All Hallows Eve

SamTheCat says Happy Halloween.

Here he is, remembering popping up out of a leaf pile on the day before Halloween three years ago, racing across my lawn and jumping into my arms.

How could I not keep him?

Singing until midnight

Last night we had Prima Vox rehearsal around Ann's marble table.
Learned two new songs. Part of a third.
Improvised our way through a fourth.
Suddenly it was midnight.

We had a few moments of big talking:
"I could sing until dawn."
"I'm not nearly done singing."
"We should Vox at midnight more often."

But quickly, eyes got tired and voices got scratchy and we went into the early Halloween morning, sleepy feathers on the breath of God.


Piles of music everywhere

I've learned to live with the fact that when I'm working on a project something in my life is always going to be out of control. If the leaves are raked, the house will be in disarray. If the dishes are clean and put away, there are usually piles of laundry waiting to be taken care of. If the downstairs is tidy, the upstairs is probably a disaster. And if EVERYthing happens to look great on the surface, just be careful if you decide to open a closet door.

Right now I'm working on three projects (my holiday concert November 29th, the Musicorum concerts December 12 and 14, and the Prima Vox concert February 13). And there's not a clear surface in the house.

This was the scene the morning after a Prima Vox
rehearsal in the kitchen.
This happens to be a pile of set list rejects.
(Shortly after taking this photo, I put this music into another pile...)

Moving to the living/music room,
music is scattered all over the floor, the coffee table,
the couch, the chair.
Walk carefully. Music on wood floors is slippery.
Believe me.

Sometimes people ask me how I get the inspiration for my concerts. I think they want to hear about some sort of divine guidance to the right songs (and divine intervention telling me that SamTheDrummer probably wouldn't be willing to put on some deer horns and cavort around to the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance...ahem). And while I do believe I receive quite a bit of guidance, I also owe a lot of my concert programming to the work of making and rearranging piles of music. Piles of music I've played through, piles of music I like, piles of music I don't like, piles of music I'll use this year, piles of music I'll save for another year, piles of music I'd like to learn.

They may be getting more streamlined, but there are still piles of music everywhere I look. And that's ok. Because at least the laundry's done.


A beautiful afternoon in the yard with my camera

The view from the front step.

The amur maple, changing its colors.

One last coneflower.
Thank you for brightening the front walk all summer.

An offering for St. Francis.

When Autumn leaves start to fall...

Last night when I came home there was that unmistakable crisp in the air. The kiss of a possible frost on my cheeks. Cold. Fresh. Fall.

In her yard, Ethel has two of the biggest, most beautiful maple trees I have ever seen. When they turn golden it's like the entire block lights up. Even at night under the street light it looks like afternoon.

But this week the trees have been
letting go their glorious gold.

"Did you see how many leaves are on the ground?" Ethel has asked me every day this week when I called her. "ZILLIONS."

That's a lot of leaves, Ethel.

This morning while I was making tea and feeding cats I heard laughter coming from outside. Out the window I could see a troop of VINE Faith in Action volunteers making quick work of Ethel's leaves.

Within an hour they had them all piled up on the boulevard, waiting for the city workers to pick them up.

Go VINE. This is exactly why I love your organization — you help people like Ethel take care of things they can't do themselves so they can remain in their homes and maintain their independence. I hope to have a big crowd at the holiday concert in order to make you a generous donation.


Are you done practicing yet?

Poor Harry.
These late-night practice sessions
are totally messing with his
"stomp on Mom while she tries to
relax on the couch" routine.


Doesn't everybody have a drawer of early vocal music recordings?

The other Prima Voxes and I were wondering how another group may have performed the melisma in one of the Hildegard chants we're working on.

So I pulled out my drawer of early vocal music recordings in the name of research. "Wow!" they said. "You have a whole drawer of early vocal music recordings!" There was a little bit of silence while we looked at each other, me a little incredulous. "Don't you?" I asked. Then they laughed at me, but seemed glad enough to dig into the drawer.

Technically, it's a drawer and a half. And that's just early vocal music. Don't get me started on the early instrumental stff.

I've been collecting this music since I was in college and keep discovering more and more groups I love. Sequentia. Trio Mediaeval. Anonymous 4, though my unholy envy of them sometimes gets in the way of enjoying them. There, I admitted it.

That night at Prima Vox rehearsal I realized just how long I've been longing sing this kind of music. And just how musically happy it makes me that now I am.

Viva Voxes.



O Pastor, O Cruor, O Virgo, Caritas, Hodie

All our rehearsing, all our prepping, all our phrasing and drone honing came together for a lovely evening service at First Presbyterian. The service was intimate, attended by about 30 very interested and honestly moved members of various congregations. The atmosphere was hushed. It was a perfect Prima Vox moment. Pastor Dawn read Hildegard's words so authoritatively and passionately.

