Showing posts from May, 2009

Endings & Beginnings

This fall's kindergartners planting pumpkins at the Cannon River STEM School Open House.

If Will had been born ten days earlier in 1991, yesterday would have been his graduation day from Northfield High School. Instead, he has another year to wait, which is fine with me. Last night he played in the band at commencement, then rode his bike out to Dairy Queen with his parents before heading to a friend's house to finish a final project for French class. At Dairy Queen, we sat at a concrete picnic table at the foot of the small slope that he used to roll down when he was little.

"This hill used to be bigger," he said.

I had spent the morning down in Faribault, at the Cannon River STEM School open house. There were more than 200 people, parents and children, in attendance. For more than three years, the school has been an idea. Yesterday, with teachers and students and parents all together around the school building, it finally became a reality.

The kindergartners who …

"The King is Dead"

Maybe it took the distance of seventeen time zones and an entire hemisphere to turn me on to hip hop. Here's what's been at the top of the Pod lately: the Australian hip hop group The Herd, with a surprisingly infectious song about the defeat of long-time prime minister John Howard in the 2007 Australian elections. Explicit lyrics.

The song is from The Herd's 2008 release Summerland. Other highlights include "Emergency," about the global environmental crisis, and "Black & Blue," about an educational system that fails at-risk youth. Smart, intensely rhythmic, often symphonic music. "Can't be non-partisan when you're an artist/And you put your heart in it..."

How I Spent Memorial Day Weekend

On Friday, Clara and the boys and I packed up and headed up to the U.P. (the Upper Peninsula of Michigan) to enjoy a weekend of "bat-proofing" our summer place. No bats were killed, but many were displaced from the human living quarters. This is the earliest that I've been up to the island, and I was interested to find a species of wildflower that I had not seen before during our late June-August stays on the island. This is "ten-point phlox" (phlox bifida), which was growing all over the western point of the island.

Phlox bifida

The forget-me-nots (an introduced species) were also blooming, but not yet at their peak. I searched the woods for other native wildflowers (e.g., pipsissewa, starflower), but found only forget-me-nots.

Finally, here is a little brown bat having an unscheduled midday fly around the kitchen of the big boathouse (a.k.a. "the bathouse").

click to enlarge (bat in right-hand white canvas triangle above kitchen).

"A Degree in English"

This morning's New York Times features a guest Op-Ed piece written by my friend Christopher Francese, associate professor of classics at Dickinson College. He writes about the arcane and unnecessary practice, still followed by some colleges and universities, of granting diplomas written in Latin.

Chris as Julius Caesar.

On the Ides of March (March 15) this year, Chris took the title role in a reenactment at Dickinson of the assassination of Julius Caesar. He was "stabbed" by a group of classics majors, and fell "dead" at the foot of a statue of Benjamin Rush outside the classics department building. Rush was a founder of Dickinson College and a notable opponent of classical education, which he found too elitist and not pragmatic enough for a democratic society. In 1798, Rush wrote: "The study of the Latin and Greek languages is improper in the present state of society and government in [the] United States. While Greek and Latin are the only avenues to s…

Reading Journal: The Moonflower Vine

Jetta Carleton, The Moonflower Vine. Foreward by Jane Smiley. Harper Perennial 2009. First published in 1962. A "Midwest Connections" selection available at Monkey See, Monkey Read. $14.99.

Jetta Carleton's The Moonflower Vine was first published in 1962, two years after the publication of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. The comparison is inevitable. Both are nostalgic novels of growing up in "simpler" and more God-fearing times, but which still presented a full range of moral complexities. Both novels are centered around good, honest, loving people. Both are rural Southern novels: one set in rural Alabama, the other in rural Missouri. Neither author published another novel. Both novels are American classics.

Matthew Soames, the father in The Moonflower Vine, stands on a much shorter pedestal than Atticus Finch. He's a farmer and school teacher, husband of Callie and father of four daughters. The novel begins in the voice of Mary Jo, the …

Worth Two Thousand Words

There's not much happening here lately, so I recommend you click on over to Penelopedia to see the two most stunning photographs I've seen on the local blogosphere.

Spaghetti and Meatballs

This afternoon, while I listened to the mad psychologist on NPR describe how exciting he found torturing people, I made meatballs. It was easy to do. I started with a couple of pounds of Cedar Summit ground pork that I pulled from the freezer last Thursday. I mixed together the pork, a cup of bread crumbs (from leftover pane d'olio kept in the freezer), a couple of eggs, a couple of pressed garlic cloves, and some oregano, basil, salt and pepper. After I formed the mixture into balls, I browned them in olive oil, then threw them into a big pot with a large can of crushed tomatoes, another large can of diced tomatoes, some more oregano, another pressed garlic clove, and some salt. I let this simmer for a couple of hours, then served it with spaghetti.

Book Coverage

Recent and forthcoming books by friends and family

On, I've started an occasional "Northfield Writers" series, featuring profiles and interviews with local writers. My first profile was of Shannon Tassava, one of whose essays will appear in the collection P.S.: What I Didn't Say: Unsent Letters to Our Female Friends (Seal Press), forthcoming in October. My latest (ghost-written) profile is of Tom Swift, whose first book, Chief Bender's Burden (2008), was honored last weekend with the Seymour Medal from the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). Finally, although he's not a local author, I have to mention my brother-in-law Jason Mittell, whose book Television and American Culture was recently published by Oxford University Press. Jason is an associate professor of American Studies and Film and Media Culture at Middlebury College. He also has his own blog, JustTV.

Spring Wildflowers in Big Woods State Park

Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris)

Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Minnesota dwarf trout lily (Erytnronium propullans)
This flower is in the Federal endangered species list, and is found only in Rice, Goodhue, and Steele Counties.

Project 1929: "The Last September"

Elizabeth Bowen, The Last September. Penguin Modern Classic. Originally published in 1929.

September 1920. The War in Europe is over, but British troops have been dispatched to Ireland to act as an army of occupation to counter the revolutionary threat posed by the Irish Republican Army. Amid the mounting tensions, the threat of violence and reprisals, life goes on at its usual languid pace in the country homes of the Anglo-Irish nobility. There are tennis parties, visits, dances, and engagements. Elizabeth Bowen marvelously recreates the wistful atmosphere of a sheltered world about to be violently swept away. Her writing is sophisticated and occasionally difficult. Her sophisticated wit often reminded me of Tom Stoppard. Unfortunately, the characters in the novel never quite connect with each other, and I found it difficult to connect with the characters. One of my favorite lines in the novel comes as the inhabitants of the country house are waiting around to see off a gues…