Sunday, April 29, 2018

Feeding Chris

...or "A Matter of Trust"

Brother Chris has been living with us for almost two months now. It's been a fairly easy adjustment, as we knew the day was coming at some point. He's good-natured, mostly self-sufficient, and our friends have welcomed him with open arms.

It's all good, but the point of this post is what he's eating. For the first time in years, he's eating a balanced diet featuring meals with actual vegetables. One thing we'd noticed from meals he's had over the last few years is that he unquestioningly eats pretty much anything Darling Wife puts in front of him. Including things he's never eaten in his life - and maybe never even seen. Broccoli is one example. We told my mom, who said, "Chris doesn't eat broccoli!" Well, he does at our house.

Since he's been living here, Darling Wife serves him a portion of whatever she's making. There's no fanfare, no, "Chris, do you want to eat this?" She just puts the plate in front of him and he eats it. I have to admit I pay attention to his reaction at some things. He did a double-take at cauliflower, but then ate it with gusto.

His recent reaction to being served Brussels sprouts had me almost laughing out loud. First of all, I don't eat them. Darling Wife does, and served Chris a portion, and I was watching out of the corner of my eye. He looked at them...did a double take...and then a triple take. He looked more doubtful than I've ever seen him. I could practically see the thought bubble above his head. "What the f%^# is this??"

I was just about to say, "You don't have to eat them if you don't want", when he started eating them. And polished them off, appearing not to give it another thought.

I still smile to myself at the memory of his first look at the Brussels sprouts on the plate in front of him.

Now that's trust.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

More Violin Lessons

I wrote in January about taking a few violin lessons. Well, it's April, and the lessons continue. I'm enjoying the challenge, and I think it really is helping (though it's hard to say for certain.) So why not. There's also inertia involved - if I don't change things in writing by the 15th of the month, I'm committed to the next month.

I mentioned in the January post that it's more like a yoga class than a music lesson, and that's still the case. It's all about relaxing and releasing tension. The first few lessons were almost all right hand. Holding the bow correctly. Bow stroke. So many many details to remember.

Three months later, most lessons still usually start with bow hold and bow stroke. He'll start off with, "play me something", and as soon as I start, he runs over to me like there's a fire that needs to be put out. Corrections follow until I'm actually doing what I thought I was doing in the first place.

Recently there's more emphasis on right hand - how to use the fingers in an efficient and relaxed manner. And maybe most important, how to hold the damned thing with your shoulder and chin. He's identified this as the single thing that will lead to the most improvement once I get it right.

I've been helping to hold the instrument up with my left hand, and that's a big no-no. You should be able to let go with the left hand and the instrument shouldn't move. He correctly identifies that I don't trust that, and hold it up with my left hand, leading to tension in the hand/arm/shoulder. Also, you need to hold it with the shoulder and chin *without* tension in the shoulder. At times it feels like a Zen riddle...but other times I do feel the difference.

What we're not doing is working on the music I'm actually playing. When I play with Don, or at the monthly Irish session, I'm playing Celtic and old-time fiddle tunes. But every time he asks what I'm playing and want to work on, and I show him - he says we're not ready for that, that I have to get the basics. I understand, and that's fine. We have to work on the foundation.

 Again, so many details to remember. It's a challenge. But I like a challenge.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Wailin' Jennys, 2/16/18

...or "An Actual Surprise"

The Wailin' Jennys has been one of Darling Wife and my favorite groups for a while now. They're a folky trio that feature three-part vocal harmony and achingly beautiful songs. We've never see them live, and as far as I knew, they didn't really tour much. But they were always one of those bands that I always thought, "if I ever see that they're coming around...."

Well, what do you know, I saw in early February that they were coming around - Friday, Feb. 16 at Lehigh University. Now it's a well-known fact that Darling Wife *hates* surprises, and much prefers to know what's going on. But I thought that maybe in this one case, it might work. There wasn't any question that she'd love to see the show. And with Lehigh maybe an hour and a half away, we could get a room and stay there for the night and make it a Valentine's getaway - which I knew she'd like.

Surprisingly, when I said I had a surprise planned and to pack a bag, she was okay with it. If she'd insisted, I would have told her. But the element of a surprise did exactly what it should ideally do - it increased the anticipation. She really didn't know who we were seeing until we got to the hall.

As for the show itself - it was close to two hours of pure magic. Easily one of the very best shows I've ever seen. All three ladies have amazing voices, and the harmonies were exquisite. It's clear now that they record a CD by putting the three of them in a room with their instruments and having someone press the "record" button. Because what you hear live is exactly what you hear on the CD. The harmonies and the playing are dead on.

