Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Old Poets of China: A Blog Hiatus

Photo by beardymonsta

A few weeks ago, I was walking across campus and a colleague stopped to read me a poem. It's not every day that poetry happens out of the blue! It was a short poem, one of those slight Mary Oliver masterpieces that is barely there yet still finds a way to thunder through your brain with a resounding "yes!"

I've been thinking about that poem a lot recently. One of the best things about this summer was that I managed to stay offline about 50% of the time. At first, I felt a bit lost. I had nagging feelings that I could be missing something important, I could be dropping balls, or losing productivity. But after a while, a stillness settled in. My head cleared. I could focus. I finished writing the novel I'd been struggling with. I painted my office. I spent time with family. I planned out better lessons for my music students.

Clearly, there is a balance to be had. And while I strive to find it, I've decided to take a hiatus from my blog. I've been blogging every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the past six years, and truthfully, it's hard to let go. I may come back. But for a little while at least, I want to spend some time in the pale mist. We'll see how that goes.

The Old Poets of China
by Mary Oliver

Wherever I am, the world comes after me.
It offers me its busyness. It does not believe
that I do not want it. Now I understand
why the old poets of China went so far and high
into the mountains, then crept into the pale mist.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Summer Vacation: GOALS!

Singing Songs of the Civil War Era with the 5th graders of Stowe Elementary
Technically, we still have two days until June, but I've finished up my school programs with Stowe Elementary, we had a gorgeous Memorial Day weekend, the Bowdoin seniors are officially graduated, and it simply feels like summer. So I'm going to pack up my blog for the next three months and head outside. I'll try to keep in touch over Facebook and the like, but I hope to be offline more than on.

As usual, I have a lofty and possibly unattainable to-do list this summer:
  1. Finish writing my current novel-in-progress by the end of June.
  2. Write a rough draft of a new novel I've been outlining.
  3. Create a bird-friendly garden in the backyard.
  4. Paint my writing room.
  5. Track down "wish list songs" for each of my music students.
  6. Unpack at least some of the boxes that are still in the basement from our move last summer.
  7. Play music.
  8. Sing.
  9. Spend time with my siblings.
  10. Read.
  11. Try some adventurous cooking.
  12. Walk in the woods as often as humanly possible.
Does that list sound like heaven or what? Do you have similar lofty, restorative, fun goals for your summer? I'm sure as always, I'll get off track, frustrated, and bogged down at some point, and that's when I have to remind myself that life does not conform to goal sheets and lists. I suppose that should be my lucky #13: Be Flexible.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Hurrah for Lovely Maine

As part of my Songs of the Civil War Era school visits, I show the students how popular songs of the era often changed over time as people "borrowed" melodies and wrote new lyrics to suit their own agendas (a perfect example is "Bonnie Blue Flag," which I discussed during my Bowdoin College lecture/concert).

This spring, I've been visiting the fifth graders of Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School. After I visited each class, I worked with a group of twenty-five students who put together a rallying song of their own, to the tune of "Bonnie Blue Flag." The students did a great job collaborating. In fact, they were able to brainstorm an idea, come up with five verses, rehearse, and record all in the two hours we had together! Pretty impressive!

You can read the lyrics on the broadside below (click on the image to zoom in). You can also listen to the HBS fifth graders sing their song in the Songwriting for Kids Listening Room.

Don't you think they did a terrific job sticking to the original rhythm and getting their agenda across loud and clear?






Monday, May 14, 2012

Maurice Sendak on Illustration

Last week, we said goodbye to Maurice Sendak. As a child and as an adult, I've always appreciated that Mr. Sendak never, ever, underestimated his audience. He expected children to read subtext and layers, to grasp and embrace story in a complex yet effortless way. In the below interview, he says as a writer for children,
"...you can count on an audience that is so intuitive by nature...they take it in like air."
Betsy Bird put together a round-up of Sendak tributes on her blog a Fuse #8 Production. You can listen to and read a number of past interviews with Sendak on Fresh Air and at the Horn Book. There are his recent, hilarious, outspoken interviews with Stephen Colbert (part one and part two).

The best tribute of all, of course, is simply to go pick up a Maurice Sendak book and read...take it in like air.

Maurice Sendak on Illustration

Friday, May 4, 2012

Grab Bag Friday: The Herons Have Hatched!


Okay, I admit I've been glued to Cornell's Great Blue Heron Webcam for a full month. Has it been worth it? Absolutely. Five nestlings hatched last week, and the folks at Cornell say the tiny chicks will grow to be four feet tall within the next six weeks!

Ridiculously, after all the hours I spent watching Mom and Dad sit on the nest, I missed every single hatching (though I did get to watch Mom lay an egg, which was crazy). Chick #3 hatched when I stepped away for 30 minutes to go to the grocery store. I came home to a voicemail from my sister saying, "It's hatching! It's hatching! Where are you?"

Video: Great Blue Heron Egg #3 Hatch

Thankfully, the moment was captured on video (a sweet and hilarious video at that). I know we're not supposed to anthropomorphize, but their bedhead reminds me of the New Wave/Punk rockers in the early 80s.

Live feed: Cornell Lab Of Ornithology

Photo Screen Shot by phlegmmy

Monday, April 30, 2012

Marilyn Singer: Mirror Mirror, A Book of Reversible Verse


How did the last day of Poetry Month sneak up so fast? Quickly, before it's over, I wanted to recommend a fun book of poetry for kids: Marilyn Singer's Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse.

Each poem in this book looks at a fairy tale from two sides, flipping both the poem and the story upside down. Besides being fun, the reversed poems are perfect examples of how punctuation, line breaks, and rhythm are powerful tools that can change the meaning of a poem. The results are so surprising and fun, you'll immediately want to try writing one of your own.

The Doubtful Duckling
by Marilyn Singer
 
1. 
Someday
I'll turn into a swan.
No way
I'll stay
an ugly duckling,
stubby and gray.
Plain to see--
look at me.
A beauty I'll be.
 
2.
A beauty I'll be?
Look at me---
plain to see, 
stubby and gray.
An ugly duckling
I'll stay.
No way
I'll turn into a swan
Someday.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Grab Bag Friday: Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary

Today I'm off to Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary to talk to 5th graders about Songs of the Civil War Era. Huzzah!

