Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Sam Phillips: Can't Come Down

Well the news is out that the new Sam Phillips CD, Don't Do Anything, is now set to be released on June 2nd. Well, that's not February, but I'll take it.

In the meantime, you can browse around her newly revamped website, complete with a couple short, silent films and a blog.

And here's a video of her new song Can't Come Down:

Monday, April 28, 2008

Peter Sis: The Wall (Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain)

I first came across Peter Sis and his intricate, detailed drawings when I was in college. I just happened (thankfully) across Starry Messenger one day while browsing the children's section, and I was instantly hooked. His work is all at once breathtaking and thought-provoking and complicated and unaffected. Each time I read a Peter Sis book, I immediately want to go back to the beginning and read it all over again so I can appreciate all the details I missed the first time around.

So it's no surprise that I was swept away by his newest book, The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain. I can't believe almost a year has gone by since this book came out and I just got it yesterday!

The Wall is the story of Peter Sis' childhood and young adulthood in Czechoslovakia during the Cold War. Throughout the book, we see the life he lived through his eyes: the book is spattered with entries from his childhood journals, actual family photos, and even his own childhood drawings of tanks and planes and patriotism. But it is art and music that dominate his world, though both can be very dangerous. He paints in secret in his room and joins a rock band (but fails to grow his hair long--the ultimate act of defiance).

I've read some reviews that criticize the book for being too one-sided, too western eurocentric, too America-saves-the-day. Sis himself mentions in an interview that some colleagues in Prauge are disgusted by the book (I'd be interested to read some of *those* reviews). But this is his life as he remembers it from a child's point of view. Of course things are always more complicated than they appear on the surface. To me, this book is more a testament to art and music and the desire to create and be free.

And it is an interesting discussion. I lived in Budapest for six months in 1997, and many of the Hungarian students my age were disgusted with the new capitalism and were nostalgic for the days of Communism, when there were no red light districts, no homeless, no Burger King. They refused to learn English in school, preferring Russian. Their parents, however, were shocked. I saw one parent telling her son how he couldn't begin to understand the constant fear and anxiety she had lived under. That went over as well as the "I walked 10 miles in a blizzard to school every day" kind of speech you'd get from your grandfather.

In his afterword, Peter Sis (who came to the US in the 80s on a short term work visa and stayed) explains it this way:
Now when my American family goes to visit my Czech family in the colorful city of Prague, it is hard to convince them it was ever a dark place full of fear, suspicion, and lies. I find it difficult to explain my childhood; it's hard to put it into words, and since I have always drawn everything, I have tried to draw my life--before America--for them. Any resemblance to the story in this book is intentional.
The Wall is an absolutely fascinating book, and though it is picture book size, I would actually recommend it for adults, especially jr. high and high school students. The graphic-novel, personal narrative style is an interesting way to engage the subject of the Cold War and should incite lots of discussion.

On Peter Sis' website, there is a Teacher's Guide (.pdf) for anyone hoping to use the book in class.

You can also find an interesting audio interview with Peter Sis on the site (click Audio Reading).

Here is the New York Times review with a small piece of one of my favorite images from the book--of Czechoslovakians painting and repainting a wall.

Here is the Fuse #8 review (I almost always turn to Fuse #8 *before* the New York Times :)

Here is an interesting YouTube mashup of images from the book and actual video footage from communist Czechoslovakia.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Grab Bag Friday: Compost Update, Sustainable Household Goods

It's the last day of Earth Week and our town is abuzz with free bike tune ups, cell phone recycling drives, and even a transportation fair. In celebration, I thought I'd give you a compost update and a review of how our various sustainable experiments worked out over the last year.

The Compost Update: All I have to say is, we're ready to go. As some of you know, last year we got a Sun-Mar 200 Home Composter and ended up with zero results at the end of the summer (apparently because our composter wasn't full enough?) Well, we've been adding stuff all winter, and let me tell you, it's full enough. If we don't have compost by June, we're out of excuses, and it was a failed experiment. I, of course, remain hopeful...

The Sustainable Goods Results: Here's where I'll rate the success of our various small household changes and how well we've stuck to them over the year. Click on the titles to review last year's posts:

The Lightbulb Change
We haven't replaced every single lightbulb yet (hence the 4 stars instead of 5), but we love our CFLs. They start out a little dim when you turn on the light, but within a minute or so, they're up to speed. I haven't had to change a single one. They're awesome.

The Yogurt Change
I've been really good about this one. If you remember, the change was to bring a regular spoon to work instead of using a plastic one for my yogurt. I eat yogurt at work at least 3 or 4 days a week, so I estimate that I've saved somewhere between 140-180 plastic spoons from the landfill just since June 2007!

The Sponge Change
These biodegradable pop-up sponges were definitely my favorite change of the year. Because they're so fun to expand! My estimate: we sent 45 fewer sponges to the landfill since June. As I mentioned last year, they don't have the scraping/scrubbing action of the heavy-duty store bought sponges, but between these and a scrub brush, I haven't come across a single thing I couldn't clean.

The Leftover Change
We haven't been the best at this one. We've definitely reduced the quantity of plastic bags and saran wrap that we use, but we haven't been able to totally shake the habit. We do, however, have a ridiculous number of saved yogurt and other containers spilling out of our cupboards, just waiting to be used. Hm.

The Napkin Change
I'd say we've been pretty good about moving to cloth napkins. We use them most of the time. But after a year, I'm not 100% sure about this one. What do you think is worse--the number of paper napkins that get thrown away, or the load of laundry that you do with all the cloth napkins? The cloth napkins seem like the way to go, but then when I'm loading them into the washer, I'm not so sure. Any thoughts?

Well, that's where we stand. Over the next few weeks, I'll try to remember to post some other successes, failures, and discoveries we've made on the sustainable goods front (for instance, our disastrous experiment with earth-friendly dishwasher detergent).

If you've tried any sustainable solutions that are working in your home, please share!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Rosanne Cash & Joe Henry: So It Goes

My friend Carter sent me a link to the new Measure for Measure series on songwriting over at The New York Times. It's a very cool blog with posts by musicians Rosanne Cash, Andrew Bird, Darrell Brown, and Suzanne Vega, who each post a song and discuss the songwriting process that went along with it.

I found Monday's post by Rosanne Cash, So It Goes: How It Went to be a fascinating read. She writes about the process of co-writing with Joe Henry and even posts the emails they sent back and forth with various iterations of the song. It's a great glimpse into the way a song comes together, and super fun to be able to listen to the final product.

Here's an interesting bit on her feelings about co-writing:
A note: It is not in my nature to co-write; I would rather go deep into the underworld alone, like Persephone looking for the pomegranate. The solitude and the simple satisfaction of having my own phrases laid out like beads on a necklace, while fine-tuning my melodies, suits me entirely. But I have pushed myself to be a co-writer more often in recent years and to force myself to forgo both the arrogance and the insecurity of the solo voice. My songwriting style is a synthesis of my strengths and my limitations, and occasionally it behooves me to borrow from someone else’s strength, and offer a key to the locked door of someone else’s limitations. I had to give up the pride of thinking myself only a journalistic songwriter, in order to become a better writer overall.
What a cool idea for a blog. I'll definitely be working my way through the archives on this one!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Poem of the Day: Learning to Speak by Liz Rosenberg

As part of the Poetry Month celebrations over at Academy of American Poets, you can sign up to get a poem a day (selected from new books published this spring). I have to say, I'm not a big fan of the pill-box image for the Poem-A-Day page...I don't like to encourage the poetry-as-medicine (it's *good* for you!) metaphor, but that's a discussion for another day. :)

Pill-box aside, I enjoyed yesterday's poem by Liz Rosenberg. Also, check out 30 Ways to Celebrate Poetry Month.

Learning to Speak
by Liz Rosenberg

She was the quietest thing I'd ever seen.
It was so restful, being in her company
For hours, neither of us uttering a word.
I'd read the paper, look up, and she would smile,
Her lips half-pursed, just tucked up at the ends
As if holding a blithe secret.
When I fed her, she'd silently nod and smile,
Like immigrants you see
In train stations or in the movies,
She'd take the bowl from my hands
And nod again and smile again
And neither of us would say a word
From sunup to sunset.
When son and husband came home,
Both talking at once, both talking
With their mouths full,
My daughter and I could only look at them
With our dark quiet eyes.
Siddown, she says now.
I sit down
Without argument.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Grab Bag Friday: Another Secretary Gag

Back in September, I confessed my love for a certain goofy television series and mentioned a Woody Allen bit that I couldn't find on YouTube. Well guess what I found? I *love* this woman's reactions to his dictation. Ah, high comedy.

(If you're reading from Facebook, here's the link)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Today Is Operation Teen Book Drop

readergirlz Today is Support Teen Literature Day and Operation Teen Book Drop.

Are you dropping a book?

I've got Lois Lowry's tear-jerker, A Summer to Die (*man*, what a great book!) all bookplated up and ready to go.

Now I just have to decide if I'm going to drop it on a table at our local movie theater/cafe, ice cream shop, library, skate park, or the DVD rental store. Hmmm, what do you think?

