Thursday, March 20, 2014

How To Get Even When Your Husband Brings Home a Banjo

Banjo. I never thought I'd write that word with any sort of seriousness. And I certainly never thought I'd have one in my house.

Billy Redden

Let me start by saying that I love my husband dearly. Let me add that when I hear the word 'banjo', my mind conjures the scene in Deliverance where the spooky-looking hillbilly is sitting on his porch swing playing "Dueling Banjos" opposite Ronny Cox on guitar. It's a great scene, even with the banjo, but we all know where the movie goes after that, don't we?

I was dubious from the moment my husband mentioned wanting a banjo for trad jazz gigs (traditional jazz - think Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton) and hoped this was a phase that would soon pass. When I married a professional jazz musician, I understood what I was getting into. Smokey clubs, coming home in the wee small hours, endless practice, roadie duties, and tons of equipment. Guitars, double basses, a cello, a piano, amplifiers. All would be right with the universe as long as the musical-instrument-to-handbag-ratio remained in balance. Never, as I was pondering marital bliss, did I imagine that my husband would want to bring home a banjo.

Before we went in search of said instrument, he played a track of Chuck Wayne playing be-bop banjo on his album Morning Mist, which was bearable. In fairness, it was better than I expected, but still, it was a banjo. Off we went to Banjo Haven in Longview, Texas. The shop's awesome proprietor, Vinnie Mondello, senses my hesitation over having a banjo in the house, and assures me that the tenor banjo my husband has picked out is nothing like the banjo from Deliverance. (It looks the same to me, but I'm no expert.) Just to cement the deal, he tells me that things could be worse: my husband could want to play jazz accordion.


Point taken.

Martyn and the banjo

We're now the proud owners of a 1928 Vega Professional tenor banjo and my husband is delighted, as evidenced by the amount of time he's spent playing the thing and the equal amount of time I've spent with The Kinks blasting through my headphones. My husband usually plays jazz guitar (think Joe Pass, Barney Kessel, Jim Hall), which is a very mellow sound. This is in sharp contrast with the plinky-plinkness of the banjo.

It's been a few days now and I'm starting to thaw, but the whole banjo thing has been a shock to the system, so getting even on two fronts seems a reasonable response. First, the instrument-to-handbag-ratio requires re-balancing. Therefore, shopping.

Second, I've just decided to write a banjo playing jazz musician into my current book. Since I write crime fiction, chances are the banjo will be the first to die, and I'm pretty sure it'll be a violent death. (I can't kill the player now, can I? He's got gigs to play and handbags to buy.)

Anybody want to book a New Orleans' style jazz band with banjo player? Send me an email.

Thanks Vinnie!
(I suppose I should come clean. I'm not totally opposed to the banjo, but I am a selective listener (my husband is sounding pretty good, by the way, and he's taught me the first bar of "Dueling Banjos"). Check out "Stone Rollin' Home" by one of my favorite groups, The Sonny Walters Band, and listen to local bluegrass band The Blake Brothers - amazing guys and great musicians.)

photo credit: twm1340 via photopin cc
photo credit: MSH* via photopin cc

Saturday, March 15, 2014

In Pursuit of the Perfect #Tomato - #Sexy PVC Tomato Cage Update

Waaaay back in May of 2013, I wrote a blog post about building PVC cages to house my tomatoes, and promised to let you know if the time, money, and effort were worth it. Here we are, nearly the next spring, and I'm finally getting around to the update. This is probably the perfect time of year to write this post, because if you choose to go down the sexy PVC tomato cage route, it's a good time to gather your materials and start building to get a jump on this year's spring gardening.

The verdict, you ask? I loved the PVC tomato cages and they were oh so sexy. The only thing I would consider changing is making the arms (horizontal pieces) shorter, so the plants are held tighter. I cut them at 8 inches, but would consider making them 7 inches instead. The 8 inch arms make the cage 20 inches square, which is roomy. Seven inch arms would make a 16 inch square cage, which would be a little tighter. I hesitate to say I'd definitely make the arms shorter, because last summer was a hot one in Texas, and in a more hospitable year, the plants might be bushier, in which case the longer arms (as they are now) will be better.


One of the things I liked best about the PVC tomato cages was that I could tie twine to the arms to support droopy tomato branches until the plant was high enough that the branches could drape across the arms...

 ...and I could tie unwanted or damaged CDs to them to help frighten off the birds. (It's not such a good trick, really. The birds figure out pretty quickly that those flashing discs can't hurt them.)

The cages are surprisingly sturdy. I never lost one entirely, but a couple of arms did come loose during strong storms, or perhaps when a tubby raccoon tried to hoist himself up on the cage to snag a tomato. But those instances were easily fixed and the tomato plants weren't damaged.

I was really happy that the cages were so easy to take apart and store. The arms and legs literally twist off the crosses, elbows, and tees. 

For storage, I ended up grouping the legs from one cage together and tying them tightly with twine. These little bundles fit neatly on shelves or rafters in my shed. I dumped the arms in a big mineral lick tub the cows have cleaned out. 

I popped the elbows, tees, and crosses in buckets, and stored these and the mineral lick tub in the shed, too. Pretty easy, all in all, and they don't take up much room.

I built ten cages and used every one, and am thinking about building more. I'll try and constrain myself for this season, but I do love a good tomato, so who knows what'll happen next season?

Have you tried anything new with PVC in your garden recently?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Sweet Tea and A Visit with Southern Humorist Lucy Adams (@lucyadams)

Photo by Patrick Blount
I have the pleasure of visiting Southern author Lucy Adams' blog as her guest for the month of March! Lucy's kindly allowed me to share the incident that inspired the first Cass Elliot crime novel, THE DEVIL OF LIGHT. Grab a cup of coffee or, as we're getting closer to spring here in the South, a glass of sweet iced tea, and pop around to Lucy's blog to check out the story behind the story and read a brief excerpt from the book.

You haven't met Lucy Adams? She writes humorous books that give readers a sense of the Southern hometown, with all the achingly familiar hilarity that goes with it. Lucy's a true Southern woman - charming, intelligent, funny, and with a good dose of grit to keep the steel in her spine! Take a minute to visit Lucy on Amazon - the titles of her books tell you all you need to know about Lucy's sense of humor: IF MAMA DON'T LAUGH, IT AIN'T FUNNY and (my favorite) TUCK YOUR SKIRT IN YOUR PANTIES AND RUN.

You can follow Lucy on Google+ (+Lucy Adams) and on Twitter (@lucyadams).

As always, thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoy my visit with Lucy! (here)

Sunday, March 2, 2014

When God Laughs

Everybody I know has a busy life. I can't remember someone ever saying, "I've got too much time on my hands. I need to add something else to my schedule." Overcommitment seems to be our society's watchword these days. And unless you spend all your time in your mom's basement playing video games, I'll bet you know exactly what I mean.

Especially this time of year, with tax season in full swing, my life is busy, too. So I plan. (You know where this is headed, don't you?) Saturday was no exception. I worked until mid-afternoon, ate a quick lunch with my husband, then sent him off on a gig - baby always needs a new pair of shoes. My late afternoon and evening would involve a bit of potato and onion planting, followed by a blessed bout of undisturbed writing. Bliss, no?


Before the evening's festivities began, I headed out to check on one of the cows, #98. She'd had a calf a couple of days ago and was bellowing at the house. The rest of the herd had wandered off. Her calf wasn't in sight. Not unusual. Cows often 'hide' their very young calves to keep them safe so the momma can graze. While cows are very good at what they do, namely eating and having calves, they're not the brightest creatures on our beautiful planet. It's entirely feasible that #98 'told' her calf to go hide, then forgot where she hid him and was (pardon the expression) having a cow. I thought I might be able to scare him up and she'd go join the rest of the herd and we'd get a peaceful night's sleep.

I grabbed the shop keys and stepped out of the house, pulling the door closed behind me. You know the feeling, don't you? That visceral shot of panic when you know with absolute certainty that you are outside, your house keys are inside, and all the doors and windows are locked between you. 

I yanked on the door all the same.

No dice.

Guess what? My phone was safely inside, too.

At that moment, I knew what my carefully planned evening would look like: a bit of chasing around, looking for the calf; then yanking on the locked doors; feeding #98 an extra ration; then yanking on the locked doors; searching for the spare key we don't keep outside; then yanking on the locked doors; and finally giving in and taking the utility vehicle to our nearest neighbors, praying they're home, and borrowing a phone to call my mom. They were home, she was home, my husband came and got me after he got home, and I finally got to go back home.

#98 and her calf
I'm not sure when it happened while all this was going on, but I felt a ripple through the universe and knew that God was laughing. And everything worked out. Despite my interrupted plans, I enjoyed the evening very much. I rarely get to just sit and talk to my parents, and we had a good time.

Here we are Sunday morning, and all is well. #98 and her calf are reunited. I'm writing blog posts. My husband is practicing for a gig we're headed to in a few minutes. We'll have a nice lunch out, and then I'll come home and do some writing.


Here I go again, making plans. I wonder if God's gearing up for another laugh...


photo credit: The World According To Marty via photopin cc

photo credit: Viewminder via photopin cc