16 October 2008

Book Review: Finding & Buying Your Place in the Country

Ok, here we go. I'm reviewing a book I haven't finished reading.

Finding & Buying Your Place in the Country, by Les and Carol Scher, covers some of the same ground as How To Find Your Ideal Country Home by Gene GeRue. But where Gene tells you what to look for, Les and Carol are your angels telling you what to look OUT for.

There are forms, checklists, anecdotes, maps, diagrams, charts. There are addresses, websites, and email addresses. They tell you where the rainfall is, where the good soil is, and where the toxic waste dump is. And they tell you how to get detailed information about the land YOU want.

They give you advice on how to proceed without involving lawyers, and tell you when you absolutely MUST have one. They give you sample contracts, deeds, and checklists. They abound in good, sensible advice on how to find property, evaluate it, and negotiate the price. They inform you about water and easement rights, zoning issues, and eminent domain. There's even a chapter on specifically-Canadian issues.

The book is so packed with information that you have to take it at a slow crawl. I checked it out from the library, renewed it once, and had to return it unfinished because someone else had placed a hold on it. So, whoever you are, good luck! I hope you find your place in the country!

Finding & Buying Your Place in the Country, by Les and Carol Scher, is available new and used. You can even read some of it on Google Books.

If you are seriously looking back-to-the-land, buy both Finding & Buying Your Place in the Country and How To Find Your Ideal Country Home.

09 October 2008

Music Is Life

Maybe I should say something about the things I claim I'm interested in.

I've mentioned singing, playing flute, and performing with the Bright Hills PAGE. But the flute is only one of the instruments I play.

I was born in a very musical family. My father played trombone, my mother piano; my sister played clarinet, one brother played tenor saxophone, and the other brother is a professional musician who started on baritone, moved to euphonium and valve trombone, and then to slide trombone. At one point, as a music teacher, he could get a scale out of just about anything, from strings and woodwinds to brass.

I played the stereo.

We had the requisite recorder lessons in 4th grade, and the "concert" where we played Little Brown Jug and Caisson Song. Is it a concert if no one plays together?

They tried to get me into school band on trumpet, but the band didn't need another trumpet. So they asked me to play French horn, and while it's a PRETTY instrument, it took more skill and more effort than I was willing to exercise in 5th grade.

That was it for formal music lessons until 11th grade. Then I joined the Junior Choir at my high school, and moved into the Acapella Choir (a misnomer, we usually had an accompanist) in 12th grade.

Around that time, I began banging on the piano in the basement. I wasn't PLAYING piano--I just wanted to have some harmonies around the vocal line, and the easiest way was to use the guitar chords written above the melody line, or around the lyrics in the songbook. After awhile, I realized it would be easier to play the chords using my thumb, middle finger, and pinky than to use my index, middle and ring fingers. Then I realized I could play a bass note with my left hand. And exposure to the chords began to show me how they were constructed, and how they related to each other.

Then I went to college, and after my freshman year decided that since I was playing guitar chords, I should get a guitar. After all, pianos are just not PORTABLE.

About 1984, I began writing songs. At first, they were piano-based; I could play almost any chord at this point. But as I became more comfortable on guitar, I wrote and played more for guitar than keyboard. I was in the church choir through Easter 1986, took a semester of guitar lessons that didn't help much (classical lessons, folk guitar :-( ), and stuck with piano, guitar and voice for the next TWENTY years.

Now, I'd been in other church choirs in this time, and played piano and guitar for various events. My professional brother even PAID me to provide guitar accompaniment for a series of evening Lenten services at his church, so I guess I'm a professional musician, too.

Around Christmas, 2006, my Uncle John came into possession of a Yamaha PSR36 keyboard which a neighbor was throwing out. This is an 80's vintage synth with full-size keys and a MIDI interface. I got it as a Christmas gift :-) And I won the church talent show at New Year's, which bought me a synth stand and some MIDI cables.

Come September 2007, I went to the Maryland Renaissance Festival, and visited the House of Musical Traditions shop, where I bought my flute, a bamboo D instrument by Windwood Flutes. Then, having read the accompanying pamphlet, which stated that this instrument was played with the same fingering as a pennywhistle, I bought a D pennywhistle (one octave higher!) from a local Music & Arts store.

Late in October 2007, I attended the Bright Hills SCA event, "T&T". Every year, the letters stand for something different--I don't remember what they were in 2007. It was a dog-friendly event with heated dorms, which was a good thing--it was a rainy weekend. I was sitting in the feast hall, playing my flute, guitar and soprano recorder (not at the same time--I wish I could get 2 more arms and another mouth installed), when in came a lady with a LARGE harp. Now, this is not a picture of Bruno the harp; but it is the largest available instrument from the same manufacturer. Bruno is walnut, 5 feet tall, and has 38 strings to the comparatively-diminutive 36 in the picture.

The lady was Lady Yseulte Trevelyn, who loves the sound of flute and harp, and happens to live about 3 blocks from me. She invited me to join the musician's guild of Bright Hills, which met every Sunday night to play and talk. And since she had to carry Bruno anyway, she would chauffeur me! How could I refuse?

While browsing the website of House of Musical Traditions, I came across an instrument that intrigued me. It looked like a cross between a clarinet and a recorder, a keyless reed instrument called a Xaphoon. I bought myself one for my early-December birthday. I still can't get out of the first octave, but it CAN be played in 2+ octaves.

Then for Christmas, my mother gave me a Yamaha alto recorder.

You'd think that would be enough for anyone. After all, I've got 5 woodwinds in 3 different keys, guitar and keyboard. But wait! There's more!

BACK at the Maryland Renaissance Festival in 2006, I saw another instrument that I wanted to try. It took a year and a half, but I am also the proud owner of a Bowed Psaltery from Lark In the Morning. Again, I can't play it very well-YET.

And if you looked at the photos from Chalice of the Sun God, you saw me playing a harp. Well, not really. The harp DOES get played, very simple chords, to give me the starting pitch for my songs. But it is more a prop than an instrument, won't stay in tune, and sounds -plunky- at best. Of course, I play it just barely better than "Not at all." It's not my harp, anyway; I am currently holding it on behalf of the Bright Hills Performing Arts Guild, Extraordinaire!

One last: Yseulte says that I am an "instrument junkie". Who could argue? But as a joke, she brought me a $5 souvenir "Indian flute" from New Mexico after a business trip. This thing had too many holes, too close together, in the wrong places. It's made of bamboo, which is not native to the American Southwest. And it's made in PERU for sale as a gen-yoo-ine Indian flute in NM.

But I find a way to make noise out of everything that surrounds me. I did some experimenting and found that if I closed off 4 of the 7 existing holes (duct tape saves the day!), it whistled the first several notes of a diatonic scale. Then I drilled 3 more holes, and managed to effect a full octave. Of course, it plays in Bb, which isn't much use for me. But I keep it in my kit, mostly to annoy Yseulte.

The last year has been a wild ride for me, musically. Let's see what happens next!

07 October 2008

Book Review: How To Find Your Ideal Country Home

In How To Find Your Ideal Country Home, Gene GeRue takes you step-by-step through the process of identifying your ideal location. As a one-time real estate agent, he focuses on "Location, location, location!" as the three most important aspects of your place in the country.

In the discussion of terrain, climate, water rights, mineral rights, culture and culture shock, access, taxes, pollution, and more, Gene shows how to narrow your search to the specific regions most likely to meet your goals. Then he piles on the advice:
  • Don't fall in love until AFTER the sale;
  • The real estate agent isn't working for YOU;
  • Practice the 10/1 Rule: Visit ten properties, rank them by your preference, then buy the first one you find that is BETTER than your highest rank;
  • Know who has the mineral, water and timber rights;
  • Buying next to Federal land guarantees NOTHING.
This book, carefully read and religiously applied, will help you zero in on your ideal country home. All you have to do is be HONEST with yourself: what are you looking for? What do you want?

The copy I read came via interlibrary loan; used copies are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google Shopping, and probably every used book store on the web.