Friday, 18 December 2015

When the Library is Cut, the Community Bleeds

The first public library in the U.S. was founded by BenjaminFranklin.  While mission and vision statements weren’t all the rage in 1731, mottos were and what he settled on for this newly established institution was “Communiter Bona Profundere Deum Est”. No, my fingers didn’t slip on the keyboard—it’s Latin.  And the free translation (a free translation incorporates the literal and cultural meaning, rather than just word-for-word, as opposed to being monetarily free) is: “To pour forth benefits for the common good is divine.”

Wow.  That’s quite a motto to live up to, isn’t it? 

But public libraries have been doing just that for the past 284 years.  They don’t look the same as they did in Franklin’s day but they serve the public to the betterment of the community and nation today just as they did then.

Public libraries exemplify the true definition of a democratic entity; one that focuses on “believing in or practicing the idea that people are socially equal”.  Everybody that comes through the door has the same rights, privileges and opportunities as everybody else.

I like this explanation from
“Libraries are great democratic institutions that serve people of every age, income level, location, ethnicity or physical ability, and provide the full range of information resources needed to live, learn, govern, and work.  Because libraries bring free access to all, they also bring opportunity to all.”

Now, I know I’ve written some complaints about the people I serve involving some of the more uncomfortable interactions I’ve had.  Too much 'positive appreciation' (e.g. creepy attention), some aggressive or argumentative patrons, and the olfactory assaults that come with working with people en masse, to name a few.  But that’s just the beauty of the organization; everybody that comes to my desk gets the same quality of service, regardless of their background (or personal hygiene). And everyone has the same opportunities! Which means that even though I’ve had to grit my teeth and help the sarcastic fellow who snidely comments, “you know you’re going to be replaced by a computer soon, right?”  I’ve also been able to help:
  • The gentleman who had just gotten out of jail after a 10-year stint and needed to get an email address.
  • The gentleman who had to argue on the phone with the insurance company about the care his elderly mother needed.
  • The high school student who needed information for her National  History Day project.
  • The lady who made sure to thank me for help on her resume which helped her land a job.
  • The multitude of people who need legal documents printed out so they can file for divorce, request child custody, or contest a ruling from the court.
  • The older couple that comes in looking for books that are enjoyable but not too exciting (because the wife gets so into her books that sometimes when she’s done she has to take a Xanax!)
  • The blind gentleman who comes in for dozens of audiobooks at a time.

Every one of these people is a valued citizen who is served by the public library.

Unfortunately, since libraries render services for the common good and equality of the citizenry, they don’t make a profit.  In reality this is not a failure, that is simply not their intent.  So, in times of financial crisis, they are often a target of budget cuts.  This is the exact opposite of what is best for the community!  When money gets tight at the library, what becomes endangered?

  • Books—despite what you might hear books are still bought, sold, rented, borrowed and read (and stolen as "souvenirs" as we in the biz say, but still need to be replaced).
  • Periodicals—these include magazines and newspapers.
  • Digital services—ebooks can be expensive but it’s actually the access and storage of them that requires the expense output.
  • Internet and WiFi capability—broadband is expensive and all services require maintenance and troubleshooting.
  • Children’s programs—with so much outcry about the decline of education in the country, decreasing literacy programs is not only counter-productive, but actively dangerous to our country's future.
  • Job hunting—Many patrons come in for access to, and help with, online job applications.  Less money means less time and help are available. Fighting the specter of unemployment is more difficult when people can’t apply for a job.
  • Hours—This is one of the most heinous cuts.  If there isn’t enough money for staff or utilities, the library hours are cut which means limiting the equalizing opportunities for everyone.
  • Staff—Budget cuts mean fewer hours and fewer positions available so staffers have to take on more and varied duties, often doing things outside their normal job parameters to get things done.
  • Staff—Professional library staff hold higher degrees; a Master’s degree in Library Science (or often now, an MLIS—Master’s in Library and Information Sciences) or State Professional Certification is required to be a librarian. With less money it’s difficult to attract and hold certified professional staff to develop and maintain a quality library.

Make it a point to convey your support of the public library, not just to the tireless staff that serve you but to the governing body that provides the funds.  The city government might not understand the gem in their midst.  The county library might not see how many people utilize this vital tool.  The state might forget about the benefits supplied at the ground-level by the public library.  But you can remind them!

Help support your public library!


Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Why I'll never be a good DIY blogger

I love crafts

I love DIY

I love creating things

I am the one who spends $40 on supplies for something I could buy for $5.

It's the process, the creativity and problem-solving I love.  The altering of expectations when things don't go as I planned (my favorite phrase when making something: "Oh, no one will notice.").  I like the flush of success that comes when I've finished the project.

And, while trying not to brag, I've made some quite lovely things over the years.  To be fair, I've also made some disasters, I just don't always show them to people (that's the trick to appearing successful at crafting).

With all of the cutting, gluing, sewing and pinning flurries that go on in my house, it might be kind of surprising that I don't feature more of my multitude of projects here.  I did put on our fun cookie night and how I made the giant Playaway to hang in the library but you haven't (and won't) see many process posts on how I achieve some of my fun things.

Whyever could that be? 
(I'm sure you're asking with wide-eyed anticipation)

Two reasons:

1.  I'm not a good photographer.  There are several aspects that play into this.  

  •           One is that I haven't taken the time to learn how to take decent pictures.  There are numerous tutorials on how to take good pictures with my phone... nope, not interested.
  •           Another is that I get so involved with what I am doing that I forget to take pictures. When I'm making something, I'm following (or making up) the steps I need to follow to get to the end.  Who has time to remember pictures?
  •           A third reason... I only have two hands and they're usually doing whatever it is that I'm making.  Even if a hand may be free for a moment... it's usually messy.

2.  My counters and work spaces look like this:
Displaying IMG_2037.JPG
I strive but it's 3 kids against me...

Displaying IMG_2037.JPG
Not a good backdrop for featuring a nifty new creation.

So while you might see the result of a crafting project, you'll have to ask for details on how it was done and bear with the messy, shaky-cam, cluttered counter pictures you get! But you can enjoy my witty book reviews and insightful posts on library and education here in between the crafts (shameless self-advertising plug).

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

New Book Review--Thing Explainer

Make way for the new best book ever!  Randall Munroe of xkcd and What If? fame has done it again and written a fantastic volume that clearly and not-so-clearly explains how things work, Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words. My boys and I are in dry-wit geek heaven!

Have you ever talked to a bright 3-year old? They have so many questions and are starting to learn bigger concepts but their vocabulary hasn't caught up with their understanding. So the challenge comes in figuring out how to describe something using words and experiences they can relate to.  I've often enjoyed the comedy of Jim Gaffigan and he has a prime example:

Child: Look, Daddy, a stick.
Dad: It's not a stick it's an antenna.
Child: What's an antenna?
Dad:...Uh... it's a stick.

Here are examples from many years ago with my sons.

Son 1: What are grapes made out of?
Me: Grape guts.
Son 2: What are tongs made out of?
Me: Scissors with no knives.

Sometimes answers come easily and sometimes I'd struggle for explanations and sometimes... total prevarication.

Son: What about...?
Me: Wanna popsicle?

Nowadays, everyone is a bit older and we're interested in different things and our dinner table conversation can include some esoteric subjects (and I should mention we're all Big Bang Theory fans).  Like last night, someone posed the question, "What's the difference between string theory and loop theory?" After a quick search online, I found "String Theory and Loop Quantum Gravity for Dummies" (apropos, I thought) and read about 3 paragraphs.  So we had just enough understanding to pose some questions but not enough to know if the questions were even valid. My daughter's turn, "I think that string theory is the more accurate one because if loop theory were real, light would bend around us and there would be no shadows."  Well.  I guess it's time for Mom to do more research!

But, it really highlights the fact that trying to explain something to someone means you have to really know what you're talking about to help them understand. Who could say it better than Albert Einstein, world renowned physicist and teacher?

"If you can't understand it simply, you don't understand it well enough."

Randall Munroe takes this to a new and humorous level. Using the"ten hundred words in our language that people use the most", he explains the workings of a vast variety of things.  From simple machines that we use everyday;"boxes that make clothes smell better" (washer and dryer) and "writing sticks" (pen and pencil) to things that not many people understand the workings of, "Machine for burning cities" (nuclear bomb) and "big tiny thing hitter" (Large Hadron Collider), we have to make sure we understand for ourselves what makes up these items and processes.  We have to reverse-engineer our own vocabulary to make sure we understand the actual basic contents of the subject.

In the Thing Explainer, you will find the term "tiny bags of water" but you won't see the word "cells".  You'll read about the "big tiny thing hitter" but you won't read the words, "particle accelerator". And this is where the true genius lies.  Vocabulary is important (of course, I'm a librarian, scientist and all-around book-nerd) but not at the expense of understanding.  It's not enough to toss around big words if you don't know the concepts beneath them.  And why not laugh your way through?  So as my kids and I giggle our way through these explanations, we are also making sure we embrace the importance of true understanding.

(And for Big Bang Theory fans, you can consider this the anti-Sheldon book of physics.  Instead of using the biggest words to explain a concept so that nobody can understand it, it uses small words for everyone to enjoy.)

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Awesome Performance

I totally geeked out over this and will continue to do so!

(sounds of geeky, rapturous joy combined with wiggly dance moves)

This was an incredible show with one of the most talented performers I have ever seen.

If you are like my friends you will be asking, who is Terry Fator? (Philistines)  But if you're cool enough, you can skip the next little bit.

Mr. Fator, though a long-time performer, was unappreciated until he won America's Got Talent in 2007. 

Terry Fator takes his spectacular singing voice to the next level not only mirroring the voice talents of dozens of past and present popular singers, but doing it without moving his lips!  He's the ultimate ventriloquist and he shares the spotlight with his puppet friends in such a fun, engaging manner that the 2-hour show flew by and was over before I knew it.

The way I described it to my uninitiated friends is that it's a variety show with comedy and music.  But Mr. Fator's voice talents and unflagging energy make it so much more than that.  This particular show was a fun trip down memory lane telling us the story of how he got to where he is, headlining in his very own Las Vegas show.  Along the way we were treated to the sounds of Ed Sheeran, Passenger, Garth Brooks and George Strait, ZZ Top, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin (one of my favorites!), Roy Orbison and more.  Interspersed throughout were some moving personal anecdotes about his journey to stardom along with comedic bits from himself and his crew and, can't forget, his puppets!  We got to meet Winston the Impersonating Turtle and Maynard Thompkins--the World's Best Elvis Impersonator (ha!), sweet little Emma with the big girl voice, and Duggie Scott Walker the Annoying Neighbor. Monte Carlo crooned to us and Walter T. Airdale fascinated us with his really fast yodeling.

Really, I can't express how fantastically awesome it was to sit and watch this amazing man work his magic.

