Thursday, December 31, 2009

Year End Wrap Up

Over 10,000 pages

282 posts

33 books

In Julie & Julia, Julie Powell's blog starts out with a simple off-hand comment "If I wanted to learn to cook, I'd just cook my way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking." The genesis of this blog was not much different. I'd read a couple of "year of" books and mentioned at the dinner table how much I enjoyed them, and that they had given me a lot to think about. My then-10-year-old daughter said she didn't understand what I meant by a "year of" book and I tried to explain by using the example of someone deciding to read "year of books" for a year, and then I thought, hey, that could be me, and so here I am winding up the year.

Reflection is an essential element of memoir. The types of books I intended for this project, those in which the author chose a year in which to try something different, do an experiment, and write about it include an epilogue type section in which they look at the ways the changed, however expected or unexpected. I don't have any life altering things to share here, but that is not to say I haven't changed over the course of the year. I am pleased to say I started a project and saw it through to its completion. I intended to read two books per month on a particular theme, and write about them, and so I did. I have tried in the past to keep diaries and journals, and have set them aside in short order. In creating this blog, and making it public, I felt an obligation to keep it up. Bridgewater State College has a Writing Across the Curriculum network, of which I am a member. The more one writes, the better a writer one becomes and so I have felt that I should try to write more myself. Public writing makes one vulnerable and I was quite aware that some posts were not as good or interesting as others, but it was the writing itself that was important. Writing about reading also helped. I knew when I was reading a book that was not as good as it could have been, and I knew when I was reading a really good book. And I took a few moments to think about why I liked or disliked a particular book so much, and this helped me to become a better writer as well. As regular readers know, about halfway through the year I started reading some of the books out loud to my husband, James. He mentioned that one common element the books had is a section in which the writer has to get through some difficult thing in order to acheive the goal they set out (Julie Powell and aspic; Simon Majumdar and his awful train trip through Mongolia). Was there such a thing for me this year? I read a few books I didn't enjoy very much, and probably would have put down were it not for my "project," but I am glad I read even these for the reason mentioned above. Another common element in these books is a section on "cheating" - a place where the writer broke the rules (this is especially true for the "not shopping" books). Did I cheat? I suppose I did. One of the "dog days" book was really classified as fiction, although based on real events. And two of the "back to school" books covered considerably less than a year's time. I bought one of the books (Mass Casualties) new without trying to get it elsewhere. I did cover this confession in my November 13 post, and still have no regrets about it.

James and I rediscovered the joy in reading together. It forced us to stop and take some time for each other. The books we picked were funny, and so we had plenty of opportunities to laugh together. If I have one sage piece of advice to offer readers for the year this is it: Read with someone. It will help you connect with them in ways you didn't know.

I will also say that many of the books did make me thougtful. Rebekah Nathan's book helped me to become a better teacher, and after reading Plenty I bought an "egg share" through my CSA so that I could add another local food to my diet. I am somewhat less cynical about religion after reading Jacobs, and Cohen's books.

I thank all who read my blog and especially those who posted. Reading comments from authors, and others with connections to the books were especially thrilling to this librarian. This is my last post for this blog. In 2010 I will start a new "year of" project "Celebrating the States" in which I will honor each of the 50 states through movies, food, and books. I hope all will join me. I have another recently started blog The Bridgewaters Project. This blog celebrates all things called Bridgewater.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Wrapping up A Year without "Made in China"

One of my early memories is pretending to mend a hole in stuffed dog made of cheap vinyl with a plastic toy sewng machine. In so doing I managed to make the hole bigger and also noticed that both toys said "Made in Japan". And then I started noticing "everything" said "Made in Japan" and most of it seemed pretty shoddy. I even remember seeing a news program for children "In the News" that explained in 3 minutes how hard the Japanese worked to send exports to other countries. I never see "Made in Japan" on anything anymore. It all says "Made in China" now. Sara Bongiorni and her family set out on New Year's Day 2005 to see if they could make it through 12 months without buying anything "Made in China"

Bongiorni certainly underestimated her very young children "...the kids at one and four, are too little to know what they are missing. Can you imagine the howls if they were teenagers?" she says to her husband, Kevin. She discovers just how loudly four-year-olds can howl when denied the appropriate Halloween decorations. And also just how fickle they are once said decoration makes it into the house on a technicality. In Sold Out! Llewellyn simply left his wife and two teenagers out of his experiment, he was the only one who swore off buying for a year. In Not Buying It Judith Levine and her partner deal with the child issue by not having any. Levine points out that she is not sure she could have done her experiment if children were a factor. Adults can make do with last year's shoes, but kids sometimes outgrown a pair a season.

