Friday, December 30, 2011

Mountain Vistas

So yesterday I was flying over the Rocky Mountains. They are so beautiful. I was flying home after visiting family for Christmas. Of course, once I got off my diet of work-related stress, my body relaxed so much I spent much of my time away feeling sick, but I also did a lot of hard playing with my nephew and niece. They are two fun kids. My nephew is sweet as can be, and my niece is a spunkcat! We spent a lot of time laughing and coloring and having fun. Yesterday before I flew out we played "camping," which I hope is what we will be doing the next time I go home.

Also on this trip out, my sister-in-law treated me to a pedicure, which is something I've never managed to do before. Very nice and enjoyable. We've decided that it needs to be an annual girls'-day-out activity - hopefully next winter my sister and our to-be sister-in-law will be there too.

And we managed to see the new Muppet Movie. It earned my laughter and my tears and my stamp of approval - finally something with the Muppet name has been created with Muppet spirit. Which may be the biggest compliment I could pay for that one.

So it's winter, and I find myself less talkative. At least today. Maybe tomorrow I'll be more loquacious. Anyway, the vacation was all-too-short, and yesterday I found myself flying over the mountains. Which leads us to today's song. Make yourself happy and blow up the video - whoever put this one together did a beautiful job. And the view at 1:34 reminds me of home. Not in winter.

Midlake - Core of Nature

Sunday, November 27, 2011

I tried rutabagas.

The secret is that Garrison Keillor made me do it.

I have a love-hate relationship with the Writer's Almanac. I find the information fascinating and I love to read the poems again afterward, but I am not the president of the Garrison Keillor fan club. I just disagree with his way of reading most of the time. Too slow. Too many pauses for breath. Tone of befuddlement, especially in situations where befuddlement doesn't work. And yet, I have to listen. I like most of the stories, and the poetry! It's all about the poetry. And yet... there is this one other issue. Of course, a few years ago I wrote a poem about it:

*****

Why I really regret having picked up the habit of listening to Writer's Almanac every morning

When, standing in the bookstore aisle, I open up somewhere in the middle of a new book of poetry to peruse and test its waters;
When, settling in with a new collection, repetition and flow wash over me (O that this poet's words were mine!);
When, pencil in hand, I dot the final line of my own feeble attempts, scanning back over my own lines with some satisfaction;

Elation! Joy! Soaring! But too soon,

that crazy Writer's Almanac theme music
(zippy from the end of the show, not slow and plodding from the introduction)
rips through my mind announcing
the end of the poem.
Garrison has finished his reading for the day.
Time to put the poem down. I am off to
Be well, I set my hands to
Do good work, and I try to figure out with whom I would like to
Keep in touch.

Oh, wait. I had more poetry to live.
Lost, I search vainly to figure out where I was.


*****

So last Tuesday, Garrison read a poem about rutabagas. And I was so taken in by the description of them as having a
"...dug-up texture,
the hint of dirt
that couldn't be baked away,"
that I went out that afternoon and bought two rutabagas.

When I started peeling them, I was shocked at the thick layer of paraffin coating them. I cut them into large cubes and roasted them with cubed pork loin and with other vegetables: sweet potatoes, baby red potatoes, carrots, garlic, and mushrooms.

The rutabagas were a delight. They tasted just like the poem said they would. Point Keillor.

Here is a song from a Christmas album I downloaded this afternoon. I may post more from it while the holiday season is on. I liked the Christmas albums so much I went back and downloaded everything Amazon had by them. I think this is a band I will enjoy getting to know better. Anyway. Enjoy the surprise halfway through this one.

Future of Forestry - Joy To The World

Friday, November 25, 2011

Leaves

So it's fall and the trees have been very busy dumping their leaves. Thanksgiving is always a reference point for me. It seems like my first few years living here, there were still lots of leaves left on the trees as we rolled into the last part of November. This year, definitely not. We have had some early cold, and most of the leaves are down.

I write about this because my new classroom has me parking on the back lot of the school now rather than the front, and in the back lot, there is a tree with different leaves. In the front it's all maple and other super-broad-leaved trees; in the back there is a tree with smaller, skinnier leaves. (Sorry, I do not know which trees are which, so you'll have to believe this rudimentary description.) They are rounded at the base, about three inches long and 1/2 inch across, and they form a slight point at the end. Go figure. Anyway, this tree must have dropped millions and millions of these little leaves. They are all over the back of the lot, and when it rains, they coat your car like fur.

But what struck me was walking out to my car in the rain the other day - the sound of the rain drops hitting the leaves was so staccato, like a million rattlesnakes rattling, just beautiful - and so different from the normal sounds of rain hitting pavement or (more silently) grass. It reminded me of rain in the forest - it reminded me of the green expanse beyond the city that houses most of my life. I felt wonderful and alive.

The next day when I got in my car after school, more leaf madness. As I drove along the street, one of these leaves flew up from the vent area below the the windshield wipers and behind the hood, and started to dance across my windshield. Because it was damp, the ends stuck to the glass, but the middle rippled and waved and forced slow movement upward toward the top of the car. When I came to a stop, it fell, and it blew away.

Hooray for leaves. I will be glad in the spring when they come back again. I'll have to take a closer look at that tree so I can figure out what kind it is.

