IF YOU DON’T READ, YOU PROBABLY CAN’T WRITE – Marilyn Armstrong

Blogging Insights # 34 – Reading


QUESTION

Do you think that reading is an important prerequisite for writing well? If so, what kind of reading material inspires or affects your writing?

I never took a writing course. .I never wanted to take a writing course. i was afraid it would damage my ability to write.

I learned to write by reading. By liking this, not liking that. By enjoying this book, not liking another. And, what is more, I had a certain facility with words that started when I was very young. It wasn’t something I learned. It was something I was.

That’s the thing about talent and gifts. They aren’t learned. Courses can help you write better. Improve your grammar, if you feel that better grammar is what your writing needs. It can certainly improve your punctuation, especially if you believe that your previous understanding or lack thereof of punctuation is the problem with  your writing.

I absolutely guarantee that neither of these things is your writing problem. You may not have yet found your “voice.” You might well not know what it is you want to write about. You may not have found the type of writing that suits you. I was sure I was going to be a great novelist. Nope.

I hit my stride in non-fiction. I could write news, features, information, directions, instructions. I am brilliant at explaining complicated things to people who need to understand complex information, but don’t have a technical background. But novels? No amount of grammar or punctuation would help me. I don’t have the ability to create people who live, who jump from the page and become real to a reader.

But that’s okay. Other people do it very well and I love to read.

The capacity to use words was a gift, a talent. In the course of reading everything — I really did read everything I could get my hands on — and trying different kinds of writing, I learned what I was good at. No one was more surprised than I was that technical writing became my forte since I had always considered myself non-technical. But that was before I met computers where I found my spot in the technical universe.

So where does reading come into it? Books are chock full of ideas. You might be amazed at how many great ideas come out of books that have nothing to do with the subject for which the idea is used. Ideas are sneaky little devils and reading fills you up with them.

If everybody read books, we wouldn’t be in half the messes we are in. Reading makes you smarter. Reading helps you find truth. Really. It does.

A STRAW AND A CAMEL – Marilyn Armstrong

I understand that Amazon is overloaded and slow delivery is routine and that’s okay. Most things I don’t need tomorrow or the next day. I don’t mind waiting a week and sometimes much more.

What gets me is that they deliver my stuff to other people’s houses. Our left-hand next door neighbor is one ornery, nasty old cuss. We used to listen to him shouting at his wife. She’s gone for at least a decade. I’m surprised she stayed as long as she did.

Not surprisingly, since Amazon has taken to dumping our packages on his walk, he has found it annoying. He refuses to return the packages. If we can’t figure out that he’s got them, he keeps them. Yes, it’s illegal and once we had to send the cops who explained the legalities and he decided maybe he should return the packages.

But, in all fairness, this is an ongoing issue. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told the package was delivered but it wasn’t … and it never appeared. It was delivered somewhere, but not here.

We have provided our phone number and very specific directions on how to get here. We put up a sign along the road so if you are trying to find the We have given Amazon specific instruction on how to get to this house and we have a big sign at the top of the driveway that has our house number on it. Four packages were supposed to be delivered today and all four of them went to the nasty old neighbor. And all four delivery slips said “packages given directly to residents.” No, they weren’t. Not to us, not to the neighbor. Not to anyone but us.

They promised me it would never happen again. I wasn’t my usual placid me because I can’t count how many times they have said this exact line to me and it hasn’t changed anything.

That they can’t get the address right is annoying. That they lie when they say they handed it to a resident is much more than annoying. I understand te drivers are under pressure, but they had other options including “delivery is delayed” if it is. But it wasn’t delayed. It was delivered to the wrong place.

I hate the lying. That they make it increasingly difficult to get in touch with anyone at Amazon to deal with problems is most annoying of all.

The whole point of ordering things is so they get delivered. To me. Not my neighbor who lives a quarter of a mile down the road. It wasn’t that the packages were delayed, lost, or still on the truck. They were delivered — just not to me. The guy lied, said he delivered them to a resident, and dumped them on our neighbor’s sidewalk. It isn’t okay. And if I have to find local places that sell what i want, then I’ll have to do it.

I hope the state lets some more store open soon because it gets increasingly difficult to buy anything except groceries.

WHY DON’T I CHANGE TO THE “NEW” BLOCK EDITOR? WHY WOULD I?- Marilyn Armstrong

THE ‘IMPROVED’ GUTTENBERG’ Block Editor

I see that line every time I write something — in the old, old format. “SWITCH TO THE IMPROVED EDITOR” lurks above my editing every time I work. I would make it vanish if I could.

Why don’t I use the new improved format?


The new editor is definitely different, but it isn’t better. It’s more difficult to use. You need more steps to accomplish simple things.

Nothing has been done to improve the limitations of the original editing format. The spacing issues that have plagued every template I’ve used during the past six years are as bad or worse as are all the problems that come with pasting text from some other piece — even if it’s from another WordPress post. The “customization” has been reduced to the most simplistic possible format so you get choices like “Huge, Too Big, Too Small, Tiny, and “Can anyone read that?”

Nor have there been any improvements for editing pictures. Even simple stuff, like properly resizing a picture from native to “web sized.” Internally within the post, you are stuck using the standard font or a header. The “blockquote” function is always the wrong size.

We’re still putting bandages on your “other” improvements


Lately we’ve all been battered with WordPress’s “improvements.” I’m here to tell you:


Change isn’t inherently an improvement. An improvement means you’ve taken something which wasn’t working and made it better. Easier to use. More effective. With more options. 


At WordPress, improvements do exactly the opposite. You take something useful and remove a piece of its functionality. I have to assume there’s a reason for this, but I have no idea what it might be. I remember when you removed “edit” from the template and we complained. One of your “happiness engineers” actually asked why we needed an edit function?

Um, because we’re writers? Editors? Artists? Do the people who create our format use it? Do they consult people who do use it? Typically, your improvements make functions work less well than before, which I suppose makes them a dis-improvements.

I have a monumental investment in my site and am at an age where starting over is – pardon the pun – a non-starter. You might force me to quit. You may push out all your “old timers.” There is always a bill to pay when you refuse to listen to your customers. You won’t be the first major tech company to slither down that open drain.

Personally, I think you are slouching down a long, gravelly road to nowhere. Like so many formerly great platforms, the power you now hold will dwindle. I hope by the time you vanish, someone else will take over.

As for my failure to “SWITCH TO THE IMPROVED EDITOR” option?

You don’t actually believe your improved platform is better than the one we had anymore than you believe changing our font sizing option from “points” to “small” “normal” or “large” improved customizing. Or eliminating our ability to create our own colors made our templates look better. Or deleting all the challenges that enabled us to form relationships with each other improved our blogging and creativity.

You’re just following orders. After all, everyone needs a job.

TROOPS OF SQUIRRELS ATTACK RETIREE – Marilyn Armstrong

Gazing out of her bedroom window, she nothing that each feeder had two or three squirrels clinging to it and there were more of them on the deck and on the railing.

“This,” she said to herself, “Is ridiculous. How many of them ARE there?” She opened the window and yelled out the window, but the squirrels ignored her. They didn’t even twitch a tail.

So, barefoot and lacking eyeglasses, she trundled to the kitchen, opened the back door and yelled at the squirrels. There was a wild reaction as squirrels appeared from behind the rails, under the rails, under the deck, on and atop the feeders … and it turns out there were half a dozen chipmunks there, too.

Squirrel on the railing

One big one, the biggest, fattest, most hostile of the squirrel gang stood his ground. She finally opened the door and tried pushing him off the railing. That was when the cadre of apparently karate-trained squirrels came at her from every direction.

