Monday, June 25, 2012

What I learned today #4: About bass playing

When I moved to my new job/church/apartment/life, I decided soon after that I wanted to learn to play bass. That’s because my church has one bassist who’s just beginning the instrument and plays every other week. The media coordinator was all for my giving it a try to fill in the gaps on the other bassist’s off-weeks.

First of all, they had to get the strings replaced on the church bass. Once that was done, it could hold a tune and it made sense to start practicing. So I lugged the thing home after church last week, agreeing to try it out and perhaps start playing with the church praise band the following week or three.

So, first time I plugged it into a small amp and played with it, it was surprisingly easy (thanks to a YouTube video tutorial) and I fooled around with a few songs out of my old rock’n’roll music book and my worship song collection. I mainly had to practice remembering what notes could be played where.

That’s the biggest difference between rhythm guitar and bass – on guitar, the chord shapes are what you end up focusing on, not each of the six notes you’re playing. For bass, you actually learn to translate individual notes from music (or chord sheet) to the frets because you’re playing just one note at a time. Over the last week, I’ve realized how little aware I was of the actual notes I’ve been playing on guitar. Practicing bass made me much more familiar with what notes the individual strings are playing and where I can hit the frets in order to get other notes. (I’m pretty good now with Bb, Eb, C and F especially.) It’s also made me more in tune with the structure of the bass strings – how the notes relate to each other if you’re playing in a given key, like F or D or whatever. It has a lot to do with the music theory I’ve picked up. (It’s hard to explain but it’d be easy to show.)

Anyhow. A couple evenings of practice and I figured, hey, my guitar XP made it 90% easier to learn bass, so I’ll be ready to play along this Sunday! (Lookie there, I threw in a random gaming term even though I don’t do computer games. Oh the things you learn from reading on the Internet.)

So come yesterday morning, I lugged the bass back over to church and plugged it in. And borrowed one of the guitarists’ tuners to make sure it was in tune first (it wasn’t).

Praise band practice was swell. Playing with the band was different from playing with the music running through my head – for obvious reasons – but it wasn’t too much harder.

And during the actual church service, I hit only a few wrong notes during the three songs; I could probably count them on one, maybe two hands. And “You Are Holy (Prince of Peace)” (link goes to a PDF of a chord sheet) had a lot of changes in it. Well, it did as seen through the eyes of this beginning bassist, anyway.

Before last week, I had no idea it would be so easy to transition to bass. I might’ve done it earlier… had there been guitarists at my other churches to play along with. But I’m glad to be widening my musical abilities now!

(And as has been typical of these “What I Learned” posts, I’m about a day behind. I don’t care. It’s still new to you. Open-mouthed smile )

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Compendium of Links #32: Tech, Lit, Cities and Earnings

My weekend has begun! But I’m unusually tired – perhaps because I had sugar for lunch. I ate carrots for supper to balance it out, but I’m not sure it’s doing much good. So instead of going out to tweak a few things on my bike, I’m sitting here reading through the links that have piled up in my browser and determining which ones to share here. (Nearly all of them.)


The Flight from Conversation – This article from the New York Times has been sitting in my browser almost the longest, I believe, and it’s one of the more perspicacious ones I’ve read regarding technology’s effect on socialization:

…we use conversation with others to learn to converse with ourselves. So our flight from conversation can mean diminished chances to learn skills of self-reflection. These days, social media continually asks us what’s “on our mind,” but we have little motivation to say something truly self-reflective. Self-reflection in conversation requires trust. It’s hard to do anything with 3,000 Facebook friends except connect.

What We Miss – From Challies, another take on what one’s unquestioned disposition toward social media and technology does to our attitudes toward sublime experiences and memories:

I wonder how many beautiful moments we miss because we are afraid we will miss them. Instead of living fully in the moment, enjoying the music or the sunrise or the games with our children, we fall into this strange habit of recording it all. We experience the sunrise through the lens of an iPhone instead of just basking in it, we tinker with focus and angles recording quality instead of just enjoying the music. When all is said and done, we’ve recorded an experience that we missed out on, and the replay is just never as good.

And in a more lighthearted manner, the Atlantic Wire writers spotlight a goof recently made by the team for Richard Mourdock, a candidate to represent Indiana in the U.S. Senate. He or whoever did his tech stuff for him accidentally posted four responses to the (upcoming) announcement of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Obamacare – one for each possible outcome. I suppose what tech has done to exacerbate the immediacy of the news cycle… or, more accurately stated, how we have unthinkingly harnessed it to be ever more on top of things. (I don’t actually blame tech for anything. It’s the humans that use it that I blame. Same with guns – guns don’t kill people, people do.)


A while ago I linked to part one of a fascinating review/analysis of The Hunger Games. Here’s part two. In it “he focuses on the more private aspects of how they navigate the confusions of lives that are controlled by powerful forces,” as a CultureWatch notation introduces the article.

The big question that hangs over the whole trilogy, however, is probably its most crucial. How do you discern reality in a world of spin and propaganda?… For a long time, Katniss had struggled to take Peeta at face value; now, as he tries to recover from his own traumas, Peeta finds he too cannot reliably discern reality. Their confusion powerfully illustrates how corrosive spin and lies are to all relationships. So the two friends, who have survived so much as a result of mutual dependence, rely on a simple, if fraught, question to help them through: “‘You’re still trying to protect me. Real or not real,’ he whispers.”

And a different writer thinks Suzanne Collins completely missed the boat on writing a book with deep insights into humanity:

If you really wanted your Katniss to threaten this tyrannical system like many great men and women have threatened many tyrants throughout the ages, what would you have her do? She needs to be a lot more punk rock (in the best possible way). She needs to stop giving a rip about her own survival (the most dangerous men and women always forget themselves). She needs to refuse to be a piece in the game.

For the final addition to the lit file, a list of the nine best books in the English language on writing. I’ve read three of them and definitely want to read Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird and Stanley Fish’s How to Write a Sentence sometime soon.


A Seattle writer calls the traditional shopping mall – acres of pavement surrounding a huge hub hiding all sorts of little shops inside – “a foolish detour.” I can’t say I disagree. I always preferred being able to see immediately what stores I’d encounter at some place, whether shopping mall or humble plaza. I’m pretty sure that among my college friends, Easton was more popular than Polaris. I was never a fan of spending a whole afternoon inside a big ol’ cave of pricey wonders anyway, so I think I’ve visited each place exactly twice.

Some cities are allowing temporary development to rejuvenate poor disheveled downtown areas. An offshoot of The Atlantic published an article a while back summarizing the “temporary architecture” movement.

Landowners and developers have learned that temporary uses can establish place and brand very early, increase property value, reduce or eliminate security costs, create a revenue stream and launch a key conversation. “It allows you to start a constructive dialogue with a neighborhood, and you can use that to remove some of the long-term risks to your proposals,” says Bishop, who created London's design and planning office in 2006 and now works as a director at Allies and Morrison.


The Fight over Inequality – the New York Times published an analysis of a few measures of income equality/gaps, pointing out strengths, weaknesses and differences between them. I appreciated the in-depth and nuanced consideration.

And for the week’s video: Do women earn less than men? Sort of.

Basically, if somebody told me I could earn the same moolah men do by doing the same thing they do–working ridiculous hours or work I don’t care for–then yeah, I’d go for the pay cut too.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Compendium of Links #31

Ah, it feels good to be back blogging again. I feel a little out of practice, and I’m sure it shows in my posts, but never fear! The ReaderSis is determined to regain her erstwhile effluence! (That’s a word. Look it up.)

Anyhow, my poor Internet browser was getting slow, so here you’re treated to the first-ever weekday edition of the Compendium. I’ll likely have another passel of links for you this Saturday.

Blessedly Peculiar – My friend Wesleigh has recently launched yet another great blog. And no, she didn’t pay/bribe/beg me to recommend it. I did it all by myself. Aren’t I such a big girl? *grin* But, a summary of why the blog exists:

As Christians we’re called to be in the world, not of the world, meaning that we should be a part of the society around us, but not let it define who we are. Hence the founding verse, Romans 12:2. In other words: be peculiar. Don’t be like everyone else; be the person God wants you to be. For when you do, you will be blessed. This blog is all about examining the world around you and finding God in every crevasse.

Next: We’re all gonna die from the Sun. Or at least are electronics are, if you believe the cautionary article published this month on National Geographic’s website.

That Morning-After Pill that many of us Christians are concerned about? You know, the one that causes a (very) early-term abortion? Or maybe it doesn’t. I hope these studies are not simply attempts to justify acceptance of a prevalent (and profitable) drug. I also hope researchers come up with some conclusive answer.

I recently started listening to The White Horse Inn podcast: Theology and philosophy from a Reformed perspective. Pretty interesting stuff, enough to provoke thought and get me to pursue deeper study of the Bible.

Welcome to America, Please Be on Time: What an Atlantic associate editor took away from reading guidebooks for foreign visitors to the U.S. Fascinating! I love this!

An argument against the “locavore” diet: Eating local doesn’t necessarily improve the economy (or even make you healthier)--

Let’s say the same quality tomato is grown for $1 in Florida and $1.50 in Ontario. If you push the local one, you create tomato-growing jobs in Ontario. But consumers have 50 cents less to spend on other local services or goods, which destroys jobs. There’s a lot more consumers than producers. To create a few jobs you’re penalizing millions and the overall economic effect is detrimental.

Evangelize, Not Indoctrinate: I rather like this guy’s approach to teaching children. Both information and free discussion (both at age-appropriate levels) are necessary, otherwise… yeah, the kid will simply keep what he thinks to himself. And that’s where you get all the teenagers who suddenly “stray from the church” once they head off to college.

Pastor John Piper wants you to pray for your pastor – and says it’s the best thing you can do for pastors.

And your weekly video awaits, courtesy of Challies….

Now you see one reason I don’t trust advertising.

Monday, June 18, 2012

What I learned today #3: Three-speed gear hubs

Actually I learned this yesterday. But I don’t care.

My bike started having a problem with the gears early last week – they’d suddenly disengage from the pedals. It’s really frustrating when that happens mid-ride, you know, because I end up walking all the way back to wherever I started from. Fortunately I was able to keep the bike engaged in first gear by constantly squeezing the gearshifter, but that’s all I could do. No second gear for me.

So I was bereft of the bike for about a week. Sunday morning, I asked the bike repairman who goes to my church what he knew about that sort of problem. And he was able to tell me just what to do.

Apparently, on an old bike with all the gears inside this little hub, there’s a special point at which the bike’s gears will catch the pedals. And that’s where the gear cable’s supposed to be aligned. But sometimes, the cable gets stretched – or I mess it all up as I change the inner tube, not sure which – and suddenly, it’s not pulling hard enough on the little chain going into the gear hub to keep everything aligned right.

Fortunately, the little chain hooks to the gear cable by way of a long screw-like thing that’s made to adjust for these kinds of situations.

I loosened the lock-nut on the screw thing and screwed the screw-thing farther into the connector for the gear cable – kind of guesstimating how much tightening it needed – and took the bike for a spin. It’s much improved now, but I think it needs another go-round on the adjustment before it’s ideal.

And here’s a website that describes basically the procedure for this.

I had no idea that that was even the problem, much less that it would be so easy to fix. I’ve had this issue at least twice before and always had to take it over to the bike shop…. no more of that!

Life on my own #27: Super-smashers

It’s easier to say super-smashing movies than “movies starring superheroes and supervillains smashing each other to smithereens.” Don’t you think?

Among the quirks that my sister and I share in our friendship is the fact that I don’t watch superhero movies without her. Sissy, you’re the one I was always tracking down in the Graphic Novel section of the library when we were little – you remember? I thought they were silly books beneath my notice, apparently, except where Superman was involved. I’m pretty sure I had a Superman compilation out from the library that was the size of a laptop and at least as thick.

But those new-fangled superheroes from Marvel and D.C. Comics, I had no patience for them. I mean, really? A Green Lantern? And Batman, to me, had to involve George Clooney (or later Christian Bale) to be interesting.

Even the Batman movies were ones that my sis watched before I did, I’m pretty sure. All I remember is that several years ago she was over-excited that something called X-Men was coming out. Pretty sure I had vague visions of Star Trek meets X-Files for that movie.


Maybe I wasn’t far off!

But I did watch that one, and the X2 movie (whatever it was really called), and the X-Men movie where Jane Grey turns into the Phoenix, and the movie about Wolverine. Merely because that’s what my sissy decided to plug into the DVD player. *hides secret wish to be able to fly*

After the X-Men came on the scene, I remember watching a couple Fantastic 4 movies. And I saw the Ironman movies. Pretty sure I even saw one Hulk movie. (It was dumb.) For some reason, I also watched at least the first Transformers movie, but that’s not quite in the same category of super-smash movie. Despite all the smashing going on.

So the last time I watched a super-smash movie was… probably the second Ironman movie, whenever sissy had it out from the library. Pretty sure I saw that one, anyway. I don’t really remember it.

So when my sis came for a visit with my cousins last week, I suggested we watch The Avengers in the theater with one of our cousins who also likes watching super-smash movies.

Why I suggested that, I don’t know. Maybe because I’ve watched too many chick flicks and somber philosophical movies lately.

So we hit a Monday matinee at the new theater not far from my cousins. I was pleasantly surprised to find I enjoyed the movie’s fight scenes and clear-cut lines splitting the good guys and the bad guys. Oh, and I have to admit it was hilarious to watch some of the superheroes picking on each other. They were being such boys.

On second thought, maybe I wanted to watch a super-smash movie because I just don’t have enough guys in my life to laugh at.

So after watching The Avengers, my cousin said she’d not seen Captain America. Which of course I’d not seen either. Remember the last super-smash movie I saw? Yeah. And I and another cousin had missed Thor, too, when it came out. (That’s how I missed recognizing the Huntsman in the new Snow White movie.)

Guess what two movies we got from the library for Tuesday and Wednesday night?

I still can’t believe I’ve watched three super-smash movies this week. But sisterly and cousinly togetherness has to be had when it’s feasible, even if that mans taking it in one large chunk and paying for it in extra sleep over the weekend. By the way, sleeping in doesn’t work when the sunshine pours in the window at 6:15 a.m.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Life on my own #26: Hay bales

What do you call six crazed young adults (all at least 16) throwing hay bales at each other?

Trouble. Or cousins.

My siblings were over this week for a visit with cousins, and since they were in the same state as I am (for once!) I decided to go visit every weeknight. So after a mad dash home from work for an equally mad dash to make supper and head out of town, I got to spend a few hours a day with immediate and extended family in an alternately relaxing and exhilarating environment.

Believe it or not, most of what we did involved watching superheroes smash supervillains to smithereens. Like the alliteration? The movie fest was like old times in college, except that I was related to everyone here and didn’t live with any of them.

(Movies are a staple of a young adult’s social life. Just tell me the next time you meet a single young adult who hasn’t watched some movie in the past week. I bet they’re either workaholics some other type of –aholic.)

Anyway. In the midst of one such super-smashing time, my uncle asked everyone for help on one particular seasonal chore:

Hauling the hay bales.

The day before, I’d seen him out with a rather strange-looking contraption attached to the small tractor they store in a barn down the road. It was a hay rake, my cousins told me. After he mowed all the grass in the field next to my cousins’ yard, the resulting hay-like stuff had to be raked into rows so the hay baler could scoop it all up and spit out some rectangular prisms of baled hay.

Oh, ok. Makes sense, I thought. Then what do you know, I get to see yet another contraption hooked to the small tractor the very next night. The long-awaited hay baler.

It looked almost like a corkscrew inside a spring…. or at least, that’s how I interpreted the unfamiliar wending and winding of machinery and metal.

But it scooped up the hay, for sure, and spit out nicely bound box-shaped hauls of hay bales. After a little while, there were random hay bales dotting the now clean-mown hayfield.

Then, as sun was setting, we were set to work as well. My uncle pulled the tractor up to a small wagon (without sides – the kind used for hayrides, of course) and, now that the hay baler had been unhooked, he attached the wagon to it and off we went into the field.

The hay bales were surprisingly light. Probably because we’ve had about one to three inches less rain than we’ve needed! So the dry, poicky hay bales weren’t hard to lift up to the wagon, but they scraped up our arms pretty good.

It was fun to toss the bales up at my brother and cousin, who were tasked with stacking them carefully, about four high. The Tetris game was so we could get all the bales in one load. And it made me feel oh-so-capable to be a city slicker that actually knows how to lift a hay bale and toss it onto a wagon!

It was a race to see how quickly we could get the bales onto the wagon. There was only so much daylight left, and our super-smashing movie called to ussss.

Once on the wagon, the bales were hauled over to the chicken/goat barn to be stacked somewhere out of the way. That turned out to be up in the haymow, I think. Or a hayloft. I never lived on a farm so I’m not sure what the difference is.

I and another cousin (the seamstress extraordinaire, but that’s not important here) climbed into the haymow to arrange the hay bales my uncle tossed up so they’d all fit. Some of the barn rafters made it a little bit tricky. Yay for more Tetris games!

The hay-baling job got done quicker than my cousins ever remembered finishing it before. And it was actually fun. There’s your teamwork moral for the day.

But the hay baling got me thinking, too. Why haven’t my local city slickers figured out how fun it is to get out on a farm with a bunch of rowdy relatives and start tossing hay around? Not only do you get a 3-D Tetris tower built precariously onto a hay wagon, you get a whole lotta laughs out of it. I’d totally pick that over a dumb evening at a bar any day, despite the sore arms afterward.

Therefore, I propose a citywide initiative to establish some tried-and-true entertainment for teenagers and young adults: Ship ‘em all out to a farm and set ‘em to work. Not only will they be able to make friends during the day, they’ll be too tuckered out later to get drunk or arrested.

And there you have it – the latest adventure of life on my own, starring a hayfield. More to come about the super-smashing movie fest.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Church camp observations

Growing up, I always heard about other kids at church going to church camp in the summer.

They went all by themselves to the campground at least an hour away, for the whole week. Me, I’m pretty sure the first time I went anywhere without my parents was when I was 15 and headed to Chicago with the 4-H’ers. Fun trip, don’t get me wrong. But to me, summer camp was for the whole family.

So I guess I never fell into the whole idea that church camp is for kids. Then my family outgrew Family Camp itself, since it didn’t have anything to bridge the gap between childhood/teenhood and parenthood. Maybe camp is just for kids, after all.

But I missed it. So when my cousin told me about something people called “Big Kids’ Camp,” I figured I’d give it a try.

This camp is held every year at a denominational campground in the woods, along a small river. Lovely setting. There are your typical group cabins filled with bunk beds, your typical pool, your typical church camp tabernacle (which was used for revival meetings way back when). There were about 50 young adults descending upon the campground for this camp, many (likely over half) somewhere in college, a few out and doing adult stuff like working 12-hour shifts as a hospital nurse or teaching third-graders social skills.

I felt rather odd in this group, partly because so many of them were still in the college stage. It hasn’t been so long ago for me, but there still seems to be a qualitative difference between the college student and the moved-out-and-got-a-job young adult.

Another reason I felt slightly out of place was my different denominational affiliation. A third was that I’m not as theologically/socially liberal as most everybody there appeared to be. And a fourth… hmm, what was the fourth? Oh, the fact that I don’t hug everyone every fifteen minutes. Yeah, the hugging was weird.

The way this camp is run, everything is optional and nothing is scheduled. I don’t think even dinner was ever served at a regular time.

The fluidity has its advantages—you feel like you’re in Latin America, when you get to things when you’re good and ready. On the other hand, it made it very difficult to remain in the presence of other people long enough to get to know them. I think I would have preferred that things run on at least a semblance of a schedule, just so I didn’t feel like I had to stick with the group ALL the time or miss out on the one thing I was truly interested in (like, canoeing) because I happened not to be around when the schedule got changed. Napping is easier if I know I won’t miss the good part while I’m asleep.

Something fancifully called D-Cells and usually described as discussion groups was nice in theory, but not real well executed. Chapel was all right, mostly because they can’t hardly mess up worship songs. Open-mouthed smile And something called Fire Bowl was actually pretty cool… a cappella singing around a bonfire, and some of the songs were really old. I recognized a couple of them from the music stash my mom accumulated from her college days.

One of the camp organizers asked me on the last day what, as a newbie, I would change about the camp. I had to think about that for roughly a week before I could come to a conclusion. There was enough good about the camp to make me immensely glad I went, but there was something about it, too, that made me think something was lacking.

Then I remembered. At Family Camp, there was a solid amount of teaching and serious Bible study. Nothing like that at this camp. I guess it’s part of being just a weekend camp, or part of the fluidity—but the deepest spiritual/Christian discussion comprised of this:

“So, what did this movie tell us about faith? I mean, the FBI agents put their faith in this guy and he let them down.”

“I think it’s showing that faith is only as good as what you put your faith in.”

(Brief silence.) “Yeah, that’s good.”

Why is it that most of my college/young-adult-oriented church experiences have been similarly fluffy? It may be called a camp for “big kids” but we’re a little more mature than the fluffiness implies.

But one last thing I did like about the camp: There were other young people, and they weren’t all talking about their babies’ dietary and hygienic habits!