Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson, 1958-2009

Photo of Michael Jackson via Wikipedia
Photo via Wikipedia.

It happened so suddenly, the death today of superstar Michael Jackson, as confirmed by the Los Angeles Times.

I was thinking recently about how people forget how famous he became at such a young age--the adulation was ridiculous. In the seventies, in addition to touring with his brothers, they also had a weekly variety show for a couple of years; Michael even had a Saturday morning cartoon for a while!

As a little girl, I remember seeing the Jackson Five live at the Shady Grove ampitheater (dating myself--this was pre-Capitol Center!), which had a revolving stage. Groovy!

When he went solo, his album title, Off the Wall, was perfectly named, as it reflected how much more crazy his life would become.

In the end, however, he was just like the rest of us--time is limited. So, I have to listen to one of my favorite songs from him, which I haven't listened to in a while--Time Waits for No One.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Just folks (Smithsonian Folklife Festival)

Decided to shuffle on over to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival today, if for no other reason that this will probably be the most reasonable day to attend, weatherwise, because it was not exhaustingly hot, as is usual this time of year.

There were various aspects of different cultures emphasized (although foods from each culture are available, the common cultural feature), which made for quite the experience.

At the Central and South American pavilions, Las Americas, the exhibitions tended to be mini-concerts of one type or other, which seemed to have enthusiastic participation from people of all ages.

children dancing at folklife festival
people of all ages dancing
more people dancing at festival It was cute enough, until one of the musicians announced that upcoming music would include a polka, which was my signal to leave.

Naturally, my interest was piqued when I spied this sign:

Las Americas music schedule at folklife festival A harp? Except for Jeff Majors, I didn't know that anyone played one anymore, and certainly not at a fast clip.
elderly lady dancing to band with harpist Yet, here's someone playing a full size harp (in the center), accompanied by a guitar, making dance music. Talk about there being a first time for everything!

That's when I knew it was time to mozie over to the Wales pavilion, which specialized in arts and crafts, and probably has the most varied exhibitions. However, at least on this first afternoon of the festival, there was not as much music as I would have thought from the land of Tom Jones.

The craftspeople work in media as varied as slate, intricately wrought cast iron, and sculpted wood, but the one that intrigued me most was the fabric arts, as there were a couple of makers of woolen goods giving spinning demonstrations and displaying their wares.

the poor mans wool spinning machine The "poor man's" wool spinning contraption, which is used while standing.

the rich mans wool spinning machineThe "rich man's" wool spinning contraption, which is used sitting down, and has more intricate controls (such as a foot pedal).

I was tickled to see colorful, stylish, and soft woolen and woven goods which hail from Pembrokeshire, the origin of my favorite type of dog--one of the companies is even named Corgi [Hosiery Ltd.)!

wool socks from Corgi Hosiery Extremely soft cotton socks from Corgi Hosiery Limited.

soft scarf from Corgi knitwearPerhaps the softest wool scarf I've ever handled. If it only were not so hot today...

The most surprising part of this exhibition was at the "Energy" exhibit, which concentrated on the historic struggles of Welsh coal miners. There was a corner with information on Paul Robeson's solidarity with Welsh coal miners. For some reason, I never knew that Paul Robeson performed in Wales (several times) in sympathy with the coal miners. (Then again, you never hear about Paul Robeson unless you seek it out anyway.)

poster advertising Paul Robeson appearance in Wales
At the other end of the Welsh energy spectrum, there was a demonstration house put up by Ty-Mawr, which uses native Welsh materials to achieve significant energy savings. The gentleman there confirmed that the woolen part of the insulation provides acoustic insulation as well, and that its type of construction also was efficient in wicking away moisture from the home (which would be a good thing for the humid Washington area as well).

energy conserving insulation for humid climatesExample of the layers of Ty-Mawr insulation, including the wool. The literature claimed that its insulation is more fire-resistant than most commercial insulation.

Last, but certainly not least--because I was there almost two hours, listening spellbound to some of the storytellers--was the Giving Voice exhibit, which specialized in the relationship of African Americans to the spoken word.

There was a session on the development of black radio, hosted by veteran radio host Lorne Cress Love, who was speaking with Deborah Smith Pollard, about the struggles of women in radio. Love, one of the founders of WPFW FM, revealed that most of the other founders of that station were women, which surprised me.

Also, there were storytellers aplenty at Giving Voice. Not surprisingly, the children's storytellers exhibits were well attended.

More confusing (perhaps in a good way?) was that a couple of the other storytelling sessions, Hair Stories and Beauty Tales, were attended mostly by white adults, with a few black women and other people present. Who knew that other people would be so interested in black women's hair tales?

three raconteurs telling hair stories Storyteller Charlotte Blake Alston emphasizing a point, with singer and storyteller Branice McKenzie on the right.

The world is changing faster than I thought.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Metro, Metro, where art thou?

The continuing news about the Metrorail collision, unfortunately, gets worse and worse, with the death toll at 9 people. It's chilling to think about the crash, because even if you weren't on the train, you might have been about to take the train, or know someone who regularly takes the train. That the weather was beautiful (no ice or witheringly hot temperatures to deal with), makes the trains' malfunctions all the more distressing.

As scary as the situation was for people at the collision site yesterday, I empathize a lot with the confused people in the subway station, waiting to find out what to do, what happens next, that sort of thing. Unfortunately, there's a LOT of room for improvement of communication at Metro rail stations to passengers.

The last time I was in the station when there was a problem of some type was a few months ago. Who knew what delayed the trains that morning? There was no announcement from Metro management, of course.

Now, being a longtime Metro passenger, I knew that I could get off the train and use my Smartrip card to take a bus, which I did; this enabled me to be merely a bit early for my appointment, instead of way ahead of time. How many passengers know that they can use the smartrip on the bus as well? Does Metro announce this possibility when there are major system delays? (Answer: Are you kidding?)

Unsurprisingly, the "M" word--maintenance--rears its ugly head. The fact that Metro users take it on the chin financially because there's no dedicated source of funding (other than occasionally begging Congress and local jurisdictions) means that maintenance, too often, gets short shrift. Sadly, I'm not surprised that the NTSB has found that an old train that should have been replaced is part of the reason for the crash.

Finally, can there finally be a real Metro board? You know, comprised of people who regularly USE the system. The fact that the head of the Metro board, Jim Graham (who's had his own recent troubles) doesn't regularly use the system (which, sadly, is not unusual for the Metro board), has insulted Metro passengers by implying that they are not busy people, unlike him, is a real travesty. You can't tell me that this indifference doesn't affect the running of the system, because for people who don't use the system, any problems that come up are mere abstractions, so there is no sense of urgency to repair them.

* * *

It's been a rough couple of weeks in town--the shooting at the Holocaust museum, in Columbia Heights, and now this crash. Ugh. I need to chill to this classic Roy Ayers tune, "DC City," to put me in a better mood.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Straightening out the mess that is DTV...

Yes, I procrastinated in getting a digital converter box for the one tv in the house without cable, partly because I somehow lost the $40 coupon, so I had to spring almost $50 to buy el cheapo supremo brand from Target yesterday.

Well, of course I didn't have it set up right yesterday; however, the stellar manufacturer's customer service had only one telephone line, and all the FAQs at its site refer to DVD players. Sheesh! After e-mailing the manufacturer with photos and all (but with no response), I went to the government website in desperation today; sadly, its site's instructions on installing a DTV converter were more informative than the manufacturer's! Because we've had cable for so long, I'm conditioned to think that the channel that you'd have to "set" the converter to would be 3. I was wrong, it's 4. (I'm glad I heard the option "3 or 4" from the video at

Well, here's what you get with digital hookup:

Bonnie Hunt show
The NBC affiliate, channel 4, came in clear as a bell, of course. However, I had to move the antenna around a bit to be able to get the "next" channel, Fox 5 as well.

Tyra show guestsIn reality, there are a couple of "new" digital channels in between stations 4 and 5, and both of the new channels are NBC stations. One is an all-weather station, and the other is a sports channel (?!?).

However, except for the public tv stations, I'm unable to get the other local stations (you know, 7 and 9) AT ALL. Depending on how I have the antenna positioned, I can sometimes get channel 20, which I only watch occasionally anyway.

There are new stations that I now have access to; while one is a Christian jazz station (the blue writing comes on initially when you switch from one channel to another). However,

some new station most of the new channels are foreign news stations. One is Japanese (and somehow I don't believe it's the NHK), another Nigerian, another one still is Chinese, and another for news from the UK. (But I can get BBC programs on most public tv stations, overnight on NPR, and online, as well as British newspapers online, so what's the big deal?) Another station is a "weekend" lifestyle channel--more garbage.

You have to play around with the antenna to find the optimal location, because if you receive a channel with a spotty signal, you can get a pixelated mess like the following picture...

picture is a pixelated mess (And this was on the station with the strongest signal, the NBC affiliate Channel 4, so you know I had to move that antenna around quick to get it clear again!) Sometimes you get a "weak signal" warning blazened across the screen when you encounter a potential channel--sometimes this means you can get the channel if you, yes, move the antenna around. (Then again, maybe not.)

More often than I would have liked, the "no signal" banner came up when channel surfing with the digital converter remote. (Yes, another remote to add to an already bursting collection.) I suppose I have the same complaints that most people have with the digital conversion--that to get really good digital tv, you will have to pay for it. (Verizon did not pay me to say so, although I wish it would.)

One good thing will probably result from this ordeal--I'll watch less tv. I think.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The rooster crows at 10:30, or 12:30, whenever--late spring harvest

sign at Clagett Farm Um, there are cows at Clagett, but no sheep. Hmm.

The other day was a nicer one than there's been in a while, with the sunshine and all. Thus, a great day to mozie down to Clagett Farm to help with harvest and other tasks (such as hoeing a row of potatoes, for the first time).

An interesting surprise--there was a crew from the Emeril Green show at the farm, which was on-site the entire day. For most of the day, they were at a distance as we picked the humungous and fragrant Siberian kale (with a scent mildly reminiscent of dill) and Russian kale, etc. However, the pleasant crew and the affable show host did briefly shoot us a bit when we were preparing the day's haul for customers, who pick up their shares in the afternoon--splashing and cleaning the bok choy and lettuce so that they'd be beautiful for their closeup.

fresh picked chamomile and lavender flowers After the fuss was over, it was time to settle down and pick herbs and strawberries before heading home (with plenty of kale, lettuce, and garlic scapes, as well as some asparagus). I'm always amazed at the variety of herbs that can flourish in a wide range of temperatures. For instance, the sage was as plentiful and healthy looking in the hot June sun as it was last November. However, I am more intrigued by the flowering herbs of summer, such as chamomile and lavender (pictured above), two plants whose mere appearance are simultaneously cheering and calming.

More reasons to eat your veggies!

Recently, a nice article on the health benefits of various common fruits and vegetables appeared in the Huffington Post, by David H. Murdock of Dole Foods. While he is, of course, not an entirely unbiased source, his chart mentioned a range of health benefits that I've never heard of, such as that strawberries protect against Alzheimer's, that bananas reduce symptoms of asthma in children as well as increase fat burning, and that kale counters harmful estrogens that can feed cancer (as well as increase bone density), among the foods mentioned there. (Oddly though, it seems from the article comments that some of his employees labor under the impression that papayas and pawpaws are the same fruit, when Dole only sells papayas, and pawpaws are native to the eastern US.)

Whatever. It's time to dive into a fat-burning banana right now, followed by some of those tiny strawberries I picked from the farm. Mmmm.