Only white bones were left on the deck, left for the sun to whiten and the sun to bleach. The retiree was done in by squirrels and a few chipmunks.

A GREAT DAY FOR THE LILIES – Marilyn Armstrong

FOTD – July 6 – Daylily


Today was as close to a perfect summer day as you could hope for. It was warm, dry, breezy, and sunny. Not terribly hot and not at all humid. Owen decided to put up the shed that has been waiting for a dry spell and in the process, moved my swing into the middle of the backyard. It’s a big improvement.We have an Amish community down the road and they sell outdoor furniture. I bought this from them close to 20 years ago. it’s still in fine shape and where it is now, it might actually get used.

Duke likes to sniff the plants

While I was taking pictures of the shed going up, I realized we still have a lot of daylilies, so I took pictures of them too. While I was at it, I took pictures of  the rapidly growing hemp, the fuchsia (which fell from its hook and now sits on a small table) … and the Duke who just likes hanging out on the deck.

The wild daylily garden

No squirrels for the Duke

We’ve been putting black sunflower seeds down on the grass below the deck, so the squirrels are having a fine old time munching them down on the lawn instead of trying to get them out of the feeders. It’s probably a lot more comfortable for them and pouring seed over the side of the deck to the ground isn’t nearly as much work as filling feeders. But pictures are hard to take when the squirrels are down there and the Duke doesn’t get to sniff all around the deck in the hope that there will be a live one.

The fuchsia has survived a lot of damage this year, but still blooming!

There will never be a live one waiting for the Duke. They just hop on a branch and depart, leaving a sad dog who had hoped for a big squirrel day.

THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENED By JOHN BOLTON – Marilyn Armstrong

I expected it to be dull, but it wasn’t dull. I think I’d describe it as “dry.” Not unlike the material I wrote for many years.

I wasn’t going to read it, but I decided my curiosity was stronger than my desire to avoid reading a book about Trump by a Republican I basically don’t much like. Surprisingly, I didn’t find the book nearly as distasteful as I expected.

For one thing, although on most levels I completely disagree with everything Bolton has to say — personally and politically — I was surprised that the book was not intentionally divisive. He pretty much describes the facts as he perceived them coming from many years as a very hawkish Republican. I’m not hawkish and I’m not a Republican, but I realized for the first time in years it’s possible to read a book with which I disagree and still find interesting material and not feel personally offended. In 2020 in the U.S.A., that’s a big deal.

Bolton’s comments on Democrats are the usually stupid ones you hear from Republicans, but they aren’t offensive. Just dismissive and mostly wrong.

However, not everything he said was wrong. We are today seeing just how awful the original Bill Clinton NAFTA agreement was. It did exactly what we thought it would do. It stripped manufacturing out of the U.S. and created massive job losses. It greatly complicated freight and shipping on everything from underwear to trucks. We are paying a heavy price for that now. Having closed all our major industrial centers, you can’t rebuild them nearly as quickly as we abandoned them. It was a bad deal and I doubt anyone will argue the point now. All it took was one international calamity for us to discover how bad a deal it is to have all of your goods made in China and have to get them here by airplane. Maybe we’ll go back to steamships?

Other than that, the issue of war and reprisals came up often. It never seems to be of any importance to any president of either party how “incidents” begin or what we did versus what they did. We — as a people — know shockingly little about what’s really going on internationally. Not only does our government not tell us, but once the press gets hold of it, the various versions that come out are astoundingly different from each other. Fox just makes stuff up, but all the news purveyors sell their version of events. The stories may not be outright lies, but they also aren’t the truth. You have to read a lot of news to get a grip on what really happened. And even so, there’s more we don’t know no matter how much we read.

Overall, I agree that the impeachment was a farce.I thought it would be before it started. Both parties made it an exclusively party-driven event. Once the GOP announced they wouldn’t allow witnesses and wouldn’t listen to them even if they spoke, what was the point of continuing? Trump absolutely deserved to be impeached — the single thing  Bolton and I agree on. He felt there was nothing he could say that anyone would listen to and I believe he was right.

