Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Martha Tilton: I'll Walk Alone And the Angels Sing

A little blast from the past today. Here are two songs from one of my favorite big band singers, Martha Tilton. Sure, she's not a household name, but something about her sweet, clear tone has the ability to always put me right at ease.

And the Angels Sing is probably Ms. Tilton's most famous song, performed with the Benny Goodman Orchestra at the legendary 1938 Carnegie Hall Concert. This is the first song I heard her sing, and it won me over instantly!

A friend of mine sent me a cassette tape with I'll Walk Alone when I was away at college, and to this day, it is one of the most beautiful melodies I know (and I truly believe lyricist Sammy Cahn was a genius). I like Martha Tilton's version because she sings it with just the right amount of melancholy. Not too drippy sweet, like some of her contemporaries performed it.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Robert Hayden: Monet's Waterlillies

When I'm in need of some seriously good poetry, the kind that makes you breathe deep and look at the world in a whole new light, I usually make a beeline for the Collected Poems of Robert Hayden. In celebration of the last Monday of Poetry Month, here is a Robert Hayden poem about the reflective and refractive qualities of art in a world we don't always want to look at head-on.

Monet's Waterlilies
by Robert Hayden

Today as the news from Selma and Saigon
poisons the air like fallout,
I come again to see
the serene, great picture that I love.

Here space and time exist in light
the eye like the eye of faith believes.
The seen, the known
dissolve in iridescence, become
illusive flesh of light
that was not, was, forever is.

O light beheld as through refracting tears.
Here is the aura of that world
each of us has lost.
Here is the shadow of its joy.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Grab Bag Friday Movie Vault: Designing Women

One of the redeeming things about being laid up with a brutal cold is that you get to lounge on the couch and watch goofy old movies. Kevin and I rented Designing Women this week, and I must say, it was a highly satisfying viewing experience.

No, no, not those permed women with their interior design hijinks that dominated our televisions in the 80's. This is a 1957 comedy with two of my favorite actors: Lauren Bacall and Gregory Peck. How could you go wrong?

The basic plot is that Marilla (Lauren) and Mike (Gregory) meet on vacation on the West Coast, fall madly in love, and get married on a whim. When they return to their home town of New York, they find (hilariously) that they have two completely different lives.

I was going to describe the plot and post the original trailer here, but it spoils far too many plot lines. There were so many fun surprises in this movie, it's got to be better to just rent it and start it up cold. Suffice it to say that Gregory Peck is a comic genius. Lauren Bacall is glamorous and wry. The ending (which the 1957 The New York Times review called "in somewhat doubtful taste") had me laughing so hard it hurt my throat (what that says about my taste could be a discussion for another day).

Kevin's verdict? He definitely liked it, but he thought watching me gasp, cringe, and guffaw through the whole thing was more fun than the movie. That's about par for the course at my house.

Oren Lavie: Her Morning Elegance

I know, I know. I missed my music blog post this Wednesday. Instead of blogging, I was curled up on the couch with hot lemon ginger tea in one hand and a box of kleenex in the other. *sigh* Spring cold season.

But, I won't short change you. I'll give you a quick music post *and* a Grab Bag Friday post, all in one day. How about that? All is forgiven?

For the music: a lovely, whimsical video by Oren Lavie (remember his beautiful Dance Round the Memory Tree in the Narnia movie?) I've been loving this song recently:

Monday, April 20, 2009

Mary Oliver: Red Bird

Lately, I've been day-dreaming about which poems to use in my summer Poetry Writing for Kids workshop. It's a fun, but difficult exercise...kind of like having to pick out just a few pieces of candy out of a blimp-sized bag of tasty treats.

Though my class is geared toward 3rd-5th graders, I'm the kind that doesn't like to narrow the field to "children's poetry" (although there is plenty to choose from there.) So when I started thinking about a nature-inspired unit, my thoughts drifted immediately to Mary Oliver. Her simple, elegant, sharply observant, and sparse poems are filled with exactly the kind of wonder and beauty I am hoping my students will tune in to.

Over Easter, I picked up Mary Oliver's 2008 collection, Red Bird. (Her newest collection, Evidence, is scheduled to hit bookstores this month.) As expected, it is filled with rich images from the natural world that plant themselves in your mind and stay with you all day. The poet Stanley Kunitz has wisely said, "Mary Oliver's poetry is fine and deep; it reads like a blessing."

I was particularly struck by the poems in this book that concern words, and specifically, the writing of words. On one hand, Ms. Oliver ponders, words are everything. But on the other, they are nothing. She puts the image of herself, constantly finding beauty, joy, and anguish in writing and manipulating language, against the image of the red bird, the fox, the owl. In the natural world, of which she writes so much about, there are no words. And yet even without words, there is no shortage of beauty, joy, and anguish there. Without words:

"the trees flourish,
the toad leaps,
and out of the silent dirt
the blood-red roses rise." (From "Both Worlds")
Below is one of the poems on this topic that I intend to use for my class. I hope you'll have a chance to pick up a copy of Red Bird and read the rest. It is indeed fine and deep and reads like a blessing.

Percy and Books (Eight)
by Mary Oliver

(note: Percy is Ms. Oliver's dog)

Percy does not like it when I read a book.
He puts his face over the top of it and moans.
He rolls his eyes, sometimes he sneezes.
The sun is up, he says, and the wind is down.
The tide is out and the neighbor's dogs are playing.
But Percy, I say. Ideas! The elegance of language!
The insights, the funniness, the beautiful stories
that rise and fall and turn into strength, or courage.

Books? says Percy. I ate one once, and it was enough.
Let's go.

You can listen to Mary Oliver reading from her poetry (she begins with a Percy poem) at the Lannan Foundation. (Thank you to One Poet's Notes for the link.)

Mary Oliver's biography is available at Poetry Foundation.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Grab Bag Friday: Wild Rumpus on the White House Lawn

This was my favorite video of the week. It's worth watching to the end because President Obama starts to hit his stride. He's not half-bad at story time! Let the wild rumpus begin!

So which rumpus do you think will be better...Obama's interpretation or Spike Jonze's?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Playing for Change: Stand By Me and Don't Worry

My mom sent me a Playing for Change video a few months back, and one of my student's parents recently reminded me about it, so I figure it's high time to get something up on the blog!

The Playing for Change Foundation provides facilities, supplies, and educational resources for musicians around the world. The foundation has started a music school and an art center in Africa, and is working to rebuild Tibetan refugee centers in India and Nepal.

Working with musicians around the world, Playing for Change has recorded a CD, Songs Around the World that will be released on April 28th. It's such a cool project. Here are a couple songs that will be on the album (and are now available on iTunes):

Stand By Me

Don't Worry:

Monday, April 13, 2009

Jane Yolen at The Miss Rumphius Effect

UPDATE 4/14: For another Poetry Month interview with Jane Yolen, you can wander over to Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

For Poetry Month, The Miss Rumphius Effect (best blog name ever) has been doing a series of interviews called Poetry Makers. Last week, I was excited to see that she interviewed one of my author-heroines, Jane Yolen.

Jane Yolen is unbelievably prolific. She's published more than 300 books (and I swear that number is growing every day). And she's incredibly versatile. I first got hooked on her fantasy books, especially her retellings of traditional stories like Briar Rose. Then I got pulled into her picture books (like All Those Secrets of the World), her folk tale collections (like Not One Damsel in Distress), and her poetry collections (like the charming new book Here's a Little Poem).

What draws me to Jane Yolen's work is always her strong, brave, and truly capable female characters, her love of the traditional story, her bent toward the whimsical and fantastical, and the *fun* she has painting pictures with language.

What inspires me about Jane Yolen's work is her diversity, her depth, her very nuts-and-bolts, practical, and tireless dedication to sit down and write and write and write.

In The Miss Rumphis Effect interview, you can read some of Jane Yolen's poetry and learn about the new projects she is working on. But here is my favorite question/answer of the whole interview:

What are the things you enjoy most about writing poetry for children/young adults?
I can help them see the world anew. I can put into words some of the longings, and lingering doubts, some of the puzzles and muzzled moments of their lives. I can give them songs to sing.

She can. And she does. Daily. Thank you, Jane Yolen, and thank you Miss Rumphius Effect!

(Be sure to check out some of the other great in-depth Poetry Makers interviews with children's poets like Adam Rex, Julie Larios, and Joyce Carol Thomas...and stay tuned. There's more to come all month!)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Grab Bag Friday: Kill A Watt Meter

Yesterday, I spent some time at the Bowdoin College Climate Fair, showing people how to use a Kill A Watt Meter, so I thought I'd take a minute to pass the information on to you.

Kill A Watt Meters are becoming available at libraries all over the country (you can check them out just like a book...just ask your friendly librarian). You can use them to find the biggest energy hogs in your house.

They're a snap to use:

  • Plug the Kill A Watt Meter into the wall
  • Plug the appliance you'd like to test into the Kill A Watt Meter
  • Let it sit for an hour
Once you have a reading on the kilowatts per hour you can go to this handy calculator and find out how much that appliance is costing you per month. (You'll notice it defaults to the Maine state rate of $.17/kwh, so if you live in another state, you should change that. To find your state's rate, here is a handy chart.)

Here are some examples:
  • My television costs me $12.24 per month when it's OFF. If I plug it into a power strip and flip it off when I'm not using the TV, I could save almost $150 per year. (Or I could just unplug the TV and skip the power strip, but that would mean reaching behind the TV...not an easy task in our house.)
  • If I turn my computer off during my lunch hour instead of leaving it on, that's another $80 per year.
  • If I run my bedroom air conditioner for one hour less per day, I save $75 per summer.
You can see just with those three little painless changes, I've just earned myself a little spa weekend. Thanks, Kill A Watt Meter!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Sam Phillips: A Piece of My Bright Side

Sam Phillips is giving away a brand new song, A Piece of My Bright Side to anyone who signs up for her mailing list. It's an upbeat little gem, and I definitely recommend heading over to download it.

She's also selling a limited edition handmade book with the same name. A collection of "Sam's favorite oddities, pictures, interview tour stuff & more," it looks like her signature quirkiness bound up, packaged, and signed. What fun! I ordered my copy last week.

Here's a link to my previous (and surprisingly copious) Sam Phillips posts in case you want to read and hear more.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Smallest Range: A Poem for Anita O'Day

For the first Monday of Poetry Month, I thought I'd post one of my own poems, just for kicks.

This is a poem I wrote a while back for one of my favorite singers of all time: Anita O'Day. When Ms. O'Day was a child, she had a botched tonsillectomy that left her with a very small vocal range, and little capacity for vibrato. She always claimed that having less to work with forced her to find more rhythmic, interesting ways to use her voice.

[Completely unrelated side note: There's a great round-up of all the online Poetry Month events in the kidlit world over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.]

The Smallest Range
Poem for Anita O’Day
by Josephine Cameron

Even this, this nothing, this incremental
change in pitch, if this is all there is, mold it, push it,
slice it to pieces, listen to it skitter and scat
through the cracks of this litany, this homage
to a void, this slender all-you’ve-ever-had.

Anita’s run off with the boys again—
Uptown, they play hardball, incongruous
with these thin lips, these starched curls;
home is a place to leave, so stamp it shrug it
drug it out, send sixteenth notes like so many coins
clamoring; crevices are made to be filled.
Leave behind expectations, preconceptions;
who’d have thought this flatness could burst
within its confines, the poisoned seed bloom;
this is evolution, determination, music, jazz.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Grab Bag Friday: Tilapia Topped with Warm Cherry Tomatoes

For those of you who are regular readers of Please Come Flying, you may remember that about a year ago, Kevin and I decide to try a meal-planning website called The Six O'Clock Scramble. Well, we're still at it, and I officially give The Scramble a two thumbs up. For three reasons:

  1. I don't have to plan out our meals (which for reasons good or bad, I can't stand doing)
  2. Our grocery list is made for us (and when we stick to the list, we spend less at the store)
  3. We are constantly trying new, delicious meals (there are only a *small* handful of Scramble meals we haven't liked)
  4. Every single recipe has been so easy, that even I cannot mess it up (ok, that's four)
There have been weeks when we haven't used it, but even still, it's been well worth the $1 per week.

And every once in a while, there are dishes that are so easy and delicious I have to share them with everyone I know. Here's one that I can't stop raving about. So simple, so *quick*, so delicious! (I used regular black olives because Kevin's not a fan of the kalamata.) And the cucumber salad on the side just *makes* the meal.

Tilapia Topped with Warm Cherry Tomatoes

This dish takes about 10 minutes start to finish, but you would never know it from the beautiful presentation and delicious flavor. Tilapia is a great fish to use for weeknights, because it is inexpensive, earth friendly, and cooks quickly. Our kids also like its mild taste. Serve it with a loaf of whole grain bread and a Cucumber Salad.

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1-1 1/2 lbs. tilapia fillets (or use flounder, cod, or other thin white fish fillets)
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
  • 1/4 lemon, juice only, about 1 Tbsp.
  • 1 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese, shredded or grated (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt, to taste
  • 1/8 tsp. black pepper, to taste (optional)
In a large heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the fish and season it with salt and pepper. Sauté the tilapia, turning it once, until it turns white throughout and flakes easily, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer the fish to a dish or platter.

In the same skillet (without cleaning it) sauté the tomatoes, parsley, and olives for several minutes until the tomatoes are softened. Season the sauce with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Pour the sauce over the fish, top it with the Parmesan cheese (optional), and serve it immediately.


For picky eaters, serve the fish plain with sauce on the side or on just one bite of the fish.


To make the salad, toss two peeled, chopped, and seeded cucumbers with 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese, 10 chopped fresh mint leaves, and 1 tsp. honey. Serve immediately or chill for up to one hour until ready to serve.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Save the Date: Summer Writing Workshops

I can't believe it, but summer is *really* just around the corner! I thought I'd give you a sneak peak into the workshops I'll be teaching at Bowdoin College this summer. It's so much fun to be a part of the endless creativity that springs from these young writers. They constantly surprise and impress me. I can't wait!

(If you're in Maine, and curious, I'll post registration information soon.)

JULY 13-17 (8:30am-12:00pm)
Songwriting for Kids Vol. 1
Students entering grades K-3
This is the traditional Songwriting for Kids workshop. We will learn American folk songs and use them to discover the basics of songwriting while gaining some insight into the historical context of the songs. We will focus on elements of rhythm, rhyme, melody, and above all, collaboration. Students will learn about creative teamwork and work together to write a class song. Students who have previously taken this workshop are more than welcome as songs and activities vary from year to year.

JULY 20-24 (8:30am-12:00pm)
NEW! Songwriting for Kids Vol. 2
Students entering grades K-3
In Vol. 2, we will experiment with various songwriting forms and structures: the blues, the "hooky" pop chorus, the bridge. Students will work in small groups and individually to write a number of "song sketches" throughout the week. This workshop may be taken as a stand-alone, but students who have taken Vol. 1 will benefit from having a knowledge of the vocabulary and traditional song structure we will use as a base.

JULY 13-17 (1:30-5:00pm)
Fiction Writing for Kids
Students entering grades 3-5
This workshop teaches the basics of fiction writing, including Character, Plot, Revision, and Imaginative Writing. During the workshop, students will study character development, plot structure, and setting in popular children's literature and will write and illustrate their very own book.

JULY 20-24 (1:30-5:00pm)
NEW! Poetry Writing for Kids
Students entering grades 3-5
This workshop teaches the basics of writing poetry in both form and free verse. Students will learn to study and analyze poems by poets from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Robert Frost to Gwendolyn Brooks and Robert Hayden. Students will use class time to write and illustrate their own short book of poems.