Monday, December 11, 2023

Best Books Read in 2023

I had a goal of reading 50 books this year, and I hit that goal by October. Now that it's December, I thought I'd mention some of my favorites from those 50+.

Four short story collections stood out for me this year. Those were:
In A Lonely Place by Karl Edward Wagner
Dark Tales by Shirley Jackson
Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea by Sarah Pinsker
Riding the Nightmare by Lisa Tuttle

In the general fiction/novel category, I had three favorites:
The Wall by Marlen Haushofer
Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession
The Woman in the Purple Skirt by Natsuko Imamura

In the mystery/thriller genre, I also had three favorites:
The Pigeon by David Gordon
How Can I Help You by Laura Sims
Resurrection Walk by Michael Connelly

Four non-fiction books were among my favorites:
Stranger in the Woods - Michael Finkel
The Art Thief by Michael Finkel
Original Wisdom: Stories of an Ancient Way of Knowing - Robert Wolff
Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle - Daniel L. Everett

Kick the Latch by Kathryn Scanlan

My Favorite Albums of 2023

This is probably my last year assembling a list like this, because nobody needs a 50 year old listing off their favorite albums of the year. Who cares really? I didn't even care that much this year, however, I did keep a playlist going during 2023 and whenever something caught my ear I would add it to the playlist. Upon review of that playlist today, I really only see nine that I can say were legitimate favorites. Here they are in the order they were added to that list.

The Necks - Travel

U2 - Songs of Surrender

Circles Around the Sun - Language

Arbor Labor Union - Yonder

Leftover Salmon - Grass Roots

Béla Fleck, Zakir Hussain, Edgar Meyer, and Rakesh Chaurasia - As We Speak

John "Jojo" Hermann - It's Complicated

Idris Ackamoor and the Pyramids - Afro Futuristic Dreams

Oteil Burbridge - Lovely View of Heaven

I can't say that I have a clear overall favorite out of this group. Any one of the nine at a certain point could have been the front runner. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Books Read November 2023

Resurrection Walk by Michael Connelly (11/13)

A Haunting on the Hill by Elizabeth Hand (11/27)

Note: I only finished two books in November, my lowest monthly tally of 2023. I did start and abandon two other books, so it was almost four. I read most of Out There Screaming: An Anthology of New Black Horror, Edited by Jordan Peele but I skipped too many stories for it to fully count. And I also got about two-thirds of the way through the new John Scalzi book Starter Villain but it was so terrible that I had to just stop. I've met my quota for the year anyway so I devoted what would have been some reading time to banjo playing time instead!

Monday, November 6, 2023

Books Read October 2023

Lost Places by Sarah Pinsker (10/2)

Memories of the Body by Lisa Tuttle (10/10)

Bride of the Tornado by James Kennedy (10/21)

The Art Thief by Michael Finkel (10/24)

Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh (10/30)

Monday, October 16, 2023

2023 Richmond Folk Festival Re-cap

The Richmond Folk Festivals was this past weekend. Last Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I didn't go down to the festival on Friday. I regret that a little bit, but I certainly made up for it on Saturday and Sunday. Saturday started off rainy and cloudy, but that didn't bother me one bit because I dressed for the weather and I also know that rain means less of a crowd. It wasn't crowded at all during the time I was there on Saturday.

On Saturday we started off at the Center for Cultural Vibrancy Virginia Folklife Stage to see Virginia Meets the Virgin Islands. This talk/demo paired the St. Croix band Stanley and the Ten Sleepless Knights with the female Virginia gospel quartet The Legendary Ingramettes. This was a wonderful way to start things off. 

After getting some food and checking out a few minutes of the Hindustani violinist Kala Ramnath, we headed back over to the Virginia Folklife Stage for the Piedmont blues guitarist Gail Caesar. Gail was kind of shy and subdued on stage but her talent was apparent. 

Then it was over to the Altria Stage for a full performance by Stanley and the Ten Sleepless Knights. The Altria Stage is the main stage with the biggest capacity, but it's also uncovered open-air so I think people were choosing other stages over this one during the part of day where it was raining. We got right up front for what felt like a rare opportunity to see a quelbe or scratch band from the U.S. Virgin Islands. This is a type of music that I have a particular interest in. It was excellent and we stayed for the whole set.