(I'm leaning toward the ice cream shop because, hey, as long as I'm there...)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Doris Day: Good Blues Tonight

My mom and I were just talking about how much we love Doris Day and her clear, no-frills delivery. My favorite Doris Day songs are the ones that she sang with the Les Brown Orchestra in the 40s, and my all-time favorite is My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time (iTunes link update: Strangely, iTunes has this song labeled "Parental Advisory/Explicit Lyrics" which, in case you were seriously wondering, is an error...and a pretty hilarious one at that). Sadly, I didn't find a version that I could post here, but you can also find the song on the 2-disc Columbia Records Golden Girl collection.

Instead, here's a 1946 recording of Les Brown's Orchestra with Doris Day singing "Good Blues Tonight":

Monday, April 14, 2008

National Library Week & Maine Student Book Awards

Did you know that it's National Library Week? Yup, April 13-19 has been set aside as a time to appreciate all that your local library has to offer. And that's a wonderful thing.

How to celebrate Library Week? Here are some ideas:
  • Look for special events at your library (ours is having *cake* on Friday!)
  • Thank your librarians for all that they do...bring cookies, flowers, send a note, or just walk in with a smile
  • Donate books, music, or movies to your library (cash works, too!)
  • Flop down in the Children's Corner and read a book you haven't read in years
  • Check out a dizzying array of mystery novels
  • Pick one thing you've always wanted to know (Are blue butterflies really going extinct? How do I get a coffee stain out of a teacup? Where exactly is Kazakhstan on a map?) and go find out...Guess what? Your reference librarian can help!
  • Participate in Operation Teen Book Drop on the 17th very exciting library-related announcement. Each year, the 4th-8th graders of Maine vote for their favorite book and this year's winner is our very own Cynthia Lord for her Newbery Honor Book, Rules! This is the first time that a Maine author has won the Maine Student Book Award! How should you celebrate this one? By reading the book of course! Here's my review of Rules. And here's the full Maine Student Book Awards list.

Here's a sweet message from Julie Andrews, the honorary chair of National Library Week:

Friday, April 11, 2008

Grab Bag Friday: KidVid Has a Winner!

All good things must come to an end. And so, sadly, does Zooglobble's KidVid Tournament 2008. In an exciting final matchup, Mr. Richard's paparazzi video "Cheese" took on the quirky animation of They Might Be Giants' "Seven Days of the Week (Never Go To Work)."

If you go to the final matchup page, you can view both videos, and see the gazillion voters who ushered Mr. Richard into victory by a landslide. Seriously, it wasn't even close.

Since I was rooting for the losing side, I'm going to post "Seven Days of the Week" (from their new album Here Come the 1-2-3s) as a consolation post of sorts. Of course, these days we're supposed to believe that we're *all* winners, right?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Sam Phillips: I Need Love

I've been on a Sam Phillips kick recently. Probably because I had heard that she was coming out with a new album in February 2008, and I'm not ashamed to say, I've been checking her site every week or so for news. So when I found out that Don't Do Anything won't actually be out until June (sigh), I've been digging out all her old stuff, just to get my fix.

Last night, it was her 1994 album, Martinis & Bikinis, which Kevin had to finally ask me to turn the volume down on since I *was* kind of blasting out the whole neighborhood. But 1994 was the year I graduated high school, and I Need Love was one of the songs playing full blast in my head back then.

I've been a Sam Phillips fan since about 1986 (if you don't want to do the math, I was 11). Only she wasn't Sam back then, she was Leslie Phillips, a CCM ("Contemporary Christian Music") pop star who was billed by her record label as the "Christian Cyndi Lauper." Her album Black and White in a Grey World was one of the first cassette tapes I bought with my own money (and yes, I tried to wear my hair like that, too).

But Leslie Phillips' lyrics weren't the kind of warm, fuzzy mainstream CCM that was the norm in the 80s. She sang about spirituality in poetic and challenging ways and tackled the tough issues of both faith *and* doubt. In her songs, she called out the holier-than-thou, judgmental attitudes of the Christian community ("You smoke-screen with your judgmental words/But when the air clears you're just a scared little child/You smoke-screen, but you're fearful inside/That God doesn't love you/You let fear run you wild"). Her lyrics spoke so clearly to the world I lived in, and the ideas and emotions I was trying to sort through in my pre-teen years. I would listen on my pink portable tape player, liner notes in hand, following along word for word. Eventually in the late 80s, Leslie "went secular," changing her name and her record label, and I rooted for her all the way.

So that's all to say that if Leslie Phillips was the conduit for my pre-teen contemplations, by the time 1994 rolled around, Sam Phillips' I Need Love was the outlet for my particular brand of teen angst, blasted at full volume in my room on my very first CD player. It said everything I wanted to say:
I need love
Not some sentimental prison
I need god
Not the political church
I need fire
To melt the frozen sea inside me
I need love

Monday, April 7, 2008

Readergirlz: Operation TBD

April 17th is Support Teen Literature Day, and the folks over at readergirlz have found a pretty spectacular way to celebrate. Together with the Young Adult Library Services Association, readergirlz has organized a massive book drop to hospitals all over the country, and there's something simple you can do to help.

Justina Chen Headly, author and co-founder of readergirlz, explains the idea like this:
“While touring my local children’s hospital to research my novel, Girl Overboard, I couldn’t help noticing that teen patients didn’t seem to have the comfort objects that the little ones did. As an author, I knew that YA books—books with exceptional characters and fabulous stories—could provide teen patients with some of the escape and inspiration they needed.”
So this April 17th, as part of readergirlz' Operation Teen Book Drop, 20 publishers will donate over 10,000 Young Adult books to pediatric hospitals.

Get Involved!
readergirlzreadergirlz is inviting everyone to participate in the book drop! Here's what you can do:
  1. Pick a Young Adult book you'd like to donate.
  2. Download the Operation TBD bookplate and paste it inside the book, telling the recipient to read and enjoy.
  3. On April 17th, drop the book in any public place (coffee shop, school, park...)
  4. Join the after-party! Here's the official invite:
We invite all readergirlz and authors to join our online two-hour book party hosted at the readergirlz MySpace group forum, on April 17th (Support Teen Literature Day), from 6-8pm Pacific/9-11pm Eastern. The chat will be in a thread titled "TBD Post Op Party." The readergirlz divas will be giving away books and prizes, and chatting with teens and authors from around the world. We've invited so many authors and girlz you just never know who you might end up chatting with!
For more information about readergirlz, check out their manifesta.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Grab Bag Friday: Climate Counts

"How You Shop & Invest Changes the World"

I recently went to a lecture by the "CE-Yo" of Stonyfield Farm Yogurt, Gary Hirshberg. At the end of the evening, as we gathered our hats and mittens to leave the auditorium, my friend Amy grinned and said, "I can feel a blog post in the making." Hehe. A couple, probably.

Beginning with Climate Counts. Mr. Hirshberg talked a bit about a new initiative that rates companies according to their commitment to reducing their impact on the environment. According to their website, Climate Counts uses a 0-100 point scale and 22 criteria to determine if companies have:
  • MEASURED their climate "footprint"
  • REDUCED their impact on global warming
  • SUPPORTED (or suggest intent to block) progressive climate legislation
  • Publicly DISCLOSED their climate actions clearly and comprehensively
You could browse the results for hours, so I'll skip straight to what I found to be the most interesting one. At one point, Mr. Hirshberg addressed the mostly college-aged audience and asked:

"What is the coolest company that exists today?"

After one eager-to-please voice offered "Stonyfield Farm?" the rest of the audience agreed that there was only one true answer: Apple.

Now check this out: Out of a possible 100 points (100 being "Striding" and 0 being "Stuck"), what do you think Apple's Climate Counts score is?


Really. You can see the entire report here (.pdf).

To give you some context, Sony scored 51, Hewlit Packard scored 59, and IBM scored 70. Apple scored 2.

Now, Apple has supposedly begun a review of the environmental impact of its products and processes and is due to release that data sometime this year. And that's a start. But a little consumer pressure couldn't hurt. At Climate Counts, you can go to any company's scorecard page and click a link to send an email to the CEO of that company to let them know that their environmental practices matter to you.

Here's the link to Apple's scorecard page. I sent them an email. I plan to browse around and send emails to other companies I shop at. I hope you will too.

Here's a printable pocket guide (.pdf) with a quick view of all the Climate Counts scores.

Here's a little pep talk from the Climate Counts homepage:

When you buy from companies taking responsibility for climate change, you're sending a message that climate change matters to you.

Not all companies share that sense of responsibility. But if they know you're paying attention to what they're doing (or not doing), they'll take action.

As a consumer, you have real power.


Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Band of Horses Offshoots

NPR's Song of the Day has recently been featuring some lovely projects by former members of Band of Horses. I always love to see the projects musicians take on after they leave a band, so it was fun to come across these.

Yesterday's Song of the Day was "Sleepdriving" by Grand Archives, a band started by former Band of Horses guitarist Mat Brooke. The song is lush and hazy, a dreamy pop song that doesn't stray too too far from the Band of Horses mold. (Listen to Sleepdriving here.)

Earlier in March, NPR featured "You're Not Broken," a dreamy, country-tinged song by former Band of Horses drummer, Sera Cahoone. Cahoone made a bit more drastic change, coming out from behind the drums to write songs, sing, and play the guitar, but she too retains the dreamlike wash-of-sound aesthetic. (Listen to You're Not Broken here.)