Sunday, July 29, 2012

#4 - The harp and I

When I was in elementary school, some of my favorite books to read were The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander.  I wished I might grow up to be Eilonwy - or at least be able to visit the lands of Prydain which were based on old Welsh legends and have some adventures there.  Unfortunately, neither of those wishes came true ... perhaps I will someday visit Wales, but I would be very surprised if my visit included finding long forgotten magic swords or travels with the Fair Folk.  And, somewhere along the line, the plan of becoming a beautiful outspoken princess with red-gold hair and a shaky ability to cast spells was discarded in favor of just being myself.
My much-cherished copies of the Prydain books - given to me by my sister Diana.
However, one part of the stories stuck with me - Fflewddur Fflam's harp.  This was no ordinary harp (of course, Fflewddur was not an ordinary bard - just a king who liked to travel, couldn't pass the bardic knowledge tests, and sometimes stretched the truth); it could virtually play itself and the strings would break if its owner told a lie. 

So, for my 29th birthday, I bought a harp.  Specifically a celtic-type, low head lever harp just like the one in the books (without the magic, of course).   I purchased it from Stoney End in Red Wing, MN, and I'm going to give them a plug here because ALL of my transactions with them have been fantastic - they build the harps onsite and are very patient with beginners with lots of questions.
My harp shortly after I purchased it

When my harp arrived, I had never touched a harp before or even watched one being played for more than a few minutes.  I did have the advantage of being able to read music - I had a couple of years of piano lessons when I was young (wish I would have stuck with them longer), played flute through high school (plus oboe one year when our band director was feeling ambitious and wanted a wider variety of instruments), and have sung in choirs off and on since I was about 5.  I quickly found that harp was my favorite instrument ... the hand position feels very natural to me and, as long as it is tuned, it sounds beautiful even if you hit the wrong string.

I could soon play easy tunes - including ones with both hands.  The problem was finding time to advance past my beginner's level.  Playing for a length of time does require some regular practice or your fingers get sore quickly.  Plus, the old "use it or lose it" maxim definitely applies.  I had hoped that this goal would help me with progressing to more complex songs.  I'm not sure that it did ... I've found that if I'm doing something as an obligation (even a promise to myself), my mindset is different than if I'm just trying to explore/enjoy.  So, playing regularly has paid off with the songs I already did play, but I didn't try very many new ones because my practice sessions have been shorter.  I will be going back to a "playing for fun" schedule as my time permits - I hope though that my practice sessions will be more frequent than they were before I started working on this goal.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

#56 - Taking the train

I've always loved the descriptions of traveling by train in the books I've read.  I can imagine the thrill of seeing the American West by steam train - perhaps viewing bison from the windows - or the adventure of riding in a Pullman sleeper car and awakening to an entirely different scene than where you fell asleep.  I'm not an engine fanatic by any means ... no model railroading for me ... just the thought that taking a train means an adventure.
North Shore Scenic Railroad - the diesel engine, open air car, and part of the converted boxcar that serves as a concession stand.

With this in mind, I invited some of my young friends - Silas and Oren - along with their mom - my good friend Amanda to take a day outing to ride the North Shore Scenic Railroad based in Duluth.  I had often seen this train go down the shore when I lived in Duluth many years back, but never had a chance to try it out.
Oren and Amanda at the playground

Silas "drives" the ship at the playground.

We started our day in Duluth with a leg-stretching stop at the playground near the Great Lakes Aquarium.  After this, Silas wanted to take me out (he had a pocket full of change) to Red Lobster - I suspect that the lobster tank was the main attraction since we spent quite a bit of time examining its inhabitants.
Waiting in line to board - the double decker car is in the background.

Oren and Silas are ready to start their adventure.
We got to the Depot station just in time to join the line for the train ... there were several cars to choose from.  We started in the double decker coach - in the top naturally.  The guide said this car was air-conditioned; however, at the top it was still fairly warm.  We had great views of Lake Superior as we went along.  I was also surprised at the number of people on the lakewalk that stopped to wave as we went by.  The boys were very excited - Oren in particular.
I can't recall the name, but the tour operator said this ship is currently the largest on the Great Lakes.

Oren acts as super ship spotter while Silas points out the smaller craft.
One of the things that was particularly evident from our elevated view was the debris left from the flooding that Duluth experienced last month.  Though the city has done a great job of cleaning up, you can still see along the creeks and culverts bits of trees (some quite large) that were violently washed to the lake in the storm.  (Unfortunately, my camera batteries gave out before we reached the Lester River, so I don't have a shot of this.)  Another viewing highlight was all of the ships in the harbor - both pleasure craft and shipping vessels.

 The trip lasted 90 minutes - including time spent on the siding as the engine moved from one end of the train to the other to head back to the station.  We used this time to explore some of the other cars  - including a trip to the concession car which has been converted from a boxcar.  I have to admit that when reading the Boxcar Children books as a child, I always imagined the boxcar as much smaller - no wonder they thought it would make a good house.  We spend the last part of our trip in the most elegant (and coolest) car watching Duluth slip by.

After some time exploring the adjacent museum and the engines and cars you could actually enter and explore (my favorite was the incredibly high seat in the snowplow engine), we were all ready for the trip home.
Our drive home featured some interesting cloud formations!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

#28 - Beating all the levels in an electronic game

First, I am so glad after a two month gap to FINALLY be able to post about completing something!  I am still working on the long term goals daily, but, as I mentioned this spring, my time for this project is limited at the moment.  And now, on to what I finished.

Originally goal #28 was to beat all of the levels in Zoo Tycoon; however, I switched computers about a year ago and lost all of the progress (and it was significant) that I had made in this game.  Not wanting to put in all the time with a deadline to regain the levels I lost, I made the decision to switch to ZooWorld - a social game on Facebook. That was going fairly well - I actually made it up to level 99 out of 105.  And then I hit the dreaded flowering dogwood tree!  To earn this particular plant, you need to have your ZooWorld friends send you stuff ... specifically trees ... even more specifically a certain type of tree that you can use to get better trees eventually leading to the flowering dogwood tree. Now I hate pestering people for gifts - even of the cost-free online variety - and not many of my Facebook friends are into games.  I started looking online for tips from other people.  What I found was depressing ... one person had worked out that if you could get one tree a day from a friend, you would work up to the flowering dogwood in 18 years.  Yes, you read that correctly - YEARS!  I checked the math; she was right.  I was averaging about one tree a week; I decided it wasn't worth it.

However, I still wanted to finish all the levels in some game.  Enter my latest piece of technology - a Kindle Fire.  In the past two months, I completed all of the levels of not one but two games.  The first - Enchanted Kingdom : Elisa's Adventure - was made up of many smaller match and switch type games.  There was a nominal plot, and I am happy to report that Elisa now is peacefully ruling her kingdom after discovering her true parents.  The second game - Paranormal Agency - was a simple find the hidden in plain sight object game.  Both were free; both were easy to play for 20 minutes at a stretch before bed.  My original game of Zoo Tycoon still waits for me to go back and regain my progress, but without any particular pressure this time.