It’s not a great book, but it’s interesting and if you are a liberal Democrat, it probably won’t make you froth at the mouth. I have a feeling the true Trumpistas are more likely to find themselves frothing. Whatever he says about Democrats pales in comparison to what he says about Republicans and Trump.

Bolton isn’t exactly a convert to my politics, but he has come very far from Trumpism — and that’s a good thing.

FILE PHOTO: National Security Advisor John Bolton adjusts his glasses as U.S. President Donald Trump speaks while meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 2, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

Do I recommend it? If you have the time, it’s worth the effort. It’s interesting to get a different point of view. It’s also noteworthy recognizing Republicans aren’t the only party to have made a mess of our country. This disaster has been many years in the making. It didn’t all happen in 2016 and it won’t be over in four years, either.

We started in slavery and with the philosophy that “anyone could make it.”  This was never true. It was a lie when we wrote the Constitution and the years haven’t changed it. It will take a lot of work and a lot of  people working together to fix even a part of the disaster. I think it will take a lot longer than that to get it right, assuming we can remember after a year or so how bad it was in 2020.

We tend to have very short memories in this country and if we forget, decide it’s too much effort, the world will be no better in a decade than it is now — and that’s politically. In most other ways, it will be much worse.

We need to decide who we are, who we want to be, and how much effort we are willing to put into the struggle that is coming.

SPIDER PLANTS IN THE BIG WINDOW – Marilyn Armstrong

FOTD – July 5 – SPIDER PLANTS


My son’s spider plants are blooming and he wanted me to see if I could take pictures of them. But it was a little tricky. The light was coming from the back and I could get close because two big recliners are in the way. I got some nice pictures, but the flowers are there, but hard to see.

Spider Plant – The first

Spider plant – the second

Spider plant – the third

Spider plant – the fourth

LIVING IN CIVILITY – Marilyn Armstrong

Civility, manners, and communications has become a hot topic. We have a racist, narcissistic president who insults people in front of the entire world and a lot of people apparently believe it’s okay. Of course, some of these people also believe the same idiot blowhard is the next messiah, so maybe I can discount their opinion. I don’t have a strong religious predilection, but I’m absolutely sure Orangehead is no one’s messiah.

We talk about manners vanishing and I’m beginning to believe it. Not only can our head of government not conduct a civil conversation, but delivery men lie, our neighbor is mad at the world and won’t deliver packages accidentally delivered to him rather than us.  Some years ago, Bonnie had wandered up the driveway. A passing  motorist picked her up and would not return her until the police showed up with sirens wailing and then she decided I didn’t really need to pay for her to return my dog.

Cover of "The Graduate"How many people are actually know what good manners are? So many people are clueless about what’s appropriate  They don’t know when it’s okay to be casual — and when it’s not.

This is pretty much a no-brainer for my generation. It’s not that we’re so smart, but we were raised differently. We grew up when there were clear rules about social behavior. The standards were pretty rigid for professional communications and I’m pretty sure they still are. Nobody had to tell us how to talk to superior officers or bosses. We learned this stuff watching other people. We learned it at home, in our friends’ homes. We even learned it on television.

We called our teachers “Mr. or Mrs. Whats-your-name.” That’s also how we addressed our friends’ moms and how our friends addressed our parents. That’s how we addressed everyone older than us.

It’s one of the funny parts of watching “The Graduate” with Dustin Hoffman. He may be sleeping with Mrs. Robinson, but he never calls her by her first name. That would be impolite.

The next generation had its own set of rules. They didn’t believe they needed to respect their elders simply because they were elders. Or bosses or teachers. They heard a different message: everyone is equal. They didn’t get that equal before the law is not the same as equal in the office. Or in the military.

