Friday, May 7, 2010

A Tribute To Nashville



Will the circle be unbroken, by and by Lord, by and by?
There’s a better home a-waitin’ in the sky, Lord, in the sky…

They don’t call Nashville “Music City USA” for nothing. Music is the lifeblood of this beautiful jewel of the Smoky Mountains, the one that sits astride the mighty Cumberland River. It’s never silent in Nashville, because even the wind through the trees is musical. The music never stops.

It’s not just country music either. Nashville is absolutely the undisputed country music capital of the world, but all are welcome. Nashville has a fantastic classical music scene, and they play both bluegrass and the blues down in The District.

The mighty Cumberland overran its banks last week, and so did Old Hickory Lake. The flood was the worst the area has seen since the Civil War. People died. Homes were destroyed. This was a true act of nature; there were no faulty levees or the Army Corps of Engineers to blame, simply a freak act of God, wrought upon a musical city in the mountains. It seems incomprehensible that the music could be silenced, but for a brief moment, it looked possible.

The waters are receding, and the people are picking themselves up by their quiet pride and their bootstraps, as Tennesseans tend to do. The heartache will not fade for a long time. The music is quieter than normal right now, but the city’s heart still beats, like a timpani struck ever so gently.

Symphony Hall itself was spared. But it took 18 feet of water into its basement, destroying rehearsal space, the console for its organ, and two hand-built, hand-selected Steinway grand concert pianos, along with countless other instruments. The amount of structural damage is unknown as yet.

The Country Music Hall of Fame took on water in its basement, losing hardwood floors and ceiling tiles, and its theatre flooded over the stage and up to the third row. The main rotunda and the artifacts were guarded during the flood by a dedicated team of curators, who managed to save just about everything.

The Grand Ole Opry House, home of the Grand Ole Opry, was flooded through the backstage and loading areas, and the auditorium filled with water. The entire performance/stage area, along with about 3/4 of the main floor was underwater. The Opry House sits at the edge of the Cumberland, next to the Opryland Hotel and Opry Mills Mall, both of which sustained severe damage and high water flooding. All three facilities are closed until further notice.

BB King’s is closed. Many businesses are unsure of their re-opening strategy. Fear of mold and loss of housing are real threats to the livelihood of Nashvillians, musical or not.

Those who did not experience loss have opened their doors and hearts to the displaced. The Station Inn survived unscathed, and its website exhorts folks to “pitch in and help if and when you can.” The Bluebird Cafe, a haven for up and coming songwriters, closed for two days but is now re-opened, and the music plays.

The orchestra is playing a concert tonight for free, outside Nashville’s City Hall. The music will play on.

The Hall of Fame is drying out, and plans to reopen soon. The music will play on.

The Ryman Auditorium, 119 years old, stands strong and dry on Fifth Avenue. The Opry will move back to the Mother Church of Country Music, its historic home, until further notice. The Opry will be broadcast as usual this weekend (tonight and Saturday) on WSM 650 AM. The music will play on.

And this Sunday, in churches across Davidson, and Williamson, and Sumner, and Robertson, and Cheatham and Rutherford Counties, choirs will sing and prayers will raise that the damage wasn’t worse, and that Nashville will survive. The music will be heard.

In the face of chaos, there are moments of optimism in Nashville. Of all places, when the country has bigger fish to fry and a failed terrorist bomb in Times Square is a far sexier story, Nashville is taking care of its own. Somehow, I would expect nothing less. Let the music play on, and be heard.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

In Defense of Girl Scout Cookies

Who knew these time-honored traditional Lent-busters were so controversial?

Honestly...I never thought twice about this. Who wouldn't want to support the Girl Scouts? Cookie sales are the organization's most lucrative and well-known fundraiser, and in a time when philanthropy and non-profit community organizations are floundering, it's more important than ever to support the causes we need the most.

Bea is in her first year of Girl Scouts. Like her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother before her, she is learning the Law and Promise, earning badges and yes, selling cookies. Some things have changed since my Gram was a Depression-era Scout: the uniforms and levels have been changed to be more compatible with today's girls, camping and badges are secondary to leadership skill development (but are still an integral part of Scouting) and troops are no longer massive (my Junior troop once boasted 38 girls and one leader. Bea's troop is 11 girls and 3 leaders.)

Some things haven't changed, though. Scouts places an emphasis on honesty and self-reliance, the motto is still Be Prepared. The girls still salute with three fingers and end each meeting in a friendship circle, singing "Make New Friends." Some of my fondest memories involve my Brownie and Junior troops. I never went to Scout camp, but my First Aid badge came in handy the first summer at church camp, when I was called upon to hold a bandage in place while a friend ran to get a counselor after an unfortunate incident involving an Exact-o knife in the arts & crafts hut.

When Bea asked to become a Girl Scout, my heart leaped for joy. Not only would we have a fourth-generation Scout in our family, it meant an automatic hookup for the world's best treat: Girl Scout cookies! The Boy actually told me recently that when I was pregnant with Bea, the first thing he thought of when he saw the ultrasound and heard the tech's pronouncement of "a little girl" was Girl Scout Cookies.

My girl rolled 350 boxes this sale, and I did a turn as the Cookie Mom. Yes, we bought 22 boxes of cookies just for our family. The Boy and I put in separate orders. We don't share. He believes in immediate consumption, I believe in freezing them and making them last as long as possible. We have common ground (Tagalongs), and divergence (Thin Mints are my favorite, Samoas are entirely his province).

This was my first year as a Cookie Mom, and while the process has evolved from a large worksheet and manual EVERYTHING into Excel spreadsheets and an online tracking tool, it means that for the past 4 months or so, I have been running a business that yielded almost $5,000 in sales. Not bad for 11 first graders, eh?

The girls earned roughly %650 this year from cookie sales for their troop. With that money, our little first graders are going to plant flowers in the school garden, organize a clean-up for the fields and a neighborhood rec center, go to the children's museum, and have a day at the water park. They will also buy some of their Brownie supplies for next year and participate in an all-school bridging ceremony. And they chose those activities themselves. They came up with the ideas, they made the goals.

The Scouts have recently been criticized for selling cookies. I've heard it all: the national Movement takes most of the profits and leaves little for the troops, the girls are exploited, the cookies are horrible for you, they are falsely advertising "zero trans fat", and in a day and age where Jamie Oliver is crusading against the pitiful excuse for food we serve to our kids through the national school lunch program, we are putting our daughters on the street to pimp, of all things, sugary chocolate treats, laden with sodium, sugar and fat.

Let me address these concerns:

1. Cookies cost about $3.50 a box. Of this, about $0.55 goes directly to the troop that sells the cookies.

2. About $2.00 goes to support the work of the local Council. This may sound like bureaucracy, but the Council is what makes so many of the Scout programs available, and cookie money keeps our camps up, running, maintained and staffed. It pays for safety and leader training, and funds scholarships for girls who can't afford the annual membership fee of $12.

3. About $0.11 per box pays for the girls' sale incentives. Badges, cookie credits, stuffed animals, and other swag.

3. The bakers get about $0.84 per box to cover the cost of the cookies.

This info comes directly from my cookie manager guide book. You'll notice that no money goes to the national movement. They get their own grants from places like the United Way. They do high-end fundraising. Why? Because they sponsor research and develop leadership programs. The national movement maintains relationships with international scouting organizations, advises on policy positions, and upholds the legacy of Juliette Gordon Lowe, the founder of American Girl Scouting. They do great work, but the girls aren't pushing cookies to support them. Likewise, cookie sales are voluntary. Troops and girls decide whether or not to participate.

As for the other claims, well, I honestly can't say. "Zero trans fat" is a claim that can be made when there is less than a certain amount of trans fat per serving. It probably is a misnomer. I can't say, I didn't do the science in figuring out that claim. Likewise, I agree that it seems incongruous to have our kids pedaling treats when we're fighting an obesity epidemic. But here's my answer to that: let's use this opportunity not only to teach leadership, goal-setting and entrepreneurship, but also moderation. I see no problem with showing the girls what a serving of Samoas is (three cookies, if you must know), and saying hey - eat healthy, and treat yourself in moderation. A few cookies here and there, well balanced with healthy whole foods (and hopefully a glass of fat-free milk or ice water) can be a great treat. Perhaps that's the model they should learn, not "eat a whole box in one sitting." (Admit it. You've done it. We all have.)

Look, I'm as guilty as the next American when it comes to overindulging. It's a battle I have fought my entire life. I'm working on it. I want to learn to garden, and I want to reduce my family's dependence not only on processed food, but on corporate groceries overall. I want to source local fresh foods, grow some of our own, and really examine what goes on our plates and where it comes from. I also want to look at how far our food has to travel. Why are we getting grapes from Chile in December? Why are my strawberries coming from California, when I know they are in season in Minnesota?

I'm also realistic enough to know that a big sea change within my family still leaves parts of the shore intact: we will inevitably have occasion to grab fast food; we will certainly have temptations to overcome. But part of being healthy is balancing those things out. Nobody's perfect, not even Jamie Oliver.

But we can all sure as hell do our best.

The Girl Scout Law
I will do my best to be
honest and fair,
friendly and helpful,
considerate and caring,
courageous and strong, and
responsible for what I say and do;
and to
respect myself and others,
respect authority,
use resources wisely,
make the world a better place,
and be a sister to every Girl Scout.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Guitar Heroes, Redux

Concerts I Must See Live Before I Die:

1. Clapton
2. Springsteen
3. Santana The Ex, April 21, 2008
4. John Mayer (at a small club)
5. John Mayer Trio The Joint at Hard Rock Hotel, Las Vegas, December 31, 2009
6. Derek Trucks Band The Ex, April 21, 2008
7. Buddy Guy Legends, January 12, 2008
8. Bon Jovi
9. BB King
10. U2

Update: there WILL be a Crossroads in Chicago this year...since I missed London last summer, there's probably no better chance to see Clapton and BB King, as well as JM and Buddy Guy again.

U2 is coming to the Twin Cities this summer, and Bon Jovi has a concert scheduled for next month at the Ex. However, U2 sold out in like 2 minutes and I haven't heard great things about the Jove this time out. We'll see. Seems like I could probably go to the Ex and get a ticket if I felt the need.

As for Mayer at a small club? Fingers crossed for next month in Chicago...that maybe he pops up someplace and plays a few chords.

In other news, David Ryan Harris had to cancel his show at Schuba's earlier this week, so that leaves my Friday night in Chicago open next month. I was recently informed that my high school classmate Matt is in a play with John Mahoney and they have a show that Friday night, so that's a possibility. Either way, a good time will be had, because it's Chicago, and that's just the way Chicago is.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Working Girl

I knew this time would come, eventually.

I have an interview (my first real, professional job interview in over five years) on Tuesday. I'm very excited, actually...while I have reservations about going back to work while still finishing up school, it's time to start beefing up the resume and the house fund.

We're incredibly lucky; I'm incredibly lucky to have been able to be a mom and student the last three years. I didn't have to work during school, or my pregnancy, and I've been home with Elle since she was born. My husband works for a fantastic company who treats its employees well, and he has been noted by his supervisors as someone with a great deal of potential for advancement. The distinction there is that he's actually taken advancing steps; it's not just talk. His job, combined with my school & degree are huge reasons for us to stay in the Cities after I graduate.

I've been thinking a LOT about going back to work. There are lots of reasons to go back, and a lot of other reasons that tell me to be cautious when selecting which jobs for which to apply. One of the advantages to having professional experience and an advanced degree is that I can be relatively picky. I'm not a new grad in the "22 and a liberal arts bachelor's degree" sense; while I'll be a new lawyer, it's still not the absolute ground floor of an adult career. I'm also eternally grateful to have that experience (life and job) on my side; I can't imagine that my decisions are the same as a coltish, single 25 year old law grad. (I'm also thinking my foray into the law will last longer than it takes to pay off my loans, realize my bliss and open a cupcake bakery. Which, really? Sounds pretty damn good at times.)

I'm also a LOT older than I was when I graduated from college, and along with my experience, I have a family to think about.

In preparation for my interview, I've jotted down a few of the things I'm looking for in a job.

1. Enough money. This may sound like a no-brainer, but if the cost of day-care for Elle and before/after care for Bea, plus the cost of commuting, parking, dry-cleaning & the other requirements of a job aren't at least covered by my wage, I can't take that job. While my husband makes wonderful money, the fact is that we're on a budget and it's an unnecessary strain on the family for me to spend money on a job.

2. Flexible hours. This is a pipe dream, but ideally I want to start back slow: around 20-25 hours a week. Ideally lumped as 2-3 solid days per week. Getting used to a commute and a morning routine is going to be tough enough, plus I am still in school. I still need time to study and prep for class. I'd love to work "mom" hours so that I can still put Bea on the bus in the morning and then be home for her in the afternoon. (This would also avoid before-after care costs.)

3. Geographically convenient. I'd like to work on my side of the Metro area. Elle's current babysitter is close to downtown, and we both adore her. She's agreed to take Elle on for than her current 1-2 days a week if I go back to work, and I really want to avoid putting Elle in a day-care center just yet.

I'll probably write more on this later...but for now, if you are reading this, take a moment and send a few good thoughts my way on Tuesday. Most especially that I don't kill myself in my new Calvin Klein heels. (Haven't worn heels this high in a VERY long time. Will be practicing in the house this weekend.)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Jumping on the Blog Train

Two very good friends have recently picked up their blogs again, both of which you should go and read immediately here and here. I'll wait.

Sigh.

I don't want to blog about not blogging, so I won't. I'm taking these two friends' blogs as a sign that I should probably commit more to the written word than I have in recent memory. Suffice to say the last six months or so have been INSANE on so many fronts. (I'm certain these stories will come out in more detail as I write more.)

Family-wise, Bea joined Girl Scouts, and I am currently serving as an assistant leader/cookie mom. She continues with her swimming lessons,and has been taking music classes on Saturdays at a private music school here in the Cities. She now wants to pick up violin and piano, and knows big words like diatonic and pentatonic.

We spent Christmas in the hometown with my mom, sister, her fiance, my sister-in-law, my in-laws and a mess of friends. We were home for a solid week, dodging snowstorms and doing our best to not buy into holiday insanity. However, we were staying at my mother's house. Insanity is inherent under that particular roof.

The girls had their birthdays - Bea turned seven (and I did write her a letter - I may back-post it later) and little Miss Elle (aka "The Jedi Baby") turned a YEAR old. I wrote her a letter too - if I post Bea's, I'll post Elle's.

We landed at home for a day and a half before I jetted off to Vegas with Mara & Abbie to meet up with Cait for the most amazing New Year's Eve of my life. Bar none. I have seriously not had that much fun with a group of girls in AGES. Chicago in 2008 was fun, but this? Ridiculous. Utterly amazing. I don't know whether it was the setting, or whether it was the company (probably both), but that trip changed my life. I found the other three of my four... Mara, Abbie & Cait are my compass points, North, South and West to my East. I am thankful to the Universe for having Mara local to me - I would have wept the entire plane ride home if I'd had to do it alone.

Of course, John Mayer was involved, because the whole point of that trip was to see the Trio at the Hard Rock on NYE. A while back, I made a list of concerts I had to see before I died...JM3 was on that list - and...check. I was probably 15 feet away from the stage, maybe 3 people back in a GA crowd that was damn near suffocating. The concert itself should be a separate blog entry. The trip...indescribable.

So now, here I sit...the baby is napping and I have law homework to do, and the daily grind is once again upon me. I'm over at Twitter quite a bit - you can see my twitfeed in the left column, but as many have said before me, 140 characters aren't always enough. Trying to remember that.