Monday, April 30, 2007

Marianne Moore: "Wood Weasel" & "Nevertheless"

Since today is officially the last day of "National Poetry Month," I thought I'd feature a couple poems from one of my very favorite poets. What I love about Marianne Moore is her attention to every single minute detail. Her intense descriptions of the smallest things makes me look at them differently, and her sense of sly humor always makes me smile.

The poems here, "Wood Weasel," and "Nevertheless" have always been two of my favorites. Both are lovely, detailed sketches of her subjects, and both have such striking endings. The final thoughts in these two poems have stayed with me for years.

Side note: Blogger doesn't deal well with poetic formatting, so line breaks are the best I can do here.

The Wood Weasel

emerges daintly, the skunk--
don't laugh--in sylvan black and white chipmunk
regalia. The inky thing
adaptively whited with glistening
goat-fur, is wood-warden. In his
ermined well-cuttlefish-inked wool, he is
determination's totem. Out-
lawed? His sweet face and powerful feet go about
in chieftain's coat of Chilcat cloth.
He is own protection from the moth,

noble little warrior. That
otter-skin on it, the living pole-cat,
smothers anything that stings, Well--
this same weasel's playful and his weasel
associates are too. Only
Wood-weasels shall associate with me.


you've seen a strawberry
that's had a struggle; yet
was, where the fragments met,

a hedgehog or a star-
fish for the multitude
of seeds. What better food

than apple seeds - the fruit
within the fruit - locked in
like counter-curved twin

hazelnuts? Frost that kills
the little rubber-plant -
leaves of kok-sagyyz-stalks, can't

harm the roots; they still grow
in frozen ground. Once where
there was a prickley-pear -

leaf clinging to barbed wire,
a root shot down to grow
in earth two feet below;

as carrots form mandrakes
or a ram's-horn root some-
times. Victory won't come

to me unless I go
to it; a grape tendril
ties a knot in knots till

knotted thirty times, - so
the bound twig that's under-
gone and over-gone, can't stir.

The weak overcomes its
menace, the strong over-
comes itself. What is there

like fortitude! What sap
went through that little thread
to make the cherry red!

Marianne Moore on
Marianne Moore on Wikipedia
The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore

Friday, April 27, 2007

Grab Bag Friday: Russia Halts Adoptions

Two of my beautiful nieces were adopted from Russia 3 Christmases ago. The youngest (nearly 2 yrs old at the time) couldn't walk or even really stand on her own. She was in an orphanage that is considered to have relatively good, clean conditions, where the children were generally well cared for. Even still, the attendants were so overworked that all babies were left in their cribs pretty much until they were out of diapers. Between this and general undernourishment, my niece never developed the muscles she needed to move around like other toddlers.

On Wednesday, NPR broadcast this story about how the Russian government has temporarily suspended all foreign adoptions. According to this story, "half of the 15,000 Russian children adopted each year are taken in by foreigners."

Another story on MSNBC gives a few more details about the suspension, which is apparently a "licensing delay" and only short-term (though with no indication of an end-date).

I can understand that the system needs to be overhauled. Reform, done correctly, could be good for children in the long run. And I can maybe even understand Education Ministry official Sergei Vitelis' statement that "any normal state should create conditions for children to grow up in their own country." Ideally, each country could take care of all of its children. Last I checked, we do not live in an ideal world.

I just hope they will end this suspension in a timely manner. Temporary or not, the fact is that due to a "bureaucratic licensing overhaul", thousands of children will remain in overstuffed, understaffed orphanages, often neglected and abused, until the government sorts out the details.

7500 children per year may be a drop in the bucket when compared to all the children living in sickness and poverty all over the world. But when I see my little niece racing around the living room playing "Dog Pound" and dancing, jumping up and down, and laughing with her sister, I have to believe that placing those 7500 in loving homes, foreign or otherwise, actually does make a difference.

You can read a Red Cross report from 2000 on Russian orphanage conditions here.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

How to Compost #5: Moisten the Mixture

Yes, your compost pile needs water in order to decompose, but the question is: How much?

Here's the (simple) way I understand it (thanks much to books like Let it Rot! and extensive sites like the University of Illinois' Composting for the Homeowner):

There are organisms that live in your compost pile. These organisms do the work of decomposing all the waste materials you put in your pile, and some of these little guys need water to live. If your compost pile is too dry, they will begin to suffocate and die off, and your compost process will slow down dramatically.

But if your pile is too wet, the water will begin to force the air out of the compost pile and you will have the problem I described last week...rotten egg or other bad smells, and general slowing of the compost.

So how do you know? Well, most things I've read say that your pile should be as wet as a wrung out sponge. The University of Illinois site says to pick up a handful and squeeze should feel damp to the touch and only a few drops of water should squeeze out.

Now, I highly doubt I will be reaching into the tumbler full of rotting garbage and squeezing it to test the water level. I don't gross out too easily, but I just don't see that one happening. I think I'll just eyeball it, and if it looks like it's sopping wet, I'll add some shredded paper and other browns. If it looks like it's not wet at all, I'll get out my watering can and moisten it up.

One more thing. If you're using a tumbler or other enclosed system, make sure it's not airtight. Most are built with some ventilation and this allows both air and rain water to get in. That should be enough moisture for your compost, but keep an eye on it (or give it the squeeze test if you're braver than I am) and you should be all set.

In other news, students at my alma mater have put together a YouTube video about Dan the Can to promote awareness about the new single-stream recycling system in Brunswick, Maine. The students are hoping to get 1000 views by the end of April, and as of today they had could help push them past their goal!

Thanks to Earthworks for the handy microorganism visual!

Missed anything in this series? It's easy to catch up:

Step 1: Make it a Priority
Step 2: Choose a System
Interlude: Nature Tried to Kill My Composter
Step 3: Collect Organic Material
Step 4: Mix the Materials
Step 5: Moisten the Mixture
Step 6: Wait
Interlude: The Lightbulb Change
Interlude: The Yogurt Change
Interlude: The Sponge Change
Interlude: The Leftover Change
Interlude: The Napkin Change
The Sort-of Sun-Mar 200 Review Part One
The Sort-of Sun-Mar 200 Review Part Two
Sun-Mar 200 Compost Update
Sun-Mar 200: Starting All Over Again

Step 7: Use Your Compost
Step 8: Sun Mar 200 Garden Composter Review

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Astrud Gilberto: Who Can I Turn To?

In life, I am a pretty happy, smiley (some might even go so far to say "bubbly") person. And yet, in music, I have always been drawn to melancholy songs. I love sad songs and songs about longing and loneliness. And anytime you bring Astrud Gilberto's soft, honest, plaintive voice into the mix...I'm instantly sold.

Who Can I Turn To? (When Nobody Needs Me) is a song I came across a couple years ago and it has stuck with me. The lyrics and the melody are almost painfully lovely. I could write all morning about the simplicity of perfectly crafted, eloquent lines that set the scene like "With no star to guide me and no one beside me," (doesn't that just say everything?) but I'll print the lyrics in full here so you can simply experience them:

Who can I turn to when nobody needs me?
My heart wants to know and so I must go where destiny leads me
With no star to guide me and no one beside me
I'll go on my way and, after the day, the darkness will hide me

And maybe tomorrow I'll find what I'm after
I'll throw off my sorrow, beg, steal, or borrow my share of laughter
With you I could learn to, with you what a new day
But who can I turn to if you turn away?

With you I could learn to, with you what a new day
But who can I turn to if you turn away?

So after a short bit of research, I found that "Who Can I Turn To?" was written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley for a 1965 Broadway show The Roar Of the Greasepaint-The Smell Of the Crowd which I had never heard of. Of course, after doing a Google search on this musical I came across this blog post about another song from that musical showing up as a favorite on this season of American Idol. I skipped American Idol this year, and believe me, I have been out of the loop on a lot!

I've heard other versions of this song. It was charted by Dionne Warwick at #62 in 1965, Tony Bennett and Sarah Vaughan both had pretty famous versions. But these versions are so dramatic and stagey, you lose the intensity, the simplicity, the honest, real, human part of the song that I love. Even the Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans instrumental versions make the piece kind of bouncy and almost hide the beautiful melody in all the piano flourishes.

So in my mind, there is only the Astrud Gilberto version. When she sings it, you feel like she's just walking on a beach somewhere, sandals in her hand, looking up at the night sky and singing a little tune to make herself feel better. Just like you or I would do. Now that's some feel-good melancholy.

Download Astrud Gilberto, Who Can I Turn To? on iTunes.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Sterling Brown: Southern Road

A Sterling Brown poem for your reading enjoyment this morning. Sterling Brown lived from 1901-1989 and wrote poems that were informed by the blues, and jazz, and old spirituals and work songs. His poems just sing. I love this poem "Southern Road" because of the rhythms. They bring the constant swing of the hammer and years on the chain gang to life.

You can read more about Sterling Brown & read more of his poems at Academy of American Poets.

And even more of his poems on Old Poetry.

Southern Road

Swing dat hammer--hunh--
Steady, bo';
Swing dat hammer--hunh--
Steady, bo';
Ain't no rush, bebby,
Long ways to go.

Burner tore his--hunh--
Black heart away;
Burner tore his--hunh--
Black heart away;
Got me life, bebby,
An' a day.

Gal's on Fifth Street--hunh--
Son done gone;
Gal's on Fifth Street--hunh--
Son done gone;
Wife's in de ward, bebby,
Babe's not bo'n.

My ole man died--hunh--
Cussin' me;
My ole man died--hunh--
Cussin' me;
Ole lady rocks, bebby,
Huh misery.

Guard behin';
Guard behin';
Ball an' chain, bebby,
On my min'.

White man tells me--hunh--
Damn yo' soul;
White man tells me--hunh--
Damn yo' soul;
Got no need, bebby,
To be tole.

Chain gang nevah--hunh--
Let me go;
Chain gang nevah--hunh--
Let me go;
Po' los' boy, bebby,
Evahmo' . . .

Friday, April 20, 2007

Grab Bag Friday #2: Books & Imaginary Play at Educating Alice

Since today's Grab Bag Friday was a little tech-y (yawn), here's an interesting article from Educating Alice to make up for it.

Grab Bag Friday: How to Keep Track of Your Favorite Blogs

There are a lot of options for keeping track of your favorite blogs. A lot. Just click on the "Subscribe" or "Bookmark" buttons on the right sidebar to view a sampling (and that's not a tricky ploy to get you to bookmark this're free to just look at the options, I promise!) If you are reading this blog, chances are, you have tried out a system or two. I personally use Google Personalized Home (especially now that they have sweet little themes like the "Tea House"...see below). I know people who find RSS readers like Bloglines to be convenient and efficient.

But what if you don't want to set up a Bloglines account? What if setting up even one more page to check daily makes you want to pull your hair out? What if you just want to get a simple email telling you when your blogs have been updated?

Well, I just came across Blogarithm which is a service that does just that. If you're looking for the simple life, this may be right up your alley.

  • One email a day gives you links to all the blogs on your list that have been updated in the previous day
  • If a blog hasn't been updated, it doesn't show up in the email
  • You can create categories for your blogs
  • You can put the email updates on vacation hold anytime you like
I'm still sticking with my friend the fox, but I'm going to test Blogarithms out for my on-the-go sister...I have a feeling she is going to love this!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

How to Compost #4: Mix the Materials

First off, a thoughtful, interesting article was posted at the San Francisco Chronicle yesterday. It's called You Cannot Save the Earth by columnist Mark Morford. Check out the article and if you have any thoughts/opinions (I do, of course), please post a comment & let me know what you think. Thanks to Tom's Music Film Ohio Politics n Stuff for the link!

So, turning the compost. I am already weeks behind the idyllic composting schedule I had set up in my mind when I started this thing. I figured, begin in March, have compost in May, just in time for Spring planting! Except I didn't factor in one important element: Maine weather.

The reason you turn a compost pile is to make it decompose faster. When you turn the pile (either in a tumbler or with a pitchfork if you have a basic pile) oxygen goes in, carbon dioxide waste is able to be released, and your garbage decomposes faster. Also, if your compost begins to smell like rotten eggs, turning it (giving it more oxygen) will make the smell go away (at least, this is what I am told). Want a more scientific explanation? Visit the Cornell University site.

You can never turn your compost and it will still decompose. But it may take a year or more. The more you turn it, the quicker you'll see results. My plan was to turn our composter every couple of days, aiming for finished compost in 6-12 weeks.

Of course that was my plan. Until I could no longer access my backyard because of the giant snow mountain created by our (much-appreciated, don't get me wrong!) neighborhood snow plow. And then during the torrential rains that followed (knocking out lots of electricity and our roof shingles, not to mention flooding our basement), I somehow didn't feel like heading out to check on the compost.

But today! Honestly. Truly. Beautiful sunshine! Wispy, white clouds! Our composter has been turned. Based on the fully intact and healthy-looking carrots we deposited a couple weeks ago, no progress has been made in the compost bin since March. I blame cold temperatures and lack of turning. Kevin blames the State of Maine for their inaction against the unacceptable weather conditions (can't somebody do something about all this snow?)

Soon, though. I think the worst is over. My new goal: compost in June. That's still plenty of summer to use compost in my garden, right?

Here's the link to the Time Magazine article "51 Things We Can Do to Save the Environment" that Mark Morford mentioned in his SFC article.

On a smaller, less global scale, here's a link to a simple, short, and handy list of What to do in the Garden in April.

Missed anything in this series? It's easy to catch up:

Step 1: Make it a Priority
Step 2: Choose a System
Interlude: Nature Tried to Kill My Composter
Step 3: Collect Organic Material
Step 4: Mix the Materials
Step 5: Moisten the Mixture
Step 6: Wait
Interlude: The Lightbulb Change
Interlude: The Yogurt Change
Interlude: The Sponge Change
Interlude: The Leftover Change
Interlude: The Napkin Change
The Sort-of Sun-Mar 200 Review Part One
The Sort-of Sun-Mar 200 Review Part Two
Sun-Mar 200 Compost Update
Sun-Mar 200: Starting All Over Again

Step 7: Use Your Compost
Step 8: Sun Mar 200 Garden Composter Review

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Virginia Tech Tragedy: Coping Tips for Parents & Kids

UPDATE (4/20): Here's another good site on PBS Parents: Talking with Kids About the News

I saw this post on Shaping Youth today and was struck by how thoughtful and useful this information is. If you have kids of any age and are wondering how to cope and help them cope with:

  • All the graphic media they'll see/hear about in the next few weeks
  • Feeling safe at home and at school
  • How to talk about the tragedy on an age-appropriate level
Amy Jussel has compiled a few resources and guidelines that can help. This is sad, scary stuff. It's nice to know there are a few small things we can do to bring a little comfort and peace to the kids in our life.

And in all seriousness, don't underestimate the power of rocking out when it comes to blowing off some steam and relieving anxiety (both yours and your kids). I hope today's previous post on the Lovely Mrs. Davis and her rock-out list can help with that.

Rock Out With Your Kids! The Lovely Mrs. Davis & Hockey Monkey

This week, the Lovely Mrs. Davis posted her Top 20 Kids Albums for Parents Who Can't Stand Kids Music. It's a very hip, very cool list that only includes music that rocks. You will definitely not find the Wiggles, but you will find albums and compilations geared toward the 8 and under set that include:

I was especially pleased to find a link to this Zambonis video: Hockey Monkey which has apparently been getting years of play on Nickelodeon.

The Zambonis are a band (with Peter Katis from Philistines Jr.) that write songs exclusively about (yes, this is true): hockey. If you don't believe me, you can visit their website and listen to their hit song I Wanna Drive the Zamboni (which is apparently featured in that new Will Farrell movie about figure skaters).

When I was in college (and a bit too-cool-for-school), I used to hang out at WBOR and listen to a well-worn Zambonis 7" that included such great hockey songs as "The Referee's Daughter" and "Away Game" and "Shot...Score!"

Thanks to the video link so kindly provided by the Lovely Mrs. Davis, I was able to find out that neither these songs nor the Zambonis have completely faded into indie rock oblivion. Their hockey obsession is alive and well, and those original songs can be found on their first full length album 100% Hockey & Other Stuff. They've even created more albums since that one, and have songs on a Christmas compilation (songs like "Zamboni Stuck in the Snow" and "The Ref that Stole Christmas"...beautiful!)

Who knew?

Monday, April 16, 2007

From the Fishouse: Poetry Out Loud

Here's another April Poetry Month treat for you! About two years ago From the Fishouse was launched. This is a website entirely devoted to three things:

1. Promoting the oral tradition of poetry
2. Showcasing emerging poets (poets who have published no more than 2 books so far)
3. Providing an educational resource for students of modern poetry

Poetry can be such a different experience when you hear it read out loud. For the past two years, From the Fishouse has been sending a recorder with a question and answer sheet to poets all over the country, and the poets record themselves reading their poems out loud. Right now on the site, you and I can hear poems read out loud by more than 100 up-and-coming poets. Many of the audio files include question and answer sessions with the poets about the writing process and how some of their poems came to be. It's very cool to get a little of the "backstory" along with the poems, and it's a great learning tool for students.

