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Tai Chi revisited

Back in the 90s I learned Chen Style tai chi first and second forms, and it became something I did daily. Along the way I also learned a couple other forms, including a single sword style, and some push hands, but it was the first form of Chen Style which became a daily practice.

Chen Style is the earliest form and perhaps the most martial of the tai chi forms. I got involved with it through a friend who had some experience with it and I liked practicing the forms right away. We had excellent teachers and I really worked at learning the movements as best I could.

At some point I just stepped away from it. Other things were going on in my life – including getting married. I didn’t seem to have time to continue classes and I learned quickly that the classes helped me focus on practicing the form daily. I stopped practicing the form daily and eventually stopped completely. At one point when I went back to it, I couldn’t remember all the details of the form. I regret allowing that to happen, and I don’t know how many times over the years I’ve told myself I need to get return to it.

When I left behind the grind of the work-a-day world to concentrate on making paintings and mosaics, one of my goals was to get back to practicing tai chi. Finally, I’ve signed up for some classes, which start later this month.

I’ll be going back to the beginning, since time has washed all my former knowledge and practice away, and I’ll be learning a different form, called Yang Style. Yang Style is a slower and gentler form than Chen Style, and given that my body is some 15 years older now (and I’m slower and gentler too), that makes sense to me. I hope to eventually learn the 108 movement long form. This will take quite some time and require plenty of repetition and practice.

At the same time, I’ve also signed up for an 11 week class on bird and plant identification. I’ve always been interested in nature, and I’ve worked on learning to identify mushrooms over the years, but my knowledge of birds and plants is still rudimentary. I’m hoping this class will increase my knowledge and also help me hone my observation skills. Tuffy P is taking a course this fall too, a weekly pilates class.

Always be learning, that’s what I say.


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Peaky Blinders

My friend East Texas Red recommended we watch a show called Peaky Blinders (on Netflix). This was not so long ago, but we’ve already exhausted the 3 seasons available so far.

Peaky Blinders is a story about a family of gangsters in post-WWI Birmingham in the UK. It’s well done, intriguing, violent and very compelling. The show reminded me of Boardwalk Empire in a broad sense and I’m OK with that comparison.  There were a few episodes which dragged some but overall I can’t complain. I enjoyed getting to know the characters and there were enough plot twists to propel the show through 3 seasons.

The show is peppered with music made and popularized decades after the story was set, including plenty of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and also including The White Stripes, Johnny Cash, P.J. Harvey, Arctic Monkeys, Radiohead, Tom Waits, The Last Shadow Puppets, David Bowie and more. Sometimes the music was remarkably successful, but I thought at other times is just seemed out of place and ineffective. Still, the choices were bold and confident and when the music worked well, it added intensity to the show.

The characters are a nasty bunch overall, operating on a twisted idea of a family code. The lead character, Tommy, is the boss, the thinker, the planner and increasingly the show revolves around his character. Other characters are given enough complexity to keep them interesting – for the most part. Some were stronger than others. For instance the character of Grace started out strong and intriguing, but later it seemed as if the writers didn’t know what to do with her.

I understand they are planning a couple more seasons of this one. I find that often, producers just don’t know when to stop when they’ve got a good thing going. I hope they don’t try to drag this one on for too long and end up sucking the life out of the thing.

Good show, with some exceptional episodes. Recommended (but not for the squeamish).

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Fiddle tune for a Friday evening

Here’s a tune by Reg Hill from his recording Ottawa Valley Hoedown. It’s called the Buck Fever Rag. Reg Hill was also well known as the fiddle player for Mac Beattie’s Ottawa Valley Melodiers. This is a great tune. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

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A tune named after a river

The river is the Scioto River in Ohio, but the source for the tune is apparently Burl Hammons from West Virginia. I’ve just learned from a banjo player in Ohio that the river is spelled Scioto and pronounced Sciota, but the tune is pronounced Scioty.  It has a pretty melody and I enjoy playing it. Sometimes I play this one at a relaxed tempo, as in the video below. Other times I play it somewhat faster. I’ve heard lots of different versions of this tune and I don’t think I’ve heard one I don’t like. I’m playing it in standard G tuning.

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The mud man and a social media connection

Some visitors to this little corner of the blog-swamp know that Sheila (AKA Tuffy P around here) and I have a modest collection of artwork by folk artists or outsider artists or self-taught artists – call them what you will. Many these artists come from the southern United States, although we have some Canadian work as well. We sometimes purchase artwork through the Slotin Auction. This auction is located in Georgia, but through the wonders of internet technology, we can bid online live during the auction.

One of the works in our little collection is a cement tablet-like head by a fellow named Burgess Dulaney.


Dulaney lived from 1914 to 2001. Most of the work he made was not with cement but rather with mud, much of which came from pits on his property in Mississippi.

Some time ago, Sheila posted a photo of our Dulaney cement work on Instagram (a platform she no longer subscribes to, curiously enough), and was contacted by a fellow named Terry Nowell. Mr. Nowell, who lives in Texas, has a definitive collection of Dulaney’s work. He knew Dulaney and visited him many times over the years. It was work from Nowell’s collection that formed a 2003 exhibition of Dulaney’s work at COCA Anheuser-Busch Gallery in St. Louis. Terry Nowell very kindly sent us the catalog for that exhibition which featured article, Simple Beauty, and many photographs of Dulaney’s work, a photo of his cabin and a photo of the artist himself.

Burgess Dulaney was very prolific. He made as many as 900 works, most of which from unfired clay. We didn’t know anything about Dulaney or his work when we bought the cement work. Sheila saw it at the auction and was struck by its power and intensity. We’re grateful to Terry Nowell for contacting Sheila and sharing his love for Dulaney’s work.

Curiously, Dulaney is not the only artist in the American south who worked with mud. In Alabama, Jimmy Lee Sudduth made mud paintings. We have two of Sudduth’s paintings hanging in our home.


Although Sheila and I are both well versed in the “fine art” tradition, we share a love for work created by self-taught artists. We’ve come across some tremendously powerful painting and sculpture over the years, which has taught us a lot about image-making. I think our love for this so-called folk art is reflected in the mosaic butterflies, bears, birds and so on which we make together.





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I love butterfly season….


We completed this butterfly mosaic the other night. It has a 19 inch wingspan and is made from broken crockery, ceramic tiles, a wooden bead (on the noggin) and two plastic animals (can you find them?).

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Checking the camping gear

It’s been some time since I’ve been camping. There was a time when I did it two or three times during a typical summer. I’ve decided to take a little roadtrip in early September to the Rockbridge Mountain Music and Dance Festival down in Virginia. This is one of several gatherings of old time music freaks enthusiasts that happen each year in Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina. The grandest of these festivals is Clifftop, which happens in West Virginia annually. I’ve been planning to visit Clifftop for some time now but it seems each summer unforeseen circumstances have blocked the way. I suppose a trip to Rockbridge is my consolation prize.

The plan is to camp for a few days at the festival location, Glen Maury Park. I was happy to find out the campground has showers and happier still when I read there will be a couple food trucks on site. There will be banjo, guitar and fiddle workshops and square dancing to live bands, and there will also be plenty of jamming in the campground. It should be loads of fun.

Most of my camping gear is still in good shape. One change I’m making is to retire the old Coleman camp stove and replace it with a new propane camp stove. The Coleman stove was my dad’s before it became mine and it served us well over the years. I guess we’ve had it for 4 or 5 decades. At one point I had to replace the fuel tank after is started leaking under pressure with the stove on. I’ve long been nervous of messing with camp fuel (do they still call it naptha?) though, and when I saw propane stoves on sale at a hard to resist price, I decided it was time to make the change.

My tent is still in good shape. Several years ago, after a long time using a very light-weight tent, handy for canoe trips and that kind of thing, I bought a roomier model and decided I was happy restricting myself to camping at a campsite beside my car. At that time I also started using a clumsy but comfortable air mattress instead of the skinny little very uncomfortable sleeping pads I relied on for years.

It’s a strange political climate right now to go visiting the American south and for the first time I considered avoiding America for a while. The festival is only a couple hours away from Charlottesville where the recent racist violence took place. In the end though, I decided to go. I think an environment full of musicians will be cool and relaxed.

The only preparation I really have to do is go through my box of miscellaneous camping junk to make sure I have everything I need. I always do this and 9 times out of 10 it is complete. Still, it’s good to be prepared.