2018 Reading Challenge – Update #1



In case you missed it and are curious, the details of this year’s reading challenge can be found here. As in past years, each category calls for a separate book, so you cant’s use the same book to fulfill two or more categories. So saying, here is my first update on the books I’ve read so far.

Forests of the Night

Forests of the Night by David Stuart Davies is the mystery I chose to start the year. It is set in London during World War II. Due to an accident during the protagonist’s military training, he never saw action, and was unable to return to his previous employment. He has set himself up as a private detective. He is hired by a couple to find their daughter. His case soon turns into a murder investigation. As in most mysteries, his personal and professional life merge. I enjoyed this book, which was the first in a series of books. There is a lot of detail about the hardships of living in London during the war. I would recommend this book.


Profiles in Courage

Profiles In Courage by John F. Kennedy was my second book of the year, and was first published in the 1950’s. I first read this book in 1965. It was required reading for all incoming freshmen at Indiana University that year, as I recall. The then Senator Kennedy won a Pulitzer Prize for this book in 1957. President Kennedy’s assassination was still fresh in our memories, so I doubt if many students shirked that requirement. It was only years later that I heard that most of the writing was done by Theodore Sorensen. The book is about the courage shown by seven different Senators who voted contrary to the opinion of their party and constituents, for what the Senator believed was in the best interests of the country. Their actions often caused them to lose subsequent elections. It isn’t something you see in these days. I wish more politicians today were as courageous.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web

The Girl In The Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz is an authorized continuation of the Millennium series conceived and started by Stieg Larsson. I chose it as my Part of a Series choice. Larsson died after finishing the third book in the series. There are many people who believe that nobody else could or should write about Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomqvist, but the publishers obviously disagree. I have to admit that most attempts to carry on a series after the death of the original author seem to lack something for me. The most obvious examples for me are the James Bond and Sherlock Holmes stories. Nobody who followed Ian Fleming and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle caught the heroes as well as far as I’m concerned. Saying that, I enjoyed this book. Some of the character reactions seemed off, but for the most part I have no trouble accepting this book into the Millennium series.


Swords and Scoundrels

Swords and Scoundrels by Julia Knight was the book I read as my Science Fiction or Fantasy selection. The book falls into genre of Sword & Sorcery; and it has plenty of both. The two main protagonists, Vocho and Kacha, are former members of the Duelist Guild. Both are excellent swordsmen; each looks out for the other; each has secrets; and each has weaknesses. I enjoyed reading this book. Since it is the first volume in a trilogy, I will be reading the other two books as time provides. It is difficult to read everything that I want to read because I try to read a variety of types of books for the challenge. I’ve done this to myself.



Numero Zero

Numero Zero by Umberto Eco is my choice for a book written in the 2010’s. It was Eco;’s last published novel before his death in 2016. He revisited a familiar topic, conspiracy theories. As is often the case, I find myself wondering how much of the theory is right and how much is wrong…or is there coincidence involved. This novel is shorter than any other book I’ve read by Eco, but it still full of densely written lists and transitions from one event to the next. I’ll admit that I occasionally scanned or even skipped over entire paragraphs. But in spite of that quibble, I found the book quite enjoyable. Reading Umberto Eco is well worth your time.


A look back


While out driving one morning

It is still winter, but we have had some warm sunny days lately. I took this picture while returning home from the library a few days ago.


A friend of mine recently moved to Cologne (Köln), Germany (Deutschland). She has been posting pictures, and sending me pictures that she has taken in the short time she has been there. I must admit to a wave of nostalgia sweeping over me when I started looking at those photos. I’ve written before about being stationed in Heidelberg when I was in the military. Some of those memories popped back into my mind.

I decided that rather than just jumping into my writing, I should first go back and look at everything that I had previously posted. I found that a) I hadn’t mentioned Heidelberg in a post for nearly five years, b) one of the few stories I mentioned was about drinking wine with a guy with whom I was stationed, and c) when I did mention Heidelberg it was mainly in relation to music albums that I bought there. By the way, writing about music was originally a focus of Classical Gasbag.

In this post I want to expand on my story about drinking wine with my buddy. As I mentioned before, my friend’s name was, and perhaps still is, Lou. When we were able, and when the weather permitted, we would walk to the student section of downtown Heidelberg, buy a bottle of wine, and cross the bridge to sit on the bank of the Neckar River.

Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, was said to love the beauty of the Neckar River and Neckar Valley. I agree that the valley is beautiful, but when I was in Heidelberg, the Neckar was one of the most polluted rivers that I had ever seen. Lou and I, however, weren’t as much interested in the river as with the coeds who came to the river bank to work on their tans.

But we also spent the time passing the bottle back and forth while we talked about the state of the world. In our case, the world revolved around the war in Vietnam and rock and roll. We talked about what we would do when we got out of the army. We talked about the girls we had been dating when we were shipped to Germany. And we occasionally talked about politics. I’m sure that our conversation became more profound as we neared the bottom of the bottle.

By the way, the wine we chose was not a wonderful Riesling, but rather a cheap bottle of strawberry flavored wine that Lou introduced into my life. I guess you could say that it was a German version of Boone Farm. What were we thinking?

My Crazy Idea

Politics & Recipes

I am sure that all of you who live in the U.S., and probably many who live outside of the U.S, are wondering about our current gun laws and what can be done to limit or end all of the shootings that occur here. The most recent  shooting to gain national attention occurred February 14th in Parkland, Florida.

Wayne LaPierre

I’ve mentioned before that we should listen closely to the students who are giving voice to their concerns, and who are offering solutions to the growing problem of shootings. I echo their opinions. And yet, The NRA, headed by Wayne LaPierre, and President Trump have suggested an  alternative solution. Simply stated, they want to have teachers to carry guns in order to shoot, and presumably kill, people who are intent on killing students and faculty. That sounds simple enough. Or perhaps simplistic is a better word.

Rather than argue about…

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Short updates


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New monitor

I haven’t been writing much lately. Oh, I get ideas for topics all of the time, but I just lack the incentive to sit at the keyboard and put my thoughts out there. I haven’t even worked on my (probably never to be released or even completed) novel. I had dedicated February as my personal Na-No-Wri-Mo since I promised Cindy I wouldn’t work on it in November. I was excited about it. But I haven’t progressed much beyond sketching out two non-sequential chapters. I disappoint myself. I fear that I spend too much time thinking, and not enough time doing. Cindy could tell you that I am the living embodiment of procrastination.

I tried to stop being sidetracked by current political events by spending a week avoiding political news and commentary. There was no Morning Joe, no Meet The Press Daily on our television. I turned off the radio when NPR’s Morning Edition ran segments on political issues. I didn’t have to avoid much of the local news coverage of national politics because they severely limit their coverage. I didn’t look at Twitter for a week. I couldn’t totally avoid some aspects because the national evening news would have a story now and then, but since I usually watch NBC, they were spending most of their time talking about the Olympics. Thank goodness for sports!

And I had other things to take my mind off of politics. I treated us to a new desktop PC and monitor (see the picture above). Our old desktop was getting slower and slower, and was still running Windows Vista. It was finally time for a change. You are probably sneering and saying, “Desktop?” and I am unapologetically saying, “Yes! I use a laptop, but I prefer the desktop.” I feel more at ease with the desktop. Always have, always will as long as they are available. Plus, the older I get, the more I like the larger screen.

And speaking of my laptop, I have had to take in for repairs twice in the past two weeks. That is where it is now. Both times I have experienced software problems that don’t allow me to sign in. I have been able to get into Safe Mode each time, but nothing I did solved the problem. After the first time I took it in, the laptop worked fine for three days. But that was it. I fear that this time, rather than try to get it functional without losing data, they will simply restore it to the factory settings. At least I was able to save all my data while in Safe Mode. But I will lose some of the software that I use frequently. I’ll find out when the repair people finish with it. I would cross my fingers, but that would slow down my keyboarding even more.


One more update. I started paying more attention to national news on the day of the school shooting in Florida. That shooting and President Trump’s Twitter response, caused me to start thinking about writing a post concerning it. But when I started seeing the student’s statements and Twitter postings, as well as their actions, I knew that I could not say anything to match them. I recommend that you follow what the student’s are doing and saying. The young people can still teach us.

40 year anniversary


The blizzard of ’78

Forty years ago today, January 25th, a record-setting blizzard struck Indiana. Well, it struck other areas as well, but I live in Indiana, so that’s how I think of it. And it was memorable to me for more than just the weather. I’ll get to that part in just a bit. For a little information on the actual storm you can go to http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/indiana-spared-years-blizzard-1978-77397/ where there is also a link to more pictures similar to the one above.

My memory, however, begins at work, a few hours before the storm arrived. At that time I lived three blocks from where I worked. As usual I had walked to the office. I didn’t feel up to par that morning, but I felt good enough to work. As the morning progressed I started feeling worse. So when I left for my lunch break I told my supervisor that I was taking the afternoon off as half a sick day. As I walked home I felt weaker and a bit light-headed. I got to the house where I rented the upstairs apartment, climbed the stairs and let myself in, undressed and collapsed into bed. I fell asleep and didn’t wake up until the next morning.

When I awoke I found that we had been hit by a blizzard, and that I was snowbound in my apartment. I was still weak, but that didn’t stop me from lighting my first cigarette of the day. I was sitting in my living room, drinking coffee and smoking when I realized that I only had a half a pack of cigarettes to get me through. That didn’t bode well for a person who was currently smoking two and half packs a day. Still, I didn’t worry overmuch. I figured I could go out and buy a carton of cigarettes before I was out of them completely.

I felt really weak and tired, but I bundled up and went downstairs to walk to a mom-and-pop grocery store that was a couple of blocks away. When I tried to go out however, I found a snowdrift about three feet high that was blocking me from opening the door. I was too weak to push it open. Well, that wasn’t good.

I went back inside and once again collapsed on the bed. When I awoke two or three hours later I reached for my cigarettes and counted them. I had four left. I lit one and started thinking. Maybe I had a pack or a partial pack in a jacket pocket in my closet. I hustled to the closet and started searching through my jackets. All I found was a cigar that a jubilant new father had given me quite a while previously. It was better than nothing.

I decided to smoke the cigar before finishing my last few cigarettes, so I removed the It’s a Boy! wrapper, stuck the cigar in my mouth, and gently bit into the end of it. The cigar was evidently older than I had remembered, because it crumbled in my mouth when I bit. Talk about nasty!

I finished off my remaining three cigarettes within a few hours. It was another two days before I was recovered and strong enough to get out of my apartment. When I walked to the store I found that they were completely sold out of tobacco products, not to mention things like milk and Twinkies.

To wrap up this story, tomorrow, January 26th, will be my fortieth anniversary of non-smoking. I’ll see if I can go another ten or twenty years.


By the way, thanks to my friend Anju who graciously let me use the picture she took as the new header photo on Classical Gasbag.

Never too old

Politics & Recipes

It is difficult to give much thought to a topic these days and still be somewhat current. I’m the type of person who needs time. I’ve found that if I rush to take a definitive stand on an issue, it is usually haphazardly thought out and subject to being critically picked apart…often by myself.

I decided a short time ago that I would write something about the recent and overdue upheaval in our country over the issues of sexual predation and monetary inequity visited upon women. I was floundering to find a rock upon which to build my case, when it was presented to me by a pundit, Princeton professor Eddie Glaude Jr., on one of my favored political TV shows.

Roy Moore

But then I got sidetracked and have spent too much time being enraptured by the consideration of things such as political elections in other states; the mental stability…

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Memories of Marilyn Monroe



Yes, it is Marilyn

This is my new mousepad. It is a Christmas gift. I have conflicting thoughts about dragging a mouse over Marilyn’s face. I’m sure that I’ll use it eventually, but not today.

Why was I given a Marilyn Monroe mousepad? It is a convoluted story, but one that I’m ready to relate.

It began more than fifteen years ago. Back then my camera of choice was a 35mm Nikon. I took many pictures, and as a result, I often received different types of picture frames as gifts. One year,Trina gave me a carousel type of frame that held ten or twelve 4X6 pictures. I decided to put black and white pictures of family and friends in the rotating frames because it was faux pewter and I thought B&W photos looked better. So I went through my photos and chose photos of the proper size. Unfortunately, I was shy two photos to fill all the frames.

At that point I had a mischievous thought. I went online and downloaded a B&W picture of Marilyn Monroe, and one of Bridgett Bardot. I printed them and used them to fill the frames. Then I took it to my office cubicle in Indianapolis and set it on my desk. People would stop by to chat, and would occasionally spin through the photos. Nobody said anything until it had been there for a few weeks. Then my boss, who was pretty sharp, asked me about those two pictures. I told her that they were pictures of past girlfriends. She smiled and gave me a “sure they are” look and let it drop.

A few months later I brought the pictures home to our new house, and installed it in our home office. I didn’t think much about it until our granddaughter Macey, who was very young, and one of her friends came across the pictures, and asked me about them. I told hem the same story that they were old girlfriends. They were outraged that I would display pictures of old girlfriends when I was married to Grandma Cindy.

Later that day they sneaked (or snuck, take your pick) into the office and tried to steal the photos so that they could destroy them and defend Grandma Cindy’s honor.

Shortly after that they were shopping in the mall with Cindy. It must have been around Christmas because they were looking a calendars. The girls came running up to Cindy and declared in a loud voice that my girlfriend must be famous because her picture was on a calendar. Cindy tells me that all of the people around them started laughing.

Ever since those days, Marilyn Monroe has been my former girlfriend, and people give me MM themed gifts. I wonder if the girls have figured out yet that Marilyn was 19 years older than me?

The 2018 Reading Challenge



New snow

It is snowing again. A new layer of white is covering the snow we already have. This is perfect weather for reading. And since the new year is almost here, I think it is time to announce the 2018 Reading Challenge that I have set for myself.

As in past years, I’ve added a new category of book to the challenge. So without further ado, the categories are:

  1. A book by an author I have never read
  2. A biography or an autobiography
  3. A book recommended by a friend
  4. A romance novel or a western
  5. A mystery
  6. A book on a historic subject
  7. A science fiction or fantasy book
  8. A book previously started but given up on
  9. A graphic novel
  10. One book originally published in each decade I’ve been alive, so
    1. the 1940’s
    2. the 1950’s
    3. the 1960’s
    4. the 1970’s
    5. the 1980’s
    6. the 1990’s
    7. the 2000’s, and
    8. the 2010’s
  11. A book of short stories or essays
  12. A book that is part of series
  13. A book that is the basis of  movie or television series (from page to screen)
  14. A book of any kind
  15. A book by a favorite author…or is it a favored author? Is it possible to have more than one favorite? I should know, but I keep confusing myself when I try to think it through. Help would be appreciated.

As always, I can’t use one book to fill more than one category. Each category gets a separate book. In my case that means 22 books this year. If you decide to take the challenge, it will depend on your age. If you are doing a different reading challenge in the coming year, please let me know about it.




Macon is imploring me to let him out to play in the snow. He has already been out four times today. Guess who gets to dry him off each time he agrees to come back inside? Since he enjoys sitting on the top of the deck, I’m drying more than his back and head.

The first time I let him out this morning it was still dark and just beginning to snow. We now have around three inches with no sign of immediate let up. I hope the highways get well cleared before I have to drive to Indianapolis tomorrow. But let me get back to doggy-sitting.

Are dogs ticklish? I haven’t found any yet who appear to be. Macon doesn’t squirm or giggle when I try to tickle him. He enjoys the attention and seldom wants it to stop, but he is that way about all forms of attention. If you know of any ticklish dog, I would be interested in hearing about it.

Macon also likes to be in on everything that I do. As you can see in the picture above, he is lying directly between my feet. Actually he is on top of the toe of my left foot. He will sleep that way while I watch TV. No matter how many explosions or gun battles may go on in whatever I’m watching, he will sleep through it. But if I try to move, he is instantly awake and watching to see if get out of the chair. I hate to disturb his sleep, but I occasionally like to get up and move around.

Does your dog dream? Macon does. At least the evidence indicates that he does. It isn’t just that he moves his legs as if he were running. Yesterday, as he slept between  my feet, he gave two soft “woof”s. He has also been known to howl in his sleep. I wish I knew what those dreams are about. Or maybe I don’t. The howling dreams sound scary. Or maybe he is just dreaming that he is a wolf. Ill probably never know.

Happy holidays to you all!

Is it Christmas yet?


Decorated hearth

My picture is blurry. Darn! But that fits with my mood. I have to admit that I am not ready for Christmas. Oh, I have all of the gifts bought, and most of them are wrapped and under the tree. And yes, the tree is up and decorated. The rest of the house is decorated s well. We’ve had our holiday party and it was fun. This isn’t a case of Bah-Humbuggery, I’m just not into that Christmas mood, for lack of a better term.

I didn’t do cards this year for a couple of reasons. The first is that we seldom get cards anymore; so far I think only one had shown up in our mailbox. The second is that even when we get them they are usually just signed with no personal notes. Sometimes there are no signatures, just a printed family name. We haven’t even received a card from our insurance agent. What’s that about? I still have a couple of days, so I may design a personal card and email it to a few chosen friends, or perhaps not. It’s that Christmas mood thing again.

For years I used to burn cds with a variety of holiday songs for friends and family. But I stopped doing that because so few people use cds anymore. It is all Spotify or some such now. I ripped some blues tunes to a flash drive to give to Lee while on vacation this year, but he declined it because he said he had no way to access the music. All of his was on his phone, or in the clouds. Speaking of vacation and music,  I had an MP3 player for quite some time, but this year while on vacation, it died and went to electronic heaven. Have you tried to find an MP3 player lately? I fear that I’ve strayed from my topic.

So, I have four more days to try to get into the spirit of things. If I were a pessimist I would give up now. But hope does spring eternal. Wish me luck.