Recording. Chris just received a welcome gift from his aunt, a guitar that belonged to his late grandfather. As a thank-you, he is in the midst of recording a tape of guitar and banjo tunes that he has learned in the past fifteen months, using a cheap boom-box recorder that we have around. I could have used some of our recording equipment to help him create something with much better quality, but I think I’ll let him continue to use the simple tools at hand. It’s the same thinking that leads us to keep the kids away from computers, requiring them to do their reading in books and their writing on paper with pens and pencils—it helps keep the technology from overwhelming the task.
Mailing. Draught Horse Press just completed a fairly ambitious mailing of 2100 pieces. Fifteen hundred of them went to Every Thought Captive subscribers; they will receive a DHP catalog and a Basement Tapes sampler (75 minutes of excerpts from the first ten Basement Tapes). Six hundred other people will receive the catalog, a sampler, a copy of ETC, a cover letter describing the work of the Study Center, and a postcard (already stickered with their address) which they can return for a free ETC subscription.
It took a lot longer than I expected. Part of it was simply the time it takes to stuff those 2100 envelopes with the appropriate contents. Part of it was addressing, bundling, sacking, and transporting 800 pounds of mail. Part of it was lack of diligence on my part.
The reason it got done at all was that it was a true family effort. A large part of our reason for starting this particular business was that it is work that can involve the entire household. It was awkward at times for me to figure out how to turn over parts of the work to others, rather than do it all myself. But it got figured out, everybody pitched in, and we’ll have a much better idea of how to manage such a job next time.
Bourbon. I’m almost exclusively a social drinker, so adult beverages usually sit around the house until some visitor will join me in partaking. My brother Gary is as fond of bourbon as I’m becoming, so over the weekend we managed to try a couple of new ones. The Wild Turkey Rare Breed was very nice, with a finish so short that we had to keep ourselves from gulping it all down right away (the alcohol burn from 108 proof helped with that). And the Blantons’—my goodness, what a smooth bourbon, with a powerful caramel/toffee aroma that was just delightful.
Birthday. Matthew turned eight this weekend. One of the perks of birthday-boy/girl-hood around here is that one gets to set the culinary agenda. One of Matthew’s more quirky aspects is his love of cheese, so it dominated the menu—cheese omelets for breakfast, macaroni and cheese for lunch, jello dessert topped with a sour cream/cheddar cheese mixture. By evening he had cooled a bit on cheese, and so he dropped his plans for supper at a Mexican place and chose takeout from Kentucky Fried Chicken instead. But on Sunday (his actual birthday) there was still a cheesecake to be dealt with, one that his uncle Gary had baked and brought down from Lynchburg. That was enough, though; we skipped Sunday supper altogether.
Autoharp. I’ve been studying up on what you can do to get an autoharp into optimal shape, and I’ve discovered that mine is far from it. The action (i.e. the distance that chord bars need to travel in order to damp the strings) is very high. The felt on the chord bars is deeply grooved, meaning you have to mash the bars even harder to damp the strings. The strings are old and corroded. And it has no fine-tuning mechanism, meaning that you can only get in the neighborhood of the desired note by using a wrench on the string pegs.
All those things can be fixed by ordinary humans, and I’d like to try my hand at lowering the action, refelting, restringing, and adding a fine-tuning mechanism. But I was reluctant to use my only autoharp as a learning laboratory. So I finally decided to order a better-quality autoharp, and then experiment with modifications to the cheaper one. The model I ordered was an Oscar Schmidt Ozark Deluxe model with a high-gloss sunburst finish. It arrived this afternoon, and the photos don’t do it justice—it’s very pretty. (Incidentally, I didn’t buy it from Elderly Instruments; I managed to find a much better price online.)
I rough-tuned it, played a bit, then tried out the fine tuners. They turn out to be a most excellent enhancement; .I can very easily get a string to exactly the right pitch using an electronic tuner. I’ll definitely add fine-tuners to the other autoharp when I have the time and nerve to restring it. Even rough-tuned the sound of the new autoharp was significantly better than the old; after fine tuning, some of the chords really chime.
