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The Bowmanville Woodpecker

We installed this downy woodpecker mosaic today at John, Megan and Abigail’s place in Bowmanville. We create all kinds of custom mosaic work for home and garden, from broken crockery to Smalti glass tiles. See photos of our work at our Long Branch Mosaics page.

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What is The Agency Podcast?

The other day, my friend Candy Minx and I published the first episode of a new podcast called The Agency. That is to say, it is hosted and with the link you can read it – but we’re waiting for iTunes to tell us our podcast will be listed in their directory. Tomorrow, I’ll look into other directories as well. We started a facebook page for the podcast before we had even completed the first issue. Our friend Karen asked, What is the Agency Podcast? I’ll offer up a few thoughts about that. My co-host may or may not agree.

Had you suggested to me a month ago that I would be co-hosting a podcast, I would have laughed. I had taken a stab at podcasting some time ago with The 27th Street Podcast, which I abandoned after a few episodes, and I have not been thinking at all about doing this sort of thing again.

The idea came together recently when Candy and her husband Stagg were in town for a visit. I’m not sure exactly how it happened. Candy had mentioned that her and Stagg had toyed with the idea of an art-related podcast at some point. Maybe Candy can tell you how the conversation went from there to the possibility (which quickly became a certainty), that Candy and I would co-host one. I’m not even sure. It became inevitable.

I met Candy in the early 80s at York University, where we were both studying Fine Arts, and we quickly became friends – the kind of friendship that lasts for years and years. I think of Candy as family. Since that time we’ve argued about just about everything under the sun. I suppose we both recognize there is something in those conversations we appreciate and want to capture in the podcast format.

I can’t tell you what the content of any episode will be. Of course I’m prepared to introduce topics and ideas I want to talk about and the same goes for Candy, but we’re not discussing that prior to the podcast, and there are no rehearsals. If we have any rules, that is the big one. The recording session is in a way like improv. Whatever magic emerges will come out of the interaction, when we get to places neither of us expect.

In a way this podcast is also kind of like a game, in which both participants bring ideas to the table and interact during the recording. Topics might be of greater or lesser importance and they may be discussed at greater or lesser length. At the same time both participants have to be flexible. Unlike a game, though, the participants do not aim to defeat one another. Each episode is recorded in a single session.

The Agency is not live streamed and one of the questions we face is whether or not to do any editing. There are arguments both ways. I can say that there are a few minor edits in the first episode, one little bit cut out and some dead air removed. I think we both want to aim to produce these in the future with the least possible editing. That doesn’t mean we will never make any edits, but our goal is to become good enough at producing and hosting these things to create episodes we are happy with without messing with it at all, most of the time. Going along with this will be developing the confidence to live with episodes that are messy or confusing or flawed in any number of ways.

Episode titles are applied after the recording to reflect in some way or another the spirit or content of each eclectic episode. The music at the beginning and end of each episode features traditional tunes played by me on clawhammer banjo.

Our friend Scott commented on Instagram – “Agent Candy and Agent Knapik?” Ha! Special Agents actually. Who knows what all we’re going to end up talking about, but if you need a podcast fix, The Agency will fill it. Of course agency has other meanings as well. I’m sure they all apply.

There is a kind of Mickey and Judy DIY aspect to this approach to podcasting, something not unfamiliar to me in my creative life. Hey, let’s put on a show! Neither of us have a high level of computer technical skills. We don’t have a producer and we don’t have a pro studio. What we do have are microphones and headphones and we have Skype so we can be in in different cities (I live in Toronto and Candy lives in Chicago) and still record.

We’ve begun by recording our conversation directly on Skype, then moving that recording to Garageband, where we can add in music, and if any editing is done, it can happen there. There were some technical challenges with doing it this way. When I tried to drop the MP4 file from Skype into Garageband, a big chunk of the conversation disappeared. This was really vexing. I tried all kinds of possible fixes for this and none of them worked until I converted the MP4 to a WAV file then dropped the WAV file into Garageband.

