Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Blog Rerun: Duke Ellington & Mahalia Jackson: Come Sunday

I'm taking a couple days off for the holidays, but here's a blog rerun of a gorgeous Mahalia Jackson song. I also wanted to add a link to a live recording of Come Sunday from the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival at the top here. Enjoy!

Duke Ellington and Mahalia Jackson: Come Sunday (Originally posted November 29, 2006)

I have the good fortune this winter of singing as a guest vocalist for the Richard Nelson Quintet, a jazz quintet based here in Maine. We’re doing a holiday-ish concert in December that Richard is calling “A Concert in the Spirit of Peace and Serenity” (concert details are on my website). One of the first songs Richard asked me to sing for this show is one of my favorite melodies written by Duke Ellington: Come Sunday.

Besides the fact that “Come Sunday” has a gorgeous melody sung by one of my musical heroines, Mahalia Jackson, I’ve always been intrigued by the album it came from, Ellington’s Black, Brown and Beige. It’s interesting to me because we tend to see people in certain ways. When they move outside of that view we’ve created it can be, well, disconcerting to say the least.

Up until the 1940’s Duke Ellington was known pretty specifically for his big band and for popular songs like “Take the A Train” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got that Swing.” Ellington was an extremely talented composer, and he began to experiment with even more complex music. In 1943, he performed an original symphony at Carnegie Hall: “Black, Brown, and Beige” which

"represented the story of African Americans in the United States. Black presented the people at work and at prayer, brown celebrated black soldiers who fought in American wars, and beige depicted African American music of Harlem." (Doris Greer)
The symphony wasn’t exactly jazz music, and it wasn’t exactly classical music. The critics couldn’t fit it into any set category of music, and their reviews and responses were so fiercely negative that Ellington never performed the entire piece in public again.

Luckily, he later recorded some of the music from this concert (though never the entire repertoire) on the album Black, Brown, and Beige, and it is there that we can here the lovely Mahalia Jackson singing Part IV: Come Sunday.

More information on Duke Ellington:
The “official” website
Ellington on Wikepedia
Smithsonian Jazz

Monday, December 27, 2010

Blog Rerun: J. R. R. Tolkien: The Father Christmas Letters

I'll be taking a couple days off to enjoy the holidays, but here's a blog rerun to tide you over:

J. R. R. Tolkien: The Father Christmas Letters (originally posted December 17, 2007)

Sometime in the 1920's, Father Christmas began writing letters to J. R. R. Tolkien's children. The letters came with his very own intricate drawings of the North Pole, elves, goblins, and of course Father Christmas's assistant: the North Polar Bear.

The letters tell the Tolkien children about all the yearly highlights and happenings in the North Pole. The North Polar Bear is always getting into scrapes. Like the year that he accidentally turned on two years' worth of Northern Lights:

It was the biggest bang in the world, and the most monstrous firework there ever has been. It turned the North Pole BLACK and shook all the stars out of place...

Father Christmas wrote these letters in his shaky handwriting every year for 20 years. I have a book that has some of the letters reproduced, in actual envelopes. You can pull out the letters and read them, just like the Tolkien children did all those years ago. Each year at Christmastime, I open up the envelopes and smile as I read about the adventures in the frozen North.

Apparently, there is a newer version that contains even more of the letters. I haven't seen it, but I don't think it has the pull-out letters (which are half the fun). It does have the gorgeous color illustrations, vividly intact. For Tolkien lovers like me, one version or another of this book is absolutely worth picking up.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Grab Bag Friday: My Favorite Holiday Treat, the Bowdoin Log

Merry Christmas everyone!

I hope you have a cozy holiday with family and friends and lots of nice surprises. And I hope you get to have all your favorite holiday treats this year. Here's mine, dripping with homemade hot fudge that tastes almost *exactly* like my dad's!

The Bowdoin Log

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Free Playlist: NPR's Best New Music from 2010

I love NPR.

Between now and February, you can download their Best New Music of 2010 iTunes playlist for free. Just open up the iTunes store, choose "Redeem" under Quick Links, and type in this code:

7KYL46FHXL49 [As Kelly noted, you need to get your own code by clicking the above link & following directions. Thanks, Kelly!]

I just downloaded mine, and it's got everything from R&B to classical to rock. I can't wait to find at least one new favorite.

And if you're looking to get in the holiday spirit, check out the Jingle Jams NPR Holiday Mix and peruse more great holiday music playlists on their site.

