Monday, December 31, 2018

My Music Selections for 2018

Espen Eriksen Trio with Andy Sheppard. Perfectly Unhappy. Rune Grammofon. After having released three albums as a trio, this trio, composed of Espen Eriksen on piano, Lars Tormod Jenset on bass, and Andreas Bye on drums, is joined by Andy Sheppard, the British saxophonist, on their Perfectly Unhappy.  Andy Sheppard’s tenor saxophone accents the melody found in tracks like “1974,” “Perfectly Unhappy,” “Indian Summer,” and “Home.” The interplay between the saxophone and the trio is especially prominent on “Naked Trees.” I recommend this album and consider it as one of the best of the year.

Maciej Sadowski Kwadrat, ms2. One EP that came to my attention during 2018 is simply titled ms2. Created by the Maciej Sadowski Kwadrat, this album of nearly 21 minutes is meant to “foreshadow…[a] forthcoming full album.” All of the tracks on this EP are composed by Maciej Sadowski. The strong rhythm section, composed of Maciej Sadowski on double bass and Antoni Wojnar on drums, is most apparent on “Noz w lodzie” (translated, roughly, as knife in the ice) and “Kotojeleri Zlodziej” (translated, roughly, as cat thief). Michal Jan Ciesielski’s tenor saxophone is most notable on “Kotojeleri Zlodziej” and “Noz w lodzie.” The interplay between David Lipka’s trumpet and Ciesielski’s tenor saxophone is particularly strong on “Noz w lodzie.” Lipka’s trumpet solos on “Dziadek mroz part 1” (translated as Jack Frost) while both Ciesielski and Lipka solo on “Dziadek mroz part 2.” I like the driving rhythm and the saxophone solo in "Noz w lodzie," the bass intro to "Dziadek mroz Part 2," and the saxophone solo and the stopping and starting in "Kotojelen Zlodziej." Sadowski describes his music as nonjazz, that is, a commingling of “emotional improvisations…drawn… from many musical genres.” Jazz is such a fluid term that it allows the influence of music drawn from other cultures and other genres. There are, of course, certain preconceptions associated with jazz and labeling the music on this album as nonjazz is one way to appeal to a wider audience and a younger one. I look forward to hearing more of this nonjazz from Gdansk, Poland, when Maciej Sadowski releases the full-length album.

Justin Gray & Synthesis, New Horizons. I only discovered Justin Gray & Synthesis and their album New Horizons in February, 2018, four months after it had been released. This debut album features Justin Gray on the bass veena, an instrument that he invented and co-created. In addition to a strong quartet, Justin Gray is joined by a range of musicians, some of whom play the following instruments native to Pakistan and/or India-- that is, sarangi, mrdangam, sarode, bansuri, and esraj. This album, Justin Gray says, exhibits a “wide range of musical influences, including Indian classical, jazz, western classical, electronic and R&B music.” Some of the tracks on the album that deserve mentioning are “New Horizons,” “Reflections,” “Migration,” “Unity,” and “Serenity.” I particularly like the haunting string instrument solo in “Migration.” Let’s hope that Justin Gray & Synthesis continue to explore their influences.

Unfurl, Sleeping Giants. Another album which reflects a bridging of cultural traditions is Unfurl’s Sleeping Giants (in memory of Adam Warne). Adam Warne, who died in 2017 from bowel cancer, was a cofounder of the band and plays Egyptian percussion on this album, an EP that contains a little more than 31 minutes of music. The band, which hails from Manchester, also features Olivia Moore on violin, Gavin Barras on bass, Jim Faulkner on guitar, John Ball on santoor, and Maria Jardardottir on voice. John Ball’s santoor intro and solo on the track "Upstream" is noteworthy. Maria Jardardottir’s scatting on “Upstream” becomes more intense, starting at 3:50. While I cannot identify all of the instruments on “The Fox and the Wolf,” I particularly like Gavin Barras’ bass intro, the scatting of Maria Jardardottir, and Olivia Moore’ violin solo, which starts at 7:03. Olivia Moore’s violin is clearest on the tracks“Bear Stories” and "Sleeping Giants." Let’s hope that this band releases more music in the future. I imagine that Adam Warne would want the band to continue.

I am still listening to some of the other music released in 2018 and have not yet made any decisions about some of the other music listed to the right of this page.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Figurative Use of Pictures in Canvas

As I mentioned in a previous post (, I have been using my pictures to identify modules on the home page of my online classes. (My two sections are combined into one huge online class of fifty students.) For two semesters now, I have been using Canvas as the learning management system for my online classes. The layout of Canvas isn’t as easy to use as Angel, the previous learning management system that I used for a number of years.  Students easily get confused and don’t often take the initiative to explore all of what a class offers. One easy way to direct students in the right direction within the class is to use pictures that are linked to a module. Students still don’t always read what they should and blame me for the lack of clarity when there are plenty of opportunities to ask questions or to clear up confusion.

