Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

"Found in the Snow" photo by Just B

Merry Christmas, everyone! I'll be away from my blog until mid-January, but in the meantime, have a wonderful holiday, stay warm, and give lots of hugs to your family and friends. See you in the new year!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Suzanne Collins: The Hunger Games

The Hunger GamesEvery so often a book comes along that I simply can't put down. If I *must* go to work or leave the house, half of my brain is still stuck inside the book, reliving scenes, thinking about the characters, wondering what will happen next. It probably should be illegal for me to drive when I'm in the middle of a book like this.

Kevin and I read The Hunger Games last week and were both so absorbed that we let the dishes, bills, and laundry pile high while we attended to the more important business of finding out how Katniss and Peeta were going to escape almost certain death at the hands of the Capitol.

I have to say, on the surface, the premise of this story sounded ridiculous. It took some convincing to get Kevin to read a book set in a futuristic, post-apocolypitc world where each year, 24 children are thrown into a televised Colosseum style fight-to-the-death (yes, actual death) as a form of entertainment and fascist control. Seriously. But somehow, Suzanne Collins manages to craft this story so well that it grips you within the first 20 pages and never lets you go.

I won't say any more because I don't want to ruin the story, but I will give you a warning. The ending of The Hunger Games is such a cliff-hanger that you will be forced to go out and buy the the sequel (Catching Fire) in hardcover whether you want to or not. Kevin and I broke down and bought it this weekend. Which means that I'm only writing this with half a brain right now. The other half is busy worrying about a certain huge decision Katniss has to make that could seriously endanger the life of her sweet little sister Prim! In fact, I have to go now...

p.s. If you want a more thorough and detailed review, you'll get a great one at Fuse #8 where she (as usual) gets down to the heart of the matter and says everything just right. I especially enjoyed the paragraph where she describes the way "this book throws a big fat wrench into the boy book/girl book view of child/teen literature."

Friday, December 18, 2009

Grab Bag Friday: The National Holiday Project

Yesterday I was talking to one of my student assistants who is, as you can imagine, *very* excited for winter break. She was so excited to go home and spend the holidays with her sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews...she couldn't wait to surround herself with family.

As I get ready to get my own home all cozy for my family visitors, I can't help but think of all the people who *don't* have family during the holidays. For instance: did you know that 50% of nursing home residents have no close relatives?

The National Holiday Project is dedicated to organizing holiday visits to nursing homes across the country. If you'd like to visit a nursing home this season, you can go to their site and find a contact for your area. If your area isn't listed, you can call a local home to set up a visit. To volunteer at a nursing home year-round, contact your local facility, or sign up for the Friendly Visitors program to be matched with a conveniently located residence.

For other tips on how to make a difference in your area during the holidays, please visit my previous posts: The Local Level.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bing Crosby & Danny Kaye: Sisters

In preparation for the holidays, here is the most hilarious scene from one of my favorite Christmas movies, White Christmas. Just looking at Danny Kaye in that get-up is funny enough, but his facial expressions kill me. What a genius.

I can't wait to see all my sisters (& brother!) over the next month! Hooray!

Bing Crosby & Danny Kaye: Sisters

Monday, December 14, 2009

Markus Zusak: The Book Thief

Since Thanksgiving break, I've been able to catch up on some long overdue reading and I hardly even know where to begin. I'm saving The Hunger Games for next week because I just finished it last night, and if I write about it now I'll just gush like a school girl. Let's be honest...I'll probably do that anyway. But still, I'll try to take a step back and be reasonable. Besides, I've got something else to gush about today.

Markus Zusak's novel, The Book Thief, has been on my to-read list since it came out in 2006. But much like the occasional intense Netflix that sits on my shelf for months until I'm "in the mood" (right now it's the foreign film After the Wedding), it took me awhile to pick this one up.

Set in Molching, Germany during World War II, this is the story of Leisel Meminger, an 11-year-old girl who moves in with a foster family and harbors a Jewish refugee in her basement. But it's much more than that. It's a story about the power of words. It's about love. It's about finding hope and freedom where neither exist.

I loved this book for many reasons...the well-rounded characters, the gripping story, the heroine's spunk. But mostly, I loved it for the prose. It's appropriate that in a book about words, the language Zukas uses catches you off guard. At times it is rough and plain, at others it's pure poetry. Every other page, it seemed, I was looking at the world in a new way.

"The last time I saw her was red. The sky was like soup, boiling and stirring. In some places, it was burned."
I learned from Eisha at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast that "in Zusak’s native Australia, this was published as an adult novel. But here in the U.S., it’s being marketed as young adult." I know publishers have teams of people working on marketing data to rationalize these decisions, and maybe they've made more money in the US marketing The Book Thief as YA, which is fine. I probably would have sided with the Australians myself, but that's not because I think teenagers can't handle it. Mostly, it's because I think this book should be read as widely as possible. It's a rare book. The kind that makes you feel different after you read it.

The Book Thief is beautiful, a work of art, but it's not easy. I was red-eyed for days after I read it. So here's the deal: you don't have to read it today. Let it sit on your shelf as long as you need to. Get ready. Steel up the nerve. But someday, when you feel up to being shaken and moved, when you want a book that will stir you to the core, pick it up. Take a deep breath. Turn the first page. Read.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Alternative Gifts: Gifts that Give Back

Each year, I try to do a couple posts about alternative giving. We spend money during the holidays anyway, so we might as well try to make that money do as much good as possible in the world, right? I *love* getting gifts that give back. And there are so many easy ways to do it:

  • Help your neighbor by buying from a local store
  • Buy fair trade (I just bought a bunch of great presents from SERRV)
  • Shop with an organization you'd like to help support
For tips and suggestions on all of these, please check out my Alternative Gifts posts.