Bing Crosby - Autumn Leaves


Thursday, October 20, 2011

An Introduction

Tonight I met a new poet and I am reduced to runny-nosed tears reading her beautiful, beautiful work. If you haven't already, please meet Wislawa Szymborska. I won't clog up this meeting chatting away - here she is:


Under a Certain Little Star

I apologize to coincidence for calling it necessity.
I apologize to necessity just in case I'm mistaken.
Let happiness be not angry that I take it as my own.
Let the dead not remember they scarcely smolder in my memory.
I apologize to time for the muchness of the world overlooked per second.
I apologize to old love for regarding the new as the first.
Forgive me, far-off wars, for bringing flowers home.
Forgive me, open wounds, for pricking my finger.
I apologize to those who cry out of the depths for the minuet-record.
I apologize to people at railway stations for sleeping in at five in the morning.
Pardon me, hounded hope, for laughing now and again.
Pardon me, deserts, for not rushing up with a spoonful of water.
And you, O falcon, the same these many years, in that same cage,
forever staring motionless at that selfsame spot,
absolve me, even though you are but a stuffed bird.
I apologize to the cut-down tree for the table's four legs.
I apologize to big questions for small answers.
O Truth, do not pay me too much heed.
O Solemnity, be magnanimous unto me.
Endure, mystery of existence, that I pluck out the threads of your train.
Accuse me not, O soul, of possessing you but seldom.
I apologize to everything that I cannot be everywhere.
I apologize to everyone that I cannot be every man and woman.
I know that as long as I live nothing can justify me,
because I myself am an obstacle to myself.
Take it not amiss, O speech, that I borrow weighty words,
and later try hard to make them seem light.

Translated from the Polish by Magnus Jan Krynski and Robert A. Maguire

Monday, October 17, 2011

Not Johnny Cash

Before I even get started, let me just say that I am running in a perpetual state of sleep deprivation these days. I don't know what that has to do with anything, it's just that I figure it must have a lot to do with everything. Go figure. So maybe I overreacted, but I don't think I did.

Well. Here we go then. So anyone who sort of keeps up with this blog has figured out that I really like music and that I try to keep up with some small fraction of music coming out of Italy. Usually this is an enjoyable endeavor - one that sends me hunting for downloads and gets me trying to sing along. And I have found so much wonderful music this way. Usually it is wonderful. Every once in a while it's disastrous.

Like today. Early this morning, I turned on Italian radio and one or two songs later, I heard a very familiar guitar riff - the opening to Solitary Man. Which is one of the great songs in the whole universe. Except then, it was being sung in an Italian translation that just completely failed at doing it justice. It was more a song of "please don't leave me" and "what would I do if you left me too" than a song of resignation to the singer's own solitude. I couldn't believe the gross distance by which this one missed the mark. A shame.

You know, I don't think that sleep deprivation is forcing me to over-exaggerate at all. It really was horrible. So let's just make a rule that when Johnny Cash does a song, no one really needs to come behind him and do it again. He was just too spare and poignant to need a redux.

Ok, and yes, I do know it was originally a Neil Diamond song. But let's be real. It's a Johnny Cash song down deep through and through. Sorry, Neil.

Johnny Cash - Solitary Man

Thursday, October 06, 2011

What has been playing in my head for days

At work, I've been streaming a lot of Italian radio. This because I'm teaching fewer classes but experiencing a much higher workload, and music has always helped keep me concentrating when at the computer. Finally, though, I'm finding that locating and downloading Italian music is becoming much easier and much less expensive than it has been. So when I heard this song, I zoomed right over to Amazon and downloaded it. And now a couple of songs on this album are on a continual loop in my head. They're quite catchy.

A note, though: I was promoting listening to Italian radio with my college class the other night and during the break I turned it on, and of course some old 70's - early 80's song that sounded not-so-great was playing. I tried to pass it off saying that with the time differential, it was the middle of the night there---but let's be real. Quite off-putting.

Modà - Sono già solo

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Medieval Weapon of Choice

I love catapults. This morning's Cul de Sac cartoon got me wishing (again) for a great big full-size catapult of my very own.

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Why do I love catapults? Because I seriously rolled off the couch laughing the first time I saw this:

SNL - Yard-A-Pult


It's the dog that gets me. I talked about that one for years - I think it's the funniest thing SNL has ever done.

When I was in Torino years and years ago we visited a beautiful park (Parco del Valentino) by the Po that has a replica of a medieval village. There we found a weaponry shop and they had the most fantastic catapult - just big enough to have some torque, maybe a 15-inch arm - for sale. It wasn't just that it was a catapult - it was beautifully styled with rope and wooden wheels, etc, so it was captivating in a way your amazon.com balsa catapult-from-a-kit could never be. (They also had a little guillotine, which to me is much more scary but almost as cool.) Sadly, I was in no position to buy it, but the last time I was in Italy I did get an itty-bitty working catapult pencil sharpener at the Colosseum. Yes, I realize that catapults have nothing to do with the Colosseum, but that is the souvenir I bought there. It's about big enough to launch an M&M. Mostly it has been used to launch wads of paper at my webcam when Skyping with my nephew and niece.

Wow. I've got to get back to Torino.

Hooray for the catapult and its family of flinging weapons. I can't embed it, but here is a great video for the road - a British medieval weapons enthusiast with a great big trebuchet. Enjoy. Really.

And how about a song?

Elizabeth & the Catapult - Taller Children

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Friday, September 23, 2011

So Much for September

Well, it must be September and the start of school because this blog has not been updated for a while. So here are some of the happenings and the ideas kicking around my head for the last little bit:
  • I watched the Emmy Awards last Sunday and realized that I was actually more interested in them than I was in the Academy Awards last spring. Read: TV is more interesting than movies. Sad to say it, but let's face it: Modern Family and The Daily Show are the BOMB. Both shows are so smart and funny, with real things to say about the world we live in. Now, I have certainly not sworn off movies altogether, but movie theater movies? In 2011 I have gone out to see Harry Potter 7.2, Thor, and The Help. So I have been trying to figure out why I have arrived at a point where a sitcom is more engaging than a film. There are a couple of possible reasons: a TV show obviously offers more time for character play - (not necessarily character development) - and I really like to laugh, but I find most comic movies sophomoric. Let's face it - smart movies aren't usually funny, but smart TV can be.
  • [Side note: Not that movies are bad. The Help was so very awesome. I cried through at least six napkins and walked away with purpose. Loved it.]
  • Jon Stewart, I love you. Still.
  • I am teaching some great students this year, both at the high school and at the university. Switching to teaching was the best career move I could have possibly ever made. Once upon a time in college, I wanted to study Italian teaching, but they refused to let me do it because it wasn't one of six approved teaching languages. Well, phooey on you, university where I did my undergrad, I got what I wanted in spite of you. :P
  • One of the students in my university class gave me props this week for knowing how to spell Megadeth.
  • I had to switch classrooms this year and even though Back to School Night has come and gone, I still don't have my classroom put together the way I would like. Why on earth not, you ask? Because that will require borrowing a tall ladder from the custodians and taking a big old chunk of time to take many, many trips up and down it to hang up my flags and posters. And that has not happened yet. It may not happen this year. I did finish getting fresh paper up on most of the bulletin boards on Wednesday, and I saw one spot of the top of my desk yesterday.
  • I switched rooms because I am now helping to coordinate one of the programs at my school, and I needed to be next to the program offices. My new responsibilities have been quite overwhelming, and I don't feel that my feet will ever hit the ground again. I am one of those crazy cartoon characters suspended in midair with my feet churning in circles. Don't get me wrong - I am loving so much about this: the organizational aspects of my new responsibilities, the people I'm with whom I'm working more closely now, and the sense that I will really be able to help make the school work - I've just got a nice big learning curve stretching forward as far as I can see.
  • This has been a week of my sister and me calling each other to say "You've got to hear [insert crazy wonderful radio show] on NPR!" Fresh Air had an interview with Maurice Sendak (author/illustrator of Where the Wild Things Are). It left me in tears in the parking deck and almost made me late for class - but I could not turn the car off. I don't always like Terry Gross (she can insert way too much of her politics into her interviews, and she is too left-wing even for me) but this was a beautiful, thoughtful, and artful interview that really explored aging and loneliness while still celebrating life and Mr. Sendak's work and genius. Amilynne had me listen to this commentary from Marketplace on the "class warfare" currently underway. Also, Writer's Almanac had two beautiful poems: Unveiling, which immediately invoked images of the little yellow circular "kid's table" in the basement of my grandparents' house, and The Love Nest, which has one of the most delicious metaphors I've ever heard to make you gasp at the very end. Seriously. If you don't gasp just a little, you're probably dead. I ♥ NPR.
  • Speaking of NPR. One of their regular reporters is a former high school classmate. Pretty nutty to be getting ready to go to high school in the morning and hear the voice of someone you knew a million years ago in high school reporting or interviewing someone really important. Yeah.
I think that's about it for the moment. Blitzen Trapper has a new album out. Would you like a song?

Blitzen Trapper - Girl in a Coat


Thursday, September 01, 2011

Tonight I hated heading home

but there's work in the morning, you know?

The Smiths - There is a Light that Never Goes Out

Monday, August 01, 2011

Hope is a Rare Bird

and it was showing off its lovely plumage this evening. The NY Times reports that Gabrielle Giffords arrived at the Capitol to vote for the debt ceiling bill that finally appears to be receiving enough bipartisan support that we may avert the crisis of a default. I am so happy for her and for her loved ones.

$25 of Good for FREE

Usually I am not one to boast about bargains on my blog, but I just joined Kiva and made a $25 loan for free! You can too. Here's the link: http://kiva.org/invitedby/melissa5486. As of now, there are about 3,700 free $25 loans available. I have a feeling that they will be long gone by the August 13 deadline.

I am excited, too, because the loan I picked was for a weaver in the Philippines. My dad has some beautiful woven runners and place mats that he brought back from there before I was born. Eye-dazzling.

I'm not going to be wordy so I can publish and get the word out. Have a great time finding someone to help.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Now is that kind of time.

Happiness and joy to you. Much is afoot. Now is the preparing time, the waiting time. Let's just say that the past weeks have not been blog-friendly. Yes, I am sleeping again. Yes, there is too much to do to fit into a day. On days like this, I search my music program for "baroque," hit shuffle, and play.

So let's try it on YouTube.

Trevor Pinnock - Ramcau, La Villageoise

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Lost

Only three hours of sleep last night.

Mannaggia la miseria.

The Dandy Warhols - Sleep

Saturday, July 09, 2011

I-N-S-O-M-N-I-A

I have had the worst insomnia for the last two weeks - basically since the start of the summer class I am teaching. It seems that the only time my body wants to sleep is from 6-11 a.m. - precisely when I need to be moving on teaching days. Apart from about two nights in the last two weeks when I think exhaustion drove me to sleep earlier, I can fall into a light sleep from about 3-6, but real restful sleep seems only available in the mornings. Hooray, then, that today is Saturday and I slept in until eleven. I feel more alert than I've felt in days.

Yes, I am a nightowl, but this is rediculous.

So I haven't been ignoring the blog, I just haven't been able to concentrate enough to put anything coherent together.

This summer, I was supposed to be reading Paradise Lost with Amilynne. She waited for two months to read it with me. Summer finally started and I gave her the go - and I got to page 2. She texted me the other day that she has finished it. I just told her that it wasn't happening for me. So last night I looked around the book shelves with free eyes - for the first time in 2 1/2 years, I am letting myself choose a book I really want to read, not something related to work (although I have read some fabulous books for work in the last couple of years). I decided on Il barone rampante by Italo Calvino - a book I have tried to start about four or five times and failed - and last night it was like the story reached out and took me in. The description of a sister who cooks every strange animal of the forest into really sadistic presentations for her family, and of the two little brothers who desperately plot to set a barrel of snails free had me - I was retching at the descriptions of her past presentations of snails.

The book has been translated into English as The Baron in the Trees and is available on Amazon. If you order it and start reading it right away, don't tell me the ending - I'm not the fastest reader in Italian, but I'm getting much better.

Italo Calvino is one of my favorite writers - If On a Winter's Night a Traveler is one of my all-time favorite books. His books take the normal to a point of absurtidy - the whole time you're reading, you're thinking "Is this really what's happening?" and it really is.

Here's a song that sounds like insomnia to me.

DM Stith - Easy to be Around (Diane Cluck cover)

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Endorphins.

I'm feeling them from my walk this evening. I feel kind of "yay" and that is good.

In general, summer is "yay"-making, and right now that is definitely how I feel.

Tonight's walk took my most awesome take-a-walk-motivating friend and me around an island in the middle of the river. And it was the perfect time of evening: the sun was about the right height in the sky to still be daytime but it had lost the worst heat of the day, the water was blue, the swimmers were out on the rocks. Looking at it for a while, I thought how I would like to take a sketchbook there and do some drawing; maybe I will sometime.

Time to schedule another beach trip.

Summer is the best.

Janis Joplin - Summertime

Sunday, July 03, 2011

3 am Bonus Track

OH! I just found the most wonderful, lovely, lovely, lovely thing. Oi. Who would have ever thought this song would make you want to jump up and dance your feet off? And yet it SO works.

Mumford & Sons - England (cover of song by The National)

Summer Dessert Recipes

This afternoon I went to the grocery store to pick up some ingredients for desserts for a 4th of July cook out. I had a box of graham cracker crumbs in my basket and midway down the dairy aisle a lady stopped me because she had a recipe that used graham crackers, and was what I had the same thing as what she needed? I was a little surprised when she started digging into her wallet and pulled out a folded up recipe - for Chocolate Eclair Cake. Oh! My enthusiasm for it must have been evident, as soon we were walking the aisles together to find what she would need to make it.

This seems like one of those recipes that belongs so firmly back home, but here it was, and I guess that in the age of the Internet, there is no recipe that will not travel.

Do I dare say I enjoy talking with other people at the grocery store? Please don't take me for a loon, but the one place in this world where I can shoot the breeze is waiting in the checkout line. Don't ask me why; I am at ease there in a way I will never be at a party. Maybe because we all know we'll be out of there in five or ten minutes. Maybe because food is interesting and that's the topic at hand at the grocery store.

So, what am I up cooking tonight? A Junior Mints Cheesecake. They had the recipe on the box years ago, and it is a winner. You will like it for sure. Here's the recipe.

Junior Mints Cheesecake

6 oz. Junior Mints (4 - 1.6 oz. boxes)
3 pkgs (8 oz. ea.) cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup sugar
3 eggs
Graham cracker or chocolate crumb crust for a 9" springform pan*

1. Place Junior Mints in freezer
2. Preheat oven to 350F. With electric mixer or in food processor, combine cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in vanilla. Pour into crust.
3. Chop cold Junior Mints and sprinkle onto cheesecake.
4. Bake 40 to 45 min. or until just set. Cool on wire rack, then chill several hours or overnight. Makes about 8 servings.

*NOTE: for crust, combine 2 cups crumbs, 1/4 cup sugar, and six tablespoons melted butter or margarine. Press into bottom and - if there is enough - up sides of pan.

Delicious. Tonight, just for fun, I also scooped out the guts of a vanilla bean and threw them in with the vanilla extract. Somehow I don't think I did wrong. It smells pretty good in the oven. Of course, I'm baking this at 1:30 a.m. because even with an air conditioner, who wants to bake during the day in the summer?

Well. I should run - I've got dishes to do and a lesson to finish prepping for church tomorrow. Would you like a song? The National has fallen off the front page again, so here is something from them.

The National - The Geese of Beverly Road

Monday, June 27, 2011

It's made me cry

Today's song is the shortest little thing but it digs very deep. I love the pounding old upright-sounding piano and the drumming on something solid instead of a normal drum.

I could never do chords on the piano. Too much to keep in mind at one time. I did one piece that was one page of crazy chords. It was so frustrating to me until my piano teacher pointed out that if the chords were all strung out in arpeggios like the music I preferred to play, it would be several pages long.

I am sad today because one of my good friends is moving away. It seems like moving is what people do. The bright side is being able to meet lots of good people as they come and go - the hard part is wanting to extend the time allotted to the friendship and knowing that change is inevitable. I know that I am not one with the right to complain, as I have certainly been the one who has had to move and leave close friends behind in the past - but that bit of reason doesn't really give much comfort as someone else's car pulls away.

Magnolia Electric Co - It's Made Me Cry

Sunday, June 26, 2011

These things mean summer to me:

Some things on this list are memories and may never happen again. Others are ongoing. A few are new with the intention of carrying forward...
  • reading late, late, late into the night
  • star-soaked skies viewed far from civilization
  • the Tetons: camping, walking, canoeing; buffalo, deer, marmots, bears; skipping rocks and reading in the hammock
  • road trips
  • the beach
  • soaking thunderstorms on August afternoons
  • sleeping (and freezing) on top of the water tower
  • cold, yummy things on sticks: popsicles and ice cream bars
  • books: Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury and Dreams of my Russian Summers by Andreï Makine
  • five-week classes to take or teach
  • smelling like a campfire
  • walking my groceries home in the middle of the night
  • hours and hours and hours to just listen to music
  • season passes to Six Flags - meeting there after work for a few rollercoasters and some barbeque
  • sunburns and mosquito bites (it can't all be good)
  • riding in the tractor with grandpa or going with the uncles to move sprinkler pipe
  • sparklers
  • the smell of freshly cut grass
  • housecleaning (yeah, I know that probably shouldn't be a seasonal activity...)
  • 4-H projects
  • Mom sewing new clothes for the next school year
  • the garden: herbs, strawberries, squash, tomatos, peas, beans, rhubarb
  • running through the sprinklers
  • dancing salsa and merengue in the church parking lot
  • Dad sneaking downstairs on the morning of the 4th of July to jolt us out of bed playing Stars and Stripes Forever as loud as the boom box would go
  • Ferragosto and empty Italian cities
  • Las Vegas, St. George, hiking up the Virgin River and floating back down again, the Painted Desert, Lake Powell, Flagstaff, the three mesas of the Hopi reservation, and of course the Grand Canyon - all within reach on a day off at Jacob Lake
  • drawing - and maybe this year I'll go get a chunk of clay to play with on the patio.
Summer is good - so vital to have my blood pressure fall a few points for a part of the year, and it is beautiful to recharge and have time to follow a muse. What a lovely time of year.

Alphaville - Forever Young

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

And then it was over...

Yesterday was the last day of school for the kids. I should have everything wrapped up in the next couple of days. Liberty and Freedom. Hooray and Amen.

Dave Matthews Band - Cry Freedom

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Oh Give Me a Home Where the Buffalo Roam

I love westerns.

Not exclusively. But let Gary Cooper or Clint Eastwood gallop around on a horse with a cowboy hat and a pistol hanging off his belt - let the good guys be good and the bad guys be ruthless - I'd hate it in real life, but I love it in the movies.

Wednesday afternoon I turned on the radio, which I usually listen to mainly in the mornings, and on NPR they were reviewing the new album by Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi, Rome. The inspiration? Ennio Morricone. Che bello! The samples they played were very nice - Jack White sings on the album (Yay!) as does Norah Jones (meh - Ok voice, but usually boring - I've never really warmed to her, but she really sounds all right on this album). So I've had westerns in my head for a few days. My only complaint now that the album is downloaded is that it's way too short (35 min). But if that's what they had, everything else seems pretty tight. Better 35 tight minutes than 50 minutes with 15 of filler.

This week I also got an email from a friend with some music to listen to. One of the songs got me poking around YouTube to hear more by the artist, Lykke Li. And one song, The Only, sounds so much like it belongs on the soundtrack of a western - maybe because I was already in that mindset because of the Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi album, or maybe I would have heard that in it anyway. Anyway. Downloaded that album too. I actually had to do some poking around to find The Only because it was a bonus track somewhere along the way, but I did find it.

So you know I can't listen to all this music and then not watch a western. This afternoon I watched High Noon. I haven't watched it since my freshman year in college. It was required for the civics class all freshmen had to take. I don't remember liking or disliking it then, but I was probably more concerned with passing notes with my two friends with whom I was taking the class, and besides, when you are one of 900 in a big auditorium watching a movie in class because it's supposed to teach you something about your civic duty, well - let's just say maybe that it is less of a good movie in freshman civics and an awesome movie for a Saturday afternoon when you get to care more about the story line, gape at how gorgeous Grace Kelley is, wonder if that bad guy is Jude Law's father (of course not, but hey), and figure out what makes the High Noon ballad so cool (the underlying beat is like a souped-up tick-tock as we roll ever forward to 12:00). It's a great movie.

Anyway. Hooray for westerns. I think I'll move The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly up to number one in my Netflix queue.

Here is my favorite western-themed song of all time.

Mirah - Cold, Cold Water

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Cover Hits It Right On

Here is something delightful I have come across.

Beck's Record Club - Mystify



Would you like to compare it to the original?

INXS - Mystify



One after the other, back and forth - both very nice. I must say that there is one on YouTube with INXS with the replacement lead singer, and it's just not worth listening to. The cover above is much better. I don't blame INXS for wanting to go on, but Michael Hutchence was one of a kind.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

So Very Awake

I was lolling off into the wonderful folds of sleep tonight when... gunshots. Summer must be approaching. The first few times this happened, I rolled out of bed and onto the floor, terrified. That was a long time ago.

Now I'm just awake.

My apartment complex is so stupid. I used to keep a really great patio garden, but about 1 1/2 years ago they made me get rid of it. So now I have no reason to go out on my patio. Well, when I used to go out on the patio, I was visible and it was visible that I was around. More than once, people who I suspected of acting shadily disappeared when I went out to water the plants. Not like that ever stopped nighttime shots from going off, (nor did it stop the Sunday afternoon shooting four or five years ago), but I think it did make some difference. Now I don't have much reason to do much outside of my apartment. Stupid management decision.

When I die, I hope there are sleep-like waves of peace before the bright light of whatever happens next. I'd like to pause and catch my breath before rushing into my fate.

I really wish I were asleep right now.

Coldplay - Death And All His Friends

Friday, May 20, 2011

Head in the Past

So I have spent the last month being kind of wrapped in this sorta-90s nostalgia. And it has left me wondering if I really have any idea of what the 90s were about. It was kind of an excellent decade in many ways - book-ended largely by the fall of the Berlin wall on the outset and 9/11 as it faded into memory. And what was in between? The Internet and cell phones and PowerPoint and grunge turning to indy.

My students asked me this week how apartheid could have lasted so long. I didn't know what to say. I told them about how exciting it was when Mandela got out of prison, and I told them that up until just before then, the Cold War really took up all of our attention. I tried to tell them that growing up in the Cold War meant we really were afraid of nuclear bombs being launched. I suppose that it's like when my parents tell me where they were when Kennedy was shot, and all I can do is nod my head.

I don't understand my wish to revisit the 90s beyond that - it's not like fashion was great or anything - but it was the reprieve when a lot seemed possible in the world. And whether that was a function of the age or of my being younger I don't know. The acid-burned edges of globalism in 2011 mean that hope rises in one spot and leaves another altogether.

So here is some music. From the 90s of course.

Counting Crows - Recovering the Satellites

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Sometimes a song just grabs you...

...and so you get the music first today. I really haven't listened to anything else since one of my friends posted it on Facebook a couple of days ago. Blow the video up full-screen because the sculptures are soul-smashingly beautiful.

Duran Duran - Before the Rain



Shivery lovely, no? Here's your test. Did you see the sculpture with the lightest, most subtle line of stars in the most soft bas relief in a band like a necklace hanging from her neck? If not, stop reading, blow the video up to full screen, and watch again. Once you've seen it, you can move on. Or not. I can't stop listening to this song, and maybe you'll be trapped in it too.

Would you like more cemetery? Here is my favorite. Please excuse the jerkiness of the pictures. It really wasn't like that when I made it, but it's something I've noticed about work from Microsoft's PhotoStory 3 when posted on You Tube. The cemetery is Staglieno in Genova. The music is Foo Fighters.

I cannot believe we are looking at the midpoint of May. May is the most glorious month of the year, and yet the workload is so intense that I always feel like I'm missing it. I love the spring when it can still be a little chilly-to-fresh and before the humidity sets in! I need to go find a mountain trail to wander or something. Actually, I need to catch up on my correcting and make some lesson plans for next week. Hmmm. And therefore miss May. Actually, I am at least going to get out of the house today and go see Van Gogh on IMAX. Should be delightful. You have a delightful day too.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

How to Mosaic Like a Ravennan in 8 Simple Steps

Today I got to tell one of my students about the mosaics in Ravenna. We were doing this exercise that mentioned them - something about "How many tiles might there be in the mosaics of Ravenna?" And the answer would be millions and millions, of course. Ravenna. What a wonderful city. Seriously. Glazed tile mosaics. I don't know how to improve on that idea. What a glow.

Would you like to know how to make a glazed tile mosaic? Here are instructions, straight from Ravenna. First, your tools and materials:


Now, the eight easy-to-follow steps:


And when you're done, it should look like this:

or this:



or maybe this:



Yeah.

I bought a scarf with the pattern of the arch on that last one. Gotta love a good gift shop.

Wow. So Ravenna is definitely a city to visit. Shed a tear for Dante's exile, see some amazing art, ride a bicycle around the city center for free, and maybe if you're lucky the woman selling candied almonds that are so very fresh and tasty will be out by the piazza when you are wandering around at night.

Must finish my plans for discussing some Hobbes in class tomorrow, so again I leave you with a referential song of the day.

Midlake - Head Home

Monday, May 02, 2011

Challenge:

Let's remember where we are tonight as vividly as we remember where we were on the morning of September 11th. Because we shouldn't only remember the tragedy.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Sting

"You know, I look at the papers, I'm not really inspired by things. I'm inspired by the people around me. That keeps me going." -Sting


Sting - We Work the Black Seam

All Young and Beautiful

I am up very late, which is probably not what I need after getting up very early this morning to check out the royal wedding. I only got to see bits and pieces as I got ready for work, but I have checked out the highlights on YouTube and I must say it was all very lovely indeed. It was a very nice way to start the day.

This evening I felt like trawling through some music I haven't listened to in a while. I had completely forgotten this song. Enjoy it.

Annie Lennox - Keep Young and Beautiful

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hot-Cha!

***A warning: I'm talking politics again, so if you are one of my dear friends who loves me in spite of rather than because of my way of looking at the world, feel free to just not bother with this post. Or you can just skip down to the nice tune at the end.***

Hooray! I really was pleased today when President Obama announced that in the important work of government, it's annoying to have the media clogged with "sideshows and carnival barkers" (NYTimes). How nice to have a president who can turn a phrase. This just in time for news to break that Fatah and Hamas have been in talks with the new Egyptian power brokers (again, NYTimes). Because, you see, important things are afoot in this world, and maybe we should be able to have access to news about them.

Apropos, this morning on NPR's Morning Edition there was a fascinating commentary about how to revive the evening news: cancel fluffy entertainment "news" shows and put the real news in its place. The argument from Eric Deggans, a Florida media critic, is that with people coming home from work later, the real news needs to be on when we are home to see it. Could one dare to wish for a world where average people actually took an interest in world events over gossip? Maybe insipid conspiracy theories like the "birther" foray would have less traction in a less gossipy arena.

Wish. Wish. Wish.

Jesus Jones - Right Here Right Now

Friday, April 22, 2011

Melancholy, Day 5

I spent today waiting for the inevitable: Monday.

Yeah. I know how crazy that sounds. It was a Friday off. And all I can do is think about the week ending and going back to work.

I did clean the oven. So please note the line in today's song about having one's head in the oven, because mine was there.

I've also been reading Ethics for the New Millenium by His Holiness The Dalai Lama. His ideas about reality remind me of the description of right-brain world that Jill Bolte-Taylor experienced when she had a stroke that knocked out the left side of her brain off and on over a broad stretch of time. A mass recognition of such a reality would surely change the way we treat each other: if we are who we are because we are in relation to everything else, and we would cease to identify the boundaries between ourselves and others as such a hard line, we might feel more empathy toward each other and find ourselves less able to defraud each other in the little ways that happen every day.

I was discussing with my dad my disenchantment with the idea of the free market system as something righteous and moral. All things being equal, I'm sure it would be a nifty system. The problem is, all things are never equal and have not been from the beginning. The free market system has no mechanism in place to say that if an employer buys a person's full-time employment, that person must be paid enough to live on. And yet in an ethical system, I don't know how that observation could be overlooked. If you buy the labor of someone's life, they should be able to live off of selling that to you. I am tired of seeing poverty entrenched in families and so unwilling to let go. I am tired of seeing the champions of capitalism buy influence and use it only to shore up their own position.

I am not trying to say that free markets should be replaced with some other system. I just think we need to recognize that it is not an ethical system and that in recognition of our common humanity, we must put safeguards in place to abolish exploitation.

Time to put my head back in the oven.

The National - Conversation 16




Thursday, April 21, 2011

Elsewhere. Day 4

There are things that make me remember my best friend growing up. She passed several years ago, but so many things bring her back, and sometimes very urgently. Today it was changing the sheets on the bed. I remember that when we were quite young she showed me how her dad had taught her to make nice corners with the sheet, which was something he had learned in the military. I remember being a bit incredulous that her dad would care what the corners looked like, especially since they were hidden under the bedspread. Of course, now I corner my sheets, but I don't do it ever without thinking about her.

I am getting the feeling of panic again - scratching at the mechanism that keeps time rolling forward. I haven't accomplished nearly enough this week. About the only thing I have accomplished has been giving my mind a couple of days of rest. I guess that's something.

On another note. I was talking with a couple of my students last week about music - and about how consistent the 80's 1-2 1-2 beat was, and how it lasted a whole decade, and how I did like it then, but I'm not thrilled to see it coming back en force. Why not have more bands like The National? With talented, inventive drummers? What? The world is short on talent?

Then pardon me while I enjoy the drumming here.

The National - Runaway

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Inspired - Day 3

Here is something good. I will resist my urge to pontificate about how this good thing came out of a time before too much standardized testing and I will just point out my awe that it is surviving, especially when 4th graders have a lot of testing on their plates.

John Hunter, Public School Teacher, on the World Peace Game

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lost in Thought...Day 2

Off to teach. A quick admission, though: I didn't get through half of that to-do list yesterday. I got caught up by a book...surprise surprise. Roots by Alex Haley.

Here's a gift for you!

Basia Bulat - If It Rains

Monday, April 18, 2011

Happiness Day 1

It is wonderful to look at a day from its beginning and find several tasks to be done but nothing scheduled - no rush to get here or there, just the leisure to complete things as I will. It's even more buttery to feel like this on a Monday.

Here are the things I need to do today:
  • go to the school to pick up the jump drive I left there last week
  • go to Trader Joe's for some groceries
  • run some mail to the post office
  • cook some pork chops for the freezer
  • correct some projects for the college class that I couldn't work on over the weekend because they are on the jump drive I left at the school
  • work on a unit planner that is seriously overdue, but that also requires that troublesome little jump drive
  • go outside for some air before the weather turns so humid I won't want to
  • clean a room of the house.
That last one is a daily goal for the break. Let's see how it goes. Honestly, if I can clean 3 or 4 I'll be happy.

Things I have already accomplished:
  • reading comic strips for the day
  • turning on some music
I guess I'll go get a shower.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Glazing

So I haven't been posting much this month. I guess I had so much bottled up in me a few weeks ago and when I got that out, I didn't have much more to say. These weeks have been. Simply that.

I went back to pottery class this last Monday, and I have to say that got me through the week. I still have a couple of pieces that I'm not sure what to do with as far as glazing goes. Especially a piece that I threw on the wheel that was off centered but I think its imperfection is interesting if not beautiful. Its form is so rough that I don't know whether I want to glaze it at all, or just keep it terra cotta. The mask I did is like that, too - I'm afraid that if I glaze the face it will look strangely garish like a Greek marble with paint still on it. (Not to compare my efforts with anything from ancient Greece!) So there are some decisions to be made, and I don't want to inexpertly ruin what at this stage looks pretty good. At any rate, one or two things are done, so hopefully they will be fired soon and I can post pictures.

(There is one piece - a box - that is just ugly. I don't know what I will do with it when it's finished, as it's not anything to which I feel attachment.... live and learn, I guess.)

Here's a pretty good song I heard this morning.

Radical Face - Glory



Sunday, March 06, 2011

To the Detractors

Dear talking heads and political posturers,

I have had it with your assault on teachers and public schools. I want you to know that I am thankful for my public school teachers who instructed and inspired me, and that I go to work every day with the goal of instructing and inspiring my students.

I am tired of being slandered and maligned. I am not a thug out to game the system. I have a master's degree, and I got straight A's in grad school. My workday stretches far beyond my contracted hours. I prepare lessons for six different classes at the high school where I teach. I have built a website of study tools for my students because I don't teach commonly taught subjects and appropriate quality tools can be hard to find.

Your laws mandating testing have glorified mediocrity, encouraged cheating, and moved money from the classrooms to the companies that make the tests. Your push to pay teachers based on their students' performance (à la Race to the Top) will only drive the best teachers out of the low-income areas (like the district where I work) where they are desperately needed.

I love teaching, but the stress from the politicking is a nightmare. I have news for you: I am not just a babysitter; I didn't get into teaching for the cushy pay; I take work home every night and weekend, and I teach at a local university year round (read: I WORK SUMMERS). It started off as something to do purely for enjoyment, but with a freeze in pay for four years, it has also become a way to make ends meet.

I want you to know the truth: I work with many great teachers, including a number who have been mentors, heroes, and sounding boards for me as I have learned my craft. We don't deserve to be painted with broad strokes as the foundational problem with society or with the economy. We rightfully take pride in the successes we achieve. Many of these successes are difficult to quantify and difficult to attribute to one pinpointed cause. But aren't we all made up of layers of experience? Shouldn't we work to educate the whole child: not just to improve skills in mathematics and reading, but also to encourage ingenuity, ethical behavior, civic involvement, cross-cultural understanding, and curiosity?

And please, don't call me a snively whiner for standing up for myself and my profession. I do a good job, and I'm not going to pretend that I don't. Don't tell me that I should shut up and be thankful for my job. I am thankful for my job. I feel incredibly blessed to have such rewarding work. I also worked very hard to qualify to be where I am. And one of the greatest difficulties in my job, especially in light of the push toward mediocrity brought on by misguided reforms like No Child Left Behind, is teaching my students that such hard work really is irreplaceable in the end. So I'm not going to shut up and let you make my job even harder.

Tomorrow I will go to work and I will teach, not to impress you, but because I know my students are deserving of my best efforts on their behalf. If you're at all interested in improving the future, you'll stand behind us. If not, you'd better get out of our way.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Wow. I fell asleep.

So much for Oscars 2011 - I was happy to get a couple of phone calls and to watch on mute for a while, and when my dad called and woke me after The King's Speech won top honors, I just turned it off before the 5th graders could get started.

At least Anne Hathaway wore her best dress at the beginning so I didn't miss that. Here are the best pictures I have been able to scrounge off the Internet. Because she's busy hosting and the pictures aren't taken from the TV camera's angle (WHY NOT?), there really isn't a picture where she does justice to the glamor of the dress, but it really was beautiful.

By the way, it's Givenchy, as is the Cate Blanchett one I posted previously.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Top Three Dresses from the Red Carpet

Pictures stolen from NYTimes.

#1 - Nicole Kidman



#2 - Amy Adams - the picture doesn't do the beautiful sapphire color justice.




#3 - Cate Blanchett



And as I have been posting this, Anne Hathaway has come out to present in the most beautiful beaded gown - I'll post a picture when I find one.

Princess dreams are still alive!