Beat your neighbor

(As in "Beat Your Neighbor" Tomatoes

Although, from the sounds of it in our morning phone conversations for the last two weeks, Ethel was ready to beat ME for not getting tomato plants sooner this year. All "we" needed, she'd say, was a nice big plant, with a few blossoms on it, and if "we" could find one with little tomatoes already on it, well that would be nice.

"We." Not quite the royal we, but the "we" that meant I would drive to the garden center, get the plant, come back and offer it up for her approval, plant it, water it, get it in a tomato cage and fertilize it, all under her sharp-eyed direction. And "we" just hadn't had the energy to brave the gardening crowds this year.

Yesterday morning I was out getting coffee (for recreational purposes...it's a holiday weekend after all), and I decided to bite the bullet and see if any garden centers had any tomatoes that fit Ethel's specifications. I knew it was almost better to not get tomatoes than to come home with the puny variety. After all, she'd say every day, she's 92 and she can't afford to wait around for puny little tomato plants to produce. She could die any day, and it would be a shame to go without having one last nice homegrown tomato. 

 Drummers to my rescue. 

 Blossoms AND little tomatoes.

There was not only a Roma "Beat Your Neighbor" for Ethel, but two for me plus a nice-sized little plant that's a new Roma variety I decided to try. I called Ethel on my way home and asked her how much she loved me. She said, "It depends." I told her I'd stop by with a surprise for her in a few minutes.

She smiled when I showed up at her doorstep with the plant. "We" cleared a space in her patio garden, planted the tomato, fertilized it, found a cage for it, watered it.

Voila. "We" have a tomato plant.

When I was walking back to put my shovel in the garage, Ethel said..."A lot, kiddo. I love ya a lot."


In case of rain...

The wedding was scheduled for 3:00 p.m. at the Sibley Park Gazebo. Rain was forecast all day long. At 8:15 a.m., it was pouring so hard I could barely see across the street. The mother of the bride called me a little while later and said, "Yep. The kids are getting married outside." Evidently, they were experiencing a different weather system than I was.

Mother of the bride asked how the rain affected the harp. I told her it wouldn't affect the harp because I don't play outside in the rain. (So says the handy performance contract.) She said they would have to scrounge up a boom box then, because the kids were determined the wedding would be at the park and not inside at the gorgeous reception location.

I watched radar and checked the local weather station's Facebook page obsessively for the next six hours, as I'm sure the couple did. At 1:30, it stopped raining. At 2:00, I packed up the harp and headed to the park. No one else had arrived yet. I had the park to myself, except for a woman who drove by and asked incredulously, "They're having a WEDDING here today?"

The white trees were blooming
and the white tulle floated in the breeze,
like fairies had come to decorate.


 The fountain was musical in the background.
I could hear the peacocks in the little zoo
at the park giving their beautiful, eerie cries.

I think I need a gazebo to play my harp in.

All dressed in white.

Just like the bride.

The sun broke through the clouds just as the couple was exchanging rings. I couldn't believe it. I don't think anyone else could either, after the rainy day. But the couple had faith. It will serve them well long after that walk down the aisle.


Wishes and Violets

When I was little and there was a wishbone, a lucky penny or a shooting star to wish on, I'd always wish for one thing: that our backyard would be filled with violets.

Viola sororia, common blue violet

Until I was 9 years old, we lived in a little rented house in the valley by the Mankato airport. Mom and Dad tell me how poor we were, how difficult it was to save and scrape to buy the house they live in now. But they protected me well, and I had no concept of poor. There was a little ravine at the bottom of the yard with a creek at the bottom. A railroad track followed the creek, and I loved hearing the train's whistle and its rocking, rocking sound as it went by at night. There were swallows in the garage, goldfinches in the plum trees, salamanders in the grass, wild bleeding hearts along the road. Riches, to a little girl prone to fantasies and daydreams.

And there were just a few violets in the yard. I loved their color, their slender, tender stems and heart-shaped leaves, their little striped faces (they reminded me of cats' whiskers). I loved their smell. Mom even used to order the Avon violet body spray and douse me with it after my bath.

Blue and white flowering

The violet wish didn't come true until much, much later. When I bought the house I live in now, three things sold it for me: the laundry room, the claw foot tub and the huge backyard. And, in that backyard, were violets. Hundreds of them. Over the years, I've protected them from the lawn care guys (because, unlike violets, creeping charlie deserves to die a poisoned death), lovingly relocated the ones in the way of the expansion of my garden, nibbled at their syrupy sweet flowers. Yes, violets are edible. In the language of flower, violets stand for faithfulness (blue) and "let's take a chance on happiness" (white). Knowing this, Mom and I sugared some blossoms from my yard and added them to the little white petit fours we served at my wedding. The chance I took on happiness on my wedding day didn't yield the desired result, but I'll always remember those precious little white cakes with their sparkling violets on top, all prettily lined up on trays.

Yesterday I mowed the lawn for the first time this spring. Before I pulled the starter on my decrepit, smoke-belching mower I walked through the yard as the sun dipped toward evening and picked the last of the season's violets. I put them in a tiny glass vase and set them beside my bed. Their scent wove its way into my dreams all night...I was in my little slanted-ceiling bedroom at that house in the valley...there was a long, long train clacking a lullaby...my old tomcat named Sally came back for a visit. I slept the deep sleep of a child.

 Until next year, my lovelies.


The Return of the Salon...Returns!

Another evening at the music salon.

It was just a year ago that my friend invited me over to give a concert for his wife and some friends. We joked then that it was like an evening at the salons in Paris in the 19th century. But my friend is so dedicated to the arts and to local culture that it turned into no joke at all. Since my concert at the debut of these salon gatherings, he has brought in a violinist, a cellist, a classical guitarist and other musicians to grace his living room and to give private concerts for this elite group of friends.

I again arrived on a rainy night and set up in front of the fireplace. The guests hid in the kitchen while I tuned (though they were anything but quiet; after all, one of the hallmarks of a salon is impassioned discussion, right?). Then I began with Carolan's Welcome as I often do. It calms the mood, quiets the visiting and sets the atmosphere for the music to come. What followed was music learned and composed during my grant trip to Ireland last summer interspersed with "behind the scenes" stories of that trip. (It's ok, I've known these people for a long time and they were dying to hear what "really" happened in Ireland!)

Such an intimate setting.

Not many people get to be this close to me when I play. A couple people remarked that it was interesting to hear the sounds a harp makes at that proximity, like my fingers placing on the strings, the rush of sound bouncing through the sounding board, the little quirks and buzzes and shhhushes that give my 20+ year old instrument its unique voice. Even the usually private sounds only I hear, like the movements of my arms against the harp's body and my breathing to mark phrases, became part of the music they heard.

The world needs more enlightened evenings like this, don't you think?

Especially when they end with wine, tea
and this homemade delight...


Wedding season begins

If Saturday's outdoor wedding in the gazebo at Sibley Park is any indication of how this summer's weddings will unfold, it's going to be a gorgeous season.

The day was actually nice. Even warm.
It was high time.

And it's a good thing, because the bride and bridesmaids (optimistic souls) wore strapless gowns. I ventured outside the house without my customary layers of tights and boots and scarf and sweater. The breeze in the gazebo was refreshing. My fingers didn't freeze when I played. 

 I loved the little touches of "bling" floating in the warm air.

Sibley Park has added some lovely accents to the gazebo area. The curving brick path leading up to it begins with a new iron archway. It was so touching to see each couple pause under the arch before processing up the aisle (to - what else? - Canon in D). The bride was radiant and the atmosphere was joyful.

There was even enough daylight and warmth left when the wedding was over to go for a long run. Let summer begin.