I've had the flu. And I've been sad.

Cough. Cough-cough. Hack. Hack-hack. Nose blow, nose blow, nose blow...

Such has been my routine for almost two weeks now. The flu never comes at a good time. But it came at an especially bad time for this harpist-singer.

I had to play at a wedding last Friday. Everything was fine until I had a coughing fit during the psalm, but the guests sang on and I managed to play to the end. The sweet bride told me everything was still beautiful. Oh, how nice.

I had a booth at the Mankato Bridal Show last Saturday. Handed out hundreds of fliers and business cards to hundreds of brides, played Canon in D for hours on end.

And then, on Monday, I played at the funeral of my friend Lisa, who "went to Heaven" as her mother told me, last Wednesday. I was so worried that I'd not be able to sing How Great Thou Art and O Holy Night, as Lisa requested. I was terrorized by the memory of that coughing fit at that wedding last Friday. My voice had to hold out. I had to make it through, for Lisa and her family. I had to.

So I did lots of gentle practicing in the days leading up to the funeral. Got lots of rest, drank gallons and gallons of tea, took everything my wonderful pharmacist put in my cart.

Harry helped with the practicing. Oh, good kitty.

I decided I would be just fine. Everything would be fine. My voice would be fine, I would play just fine. And everything was coming along just...fine...

...until Lisa's mom brought this over to my house 
the day before the funeral.

It's a gift basket Lisa got for me at a benefit four days before she died. She'd texted me allllll day long about getting me one, I texted back with "no, you don't have to do that," she texted back with, "yes, I'm going to anyway." And she did. It wasn't even noon when Lisa's mom dropped it off. I popped the cork anyway and poured a glass to honor Lisa and to stop the tears that I knew would flow and stuff me up and cause a coughing fit. 

The funeral on Monday WAS fine. My voice did hold out. My harp sang and put forth that beauty and healing that only it can do. I felt it change the atmosphere in the church. I didn't cough. I didn't cry. I did my job. I did it. But I've been so sad ever since. At the loss of Lisa. At the loss of a friend. At the unfairness and ugliness of cancer. All of it. 

But Harry came to the rescue again. 
He flapped his tail right into my face the night of the funeral
and he kept it there for an hour. 
Oh, good kitty.

Oh, goodbye, Lisa. I'll miss you, my friend.


Christmas knitting

Somehow...magically, miraculously...I carved out some hours from my holiday playing to knit some things for my Mom. I always like to do  something special and handmade for Christmas for her. And this year it was this:

A little knitted and felted and needle felted and beaded purse.
All pointy and cute and asymmetrical and fairy-like for my Mom,

Knitting to felt (or full, I guess it's technically called, but felt sounds nicer) is a crazy process. You start out with a big, floppy, shapeless piece of knitted fabric...

(looks like a pair of stretched-out socks, doesn't it?)

...and then you put it in the washing machine on hot and cold and spin and voila...

...you get this thick, lovely, wonderful piece of fabric!

Before I stitched it together, I needle felted on some designs and added some beads. I love needle felting. It's a good thing to do when you need to get out some frustrations - it's a lot of stabbing with a sharp needle but with lovely results.

 A close-up of the results. LOVE.

I have to give credit where credit is due, however...my friend Melinda raised the Icelandic sheep that grew the wool that was spun into the yarn I used to knit this lovely piece. You can find out more about Melinda's yarn on her etsy page: http://www.etsy.com/shop/WellspringWoolens

 And I did have some design help from SamTheCat.
Thanks for choosing that green roving, kitty.
It was perfect.

Now I'm on to more knitting - with some beautiful yellow yarn from Ireland (that I brought back from my last trip to Dingle). I'll keep you posted on the progress of that.

Ah, January. I love the knitting breaks you offer between writing bursts!


The best cures for the Mankato Flu

I caught it, despite positive thinking, hand washing, crowd avoidance and lots of vitamins.
Now I'm pulling all my favorite cures:

Naps under a Hungarian goose down comforter
Vats of hot tea
A good book

...and a Jingle Belle cat.


The rarest sight in the animal kingdom

...all three cats on one couch.

Walk away slowly...verrrry slowly...


My real work with the harp

In this first post of the new year, I could write about all the brightly lit Christmas parties I performed at in December. The warm and beautiful Christmas Eve services filled with carols and candlelight. The New Year's Eve dinner at Naniboujou Lodge in Grand Marais.

But the most meaningful, important holiday "gig" I played for this year was in my own house for my dear friend Lisa.

Lisa has cancer. This may be her last Christmas.

I've known Lisa since 7th grade. I remember walking into Wellcome Memorial High School on the first day of school and seeing her smiling face and her sparkling brown eyes and liking her immediately. And when gymnastics season started in November of that year, Lisa and I got to spend lots of time together, practicing aerial cartwheels and balance beam routines and complaining about leotards riding up our behinds and helping each other into contortionist positions to stretch out our sore muscles. She had the most beautiful back handspring you've ever seen - so arched and graceful and so perfectly rhythmic. She could do them around the gym without stopping. Everyone would quit what they were doing to watch her.

As I got to know her better, I loved making her laugh - a laugh that came from the very bottom of her soul and bubbled up and out in a way I've never, ever heard another person laugh before and may not ever again. We laughed so hard we were shushed and frowned at and had sore stomach muscles the next day. There were slumber parties, gymnastics meets, school dances. All filled with memories of the fun only Lisa could create.

Lisa left Wellcome Memorial in 9th grade to go to school in Mankato. I missed her. Our lives took different paths, different friends. But there were phone calls when we'd make each other laugh practicing our German (me) and French (her) counting: eins, zwei, drei...un, deux, troi. We gossiped about people we knew. And then we lost contact.

Until I looked out into the crowd at one of my earliest holiday concerts and saw her smiling face. She was painfully thin and obviously not well. Afterward, she came up to hug me and I felt her bones under her clothing. She told me then that she had cancer. Cancer she'd fought and beat, fought and beat. But her smile was the same, her pointy little eye teeth poking out over her bottom lip, her sparkling eyes were still bright. It became an annual meeting - the hugs after my concerts.

And then this year I got a text message from her (long, detailed, 5-part text messages are her specialty). Her cancer was back. There was no fighting anymore. She was stopping treatment, getting things in order, seeing all the people she wanted to see. Would I meet her for a drink? Would I play and sing at her funeral? Of course I would. But I made her promise to come over and hear me play anything she wanted, for as long as she wanted, before the funeral came. 

And so she did. Fragile, weak, swollen from medication, but still smiling. I played and sang "O Holy Night" for her. "How Great Thou Art". "Silent Night". I played and played and played and sang, anything she wanted. As long as she wanted.

And in between, we talked. I thought we'd talk about big things - life, death, how she was coping, her medication, her faith, her thoughts about it all. But what we talked about were the very same things we've ever talked about - boys and boobs and makeup and hair. We talked about back handsprings and aerial cartwheels and how much we missed being able to do them without suffering major pain or major injury at our advanced ages. We talked about the gymnastics coach who wouldn't let us use a certain springboard for the vault if we weighed a pound over 120 - and who would announce our weight to us in front of our friends (crazy how that both scarred us for so long). We talked about what we were baking for Christmas: candy, cookies, breads and fudge (her)...nothing (me). We laughed, and I could hear hers bubbling up from the very bottom of her soul still, coming up and shaking her shoulders and making her pointy little eye teeth poke out over her bottom lip.

And then I could see she was fading. It was time for her mom to take her home to rest. But we made plans and promises to see each other again. After Christmas. After the holidays. After things have settled down. Of course, I said. Of course. Anytime.

And we grinned like idiots for the camera.

I watched her mom help her down the icy sidewalk and into the car. She gave a wave and they drove off. I made it back into the house, into the kitchen, before I completely broke down and put my head down on the counter and sobbed. My own mom and our friend Wanda had come over that day, too. We collapsed into a heap for a few minutes and then we decided Lisa would probably kick our asses if she saw us crying. So I poured us shots of my home brew rose liqueur and we toasted friendship, life, all goodness.

I got (5-part) text message from Lisa yesterday. She had a wonderful Christmas. She wondered if I'd gotten the cookie Christmas tree she'd dropped off in my mailbox (so that's who it was from!). She wondered when we can get together again. 

Anytime. Any, any, anytime my friend.

This, people. This is the most important work I do.