Initially we tried a different set-up, which I learned about from a YouTube video. There are YouTube videos showing how to do just about everything, aren’t there? Our initial approach involved using two additional apps, one called Line-in and the other called Soundflower. Although I followed instructions carefully, I couldn’t make this approach work and I’m not sure why not.

We will likely record episode 2 directly on Skype again, although I’m not convinced this is the best way forward. If there is anyone out there with some technical experience who can share a better way to record a phone call for a podcast, please email us at theagency.podcast@gmail.com. We’d appreciate some good technical advice as we want to output the best possible podcast in all ways.

We would appreciate your feedback on The Agency. We’d love to know what you like or don’t like, and if you want to make some suggestions, go right ahead. You never know, we might end up adopting some audience suggestions. Of course you can leave your comments here or you can email us at theagency.podcast@gmail.com.

Once The Agency is up on iTunes and other directories, we really hope you will subscribe and listen regularly. Please also rate and review The Agency on iTunes if you have a few minutes. Our podcast will always be free. If it turns out you really dig The Agency and want to support this effort, we have set up a Patreon page. We’re working out the various support levels and what SWAG we can offer any patrons.

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Tasty September Mushrooms

Lobster mushroom

Two choice edible wild mushroom currently fruiting in my area are lobsters and hedgehogs.

Hedgehog

Lobster mushrooms occur as a result of a cup fungus attacking a host mushroom. There are two hosts, both unpalatable white mushrooms. Once attacked, the white mushrooms often become contorted and they turn the colour of cooked lobster shells – and they become a choice edible.

Hedgehogs are one of two species which are very similar. They are tan to orangy-tan and they have distinctive teeth underneath the cap.

Lobster – Hypomyces lactifluorun

Lobsters are often partially obscured by leaves and other forest duff.

I’ve been familiar with these mushrooms for some years and I’m confident in my identification when I pick some for the table. My rule is that if I cannot identify mushrooms with certainty I won’t eat them. We have some mushrooms around here that are deadly and plenty of others that are sickeners.

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The Agency

I’m co-hosting a new podcast with Candy Minx called The Agency. It will be up on iTunes soon, but you visitors to 27th Street can listen right away.

Something is going crazy in this world. Sometimes its funny and sometimes its not, especially when it feels like life is kicking you in the ass. We know how you feel.

You can access Episode 1 here.

I hope you enjoy it. We plan to have a new episode available each week. Once it’s up on iTunes you can subscribe.

Please let us know what you think, either in the comments here or email: theagency.podcast@gmail.com

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Specialty Item

This morning I noticed a bag sitting underneath the 27th Street Book Box. If was filled with an assortment of ceramic items. Some kind soul must have noticed all the mosaics around here and decided to provide us with some raw material. This happens from time to time. Mostly we can only use the unique or character items as we have a good inventory of basic stuff.

I dug through the bag and came across a very unique item. It appears to be a ceramic log with mushrooms, some of them broken off. I’m not sure where we’ll use this, but smashed into pieces it has a lot of potential for our mosaic work.

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Spotted Jewelweed

This morning I enjoyed a stroll along the Humber River. There was Spotted Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) in bloom along many of the paths. I love these little flowers, delicate golden yellow blooms decorated with bits of fiery red.

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Pretty Little Dog

Here are Ted and I playing Pretty Little Dog. I don’t know very much about this tune, except it is usually attributed to Lee Triplett. It’s a lot of fun to play (even if we both look super-serious). This video was shot by Candy Minx.

Jack Antler playing Pretty Little Dog
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Jack Antler Updates

As regular visitors to this little oasis in the blog-swamp know, I play clawhammer banjo in an Old Time music duo with Ted Myerscough on guitar. We’d like to thank The Emperor of Ephemera, Anthony Stagg, for creating a sign for us to use busking – we can also use it as a logo. Stagg is a fantastic artist (not to mention a great friend) who lives in Chicago.

