My Sister and my Prize Guitar

Martin & Co. OM Model custom guitar.

Martin & Co. OM body size guitar custom made for Ed Foster, Jr., the grand prize recipient of the 2019 “Membership Brings Its Rewards Sweepstakes.”

Two days after my sister’s soul took flight, I received an email advising me that I won the Grand Prize in the “Membership Brings Its Rewards Sweepstakes” sponsored by C. F. Martin & Co. At first, I thought it was a prank, but after speaking with Becky Manogue, Martin Owners Club Manager, I was convinced it was real. I won a guitar of my design handcrafted by the artisans at the Custom Shop at Martin & Co.

For the last six weeks of Kathy’s life, I’d tote my guitar to her room at the nursing home, maybe two to three times a week, to play for her. She enjoyed hearing me pick and strum, much as she did when we were young and lived at home. My youngest sister, Veronica, my guitar and I were with her for her final moment, so I wanted my prize guitar to be a tribute to her and my other departed sister, Susan.

I was introduced to the full sound, quality craftsmanship and beauty of Martin guitars a number of years ago by an acquaintance who collected and traded various brands of the instruments. Around 2015 I purchased a modestly priced Martin DCPA-R acoustic guitar. This model is one of Martin’s full-body size, referred to as a “Dreadnought,” and it is handmade with East Indian Rosewood on the back and sides and Sitka Spruce on the top. I really enjoyed the tonal quality of this instrument like no other I had owned until I received my prize guitar.

Between the time the paperwork was finalized in late 2019 and early 2020, when I began working with Scott Sasser, the Director of the Custom Shop, I read and studied as much as I could. I found a wealth of information in Martin’s quarterly publication, The Journal of Acoustic Guitars, about the tonal effect of guitar sizes and various woods used for top and body construction. I watched videos of Martin & Co. personnel hand crafting instruments at their shop in at Nazareth, Pennsylvania. The more I read, the more I learned how much I did not know.

Once Scott entered the picture, the design of my custom guitar moved smoothly. I shared my preference for Adirondack Spruce VTS for the top and Rosewood for the back and sides and my desire to memorialize my departed sisters. Because I already owned the large body style, Scott suggested a slightly smaller and more personal OM or Orchestra Model. With that as a starting point, the master designer said he had some really fine-looking Wild Grain Rosewood for the back and sides.

Martin & Co. custom made OM Model guitar.

The mother of pearl inlay of two seagulls in flight on the pick guard commemorate my two departed sisters, Susan and Kathy.

Martin’s Custom Shop designed a pick guard with two, mother of pearl inlay silhouettes of sea gulls in flight to commemorate my departed sisters and tied that together with pearl body and rosette inlays. The pearl inlay work continues on the fret board with torch-theme fret markers and capped with an inlaid Martin & Co. logo at the head. The guitar body and head are bound with natural maple and the guitar is finished with high-gloss lacquer. Gold finish Waverly tuners with black pearl knobs are a discreet finishing touch.

This guitar is a beautiful sight to behold. It fits perfectly in my lap and plays oh, so smooth. The sound of the bass in mellow, mid-tones are rich and discreet, and the treble is clean and clear.

Thank you, C. F. Martin & Co.

Thank you, my little sister.

Thirty-two minutes to summit a Norfolk Island Pine

Using spikes on his boots and a pole strap, Josh, with Greensavers ascends a few feet at a time, stops to cut branches within reach and climbs upward until he has cleared all branches with his chainsaw.

Using spikes on his boots and a pole strap, Josh, with Greensavers ascends a few feet at a time, stops to cut branches within reach and climbs upward until he has cleared all branches with his chainsaw.

Well, it did take longer than 32 minutes because when I caught site of Josh with Greensavers he was already about one-third of the way toward the summit of the Pacific island native.

The brum-brum-brum-brrrrrrr sound of a chainsaw is unmistakable, though at first I couldn’t seem to discern where it was coming from. On the second pass to heat my coffee, I finally discovered the activity while looking out our back door. One of our neighbors – about three houses down – was having a Norfolk Island Pine removed.

The little red dirt bike

After hearing the revved-up sound of this motor bike buzzing up and down our street, I discovered it was our new neighbor, 12-year-old Brandon. This image was made by panning the camera in sync with the the direction and speed of dirt bike.

After hearing the revved-up sound of this motor bike buzzing up and down our street, I discovered it was our new neighbor, 12-year-old Brandon. This image was made by panning the camera in sync with the the direction and speed of dirt bike.

I’m working in my digital “darkroom” one afternoon last week when I hear the revved-up sound of a small cycle engine zipping down our street. Within seconds the sound returns, but from the opposite direction and then down again, and up again, again and again.

Someone was disturbing my solace. Oh, it was not the noise, it’s that someone was kindling my curiosity right out in front of our house. I could not resist so I went out front and waited beneath the shade of the new green foliage of our giant red maple. The wait was short.

Within seconds a youngster on a small red dirt bike shot down the street for at least the dozenth time. He made a U-turn about 100 yards to my left and repeated the back and forth maneuvers until I motioned for him to stop.

The young driver pulled over and I learned his name is Brandon, he is 12 years old and he is a new neighbor on our street. We made a little small talk. He was exercising his small red dirt bike and I mentioned that I would like to make some motion photos, if it was acceptable with his parents. Within minutes he returned and told me his father approved.

