Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Building a Distinctive Neopets Christmas Gallery :: Top Tips

OK, I admit it. Long after my daughter has grown up and moved on (I initially joined Neopets to share it with her....when she was 9), I'm still on Neopets nearly every morning. There are many "ways in" to Neopets - for me, it's building collections. And over nearly ten years, I've converted our original joint account into a Christmas Gallery (username lrn_jbk945) that I'm very proud of.

Thanks to everyone who has neomailed this season with compliments about my Christmas gallery. Some have asked for tips on how to build a collection like this, and since neomail is too limited to say very much, I am sharing my top tips here.

1. Be realistic about the size of your gallery, because the cost of upgrading can be crushing. The bigger your collection, the more impossible it is to buy anything because it costs so much just to add slots in the gallery. At this point, with over 800 items in my collection, I’m up to 33K (NP) just to add five item slots – a major investment when I'd rather be spending my neopoints on buying great Christmas items.

2. There is no index where you can find all existing Christmas/Holiday items. The best way to discover what's out there is to look at top collectors and see what they've got, what they're adding, and start making a wish list for yourself. Keep that list on your computer, and note the current "going price" on either the Shop Wizard or on the Trading Post. From year to year, the value of items changes, and you'll have a reference to refer to when Christmas is rolling around again and you want to consider buying new items.

3. My favorite gallery to for browsing is by a Canadian woman who calls herself Wizzney (gallery name is wizzneys_christmas). She always has the best stuff – I’m constantly surprised by new, great items she has (I don’t know how she affords them!) Anyway, I look there first to see what is there, and what I ought to acquire for my collection.

4. Narrow your focus. There are SO many Christmas items, and the older/rarer ones are terribly expensive. If you have a special focus that you highlight, it’s easier to come up with a standout gallery. In my case, I’m leading with Taelia, the Snow Faerie, and have a great collection of her items. That makes my gallery stand out as different from all the other Christmas galleries out there, and also gives me a message platform for the holiday season (see image above). Developing a focus also helps you determine things you know you DON’T want to waste neopoints acquiring (for example, I don’t really care about Wreathy, the Snowager or Raindorf…..so I don’t waste neopoints or precious gallery slots on them).

5. I don’t put all the Advent Calendar items in my gallery – only ones that actually relate to Christmas and have a positive vibe (the gross and/or violent/angry items just don’t work in my gallery). When you decide not to display a new Advent Calendar item, hold it for two days and then put it up for sale. You’ll get the highest price early – from people who forgot to do the Advent Calendar on a particular day and are willing to pay premium price to have the item during the Christmas season. The longer you wait, the less it will be worth, because Neopia is obviously saturated with these free giveaways.

6. What about NeoCash items? Hmmmmm.....this is a personal choice. These purchases are called "microtransactions," and they are a major Internet revenue source in Asia. The trend is just catching on here, and as a media professional, I'm interested in this trend. I'm also willing to spend small amounts of cash ($10 at a time) to buy items that particularly enhance the theme in my galleries. On the other hand, I do feel a little guilty about the kids on neopets who look at my gallery, see NC items, and know they can't afford them. Not guilty enough to stop buying them, though. I just try to balance those acquisitions with other items that I acquire through "free" neopoints currency, to keep it fair.

7. By the way, if you buy NeoCash cards (at Rite Aid, CVS, Target, etc), when you cash them in you get rare items that are worth a lot of neopoints. These small cash transactions pay off in large numbers of neopoints.

8. I spend the rest of the year building up my total of neopoints, so that I can buy for Christmas (and Halloween - my other gallery). If you're an adult like me you probably don't have time to play games to acquire neopoints. Still, there are steady and reliable strategies that require only about 10 minutes per day, and neopoints steadily build. They are:
* Set up a bookmarks folder so you can quickly click through all the free daily giveaways - Tombola, Coltzan's Shrine, Discarded Magical Blue Grundo Plushie of Prosperity, Neopets Fruit Machine, Weltrude's Toy Chest, Wheel of Slime. Do this every morning.
* Always keep 800 NP available so that you can play Test Your Strength and buy a Scratchcard from the Ice Caves as often as you can (you can do each of these every six hours). Test Your Strength gives good spooky items which always sell quickly, and you can always sell a scratchcard for more than 600 NP. Nice, steady income.
* Play Fashion Fever every day. Quickest 900 points you can earn.
* Buy Race to Riches scratchcards in bulk at the lowest price on the Shop Wizard, and scratch 5 Race to Riches scratchcards every day. You always make more than your money back - I'd say the average return is 50%.
* Don't scratch ScratchCards of a higher level than Race to Riches. They have the same prizes, so there's no premium to win. You'll make many more NP by selling them.

Good luck building your own distinctive gallery collection! And as I say on my Christmas Gallery homepage:
Overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.

Have a GREAT holiday, however you celebrate it!


Monday, November 30, 2009

Preparing for the Funeral of a Three-Year-Old

My heart is breaking for my friend, who has lost her beloved daughter Sylvie. How can we say goodbye tomorrow morning? What words can I possibly offer?

These two poems offer no answers, but possibly some comfort.



Here lies resting, out of breath,

Out of turns, Elizabeth

Whose quicksilver toes not quite

Cleared the whirring edge of night.

Earth whose circles round us skim

Till they catch the lightest limb,

Shelter now Elizabeth

And for her sake trip up Death.

- X.J. Kennedy

On such a night, or such a night,
Would anybody care
If such a little figure
Slipped quiet from its chair --

So quiet -- Oh how quiet,
That nobody might know
But that the little figure
Rocked softer -- to and fro --

On such a dawn, or such a dawn --
Would anybody sigh
That such a little figure
Too sound asleep did lie

For Chanticleer to wake it --
Or stirring house below --
Or giddy bird in orchard --
Or early task to do?

There was a little figure plump
For every little knoll --
Busy needles, and spools of thread --
And trudging feet from school --

Playmates, and holidays, and nuts --
And visions vast and small --
Strange that the feet so precious charged
Should reach so small a goal!

- Emily Dickinson

Friday, November 20, 2009

I Feel Like Quoting e.e. cummings Today

i thank You God for most this amazing
by e. e. cummings (1894 - 1962)

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of all nothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

My Interview with the Kidsville News

I did an interview this week for the “What’s It’s Like To Be...” column in Kidsville News!, which explores different occupations.

QUESTION: How do you pick the kids who sing on the Kidz Bop CDs?
We did a nationwide talent search to find Kyra, Becca, Valerie, Harrison and Dana – the Kidz Bop Kids. They can all sing, dance, and do a really good job of working together as a team.

Liz Nealon at work with Becca, Kyra and Valerie of the Kidz Bop Kids

QUESTION: How do you pick the songs?
Kidz Bop is all about having the top hit songs on the CDs, so we look at what is selling, what is being played on the radio a lot, and we also listen to kids’ feedback on KidzBop.com. We try to give you all your favorites on every Kidz Bop CD!

QUESTION: What's your favorite song?
Oh, my. Having spent my entire life working with and performing music, I’m afraid I can’t name just one. BBC Radio has a program called “Desert Island Discs.” It holds the Guinness World Record for longest running radio show, and on the show they interview celebrities by asking them if they were to be cast away on a desert island, what would be the eight pieces of music they would simply have to take with them? So, if you have room, I’d like to give you my favorite eight songs!

1. “Theme from Peter Gunn” - best action music ever written. The original by Henry Mancini is still the best, but there’s also a great, new French pop version which samples the Peter Gunn theme. It’s called “Peter Gunn (Turntable Detective)” and the artist is The Killergroove Formula. You can find it on iTunes – play it for your French teacher!

2. “Theme from Twin Peaks” by Angelo Badalamenti. Twin Peaks was a dark, haunting cult television series created by David Lynch in the early 1990s. The theme song established the mood from the very first second, and when I hear it today I'm transported straight back to the dark Pacific Northwest woods where the Twin Peaks series took place (same location as the Twilight series, by the way).

3. “Pump it Up” by Elvis Costello. My favorite song from the original punk era – the 1970s! Intense, energetic, just keeps building higher and higher. For years I tried to convince another singer, my friend (the late, great) Robert Palmer, to record this song – I thought he’d really tear the roof off with this song.

4. “In the Evening” by Led Zeppelin. Robert Plant has one of the most distinctive rock voices ever; I think this is his most powerful recording

5. “Boom Boom Pow” by the Black Eyed Peas. I just love the lyric "I am three thousand and eight, you're so two thousand and late.” Wonderful.

6. “Un Bel Di,” from the opera Madame Butterfly, by Puccini. You don’t have to know (or like) opera to understand this beautiful, sad song. Madame Butterfly is a Japanese woman who falls in love with an American Naval Officer who has left Japan for good. She dreams that he will one day come back to her, and she sings this song (“Un Bel Di” means “One Beautiful Day”) about how she imagines his return. One of the most beautiful vocal lines ever written. Even if you don’t understand Italian, it will break your heart!

7. “Glad” by Traffic. No matter how many times I've heard it, this song always makes me want to jump up and dance. The person playing keyboard is Steve Winwood, who is also a great vocalist. He was first known as “Little Stevie Winwood,” and started touring and performing with famous rock singers while he was still in elementary school.

8. “Julia,” by John Lennon. He wrote it as a tribute/love song to his mother, who died when he was very young. I love it because my daughter is named Julia, so it is my love song to her, as well.

QUESTION: What skills do you need to be the General Manager of Kidz Bop?
Well, I have a pretty unique combination of skills that makes this the perfect job for me. I majored in music in college and trained to be a music teacher (though I’ve never actually taught in the classroom, I use those skills all the time). I worked for a record company for five years after college, and learned about how a record label chooses its artists, how it produces the records, and some of the important things that a company needs to do to sell the artist. Then I worked for ten years for MTV, where I learned all about making music videos and producing Rockumentaries (and of course, we do this all the time at Kidz Bop). And finally, I’ve done a lot of work producing television shows that star teenagers, so I’ve had a lot of experience looking for good young singers, dancers, and actors, and working with them to teach them how to become professional performers. All these skills are very useful in running a record label like Kidz Bop.

QUESTION: When, and why, did you first become interested in this profession?
I have wanted to work in music since I was a young child – singing is the thing that makes me happiest in the whole world. If I could have had my dream job, I would have been a singer/dancer in the chorus of Broadway musicals. It turns out that I don’t have a good enough voice to make a living as a musician, but I have always found ways to make music be a central piece of the work that I do. And I still go to see musical theater as often as I can!

QUESTION: What do you do? Describe a typical day on the job:
One of the best things about my job is that it’s different every day. Today I'll be in the recording studio with a wonderful 12-year-old singer named Sinai Rose; earlier this week I was in Los Angeles with the Kidz Bop Kids, shooting our next television commercial.

QUESTION: What’s the hardest part of your job?
Telling a young performer that we’re not going to choose them.

QUESTION: What is the best part of your job?
Giving a talented young performer his or her first professional opportunity.

QUESTION: What advice would you give to kids who are interested in this profession?
First, work hard in school, and get a good education. Right now, going to school is your “job,” and developing the habit of working hard and being the very best you can be is a life skill that will help you succeed later in life.

Second, if you want to be in the music business, you need to be listening to music all the time, and you should listen to all different kinds of music (see my list above!). Start to be a discerning listener. What is an artist doing to achieve a distinctive sound? How are songs different from each other? Who do you think is a good lyricist (writer of words) and why? The more you think and analyze music, the more knowledgeable you will become, and this will make you a better music executive.

Third, take whatever music appreciation classes are available to you in school. The more you learn about the “greats” and why their music has endured, the better prepared you will be to produce great music yourself!

Kidsville News! is a fun (and free!) educational resource used by teachers, parents and children to develop and promote learning, literacy and character education. Our readers include children, kindergarten through 6th grade, as well as parents and teachers. Kidsville News! is currently published in 23 states, with monthly circulation exceeding 1.25 million.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Letter from a Sixth Grade Teacher to Kidz Bop

I started my day today with an inspiring letter (see below). I wonder if there are other teachers out there who use Kidz Bop in school? We could create a section of our website where teachers and kids use our video upload tools to work on communication and literacy skills. Would love to hear from any teachers who are interested in this.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Hi Liz!
A very close friend of mine is a 6th grade teacher in California and a while ago, I told her that I knew the head of Kidz Bop (you!) and she got so excited... She asked me to pass on this letter to you which I have copied and pasted below. You and your company are clearly making a really positive impact on her and her students! :) I hope this letter starts off your day with a smile.
Best wishes,


Hi Jane,
Could you please pass on this note to your friend who is affiliated with Kidz Bop? I'd love to let her know how her work is making a difference in my classroom. I teach 6th grade at a low-performing school (Ramona Elementary) in a low-income neighborhood (Montclair, CA). My students are predominantly Latino and most of them are below grade level. My colleagues and I work hard to provide quality instruction, valuable experiences, and new opportunities for the students here. We try to use music to encourage and motivate them to stay on task and work to their potential. The students are familiar with and enjoy radio music, but we cannot play it for them in a school environment. Even the "clean" edited version has inappropriate lyrical content. We download Kidz Bop versions from iTunes and play it for them during transitions, group work time, and even whole-school assemblies. The students love listening to the music while they work. Since they know any noise from them will cause me to turn it off, they are absolutely quiet when I turn it on. They have their favorites ("Let's Get it Started" by Black-Eyed Peas) and request them often. It makes my classroom a friendlier, hipper, and more enjoyable place to be. Thank you to the creators and employees of Kidz Bop for taking the time to make all of this music "clean" for my students!

(name withheld since I don't have her permission)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

My Family's Encounter with the Kennedys

My father was raised in a poor, working class, Irish Catholic family (actually, they were one step away from starving class - my grandfather's store failed during the Great Depression), in a hardscrabble Scranton neighborhood called Bone Hill. When he was accepted into the Naval Academy, my father became the first member of his family to attend college, and eventually moved away from the old neighborhood to start his own family.

We idolized the Kennedys. My parents spawned a similarly large (nine children) family, and we played sports together, sang around the piano together, and covered our heads with lacy tiaras as we lined up at Mass every Sunday, just like the Kennedys. Every evening we crowded around the dining room table under the peaceful gaze of a romanticized, Victorian portrait of the infant Jesus, which hung on the wall behind my mother's place. At my father's end of the table there still hangs a copy of a painting of the late Pope John XXIII, with Jack and Bobby Kennedy on either side of him. The three are walking away from us, into a sunlit place where presumably, they will no longer know pain or grief.

I was 14 years old, just finishing my freshman year of high school, in the summer of 1968. Though my idealism was rocked by the back-to-back assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy, I remained an enthusiastic supporter of civil rights and champion of the underdog. After all, I was a first grader when President Kennedy was inaugurated. When he told us that he was passing the torch to "a new generation of Americans," it was clear that he meant he was passing it to me.

My father was devastated by Bobby Kennedy's death. He had been working for the county Democratic Committee, making calls to solicit donations for the Kennedy campaign and passing out literature to friends, colleagues, and fellow Little League parents. And so, after Bobby died, my father decided that we would go to Hyannisport for our summer vacation. That meant that on Sunday, our second day on the Cape, we all dressed up and headed to Mass at Our Lady of Victory Church, where the Kennedys worshiped. It was just one month after the death of Robert F. Kennedy.

As if my father had conjured her, Rose Kennedy was there. She was dignified in her still fresh grief, her face shielded by a black mantilla. But she spotted our family, eight (at the time) little kids all lined up in one of the pews, and it must have reminded her of her own. She approached us after the service and offered Memorial Cards, with Bobby Kennedy's picture on one side and a prayer on the back. My father shyly asked if she would take a picture with us, to which she gracefully assented.

My father idealized the Kennedys without ever recognizing that they were part of the privileged, patrician class, far removed from our existence as a large, suburban family doing our best to make ends meet. He refused to listen to any criticism of the Kennedys, and dismissed as lies any talk of their abuses of power, arrogance (and let's not even mention the President's philandering). As a "sophisticated" college student and young adult, I thought he was ridiculously naive in his unerring support of and identification with the Kennedys.

Looking back this week, I have to say that I think Dad had it right. Although Teddy Kennedy had every privilege in the world (and often took advantage of that fact), he nearly blew it all with a series of public and potentially crushing missteps. Still, he persisted on, righting himself and continuing to use his position to try to make a difference for the poor and minority citizens who counted on him to champion their cause. Frankly, I find it easier to relate to this flawed but compassionate man than it is to look up to a perfect hero immortalized in marble. I'll never be that, and Ted Kennedy surely knew he never would be, either.

Warrior, statesman, father, husband......and friend to many, even those who never knew him. As the NY Times wrote this morning, when Ted Kennedy is reunited with his big brothers in heaven, he's going to tell them "I carried the torch......I carried it all the way."

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Reuters Feed from Iran

Reuters has a Twitter feed which is one of the best sources of information that I have seen - @reuters_iran.

Al Jazeerah/English reportedly is streaming video, much more than our western news organizations can, but their server must be swamped. I haven't yet been able to get on.

Neda's Voice

Last night I joined the Facebook group - In Memory of Neda - which sprung up immediately after the videos started to circulate. Looking at the list of members this morning, it is the most diverse, international group I've ever been a part of of.

The mainstream media is still not reporting any details - I suppose because they are restricted from reporting on the ground and can't confirm the story. MSNBC.com mentioned briefly videos of a young girl with blood flowing from her nose and mouth, said that she had "reportedly died," and that was it.

Neda was reportedly watching the demonstrations from the curb, with her father, when she was shot through the heart by a sniper (unconfirmed - this is what everyone is writing on Twitter). Why would a peaceful, innocent young woman be singled out? She was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, not the chador required by Islamic law in Iran for women appearing in public. I suspect that was enough to make her a target. These young women, unrobed and demanding equal rights, are the leading edge of the "sea of green."

I hope, eventually, when the chaos dies down and it can be "reliably" reported, that Neda will become the Tank Man (Tiananmen Square) of the Green Revolution. Her death should not be in vain.

Twitter on the Barricades - Six Lessons Learned - NYTimes.com

This weekend is my first true immersion in Twitter, and I find it's more useful to read the information coming out of Iran as a big swath of general sentiment....rather than taking each individual tweet at face value. I found myself wonder why being in the thick of the dialogue with individual protestors trading tips, locations, and warnings was so absolutely absorbing, since I'm not there, don't know any of the locations they're describing, and don't really know who is who, in terms of reliable information. This article, from today's New York Times, explores these same questions.
Twitter on the Barricades - Six Lessons Learned

Morning in NY; Mid-Afternoon in Tehran

Dipping into the Twitter feed this morning, I'd say the overall tenor is less fraught, reaching still higher for moral authority and peaceful protest. There is also an overwhelming concern, which I didn't see yesterday, that the feed has been infiltrated by government agents.

Here are some highlights, 7:30am EDT:

pilotwomanf/tehran; "it will be in Vanak sq. Pple will be there at 4:30 pm,(after 30 mins) Tehran time. som1 called me and said it."

saitamaguy2002 Eyewitness: Special Forces are standing between Azadi Sq. and Emam Hossein Sq.; about 11 kms.

debbiezrm RT CAUTION: BLOCK all NEW users with NO or only VERY FEW followers! They are BASIJ!

oxfordgirl RT @persiankiwi: today the Gov is trying harder than ever b4 to hack our communications

iran_09: Iran is full of rumors - but the army is NOT on the streets - not against the people - no tanks yet –

mcaviglia: They have hacked GHALAM NEWs - website of MOUSAVI - Sea of Green will NEVER rest

Libertyfan44: Yesterday we voted for change. Today we fight for freedom. Tomorrow we will be FREE!!!!

koabal85: PLZ be careful, twitter full of gov agents joined yesterday, have few followesr and are spreading panic.

ranTweet @LiberT LiberT RT from Iran: "Iran isn't falling -- it's standing up"

karinaschneidrg RT frm Iran: Mousavi - Confirmed - calls for ALL the nation to stand on balconys TONIGHT and show support with 'Allah Akbar'

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Her Name Was Neda...

Newsvine - Her Name Was Neda...

I can't bring myself to post a link to the videos (there are two, shot on cell phones from different angles). It's just too sad.

The Battle is On: Sampling of the Twitter feed from the Streets of Tehran

legolas81: doctors/nurses wear red crescent/red cross symbol so news can see if you are attacked for being street medics

jkebeans: remove all street signs, so shipped-in forces will lose orientation

rinkjustice: LIST MAP to EMBASSIES ACCEPTING INJURED; DO NOT GOTO HOSPITALS http://tinyurl.com/nwrvsd

PatriotRose: Don't WET MASK WITH WATER-vinegar & Lemonjuice effective against teargas به ماسکهای جلوی دهنتون آبلیمو وسرکه بزنید. آب نزنید


pilotwoman: Her name was ندا (#Neda), which means voice or call in Farsi. She is the voice of the people, a call to freedom

D_chosen_one: Suggestion: Disorient Basij entering your neighborhood by painting over numbers and removing street signs.

muluap: go to German Embassy if wounded, set pressure on western embassies until they let you in. They are human, they will

soynicole: PLEASE RETWEET - Basij rounding up injured protesters at Hospitals. List of EMBASSIES taking in injured: http://bit.ly/2rYIbt

lauraluvscoffee RT GO BACK & DELETE PAST TWEETS that have Iranian usernames. Arrests have been made. Please ENSURE ALL SEE THIS

buzzard1964: Change your twitter location to Tehran and time zone to GMT +3.5. This helps shield & confuse security police

rarianrakista: Book on how to fight tanks and armed forces in urban areas. http://bit.ly/k2ARx

iamtheyak: If you haven't yet, please change your profile location to Tehran & time zone to GMT+3:30, to help foil Iran govt spies

SecularnFree: Please only post CONFIRMED SOURCE information. The GOVT has placed misinformation on Twitter.

iran_09: Hospitals in Tehran are NOT safe. Basijis there, ppl disappearing.

Dlsale: LIST OF FAKE IRANIAN ACCOUNTS (Some working for Iran Gov't) http://bit.ly/greenfakes

Magicspin: یک برده است که یکی از منتظر کسی که دیگری را به او آزاد است. A slave is one who waits for someone else to free him.

bigbadblackwolf Deleting tweets does NOT remove them from search. Iranians should remove their name from their twitter profile

VivianBoroff: Basij R marking doors 2 attack later. Use oil/petrol 2 remove the mark frm your door.

RDUgirl: Iransource45 is an Iranian agent. If enough people block him, his count will be disabled.

FairyKingAub: CHEMICAL BURN FIRST AID http://bit.ly/Za5k5

Rezaliteit: Embassies accepting injured people: Finnish, German,British, Dutch, Norway, Belgian, Italian, Slovenian, Portuguese

Schteeboman: muluap look policemen in the face. Appeal to the heart of younger ones, some will change sides

pilotwomanRT: Look at the ppl personally confirming tank story, they are new arrivals, have between 20- 0 followers & want to scare you

pilotwomanRT: There comes in every struggle a moment that tips the balance. Death of Neda has shifted this battle to the side of the ppl

Demian888: Tehran, Iran, for every basiji, 11 free women and men should stand up

EmpiresCrumble: 4CHEM.BURNS:cool running h20, 20mins, rmve jwlry/clths near burn, cool wet cloth/towel, sterile wrap, rewash if need

theresefarmer: Mousavi - we have gone too far to stop now

SecularnFree: Neda looked at the camera then died - She was looking at us. FREE IRAN NOW

toddbober: Do not listen to those who tell you to take up the gun. Mousavi calls on Sea of Green not to be violent

flipngenius: Iranian military and police - turn on the basij. This girl should not have died. http://tiny.cc/basij

The Revolution as it's being tweeted...

It's nearly 6am in Tehran - Sunday morning is dawning, another day of protests awaits (I know this because my Twitter account is set to GMT +3.5, Location: Tehran).

I've been glued to Twitter all day - the Internet, mobile/wireless communication, and social media have all converged to bring about the maturing of the concept of democracy. It has always been an ideal, practiced by various populations, with varying degrees of success. Democracy is no longer an ideal, it's a reality. No government, anywhere, can hold back the tide of information in the hands of the people.

One of the fascinating things tonight is the reporting, on Twitter, of the death of a young woman named Neda. Neda means "voice" or "call" in Farsi, and she will clearly represent the voice and will of the Iranian people, putting a face to their cause. #neda is currently one of the highest ranked feeds on Twitter, and links to video of her death are available (I can't bring myself to post it here - simply too sad). She was young, beautiful, and gravely injured. In the brief clip that I saw, she looked directly into the camera and then died - heartbreaking. What I find amazing is that even as thousands of cries of her name reverberate across the ethernet, not a word has been reported on any of the major news Internet sites - at least, not that I can find. I am sitting here watching Christiane Amanpour do her wrapup on CNN, entitled "Blood on the streets of Iran." She is clearly the most authoritative voice reporting on television, yet Neda has not been mentioned.

Last week, I would have said that I prefer to read news on the Internet - because when I pick up a newspaper or listen to the radio, I'm seeing/hearing stories that are a day old - I read them hours before on the Internet. Twitter has blown Internet news right off the track. Of course, there will still be a need for thoughtful, well-researched, "professional" journalism. But when it comes to an event like this, the news cycle has suddenly gotten exponentially shorter.

Gil Scott Heron: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Seems appropriate for today. The Revolution will not be Televised, but it will be Tweeted!

Praying for the safety of all the women in the streets of Tehran, standing tall and green, insisting on equality.

BBC Persia - Images of gunshots in the streets

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Motherhood :: One of my Proudest Moments

In 2006, I chaperoned a church trip to Juarez, Mexico. We took a group of 20 American teenagers to work with a priest who was building churches in the poorest barrios and desert outskirts of Juarez.

As lunchtime approached on the fifth day of grueling work in the relentless heat, we pulled off the highway and stopped at a church in urban Chihuahua, where a group of women were waiting with a lunch of simple but delicious Mexican food. As on each previous day, lunch was tamales, and I heard some grumbling as the kids went through the line. They weren't used to a steady diet of rice, cheese and refried beans, and they were getting sick of it (as well as getting constipated).

As we settled in at the long tables in the church hall, I saw that three or four of our teens had filled plates full of food, taken one bite and pushed it away. Embarrassed, I passed their plates down to the other end of the table, suggesting to the kids sitting there that they should eat these before going back for seconds. A few minutes later, I was surprised to hear Julia’s voice raised in anger. I leaned over to look down the table and saw Jules choking down a tamale from one of the rejected plates and saying “….because it’s insulting, that’s why. They have been cooking all frigging morning to make this food for us.”

It was worth all the stress of the trip just for that moment.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

19th Century Stained Glass

It was 87 degrees in Cornwall-on-Hudson today - Spring coming in with a vengeance! Although I went to St. John's to photograph antique quilts, I was irresistably drawn to the 19th century stained glass windows, with the sunlight flooding through. Yet another treasure of hand-worked artistry.

WOMEN'S WORK : : Marveling at an Antique Quilt Show

My friend Bea Deamers is a master quilter, and she organized an antique quilt show as a benefit for our church today. St. John's is a beautiful, 19th century structure, with intricate, hand-carved wood throughout the sanctuary. The juxtaposition of the rich wood with the vibrant, hand-sewn quilts was simply breathtaking.

I am always moved by primitive, domestic creations because I see them as practical, though sometimes improbable, expressions of women's voices and creativity. I talked about this last summer with our friend Steven Kellogg, the award-winning children's author and illustrator, who has a world class collection of American Primitive antiques in his barn. Creativity and passion simply burst from these artifacts, which until recently were not recognized as ART. We've all heard the phrase "Anonymous was a Woman," and it's never more evident than in this kind of work.

I have read that Amish women, renowned for their abilities as quilters, always sewed a flaw into their quilts so as not to the mock perfection of God's creation. I don't know if this is true, but I can tell you that I love the hand hewn feeling of this incredible work.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Maundy Thursday

This phrase is relatively new to me. Although I've been an Episcopalian for many years, I grew up Catholic and they call today "Holy Thursday." I wonder about "Maundy Thursday" every year and tonight I finally decided to look it up.
MAUNDY THURSDAY: The Thursday before Easter, observed in commemoration of the Last Supper of Jesus. Also called Holy Thursday.

[From Middle English maunde, ceremony of washing the feet of the poor on this day, from Old French mande, from Latin (novum) mandātum, (new) commandment (from Jesus's words to the Apostles after washing their feet, John 13:34).]

Here's what happens in the service. There are three readings, the first from the Passover service, which is familiar to both Christians and Jews (mark the lintel with blood, roast the lamb and eat all of it, consume bitter herbs, salt water, charoses, etc). The other two readings are about Christ's interaction with the Apostles on that Passover night, in which he established both the rite of Holy Communion (consecrating the bread and wine as his body and blood as a promise that he will always be with us) and the concept of Ordination (ordaining his apostles as priests, his surrogates, in the church). And then, he picked up a towel and basin and washed each of their feet. They protested, but he insisted.

Tonight, I took off my shoes and socks and Father Tom washed my feet to remind me of Christ's teachings about humility and the requirement of service to one's fellow man. The master is not greater than the servant, nor is the teacher of more value than the student. The washing of the feet is a concrete representation of the fundamental "Do unto others" principle.

The other thing that I love about Maundy Thursday is the vulnerability of Christ. Because he was God, he knew that he was going to die, yet because he was incarnated as a human being, he was terribly afraid. After the Seder (what Christians call The Last Supper), he goes into the garden to pray to his Father for help, and he asks Peter and some of the other apostles to come and pray with him. They have been drinking wine and they are tired - they keep falling asleep. Jesus is afraid, and he knows the Romans are coming after him - he wakes his apostles and begs them to stay awake and watch. But they fall asleep.

So for me, this is the most important day of the year to show up at church. I never miss the service on Maundy Thursday because I feel as though the least I can do is be there, be awake, and offer whatever comfort and support that I can. I know everyone doesn't believe that Jesus was (or is) God, but surely he was a tremendous human being in anyone's eyes - the "Obama" of his time.

In the Maundy Thursday service we end by singing a mournful, ancient chant, over and over, as Father Tom and his acolytes strip all the vestments from the altar. One by one, the lights are extinguished, until the congregation is in complete darkness.

The refrain we sing goes like this:


I wouldn't miss it.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fantastic International Night at the Oscars

From the Japanese animator thanking his pencil, to Penelope Cruz who broke out into Spanish, to the Japanese director of Best Foreign Film - “We be back, I hope”....it all reminds me of Roberto Benigni (“LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL) jumping on the back of his seat and exclaiming “I have Lo-sed all my English!” But better.

What a great night for global culture.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

And Why No YouTube in Schools?

Si (my partner, Seymour Simon) and I spoke at the Wisconsin State Reading Association last week, on the topic of Digital Literacy. We were describing his blog, SeymourScience.com, on which he provides a variety of teacher support materials for the use of his books in the classroom, including Discussion Guides, Science Projects, and video. A former science teacher, Si acts as a video curator, selecting clips that are exciting and compelling for kids, as well as scientifically accurate. He often sources these videos from YouTube, such as this recording of a mountain gorilla family, presented as supplemental material for his Smithsonian/Collins book GORILLAS.

Multiple teachers at the conference told us that they cannot use these links, as YouTube is blocked in their schools. That is ridiculous. Surely school administrators could supply teachers with passwords, that would allow them to "unlock" YouTube for educational purposes. It is free, and full of captivating video.

Dr. James Gee, a leading proponent of videogames as educational tools, created this scene as an intro to one of his books: Rip Van Winkle wakes up in the early 21st Century, and is totally confused. He is frightened by automobiles and disturbed to see people seemingly talking to themselves (on bluetooth cell phone headsets). Then, he sees a familiar and comforting sight - a schoolhouse. He rushes in, and sure enough, it is just as he remembered it. Teachers lecturing from the front of the room, students yawning as they laboriously take notes by hand, textbooks with familiar, 20th century images.....

Is this really where we want our schools to be? There is significant funding earmarked for "Education" in the stimulus bill that President Obama signed today. We can only hope that some of it will be for teacher (and administrator) training in and access to the media that children find most compelling.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Cell Phones as Educational Tools?

Today's New York Times has an article about wireless industry groups who are pitching cell phones as educational tools. The way the article reads, it was a set up for the companies to be slammed for pitching products rather than truly focusing on education. And, that's exactly what happened in the reader comments on the article.

Amazingly, the authors don't seem to have done even rudimentary research, or they would have stumbled upon "Pockets of Potential," the new white paper from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, which advocates the use of cell phones and other wireless technologies to promote learning.

I added my comment into the mix - a lone voice in the wilderness of disapproval!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Voting with (and for) our Ancestors

Bill Cosby told Rachel Maddow a very moving story about voting for Barack Obama. After he entered the voting booth and closed the curtain behind him, he reached into his pocket and pulled out photographs of his deceased mother, father and brother. "And now," he said, "we're going to vote."

I heard a similar story from a friend who wore the dog tags belonging to his late father (a lifelong Democrat) into the voting booth, and is wearing them again today on Inauguration Day.

This means more than your typical election, without a doubt.

With Hands Outstretched

I was 6 years old in January, 1961 when President Kennedy was inaugurated. I remember that in the moment when he said "The torch is passed to a new generation," it felt as if I reached up and took that torch into my hands. That moment informed the way I have tried to live my life as an American.

I am moved, proud and honored today to accept the call to service once again. May God bless and protect President Barack Hussein Obama.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

MashUp: Beatles and Nine Inch Nails. LOVE it!


This site - called "The Real Blogger Status" is practical and usable. This finally explained site feeds in a way that I could make sense of it, and my blog is (or should) now be posting automatically on Facebook.

The Real Blogger Status: What Is My Blog (Site) Feed?

Posting this for other who may be having the same struggle.