Monday, December 22, 2008

Favorite Holiday Books & Music

Gift photo by Thomas Hawk

If you're frantically wracking your brain for those last-minute gifts, I've compiled a round-up of the holiday books & music I've written about in the past. Don't forget to check out the Alternative Gifts posts, too!



Other Lists Worth Visiting:

Friday, December 19, 2008

Grab Bag Friday Movie Vault: Elf

Over the last few years, Elf has slowly made its way onto my list of favorite Christmas movies. It's that perfect blend of fish-out-of-water, mistaken identity, and slapstick humor that I love in a comedy.

If you haven't seen it (and you *should*), Will Ferrell plays Buddy, a human who has been adopted and raised by Santa and his elves. When he leaves the North Pole for the first time to look for his birth father...well, I'll just say that hilarity ensues!

Here are three of my favorite clips for your Friday enjoyment:

Buddy arrives in New York City:

Buddy gets a job at a department store "North Pole":

Buddy meets the department store's "Santa":

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas with Etta Jones

Last night, I was up until *midnight* wrapping up all the presents that need to be shipped off to Wisconsin by Christmas. (You should know, midnight is insane for me...probably the equivalent of 2am for most people!) It could have been one of those frantic nights of tearing through the house looking for scissors and wrapping paper, slapping on bows and rushing around. Thankfully, it wasn't.

Mainly, because I put on Christmas with Etta Jones, which I just discovered two years ago. Despite the cheesy, old-school cover, it is one of the most soulful, soothing Christmas albums you can find. Because I'm too sleepy to wax on, here are samples of all the songs, so you can hear for yourself:

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Local Level: Feeding America

Maine author, Cynthia Lord, wrote a blog post today about the problem of childhood hunger in America. She quotes this statistic: There are 35 million Americans who don't know where their next meal is coming from.

Many of those people are children. Think about trying to go to school (or even *care* about school) on an empty stomach, knowing that the fish sticks and lima beans at your cafeteria lunch may be your only meal of the day. And that's if you're lucky enough to *have* school lunch in your school!

So is there anything we can do to help? Yes! While we're holiday shopping and baking and spreading the love among our families and friends, we can take just a moment to spread the love a little farther.

Cynthia gave a link to Feeding America, and on their website you can find all kinds of ways to help alleviate hunger on the local and the national level. On their Take Action page, you can:

  • Look up your local food bank by zip code so you can donate food or supplies
  • Donate cash (right now, every dollar you donate will be matched by Kraft Foods)
  • Host a food drive
  • Search for volunteer opportunities in your community (this search will work great if you live in or near a might have to do a little more local research if you're in a rural area)
  • Spread the word! Send a letter, tell a friend, tell 10 friends! The more awareness we raise, the more action people will take.
Please take some time to check out other ways you can help out on The Local Level during the holidays. Then, think about taking some time to volunteer, donate, and spread the word throughout the year!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Robert Frost: Birches

Photos by looseends and var resa.

This is what it looked like outside our house this weekend. Even each individual blade of grass on our lawn was coated in ice. Yesterday, there was the constant clink of ice falling from branches.

Ice storms are so musical and gorgeous that it's hard to reconcile how devastating they can be. Thankfully, we only lost power for about 12 hours and had no real storm damage other than a few downed branches, but there are still plenty of people around who *still* don't have power.

Ice storms like these always remind me of Robert Frost, who described them perfectly:

By Robert Frost

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay.
Ice-storms do that. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust--
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
(Now am I free to be poetical?)
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows--
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father's trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Alternative Gifts: Water for Christmas

My friend Kate is a fabulous dancer/choreographer who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She recently sent me Dancing for Water, a site where people are posting dances to promote the Charity: Water program, Water 4 Christmas. I hope you will consider joining the Water 4 Christmas cause:

We are people. Moms, Dads, Sons, Daughters. United by the desire to keep our eyes and hearts open. To increasingly live for things bigger than ourselves. So this Christmas season, we’re going to give up something. Big somethings. Little somethings. Going without so the people in Liberian villages can have access to clean water. The Moms, Dads, Sons, Daughters.

Statistics show that Americans spend 450 billion dollars on Christmas every year. Experts estimate it would cost 10 billion dollars to give the whole world clean water. This has become a national campaign to see if we can change these statistics. To swing the pendulum from consumerism to compassion.

To see what happens when we come together and buy Water for Christmas.
I'll admit that I spent a good hour on Dancing for Water. There's a fun performance of "Mama Gooneybird" by an Iowa family that I dare you not to smile at. There's a tearjerker by Frank & Terre in Davenport, Iowa who dance to "Do You Love Me?" from Fiddler on the Roof. There's a goofy St. Paul couple and their golden retriever dancing in their Halloween costumes to "Tequila!" (the "other" water?)

I *loved* this one, though:
Dan the Man Bettendorf, IA

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Odetta dies at 77

Last week, my friend John sent me an email to let me know that we lost one of the greatest Civil Rights activists and folk singers of all time.

Odetta's first album, Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues, came out in 1956, and for the last 52 years she has used folk music to inspire, motivate, and move people all over the globe for the cause of justice.

I love this quote from the interview below. Odetta is asked what role folk music played in the Civil Rights Movement, and for me, her answer perfectly sums up the power of her music:

"It was music from those who went before. The music gave them strength, and the music gave us strength to carry it on."
Here is a link to the New York Times obituary.

