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Clockwise, from top left: Blackfriar's Theater in Staunton, VA, home of the American Shakespeare Center; National Cathedral in Guatemala City; church near Volin, SD; engraved stellae at ruins of Copan, Honduras; folk musicians in La Paz, Bolivia.

Culture and Travel montage shadow

Culture-related pages:


Travel photos



Religious blogs & sites


Local drama & music


Other Web links


 

My favorite movies

  1. Casablanca
  2. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
  3. Raising Arizona
  4. Fargo
  5. Shawshank Redemption
  6. Field of Dreams
  7. Bull Durham
  8. Fiddler on the Roof
  9. Patton
  10. Bananas
  11. Fort Apache: The Bronx
  12. Broadcast News

November 30, 2016 [LINK / comment]

FIVE more Open Mic appearances!

Earlier this evening, I had yet another Open Mic appearance with the Staunton Music Guild at Queen City Brewing. That makes six weeks in a row (including five this month), a personal best! I have been trying to improve my stage presence and vocal delivery technique by playing in public on a regular basis, since I am slated to provide musical entertainment at an upcoming Augusta Bird Club dinner. There's no substitute for practice and discipline. Unlike my last "monthly report" (October 27), I am presenting my song lists in normal (not reversed) chronological order.

On November 2, which happened to coincide with the start of Game 7 of the World Series, I did my part to boost the Chicago Cubs' cosmic karma by playing what has become the team's semi-official victory song. Since I only recently learned it was written by Steve Goodman, who died in 1984, I played the song for which he is most widely known. I then concluded with a song paying tribute to this country's democratic heritage [as Election Day approached] with an irreverent song by the early "shock rocker," Alice Cooper.

On November 9, I tried to leave behind the oddball songs of the week before and "return to my roots." I played the lead part well enough on "Take It Easy," but it just didn't meet my high level of expectations. [I chose that song in part to calm folks' nerves in the wake of the big upset election.] The next two songs came across pretty well, however. [Parts of "Tuesday Afternoon" are hard to sing, but I pulled it off.]

On November 16, I paid tribute to Canada based on two important dates. November 10 was the 41st anniversary of the sinking of the cargo ship "Edmund Fitzgerald" on Lake Superior, so I played the song about that tragedy by Gordon Lightfoot, who is Canadian. The other two artists I covered are also Canadian, and I did OK on those songs. (Neil Young's birthday was November 12.) [For the "encore," I played an old tune that I saw in a Laurel and Hardy movie from the 1930s, and a rousing Beatles tune making use of the harmonica.]

On November 23, I played two songs that I learned way back in the 1970s, one that's sad and one that's irreverent. Then I did a very nice song (in 3/4 time, which is unusual) by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils (the first song of theirs I've done in several weeks) that I really only mastered a year or two ago.

Tonight (November 30) it was raining, and hardly anybody was there when I arrived. But fortunately, people started coming in the door right about the time when I started playing. Fritz Horisk reminded everyone that it was the one-year anniversary of the first Open Mic night at Queen City Brewing. Each musician got to do two extra songs later on, since there were empty slots in the signup sheet. I played a beautiful song with "Melissa" in the title, and then a foot-stompin' rocker that was written by a Melissa (Etheridge). Not perfect, but both songs felt pretty good to me.

And so, I have updated my Music page with the latest set lists.


November 20, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Some scenic shots of Staunton, etc.

The Arctic blast of frigid winds that arrived yesterday afternoon is a sign that the beautiful season of autumn is at or near an end. And so, I have assembled some of the more scenic photos I have taken over the past month or so. Of that batch, the following two are fairly representative. Some show the rich historical and archectectural heritage of Staunton, and others show the beauty of nature in Augusta County. They remind me just how lucky folks are to live in this part of the Shenandoah Valley.

Mary Baldwin University, churches

Mary Baldwin University, churches in Staunton, as seen from the top of Reservoir Hill. (Nov. 4)

Chimney Hollow trees, sky

Tall trees and blue sky above the Chimney Hollow trail, during my Augusta Bird Club field trip yesterday. (Nov. 19)

Other recently-added photos (including a panorama of downtown Staunton from the top of Reservoir Hill) can be seen on the Chronological (2016) photo gallery.


October 27, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Three more Open Mic appearances!

Last night (Wednesday), I had yet another Open Mic appearance with the Staunton Music Guild at Queen City Brewery. It marked the third consecutive month (see September 30) that I have made three such appearances. I was grateful that one of my friends from the Augusta Bird Club, Peter Van Acker, came to watch. As often happens, not until after things got underway at 7:00 were there a substantial number of people there. I was the first to play (after Fritz Horisk did his introductory songs), the first time I had the "leadoff" spot. I played:

I only learned that first song ("Heartache Tonight") two weeks ago, on the day after the Washington Nationals lost Game 5 of the National League Divisional Series to the Dodgers. I explained that it was my way of getting the grief out of my system, and I even added a third verse relating to baseball:

One team is gonna lose this game, before the night is through
Some batter's gonna strike out swinging, with the bases loaded
Every player tries his best to win, if it takes all night
Every fan wants a championship, or wait till next year!

As it happened, Game 2 of the World Series was taking place as we played, and after I finished, I would go up to the bar every ten minutes or so to check the score on the TV set. The next two songs I had been working on for weeks, and my preparation paid off. The theme was musical instruments, and my original plan was include Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" (rather than "Heartache Tonight") to complete the instrumental trio. On "Guitar Man," the harmonica takes the place of the slide guitar, and on "Piano Man" (which prominently features the harmonica), the guitar takes the place of the piano. I got a couple lines of lyrics mixed up on the first one, but "Piano Man" came across very well, and I got some nice applause.

Two weeks earlier, on October 12, I focused on the Eagles, my favorite group but one whose songs I had not done since July. It was the first time since my first appearance (March 9) that I did not use harmonicas at all.

For the first song, I explained that Don Henley and Glenn Frey (co-founders of the Eagles) started out as backup musicians for Linda Ronstadt. Playing it involves some unusual finger picking, and ordinarily I can do it very well, but just didn't execute cleanly enough this time. For "Lyin' Eyes" I got some of the lyrics mixed up (they are rather lengthy), but otherwise did OK. I did the last song ("I Can't Tell You Why") very well except for one part in the lead guitar sequence where I missed a couple notes.

And three weeks ago, on October 5, I had to improvise in my selection of songs because I had been too busy on church-related and bird club-related tasks that day to practice any songs.

The first one was a plaintive love song with a lead harmonica part that I did fairly well. I realized, to my surprise, that it was the first Crosby, Stills, & Nash song that I have played in public. On the next song ("Within Without") I used the harmonica in place of the lead guitar, and I was pleased by how it turned out. I closed with a fast-paced rock tune by the Moody Blues, and I thought I did OK on it, but didn't get as much audience reaction as I was hoping for. You never know.

Music page update

I updated my Music page with a brand-new tabular list of all the songs (41 altogether) that I have played in the Open Mic events since last March. The last two columns of the table indicate the songs on which I used a harmonica, and how I rated myself in playing each song, on an "A - B - C - D" scale.


October 14, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Shenandoah National Park getaway

Jacqueline and I spent a pleasant two days at Shenandoah National Park early last week, taking advantage of good weather following many days of rain and/or gloom. (I previously reported on our birding activities there in my Oct. 5 blog post.) To avoid missing any important baseball games, I picked a day between the end of the regular season and the first of the two wild card games. smile Unlike our previous trip to SNP in late June, the weather was very nice for the most part, excellent for taking photos. It was getting a bit cloudier as we departed to return home on Tuesday, October 4.

Andrew, Jacqueline at Hawksbill Mountain

Yours truly and spouse Jacqueline at Hawksbill Mountain.

While hiking to the top of Hawksbill Mountain on Monday, October 3, we were advised by other hikers that a bear was lurking in the area. We didn't see it, which was both a relief and a disappointment. But later as we were driving from the parking area along Skyline Drive, we saw some cars that were stopped up ahead, and sure enough we had a great closeup bear photo op! In the late afternoon we strolled casually through the amazing, unique habitat that is Big Meadows. We had such a busy day hiking to and fro that we fell asleep not long after enjoying a sumptuous dinner at the Big Meadows lodge. It's a very good restaurant there, with a good choice of wine and beer.

Black Bear

Black Bear along Skyline Drive, a half mile north of Dark Hollow Falls, October 3; one of two we saw that day!

The next morning we hiked along the west slope near the Big Meadows lodge, and I found it difficult to get good photos, because of the glare from the morning light and the fact that my camera (Canon PowerShot SX-50) can't handle extreme variations between light and dark portions of a photo. So, I had to spend some time carefully editing some of those photos on my Macintosh back home. Later in the morning we hiked along the road on the south edge of Big Meadows, where we saw a number of butterflies. Then we headed for home, full of natural energy from the beautiful surroundings.

To see more photos from that trip, see the Chronological (2016) photo gallery.

To the home of James Monroe (?)

Later that week (Thursday, October 6), we made a day trip to Albemarle County, intending among other things to see Monticello, home of the third president, Thomas Jefferson. (We have not been there since we lived in Charlottesville in the 1990s!) The skies were overcast, however, and I didn't want to waste the steep price of admission ($25) only to get mediocre photos. So we contented ourselves with browsing through the "David Rubenstein Visitor Center," an entirely new addition that was built since our last visit.

Then, we drove a few miles southeast to visit the nearby "Highland" estate, home of the fifth president, James Monroe. (For years it was also called "Ashlawn," but that was the name given by the subsequent estate owner.) I had been there with my brother Dan during the early 1990s, at which point there was some doubt about which of the currently-standing structures were in existence when James Monroe was alive. Just in the last couple years, archeologists have determined that only the smaller white portion of the main residential structure was there during Monroe's life, and it was just a guest residence. Monroe's own home burned down in the mid-19th Century, and was replaced by the yellow house which stands today. (That is why the title above contains a question mark.) The tour guide was very knowledgeable about history, and I learned quite a bit about the president who promulgated the Monroe Doctrine (1823), a lynchpin of U.S. foreign policy for well over a century. I also learned that Monroe came from humble middle-class origins, and indeed Highland pales in comparison to the elaborate Monticello nearby.

Statue of James Monroe

The Statue of James Monroe on the grounds of his Highland estate, October 6.

Then we had a tasty all-natural lunch at a delightful country market in the village of Simeon, where St. Luke's Episcopal Church stands. Then we headed back up hill, went past Monticello, and arrived at Carter's Mountain Orchard to shop for apples and other farm treats. The skies had turned clear blue by then, perfect for taking photos of Charlottesville and the surrounding countryside! Too bad it was cloudy earlier in the day... After sampling some local wines and buying some bottles, we drove back down the mountain, and stopped to browse at the shop in the Meadow Run Mill, next to historic Michie Tavern. Then, we headed home, satisfied with another fun day.

Carter's Mountain Orchard

The vineyards which are part of Carters Mountain Orchard. The lowlands to the left are northeast of Charlottesville.

To see more photos from those two trips, see the Chronological (2016) photo gallery.





Major world languages

Language 2002
(mn)
2010
(mn)
Chinese * 874 # 1,213
Spanish * 322 329
English * 341 328
Arabic ? 221
Hindi 366 # 182
Bengali 207 181
Portuguese 176 178
Russian * 167 144
Japanese 125 122
German 100 90

# : 2004 data for Chinese pertained only to Mandarin speakers, whereas data for Hindi speakers were defined more broadly.
Asterisks (*) denote the official languages of the United Nations, which also includes French (68 million speakers).

SOURCE: The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 2004 & 2012

I speak Spanish, some Portuguese, and have dabbled in German, French, Italian, Russian, Catalan, and Quechua.


Major world religions

Religion 2002
(mn)
2010
(mn)
Christians 2,038 2,281
Muslims 1,226 1,553
Hindus 828 943
Chinese folk 389 454
Buddhists 364 463
Sikhs 24 24
Jews 14 15
Local, other 32 379
Non-religious 925 798

The obvious discontinuities in the last two lines of data are of uncertain origin.

SOURCE: The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 2004 & 2012

I belong to the Episcopal Church and am annoyed at the recent polarization. According to a Theology quiz, I scored as a "Classical Liberal."


Ten Commandments

  1. Worship ONE God only
  2. No graven images
  3. No taking God's name in vain
  4. Keep Sabbath day holy
  5. Honor parents
  6. No stealing
  7. No murder
  8. No adultery
  9. No bearing false witness
  10. No coveting what others have

Seven deadly sins

  1. Pride
  2. Covetousness
  3. Lust
  4. Anger
  5. Gluttony
  6. Envy
  7. Sloth

Proverbs 6: 16-19

There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:

haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies,
and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.

Romans 12: 17, 21

Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.

Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.

Niebuhr's
Serenity Prayer

Reinhold Niebuhr was a leading theologian of the mid-20th Century, and often wrote about foreign policy from a "Christian realist" perspective. From wikipedia.org:

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

.