Monday, December 31, 2007

Ring Out, Wild Bells: Lord Alfred Tennyson

Photo by Karen

Tennyson wrote this poem in 1850 as part of a larger work called In Memoriam. It is a call for release and renewal. Tennyson calls us to let go of old griefs, mistakes, grudges, and wars, and embrace (wildly, and with abandon!) new light, love, joy, and peace. I'm ready for some about you? Let's go ring some bells!

Ring Out, Wild Bells
by Lord Alfred Tennyson

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Grab Bag Friday: Origami Club

Last week, when we were snowed in, I did a little internet search to find out how to make small origami gift bags for my students. I came across the Origami Club which has tons of easy-to-follow origami designs rated from easiest to most difficult.

So I made my gift bags. But when Kevin came into the living room 45 minutes later, he also found an array of hats, bears, and stars strewn about. I looked up sheepishly and said, "What? I had to see if I could do them." Kevin's reply: "This may be the biggest nerd alert yet."

Well if you and/or your kids are bored over winter break, you might wander over to the Origami Club for a little paper-folding fun. Just watch can be addictive!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Band Aid: Do They Know It's Christmas?

Ah, do you remember this one? How could you forget? But I bet it's been years since you've seen it last (at least it was for me)and it's *worth* watching again just to see the hair-dos! The Poop recently reminded me of this by posting the video, and Peter's comments are hilarious. A small taste:
"I remember when this came out, I couldn't go out and buy the single fast enough. Sting AND Simon Le Bon AND Boy George AND Phil Collins wanted me to do it, which pretty much made it 13-year-old law. How could I say no and keep feathering my hair with a clear conscience?"

Monday, December 24, 2007

Truman Capote: A Christmas Memory

I've seen Truman Capote's short story A Christmas Memory in the Chinaberry catalog for a couple of years now, but didn't actually pick it up until readers of Seven Impossible Things for Breakfast mentioned it recently. I have to thank both Chinaberry and the 7-imp readers...once again, you did not steer me wrong.

Truman Capote (author of Breakfast at Tiffany's and In Cold Blood) wrote A Christmas Memory in 1956, and it's a beautiful story about the friendship between a 7 year old boy and his "sixty-something" year old cousin. Truman Capote was abandoned by his mother early on in life, and this story is largely a true memoir about his years growing up with aunts and cousins in Alabama. The story is nostalgic without being sentimental, and truly captures the delight, wonder, and joy inherent in the best holiday traditions without ignoring some of the darker, sadder aspects of life.

You can read the entire story online here.

You can pick up the illustrated book at Chinaberry here.

You can even listen to Truman Capote himself read A Christmas Memory on This American Life. How cool is that?

Here's a bit about Truman Capote's life at American Masters.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Grab Bag Friday: A Wish for Wings that Work

Does anyone else remember this? Oh, I *loved* it when it came out. Animated Bloom County? What could be better? I just put it in my Netflix queue to see if it will stand the test of time.

I still have the book which I love even more.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Local Level: Baby, It's Cold Outside

I wrote about this last year, too, but I think when we're talking about how to make a difference on a local level, this is one of the simplest, most effective things to do: donate a coat to help keep someone else warm. As my dad would say: It's a no-brainer.

There are coat drives all over the country that you can participate in. Even in warm climates, the evenings can get cold, days can be wet, and a good coat can make all the difference.

If you have extra coats around, please visit One Warm Coat to find a drive near you, or to learn about how to organize a drive in your area.

You can also donate money for new coats at Coats for Kids.

Have a warm, happy day! If you have a snow day like we do here in Maine, check out this cool snowflake maker. But I'll warn's kind of addictive. (Thanks to Annie Patterson for the link!)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Emmylou Harris: Christmas & Hard Times Come Again No More

I've said before that Emmylou Harris' voice reminds me of Christmas. So why has it taken me until this year to discover her album of Christmas songs: Light of the Stable? Some things in life are truly inexplicable.

Light of the Stable is absolutely gorgeous with guest appearances from Linda Ronstadt, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Neil Young, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, and more. It combines well-known traditional songs like O Little Town of Bethlehem and The First Noel with lesser-known songs like the beautiful There's a Light and the country-blues twinged Angel Eyes. This is the kind of album that makes you want to sit around a crackling fire with eggnog and the whole traditional kit & caboodle. Definitely going in my permanent Christmas rotation.

Since I couldn't find an Emmylou Christmas tune on YouTube (if you know of one, please pass it along), here is a video of Stephen Foster's great song "Hard Times Come Again No More." That's a youngish Rufus Wainwright, if you couldn't pick out his voice! Also Emmylou Harris, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Mary Black, Karen Matheson, and Rod Paterson.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Alternative Gifts: Kiva

I hope the recent endorsements of Oprah, and the Today Show, and yes, even Bill Clinton will spur lots of gift certificates to this year. Here's a little blurb from Oprah's site about how the organization works:
"A revolutionary idea has made it possible for anyone to help people in Third World countries via the Internet—and it can be addictive! Visitors to can read the story of someone who needs help starting a small business. For as little as $25, they can choose a loan to partially finance—and help lift someone out of poverty in the process. Kiva's thousands of success stories include a peanut butter stand in Uganda, carpet weavers in Afghanistan and a fruit vendor in Vietnam."
And here are the details from the Kiva website. If you're looking for a last minute gift idea, this is a great one. was born of the following beliefs:
  • People are by nature generous, and will help others if given the opportunity to do so in a transparent, accountable way.
  • The poor are highly motivated and can be very successful when given an opportunity.
  • By connecting people we can create relationships which exceed beyond financial transactions, and build a global community expressing support and encouragement of one another. promotes:
  • Dignity: Person-to person lending encourages partnership relationships as opposed to benefactor relationships. Partnership relationships are characterized by mutual dignity and respect.
  • Accountability: Loans encourage more accountability than donations where repayment is not expected.
  • Transparency: The website is an open platform where communication can flow freely between the developing and developed worlds.
Step 1: Choose a business

The businesses on our site are always changing. They are being uploaded by our microfinance partners around the world. You can find a new business on the home page or on the Businesses 'In Need' page.

