Several kinds of quiet

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.

Happy memories being formed. Photo by Angela.

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.

A scene full of beautiful things: Mara, my old guitar, and Fremont's 1921 mission-style library.

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.


11 Responses to “Several kinds of quiet”

  1. 1 Kip July 30, 2010 at 13:39

    Several comments, if I may:

    There is nothing better that those who bring food when needed. We have had many kind folks bring ’round dishes upon which to sup during and after our hospital stays. It is a great feeling to know there are the “Food Bringers” when they are needed. It it good to see that the Tater Tot Casserole (we called it something else at The Spoon as I recall) made it to your home…that is what WE would have brought had we been approximately 450 mile closer!

    Will started to help soon after Claire came home, mainly by learning how to open doors and climb shelves so he could fetch his own comestibles. He is still a picky eater, but know when he wants Cheerios, he can fetch them up himself!

    In the many decades I had my guitar, I NEVER changed the strings…ever. I think she was tuned to a keyboard once, I mostly tuned it to herself, or to yours (again, Spoon era). Someday I hope to get another, but not for a while…maybe when Will is a little older and I have the time to maybe take another lesson or two.

    I hope to hear the Mood River duet soon!

    • 2 jstwndrng July 30, 2010 at 14:16

      You may. Always, you may.

      Yes, we had another name for the tater-tot casserole, but I think it was an unfair moniker. My mom was a good sport about that. And it was good! My sister made it and I tell ya, it really hit the spot. I don’t think any of us had had it in 20 years. Jeni had to call mom to kibbitz about the recipe.

      Your accoustic was much better than mine, I recall. Easier on the fingers too, man! My old six-string burned holes in my fingers. I remember we nearly had “Give a Little Bit” down but for that one chord we could never find.

      Remember that commercial for Nestle’s (I think) where the kid is climbing up a cliff to get to his chocolate? And then it turns out he’s just climbing up on the counters to get into an upper cabinet, so “all good”. This was back a ways, about the time we were all asking our moms if we could buy “Space Food Sticks”, the food of astronauts.

  2. 3 Kip July 30, 2010 at 16:30

    My acoustic was a true classical, the neck was the same right the way along….VERY hard for my small fingers to properly fing a bar chord. Oh, and nylon strings. I would love to know what the original TTC recipe is, because ours is rather simple, and every time we have it, delicious as it is (even Sir William, Duke of Picky Eaters loves it), I think there is something missing.

    Whomever the marketing genius was that created the campaign for Space Food Sticks was just as good as he (assuming he) who created the aforementioned Nestle ad. The sticks were not as tasty as the advert would have you believe, yet we ate them by the truck load.

    I must now switch to iTunes for a Little Bit of Supertramp, turned up to 11! Hope the kids like it! Maybe headphones…..

    • 4 jstwndrng July 30, 2010 at 19:46

      I’ll send you the recipe for TTC if I can remember to ask next time we get my sister and mom together in one place. Could the missing ingredient be a clove of some kind?…ideally it should have something like finely chopped onions or chives or scallions.

      Really, nylon strings? Am I taking crazy pills? I could have sworn your guitar was an acoustic, not a classical. Criminently! This makes me think I shouldn’t be blogging…who knows what falsehoods I’m creating for posterity, what fictions for my descendants to perpetuate. Oh well. I guess this is how the most important myths all began. Faulty memory and good intentions.

  3. 5 Kip July 30, 2010 at 19:47

    I have been quite busy since my last writings. I listened to Give A Little Bt as promised. Then, remembering that the Goo Goo Dolls covered the song a few years ago, I went to the You Tube to see if I could find it. I could. THere is a live version they did in Buffalo I believe in the pouring rain…FANTASTIC! That lead me to a few videos of Rodger Hodgson live performing Supertramp classics, and THAT lead me to the garage where, on the fist try, and without m glasses, I found my copy of Rodger’s first solo effort “In The Eye Of The Storm”. As of this writing, side one of said album has been converted from wonderful analog vynal to crisp mp3; clicks, pops and all. When Number One Son goes to bed, and before Ami get home from work, side 2 will also be in a new audio format, and added to the old iPod. I tell ya, the guys that thought up all this convertng of music to small files so that they may be carried easily in a small space deserve their millions. Of course, it is up to us to use this technology for good. Amazng what one blog can lead to. Thanks Matt!

  4. 6 Kip July 30, 2010 at 21:26

    Oh no, precisely why you SHOULD blog, to clear up the foggy memories and retouch the faded ones! Many a memory has been made clear through your blogs, memories that were most likely going to remain stuck in the folds of grey matter forever had you not knocked it free!

    Oh, side two is now done, and on the iPod. I’ve listed to it now 3 times…good stuff!

    Now completely off topic: are you familiar with Elbow? Not the body part, the group form England. That, too, good stuff!

  5. 7 Marni July 31, 2010 at 18:17

    I’m so enjoying this…keep going, you two!

    • 8 jstwndrng August 2, 2010 at 08:48

      “stuck in the folds of grey matter”. Thanks Kip. I was just about to eat some breakfast but I guess I’ll wait.

      You gotta bring that fancy turntable over here so I can digitize my Jean Luc Ponty album and some of my old children’s platters for Mara and Emilia.

      Don’t know Elbow but I’ll check them/it out.

      @Marni, glad you’re still abiding here. 🙂

  6. 9 Librarian Girl August 2, 2010 at 15:19

    This entire post sounds like perfection. I love happiness!

    Thanks for your kind comment on my blog. I’m ok, just whiny right now. I’ll stop that soon.

  7. 11 Kip August 2, 2010 at 18:09


    Here I go!

    Matt, was it disgust or laughter that cause the momentary pause in your morning mastication? If it was disgust, I apologize! My “That Comment Is In Poor Taste” filter is a little out of whack. I get so caught up in the words that sometimes I forget that I put them in an order that is sometimes, to say the least, not at all proper! On the other hand, if it caused a brief fit of laughter, or a “Spit Take”, well, then my work here is done!

    Yes, I will bring the turntable along on the next quest to the heart of the Pacific Northwest. Since it requires playing the records in real time, it is a great way to slow down, as in days of old, and actually LISTEN to the album: The words, the music, the pops and clicks that we all remember from the many hours of spinning the discs. I thing my next project will be Supertramp, “Indelibly Stamped”. Ami has some great old Christmas albums that I will have to get going on as well.

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