Celebrate Hug Your Librarian Day

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March 1st may or may not be International Hug a Librarian Day. There’s some confusion online but librarians are too busy to keep up with fan clubs anyway. They don’t just find information, they also review, organize, assess, explain, figure out, calm small children, put up displays, run programs, read aloud, expand collections, apply laser-like focus to advance other people’s knowledge, and much more. Why limit librarian love to one day?

I have a chronic library habit myself. There are at least ten reasons to adore libraries and the professionals who make these places adoration-worthy,  so we probably need a more than just a Hug A Librarian Day. Perhaps a commemorative week or month. I’m thinking year round.

Here are some ways to celebrate.

Vote yes for library levies.

Surprise your favorite librarian with a hand-written thank you note.

Start or join a book club. Many libraries offer meeting space, some offer book club collections of the same book bundled with discussion questions.

Savor quotes from your favorite books by copying them onto a plate or mughand printing them on a scarf, or writing them on a shirt using a bleach pen.

Read This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All.

Bring flowers, good coffee beans, homemade cookies, or a tray of fresh fruit for your librarians to enjoy.

Join your branch’s “friends of the library” organization.

Blast away any librarian stereotypes you harbor by taking a peek at some librarian blogs like Miss Information, Librarian Avengers, The Lipstick Librarian, The Laughing Librarian, The Society for Librarians Who Say MF, and Your Librarian Hates You.

Read Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian.

Check out books that have been challenged or banned.

Start your own tiny library to benefit others.

Surprise your favorite librarian with a certificate for locally owned store, restaurant, or theater performance.

Keep an eye out for librarian characters (and inevitable stereotypes) in movies. Try these:

  • Goodbye, Columbus
  • Stephen King’s It
  • The Name of the Rose
  • The Mummy
  • Maxie
  • Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (kids) 
  • The Pagemaster (kids) 

Attend library programs and give positive reviews afterwards.

Shape snacks that look like books out of fruit leather, honey, and chocolate.

Or heck, volunteer to help your library run an Edible Book Festival.  Check out images from the Seattle festival and an international festival.

Organize your own book collection into a lending library using book pockets and library cards, perhaps putting your stamp on each volume with a custom book embosser. Or use an all-in-one library kit. This is particularly fun for kids.

Do everything in your power to keep your library system well-funded, lest they be forced to accept advertising dollars to stay open.

Make easy felt book covers , a more complex quilted composition book cover, or even try bookbinding.

Consider the possibility that you’re a Book Zombie.

When traveling, make a point of visiting libraries. For incentive, check out images of inspiring church libraries and public libraries.

Avoid saying the following to your librarian:

  • Must be nice to sit around reading all day.
  • You’re supposed to find me a job on the Internet, right? 
  • Do you volunteer here? 
  • I haven’t stepped in a library since ______.  
  • I hear that you will fill out my tax return.
  • Libraries just aren’t the same without card catalogs. 
  • Have you read all the books here? 

Read librarian-centered books to kids such as Librarian on the Roof! A True StoryThe Boy Who Was Raised by Librarians, and The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq.    

And if you know your librarian well enough, offer a hug.

How To Grant Wishes

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When I was a child an elderly neighbor shared her life-long dream. Lottie Borges had always wanted to get behind the wheel of a semi, start it up, and drive. I got a glimpse of a yearning that couldn’t be hidden by her apron and heavy orthopedic shoes. Years later when I heard she’d died I was sorry the thrill she longed to experience driving an 18 wheeler had never come to pass.

Each one of us has dreams. Sometimes they’re suppressed so long that it’s not easy to remember them or the spark of vitality they once roused in us. We forget because we’re busy meeting our family’s need, what the boss wants, what amusements can fill the moments we have left over. We set aside the goals we once held dear. They are not gone, just dormant.

Our culture emphasizes personal effort. It’s assumed that failure to achieve our aims lies entirely with the individual. But that’s not how wishes usually come true. They happen in the context of relationships. When we talk about our goals with people dear to us we infuse our ideas with energy. It’s a way of activating a network of people who, along with us, envision our dreams taking place. That network may help bring about the exact circumstances necessary to achieve our goals. Perhaps if my former neighbor had shared her wish with someone other than a child she might have connected with a truck driver who’d have gotten a kick out of letting her take his rig for a run around a back lot.

A few years ago I got together with a group of friends and, on the spur of the moment, we decided to write down our long-held wishes. We laughed, wondering if old fantasies (such as running away with a teen idol) should be included. But the challenge was compelling so we started writing. When my friends shared their goals I saw sides to them they rarely revealed. Here are some of their wishes:

  • I will get a lead role in community theater.
  • I will travel to Ethiopia.
  • I will master class 5 white water rafting.
  • I will record my parent’s reminiscences.
  • I will have a graphic novel published.
  • I will get a master’s degree in library science.
  • I will become a foster parent.
  • I will take a class in conflict resolution.
  • I will paint wall-sized murals.
  • I will build a clay oven in the back yard.
  • I will finish the quilt my grandmother started.
  • I will learn to speak Russian.
  • I will be elected to city council.

We realized that we should meet occasionally to support each other’s dreams. By discussing what we are doing to reach our goals and how we can help each other, we’re more likely to turn intention into reality.

If you’re interested in our wish granting process, here’s the method we’re using.

1. Get together with at least one other person with whom you have a mutually supportive relationship.

2. Brainstorm. Call up the longings you had as a child, the grand plans you envisioned as a young adult, the places your mind wanders when you daydream.

3. Write down those yearnings. Word them concretely. It is easier to check off a goal such as “Complete a pottery class” than a vague listing such as “Try making pottery.” Instead of vowing to “appreciate people more,” expect yourself to “Write letters to six people telling them why you appreciate them.” Include a range of possibilities— creative, professional, interpersonal, physical, and inspirational. Make some challenging, some just for fun.

4. Make the list as long as possible. Shoot for 50 or 100. Pushing yourself to write so many goals forces you to look inward, uncovering deep desires that you may have buried.

Such a list will take some time, but you may find that long-suppressed dreams ease back into your consciousness only after you’ve written down goals that seem silly or impossible.

5. Put stars by at least five of the most important dreams. Remember your list isn’t a set curriculum. It can change as your goals evolve. 

6. Talk about what steps you need to take to accomplish them and how can you support each other in these steps. Often it’s helpful to plan on baby steps, starting small and recognizing there may be tumbles as you work your way up to bigger steps.

7. Write yourself a note to be opened three months from now. Or write an email using futureme.org timed to arrive in three months. This note should be in present tense and action oriented, “I am saving $50 a week towards my trip” or “I am practicing Russian each evening and looking for a native speaker to build my language skills.” This is a great way to promote progress. Then write another message to yourself, to be opened in another few months.

8. Keep the wishes shared by others alive through encouragement but also through your belief that the vision will be reached. Continue to pay attention to circumstances that may be helpful to others as you work toward your dreams together.

Something happens when goals are written down. When we make a conscious decision to guide our lives in the direction of our dreams, possibilities begin to open. And when we share that process with others, we have the delight of helping them make their wishes come true.

By the way, the wish lists written with my friends are already adorned with check marks.

Escaping Into Novels

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Books have been my escape mechanism ever since I started reading as a child. I’d load up with all the books I could carry from the library with absolute glee, launching into the first one in the backseat on our drive home. I couldn’t wait for the power of a story to overtake me.  While reading I was completely oblivious of my surroundings, caught up in another world entirely. This got me into trouble at school plenty of times. I’d read after getting an assignment done, never noticing as the class moved on to spelling or math or even lunch. That’s the down side to being what I call a book zombie.

I continue to have a pretty advanced case of library addiction and plunder the stacks on a weekly basis. Unlike my earliest years, I mostly read non-fiction. I don’t know why I’ve come to associate facts with the reading equivalent of a meal, necessary and good for me in a way that dessert is not. That doesn’t mean I don’t indulge in novels. In my reading-intensive life I usually stuff in a novel a week, plus several non-fiction books (and lots of online reading).

But this week I haven’t opened a single non-fiction book. I’m in complete escape mode—all dessert. That’s because my beloved husband has been in the hospital for some extensive spinal surgery. That first day I relied on a stack of novels to transport me away from his nearly seven hour surgery plus many more hours of waiting for him to get out of recovery. The next few days I found that, between visits, I didn’t have much gumption to get my work done. Okay, no gumption whatsoever. I kept sneaking back into novels where I lingered quite happily for hours. Thank goodness I stocked up. It’s like having a whole pantry full of goodies.

Here are a few I’ve been reading that you might enjoy.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan is a clever and mysterious book. It’s a quick read but not remotely fluffy. On the surface it’s about the way the love of books intersects with the might of today’s computing power. But it’s also about magic, mystery, the awesomeness of Google, and the singular meaning of real relationships.  (Five stars!)

Truth in Advertising by John Kenney is sharp and funny. It’s follows a man whose current challenge is producing a diaper commercial, whose personal life is barely perceptible, and who takes a sardonic view of anything remotely sentimental. The passages skewering corporate absurdities and fast forward trendiness are delicious. That the story ends on a sentimental note provides a perfect balance. (Five stars!)

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. Set in the late 1980′s, this book is told through the eyes of an adolescent girl who had a close relationship with an uncle who recently died of AIDS. A few days after his funeral she receives a strange package, an artful teapot she and her uncle always used when they got together. It was sent by a mysterious man who asks to be her friend. And so begins an unusual relationship that teaches the girl, her family, and this man more than they might have imagined about forgiveness, love, adventure, and being true to oneself. Compellingly written and insightful, this story lingers. I can’t remember loving characters as much as I loved this girl’s uncle and the man who becomes her friend.  (Five stars!)

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson is translated from the Swedish language and has sold three million copies. As the title suggests, the tale has to do with an elderly gent who runs away. His life story happens to interconnect with major political happenings around the world, Forrest Gump-style, although this main character is far less innocent especially where explosions are concerned.   It’s a bit of a history lesson, entirely beyond credulity, but nonetheless entertaining. I’m guessing a movie will be forthcoming. (Four stars)

The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons isn’t my usual read. I am allergic to most anything with “romance” as a major plot point. But I read a review noting that this is the book for Downton Abbey fans and couldn’t resist. This is meatier, in some ways, than Downton Abbey. The main character is the daughter of a wealthy, cultured Viennese family who seeks asylum in 1938. She ends up in England as a servant. Her culture shock and class shock are interesting, so is life in the remote coastal area that has a unique historic angle. (Four stars)

The Red House by Mark Haddon (author of the absolutely wonderful The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) is about family relationships, all happening within a holiday week. The style is faintly jarring, flitting from one point of view to another, sometimes in the space of two paragraphs, but it’s also full of the moments a reader waits for, those quiet but significant insights that are illuminating. (Four stars)

Maybe I’m working my way toward a more balanced reading diet. I still don’t have the slightest urge to pick up a non-fiction books, even the ones I’m supposed to be reviewing. It feels decadent and delightful, like skipping the salad and going right for the chocolate. In a few minutes I’ll be leaving to pick my husband up from the hospital. On the way I’ll be getting his prescriptions, a shower chair, and maybe, if there’s time, books I ordered that are in at the library.

Tell me what YOU are reading so I have more reasons to indulge.

A Child’s Place Is In The Kitchen

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It’s easier to cook when kids aren’t in the way. Bubbling pots and sharp knives, after all, are hardly child-friendly. But the kitchen shouldn’t be off-limits to kids.

Yes, dinner takes longer to make when Mason snips the cilantro to shreds and Sophie reads the recipe out loud. And you’ve got places to go — probably places to take your darling children, like T-ball practice or that great science program at the museum.

But how much, really, do our beloved kids benefit from a steady schedule of, well, scheduled activities? Those educational, adult-led activities may very well be counterproductive. We tend to forget that ordinary things like cooking together are flexible, hands-on, purposeful learning experiences.

As they snip, read, and converse with us, our kids are learning physical, mental, and social skills. Here’s how cooking can be educational for them.

Mirror neurons. Even a baby in an infant seat benefits from time in the kitchen. She pays attention to your actions. She’s delighted when you talk to her and show her what you’re doing. Due to mirror neurons in our brains, all of us mentally duplicate actions and emotions we see. This inborn way of learning means that we’re continually participating in what we observe. Your baby’s mirror neurons allow her to vicariously experience what you’re doing. As she sees you wash, peel, and cut carrots, she’ll form a mental template for that task, essentially allowing her to practice in advance.

If you change an element of that familiar activity — perhaps by using garden-fresh carrots with long waving fronds instead of milled carrots from a plastic bag — your little one will pay heightened attention. If your knife slips and you cut yourself, she’ll react to your surprise and pain, making her understanding of sharp implements more real than any warning might accomplish.

Meaning. Young children clamor to be included. When a preschooler begs to help prepare dinner, he doesn’t want to play with a toy cooking set; he wants to participate in the real work that’s taking place. It slows us down to let him cut fresh mushrooms with a butter knife (and restraint to avoid criticizing or re-cutting), but your child recognizes his contribution toward dinner. He’s also more likely to eat it.

Responsibility. Research has shown that children who participated in household tasks starting at age three or four were more likely to succeed in adulthood. I’m talking really succeed: educational completion, career success, and good relationships with family and friends. Even I.Q. scores had a weaker correlation with success than giving children early responsibilities. And waiting until children were older tends to backfire. We spend much time and money on enriching activities and products for our children, but if they don’t get the chance to take on real responsibilities, we’re depriving them of key components of adult competency.

Higher-level learning. Kitchen-related tasks allow kids to learn more than how dry pinto beans can transform into enticingly tasty refried beans. Kids begin to see scientific principles at work. They develop personal qualities such as patience. They are motivated to apply what they’re learning to more challenging endeavors. Sure, it doesn’t hurt to know what it takes to grow the tomatoes, make the sauce, and prepare the beans for tonight’s enchiladas. But more importantly, as children become proficient in the kitchen, they also see themselves as capable learners. That perception transfers across all endeavors. 

Sensory learning. Full sensory learning has staying power. Apart from nature, it’s hard to find a more sensory-rich environment than the kitchen. As your child’s little fingers crumble blue cheese into dressing, add raisins to a measuring cup, or tear mint leaves for chutney, the tactile and olfactory pleasure help encode specific memories. Perhaps the happiness your daughter feels making mint chutney with you today will be evoked each time she smells mint in the future. We humans must see, hear, smell, touch, and, yes, taste to form the complex associations that make up true comprehension.

Active learning. Childhood is a period of major neuroplasticity, when learning actually changes the brain’s functional anatomy. Hands-on experiences are particularly vital at this time. In fact, the child who spends plenty of time with manipulatives (arranging veggie on a platter, sifting flour, washing silverware) and using real-world math (measuring ingredients, counting celery stalks, following recipes) has a strong foundation of representational experience, which in turn enables better understanding of abstract mathematical concepts. These movement-oriented activities also contribute to reading readiness. Another benefit of kitchen learning? Cooking and tasting the results a short time later provides wonderful lessons in cause and effect.

Simplicity. Children accustomed to blinking, beeping toys and rapidly changing screen images may become so wired to this overstimulation that without it, they’re bored. The slower pace of kitchen conversation and cooking tasks can be an important antidote, especially when we’re willing to go at a child’s pace. Young children tend to balk when they’re hurried. They show us, stubbornly and often loudly, that there’s nothing more important to them than the here and now. So whenever possible, simplify so you can make your time together in the kitchen enjoyable. Slowing down is better for digestion, concentration, and overall happiness. Letting a small child spread his own peanut butter, cut his own sandwich, and pour milk from a tiny pitcher into his cup is a way of affirming the value of the present moment. It also makes for an effortless tea party.

Skill building. There’s no denying that children who help out in the kitchen pick up useful skills. They learn that a cake takes lots of mixing, but muffins very little. They can set the table, toss a salad, make a sandwich, and boil pasta. Not right away, but eventually. They also learn from the examples we show them, such as how to handle pressure and ways to learn from mistakes. Whether we’re four years old or 40 years old, gaining competency feels good. It doesn’t hurt to give credit where it’s due. So if your child has been busy peeling potatoes and crumbling bacon, try renaming the entrée “Max’s special potato soup” for extra reinforcement.

Purpose. When we prepare a family meal, bake a cake to celebrate a friend’s good news, or change a favorite recipe to accommodate Grandpa’s diabetes, our efforts have noticeable value. As our children participate along with us, they feel that same satisfaction. So many educational tasks put before our children serve no purpose other than to instruct. But when learning is connected to something truly purposeful, it can’t help but spark enthusiasm. Children feel honored to be included in real work that includes real challenges. If we pay attention, we’ll see that’s just what they pretend to do when they play.

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Getting Started

Even toddlers can help. Let small children cut mushrooms, pears, bananas, and other soft items with a blunt knife. Encourage them to stir (as long as you or they hold the bowl). They’ll be happy to add ingredients, tear lettuces, and grate cheese. When putting together forgiving dishes like soups or casseroles, have them help you choose herbs and spices by smell before you toss in a pinch or two.

Encourage your small fry to wash unbreakable items in a sink of warm soapy water. Let them clean up crumbs on the floor with a small whisk broom or handheld vacuum. Put them in charge of setting out napkins on the table and calling family members to dinner.

Give them the job of stacking unbreakable containers in a low cabinet. Solicit their opinions on aroma, taste, and appearance as you cook together. And remember to thank them for their assistance.

As they get older, children can read recipes, plan meals, and do nearly every task required to make the dishes they enjoy. The time will come when they won’t want you in the room explaining how to fix a lumpy cream sauce or talking about how Nana always mixed pastry dough with her fingers. They’re on their way to making the kitchen a proving ground for their own culinary adventures. Hopefully you’ll be invited to taste-test while you relax for a change.

Parking the kids in front of the TV while we dash to get dinner ready may be efficient, but it’s not the way young people have matured throughout human history. Children need to watch, imitate, and gain useful skills. They’re drawn to see how their elders handle a crisis, fix a car, create a soufflé, build a bookshelf, heal what’s broken, and fall in love.

So welcome your little ones into the kitchen. Let the cooking begin.


First published in Culinate.com