As I mentioned in my post containing pictures taken from my summer class (, my pictures are often meant to be read figuratively. The picture identifying the personal essay module, for example, depicts someone about to travel across a bridge. That personal essay, as the first essay in the class, asks that the student achieve specificity in describing a person, an event, or an object and that the student pay attention to his/her language, with the aim of avoiding clichés and sentence-level errors, such as comma splices and fused sentences. The subsequent essays build on that foundation.

These problems regarding a lack of specificity and the presence of generalizations and abstractions were often addressed in previous classes, but the students that I encounter often forget what they had learned before entering my class. Some students have not been in a classroom for fifteen or twenty years and are taking an online class as they juggle caring for their children or working full-time, for example.

The argumentative essay, which is depicted as a sunflower facing the viewer, depicts one person’s position on an issue that has been called into question. The student in that assignment needs to describe his/her experience so as to reveal how that experience has resulted in a position. The student is also asked to acknowledge one or more counterarguments. For that reason, the student is one sunflower among a field of sunflowers, all of which face a different direction than the one closest to the camera.

The picture for the information essay refers to a sample essay that explains how to cook barbecue ribs in the oven; it's an essay that I wrote last year and provide for my students. (That essay can be found at the following link: The students for that assignment have the option to profile a person or to write a how to essay, using their personal authority. 

Not one of my students has yet mentioned the pictures that I use to designate the modules within the class. It’s often hard to engage online students. They usually get the required amount of work done, often waiting until the night of the deadline to take a quiz, post a discussion, or upload their essay. Otherwise, they seldom communicate with me unless they are sending me a late assignment or asking for an extension because of some sort of family emergency.

With the recent upgrade to my Internet service, these pictures, on my end, are more readily available than they were. Before my upgrade to 400 mbps, these pictures in my class sometimes loaded slowly or not at all. I thought initially that it was the college server that was preventing my pictures from loading more quickly. I can only guess at the quality of the Internet service that my students use. Occasionally, I encounter students who are under the impression that a smart phone is all that they need to access an online class. Other students are lucky enough to live in neighborhoods that offer Google Fiber, which provides speeds of 1,000 mgps.

After grading approximately 203 essays this past semester, I am ready for a break. Although I have created my calendar for the next year, placing each month on a 5x8 note card, and have checked the start date for the spring semester, I cannot face updating my classes for the spring semester until early January.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Eli S. Ricker: A Cautionary Tale

When one of my students, who is engaged in researching and drafting a research essay, described her intention of finding more than three times the required number of sources, I made a reference to Eli S. Ricker in my comments.

Eli S. Ricker, who was a county judge in Nebraska during the late 19th century, spent more than a decade collecting research on the interactions between American settlers and the Native people, with the intention of writing a book titled The Final Conflict Between the Red Man and the Pale Faces. He is known for having interviewed witnesses to Wounded Knee, for example. He became so engrossed in the research, collecting more than 1,500 pages of notes, that he never wrote the book.

As a cautionary tale for students and writers, the story of Eli S. Ricker emphasizes the importance of recognizing when to put the researching aside in favor of the writing. Research, although often more enjoyable than the writing, must come to a stop at some point.

Eli S. Ricker’s research has since been collected by Richard E. Jensen and published as two volumes, Voices of the American West, Volume 1: The Indian Interviews of Eli S. Ricker, 1903-1919 and Voices of the American West, Volume 2: The Settler and Soldier Interviews of Eli S. Ricker, 1903-1919.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Pictures From the Park

This last set of pictures comes from the park across the street from where I live.  These pictures cover a three or four day period in late October.

Color Within the City

Within the city where I live, it is possible to find a few secluded spots where the trees are particularly pretty.  As a colorblind person, I sometimes have problems distinguishing the subtleties because the reds in the first picture tend to create big splotches of color. The farmstead in the second picture is now threatened with an industrial park and the construction of houses to the south. That construction is not visible in pictures two through six.

Autumnal Transformation

This autumn has been a particularly colorful one where I live. I am adding two pictures below that show the transformation in one scene over the course of four or five days.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

A Moment of Sunlight

When I was taking a walk near the Missouri River the other day, I managed to witness a moment when the sunlight revealed itself but for a few minutes in an otherwise cloudy day. Fortunately, I had my camera and managed to get a few shots.

During my walk, I overheard one homeowner say to another that the number of acorns has been unusually heavy this year and that the squirrels have been busy gathering both acorns and walnuts. She didn’t attach significance to these things, but a large crop of acorns and the squirrels collecting unusually large amounts of nuts point toward a long and severe winter, I’ve discovered. One of our local weather prognosticators says that the pattern of winter weather has started to set up and will continue to set up through November. The severity of the winter, he says, won’t be fully visible until the pattern repeats itself, starting in December. We’ll have to see.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Poems in Dragon Poet Review

Three of my poems have recently appeared in the Summer/Fall 2018 edition of Dragon Poet Review, an online journal. My poems, "Gust Front," "Soul Traveling," and "October in Oklahoma," start on page 58.  

Summer-Fall 2018 Dragon Poet Review

Thursday, September 06, 2018

The Desk of a Minimalist

My students are currently working on a personal essay, the first essay of the semester. They have the option to describe a positive event, a significant object, or an important person. Using that prompt, I decided to write an essay of my own. At 1756 words, my essay exceeds the 1000 words requirement. I couldn’t describe my desk without describing the computers that I have used as well because the two things are related.

The Desk of a Minimalist

One object that has meant a lot to me over the past thirty-one years is my desk. It’s something that I have transported from one place to another as my wife and I made our moves within the state and outside of the state. It’s also something that I use every day, having set it up in my home office. As an online teacher who works from home, a large portion of each day is spent in front of this desk.

Not particularly fancy, my desk is composed of two red two-drawer filing cabinets, one at each end. On top of these cabinets I have placed a wooden butcher block that is three-quarter inches thick and roughly 60 inches long and 30 inches wide. Not placed squarely on the file cabinets, the wooden top extends past the front of the file cabinets by three inches and extends past the rear of these filing cabinets by seven inches. A thirty-inch space exists between the two cabinets for my legs. The wooden top is attached to the file cabinets with double-sided adhesive tape. Taking apart the desk is extremely easy because it only requires taking off the top and moving each piece individually. Once the top is taken off, old pieces of tape remain on the file cabinets and reflect the many moves that this desk has seen.

When my fiancée and I first started living together in Manhattan as graduate students in 1987, we rented an unfurnished two-bedroom apartment on Thurston Street, about six blocks from campus.  Because I was a smoker at the time, we decided that I should get the spare bedroom as my office and that I wouldn’t smoke anywhere else in the apartment.

Not having any furniture of my own, I needed to find furniture but had limited resources and few ways in which to transport furniture. Thumbing through the Sears catalog, I found a butcher block top for about $100. Once it was delivered, we decided to make a trip to K-Mart one Saturday to find filing cabinets. Two of my fiancée’s friends thought making a trip to K-Mart sounded like fun and decided to join us and rode along in my fiancée’s Chevy Chevette, a four-door hatchback. On our return trip, we had to leave one of my fiancée’s friends behind because only three of us could fit in my fiancée’s tiny car, along with the two filing cabinets, one of which sat in the back seat while the other one was strapped into the hatchback, which we had to leave open during the return trip. We picked up my fiancée’s friend afterwards, after having left him behind for about thirty minutes. I don’t remember how much those filing cabinets cost, probably something like $30 each.

We rented a truck for our move to Humboldt Street the following summer, having acquired not only my desk but also two bookcases, a dresser, a used couch and chair (both of which emitted foam dust whenever we sat on them), a kitchen table and chairs, and a bed.  All of the furniture fit in the truck that we rented for a couple of hours. Everything else we owned, such as dishes, pots and pans, books, and clothing, was transported in my fiancée’s car.

With each subsequent move, first to Lawrence in 1989 and then to Kansas City in 1990, I was fortunate in that my desk was easily transported and fairly light, no matter how many stairs I had to climb. By the time we started living in Lawrence, we both had our own offices—mine was upstairs and my wife’s was downstairs; this pattern was reversed in Kansas City, with my office located in the basement of our duplex apartment. 

By 1992, we were living in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and working on our PhD’s. We rented a three-bedroom house, where we again had our own offices. After using my wife’s computer for about a year, I bought my first computer, a 486 with Windows 3.1 and with both a 3½ floppy drive and a 5¼ drive and on which I installed WordStar, an older word processing program that is no longer sold.  Only my wife had the Internet in her office. Somewhere in Stillwater, I found a cheap desk that was composed of particle board and easily assembled and mobile because the five pieces would come apart easily. This second desk served as a computer desk. My older desk was used for grading my students’ essays, reading and annotating books for my graduate classes, and writing the initial drafts of essays for my graduate classes and those poems that came to make up my dissertation. I only had to slide my chair over a few feet to use the computer, where I eventually learned to compose my written work, without having to write it out in pen or pencil first. Our male tuxedo cat, who was named Holstein, usually slept in one of the chairs in my office. After I quit smoking, our son, once he started walking, used to come into my office and sing along to the jazz music playing on the stereo, transport his toy tractors onto my older desk, or play Rodent’s Revenge on the computer.

We remained in Stillwater for six years. Each of our subsequent moves required an even larger rental truck, with our move from Stillwater to Leavenworth requiring not only a 24 foot truck but also a trailer attached to the back. Once we moved into the house we bought, after having rented two other houses in Leavenworth, I, once again, arranged my two desks close to each other, with the computer desk facing the west wall and the older desk facing the north wall and located in the center of the 10 by 12 foot room that makes up my office.

That initial computer bought in Stillwater in 1993 lasted until 1999. The next computer, a Compaq Presario desktop, lasted a few more years before it was replaced by a Dell desktop. By the time, I moved back to my old desk, finding that location in the room more to my liking, I was using an HP laptop for my online classes and the Dell desktop for ripping music from my CDs. As the number of books I accumulated continue to grow, I eventually needed the space where the computer desk was located. Although the desk, like I said, came apart easily, some of the particle board had broken off, making the desk less stable. After I placed the pieces of this computer desk on the curb, I don’t think anyone took advantage of this free desk before the trash that week was collected. Usually, any furniture that we place on the curb is grabbed quickly by someone passing by. We have taken to adding a sign reading “Free to a Good Home” on the furniture that we place on the curb now.

At one point, that HP laptop of mine refused to load Microsoft Word after one of the monthly updates. It took a hundred dollars to have the problem diagnosed and fixed by a technician at Microsoft. Fortunately, I had a premonition to back up my files on an external hard drive because this laptop eventually refused to boot up a few months later. Afterwards, my wife lent me her Dell laptop, which I used for a couple of years until I had the money to buy the Asus computer that I am using now.

Currently, the wood butcher block that makes up my desk is completed covered. My primary 24 inch screen rests on two pads of drawing paper that measure 21 inches long and 24 inches wide. My keyboard rests on these pads of drawing paper as well and sits directly in front of the screen. Whenever I want to use the space to read or to write, I simply move the keyboard aside. To the left, at an angle, I have a second screen that was purchased secondhand at Surplus Exchange. Because the screen doesn’t adjust in height, I have it resting on an unabridged Random House Dictionary, which weighs ten pounds and which I bought for $10 at a used bookstore when I was in Wichita and earning my undergraduate degree. The price tag for this second screen is still attached, even after three years, and reads, “$65. 90 Day Warranty.” To the right is a lamp that my wife gave me while we were in Manhattan. The desktop sits behind the lamp with a number of cords attached to a USB extension plugged into the front of the computer. A subwoofer and a speaker sit behind the second screen. The other speaker sits behind the primary screen along with a UPS battery. All the drawers of my desk are filled with old files, stacks of notepads, old letters that I have kept from my professors or from my mother and father, both now deceased, and notebooks—some used and some waiting to be used.

My wife started using two desks when we were living in Lawrence. She replaced one of her desks during our first year in Leavenworth when she bought a secondhand oak desk at a former antique store on K-7. The moving company we hired to move us from our first rental house to our second rental house in Leavenworth struggled getting this desk to the second floor of the house. It was much easier moving this oak desk into the house that we have now because it stayed on the ground floor. Like me, my wife eventually moved away from having a separate computer desk. She also found her oak desk too confining and decided to replace it with something bigger. One weekend in November, we went to Surplus Exchange and using the discount provided to veterans, like myself, we got the desk that she is using now. My teenage son at the time and I had a tough time moving this desk from the rental truck to my wife’s office. It seemed much heavier than her old oak desk, which we had taken away by the Salvation Army.  It would have been impossible getting this desk up to my office if it were mine.

As someone who thinks of himself as a minimalist, despite the number of books that I have accumulated, I like knowing that I have been using the same simple desk for more than thirty years now. This desk provides a link to my past, carries a lot of memories, and continues to serve my needs.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Not Buying New Clothes for a Year

My pledge to not buy any new clothes or new shoes for a year ended in early July. My wife and I had taken this pledge together.

It wasn’t difficult to go without buying clothes or shoes. My life doesn’t require many interactions with people since I work from home. Other people who see me may think that I am retired because I wear loose denim pants and a t-shirt in the summer whenever I shop for groceries or take a walk outside. Once a month or so, my wife and I venture a bit farther from home when we visit our son or see a movie; those are the few occasions when I wear what I used to think of as my teaching clothes—i.e., chino pants and a collared shirt. (My wife tends to think of men’s clothes as boring because there are so options and so few acceptable colors—navy blue, black, white, burgundy, dark green, red, etc.)

I had bought new shoes before our pledge took affect and because I anticipated not buying any other shoes for a year, I bought a second pair of the same style to have them in reserve. I am wearing that second pair now, but I am not ready to buy any more.

Because gifts didn’t count against the pledge that we took, my wife bought me a few pairs of boxer shorts for Father’s Day. Since our pledge ended, my wife bought a few things and insisted that I buy the equivalent amount. I have since returned the chino pants I ordered because their rise was too short. My sister teasingly says that I am at the age where it is acceptable to wear my pants up to my waist, which is what I have been doing since I gave up wearing Levi 501 jeans about ten years ago.

When I went through my closet and my drawers, I thought I might have found more clothes to give away. Piles of clothes, mostly old sweatshirts and old t-shirts, were taken to the local Goodwill. Sometimes, however, my wife would snag for herself the shirts that I wanted to donate. I ended up regretting giving away an old hoodie, one that I had gotten in Oklahoma about twenty-five years ago; it would have been great for working in the yard in the autumn or early spring. I recently revisited the Goodwill, thinking that I could buy back that old hoodie, even though a year had passed, but it apparently had been grabbed by someone else.

Sorting through my clothes led me to re-discover what I had forgotten about or what I had stored away because I gained weight. I never have been a believer in giving away what I hadn’t worn in over a year’s time. Having lost about ten or fifteen pounds on my vegetarian diet, it is now possible to wear some of the shirts that I had put aside.

