Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

First off, in non-Halloween related news:
  • Please don't forget to check the Robert's Snow schedule (on the right-hand sidebar) for more great illustrator profiles. I'll be posting a feature on Holli Conger this Friday.
Now, on with the holiday!

The Poop is holding a costume contest and you still have time to enter (note: the costumes don't have to be good, they just have to be homemade...check out the coconut-boy if you don't think you have the skills to compete!)

And here is a clip from my favorite childhood Halloween movie. Well, realistically speaking, the only Halloween movie we were ever allowed to watch. :) Now that I see it again it's not hard to guess why I liked this so much...I'm *still* a sucker for anything that involves Bing Crosby.

Have a safe and happy day!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Lucille Clifton: slaveship

For the past two weeks, I've been teaching the kids in our Sunday School children's choir the traditional slave song Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel? After some silliness and playing around with what the song might mean (one boy pointed out that the postage must have been pretty expensive for such a heavy delivery!) the kids really started to get into it.

The simple lines of the chorus (Didn't my Lord deliver Daniel/Then why not every man?) are so gripping. You can imagine both a hopeful singer (if God delivered Daniel, he'll certainly deliver me!) and a singer who may be losing that hope (why hasn't God delivered *me*?) The verses lean toward hope, but I can't help but focus on that hint of doubt. I think about the origins of this song, of cotton, the whip, deprivation, the hot sun. How could you sing the song and *not* wonder, even for a minute...if God exists, why is there all this suffering in the world?
Talking about the song reminded me of this stunning poem by Lucille Clifton (it can be found in the anthology Every Shut Eye Ain't Asleep). Jesus, Angel, and Grace of God were names of ships that delivered slaves from Africa to the Americas. The picture above is a diagram of how the slaves were loaded into the ships...literally, as Lucille Clifton writes, "like spoons."
by Lucille Clifton

loaded like spoons
into the belly of Jesus
where we lay for weeks for months
in the sweat and stink of our own
why do you not protect us
chained to the heart of the Angel
where the prayers we never tell
are hot and red as our bloody ankles
can these be men
who vomit us out from ships
called Jesus Angel Grace of God
onto a heathen country
ever again
can this tongue speak
can this bone walk
Grace of God
can this sin live

The Poetry Foundation website has more poetry by Lucille Clifton, information about her life, and a very interesting interview. Here are a couple of her quotes that really stood out to me (the bold text is my own, for emphasis). The first, in particular, speaks to why I believe it is so important to remember things like slaveships and to write poetry and sing songs and teach our children about them. Regular people like you and me dreamed up and built and sailed these things. That's important to remember:
"I believe that people, if we face up to our responsibility and the possibility of evil in us, we then will understand that we have to be vigilant about the good. But if we all think that it all happens to somebody else, somewhere else, over there, then we don’t have to take responsibility for what we do."

"Of course, I would be nuts if I didn’t see the negativity and despair in the world, if I didn’t sometimes feel it myself. I am always hopeful because that’s the kind of personality I have. But it does not mean that I do not see what there is to be seen and do not feel what any other human being would feel."

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Robert's Snow: Abigail Marble Interview

It is nearly time for this year’s Robert’s Snow for Cancer’s Cure Auction! If you are new to the Robert’s Snow buzz…children’s book illustrators from around the planet have donated one-of-a-kind snowflakes to be auctioned off online beginning November 19th. The snowflakes are stunning, and all proceeds will benefit sarcoma research at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

As part of Blogging for a Cure, I’m happy to feature Abigail Marble’s snowflake, “Making Snow."

"Making Snow" by Abigail Marble

available for bidding: November 19-23


It only takes a quick look through her portfolio to fall in love with Abigail Marble’s watercolors. Her use of light and shadow add a dimension of wonder to her illustrations (for instance, from a current project, the gorgeous images below of moonlight on a sleepy baker vs. the warm light of the kitchen). Abigail studied at Brown University and at Rhode Island School of Design and currently lives in Portland, Oregon. Her first book, My Secret Bully (written by Trudy Ludwig), is designed to help kids who are victims of emotional bullying. She has also illustrated Galmamadak the Great by Tamim Ansary.

Abigail was kind enough to answer some questions over email. Here are her thoughtful and delightfully funny answers:

How did you get started as an artist?

I tagged along to my mom's watercolor classes starting when I was about 6 years old, and painted whatever she and her classmates were painting. Or tried, anyway. My family was always supportive, and I drew and painted all the time, as far back as I can remember. In grade school I was labeled the 'arty girl.' I used to give drawing lessons at recess, teaching other girls how to draw unicorns and princesses. There was an arty boy who took care of the boys who wanted to draw guns and machinery.

I took art as my main elective throughout high school, and majored in art in college. From first grade on, my plan was to write and illustrate children's books, but when I graduated from college, I wasn't sure how I could make a living in illustration, and detoured into the graphic design field. That in itself has been a good education and foundation for my illustration work, but it has also been very consuming, and it involves way too much time on the computer. Over the past few years I have been able to focus more on painting and pursuing illustration work, and it feels great!

What inspires you?

I live in Portland, Oregon, so luckily I am inspired by rain. Maybe because I grew up here, I think of a rainy day as a good work day. By my standards the dark rainy fall we're having is perfect weather. When I leave my house these days, I can see thick, juicy, purple-gray clouds and white fog against evergreen hillsides with splashes of orange vine maple leaves.

