For FALL 2010's delicious offerings of books, art, food, film, and unique travel--check out the NEW ISSUE of our online magazine FEAST--you will not go away hungry-- http://www.feastofbooks.com/

Between issues, read our blog posts as we and our special guests share thoughts, ideas, and recommendations about books, art, food, film, and travel. We love to hear from our readers, so please post a comment! Thanks-- Rosemary Carstens, editor

SNAX ONLINE is moving during the first quarter of 2011 -- stay tuned!

Snax Online is undergoing a redesign and will be moving to a new location. Check back from time to time for a link. In its new format, this blog will cover a wider range of topics but also its usual five. In the meantime, keep up with what's happening in the world of books, art, food, film, and travel at http://www.FEASTofBooks.com --

See you in 2011!!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Ride on, Rosie, ride on . . .Keeping the rubber side down

The last couple of weeks in December each year are a time of looking back over the past year and figuring out what I’d like to happen in the new one. A lot of people tell me they don’t make new year’s resolutions, but I’ve always found it’s a way to keep on track with my personal, spiritual, and career goals, so I don’t mind it.

I think people often feel they are probably not going to be able to keep their resolutions, so why do it and then just feel like they’ve failed. I look at it more as a continuum—I’m headed in a certain direction, here’s what it’ll likely take to get there, if I don’t get the whole journey in this year, there will at least be some progress along the way. I try to feel good about the progress, the way points, and not worry about exactly when I’ll arrive at the destination. For me, in many ways, it’s like riding cross-country on my motorcycle. Each day I continue in my chosen direction, but each is a special adventure all its own. Maybe it’ll be a glorious one—sun blazing in a hot summer sky, a good breakfast under my belt as I saddle up, no wind, no rain, no crazed motorists, only the blue highway unwinding before me like a promise of good times. On the other hand, it may be one of those days plagued by heavy traffic, hail and lightning storms, switchback after switchback, mile after mile bulked up in rain gear, suffering waves of water in the face as semis roll past. You just never know—when you ride a motorcycle, weather is fate. It shapes your days.

Right now, fate seems to be taking the form of a bad economy, something we will have to try to ride out safely, to weather the storm. Thinking now about some strategies for doing that could help us feel more prepared and less worried. Among my resolutions for 2009 is to first figure out how I can diversify as much as possible, so that all my work efforts aren’t tied to one industry, then devise a plan and work it, day by day. An important part of that plan will be to reinforce my work relationships with present clients and look for opportunities with new ones, always asking myself the question: What do THEY need? What can I do to ease THEIR problems? I think that’ll yield some new contracts. If not now, then later.

But I’m not just thinking about career resolutions in the year ahead. Since I know it may be a stressful time, I’ll need to set and keep some physical fitness, general nutrition, and recreational/social goals. Those things will help me keep my life in balance. What kinds of goals would you like to accomplish in the months ahead? It has been said that telling someone else your goals and dreams is one way to keep on track. Here’s a place where you can do that—share what your plans are to deal with your finances, your relationships, your health needs, and to tell us what you plan to do for pure joy in 2009. FEAST is about books, art, food, film, and travel—do you have plans next year to feed your heart and soul with any of these?

-- Rosemary Carstens

Friday, December 05, 2008

“Ancestors whispering over my shoulder . . . “

As readers, we often wonder—and ask at book readings—where authors get their ideas. For CARMEN TAFOLLA, the much celebrated Chicana writer, poet, speaker and performer, it is those who have come before that whisper into her ear. Carmen has published five books of poetry, eight children’s picture books, seven television screenplays, one nonfiction volume, and, her latest, a collection of short stories titled THE HOLY TORTILLA AND A POT OF BEANS (Wings Press 2008). Honored with the Art of Peace award for writing that furthers peace, justice, and human understanding, Carmen’s stories contain more than a touch of magic about the Mexican experience, the immigrant, “other culture” experience that is all too often pushed to the periphery of American writing. Channeling stories she’s heard all her life or merely glanced at from the corner of her eye and absorbed into her bones, her characters spring to life to celebrate the joy, tragedy, compassion, oppression, and liberation of a certain way of living.

I often suggest books here that focus on the myriad of cultures that make up the category “American” people, because I feel the more we learn, the more we know, the more we understand our common ground and also the uniqueness that each brings to the mix, the richer we are. Sometimes we feel left out in our own culture, or it’s simply not a fit for our personality, our psyche. When we know more about the ways of others, we have a source for something different—a new tradition, another style, another beat, that we can make our own. With a new year approaching, why not branch out in our reading, seek something new, try some salsa on that meatloaf? Perhaps start with reading Tafolla’s Holy Tortilla or some of her poetry, buy a child one of her bilingual picture books. For more about this talented woman: http://www.carmentafolla.com/

-- Rosemary Carstens

Friday, November 21, 2008

Dreaming of Escape: Settling in on the land . . .

Each day as the economic news worsens, do you find yourself pulling inward, seeking a simpler life, more closely knit, safe from the whims of politics, economists, and the seemingly vengeful market? The desire to seek shelter from inclement weather of all types has always been a large part of what makes us dream of a “cabin” of our own, located in the midst of natural beauty and awesome vistas, a place where we can connect with those we love and seek spiritual respite. SEABRING DAVIS and BIG SKY JOURNAL have brought out a new book that connects us to those longings for home and hearth and safe harbors. The New Montana Cabin: Contemporary Approaches to the Traditional Western Retreat (Two Dot Books 2008) is a beautiful, photographic collection of secluded, rustic, romantic retreats all nestled in the midst of the Western landscape. It’s a great holiday gift for anyone who enjoys the outdoors, dreams of peaceful days and cozy nights, for anyone who just longs for a special, unique lifestyle away from the hustle and buzz.

The word “cabin” used to mean a structure that barely sheltered you from the wind and rain—I remember childhood visits to a family enclave outside Moab, Utah, where each of my cousin’s families had, basically, a shack—one room, bunks on either side, a big, black iron wood stove at one end. But they were smack dab in the middle of our very own glorious mountaintop and the memories are indelible and warm—and I have a photo taken years later that shows my initials more than six feet up the trunk of a tree, initials carved at chest height when I was about eight!

Seabring Davis brings us today’s cabins, getaways and full-time homes ranging from 120-square-feet of compact living snugged into a forest to a 7,000 s.f. log mountain-top mansion. As her chapter titles suggest, she covers everything from “Retro Cozy” to “Modern Homestead” and “Montana Micro Cabins” and every one of them reflects a reverence for the restorative wonders of a more natural environment far from citylife, a respect for sustainable living, and the beauty of creative interior design.

Throw a couple of logs on the fire, pour a couple of brandies or cups of hot chocolate, snuggle on the couch under a warm throw, and dream of better days ahead – Rosemary Carstens - http://carstenscommunications.com/

Thursday, October 23, 2008

BLACK CHROME – Keeping the rubber side down . . .

The CALIFORNIA AFRICAN AMERICAN MUSEUM in Los Angeles continues to have a rotating spectrum of fascinating exhibitions. Beginning late September 2008 and continuing through April 12, 2009, visitors will have an amazing opportunity to learn about the contributions African Americans have made to motorcycle culture, mechanical technology, and aesthetics, since World War II.

Each month a special event focuses on some aspect of the innovation and creativity Black Americans have brought to American motorcycling, from Bessie Stringer’s cross-country travels in an era where there were few roads and practically no women bikers to many others who road the highways, designed stunning choppers, and raced high-powered drag bikes. This is a chance to glimpse a little-documented segment of our culture.

The image above is the East Bay Dragons at Miss Helen’s Bar-B-Que, September 1966. The image to the right is Lana “Mintu” Hines, Managing Editor of Black Biker magazine, Iron Horse Chopper, Sacramento, CA. Photos courtesy of Black Biker magazine.

For more on this exhibition, as well as a fabulous presentation of members of the BLACK PANTHERS photographed by Howard Bingham in the sixties, and Bay Area artist DEWEY CRUMPLER’s showing of bold paintings, sculptures, videos, and installation pieces, go to: http://www.caamuseum.org/. It’s a chance to veer off the usual museum paths and see something extraordinary, broaden your vision!

--Rosemary Carstens

Friday, October 17, 2008

Once again, Ron McLarty proves he's an entertainer . . .

Remember how wonderful it was to discover The Memory of Running, the debut novel by RON MCLARTY? McLarty’s third novel—Art in America (Viking 2008)—is sure to charm you once again with McLarty’s keen observations on life, his skill as a storyteller, and his sardonic understanding about the oddities and flaws of human beings. As he expresses it, “Art in America is a funny and affectionate story about a down-on-his-luck writer who finally finds success and love.”

Middle-aged New York writer Steven Kearney is down on his luck. He has written thousands of pages of novels, plays, and poems--not a single one of which has ever been published. After being thrown out of his Manhattan apartment, Kearney takes shelter with his longtime pal Roarke, an actress and director. One day, out of the blue, he’s offered a position as playwright-in-residence for three months at the Creedemore Historical Society in rural southern Colorado; they want him to write and direct a historical play about the town. But when he arrives, all hell breaks loose with land disputes, a former big-city cop-turned-sheriff trying to keep the peace, activist groups roaming the hills, and a nosy national media all contributing to a rollicking climax.

Each of Ron McLarty’s books has been well received and the critics are raving about ART IN AMERICA. The Christian Science Monitor’s review rounds out the consensus when it says,

Art in America finds a charming groove with plenty of chuckles. Those turn into snorts of hysteria once the curtain opens on Kearney's Creedemore epic, which is of a scale and lunacy deserving an honorary Tony for funniest play never staged in real life. If you enjoy your antiheroes scruffy and your comedy topped with a dollop of Americana, buy a ticket for Art In America.
For more information about author and book: http://www.ronmclarty.com/

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Telling Our Stories – The Intimacy of Memoir

As first heard in the gritty black-and-white film The Naked City in 1948, “There are eight million stories in the naked city.” Everyone has a story and appearances can be deceiving when it comes to knowing who has led a remarkable adventure, survived a harrowing experience, or been celebrated at some point in his or her life. Three books recently crossed my desk about women who stepped out, survived, or were deeply affected by a brief star turn. Each is compelling and inspiring in its own way, and each reminds us of how seldom we know another’s secret heart.

THE LOVELIEST WOMAN IN AMERICA: A Tragic Actress, Her Lost Diaries, and Her Granddaughter’s Search for Home, Bibi Gaston. William Morrow 2008. I met Bibi a few years ago at a party and, as we sat together enjoying glasses of wine, she told me that recently, out of the blue, she had received 1,500 pages of her grandmother’s diaries from the 1920s and 1930s. Before that she had known nothing about her father’s mother except that she had been very beautiful and had killed herself in 1938. Her grandmother, Rosamond Pinchot, had been born into an illustrious political family, was dubbed “the loveliest woman in America” at the age of 23. She was a celebrated actress, an accomplished sportswoman, and a well-known socialite. By the age of 33 she was dead by her own hand. This candid book relates Bibi Gaston’s own journey as she explores her family’s secrets and the convoluted maze of subsequent events following Rosamond’s death. It’s a fascinating tale!

PACIFIC LADY: The First Woman to Sail Solo Across the World’s Largest Ocean, Sharon Sites Adams with Karen J. Cootes. University of Nebraska Press 2008. In June 1965, Sharon Adams sailed solo from the mainland United States to Hawaii. Just four years later, she completed a 74-day sail from Japan across the Pacific to the coast of California. No woman had ever done either before! This was an age when high-tech navigation equipment and communications were unknown. Imagine the challenges she faced and yet she is virtually unknown. Adams had always been athletic and a tomboy, but these were times when women adventurers were few and far between. Following the death of her husband, this intrepid sailor “discovered” the sport and had her first lesson, bought a boat, and within eight months set out to achieve her first world record. A truly inspiring story for anyone dreaming of taking on a challenge!

CANCER IS A BITCH (Or, I’d Rather Be Having a Midlife Crisis), Gail Konop Baker. Da Capo 2008. Life can really whack you upside the head sometimes. That’s what happened to Gail Konop Baker, an accomplished columnist and freelance writer, a runner, yoga practitioner, doctor’s wife, and mother of two. As she puts it, in her early forties, just as her life was cooking on all burners, “my right boob turned on me. Seven biopsies in five years, the last one ductal carcinoma in situ.” Gail’s valiant fight again this dreaded disease put her priorities quickly in order. At this point in her life, she had expected “to be feeling bad about my neck; instead I was feeling bad I wouldn’t live long enough to feel bad about it.” This story is as much about family, friends, and love as it is about cancer. The author pulls no punches, but she writes with humor as well as candor—it’s a real story with no bullshit in sight. Author's website: http://www.gailkonopbaker.com/

-- Rosemary Carstens

Friday, September 26, 2008

Fascinated by The Scream? Munch’s “Vampire” bites back –-

Although I’ve long been familiar, as most art fans are, with Edvard Munch’s The Scream, I was not familiar with another masterpiece of his titled Love and Pain, more commonly known as “Vampire” (see image to left). Part of the Norwegian artist’s magnificently rendered 20-work series The Frieze of Life (which included The Scream), it is considered the most important of four Vampires he completed in 1893 and 1894. It was first exhibited in 1902, in Berlin, where it caused shock and consternation. Nazi Germany later condemned it as morally degenerate. Criticism ran the gamut from fears about women’s liberation (as you can see, the woman appears to be the aggressor here, “draining” the man’s life blood away—that old boy Munch had a great sense of irony in my view) to outrage at its portrayal of passion with sadomasochistic overtones.

For the past 70 years, this work has remained in the hands of a private collector, so has seldom been viewed by the public, although it was on loan to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art last year. Now it’s up for auction next week at Sotheby’s in New York; its estimated value? $35 mil. Not too shabby for a painting so reviled in earlier times—just confirms that maybe titillation does pay, not to mention being an incredibly fine painter and craftsman.

A more detailed article was published HERE in the UK Independent's art and architecture section.

-- Rosemary Carstens

Monday, September 22, 2008

What if you could only keep one memory?

I’m on the last bus out of this life and I arrive at Camp Eternity. I can see over the fence surrounding the compound and everyone is dressed beautifully, radiates happiness, and most are dancing. It’s obviously a paradise. I pop out of the bus and lineup for admittance. I don’t know how I got this lucky, but I figure some of my files must have gotten trashed during a hard-drive crash. So be it—good times, I’m there! As I reach the gate, a handsome dude all dressed in white, flashes a baby-you’re-mine grin, and holds up his hand.

“Before you can pass through these gates to eternity, you must choose a single memory to retain—everything else will be erased forever. You have one hour to choose.”

WHOA. Tough assignment. What would YOU choose? What one memory would you cling to above all others? Other than the births of children or weddings days, which we'll say are givens.

This is the premise of 100 an imaginative, original play by Christopher Heimann, Neil Monaghan, and Diene Petterle, published by
Nick Hern Books, a specialized UK company that publishes plays, screenplays, and theaterbooks. NHB is a great source for scripts of any number of fascinating productions should you be in the market.

100 and the company's subsequent presentation Food, about Frank Byrne, a top chef with only one ambition in life—to win the coveted third Michelin star for his restaurant, were performed by the imaginary body, an award-winning theater and film company. They “are interested in creating theatre and film with a focus on playful visual styles, often using magical realism to stretch the boundaries between reality and fiction.” Both of these plays have received special recognition and have been published by Nick Hern Books. You can learn more about the theater company and their interpretations at

I’m fascinated by this premise and find it’s not easy to choose just one out of a lifetime of memories, but lots of fun to think about. I’d love to hear what YOUR response would be when you end up just this side of heaven??

--Rosemary Carstens

Monday, September 15, 2008

Mangos, Mali, and an Inspiring Midwife

Once in awhile I come across a book that should be on everyone’s “must read” list. Kris Holloway’s Monique and the Mango Rains: Two Years with a Midwife in Mali is such a book. Unfortunately it was published by a small educational press—Waveland Press—and I couldn’t even find it on their website because everything is listed by academic discipline and there is no search function. I say “unfortunately” not because I have anything against Waveland Press—I don’t—and at least they had the wisdom to publish this book, but in today’s extremely competitive publishing industry it is essential to have some market-saavy promotional tools to draw attention to special books that might otherwise just fade away.

Author Kris Holloway spent two years as a Peace Corp volunteer in 1989-1991, in the small village of Nampossela in Mali, West Africa. Her hostess, 24-year-old Monique Dembele, ran the village medical clinic and served as midwife to the community. In a region where most women are married by the age of 18 and have 7 children on average, maternity mortality rates are among the highest in the world. In this world of mud huts, complicated cultural and religious customs, and little material resources, Holloway spent her days and nights at Monique’s side learning how to make do with little, the realities of childbirth when faced head on, the natural beauty of a night sky without electricity to dim its display, and the amazing bond that can build between two women from extremely different backgrounds. It is a unique and moving tale of friendship and love that you will long remember. If you enjoyed Three Cups of Tea, you will LOVE Monique!

The good news is that you CAN find Monique and the Mango Rains on major bookselling sites and, hopefully, on their shelves. Let’s lend our efforts to making this book the bestseller it deserves to be.

Happy reading! Rosemary Carstens

For more about the author, the book, and Mali:
To listen to NPR’s Robin Young interview with the author: http://www.here-now.org/shows/2007/01/20070122_17.asp

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Painting a Life – Frida Lives On

I just got back from a trip to the west coast to do some research. While there, I took advantage of the opportunity to visit museums and see some fantastic art. One highlight was an overnight in San Francisco during one of the nicest times of the year—the city was sparkling! I went first to see the Museum of Modern Art’s Frida Kahlo exhibit, organized by Kahlo biographer and art historian Hayden Herrera.

Frida has become a cult figure, a symbol of intimate personal expression in the arts. But during her lifetime, she was known mainly as the eccentric wife of the famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. She was known to “dabble” in painting, to dress in traditional Tehuana clothing, and to have suffered a dreadful accident early in life that eventually resulted in her early death at age 47. It is only in the last twenty-some years that her paintings began to develop a following and she and her life came into the spotlight. On the coat tails of the Herrera biography in 1983 (since reprinted numerous times), came more books, more research, about her art, her life, and her audacious lifestyle. A few years ago, Selma Hayek made a wildly popular movie about her. And, once again, with this exhibition of about fifty of her paintings plus many photographs with Diego, family, and friends, her fan base swells.

The MOMA exhibition is a celebration of the 100th anniversary of her birth in 1907 and it’s the last stop for this amazing collection of paintings and photographs. There is still time to catch it as it will be there until September 28th. I spent hours absorbing the breadth and quality of Frida’s work—many of the paintings have not previously been available for public view—and carefully examining each photograph. Many times, what we see in articles about Frida are her less-refined depictions of her physical trials and her marital troubles. What is apparent in this exhibition is how technically skilled she was, as evidenced in her beautifully and exotically rendered paintings. For me, it was a thrill I’ll not soon forget!

--Rosemary Carstens

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Women on ice tell a vital story . . .

FROZEN RIVER is an unexpected gem of a movie. I loved it as much as I've loved anything in a long, long time. I first heard about it after it won the best feature prize at Sundance and was intrigued and excited to see it. It tells the story of two poor, desperate women (one white and one Mohawk) who smuggle illegal immigrants across a frozen river from Canada to the US in order to help their families survive.

A couple of days before Christmas, Ray Eddy's (Melissa Leo) gambler of a husband has run off with the money she was saving for a new double-wide trailer. Her sense of defeat is palpable. What she wants is simple: to give her kids a safe place to live since the trailer they currently live in is falling apart. She is desperate to get cash and meets Lila Littlewolf (Misty Upham) who introduces her to smuggling, a dangerous way to make some fast cash. Each journey across the ice is harrowing, never knowing if the ice will hold them. Their last run goes bad and they are forced to rely on each other and this bizarre relationship they have formed.

Melissa Leo is an actress you have seen in many movies (21 Grams) and TV shows (Homicide: Life on the Streets), who just blends into the background—which is a good thing. She's been the perfect supporting character. Incredibly, this is the first time that she has carried a film, and her performance is outstanding and Oscar worthy. What I particularly love about her is that she uses her face and age fearlessly to relay Ray's emotions and desperation.

Melissa Silverstein
Women & Hollywood
Twitter: melsil

FROZEN RIVER is written and directed by Courtney Hunt, and has won awards at the Nantucket Film Festival, the Provincetown and Seattle International film festivals, and the 2008 Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Straw appliqué extends tradition through innovation --

THE ART OF STRAW APPLIQUÉ arose in colonial New Mexico because the Spanish colonists wanted to replicate the old world marquetry of their homeland but could not get the rare woods or gold used by artisans in Spain. Precious metal was a rare commodity and the use of gold was strictly controlled. Marquetry is a term that applies to two different types of wood surface decoration—inlay and veneer. Modern straw appliqué combines the two, using humble, readily available materials—such as wheat straw, corn husks, and native woods—that when skillfully applied echo the delicate coloration and patterns of pieces created traditionally. The straw is cleaned and then cut into tiny pieces used to create intricate geometric or floral shapes and figures against a background of dark-stained wood formed into crosses, altars, boxes, and other pieces. The so-called poor man’s gilding has become an exquisite re-rendering of a classic style.

BERNADETTE MARQUEZ-LÓPEZ is a native of Santa Fe, New Mexico. She began working as a straw artist in 2003 after admiring the art for many years. She has quickly developed her own style and has risen to the top of this art form. She juried into the annual Traditional Spanish Market in 2004, which is held on the Santa Fe Plaza the last weekend of July each year. Bernadette is inspired by the subtle colors and beauty of New Mexico’s ever-changing landscape. She shares her life with her talented husband, bultos-carver Arthur López, and their two sons, Darean and Jeremiah. For more information and to see more of her work, Bernadette can be contacted at artplopez@aol.com.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Finding Gold in a wealth of cultures --

As many of you know, DIVERSITY INTERESTS ME—I like to see a wide range of variations on a theme from artists, authors, chefs, filmmakers, and travelers, and I come away feeling completely enriched by the experience. Usually one of these discoveries has my synapses zapping through my brain like marbles in a pinball machine!

Recently, catching up on my reading for the next issue of FEAST the eZine, I came across FINDING NOUF, written by Zoë Ferraris and published by Houghton Mifflin this year. One of the first things I do when beginning a ne book about another culture is turn to the back inside leaf of the cover and read about the author. I want to know what gives this writer the creds to write authentically about a culture not his or her own. This is Ferraris’s first novel. She moved to Saudi Arabia right after the first Gulf War to live with her then husband and his extended family of Saudi-Palestinian Bedouins—there was shock and awe on both sides from what I gather. But it certainly gave Zoë an inside look at how at least one group of Saudi’s think, about their world and cultural viewpoint.

Finding Nouf is a mystery, but so much more! The search for a missing 16-year-old from a wealthy and privileged Saudi family is couched in a setting seldom seen by readers in the West and written beautifully, with depth and compassion.

We frequently hear and read about the complexity of a culture that goes to bizarre extremes to “protect and shelter” their women (and for whose benefit?). But have you ever considered what it is like for decent men who want to “go by the rules,” yet find no social outlets for meeting women to marry beyond their family’s choices? And how does a woman with less-than-traditional desires for her life find an acceptable path? This never discussed challenge for men in such a culture to marry and to interact with traditional men and women as well as an emerging female work force, and the challenges for a woman who wants more than the narrow path allowed most women in predominantly Muslim countries are all themes and subtext woven skillfully throughout this gripping story.

This kind of fiction allows us to better understand how others think about everyday events, help us to bridge the divide between cultures, and ultimately reveals that, despite different strokes for different folks, what is really at the heart of the human search for meaning is without borders.

– Rosemary Carstens

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Leaving Home . . . Part Two

If you think about the Hmong people at all, do you think that their persecution is all old news, nothing to do with today? Think again.

The personal tragedies of those forgotten soldiers left behind when America pulled out of Vietnam in 1975 lives on in the hearts and minds of many who, enduring incredible hardships, finally found their way to the United States as immigrants. And those stories, those hardships, are mirrored by those who struggle today to reach what they hope will be a land of opportunity. They don’t come because they want to leave family, home, culture, and country behind. They come because they must, to escape unbearable political conditions in their homelands, to provide for their families, to improve their chances for survival.

To quote just one experience from the many thousands experienced by Hmong refugees, taken from a story published on June 8, 2008, on appealdemocrat.com:

Grief visits Neng Xiong at Thanksgiving.

That's when the abundance of food and clean water—most basic of the many resources and opportunities available to him now—remind him of a sister who died for the lack of them. . . . He had been part of an early wave of Hmong tribespeople who fled pursuing communist mercenaries in Laos after US forces pulled out of the country.

Xiong says he left his village at about age 7 with his parents, three brothers, three sisters and various extended family members. They left their lives behind with little except clothes, blankets and 50 pounds of rice. "We struggled all the way," he says of the treacherous two-month trek.

Neither he nor his siblings had ever worn shoes or seen a house with running water, or a grocery store. They sought only safety. Opportunity and comfort were beyond their imaginations, Xiong says. "I never thought that I would make it here, I'm lucky to be here to tell this story."

To read the complete article, click HERE.

Because the Hmong were seen as collaborators by the communists who took over even as helicopters airlifted embassy employees and other Americans out, they were hunted down, driven out of ancestral lands and homes, and torn from everything they knew. Many of those who managed to survive years of ordeals and immigrated to the United States found themselves persecuted and unwelcome here, too, because they were different, because most did not yet speak English, because they were “too foreign.”

Coffee House Press has just published the work of a gifted Hmong writer, Kao Kalia Yang (http://www.kaokaliayang.com/home.html), titled The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir. This poignant, unforgettable story about her family’s frightening experiences as they fled Laos after the Vietnam War, their years spent in a desolate, harsh Thai refugee camp where the author was born, and their ultimate immigration to the United States is a fine example of why smaller presses, dedicated to beautiful writing and important nonfiction, stories of people that might otherwise slip through the cracks because they are not about celebrities, are essential to literature in this era.

The Hmong and their circumstances after our government pulled the plug in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, has been a previously untold story about an “invisible” people. This memoir reveals the heartbreak, the loss of home and family, the deplorable conditions in which families fought to survive in country, in Thailand, and upon arrival in the United States. Yang writes lyrically and well and weaves the folk lore of her ancestry and the love of one generation for another into a compelling tale.

As I read her story, I found myself wondering: Whatever happened to “Bring us your poor, your tired, your huddled masses”? Have we lost compassion for those not fortunate enough to be born here? Do we now just use people and discard them when they have nothing else we want, without regard for what being a US ally costs them? It’s happening again in Iraq. Those who help us are left to fend for themselves when no longer perceived as useful in reaching our military goals.

How do you feel about this behavior, this history, still in the making, of a government who abandons those in need, those not needed, and those unable to fend for themselves through circumstances not of their making? Is this America the Beautiful, land of the free? I’d love to hear your comments
-- Rosemary Carstens

Monday, June 02, 2008

Leaving Home . . . Part One

I recently read Edwidge Danticat’s latest book, Brother, I’m Dying, the story about the treatment her Uncle Joseph (her “second father”) received at the hands of the US Immigration and Naturalization Service, resulting in his death, sick and alone, while in detention. Danticat is a gifted writer and this poignant, shocking story is even more so in her hands.

From the time as a very young girl when she was placed in her Uncle Joseph’s care, when her parents left troubled Haiti to try to establish a better life in the United States, she was gathered into his family with warmth and deep regard. Joseph was a man who “knew all the verses for love.”

Although Edwidge, her brothers, and her parents, would eventually be reunited in New York City, Uncle Joseph stayed on to minister to his family on the island and to his church congregation. As political conditions deteriorated even further, the Danticat’s fears for those remaining in Haiti grew. Late in 2004, after a life-threatening situation instigated by a violent gang, 81-year-old Joseph escaped to the United States. Traveling on an official visa, he no doubt felt when he boarded the plane that he would arrive in Miami, be met by family, and finally be safe for the first time in a long while. Instead, he was detained by the Department of Homeland Security, imprisoned and abused, refused his medications even though he repeatedly said to authorities, “Brother, I’m dying.” Within days, he was dead.