The thing is, we are very far from being equal. It’s not only about race or ethnicity, color or sex, although these issues are a huge factor. Dig a little deeper and it’s just as much about money and power. Which is what it has been about since history began. That’s how society really works. Being a minority is fine as long as you have more money than the other guy. Green is really the only color that matters.

In my generation, we all knew this before we left high school. You don’t treat your boss like your buddy. It has nothing to do with whether or not your boss deserves your respect. It’s nice if he or she does, but In the course of a building a career the odds favor you working for any number of people who are unworthy of anyone’s respect.

As long as they sign your paycheck, you treat them with respect, tact, and care. Not only does your salary depend on it, so does your reputation and future career moves. Your boss may be the biggest asshole you’ve ever met, but keep it to yourself.

Filling in the forms

If you’re smart, you don’t say it behind his or her back either because another rule of the real world is what you say will get back to roost. You will need all the goodwill and recommendations you can get as you fight your way through the working world. Don’t squander it. Don’t blow up your world by gossiping, backbiting, and behaving like a brat.

To people my age, all this stuff was obvious, that all men may have been created equal, but after being born, some are much more equal than others. No one had to tell us not to start a memo to the boss with “Yo, Bossman!”

Looking for work?

We knew that. We knew who had the power and who didn’t. We knew when to fight and when to duck and cover. We knew we needed to earn our way and had to behave professionally. Kids who are long past childhood don’t seem to get it. Unsurprisingly, neither do their kids. I don’t understand what they don’t understand.

Do you? Maybe they’ve been watching too much news and have a bad case of Trumpitis.

JULY 4TH AND COLLATERAL DAMAGE – Marilyn Armstrong

Memorial Day has come and gone … and suddenly, it’s just about to be Independence Day. No one had time to take their flags down. If we want to know just how many wars we have had, count the number of “holidays” we have relating to wars and victims and veterans. And that’s not counting recent wars. We don’t have any holidays for recent wars. I thnk it’s possible we are running out of days. Or flags. Or memories. How many wars have we had since I was born, right after World War II?

We don’t have holidays for the Korean, Vietnam, Iraq (one and two)(and maybe three) Gulf wars — or are they all Iraq wars? It gets so confusing. Then there’s Somalia and the whole Serbian mess. And do we celebrate our invasion of Grenada? I thought that was embarrassing, personally. Or, for that matter. our attempted invasion of Cuba in the sixties? You know, the one that went so horribly wrong.

War is more than battles, invasion, victories, and defeats. War is ultimately about destruction. The annihilation of nations. Laying waste to the lands where wars are fought. The slaughter of millions of civilians, young, old, and in between. All the war casualties who never wore a uniform and probably didn’t carry guns. There are no medals for them. No parades. No holidays. They’re just gone.

Most of these casualties — collateral damage — were people living uneventful lives until by ill fortune, they were caught in the backwash of war. Wrong place, wrong time. Wrong race, wrong religion. Believed the wrong stuff, belonged to the wrong political party. Espoused an unacceptable philosophy.

The demagogues who lead the wars usually escape its wrath. They are talkers, not fighters.

AFP PHOTO/TUWAEDANIYA MERING (Photo credit should read Tuwaedaniya MERGING/AFP/Getty Images)

I honor our soldiers. It’s an ugly, dangerous, and often thankless job. But I think we need to remember the unlucky millions caught on a battlefield they called home.

The number of military and civilian casualties in World War I totaled more than 37 million including 16 million dead and 20 million wounded. It ranks among the deadliest conflicts in human history. The total number of deaths includes about 10 million military personnel and about 7 million civilians. The Entente Powers (the Allies) lost close to 6 million soldiers. The Central Powers lost about 4 million. At least 2 million civilians died from disease. Six million went missing and are presumed dead.

World War II fatality statistics vary depending on who and how they are being counted. The estimates of  total dead range from 50 million to more than 70 million, making it the deadliest war in world history in absolute terms —  total dead — but not in terms of deaths relative to the world population. Our American Civil War holds that distinction.

Civilians killed totaled from 40 to 52 million, including 13 to 20 million from war-related disease and famine. Total military dead range in estimate from 22 to 25 million. These numbers include deaths in military prison camps — about 5 million prisoners of war.

Death Camps

In addition to soldiers and collaterally killed civilians, between 3 and 4 million Jews were murdered in Nazi death camps. In the USSR, the Einsatzgruppen mobile killing groups slaughtered another 1.4 million Jews. Jewish deaths in the ghettos of Nazi-occupied Europe total around 700,000. Yad Vashem has identified the names of four million Jewish Holocaust dead.

Not merely was European Jewry wiped out, but Jewish culture was destroyed. The Nazis were very thorough and highly efficient. They set out to destroy the Jews and they succeeded.

Although the Holocaust specifically targeted Jews, it did not target only Jews.

Roma (Gypsies), handicapped persons, political prisoners, intellectuals, ethnic Poles, and Slavs were slaughtered too, bringing the total number of Holocaust victims to between 11 and 17 million.

At least 1 million people died in wartime gulags or by deportation. Other wartime deaths resulted from malnutrition and disease. Both Stalin and Hitler were responsible for these deaths. The biggest mass murderers in human history may never have personally killed anyone. They had others to do the job for them.

Now that nationalism and demagoguery is in vogue, are Americans going to be the next mass murderers? The kind of rhetoric I’m hearing cannot help remind me (and I’m sure lots of other people) of other murderous demagogues and the slaughters they perpetrated.

In tallying up the costs of war, soldiers are not the only casualties. “Collateral damage” sounds so benign, a kind of verbal cleansing. But no matter what you call it, the dead are dead.

WHERE’S MY STUFF? – Marilyn Armstrong and Rich Paschall

I know this isn’t the sexiest subject on the Internet, but this morning, I had to explain to my furniture store from whom — at the beginning of June — we ordered a new loveseat. The one we sit in — ALL the time — is 15 years old and has more or less collapsed. Considering that we are home pretty much all the time, we need something to support our backs — and sturdy enough to not be done in by the Duke’s sharp, pointy feet.

They have no idea when I’ll get my sofa. I’m not in a hurry anyway, so it was more a matter of information than urgency. Rich Paschall has explained this to me and to you (if you read the posts), I explained it to her. She hadn’t understood it either and said she was grateful because customers get restless and don’t seem to understand why the world isn’t working like it used to.

Tracks are the road

Most people think the delays are (or were) because so many people are (were, will be) sick, but that was where it began. From then on, it is far more complicated and it is not repaired. Most places aren’t entirely sure how to repair it. Until it is finally fixed, it might be quite a long time  before we see the improvements, even if every airline and freight mover works as hard as they can to get it working. Old ideas need to be replaced, in some cases with older ideas we abandoned or changed to entirely new ways of doing things.

We won’t have an economy if we can’t move our goods. Forget about overseas shipping. Even shipping in this country — which is a very big country with many airports and uncounted numbers of roads — has a lot of moving to do.Living in New England, we are completely dependent on getting fruits and vegetables from California, Florida, and Mexico from November through April and often longer. By early summer, I’m drooling over the idea of a fresh orange.

Spanning the river

Weather matters. Road conditions are critical.  That’s why public works — resurfacing, rebuilding roads and bridges — is a very big deal. It’s not just whether or not you get to work on time.

It’s also whether or not you have work to get to.

We need trains that run in addition to trucks, but we’ve never bothered to repair the tracks, so throughout the country, many direct routes are unusable. We have the trains, but the tracks are old and have not been maintained.

So, while wondering how come we don’t have our new recliner, we should ponder where it’s coming from and how it will somehow get from it’s point of manufacture to the shop in Uxbridge (where we bought it) and ultimately, to our living room.

A big truck and a low bridge

So for all of you waiting for a shipment, I’m posting a list of three of Rich’s well-written, clearly explained posts about the shipping. How it is broken and how it is being resurrected — to the degree that it can be resurrected.

I’m sure most of you don’t read these pieces because they aren’t sexy or exciting, They won’t make you laugh, but it’s information you nee, whether you are running a business or dependent on those who do. Shipping affects everybody, from grocery stores to flower growers, and people who just want a new fridge.

No one has stopped making stuff … but getting it? That’s a whole other story.

1. THE GLOBAL SUPPLY CHAIN DISRUPTION – RICH PASCHALL

2. SENDING AND RECEIVING STUFF – RICH PASCHALL

3. BRING ON THE FRUITS AND VEGGIES – RICH PASCHALL

Considering that I had to explain this to my furniture company this morning what’s going on in the shipping industry, I’m pretty sure we all need to understand how complicated this process is. We’ve come to depend on getting everything as soon as we want it, whether it’s coming from China, England, or Australia.

Stuck in traffic on the way to Connecticut

The freight and shipping lines are broken. Like the damaged train tracks all over the U.S,, our supply lines are badly damaged. Restoring them to something like what we used to have won’t be instant. It will take time, cost big money, and require rethinking the process.

It’s a great opportunity for local farms, carpenters, builders … anyone whose business is close to its customers to do a major “reboot.” For everyone else, it’s the giant migraine of migraines. Be patient … or order locally, even if it costs more — assuming there IS a local manufacturer. When we moved all our manufacturing to Asia, a lot of things we all need went far away. I don’t think we make kitchen or laundry appliances anywhere in this country. When you aren’t buying it from a Chinese factory, it will cost more and try to remember even if it has an American brand name on it, that doesn’t mean it was made here or even on this continent.

On the other hand, it might be worth more, too. And you might get it during this lifetime.

CATALPA TREES IN BLOOM – Marilyn Armstrong

FOTD – July 3 – CATALPA BLOOMS


In addition to the flowers, we have a lot of Catalpa trees. They are supposedly hard to grow, but we didn’t grow them. They just grow around our property, almost like weeds. I think they are beautiful, but they do tend to pop up in the middle of the garden. All of a sudden, a Catalpa tree is growing in the middle of the tiger lilies.

I took a few pictures. I had to take these pictures from quite a distance away because these are pretty tall trees. They don’t bloom until they are quite big.

Full tree Catalpa

Catalpa flowers

More Catalpa in bloom

 

ALMOST A ONE-WOMAN BAND – Marilyn Armstrong

I bought another tin whistle. I bought one in the key of C yesterday and bought one in the key of D today, probably because all the “learner’s” books are written for key of D whistles. I also bought a very small electric piano designed for a child because I can’t tune anything electronically.

I need to hear the sound.

Electronic tuners are silent. They find the right pitch, but they don’t make the entire instrument come together as a whole. That requires an ear. Preferably two. The chords have to sound right.

I often forget how many years I spent studying music because it was a long time ago and my hands can’t do what they used to do which was play the piano. Yes I still want music. Not just to listen to it but to make music. I can’t help it.

I thought I might “conquer” the ukulele, but there’s really nothing to conquer and honestly, if you don’t sing, there’s not a lot of fun in a uke. It’s all strumming. It wants people sitting around and singing — in or out of key — about wild mountains in Scotland or Ireland. Or West Virginia.

I’ve never seriously played a woodwind of any kind, except for a couple of years of flute in college. I wasn’t very good at it, but I wasn’t trying very hard either. I didn’t know how to play without a keyboard or maybe I didn’t want to play without a keyboard. Maybe both. It’s why I now spend so much time staring lovingly at Xylophones and Marimbas. Searching for the lost Vibraphone that should have been there. The only instruments I could afford I didn’t want. I wanted the $4000 Marimba. What a magnificent instrument that was.

If you can play a piano, you can ultimately also play a glockenspiel, xylophone, marimba, or vibraphone. The keyboard is the same. You have to do a little adapting, but you don’t have to strain your arthritic hands the same way.

The little tiny ones had YouTube footage and the treble clanging gave me an instant migraine. I do not think there is a real, wooden (the one I loved was made of rosewood) xylophone in my future and certainly not a marimba. Aside from being around the price of a small grand piano, where would I put it? Nonetheless, I can yearn.

This is all because I studied music as a child and as a young adult and even as Owen was growing up. He can still hum most of Chopin’s Mazurkas and a lot of Scott Joplin which was what I was playing when he was a little one. I thought he was sleeping, but it turned out, he was also listening.

Right now, he is having an instrument made for me by a friend of his who makes instruments. He is making me a cigar-box three-string non-electric guitar. I have no idea how one plays a three-string cigar-box guitar, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out.

There are books to study cigar-box guitars

I had to buy the cigar box and since I knew it was going to become the body of a guitar, I carefully picked one that was made of spruce — one of the woods that has a good ring to it. Just so you know, real cigar boxes are all made of cardboard these days.

So I bought a cigar-sized box and when it arrived, I pinged it and it sounded good. Soon, it will be an instrument. With frets and strings and tuning machines (not pegs — never got good at tuning with pegs). I have no idea what mine will look like. It’s a secret, but I’m ready.

If nothing else, isolation is making me creative in some very strange ways.

By the time I get my guitar, I may already be an expert playing a tin whistle. I could be the whole band if only I had a few more hands.

CAN’T GET NO SATISFACTION – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #76


And so on we go to Fandango’s provocative question of the week which, I must admit, isn’t as provocative as usual.

To answer this properly, I need to describe yesterday. It was the day after taking Bonnie to the vet and i wasn’t feeling like feeling. I had to get up very early because a valve was leaking in the bathroom and the plumber was coming. So it was 7 in the morning, I didn’t want to be awake at all, but I was. I didn’t feel like feeling anything because I was pretty sure whatever I felt wouldn’t feel good.

So after the plumber left and the bill was small enough to pay without going into debt — we have a really GREAT plumber — I turned on the television and started watching year two of Boston Legal. James Spader before he found his inner darkness.

Garry eventually got up and joined me and together, we watched an entire year of Boston Legal, front to back. Somewhere in there, I managed to cook dinner.

I had been smart enough to set up most of the posts for today because I kind of knew I was not going to want to do anything. I was right. Today, though, I had to get my act together. The Duke is sitting in corners staring at walls and Garry was watching a movie about the Klan killing black people in southern prisons which I finally insisted he turn off or go somewhere else to watch it.

He turned it off.

Today i spent all day on line trying to find one of four items that I don’t need:

  1. A real wooden Xylophone
  2. Tuning forks
  3. Something that would make a noise so I can tune my ukulele by ear rather than electronically. Yes, i know the electronic thingies works, but I need to hear the sound. I can’t tune something without hearing the sound against the sound. Tuning isn’t just getting the right vibration. It has to mellow properly with the other strings.
  4. I wanted a marimba. Couldn’t even afford to look at them and where would I put one anyway and besides, that’s a LOT of money, so I looked at Xylophones. The good ones I couldn’t afford either and I realized that no one seemed to know the difference between a glockenspiel and a xylophone … and does anyone even sell a vibraphone?

Finally, I bought a Scottish tin whistle. I know of at least one guy who used to banish ghosts with a tin whistle. I also discovered, in the course of events, that the price of a few tuning forks is more than the price of several instruments. Oh, and I also spent $12 on a very small piano so I have something that makes a noise to which I can tune something.

I am looking forward to the tin whistle. If I can’t banish the ghosts of the dead, maybe I can banish hulks of some of the living. Is anyone really happy about life right now? This isn’t the year to feel satisfied with life. I’m hoping next year will be better. Actually, I’m hoping next year will be great.