My new favorite place to write

Gail's Hairport in North Mankato, while Ethel gets her hair done.

Playing every weekend this summer and being busy at work and taking care of a big old house and nursing a sick Harry cat back to health (he's fine now) have worn me out. And Ethel, my tiny little feisty 93-year-old neighbor took a bad fall last weekend and needs extra love and care right now. I've been so worried about her.

And I've been tired. Too tired to think. So I took Thursday and Friday of this week off so I could have a nice long Labor Day weekend. To rest, relax, sleep late. To get some good writing time in. To let the vacuum rest for a few days. To maybe give zucchini bread another try. To gorge myself on more of Dad's tomatoes.

Glad I had the day off, because Ethel needed someone to take her to her hair appointment. Gail's Hairport is cozy, air conditioned, quiet and smells like shampoo, hairspray and all sorts of good beauty stuff. Perfect for plugging in the laptop and making some edits (suggested by my super-smart and talented writer and editor friend Ann Rosenquist Fee) on an essay I'll be submitting for publication this weekend. Gail's fast - Ethel got a wash, roller set and comb-out in less than an hour. But it was just enough time for me to get in the writing mode.

While Ethel was under the hairdryer, I tried to talk Gail into having me ghost write a tell-all book filled with juicy stories she's heard while doing hair for the past 30 years. We think it'll be a best seller...in lower North Mankato. Though neither of us would probably ever work in this town again after it came out.

Where are some of the unique places you've found to write / be creative? I think I might try the bowling alley next...


Rolled right into temptation

When I wheeled the harp into the wedding cocktail hour I was playing at yesterday, I was so relieved. There wasn't a wedding cake in sight. I don't know why, but couples looooove to have the harp set up near the wedding cake. It's probably really good for pictures. "Oh see our wedding cake, and look, there's the harpist!" - all in one shot. But it's not really good for the cravings it starts in me.

I rarely eat cake or cupcakes or even muffins. But wedding cake gets me every single time. I can't leave without a piece. Or two. And if I don't get to have wedding cake, I'll start to think about cake and desperately want it until I get it. And non-wedding cake is so disappointing.

I thought I was safe. I set up the harp in my corner, got it tuned, got the harp cart and case hidden away in a closet and waited until start time.

And then they started rolling out carts and jars and containers and all varieties of...candy. 
The candy buffet was in full view through the strings.

Yogurt pretzels, white taffy, rock candy, silver and white almonds, little pearly sixlets,
 gold foil-wrapped goodies. All within arm's reach.

Do you know how hard it is to play for two hours with the scent of this table of goodness wafting at you?
Pretty hard.
But I waited until I was done playing and all the guests were inside the ballroom for dinner and the candy buffet was in near ruins. Scooped up a little handful of the pearly sixlets in one of the monogrammed cups and relished my minty, chocolately reward on the way home. Not wedding cake, but not bad.


Amy Kortuem, Zucchini Slayer

It's that time of year - the Great Garden Produce Exchange. Almost every day someone brings in extra cucumbers, tomatoes and zucchini and puts them on the "share" table at work. I got to the table late last week...

 ...and this monstrous zucchini was the only thing left. 

"What a bunch of cowards," I thought. "I can take this thing on. It's mine." I carried it home in the crook of my arm like it was a newborn.

After a half hour of peeling and shredding and draining, it was ready to go.

(I love the colors of those free range eggs I got from my chiropractor
- it's important that your eggs match your Fire King Jadeite green kitchen.)

The monster made three batches of bread.  Five and a half loaves.
I took the spoils of battle to work the next day.
From the rate at which it disappeared from the treat table, I have to guess that it was good.
Because when I asked my co-workers how it was, all they said (mouths full) was, "Mffmph..."
The bread was good when I sampled it, but my oven looked like a war zone. Batter rose and oozed out over the edges of the pans and all over the bottom, which was covered in big, smoking, charcoal-zucchini bread nuggets at the end of the baking hour.

It could have been because the recipe called for 1 1/2 tsp. of baking soda and 4 tsp. of baking powder. I wonder if that 4 tsp. part was a typo? Mom sent me her friend Mary's "no-fail" zucchini bread recipe, which I'll try next time I come across another free zucchini.

What's your favorite zucchini or zucchini bread recipe? I'd love to compare it with my exploding version. 

Amy Kortuem, Victorious Baker.


What would life be without homegrown tomatoes?

My Dad gave me some tomatoes. Look at these beauties.

And this was the tip of the iceberg. I already froze 15 Ziploc bags full and ended up giving bunches and bunches more to my friend and neighbor (and famous author, awesome mother, super cook and gorgeous person) Nicole Helget. She gave me her tomato sauce recipe. I made a bunch of that, too.

This year, for the first time in...I don't remember how long...I didn't plant tomatoes. I was in Ireland around the time I should have been planting, and when I got home, I just never got around to it. I knew I could get tomatoes from Dad and from the farmer's market. 

But when it comes right down to it, there's nothing like going out and picking your own tomatoes off your own plant when you want them.

Kinda like this song says...


The salon still lives!

It was last minute. My friends, the hosts of the musical "salons" I've been honored to play at for the past couple of years (read about them here and here), were having guests from Japan and thought they would like to hear some Celtic harp music.

 An international audience.

It was going to be a challenge, though...the guests didn't speak English. How would they understand what I was saying about the harp, the pieces I would be playing, the lyrics of the songs I would be singing?

No worries. My friends invited a professor from Gustavus to the event to translate. Between songs, I spoke slowly, clearly and tried not to use too much "lingo" - and it was interesting to hear how the translator managed to convey the concepts of the Irish bard, modal music and unique scales, and the different rhythms of jigs and reels. Some of my little jokes must have come across, too, because the guests burst out laughing after a few of the translations, just a few seconds after everyone else had laughed.

But it was the music that did the real communicating. They didn't have to understand the nature of the lament to feel the lamentation through the music. They didn't have to know the difference between a jig and a reel to start their toes tapping when I played them. They didn't have to understand the music of sleeping to close their eyes and be transported during The Gartan Mother's Lullaby.

And what we all understood is that new friendships can be forged, without saying a word. Oh, the power of music.


Winery wedding

Down a little road, past rows and rows and rows of grapevines, is Chankaska Creek Ranch and Winery. Great Minnesota wine...and a great place to hold a wedding celebration.

The very sweet bride and her mother hired me to play for this wedding at a bridal show in February. It was a cold, cold day - and I couldn't imagine an outdoor wedding in August at that point. But August came, and with it came some absolutely perfect weather. Cool, overcast, low humidity.

Perfect for taking the harp outside. What a backdrop.

The scene is set. That's the winery in the upper left corner.
Layers of decks and seating areas overlooking the ceremony site.

Filled with guests and a gorgeous wedding party, the place was soaked in romance.
(I just noticed that dent on the neck of the harp...it must be new. Another beauty mark.)

Afterward, I played at the cocktail hour beside the tent while guests congratulated the couple
and sampled Chankaska Creek's most popular wines: Kasota Rose and Petite Colline.

I'm not a red wine drinker, but that Kasota Rose...mmm...
it was so good I didn't even get distracted by the cupcake tower right behind me.

After I packed up the harp and put it in the truck, I made my way up to the winery to buy a bottle of the Kasota Rose to take home with me. Tragedy! They're sold out for the season! But I did give my card to the owners and there was talk of having me play in the tasting room this fall and winter. Lovely. Stay tuned for dates.

P.S. - Been there? What's your favorite wine?


Writing: Back at it

It's been a while since I've blogged about my writing project. Late last summer. And that's because my project has remained mostly untouched since I began preparations for my holiday concert in November. Lots of reasons for not writing. More than lots of excuses. Perhaps, more likely, I needed a break in order to have some distance from the story, to get some much-needed perspective.

Well, that's all over now. For the past couple of months, I've been meeting with the smart, talented and very supportive Rachael Hanel in our own little writing group. And now we've decided to start meeting on Saturday mornings at a local coffee shop to produce. To write. To not talk (too much anyway) and to just face the folders and get stuff done.

Evidence: Coffee cups, scones, laptops, Rachael typing furiously...

Rachael suggested that I print out everything I have written so far.
Here it is, taking up its own chair at the table.
A lot more than I thought it would add up to, and inspiration for writing more.

