Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Winter in no uncertain terms

Well, it must be winter: had to break out the warm, fake-leopard-skin robe this morning. The pretty, pale aqua one that was a Christmas present from friend Meaghan a few years back has served faithfully since about May, but this morning it was 28 degrees out (and snowing, about which more in a moment), and it was cold in my little house. Even turning the heat up didn't do the trick, so I dug around in the bottom of my portable closet (my little house comes with only one real closet), where I stack extra blankets, and I pulled out the folded-up, warm winter robe.

As to the snow, 6-12 inches are predicted. Although we had a freak snowstorm at the end of October -- which made newspaper headlines across the country, since it was only the fourth time since the Civil War that snow had fallen in New York City in October -- and many areas in New England got close to two feet of snow, here in the Augusta area we had only maybe four or five inches. So this is our first real snowstorm. And naturally it arrives on the day before Thanksgiving, when the whole world has a plane to catch -- or a couple of hours on the road to drive -- in order to get to Grandma's house. Fortunately I don't have to go anywhere, not even to work, since I made the executive decision, after digging out the winter robe, and standing at my front window for a few minutes looking out at the gently-falling snow (and the six inches that were already on the ground) not to open the library. Didn't even agonize over the decision, as I have so often in the past (see Note of Jan. 12, 2011). Although I have to admit I vacillated a little bit. I decided that if the snow had let up by this afternoon, we'd open at 2. My reason for this is that we are definitely and absolutely closed for the Thanksgiving holiday both tomorrow and Friday and, as I discussed in the note of Jan. 12th, I know some of our patrons depend on the library for reading (or viewing) matter to get them through such things as holidays, weekends, and snowed-in days. To be closed three days in a row is a bit much.

So I call the staff member who normally opens on Wednesdays, to tell her answering machine (Sue never answers the phone directly) that we are closed until maybe two o'clock; I call our answering machine at the library and change its message to say the same thing ("Please give us a call after that time to see if we are open), I call our snow-removal guy to let him know he doesn't have to worry about getting our walks cleared until this afternoon, and I prepare to enjoy an extra day off.

But nothing is ever simple. In my life these days nothing is ever simple. About an hour later I remember that this is ILL delivery day. Some libraries have two or three deliveries a week; our little library has only one, so if we miss it -- because, say, we're closed due to a storm -- then our patrons have to wait an additional week for their interlibrary loan books, and the libraries we are lending books to have to wait an additional week for their books.

So, sigh, I call the delivery service, to ask if they think the delivery guy will make it through, like the P.O., just maybe late. The woman I talk to says he may run late, because of the state of the roads, or he may actually run early, because so many libraries will have closed. So ultimately we agree that someone will be at the library to receive our delivery at two o'clock, unless I hear otherwise from her. And then I have to call Sue back to convey this information to her, so that she can plan on definitely being there then (Sue lives within walking distance of the library, so her getting there is not the ordeal it is for me when it snows.)

Now I just have to hope my neighborhood doesn't lose power...and that some strapping young boys will come around at some point and offer to do my shoveling for me (wait, do I have any money in the house? Hmm...)

Friday, November 18, 2011

All we need is love

Have you heard about the lady from India (named Sudhamani, when she was born in a small village in India, but now known as Amma), who offers a hug to anyone who wants one? And about the thousands of people who lined up to receive one of her hugs at Alexandra Palace (now a kind of convention center) in North London? All kinds of people, different countries of origin (plenty of native Brits!), different religions, young and old.

Amma had to leave school at the age of nine to take care of her family, and began hugging people way back then, anyone who seemed to need it. According to her web site she was sometimes punished by her family for hugging inappropriately -- especially members of the Untouchable class, and older men (!) -- but she felt this expression of love towards people who were, in her eyes, suffering, was important enough to continue.

It's amazing to me that this woman goes around the world holding these hug fests, that she decided this was a good thing to do, and by George she was going to do it (and by the way, people do not pay for their hugs, so she does not make money from this aspect of these events, though perhaps she does from the sale of souvenirs, or the like.) And what's even more amazing to me is that in a land of physically inhibited people, like England, she draws these huge crowds, who just want a kindly, compassionate hug. What does that say about the state of our culture? People are hungry for someone to wrap them in a mother's embrace and reassure them, if only for a moment, that they are loved.

I've checked out Amma's web site (, and find that her organization does have several what sound like very worthwhile projects, e.g., an orphanage for Untouchable children in Kerala, her native state, which is along the west coast of India, near its southern tip. And I love the quotation that appears on one page of her site: "A one word solution to all the problems the world is facing is compassion." I actually agree with that. I think if the leaders throughout the world felt real compassion, not only for their own people, but for the people of the other countries of the world, as well (remember that shot of the earth from space -- we are one small planet); if instead of competition and one-upmanship there was a spirit of helpful cooperation, springing from that compassion...well, a heluva lot of our problems would indeed go away.

David Sillito, the BBC newsman who was reporting on Amma's appearance in London, interviewed several people both before and after their hugs: "What do you expect from this?" "No idea whatsoever." "How was it?" "Unexplainable, you just cannot describe how you feel;" "I'm sorry, I'm speechless; I haven't come back to the real world yet;" "That was..."(expulsion of breath)..."something else." "Ah...It was a very nice hug.")

The reporter finally announced that the only way to really know what it was like, was to do it, so we saw him on his knees in front of this chubby little woman (who was seated), getting hugged. Then she laughed, handed him an apple, and sprinkled him with flower petals. As he stepped away and faced the camera you could tell that he was actually moved, to his surprise and somewhat to his chagrin -- undoubtedly as much of a cynic as the next reporter. In his report that appeared online, Sillito said that what that hug reminded him of was his mother, and what he did after he left Alexandra Palace was call his mother.

I can't imagine myself getting in line behind hundreds of people, to kneel, and have this total stranger embrace me in a hug of several moments. But I have to admit, I could use a hug.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Just imagine...

Well, it really is a shame about Mr. Cain. The accusations of sexual harassment are coming fast and furious now. The analysts on shows like PBS's Washington Week and Inside Washington have been saying for some time that he doesn't have the money, or the organization, to go all the way in the presidential race (and what kind of democracy is it in which having plenty of money is a primary requirement for running for president?)...not to mention the fact that his 9-9-9 tax proposal has come in for lots of criticism, being pronounced too simplistic by most economists. (Its simplicity is of course what appeals to people, since people prefer simple answers and solutions, even when the problems they seek to address are complex).

And now we have these accusations, which certainly won't help him, though apparently many people are still giving the man the benefit of the doubt, because they like him so much.

But here's what really makes it all such a shame. I was really enjoying the idea of two black men being the ultimate candidates for president. Who would doubt we had made progress in the area of racial relations then? Of course, those Republicans who dislike Obama at least partly because he's black wouldn't be thrilled to have a black man as their party's candidate, but if they still voted for Cain -- I'll take this black man over that black man -- that would surely represent progress! And that would mean two black presidents in a row! I don't agree with most of Cain's policy stands -- of course, since I'm a good Democrat and he's a good Republican -- but I would at least derive satisfaction from that historical precedent being set, were he elected.

The "experts" are still saying Mitt Romney is the most likely Republican candidate to go up against President Obama. It really will be interesting to see what develops over the next couple of months.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Winter comes early as the witches fly

We had our first snowfall last night. Here in the Augusta area we got about two inches, so definitely more than a dusting. To my mind, early; last year the first snowfall was a whole month later (Nov. 26). The year before we had what I called a mini-snowstorm on Nov. 6th (See Note of Nov. 9, 2009), and I declared I wasn't ready then. So needless to say I'm not ready on Oct. 30th to wake up to snow on my lawn, my car, the back deck railing. But of course Mother Nature (don't you think it's interesting that humankind made God male, but Nature female?) couldn't care less who's ready and who's not. Just as she doesn't care how many people are living in paper houses above a fault line, or on the hillsides below a volcano.

What's really strange is that, since there were still leaves on the trees, and the snowfall was accompanied by wind, my snow-covered lawn is also pockmarked with yellow-brown leaves. It looks almost like a white quilt, with a leaf pattern.

Yesterday we had what has become our annual Kids' Halloween Party at the library. One of those events I HATE putting together. Librarian as Social Director; as we all know by now, my least favorite role as a public librarian. Thank God I have had a Program Coordinator for the past year and a half (we hired him when I went to reduced hours), who takes care of most of the details for most of our programs now. But this party required a lot of input from me. Ideas -- e.g., we've had Pin the Wart on the Witch for three years running now, what other, similar game could we have [answer: Pin the Tail on the Cat, with the tails proving to be much easier for the little kids to handle than the oversized warts were) -- running to the store for this, that and the other thing, mainly prizes for the various games, as well as for Most Beautiful, Cutest, Scariest and Most Original costume, which I also had to decide on. I performed this last task by wandering through the Halloween Spirit store that magically appears every year at this time, and the Dollar Tree, and Reny's Department store (the wonderful throw-back to a different era that can be found in several Maine towns -- it's actually more like an upscale Woolworth's than a Macy's, with, often, some really good bargains) hoping something would leap out at me. And things did, slowly but surely.

I also had to come up with clues for the Build a Skeleton Scavenger Hunt. I tried to delegate this task, but the only staff person who got into it produced a lot of clever clues that would have been a challenge for adults. So I had to do a lot of refining, then type the final product up and run off on appropriately orange paper with an appropriate skeleton on it. (And yesterday, as people were starting to arrive for the party, I was still running around tucking plastic skulls under dictionaries and plastic backbones under sofa cushions.)