Saturday September 14 – Jack Antler will be busking at Clarke Memorial Hall, 12-4, during the Arts on the Credit Fine Art tour in Port Credit. Clarke Hall is at 161 Lakeshore Rd. W – south side, just east of Mississauga Rd. You can see numerous artists exhibiting in the building and enjoy some old time music while you’re there.

Sunday September 22 – We’ll be playing a set at the Long Branch Tree Fest in Marie Curtis Park at 12:30. The Tree Fest is a free family event. It will feature live music, activities for kids, interactive educational booths and more.

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The Peanut Butter Falcon

The Peanut Butter Falcon is a film about a young man with Downs syndrome (named Zak), housed in a nursing home, who escapes to seek out The Salt Water Redneck, his pro-wrestling idol. Zak wants to enroll in Redneck’s pro-wrestling school and follow in his hero’s footsteps. With a premise like that, this might have been a syropy mess of a movie. Instead, it’s a great little film, tightly written and very well acted.

The Peanut Butter Falcon is way better than this trailer might suggest.

It’s a buddy movie and a rafting down the river Huck Finn kind of movie and it’s all about finding freedom. I was reminded of Mud in parts (did you see that 2012 gem?), and a little of the 2010 remake of True Grit as well. While Peanut Butter Falcon is for sure a feelgood movie, Shia LaBeouf’s excellent rough & ready performance keeps this effort from becoming too saccharine.

Recommended.

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Clawhammer and Nails

When you play clawhammer banjo, you need to repeatedly bang your fingernail against the strings on purpose. There are some people who have very very strong nails who never have a problem with this, others whose nails can’t handle the rigors of playing at all, and players like me who are somewhere in the middle.

I grow out 3 nails on my right hand, just a little. I don’t grow them long, but just long enough so they are past the tip of my finger. I play best with the nail of my index finger, but I keep my middle fingernail ready just in case I break the other one while I’m playing and need an emergency nail. I use my ring fingernail to achieve percussive effects. If I don’t let my nail grow out too long, I can go several months without breaking a nail, but at a certain length it weakens considerably.

Sometimes I use nail hardener on my nails, but I’ve come to think it doens’t really make much difference. For me the important thing is to be on the case with a nail file keeping my playing nails at just the right length and shape. Other players have different solutions.

Some people use picks, with those designed for clawhammer or pics that are designed for bluegrass banjo or guitar and modified for clawhammer. I’ve read about other people who make picks out of ping-pong balls. I’ve tried out various pics but I’m not satisfied with any of them. I like to feel the connection between my finger and the strings and if there is any instability it really bothers me and affects my playing.

Other players go to nail salons once a month or so and get fake nails applied. Ted, who plays guitar with me in Jack Antler, does this and he is very happy with the results. I’ve never been to a nail salon.

Yesterday morning I cracked the nail of my right index finger. It was the kind of crack that pointed directly into the nail. It wasn’t a big crack, but big enouth that it was difficult to completely file out, and I know that playing with it would cause a bigger break.

I was going to simply switch to my middle finger. After some practice, I can play just about as strongly with it as with my index. However, I had scheduled a session with Ted for that morning, and it does really take some practice for me to get used to changing fingers. It happened that I was going to the drugstore to pick up something or other we needed at home, and I remember reading on Facebook something from Joe Newberry (a great player who I really look up to), saying he uses drugstore press-on nails with some success. I ventured into the nail care section of the store and bought a box of these things. I wanted only the biggest ones they had but all the boxes there came with a selection of sizes. I bought a box anyway and went home to apply one.

It turned out application was easy. I filed the crack in my nail right down. Then I stuck on what amounts to clear, very strong, nail-shaped double-sided tape, then pressed on the fake nail. After that it was easy to shape the fake nail with a nail file. I played for hours with Ted yesterday and it felt right and I was able to play well with this stick-on product. Hopefully I’ll get a few days playing out of it.