More Saturdays are on the calendar. Until then, I'm working on getting all these separate documents organized into folders and completing my outline. It feels good. Very good.


OK, little black cat...

Let me get my pointy hat and we'll go for a ride.


How a harp is like a Harley

You might think they couldn't be more different, harps and Harley-Davidson motorcycles. But oh, think again.

~ They both make that sound you'd recognize with your eyes closed.
~ They're both top-of-the-line machines.
~ They both have models that are big and impressive.
~ They both have models that are light and maneuverable.
~ They both have thousands of moving parts.
~ They both need specialized repair guys to keep them running.
~ They both have owners who are kinda fanatical about them and base their identities around them.

~ AND they're both really good at weddings. See?

Harp at a wedding.

Harley at a wedding.

Yes, this was the same wedding. A Harley-Davidson motorcycle theme wedding, complete with harp music.

The wedding was in shades of bright Harley orange.

The bridesmaids even wore black leather Harley ankle boots 
under their shimmering orange dresses.
Outside. In August. Those girls meant business.

Lots of little touches to keep the guests and the harpist cool,
like fan-shaped wedding programs. In orange.

Lots of big, strong Harley guys to help the harpist with her machine.

Lots more harp music while the guests sipped the couple's 
signature cocktail, The Screaming Eagle, under the tent.

Yes my friends. Until you've been to a Harley-Davidson theme wedding with a harp, you haven't been to a wedding...


A harpist amid Monet's waterlilies?

Water lilies.

A harp amid the water lilies.

Could it be? Could it possibly be a gig at Giverny, home to Monet's water lilies?

I wish. I wish so hard...

...but it was a wedding at the Mankato Golf Club.
Next to the pond. Under the shade of a tent.
(Soooo smart to include that "shade must be provided" 
clause in my contract...)


OK. Fine. I'll admit it.

It started in December. I don't know why, but I couldn't get myself to wake up in the mornings. Work was so busy and I had things I needed to write. Lots of things. My normal morning beverage of organic green tea spiced with lemon and spices just wasn't getting me going like it had since I broke my lifelong addiction to coffee (in 2005? 2007? I can't remember).

Lifelong? Yes. My grandfather used to spoon feed me coffee from his cup when I was an infant. Not even kidding. When my Mom and Grandma finally figured out why I was this screaming, caffeine-withdrawn baby and yelled at him, he said, "I had to give it to her. She wanted it." Oh, Grandpa. Oh, Grandma's egg cofee...

Anyway, December 2011. It began innocently enough. A styrofoam cup half full of crappy office coffee at work once in a while. Just for a little buzz. Maybe a chaser of decaf. It didn't mean I was a coffee drinker, though. Nope. Because I'm one of those healthy, eat-organic, don't devastate the rainforest kind of people, right? 

Yeah. This isn't even a week's worth of coffee cups.

That is one tall stack of environmentally unfriendly coffee cups.
I do like how the colors complement the Roget's Thesaurus that's always out on my desk, though.
For the caffeine and makeup addicted, here's the lipstick breakdown, top to bottom...
1,2: Chanel Rouge Allure #17, "Emotion"
3: Smashbox Legendary Lipstick, "Mandarin"
4: Chanel Levres Scintillantes lip gloss #158, "Braise"
5: Revlon ColorStay #320, "Dreamy Dusk" - tragically discontinued
6: Chanel Levres Scintillantes lip gloss #4, "Spark"

So I gave in. I made it official. I bought myself a cute coffee cup to use at work. No more ruining the environment with 10+ styrofoam cups every week. No more lying to myself. I've cut back to decaf, but still. I'm in. I'm doing it. 

I'm Amy. I'm a coffee drinker.


Harp regulation - experience it for yourself

Didn't get enough harp regulation talk? Yeah, I knew you'd want more. Here's a little video to let you know what it's like. This much excitement for, oh, about an hour and a half. (Notice Sam's ears twitching. That cat has perfect pitch.)


The scintillating dialogue at the end...
Dan: "No more of that buzz."
Me: "Yay!"

Exciting times. You'll all want to come over next time Dan comes to town, won't you?