Once that was done, we went back once again to the Virginia Folklife stage for a performance that ended up being incredibly good. It was billed as "Danny Knicely and Chao Tian - Appalachian traditions with Chinese dulcimer". What I didn't realize was that there would also be a tabla player plus a guitarist and bassist. Chao Tian was featured on an extended solo improvisation that was mesmerizing.  The Chinese dulcimer sounded great on fiddle tunes, but they did some full band Chinese tunes as well. Danny closed the set with a John McGlaughlin piece which was a showcase for the tabla. I was blown away.

It was getting to be 4pm now so we went back over to the Altria Stage for local Richmond salsa band Bio Ritmo's Folk Fest debut. Bio Ritmo has been around for 30 years so finally performing at the Richmond Folk Festival seemed like a big deal for them. It took a while to get the ten piece band set up but they started hot and never let up. The rain had stopped and I actually saw blue sky for a moment during Bio Ritmo's set. Unfortunately we called it quits for the day after this. I would have loved to have stayed longer but we needed to get home to our dogs and I wasn't sure if I was going to have a parking ticket. I didn't, thankfully.

Sunday was chilly and windy but no rain. I expected it to be packed on Sunday but it wasn't too bad. It seems like they've made improvements on logistics and getting around from stage to stage. This was the day for seeing groups we hadn't seen the day before, so I had a fairly precise itinerary planned out and still some decisions to be made. We started Sunday with State of the Ozarks String Band on the CoStar Group Stage over on Brown's Island. It's been a while since I've heard old-time fiddling, so I enjoyed this set a lot. I particularly liked the guitar and 3-finger banjo accompaniment.

After that we went over to the Altria Stage for Grupo Mono Blanco, a band from Veracruz which is a Mexican state along the Gulf of Mexico. That might explain why it had a little islandy sound to it. We had to cut that set a little short to go back to Brown's Island to catch the Native American Smoke Dancers (Haudenosaunee social dance). They had three little ones dancing with them. It felt very special.

At 2pm we had a dilemma because Baba Commandant and the Mandingo Band were on one stage, while Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper were going to be on another. We started with Baba Commandant but only stayed for a couple songs because there would be another opportunity to see them later in the day, but this was the last chance to see Michael Cleveland. It was a quick walk over to the Altria Stage to catch the last half of Michael Cleveland's set and boy did he and his band not disappoint. That was some top notch bluegrass!

Lutchinha, performing on the Altria Stage

It was hard to decide what to see next, but we stayed at the Altria Stage for the 3pm performance by Lutchinha, a band that plays Cabo Verdean music. Cabo Verde is an African island in the Atlantic ocean where they speak Portuguese, and the music is a perfect blend of those cultures. I had not researched this band and wasn't sure what to expect. I couldn't really put a finger on it but I loved every minute. We had back up plans in place but ended up staying for the entire set and actually missed some other 3:00pm/3:30pm things that I maybe wanted to see. It was worth it though.

When that was done we went to the Folklife stage for the first and only time that day and saw Rodney Stith play his classic soul music. He had a superb band with him, both singers and instrumentalists. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this set.

Now it was getting to be 5pm, when each stage has its last performance of the festival. It was time to choose and we went with Baba Commandant and the Mandingo Band over Cyril Neville. This was a tough call, but having gotten a taste of Baba Commandant earlier in the day I knew that I wanted to see their full set and this time it was going to be in the Dominion Energy Dance Pavilion. Even better! Usually I go to the Dominion Energy Dance Pavilion a lot, but this was the only time all weekend that we saw a set there. 

Baba Commandant and the Mandingo Band
Dominion Energy Dance Pavilion
with a guest sitting in on trumpet

Baba Commandant was a great way to finish off a great weekend of music. Their guitarist is awesome. I love that African style of guitar. The bassist kicked total butt. The drummer was bad ass, and Baba Commandant himself seemed to be channeling some kind of inner spirit. We ended up right at the front of the stage and the energy was intense. Baba Commandant and the Mandingo Band is like a band you'd go see in a night club on tour. 

I'm writing this the next morning, feeling a little bit funky from all the over consumption of food and drink over the weekend. It's always bittersweet when the Folk Festival is over. It almost brings a tear to my eye. Over and done with in what felt like a blink. Every single band and musician we saw was good this year. No duds whatsoever. I wish there was another day but it's time to move on and get on with the week.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

The Time I Met Russell Batiste Jr.

Photo from the day before
we met Russell Batiste Jr.
The renowned New Orleans drummer Russell Batiste Jr. passed away on September 30, 2023 at the age of 57. As I write this it's October 11, 2023...exactly one year after my chance meeting with him which took place on October 11, 2022.

Laura and I were in New Orleans for a weeklong vacation. It was a Tuesday night and rather than see music on Frenchman Street we did a ten minute walk out of the way to check out Russell Batiste's band at Sweet Lorraine Jazz Club on St Claude Ave where, according to the local calendar, Russell would be playing.

I had heard of Russell Batiste Jr. through his work with Page McConnell and Oteil Burbridge in the band Vida Blue. Maybe not the hippest way to become aware of his musicianship, but a common entry point for a Phish fan, I suppose. Anyway, my understanding or intel for that night's event was not exactly correct. It was more like an open-to-the-public band rehearsal than a performance, per se. We were the only patrons there.

Well, not the only patrons if you count George Porter, Jr. Yes, the legendary bassist for The Meters (real New Orleans royalty) was also there to listen to the music. It sounds like I'm making this up but I'm not. In one of those weird N'awlins type moments, he wasn't playing he was just there being himself. No big deal. Happens all the time. It was all I could do not to go up to him and say something. As Mr. Porter was leaving I did manage stammer out something like "I'm a big fan of your music".

However, the point is when Russell came by on his way out the door I stupidly said something like "What were Oteil and Page really like?". Russell immediately said "I'll be right back!". After he had taken his gear out to his car not three minutes later he came back to hang out with us. The next thing I know we're outside in Russell's car listening to music, clouds of smoke billowing out onto St Claude Ave. One of his band mates in the back seat. These weren't some flashy rock star wheels by the way. I jokingly say it was a 1998 Toyota Tercel or something like that. You should have seen the things he had in there! Paper airplanes.

Russell treated us instantly like we were old friends. Comfortable, laughing, joking, goofing off, letting loose. He didn't know us. We were just tourists in New Orleans for the first time having one of those magical Big Easy moments that becomes a life long memory. We probably spent 20 to 30 minutes in his car listening to recordings of his band and unreleased Vida Blue. It never seemed to get awkward, somehow. We kind of all mutually agreed when it was time to part ways.

Even though it was still early in the evening Laura and I couldn't really do anything else that night afterward. I remember just being in awe. Not really believing what had happened. We called a ride back to our place and watched House of the Dragon when we got back. 

It was shocking to learn that Russell had passed. I'm so glad to have had that moment. He touched so many lives, including ours.


Friday, October 6, 2023

Followup - Dutchi Bike / Brompton Comparison

As I mentioned in a previous post, I sold by Brompton folding bike and used the money to purchase a Linus Dutchi 1. I actually could have bought two Linus Dutchi bikes with the money I recouped from the Brompton sale. 

I suppose I'm a little biased in this comparison because I got rid of the Brompton and got a different bike instead. The main area in which the Brompton wins hands-down should come as no surprise, and that's storage and portability. It takes up less room in the house and you can easily fit it in the trunk/boot of the car for road trips. That's the only category that easily goes to the Brompton. 

When it comes to maintenance, the Linus Dutchi 1 is expected to win. It's just got less parts. Less that could malfunction. Single gear. Coaster brake. No cables. No frills. The Brompton has so many moving parts, despite being the absolute best folding bike, it's still a folding bike. From a day to day maintenance perspective, the Linus takes the cake because of it's larger tires. I had to pump air into the Brompton's 16-inch tires almost every time I rode it. With the Dutchi I'm not expecting to have to pump those 700c tires as often. Less maintenance leads to ease of use. I can get out the door faster with fewer impediments and that's going to make me want to ride it more.

Speed actually could go to the Brompton. I think it was about 5 to 10% faster. That difference might matter if I was trying to get from point A to point B in the fastest time, but that's not a factor for me. I'm going for 30 to 40 minute rides out the door and back, so it doesn't really matter how far I go during that time as long as the exertion is there. If I can burn 300 calories on a ride I'm happy. Each time I've ridden the Dutchi so far my pace has gotten a little faster, from 11.7 mph to 12.4 mph to today's 12.7 mph pace over 7 miles. Maybe it will wind up at the Brompton speed. 

