The banjo moves up on my life list

I hate the term bucket list. You might as well say, “I’m going to die any day now. What to do?” I’d rather say, “Life is a mystery. What would I like to do?” Bucket list sounds so final. Life list sounds open and celebratory.

 

For the longest time, going up in a hot air balloon was a feature on my list. I lived for a while in Napa, where hot air ballooning is a major activity. But no one I know would go up with me. I know too many people who are afraid of heights. And I was afraid of going alone. So I still haven’t done it. I would hear that sound of the air whoshing up into the balloons as they drifted over my house near the Napa River. Taking my coffee out on the deck, I’d stand in my pajamas and wave longingly at the tourists in the balloons as they drifted by.

balloon

I signed up for a watercolor painting class and the first thing I painted was a hot air balloon.

balloon painting

I’ve read Around the World in 80 Days more than once. Of course, there isn’t a hot air balloon in the book, but thanks to the film version, I can’t think of the story without a hot air balloon.

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I still have hot air balloon dreams. Maybe over Paris! Paris was also a long-time life list item. And in 2014 I finally got there! Was it everything I dreamed it would be? Mais oui! Certainement! I’ll brush up my bad high school French and go back anytime. Given my name and French heritage, you’d think I’d have speaking French in the bag, but alas, languages don’t necessarily pass down in families once they assimilate to the United States. So I was really An American in Paris:

 

For a few years now, I’ve said I want to learn to play the banjo. I see banjos at the Alameda Point Antiques Fair (the flea market) now and again, but they always look pretty beat up, and I never have the courage to haggle with the dealers since I know absolutely nothing about banjos.

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I don’t know why I love them, but I do. Recently, we went to the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. What a beautiful place! I worked for years in museums, and I was quite impressed with the displays, collections, volunteers, everything! They even have a conservation lab, which was my first foray into museum work.

 

MIM

Some of my favorite displays at the museum were the Americana, Bluegrass, and Banjo sections. Banjos! In a museum! I felt vindicated in my banjo love.

Since, I have come to find out there is an American Banjo Museum and American Banjo Hall of Fame. Woo hoo! Now I have a reason to go to Oklahoma City. Some of the illustrious inductees include Pete Seeger, Earl Scruggs, Roy Clark, and Steve Martin. There are women in the hall of fame too: Debbie Schreyer, Helen Baker, Georgette Twain (love that name) among others.

 

Last night, in one of my weird, mixed up dreams, I bought a banjo. The main theme of the dream was that I was trying to board a ferry into San Francisco. It was an ordeal. I had to go through a labyrinthian mall to buy a ticket. And while wandering lost through the mall, I saw the world’s most beautiful banjo. I had to have it. I bought it. And in nonsensical dream style, instead of putting the banjo in a case for me, the salesclerk carefully and elaborately wrapped it in brown paper and string, like the gorgeous and mysterious Christmas present.

beauty
The dream banjo didn’t look like this; not quite so fancy. More Danish Modern meets banjo. This is Gibson’s Earl Scruggs Golden Deluxe.

The banjo often doesn’t get a lot of respect. Mark Twain (any relation to Georgette?) said something about a true gentleman is one who knows how to play the banjo and doesn’t. But I don’t care. I’ve had a crush on Steve Martin since the 1970s. Then, when I was in high school, the banjo was part of his comedy schtick. Now he’s a respected, Grammy winning musician with his band, The Steep Canyon Rangers. And he’s still funny.

 

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Can I learn to play this late in life? The question is more, will I follow my dream. There’s even a Dummies book for me.

banjo for dummies

 

I challenge myself to follow this one. I made it to Paris. Maybe soon you’ll see me in the sky, in a hot air balloon, picking on a banjo and having a great old time.

 

 

Falling in love with frogs

Maybe it started with Kermit the Frog, the iconic Muppet with a heart of green-gold.

Kermit
How can you not love that face?

As someone who struggles with anxiety and self-esteem, Kermit singing Bein’ Green, written by Joe Raposo, on Sesame Street in 1970 (maybe I was a little old for Sesame Street at 9 but then again, is anyone ever too old for Sesame Street?) touched my soul and still does.

 

I still watch The Muppet Show when I have a chance. 

Or maybe it was our grandfather Papa, singing the folk song A Frog Went A-Courting to us when we were children. Although this wouldn’t explain my sister Ellen’s fear of frogs. Maybe that’s from Mom supposedly cooking frogs’ legs for Daddy and the legs jumping out of the pan. Mom swore this was true.

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From the children’s book by Janet Kay Jensen.

On You Tube I found versions by Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Woody Guthrie, Burl Ives, and a bunch of guys with guitars who I never heard of. But I think Pete Seeger is the closest I’m going to get to Papa.

There are some seriously stupid jokes about frogs. I like stupid jokes. Unfortunately, in many of them things don’t go well for the frog (you know, the word croak being the punchline).

Waiter, waiter, do you have frog legs?

No, I always walk this way.

What do stylish frogs wear?

Jumpsuits!

A few years ago, I took a class called Phobease on dealing with phobias and anxieties. No, frogs weren’t on my list, though they are on Ellen’s. One of Dr. Fear’s (aka Dr. Howard Liebgold) sayings was “If you have to eat a frog, eat it first thing in the morning. If you have to eat two frogs, eat the ugliest one first.” I never liked this saying. I get it. If you have to do something that makes you anxious, just do it and get it over with, and do the hardest first. But I felt bad for that poor so-called ugly frog. At the end of the class, Dr. Fear handed out little plastic frogs to all of us. I still have mine.

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I recently spent a week in Maine at the Institute for Humane Education in Surry with a group of my fellow Humane Education students. It was there that my love for frogs was finally made clear. I don’t sleep well away from home, especially if I get in the habit of drinking coffee during the day. And if I’m anxious. Which I was.

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Sleepless in Surry.

Not wanting to wake my cabin mates (did I mention we all stayed in a bunkhouse together? I’m finally headed to summer camp…) I found myself out of doors in the early hours of the morning down at the pond.

the pond
The Pond.
my feet at the pond
Girl meets pond.

I am not particularly an outdoorsy person, and going barefoot is one of my phobias. But there I’d be at 5 a.m. in the damp, on the dock, watching and listening at the pond.

my feet with sunset
Pond and feet at sunrise.

I don’t mediatate either; I always feel like my hyperactive brain sabotages me. But I could easily spend an hour or more in the early morning sitting on the dock listening to the frogs. 

(I don’t know how to embed the videos I took, so this sound clip from You Tube will suffice.)

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I was curious if there were any poems about frogs, particularly American, New-Englandy style ones. And lo’ and behold, Robert Frost wrote a poem called Hyla Brook. (Hyla is the genus of the small green tree frog.)

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I also decided to search for frog sounds on iTunes. I am not the only one who loves the sound of frogs!

frog sounds search

I’m considering forking over $9.99 for this one.

frog sounds search album

I can play the sounds while I do the next best thing to pond meditating, which is spending time with the animals who share a home with me.

pretend pond
Our version of the frog pond.

Of course, I have no idea how Einstein and Misty will react to the frog sounds. It might not be as calming for them as it is for me.

Maybe they’ll prefer this selection: Hair of the Frog by Three Weird Sisters. And don’t get me started again on the whole “three sisters” thing! A Tale of Three Sisters

Hair of the Frog