Here is a link to a 2005 interview with Odetta on NPR.

This is a brief clip of Odetta at the Newport Folk Festival in the 1960s.

And this is Odetta singing Keep On Moving It On in her 70s, looking frail, but her voice is just as strong as ever!

Here is Odetta talking about her life as an activist:

Monday, December 8, 2008

Jeanne Birdsall: The Penderwicks

I grew up reading my mother's favorite series': The Bobbsey Twins, The Boxcar Children, and Eleanor Estes' lovable Moffats. There was something endlessly enjoyable about these simple, episodic stories that always involved a gaggle of siblings getting in and out of scrapes. Since I had a gaggle of five siblings myself, I could relate. I fancied myself the Middle Moffat and dreamed of having a boxcar in my backyard.

In recent years, there have been some fantastic tips-of-the-hat to this old format. Lois Lowry's hilarious parody The Willoughby's skewers more than one of my old favorites ("Shouldn't we be orphans?" says Timothy), and Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events gives the convention a wry, dark twist.

But Jeanne Birdsall's The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy is a true throw-back. Nostalgic, witty, and a joy to read, it has none of the wry satire of Lowry or Snicket, but it's just as lovable in its own purist way. In the first book of the series, the four Penderwick siblings and their loyal dog Hound go on a three week summer holiday with their father (they are not orphans, but have lost their mother). They get in and out of hilarious and breath-taking scrapes involving an angry bull, a lost rabbit, and the terribly mean and snobbish Mrs. Tifton.

Of course there is a love interest for oldest daughter Rosalind, and of course Skye is a tomboy, Jane is a dreamer, and Batty is the most lovable little girl you ever saw in a pair of wings. But the story is so charming that the conventions work and draw you along, and you find yourself gripping the book and think-shouting "Run, Batty, run!" when that angry bull comes along.

If you are looking for a book for the 8-12 year old set, or a nighttime read-aloud for a gaggle of siblings, you simply cannot go wrong with The Penderwicks.

The Penderwicks deservingly won the 2005 National Book Award.

You can see all of Jeanne Birdsall's pets (including Stanley the snail) here.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Alternative Gifts: My New Favorite Gift Card

There are some people who are impossible to buy for. The ones who already have everything under the sun, or who are so picky that even a basic black sweater makes them go "Ohhh, nice," and immediately look for the gift receipt (I admit to having this particular tendency now and again).

For these people, God created gift cards. And every year, zillions of those plastic gift cards from stores like Borders, Amazon, Best Buy, and iTunes fly off the shelves (or the net) and into stockings.

But don't you ever get tired of these gift cards? Don't you wish you could give a gift card that made a real difference in the world? A gift card for water in Africa, or a gift card for child immunizations? Sure, you can always give a donation to a worthy organization in the recipient's name, but what if your Aunt Martha isn't a Heifer Project kind of gal? What if she's always secretly dreamed of giving a micro-loan to a single woman starting her own business in Central America?

I recently came across the GlobalGiving gift cards, and they are now my favorite gift card around. You buy the card, and the recipient can go online and allocate the money to the charity or charities of their choice. I like that you can send the gift cards via email *or* choose a pretty (and biodegradable!) physical card with a nice sleeve (free shipping on cards until Dec. 31).

For kids, there's a card called MarkMakers (still my favorite kids' gift around) that's essentially the same concept, but the website is more fun.

Click here to view more Alternative Gifts posts.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Emmylou Harris & Dave Matthews: My Antonia

A friend of mine lent me My Antonia by Willa Cather to read over the Thanksgiving holiday. As always, my vacation reading list was overly ambitious (I usually bring 5-6 books and end up reading two), and the book is sitting patiently on my dresser waiting its post-vacation turn.

But the result of having Willa Cather in my possession for the last 10 days is that every single day I have found myself inadvertently humming, whistling, or singing the gorgeous Emmylou Harris song of the same name.

So I simply had to post this video of Emmylou Harris and Dave Matthews singing My Antonia:

Monday, December 1, 2008

Marilynne Robinson: Home

I had the pleasure of reading Marilynne Robinson's new book, Home, over the Thanksgiving holiday. We were visiting Kevin's family, and I appreciated being able to read this book in his childhood home with smells of turkey and gingerbread hovering in the air. Because this is a book about family and prodigal sons, and that concept we can't help but gloss over and fret about, blow out of proportion and take for granted: home.

"I just never knew another child who didn’t feel at home in the house where he was born," says Rev. Boughton about his troubled son, who has returned home shrouded in mystery after a 20 year absense.

For those who have read Robinson's previous Pulitzer-prize winning book, Gilead (a stunningly beautiful meditation on fathers, sons, friendship, and faith), these are familiar characters. In Gilead, the narrator is John Ames, an elderly Presbyterian preacher who is writing a final letter to his seven year old son. In Home, the narrator is Glory Boughton, the grown daughter of Rev. Boughton, John Ames' closest friend and confidant. Glory has come home to take care of her ailing father, and we are able to see many of the events that took place in Gilead through her eyes. The result is like looking through a prism. As events unfold, we are shown another angle, a new way to light the facts.

I'm a huge fan of Marilynne Robinson's slow, deliberate, and painstaking style. Like the lives of the Midwest families she writes about, there is a stillness to her prose that allows turmoil to churn slowly underneath. There are undercurrents of racism, bitterness, and ugliness that manage to run just below themes of love, faith, and healing.