Cheating is a common theme in the "year-of/stunt genre". Almost all of them set out rules, and have a chapter or section on "cheating". The Bongiorni's have all kinds of exemptions about Chinese products entering their homes: gifts don't count; hand-me-downs don't count; anything they already have doesn't count. Even so, they have a greater "cheating" list than any of the other books I read because what they discover is that to live in society as we know it, we rely heavily on China. Even when they wanted to make or build something themselves, or simply repair something rather than replace it with something "made in China" they discover that often the pieces and parts they need are made in the forbidden country. However, they also discover what we here in New England call "good old fashioned Yankee ingenuity - make it last, make it do, or do without". Coffee maker breaks? (gasp) - boil water and run it through a filter. TV on the fritz? - read a book!

Christmas presents its own set of problems, since virtually all toys are made in China. Using the gift exemption and spending a lot of money on expensive toys made elsewhere they manage to have a fine Christmas. Bongiorni thinks quite a bit about the gifts her husband buys for her: "soap and Canadian office supplies". While she doesn't immediately see the romance of these gifts the bigger picture becomes clear. They are quite romantic. Kevin had to put a lot of thought into what he could get for her that wouldn't come from China. And he did all of this after he "spent the better part of a year in ripped shorts and flip flops."

True romantics know that real gifts are not given on gift giving occasions. They are given everyday. Once the receiver and the giver realize this they will find themselves in a relationship that transcends others. Take a minute everyday to thank your mate for everything they do for you.

Wrapping up Julie & Julia

Julie Powell was more worried about having to eat eggs when she first started her project than she was about having to eat brains. I don't think aspic even occured to her at the time, yet she forged ahead, plunging headlong into a project that no amatuer chef had ever gone before. It is just this that made her project so fascinating. She didn't skip recipes that would seem too gross, and she set a deadline and stuck to it. When she fell behind due to bathroom mishaps, or loss of water, or maggots (yes, maggots!) she figured she would just have to make up for lost time, rather than adjusting her deadline. I think some of my students could take a lesson from her. The deadline is firm, everything else must adjust. That being said, I can't even imagine taking on something like she did even though I've already eaten eggs, and brains, and I have a bigger kitchen and a dishwasher (I mean an automatic one, not my husband). I do have something she has though, which would allow me to undertake just about any project I put my mind to - a supportive husband.

Thanks, James. I love you.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A sad change to my profile

The "about me" section of my profile indicates that I have a dog, a rabbit and fish. Yesterday our sweet bunny, Niki, died. She is buried in our backyard.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Say it isn't so

Well, it's a good thing Julie Powell inspired a whole new generation of French chefs. According to this New York Times article there is a dearth of good French restaurants in the city. Those of us who live in and around Bridgewater, Massachusetts are used to not having good French restaurants and know we will just have to get our own copies of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and fix up our own helpings of haute cuisine.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

New Book

I finally got a copy of A Year Without "Made in China" by Sara Bongiorni after my second Interlibrary loan attempt. This copy comes to me by way of the Snow Library in Orleans, Massachusetts. I've got nine days before the end of the year. I should be able to finish it in time.

For a preview see this video.

Selling Out - Wrapping up Sold Out!

I guess all us baby boomers do it at some point, selling out, I mean.

Since James and I were born at the tail end of the baby boom (1963 & 1964 respectively) we were among the last to do it. The picture is us in 1986 (it only looks like 1968!) back when we tread lightly on the earth because we couldn't afford to do otherwise. And even though we drove a complete pig of a vehicle - a 1970 International Scout (James, correct me if I'm wrong on the year) we couldn't afford to drive it anywhere. Idealists? You bet! We were out to save the world from itself. We spent most of the first ten years of our marriage with one or both of us in graduate school. Young liberals in love. To say money was tight is an understatement. I once got mad at James because he had an evening snack of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich after we'd already had dinner, and I was worried that we would run out of food before the rent came due. April is not the cruelest month - it's February which has the fewest days before you have to come up with rent again. I remember thinking I would never take a plane trip again because I couldn't imagine ever being able to afford one again.
Like Llewellyn we are now solidly "middle class". Of course most people think they are middle class, even those like Llewellyn who have two homes, and three television sets, and nine computers. I would like point out that we have only one home, one television set and two computers and be a bit holier than Llewellyn, but the fact is we could probably afford to have as much as he does if we really wanted to. Unlike Llewellyn though, we have about as much job security as one can have - James and I both have tenure at a State College. Llewlleyn never knows where his next job is coming from. James and I moved a lot in the first 10 years of our marriage. It was always an adventure. Twelve years ago we came to Bridgewater to take a job, our daughter was born here, and now the prospect of picking up and moving somewhere else is just too adventuresome for us.
I am intrigued by those who give up spending. I have been following the "My Year Without Spending Blog" and have read of others who went on a year-long spending fast. I imagine I could do it, too, as I actually hate to shop so it wouldn't be much of a challenge for me. I like to think, though, that I make my purchases with some thought behind them. Lists of thing to be purchased are made, and things are removed from them, or postponed indefinitely. I am glad to do this so that when I want to build a bathroom on the second floor of my house, for instance, I can pay for it without borrowing. I also know that no matter how much I attempt to lessen my footprint on the earth, there are "necessities" that come with living in America that most of the world can not even dream of having.
If, like me, you think you are middle-class check out the How Rich Are You? website. You will probably find, as I did, that you are really filthy, stinking rich.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Meta blogging

One of my very first posts (January 3) told of my favorite prefix "meta". There I used it to discuss "meta-reading" (reading about reading). I am thinking that with Julie Powell's book I have come full circle, and am now "meta blogging" (or blogging about blogging). Powell uses the prefix herself when writing about blogging about a phone call she received about her blog. "Here I was writing my blog, when I get a phone call from a major media outlet concerning their desire to do a piece about me and my blog. Which phone call I immediatey proceeded to write about in my blog. This is when it occured to me that things were starting to get a little meta."

Jumble sales-again

Something that I occasionally post about is how often I learn a new word in one book, and then see it in other books. Today's word is "jumble sale":, which I also discussed in my July 24 post. Llewellyn uses it in Sold Out! In my earlier post I guessed it was a British term, but both the authors (Mayes and Gilbert) who used it previously were from the U.S., although they were writing about traveling. Llewellyn is from the U.K. and in fact there are quite a few things in the book that I am not familiar with. He mentions quite a few television shows that I've never heard of. This books was published in the U.K. I suppose that other books I've read by British authors are edited for a U.S. audience when they are released here. I don't think this one has been released in the U.S. yet, which is why the ILL department had trouble finding a copy. Anyway, has anyone heard of a jumble sale?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sold Out!

Sold Out: How I Survived a Year of Not Shopping by Robert Llewellyn has finally arrived. I requested it from Interlibrary loan, and it turned out to be a pretty scarce book, so it was purchased through the ILL department and it will go into the circulating collection at Maxwell Library when I am finished reading with it. There are two people already on the waiting list!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The value of a library goes beyond money

I get most of my national news from National Public Radio, and the New York Times. Local news I get mostly from the Brockton Enterprise newspaper. When I have links to news stories on this blog I usually link to NPR or the Times. Today I will buck the trend and include a rare link to the Enterprise. Friday's editorial was about the value of a public library, which goes far beyond its monetary worth. My wonderful husband, James, was the first to comment on the Enterprise website about this piece.

December Internet Review of Books

This month's edition of the IRB features a short review of The We Generation by yours truly and a review of Mass Casualties by Adelene Ellenberg.

