My online shopping life… or, the pandemic has made us learn new things.

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It’s hard to believe that just a year ago, Bill and I were preparing to journey to France to see my friends Audra and Cyril and celebrate Christmas with them and their family. This year, we don’t go anywhere. I’m serious. I haven’t left our neighborhood in over two months. It’s getting old.

But I’m trying to keep my spirits up. The other day, I ordered chocolates from Neuhaus. I was a victim of Facebook advertising, which kept showing me pictures of Belgian chocolate. Then I remembered that once upon a time, when I was still a working woman, I actually used to sell Neuhaus chocolates.

I worked at a place called Henry Street Chocolatier, which was located in Williamsburg, Virginia. They sold high end chocolates from Neuhaus and Joseph Schmidt, a now defunct confectioner out of San Francisco, California that specialized in making chocolate truffles. They also had locally produced pastries and coffee by First Colony, an outfit out of Norfolk, Virginia. I think First Colony as I knew it went out of business, but they also used to sell coffee to The Trellis, a restaurant where I worked a few years later. It looks like First Colony was sold, so the brand still exists, but it’s not the same people running it.

I ended up buying a shitload of chocolates. I bought a 500g ballotin of Neuhaus truffles, a 500g ballotin of regular chocolates, and a wine tasting chocolate set. Neuhaus also has champagne and coffee tasting sets– those are chocolates specifically selected to be tasted with wine, champagne, and coffee. Wine is not included in the sets, but you do get a nifty booklet in several languages.

I also bought wines from Georgia, Croatia, and Hungary, but they haven’t arrived yet.

Friday night, Bill and I discussed my desire to buy an electric guitar. I showed him the one I wanted, which is quite pricey. I ended up ordering one of those yesterday as my own Christmas present. I tried to get it through its manufacturer’s Web site, but the sale wouldn’t go through. Like, it wouldn’t even attempt to go through at all. So I found the guitar I wanted on another site and did successfully order it. I don’t think the charge has been processed yet. Hopefully, it will go through. Sometimes the credit card companies are very cautious when you live in Europe and have an American billing address. If it actually gets to me, I’ll post a picture of it.

I have about half the cash needed to pay for the guitar waiting in a savings account I usually use for traveling. We aren’t doing any of that, so it makes perfect sense to just get the guitar I want. It will give me incentive to keep practicing. Not that I need incentive. I made some real progress with my guitar playing yesterday, finally managing to awkwardly play several difficult chords in the same shape. No, they aren’t perfect, but a few months ago, I couldn’t even attempt them. Now, if I’m very careful, I can actually make them ring out somewhat. Anyway, Bill is going to buy me an amp, and once he’s learned a bit more on his guitar, he’ll probably buy one he likes, too.

We also ordered sushi from Tam’s Kitchen. It was a cold, rainy night, and didn’t really seem like sushi weather, but I was dying for some. And here in Breckenheim, we happen to have a really great sushi guy who does deliveries. I think he’s actually a caterer. I don’t think he has a restaurant, per se. But you can order sushi and it will be super fresh and delicious. So that’s what we did Friday night. I think Tam is actually from Vietnam, but he sure has a way with raw fish.

Last night, I watched the memorial service done for my cousin, Karen, who died a couple of weeks ago. She was the third family member I’ve lost since mid October. I learned some new things about my cousin, who was eighteen years older than I am. We weren’t very close, but she was very much beloved by her family and our extended family. Watching the video made me miss being at home somewhat, although I think during this pandemic, I’d rather be in Germany.

And Noyzi and Arran are doing fine. Noyzi is particularly adorable these days. He has a new habit of silently showing up, ghostlike, when it’s time to eat. I slip him a little snack from the table, which is probably not a great thing to do… but he’s so sweet and basically well-behaved that my heart melts a bit.

I suspect today will be more of the same stuff. It’s cold and wet, and Germany is still locked down. Oh, I guess they call it Lockdown Lite, since stores are still open, and it’s been extended until January 10th. But there’s nothing to do anyway, and the weather is icky. So we’ll stay home, listen to music, and buy stuff online. 2020 has mostly sucked… but in some ways, it’s been kind of awesome. I miss traveling, but it’s also been nice to find new ways to occupy my time and spend money. And we are grateful we still have the money to spend. Maybe it will help some people stay in business.

A musical breakthrough!

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This morning Bill and I got up with the best of intentions to get out and do something fun. Although I’ve been feeling pretty good about staying home, even though I ALWAYS stay at home, Bill was feeling restless. Yesterday, at about 1:30pm, he came to me wanting to go out and do something.

I looked at the clock, realizing that a lot of restaurants would be closing very soon, and said, “It would be a lot better if we planned these things more. You slept until 8:00am, did a bunch of chores, and now that it’s the afternoon you want to go out… and do what?” Bill is usually the one who notices the time, particularly as it relates to eating in restaurants. And thanks to the coronavirus, it’s even more important to plan outings ahead of time.

Bill sighed, agreed, and we spent our Fourth of July in the backyard, drinking beer and listening to music. I did also hear fireworks going off, no doubt on the local military installations, but I didn’t see them. Poor Bill is going stir crazy, even though he goes out for work and grocery shopping. I just can’t be arsed to deal with the coronavirus, though. It’s easier to stay home.

Last night, Bill suggested that we go take a ride on the Seilbahn today. The Seilbahn is a cable car that takes people on a scenic ride over the grape vines of Rüdesheim and to the Niederwald Monument and the Rhein River. We noticed it the first and last time we visited Rüdesheim, in April of last year. We didn’t ride the Seilbahn on that day, though, because we did a wine tasting, where I ended up singing for an elderly couple.

Anyway, Bill wanted to go back today for a scenic Sunday Seilbahn ride… but then we noticed the cloudy weather and high winds. They’re going to be up to 16 miles per hour, which doesn’t make for the most reassuring cable car ride. So we decided to postpone our trip. I went to my computer and pulled out my trusty turquoise guitar and took a couple of lessons on Fender Play. Today’s topic was alternative finger picking of bass notes. I learned “Tom Dooley”, and it occurred to me that the chords were kind of like a really pretty song called “Dreaming My Dreams With You”. It’s been done by a lot of people, but the version I like best so far is the one done by Alison Krauss, who had backup help from Dolly Parton and Lyle Lovett.

Such a pretty song!

I realized I needed to change the chords, though, since I had figured out the song in G and I needed to play it in F#. So I went looking for a chord chart, put the capo on the third fret, and before I knew it, I was playing along with the recording. I still stumble a bit on the chord changes, but I think with some practice, I’ll be ready to post a video. I can definitely sing the song… it’s just my guitar playing that needs a lot of work.

I have been making some significant progress. A couple of times, I’ve played along with a song and it’s been okay until it was time to change chords. Today, I was able to play along and change chords without too much trouble, relatively speaking, although I’m still slow and unsure at times. Anyway, this was the closest I’ve gotten to being able to actually play a song. I even figured out the solo guitar riff, although it’s going to take a little more time before that’s perfected. I probably won’t be able to include it in a video until I’m a bit more advanced.

So, although I would have loved to have gotten out this morning and done some sightseeing, the weather defeated us again. However, I scored a major victory on my guitar! Incidentally, I also got to teach Bill how to properly play an E minor chord, which isn’t hard. He was having trouble making it work because he had one of his fingers on the wrong string. It was a problem that was easily fixed, so now he has a new chord to play with, too!

Incidentally, Facebook tells me that a year ago, Bill and I saw Mark Knopfler performing in concert in Leipzig. He and his band were also staying at our hotel, and we saw him hanging out with his band in the bar. Boy, do I miss bars… But anyway, seeing him in concert was on my bucket list, and then being in the bar with him was also a thrill. And no, we didn’t bug him. I just gawked from afar. The next morning, as we were packing up to go home, the bellman told us Sting was also at our hotel, taking a brief break from his tour having just done a show in Brussels, Belgium. I miss 2019.

I sense Bill still would like to go out today, though, even though the Seilbahn was a bust… maybe I’ll let him take me out to lunch somewhere. Maybe we’ll do the Seilbahn next week, if there’s sunshine and no wind. The week after that, we have another short trip planned. It’s another Germany trip, not too far from home, but further away than our trip to Hofheim for my birthday. Bill is determined not to let me get agoraphobic. Stay tuned.

My own little Gitarzan…

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Yesterday, the weather was kind of iffy, as it has been today. In retrospect, maybe it would have been a good idea to go out yesterday. Maybe there would be fewer people out and about, and we could pump some euros into the local economy. But we decided to stay in, and I spent a rather angsty day reading more and more about the state of U.S. politics and the stupid face mask controversy. I got into a couple of pointless arguments, too.

I also played guitar. I brought my new blue one downstairs and turned on some music. Before I knew it, I had picked it up and was strumming along to Tom Petty’s live version of “I Won’t Back Down”. It has a pretty easy chord progression– E-D-G, E-D-C… easy enough for a rank beginner to follow along with somewhat, although I’m still too slow at changing chords. It was kind of fun trying to figure out the songs I can sort of play, although I still have a long way to go. I even tried “Every Breath You Take” by The Police and was almost successful at it.

Bill picked up his guitar too, although he’s only been playing for a week. Maybe there will come a day when we can jam together.

The title of today’s post comes from a song by Ray Stevens. I have always thought Ray Stevens’ talent was a bit underrated. He’s a wonderful singer and pianist, but he’s best known for singing comedic novelty songs, with the exception of his 1970 hit, “Everything is Beautiful”. Even though some people might think of it as a “schmaltzy” song, I’ve always thought of “Everything is Beautiful” as an anthem of tolerance and kindness. I find it oddly comforting to listen to it today.

A silly song… but I relate. I doubt my guitar playing will make me a celebrity, though.
This song always makes me smile, even though it’s kind of corny.

