Sunday, December 28, 2008

Winding down the Festivus

Wrapping is in shreds, empty bottles await recycling, leftovers are devoured; it the holidays' last gasp. We celebrated everything, even Festivus, the holiday for the rest of us.

I used to work with some huge Seinfeld fans. They could quote episodes chapter and verse. While they never had very high strength-to-weight ratio aluminum poles in their cubes, they did proclaim Festivus miracles on occasion. Me, I just drank the wine. Not great, but not bad, especially after a couple of earlier glasses and some grievance airing.

So now it's time to clean up, put stuff away, take time off to toast the new year, and move forward. The seed catalogs are already arriving, days are getting longer, the Geib-style series 500 case I want is on sale and the exercise routine must be re-started. There's gift cards to spend, organizing to do, birds to feed and projects started in the fall that still need finished. It's as if Christmas is already just a memory. Where did it go?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

Christmas. Such a Pandora's box. Every emotion, every dream, every hope. I struggle beyond the sorrows of Christmas Past and bask in the joys of the present. La Vigilia, (a traditional Italian Christmas Eve seafood dinner), the twinkling tree, the wine, the love of friends of family, the music of the candlelight vigil, the home-baked tidbits and liqueur-laced coffee, snuggling through A Christmas Carol or It's A Wonderful Life, drifting off to dream of the snow. Christmas. It could not be anything but.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night. God Bless us, every one.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Eve....Eve

'Twas that night before the night before Christmas.....

The tree is lit, the presents are wrapped and beneath it. The rain has not yet turned to snow, but as long as there is spirit, there is hope. Streetlights blink a bright red and green just like in the song, their reflections glistening on the wet pavement. Even in the rain, or perhaps because of it, the world shines. My heart looks at Christmas through rose-colored glasses. So much expectation, so much joy. This year I'll greet old friends that I've not seen in years. The season will melt away the time, as it tends to do, and we'll fall into the familiar rhythm that never fully leaves a collective soul. Comfort and joy. We look forward while we're looking back. There will be time with more family, more friends, more music and merriment. A whirlwind of places and people and food. Then it will be over, leaving too soon. And that's why I relish the "eves'.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Here we come a caroling

It's cold, you're frozen. Gloved hands struggle to turn pages, you can't feel your toes inside your boots. And yet, so much joy..... Christmas caroling is an experience unto itself. Even if you sing carols in church, at parties or at home, wonderful as it is, "Caroling" it is not. There is a special breed of joy that comes from singing on someone's doorstep, lawn or street. You are a random act of kindness, a accidental ray of hope. Here in the Midwest, where December is six steps beyond chilly, home-made harmony hangs as great clouds of breath in the air before it floats skyward. People open their doors; they listen, they open their hearts. The spirit of Christmas washes over them and as if by magic, reflects back to warm the carolers' hearts as well. Sometimes there's cookies, hot cocoa or tea, sometimes a hug or a tear. Always, always there is love. If you have the opportunity to go caroling, whether in a neighborhood, a nursing home, a hospital or street fair, do not miss it. And if the carolers show up at your door, just say Merry Christmas! (Okay, maybe invite us in to warm up if we look really cold......thanks.)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

QuikTrip Coffee

Woe are the coasts, both East and West, for they know not the joy of QuikTrip coffee. I know, I know. Gas station coffee. Eeeew. Not so! Sure, I'd rather be sipping espresso at a sidewalk cafe in Italy, or at least having fancy cappuccino made in my own kitchen. But when you're already late for work, or on the interstate between small towns that only the locals can pronounce correctly, QuikTrip coffee is an island of caffeinated delight. 100% Arabica bean, different roasts and blends, even a darn good (gasp!) decaf. You can do the cappuccino thing there, too, but I prefer to get a flavor shot or two, there's about twelve to choose from, grab the dark or Italian roast coffee, then use the Steamer option on the cappuccino bar to top it off with steamed, frothy milk. Voila! C'est magnifique! So don't discount the pleasures of gas station coffee out of hand. You just might be missing the most economical fancy joe out there. Next week: White Castles, meat or mystery......

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Remembering Dan Fogelberg

It's been a year now since Dan Fogelberg passed away. While he was always my favorite artist and a tremendous inspiration, I was quite shocked at the affect his death had on me. It came at a time when my emotional balance was already precarious. I retreated. As in the past, I sought refuge in music. My guitar once again became my best friend, and in my solace I resumed writing. I'd only played and written occasionally for some years; as I often put it, life got in the way. But when I wasn't playing, I was only part of myself. I didn't realize that until I came back to it. This all may have happened, as fate sometimes does, without the tragedy of losing Dan Fogelberg. But somehow, someway, it feels connected. It was the push over the edge. My own "Loose Ends".

One moonlit evening in June, playing on the back porch, this song crept to life. It ended up being a tribute to the man I admired most, to whom I owe so much. Many blessings, Dan. Many thanks.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sparkling side of life

Like a crow, I am drawn to shiny things. Christmas is a heyday for me. Sequins and ribbons, tassels and swags, glass and tinsel. If it's red or green, trim it with gold; blue needs more than a touch of silver. The more twinkling lights, the better. I haunt the after Christmas sales and turn holiday trimmings into every day things, like the purple and silver glass bauble hanging from my truck's rearview mirror. Seems I've always been criticized for my affinity for a bit of bling. Catholic school nuns confiscated earrings that they deemed inappropriate. My husband loathed my silver flip-flops. But now it's the season where anything goes. So I'll decorate the tree to within an inch of its life and tie back my hair with gold ribbon, put silver non-perils on the cookies then dust them with irridescent sugar flakes. Time to enjoy the sparkling side of life.

Friday, December 12, 2008


It is a season of waiting. Waiting for Christmas, waiting for cookies to cool, waiting for mail, waiting for the forcasted ice storm. This weekend I'll pack up bags and bags of cookies for his family, and one for mine. We'll wrap presents and make ready, as festivities are already beginning. In anticipation, there's much scurrying around. Where did the ribbon go? Do we have any ice melt left? Have you signed the cards? Which box has the bird ornaments in it? Did you put that sand in the back of the truck? Where did we put the mulling spices? But then, once the whirlwind subsides, once again we wait.

This year with a rare December week off work, waiting may be my greatest joy. A moment to read Charles Dickens aloud, to drink wine in the afternoon. Precious time to play carols sitting cross-legged beneath the Christmas tree. Stolen time to sled wildly if the snow indeed falls, or to skate even if it does not. Time to celebrate with family and friends, and still have quiet moments in between. Waiting can be agonizing, but this year it is a gift. For once I will gladly wait.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Adeste fideles

Adeste fideles, laeti triumphantes,
Venite, venite in Bethlehem.
Natum videte regem angelorum
Venite adoremus, venite adoremus,
venite adoremus Dominum

As a child of five or six, I was taught the Latin first verse of "O Come All Ye Faithful". I was too young to be required to take Latin in school, and Vatican II was eliminating the Latin Mass, but Adeste fideles was alive and well at Christmas. Being a small rural family, mostly isolated from grandparents, aunts and uncles, our holiday traditions were few, but important. A real tree decorated with ancient and home made ornaments, topped with a spire, draped in tinsel with a creche beneath. Mom's perfect spritz cookies. Dad's Polish Christmas carols on clay 78's. And Adeste fideles. When I learned that song, my father was so proud. It meant so much to him that I could share something from his childhood, and from my mother's as well. They both grew up with the high Latin Christmas Mass, the liturgy all chanted in Latin. There was incense, it was foreign, it was mysterious and holy. For them, that felt like Christmas. Adeste fideles brought back those memories and made Christmas feel like home. Today when I sing those mysterious words, they never fail to bring a tear to my eye. Tears for innocence lost, tears for my father, tears for Christmas past. But also tears of joy, for the love of Christmas.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Snow / Silent Night

As my fascination with the season continues, so does my yearning for snow. A couple of weeks ago the first flurries swirled down, getting my hopes up, but it was only a quarter inch or so. As I drove home from work, the sun trying hard to melt the precious dusting, my thoughts turned to the upcoming holiday and my dreams of a white Christmas. And memories of snowfalls past. While I'm not one likely to write a true Christmas carol, this snow ballad, wrapped around a carol, will have to do.

Just a dusting of snow
On the week before Christmas
We were hoping for more
But the sun was too bright.
It's a gentle reminder
The season is with us
And is we are patient
The night will turn white.....

Friday, December 05, 2008

Runaway Train

The holiday season is rollin' by fast like a runaway train. My house is not clean and guest-worthy, space has yet to be made for the real Christmas tree, neither "It's A Wonderful Life" nor "A Charlie Brown Christmas" has flickered onto my TV so far. But that will change. This year I have a week off in December. Even though I'm five years off the retail track, a week off during the holidays is....... just plain weird. Weird but welcome. I have visions of ice skating, gathering giving and watching the tree twinkle while sipping a glass of port. Hopelessly romantic, that's me. Unfortunately, I fear that they will be just that, visions. Time has a way of slipping, the train has a way of rolling, and I feel like Nell Fenwick tied to the tracks. Where's Dudley Do-Right when I need him?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Holly and Ice

Holly frozen clear with ice
Cold and shining bright
Dripping tears of crystal
As I sing Silent Night

Holy Night in beauty sleeps
Underneath the shell
Waiting for the winter sun
To break the frosty spell

But never more as lovely
Can the holly ever be
Frozen in holy silence
Revealing peace to me

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Cookies of Christmas Past, just not mine

I am not Italian, but I bake a mean biscotti. Cantucci di Prato, Buon Natale Biscotti, cookies spiced with rosemary and lemon, ginger and cinnamon, saffron and nuts, even dried apricots, blueberries or cherries. Sometimes dipped or drizzled in chocolate, sometimes plain, always twice baked in the old fashioned way. When I first started giving them for Christmas, I often had to explain what it was and how best to eat it. Outside of The Hill, few people in St. Louis were up on their biscotti back then. Now they are ubiquitous. Every coffee bar, cafe and even Costco has biscotti for sale. Still, every year I bake them. It's expected now, biscotti from the Polish gal.

Growing up my family's traditional Christmas cookie was the spritz. My mom could crank that cylinder with lightening speed, squeezing out perfect trees, wreaths, stars and bars. Try as I might, I never got the hang of it. So some years I made sugar cookie cut outs, usually oatmeal scotchies to go with them, but nothing special. Then back in the early '90's I saw a holiday baking magazine with biscotti recipes inside. Wasn't that the cookie I had with my cappuccino in that Italian restaurant? Light bulbs went on above my head like a halo. I've made them ever since. It's become an old family holiday tradition, just not from my family's history. Maybe in a past life I was an Italian girl.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

In thanks

To tell you the truth, I'm not feeling very thankful right now. But I should be. As my mom would say, there's always someone worse off than you. The simple fact that I have a camera to take these photos, a computer to type this blog and a phone line to upload it, puts me in a pretty lucky percentile. There's a roof over my head and food on the table; there's family and friends to share them with. Tenuous as it may currently be, for now I am employed. It's been a creative year, full of new stories and songs and even a new guitar. Any one of these things would be enough to make one give thanks, having all of them, and more? Well, that's an embarrassment of riches. Whether or not my heart feels thankful, I cannot control. Emotions are a tricky business. Sometimes they reveal, sometimes they betray. Sometimes you're the only one who can talk yourself down from the ledge. Without denial, without persecution, washing over the day, the month, the year. As they come and go, you grasp; constantly wrestling, struggling to temper emotion with reality. The reality that there is an abundance in this life to celebrate in thanks.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Autumn respite

Late autumn sun fell across the yard just in time for sunset. Squirrels raced around the tree trunk in their crazy dance. All the birds came alive to feed before nightfall. The red-bellied woodpecker's crimson cap flashed brightly as he nipped peanut after peanut, making the downy wait his turn. Cardinals chipped their one-note song between hasty bites. Finches, chickadees and sparrows darted in and out in a flurry of feathers. I watched from the kitchen window as the light continued to dim. It was nice to be inside, warming my hands on a mug of earl grey, sharing this fleeting scene with the creatures I treasure so much. These lovely moments, stolen from the day, echoed quietly until the sun fell below the horizon and darker hues colored the sky. I finished my tea and went on with my work, thankful for everything simple and true. Thankful for the world in my own back yard.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Grape

I drive a purple truck. A twelve year old purple truck. A twelve year old purple truck with a dinged back bumper that's missing a passenger side mirror. And I still love it.

Someone had special ordered it, low options, two door sport, economical rear-wheel drive, and then abandoned it. No one wanted it; no one but me. It's as if I'd placed the order myself. My favorite color, it was perfect. It was me. Funky-rural, rural-freaky, my purple truck.

Back when I bought it, my boss owned a truck nick named "The Beast". Somehow someone in the office took the idea and applied it. "The Grape" it has been ever since. The Grape has been around, crowded with people, product, equipment, instruments, camping gear, presents, wine, groceries, goodies, ten miles or a thousand. It's been wrecked, resurrected, admired, cursed and praised. Secrets kept silent, music played loud, memories remain. Yes, The Grape has been a good friend.

Though it's aging, I just can't give it up. I've looked at Vues and Equinoxes, Trailblazers and Rav4's, but none of them are quite me. Middle aged, a little dinged up, but still rural-funky-freaky, music blaring, people staring; I am my old purple truck.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Good bye, Anheuser-Busch

Beer is not usually my alcoholic beverage of choice. I'm more a wine and spirits kinda gal. Give me a full bodied, complex red wine and I'm a one happy girl. I'm also quite fond of Polish vodka, British gin, Mexican tequila, Italian Amaretto and French Pastis. Once in a while I'll try a craft beer, some microbrew thing, unfiltered wheat or toasted dark as coffee, but not often. So you'd think InBev's acquisition of Anheuser-Busch would mean nothing to me. You would be wrong.

The buyout is undoubtedly good for some people on both sides of the coin, bad for others. But it is devastating for St. Louis. Setting aside the economic impact of impending layoffs, the city will be losing part of its identity. Since 1852, Anheuser-Busch (then Bavarian Brewery) has been a fixture on the South side. People looked to A-B as a business leader, a place to find a "good job" that they could keep until retirement. Though growing by leaps and bounds, back then A-B was still a family company headed by the Busch's. That family feeling extended beyond the gargoyle-topped doors of 721 Pestalozzi Street, out into the community. A-B bought the Saint Louis Cardinals baseball team and built them a grand home downtown, the sadly demolished architectural landmark, Busch Stadium. They brought us the Budweiser Clydesdales, ambassadors of brewing history. They built the Bevo Mill, the Feasting Fox and Grant's Farm and opened them for everyone to enjoy. Like thousands of others raised in the St. Louis metro area, I cheered as August A. Busch, Jr. rode the antique beer wagon, pulled by the clydesdale hitch, around Busch Stadium before the big game. And I wept with millions as that same hitch bowed in solomn memory of those lost on 9/11 during A-B's 2002 Super Bowl ad.

True, A-B has not been a family owned company for some time, Gussie passed on in 1989 and things have never been the same. The Cards were sold in 1996. A-B became it's own corporate behemouth, but still a huge part of St. Louis both in collective memory and reality. Now I, like many long time area residents, feel betrayed. It was just business. That's the way the world is today. I have no claim on the company, no reason to grouse. But I'm still sad; an era has passed. Good bye, Anheuser-Busch. Rest in peace, Gussie, we still miss you.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Awaiting the first snow

Quietly, I await the first snow. Nights are long, sunsets are streaked in pink. Autumn is escaping in anticipation, leaving me more than a shade unsettled. Last winter was so dispiriting. This one has to be better. When the first snow falls, I want to run into its brilliance and let it wash my heart clean. I want to feel the joy of winter, the magic of crystal skies, the peace of a silent, moonlit Christmas night. Somehow the first snow will make all things new, new in a way that spring could not restore. Still, I know that tears will come. I can feel them welling behind my eyes as I sing of the bleak mid-winter, but they will pass and leave me restored. Restored by the joy and peace of the first snow.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Trappings of our youth

Those of a "certain age" may fondly remember particular trappings of our youth. Turntables, gatefold LP's, lids, standing glass and water beds. Often, all of the above would come into play simultaneously in the orchestration of a perfect evening. While turntables and LP's are making a comeback, (and if you have to ask about the next two on the list, then you just don't need to know), water beds are considered quite the dinosaur.

Finding sheets for a standard, king size, free-flow mattress type waterbed can be a challenge, not to mention an expense. Especially if you don't want percale. Same with mattress pads, good ones are few and far between. But those who are hooked on them, seek out the elusive bargains to feed their water bed habit. Nothing is quite as warm and inviting and quite as comfortable on the back. So imagine the horror of finding a leak in your eighteen year old water bed! Holy crap! What's an aging hippie to to? Do they even sell free flow water bed mattresses any more? Why yes, Virginia, there IS a Santa Claus, and he still brings water bed parts to all good little girls' and boys' parents and grandparents who refuse to grow up. And at less than a quarter the cost of a traditional "good" mattress and box spring. The day is saved. The money is saved. Maybe I should celebrate by playing some old LP's, quaraphonic ones......

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Top of the world

While politics only creep into my blogging occasionally, I have been pretty vocal about my political and societal views all my life. Back in Catholic grade school I was a thorn in Sister Donna Marie's side. How on earth could a 5th grader formulate her own opinion.... on anything? By 7th grade I was a full fledged lefty at odds with both family and church. In high school I supported NORML and Planned Parenthood, MUSE and WWF. My little heart bled liberal. Still does. I'm probably more of a socialist than a Democrat when you get right down to it. But these days, I'll take what I can get. When I first heard Barack Obama speak, I said to my husband, "Wow. Now here is someone who could inspire a nation." And that he did. In his powerfully elegant way, he ignighted the spark of hope within people who felt silenced and forgotten by the current administration. Our country needed to hear his positive message for change, "Yes, we can." It's a step in the correct direction, a step toward rebuilding the middle class, a step forward into the future. When the election was called for Obama, I was on top of the world. Today, I'm back in the trenches, but that moment still shines and will endure in our nation's history. I hope and pray that the momentum continues and that the change does come.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Just my imagination

Had I taken a different path in life, I might have lived in a bluff-top mansion overlooking the river. The view would be nothing less than inspiring from the window lined great room, its ceiling built tall with reclaimed antique barn timbers. On the far wall, a fireplace made of stones would chase the autumn chill away. But hopeless romanticism does not happiness make. Many a shredded relationship first began to unravel in the lap of luxury. No economic class is immune to depression. Rich or poor, people wake up in the morning, or not. I will never be able to stop my imagination from spinning the tales of what if, but I know I’d still be who I am, for better or for worse.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Mississippi Sail

Those who can't do, teach; those with no boat, bum. Once again, I am a grateful sail bum. Lock and dam 26 on the Mississippi River gives us a 38 mile stretch called Alton Pool. Tugs and barges share the water with cabin cruisers, speed boats, fishermen, jet skis and yes, sailboats. Watch out for the wake, steer clear of the big boys and you have a yourself a paradise right outside the back door.

Saturday's sun rose chilly and bright, a glorious autumn day. The turning leaves of maple, oak, birch and hickory promised a show, the cooler promised a picnic, and the river promised to roll. Our friends welcomed us aboard, and as the day warmed, we were off. While the winds let us down, keeping us from doing much actual sailing, we were undaunted. The river was kind. We motored up the pool, taking pictures, snacking and talking, enjoying each others' company and the glorious day.

From the river, everything has a different point of view. The bluffs stand tall and inviting; colored like a crazy quilt, a patchwork with no rhyme or reason, yet so perfectly designed. Ballooning spider webs catch on the rigging, streaming behind in a gossamer flag. Food tastes so much richer, drinks are sweeter, the air is fresher, our senses are exhausted. You could barely want for more. Maybe just for another day like this before the snow.
For more expedition pictures, click to eyespye.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

River Dreams

These past four nights I have dreamed of rivers, of rivers I've never seen. Wild and racing, deep in a canyon, I crossed the first one riding in a ski lift or sky chair sort of contraption. At first I feared falling, but as the scenery unfolded far below, fright gave way to awe. Its beauty was staggering. The second night found me running beside a river. Low banks were sometimes grassy, often earth and stone. Water burbled up little inlets, making pools where I stopped to drink before dashing onward toward something undefined. Oddly enough, the third river flowed into, not out of, a cave. I followed it, wading back, back, back into darkness; no flashlight, but somehow knowing my way. Soon I was in a lighted room filled with brilliant stones. Turquoise, cat's eye, quartz, hematite, coral and opals glowed on either side of the water, seemingly their own source of light. Last night I sat high on a bluff, overlooking a mighty river. It was much like the Mississippi, the Missouri, the Illinois or the Ohio, but yet was none of these. As I sat watching the water, each season came and went in the span of an afternoon. I awoke from the winter cold, clutching for my blanket. I'm not sure that I want to know what it all means. Some things should just stay a mystery.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

To touch a dream

Dreams are clouds in my mind. Lovely, untouchable, ever changing, yet always there. Everyone dreams. Some people chase their dreams, some actually catch them, some live them, some die never having tried. I have no illusions; my dreams will always be clouds. But to touch a cloud? Yes, on a mountain I have walked among clouds. Their thickness enveloped me, quieting the path like a heavy snow. Sunlight diffused, the landscape glowed, it was surreal. Surreal as a dream. To touch a dream? Perhaps.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Beauty of October

Autumn fires are burning
the leaves reduced to ash
Hopeful and expectant
still afflicted by the past
Crisp air takes my breath
almost guilty at my joy
Problems not forgotten
but today I cannot cry
Time will salve the wounds
scars will someday fade
But the beauty of October
Is enough for me today

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Jackson Browne at 60

Now that he's shaved off that crazy gray beard, Jackson Browne does not look even close to 60. He's part of that Dick Clark, Bela Fleck, Leo Kottke thing. Even after seeing him un-touched-up at the Fox Theatre Sunday, I'd still "say yeah".

Seems I've always been a huge Jackson Browne fan. That whole So-Cal crew wave, with him, Dan Fogelberg, the Eagles, et al, washed me out to sea and I never really made it back to shore. But I must admit that while I've got all the JB stuff, I haven't been as drawn to most of it in the past 15 years. Sure, every record had a couple of bright spots, but not a consistant, back to back listen like, say, "Late For The Sky". His new CD, however, has him back in my ears. "Time The Conqueror" is Jackson Browne's best work in years. So I was happy to hear most of the new songs live.

While it was unfortunate that he omitted the rally cry of "Drums Of War" ("Why is impeachment, not on the table?") the show hit most of the rest of the new songs. Title track, "Going Down To Cuba" which he did on the Cobert Report, "Giving That Heaven Away", "Off Of Wonderland" and my favorite, "Just Say Yeah." JSY is the kind of love song that you wish someone would write about you. It's sweet and simple and makes you remember how it was when you started to fall in love. Charmingly, Jackson forgot the words (okay, so he IS 60) and started the whole thing over. Oh, God bless him. Made my evening. I'm still saying "yeah".

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hit the road

Supposedly eleven people were downsized today from my place of confinement... uh, employment. Three we knew from a different department, then the rumors started to fly about the others. By the time I left for the day, the folks in my area were all a-twitter yet unscathed, but I'm sure that tomorrow when I walk in the door, I'll hear who it was. Or have someone waiting for me with the dreaded box. That's what they do, give you a copier paper box and tell you to clear out and hit the road. No one's safe in today's economy and the industry that I unfortunately stumbled into after my last job ended is no different. But you can't dwell on it or live in fear. Prepare, maybe; let it paralyze you, no.

If we had a national health care plan, I wouldn't even worry about it. Hell, I would have quit where I'm at long ago. Between guitar lessons, gigs and tips, personal chef opportunities and some other odd jobs, I could easily cobble together enough self employment to make ends meet. But we need health insurance and it's too damn expensive to buy on a cobbled income. (And it would cost way more than five thousand dollars, so don't be fooled, friends.) So if I get "the box" I'll head on down the road to Quik Trip or Trader Joe's or someplace else that's always hiring and offers health insurance. Even in a bad economy, a former retail management refugee can always make a comeback. Just go with the road.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Damn you, full moon

Sometimes the full moon is not to be trusted. Will it inspire poetry or song? Will it push the ungrounded to murder? Or will it lurk just beyond the clouds, silently coercing stones to weep? The full moon is volatile. It always captures my imagination.

Many younger nights were spent in the shadow of the full moon, haunting back roads and graveyards. The headstones fascinated us, names and dates, beloved sister, mother, son. We told stories of imagined history, unrequited love, deaths both grisly and noble. Our backs against the cold ground, staring up at the moon, our minds were free to wander. Through the ages, through time and space, into our futures, beyond our past. Would the full moon take our breath if we dared to nod in slumber? Or would our souls seep from us into the graves below, forever intertwined? Damn you, full moon. Give me back my soul. Damn you, full moon. Give me back my youth.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Indian Summer: Forest Park Waterfall

Like a cormorant poses to dry his wings, I sat with my toes spread wide in the sun, waiting for my feet to be dry again. A long bout of wading had left them chilly and pruned, but oh, so happy. It was a glorious afternoon to be perched by a waterfall, even a man made one. The water still streaks and rushes, the sun is still golden and warm. Pine trees still cling to the island, the birds and cicadas still sing their songs. It's a refuge someone made, someone homesick for the mountains. A stream of dreams; if you build it, they will come. And they do. Seldom am I alone here, but I am glad to share. Share the kind wind, the joyful water, the lovely pines, the wonder and the peace of the city's waterfall.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

This little piggy went to market

It’s true, I am pinkily challenged. Not only do I come by short pinkies genetically, but as a child, a precocious, stubborn, oblivious child, I made my way through a baby-gate and onto our farmhouse’s hot floor furnace grate. My left pinky bears the remaining scar from the burn, a scar that prevented full growth and turns the finger slightly inward. Usually I don’t think about my pinky. Why should I? I’m happy to be in possession of all my digits, considering the alternative. But sometimes, oh, I wish that pinky was longer! A couple of nights ago I went to see Lindsey Buckingham. The man has such a unique style. During his solo songs I went down front to stand and stare, watching his hands as they danced over the strings. While it’s his right hand work that puts him into the amazing guitar category, my hand ached as he easily reached a five fret stretch. I looked down at my left hand that had inadvertently tried to follow and make the pattern as I studied. The guy next to me, another player, was doing the same. “Damn, you’re gonna have to cheat that,” he said, “You got a pinky problem.” Yup. Tune it down, capo it up, cheat like hell, or pick a different song……

Friday, October 03, 2008

Gord's still gold

As I stopped in the middle aisle of the Fox Theatre, I almost felt the need to genuflect before taking my seat. Gordon Lightfoot was present. Gordon was a major influence on those of us who travel in the acoustic / folk / rock vein. Along with the other early influences of Dylan, Joni, CSN and Neil, he inspired us, and our subsequent heroes, with lyrics ranging from poetry to literature and showed us the power of acoustic rooted music. Nearly seventy, Gord’s still gold. His voice has worn, but is still expressive, and the less-is-more arrangements allowed his lyrics and melodies to sparkle. My husband lamented the lack of “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” in the set, but I was more than delighted to hear an emotionally wrenching version of "Song for a Winter's Night". The night was moving, driving me to pull out records I'd not listened to in years. The songs are still relavent, still full of strength and beauty, still inspiring. I should have genuflected, yes, I should have.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Autumn knocks

"The first breath of autumn blows through the trees....." (D.F. 2003) And I am both saddened and expectant. Every year I mourn the passing of summer. The long days, the sultry nights, the garden, the river, the seemingly eternal twilight. But when autumn knocks, it is a door that must be opened. Evenings are chilly, the air smells crisp, yet days are still warm enough abandon shoes and wade in the stream. The sun has gone golden, softening shadows that lengthen before our eyes. It makes me want to nap in the sunlight and purr. Soon there will be carpets of leaves to wade through instead of water and darkness will come to claim its increasingly early hold. Time to light the candles and the fire, pour the port and break the chocolate, time to sing the songs of autumn.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Way down yonder in the paw paw patch redeux

The paw paws are ripe. Our friends’ woods are yielding sticky messes of them now. You shake the trees, they fall from the sky and if you’re lucky they don’t split as they hit you or the ground. Ones picked off the trees are just a tad under ripe, ones that have been on the ground a while are often suspect. Ugly things, greenish brown and splotchy and the point between ripe and spoiled is a fine one. A perfect paw paw should be firm but not hard, give to pressure yet not be mushy and have a heady fragrance. In theory, you are supposed to be able to cut open the fruit and scoop out the flesh. However, like my other favorite forest-gathered treat, the persimmon, paw paws have many seeds and the flesh tends to cling. So scoop if you want, but the best way to get all the pulp off the seeds is with your fingers. Once all the work is done, though, the reward is sweet. The flesh is custard yellow, soft and distinctly tropical. Imagine mango mixed with a little banana, cream and just a hint of pineapple. It’s creamy, rich and leaves a sparkly feel in your mouth. While there are an increasing number of paw paw recipes out there, they are perhaps best eaten fresh to savor a flavor like no other. If you have too many, the seeded flesh can be frozen. Or better yet, live on the wild side and make some paw paw ice cream. Mmmmmmm.

Paw Paw Ice Cream
3 cups whole milk
3 cups cream or half-and-half
3 cups granulated sugar
3 lemons, juiced
3 oranges, juiced
2 cups mashed paw paws

Mix together milk, cream and sugar. Place ingredients in ice cream freezer and turn until mushy. Add the juice of lemons and oranges and mashed paw paws. Turn freezer until frozen, then let stand one hour and pack freezer. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Plant & Krauss

You can take Robert Plant out of Led Zeppelin, but you can't take the Led Zeppelin out of Robert Plant. Tonight at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis, a restrained Plant showed us why a Led Zeppelin without him would be a bad idea indeed. Even in the understated environment of the Raising Sand tour, he posed and postured, waved the mic stand and once even managed to sling the mic. At times he looked like he was going to break out of his skin, about to kick, gesture grandly, wail like a banshee or dance, but all that was mostly held back, much to the dismay of STL's classic rock mecca inhabitants. No matter, as the music was the thing.

Plant and Krauss have an odd chemistry. Their voices melt together finely, sometimes changing character so much as to lose distinction. Much of Raising Sand constructed the set, showcasing this vocal phenomenon. Their version of "Killing The Blues" is possibly the best cover of it ever, and tonight it was note-perfect. The one- two punch of "Please Read The Letter" and "Gone Gone Gone" hit the audience with both band and vocal excellence that left everyone smiling. Some of the best moments, though, were when they helped each other shine. Alison Krauss was stunning on "Down To The River To Pray", aided in lush harmony by Plant, Stuart Duncan and Buddy Miller. And girl still plays a mean fiddle. A reworked "Black Dog" was spooky, "Battle of Evermore" seemed to be the night's fan favorite. They could have played all night, as far as this fan is concerned. When you have royalty creating magic, everything is never enough.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Mast To My Sail

The mast to my sail, I depend on your strength
Hold me up, let me breathe in the morning sun
And I will urge you on.

The anchor to my wave, I need your focus
End my aimless drifting, let me rest safely
And I will rock you gently.

The sky to my cloud, you are my only home
In you I live, let me dapple shadow and light
And I will adorn you.

The life to my heart, we were destined to be
In sky and stars, let me be with you always
And I will love you

Friday, September 19, 2008

Billboards and Greenbar

Since returning from vacation, I've sort of been working on the house. We have way too much stuff and it needs cleared and organized. Last night I was sitting on the floor of the living room sifting through a box of old magazines and papers. It's something I hate to do; it leaves me emotionally spent. Perhaps this is why it never gets done. Finding a stack of long expired business cards welled my eyes with tears. Today I tackled another trunk filled with useless memories. Under the first layers of outdated spare mac parts and manuals lay some of the last vestiges of my previous employment: reams of greenbar computer paper and stacks of Billboard magazines. Reports, data overload, financials for a business long gone, a calendar with in-store appearence dates marked, upcoming release and concert information, a Chris Isaak backstage pass, charts scribbled with circles and stock counts, it was like a music retail archeological dig. Most of it will be gone when the recyling is picked up, as if Pandora's Box had never been opened.

Sometimes I wish I could erase my past, other times I enjoy a good cry or a hearty laugh. I guess I should be thankful that I can remember it at all.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay

Watching the sun set, dangling feet, scolding birds. I could have stayed until all the stars came out, but my friends drew me away to walk off dinner on the beach. As the sky darkened, we crossed the dunes. There was a ring around the moon that lit our way down to the water. White caps rolled in over my ankles. Salt kissed my cheeks. We stood staring at the sea, mesmerized. It became a part of us as the night surrounded us, a velvet blanket of crashing sound and mist. Finally, we tore ourselves away. I wish I could have stayed.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Broken yet perfect

The beach was littered with broken shells. Abalone glowed in shards of pearl, tangerine, gold and green. Sand dollars made nothing but change. One small piece of what was once a tremendous shell had been tumbled by the sea into a smooth rock. Everywhere I walked lay beautiful, broken homes. They begged a story like remains of pottery found at the site of an ancient city. Where did they come from? What was inside? Why did it break? These natural vessels of white and tan, russet and cream that churned with each breaking wave were a constant source of fascination. The closer I looked, the deeper I could see. Such fragile beauty, so complete in their imperfection, broken yet perfect. Just like us.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Changes in latitude

Sailing off the coast of Florida.... now that's a vacation. I am blessed with friends and family who live in paradise and are happy to share. They open up their homes, hearts and yes, even boats to this poor, weary midwesterner seeking escape from the upper latitudes.

It was a perfect day. Sun and breeze, not unbearably hot, porpoise jumping. Plenty of time to anchor for a picnic lunch and jump out to play in the water. My friend calls it "island time". Life not dictated by an alarm clock, but by the rise and set of the sun, by the tide, by the stars, by the internal clock that is forever out of wack in our closed up, windowless, little cubicles of the work-a-day world. A day on island time is worth more than a month in the city. Two months. More. A day on the water? Priceless.

Friday, September 05, 2008

In the pines

I love long needled pines. White, Loblolly, Longleaf, there's something about them, how they offer a bed and filter the light. Little is more inviting than the soft carpet beneath a stand of these trees. Long brown needles cover the ground like a handwoven blanket, obscuring hard edges of rock and earth. Sunlight is diffused by green boughs until barely a glow remains. Branches catch each breath of air; it sings and whispers to me. Come. Come lie beneath the grove, drink in the shadows and green. Come rest your head in the quiet and dream in shelter. Come, says the grove, as I thankfully give in.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Going going gone

Nine days of escape, dodging hurricanes, gettin' on the water in between. Beaches and mother ocean, exotic flora, greedy birds and sunshine. Time to relax, play some music and embody the spirit of Margaritaville. But I can't be ready. Something is just not right. I must be forgetting something coz I'm finished packing and there's still room......

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Forbidden Fruit

Apples. I got apples. Two little trees, loaded. Never have these trees set this much fruit. Ever since I planted them about five years ago, I tried to do everything right for them. I bought all organic sprays. Before bud I sprayed this, after flower it was that, while maturing something else was squirted on. And I got a few apples here and there. Last year the late spring hard frost killed most of the crop set, so maybe they'd just stored up a lot of energy for this year. Or maybe the bees just did a better job of pollinating. It sure wasn't my crop management, because I was busy and fell down on my job. No sprays, no feeding, no nothing. I kinda ignored them. And now look! Boughs are bending, two limbs even cracked and had to be removed. That not quite mature fruit was cooked down into apple butter. The rest seem to be hanging in there. The greenish yellow one is called Winter Banana. It has a mild, sweet, softer flesh. The red ones are Arkansas Black. Tart, very firm, a great keeper. Together, these heirloom varieties make an amazingly delicious pie. Is there any better use of an apple than pie? I don't think so.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Point of reference

Sometimes it gets lonely when no one around you shares any of your points of reference. For most of my adult life, the people I worked and socialized with happily shared at least one point of reference. Even though we were all different ages, races and economic backgrounds, music brought us together in a common thread. With that music came a certain view of history and pop culture, touchstones one and all.

For example, my husband and I caught part of the Democratic National Convention and the governor of Montana had just given a speech. Commentators were reviewing it, talking about how Montana will matter this year. My husband quipped, "Of course it will matter, where else will we get dental floss?" Without even a pause, I added, "Or pygmy ponies." Anyone at all even vaguely familiar with Frank Zappa would have said something similar and laughed just like we did. That same comment where I now work would have branded me even stranger than they already think I am. Beware, crazy musician in cube C674.

Beware: crazy, lonely, misunderstood musician with a wry wit trapped in cube C674.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

What if?

Yesterday a friend said to me, "What if we all did whatever we loved to do and got paid for it?" Indeed. But who loves to clean the sewer? And get paid what? Enough? Even more perplexing, what do I love to do? Or rather, which of the things that I love to do? Seems so simple a plan, yet sadly, destined to fail. Actually, I do know people who like to do jobs others detest. One friend likes to iron. Really. I know, I don't get it either. Another enjoys cleaning. Unfortunately, there's not enough money or benefits to be made, so it's on to the cube farm. Very complicated. And once your passion becomes your meal ticket, will it continue to hold the same fascination? Do you pick something to grow into? Or something you may grow out of? Would you be allowed to change? I do have this ideal world, rural communal living sort of fantasy that rolls around in the back of my head whenever my job gets to be too much. Even there, someone would have to do the septic tank clean out. After all, how many musicians does one commune need?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Promises made, promises broken

Most of the promises I make to other people are kept. Most of the promises made to myself are promises broken. As a girl child raised Catholic, it is ingrained in your being that your concerns come last. Not that the nuns ever really said as much, they didn't have to. The system was geared toward the old ways. Years of that upbringing do not fall away easily, even after pop psychology, logic, rebellion and soul searching. There is a line somewhere between service and subservient. Giving of yourself to others is admirable, but there has to be something left there to give. Sometimes I feel all given out. So I'm making a renewed effort to keep some promises to myself. Quand je parle français comme j'ai fait dans l'université, je vous ferai savoir.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Today I prayed for courage. defines courage as:
1. the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.
2. Obsolete. the heart as the source of emotion. c.1300, from O.Fr. corage, from V.L. *coraticum, from L. cor "heart," which remains a common metaphor for inner strength. In M.E., used broadly for "what is in one's mind or thoughts," hence "bravery," but also "wrath, pride, confidence, lustiness," or any sort of inclination. Replaced O.E. ellen, which also meant "zeal, strength."
3. have the courage of one's convictions, to act in accordance with one's beliefs, esp. in spite of criticism.

Usually, I do not pray for myself. So many other people in the world need prayers, good karma and positive energy sent their way. Struggling friends, ill family, war-torn countries, oppressed nations, the list is endless. Most often, I pray for peace and for the environment, figuring that if those two most global of problems were solved, everything else would just follow suit. Today was different. In a fit of desperate frustration, my mind silently cried out, “God, give me courage!” Courage to be who I am. Courage to follow my heart. Courage to say no. Courage to ask for help. Courage to forgive myself. Courage to pursue dreams.

Why courage? Because everything starts with one step, a hard step. The step that someone carved the words “Shoulda Coulda Woulda” into before the concrete dried. The step shrouded in fear. The step that’s wobbly, but the only way to cross the path. Courage moves feet, both physically and metaphorically. When faith and love need a push, courage does it.
So today, yes, today I prayed for courage.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Train, train

Through the drizzle, under the moody sky, here comes my train. It was early this day. Usually if I'm coming home around 8:45, it's scuttling back and forth across the road, moving cars from track to track in and out of the chemical plant. The gates come down, I stop, I stare. Over the years here, I've see it so often that I've claimed it as my own.

Trains are another of the many fascinations haunting the recesses of my mind. As a child in bed I could hear the train's whistle through the darkness as it crossed the county trestle, making its way from Edwardsville and Winchester to East St. Louis. In the spring and fall when my windows are open to the night, that same whistle blows down by the river. Besides the lonely sound epitomized in song after song, trains are a history. The old cars and engines are gigantic antiques, telling stories of hard work, pain and romance. In the blink of an eye, I can while away hours at the Museum of Transport in St. Louis County. Climbing on old steam and diesel engines like the child I am in my heart, I take pictures and daydream about a time when life was both harder and simpler. As with many other romanticized views of the past, it is most likely inaccurate, but then it wouldn't be a dream, would it? So go away, leave my train alone; let us have our fun.