40 For 40 Progress Report 11/12

School started in the middle of August here in Clark County, so September represented most of the year so far–a heinously busy time when I’m swamped by learning hundreds of new names and trying to establish a solid foundation for the rest of the year. I often get sick near the start of a school year, and this year was no different–I’ve had bronchitis for a few weeks now (though I’m getting much better).

This is all to explain (though not excuse) my relative lack of progress in the last month. Despite how far I am into most of the remaining goals, I only finished two since last time.

That leaves me with seven to go, and while I probably could push through and finish, I’m not sure I want to. Doing so would be stressful, and while these activities have been very valuable to me, cramming so much into the last month seems arbitrary, if not destructive. I don’t want to punish myself, or come to hate these things. I’ll gladly give myself an extension, just as I’ve felt free to modify goals as the year has gone on.

So I only expect to finish a few more, and do the rest maybe by the end of the year. And I’m happy with that. And isn’t that what matters here?

Here’s the two I finished in September:

REVISED: Wrestle or play chess with my kids 40 times. I revised this from just wrestling to adding another activity that we could bond over and which would be good for the kids, largely because wrestling in the hot summer is such a drag. I taught two of my daughters to play, though neither of them loves it like my two sons at home do–we all still play frequently, and I usually lose now (and I’m really trying to win!). This has been extremely rewarding all around.

REVISED: Do push ups for 40 straight days. Originally this said “40 push ups in a set,” which was odd–it didn’t match the ethos of most other goals. I changed it to this much more rational version (besides, I could never get further than the low 30’s in a single set!). My fitness habits tend to rotate back and forth between running and weights–mostly depending on what’s injured when–but because of my running goal for this project, I’ve ignored weights for months. This goal didn’t help as much as I’d hoped it would–after 40 days of (often lackluster) push up sets, the only real difference is that I got slightly better at doing push ups. *sigh* Back to the gym…

Advertisements

40 For 40 Progress Report 9/12

In the last month, I’ve finished 6 more of my goals, bringing the total to 26. That leaves the final three months of being 40 to do the remaining 14. I actually feel pretty good about it–I have significant progress and/or a plan for each of those. Here’s what I completed in July:

21. Listen to 40 blues classics. Posted about this here.

22. Send 40 encouraging cards. I sent cards to 40 sick kids and their families through Sunshine Snail Mail, a great group with a simple idea–sick kids love getting cute stuff in the mail. Most of the cards I sent were of a funny off-brand variety: few regular birthday cards and such; mostly “happy 45th anniversary” and “happy father’s day, grandpa!” cards, just at random. I also sent some Christmas cards in July. That oughta make them smile, or at least take their mind off things.

23. REVISED: Read a poem every day for 40 days. I altered this from the original about *writing* 40 poems, because that goal just didn’t make me happy–I didn’t see what I would get out if it. It felt like an arbitrary chore. The idea for this one made me smile, and I *did* get something wonderful out of it: I discovered the amazing Donald Hall. More details here.

24. Study 40 paintings. I read three art books this summer–Thomas Cole, The Annotated Mona Lisa, and Art Explained–each of which could have technically counted for this. After the third, I felt like I had learned enough about specific works to check this off. Art history is really interesting.

25. Read 40 great books. The list is in this post here. I notice I’m reading more non-fiction than usual this year.

26. Take 40 baths. I love a good relaxing soak, but I never feel like I get enough time for it, thus this goal. Unfortunately, it sometimes felt like a chore, also, just forcing myself to do this, but fortunately, it was still really refreshing. Probably not necessary to try to do this so often, but definitely don’t regret trying to rest more.

40 Books and 40 Poems

I’ve now finished 40 books since my last birthday. Here they are:

