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.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Grab Bag Friday: Horn Book Awards

Tonight is the awards ceremony for the 2010 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards for children's literature. The illustrious award  and honor winners will receive their prizes and give their acceptances speeches...and guess what? Because I'll be an attendee at the Horn Book Colloquium at Simmons College this weekend, I get to go!

For me, getting to listen to Rebecca Stead and Peter Sis and Elizabeth Partridge talk, well, that's better than the Oscars. I'll fill you in on all the details next week. In the meantime, here are links to past blog posts I've written about some of the books that will be honored tonight:

When You Reach MeRebecca Stead, When You Reach Me (2010 Horn Book Fiction winner)

Marching For Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don't You Grow Weary Elizabeth Partridge, Marching for Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don't You Grow Weary (2010 Horn Book Non-Fiction Winner)

The Dreamer Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Peter Sis, The Dreamer (2010 Honor Book); more on my Peter Sis infatuation here