Heron … with fish.

I do not fish, though obviously in a valley full of rivers and dams, other people fish. As do herons and gulls and divers (the ducks, not the Navy guys). I’m a little dubious about the quality of the water and what might be in those fish, but people assure me they’ve been eating them for years … and apparently no harm has come to them.

I, on the other hand, know what’s in that water, so I just smile weakly and wish them good luck and a pleasant dinner. I’m not that fond of trout anyhow.

Rather than fishing, I like making music. Not so much listening to it, though I do that too … but making it. Plucking strings, tinkling the (fake) ivories. Blowing my own horn. And it is in the service of making music that I now have a lovely little tenor ukulele.

Me and the ukulele have history going way back. I picked up my first soprano uke at Sam Goody in Hempstead when I was still in college. I was a piano student, but pianos are not portable. It was, after all, the folk music era and unless, as Tom Lehrer suggested you want to view the piano as an 88 string guitar, it just doesn’t make it as a folk instrument. To be fair, the ukulele isn’t entirely a folk instrument either, but it’s a lot closer than a living room grand Steinway.

I wanted a small, light, fun instrument I could take with me so I could, assuming I could tune to whatever key other more sophisticated pluckers were in, I could join.  There’s no instrument lighter, more portable, easier, and more fun than a ukulele. And what other instrument conjures dreams of diamond bright beaches and tropical sunsets? Powerful symbolism for a littler, 4-string strumming instrument.


Around the same time, I bought a guitar and more or less learned to play it, though I was never by any definition a good player. No idea what happened to my uke. I know I sold the guitar. Afterwards, I went home to the piano. My hands felt right on the keyboard.

Years rolled on. I sold my Steinway grand. I had no instrument in Israel, except a miniature electric keyboard that was more a toy than a real music maker. Then, when we were living in the Boston townhouse, Garry and Owen bought me the Yamaha Clavinova which has been with me for the past 23 years.


Until this past week. When I sold it to Owen’s friend, Dave, who was looking at it all dewy-eyed. He has M.S. and keyboards are the way he keeps his hands moving and useful, something I can relate to painfully (no pun intended) well. I have not been able to play my piano for a a couple of years. The arthritis in my hands has caught up with me. Unless I have further surgery — and it works, always a bit dicey — the pain of playing takes all the fun out of it. Who knew hands could hurt that much? I thought it was my wrists, that I had carpel tunnel problems, but it isn’t. It’s hands full of calcification of all those little bones.

Almost every pianist over the age of 60 has arthritic hands. Some worse than others and you can blame DNA for whether it’s completely disabling from a musical point of view, or just inconvenient. You don’t see a lot of old concert pianists … and that’s why. All that stretching and pounding from when you are just past being a toddler damages little bones and if you are, as I am, inclined to arthritis anyhow … well …

Meanwhile, the itch to get another ukulele has been growing. The uke is small enough to not put a lot of strain on me (or my budget). Nor does it require significant hand strength or dexterity — unlike the piano. A classy, hand-made solid wood ukulele is not cheap. I’ve seen some beauties that cost a couple of thousand dollars, but you can also pick up a nice little uke on which you can learn and which will sound pretty good to the less discerning ear, for around $100. Using a bit of the money from selling the piano, I found a nice, solid mahogany, tenor ukulele. It arrived a couple of days ago, and so began my ukulele adventure.


I had also bought an electronic tuner, a book of chords for beginners, a package of picks, and a hard case. I once had a nice guitar that some guest at a party kicked in, presumably accidentally. I never found out who done it, but live and learn. I buy protective cases for instruments.

Next step was to tune it. How exactly was I supposed to use the electronic tuning device? More to the point, to what part of the uke do you clip it? The “instructions” included with it were sheer poetry, and probably a direct translations from whatever Asian tongue in which they were originally written. Poetic, but uninformative.

I knew that you are supposed to clip the tuner to some part of the ukulele, but where?

“Position the tuner by clip on the part of the musical instrument which vibrates distinctly, adjust until you can see the LCD clearly.”

How about a picture? Diagram? Name of part?

I went back to the devices listing on Austin Bazaar’s website from which I bought it. Nothing. Apparently everyone but me already knows how to use it. So I went to Amazon and kept looking at electronic tuners until someone showed a picture of a tuner in use.


Aha! Mystery solved. I set the tuner to “U” for ukulele and began the tuning process. The tuner worked. When I get a string tuned to the correct note, the machine flashes neon green.


Took me about 15 minutes. New strings are stretchy, but I got it. Then, I took out the book of chords. I tried a few, then started muttering to myself. “That’s weird. The chords are all upside down. ”

Something was upside down, but it wasn’t the chords. I had tuned the strings upside down.