I'm also inspired by other people's art, by great novels, and by paint itself.

Who are your favorite artists?

I have so many, it's hard to choose. This month I have been in love with Ben Shahn, Toulouse-Lautrec, Leonard Baskin and Richard Diebenkorn. I don't know if you'd guess that from looking at my illustrations, though. Illustrators I love include Helen Oxenbury, Lisbeth Zwerger, Evaline Ness, Leo Lionni...I could go on and on. As a kid I used to pore over Carl Larsson's "A Home" and the Gnome Book.

What is your ideal workspace?

I have a great studio space, that is pretty ideal in that it is fairly large, has decent light, and I can leave my stuff everywhere and no one complains about it. And it's cheap! Of course it would be even better if someone magical elves came along to tidy it up now and then. And in my fantasy world it would have picture windows with a view of water...

You recently illustrated My Secret Bully, a book designed to help children cope with “emotional bullying”--the kind of bullying that doesn’t leave bruises, but hurts just as much. What was the most interesting thing about working on this book?

That was my first published book, so everything about the process was new and exciting. I was able to meet the author, Trudy Ludwig, because she also lives in Portland. She was so enthusiastic and inspired about the subject of the story that it was inspiring to me as I worked on the art.

Since the book was published, the most interesting thing has been the responses of the women and children who have read it. Almost every woman I shared it with remembered being caught up in emotional bullying in some role-- bullied, bully, or bystander. It's a big deal, and traumatic enough to stand out in their memories decades later. I personally feel like my school experience from 4th through 6th grade was completely dominated (and tainted) by this kind of social stuff.

And sadly, that hasn't changed -- if anything, it's happening with younger and younger kids. Parents I know who've shared the book with their 1st and 2nd graders have told me that they had no idea their kids were having these hurtful situations at school until the book started the conversation about it. I know many schools, libraries, and school counselors have bought the book, so I hope it is helping start that conversation for lots of children.

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

My snowflake is sort of a self-portrait from my childhood. My mom taught us how to make 6-sided snowflakes one year, and my sister and I went nuts making them. Our house had big picture windows, and we filled them all with snowflakes. This may reflect the fact that children in Portland, Oregon are usually deprived of snow. Slush, sleet, and freezing rain we get. Snow, not so much. So we had to make our own (insert tiny tragic violin melody here!).

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

I had no idea that the actual snowflakes were so small! I tend to work big when I paint with acrylics, so scaling down was a challenge. I loved doing both sides as a tiny little narrative.

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

Oh, gee...the usual, I guess: draw all the time, look at other people's work as much as you can, find good teachers. That's not very helpful, is it?

I can do better:

Learn to hear your critics and glean the useful seeds from the criticism.

It's easy to write off all criticism, but the right insight at the right time can change your work for the better. Also, persevere -- that's a big one for me, as I have a lot going on and get sidetracked easily. I have a quote up on my wall from Ariel Schrag, the graphic novelist, that says, "Finishing is really underrated and an important part of the creative process." Yes. Yes!!! I try to remind myself of that often.

Is there anything else you'd like to share with readers?

I'd just like to say that Robert's Snow is a wonderful cause. The project was developed by two really beautiful people whose hearts were big enough to think of others even at their lowest moments. I hope readers will take a moment to read about the auctions and look at all the beautiful work donated by many, many talented people. It's a testament to what can happen when people lead with their hearts. I am very proud to be associated with the project.

Here are the other snowflakes featured today:

How you can help Robert's Snow:

Friday, October 26, 2007

Grab Bag Friday: Bits & Pieces

Just a few fine things for Friday:

Trick or Treat for UNICEF:
The tradition of children collecting coins for UNICEF on Halloween began back in 1950 and is still going strong. You can pick up free UNICEF boxes at Hallmark stores or your local church, or you can make your own. Please visit UNICEF's website for instructions on how to send in the money, and great stories about the difference even a small amount can make.

This is a great way for kids to get involved in helping others...and to learn that helping others can be both fun and rewarding!

It's Official: The Robert Plant & Alison Krauss official site is now up. Sadly, it doesn't list tour dates yet. And you can apparently listen to the album on the site, but I couldn't get the streaming to work on my computer. Maybe you'll have better luck. If missed my initial response to the new album, Raising Sand, you can find it here.

Let it Snow! Tomorrow, I'll be posting a feature on artist Abigail Marble and her snowflake for Robert's Snow. Please check in for this special "Weekend Edition" of Please Come Flying. Abigail's art is filled with wonder and she was kind enough to answer some questions about inspiration, process, and her connection with Robert's Snow.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

How to Compost: The Sort-of Sun-Mar 200 Review Part Two

Here is the complete How to Compost series in case you'd like to catch up or review:

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

For those of you who are looking for the final word on the Sun-Mar 200 Garden Composter, I will warn you right now, I don't have it. But I'll tell you as much as I can.

Note (11/2): If you have used a Sun-Mar composter, please feel free to add your voice to the comments below. There's not much customer feedback on this product right now, so let's create some! :)

So as you know from Part One of this review, I began composting in May and have yet to see compost from my Sun-Mar. Before I get into the exciting customer service drama, let's talk a little bit about how the Sun-Mar appears to work. It's supposed to be continuous compost, which means as opposed to other systems where you have to wait for an entire batch to finish composting, you can add stuff continuously *and* get compost at the same time. Brilliant.

To achieve this feat, there is an outer drum and an inner drum. You put the garbage into the outer drum. Eventually, the compost will make it's way to the inner drum where you simply empty it into your barrel as in the illustration above. Here's a more detailed illustration (you can click on it to make it bigger):

So once a month or so, I would check the inner drum. Inside would be a few pieces of garbage, totally dried out from being in the inner drum, but certainly not compost. And since I had learned that moisture was a necessary part of the mix, I would shove the dried out garbage back into the outer drum (where everything seems to be decomposing quite nicely) and wait some more.

Around August, I started to get a little impatient. I emailed Sun Mar customer service to see if this was normal. No response.

Around September, I tried the customer service email address again. This time throwing out the "I'm writing a review" phrase in hopes that it would get a response. No luck.

At the beginning of October, Reba (visit her organic farm here), who works for the terrific company that sold us the Sun-Mar (and who, as a former union organizer, has a lower threshold for being ignored) called Sun-Mar directly.

After a *long* discussion, here's essentially what the Sun Mar representative said:
  • First, the composter needs to be almost full
  • Then, the garbage will fill up the inner drum
  • Once the inner drum is full, the material inside (aided by the heat from the full outer drum around it) will begin to compost
  • As the material decomposes, it shrinks down, so you can keep adding more garbage as the process continues
Ok. Logically, this makes sense. So my composter (which is currently just over half full) needs to fill up and the inner drum needs to fill up, and *then* I can wait for the compost. So I need to add a lot more garbage before I start to see results.

But let me just say (and please tell me if you disagree) this is *not* what it looks like in either of the diagrams.

Let me also point out that the Sun-Mar representative was incredibly rude and impatient throughout the conversation. Reba told me that at one point he exclaimed something along the lines of:
"If you knew anything about how composting works, you would understand this."
At which point she lost her patience and retorted:
"I am a farmer!"
Now to be fair, the person she talked to was not a customer service representative. He said he was filling in because they were short-staffed and didn't have anyone else to do it.

Still, it is not that difficult to be courteous.

So I'll keep adding garbage to the composter through the winter, and in the Spring, I'm going to expect some serious composting action. I'll let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, some advice for Sun-Mar, in case they're reading:
  • Be more clear in your materials
  • Answer your emails
  • Staff your customer service desk
  • Lose the attitude: BE COURTEOUS
I can't emphasize the last point enough, as simple as it may seem. You may have the best product on the planet, but if you are continuously rude, I'm not going to buy anything from you in the future. If you're kind and courteous, patient and helpful, I will not only become a repeat customer, but I will probably tell everyone I know. It's not rocket science.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss: Raising Sand

When Kevin first heard that Robert Plant and Alison Krauss were recording an album together, he was afraid to tell me because he thought my "head would explode." I admit to being prone to bouts of extreme excitement, so his theory was not completely unfounded. But if he had known that producer T Bone Burnett (of Oh Brother Where Art Thou fame to name just one of his fine projects) was involved, he would have *really* been concerned.

So last night after dinner, I put an apple pie in the oven, sat down with my headphones and did something I haven't done in years...listened to an entire album, start to finish, without doing *anything* else. I didn't even play my Scrabble game on the computer or clean up around the house. I just sat still and listened.

Raising Sand is beautiful. I could hardly expect less from two of my favorite living singers on the planet (ok, ok, I'll try to keep the hyperbole to a minimum, but it's going to be hard). Here are some highlights. The links will lead you to Amazon's new download system that is thankfully and finally DRM free...meaning that unlike, oh say, iTunes, you can listen to the song on any device, program, application, burn CDs, or do whatever you want with it because you bought it and it's yours. Thank you, Amazon. (I'm now stepping down from my DRM soapbox.)

One more note: T Bone Burnett chose most of the songs for this album, and they are interesting choices. I've noted the songwriters in parentheses here:

Killing the Blues (John Prine Rolly Salley): Achingly beautiful. The kind of song that I want to put on repeat and just let it wash over me. Maybe my favorite song on the album...though, really, it's too soon to tell. :)

Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us
(Sam Phillips): When I heard this one, I couldn't get over how much the melody sounded like a Sam Phillips melody. And then I found out, happily, that it *is* a Sam Phillips melody (since Sam & T Bone are married, that's no big surprise). Alison Krauss's voice is strangely well suited to this quirky style, and using Robert Plant's voice as a texture in the background was a brilliant move. Highly recommended.

Gone Gone Gone (Everly Brothers): This one's upbeat in a very cool Buddy Holly or Chuck Berry kind of way. This is the first time that Robert Plant really lets loose a little, and even still, he's pretty restrained. This is the one that will probably get the most play at our house.

Stick With Me Baby (Mel Tillis): A simple, solid, sweet pop tune.

Nothin' (Townes Van Zandt): At this point in the album, I was really longing for some noise, some edge, some Robert Plant flair. And "Nothin'" delivers with some nice electric guitar noise & Robert Plant on vocals. I love the way Alison Krauss's violin floats through the distortion in this song.

In the end, the only song I wasn't crazy about was Trampled Rose, and I'm willing to give that one some time.