If April puts you in the mood to check out new poets, here are a few highlights (and feel free to browse around...there's a lot of poetry packed into this one little site!)

These poets' "official" websites:
Anthony Walton
Tyehimba Jess
Camille Dungy (Fishouse)
Ilya Kaminsky

From the Fishouse on Academy of American Poets
Times Record article about From the Fishouse

Friday, April 13, 2007

Grab Bag Friday: Bathroom Humor

The Poop, a San Francisco parenting blog, was recently mentioned on Zooglobble, so I checked it out.

And found this, which was way too funny not to pass on to you.

If you need a laugh today and have 2.5 minutes to spare, you'll be glad you stopped by.

View Peter Hartlaub's post on The Poop

Thursday, April 12, 2007

How to Compost #3: Collect Organic Material

Collect Organic Material. This is an interesting step, and for those of you who really like biology and research and want to bring your nitrogen and carbon ratios to a level of molecular and scientific perfection...I really can't help you much. I can point you to a couple short articles: this from EarthWorks and this from How Stuff Works. I guarantee you can find lots of composting books at the library that will further quench your thirst for knowledge.

But very basically and simply, you need a few important ingredients in order to make compost:

  • Oxygen
  • Water
  • Heat
  • Browns (Carbon)
  • Greens (Nitrogen)
Oxygen: Organic material needs to be exposed to oxygen in order to break down. This is why turning your compost pile or tumbler on a regular basis will speed up the process.

Water: Some moisture is necessary for composting. If your pile is too dry, it will take a long time to decompose.

Heat: You need to collect enough organic material so that your pile will create its own heat. Your compost pile won't really get hot until there is a fair sized amount, but then it will really heat up...sometimes up to 150 degrees!

Browns: This is the carbon part of the mix. Woody and leafy materials like:
  • leaves
  • twigs
  • straw
  • paper
These things can take a long time to break down, but you can speed the process by shredding them. We have a paper shredder in the kitchen where we go through the mail. Our junk mail goes directly into the shredder, and then into the composter. As mentioned in Step 2, our dump has a compost pile for leaves, twigs, grass, and other yard clippings. Since leaves take a while to decompose, we're just bringing those to the dump, and sticking with the shredded paper for our browns. I will, of course, let you know how that pans out.

Greens: The nitrogen portion of your compost pile are the "fresh" ingredients. These are things like kitchen scraps and grass clippings. We got a little compost pail for our kitchen that has a filter on the top so it won't smell(at $30, the filtered pail was worth it!) It sits next to the sink and we dump our kitchen scraps right in there. When it's full, we bring it out to the compost bin.

NOTE: My husband, as I mentioned in a previous post, likes things to be impeccably clean. The thought of constantly cleaning out a pail of rotting food waste was pretty disgusting to him. So. We got BioBags. Seriously, these are 100% biodegradable bags (made out of corn) that you can put right in your composter. We line the pail with a BioBag, then when the pail is full, simply take the bag out to the composter (be sure to empty the bag into the composter instead of just tossing it in full...everything will decompose much faster if it's loose), rinse out the pail, and that's that. No muss, no fuss.

THE RATIO: I've read some conflicting information on what your brown to green ratio should be. The basic rule is, you should have more browns than greens. If the compost smells (apparently it shouldn't...Kevin is very skeptical, but so far we have no smell), just add more browns. If it's not doing anything, add more greens.

There are some things that you do not want to put in your composter. To name a few:
  • Coal ash
  • Cat litter
  • Grease
  • Anything with disinfectant (baby wipes, paper towel with Windex on it)...this will kill all the bacteria in your compost
I've seen conflicting reports about whether you should add meat or not. It will decompose, but it may attract animals, and it may coat things with grease which will slow down the process. We're going to avoid it for now. has a great list. If you scroll down, there is a chart that lists what can be composted, what you should be careful of, and what you should avoid. There are some really interesting and helpful things on the list. For instance, it says to avoid lime. Now, do they mean lime like you put on your lilac trees, or lime like you squeeze into a margarita? 'Cause I think we've put at least 5 lime rinds in our compost already. If my whole experiment fails miserably, I'm going to blame it on the limes! The chart also tells you which items are carbon and which are nitrogen.

Here's a list of 163 things you can compost by Marion Owen, a woman who writes a blog about gardening in Alaska. So for those of you who live in places where it is STILL SNOWING IN APRIL, this could be a useful site. Though I'm not going to tell Kevin about what Marion calls "the surprise at the end" of the list...I think that's a bit more than we can handle right now!

Missed anything in this series? It's easy to catch up:

Step 1: Make it a Priority
Step 2: Choose a System
Interlude: Nature Tried to Kill My Composter
Step 3: Collect Organic Material
Step 4: Mix the Materials
Step 5: Moisten the Mixture
Step 6: Wait
Interlude: The Lightbulb Change
Interlude: The Yogurt Change
Interlude: The Sponge Change
Interlude: The Leftover Change
Interlude: The Napkin Change
The Sort-of Sun-Mar 200 Review Part One
The Sort-of Sun-Mar 200 Review Part Two
Sun-Mar 200 Compost Update
Sun-Mar 200: Starting All Over Again

Step 7: Use Your Compost
Step 8: Sun Mar 200 Garden Composter Review

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee: Backwater Blues

Since I just wrote about Our New Orleans last week, I thought you might enjoy this video I came across on YouTube. It's a version of "Backwater Blues" performed by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, and it's pretty darn cool.

Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee met in 1939 and played as a duo for years. They were a part of a vibrant New York folk scene alongside Woody Guthrie, Ledbelly, and many others. I love the story-telling aspect of this performance, and the unexpected whoops from Sonny!

Read the Blues Access 1973 interview with Brownie McGhee

Read about Sonny Terry on Wikipedia
Brownie McGhee on Wikipedia

Monday, April 9, 2007 MySpace meets Book Club

Two of my sisters each individually sent me a link to, and since they are usually on the pulse of whatever is hip and happening, I figured I'd better check it out.

GoodReads is an alternate online universe in the same way that MySpace is. You can "friend" people, leave messages, pontificate about things that matter to you. But GoodReads is more like your local library, no glitz and glamor, and it exists for one purpose: the enjoyment of books. Once you go through the (very easy) process of setting up a profile, here is what you can do:

  • Add books to your bookshelves
    (it defaults to Currently Reading, Read, and To Read, but you can add as many bookshelves as you like)
  • Rate your books
  • Write reviews of your books
  • Add/invite friends
  • Send recommendations to your friends
  • See what your friends are reading and rating
  • Join online book discussions
It's kind of fun. I set up a profile the other day with a few books I've recently been reading and browsed around the profiles of my sisters and their friends. It's kind of like when you go to someone's house and you look at their shelves to see what kind of a person they are based on what kinds of books they like to read. Only you can do this uninterrupted, and for hours on end.

The question is, with all the other sites and blogs we read, and all the profiles and emails we check and keep up to date, will GoodReads hold up? We'll have to see. I doubt I'll be stopping by every day to keep up on all the can't-miss excitement. But I bet I'll drop by every few weeks to update my booklist, check on what my friends are reading and reviewing, and recommend a few good reads of my own.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Grab Bag Friday: I Wrote a Hit Song! Contest Winner

In the April Songwriting for Kids Club online newsletter, I announced the very first I Wrote a Hit Song! contest winner. McKenzie, a 9-year-old from Prestonsburg, KY wrote a song called "Flaming Hills," and I'm so impressed that I had to share it here with you, too!

Check out the song lyrics to "Flaming Hills" and leave a comment for McKenzie.

Anyone age 12 or younger can enter the I Wrote a Hit Song! contest. For more information, please visit the I Wrote a Hit Song! page. Scroll down for contest instructions on the sidebar. Need some songwriting inspiration? Visit the Activity Room at the Songwriting for Kids website.

Congratulations, McKenzie!

Thursday, April 5, 2007

How to Compost Interlude: Nature Tried to Kill My Composter

So, this week we drove up to my husband's former and much-beloved place of employ, Shelter Institute in Woolwich, Maine. At Shelter, still slightly skeptical, we purchased the floor model of the high-tech (it's all relative) supposedly continuous Sun-Mar 200 Series Garden Composter (doesn't it sound like a space ship?)

SIDE NOTE: A quick plug for the Shelter Institute...they are a very cool timber framing company that is also a school and a shop. You can go there and learn how to design, build, plumb, wire, and finish your own house. It's pretty spectacular.

Anyway, skepticism and all, we completed Step 2: Choose a System and I was completely ready to write today about Fred Horch's Step 3: Collect Organic Materials.

However, instead, on April 5th, I am going to go out and shovel a foot of snow and try to clean up all the falling branches that very nearly killed my brand new Sun-Mar 200.

In the meantime, for your reading pleasure, here's a fun link to a blog that gives you an astonishing number of ways to reuse your coffee grounds. (Kate goes way beyond composting. Try scrubbing pans, fridge deodorizer, playdough, a Halloween "beard"?...and that's just scratching the surface!) And here's one from Mom Is Teaching about how composting & other dirty hands-on fun can be a great way to teach science to kids.

Stay tuned for Step 3 next week.

Missed anything in this series? It's easy to catch up:

Step 1: Make it a Priority
Step 2: Choose a System
Interlude: Nature Tried to Kill My Composter
Step 3: Collect Organic Material
Step 4: Mix the Materials
Step 5: Moisten the Mixture
Step 6: Wait
Interlude: The Lightbulb Change
Interlude: The Yogurt Change
Interlude: The Sponge Change
Interlude: The Leftover Change
Interlude: The Napkin Change
The Sort-of Sun-Mar 200 Review Part One
The Sort-of Sun-Mar 200 Review Part Two
Sun-Mar 200 Compost Update
Sun-Mar 200: Starting All Over Again

Step 7: Use Your Compost
Step 8: Sun Mar 200 Garden Composter Review

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Our New Orleans: from American Routes and Nonesuch Records

Yesterday afternoon, I had the good fortune to attend a lecture by Nick Spitzer of American Routes, a weekly radio show that features blues, jazz, gospel, old-time, country, and every other form of Americana that you could fathom. I listen to at least part of the show every week on my local public radio station, so I was very excited to be able to go see Mr. Spitzer in person.

The lecture, Rebuilding the "Land of Dreams"
Expressive Culture and New Orleans' Authentic Future, was very thought provoking. Mr. Spitzer talked about how it's the musicians and craftspeople, (the cultural center of New Orleans...the folks he calls the "2nd line") who have really inspired the return to New Orleans and who will need to be the center and backbone of the restoration and rebirth process.

If you're interested in this discussion, you can listen to a version of the lecture on Southern Spaces. Southern Spaces kindly breaks the lecture up into logical blocks of 3-10 minutes each, so you can just listen to a few minutes about the topics that particularly interest you, or you can listen to the whole thing.

Mr. Spitzer also played some terrific selections from the album Our New Orleans: A Benefit Album for the Gulf Coast that he put together and released on the Nonesuch record label. The album is a celebration, an elegy, and a call to action for the city of New Orleans. Proceeds from the album go to Habitat Humanity to help with the restoration process.

Some of my favorites from the album (links go to sound clips on iTunes):

Monday, April 2, 2007

Elizabeth Bishop: The Armadillo

The kids over at my Songwriting for Kids Club are dealing with this beautiful poem for National Poetry Month, and so I thought you might enjoy it too.

The events in "The Armadillo" happen on St. John's Day in Brazil, where Elizabeth Bishop lived for 15 years. Each year on this saint's day, people would celebrate by lighting fire balloons (as shown in the picture). The balloons were outlawed by the 1970s when Bishop wrote her poem because of the number of destructive fires that resulted each year.

I love this poem for its lyricism and its simplicity. I love the way Ms. Bishop allows you to both see and feel lines like "the paper chambers flush and fill with light/that comes and goes, like hearts." With a kind of elegance and grace, with simple, striking images, she leads us through her observation. She doesn't have to write stanzas explaining her emotions...we are right there with her as her awe and wonder are transformed into something surprisingly dark and destructive.

The coolest thing is that there is a recording of Elizabeth Bishop reading the poem that you can listen to on the Academy of American Poets website. I love it when you can hear a poem in the poet's own voice and hear exactly how they imagined the inflections and rhythms when they created the poem.

Click here to listen to and read "The Armadillo" by Elizabeth Bishop.

Learn more about Elizabeth Bishop on

If you're interested in a more technical and detailed analysis of the poem, here's an interesting page from the University of Illinois.

The Complete Poems, 1927-1979