Thursday, November 30, 2006

Alternative Giving: UNICEF

If you're looking for a place to find gifts that aren't just your run-of-the mill store-bought items, and that make an impact on the world, you can't go wrong with UNICEF. In their online catalog, you can find gorgeous artisan-inspired tea-lights, jewelry, journals, and cool educational games and puzzles for kids. The proceeds support UNICEF's efforts to advocate for children all over the world. Happy shopping!

UNICEF believes that every child deserves a childhood, a time of hope and opportunity, a time to learn and grow and play. For 60 years, UNICEF has been the world’s leading advocate for children – working for child survival and development in more than 150 countries. UNICEF has brought vital medicine, clean water, education, nutritious food and emergency relief to children around the world, saving millions of young lives.
Learn more about UNICEF
Shop online at UNICEF

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Duke Ellington: Come Sunday

I have the good fortune this winter of singing as a guest vocalist for the Richard Nelson Quintet, a jazz quintet based here in Maine. We’re doing a holiday-ish concert in December that Richard is calling “A Concert in the Spirit of Peace and Serenity” (concert details are on my website). One of the first songs Richard asked me to sing for this show is one of my favorite melodies written by Duke Ellington: Come Sunday.

Besides the fact that “Come Sunday” has a gorgeous melody sung by one of my musical heroines, Mahalia Jackson, I’ve always been intrigued by the album it came from, Ellington’s Black, Brown and Beige. It’s interesting to me because we tend to see people in certain ways. When they move outside of that view we’ve created it can be, well, disconcerting to say the least.

Up until the 1940’s Duke Ellington was known pretty specifically for his big band and for popular songs like “Take the A Train” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got that Swing.” Ellington was an extremely talented composer, and he began to experiment with even more complex music. In 1943, he performed an original symphony at Carnegie Hall: “Black, Brown, and Beige” which

"represented the story of African Americans in the United States. Black presented the people at work and at prayer, brown celebrated black soldiers who fought in American wars, and beige depicted African American music of Harlem." (Doris Greer)
The symphony wasn’t exactly jazz music, and it wasn’t exactly classical music. The critics couldn’t fit it into any set category of music, and their reviews and responses were so fiercely negative that Ellington never performed the entire piece in public again.

Luckily, he later recorded some of the music from this concert (though never the entire repertoire) on the album Black, Brown, and Beige, and it is there that we can here the lovely Mahalia Jackson singing Part IV: Come Sunday.

More information on Duke Ellington:
The “official” website
Ellington on Wikepedia
Smithsonian Jazz

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Local Level: Coats for Kids

It's close enough to Advent and the holiday season (at least most of the stores in town seem to think so!), so I'm going to devote Tuesdays and Thursdays to holiday-themed suggestions for the next few weeks. Tuesdays are going to be called The Local Level...small things that the whole family can do to make the season a little brighter right in your own backyard. Thursdays are going to be Alternative Gifts...out of the ordinary gifts that can have an impact on a more global level.

Local Level Tip #1: Donate Coats for Kids

Most towns have a Coats for Kids drive during the holiday season. So go through your closets & pull out the outgrown, forgotten, and neglected coats, scarves, mittens, hats, and boots from seasons past. Pass them on to someone in your area who might be a little colder than usual this year. The sooner the better...I know it's already snowing in the Midwest, and my hometown in Maine is getting colder by the day.

This is a great project for the whole family. Make it a special outing, an annual family tradition of passing on the gift of warmth!

Check your local paper, radio stations, and tv stations to find drop off locations. Or call your local Salvation Army or Community Services Center to find out where you can deliver your gifts. Click here for a page that will let you search for your local Salvation Army by zip code.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Kelly Kerney: Born Again

I picked up this novel last month, and I honestly did not want to put it down. Kelly Kerney's debut novel about a bible-quiz champion who confronts Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" is bright, funny, and thoughtful.

I love coming of age novels...the different ways that young people "cross over" into adulthood and begin to see the world differently is endlessly fascinating to me...and this one is especially enjoyable. Kerney's exploration of her character Mel's spiritual crisis/awakening is sensitive and true, and she tackles some very real, tough issues with grace and a sense of humor.

