Things have been quiet in our lives lately as far as news and activity goes. Of course it’s been noisy, but I remember how small and focused and intense our world became when Mara was born, like that [caution: age-based simile ahead] little white spot of light that used to linger at the center of the television screen when you turned it off. All our attention and energy went into the immediate things, the feeding, the burping, the changing, the laundry, the dishes, then feeding ourselves and trying to get some sleep amid these ministrations, and if time permitted watering thirsty plants outside. Remembering to take the recycling out. That’s about it for a long while. It’s like that again now since Emilia was born.
Emilia. E-M-I-L-I-A. My hands are not used to typing that name yet, my lips still finding newness in the shape of the sound.
We have been sustained these past five weeks by our friends and family, who have brought us dinner every other day or so. We have feasted on chicken enchiladas, pulled pork sandwiches, chili and cornbread, refreshing salads, Pakistani keema, manicotti, macaroni and cheese and other pasta dishes, tater-tot casserole, turkey pot pie, and even — incredibly — Joe’s famous steaks, for which the men of my church wait with watering mouths all year. Nor have we been deprived of ice cream of late, and there have been cookies and fudge brownies and pies. Anyone who has benefited from the meal-train tradition will know the feeling of gratitude and utter relief we are experiencing. It is a strange thing; for the first week or two especially, we were exhausted beyond anything we had ever known in our lives, and yet eating like kings and queens. An extreme low and an extreme high. There we are hunched over and practically falling into the best food that has ever been brought through our front door.
I’m back at work now, which means that Angela’s days are long and she gets little rest. The most wearing part of my own day is after I get off the bus and arrive home; Mara needs interaction with me, and then there’s her bedtime routine — a lengthy affair including clean-up, sometimes a bath, and always teeth-brushing, jammies, filling the nighttime water sippy, arguments and stalling, potty break, finding all the things that go in her bed, a prayer, and bookreading — and then I do dishes or take over with baby-care if Angela has to work that night.
Mara is growing up very fast during this time. Since she is no longer “the baby” of the house, she is bolting in the other direction. She has been displaying an irrepressable desire to do helpful things, and this often involves things we have not asked her to do and would rather she didn’t, but we’re learning to let her have these leaps toward self agency. They are important for her. Lately we’ve also been letting her have her bedside lamp on when we go out of her room at night. She loves this. Her little round face glows with what I would actually call “appreciation” for this concession, which she uses either to “read” or to play with her dolls atop the bed until, after a time, we find that she has somehow wound up under the covers and has fallen to sleep.
The D string broke on my old Trump classical guitar when I wound it up too tight to avoid having to use the capo for a song I was trying to learn. It sat for a few weeks unplay’d and silent, but my fingers were jonesin’ so one day a week or two ago Mara and I took the old axe down to Dusty Strings in Fremont to get a new set of strings for it. When you open the door of this folksy little shop, a pick mounted to the top of the door strums across a dulcimer mounted above it, announcing your entry similar to the way the little bell tinkled when you walked into your neighborhood hardware store with your dad.
Mara and I wandered among walls lined with guitars — the Martins, the Guilds, the others — and banjos and dulcimers and hammered dulcimers and harpsichords and ouds and ukeleles and lutes and mandolins. People who were good at playing these instruments played them, tried them out, spoke with the staff about the particular character of the tone of this or that instrument. We found the children’s corner, where we banged on some djembes, shook some shakers, and tickled some plastic ivories. Then we bought a set of d’Addario strings. The staffperson pronounced the name “dee-addario”. On the way back to the car, which was parked across the street from Daniel R. Huntington’s delicious mission-revival style Fremont branch of the Seattle Public Library, we wandered up through a little garden park with a tiny amphitheater and winding path.
The string that broke, it may strain your imagination to believe, had been wound tight on that guitar for four decades, as had the other five. They were the original strings from my childhood and I loved their sound. They were bright and expressive. I regret now the teenage discontent with this guitar that compelled me to go buy the accoustic, which I long ago parted with. The string had bead ends on them but such strings are not supposed to be used for classical guitars, apparently. I imagine this was a cheap and easy method of mounting the strings on the guitar to start with, since this was an inexpensive beginner’s guitar. So I would have to tie them off myself. The folks at the store told me how to do it, and it proved pretty easy to do.
A typical hobbyist who washes his or her hands before practice and plays an hour a day can expect a month of decent tone out of standard strings. Of course, you can leave them on for months if you don’t mind lifeless tone.”
— Peter Kun Frary, Professor of Music,University of Hawaii
These strings are not as pretty sounding as the old ones, and I’m a little disappointed. They are rich, but their richness seems to be all in the middle, if that makes sense. They don’t have the piercing high and the thumping low that the old strings had, impossible as that fact seems to reconcile with the expert quote above. I didn’t do a lot of research on string tone before buying, so maybe this type of string simply doesn’t have that quality of sound. They still haven’t finished stretching, so I have to retune the guitar every time I pick it up to play, which is often. Mara likes me to pull a stool into the bathroom and play The Frost is on the Punkin’ while she’s taking a bath after dinner, and she’ll sing along with me on Moon River.
La vita e bella.