Tag Archives: library

Colette, Somewhat Improved

At the start of the year I set a few concrete, albeit simple goals for 2018, nothing too whacky, involving essentially: cooking, reading, and being in nature. I visited my progress already in March.

I’m back again to talk about it some more. I have read 15 books. Because I am horribly prone to being exacting and forthcoming, I have to say three of them were short. Two were what you’d call novellas and the other was Roz Chast’s “graphic novel” tribute to New York city, easily read in a sitting. Still…. am I proud of this accomplishment? Oh hell yes I am proud!

As I wrote back in January my ability to read had pretty much gone to shit. It was worse than I realized. I still thought of myself as a “reader” as I’d been throughout my life.  But how much was I really reading, that is, books? Not as many as I thought. I couldn’t tell you how many books I read in 2017 or 2016 or 2015 for that matter, but it damn sure was not 15 in a year, let alone four months

I’ve been thinking about how this happened. When I was preschool age I could not WAIT to get to start first grade because I knew it meant I’d learn to read (these were days long ago when, for me at least, kindergarten was mainly for playing and having stories read to you not learning to read). In gradeschool my class once had a contest for who could write the most book reports. Not only did I win, I blew the rest of the kids away. (Sadly the prize was some  kind of religious  trinket, a holy medal or such, I’ve forgotten what exactly but as you see, several decades later, I haven’t forgot I won.) Reading always excited me. In the years I went to college, it bothered me that my personal reading, as in nontext books, had to be cut back. When I did office work and spent long days staring at computer screens, my eyes were too red and tired after to read much at  home. This too disturbed me.

Once upon a time, books were the main thing and movies, another big love, were the occasional treat. This was when it wasn’t so easy to watch movies, when they weren’t so available. I read more books than watched movies. But in recent years that flip-flopped. I love movies but realizing I was doing more passive watching than engaging (more) of my mind by reading didn’t sit right. I also couldn’t tell you how many movies I typically view in a year, no idea. (I also don’t know how I’d quantify whole series like The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones; every two hours equals one movie??)

More than movies, the internet screwed up my ability to read. I am certain internet use has changed my wiring and not for the best. Your brain gets some sort of endorphin payoff every so often while being on online. The payoff is inconsistent and unpredictable so gaining it necessitates perpetual activity and vigilance. You go online and basically wait for something good to happen. Trouble is there is a whole lot of crap and wasted time inbetween those “payoff” moments, at least for me and I  imagine for many people. There are times when I’m bored or tired and just fool around online hoping magic strikes, or at least something interesting catches my attention.  It was easier to get online & read various (quick) stuff than to read a book.

I wanted to change, I wanted to recapture something I’d lost. And I have. It feels REALLY GOOD to have found my way back to books. My rule is I don’t have to read anything I don’t want to, even if it means quitting a book halfway through. This isn’t supposed to be punishment. I didn’t plan it this way but of the 15 books, only four have been fiction. The funniest was You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein, a woman I’d never heard of. The page-turner was Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan, which I knocked out in two days. I was back!



I’m also doing crossword puzzles; I got a little book of them from Dollar Tree and a second volume for when the first is done. Doing the puzzles has made me sharper (I now can say with conviction there were nine Muses and “Clio” was one. This has come up a few times, despite t the puzzles being written by various makers.) I find myself saying  repeatedly, “I know this” or “I should know this” when trying to figure out clues. I know things I don’t realize I know; it’s often an issue of retrieval. I find real satisfaction in realizing what an answer is, particularly when it doesn’t come to me immediately. However, I  doubt myself because a voice inside me often says at the start of a puzzle when there are too many open spaces, “I’ll never finish this.”  I’ve done 40 (of 88) puzzles so you’d think I’d be a little more trusting by now.

The puzzles show me where my knowledge is decent and where there’s weakness; I don’t know sports or the Bible, and world geography isn’t too promising either. Greek mythology is iffy but improving!  The puzzles force me to consider things from different angles (like when an answer I filled in confidently subsequently messes up other answers and I’m compelled to rethink it). I’ve noticed that this skill is carrying over into other areas of my life; it’s as if my brain is deviating from overworn paths and checking out new trails.  It’s subtle but I can tell.