  1. Fear and Trembling, Soren Kierkegaard (11.10, philosophy, Lowrie trans.)–A
  2. Troilus and Criseyde, Chaucer (11.20, classic, Windeatt trans.)–D
  3. Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, Richard Bushman (11.22, biography)–A+
  4. Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche (11.23, philosophy, Kaufmann trans.)–C
  5. Backwards and Forwards: A Technical Manual For Reading Plays, David Ball (11.25, literary criticism)–A+
  6. Candide, Voltaire (12.2, satire, classic)–A
  7. It’s All Relative, A.J. Jacobs (12.8, genealogy, humor)–B
  8. The Best American Short Stories 2017, Heidi Pitlor, ed. (12.16, literature)–B
  9. The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories, P.D. James (12.19, mystery)–B
  10. Rameau’s Nephew, Denis Diderot (12.21, satire, Leonard Tancock trans.)–C
  11. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling (1.20, fantasy)–A
  12. The Way Things Are, Lucretius (1.24, philosophy/poetry, Humphries trans)–C
  13. A Life Without Limits, Chrissie Wellington (2.9, memoir, sports)–A
  14. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling (2.13, fantasy)–A+
  15. Praise of Folly, Erasmus (2.17, satire, Radice trans.)–B
  16. Lightning, Dean Koontz (3.2, suspense)–C
  17. I Will Lead You Along: The Life of Henry B. Eyring, Robert I. Eaton & Henry J. Eyring (3.5, biography)–A+
  18. 40 By 40: Forty Groundbreaking Articles from Forty Years of Biblical Archaeology Review, volume 1, Hershel Shanks, ed. (3.10, history)–A+
  19. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling (3.20, fantasy)–A
  20. 40 By 40: Forty Groundbreaking Articles from Forty Years of Biblical Archaeology Review, volume 2, Hershel Shanks, ed. (3.30, history)–A
  21. What Have I Ever Lost By Dying?, Robert Bly (4.5, poetry)–B
  22. A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes, Adam Rutherford (4.20, science)–A
  23. Talking into the Ear of a Donkey, Robert Bly (4.20, poetry)–C
  24. Godsong: A Verse Translation of the Bhagavad-Gita, with Commentary, Amit Majmudar (5.3, religion, poetry)–A+
  25. Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years, Sue Townsend (5.14, humor)–A
  26. Dust Devils, Robert Laxalt (5.23, Western)–B
  27. The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, John Le Carre (5.28, fiction)–C
  28. Seven Men and the Secret of Their Greatness, Eric Metaxas (6.5, biography)–A+
  29. The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, Margareta Magnusson (6.8, living well)–B
  30. Educated, Tara Westover (6.18, memoir)–A+
  31. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card (6.23, science fiction)–A+
  32. Things That Matter, Charles Krauthammer (6.28, commentary)–A
  33. Thomas Cole, Matthew Baigell (7.2, art history)–A
  34. Wonder, R.J. Palacio (7.4, young adult)–B
  35. The Selected Poems of Donald Hall, Donald Hall (7.6, poetry)–A+
  36. Between Planets, Robert Heinlein (7.6, science fiction)–B
  37. Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess, Bobby Fischer (7.11, chess)–A
  38. The Annotated Mona Lisa, Carol Strickland (7.19, art history)–B
  39. Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie (7.20, mystery)–A
  40. Art Explained, Robert Cumming (7.23, art)–A+
  41. Based on a True Story, Norm Macdonald (7.24, humor)–A

Also, I revised an original goal to write 40 poems, which just seemed like a chore as I tried to start it, with reading poetry for 40 straight days, which made me smile as soon as I thought of it. I reflected on the point of the goal in the first place–what did I want to get out of it?–and realizing that the experience here was more important to me than creation, I decided to delve into appreciation a bit more.

I started mostly by using the poem in each day’s Prufrock email, supplemented with other sources I know and like. Most of them were OK, but rarely did one really grab me. During this time, though, the great poet Donald Hall died, and as I saw eulogies online, along with quotes from his work, I was intrigued and picked up his self-selected greatest hits, and it was perhaps the greatest book of poetry I’ve ever read. Absolutely amazing. Can’t recommend it highly enough.

After that, I tried bits and pieces of other books and authors I’ve liked, but nothing really stood up to Hall. One awesome new take away from a project like this is more than worth it, though!

  1. Richard O’Connell, “Prospero” 6/11
  2. Morri Creech, “The Sentence” 6/12
  3. Elizabeth Knapp, “After the Flood” 6/13
  4. Charlotte Mew, “The Farmer’s Bride” 6/14
  5. Joseph Mirra, “Who Are We Not to Judge?” 6/15
  6. Rachel A. Lott, “The Parting” 6/16
  7. Jason Guriel, “My Father’s Stamps” 6/17
  8. Richie Hofmann, “Pictures of Mozart” 6/18
  9. Edward Hirsch, “The Unveiling” 6/19
  10. Scott Cairns, “Adiáphora” 6/20, A+
  11. Dana Gioia, “The Stars Now Rearrange Themselves” 6/21, A
  12. Maryann Corbett, “Creed,” 6/22
  13. Rachel Hadas, “Cold Prose” 6/23
  14. Joshua Hren, “The Lesser Angels of Our Nature,” 6/24
  15. Donald Hall, “The Man in the Dead Machine,” 6/25, A
  16. Micheal O’Siadhail, “Conversation with Messiaen,” 6/26
  17. Donald Hall, “The Reasonable Nap,” 6/27
  18. Richard Wilbur, “On the Marginal Way,” 6/28
  19. Elizabeth Poreba, “Kenosis,” 6/29
  20. Eduardo C. Corral, “To the Angelbeast,” 6/30
  21. Derek Otsuji, “The Ditch Kids of the Maui Sugar Company,” 7/1
  22. Geoffrey Brock, “The Day,” 7/2
  23. Donald Hall, The Selected Poems of Donald Hall, 7/3
  24. Donald Hall, The Selected Poems of Donald Hall, 7/4
  25. Donald Hall, The Selected Poems of Donald Hall, 7/5
  26. Donald Hall, The Selected Poems of Donald Hall, 7/6
  27. Ernest Hilbert, “Until the Sea above Us Closed Again,” 7/7
  28. William W. Runyeon, “Church Bells,” 7/8
  29. David Yezzi, “Learning the Piano at 50,” 7/9
  30. Thomas Cole’s Poetry, 7/10
  31. Thomas Cole’s Poetry, 7/11
  32. Thomas Cole’s Poetry, 7/12
  33. Thomas Cole’s Poetry, 7/13
  34. Thomas Cole’s Poetry, 7/14
  35. Sara Teasdale, “Afterwards,” 7/15
  36. Sara Teasdale, “The Answer,” 7/16
  37. Sara Teasdale, “Autumn Dusk,” 7/17
  38. Sara Teasdale, “Blue Squills,” 7/18
  39. William Wordsworth, The Essential Wordsworth, selected by Seamus Heaney, 7/19
  40. William Wordsworth, The Essential Wordsworth, selected by Seamus Heaney, 7/20

 

40 Blues Albums

Seven of these 40 are actually films in Martin Scorsese’s Blues series from 2003, which I’ve wanted to see since then, but never made time for until now. Most of them were excellent. Of the 33 actual records I listened to, most were also really great, and six got a perfect score from me.