It was also maybe the best-behaved audience I've ever been a part of - when they got quiet, you could hear a pin drop. There was a pre-announcement asking for no cell phones and no photography, and I didn't see a single person in the sold-out audience taking pics or video with their phone. That's unheard of at concerts these days. I like to get one decent shot at a show for FB or blogging, but when I didn't see any other phones, I kept mine in my pocket.

It all went way too quickly. The finest moment may have been the last encore. The three of them came to the front of the stage (out in front of the mics) and sang The Parting Glass a-capella in three-part harmony. Just breathtakingly beautiful. And again, you could have heard a pin drop.

Darling Wife and I were buzzing with excitement both afterwards and the next day while we enjoyed a lazy morning at the hotel. We agreed that they're a "must see" if they come anywhere near here again. Fingers crossed that won't be too far in the future.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Super Bowl Champs

This isn't breaking news 2+ weeks after the fact, but the Philadelphia Eagles are Super Bowl champions. Words I didn't think I'd ever be able to write. And in the sweetest possible way, beating the *despised* New England Patriots in one of the greatest games I've ever seen.

I would have told you (and may even have blogged) that sports are way less important, and take up way less emotional importance for me than they used to. And it's true - I watch way less than I used to, and almost all of what I do watch is in the background, only paying a little attention, and looking up if it sounds like something exciting is going on.

But it's also true that sometimes a team catches my attention, and they're fun to watch, and all of a sudden I do care again. This year's Eagles team was one of those teams. Carson Wentz was extraordinary in his second year at QB, and they just seemed to find a way to win every week. I was interested again - they were fun to watch, and I did.

Then, heartbreaking disaster - Wentz injured and out for the season at the end of the year. Such promise for the year...up in smoke. Except that the miraculous turnaround, for the first time in my life, went the Eagles' way. They beat the Falcons, then crushed the Vikings...and holy smokes we're in the Super Bowl. Except that the juggernaut Patriots stood in the way...and we have our hopes pinned on Nick Foles against Tom Brady?

The game itself was agonizing in its suspense. We looked good...even great...but they answered everything we did. Doug Pederson called the ballsiest game I can possibly imagine, and on the biggest stage - I think my comment at the time was "the man has f***ing coconuts." For the last few minutes of the game, it felt like I could hardly breathe. And then, unbelievably, it was over, and we'd won.

Total ecstasy. I sometimes roll my eyes a little at people celebrating a sports team - but I totally lost myself in it. I've read every word every sportswriter has written about the game. I've watched all the highlight videos. I have a "Super Bowl champions" hat and t-shirt. I took a half day off to watch the parade on TV.

As brother Eric blogged, seeing longtime fans' emotions to the win was moving. I also thought of my dad, who liked all Philadelphia sports, but the Eagles were closest to his heart. He was a season-ticket holder in the 50's and 60's, and when I was a boy, if we were out somewhere on a Sunday afternoon, he had a pocket transistor radio with him. Dad could be a contrarian, and sometimes liked to find something about a good situation to complain about (sometimes I think for real, and other times just to stir the pot and get a reaction), but I don't think he could possibly have found anything to complain about this.

Philadelphia Eagles, Super Bowl champions. Simply amazing.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Kitten Bowling

(Second of two posts about some recent comic misadventures)

I know, it sounds like a Saturday Night Live skit, or something out of Monty Python. But it happened to me yesterday morning.

Having a kitten is a wonderful thing, and we couldn't love Calvin more. He's adorable, affectionate, curious about everything, and high energy as only kittens can be high energy.

Anyway, my misadventure happened out the blue in the middle of a normal work day. The pic at right shows the vantage point from where I work. I'm at my laptop at a table at one end of the basement, there's a PA and some amps and guitars and basses at the far end, and a fairly long open stretch in between.

Now kittens can be hard to understand if you're not a kitten yourself. They can decide for no apparent reason to take off at top speed for points unknown. I was working, and I knew Calvin was around...moving from here to there, stopping to play with a toy or look out the window...when I heard him break into a full gallop. He started at the far wall heading toward me. At full speed, he jumped up onto my table. He hit the relatively slick tabletop with full momentum, and I looked up in time to see him skidding toward me.

He hit my work area like a bowling ball hitting bowling pins. I don't have a lot of stuff on the table, but everything that was there went flying. And I've included a glass of water in the pic, as there was one there yesterday morning.

From the aftermath, you'd have thought there was a gallon of water in that one small glass. There was water *everywhere*. I was soaked. The table was soaked. The carpet was soaked. Fortunately, the laptop was fine. I roared and cursed and goddamned him, and he went skittering away.

I trudged upstairs, and Darling Wife consoled me and expressed her sympathy. No wait, she laughed and laughed. And I don't blame her.

If only we had a hidden camera, I would be this week's winner of Funniest Home Videos, or the latest YouTube sensation. Since we don't, I just have a memory to shake my head at.

And of course Calvin was forgiven as soon as I dried off. A kitten can't help being a kitten.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Onion Pancakes

(First of two posts about some recent comic misadventures)

Winter break for Younger Daughter ended ten days ago, and we took her out to breakfast on the way to the university bus (they run charters to a number of major cities, and we're lucky that the Philadelphia-area drop point is ten minutes from the house.)

We went to our favorite local breakfast place (which will remain nameless, as we still like them, and assume that this incident was a one-time mistake.) I ordered blueberry pancakes. Simple, right? When the plate arrived, it all looked good.

I spread a little butter on the top, and then lifted the top one to spread some butter on the bottom one. I noticed a few little diced onions sitting between the pancakes...thought "that's odd", and brushed them away. As I was thinking "I wonder if those couple of onions were the only ones there...", Darling Wife asked for a bite.

We both took a bite at the same time, and just as I was thinking "this isn't right", Darling Wife spit hers out. I did too. So I did something that I'm not sure I've ever done before - sent a plate back to the kitchen. The waitress was apologetic, and a no-charge plate of actual blueberry-and-no-onion pancakes arrived before too long.

We had a good laugh. And I can now say definitively that I know why you never see onion pancakes on the menu.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Violin Lessons

I decided in December that I wanted to take a few violin lessons. I'm enjoying playing and have learned a decent number of Celtic and fiddle tunes in the past year - but I also feel like I've hit a wall or a plateau in terms of technique. There are some things that are hard to do that aren't getting any easier with more practice. Also, my tone on slow songs isn't what I want it to be. You hear some players, and the fiddle just sings - I feel like I'm playing notes, not singing.

I've enjoyed, and I guess even taken some pride in having made decent progress pretty much on my own. But every piece of advice you read online boils down to "you *need* a teacher."

I took a handful of lessons a year and a half ago, but it was a distance away and logistically impossible to continue. So close proximity was factor #1. Factor #2 was willingness to work with an adult who's not looking to play in the orchestra. I don't mind at all if we do classical training or exercises, as long as it develops skills and technique that I can easily transfer to what I'm playing.

Happily, I found a guy who teaches at a local music store. We talked a bit and it seemed like we had a mutual understanding, so I signed up and have now had two lessons. The first thing he said was "play a couple of tunes." He was complimentary about where I've gotten to (I know, as if he would scoff and ridicule a new student...), and said he could definitely help me, as long as I was willing to try to unlearn some habits and replace them with new habits. Of course I'll try - it would be a waste of my money and both our time if I wasn't willing.

We're starting from the ground up - holding the bow, and basic bow stroke. It's a matter of relaxation. Let the bow rest in your hand *without* gripping it. Relax your fingers, relax your wrist. Move from your elbow keeping everything relaxed and pay attention to when you tense your fingers and start gripping the bow. It's really really not easy. Every instinct is to grip the damned thing.

A funny thing is, I've been on the other side of this lesson so many times when teaching aikido. It's the same thing. Every instinct says "I want to control this person, I have to close my hands and grab." But the tension of closing the hands and grabbing makes what you want impossible. So very hard to train yourself to relax and not grab. That's why aikido is a lifetime practice - and why music is too.

So I'm working on identifying tension and letting it go. It's more like a yoga class than a music class. He tells me to not even listen to the sounds coming out, to just pay attention to the bow hold and the bow stroke. I'm trying...but not noticing the sound that's coming out is too much to ask at the moment.

So on we go, starting to develop and reinforce good habits.

Monday, January 1, 2018

2017 Year in Review

It's January 1, and cold enough that I thought better of the New Years hike I often do. So that gives me time to think about the highlights of 2017. It was an eventful year, and much I didn't blog about. In no particular order:

2017 was a pivotal year for Older Daughter, and she couldn't have done better, or made me any prouder. Her whole graphic design class boggled us at the Senior Design Show in June - every student's exhibit was absolutely professional caliber. Then the next day was graduation, which was a very sweet day for everyone. She followed that up with renting a rowhouse in South Philly with two college girlfriends, and then finding work - first for two months as an unpaid intern, and then with honest-to-god salaried employment.
A post shared by Dave Lyons (@davidclyons) on

River House
It was the year of the river house rebuild. After months of delay for permits and approvals, demolition finally happened in April. Building has gone in fits and starts, and I think the new house will be beautiful. But 2017 was a lost year that we didn't have a house. We still got down there for some day trips, but it was a strange feeling to have so many summer weekends at home.

In June, I got the idea to start bicycling again. I got a used bike and rode for the rest of the year (until it got too cold.) I love it every bit as much as I ever did. There are great paved trails around, and I took full advantage of them. And bicycling from the river, enjoying the flat rural roads of Kent and Queen Anne's counties is a joy I was happy to re-experience after a layoff of so many years.

Concert Band
Playing with the local concert band turned out to be a big and entirely pleasant surprise. I agreed to do it less than wholeheartedly (more, "umm, ok, I guess...") but it turned out to be a total pleasure. I hadn't been part of an organized ensemble in 30 years, but I always enjoyed that, and it turns out I still do. And this led directly to....

Upright Bass
I wouldn't have gotten an upright bass if it wasn't for the concert band. But when I started researching it, things just feel into place, and I ended up with a good instrument at a great (relative) price. It's been great to rediscover how much fun it is to play, and it all came back reasonably quickly. My Rosewood bandmates were thrilled at my acquisition, and I haven't played anything else with them since.

The End of Gear Churn
I know, famous last words. But I honestly (at least for the moment), have no music gear desires. I love what I have, don't want to add anything, don't want to change anything. I play everything I have a lot, and I just want to play everything more.

Brother Chris
We did a lot of things together this year, and he's wonderful company. His 50th birthday party in January was a highlight of the year. He's both Rosewood's and Breakfall's #1 fan, #1 dancer, and #1 roadie (always happy to help lug gear around.) He also saw more concert band performances than anyone not actually in the band. And after months of navigating mind-numbing and soul-sucking bureaucracy, Darling Wife got him back to work. He's happy, and Darling Wife's place in heaven is now assured.

We got a rescue kitten in July to keep Avery company, and he's been everything you could possibly expect of a kitten. He's couldn't be any more playful, curious, or affectionate. I think it just about killed Greta to go back to college and leave him. We promised we'd text her pics every day, and we have. All our phones are jam-packed with pictures of our orange boys doing cute things. He's a little less kitten and a little more cat every day, which is good news for Ave, who's been a not-always-entirely-willing wrestling partner for the last few months.

This is also an excuse for me to re-post my favorite picture of the year:

Friday, December 15, 2017

Earliest Memory...

...of a Historical Event

I saw a question posed somewhere online, asking what's the earliest memory you have of a historical event?

I have some hazy memories of the apartment we lived in at Drexelbrook (and moved out of in the fall of '67 when I was 3), but that doesn't count. Thinking about historical events, I came up with two contenders.

I have a crystal clear memory of the Apollo 11 moon landing. That was the most exciting thing in the world to a 5-year-old boy in July 1969. I remember the rocket launch and the moon landing on July 20. We watched the lunar landing on TV at the river, and I was completely entranced. The next thing was Neil Armstrong walking on the moon - but that was many hours after the landing (which I think happened in the early evening), and I simply could not will myself to stay awake. I was so disappointed that I missed it.

But I have another clear memory, and Google tells me it was months before Apollo 11, on March 30, 1969. We had come home from somewhere, and my parents turned on the TV. Horses were pulling a cart, and on the cart was a box wrapped in an American flag. My mom explained that it was Eisenhower's funeral (commander of the Allied armies in WWII, and President of the U.S. 1952-60.) I watched for a few minutes, then lost interest and wandered away.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Christmas Strings

One of the best things about the holiday season is the music, and I was fortunate enough to be able to play in two Christmas events this weekend.

Friday night was a local company's annual charity event - a Christmas party for local underprivileged children. A friend of mine works for the company and is in change of the music for the evening, and he asked if I'd be interested in playing fiddle. Of course I was.

Darling Wife and a few ladies were recruited to sing. One rehearsal (and some intensive practice by myself here in the basement) and we were ready to go.

It went great and was a pleasure to be a part of. A lot of kids and their families came through. There was pizza and gifts and crafts and Santa - and festive music.

Moving from fiddle to string bass, this afternoon was the first of three holiday concerts by the concert band. We played at the local V.A. hospital, where we've played twice before this year.

It was fun and went well, and I think the patients appreciate the chance to listen to music for an hour. We'll play the concert again next Sunday in a local church, which should be an interesting acoustic challenge.

Here's a pic from my vantage point as the band warms up a few minutes before the concert began.