Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Musical progress report, because 2014 actually was a good year for music

In my profile, I say I am a musician. It would be more accurate to say "someone who occasionally picks up a musical instrument, when really she wants to have a musical instrument in her hand and be singing every minute of the day." Why I do not live up to what I really want is complicated. Motivation comes and goes. I lack self discipline. And last winter...

Last winter, when I would come home to a cool house (propane was at record prices and I didn't really want to use it when I didn't need it), I spent my evenings getting a fire going, cooking dinner, and sitting gazing blankly into the fire the rest of the night. It was a brutal winter, with low temps in the -30's and -40's. My fingers would not thaw enough to play an instrument.

Still, I ended up playing a couple gigs in late March.

This night, at the Chickadee Coffeehouse in Barnum, MN, was perhaps the best gig ever. The Chickadee is a great, cozy venue, but what made it special were all of my friends who showed up. My Facebook "fan club" took up an entire long table and consisted of people I'd met in real life, and people I hadn't. Good friends all, and I am so grateful. Here's the set list:

Let the Mystery Be (Iris DeMent)

Birches (Bill Morrissey)

Souvenirs (John Prine)

Carolina Pines (Kate Wolf)

Sing (original)

Across the Great Divide (Kate Wolf)

Arrow (Cheryl Wheeler)

Tecumseh Valley Townes Van Zandt)

Redtail Hawk (Kate Wolf)

Irish set- flute: Lark in the Morning, Cooley’s/Sheehan’s, Tobin’s/Banish Misfortune/Smash the Windows, Danny Boy

Our Town (Iris DeMent)

Why Don’t You Just Go Home (Greg Brown)

Tower Song (Townes Van Zandt)

Here in California (Kate Wolf)

Angel From Montgomery (John Prine)

Barroom Girls (Gillian Welch)

Early (Greg Brown)

Rexroth’s Daughter (Greg Brown)

The L & N Don’t Stop Here Anymore (Jean Richey)

Girl From The North Country (Bob Dylan)
Tomorrow Is A Long Time (Bob Dylan)

Josefin’s Waltz (flute) (Vasen)

Then on March 29, I played at the Black Cat Coffeehouse in Ashland, Wisconsin. The Hermit had arranged this through someone he knew there. This was a slightly more challenging gig. It was in the afternoon, when people weren't there specifically to hear me, and I didn't have my tribe of Facebook friends there. I had hardly any support from the staff, except "you can set up there". Not to say the staff there are not good, this was just an anomaly for them. And, I had to borrow a couple of microphones (thanks Nathan Frazer!) and bring my own sound system, which consisted of a Crate acoustic guitar amp with mic input. It worked, I guess.

To sum it up, that gig I felt awkward; hard to find the chords, hard to find my voice. Or so it seemed. So I stuck with what was familiar to me, which, I had to remind myself, this crowd had never heard before. Some things worked though. I remember two people specifically: one young woman, probably a Northland College student, who had seen on my poster that I played Kate Wolf, and had come to hear me play Kate Wolf. So I played a couple requests from her. The second was a hippie-looking father who had brought his young daughter and who seemed to really enjoy my selection of music. Thanks to both of you, you made that gig feel worth it to me. Because it's all about the people you connect with, never mind the ones who keep talking through your songs.

I also played a Wednesday night series at the Carlton County Fairgrounds in Barnum on July 31st, and at the Sunday morning farmer's market at TJ's Country Corner Store in Mahtowa, MN a couple weeks later. For the latter, I finally invested in my own microphones and stands.To be honest, I have not used them since.

On the docket this year: As yet nothing, though I need to call the Chickadee. I think I could be ready for another March gig. Then in June, The Hermit and I will be attending our first music festival in a while, the inaugural Blue Ox Music Festival in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Awesome lineup. And, did someone say "Airstream"?

Yep, this is our new "home away from home". The story of how we found it will have to be another post.

I'll leave you with this: "Why Don't You Just Go Home", by Greg Brown, from March 14, 2014 at the Chickadee.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Returning to the path

To me, blogging has always been about truth. Speaking the truth, and in doing so, trying to find the truth. I am inconveniently blessed with the desire to find the real truth, not some version that carries great authority, nor some version that feels good and brings me close to a circle of like minded people. 

Truth is an elusive thing. Every artist, every composer or musician creates their version of it, honed by experience. Some come close to getting it right. I was playing a Bach partita on flute today, sight reading it actually; I have had this sheet music for over 25 years and had never looked beyond the first movement. Life has this sneaky way of getting in the way. But when I play Bach, whether it is a piece I know or one that is new to me, I feel a sense of "rightness". The phrases progress precisely the way they need to. There is truth in that. 

So maybe my lack of blogging frequency in recent years has been due to a feeling that I am not completely expressing the truth about my existence. I'm not telling outright lies, nor do I have the need to, but there are truths out there that I am not comfortable putting in words for everyone to see. Is there anyone who can't say that? 

For example, when I started this blog, I (rather pompously) considered myself a "homesteader"--you know, the self sufficient lifestyle, to various degrees. I even included the term in my blog description. But over the years, the term has lost its meaning to me and I no longer identify with it. To tell the ongoing story, of how we built our own house and all that, means leaving out some truths that don't fit that "homesteader" image. The human fallibility. The stuff I don't want others to see, mostly. 

But now that I'm older (50 is on the not so distant horizon), I'm inclined to care less about what others think, and so long as I do not go dramatic, a little raw honesty is a good thing. In fact, it may even help me write those songs I've been trying to all these years. You see, I'm not a singer songwriter, like I want to be. I'm
a parrot, a cover artist who just happens to be able to pull it off because I sound a bit like Emmylou Harris. :)

So what am I trying to say here? What in God's name am I blathering about? It is this: I want to return to a time when writing came more easily to me, but I want to add the wisdom and honesty that only years can bring. Who knows where it will go; the fact that I am sitting here typing this out on my iPhone is a miracle in itself. So, we'll see. 

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Pork squash black bean stew

I'm just writing this down before I forget it. I had a pretty good day, went to Duluth for breakfast at the Duluth Grill, then church at a church I have been admiring for years. Both very good experiences. Then home, and had to chase daylight to till up an area in the garden and plant garlic. I had not given much thought to dinner, but then I remembered the three boneless pork loin chops in the freezer, and it went from there.

I swear I had a recipe for this at one time. I looked for it, to no avail. But cooking instinct took over. So here it is:

About a pound or so of pork, cut into cubes
One medium onion, diced
Two cloves of garlic, diced
One jalapeno pepper, diced
Olive oil

Heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Saute the onion and garlic, then add the pork. Season with salt, pepper, smoky paprika, curry powder, and cumin (you decide the amounts).

Add a splash of red wine. Then, about two cups chicken or vegetable broth, one can tomatoes with green chiles (such as Ro-Tel), and one can black beans. Organic, preferably. Bring to a boil, then simmer until you know it's done.

It would have been nice to have a good fresh bakery or homemade bread to serve this with. But, I didn't, because I spent my afternoon planting garlic. Oh well. Something's gotta give.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Carrot habanero hot sauce

Last year I found myself in the unique position of having a lot of habanero peppers from the garden. It was a hot summer, and habaneros like heat, and we had planted some, mostly as an afterthought. They thrived. Since I have virtually no use for fresh, individual habaneros, I started looking around for ways I could maybe incorporate them into a sauce. I have long been a fan of Yucatan Sunshine, which has carrots in it. I'm not sure how I ended up finding this recipe, although I do know it is from a book I checked out from the East Central Regional Library system: Tart and Sweet: 101 Canning and Pickling Recipes for the Modern Kitchen. It looked good, so I tried it. I ended up making two batches, and they were gone by mid winter. Good stuff.

This year, I did not have any significant yield of habaneros. The summer was kind of cool, even in the midst of global climate change. But I did plant carrots, a Nantes variety, and I got a good yield. So when I found some habaneros at the local grocery store, cheap, I could not resist.

Last night I did the hard and dirty work, chopping up stuff and cooking it and adding vinegar and whooshing it up in the food processor. I was up until 10 doing that. Tonight I whooshed it again, and simmered it some more. I am not crazy enough to think I will get it canned tonight, or tomorrow night. But it will be done, and I will make another batch, because I bought too many habaneros! :)

Se here's the recipe, with my modifications:

1 1/2 pounds carrots, cleaned, peeled and sliced into1/4 inch coins
1 large white onion, roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger (this is the key ingredient!)

Combine these in a large nonreactive (stainless steel or such) pot and cook over medium high heat until carrots are soft. Add water if it gets too dry.

4 habanero peppers, seeded and chopped (I probably put in 7 or 8)
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped (3 maybe)

Add these and cook for 5 minutes.

5 cups white vinegar
Zest from one lime
The juice from that lime

Or so. Blend with an immersion blender (Don't have one, so I just transferred the mix, in batches, to my food processor. Or you could use a blender.) Cover and refrigerate overnight to let the flavors combine. And, at that point, I was ready to call it a night.

So today I blended the sauce again, in the food processor. Then the recipe offers two options: You can strain the mixture for a saucier sauce, or you can leave the chunkier bits in for more yield and a thicker sauce.Last year I strained the sauce. And I could not let myself discard the chunkier bits, because they were so delicious. So this year I skipped the straining. Cooked it down for about 30 minutes.

I have not canned it yet, I might tomorrow if I have time after yoga class. But, for canning, process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. If left chunky, you should get about 8 half pint jars. Enjoy.

Monday, October 20, 2014

13.1: the saga

 Funny how when you anticipate an event, the actual happening of that event unfolds in a surreal way.
I arrived in Ashland, Wisconsin at about 7 Friday night. Nina and Joe had to be at their respective sports practices until about 5. Vinny was working, so he stayed home. I had left work about noon, so I enjoyed some time at home, packing and preparing. And thinking "Wow. I'm really doing this!"

The drive takes about two hours. Once we arrived, and picked up our race packets, I for the half marathon and Nina for the 10K, we went directly to the Pasta Feed/Fish Boil. Because this race is in Wisconsin, there had to be a fish boil. Whitefish. Although it was not as good as the Labor Day weekend fish boil in Port Wing, Wisconsin. That one featured volunteers running around with pitchers of beer, it was an all you can drink event. Which was probably not appropriate for a pre race event.

I got my gear together and tried to get to bed at a reasonably early time. The forecast was for temperatures in the 30's around race start time, so I adjusted my race wear plan. I was going to run in a tank top and shorts, but I decided on my long underwear shirt, capris, and my very fashionable tank top over my long underwear shirt. I pinned my number, which had my timing chip attached, to the tank top. The number had a bright green "First Timer" sticker attached, so I would be readily identified as a novice!

The alarm rang at 5:30. I got up, made a pot of coffee, and started getting ready.I had a bowl of cereal for breakfast, something I rarely do. Russ drove me and Nina to the race starting area, about six blocks away. We boarded shuttle buses at about 6:50 AM. They were school buses, and my the driver of my bus was a jovial fellow. He seemed to enjoy his job. We arrived at the starting line, in Moquah, about 15 minutes later.

Moquah was probably a bit larger than it is now when the race corridor was a railroad. Now it is a township hall, a utility shed, and a couple of ball fields. When my bus arrived, the township hall was already filled with runners seeking warmth. They just opened up the utility shed when my bus arrived, and soon that was crowded with runners. I found a spot to sit down and sip the coffee I had brought in a mini thermos. I talked with a couple other female runners. I don't know why the shuttle buses arrived an hour before the 8:30 race start, but I guess it's better to arrive early.

Sooner or later, it was approaching start time. I consumed the one GU gel I had brought with me; the rest were to be found along the race course. I made my way to the trailer, where I stuffed my sweatshirt and coffee thermos in my labeled gear bag and placed it in the trailer that would take it to the finish area. The race start was very informal; I tried to figure out where would be the appropriate start for me. Not at the back, but maybe towards the back. I chose my place, and before I knew it, we were off and running.

The start of the race course headed west, away from Ashland, for a little over a mile along a county road that had very recently been re-paved, so very smooth. From there it took a connecting gravel road to the abandoned railroad corridor that would be our very straight course for the remainder of the race. A railroad corridor headed towards Lake Superior can only mean one thing: downhill or flat all the way. Which is a very good half marathon course for a first timer.

One thing I noticed in the first two miles was that my capris, which I had not worn on an actual run since I bought them in the summer, seemed to be slipping down on me. A lot. In the first mile I was pulling them up every minute. I thought that would be a problem. I thought that every runner behind me was probably thinking "First timer! Pants on the ground!" But somehow after two miles, the problem resolved itself. I figured the capris had either frozen to my butt, or had adhered themselves with sweat. Probably the latter.

I was running with my Map My Run app on my iPhone activated, mostly so I could keep track of my pace and not run too fast in the first few miles. When the friendly voice announced I had just completed my first mile, it was in approximately 11 minutes, 40 seconds. Perfect. I had told myself, in no way did I want to complete one of the first few miles in under 11 minutes.

The first couple miles were surreal, full of thoughts of "Oh my God, I'm actually doing this!" And they felt very good, physically. I was pacing myself, going the speed I knew would get me through this. Enjoying the tidbits of conversation overheard from other runners. My plan was to grab another GU gel at an aid station that was supposed to be about 3.5 miles from the start. Somehow I missed the GU if it was there, and I knew I didn't need water or anything until about 5 or 6 miles. And I could always make it up with Powerade. Wisdom from my 12 mile training runs.

 The course, as I mentioned, was along an old railroad grade. It was unpaved, mostly firmly packed gravel, which is as good as or better than what I'm used to running on. And, going through deciduous woods with maple trees at their peak in fall color, it was very beautiful. This is probably one of the most rural half marathons out there, which suits me well. The quietness, and the fall colors, the joy of running, and going on a flat to downhill grade got me into a happy, meditative state for most of the run. I really didn't think about the first half of the race as it went by. It was just another run along a country trail for me. And it felt pretty good.

I didn't stop to walk much. At the first aid station after mile 5 I had some water, but didn't feel like stopping too long for it, and at another aid station I actually used one of the portable restrooms (damn coffee). Finally, when an aid station came along near mile 9, I was ready for some Powerade. And they had GU. I could not believe I was crossing under US Highway 2 already. That seems so close to Ashland, well, driving anyway.

Then, at about mile 9.2, there was an unofficial aid station. With a keg. Hell yeah, I stopped for that one! It was quality beer too. It lifted my spirits, and my pace for the next half mile. Ah, Wisconsin.

My only problems came at about mile 11. Not exhaustion, far from it, but both of my calves decided to cramp up at the same time. I was totally clueless about how to deal with muscle cramps during a race. I massaged them a bit, did some gentle stretches, started to run, then did some more. Somehow the cramps went away, no damage done.

Soon after that, I entered familiar territory. When the rail corridor crosses the road at the western edge of Ashland, it turns into a paved trail, and I had run to that part of the trail once or twice on a Sunday morning in Ashland. Smooth sailing. But somehow my energy was waning, and I was succumbing to walking every so often. Okay, I told myself, I'm going to finish this, no worry about time. But looking, back, if I had not walked when I wanted to, I could have saved a minute or two. Oh well. First time issues to work out next time.

When I crossed into the city park that led to the finish line, however, I got a burst of energy. I was in VERY familiar territory at that point, and I was so close, and this was what I had been training for all summer, and finally I was going to see the finish line, and WOW! So I got faster with every turn, for at this point in the course there were turns. I could see the finish tent. I smiled. I was HAPPY! When I rounded the final turn, I was ecstatic. I heard my name being announced. I raised my arms in victory. And I crossed the finish line. 2:38:23.

Respectable. I still have it at 47. And I'm going to do this again. This one for sure. And Brookings, South Dakota in May. Duluth, MN in June. This is the beginning.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

My first half marathon, part 1: What led me there

Last Saturday I completed my first half marathon. I can recite my official time, 2:38:23, in my sleep. That time was right about where I wanted to be. Although I could have maybe run it a bit faster. But, my goal was to finish.

The road that led to this half marathon has been long. Until a year ago, I never envisioned myself being any more than a casual runner. I ran cross country for a year or two in high school, mostly for fitness, and I came in almost dead last at the regional meet one year. I ran throughout college and graduate school, because it felt good to get away from studies for a while. I got away from running in my adult, mom years. I took it up again in 2009, but in the last 2 years my motivation had waned a bit. My excuse: No time. My legs felt weak. It was too cold out. My hips hurt. I wish I had known about myofascial release then.

I believe opportunities, and teachers, present themselves at exactly the time you need them, if you are open to seeing them. The Universe works like that. So, almost exactly a year ago, I found myself in Ashland, Wisconsin. It happened to be the weekend of the Whistlestop Marathon and Half Marathon. The Hermit's apartment was about six blocks from the finish line, so I wandered down there to check out the scene. I watched the runners as they triumphantly crossed the finish line. I felt the energy from the spectators. And, I thought to myself, "I could do this! And it would be fun!" So the seed was planted.

My training began in winter. Here in Minnesota we were blessed/cursed with a lot of snow in the winter of 2013-2014. So I did what any insane Minnesotan would do: I went cross country skiing. And I loved it. So much, I skied 10 kilometers across Chequamegon Bay, from Ashland to Washburn, Wisconsin, in the dark.

But, alas, spring came slowly to the Northland. March and April were in between seasons, not enough good snow for skiing but not warm enough/snow thawed enough for running. According to Map My Run, I ran three times in April. As I recall, it was a disappointing baseball season for my oldest son as well, the whole season being crammed into three weeks in May.

I remembered my thoughts about the half marathon in May. About the same time, my daughter was taking an interest in fitness and healthy eating, and working out. I thought again about how I would like to lose some weight, and thought "So what's my excuse?" I could think of none, so I started running. Two or three miles at first, with a pace over 12 and usually 13 minutes per mile. But I was running, and I remembered every good thing running ever did for me. I remembered how it kept me sane in insane times.

As the weeks went by, I started increasing my mileage. I had never run over seven miles at one time, and when I reached that distance it was a milestone. Seven miles is kind of the bridge between casual runner and serious commitment. On one July evening, as I was waiting for Joe's marching band bus to return from the day's activities, I logged on to the WhistleStop Marathon page, and I registered for the half marathon. Commitment.

to be continued