Yesterday, I had a great time with the classrooms of Ms. Bailey, Mrs. Belanger, Mrs. Brescia, and Mr. Kittredge. The students had great singing voices and offered a lot of terrific insights.

In one exercise, I have the students imagine they are slogging back to their tents after a long day at war. Tired, dirty, and possibly wounded, they try to get comfortable and go to sleep. Then someone on the campground (in this case, me) starts to sing,
We're tenting tonight on the old campground
Give us a song to cheer
Our weary hearts, a song of home
And friends we love so dear
Slowly, as the song goes on, people join in until we are all singing loudly together,
Tenting tonight, tenting tonight, tenting on the old campground
Tenting tonight, tenting tonight, tenting on the old campground
At the end of the song, I asked the students if singing the song changed how they felt. Some of the things I heard were:

"I felt less lonely."

"I thought of my family. Singing the song made me feel like I would get to see them again."

"I thought of all the people who died that I cared about."

"I felt stronger."

"I felt proud to fight for what I believe in."

Aren't those great responses? I love how music has the power to stir our souls, even 150 years after it was written.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

M. Ward: The First Time I Ran Away

A new Andrew Bird album AND a new solo album by M. Ward? This is my lucky spring!

To top things off, Joel Trussell, the same director who made the gorgeous music video for Chinese Translation, is back on board as well. He directed a new video for the first release of the album: "The First Time I Ran Away." M. Ward says in The Huffington Post:

"Between now and when I made 'Hold Time' there has been a lot of traveling which requires a lot of reckoning with what to leave behind and what to carry - material and otherwise - and thinking about what I want versus what I need, creatively and otherwise. I wanted to get a reflection of that on the album."
You can stream the whole album, A Wasteland Companion, on M. Ward's website.

M. Ward: The First Time I Ran Away

Monday, April 23, 2012

Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators

I met so many nice people at the NESCBWI conference this weekend, and am ready to get down to work (as soon as I catch up on my sleep)! Here are a few notes I took at the conference that struck me as being applicable to both storytelling and life:

-Part of growing up is aligning desire with actions...kids often say and do things that are the opposite of what they want (I'm pretty sure I still do this on a relatively regular basis!)

-Think: Does this FEED me or does it COST me?

-Instead of "what does my character want": "what does my character care about?"

-Write to your strengths, revise to your weakness.

-What would you do if you knew that failure was impossible?


Friday, April 20, 2012

Grab Bag Friday: Beanie Baby Hunger Games

This weekend, I'm lucky to be at the New England Society of Children's Book Writer's and Illustrators conference. Which means three whole days to talk about writing and books! I've already been to a fun session called "Writing Camp for Grown-Ups" taught by Jo Knowles and Cindy Faughnan, and I'm looking forward to learning from great authors like Cynthia Lord, Kate Messner, and Linda Urban over the weekend.

In between today's sessions, though, I took a little time out for silliness and watched this fantastic video. Of course, it begs the question: Who did the Hunger Games better? Hollywood or the Beanie Babies? May the odds be ever in your favor!

Beanie Baby Hunger Games

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Doris Day: My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time

More Doris Day nostalgia. Here is one of my favorite Les Brown/Doris Day tunes. And check out the outfit on this album cover!

Doris Day: My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time




Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Doris Day on Fresh Air with Terry Gross

It was Doris Day's 88th  birthday last week, which means April is filled with all kinds of fun Doris Day nostalgia. TCM is airing 28 of her movies (yes, my DVR is filling up quite nicely). And lucky for us, Ms. Day granted Terry Gross an interview to celebrate the occasion.

Doris Day has rarely been interviewed since she left Hollywood in 1968, and it was a treat to hear her talk about her life. She discusses the tragic accident that became the impetus for her singing career, the roles she played, songs she sang, and her second career as an animal activist.

What I found most striking is how much she seems to take everything in stride. Hit songs, blockbuster movies, 30 dogs living in her house. "I loved...doing what I was supposed to do and be. That's the way I worked."

Doris Day on Fresh Air with Terry Gross

Monday, April 9, 2012

Latern Review: Poetry Month Digital Broadsides

The Lantern Review is embarking on an interesting project for National Poetry Month. This month, they've paired designers with poets to create a series of free digital broadsides. Anyone can download them, print them, post them, or use them as desktop wallpaper. The Review is also posting a series of Pocket Broadsides on Tumblr.

This month, I'll be talking to ten different 5th grade classrooms about how broadsides were used to advertise songs during the Civil War Era. I love the concept of reviving the broadside format to spread poetry in the digital world!

Digital Broadside #1: Vanitas (poem by R. A. Villanuevas, design by Debbie Yee)


Pocket Broadside #1: Vanni Taing

Friday, April 6, 2012

Grab Bag Friday: The Wrecking Project

 
18 dances 
9 choreographers from 5 different cities
16 performers
3 separate programs over 1 weekend

Putting on a professional dance production of any size is a gargantuan task, but my talented friend Kate Corby seems to always take it to the next level. Kate and her collaborator Julie Mayo have curated a choreography experiment called The Wrecking Project which will premiere next weekend in Chicago (ticket info).

The Wrecking Project is an ambitious and expensive undertaking and the group is raising money to help with the cost of airfare and rehearsal space. Even a small donation will make a difference: Support The Wrecking Project.

Here's a sum-up of the project (I wish I was in Chicago next weekend!):
Julie Mayo and Kate Corby have invited a group of rigorous dance-makers with distinctive sensibilities to wreck, or re-imagine, one another's finished work, inspired by choreographer Susan Rethorst's work with wrecking dances in the mid 1990's. The "wrecking process" parameters stipulate that the original work's performer(s) must remain the same, but everything else is fair game.



Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Miles Davis: So What

Kevin was out of town at a trade show this weekend, so I took the opportunity to spend my evenings curled up with a pint of chocolate peanut butter ice cream and the PBS adaptation of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. As anticipated, the mini-series was satisfying and entertaining (Matthew from Downton Abbey plays Edward!), but as the credits rolled, I noticed there were still 20 minutes left on the DVR recording. Hoping for some Austen-related special features, I waited.

Instead of more Sense and Sensibility, I got a black and white shot of a guy in a black sport coat announcing in a smoky, art-house voice, "For the next half hour, our story will be in the music, the sound, of one man, Miles Davis. He will tell his story in his own way, and in his own language, the language of music." I got through a fantastic version of "So What" and the first half of Dave Brubeck's "The Duke" before the DVR ran out. 


Turns out this was recorded April 2, 1959 and aired on "Robert Herridge Theater" on July 21, 1960. I read in the session details that Cannonball Adderley missed the recording date because of a migraine headache, so maybe that's why Davis solos twice.

I should let the DVR tape ahead more often. 


Miles Davis Quintet - So What



Monday, April 2, 2012

Happy Belated April Fool's Day

A little treat for the day-after-April-Fool's:

The Top 100 April Fool's Day Hoaxes of All Time (from the Museum of Hoaxes...did you even know there was such a place?)

I've only worked my way through the top 10 so far, but I love the bumper spaghetti crop from 1957, and the San Serriffe Islands (in the shape of a semi-colon) from 1977. And it made me grin from ear to ear to learn that hundreds of people honestly thought they had succumbed to The Jupiter Effect when a 1976 April Fool's report from the BBC report claimed it would cause people to feel a "floating sensation." Several people even claimed they floated across the room...well, it was the 70s after all!

If you didn't get enough April Fool's yesterday, the Top 100 should keep you well entertained until next year.


Friday, March 30, 2012

Grab Bag Friday: Great Blue Heron Webcam


Great Blue Heron Webcam
The novel I'm writing has a blue heron in it, so I couldn't believe my luck when the Cornell Lab of Ornithology announced (yes, I get their email newsletter because I am a total nerd) that their new webcam  focuses on the nest of a Great Blue Heron!

It is amazing to see the nest up close, and two camera angles allow you to focus both on the bird and the tiny blue egg that was laid on Wednesday. At least one more egg will likely be laid in the next day or so, and then in 25-30 days, they'll start to hatch. I predict that my productivity level is going to take a serious dive toward the end of April. I can only imagine I'll be glued to the screen 7-8 weeks later as the young ones learn how to fly.

One amazing thing that you can't really get a sense of from the webcam is the size of the nest. According to the website:
"In 2009, the herons brought in the first few twigs that would become the first known Great Blue Heron nest in the history of Sapsucker Woods. Early in the spring of 2012 we installed two cameras to bring the hidden world of their nesting habits into full view. The nest itself is nearly four feet across and a foot deep, and wraps almost entirely around the trunk of the tree. The birds have slowly built up the nest over the last three years."
 Happy bird watching!


Monday, March 26, 2012

Playing Hooky with the Great Books Club or, The Importance of Being Taken Seriously

Last week, my mother sent me an article from my hometown paper. It described a scholarship fund for my high school, set up in the memory of Carol Yahr who died in a car accident in 2009. I read the article three times through, and I haven't been able to put it out of my mind.

Back in the early 90's when I was in high school way up in the breathtaking boondocks of Northern Wisconsin, our English program was less than serious. In "College Bound English" (the highest level senior English course you could take, designed for those few seniors who might consider going to college), we read books like Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Identity, Louis Lamour's western novel Last of the Breed, and (because Shakespeare was state mandated) Hamlet. The latter was delivered in both a "modern English" version ("Hey, Hamlet!") and a cartoon version where mice dressed as Hamlet and Ophelia explained the plot of the play. I searched for an image, and the best I could find was this odd taxidermy vignette, which gets the point across just fine.

The expectation was that high school kids wouldn't and in fact couldn't understand anything more complicated than plot-driven suspense novels and watered-down sum-ups. Nor would we want to.

Most of my classmates loved our English teacher, but I was an odd kid. I read Chaucer and Beowulf over the summer. I refused to read the cartoon Hamlet and brought my own version of the original Shakespearean to class. On one visit to the local library, I saw a flyer for a weekly Great Books Discussion held in the mornings, and I petitioned the school to let me and a couple friends attend.

Each week, my friends and I left school to sit around a table in the basement of the Demmer Library with eight or nine retirees holding cheesy-looking volumes filled with selections from the greats. Chekov, Aristotle, Kant. Writers I'd never be expected to read in school. We discussed each selection for an hour, and probably nobody said anything spectacular. But here's the thing: every week, the adults in that room took us seriously. They had fifty and sixty years on us, yet they listened as if a sixteen year old kid actually had something valuable to bring to the conversation. In school, I wasn't expected to do anything but show up. These people not only expected me to think about literature, they expected my thoughts to matter.

Eventually, I lost permission to attend Great Books. I can't remember the reason. Probably I was missing an important gym unit on bowling. All I remember is that I didn't care whether I had permission or not. I kept going. The Great Books club had given me permission to take myself seriously. Some kids play hooky to go to the movies or skip class or smoke. I snuck out of school to talk about books.

So. The scholarship. I met Carol Yahr in that room. When I graduated, she sent me yearly Christmas cards wishing me good luck in my studies, congratulating me on my accomplishments, encouraging me to be the person I wanted to become. When I came home the summer before graduate school to work as the curator of the local historical museum, she and her husband Warren would come to visit and chat. Warren had written a book, Smokechaser, and it was the first time I'd read a book written by someone I know. It was exhilarating to see firsthand that real people write books. Even people who come from the middle-of-nowhere Wisconsin. People like me. When I got married, Warren gave us six leaves he'd carved out of wood, each labeled with the type of leaf and the type of wood it was made out of. They are among of my favorite possessions and I keep them on the windowsill of my writing room for inspiration.

I know Carol would be so proud of the scholarship that Warren established in her honor. She cared deeply about students, about literature, about learning. Believe me, when you are a rural kid from way Up North, it can be easy to feel like your options and opportunities are limited. Like your voice is too small to matter. Like you couldn't even be expected to try. But even the smallest encouragement, the smallest light in a dim, musty library basement can change all that.

I guess all I want to say is this:

To Carol, and Warren, and all the adults out there who take kids seriously, thank you.

postscript: I'm glad to say that eventually, the school approved the Great Books program and allowed a few students to participate each year. I believe the library is still sponsoring the program, and I hope there are students out there who are participating and enjoying it as much as I did.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Grab Bag Friday: The Banking Game

My friend Kirk has been busy creating a fun new advertising campaign for Maine Savings Bank that is a bit of an homage to The Dating Game. I love the vintage set and costumes. This particular "behind the scenes" spot is my favorite. Nice work, Kirk!

Interesting side note: Kevin's dad was once on The Dating Game back in the late 60s, but no one in the family has ever seen the episode. I need to figure out a way to get my hands on that tape!


The Banking Game: Mr. Maine Savings




Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Songs of the Civil War Era Grant!

Thanks to a generous grant from the Senter Fund, I'll be returning to the Brunswick School District this spring! I'm looking forward to teaching my Songs of the Civil War Era workshop to a whole new batch of 5th graders. I'll give four school performances, teach a workshop on songwriting, and participate in a Civil War Reenactment run by the fifth grade class.

Last year, the Brunswick students wrote "class verses" to two popular Civil War songs. We recorded the verses and created an 1800's style broadside (click on the image below to see a larger image, or check it out at the Songwriting for Kids website). I'm so excited to be back in the classroom again this year!


Monday, March 19, 2012

Edna St. Vincent Millay: Wild Swans

A couple years ago, I signed up for the Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day email list. Thinking, of course, that it would introduce me to interesting new poets, remind me of old favorites, and most importantly, help me infuse each day with poetry. Instead, the emails piled up, cluttered my inbox, and made me feel like I was falling behind on one more thing. This is not how poetry should make you feel.

Kevin, as usual, was the hero in this situation. "Why don't you set up an email filter?" he asked. (And a light shone down from heaven, and the angel choir began to sing.) My filter now automatically redirects every Poem-a-Day email (as well as a few other newsletters) to a folder titled Poetry. The result? I have a (relatively) uncluttered inbox, and when I have some down time, I can open up my Poetry folder and leisurely catch up on all the poems I've missed. True, it's not the daily infusion of poetry that I imagined, but it's one of those tiny adjustments that makes life feel a bit more sane.

Which brings me to the wild swans. I've been struggling like crazy with the new novel I've been writing, and turned to my Poem-a-Day folder for solace. What I love about poetry is that it can hit you differently every time you read it. I've read "Wild Swans" by Edna St. Vincent Millay before, but this time it seemed to speak directly to the creative process. So often, I feel like what I've put on the page is "nothing to match the flight of wild birds flying." That is to say, the words seem dead and dull on the page. And so I go for a walk in the woods. When I've stepped away, let go of the tiresome heart (or mind), and simply experienced something tangible, wild, and real, then I feel I might be able to write again.

Wild Swans
Edna St. Vincent Millay

I looked in my heart while the wild swans went over.
And what did I see I had not seen before?
Only a question less or a question more;
Nothing to match the flight of wild birds flying.
Tiresome heart, forever living and dying,
House without air, I leave you and lock your door.
Wild swans, come over the town, come over
The town again, trailing your legs and crying!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Grab Bag Friday: The Joy of Books

This must have taken forever.
I'm in awe.
(Thanks to Fuse #8 for the link.)


The Joy of Books (Type Bookstore in Toronto)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Julie Lee and the Baby Daddies

My friend Paul tipped me off to the fact that Julie Lee has a new album out this month. Hooray!

Kevin and I first saw Julie Lee a few years back at a club in Nashville. She knocked us off our feet with her old-timey, genuine style and sweet, clear voice. What I really remember about the evening, though, are the "kitchen instruments."

During one song, she handed vintage kitchen gadgets to the audience so that we could be her rhythm section. There were flour sifters and wooden spoons. I had one of those old strainers you make applesauce out of, and Kevin had a glass mason jar to tap on. The effect was this rough, metallic, clanky, and energetic rhythm section that was undeniably cool.

Until Kevin broke his instrument. Yep, smashed the mason jar to pieces. The boy doesn't know his own strength! (Don't worry, no one was hurt, Ms. Lee was very gracious, and after a bit of clean up, the rollicking concert continued on without a hitch.)

To celebrate the new album, here are two videos, one old and one new:

Julie Lee: Born to Pine and Sigh (2008)


Julie Lee and the Baby Daddies Promo Video (2012)








Monday, March 12, 2012

Battle of the Kids' Books Begins Tomorrow

Are you ready? Check out the great Round One line up of contenders for the 2012 Battle of the Kid's Books. Plus, celebrity judges like Jeff Kinney (of Wimpy Kid fame, in case you live under a rock and had to be told), and Matt Phelan (one of my favorite contemporary illustrators), and SO MANY more!

Didn't I tell you this was going to be exciting?



Round One:
Match 1 (March 13, Judge Matt Phelan) Amelia Lost vs Anya's Ghost

Match 2 (March 14, Judge Gayle Forman) Between Shades of Gray vs Bootleg

Match 3 (March 15, Judge Sy Montgomery) The Cheshire Cheese Cat vs Chime

Match 4 (March 16, Judge Sara Zarr) Daughter of Smoke and Bone vs Dead End in Norvelt

Match 5 (March 19, Judge Barbara O'Connor) Drawing from Memory vs The Grand Plan to Fix Everything

Match 6 (March 20, Judge Sarah Weeks) Heart and Soul vs Inside Out and Back Again

Match 7 (March 21, Judge Lauren Myracle) Life: An Exploded Diagram vs A Monster Calls

Match 8 (March 22, Judge Jeff Kinney) Okay for Now vs Wonderstruck

Friday, March 9, 2012

Grab Bag Friday: Downton Abbey

Since I'm suffering the symptoms of serious Downton Abbey withdrawal, here is a hilarious spoof of the first episode of season one. (If you still don't know what we're all talking about, I would recommend updating your Netflix cue, stat!)

Uptown Downstairs Abbey Part One: Red Nose Day 2011

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Andrew Bird: Danse Carribe

If you have six minutes to spare for something beautiful today, here is what you need to see. And yes, perhaps I'm doubly biased because of my deep admiration for Andrew Bird and my nostalgia for the Northern Midwest landscape, but still. This is stunning.

