. To tell the truth, I don’t remember how I got home. I’m not sure if I had to walk home again or if one of my parents came and got me, or if I got a ride from someone else. My memory fails and my parents aren’t around to ask, even if they could remember.

I just checked the calendar for that date and found that January 1967 has the same dates as January 2017. That means this happened on a Thursday. I assume I was home because the schools closed for the day, otherwise I would have walked to the store from the high school, but I do distinctly remember walking from home. I sure wish my rememberer would work better than it does.

Once again, we are remembering the fiftieth anniversary of something that I actually lived through. How depressing. Heck, looking at the record of the ten greatest snowfalls in the Chicago area, I have been alive for a full half of them! Well, at least I’m alive to complain about being old, so I’ve got that going for me.

free to choose

You know what? I’m tired of being a fat man. I don’t want to be a fat man. I’m not going to be a fat man any more.

No one is making me be a fat man. Sure, I have no choice about the getting old part, but I do have some say in the being fat part, and I say it’s time for a change. All I have to do, really, is eat less calories – and the right calories – than I burn every day. I’ve done it before, so it’s not like I don’t know that it can be done.

I’m just tired of my body hurting, my knees and hips in particular. Yeah, I’m going to need some replacements, but my body would move so much easier and with less pain if I weighed less and I wasn’t eating crap that caused inflammation.

So I’m going to stop eating crap and get my body into the best shape that it can be, even if it is nowhere near where I wish it could be. That’s it. No further discussion. Just do it.

CUBS WIN!

Want to know why I don’t watch sports? Well, mostly because I’m just not a big sports fan, but the other reason is games like the one last night. I don’t like stress, and if you are a Cubs fan and that game didn’t stress you out, then either you have ice water running in your veins or you are dead. Then again, I’m not even sure about dead. I bet my dear departed mother-in-law, a die-hard Cubs fan, was somewhere agonizing over the game, too.

I think that all Cubs fans were watching the season in a bit of disbelief, as they did last year. So close last year, but they were swept in the National League Championship Series by the Mets. While we all hoped the Cubs would win it and go on to the World Series, when they didn’t make it we fell back on the old “maybe next year” that we fallen back on for decades.

This year, with the best record in Major League Baseball, we had reasonably high hopes that they would make it to the World Series. They beat the Giants in the National League Divisional Series rather handily and advanced to the National League Championship Series, where they took six games to beat the Dodgers and move on to the World Series. And that’s when we really started biting our nails.

Beginning the World Series with a 0-6 loss was not a good omen. Hints of “maybe next year” started creeping into my thoughts. I mean, come on – 0-6? Ouch! OK, so game two is better, with a 5-1 win. Whew, we are back into this thing. But game three with a 1-0 loss and game four with a 7-2 loss meant that Cleveland only had to win one more game to win the Series. Sigh. Time to accept the fact that we were going to have to wait for next year for another shot at winning (or even getting into) the World Series.

On Sunday I couldn’t watch the game, and by “couldn’t” I mean that I didn’t want to watch the Cubs lose. Instead, I followed the scores on my computer while I did other stuff. Whoa! A 2-3 win! Not the kind of winning margin I would like to see in a score, but a win is a win. Still, they need two more wins to take the whole thing. What are the odds of that? Better than I thought, apparently.

Surely the next game they would lose the whole thing, so I didn’t even bother keeping up with the score. Some Cubs fan, eh? What can I say? It’s just my usual glass-half-full approach to life. But holy crap – they win 9-3. Now that’s the kind of score I like. Suddenly we are at game seven with winner take all.

Early games are a little easier to take, assuming that a loss can be made up later (which they were), but this was crunch-time. I know the Cubs are really good this year, but can they do this? OK, first inning – Bam! First run of the game, and Cubs are in the lead. Good, let’s hold Cleveland to no runs and increase our number of runs for safety’s sake. But then in the third inning Cleveland gets a run and it is tied up. No, I can’t watch. My stress levels are going through the roof. I had to leave the room, assuming the worst.

A little while later I had to at least check the score to see how badly the Cubs were doing. Wait a minute. The Cubs are ahead 3-1. Yay! Now let’s keep that lead, for cryin’ out loud. I watch for a bit and the Cubs score two more runs, but the Indians come back with two more of their own. I can’t watch. Gone again, but I can’t stay gone. Checking again, the score is 6-3 – Cubs are going to win this! I decide to watch again. Oh man, a mistake. Maybe it’s my watching that is causing problems for the Cubbies, because now the score is tied at the bottom of the eighth. Son of a bitch! Time for bed. I cannot handle the stress of extra innings, if they make it that far, and I need my sleep. Good night, all.

So I’m peacefully dozing when my wife takes a break from her tv watching to hit the head and stops by to ask me if I was watching the game. I say “no” and she says the Cubs won. What!?! Holy Cow! This is almost unbelievable, but I turn on the tv and sure enough, the Cubs are celebrating. I have to admit – and I guess I wasn’t alone last night – I shed a few actual tears of joy. I have never shed tears over a sporting event, ever. But last night, there they were. Yeah, it’s only a game, and you feel bad for Cleveland, but the idea that the Cubs have won the World Series for the first time in 108 years is overwhelming.

But there was a more personal reason for those tears. As I mentioned before, my mother-in-law was a true-blue Cubs fan. So much so that at her funeral six years ago, they sang “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” That choked me up so much I couldn’t even come close to singing. The Cubs win last night was vindication for her faith in her team for so many years of her life. It was so sad that she hadn’t lived to see her team finally win it all. My tears of joy also encompassed that sadness.

They say that the Cubs are a relatively young team and that we haven’t heard the last of them. There should be more great years to come. I hope so, but to tell the truth, I am able to say that I saw the Cubs win the World Series and I’m happy with that. There are a lot of people who have never had the chance. Even if the Cubs were to tank next year (um, how do I prevent that from becoming a curse? knock on wood?), I still could face the year happy.

Now, if only the Bears could get their shit together.

Why is it that I get nostalgic for music that was before my era? The music of my youth is that of the 1950s, and mostly1960s and 1970s, so why does the music of the 20s, 30s and 40s resonate with me? If I was someone who believed in reincarnation I could easily believe that there was a World War II soldier who found his rebirth in me.

Then again, maybe it’s just the music. After decades of listening to music played by bands that consist mainly of four or five instruments, the lusher, more complex sounds of the big band era just is a more satisfying auditory experience. Maybe it’s just me getting older. The more primitive, tribal, feel-it-in-your-balls kind of music has lost its appeal to this testosterone challenged old fart and the richer, easier to listen to music provides greater comfort in my old age.

Maybe I am experiencing the same music time shift that my son feels. Seems that some of his favorite music is the stuff that his mom and I used to listen to when he was growing up. That theory would work if my parents listened to much music, but it really was a rarity in our house, at least as far as I can remember. My mom had some 45s that we played on our kid’s record player, but the only ones I can remember are Nothing but a Hound Dog, Love Me Tender, and How Much Is That Doggie in the Window, and I don’t remember her playing them at all. Then again, maybe she did and her music is a subconscious memory for me, but I don’t think so. And my dad? When I was a teen he used to listen to the radio when he was getting ready for work in the morning, but as I remember it, he listened to the same stuff I listened to on WLS, and that was the only time I recall him listening to music.

I do remember that when my mom and I were going somewhere together alone in the car, she would put on “the world’s most beautiful music” radio station (okay Chicagoans, which station was that?). It was mostly orchestral arrangements of popular songs from a slightly earlier era. I always enjoyed that, but such times were pretty rare.

Maybe it’s because my early years of music listening still held remnants of actual musical orchestration. This included the music of Johnny Mathis, Bobby Darin and, of course, Frank Sinatra. As well, I always appreciated songs that were more complex musically, though I do not deny the attraction of music that appealed to the more animalistic side of me.

Whatever the reason, today’s musical menu includes Frank Sinatra, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman. And what the heck, it’s only four months or so until Christmas, so maybe I’ll sneak a few Christmas songs in, too.

By the way, for those trying to think of the radio station that played “the world’s most beautiful music,” it was WAIT. They actually trademarked that phrase.

portion control in ice cream

This really has nothing to do with dieting, even though one of the best ways to eat right is to control your portions. Eat less, weigh less. No, this is about the involuntary portion control you encounter when you are a piggy and eat the whole freakin’ container of something, in particular, ice cream.

Now, this occurs with many prepackaged food products. Suddenly the quantity in a package of food you have bought forever goes down, but the price stays the same. This can be undetectable until you actually open the package, because often the packaging size remains the same. It’s just that there are one or two less items in the package, or the weight of the product has changed.

This is most obvious with ice cream. It’s hard to hide the change in the amount of ice cream in a container, since it makes no sense to keep the same size packaging with less in it. People would think they were cheated and didn’t get a full container. But reduce the size of the package and reduce the quantity of ice cream from 64 ounces per container (a full half-gallon) to 48 ounces (one and a half quarts) and you still feel like you are purchasing a “half gallon” of ice cream. In fact, I bet that if someone were to ask you to buy some ice cream, they would still say, “Pick up a half gallon of ice cream for me when you go to the store.”

This is not a recent change. It’s been years since they did this and there are kids today who have never seen a real half-gallon of ice cream. I guess this is just an oldfart’s rant against change. However, as the title says, this does result in portion control. If you are going to eat your troubles away with a half-gallon of ice cream, you are going to eat one pint less than you used to. (Yep, that 48 ounce container is only three-quarters of what it once was.) The consolation is that you cannot help but eat less ice cream, which is a good thing. Of course, even that 48 ounce container is supposed to be twelve servings, so theoretically you’ve eaten twelve times more ice cream than a “normal” person should, but I sure won’t judge. And of course, you could eat more than one container of ice cream at a time – if so, get help!

And don’t even get me going on how some “ice cream” is no longer able to be legally sold as “ice cream” and is now labeled a “frozen desert product,” or some such thing. You have to know it’s just one more way for the producer to reduce their costs but sell at the same price as real ice cream. And you probably aren’t even unaware of how much air you are paying for in your ice cream.

You know what? Homemade ice cream is starting to sound like a good idea. It may be a bit of a hassle, but at least you get whatever quantity you make and you know that it is real ice cream with an ingredient list that you understand. Time to see what an ice cream maker costs.

a dinner too sad

I just watched a video where they asked adult couples who they would like to have dinner with, whether the person was dead or alive. They came up with various answers like Justin Bieber, Kim Kardashian and Marilyn Monroe. Then they asked their kids the same question, and they all came back with “family,” or mom and dad, or something similar. That was a touching and thought provoking piece, but it gave me pause.

Who would I like to have dinner with, live or dead? Probably no question, my mom and dad. But then I thought twice, and changed my mind. I decided that it would have to be someone alive now. Who in their right mind could wish to have a dinner with your dead parents, or a dead spouse or child, or anyone that you had a significant relationship with, knowing that at the end of the dinner you would have to say goodbye all over again? True, it may give you some closure if you weren’t happy with how things stood between you and the deceased at the time of their death, but personally I can think of nothing more painful. I would spend half of the whole meal crying in joy that I got to see them again, and half of the meal crying because I was going to have to say goodbye again.

In the end, the kids were right. I think I would rather have dinner with my wife and son more than anyone else I can think of. Gratefully, it doesn’t have to be limited to one meal now, or limited to just them right now. But we should all keep in mind that those special people in our lives will not always be there, for dinner or for anything else. Spend time with the people you love, because you never know when you will no longer be able to.

a parently thought

My son and his wife have decided not to have any children. They have good reasons for this and I totally understand and support their decision, not that my opinion should count in any event. Having said that, I was just listening to Peter, Paul and Mary and “Puff the Magic Dragon” just played. When my son was a child, my wife and I took him to hear PP&M live at Ravinia. Singing “Puff the Magic Dragon” along with PP&M and everyone else there is one of the best memories I have of my son’s childhood. Along with the happy memory, though, I found myself sorry that my son will never have those kinds of memories.

Again, I understand the reasons not to have children, and at one point in our lives my wife and I debated whether we should have kids or not. We decided that we would wait until we were financially able to afford a child, but the universe laughed at that and we found ourselves pregnant in spite of our best efforts at prevention, though it took us until the age of thirty for this to happen. We knew that it was then or never, and it was a decision that I have never, ever, regretted. My life would be so very much less fulfilling without having my son in it.

Not everyone is meant to have children. Having children is (or at least should be) a real commitment. This is a human life that you must shelter, feed, educate, and support in many, many ways, for many years. It is time consuming, expensive, at times frustrating, and something that you cannot just walk away from. (Yes, I know many do, but that’s not anything I could or would do.) But the rewards of parenthood outweigh all the disadvantages of raising children. At least that has been my experience. Of course, there are rewards for not having children, too, and everyone needs to weigh the pluses and minuses of children on their own scales, and sometimes the scales may be very heavily weighted on the “no children” side.

For me, when it comes time to live in my memories, that world will be all the richer for having raised a child along with my wife.