Happy listening!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Philip and Erin Stead: A Sick Day for Amos McGee

A Sick Day for Amos McGeeThere's a reason A Sick Day for Amos McGee is showing up on all the best-of-the-best picture book lists this year (including the New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Books of 2010). I just picked this up for one of my nieces, and it is endearing to the nth degree.

Amos McGee takes good care of the animals at the zoo. He takes time to sit with the shy penguin and wipe the rhino's constantly runny nose. So one day, when Amos McGee has to stay home sick, the animals decide to come to his house and take care of him instead.

I first read about Amos on Betsy Bird's Fuse #8 blog, where she wrote:

Could have been written last year, ten years ago, or fifty. Doesn’t matter because the word “timeless” may as well be stamped all over each and every doggone page.
All true. The pencil illustrations are filled with soft tones of yellow and pink, the story is sweet and charming and absolutely timeless. Usually when one of my nieces or nephews gets sick with the flu, or has to get tonsils removed, my go-to book is Many Moons by James Thurber. Now I have a new book to add to the sick-day list.

A couple fun links:
Philip Stead's Online Portfolio
Erin Stead's Blog

Friday, December 17, 2010

Grab Bag Friday: Give Water Get Music, The Robot Bump

Hooray, those robots really know how to get things done! After the robots endorsed my Give Water Get Music project last week, I went from 37% of my goal to 71%! That means, 71 people who do not have access to clean water will soon have a working well or water project in their area.

Last week, I told you a bit about the sanitation benefits of clean water access, but did you know there is an economic benefit, too? In places where gathering clean water is impossible, private water distributors charge individuals for water. This means that some of the poorest households spend up to 11% of their income on a very basic necessity. And even after paying for the water, there is no guarantee that it is clean. Often the distributors collect the water from ponds and streams that are contaminated with disease-causing bacteria.

My holiday wish is to provide clean water to 100 people for 20 years by 2011. There are 14 days left.

Will you please help with the final 29%?

If you've missed my video presentations, you can catch up:
Give Water Get Music: The Robot Version
Chicken Payback Holiday Wish Prezi

And here's a video about the organization I'm working with to fund the water projects. It's an inspiring look at how you really *can* make a difference in the world.

The Story of charity:water

The story of charity: water - The 2009 September Campaign Trailer from charity: water on Vimeo.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Lisbeth Zwerger: Swan Lake

Instead of writing Monday's blog post, Kevin and I were busy working on a 1500-word treatise/photo essay for my niece's grade school Flat Stanley project. (Okay, we were supposed to send a postcard, but this is what you get when you send a project like that to a couple of writers!)

So to make up for missing a post about books this week, I thought I'd do double duty today and write about books and music. I was in our lovely downtown bookstore this weekend and was lucky enough to come across Lisbeth Zwerger's Swan Lake on the sale shelf.

Zwerger's retelling of Tchaikovsky's ballet is beautiful in every way. The story of a woman who is transformed into a swan by an evil sorceror is simply told, and Zwerger's paintings are set in muted blues and grays that bring out the shroud of mystery that surrounds the tale.

The illustration of the Swan Queen on the cover is particularly stunning. I wish you could see it better here, but the way the cuff of the sleeve makes her hand look like a swan and the dress feathers out just a little at the's genius. There's another painting that shows the transformation of the girls into swans, and it is so odd and weirdly beautiful, it made me wonder why I never thought more carefully about the strangeness of that transformation--how awkward and bizarre it would actually be.

Knowing the story, I was surprised to find a happy ending on the last page, but it turns out Zwerger did not simply tack that on. She goes on to explain that Tchaikovsky's original production of Swan Lake in 1877 did indeed have a happy ending. The production was terribly received. Critics thought the story was stupid and the music was too noisy. When the ballet was re-staged in the early 1890's, the ending was rewritten as a tragedy.

One of the nice details of the book is that a small bit of the musical score is included at the top of each page. Here's the theme, played by the New York Philharmonic:

Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake

Friday, December 10, 2010

Grab Bag Friday: Robots Endorse Give Water Get Music

There are three weeks to go in my Give Water Get Music campaign, and thanks to many of you, we're 37% of the way toward my goal: funding clean water for 100 people for 20 years by 2011.

That means, so far, we've provided enough resources to bring clean water to 37 people, which is huge. That's 37 people who won't have to spend hours walking miles to the nearest water source every day. 37 people who don't have to suffer from stomach worms, skin rashes, or dysentery because that water they walked so far for was contaminated.

But there are still 63 people to go. Still $1250 to raise. So I got the robots involved.

Fair warning: I can't really be held responsible for the goofball humor involved in the video. I was born and bred on Archie Comics. It does something to the brain.

Please spread the word throughout your galaxy!

Give Water Give Music: The Robot Version

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Broken Social Scene on KCRW

Kevin and I got to spend Thanksgiving in his hometown Los Angeles, which is always an adventure for a girl from an unincorporated town of 800 people. In between trips to Intelligentsia (Kevin's coffee mecca) and celebrity sightings (I'll admit, I asked "Who's Toby Maguire?" and was promptly chagrined because I *did* of course adore the Spiderman movies), one of my favorite things about visiting L.A. is flipping between KCRW and KJAZZ on the car radio. I know, I know, I can listen to both stations online, but there's something extra cool about hearing them local.

Which reminded me that I haven't been regularly checking out all the great In Studio Sessions that KCRW posts on their YouTube channel each week. If you scroll down the sidebar, there are some great recent performances by Band of Horses, Arcade Fire, and Los Lobos to name a few. Here's a cool live version of 7/4 by Broken Social Scene.

Broken Social Scene: 7/4

Monday, December 6, 2010

Charles Dickens: Great Expectations

Great Expectations (Bantam Classics)I don't know how I managed to earn two English degrees without reading any Charles Dickens, but thank goodness there is still reading time after college. At the prompting of my younger sisters, I spent yesterday curled up in a blanket with Great Expectations in one hand and my tea in the other. What better way to spend a Sunday than getting caught up in a good yarn?

I loved how Dickens jumps straight into the action and keeps you riveted from the very first chapter. We meet Pip as a young boy who stumbles upon (and out of sheer terror, brings food to) a dangerous escaped convict. It couldn't get much more attention-grabbing than that.

I think what I loved most about the story, though, is that it's largely about those inevitable moments in our lives that change everything. Some are so momentous that they change everything instantly. The moment Pip meets Miss Havisham, for instance, he knows nothing can ever be the same. But so many more are moments that come and go without notice, and it is years, even decades later, before we realize how our lives have changed because of them.

Dickens writes this about Pip's first meeting with Miss Havisham:

"That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day."

I wonder what small thing has happened today that could change, in a small or large way, the course of my life. Or yours?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Grab Bag Friday: Give Water Give Music Update

My holiday wish is to raise enough to bring clean water to 100 people before 2011. Thanks to lots of very generous people, we've achieved 25% of that goal and there are still 29 days left!

Unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation cause 80% of diseases and kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. Unlike many of our complicated world problems, this is a tragedy with a clear solution: clean water. 

If you help me, I'll send you free CDs as a thank you! Please take a moment to watch my Give Water Get Music presentation to find out how. Then, please spread the word. Together, we can make a significant difference.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Blog Rerun: Sam Phillips, Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us

I'm taking a bit of a break from my blog for Thanksgiving break. Here's a rerun featuring a Sam Phillips song that remains one of my favorite songs of the decade. 

Sam Phillips: Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us (originally posted June 4, 2008)

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

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

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

Alison Krauss & Robert Plant version:

Sam Phillips version:

Monday, November 29, 2010

Blog Rerun: Shaun Tan, The Arrival

I'm taking a few days off from my blog to enjoy a little Thanksgiving break with family. In the meantime, here's a blog rerun of Shaun Tan's breathtaking graphic novel. The Arrival was my choice for this month's Songwriting for Kids Book Club, so I thought it would be a good rerun. Hope you enjoy!

Shaun Tan: The Arrival (originally posted November 26, 2007)

First: Robert's Snow Auction #2 begins today! Check the sidebar to the right for a list of Auction #2 illustrators and links to their snowflake features.

Now, enough Robert's Snow illustrators mentioned Shaun Tan in their interviews that I finally picked up a copy of his new graphic novel The Arrival. And I have to say, hands down, it is *worth* all the buzz.

The Arrival is a story about immigration, and belonging, and finding a new home. The main character leaves his family, and takes a long journey to a strange land in the hopes of finding a better life for his family. This is a story we all know. In America, at least, there have been countless re-tellings of Ellis Island and other immigration stories in movies, books, plays, songs...the list goes on and on. Immigration is a huge part of our American history and mythology. But I've never seen the story told quite like this.

Shaun Tan grew up in Perth, Australia, and is half-Chinese. His father came to Australia from Malaysia to study architecture. Themes of immigration and belonging and home have been a part of his consciousness as long as he can remember. When he began The Arrival, he intended it to be a short picture book for children. Instead, it became a graphic novel that took five years to create, and it speaks to people of all ages, all nationalities, all walks of life.

The Arrival is completely wordless. The pictures tell the story, in a frame-by-frame style that is more reminiscent of film than of comic books. And because there are no words, we are brought in to the story in a much more personal way. The strange land that he travels to would be strange to is a land of Shaun Tan's invention with tadpole-like creatures that emerge from pots and strange birds that unfold and fly vertically in the sky. Modes of transportation, food, even the buildings are all so odd that the reader feels just as disoriented as the traveler.

This is the genius of this book. When you are reading it, you can't help but begin to understand what it might be like to leave everything behind and start new. The excitement, the fear, the hope. It's all there. Here's an excerpt from an article Shaun Tan wrote about the book:

One of the great powers of storytelling is that it invites us to walk in other people’s shoes for a while, but perhaps even more importantly, it invites us to contemplate our own shoes also. We might do well to think of ourselves as possible strangers in our own strange land. What conclusions we draw from this are unlikely to be easily summarised, all the more reason to think further on the connections between people and places, and what we might mean when we talk about ‘belonging’.

Here is a page from Shaun Tan's website (scroll down to see many images from the book, and scroll down even further for Shaun Tan's comments about the book).

Here is a terrific interview with Shaun Tan from Fuse #8 (most likely the first place I read about the book when it came out in February).

Friday, November 26, 2010

Grab Bag Friday: Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

I hope you had a great day with lots of good food and family, and plenty to be thankful for. I'm particularly thankful for all the support and encouragement I've received from each and every one of you over the years. It's amazing how many perfectly wonderful people there are in the world. Thank you (more than I can say).

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Beatles: Free 1964 Concert

My friend John posted this up on Facebook the other day, and of course I have to pass it on. I haven't watched it yet. I'm saving it for Thanksgiving break so I can watch it in a turkey/mashed potatoes/pumpkin pie haze. *bliss*

"Until the end of the year, you can watch, for free on iTunes, the most amazing complete Beatles show you’ve ever seen. A show that was literally their first American concert, shot just two days after their Ed Sullivan TV debut, at the Washington Coliseum on February 11, 1964." more info...

The Beatles at the Washington Collesium, February 11, 1964. (Click on the link or go to the iTunes store and click on "Watch the Concert.")

Friday, November 19, 2010

Grab Bag Friday: Give Water. Get Music.

This holiday season, I'm on a mission for clean water. My goal is to raise $2000, enough to provide clean water to 100 people for 20 years.

Will you help me? If you do, I'll be so grateful, I'll send you free music!

Here's what you can do:

1. Watch the video I made, and pass it on to your friends. (Press the play button more than once to navigate.)
2. Donate at my charity:water page. Please be generous. (100% of your donation goes to direct well-building project costs.)
3. Contact me with your mailing address so I can send you CDs. (Enjoy the music!)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I Wrote a Hit Song! Winner: Hannah, age 10

I'm happy to announce the I Wrote a Hit Song! Contest winner...and in an exciting twist, it's the very first instrumental song ever to win the contest!

Hannah, age 10, sent me a beautiful piano song she wrote. She says playing the song helps her believe. Please stop by the I Wrote a Hit Song! site to listen to Hannah's song "Believe," then leave a comment to let the world (and Hannah) know what you like about her song.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Agee & Lopez On Writing

Here are a couple quotes I found scribbled in one of my notebooks today. Interesting food for thought on a gray Monday afternoon while I'm working on my novel and struggling with all these literal, clunky words. (Sorry, I don't know what books I found these in. Maybe Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and Arctic Dreams, respectively?)

James Agee:

Words cannot embody; they can only describe. But a certain kind of artist, whom we will distinguish from others as a poet rather than a prose writer, despises this fact about words or his medium, and continually brings words as near as he can to an illusion of embodiment.

Barry Lopez:
The mind can imagine beauty and conjure intimacy. It can find solace where literal analysis finds only trees and rocks and grass.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Grab Bag Friday: Vaudeville!

For the new book I'm working on, I get to do some research on the American vaudeville circuit. That means I get to read fun books like Trav S D's No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, a history of vaudeville that is relevant, packed with information, and entertaining all at the same time. It's amazing to me how many of our current corporations (Loews Theaters, for instance) and entertainment systems (agents, circuit touring) developed back in the 1800's and in some ways really haven't changed much since then!

Earlier this week, my friend Hannah sent me a link to the University of Virginia's vaudeville website (courtesy of the American Studies program), which is a treasure trove of fascinating information. What I especially love, though, is the movie page. You can play through a number of silent clips and even without sound you can get a feel for that ever-changing vaudeville stage.

I like this strange Frontier Flirtation especially. What an interesting tactic for fighting off pesky suitors!

And of course, who wouldn't pay to see a monkey playing a violin? I like how the horse gets revenge in the end.

Or two dude smacking each other with bags of soot and flour?

I hope you're enjoying this as much as I am! Oh, how I love book research!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Natalie Merchant: Leave Your Sleep

I don't know how this is possible, but yesterday, I just came across the April release of Natalie Merchant's fascinating new project Leave Your Sleep. How could I have missed this? In a two-disc set, Merchant has put together musical settings of 26 American and British Poems from the 19th and 20th centuries. This is right up my alley, no? And to make it even more interesting, the settings draw from folk music all over the world. I'll have more to say when I've had a bit more time to process the album, but in the meantime, here's a great interview about how the project came together, some of the poets involved, and the natural pairing of music and poetry.

Natalie Merchant: Leave Your Sleep Interview

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Blustery Day

After a dark and stormy night, our power is out at home. Which means I'm stealing a brief moment of someone else's power to write a blog post to say there will be no blog post today. See you on Windsday, as the silly old bear would say!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Grab Bag Friday: Maracas!

 Since Fair Trade Month got a bit crowded out on this blog by other pressing matters like clean water and the election (sadly, my friend Fred did not win his bid for town representative, but it was close and he ran a great campaign), I'll linger for a little while on the subject of Fair Trade to tell you about the fun package I got in the mail yesterday.

SERRV has long been one of my go-to spots for interesting handmade gifts. Not only are their products beautiful, but the money I spend there goes to artisans around the world who are trying to work their way out of poverty. One of the first Fair Trade organizations, SERRV:

  • Offers prepayments so partners can sustain their business
  • Teaches new skills so they can develop their craft
  • Provides grants so they can expand their resources
  • And of course, pays a fair wage
So, back to my package! I recently got my SERRV catalog in the mail and when I turned to the musical instrument page, I knew instantly what I was going to get all my nieces and nephews for Christmas (I know, I know, it's insanely early to be thinking about this, but when inspiration strikes, I act!) For a mere average of $7 per niece/nephew, I was able to cobble together a Fair Trade family band.

Of course, I had to try out all the instruments as I unpacked them from the box. Not only are they beautiful, with hand stitching and painting, but they are *fun* to play. I like the crazy Sanh Sua Clacker (sounds like loud cricket chirps) best, and right now, it's only $5!

Note: If you're reading this and you happen to be a member of my family, two things. 1) Don't you dare spill the beans. 2) Apologies in advance for the rollicking noise and mayhem you'll be subject to on Christmas morning!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Arcade Fire: We Used to Wait

I finally got around to checking out Arcade Fire's groundbreaking new video, We Used to Wait, and I have to say it is just as cool as everyone says it is. Essentially, Arcade Fire has used the power of Google to create a personal, emotional connection between you and their song. It's fascinating and so very brilliant.

Now, this doesn't work for all addresses (for instance, since I grew up in the boondocks, my childhood address doesn't work very well), and it takes a little bit of set up, but I think it's worth it.

First, you have to download Google Chrome if you don't have it. It only takes a minute.

Then, go to

When it asks for your childhood address, type it in and watch the music video. Only if you're like me and your childhood address doesn't work well, the program will warn you. So try your elementary or high school, or an old college address, or your grandparent's house. It's best if you put in the address for a place you know really well.

Another tip: when you're asked to create something (you'll know what I mean when you see it), be sure to use both the keyboard and the mouse to create it. Both have different, but equally cool effects.

Do you think this is the future of music videos? Or just a one time wow-factor kind of deal?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Emily Dickinson for Halloween: I Heard a Fly Buzz

I hope you all had a fun Halloween! We live in a very Halloween-happy neighborhood and had hundreds of trick or treaters. The strangest costume was probably the ten year old boy dressed as "a kissing booth." Hey, whatever works.

Too bad I didn't see these cool poet costume ideas *before* the holiday. I especially like the "extra credit" add-ons. For instance, as part of the Emily Dickinson costume, they suggest you hand out plastic flies in honor of her poem #465. Or for William Carlos Williams, hand out candy from a red wheelbarrow. Nice.

I heard a fly buzz (465)
by Emily Dickinson

I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air –
Between the Heaves of Storm –

The Eyes around – had wrung them dry –
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset – when the King
Be witnessed – in the Room –

I willed my Keepsakes – Signed away
What portions of me be
Assignable – and then it was
There interposed a Fly –

With Blue – uncertain stumbling Buzz –
Between the light – and me –
And then the Windows failed – and then
I could not see to see –

Friday, October 29, 2010

Grab Bag Friday: Please Vote!

Another time-out from Fair Trade Friday posts to remind and encourage you to vote on Tuesday. If you haven't done much research on your local elections, this weekend is your chance! I truly believe a lot of the best and most effective public work is done on the state and local level, so these mid-term elections really do count.

And speaking of the state and local level, if you're from Maine, and more specifically if you're from Brunswick, please consider taking a close look at Fred Horch. He's thoughtful, innovative, and has the energy and fresh ideas needed to get things done.

Here's a video that musician Jud Caswell put together for him:

Fred Horch for Brunswick

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Woody Herman & His Thundering Herd: Your Father's Moustache

On days when I'm dragging, it helps me to listen to someone who has a lot more energy than I do. My go-to energy guy? Woody Herman, of course.

This 1945 hit is one of my favorite Woody Herman tunes because it combines all the virtuosity and thundering zeal with all the the goofiness that endears me to the Herd. If you're having a slow morning, I hope this will help.

Woody Herman & His Thundering Herd: Your Father's Moustache

Monday, October 25, 2010

Three New Upstart Crow Books

Last week, I finished a major revision of my novel and sent the last little edits off to my agent (woohoo!). So this weekend, I rewarded myself by going out for ice cream with Kevin and catching up a bit on my to-read shelf. Since I'm so excited to get to the stage in my book where my agent now has the reins, I thought I'd highlight three books written by my "agent siblings" that came out this summer:

The Shadows (The Books of Elsewhere, Vol. 1)The Shadows (The Books of Elsewhere, Vol. 1) 
by Jacqueline West
I loved this and am already thinking about which niece to send it to first. Ordinary Olive moves to a creaky, old Victorian house and finds herself caught up in an extraordinary mission to uncover the mystery of her new home's unusual paintings. Very fun and just the right amount of spooky. (For ages 8-12ish)

The Deathday LetterThe Deathday Letter 
by Shaun David Hutchinson 
When 15-year-old Ollie receives his "deathday letter" he has to decide how he wants to spend the last 24 hours of his life. Kevin and I both read this one and laughed out loud at how realistically uncensored Ollie's teenage brain is (girls and crude euphemisms and puns are definitely in the forefront of his mind). (For teen readers)

Jack Blank and the Imagine Nation (Jack Blank (Trilogy))Jack Blank and the Imagine Nation 
by Matt Myklusch
I just finished this one up last night. Orphan Jack Blank knows nothing about his past and has to survive an adventure in another world to find out who he is. The Imagine Nation is filled with robo-zombies, ninjas, androids, and superheroes of every size and shape. Not to mention scores of cool gizmos and gadgets, and of course, evil surprising villain in particular throws Jack's whole world into serious tumult. (For ages 8-12ish)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Grab Bag Friday: Fair Trade and Halloween, or Why I Can't Buy Hershey this Year

After much discussion and waffling in my house, here is what we are giving out for Halloween: Endangered Species Chimp Mints, Bug Bites, and a 5 pound bag of YummyEarth Organic Lollipops.

Endangered Species Bug Bites, Organic Milk Chocolate, 0.35-Ounce Packages (Pack of 64)YummyEarth Organic Lollipops, Assorted Flavors (15 Count), 3-Ounce Pouches (Pack of 6)Endangered Species Chimp Mints, Organic Dark Chocolate & Mint, 0.35-Ounce Packages (Pack of 64)

Where are the Heath Bars? The Resees? The Take 5 bars that Kevin and I usually pick out and stash in the cupboard for ourselves? And why on earth would we choose to spend $30 more than usual on Halloween candy?

We admit, it's a crunchy move. Possibly risky (city-boy Kevin is a bit worried about his youthful TP karma coming back to haunt him). But the reality is that you vote with your dollars. And during Free Trade Month, I've learned a lot about big chocolate companies that makes the thought of eating another Take 5 bar more than a little sickening.

Last month, John Robbins wrote an article in the Huffington Post titled Is There Slavery in Your Chocolate? A little sensationalist, huh? Sadly, not really. Robbins writes this about the children who are sold to the cocoa farms that Hershey buys from:

"These children, usually 11-to-16-years-old but sometimes younger, are forced to do hard manual labor 80 to 100 hours a week. They are paid nothing, receive no education, are barely fed, are beaten regularly, and are often viciously beaten if they try to escape. Most will never see their families again."
Then later, he puts it into another perspective:
"Buying cocoa from farms that employ such abusive child labor practices enables Hershey to keep its costs down and its profits up. In early 2010, the company reported a 54 percent jump in profits because of what it called 'improved supply-chain efficiencies.'"
While other candy companies have begun to come around to the idea of free trade, Hershey has been incredibly obstinate. One of my good friends who is an incredible chocolate maker (more like chocolate artist) recently explained it like this "From what I understand, Hershey basically said that its really sad what happens over there, but we can't control what they do, so we are going to buy it from them anyway."

Last month, Hershey tried to do some damage control by putting out a "Corporate Social Responsibility Report," but critics say the report did nothing to change Hershey's policies, their lack of transparency about where they buy their cocoa, or to shift their purchasing power to plantations that employ fair labor practices. Global Exchange put out an official response to the Hershey report, urging them to try harder.

So what can be done? The Huffington Post article outlines a number of actions that you can take and urges us to spend our chocolate dollars wisely. Why not start with Halloween? Here's a list of companies listed by HuffPo:
"Purchase chocolate products from companies who only use cocoa that has definitively not been produced with slave labor. These companies include Clif Bar, Cloud Nine, Dagoba Organic Chocolate, Denman Island Chocolate, Divine Chocolate, Equal Exchange, Gardners Candies, Green and Black's, John & Kira's, Kailua Candy Company, Koppers Chocolate, L.A. Burdick Chocolates, Montezuma's Chocolates, NewLeaf Chocolates, Newman's Own Organics, Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company, Rapunzel Pure Organics, Shaman Chocolates, Sweet Earth Chocolates, Taza Chocolate, The Endangered Species Chocolate Company, and Theo Chocolate."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Eileen Ivers & Immigrant Soul

I'll put it simply. When my friend Susan asked Kevin and I to go to the Portland Symphony Orchestra to hear a guest violinist, I was not expecting this:

Eileen Ivers' electric violin:

Here's a bit more:

Monday, October 18, 2010

H.G. Bissinger: Friday Night Lights

Friday Night Lights Mass Market TV Tie-inOkay, so I'd like to say I picked up this book because the author is a Pulitzer Prize winner and I'm just that into literary genius. But no. I picked it up because I have a bit of a love affair with a certain addicting teenage television drama (honestly, season one is some of the best dramatic television out there). Lucky for me, the book happened to be beautifully written.

It's appropriate that I'm typing this on the couch while I tune out Kevin's Monday Night Football on the TV. I don't even like football. I'm the girl who went to graduate school at the University of Notre Dame and didn't go to a single game (I know, I know, it's sacrilege). So how did H.G. Bissinger's Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and A Dream (and the teenage drama, for that matter) draw me in?

It's because it's not really about football. Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of football to be had. Bissenger spent 1988 following the Permian Panthers, a high school football team in Odessa, Texas, and he writes about the players, the coaches, and the town with both great empathy and a sharp eye. The upside of intense devotion--the loyalty, joy, and pride the town finds in its high school team--is palpable. So are the racial, social, economic, and educational inequities that are wrapped up in that zealous desire to get to State.

It's impossible to read Friday Night Lights without being struck by the way these Panthers players are run through the system with little thought to their own future, or what their lives will be like in ten or twenty years. They give everything they have to the football program, and in return are given passing grades in school regardless of their effort and are treated like superheroes. But the moment they get injured, or they graduate, they're left alone. And what's left to fall back on? Memories of playing under glorious lights for a crowd of 20,000 screaming fans. Is it enough? How could it ever be enough?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Grab Bag Friday: Give Clean Water

I'm pausing my Fair Trade Month Friday posts because today is Blog Action Day, which means that thousands of blogs all over the world will be posting about the same thing: water.

Right now, almost a billion people on the planet don’t have access to clean, safe drinking water. A billion people.

According to charity:water, "unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation cause 80% of diseases and kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. Children are especially vulnerable, as their bodies aren't strong enough to fight diarrhea, dysentery and other illnesses.

90% of the 42,000 deaths that occur every week from unsafe water and unhygienic living conditions are to children under five years old. Many of these diseases are preventable. The UN predicts that one tenth of the global disease burden can be prevented simply by improving water supply and sanitation."

So what can be done? There are great organizations out there trying to help.

This morning, I donated to charity:water. 100% of donations are used for direct project costs. In four years, charity: water has funded over 2000 clean water projects. As little as $20 can give one person clean water for 20 years.

Here are two other organizations doing excellent, innovative work on the clean water front:

Please take a moment today to appreciate the clean water you have, then give even a small donation to help bring safe water to others. Thank you!!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Pixies: Is She Weird

So last week after I posted Monkey Gone To Heaven, I got on a bit of a watch-the-pixies-on-youtube jag, I came across this acoustic (yes, you read that correctly) version of Is She Weird. I believe this was at the Newport Folk Festival, and I have to say, I like this even better than the original (which I adore).

The Pixies: Is She Weird

Friday, October 8, 2010

Grab Bag Friday: Fair Trade Month, Tea

October has been declared Fair Trade Month, so I'm going to jump on the bandwagon and highlight a favorite Fair Trade organization each week. First off, to get an overview of what Fair Trade is, how it helps farmers, and how thinking about what we buy really can make a difference, please browse the Fair Trade USA website. Better yet, follow them on Twitter or Facebook. All month, they'll be posting about easy, every day things we can do to support Fair Trade.

Since the fall weather is just beginning to kick in up here in my neck of the woods, I'll start with tea. This week, I ordered some delicious tea from Art of Tea, a company that specializes in organic and Fair Trade teas.

Here are just a few reasons why fair trade practices are so important to Art of Tea (from the Art of Tea website):
  • Fair trade practices help producers in under-developed countries have greater opportunities to acquire the resources they need to improve their livelihood.
  • Sustainable development protects against land loss by promoting environmentally friendly processes which in turn creates a healthy working environment for producers and their families. 
  • Fair trade practices also promote fair wages for workers, build schools and hospitals, create cultural centers, promote gender equality and fights against child labor in tea producing areas.

Art of Tea Fair Trade Video

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Pixies: Monkey Gone to Heaven

I was thinking this morning about how I will never see most of my favorite bands live. Unless I can get my hands on a time machine, I won't get to see Anita O'Day sing with Gene Krupa and his Orchestra, or watch Lester Young play his horn. Ditto for Marvin Gaye, Led Zeppelin, or The Ramones.

So you'd think I would have jumped at the chance when a couple years ago my all-time favorite band got back together and started to tour again. But I didn't. Why in the world would I *not* go see The Pixies live? I don't know. I suppose I worried that I would be disappointed. So many times, the real thing can't compare to the version that we build up in our minds. And yet. Sometimes it is as good. And sometimes it's better.

Well, I missed this year's US tour, but there's always next year. And in the meantime, we have YouTube!

The Pixies: Monkey Gone to Heaven

Monday, October 4, 2010

Boston Globe Horn Book Awards & Colloquium

This weekend, I was lucky enough to attend the Boston Globe Horn Book Awards Ceremony and the following day-long colloquium at Simmons College. Here were the highlights for me:

Marching For Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don't You Grow WearyElizabeth Partridge gave a fascinating talk about her book Marching For Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don't You Grow Weary. She also gave a very cool presentation about Google Lit Trips. If you have Google Earth installed on your computer (it's easy to do), you can download the Marching for Freedom file and take an interactive journey following the exact path the marchers took from Selma to Birmingham. Along the way, Ms. Partridge has embedded a treasure trove of information, music, audio clips from speeches, and photographs to help you delve deeper into the story. There are Google Lit Trips for everything from The Grapes of Wrath to The Kite Runner and Make Way for Ducklings. How cool is that?

When You Reach MeRebecca Stead and her editor, Wendy Lamb, gave a great panel presentation about the collaborative nature of the author-editor relationship. They told a story about their struggles in finding the perfect title for When You Reach Me (the title they originally wanted, "You Are Here," was being used by another book coming out at the same time). And Rebecca Stead did an excellent every-day time travel experiment in her acceptance speech as she read her speech from two different points of view: the Rebecca Stead writing the speech in September, and the point of view of the Rebecca Stead reading the speech in October.

The DreamerPeter Sis was just as charming, self-deprecating, and intelligent as I imagined he would be. Both his acceptance speech and his contributions to the picture book panel discussion were insightful and inspirational. All of the speeches of the evening will be up online eventually, but if you'd like to get a taste, here is the Boston-Globe Horn Book Award speech Peter Sis gave a couple years ago when he won for his non-fiction book The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain (Caldecott Honor Book). If you prefer to read along, here is the text. And if you like video, it's a little slow, but you *can* watch it. Peter Sis is about 12 minutes in.