Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Here on the Mid Coast

I don't remember who started the whole "Mid-Coast" thing, but I still like it. Back when I ran a record store and Nelly was hitting it big, we started talking about the Mid Coast. It wasn't rap from the East Coast or West Coast..... St. Louis had its own style. But I just like the image. The river feels like it's mine. I've canoed it, ran along its sandy Illinois side beach, played in the Chain of Rocks, partied on its cobblestone shore, waded illegally into its muddy water on a hot 4th of July, and watched it roll past again and again. The Mid Coast, it ain't so bad.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Free stuff for the garden

All the seed catalogs are on my couch. Or my desk. Or the kitchen table. Or in the bathroom. The first one rolled in before Christmas, White Flower Farm. It's not only great product, but a damn good read. Probably my favorite catalog. Unfortunately for the WFF folks, Gurney's has a big ol' $20.00 "No strings attached" coupon right on the front page. Henry Fields will give me $25.00 worth of stuff free with a $25.00 purchase. And Gardens Alive! has $25.00 of "products absolutely FREE!" How can I resist? After all, the buy 1 get 1 free thornless blackberry brambles I bought from Henry Fields have produced for at least 12 years now. Yummy. Gardens Alive's beneficial nematodes rid my garden and lawn of cut-worms and bad grubs. Gurney's basil seed has kept us all in pesto throughout many a year. Hey, if they want to give me free stuff, I'll take it. And thank them profusely.

Friday, January 25, 2008

In Winter's Fading Light

Finally she sleeps, in winter's fading light,
Released from fitful dreams of night.
For once beyond the pain, exhaustion takes a toll.
Too tired to hear her weeping soul,
Escaping from her life, into the afternoon,
The reprieve will end all too soon.
But for now she sleeps, for now her world is right,
Again in winter's fading light

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Cleaning Sucks

Someday I will hire a housekeeper. Simply put, cleaning sucks. Sure, everyone wants to live in a nice, clean, tidy environment.... Wait. No. No, actually I don't give a damn. I lied. I do give a damn, but not a big enough damn to do all that needs to be done on a regular basis. There's more important things to do than dust the TV. Like play guitar, or dig in the garden, or paint, or blog, or read, or sleep. As long as the kitchen and bathroom are clean, I'm pretty happy. How people keep house is beyond me. When do they have time? When my Mom was a stay-at-home mom, she had the whole house beautiful thing down. Every day was a different chore and I was her personal assistant. We hung laundry outside to dry, we washed windows and cabinets, we vacuumed everything to within an inch of its life and shined wood with the grain until my arm ached. She also sewed, knitted, crocheted, canned, gardened and leapt tall buildings in a single bound. When she became a working mother a lot of that crap came to a screeching halt. Or fell on me to accomplish when I was infinitely more interested in playing guitar, listening to records, painting or reading. Funny how the circle works. Then again, circles were made to be broken. Someday I will break it and hire a housekeeper.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Where is my snow?

It has only snowed once so far and January is almost over. People who pooh-pooh global warming obviously should rethink things a bit. Today it is supposed to give us a dusting. So far all I hear is a tinkling of sleet, not even enough to cancel a class. You hear people my age talking all the time about how when I was a kid we had SNOW! Schools were closed, roads were impassible, we had to walk 6 miles both ways to the sledding hill and daggummit we LIKED IT! But seriously, there was more snow. Piled higher and dropping more often. White and fluffy, wet and sloppy, powdery and fine. I loved it. There is nothing more magical than a walk in the snow. Everything is so muted and quiet. The wonderland spreads before you, landscapes change before your eyes as the wind shifts the drifts and swirls white to cover your tracks. You are alone. It's holy. Oh, where is my snow?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

It was a train station once

The paper had a story today about how Olin is possibly laying off 100 people from the munitions line in East Alton, IL. Like any industry town that's lost its base, East Alton has its share of dilapidated structures. Sooner or later they will get around to tearing this one down. It was a train station once upon a time. The platform in back remains, as do the tracks. Not much else. Even a quick crawl inside showed that the railroad or vandals had stripped it bare to the walls. Poor, sad, little station. Poor, sad, lonely town.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Me & My Sigma

Back in 1981, I bought my first new guitar. It had been kickin' around the showroom at Halpin's Music in Alton, IL for a little under a year, but no one seemed to want it coz is was not a "real" Martin. It was a considered a knock-off, just a Sigma. When I played it, I fell in love. Hey, if it's made to Martin specs, plays like a Martin, sounds like a Martin, then guess what? So I wrote the check and took my new baby home. A beautiful solid mahogany body dreadnought with solid spruce top, rosewood fretboard and bridge, Sigma logo, "Anniversary" and snowflake/diamond fret markers like a D-28 in mother of pearl, and it was all mine. Over the years I have always loved this instrument. There are others, a fine Ovation and a Fender 12-string that fight for my attention, but the Sigma gets more time. The thing is just a pleasure to play. Then came the internet. Now I know that there were only 100 of the Sigma 10th Anniversary models made. Quite a bit of Googling seems to reveal that very few are still with their original owners. Who knew I'd own a piece guitar history? I just wanted to play.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Super Secret Double Chocolate Cookies

As mentioned previously, this was a banner year for cookies. The biscotti I made was perfect, stayed blonde yet crisp. Herbed shortbread was scented with lavendar without hinting of soap. But the stand out was this Mexican Double Chocolate Orange Cookie. My husband is a huge fan of orange with dark chocolate and a recent convert to spicy Mexican and Jamaican choc-o-treats. So he wanted a cookie with all that magic cookie mojo goin' on. Here's what I came up with.

Take the recipe off the back of a Nestle's White Chocolate Chip bag for Chocolate Toll House Cookies. Forget the white chips, save them for some other project. When it calls for the cocoa powder, use the darkest, richest baking powder you can find. Now, grate in the zest of two oranges and about 6 drops of orange oil from a good spice shop*. No oil? Use about 2 tsp. of orange flavoring. Mix per recipe and shake in 3 stout shakes of Cayenne Pepper, about 1/3 a tsp. Mix well. Drop balls of dough onto cookie sheets, bake as directed on package. Soon as you pull them out, gently press a Hershey's Special Dark Select kiss into the middle of each cookie. The bottom of the kiss melts into the cookie to stick it there. Carefully transfer to a drying rack or clean dishcloth to cool. Do not move until totally cooled and the kisses are set hard again.

These cookies are full of chocolatey orange goodness and the pepper gives them a zing, but you can't identify it as cayenne or taste it as such. They were a hit with our family and friends, so give it a try!

* A note on GOOD spice shops. Often you can get great spices and great prices at international or ethnic specialty grocers. Also try local spice shops like Soulard Spice Shop here in St. Louis. I also love Penzey's. While it is a national chain, they are quality minded. I've never gotten anything but wonderfully fresh product from them. They have many retail outlets, or you can find them on the web at

Friday, January 11, 2008

Bad Blogger, Sad Blogger

Depression. Illness. Exhaustion. Stress. Obligation. Grief. Sorrow. Guilt. You name it; it stopped me in my tracks. No blog.

It was a rough holiday season. Health scares took up an unbelievable amount of time, energy and emotion, leaving both of us frustrated and drained. Thankfully, everyone is on the mend, no real catastrophes. Hence the guilt at feeling so blue when I should be feeling so blessed. But the whole thing started a spiral into darkness during what normally is my favorite time of the year.

Christmas. The preparations, the decorating, the carols, the cookies, the movies, the shopping, the wrapping of presents while sipping hot mulled wine. Lights and trees and celebrations, waking up to moonlight on new fallen snow. I usually love Christmas time. Sure, I made cookies for everyone, (and they turned out great) and I did my bit with the church choirs, but not much else got done. I’m not a good nurse-maid. I’m not a good patient. I’m not a patient nurse-maid. One frustrating personal crisis seemed to follow another. Joy was not in my soul, depression and panic attacks weighed on my heart. This year I actually uttered the words, “I wish Christmas would just be over.” And then Dan Fogelberg died.

No, you don’t understand. Dan Fogelberg died.

Dan’s music and my life are inextricably intertwined. I spent untold hours learning to play guitar to Homefree & Souvenirs. Play, lift the needle, back up, drop, play, lift the needle, back up, drop, over and over and over. The darkness and peace of Netherlands brought a glimmer of hope to me at my most angst-ridden moments of youth. At my urging, we sang Along The Road at my high school graduation. An emotional New Year’s Eve was spent sobbing over unrequited love with my best friend as Same Old Lang Syne provided the soundtrack. When I broke up with my lead guitarist, he sang The Last Nail to me. After meeting my husband, we discovered our LP duplicates included every Dan Fogelberg release. Song From Half Mountain graced our wedding. You can even hear my “whoo!” on the Songs From The West live CD that was recorded at the Fox Theatre here in St. Louis.

Everyone knew the cancer would eventually take him, but knowledge is not comfort. Upon hearing the news I spent hours cradling my guitar, crying over the strings, playing every Dan Fogelberg song I could remember. Lyrics and progressions that I’d not played in two decades poured from me like it was yesterday. Surely I was not doing this on my own. My hands ached, my heart ached, but who was I to weep? This man was not my lover, he was not my friend, he was not my blood, nor kin. And yet, he was all of those. Born of the heartland, raised by a river, consoled by nature, transcended in music; both of us, all of us. Songs of quiet, hymns to nature, love lost and found, raw rock energy, raging anger. These were the reflections of his life, wrapped around my life. Yes, he was all those; of course I wept, and I was not alone in my sorrow, or in my joy of remembrance. Thousands like me, touched by his spirit, sang hymns to the silence that night.

And so, with that cathartic break, I return. The humble Rural Gurl.