Sunday, February 28, 2010

Emotional Beauty and Natural Disasters

My niece Jade made this valentine this year. I like the messages a lot, especially "Love makes you adore things." Jade makes art every day, and the dog and cat at the bottom of the page are frequent signature images. It can be hard to talk about love, but Jade does so here in a profound and emotionally intelligent way. We adore you, Jade!

I started a flickr page, finally, where I was able to edit this photo through an application called picnik, and then post it directly here. Not sure yet if I like this process, though, as you can't resize the image by clicking on it, or save the edited photo to your desktop. (I think you can do those things if you upgrade to a not-free version of picnik). I'm also not crazy about the black frame around the photo, preferring the more subtle frame that comes with image uploads here at blogger. You can link to the flickr page directly, though, where a larger version of the valentine shows you the dog's heart-shaped tail.

Meanwhile, we received the message below from one of Andreas's colleagues, who just took his family to Chile a few days ago, for a stint of research. Sam Martland is an assistant professor of history and Latin American studies; one of his areas of expertise is disasters and modern society since 1700. 

Dear Folks,
We did get a rude awakening last night (earthquake at 4 am or so), and we are without power or telephone, but no one was hurt and the house we are staying in had no serious damage (a big piece of art glass fell over and smashed, water sloshed out of the pool, and a few books fell off). I walked a few blocks to a house of friends where there is electricity and internet. The supermarkets are closed and in some places the traffic lights don't work, and we understand that the Metro is not running, but other than that everything is more or less normal here.  Santiago, we gather, is not much damaged. Schools are opening a week late. Santiago is also well inland.
Standing under the front door frame as the earthquake finished -- it had been a bit like walking on a ship to get there -- we recollected that we had a crank-up radio and light, plus crank flashlights that we'd brought as gifts. Instant disaster supplies-we tuned in and heard enough to know that there was not in fact a disaster where we were. The host kids are quite taken with the lights and our radio. Later on we heard about the more serious damage in and around Concepción:

The epicenter, near Concepción, is about 250 miles south of here. Concepción seems to have suffered some serious damage, fires, etc., but still with deaths numbered in the very low hundreds if that. I've only heard snatches of radio.

The upshot is that we are not worried about anything except whether the start of school will be delayed, and finding an apartment. Everyone can be confident that we are well. The kids may actually have enjoyed it after a fashion. Actually, they were invited to come visit other kids here where I am writing --two different American-Chilean families -- but didn't want to leave the pool and perhaps felt a bit shy. I made a comment in the church newsletter that we were going to have the unusual experience of living ordinary life. This is not exactly ordinary, but it is the sort of thing not every tourist sees.

Feel free to circulate this to anyone who might be interested to know (including departments, congregations, random acquaintances, etc.)

So already on this Sunday morning, a little excursion from emotional beauty to natural disaster to something that passes for  ordinary life. Tonight I hope to attend a concert by the Voces Novae chamber choir, called The Proper Resolution of Dissonance: Music of Billings, Palestrina, Purcell, and Vivaldi. The title makes me think that, somehow, this (and the rest of it) all fits together.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Happy Birthday, Joyce!

Another year has come around, and I'm so grateful to say that it is the birthday again of my beloved mom, Joyce Kennedy. We talked on the phone today, before she headed out with Wally-Dad for dinner at Brasa Rotisserie, followed by a performance by the extraordinary TU Dance at the Ritz Theater in Minneapolis. It's a cabaret performance set to jazz standards, with dancers Toni-Pierce Sands and Uri Sands collaborating with the Jeremy Walker Quartet and actor/musician T. Mychael Rambo: chamber dances exploring concepts of respite in the city, drawing on Uri's memories of Central Park.

As Joyce put it: "Not a bad date for a woman in her eighties!" (Actually, she said "for an olede": old lady in Papua New Guinea pidgin.)

I'm so grateful for my kind and intelligent mother, who is shown here exploring respite in the woods, during a not-that-long-ago canoe trip.  Happy birthday, Mom! We love you.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Fairview Strings Program and other school budget cuts

It is Arts Week in Bloomington, Indiana, with a keynote lecture tonight by food defender Michael Pollan. Arts Week always leaves me with some of the same feeling I have around Earth Day: "Earth Day Every Day" is the ultimate take-away. "Arts Week Every Week" could be a sub-theme for elenabella. I'm very grateful for Arts Week, although the timing is bittersweet this year.

I grew up in a family with tremendous respect for and involvement in the arts, and in arts education. As a result, one of the things I find most depressing about the tidal wave of cuts to local, state and national school funding is that the arts are always among the first subject areas gutted. How many times have these words been used, ignorantly, in the same sentence: "arts" and "fluff"?  Or "arts" and "frosting on the cake"?

Anyone who makes the mistake of talking that way around me is immediately demoted, in my internal reckoning, to the status of unimaginative, dull-witted, and hopelessly behind the curve. As in: "Don't these idiots know anything?" I have such an intense reaction that I'm not the best person to speak out at school board meetings; I would start to sputter, and possibly cry. Yes, it's an emotional topic. I wait, therefore, until the dead of night to craft my response into written language.

Here's why: the way our brains are wired, the arts help put things together. They promote the firing of synapses and growth of unexpected ideas. They are not simply decorative; they are cognitive.

The arts also offer a remarkably basic way to learn about teamwork, and the full emotional range of bringing something initially difficult to completion. The skills gained translate to many other subject areas and domains.

Merrie Slone, one of the cashiers at Bloomingfoods Near West Side (who is also a songwriter and musician: in other words, she can count out a cash drawer AND make music), was wearing a t-shirt the other day from the strings program at Fairview Elementary School; when I commented on it, she mentioned that the image had been drawn by her daughter, a program participant.

The strings program in this lower-income neighborhood school is described in this piece from the Indiana University Newsroom, also posted at the homepage  for the IU Jacobs School of Music. It's a remarkable collaboration with the Jacobs School, under the direction of IU associate professor of music education, Brenda Brenner. There is a research component to the project that considers the developmental learning effects of early music education. (Math and reading scores have both gone up, while behavioral issues have subsided. Self confidence improves, too.)

You can see a performance of the young violinists in the Musical Arts Building on the IU campus below. There's also a very good video segment in the archive of the WFIU Weekly Special (it's "Fairview Violin Program," number 105), featuring an interview with Brenda Brenner. The images here are courtesy of Indiana University.

This program is just one of many that was cut in a vote of our local MCCSC School Board last Friday night. An article by Andy Graham in the Herald-Times details the devastation to our district. As always with cuts to arts and education funding, what we make up in the short run costs a great deal more in the long run, in terms of finding the momentum, resources and talent to initiate something like this again someday, far into the future. In the meantime, we let down the kids, teachers, and parents who have been engaged and inspired. We inevitably waste time scratching our heads, trying to discover other ways to so rapidly advance learning. Worksheets and standardized tests alone are simply not going to cut it.

Approved cuts to the Monroe County Community School Corporation

Budget-cutting moves approved Friday by the Monroe County Community School Corp. board:

Increase class-size ratio, cutting about 45 certified teaching staff, with program cuts eliminating about 30 other certified jobs.
Eliminate elementary and middle school media specialists.
Eliminate middle school foreign language instruction.
Eliminate middle school family and consumer science.
Eliminate one assistant, part-time athletic director at each high school.
Reduce high school assistant coaches.
School age care staff adjusted to break even.
Eliminate six elementary assistant principal positions for 2011-12.
Eliminate unfilled assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction job and related secretarial job.
Eliminate the healthy school coordinator position.
Freeze all administrative salaries.
Reduce school board salaries.
Move Aurora Alternative High School to Bloomington High School North building with some reduction to staff.
Reduce the Teen Learning Center.
Reduce Alternative to Suspension.
Reduce Youth Outreach.
Eliminate Bradford Woods program.
Eliminate Honey Creek School.
Eliminate elementary strings program.
Drain high school pools out of season.
Close Batchelor Middle School pool.
Eliminate substitutes for building secretaries.
Eliminate summer school.

Move NWEA (testing) costs from general fund to capital projects fund ($85,000).
Eliminate corporation cell phones.
Lower energy costs through Energy Education Inc. program.
Move maintenance materials and supplies from general fund to capital projects fund.
Reduce instruction materials and supplies by 10 percent.
Reduce administrative materials and supplies by 10 percent.
Reduce travel expenses by 10 percent.
Reduce vehicle purchases.
Eliminate the district’s supplemental share of band uniform purchases.
Reduce each school’s allocation for substitutes for teacher and staff professional development opportunities.
Eliminate staff development costs from the general fund that are not (state law) PL 221 required.
Eliminate the general fund’s portion of purchasing library books and periodicals.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

“Repository” and Other Projects: A Lecture by Sarah Sudhoff

The announcement below is from Catherine Johnson-Roehr, curator of art, artifacts, and photographs at The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. The lecture takes place today, as part of Arts Week 2010. I hope to be there, to hear more from this courageous, relevant artist.

“Repository” and Other Projects: A Lecture by Sarah Sudhoff

Thursday, February 25
5:30 to 6:30 pm
Fine Arts 102
1201 East 7th Street
Indiana University, Bloomington

Sarah Sudhoff is a fine art and editorial photographer working in San Antonio, Texas. Following surgery for cervical cancer in 2004, Sudhoff began investigating the effects of the illness on herself and others for a project she titled “Repository”, a series of photographs and videos that presents an unflinching account of the artist and her illness. Sudhoff will be discussing and showing images from this work, as well as her current project, “At the Hour of Our Death”.

Sudhoff’s photographs and video projects have been exhibited internationally and nationally, and her images have been featured in publications such as The New York Times, Fortune, Men's Health, Neon and Sudhoff holds an MFA in photography from Parsons The New School for Design in New York City, as well as a Bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin. She is currently on the faculty at the University of Texas at San Antonio. To see examples of her work, visit her website.

For more information, contact Catherine Johnson-Roehr at 812-855-8890 or catjohns [at]indiana[dot]edu.

Sponsored by The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction for ArtsWeek 2010.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Credit Unions offer real money tools

Not all credit cards are created equal. I'm not really in the habit of making financial tips, but I do think there is an art to moving capital through communities to the greater benefit of the common good. Or moving cash through a lifetime to help you make the most of your best opportunities. And now we are swimming in shark-infested waters.

I attended a financial services webinar today, offered by Signal Financial Federal Credit Union, the credit union serving the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA). The presenter described in detail the advantages of seeking financial services from a credit union, especially in today's economy. Credit unions did not engage in sub-prime mortgage lending, or make wildly speculative investments at the risk of members' deposits. They are in a position to lend, at reasonable rates.

Signal Financial is offering an affinity card with a relatively low APR (6.5%) for the life of a balance transfer, with no balance transfer fees. You must qualify to join, with a $5 deposit to a share (savings) account. This particular affinity card directs 2¢ of every purchase to the Cooperative Development Foundation, a group that helps co-ops in our country and abroad (including cooperative groups in Haiti).

You can contact them directly to find out how to qualify for membership. Signal Financial is networked with other credit unions across the country.

Credit unions are cooperatives guided by the Seven International Cooperative Principles, including education, information, and training. One of the things I appreciate about them is that they usually have someone on staff who gives free financial services advice. They typically offer accounts for children that help kids learn how to manage and save money, too. Here's a neat "Thrive by Five" program for preschoolers over at the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) website. As is so often the case, teaching these principles to kids is not a bad way for adults to absorb them.

Meanwhile, I received an application today for The New Visa® Black Card. Lord knows I don't "deserve" one – they are meant to attract those discerning "individuals" (always that word) who have thousands of dollars of disposable income (read "flush it away") per year, who might find it a privilege (or sign of status) to pay a $495 annual fee. Here are the jaw-dropping terms and conditions for this Black Hole of Debt card. You don't find this kind of language over at the credit union sites, either, by the way:
For those who demand only the best of what life has to offer, the exclusive Visa Black Card is for you. The Black Card is not just another piece of plastic. Made with carbon, it is the ultimate buying tool. 
The Black Card is not for everyone. In fact, it is limited to only 1% of U.S. residents to ensure the highest caliber of personal service is provided to every Cardmember.
That requires some levity. Here, Jon Stewart gives a little lesson about loan sharks (with thanks to Daughter Number Three):

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Future of Money, via Pay Pal

The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 went into effect on Monday, but hidden and deceptive fees still lurk in the small print of many (if not most) cards. And in the months leading up to the new law, many credit card companies dramatically increased their interest rates. Borrower beware!

I called Target (for example) to cancel my card when they initiated an across-the-board interest increase to 23.24% on purchases (with Target Visa), or 25.24% (with the Target card). The representative I spoke with said that "the recession has been hard on Target." I am not an economist, but imagine the brand loyalty that would result if Target had sent out a letter telling card holders it was lowering rates, in their interest? Instead, this somewhat more savvy retailer comes off as yet another greed machine. I found the rate hike so disturbing that I made a decision to not shop there (or at any other big box retailer) until things change. Sorry, Target – was always kind of fond of you in the past! Here's more about changes to the law.

Check out this article in the latest issue of Wired magazine, on the ways in which PayPal is reshaping the way money changes hands. The trick is to bypass using credit cards, which take unearned big bites from consumers and businesses. PayPal is using an open source developer network to imagine lots of ways people could source capital, pay for products and services, and simplify transactions, perhaps while learning something about fiscal realities along the way. This article is getting a lot of attention on Twitter, too: it's so interesting to see how ideas spread.

The image on the cover of the current issue of Wired, shown at the top here, appeals to my paper-cutting and shaping sensibilities. It reminds me of the time when (at age 5) our ingenious friend Liam stealthily invented the $55 dollar bill, craftily merging two $5 banknotes, using scissors and glue.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Duane Busick catches 'The Welcome Table' parade on video

Videographer Duane Busick was at Malcolm Dalglish's The Welcome Table last Saturday night, and soon thereafter posted a video called "Malcolm's Parade" on You Tube. The Welcome Table was a remarkable, magical concert of original song and dance, with a wide emotional range: from the Dr. Seussian-ridiculous (a dance of deer and young hunter to the sounds of a huge marching bassoon ensemble, "Abbotts Bromley Horndance") to the sublime.

One of my favorite pieces was "The Brink," Malcolm's story of an unexpected all-night vigil in a human knot with other teen climbers on a mountain ledge in the Wyoming Wind River Range in late August of 1969. (You can hear the haunting beginning of this song here; it's on the CD Into the Sky.) He sang it Saturday night with Mia Dalglish, Lydia Elmer, and Moira Smiley; it gave me goose bumps, as it always does.

The evening ended with this Pie March, first performed in Hobart, Tasmania in July 2009. The words were changed for the Bloomington performance, and the theme adapted to celebrate pie, as a postscript to a Dalglish's "Pie R Pie." At the foot of sculptor Dale Enochs's limestone "Bloomington Banquet," volunteers served five kinds of Bloomingfoods pie to a crowd over 400 people. We gathered near Enochs's limestone and copper fire pit to eat, sing, and stave off the winter blues.

It's fantastic to see this little film catch some of the spirit of the night. Busick has been busy with less happy occasions recently, including a protest on our courthouse lawn of Governor Mitch Daniels's cuts to public education in Indiana. The Welcome Table came on the heels of a vote just the night before when the local school board eliminated teachers, special programs, media specialists (librarians), summer school, Honey Creek historic school, trips to Bradford Woods, and other important features of the Monroe County Community School Corporation (MCCSC).

Busick is the youngest of 12 children, and was born and raised in Paoli, Indiana, home of Lost River Community Co-op. Both Duane and his wife, Kathy Loser, a librarian at Bloomington High School North, are dedicated advocates of education and the arts. Duane recently created a facebook page called Support Public Education in Monroe County. It has become a space for community conversation, activism, and strategic suggestions in response to over 3 million dollars in cuts of state aid to our school corporation. Thank you, Duane!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

No time to Twitter? Try Flutter (or Shttr Dwn)

Feeling a little ambivalent about the world of micro-blogging? Take a look at this...with thanks to SlateV.
(It's ancient now, from April 2009...time flies when you are reading tweets.)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Welcome Miriam Rose...Here, in your honor, is The Welcome Table

I'm not sure what Naomi Dalglish is doing in this picture (besides singing, which I'm pretty sure she might be doing), but I'm not surprised to see her decked out in repurposed boxes. She's the daughter of composer Malcolm Dalglish, whose The Welcome Table will be performed tonight at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater in Bloomington, Indiana. The show will feature original music and dance, followed by a parade on the the B-Line Trail to the Farmers' Market, where I'll be helping serve rhubarb, pumpkin, pecan and apple pies (by firelight), made by our bakers at Bloomingfoods. Here's more, with a picture by Sam Bartlett:
On Saturday night February 20th, a raucous and harmonious group of vocalists, percussive dancers, aerialists and bassoonists, with puppets by “Stuntologist” Sam Bartlett, will return Malcolm Dalglish’s The Welcome Table to the stage of the Buskirk-Chumley Theater.  
First introduced during the 2004 Lotus Festival, The Welcome Table is an indoor-outdoor extravaganza combining performance with a post-concert party – a parade down the B-Line Trail to a bonfire where Bloomingfoods pie will be served, next to Dale Enochs’s sculpture “A Bloomington Banquet,” at the Farmers Market. 
“The whole idea of The Welcome Table is to create a memorable, thrilling winter event, like gathering around a fire singing with friends after ice skating together on a crisp cold winter night,” says Dalglish. 
Known both locally and internationally for choral works that celebrate the natural world, Dalglish is a virtuoso of hammered dulcimer, spoons, bones, and chin music. Working with long-time collaborators Moira Smiley (of VOCO and VIDA fame) and composer Joshua Stephen Kartes, Dalglish draws on musical traditions as diverse as old-time American fiddle and dance music, early American and European sacred music, and African and Balkan song and dance. The grand finale to this show is “Pie R Pie,” a flour-flinging doo-wopping demonstration of making pie from windfall apples. Performers and audience will spill into the street and onto the trail, accompanied by an Malcolm’s marching Ooolitic band. 
The bakers at Bloomingfoods East and Near West Side will be preparing dozens of pies for The Welcome Table, at the request of Dalglish. “When I think of pie in Bloomington, I think of those Bloomingfoods pies, laid out on the wooden deli table in the East store, or served from the case on the Near West Side,” he said. Dalglish met with pie-makers Jamee DeFord and Jay Record to present them with a pie of his own – a cast iron-baked super-deep dish apple pie with sliced almonds hidden under the rim of its crust. Almost as passionate about baking pies as he is of making music, Dalglish has several specialties, using cast iron skillets, pizza dishes, and cookie sheets to produce a variety of crusts, toppings, flavors and textures.
Naomi won't be there (though her sister Mia will). Naomi is at home in North Carolina with her husband Michael, welcoming new baby Miriam Rose. Here's a beautiful photo of mother and baby. I like the way Miriam's little piebird body seems to imitate the guy with the pie and megaphone (her Grandpa) in The Welcome Table artwork. Welcome, indeed, spirited little songbird!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Happy Birthday, Justin!

It's the birthday of Justin Shock, who writes at his facebook page:
i'm a daydreamer, but not in a 'sitting with my head on my folded hands staring off into space' kinda way, more in a 'concocting grandiose schemes that, if actually realized, will be a third as cool as i imagined' kinda way.
I like the math in that. Just a shout out to him up Chicago-way, with wishes for a wonderful year..
Here is Justin romancing the vegetables.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

In Memory of Alison Cochran Little: Hard Times Come Again No More

I'm just home from a memorial service for Alison Cochran Little, beloved wife of Chris Little, who works at Bloomingfoods. Many overlapping communities came together at this standing-room-only service and reception in honor of her life: family members, musicians, teachers, students, staff from the co-op (who made the food), and leaders in efforts to protect our forests. Alison's life stretched like rings in a tree.

Alison died peacefully at home on Valentine's Day, while snow was falling in the woods where she lived. She was a founder of Heartwood; a page is posted there in her memory. Active in many other forest protection alliances, Alison was listed as a Green Hero in 2001 at In These Times, where I found the photo below of her as an adult.

There were dozens of beautiful photos of Alison in the fellowship hall of the church, including this one of her as a young girl, from her son, Ryan Wilson. Despite the hard times she sometimes experienced, pictures of Alison almost always convey her particular blend of strength, authenticity, and gentleness. The obituary below was written by her daughter, Rebecca Townsend.

Like her husband Chris, Alison was a wonderful musician in the old-timey tradition. If you click on the link below, you can listen to Alison Cochran Little singing and accompanying herself on fiddle in a rendition of Stephen Foster's “Hard Times (Come Again No More).” It's a gorgeous, heartfelt recording.

In memory of J. Alison Cochran Little 

AUG. 9, 1952 — FEB. 14, 2010

Alison Cochran Little died Sunday night, lost to another world at the age of 57 due to a long-term struggle with alcoholism.

During her decade-long career as a science teacher at Harmony High School, Alison encouraged the dreams, broadened the horizons and acted as a beacon of patient guidance and love for hundreds of students. On annual end-of-the-year school trips, she shepherded her flock of Harmonoids safely along thousands of miles of U.S. Interstate and back roads.

As one of the founders of Heartwood, a regional forest protection network, she was instrumental in the group’s efforts, which resulted in significant protection of the region’s public forests. Among the public woodlands that benefited from her actions was the Hoosier National Forest in southern Indiana. She also served the organization as executive director, in addition to serving in leadership roles in other forest protection organizations, including Protect Our Woods, the Dogwood Alliance and the National Forest Protection Alliance.

Alison lived in concert with Mother Nature to the greatest extent she could, reducing, re-using and recycling to levels unimaginable to the ordinary American. Her vast culinary capabilities spanned the width of world cuisine, but she will be especially remembered for baking the world’s best cherry pies.
She carried throughout her life without fail her passion for music. She held her fiddle — received in her youth from her father — as her most treasured possession. From her days in the orchestra at Burris High School in Muncie, Ind., to recent concerts of original material with her husband, Chris Little, her voice and violin added sweetness to the air. She once paddled her fiddle across a rough, shark-filled ocean bay to provide music to a gathering of environmentalists. She recalled playing her fiddle with singer-songwriter Carole King at a forest protection event as a life highlight.

Her musical, culinary and social talents aligned in an especially strong way in the years she hosted legendary Fourth of July parties on Hash Road. She also danced with contra dancers, Morris dancers, cloggers and many other people dancing to many other rhythms.

Though the tragedy of losing a beautiful, talented, warm-hearted person to a black-hearted devil of a disease in the prime of her life cannot be diminished, peace and beauty reclaimed her realm. For the five days the doctors tried to reverse the course of liver failure and a body’s path to complete shutdown, and for the two days spent laying at her home in a room built by her son overlooking the lake where she freed generations of visitors to skinny dip without fear or shame, waves of those who loved her washed over her, floating her beyond the bounds of Earth on a sea of love.

Alison was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, graduated from Ball State University and spent most of her life in Bloomington, Ind. She is survived by her mother, Ruth Cochran, and all five of her siblings: Robert, Mary, Steve, Emily and the Reverend Sarah Cochran. Other survivors include her children, Rebecca Townsend and Ryan Wilson, her granddaughter, Jasmine Townsend, son-in-law Clyde Townsend, and husband, Chris Little. A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m., Thurs., Feb. 18, at the Unitarian Universalist Church at 2120 N. Fee Lane in Bloomington. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be sent to Harmony School (909 E. 2nd Street Bloomington 47401) or Heartwood (PO Box 1011, Alton, IL 62002).

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Heart of Boyhood, illustrated by Alice Carsey

Just an image today, from a beloved book I bought at an antique store once while stopping by the past on my way to Minnesota. Here's a bit more about the author, Edmondo De Amicis. Alice Carsey illustrated a number of children's classics, and all of her pictures appear to be nearly as poignant as this one. It's unusual to see an embedded (embossed?) full color illustration on a cover like this anymore. This one carries you in through the keyhole of the heart, and then out the window with the boy's gaze.

I'm looking out the window at snow, hard at work on various projects, and trying to extend the heart motif a little longer into the future. I love this wistful cover...and over time I'll drop in more illustrations from this book. (I like the dot-dot-dot on the cover here, too...ellipses, my favorite form of punctuation.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Earth Eats: Twittered Butternut Squash Soup

We had more snow and soup seemed to fit the order of the day. So I made a fast and delicious butternut squash soup with what was on hand, using a recipe twittered by Annie Corrigan of WFIU radio's Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living. Click on these links to find podcasts: the show is short, sweet, savvy, and smart. Here is Annie with Chef Daniel Orr of FARMBloomington.

The twitter looked like this:

eartheats: Looks tasty! #Recipe: Butternut Squash Soup II #seasonal #soup /@eshelton

With a simple click, I was directed to the recipe at, a commons for cooks, who offer themes and variations. There are photos of twelve versions of this soup; the two here are my favorites, looking the most like the one in my house (the first was posted by MrsCdnFrog; the second by kreativekuisine).

This is such a delicious basic recipe, but you can imagine many potential enhancements: a smidgen of milk, cream, créme fraîche, or yogurt, some curry or other seasonings. A vegan version could substitute olive oil for the butter, and a basic vegetable stock for the chicken stock. I used my own frozen stock, made the last time we roasted a chicken. (I always feel like we double the value of a roast chicken when we do that.)

Butternut Squash Soup II 
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, chopped
  • 2 medium potatoes, cubed
  • 1 medium butternut squash - peeled, seeded, and cubed
  • 1 (32 fluid ounce) container chicken stock
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste  
  1.  Melt the butter in a large pot, and cook the onion, celery, carrot, potatoes, and squash 5 minutes, or until lightly browned. Pour in enough of the chicken stock to cover vegetables. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover pot, and simmer 40 minutes, or until all vegetables are tender.
  2. Transfer the soup to a blender, and blend until smooth. Return to pot, and mix in any remaining stock to attain desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper.

Nutritional Information

Amount Per Serving  Calories: 305 | Total Fat: 6.8g | Cholesterol: 21mg

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sagali for Sarah Watson of the Trobriand Islands in Papua New Guinea

Today would have been the 81st birthday of Sarah Watson, my sister Katherine Lepani's mother-in-law, who died on January 21st in the Trobriand Islands of Papua New Guinea, where she lived her entire life. When I last wrote about Sarah, Kathy chimed in to give a more complete description of sagali, the complex community exchange events that take place in honor of the deceased. She commented:
Doba is the name of the bundles of dried banana leaves that Trobriand women manufacture by the thousands for sagali, or mortuary exchange feasts. The word also refers to the banana and pandanus fibre skirts worn by girls and women (and male dancers), which also feature in sagali distributions. Cotton fabric, called karekwa after the English ‘calico,’ has been incorporated into sagali over the last several decades and is now regarded as an essential exchange item.
Bolts of fabric are cut into two-metre lengths to augment the banana leaf bundles. Women also sew special cotton skirts to wear during sagali and to use for distribution. The cloth pieces distributed at sagali are later transformed into items of clothing, sheets, pillow cases, table cloths, and curtains.
For the sagali of her maternal uncle in 2000, Sarah worked for weeks to prepare her doba. Her inventory included hundreds of banana leaf bundles stacked in a huge basket measuring three metres in circumference and one metre in height, 6 bolts of material that were cut into two-metre lengths, and 8 fibre skirts. On her old manual Singer sewing machine, Sarah made 40 cotton skirts, 22 cotton dresses, and 20 pillow cases to distribute at the sagali. The work of sagali is perpetual and passionate.
(I don't want to use the word "doba" as a tag for this post, as that is also – here in the "West" – the name for a drop ship company. I wonder how that moniker was chosen?)

Kathy's son Andrew, one of Sarah's grandsons, went to the village immediately after her death, to help with the mourning ceremonies. Sarah was buried near the house where she lived, rather than in a cemetery. Andrew is here with his uncle Noel, and also with some of his cousin brothers.

These photos give a little glimpse of end-of-life inter-generational rituals in a traditional village in the Trobriand Islands today. Kathy's commentary continues below; it refers to the big sagali that is held about six months after a death, which she will attend with her husband Charles, Sarah's son, in June.
I've got some photos to share from Andrew that convey good grief in the Trobriands--community grief manifested. It's all about clearing grief as well and in a very material fashion, through goods exchanged and food consumed. But the essence of mourning lodges deep inside everyone and that is why for months and years after a death people will still burst into sorrowful wailing when memories of the beloved are triggered.

Children have the honour and task of decorating graves with fresh flowers. It's often a self-defined role--a group of children will take it upon themselves to be the ones who pick fresh flowers everyday to replenish the grave plus keep the gravesite clean. This will go on in a dedicated way until the big sagali in about six months but then will continue for years in a small and more personalized way--one or two children who will become known as the chief custodians of a particular grave. They will of course be repaid handsomely at the sagali with yams, doba, and money.
The photo of the sepwana gives you a close-up of these amazing displays of dried banana leaves. The photo of Andrew and his cousin brothers is unfortunately out of focus but I couldn't resist adding it here because of Obama's presence on the shirt worn by Bruce, the son of Sarah's younger brother Gilbert. Aggrey is at the edge of the photo.

We have some grass skirts and other doba items that have been given to us by wantoks (relatives) in the Trobriand Islands over the years (including Sarah), acknowledging our far-flung connections. Today, a tribute to the long and passionate, persistent lifespan of Sarah Watson, whose grace and influence are felt even at this great distance.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy (Vintage) Valentine's Day

When my grandmother Mary died a number of years ago, I traveled to Bismarck, North Dakota, with my parents for memorial services and to clean out the modest apartment where she lived for many years. My grandmother lived on her own until she passed away in her mid-nineties, taking pride in her ability to remain independent. She had help from a social service agency, from her friend Marion (and others), and from her grand-daughter Amy. She remained active, energetic, and strong-willed, helping others, going to church, and making gifts of handmade baby booties, afghans, slippers, and quilts. She liked to tell stories when visitors came around for coffee.

One of the things we found was a shoe box filled with valentines from the late 40s and early 50s. Most had been given by relatives and friends to Mary's son David when he was a little boy. Simple and colorful, with corny sentiments abounding, they have a kind of graphic charm. (Warhol might have changed the scale to make large silk screened canvases.) I like the ingenious die cuts; very few are square or folded. These are the kinds of cards that were put into decorated cardboard classroom shoe boxes; many are signed by young friends. There's a profusion of quotation marks, at every "hint" of a metaphor.

We offer reproductions of these at Bloomingfoods at this time of year, as a benefit for Area 10 Agency on Aging, an organization offering support services to the elderly and their caregivers. These cover the walls of the stores with good wishes, sent out in the names of ones who are loved; I always buy one or two in memory of my grandmother. Here are just a few.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Andy Warhol's other delights: the early album covers

In the category of Absolutely Not Crappy Album Covers are those designed by Andy Warhol, especially the early work, before the banana and the Sticky Fingers packaging for the Rolling Stones. I saw an exhibit of these at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh last June, and was surprised by their number, variety and graphic appeal. The New York Times ran a story in April 2009, and there is "a lavishly illustrated, fastidiously documented book" called Andy Warhol: The Record Covers, 1949-1987, by Paul Maréchal, published jointly by Prestel and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

This description is from the NYT piece by Fred Kaplan (April 29, 2009):
These early covers “have pizazz and elegance and a sneaky linearity, like Cocteau with a movement disorder,” said Wayne Koestenbaum, the author of a Warhol biography. “The blotted line gives a jumpy and nervous and emotionally unstable rhythm to the otherwise coherent line, like a dry drunk.”
Here are just a few of the early covers, of jazz, blues, ballet, and folk music. The blotted line makes the illustrations look very contemporary, in sync with the distressed fonts that are so popular now. Dry drunk effect aside, there is beauty, ease, and confidence to these early illustrations. I like the sharp little heels on the Kenny Burrell nude, a nod to the shoe ads Warhol did for the I. Miller company, for which he won the Art Directors Club’s highest honor in 1957. Another nice feature: overlays of color juxtaposed against that black blotted line. Just think about the impact of that kind of layering on subsequent design.

I wonder what Don Draper thinks of Andy Warhol? Can't wait until his work makes a (by now overdue) appearance on Mad Men: there were the jewelry and shoe ads in fashion magazines, Tiffany and Bonwit Teller window displays, and finally, the riotous gallery shows and the Here Comes Everybody of  popular decadent culture.

Shepard Fairey's work is now on view at the Andy Warhol Museum: a perfect place for it. Interesting that these is no search feature at The Andy Warhol Museum site (unless I am missing something). Maybe that's because there is just so much to search for – the work continues in the archives of Warhol's vast collections.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Carol Leifer and Other Delights

I heard part of an interview with comedian Carol Leifer on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross earlier tonight; first broadcast in April 23, 2009, the conversation is online. Leifer is the author of When You Lie About Your Age the Terrorists Win: Reflections on Looking in the Mirror. She talked about beginning a committed relationship in midlife with a woman, fellow animal advocate Lori Wolf, and about becoming one of two mothers of adopted son Bruno when in her early 50s.

Speculating about her sexual orientation change, Leifer mentioned being fascinated with the cover of a Herb Alpert LP as a teen, an image of a woman covered with whipped cream. Sure enough, it takes about 2 seconds to find this bit of ephemera online. This is the album called Whipped Cream and Other Delights with song titles from the grocery store: "A Taste of Honey," "Tangerine Love Potion," "Lemon Tree," "Lollipops and Roses," and "Peanuts." Apparently it's an iconic album, released in 1965.

I went down this rabbit hole, soon finding Strider's Journal, a blog that features Crappy Album Covers,  where there is a parody by the Fabulous Five called Sour Cream and Other Delights (which goes nicely with the theme of Leifer's book). There is Pat Cooper's Spaghetti Sauce and Other Delights; Carmina Burana and Other Delights (monk with beer and pretzel); Jabberwocky's Eat Shit and Die (an early mash-up of spliced audio sequences and multi-track commentary on media, popular culture, sexuality, war, and religion); and a Sweet Cream take-off. Soul Asylum has Clam Dip and Other Delights (I thought that was Glam Dip at first: such a glam photo!); and then there is a change of texture (and font style) with Right to Chews, Bubblegum Classics Revisited. Clever take-offs, put-ons, smears, schmers, and mutations.