Friday, October 28, 2011

Bringing Nature Inside

Yesterday, I noticed this beautiful sign of fall on our front walkway.

My son's first question was, "Can I tape it to the window?"

Kids naturally want to bring nature home with them. Whether it's rocks, dandelion bouquets, or colorful leaves, kids notice small things on the ground more often than most adults.

How might you support your children's interests?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Travel Tuesdays: Share Everyday Life

When hosting guests from other places, be sure to take time for everyday life. It's so easy to get caught up traveling from place to place, showing off your home town or state. What makes a cultural exchange rich is not the number of places you've visited, rather the meaningful exchanges you've had with people. As I've written before, some of my favorite memories happen in off moments- the everyday moments rather than the big tourist moments. This is equally true of me as a traveler and as a host.

Here are some wonderful moments from our recent visit with our "family" from India:

My kids taught our guest how to "shuck" corn.

While the grown-ups gave each other cooking tips and prepared dinner.

Everyone got up early to send my kids off to school.

The boys practiced taking photos the "Indian way"- with no smiles.

Then everyone gave them a big send-off.

By the time my kids came home, the house was quiet for the first time in 5 days. The big send-off happened on our friends' last day here. It made the goodbyes easier and offered a fun way for our kids to head off to school.

Have you hosted guests from another state or country? What were your favorite moments?

Friday, October 21, 2011

1st Person, 2nd Story

L-R Kimberly Marcus, Dawn Tripp, Joan Leegant
Last night, my husband and I attended "1st Person, 2nd Story: An Author Event on the Second Story of Cork." This event benefited New Bedford's AHA! (Art-History-Architecture). AHA! Night is a FREE arts & culture event which takes place the 2nd Thursday of every month in downtown New Bedford, Massachusetts.

During this lovely evening we met local authors Dawn Tripp of Westport, Kimberly Marcus of Dartmouth, and Joan Leegant of Newton. Local public radio personality Naomi Arenberg was the host and my favorite local Indie bookseller, Baker Books, sold books. Cork provided wine and tapas.

This was an event created just for me, it seems. By attending, we supported local authors, a local indie bookstore,  a local restaurant and a local arts and culture event all in one night! I also connected with other locals like Nelson Hockert-Lotz who share my passion for books and local culture. Hearing the authors' stories was icing on the cake for me (really delicious icing, that is!).

Here are a few highlights from the authors.

Dawn focused on how her strong sense of place influences her writing. She summered in Westport, MA as a child. Now she's married to a local man and lives there. Each of her novels is set in Westport. In her novels, Dawn wanted to capture something true to that small town. Even though she compressed geography a bit in one of her novels, long-time locals told her she had accomplished her goal. Many older locals offered to be interviewed as part of her research for her second novel set in Westport during the early 1900s.

Joan also spoke of a strong sense of place in her writing. Joan currently lives half the year in Newton and half the year in Israel, so it makes sense that her novel is set in Israel. She emphasizes sensory details to make a place come alive for readers. I read the first chapter of Wherever You Go when I got home and from the first two sentences I was grounded in that place.

Joan quoted E.L. Doctorow to describe her writing process:
“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
Like Dawn, Kimberly was drawn to a place her family used to summer. For Kimberly, it was Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard. Even though she changed the names of places in Exposed, she was thinking of Falmouth, MA and Martha's Vineyard as she wrote.  For Kimberly, a sense of emotional place is also important. Exposed explores the changing emotional landscape of a teenaged girl as she realizes an important person in her life isn't the person she thought.
When asked about their advice to young writers, all three women agreed that the best way to learn to write is to sit and write. It reminded me of Jane Yolen's famous acronym: BIC (Butt in Chair). In other words, if you want to be a writer, write. They also agreed that writers need to be willing to take risks, both as a writer and in life. Joan paraphrased Samuel Beckett: Fail. Fail again. Then fail better.
(Complete quotation: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.")
Thanks to each of these ladies for sharing their thoughts and processes with us. I encourage you to read their books.

If you live in Southeastern Massachusetts or Rhode Island, please visit Baker Books, Cork and AHA! Night. If you don't, find out what's local to you and support those businesses.  When you travel, support events and businesses local to where you're visiting. There are businesses and events like this everywhere.

What local events have you been to lately?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Travel Tuesdays: Balleyara Market, Niger

This is part of a much longer (and pretty interesting) story. For this post, I'll stick to the basics that relate to my point.

When my husband and I visited Niger, we took a bush taxi from Niamey- the capital city where my sister was living at the time- to Baleyara for the weekly market. This normally 2 hour trip was a bit harrowing, to say the least. For starters, there is no schedule. The bush taxi only leaves when it's full. We lucked out and left in a reasonable amount of time (maybe an hour or so). The other challenging part was that the driver dictated where each person sat. My sister and I were placed in the back two rows. I was squashed in so tight that only my left buttock touched the seat. The rest of my backside rested on the Hausa man to my right. Meanwhile, my husband- a male in a Muslim country- sat comfortably in the front row only three people across to our five.
We hurtled on down the road at what felt like 80 miles per hour until we were stopped by the Military Police. They collected everyone's papers, including our passports. After a scary exchange with my sister, who no longer carried her passport everywhere because she lived there, our passports/papers were returned and the bush taxi continued on its way, minus the one passenger who was removed by the police. Needless to say, this left the three of us on edge. I was already uncomfortable being separated from my family on the bush taxi.  Our interaction with guys with big guns had left me more anxious.

So, a short while later when the bush taxi veered off the road and stopped, I was alarmed. The driver got out and demanded we all exit. Once outside the vehicle, we realized the problem- a flat tire. This wasn't surprising since we were driving on bald tires, but it was a problem considering we had no jack.

The solution?

All of the men, including my husband, lifted the bush taxi and propped it on a block so they could change the tire. The driver and several other men had waved my husband off, like he didn't need to help, but we were passengers just like everyone else. There was no way my husband would take a privileged position and refuse to help. Once the new bald tire was secured, they lowered the bush taxi and passengers began reloading. The driver clapped my husband on the back and said, "Let's go, my brother."

The lesson: don't act like a tourist, too afraid to interact with locals or worry you'll ruin your vacation by getting dirty. For us, this momentary exchange was significant. Until that moment, the driver was pretty quiet. After my husband's help, he called my husband brother. They worked together to solve a problem and a new level of connection, no matter how brief, was established. It also calmed my anxieties- we now had a "friend" driving us to Balleyara.

Have you experienced a brief moment of connection like this while traveling? Not the kind that leads to long-term friendship like I experienced in Morocco, but important, nonetheless?

And, a final question... Have you traveled to West Africa? Can you identify the large pieces of wood that look like giant golf tees? A language barrier prevented us from figuring it out when we were there!

Friday, October 14, 2011

2011 Cranberry Harvest Celebration

Last weekend was the A.D. Makepeace and Cape Cod Cranberry Grower's Association Cranberry Harvest Celebration in Wareham, MA. I wrote about this celebration last year, so hop over to last year's post to learn more details. Today, a photo montage:

We watched the "wet" harvest

 and helped "dry" harvest.

We climbed on the giant sand pile

and dug holes
and jumped

before meeting some owls close-up and going home.

If you live in Massachusetts or Rhode Island, I highly recommend you go to this celebration next year. It's worth the ride, especially if you've never witnessed a cranberry harvest up close. It usually runs on Saturday and Sunday of Columbus Day weekend from 10-4. You'll get outside, learn about local culture and have loads of fun.

How about your neck of the woods... are there any harvest celebrations happening? Tell us about them.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Travel Tuesdays: World Music

"Cultures are very powerful forces. We get used to being  certain ways. The music you grow up with becomes deeply a part of who you are and your identity. It takes a desire to learn and communicate with others in order to adjust to the sounds of another culture's music."

-Michael Tenzer, Ethnomusicologist as heard  on NPR's On Point with Tom Ashbrook 'The Roots of World Music' February 22, 2010

Before setting out on a trip, I like to learn something about the place I'll be visiting. I especially enjoy listening to music from the country I'll visit. In the past I had to search high and low to find good world music. Nowadays, this task is easier than ever with music from nearly ever part of the globe available for purchase on CD, from iTunes, or on YouTube.

Back in the mid-nineties, I was the local coordinator for a group of exchange students from France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, and Morocco. One day, while out on a field trip with the students, I saw a CD of traditional Moroccan music called Morocco: Crossroads of Time. I was already interested in world music by that time, but I was uncertain if the music I was getting was authentic. On this day, I had a great opportunity. I asked Mehdi, a student from Casablanca, Morocco (the same man I mentioned in my Travel Tuesdays: Morocco post) to listen and give me his opinion. When he started singing along, I knew I had the real thing.  I purchased the CD.

In June of 2001, shortly before our trip to Morocco, I prepared a Moroccan meal for my husband and the friends we'd be traveling with. I played the CD while we ate dinner. We shared a meal, prepared for our trip, and allowed the music to transport us to Morocco. Later, while in a medina in Morocco, I noted my familiarity with some of the sounds I was hearing because I had listened to "Ambient Sounds" (at Marrakesh Medina).

For those of you who are unable to travel, music offers another way to expose your children to different cultures. In my classroom (and now in my home) I played music from all over the globe. In the beginning, some students would make faces or mock the unfamiliar sounds. After a year in my classroom, however, those different styles of music seemed more common place and the mocking had stopped.

My kids have listened to world music since birth. We started with world lullabies and moved on from there. I'll never forget the day my then 4 year old son asked me to change the music I was playing in the car. He asked, "Will you play the Arabic one?" My kids' current favorite world music is "Basement Bangra." I love that my children listen to all kinds of music with the same open-ness. With a little exposure, your kids will, too.

Unlike the adults I believe Michael Tenzer was referencing in the quotation that opens this post, children are far more open and adaptable to new sounds. I believe Mr. Tenzer is correct about adults. We need to work harder to acquaint our ears to unfamiliar sounds and eventually learn to appreciate them. Kids make that leap far more quickly.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be posting examples of my favorite world music on my "Michelle Cusolito, Writer" Facebook page. If you haven't "liked" my page, yet, please consider doing so. Just click the "like" button on the right side bar.

What's your favorite world music? Please share it in the comments.

Related Posts

Friday, October 7, 2011

Stress Therapy: Get Back to Nature

In times of stress, it's easy to forget to do simple things that will keep you healthy and limit the impact of stress. I'm as guilty of this as anyone.

Our family has had some fairly significant stressors lately. When I'm stressed, my shoulders rise up to meet my ears, I become impatient, and I don't  sleep well. I know what I need to do in these times. For me, practicing yoga, getting a chiropractic adjustment, or meeting a friend for coffee and conversation all help. On Tuesday, I realized I had recently done each of those things but it wasn't enough. I felt scattered and ungrounded.

The solution? Time in nature. In fact, literally time on the ground at several points. I grabbed a small backpack, some water, my notebook/pen, and my camera. As I set out for a walk in the woods, I had no plan. I just knew I needed to move my body and to spend time in nature. As I stepped out my back door, I noticed these cute little mushrooms in my herb garden.

As I approached the first bend in the trail, I felt myself start to relax.

By the time my house was out of sight, my breathing had deepened and my shoulders had dropped.

Perhaps one hundered feet later, I noticed this mushroom. Purple! Can you believe it?

And thus my adventure was born... Mushroom hunting! I spent the next hour wandering along, looking for mushrooms. (To see more mushroom photos, come back next Wednesday for Wordlesss Wednesday).  I crouched down low and even laid right down in the damp soil and moss to get close up photos. I found purple, white, orange, brown, and red mushrooms. I found them growing on soil, leaves, trees, and fallen logs. I found the tiniest little mushrooms whose tops were no more than 1/8 of an inch across and one that was nearly 4 inches across.

I'm not a professional photographer, but it doesn't matter. I was totally lost in the experience. An hour pased but it only felt like minutes. Not once did I think about all the things I would have been thinking about if I  weren't in the woods.

I know nature rejuvenates me. Heck, I blog about getting out into nature. I'm Nature Girl. Why didn't I get out there sooner? Perhaps for the same reasons you may not get out as often as you should- life gets busy and you go from one responsibility to the next to the next. Perhaps you go into survival mode in times of extreme stress and don't go outside at all. Here's the truth, though. To really survive it, we NEED to be outside. We NEED time in nature to be healthy, well-adjusted beings. Our kids need it, too.

There's loads of research to support this. If you want to know more, check out the Children and Nature Network website. (Or, go directly to the Research and Resources page). Then grab your kids and get outside.

How does time in nature support your well-being?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Travel Tuesdays: Mount Desert Island ME and Chatham, MA

Today I'd like to focus on travel that's closer to home. Not everyone is able to travel internationally, but nearly all of my suggestions can be applied to domestic travel.

This past summer, my family took a vacation to Mount Desert Island (MDI) in Maine. MDI is home to Acadia National Park, so we spent part of our time visiting various sites in the park. The rest of our time, however, was spent getting to know the area as the locals do.

We observed birds of prey that were fledging and talked to local residents to see if they had identified the birds. During one conversation we also got a tip about a local swimming hole. When we went for a swim, we were the only ones there. We spent lots of time observing a sunfish protecting its nest. On another day, we hiked to a scenic overlook (some say the most beautiful on the island) that few tourists climb. Afterwards, we purchased delicious bread from the local bakery and tasted ice cream at a shop a block away. While eating my ice cream, I noticed a flyer for a local artist.

After seeing that flyer for r scott balz gallery for a third time, I decided I should take a drive to meet the artist. Scott and I engaged in a lively discussion of our creative processes. We viewed his bold landscapes with rich colors. When I told him I tend to take close-up photos of small things like rocks, insects and lichen he told me he used to take close up photos for a living and went into a back room to pull out a photo of kelp on the beach. It was an enriching and inspiring conversation I never would have had if I were on a scheduled tour with a program of events to follow.  Our family had scheduled a couple of things, but otherwise wandered where we felt inspired to wander on any given day.

A couple of weeks later I was in Chatham, MA on Cape Cod (about one hour from my home) with my whole family (sisters, spouses, nieces, parents, kids, etc). While kayaking in a pond, I noticed a man in waders walking along the edge of the pond. He had a camera hanging from his neck and was taking notes. I turned my kayak and paddled over. “Hi. I hope you don’t mind me interrupting you. You seem to be documenting something. May I ask what you’re working on?”

Fred went on to tell me that his parents used to own a large section of land surrounding the pond. Much of that land, including the sand banks along one edge, had been destroyed by various human activity including locals riding ATVs. About 10 years ago they sold the land to a private conservation organization at a discounted rate. Fred was out that day documenting the changes in the edge of the pond since conservation efforts were put in place. He told me that ten years ago a plant commonly called Marsh Mallow, that only grows in three counties in Massachusetts, was wiped out along the pond. Now it’s back and getting stronger. He was documenting these changes by counting and photographing the plants. By talking to Fred, I looked more closely at the edge of the pond and noticed the detailed centers of these beautiful flowers.

By connecting with the locals, we learned more about the places we were visiting and connected to the landscape in more meaningful ways.

How might you put some of these ideas into practice in your domestic travels or daily life? Have you had an enriching experience by interacting with the locals where you are? Please share your stories.

Related Posts:
Wordless Wednesday: Seal Cove- Mount Desert Island, ME