Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Mazzy Star: Flowers in December

There's something about a cold, rainy day that makes me want to pull out my old Mazzy Star albums and cuddle up on the couch with a cup of coffee and a sweet roll. Okay, the sweet roll might be a little random, but its because Mazzy Star also reminds me of the summer I worked the opening shift at a tiny coffee shop in Wisconsin. I'd come in at 5:30am, just as the sweet rolls were coming out of the oven and I'd pop in my Mazzy Star tape (yes, as in cassette) and start the coffee brewing.

Every morning without fail, one particular elderly woman would wait outside in her car with the lights on until I flipped the "Open" sign at six. I tried a couple times to invite her in early, but she would shake her head and wait patiently in the car until we were officially open. Then she would make her way slowly to her usual table where I'd bring her a cup of coffee and a sweet roll and we'd wait quietly for the rest of the morning's customers to come in. She only ever had two things to talk about: 1) the deliciousness of her sweet roll and 2) "that racket" I had playing on the radio. I think that random woman may be the only person in history to refer to Hope Sandoval's soft, melancholic vocals as "that racket."

Here's a little racket to enjoy on a gloomy Maine day: Mazzy Star: Flowers in December

Monday, March 29, 2010

Mark Kraushaar: Recent Cosmological Observations

Because I'm always a few months behind, I'm just catching up to The Missouri Review's Poem of the Week for January 27th.

I love it when a poem catches me completely by surprise, and this piece by Mark Kraushaar made me grin and read it again three times in a row. Partially because I love his off-kilter, mundane take on the concept of a parallel universe, but mostly because of that sweet turn at the end.

Recent Cosmological Observations
by Mark Kraushaar

One of the many implications of recent cosmological observations is that the concept of parallel universes is no mere metaphor. Space appears to be infinite in size.
-Scientific American

So, there's a sun like ours and a moon like ours
and a duplicate Earth with a town like this
and a street like this on a day like this
and there's a man exactly like me--
same wire glasses, same scratched thumb
and dumb job, different shirt--
a man just like me who walks
past a Frank's Corner Deli, u-turns,
walks in and orders a corned beef
on rye, double the mustard, no mayonnaise.
Outside, an equivalent Checker Cab
pulls up and a similar lady in a backward
cap gets out at a similar curb:
squashed Mars Bar, discarded sock, strutting pigeon
and all this under a wide, white sky with a glittering jet
and a crow below.
Of course, likewise, there's a smudged
glass counter and, in her crisp paper cap,
there's a girl whose tiny, terrible teeth also seem
tossed into her mouth like so many dice,
and just as I'm wishing this world's version
better, straighter teeth and love and long life too,
as I'm thinking how God on the Earth we know
seems absent or careless or cruel,
as an almost equivalent, nearly
identical God some place lolls dozing
in His giant cloud lounger, here, today,
three flies resettle on a split plastic spoon,
and as this Earth's girl scoops the last of the tuna
from a stainless tray she looks up and winks once
like we're perfectly grand.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Grab Bag Friday: Summer Writing & Songwriting Workshops for Kids

Registration is now open for all my Maine summer workshops!

We had so much fun last summer creating blues songs, pop songs, sestinas, free verse, fantasies, mysteries, and everything in between! I hope you'll be able to join us in July.

July 12-16
Songwriting for Kids, Vol. 1 (grades K-3)
Fiction Writing for Kids (grades 3-5)

July 19-23
Songwriting for Kids, Vol. 2 (K-3)
Poetry Writing for Kids (grades 3-5)

For more information and to download the registration form, please visit the Songwriting for Kids website.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Oliver: Where Is Love?

A few of my piano students are currently learning "Where Is Love?" from Oliver! and I have a new appreciation for how heartbreaking and beautiful this melody is. Somehow, "Where Is Love?" has never been the song that comes to my mind when I think of the musical. Maybe because it comes during a slow, dark, basement scene? But the rises and falls, the melancholic's just brilliant.

An interesting Oliver! tidbit:

The voice you hear below does not belong to the actor (Mark Lester), but to Kathe Green, the daughter of the film's conductor. According to IMDB, the conductor referred to poor Lester as "tone deaf and arrhythmic."

Where Is Love, from the musical Oliver!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Elizabeth Partridge: Marching for Freedom

Marching For Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don't You Grow WearyThere was no question that I had to pick up Elizabeth Partridge's new book Marching for Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don't You Grow Weary. "Walk Together Children" is one of my favorite spirituals (you can even hear me perform it as part of my Songs of the Civil War Era lecture) and Elizabeth Partridge is the author of that stunning Woody Guthrie biography I was so taken with back in 2008. Resistance was futile.

Marching for Freedom covers the time period surrounding the 1965 Selma to Montgomery march that led to groundbreaking voter's rights legislation for African Americans. Unlike most books about the Civil Rights Movement, Elizabeth Partridge focuses on the young people who were a pivotal, energetic force for change in Alabama. Partridge argues that without the kids as young as six years old who stood up for justice and equality, many adults may not have had the courage to get involved. She writes that adults were often "shaken into bravery" by the determination of the young people around them.

Lynda Blackmon Lowery, the youngest person to make the entire 54 mile march on Mongomery said, "I was not brave, I was not courageous. I was determined. That's how I got to Montgomery."

One of the things I loved most about this book was the emphasis on the role of music during the Civil Rights Movement. Time after time, while these children found themselves in horrific, untenable circumstances...beaten, intimidated, thrown in jail, sometimes kids as young as 14 years old placed in solitary confinement...they sang. Patridge writes:

"The music made them bigger than their defeat, bigger than their fear. It wove them together, filled them once more with courage and strength."
I believe in the power of music to change the world. I believe in the power of young people to change the world. Marching for Freedom strengthened those beliefs.

(Note: There are some very difficult scenes in this book, so I wouldn't recommend it to the under-10 crowd without a willing, caring adult along for the ride.)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Grab Bag Friday: Awful Library Books

Fuse #8 posted a link to Awful Library Books, a site developed by two public librarians from Michigan who post the covers of books they have decided must come off the shelves (or be "weeded" as they say). It's impossible not to peruse the site without laughing out loud or gasping in horror. Most of the books fall into the categories of weird, horrifying, or hilariously outdated. A few entertaining examples...

Weird: Are turtles the logical step beyond basic dog training?

Horrific: This one's from a dieting book for teenage girls. The chapter that accompanies this image is titled "50 Ways To Lose Your Blubber." Good lord, please take it away!

Outdated: I'd like to see a kid check out this book on how to make your own animated movies. "Mom, I need a film splicer!"

Oh, the fun goes on and on... (I love how guys need a big healthy meal with a tall glass of milk, and girls should eat toast!)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Frank Turner: Photosynthesis

I'm in love with this song. It's such an eloquent, concise (and fun) sum up of the exact conversation I've been having with a lot of my 30-something friends. How do you grow up without...well, growing up? In our adult world, can you hold on to the energy, the silliness, the passion, the sense of wonder that makes life worth getting out of bed for? I think you can. Blasting Photosynthesis at full volume is a good start.

Thanks to Upstart Crow Literary, I came across this video and have been enjoying Frank Turner's album Love, Ire, and Song ever since. (It looks like he has an even newer album, Poetry of the Deed, but I'm going to have to enjoy this one a little longer before moving on...)

Frank Turner: Photosynthesis

Well I guess I should confess that I am starting to get old
All the latest music fads all passed me by and left me cold
All the kids are talking slang I won't pretend to understand
All my friends are getting married, mortagages and pension plans
And it's obvious my angry adolescent days are done
And I'm happy and I'm settled in the person I've become
But that doesn't mean I'm settled up and sitting out the game
Time may change a lot but some things may stay the same

And I won't sit down
And I won't shut up
And most of all I will not grow up
And I won't sit down
And I won't shut up
And most of all I yeah I won't grow up

Oh maturity's a wrapped up package deal so it seems
And ditching teenage fantasy means ditching all your dreams
All your friends and peers and family solemnly tell you you will
Have to grow up be an adult yeah be bored and unfulfilled
Oh when no one's yet explained to me exactly what's so great
About slaving 50 years away on something that you hate
Look I'm meekly shuffling down the path of mediocrity
Well if that's your road then take it but it's not the road for me

And I won't sit down
And I won't shut up
And most of all I will not grow up
And I won't sit down
And I won't shut up
And most of all I yeah I won't grow up
And I won't sit down
And I won't shut up
And most of all I will not grow up

And if all you ever do with your life
Is photosynthesize
Then you deserve every hour of these sleepless nights
That you waste wondering when you're gonna die

Now I'll play and you sing
The perfect way for the evening to begin
Now I'll play and you sing
The perfect way for the evening to begin

And I won't sit down
And I won't shut up
And most of all yeah I won't grow up
And I won't sit down
And I won't shut up
And most of all I will not grow up
And I won't sit down
And I won't shut up
And most of all I will not grow up

Monday, March 15, 2010

Battle of the Kids Books Begins!

Last year's School Library Journal Battle of the Books was so fun and satisfying (of course The Hunger Games won...woohoo) I'm happy to announce it's starting all over again!

Today begins the March Madness of kidlit and what's not to like? Each day, two worthy book opponents will put their strength, wisdom, and wit to the test. The outcome of each battle is in the hands of a celebrity judge as the winning books make their way through the brackets. This year's celebrity judge panel includes such heavy hitters as Christopher Paul Curtis, Walter Dean Myers, and the Ambassador herself, Katherine Paterson, will make the final call.

If last year's battle is any indicator, there will be surprises, excitement, disappointment, and plenty of good old fashioned goofing around. Already in today's Round 1 Match 1, one of my favorites suffered a devastating loss. Can Claudette come back in the new, inspired Undead Round? We'll see...

To begin:

Friday, March 12, 2010

Grab Bag Friday: Community Supported Agriculture

Kevin and I are excited to do some maple sugaring with friends this weekend! Which makes me think it's really spring! Which reminds me that it's CSA time! Which clearly justifies this abundance of exclamation points! Woohoo!

So here is my yearly CSA re-post. I hope you'll sign up for a CSA near you (see the bottom of this post to learn how to find a local participating farm). I know you'll love it!

*  *  *

Originally posted March 2, 2007. Here I am, snowed in on March 2nd, with at least a full month of winter spread out in front of me, and I'm happily dreaming and scheming about Summer! That's because I just received an email from Hatchet Cove Farm, a local organic farm that we purchase a CSA share from. Lots of farmers will be gearing up for their summer CSA programs over the next few's what it means:

CSA is Community Supported Agriculture. It means what it says. I, as a community member, buy a "share" from a local farm. In return, I get a big bag of fresh, delicious, organic vegetables delivered every week for 18 weeks during the summer season. Here's why it's great:

I get to...
  • Eat healthy, nutritious food all summer long
  • Try new things (I'd never had bok choy's delicious in stir fry!)
  • Know the farmer that grew my food
  • Support local agriculture
  • Keep my money in the local economy
  • Eat fresh, unprocessed veggies
SIDE STORY: My husband, a Los Angeles native, had never had a cucumber that wasn't bought at the store. We got our first CSA with cucumbers and he crinkled his nose, "I hate cucumbers." Until...he tried a real, fresh cucumber. He was stunned that it tasted so good! He thought cucumbers just naturally grew with a bitter, waxy buildup on the skin, never realizing that that is actually added to the cucumber to make them look more appealing and last longer in the store. Thanks to Hatchet Cove Farm, we snacked on yummy cukes all summer long!

Here's an example of how it works. I'll use our CSA, Hatchet Cove Farm, as my example...the details of other CSAs will, of course, vary:
  • Share price: [2010 update: HCF is now charging $325 for the summer-- incredibly reasonable] for eighteen weeks of vegetable deliveries (mid-June to mid-Oct) is for a "two-person" share. If you love veggies or have a larger family, you may want to purchase two shares. I think $18 a week for fresh, homegrown veggies is a terrific deal!
  • The Vegetables: you receive a selection of in-season vegetables every week, including (but not limited to!) mesclun, spinach, and other early greens in the early summer. Peas, beans, broccoli, and early potatoes in the mid-summer. Zucchini, onions, peppers, and tomatoes in the late summer. Melons, corn, kale, and chard in the early fall.
  • Pickup/Delivery: [2010 note: new HCF delivery days & routes] There are a few options for getting your veggies. Hatchet Cove Farm makes deliveries to the Rockland Unitarian church at 11am Sundays for people in the Rockland area. On Monday afternoons, they deliver shares to Waldoboro, Damariscotta, and Nobleboro. On Tuesday mornings, they deliver to Woolwich and Brunswick/Topsham. On Thursday afternoons, they deliver to members in Friendship. And pickup at the farm in Warren or Friendship is always availiable. If you do not want your share on any given week, the folks at Hatchet Cove will be happy to donate your share to the Area Interfaith Outreach Food Pantry in Rockland.
  • Newsletter/Recipes: Every week, along with your veggies, you receive a letter telling about activities and news from the farm, as well as recipes to help inspire you to use up every last vegetable.
  • Hatchet Cove Farm Meat: CSA members get first dibs on purchasing farm-raised lamb and chicken! [2009 note: check for availability]
  • Hatchet Cove Farm becomes your farm, too!: Members are welcomed at the farm to volunteer or just to visit, and a potluck/garlic planting day happens every fall.

Sounds great right? So, how can you join a CSA?

You can find out about CSAs from local farmers by keeping an eye out on bulletin boards at your local grocery store, library, church, or community center. You can also do a quick online search for farms in your area at the Eat Well Guide (Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals). If you live in my area here in Maine, you can contact Hatchet Cove Farm by email:

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Ryan Bingham and (that genius) T Bone Burnett: The Weary Kind

I still can't believe they "don't have enough time" for live performances of the Best Original Song nominees at the Oscars (they have enough time for plenty of other shenanigans). At any rate, Ryan Bingham & T Bone Burnett's song The Weary Kind is beautiful (so is the movie) and well deserving of the win.

Ryan Bingham: The Weary Kind

Your heart’s on the loose
You rolled them seven’s with nothing lose
And this ain’t no place for the weary kind

You called all your shots
Shooting 8 ball at the corner truck stop
Somehow this don’t feel like home anymore
And this ain’t no place for the weary kind

And this ain’t no place to lose your mind
And this ain’t no place to fall behind
Pick up your crazy heart and give it one more try

Your body aches…
Playing your guitar and sweating out the hate
The days and the nights all feel the same

Whiskey has been a thorn in your side
and it doesn’t forget
the highway that calls for your heart inside
And this ain’t no place for the weary kind

And this ain’t no place to lose your mind
And this ain’t no place to fall behind
Pick up your crazy heart and give it one more try

Your lovers won’t kiss…
It’s too damn far from your fingertips
You are the man that ruined her world

Your heart’s on the loose
You rolled them seven’s with nothing lose
And this ain’t no place for the weary kind

Friday, March 5, 2010

Grab Bag Friday: Chocolate Mint Bars

One of my favorite desserts from my childhood. Mmmmmm....enjoy!

Chocolate Mint Bars

1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups chocolate syrup
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 tablespoons creme de menthe liqueur
6 tablespoons butter
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 9x13 inch baking dish.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together 1 cup sugar and 1/2 cup of softened butter until smooth. Beat in eggs one at a time, then stir in the chocolate syrup. Stir in the flour until just blended. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan.
  3. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven, or until top springs back when lightly touched. Cool completely in the pan.
  4. In a small bowl, beat the confectioners' sugar, 1/2 cup butter or margarine and creme de menthe until smooth. Spread evenly over the cooled brownies, then chill until set.
  5. In a small bowl over simmering water, or in the microwave, melt the remaining 6 tablespoons of butter and the chocolate chips, stirring occasionally until smooth. Allow to cool slightly, then spread over the top of the mint layer. Cover, and chill for at least 1 hour before cutting into squares.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Bela Fleck: Throw Down Your Heart

Throw Down Your Heart, Tales from the Acoustic Planet, Vol. 3: Africa SessionsLast night, Kevin and I saw a show of global, full-circle, mind-blowing proportions and I wish I could place you directly in the auditorium to give you better grasp of the experience, but technology hasn't brought us quite that far yet. A YouTube clip will have to do.

First, a quick sum up of a couple hundred years of music...
The banjo was developed in the 18th century by American slaves who adapted it from traditional African instruments made of gourds. The modern banjo became popular in American music halls in the 1800's. In the mid to late 1800's, the music of African American slaves began to meld with popular European music to create a distinct "American" sound, which blossomed into genres like blues, bluegrass, rock and roll, jazz, pop, and on and on from there.

So Bela Fleck, modern banjo player extraordinaire, went to Africa to research and record with musicians who play the traditional instruments that inspired the American banjo. Last night, his tour came to Bowdoin College where we heard music that fused traditional African music with bluegrass and had twinges of Robert Johnson, Chuck Berry, and even Jimi Hendrix that floated in and out all night long.

Here's one of the songs we heard. I'd highly recommend checking out the album or the documentary, too.

Monday, March 1, 2010

What Color Would You Paint Your Walls?

Every year at some point, when I'm dying for inspiration, I think of this Toni Morrison interview excerpt. I pulled it out recently and as usual, found it relevant and energizing. So even though I originally posted this in 2008, I think it's worth revisiting in 2010...
Blog Re-run: Toni Morrison, What Color Would You Paint Your Walls
(Originally posted May 12, 2008)

Photo by John Morgan

That Yael Naim video reminded me of a piece of a Toni Morrison interview that I heard over ten years ago. I came across it on some audiobook series that I can't remember for the life of me, so if this rings a bell and you know where it came from, I'd love to hear from you.

I remembered putting this clip on a mix tape for my friend Amy and liking it so much that I made a copy for myself (ah, remember mix tapes?). So this morning I dug through all my cassettes and actually found it! I figure it must have been around either the 1988 or 1992 election because later in the Q&A, they talk about Beloved, which was published in 1987. Here's the question from an audience member and Toni Morrison's answer, transcribed to the best of my ability:

Question: Times are becoming more and more depressing, um, especially with this election coming up. Do you have…what do you do to, like, maintain hope? (laughter from crowd)

Toni Morrison: Well, I’ll tell you something. You’re right. It’s very dangerous, it’s extremely depressing, and it’s really not funny. On the other hand, you really have to…it’s like you know a few years ago when there was such a build up of nuclear weapons and it was just getting like everybody was armed to the teeth and it was, like, awful…one realized that they had, somebody had imagined that. And it lived. So the problem then seemed to be to unimagine it. Unimagine it. What would it be like if it didn’t exist? What would it be like? In all of its details. In every way. What would it be like if you had it like you wanted it? What would it be?

Can you really imagine living in a world without nuclear weapons? It’s very difficult to do. What would you do differently? Where would you live? How would your life change? Or without all sorts of things. Well, that has got to be imagined in order to prevent the paralysis. Because if we’re paralyzed because it’s unworkable, unthinkable, non-political, we won’t move. That’s one thing.

The second thing is, there are things to do. There are not…if we think in huge numbers about how to save the continent, we’re already whipped. But if you think in terms of one…you know, small things. Six people. One person. One room. One backyard. Not the beach. The highway. You know, “What are you doin?”

And then it works. And you know that you have imagined a world in which you can live. It may be small, as small as your room, but you have imagined it. And then you are in control. That’s not hope, that’s real work. And that’s what’s important.

It doesn’t matter about those other little people. They’ll all sort of come and go, all these little junky people. It doesn’t matter. What’s important is that people realize how valuable life is and simply exercise the one thing that human beings have, which is the ability to imagine what it would be like if you had it the way it was supposed to be.

Then what would you do? What color would you paint your walls? And then paint ‘em!