Ten Things I Love about Bethlehem PA

My moving preparations are almost finished, and soon I leave for my new home in Providence RI.  Despite my eager anticipation of new adventures, my thoughts keep returning to Bethlehem PA.  It has been my home for 26 years, and was a great place to raise a family, grow a small business, and find good friends.

Here are ten things that I may have loved the most about “o little town”:

Old Chapel at Central Moravian Church
Old Chapel at Central Moravian Church

When I go downtown to shop or meet friends for lunch, I like to park near the library on Church Street, then cut through the Central Moravian Church campus on my way to Main Street.  I usually pause for a moment or two to look at the Old Chapel, which seems to sit contentedly, enjoying its long retirement since 1806 when the “new” Sanctuary was built.

New Street, Bethlehem PA
New Street, Bethlehem PA

The downtown historic district is a visual delight of beautifully preserved homes, diverse in style, size and level of elegance.  From the grandest Georgian estate to the smallest carriage house, homes on every block have welcoming doorways, gently aged or tastefully aging exteriors, and pops of colorful paint and flowers.  All changes to exteriors in the Bethlehem Historic District must be approved by the city’s Architectural Review Board, which causes some grumbling now and then. But the neighborhood’s charm is thus preserved, enchanting all who visit.

Me at the art show with my personal framer and booth erector
Me at the art show with my personal framer and booth erector

In May on Mother’s Day weekend, the annual Fine Art & Craft Show takes over Main Street.  Artists’ booths fill both sides of the street from the Brew Works to the Moravian Bookshop.  An artist-in-residence, roving musicians, and a children’s art area add to the ambience.  That sounds suspiciously like marketing-speak.   And it is!  I served happily on the art show committee for ten years, and even showed my photography at the show for a couple of those years.

Tree sculptures at Lehigh Fields
Tree sculptures at Lehigh Fields

Public art everywhere!  You cannot drive or walk far in this town without seeing a a sculpture or two, and perhaps a mural.

Some views of the Steel Stacks in Bethlehem

Bethlehem’s own “high line”, the Hoover Mason Trestle, offers closeup views of the preserved Bethlehem Steel stacks and other remnants of the town’s industrial heritage.  The abstract patterns of weathered brick and rusted metal, colorful layers of peeling paint, and broken windows are simply gorgeous:  a photographer’s dream.

Kwanzan cherry blossoms
Kwanzan cherry blossoms

Springtime and its intoxicating cocktail of blossoms on cherry trees, dogwoods, rhododendrons, and Japanese magnolias.

Small but enthusiastic contingent of BCEP at the Heart Walk
Small but enthusiastic contingent of BCEP at the Heart Walk

Convivial gatherings with other local alums in the Brown Club of Eastern PA.  The college fight song was right: ‘We are ever true to Brown, and We love our college dear … and something something beer.’

Saucon Creek
Saucon Creek

A ramble through Saucon Park on a misty morning, before the picnickers converge.

Looking up at the Alumni Memorial Building at Lehigh University
Looking up at the Alumni Memorial Building at Lehigh University

On warm summer evenings, Jeff and I like to get an ice cream cone at The Cup and meander around the campus of Lehigh University.  We admire the splendid landscaping and the Gothic style buildings, and luxuriate in the quiet unique to a college campus when the students are away.

Salsa dancing and uke jamming in the garden
Salsa dancing and uke jamming in the garden

At the Sculpture Garden concert series, I’ve heard some good music, attempted to learn salsa dance and contra dance moves, and even jammed with other audience members and the band on my ukulele.  It’s one place where my enthusiasm for trying something new was not dampened by my lack of talent.  (A big shout-out here to the plucky Elaine D!  There can be no truer friend than one who will play the ukulele in public with me.)

The list could go on but I’ll stop here.  Another day I may remember white lights and candles in winter windows, or sweet summer grass smells and bicycle bells on the towpath.  Or handsome policemen on horseback, oh my!

Making Space

Sunrise at Mariton Wildlife Sanctuary

I arose well before dawn, packed camera and tripod, and drove to Mariton Wildlife Sanctuary in Easton,PA.  Mine was the only car in the parking lot, and I saw no one else except three wild turkeys as I hiked through woods filled with birdsong.  I had in mind to photograph a stand of trees in a meadow, pre-visualizing an image of their dark columns rising dramatically from the misted undergrowth.  While setting up the shot, I turned and saw this view down the path I had walked minutes earlier.  Another few minutes and it was gone.

I gave myself space that day, and time, and permission to deviate from the plan.  It’s hard to break a habit of lifelong schedules, plans, productivity goals, and general busyness.  But I’m trying to leave more open space in my life and in my mind, to let experiences and images drift in and out, to perhaps see beyond what I thought was there.

I emerged from the forest bug-bitten, sweaty and happy, my only other goal that day to have a cup of coffee at a nearby riverside diner.

P. S.  I am moving to Providence RI in less than two weeks!  I expect to have a busy life there, filled with family, new friends, explorations into the local arts and culture.  But I will also make space for quiet unplanned days, take time for second looks, and welcome whatever thoughts and images may come.

The Space Between and Around Things

Space re photography

The space between and around things can be the most important compositional element in a photograph.  I made this photograph of the Merrill P. Barber bridge in Vero Beach last winter.  It shows a solitary individual walking across a very long bridge.  The bridge and the person are elements of the photo, of course, but neither is the subject.  What makes the image memorable is the expanse of sky and clouds above the bridge, and the pieces of sky between the bridge supports.  Looking for and using the space that surrounds forms is an exercise that I often use to improve my photographic skills.

Looking at this image set my brain off on a ramble about space.

My husband and I have a contract on the house that we are selling in Bethlehem PA, with the sale scheduled to close in less than three weeks.  Before we listed the house for sale, a professional home stager provided by our realtor spent a couple of hours walking around our house with us.  She made copious notes of things we needed to improve, while kindly assuring us that our home was already 90% of the way there.  The next day she emailed us SEVENTEEN PAGES of detailed instructions!  Yes, that’s seventeen, 17, pages.*  A lot of the instructions had to do with making space so that potential buyers could visualize themselves – and their stuff – in this house.

We set about doggedly following the stager’s instructions and clearing out our closets, garage and basement. My poor husband agreed to tackle the basement and garage, while I started winnowing the closet contents.  To my surprise, I began to enjoy the task, and my closets sort of became little design projects.  Here’s how our coat closet ended up:

Space re stuff

(I don’t have a “before” photo, but it would have showed:  Coats and jackets for every season, jammed onto ugly hangers of all kinds, completely filling the rod. Snow boots, rain boots, and random sneakers jumbled on the floor.  Also on the floor: a large wicker basket overflowing with dusty gloves, winter hats and scarves left by our kids who are long grown and gone, a vacuum cleaner and some attachments, a handheld carpet spot cleaner.  On the shelf: messy piles of hats, scarves and gloves belonging to the remaining two people here, a hatbox with several of my hats smushed into it, a bunch of little black travel umbrellas, a cardboard box with yet more vacuum attachments, and several boxes of vacuum bags and filters.)

I open that closet door at least once a day now to admire the spareness inside.  I feel much freer having given or thrown away a lot of my stuff.  And I have reclaimed some of my space – the important space between and around things – that is often the most important thing in the picture.

Next post: learning to value the spaces in life.

*All kidding aside, our professional stager was wonderful, with a great sense of humor, and her advice to us was spot on!  I recommend Jill Kratzer of Stage-Coach to anyone who is preparing to sell a home in the Lehigh Valley of PA.

Walking the Walk

File Jun 05, 7 30 07 PM
Sophie at Mount Hope Community Garden

A big reason for our move to the East Side of Providence is that we want to live in a “walkable” neighborhood.  Jeff and I have talked about how great (and healthy!) it will be to walk to a Wayland Square coffee shop or bakery in the morning, walk to Brown University to hear a lecture, walk to RISD to see an art installation, walk to Hope Street to dine in a trendy restaurant, walk to the Hope Street Farmer’s Market in Lippitt Park on Saturdays and – of course – walk the length of Blackstone Boulevard regularly for exercise.  We are “talking the talk” right now.  Will we really “walk the walk” and hoof it to all of these places?  Or will we actually hop in the car and drive most of the time?

Old habits are hard to break, and our life in the suburbs has accustomed us to driving most places.  Our move is still about one month away, but we traveled to Providence this weekend to help celebrate Jeff’s mother’s 85th birthday.  The weather was balmy, and on Friday evening we walked to Apsara Palace for Pan-Asian cuisine.  On Saturday morning I walked with Sophie to her plot in the Mount Hope community garden (photo above).  I really enjoyed the walk to and from both places, and I gained a new resolve for walking to places AND for finding places to walk to.

