Friday, December 29, 2006

Grab Bag Friday: Akeelah and the Bee

So Christmas is over, and there are still at least a few restless days left of school vacation. Well, my advice is to pop up some popcorn, toss some marshmallows in hot cocoa and curl up in front of Akeelah and the Bee. You can probably get it at your library, or on Netflix, or at your local video store.

I loved this movie. Briefly, it's the story of Akeelah, a young girl from South Central Los Angeles who has a gift for spelling. Her principal, hoping to bring good publicity to a school in rough shape, encourages her to enter the spelling bee competition.

Now, I assumed (child actors, spelling bees, South Central L.A.) that this was going to be an over-the-top, cheesy, hit-you-over-the-head Hollywood movie. I was surprised to find a very real, inspiring, and uncommon (in Hollywood, anyway) portrayal of not only finding one's own way, but finding that path by creating and relying on community, and how having that sense of community can have a very real impact on the lives of so many individuals. Keke Palmer (Akeelah) plays her role with a sincerity and lack of self-conciousness that is absolutely refreshing.

I won't say too much, because I hate when reviews and previews tell you the entire movie. If you watch it, let me know what you think. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Top 50 Music Videos of 2006

Hope everyone had happy and cozy holidays!

Now that we're headed to 2007, we'll be bombarded with the inevitable "lists of the year." Top 5 this, top 100 that. DoCopenhagen, an alternative music blog has posted a very cool Top 50 Music Videos of 2006 list, including embedded YouTube videos so you can watch them all right there. (Thanks to David Hooper from the Music Marketing & Success Strategies blog for the link.)

I loved the whimsical feel of this M. Ward video, "Chinese Translation," so I thought I'd share.

To view all of DoCopenhagen's Top 50 picks, click here. [Please note: while a lot of these videos are ultra kid-friendly & would be fun & engaging for kids, some may not may choose to preview them if you are browsing with very young children.]

Friday, December 22, 2006

Grab Bag Friday: More Christmas Music

Getting tired of the same old holiday music? For the last few weeks, the blog The Lovely Mrs. Davis Tells You What to Think (a cool mom's views on kids' media, pop culture, and motherhood) has been hosting holiday music guest posts by a number of kids' music bloggers, musicians, and cyberspace icons, including:

  • Stefan from Zooglobble (Music for Kids that Parents Won't Hate)

  • Lisa Mathews from the band Milkshake (of recent PBS Kids fame)

  • Music podcaster/host Bill Childs of Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child

  • Click here to read their eclectic and fun holiday music picks.

    Thursday, December 21, 2006

    Alternative Gifts: Last Minute Ideas

    Looking for some last-minute ideas on socially concious gifts?

    Check out:

    Seth Godin's review of Fair Trade Sports

    My November Heifer Project review: Chickens are a real value!

    Nothing But Nets Blog (You may need to scroll down a bit to see the page)

    Wednesday, December 20, 2006

    I'll Be Home for Christmas

    One of my favorite Christmas songs ever is "I'll Be Home for Christmas." I love melancholy songs, and this one captures the longing for home in such a delicate, sweet way. Every Christmas, there are people we love who are far away, homes that are impossible to get to. This song is a reminder to hold those people and places in our hearts, and that they are a very real part of the season "if only in my dreams." The Bing Crosby version puts a lump in my throat every time I hear it. Especially this year, when the war in the Middle East continues to go on for so long, when so many people all around the world will spend the holidays in fear because of the constant threat of violence around them. Let's try to remember to keep our soldiers and all of those far and near who won't be "home" this season in our hearts, thoughts, and prayers. Let us hope for they will find some comfort, joy, and peace during the holidays and in the new year.

    I created an iMix here with all my favorite versions of "I'll Be Home for Christmas."

    In particular, the longing in this version by Etta Jones will knock your socks off.

    And the harmonies are haunting in this version by The Beach Boys.

    Tuesday, December 19, 2006

    The Local Level: Food

    In the next two weeks I will probably consume more food than I would normally eat in a month. Between all the work lunches, and parties, open houses, and of course Christmas day festivities, I will eat countless delicious pies and cookies and turkey and mashed potatoes and did I mention cookies and pies? Believe me, I can't wait!

    Of course, there are plenty of people even in our local communities who won't be taking part in these culinary festivities. Here are some things you can do:

  • Volunteer to help serve a meal at your local homeless shelter or soup kitchen

  • Volunteer to cook a meal for your local shelter or soup kitchen

  • Volunteer to do other things...set up tables, wash dishes, inventory & stock food items...

  • Having a holiday party? Ask each guest to bring a canned good or non-perishable food item, then take your family on an outing to deliver the goods to a local shelter

  • How about all the food left over after the party? Call your local shelter to ask if they could use the leftovers

  • If you're strapped for time (aren't we all?), consider a cash donation that will help purchase turkeys and other needed items

  • Enjoy all the holiday festivities!

    Photo by Strph

    Monday, December 18, 2006

    Suzannah Olivier: Stress Protection Plan

    Ok, I knew it was bound to happen sooner or later. I just spent an hour writing a lovely review of Suzannah Olivier's Stress Protection Plan: Everyday Ways to Beat Stress and Enjoy Life, I didn't save the draft periodically as I usually do, and with one lightning-quick mistype, I managed to erase the whole thing! So in the spirit of stress-reduction, I am not going to try to recreate the review. Here is a brief sum-up:

  • Used copies of the book are available on Amazon for 1 cent (a good deal)

  • It contains helpful tips not only on how to eliminate stress, but more importantly, how to eat foods that will help to energize you

  • Especially helpful are Ms. Olivier's Weekend Plans...a few lifestyle changes for even one weekend can help you relax and de-stress

  • Eat breakfast (with protein)

  • Put 2-3 drops of lemongrass essential oil (available at your natural foods store) in your bath to refresh & energize

  • Eat yogurt

  • 5-10 minutes spent cleaning up clutter can have a huge psychological benefit

  • The book is British, so she does tell you to eat sardines & watercress & a few other odd things that I ignored

  • Visit Suzannah Olivier's website for more de-stress tips

  • Suzannah Olivier also wrote The Breast Cancer Prevention and Recovery Diet and Healthy Food for Happy Kids
  • Friday, December 15, 2006

    Grab Bag Friday: Silent Night

    When I was about 11 or 12, my mom took my friend April and I to see a Lisa Whelchel concert. (Yes, the Lisa Whelchel of "Facts of Life Fame"...she had a stint as a CCM musician, and while everyone else in my class was going down to Milwaukee to see Metallica, we got to go to Merrill to see a former Mickey Mouse Club star.) Well, we enjoyed the show (especially the song "Be a good girl. Why be a good girl?") but we had one major problem with her performance. She closed her eyes through every song! How dopey could you be? We complained about it all the way home, and I told my friend April, "If I ever become a singer, I will *never* close my eyes when I sing!"

    Well, I just created 3 Christmas videos for YouTube, and you can view Silent Night, Mary Had a Baby, and Little Drummer Boy here. April, if you're out there, please forgive me.

    Hope to see some of you tonight at the Richard Nelson Quintet show! Details...

    Thursday, December 14, 2006

    Alternative Gifts: A Night Out + Tip for Business Owners

    Two alternative giving tips today!

    A Night Out
    In this fast paced, mile a minute world, and especially during the holiday season when we're running around even faster than usual, I figure there is one thing in common on lots of grown-up lists to Santa: free babysitting!

    This is a simple, inexpensive, effective way to brighten someone's holiday season. Offer a night of free babysitting to the single mom next door, or to your brother with 5 kids, or your friend who always overbooks herself to the nth degree. Offer a night'll take the kids so your friend can go to dinner & a movie, or catch up on holiday shopping, go to that swanky adults-only party she's been dying to go to, or just stay at home on the couch and watch a football game in peace and quiet. Don't understimate the power of a few hours of down can make a huge difference in a hectic week!

    For Small Business Owners
    The holiday season is a great opportunity to use some of your business's time and resources to give a gift to your community this season. Here's a great example of how Body Symmetry, a pilates studio here in Maine, is giving back to the community (both in donating a charity & offering public classes):
    Salvation Army Benefit Week December 18 - 22. Click on Class Schedule for more information. 100% of proceeds from all classes will benefit this wonderful charity. Last year we raised over $1000, and this year we wish to exceed that- Come one come all for this festive week of classes! Our second annual! Last year we made history with raising over $1000 for the Salvation Army...can we exceed that this year??! We ask for a minimum donation of $10 per mat class, 100% of which goes to the Salvation Army. Each class has a minimum and maximum number of participants, so pre-registration is strongly recommended. More info...

    Wednesday, December 13, 2006

    Christmas Music: Mahalia Jackson & Bing Crosby

    Generally, when it comes to Christmas music, my family listened to various-artists albums. Depending on the decade, we'd listen to old Time Life records, A Very Special Christmas on tape, the latest Starbucks Christmas CD compilation, or most recently, my dad's self-designed mp3 compilation including everything from the Cocteau Twins to Johnny Mathis. We always liked a good mix, lots of variety, never a dull moment. I pretty much had favorite Christmas songs, not Christmas albums.

    Recently, though, I've been enjoying listening to a couple single-artist Christmas sound, one person's take on the familiar tunes from beginning to end. Here are the two (both from the Laserlight label) that have been in rotation in my house this week:
    Bing Crosby's White Christmas is of course a classic. This particular disc is made up of old radio recordings, so there's a bit of hiss, and a fair amount of radio banter and chatting. It's nice & cozy, like Bing & I are having a little talk about what Christmas means to him. It's a quiet, joyful, sit around the fire and play cards kind of Christmas album that the whole family can enjoy.

    I wouldn't call this one cozy. If Mahalia Jackson can't get your blood boiling, you might want to check your pulse. Gospel Christmas/Silent Night is exactly what it sounds like...a gospel Christmas celebration. Again, these are live cuts, so there is talking (preaching!) and hiss, and Mahalia wrings these old hymns dry and then breathes new life into them again. This is a decorating the tree, baking cookies, get-ready! kind of Christmas album.

    Click HERE to view my husband Kevin's favorite childhood Christmas album. I bet we all secretly enjoyed this one at one point or another! How about you? Any favorite albums? Please post a comment & share the joy!

    Tuesday, December 12, 2006

    The Local Level: Comforts of Home

    I'm a strong believer in small comforts. The little things that we hardly notice and almost always take for granted...comforts of home. This holiday season, there are many of us who are far from those comforts. In particular, there are many individuals and families who will spend the holidays in domestic abuse shelters. Donating a few small comforts might not seem like a lot in the face of such violence and fear, but they really can make a difference in making someone feel not quite so far from home. Here is a list of some things you could donate. (Be sure to call your local shelter to see if there are things that they need in particular.)
    • Slippers
    • Face soap
    • Tissues (the soft kind)
    • Lotions
    • Shampoo & conditioner
    • Perfume
    • Shaving cream (men's and women's)
    • Toothpaste
    • Cozy blankets or pillows

    If you are the friend or family member of someone in an abusive relationship, please visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline website for advice on how you can help.

    You can take this idea and implement it in a lot of other places: nursing homes, homeless shelters, soldiers abroad. If you think of any other places to spread the comforts of home, please leave a comment on this page and share it with the rest of us.

    Friday, December 8, 2006

    Grab Bag Friday: Want to be a Music Promoter?

    Do you know any local artists, writers, or musicians in your area that you think are just amazing? Ever wish there was something you could do to help them get seen, heard, or read?

    I just posted a You Can Help page on my website for just that purpose. These days, you don't have to be a studio executive with a million dollar budget. There is so much an individual can do to help promote artists, writers, and really can be a music promoter right from your living room!

    So think of someone you want to spread the word about. Could be your neighbor's son who's in a rock band, or your best friend who just published her first book, or your aunt who sells amazing art on eBay. The tips on my website are music-specific, so not all of them will apply to everyone, but there's certain to be a few ideas you can run with. You'll be surprised at the difference you can make!

    Have fun!

    You Can Help page on

    Thursday, December 7, 2006

    Alternative Giving: Fair Trade

    One of the ways we can give gifts that make a difference this year is by buying Fair Trade goods. Fair Trade organizations work with artisans from disadvantaged and underdeveloped countries to sell their goods with the goal of providing regular work and fair pay. The Ten Thousand Villages website describes their work this way:
    Many artisans tell us that fair trade brings them much more than regular work and fair pay. They begin to see hope for the future, earn dignity and respect in their community and experience joy in being able to provide for their families.
    Ten Thousand Villages is one of the world's largest Fair Trade organizations, working since 1946 with tens of thousands of artisans all over the world who would otherwise be unemployed or underemployed. On their website, they sell a huge selection of handicrafts from all over the world, including:
    • alpaca blankets from Peru
    • beaded bracelets from Guatemala
    • leather drums from Kenya
    • gorgeous Indonesian kites!

    Other fair trade organizations:

    A Greater Gift is a program of SERRV International, a nonprofit alternative trade and development organization. SERRV has been working to assist artisans and farmers for more than 55 years.

    Equal Exchange is a worker-owned co-op with a new approach to trade that offers consumers fairly traded gourmet coffee direct from small-scale farmer co-ops in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

    Marketplace: Handwork of India is a non-profit organization working to empower Indian Women artisans through employment opportunities and social change.

    You can find more Fair Trade organizations on Ten Thousand Village's Fair Trade Friends page.

    You can read the 10 principles of the International Fair Trade Association here.

    Wednesday, December 6, 2006

    Emmylou Harris: Red Dirt Girl

    (No CD art because of technical issues today...sorry! Click here if you'd like to see the CD art.)

    I want to know if anyone else feels this way about Emmylou Harris's album Red Dirt Girl: A friend of mine asked me why I like this CD so much and I said, "Because it gives me a Christmas feeling."

    This might seem like a strange thing to say about a CD that is filled with songs about loss, exile, and dreams that never come true. But there's something about the breathy strength of Emmylou Harris's voice, and the warmth and fullness of the arrangements and the slight thread of hope that struggles to find its way to the surface of the songs. It reminds me of the part of Christmas that happens after after the anticipation and excitement of waking up in the morning, after all the presents have been opened, and after the inevitable scuffle or meltdown or two (no one ever claimed Christmas was perfect.) It reminds me of pajamas in the afternoon, the Christmas tree with opened presents strewn and abandoned underneath, and my family gathering in the kitchen, eating chocolates all day long, the warmth of the oven already filled with turkey.

    I think in all our families, in all our lives, there are stories of loss, exile, and dreams that never come true. And it is strength, and warmth, and love, and hope that allow us to embrace those stories and pass them on and rise up and even move on. And so, in the anxious, waiting period before Christmas, I listen to Red Dirt Girl. And it feels like home.

    Emmylou Harris Website
    Emmylou Harris discography on iTunes
    Emmylou Harris on Wikipedia

    Tuesday, December 5, 2006

    The Local Level: Toys, Toys, Toys!

    When kids are around, it's hard to keep the toys from taking over the house. I know when I was growing up, we had toys everywhere, especially on the stairs "to go up" (somehow they never seemed to make it "up" the stairs!) It doesn't take a lot to accumulate a massive toy collection, either...a few gifts from aunts and uncles, a doting grandparent, a birthday party, and of course, Christmas...and already you could open up a toy store of your own!

    Of course, there are plenty of children out there who aren't lucky enough to have this problem. So, here are a few ideas for clearing out the clutter and helping out a neighbor before the next flurry of gift-giving begins.

    Start by helping your kid(s) go through their stash, pulling out a predetermined number of toys (10 toys, 1/3 of the whole lot, or 1/2, even 1 or 2 very special items) to give to children won't have a lot this Christmas. There may be some reluctance at first, but most kids will begin to enjoy picking out just the right presents for "a friend in need." Then take a family trip to deliver the goods (just like Santa!) Try:
    • Goodwill
    • Salvation Army
    • Check your local paper for Toy Drives
    • Churches
    • Community Services Centers
    • Ask at your local library

    Some guidelines:

    • Don't donate broken or soiled toys (slightly loved is ok)
    • Try to give things your child would be happy to see under the tree
    • Make sure all pieces and parts are included
    • Include working batteries for toys that require them
    • Wash dress-up clothes before donating
    • Make it fun...this is an exciting thing you're doing, not a punishment!

    New Toys:

    • Toys for Tots and similar programs are looking specifically for new toys, so be sure to check the guidelines of the program you are hoping to donate to

    One tip for after the holidays:

    I have a friend who is really dedicated to teaching her kids about sharing abundance. One of their Christmas traditions is that after they've opened up all their presents, the kids each choose a few new presents to keep, and a few new presents to give to families in need. One benefit of this approach is that it helps kids learn that helping others isn't just about giving away things you're tired of, it can also mean willingly giving up some things that you really want for the greater good of the whole.

    Again, this doesn't have to be a punishment or something that the kids are forced to can be a fun, exciting, empowering way that kids can feel like they can make a difference in someone else's life.

    Toys Photo by De Shark

    Monday, December 4, 2006

    Robert Frost: Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

    This morning we had our first snowflakes of the season, so I thought I would share this gorgeous picture book that came out a few years ago. It's an illustrated versionof Robert Frost's poem, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." The delicate pictures by Susan Jeffers are a lovely complement to Frost's hushed scene.

    The thing I like best about this book is that it introduces children to great, time-tested, thoughtful poetry, not just the sing-song silly stuff that tends to be the default for kids' poems. Don't get me wrong...I love a lot of silliness too, but there are so many things we think kids won't "get," when really, in a lot of ways kids are a lot more perceptive than we are!
    Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening
    Whose woods these are I think I know.
    His house is in the village though;
    He will not see me stopping here
    To watch his woods fill up with snow.
    My little horse must think it queer
    To stop without a farmhouse near
    Between the woods and frozen lake
    The darkest evening of the year.
    He gives his harness bells a shake
    To ask if there is some mistake.
    The only other sound's the sweep
    Of easy wind and downy flake.
    The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
    But I have promises to keep,
    And miles to go before I sleep,
    And miles to go before I sleep.
    The Friends of Robert Frost: A terrific website with biography, interviews, essays, audio of Frost reading his own poetry, and even a tutorial page for students who are looking for help with their Robert Frost assignments!
    Robert Frost on Wikipedia
    Robert Frost on The Academy of American Poets

    Friday, December 1, 2006

    Grab Bag Friday: The Longstockings

    Ok, if you're at all into kids books like me (or even just Harry Potter or Pippi Longstocking), you'll get a kick out of yesterday's The Longstockings blog post. The Longstockings are group of 8 writers who discuss children's books on a weekly basis. They usually have a question of the week, and each of the 8 writers take a crack at answering the same question. I found this week's question to be particularly amusing:
    Which two characters from children's or YA literature would make the perfect couple?
    And I found Caroline Hickey's answer to be particularly satisfying.
    Have a great weekend!