My goal for late April, when Chris and I will be going to the Bluegrass Jam Camp at Merlefest, is to be able to play simple rhythm accompaniment. So Chris and I have been playing together, with me providing a base sound on top of which Chris can practice some fancier work on guitar or banjo. My focus is simply on changing chords at the right time, and on learning how to strum rhythmically. For awhile I was using a thumb pick and finger picks, like the real autoharp players, but I found it too complicated for now; I could get better sound with just the thumb pick and some simple strum patterns. When the autoharp arrived today, it was accompanied by a selection of picks, including a flat pick. I tried it out, and Chris said he thought it worked better for how I was playing, so I think I will try it that way for awhile.
One-two punch. While checking a few websites before heading off to breakfast this morning, I read a couple of articles on Andrew Sandlin’s website that made me wonder whether I had walked through some wormhole and stumbled into Bizarro World.
First there was a piece by Sandlin which argues that traditionalists are actually disrespecting the past by looking to it, that many current developments (e.g. the Left Behind series topping the bestseller charts, George W. Bush’s public Christianity) are signs of societal health, and that we really need to focus on continuing such forward progress.
And then there was this by Steve Schlissel, in which he argues that homeschooling is at best a stopgap defense against an encroaching culture, one that has served its purpose and that we should be preparing to abandon. Specifically, he says:
Covenant community schools were nearly obliterated by public education. However, the spirit of these schools was kept alive by the home-schooling movement. And the movement will reach its goal with the revivification of covenant community schools.
Whether or not there were ever such things as “covenant community schools” before the days of public education, they were certainly nothing like the sort of thing he is proposing as a replacement for homeschooling:
Let me think out loud. We need to establish single-gender prep schools that will serve as feeders for Ivy League and la-di-da colleges. (Like it or not, such schools are where cultural leaders come from—if you want the culture, get the right kids into these schools.) …
[E]xcellent covenant schools do more than encourage Christian communities: they require them. Hey—they create them! Yes, people—serious Christian people—will move to be near a serious Christian prep school. Imagine a high school with Christian faculty members of sterling character who have earned-PhD’s from prestigious schools (yes, it does make a difference, and that on several practical levels). Imagine a curriculum that provides rigorous education in the Bible, history, apologetics, the humanities, math and the sciences, languages, and that calls for earning community service credits. Imagine a high school where uniforms are standard equipment, cleanliness is prized, and honor treasured.
Despite what Schlissel claims elsewhere in the article, this is not antithesis, this is place-at-the-table thinking.
Nashville. We made the trip, and it was fine. The Ryman is a beautiful auditorium, and the Reeltime Travelers did a great job. Most of the rest of the music was very commercial and not to our taste, so around 9pm we decided to head out. As we did, we were surprised and pleased to run into three-fifths of the Travelers at the concession stand in the lobby, and so we visited with them for a few minutes. I think they were happy that some fans had made the trek from Bristol to cheer them on.
As on any trip, we managed to eat well. On our way to Nashville, we detoured off the interstate to Sevierville, home of ten thousand outlet mall stores and one stellar restaurant, the Applewood. It is connected with an operation that sells all things apple-related, which exerts a heavy influence on the menu—each meal begins with an apple cider cocktail and apple fritters, and there are many other apple-y things to be had, along with lots of excellent home-cooking entrees.
Before the Opry we sought out Rotier’s, home of excellent cheeseburgers. Due to the blizzard (so-called) the place was nearly empty, and there was talk of closing up early. But still they served us some mighty fine cheeseburgers (just like in the picture) and some surprisingly good pork BBQ.
Saturday morning we visited the Pancake Pantry, and once again benefited from the local unfamiliarity with snow and low temperatures—instead of the customary around-the-block line of waiting customers, we were seated right away. Service was excellent, the pancakes were spectacular (especially when doctored with the cinnamon cream syrup), and even the coffee was top-notch. There’s talk of moving the Wednesday men’s breakfast to the Pancake Pantry, five hour drive notwithstanding.