As The San Francisco Chronicle puts it:

Throughout, Kerney successfully reveals the manifold contradictions and inconsistencies inherent in adult life..."Born Again" is a humorous portrait of an adolescent awakening from the blind faith of childhood and learning to see, think and believe with adult awareness.
The changes in Mel's outlook are depicted so beautifully. Despite all the huge and radical things that are going on around her, it is the details that make up the real difference in Mel's life...things as simple as fishing, light, and the shape of a tailbone change subtly and essentially in Mel's mind as the story is told. These details are what make her such a believable and likable character. I do believe it's the small details that ultimately define our "cross-over" or "coming of age," and it's the small details that continue to shape us and change the way we view the world well into our adulthood.

You can learn more about Kelly Kerney here.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Grab bag Friday: Nana's Rum Cake

Well, now that we've stuffed ourselves silly with so much tasty food, I thought I'd pass on a recipe that I made yesterday: Nana's Rum Cake. Yum!

Now for years, my grandmother has made this delicious rum cake on special occasions, and my siblings and I thought it was passed down for generations, originating probably in Italy where my great-grandmother was born. It looks and tastes so elaborate and fancy that we imagined my grandmother slaving away in the kitchen for hours on end just so that we could taste a bit of family history. When we finally got around to asking Nana for the recipe, it turns out that she found it on the back of a rum bottle, and it is really incredibly easy. (My siblings and I are apparently easily other grandmother used to make the most delectable noodle dish. She called it "Grandma's Noodles." It took until college for me to find out that the rest of the world calls it something else: Ramen!)

At any rate, this is a delicious cake. And when Nana makes it, it still tastes extra special (could be the extra dash of rum she adds to each slice!)

Nana's Rum Cake

1 c. pecans or walnuts, chopped
1 18.5 oz yellow cake mix
1 3.4 oz instant vanilla pudding mix (or use a cake mix that already has pudding added)
4 eggs
1/2 c. cold milk
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1/2 c. dark rum

Preheat oven to 325. Grease & flour 12-cup bundt pan. Sprinkle nuts on bottom of pan. Combine ingredients and beat 2 minutes on high with electric mixer. Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour. Cool in pan. Invert on serving plate. Prick top with fork. Drizzle glaze over top of cake.

1 stick butter
1/4 c. water
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. dark rum

(Do this while the cake is baking) Melt butter in saucepan. Stir in water and sugar. Stirring constantly, bring to boil and boil 5 minutes. Remove from heat & stir in rum. (The rum may cause careful!)


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Betty Carter: I'm Yours, You're Mine

Thanksgiving, as I've already established, is my favorite holiday. Food, family, counting your doesn't get much better.

That being said, as with most holidays, it can get overwhelming. So my pick for today is a song by Betty Carter, who is possibly the greatest jazz vocalist who ever existed (anyone want to fight me on this?) Betty Carter brought a whole new approach to jazz singing, and her voice was not just a melody-producing prop, but an integral instrument that filled out the rest of the band in surprising and inspirational ways. I'm Yours, You're Mine was released in 1996, two years before Betty Carter died, and the title song is my favorite of her entire career.

It is impossible to listen to this song without feeling the tension release from your jaw and your shoulders. Truly impossible. Unfortunately, I haven't figured out yet how to put music clips on this blog, or I would give you an example. You're just going to have to take my word for it. Go to iTunes or Rhapsody or wherever you buy music these days.

Download this song.

Then when the turkey is taking too long, the kids are getting cabin fever, or the dishes are piling up way too high, take 9 minutes and 41 seconds out of your day.

Step out of the kitchen.

Put on your headphones or turn up the stereo.

Listen to Betty Carter's long, low tones, and the only words in the song:

Gee but it's nice
To see you again
It's nice to see you
See you again
Then go back and embrace your family.

Info on Betty Carter:
Betty Carter Biography on Wikipedia
Betty Carter Fan Page
Verve Records' Betty Carter Page

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Please Come Flying: the "flexible" agenda

So here's what you can expect:

Monday = Book recommendation
Wednesday = Music recommendation
Friday = Grab Bag (anything goes)

And most likely, a bunch of things thrown in extra and/or out of order.
After all, I did grow up in a family of 8 whose motto/mantra/method of survival was: "We're flexible!"

Catch you tomorrow!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Rachel Carson: The Sense of Wonder

In 1956, biologist Rachel Carson (author of the landmark book, Silent Spring) published an article in Women's Home Companion Magazine titled "Help Your Child to Wonder." It's a beautifully written essay about why it's important to help children develop (and keep) a sense of wonder. In detailed and delicate prose, she outlines some little things you can do to encourage that a gift as simple as a magnifying glass can open up whole new worlds of possibility and imagination.

In 1965, a year after Rachel Carson died of cancer, the essay was published as a book, with gorgeous photography by Charles Pratt, and in 1998, Harper Collins published another beautiful versionwith photography by Nick Kelsh.

"If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder," writes Carson, "he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in."
The Sense Of Wonder has been an inspiration to me on so many levels, and while Carson wrote it specifically in reference to children, I truly think that her words are important for all of us. Maybe even for adults especially, because it's so easy in the daily routine and grind of adult life, to lose our sense of the wonder that exists all around us. Rachel Carson says it more eloquently:

It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.
The aim of The Sense of Wonder is to encourage us to hold on to that "true instinct" as long as we possibly can. And as long as there are books like this in the world, that task is made just a bit easier.

For more information on Rachel Carson and her work:

Friday, November 17, 2006

Grab bag Friday: Chickens are a real value!

Ok, I should have used a chicken image here, but alpacas make me laugh. Most of the week, my posts will have to do with books and music, but Fridays are going to be a bit more, well, unpredictable. Chickens and alpacas for instance.

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. How could it not be? It revolves around food (pumpkin pie especially!) and taking a moment to be thankful for the good things in life. So. As we're shopping for turkey and all the fixings this weekend, I wanted to tell you about an organization that does a really good job of helping people everywhere to have things to be thankful for...

The Heifer Project is dedicated to ending hunger permanently by providing families with livestock and training. The thing I like the most about the Heifer Project is that it is a terrific way for kids to get involved. You can work with your kids and help them save part of their allowance to give a family a flock of chicks ($20), honeybees ($30), trees ($60), a goat ($120), or other gifts of sustainable living. Check out the Online Gift Catalog to see the list of animals you can donate. Click on an animal for a fun and interesting blurb about how that animal can help someone living in poverty.

Chickens, for instance:

Chickens are a real value. Starting at six months, they can lay up to 200 eggs a year — a reliable source of protein for children who otherwise subsist mostly on starches. Extra eggs can be sold to pay for school, clothes and medicine. And in the vegetable garden, chickens peck at bugs and weeds, scratch up the soil and enrich it with droppings.

Chicks are an elegant solution to improving a family's crops and their diet — and to the dilemma of what to give your socially aware friends this season.

In Zimbabwe, Mrs. Ndagurwa is a leader in her women's agricultural club. She grows impressive vegetables in soil scratched up and fertilized by her Heifer chickens; their eggs add protein to her family's diet and generate cash to help market her produce.

So, have a great weekend and enjoy getting ready for my favorite holiday! And please take a minute to explore the Heifer Project...maybe this year you and your family (or school or church group) could give a family a trio of rabbits, or a water buffalo. Now that would be something to be thankful for!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Elizabeth Bishop: Please come flying...

Well, I suppose the best place to start is with my blog title. "Please Come Flying" comes from a poem that Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) wrote for her friend Marianne Moore (another of my favorites you'll probably hear about later). It is a gorgeous poem, full of whimsical, magical details like

In a cloud of fiery pale chemicals,
please come flying,
to the rapid rolling of thousands of small blue drums
descending out of the mackerel sky
over the glittering grandstand of harbor-water,
please come flying.

You can read the entire poem at PoemHunter, and I highly recommend that you do. It's sure to be a bright spot in your day.

Elizabeth Bishop would spend years fine-tuning a single poem. Her poems seem simple and direct, but she paid excruciating attention to every minute detail. And it is those precise details that make her poems so breathtaking. I think that's true of most things. It's not the sweeping gestures that mean the most, it's the details...small kindnesses and tiny moments of beauty.

You can read more Elizabeth Bishop poems and even listen to a recording of her reading her own poem "The Armadillo" at the Academy of American Poets website.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Welcome to Please Come Flying

Thanks for visiting my very first blog post!

My plan for this blog is to share some things that I think are amazing...books, music, people, organizations, maybe even a recipe or two. Rachel Carson once wrote:

If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the alienation from the sources of our strength.
This is what I hope to do. Share some things that work toward fostering that indestructible sense of wonder. This is an "all ages" site, so don't be surprised to find some kid-lit strewn about here and there!

Well, are you ready?
Please come flying...

Photo by eqqman