Also, just to be picky, I found myself wishing there were a couple more Robert Plant moments. We get a taste at the end of Gone Gone Gone, and at the end of Plant's own song Please Read the Letter, but I could have done with a little bit more. But then, I can *always* do with a little more Robert Plant. Raising Sand is such a delicate, well-crafted album and I can imagine that they didn't want to overwhelm it with too much "signature" style.

Here's an interesting article from the New York Daily News about the project.

If you have a Rhapsody subscription (the best thing since Netflix), you can listen to the whole album for free (well, as part of the subscription anyway).

And there is an official website that is supposed to be going up this week. You can bet that I'll be checking it twice daily to see if it's ready.

How about you? Have you heard it? Did you like it? I'm dying to know what other people think about it.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Cowboy and Octopus: Jon Scieszka

As a huge Jon Scieszka fan, I've been waiting for Cowboy & Octopus to come out for months and it is finally here. As expected, it is completely strange and off the wall and absolutely hilarious.

The picture book is made up of several short vignettes (think in terms of the classic easy readers: Frog and Toad, George and Martha).

While every single page didn't make me belly laugh, there was a bit about a knock knock joke and a head of lettuce that sent me into uncontrollable Monkey Woman level wheezy laughter.

I also particularly like the bit where Octopus dresses up as the Tooth Fairy for Halloween.

I'm not going to go on and on because you should just check out the great review that Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast already wrote.

Also, you should definitely check out Jon Scieska Worldwide. There are all kinds of fun little treats there (try clicking on "Cheese Fez" at the top righthand corner for instance, and see what happens). Ah, creative genius!

Here's today's schedule for Blogging for a Cure
(I'll update the sidebar for this week later today, I promise.)

Friday, October 19, 2007

Grab Bag Friday: Crappiest Halloween Costume

Over at the San Francisco Chronicle's The Poop, they have been posting hilarious pictures of bizarre halloween costumes. This "crappiest halloween costume" cracked me up because I once went as an outhouse. Yes, my older sister was the house, and I was the outhouse. I thought it was really cool at the time & I got to carry toilet paper around. Sheesh. Other hits from The Poop: snack food costumes for infants, a car air-freshener, *have* to see this...the disturbing (but tasty?) Martha Stewart line (apparently, this is real).

Other memorable costumes (all homemade) that came through our house:
  • My sister wanted to be a box of Rice Crispies so we spent all day copying every piece of text from the actual cereal box (nutritional information, ingredients, and all) onto a giant cardboard box.
  • My brother went as The Karate Kid and at one point as we were all piling in the car, he got kicked in the head and got a bloody nose. We thought it was the about an authentic costume!
  • Or this one...apparently the year we chose to go really PC. You'll see my brother, the Indian, and my younger sisters, the Cowgirl and the Chinagirl (and yes, that is a lampshade on her head). And so of course, I offered to be the Statue of Liberty, leading them all to liberty and light. Good times, good times.
How about you? What is your most memorable Halloween costume? Post a comment below and let us know. I *love* these things.

Don't forget to check out all the Robert's Snow features this week (schedule is to the right). Some of the snowflakes this week are *really* beautiful!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

How to Compost: The Sort-of Sun-Mar 200 Review Part One

Remember this whole How to Compost for Home & Garden series? If you weren't hanging around Please Come Flying when I started it, here's the recap: my husband and I decided to try composting this summer for the first time. So, according to Fred Horch's rules of composting, we:
#1 Made it a priority
#2 Chose a system (the Sun-Mar 200 Garden Composter)
#3 Collected organic material (with a healthy mix of greens & browns)
#4 Mixed the materials
#5 Moistened the mixture (but not too much)

And then we hit #6: Wait. And wait we did. May. June. July. September. Is it *really* October?

So why didn't we get any compost, you may ask? Good question.

While I was waiting for results, I had some emails from other Sun-Mar composter-users who were also waiting for results. I also had some emails from people who were *thinking* about buying a Sun-Mar and wanted to know how it was going. Why were they asking me of all people? Because there are virtually no customer reviews out there for this composter. Even now, months later, I still can't find out what customers think of the Sun-Mar 200.

So I guess it's up to me. Before I get into the heart of the matter (the compost), let's have a review of the claims from the Sun-Mar brochure to see how they stand up (the purple bullets are from the Sun-Mar literature, my comments are in black).

Next week, in Part Two of this review, I will tackle the biggies: Continuous Compost, the Inner Drum, and Customer Service.

