Sunday, April 30, 2017

Mozart's Starling: An Exploration of Nature, Music, and Creativity

"A blend of natural history, biography, and memoir, Mozart's Starling is a tour de force that awakens a surprising new awareness of our place in the world." from the publisher
First I was charmed, then delighted; then I felt educated, and finally, elevated. In beautiful language and uplifting insight, Mozart's Starling is my most unexpected find of the year. I loved every page.

The book is a wonderful blend of subjects. A nature study of the starling and its ability to mimic; a memoir of life with Carmen, the starling; a consideration of the creative life and person of composer Mozart, the beauty of his music and the depth of his personal philosophy; the interrelation of all living things--Haupt takes us on a continually deeper look into the human experience.

Haupt, a naturalist and birder, was inspired to verify the story of Mozart's pet starling which reportedly sang a line of his Piano Concerto no. 17 in G major. There were so many questions. How did the starling learn the music? What was the bird's role in Mozart's personal and creative life?

In America, starlings are held in disdain. What good could be associated with this bird? Haupt questioned.

So Haupt arranged to adopt a baby starling to learn more about the species and their rare ability to mimic. Carmen is a wonderful character and helps us understand why pet birds were so popular in 18th c Europe.

We follow the author to Europe, into Mozart's home, searching for his final resting place. She upends many myths about the composer, such as the pauper's grave. Her portrait of the composer is sensitive and insightful.

This is a beautiful, uplifting book. I heartily recommend it.

a murmuration of starlings
Enjoy this video with Haupt about her book

I received a free ebook from the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Mozart's Starling
Lyanda Lynn Haupt
Little, Brown & Co.
$27 hardcover
ISBN: 9780316370899

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Having Too Much Fun, Nancy (Nearly) Skips Senior Sorrow

Early summer of 1969 I was changing bedrooms again. My family was hosting an exchange student, Elina Salmi from Finland. We girls would have the two upstairs bedrooms.
My senior picture
Having a sister was a new experience. By the end of the year we were really acting like siblings. I wasn't jealous of all the attention Mom gave Elina, helping her to adjust to an American school, learning English, and dealing with homesickness. I was too busy.
Elina Salmi, my Finnish exchange student sister. October 1969.
Me, October 1969

Our family was never more active. Mom kept us on the go. She also kept a diary of everything we did this year. Several years before his death Dad compiled an album of photos about Elina. So with my diaries and scrapbook the year is well documented!

On August 22 at 2 am Elina Salmi arrived at Metro Detroit airport from Finland. My family was excited and talkative, unaware that Elina knew English but we were speaking too fast. She was tired and overwhelmed.

Elina was from Rovaniemi on the Arctic Circle. She had never seen anything like the expressway with so many lanes and bridges, Detroit's skyscrapers, or the endless city that extended down Woodward Ave into Royal Oak. It was overwhelming to her.

My family kept her on the go those first weeks. I took Elina to the outdoor dance at the ice rink. We went to Stony Creek and went swimming. We dined with my Ramer grandparents. Elina, Tom, and Dad went fishing one morning and we all went to Belle Isle in the afternoon. We had a party for Elina to meet my friends. We went to the Detroit Zoo.

On Labor Day my family held a BBQ picnic in the back yard with burgers and hot dogs, potato salad, and corn on the cob. Elina was baffled by the corn, she later told us. All she knew was that Donald Duck's nephews fed corn on the cob to pigs! She thought we were feeding her pig food!

We went to the movies at the Main Street Theater, to see a ball game at Tiger Stadium, and bought cider at Yates Cider Mill. There was a block party and I lost a contact in the grass.What a whirlwind of activity!

Herald article on the exchange students. I wrote about Elina.
I became friends with the other exchange students that year: Uta Schnubbe from Hanover, Germany; Toshihiko Fukuyama from Mikata-Gun Hyogo-ken, Japan; and Mirna Guerra from Punta Arenas, Chile.

Tosh and Uta, 1970 Lancer photo
Tosh taught us to enjoy rice crackers with seaweed. He missed his Saki. Mirna discovered she had TB and spent much her year in a sanitarium in Pontiac. Uta's father was pastor of a large Lutheran church. She became a judge and in 1975 she and her husband returned for a visit and we met up at my folk's house.
Me and Uta in 1975.  The photo is very faded.
I was wearing a bright green outfit I'd sewn.
Over the summer I had been still grieving over the breakup with my boyfriend but I was determined to push forward. In the fall I saw him at an event with his girlfriend and I realized I was over him. I had my crushes over the year, but at this point, I was enjoying friendships and flirtations with boys without feeling bad about not having a boyfriend.

Me, Dad and Tom at my Ramer Grandparent's house

My friends were applying to college and I realized if I really wanted to go to college I had better do something about it. I told my mom and she talked to my dad. Although Dad did not see the point of a girl having a college education, and Mom only had wanted to be a wife and mother, they agreed to support me.

On September 24 I talked to my counselor Mr. Stafford about going to college. He thought Oakland Community College was my only option because of my grades. But he worked hard on my behalf.

In September I went to a football game on a date. My little brother went with the Stephens--the Kimball Principal's family! October 9 I took my brother and Elina to the Kimball-Dondero bonfire and we went to Pasquale's for pizza afterward.

For Senior Halloween Day I wore a pilgrim dress made by our neighbor and Elina wore her Finnish traditional costume.
Elina in her Finnish dress, Joe the cat, and me as a Pilgrim
The last football game of the year was a blast, with a party afterward at Tosh's host family's home, but I was sad knowing I would never attend another Kimball football game.

Dad would sometimes pick me up at school in his old red pickup truck. Frankly, I was embarrassed as no one else had a dad with a red pickup truck coming to get them. One day some boys asked if he would help them move the Kimball Rock! I wrote that he'd broken his finger and didn't help.

October 15 was the nationwide Moratorium protesting the Vietnam War with a demonstration at Memorial Park in Royal Oak.
Herald front page article on the anti-war protest at Memorial Park, RO

Me, Grandpa Ramer, and Elina in Gramps basement
On October 22 my Grandfather Ramer was hospitalized after his first heart attack. I visited him in the hospital. He was strangely quiet and internal. I was afraid he was going to die. There was so much I wanted to know. I was thinking about becoming a teacher. He had taught high school and currently was teaching at Lawrence Tech. Gramps survived, gave up smoking, and started walking to the Berkley post office to mail the numerous letters he sent all over the country.
official rules of PAC
On October 29 PAC (Political Action Club) had a meet the candidate night. Dad and Elina came with me.
Tribune article on the PAC Meet the Candidate night
My folks had a costume Halloween party. Mom loved a party.
Actually a 1967 photo of me with dad dressed
for Halloween as a blond 'Castro' 
On Nov. 26 at 6:30 we left for a trip to Tonawanda. We visited with Grama Gochenour and Uncle Ken and Aunt Alice Ennis; Skip and Katie Marvin; and our old neighbors John and Lucille Kuhn and Alma Ensminger.

On Thanksgiving Day we went to Niagara Falls then the entire family gathered for dinner that evening. The next day we visited mom's lifelong friend Doris Waterson and her family and Dad's uncle Lee Becker and his family including my cousin Debbie. Uncle Lee was a volunteer fireman and he took us for a ride on the Grand Island fire truck.

The following day we drove to Allegheny and visited Putt's farm and my Guenther cousins and their parents who had built a cabin there.

We left Buffalo in a blizzard but drove out of bad weather after three hours. We came through the Detroit Tunnel and drove around downtown Detroit to see the Christmas lights.

I was proud to have been accepted into the A Capella Choir. The choir photo was taken on December 2. I wrote, "A- choir pic today: on stage we had to change some robes around for length. We broke out into a chorus of “The Stripper” and about 5 boys came running to the auditorium door to see what was going on."
A Capella Choir. I am in the second row, five from the right.
December 19 was my last Holiday Concert followed by an A Capella party. It had been a highlight of my year and I looked forward to the multi-choir piece and the moving concert final piece O Holy Night.

In the spring the choir sang popular songs: San Antone Rose, Blue World, and Cecelia. During the year we also sang Black is the Color of my True Love’s Hair, the Cornish folk song I Love My Love, and “Hospdi Paolime, a Russian Chant."

My senior photos were taken on Dec. 15, the day my brother's American anole died. He had bought it at the circus. "It was a dreadful procedure. Tom and I pushing it toward life all the way. But it was past all help. Shriveled, splotchy coloring, weak—suddenly it was motionless, its convulsive breathing stopped, its eyes glassy and staring." It used to sleep on my shoulder under my long hair. One night it curled up in my scarf and I didn't remember it until bedtime.

On December 27 we had a party with the exchange students.
Dad and Tosh, Elina, me at the piano with Mirna

Mirna from Chile turning the page as I played Christmas Carols 
I realized high school would soon be over and I cherished every moment. I wrote," It’s all so sad—the beauty found in the littlest things—like singing a song in the cafeteria with the jukebox. Everyone sang. Everyone."

I continued, "I’ll find sorrow in the beauty of parting, for I have been in the process of parting since I came here. And it is all so sad to know that soon I’ll have lost the greatest beauty I have ever known—this life, this school—the singing of songs, and the clapping of hands, the worn books, the every crevice of this building—I will lose it."

I got my driver's license in December and started driving to school. I had to fill the gas tank half full in return for using Mom's car. That took a good chunk out of my $2 a week allowance!

My typical comp grade!
On winter morning Mom asked me to drive Tom and the neighbor boys to Northwood Elementary. It was icy and I fishtailed, scaring the boys and myself.

I was in Composition. On August 12 Miss Young asked who my favorite writers were and I answered J.D. Salinger, John Steinbeck, Thomas Hardy, and Thomas Wolfe. She often liked my content, but I consistently received a lower grade because of my bad spelling.

1969-70 Herald Staff, Lancer photo. I am in the first row, far right.
I was writing poetry and sharing it in composition class and in the Herald. My girlfriend even sent some of my poetry to her boyfriend at college. It was pretty awful, derivative stuff.

Poetry page in the Herald. I was still imitating Stephen Crane.
Another of my Herald poems
In speech class, I discovered I could keep my composure while giving a speech, but once I sat down I shook with nerves. Government class with Mr. Meraw and Mr. Poppovitch ended the year with a mock campaign and election. We had a blast.

my government class photo from the Lancer yearbook
I had Novel class and read a lot of contemporary fiction for young adults. And World Lit with Mr. Botens. He handed out excerpts printed on mimeograph paper. I would go to the library and get the book the selections--Thomas Aquinas, Pascal, Candide by Voltaire--and read the originals. I wrote, "I’ve been reading Pascal and Schopenhaur.  And Dante & Gogol (Russian, Dead Souls)" On January 23 I wrote, "Mr. B gave a great lecture. Mike M., Cindy, Diane B. and I stayed after to tell him how great his course was. I nearly cried."

I enjoyed Physical Geography with Mr. Wall. Grampa Ramer was always talking about geography and geology and oceanography. We would take a trip through the Irish Hills and he would point out the kettles and moraines left by glaciers. In the early 60s, Gramps was interested in 'the next ice age' and even had a local television channel air him talking about his theory of diverting the Gulf Stream away from the Arctic to prevent the melting of the ice.

I tried Music Theory but quickly changed to Music Appreciation. That course and Art Appreciation were a breeze. To this day I can tell the composer of a symphonic work or the artists of a painting right off.

I was reading about 10 books a month. In my diary I mention reading Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury, The Web and the Rock by Thomas Wolfe, Tell Me That You Love Me Junie Moon by Marjorie Kellogg, and John Steinbeck's Tortilla Flat. I wrote, "Ever read Frank Yerby?  Try his Odor of Sanctity, –I think you’ll like it, because it bears a resemblance to Avalon. Just as exciting, moving and unbelievable!"

I surprised myself by doing well on the ACT and SAT. But, I had been turned down by Alma, Central, and Albion. My counselor kept trying.

In February I learned that Adrian College had accepted me, along with my friends Nancy B., whose dad worked with my dad at Chrysler, and Lynn Martin, my friend since 8th grade. Adrian is a United Methodist college that still specializes in students who are the first in their family to go to college.

On February 26 the Political Action Club took a trip to Lansing. We had a tour of the museum and the Capital, visiting the beautiful Senate room.

In March my first boyfriend came to visit and took me to see his folks. It was the last time I would ever see him.

Also in March, The A Capella Choir went to Walled Lake for a Festival where we had to sight-read before judges.We scored top on all events!

I went on a date to the National Honor Society Hootenanny, flew kites with my Herald staff friend (and fellow New Yorker) Margie B., and visited my Girl's Choir friend Carol F. at her Oakland University dorm for a weekend. 

In April, Elina and I went to the All School Party, to the school play with a trip to Pasquale's after, and I went to the cast party after the last play. I also bought the Modern Library volume of Pascal's Pensees.
Me, Elina, and Mom at Adrian College, April 1970
On April 24 I visited Adrian along with my parents and Elina. I saw Estes Hall, my future dorm. 

May was eventful.

There was an Environmental Teach-In with tables in the glass hallway with information about ENACT,  Environmental Action for Survival, out of the University of Michigan. I bought a pin reading Give Earth a Change. I've been an environmentalist ever since.Read about the history of ENACT and the first Earth Day here.

On May 7 Kimball students gathered in the courtyard to attempt to lower the flag in protest of Kent State and the U.S. entrance into Cambodia.
Herald photo of student protest in courtyard

Also in May my wallet was stolen from my purse in the girl's lavatory. She took my parking tickets, Modern Dance Show tickets, and driver's license.

The Herald staff celebrated Mr Rosen's birthday with a party; we gave him a monogrammed wallet.

I went to the spring orchestra concert. When the Kimball Symphony Orchestra played music from Carousel, I sang along with “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” A boy I knew from choir jumped up from his seat, came back & said “Mr. L would be proud of you—that was great tone—I could hear you all the way from my chair—“  I stopped singing then.

Our Senior Trip was to Washington D.C. Mom warned me to be good. The sister of a classmate told me to "live it up!" Waiting to leave a boy put his hand through the door.
Waiting for the bus for Washington DC
We arrived in D.C. on May 22. I joined some of my friends in skipping breakfast to see the town. I had never stayed in a hotel before and thought it was pretty fancy. "There were three beds and four girls in our hotel room," I wrote.
On the hotel balcony, Elia in her Marimekko dress.
Shirley, my friend since junior high next to her.

OMG I slept in those? Hanging out in the motel room.
Uta and John Speer living it up
I have no idea what Happyland is, but I wrote that a bunch of us "went thru Happyland & rode on three rides together then came back on the Potomac River, on top of the boat in the damp night air."
Tosh and Shirley during our bus tour of Washington

The next day we toured the city. A group of us girls ate lunch in a restaurant near by because "the All States [cafeteria] was overflowing with kids." We sat at an outdoor table and I had crab cakes and iced coffee. I had enjoyed both when I visited Uncle Dave Ramer and family when I was fourteen. We later heard that some kids got food poisoning at the All States!

Then we went to a used bookstore where I bought Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward Angel. I really wanted the first edition of You Can't Go Home Again but I didn't have the $15. As it was I had spent most of my money eating with friends at local restaurants instead of the paid meals at the cafeteria, plus we needed to pay for our own lunch at Gettysburg on the way home. Mr. Wall told me he would have bought the book and skipped eating. 

Elina with the camera she bought in America
We stopped at Gettysburg on the way home.
Herald Staffer Martha S. was one of a group wearing a special outfit.
I first met her when we were walking to junior high
and she introduced herself to me.
The trip was fun and educational.

On May 28 my Grandmother Ramer was in the hospital in a lot of pain. This may be when she had her gall bladder operation.
My Ramer grandparents
I picked up my Senior gifts from local retailers, including a “key” necklace from Dobie Jewelers, a key chain from Meyer Jewelers (which fell apart), and a mini cedar chest- from Charles Furniture, which I still have.
We paid 50 cents to wear shorts to school!
Convocation was held on June 2. I received a Herald award based on column inches written.
My contact case, Herald and Choir pins, a Chile pin from Mirna,
Journalism award, and charm bracelet including aKimball high charm and one from Washington D.C.
I was proud to have my name read at Convocation for having been awarded a grant to attend a Michigan private college, based on my ACT score. It covered a quarter of the yearly cost! And, Elina singled me out in her speech, giving me the title of 'the best sister she could have had.'

Elina dressed for the prom
her dress fabric by Finnish designer Marimekko
June 5 was the Prom but I didn't have a date. Elina went with a nice boy on a double date. After I put makeup on Elina and saw her off I went to my friend Julie's house for a sleep over party. We went to Realtor's Park in the night and played on the playground. Years later when I saw teenagers horsing around on a playground I understood why. It was their last hurrah.

June 14 was graduation. When the choir sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone” I cried. Then came all the graduation parties. We had one, too. This year I had made new friends, and kept the old.

Elina, Me and Tom
A few weeks later Elina returned to Finland. We'd had a great year. I was sad to lose my one and only sister. In his late teens my brother went to Finland to visit Elina and her family. When Elina married she brought her husband to visit us in the States. And when Elina's daughter was a senior in high school we hosted her as our exchange student daughter!

My diary for the year ended,
"It is over.
The biggest show on earth
My room. 
I had a lot to look forward to. I was going to be the first female, and only the second person in my family, to attend college. I couldn't wait.

June 1970 Herald cover

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency

I found Chris Whipple's book The Gatekeepers to be a fascinating review of history, showing how the presidents' staff organization impacted the efficiency and effectiveness of their tenure. It helped me put into perspective the presidential legacies of my adulthood, and I could clearly see how the lessons of their choices can shed light on the weaknesses and potential strengths of the current and future administrations.

Whipple's research is impressive, including information from exclusive interviews. Each president from Nixon through Obama and their chiefs of staff merit a chapter, resulting in a synopsis of their tenure that, in an hour's reading, gave me a great overview.

Although I have been reading presidential biographies for many years, I had little knowledge of the importance of the chief of staff. I found The Gatekeepers to be an original and surprising book, not at all dry or arcane, but a lively and interesting addition to understanding the American presidency.

I received a free book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The Gatekeepers: How The White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency
Chris Whipple
Crown Publishing Group
$28 hard cover

Thursday, April 27, 2017

In The Great Green Room: The Brilliant and Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown

My narrative runs like this: I fell in love with reading and art with the Little Golden Books and discovered the great classics with Classics Illustrated Comic Books.

Little Golden Books were inexpensive, readily available, and mass produced; that meant even on a meager budget Mom could splurge and buy them for me. I loved the stories and the illustrations and spent many an hour pouring over them.

Margaret Wise Brown wrote books enjoyed by generations of children and parents. Reading In The Great Green Room by Amy Gary I learned about the iconic author of some of my favorite Golden Books and who also wrote our son's beloved baby books Goodnight, Moon and The Runaway Bunny.

Author Amy Gary hit a gold mine when she contacted Margaret's sister and discovered a hidden hoard of unpublished manuscripts left behind after the author's death.

I learned about the influences on Margaret's work based on her daily life. As girls, Margaret and her sister would say goodnight to everything in their bedroom, memorialized in Goodnight, Moon. Their father's library was painted grass green, and she later painted her room green.

Margaret's illustrators incorporated Margaret's world into her books. Clem Hurd based the fireplace in Goodnight, Moon on the one at Margaret's rented NYC writing retreat Cobble Court. Leonard Weisgard's illustrations for Little Island is based on the view from Margaret's Maine retreat, the Only House.

Margaret had a creative mind brimming with outside the box ideas. She revolutionized children's literature and book publishing. Margaret was insistent on putting writing first in her life. She fell in love many times with the men who were unsuitable matches. Margaret's love life was unhappy, and her great loves failed her in the end, including Michael Strange, the beautiful society woman who was a suffragette, poet, and actress. Just when she had met a man whose zest for life matched her own, Margaret unexpectedly died.

I enjoyed learning about the inspiration behind Margaret's books. For instance, Mr. Dog is the story of her own Kerry Blue Terrier, Crispin's Crispian.
The beginning of Mr. Dog by Margaret Wise Brown
illustrated by Garth Williams. From my collection.
The dog's name was inspired by Shakespeare's Henry V:
"And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by, From this day to the ending of the world,But we in it shall be remember'd; We few, we happy few, we band of brothers..."
The Golden Egg Book was a larger book giving illustrator Leonard Weisgard lovely space to fill. Margaret brought him a collection of wildflowers to use in the art. He was allergic and the next day his eyes were swollen shut!

The Golden Egg Book by Margaret Wise Brown
illustrated by Leonard Weisgard. From my collection.
I also love Margaret's story Little Pussycat, with pictures by Weisgard. The kitten is so small the garden denizens tower like a forest filled with magical creatures.

My son's favorite Golden Books included Margaret's Things I Like, illustrated by Garth Williams. He was enchanted by the dog on the hill.

Margaret's stories included books that appeal to boys as well as girls. The Train to Timbuctoo, with illustrations by Art Seiden, is a joy to read aloud. 

Margaret's books about men at work include The Little Fat Policeman was written by Margaret and Edith Thacher Hurd, wife of illustrator Clement Hurd who did the art for Runaway Bunny and Goodnight, Moon. Alice and Martin Provensen provided the art for the Policeman. Margaret and Edith also wrote Five Little Firemen and Seven Little Postmen with art by Tibor Gergerly. Their book Two Little Miners was illustrated by Richard Scary--his first book.

Each chapter beings with one of Margaret's verses or songs. There is a lovely section of photographs, notes, index, and sources included. My one complaint about this biography is that I would have loved an index of Margaret's books by year and publisher.

I have written about the Little Golden Books before, celebrating their 75th anniversary, and about the book Everything I Need To Know I Learned From A Little Golden Books by Diane Muldrow.

In The Great Green Room: The Brilliant and Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown
Amy Gary
Flatiron Books
ISBN: 978-1-250-06536-0