It would have been a bigger challenge for me if I had pledged not to buy any books, used or new, or any music downloads for an entire year. That kind of pledge would make me turn to the books that I have bought over the years but have not yet read. That kind of pledge would make me visit the local library again or to request books through interlibrary loan at the college where I teach. With the seventy gigabytes of music that have downloaded onto my computer, either by ripping my CD’s or by purchasing mp3's, I probably could find something to discover in the music that I already own. Streaming music on Spotify, for example, isn’t a temptation for me. During the past few months, it has been relatively easy leaving Barnes & Noble without purchasing anything. Occasionally, I may take a picture of a book that looks interesting but that remains too expensive. During the past few months, I have been limiting the music that I buy, too. There are some new releases that I am looking forward to, such as Trygve Seim’s upcoming album on the ECM label, which will be released at the end of August. For the time being, I am satisfying myself with what I already own.

Minimalism remains an attractive idea. There is a limit to how much stuff I can fit into my life.

Sharing Music with my Students

At the end of every semester, I add a postscript and an addendum to my online writing classes. The postscript reminds the students what exactly the class has stressed and emphasizes the importance of continuing to write and to read regularly. I also make recommendations of fiction to read, such as Edward Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang and James Welch's The Heartsong of Charging Elk. My recommendations for nonfiction include Edward Humes' Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash, Elizabeth Royte's Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash, Kirsten Iversen's Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats, and Charles Moore's Plastic Ocean: How a Sea Captain's Chance Discovery Launched a Determined Quest to Save the Oceans.

The addendum is somewhat more personal and contains about thirteen YouTube links to the kinds of music that I often listen to while I am grading their essays. This music includes things like Matthew Halsall’s "Together" and "Been Here Before," Soren Dahl Jeppesen’s "No Stars Without Darkness," Anouar Brahem’s "Stopover at Dijbouti," Sokratis Sinopoulos’ "Eight Winds," Tord Gustavsen’s "Where Breathing Starts," and John Surman’s "Winter Elegy."

My students have the option of responding to either the postscript and/or the addendum for a few extra credit points. One student, years ago, said that her father heard the music she was playing while he was passing by her room, came in, and wanted to hear all of the saxophone music. In that way, the music spoke to someone else. Another student said Jon Hassell’s music from his Last Night the Moon Came Dropping its Clothes in the Street album was interesting but mostly just weird. Some students aren’t ready for new experiences. More positively, a student who co-owns a gym in Lawrence said that the music is what he needs when he works out in the mornings. This semester, a student who listened to Skuli Sverrisson & Oskar Gudjonsson’s The Box Tree said that the music “sounds amazing.” That comment just warmed my heart.

Making this music available to my students is one thing that enlivens the end of the semester for me before I am overwhelmed with yet more essays to grade and only a few days to work through them before grades are due.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Identifying Modules in Canvas with Pictures

Most of my pictures as of late have been focused on my online class. Canvas, the learning management system that I am using now in my online classes, makes it possible to provide a picture for each module. The students only have to click on the picture to be directed to the appropriate module, which contains, for example, the instructions for that assignment. Because the grading is burdensome, I have been having a bit of fun choosing and creating pictures for the modules in my class. My department head has been getting the pictures that he uses from the Internet. I instead have been using pictures taken at various places or have been creating pictures at my desk. These pictures appear below.

My wife tells me that using Paint to add text to a picture is relatively easy. I played with the program but didn’t have any success with it. I instead found a website named BeFunky that makes adding text to a picture extremely easy.

Initially, my pictures described a writing assignment figuratively. I eventually decided to become more literal for some of the assignments. My students haven’t yet said which ones they prefer.

I see myself continuing to experiment with which pictures I select for my classes. At the moment, I am most pleased with Introductory Materials, Getting Started, Rhetorical Analysis, Informative Synthesis, and Postscript. Because my students this semester are mostly transfer students from either U of Kansas or Kansas State, I decided to include both institutions in the picture for the Argumentative Synthesis.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Entranced by the Blue Hour

Sometimes, after I have completed another night of grading essays for my writing classes this summer, I pull open the curtains or walk outside to water the plants before going to bed and find the early morning incredibly pretty for a number of reasons—the sun has not yet risen about the horizon, the air is at its coolest, and the birds are singing.

Only recently, after I downloaded the Exsate Golden Hour app, have I become more acquainted with both the blue hour and the golden hour, both of which appear once in the morning and once in the evening but usually for less than an hour each time.

I don’t remember finding as much enjoyment in the morning blue hour when I was younger and hurrying to work or when I was working the midnight shift and guarding KC-135’s on alert while I was stationed in Montana.

I am almost tempted to rearrange my internal clock so that I can wake up at something like 4:30 every morning. My circadian rhythm has been configured differently for so many years. I’m not sure that I can ever actually become a morning person. The idea, though, is appealing and something to consider.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Going Vegetarian

Although not an advocate of the raw food diet, I have been subsisting largely on fruits and uncooked vegetables during the past few months. I have given up meat and eggs but consume milk, cheese, and, less often, Icelandic yogurt, so if I had to describe myself, I would say that I have become a lacto vegetarian.

Last autumn and during the winter, I was experiencing terrible indigestion after I had eaten meat and eggs. I usually had to chew two Rolaids before getting ready to bed. I was swallowing a Pepcid AC before going to sleep, and sometimes I was waking up after a few hours and needing to chew one or two more Rolaids. When I visited my doctor, I was given a sonogram, which didn’t reveal any abnormalities regarding my digestive system. The only thing that helped was changing my diet. I am at the point now where I don’t need any over-the-counter medications for indigestion.

I started experimenting with my new diet in December when my wife was in the hospital in Topeka. When I got back from seeing her in the evenings, I only ate fresh vegetables because it was the easiest thing. I didn’t want the hassle of preparing a meat of some kind for myself. Prior to her hospitalization, we were largely eating vegetables and a grilled meat like chicken in the evening for dinner. I simply cut out the meat when I was eating by myself. Once I started eating meat again, I noticed how difficult it was to digest and eventually decided to give it up.

My dinner meal now consists almost entirely of raw vegetables—celery, carrots, spinach, red, yellow, or orange pepper, tomato without the skin and, when it is soft enough to eat, avocado, all of which are eaten without any salad dressing. I also add a piece of toasted wheat bread with peanut butter. Lunch consists of peanuts, raisins, an apple, and an orange. Sometimes, when the grocery store is having a sale, we buy strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries and pair them with a sliced orange or slices of banana for lunch. For breakfast, I am eating two dates, a banana, and a slice of toasted wheat bread with peanut butter and fruit spread, a kind of jam without sugar.

Although I used to eat dark chocolate in the mornings, I have given that up as well and don’t eat chocolate at any other time. Peanut butter cookie Lara bars are my one vice unless I count the spoonful of honey added to my tea in the mornings.

This diet of mine might seem repetitive. I think of it as healthy and tasty, despite the sameness, and don’t miss eating meat or eggs.

When we ate at the Genghis Khan Mongolian Restaurant on Bell Street in Kansas City on my birthday, I chose only vegetables and tofu and had everything cooked with water. Recognizing my choices, the cook was kind enough to ask whether I wanted him to use a separate utensil, one that had not touched meat, for my meal. “No. Everything is fine,” I told him.

Eating anywhere else is not that easy because of the limited selections. My wife, as I have probably said before, is willing to eat lunch at Panera Bread when we are in Kansas City. My order consists of a whole grain bagel with cream cheese and, sometimes, a banana. After we recently celebrated the end of the semester by seeing the movie Rampage, we decided to eat at a gourmet pizza restaurant. My pizza included only spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, and goat cheese. Although the crust was a little burned, I still managed to digest the meal without any problems.

I was a vegetarian of sorts when I was a sophomore in college. My evening meals consisted of a rice concoction--that is, brown rice, potatoes, cheese, and eggs. Later, one summer as an upperclassman, I remember only eating salads, but for some reason I stopped once the fall semester got underway. When my wife first met me, a few years later, I was eating a grilled cheese sandwich nightly, one consisting of two or three layers of cheddar cheese on coarse whole wheat bread before it was baked in the oven in a cast iron frying pan. I usually paired my sandwich with a cooked vegetable or fruit. My wife attributes my good health at that time to the amount of walking that I was doing.

Going vegetarian is something that I have experimented with over the years. One person once said that eating a vegetarian meal simply consisted of eating enough bananas until one felt satiated. Such a practice will, of course, result in vitamin deficiency. if that practice is continued.

I am not eating vegetarian because I want to lose weight. I have lost a few pounds and find that my pants fit looser than they once did. Although I could afford to lose about ten more pounds, I am not that concerned about losing weight. I can say that I don't feel as bogged down after a meal, or as lethargic, in other words, as I once did.

Eventually, I may try some of the recipes in a vegetarian cookbook. For now, I am extremely satisfied with my simple diet.  I especially look forward to the heirloom tomatoes that will be available at the local farmer’s market later this summer.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Enjoying What We Have While We Can

Spring has been slow to arrive where I live. The trees have only started to flower recently. In other years the magnolia in my yard has opened its blossoms in March; this year many of the buds were frost burned. We were still having hard freezes and snow up until mid-April this year.

Spring, when it comes, still comes with a vengeance, and we already have had days with temperatures in the 80s (aka 27 degrees centigrade).

Although I know people who much prefer to exercise indoors, I prefer to walk outside where it is possible to enjoy the wind, the sounds, and the sights. When I lift weights at the local community center, which is located next to the Missouri River, I prefer to stand in front of a window so that I can look outside at the same time.

I don't usually let the weather deter me when I walk. Windy and cold may not be as pleasant, but it still feels good to be outside in the weather, especially for someone who once stood guard outside on a regular basis as I did in Montana and England.

It sometimes surprises me how much my military training has remained with me even though almost fifty years have passed since my enlistment. One thing I learned is to be prepared for the weather, and for that reason, I have been known to carry several coats, of varying weight, in my car, along with gloves, scarves, and hats.

I can start carrying fewer coats now, except for a light jacket for the evenings and a rain jacket.

Maintaining a Clean Computer Desktop

The picture of my two computer screens proves that a clean desktop is important to me. One of the first things I do when I get a new computer is remove the desktop icons. I much prefer having my active programs appear on the taskbar.

