Malick preview, new Civil Wars, a story slam + sour milk cake

Last night I stayed late at work for a focus group, which meant I didn't get home until nearly 10 o'clock. As I was unfolding my bike outside BART for the final ride home, I was surprised to realize a stranger had stopped to help me hold it stable as I hooked my two panniers on the back. I thanked her, saying something like, "I'm OK," and then realized she was still standing there, holding the handle bars. So then I asked her how her day was, and we chatted briefly before going our separate ways.

When I still walked to BART from work in the days before my bike, I sometimes stopped in for a latte at Caffe Trieste. One day, an elderly man who proved to be a jazz musician, struck up conversation with me, and I stayed to drink my latte at his table. It was gloriously mundane, our talk, yet also a kind of ideal version of what can unfold from "how was your day?" I must have confessed to avoiding some tedious task at work, for we eventually wound up discussing procrastination and the merits of just diving into something you don't feel like doing. One time I stopped by the day or week of my birthday, and B.J. insisted I take $5 to buy myself a drink. When he wouldn't take the change, I kept it and used the rest to buy some yarn and notecards at a thrift store. He later died from some kind of cancer, but I'll always remember our short, but unhurried conversations.

In some ways, both they and last night's exchange are like stones you could store inside yourself and still draw warmth from anytime you happened to draw out the memories and gently tumble them against your fingers.

For good or bad, many creative outputs are probably far less enduring than such gemlike moments, but I'm a bit hopeful my latest two pieces for Her.meneutics (a two-part series on singleness) hold up better than usual.
:: events ::
  • March 2: local band Thao and the Get Down Stay Down (recently featured on NPR's First Listen) play Great American Music Hall, with opening bands that include Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside. I found Thao's new album a mixed bag, prompting equally strong like and dislike by turns, but I really enjoyed hearing Sallie & co. when they opened for Wanda Jackson last year.
  • March 9: The Relatives play Bimbo's. The just got a very nice write-up in the New York Times, which situates their resurgence in a broader trend of "young crate-digging producers" resuscitating the careers of long-forgotten bands.
  • March 11: The Moth story slam, which I believe is the first such event in SF (Moth slams take place in other cities, too). Theme: secrets (you have to prepare a 5-minute story to deliver, including a conflict and resolution). 
  • March 20: Josh Ritter plays the Fox, and you could win tickets for two by entering Book Passage's short-story contest. Stories must involve a musical theme or concern music and cannot exceed 2,500 words. How to enter.
    Also that night: Ivan and Alyosha's show in the Mission, which I hope to catch (see below).
  • April 11-13: Dark Star Orchestra residency at Great American Music Hall.
  • May 12: Buddy Miller plays Great American Music Hall; tickets on sale Feb. 24.
:: visual art ::
:: reading/food for thought ::
  • My friend Susan Isaacs wrote a piece for Donald Miller's Storyline blog this week that I really liked. Titled "What's that big thing God wants you to do," it's a reflection on inspiration and calling that packs in a lot more wisdom and nuance than one could get in many similar pieces. Pieces like this could so easily be a bit fluffy and superficial, but I really thought she packed a lot in.
  • I found this a thought-provoking take on "platform" and its construction, from an editor at Intervarsity Press. In it he wrestles with the new book Platform from publisher Michael Hyatt -- which basically talks about current expectations and methods for marketing yourself and your work. I appreciate some of the questions Zimmerman asks. Part two of Zimmerman's series.
  • When does talent shield you from breaking the rules? This reflection on the recent suicide of programmer Aaron Schwartz is a thoughtful meditation on risk-taking, ethics and the way perspective changes over time.
  • From the Paris Review archive: 1967 interview with John Cheever. I'd never heard of him until I confessed disappointment with the stories of John Updike to Dana Gioia a few years back. I love Updike's prose (which it's almost criminal to read silently), but the narratives left me cold. Dana recommended I read some Cheever. I have lots of short stories left to read, but Cheever's certainly proven more memorable than Updike. Some favorites so far: "The Enormous Radio," "The Day the Pig Fell into the Well" and "The Housebreaker of Shady Hill." If I read any more Cheever on those evenings when the sun sets well after my return home from work, it will be a good summer.
  • Coffee-lid design probably doesn't consume your thoughts unless one works badly, but the Wall Street Journal had interesting article on one design that highlights the beverage's smell better than many lids. and other inventions on display at the Crunchies Awards.
  • Musical ability has been linked to cognitive improvement in other areas, such as reading (note that this speaks more of musical training than talent, per se, implying that music lessons pay off even if you're not that good).
:: tunes ::
  • Several months back when NPR did one of their seasonal music previews, a song called "Be Your Man" wooed my ears with its joyful, multi-part harmonies and driving rhythm. The song was from a band called Ivan & Alyosha, which apparently had no full-length album out at the time. Now they do, and NPR Music brings the whole thing to First Listen. My ears are very, very happy.
  • New Civil Wars music: Despite cancelling their tour a few months back, the duo is still working together, Paste reports, and collaborated with T. Bone Burnett on the soundtrack to a food-related documentary called A Place at the Table, due out later this month.
  • NPR has a nice assessment of trumpeter Donald Byrd's career, that looks at his commitment to education -- particularly ensuring the presence of black voices in music departments that were often mostly white and focused on European music. One of his breakout hits from the 70s was the album Black Byrd. Hear the title track.
:: food ::
  • I can't remember if I've shared this here before, but do you ever have your milk go bad before you've drunk it all? If you're inclined to toss it out, why not make cake instead? I've served this simple sour-milk spice cake at several events, and it's always a hit. (Note the tip on making sour milk if you don't have any on hand.)


Pirate songs, Dubya's bathroom portraits + Grammy winners

I wish this could open like the unexpected sighting of a Telegraph Hill parrot -- a bright flash of green across your morning -- but, alas, I'm still getting over a cold, so you'll have to encounter birds on your own. Here's wishing you a week that brings at least a few moments of gratitude, wonder and rest.

:: events ::
  • Lenten Prayer Retreat: Feb. 16-17 in Berkeley ($35). My uncle, a retired pastor, was recently asked to describe his prayer life. "Inadequate," he said, which surprised me, but probably rings true for almost all who follow God. If you, too, resonate with that, and you're not traveling over the holiday weekend next weekend, why not come to the Lenten healing prayer retreat Christ Church is hosting? Rusty Rustenbach, an author and director of pastoral care with the Navigators will be leading the two-day retreat (9-5 on Saturday, 9-1 on Sunday). The schedule will include a mix of teaching, prayer and discussion on listening and healing prayer. In my own life, a two-day prayer conference that Redeemer hosted a while back proved a very significant turning point in my prayer life and relationship with God.
  • Oakland Museum White Elephant Sale: March 2-3. If you're any kind of thrift store/garage sale/antique shopper, this just might be the event of the year. Admission is free, but parking can be hard to find (they do provide shuttle from BART). A couple things they don't advertise:
    • Everything is half off on Sunday.
    • You can do two one-day passes before the sale if you make a donation. They add a 10% surcharge, but it's still worth it to beat the crowd. Drop-off/shop hours: 10-2, Tuesday to Saturday through Feb. 23.
  • Dark Star Orchestra does a mini residency at Great American Music Hall in April, Thursday through Saturday, April 11-13.
:: visual art ::
  • I wondered why I'd seen something about George W. in the LA Times trending topics, and now I know: a hacker recently got into W's sister's email, discovering photos of some paintings in process, two of which are self-portraits in the bathroom. The New York Times has an image-free but fairly fair assessment of the works-in-progress, which includes an odd closing jab at Bob Dylan. New York magazine's art critic actually likes the bathing portraits, which he considers alongside a landscape of a church. Yes, he shows all three images. Fascinating, whatever you thought of him.
  • Dr. Seuss didn't just write about hats, it turns out, he loved them -- and often had guests wear pieces from his large hat collection during meals. Now that collection forms the basis of a new exhibit debuting -- where else -- in the New York Public Library (it's slated to visit a few other sites, I believe).
  • I still need to watch these, but Paste reports that Jimmy Fallon's been doing a Downton Abbey spoof, called Downton Sixbey, which includes quite a cast.
:: tunes ::
:: reading/food for thought ::

  • As I've shared before, poetry may be the art form I most want to "get" and yet remain the most mystified by. Thus, I was immediately intrigued by this NYT Magazine piece on Afghan women who've risked their lives to write poetry. It's a longer read, but a fascinating portrait of a literary society connected largely by phone and secrecy. In some ways it's also a rebuke to the ease with which one can neglect art making in this country.
  • I have to confess, I never knew exactly where Timbuktu was until read this fascinating article (it's in Mali, home of that blues-y band Tenariwen). As the author notes, "In modern times Timbuktu has become a synonym for a remote place." It's also been the site recent conflict, however, which yet again threatened thousands of ancient manuscripts. Residents are no strangers to hiding their treasures, however, as this article recounts. Worth checking out, even if just for the slideshow. Some really beautiful images.
  • Brainpickings highlights the new, posthumously released Maurice Sendak book, My Brother's Book.
:: food ::
  • Here's a no-cook breakfast tip for a change: looking for something healthy and portable to start your mornings off? My breakfast staple is a jar of plain yogurt topped with a few spoons of homemade jam (I buy the Straus yogurt quarts at Costco), plus a container of homemade granola I stir in right before eating. You could make your own version with store-bought jam and granola, of course, but I find it a pretty balanced meal with decent staying power -- especially if your yogurt and granola are rich in protein.


Johnny Cash stamp, prison portraits, new Ritter, Bird @ Calvin

I don't know about all of you, but it's been a bit of a wild week -- though I halfway expected that after Monday began with a large runaway dog's appearance in our front yard. Pray for the Johns Day promotion kept me pretty busy until last night, when I decided I could kick back a little. Since the 30 Rock finale was on, I made the rare decision to watch TV ... for all of two hours.

The best thing I did last night was make this soup
(recipe below). Watching TV? Not so much.
By the time I was heading to bed, however, I found myself wishing I'd done something more restful and rejuvenating. Of course, sometimes my endless list of people to knit for turns into a chore, but by and large, I find more sabbath in planning craft projects, cooking or reading something that doesn't require a power plug. Maybe that's because I didn't grow up with much TV.

How might you truly rest a bit this weekend? What would that look like?

New articles:
In the next few weeks, I get to read and review a few different books on dating in the digital age. What reads have you enjoyed lately? I just finished John Dunning's Two O'Clock Eastern Wartime, which painted an entertaining portrait of radio in its WWII-era glory. I'm happy to loan it out, if any of you want to borrow my copy.

:: events ::
  • Festival of Faith and Music: I mentioned this a few weeks ago, but forget to include a link. Whoops! In any case, Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., hosts the event April 11-13. Andrew Bird is one of the headliners, which just might persuade me to go. You can go as more than an attendee, too: through March 1, the festival's accepting paper proposals
  • Glen Workshop: If you're interested in attending one of Image journal's annual summer workshops, you'll want to start making plans soon. Classes fill up quickly -- especially those with popular instructors -- and often require you to submit a work sample in advance.
    • Glen West, July 28-Aug. 4 in Santa Fe. Highlights: Larry Woiwode on fiction, Wayne Forte on painting, Scott Derrickson on film, Ashley Cleveland on songwriting and more. Cost: Starts at $825, but scholarships are available, as is a commuter option.
    • Glen East, June 9-16 in South Hadley, Mass. Highlights: Lauren Winner on sermon writing, Over the Rhine on songwriting, Michael Wilson on photography, Barry Moser on life drawing and more. Cost: Starts at $925, but scholarships are available, as is a commuter option.
:: tunes ::
:: visual art ::
  • If you click through on just one thing in this email, it should probably be this article on a prison photography project. Really incredible. The interview with the photographer whose new book looks at prison landscapes as the photos from the project. Seriously, this is one of the art stories I'll probably be talking about for a few weeks.
  • On a lighter note, the French photographer Sacha Goldberger has created a substantial body of whimsical work featuring his 90-something grandmother, "Mamika." This New York Times interview gives a brief introduction to the work and their relationship or you can dust off that high school French and explore his website. Bonus: instead of arrows, you'll click on large underpants to navigate between pictures. I'm not kidding.
  • Here's a reason to think about writing a letter next time you're tempted to type a note: Paste reports (via TODAY) that the Post Office will issue a Johnny Cash "Forever" stamp later this year. I may have to stockpile those.
  • In related epistolary news, some schools are eliminating cursive instruction. I am an inveterate letter-writer, so you can imagine how I feel about that. Admittedly I don't precisely write in cursive, but I still struggle with the idea that we've passed its usefulness. Interestingly, though, this article raises the question of whether we'll even need to sign our names in the future, given the rise in electronic signatures.
  • If you fly through SFO much, you've probably noticed some of the exhibits from their museum. I've actually really enjoyed some of the shows, such as one on sewing and another with art that repurposed other materials (e.g., bottle caps and tires). Well, apparently the museum boasts an unusually valuable collection.
:: your stuff ::
  • Last fall, Steve got to do a photo shoot for Southern Oregon University. He recently posted some photos to his blog -- nice work, even if you have no particular interest in the school.
:: reading/food for thought ::
  • You could argue that this piece on a book's re-release is a little self-serving -- it focuses on the work of an erstwhile NYT editor -- but the author raises interesting questions about republication of books. In particular: what do you do when a book's claims have subsequently been discredited or significantly reframed due to subsequent research? Must you somehow bracket the new edition?
:: food ::
  • You can now get your food-truck fix every Friday night in Oakland: Off the Grid comes to the Oakland Museum of California from 5-9 weekly. And you can get half-price Museum admission if you're not already a member. 
  • I printed this Caldo Verde recipe out a while ago, but finally made it last night -- with very tasty results. It's relatively economical, too. The main expense is the chorizo (you need 10 oz.) and kale; the other major ingredients are onion, garlic, potatoes and chicken stock. Makes a little over 2 qts.