Because Danticat has a platform through her writing, and the skills and contacts to gain access others might not have, she has been able to bring the plight of her uncle to light. Not so for thousands of others who fall victim to the far-less-than-transparent immigration services procedures. Many are locked up for months or even years awaiting determinations about their fate. Racial profiling is rampant. There are no first-amendment rights, no rights to due process or proper representation, and no regard for the human suffering caused families. If anyone were to read one of these stories under the misapprehension that it was another country being discussed, it would seem horrifying that “they” treat human beings in this manner. But the “they” in this case is US, our government, with the full complicity of this administration.

As reported recently in the New York Times, “no government body in these cases is required to keep track of deaths and publicly report them. No independent inquiry is mandated. And often relatives who try to investigate the treatment of those who died say they are stymied by fear of immigration authorities, lack of access to lawyers, or sheer distance.”

Leaving home, wherever it may be, is an event prompted as much by hope as by necessity. It is a voyage into not only an unknown future, but it is also one that often depends upon the kindness and humanity of those met along the way, especially if money is tight and language a barrier. It is filled with emotional conflict and takes enormous courage to undertake. Even those able to re-establish themselves in a new land carry deep sadness in their hearts—because you can never again go back. Oh, you might visit if political conditions permit, but you are then a visitor there, too. Time does not stand still and you are no longer a part of that community, you are an observer. Your memories become the only land you can visit that remains, however bittersweet, as it was before you became a traveler, an immigrant, a voyager of new cultural seas.

This is the first of a several part series on immigration and the experience of leaving home. Please check back for future discussions and add your own stories to the mix.

Click on the start arrow to watch Edwidge Danticat talk about her book --

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Girl With No Shadow . . . .

AT LAST! If you loved both the book by Joanne Harris and the film Chocolát, you will be as delighted as I am that the sequel has finally arrived on the bookshelves! And it is beautifully, lyrically written, filled with delightful new characters as well as the ones we grew to love—Vianne Rocher and her daughter Anouk, and (think Johnny Depp) that sexy gypsy, Roux! Vianne and Anouk have taken on a new identity on a small Montmartre street in Paris, along with her new baby, Rosette. She’s maintaining a low profile and insists her daughters do the same—she wants to stay put this time and not draw the dark winds’ or the attention of the “kindly ones,” those so sure they know what’s best for everyone else.

Vianne has given up magic, her tantalizing red dress hangs limply at the back of her closet along with the tattered delight of her earlier days. Anouk has been told there is no such thing as magic, only “accidents” with unforeseen consequences; however, Rosette, who is too young to heed such warnings, performs her own magic with the gleeful collaboration of her monkey totem. This time, the chocolate shop is dull and doing poorly—Vianne buys her products and has hidden away her equipment along with the shine of her former life.

Blown in on a gust of no good on a cold, rainy fall day, shapeshifter Zosie appears on the scene wearing high-heeled ruby slippers and carrying with her evil intent from the highlands of Aztecan Mexico. We now have a recipe for disaster and identity theft, with just a dash of chiles and a hint of magic mushrooms to spice things up!

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it--if you like stories that carry with them more than a touch of imagination, a spark of light vs. dark and good vs. evil, all rolled into something that will melt in your mouth—

-- Rosemary

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Outdoor Dreaming . . .

Today’s special guest is PAGE LAMBERT, guide and mentor for women who want to connect or reconnect with nature in a deep, inner exploration of self. Lambert’s own tie to nature is profound and joyous. Welcome, Page!

-- Rosemary Carstens, Editor

Spring is the time of the year when I begin to panic. Last fall’s carelessly scattered optimism has taken root, breaking through the nitty-gritty soil of today’s reality. The lazy days of winter, which I expected to spend sequestered in my writing den, have vanished. Summer is just around the proverbial corner and I find myself wondering why I thought I could accomplish even half of what’s on the calendar. A horseback writing retreat in Wyoming? A writing salon in Taos? A canoe trip on the Green? A river writing and sculpting trip on the Colorado? Even a 3-day retreat perched on the edge of the Grand Canyon.

Someone clone me, PLEEEZE!

The chasm between last fall’s optimism and the reality of the summer schedule is deep, and steep. Panic sets in. Then I begin to read the letters from various retreat participants, sharing their dreams for their upcoming adventures.

A few responses are casual. “No specific goals—just want to relax.” But many agonize, sharing intimate details, lifelong dreams, age-old disappointments. “I used to pray for all the things I wished for, but most of my wishes didn't come true,” writes one woman. “Now my prayers are gentler, and my hope is that somehow my life story will make sense to me in the end. That's what writing does for us, isn't it? Helps us to process the mystery?”

Yes, that IS what writing does for us, especially when we embrace the mystery of both joy and pain. “Sometimes life takes you abruptly down a path you would never choose and grinds you up a bit,” writes another woman. “I want to heal.” Another shares a desire to simply be appreciative: “I want to find a way to save in my core the beauty I've seen and felt.” Another wants to face her fear of water. Another, her fear of horses.

Another kind of fear often surfaces. The honesty of what a well-known broadcast news journalist writes humbles me: “I’ve spent years buying beautiful leather journals, which are stacked away in various parts of my house, without a single word written in any of them. I’m intimidated by the thought that I have nothing worthwhile to say.”

Often, colorful stories emerge in these letters. “I didn't get a horse until one of my favorite uncles was killed in World War II,” one participant writes. “He left a beautiful sorrel quarter horse that he'd ridden to win goat-roping contests every Sunday.”

Some dreams are less ambitious, but just as vital to creativity. “I want to remember what the night sky looks like when the tent fly is off.” She may surprise herself, deciding by the second night to sleep outside the tent! One enthusiastic soul simply writes, “I’m on a mission!!” And then this wonderful confession: “I am giving this experience to myself as a 50th birthday present. I can’t believe it. I don’t feel 50!

Each of these letters reminds me how lucky I am to share rivers and horses and canyons and deserts and mountains with such like-hearted souls. The best part, though, will be falling asleep (in a comfortable bed) this fall, thinking not only of the letters, but of all the smiles and tears that graced the summer, feeling eager to sow more seeds.

PAGE LAMBERT writes from Santa Fe, often about Wyoming, often about Colorado, often about rivers, but always about the land and the many ways in which it feeds us. She has been leading creative outdoor writing adventures for ten years, working in partnership with organizations such as The Women’s Wilderness Institute, the Grand Canyon Field Institute, and the Aspen Writers Foundation. In 2006, the River Writing Journeys she facilitates were featured in Oprah’s O magazine as “one of the top six great all-girl getaways of the year.” For more about her published books and editing and consulting work, or to get on the waiting list for next year’s “Literature and Landscape of the Horse” retreat in Wyoming:

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

New Issue of FEAST now available!

For the latest delicious offerings of books, art, food, film, and unique travel--check out the new issue--you will not go away hungry-- http://www.CarstensCommunications.com/FEAST.html

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Rolling Stones -- Capturing the Wild Thing

Yesterday I went to see SHINE A LIGHT, the Martin Scorsese documentary about the Stones. I loved it! Sure Keith Richards looks like a Shar Pei puppy these days, but with eyeliner and an irresistible sly, sideways twinkle in his eye. I’d love to know where he gets those sequined, dangly doo-rags he wears—now there’s a fashion statement! And Mick Jagger is a mouth on a stick, he’s so skinny. But both guys have plenty of muscles and charm and their music still grabs you in the gut and brings you to your feet.

It must have been like herding cats for Martin Scorsese, trying desperately to get his arms around the shape of the film, when he couldn’t even get a set list until the first number started! This is a group of guys who have done what they wanted for decades and they are not dancing to someone else’s tune now. Scorsese is a pro, though, and I’ve loved every one of his music docs. This time out, he captures the essence, the sound bites, the piss and vinegar of the band and whirls it by us like life from a merry-go-round.

The segments with the incomparable BUDDY GUY and steamy Christina Aguilera were HOTT, HOTT, HOTT, in very different ways. Buddy Guy’s guitar wails; his voice speaks of a thousand Jack Black and Lucky Strike nights. He and Mick together blend the best of black and white rock, blues, and soul. Aguilera has it all—looks, powerful voice and personal charisma, and able to play off Jagger belt for belt. These were brilliant ensembles.

I kept asking myself, what IS it that keeps these guys on top? How and why have they lasted so long and still draw sell-out crowds? It’s Mick’s energy partly—he’s like a rocket about to take off, fully loaded with fuel injection. The guitar wizards know how to make their instruments scream and sob, some of the best in the business. Most of the songs are powerful, hard pounding—the essential rock sound. But it’s much more than that. It’s ALL of that. It’s that these old rockers retell an era of music and living that resounds for many of us. They make us feel alive, sexy, ready to take on the world, the establishment, the Man. There were hopes and dreams for a better world back then, belief that you could capture the wild thing. The Stones reconnect us with all that--

All I can say, is “Gimme the Stones when I’m thirsty, gimme buddy Guy when I wanna get high…” – Yeah, baby! May old rockers never die!

-- Rosemary Carstens

Friday, April 04, 2008

Renowned Italian Photographer Teaches Boulder Workshop

My friend, colleague, and artisan BARBARA HARDESTY, had a dream. For several years, as we each kept our noses to the grindstone with our “day” jobs, she spoke of her longing to create a business to help people experience the joys of her family’s native land of ITALY. Not just as a traveler/tourist, but in the manner of Leonardo Da Vinci—to immerse themselves in life’s creative pursuits as he did, with writing, art, food, nature, and photography, as well as the language and the people of one of the world’s most romantic destinations. That dream has come to pass and DA VINCI CAPERS is now in its fifth year. Italian dreams DO come true! Now, Barbara is bringing one of her Italian maestros to Boulder, Colorado, so that others can experience just a taste of what Da Vinci Capers has to offer. -- Rosemary

SHOOTING ON-SITE: GETTING UP-CLOSE AND PERSONAL ~ Capturing your subject's story

Da Vinci Capers hosts “A Personal Renaissance Journey” with Massimo Bassano, a freelance international photojournalist, for a one-week photographic workshop, July 17–24, 2008, in Boulder, Colorado. There are 4-day and 8-day options.

In his first Colorado appearance, Massimo shares how photographers capture exceptional photos when they become part of the scene they are photographing and “touch” the lives of their subjects, rather than just watching them through a lens. You will learn that the location's “story”—becoming familiar with the history, the culture and the social context of the people—is the secret to taking great photos. You must follow where the story leads.

Each day of this workshop will be an adventure. Capturing the morning light and coolness of the day, you will shoot together and independently. In the afternoons you gather for discussions, return to do more shooting and download or develop film overnight. There will be discussions on all aspects of the shoot: issues of light, composition, technical points, preparing for a shoot, how to research an area, problems of approaching people or property, how and when to use a small strobe and other types of equipment. As with all Da Vinci Capers’ adventures, you will practice sfumato—the flexibility that allows for unexpected creative opportunities, varied photo skills, and the weather.

Massimo’s authentic approach of “getting up-close and personal” is a proven success. In Calabria, Italy, he was the first photographer to be granted permission to live for three months among the Carthusian monks. He was able to document the 900-year-old brotherhood, resulting in the award-winning book THE COLOR OF SILENCE. It was the first time that the Chartusians allowed a photographer to record their private lives.

Massimo’s words and pictures have graced such major magazines around the world as National Geographic, GEO, Ciclismo, and MAX France. Working as a freelance photojournalist since 1990, he has worked alongside many of photography’s greatest talents, including Bob Sacha, William Albert Allard, David Harvey, and George Steinmetz. Presently, Massimo is working in Rome with Bob Krist for National Geographic Traveler. In addition to working with Da Vinci Capers, he also teaches for National Geographic and Maine Media Workshops.

For more information about this rare, adventurous photography workshop, contact Barbara Hardesty at (303) 284-1383 or
barb@davincicapers.com. For full details about Da Vinci Capers programs in Italy, go to http://www.davincicapers.com—don’t forget to look for LEONA, the DVC traveling chicken!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Living in Italy is MORE than it's cracked up to be . . .

Our latest guest hails from ITALY part of each year. DEE MONTALBANO loves the lifestyle and friends she’s found there and, in addition to being an accomplished writer, she is a keen observer of unique details around her. Here is an excerpt from a recent letter, received just before Easter and shared with her permission— Rosemary


My time on the Web is limited to 25 hours a month in my apartment . . . I’m not sure what happens to me after 25 hours [since] I haven’t gotten that far in my language development with Stefano, my landlord. I have learned to tell Stefano, “Yes, I know there’s a dial tone on the kitchen phone, but I still can’t make or receive calls on that phone.” Also, I’ve learned how to say “band-aid” and “three way plug” in Italian, all things they didn’t teach me in my language classes.

My life here is simple. In a little while I will walk about four blocks to fill my empty water bottles at the public fountain. There’s a more interesting water fountain under a statue of a bare-breasted woman, but that’s another five blocks away and the filled bottles are heavy, especially when I have to carry them up the 44 stairs to my apartment.

Tomorrow I will take my shopping cart to Esselunga, the King Soopers of Lucca, and that’s about a two-mile walk outside the walls. The last time I did that I filled the shopping cart so much that I couldn’t carry it up the 44 stairs and had to make two runs. It keeps me in shape. Other than that, Lucca (probably any place in Italy) has the best take-out in the world: small shops that have their own freshly made eggplant parmigiana, lasagna, frittatas, amazingly prepared vegetables, ribollita, risottos—you name it. And then there is the foccaccia and the breads at Giusti, one of the best bakeries in town, where at least thirty people are lined up in front of the long counter and I finally gathered enough courage to push forward and speak my order with the best of them.

My first two weeks here I was house-sitting with Ugo, a split-personality border collie mix. It was great, except that the caldaia, the water heater, broke down three different days leaving me without hot water and heat on those days. Finding the language to get that fixed was another lesson they didn’t teach me.

Ugo was a demon out on the street; he lunged at male dogs while I shouted, “Questo cane e’ aggressivo. Meglia che girare.” This dog is aggressive. It’s better that you turn around. At home Ugo was a loving delight, so on balance, we had a great time.

Yesterday I went to Florence; today I took the local bus to visit a new friend who lives in a suburb; Sunday five women will be gathering at a friend’s house in a hill town for a vegetarian Easter feast. And I’m writing 4-5 days a week. In between I’m seeing what I can of the American elections on BBC World, and trying to stay calm while our country appears to be going down the drain economically and otherwise. It’s a little unnerving to have the decline of the dollar in your face each day, but I think it’s another lesson in giving up my fears. The latest poll that I saw showed McCain gaining, and if that’s the case, I may stay here indefinitely.

Buona Pasqua (Easter is very big here) and saluti affetuosi a tutti,

-- Dee

DEE MONTALBANO is a teacher, teacher of teachers, corporate consultant, grandma, quester, writer, and Tuscan housesitter. A resident of Boulder, Colorado, she has traveled annually to Lucca, Italy, since 2004, has found a community of friends there, and is now becoming part of the ‘hood where she rents an apartment and tries to write every day.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Where Have All the Readers Gone?

We hear so often these days that people aren’t reading anymore, that many college graduates haven’t read an entire book since they graduated, that most Americans have not been in a bookstore in the past five years, and other—to me—shocking statistics. When I think of all I’ve gained from reading over my lifetime, and all I look forward to learning and enjoying through books, that’s pretty depressing. I feel sorry for those folks. Recently, though, I found a new source for book lovers. It’s “social networking for books” and it’s fun and fills the need to “talk books” when no one around you gives a rat’s.

It’s a partial answer to the question, “Where have all the readers gone?” Here are a few links for websites that focus on reading, what YOU are reading, what you have on your bookshelves, who else is reading what you have loved the most and who has it in their library. Book reviews and suggestions are posted and each is a good resource for checking out books by favorite authors or topics. There are special pages for author-members. Although some sites have upper levels of membership (as with many social media sites) with costs attached, basic memberships are free and probably all most of us want anyway. Check these out and let me know what you think:






I’m sure there are others. I especially like Library Thing. But, if you are not particularly looking for interactivity and social connections with other readers, don’t forget that FEAST offers a delicious assortment of reading suggestions in each issue. I promise that there will be a brand new issue very soon! In the meantime, you can always search the archived copies linked to the last issue and find fascinating and memorable fiction, nonfiction, art, food, film, and travel recommendations. These are selections that are not necessarily best sellers—which is often dictated by promotional budgets—but gems that may have faded from sight because there WASN’T promotional money available. Often “best selling” is code for those brought to our attention through advertising—some of those are wonderful, too—but there are many beautifully written, compelling books that drop below the horizon way too soon. FEAST tries to highlight those.

Happy spring! -- Rosemary

Friday, March 14, 2008

Magic in the Land of Volcanoes

Today's guest blogger is a creative freelance writer who seeks adventure and inspiration in exotic spots around the globe, keeps in shape mentally and physically with her yoga practice, and continues to progress on her novel. It's a pleasure to welcome LAUREL KALLENBACH! -- Rosemary


by Laurel Kallenbach

In February, I attended a creative writing and yoga retreat at the glorious
Villa Sumaya resort on Guatemala’s Lake Atitlán. It was the perfect blend of three of my favorite pastimes: writing, traveling, and yoga.

As our group did our early-morning Warrior pose, the volcanoes across the lake were a deep purple. Later, propped on colorful embroidered Guatemalan pillows, I scribbled away on my novel. From time to time, I looked up from my pages to gaze across the water at the volcanoes, now showing their green foliage in the full afternoon sun.

This was my sixth international retreat led by either
Writing Journeys or Patchwork Farms. Over the last eight years, I’ve stretched and written in Mexico, Ireland, Wales—and now Guatemala. There’s something magical about the camaraderie of fellow writers and yogis who share a spirit of adventure. I also believe there’s magic in combining yoga, writing, and travel. Yoga loosens me up, gets the juices flowing, and creates a physical and spiritual practice that frames my writing practice.

Guatemala provided inspiration and transported me out of the ordinary. Our group visited the lakeside village of Santiago de Atitlán, a bustling market center for the area’s craftspeople. It was a riot of color, especially the rich textiles of skilled seamstresses who weave exotic birds, such as the quetzal, into their clothing designs. I could feel the country’s creative (and entrepreneurial!) pulse while bargaining with the market’s sellers.

A Mayan shaman came to Villa Sumaya to perform a protection ceremony for all us gringos. After offering sugar, cinnamon, chocolate, and taper candles to the gods, he entreated them to cleanse our spirits and keep us safe throughout our Guatemala journey. How could I not feel creative in the hands of chocolate-sated deities?

And last but not least, there was the sheer, transcendent magic of writing. I’m working on a novel set in Kentucky—a world and culture far away from Guatemala—yet while I was imagining a Midwestern tornado, the Mayan winds blew a violent thunderstorm over Lake Atitlán. The lightning and deluge of rain eerily echoed the scenes I was writing. I felt the same weather-induced fear my characters experienced as the tornado hit their town.

There are many types of journeys, but I’m especially fond of these writing and yoga retreats. They stretch my personal borders—taking me to unique locales and into that most adventurous of places: my own creativity.

I'd love to hear about your own best places to write or be inspired--is it a cozy nook at home, an exotic location that brings you new connections and ideas?

LAUREL KALLENBACH is a novelist, freelance magazine writer, and world traveler who lives in Boulder, Colorado. You can contact her at
Laurel@ecentral.com. Read Laurel's article about staying healthy and fit while traveling in the March 2008 issue of Experience Life magazine at http://www.experiencelifemag.com/issues/march-2008/fit-body/have-body-will-travel.html

Friday, March 07, 2008

It's All About Change . . .

Do you get the feeling there’s a longing for change in the air these days? Not just when it comes to our present administration (where longing for change could easily turn to begging or demanding), but for change in our everyday lives to include more fun, better money, more slow dancing, faster horses, better-looking men, more candlelit picnics on the beach, and so on? I know for me right now, that longing lingers at the back of my tongue like the last bitter-sweet memory of dark chocolate.

My friend and colleague
CYNTHIA MORRIS has decided that her time for change has come. After quite a few years in Boulder, Colorado, coaching others to have the courage to make their dreams come true—and following quite a few of her own, including completing a wonderful new novel—Cynthia is leaving Boulder in search of adventure. She’s started a new blog called Journey Jujuhttp://www.journeyjuju.com – where she’ll discuss creative, magical travel and share her journey, which begins in Milan, Italy, in May. She’ll sell or store everything, hop a flight, head for parts unknown and see what the world brings her way—that’s the plan. Always an artist at heart, she has designed 100 unique and very special travel shrines (see photo, then visit the website for more details about ordering).

Cynthia, I wish you good juju in your travels, new friends, lots of art, books, delicious feasting of all the best kinds!

