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What I was thinking about today was the power of “no.” It’s a simple word. Two letters. One syllable. And yet, it is the one of the most powerful words in the English vocabulary. When it is backed up by action, it can change the trajectory of a life, topple totalitarian regimes, set the powerful on the run.

I suppose that’s one of the things I love most about Wendell Berry’s poem, “The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer” (watch him read it here:  That mad farmer is a kindred spirit.   He knows something about the power of “no.” And then he takes it a step further, and does the exact opposite.

I’ve been thinking “no” a lot lately, and saying it when I get the chance. No, I’m not going to say that. No, I’m not going to see that. No, I’m not going to be sucked into that stupid argument. No, I’m not going to be sold to, marketed to, or pandered to.  No, I’m not going to be bullied by some know-it-all. No, I’m not going to be ignored by some megalithic internet corporation. No, I’m not going to  go along with some stupid pseudo Marxist ideology espoused by some commission of halfwits, or believe what some federal department is espousing. . .today.


Another powerful word is “why.”  Something to think about as I slog of to the city tomorrow to take care of the people I like, deal with ones I don’t, and fight off various dragons, and demons.



TV via “Peasantvision”or how we got rid of DirectTV

antennaA few weekends ago, we finally dropped our satellite TV service with DirectTV.  I’d been agitating to do it for a few months. Notification of yet another price increase finally convinced my wife, Sandy to go along.

Ours is a fairly typical story.  We were paying for a bunch of channels we never watched, a handful of other channels we only rarely watched.  Prices were always inching up. Yearly cost for the privilege of having all those channels we never watched?  Nearly $1,000.

I’d reviewed the options, considered SlingTV or changing providers.  Comcast is the other option in our area, and we’d heard enough horror stories about them not to consider it.

That left internet-only options or a combination of new school, and old school. We went with the combination, “peasantvision”, TV via the antenna I installed on the roof, augmented with Hulu and NetFlix.

Turns out, the hard part was actually wading through the crap DirectTV makes you put up with when you cancel their service.  The actual conversion to broadcast was fairly easy. Here’s a summary of what I did.  Start to finish I spent about 2 hours.

  1. Start with this. Google “TV reception maps” and use one of the results to check signal strength in your area.  Check with friends and neighbors who have gone cable/satellite sober and see what they’ve done. If you have plenty of options, move on to step 2.
  2. Buy an antenna.  I paid Amazon $30 for a roof antenna. Again, plenty of choices here so read reviews and check with friends and neighbors who have already done what you’re doing.
  3. Install the antenna on the roof. For me, this was fairly easy. I took down the old dish (DirectTV didn’t want it back), and bolted the antenna to the already existing stand on my roof. I also reused the already installed coaxial cable, using a “splitter” to take the one line from the antenna and split the signal for the lines going to my TVs.  I pointed the antenna in the direction of the broadcast sources.
  4. Back inside the house, I installed signal boosters with each TV.  The coaxial lines from the antenna (formerly from the dish) then plugged into the “in” port on my signal booster. I ran another short length of cable from the “out” port to the antenna port on the back of my TVs.
  5. Last step, I then used the TV’s setup to scan for channels.  It found 49 of them. Wow.

That was it. We use Chromecast to watch Hulu and Netflix. There are other options that work just as well.  We’re now getting all the major broadcast networks including PBS, and a bunch of others.

The Tao of the Trombone


The other day I realized that I’ve been playing the trombone for nearly 50 years.  And during that time, it hasn’t just been my musical instrument of choice, but a teacher.  It began shaping me when I was ten-years-old, and continues to do its work even now. In our age of distraction, it reminds me every time I sit down to play or practice that the rewards from music-making increase the more time and attention I give to my horn. I can’t play for five minutes, flit onto something else, and have any hope in maintaining my chops, let alone improve them and my technique.