Once I started using Windows 8.1, I searched Google for a Start Button and downloaded one so that I can easily access those most recently used programs. When I need to access a program used less frequently, such as Super AntiSpyware, I click on the Desktop toolbar and scroll up to what I want or use the Programs folder available through the Start button. It took much longer to find the utility program that would allow the taskbar to appear on both screens. I recommend downloading ZBar for those people with two screens.

Once when I was having a technician from Microsoft figure out why Microsoft Word was not accessible on my computer after its most recent update, the technician had a problem in negotiating my old laptop at first and had to make the desktop icons visible. On another occasion, when my son, who was studying networking in college at the time, was trying to use my computer, he couldn’t figure out how to find Google Chrome. It’s amusing how people can find my arrangement confusing.

A supervisor of mine used to keep a number of Word documents visible on her desktop. It always amazed me how cluttered she kept her desktop. Her computer had the appearance of a busy person when really all of those files simply got in the way.

I’m an advocate for keeping one’s desktop as clean as possible. I think of my desktop as a kind of gallery, and I usually make one of my recent pictures as the desktop background. While my wife has a number of pictures that make up her background, with the picture changing every few minutes, I prefer to keep the picture on my background stationary.

My Dad was capable of fixing several different things, such as lamps, furniture, watches, TVs, and radios. My handiwork, or tinkering, seems to be limited to computers.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

A Grading Fool

It isn’t like me to neglect my blog for so long. I describe myself as an infrequent blogger at Bandcamp and Twitter, where I am known as firstcitybook (LibraryThing and Soundcloud know me as firstcitybook as well). Usually, I am known to post at least once a month if not twice a month.

My life since late January has been devoted to grading essays. I have graded about 120 up to this point in the semester. I got about forty more essays earlier this week, and if no one withdraws from my course before the withdrawal deadline and if the students enrolled remain active, I can expect to grade about 200 essays this semester. My current teaching schedule, nonetheless, is lighter than it used to be. One difference now is my spending more time in bed. I used to survive on four or five hours of sleep a night but can no longer sustain that schedule in my middle 60's.

I am not sure how many essays I have graded in my thirty-two years of teaching. If every section of English that I taught required that I grade 100 essays, and since I have taught, approximately, 219 sections of English in my lifetime, I have graded about 21,900 essays. Some semesters I taught a section of creative writing, so my figures are only rough estimates. A more accurate figure may be less than 19,000 essays because some sections also had less than twenty-five students. Even so, I have spent a lot of time grading essays late into the night.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Golden Hour at Wyandotte County Lake

During one of our warmer days in January, I was at Wyandotte County Lake during the golden hour.

This picture looks best if you click on it and see it in a larger frame.

Sometimes, no matter how cloudy it may be this winter, the sun drops below the clouds as it sets and casts a golden glow for a few minutes.

I find myself wishing, occasionally, that I had a better view of the setting sun from where I live.

This particular day started out cloudy, too, until the late afternoon when the sky cleared. I wasn't fast enough to get a longer line of ducks moving above the water.

Although some people I know rely on the camera in their phone, I recommend commuting with a camera in the car for those moments that occur but for an instant.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Reading in 2017

During 2017, I added 37 books to my LibraryThing account, which brings my total to 942. It probably is obvious that I very seldom visit my local library. I actually find it difficult to locate what books I want to read through my local library, even when using interlibrary loan.

My wife has a few hundred more books than me. We had bookshelves installed in her home office a couple of years ago. Because that amount of storage wasn’t enough, she has books stored in other rooms throughout the house, such as the living room, the bedroom, and the kitchen. We have worked on adding more of her books to LibraryThing but haven’t yet finished that task. We were up to something like 1300 when we stopped.

I prefer to keep more control over my books and want them close at hand. For that reason, most of my books are stacked or shelved in my home office. There is little extra room because of the number of books and CDs. I have hopes of adding a larger bookcase to my home office once I make the trip to Surplus Exchange in Kansas City and peruse the used business furniture that is sold at a discount. Going vertical will let me add more books to this small space.

Although I see myself as a minimalist and have gotten rid of some excess stuff and plan to rid myself of more, I cannot see myself ever giving away or selling my books. I see myself as the equivalent of a character in the movie Fahrenheit 451, that is, someone who hoards books.

Once again, during 2017, I reached my average and read 22 books during the year. I thought I might have finished the 23rd one before the new year. It will take me a few more nights of reading before I finish reading Ivan Doig’s The Bartender’s Tale.

The average 18-29 year-old American, I have discovered, reads 9 books in a year while older Americans tend to average 13 books in a year, with college graduates, according to some sources, reading as many as 17 books in a year’s time. There are, of course, exceptions because some Americans don’t read any books at all. According to Pew Research, 26% of Americans in 2016 had not read a book in the previous year. These kinds of figures are very depressing.

Despite my son’s interest in video games, he still managed to grow up as a reader, preferring mostly fantasy, science fiction, and history. He gave his parents books for Christmas in 2016. His Mom got Madam President, which I read, too, and which describes Edith Wilson’s efforts to run the country when President Wilson was bedridden after suffering from a stroke. My wife and I think that the book was commissioned in the hope of Hillary Clinton assuming the role as president. Overall, the book is repetitive and contains very little research into Edith Wilson’s role as president. There apparently isn’t much documentation of what exactly Edith Wilson did in running the country, aside from preventing members of Congress from visiting her husband.

His Dad got The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell, which described the FBI’s capture of Brian Regan, who had buried top secret government material in the hope of selling it to the Russians. It is quite a good spy story. That book led to my reading The Puzzle Palace, a detailed history of the creation and early years of the National Security Agency. I was surprised to learn that Harrogate in England contained a NSA facility. Some of the kids I knew in high school, a boarding school for American dependents whose fathers, either civilian or military, were assigned to duty in England, Scotland, Ireland, or Iceland, lived in Harrogate during vacations. We were usually ignorant of what our fathers did for a living. I also started reading Secret Sentry, a more current history of NSA, but I haven’t yet finished that book.

Some of my reading during the year involved music. For my birthday, my son gave me The Sound of the North, a book that analyzes the emergence of jazz in Norway in the 1960’s, the influence of folk music, and the growth that jazz has seen in Norway during the past five decades. My own introduction to Norwegian jazz began in the 1970’s with Bobo Stenson and Jan Garbarek’s  Dansere. Another book I read is Ashley’s Kahn’s The House that Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records. My own preference for Coltrane’s music ends with Crescent (1964), which is downplayed in Kahn’s book. Kahn, on several occasions, describes Shirley Scott’s collaborations with Stanley Turrentine, and these passages led to my seeking out some of her earlier work from 1963 on the Prestige label.

My interest in issues related to the earth, the environment, and our own health led to my reading such books as Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction, Caitlin Shetterly’s Modified: GMOs and the Threat to Our Food, Our Land, Our Future, and Jeff Goodell’s Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future, all of whom, as I tell my students, employ their own observations and experiences in support of their research. I also read Killer Clothes and Not Just a Pretty Face with the intention of finding research questions for my students to pursue in their essays.

As someone who frequents library sales, I usually manage to pick up one or two books at these sales. At one local book sale, I found a copy of Sentinel of the Plains: Fort Leavenworth and the American West. During the summer when I was saddled with forty student essays every two weeks, I still managed to read a few pages of the Sentinel of the Plains every night before going to sleep. That book contains the wrong month and the wrong year in which Abraham Lincoln visited Leavenworth. Even so, I wasn’t aware that Carrie Nation had died in Leavenworth in a hospital that, ironically, housed patients who were suffering from alcoholism or drug abuse. The location of that former hospital now contains Buffalo Bill Cody Park.

One book that shaped my reading for much of the year is Elliott West’s The Essential West, a collection of essays addressing such things as the experiences of children growing up on the Plains in the 19th century and the changes in the lives of the Cheyenne after their adoption of the horse. Within the essay titled "Stories," West describes the creative work written by the sons and daughters of those initial Euro-Americans drawn to the American West. Although familiar with the work of William Kittredge and Terry Tempest Williams, I hadn’t heard of Ruth McLaughlin or Ivan Doig. As a result, I quickly read Ruth McLaughlin’s memoir of growing up in eastern Montana, Bound Like Grass.

Later, when perusing the titles at a book sale sponsored by the Honor Society at the college where I teach, I discovered Ivan Doig’s novel Work Song, which is the second book of a trilogy containing the character Morrie Morgan. I also read the two other books in the trilogy, The Whistling Season and Sweet Thunder. That reading led me to Ivan Doig’s memoir This House of Sky, which introduces those images and motifs that populate his novels. My copy of Doig’s memoir was a first printing from 1978 and one that apparently had been stored in an attic because each page came loose, and left a dusting of dried glue on my chest, as I was reading the book. I am surprised that I overlooked This House of Sky when I was riding Wallace Stegner’s The Big Rock Candy Mountain and Angle of Repose, A.B. Guthrie’s The Big Sky and The Way West and William Kittredge’s collection of stories, We Are Not in This Together. I have since started reading Doig’s The Bartender’s Tale, which, as I said, I am about to finish. My son gave me a copy of Doig’s Ride with Me, Mariah Montana for Christmas in 2017. I am tempted to give him a copy of The Bartender’s Tale next Christmas. It’s described as teen fiction on the back cover and is narrated by a twelve-year-old boy who, along with his twelve-year-old friend Zoe, makes a number of observations regarding sex and the strange world in which adults live.

It isn’t like me to read three or four novels in a year. Except for occasional collections of poetry, I have mostly been reading nonfiction for about fourteen years now. The current political environment in America makes me want to lose myself in a novel, for about an hour at the end of the day, and to think about the lives of fictional characters. Maybe this return to fiction will let me get to some of the books that I have neglected to read, such as Leslie Silko’s Almanac of the Dead, Frank Waters’ The Man Who Killed the Deer, or O.E. Rolvaag’s Giants in the Earth.