Andrew Bird: Danse Carribe
From the new album, Break It Yourself (released today!), via Pitchfork TV.

Monday, March 5, 2012

March Madness: Battle of the Kid's Books

When people throw around the term "brackets" in March, I am aware that some of them may in fact be referring to basketball. But for bookish sorts like me, there's a much more exciting version of March Madness just around the corner.

Next week, School Library Journal's 2012 Battle of the Kid's Books begins! Which means you have only seven days left to make an impact on the final round.

The Undead Voting Vault will be open until March 11th, and your vote could help your favorite book make it to the final round. (Even if it lost in a previous round! The excitement! The intrigue!) Here's how:
"The Contender that receives the highest vote count among the 14 previously eliminated titles will be unearthed and dusted for presentation in front of The Big Kahuna.  Our final judge, Jonathan Stroud, will read it along with the final pair of books. You have one vote.  Consider it carefully.  Give your favorite underdog a fighting chance to win the 2012 BoB Title!"
In case you want to be influenced, my vote went to Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt. To me, it's a story about how art can change your world. I love that.


Friday, March 2, 2012

Grab Bag Friday: Great Maine Outdoor Weekend


Did you know that it's Great Maine Outdoor Weekend? When I heard about this last week, I admit I looked out at the bare lawn, shrugged my shoulders and went on with my day. Honestly, this has been the lamest Maine winter yet. If it's going to be cold, bring on the fluffy white stuff so I can get out and enjoy it! (My Los Angeles-bred husband may have a different opinion.)

But today? Well, that's a different story. We actually have SNOW! At least for the next 24 hours anyway. So quick, before it rains and all the snow turns to ice, head over to the Great Maine Outdoor Weekend website and find something fun to do outside. There are more than 70 events going on state-wide, and you can search by location, date, or activity.

If you're not lucky enough to be in Maine this weekend, jump on the bandwagon anyway. Get outside! Take an expedition, visit a national park, go bird watching, hiking, or kayaking. Enjoy the beautiful day!


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Andrew Bird: Break It Yourself

Oh happy day! Andrew Bird's new album Break It Yourself (due out on March 6th) is an NPR's First Listen feature. For a limited time, you can listen to the album in it's entirety. NPR, you are just lovely.

Sorry, don't have time to write. I have to go listen.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Grab Bag Friday: Support Your Local Farmer



I know, I know. It seems awfully early to be thinking about summer. But it's time! All over the country, local farms are signing folks up for summer farm shares. I'm practically salivating thinking of all the delicious cucumbers and tomatoes and greens. Yum.

So here is my yearly CSA re-post. I hope you'll sign up for a CSA near you (see the bottom of this post to learn how to find a local participating farm). I know you'll love it!

*  *  *

Originally posted March 2, 2007. Here I am, snowed in on March 2nd, with at least a full month of winter spread out in front of me, and I'm happily dreaming and scheming about Summer! That's because I just received an email from Hatchet Cove Farm, a local organic farm that we purchase a CSA share from. Lots of farmers will be gearing up for their summer CSA programs over the next few weeks...here's what it means:

CSA is Community Supported Agriculture. It means what it says. I, as a community member, buy a "share" from a local farm. In return, I get a big bag of fresh, delicious, organic vegetables delivered every week for 18 weeks during the summer season. Here's why it's great:

I get to...
  • Eat healthy, nutritious food all summer long
  • Try new things (I'd never had bok choy before...it's delicious in stir fry!)
  • Know the farmer that grew my food
  • Support local agriculture
  • Keep my money in the local economy
  • Eat fresh, unprocessed veggies
SIDE STORY: My husband, a Los Angeles native, had never had a cucumber that wasn't bought at the store. We got our first CSA with cucumbers and he crinkled his nose, "I hate cucumbers." Until...he tried a real, fresh cucumber. He was stunned that it tasted so good! He thought cucumbers just naturally grew with a bitter, waxy buildup on the skin, never realizing that that is actually added to the cucumber to make them look more appealing and last longer in the store. Thanks to Hatchet Cove Farm, we snacked on yummy cukes all summer long!

Here's an example of how it works. I'll use our CSA, Hatchet Cove Farm, as my example...the details of other CSAs will, of course, vary:
  • Share price: [2012 update: HCF is now charging $325 for the summer-- incredibly reasonable] for eighteen weeks of vegetable deliveries (mid-June to mid-Oct) is for a "two-person" share. If you love veggies or have a larger family, you may want to purchase two shares. I think $18 a week for fresh, homegrown veggies is a terrific deal!
  • The Vegetables: you receive a selection of in-season vegetables every week, including (but not limited to!) mesclun, spinach, and other early greens in the early summer. Peas, beans, broccoli, and early potatoes in the mid-summer. Zucchini, onions, peppers, and tomatoes in the late summer. Melons, corn, kale, and chard in the early fall.
  • Pickup/Delivery: [2012 note: new HCF delivery days & routes] There are a few options for getting your veggies. Hatchet Cove Farm makes deliveries to a number of pick-up points. If you do not want your share on any given week, the folks at Hatchet Cove will be happy to donate your share to the Area Interfaith Outreach Food Pantry in Rockland.
  • Newsletter/Recipes: Every week, along with your veggies, you receive a letter telling about activities and news from the farm, as well as recipes to help inspire you to use up every last vegetable.
  • [New: Hatchet Cove Farm Partners: CSA members can sign up for summer shares from HCFs partners for cheese, egg, bread, chicken, and more! Check for availability.]
  • Hatchet Cove Farm becomes your farm, too!: Members are welcomed at the farm to volunteer or just to visit, and a potluck/garlic planting day happens every fall.

Sounds great right? So, how can you join a CSA?

You can find out about CSAs from local farmers by keeping an eye out on bulletin boards at your local grocery store, library, church, or community center. You can also do a quick online search for farms in your area at the Eat Well Guide (Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals). If you live in the Waldoboro or Rockland area in Maine, you can contact Hatchet Cove Farm by email: info@hatchetcovefarm.com.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bob Marley: Redemption Song

Some mornings, I just need a little Bob Marley in my life. And thanks to the wonders of You Tube, I can watch a 1980 acoustic performance captured by an old-school camcorder.

Won't you help to sing another song of freedom?

Bob Marley: Redemption Song


Old pirates, yes, they rob I
Sold I to the merchant ships
Minutes after they took I
From the bottomless pit

But my hand was made strong
By the hand of the almighty
We forward in this generation
Triumphantly

Won't you help to sing
These songs of freedom
'cause all I ever have
Redemption songs
Redemption songs

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds
Have no fear for atomic energy
'cause none of them can stop the time

How long shall they kill our prophets
While we stand aside and look
Oh! Some say it's just a part of it
We've got to fulfill the book

Won't you help to sing
these songs of freedom
'cause all I ever have
Redemption songs
Redemption songs
Redemption songs

Friday, February 17, 2012

Grab Bag Friday: Thank You Notes

Have you seen this awesome collection of famous thank you notes at Mental Floss? It makes me wish I had thought to send Roald Dahl a letter when I was a kid. Check out his response to a class letter asking questions about “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More” (not a thank you note, and not from the Mental Floss list, but excellent on so many levels):



(I found the above letter on BuzzFeed.)


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mazzy Star: Fade Into You Mashup

My sister sent me this video as a valentine. It's been a long time since I listened to Mazzy Star (one of my high school and college faves), and it's awfully sweet to see Hope Sandoval's dreamy voice set to ballroom dancing from the 40s.

Oddly, with all the old movies I watch, I haven't seen a lot of Fred Astaire movies. So I don't know the films these clips come from. Bonus points to anyone who can name them!

Mazzy Star: Fade Into You Fred Astaire Mashup

Monday, February 13, 2012

W. B. Yeats: When You Are Old

A love poem, since tomorrow is the 14th after all:

When You are Old
by W. B. Yeats

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Grab Bag Friday: Meet a Black Person

For their tenth anniversary, Improv Everywhere is remastering some of their original missions (hooray!) This week they posted their hilarious 2006 Meet a Black Person video.

Oh, Improv Everywhere, will you be my valentine?

Improv Everywhere: Meet a Black Person (you can also read the mission report and watch more Aspen videos)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Sharon Van Etten: All I Can

Here's a song I'm smitten with this week.

For a while at least, you can listen to the full album for free at NPR.

Sharon Van Etten: All I Can


Monday, February 6, 2012

Neil Gaiman: Stardust

Since I have all these new renovation projects at our house (I hope to post pictures of the kitchen soon!), I've signed up for an Audible account. Painting and removing wallpaper is much more fun when you have an audiobook to listen to.
One of my favorites so far has been Stardust by Neil Gaiman.

Everything about this book was right up my alley. The full title is Stardust: Being a Romance Within The Realms of Faerie and that is exactly what you get. A charming, old-school fairy tale packed with adventure, magic, and romance. I admit I was skeptical with the billing "a fairy tale for adults," but I fell head over heels in the first ten minutes.

The story follows Tristan Thorne, who is determined to do whatever it takes to win the heart of the girl he loves. When she suggests (rather flippantly) that he catch her a fallen star, he crosses over into Faerie to do just that. Only the star is nothing like the cold stone he thought it would be, and Tristan's journey causes him to rethink everything he knows to be true in the world.

Intertwined with Tristan's story are the stories of other (more dangerous) travelers who are also searching for the star. As you can imagine, all the plot lines come together in an exciting, highly satisfying climax.

To top it all off, Neil Gaiman has to be the most charming audiobook reader around. I don't know that I'll ever be able to read another book of his in paper format, and believe me, I am a paper format kind of girl.

Highly recommended for anyone looking for a bit of love and magic.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Grab Bag Friday: Lemon Bars

Okay, so I'm a little picky about my desserts. For example, I've never found a lemon bar recipe I was fully satisfied with. Until now.

This week, I tried a concoction I found on Leite's Culinaria, and if you have been looking for the perfect lemon bar recipe, look no further. Sure, it's more time-intensive than the boxed version, but this lemon filling is melt-in-your-mouth perfect: super fresh and not too sweet. The shortbread bottom uses powdered sugar instead of granulated which makes it a little bit softer, and if you let the edges of the crust brown, you get a crisp, delicious, butter crunch. Yum!

I made a few modifications to make things easier (and I rarely bake with salt, so I took that out of the crust, but left the pinch in the filling). I also made a few notes in the text of the recipe. If you want the original version of the recipe, please head over to Leite's Culianaria.

Melt-in-your-mouth Lemon Bars

For the crust
  • 1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more to decorate the finished bars
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened but still cool, cut into 1-inch pieces
For the lemon filling
  • 7 large egg yolks, plus 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup lemon juice (from 4 or 5 medium lemons), plus 1/4 cup finely grated zest
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • Confectioners sugar
CRUST:
1. Spray a 9-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray (Note: I use butter for better flavor and texture).

2. Place the flour and confectioners’ sugar in a food processor and process briefly. Add the butter and process to blend, 8 to 10 seconds, then process until the mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse meal, about three 1-second pulses. (Note: I did this by hand.) Sprinkle the mixture into the prepared pan and press firmly with your fingers into an even layer over the entire pan bottom. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. (Note: I refrigerated for 15.)

3. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350°F. Bake the crust until golden brown, about 20 minutes. (Note: I cooked it a bit longer until the edges were brown.)
 
FILLING:
4. In a mediumbowl, whisk together the yolks and whole eggs until combined, about 5 seconds. Add the granulated sugar and whisk until just combined, about 5 seconds. Add the lemon juice, zest, and salt; whisk until combined, about 5 seconds. Transfer the mixture to a medium saucepan, add the butter pieces, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the curd thickens to a thin sauce-like consistency, about 5 minutes. Stir in the heavy cream; pour the curd into the warm crust immediately.

5. Bake until the filling is shiny and opaque and the center 3 inches jiggle slightly when shaken, 10 to 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack to room temperature, about 45 minutes.Cut into 2 1/2 inch squares, wiping the knife clean between cuts as necessary. Sieve confectioners’ sugar over the bars, if desired.
 
Enjoy!
 


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Lisa Hannigan: Little Bird

KCRW recently hosted Irish singer Lisa Hannigan live in the studio. I know her beautiful voice from Damien Rice's albums, but I had no idea that she recorded a brand new solo album in 2011. It looks like I need to come out from under my rock and go listen to it. What a voice!

Lisa Hannigan: Little Bird
(You can watch the full in-studio session on KCRW's website.)


Monday, January 30, 2012

Newbery, Caldecott, & Printz: "The Call"

Every year, I'm on pins and needles to find out who won the ALA awards. The Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz Awards are like the kidlit Oscars, and I'm the giggly fangirl who can't wait for all the celebrity gossip.

So you can imagine how much I loved Publishers Weekly for printing an article on where the winners were when they received "The Call." I love being privy to the details: Jack Gantos' brief hope that it wasn't going to be his mom on the other line, Chris Raschka's search for his lost cell phone, John Corey Whaley's shock when he received a second call.

And of course I have to hoot and holler for my favorites. Chris Raschka: Hooray! Two decades after its first publication, Charlie Parker Played Be Bop is still in my Top 10 picture books of all time.

If you need all the details, too, I recommend the Publisher's Weekly article:
Gantos, Raschka, Whaley: Where They Were When the Award Call Came

And the winners are...





Friday, January 27, 2012

Grab Bag Friday Movie Vault: Gene Kelly, I Got Rhythm

Last week, when I was stuck on the couch with a cold, I watched tons of old movies, including the 1951 classic, An American in Paris. When I need a pick-me-up, there are few things I like better than to watch Gene Kelly dance. And while I love his more serious pieces, I'm partial to the moments when it seems like he's just goofing around. Somehow, in the sillier pieces, the athleticism and originality seems all the more stunning (and of course, fun).

Gene Kelly: I Got Rhythm
(Sorry, I can't seem to embed it, so you'll have to click on the link.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Etta James: Something's Got a Hold on Me

To continue a bit of Etta James nostalgia, here's one of her hit songs from 1962 and a 2003 interview reflecting on her career.

Etta James: Something's Got a Hold on Me



Etta James: 2003 CNN interview
(Sorry, no embedding allowed, you'll have to click on the link.)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Cornelius Eady: The Gardenia


I listened this weekend to Etta James' Mystery Lady: Songs of Billie Holiday and it put me in mind of Corneilius Eady's poem about Billie Holiday. I love the anguish of this poem. The wish to take back sadness and pain, to change the course of history. And the realization that, like it or not, our histories--where we come from and the things we go through--shape who we are. They shape what we bring to the world.

The Gardenia
by Cornelius Eady

The trouble is, you can never take
That flower from Billie's hair.
She is always walking too fast
and try as we might,

there's no talking her into slowing.
Don't go down into that basement,
we'd like to scream. What will it take
to bargain her blues,

To retire that term when it comes
to her? But the grain and the cigarettes,
the narcs and the fancy-dressed boys,
the sediment in her throat.

That's the soil those petals spring from,
Like a fist, if a fist could sing.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Etta James: Sunday Kind of Love

Kevin told me over the phone this morning that Etta James died, and my sister emailed to say "I just heard the news...thinking of you guys!" Isn't it funny how the musicians, writers, and artists we love can become such a part of our lives that we think of them almost like family? We carry their words, songs, and images with us into the most important moments of our lives. They become part of our own stories.

In December of 1999, I was finishing up my last year of graduate school. Kevin and I had been dating for a year, but he had finished his degree the previous spring and moved back to Los Angeles. He wanted me to come visit for his birthday, but I (ever frugal and goal-oriented) dragged my feet. It would cost a lot. I had my thesis to finish. Come, he said. It'll be worth it.

When I arrived in L.A., I opened a newspaper and gasped. "Etta James is playing at the House of Blues this weekend!" I cried. "Let's go!" Kevin shook his head and pointed to the SOLD OUT notice stamped on the ad. Besides, he had other plans for that night.

Plans, indeed. First, he took me to a swanky restaurant where I had the most elaborate dessert of my life. A cream puff swan in a pond of caramel next to a chocolate gazebo. I kid you not. It was art of the most delicious kind. And with my dessert, the waiter delivered a sweet anniversary card Kevin had made up ahead of time. Aw.

Then, we went to the Griffith Observatory, my favorite place to visit in L.A. Not only does the park figure prominently in "A Rebel Without a Cause," but it also has the best view in L.A. (you can actually see stars--the real kind), and it has endlessly fascinating scientific games and exhibits. Unfortunately, the Observatory was closing in 15 minutes, so I made a beeline for the scientific games. I wanted to check out at least a couple exhibits and get a look through the telescope before the building closed.

Kevin had other ideas.

In fact, Kevin had been acting weird all night. Sweaty palms, easily distracted. And now he didn't want to look at the scientific games. He wanted to walk up the hill. The hill? But the telescope would be locked up in a matter of minutes! Kevin pulled me away from the crowd so we could look up at the stars. And then he went down on one knee and held out a sparkly ring. Honestly. After a few tearful kisses, we even had time to go look at the moon through the telescope before the park closed.

As we drove home, we neared the House of Blues and I sighed. The night we'd had was better than an Etta James concert, but still...

And that's when Kevin turned into the parking lot. He'd had tickets to the concert all along. We walked in, a new ring on my finger, a flutter in my heart, and listened to Etta James sing. Only she didn't just sing. She crooned, she howled, she poured everything she had into those songs. Honesty, frustration, sadness, and joy. I will never forget that on one of the most important nights of my life, Etta James let it all out for us to share.
“A lot of people think the blues is depressing,” she told The Los Angeles Times in 1992, “but that’s not the blues I’m singing. When I’m singing blues, I’m singing life. People that can’t stand to listen to the blues, they’ve got to be phonies.” (From today's NYT)
Etta James: Sunday Kind of Love



Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Duke Ellington: Don't Get Around Much Anymore

Still having fun with my new record player...

This is my favorite version of the great Ellington tune "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," recorded in May 1940. At that time, it was an instrumental piece called "Never No Lament." After it became a hit, Bob Russell wrote the lyrics we know and love so well, and the song title was changed to fit the lyrics.

I have a simple, stripped down version of this tune that I love to teach my piano students because invariably, they fall in love with the melody and the swing. Even the ones who normally drag their feet when presented with a tough new piece break down after a minute or two and exclaim, "This is FUN!"

Duke Ellington: Don't Get Around Much Anymore (Never No Lament)


Monday, January 16, 2012

Walter Dean Myers: Reading Is Not Optional

Last week, Walter Dean Myers was sworn in as National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. I was so pleased with the previous two choices for this position. Jon Scieszka, the nation's first Ambassador for Young People's Literature is a comedic genius who is particularly good at capturing the imaginations (and funny bones) of boy readers, and Katherine Paterson has a depth and beauty to her prose that has been transporting readers for decades.

The choice of Walter Dean Myers as the 2012-13 ambassador is equally inspired. Myers does not shy away from tough material. His work is varied, but his young adult books often deal with the grittiest realities of urban life: gangs, prison, war, drugs. He's not overly graphic, but he deals honestly with the emotions and intensity that many kids live through each day, and he manages to infuse his work with a sense of hope and strength through the struggle. We need this type of honesty as much as we need laughter and beauty.

It's not surprising, then, that Myers plans to take a brutally honest, hard line in his approach to the ambassadorship. There's a short interview on NPR with Myers in which he says his motto as ambassador will be "Reading Is Not Optional." He explains that too often we think of book as "nice, but not necessary." But the world, he explains, has changed. The job options for non-readers are disappearing fast, and Myers believes you can no longer do well in life without reading well.

I'm certain that Myers will make an impact as ambassador, and I'm interested to follow the work he will do to reach children who are not being reached today.

NPR Interview with Ambassador Myers

New York Times article about Ambassador Myers



Friday, January 13, 2012

Grab Bag Friday: Planet Wall Art

I've been in bed for a couple days with a bad cold, so I'm going to keep this post short and sweet. For those of you who asked where I got the wall decals in my new music room, I found them on Etsy.com, of course. Be careful, though. Browsing Etsy can turn into an addiction!

For the singing birds above my piano, I mixed and matched two of the bird decals available at Planet Wall Art's Etsy shop. Here are the birds (I flipped the tree around and swapped the birds once they arrived, and you can choose your colors, so I chose royal blue and navy), plus couple other fun designs I bookmarked in case I ever need a stack of elephants in my house:




Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Children's Celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.

This Monday, I'll be teaching and singing some songs of the Civil Rights Movement at the Bowdoin College Children's Celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Children's book authors Charlotte Agell and Rohan Henry will join me for a program of "illustrated storytelling", music, and crafts in remembrance of Dr. King.

The program is geared for ages 5 and up, there will be refreshments, and admission is free. What's not to like? I hope to see you there!

Monday, January 16, 2012
10:30 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
Daggett Lounge, Thorne Dining Hall

Please check the Bowdoin College website or call 725-3000, option 3 for event information in case of inclement weather.

Here's one of the songs we'll be learning (though no one can shred like Sister Rosetta, especially not me!):

Sister Rosetta Tharpe: Up Above My Head

Monday, January 9, 2012

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

These days, I'm working on a rough draft of a new novel. The toughest thing for me is that I have a brutal inner editor. The needling kind who reads over my shoulder and whispers constant insults until I end up spending three hours on three sentences.

That's no way to write a novel. So this month, as part of my long list of New Year's Resolutions, I'm attempting to kick that little guy out of the room. As my inspiration, I've been revisiting Anne Lamott's book on writing, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

Yesterday, I came across this quote that I particularly loved. It's helpful to know that all writers (probably all human beings) have that rotten inner editor. It also made me laugh...a helpful reminder to loosen up and have fun with the process.


“I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her. (Although when I mentioned this to my priest friend Tom, he said that you can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.)”

Friday, January 6, 2012

Grab Bag Friday: My New Music Room

One of the first things I wanted to do in our new house was create a beautiful music room where my students and I can easily find inspiration

Even though it took a monk's level of patience to take down the wall paper, and my arm felt like it was going to fall off from putting four coats of paint on all the dark trim, and the banner was tedious and overly-ambitious, it was well worth the effort. In fact, I'm so pleased, I have to share a few before and after pictures.

Before (a formal dining room):

  
After (my very own music room!):






Monday, January 2, 2012

Erroll Garner: Misty

A few weeks ago, Kevin and I drove up to Damariscotta to pick up an old 1960's stereo console we found on Craigslist. This weekend, we got the turntable working and I've been having a blast playing through old records. That familiar hiss and pop is like a time machine: instant childhood nostalgia!

The first record I pulled out was by Erroll Garner, one of the musicians who helped jazz music cross over from bars and clubs into concert halls in the 1940s and 50s. It always amazes me to remember that he was self-taught and never learned to read music. In fact, I once read a story about how a Pittsburgh musicians guild refused his membership for years because he couldn't read notation.

Here's what is widely regarded to be his most famous tune: Misty by Erroll Garner


Philip Levine: Let Me Begin Again

Happy 2012! Over the past few months, I've taken some time off to get settled in my new home and finish a revision of my novel. There are still plenty of boxes to be unpacked and writerly tinkering to be done, but I'm back in the blogosphere and excited for the new year!

To kick things off, here is a poem by U.S. Poet Laureate, Philip Levine. In 2012, I hope we will all remember to "love this life because it is like no other."


Let Me Begin Again
by Philip Levine

Let me begin again as a speck
of dust caught in the night winds
sweeping out to sea. Let me begin
this time knowing the world is
salt water and dark clouds, the world
is grinding and sighing all night, and dawn
comes slowly and changes nothing. Let
me go back to land after a lifetime
of going nowhere. This time lodged
in the feathers of some scavenging gull
white above the black ship that docks
and broods upon the oily waters of
your harbor. This leaking freighter
has brought a hold full of hayforks
from Spain, great jeroboams of dark
Algerian wine, and quill pens that can't
write English. The sailors have stumbled
off toward the bars of the bright houses.
The captain closes his log and falls asleep.
1/10'28. Tonight I shall enter my life
after being at sea for ages, quietly,
in a hospital named for an automobile.
The one child of millions of children
who has flown alone by the stars
above the black wastes of moonless waters
that stretched forever, who has turned
golden in the full sun of a new day.
A tiny wise child who this time will love
his life because it is like no other.