To help me achieve my goal of finding good destinations and walking to them, I will have a regular feature on this blog called “I Walked Here”.  It’s easy to find a coffee shop or boutique to walk to; they’re all over the East Side.  But what about a doctor or dentist? a grocery store?  a hairdresser?  Stay tuned as I discover how many products and services I can find within walking distance of my new home.

Our New Home in Providence

I mentioned in my last post that we bought a house during a weekend visit to Providence.  It sounds more impulsive than it actually was.  I had tracked the Providence East Side housing market for a while, comparing listing prices to sale prices, noting how many days an appealing home tended to stay on the market, trying to determine whether we could afford to buy a home that would meet most of our needs without requiring substantial renovations or upgrades.

We contacted realtor David Hasslinger who had helped Jeff’s sister Debbie to sell her home, and gave him a list of eight homes that we wanted to see.  He arranged a very efficient Saturday of home touring for us, even finding a slice of time in the middle of the day for lunch.  We saw all the homes, ranging from major fixer-uppers to lovely completed renovations.  None felt just right, however, so we figured to make a few more weekend house hunting trips during the spring and summer.  Dave told us about one more house that we should see, coming on the market the next day with an open house.  Jeff and Sophie and I arrived at the start of the open house on Sunday, walked in, looked at each other and said “wow”.  The wow feeling continued unabated as we walked slowly through the house and yard.  So much light!  Such pretty floors!  A modern kitchen!  We smiled at the funky blue fixtures in the upstairs bathroom, said “oh, well” about the odd feather pattern wallpaper on the stairs, and started imagining new wall colors and furniture placements.

Technically, our new home meets a lot of our stated criteria: three blocks from the running and bike paths of Blackstone Boulevard, a short walk to other things (like The Butcher Shop Cafe and Deli!), about 2300 square feet of living space, a lovely small yard, a nice kitchen, a garage, move-in ready condition.  It flunked on other measures: only one full bathroom, laundry in the basement, no bedroom on the first floor.

But our glass is much more than half full.  When I climb the stairs to the bedroom I will pause halfway to enjoy the pretty view from the big window on the landing. I will put some comfortable seating in the basement laundry area where I can read or listen to podcasts while I wait for the laundry to finish.  And I’ll enjoy figuring out where to put a new second bathroom!

The Big Idea to Move to Lil’ Rhody

The year began with lunch.  And a walk, during which we discussed what we REALLY want to do now that we are retired.  There were further discussions, more walks, some glasses of wine, some more glasses of wine, and a test balloon of an idea at the end: Maybe we could move to Providence RI.  

We know Providence well; Jeff grew up in the area and his extended family is mostly there, we both went to Brown, and our beloved daughter Sophie lives on the East Side and works in Cranston.  (Our beloved son Jeffrey and his adorable girlfriend Jenny will probably move around a bit before they settle, so they dodged the parents-moving-to-their-town bullet.)  We love visiting Providence because it is fun, friendly, colorful, quirky, artsy and hip, with residents who are engaged and involved in their communities.  The surrounding area has abundant natural beauty, with the state of RI claiming over 400 miles of coastline.  As an added bonus, Boston is easily accessible by inexpensive daily commuter rail service.

However, it might be crazy for us to move to Providence because:

  1. It’s colder there in the winter than where we live now, Bethlehem PA.
  2. We’d like to live on the East Side, which means we’d have to buy an old house.
  3. That old house that we would buy would probably not offer one-level living (at least, not in our price range!)
  4. It’s colder there in the winter and sometimes they get a lot of snow.
  5. They have a car tax. Ok, that reason is a bit petty, but a car tax is annoying!
  6. Did I mention that the winters are COLD in Providence?

Taking all of the above pros and cons into consideration, we made a trip in April to do some exploratory house hunting, purely for investigational purposes of course, to get a better feel for the market, see what kinds of homes were available in our price range, start the process, etc.  And that weekend WE BOUGHT A HOUSE!  and IT’S OLD!!  and IT HAS STAIRS!!!  But it is also lovely, charming and filled with sunlight, has a pretty little back yard, and is within walking distance of all sorts of things that we like to do.

We rushed back home to Bethlehem and worked hard for several weeks getting our house ready to sell.  It sold four days after we listed it!  We are grateful to our friend and realtor Barbara Fraust and to the staff of Carol C. Dorey Real Estate, Inc. for their excellent advice and service.  Here’s a picture of our house in Bethlehem:

front of house 1

Things are happening fast.  We will move in July, and begin our new adventure.