Tuesday, December 15

Monday, November 30

A Quick Work in Praise of Slowness

In Praise of Slowness: how a worldwide movement is challenging the cult of speed. Carl Honore.

I had to read this book quickly. And now I have to blog quickly because my home internet isn't working, so I'm at the library, with one hour to complete my tasks.

Need I say more?

Honore makes a compelling case for the costs of a speed-driven life, and describes the historical development of the "cult of speed." Of less interest to me were the descriptions of "slow" alternative medicine, tantric sex, and slow food. I was familiar with his examples and he didn't present much new material.

If you're looking for a reason to jump ship, and a rationale, you might enjoy this book.

Wednesday, November 18

"Landslide" by PS22 youth chorus

This is beautiful. I love their expressions when they sing, "Can I handle the seasons of my life? Oh, I don't know." They look so wise and wistful.

You can check out their blog for many more songs, and interviews.

Monday, November 16

I Regret Everything

One of my theme songs!

 I can't remember the name of the woman I heard perform it, but the Divine Miss M is a fantastic substitute.

The video seems a little out of sync (or it could be my computer download speed.) If it's too troublesome, just close your eyes--it's the song that's key.

Thursday, November 12

Wolcome Yule!

Origen, a father of the Christian church, argu...Image via Wikipedia

This is the time of year I'm most enthusiastic about Christmas. That nagging "Should I fake some sort of costume?" Halloween question has been resolved in my traditional fashion (costume, no; 50's hat with plastic grapes, "Harvest Goddess," yes.)

I haven't made a Thanksgiving meal in years because I travel to visit my sister. Thank you, Darcy, thank you, thank you, thank you!

After Thanksgiving I must actually prepare for Christmas in whatever minimal fashion I can muster. Jarrett hates holidays (actually he hates change, and disruptions in routine) so ours is Very Minimal! After Thanksgiving I must start reminding myself that Mom had the help of several enthusiastic kids for cookie baking and tree decorating, and that it was usually Dad's growl that got our rears in gear to start cleaning (no one here to whom I can delegate growling.) And since it's just the same old me, I shouldn't expect Christmas miracles beyond the oft-prayed-for sense of humor.

But right now is when I love Christmas most, when I browse through women's magazines, and just for a fleeting moment of insanity think of repainting one living room wall to make a better foil for decorating. Or read in "Last Minute Christmas" a plan to make one or two or five incredibly beautiful wreaths of embossed cream velvet leaves, each wreath requiring 100-150 individually crafted (in 6 steps) leaves. I know, but it's really pretty!

And I temporarily pretend that Jarrett can tolerate Christmas music, and that I'm not diabetic, and that I'm not broke. Because where, I ask you, is the fun in any of that?

In American pioneer days Christmas was celebrated with much drunken revelry, firecrackers, and gunfire. Most people lived in isolation, and everyone lived in quiet, and no one had nearly enough sugar. So a holiday, a change of pace, was filled with longed-for community, celebrating, and general whooping-it-up, as well as an extra egg, a pat of butter, and a tablespoon or two of sugar in the bread.

As recently as my parents' youth, we were in the midst of a great depression. My mother-in-law remembers watching a little girl across the street sit on her stoop and eat an orange, and you can still hear the longing in her voice when she tells the story.

Now we are in the peculiar situation of being surrounded by a merciless torrent of people, information, worldly goods, sugary delights, seasonless grocery shopping, and entertainment. Most of which I kind of like, truth to tell. But what is it we lack?

My point here is not to moralize, but to say, let's give ourselves a break from the idea of a bigger, better, faster, shinier Christmas. We've got a lot of big, fast, and shiny already. That's not what we long for.

Besides the obvious -- enough money, enough time, a healthy portion of sanity and courage -- what I want is time with family and friends, and quiet moments at home. Christmas exists to serve us, lightening our darkness, not we to serve it. Christmas is the time I put on the silly "Christmas in Sweden" music and dance around the living room. As well as the time I put on the tender "Christmas in Germany" music and sit in the firelight and cry for beauty and memory.

Cue the music, begin the dance. And duck and cover --- it's coming!

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Wednesday, November 11

50% of U. S. kids will use food stamps

Community-supported agricultureImage via Wikipedia

Nearly half of all U.S. children and 90% of black children will be on food stamps at some point during their childhood.

Economic woes stemming from the current recession will probably push those numbers higher. The report was based on analysis of data from 1968 to 1997.

For a family of four to be eligible, their take-home pay can't exceed about $22,000.

This info was released Monday, November 2 in the November issue of Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

Pediatrician Paul Wise, in an editorial in the same issue of the journal, wrote,

"The current recession is likely to generate for children in the United States the greatest level of material deprivation that we will see in our professional lifetimes.

"I find it terribly sad but not surprising."

Monday, November 9

Silver and Gold

Neither an early post about Christmas decorations, nor a comment on economic conditions: Silver and Gold is Norman Hartnell's book about his career as British fashion designer, most notably as Dressmaker to the Royals.

The book is illustrated with photographs and Hartnell's sketches, and each description is a little morsel of deliciousness. Here is Her Majesty the Queen in an afternoon dress of duck-egg blue and brown printed taffeta; there, an evening dress of swathed and gathered peach-pink organza. Another sketch shows the young queen in a mimosa tulle dress, and, for a Royal Visit to Norway, June, 1955, an evening dress of embroidered ice-blue satin with plain satin drapery and panel.

Oh, Swoon!

Hartnell began designing costumes for theater in the 1930's. His career as designer to royalty began when he designed the wedding dress for Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Gloucester in 1935, and reached its apex with the design of Queen Elizabeth's coronation gown in 1953.

If you are interested in fashion, fashion design, textiles, embroidery, or theater you'll enjoy this book, with its gossipy backstage glimpses of the Royals, descriptions of wartime shortages and improvisationg

This book may not appeal to everyone, as suggested by its storage at the Minnesota Library Access Center (MLAC -- virtual tour here), the huge climate-controlled storage area at the U of M.

To get a glimpse at some of the sketches and illustrations, go to this post on Hartnell on the blog "Worn Through--Apparel from an academic perspective," where Heather Vaughan has posted 18 wonderful pages of sketches scanned from the book.

I like Hartnell's enthusiastic and slightly loopy prose style:

". . . [at the Coronation] I took my seat in the Queen's Box whither I had been ushered by Gold Staff officers.

". . . I was thankful to be early in getting to the Abbey to witness the arrival of all these noble men and women so gorgeously arrayed. Why didn't every one of them, every day, dress like this at breakfast time? What is the merit of choosing the drab when beauty hangs in the wardrobe?

"I have never seen anything so transcendentally beautiful in my life. One after another the peeresses glide up the bright blue carpet, trailing their robes of crimson velvet, and hasten to their allotted seats like rubies in a hurry. Opposite are row on row of peeresses mounting towards the very roof. They look like a lovely hunk of fruit cake; the damson jam of the velvet, bordered with the clotted dream of ermine and sprinkled with the sugar of diamonds. On my left are the peers, attired in their masculine version of ermine and velvet, their jam puff coronets nestling in their laps."

You might enjoy this sweet and a little silly (a lovely hunk of fruit cake? jam puff coronets?) trip back in time to Hartnell's world of color, textiles, fashion design, and royalty.

Sunday, November 1

Burning books and frying chicken

Hate, Fear, and Southern Hospitality

Well, as long as it's friendly-like! Here's an interesting juxtaposition of hate, fear, and Southern hospitality!

From The Minnesota Independent, A Center for Independent Media site,
"Religious Right Watch: Happy Halloween, Heathens."

"A church in North Carolina . . . is marking Halloween with a book burning. Called “Burning Perversions of God’s Word,” Amazing Grace Baptist Church will be torching books and CDs it deems evil. “We will also be burning Satan’s music such as country, rap, rock, pop, heavy metal, western, soft and easy, southern gospel, contemporary Christian, jazz, soul, oldies but goldies, etc.,” the church website says. “We will also be burning Satan’s popular books written by heretics. We will be serving fried chicken, and all the sides.”

Here's more

". . . one writer for Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network warns parents that witches curse Halloween candy.

“[M]ost of the candy sold during this season has been dedicated and prayed over by witches,” wrote CBN’s Kimberly Daniels. “I do not buy candy during the Halloween season. Curses are sent through the tricks and treats of the innocent whether they get it by going door to door or by purchasing it from the local grocery store. The demons cannot tell the difference.”

Daniels continued, “Halloween is much more than a holiday filled with fun and tricks or treats. It is a time for the gathering of evil that masquerades behind the fictitious characters of Dracula, werewolves, mummies and witches on brooms. The truth is that these demons that have been presented as scary cartoons actually exist."

Aren't all the witches too busy dancing skyclad under the harvest moon to bless all that candy? There's a lot of candy bought and sold for Halloween, and not that many witches! Just sayin'.

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Tuesday, October 27

Fall photos

Fall on Cleveland Street

Thirsting after truth

"The masses have never thirsted after truth. They turn aside from evidence that is not to their taste, preferring to deify error, if error seduce them. Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim."

Gustave LeBon (1841-1931) French psychologist and sociologist

Thanks go out to l. k. hanson, who illustrated this quotation in his "you don't say" in the Star Tribune.

Monday, October 19

Life Among The Lutherans

Garrison Keillor during a rainy outdoor broadc...Image via Wikipedia

If you don't have time to read the whole post, just know that Garrison Keillor is a comic genius and go ahead and read the book already.

If you're still here, welcome back for more book enthusiasm. Have I ever expressed my admiration for Garrison Keillor? I have? Huh.

I include some favorite passages below, but there's plenty more: Pastor Ingkvist's salary negotiations, his midadventures at the Sidetrack Tap. Deer Hunting, Ice Fishing, cars, brides, and the National Usher's Competition.

I used to identify with the Lake Wobegon kids, young adults recently moved to the city. Once I had kids, and increasingly as the years go by, I'm turning into Arlene Bunsen, Margaret Krebsbach, Judy Ingkvist, and Marilyn Tollerud. Heck, there's a lot of Clarence Bunsen in me, and Carl Krebsbach, Hjalmar Petersen, and the rest of the crew. In fact, every single one of them.That's part of his comic genius. He sees clearly the smallness of our dim, silly, dull, Midwestern lives and hearts, sees us as we are, the dark and the saving grace. His writer's eye takes us apart, shines a light on our flaws, yet in illuminating them, makes them ok, even funny, and we can sigh and laugh and move on. There's acceptance and love for all his characters, the young and old, men and women, pastors and barkeeps and women with badly permed hair. He's not uncritical. The writer is different from the man. There are people in real life Mr. Keillor thinks ill of. But he loves his characters.

I take a lot of heart from GK the DJ, and think his writing is deeply spiritual, though he may or not agree. It blesses us. While causing us to chortle, repeatedly, and read proclaim to anyone nearby, "Hey, listen to this."

Now we can jump into the good part, a chance for you to read some excerpts.

From "It Could Be Worse":

"A sensible person seeks to be at peace, to read books, know the neighbors, take walks, enjoy his portion, live to be eighty, and wind up fat and happy, although a little wistful when the first coronary walks up and slugs him in the chest. Nobody is meant to be a star. Charisma is pure fiction, and so is brilliance. It's the dummies who sit on the dais, and it's the smart people who sit in the dark near the exits. That is the Lake Wobegon view of life."

From "PK" (pastor's kid)

A pastor's child learns that you treat all these people with the same quiet kindness: you offer congratulations to some and condolences to others, but you say it in the same kind voice, not interfering with people's feelings or trying to analyze them, offering the simplest comfort of a hand and a voice, the presence of another human being, here in their extreme moment. And you bring a hotdish.

Twentieth Anniversary

The clergy fought this out for two years . . . People got all hot about it in that silent glacial way that Norwegians have, and the fight got so unpleasant that people would've gladly avoided heaven if it meant they'd have to talk to the others, and the Lutheran church [of Stavanger, Norway] split into factions, and the Ingqvists were glad to leave. . . the misery of this terrible argument cured him of all homesickness or regret. Norwegians are no fun to fight with because they do it silently: they know they're right, so why should they bother arguing about it? This can go on for years.

Ice Fishing

Ralph's Pretty Good Grocery was crowded yesterday morning with ambitious people buying pimientos and whole cashews and canned oysters and exotic cheeses, like Gorgonzola and Camembert, and odd spices and exotic mushrooms, and you could tell they'd gotten hold of a magazine article with beautiful color photos of dishes. They were throwing caution to the wind and putting the candied yams and turkey aside in favor of gourmet cuisine, and you knew that some of these cuisine adventures were going to end in heartbreak, in smoke-filled kitchens with frazzled cooks weeping into their aprons and coming unhinged."

The Herdsmen
(at the National Usher's Competition)

. . . it was a motley crowd. A thousand people and there were a lot of Episcopalians in there, and they always take more time, and a group of blind nuns, the Sisters of Helen Keller, and that slowed things up--old ladies waving white canes and whacking people with them, and some guide dogs growling and barking and there were 140 members of Lutheran Weightwatchers, and the kids from St. Vitus's School for children with ADD, kids who come with a fast-forward button--it was like herding fruit bats and water buffalo.

So go and read it, already, and then tell me your favorite parts. I'll even let you read them out loud.
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Saturday, October 17

The Case for God

The Case for God, by Karen Armstrong

Click on the title link to read an excerpt from the introduction to the book.

All I've read is this excerpt, but Armstrong is no lightweight -- the intro has plenty of chewy ideas. In fact,

"'That book was really hard!' readers have told me reproachfully, shaking their heads in faint reproof. 'Of course it was!' I want to reply. 'It was about God.'"

I love her description of music's transcendence:

"Music has always been inseparable from religious expression, since, like religion at its best, music marks the "limits of reason."

"It is the most corporeal of the arts: it is produced by breath, voice, horsehair, shells, guts, and skins and reaches "resonances in our bodies at levels deeper than will or consciousness." But it is also highly cerebral. . .

"Yet this intensely rational activity segues into transcendence. Music goes beyond the reach of words: it is not about anything. A late Beethoven quartet does not represent sorrow but elicits it in hearer and player alike, and yet it is emphatically not a sad experience.

"Like tragedy, it brings intense pleasure and insight. We seem to experience sadness directly in a way that transcends ego, because this is not my sadness but sorrow itself. In music, therefore, subjective and objective become one.

". . . Every day, music confronts us with a mode of knowledge that defies logical analysis and empirical proof. . . Hence all art constantly aspires to the condition of music; so too, at its best, does theology."

(I broke up the dense pararaphs to make it easier to read online.)

From the Random House blurb:

"Karen Armstrong details the great lengths to which humankind has gone in order to experience a sacred reality that it called by many names . . .

"[She] examines the diminished impulse toward religion in our own time, when a significant number of people either want nothing to do with God or question the efficacy of faith. Why has God become unbelievable? Why is it that atheists and theists alike now think and speak about God in a way that veers so profoundly from the thinking of our ancestors?"

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Thursday, October 15

P. G Wodehouse's Birthday

Stephen Fry (left) as Jeeves and Hugh Laurie a...Image via Wikipedia

P. G. Wodehouse, author of the Jeeves and Wooster books, was born on this day, October 15, in 1881.

Hugh Laurie portrayed rich, dim, and hapless Bertie Wooster and Stephen Fry played the inimitable, implacable butler Jeeves in the "Jeeves & Wooster" TV series. The line I remember most fondly had Bertie (Laurie) asking if a certain august personage was angered by his (Bertie's) antics.

Jeeves replied, "His face suffused a darker hue, and he attempted to kick a passing cat."

And yes, for those like me who struggle with Actor Non-recognition Syndrome ("Oh, he's that actor guy from that one show!") Hugh Laurie now stars as "House" on Fox TV.

There are many more clips and several interviews on YouTube. Here's another favorite, "Jeeves Disapproves."

Thank you, P. G. Wodehouse!

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Thursday, October 8

Amgansett and the passage of time

"'Conrad, Conrad . . .'

"The first light of dawn was creeping over the horizon when Conrad was roused from his slumber by Rollo's hollering. Conrad only ever slumbered, he never slept, not the sleep of a child, dead to the world, its oversized surroundings. One small part of his brain kept constant vigil, snatching at the slightest noise or shift in smell. It no longer bothered him. He accepted it for what it was: a part of him now, like the scar in his side and the remorseless throb of his damaged knee.

"The boards groaned under his feet as he shuffled from his shack onto the narrow deck that ringed it. The sharp salt air stabbed his lungs, raw from too many cigarettes the previous evening. As if in reprimand, an overflowing ashtray still sat on the arm of the slattted wooden chair out front. A book lay facedown on an upturned fish crate beside the molten remains of a candle and an all-but-empty bottle of cheap Imperial whiskey.

"He had read deep into the night, the bugs dancing dangerously close to the candle flame until it had finally sputtered and died. The waxing moon, so high and prominent at dusk, had long departed, having run her early course: and for a further hour he had sat in the deep darkness, breathing in time to the beat of the waves beyond the high beach-bank, sleep rising up around him like the unseen tide, his mind numbed by the liquor, his body by the blanket of night dew settling over him.

"Conrad stared at the chair, unable to recall the short stroll he must have surely made from the abandoned perch to his bed.

'Conrad, Conrad . . . '

There's more: turning tides, a right whale, a full breakfast, setting off to fish.

Did you notice anything? It's such a short excerpt, it may not strike you. Once I noticed, I kept looking, and pages and pages went by before I found what I was looking for.

There are no references to time other than natural time. No alarm clock, no watch. Also no morning TV or radio news, no phone, no Internet. Once I started to notice the lack of clock time and electronic references, I thought I'd entered an enchanted world.

I'd forgotten: the book is set on Long Island, where Conrad lives on his fishing boat, in the late 1940's. Realizing that set off one of those violent internal conceptual reconfigurations that occur when you realize your assumptions couldn't be more wrong.

It's good to have that happen every now and again.

Mills, Mark. Amagansett. 2005.

Friday, August 28

Winston Churchill and the Russian Front

Winston ChurchillImage via Wikipedia

Catherwood, Christopher. Winston Churchill, Flawed Genius of World War II.

I've been reading about World War II again, circling around the subject as an ongoing topic of interest. The book is Winston Churchill, Flawed Genius of World War II. I thought you might like this update from the famous last few lines of Churchill's speech to the House of Commons on June 30, 1940.

We shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills, we shall never surrender.

Catherwood writes,

"Not many people know an unofficial part of the speech that, during the cheers, Churchill whispered to his new deputy, the Labour leader Clement Attlee: 'We'll fight them with the butt end of broken beer bottles because that's all we've bloody got!'"

I'm only half-way through the book, but a section on the Rusian front interested me, and I wanted to post about it here. For a more encompassing review of the book, there is a review from Booklist at the end of the post.

The other allies were aware at the time of the tremendous casualties on the Russian-German front, but in Churchill's entire six volume history/memoir of World War II, the siege of Stalingrad, in which over one million people died, is never mentioned. Here again, from Catherwood:

"[Churchill's] visit to Stalin in 1942 betrays this same lack of understanding of the difference between the two fronts: in Stalingrad the Red Army lost half a million men, at El Alamein the British and Allied forces saw 2350 dead, or just about one-fortieth of the losses suffered by the Soviets. As one of Churchill's biographer records, the entire six volumes nowhere mention the siege of Leningrad in which over one million people died -- mostly civilians--a death toll higher than that of the entire British and American casualty rate combined. All this is quite a horrifying lack of perspective from one of the key leaders of the war . . . [emphasis author's own]

"This was, Norman Davies and others now remind us, also the beginning of a major distortion on how we read and understand the war itself. As mentioned earlier, a battle like Kursk was far more important in the defeat of the Axis than countless other battles that were turned into movies or made the subject of myriad books by Western historians.

"To be fair, much of this is because of the sheer inaccessibility of Soviet archive material, which took until the advent of Gorbachev to be opened to outsiders . . . But a great deal was known during the Second World War itself about, for example, Stalingrad and the comparative death counts; it is very clear, for instance in reading Churchill's brief references to the Eastern Front, that he was well aware of the scale of the Soviet sacrifice and of the paucity of Western casualties in comparison. It is also why we still tend to think of the Second World War as a "good war," for reasons we have discussed elsewhere. [Refers to comments that it was not a "good war" for Czechoslovakia, Poland, etc.]

Catherwood goes on to note a conversation between Stalin and Churchill about the Stalin's "murderous elimination" of the kulaks (the richer peasants). "To the dictator it seemed a simple matter of improving the food supply."

"In fact, more kulaks were killed on Stalin's orders because they were the wrong social class, than Jews were murdered by Hitler for being the wrong race, a perspective that was all too lacking at the time, since, for reasons of wartime propaganda, Stalin was portrayed benignly as "Uncle Joe". . . In fact, between "Uncle Joe" and "Uncle Adolf" there was little moral difference, something that the needs of war disguised, and that was also hushed up and even denied in the USSR itself until Khruschchev . . . let the cat out of the bag in the 1950's." (emphasis mine)

What tales of blood and carnage.

I'm halfway through with the book, and these are the things that have interested me so far. Even though I've read about the Russian front before, and the siege of Leningrad, I still overlook them sometimes when I think about WWII. I'm interested in the stories of my father and uncles; their war experiences. Dad fought in France and Germany; Uncle Perry was at the Battle of the Bulge, and Uncle Keith flew bomber missions over Germany. As the war in Europe wrapped up, Dad was sent home for retraining to fight in Japan. He has remarked to me that the odds are good he would have died in Japan if the atomic bombs had not been dropped.

The atom bomb is one of our ultimate symbols of evil. But in fact the Japanese Emperor didn't surrender until we dropped a second bomb. Think of all the civilian and military casualties that would have resulted from close combat in Japan. Unthinkable choices all around.

Catherwood's book describes the choices Churchill faced, how he made the decisions he did, and the lingering consequences of his choices.


You can listen to the "We will fight on the beaches" speech on the BBC site and many others.


Review of "Winston Churchill; the Flawed Genius of World War Two" From Booklist
Catherwood emphatically rejects the school of revisionists that blames Churchill for carrying on in 1940, which they tend to connect to the decline of the British Empire, and asserts his own criticisms of Churchill’s subsequent war leadership. The latter boil down to two points. Churchill, Catherwood argues, shouldn’t have halted a 1941 offensive against the Italians in North Africa to save Greece from the Germans (an effort that disastrously failed), and he should have accepted the American military’s preference to launch D-Day in 1943. Catherwood maintains a 1943 cross-channel attack not only would have shortened the war and spared millions of lives from the Nazis but also might have obviated the cold war by ending World War II with the Western Allies rather than the Soviet Union in control of Eastern Europe. From such leanings into what-if territory, Catherwood reverts to how the year’s delay of D-Day came about; it originated in FDR’s acquiescence to Churchill’s Mediterranean fixations. . . --Gilbert Taylor

If that was a bit murky for you, rest assured, Catherwood does a masterful job of laying it all out with enlivening detail.

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Thursday, May 21

A Devil to Play

Paxman hornsImage via Wikipedia

Rees, Jasper.
"A Devil to Play; one man's year-long quest to master the orchestra's most difficult instrument."

". . . Luckily the home stretch is easier. On we all surge toward the tape. A beat's rest, a huge breath, and then we hit it in a slow seventy-strong fanfare.


"Suddenly I am swept back in time, like someone tumbling down one of those laundry chutes in the movies, to a feeling I last had when I was not yet an adult. I recall immediately that there is nothing quite like it. I am a small part of a huge elemental force. A torrent of man-made sound swirls around and through me. It ferrets under me and seems to raise me. It is almost impossible not to burst out laughing at the sheer exhilaration of it. All that music, all that unison.

"Amazingly, the walls are still standing as the applause peters out from an audience far outnumbered by our ensemble. I find an emotion welling up in me with which I have had only a nodding acquaintance in recent years, those years when routine traditionally sets in like a stubborn winter fog. . . when horizons close in and clouds lower dully overhead, when pipe dreams . . . shrivel and wilt in the face of steady remorseless blasts from the blowtorch of life. The swell of emotion is unfamiliar. It isn't any of the usual irritants. It isn't lust or envy or a low-grade self-hatred, a thin film of sadness or a personal brand of existential apathy. I think I recognize it as elation."

This is the start of Jasper Rees's year-long quest to conquer the French Horn he abandoned 22 years ago, and play well enough to solo at the British Horn Society's next annual meeting. If you play/ed an instrument, especially a horn; if you've ever performed; if you've embarrassed yourself in public; if you have had a mid-life crisis, you'll chortle over this book. Rees can be a bit self-involved, and yes, it's another entry in the "my-year-of-doing- a-weird-thing" genre, but it rewards the reader with horn tales galore, musical history, and the ongoing tale of a man's love for the music of his horn.

Visit Horn Notes Blog!

The video below is of a recording session with Paul McCartney referenced in "A Devil to Play."

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Wednesday, April 29

Which Jane Austen character are you?

I am Anne Elliot!

Anne Elliot of Persuasion!

Let's face it; you're easily persuaded, particularly when friends and relatives try to use "the Elliot way" against you. But this doesn't mean that you don't have conviction. Actually, your sense of duty is overwhelming. And though you won't stick your neck out too often, you have learned to speak up when it counts. To boot, you know how to handle sticky situations. You love deeply and constantly.

All possible results: Elinor Dashwood, Marianne Dashwood, Elizabeth Bennet, Fanny Price, Emma Woodhouse, Catherine Morland, Anne Elliot

Take the Quiz here!

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Sunday, April 19

Laughing out loud at "Elements of Style"

I have been laughing out loud at books lately. I should preface this by saying that I laugh easily, but even I was surprised when I found myself chuckling over the pages of Strunk and White's The Elements of Style.

The 50th-anniversary edition of Elements of Style is reviewed by books editor Laurie Hertzel in today's Minneapolis Star Tribune.

She directs us to skip to the back and read Strunk and White's advice on developing an ear for good writing, particularly their alternate possibilities for

"These are the times that try men's souls."(Thomas Paine)

Here we have eight short, easy words, forming a simple declarative sentence.The sentence contains no flashy ingredient such as "Damn the torpedoes!" and the words, as you see, are ordinary. Yet in that arrangement they have shown great durability; the sentence is almost into its third century. Now compare a few variations:

Times like these try men's souls.

How trying it is to live in these times!

These are trying times for men's souls.

Soulwise, these are trying times.

It seems unlikely that Thomas Paine could have made his sentiment stick if he had couched it in any of these forms.

That made me grin, as did this:

Another segment of society that has constructed a language of its own is business. The businessman says that ink erasers are in short supply, that he has updated the next shipment of these erasers, and that he will finalize his recommendations at the next meeting of the board. He is speaking a language that is familiar to him and dear to him. Its portentous nouns and verbs invest ordinary events with high adventure; the executive walks among ink erasers, caparisoned like a knight. We should tolerate him -- every man of spirit wants to ride a white horse. The only question is whether his vocabulary is helpful to ordinary prose. Usually, the same ideas can be expressed less formidably, if one makes the effort. A good many of the special words of business seem designed more to express the user's dreams than to express his precise meaning.

. . . even the world of criticism has a modest pouch of private words (luminous, taut), whose only virtue is that they are exceptionally nimble and can escape from the garden of meaning over the wall. . words that at first glance seem freighted with delicious meaning but that soon burst in air, leaving nothing but a memory or bright sound.
I'm sure you noticed that the business buzz words scarcely seem unusual any more.

Let me emphasize that reading lightly through part of Elements of Style will not have created a noticeable improvement in my writing. Don't even go there. See, not an EoS-approved phrase. Nor that. Nor that.

OK, on to the laughing part:
Or take two American poets, stopping at evening. One stops by woods, the other by laughing flesh.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

I have perceived that to be with those I like is enough,
To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough,
To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing flesh is enough . . .

Because of the characteristic styles, there is a little question about identity here, and if the situations were reversed, with Whitman stopping by woods and Frost by laughing flesh (not one of his regularly scheduled stops) the reader would still know who was who.

* * *
Not one of his regularly scheduled stops.

* * *
Take a look at the picture of lilac buds in the last post. When I posted it, the buds on my lilac had not begun to swell. Today, they are a perfect match for the picture. Spring is one of the rare times when the passage of time is enjoyable.

* * *
Sorry, I had tremendous difficulty with those block quotes and ultimately gave up and removed that formatting.

Sunday, April 5

Garden Tips from Park Seed

SyrenknopparImage by Eva the Weaver via Flickr

I'm sneaking a few gardening tips into this book blog because it's almost SPRING! It's another snowy Palm Sunday. Reminds me of my years in Duluth.

Here are some prize-winning tips from Park Seeds's blog:

-- Plastic knives make a great, cheap plant marker. Write plant name with permanenent marker.

Watch the lilacs before you plant. When the lilacs start to show bloom tips, you can direct plant onions, garlic, peas. When the lilac blossoms are open, plant potatoes, carrots, lettuce, all cole crops and turnips, etc. When the lilac blossoms begin to fade, only then can you set out tomatoes, peppers, etc. Now is the time to plant beans, corn, squash, watermelon, cantaloupe, and all tender vines, either from seed or setting out plants.

-- C
ut the bottom almost all the way off 2-liter bottle. Leave an inch or so to act as a hinge. That way you can lift the flap to add water, but keep insects out. Loosen the bottle cap enough to get a slow drip. Push the neck of the bottle into the soil a few inches from each tomato plant. Push down until the cap is at root level. Fill the bottle with water. You can add water-soluble fertilizer on your schedule. This way the water gets all the way to the roots where it is needed. Good for tomatoes and other thirsty plants!

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Sunday, March 15

Books I've Just Read

I've been doing a ton of reading, to the detriment of sleep and housecleaning, but with great enjoyment.

Kate Atkinson, Case Histories. Good mystery.

Jacobs, A. J., The year of living Biblically. Funny and thoughtful; my favorite combination.

Hodgman, John, The Areas of My Expertise. Densely written compendium of invented trivia. Very funny! but impossible to digest in one sitting. Hodgman is an occasional panelist on the MPR quiz show "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me."

Lamb, Wally. I know this much is true. A deeply satisfying story. This is the one I stayed up all night to finish.

Jordan, Toni. Addition. A witty woman with obsessive compulsive disorder forges a life. It's a romantic comedy! And it works, because it respects difference.

Cleave, Chris. Little Bee. A sad tale that opens your heart and eyes, about an underage illegal refugee to Britain. Why she fled her country, her experiences in Britain and beyond.

Cleave, Chris. Incendiary. Claeve's first novel, less polished, but more deeply moving. And also funny. How does he do that? A heartbroken British Mum who lost her son and husband in a terrorist explosion writes to Bin Laden.

Goodman, Carol. Night Villa. Intrigues among the academics excavating Herculaneum, buried by Vesuvius (near Pompeii) in A.D. 79. Literary thriller by a good storyteller. I've also read and enjoyed Godman's The Drowning Tree and Lake of Dead Languages. Her books are set in colleges, art colonies, private schools, and have complex plots and often creepy atmospherics. Yum.

Wednesday, March 4

Iraq War: The Gamble, by Thomas E. Ricks

I heard Thomas Ricks interviewed about his book The Gamble on MPR. I haven't read it yet (I have it on hold), but I want to share one line from the interview.

Ricks says the policy changes in Iraq created "not new ways of killing people, but new ways of talking to them."

Can't think of a better idea, myself.

Sunday, March 1

Bill Holm, Barton Sutter, Carl Sandburg

The great Bill Holm died last week. Today the Star Tribune reprinted Minnesota poet Barton Sutter's wonderful poem
"Not Sleeping at Bill Holm's House." I'm going to take the liberty of copying it here:

Not Sleeping at Bill Holm's House

In the corner of my narrow room,
There's a double-barreled shotgun,
Which will not go off in this poem.
Reclining on the bedclothes:
A small stuffed bear and pink flamingo,
Which I set aside. Turning back the spread,
I am greeted by red flannel sheets
Bearing a Frosty the Snowman motif.
This bed is too loud to sleep on, and I am
Too wired with coffee and wild ideas to dream
But settle in, anyhow, with a volume by Sandburg,
. . .
Click here to continue

Saturday, February 28

From Players to Guides

Check out this SlideShare Presentation from Helene Blowers, librarian and creator of the original "23 Things." I'm following her on Twitter (hblowers) and she posted a link to this slide deck from her presentation at a recent conference: "From Players to Guides: Learning Strategies for a 2.0 World."

Usually I post "web 2.0" stuff on Ex Libris 2.0, but this is interesting enough that I'm posting it here, too.

Be sure to visit slides 8, 12, and 20!
Slide 8: The New Digital Divide (it's a big one, and a lot of us are on the wrong side)
Slide 12: using published knowledge as a path to exactly the right source(s) that can create new knowledge tailored to a new situation, in real time
Slide 20: Only subscribe to five blogs:
Librarian in Black.net, Lifehacker, LibraryStream, Wired, Learning 2.1

Thursday, February 19

One Love video

I've had a cold dragging on for far too long, day after day of no voice, low-grade fever, and hacking cough. This video is going to be my ticket out of this limbo into a warmer, better place!

Playing for Change is a multimedia movement created to inspire, connect, and bring peace to the world through music

Go to Playing for Change for more information on the making of the video, the Playing for Change documentary, and the Foundation. Follow these links to some of the other Playing for Change videos available on YouTube, including Don't Worry Be Happy, and Stand By Me.

Thursday, February 12

Recession: Down Harley Street

Sometimes you just have to whistle!
Sometimes you just have to sing.

Down Harley Street

The butcher's boy whistles down Harley Street
Whistles out of a broken heart
His girl has jilted him
And the butcher sacked his job on the butcher's cart
No girl
No job
It isn't pretty that life is so rotten that once was sweet
The butcher's boy whistles down Harley Street

I worked on this song in high school, but I never performed it because there is a lovely whistling section, and I'm not a stellar whistler, The words have stayed with me and every once in a while they come to mind as being particularly pertinent.

Today job news has me down and I'm whistling.

from "Contemporary Art Songs: 28 songs by American and British composers"
Down Harley Street - Composed by: Charles Kingsford - Copyright 1942
Lyrics by BenjaminFrancis Musser

Wednesday, February 11

Baseline Scenario; economics blog

I heard about the Baseline Scenario web site and blog on MPR this morning and it looks like just the kind of detailed and wide-ranging--yet not too technical-- economic information I've been looking for. Its banner motto is "what happened to the global economy and what we can do about it." The authors pull no punches as they describe the current economic crisis as they see it, yet their tone is moderated and reasonable.

If you're watching Charlie Rose and the Sunday morning news shows, listening to MPR and watching PBS, yet crave even more financial analysis, you might enjoy this blog. You can subscribe to the RSS feed or have it delivered by e-mail.

The current post, "Why Axelrod and Emmanuel were right (on the American bank oligarchs)" starts with this: "When you cut through the technical details and the marketing distractions, sorting out the US banking fiasco comes down to one, and only one, question. How tough are you willing to be on the people who control the country’s large banks?" and give their tough recommendations.

Besides the daily blog, there are two main sections: The Baseline Scenario, describing "what happened to the global economy and what we can do about it," and The Financial Crisis for Beginners page, which covers the baseline scenario ("what happened . . . ) in an expanded form. Included here are articles on securitization, CDO's, banking capital, credit default swaps, bank recapitalization, de-leveraging and other once-exotic but now familiar terms. There are also links to radio programs (mostly MPR), video, and other web sites, including a list of recommended blogs.

Start by reading the daily posts, and then tackle the expanded coverage when and if that sounds like a good idea.

While authors James Kwak, Simon Johnson, and Peter Boone have impressive credentials, one thing we've all learned since September 2008 is not to take anyone's advice or wisdom at face value. As we Unitarians say in our stiff little way, "We ask all alike to think, not all to think alike." So visit the site! I think you'll find it valuable--but remember to question authority.

Bookmobile: I have a key

After many years of constantly changing short and long-term temporary jobs, I'm delighted to have landed in one library for four months. I have a desk of my own, a phone extension, and keys! Today I was once again the first one into the library, so I got to turn off the alarm. Oh, the power! The thrill! The pride of ownership! I'm lovin' it.

Yesterday was more story time fun. I did a story time for a group of Somali immigrant children and their parents. Many of the kids are still learning English, so struggled to answer some of my questions, but one bright little girl in the back row piped up with an answer every time. What a delight! You go, girl.

The rather reserved moms laughed at the funny parts of the story. That felt wonderful!

Tuesday, February 10

Bookmobile: Jelly Beans

What's not to like in a job where you get requests like this?

"I need books about cats, rabbits, jelly beans, rainbows, and kites."

Bookmobile. Lovin' it.

Tuesday, February 3

Bookmobile! Epaminondas, & funny books

I'm working on an Early Literacy bookmobile (books and resources for kids ages 0-6 years) as a long-term temp until the end of May. This is totally fun. Except when it's totally sad, such as today, when we visited a poorly run day care, where the teachers yell at the kids and the kids are out of control, and where their language and pre-literacy skills lag far behind their peers.

Yesterday's site also featured mean and crabby teachers. It's not Dickens, but when you see other classrooms where there is enough structure that yelling is not "needed," you know that these kids could be a lot more calm and happy with more skilled teachers.

On the other hand: yesterday after a story-time that went "ok" but not great, one little girl started clapping! She continued solo for 10 awkward seconds, and then the other little Minnesota Nice kids joined her. Then they didn't know how long they should clap, so they just kept on and on. Sweet and hilarious.

The rhythm and rhyme of song is good for pre-literacy skills, so we sing! Today we sang "I got me a cat," the folk song with all the strange and fun animal sounds: ducks quack, cows moo, and horses neigh, but the pig says griffy, gruffy, the goose says swishy, swashy, the hen goes chimmy-chuck, chimmy-chuck, and the cat goes fiddle-i-fee. All this repeats cumulatively, like the House that Jack Built, or the Twelve Days of Christmas, and by the end of the song they were exhausted. Another learning experience for the teacher, and I hope they didn't suffer too much. But when they were putting their coats on to go out to the bookmobile for books, I heard one little guy singing "the hen goes chimmy-chuck, chimmy-chuck." Word fun rules!

Do you remember the story of Epaminondas? He visits his aunt each day, and she gives him something to take home.

The Story of Epaminondas and His Auntie

Epaminondas used to go to see his Auntie 'most every day, and she nearly always gave him something to take home to his Mammy.

One day she gave him a big piece of cake; nice, yellow, rich gold-cake.

Epaminondas took it in his fist and held it all scrunched up tight, like this, and came along home. By the time he got home there wasn't anything left but a fistful of crumbs. His Mammy said,--

"What you got there, Epaminondas?"

"Cake, Mammy," said Epaminondas.

"Cake!" said his Mammy. "Epaminondas, you ain't got the sense you was born with! That's no way to carry cake. The way to carry cake is to wrap it all up nice in some leaves and put it in your hat, and put your hat on your head, and come along home. You hear me, Epaminondas?"

"Yes, Mammy," said Epaminondas.

Next day Epaminondas went to see his Auntie, and she gave him a pound of butter for his Mammy; fine, fresh, sweet butter.

Epaminondas wrapped it up in leaves and put it in his hat, and put his hat on his head, and came along home. It was a very hot day. Pretty soon the butter began to melt. It melted, and melted, and as it melted it ran down Epaminondas' forehead; then it ran over his face, and in his ears, and down his neck. When he got home, all the butter Epaminondas had was ON HIM.

Mamma instructs him that he should cool the butter in the creek; the next day he cools the puppy in the creek and nearly drowns him. Then he puts a string around a loaf of bread and drags it home behind him. On it goes.

That's how I've been feeling as we tour the Bookmobile sites. The site schedule tells the age of the kids in each classroom, but that's only part of the story. I always seem to have the perfect story time for the group I just visited, but not quite right for the group I'm reading to now. Once we come back for second and third visits, I think I'll have an easier time of it, but for now? Epaminondas.

Yesterday there was no heat on the Bookmobile, and we froze. I outwitted the cold and wind predicted for today by wearing boots, two pairs of socks, two sweaters, and even long underwear. Naturally the heat functioned fine and it was 94 degrees in the sun-warmed passenger seat. Epaminondas. When I heard that story as a kid I thought it was hilarious. Now I'm living it. Don't let me kid you, though. This is a good gig.

All through Dear Son #1's school years, I begged teachers to accommodate him and his volatile behavior. When he was finally diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome and got into an appropriate program, things fell into place, but that wasn't until he was 14 years old. Now when I deal with kids who can't sit still, or can't stop talking, or who can't stop crying, or who absolutely must have their way, or can't make transitions, or can't stand the noise of singing and burst into tears, I have a renewed appreciation for all the stellar teachers who gave so much to my boy. Props to you!

Let's end this thing with by making note of two funny books.

No No Yes Yes, by Patricia Patricelli.
On the left page: pulling the cat's tail, hitting another child with a hammer. No! No! On the right page: petting the cat, hitting pegs with a hammer. Yes! Yes! Simple outlined pictures of a baby in a diaper are easy on young eyes, but Patricelli manages to put a world of hilarity in those simple drawings.
Note RE: my ongoing rant about subject heading in cataloging, this is cataloged as
English language -- Synonyms and antonyms -- Juvenile literature.
Conduct of life -- Juvenile literature.
Moral education (Early childhood) -- Juvenile literature.

Doggies, a Counting and Barking Book, by Sandra Boynton.
Boynton has a gift for humor. In this book, kids count to ten with ten dogs and different barks.
1 Dog. Woof!.
2 dogs. Yap yap! Woof!
3 dogs. ...nnn...nnn...nnn . . .Yap yap! Woof!
4 dogs. Ruff ruff! Ruff ruff! ...nnn...nnn...nnn Yap yap! Woof!

Hilarity ensues.

Wednesday, January 21

Rolling Paper Graphics

I love this quirky book, a visit to the wide wide world of Rolling Paper Graphics! (subtitled El papel de fumar.) This book by Jose Lorente is beautifully designed and produced by Gingko Press. Lorente has collected Spanish rolling paper (cigarette rolling paper) graphics for more than 20 years, ultimately collecting 4500 dated products from the mid-1800's to today. Only a portion of the collection is included, in chapters on nature, places, objects, people, typography, textures, and advertising. Graphic papers from other countries, from the collection of A. S. Dalmases, are also included. I've included a couple of slide shows from Flickr photo collections which feature graphics from the book. The second slide show focuses on the work of one artist, Julius Klinger of Austria.

Here are several graphics by Julius Klinger (Austria, 1918-1919) which are featured in "Rolling Paper Graphics." These are drawn from lamarde.wordpress.com, and his flickr photostream.

If you like reading about graphic design, check out How magazine. Here's their Typography blog, which is so exuberant and creative! and here's the home page for all the How Design blogs. You will enjoy this!

Thursday, January 15

Money Talks

"Money talks, but it don't sing and dance!"

File under "Things that make me happy:" Neil Diamond. I'm taking notice of things that make me happy, little antidotes to feelings of gloom and fear aroused by our cold winter and deep recession. I heard Neil Diamond on the radio this morning, and that made me happy. So does his idea that while money talks, "it don't sing and dance." But we do!

Today's non-profound words of hope.

Kickin' Chunks

Kickin' chunks. Ice chunks, that is, the frozen chunks of slushy mush that build up on your car's mud flaps. Kicking chunks of ice off the mud flaps is one of my winter amusements.

To pass the long winter, I've become an urban phenologist, keeping track of winter's progression: "firsts" such as the first day the sun sets after 4:30, and the conversational slide from "we need the moisture" to "isn't the snow beautiful" to "My God, will winter never end!" When I rang the Salvation Army bell this Christmas, I was able to track the progressive addition of layers, ending up with three pairs of socks, long underwear and pants, a shirt and two sweaters, coat, fleece-lined ear-covering hat, 6' scarf, liner gloves, mittens, and choppers, and three layers of cardboard (to stand on)!

Today I have a new entry in my phenology list:

it's too cold to kick the snow off the flaps! It's frozen solid!

It's -20 degrees, a great day to reread Shackleton's Endurance, Jack London's short stories, or Robert Service's tall tales of the Yukon. Click to read my booklist in Hennepin County Library's Bookspace.

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

Robert Service

Monday, January 12

Book Reading Stats Up

For the first time since 1982, "the proportion of adults 18 and older who said they had read at least one novel, short story, poem or play in the previous 12 months has risen [to 50.2%]," according to a National Endowment for the Arts study being released today, reported by the New York Times.

The increase was most notable among 18-24 year olds and involved novels and short stories more than poetry or drama. Literary reading also increased among Hispanic Americans.

For the first time, the study included Internet reading, which some thought might have helped boost rates, although the AAP's Pat Schroeder suggested that some people don't count reading online or on e-readers as "book" reading.

Other possible explanations for the jump: one community, one read programs; the popularity of the Harry Potter and Twilight series; and "individual efforts of teachers, librarians, parents and civic leaders" to promote literature and reading. Booksellers, too, we'd think.

The study is called "Reading on the Rise: A New Chapter in American Literacy" and is based on data from the Census Bureau compiled last year.

--from Shelf Awareness: Daily Enlightenment for the Book Trade, the free e-mail newsletter dedicated to helping the people in stores, in libraries and on the Web buy, sell and lend books most wisely, January 12, 2009