And a conversation with a nice older couple after the show left me feeling even more impressed.

Towards the end of the show Mr. Fator asked that all current and former military members stand up to recognize their service to our country (not unheard of from a celebrity but always appreciated).  He then let the audience know that 100% of the profits from the souvenir sales (sigh, I resisted getting my own Winston) would go to fund organizations like the Wounded Warrior Project and others.  That is admirable.

But the more personal touch came from the older couple who were sitting next to me.

--Now, I should mention that it's no picnic to sit next to me while excellent music is playing.  I chair dance like a champ and the smaller-sized seats in the Inn conference room/theater do not leave much room for shifting much less chair dancing.  I had to apologize to the gentleman to my right who I hipped a couple of time in the first number but he seemed tickled that I was enjoying myself so much.  The lady to my left whose thigh was taking over a third of my seat wasn't quite so sanguine but I'd paid for that little seat sans extra leg and I felt I could jiggle to my heart's content, if she didn't like it, she could shift over (which she eventually did)--

After the show, we were expostulating how wonderful it was and how talented Mr. Fator is and they told me they'd driven over from Amarillo for the weekend for the show and that this wasn't the first time they'd been able to see him.  They'd seen him years ago playing a county fair in Texas! They've been wanting to see him again for years but even after 2 trips to Las Vegas, they hadn't been able to get tickets until they saw the flyer for the Inn of the Mountains Gods and... voila, a birthday celebration to bring them from Texas to New Mexico to see their favored artist.

Now, that kind of long-term loyalty makes Terry Fator even more fantastic in my book.
If I had more thumbs, I'd give them!

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Top 5 Reasons to Study in the Library!

It's most noticeable when someone finds the ideal book in the Reference collection and gets irritated that they can't check it out.

"I can't check this book out? But I need to take it home to write my paper."

I, a homebody, can fully understand the desire to get what I need and then retreat to my safe haven and work on what I need to do.

You know, the vital things like writing that paper...

      or doing the dishes

            hey, look, the washing machine is open for a load.

                  Eww, a rabid dust bunny, I'd better vacuum.

                        Well, I might as well brush the dogs before I vacuum or we'll still end up with an unintentional shag carpet...

What?  It's bedtime?  I didn't have time to work on my paper!

Does that progression sound familiar?

But, when the school year (semester) is in full swing and there are assignments to do and papers to write and you feel like there's not enough time in the day to breathe much less eat, sleep or do homework... that is the time to take your books to the library and study.

What are the advantages of studying in the library?

5.  Computers are available so you can write, type, and even print--it's one-stop shopping for your homework needs.

4.  Table space so you can spread out and get organized.

3.  Resources in many forms, from books, dictionaries, encyclopedias to peer-reviewed journals and newspapers.

2.  Professional help is just a step away.  You can ask your librarian about particular sources, subjects, how to write an outline, or advice on what search terms to use.  They're friendly and excited to help you find accurate information!

1.  There are no housekeeping pressures!  Far fewer distractions!  You can't see the dirty dishes in the sink, or watch the dog shake her fur so that it flies into the air before slowly settling down on the carpet that needs to be vacuumed (yes, there are a lot of ways I procrastinate at home).

So pack your books, ignore the chores and head to the library for the most effective hour of studying you've had in a long time!

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Book Review--Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

I've been wandering through genres since I gave up my old stand-by of historical romance novels (although plenty of family members joked that it was "fantasy", anyway).  And I haven't settled on one particular type of novel that really grabs me and makes me want to read more and more (exception:  Ransom Riggs' Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children series).  So I've elected a grab-and-try-it approach.

The other factor is that when I'm at my desk in the back of the library (not on the front lines and the reference desk) I have the opportunity to listen to audiobooks while doing some of my more mundane tasks.  So, not only do I have the challenge of finding books that I like but also that the reader is enjoyable, as well.

Ding ding ding

We have a winner!  Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. I was intrigued by the description of the story--featuring a bookstore, libraries, a secretive sect, and typography--and listened to the first 10 minutes of Ari Fliakos' voice interpretation and was hooked!

Set in current times and featuring a cast of characters that aren't afraid to show their geeky side, this journey through the discovery and infiltration of a shadowy literature sect takes some side roads through the Google complex, computers, the history of typography and discusses the possibility of immortality.

Just when you think it's all adventure, interesting characters and not a lot more... in comes the heavy thought of: what would you do to achieve immortality.  And the secondary thought: what does immortality look like to you?  Sloan adds just enough mystery to get you thinking but not so much you feel like you're slogging through a philosophical tome; this story is like chatting with a friend while curled up on the couch. And Fliakos' mellow voice and characterizations bring the story to life in a very satisfying way.

Go ahead, take a chance and visit Mr. Penumbra's Bookstore!

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Public Challenge #1

I've posted before on the interesting concept of working with the public (The Fine Art of Eye Contact).  And I've even touched on what I'm going to talk about today (Just Say Thank you).

But after a year and a half of working the reference desk at the public library, I've discovered the hardest thing about working with the general public is not working with the irate and unpleasant patrons but it's with the ones that are too nice.

When I say "too nice" I'm not talking about uber-friendly or annoyingly cheerful people.  I'm not talking about cute kids coming up to talk (even though I'm on the 'adult' side, I still get some fun little visitors).

I'm talking about people (unfortunately most often men) that seem to misunderstand the difference between being polite/helpful and something more personal.

I've had to learn the skill of politely and non-offensively turning down offers of dates.  Or politely accepting small gifts without any indication that it establishes a personal connection. Or ignoring puppy dog eyes as they follow my progress as I walk across the room. I've had to let someone know that I am not available to sit and chat with them at my desk for an hour as they relate "there I was" stories.

There is a fine line, I've discovered, between showing enough politeness and interest in order to get people to let you know what kind of information or help they really need and appearing friendly enough that they want to tell you their life story.  I didn't realize that reference librarians are stand-ins for counselors and bartenders. Even learning how to toe this line I have heard about:

  • Criminal backgrounds
  • "Friends" who need extradition laws for other states
  • Marriage woes
  • Divorce woes
  • Child custody battles
  • Gender confusion
  • Dead relatives
  • Living relatives
  • Parenting disasters
  • Financial difficulties
The question I have found the most awkward so far was a lady with an Irish accent (notable because it's unusual here) and her two small children (boy and girl about 9 and 5, respectively).  She came up and in her lovely, lilting accent asked, "I can't figure out the computer system.  Where are you books about rape and incest?" I blinked twice and then found some things that would work and led her over to them.  I was hesitant to ask too many question about who/why it was for since her children were right there.  My internal monologue was on a roll, though. "Who is this for?  You or your kids?  We don't have a How-To on that!"

The ultimate goal is to not show judgement or undue curiosity for anybody that asks me questions.  My job is to help them find the information they need, no matter how uncomfortable it is for either/both of us.

But, that nonjudgmental demeanor, combined with politeness, has its pitfalls with those who are so unused to kindness that they misjudge it and take it for flirting. But I guess if I had no challenges, this job wouldn't be nearly so interesting.

I was thinking of getting a shirt that expresses it clearly, though.

What do you think?

Friday, 16 October 2015

Book Review--Library of Souls


I've been waiting so long and we finally got it at the library.  I had the first hold on it so I got the first crack of the spine!

(squeal of delight)

Oh.  Sorry, let me compose myself.


I have been impatiently waiting for the third and final installment of Ransom Riggs' Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children to come out.  And it's finally here!  Library of Souls.

Ooooh, even the title sounds creepy.  And with good reason.  If the first book of Miss Peregrine's dipped its toe in the waters of horror writing, and Hollow City waded in it, Library of Souls plunges you right into to some pretty creepy and horrific things.

The peculiar thing is... I still wouldn't classify this as a horror book; I would call it fantasy.  I think it's because the details and vignettes described aren't done for their shock factor or just to make you shudder.*  They are woven into the story and into the action and into the characters' peculiarities to be an acceptable, if unusual for us "normals", part of that world.

I'm not going to go into the plot points but rest assured that Jacob and Emma and the peculiar gang face enormous challenges in this book.  And if the end almost feels disappointing and flat--it's really just because it means the trilogy is over and it's back to the normal unpeculiar world we inhabit.

Full salute to this wonderful, creepy, awful, fantastic series!  Bird knows when we will ever find another story of this caliber.

*Caveat: O.K. the two words that made me shudder that you will understand after reading the book: Mother Dust 

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Book Review--Animal Farm

Little wonder this is considered a "classic".

I am slowly working my way through books featured in the Great Books collection and Animal Farm by George Orwell is one of the last entries given in the original list.

Let me begin by saying that I usually shy away from war books and those that deal with a lot of politics.  The latter I don't always understand and the former hurts my heart.

Orwell, as many readers before me have discovered, managed a way to explore the process, psychology and living conditions of governmental upheaval and war without devolving into heart-wrenching graphic depictions that sear pictures into your brain that you can't un-see and un-think.

As an animal lover and dedicated "fur mama", it is easy for me to fall into the personification of animals. I recognize that animals have personalities and their own language so reading an allegory that features them gives me a common ground. But, since I also believe that people are more important* this also give me just a bit of separation so I don't feel the suffering as keenly as I do in books that feature people in horrific situations. So Orwell's use of animals as characters, with people only peripherally in the plot is both accessible and shielded.

I was an oblivious child.  By that, I mean I was cheerful, well-cared for and never needed to think outside of my own little home-school-church triangle.  I was aware of news and some current events in that, I knew big names and some words but since it didn't affect me, I really didn't pay attention to things like the "Cold War" or people like "Gorbachev" they were just concepts floating around my elementary-aged head. But, eventually school and maturity (don't laugh, I've achieved some semblance of it over the years) encroached and I learned about things like communism, socialism, democracy and more. I have even instituted my own form of government at home with my family; my son calls it a "Momarchy". I also hit on some of these topics in various bible studies and discussions over the years, trying to figure out why communism and socialism are almost impossible for humans to maintain indefinitely even if at their heart they seem like good ideas.

But, like many other people, I looked in disbelief on some of the things that happened during those time periods and thought, "How could people let this happen? Don't they see it's wrong?" Animal Farm addresses that concern and more in this allegorical (means a story that means something else) tale. Things don't happen overnight.  There is a gradual build-up and step-by-step acceptance of new things and new ideas.  There is also the element of fear when judiciously wielded by a respected person who comes to power and does not show his nefarious plans in obvious ways. Admit it, things would be easier if bad guys wore black hats, pencil mustaches and chuckled, "heh heh heh" while rubbing their hands together... but it just doesn't work like that.

Reading about the animal members of the community of Animal Farm and sympathizing with their daily lives, talents and limitations, it really brings home how good people can be manipulated into thinking that bad is good and that misery is an acceptable way of life. Human nature is plainly depicted through the animal characters in this powerful book.

*Don't get too riled up about this.  I do believe animals have rights and that humans have an obligation to care for them and their habitats.  But, if there had to be a choice between my children and my dogs, kids and other people come first.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Fact or Fable?

You pick up a book and read the summary on the back.  It's about the war in Iraq, and the experiences the soldiers had while fighting in the desert. It's highly researched and accurate.  But it's in the fiction section!

You grab another book and read the back.  It's a way-out account of some guy who was the victim of an accident that shoved a rod through his head but he survived.  "Like that would ever happen," you think.  Then you see it's from the nonfiction section!

Wondering and wandering, you search the nonfiction stacks in the library and find some titles about aliens and telling the future in the stars.  What in the world is going on?

What's real?  What's not? And how can we tell?

Like in science where there are two huge divisions that we talk about, plants and animals, the broadest categories we can put books into are: fiction and nonfiction.

Fiction is literature that comes from  imagination.

Nonfiction is literature that comes from fact.

Nonfiction is the broadest category including:

Biography, business, cooking, health
fitness, pets, crafts, home decorating, home improvement
languages, travel, religion, art, history, theology, self-help, true crime
science, humor textbook, thesaurus, autobiography, folktales, almanac, gazetteer
current events, atlas, philosophy...

To name a few.

So if there is some fiction that is hard to tell it's made up, how can we tell if the book we're reading is actually nonfiction?  You can look at the text features and text structure.

The text features include things like bold headings, bullet points, illustrations/graphics.  The text structure means how it is organized; by topic, by timeline or another way.  Many books refer to other research, books, magazines or a lot of other sources to gather the information; this is another feature of nonfiction books.

WARNING! Just because something looks nonfiction, doesn't mean it is.  Here are come other clues to help. *Note* This slideshow specifies websites but this information can be used for any type of resource. 

So, what are some ways that you can distinguish between fiction and nonfiction? 

Can you list some nonfiction books that you've read or want to read?
What about fiction?

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Chicken keepers!

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Mother hen walking with three baby chicks

Why not?

Seriously (but not too seriously), the idea of raising chickens for eggs or meat has always fascinated me. I don't think I could ever do it but the thought of having fresh eggs and not worrying about meat pedigree and packaging is very appealing.

When the idea first struck me, I read a neat book called Backyard Homestead which is a fantastic resource about using even your own tiny backyard to live off the land to whatever degree you want (it even specifies what kinds of things you can do with the acreage you have, no matter how small).  And when it came to the section about raising animals for food, it started with some of the best advice:  decide who's going to do the killing and it should probably not be the same person who does the caring, otherwise you'll end up with a lovely pet flock of birds.

As I was examining our library collection, I noticed that I am not the only one with fowl interests, the books we have on raising chickens circulate quite heavily.  Along with that, I saw that we could use some more updated resources, so I got to find new books on raising chickens!  I have to admit, at least one (I'm sure you can guess which) I chose mostly based on the title but it turned out to be a good guide and includes recipes.

Now, if you're not interested in chickens you can look into raising honeybees, making your own cheese, or growing your own vegetables.  "But", I can hear you say "What if I don't want to buy a bunch of books on this stuff if I decide I don't want to do it?"

You're in luck!  Because the best place to go is your local Library!!!! The Alamogordo Public Library has books on beekeeping, raising goats, backyard farming, soap and cheese making and even survival guides; you will be well-equipped to be self-sufficient.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Weekend Experience

I just had the most fantastic, spectacular, AWESOMEST weekend ever!!!!!

What could possibly engender that reaction?
     Skydiving?          No
     World Cup tickets?         No
     Book Marathon (would have been close)?         No

I went to... insert dramatic pause here or listen to this:

You can stop laughing now.


Because I seriously enjoyed it that much!

I was able to attend the Santa Fe Opera and see opening night of the 2015 production of Rigoletto

If you've never heard of the Santa Fe Opera, you are in for a treat.  It is an open air world-class opera house, like none other. Here are a couple of pictures so you can get the idea.

The performance started at 8:30PM just as the sun went down and it started to get dark. I was thrilled to see the silhouette of a bird as it flew across the exposed skyline just above the stage as the show began.  There was a full orchestra in the pit with just the conductor's head peeking out as the fantastic music started.  Having never been to an opera or an open air theater such as this one, I wasn't sure what to expect in the way of sound levels.  It definitely wasn't like the overpowering sounds of a movie theater where it seems like myear drums are throbbing and trying to meet in the middle of my skull.  But I never had to strain my ears for the sounds of the music, either.  The acoustics were fantastic for both singers and musicians and the over-dramatic story line proceeded without any faults.

The story of Rigoletto is an over-the-top fictional account of a hunch-back court fool and his daughter... kind of.  I'm sure you can draw as many pseudo-valid sociological points as you want from this drama but I thought the characters were so awful, it was hard to feel sorry for them.  But the performers did a fabulous job portraying the story in all its glory. And the backstory of the original performance is entertaining as well.

Long story short (too late, I know) I would absolutely recommend and encourage you to give the opera a chance.  I love singing, classical music and live performances and this combined all three of those into a wonderful experience that I will treasure for a long time to come.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

To cite or not to cite... there is no question

Citation Styles

No, I'm not talking about the format of your parking ticket.

If you've written a research paper for a class (see this series of blog posts on how to make it more palatable--even, dare I say it, fun) then you know you have to include acknowledgements of the resources you used when formulating your arguments.  These are called citations and there are several ways to note them.