They claim:
  • Easy to feed: Material goes in through easy-access top ports. This is true. Sometimes the sliding door can get a little sticky. You just have to pull harder. And as the material accumulates and the composter gets heavier, you sometimes have to balance the barrel to keep it upright while dumping the garbage in. Otherwise, the extra weight you are adding can cause it to start rotating against your will. But after that happens once, you learn pretty quickly to brace the barrel with a hand or knee. Overall, it is very easy to feed.
  • Back-saving ball bearings mean easy turning. Again, true. The bigger models have handles to turn the barrel with. The 200 has what Sun-Mar calls "finger friendly slots" that you grip to spin the barrel. As it gets fuller, it definitely gets heavier (obviously), but so far, it's been easy enough to turn (and strength is not one of my best qualities).
  • Patented, double drum, Autoflow® design. See diagrams of the inside (This is one of the biggies...I'll get to this in Part Two of this review.)
  • Compost exits automatically as the drum rotates: Fresh compost comes out the bottom port, automatically, when done. Tool free, shovel free, fork free! Again, we'll talk about this later, but yes, so far it has been entirely tool free, shovel free, fork free!
  • Pest Proof. So far, so good. No critters have been able to penetrate it...not even the enterprising squirrel that has made a sweet little seed-stash in Kevin's outdoor grill. There are, of course, flies and gnats and all those lovely creatures, but they are working hard on making compost. They are also relatively contained to the *inside* of the composter.
  • Assembly in minutes (really!): Just snap the cradle on to the drum bearings and you’re ready to go. Yes. Simple. It has wheels that snap in easily and you can move it around the yard with no trouble at all.
So I've been pretty happy with it, I have to say. Simple, easy to use, no critters. What more could you ask for? So now there's just the pesky little problem of compost. Let's discuss next week, shall we?

In the meantime...anyone out there use a Sun-Mar this summer? How did it go? Leave a comment and let us all know.

Here is the complete How to Compost series in case you'd like to catch up or review:

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, October 17, 2007

Goin Home: Antonin Dvorak & William Arms Fisher

So if you can believe it, here we are at the final story behind American Songs volume 2: Goin Home.If you've missed the stories behind American Songs volume 2 in previous posts and would like to catch up, please use these links:

Story behind the song:
The melody for "Goin' Home" was written by the classical Czech composer Antonin Dvorak in 1893 as part of his Symphony no. 9: From the New World (a symphony loosely based on Longfellow's poem "Song of Hiawatha"). In the early 1890's, Dvorak was invited to teach for a four-year residency at the American Conservatory of Music in New York.

Dvorak was very interested in "peasant music" when he lived in Prague, and when he came to America, that interest transferred over to what he referred to as "negro melodies." His copy assistant Harry Burleigh (an African-American) played a large role in introducing him to these folk songs. Dvorak began to promote the controversial idea that African-American music would be the future of America. He incorporated these musical themes into his own music, and admitted talented African-American musicians into his classes free of charge.
Now this idea of Black music as the "future of America" was controversial in a number of ways. Some, as you would expect, felt he was tainting the fine art of classical music by incorporating such a "lowly" art form. Others felt that Dvorak's analysis wasn't authentic, but based solely on some of the popular affectations of "negro melodies" written by white men (like Stephen Foster, for example)...I found this interesting piece in a May 30, 1893 article in the South Carolina paper, "The State":
Had Dvorak, who is learned in music, been long in this country, he would know, as nearly everyone else knows, that none of the so called "negro melodies" is of negro origin..."The Swanee River," "Nellie Gray," "Massa's in the cold, cold, ground," and the other accepted melodies pertaining to Afro-Americanism are the creations of white men. Dr. Dvorak ought to spend a winter in Blake Township, Colleton County, or on Hilton Head Island. There he would hear genuine negro melodies. He can't hear them in the concert halls of the North.
Nevertheless, Dvorak's interest in African-American melodies (which did include spirituals like "Swing Low Sweet Chariot") affected many in the music world. One of his students, William Arms Fisher, took his message to heart and began collecting, arranging, and publishing hundreds of African-American spirituals. He also wrote words to the Largo movement of Symphony no. 9, which became known as "Goin' Home."

I chose "Goin' Home" for the last song of American Songs volume 2 because, despite the fact that it is not technically American music, but European, it was monumental in the way the world began to hear traditional American folk music. And thematically, all the songs on this new album have to do with traveling, moving, trying desperately to get to a place of hope, freedom, or love. How else could it possibly end?

Here is a very interesting article about Dvorak and the American landscape of the 1890's from University of Texas. (If you click on the gorgeous Bierstadt Indian Canoe oil painting, you can watch an analysis of "New World Symphony.")

Here's more on William Arms Fisher and his relationship with Dvorak. (Scroll down until you hit "Fisher.")
Here is a beautiful version of the 2nd movement played by the Dublin Philharmonic Orchestra:

(Click on the song title to listen to a sample):

Goin' Home, music by Antonin Dvorak, words by William Arms Fisher

Goin' home, goin' home,
I'm a-goin' home,
Quiet like some still day,
I'm jes' goin' home.

It's not far, jes' close by,
Through an open door,
Work all done, care laid by,
Gwine to fear no more.

Mother's there 'spectin' me,
Father's waitin' too,
Lot's o' folk gathered there,
All the friends I knew.

Home, home, I'm goin' home.
Nothin' lost, all's gain.
No more stumblin' on the way,
No more longin' for the day,
Gwine to roam no more.

Mornin' star lights the way,
Res'less dreams all done, all done,
Shadow's gone, break o' day,
Real life's jes' begun.

Dere's no break, ain't no end,
Jes' a-livin' on,
Wide awake with a smile,
Goin' on and on.

Goin' home, goin' home,
I'm jes goin' home,
It's not far, Jes' close by,
Through an open door,
I'm jes' goin home.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Robert's Snow for Cancer's Cure Starts Today!

Just a quick reminder that the illustrator profiles for Robert's Snow for Cancer's Cure start today! And we're starting out strong:

Flower by Grace Lin (featured by In the Pages)
Supportiveness by Randy Cecil (featured by ChatRabbit)
Murphy by Michelle Chang (featured by The Longstockings)
Snow Day by Barbara Lehman (featured by The Excelsior File)
The Lion and the Mouse by Kevin Hawkes (featured by Cynthia Lord)

Both Cynthia Lord (remember Rules?) and In the Pages are giving away some *great* prizes in conjunction with the profiles!

There will be illustrator profiles and featured snowflakes every day from now until the start of the auction on November 19th. Please scroll down the list on the right for a constantly updated schedule.

Rachel Carson: The Edge of the Sea

Today is Blog Action Day! Over 15,000 blogs all over the world are posting on topics that have something to do with the environment. So in honor of the day, I thought I'd draw your attention to one of my favorite nature books: Rachel Carson's The Edge of the Sea.

Scientist and ecologist Rachel Carson is famously the author of Silent Spring (a landmark book challenging the use of pesticides), and not-quite-so-famously the author of The Sense of Wonder (a short book about helping children develop a sense of wonder and appreciation for the natural world) which I have gushed about in the past.

The Edge of the Sea is a great read for anyone who likes to spend time mucking around in tide pools, or is curious about the strange creatures that live in them. The tidal area at the edge of the sea constantly shifting and moving...Ms. Carson tells us that the shoreline is not the exactly the same for any two consecutive days in a row!

Reading The Edge of the Sea, you will learn all kinds of interesting facts. Baby snails can be the size of a coffee grain. Starfish arms can break off and grow right back again. Limpets (cone-shaped snails) suction to the exact same "home" spot on a rock...every day during feeding time, they will be taken sometimes a mile or more away by the waves, but every day, each limpet returns to the exact same spot.

The interesting facts are one thing, and worth the read on their own. But the other thing that makes The Edge of the Sea so special is Rachel Carson's voice. She has a gift. She really did see the world with a very active "sense of wonder" and through her writing, she brings that world to us through her eyes. Eyes that can look at mucky, slimy seaweed a dozen times a day and still be amazed by the strange beauty of it:
It is a fantastic jungle, mad in a Lewis Carroll sort of way. For what proper jungle, twice every twenty-four hours, begins to sag lower and lower and finally lies prostrate for several hours only to rise again? Yet this is precisely what the rockweed jungles do. When the tide has retreated from the sloping rocks, when it has left the miniature seas of the tide pools, the rockweeds lie flat on the horizontal surfaces in layer above layer of sodden, rubbery fronds. From the sheer rock faces they hang down in a heavy curtain, holding the wetness of the sea, and nothing under their protective cover ever dries out.
If you've ever seen rockweed, during either high or low tide, you know the logistics of this to be true, but have you ever thought of it in quite that way? And if you haven't seen rockweed, didn't she just bring it alive in your imagination?

There is more information about Rachel Carson available at The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson and at the Rachel Carson Homestead (site for her birthplace and childhood home in Springdale, PA).

Here in Maine, you can visit the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge.

Linda Lear's book, Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature, is also a terrific read.

Happy Blog Action Day! Now go muck about in some tide pools if you can!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Grab Bag Friday: The GOOD Stuff

The new issue of GOOD magazine has an article on Father Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries. I remember seeing something on TV about the Homeboy Bakery a few years back, and I was glad to see that the organization is still growing and doing good in the world.

Father Greg Boyle is a Jesuit priest who has been working since the 1980's to help alleviate the gang problem in Los small task, to say the least. In 1992, Father Boyle founded Homeboy Industries/Jobs for the Future. The organization offers free services like:
  • Job Placement
  • Counseling
  • Transition help for those who have just been released from prison
  • Tattoo removal
Homeboy Industries also trains and employs former gang members in its bakery, cafe, silkscreening business, and maintenance business. You can even buy merchandise made by Homeboy Industries...t-shirts, caps, and mugs with one of Father Boyle's most quoted phrases:
"Nothing stops a bullet like a job."
It can take over a year and up to 10 painful treatments to remove a tattoo. And yet, according to the Homeboy Industries website, almost 100% of their patients stick to it and finish the treatments. Because it can often literally mean life or death to have certain gang symbols erased. It's important to know that there are organizations out there doing this kind of thing...the unglamorous, incremental, daily-grind kind of good that can make all the difference in the long run.

If you're in the LA area, there is a film screening of "Father G and the Homeboys" tonight!

Here's a story from NPR about last week's grand re-opening of Homeboy Bakery.

Here's a great 5 minute film about Homeboy Industries by

As for GOOD Magazine, this is my 2nd issue & I'm still making up my mind. It's *great* to see a magazine with articles like the one I mentioned above. Then again, they did also endorse the following absurd concept this month (check out the price). "Thanks, sheep." Well, it did make me laugh. :)

Every time you wear a wool sweater, it’s important to remember the sacrifice of some poor ovine fleece-donor, now shivering in the cold of early spring. Flocks—which offers a selection of wool cardigans and hats, each knit from the fleece of one individual sheep—helps connect you to the chain of supply by including a picture and short bio of the sheep that produced your sweater, so you can look at it and say “Thanks, sheep.” $475;

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

This Land Is Your Land: Woody Guthrie

This week, we move on to one of the most famous folk songs of all time: Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land."
I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world
and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter how hard it's run you down, and rolled you over, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built; I am out to sing the songs that will make you take pride in yourself and in your work. (Woody Guthrie)
If you've missed the stories behind American Songs volume 2 in previous posts and would like to catch up, please use these links:

Story behind the song:
Woody Guthrie is, of course, one of the most famous songwriters in the history of American folk music. He only lived to be 42, but in that span of time wrote 1400 songs, including that lasting anthem sung by children all over the world: "This Land Is Your Land."
In 1940, when Woody Guthrie wrote "This Land Is Your Land," one of the most popular songs on the radio was Kate Smith's version of "God Bless America." Woody heard "God Bless America" over and over and thought that it was far too idealistic. He had traveled all over the country and knew first hand the depths of poverty and sadness that existed in America. In response to the popular song, he wrote his own anthem that expressed not only deep awe and admiration of what America has to offer, but also honest doubts and questions, and in true Woody Guthrie style...a call to action!

If you are interested in Woody Guthrie's fascinating (and often quite sad) life, there are a lot of great resources:

Woody Guthrie on American Masters: This was a terrific program shown on PBS last year. On the website, you can watch additional footage and interviews with the filmmaker, Peter Frumkin (you need to download the free RealPlayer, though, if you don't already have it).

Woody Guthrie in the Museum of Musical Instruments: This is a *great* site. It takes you through various periods of Woody Guthrie's life, and as you scroll down the pages, you can click on images of his original artwork, cartoons, quotes. If you scroll down the main page, you'll even see the original, scribbled lyrics of "This Land Is Your Land" (click on it to enlarge the image, and you'll see it was originally titled "God Blessed America").

Woody Guthrie Official Website: This site has a massive lyrics index and a more in-depth biography, as well as some curriculum ideas for teachers who want to teach about Woody Guthrie in grades K-12.
I also highly recommend Kathy Jakobsen's beautifully illustrated children's book, This Land Is Your Land. The illustrations are gorgeous and depict not only beautiful coastlines and rolling fields, but soup kitchens and homeless families and city streets that *also* make up the fabric of our country. There are Woody Guthrie quotes throughout the book, and Pete Seeger wrote a terrific tribute for the final pages. I really think Woody Guthrie would have been proud of this book, and every family would benefit from having a copy. (Now how's that for a ringing endorsement?)

Here's a YouTube video of some rare Woody Guthrie footage and his own version of the song:

Lyrics (Click on the title to listen to a sample):

This Land Is Your Land by Woody Guthrie

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York island
From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me

As I was walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway
I saw below me that golden valley
This land was made for you and me

I've roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
And all around me a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting
This land was made for you and me

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing"
But on the other side it didn't say nothing
That side was made for you and me

In the streets of the city, in the shadow of the steeple
By the relief office I seen my people
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me
As I go walking that freedom highway
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me

Monday, October 8, 2007

Robert's Snow: Visiting the Snowflake Exhibit

Yesterday, Kevin and I were lucky enough to view the Robert's Snow exhibit at Child at Heart Gallery in Newburyport, MA. We weren't able to get down on Saturday for the Open House, but thanks to Elaine Magliaro over at Wild Rose Reader, you can view some pictures (here's a great one of Grace Lin looking at all the snowflakes with a *big* smile on her face.)

Penny Geis also posted a great bunch of photos of the Child at Heart Gallery's Open House and the snowflakes. (Thanks again to Elaine M. for the link!)

Kevin & I were on our way down to Boston and made the stopover in Newburyport around noon. Inn Street was bustling...a quaint pedestrian street with small boutiques (and a candy shop that smelled *insanely* delicious).

Child at Heart Gallery was *worth* the stop. The tiny space is filled with prints and original artwork from illustrators like Maurice Sendak, Cicely Mary Barker, David McPhail, and a number of this year's Robert's Snow artists like Matt Tavares, Grace Lin, and Ruth Sanderson. Kevin and I picked up a couple gorgeous Michael McCurdy woodcut prints paired with Thoreau quotes. Owners Paul & Mary McDonough were so kind and took the time to show us various pieces and tell us stories about Maurice Sendak's agent (whose other passion is apparently Chinese propaganda) and Michael McCurdy's work (now I have to pick up The Man Who Planted Trees).

And the snowflakes! They're absolutely stunning. So much better in person (and I thought they were pretty cool online!) They cover one section of the wall, and some are also hanging in the window. I could have spent hours looking them over. It's amazing to me how *different* each one both approach (paint, texture, some are even three-dimensional) and theme (pirates, santa, snow, palm trees, dogs, beavers, you name it!)

Paul McDonough told me that over the past two years, Robert's Snow has raised over $200,000 for cancer research. Looking at all the work that the illustrators have put into their snowflakes this year, I felt really proud to have even a small part to play in this event.

For those of you who are in the Boston area, I definitely recommend a visit to one of the snowflake gallery showings.

For those who are further afield, here are some favorites from the exhibit (sorry...I'm unable to link to each individual snowflake...when you click on each snowflake below, it will take you to the list of all snowflakes being auctioned that week...scroll down or search to find the ones I've listed):

John Hassett: "Geographic Compromise"
Carol Schwartz: "Penguins"
(Fellow Mainer) Jeannie Brett:"Race for a Cure"
Julie Paschkis: "Winter Birds"
Matt Phelen: "She Never Misses"
Alissa Imre Geis: "Hope in Winter"

View all 2007 Robert's Snow snowflakes.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Grab Bag Friday: Good People Doing Good Things

My mother and I had a long conversation the other night about the under-rated importance of two things:
  1. Being thankful
  2. Laughter
It's true. Without those two things, I honestly think my life would be drastically different. I decided I'm going to try to dedicate a couple Grab Bag Friday posts every month to those themes.

So. In the spirit of being thankful for good people in the world (see Monkey Woman from last week if you're more in the spirit of laughter mood...ah, that *still* cracks me up), I thought I'd draw your attention to these two stories that really made me smile this week (and I promise, they're not super sappy...just good stories about good people doing good things):

Bill Childs from Spare the Rock Spoil the Child wrote a post about some teeny tiny mittens and an unexpected act of generosity and kindness from a stranger.

Amy Schimler (one of the illustrators who is contributing artwork to this year's Robert's Snow auction) wrote a very sweet tribute to her friend Vi that shows how a kind word can really make a difference in someone's day.

If you have a good people/good things story, feel free to post a comment & share it with the rest of us!

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Long Track Blues (Sterling A. Brown)

Continuing the series of "stories behind the songs" from my new album, American Songs volume 2, we reach one of my favorite poets: Sterling A. Brown.

If you've missed the stories behind the songs in previous posts and would like to catch up, please use these links:

Story behind the song:
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you have certainly noticed the name Sterling Brown once or twice before. Sterling A. Brown was born in Washington D.C. in 1901 and died in 1989. He continues to be one of the most influential African-American Poets of all time.

What I love about Sterling Brown's poetry is his sense of rhythm and cadence. He wrote a lot about jazz and blues, and those two musical forms obviously had a great influence on the sound of his poetry...the poems almost sound like they are *meant* to be sung. So Anthony, Carter, and I got together and decided to put "Long Track Blues" to music. Carter did an amazing job with the guitar work...he captured the gutwrenching melancholy perfectly, and it even sometimes sounds like you can hear a train off in the distance.

I love the first and last stanza of "Long Track Blues." The speaker, hanging around the train tracks, longing for the one who left, does the only thing there is to a blessing: "Lordy, let your green light/Shine down on that babe of mine."

You can hear Sterling Brown read 3 of his poems, including one of my favorites, Southern Road, at the Academy of American Poets website.

A few years ago, Smithsonian Folkways came out with a CD of Sterling Brown reading his own work, including Long Track Blues and another of my favorites, Ma Rainey. If you have a subscription to Rhapsody (which I *love*) you can listen to the whole album here.

Here's a link to the Collected Poems of Sterling A. Brown, edited by Michael S. Harper.

Here's a nice tribute written by Sterling Brown's colleague, E. Ethelbert Miller.

Here's an in-depth article from the African American Review about Sterling Brown. Joanne Gabbin, the author, says this about the poet:
His is the voice of the poet that captures the blues moan of lost and long-gone loves, the chant of saints who pray to be in the number, the tragicomic cry in the face of injustice and violence, and the jubilee songs of endurance and perseverance.
Lyrics (Click on the title to listen to a sample):

Long Track Blues (Sterling A. Brown)

Went down to the yards
To see the signal lights come on;
Looked down the track
Where my lovin' babe done gone.

Red light in my block,
Green light down the line;
Lawdy, let yo' green light
Shine down on that babe o' mine.

Heard a train callin'
Blowin' long ways down the track;
Ain't no train due here,
Baby what can you bring back?

Brakeman tell me
Got a powerful ways to go;
He don't know my feelins
Baby, when he's talkin' so.

Lanterns a-swingin',
An' a long freight leaves the yard;
Leaves me here, baby,
But my heart it rides de rod.

Sparks a flyin',
Wheels rumblin' wid a mighty roar;
Then the red tail light,
And the place gets dark once more.

Dog in the freight room
Howlin' like he los' his mind;
Might howl myself,
If I was the howlin' kind.

Norfolk and Western,
Baby, and the C. & O.;
How come they treat
A hardluck feller so?

Red light in my block,
Green light down the line;
Lawdy, let yo' green light
Shine down on that babe o' mine.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Robert's Snow for Cancer's Cure Gallery Showing

I mentioned a couple Fridays ago that I'll be taking part in the multi-blog promotion of this year's Robert's Snow auction. Robert's Snow is a terrific fund-raiser for cancer research--children's book artists from around the globe have created one-of-a-kind snowflakes to be auctioned off in the months of November and December.

If you are in the Boston area, you can actually visit the Robert's Snow snowflakes in person before they are auctioned off! There will be gallery showings at:

Child at Heart Gallery
Newburyport, MA
October 3-22

Danforth Museum of Art
Framingham, MA
November 4-December 22

If you are not in the Boston area, but still want to see the snowflakes, you can view many of them online. Not all of the illustrators have finished their snowflakes, but many of the ones that are finished have been posted on the Dana Farber website.

I'm so excited to be a part of this effort. I will be posting profiles and interviews with 5 artists...I've already heard back from all of them, and they are terrific, thoughtful, talented people. If you're the kind of person who likes to look ahead, here is my interview/posting schedule for Robert's Snow:
Read the story behind Robert's Snow.

Again, thanks go to Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast for organizing the blogger promotion effort. What a lot of work! Thanks Jules & Eisha!