One of my goals was to make 10 new recipes. I’ve made 14. Also, my diet, already good, is a bit better. I’m eating less cheese and more vegetables for one. And I’m enjoying it. Food is pleasure to me. Tweaking my diet and nutrition makes me pay more attention,  be more conscious, which is a good thing. I really think my little goals this year are doing exactly that:  making me more conscious of how I spend my time, how I relax, how I eat, how I live. Solidly in middle age, I find it is entirely up to me not to become mired in ruts, or lazy and if not full-on lazy, maybe just complacent. I must challenge myself. I don’t want to be coasting along, I want to be alert.







Little Free Library

Have you heard of Little Free Libraries? Individuals volunteer to build and maintain them where they live. Anyone can take or deposit books. They can be found all over the world. The website has all the details as well as a map of locations. Locally, within a mile of where I live, there are three. I see that two of them are not listed on the official map. (If you know me in “real life” and want the addresses of our little free libraries, feel free to contact me.) I thought it would be fun to show you “mine.”


Taken two days ago (we had a little snow, since melted)


Love the red


Looks like repurposed cupboards

I haven’t visited these too frequently (I also have a public library just about a mile from home and I’m there often). Now that I am committed to reading more, like I used to, maybe I’ll increase my visits. Mostly, I’ve returned books I’ve taken to where I found them but here are two I kept (I just found the vegan book and already made the creamy lentil soup).


When I stopped to take photos today I found the current issue of Martha Stewart Living so I snapped it up.


125 ways to energize your life, hot-diggity!

It has never occurred to me to start my OWN Little Free Library but this section on doing one inexpensively has got me thinking…

Oil can for the my rusty brain

A short while ago, I wrote a post about feeling my life was lacking in intellectual stimulation.

My formal education ended long ago with a Bachelor’s degree, and while I remain a reader as well as intellectually curious, I could see that in recent times, I was looking more for entertainment than education. I don’t think that was entirely wrong – there are times in my life that I just don’t have it in me for whatever reason, to keep challenging myself. Times when just basically taking care of myself – and dealing with problems du jour or problems l’année – is enough.

I had slowly moved away from self-education. I no longer knew what I knew and what I didn’t. I was aware that math and science were pretty much gone, but overall I had no measuring stick. Was I losing my edge?

I started with taking two online IQ tests. The results of each were very similar – and let’s say I was happy with the number. My wits were still about me. I was going to take a third test to seal the deal, but never quite got to it. Perhaps my gray matter was taxed from all the exertion.

As a book and movie buff, I’m a regular at the library, but I now had a specific mission, and that was to ramp up the difficulty/challenge level of the material.

One of the places I began was a huge SAT book, complete with practice tests. I focused on the tests only – no ” brushing up” or “studying” for me – beginning with the language related tests, which are divided into two areas: Critical Reading and Writing. My scores were fine; Writing was good and Critical Reading was very good. Here’s my “cold test” answer sheet.

I wasn’t going to even bother with the math, but ultimately tried the math test too, and it was laughable. It’s not that I never did well in math – I did B-student okay – it’s that I quickly saw that the math SAT test was almost entirely based on knowing formulas, and those, save one, are now lost to me. Whereas the math on IQ tests, I realized, is more about reasoning and recognizing patterns – that I can do.

Despite being a lifelong reader, I can’t read as I once did. I’m restless, physically active, and often in motion. When I sit down to read, I’m often distracted; something on the page will start me to thinking, and soon I’m either lost in thought (no longer reading) or hopping up to to go do something. Because of this, I opted to focus more heavily on educational DVDs, choosing topics I knew something about or was genuinely intrigued by. There weren’t going to be no forcing myself into watching The Complete History of Calculus or Nuclear Fission and You (No, these titles don’t exist, at least I don’t think so).

Here’s where I began:P_20150215_151900

I got lucky; there wasn’t a dud in the bunch. I didn’t get around to the LSAT review before it had to be returned (and it’s not like I’m headed to law school; I was just curious what’s on the test), but otherwise I watched them. Some were better than others and I count titles I’d watch again.

I can only gush about the multi-part nine-hour America the Story of Us. The series, had it been on TV when I was a kid, struck me as the sort we’d gather around the TV set to watch. It’s beautiful-looking to start with – what they can do now with film and animation just blows me away. If history had been taught more like this in my time, I might have actually cared. The film relies heavily on riveting reenactments, and highlights historical tidbits I never knew. I can’t speak to the accuracy of the film since my credentials are slim but since it was produced by the History Channel, I generally trusted that they knew their stuff.

Throughout the film, there’s an emphasis on what WE did and how clever and forward-thinking WE were, but I knew they weren’t talking about me. I felt a little guilty sitting in my comfortable chair watching those people take on the British, or lay those ridiculous miles of train tracks linking East to West, or producing goods out the wazoo during WWII, or bringing water to CA through building the seemingly impossible California aqueduct. And all the people who died doing these things, not to mention so much loss of life in so many other ways – loss which would make things better not for those people, but for others to follow. Watching the film, I was struck by how much was accomplished in growing this country in such a short time. It’s boggling.

By the time the film moved to the waves of immigration, it was well along, and it was then, when they specifically mentioned and showed Northern Italians as among those arriving at Ellis Island, that I got emotional. My people had arrived; only now, in however tiny a way, could I feel part of the story.

The film packs a lot in, and can’t cover it all, but my criticism is that it’s too self-praising at the cost of passing over serious problems. The current state of crime, drugs, and race are left out. The issues immigrants and nonwhites face in this supposedly equal and class-less society are short-shrifted. Nonetheless, this is a film I’d watch again.

Memory of the Camps, a PBS film, initially begun but never finished by, surprisingly, Alfred Hitchcock, showed what are likely the most hideous, heinous footage I’ve ever see of the concentration camps. The footage was taken immediately after liberation. It’s shocking, even if you think you’ve seen all this before. I watched because I think it’s important and the discomfort – although that seems too weak a word – it causes me seems small a price. The thing is, this just wasn’t all that long ago, historically speaking. We can’t call it “ancient history” or say “that will never happen again.” Especially when we’ve already got a movement saying it never happened.

I could go on about the various DVDs, but I should probably curb myself for purposes of this post. Let me leave you with the next round I checked out, and the current one:

I have to say, lastly, two things. One is that I’m feeling a lot sharper, I’m thinking about things. And the second is I’ve noticed WWII comes up frequently, or at least regularly, in my selections; it’s like I keep coming at it from different directions. I think I’ve underestimated its role or place in modern culture/history. I really didn’t know a whole lot about it but I’m paying more attention now that it’s been turning up on the radar. I’m not about to become ANY kind of war buff, but it’s good to fill in blanks in my knowledge.

You know what? This has been kind of exciting for me. It’s good to be back in learning gear.

Now for your viewing pleasure: My MAD© Magazine cover rejection

In a recent post I shared an old cartoon I’d done years ago as part of a submission to MAD© magazine which ultimately went nowhere. This got me to thinking about MAD© which I haven’t even looked at in ages. I never subscribed but the library used to have it. (Maybe 10 years ago I asked a librarian about the possibility of the branch carrying it again and was more or less blown off, so I dropped it.)

My former brother-in-law introduced me and my closest-in-age siblings to the magazine when we were in grade school. A bright, observant man, he must have noticed that his wife’s youngest siblings were kind of sheltered and was good enough to hand us a small supply of MAD© back issues and another similar (knock-off?) magazine. We were thrilled! They were just our kind of humor. We had no idea such a wondrous magazine existed.

One of the submissions I sent to MAD© was a cover idea. I didn’t think I could share it here because of potential copyright infringement, but it occurred to me it’ll be okay if I don’t show their mascot or logo. As was true of cartoons, they weren’t interested in the art so much as seeing the concept.


Dear NASA, a little help please?

Dear NASA,

How are you? I am okay, not great (I will explain in a minute). I know you must be occupied doing important things since I actually know a few of your employees and they seem like very smart, dedicated people who I am sure do highly skilled, significant work, even if I could never understand it. So I am fairly certain you are all quite busy! But the reason I am writing, NASA, is because I woke up feeling cruddy with a wicked sore throat this morning, the kind that feels like a fist in your throat and means for me I will probably come down with a cold, maybe a bad one. Felt a little feverish and my glands weren’t too promising either. It’s probably my own fault as I haven’t been getting enough sleep since the Spring sunlight – which is great, don’t get me wrong, especially after this long, brutal winter and I am not complaining – makes me a little bit hyper so I don’t sleep enough what with that sun coming in my Eastern-facing windows at an absurd hour telling my body clock it’s time TO GET UP AND GET BUSY on top of the fact that the late-setting sun the night before was telling me TO STAY UP AND DO THINGS. Not to mention I forgot to use hand sanitizer a couple days ago after being on one of the public library computers which I think keeps me from getting sick a lot of the time especially in winter when everybody is hacking and blowing their noses and typing away, ha ha! (No really, it’s pretty gross.) I bet that you never forget to do that NASA, as I imagine sanitation is probably pretty important there. I sure hope so! If I came to visit and I saw piles of junk around and food rotting in the break room, I have to say I’d be pretty disappointed. So anyway, that might be where – the library I mean, not your center – I picked up whatever germs that got me sick. Although I want you to know I HAVE been eating right so I do think it’s a little unfair that my immune system saw fit to punish me for that one little transgression. I mean, geez, how many apples and oranges and fresh vegetables does a person have to eat to not get sick? If I’d been eating chips and hot dogs all week, I could see it, I’m just saying. Anyway, why am I telling you my troubles, NASA? Well, usually I would just stay home when I feel this way and hope tomorrow is better, but oops, I realized I have books that are due back at the library today and a CD too, Bruce Springsteen’s High Hopes. Have you heard that one NASA? It’s really good. I don’t know why I didn’t hear it before. The Boss (don’t know if they still call him that) sure stays on top of his game, it’s really amazing! He works out too, have you seen those arm muscles?! I forget what they’re called, but my, my. Oh, and if you need a good movie this weekend, I can suggest Nebraska which I also checked out of the library. It wasn’t due back yet, but since I’d already watched it last night, I thought I’d take it back now so the next person on the library waiting list (there’s really long waiting lists for all the Oscar-nominated films, NASA, just to give you a heads up) could have it sooner. Before I got it I didn’t really know what the movie was about and sometimes I just like to be surprised, and it was very funny! Do you enjoy a thoughtful comedy about dysfunctional family dynamics, NASA? Then you might like it. The main point being I had to go out, or else those library fines were going to stack up. And what if I just get sicker, too sick to take them back tomorrow or the next day? It was better to go today. Now, NASA, I hope you are still paying attention because this is where you come in. I was really wondering and hoping if you could make something for regular people like me. I know you’ve done work in the cloaking area ‘cuz I did have the good sense to google it before writing to you – but I really didn’t see what I need. (I did see a very cool-looking cloaking thing you made to put on ships, submarines and aircraft – good on you! Although should you really put pictures of it on the internet? That seems risky. Maybe you should have your security people look into it.). So anyway what I have in mind is a cloaking device for people. If you could put a couple scientists on it – it doesn’t even have to be your best ones and they could work on it when their other jobs were done – I sure would appreciate it. That way on a day like today when I have to go out but am really in no mood to deal with people and I feel kind of shaky and look kind of weird because you never look right when you’re sick, all glassy-eyed and whatnot, I could just slip on the device, go about my business and nobody is the wiser! And also that would keep me from spreading germs around since nobody would start a conversation with me and get close enough to catch something. And another thing, I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings if I seem not too friendly. See NASA? I am not just thinking about myself. If you did this, I promise I wouldn’t use it too often either, like any old time when I wanted to avoid somebody, maybe some unbalanced creepy person who’s been bothering me, or somebody always asking me to volunteer for this or that or donate money. No sirree! I’d only use it for real emergencies and important stuff. In hopes of encouraging you in this venture, I am enclosing a check for $5. If you need more, just let me know. I am going to go drink orange juice now, okay, bye.

Wants To Be Invisible Sometimes

P.S. I decided I better buy some orange juice when I was out and I noticed the carton I got had only 59 ounces instead of the standard 64. Do you know anything about that? Thanks.