Since we aren’t traveling or exploring as much this year, music has become a lot more important to me. I’ve been making more videos, all of which include photos or videos from our travels. In a way, it’s made me miss traveling more, although making music brings me joy. I don’t have a lot of people listening, but it’s still a pleasure to make it and explore new and creative ways to express myself. Making music is mostly uncontroversial, and it doesn’t beg philosophical discussions or arguments. I’ve about had my fill of those lately, too.

I doubt we’ll go out today… the sky is full of rain clouds and the wind is up. I welcome the rain, since our rain barrel in the backyard is pretty parched and has dried out so much at the top that it’s warped a bit. Maybe with more rain, the wood will swell and seal up the cracks in the wood. The garden is liking the rain, too. Our cucumbers have blossoms, which I know means that the fruits will be on the vine soon. I’m starting to sound like a Handmaid… and with the constant hammering about face masks, maybe I’ll soon look like one.

Anyway… this weekend has so far not been as exciting or fun as last weekend was. We really enjoyed ourselves, but we also recognize that it’s best not to jump back into the way we were in previous years. Not until the coronavirus scourge has been vanquished a bit more. Hopefully, that won’t take the rest of my life.

Here’s a video I made this week. I shared it on my original blog, but since this post is about music, I’ll share here, too. I’m much better at singing than playing guitar. But with time, practice, and luck, maybe I can even things up a bit.

And just to keep things topical, this video includes footage from our visit to Ireland in 2016. Boy, do I wish we could be there now…

My pandemic birthday… part one

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Why did we stay twenty minutes from home?

A few weeks ago, Bill and I went to nearby Hofheim to visit the Birkenhof Farm for some fresh products from their 24/7 fridge. I wrote about that experience here. While we were picking out strawberries and farm cheese from the fridge, I couldn’t help but notice the unmistakable dome of a “Therme”. Germany has several areas that are noted for their natural hot springs where the water is rich with healing minerals. Stuttgart and Wiesbaden are both hot springs “hot spots”. Hofheim has the Rhein-Main Therme, that is connected to a hotel, which I spotted as we passed it in May. I mused that I would like to visit.

When we lived near Stuttgart, I loved visiting the Mineraltherme in Böblingen. I see it’s currently still closed due to COVID-19, although it looks like it will be opening again soon. Wiesbaden and the surrounding areas in Hesse have not been as badly affected by the coronavirus as Baden-Württemberg has been. Granted, the pandemic is still going on right now, but things have loosened up a bit. I think Bill was also a bit worried about my mental health, because I sometimes suffer from anxiety and depression and was starting to become a hermit. Until this weekend, I had not left our neighborhood since that short trip to the Birkenhof farm on May 17th… and I wasn’t really wanting to go anywhere.

Bill loves to travel, and so do I… but the whole COVID-19 thing and the constant social media uproar about it was making me very reluctant to venture out. So he decided to book a “surprise” weekend away for me. He didn’t tell me where we were going, but I kind of figured it out. The Rhein-Main Therme is located only twenty minutes away from our home in Breckenheim, but it’s connected to a comfortable hotel that offers half board options and room service. He figured that even if I didn’t want to leave the hotel, we could still get room service. And being the thoughtful guy he is, he even brought Yahtzee and Trivial Pursuit, in case I wanted to play board games. Fortunately, those measures weren’t necessary. I ended up consenting to going out, despite my hatred of face masks… so my 48th birthday turned out to be pretty epic.

After arranging for Arran to visit the Birkenhof Tierpension, where he’d get to hang out with his old friend, Celene, who always takes great care of of him (and Zane, when he was still with us), Bill booked us two nights at the Vital Hotel, which is connected to the Rhein-Main Therme. He decided to go for the “Happy Weekend” package, which included half board (breakfast and dinner in the restaurant), free admission to the Therme, and two nights in the hotel. Right now, because of the pandemic, the Therme is limiting day visitors to three hour stays, but if you’re staying in the hotel, you can go directly to the Therme and stay as long as you want.

Meanwhile, as Bill was planning my birthday retreat, I was eyeing new guitars. I started learning to play guitar a few weeks ago. I bought an acoustic guitar on Amazon.de and signed up for Fender Play, an online service offered by the Fender guitar company that uses videos to teach people the basics of the instrument. The lessons have been going so well, and Bill has been enjoying hearing me play so much, that he decided he wanted to learn, too. So, even though I had a new Ortega acoustic guitar that I picked up on Amazon, I decided I wanted a better guitar with steel strings… and I bought Bill a basic guitar, too. Since we haven’t been traveling, I had some money stockpiled.

Fender Play isn’t available worldwide, but it is available in Germany. And there is also a Fender shop in Europe. My instruments got to me by way of The Netherlands in just three days! I love my pretty blue guitar, although I like the other one for teaching me the basics! As Bill was unwrapping his birthday gift (his is on July 7th), I said I felt like Oprah… “You get a guitar, and you get a guitar, and you get a guitar…” I’m still a lot better at singing than playing guitar, but I’m making progress, and my fingers are getting tougher by the day!

I worked on my new guitar skills as I nervously awaited our first trip away from home since coronavirus fucked everything up…