Friday, July 31, 2009

A quick, thought-provoking read

I just finished reading a book recommended to me by my husband, James - The True Patriot, by Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer. The authors argue that true patriotism is progressive and challenge both liberals and conservatives to take a second look at their values. Visit their website at You can actually read the entire book there, too.

Memories of Food

Majumdar asserts the ability to remember every meal he ever ate, as does the rest of his family. I won't make such a claim here, but I do know that food is a powerful memory inducer. The most memorable Thanksgiving I had was in 1971, when my mother was too sick with bronchitis to cook, and my father apparently did not have the ability to cook up a turkey dinner, so he whipped up some french toast for my sister, brother and I, which we soaked up with Log Cabin syrup. Other Thanksgivings I remember are ones I was taught to cook some part of the meal. My husband is in charge of the turkey at our house now, but I still make the cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and pie which were the things my mother taught me to prepare on various Thanksgiving days. I learned a valuable lesson about doubling recipes when I made two pumpkin pies with the filling ingredients for only one. We ate very thin pies that year.

Recently my brother-in-law got the family into a very lively conversation about food by asking this simple question: When you were old enough to cook something for yourself, and left home alone, what did you fix? Memories came flooding back about steak-um sandwiches, frozen chicken pot pies and boil-in bags. Majumdar's family ate a lot better than that, though.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Eat My Globe

My copy of Eat My Globe arrived in the mail today. James and I will begin reading it tonight. To find out more see Majumdar on Simon & Schuster's site.

What else I read this month

I read one other book this month in addition to the Travel Books - The Drowning of Stephan Jones by Bette Greene. This is a book I often see on the "frequently challenged" lists because it deals with issues involving homosexuality, specifically, in this case, gay bashing. The story is told from the point of view of the bystander. I knew about the book from other research I had done, and finally decided to read it when I discovered that one of the story's heroines is a librarian.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Two more books read

I finished both Eat, Pray, Love over the weekend. I must say I enjoyed this book more than I expected, and not just because she mentions libraries in a positive light about 10 times. I had to work harder than I thought to get through Mayes' book, and Schmoe's, so I was beginning to think travel writing wasn't for me. Gilbert's book, though, had much more narrative, and less description. Gilbert is wise and witty, and her book has a happy ending. She finds a true balance between the spiritual and the physical world, and she finds herself, as well as her prince charming. She makes it clear that she doesn't need a man, nevertheless she is happy to have one. Sort of the way I felt when I took a jacuzzi bath on Sunday. The other thing I liked about the book was that she learned Italian just because she loved it, and thought it was a beautiful language. One of the things I find most frustrating about teaching Spanish is that I mostly teach students who either are taking a language only because they expect it will help them get a job, or because it fits one of the "boxes" they need to check off for their core curriculum requirements. So few enjoy learning for learning's sake.

Preproduction of a movie version of Eat, Pray, Love starring Julia Roberts is in the works.

James and I also (finally) finished reading The Geography of Bliss this weekend. Again, this brand of travel writing was much more to my liking than the descriptive passages offered by Mayes and Schmoe. Weiner provides some self reflection, as well as providing readers with a bigger picture as to what might make one happy. Here's a news flash: Money can't buy happiness. Anyway, I rediscovered how much I liked reading aloud with my husband, so much so that I have ordered us another book to read together - Eat My Globe by Simon Majumdar. I picked this one because of its geographic theme, and James is a Geographer, plus a budding foodie. I purchased a copy of this one rather than requesting a library copy because I know that the reading-0ut-loud method takes a while and I don't want the book to come due before we're done. I did order a used copy.

Something that Gilbert wrote about society in Indonesia made me remember what Weiner said about Moldova. Gilbert explains that "...Bali is what happens when the lavish rituals of traditional Hinduism are superimposed over a vast rice-growing agricultural society that operates, by necessity, with elaborate communal cooperation. Rice terraces require an unbelievable amound of shared labor, maintenance and engineering in order to prosper, so each Balinese village has a banjar - a united organization of citizens who administer, through consensus, the village's political and economic and religious and agricultural decisions. In Bali the collective is absolutely more important than the individual, or nobody eats." I remember Weiner's explanation that Moldovans will not work on a collective project, even to benefit themselves. I wonder if that would be different if a basic need, such as eating, were at stake.

50 States Project - A year of the States

I just found out about the 50 States project. This "year of" project has 50 photographers, one from each state. Each photographer is given a topic and two months to provide one picture representing that topic and their style. This started on January 2, 2009. I will be making use of this website more with the blog I plan for next year, which will be a year of celebrating the states, each on the anniversary of the date it entered the union.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Competitive Yoga

While I was reading about Weiner's and Gilbert's efforts at meditation, I started thinking about my own efforts at yoga. I have tried it a few times, but don't love it. One thing I always thought was good about it though was the focus on oneself. I had never heard of a yoga competition and was glad to believe that no such thing existed. It seems so contradictory. But yesterday, on a whim I Googled "yoga competition" and found that I was quite wrong that there was no such thing. My world view is shattered and I feel a bit sad. Does everything have to be a competition?

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Ashram...

So, I've never heard of an Ashram before, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as "In India, a place of religious retreat, sanctuary, or hermitage". And I am now reading at a point in both Weiner and Gilbert's books in which they describe their experiences in an Ashram. And although Weiner is writing from a more cynical, and journalistic point of view and Gilbert writes from the perspective of someone who follows a specific Guru, I am actually having a hard time keeping the the two stories straight. There are apparently all types of ashrams, and Weiner meets two women who are ashram hopping. Other ashramites (as the OED calls those who occupy ashrams) are more like Gilbert and have chosen a specific ashram for its Guru. Weiner's big problem with the ashram he has chosen is that he must go three days without coffee, or any caffeine for that matter. I can see where he might become somewhat less than blissful and a bit grumpy despite his efforts to calm his mind.

The other word I found that I never heard before, but have now read both in Mayes and Gilbert's book is "jumble sale", which seems to be what I call a rummage sale. When I first read it in Mayes' book I thought it must be a British term because she used it in her chapter about staying in England, but then when I saw it in Gilbert's book, too, I realized it must be more commonly used in the U.S. than I would have guessed. I have never been to a church jumble sale in any of the 5 states I have lived in - only rummage sales. Where is this term commonly used?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Libraries have it all

I think Gilbert must like libraries. She mentions them a few times in her section about Italy, specifically saying that she visits the library before she sees any churches or museums in Rome. What I liked best though was the description she gave of her mother who "had taught herself to swim as an adolescent alone in a cold Minnesota lake, with a book she'd borrowed from the local library entitled How to Swim." People used to know to go to the library to find out anything. Now, of course, they just go to the internet, where I easily found a website called Learn to Swim. I don't guess I really recommend learning to swim on one's own in any case, but it seems that a book is a better, easier thing to take to a lake than a computer.

I recently found out that some school districts are allowing students to take Physical Education classes online due to budget cuts. This just seems wrong. It certainly leads me to believe that education requirements, at least in some schools, are simply boxes to check off, rather than part of a holistic educational experience.

Does Happiness Take Practice?

While in Bhutan, Weiner meets with Barba Tulku, the Rinpoche, or precious one. The New York Times recently ran this story about the Tibetan Rinpoche, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche - "the happiest man in the world" who says that his even keel did not come naturally. He has put in tens of thousands of hours of meditation.

Book Blogger Appreciation Week

I just found out about Book Blogger Appreciation Week, which will take place this year from September 14-18. I have registered my site. To find out more see

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The beauty of doing nothing

In Italy, Gilbert learns about "bel far niente" - the beauty of doing nothing. She points out that it is something Americans have a hard time with, and she particularly, coming from a line of Puritan farmers, has a difficulty just doing nothing. Deriving pleasure from doing nothing is a concept that is lost on most Americans.

The Puritan work ethic is still alive and well in New England. People are always on their way to doing something else. Relaxing is rare, although looking for entertainment seems to be okay, as long as you are not officially at work. You should not have fun at work. Work should not be entertaining.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

New book

My second book for July is Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert - recommended by my mother, Judy Helbing. I obtained a copy via Interlibrary loan courtesy of the Woods Hole Public Library.

Travel writing

Mayes' book is long on description and short on narrative. I became a bit bogged down by it all near the middle. It was sort of like looking at someone else's vacation pictures. I was made a bit envious but also didn't need all the detail. Of course, in this case, since there were no pictures, the detail was what made the writing vivid.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


On her trip to Greece Mayes finds an herb called "fascomilo" which she says "perfumes our car with a sage and dust scent." Her husband, Ed, is quick to point out that it "smells like marijuana." And so she slips the leaves inside her guidebook.

My women's group sometimes burns sage as part of a purification ritual. It does smell very much like marijuana. The nostalgia alone can make me a bit buzzed.

12 months 12 books

I recently noticed that the Geography of Bliss was published by Twelve books, which publishes no more than one book per month. Find out more at

"We're centrally located"

Slough, the infamous location of the TV show The Office, is the butt of British jokes about unhappy places. Weiner visits Slough and talks to a barber named Tony who has lived there all his life. Tony says Slough is "a fine place". When pressed about this he says Slough is "centrally located [that] you can get anywhere from [t]here." Weiner is unimpressed by this. "It's never a good thing" he says "when the best thing to recommend a place is that it is near other places." My husband and I had a good laugh about that one. When people ask us about Bridgewater we tell them it is very easy to get out of. It is equi-distant from Boston, Cape Cod, and Providence. All much better places to be.


"Microphobia" is what journalists experience from folks who don't want to talk to them. He says people in certain countries, Japan, for instance are more prone to it than Americans, who rarely experience it. I am in complete sympathy with the "microphobes". I don't mind expressing my opinions, as long as I am not put on the spot to do so. I also get tired to seeing cameras every where I go. Does every street fair, town meeting, college meeting and worship service really need this kind of documentation? Where can a person get a little privacy. I cringe when my neighbors tell me they saw me on the local cable access channel. I was just sitting in church for goddess sake!

Jeremy Bentham

While in London Weiner goes in search of Jeremy Bentham, the 18th century philosopher who wrote the treatise on utilitarianism - the greatest happiness of the greatest number. Bentham, or rather his skeleton dressed in the clothes he died in, is housed at the University College London. He is now known as the auto-icon. When Weiner asks about Bentham at a College information booth he finds the young woman working there unaware that a skeleton of Jeremy Bentham is on display anywhere. You'd think they might clue an information worker into such a thing during training.
I am convinced that my union, which represents faculty and librarians at Massachusetts state colleges, subscribes to Bentham's philosophy. Since there are over a thousand faculty members represented, and only about 45 librarians they work for the greatest number, which leaves those in the unfortuate minority less happy. Our college president once as much as told us (the librarians) that he was going to try to put forth legislation that would give all faculty raises, but not us. He was totally willing to serve our heads on a platter to benefit the greatest number. There must be better philosophies to follow.

Thailand - Fun is Good

People in Thailand smile - a lot. They are happy. "We do not believe in this work-hard, play-hard mentality. Our fun is interspersed throughout the day" one Thai tells Weiner. They also intersperse their fun throughout the year taking bits of time off here and there, rather than working like crazy to get their one-week vacation.

Americans should really take more time off. I think we would be happier. The Take Back Your Time movement "is a major U.S./Canadian initiative to challenge the epidemic of overwork, over-scheduling and time famine that now threatens our health, our families and relationships, our communities and our environment." Recently they have begun working on a legislative bill, the Paid Vacation Act, that would guarantee minimun vacation for all workers who work over 25 hours per week. Everyone should be able to take time off now and then. We are not a free country if people are not free from work occasionally. I think the Thais have the right idea, too. We should take enough time to have a week or two off for a family vacation, and also occasionally have a three day weekend. The book Time Shifting: A Revolutionary Approach to Creating More Time for Your Life by Stephan Rechtschaffen makes a good case for this.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Another book

I recently finished reading Information Literacy Instruction Handbook edited by Christopher Cox and Elizabeth Blakesley Lindsay - probably only of interest to instruction librarians and a handful of sympathetic faculty.

Assisted Suicide

One of the places Weiner visits is Switzerland, which is a happy place that is also, ironically, humorless, and where assisted suicide is legal. The New York Times yesterday reported that British conductor flew to Switzerland to end his life along with his terminally ill wife. There is some controversy surrounding his death, as he was not ill himself.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A fate worse than instant coffee

Weiner meets with a Peace Corps volunteer who puts salt in her coffee. I would argue that this is no longer coffee. I don't even want to talk about it any more.


Moldova is one of the least happy places on earth, and Weiner decides to visit there after his overdose of happiness in Iceland. He points out that "as a general rule, the more fucked up a country, the more said country insists on crisp bills." I found this to be true when traveling to Moldova's neighbor to the west, Romania. We had one hell of a time getting some of the banks to take our money. Any small tear, or sign of age was cause for rejection. We even had a merchant in Mexico refuse to take our pesos because the bill was too dirty.

One possible reason for the Moldovan's unhappiness is that they don't help others, even when doing so will help themselves. They won't pitch in to fix a problem that will benefit everyone. Frankly, I think this is why people in Bridgewater are so grumpy. The town is full of trash, but people don't pick it up. People don't want to pay taxes, and we watch our property values fall.

A boy named Sara

On his last night Weiner "meet[s] a woman named Sara. At least [he] think[s] she is a woman. The first thing she says... is 'People are always mistaking me for a man or a lesbian'". I am reminded of working as a substitute teacher in Tucson, Arizona. One day I was assigned to a middle school and took attendance with the seating chart left by the regular teacher. I remember that one seat had a student named Sara J. assigned to it. When I looked at the seat there was a person who appeared to be a boy sitting there. When I told the student that that was Sara's seat and he should find his regular place I was admonished by said student that she indeed was Sara J! I don't know if she realized I thought she was a boy or not, but I was quite chagrined. A few weeks later I was sent to a high school, where I actually met a boy named Sara! I did not question that he was sitting in the correct seat. I'd already been burned.

Is there such thing as too many books?

Weiner interviews "Hilmar the Happy Heathen" while in Iceland. Hilmar has simple desires, and many books. Apparently his 5-year old daughter told him " more books" when he brought home a "wheelbarrow full." I have many books in my home and I work surrounded by books every day. I think there is such a thing as too many books in a home. If there are so many you can't read them all, and you can't find the one you are looking for, there are too many. I have a friend whose father collected all books about World War II. They were causing ceilings to sag, and prevented people from moving freely about the house. When the books become more important than enjoying one's home, there are too many.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Flyover land

I mentioned in a previous post that I had been to Iceland many years ago. My family flew Iceland Air to Europe and stopped in Iceland for 3 days. Apparently this stopover thing was a very successful marketing campaign brought to us by an Iceland Air executive. Weiner likens Iceland to Kansas as "flyover" land. Iceland figured out a way to benefit economically by enticing tourists to stay over for a few days. Perhaps Kansas is a state full of happy people, and the rest of the country is just flying over without paying enough attention to it. I have been to Kansas though, and I have not had the same urge to return as I have with Iceland.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Coffee - you can never get too much!

When I wrote the first entry for the first book I read for this project, Reading the OED, (See January 3) I included a count of the number of times coffee was mentioned (24). I do wish I had been keeping track of coffee in A Year in the World. I think Mayes must mention it 24 times per chapter. According to Mayes "Coffee first arrived in Venice around 1570...A coffee bar opened in there must be a thousand". Mayes' husband is always on a quest for the perfect cup of espresso. My family and I will be driving to Wisconsin next month. No doubt we will stop at as many independent coffee shops as we can. This will undoubtably become part of my blog. Maybe we will even start a separate blog for it.

Friday, July 3, 2009


Visiting Portugal in March seems like a good thing. Mayes and her husband certainly ate well, and didn't have to fight other tourists. The descriptions of the meals they ate were absolutely mouth-watering. I was in Lisbon 25 years ago (a side trip from my study in Spain). I don't remember anything I ate. I spent a lot of time on the beach, and saw many dogs. Some appeared dead.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Mayes begins her year in Spain - the first Spanish-speaking country I ever visited. That was in 1984 and I still hope to go back someday. Her time is spent mainly in Andalucia, in the southern part of the country. I was there for a weekend, but my time was mainly spent in the northwest, in Salamanca. Along with about 10 other students from the University of Maryland Baltimore County I was studying Spanish grammar and culture and living with a Spanish family for the summer. Mayes spends some time at the beginning of her trip in Madrid, as did I. She was much more impressed with the Prado museum than I remember being. She has a much better appreciation for portraits than I do, having grown up the daughter of an abstract artist.

When she arrives in Sevilla Mayes and her husband, Ed, are approached by an English woman who lost her purse upon arrival, although she is expecting friends to join her the next day she is stranded in the meantime. Frances and Ed give her some money and a few days later see her extracting money from another tourist couple. They are stunned as "[s]he looks like a librarian or teacher on holiday." Tsk, tsk. Will authors never learn not to dis librarians with outdated stereotypes? (see also May 22 entry). And for more fun with librarians see my pop-culture librarian webpage . At least I can rest assured that if I am ever stranded my bookish look is sure to score me some credibility points if I decide to beg.

As she leaves Granada, Mayes describes the few souveniers she bought "a few small things closely tied to my perceptions of the place." Mayes does seem to have a true sense of the place she visited and appreciates differences. This is a refreshing change from the view of many American tourists who I hear complain whenever they travel and things do not go as expected.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Although I have started a new month of reading, I am not yet done reading The Geography of Bliss, so I will continue to post about that as well. It fits the theme of travel as well as last month's theme of "the perfect place". Frances Mayes book was written a few years before Weiner's and I wonder if Weiner read it. He points out, as she does, that the words "travel" and "travail" have the same root. I checked this out in the Oxford English Dictionary (remember January's theme?) and it appears to be true.

Happiness Study

The Atlantic magazine reports on a long-term study of happiness that started in the 1930s and continues today.

July's theme

The theme for July is travel. I am starting with Frances Mayes' book A Year in The World. Reading the preface, I found out that the book is does not recount a 365-day journey, but rather a collection of journeys arranged by season.

Mayes book comes to me through Interlibrary loan from the Berkshire Atheneaum, Pittsfield's Public Library.