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January 2012

Old Time Music jam session -- John, Amy and Tom playing "Soldier's Joy"

While attending college at Virginia Tech I discovered old time music.  I quickly realized I absolutely HAD to learn how to play clawhammer banjo which is the style of banjo played in old time music.  I was lucky to find Mac Traynham (also a student at VT at the time) who would become my banjo teacher. 

I was not an easy student to work with but Mac was patient and always positive and encouraging. The banjo was my first instrument and I knew almost nothing about music.  It took me forever to learn how to tune my banjo (I had to train my ear).  Daily practice for six months is what it took for me to learn my first tune.

I was challenged learning how to play the banjo all by myself.  After learning my first tune ("June Apple") I was excited to play it with other musicians.  This is when I went to a deeper level of learning about my instrument and the music.

When I first started playing with other people I regularly rushed the tempo due to my excitement.  It seemed like an impossible task to play in time with a metronome. I so focused on me that I had trouble paying attention to others.  Playing in time with others required a new level of sensitivity.  I had to listen to my own playing while listening to how everyone else was playing.  I began to realize that I needed the same skill in everyday life.  I was too self-centered and always thinking about what I was going to say when someone else was done talking.  Playing music helped me be patient and listen. 

Old Time Music is dance music.  A long time ago (before iPods even) fiddle's and banjos provided the sound track to life in the Southern Appalachians Mountains.  Old Time Music  is the predecessor to bluegrass music.  Bluegrass musicians will "take a break" during a song much like jazz musicians do - - featuring a particular musician.  Old Time Music is different.  Old Time musicians don't take "breaks".  The goal is to create a driving, danceable sound.  The experience, for many musicians, is like a meditation.  The meditative nature of the music requires me to address (experientially) my feeling "separate" but realizing the greater truth that I am part of the "whole".  This experience has helped me become a better team player in other areas of my life.

One of the things I love most about playing this music is the opportunity to meet wonderful people and make music with them.  I've made music with people from all walks of life.  Our love of the music is what brings us together.

On July 11, 2011 I had the opportunity to play music with my friends John Engle (fiddle) and Amy Hobbs (guitar) at a camp that serves autistic kids and adults.  Luckily, one of the camp staff took some video while we were playing.  The tune is called "Soldiers Joy" and is sometimes called "Love Somebody" (a tune in the key of D).

I hope you enjoy it!


How to convert a Lego storage box into a Lego Lunchbox

My son has always loved playing with Legos so it didn't take much to convince him to allow me to convert one of his old Lego containers into a lunchbox. 

I needed closed cell foam to act as insulation and I found a 1/4 x 20 x 15 sheet ($6.25) of it at my local outdoor gear shop. I was able to cut six pieces out of this one piece of foam.

Originally I thought of gluing the foam into the container but quickly decided that would turn into a mess when it was time to wash it.  I ended up sewing a sleeve to hold the four side panels and the bottom panel. 

I used waterproof nylon (not "ripstop" as stated in the video) to sew the sleeve.  The original size of the nylon was 18.5 x 26 inches.  I sewed the sleeve so that I could remove all the foam and wash the sleeve.  The sleeve fits snugly inside the Lego container.

The lunchbox handle is made from one inch wide flat nylon webbing and is attached to the Lego box using a pop rivet tool.  I have a feeling this attachment point may fail quickly but we'll see.

I've included a video and extra photos (below) if you're interested in more details.


Creating the Lego Lunchbox...

Here's what the Lego box looked like before I started.




Closed cell foam sheet measuring 1/4 x 20 x 15 was able to supply all the material I needed for the insulation.  You'll notice the four side panels have a keystone shape - - they are 8.25 inches tall and 6 inches wide at the top and 5.5 inches wide at the bottom.  The small square is the bottom and the large square is the top (just under the lid).


I needed to leave gaps in the insulation to allow for the folding fabric sleeve.


Sewing the sleeve.




Completed sleeve which hold the insulation panels. Notice bottom flap is sewn to one side panel.  All foam pieces can be removed so the sleeve can be washed easily.




The handle is one inch wide flat nylon webbing.  I attached the webbing to the box using a pop rivet tool.


This view is the under side of the box and shows a flat aluminum bar intended to reinforce the attachment point of the lunchbox strap.



Check out this cool contraption my brother-in-law created.  It helps keep Lego pieces from going everywhere.  Super useful. My son loves this thing.