Friday, September 28, 2007

Grab Bag Friday: Monkey Woman

Ok, I admit it. It's true. My friend Reba caught me laughing until I could hardly breathe over this DVD that I rented from Netflix. What can I say? The hi-jinks are hilarious. The first half of the DVD is *much* funnier than the second half, but like any Candid Camera episode, all you need is one good belly laugh out of the hour to make it worth it.

There was a *great* bit on the DVD with Woody Allen dictating a very unprofessional letter to an unwitting secretary (apparently when he first started out, Woody Allen wrote for Candid Camera--who knew?), but I can't find it anywhere online to post here. So here's another funny one. I love this guy's reaction!

Am I the only one who is reduced to wheezes and tears by this show? My husband thinks I'm nuts!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Gum Tree Canoe: S. S. Steele, 1847

Carter taught me this next song from American Songs volume 2, and it is quickly becoming one of my favorite traditional songs.

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:
Carter Little sent me this song back in April, and I immediately fell in love with it. It's a song about two slaves who work in the cotton fields near the Tombigbee river, which flows from Mississippi to the Alabama River. In the evenings, to forget the hardships of the day, they go out for a row in their canoe, and one day, they decide to keep going and never come back.

It's a very beautiful and exciting song about emancipation and hope. I love the way the words "true" and "blue" are constantly repeated throughout the song. Both words hold such promise...of open skies and freedom, and the hope that devotion, perseverance, and holding to what is true will eventually set you free.

The song was written in 1847 by S. S. Steele, and you can actually view the original sheet music at Music for the Nation (very cool). Originally, the song was sung in dialect and from a male perspective. Hopefully not too sacreligiously, I changed the true love's name from Julia to Joseph, and sang the song from a female perspective.

(the way I sing them...visit Digital Tradition for the original lyrics in dialect and further notes on the song) Click on the title to listen to a sample
Gum Tree Canoe: S. S. Steele, 1847

On the Tombigbee River so bright I was born
In a hut made of husks of the tall yellow corn
It was there I first met with my Joseph so true
And he'd row me around in his gum tree canoe

Sing row away row o'er the water so blue
Like a feather we'll float in our gum tree canoe

All day in the field the soft cotton I'd hoe
I'd think of my Joseph and sing as I go
I'll catch him a bird with a wing of true blue
And at night we will row in our gum tree canoe

Sing row away row o'er the water so blue
Like a feather we'll float in our gum tree canoe

With my hands on the banjo and toe on the oar
I sing to the sound of the river's soft roar
While the stars they look down on my Joseph so true
And dance in his eye in our gum tree canoe

Sing row away row o'er the water so blue
Like a feather we'll float in our gum tree canoe

One day the old river took us so far away
That we couldn't get back, so we thought we'd just stay
We spied a tall ship with a flag of true blue
And she took us in tow in our gum tree canoe

Sing row away row o'er the water so blue
Like a feather we'll float in our gum tree canoe

Monday, September 24, 2007

Chris Van Allsburg: The Sweetest Fig

Since I've been on a Chris Van Allsburg kick lately, I thought I might as well feature my very favorite Chris Van Allsburg book.

Of course I love The Polar Express and Jumanji and all the other stunning, breathtaking books that Mr. Van Allsburg has created. And people may think I'm crazy to even name a favorite (and especially a favorite that is not The Polar Express). But The Sweetest Fig is so charming and funny and surprising, I just can't help it.

The story takes place in Paris and begins in the office of Monsieur Bibot, a very unsympathetic, unkind dentist. An old woman comes in with a toothache, and after Bibot extracts the offending tooth, she explains that she does not have any money. All she can offer are 3 magic figs that will make his dreams come true. Angrily, Monsieur Bibot sends her out of the office, refusing to give her any medication for the pain.

I won't spoil the charm of the story, but, as you can imagine, the figs really *do* make his dreams come true, and the ending is a real zinger! Almost every child I've read this book to has asked to read it again immediately after the book has been closed.

Definitely grab this one from the library or your local bookstore. You can find used copies on Amazon for about 3-5 dollars. (And of course, if you have budding young writers in your midst, you should encourage them to try their hand at Chris Van Allsburg's Mysteries of Harris Burdick Story Writing Contest.)

Friday, September 21, 2007

Grab Bag Friday: Robert's Snow

Every year since 2004, the Dana Farber Institute has held an auction called Robert's Snow: for Cancer's Cure. This is no ordinary auction.

Here's the story:

Robert's Snow is a children's story about a mouse not allowed in the snow. Children's book illustrator Grace Lin wrote the book, which was inspired by her husband Robert's battle with Ewing's sarcoma. After the book was published, Grace gathered artists from all over the children's book illustrating community to create special snowflakes to be auctioned off, with the proceeds benefiting sarcoma research at Dana-Farber. These snowflake auctions became known as the event "Robert's Snow."
Sadly, last month, Grace Lin's husband Robert passed away. In his honor, and to fight for a cure to cancer, over 150 artists have committed to creating snowflakes for the auction this year.

Here's where you and I come in:

Eisha and Jules, over at the great kidlit blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast have taken it upon themselves to coordinate a massive blogger effort to help promote and drive traffic to this year's Robert's Snow auction. In October and November, more than 60 bloggers from far and wide will be profiling illustrators who have snowflakes up for auction.

Here at Please Come Flying, I have agreed to feature five illustrators and their snowflakes (I've seen some of them and they are beautiful), and given my particular penchant for good children's books, you can imagine how happy I am to be a part of this effort!

More news will come soon, but get ready...I'm going to ask you to send these profiles to as many people as you can possibly think of. Let's see how much of a difference we can make when we work together!

(If you're a blogger and want to help spread the word, please visit Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast and contact Jules...she's great!)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Evangeline: Josephine Cameron & Anthony Walton

Continuing the series of posts about songs from American Songs volume 2, we come to one of my favorite stories: Evangeline.

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:
To begin at the beginning, "Evangeline" is an epic poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1847. It's a beautiful story about two young star-crossed lovers, Evangeline and Gabriel, which has reached mythic proportions in America. You can find accounts in various parts of the country of the "actual" gravesites and homes of Evangeline and Gabriel. People have gone on journeys, tracing their paths, trying to recreate their travels. In reality, Longfellow did not base his poem on any actual historical figures. Evangeline and Gabriel are fictional, but the story and the places are very real.

In the mid 1700's, the conflict between the British and French (Acadian) settlers in Nova Scotia came to a critical point. The British government began to force Acadians out of Nova Scotia by the thousands and shipped many of them off to the American Colonies. In Longfellow's poem, Evangeline and Gabriel are just about to get married when the soldiers come, and in the chaos, Gabriel gets shipped to Louisiana while Evangeline remains in what is now Maine. They spend the rest of their lives trying to find each other.

I love the first stanza of the poem's introduction, where Longfellow describes Acadia after the exiles:

THIS is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.
Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean
Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.
This is the forest primeval; but where are the hearts that beneath it
Leaped like the roe, when he hears in the woodland the voice of the huntsman?
Where is the thatch-roofed village, the home of Acadian farmers --

You can read the entire poem at University of Virginia's website.
You can also download it for free from Google Books.

Here's an interesting page about the importance of "Evangeline" in Creole culture in Louisiana.

So my friend and co-writer Anthony loves this story and we decided to try to write a song that captures the essence of it. And since the story is such a part of the American folk tradition, our very own American myth, I decided to include the song on American Songs volume 2. I hope you'll enjoy it!

Lyrics (Click on the title to listen to a sample)Evangeline by Josephine Cameron & Anthony Walton

We were young, beauty and grace untold
And my Gabriel, I would have and hold
But skies were gray on our wedding day
And our joy cut short when the soldiers came

He cried, "Evangeline, Evangeline"
And now I'm running through a nightmare with a dream
I know I'll never find him
But sure, I've got to try
'Cause I'll never, never say goodbye

Up and down the old Mississippi shore
For my Gabriel, I searched ever more
Louisiana all the way to Michigan
I could hardly breathe for the hurt of missing him

He cried, "Evangeline, Evangeline"
And now I'm running through a nightmare with a dream
I know I'll never find him
But sure, I've got to try
'Cause I'll never, never say goodbye

And then one day, when I was old and gray
A dying man called out my name
I knew at once it was my Gabriel
I embraced my love, and then he left this world

He said, "Evangeline, Evangeline"
And I'm still running through this nightmare with a dream
I knew I'd never find him
But sure, I had to try
'Cause I'll never, never say goodbye

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Jumping Monkeys!

Thanks so much to Bill Childs (from the must-hear family music show Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child) for the mention in his interview on Jumping Monkeys this weekend. So cool to find myself on the same list as They Might Be Giants, Elizabeth Mitchell, Frances England, and Dan Zanes!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Away From Her: Sarah Polley, Alice Munro

So I finally got around to seeing Away From Her, Sarah Polley's film adaptation of Alice Munro's story The Bear Came Over the Mountain, and I just wanted to give you the update.

The short of it is I think Sarah Polley, in her directorial debut, did a great job with the film. The morning after I watched Away From Her, I poured myself a cup of tea and re-read The Bear Came Over the Mountain, just to see how they compared. The slowly unfolding, quiet power of the story definitely exists in the movie. There are moments in the film where Polley uses Alice Munro's phrasing and descriptions (word for word) in her character's speech. Some of the storyline has been expanded and elaborated on for the film, but not too much, and not in a way that seems overbearing or contrived. For instance, the character of the nurse has been split into two characters for the film, which I think actually works quite well and allows us to both hate the system (the hospital administrator) and appreciate the care and concern of individuals (the nurse). Visually, the movie is stunning.

So all in all, I would definitely recommend Away From Her, but be warned: I started crying about 28 minutes in. This is a movie about a couple dealing with Alzheimer's, and it's heartbreaking. Still, somehow, it gives you a sense that even with all our flaws and small and large mistakes, and even with all the unexpected complications life throws our way, love really can endure and carry on, even if imperfectly.

Did you see it? What did you think?

Here are some links to interviews with Sarah Polley and Alice Munro, and reviews of Away From Her.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Grab Bag Friday: Wodehouse and the Berlin Broadcasts

After writing about Leave it to Psmith on Monday, I read something interesting that is apparently common knowledge to Wodehouse fans, but news to me. P.G. Wodehouse was held for nearly a year in a German internment camp during World War II, and shortly after began a series of humorous radio broadcasts from Berlin about his time in the camp. Here's a nice taste:

"Young men, starting out in life, have often asked me 'How can I become an Internee?' Well, there are several methods. My own was to buy a villa in Le Touquet on the coast of France and stay there till the Germans came along. This is probably the best and simplest system. You buy the villa and the Germans do the rest."
Well, the broadcasts were met with intense criticism from the English who felt that Wodehouse was betraying his country and sympathizing with the Nazis by broadcasting for the Germans. Harsh rumors about the author and the broadcasts flew wildly (you can read more about the various truths and fictions in this article from the Journal of Historical Review). In truth, post-war investigations claimed that the broadcasts and Wodehouse were innocent. Wodehouse himself gave this statement:
"I see now, of course, that I was tricked into making these talks, and I naturally feel a damned fool, but I hope I have made it clear that there was never anything in the nature of a bargain with the Germans. I was released before there was any suggestion of a broadcast, and there was never any idea that my freedom was dependant on my broadcasting"
The most interesting thing is that you don't have to take his word for it, or the word of the investigators, or the English critics, for that matter. You can read the entire text of the broadcasts online. P.G. Wodehouse Books has posted both the entirety of Wodehouse's explanation of the broadcasts and (at the bottom of the page) the transcriptions of all five broadcasts. It's a very interesting (and of course, being Wodehouse, light, humorous, and flippant) read.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Goin' to the West: Traditional

For the next few weeks, I'll tell you a little bit about the rest of the songs that I chose for my new album, American Songs vol. 2, and I might as well begin at the beginning...

(If you haven't already, please check out posts and free downloads of Oh Susanna, Unclouded Day, and Oh Sister.)

Story behind the song: Carter Little taught me "Goin' to the West" 10 years ago when we were in college, and it seemed like a perfect place to begin our first album together.

The song was composed sometime around 1880 when people were migrating in mass numbers across the country to new land in places like Texas and California. When I was a kid, I used to try to imagine what it would be like, traveling for weeks and months across the plains in a covered wagon. The exhilaration and excitement of the open road and new beginnings. And also the overwhelming exhaustion and fear.

I can only imagine that the story in "Goin' to the West" must have replayed over and over again in the 1800's. Originally sung from the male perspective, it is the story of a man whose wife has refused to go West. She is bound and determined to stay put, safe and sound "in the land you love." And he, in the traditional American way, has that deep longing, that intense need to keep going, keep searching for a better land, a better life.

If you listen to a lot of traditional music, you might know versions by the legendary Bill Staines, Peggy Seeger, and/or Jody Stecher & Kate Brislin.

Lyrics (Click on the title to listen to a sample):
Goin' to the West (traditional)

In this fair land I'll stay no more
Here labor is in vain
I'll leave the mountains of my youth
And seek the fertile plains
I'm going to the West

You say you will not go with me
You turn your eyes away
You say you will not follow me
No matter what I say
I'm going to the West
I'm going to the West

Three years have gone since we first met
Since I became your bride
Now I must journey far away
Without you by my side
I'm going to the West

I'll leave you here in this land you love
Met, seen, so bright and fair
Where fragrant flowers are bloomin'
And music fills the air
I'm going to the West

Thanks to The Mudcat Cafe, an amazing online resource for traditional folk music.

Monday, September 10, 2007

P. G. Wodehouse: Leave It To Psmith

Whenever I'm in the mood to get lost in some light, rainy day reading that will guarantee a good chuckle, I invariably ask Kevin the same longing question:

Don't you have any more Wodehouse?

A couple years ago, a friend gave Kevin a small stash of novels by the British humorist P.G. Wodehouse (1881-1975), and we've been hooked ever since.

A Wodehouse novel is nearly always guaranteed to deliver at least three of my four favorite comedic elements:
  1. Mistaken Identities
  2. Stowaways
  3. Hair-brained schemes
  4. High physical comedy (soot in the face)
Wodehouse is a genius at these four elements, and luckily for me this weekend, Kevin had picked up a Wodehouse novel at a used bookstore recently. Leave It To Psmith did not disappoint. Let me see...there were at least four characters with mistaken identities, an absolutely hair-brained scheme to steal Aunt Constance's diamond necklace so that her husband could buy her a new one and sell the old so he could have some spending money of his own (and of course far too many people get involved for it to ever go smoothly), and yes, lots of soot in the face and throwing of flowerpots. There wasn't a stowaway in the traditional sense, but the main character, Psmith, arrives at Blandings Castle under such false pretenses that if we stretch the term a little, this book gets a perfect four.

Happily for me, P.G. Wodehouse was incredibly prolific and wrote something like 90 novels and collections of short stories. So by the time I work my way through the complete library, I will have forgotten the ones I started with and can begin fresh!

There are actually a few P.G. Wodehouse novels and short stories available to read online at The Free Library and Classic Reader (none of which I have read yet!) I simply can't read this stuff online, though. Somehow the charm of bumbling aristocrats, witty banter, and the lush gardens of Blandings Castle gets lost when I'm staring at a computer screen. I might try printing one out (but by that time, I may have spent enough on toner to just go out and buy the book).

For more information about Wodehouse (and there's a lot out there):
The Wallingford Library Blog
P.G. Wodehouse Books

Friday, September 7, 2007

Grab Bag Friday: Nelly's Mexican Fudge

I fully realize that I should wait until Christmas or at least Thanksgiving to post a recipe like this, but I won't apologize. There has been a morning chill in the air all week here in Maine, and temperatures have dropped below the melting point, so I think it's high time we moved on from popsicles and watermelon into something a little more decadent.

A visiting Latin American Studies professor gave me this simple recipe, and I think you'll agree that her years of studying the culture truly paid off. Yum!

Nelly's Mexican Fudge

18 oz. chocolate chips
1 can sweetened condensed milk
splash of coffee
"good dash" of cinnamon and vanilla

1. Melt.
2. Line pan with waxed paper.
3. Pour mixture into pan.
4. Chill

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

American Songs 2 on!

Woohoo! My new CD, American Songs volume 2 will be shipping in the next few days, and you can now order it on!

If you've missed the free preview tracks, you can still download them and read about the stories behind the songs:

In a couple weeks, American Songs vol. 2 will be available at (with a multiple copy discount of $6.99/CD if you buy more than one!) It will take a month or so for the album to be uploaded to iTunes and Rhapsody and all the other online stores, but I'll keep you posted as soon as that happens. If you would like to order the CD from me directly (by mail order), please follow the directions on my website.

Over the next month or so, I'll be posting the lyrics, history, and stories behind other traditional songs on the album, including some of my favorites:
  • Goin' to the West
  • Gum Tree Canoe
  • This Land Is Your Land
This album was *so* fun to make...I hope you'll enjoy the songs!

Monday, September 3, 2007

James Wright: A Blessing

My husband and I took a twilight drive yesterday and passed a quiet field with two horses. It reminded me of this poem I love by James Wright. The last three lines are some of my favorite lines in the whole realm of poetry. Happy Labor Day!

A Blessing
by James Wright

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.