In other words, devoting myself to the trombone has taught me the value of discipline and delayed gratification, the value of hard and persistent effort over not just days and weeks, but months and years. I’ve learned that even mediocrity takes effort. And finally, I’ve been taught the joy of being part of a collective effort – a duo, trio, quartet, combo, band, orchestra and so – sublimating and blending my individual contribution into a large whole can at times produce something that is transcendent.

The goal is beauty. How many other activities can claim that?

In part, I suppose, I believe in God because of music. When I’ve been playing my trombone, I’ve had moments where I’ve been part of something that has been close to perfect.  At those rare moments, I’ve felt something akin to an electric charge race up my spine and been nearly overwhelmed with joy.

I suppose some scientist could explain my feelings away, dismissing it as a byproduct of some hormone or another triggered by something or other.

Bullshit, I say.

I’m convinced that those feelings are God-inspired, and in some strange mystical way, at those moments, I’m within shouting distance of the outskirts of heaven.

What I’ve also discovered is that music isn’t the only way to get there.   I’ve had the same feelings of joy rowing in an eight-man shell, racing across Lake Washington’s bone smooth water in the pink light of early morning, oars rising and falling to a cosmic rhythm. It is still a mystery to me how playing a trombone can be like rowing a Pocock-built racing shell or climbing a mountain.

I have some ideas, but there’s also joy in contemplating the mystery.






Do-It-Yourself mini-greenhouse

I typically start a few plants from seed in the early spring: squash, broccoli and cauliflower, cabbage, sunflowers, corn, basil, and whatever else strikes my fancy.

Because I don’t have a dedicated greenhouse, it’s always a bit of scramble to find warm, sunny and safe spaces for my seeds to germinate.

costco container

This year, I’m going to use recycled Costco roasted chicken containers as mini-greenhouses.  I should be able to crowd five or six compressed peat pots into each one, and because they containers are fairly portable, it’ll be easy to move them around, as needed.

I’ll let you know how it works out.


The Christmas Trombone

After a decade long hiatus, a combination of Christmas carols and my youngest son, Sam, are what rekindled my love affair with the trombone.

Here’s how it began. I started playing the trombone when I was 10 years old. I played steadily from 5th grade through my senior year in high school, and was fortunate to have a series of wonderful teachers and instructors. My high school years were salvaged by my time in the music building. I often played 3 hours per days, alternating between the orchestra, jazz band and concert band with practice on my own in the evenings.

But after high school, I sold my trombone, decided to switch instruments to the mandolin, and that was that.

Christmas 1990 changed it all.

Sam was just a toddler, and it was my turn to give him a bath.  Not a particularly onerous task. I’d fill the tub up, careful not to fill it up to high, toss in some toys,  and then let him poly wog around in the water for a while. Then it was time to dry him off, and get him ready for bed.  On that particular evening, however, I did something different.  I’d found an old trombone in a back closet that somehow had survived half a dozen moves.  It was the beater instrument I used in marching band, the bell cratered with dents like a brass moon, and a slide that was about as smooth as a whiskered face. On impulse, I put the bell and slide together and then twisted in the mouthpiece.  I took my seat on the toilet (toilet down, of course), and began a Christmas concert for my toddler son still in the tub.

I was nowhere near the musician I’d been years before, but muscle memory is a wonderful thing, and I’ve always had a good ear. I picked out Jingle Bells, and then moved onto other simple Christmas Carols, mellow notes of the trombone enriched by the wonderful acoustics of our bathroom.

That was enough. I was hooked once again.

Over the next few months, I managed to track down and then buy back my old trombone, and as we added more babies to the family over the next few years, I continued to occasionally serenade an audience of one toddler in the tub.

Sam, Marieka and Luke are adults now.  And I continue to play my trombone, and at Christmas time, I play carols and I always remember those concerts in the bathroom I gave long ago.

I am about to add to those memories. My grandson arrives with my daughter and son-in-law on New Years Eve.  It will be the end of a long series of flights from Rota, Spain. I imagine my grandson is going to need a bath sometime during his stay with us.  I’m sure you can guess where this is going. . . I’m already looking forward to resurrecting my bathroom concerts for special toddlers!


