Three-wedding weekend, parts 1 and 2

It's been a long time since I've played for three weddings in one weekend. It usually happens on holiday weekends like Memorial Day or Labor Day, when brides take advantage of the extra day off and give their guests more time to travel and enjoy themselves. But the weekend of August 20-21 was a popular one. I'd had these three weddings booked for nearly a year, and had turned away many more brides I just couldn't fit into the schedule. (I just hate saying "no" to brides...)

I really geared myself up for this weekend. I got plenty of rest ahead of time, took my vitamins, lifted my weights, ate my protein. I was ready.

Part 1: The first wedding of the weekend was Saturday afternoon in New Ulm. I didn't get a chance to take any photos, but let me tell you — it was beautiful. The bride loved music and had me sing and play three songs. And she wore the most adorable sparkly fascinator veil in her hair. Now I'm obsessed with getting a fascinator myself to, you know, wear...around. OK, maybe not.

Best of all was the great help from the groomsmen. After a major treadmill accident a couple of weeks ago, I still wasn't up to doing all the heavy lifting myself (it's hard for me to accept help with the harp, but that's what pain will do to a normally strong and capable harpist...).

Part 2: The second wedding was back in Mankato, a reception at the City Center Hotel. The decor was beautiful, the lighting soft, the atmosphere romantic.

The harp was thinking I should decorate
like this at home.

I played for the cocktail hour through the dinner.

Afterward, I was tired. My "treadmill accident area" (use your imagination) was sending painful twinges down my right leg. Everyone was busy toasting and digging into the cheesecakes on their tables, so I took a deep breath and some more Tylenol and packed up the harp myself, hauled it out of the ballroom, down the hall, into the elevator, down into the parking garage, out the tiny door to my wonderful new truck. Loaded the harp, the bench, the music stand, my music bag. All in very cute shoes. Felt a great sense of accomplishment. Started fantasizing about the ice cream waiting for me at home. Turned around to back the truck out of the parking stall, felt a twinge in my "accident area" and then....


I ran the truck into a concrete pillar. The truck I haven't even owned for two whole months. Caved in the passenger door, left big scrapes all down the side. That's what exhaustion AND pain will do to a normally strong and capable harpist... 

I managed to get home and unload the harp myself with no more problems. And then I cried. And then I attacked that ice cream. Yes, I did. And then I went to bed to rest up for the third wedding of the weekend. 

Stay tuned for Part 3, coming soon to a harpist's blog near you...


I have a writing group!!!!

It was one of the things Jamie Cat Callan, the instructor of the writing seminar in France, told me was a must, must, MUST: that I absolutely had to break out of my solitary creative cocoon and find other writers to talk about writing with. Smart people to show my writing to. Kindred spirits to get support from.

And I have finally found my group!
(Stacks of papers, computers, prosecco, candles
and homegrown tomatoes...
all the necessities of writing meetings.)

One member lives right down the street from me, a many-times published memoirist and fiction author. We've run past each others' houses for years, we've said "hi" and waved as we've been unloading groceries or mowing the lawn. Finally, we decided it was high time to get together and talk shop, work the words, get into the craft. The other member is an instructor at Minnesota State University...teaching writing, of all things. Yeah. Smart, writers, kindred spirits. Check. 

I've been honored to be allowed into their stories. I've been moved to tears by their support and comments on my story. And we've just begun! I can't wait to read more of their writing and can't wait to share more of mine with them. And with their encouragement, I can't wait to write some more.Their comments have given me the freedom to write what I think, feel and know. A weight has been lifted. No more holding back. I'm going to let 'er rip. I have a four-day weekend ahead of me, by design, with only "WRITING" on my calendar. Bliss.


Outdoor wedding, with a harpist

I can't believe how many outdoor weddings I've played at this year. More than ever before, I think. I wonder at the trend. It seems like worrying about the weather would add an intolerable level of stress to an already stressful wedding planning process.

But the brides are determined. It must be the call of being married in outdoor glory, surrounded by natural beauty. The romance of it all. The vision. The hope for perfection. The dream. Which is kind of what weddings are all about, right?

And so I show up with my harp and play for them.

Many brides are smart and turn their wedding programs
into fans to keep their guests (and their harpist) cool.

And unbelievably, most of the planned outdoor weddings 
I've been asked to play for end actually up being outdoors. 
Good weather gods. Good.

(I just realized that I've worn that black and white damask-patterned dress to at least two other posted-about events this summer, here and here. And probably several more events that didn't make the blog. I love it. It's the perfect style, the perfect length, has a little bit of stretch and it's indestructible. It washes up beautifully after every event. I wish I had one in every color. But I was sure to wear different shoes to each gig...)


The bright side of this horrible summer

 Roma tomatoes.
From the vine...

...to my basket...

...to my plate.
In under three minutes.

This year's tomato crop has made the heat, humidity and general uncomfortable swampiness of this summer bearable. OK, almost bearable. There is just nothing like a homegrown tomato. My Dad and I have long, lingering conversations all winter about missing real tomatoes, just minutes from the vine. (Those pink, rubbery grocery store things? NOT real tomatoes.) He saves a few five-gallon buckets of his tomato crop for me and helps me freeze them for using in soups and sauces. He and Mom can zillions of quarts of tomato juice and salsa and sauces. And while it's nice in the middle of February to see those beautiful jars lined up on the shelves and open your freezer to bags and bags of ruby-red beauty, it's just not the same. You can't get that lovely, acidic explosion and the taste of dirt, sunshine and heat in every bite from a jar or a freezer.

Now is the time. Tomato time. And I'm soaking it in.


My new "office"

It's been so hot and so horribly humid that lately I've been feeling as cabin feverish as I did in the winter. Stuck inside.

 Grateful for the air conditioner roaring there from the window,
(I've gotten used to my papers blowing in the breeze.)

I've also been in a bit of cloister mode. No meetings with friends, no outings, no movies, no happy hours. Just work, home, write, brave the heat and humidity to go for a run, take a bath, write some more. I get that way, all solitary and reclusive and determined, when I'm working on a big project, and this writing project is a big one.

But then a friend broke through my cloister walls with a series of text messages. They went something like this...

Him: Moondogs game tomorrow? (The Moondogs are our local baseball team.)
Me: Can't. Writing day.
Him: Good for you. Drinks after?
Me: Writing. Not drinking.
Him: Lunch before then?
Me (feeling a little bored with what I had in the fridge): Um...
Him: Great. Noon. Mexican place uphill.

Undone by food again. I'm so easy. It was, however, nice to actually talk to somebody, nice to eat something I didn't cook (if you can call the salads and hummus and cottage cheese and fresh fruit I've been dining on lately "cooking"), nice to be in a place that's not my house.

Then came the second breach of the cloister: after lunch, my friend said that since the humidity and heat had broken he was heading out to Westwood Marina for an few hours of writing and sipping lemonade by the lake. Did I want to go? Did I want to go???? Yes, I said. But just for two hours. And he couldn't talk to me. No chit-chat. Serious stuff. Agreed.

Deck. Lake. Fresh air. Lemonade. Ahhh...

I worked on my book, he worked on song lyrics.
We only talked about stuff like a song title
that rhymes with keys ("Please Mr. Please")
and if accelerate has two "l"s. (It doesn't.)

Now that summer has become bearable again,
I think this may not be the last time I claim
the deck at Westwood as my alternate writing office.
(Plus there's really good free popcorn.)


In the garden...after

It's done. The garden has been cleared. It's not perfect. It's not even really beautiful. But it's done. And it's such a relief.


It took my friend Steve and I many hot, muggy and buggy nights of digging out good-sized saplings, ripping out weeds, relocating hollyhocks and phlox to better spots in the garden, cursing at thistles and untangling roses and grapevines. Steve was the positive one during this whole process. When he'd pull up in his big red truck, I'd be sitting on the front steps dreading going back to the garden. And Steve would say encouraging things like, "It'll be fun! We'll get to the end, don't worry!" I had to believe him.

And one night when a random cool breeze rustled the grass and the sun gave one last shot of pink before it set, I looked up and there it was. THE END. We'd made it. Steve and I leaned on our shovels and took it all in. Then he said, "You'd better take some after-pictures. For proof." Yes, sir.

We unearthed my America lilies, 
which bloom every year on the 4th of July.
I'd forgotten all about them.

We also unearthed a lot of bare ground
where plants (I don't remember what)
used to be.

Look! A birdbath!
Now maybe the birds can actually get to it.

There's Steve in an epic battle with 
a well-established hackberry sapling.

The only things left blooming are the hollyhocks.
(And the battle with the hackberry continues. 
Steve eventually won.)

We somehow managed to save one
hollyhock of each color.

Thanks for sticking around, hollyhocks.
Oh, thank you.

Then we celebrated with some of this.
And even though I'd hired Steve,
he insisted on buying the ice cream bars
on the way back from the compost heap.

There's still more work to be done out there, though. I need to get mulch, put down weed control (I hear Preen is a miracle substance), replace some of my favorite plants that didn't make it (delphiniums, white cone flowers, "whirling butterflies" gaura, artemesia, coral bells). But I think I'm done gardening for this year other than a quick weed pull here and there. My energy and focus is on writing now. I hope the garden can wait until spring. I'll have to check Steve's availability for May 2012...


Harry goes to Paris

If ever a cat should have been a Parisian, it is Harry the Many-Haired One. Harry, he loves cookies. He loves sweets and chocolates. He loves pretty boxes and fancy things and silky ribbons. And he loooooves ladies who wear black and smell like Chanel No.5.

My friend Carol Gillott of the blog Paris Breakfasts saved Harry the indignity of a trans-continental flight (what? no fishy cat treats on silver trays in airplane cargo??) and painted him at Paris's grand tea house Laduree.

If you look closely, you'll see 
that he's surrounded by sparkles, 
and he's licking his lips over his
personal pyramid of tasty macarons.
(The way it should be, if you ask Harry.)

Thank you, Carol, for such a beautiful painting. And for boosting Harry's ego, which was quite brusied after having escaped when the softener salt delivery guy came last week and after having to sit in the vines under Ethel's tree for hours waiting for me to come rescue him. I can just see him out there, "This is great! I'm eating grass! I'm barfing it up! I'm smelling everything! I'm over at Ethel's! Wait, um, it's hot. I'm hungry. Where's Momma? I'm tired. I miss snuggling with Sammy. Where is she?? I want to sleep on the couch. I even miss Jingle Belle. Mommmmmma!" He hasn't gone near an outside door since.

Best to enjoy that portrait as an inside cat, Harry.

P.S. Want to see YOUR livestock or pet in a painting at Laduree? Contact Carol here!


Farewell, my supporter and friend

She's opened up her sanctuary for my concerts for the past 9 years. She's invited me to perform at her intimate, beautiful Celtic evening services. She's collaborated with me on events (corned beef and cabbage dinners at the church before my St. Patrick's concerts, anyone? Mmmm...) We've had long conversations about Ireland, where she finally got to go this year. She's supported me when my house was broken into (twice), when I dramatically ended a bad relationship, when I was sick the flu that turned into the pneumonia that developed into asthma 5 years ago. All this for someone who's not even a member of her church.

And now my friend Pastor Dawn Carder from First Presbyterian Church has up and retired on me. Last Sunday morning the congregation held a service to celebrate her time with them. And they invited me to play.

I played "Ave" for Dawn — a song I wrote
in Ireland last year and a piece she loves.
(That's her with the red robe and the awesome 
blond hair in the front row, listening intently.)

I was by no means the only one to contribute talent to that service. Three choirs sang for her. The handbell choir rang for her. Children read scriptures and gave her a quilt they made for her. A council member read a hilarious and moving tribute poem he'd written for her. And as the grand finale, half the congregation flash-mobbed the front of the church in a rendition of a "liturgical dance" (to George Michael's "Faith", nonetheless) that had me sobbing with laughter. A touching and happy farewell.

I'll miss her solid, encouraging presence when I'm meandering those halls getting ready for a concert. I'll miss those meditative moments we collaborated on. I'll miss those sermons that restored my own faith in modern worship (though she never did convince me to join the church...).

Happy retirement, Dawn.


If you can't load a harp in cute shoes...

 ...I'd recommend getting out of the business.

This is the scene on my bedroom floor after so many weekends of gigs. Cute. Harp. Shoes. Everywhere. 

Patent peep-toe stilettos (left), worn to my cousin's wedding
Black ultra-wedge sandals (top), worn to Riverfront Park
Kitten-heeled T-strap numbers (top right), worn to perform at First Presbyterian Church last Sunday. 
Patent T-straps and classic pointy-toed stilettos, waiting for their day in the spotlight...


The Five-Dollar Goat and Chickens in the Yard...in action!

Last year I wrote these jigs, The Five-Dollar Goat and Chickens in the Yard, in protest of North Mankato's "no livestock" policy. (Really, what harm would a goat and a few chickens in my backyard do?)

The band and I played the jigs TWICE during our performance at Riverfront Park last week, just to drive the point home. Unfortunately, I think my protest was mostly ignored by the media and the North Mankato City Council. OK, it was totally ignored. Actually, they had no idea it ever happened.

I was going to let it rest until I saw my friend Carol of the Paris Breakfasts Blog post her adorable painting of a client's goats in front of the grand tea salon Laduree in Paris. Scroll to the bottom of her blog post to see the goats in action. Goats. At Laduree!!!

It reminded me that it was probably high time to post this video of my barnyard jigs being performed at our St. Patrick's concert in March. Here goes:

Take that, no livestock policy.

P.S. want to see YOUR livestock or pet in a painting at Laduree? Contact Carol here!


Down by the riverside

The mild summer air cooled slightly from the stormy heat of the day and a soft breeze floated off the river. People brought chairs, umbrellas, picnics and refreshments and set up on the Kasota stone steps of the amphitheater.

And the Celtic Band and I 
filled the evening with music.

It's the second time we've been part of the Riverfront Park Concert Series. And I remember much more of this year's performance. Last year, I had just stepped off a plane from spending three weeks studying harp in Ireland. I was jet lagged, to say the very least. I was overloaded with music and new knowledge and experiences I just couldn't even process yet. People told me the performance was wonderful, my commentary was witty and sweet, the band was rock solid and the night was perfect. I'm glad. I wish I could remember it myself.

This year we played new music and more new music that sprang forth as a result of that Ireland trip. We played some old favorites. Children danced - some of the best dancing EVER at any of my performances. People laughed, clapped, soaked up the late evening sun and let the music float over them.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again:
I love my band and how they make my music come alive.

After we were done playing, some people lingered and wanted to hear more Ireland stories. Some wanted to buy CDs to take the sounds of the night home with them. Some little ones wanted to touch the harp and talk about what it's like to be a harpist. I obliged. 

And then it was time to pack up the harp
and take it, and the harpist, back to the air conditioning.

As much as I talk about and complain about and dread the heat and humidity of the Minnesota summers, I love how the harp sings in the moist air. The ring is more mellow, the sound fuller, rounder. The strings are so grippy and satisfying to pull. Summertime music-making at its best.

Photos by Dick Chambers