Tuesday, January 8, 2019

A Box of Harris

My husband leaves for 10 days in Egypt today. Bleah. I'm leaving for London on Thursday, so I'm thinking about what can fit into a carry-on, what the weather will be like, what I'll do there, and how I'll survive leaving my cats. That last one is always hard, but I bet it will be harder when I'm alone. 

Meanwhile, Harris keeps showing me how neatly he can pack himself into a little box. And I can't take him along, so WHY DID I DECIDE TO DO THIS?







I love Harris's incredulous expression here:


He looks like Possum has just suggested (wrongly) that Harris is not the very center of the universe.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Current and Recent Adorableness


We are mostly done de-Christmasing although pine needles keep appearing just about everywhere. Also a few Christmas presents that were never delivered, two wreaths that I'm not ready to take apart and toss, enough Christmas candy to last us to Easter, and our 24-year-old Advent calendar, purchased in Vienna, that needs all of its little doors reinforced with tape. 

Toffee is so companionable these day, visiting us in bed in the wee hours, chirping away outside the bathroom door when my husband is getting ready in the morning, joining me on the sofa as I drink my morning tea. He's curled up in a ball beside me now as I write this. We love it when he stretches out on his back, totally relaxed and showing off his fluffy belly and gigantic tail. 

Here are some photos I took a few minutes ago: 


Even Lion is visible for a change:



In other news, Wendy joined me on the sofa for some attention over the weekend. This was a breakthrough for her and I was both honored and pleased. Usually she will only perch on the back cushions, where she can easily jump down and run behind me when it occurs to her that it's her Evil Mommy petting her. Toffee is sleeping behind her, and since they are friends, he might have made her feel safer with me. Nobody purrs louder than Wendy when she's happy.


This is what I have to witness constantly:


Possum adores my husband and will park himself on him even if he has to share the space with a laptop.  Possum rarely tries this with me. (But then I don't wear lobster socks.)

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Cord Watch Continues: Let's Look at Guitars


A friend had sent us this Christmas card, above, which I rediscovered yesterday as we were de-Christmasing the apartment. We had taped it to the inside of our front door during a more idealistic time when we thought it was merely funny and not prescient. Now I think we should have it framed.

Cord Watch 2018 continues.  Everyone seems fine, except me, but that could change at any moment with 14" of green nylon cord still in hiding, probably inside Lion. He is hiding all day as usual, coming out for attention whenever he's in the mood, usually late at night or very early in the morning. Sometimes he graces us with his presence after breakfast but not lately. If we want to see him, we get the American cheese out of the fridge and he soon appears. No one is a better Cheese Patroller than Lion. While he is not the Chief (Possum has that post by seniority although he's pretty bad at eating cheese), he is the First Deputy and has tested and approved everything from us from cheddars, mozzarellas and Bries to Brillat Savarin and goat cheeses. 

As for me, my ears are acting up. Sometimes I hear echoes of voices, and my own voice seems unusually resonant. I think I either have water in my ears from washing my hair or I've got a bizarre head cold. The hearing issues come and go, and my ears also feel weirdly full, so I've talked myself out of it being a brain tumor for the time being. 

We took the tree down last night and, boy, was it a dry mess. It looked all right with lights and ornaments but it was a shriveled, curly mess underneath. We were sorry to see it go; several of us had continued to eat it with gusto despite its dryness, crunching away while others of us were trying to eat actual food while seated at the table. Some of us had simply had enough potential medical drama for the time being. We still have a lot of clean-up to do before the place is back to normal. And then we will soon both leaving for trips. 

To procrastinate instead of vacuuming several thousand pine needles, et's look at some guitars, shall we? 

After more than 20 years of talking about it, my husband and I finally visited the C.F. Martin Guitar Company in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. We've wanted to take a factory tour but either they weren't offering them when we were visiting my family, or we were too busy with said family to take the tour. On this visit, we had a free afternoon and decided we'd just check out the museum since that was open.


The museum was inspiring. We both played the guitar in our youth and we have three nice ones: electric, acoustic, and classical. We hadn't played any of them in years, if not decades, but seeing the museum and spending time in the playing area, where one can try out lots of fine new Martins at one's leisure, is changing that.

The museum tells the long history of the C.F. Martin company in traditional labels and text panels, profusely illustrated with actual, rare, gorgeous instruments:


There are many 19th-century guitars, which were much smaller and quieter than today's instruments, as well as mandolins and then ukeleles, which both had periods of being more popular than guitars and kept the company's sales in the black.



Their One-Millionth Guitar  (2004) is staggeringly beautiful with its hand-cut inlays. It took two years to complete:


The back:


Many celebrated musicians have donated their guitars; the case below has George Martin's guitar, with its "M" monogram on the back, and Johnny Cash's black Martin. Guitars grew bigger to be better heard in country-western and folk performances.


I was pleased to find Joan Baez's guitar, which she toured and recorded with from 1966 to 1968. Her handwritten playlist is still attached to the side:



Here's a display of a workbench from the early days of the factory:


One of Sting's Martins, with a tortoiseshell rose and his signature:


I can only describe both of us as "bug-eyed" when we finally floated out of the museum. We had both forgotten how dearly we loved guitars. We spend far too much of our time looking at various screens now, when we used to spend it reading books or playing music. We realized that we want and need to make some changes. It's odd that we were both played and stopped playing in our teens and twenties, before we met each other, and that our first good guitars were both Ovations, an innovative brand in the 1970s that featured a rounded fiberglas back for better sound. I still have mine.

Along with the museum there's a soundproof studio as well as less-formal "Pickin' Parlor" where one can sample many guitars. We played several, or rather my husband played while I mostly held mine and pressed and strummed its strings, marveling at how strangely natural and familiar it felt although my fingers and brain remembered next to nothing. What had happened to the years I spent as a teenager taking lessons, practicing daily, and then performing weekly in church? I hope my fingers still hold some of that history somewhere.

We nearly brought home our favorite guitar — it seems we are both suckers for smaller cutaways with medium-dark tops. But we, or rather I, came to my senses. We have three perfectly good guitars already, so we bought good strings instead. We are almost ready to play, now that the tree is gone and the apartment is getting back to normal. We just need to find a safe place to keep the acoustic or the classical out of its case (in a closet) and on a stand so we can play it regularly.

I'll end this with a photo I took of the countryside in Nazareth, farmhouses and fields surrounded by the low mountains of the Lehigh Valley. More of the rural areas around my hometown, Bethlehem, looked like this as I was growing up. It's a landscape that will always feel like home.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Cord Watch Continues . . . Remembering Christmas

As I write this I'm surrounded by cats eager for their supper, none of whom is showing the slightest sign of having swallowed 14 inches of bright-green Neko Flies cord. We found a small hairball in the kitchen sink the other morning but none of it was the least bit green. (Finding it in the sink was off-putting but better than finding it cold and wet underfoot. Whoever left it was thoughtful; sinks are easy to clean.) 

Christmas was more than a week ago; the last of the greeting cards has probably arrived. The tree is looking increasingly dry and the angel at the top is tipped so precariously now that she looks airborne; she's too high up for us to fix her, so I just try not to think about it.

I know it's January 2 but I'm in the mood to tell you about Christmas/

After we open our presents here and have breakfast, most of our Christmas looks like this:


We drive to my family in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, on Christmas Day, usually arriving just in time for dinner. We check in at our old-fashioned inn, which has a formal parlor with a marble gas fireplace, and is always decorated for the holiday as befits the Christmas City of the USA:


I will not share with you any further details about my family, our delicious meal, the many presents we exchanged, the vociferous but brief political argument that accidentally erupted, or the extremely gassy dog. But I would like you to see this beautiful mint-frosted brownie pie, created by one of my nieces, who knew this combination is a favorite of mine. It tasted every just as good as it looked:


After a late night and an early breakfast, we went out on Boxing Day to see what was new around town. Blast furnaces and a huge defunct steel mill are dominant in the landscape still, even though the company closed down decades ago:


Those rusting "stacks" you see above are lit at night now and sit near a huge entertainment complex; there's also a Sands Casino in the spot where a giant machine shop used to be. Industry built our city but now tourism and gambling are keeping it going.

Fortunately, we still have a lot of historic Germanic architecture, since Bethlehem was founded as a Moravian religious community in the 1740s. These stone buildings have red clay tile roofs (replaced with shingles below — budget cuts). brick eyebrow arches, and herringbone wood doors. Nothing in New England looks like them:



We like wandering around downtown, where there was until recently a wonderful bookstore, one of the oldest in the country, if not the oldest continuously operating bookstore (1745). It was recently sold to Moravian College, and they did some badly needed renovations to the structure, but now it is primarily for students. They still sell a decent selection of books, but the much of the space looks grim now, filled with dreary logo tees, sweatshirts and so on, along with stacks of textbooks instead of all the pretty displays of local crafts, beeswax candles, pewter and brass, jewelry, cooks' tools, gourmet food, candy, stationery, and the huge, year-round supply of Christmas decorations that made the shop a destination.

It used to be packed with shoppers the day after Christmas, but this year it was a ghost town:


Because who wants Moravian College logo wear? Somebody, of course, but not most residents or visitors.


I've loved the store since I was about six, so seeing it like this was heartbreaking. I hope someone at the college will figure out how to put some life back into it.

The rest of downtown was quiet, too. We felt like we had the place almost to ourselves:


An antique shop we liked has become a Polish grocery store, selling fresh pierogi. We were Irish-Italian (or we thought we were, turns out we're Cornish-Irish-Neapolitian-Sicilian by way of Australia) so we didn't have pierogi, golabki, or kiffles at home. But our friends had mothers who made those things so we were okay. Some of those mothers worked in school cafeterias and made the  family recipes for lunch. We also enjoyed plenty of Pennsylvania Dutch food, of course, as well as Hungarian, Slavic, you name it. Bethlehem was truly a melting pot, and the pot was always full.


Still, a Polish grocery is an unusual choice for a downtown shop, and I wish them success. If the pierogi are good, all will be well. They were all sold out from Christmas when we got there, a good sign.

Some things are the same everywhere, including AirBnb tensions:


Whenever we go to Bethlehem I imagine buying one of the beautiful old houses downtown and settling in to a quiet life of overeating and becoming a fixture at the local library. It's never going to happen, I know, and now there's no decent bookstore so I have less incentive, despite the pierogi. But the houses are very charming and absurdly affordable compared to here, so I can't help dreaming the same dream I've had since I was a kid.

This is one of our favorites on Market Street, our favorite street:


It's newer, having been built in the 1920's, and it's actually for sale — has been for a long time. Don't ask me why; I'd snap it up in a minute if the commute to Cambridge wasn't so darn long.


Our next and final stop in Pennsylvania is the Martin Guitar Factory in Nazareth, which really is the Holy Land if you're into guitars. And we discovered that we still are, despite a few decades away from our own instruments.

Stay tuned, ha ha!

Monday, December 31, 2018

It's Cord Watch 2018

All the cats are perky and eating well. There is no sign of the missing 14" of bright green cord, and we still aren't sure who swallowed it, although it's Lion's idea of a good time. Cord Watch 2018 continues.

While we're sitting around, waiting, let's review some recent cat moments from better days, i.e., before Saturday.

Toffee joined us on Christmas morning as we unpacked the stockings and had a wild time with the fake-fur mice everybody got:


He looks like he has a green beard but that's a neon mouse. For the record, Lion fears Christmas and hasn't come around for his stocking yet. Whenever I try, he runs.


We received a cute new cat hat and Toffee got to model it, reluctantly:


Possum commandeered the large Tickle Pickle. Everyone else had a turn after it was all wet:


Harris claims all the presents since he is the Most Important Cat:


* * * * *

On Christmas Eve, we had a quick photo session with Possum. I was in charge of the Santa hat while my husband used his iPhone XS, which takes much better photos than my old 6. Possum was in an unusually expansive mood, having gotten over the sorrow of another Christmas without a bicycle rickshaw. (Harris had reminded him about Uber, which I used it to take him to the hospital after he broke his toes last fall.)

Here Possum is looking rather dreamy, and much more pleasant than we'd hoped for:


Here, he's having second thoughts because he's realizing that he's already the star of this year's holiday card, which greatly reduces his chances of snagging the cover again next year.  He's thinking, "Why am I bothering — and why am I letting them bother ME?" 


He snapped out of it, realizing that, as Top Cat, he deserves to always be the star of the holiday card. In the next photo, we've captured his Winston Churchill look, strong, resolute, courageous, well-upholstered:


I'm not sure what this is, but it's pure Possum:


He knows he's being funny. Look at this sly grin:


* * * * *

Harris is Possum's top competitor for the cover of the holiday card. Here he's eating the tree:


This is his Winston Churchill look, — not quite as effective as Possum's but then he's a lot younger:


This diabolical expression will work well if we ever need a noir holiday card.