The thing is, I have never heard a student jump up, click their heels and yell, "Yay!  I'm writing my bibliography; I love figuring out where all those commas go.  I just love punctuation!" (if you are a student who has done this, please send a video and I will feature you!)

Even though many of us consider this an onerous step in the research process, it's important.  It's good practice.  Oh, wait... IT'S THE LAW!

So, I am going to do the mom-thing and tell you the "why" (as an instructor/teacher/parent I like to have an answer for this question in everything.  If I can't explain or defend the purpose of a requested action, then maybe I need to rethink the necessity).

In no particular order:

Do you know how annoying it is when a friend repeats your best joke to someone else and they all think your friend is awesome?  Even though it was your joke in the first place?  Well, that's the same thing as using ideas or information from a resource without giving credit to who said it first.  You can take credit for gathering and using the brilliant idea but not for the idea itself.
     The official term for this kind of thing is: "intellectual property" and not respecting it is an offense which can result in jail time or, more likely, a substantial fine in the real world and can get you a failing grade, failed course, or even failed college career in school. Another word about disregarding the rights of intellectual property is "plagiarism".  Easy and advisable to avoid.

Have you ever played the game Telephone? The more people the message has filtered through adds to the hilarity of the final outcome. [As an aside, there is a drawing version of this and it is also hilariously fun] But how do you know where it went wrong?  Was there one drastic turning point or a gradual series of misunderstandings? This is where recording all the resources you used in developing your paper is important.  Just like Hansel and Gretel needed breadcrumbs to find their way back home, readers and teachers need to be able to follow your information to make sure it's accurate.  Things can be taken out of context or a different meaning might be assigned to a particular phrase, citing your resources is a way to ensure accuracy.

What makes a scientific hypothesis into a theory into a law? The simplified version is that the results can and have been repeated over and over again with little to no variation of the outcome. If you drop a ball, it falls down.  If you drop it from a greater height, it does the same thing. If you drop it from a lesser height or throw it up first, it will always fall downward and end up in the same place.  So if you and three other people can follow the same path of resources and come up with the same conclusion, you know you're on to something that is reliable and firm.

As I mentioned before, there are several standardized style formats and most institutions and/or teachers have their preferences.  Rather than trying to detail each of these right now, I'll leave it to the experts and offer you some good resource sites to take a look at:

I have no connection whatsoever with this university but I came across their writing lab resource and it is fantastic! The kind of place that makes this type of resource available for everyone is one I would love to work with if I had the chance.
Purdue OWL

Again, this is another one I stumbled across but is very helpful.  You pick your citation style, plug in the information and it gives you the formatted citation.
Citation Machine

These are both free resources, if you have any others to share or if you use one that you have purchased, please feel free to share that information!

Friday, 19 June 2015

Chocolate peanut butter cookies

I am a big fan of peanut butter.  I also like chocolate (dark chocolate is my favorite).  And Reese's peanut butter cups are one of my favorite candies along with Reece's Pieces.  So, when I had a craving for cookies and I wasn't sure if I wanted chocolate or peanut butter, I decided I didn't have to choose and did both!

I took two basic recipes, made them separately and just put them together to bake.  Voila, easy chocolate peanut butter cookies! The two recipes are Chocolate Crinkles and classic Peanut Butter Cookies.

Now, as you can see from the pictures, I am not a consummate food/recipe blogger but you get the picture.  I am also not much of a perfectionist when it comes to my baked goods--they taste just as good funny-looking as not.

I offer pictures of this process, only to encourage those who may be hesitant to try something new not as an example of awesome process blogging.  You don't need to have a "Pinterest-worthy" final product to explore your own creativity and have a good time!

This is where I patted the outer layer of chocolate into vague rectangles.  I had to make them wide enough to wrap around the peanut butter dough that was going to go down the center.

After adding the peanut butter log (crazy play-dough fun) and wrapping the chocolate around like a sweet burrito (you can see I didn't do it quite wide enough since it's not completely encased), then I sliced the dough log.

Here they are all done; they spread quite a bit but tasted great!
I encourage you to try something new and have some fun! Make this into a family project and enjoy the messy process together.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Book Review--Listful Thinking

Confessions of a scatter-brain!

In some circles (not my family) I have the reputation of being organized and on top of things. Whether or not it is completely true is irrelevant, the important thing to know is that it's not natural.

Not that it's unnatural as in bad, just that there are habits I have adopted to help me keep track of important things in life.  I will admit it is often something of a cycle, where I'll be on top of things for quite awhile and then something throws me off my stride and I scramble a bit until I get back to place where I can regroup.  But since I have found techniques that work for me, it's relatively easy to get myself back into the swing of things.

That's what this book can help with.  Listful Thinking by Paula Rizzo explores one of the more powerful tools of organization: lists.  There are dozens of types and styles of lists that you can make and she explores varying formats from notebooks to Post-Its to computer programs.  Understanding the importance of making a list, learning the types that work for your lifestyle and refining how you use them are all addressed in this short, non-threatening book about organizing your life.

Rizzo doesn't urge you to start out by completely overhauling the way you do things or making fundamental changes to your personality; she emphasizes the strengths of each kind of list and introduces ways for you to start using them to streamline your tasks and schedule. She also gives you permission to try and discard the different methods to find one that works for you.  Interspersed throughout the informational narrative are tidbits about famous/successful list-makers as well as reports on studies about memory and the human tendency to want to finish a task.

From sticky notes to digital interfaces, Rizzo offers lots of options and encouragement to find a productive system that works for you to get yourself thinking listfully.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Encouraging Audiobooks

Audiobook Appreciation Month!

If you haven't discovered the joy of listening to a book, you are missing out!

Ever get irritated with ads on the radio having to search out stations on a trip?  Listen to a book on CD and you don't have to worry about it!

Enjoy bits of a story during your work commute.

Entertain yourself while doing housework.

Don't restrict your view of "reading" to just 15 minutes a night before you go to bed.

OK, lecture over (kind of).

So, I have the distinct pleasure of being one of the reference librarians in charge of the displays at the Alamogordo Public Library.  We have been having a good time putting together some collection focal points.  Since I can't be in the classroom right now, I try to consider some of these displays my "one-shot" educational stops.

This  month is Audiobook Appreciation month and we wanted to spread the word about the awesomeness of "talking books". But how in the world were we going to be able to do that?

Audiobooks come in different formats; CDs, MP3 disks, digital downloads and Playaways.

My brain child was to make a giant Playaway and headphones to display. So it would look like a giant-sized version of this:
A Playaway is a self-contained book; essentially a simple MP3 player with just the book loaded on it.  Easy to use and lighweight! 

The Playaway itself was easy; just cut a Xerox paper box at an angle and glue on the lid; paint it and add printed-out buttons and a book cover.

The thing that gave me the most difficulty was constructing giant headphones.  I checked Google and Pinterest and couldn't find anything so I struck out on my own.  I ended up using Styrofoam plates and bowls, crepe paper, bendable steel wire and felt.  Plus a lot of glue! So, here is my series of steps for making giant headphones to go with our big Playaway.

Here are most of the supplies; not pictured is the paint and craft glue and felt. I used two big plates, one small plate and a bowl for each side of the headphones.

Here I'm poking holes for the speaker portion of the headphones and painting the pieces. After they were dry, I glued a small hole-poked plate to the inside of a large plate for each side.

For the cushioned area, I glued strips of crepe paper together and then glued them to the perimeter of the plate.

I made a wire frame for the over-the-head part and wrapped it with felt. Then I glued it between the two large plates. and flipped the rest of the crepe paper over the edges and glued on the bowl.

I found an old, defunct set of earbuds and cut the wire free to glue to the headphones to lead to the Playaway.
Voila!  Giant headphones and a Playaway to encourage audiobook listening/reading. Give it a try!
Here I am showing you the size :)

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Addressing the "Why?"

I hear this every day from my own kids.  I heard this with almost every assignment when I was in the classroom.


Why do we have to do this?
Why does it have to be done that way?
When will I ever use this?
What is the point?
How will this help me?

And many other variations on that theme. I'm sure as parents, teachers, even coworkers and bosses, we have heard this symphony more times than we care to count.  The incessant droning of the sentiment is probably why the phrase "because I said so" has become a common answer to the question.

But, in life as well as the classroom, I think there is a lot of justification for answering this question.  I'm going to address this in the context of the classroom but I think that it is transferable to parenthood as well and bears thinking about.

Do you remember as a student having to do a project you thought was idiotic?  Did you ever question the sanity of your teacher for assigning something that seemed to have no bearing on anything in real life?  How many of us made fun of our teachers for something they were passionate about that we just didn't get into?

Why would we think our students are any different than we were?

As teachers, we tell ourselves that we want our students to learn how to think for themselves, we encourage autonomy and responsibility but we get frustrated and defensive if that takes a turn toward questioning what we have decreed is important.  It kind of comes out like, "think for yourself but do what I say."

The difficulty is, we have to occupy our classroom full of students every day for 180 days.  And not all lessons are going to have obvious links to practicality.  While that doesn't make them less valuable, it is harder to explain their importance.  As we help our students move beyond the concrete and instantaneous to the abstract and long-term, what are some tools we can use to explain the value of the lessons we teach?

Here is one suggestion that has worked well for me.  I find that most every concept/lesson falls into two rough categories:


Content refers to the details that are specific to that subject matter.  A biology lesson on cell division has a lot of information that pertains only to that subject but that information is built on learning more about living organisms and can then be applied to how cells work in the body and encouraging healthy living.  This specific set of information is important for the knowledge it imparts.

Process refers to the route taken to understand the concept.  Doing algebraic equations requires a specific process that has to be followed precisely in order to arrive at the right answer.  But learning to follow this process can be transferred to anything that follows a step-by-step procedure.  Cooking, for example can fall into this.  If students can learn and memorize recipes, they can also learn and memorize the steps to performing calculations.

These two categories can and often do overlap and there are going to be important things that may not fall easily into such rough categories.  But I think it's a good place to start.  Because if we can't answer for ourselves "Why" we are teaching something, there is no way we are going to convince our students it's worth learning (and I ask you to extend this to the homework you assign).

Do you have any tips and tricks to answer the incessant... I mean chronic... I mean perpetual student question of "why"?  Share it with us!

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Ahh, Romance

Hollow City: The second novel of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I was too dazed to follow her right away, because there was something new happening, a wheel inside my heart I’d never noticed before, and it was spinning so fast it made me dizzy.  And the farther away she got the faster it spun, like there was an invisible cord unreeling from it that stretched between us, and if she went too far it would snap—and kill me.
            I wondered if this strange, sweet pain was love.

Sherlock, Season 3 Episode 3 “His Last Vow”

            The problems of your past are your business.  The problems of your future… are my privilege.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

"As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once."

Oscar Wilde

"Never love someone who treats you like you're ordinary."

"You don't love someone for their looks, or their clothes or for their fancy car, but because they sing a song only you can hear."*

Is it sad that while I'm a confirmed hopeless romantic, I also think romance doesn't apply to me? Maybe that's why I read fiction.

