Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A chain of blogaversaries

Today is my friend Susan's blogaversary. LOL, I love that word. I also love reading her blog. Happy Blogaversary, Susan!

And Thank you! Because of Susan's blog, I started blogging too. If you were to go way back to the first post you might read how I stumbled into blogging by trying to comment on Susan's first post. (blush) I really thought I was more internet literate than that. Thank goodness I wasn't that night. This has been such a great experience for me that describing the personal growth and good feelings is hard. After I realized how good blogging made me feel I asked Susan what she thought it meant. She said, "You're developing a public voice." That led me to some deep self examination and reflection. There are lots of good things that have come out of blogging, but for me the most important one is the personal response to what I kept telling myself every time I wrote a post, "I can't be 'that' different." And it's true. I'm not. That may sound strange coming from an exhibitionist, but there is a certain happiness in being one of the crowd. So, Happy Blogaversary to me! (g)

In September on the 12th I will celebrate my good friend JS's blogaversary. Yay! We'll have come full circle. Maybe we should do a circle poem or prayer for that day. Peace and harmony in a world that is slowly and, it seems, selectively (although not by me) expanding into a community of friends and intents that sooner or later will come to pass.

Peace! Hope! & Joy!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

All Things Harry Potter

It was surprising how few people were at the 6:30 showing of Harry Potter on Thursday. My friend Marion and I had the entire row we were sitting on to ourselves. The sum of the rest of the folk there didn't exceed 20 I don't think. Perhaps it was the time of day. I liked the movie but not as much as I did the 4th and definitely not as much as the 1st and 2nd. This one has too much thrown into too quick a time frame for all that it runs over two hours. Not enough story development. I hope the next one is better.

Barnes & Nobel, on the other hand, was totally packed. It was standing room only. You couldn't walk without running into someone or stepping over them. The areas where you wanted to stand next to a shelf and look at its contents were filled with groups of young folk sitting on the floor and chatting with friends. Everyone seemed in pretty good spirits. So I got my ticket and stood in line till after 1:00 AM to buy the last Harry Potter book in this series. This has been such a huge success for Ms. Rowling that I suspect her fans will demand another smash hit soon. What she will do for an encore I have no idea but I hope it is as good as the past 7 books have been. I'm sure I'm not alone in wondering if she will do a sequel. The cover picture you see up there is the British cover. I think it looks better than the American one. Wish I knew why publishers put out different covers for different countries.

And now, I'm taking my new book, my cookie (chocolate chip) and heading off to bed where I hope the cat and the sun don't wake me. G'night all.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Random Eight

Not being sure I had 8 things I felt worth sharing I was holding back on accepting Susan's general tag for 8 random facts about yourself. But I'm being silly and this kind of thing is always fun. Plus my friend JS has posted hers so I've no excuse. (G)

Fact 1. I've been both very skinny and pretty fat in my life. My self image was better when I was fat than skinny. Having had a bad self image when I was skinny I perversely liked being big and curvaceous. That being said, I like me best when I can wear the same size on both bottom and top thus being able to put on that exquisitely elegant dress called a sheath.

Fact 2. The first story book I ever fell in love with was "The Stories of the Elizabeths" which told tales of women with that name through out history. My favorite one was about Queen Elizabeth. It seemed so romantic and exciting. That led to my love of English history and almost any story about kings, queens, princes and princesses. I'd like to spend the night in a castle someday.

Fact 3. I've never sung in the shower much, but when I was in college and taking drama classes my roommate (also a drama major) and I would walk across campus singing popular movie songs at the top of our lungs. Our favorites were from Camelot. "Tra-la! It's May! The lusty month of May!"

Fact 4. Because I almost took a degree in theater, I have this huge love of special effects. If you want me to enjoy a movie have lots of cool stunts and visuals like computer generated hurricanes and such. Balancing that is the fact that good scripting and acting are also important because without a good story the show is nothing.

Fact 5. The most romantic thing a guy ever did for me was read a story to me while I lay on the sofa with my head in his lap. We aren't dating anymore but that act will long stay in my memory as a sweetly generous and loving thing to do.

Fact 6. I'm terrible at any language other than English. I flunked French in college and, despite many public school and one college class in it, I don't remember any of my Spanish conjugations or vocabulary either. The only thing I remember from all the classes I took is how to say the Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish. Even though I speak no languages other than English, I'd still like to travel to beautiful far away places.

Fact 7. My favorite vacation was the one I took when I was 16. My parents and I went to the San Juan Wilderness area in Colorado and backpacked. We covered 40 miles in 8 days. It was awesome.

Fact 8. I think of myself as a physical empath. I'm so into the physical realm that its a source of spirituality for me. I love to give massage and can hone in on muscle spasms without being pointed towards them by the recipient. I can feel music on and in my body so I love to sing, play, or dance. It just feels right. Like a rhythm that's part of life and breath. Even though I'm no musician and I'm not a licensed masseuse, I wouldn't want a life that didn't include being able to experience these things.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Morning Prayer, Carnival of Hope, and More Rain!

This summer I seem to be the person to call if you have either Morning Prayer or the early Eucharist to work as a Lay Eucharistic Minister (LEM). It thrills me no end to be able to help other members by swapping dates with them. So, today I get to do the Daily Office at 6:45 AM. Yay! That's always been one of my favorite ways to start the day.

Other bright news is...It's Carnival of Hope time again. Susan has the latest version up over at her place and I'm delighted to be included. Thank you, Susan! This month's carnival starts with community, segues into the arts, gives us some ways we can make a difference (and the joys of doing so), and closes with an article on growth and making changes.

The rest of the news is that, after a week of very warm (90 degree) weather, it's going to rain in San Antonio again. Yay! Even though this causes flash flooding in the hill country, San Antonio has had too many summers where we didn't get enough rain and went on water rationing. It doesn't look like that will be a problem this year. And while I haven't heard news of it yet, I wouldn't be surprised if some springs in the area that might have been dry or drying up are coming fresh again. This happened the first year I lived in San Antonio. It was a record year for rain and springs that hadn't been active for 20 years came fresh again. The apartment complex I lived in had a spring that came fresh. This meant that a steady stream of water was running from the spring down through the parking lot. It didn't destroy the asphalt but it did make a nice trail of green algae growth as the water kept the pavement cool and wet. So, despite any problems the rain may cause, and it can cause plenty of them, "Hooray for rain!"

Friday, July 13, 2007

Finding the Right Hold

Guitar practice is coming along. The scales are getting smoother. Somehow it still feels kind of strange. I'm trying different positions for holding the guitar to see which feels best. Each one changes the way I fret the strings and thus requires a different focus on practice.

Lots of musicians just hold the guitar across their thigh. This works well for folk and country playing. It puts the neck down low and I find it difficult for my wrist to flex properly and to play certain chords. I can change that somewhat by crossing my legs and thus gaining a little more comfortable height for the neck. Classical guitarists use a more upright position for playing which gives you a lot of room to move up and down the neck for different chords and scales (see photo for example). I find that better but not totally comfortable yet. Right now, I switch back and forth between crossed thighs and a not quite correct classical hold (I don't have one of those foot stands). Both work but I'm not fully comfortable with either of them yet. Hopefully, practice will bring one hold into near constant use so that I can stop worrying about that and concentrate on the hand memory part.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The 1st Guitar Lesson

Today I had the first of the guitar lessons I won in the silent auction. It went pretty well. Our summer seminarian knows quite a bit about guitar and music in general. It was fun having someone to play with too.

We approached the lesson logically because there are only 5. What did I want to do with my guitar? Where did I feel weak in my playing? Did I have anything specific I wanted to learn? All good questions! And in answering them we set some goals.

What I want to do with my guitar is use it for personal enjoyment, but also as a teaching aid in my classroom. It's my hope that I can find songs that will teach the kids something and keep them entertained and focused too.

Where I feel I'm weak is in my hand memory. You learn the neck and strings of a guitar the same way you learn to walk....one step at a time and with lots of practice. With good hand memory you can focus on one area of your playing and your hand memory will take care of the rest. Right now when I play I tend to focus either on the strings I'm plucking or the neck where I'm fretting. Not having hand memory means that I put my fingers wrong on the neck or pluck the wrong string depending on what I'm NOT paying attention to at that moment. Neither sounds good. So, I see lots of practice in my future.

Do I have anything I want to learn how to do? Well, one thing we discussed was knowing how to put together the cords of a song so that you could play it in any key. We also touched on the topic of making the song recognizable. I'm sure we've all heard guitarists play chords and strum industrially but failed to recognize the melody in the song they were playing even though we knew the song when told what it was. That kind of playing won't work in a classroom and it doesn't sound good to my mind either. Since he said there is a trick to doing that I hope we will spend time covering it so that I can play songs my future students will recognize.

All that being said and done, we got to work on hand memory. He taught/retaught me some scales and told me to practice some of them in a certain order for 10 minutes when I start as a warm up. This will build memory and flexibility that I may have lost. He also taught me about the major chords in a key and which ones were used to play most songs out of them. So I have 4 keys and by next week I should know the chords in each of them and most especially the 1st, 4th, and 5th as those are the primary chords that lots of songs use for a particular key. This kind of knowledge will also help me change keys should I find the one the song is written in unsuitable for my voice or just too darn hard to play.

So, I have some practicing ahead. We didn't use picks although I brought one. He had a capo that is quick to use. Mine isn't, so I might want to buy one before the lessons are done; especially if we are going to work on key changes, which usually mean capo use. When I got home, I noticed that I had left a pick at home on the carpet. Truth be told I'd forgotten I had this one. It's a very tiny pick and fits nicely between my thumb and first two fingers so it's easy to control. I may practice with it a bit because I have already noticed that using one means the sound is bigger and thus a group of children might be able to hear that better than if I just used my fingers. And there you have it. The first lesson was very enjoyable and I look forward to the rest of them.

Monday, July 09, 2007

A Visit to Vampire Central

Last night I fasted in preparation for pre-appointment blood tests this morning. When my turn in the chair came, I was surprised at how quickly the visit went. They may have been short handed because the same person who checked me in also popped over to the chair to draw the blood . He was pretty gentle when putting the needle in my arm. I should have just relaxed and let him do things with out trying to be helpful. When he was putting that tourniquet over my shirt sleeve (to avoid pinching my skin) I pulled the sleeve up and of course the tightness of the band was worse. That being the case I'm glad he was very quick in what he did. So quick that I'm not entirely sure how many vials he drew. He used a IV tubing extension to put the blood into the vials because he was constantly tilting the tube up and down. I'm thinking 2 vials must have drawn because I know the doctor ordered a whole bunch of tests. The most I've ever had drawn was 4.

After I was finished in the lab I headed over to the coffee machine. The Purple Heart Auxiliary is at the clinic each morning with donuts and cookies to offer. I like the couple that works this clinic. The lady is very sociable. Her veteran husband is nice too. Their friendliness adds a warm touch to a place that would otherwise be very sterile and cold seeming. The coffee was delicious. I'm addicted to caffeine and quickly downed two cups to get my fix. Caffeine withdrawal is one of the few things that will trigger a migraine headache for me. I can offset the worst of it if I get caffeine on board within 4 hours of the headache starting. If I ignore it the pain gets worse and I end up taking serious drugs to battle it.

Because the local Barnes & Noble (B&N) is right around the corner from the clinic I headed over there to see what was new on the shelves. I wanted to get a book on star gazing but what they had seemed complicated and so expensive that I decided to postpone that until I talked to my PC who is so much more knowledgeable than I am on this subject. I have a good book on star gazing but it is so old that I'm not sure how useful the charts are. Some of the books at the store were designed for beginners which is definitely me. There were also charts that you could just haul with you out into the dark assuming you had a red flashlight (recommended) for seeing anything that didn't provide its own light. I have to admit I was a bit stunned to find that one of the charts, a round thing with wheels you could turn, was as expensive as some of the books. It ran $20. I've no idea where to get a red flashlight so I hope there is a convenient store. My PC suggested that I visit the science store out near Helotes. Although it's a long drive, this might be my best bet. Since it's on the other side of town I might be able to combine that with a visit to JS's. While at the bookstore I showed considerable self restraint and only purchased one book, Mortal Fear by Greg Iles. His work is usually pretty exciting reading with lots of suspense.

Things are getting strange today. My temporary work agency, Randstad, called a few minutes ago and offered me another short term job that would last about 8 days. I said yes and had just finished rearranging my schedule to take the job when they called me back to say that Harcourt had canceled the job and my time was once again my own. Maybe this is an exercise in time management and being resourceful. I'm definitely glad to get my schedule back the way I had it even though the extra money would have been nice. I was gracious to Larry at Randstad so I hope he will be appreciative and call me again should another job happen.

And now, I'm going to have something to eat, a cup of chocolate, and hit the sack with a good book. Oh, and one other thing I wanted to say was that while at B&N I checked the shelves and Susan's book Shelter is there. Yay! Of course, I already have my copy and am in the process of reading it. And "Yes! I like it!" The prologue sucks you right in to an emotional connection with the characters and plot. For someone who doesn't analyze the books she reads but just enjoys them that is an important feature of a good story. Great job, Susan!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Between jobs

Two posts back I wrote about the rain. Ten days later, it's still raining and there's more to come. Guess it's a good thing I like rain isn't it? (g) One of the nice things about all the wet weather is cooler temperatures. Cooler days mean I can keep the doors and windows open and the a/c off thus saving a hefty chunk on the electric bill.

Tuesday I had a session with the PC and it was raining horribly then too. Even though the rain made me late it didn't matter. We spent most of the hour putting together the telescope that a friend had given me when he moved. This was kind of exciting. Now I can look at stars on clear nights. It doesn't bother me that the city sky has a lot of light pollution. If I can see a single star or planet I can aim the scope and look at it. This is my first telescope, so there will be a learning curve as I get the hang of pointing it and focusing. The 'scope isn't in perfect shape. It's a Bushnell Telescope 450 and a few things are missing. It seems there is a lens missing from one of the aiming scopes and there may even be one of those missing. It was a nice kit when new. It came with 3 different magnification lenses and at least two aiming scopes. It has a nice stand with a tray between the legs that will hold all the different lenses and whatnot. Even without all the extras it will be a nice view once I get the hang of using it. I'm hoping that I can find the parts that need replacing somewhere.

Also on Tuesday, I visited a friend of mine and did a trade of books and DVDs. For the privilege of reading my copy of The Harlequin by Laurell K. Hamilton I got the use of several DVDs, among them: Dream Girls, The DaVinci Code, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Season 1 of Criminal Minds. Criminal Minds is one of my favorite TV series. The scripting is excellent and so is the directing and acting. I'd already seen some of the episodes from season 1, but that didn't matter. For two delightful days I watched the 3 discs with no commercials interrupting the storyline. To get that, I'll gladly see repeats. Yay for entire seasons on DVD! I'm beginning to understand why Susan prefers them this way. This won't keep me from watching the show on TV. I like seeing things when they first come out.

My friends JS and family should be back sometime this weekend. I've missed them and can't wait to hear about all the things they saw and see the pictures JS took.

The neighbors across the way invited me over on the 4th to work a Jigsaw puzzle. It was round with eggs and took the three of us two nights to complete. In return I have scrounged around and found my single puzzle which has needed putting together for several years. Hopefully we will have time to put that together too.

Next week promises to be somewhat full. I have a lab test at the clinic, my first guitar lesson, a visit with the PC, and if the rain stops I will be able to start star gazing. On the 30th of the month I start a new project at Harcourt. They will be doing another test and I will be on one team for about a week. Yay! A little more income for the summer season and something to keep me occupied.

And now, why did I pick a cup of hot chocolate and some candy for my image this time? Well, I have a similar series of images on the checks I use called Interludes. They show cups of coffee, a glass of wine, guitars, candles, an open book, all things we tend to think of as peaceful and rewarding. I think the past week or two has been that way for me. So consider the image my invitation to you to enjoy the days of summer and take every opportunity to fill your life with things that make you feel rich in experiences. Joy!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

How to ressurect an old skill

A long, long time ago, before I was married, I played the guitar. No, not like the guy in the video above. Isn't he awesome? That's Funtwo and he's a professional, from Korea I think. My playing was for personal pleasure. Sometimes when fellow amateur guitar friends and I would get together it became social but mostly it was for my own enjoyment and primarily folk songs. A large part of my family sings and plays too, so it was used at family gatherings. Once I gained my faith it became a method of prayer. As I said, this was before I was married.

Once I got married, my ex was a huge stumbling block to practice. His method of de-stressing was to have a TV constantly running. At no time in our marriage was there ever total silence at home. This was true in the apartments we lived in and also in the house we eventually bought. When there is a constant din of noise in the background it's hard to tune a guitar never mind practicing for any concentrated period of time. Eventually, rather than fight about it, I stopped practicing. Why would I ever do something so foolish? Because that was the image I had of being a good wife. Now days, I know better!

Jump ahead to 7 years after the end of that marriage and there are still some things I'm trying to recover of the me I loved before I met him. One of them is my guitar playing. So how do I go about getting this loving practice back again? Well, first I got the guitar out of the closet and put it on a stand where I could see it daily. Then I got it some new strings and tuned it. And re-tuned it. And re-tuned it again. Not liking the results of what I stumblingly tried to play on it, I decided I needed a song that would inspire me to want to learn once again. There are quite a few web sites out there that publish free guitar tabs for anyone who wants them. I started downloading tabs of songs I liked. I didn't play them. I just printed them out. Now I have a whole 3-inch loose leaf notebook that is full of them.

Here is where it gets a little fuzzy for me. I'm not sure exactly what happened but, I'm seeing a PC, I have a good friend who is wonderfully encouraging, my dreams are being productive, and I'm starting to look at myself somewhat differently. So when my church held a silent auction to raise funds to support adult education there, and one of the items was 5 half hour guitar lessons from our summer seminarian, I bid on it. When I told my friend about it she bravely said, "If you don't win it we can challenge each other to learn new songs on our guitars." Seems she's had one for several years and doesn't play it like she thinks she should either. That was really wonderful of her and I may take her up on it. But I didn't stop bidding. I kept telling myself I really needed those lessons. After all, I learn best in a classroom setting with deadlines and goals to meet. So when someone outbid me I'd raise my bid too. Before the auction closed I had bid 4 times on that prize. And I won. It cost me a bit more than I had intended, but I'm telling myself that the Holy Spirit is using it for the church and it will help me and others grow. And in preparation for winning it, even before the bidding closed, I took all those tabs I'd downloaded and put them in a notebook. I also took out an old book designed to teach guitar to the dedicated beginner and started practicing from it. Then I moved on to other songs I had saved from years ago.

Its showing. My fingering is starting to get better. So is my strumming and plucking. I'm preparing myself for the first class which will take place next week. Hopefully I will be practiced enough that I won't embarrass myself too much. Even if I'm not where I think I should be by next Thursday, I know that the young man who is our summer seminarian is a warm and caring person. I'm pretty sure he won't make fun of me and he'll probably have lots of empathy about my efforts to regain my music skills. And I'll bet he'll really like that version of Pachelbel's Cannon that Funtwo plays up above. Enjoy!