Back to the Future: Safety Razors


I suppose I could get away with “not” doing it if I was one of those ruggedly handsome guys you see on TV who somehow make needing a shave look cool and manly. But I can’t carry it off.

When I don’t shave, I just look ragged and unkempt. If I don’t shave and wear my favorite moth-eaten wool sweater, I look like a bum. So, I shave.

For the past few years, I’ve used one of those super deluxe, gazillion bladed shaving systems that make my face smooth as a baby’s butt . That’s what the advertising promises. You’d have to ask my wife if it delivers.

The shaving itself using one of these examples of modern technology is fairly risk free and not without minor benefits in addition to baby smooth skin.  When I’m in a hurry, for example, I can skip the shaving cream and quickly scrap away my bristles with nary a scratch, cut or abrasion.

But what’s always bothered me about this kind of razor is the cost of the replacement cartridges (I suppose calling them this instead of blades is one way to make me feel like I’m getting more value here than I actually am).  That’s where Gillette has me and my fellow suckers by the short hairs. Depending upon how many replacements I get in the packet, and whether I buy generic or name brand, it can run over $30. And though I only buy replacements a couple of times each year, that’s still $60 and for me that’s real money.

Recently, however, I discovered that there was another way.  This new way did mean going back to the future, but I must confess to finding that kind of appealing.   After consulting with a couple of coworkers who are also members of the League of Manly Men, I found and then purchased an old fashioned double-edged safety razor from (Here’s a link to it.)

I’ll never make enough money to afford a German automobile, but by God I can proudly say that I now shave with a German-made safety razor.  It isn’t quite as risk free as my modern razor, er, I mean, shaving system, but slowing down and taking a bit more time when I shave isn’t all bad. It also means I’m required to  use shaving cream or soap when I shave, but again, slowing down the process, taking my time, being more deliberate and refusing to hurry or multi-task with at least one activity in my life isn’t a bad thing.

And I’m saving a little money.

Even with blades, I bought the whole kiboddle for under $45.   Replacement blades are a mere $5.  I’ll pay myself back in less than a year, and after that, it is a couple of extra $20 bills in my wallet every year. Even better, I’ve managed to break away from the Gillette cartel.

Back to the future. I like it.

A 70-year-old fan of “The Captain’s Dog”

Occasionally I get emails from readers of my stories. I never know what to expect when I open them.  Most start out with a compliment or two but some go on from there, pivoting on that wonderful word, “but.” I don’t typically read anything after that. I don’t need the aggravation.  Of course, I don’t mind factual corrections, or serious questions about why I have a character in the story do or say one thing versus something else — responding to those kinds of questions are fun. But some critic pointing out a perceived typo here or a dangling something or other there reminds me a bit of the fat mom or dad at a school track meet screaming for their kid to run faster. I mean, really?  You who would keel over with a cardiac if you tried to run 25 meters are really going to stand there and do that?  To those that like to play gotcha, well, my typical thought is, “Get a life.”  

But I do get the occasional sweet email from someone who makes opening up all those other emails worth the risk.  Here’s one that greeted me this morning. Thank you Mrs. Hendricks!

I quite loved your much too short story.

Being an animal lover who has had many wonderful canine companions in my 70 years this brief story brought to mind my 4th grade teacher Mrs. Dothage who first got me deeply interested in our area history. I lived just a mile or so from the area of the Missouri River where Lewis and Clark staged their departure. I later attended the first high school west of the Mississippi……….in it’s 3rd location. At 16 I worked in a building that had originally been Pierre Charbonneau’s fur trading post and only blocks away from the first Missouri Statehouse.
My home state is rich in history as is yours. After graduation and marriage, my husbands military career took us all over the world and finally back to TX. Each place we lived offered rich volumes of local lore, world history, and tons of fun learning about our new homes.
This is a perfect book to share with my school aged grandchildren this Thanksgiving!

Jeanne Hendricks    

Click here if you’d like to read about the story.