Where I ramble on about family gatherings and vintage dishes

Yesterday was The Great Kortuem Family Christmas Extravaganza. My Dad's brothers and sisters and their families gather, catch up on the past year and inevitably end up telling old stories and laughing until we're sick. There were 50+ people crammed into my Aunt Joanne's house. The noise level was incredible. There were great scuffles over chairs despite the proclamations of "place back." For a while, I even shared a chair with my Aunt Jeanne until I nabbed an empty barstool to sit on.

And the food. Mom was worried about what I would eat, since there would be a ham dinner and I haven't eaten meat since this summer. Not to worry, Mom. The corn casserole, the homemade buns, the pasta salads, the yams, the baked potatoes with sour cream / butter / cheese topping, not to mention the frosted cookies and homemade candy...I was just fine.

Then we exchanged gifts. I'd drawn my Aunt Judy's name. On the hottest day of August, I'd found her a crochet pattern for vintage-style potholders she'd been looking for and couldn't wait to give it to her. She loved it.

As it turns out, Judy had my name, too. On one of the hottest days of summer, she'd found me a Fire King Jadeite chocolate mug and couldn't wait to give it to me. And I love it.

I put it to good use this morning,
with some hot chocolate accompanied
by real potato lefse. Mmmmm....

I've mentioned a few of my obsessions in the course of this blog. Harps and music, of course. Books. Yarn. My cats. My garden. But right up there is my obsession with Fire King Jadeite. I love the milky color, the feel of the old glass, the sheer joy I get from using it. I held my new chocolate mug to the light and said, "Now I'm going to have to hunt for more of these so I have a whole set!"

I have D-handle mugs and teacups, but this is my first chocolate mug. It has such a dainty, flared shape. I have a feeling there will be a good hunt in my future. Every time I call my Mom to tell her about a new Jadeite score, she says, "Amy! You have enough Jadeite to serve lunch to the entire city of Mankato, do you really need any more?" This time was no different. She's exaggerating about the actual amount of Jadeite I own, of course. And it's not about NEEDing more Jadeite. It's about the pure WANT of it. That's what obsessing...I mean collecting...is about, right?

My Aunt Judy knows me well. Last year she had my name, and she found me these adorable Jadeite-base lamps.

I found some saucy vintage lampshades and
put them in my bedroom (because Jadeite
isn't just for kitchens anymore).

And last summer, at a family get-together,
Judy set a bag in front of me and said,
"Are these something you'd want?"

Inside were four Jane Ray salad dishes. "ARE THESE SOMETHING I WANT???" I calmly replied. I'd like to shop at the places Judy shops, but she says she'll keep them secret as long as she manages to draw my name for Christmas.

By the way, in the photo above I have the mug resting on a Jane Ray pattern saucer (I don't know if chocolate mugs came with saucers...) and both of them are resting on a vintage plate I got from Ann. It's part of her grandma's set of dishes. She was going to take them to the thrift store after doing a major house cleaning this fall and asked if I wanted them. "DO I WANT THEM???" I calmly replied.

I think I'm going to need more cupboard space...but don't tell Mom I said that.


Christmas Day

Mom and Dad's dog, Brandy, after the presents were opened.
Her expression and the mess just about say it all.

There was abundance, love, laughter, fun. All in the light of a bright Christmas morning.

Later, while dinner was in the oven, Dad and I went for a little walk with the dog (it was cold, still) and then finished a couple of outdoor arrangements Mom wanted us to make. Did I mention it was cold? It was cold. I was jumping up and down and holding my ears and shaking my hands to warm up my fingers and making those cold shrieking sounds I make when Dad finally asked, "Amy, are you cold?" Observant, that Dad.

But I did manage to snap a few mid-winter photos on the walk and during the outdoor creativity session. The light was so beautiful that close to sunset — nearly blue, almost pink, really a color that hasn't been named yet.

Our winter arrangement. Already enjoyed by a junco.

Snow resting on evergreens.
I love the tiny little bird and animal footprints in the snow.

Grasses blowing in the wind
toward one of the many cupolas in Mom's collection.

Seeds, waiting for spring.

And the sun setting on another warm, wonderful Christmas.


Christmas Eve

Beautiful. Peaceful. Filled with light.

For several years, I have played for two services at Centenary United Methodist Church on Christmas Eve. It's become a part of my own tradition and it wouldn't feel like Christmas without playing there.

2:00 p.m. Service of Remembrance
I am so honored to play for this service
as people grieve the losses of their loved ones.
I hope that the soothing sounds of the harp help
in some small way to bring them peace.

11:00 p.m. Service of Lessons and Carols
Organ. Guitar. Harp.
A church full of people singing.
Holding hands.

I love watching the congregation light candles as I'm playing Silent Night. However, every year I forget to tell the ushers not to turn the lights ALL the way off during the candle lighting...and only remember when the I'm in the middle of the first verse of the song and the church goes completely dark. I've played Silent Night so many times, I can almost do it by feel now. Almost. The second half of that first verse was improvised as my eyes adjusted, but nobody seemed to mind.

It was -7 (yes, 7 below zero) and windy when it was time to pack up the harp and leave. But I had plenty of good help. I drove home through a quiet, snow-covered town watching the smoke rise from the chimneys, the Christmas lights glow through the windows, the wind rush sparkling snowflakes up into playful swirls in front of the car.

Feeling grateful for a full and merry season of playing.

Feeling blessed.


Quote for the day

Me: Do you have organic tea?
Barnes and Noble cafe person: No.
Me: OK, then I'll have the Godiva Hot Chocolate.

So it's the holidays. I decided I could let my organic eating obsession slip a little bit.


A lesson in which I learn I can't do it all PLUS blog

Well learned, too.

I tried, friends. I tried really hard. But when it came down to choosing between rehearsing, hauling the harp, rehearsing some more, hauling the harp again, perhaps sleeping, then doing it all over again...and blogging...I chose the former.

The results?
1. A lovely, lovely season. Beautiful music, amazing performances to be a part of. The coldest harp hauling weather in memory. Very snowy. Magical. Busy. Fulfilling.
2. A blog that hasn't been updated for almost a month, despite my best intentions.

So now, on this Sunday afternoon that was supposed to be spent Christmas shopping with my mom in the Twin Cities but is now, because of the blizzard warning, being spent on the couch in front of the roaring space heater...

snuggled up with cats

...I shall catch up on my blog.

I'll put the date of the event in the title to give the blog a sense of chronology, which is probably cheating in Blogland, but I never promised I would follow the rules.

And if any of you have tips for really, truly being able to do it all PLUS blog, I'd welcome hearing about them!

O Christmas Tree Part II / December 19

Today I finally dragged out the vintage ornaments and sparkly bead garland and glittery snowflakes and pretty spiral thingeys. And decorated my tree. So it's only been sitting in the living room with only lights on it for three weeks. I've been busy.

Today was the day not only because Christmas was less than a week away, not only was it just HIGH TIME to decorate my tree, but today is my birthday. And I've never had a birthday go by without having a decorated tree. So here it is, in its sparkly glory.

Very pink. Very sparkly.

Very happy birthday.

The fastest I've ever played / December 14

Musicorum's "A Choral Christmas" concerts were gorgeous this year. I used to sing with the group, but my own concerts and performances prevent me from participating anymore. I'm glad that once in a while they invite me to accompany them so I can still be a part of the amazing music they make.

This year, the group was singing Stephen Paulus' "Three Nativity Carols." I've played the carols before and love the richly layered and textured treatments of the traditional lyrics. The harp part is fun to play...but there some very fast 16th notes in the last carol, "Wonder Tidings," and I spent quite a few evenings with my metronome clicking in preparation.

Here we are in mid-song.
Do you recognize that flaming red hair beside me?
Yes, that's Martha from my Celtic Band,
playing the oboe. She's a wonder herself.

I love this photo. My hands (and the rest of me) are just a blur.
THAT'S how fast "Wonder Tidings" goes.

The theme of the concert was "A Rose in Winter" and the program was filled with that delicate imagery. I even played my version of "Lo, How A Rose E'er Blooming" — I'd debuted it at my holiday concert and it was wonderful to play it again.

I'm sending best wishes to Musicorum as they search for a new conductor and begin the next chapter in making excellent music.

Words and music / December 13

This season has been filled with harp music AND so many of my favorite things. Books and yarn and now words. As in poetry.

The Southern Minnesota Poets Society asked me to play for their Christmas luncheon, and it was a beautiful event. After the luncheon, the poets all recited winter poetry they'd written. I sat and listened in awe at the imagery, amazed at the talent in the group.

And then the ever-entertaining poet John Rezmerski
gave us some insight into the poem
"'Twas the Night Before Christmas" by Clement Clarke Moore.

Did you know that Moore was responsible for naming the reindeer? Or that "laying his finger aside of his nose" is not a magical gesture but a signal of "this is our little secret?"

Neither did I.

Before I left, the poets made me an honorary member. I was, indeed, honored. I'm hoping I'll get over chickening out about reading my poetry in public as I attend the society's meetings. I'm also hoping I'll start writing more poetry all year, rather than just in the summer (the garden is so inspiring...)

We'll see if I can "chicken back in" as Rezmerski suggested.

O Come, Little Children / December 12

I was playing at a holiday open house for the First National Bank in Waseca when a tiny little angel crept closer and closer and closer to me. Soon she was making hand motions to "Away in a Manger."

Is there anything sweeter?
It brought tears to my eyes.

I love playing for events where children are present. It usually takes them a bit of time to get over their shyness. A huge harp can be intimidating to a little person. But more often than not, they end up right beside me, asking me questions, singing along. Only when they get too close to the harp or start touching the strings while I'm playing (or dueling with snowflake balloons on sticks right in front of me...) do I need to ask them to step back a little bit.

There's something special about having a warm little person leaning against me as I play, listening, humming. Seeing the look on their faces when I take a break and guide them through running their fingers up and down the strings. I feel at moments like those that I'm really doing my work in the world.

The ONLY thing better than books and music in one day? / December 6

That would be YARN and music, all in one day. I played for my favorite yarn store, The Tangled Skein for their Christmas open house.

I must say — the colors, the textures,
the wonderful woolliness of it all was quite distracting.

How could I resist? I came home with a bag full of new yarn. There's a long January ahead of me with few harp playing engagements and plenty of winter left. I bought some soft grey and white yarn for knitting myself some felted slippers. I also bought a vest pattern I'll adapt for using some of the luscious pink Mountain Mohair in my stash.

SamTheCat approves of my choice.
Bad kitty.

Books and music / December 5

All in one night. What could be better? The city of Mapleton was having a holiday extravaganza tonight and they asked me to be a part of it.

I played carols in the gorgeous library,
surrounded by books and an appreciative audience.

It was a snowy and blustery night, but it was warm and cozy inside the library. There was hot cider, there were cookies to decorate, there were snowflake balloons on sticks that doubled as weapons for a crowd of little boys who had eaten too many of those cookies.

My friend Carol came to hear me play and took the photo above during a break in the snowflake balloon fencing action. I hadn't put the event on my website and was pleasantly surprised to see her there. "I stalked you," she said when I asked her how she found out about the event. Really, she'd seen a poster for the event in Mankato. We had a good laugh together...but I'm sure I'll be looking over my shoulder for Carol at future unpublicized events...just in case...


At the end of the event I was sent into the night with a beautifully decorated cookie, my own snowflake balloon on a stick, a hug from my wonderful stalker and warm memories of a big celebration in a lovely, small town.

To Drive the Cold Winter Away / November 29

It was a beautiful concert. Every year, my friend Judy says, "Oh Amy! It was the best concert ever!" And this year I agreed with her.

First Presbyterian was decorated
and the setting was magical.

From the moment I arrived at the church in the afternoon to set up, tune the harps, warm up and just sit in quiet preparation, everything felt right. We'd all worked so hard. My band was in great form. Megan was her usual solid, sweet self. And all we had to do was wait for people to arrive.

It was beginning to rain and then freeze just as the concert was starting, and I was so glad people came to hear our music and spend two hours escaping the cares of the world despite the threat of the weather. There was music, singing, dancing and merriment, just as I'd promised. And I was so happy.

I made my entrance with the lap harp,
singing "This Endris Night" — a song I've loved
for a long, long time.

The lullaby theme continued with soft, gentle music
on both harps. "The Virgin's Lullaby" and
"Baloo Lammy" were audience favorites.

Megan danced her heart out to the "Christmas Eve Reel,"
"Christmas Day I'da Morning," and
"Apples in Winter."

Ann and Sara, the other 2/3 of Prima Vox even made an appearance
as my angelic echo on the Basque Carol "The Angel Gabriel."
I highly recommend having an angelic echo.
If you don't have one of your own, I really think
you should look into getting one.

I debuted a new song I wrote last year
and put the finishing touches on this year
called "Solstice Lullaby."
Already people were asking me to record it.

My good friends Carol and Jeff gave me
roses after the concert. By that point my stage poise
had left me, and I just stood there grinning.

I was so happy with how everything went. Things flowed perfectly, the rapport with the audience was warm and friendly, the music sounded wonderful in the space. Just moments after walking of stage I began to miss the music already, knowing we may not perform many of those pieces again for a while.

I didn't have long to reflect, though.
A few good friends joined me at my house afterward
for snacks, wine and loud laughter long into the night.

The perfect ending to a beautiful night of music, merriment and driving the cold winter away.

Dress rehearsal / November 28

"Here we are in the town!" (Martha's translation of the song title "Nous Voici Dans La Ville," which became our rallying cry during rehearsals.)

And here we gathered at First Presbyterian Church for our dress rehearsal. I love dress rehearsals. We give the music its final touches, we laugh, I freak out about wearing a microphone, I step dance along with Megan (sorry — for some reason there are no photos of THAT...).

The band gets all set up and waits patiently for me to settle down.

Megan gets her gillies strapped on.
Her Dad, Tom, comes along to every
dress rehearsal just for the fun of it
and gets put to work as roadie, sound checker,
joke teller, door holder and light switch finder.

And we start in on the rehearsing.
The sound in First Presbyterian is so present, so intimate.
It's as close as playing in the living room, but better.
And of course there's more room in the church for Megan to dance!

After the band packed up and left, and Tom took Megan home, I had the whole church to myself. It was quiet and dimly lit and felt sparkly with anticipation. I played through my solo harp pieces. Sang through the vocal selections one more time. With abandon. Figured out a better ending for "Baloo Lammy."

And then I sat in one of the curved, wooden pews just listening. To my own voices of inspiration. To the clicking, creaking sounds of an empty church. To the echoes of the music we'd made, still alive in the rounded ceiling.


Traditional thanksgiving walk in the woods / November 27

For the past three years, Dad and Jeff and I have gone for a nature walk to wear off some of the effects of the eating contest. Mom and Dad live on a ravine acreage, so there's plenty of nature to be in.

Over the river (or the ravine)...

Through the woods...

Geese on the wing...

Frost on the fallen logs...

November sunset through the bare trees.

Then we went back inside, warmed our hands and had apple pie.

Blessings - Thanksgiving Day / November 27

A short drive into the country on Thanksgiving morning, and soon I was welcomed into the warm house I grew up in. I could smell the goodness the moment I opened the door...

The homemade bread.
(I embroidered this cloth when I was in junior high,
and Mom lines the Thanksgiving breadbasket with it every year.

The turkey.
(Brandy waited for any little morsel
Dad might drop as he carved.)

The stuffing. The green bean casserole.
The apple pie. The potatoes. The gravy.
(All made from recipes in Mom's memory.)

Then we sat down to the first Thanksgiving dinner in the new sun porch Jeff built. Dad declared me the winner of the eating contest for the third year in a row.

So many blessings.

O Christmas Tree / November 26

Every year, my wonderful brother, Jeff, oh-so-cheerfully (not) drives in with his great big red truck and picks me up and takes me to the tree lot and helps me get a Christmas tree and then drives me home and helps me wrangle it into the stand. Sure, there are other people who could help me do it. Sure, I could even do it myself. Sure, I could just get an artificial tree and save EVERYBODY the aggravation.

But what fun would that be?

The conversation that occurred at the moment the above image was captured went something like this...
Jeff: "Did you just take my picture?
Me: "No."

hee hee heeeee