Surgery  Tomorrow!

Wow! My cardiologist moves fast!

I will be having surgery tomorrow to install a cardiac loop recorder in my chest. It’s a simple procedure . The toughest part of the whole deal for me will be the two hour drive to the hospital and the two hour drive back home!

Anyway, if you are religious, please say a prayer for my folks. Positive thoughts are equally appreciated.

I have sound processors bolted to both sides of my skull, and now I will have a digital recorder in my chest uploading my heartbeat every night. I am slowly turning into a cyborg!

Headachy Day

I still have a nagging headache from yesterday’s trip, so I am taking it slow today. Hanging out with Pooka the tortoiseshell calico cat and Precious the Chihuahua.  

Deer slept in the garden last night, but it’s okay. We are all happy that a critter found some refuge. 

The zinnias are doing really well this year. The butterflies seem to love them, and I enjoy cutting a handful and making a small arrangement to surprise mom.

I should be able to finish the eleventh chapter of our book in progress tomorrow. We are still making progress!


We got home safe. Long day. They will be calling soon to schedule surgery to install a cardiac loop recorder in my chest.

All is well. Tired.

Goodnight and God bless,

Road Tip Tomorrow

Dear Old Dad and I will be running up the highway tomorrow to meet with my cardiologist – and, hopefully, scheduling the procedure to install my heart monitor.

It seems that every trip I take is some medical nonsense. I am hoping to at least spend a day in Chincoteague with my camera before the cold weather moves in. Not being able to drive sucks. 

Thoughts From Dear Old Dad: Do You Know How Lucky You Are?

More wisdom from my dad

“Do you know how lucky you are?”

I’ve heard that phrase many times over the past thirty-five years. Once a man walked up to my truck and said it while I was playing my banjo. Another time a very well known banjo player told Patrick the same thing about his ability to sing while playing. We hear a version of it almost every time we are doing something musical together. Sort of like we were a couple of hobo’s who stumbled onto a bag of baloney sandwiches.

Well folks, that ain’t the way it works. The ability to play, sing or work together with your son, daughter or spouse has absolutely nothing to do with luck. What seems like simple good fortune is actually the end result of a lot of work. Nothing worthwhile happens by luck. The guy at my truck window only had to accept my offer to teach him how to play. The famous banjo player simply never bothered to fully develop as a musician. The people who look at us and comment on our good fortune could easily change their luck if they wanted to.

The first thing you must do is practice with a purpose. Get grounded in the basics of rhythm, timing and singing. Take whatever skill you have right now and start developing some chops. Get out and play anywhere and with anyone you can. Learn from these experiences. Stop whining that you are not good enough because that cop-out guarantees that you never will be. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by chat-room cowboys who are all hat and no cattle. These losers hide behind words like “traditional” or “acceptable” in order to intimidate you. Remember, music is a language. Once you master the core concepts you can play anything, anywhere with any other musician.

Frustrated beginners often ask us for advice about how to deal with family members who don’t appreciate their music. Think about that for a minute. Music is not for appreciation or preservation (if it must be preserved it is already dead). Music has but one purpose, to entertain. Very few listeners give a damn about a note for note rendition of some obscure fiddle tune played on a banjo with no rhythm, timing or skill. Most people, however, will respond to the simplest folk or blues song played and sung well. Listen to your friends and family. They are trying to tell you something. What sounds to you like some sort of an Appalachian masterpiece may come across to them as pointless noise.

The best way to change your luck is to take control of your situation. Practice the basics until you think know them. Then go play with some real musicians. You’ll come home eager to practice more basics. Get out of the one-trick pony mindset that is turning folks away from your musical efforts. Play songs that everyone recognizes. Get your friends and family to sing along. Odds are that you will soon have to invest in another instrument or two.

When you pull out an instrument you are making a statement. The folks who are watching expect you to deliver the goods. They want to be entertained. By presenting yourself as a musician you have an obligation to do just that. An audience will not respond because you feel the pain of a misrepresented regional banjo style. They will not embrace you for boring them with historical trivia. They could care less how many different tunings you know. They do not see you as a cultural conduit. To them you are an entertainer.

You can change your luck today by behaving like one.

More Later. Till then, don’t step in anything soft.
Pat (Dear Old Dad) Costello

Uni-ball Kuru Toga Mechanical Pencil

Neurological issues brought on by several strokes has made it difficult for me to type. As a result, I am working on my next book entirely by hand in pencil.

At the start of this project my father and I were practical when it came to pencils. They were just, well, pencils.

Since I was going to be spending a lot of time with said pencils, Dear Old Dad encouraged me to get good quality tools. I splurged and got myself some Mitsubishi 9850 pencils. I freaked out when I started writing with them because there really is a difference. They lay down a better line, but their is also a tactile difference when the pencil point glides across the page. The best analogy I can come up with is the difference between writing with a fountain pen compared to an inexpensive ball point.

I was thrilled with the Mitsubishi pencils, but then Ken sent me a batch of Blackwing pencils. Now I sharpen tubs of pencils in the morning and at lunch to keep me working through the day. 

When I saw the Kuru Toga on I had to give it a try. It is a mechanical pencil with a point that turns every time you raise it from the page. The idea is that this will help prevent lead breakage. At just over $5.00 I thought it was worth a try.

The verdict? I wanted to like the Kuru Toga mechanical pencil, but the lead turning system never worked for the way I write. The pencil does put down a nice line, but the writing experience is, for me, a step down from my wooden pencils

My initial plan was to write Chapter 11 with the Kuru Toga and compare the finished chapter to previous chapters completed with a wooden pencil. I burned through lead so quickly that I just said, “To hell with it” and grabbed my Blackwing and Mitsubishi pencils.