I highly recommend Home. Now I have to go read Gilead again to re-absorb all the lovely details I've forgotten.

Here is the New York Times review of Home.
Here is an interview with Marilynne Robinson from The Paris Review.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Grab Bag Friday: Raising Kids Who Care

I hope you all had a warm, full, cozy Thanksgiving!  

This week, while I was on vacation, a Readers' Digest article, Raising Kids Who Care, showed up in my inbox. It's a terrific read, especially as we're all coming down from our Thanksgiving celebrations and gearing up for the holidays. Especially in this economic downturn it's essential to think about ways to spread the love.

Some tips from author Martha Fay about how to raise kids who care:
  • Encourage their passion (I love the idea of Kids Cheering Kids)
  • Start them young (kids who volunteer at a young age are more likely to continue to do so as adults)
  • Involve the whole family (make it a bonding experience)
  • Involve their friends (it's *so* much more fun to do things when your friends are coming along)
  • Take volunteering on the road (how about rethinking your next family vacation?)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Marvin Gaye: How Sweet It Is

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, and my favorite part is thinking through all the things I'm thankful for in this world. My mother would call it "counting my blessings."

One thing on my list this year: the voice of Marvin Gaye.

Whose voice is on your list?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians: Love Like We Do

I'm already rushing around like crazy today, so I'm just going to post up an old favorite. Hope you enjoy it!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Marianne Moore: What Are Years?

Ten years ago when my husband and I first met, before we were even dating, he made me a birthday card with a Marianne Moore poem handwritten on the back. With my birthday coming around this week, I've been thinking about this poem again.

Moore asserts that courage lies in accepting our mortality, and within those confines, managing to find (if not satisfaction) joy. At the time, I thought Kevin's card was sweet and thoughtful (he knew how much I admired Moore's poetry). But now, ten years later--I woke up this morning, we went through the confines of our daily routine (teeth, face, hair, coffee, work), and laughed about some little thing or another. On our drive to work, I watched the sun glancing off the last surviving leaves dangling from the trees and thought: How pure a thing is joy.

What Are Years?
by Marianne Moore

What is our innocence,
what is our guilt? All are
naked, none is safe. And whence
is courage: the unanswered question,
the resolute doubt, --
dumbly calling, deafly listening--that
in misfortune, even death,
encourages others
and in its defeat, stirs

the soul to be strong? He
sees deep and is glad, who
accedes to mortality
and in his imprisonment rises
upon himself as
the sea in a chasm, struggling to be
free and unable to be,
in its surrendering
finds its continuing.

So he who strongly feels,
behaves. The very bird,
grown taller as he sings, steels
his form straight up. Though he is captive,
his mighty singing
says, satisfaction is a lowly
thing, how pure a thing is joy.
This is mortality,
this is eternity.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Grab Bag Friday Movie Vault: That Darn Cat

In honor of my beautiful brand new niece, Hayley Elsa, I thought I'd highlight another of my favorite Hayley Mills movies. (If you missed the last one, check out Summer's a gem.)

That Darn Cat was Hayley Mills' last movie with Disney, and Dean Jones' first. To be fair, I'm completely biased from the get-go because along with Fred MacMurray (who is not in this film) these may be my favorite Disney actors of all time. I'll tell you right off, it's not an academy award winner. But if you are looking for something light and goofy with a solid story and a whole lot of hilarious physical comedy, That Darn Cat is definitely worth a watch.

The hijinks start when a cat belonging to Hayley Mills (Patti in the film) follows a bank robber to an apartment where a woman is being held hostage. The woman scratches "Help me!" onto the back of her watch and puts the watch around the cat's neck. Patti finds the watch, calls the FBI, enter Dean Jones and, give you a taste, here's the original Disney trailer:

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bill Withers: Lean on Me

Ever since I can remember, Bill Withers' Lean on Me has been one of my favorite songs. My brother and sisters and I used to sing it constantly--on car trips, while doing the dishes--getting especial pleasure from the "Call on me brother, if you need a hand" line (which is still the most fun part to sing).

I remember sitting with my brother at the old upright piano in my grandparent's guest cabin trying to figure out the chords while my mother talked about the bear she'd seen through the window. (Yes, my grandparent's guest cabin had one dusty bed, no running water, and an outhouse, but of course there was a piano. My grandmother will always be the a-house-is-not-a-home-without-music type of soul.)

The thing I love about this song is how it captures our innate, human tendency to feel like we are alone in this world. When hard times come (and boy, do they), we often try to shoulder the burdens on our own, either because we think it's heroic to "soldier on," or we don't want to bother anyone, or we just don't think anyone cares.

But the song reminds us of something we need to try very hard not to forget: we are all in this together. We need to swallow our fear and pride and acknowledge that we all need someone to lean on every once in a while. And then, we need to reach out a hand.

Here is a great live version of Bill Withers singing Lean on Me (listen closely to the lyrics, they're so simple, but they're creative genius):

Lean on Me
by Bill Withers

Sometimes in our lives we all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there's always tomorrow

Lean on me, when you're not strong
And I'll be your friend
I'll help you carry on
For it won't be long
'Til I'm gonna need
Somebody to lean on

Please swallow your pride
If I have things you need to borrow
For no one can fill those of your needs
That you don't let show

Lean on me, when you're not strong
And I'll be your friend
I'll help you carry on
For it won't be long
'Til I'm gonna need
Somebody to lean on

If there is a load you have to bear
That you can't carry
I'm right up the road
I'll share your load
If you just call me

So just call on me brother, when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem that you'd understand
We all need somebody to lean on

Lean on me when you're not strong
And I'll be your friend
I'll help you carry on
For it won't be long
Till I'm gonna need
Somebody to lean on

Lean on me...

Monday, November 10, 2008

New York Times Children's Book Fall Special Issue

I always look forward to the New York Times Children's Book Special Issues. Well, the Fall issue is out, and some highlights include:

There are so many other lists and reviews to peruse. You could (and I'm sure I will) spend hours scanning through and making your wish lists. Enjoy!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Concert Tonight: Damariscotta, Maine

One more note...

For those of you who are in the Damariscotta, Maine area, I'll be playing tonight as the featured performer at a new open mic/coffee house at Round Top Farm (formerly the Round Top Center for the Arts).

The open mic runs from 6:45 to 8:15, and I'll be on from 8:30 to 9:30. If you'd like to participate in the open mic, please be sure to sign up for your slot promptly at 6:30.

Round Top Farm is on US Rte 1A across from Poole Brothers hardware/lumber yard.

Grab Bag Friday: Exceptional Websites for Kids

Congratulations to The Children's Book Review, which was added to the ALSC (Association for Library Service to Children) list of Great Websites for Children.

Browsing through the other 14 sites that were added, I got a kick out of stopping at the National Mock Election and noting that among kids who voted, Obama/Biden won in Alaska (Palin's home state) and McCain/Palin won in Hawaii (Obama's home state). I guess kids there are a little bored with their home state heroes?

There's a *lot* to see and do at the Nature Educational Resource, but I have to say I especially like the Weird Questions Answered page. Kids can email their weird questions and have them answered. Like Are Redheads Different from Other People? (the answer is yes, in one obvious and one surprising way) and What's Up with the Exploding Toads? (it's gross).

Another nice addition to the list is the search engine GoGooligans. Powered by Google (it's Google for kids), it will filter your searches and only give kid-friendly results.

If you've got a rainy weekend, you could spend hours browsing the entire list.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

How I Got Over!

I'll admit it. I got teary-eyed as I filled out my ballot yesterday. And I shed more than one tear watching the results come in. I woke up this morning and walked outside, and the clouds were all lit up with morning light, and I had to choke back the tears again.

I just kept thinking about what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would think if he were alive. And I thought of all those individual people who stood and marched and fought with Dr. King, many of whom *are* alive today. Did they ever think they would live to see a black man elected president?

I tried to think of words, but I just have to go back to that Mahalia Jackson song I posted last month. The one she sang just before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his I Have a Dream speech.

How I got over
How did I make it over
You know my soul look back and wonder
How did I make it over?

Don't get me wrong. We still have a lot of work to do in this country. We can't just sit back and say, "We did it!" and that's that. But I think for this morning, it's ok to be quiet for a moment and watch the sunlight coming through the clouds. It's a new day.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Closing Argument: Please Vote Tomorrow!

In the I-couldn't-have-said-it-better-myself category...

Conservative writer Andrew Sullivan has written a concise, reasonable, and compelling piece for The Atlantic: The Top Ten Reasons Conservatives Should Vote for Obama.

And The New Yorker closes their incredibly in-depth final endorsement (worth checking out) with this simple sum-up:

At a moment of economic calamity, international perplexity, political failure, and battered morale, America needs both uplift and realism, both change and steadiness. It needs a leader temperamentally, intellectually, and emotionally attuned to the complexities of our troubled globe. That leader’s name is Barack Obama.
I've posted it before, but go ahead, play it again:

Friday, October 31, 2008

Grab Bag Friday: Happy Halloween!!

I hope you have lots of fun and sugar waiting for you today!

If you missed last week's post about Trick or Treat for UNICEF, there's still time to make your UNICEF box for tonight's festivities!

The Poop has a funny post about what to do when your child won't put on their Halloween lederhosen. (Some of the comments are more hilarious than the post.)

Seven Impossible Things analyzes Edgar Allen Poe's weaker efforts. (There are more Halloween poems at the Poetry Friday Roundup.)

And this trick-or-treat video cracks me up every time:

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

This weekend, Bill Childs from Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child posted the unedited version of his daughter Ella's interview with They Might Be Giants. You should definitely check it out if you are a fan of They Might Be Giants, Benjamin Franklin, or Nikola Tesla.

When I was in high school, my grandpa and my dad didn't always like my music. But there was one song we could all agree on.

I liked this version (They Might Be Giants, 1990):

Papa liked this version (The Four Lads, 1953):

I think my dad kinda liked both. :)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Guys Lit Wire: 826 National

Last week over at Guys Lit Wire, Kevin wrote an interesting post about 826 National. Author David Eggers started the organization to help kids aged 6-18 with their writing skills, and to help teachers get their classes excited about writing.

It's definitely worth checking out, especially if you are a teacher, writer, or student living in a city with an 826 chapter. 826 can be found in:

  • San Francisco
  • New York City
  • Los Angeles
  • Ann Arbor
  • Seattle
  • Chicago
  • Boston
Stop by Guys Lit Wire and read Kevin's full post.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Grab Bag Friday: Trick or Treat for UNICEF

It's almost Halloween! Can you believe it? And that means it's time for me to gush about one of my favorite Halloween traditions.

Over the past 58 years, Trick or Treat for UNICEF has raised over $140 million dollars for lifesaving nutrition, clean water, education, protection and emergency response for children all over the world.

Think about that.

Kids knocking on doors and asking for a little loose change along with their Halloween candy have raised $140 million. That's amazing.

Here's how you and your kids can get involved:

  1. Go to the Trick or Treat for UNICEF site and order the little orange boxes, or make your own with their downloadable container wrapper.
  2. Bring your box trick or treating and ask folks to donate their loose change.
  3. Send the money to UNICEF.

Could it be any simpler?

It's a great way for kids to get involved in helping others. Halloween is such a fun night when they get to dress up and go around and ask for and receive this amazing wealth of candy. It gives them a real sense of pride and accomplishment to know that they are also responsible for bringing water or food or medicine to a kid who needs it.

This year, UNICEF is rolling out various online and mobile Trick or Treat for UNICEF programs. For instance, the program is now my "featured cause" on my Facebook page. I guess it's trick or treating for the new millennium?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I Wrote a Hit Song! Contest Winner

The latest winner of the I Wrote a Hit Song! contest was announced last Thursday. Drumroll, please...

Lauren, age 7, from Louisville, KY wrote a terrific song called "When I Hear Love Calling." Please check it out, and leave Lauren a comment to let her know how you liked her song.

You can view all the I Wrote a Hit Song! winners and learn how to enter on the contest page. Also check out the Fall Songwriting for Kids Newsletter to take this month's Songwriting Challenge: Write a Blues Song!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Lucille Clifton: Why Some People Be Mad at Me Sometimes

One of my incredibly talented sisters is writing a memoir, and since she began the project, we've been having some interesting conversations about memory. Specifically, we've been having conversations about how ridiculously often she and I second guess our memories. With six kids in our family, there are so many stories that have been told, retold, re-imagined, and mixed up over the years: Alan squirted Steph with the infamous squirt gun, no I did it, no that was Ali's boyfriend Dave.

Anna will remember a specific incident and then she'll call me and say, "Well, I don't know, maybe that didn't happen to me. Did it happen to you?" For a split second, I'll remember it vividly. Yes, that was me. And then the moment passes and I think maybe I've just heard it told so many times that it seems like it happened to me. I reply, "I have no idea."

I'm sure to some extent this happens in all families, though ours may be a bit extreme. Either way, when I came across this Lucille Clifton poem in Hip Hop Speaks to Children, the first thing I did was make a copy and pop it in the mail to my sister. I hope she keeps on remembering *her* memories, no matter what the rest of us say.

why some people be mad at me sometimes
by Lucille Clifton

they ask me to remember
but they want me to remember
their memories
and I keep on remembering

Friday, October 17, 2008

How to Compost: Expert Q&A with Fred Horch

For those of you who have been following the How to Compost series here at Please Come Flying, I have a special treat for you today.

Meet Fred Horch, a former corporate attorney, computer geek, private pilot, and professional environmentalist. Not to mention he's the friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable owner of the F. W. Horch Sustainable Goods shop here in Brunswick. [By the way, they're having a sale this weekend...if you're in Maine, I would definitely check out this flyer (.pdf).]

Fred's blog, Green Tidings, is a great place to get tips on things like indoor air quality, weatherizing your home, and yes, composting. Which is why I've asked him here. Fred has graciously agreed to answer a few basic questions about composting. Later this Fall, he's also agreed to write a guest post on his recommended home composters. Thanks for joining us, Fred!

JC: What is the most common composting problem people seem to have, and what is the best solution?

FH: People usually have one of two problems:

1) "I keep adding stuff but nothing is happening." This usually means the compost is too dry. You can preserve things for centuries if you keep it dry! The solution is to add water. Even better, add water mixed with an activator. The results are often spectacular.

2) "Help! My compost stinks to high heaven." This usually means the compost is too wet, and probably acidic. Add dry materials like shredded leaves, wood chips, clean sawdust, chopped up cardboard or shredded paper. It also helps to turn it and mix it air (this makes the smell temporarily worse, but then it gets better). If you want to compost kitchen scraps without odors, a dry source of carbon is not optional -- you must add all the ingredients (greens, browns, water and air) to make a successful batch of compost!

JC: Why should I compost? Is it worth the hassle?

FH: There are two main reasons to compost: 1) It's one of the few things you can do for the planet that literally makes the world a better place. Feeding your soil improves its fertility, which benefits all living things. 2) What else are you planning to do with your garbage? In a word, all the other alternatives suck. Landfills are expensive and pollute our water. Incinerators can't burn wet garbage. Dumping at sea is now illegal.

As far as being worth the hassle, that depends on you. Most people find it's not a big deal. If you don't have curbside garbage pickup, it's probably less of a hassle to compost than to haul big bags of stinky garbage to the dump.

JC: What is the most common misconception people have about composting?

FH: Most people think you need a lot of room to do it. The fact is, you can compost in an apartment if you want. We have self-contained worm bins, bokashi buckets, and NatureMills that all work inside.

JC: What is the strangest composting question anyone's ever asked you?

FH: We just had a guy ask us how to compost fleece. This summer one of our employees took a week-long course on industrial scale composting, so he was ready with the answer. (He'd be happy to tell you how to compost 200 cow carcasses, too, if you really want to know.)

JC: Thanks a million, Fred. I really appreciate everything you do in the community...we're all very lucky to have you around!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bruce Springsteen: The Ghost of Tom Joad

Today is Blog Action Day. Over 10,000 blogs across the world will be writing about the same topic. Last year's topic was the environment. This year's topic is poverty.

Since Wednesdays are music day at Please Come Flying, I thought I'd post Bruce Springsteen's The Ghost of Tom Joad. A live version of this song is on Serve2, a WHY: Artists Against Hunger benefit album.

If you are wondering what you and your family can do on a local and global level to help alleviate and address poverty and hunger, WHY (World Hunger Year) is a great place to start. There's even a Kids Can Make a Difference offshoot of the organization that has some great ideas.

As for the song, those of you who are John Steinbeck fans will recognize the character of Tom Joad from The Grapes of Wrath. Those of you who are Woody Guthrie fans will know him from The Ballad of Tom Joad. Guthrie's Joad ends his ballad with these last words to his mother:

Ever'body might be just one big soul
Well it looks that a way to me.
Everywhere that you look in the day or night
That's where I'm gonna be, Ma,
That's where I'm gonna be.

Wherever little children are hungry and cry
Wherever people ain't free.
Wherever men are fightin' for their rights
That's where I'm gonna be, Ma.
That's where I'm a gonna be.

Sadly, I'm unable to embed the original 1995 Springsteen video of The Ghost of Tom Joad, which is very moving. But here is Springsteen singing the song live in studio instead:

The Ghost of Tom Joad
by Bruce Springsteen

Men walkin' 'long the railroad tracks
Goin' someplace there's no goin' back
Highway patrol choppers comin' up over the ridge
Hot soup on a campfire under the bridge
Shelter line stretchin' round the corner
Welcome to the new world order
Families sleepin' in their cars in the southwest
No home no job no peace no rest

The highway is alive tonight
But nobody's kiddin' nobody about where it goes
I'm sittin' down here in the campfire light
Searchin' for the ghost of Tom Joad

He pulls prayer book out of his sleeping bag
Preacher lights up a butt and takes a drag
Waitin' for when the last shall be first and the first shall be last
In a cardboard box 'neath the underpass
Got a one-way ticket to the promised land
You got a hole in your belly and gun in your hand
Sleeping on a pillow of solid rock
Bathin' in the city aqueduct

The highway is alive tonight
But where it's headed everybody knows
I'm sittin' down here in the campfire light
Waitin' on the ghost of Tom Joad

Now Tom said "Mom, wherever there's a cop beatin' a guy
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries
Where there's a fight 'gainst the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me Mom I'll be there
Wherever there's somebody fightin' for a place to stand
Or decent job or a helpin' hand
Wherever somebody's strugglin' to be free
Look in their eyes Mom you'll see me."

The highway is alive tonight
But nobody's kiddin' nobody about where it goes
I'm sittin' downhere in the campfire light
With the ghost of old Tom Joad

Monday, October 13, 2008

UPDATE: Hip Hop Speaks to Children on All Things Considered

One of my student's parents just called to see if I was listening to All Things Considered. When I said no, he blurted, "Turn it on, turn it on, turn it on!"

Not only was there a cool interview with Nikki Giovanni, they also played *my* song. I'm having take-out pizza to celebrate. :)

More on Hip Hop Speaks to Children

Three more cool links to reviews of Hip Hop Speaks to Children:

1. Todd Stocke from Sourcebooks was kind enough to send me a link to this NPR interview with Nikki Giovanni, since there's a brief mention of my song about 5 minutes in. Thanks, Todd!

2. The esteemed Fuse # 8 posted her review of the book at School Library Journal on Friday. Her verdict?

This is a great collection, woven together by an expert, and crafted with the best possible accompanying CD. Purchase of this book isn’t optional. It’s obligatory.
3. Diane Chen at Practically Paradise (also at SLJ) describes what happened when she brought the book to a faculty meeting at her school.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Grab Bag Friday: Tips for Beating Bailout Election Malaise (BEM)

I enjoyed Wednesday's post from Have Fun Do Good on how to beat "Bailout Election Malaise" (BEM). You know that feeling you're getting about now, with so many monumental things going on in the world that your head starts to throb every time you turn on the news?

Brit's advice:

  1. Go on a news fast
  2. Give
  3. Keep a gratitude journal
  4. When one door shuts, another opens: keep an eye out for your open door
At Have Fun Do Good, Brit has lots of interesting links and tidbits to help with the above.

How about you? Any advice on how to power through the next few weeks? Mine is afternoon walks. Preferably with a clear blue sky and crisp orange and yellow leaves falling all around. Works wonders.

Photo by Just Us Three

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Buddy Holly: Three Tunes and an Interview

It's my dad's birthday today, so I have a few Buddy Holly treats lined up. When I think of my dad and music, I always think of the short-lived band he had when I was a kid. They would practice in our basement and play songs like "That'll Be the Day." I probably would have grown up to love Buddy Holly anyway, but those few evenings curled up on the couch in my flannel pajamas, watching my dad and his friends goof around and make music--those really sealed the deal.

I also have fond memories of my dad singing Buddy Holly songs karaoke on a number of occasions. Not a bad image. :)

Here's a 1957 Buddy Holly interview with Red Robinson. I love how he tries to pin Buddy down on how long rock music will last ("Six months? Seven months?"):

Here's one of my favorites, Oh Boy. Sadly, the tracking is off a little:

The infamous That'll Be the Day:

A great live version of Peggy Sue, on the last TV appearance before Buddy Holly's death. The intro here is priceless:

Monday, October 6, 2008

Monday Morning Kidlit Tidbits

Here are some fun children's literature links you probably won't want to miss:

Wild Rose Reader has a fantastic roundup of picture books about Autumn. She also has a link to some leaf crafts and activities which look pretty cool.

Seven Impossible Things recently posted a fantastic interview with Lane Smith. I've been a longtime fan of his goofy illustrations and hilarious picture books (I'm especially fond of his work with Jon Scieszka). During this election cycle, I picked up Madam President and enjoyed a good chuckle.

Educating Alice has a note about a live webcast with David Macaulay hosted by her school tomorrow morning (10/7) at 10am. He'll be talking about his new book The Way We Work, and if you can, it will probably be well worth checking out.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Grab Bag Friday: Brain Melt

Last night, Kevin and I went to a fascinating lecture on the difficult problem of school reform by Diane Ravitch (Research Professor of Education at New York University and Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.)

Then, we went home and watched the Vice Presidential debates and thought about the current and future repercussions of the economic bailout and Bush's foreign and domestic policies.

This morning, my brain is mush.

You know, how some mornings just feel like this:

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Mahalia Jackson: How I Got Over

It's a dreary, rainy, cup-of-tea morning in Maine and I felt like I needed a little Mahalia to get me going. The quality of this video goes in and out, but it is *so* worth it.

How I Got Over is my favorite Mahalia Jackson song. She sang it at the March on Washington just before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963. This particular video is live from a performance in Chicago.

No one can nail this song like Mahalia Jackson. (Well, no one can nail *any* gospel song like Mahalia Jackson.) I love how she creates this slow build and by the time she gets to "I feel like shouting" at the end, she can hardly stand still (and neither, apparently, can the audience). As the song gets worked up, watch the smiles start to spread!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Jane Yolen: All Those Secrets of the World

In the Books I Wish Were Still In Print category, let me introduce to you Jane Yolen's All Those Secrets of the World. Sadly, you won't be able to find this book easily. There are a few copies from used sellers on Amazon. And if you're lucky, your library will have a copy, or can track one down. But this lovely little picture book is worth some searching.

The story is roughly based on a true incident in Jane Yolen's life. The little girl in the story (Janie) is 4 years old when her father leaves for World War II, and the ship he boards seems impossibly small when it is far away. This is how Janie learns about perspective, and how things appear bigger or smaller depending on our relationship to them.

When Janie's father returns, two years later, he comments on how much she has grown. Janie quietly explains to him that she only seemed small because he was far away. Now that he's home, she she seems big again.

A simple synopsis can't begin to contain the magic and beauty in this book. Leslie Baker's watercolors bring a thoughtful dreaminess to the scenes. The prose is eloquent, poetic, and moving. Most importantly, this book is extremely relevant. Every child I know has someone they love who is far away (some of my students have a parent in the military just like Janie) and they can relate to this book on an intimate and very deep level.

A short note about the author:
I came across All Those Secrets of the World almost 15 years ago. I didn't buy it (back in those days, my local bookseller was very kind about allowing a mousy high school kid to spend hours reading picture books in her store), but the essence of it stuck with me. I recently tried to track it down but couldn't remember the title (the words Jane Yolen, little girl, perspective, sea do not make a good google search). I naively thought I could just look at a list of Jane Yolen's books and pick out the one I rembembered. Now, Jane Yolen has been one of my author-heroes for quite some time, but even I didn't realize she has authored over two hundred and eighty books. Finally, desparate, I sent an email directly to the email address on Jane Yolen's website, thinking that maaaaybe some intern would have a vague sense of what I was looking for.

Jane Yolen wrote me herself. The same day. She knew exactly what I was talking about, informed me that it was out of print, and even offered her assistant's email address if I had trouble tracking down a used copy. Awfully accessible and kind for such a busy, prolific woman, don't you think?

Here is Jane Yolen's fabulous, informative website.
Here is a recent interview with Jane Yolen on Seven Impossible Things for Breakfast.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Grab Bag Friday: Vintage Political Ads

In preparation for tonight's presidential debate, I plan to bake some chocolate chip cookies, pop some popcorn, curl up under a blanket, and get completely swept up in the reality show politics of our time.

In honor of the occasion, here are some entertaining vintage political ads from SlateV. It's fascinating to see how much things have changed (and haven't) in political advertising over the years. I got a big chuckle out of the jingle at the end of the Ford ad:

I'm feeling good about America!
I'm feeling good about me!
I have to say, the cool thing about our current election (no matter how frustrating politics are and will continue to be) is how many people have gotten involved, interested, and engaged. The way we will grow and change as a country *and* as individuals is to think deeply, discuss, imagine, and act on the things we feel strongly about.

Happy debating!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sade: By Your Side

I've had By Your Side in my head a lot this week. It's one of my favorite love songs of all time because it captures so simply the most fundamental nature of love and devotion: Oh, when you're cold/I'll be there. What else is there?

And the second verse is a killer. Combined with the sweet guitars and Sade's smooth, soothing voice, the line I will show you you're so much better than you know just gets me every time.

I'd never seen the video though. Interesting...

You think I'd leave your side baby
You know me better than that
You think I'd leave you down when you're down on your knees
I wouldn't do that
I'll tell you you're right when you want
And if only you could see into me

Oh when you're cold
I'll be there
Hold you tight to me

When you're on the outside baby and you can't get in
I will show you you're so much better than you know
When you're lost and you're alone and you can't get back again
I will find you darling and I will bring you home

And if you want to cry
I am here to dry your eyes
And in no time
You'll be fine

You think I'd leave your side baby
You know me better than that
You think I'd leave you down when you're down on your knees
I wouldn't do that
I'll tell you you're right when you wrong
And if only you could see into me

Oh when you're cold
I'll be there
Hold you tight to me
When you're low
I'll be there
By your side baby

Oh when you're cold
I'll be there
Hold you tight to me
Oh when you're low
I'll be there
By your side baby

Monday, September 22, 2008

Charles Wright: Return of the Prodigal

Photo by bobtravis

Here in Maine, the leaves are beginning to turn, and the sunlight has become a warm, golden glow. Before I completely say goodbye to Summer, I wanted to remember how it all began, so I turned to this lovely poem by Charles Wright, published in June in The New Yorker. I love how he refers to the beginning of Summer as the "Return of the Prodigal." Isn't that just how it feels?

Charles Wright's poems always remind me of paintings...the kind that are so beautiful and rich and perfectly detailed, you feel like you could just step right in and become part of that moment in time.

(Note: My blogging program doesn't seem to like formatting for poetry, so if you'd like to see how the poem should really look, be sure to click on the title which will link you to The New Yorker.)

Return of the Prodigal
by Charles Wright

Now comes summer, water clear, clouds heavy with weeping.

Tall grasses are silver-veined.

Little puddles of sunlight collect

in low places deep in the woods.

Lupine and paintbrush stoic in ditch weed,

larch rust a smear on the mountainside.

No light on ridge line.

Zodiac pinwheels across the heavens,

bat-feint under Gemini.

Friday, September 19, 2008

September 21: International Day of Peace

In 1981, the UN established an International Day of Peace, and in 2002, they set the date permanently for September 21. The resolution reads:

"(The International Day of Peace) offers a cessation of violence and conflict throughout the world"
Here are some small and large things you and your family can do to celebrate this year's International Day of Peace. Have other good ideas? Please post them in the comments below.
  • Light a candle
  • Have a moment (or 15 minutes, or even an hour) of silence
  • Send a kind note to someone you've had a recent conflict with
  • Send a note of comfort or a small care package to a soldier, or to someone you know who is dealing with conflict in their everyday life
  • Check for a Peace Day event in your area (in a town near me, folks are gathering to create "pinwheels for peace" that will be installed as a local public art project)
  • Make a commitment to cut one thing out of your schedule for the year that will lighten your load and bring more peace to your family life
  • Plan and organize a project for peace for your school, your community, or your family
  • Smile at someone you don't know
  • Put up a poster (.pdf) or two at your library, town hall, or supermarket
This last one is from the International Day of Peace website, and it's something each and every one of us can do:
International Day of Peace is also a Day of Ceasefire – personal or political. Take this opportunity to make peace in your own relationships...Imagine what a whole Day of Ceasefire would mean to humankind.
Here's a great audio documentary by a 10 year old boy from Madison, WI, interviewing "the younger generation" about war and peace:

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sam Phillips is a Creative Genius

If the title of this post isn't enough to warn you, I'll let you know there's a pretty good chance you're in for some fangirl gushing today. On Saturday, Kevin and I drove 2 1/2 hours down to the Somerville Theater to see Sam Phillips in concert. And was it worth the drive, you ask? Oh, do you *really* need to ask?

She started off the show with my two favorite songs. I mean, what are the odds? The first song was I Need Love from her 1994 album Martinis and Bikinis. It's the one with that phenomenal chorus:

I need love, not some sentimental prison
I need God, not the political church
I need fire, to melt this frozen sea inside me
I need love
And the second song was Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us, off her new album (and recently covered by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant). It was even more striking live, with the sounds of the drums and that crazy violinophone clamoring together over your head.

Which brings me to her band. Ted Reichman played accordian, keyboard, and guitar. Eric Gorfain played violinophone, banjo, a supercool little white electric guitar, and various other stringed instruments. And Jay Bellerose had the coolest drum set I think I have ever seen, equipped with a gigantic vintage wooden kick drum and what looked like a huge sack of bells strapped to his leg.

These guys seemed a little like a trio of mad scientists, each sitting in his corner tinkering away--sometimes holding back so much it left you breathless, and other times letting go with abandon that shook you to the bone. They were intense, and when Sam Phillips' haunting vocals cut through, the effect was extraordinary.

And did Sam Phillips' deliciously quirky personality come shining through? Oh, yes it did. On Shake It Down, the stage manager nonchalantly brought out a gigantic metal shovel for her to bang away on, nonplussed (like people do this in concerts every day). For Animals on Wheels, the band left the stage, leaving her alone, holding a tiny, tinny dictophone to the microphone for her piano accompaniment. Every once in a while, she would shake it to distort the sound before jumping back into the verse.

I have to admit, I got a little teared up during Don't Do Anything. It just hit me during that song that I have been listening consistently to Sam Phillips' voice since I was about 10 or 11 years old. I thought of all the things I've gone through (good and bad) while listening to her music, and how I essentially grew up (and am still growing up) with her lyrics in my head. To sit there in the front row, listening to her sing...well, what can I say? It was pretty profound.

Here are the Sam Phillips tour dates, so you won't miss a concert near you.

Here's a video of Sam Phillips' getting-ready-to-go-on-tour snapshots: