Pesto Fest 2011

In June, I planted two basil plants in anticipation of making enough pesto to last through the winter. Come January, there's nothing like defrosting some basil pesto and mixing it in with pasta and closing your eyes and breathing in the smell of late, late summer. Then in July, I panicked. My basil plants weren't getting very big. What if I didn't have enough to make pesto? What if one...gasp!...died??? So I planted another one.

 Silly me.

A summer's worth of watering and pampering and fretting was worth it. I had piles and piles of basil for pesto making, which I did all day Saturday. The whole house was fragrant with it. I'm pretty sure I was fragrant with it, too. Even after going for a long run and taking a wonderfully steamy bath, I could smell it in my hair and on the skin of my hands. (The people I sat next to at the birthday party I went to that night were probably wondering if they've changed the formulation of Chanel No.5 to include some kind of...herbals...)

Olive oil + garlic + Parmesan cheese + basil = magic.
(I had to leave out the pine nuts 
because of my very pesky allergies.)

Two bottles of olive oil drained, most of the garlic used up,
only a few loose little basil leaves lingering on the counter.
And one huge vat of pesto.

I left it in the fridge for a day or so to let the flavors mingle, and then I dropped it in "blobs" onto waxed paper on cookie sheets and froze it to store in zippered freezer bags. Ah, summer in a bag.

(Note: Don't try this at home without warning those you live with that there's pesto in the freezer. My Dad opened the massive chest freezer in the garage to see pesto freezing in "blobs" on cookie sheets and couldn't figure out why Mom was freezing bug poop...)


A wedding with great timing

The contract said I was to play from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m.
at the Verizon Wireless Civic Center. 
So I arrived at 3:30 and set up the harp.
 There was no one there. 
So I waited. And waited.
Finally, someone from the Center came by. No, the wedding didn't even start until 4:00 p.m. The guests would start arriving at 5:15. Hadn't I been updated? No, I hadn't. So I pulled the harp into a corner behind the draping and went back home. Double-checked the contract (yep, 4-6, signed and dated). I ate a peach. Touched up my lipstick. Went out and filled the truck with gas. Filled a suspiciously low tire with air (I love doing automotive maintenance in "harp dresses" and cute shoes). Then I headed back to the Civic Center. Got front-row parking.

 Pulled the harp out from the corner. 

STILL no guests. I started to play at 5:15 anyway, going over some new pieces from a book I bought. The host and hostess rushed in at 5:45. Guests started to file in around 6:00 (it must have been the longest receiving line ever). I played until 7:15 and then guests started ambling into the banquet hall for dinner (much to the relief of the frantic catering staff, which had been keeping meals warm since 6:30).

I was just about to pack up when the mother of the groom rushed to my side with a glass of white wine (how did she know?) and a plea for me to stay and play through the dinner hour, please, they'd pay me overtime...(swirl wine, raise eyebrows in distress, reach for purse...).

Oh, okay.

I enjoyed a few sips of wine (alcohol and harp strings aren't a good pair) and got to be a part of a wonderful, celebratory dinner. Each time guests clinked their glasses for the couple to kiss, the couple asked "experienced" couples to demonstrate how it's done. Then they mimicked those couples, dips and dramatic embraces and all. It was hilarious and I laughed so hard.

I love how things like this work out. Perfect timing after all. Though I did have to ask that the "mood lighting" be turned up just a little bit. You know. So I could SEE those harp strings...


The biggest, weirdest tomato. Ever.

Check out this monster.
It's like four tomatoes that didn't divide.
Crazy tomato.

It was bigger than my hand.
(Yes, "was." I ate it. All of it.)


9-10-11 wedding

I played at a 9-8-07 wedding (pre-blog).
I played at a 1-1-11 wedding (read about it here).
And over the weekend, I played at a 9-10-11 wedding.
I've written about dates and what I think about them here. Mystical meaning or random numbers by some ancient guys who determined our calendar and then changed it around several hundred years ago? I don't know. But interesting dates look cool on wedding invitations. And they could be just the thing to help grooms remember their wedding anniversaries.

The wedding was at St. Mary's Catholic Church 
in Sleepy Eye, about 40 miles from where I live.

I'd never played there before.

It reminded me of the churches I visited
when I was an exchange student in Germany.
Ornate, detailed, beautiful.

