Category Archives: Music

Solo, by Kwame Alexander, with Mary Rand Hess

SoloBlade Morrison is the son of an aging rocker, living a privileged, unhappy life with his father and sister after his mother died. His dad continues his destructive habits well past the age of coolness, showing up now and then with young bimbos on his arm, and Blade’s sister seems obliviously happy to follow in his footsteps. Even though Blade pours his heart into song lyrics and finds comfort in his guitar, he struggles to lead a normal life, excelling in academics and crushing on the flirty but distant Chapel.

When a stunning revelation spins Blade into crisis mode, he boards a plane to Ghana in search of the missing pieces in his puzzle. In Africa, he finds staggering poverty, beautiful friends, and a distrust of Westerners who swoop in to save them, leaving them worse off than before. However, music is a universal language that stays with Blade in more ways than he expected, and although loving people sometimes makes life painful, it’s the only thing that makes it worthwhile.

Kwame Alexander and fans

Kwame Alexander and fans at SLJ’s Day of Dialog 2017

Kwame Alexander is a poet and author who completely smashes the moody, depressed stereotype. He’s one of the friendliest and kindest writers I’ve met, always ready to chat and joke while signing books. This verse novel is his first work to be published by Zondervan’s Blink imprint, and the proceeds help support LEAP for Ghana, a literacy project he co-founded six years ago. I was privileged to hear him read from this latest book at SLJ’s Day of Dialog in New York a couple of weeks ago. I’ve reviewed many of Alexander’s books on this site, including the Newbery-winning Crossover, and I’d say that he is an absolute “must-read” author for all kids. Solo is another triumph for teens twelve and up. Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book, signed (Yay!) by the author. The release date is August 1, so pre-order or put your library requests in now! Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Abba’s Child, by Brennan Manning

Abba's ChildA few weeks ago, Switchfoot posted a picture of Jon Foreman’s piano on Facebook. There was some saying or other, but what caught my eye was the pile of books on top, all obviously well-read, with worn covers and creased spines. As a librarian and devoted Switchfoot fan, I had to enlarge the photo and read the titles. I put almost all of those I had not already read into an Amazon cart immediately. Abba’s Child is the first one I opened.

The subtitle of this slender book is The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging, and I think we all feel that longing at times. Manning writes here about the search for the True Self, the person created in God’s image, the one we are supposed to be. When I was a teenager, the slogan was, “Who am I?” As the years go by, we add titles to ourselves that describe our circumstances—father, mother, wife, teacher, doctor, Democrat, Republican—but none of these get to the heart of the matter. Who are we supposed to be, and are we even close?

The most famous chapter of this classic work is called, “The Imposter.” At some point in everyone’s life, often when we enter school or even earlier, we find out that other people react negatively to some of our attitudes or actions. Almost without thinking, we change. We hide the parts of ourselves that no one likes, and we pretend to be someone more presentable, more likeable, more popular. If you’re a parent, you may have seen this in your own children. To an extent, it’s peer pressure, but it goes deeper than just changing our behavior. After a while, we forget who we were before The Imposter started taking shape, and depression can set in when we feel an unexplainable self-hatred. In my experience, a new or altered Imposter can come into being at any point in life where we go through major changes: marriage, new job, relocation to another region, and so on. One reason I read this book first is that I’ve recently become aware of a new Imposter in my life, and I’ve been praying about it and trying to kill her off for the past few months. Manning tells us that we have an Imposter because we don’t believe that God loves us for who we really are, but he does. The True Self is who God created; the Imposter is who we think is more acceptable. Manning helps us to believe that God loves our True Selves, but to have sympathy for the pitiful, frightened Imposter as we work to peel her off.

The rest of the book works from this foundation as we desire to move closer to God. In the Gospels, we can see that Jesus responded to everyone with love and compassion, so when we respond to people harshly, it’s because we are not secure in God’s love for us. Manning also teaches us to live in the present risenness of Christ. If we believe in the past earthly life and resurrection of Christ and look forward to the end of our lives (or end of the world) for our reward, but live our daily lives in between these two events as a dry, duty-filled bleakness, we are not experiencing the power of the present risenness of Jesus Christ. I have known so many good Christians who are missing out on this intimate relationship with God, concentrating on following rules and doing good works. The world is a better place because of them, but they are missing out on so much joy.

There is so much more to this rich volume, and I think I could read it once a year with great profit. Some of the theology is probably too liberal to pass an orthodoxy test, but the vast majority is thought-provoking, comforting, and inspiring. There is a discussion guide at the end, but I can’t imagine discussing these topics with any but my closest believing friends. It is very personal. If you want help rekindling a passion for the One Who knows you best and loves you unconditionally, immerse yourself in this contemplative work.

Highly recommended.

Note: Jon Foreman, besides writing the foreword to the latest edition of this book, recorded a song about fighting against The Imposter. You can listen to it here.

Disclaimer: I own a copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Freshly-Hatched Music

2015-08-12 20.15.09In mid-August, David and I were wildly extravagant and rented ourselves a cheap hotel room in Florence, South Carolina, for the express purpose of stalking my two favorite bands in the whole wide world: Switchfoot and Needtobreathe. These two bands, each with a pair of brothers in the forefront, decided to tour together for the summer, trailing their warm-up bands with them, namely Colony House and Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, respectively. So, it was a total blow-out of an evening, with four really good musical acts following one another over four hours. In case you’re keeping track, yes, I did this with my neck and arm still killing me, but hey, I had bought these tickets in February, as soon as my tax return came in, so there was no way I was skipping it.

We got there about an hour early, chatting with our neighbors—because it’s the South and we’ve never met a stranger— and, as you see, buying tour t-shirts before the first band came on. Just to let you know, we were not the oldest ones there, thank you very much. I did wonder how Switchfoot, in particular, felt about having so many old people in the audience, since they are a hard rock band. We gray-haired ones heard Switchfoot fifteen years ago, when our kids were teenagers, and became even bigger fans than they were. As my son says, they are an intellectual’s rock band. Truth. Neither were we the youngest, of course. I had a high-schooler named Elizabeth to my left—very nice, excellent taste in hats—and David had about five high school girls to his right who could go from zero to shriek in no time flat. It was startling.

Colony House Guys

They really aren’t fourteen– at least, not the guitarist, Scott Mills.

Nobody expects much from the first band. Not even all the seats are full until about an hour after a rock concert starts, in order to skip the first band on purpose. When Colony House hit the stage, we all stood politely and tried to look friendly. They left us with our mouths hanging open and people rushing to the table to buy the CD. About the second song, I leaned over and yelled to David, “This drummer is awesome!” As a fellow drummer, David refused to be impressed and replied, “He certainly seems to think so.” (He did, actually.) Every song was excellent, and they finished with “2:20,” which has such deep bass that the air in the civic center was humming. In the last act of the night, Needtobreathe came onstage with two drummers, one of whom was the borrowed drummer from Colony House. I guess he really is good.

Colony House CDWhen we got back home, I gathered up some birthday Amazon gift cards and purchased their CD, When I Was Younger. It is easy to find: it’s their only album to date. They have released EPs in the past, but never a complete album. I’ve been listening to it fairly constantly for the past month, and I can attest that it stands up to repeated playings. It’s on my phone, laptop, and in the car. David also has it on his laptop. You would be correct if you assumed that I knew all the words. One of my first impressions was that they talked a lot about death and guilt for such young guys. After listening to the album several times, I wanted to know more about them and found out that the lead singer and songwriter is Caleb Chapman, and his drummer brother is Will Chapman. Name Chapman ring a bell? They are the sons of Stephen Curtis Chapman, which might explain how they became so talented at such a young age! If you know Will’s tragic story, it also explains the depth of meaning in his songs and his great sorrow. I, for one, rejoice to see him redeem his life so beautifully. He deals with his struggle in the song “I Won’t Give Up.”

As for the sound, it is original and generally upbeat. Caleb has a surprisingly pleasing falsetto in many of the songs, which I usually dislike, but in this case, my favorite song, “Learning How to Love” shows his voice to full advantage. It also has a very complex drum pattern that I can’t quite follow, but I love it! “Silhouettes” hits me right where I live right now, as does “Lose Control.” Their usual pop-rock sound turns to hard rock on that bass-heavy “2:20” My sister and I had recently complained that you could tell a contemporary Christian radio station without hearing any of the words. It’s the same sicky-sweet sound all the time. I guess that’s what you get when your biggest goal is to be inoffensive and “family friendly.” Colony House is signed with Descendant Records, a subsidiary of Sony Music, so they are able to take full advantage of their artistic freedom.

I highly recommend that you get in on this ground-floor opportunity with a new band. You can start now and collect their albums one at a time!

In other news, Switchfoot is home, writing their next album!!! I can’t think about this too much, or I will hop on a plane to San Diegoand run into their studio like Veruca Salt, yelling, “I want it now!”

____________

*If you are unfamiliar with the Chapmans’ tragedy, you can look up Stephen Curtis Chapman on Wikipedia. Sorry, it just doesn’t feel right to provide a link.

* Veruca Salt is the girl in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory who was a “bad egg.”

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Shine On!

2015-02-07 17.32.11Last week, we went to my mother’s house in South Carolina, where most of my family was gathering to visit with my brother from New Jersey. We had all the usual family activities planned: playing bridge, walking my sister’s beloved dogs, and eating huge meals. Within the last year, though, a new business has opened up in Lexington that just demanded our attention: The Moonlight Distillery. Yes, makers of moonshine, that hitherto illegal brew tucked into a wooded holler and guarded from revenuers by shotgun. Despite its checkered past, however, legitimate moonshine distilleries are becoming quite au courant, at least in the South. Since we have such a close connection to this one— my sister’s next-door neighbor’s son’s wife’s parents own it—we had to have a look-see. And maybe more than a look.

2015-02-07 17.16.53Have you ever seen such a happy group of people? And we hadn’t even gone inside yet! It must have been the anticipation of tastiness that had my extended family looking so gleeful. That and the fact that we’d all been singing Earth, Wind, and Fire songs at the top of our lungs on the way over. We quickly discovered that we didn’t actually know the words, so we just faked it until we got to the brilliant chorus: “Ba-de-ya! Dancing in September! Ba-de-ya!” What in the world does that mean, anyway?

Once inside, and after license checks all around (even my white-bearded, 66-year-old brother), the owners poured out teeny tastes of all their many flavors for the whole crew. The most amazing, to me, was the Apple Pie flavor. It didn’t just taste like apple, it tasted like apple pie. My brother liked the blackberry, but brought home the Twisted Cinnamon for his daughter, since she loves spice. We bought a Fuzzy Peach, although I’m sure it has way more sugar in it than I should have. We haven’t opened it, but later we did taste some of my sister’s batch mixed with diet ginger ale. Yum! I can imagine this concoction in the summer with lots of ice and a mint sprig. We had received the plain moonshine for Christmas and I can attest that it is very good without extra flavors. Kind of on the idea of vodka, but with a hint of a sweet flavor that I can’t quite place.

The Moonlight Distillery website is under construction, and I have a feeling that you can’t buy it online. State laws, perhaps? Anyhow, you can ask your local establishment to get it for you. In the meantime, the website now boasts its first few recipes that look absolutely delectable. And just to prove that moonshine and moonlight lead to good things, here is what we saw written on an old loading dock door just outside of the distillery:

2015-02-07 17.33.45

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Notes from Switchfoot Nation

Switchfoot Edge of the EarthA couple of years ago, David got into my car and exclaimed, “Are you still listening to Switchfoot?” Hey, it was a different album than the last time he was in my car! As you know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, they are my favorite band. I have listened to three other bands this week (really!), but it’s true that the inside of my car is, indeed, Switchfoot Nation.

Of course, I follow Switchfoot on Facebook, and I was elated to see that they had new music out this week! Since Fading West came out not too long ago, I was surprised, but it turns out that this EP, The Edge of the Earth, contains previously unreleased music from their recent film, also called Fading West. Now, I don’t have a lot of money to throw around, but I went to Amazon to see if I could sample some of the songs, and the entire album was only around seven dollars— and even less after my Amazon download credit. Sold!

Switchfoot has been doing some interesting things with song and album titles lately. The first song on The Edge of the Earth is “Fading West,” which did not make it to the album of that name. I am so glad not to have to keep listening to it on YouTube! My favorite song (so far) on the EP is called “Skin and Bones,” but those words do not occur in the song. I read that they were originally part of the chorus, but had been cut, but they still liked it as the title. Okay, their call. I could not make out some of the lyrics, so I Googled “lyrics Switchfoot skin bones,” and ended up with the lyrics to “Where I Belong” from Vice Verses with the line “this skin and bones is a rental.” No relation. Thankfully, I found all of the lyrics to all the songs on Edge of the Earth, along with background commentary by Jon Foreman, on the Jesusfreakhideout website. Click on the first song, and then you can click right through all of them.

Fading West surfing chadNow, as if all of this excitement were not enough, I also read in the Facebook comments that their movie, Fading West, is now available on Netflix streaming! I’ve watched it twice. The story behind the movie is that the guys started thinking, “Hmm. We are not teenagers anymore. We are not even twenty-somethings. We are husbands and fathers who leave our families for long stretches of time and travel around the world to sing for adoring crowds. Are we doing this right?”* So, in order to find the answers to life, the universe, and everything, they did what you and I would do and went surfing in all of the most awesome and terrifying places on earth. “Switchfoot,” if you didn’t know, is a surfing term for putting your “off” foot forward; in other words, doing things differently or in ways that are not the most comfortable. They decided to play concerts along the way, to record a new album, and to have surfing gurus meet them on various beaches, like Bali, New Zealand, and South Africa. The landscape and ocean footage is gorgeous.

Unfortunately, the trip turned out to be much more difficult than expected, as they had to meet those questions about being a father halfway around the globe head-on. In some of the most poignant scenes, Jon’s brother, Tim Foreman, sings the lead for the first time in a song about the purpose of suffering. Like all of their music, the movie is very thought-provoking. Lest you think that it is depressing, though, there are hilarious episodes, such as when they are star-struck by some metal bands and when they discover that the South African surf is startlingly cold and full of sharks. It is mostly great fun and, of course, full of amazing tunes.

I can highly recommend, in my completely biased opinion, both the Edge of the Earth EP and the Fading West movie. Switchfoot always connects me with my better self and leads me away from the busyness of life today.  If you like great music, deep thinking, beautiful scenery, and lots and lots of salt water, you will love them.

________________

*This quotation is totally made up, but it was something along those lines.

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Two Teals Cooking

Make Ahead PaleoOn Independence Day, as David was working his Yard Warrior routine, I was puttering around in the kitchen, groovin’ to Lake Street Dive (“You Go Down Smooth“) and whipping up five different recipes. We had David’s grandmother’s recipe, “Mama Teal’s Famous Barbecued Chicken,” on the menu, and since that naturally goes with cole slaw, which I make with my food processor’s shredder blade, I decided to get some extra work out of it and shred up veggies to make “Breakfast Muffins” from the new cookbook Make-Ahead Paleo, by Tammy Credicott.

2014-07-04 15.33.01This cookbook has several sections featuring different ways of preparing food in advance: cooking for the freezer, preparing crockpot recipes in advance, and, as in this case, prepping all the complicated parts of a recipe a day or more in advance of finishing or serving. On July 4th, I put all of the dry ingredients together in a bowl, covered it and put it away, and then I processed all of the “add-ins”—shredded carrots and zucchini, chopped walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and coconut. I covered the container and put it in the fridge for the next morning. All I had to do after that was mix up the eggs and such, and then put it all together.

Since I am a low-carber, not really a Paleo die-hard, I had to replace the maple syrup with two other ingredients. I used Splenda in the dry ingredients for sweetness, and then used coconut milk to replace the liquid. It worked perfectly. These muffins were sweet and delicious, and much lighter than I expected with all of those added ingredients. If you have children, this is a terrific way to sneak some serious vegetables into their diets without a struggle. However, I cannot guarantee success unless you listen to mellow music while you work.2014-07-05 09.38.04
Deviled Eggs Debbie MooseThe next day, with the satisfaction of a perfectly manicured lawn behind him, David spent some time in the kitchen creating a batch of “Deviled Ham ‘n’ Eggs.” This was his second round with this recipe, as it was the first one we made when I brought the book home. David is a specialty chef. He grills brilliantly, of course, and is particularly adept with fish on the grill. He also makes breakfast every weekday morning, which is an excellent arrangement, since he wakes up perky every morning, whereas I would start to think about breakfast around 10 AM— which would be unfortunate, since I’d be at work at that point. So he gets me off to a good start every morning. And then, for some reason, he has had a fascination with deviled eggs for several years since my friend, Julie, gave me a copy of a cookbook by Debbie Moose with nothing but deviled egg recipes. David is working his way through this little gem, and we are all happily sampling the results. Lately, we’ve been traveling so much that we’ve missed our connection with Elaine, our egg lady at church, and I think we panicked and overbought eggs at the store. Time for a special recipe!

David uses our friend Darlene’s instructions for egg boiling. Darlene is a botanist from Ontario, and this method is a result of scientific experimentation from her graduate work, so we call them Canadian eggs. We do not question why botanists would need to study hard-boiled egg preparation. David puts the eggs in the pot, covers them with salted water, and brings them to a full, rolling boil. He begins timing the eggs when they come to a boil, and he boils them for two minutes. He then removes them from the heat, covers the pot, and lets them sit for ten to fifteen minutes, depending on the number of eggs. He hypothesizes that more eggs, and therefore more water, will take longer to reach a boil, so they can sit for less time. At that point, he pours off the hot water and immediately plunges them into ice-filled water until they are completely cool. Using this method, he gets perfectly cooked eggs without that gray-green ring around the yolks.

2014-07-05 13.40.22“Deviled Ham ‘n’ Eggs” is a great recipe for summer, when we have the fresh thyme and parsley growing in the garden. I will not divulge that David always has to ask which herb is which. He digs the soil; I’m the plant person. I’m not complaining. Besides the ham and herbs, this recipe calls for lemon juice, and the end result is a fresh, savory snack. The “make-ahead” element of this recipe is that you can make these the day before a picnic and they will travel well in your cooler. Again, we are not Paleo hardliners, so we ignore the dairy-free rule when it’s convenient. Here you can see some of the eggs topped with chopped parsley (the authorized version) and some topped with shredded sharp cheddar (unauthorized, but yummier). Take your pick.

2014-07-006

The Paleo movement continues to evolve, concentrating more on whole, unprocessed foods, rather than food that would actually be available in the Paleolithic era. Coconut aminos? Furthermore, natural sweeteners, such as honey and maple syrup, are showing up in more and more recipes, whereas Paleo cookbooks used to consider these very occasional treats. However, Make-Ahead Paleo is filled with wonderful recipes that I intend to sample, including “Macadamia, Garlic, and Basil-Crusted Chicken,” “Cashew Lime Hummus,” and “Creamy Cilantro No Potato Salad.” One brilliant feature is the “Week in a Day” section in the back that helps you to cook one day for a week’s worth of dishes. There are also resource lists, guides on how to store various ingredients, and grocery shopping and freezer inventory forms that you can download with a QR code. How well-planned is that? I can definitely recommend this large paperback cookbook to all busy low-carb or Paleo cooks. Bon appétit!

Disclaimer: I used a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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The Upside of Car Crashes

ImageAs many of you know, my sweet husband was recently in a car crash. He was innocently driving down a six-lane divided road around dusk when a woman coming from the opposite direction decided to make a left turn in front of oncoming traffic. Air bags, smoke, crushed metal, the works, and she says to David, “Didn’t you see me coming?” To which he replied, “Yes, I saw your passenger door in front of my front fender.”

So, as the smoke cleared and the cars were towed away—no ambulances, thank the Lord!—we realized that my realtor husband now had no way to do his job. After a slow start, the insurance company finally got it in gear and called Enterprise. They picked him up!  Every day late last week, David walked into the house beaming at the end of the day. He’d say, “This car is so sweet!” Or, “What an awesome sound system!” We had a family reunion last weekend, and I was eager to spend some time in this vehicle.

It is a shiny, new, black Hyundai Genesis. My sister looked it up, and it costs about $50,000. Y’all, the floors are cushioned. I kid you not. It has separate air conditioner controls for the driver and passenger, and heated seats which, of course, we did not try. It drives like a dream without all the road noise I get in my little PT Cruiser. The headlights move around somehow when you turn.

2014-06-29 13.23.14But the sound system… ooooh! We gathered up all of our loudest music and played it continuously for four hours on the way to South Carolina. We sang at the top of our lungs and probably looked like Amy Farrah Fowler and Wolowitz belting out Neil Diamond songs in his car—except that there was absolutely no Neil Diamond. We skipped any ballads that came up and went with all the best bass lines and guitar licks ever recorded. I think I could live on the first note of Heart’s “Magic Man” for a week. We stopped at the South Carolina Welcome Center for necessities, and at the Bishopville Exxon for the best Cajun boiled peanuts in America, but otherwise we sailed on for four hours of sound. I arrived at my mom’s house with a dull headache, melted eardrums, and a goofy grin.

But now, after the Hyundai Genesis weekend, we’re back to the reality of a very unsatisfactory offer from the insurance company. Drat. So now we have to struggle to replace David’s car, and it certainly won’t be a Hyundai Genesis. For me, it’s back to the PT Cruiser. On the upside, my little car does have more cupholders than the Hyundai, so in that way, it is a vastly superior vehicle. Let’s focus on that. Sure.

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