I retuned the instrument. It was easier the second time, especially because I was tuning the correct strings to the appropriate notes.


I learned three chords, realized I needed to clip the nails on my left hand or I wasn’t going to be able to hold the strings tight on the frets. By the time I finished that, it was time to cook dinner. The next morning, I dislocated my unhealed breastbone.

So the ukulele will have to wait awhile. A few days, anyway.

At least it’s in tune. Right-side up.

The next time I go fishing, I will bring the ukulele. If I sing to them, fish will rise to the surface and sing along. That’s what fish do, here in the valley. No, really, they do. (Not.)


The Big One – Earthquake Update




Just to let everyone know that I am safe.

Around midnight New Zealand time we had an earthquake, magnitude 7.5 which was felt around most of our country, in both North and South Island.  We were all woken up to find everything shaking, and moving from side to side.  It seemed to last a long time.

My family are all safe.  Thank goodness.  My daughter was alone when it struck which was very stressful – it was a lot worse in Wellington than where I live in Hastings.  She is now with her friends which is a relief.    Her shop, where she works, is closed as it is in the CBD.  She had to go down to check it out, though.  She told me that there is little or no damage.    There are a lot of after shocks, I have just felt another one.

My son didn’t get…

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I just saw a play that was interesting, but way too long. The producers had to fill out the required time for a Broadway play, whether or not they had enough good material. A lot of movies are too long for the same reason. To me, most action movies are no more than a series of barely distinguishable scenes of violence strung together from the opening credits and beginning “premise,” and an even more spectacularly violent dénouement. As far as I’m concerned, you could cut movies of this genre in half without altering the plot (what plot?) at all. But then, you might have a 47 minute movie and no one would pay to see it.


This is particularly painful with comedies, particularly on television. Many sit-coms have a few funny bits and that’s it. The rest of the show just isn’t funny. In a perfect world, you could air an 18 minute episode because that’s all the funny material you had. You should be able to present the material that works and then call it a day. For the most part, half-hour shows are only 21 minutes after subtracting commercial breaks. Take off another one or two for coming attraction … and you’re down to 19 minutes. So many the problem is those really bad scripts? Maybe they only feel long because they are so bad.

I worry about this with blogs too. I have good ideas but I they don’t always add up to a whole post. So I’m simply going to present a few paragraphs from a couple of interesting articles I read recently.

First, apparently babies and young children are ‘designed’, by evolution, to seem cute and winning to adults to insure kids get the maximum love and attention they need to thrive and grow. Infants’ big eyes, button noses, and chubby cheeks elicit a kind of primal bonding reaction in adults. So do the sounds the make and the way they smell. It’s a visceral, chemical, and nearly universal reaction.

Children start to lose those physically attractive ‘baby’ features around age two or three, so adults are hard-wired to respond equally strongly to the speech patterns of young children.

The way kids perceive and say things sound funny and charming to us. Their observations about the world seem irresistibly adorable. This phenomenon has a name: “Cognitive Babyness.” Studies show that between age two and seven, a child’s cute behavior replaces their cute faces in stimulating a care-giving response. Go evolution!

Ana McGuffey - 1946 - Mme. Alexander - Doll's faces are intended to embody the "adorable" factor of real toddlers.

Ana McGuffey – 1946 – Mme. Alexander – Doll’s faces are intended to embody the “adorable” factor of real toddlers.

So much for interesting factoids. I’ll move to my next mini topic.

I taught Yoga and Meditation for eight years. I know the enormous benefits to adults — increased focus, attention span, calmness, control and confidence. Also, decreased tension and stress, anger, frustration, distractibility, and fewer physical aches and pains. It never occurred to me that teaching some form of Yoga and/or Mindfulness in to schoolchildren might have the same amazing benefits. But recently, I’ve read several articles about these kinds of programs being taught in kindergarten through high school, all around the country. They have produced outstanding results.

The skills taught have reduced the symptoms in ADHD kids. Calmed children with anxiety disorders. Helped kids with learning issues, behavior problems, and social deficits. The same studies have shown improved grades, a higher degree of empathy and kindness between kids — and an enhanced enthusiasm for school.

Many schools have incorporated some form of mindfulness into the curriculum for teachers as well as students.

Way to go! Good for you! Over and out!


Black & White Sunday: SUPERMOON SUNDAY

I was very happy that today’s subject is just “something you like.” Because this is the night of the full supermoon. To be fair, it just looks like a full moon. Nothing super about it and the trees have not conveniently moved out of the way.

And these are the pictures:

And, my long zoom camera finally gave up the ghost tonight, so it won’t be taking anymore pictures. It has been having problems for more than a year, burning up batteries in sometimes just a few frames. There’s some kind of electrical problem and what with exploding phones, probably it’s time for me to admit defeat and give it up.