A couple of my favorites this year:

Etsy: Your Place to Buy & Sell All Things Handmade
Want to give a handmade gift, but you're not crafty or you don't have the time? Want to support a talented artist in his or her craft? Etsy is filled with cool one-of-a-kind jewelry, candles, coasters, outfits, pillows, scarves, toys. You name it, you can probably find it.

I just bought a bunch of super-cool stocking stuffers for my family. I can't say what they are because some of them read this blog, but here are a few of my favorite Etsy shops:

Adopt-A-Creature: Oceana, Protecting the World's Ocean's
Adopt a dolphin, octopus, penguin, polar bear, sea turtle, or shark for your niece or nephew this year!

This is the kind of thing I would have gone bananas for as a kid (okay, I would probably still go bananas for it now). A donation to Oceana will not only help protect the actual sea creatures and their habitats, but you will also receive a personalized adoption certificate (it's like Cabbage Patch Kids, only better) and a cute animal-shaped cookie cutter and recipe card ($35 donation) or a super-cute stuffed animal ($50 donation).

As a kid, I loved dolphins like crazy. I would have flipped for a gift that made me feel like real dolphins all over the world were being helped AND I got dolphin-shaped cookies out of the deal!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Erskine Hawkins: Tuxedo Junction

This weekend, we're painting the town red for Kevin's birthday, so I thought a post about one of my favorite swing tunes was in order. (Plus, since reading Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, I've had Birmingham on the brain.)

Tuxedo Junction was written in 1939 by Erskine Hawkins. It was named after a two-block area in Ensley, Alabama, a predominantly black suburb of Birmingham. In a Spring 2005 article for Alabama Heritage, Donald Rohar describes the area:

"The Junction was the only venue for dining, dancing, shopping, and live music that Birmingham's black population could call its own. But what a place it was.

The renowned intersection was the turn-around point for the Birmingham Trolley Company's Wylam and Pratt City streetcars. Locals simply called it the Junction. Many of the residents, partygoers, and fun seekers who were employed at the steel mill, iron works, or lumber mill, would catch the trolley after a shower and fresh change of clothes at work and head straight to the Junction for an evening of food, fun, and entertainment.

Work clothes or casual apparel were permissible for a bar and lounge, but totally unacceptable attire for the ballroom. And the ballroom was, after all, the evening's ultimate destination. A zoot suit and two-tone shoes or a tux was the appropriate evening attire for men."

Maybe Kevin is going to have to scrounge up a zoot suit for his birthday celebration!

Here's the original Erskine Hawkins version of the song:

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Songs of the Civil War Era: Walk Together Children

For the last post in my Songs of the Civil War Era series, I thought I'd put up one of my favorite African-American spirituals, "Walk Together Children." I love the energy and joy in this song. And the lyrics are timeless, hopeful, inspirational, and true. If we work together toward that better day, just think what we can do!

Walk together children, don't you get weary

In the concert, the talking that comes before the song goes on a little long (and I apologize in advance for all the "um's") so I separated it out. That way, if you're not in the mood for a lecture, you can head straight for the music.

Here's the talking:

And here's the song:

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hope you have a great holiday with lots of delicious food and good company! I'll be back to the blog again soon...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Songs of the Civil War Era: Bonnie Blue Flag Medley

When I was putting together my recent Songs of the Civil War Era concert, there were some areas I already had pretty well under my belt. I've been singing the spirituals and popular songs of the time (like Oh Susanna and Gum Tree Canoe) for quite a while now.

But I wasn't as familiar with songs that were sung on the battlefield. It was very interesting to research these tunes and find out how they evolved. One fascinating example was "Bonnie Blue Flag," and you can hear the whole story by clicking on the player below (again, if you're in Facebook, you might have to go directly to my blog).

If you want to follow along at home (like one of my favorite childhood shows?), here are the images: Page 2, Pages 3 & 4, Page 5.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Henri Cole: To Sleep

This weekend my sister, some friends, and I discussed what a shame it is that we didn't appreciate naps when we had them. Isn't that just the way it goes? As Joni would say: you don't know what you've got 'till it's gone. Just think what you would give now for an hour a day when you're not allowed to do anything but rest, recharge, and maybe sneak a book under the covers.

Then I came across this poem by Henri Cole. What a lovely description of those moments just before sleep.

To Sleep
by Henri Cole

Then out of the darkness leapt a bare hand
that stroked my brow, "Come along, child;
stretch out your feet under the blanket.
Darkness will give you back, unremembering.
Do not be afraid." So I put down my book
and pushed like a finger through sheer silk,
the autobiographical part of me, the am,
snatched up to a different place, where I was
no longer my body but something more—
the compulsive, disorderly parts of me
in a state of equalization, everything sliding off:
war, love, suicide, poverty—as the rebellious,
mortal, I, I, I lay, like a beetle irrigating a rose,
my red thoughts in a red shade all I was.

Photo by Joi.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Grab Bag Friday: Hooray for Philip Hoose & Claudette Colvin!

They won, they won! Hip hip hooray!

Congratulations to Phillip Hoose and Claudette Colvin on winning the National Book Award!

You can read about all the NBA winners at the New York Times.

Publishers Weekly says:

Phillip Hoose’s Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (FSG/Kroupa), the story of the almost forgotten black teenage girl who refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama nine months before Rosa Parks did the same thing, won the award for Young People's Literature. Hoose called winning the award “unreal” and said that Colvin “took a chance on me. She had never heard of me and was about to be forgotten by history and we saved her story.”
And here's a great little interview with Phil Hoose on the National Book Award website.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Songs of the Civil War Era: Tenting Tonight

I recently received some mp3s of my Songs of the Civil War Era concert/lecture at Bowdoin College, so for those of you who missed it, I'm going to post a song each Wednesday for the next three weeks.

The first is "Tenting Tonight on the Old Campground," and you can listen to it by clicking on the player below (if you're on Facebook or the like, and can't see the player, try accessing it directly from my blog).

The sound guy kindly faded this one out for me, but if you'd truly like to set the scene, picture yourself in a nice crowded auditorium. Everyone's just settled in. You've heard a little intro about what to expect during the program, and this sad, slow song begins. Now as I enter the last chorus (where the fade starts), imagine the piercing bleep bleep of a fire alarm! Just in case you were getting a little *too* comfortable. :)

All turned out fine. We got a little cold outside (in the spirit of things, I suppose) but were able to head back in and finish up. Enjoy...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Phil Hoose: Claudette Colvin (up for the National Book Award!)

On Wednesday, the National Book Awards will be announced, and this year I'm crossing my fingers for a fabulous book in the "Young Peoples Literature" category by Phillip Hoose, who just happens to be from Maine! (And if you stop by Cynthia Lord's blog, you can read the story of how I unexpectedly got to get up on stage and sing with him last night.)

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice is the true story of a 15 year old girl who refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger nine months before Rosa Parks made her historic protest. Claudette Colvin was jailed, ostracized from her classmates, shunned by her community, and yet she persevered. She fought her charges in court (and lost), and later went on to be a key witness in the court case that outlawed segregation on buses and ended the Montgomery bus boycott. She is a truly inspiring unsung hero.

Phil Hoose's book is written partly in the voice of Claudette Colvin, gleaned from hours of personal interviews. She describes exactly what it felt like to hear the jail cell click shut, and to look out from the witness stand in the middle of her trial. Hoose fills in historical details about the Montgomery bus boycott and the events that led up to the trial. It's a fascinating, gripping book that sheds new light on the civil rights movement in Montgomery. A must read.

Here is a video where you can hear some of the story in Colvin's own words. Whether this book wins a National Book Award, I hope it continues to receive recognition and acclaim for many years to come.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Grab Bag Friday: Missed Connections, We Shared a Bear Suit

I can't remember where I first came across Missed Connections. Probably Fuse #8 or somewhere else equally plugged-in to the online world of quirky, whimsical, hip blogsters. Well, whoever pointed me in the right direction, many thanks!

Every so often, Sophie Blackall takes a quote from a "missed connections" page on Craig's List or the like, illustrates it, and posts it on her blog, aptly titled, Missed Connections. The results are startling, witty, beautiful, and always bring a smile.

Here is one of my recent favorites: We Shared a Bear Suit (I love the addition of the fish in the bottom corner). The caption is below.

"Saturday, October 17, 2009
- m4w
We shared a bear suit at an apartment party on Saturday night.
I asked for your number and you gave it to me, but somehow I don't have an area code written down. I had a great time talking with you, and I don't trust Chance enough to wait until I see you in the elevators..."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My Concert: Songs of the Civil War Era

My lecture/concert "Songs of the Civil War Era" ended up in the news a couple times last week!

First, Daisy Alioto wrote a very nice article in The Bowdoin Orient. She starts with:

"Josephine Cameron '98 sat center stage in Kanbar Auditorium strumming her guitar and letting her melodic voice soar sweetly around the room on Tuesday. She sang "Tenting on the Old Campground," the first piece in a program of Civil War-era songs that offer insight into the popular culture of the era. The song, a song of peace sung by war-weary soldiers, Union and Confederate alike, was truncated mid-verse by the piercing shriek of the fire alarm. The audience, slow to react, could hardly conceal their disappointment as Josie's voice still echoed in the rafters."

You can read the rest of the article here (how's that for suspense?)

And then Tom Porter from Maine Public Radio did a great spot on Maine Things Considered. You can listen to the whole thing here:

Monday, November 9, 2009

Reading On The Kindle 2

Our library recently acquired three e-readers that are now part of the permanent collection. So this weekend, I checked out a Kindle 2, to see what all the buzz is about, and to find out if I really can stand reading a book on a screen.

This particular Kindle came packed with about 100 books, and I chose The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and Emerald City: An Environmental History of Seattle by Matt Klingle (yes, I'm one of those weirdo multi-taskers that likes to have multiple books going on at one time).

I'll tell you straight out that I expected to be won over. At least for traveling purposes. I'm the kind of girl who packs 7 books for a 7 night stay (and actually reads maybe one and a half). For traveling, the e-book seems ideal. Finish a book? Download another. Not in the mood for the book you brought? Find something else. Seemed like a no-brainer.

I suppose I'll reserve judgment until I've finished these e-books, but so far, I might rather lug the extra 10 pounds around.

Here's what I've observed so far:

  • The Kindle 2 is a lot easier to read than a computer screen or even Kevin's iPod. That fancy electronic ink is something else. It's not a book, but it's certainly easy on the eyes.
  • It's convenient, and easy to hide under the table at the sports bar while your husband is watching the Chicago Bears.
  • Formatting is an issue. While reading The Book Thief, I came across a lot of bold, choppy, centered text. I picked up the real paper book to compare and voila! it all made sense. I suppose it's because the screen is so small, but what looks intriguing and visually exciting on paper (short, centered paragraphs...some that are poem-esque), is very messy, haphazard, and distracting on the Kindle. I feel like I'm missing out on some of the heart of Zukas' book.
  • Footnotes are a bear. Maybe there's a way to quickly view a footnote, but I haven't found it.
  • I have very particular paper-oriented reading habits. I didn't realize this consciously before reading on a Kindle, but apparently, I like to go back and re-read a lot. As I'm reading a book, I flip back through pages to re-read great passages, to remember a character's name, or re-absorb a key plot point. On the Kindle, I keep catching myself wanting to flip back, but it's pointless. Who knows how many screens I'd have to flip through to find that spot?
  • The "experimental" web tool is unusable. Simply put, trying to access an article on an online site like is more painful than it's worth.
That said, would I check out a Kindle from the library to take on a trip? Sure. Why not? It's like getting to pack 100 books instead of just seven. I'd probably still pack 2 or 3 (or 4) paper books, just in case. :)

Would I pay $259 for a Kindle (not including the cost of the books)? Sorry, no.

This article from CrunchGear sums it up pretty nicely: 10 Reasons to Buy a Kindle 2...and 10 Reasons Not To.

Here's an interesting article on the evolution of the Kindle by Nicholson Baker in the New Yorker: A New Page.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Grab Bag Friday Movie Vault: Gene Kelly's Film Debut

When I was stuck at home sick this week, I watched a great Gene Kelly movie that I'm stunned I'd never seen. I don't know if it was the decongestant, but I got *completely* caught up in it and even cried into my tissues at the end.

Turns out, For Me and My Gal was Gene Kelly's debut movie. And what a debut! He plays an aspiring vaudeville star who teams up with a girl singer (Judy Garland). Their dream is to perform at The Palace in New York and get married after their first matinee.

Of course, things go awry, and in a very odd plot twist, poor old Gene gets snubbed for draft-dodging. In fact, this movie (with it's "Buy American War Bonds" ad at the end) is so patriotic, I wondered at one point if it could have been designed strategically for recruiting purposes. In any case, it's a great movie with lots of good music and stellar dancing.

Here's the scene where they do their first dance together. Sigh. I love Gene Kelly.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Miles Davis & John Coltrane: So What

My friend David recently posted this video on Facebook. Can you imagine sitting in an audience somewhere in New York in 1959 and actually watching these guys live? I have no words.

Miles Davis & John Coltrane: So What (Live: April, 1959)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Blog Re-run: James Thurber, Many Moons

Since I'm stuck in bed today with a brutal cold, here is a blog re-run of my favorite picture book for when you're not feeling well...

(Originally posted March 12, 2007)
If you know of James Thurber, it's probably because of his hilarious stories and cartoons in the New Yorker, or maybe from his multiple collaborations with colleague E. B. White. But did you know that he wrote an absolutetly sweet, endearing children's book?

Many Moons, illustrated by Louis Slobodkin is a charming, whimsical fairy tale with Thurber's signature goofiness and humor. My sister used to read it to me whenever I had the flu or a cold, and it always brought a smile that made me feel better.

The story revolves around Princess Lenore (age 10 going on 11) who is in bed sick. The king, beside himself, calls in all his wise men to heal her. Each one has a different, equally thourough, equally scientific, and equally useless analysis of the situation. Enter, of course, the Court Jester.

I won't tell you the rest of the story, because I don't want to spoil the fun. Suffice it to say that this book is highly recommended. Even as an adult, reading it never fails to bring a smile. And reminds me that many things in life are simpler (and more lovely) than we think!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Grab Bag Friday: Grocery Store Musical

Obviously, I am an Improv Everywhere junkie. I loved their original food court musical, and the new grocery store musical is just as hilarious. I love the reactions from the "audience" at the end.

For more outtakes, behind the scenes info, and reaction shots, visit Improv Everywhere. What fun!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Etta James: Swing Low Sweet Chariot

I had a blast at yesterday's Songs of the Civil War Era concert, despite the fire alarm that went off about 7 minutes into the program (no joke!) We stood outside, shivered, and got to know each other for about 20 minutes and then everyone kindly filed back in to finish the show.

There was a fabulously full, responsive audience of Bowdoin College students, Longfellow Elementary School fifth graders, and members of the local community. They all did a great job singing the popular spiritual "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" in call and response style! There was also a reporter from MPBN there, so I'll keep you posted if all those lovely voices end up on the radio. :)

In thanks to everyone who came and participated (and waited around in the cold), here is a great version of "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" by the imperially soulful Etta James. Enjoy!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Concert Tomorrow: Songs of the Civil War Era

Tomorrow, I'll be giving a lecture/concert at Bowdoin College on Songs of the Civil War Era. (Tues, Oct. 27th at 11:30 in Studzinski Auditorium)

I'll talk about the new "American music" that began to take shape during the Civil War Era and how this music reflected and informed attitudes toward African Americans. I'll sing some songs and spirituals from the battlefield, the home front, the cotton fields, and the Underground Railroad.

In preparation for this talk, I found Irwin Silber's book Songs of the Civil War very useful for its take on songs sung on the battlefield. Silber not only includes the original versions of popular songs like "Bonnie Blue Flag" or "Battle Hymn of the Republic," but also many of the lyrics of popular parodies and spin-offs that were created during the war.

To the tune of "Bonnie Blue Flag," for instance, there were a dozen popular Civil War songs. Of the most interesting, there was a Northern version "The Stripes and Stars," a prisoners-of-war version "Bonnie White Flag," and a version called "The Southern Girl with the Homespun Dress," which praises the simplicity and goodness of the Southern Girl, and then calls soldiers to arms...because good Southern Girls only love boys who fight in the Confederate army. I wonder how many recruits they got out of that one?

And now, young man, a word to you;
If you would win the fair,
Go to the field where honor calls,
And win your lady there.
Remember that our brightest smiles
Are for the true and brave,
And that our tears are all for those
Who fill a soldier's grave.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Grab Bag Friday: The Best Tip I Ever Got From Watching Rachel Ray

Are you ready for it? Seriously, it's even better than it sounds. Just try it a couple times. You'll see.

As we know, I'm not the most eager chef. I rarely used fresh ginger until I learned this tip because it was such a pain in the neck to peel it, and chop it up (I tried grating it once and that was a disaster), and we always had to buy a whole big ginger root which is way more than we needed for one recipe... Now I use fresh ginger all the time! (Don't I sound like an infomercial?)

The next time you buy fresh ginger from the store:

  1. Peel it
  2. Chop it into one-inch cubes
  3. Put the cubes into a plastic bag and store them in the freezer
Then, when you need fresh ginger in a recipe (Chicken Soba Noodles, anyone?), just take out a frozen cube and grate it with a zester. Ta da! It takes about ten seconds to grate. No clean up. No waste. And if you don't have a zester, it's worth picking one up, just for this. Let me tell you, fresh ginger is *way* more delicious than the dried stuff.

Rachel Ray (or whichever staff member worked round-the-clock to come up with this little gem) is a genius.

(Photo by FotoosVanRobin)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Eric Carle Museum: Winnie the Pooh!

If you are anywhere in the New England area, I feel obligated to inform you that there are only THREE weeks left to catch the Eric Carle Museum's current exhibition The World of Pooh: Selections from the Penguin Young Readers Group Collection.

Selections from E. H. Shepard's original drawings of Winnie the Pooh and friends will be on display until November 8th. Of course, I've put this off until the last minute, but Kevin and I are going to head down at the end of the month, with just days to spare. I can't wait!

There's also a Tomie dePaola 75th birthday exhibition we're going to catch while we're there (again just under the ends Nov. 1). I'm excited to see all that spaghetti stretched out in person. :)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Grab Bag Friday: Who Let the Dogs Out?

Here's the latest caper from those brilliant people over at Improv Everywhere. This time, they came up with 2000 invisible dogs and unleashed them on the city. It *almost* makes me wish I lived in New York. :)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Harry Nilsson: Think About Your Troubles

I've posted this clip from The Point before, but when I was a kid and having a bad day, this is the song I would think about. I've since been told that this scene creeped my siblings out. Not me. I'd think about that whale decomposing on the bottom of the ocean and the tiny teardrop flowing back to the sea. The basic elements. The whole big, circular picture. And my own little teardrop would seem just a bit more endurable.

Even as an adult, when things get too busy, when I get one too many rejections on that novel I've been working so hard on, when the car won't start, when winter comes too soon...I get this song in my head, and I imagine that little teardrop heading for the sea. In the whole scheme of things, it's really such a small little thing. Kind of makes you think about your troubles in a whole new way. Thanks, Harry. :)

Harry Nilsson: Think About Your Troubles

Sit beside the breakfast table
Think about your troubles
Pour yourself a cup of tea
Then think about the bubbles
You can take your teardrops
And drop 'em in a teacup
Take them down to the riverside

And throw them over the side
To be swept up by a current
Then taken to the ocean
To be eaten by some fishes
Who were eaten by some fishes
And swallowed by a whale
Who grew so old
He decomposed, doo, doo, doo

He died and left his body
To the bottom of the ocean
Now everybody knows
That when a body decomposes
The basic elements
Are given back to the ocean
And the sea does what it oughta

And soon there's salty water
Not too good for drinking
'Cause it tastes just like a teardrop
So they run it through a filter
And it comes out from a faucet
And it pours into a teapot
Which is just about to bubble
Now think about your troubles, now

Monday, October 12, 2009

John Keats: Ode to Autumn

(Photo note: This is the view from the fire tower near my childhood home. Not so bad, huh?)

Fall is my favorite time of year. The leaves here in Maine have turned to fiery reds and yellows and they've begun to fall just enough so you can kick through them with a nice shush-shush-shush as you walk. The sun is still warm enough to bask in, but there's a nice crisp to the air. I've been baking crisps from the apples we picked last week, and savoring cups of hot chai.

In honor of the season, my friend Susan (via Leah) reminded me of this lovely Keats poem, written in 1819:

Ode to Autumn
by John Keats

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease;
For Summer has o'erbrimm'd their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twinèd flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barrèd clouds bloom the soft-dying day
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river-sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Grab Bag Friday: Garth Fagan & Romare Bearden

The Family, 1975
, etching and aquatint, Edition 175, 21x26" (image) 22x30" (paper). From Bowdoin College's Art of Romare Bearden exhibit.

I just have to report a little on the dance performance I saw last week because it was phenomenal. Garth Fagan Dance came to campus as part of Bowdoin College's celebration of the Art of Romare Bearden. They performed sections from a piece called "CollageforRomie" that Garth Fagan choreographed based on Romare Bearden's collage work.

I'll admit, I don't know a lot about art and I'd never heard of Romare Bearden before, but this dance piece was such an exquisite tribute that I can't wait to go see the exhibit.

I've been thinking all week about how "CollageforRomie" was such a fascinating reflection on creative work: where an artist gets material, how that material is pieced together, the joy of creation, the complex emotions that are the heart of a project. It was also a brilliant example of how art is informed by art. This dance piece wouldn't be the same without the music it is set to or the paintings that inspired it.

The first section of was called "Matter and Material." Before the performance, Fagan talked about how Romare Bearden's home was filled with matter and material for his collages. Bits and pieces of fabric and paper, scraps that didn't have a specific purpose yet, but might be useful someday. Like a collage artist, dancers have pieces of raw material, bits of choreography, small half-formed ideas that are just waiting to be put to use. So "Matter and Material" was a dance collage, a combination of all these small movements and ideas just hanging around, waiting for the perfect project to come along. It was lovely.

The second section was a riveting duet based on a Bearden painting called "Detail: Down Home Also." The dancers in this piece had such a beautiful felt that they were intimately linked even when they were across the stage from each other. Before the piece began, Fagan showed us an image of the Bearden painting: a man and a woman lying together in a field, the man's arm outstretched, the woman's elbow tilted in. At the end of the duet, the dancers positioned themselves in an exact, live replica of the Bearden painting. It was stunning.

"Conjur Man" was the third and final section, an upbeat romp set to Jelly Roll Morton's "Jungle Blues." I loved this piece. Bits and pieces of movement from the previous sections came together in unexpected ways. The dancers were full of life and energy. It was pure joy.

And of course I have to mention the extra surprise of the evening. Before the show, as we were settling into our seats and perusing the program, Kevin gave me an enthusiastic punch in the arm. One of the newest members of Garth Fagan Dancers was none other than Vitolio...from season five of So You Think You Can Dance! How cool is that?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Harold Arlen: Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Back in March, I was asked to sing with the Bowdoin College Concert Band for an evening of standards and Gershwin Tunes. I just got some of the mp3 files from the concert and thought it might be fun to post one. (You can listen by clicking on the player at the bottom of this post.)

Harold Arlen is one of my songwriting heroes, with over 500 songs under his belt (including one of my all-time favorites, Stormy Weather). When he teamed up with lyricist Johnny Mercer in the 1940's, the results were pure magic: One for My Baby, Come Rain or Come Shine, That Old Black Magic, Ac-cen-tu-ate the Positive. In that old music-on-a-desert-island game, Harold Arlen would be my man.

But of course, his most famous song of all is "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," written for The Wizard of Oz and sung unforgettably by Judy Garland. Get this, though (from IMDB):

"Over the Rainbow" was nearly cut from the film; MGM felt that it made the Kansas sequence too long, as well as being too far over the heads of the children for whom it was intended. The studio also thought that it was degrading for Judy Garland to sing in a barnyard.
Oh, studio suits. Really? Truly?

Anyway, here's me singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow with the Bowdoin College Concert Band. Hope you enjoy...

Monday, October 5, 2009

Make Something! Amy Schimler Fabric Benefit

How sweet are these fabrics? You may have guessed that they're so terrific because they were designed by illustrator extraordinaire Amy Schimler.

All October and November, profits from sales in Amy's etsy shop will go to benefit her close friend who lost her house in a recent flood. So if you have any decorating or holiday gift projects coming up, please do stop by and pick up a yard or two. You'll not only get to make something whimsical and fun, you'll also make someone's disaster just a little bit easier to bear.

And while you're at it, don't forget to check out Amy's newest book: What Do You See?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Grab Bag Friday: Garth Fagan

Tonight, I'm going to see a lecture and performance by dancer and choreographer Garth Fagan. Most famously, Fagan won a Tony Award in 1998 for his work on the theatrical version of The Lion King.

I haven't seen The Lion King musical (have you?), but I thought this little piece was interesting. My students and I are always talking about how collaboration can bring you to places you never would have arrived at on your own. Here, Garth Fagan talks about collaborating with musicians and costume designers, and the challenges of creating choreography for dancers who will be wearing elaborate costumes that change their whole shape and balance (I think he uses the word "impossible").

Seriously, check out the animals these dancers are wearing. Of course choreography would be difficult, but can you imagine how hard it must be to dance with an entire antelope on your head?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Monsters of Folk: Say Please

It's no secret that I'm an M. Ward fan (especially Post-War which I like better and better every time I listen to it). So here's a question for you: What happens when you add M. Ward, Conor Oberst (from Bright Eyes), Jim James (from My Morning Jacket), and producer Mike Mogis? Kind of like some alt-folk musical dream team?

Here's a taste. I'm off to listen to some more of the new album from Monsters of Folk:

Monday, September 28, 2009

Rebecca Stead: When You Reach Me

All my friends know I'm cheap. I rarely buy books brand-new and almost never buy them in hardcover. But there's been so much buzz in the kidlit world about Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me that I just had to pick it up (okay, so I also had a gift card for Borders).

Was it worth it? You bet.

I read When You Reach Me in one sitting during yesterday's Bears/Seahawks game (victory...hooray for Kevin!) and I became so absorbed that I completely forgot I was in a crowded bar with football fans cheering all around me. Instead, I was in New York City in the 1970's, contemplating mysterious messages and lost friendship and the physics of Madeline L'Engle's masterpiece, A Wrinkle in Time. When the game was over and Kevin was jumping out of his seat in glee, I had to ask breathlessly for just five more minutes to finish the last few pages. (Okay, we'll leave the discussion of how my husband is gracious enough to watch his Sunday games in a sports bar while his wife reads kidlit novels and eats ice cream in plain view of all the other sports fans whose wives are wearing Patriots jerseys and drinking Shipyard...for another day.)

I won't belabor the point. Gripping. Fun. Mysterious. Real. Worth picking up. Even in hardcover.

Here's what the experts have to say:
Fuse #8
The New York Times

Here's an interview with Ms. Stead from Horn Book (where her book recieved that coveted starred review).

Here's the response from Monica Edinger's fourth grade class. Some of my favorite quotes from the student posts:

"When my teacher read this book to us, my mouth dropped open in a perfect O. This will probably happen to anyone who reads this book."

"The beginning may be a little dull but eventually you will be gritting your teeth and and holding on to your pants."

"Well anyway it’s a mysterious book that is good for kid’s that like to have to wait till the end to understand the important things."
Here's an interesting article by Rebecca Stead on how today's tweens have more purchasing power, but less independence than previous generations.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Grab Bag Friday: Open Notes

So here's an interesting question...

You sit on the exam table, dangle your feet over the edge like a kid, stick out your tongue, breathe deeply, jabber on about this vague pain in your left side, and all the while your doctor is scribbling away on that little clipboard (or in some offices, typing madly away on the keyboard).

Do you ever wish you could see what your doctor writes about you after you walk out of the room?

More importantly, do you think seeing your doctor's notes would improve your health, your healthcare, or your relationship with your doctor?

My very impressive little sister is working on a very impressive (not so little) study called Open Notes, where doctors will make their private notes available to their patients online. As you can imagine, doctors have some mixed feelings about this. Check out Monday's NPR story about Open Notes.

Technically, you can see your notes now if you ask. It's a law. But depending on your doctor, it may be more difficult than trying to get an appointment with the president.

So what do you think?

I definitely would look at my notes if they were online. It would especially be helpful if I could look up past visits because I have a terrible memory (what prescription did we decide I was allergic to again? what was my blood pressure?) and maybe track data (an easily accessible record of my cholesterol levels over the years would be great).

But I do wonder if my doctor would be candid, knowing I could see what she writes. Then again, if I can't see it, does it matter how candid she is? I'm glad people are trying to experiment with different ways of doing things. We've got all these smart people around with great ideas...why not try out a few?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Ukulele is Back! Zee Avi & George Harrison

Is it just me, or have you been hearing *lots* of ukulele these days? I have to say, despite some hilariously disparaging uke jokes out there (Q: What's the difference between an ukulele and an onion ? A: No one cries when you cut up a ukulele....wocka wocka), I'm kind of liking the trend. There's something irresistibly joyful about the goofy little instrument.

Last night, I was listening to In Tune By Ten on our always-impressive public radio station and host Sara Willis played two ukulele songs in a row. I enjoyed them so much I thought I'd post them here for you:

Zee Avi: Just You and Me

George Harrison: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Monday, September 21, 2009

Elizabeth Strout: Olive Kitteridge

I read much of Olive Kitteridge on the dock outside my dad's house this August. I'd never read any Elizabeth Strout, but knew the book was set in Maine and won the Pulitzer Prize, so I thought it might be worth a try. As soon as I read the opening paragraph, I sighed happily, dangled my feet over the edge of the dock, and settled in:

"For many years Henry Kitteridge was a pharmacist in the next town over, driving every morning on snowy roads, or rainy roads, or summertime roads, when the wild raspberries shot their new growth in brambles along the last section of town before he turned off to where the wider road led to the pharmacy. Retired now, he still wakes early and remembers how mornings used to be his favorite, as though the world were his secret, tires rumbling softly beneath him and the light emerging through the early fog, the brief sight of the bay off to his right, then the pines, tall and slender, and almost always he rode with the window partly open because he loved the smell of the pines and the heavy salt air, and in the winter he loved the smell of the cold." (You can read more of the first chapter at NPR.)
Olive Kitteridge is a collection of short stories that revolve loosely around a retired math teacher (Olive) and her fellow residents of Crosby, Maine. The book is a perfect example of my preferred lakeside reading: slow, exquisite, tinged with melancholy, and focused on all those intricate details that build the whole.

Elizabeth Strout's writing is compassionate and brutally honest. Her characters are complex. Like the rest of us, they succeed and fail and try to stumble on the best they can. Like the rest of us, they're not always likable. Olive herself is judgmental and prickly most of the time (though her husband, Henry, is awfully endearing). In moments as monumental as a hostage situation at the hospital, or as minute as going out for donuts, they grapple with longing and love, a sense of home and belonging, fear, trust, and sadness. Some pull through better than others.

There is a lot of sadness in Olive Kitteridge: lost love, illness, death. But I didn't come away from it feeling depressed or hopeless. I wondered about that for weeks after I read the book. How could it be? How did she do it? I think the answer is in this quote from an interview with Elizabeth Strout in the Kansas City Star:
"I’m most gratified when people say to me after reading the book, 'I see people differently now. I live in a small town. I understand life is more complicated.' I would like my work to be used as a vehicle for forgiveness, for understanding that everybody’s just human and most of us are trying to do the best we can. Certainly people will judge Olive, as well they should, but overall I hope the experience is to understand how rich life is, how good life is, and how imperfect we are."

Friday, September 18, 2009

Grab Bag Friday: Tomato Basil Pasta with a Kick

It's been an insanely busy couple weeks with school starting up, and the last thing I want to do is think about cooking. Just in case you're in the same boat, here's a super-easy, super-tasty pasta recipe that I like to fall back on. I think I saw it a few years ago on a show like Oprah or Rachel Ray. :)

What you need:

  • Frozen ravioli or tortellini, or even better, fresh ravioli ready to be cooked
  • Olive oil
  • 1 pint baby tomatoes
  • Basil (preferably big handful, chopped)
  • 1 chili pepper
What you do:
  1. Pour 2-ish tablespoons of olive oil in a pan and turn the heat to medium.
  2. Chop up the chili pepper into tiny pieces and add it to the oil. (Use 1/2 of the pepper if you don't want it too zesty.)
  3. Cut each tomato in half and toss those in the pan. Turn the heat down to low.
  4. Cook the pasta according to the directions while the tomatoes simmer.
  5. A minute or two before the pasta's done, toss the chopped basil into the tomato mixture.
  6. Serve the tomato "sauce" on top of the pasta. Top with Parmesan if you like.
  7. Enjoy!
You can add garlic or onions or anything else you like, I suppose. We usually just keep it simple.

(Photo by DecciaBodden)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I Wrote a Hit Song! Winner

August got so busy that I didn't even have a chance on this blog to announce the latest I Wrote a Hit Song! contest winner!

Romany (age 10) from Queensland, Australia wrote a beautiful, heart-wrenching, and very wise song called Time Will Fly. Her older brother recorded her singing and playing piano, and I think you'll be impressed by the results.

If you have a moment, please do stop by, listen to the song, and leave a comment for Romany. I'm sure she'd love to know what you think.

Congratulations, Romany! You wrote a hit song!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Walt Whitman: A noiseless patient spider

This weekend, the spiders were busy in our backyard. I watched one build a gigantic web around my sunflowers, and another bind an entire caterpillar in a womb of silky thread.

Spiderwebs always make me think of two things: Wilbur and poetry. Well, here's a little poetry for your soul this morning. (And speaking of poetry, if you're in Maine, there are a number of poetry events coming up to celebrate the new From the Fishouse Anthology.)

(Photo by manu gomi)

A noiseless patient spider
by Walt Whitman

A noiseless patient spider,
I mark'd where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark'd how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form'd, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Grab Bag Friday: Two New Blogs

Here are two new blogs from my neck of the woods that I'm looking forward to following for a while:

Simple Living
One family's move to Maine and how they built a net-zero home.
I'm going to have to go back and read this one from beginning to end, because the story of building the house is fascinating. Recently, there's an excellent post on Sweat Equity and the Road to Financial Freedom. And how can you not like a blog with a post titled Respect the Piglet? (I was surprised to find a link to my website on that one!)

Earthly Sweetness
What earthly sweetness remains unmixed with grief? What glory stands immutable on the earth?

A brand new blog from Vermont about everything from gardening to art to raising kids, and lots of poetry mixed in. I enjoyed a lovely post on Fog and Trees, Dove and O'Keeffe.

How about you? Reading any new blogs worth checking out?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Dinah Shore: It's So Nice To Have A Man Around The House

Posting all those Doris Day songs last week got me nostalgic for songs of the 40's. (Can you be nostalgic for an era you never experienced?)

I have to say, I'm a total sucker for the guileless, sappy stuff like I'll Walk Alone and the entire Doris Day catalogue. But I *really* love it when something from the 40's comes along and throws you for a loop with a wry, snarky wink.

For example, the first time I heard Dinah Shore's It's So Nice to Have a Man Around the House, it knocked my socks off. There's something completely satisfying about the way Dinah's pure, sweet voice plays with Jack Elliott's tounge-in-cheek lyrics.

I couldn't embed the entire song today, but here's a clip and the lyrics, or you can listen to the entire song for free using this link to Rhapsody.

It's So Nice To Have A Man Around The House
Music by Harold Spina
Lyrics by Jack Elliott

It's so nice to have a man around the house
Oh so nice to have a man around the house
Someone sweet who's glad he found you
Who will put his arms around you
And his kisses just astound you
It's so nice

Oh a house is not a house without a man
He's the necessary evil in your plan
Someone kind who knows you treasure
Any simple little pleasure
Like a full length mink to cover last year's blouse
It's so nice to have a man around the house

It's so nice to have a man around the house
Oh so nice to have a man around the house
Just a guy in pipe and slippers
Who will share your breakfast kippers
And help you zip your zippers
It's so nice

Oh a house is not a house without a man
He's the necessary evil in your plan
Just a knight in shining armor
Who is something of a charmer
Even though he might be someone else's spouse
It's so nice to have a man around the house

It's so nice, just about the most important thing I can think of
So put no one else above him, when you love him, really love him
Though it's two to one you'll wind up with a louse
It's so nice
So nice

Monday, September 7, 2009

15 Books

Continuing through my queue of Facebook quizzes...I'm such a sucker for these things. :)

Let me tell you, once I started writing them down, it was hard to stop at 15! And since it turns out I've written about a lot of these books on my blog already, I've put in the links. What are your 15 books?

Rules: Don't take too long to think about it. List 15 books you've read that will always stick with you. They should be the first 15 you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Tag 15 friends, including me, because I'm interested in seeing what books my friends choose.

1. Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
2. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
3. Half Magic by Edward Eager
4. When the Sun Rose by Barbara Helen Berger
5. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
6. Collected Poems of Robert Hayden
7. Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern
8. House on Marshland by Louise Glück
9. The Arrival by Shaun Tan
10. The Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson
11. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
12. The entire Anastasia Krumpnik series by Lois Lowry
13. Omnivore's Dillema by Michael Pollan
14. Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne
15. Tess of the D'Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy