Highlights from the Twin Cities Book Festival

It had been a few years since I had been to the Twin Cities Book Festival.  Once it moved to St. Paul, I let the distance (and my non-driving status) keep me home.  This year, I’m back behind the wheel of a car, so I thought I’d check out what I’d been missing.

I found a bigger and better book festival in the new location with something to interest book lovers of all ages.  I brought my six-year-old daughter, so we spent most of our time in the Children’s Pavilion.  From the moment we arrived, we were swept into the fun.  It started with meeting Bad Kitty, playing Moo! the game, and playing Legos.  From there it was one story, performance, or science demo after another.

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The highlight for me was Lauren Stringer.  I have loved her illustrations for a long time, and a book she wrote and illustrated, Winter is the Warmest Season, is one of my favorite winter picture books.  Her latest book is Deer Dancer written by Mary Lyn Ray, and she turned the reading into a performance with a ballerina as the deer.  It really brought the book alive, and the kids in the audience loved to see the dancer up close.  Stringer also shared a bit about her illustration process by showing the journal/sketchbook she created as she worked on the book.  I loved that she advised readers to take note of the end pages.  They are there to set the mood of the book, she said.  In Deer Dancer the end pages should give you the sense of entering the forest.

IMG_0526.JPGIf I had to guess, I think my daughter would say her highlight was the Kitchen Pantry Science Lab.  I mean, there was a paper bag volcano, cornstarch goblin goo, and several other really cool experiments.  It was messy and full of surprises for the kids.  What more could you ask for?  Well, the book, I suppose.  My daughter declared we just had to buy the Kitchen Science Lab for Kids.  We can’t wait to get a copy and try some of the experiments at home.

I could go on.  It was a great day, full of great bookish fun.  You can see some of my pictures on my photo blog, but I highly recommend that you make sure to attend next year.  I know I will.

 

 

Our National Night Out

nno-masthead-logoYesterday was my first ever National Night Out Block Party.  The intersections were blocked off, and the neighbors had set up a couple of grills in the middle of the streets.  Kids were running around, and adults were milling with drinks in hand.  It turned out that we were the newbies among mostly long-time residents of our block, and we felt quite welcomed.  Here were the highlights for me:

  • I may have convinced a woman who lives across the street from me to give bus commuting a try.  Hey, if I can commute from Minneapolis to Burnsville on a bus, then anyone can, right?
  • When a neighbor expressed interest in putting a Little Free Library in front of her house, I enthusiastically agreed to help keep it stocked if she does it.  You all know that I will make good on that promise.  :)
  • I discovered another Unitarian-Universalist family on my block.  We chatted about our kids’ RE classes and about the why we chose UU.  Great to have that connection.

National Night Out started in 1984 as a crime prevention program aimed at creating the community camaraderie needed to enhance safety  for everyone.  One night isn’t going to solve all crime issues, but it certainly represents a beginning.  I was very happy to finally be able to be a part of that in our new home.

Want to keep the sense of community going?  Here are some links:

A Visit to Clifford’s World

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Everyone knows Clifford the Big Red Dog.  He has been around for over 50 years–first as a very popular series of picture books and then as a television show.  Now he’s an interactive museum exhibit too.

This exhibit, designed by the Minnesota Children’s Museum, happens to be at my old library (the one I grew up going to) for the summer, and we stopped there briefly when we visited recently. My six-year-old could have played for hours in Clifford’s World just like she has in the Our World exhibit at the MN Children’s Museum.  She served us lunch at the restaurant (while I pointed out the sign that talked about teamwork) and delivered mail all around Birdwell Island (which gave me the opportunity to point out the other signs about being kind, playing fair, and more).

clifford1It’s hard not to like Clifford.  He always has good intentions even if things don’t always go right the first time.  He might be a lot bigger than the preschoolers who love him, but he’s not so different from them.

The exhibit will be back in Minnesota in September at the Rochester location of the MN Children’s Museum and in the Twin Cities in October.  It’s well worth your time if you have a young Clifford fan in your family who would enjoy exploring Birdwell Island and seeing a nine foot tall Clifford statue up close.

My Summer Wonders

We ushered in our summer with a busy weekend that was full of sun.  After several days (weeks?) of rain, it was much needed sunshine–at least, it was much needed by me.

IMG_2009IMG_2012 IMG_2014We celebrated the solstice on Friday evening at our Unitarian-Univeralist church, caught a puppet show on Saturday morning at the library (highly recommend catching one of the many performances of Molly and the Magic Boot this summer; my daughter is still singing the “hootenanny” song–though perhaps that’s not a selling point. . .), and joined ten thousand other music fans for Rock the Garden on Saturday night.

While Matt and Kim stole the show for me (even though I was not previously familiar with them), Best Coast deserves a mention for singing “Why would you live anywhere else?”  Of course, they were referencing California, but on the first day of a Minnesota summer, there is no better place to be.  Why would you live anywhere else right now?

Our summer has just begun, of course.  In the weeks to come we will be camping, swimming, grilling, and more.  What will your summer bring?

If you need some inspiration, try a picture book: Summer Wonders by Bob Raczka is a good place to start. It celebrates summer with simplicity and ice pops.  What more could you want?

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Perhaps at the end of the summer we will be able to make our own book of wonders.

A Weekend in Chicago

On our way out of town on Friday, I was scrolling through my social media feed when I saw a headline with the words “This might be the biggest Twin Cities weekend of the summer.”  That is not what you really want to see when you’re leaving for a weekend getaway.  We already knew we were going to miss Northern Spark and the launch of the Green Line, but we kept our eyes on Chicago.

It seemed that city was also having a pretty big weekend, and we were right in the middle of it.  Most of our fellow commuter train passengers on Saturday appeared to be headed to the Blues Festival .  We were there to play tourist.  I grew up outside of Chicago, and a part of me will always consider Chicago to be “my city” no matter how Minnesotan I feel these days.  It’s always fun to share my memories of Chicago, especially now that my daughter is old enough to get excited about it too.  I love that she showed as much enthusiasm for some of the more iconic scenes as she did a random playground we happened by.

That evening we made our way to the Wicker Park neighborhood (after the six year old was safely deposited at Grandma’s) for the reason we were willing to leave town on one of the best Twin Cities weekends of the summer.  Braid and the Smoking Popes at the Double Door’s 20th Anniversary celebration.  As soon as we saw that these two old favorites were playing, we jumped on the tickets and made our plans.

braid2014I grew up listening to these bands.  I mean that specifically: I listened to them in my late teens and early twenties.  They were, along with a few select others, my coming of age soundtrack.  Braid, in particular, was perfect coming of age music.  With lines like “let’s stop clapping / let’s start doing / a dream for the teens and in-betweens / and twenties yet unseen” the teenage me was conscious of the fact that these were guys just a couple of years older than me.  They often sang about finding your way, and it had a strong impact on me as I sorted out my ideas about life and love.  I saw them live a few times before they broke up in 1999.

In 2004, I caught the reunion tour. By then, I lived in the Twin Cities, and I was dating my now-husband.  I was in my mid-twenties, which meant that the band members were pushing thirty. My youthful optimism never considered that the show might disappoint, and it didn’t.  It actually made my Top Ten Favorite Shows even though it made me feel older than my years to have a reunion show on my Top Ten list.  I still consider myself an optimist, but I have to admit that it did occur to me, how ever briefly, that ten years might make a difference.

They opened with a song I didn’t know–the new record comes out next month–and then launched into a series of older songs from Frame & Canvas and other records I know so well.  There was no need to worry.  Funnily enough, lines like “a dream for the tweens, and in-betweens, and twenties yet unseen” can still resonate several years past one’s twenties.

The show could have ended there, and it would have been worth the trip.  It was already on my Top Ten Favorite Shows of all time–no matter what having two reunion shows on my list might mean about my age or taste.  But the Smoking Popes were up next.

smokingpopes2014The Smoking Popes were the first local band I listened to. They were the first band I saw play live so many times I lost track of when and where I saw them, and eventually it became no-big-deal in that way that local bands can sometimes get even to their super fans.  After a while, they didn’t play as much, and I moved away anyway.  I did catch them at the Triple Rock a few years ago.  That was a good show, but it doesn’t compare to the one I saw this weekend.  Saturday’s show was a reunion of the super fans.  It seemed like every song was a sing along in a crowd that knew every word.  No one yelled out “Pretty Pathetic” even though we all wanted them to play it.  Probably because we knew they were saving it for the end of the show with the stripped down beginning and dramatic end.  It was far from no-big-deal.

Here’s to the past for the memories and the music.  And here’s to what is still unseen.  Let’s stop clapping and start doing.

 

Sharing the Love of Books

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There was a time when I had a whole roomful of books.  Shelves lined every wall, and they were packed with books.  I looked at my bookshelves, and I saw success.  It was what I thought I always wanted.  What book lover wouldn’t?

It took a while, but eventually I realized something.  Or perhaps something shifted for me.  I’m not sure.  In any case, I realized that I don’t get much from having books.  I do get lots of pleasure or happiness or fulfillment from sharing them, so I decided to share more than I kept.  I guess I’m more of a librarian at heart than I thought I was.  :)

My home is no longer a repository for books.  It’s a way station.  They may stay here for a bit, but then they are passed along to a friend or left in a Little Free Library.  Now when I look at my bookshelves (not a roomful anymore–just one bookcase in the dining room), I see possibilities.  I see connections.

Today I was an official World Book Night giver.  I pledged to give away a stack of books to light or non-readers along with thousands of others across the country who want to “spread the love of reading person to person.”  It was neat to see people’s skepticism (free? where’s the catch?) melt away as they realized that this was just a book for the love of it.

There’s nothing like an evening of giving away books to remind you that life is pretty great.  If you have the opportunity to be a World Book Night Giver next year, I highly recommend the experience.

A weekend of solitude

Call me an introvert if you must–you wouldn’t be wrong–but I have to admit that there are few things better than a weekend to myself.  It’s been a busy couple of months (as evidenced by the lack of blog posts), and I was more than happy to spend a couple of days re-charging from all the goings on of late while my husband and daughter traveled for the weekend.

I decided to avoid planning too much, to just do whatever I felt like doing at the moment.  It felt like the height of luxury.  I highly recommend the experience if you have the opportunity.

My weekend consisted of books, art, and writing.  Here are some highlights:

  • 20140406-184336.jpgLive-tweeting my reading of Dangerous by Shannon Hale with the hashtag #dwoh (or Dangerous with one hand).  It is the only novel I recall reading with a main character with a congenital limb deficiency, and I couldn’t help but be excited about it.  Shannon Hale has some interesting things to say about why she chose to write a character who is differently abled, among other things, in this essay.
  • Exploring the meditative quality of writing with Karen Hering, author of Writing to Wake the Soul, at a Sacred Salon at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.  The Sacred exhibit and the Salon were wonderfully inspiring, and I recommend both experiences to anyone interested in meditation or Buddhist ideas.  I’ve mentioned my interested in meditation here and here.
  • Turning up the volume on my latest musical obsession: Catbath.  What says spring more than opening the windows and playing the music a little bit louder?

How would you spend a weekend to yourself with no obligations?

An Evening at Torch

Live music doesn’t have to be about huge arenas and screaming fans or late nights at crowded rock clubs.  Sometimes it’s about connection.   I recently had the pleasure of attending an event at Torch, a new performing arts space in Minneapolis that puts the audience-artist connection at the forefront of the experience.  It’s a great space with a strong vision, and I am excited to see what’s next there.

I caught the final date in the Raw Deal concert series that ran on Sunday evenings in December and January.  I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect at Torch, but I couldn’t help but smile when I walked in to find friendly faces and the smell of brownies baking.  “Homespun” is the way it is described on the web site, and I think that describes it well.  Torch has a homespun feel to it in the most complimentary way possible.  This is a venue where you introduce yourself to your fellow audience members and you talk about what brought you there.  It’s a venue where you can, not only meet the artist, but also have a conversation with them.  When the show started, we all paid attention.

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Hannah von der Hoff performed first.  Her bluesy style radiated warmth and fit perfectly with the setting.  There was no set list.  The audience drew the song names from a couple of hats, which kept things conversational and open.

Matt Latterell closed the night with songs that told stories.  His album Life on Land has been in regular rotation on the playlist at our house for a while, and my husband and I were happy to have the opportunity to see him perform in a venue like  this one.

Humanism, perspective, and being a joiner

More people are leaving churches these days than are joining them.  There has been a fair amount of media speculation on “the rise of the nones.”  I’ve followed it all with some curiosity as a “none” myself.  Little did I realize when the study was published in late 2012 that I would be trading in my non-affiliation for a church membership just one year later.

The first Sunday of 2013 I decided to try a new church.  It was a bit of a whim.  I was interested in exploring my options, and a new year seemed like the right time to test drive a new Sunday morning routine at the nearest Unitarian-Universalist society.  It was nice.  The sermon was about new beginnings, and it incorporated a guided meditation mini-session, which I thought was pretty cool.  But it didn’t stick.

Six months into the year, whimsy struck again.  I found myself sitting in the last pew back at that same Unitarian-Universalist church listening to a sermon about change–about life as a series of changes.  After a moment of silence, the congregation stood to sing a haunting melody in four parts.  The words “Who are we? Where are we going? Life is a mystery” seemed so light they could float.  It was really quite beautiful, and I decided in that moment that I was going to be back the next week.

duckrabbitSince then I’ve hardly missed a Sunday.  The sermons have addressed all sorts of topics from climate change and other social justice themes to various aspects of humanism.  I always leave feeling inspired.    “No two Sundays are alike,” the minister says almost every Sunday.  While that statement may stay the same, he’s right about the larger point. It’s always something new on Sunday mornings. This past week, for example, the children were invited to the front for a story, which was projected for the rest of us to enjoy as well.  They read Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and talked about how we disagree with people when we see things differently.  Do you see a duck?  Or a rabbit?  It could be either, and you don’t get an answer in the book any more than you do in a lot of real life situations.  You only have your perspective–unless, of course, you can listen to the people around you and consider their perspectives.

Have I really found a church that shares humanist values, embraces questions rather than answers, and uses picture books during the service as a learning opportunity for all ages?  I’m in.  I’m officially a Unitarian-Universalist.

Of course, regardless of my religious affiliation or lack thereof, the only thing I’ll be preaching about here is books.  Duck! Rabbit! is a good one for sure.  Highly recommended for families who are all about life’s journey with all its mystery.

Find Duck! Rabbit! at your local library or buy it at an indie bookstore.  Check out my For Secular Families page for more posts about children’s books supporting humanist values.

Slowing Down & Looking Closely

“Let’s all slow down,” I said as I introduced one of my favorite picture books  in a recent presentation to a group of librarians and teachers.  I always seem to have a weakness for picture books that focus on little things.  Simplicity.  Patience.  Observation.

I suppose I wish my life were simpler and that I were more patient and observant.

I was reminded of how much I value slowness and observation as I listened to a recent episode of Pratfalls of Parenting in which visual artist Karen Kasel spoke of the role that slowing down played in her life and art–having kids forced her to slow down.  Now that her kids are school-aged, she wants to share the idea of slowing down and looking closely with them.  How do you convince a kid that slowness and patience are worth it when you have to compete with tech and all the other distractions we have?

I don’t know.  But I know that I would start with a few good picture books.

how-to ifyouwanttosee LittleBird

  • How To by Julie Morstad is one of my favorite picture books of the year for its look at the everyday beauty that we often overlook.
  • If You Want to See a Whale by Julie Fogliano is another good one for reorienting your perspective to the small joys.
  • Little Bird by Germano Zullo reminds us to cherish small things.

And for you?  Once you’ve let the picture books settle a bit, stop by the Hidden in Plain View exhibit–currently at the Minneapolis Central Library through October 26th–for several perspectives on everyday beauty from local photographers.  The exhibit is quiet and thoughtful.  The photographs contain people and places we’ve probably seen-but-not-seen a million times.  Here is your chance to stop, to remind yourself that there is much to see if we take the time to look.

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Books, art, music.  These are my touchstones.  When I need to reorient my perspective to my values, I turn to these things.  How do you recharge?  What reminds you to live your values?