Friday, February 29, 2008

A Must Read

I don't usually blog about the books I'm reading unless they are extraordinary, hard to put down, and something I think about all the time. This is just that kind of book.

So let me share a few words about the book as they appear on

"In this exquisitely written, deeply moving account of the death of a father played out against the backdrop of the collapse of the southern African nation of Zimbabwe, seasoned journalist Godwin has produced a memoir that effortlessly manages to be almost unbearably personal while simultaneously laying bare the cruel regime of longstanding president Robert Mugabe. In 1996 when his father suffers a heart attack, Godwin returns to Africa. As his father's health deteriorates, so does Zimbabwe. Mugabe, self-proclaimed president for life, institutes a series of ill-conceived land reforms that throw the white farmers off the land they've cultivated for generations and consequently throws the country's economy into free fall. There's sadness throughout—for the death of the father, for the suffering of everyone in Zimbabwe (black and white alike) and for the way that human beings invariably treat each other with casual disregard. Godwin's narrative flows seamlessly across the decades, creating a searing portrait of a family and a nation collectively coming to terms with death. This is a tour de force of personal journalism and not to be missed."

This is such a gripping story. It shocks , angers , and uplifts.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Lansing Teachers to Reapply for their Positions!

The breaking news last night was that the Lansing School District in an effort to meet Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act is restructuring the school district.

One of the most radical steps is to reassign teachers within the three high schools requiring teachers to reapply for their positions! According to the Board member, Hugh Clark, "no jobs will be lost."

The implication, of course, is that the teachers are at fault when students test and fail to make AYP. However, what's missing in this formula, and rarely spoken of in the news are the other major criteria for making AYP: a) the percentage of compliance is raised every year b) required test participation is now at 95% c) required school attendance criteria is set at 85% d) required graduation rates need to be at 80% e) special education students (a proportionately large percentage in Lansing and especially at Everett High School) results are factored into the data for AYP.

The Superintendent also said, "parents are not at fault." Are parents not a factor in expecting their children to attend school? To participate in testing?

What is alarming about NCLB is that now, at the high school level, teachers are spending half their instructional time is spent "prepping for the test." 50% of their time!!!! That means that students are receiving 50% less instruction!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Under the Tuscan Sun

So, I'm feeling a little bit of wanderlust since Katie is going to Costa Rica so I decided to check out Cortona, Italy. You see, I have the opportunity to go to Italy in September. I've been going back and forth with my decision, wondering if I should really spend the money. I suppose it doesn't help to do some virtual sightseeing and expect the answer to be "no". Hmmm.

Maybe posting this will make it "real" and get me motivated. I'm going with a fun group out of Seattle called Archangelo Productions (you can join us too!) and with a friend a local photographer, Jane Rosemont. The trip is a photographic workshop using digital cameras for the skilled and unskilled (that would be me). This photo is the overlook from the place we will be staying, a repurposed monastery.

If you notice a lot of Italy pictures on my blog it's just me getting up the nerve to commit and actually do this.

Adventures in Costa Rica

Katie, our world traveler is off again. This time to Costa Rica for 2 weeks. She's traveling with the World Health Organization through Wayne State Medical School. She leaves tomorrow arriving in San Jose, Costa Rica where they will spend several days running free clinics. From there they will travel to Santa Ana and work on some of the indiginous reserves. Then they get a little Spring Break hitting the gorgeous beaches of Costa Rica for some R & R before she jumps back into the madness that is med school. It'll drive me crazy to be out of touch with her for 2 weeks but I guess if I could survivie a year in Thailand this is nothing. Bon Voyage, Katie! I'll miss you!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Christmas Comes to Thailand

Just an update. In a blog in December I talked about Brooke, Katie's roommate in Thailand, who with her sister, launched a campaign to have all 123 children at the orphanage "adopted". They were successful and Brooke has wonderful pictures on her blog of the children and the gifts they received. Go to to see the results. Way to go Brooke!

Happy President's Day John

It's President's Day, or more correctly in our world today-President's Day- Weekend a time of sales and shopping. So lest we forget here are some wise and irreverent words from two of the presidents closest to my heart (featured prominently in the musical 1776).

John Adams would be pleased that he was remembered today. He was consumed with yearning desire to be remembered in posterity as much as Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington.

No man who ever held the office of president would congratulate a friend on obtaining it.

...a revolution of government is the strongest proof that can be given by a people of their virtue and good sense.

Do you want to know who you are? Don't ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.
I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

In the meantime

Check out the other everyday improv videos too especially the Olympic Synchronized swimming tryouts.

Theatre Marathon

I just came back from 2 days of non stop theatre and what an amazing time I had. As a LSJ Thespie judge, I have seen about 40 local shows and except for about a handful of them none were as amazing as some of the shows I saw this weekend.

My theatre mantra has always been, "There is good theatre and there is bad theatre and it doesn't matter who does it." That is usually a comment I make when other theatre people begin dissing a particular theatre group like "high school" or "community" theatre.

In the theatre world, like everywhere else there is a pecking order. Once you get away from Broadway, Off-Broadway, traveling shows and begin to look regionally there is "professional theatre", "university theatre", "community theatre", and "high school theatre" and each group occasionally and smugly looks down on the other. The professionals say, "Oh, that's only university theatre" or the university theatre says," Come on, it's only community theatre" (as they did in their latest offering), everyone looks down on high school theatre assuming it's a night of dreadful acting, awful plays, homespun costumes, and rickedy, misaligned shaky sets. And yes, some of that is true but it's also true for all theatre groups at times.

But there was nothing sub-standard about some of the shows I saw this weekend. They could hold a candle to most of what I've seen this season and I'd gladly pit them against many professional, university, and community theatres.

This year's Class A winner was St. John's High School's production of Blood Brothers. I saw this show in London and have seen other versions of it so I wasn't all that enthused about seeing it again. And it was the first show of the day at 9 a.m.! I am so glad I made the effort. This is the story of twin brothers separated when their mother could not support both of them with her already large family. She gives one of the boys up to her employer and the boys are raised apart with the warning that they may never meet or they are doomed to die! But they do meet, accidentally, and become friends and in fact because they share so much in common,"blood brothers". But as prophesied they tragically end up killing each other over a girl and a misunderstanding.

Ashley Bowen, the new director at St. John's pulled this challenging musical together in a spectacular way. From the first note of the orchestra. A big Kudo to my nephew Zach Savoie who played guitar in the orchestra. They were amazing and their talent was rewarded with a Superior award. (Zach encourage Ms. Bowen to post that cool group picture you took at the end of the festival so I can post it here)

Congratulations also to Andrea Farrer (she's in the bottom row left holding their plague) , my niece, who was the student director of her high school's entry The Dancers. This is the first year they competed and she had tons of input into the show. They did a wonderful job earning a I rating at districts and advanced to regional competition. I'm hoping they continue to compete and make it to States next year. Sadly Andrea will be off to college by then.

My friend Kevin Schneider, probably MIFA's most award winning director did Terra Nova the story of the1911 ill-fated race to the South Pole of the British under the leadership of Robert Scott and the Norwegian Roald Amundsen. The Norwegians made it back home; the Englishmen did not. The story is a memory piece told mostly from Scott's journal entries.

Kevin created the most amazing floating polar cap set complete with icebergs created from frames of Saran wrap, the Southern lights that played off of the ice , and howling fierce winds of Antartica.

And the costumes!!! You might remember Kevin in his costumer days here in the Lansing area working on shows like Man of LaMancha, and A Day in Hollywood, Night in the Ukraine. His costumes are always spectacular. Absolutely authentic looking costumes of heavy canvas, fur boot leggings, anoraks, giant fur and knitted mittens. Along with that he added incrediblly authentic props and an amazing wooden sled.

We were treated this weekend to three Greek tragedies; 2 Antigones and Eurydice. Malia Koger of Olivet HS won class D/C with her creative and scenicly splendid Eurydice. Her dad and the former award winning director from St. John's HS, Bob Koger, was there to cheer her on.

Winning Class B was the multi talented innovative director Jeannie Gilbert from John Glenn High School. They did the visually stunning Antigone using a back lit scrim, a raked round platform in the center of the playing space and 7 tall and moveable pillars. She used 3 different choruses that moved throughout the scenes imperceptibly and silently. Her gray clothed "statues" were amazing as they slowly moved from position to position. It took me a while to notice they were real and I nearly jumped out of my seat the first time I noticed they were moving. They were used so effectively to reposition the pillars throughout the play. I was mesmerized as I watched the major action center stage but also watched a diaphanously clad blue chorus of women slowly preparing a body for burial. I wish I had a stunning tableau from their show to share with you.

It was also a time to catch up with old friends, admired directors, and Jeff Nash who was judging States. Unfortunately I had to wait until the end of the tournament to really achmooze with Jeff because judges are sequestered and then kept extremely busy throughout the day. They appear a minute or two before the show and leave almost as the lights go up. Also, it's absolutely forbiddent to talk about any of the shows, even amongst the judges, until the end of the tournament and awards and winners are announced. So we had to wait until we could deconstuct the day and all that we saw.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Creating Wearable Art

Part 2...What have I been doing?
(African Trade Beads)

This January and February I have had the most fun creating jewelry for customers of mine. The big shows are over, there's kind of a lull before the next batch of shows, and it's the perfect time to fix, recreate, or redesign jewelry.

It's all about the hunt; the quest. Finding the right beads to create an individual piece of jewelry.

A customer of mine is a delightful woman from Ghana who has some fabulous African Trade Beads that she has collected over the years as gifts or on her journey back to home. It has been a joy to research the beads and create something unique that is faithful to the bead and her heritage. What is so wonderful about these beads is that they are made by women in small villages and a means of earning income for their families. The beads are imperfect, very rustic.
and wonderully earthy. No two beads are exactly alike.

I've been doing a lot of research about prayer beads and malas. There has been a renewed interest in both and helped along by the best selling book Eat, Pray, Love. Elizabeth Gilbert aligns the sections of her book and the chapters with the Sanskrit japa mala or prayer beads of 108 beads. I've had some customers ask if I could make necklaces or bracelets that would help them meditate, contemplate, or focus on prayer.

Japa Mala Prayer Beads

Happy Valentine's Day

Hope you have a wonderful valentine's day!

How Time Flies

Hi, I'm Jane and it's been 6 weeks since my last blog!

There, that's out! Either I have been really busy or I lead the most boring life ever. More likely it's the winter blahs.

Since my last post, I have gotten so sick of seeing snow. It has snowed almost everyday and the temperatures have been brutal.

So what have I been doing?? Hmmm....

As one of the theatre critics for The Lansing State Journal's Thespie awards, I've seen a lot of great theatre lately. I can recommend both Art at Williamston and Murderers at Boarshead. Both of them fabulous shows and both are still running so you can catch them.What a delight to see Carmen Decker back on stage and to catch Laural Merlington, a former Boarshead mainstay.

I had the honor of adjudicating the Michigan Interscholastic Forensic Associations' Play Festival a few weeks ago. Participating in this activity is one of the things I miss most about retirement. It is a challenge and an absolute blast! Schools choose an appropriate show for this season(comedy or serious), cut it to a little under 45 min, rehearse, build a set that is amazing but will travel well, and perform at competitions against other schools. We aren't talking about any whimpy "high school" shows here. Many schools choose really tough stuff. I saw a 45 minute version of "Sweeney Todd" the other day! The first level is districts, then if you qualify, on to regionals, and from there the very lucky and talented schools go to States. It is the only time in theatre that you get honest and specific feedback by your peers (there is an oral and written critique by 3 judges immediately after your performance), you get a chance to work on the show for another 2 weeks making it better, changing it, reworking it , and then you get to perform it again! Three different judges and another batch of interesting shows.
Tommorrow I'm off to see the shows at States and what a lineup; 2 Antigones. Eurydice, Blood Brothers, Terra Nova, Spoon River, Bury the Dead, Emma's Child among others. I'm looking to reconnect with old friends and directors whose work I admire so much.

And....I get to see Katie again and celebrate Valentine's Day!