Step 2: Make a loan

When you have selected a business, you can make a loan using your credit card (via PayPal). You can loan as little as $25 at a time. Checking out is easy and safe because of PayPal.

Step 3: Receive journals and payments

Periodically, you will hear back from the business you sponsor. Partner representatives (often loan officers) write directly to the website to keep you informed on the progress of the business. If you choose, you can receive these via email.

Step 4: Withdraw or re-loan

When your Kiva loan is repaid, you can choose to withdraw your funds or re-loan to a new business.

Monday, December 17, 2007

J. R. R. Tolkien: Father Christmas Letters

Sometime in the 1920's, Father Christmas began writing letters to J. R. R. Tolkien's children. The letters came with his very own intricate drawings of the North Pole, elves, goblins, and of course Father Christmas's assistant: the North Polar Bear.

The letters tell the Tolkien children about all the yearly highlights and happenings in the North Pole. The North Polar Bear is always getting into scrapes. Like the year that he accidentally turned on two years' worth of Northern Lights:
It was the biggest bang in the world, and the most monstrous firework there ever has been. It turned the North Pole BLACK and shook all the stars out of place...
Father Christmas wrote these letters in his shaky handwriting every year for 20 years. I have a book that has some of the letters reproduced, in actual envelopes. You can pull out the letters and read them, just like the Tolkien children did all those years ago. Each year at Christmastime, I open up the envelopes and smile as I read about the adventures in the frozen North.

Apparently, there is a newer version that contains even more of the letters. I haven't seen it, but I don't think it has the pull-out letters (which are half the fun). It does have the gorgeous color illustrations, vividly intact. For Tolkien lovers like me, one version or another of this book is absolutely worth picking up.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Grab Bag Friday: Amy Schimler & Wisconsin

Ok, so these two things have nothing to do with each other at all. They just happen to be on my mind on the same Friday.

Item 1: Art!

Remember Amy Schimler from my Robert's Snow interviews? Well, it turns out that she has a very cool collection of wall art and an online store with all kinds of bibs and onesies and tote bags. If you know anyone who is getting ready to furnish or re-vamp a baby room, the wall art could not be more perfect. You can see all the canvasses at Oopsy Daisy (I *love* the underwater submarine!)

Item 2: Wisconsin!

My dad sent this to me. I know this is one of those forwards that you get from every aunt and uncle and co-worker, but it totally cracked me up. As a native Wisconsinite, I find it hilarious. I mean, I grew up in a town where our big summer event was the annual PolkaFest, I had to wear a snowsuit over my ballerina Halloween costume, and it was the law that you could drink at a bar at any age as long as you were with your parents. There are things in here that will probably make sense to anyone who lives in a remote area, but if not, you'll just get a nice sneak peak into the first 20 years of my life.
It's funny 'cause it's true.

You know you're a Wisconsinite when:

1. Your idea of a traffic jam is ten cars waiting to pass a tractor on the highway.
2. 'Vacation' means going up north past Hwy 8 for the weekend.
3. You measure distance in hours.
4. You know several people who have hit deer more than once.
5. You often switch from 'heat' to 'A/C' in the same day and back again.
6. Your whole family wears Packer Green to church on Sunday.
7. You can drive 65 mph through 2 feet of snow during a raging blizzard, without flinching.
8. You see people wearing camouflage at social events (including weddings and funerals ).
9. You install security lights on your house and garage and leave both unlocked.
10. You think of the major food groups as beer, fish, and venison.
11. You carry jumper cables in your car and your wife or girlfriend knows how to use them.
12. There are 7 empty cars running in the parking lot at Mill's Fleet Farm at any given time.
13. You design your kid's Halloween costume to fit over a snowsuit.
14. Driving is better in the winter because the potholes are filled with snow.
15. You refer to the Packers as 'we.'
16. You know all 4 seasons: almost winter, winter, still winter and road construction.
17. You can identify a southern or eastern accent.
18. You have no problem pronouncing Lac Du Flambeau.
19. You consider Minneapolis exotic.
20. You know how to polka.
21. Your idea of creative landscaping is a statue of a deer next to your blue spruce.
22. You were unaware that there is a legal drinking age.
23. Down South to you means Illinois.
24. A brat is something you eat.
25. Your neighbor throws a party to celebrate his new pole shed.
26. You go out to fish fry every Friday.
27. Your 4th of July picnic was moved indoors due to frost.
28. You have more miles on your snow blower than your car.
29. You find minus twenty degrees 'a little chilly.'
30. You actually understand these jokes, and you forward them to all your Wisconsin friends.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Local Level: Books and Music

I was reading Britt Bravo's list of 10 Holiday Gifts that Give Back over at Have Fun Do Good and I came across #2: Buy Books from your Local, Independent Bookstore. Britt writes:
When it comes to spending your holiday dollars, would you rather they went to Amazon and Borders, or to your local economy? Di's Book Blog recommends using the BookSense web site to find independent bookstores near you. You can also buy a BookSense gift card that can be used at hundreds of independent bookstores. The Jackson Street Book blog recently reported that the New York Times and NPR have added as an online book purchasing option, in addition to
I have to admit, this is something I'm particularly bad at. I'm often sucked in by the convenience of ordering books from the comfort of my desktop. I get a corporate discount at Borders. Super Saver Shipping at Amazon. But last night, I stopped by Gulf of Maine Books, where a friend of mine was collecting a 3-foot stack of holiday gifts. It was warm and cozy there, we chatted with the owners, got book recommendations, browsed around.

So I thought, to get us started, I would give you some links to great book and music recommendation lists. If you happen to choose some of these items for your holiday list, consider giving your local, independent store the business. (You can also browse my Please Come Flying book, music, and children's book recommendations from the year.)

Books for Children:

Fuse #8 (a children's librarian at the New York Public Library) posted a terrific two-part list of her recommended kids books according to what *type* of kid you're buying for. It's a great list and fun to read, too!

The Miss Rumphius Effect (great blog title!) also has a very good list.

Books for Adults:

The New York Times 10 Best Books of 2007

National Book Critics Circle "Most Recommended" list as posted by Powell's blog:

Music for Kids:

Zooglobble's favorite kids and family albums

The 2007 Fids and Kamily Award Winners

Music for Adults:

KCRW's 2007 Music Holiday Gift Giving Guide (choose a DJ on the left for his or her specific recommendations)

Paste Magazine's Signs of Life 2007: Best Music List

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Mahalia Jackson: Silent Night

You know how people always ask that question about if you could meet anyone, alive or dead? Mahalia Jackson would have to be at the top of my list. And I don't think Christmas songs get much better than Mahalia Jackson singing Silent Night. This is just perfect.

(You can see my version of Silent Night here.)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Alternative Gifts: Gifts that Give Back

This is a very short list of places where you can buy gifts that help someone else. There are many more. If you have a particular favorite, please feel free to post it here. Happy shopping!

Nothing But Nets: $10 of every hat & t-shirt purchase will send a mosquito net to Africa to help fight malaria.

UNICEF: Proceeds from sweet gifts like "My Little Monkey" support "child survival, protection, and development worldwide through education, advocacy, and fund raising." I'm a big fan of the I Never Forget a Face! Matching Game ($13.00). This is like a grown-up, education-oriented version of MarkMakers. Teachers from underfunded public schools submit proposals for things they need (everything from a rug for a reading corner and wet erase markers to projectors and entire science labs). You can buy gift certificates for your friends, and they can choose which project(s) they want to fund. Proposals are searchable by total cost, the school's level of poverty, subject matter, and state. You may choose to fund all or part of a project.

Good Magazine: 100% of every subscription purchased goes to one of 12 organizations (like Room to Read, NRDC, and Teach for America) choose where your money goes.

Fair Trade goods: Fair Trade helps provide fair pay and regular work to artisans from around the world. Beyond that, buying Fair Trade is a great way to find unique, handcrafted gifts for your friends and family.

There are so many ways to find gifts that give back in personal, innovative ways. Check local arts organizations in your area. My friend Kate's modern dance collective Live Animals, for instance, just sent out an email to their subscribers offering a gift pack of homemade chocolate turtles (made lovingly by the grandmother of one of the dancers!) for a $25 donation. I will definitely be picking up a box or two of those for some chocolate lovers I know!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Joan Didion: The Year of Magical Thinking

On a recent trip to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Kevin and I listened to the audio book of Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking. I was glad to have an intermission halfway through to browse a picture book art museum because this book, while beautiful, is very intense and very sad.

Joan Didion wrote The Year of Magical Thinking after her husband of 39 years, John Gregory Dunne, died. It's a memoir about grief, memory, and loss, and how those three things interact on a day to day basis after such an event.

Kevin has been a huge fan of Joan Didion's for years, but I had never read any of her work. I was struck by the way she uses the most minute, mundane, everyday details to describe and pick apart a huge, overarching theme. Kevin said, "Oh yeah. That's her thing."

He also said that because of this, some people found the book to be too clinical and cold for such an emotional topic. I didn't find that to be true at all. It seemed to me an accurate reflection of how someone might find themselves reacting to loss. The "magical thinking" that your mind engages in, whether you want it to or not. She describes a memory loop: how one small thing triggers a memory, and then another, and you end up thinking about the same things over and over even against your will. She writes about the many times throughout the day when she would think, "I have to remember to tell John about this." And how she could give away his clothes, but not his shoes. Because he might need them.

Terry Gross did an interview with Joan Didion shortly after the book was published in 2005. At the Fresh Air site, you can listen to the interview and read an excerpt from the book.

The Year of Magical Thinking is definitely worth reading. The writing is exquisite, and it will really make you think. But it might be wise to wait until you are in a good, relatively happy frame of mind before you begin.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Grab Bag Friday: The GOOD Stuff

Well, it's that time of the GOOD magazine arrived in the mail. The theme of the magazine this month was Big Ideas. Out of all the grandiose ideas GOOD outlined (a lunar ark, carbon offsets, Russian democracy), my imagination was captured by a seemingly small, simple idea that earned a couple paragraphs in the issue: changing our paper margins.

Tamara Krinsky has started an effort to change the U.S. default paper margins from the standard 1.25" to .75". Simple enough, right? Well, according to Penn State University, if the entire country made this small change, it would save 380,000 tons of paper per year, and over $400 million in paper costs. That is stunning.

You can read PSU's statistics & breakdown of the study here (.pdf).

Tamara has what I believe to be some pretty simple, accessible goals. According to her website,, she would like to accomplish the following:
  1. Convince Microsoft to change the default margin settings in Microsoft Word to .75 on all sides. The more convenient it is for people to change their habits, the better chance there is that they will actually do so. (You can sign the Microsoft petition for margin change here.)
  2. Persuade five corporations to officially sanction narrower margins for all company documents. In this way, people will get used to seeing documents with this formatting as the standard, as opposed to the exception. Never underestimate the power of peer pressure.
  3. Challenge five universities to adopt narrower margin settings as the standard for their students and faculty, and include this information in their course guidelines.
Here's an interesting 4 minute interview with Tamara Krinsky on NPR about her project.

So, what do you think? Good idea? Can you think of any reason *not* to change the margins?

Paper photo by pawpaw

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Local Level: Stockings for Nursing Home Residents

One of my favorite traditions of the holiday season is the stocking program we participate in. Each year, one of the local nursing homes sends our church a list of all the residents and a short description of things each individual particularly likes (plus a list of things that are generally appreciated by all). Then we get to choose a name and create a stocking for that person.

This year, Kevin and I chose Ada. Our card read:
"Ada likes detailed coloring books of flowers and nature, cookies, and crackers."

Here's what we put in her stocking:
  • An intricate butterfly coloring book
  • Pepperidge Farm cookies
  • A pair of extra fluffy, extra cozy socks (you know, the kind that make you feel like you're in heaven)
  • A variety of Burt's Bee lip balms
  • Neutrogena Norwegian Formula hand cream
  • A copy of my new CD
This is such a great program. It's simple, fun, and brings real joy to an otherwise often dreary place. Some of our friends sat down as a family one evening to draw pictures and write notes to include in their stocking. Their kids were so excited to be a "Secret Santa" of was *very* sweet!

Any group could contact a nursing home and arrange to do this: your office at work, your elementary school class, your Girl Scout Troup, Little League Team, PTO, even a group of friends or families in your neighborhood. Apparently, even your Motorcycle Club can get in the game. :)

Other ways you can help spread some joy at a nursing home this season:
Ask your local nursing home...they'll be able to tell you exactly what would bring some cheer to their residents this year.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Bing Crosby & David Bowie: Little Drummer Boy

Here's a treat for you. When Kevin told me about this, I didn't believe him but here is the proof. David Bowie and Bing Crosby together...a little peace on earth all their own. Apparently, this was filmed just one month before Bing Crosby died. I always assumed they just dubbed the Bowie part onto an original version. I never imagined they actually *sang* together. Very cool.

(You can see my version of Little Drummer Boy on YouTube, too...but it's not as cool as singing with Bing Crosby!)

Also, the new I Wrote a Hit Song! Contest winner was announced this week: Katie, age 10, from Cheshire, England wrote a great song called Don't Need. Congratulations, Katie!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Alternative Gifts: MarkMakers

We spent last Christmas with some friends, and when their 8 year old son opened a card from an aunt and exclaimed, "Cool!" I expected there to be cash or some kind of toy store gift certificate inside.

Well, there was a gift certificate, but it was not your run-of-the-mill gift, and it was very, very cool. So cool that I've been waiting an entire year for the Alternative Gifts series to come around again so I could blog about it. is "A Place for Young People Making a Difference." Here's how it works:

1. You buy a Markmakers card (for any amount, $10 minimum) for the young person of your choice.

2. That young person can then go to the Markmakers online store and spend the cash on any number of things inside.

The store is visually appealing and fun to explore. You can browse different sections of the store to learn about the items you are about to purchase. Here is just a tiny sampling of the things your Markmakers card can do:
  • Purchase Vaccines to Immunize Children Against the Six Major Childhood Diseases
  • Provide Meals To Elderly, Disabled & Homebound Americans
  • Help Purchase a Cow or Goat To Provide Sustenance for a Nomadic Kenyan Family
  • Help Build Playrooms for Hospitalized Children
  • Help Fund the Cost of Organ Transplants For Young People
  • Help Rescue and Rehabilitate Seals, Dolphins, Sea Otters & Whales
  • Provide Shelter & Care For Homeless and Abandoned Animals
  • Help Protect Threatened Coral Reefs
  • Help Repair and Provide Refurbished Musical Instruments to Kids in Need
  • Help Encourage a Worldwide Ban on Land Mines
This is such a great stocking stuffer or gift for an important young person in your life. What I love most about this is that it puts the power in the hands of the child. *They* get to decide what is important to them, and how *they* want to make a difference in the world. And they can begin to believe what J. R. R. Tolkien wrote in The Lord of the Rings:

"Even the smallest person can change the course of the future."

100% of your donation will go to the organizations the child chooses. Here is the complete list from the Markmakers site:

The name of the organization providing the relevant goods or services is indicated in each product description. The mix of organizations is designed to appeal to the broad range of interests and concerns on the minds of young people today. The organizations that receive funding do not pay to be here. They are as follows:

Doctors Without Borders
Earth Force
First Book
Grameen Foundation
Heifer Project International
Human Rights Watch
Institute for Transportation & Development Policy
International Campaign To Ban Landmines
International Rescue Committee
Marine Mammal Rescue Center
Meals on Wheels
Miracle Flights for Kids
Mr. Hollands Opus Foundation
Nomadic Kenyan Children's Educational Fund
Operation Smile
One Laptop Per Child
Performing Animals Welfare Society
Playpumps International
Save the Children
Seeds of Peace
Seva Foundation
Solar Cookers International
Starlight Starbright Children's Foundation
Surfrider Foundation USA
The Hole In The Wall Gang Camp
The Hunger Project
The Nature Conservancy
The Wilderness Society
Trees For Life
United States Fund for UNICEF
Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (North America)
World Learning
World Wildlife Federation

Monday, December 3, 2007

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Snow-Flakes

Today is the first big snow of the season here in Maine. It's a perfect, fluffy snow...the kind for snow angels and snowshoeing and catching flakes on your tongue. "This is the poem of the air" as Longfellow puts it.

The above picture is a slide of an actual snowflake taken by Wilson Bentley in 1896. I recently came across a picture book about Bentley and his story is fascinating, but his slides are breathtaking. You can view many of them online at the Bentley Snow Crystal Collection.

In other snowflake news, this is the last week of the Robert's Snow Auction. Your last chance to own a one-of-a-kind piece of snowflake art! Until next year, anyway.

Here is a lovely poem by a fellow Mainer (my apologies to Longfellow for the lack of indents...if you want to see the poem closer to it's original formatting, you can find it here):

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Out of the bosom of the Air,
Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
Silent, and soft, and slow
Descends the snow.

Even as our cloudy fancies take
Suddenly shape in some divine expression,
Even as the troubled heart doth make
In the white countenance confession,
The troubled sky reveals
The grief it feels.

This is the poem of the air,
Slowly in silent syllables recorded;
This is the secret of despair,
Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,
Now whispered and revealed
To wood and field.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Grab Bag Friday: Can You Believe It's Been a Year?

A year ago in November, I wrote my very first blog post, inviting all of you to Please Come Flying. I can't believe it has been a year already! I've met so many interesting and nice people, been in touch with old friends, and enjoyed myself thoroughly. So *thank you* for reading!

As I look forward to my second year of blogging, I have a question for you. I have a pretty open format, right? Books, music, and a little something extra each week...

What is it that you like to read about most at Please Come Flying?

You can be as specific as you want...list a particular post that you liked, or a general type of post (poetry, music, movies, recipes, etc.) I always write about things that interest me, so now I want to know what interests you. :) Is there anything that you'd like to see more (or less) of?

Things to look forward to in December & January:
  • I'm going to reprise the Alternative Giving and Local Level series' that I did during the holiday season last year. If any of you have ideas for alternative gifts (things that move away from the traditional store-bought gift or things that "give back") or ideas about how to help on the local level during the holidays...please send me an email and I'll include it in my series (jcinfo *at* josephinecameron *dot* com).
  • I'll pass on a few Best Of 2007 lists that I think are cool. (Hey, maybe we'll even create our own!)
  • In January, I'll be focusing a bit on time management and the ever-present problem of how to keep balance in our lives.
Just for fun...
Top 5 most-popular posts at Please Come Flying since day one:

  1. Alice Munro: The Bear Came Over the Mountain (688 views!)
  2. American Songs 2 Sneak Preview: Oh Susanna
  3. Lullaby: I See The Moon
  4. Ruby Bridges: Through My Eyes
  5. Goin Home: Antonin Dvorak & William Arms

*Thank you* to all of you for reading. *Thank you* for the comments. *Thank you* for the links. You're the best. Really.

I'd like to send a special thank you to the following people and blogs who have kindly reviewed my blog, spread the word, or otherwise helped out during this first year of Please Come Flying:

Kevin from Alert the Bear (sadly on hiatus right now, but you can still read the archives)
The other Kevin from Confessions of a Trophy Husband
Bill & Reba from Hatchet Cove Farm
Stefan from Zooglobble
Bill from Spare the Rock
Shipyard (the Capt'n Eli's Strawberry Pop people!)
Jules & Eisha from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Amy from Red Fish Circle
Jewels in the Jungle

Here's to another 12 months!

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.
(Elizabeth Bishop)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Harper Simon: Yankee Doodle

I've been slowly working my way through Song of America, the 3-disc compilation of "the history of America through music" put together by Janet Reno. Yes, Janet Reno. For real.

One song that I keep coming back to is the Harper Simon (Paul Simon's son) version of "Yankee Doodle". I never even *liked* "Yankee Doodle" was just one of those catchy but kind of annoying tunes with goofy lyrics that you learn when you're a kid. But this version really took me by surprise. And it made me do 3 things:

First, Harper Simon's dreamy, cool version forced me to actually like the song itself. You can listen to it on iTunes and see what I mean.

Then, it made me actually think about it. What day to day life must have been like for soldiers during the Revolutionary War, many who were just boys, gathered by the thousands to fight.
Father and I went down to camp,
Along with Captain Gooding;
And there we saw the men and boys,
As thick as hasty pudding.

Yankee doodle, keep it up,
Yankee doodle dandy;
Mind the music and the step,
And with the girls be handy.

There was Captain Washington
Upon a slapping stallion,
A-giving orders to his men,
I guess there was a million.
Finally, it made me look it up. Apparently, the song was written by the British and was sung to deride and make fun of the American soldiers. Funny how it has become completely co-opted and is such a firm part of the American tradition. This quote is from the Library of Congress website:
"Doodle," as found in old English dictionaries, meant a sorry, trifling fellow; a fool or simpleton. "Dandy," on the other hand, survived also as a description of a gentleman of affected manners, dress, and hairstyle. All taken, "Yankee Doodle" is a comic song and a parody. Indeed, the British made fun of rag-tag American militiamen by playing "Yankee Doodle" even as they headed toward the Battle of Lexington and Concord.
On an interesting side note, in February, Harper Simon is apparently coming out with an album that is a collaboration with Edie Brickell. Sheesh...think I'm looking forward to *that* one just a little bit?

Here's an NPR story on Janet Reno's Song of America.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Shaun Tan: The Arrival

First: Robert's Snow Auction #2 begins today! Check the sidebar to the right for a list of Auction #2 illustrators and links to their snowflake features.

Now, enough Robert's Snow illustrators mentioned Shaun Tan in their interviews that I finally picked up a copy of his new graphic novel The Arrival. And I have to say, hands down, it is *worth* all the buzz.

The Arrival is a story about immigration, and belonging, and finding a new home. The main character leaves his family, and takes a long journey to a strange land in the hopes of finding a better life for his family. This is a story we all know. In America, at least, there have been countless re-tellings of Ellis Island and other immigration stories in movies, books, plays, songs...the list goes on and on. Immigration is a huge part of our American history and mythology. But I've never seen the story told quite like this.

Shaun Tan grew up in Perth, Australia, and is half-Chinese. His father came to Australia from Malaysia to study architecture. Themes of immigration and belonging and home have been a part of his consciousness as long as he can remember. When he began The Arrival, he intended it to be a short picture book for children. Instead, it became a graphic novel that took five years to create, and it speaks to people of all ages, all nationalities, all walks of life.

The Arrival is completely wordless. The pictures tell the story, in a frame-by-frame style that is more reminiscent of film than of comic books. And because there are no words, we are brought in to the story in a much more personal way. The strange land that he travels to would be strange to is a land of Shaun Tan's invention with tadpole-like creatures that emerge from pots and strange birds that unfold and fly vertically in the sky. Modes of transportation, food, even the buildings are all so odd that the reader feels just as disoriented as the traveler.

This is the genius of this book. When you are reading it, you can't help but begin to understand what it might be like to leave everything behind and start new. The excitement, the fear, the hope. It's all there. Here's an excerpt from an article Shaun Tan wrote about the book:

One of the great powers of storytelling is that it invites us to walk in other people’s shoes for a while, but perhaps even more importantly, it invites us to contemplate our own shoes also. We might do well to think of ourselves as possible strangers in our own strange land. What conclusions we draw from this are unlikely to be easily summarised, all the more reason to think further on the connections between people and places, and what we might mean when we talk about ‘belonging’.

Here is a page from Shaun Tan's website (scroll down to see many images from the book, and scroll down even further for Shaun Tan's comments about the book).

Here is a terrific interview with Shaun Tan from Fuse #8 (most likely the first place I read about the book when it came out in February).

Friday, November 23, 2007

Grab Bag Friday: Another Art Auction

Auction #1 for Robert's Snow for Cancer's Cure ends today at 5pm. For a complete list of the illustrators who have donated snowflakes for Auction #2 (beginning on Monday) please see the sidebar to the right. I've been checking the site, and there is at least one snowflake that has earned $500 so far! Auction #2 will include four of the artists I interviewed on this blog:
In other exciting online art auction news...

Some friends of ours have decided to begin the long, exciting, and expensive process of adopting siblings from Ethiopia. An artist friend, Heather Foster, has offered to help by auctioning some of her artwork online and donating the proceeds to the adoption fund. I love her cattle series!

If you are interested in either bidding on some great oil paintings or following the adoption process, please check out these links:
I hope you had a happy Thanksgiving! Our pumpkin pie was deeelicious!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Save the Music: For the Kids Three

Fids & Kamily: First off, the 2007 Fids & Kamily Winners were announced this week! Last year, the rock stars of the kids' music blogosphere (Stefan from Zooglobble, Bill from Spare the Rock Spoil the Child, and Amy from The Lovely Mrs. Davis Tells You What to Think) joined forces to set up a panel of judges and choose the best kids' music of the year.
For the Kids: For the Kids Three ranked #12 on the 2007 Fids & Kamily Awards list. I recently received a review copy of this CD in the mail from Nettwerk Music Group. Now, I was interested because Nettwerk is the uber-hip record label/music management firm out of Canada that has consistently gone against "traditional" methods of operation in favor of a more grassroots approach. They were one of the first to embrace DRM-free (digital rights management) music, believing that if you buy a song, you should be able to play it on whatever device you want. They joined in the fight when the recording industry sued a Texas teenager for filesharing...Nettwerk offered to pay all the teen's legal fees during the fight. CEO Terry McBride's famous quote was, "Suing music fans is not the solution, it's the problem." They were way ahead of the game even before waves of musicians began to drop their major labels like hot potatoes. I remember reading this article in Wired when Barenaked Ladies decided to ditch their label and go with Nettwerk for their management.

So with that history in mind, it's not too surprising that Nettwerk has been targeting bloggers as part of their marketing campaign for For the Kids Three. If Zooglobble gives it a "definitely recommended" and The Lovely Mrs. Davis has it in her Minivan Rotation, that's a pretty big buzz already (at least in the land of cyber-savvy moms and dads who pride themselves on music cred). And here I am writing about it, too...and that's, well, something.

The album, by the way, is quite cool. Definitely worthy of a #12 on the Fids & Kamily Awards. There are a couple misses on the album, but in general Nettwerk has gathered a bunch of hip, unexpected artists (like Moby and Hem and Over the Rhine) who generally perform adult indie-pop music and created an album for kids (apparently, the third in a very hip series). The music is a mix of traditional kids' songs (done very non-traditionally) and originals that will probably make you smile and dance around a bit. Highlights for me?
Bottom line: Even if you don't like kids' music, this album is worth looking at just to get a whole list of cool new artists to listen to!

Bonus: A portion of the proceeds of the album go to VH1 Save the Music Foundation, which is dedicated to restoring and sustaining music programs in public schools.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Opening Day! First Robert's Snow Auction Begins

Well, today is the day! The very first day of the 2007 Robert's Snow Auction. The online auction is broken down into three phases:
Auction 1: November 19-23
Auction 2: November 26-30
Auction 3: December 3-7

The first auction begins today at 9:00am and ends Friday at 5:00pm (EST). Minimum bid is $50 and all but $25 of each winning bid is tax deductible.

Abigail Marble is the first illustrator I featured for this event, and her snowflake, "Making Snow" is available in Auction #1. If you missed her interview and stunning watercolors, you can catch up here.

In the sidebar to the right, you can find links to features and information on all the other snowflakes in Auction 1. These snowflakes make wonderful, original gifts and 100% of the proceeds will go toward sarcoma research at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

Happy bidding!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Grab Bag Friday: I'm Thankful for Homemade Whipped Cream!

Anyone who knows me at all knows how much I love, love, love Thanksgiving. I love a day dedicated to family, coziness, and eating. I love my family's cheesy tradition of going around the table and telling "something you are thankful for." I *especially* love pumpkin pie!

But every year, I also try to remember that there are plenty of people who are not having such warm and cozy Thanksgiving rituals. Please, this weekend when you are doing your grocery shopping, toss a few extra items in your cart and donate them to your local food bank or homeless shelter. Or go a step further and put together an entire dinner basket for a family in need, offer to cook for an elderly person, or invite someone without family in the area to your home.

To make your food bank donation most useful, please check with the organization first to see what they need. For instance, our local food bank is looking for the following items:
  • stuffing mix
  • fresh potatoes, yams, celery, apples, etc.
  • vegetables, fresh or canned
  • pie crusts, filling (pumpkin, cherry, etc.)
  • evaporated milk for canned pumpkin filling
  • crackers, cheese, nuts, etc.
  • rolls and butter
  • turkey gravy
  • turkeys, or cash donations to go towards the purchase of 80 turkeys
If each of us contributes just a little, just think of the joy we can spread. And isn't *that* something to be thankful for?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I Wrote a Hit Song! Contest Winner: The Storm

It's been a while since I've announced an I Wrote a Hit Song! contest winner. The most recent winner is Sophie, age 6. Sophie wrote a song about a storm that is really quite cool. Check out how she's using the melody and sounds of the guitar to mimic what is happening in the lyrics. Great work, Sophie!

I love to encourage this kind of creativity, and you can help. Please stop by I Wrote a Hit Song! when you have a chance and leave a comment for Sophie to tell her how you liked "The Storm." (And feel free to peruse the other great songs from previous winners!)

If you know a creative person under the age of 12 who might like to submit a song, here are the rules. If you need inspiration or songwriting ideas, you can visit the Activity Room at the Songwriting for Kids website or take one of the SFK Club Monthly Songwriting Challenges. Winners are picked randomly and receive a Songwriting for Kids t-shirt and a free CD!

Always leave 'em singing...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Robert's Snow: Lee White Interview

Here is my last Robert's Snow feature...and what a snowflake! Bidding begins Monday the 19th, so you've still got some time to make up your mind about which flakes you're going to bid on. Thanks a million to Jules & Eisha for dreaming up and organizing the Bloggers for a Cure features. I really hope we can help break *all* the previous Robert's Snow fund raising records!


According to his website, Lee White's foray into illustration happened by chance. That's hard to believe because his dream-like style is so obviously well suited for illustration. His colors are bright and eye-catching, yet the mood is soft and inviting...even comforting. His characters and landscapes are strange and mysterious, yet humorous and very likable. Every illustration not only tells a story, but then takes it to the next level. In his most recent book, Brewster the Rooster by Devin Scilian, the farmer isn't just startled by the rooster's crow, he is startled sky-high, flung off his ladder, paint flying, legs splayed, nose red with embarrassment (and probably a little anger). This kind of illustration doesn't just move the story along, it brings it somewhere else entirely.

Lee White studied illustration at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. He has created illustrations for huge clients such as Apple Computers, Disney, United Airlines, and has illustrated eight children's books. House Takes a Vacation and Brewster the Rooster both came out this year, and are definitely worth the read.

Lee was kind enough to answer some questions for me:

How did you get started as an artist?

I started as a photographer working for an ad agency in Atlanta, Georgia. I learned all about lighting, composition and color through this medium which has helped tremendously in illustration. I went from photography to graphic design where I eventually started my own company. I gradually drifted from graphic design to illustration and haven’t looked back since!

What inspires you?

So many things. I really love landscape painting, although I don’t get to do it very often because I’m so busy all the time. The colors and light that occur naturally are so amazing that I often ache because I don’t have the time to capture the image with paint.

I’ve been teaching at the college level for the past two years and really love that. College is an ideal situation because you are dealing with ideas and concepts that you can’t explore in the commercial art world where there are budgets and deadlines.

I’d say the most inspiring thing to me above all else is stories. A good narrative is all I need to really get my brain working and I love that feeling. That’s why the beginning of a project is always the most fun for me. Just sitting down and exploring imagery and ideas is so exciting to me. The hard part is the actual production of the ideas once the “newness” has worn off.

Who are your favorite artists?

Luckily I happen to be friends with some of my favorite artists and they always keep me focused on constantly improving. People like Chris Applehans, Catia Chein, Khang Le, and Yoko Tanaka are some of my favorites. In children’s books I’d say Shaun Tan is really doing some amazing work. He’s really pushing boundaries which I think is always good.

What is your ideal workspace?

My ideal workspace is actually my current workspace. I share an old Victorian 4-square with another illustrator and we work on book projects all day. Portland winters are great because it’s rainy outside but our studio is nice and warm. We are on a commercial street with lots of funky shops and cafes so the coffee is always close by. Working in a studio with another person is one of the best decisions I’ve made. I’m a very social person so sitting in my house alone all day makes me a little crazy!

In your newest book, Brewster the Rooster by Devin Scillian, the funny, colorful illustrations bring such flair to the story. For instance on the first page, the words read “His championship cries won the blue ribbon prize/each year/at the Kansas State Fair,” and the illustration shows not only Brewster proudly receiving his first prize ribbon, but also a disgruntled pig who won second place, and the pig’s owner (a man with a villian’s moustache and top hat) leering jealously at Brewster’s family. As an illustrator, how much leeway do you have with the story? Do you always have room for improvisation?

I’m glad you noticed that! One of the best parts about book illustration is that you get to tell other parts of a story that might not be written into the book. In your example the text focuses on Brewster wining the blue ribbon, the next question I ask is “what was that like for the other contestants?” Then I come up with a disgruntled pig who had to settle for second place. Some of the stories in children’s books are so extreme that it’s fun to put people in the illustration reacting to what’s going on.
My publishers have normally given me a tremendous amount of freedom when it comes to making the art. This is partly because some of the stories I get are so, um, weird. Like the book Stop that Nose!, it’s about a guy's nose that flies off in a monster sneeze. It would be hard for an editor or art director to be too strict when it comes to the art because there is no clear way to handle imagery like that.

How did you come up with your snowflake design for this year’s Robert’s Snow?

I didn’t want to do a traditional scene with a snowman or christmas theme. Although these scenes are great for the intended use, I wanted to put a little more personal spin on mine. I wanted to make it mean something in relation to why “Robert’s Snow” exists in the first place. My dad died from cancer a few years back and so I’ve seen the battle with that first hand.

I began thinking about what it’s like to live with someone knowing they have such a great battle ahead. The feeling that you may lose them was always around with my father, so that seemed important to me as well. My imagery is symbolic of that feeling.

The girl in the boat is in less than ideal surroundings, but is holding tightly to the gift. That gift represents life. We all have to have faith in that gift when someone we love is battling the disease. She has her eyes closed to represent the blindness we have in not knowing how the situation might turn out. I know this snowflake deals with difficult ideas and imagery, but I didn’t want it to come across as depressing, so that’s why I chose a warm/bright color palette.

I like how the piece turned out because hopefully it makes people think and come up with their own meanings and interpretations.

Once you began, was there anything especially interesting, challenging, or surprising about the project?

Working that small is always a challenge. I really like working with such a weird shape. It changes the way I design and was very fun to do. I also like the fact that I get to be somewhat abstract in the imagery which is something that’s a little hard to do with a book because you are trying to move a story forward.

What advice would you give to young people interested in becoming an artist?

The most important advice I can give is to come up with your own interpretations on stories and narratives. Why bother making another “average” piece of art when you can make something unique and special? This idea is why I’m trying to slow down my output some on the professional level and make pieces I’m really proud of.

I would also recommend learning the technical side of drawing and painting. It’s alright to end up drawing loose and painting abstractly, but having the solid background goes a long way. It gives you choices that you might not otherwise have. For instance, If you can REALLY draw and paint you have your choice with how an image is painted. You can paint really tight and lifelike, or you can stylize the characters (which I like to do!). You want the choice to be yours versus being limited by your ability.

Lastly, I’d like to say that keeping a balanced life is very important. If you focus only on art, there is so much you could be missing. The extra things in your life can contribute greatly to your art. The world is a beautiful place with all it’s color and texture, people and cultures. Really try and soak it all in and let your art reflect it!

Here are some great Lee White links:

Here are the other snowflakes featured today:

How you can help Robert's Snow: