According to Literacy Kansas City, approximately 225,000 metro adults are functionally illiterate, reading below the fifth-grade level; 20 percent can't read a newspaper article, fill out paperwork at the doctor's office or read a story to their children. If you're looking for some noble work, the nonprofit organization, which helps adults and older teens improve their reading and writing skills, needs volunteers. From 6 to 8 tonight at 205 West 65th Street, there's an orientation for prospective tutors. Call 816-333-9332 for more information.
Friday, January 7
Thanks to the advent of serious art schools at which fledgling painters, potters and scrap-metal-dinosaur builders can obtain legitimate educations, parents no longer have to worry that their children who have decided to become artists might as well be running off to join the circus. Despite their solid training, though, we still know plenty of young artists whose careers are way more death-defying than the somersaults of a Romanian tightrope walker. Provided that no one dresses up like a clown and tries to scare us, we'll ponder the similarities between la vie carnivale and the plight of the artisan tonight when the Centered Earth Gallery of the Kansas City Clay Guild (200 West 74th Street) holds a circus-themed ceramics party. Cirque, an exhibit of clay sculptures, glass creations, raku masks and pottery by local artists G. Michael Miller, Tammy Wright, Paul Wright and Lynn Baxley, is open from 7 to 10 p.m. Call 816-363-1373.
Saturday, January 8
Carolyn Wonderland's Web site credits her "triple threat" standing to diverse songwriting, soulful vocals and guitar-goddess status. But the blues-rocker, who hails from Houston, also kicks instrumental ass on the piano -- and the trumpet. She began performing solo as a teen and later with her band the Imperial Monkeys, but she's on her own once again at 8 tonight at Mike's Tavern (5424 Troost, 816-444-3399). With college kids still out of town, the crowd might actually be there to hear Wonderland's powerful voice, which garners frequent comparisons to Janis Joplin. We're hoping she performs selections from her latest album, Bloodless Revolution. Bob Dylan was the first person to hear it prerelease; his favorite song on it is "Annie's Scarlet Letter." We think we'll like that one, too.
Sunday, January 9
There's something spooky about traditional American folk music -- the rickety banjos, the drawled vocals, the tales of parricide and burials in the cold, cold ground. Good, authentic performers of American folk are rare, but singer Elizabeth LaPrelle has come from nowhere (Rural Retreat, Virginia, that is) and blown onto the folk scene with a voice like a killer Nebraska cold front (see Tuesday). In fact, the 17-year-old's mountain call is so chilling that we're almost afraid to hear her sing when she and her mother, Sandy LaPrelle, perform at 3 p.m. today at the Central Library (14 West 10th Street, 816-701-3400), lest the ghost of the dead pioneer girl she's channeling tries to possess us. But getting to hear classic American songs exactly like they sounded 150 years ago seems worth the risk. Besides, Miss LaPrelle is surely just a regular American girl -- who happens to have a voice that'll turn your blood to ice.
Monday, January 10
The title of author and "women's health visionary" Victoria Moran's lecture, "Your Soul Is Ageless and So Are You," is a crock of shit. You most certainly are not ageless. You will, in fact, grow old. Your skin will wrinkle and loosen, your hair will thin and turn gray, your hips will widen, your metabolism will practically grind to a halt. And that stomach paunch? After a certain age, that will be with you until the day you die. Fucking get used to it. That's what we're going to tell her at tonight's 7:30 presentation at Unity Temple on the Plaza (707 West 47th Street). You're either with us or against us. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door; call 816-561-1627, extension 109, for more information.
Tuesday, January 11
The Midwest can be a real bitch in the winter, teasing us with a day or two of warmth and sunshine, then beating us down with wind and ice. But at least it's a hell of a lot easier to survive the caprices of winter than it used to be -- simply head for the nearest bar or roadside motel and hole up for a while. In 1888, Great Plains denizens weren't so lucky. On January 12 of that year, an unseasonably warm day, a fierce blizzard hit so suddenly that by the next morning -- Friday, January 13 -- hundreds of settlers, most of them children who had been let out of school, lay dead on the frozen fields. In his book The Children's Blizzard, David Laskin gives a harrowing, hour-by-hour account of the disaster and its aftermath, examining the failures of military forecasters to warn people of the oncoming storm. We'll bring our favorite TV meteorologist and chill out with Laskin tonight at 7 at Borders in Lee's Summit, 1664 Northwest Chipman Road. Call 816-347-0044.
Wednesday, January 12
We have a favorite commercial of all time. It's that Graduate-esque Jetta ad in which the cute guy is racing along in his VW to try to stop a wedding between a pretty woman who looks like a walking Vermeer and her less cute fiancé. He opens the door to the church as the minister says, "Speak now or forever hold your peace." The bride looks. The groom looks. So does the bride's father. Cut to the tag line: "VW Jetta. Drivers Wanted." The ad lasted 30 seconds -- and we were still bawling 15 minutes later. Perhaps Margaret Brommelsiek can explain why we were so affected in her lecture, "Perpetuating Myth: Advertising and the Shaping of Society," tonight at 5:30 in the Linda Hall Library Auditorium (5109 Cherry). She discusses how advertising sells the mundane but evokes the fabulous, replacing the role of myth in contemporary society. Call 816-235-6690 for reservations.