*Misquoted often as from Oscar Wilde but most likely not; still a sweet sentiment.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Not another research paper! Part 7

1. Topic/Research Question
2. Pre-search
3. Research
4. Outline
5. Research
6. Fill-in-the-blanks
7. Edit

Well.  This is it!  You've made it this far and you're almost ready to put the icing on the cake!

What is so important about editing?

Well, this is the window dressing that shows your reader that
1. you care enough about what you've written to make sure there are no obvious mistakes
2. your reader doesn't get confused because of misspellings or bad grammar
3. it is very hard to take someone seriously if they can't even take the time to fix a typo.

Your editing is going to put the finishing touches on your masterpiece.

So, before I go into a string of humorous posters detailing why you need to be grammar and spelling conscious, let me remind you that appearances can be deceiving but it's unfortunately important to make a first impression.  No matter how good a doctor is, if the office is dirty and bug-ridden, you're not very likely to go in, are you?

So, how's this for convincing you of the importance of editing?

Read your paper aloud, you might catch some mistakes.  Give it to a friend to read.

 All you have left is the cover page and "Works Cited" page.  Those are just window dressing and citations will be the subject of another post.  But...

Once you are done editing, the body of your paper is done! 

Give yourself a pat on the back and reward yourself with your favorite thing to do.  Eat ice cream, nap, read a book, whatever.  Kick back and know that you did your best.

Congratulations, you have finished your research paper!

Monday, 18 May 2015

Not another research paper! Part 6

1. Topic/Research Question
2. Pre-search
3. Research
4. Outline
5. Research
6. Fill-in-the-blanks
7. Edit

This is it!  You've made it so far and now you're almost done.  But before you start doing the happy dance...

You have to add some substance to your bare-bones skeleton.  Remember your outline?

Now it's time to flesh it out... 

Take your important points and match up the resources that support them.  Then start explaining how they support your point and how they relate to each other.  You want to tie it all together and tell the reader just how each of these things answers the question you are posing.

DON'T get caught up in trying to write your thesis statement first, do the body of the paper first and THEN go back and write your thesis and conclusion.

Think of it this way:
Your paper is a journey to answer your question.  You write out the route to make sure you know you'll get where you're going, then write the abbreviated instructions at the beginning and then talk about the trip after you're done (for your conclusion).

How about this?
Your thesis is the short answer to your question and the body of the paper is the long answer.

Or this?
The thesis is your elevator pitch and the body of the paper is your presentation.

Let your creativity flow and don't be afraid to enjoy the opportunity to employ your vocabulary.  This is also where you get to use all those transition words and phrases your elementary and junior high school English teacher drilled into you head.  Have fun explaining to your reader how all the dots connect!

Once you have finished with the body, and gone back to write the thesis and conclusion, go ahead and sit back and relax and let your paper sit for 1-3 days (or even longer if you were REALLY on the ball).  Don't even go back and re-read portions until you've let it sit for a little while.  You'll have a much fresher eye and will be able to catch more flaws, mistakes, typos and stuff after you've rested a bit.

Once you've let it set, you are ready to move on to the last, final, ultimate step: 

Step 7 Editing!

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Not another research paper! Part 5

1. Topic/Research Question
2. Pre-search
3. Research
4. Outline
5. Research
6. Fill-in-the-blanks
7. Edit

NO! No huffing with impatience!  This is not a repeat of Step 3.  This is a refinement.  You don't get gold from rock without some effort.  You don't get seedless jelly without straining the fruit.

So, you've got some resources, you wrote your outline, now go back and make sure that the sources you have say what will support your point.  If some are weak or questionable, go search again for more resources.

Personal guideline: Your teacher will probably tell you how many resources he/she wants you to use.  My advice is, look for twice as many and then you can weed through and use the best!

So, since we already talked about how to evaluate your sources, let me expand on places to look for reliable information.  If you are looking in places that are reliable to start with, you make that evaluation process a bit easier.

First off, this is where I tell you why you can only use Wikipedia* for pre-search and not as one of your authoritative sources.

Where to start...

  • Anybody can edit it at anytime.  Which means that an expert can write it and a scoundrel can change it and you wouldn't be able to tell.
  • It has a lot of trivial information (example:  how important is the detailed definition of "bromance"?)
  • Even the less controversial entries have problems.  Here's a tip even I didn't know until recently.  When you go to any entry, there are two tabs at the top.  One is the article and one is labeled "talk".  This is an enlightening series of arguments for and against points in the actual entry.  It will really  make you doubt the truthfulness of anything you just read. 


I would recommend these as your go-to place to find resources.
This is as if someone took all of the printed journals on a subject and scanned it in for you to search and use.  Nowadays there are lot of databases that offer full-text so make sure that is selected when you are performing your search.  There are generalized databases like Academic OneFile and there are specialized databases like ATLASerials (American Theological Library Association).  Take a look but revert to the general ones if you start to feel overwhelmed.  Information is incredibly easy to come by in the digital age.

And (shameless plug) ask your friendly librarian for help searching the database.  They'll be thrilled to show you!  Check your school, university or public library!


Here is a cheat-sheet when taking a look at websites.


And here are some ways to decide if something is a reliable journal or a popular magazine.

*Here are four interesting articles about Wikipedia:
Huffington Post
The New Yorker
The Awl
MIT Technology Review

You are almost done!  Next is when you play your own game and fill in the blanks between your resource points in Step 6!