During the party I was busy making sure things were going smoothly at all the various venues: besides the Pin the Tail on the Cat area, where two members of our Friends organization were writing names on construction paper tails and turning blindfolded kids around so that they would end up attaching their tails to the cat's legs, there was the dunking-for-apples spot, with the newest member of our Board of Trustees nobly providing guidance and towels to the eager young dunkers, the Mystery Box, where the president of our Board, who had also volunteered her services, oversaw children trying to guess what items were in the box by touch only, including such things as a pumpkin, a witch's hat ('wizard's hat' would also do), and a severed hand (all they had to guess was 'hand'). Kids who guessed everything got a festive badge that declared "I Guessed Everything in the Mystery Box," while those who were less successful got one that said "I Guessed Almost Everything in the Mystery Box."

There was the crafts table in the Children's Room which enjoyed a steady business in kids making bats and decorating construction paper jack-o-lanterns. Stacie, my intrepid helper every Wednesday when I do the Children's Story & Craft, was stuck there practically the entire length of the party, because the demand was so much greater than we'd expected, and she kept having to churn out pumpkins and bat wings and bodies. In the main reading room, beside a sign that said Make a Spooky Halloween Picture for our Wall, we also had black and orange paper, with sidewalk chalk for the former and colored markers for the latter, and this area did a brisk business as well. The lady from the Friends who was minding the nearby refreshments table would help the kids tape their pictures to the wall when they'd finished.

There was also a Ghost Walk, which I found myself having to oversee whenever I had a free moment, because there was no one else to do so. This game was another clever idea of Stacie's. Stacie is an absolute whizz at coming up with ideas for craft activities -- which I sometimes have to modify, to be within the capabilities of 2-3 year olds, but still -- and she's even more of a whizz at producing the prototype we always make so the kids will know what to aim for. Anyway, it was her idea to blow up a balloon, draw a ghost on it, put the "ghost" on a paper plate, and have the kids walk a certain course without the ghost flying away. Turned out to be a very popular activity, and whenever I would see a child looking at loose ends I would say, "Have you done the Ghost Walk yet?"

The Grand Finale was my "spooky story," the beginning of which I'd made up in my head while having lunch, before leaving for the library (the party started at 2 p.m.) I told the kids gathered around me that at different points in the story they would have to help me, by providing the next thing that would happen, when I pointed to them. So I had the bored twins, Troy and Tracy, who couldn't go Trick-or-Treating on Halloween night because it was too windy and rainy, deciding to go explore that big old empty house next door instead (they hadn't done this before, because they'd just moved into the neighborhood the week before). When they finally get the front door open, and Troy shines his dad's flashlight inside what should they see but (point, pause while surprised child thinks, then) "a ghost!" Yes! A great big ghost, hovering there in the dark. Tracy screamed. Troy screamed and dropped the flashlight...

And on we went. It was fun, and afterwards all the grownups who had gathered to listened as well were saying 'that was a great story!' and 'you're a born story-teller!', and I was thinking, yes, yes, I have all sort of talents you have no idea about because what you see me do is this job, which has almost nothing to do with any of my real talents.

But ah, well. Everyone seemed to have a good time, and now IT'S OVER FOR ANOTHER YEAR.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The good and the bad of remembering

I was lying in bed a little while ago recuperating from breakfast (which I nearly always have to do, because breakfast nearly always upsets my stomach), and got to thinking about memory. About how, while it serves the very useful purpose of providing us with our sense of identity, also serves a very negative function, that of making us feel sad.

Whenever someone dies people send sympathy cards that say, in effect, 'May happy memories of your loved one bring you comfort.' But it's been my experience that happy memories of loved ones just make me feel sad that those times are gone forever. And other memories of the departed loved one make me feel sad because they point up where I could have/should have done better.

It's painful to remember the last few of years of both my parents, and of my stepmother. My father and stepmother in particular suffered from very poor health; my father suffered numerous strokes and spent the last two years of his life bedridden in a nursing home, while my stepmother hung on in the assisted living facility they had had to be all but forcibly moved to, when they simply could not take care of themselves or their home any longer. I know many people my age have experienced similar situations with their parents in the last few years. Whatever positive memories we may have about our parents from when they were in their prime, robust, full of energy and opinions, are darkened by the memory of what their lives became, the indignities heaped upon them by a combination of old age and limited funds. And for the vast majority of us there are memories of our reluctance to go see our parents in their depressing (however nice) nursing homes/assisted living facilities. I myself lived only a 2 1/2 hour drive from my father and stepmother, during the last two years of my father's life (instead of on the other side of the country, which had been the case for most of my adult life), and yet I was rarely able to make myself make that drive more often than once a month. I hated seeing my once-proud father having to be dressed by some attendant, fed through a tube in his stomach because he found it all but impossible to swallow. I hated the ordeal of getting him into and out of the car to take him to see my stepmother, which he was always so eager to do...and then to have my stepmother essentially ignore him while he was there (she, the most loving and generous-spirited of women throughout her life, became quite irascible towards the end). My heart would be breaking for Daddy, while I tried to act cheerful and pleasant. THESE ARE NOT GOOD MEMORIES.

Nor are too many of my memories of my husband's last months, when I was stressed out with worry about money (dealing with the insurance was a NIGHTMARE), on top of the fact that my husband was dying of cancer. I remember once getting angry with him because he had washed a load of clothes while I was at work, and dried everything in the dryer, including some cotton turtle-necks of mine that I never dried in that way because they shrank. A truly petty thing to get angry about, considering the fact that 1) he'd made the effort to help out and 2) he was dying of cancer. I was trying to make his last months as comfortable and stress-free as possible, but one memory after another shows how frequently I failed.

So, somebody out there is undoubtedly saying, just don't entertain those bad memories. Concentrate on the good ones. But, as I said, the good ones can lead to sadness, too. I find that the only good memories that it is not painful to revisit, are those in which I have no particular emotional investment. A very successful costume party I threw in the spring of 1983, in Boston (Carolyn W. was a Hershey's Kiss, I was a Jane Austen book, Large Print Edition, Jim H. didn't wear a costume but brought a bunch of his hats that he would periodically change). Micheal and I walking through the eerily silent, traffic-free streets of Somerville, MA following the blizzard of '78. A visit I made to my brother in Santa Fe, the Christmas of pleasant memory after another there. Waking up my first morning in San Francisco, Nov. 1966, and going to the window of my room at the YWCA -- which charmed me by being the kind that opens out, rather than pushing up, and by not having any screens -- and seeing my first S.F. fog, to the accompanying clang of the nearby cable car.

In fact, many of my happy memories that carry no ties to unhappy thoughts spring from my travels over the years, but that in itself makes me sad, as I am scarcely able to travel these days. Am I just determined to be sad? Or would I just be better of without any memory at all?

Ah, but then I would be lost.

Friday, October 14, 2011

An outing in the sunshine

Last Sunday I and one of my staff made a trek out to the country to visit a farm and its "cheesery." (I'm wondering if there is even such a word.) It was the annual Open Creamery Day, when Maine creameries welcome visitors in to taste their cheeses and yogurts, see their livestock and bucolic surroundings. The Kennebec Cheesery at Koons Farm in the town of Sidney was the closest, so that's where we went.

The owners are Mainer Peter Koons and wife Jean who is from New Zealand. Peter spent 25 years living in New Zealand, and then family matters brought him back to the old homestead. I asked Jean if she missed New Zealand -- which certainly qualifies as a stupid question, for of course she would -- and she admitted that she did, but, she said, when they were in New Zealand they missed Maine, so it was a tradeoff. She is from the South Island, where they've been having all the bad earthquakes, and still has family there (including a 90-year-old mother), so I'm sure it must be worrisome for her. It was hard enough on me, worrying about my parents who were only 1700 miles away, rather than literally half a world away.

Jean is the cheese maker, and makes her cheese primarily from goat's milk, though she does get fresh cow's milk from a neighboring farm for one of her cheeses. We spent a very pleasant hour soaking up the country quiet, the pretty views -- the farm looks down a wooded slope to Messalonskee Lake -- and gawking at the goats, including two cute babies, who really did make that ehh-ehhh-ehhh goat sound. The adults were for the most part silent, although a lone billy goat, tethered off by himself ("because, quite frankly, he stinks," Peter said. "Female goats don't smell, but billy goats tend to be really rank." Now how many of you knew that?) did keep up a steady protest at being tethered off by himself.

We also went into the little building where they make the cheese, and where Jean's assistant gave us an explanation of how the various cheeses are made. Actually sounded relatively simple, but time-consuming. Do the milking in the morning, pour it into the big stainless steel vat and heat it to a certain temperature ("a kind of pasteurization"), let it set for a while, then pour off the curd that has risen to the top, putting it into little pyramid-shaped molds, or round ones. The molds have holes through which the whey drains. Then the cheese is salted, put into the refrigerator for a period of time (during which a "small amount" of whey continues to drain away). Finally, it's combined with olive oil and a variety of herbs, or rolled in other herbs, and it's ready to sell.

And we both bought some cheese. Jean had several kinds to sample. I really liked the basil-in-olive-oil chevre (which literally means 'goat', but also refers to goat cheese), but then I tasted the ball of cheese that had been rolled in dill and that was so delicious I had to get that one. (Starving Librarians cannot afford two cheeses at once.) I was disappointed to learn that all the places where Jean regularly sells her cheeses are in towns that, like Sidney, lie north of Augusta -- Waterville, Skowhegan, Oakland. However, she does frequent the Augusta Farmer's Market, so if I can make myself get over there on Tuesdays, I can get some more of her tasty cheese, and feel good about supporting a local farmer in the bargain.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Doesn't look or feel like fall

Well, it looks like we're not going to have a fall this year. Although we've had four or five scattered days of pleasantly autumn-like weather, mainly it's been unseasonably warm and dry. Today, here in the Augusta area, it's gotten up to 77 degrees; tomorrow it's supposed to reach 80! And this is Maine, second weekend in October.

