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 Gl├╝ck
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

Friday, September 4, 2009

Grab Bag Friday: My Life According to Doris Day

Back from vacation and ready to tackle my urgently waiting list of Facebook quizzes! :)

This one was irresistible, and since my friend Ben already took The Pixies, I had to go with another old favorite. Try it, it's fun.

Using only song names from ONE ARTIST, answer these questions. Pass it on to 15 people you like and include me. You can't use the band I used. Try not to repeat a song title. It's a lot harder than you think! Repost as "my life according to (band name)" Clever, interesting, and a little challenging...

Pick your Artist
Doris Day

Are you a male or female:
I Enjoy Being A Girl

Describe yourself:
I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles (only I forgot this song was so depressing...maybe I should go with Doris's version of Swinging on a Star)

How do you feel:
High Hopes

Describe where you currently live:
That Jane From Maine

If you could go anywhere, where would you go?
Steppin' Out With My Baby

Your favorite form of transportation:
Glass Bottom Boat

Your best friend(s)?
Three Coins In The Fountain

You and your best friends:
Ain't We Got Fun?

What's the weather like:
Autumn Leaves (seriously, we have a few already!)

Favorite time of day:
By the Light of the Silvery Moon

If your life was a TV show, what would it be called:
Bewitched (oh, okay, that's cheating...maybe Let The Little Girl Limbo?)

What is life to you:
Sentimental Journey

Your relationship:
It's Magic, Fly Me To The Moon, Cheek to Cheek, Pillow Talk...hopefully not You're Getting To Be A Habit with Me!

Your fear:
I'll Never Smile Again

What is the best advice you have to give:
Take An Old-Fashioned Walk

Thought for the Day:
It Could Happen to You

How I would like to die:
Doin' What Comes Natur'lly and/or With A Song In My Heart

My soul's present condition:
My Dreams Are Getting Better All The Time

My motto:
Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)