  1. Lead Belly, Where Did You Sleep Last Night: Lead Belly Legacy, Volume 1. What an easy album to listen to! Nearly every track is a toe tapper. The stories are deep–like much great art, it’s deceptively simple. The guitar is always sweet and smooth–also deceptively simple, but the more I listened, the more skillful the playing obviously was. Some really fundamentally amazing tracks here. Grade: A (6/1)
  2. Robert Jonson, King of the Delta Blues Singers, Volume 1. Easy to see why this is a classic! Not only does it have the smooth, easy power of blues in general, but these blues are…really blue. Like, black and blue. These songs are pretty violent. Check out the lyrics to “32-30 Blues,” which is all about threats of violence against women. Other songs on the album are similar. So, a pretty honest slice of poor Southern life nearly a century ago. His voice is a weird and wild miracle of tones–who else sings like this? Grade: A- (6/1)
  3. Elmore James, Blues Master Works. I’m really impressed by just how contemporary most of this sounds in some ways, and how early it sounds in others, but even then it’s clear how deeply James influenced early rock and roll–the 50’s sound we think of in that first generation of rock was heavily indebted to this man’s work. Still, it has even stronger staying power than much of that decade’s mainstream stuff. I want to throw a party now just so I can put this on for everybody–these are some solidly sweet jams right here. Bet it’d make a good road trip record, too. Grade: A (6/4)
  4. Howlin’ Wolf, Moanin’ in the Moonlight. If Elmore James inspired Buddy Holly and such, then Howlin’ Wolf’s far grittier, grungier sound inspired later Southern rock like CCR and the Black Crowes. Lots of harmonica here, and plenty of drawling to go along with it. Grade: A (6/4)
  5. Muddy Waters, At Newport 1960. No wonder this was recorded at a jazz festival–it’s a very jazzy album! In fact, Waters uses jazz flexibility to cover a pretty wide range of genres–this is a blues album that includes snippets of a lot of styles, so there’s no monochromatic tone here. A fun little ride! Grade: A+ (6/6)
  6. B.B. King, Live At the Regal. What a great sound each of these tracks has! King’s narrative quips between songs are almost as good as his golden singing, and the way Lucille wails…there are a lot of shades of blue in here, and some of them are pretty bright. The first one of these albums that I listened to twice in a row! Grade: A+ (6/7)
  7. John Mayall, Blues Breakers. This is solid and enjoyable, but already by this point in my listening, some of this relatively later work seems derivative, even generic. Loved the drum solo on their cover of “What’d I Say.” Grade: B (6/11)
  8. Albert King, Born Under a Bad Sign. I must be in a blues funk or something, because I thought this album was just meh. I liked it, but nothing–not one song–jumped out and grabbed me. And I listened to it twice to be sure! Grade: C (6/12)
  9. KoKo Taylor, KoKo Taylor. I know this is a classic, but it just didn’t do anything for me at all. It’s not bad–there’s nothing wrong with it–but this jazzy electric funk version of late blues just struck me as proto-disco more than what I wanted. Grade: C (6/13)
  10. The Blues: Feel Like Going Home. I watched this first film in the seven part Martin Scorsese documentary series that I’ve been wanting to see for 15 years…and why did I wait so long?! It was incredible. As much as I loved the interviews and performances (and Scorsese’s style of quick, smooth transitions that aren’t strictly connected but still make thematic and tonal sense), the best part was the final act, in Africa. So much great music was shared there. It makes me want to find some more old Putumayo collections and dig deeper into this aspect of music. What a joy! I can’t wait to see the other six entries in the series. Grade: A+ (6/18)      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TfIIhkFUzo
  11. The Blues: The Soul of a Man. Great storytelling structure, mostly about three great musicians: Blind Willie Johnson, Skip James, JB Lenoir. All worth a further look! Grade: A (6/21)
  12. Keb Mo, Keb Mo. Wow, what a great sound! I can’t believe this came out when I was in high school and I’ve never heard of it until now. Most of this is a folksy kind of blues, often with a soulfully positive twist. Can’t wait to hear his other albums. Grade: A (6/21)
  13. Skip James, Devil Got My Woman. I was surprised that this was also such a folksy-sounding album–way more mellow than I would have expected. I loved this sound! Grade: A+ (6/23)
  14. Son House, The Original Delta Blues. Powerful–whether he’s sad or glad, he goes all in. The masterful guitar work–picking, pounding, and sliding–are matched by his vocal range–whispering and wailing, growling and crying, often in the same line. “John the Revelator” is haunting! Grade: A+ (6/25)
  15. Blind Willie Johnson, Dark Was the Night. Prototypical early blues sound. Not always my cup of tea, but these tracks are earthy, elemental, and ethereal all at once–maybe the pervasive gospel theme helps there–and it works more often than not. His original version of the track I just praised from Son House, “John the Revelator,” seems busy and fussy compared to the more sparse Son House cover, but the album’s title track takes the “haunting” title here. Still, this album’s frequent use of female backing vocals is rare in early blues, and I enjoyed it here. Grade: A (6/25)
  16. Magic Sam, West Side Soul. Odd that this came out in 1967, because it sounds mostly like basic 1950’s rock to me–lots of Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly riffs and whatnot. A safe, pleasant, and pretty unremarkable album. That being said, I actually liked his cover of “Sweet Home Chicago” even more than Robert Johnson’s original! Grade: C (6/25)
  17. Junior Wells, Hoodoo Man Blues. Great guitar work here, but fairly narrow–nowhere did I hear the variety evident on most of these records. That’s a major flaw for a record so often given to instrumentals over lyrics. Speaking of lyrics, one track is called “Hound Dog,” and even though it’s not a cover of the Elvis track, I couldn’t help comparing two songs with the same name. Junior Wells came in second. Still, the writing and singing is strong overall. I enjoyed it. Grade: B- (6/27)
  18. Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, The Peacock Recordings 1949-1959. A little more original than some of the other 50’s blues albums I’ve heard, but still derivative. The best thing here is the lyrics, especially on “My Time Is Expensive.” At first I though the line “You are a married woman and I have a family too” would be a paean to fidelity, but the follow up showed a more pragmatic concern: “We can’t waste no time darlin, I got other things to do.” That plus an earlier line–“So you’ve been bound to get together–we better do it fast”–reveal the singer to want the affair to be quick, so he could get back to his other commitments. Pretty darn funny. Some truly sad tracks are enriched by great writing, also, especially “Sad Hour” and “Dirty Work at the Crossroad.” Grade: B (6/27)
  19. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. I liked this a lot more than I thought I would. This guy knew his stuff! A few of these recent albums have been heavier on instrumental tracks. Excellent cowbell! Grade: B+ (6/27)
  20. Albert Collins, Ice Pickin’. This guy knows how to have fun! The chatty breaks in songs, the voices–he loves what he does. Some of the most impressive variety of any album so far. I’d heard “Master Charge” before and enjoyed it, and it’s a good fit for the album. Very strong–if I listen again, this one might go even higher. Grade: B+ (6/27)
  21. Slim Harpo, Best of Slim Harpo. I liked the nasal twang in his voice–he gets billed as swamp blues, but along with that harmonica, some of these songs could have come out of Nashville. I also like the bits where he talks in the middle of songs–other guys above have done that, too. A cool blues thing. Not quite as great as I hoped, since I really love “Raining in My Heart,” but solid. Grade: B (6/28)
  22. Muddy Waters, Folk Singer. Not sure what I expected from the title, but not this. It starts out the way you’d expect from a classic blues legend–one can imagine the smoky club–but you soon notice how intense it is; this is a moody, emo, pseudo-goth kind of blues. The stripped down nature, especially compared to most of these records I’ve heard now, makes the existing elements pop out more–the bass and drums resonate deeper. Still, some tracks get ponderously pretentious, they’re trying so hard to be deep (I’m looking at you, “Cold Weather Blues”). Some of this album is The Cure on Disintegration, but much of it is just The Cure on Seventeen Seconds. A handful of bonus tracks on a recent edition add much needed life to this often dour effort. (I thought “I rub my John the Conqueror root” was a dirty joke, but nope.) Grade: B- (6/28)
  23. J.B. Lenoir, Down in Mississippi. An album full of blunt 60’s protest songs (like “Vietnam Blues,” “Born Dead,” “Tax Payin’ Blues”) but which ends with an upbeat party track (“Feelin’ Good”). And it works! As with the best albums on this list, lots of variety is united by solid quality from end to end. Grade: A- (6/29)
  24. The Blues: The Road to Memphis. I noticed the very different directing style right from the start–this is much more of a traditional documentary…and it’s often boring. The personalities and stories are great–I loved learning about Beale Street and WDIA radio–but the transition segments are too slow and there wasn’t as much variety and depth in the musical choices as the first two films. Grade: C (6/29)
  25. The Blues: Warming By the Devil’s Fire. Yes! The series comes roaring back with this awesome entry! A nostalgic coming-of-age story about director Charles Burnett’s own childhood, the historical recreation is interspersed with actual performance and interview footage (one bit of Son House was also used in episode 2). Fantastic stuff–every artist was wonderful. I either learned new stuff or gained a deeper appreciation for the ones I knew. Some great female artists here, too. Grade: A+ (6/30)
  26. Mississippi John Hurt, The Best of Mississippi John Hurt. I love the simple, acoustic guitar sound, and his voice, and the songs are just magical. This is old, grassroots, gospel folk blues, just what I like. Grade: A+ (7/2)
  27. Rosco Gordon, The Original Sun Recordings. I was looking forward to this one, but it was only so-so for me. Another pop-heavy 50’s sounding record, it’s good at what it does, but this sound just doesn’t do much for me. Oh well. Grade: B- (7/2)
  28. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Gospel Train. Dang, I really wanted to like this one. I enjoyed the clips in the 4th film in Scorsese’s Blues series, but the pervasive organ sounded intrusive, and her singing didn’t connect with me, either. Grade: C (7/2)
  29. Keb Mo and Taj Mahal, Tajmo. Not sure what I expected, but this was a lot of easy fun! If this is contemporary blues, then today’s blues is an upbeat fusion of everything from old fashioned slide guitar to bluegrass and rockabilly. Each song was a radio-friendly package of adult contemporary sweets, and that’s not faint praise–I liked relaxing and being energized at the same time. The cover songs are really decent, too. Grade: B (7/9)
  30. John Lee Hooker, The Real Blues: Live in Houston 1979. Lots of fun at the outset turns to brooding melancholy later in, but the intensity works here much better than on Muddy Waters’ Folk Singer album. His voice is the perfect blend of gravel and gravity. I was mesmerized the whole way through! Grade: A (7/11)
  31. John Lee Hooker, The Healer. This album from the 80’s has a lot of collabs on it, and it mostly works. I enjoyed it, but it lacked the immediacy and intensity of the live album I heard right before it. Still, a strong, polished, fun ride. Grade: A- (7/11)
  32. The Blues: Godfathers and Sons. Structurally, this one is lot like The Road to Memphis, following a protagonist and a growing crew as they work towards a big new musical gig meant as a reunion/Renaissance. This film works a bit better than that previous one, though the music itself often seems to get short shrift. Still, the infectious energy–and pure, rapturous joy–of the music in the final act would be impossible to miss! The song the created at the end was a really cool bit of fusion, though–always cool. [note for future viewings: major language warning] Grade: B (7/11)
  33. Skip James, Complete Early Recordings. There’s some great stuff on here, including a few tracks that he would re-record later, and good thing, because the sound quality here is pretty awful. It gets in the way. Other than that, the things I loved on Devil Got My Woman are all in evidence here: the guitar, the lyrics, the vocals…all amazing. “I’m So Glad” is an especially special treat. Grade: B (7/12)
  34. The Blues: Red, White and Blues. Meh. This format was the opposite of other episodes–instead of following a main character’s story, this was a rambling collection of interviews–more like sound bites, really, as most segments are just a few seconds long–creating a scattershot mess of ideas. Little substantial information is delivered–most of this is just British musicians acknowledging the influence of Americans. Some good music here, sure, but not all of it, and it’s always in the background. This entry doesn’t really add much at all. A final segment asks the subjects–including frequent figure Eric Clapton–if British blues makes a difference in blues overall. No, and the fact that the question is asked at all shows how peripheral this is. *yawn* Grade: D (7/12)
  35. The Blues: Piano Blues. The frame here is a meld of some earlier entries: mostly interviews, but longer than the previous entry’s “scattershot mess,” and they’re between director Clint Eastwood and a host of historical worthies (mostly Ray Charles–and bonus, apparently Eastwood plays the piano!). Light on history and info per se, most of the joy from this one is watching old guys hammer on the keys like the legendary masters they are, interspersed with largely black and white footage of them (and their deceased mentors) absolutely shredding it on the piano. Seriously, I never got tired of watching those fingers fly–it was something special to behold. Grade: B+ (7/13)
  36. T-Bone Walker, T-Bone Blues. Here’s a solid classic! I haven’t really liked most of the 50’s-era stuff here, but this was better. Having just watched Piano Blues, I paid a lot of attention to that instrument here, and how it worked with the other instruments. Walker’s droning whine was a sweet compliment to the other components, and I enjoyed the deep richness in variety here–the sub-genres present on many tracks, and even within the songs themselves. This is a great bridge between first generation and more contemporary blues. Grade: A+ (7/13)
  37. Blind Lemon Jefferson, King of the Country Blues. Like the old Skip James record a few entries above, the constant static from the age of this one was an almost impossible distraction, but behind that was a fairly solid roots blues album. Many of the tracks here seem pretty monochromatic, though–too much of the same. Grade: B- (7/14)
  38. R.L. Burnside, Too Bad Jim. A solid, more recent album, it still doesn’t really distinguish itself. Fun to listen to, though, undeniably. Grade: B (7/14)
  39. Guitar Slim, Sufferin’ Mind. Another blues album of 50’s-era proto-rock. This sound doesn’t do much for me, but this album does it better than most. Worth listening to. Grade: C+ (7/14)
  40. B.B. King, Singin’ the Blues. I wanted to end this project on a high note, and this album seemed like a good bet. I’ve been underwhelmed by a lot of 50’s-era blues on this list, but this album was far and away the very best one of those. I didn’t quite love everything, but it was a terrific record, and on every track I could appreciate the massive quality of guitar, piano, and vocals. Definitely a solid end to this blues adventure for now! Grade: A (7/16)

 

11 New Places Where I Ate

Making progress on my quest to try 40 new places to eat before my next birthday!

19. Samurai Sam’s, 4/20. Of all the new places I’ve tried, this is the only one I really didn’t like. The service was dour (a young woman and a middle aged man who both seemed profoundly depressed and uninterested in us), the food was dry, and the menu was as uninspired and flat as the lackluster decor. My fish wrap was mostly rice, and poorly cooked rice, at that. There’s a Teriyaki Madness literally across the street–go there instead.

20. Waffles Cafe, 5/3. A decent place, surely, but I just couldn’t finish a sandwich on a waffle. If you can, more power to you. The traditional breakfasts would probably work better for me. Good value (but not great), though; worth trying.

21. Taqueria La Casa Del Pastor, 5/10. This is the new taco truck on the SE corner of Las Vegas Blvd. and Bonanza, which opened after the superb Taqueria El Buen Pastor moved kitty corner (NW corner) and expanded their operation. This place is, obviously, very similar, and while I liked it, I put too much spicy sauce on right away and kind of ruined the meal–my bad. Still, they clearly have everything one would want. Two corners on one intersection now have powerhouse taco trucks!

IMG_20180510_110209450

22. Rick’s Rollin Smoke BBQ, 5/21. Enjoyed a huge nacho meal from here with my English department at work, and there was enough left over for another meal! Fresh, flavorful, abundant good stuff made this a great, meaty treat.  Continue reading

40 For 40 Progress Report 8/12

I’m 2/3 of the way through being 40, and I’m now 1/2 way through my list of goals. I only have two more to add since last time:

One is watching 40 episodes of the Twilight Zone, which I reported on earlier today.

The other is doing 40 days of temple and family history work. Most of that was just research and subsequent work on FamilySearch and Ancestry–creating records, updating them, combining them, etc. A few of those days were indexing at home, and some others were baptisms, initiatories, and endowments. This made me realize that I really need to schedule time to go out to the temple, that trying to do more temple work gets results, and that the cycle of getting names ready and going out to do the work keeps creating more opportunities to do even more. Not a bad way to live at all!

The good news is that on Wednesday I calculated how many more days I had until I have to go back to work, and it was 40 days, so I started some more of the goals, and I’m already in the middle of several. If all goes well, when I report back in another month, I should be able to add seven or eight more, and several more the month after that.

I’ve revised a few of the ones that never really made sense, either in how they’d work or why I’m doing them. I’ll report on those as they roll in. Also, I’m already (still) reflecting a lot on what I am and what I am not getting out of this. Some interesting lessons are coming up, but I’ll hold of on more commentary for now, too.

Overall, this is time well spent. What else can we ask for?

 

40 For 40 Progress Report 7/12

7 months down, 5 to go. This month I only added two more finished goals, bringing my total up to 18, still less than half.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes life happy and worthwhile. Is this little project doing that? Am I living more deeply, more consciously, more in tune with who I want to be, or am I just jumping through hoops, creating an illusion of satisfaction?

I once pondered this in my journal, wondering if all that time spent chronicling my life might be better spent out doing other stuff, but in the years since then, I’ve found that looking back over that journal feels wonderful. I expect the same will hold true here–in another decade, I’ll look back on this project and enjoy these experiences just as much if not more than I do now.

Speaking of a decade from now, I already want to spend the year that I’m 50 going back and re-reading my 50 favorite books. Looking forward to it!

Here’s what little I finished in May:

Track my meals and nutrition for 40 straight days. I didn’t try to eat better or anything, I just wanted to record my reality, though I did obviously try to “be especially good” sometimes, and failed pretty spectacularly. Here are my notes. What did I learn from this? I get more protein than I thought, but much of that may not exactly be the best kind of protein. Also, some days I don’t eat very much, because I’m really busy, and it doesn’t seem to bother me much; on the flip side, it is super easy to eat way too much–over 3000 calories–largely due to fast food meals. I guess I’ve learned how important it is to avoid too many of those.

No social media for 40 straight days. This was surprisingly easy, maybe because I just went even deeper into news aggregators like Instapundit during these 40 days, but this was a great illustration for me of just how ephemeral social media is. It really does suck up time and distort reality, but it also obviously has legitimate good uses, when done in moderation. Moderation may be the big buzz word for habits like this that I need to reign in. Also, I missed Twitter more than I missed Facebook. Hmmm.

Why didn’t more get done this month? I could say the end of the school year is busy at work, which is true, but I don’t think that’s why. I think I’m running out of steam for some of this–maybe some of what’s left are lower-priority goals, anyway. With summer here, I have much more time to devote to these projects, so I’ll try to punch out a bunch more soon, and hopefully make some more enjoyable memories in the process.

40 For 40 Progress Report 6/12

And my year of being 40 is now halfway over. In the last month, I’ve finished four more goals, bringing my total to 16. Here they are, with some comments, an update on all the goals not done yet, and an overall thought about this project so far.

Study 40 General Conference talks: I just finished studying last October’s conference (which had 35 talks) right before the one a month ago, and annotated five more talks as soon as they were on the Gospel Library app. These last three conferences have all been increasingly legendary. Do we take them for granted because there’s just so much awesomeness so often? Maybe so. I know I do.

Talk to 40 people about the Book of Mormon: I always knew this wouldn’t be one-on-one, but to a group. I’ve been trying to set up a live debate since late December, but the guy who said he’d do it must be too busy–I’ll email him again. However, a few weeks ago, a critic of the LDS church asked to interview me on YouTube, and I think it turned out really well. It has over 100 views, so I’m counting that for this.

Listen to 40 great albums from my teenage years: I need to update my posting about this, but it’s been a ton of fun. I want to keep going, because there are so many more than forty I want to hear again! But I need to do my other music goals first.

No soda for 40 days: today is day 40. This was by far the hardest thing so far. Going without Netflix was easy, and I’m about four weeks into no social media–which is also surprisingly easy–but I must be addicted to soda pretty hard. It took me three tries this year, and I only finished because I let myself have a Slurpee every week or so. Still, I’ve gained a new appreciation for lemonade, and I don’t really crave soda like I did, so I want to keep going without this one. But I’ll still have a Slurpee sometimes.

Continue reading

Adventures in Indexing

I spent some time this morning indexing some marriage records from 1882, and I noticed something funny in the lines shown here.

The top half is the marriage of John Dwyer (1) and Eliza Horan (4). John’s parents are Patrick Dwyer (2) and Ann Young (3). Eliza’s parents are Thomas Horan (5) and Mary McGrath (6).

But then, on the bottom half, we see the marriage of Michael Horan (11) and Mary A. Dwyer (12). Yes, they seem to be the siblings of the couple above. However, Michael’s parents are given here as Thomas Horan (5) and ANN YOUNG (3). And then Mary’s parents are Patrick Dwyer (12) and MARY McGRATH (6).

Whoever recorded this list seems to have switched the fathers’ wives by accident. I mean, either that or there was some crazy 19th century partying going on. But then some of the newly wedded couples would be half siblings already, so that’s much worse than a simple clerical error.

At any rate, I wonder if this was a double wedding–both weddings happened on April 17th (7) and were performed by the same reverend (9). I’m guessing the weddings recorded in this register happened in the order they’re written, which means that John married Eliza and then Eliza’s big brother Michael immediately married his brand new sister-in-law Mary. Notice that, in a delightful family arrangement, Michael was the witness at John’s wedding and John was the witness at Michael’s (8).

Another cute detail: under each groom’s name is his occupation. John Dwyer was an engineer (10), and Michael Horan was a “saloon keeper” (13), which seems like a pretty stereotypical job considering that he was born in Ireland (14).

1882

 

Eleven More New Places To Eat

One of my goals for my year of being 40 is to eat at 40 new places, and I’m up to 17. Four of the first Mexican places I went are reviewed here. Here are the most recent eleven:

 

7. La Casita De Doña Machi, 1/18. I saw this on the drive from work to my son’s basketball game, and stopped in. I loved the atmosphere right away–the TV was tuned to a Spanish language news station. I had a burrito, which was so different from the fast food I’m used to–not nearly as mushy and juicy. Though that made it seem a bit dry to me, it was tasty, and washed down well with some hot sauce and soda. Very nice place–would definitely go again.

IMG_20180118_175236568

8. New China Cuisine, 1/26. One of a few Asian places near my house that I’ve never gone to. It doesn’t look like much from outside, near the edge of a middlebrow strip mall, but on the inside the atmosphere wraps you up and draws you in. I took my wife there on a date night–she likes Chinese food even more than I do. The waitress had solid suggestions for us–I tried some excellent sweet and sour shrimp. The appetizer was egg drop soup, which I love and haven’t had for years. It made me find some recipes online and try to make it at home–alas, not nearly as good as theirs.

IMG_20180126_200924658

9. Tacos El Gordo, 2/1. This came recommended from an old colleague, and I’m seriously grateful. The counter setup inside is a bit odd, but the food is sweet and solid. It’s like an In-N-Out Burger for genuine Tijuana tacos. Almost as good as the tacos was a creamy orange soda called Bang! Totally have to go back again soon.

IMG_20180201_152455887

10. El Nopal Mexican Grill, 2/3. Continue reading

40 For 40 Progress Report 5/12

Today ends my 5th month of being 40. I finished 5 more goals this month, bringing my total to 12:

Watch 40 classic Simpsons episodes: I did this by re-watching all of seasons 4 and 5. Holy cow, not a dud in the bunch! So many great moments I’d forgotten about. Maybe the biggest surprise was “Whacking Day,” a Schwartzwelder masterpiece that was even better than I’s remembered: the snake story is really a small part of it–this episode has the awesome Alien parody at the start, just after the bullies are locked up and forgotten until the episode’s final joke. Genius. I’m also surprised at just how many different great writers worked on those seasons, though the biggest writer surprise was noticing that Conan O’Brien wrote “New Kid on the Block.” I never knew that.

Write in my journal 40 times: I recently finished a biography of Henry B. Eyring, a book which was helped along greatly by the fact that he was apparently an inveterate journal-keeper in his middle years, when he was my age. Inspiring. I really enjoy this habit, and tend to be bemused/motivated/flabbergasted by reviewing old entries. I’ve tried to inculcate this habit in my children as well. Still, it’s a tough habit for me to keep: I’ve written more in that journal since my birthday than in the last few years combined.

No Netflix for 40 straight days: Continue reading

40 For 40 Progress Report 4/12

I just finished my fourth month of being 40–that’s 33% of the way through the year now–and I finished three more goals this month, bringing my total from 4 to 7. The three I just did were: Read the Book of Mormon cover to cover in 40 days, Make 40 positive contacts with students’ parents, and Read Calvin and Hobbes every day for 40 days.

I already wrote about my Book of Mormon reading. Since then, I’ve been reading it in Portuguese, listening here and following along with dual-language text here. The biggest thing I’ve learned so far is “E aconteceu.” Book of Mormon readers can probably guess what that means.

I’ve made efforts to make purely random, positive parent phone calls a few times in recent years, but never anywhere near this many. I simply praised the student for some quality, and thanked the parent for the great job they’re doing. Some folks were befuddled, most were sweetly touched, a few cried. Often, the student was grateful to be recognized and rewarded in any way, though some clearly thought it was odd to be complimented like this. I tried to focus on those who don’t always get as much attention in school as they deserve. Even after forty, there are plenty more who need and deserve some extra positive feedback. So…

I’ve loved Calvin and Hobbes since the first collection I got in 7th grade. In fact, that book, Weirdos From Another Planet, might actually be the oldest book I still have from my childhood. Not only has it aged well, I appreciate it more now than ever. Obviously, it’s full of social commentary, but there are satirical aspects that younger me couldn’t appreciate. This was by far the easiest goal I’ve checked off so far!

I’m actively in the middle of eleven other goals right now, many I hope to have done by next month. I was trying to give up soda for 40 days, a second attempt this year, but only lasted 15 days. That was still better than the other time–11 days. I was inspired by Lent, so I feel extra bad for failing. But I’m also in the middle of a Lenten Netflix fast, and that’s going surprisingly well!

There are also eleven goals where I’ve made very little to no progress at all yet…

 

Friday At the Park

The sun sits low off to the side,
Sliding in sideways:
A perfect light for reading.

Only when I focus do I notice the birds,
Invisible infinities in the distance,
Their overlapping music a hum
So loud it becomes a dull roar we don’t notice:
A drumroll at the horizon.

Three little girls squat at the edge of the pond
Throwing old grapes to the ducks.
The girls stare at the patterns of rippled water
Spreading out behind the ducks,
And squeal in surprise when long wings suddenly appear
And flutter at the sides of geese.

40 For 40 Progress Report 3/12

Yesterday marked the end of the third month of being 40–that puts me 25% of the way through the year. Ideally, for the things I want to do 40 times, I should have ten by now. Here’s where I stand on my goals:

  • The big item first: I only finished one more item in the last month–40 straight days of sit ups–bringing my grand total of completed goals up to big fat whopping…four. My abs are pretty strong now–I can do 40 (coincidence) crunches in a set with no resistance on my feet.
  • I wanted to check off the “40 push ups in one set” goal this month, but I tested myself twice in the last couple of weeks, and I can only do 30.
  • Today was day 34 of reading the Book of Mormon in 40 days. It’s a pretty amazing experience. More on that next week, after I finish.
  • I’ve done 15 days of temple or family history work.
  • I also wanted to be able to check off the 40 positive contacts with students’ parents, but reaching people is harder than it sounds–I’m only up to 16.
  • This is day 12 of tracking what I eat–I need to do better with recording calories and protein, though, but I’ve never stuck with this kind of resolution this long. It’s sobering.
  • This is day 8 of no soda. Man, I love Dr. Pepper.
  • I’m starting to wonder when I’ll even try 40 days of no social media or no Netflix. Not sure if I even can. How sad.
  • I’ve changed the “run ten miles 40 times” goal–which was far too ambitious to be realistic–to the much more sensible “run a 10k 40 times.” I’ve only done 4 of those since my last birthday, though, so I’m still way behind. I’ll try to add a 5th later today.
  • I’ve only relaxed in the bathtub eight times. Two behind schedule! I’ll add a 9th to that later today, after my 10k run :)
  • Twenty bike rides so far…but only 4 if I don’t count the ones at UNLV…
  • If I want to learn 40 Portuguese words a month, I’m already over that goal! According to Duolingo, I know over 600 words. Still, I’m not checking off this goal–I need consistent practice over time–the real goal is to become fluent. I’m averaging every other day for practice since December, but I need to step that up.
  • I’ve finished 12 books since my birthday, just slightly ahead of the goal.
  • Not sure why I specified “symphonies” in the list of goals, but any classical music will do. Actually, I’ve decided to do nothing but Haydn this year, and it’s been great. I recently heard his Piano Concerto in D major, and it was fantastic!
  • 12 albums from my youth listened to again, but only 4 new jazz and blues albums. Hmm.
  • I’ve eaten at nine new places so far. Mostly really great!
  • Last week I sent out 12 cards for Sunshine Snail Mail. I’ll do 5-10 more this month.
  • I’ve decided that my Simpsons goal will be achieved by re-watching all of seasons 4 and 5. Glorious!
  • This is day 15 of reading Calvin and Hobbes again. It seriously does get better as I get older!
  • Ten great movies with the kids so far, including a few Marvel movies, a nature documentary, a history documentary, and two black and white classics.
  • I’m finding it hard not say anything negative for long at all. Sarcasm comes much too naturally to me. I’ve had to start that one over three times already :(
  • I’m over halfway through 40 journal entries, but barely started any poetry. Not sure my heart’s really in that last one. Maybe it’ll end up being mostly limericks and haiku. We’ll see.
  • Last month, there were 17 goals that I hadn’t started yet at all. Now there are only nine!
  • This project would have been much easier when I was ten.

 

4 Great New Places For Mexican Food

One of my goals for the year I’m 40 is to eat at 40 new places. I’ve done six so far, and the last four have all been Mexican places, because I love me some Mexican food.

1. Taqueria El Buen Pastor

I pass this truck on the commute to work all the time, but never stopped by until recently. I grabbed a couple of cheap tacos–two for under five bucks–and loved them! Service was fast and friendly, place was clean, and the tacos were excellent! They even have a full condiment bar on the side. Highly recommended!

IMG_20171129_150757821.jpg

2. Rivas Mexican Grill

I went to the one on Aliante and 215–great place! I tried a fish taco here for the first time, and was surprised at how much I liked it. Plenty more of these in my future. Highly recommended!

IMG_20171202_132123408.jpg

3. Frijoles and Frescas

Continue reading