The result of all this warm, dry weather is that the trees have not been undergoing their usual dramatic transformation. The leaves are just drying up and turning pale brown or, at best, pale yellow. There is a huge tree behind my house (neighbor's back yard) that is always a joy to behold every autumn, because the leaves turn a vivid orange. But not this year. Many of the leaves have simply dried up and fallen off already -- we've had a number of windy days that contributed to that -- but those that remain are an unprepossessing pale brown.

This same phenomenon occurred two years ago (see Note of Sept. 19 2009), and my friend Fae and I speculated about its being the result of global warming, that perhaps the chemical processes the trees usually underwent were being inhibited by the warm temperatures, especially at night. This year the warm, dry weather has gone on even longer and the lack of color is even more striking. I feel sorry for any tourists who have driven up this weekend to look at the "gorgeous fall foliage," because they're going to feel cheated. Gorgeous it ain't.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Surprise! It's Me!

Well, Melody, who has fallen into such a deep rut or never going anywhere or doing anything, went somewhere and did something. On Sunday I drove down to the southwestern corner of Connecticut to visit my brother Bob and his family. Hadn't seen them since May of 2009, when I stopped by their house on my way back from watching my god-daughter graduate from Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. Two years of not seeing each other, when we live a 5 1/2 hour drive apart. Seems incredible, until you examine our busy lives (theirs especially, with their two very active sons), the fact that I hate driving through Connecticut (very heavy, fast-moving traffic), and the fact that none of us ever has any money!

One Sunday a month Bob and Gwen throw a Vegan Artists' Brunch at their house. I'm neither vegan nor an artist (not in the visual arts sense, which most of their artist friends are), but I decided it would be the perfect occasion to show up unannounced. It was not easy, forcing myself to make the effort to do this thing I wanted to do, but Sunday morning actually found me on the road, my small cooler on the seat beside me full of the necessary snacks to get me through 5 1/2 hours of driving, the large cooler containing two bottles of champagne on ice. I went online to get some recommendations for decent champagne that was not wildly expensive. Two sites recommended Barefoot Bubbly Brut Cuvee, and several recommended Roederer Estate Brut. My local supermarket had the former (in Maine we do not have liquor stores; you buy your liquor at the grocery store), but not the latter; so I did something I've long wanted to do: stop at the New Hampshire State Liquor Store that is right at the border with Massachusetts. NH liquor stores are very popular with residents of Maine, Vermont and Mass., because NH has no sales tax on liquor, whereas said tax is quite high in the other states. I personally have no objection to being soundly taxed for my consumption of alcohol (I think things like candy bars, cookies and ice cream should also be taxed, instead of being treated as food), but I've just been curious about that big red barn of a place beside the highway where, presumably, they should have a decent selection of champagne.

Which they did, and that's where I got the Roederer. When I got to Bob's and Gwen's I tried some of each, and actually preferred the less-expensive Barefoot Bubbly. As the reviews I had read said it's lighter and "less complex," but has lots of bubbles. It's surprisingly dry, which I prefer to sweet, whether we're talking champagne, or any other kind of wine. The Roederer was, indeed, more "full-bodied," which I think could also be interpreted as "heavy." Had a good flavor, but was heavy, that's how I would describe it.

Getting to drink champagne was one of the perks of this trip for me. You simply cannot buy a bottle of champagne for one person. Wine will keep for a while, can be consumed over a period of time, but not champagne. You open it, you drink it, and I'm never up to consuming a whole bottle of champagne by myself, in one sitting.

Bob and Gwen were both properly amazed (and delighted) to see me on their doorstep, and it was good to spend some time with them and their boys, who came home later in the day. I also spent some time chatting with various artist types. I'm sure I was the most conventional person, and quite possibly, in many ways, the most conservative person there, which didn't bother me at all. I ate lots of healthy, mysterious food, and got to see a real live fox trotting around their back yard the next morning (Brookfield, where they live, is very rural).

I could only stay the one night, as I had a dentist appointment Not-To-Be-Missed on Tuesday morning, but that was o.k. I had actually made myself do something I'd been wanting to do for some time, and it proved pleasurable for all concerned.

I had gone down the most direct way, which involved traveling on three "hairy" highways: Route 495, from the Mass./NH line to Worcester, MA (in about the middle of the state), then the Mass. Turnpike, which is always incredibly busy, and always involves a drastic slow-down at some point, during which you're creeping along at 25 miles an hour for 10 minutes or so...and you never see a reason for the slowdown, just all of a sudden the traffic whips back up to 75 miles an hour. And then there was Highway 84, which cuts diagonally down through Connecticut, taking you through the capital, Hartford. None of this is fun driving.

So on my drive back I decided to take the "scenic route," going up Route 8 from Waterbury (about halfway between Hartford and Brookfield), in an effort to avoid having to go around or through Hartford. At first this seemed to be a really good idea because up until the small town of Winsted it's this excellent four-lane highway with beautiful scenery all around -- showing just how lovely parts of Connec-ticut are, with all the tree-covered hills -- and so little traffic (especially when compared with Highway 84!) that one is actually able to enjoy the scenery. Even after Winsted it wasn't bad, though it was now a 2-lane highway, and at one point I had to wend my way through the middle of a town (which may, in fact, have been Winsted). I turned off 8 just over the Massachusetts line, onto Route 57, which would take me due east to get to Highway 202, which in turn would take me a short distance north to connect me to the Mass. Pike.

On 57 I was in the depths of the Berkshire Moun-tains of western Mass., up and down steep hills along a very narrow, rough country road, passing through little hamlets with just a few big old houses and the requisite little white New England church, wondering where on earth these people did their shopping! Finally reached 202 and turned north toward the Mass. Pike, and that's when it got ugly. 202 proved to be a heavily commercialized, heavily traveled street, with lights, road repair, confusing signs -- I managed to take a wrong turn at the Westfield town center, which is all torn up with construction, and had to stop in a shopping center and ask a passer-by for directions, losing about 15 minutes in the process. I was very relieved to finally reach 90, and decided this was definitely not a viable alternative route for traveling between my house and the southwest corner of CT. But I'm glad I saw the scenery I saw, before the going got unpleasant. So much of travel by car is strictly functional, getting to wherever you're going by the fastest route, having to concentrate on the inevitable concomitant traffic to get there safely.

Once on the Mass. Pike it was smooth sailing, though I did manage to lose my turnpike ticket, so had to pay a dollar more than I should have, when it was time to exit. I found the ticket on the floor when I unpacked the car, which points up one of the many disadvantages of traveling alone: no way you can frantically search for a dropped turnpike ticket and drive, too.

In the end my trip back was an hour and a quarter longer than my trip down, and I was very tired when I got home. But...mission accomplished. And now I know a good, cheap champagne to get whenever the occasion calls for champagne!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Little things

People are always saying it's the little things that matter. I don't really buy that. If the big things in your life are out of whack, all the terrific little things can't really make up for that. The biggest big thing that can be wrong, or bad, is your health, and when that's bad, you may appreciate a beautiful flower blooming in your garden, or getting a real, live letter through the mail, or devouring a delicious, ripe peach. But your appreciation lasts only a few moments, and the big, bad thing is always there, hovering in the back-ground, coloring your whole life.

Not having a job, or having a job that you hate, or one that doesn't pay nearly enough, so that living is a constant, stressful struggle to make ends meet... these are also big things that pretty much negate all the beautiful sunsets or pleasurable walks through the neighborhood. Having a seriously disabled child, whose care drains you, would be another.

However, I'm here to talk about a couple of little things. They don't make up for the big bad things in my life, but they have given me pleasure many times over the years.

The first is a sewing basket. It is very old-fashioned looking: not very big, oval-shaped, covered all over, including on the handle that arches over the top, with a black tufted fabric that is printed with two types of flowers -- pink roses with green leaves, and little bouquets of pink/yellow/blue... phlox? That's what they look like, though I don't know that I've ever seen yellow phlox. There's a white satin bow at each end of the handle, where it meets the basket, and another on the front edge of the lid. Inside, the basket is lined with black fake-satin.

Mind you, I'm not this big seamstress. In fact, unlike every other female in my family, I'm no seamstress at all. What this basket gets used for is the sewing back on of the occasional button, or the reinstate-ment of a section of hem that I've pulled out with the heel of my shoe, or a section of seam that too big a reach has pulled loose. I also keep iron-on patches in there.

No, it's not that this basket is an indispensible item in my life, it's that I love its sweet, old-fashioned prettiness. And it gives me pleasure to remember that my Aunt Carleen gave it to me. We were in a drugstore together once, years ago, and she was saying how she wanted to get me something for my birthday (I think it was my birthday!), and I saw this little display of sewing baskets and said, "This is it, this is what I'd like!" She was very surprised, no doubt at least partly because I was not famous in the family for my sewing. But it didn't cost much -- think they may have been on sale -- so she bought it for me. And it's gone with me in all my many, many moves since then. And always sits, looking fetching, on my white dresser.

Then there's the little travel clock I bought when visiting my English friends in High Wycombe several years ago. I had left my travel alarm somewhere or other, which was a drag, since sometimes catching the necessary train requires rising at some ungodly hour. Ann, John and I had done a little tour of the town, and stopped at a kind of flower/gift shop. I saw this very little clock, saw that it was an alarm clock, saw that it didn't cost much at all, and bought it on the spot. And not only has that clock served me faithfully on my travels ever since, it has served me in my home. Indeed, except for the digital clocks on the microwave and the electric range that are always going on the blink when we have a power outage, it's the only clock I have. It's piping little alarm is what wakes me, on those mornings when I can't just sleep until I awake naturally, and it's quiet, steady tick has proved a comforting sound, when I've been lying in my bed. And I am endlessly amazed that such an inexpensive little thing has proved so durable, and reliable (I think I've had to change the batteries only once!)

With both of these "little things" the fact that I acquired them in the company of, and indeed be-cause of, people I care for adds to the pleasure I take in them. And they are much less fleeting than a sunset.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The importance of things

Well, I just accidentally watched a PBS program having to do with 9/11. I don't normally watch T.V. during the daytime -- makes me feel guilty, as in: you should be getting things accomplished -- but I switched on the television when the tedious task of putting photos in an album began to pall. The program that was just starting was called Objects and Memory, and it turned out to be not so much about the terrible events of that day, as the importance of objects, things in connecting people to those who died.

I cried several times during the program. As for example when the woman was talking about how a newsman had gone to Ground Zero, and saw some of the thousands of pieces of paper that filled the air that day, adhering to the grill of an emergency vehicle. He gathered a few of them up. One of them was the personnel review of the woman's husband, who had worked in one of the Twin Towers. The newsman tracked the woman down, and gave her that piece of paper that had her husband's signature on it, that he had held, touched. And it meant the world to her.

I understood exactly how she felt, how the others felt who spoke along similar lines, when similar "miracles" brought them some little something connected to their lost loved one, months, in one case even a couple of years, after 9/11. I said this a long time ago in one of my newsletters, when I was waxing rapturous about some ancient stone wall or other that I'd encountered in my travels: things make the past real to us. And it doesn't really matter what the item is, how insignificant. What is important is that it was there. As they said on this program, physical things forge a bridge between us and the past, a bridge that is stronger than just our memory of the past; indeed, they reinforce our memories.

I still have a couple of old shirts of my husband Micheal's, a Japanese-style robe I gave him at some point, one of his old hats, the velvet drawing of a dragon that a friend had given him for his last birthday, that he was busy coloring with colored pencils up until the day of his death (and which I finished after he died)...all of these things have meaning for me because they were his, touched him, were touched by him. They connect me to him.

The one time I felt a real pang during the massive "garage" sale (it actually ended up being a whole house sale) that I had four months after Micheal's death, was when I saw someone carrying the little drop-front desk he had had since he was a boy, out of the house to the "cashier" (my mother) on the front lawn. The desk had been cheaply made, and was not in very good shape, but I knew it had meant a lot to Micheal, because it connected him to his past, his youth. So in a way I was saying good-by to two connections to the past: mine to Micheal, and Micheal's to his youth. There were good, practical reasons for including the desk with all the other things being sold, but I still feel a small regret that I did not hang onto it, as I did to the hat, the shirts, the robe.

There was another aspect of the importance of things examined by the PBS program (which was really very well-done). Everywhere that New Yorkers set up impromptu memorials to the fallen, in the days following 9/11, people brought things and left them. Flowers, flags, teddy bears, poems, pictures drawn by children. The same thing happened following the Oklahoma City terrorist attack in 1995: people spontaneously brought things to leave for the people who had died. They did the same thing when Princess Diana died. In such cases the things are not serving as a link between separated loved ones, but as an acknowl-edgment that the missing were here. The message that is being sent: "I may not have known you personally, but I honor the fact of your life with this token." And people feel compelled to do this! This to me is both wonderful, and fascinating. We want, we need, a physical manifestation of how we feel about the death of someone, a physical affirmation that someone cares.

Friday, September 9, 2011

I don't want to go there

O.K., for the past few days everything has been about 9/11, and about how we are approaching the 10th anniversary of same. The television, newspapers, news magazines, the Internet, everywhere you turn, that's the major news. People who lost loved ones at the World Trade Center being interviewed. New Yorkers who were trauma-tized by the events of the day, but ultimately decided to stick it out in New York, rather than fleeing elsewhere, being interviewed. Interviews of American Muslims who feel America has become much more suspicious of them since 9/11 (not surprisingly!), and who wish those suspicious Americans would understand that they (the Muslims) are as appalled by what happened as the rest of America, who wish Americans better understood what Islam is really about.

Am I the only person who would prefer not to be reminded of that terrible day, who would prefer we not have this revisiting and rehashing? Who thinks it would have been wiser to have quiet memorial services, without a lot of leading-up-to brouhaha? Now we're hearing that there is a serious possibility that there will be some kind of terrorist attack, on or around the 11th. Surprise, surprise! What could be a more perfect time to stage another attack, than the 10th anniversary of the original attack? Especially when there are all these big memorial services planned.

I certainly don't need to be reminded of anything I saw that day. I actually came to the events of the day late -- like one in the afternoon, when I was leaving for work at the Gray Public Library here in Maine. Hadn't had the radio or T.V. on during the morning, when I was getting ready for work, so knew nothing until I started the car. The radio came on automatically and a newsman was saying that all commercial flights had been grounded. What?! I listened for a couple of minutes, trying to understand what was hap-pening, then went back inside and turned on the T.V. A picture (that they had undoubtedly been replaying incessantly since 9 o'clock that morning) of a plane flying into one of the World Trade Center buildings was on the screen, and across the bottom was a wide red stripe with the words in white: American under attack. For a couple of minutes I really couldn't take it in, couldn't believe this was real. I was truly befuddled that I was watching an airplane seemingly fly into a building, but I didn't see it fly out. And then I yelled, "Micheal, Micheal, come quick; something terrible's happened!" Micheal worked nights at the time, and was probably in the third stage of sleep by then, but he came stumbling out of the bedroom, stark naked, brought by the urgency in my voice. We both sat on the couch, staring at the television, unable to believe what we were seeing and hearing. And when they showed the South Tower beginning to fall, I was as upset as the ladies on the sidewalk a few blocks away who were watching it happen right before them -- you could hear them crying out Oh, my God, Oh, my God. And that is just what I was thinking.

I finally realized I was going to be late for work, and went to the phone to call the library. I didn't at that time know that all of this had happened over four hours before, so thought I was relaying breaking news. I went on in to work, and worked my regular shift, but that was the beginning of days of seeing those same images over and over again on the T.V. I don't want to see them anymore.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

All right, some news, such as it is

O.K., I acknowledge it's a lousy hostess who invites a bunch of people to her blog, and then has nothing to serve them for over a month. What can I say? I haven't done a damn thing of interest in ages. I did live through the dregs of Hurricane Irene, which by the time it reached this neck of the woods was just a "tropical storm." While Vermont got pounded, because the storm had turned inland, here in central Maine we had some heavy rain in the morning of Sunday, Aug. 28th, then the wind arrived at 1:30 in the afternoon, continuing for several hours with no accom-panying rain. At 2 p.m. here in Gardiner the power went off, and for most of us remained off until the next morning. That was the biggest impact the storm had on this area.

I had made ice for my two coolers, as I planned to put food from the refrigerator in them if the power went off (and it always does). I left stuff in the refrigerator for about three hours -- hoping against hope that the power would come on soon -- then moved it to the coolers. I spent the afternoon taping photos into a photo album -- getting my pictures into albums is a long-term project I've been working on for some time -- as that was something I could do at the front window, where the light remained fair until about 6 p.m. (everywhere else in the house it was depressingly dim, since of course it was overcast out). I have an old waist-high chest there on which I keep framed photos of family and friends; I cleared off those pictures so I could spread out the photo album and work away.

My getting bored with the task at hand and the fading of the light occurred at about the same time. I was now sure we wouldn't be getting power back until the wee small hours, if then. I called one of my staff who lives in Hallowell, to see if she had power. And of course she did. Hallowell never loses power. I don't understand the difference; we're something like three miles apart. I've asked myself: whom are they paying what in Hallowell, to insure that their electric service is maintained, come what may?

At any rate, I decided to take my food to the refrigerator at the library. I did not want to be losing a lot of food, as I did the last time we had an extended power outage. While I was talking to Barb she invited me to dinner, which was welcome since I had no way of cooking. She mentioned that she had only two meatballs (giant ones), and funnily enough, I just happened to have a leftover turkey meatball in the refrigerator (or rather, in the cooler). So I took that as my contribution to the meal, packed up the car in the warm wind, and took off for Hallowell.

When I got home it was only 9:30 but I went to bed. Read-ing by candlelight is not easy, besides which I find sitting in candlelight by myself to be depressing. Because what it mainly is is dark, with only this bit of flickering light to keep you company. It has occurred to me that the purchase of an oil lantern might not be amiss, though I don't know how much that would help.

Still had no power when I left for work the next morning at 10 a.m., but when I got home at 2:30 that afternoon, the blinking clock on the electric range told me (after I'd done a little adding and subtracting), that the power had been restored a little after 10:30 a.m. Eighteen and a half hours. But of course there were people without power days later, so yes, I have to count my blessings. I'm better off than they, the folks who live in Hallowell are better off than I. There's always someone better off, someone worse.

But whenever this sort of thing happens I wonder: how on earth did they manage back in the bad old, pre-electricity days? How did they keep food from spoiling? I know they drank milk at cow temperature, I know they smoked and otherwise cured meat. But how did they keep leftovers? Or did they just never have leftovers, or feed 'em all to the hogs? I would have made such a terrible pioneer.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Rip-offs, and misnomers

One of my favorite very short pieces of music has, in my opinion, a completely inappropriate title. The piece is from Handel's oratorio Solomon, and is entitled The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba. Now, wouldn't you expect that music announcing the arrival of a queen would be rather grand and stately? But this music is light and lively; it conjurs up, for me, a bevy of fairies, with gossamer wings, flitting from lily pad to lily pad down the length of a pond. It's light-hearted running, or in-and-out flight; it is not the arrival of the Queen of Sheba. I never have any luck embedding links, but I'm going to try again, with the Youtube link. Hope you are able to listen!

Ha! I did it! Can't believe it. Anyway, as to the rip-off part of this missive: I recently ordered season 2 of the British T.V. drama series Blue Murder, which ran 2003-2009 in England. I had been given Season 1 by a friend, and really enjoyed it, 'though comprehending the Manchester accents (one of the interesting things about this show is it is not set in London) can be a real challenge. Another interesting thing about it is that the Chief Inspector, in charge of finding all those murderers, is not only a woman, but a single mother-of-four (she caught her husband in bed with the nanny when she came home with the happy news of her promotion). And not only that, but she's overweight! Hardly obese, but she could definitely stand to lose a few pounds. So here is this frazzled woman dealing with a small son afraid of bullying at school, a teenaged son getting in with the wrong crowd and doing some bullying himself, a daughter who is mortified by what her mother is wearing whenever she makes a televised press statement, but also hates it when her mother puts on perfume and eye makeup when a man comes over, and a new baby (she was pregnant when she was promoted/caught her husband in flagrante)along with ever-changing nannys...while at the same time running hither and yon solving crime. She's a smart, funny, unusual heroine, played by Caroline Quentin, an actress known more for her comedic roles. And there's a very cute, sexy actor, Ian Kelsey, playing her second in command.

So there you have Blue Murder, which I ordered the second set of, my little once a month splurge on something that is not rent/food/gas/electic bills/sewer bills/water bills/oil bills/medical bills...and there are only four episodes on the two discs! There were three discs, six episodes in Set 1. Why two fewer? I've already watched the four! What a rip-off!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

An unexpected pleasure

A few months ago, after a couple of people had asked me if the library had a book club, and I had had to reply in the negative, I decided to survey our public, to see if there might be additional interest in starting one. I had done this several years ago, and got all of two positive responses, so that was the end of that. But this time, eight people indicated an interest. So I then went through the process of trying to determine when all or most of those people could get together, both in terms of time of day -- days? evenings? -- and day of the week. Phone calling, emailing. Finally determined that the third Tuesday of the month, at 6 p.m. would work best for everybody. So I scheduled the first meeting, and suggested that for that first meeting, everyone come prepared to talk about a book they'd read recently that they really liked.

Mind you, I had no interest in being part of a book club. But this points up one of the curses of my upbringing: my mother instilled in all five of her children the...not idea...imperative...that when doing a job you not only did whatever had to be done, but what should be done. And always to the best of your ability, it goes without saying. So seeing that there was a demand among the library's patrons for a book club, I knew I had to give them a book club. I had a vague hope that after a meeting or two it would be possible to slide the running of the club onto someone else's shoulders. One of my staff was actually interested in participating, so the possibility of her taking over existed, and even if not, she could at least serve as the library's "presence," letting me off the hook.

To my surprise, I found the first meeting quite enjoyable, as I have the two subsequent ones. I find I love talking about books with others who also love talking about books. And the selections agreed on by the group have "forced" me to read books I doubtless would never have read otherwise -- my reading for some time now has been, to a shocking degree, limited to mysteries -- but which have proved to be, at the very least very well-written (and, indeed, have made me despair of ever being able to write so well); and in two cases have turned out to be books I loved. It is truly one of the supreme pleasures of life to discover an artist -- whether a writer, a painter, an actor, a singer or musician -- whose work leaves one moved and impressed.

Our first group choice was Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout, a best seller that I found so depressing I didn't even finish reading it. (I have happily reached that point in life where I no longer feel compelled to finish a book just because I've started it.) But even that book, with its very unlikable main character, is wonderfully written. As I commented to the group, you could see every person she described, every scene, and she managed this without a lot of description! A sample scene: (characters: sweet, hen-pecked Henry, his too-often bitch of a wife, Olive, and their son Christopher)

A Saturday at home: Lunch was crabmeat sandwiches, grilled with cheese. Christopher was putting one into his mouth, but the phone rang, and Olive went to answer it. Christopher, without being asked, waited, the sandwich held in his hand. Henry's mind seemed to take a picture of that moment, his son's instinctive deference at the very same time they heard Olive's voice in the next room. "Oh you poor child," she said, in a voice Henry would always remember -- filled with such dismay that all her outer Olive-ness seemed stripped away. "You poor, poor child." [It was the young woman who worked at Henry's pharmacy, calling to tell him that her husband had just been killed in a hunting accident.]

The thing is, there are endless bad things like this that happen, endless everyday occurrences that demonstrate how disappointing and downright bleak life ends up being for so many people As one of the members of our club said, "It's too real." The characters are small-town folk in Maine, but they could be anywhere, leading their lives of quiet desperation.

So I came away from reading this book thinking that Elizabeth Strout is a really excellent writer -- and maybe I should give another of her books a chance -- but this one is a well-written downer.

I'll tell you about our other reads later, but in the mean-time, if you like reading, and talking about what you read...find a book club.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Where's the payoff?

I am feeling very discouraged because, after three full weeks of avoiding all those simple carbohydrates that promptly turn into sugar in the body -- which gives the ol' blood sugar level an energizing push, which is then followed by a debilitating slump -- I am still dragging around like somebody recovering from a three-day drunk. I can tell that my body is healthier -- I feel lighter, less bloated, don't pepper the landscape with huge, indelicate farts -- but I still have very little energy.

Not only did I give up sugar, I gave up caffeine. It was my understanding that caffeine can make you feel hungry, which I thought might be contributing to the fact that I seemed to be eating all the time. However, I am still hungry, and must eat, every 2 1/2-3 hours, caffeine or no. And while I have successfully kept my beloved Diet Dr. Pepper out of my diet, in the last week I have let coffee slip back in, because otherwise I simply would not have been able to do anything. This has been at work, where I am constantly (and I do mean constantly -- there seems to be a rule at my library that there can never be a calm, business-as-usual day) problem-solving, which means I have to be mentally acute and physically vigorous. A few sips of coffee helps me to be that. But what this says to me is that my just eating healthily is not going to take care of my energy problem.

Perhaps it's hormonal. A year and a half ago, when I was fighting with my physician's assistant about going off estrogen -- which I'd been taking for 20 years, to his horror -- I told him one of the reasons I wanted to continue taking it was that, for a couple of months, a few years before, I had gone off it, and not only did I immediately start having the dreaded Hot Flashes (and what's with hot flashes anyway? Where did Nature come up with that stupid idea?), but my body just seemed not to function as well, and I felt very tired. He insisted that "we," meaning I, should give it another try, and if after a few months I was still suffering symptoms we'd revisit the question of estrogen replace-ment. He suggested two natural solutions for the hot flashes (although really it was one of the female real physicians at the clinic who recommended them) -- fish oil capsules and Vitamin B6 -- and those have, for the most part, taken care of that problem. But I ain't got no energy!!! I think it's time for another visit to the physician's assistant.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The little country on the fault line

First off I have to say that I, for one, am glad the Japanese women's soccer team won the World Cup, rather than the U.S. team. That is one country that really needed some-thing to feel happy and proud about.

I've mentioned before how much I enjoy having access to television news programs from other countries [see Note of Mar. 31, 2011]. I feel I'm learning a lot about Japan and the Japanese people, thanks to NHK World. For one thing, they still bow to one another! The news program will show some government official walking up to the lectern, to make some announcement to the Diet (parliament), and he'll bow first to whoever is on the dais, then give a little bob of his head and shoulders to the people he will be addressing. Various government officials have been visiting the emergency shelters that are still housing so many people, and they will bow, the people receiving them will bow.

Even in a segment showing how one businessman whose business had been wiped out by the disaster was making overtures to a cooperative in another prefecture, in hopes of being able to market his expertise to them, the gentlemen bowed slightly as they exchanged business cards. It was actually a fairly informal situation, everyone was in shirt sleeves, not suits, but they bowed.

This is a real cultural difference, the sort of thing that makes travel so interesting, that makes the world so interesting.

The Japanese also nod their heads a lot when they speak, but they do not wave their hands around, the way we Americans do. They generally speak softly to the camera. An amusing exception was actually a matter of a voice being recorded, rather than someone being interviewed before the camera. The prime minister, Naoto Kan, was heard castigating representatives of Tokyo Power Company (TEPCO), the company that is responsible for the Fukishima Daiichi Power Plant. This angry assault was a far cry from the super polite public utterings you generally hear from everyone, more like what you'd hear from the furious Japanese general in an old World War II movie.

And speaking of Kan, well, talk about beleaguered world leaders. He had to promise to step down as soon as the nuclear crisis was well in hand, which it is still far from being. As last reported by NHK, his approval rating was at 16%. President Obama is in great shape, compared to him. The Japanese were having economic problems like every-body else, and then this staggering natural disaster strikes, followed by the crisis at Fukishima. People are feeling the government has been too slow in its reconstruction efforts, and too secretive about what has really been happening at the power plant. So naturally the head honcho has to take it on the chin.

And on a lighter note: the sport NHK regularly reports on is...sumo wrestling! They show clips of matches. A round, or bout, or whatever it's called, is incredibly short, just the few seconds it takes for one of the chubby gentlemen to maneuver his opponent out of the small circle they are wrestling in. The crowds are wildly enthusiastic. The referees wear traditional garb. I find it delightful.

There is an excellent article on NHK World at (as usual I cannot get the link to work). The things the article says about the station -- no melodrama, just the facts, ma'm, no star anchors -- are the very things I like about it. And again, I thank Maine Public Broadcasting, for making it possible for me to view this part of the world.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Drowning in paper

Well, I guess we all are, but when you're someone who writes, and who does genealogical research, and who insists on printing copies of almost every email she sends or receives (I even find it frustrating that you can't also print Facebook chat conversa-tions, as I've had several good ones of those, now lost for all eternity) -- not to mention having all the usual bills, pleas for funds from various worthy causes, Statements of Benefits from ones health insurance company, grocery lists, grocery shopping receipts, scraps of paper on which are scribbled email addresses, telephone numbers, notes to myself to Do This or Do That, or names of musical pieces I've heard on the radio that I'd like to add to my collection (that may not be a typical source of clutter)...well, it can be truly overwhelming. And I haven't even mentioned all the Library Journals and New York Review of Books that I bring home from work, with the intention of reading the book reviews, to help me decide on what to order for the library.

I keep trying to get the situation under control, but the major stumbling block is that I do have to make a decision about every single piece of paper. The decision is: what do I do with this? I know there's a pearl of wisdom that says never handle a piece of paper twice -- in other words, take care of whatever it is now, and get the damn thing tossed or filed or passed along to someone else to take care of (not an option at home, rarely an option at work). But sometimes I just don't have the time to make the decision; too often I'm unable to make a decision quick like a bunny.

You might say, what kind of decision do you have to make about a grocery store receipt? Just toss the damn thing. But no, if I paid in cash the receipt must be set aside for at least a few days, in case something I purchased has to be returned (and I have, more than once, had to return bad meat, so this is not as utterly ridiculous as it may sound). If I've paid with my debit card, the receipt has to go on the stack that is supposed to be entered in a timely fashion into my check book...a task which, alas, I have been neglecting sorely over the past few months because it's both tedious and depressing, depressing both because it reveals how little money I have, and because I can never get the damn thing to balance...with the result that there is now quite a stack littering my dining table (and why does everyone put papers on the dining table? Most of us have desks, but they don't seem to be used for what is surely one of their major purposes...)

And then there are the begging letters. By rights I should just toss them in the trash, without even opening them, since I know I don't have the money to donate, however good the cause. But sometimes I'll think, well, maybe, in a paycheck or two I can send them something... And then I never do (or almost never, my two alma maters and Maine Public Broadcasting being the only likely exceptions), so the begging letters just lie around making me feel bad because I can't respond to them the way I'd like to.

I have this same problem at work, just stacks and stacks of paper that every now and then I make a stab at making the necessary decisions about. I'll get three or four sheets of paper taken care of, and then something will come up to distract me, and I won't get back to the stack for a week or two, by which time it has been buried by another stack.

I've even tried bringing some of those stacks home to get them organized where I'll have the time to concentrate on them without endless interruptions -- write little notes on stickies saying what to do with them when I take them back to work. But the same thing happens: I'll follow the instructions scribbled on the stickies for two or three pieces of paper -- get distracted -- and the rest of the papers in the folder will sit around for another week or two, until I stumble on them again, and try to clear them away again.

All I can say is: achhh!!!

Friday, July 8, 2011

The joys of librarianship

On Wednesday, even though I was officially on vacation, I went in for an hour and a half (which ended up being two hours), in order to put on the show that is our weekly Children's Hour. Any time over the past year I could have just left this to my assistant, who can certainly read a simple story and oversee a simple craft for two or three, or even four children. Which is how many kids we've been getting for the past year. Demographics were at play here: all the little kids who had been coming regularly suddenly graduated to pre-school or kindergarten, and there was not a new batch of children of the right age to replace them.

However, week before last we were inundated with children! Not two or three or four, but sixteen! It was like the old days. Which was nice, but we weren't prepared. We didn't have enough of the needed supplies for the craft we had planned. So Stacie and I had to do some quick thinking, to come up with an alternative. And, clever ladies that we are, we did.

We had to assume we would be getting about the same number of children this week, and I knew Stacie could not handle sixteen children by herself, however simple we made the craft. So I made the decision to go in, just for that time period. What the heck, it wasn't like I would be interrupting my Bermuda cruise. I would just be driving the 15 minutes from my house in Gardiner to the library in Hallowell, reading a story, getting however many kids showed up through a craft, and then splitting for my air-conditioned home once more.

However. We had been thinking: decorate rocks if it rains, paint on the long roll of white paper taped to the wall outside if it's dry. It was dry, and also very warm. The library was very warm. Painting really seemed the best option. But before the children could paint, Stacie and I had to attach a big piece of plastic to the wall outside, then tape the paper onto that. The wall is made of large, rough blocks of granite, not the best surface to be painting on, which was why the plastic needed to go on first.

But what a trial getting that plastic onto the wall proved to be! We did this one time before, a few years ago, and it surely was not so difficult then. The roll of clear "packing" tape I'd taken out would not stick to the wall. Stacie had brought out the almost defunct roll of masking tape, which worked better, but Stacie's hands shake even more than mine do (for a different reason), so she had trouble peeling the tape from the roll, then tearing it off (she'd forgotten to bring out scissors), then attaching it smoothly and securely to the plastic. My impatience couldn't tolerate her fumbling long -- keep in mind that we were not able to do this in a leisurely fashion, because Stacie only arrives at the library about 20 minutes before story time -- so I took over the taping, while Stacie held first the plastic, then the paper in place. There was also a fairly good breeze, which complicated matters. And I kept fuming, "I don't even have a book yet."

I'd actually spent some of the time before Stacie arrived looking for/trying to think of a good book to read. Normally I have this done by the day before, but of course I hadn't been in on Monday or Tuesday. I did go in for 3 1/2 hours on Sunday, partly to get some things done that needed to be done, partly to insure that my paycheck this pay period wouldn't be too pathetically paltry (since I went on reduced hours last year I am paid by the hour, rather than having a fixed salary as I did before). But on Sunday I was thinking 'decorated rocks', rather than painting, so what little time I spent looking for a book was spent looking for something having to do with rocks (and finding nothing). We try to connect the story to our craft, though that isn't always possible.

Selecting a book is always something of a challenge anyway. Our usual audience is made up of 2-4 year olds, and you can't challenge their limited attention span with too long, too complicated, or too abstract, a story. They want something to happen, and in a fairly short amount of time. And there have to be good illustrations to show them.

The situation is complicated still further when you have older children as well, which we now did. Part of our new influx of children included a private day care center (containing only six children, thank god) with ages ranging from 3 to 8. So what to read, what to read.

When I got back inside, hot and harried, it was 10:45, the time I usually sat down with a book and started to read. No time to find a book now. So what the heck, I'd tell them a story. Which I did. Not really hard at all for me...I am, after all, a writer! And as I've mentioned in these Notes before, I used to entertain my siblings with stories when the family would travel. I very cleverly included the children gathered around me in the story -- whenever I pointed at them they were to say their names. Thus I could begin my story, "Once upon a time there was a brother and sister named..." (point) "Sam!" "and..."(point) "Lily" (said very shyly, but said). I had Sam and Lily walking through a big forest that got darker and scarier as they walked, and they were starting to get a little nervous when all of a sudden they met... (point) "Corrina." And on we went, looking for the Ice Cream House, where they had such good ice cream, and meeting lots of children along the way.

So once again the human brain problem-solved in a pinch. And then we went out and painted.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Temptation, get thee behind me

We've all heard of taking a mental health day. This week I'm taking a physical health week. As I mentioned in a recent Note (May 14, 2011), for some time now I have been badly abusing my body with various "poisons" -- heavy doses of sugar (which, as a hypoglycemic, I'm not supposed to eat at all), caffeine (I've been consuming more and more diet soda, and coffee, which I didn't drink at all for 63 years, finally entered my diet about a year ago, when I discovered it worked better than anything else at keeping me alert when I began to drag...but it disagrees with my insides), lots of carbs, lots of greasy fast food. I was eating poorly because I was tired of the effort involved in eating well, and I needed all the poisons to keep me going.

I decided it was time for a change when I realized I had just had half a cup of coffee, and a slew of cookies, and I still felt like putting my head down and going to sleep, still lacked the energy to do what I needed to do. So o.k., if the poisons weren't going to work, maybe it was time to eliminate them altogether, try to get back on the straight and narrow of good eating habits. But I knew that would require a chunk of time when I could put my head down and go to sleep, whenever I felt the pull of an unhealthy pick-me-up. In other words, a chunk of time when I didn't have to go to work.

So here I am, at day five of my Great Experiment -- which actually seems to be taking the form of the Great With-drawal. No sweets, no coffee or diet Dr. Pepper, no McDonald's burgers, no bagels with cream cheese, no corn chips, not even any proper bread, but rather, a gluten-free, wheat-free loaf made out of various forms of rice and tapioca...which actually isn't too bad, if you toast it. Haven't really missed the coffee, miss the Dr. Pepper a lot. Day before yesterday I felt lousy, yesterday I felt terrible, today is actually a little better, though I still have no energy. The hope is that ultimately this jetisoning of all those things that taste good but are bad for you, in one way or another, is going to help me feel noticeably better, so that I can work up some enthusiasm for life again.

It's also great, not having to go to work (although as a matter of fact I did go in this morning for my regular Children's Hour, which is the subject of my next missive). I am so ready to be retired.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Weird, & irritating

I've mentioned that the young couple with the noisy trucks who used to live next door disappeared for essentially a year, with only the occasional drop-in to demonstrate they had not fled the country, and then moved out bag and baggage because (I learned from the male half of the couple) the in-laws had given them some land on which they were going to build a house (see Note of April 11, 2010). A For Sale sign went up out front, and then, after a few weeks, a group of men moved in, apparently in something approaching a fraternity house set-up (though these are not young men). They all have their own rooms -- with one of them being ensconced in the dining room -- and the kitchen is a common area.

Although this assortment of men also come equipped with trucks, these are not ferociously loud ones, and they are not left to idle for as long as 15 minutes, at twelve o'clock at night, as was the case with Patty and Matt (not their real names). So I'm not complaining about the trucks.

But here's the weird of my title. One of the fellows sits out there in his truck for hours at a time, both day and night. He turns the truck around in the driveway, so it is facing the street, and he sits. The window on the driver's side is right next to where I park my car, so sometimes in the late morning when I'm getting ready to leave for work, we'll exchange brief pleasantries. I kiddingly asked him one time if they'd thrown him out of the house, and he said no, he was just waiting for the postman to come "with his check," and then he could go cash it. That may have been the explanation for that particular time, but what about all the other times? He added at that time that he "liked to watch the traffic." Now, we do not live on a street that sees a lot of traffic, one of the things I like about it. He might see two or three cars go by in a half hour. So what's he looking at all the rest of the time? He's staring out his windshield at the wooded area that lies directly across the street from our two houses. He doesn't listen to the radio, he isn't sitting there reading the newspaper, I don't think he even smokes. Am I alone in finding this behavior odd?

Now for the irritating part. There has been some trouble with...oh, from next door. Along with vehicles purposely made louder than they have to be, music played too loud, particularly the bass from rock music, is the bane of my existence. It isn't just that I don't like it; it's that it's a terrible irritant to my nerves. So here some rock musicians have moved in next door. Somebody plays the drums, and will practice for an hour or two at various times. Every now and then there seems to be a jam session, with people who don't live in the house coming over and joining in. So far none of these instances has been that loud, or late at night, or gone on for too long, so that I have not complained, and have tried not to mind too much. After all, I tell myself, musicians have to live somewhere ('though part of me is thinking, "Not in this quiet neighborhood!"), and obviously they have to practice.

However, the other night there was the unmistakable sound of an electric guitar coming at me for a good three hours. At 9:30 I went over and said to the man who answered my knock -- he of the truck-sitting -- that apparently someone was playing music? He looked blank, shrugged and said "I don't hear anything." "Well, if you were standing in my house you would hear it. Could you please tell whoever it is to turn it down? It's getting late, and he's already been practicing for several hours." "If I hear anything I'll tell him," the guys says, which tells me nothing is going to happen. And nothing does. So then I call the police and ask what time it has to be for one to be able to place a noise complaint (by this time it's about 9:45). The dispatcher tells me she can take a noise complaint, so I tell her the situation. "It's not like they're blasting their music all over the neighborhood," I say. "But I can hear it in my house, and it will make it impossible for me to get to sleep."

So in maybe ten minutes here come two police cars. Obviously a slow night for the Gardiner Police Dept. The two young officers stand in my front yard and can't hear anything, so I have them come into the house -- into my bedroom -- but of course just at that particular time the guitarist drops into one of his lengthy pauses (the music was very erratic, not constant).

Well, the police did, finally, hear the music, standing out in the narrow side yard that separates my house from the back end of my neighbors'. You could tell they didn't think it was that bad -- and it wasn't terrible, but why should I, or anyone, have to listen to somebody else's music inside their own home, for several hours, until late at night? Why should we have our peace disturbed in this way? So they knocked on the door, and asked the guy that answered (different guy, apparently the father of the young man who was doing the playing) to please stop with the music. What he ended up doing was promising it would be turned down...which, however, it wasn't, or not so you could tell. So eventually I had to go back, and knock on the door again, and blah, blah, blah.

This is actually something that really makes my heart sink, because the quietness of where I live has been one of its huge benefits, for me. I have had to deal with noise where I was living for most of my adult life, so not having to deal with it has been such a relief. And now it looks like I'm going to have to engage in that battle again.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Life's little mysteries

O.K., here's a physics problem for you. I have a small coffee percolator that my mother bought once when she came to visit and discovered I did not have a coffee pot (this was during the time when Micheal and I were separated, since Micheal was as heavy a coffee drinker as my mother, and when we were together there was always a coffee pot in the house). Anyway, I've kept it over the years, even though I didn't drink coffee, for any visitors who might.

In the past year I have become a coffee drinker, despite the fact that I fear it doesn't really agree with my insides. I discovered it worked better than anything else, including my old standbys, a diet coke and a candy bar, at making me wake up when all I want to do is put my head down and go to sleep. So sometimes I buy coffee at the Dunkin Donuts on the way to work, or sometimes I'll stop at Slates Bakery, around the corner from the library in Hallowell, and get a cup there. And when I'm feeling frugal and can make myself do it, I make a pot at home.

Which takes me to the problem, although it isn't really a problem. More a minor annoyance, and a mystery. I put the five cups of water in the thing, the five tablespoons of coffee in the filter, set it on the stove, turn on the heat...and in a minute or two the whole thing is rattling like we're in the middle of an earthquake. I have to hold onto the handle for about five minutes, until just before it starts perking, or the shaking and rattling will drive me crazy. A short time before it starts perking, it stops shaking.

So why does it do this? I don't remember ever seeing another percolator heating up on top of a stove do this. I've thought, maybe it's that the cold bottom of the pot meets the heated burner, and until the former heats up to match the latter, it shakes. But that still doesn't tell me why. And besides, one puts cold sauce pans onto burners that are initially hotter than they are all the time, and the pans do not shake, rattle and roll. I would very much appreciate an explanation! Thanks.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

From a member of the Camp tribe

I watched a few minutes of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s PBS show, Faces of America, in which the family trees of various famous people -- e.g. Meryl Streep, Mike Nichols, Yo-Yo Ma -- are examined. As I already knew from being a librarian who has helped many people with their genealogical research, listening to other peoples' family history can be a bore. A detail or two that's interesting, maybe, but for the most part people marrying so and so, moving to so and so, having these children, one of whom died young, etc.

But even if one finds other people's family history boring, that of one's own family tends to fascinate, or at the very least, raise some curiosity (anybody famous? Anybody notorious? Any scandals?) And why is that? Indeed, this very question was asked...actually don't remember if it was on Faces of America or some other recently-seen PBS pro-gram...and the woman who responded said she thought it was because people wanted to connect. To find out who they are, where they belong. And they very much want to belong to something. And as she was speaking the thought that sprang to my mind was, "Our tribe. We want to know what tribe we belong to, and we want to know what it was like." (We know what it's like now, at least that part of it represented by our immediate extended family, with all the hopeless siblings, black-sheep cousins and weird uncles.)

Tribalism does indeed run deep in the human species. That is quite apparent in places like Yemen, where the various tribes are currently vying for power, as indeed they have been doing for some time. Our own Indian tribes cling to their heritage, and one of the problems the white man encountered, in trying to get Indians to assimilate into the white culture, was that most Indian tribes do not hold with the kind of individual competiveness encouraged by the white culture; they do not want to differentiate themselves from the other members of their tribe. (This is not true in sports, but there it is a matter of our-tribe-against-your tribe, more than an individual shining.)

I mused some time ago [Note of Nov. 6, 2010] about the mystery of fan hysteria over sports teams, the extreme identification with ones local team, even if it isn't made up of local folk. I even suggested then that it might be a form of tribalism, and I am more and more inclined to think it is. We need groups to identify with, to which we feel we belong. For most of us our immediate families are our basic tribe, even if we can't stand our relatives. As Ally McGraw's character said in Love Story, "Home is where when you go there, they have to let you in." Then come alma maters, school and local sports teams. For some people their state is a larger tribe to which they belong, Texans being the example par excellence of this mind-set. In England the multitude of private clubs served the tribal instinct well. And for most Americans, their country is their ultimate tribe, the one you sure as heck had better be loyal to. I confess that, as un-nationalistic as I tend to be, I feel very harshly toward Bradley Manning, and do feel he betrayed his country in leaking all the confidential information he (allegedly) leaked to Wikileaks. Public protests are one thing, putting people in danger is quite another.

But to get back to family trees. Most of the people who are very serious about genealogy are getting on in years (go on, Melody, say elderly). And why is this? When you are young you have lots of tribes to belong to, as suggested by the above list. But as you get older your children, if you have any, grow up, move away, are less a part of your life than they used to be. Friends die, as do parents, siblings. School and sports allegiances fade. If you have retired, you are no longer a part of whatever occupational tribe you once be-longed to, and identified with. So who are you? Well, you are the end product of all those marriages, all those off-spring, all those moves farther and farther west. And not only are those dead ancestors members of your tribe, but so, too, are all the third cousins once removed you discover who are researching another branch of your family.

You are a part of something bigger than your lowly, lonely self.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

How do we make this more fair, and why should we?

Yes, I'm back, to talk about fairness. The concept of. I was lying in bed resting my eyes after squirting them with fake tears (my latest physical malady is excessively dry eyes which has me "abrading" the cornea just by opening my eyelids in the morning), and I got to thinking about the recent complaint of my friend who was diagnosed with a form of leukemia last fall about how unfair it was that here she had this fatal disease and there weren't some compensating joys in her life (at that particular moment) to offset this very negative fact. Of course, as we all know (as, indeed, Pat knows) life is not fair. In fact, it is so unfair that I can't help wondering how humans ever came up with the concept of fairness in the first place.

Fatalists don't expect fairness from life or the world in general. What will be will be. In countries where life has been extremely hard for most of the people for many generations, fatalism runs deep. This was even more so the case in the past. But even in such places, and times, there tends to be a strong tradition of revenge for wrongs committed against one by ones fellow man. You kill a member of my family, I kill a member of yours. This to them is justice, and what is justice, but fairness?

Citizens of the industrialized nations in general, and America in particular, expect to be able to change the world to suit them -- because they've seen it happen -- so fatalism has less of a hold. And in these places the idea that there should be fairness in human exchange is very strong. Even as people acknowledge that the happenings of the world -- natural catastrophes, the myriad illness that can befall humans, wars, economic crashes -- can fall upon people in an apparently random and indifferent fashion, they insist that to the extent that we have control over things there should be fairness.

I think about the two major political parties here in the U.S. Since presumably we all share this sense that things should be fair, it seems like the definition of what's fair is the issue. For Republicans what's fair is both individuals and corporate entities being able to keep most of the money they earn -- in other words, to be as free as possible from onerous taxation. Likewise from even more onerous regulation, since that fetters the freedom to run their lives or their businesses as they see fit, a concept that is even more sacrosanct to Republicans than that of fairness.

Whereas for the typical Democrat what's fair is that 1) everyone should contribute to the common weal, because we are all in this together, and that 2) everyone should contribute according to what they have. You make less money, you pay lower taxes; you make a huge amount of money, you pay higher taxes. And as for regulation: history has shown that people (and even more than individual people, businesses) will often not do what they should do unless forced to by law, because usually doing what they should do involves a reduction in profit, e.g., shorter work days for employees, a minimum wage, having to make the workplace safe. The Democrat tends to think that being able to do whatever you damn well please -- to hell with the environment, or those who are less advantaged, through no fault of their own -- is not the fairest way for society to be run. And yes, I know, I sound biased, and of course I am.

Interestingly, right now Americans of both persuasions, Republican and Democrat, are feeling very angry indeed because of the unfairness of so many rich corporations paying no federal income tax at all, while we lowly common folk struggle to pay our taxes. On top of the fact that a number of the large corporations that contributed to the economic downturn, that has cost so many people their jobs and their savings, have been making huge profits over the past year, and their people are getting the same kind of big bonuses as before. Uh, uh, we're all thinking; this is not fair.

Where did we get this idea?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

And now for a little whining

O.K., things are serious here. First of all, I'm not eating properly. I'm so sick of eating, period, of having to eat every three hours, of having to endlessly think of things to eat -- of not being able to think of anything new that I want to go to the trouble of preparing, so endlessly eating the same hamburger-patty-rice-green-vegetable, or pork-chop-rice-green vegetable, or baked-fish-rice-green-vegetable, or soup-with-turkey-sandwich meal -- endlessly going to the grocery store, cooking, cleaning up. So I've all but stopped doing it. Pretty much living on McDonald's double quarter pounders with-cheese-but-without-onions these days, with the occasional sausage and pepperoni pizza thrown in. I do like hamburgers and pizza, but obviously these are not good as a steady diet. Expensive, for one thing, add to the growing weight problem for another (also not good for your health, but I'm less concerned with that). Also consuming large amounts of cookies, bagels, candy, corn chips, and coffee, to keep my energy level up. For someone with hypoglycemia (actually, for anybody), not good.

Then there's my wrist, which has been hurting for over four months, without getting any better. I was also having problems with pain in my neck/right shoulder/arm, but the chiropractor I've been seeing for about two months has helped considerably with those areas. However, her "adjustments" and "therapies" haven't touched the painful wrist, except, possibly, to make it worse. I am apparently suffering from a fairly severe case of carpal tunnel syn-drome. For someone who spends as much time as I do at a computer, both at work and at home, this is a real drag.

I finally called my doctor -- who isn't a doctor at all, but a physician's assistant, because the two previous doctors I had at the health center where I go left, to be replaced by... not another doctor...a physician's assistant. (I tried to get switched to one of the two doctors remaining at the center, but both had too many patients already. Definitely a doctor shortage in beautiful, rural Maine.) -- anyway, I finally called my "primary health care provider," and asked for a referral to a physical therapist, for the wrist. That was a couple of weeks ago. When I went in this past Monday to have some blood work done I learned that nothing at all had been done about my request, which really ticked me off. The referrals lady was properly embarrassed by this negligence on their part, and scam-pered to make the necessary calls, so now I do at least have an appointment for next week, though first I have to have a test to deter-mine if I really do have carpal tunnel syndrome (having all the usual symptoms doesn't seem to suffice).

Dealing with constant pain, as all of you out there who have had to do so know, completely colors your outlook. It's distracting, when you're trying to do the things you need/ want to do -- indeed, it can prevent you from doing those things -- and trying to ignore it and "get on with your life" is physically and psychically draining.

And I have virtually no energy, to a large extent, no doubt, because of my current terrible eating habits, and I'm finding it difficult to force myself to do all those mundane things we all have to do -- like get up in the morning, cook, wash dishes, wash clothes, do my checkbook, get my snow tires removed (no, still haven't done that)...and write postings for my blog. My heart just isn't in it. My heart doesn't seem to be "in" much of anything just now, so to spare my readers endless negativity, I think I may take a little break from blogging for a while. Until "things" look up some.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Bad guys and tarnished heroes

So, two men in the news lately. The Evil One, Osama bin Laden, whose death caused dancing in the streets here in the U.S., vows of revenge by the fanatical Muslims who, like him, believe the only good American is a dead Amer-ican. We have to be thankful to al-Qeada, though, for independently confirming his death.

I myself did not jump up and down with joy at the news of his death. The expression "grim satisfaction" comes more to mind. Being jubilant about anyone's death seems inappro-priate. The man deserved to die, and at American hands -- simple justice -- and that has been accomplished. But I feel the same way I feel when an American serial killer is put to death (and I am the rare liberal who is in favor of the death penalty, for such cases); I am glad he has received his just reward; I am not "happy."

Besides which, I'm skeptical that his death will make all that much difference in our never-ending War on Terrorism. Still lots of bad guys out there, who think there's nothing wrong with killing innocent people. Someone else will certainly step up to the leadership plate, no doubt someone who does not have to hide out in his bedroom for years on end.

And then there's Greg Mortenson. This is one of the two men I listed as "people who inspire me," on my Facebook page (the other being Gandhi). Even put a link to the organization he founded, Central Asia Institute (CAI), here on my blog, since I thought its mission of building schools in northern Pakistan and Afghanistan was a good one, worthy of support. Like so many other people I was deeply impressed with Mortenson's book Three Cups of Tea, that told the story of how building schools in these undeveloped areas came to be his "life's work."

But now, thanks to 60 Minutes, and a strangely vehement John Krakauer, we learn that a number of incidents related in that book were either exaggerated, or simply not true. Likewise some of the claims made by the CAI -- such as the number of schools that it has built and continues to support -- are apparently untrue. And the accounting practices of the organization have been called into question.

I still believe Mortenson has done a lot of good -- even his apparent greatest enemy, Krakauer (who at one time was a big contributor to the CAI) admits that -- but the fact that he has tweaked the truth in a non-fiction book is a dark mark against him. He wrote Three Cups of Tea with a professional writer -- which he was not -- and I wouldn't be surprised if he was encouraged to alter the absolute facts in the interest of "drama." But if this was the case, it was foolish of him to consent. In the reply he made in writing to the questions 60 Minutes had for him (which can be read on CAI's web site), he said that some of the information "was a compressed version of events." My goodness, what does that mean? A non-fiction book needs to be what we librarians tell kids they are: true stories.

The fact that he would not respond to the inquiries of 60 Minutes, until virtually forced to, by the airing of the damning segment, is another black mark. The clip on that program that showed him being approached by represen-tatives of the show, at one of his book signings (because, they said, he had failed to return their calls, and this seemed to be the only way to make contact with him) did not put him in a good light at all. Instead of saying, "OK, gentlemen, I'm in the middle of a book-signing here; if you'll wait a few minutes I'll be glad to meet with you"...and then doing that, he had Security called, to boot them out of the place, cancelled his afternoon talk, and left the hotel. Pretty darn suspicious behavior, if he had nothing to hide.

I am less concerned about the supposed financial impro-prieties. Mortensen did not start building schools to get rich, and as the CAI web site points out, in its response to questions from 60 Minutes, he has donated large sums to the Institute, and he worked for several years for no pay at all. I had thought it was strange that Mortenson should have a separate web site from the Institute's. His site concentrates on his speaking engagement calendar. Now it turns out that all the money from his speaking tours and book sales goes to him, not to the Institute. The Institute, in his defense, has said that these speaking tours, his books, directly help the cause by producing donations from the public. I'm sure that's true, but I hope the current bruhaha encourages them to change this particular way of doing business. A portion of the income from speaking engagements and book sales should automatically go to the Institute, not just what Mortenson chooses to donate.

And here the man is in poor health, with a hole in his heart, major surgery impending. It never rains but it pours. I personally want to give him the benefit of the doubt, because I still support his cause. A friend of mine has called into question the wisdom of educating children in these areas, believing that they are indoctrinated from birth in a belief in Mohammed's Koran which commands them to "break the cross and kill the infidels." He thinks a modern education would only make them more dangerous. But I don't buy that all Muslim children in that part of the world are inculcated from birth with a burning hatred of America and Americans. The families in these communities where the schools are being built just want to live their lives in peace and security, like most families everywhere. And having schools (which they want) built with the help of Americans, can only improve their attitude toward us.

On the CAI's web site a lot of people have made statements disputing some of the material presented on 60 Minutes, and supporting Mortenson and his charity. Let's hope they prove to be more right than his accusers. I'd hate to be reduced to only one person who has inspired me.