The Dutchi has a smoother ride and more visibility. The large tires can roll more easily over bumps and the higher, upright posture puts seeing and being seen at a premium. You can simply take in your surroundings and enjoy being in the moment. I'm no longer thinking about how many times I'm going to have to cross a railroad while on my route.

The last category I can think of is cool factor, which is hard to measure. What's cooler, a folding bike or a step through city bike? I'm going to go with the Dutchi again on this one. It's less eccentric looking and feeling, and seems more practical. And it came with a kickstand!

The Brompton that I had and then sold

The Linus Dutchi 1 that I got October 2023


Pittsburgh Highlights

Laura and I have visited Pittsburgh, PA twice this year - once in the spring and once in the fall. The spring highlights included riding the historic Duquesne Incline, passing through the colorful Randyland open air museum, and food + palinka at Huszar Hungarian restaurant. Both stays also included a Pirates game at PNC Park. One win and one loss. 

The point of this post is to mention the fall highlights. Here they are.

City Steps and The Steepest Street

Pittsburgh has more public staircases than any other city in the United States. Over 800. It would take years to walk them all, so as a visitor I had to prioritize and I chose the Rising Main Avenue steps for my first steps excursion. At 371 steps these are the longest steps in Pittsburgh. They are also among the most unusual, as they seem to rise to nowhere. Despite being in the city, it's like you are hiking straight up a mountain in the woods (on a cement staircase). After making it all the way to the top of Rising Main Ave., we wound our way down through the Fineview neighborhood to the stunning Middle Street Steps which took us back down to the hustle and bustle.

Rising Main Avenue

Pittsburgh also has the steepest street in the USA - Canton Avenue - so of course we had to check out its 37 degree incline. After parking at the base of the street it was a surprisingly easy walk up...easy only because it's a short street. As a bonus, we managed to find the Coast Avenue Steps near the top of Canton Avenue and cautiously walked back down those winding, little used steps. This made it like a loop and added to the adventure. 

Canton Avenue sign

Murals and Painted Houses

Artist Jeremy Raymer has many murals throughout Pittsburgh, and there's a cluster of them on Mulberry Way near 35th St. in the Lawrenceville neighborhood. Despite rain at this time, we set out to see the Yoda mural and were able to find it as well as several others on that block of Mulberry, many of them Simpsons themed. Apparently there are several other Raymer murals nearby but the downpour kept us from lingering. We definitely missed some in the nearby vicinity. 

Yoda mural, Mulberry Way

The next morning we strolled along Sampsonia Way on the Northside where City of Asylum has rehabilitated a stretch of houses for use by its artists-in-residence, with each house being turned into a painted "House Publication" of public art. These include House Poem at 408 Sampsonia, Jazz House at 324 Sampsonia, and Comma House at 308 Sampsonia. Amazing.

Points of View

Pittsburgh is known for its views and nothing beats the overlook from Point of View Park at 1435 Grandview Avenue, atop Mount Washington. It's pretty much the quintessential Pittsburgh photo op. You'll know you're at Point of View Park because of the larger-than-life bronze sculpture depicting a meeting between George Washington and Seneca leader Guyasuta in the year 1770.

Pittsburgh view

Another great vantage point awaits those who make it over to the West End Overlook. We were there in the morning, but I bet this would also be a great place at night. Speaking of views, almost any seat inside the Pirates' PNC Park is going to have a great city scape, but especially the third base side.

Honorable mention goes the view from the top of the aforementioned Middle Street Steps in the Fineview neighborhood. This is the where the cover image of Bob Regan's Pittsburgh Steps book takes place. This spot offered a totally different perspective of the Steel City.

Middle Street Steps

Haunted Brews and Spirits

We rain into a rainstorm and ducked into Church Brew Works to sample some of their selections. This former church turned brewery was featured on the show Ghost Hunters. It didn't feel haunted when we were there but the traditional style beers, such as their Dunkel, sure tasted good. On another day we darkened the Tap Room at the esteemed Omni William Penn Hotel in downtown. Approaching one-hundred years old, this bar-room is most certainly haunted, according to our friendly bartender Laurie who recounted a couple encounters she's had herself. 

Church Brew Works

Maybe not haunted, but the Leo A. Public House cocktail bar in the Manchester neighborhood rose to the top of the cool factor because the bartender will make improvised cocktails for you. On top of that, the music is solely provided by vinyl records that he plays for patrons behind the bar. You can bring in your own records or pick from the in-house selection. I squinted through the stacks and picked out Real Gone by Tom Waits and an out of left-field Bad Brains album choice while we were there. The mixologist played them both!

Pierogis and Pizza

We're not foodies, per se, but after walking up the Rising Main Way steps and back down the Middle Street Steps, we kept hoofing it south across the Sixteenth Street Bridge and turned left into The Strip to make a bee-line for SD Polish Deli where we had some pierogis and haluszki. These weren't the only pierogis I had in PGH, but certainly the ones I walked the most miles to taste.

SD Polish Deli sign

When a wide open afternoon of nothing planned presented itself, we journeyed out to Squirrel Hill with the goal of trying both Aiello's and Mineo's pizza to settle this much hyped debate once and for all, LOL. We went to Aiello's first and unfortunately a "small" pizza there was actually pretty doggone big, leaving no room for trying Mineo's. Oh well next time. The pizza at Aiello's wasn't really anything all that great after all. I don't see what the big deal is. We probably could have just stayed closer to our home base and tried Badamo's pizza instead. Live and learn.

Bicycle Paths and a Museum

We nixed a few attractions along the way, but this shifting of priorities freed up time to make some spontaneous pivots, and one of those pivots was to Bicycle Heaven, the largest bicycle museum in the world. There we saw vintage Harley Davidson bicycles, some penny farthing replicas, the bike from the movie E.T., the Pee-Wee Herman bike, and a bicycle ridden by The name a few. There's approximately 3,500 bicycles on display and another 27,000 in storage.

Inside Bicycle Heaven

On our way to the Pirates game we walked along the North Shore River Trail to Three Rivers Heritage Trail and caught glimpses of the Mr. Rogers statue and the Roberto Clemente statue. This would be a great place to ride a bike. There seem to be lots of great bike paths all over PGH. 

Until Next Time

During the next vist we might do a sightseeing cruise on the Gateway Clipper riverboat, eat at Apteka vegan restaurant and/or one of the many ethnic restaurants in Squirrel Hill, visit the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Schenley Park, and do a tour of the Andy Warhol Museum. I'm sure there will be plenty to do.


Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Books Read - September 2023

Star Trek: Prime Directive by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens (9/9)

How Can I Help You by Laura Sims (9/11)

Backflash by Richard Stark (9/14)

Looker by Laura Sims (9/20)

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Changing from Brompton Folding Bike to Linus Dutchi 1

I want a bike, but I don't need a bike. The reason I want a bicycle is so that I can ride it out my door and back for 30 to 40 minutes at a time on the surrounding neighborhood roads to get a little bit of low impact exercise. This is true whether it be a fancy Brompton folding bike or an upright Dutch-style step-through city cruiser. I'm not using it for commuting or for mountain biking and I wouldn't be driving anywhere with the bike and then riding. None of that. The streets around here are pretty flat so I can just keep it one gear the whole time.

I don't really care how far I go during those 30 to 40 minutes. In fact, slower is better as long as the exertion is there. The way I see it, a bicycle that is slow like a single-speed bike with a coaster brake is going to be just as good of a workout as a bike built for speed. There are no gears to help you pedal easier, so while I may only have ridden six miles in 40 minutes the amount of exercise gotten during that amount of time is sufficient.

The Brompton that I purchased in 2022

I purchased a 3-speed Brompton C-Line Utility last year but I recently sold it after having it for a little over 15 months. Although I didn't really use it for its primary purpose - commuting - I liked how unobtrusive it was in the living room while folded. I also liked how you could just fold it up and put it in the trunk/boot of the car even though I rarely took it anywhere. 

The Brompton was a pleasure to ride, being the first bike I had ridden in 20+ years. It was very nimble and responsive and I never had any trouble pedaling. It accelerated very quickly and I was able to average between 12 and 13 miles per hour on my rides around town. I never felt unsafe or at risk because of its folding frame. I liked the low step over bar. It is a solidly built piece of craftmanship. All of the good things you've heard about Bromptons are true. I'm fairly short for a male with a short inseam and it felt perfectly sized for me.

What I didn't love about the Brompton was I had to put air in the tires every week. I would pump them up to nearly 100psi and then in a week's time they would need pumping again. In addition, I live near a railroad so any ride is likely to involve a railroad crossing and those bumps were a little jarring for the small 16 inch wheels. The hand brakes worked fine, but they were tough for my fingers to reach due to the angle they had to be for the intricate folding. I guess the only other thing is that it felt a bit eccentric to be riding a folding  bike with 16" tires around town. So I sold the Brompton and am going to try out a Linus Dutchi 1.

In my mind I'm convinced that I want a Dutch style "Omafiets" step-through type of bike like they ride in Amsterdam and Copenhagen. Or rather I want a bike in that design but with a coaster brake and hand brakes, no cables. After doing a bit of (significant) research, I homed in on the Linus Dutchi 1. It's not authentic but it checks all the boxes and seems like it would be a perfect fit for me size-wise. The only size it comes in is what they call Medium, for riders 5'2" to 5'10". I'm right in the middle of that range. Most other bikes have multiple sizes and without being able to do a test ride I couldn't be sure of what would fit.

The Linus Dutchi 1 in cream color

Storage will be an issue with the Dutchi. I live in a condo with no garage where space is limited. So I'll have to find a place where it can be kept in the house but out of the way. And I'll need a kick stand or indoor bike stand to keep it from toppling over. The Brompton could sit balanced after being folded.

Taking the Dutchi to the repair shop will also be a hurdle. Actually, getting it home from the shop where it is being shipped to and assembled will be something I have to figure out. There are no bike shops within walking distance of my house, and none within a safe riding distance either. With the Brompton I could just put it in the car and take it in for a tune up. I may have to get a simple bike rack for the rare times when I have to drive with the Dutchi. On the other hand, the simple coaster brake with no cables means the repairs will be about as conventional as they could be, so any bike shop should be able to do the tune ups. 

One thing I'm not concerned about is the fact that the step-through Linus Dutchi 1 could be seen as a feminine, woman's bike. Not having to step over a bar to get on and off the bike is a plus, as far as I can tell. It comes in a purple color (which I've been told is actually more like a lavender) and a white cream color. I opted for the cream color because it seems both more gender-neutral and more visible than the lavender would be.

I'm also not concerned about the coaster brakes. I'm probably more comfortable with that than a hand brake anyway. I should have the Dutchi within the next couple weeks. I found a great bike shop about 20 miles away for the ordering and assembly. I am excited about this pivot from a folding bike to a city bike. Quite the change!


Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Books Read - August 2023

The Dreams of Dragons by Lyall Watson (8/6)

Crook Manifesto by Colson Whitehead (8/13)

The Pigeon by David Gordon (8/21)

The Theory of Everything Else - A Voyage Into the World of the Weird by Dan Schreiber (8/22)

A Dance at the Slaughterhouse by Lawrence Block (8/26)

Kick the Latch by Kathryn Scanlan (8/28)

The Woman in the Purple Skirt by Natsuko Imamura (8/30)

Friday, August 25, 2023

My Good Enough, Better Than Nothing Workout

Just before the pandemic, in January 2020, I decided to start working out again. I've been at it ever since. The peak of my workout period was probably summer 2021. By that time I had lost over 45 pounds from where I was 18 months prior and I was exercising up to about an hour a day. I was also eating a pretty strict keto diet and not going out to eat or getting takeaway hardly at all. 

More recently I've not been quite as diligent, but I have found a routine that I call my "good enough, better than nothing" workout. I still workout 6, if not 7 days a week, but not quite as intensely as I was doing.  I've also been eating vegan for about the last year which has contributed to about 15 pounds of weight gain (more carbs). Now it's more about maintenance and long-term goals. I want to work out today in such a way that I can do so again tomorrow.

Something I started incorporating in 2023 is yoga. It's a practice that I hope to develop as the years go on. I typically do yoga first thing in the morning, and only for about 15 to 20 minutes, but I try and do it every day. Right now I'm using a couple different apps and attending an in-person class a couple times a month. I hope to get comfortable enough and familiar enough with it that I can improvise or plan my my own yoga sequence without having to rely on an app.

Once a sufficient yoga session is complete, depending on the day of the week or what I did the day before, I'll do either some strength training/conditioning or some type of aerobic/cardio activity. Minimum of ten minutes, but quite often longer. 

I got rid of a lot of the equipment I had accumulated over the last three years, but for strength training I still use either Y-Bells, a steel mace, a shena pushup board, Lebert fitness bars, a kettlebell, a Bala beam, a Bala ring, or dumbbells. One thing that's different from before is I've lightened the weight. For example, I'm no longer using a heavy kettlebell or a heavy steel mace or clunky clubs or meels. I'm down to just one steel mace (at eleven pounds), and the kettlebell I sometimes use is a lighter one at just 18 pounds. 

For aerobic/cardio when outside I either run (new in the last year), bicycle, or walk. Nothing crazy...I run for like two miles (20+ minutes), or bicycle for 6 to 7 miles (30+ minutes), or walk for 2 to 3 miles (40+ minutes). Better than nothing. Sometimes I walk/run. For indoors I have a slide board, a rebounder trampoline, a cheapo but effective row n' ride thing, and a ropeless jumprope. These activities are good for getting the heart rate up.

I don't always count yoga at its full time. For example, if I do 25 minutes of yoga I might count it as 10 to 15 minutes of workout time depending on how intense it was. So with 25 minutes of yoga (counted as 15 minutes of workout), I'll try to do another 15 minutes of something else to get to 30 minutes. Good enough. 

Consistency is key. Now that I've eliminated alcohol from my life I am more able to keep this on a consistent routine that I can approach with the same mindset and focus each time I do it.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

The Search for a Short Sleeve Button-up Shirt

I would like to get a short sleeve button-up shirt with the following characteristics:

Not a button-down collar and not a camp collar. I'm not sure what it's called when it's not a button-down (spread or straight?) but definitely not a button-down collar. 

A rounded "shirt-tail" hem rather than a straight hem, but not a round hem that's so long or so rounded that it hangs way too low. I plan on wearing it casually, untucked with shorts so let's be reasonable.

More of a dress shirt look than outdoorsy. I don't want it to look too much like a fishing shirt or a hiking shirt. Also, regular buttons and not snaps in place of buttons.

Something with a light-ish color and with a mild pattern like a vertical stripe or unobtrusive dots or design. But not a completely plain colored shirt, and also not a plaid/checkerboard color or loud design.

A cotton/poly blend fabric or similar. A lot of shirts are 100% cotton nowadays, and that's not really what I'm looking for. I want something that won't shrink or be wrinkly all the time. Linen is definitely off the table. If not a cotton/poly blend, then something that's a quick-dry fabric that I can hand wash in the sink and have it dry overnight.

Room in the shoulders and the underarms. I don't want to swim in a shirt that's too way big, but I also don't want to be constricted in any way. Sometimes modern shirts are too tight in the underarms or shoulders. A "stretch" fabric is not a must, but a slight stretch couldn't hurt.

No logo. I really don't want to have a prominent logo on the shirt, so that rules out a lot of the options from outdoorsy name brands.

Pocket or no pocket. I'd be OK with one pocket (on the left side like normal) as long as it doesn't have a button or zipper or flap. I wouldn't want two pockets and really I don't need a pocket at all. So no pocket is OK too.

Cost. I'd like to keep the cost under $50. 

I'm still looking!

Friday, August 4, 2023

A John Prine Playlist for the 301 Route to Philadelphia

For the drive to see Phish at The Mann in Philly last month I mapped out a route that avoids I-95 and DC via the 301 bridge from Virginia to Maryland and the Bay Bridge from Annapolis to Queenstown. To accompany this five-hour drive, I put together a John Prine playlist, selecting songs from each of the singer-songwriter's studio albums. There wasn't much curation involved as I tend to like most John Prine songs. 

Altogether it was about 115 songs totaling 6 and a half hours of music. It played the whole ride through and I never fast forwarded through any tracks and never changed it to something else. I managed to hold back the tears while quietly singing along to 99% of the words. There are not many artists or bands for whom I could assemble a playlist with over 100 songs of this caliber. 

So what do you notice after a five hour saturation of John Prine songs? Well on the obvious side he recycles melodies and themes. Days of the week come up a lot. I've been listening to John Prine for over 30 years so I knew what I was in for. Crooked Piece of Time was well placed in the mix as I desperately searched for a post 10pm parking spot in the Fairmount neighborhood of Philly. Good luck with that!

And the ride back? Well that was all Phish! Duh. Needless to say, it was a Loooooong Monday.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Books Read July 2023

Riding the Nightmare by Lisa Tuttle (7/5)

Like Love by Ed McBain (7/7)

Edison’s Ghosts - the Untold Weirdness of History’s Greatest Geniuses by Katie Spalding (7/16)

A Spaceship Built of Stone and other stories by Lisa Tuttle (7/17)

One Man’s Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey by Sam Keith from the journals and photographs of Richard Proenneke (7/22)

Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession (7/25)

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead (7/30)

Monday, July 3, 2023

Books Read June 2023

Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea by Sarah Pinsker (6/11)

I guess Sci-fi comes the closest to describing these stories. A very creative, outside the box type writer who I had never heard of before. Now I plan to read more by Sarah Pinsker.

The Piano Lesson by August Wilson (6/13)
My first time reading anything by August Wilson. I liked it a lot. This is a play so it's almost all dialogue, but great dialogue to read on the page.

Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century - Kim Fu (6/19)
This collection was similar to the Sarah Pinsker book of short stories mentioned above. I didn't love everything about it, but overall it was enjoyable.

Smoketown - The Untold Story of the Other Great Black Renaissance by Mark Whitaker (6/28)
I was inspired to read this after learning about August Wilson. Covers Pittsburgh sports, music, writers, journalists, industry, and more. You'd think a history book such as this might be a little dry, but it held my interest throughout.

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Books Read May 2023


The Bedeviled - Thomas Cullinan (5/5)

Hmmm. Writing this a month later. I've kind of forgotten what I thought of it! Not the best sign.

Yoga and Veganism: The Diet of Enlightenment - Sharon Gannon (5/15)

I've been cooking vegan at home recently, but hadn't really studied the subject much. This book was eye opening.

White Cat, Black Dog - Kelly Link (5/20)

Some stories were good. Some were too long. I don't think I liked it as much as you're supposed to.

When Things Get Dark: Stories Inspired by Shirley Jackson, Edited by Ellen Datlow

While none of the stories in this collection were at the level of Shirley Jackson, this was a compilation worth reading.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Books Read April 2023

No Surrender: My Thirty-Year War - Hiroo Onoda (4/1)
Shocking and meticulous first person account by a WWII Japanese soldier who went into the jungle on a small island in the Philippines in 1944 and - convinced that the war was still going on - didn’t emerge until 1974!

Original Wisdom: Stories of an Ancient Way of Knowing - Robert Wolff (4/4)

Very well written. Probably my favorite book of April. Just a little “new agey”. Would like to find more books like this.

Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle - Daniel L. Everett (4/11)

I liked the majority of this book, especially the descriptions of Piraha culture and what it was like to live with them. It got a little harder to follow during the linguistic discussions which were a little academic, but necessary, I suppose.

Dark Tales - Shirley Jackson (4/15)

I loved every story in this book! Although I wasn't always sure that I always "got" them. My other favorite book from April.

The Lathe of Heaven - Ursula K. Le Guin (4/23)

The first novel I've read by Ursula K. Le Guin. I wanted to like it more. Reminiscent of Philip K. Dick, but it felt very dated.

Sunday, April 30, 2023

The Spiral Light, The Squirming Coil: A Journey Into the Self

I’ve been seeing spirals everywhere.

I even see them when I close my eyes.

Spiral is found in the word spir(itu)al.

Lighthouses have spiral staircases.





Drawing inward.

Expanding outwards.

Cycles once again.

Beginnings and ends overlap. 

Sunday, April 2, 2023

Books Read March 2023

A Drop of the Hard Stuff - Lawrence Block (3/9)
This one had a different pacing and outcome than a typical detective mystery. That's a positive thing when done by Lawrence Block.

Why Not You And I - Karl Edward Wagner (3/14)
Very pulpy. At times it was actually better than "In a Lonely Place". 

Stranger in the Woods - Michael Finkel (3/17)
A book I continued thinking about long after I finished it. One of the best books I have read in a long time.

The Relaxation Response - Herbert Benson, M.D. (3/22)
A therapeutic look at mind/body. A preventative approach. Exercise for the mind.

Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead - Olga Tokarczuk (
Tedious, with brief moments of poetry. I liked the astrology references.