How about the rest of you readers? If you jumped the tracks today to follow your own new paths, where would you go and what would you do? Just thinking and writing about it brightens these drear winter days-- Rosemary

Thursday, February 28, 2008

HOMEGROUND: Music, food, and memories

I had the pleasure this week of reading A Sacred Feast: Reflections on Sacred Harp Singing and Dinner on the Ground by Kathryn Eastburn (University of Nebraska Press 2008). It was a treat on many levels and I loved it! I am not religious now, but was brought up going to church and Sunday school and singing all the old hymns. I loved that music and still recall most of the words and belt them out around the house from time to time, or when I’m riding motorcycle across country on a road trip. I love gospel music and classics like “My Country Tis of Thee.” But outside my own head, I haven’t encountered that music much lately.

Ever heard of “shape singing”—where instead of notes, you follow shapes along to give music to a song? Well that’s the basic grounding for what is called Sacred Harp singing—until I read this book, I had not heard of either one. The Sacred Harp is the human voice—makes sense, doesn’t it? It’s a form of music and singing that is done in community at all-day and several day “sings” and it dates back at least to the 1800s, but likely further than that.

Gatherings originated in the south, but are now held all over the United States. You sing all morning, then break for “dinner on the ground”—which originally meant a picnic, but now can be indoors or out—the one thing that is consistent is that tables are loaded with good homecooking, such things as BBQ, pulled pork, coconut layer cakes, and pies, pies, pies! These community sings are nondenominational and everyone is welcome, whether you can carry a tune in a bucket or, like me, not.

KATHRYN EASTBURN, a journalist and freelance writer, discovers Sacred Harp singing and, like me, falls hard for it. Her book is a record of her visits to various regions, the sings, and the people she meets at them, their history and generations-long connection to the phenomenon.

I’d love to hear if any of you have ever encountered Sacred Harp before and any memories you may have of it if so. Or any memories of church singing that you especially enjoyed. -- Rosemary

Friday, February 22, 2008

GLITTER AND GLAMOUR, Sometimes a Darker Side

OSCAR night again. I have rarely missed it in my lifetime. I love the beauty queen pageantry, the hype, the whole red carpet thing. The rest of the year I am seldom interested in the goings-on of celebrities—in fact, I often feel irritated by the amount of media time spent on them. But, on academy awards night, I hark back to my days as a young teenager when I wrote long, sincere letters to the stars and was thrilled to the bone when I received an “autographed” 8X10 photo back.

I grew up in a small town with an old-style auditorium cinema and marquee and went to the movies every time they changed—Wednesday night and Saturday matinee. We’d usually see a news short, a cartoon, and a double feature. The seats were low and many broken down; the walls sweated an aroma of decades of popcorn, candy korn, red licorice, Coca Cola, sweat, body odor, and dreams born on the wings of the dramas, comedies, and westerns played out on the screen. It was a place where, when the lights went out, country life faded and an exciting, glamorous life unfolded and seemed within reach of each of us.

Life happened in that small-town theater in Perris, California, in the fifties. I got my first kiss in the back row, spent time giggling and changing seats with girlfriends, watched boys, and gobbled junk food—long before we knew it WAS junk food. There were darker times, too. I was in the darkened theater when local police charged in and dragged a young black boy out, beating him brutally with nightsticks. When we left the theater later that evening, there was a line of cops and a line of blacks confronting each other outside in the street. It was also outside that theater that a father tried to gun down the teenage boy who impregnated his daughter. In our town, small as it was—four stop signs in the middle of a single main street—drama played out both on and off the screen.

But this Sunday night, I’ll be snuggled up on the couch with a big bowl of popcorn, a glass of wine, a pizza for later, oohing and ahing over fancy dresses, beautiful men and women, gorgeous jewelry and hair—and rooting for my faves among the nominations.

I’d love to hear some of YOUR movie memories, your choices of best actors and films, movies that are connected in your mind with life events. The movie industry is an ingrained part of our culture. Many times our films reflect the preoccupations of our society, as well as our hopes and dreams. Please share yours -- Rosemary

ROSEMARY CARSTENS is the editor of FEAST eZine and this blog. She loves books, art, food, film, and travel pretty much in equal mesure. When the weather is warm, she can be found wandering the country roads of Colorado on her motorcycle the Road Goddess. When it's cold, she's under a down comforter with a book and a stack of Mr. Goodbars at her side. For more information, check out her website at http://www.carstenscommunications.com/, her eZine at http://www.CarstensCommunications.com/FEAST.html, and her other blog: http://artistspotlight.blogspot.com/

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Road Less Traveled--to Understanding

The eZine FEAST focuses on books, art, food, film, and travel, and I ask each guest bloggers to write about one of those topics. Our next guest, MELANIE MULHALL, has chosen a “road less traveled” to write about—the emotional and mental road we each must travel in negotiating relationships and making choices about belief systems. It’s a timely topic in many ways. Welcome Melanie!

Presidential election years seem to include so much divisiveness, posturing around social issues, and political shenanigans that it is easy to lose track of who we are—or can be—to each other as human beings. It is only February and I am already weary of it all.

Caring about issues without becoming as inflexible as a piece of petrified wood is not easy. I had an experience with that difficulty, literally in my own backyard, last summer.

My best friend was visiting from Illinois. It had been years since she had been to Colorado and I was savoring every minute. We have a long history of marathon talks about everything from philosophy to the mundane details of life and, one late afternoon, as we relaxed with glasses of wine on my deck, she brought up a social issue she is passionate about. As she spoke, I realized her position was very different than mine. I appreciated her rationale, and knew it had been forged from a mixture of sincere caring and deep thinking, but my own conclusions were very different from hers. We had weathered many things together, but I was not eager to express my disagreement.

Eventually my lack of comment caused her to lapse into silence and she eyed me with a commingling of curiosity and anticipation. I realized I was not getting off the hook. As I spoke, I watched her body language become antsy, then a bit rigid. I feared I was watching a thirty year relationship disintegrate before my eyes.

We did manage to weather that difference of opinion but I find myself wondering how people who are not as close as best friends can manage to disagree without making each another bad or wrong. It is not an easy stream to navigate. On the one hand, we each have a sense of what is moral, ethical, logical, and practical. On the other hand, we understand that there are many ways of looking at the world and want to honor other ways of being. That day I wanted to really listen to my friend, but I will not deny that I had to remind myself that her way of thinking was valid, not misguided, from her model of the world.

Of course, one’s model of the world is influenced by many things. Anyone who has traveled broadly and deeply enough to get past the artificial protection of the guided tour has probably been struck by both the similarities and profound differences between people who have been raised in different cultures and circumstances.

My own model of the world includes a belief that organic things (humans included) thrive and evolve through flexibility and diversity. I needed to remember that then and I’m going to remind myself of it often this election year.

Melanie Mulhall is a Colorado-based freelance writer and editor who specializes in making words sing, dance, and get attention. Melanie is also author of the EVVY Award–winning book, Living The Dream—A Guidebook For Job Seekers and Career Explorers. You can find her at her web sites, http://www.thatcopywriter.com/ and http://www.thedragonheart.com/, reach her by email at mmulhall@earthlink.net, or contact her by telephone at 303-469-5780.