Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Errant Light, the Power and Beauty of Dar Williams Lyrics

I'd like to talk about the artist I loved above all else before Buffy came along and I temporarily forgot about the existence of all other art and media - Dar Williams. As a singer and performer, she is beautiful, charming, down-to-earth, and and lovable. As a lyricist, she is thoughtful and wise. As an activist, she is caring and grass-roots. This is an amazing woman.

I love every single one of her songs, but here are some of my favorites, in no particular order:

1. The Great Unknown (from The Honesty Room) This is a beautiful song, eloquently questioning the wisdom of nuclear testing. The line "trying to put the atom back together" is so powerful. And everything she writes is so representative of not just her subject, but life in general. Who among us isn't longing to put back together something that's permanently asunder?

Some lyrics from the end of this song:

So I walked out into the gamma fields

Out in mercury, Nevada.

Where I stood in circle and that circle started to pray.

And the wind at the nuclear test sights floats the data at the radiation.

From the underground testing,

Cross the line, you’ll get arrested.

And we came from all over in a silent appeal

As the drill comes down like a presidential seal.

And we stand for the living, and we stand for the dead,

And we looked out to see your enemies,

And we see that you’re looking at us instead.

And you think I am being disruptive?

But no I’m running home, I’m running, ’cause I’m trying to put the atom back together.

It’s the great unknown.

I’m just trying to put the atom back together.

It’s the great unknown.

2. I Had No Right (from The Green World) This is written from the perspective of peace activist Daniel Berrigan, who, by the way, is also referenced by the other favorite songwriter, Paul Simon, in the song Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.

Some lyrics:

God of the poor man, this is how the day began,

Eight codefendants, I Daniel Berrigan,

And only a layman's batch of napalm.

We pulled the draft files out,

We burned them in the parking lot,

Better the files than the bodies of children.

I had no right but for the love of you.

I had no right but for the love of you.

3. As Cool As I Am (from Mortal City) When I had a kindergarten class, all my kids knew the words to this song. I guess they didn't consciously get the point at the time, but I find myself hoping that some of those little girls, who would now be teenagers, come across these lyrics again and embrace the sentiment. My favorite line: "and I look out and say yeah, she's really blonde" - translated "you dumbass, she's just hot, not spiritually superior, and if that's what your shallow self wants, knock yourself out, I'm too good for you and I'm outta here."

The middle verse:

So now we're at a club, you watch the woman dancing, she is drunk,

She is smiling and she's falling in a slow, descending funk,

And the whole bar is loud and proud and everybody's trying, yeah.

You play the artist, saying, is it how she moves, or how she looks?

I say, it's loneliness suspended to our own like grappling hooks,

And as long as she's got noise, she's fine.

But I could teach her how I learned to dance when the music's ended

Oh -- and that's not petty, as cool as I am, I thought you'd know this already,

I will not be afraid of women,

I will not be afraid of women.

The memory of those little girls dancing in the classroom of the day care center, shouting "I will not be afraid of women!" still brings me to tears, and I hope they're still shouting it.

4. Empire (from My Better Self) This is Dar's most recent album, and it has great guest artists on it, Ani DeFranco and others. This song is a cautionary tale, hitting a little too close to home these days. Fascism, anyone? (And scary message aside, anyone who rhymes "ingenuously churlish" with "pessimistic, weak and girlish" deserves a medal.)

Words, all of them, it's worth reading:

Who's afraid of the sun?

Who would question the goodness of the mighty?

We who banish the threat,

When your little ones all go nighty-nighty.

Well, there's no time for doubt right now and less time to explain.

So get back on your horses, kiss my ring, join our next campaign.

And the empire grows with the news that we're winning.

With more fear to conquer and more gold thread for spinning.

Bright as the sun, shining on everyone.

Some would say that we forced our words, and we find that ingenuously churlish.

Words are just words.

Don't be so pessimistic, weak and girlish.

We like strong, happy people who don't think there's something wrong with pride,

Work makes them free and we spread that freedom far and wide.

And the empire grows, the seeds of its glory,

For every five tanks, plant a sentimental story,

'til they worship the sun, even Christ-loving ones.

And we'll kill the terrorizers and a million of their races.

But when our people torture you that's a few random faces.

Don't question the sun

It doesn't help anyone.

But the journalists cried out when it was too late to stop us.

Everyone had awakened to the dream they could enter our colossus.

And now I'm right, here you said I'm right, there's nothing that can harm me.

'Cause the sun never sets on my dungeons or my army.

And the empire fell on its own splintered axis.

And the empire wanes as the silver moon waxes.

And the farmers will find our coins in their strawberry fields

while somebody somewhere twists his ring as someone kneels.

Oh where is the sun, shining for everyone.

Oh where is the sun, shining for everyone.

If you don't find this chilling, I fear you're not watching.

5. Mercy of the Fallen (from The Beauty of the Rain) This is less political and more introspective. I love the idea that humility and tolerance come from experience and the learning that you aren't qualified to judge. I also love the astronomy imagery - beautiful!

First verse and chorus lyrics:

Oh my fair North Star, I have held to you dearly

I have asked you to steer me, 'til one cloud-scattered night

I got lost in my travels, I met Leo the lion

Met a king and met a giant with their errant light.

There’s the wind and the rain and the mercy of the fallen

Who say they have no claim to know what’s right

There’s the weak and the strong and the beds that have no answer

And that’s where I may rest my head tonight

All lyrics posted here are Dar Williams', not mine, obviously. I'm enamored of every line of her writing, but oh yeah, she sings, too, and musically, most of her songs are lovely and well-written and performed. Her website has lots of song samples.

Fellow Dar fans, please comment - what are your favorite Dar songs?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Quotation of the Day (with illustration)

"Any three non-colinear cats form a triangle." Bird

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

My first attempt at a photoshop collage

Well, obviously, what I need is another hobby that takes up a lot of time and doesn't make me any money. So here is my first ever attempt at a collage in photoshop. Thanks to screencap paradise for the pictures, and if you've never seen the Buffy episode Restless, I recommend it for its beautiful camerawork and its complete uniqueness in the world of television.

Monday, February 12, 2007

My Sister's Keeper, a novel by Jodi Picoult

I normally read in little spurts, a few pages here and there before a lesson or while I'm cooking. I'm not proud of this fact - I love books, and I haven't read nearly enough of them lately. This book I read in two sittings, while the groceries waited to be put away and the phone kept ringing, the last 25 pages or so through a blur of tears.

This book is beautiful. It's the story of Anna, short for Andromeda, who was conceived to be a stem cell donor for her sister, who has a severe form of leukemia. Unfortunately, once doesn't turn out to be enough, and both sisters end up spending most of their time in the hospital, one donating blood and marrow, the other receiving it. When it happens that the next treatment option is a kidney donation, Anna's lot in life becomes a little more difficult to justify.
At the beginning, Anna starts telling her story, about her invisibility beneath her sister's all-consuming illness. Then, just as you start to empathize and welcome Anna's voice into your consciousness, the voice changes, and the telling is passed around among Anna's parents, her sister and brother, and eventually her lawyer, her guardian ad litem, and even a judge. Every time the voice changes, the new speaker's pain is biting and unique.
It's fairly rare that I find myself relating mainly to the male characters in a story, but the ones I love the most in this book are Anna's brother and father.
Jesse is Anna's older brother. He is the epitome of lostness. And a pyromaniac. A psychiatrist would call him an attention-seeker. But anyone who's ever rolled down the hill of obsession or addiction knows it's more than that. He's got legitimate pain, but it's never a priority in the family with so many other issues. His character brings to mind lyrics from an Art Garfunkel song:

All my love's softness, all my love's graces
She carries all things in her tiny white glove
She hides all her lostness in satins and laces
And everyone says she's searching for sweet love

Brian is Anna's father. His firefighting is what keeps him together, the activity that gives him some control. The father and the son both have escapist tendencies, which is perhaps what I relate to.
This book is worth reading. It flows beautifully between past and present and among characters. You finish reading, wishing to have another whole book about each and every character.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Candy and Truffles

I heard from the hundredth person today that the candies my sister Bird and I made this Christmas were so fabulous that "I can't believe you made them yourself!" Hmmm. I'm not sure if this is a testament to the extreme fabulosity of the candy or the general assumption that I am, on the whole, incompetent. Either way, I thought I'd post a picture and some recipe info.

First of all, since I can never do any project on a reasonable scale, once the candy-making got started, we just kept rolling and dipping, and here's the final list of everything we made (in the form of the list I included with each gift box so that people would know what they were getting into). We almost had to buy a second freezer.

After Dinner Mints: bright colored minty fun
Almond Joy Truffles: coconut and chocolate rolled in crushed almonds
Caramels: don’t eat the wax paper
Caramel Truffles*: made with caramel liqueur inside milk chocolate, dark chocolate drizzle on top
Chili Truffles: chili and cayenne in chocolate, not for the faint of taste buds
Chocolate Covered Caramels: they’re squarish
Chocolate Covered Cherries: funny looking with red drizzle on top, but really yummy
Chocolate Covered After Dinner Mints: small and round, dipped in dark chocolate
Cranberry Cups: White and/or dark chocolate cups filled with cranberry chocolate filling and nuts
Cranberry Nut patties: White and/or dark chocolate filled with nuts and dried cranberries
Ginger Lime Truffles: lime and chocolate coated with ginger and covered in chocolate, green swirl on top
Mocha Truffles*: Kahlua and chocolate, rolled in cocoa powder
Orange Candies: round, covered in sugar, tasty but dangerous to one’s teeth
Orange Mint Truffles*: made with Cointreau and dipped in mint chocolate, sprinkled with powdered sugar
Oreo Patties: Dark chocolate patties with Oreo centers
Peanut Butter Balls: covered in milk chocolate
Raspberry Truffles*: made with Chambord, white swirl on top

*These contain alcohol.

Here's a picture of a few of the candies I still have left in the freezer (because of the aforementioned epic scale of my projects, I still have some left even after giving candy to everyone I know and some people I don't...) These are (top to bottom) ginger lime truffles, caramel truffles, cranberry nut patties, and almond joy truffles.

The funny thing about these candies is that, while I sometimes try to follow a recipe, it rarely works out and I end up making it up as I go along.
Truffles go something like this: Mix about 1/2 cup of coconut milk with about 1/2 cup of something else of the liquid variety, like liqueur, juice, or coffee - Chambord is one of the best options, in my opinion. Melt about 12 ounces, give or take, of chocolate in a double boiler (I am a microwave-hater, but supposedly it is also possible to melt the chocolate that way). You can use any kind of chocolate; I usually use a darker variety for the inside of the truffles, but it depends on the flavor. Mix the melted chocolate with the liquid mixture and refrigerate until it's firm. Then roll it into little balls and dip it in something, usually more chocolate. When I make the chocolate for dipping I use the double boiler again (I borrowed one from a friend this year so I could have two kinds of chocolate melting at any given time) and add a little Crisco (or more healthily, coconut oil) to it to make it a better consistency for dipping. Finally, dip the balls in the melted chocolate and lay them out on wax paper to cool. This year we did some dipping (which for me generally results in extremely tasty truffles that look like little odd-shaped turds - sigh), but we mostly used molds, which is more time-consuming, but makes them look nicer. To do this, we spooned chocolate into the bottom of the molds, then added the ball of truffle insides, then spooned more chocolate in to fill the mold. To expedite the process, put the filled molds in the freezer for a few minutes and when they've cooled, the chocolate pop right out. These candies can generally be kept in the fridge for quite a while and the freezer for a good long time.

Notes about melting chocolate and dipping or molding:
  • Milk chocolate melts more quickly than dark chocolate - pay attention
  • Milk chocolate and white chocolate do not remelt well, so use small amounts at a time and make more as you need it
  • Melt the chocolate completely, but let it cool a bit before dipping/molding
  • The truffle insides should be cool, but not really cold - the further apart the temperatures of the insides and outsides are, the harder it seems to be to make them work together
  • You can get candy molds at craft stores and often the grocery store

Caramels go like this: Mix equal parts (I think I used 2 cups at a time in a big old pot) condensed milk, butter, brown sugar, white sugar, and corn syrup. Cook on the stove until the mixture reaches what real candymakers called "firm ball stage" or about 248 degrees. Use a candy thermometer - it's much more economical than throwing out a few batches of hard-as-a-rock candy, not that I would know. It takes a while, and it will be bubbly. Keep it on medium heat and be patient. If you've got aching feet, pull a chair up to the stove and just keep stirring. When it reaches the right temperature, pour it into a greased cake pan, let it cool for several hours, cut it into squares with a table knife, and wrap it in squares of wax paper. These keep in the freezer for a long time.

Disclaimer: I know nothing about candymaking. Everything here is from reading recipes online and experimenting. I'd love to hear anyone else's ideas on the subject. Email me if you're interested in a recipe for anything on the list above.


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