I asked if he would keep doing what he was doing – very carefully – and I would try to capture him in motion by panning my camera as he passed by. It is a technique I have used over the years quite successfully to isolate fast moving objects from their backgrounds. The real trick is to use a moderately slow shutter speed and pan the camera at about the same speed as the moving object.

We are very blessed that we are on a residential street with very little traffic and we are doubly fortunate that young Brandon is a very mature, cautious and safe operator.

As the 2003 Honda XR 50 beginner dirt bike passed from my left and then right, back and forth at least thirty times, I kept trying to track it. “Again, Brandon,” I kept telling him.

Over the years I never seemed to have a problem with panning to capture race boats, athletes, bicyclist and other fast-moving objects, but this blur-of-a-dirt-bike, well that’s another story. It’s like attempting to track a gnat.

“Again, Brandon, again!”

A baseball trade: one ball for one stone

As I watched the Tampa Bay Rays play the Cuban national team in Havana today on television, I couldn't help wonder if one or more of these youngsters was playing for the Cubans this afternoon.

As I watched the Tampa Bay Rays play the Cuban national team in Havana today on television, I couldn’t help wonder if one or more of these youngsters was playing for the Cubans this afternoon.

The boys and the field were mostly a blur, when Arnold shouted at our driver to stop the van.From the side of the road on the outskirts of Havana, Cuba we watched the sandlot baseball game in progress with seven young players sharing two mitts, one well chipped bat and – a stone?

It didn’t take long before we looked at one another in disbelief and simultaneously spoke, “they don’t have a ball.” Our astonished looks quickly turned to smiles, because we had a ball. In fact, we had three baseballs. We never packed for Cuba without fitting a couple of cowhide-wrapped orbs between bottles of ibuprofen, vitamins, toothpaste, reading glasses and countless other necessities we take for granted.

Arnold bent over the seat and rummaged through one of the duffel bags for a baseball. Finding one, he rapidly peeled the shrink wrap, called out and tossed the prize toward the group of seven.

Fourteen little hands bolted upward in an attempt to catch the shiny white prize dropping from the sky. The boy in the yellow shirt snagged the flying ball and the group fell silent as they gathered close to admire the treasure cradled in their buddy’s hands. Before long the new ball was passed around where it was handled fastball style by one budding pitcher while another imitated a three-finger changeup grip.

The little men looked up, smiled and shouted their appreciation before ditching the stone and resuming their game. Three days later on our return journey from Pinar del Rio we passed the field again and the seven were still there sharing a still-white baseball.

Hands as portraits

This photograph of my mother-in-law snapping green beans on her 88th birthday, provides for a vignette photograph that speaks to her enjoyment of cooking.

This photograph of my mother-in-law snapping green beans on her 88th birthday, provides for a vignette photograph that speaks to her enjoyment of cooking.

When I was 16 years old, I was fortunate to have a part-time job working in the News Photo Department of the St. Petersburg Times. One Sunday afternoon it was particularly quiet so I took the opportunity to learn by studying photo contest entries from past years by some of the Times’ photographers.

I was nearly half-way through a waist-high stack of 16″ x 20″ prints when I came across an entry from the late 1950’s of a business man’s hands signing documents. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Veteran Times’ photographer, Johnnie Evans, had captured my father’s hands and to me, they were as recognizable as any facial portrait of him would have been. And, like any good portrait should, Johnnie captured a bit about who my father was at that point in time.

After that silent lesson on a sluggish Sunday afternoon, I began to study hands and understand how they too have a way of speaking about the nature and character of people. On occasion I have had people balk when I’ve asked to make a photograph that includes their face, but I have never had anyone refuse my request to photograph their hands – yet.

Taking a break: Bird of Paradise

Bird of Paradise is the common name for the Strelitzia, a genus of five species of perennial plants, native to South Africa, and is featured on the reverse of their 50 cent coin.

Bird of Paradise is the common name for the Strelitzia, a genus of five species of perennial plants, native to South Africa, and is featured on the reverse of their 50 cent coin.

I don’t fancy myself as an accomplished nature photographer, yet I have always admired the beauty of nature that’s all around us. I am working at slowing down a bit to stop and smell the flowers, so to speak, and perhaps, at the same time broaden my areas of expertise.

This Bird of Paradise flower grows right outside our front door. I pass it daily, but the other day while soaking in a few rays of Florida sunlight on a break from processing images, I grabbed a camera and tripod and made time to capture its colorful beauty.

I am glad that I did. Next up are the lovely orchids that grace my studio.

Justice in the cup

Consumers and farmers benefit when growers receive sustainable prices for their crops.

Consumers and farmers benefit when growers receive sustainable prices for their crops.

I’m drinking less coffee nowadays. But, I am enjoying it much more. For a fully caffeinated coffee hound, that’s saying something.

Nearly one year ago I began a quest for a more flavorful brew. (See related post) It seemed as though I was drinking coffee more for comfort than pleasure. I started close to home with a local roaster, and their large-batch, dark offerings proved to make a better cup than commercial beans. Now it was better than anything from the grocer’s shelf and the large chain operations, but really not by much.
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