Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Blog Vacation and I Wrote a Hit Song!

I am going on a blog vacation until July 21st. I'm going to try to stay off the computer as much as possible during my time off, but I *will* be stockpiling all kinds of great music, books, composting tips, and maybe a recipe or two for my return to cyberspace.

In the meantime, please check out this summer's I Wrote a Hit Song! winner (Ketty, age 9), and leave a comment for her on her song page. And while you're there, scroll down to check out all the other budding songwriters and leave a comment for them as well...they'll appreciate your encouragement, probably more than you know.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Tricia Tunstall: Note By Note

A few weeks ago, Roger Sutton over at Read Roger (the Horn Book blog) mentioned that he was enjoying Tricia Tunstall's Note by Note: A Celebration of the Piano Lesson. So I picked it up from the library and got immediately swept away.

Everyone who has ever taken private music lessons remembers something about their teacher vividly. My father *still* can drum up images of the nun he learned from (and the sharp rap of her ruler on his knuckles!) As Tricia Tunstall so astutely points out, "there are very few occasions when a child spends an extended period alone with an unrelated adult." She proceeds, elegantly and sweetly, to give us an intimate glimpse into that unusual relationship from the perspective of both student and teacher.

I loved this book. If you have ever taken music lessons, or have ever taught a child how to play piano, dance, or read a book, my guess is that you'll probably love it too.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Grab Bag Friday: Dryer Balls, Anyone?

Instead of passing on *my* advice today, I'm going to ask for *yours*. :)

I've been tempted to buy these dryerballs on a number of shopping trips, but every time I see them, I pick them up, read the package blurbs, turn them over in my hand a few times, hem and haw, and then put them back on the shelf.

The idea is that the balls go in your dryer instead of a chemical based fabric softener. They bounce around and soften your clothes and since they keep all the clothes from clustering, they should also reduce your drying time up to 25%.

Have any of you tried these (or something like it)? What did you think? Did it do the trick? Did you have:

  • Static?
  • Clothes damage?
  • Reduced drying time?
  • Do they need to be replaced (& if so, how often)?
Just curious.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Woody Guthrie: John Henry

After reading Elizabeth Patridge's book on Woody Guthrie last week, I came across this very cool rare clip of Guthrie playing "John Henry" with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. If you believe what you hear/read online, there are only two remaining film clips of Woody Guthrie performing music. (Here's the other one.) Any of you know if that's true?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Books for Teen Boys: Guys Lit Wire

Thank goodness, as of this summer, there's a much-needed and very cool new blog out there for teenage guys. Guys Lit Wire is dedicated to posting literary news and reviews specifically for teen boys.

What a great project. And what makes it even cooler is that my husband is one of the regular contributors. You should definitely stop by and read his post about Richard Ford's masterful yet relatively unknown book, Wildlife.

Here's a blurb from the Guy's Lit Wire About Us page that sums up their mission quite nicely:

There seems to be a perception that boys don't read as much as girls, especially teenage boys. As the YA Columnist for Bookslut it has been especially clear to me that whether or not boys want to read more, finding books for boys is not so easy. There are so many more books targeted toward female readers than male that it is really quite amazing - and also very disturbing.

So we decided to do something about it.
And do something they have! Looking for summer reading? Head over to Guys Lit Wire and browse their reviews, booklists, and more!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Grab Bag Friday: Somebody Give This Man a Medal

First off, if you're looking for a last-minute Father's Day gift, Have Fun Do Good posted a great list of Do-Good Gifts for Dad.

Now here are just a very few of the things that make *my* dad great:

He loves the outdoors.

He counts his blessings.

He always finds a way to be happy, no matter what the odds.

He lets the small stuff go (as he puts it, "Like water off a duck's back").

He lets the important stuff count.

When I wanted to spend an entire summer perfecting my running stride (don't ask why, it's inexplicable even to me) he was there every day with the harness, the timer, the pep talks, and (thank God) no camera.

He always forces you to do things when he *knows* you'll feel better afterwards. (Usually waterskiing, running, pushing through that last twilight hour to finish a project.)

He never makes you feel bad about quitting when he knows you gave it your best shot (like in 5th grade when I gave up on trombone after using my toe for 6 months to reach the low notes...when the band teacher refused to let me switch instruments *or* leave band, my dad strolled in, handed him the trombone and said "She's done.")

When Kevin & I bought our house in Maine and the basement flooded in the first week, he came all the way out from Wisconsin and in *five* days put in a new sump pump, installed a dishwasher, put in kitchen floors, a new venting system in the bathroom, did something useful to our circuit board, and helped pack and unpack our gigantic U-Haul (mostly books). Plus, somehow found time to secretly plant three trees in the backyard. Like a superhero.

There are a million other small but important things that I could never fit in a blog and he would be embarrassed about anyway because on top of it all, he's truly humble.

Happy Father's Day, Padre! I love you!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Sam Phillips: Don't Do Anything

So after listening to Sam Phillips' new album Don't Do Anything all week, I sat down this morning to compile a list of a couple highlights. After about a half hour's contemplation, I sheepishly realized that I had written down almost every song on the album. :)

For me, Can't Come Down and Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us are clear stand-outs, but the entire album has a lyrical, human, down-to-earth quirkiness to it. I love the raw energy that is pent-up in these songs...the boomy drums, the violins-run-rampant, the moments of old-timey swing and pop.

What I like so much about Sam Philips is how she can make a song that seems so light and airy and simple, and yet with each listen, you uncover new layers, both musically and lyrically. When I first heard Little Plastic Life, I only noticed the catchiness of the chorus. But with each consecutive listen, I started to hear how the song begins as a very organized, rigid march, a perfect intro to the theme of the "little plastic life" we build around ourselves. But with the lines "I detected fire in myself before the flame," the electric guitar comes in and suddenly the chorus becomes a celebration and release, letting go and allowing the little plastic life to burn. I think this careful craft is why Sam Phillips songs always grow on me incrementally, and I like them more and more with each listen.

The title song, Don't Do Anything, is a love song in the truest sense. On her MySpace page, Sam Phillips writes:

In one of the most important election years in the history of our United States, I am bringing out a record called Don’t Do Anything. This is not a political statement. The line of the song it’s taken from is “I love you when you don’t do anything”. I might have written this to my child, a lover, a friend, a dead person, or all of these. Maybe I wanted someone to write it to me. Maybe an extravagant expression of faith is the last thing we need this year. Maybe it’s the first. There is a lot to do in between.

Ok, now I'm getting tempted to go through my entire list of "highlights," but instead, why don't I just leave you to go enjoy the album and make your own decisions. :) Then let *me* know what *you* think!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Elizabeth Partridge: This Land Was Made for You and Me

I just finished Elizabeth Partridge's biography of Woody Guthrie: This Land Was Made for You and Me. The book is geared for kids ages 12 and up, but there is enough detail and depth there to hold the attention of any adult interested in Woody Guthrie's music. Pete Seeger calls it "The best book about Woody ever written!"

In my "Stories behind the Songs" post about This Land Is Your Land, I wrote that Woody wrote over 1400 songs in his lifetime. Elizabeth Partridge says the number is over 3000, which is incredible especially when you consider that he only lived to be 55 years old.

The story of Woody Guthrie's life is fascinating, filled with moments of optimism, despair, redemption, and unthinkable tragedy. Elizabeth Partridge places Woody's story firmly within the events, places, and people who were so important to him and shaped who he was. The Dustbowl, Great Depression, migrant farms, New York City folk scene, and the Cold War all play a major role in the development of his songs.

And all the folk music greats show up: Ledbelly, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Pete Seeger, Odetta, Bob Dylan...the list goes on and on. The tragedies in his story are so heavy, and would almost be too much to bear if it wasn't for the stories of the people he loved and who cared about him and took him in and forgave him his weaknesses and idiosyncracies time and time again. Through good times and bad, it is clear that those relationships were influences on his music. Woody famously said:

"I hate a song that makes you think that you're not any good. I hate a song that makes you think you are just born to lose. I am out to fight those kinds of songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood."
The one question that is still burning in my mind after closing the book is, whatever happened to Mary? His first wife who dropped out of high school to be with him and endured all his wayward, rambling ways while she tried to take care of three children with little to no sporadic income. Halfway through the book, I started to hope that after their divorce, she went on to have the happy, stable life she probably dreamed of. But from the notes in the back of the book, it looks like two of her children contracted Huntington's Disease (the disease that tragically killed both Woody and his mother) and the third died in a car accident. There should be a song for Mary. Maybe there is, but there should be more.

There is much more information on Elizabeth Partridge's website, including an interview with Arlo & Nora Guthrie (two of Woody's children from his second marriage with the incredibly talented, patient, and giving dancer Marjorie Mazia).

Friday, June 6, 2008

Grab Bag Friday: Sun Mar 200 Compost Update

I've had a number of requests for a Sun Mar 200 continuous composter update, so here's what I've got for you:

My composter is about 3/4 full. When I open it, steam comes out and everything appears to be moist and breaking down, so something has to be working.

But. (You knew it was coming, didn't you?) In the inner drum where the compost is supposed to be gathering, there is still a bunch of dried garbage collecting there. Even when I push it back into the main composter (as suggested by Sun Mar), more dried garbage still falls into the inner drum. Let me be clear: everything in the inner drum is not composting because it is completely dried out. Got it?

So I chatted with the friendly folks at FW Horch this week (rather than try to duke it out with the Sun Mar folks again), and they suggested that instead of pushing the dried garbage from the inner drum back in, to pull it out and put it back in at the top. In case it is the same dried garbage that keeps falling in?

So that's my next plan of attack. In the meantime, Brett at FW Horch pointed out that at least it's working like a bottomless garbage can. Which, I suppose, is something. As always, I'll keep you posted.

If you've missed any of this riveting food-disposal drama, you can catch up here.

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Sam Phillips: Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us

The new Sam Phillips album is out! Normally, I would listen to the album straight through from start to finish, but this time I had to go straight to Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us. Alison Krauss and Robert Plant covered the song on Raising Sand, and if you remember, I was pretty wild about it. So I was dying to hear the Sam Phillips rendition.

It's always so interesting to hear how a writer interprets their own work. A poet, for instance, might put completely different emphasis on line breaks when reading their work outloud than I could have ever imagined in my head. Alison Krauss & Robert Plant's version of "Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us" is dreamy, introspective, eerie, polished. Sam Phillips takes a completely different approach to her own work. In comparison, it's messy, rushed, untamed...all in the best of ways. The way Alison Krauss sings the song, Sister Rosetta's music comes to the singer like a strange gift from above, supernatural, beautiful, and detached. In Sam Phillips' version, the music is a down-to-earth personal revelation, a tangible refuge, a place of abandon and release.

Ok, off to listen to the rest of the album. Tune in for more gushing next week...

Alison Krauss & Robert Plant version:

Sam Phillips version:

Monday, June 2, 2008

Hope is the thing with feathers

This morning, I read Jacqueline Woodson's Newbery Honor Book, Feathers. It's this slight little middle-grade book that fearlessly delves into weighty issues like hope, faith, race, belonging, and family without being heavy handed or overbearing or preachy in any way. That's no small feat.

On the very surface, Feathers is a classic story of the new kid in town who doesn't fit in. But Ms. Woodson takes that simple story to entirely new depths, so it truly becomes the story of how we are *all* that kid, trying to find our place in the world.

On her website, she sums it up simply:

Feathers is a book I wrote because I wanted to write about the many ways people find Hope in the world.
Here is the Emily Dickinson poem that is the heart of the story. The first stanza is both the epigraph and an integral part of the book. I hadn't read it in a long time, and Ms. Woodson's book has set it in a fresh light.


Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.