I am still waiting for either of the books I requested for December to come from Interlibrary loan. I am begining to wonder if I will need purchase them. It would be truly ironic if I had to buy the books I am reading during my "not shopping" themed month.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

What else I read - Mass Casualties

Last month I wrote that I met Michael Anthony, a student at Bridgewater State College and author of Mass Casualties: A Young Medic's True Story of Death, Deception and Dishonor in Iraq. Anthony's "year of" book is not a stunt, like so many of them are (not that I'm knocking the stunt books, I clearly love them). The year he wrote about was decided for him, by the army, and so he writes in his memoir how a person copes when virtually all of his decisions are made for him. Sometimes he submits to the will of the army, other times he tries to find a way to push back, and in at least one case he finds allies who assist him at deception. At the end of the year he is concerned at how he will cope with returning to the "real world" after having had all major decisions made for him, and never having to worry about having food to eat or a place to sleep (he always had a "place" to sleep, but had no end of problems actually falling asleep there and became addicted to cigarettes, over the counter drugs, and prescription drugs all in the name of sleep). It is of course ironic that he also realizes that it was this year of being away that "made [him] a man", even as his decisions were made for him. It is of course ironic that soldiers fight for freedom even as they give theirs up, a fact which Anthony becomes quite intimate with.

Sexy food - Quail in Rose Petal Sauce

Anyone who has read Like Water for Chocolate (one of my favorite books), or seen the film (one of my favorite movies) undoubtably remembers the classic scene in which Gertrudis eats the meal of quail in rose petal sauce prepared by Tita for Pedro and becomes the vessel, through which all of the passion Tita put into the creating the dish, that only running off naked with a soldier on horseback can quench.

Julie Powell mentions that seeing the movie with her husband (then boyfriend) is what prompted her to cook in the first place. She wanted to make that dish for him. (Who wouldn't?) The meal did not turn out as planned. It never even made to Eric's mouth after Powell and her brother gave it a taste test. Powell seems to believe that it was because she did not understand that the recipe was "largely literary, i.e. fictional." However, I have made the dish, twice, and I can attest to the fact that it can be made to be quite delicious, and with the aphrodisiac qualities that made it famous. My recommendation for a perfect Valentine's day date: make the dish together, then watch the movie. I sent this idea to website where you can find the recipe, along with thousands of other romantic ideas.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has created a Commercial-Free Holiday brochure with great ideas for making the holidays less about buying and getting and more about creativity and fun.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Gift of the Reference Librarian

Fellow librarian Jill Erikson of Falmouth Public Library shared these two stories in a recent edition of SEMLS (Southeastern Massachusetts Library System) Sightings newsletter about the importance of Reference Librarians.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What else I read - The ubiquitous book

When I mentioned to my friend Korin that I was reading Three Cups of Tea for our faculty book discussion she asked how it was and said that she felt like she didn't even need to read it herself because it was so ubiquitous. I understood what she meant. I hardly go a week without hearing about it. Our church started collecting money for Pennies for Peace after the church book club discussed the book a few years ago, and I have heard author Greg Mortenson's story in countless news sources. The edition of the book I read indicates that it is required reading for senior U.S. military commanders and has been used in hundreds of schools and universities for campus-wide reading programs and selected as the community-wide read in over two hundred communities (the likes of which Bridgewater, Massachusetts will join in the spring.) Ubiquitous indeed. Nevertheless, I recommend that one reads the book for oneself. There is much more to the story than one can learn from disconnected news stories, or interviews.

Not Spending and the Holidays

It is a hard thing not to spend during the holiday season. I've noticed that every year though the news media report the same types of stories throughout November, December and January. We can always count on a pre-Thanksgiving story about how retailers are hopeful that consumers will, well, consume this year and that year end figures will be good. "Good citizens" know that buying things will help the economy and the new media join in with the advertisers to let us know that we will surely miss out if we don't shop on Black Friday. We see pictures of folks lined up in the cold and dark to save a few dollars. Throughout December we are reminded that the retailers are "disappointed" (in us?) Then inevitably will be the January stories about how many people are maxed out on credit cards and we need to be more careful about our own spending.

I stopped (most) Christmas shopping years ago. Children (my daughter, and nieces and nephews) are the only ones on my list any more. My husband and I decided long ago that if there was something we wanted that we could afford we would simply buy it for ourselves and not worry about trying to find the right present during "gift giving" occasions. Some may find this unromantic, but it is not. Unromantic is buying a last minute gift that your partner won't use. We realize also that we give each other gifts of ourselves every day when we cook dinner, take out the trash, drive the carpool, and do the dishes. Acknowledging these gifts is an especially romantic gesture. They are things that are too easily taken for granted. As far as the rest of my family is concerned, well, they got over the fact that I don't buy them gifts. And when they realized they were off the hook for getting me anything they were happy to let the whole thing go. There were a few who seemed steamed over the fact that I didn't get them anything, even though I was up front about it, and told them not to get me anything either. I can understand that they didn't believe I was serious, and it only took one holiday season for them to see that I was.

For more ideas on simplifying the holidays see this website from the Center for the New American Dream.

December's theme

My theme for December is "Not Shopping". I have requested two books from Interlibrary loan (A Year Without "Made in China": One Family's True Life Adventures in the Global Economy by Sara Bongiorni and Sold Out: How I Survived a Year of Not Shopping by Robert LLewellyn) but I have not yet received either one. In the meantime I can recommend Judith Levine's book Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping. Her book was one of the first "year of" books I read and helped to inspire this project. Levine and her partner find a lot of free things to do in New York (including going to the library!) and find at the end of the year that their outlook has changed. You can read Levine's blog here.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Wrapping up Plenty

The year is 2003 - I am helping my kindergartener in the bathtub when she asks "When will I be able to bring 'Lunchables' to school for my lunch?" "Never" I respond. "Why not" she wants to know. And so she learns more than probably any five-year olds wants to know about over-packaging, plastics, and waste. I do not even go into the high fat content and poor nutritional value. She is thoughtful for a moment then says "Well Karen's mother is stupid. Karen always brings lunchables to school." So, the last thing I need is for my daughter to tell someone in her class that her mother is stupid and I explain that she's not stupid, she just hasn't thought about things the same way we have. We try to live our lives by healthy and happy example, and hope that others see how beneficial our lifestyle is, not only to ourselves, but to others as well. and perhaps they will learn by our example. She accepts this and doesn't mention lunchables again.

When I read books like Smith and MacKinnons I am grateful that people like them will take on the burden of setting an example for people like me. I doubt I will ever go so deep into the local eating culture that I attempt what they did, but they have certainly taught me that I can do a lot more with the the harvest provided by my New England location. This summer I learned that I like beets. But I didn't use the tops. Maybe next year I will make an effort to find out how to prepare those. My local farmer provides recipes with my CSA and I have two shelves worth of cookbooks in my kitchen.

Like some of the other authors I've read this year, Smith and MacKinnon are changed by their experiment. They are not salivating as they await the first of spring so they can gorge on all they have missed out on. They have learned to enjoy what has become their diet, and have their usual breakfast the next morning. Although they gradually add back in some of the things they were missing to their diet, they maintain their focus on local foods. Additionally, the local food experiment added something new to their diet - meat. They started out by adding fish to what had been a purely vegetarian diet, and by the end of the year they eat red meat for the first time in almost two decades. What they have learned is to honor all food. They know the farmer who provided the beef, and have a lot more confidence that the meat does not contain harmful bacteria than they would had they bought it at a grocery store. For more information on "feedlot" beef read this story from the New York Times.

Find out more about Smith and MacKinnon's local eating project at

Frequently used memoir words.

In my November 27 post I marveled at seeing the word "boustrophedon" in two different books I read for this project. Eric Weiner spoke of eating harkl (rotten shark) in Iceland, and although I had never heard of it before then, the word came up again in Eat My Globe. On July 28 I mentioned that I had come to a place in both books I was reading (Weiner's and Gilbert's) about ashrams (another word I had never heard before). Harkl and ashram also both appear in Plenty - they actually appear on facing pages.

How to lose weight

Early in Smith and MacKinnon's local-eating experiment MacKinnon remarks to Smith "I think your ass fell off." She retorts "so did yours". Accoring to "Real Age" one of the best ways to lose weight is to "eat green" - local food with few ingredients. To find out more see this tip.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Two movies about local food

Yesterday I found out about a movie called The Garden about a community garden in Los Angeles and what the gardeners did when it was threatened to be closed. See the trailer at Later this month James and I will be going to Plimoth Plantation to see Fresh.

A new cookbook for locavores

For those so inclined to try an experiment like Smith and MacKinnon's, local ingredient guru Terry Walters has written a cookbook for you: Clean Food.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Internet Review of Books

The Holiday Gift Issue of the Internet Review of books is here! Gift ideas from many genres and a variety of ages are included. Scroll down to the cooking section for my suggestion.