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My old friend the button accordion

When I started playing clawhammer banjo, I fell hard for it and very quickly it dominated the music I played to the point where my old accordions lay quiet. I really never gave it a second thought – until recently. I’ve been missing the button accordion, the sounds it makes, how it feels to play it. This morning I picked up one of my accordions and put it on. How do you play this thing?

I used to know so many tunes on it, and I sat there trying to draw them out of my memory. The good news is the music comes back. My fingers, which have become fairly adept at finding the notes on my banjo, were tentative, but soon I was making music. Managing the air was still second nature. I started remembering bits and pieces of tunes I used to play. I think I can get back my chops fairly quickly with a little effort.

The button accordion uses different muscles than the banjo. You wouldn’t think that is a big deal, but after playing for 45 minutes this morning, a number of muscles were complaining. Back when I played accordion every day that never happened. It would have been better had I not stopped along the way to learn banjo, but I know I needed that focus to learn a new instrument.

Now I’m starting fiddle, continuing to learn banjo tunes, and yet I want to get back to playing accordion too. My first thought is I haven’t time for all that among various other projects I have going – including making paintings for my next exhibition. I guess I’ll have to organize my time better.


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Was that music or construction noise?

I’ve begun my first tentative steps learning to play fiddle. I’m reminding myself that my first days on button accordion were a struggle, figuring out to to manage air and cope with learning two sets of fingering, one for pushing and the other for pulling. Early days with clawhammer were challenging too,  learning to strike the individual strings cleanly and getting the basic frailing stroke down. I think fiddle has an even steeper learning curve than both those instruments and there are plenty of initial challenges to overcome.

Putting in some time learning to get clean tones seems to be the order of the day, but it is easier said than done. I practiced simply getting good full tones on open strings, going from one string to another, and after a while I got the hang of that. Of course everything fell apart when I tried to finger a simple tune. I found that as I concentrated on finding the right finger positions, getting the pitch as correct as I could, I messed up with the bow hand.

It is, however a start, and I’m managing my expectations. My fingers will get used to finding the right finger positions and my ear will tell me when I’m off. Bowing too will get easier the more I work at. I know from my experience playing other instruments that I will learn through playing tunes, and that my patience for exercises and scales is limited. On clawhammer, I’ll work on a tune, spending extra time on the tougher bits, going back and forth between the whole tune and the parts that need work. I also know I’ll keep at it as long as I’m having fun and seeing some improvement along the way. This morning by the time our Newfs Ruby and George told me it was time to stop, I was playing a very rough and scratchy Lisa Jane, and I’m telling myself that’s a good start. Rome was not built in a day and like that. I don’t plan on moving on to anything else until I can play that one so it sounds like fiddle instead of construction noise.


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Why are we attracted to daredevils?

Today Erindira Wallenda dangled over Niagara Falls from a helecopter holding on by her teeth. I’m not even making this up. Why are we so fascinated with stupid stuff people do?

When I was a little kid I remember watching Evel Knievel on television, jumping over stuff on his motorcycle. In his storied career (if that’s what you call it), he smashed most of his bones. I recall being glued to the screen, but no matter what happened it wasn’t going to be satisfying and the same goes for today’s goofy stunt.

We don’t want to watch Erindira Wallenda lose her grip and fall to her death. And yet, if she is successful, it’s just another day at the office. I suppose we are attracted to the tension, the possibility of disaster. Other members of the daredevil Wallenda family have died, right? Previous failures offer credibility to the whole business.

What motivates a daredevil? What they do is as far away from the work-a-day world as you can imagine. And what do you do for a living? I face death, and what do you do? Maybe some people need the thrill the way addicts need their drugs? Perhaps they’re addicted to risk.

Remember Fernwood 2 Nite, the old Martin Mull tall show spoof? Barth Gimble had a recurring guest named Virgil Simms, a daredevil with a plan to jump over 3 motorcycles with full-sized, fully equipped mobile home……

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More construction chaos on Twenty Seventh Street

Today Twenty Seventh has been closed much of the day from in front of our place south to beyond #2 as crews dig up the street. I presume they are doing the sewer connections for the pair of builds at #4, but they have also dug up the street in front of #2 so maybe there was a problem with the original connection there.

I don’t mind saying I’m tired of the construction. Hopefully this will be the last of the heavy equipment resulting from the builds across the street.

It looks like the huge silver maple in front of the house next door survived the construction very well, and I’m grateful the builders took care to keep away from it during construction – but its sister tree across the street at #2 looks to be dying. One side of it has leafed out in a half-hearted way this year but the other side remains woody.

The damage to the tree across the street is no surprise. When they excavated the driveway for #2, I guess the tree protection zone was in their way so they removed it while they dug. Then, to connect the sewers up at that address, they dug a trench not very far from that giant maple, cutting main roots all the way down. Yes, I complained to Urban Forestry and our elected representative, Mark Grimes. (It was at this same property  by the way that 6 mature spruces were destroyed without permit).

The Forestry folks sent someone around and I was told that yes the trench was damaging the roots but it should be OK. I suppose it is possible the maple will recover in time, but it looks grim to me.  If that maple dies, it will leave just one front yard tree for the 3 properties across the street which have become 5 homes. That tree is a spruce, but at this point it’s really just half a spruce since the builder defoliated it up maybe 25 feet. I suppose all those ugly spruce needles were interfering with the view of his stonework. Sigh.


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The little veggie garden that could

Our back yard is surrounded by mature spruce, a huge silver maple and a big old apple tree. It’s an unlikely place for a veggie garden. Ignoring the odds, we have two raised beds with veggies. Peppers and tomatoes are out of the question in the back yard due to lack of sun (we have some of both out front in containers this year), but it turns out some things grow pretty well.


We’ve started eating lettuce and a bit of baby spinach this past week. I’ve staggered the lettuce over some weeks so we should have greens for salads well into summer. There are chives in there, and parsley and green onions. There is some bok choy and kale too, some edible pod peas, carrots and some shallots. The other day I planted the final square with bush butter beans, something I’ve never grown before. I’ve tucked oregano and thyme in one of the perennial gardens, where I also have a nice catnip patch going for the lions.

When I was growing up my father had a large veggie garden with plenty of room for all kinds of veggies, and I had the idea that if you’re going to grow veggies, you need to grow enough for several families.  I’ve learned over the years we don’t really need a huge garden and it’s ok to not have everything. Our little veggie patch provides a surprising quantity of delicious summer salads. I enjoy making and eating salads a lot more when my produce has just been picked from our own garden.

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Oshawa Peony Festival

Tuffy P posting today. I took a drive out to Oshawa this afternoon to take in the Oshawa Valley Botanical Gardens and the 13th Annual Oshawa Peony Festival.  Indoors, the judges tables fill half a hockey rink with seemingly every variety of peony. Outdoors, the peony blooms are just as mind blowing. Over 300 varieties are established in the Botanical Garden. The Matsuyama Bonsai show was also on display in the arena.  Members of the Canadian Peony Society and the Matsuyama Bonsai Society were on hand to answer questions.

On the grounds, how I walked away without buying a table of homemade strudel – I still don’t know!  Food, drinks, a great jazz band and all kinds of crafty vendors spilled out along the grounds of the Oshawa Valley Botanical Gardens.

Well worth the trip! The show runs  tomorrow  – Sunday June 11th from 10-4pm.  Hit the road early – and don’t leave without some homemade strudel!