I will keep my Kuru Toga for times when I am away from my desk and it is impractical to drag a bucket of good wooden pencils around.

Maybe next month I will try a different mechanical pencil. There are a lot of great tools out there waiting to be discovered.

Chapter 10!

Chapter 10 of my book in progress is available for our sponsors to download!

As you probably know by now, I am writing this book entirely by hand.

I am writing in pencil on legal pads because a neurological problem has made it difficult for me to type.

This download is a first draft with a quick edit. Dear Old Dad will edit it two more times before transcribing it all into Word.

We are numbering the chapters as they are written. They will probably appear in a different order in the finished book.

Once the book is finished we will make the ebook edition available to all our Patreon sponsors.

In chapter 10 several stories from my past come together to illustrate the importance of core skills. 

Before anybody asks, Ed Parker was awesome.

My Vorpal Blade Goes Snicker Snack!

Some of you may remember that my pencil sharpener blew up in my face a few days ago.

Dear Old Dad suggested that I get a decent electric sharpener. I did not argue with him.

Ken wrote in the comments that Dear Old Dad was wrong and sent me a Pencil Sharpening Machine from the nice folks at Caran D’Ache.

Holy cow! This thing is built like a tank!


In the attached note Ken wrote:

I’m pretty sure this one won’t explode on you!

Thank you, Ken. This is so much more tan I deserve. I will put it to good use.  I handed chapter 10 over to Dear Old Dad this morning.


Working on this as yet untitled book with pencil and paper has been a joyful experience. I wish I was not having the strokes and neurological problems that took me away from the keyboard, but I am happy to the place my health and my craft have lead me.

God bless,

Thoughts From Dear Old Dad: Magnum Fever

More wisdom from the best man I know.

I used to shoot a lot. My two favorite guns were a custom Pennsylvania flintlock rifle and a Colt .45 auto Combat Commander that I carried cocked and locked. I chose the rifle because flintlocks are difficult critters to master. I chose the Colt because it is the best handgun in terms of power, reliability and accuracy. I got real good with both of these firearms because I practiced a lot and I enjoyed shooting. The rifle was used for hunting and target shooting. The Colt was strictly for business. I was licensed to carry and I took that responsibility very seriously. The basic skills needed to master each of these weapons were completely interchangeable. Once you got past the two hundred year technology gap it all came down to sight alignment, sight picture, trigger squeeze and follow through.

I belonged to a gun club in rural Chester County, Pennsylvania. We had regular events that featured various tests of marksmanship. The club had a lot of members so it was inevitable that some of the competitions got really interesting. Like the day the guys with the scoped magnum rifles looked at our flintlocks and just had to mouth off about how we should get some real guns. The same sort of things happened on the pistol range. There was always a Dirty Harry clone toting a fire-belching magnum chiding me about my obsolete .45 Colt.

We let them talk their way into challenging us to a shooting match. Since they made the challenge we got to set the rules. Rifles were at one hundred yards offhand with no slings. Pistols were at twenty five yards standing only.

Guess what?

We never lost. Not once, not ever. The guys with the magnums could not even come close to equaling our marksmanship. The reason is very simple. We could shoot and they could not. They really believed that their choice of ordinance gave them an edge. It was a pleasure to take them to school. Their super powerful firearms were of no use to them in these matches because they could only shoot accurately from a sandbagged shooting bench. Real life seldom furnishes such comforts. They bought those expensive and overpowered guns because the “experts” writing for shooting magazines promised them that the magnum of the month would solve all their problems and make them the envy of the scene. All the focus was on muzzle velocity, trajectory and comparisons to “pre-64” or “pre-war” models of various makers. No one bothered to tell them that none of this matters if you cannot hit what you aim at.

The same sort of mindset is prevalent today in music. Go to any Internet banjo forum and you will see weak musicians touting their latest acquisition. Some even use buying more and more instruments as part of their shtick. They hope to mask lack of ability by redirecting your attention to their buying power. Nonsense phrases such as “authentic old time sound”, “real pre-war tone” or “exotic woods” are often combined with subtle assurances that you can substitute hardware for hard work.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against high-end stuff. There are many fine examples of handcrafted, beautifully decorated instruments out there. I have always advised people to buy the very best they can reasonably afford.

The real problem is a lack of basic skills. The guys at the gun club wanted to be hip and look cool so they bought lots of firearms that they did not understand and could not control. The idea of applying basic shooting principals never entered their minds so they were made to look foolish by real marksmen. The folks who hope to impress us with their “banjo or guitar of the month” choice of instruments often make the same mistake. All we can do is look at them and shake our heads. They are completely lost around real musicians. These folks believe that their magnum instrument and the ability to stumble through a few tunes is all they need.

Remember, you cannot skip over the hard stuff. The basic skills must be mastered and applied. Thousands of silly posts on a forum will not make you a musician. You cannot buy your chops. You will not learn to play by trying to memorize fiddle tunes from tablature. Get grounded in rhythm and timing. Work on playing and singing. Know your chord inversions and the scales that are always within a finger’s reach. Make your favorite instrument your best friend and it will never let you down. Play everywhere and with everyone you can. Don’t become a victim of magnum fever. Pick up that expensive instrument and learn with it. Have fun, ask questions and make mistakes. Just don’t expect anyone who knows oatmeal from mashed potatoes to be impressed until you can do something other than pose with it.

Peace to all,
Pat Costello (Dear Old Dad)