The church was wonderful to sing in. We practiced and practiced in the balcony with fine but forced results. Then we tried something novel — we pushed aside our shyness of people looking at us when we sang, and sang from the CHOIR area at the front of the church. Like, the place where singing is meant to carry up into that beautiful dome and spin around, turning many voices into one. Lesson learned.

During the post-singing analysis (thanks, Mom and Jon and Joe and Scott for indulging us), we found the ad for the service in the paper.

And laughed so hard that it was placed
right between ads for bar bingo and haunted hayrides.

Then, in a flight of spontaneity, we headed to the observatory at the university see a Prima Vox fan, an astronomer who was busy with a public stargazing event had to miss the service. After a long, cold, windy walk over a gravel path in our dresses and high heels, we arrived in time to gaze at Jupiter, the Ring Nebula and stars, stars, stars. Further spontaneity struck and we sang "Caritas" under the red lights of the observatory: "Divine Love abounds in all things, From the depths to the high above the highest stars."


Farewell, Garden Cats

The past two summers have seen a growing pride of cats scampering around in my garden and the yards of my neighbors. I called them the Garden Cats and always kept out cat chow and water for them, as did the neighbors.

They never got too close. But they would come running when I came outside. They would follow me around as I watered, weeded, planted. They would hide in the hostas and pounce at me before running away, tails in the air and ears back. They would sit behind the tomatoes on the south side of the garage, soaking up the sun. I know I shouldn't have gotten too attached to stray cats, but I went ahead and named them anyway.

This is MommaCat, the delicate, sweet matriarch of the pride.

This is OtherMommaCat drinking from my kitty-shaped birdbath.
I thought she was the dapper daddy, all tuxed up,
until "his" tummy got bigger and bigger. And bigger.
Then I finally figured out my mistake.

These are two of this spring's babies, Cricket and Bat.
I took the photo through my kitchen window
(which needs to be washed, evidently...).

Here's Moustache, resting in the shade of the lilac tree.

One night while I was on a walk, I saw the maintenance guy from the apartment complex down the street in his garage. With a cat in a live trap. It was Moustache. I stomped over and demanded to know what he was doing. "Trapping these damned cats and letting the cops take them." It seems the apartment complex didn't want residents feeding them anymore and was taking action.

Talk about taking action -- my neigbors and I were up in arms. We spent more than a few long phone calls and talks over back fences, crying and trying to figure out what to do with the kitties. I told one of my friends the sad story and she said she would love to have them on her farm.

Over the next few weeks, we managed to take Cricket, Bat and Moustache to Ranae's farm. OtherMommaCat and her new kittens went to another good farm home. All seemed well.

Until we heard that the maintenance guy had trapped MommaCat and taken her "to a farm off the Judson Bottom Road." But wouldn't tell us where. She'd just had kittens. "She's just a cat," the maintenance guy said. Perhaps to him. To me and the rest of the neighborhood, she was a friend and a joy, a lovely little presence, a good mother to her delightful babies.

Here she is nursing Moustache. He was STARVING.

I gave the maintenance guy a talking to. Withheld no swear words. Not that it helped. We never did find the kittens or MommaCat.

It makes me a little weepy to write about this. I'll miss their furry little presences in my garden, being surprised to find a sleeping kitten while I'm clearing out the hollyhocks or picking raspberries.

People can be cruel. I wish I'd been able to scoop up all the Garden Cats and take care of them in my yard. But it reminds me that all I can do is all I can do. And it reminds me of Mother Theresa's wise words, "Do small things with great love."

Every time I'm in my garden, I will remember. With love.


Minneopa, "water falling twice"

The leaves are turning.

There's that "season change" smell in the air
when I walk outside in the morning.

It's Minneopa weather.

So off a friend and I went yesterday for a walk through Minneopa State Park. This is the scene of so many wonderful childhood memories, when my mother and aunt would pack a huge picnic and cram 6 kids and several friends into two station wagons and set out for the park. We'd have a smoky fire, char some hotdogs, eat way too many s'mores, run around like wild children through the woods, up and down the stairs, to the falls (and if you were my brother, you'd "accidentally" land in the creek once or twice, every single year).

My friend and I traveled those same routes, though a little more slowly than my childhood pace. It was a strangely warm day for mid-October. The valley under the falls echoed with the voices of little boys. The air was filled with a family's smoky fire and laughter. We lingered on the paths, got out a blanket and spread it out over a pile of leaves, and rested there on our backs, looking up at the grey sky through a veil of golden maple leaves.

Then the sun got ready to set
and turned this tree fiery red.

The shadows crept out from under the rocks.

And it was time to head home. Less sweaty, less exhausted, less sugared-up and a lot less grubby than in my childhood years, but no less happy with my Minneopa fix.


Family wedding

My beautiful cousin Jenny
had the perfect wedding yesterday.
Just look at that sparkle.

I played all the classics for her — Canon in D, Trumpet Voluntary, Bridal March. And the reason I couldn't take a photo of the happy couple until after the ceremony is because I was so busy wiping dainty tears of joy.

Okay, I was bawling like a baby. Trying desperately to get it together before the unity candle solo. Accidentally giving a long, shuddering sigh and a giant sniff, right into the vocal microphone.

Family weddings are wonderful. There have been few that I haven't hauled the harp to, gladly. Aunts are complimentary and huggy. Uncles rush in to be roadies and park my car for me. We now-grown-up cousins get to giggle and gossip and catch up on our lives.

And dance like crazy fools to the YMCA song, the chicken dance and the Hokey Pokey. All in high heels, all realizing as we watched the next generation of cousins roar around the reception hall that we're not quite as young as we used to be.

And not caring, as we sat down to eat our 2nd piece of wedding cake.


Bumper crop

Holy Romas. Somebody decided it would be a great idea to plant TWO plants this year. I'm not saying who that may have been.

And the Romas all ripened within a week. Oh, there were steadily 5-6 lusicous, deep red beauties a week from August on, but now we're talking buckets full within the last week.

Romas have been frozen. Romas have been put into soups. Romas have been put onto pasta. Romas have been made into lasagna sauce. Romas have been sliced and sprinkled with salt and pepper and eaten standing in the kitchen. Often.

But what to do with the rest, lined up on the kitchen counter, piled up in bowls, stacked up in a basket, gleaming red in the peak of Roma ripeness? "I'll bring in my dehydrater for you," Mom said.

Slicing took a while.
Drying took a while, too.

And it all came down to this one little bowl
of gorgeous little tomato rings,
dried while the summer sun was still in them.

I guess it's the last of harvest time for me. There's still a tiny bit of basil in the garden. The Farmer's Market will close in couple of weeks. I'm thinking of buying a chest freezer and visiting the Farmer's Market next year and planting even bigger, in the interest of locavore behavior and organic eating.

In the meantime, thank goodness for frozen corn, vats of pesto, preserved tomatoes and squash.


Shhh...I'm dreaming of a peaceable kingdom

It's not unusual for SamTheCat to sleep on the back of the couch. Nor is it unusual for Jingle Belle to sleep on the back of the couch.

What's unusual is that right now,
at this very moment,
they're sleeping on the back of the couch

Their furry little bodies are touching, even.

Why is this unusual? Jingle Belle is the Queen B. She was my first cat, and she and I lived comfortably in our girldom until Harry in all his many-haired glory was rescued and joined our pride. I don't think Jingle Belle has ever forgiven me. She really only relaxes when she's on my lap or otherwise perched and the bothersome boy cats are nowhere in sight. Better yet is if she gets to come into my room with me at night, just the girls, just like old times.

I watched warily as a sleepy SamTheCat jumped up next to her and started pawing himself a space. But Jingle Belle only growled a little bit. Lifted her head, opened one eye and let out a low "rrRRRrrr." Maybe he's growing on her? Maybe they were cold? Maybe (gasp) the Queen B has mellowed a little? Maybe the mouse they reduced to a pile of guts on the floor during the night helped them bond in some sort of kitty hunting manner? I'm not going to think too hard about it.

I'll just enjoy the harmonious household, if only for tonight.

Busy weekend

This is the view from the couch, where I've been sitting for a couple hours and trying to recuperate.

Friday night, I played at an art show for Marian Anderson, a local well-known artist. Mankato's literati, artists and scholars showed up in droves. I was honored to be among them.

Then, while heading to the refreshment table, I managed to slide across the floor on one heel, lose the battle with my balance and fall rather ungracefully on all fours. Glamorous harpist, that's me. Thus, the "recuperation" part mentioned above. Ouch. Hobble, hobble, limp, hold hip. VERY glamorous.

Saturday I played at the last outdoor wedding of the season. Someone got their prayers answered -- the weather was gorgeous.

Minneopa State Park decorated herself
in colorful autumn leaves just for the occasion.
The breeze was balmy, the cool chill was rising from the ground.

Perfect day to say "I do" outside.


Capturing the last of summer

I went to the Farmer's Market today and came home with four dozen ears of corn to blanch and freeze. That's a lot of corn, I decided at about 10:30 p.m. when I was STILL cutting and bagging.

SamTheCat sat there and watched the whole process,
looking from corn to me to corn to me with this
"Are you nuts, Person?" look on his face.

It's all part of having read the book Skinny Bitch two months ago. I'd read all those principles before, just not all at once while lying in bed sick one Sunday afternoon. It blew my circuitry.

Thus began my journey into eating locally, eating organically as much as possible, being mindful about where my food comes from and what it has to go through to get to me. I don't know what the world is coming to or what will happen. It's overwhelming sometimes. Depressing many times.

Small steps. Personal steps. Like 40 cups of golden corn, frozen along with the summer sun, ready for a cold winter day.