The church is Catholic and very, very, very, very, very traditional. Very. I was checked out thoroughly before I could play there. (I hope they didn't get access to my FBI file...) I had to give the names and composers of all songs I would and even might play for approval, to make sure I didn't play or do anything inappropriate (I don't know what they'd heard about me, but it's all LIES, I tell you - LIES!). I had to be there extra early to meet with the priest. I had to advocate for "my bride" and what she'd told me she wanted when I had my meeting with said priest. I had to play things I hadn't played since I was a church pianist when I was in college.

Despite all the negotiating, it was a lovely, sweet wedding. The harp was positioned very close to the bride and groom during the ceremony. I watched as they held hands, smiled at each other shyly, leaned in close to whisper in each other's ears. 

So happy to have been a part of it all in that spectacular church.

(Looking at future dates: I may have an 11-11-11 wedding...negotiating is still in works.)


9/11 anniversary thoughts

I got done playing today (a wedding and a party). Got the harp in the house, took off my shoes, changed into my comfy clothes. Paced. Looked out the windows. Petted the cats. Paced some more. Turned on the television to a 9/11 memorial show in the History Channel. Heard the voices of those trapped in the towers. Started to cry immediately, like I always do when I see 9/11 coverage. Turned off the television.

I didn't know how I was going to mark this eve of the 10th anniversary of 9/11. It had to be with holiness, somehow. And quiet. So I got out my candles from Notre Dame de Paris. They're the holiest thing I could think of.

Two candles. For two Towers.

I lit them and started remembering. I remembered all the faces and voices in all the documentaries and television specials about the event. I've watched them so many times I can parrot the interviewees. I know when to turn the channel when it's going to be too much.

And then I spent time with my own memories.

When the first plane hit the first tower, I was at work. On the third floor of the building, which was the top floor. I was writing about a new product that was going into one of our catalogs. It was a white satin ring bearer pillow. 8" square. It was studded with silver beads in the shape of a cowboy hat. For couples celebrating Western weddings. Our cost was probably next to nothing. We were going to charge something like $37.00 for it, non-personalized.

Then my friend Barbara emailed me. The World Trade Center had exploded. The Pentagon was on fire. Pray. Then Mom called me, just to check in. It turns out that a plane hit the Trade Center. Then another. This was deliberate. This was war. She told me she loved me. I told her I loved her, too. Then I called my Dad. What was going to happen next? I asked him. He's an army veteran. He would know. "Well, somebody's probably about to get their asses blown off," he replied. When? I wanted to know. That, he couldn't answer.

I logged onto the news on my computer. Images, news reports, rumors, misinformation, real information. For the next hour, the silver-studded ring bearer pillow sat untouched on my desk. And then a voice came on the office intercom that though this was a national tragedy, we shouldn't let it affect our work. Our deadlines. That's the first time I cried that day.

Because people were jumping to their deaths half a country away. A tower was falling. The Pentagon was collapsing. Another tower was falling. Thousands of people were dying. A plane was crashing into a field in Pennsylvania. And I was supposed to focus on finding the words to sell a silver-studded ring bearer pillow made of white polyester satin. Not even real satin. Polyester.

It wasn't the first time I was caught between the details of my work and the larger aspect of "what really matters." But it's the time that made the difference. I did some desperate, deep thinking after 9/11. It mattered that I had a job. I was dedicated to my job. (In fact, I still work there.) But what also really mattered then was that there was life with meaning outside of it. And I had to find it. I had to.

What I had at hand with which to make that difference were my harps. My music. And I began to use them. I began to take risks. I made a second recording in honor the man who gave me my harp, to say thanks to him. To say a universal thanks for all the gifts in my life. I gave a concert to release that CD. 800 people came. I sold a thousand CDs that night. I planned another concert. And another. Made another CD. And another. Gave more concerts. I played and I played and I played and I played those harps and through them I send out my love and my highest wishes for good in the world.

And it's mattered. I can see it matter every time I play. It affects people positively. I affect people positively. I found my calling. Perhaps I owe it to being picked up by the neck and shaken and tossed to the ground and stomped on by the events of 9/11. Perhaps it would have happened no matter what because it was simply meant to be. Nonetheless, it happened.

And so I look back on these 10 years since 9/11/01. I remember the horror. I hear the voices. I can see the Towers falling. I see this country struggling. I am agonized by the warring that has followed.

But I also see growth. Change. Purpose. In myself and in others.

I hesitate to post this because I'm not a New Yorker. I don't know anyone who was in the Towers. I didn't lose a loved one. My small thoughts and feelings about this event pale in comparison to those who suffered directly, immediately, horribly.

But I am an American. I stood in the center of this country and felt the shock waves of the events occurring in New York, absorbed them. I took in this horror, this tragedy and I changed my life. I changed my life for the better. I don't think I'm the only one who has done so. And in this way, I think, we have proven ourselves better.

In this way, perhaps, we have won.


Nearly record-setting high temperatures, and I baked a cake.

My brother's birthday fell on a day that nearly broke state-wide high temperatures. Humidity, too. And his one request from me?

 Strawberry shortcake. 
Which bakes at 450 degrees for 20 minutes. 
Just long enough to heat up the whole house.

So with fans roaring in the kitchen and the central air set low, I made it. I figured that if he's helped me with things like...

...getting rid of this humungous icicle...

...building the harp bench Harry's sitting on
and the bookshelves in my living room...

...and getting one of these every year, 
it was kinda the least I could do.

I honestly think it was the best batch I've ever made. From the size of the helping he ate, I would assume my brother agreed. I used half and half because I didn't have any milk, and that may have been the difference. Happy accident.


The last outdoor wedding of the season

It went out in a shower of rose petals. 
Pink ones. I love pink.

It was very hot. The humidity crept upward and upward all day until it was oppressive by 4:30 in the afternoon. Summer wedding last hurrah. But everything was lovely. The bride was fashion-plate gorgeous. Her grandfather officiated in a touching ceremony. The bridesmaids wore the most beautiful fuchsia dresses. The flower girls did their job perfectly — I played and played and played while they walked down the aisle, taking their time spreading those pink petals with precision.

And there was a new wedding tradition: sealing of the promises. After the vows, the couple put a bottle of wine, a letter to each other and a copy of their wedding program into a decorative box not to be opened until their first anniversary. Great idea for an outdoor wedding (because unity candles never stay lit outside and unity sand gets spilled all over the place...trust me).

I'm glad the outdoor wedding season is over.
I think the harps are, too.
All that in and out of air conditioning,
that humidity messing with the tuning,
that hot and cranky harpist...

Until next year...


And now, a sight never before seen by human eyes

I was on the porch writing this weekend when I looked up and saw the rarest sight in the animal kingdom. Ever.

Jingle Belle on the other chair...but not alone.

She was sharing the chair with Sam.
Sharing, people. 
Meaning: she was on the chair with Sam
and their bodies were touching.
And nobody was getting torn to shreds.

Jingle Belle, she was perfectly happy with the all-girl arrangement she and I had before Harry showed up. And then Sam just kind of sealed her doom. She never got over that only-cat attitude, though. She doesn't share her space. Ever. Not even with me. If she decides to sit on my lap or come over for a scratch and a snuggle, I stop whatever I'm doing and enjoy it. Because it won't happen again for a while.

I don't know what brought on this unusual display of feline tolerance. I just crouched down behind my laptop and kept typing lest the incident end...badly. But it didn't. After about half an hour, Belle stretched and yawned and looked at Sam like, "Whaaat?" Sam looked a little panicked. I'm sure I did, too. But Belle just jumped off the chair to go sleep somewhere else. 

I'm calling The National Geographic Channel now.


Three-wedding weekend, part 3

Part 3: The third wedding of the August 20-21 weekend was picture-perfect. I drove my banged-up truck to Rochester, Minnesota, to the historic Plummer House. It's a beautiful, Tudor-style mansion that was the residence of one of the Mayo Clinic partners and founders, and is now a center for the arts that's also open to private functions.

Trusty groomsmen helped me take the harp 
down these winding stone steps to the garden.
(Good thing I didn't bring the concert harp!)

The wedding ceremony took place
in the lower garden between two fountains.

It was definitely "In A Garden Green," as the music says.
(And yes, I navigated those steps in cute shoes.
Did some aerating of the lawn with them, too...)

After the ceremony, during which the brave and talented bride sang a song to her groom, it was back up those steps to the balcony of the house to play for the cocktail hour and dinner. The wedding was small and intimate, with just a few close friends and family. 

The bride and her 'maids enjoyed their appetizers
to the sound of harp music.

I played as the sun set and the guests toasted
and laughter and love filled the air.

A beautiful ending to a busy weekend.