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: