Tuesday, March 28, 2017

I always feed sophisticated ...

... while reading a book by Donna Leon.

Commisario Guido Brunetti and his wife Paola are elegant. Their family sits down to lunch every day. They even have wine at lunch

Donna Leon's prose is elegant. Her detailed description of Venice, Italy; traveling along the canals; looking at the architecture are all elegant.

While I read the books (the one I just finished is Quietly in their sleep), the ambiance begins to permeate my body and I feel elegant, too. I want to sit at a cafe and sip wine; I want to cook and serve elegant meals; I want to have stimulating intellectual conversations; I relish life.

Despite the fact that there are crimes being committee - usually murder, but lots of other things, too - this series is just plain elegant.

Leon's  descriptions of Venice are so thorough that, before visiting the city, friends of mine read several of her books and took copious notes. They felt they could actually find their way around by following in Guido Brunetti's footsteps.

Italy is a country about which I've heard many good things. Everyone I know who has been there loved it. Perhaps one day I'll have the chance to visit Italy and, specifically, Venice. I'll be sure to read (or maybe re-read) Donna Leon's books so that I know the best places to sit and sip wine and be elegant.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Book: Bland Ambition

If you think that the happenings in Washington D.C. today are anything new and different, reading Bland Ambition by Steve Tally will likely change your mind. It seems that not much has changed in our nation's Capitol since 1789.

Image result for dan quayleThis political satire includes brief biographies of the men who held the position of Vice President of the United States of America. The subtitle reads: From Adams to Quayle - the cranks, criminals, tax cheats, and golfers who made it to Vice President.

Dan Quayle (remember him? He's the one who said he wished he had taken Latin in school so that he could communicate better with the people in Latin America.) is the person who inspired this book. Unfortunately, it was written during the Bush/Quayle administration, so that we don't know Tally's opinion of Al Gore, Dick Cheney, or Joe Biden.

Tally sometimes sacrifices clarity for humor (I wasn't always sure, without doing further research, exactly when an event occurred), but the facts themselves are all accurate. I've read lots of political biographies and Tally's descriptions square with what I know - even if his interpretation is somewhat unique.

I found this book most useful in gaining perspective on Washington politics today. I sometimes worry about our country and it's current atmosphere of anger and vindictiveness. I keep reminding myself and other that we survived the administration of Richard Nixon. It's a relief to know we've survived a whole lot more, too.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Swordfish Plaki

Being a pescatarian (that's a vegetarian who also eats fish - though I do admit to sometimes eating chicken), I'm always on the lookout for fish recipes. I especially look for recipes that are fast and simple so that I can make them after work and still eat at a reasonable hour. I hope they will also be delicious, not only for M and me, but in case we have company for dinner. Many of my friends are really good cooks and I don't want to embarrass myself by serving a blah meal.

This is a recipe I found in the local newspaper. It met the criteria for fast and easy and turned out to be quite tasty. I served it with roasted potatoes.

Swordfish Plaki
2 8-ounce pieces of swordfish
lemon juice
salt & pepper
1 large onion, sliced
2-3 large tomatoes
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 small cinnamon stick
2 Tablespoons fresh dill
1 teaspoon honey or sugar

Wash fish and sprinkle with lemon juice, season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a pan (large enough to hold the fish in one layer) and cook the onion slices for 5-6 minutes. Add tomatoes, parsley, dill and cinnamon stick. Season lightly with salt. Cook gently for 10-15 minutes. Taste and add honey or sugar if it is too tart. Add fish pieces and spoon the sauce over them. Cover and cook gently for 10-15 minutes or until fish is opaque. Serve hot with parsley or dill to garnish.

Bon app├ętit!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Two Women in New York City

book cover of 

Tell Me, Pretty Maiden 

Molly Murphy emigrated from Ireland in the late 1800s under awkward circumstances; she was running away from a possible criminal charge. The landowner's son had tried to take advantage of her and she fought back. Fearing for her freedom and maybe her life, she left.

Now it's the early 1900s and in this seventh novel of author Rhys Bowen's mystery series, Molly (who started a detective agency early on) is very busy going undercover as a street urchin, an extra in a Broadway play, and a mental patient. She has fun and quirky friends that help her get into (and, fortunately, out of) difficult situations.

Reading about Molly and the early days of the city is fun and interesting. The historical details seem accurate. This particular story took place in winter and now I'm looking forward to one that happens in warmer weather.

Image of itemJust a few year later, in the 1920s, Lillian Boxfish arrived in the Big Apple. Of course, it wasn't called that at the time.This is a title that was listed in Wowbrary - a service to which the my local Public Library subscribes. Every Wednesday morning I receive an email that lists the new books, DVDs, etc. that have arrived at the library and I can reserve whichever one(s) interests me. This one did.

The story takes place on New Year's Eve (winter again) 1984 and 85-year-old Lillian has a dinner reservation at her favorite neighborhood restaurant. Lillian loves to walk around New York, even at night, even when it's cold, and she ends up taking a long stroll from the Murray Hill area where she lives to Wall Street, to Penn Station and ultimately back home. Throughout the evening, she remembers different roles of her life (career woman, friend, wife, mother, ex-wife, mental patient, and many others) and has some unusual adventures along the way. This book is a delight to read.

Take a walk with Lillian sometime soon. You won't regret it.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Letter L

As I continue on my journey through the alphabet in search of duplicates in the MassCat catalog, I recently reached the letter L.

The duplicate report sorts oddly, however; it ignores initial articles regardless of language. Therefore, the first several titles began with L' or La. I've come to understand the sorting idiosyncrasies of the Koha system and I just proceed as usual: I enter a distinctive word in a keyword search, sort by title A-Z, and look for things that need fixing.

The Koha system in general and the MassCat system in particular were upgraded a few weeks ago. Besides a slightly different display, which I like, there is a major difference that makes my job easier.

When merging duplicates, the procedure is to highlight all possibilities and put them into a separate file, a list called RecordsToMerge. They are still available to view in the main catalog, but in this other file I can view them side by side. Then I go into that list, choose the two I want to look at, check carefully to make sure they are, in fact, exact duplicates, and merge them. The operative word in the previous sentence is "two"; I can only look at two records at a time. Usually that is not a problem, but sometimes there are three, four, or even more possible duplicates. In those cases, I choose two, view them, merge; choose two more, view them, merge, etc.

With the new upgrade, I can now choose ALL of the records at the same time. I can only see two at a time side-by-side, but it's easy enough to select which one I think is the best (because the new display gives me more information), and then compare that record with the next, and the next, and the next, by clicking on the different tabs. When I'm sure they are all exactly the same, I click on the "merge" button and - poof! - they are now one.

This feature is especially helpful with the collection of a member library that previously used a very simple online catalog. These simple catalogs required each item have its own bib record even if it was a 20 volume set of an encyclopedia. The records read "Blah, blah encyclopedia, vol.1", "Blah, blah encyclopedia, vol.2", "Blah, blah encyclopedia, vol.3",etc.

What I can do now is find a good record for the 20 volume set, overlay the record for volume 1, put all 20 records into the RecordsToMerge list, and merge them into one record with the click of the mouse. Then I get to record 19 merges on my statistics sheet. That's the best part!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

My Beatnik Phase

My first introduction to Beatniks was the character Maynard G. Krebs from the television show The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. He was funny, had a goatee, spoke using the Beat vocabulary, played the bongos - in short, did the things Beatniks were supposed to do.

I was a little young to be a Beatnik myself. I was only 9 when Allen Ginsberg's poem Howl was published. I was sort of a Hippie and I've always had a curiosity about Beatniks. While perusing the MassCat catalog looking for things to fix, I noticed the book Women of the Beat Generation and promptly requested it. It contains 40 short biographies of women who wrote during the 50s and early 60s and excerpts of their poetry and prose. Some of the women were wives (e.g. Carolyn Cassady) or daughters (Jan Kerouac) of notorious Beatniks. One was Diane di Prima. I liked her writing style and was curious to learn more about her. I then requested Memoirs of a Beatnik. The book is fiction, though based on her life. It is also pornographic. I would not classify it as erotica as it's too blatant, but it is well written.

The main character, who has the same name as the author, dropped out of college at 18 and moved to Manhattan where she had a lot of sex, smoked a lot of marijuana, spoke using the Beat vocabulary, lived communally, had a lot of sex, sometimes lived on the streets, wrote poetry, and had a lot of sex. While the stereotype of the Beatnik is dressed in black, Diane usually word blue jeans.

As I was reading her book, I kept wondering about the difference between Beatniks and Hippies.They appear to have a lot in common. Both were anti-establishment, supported free speech and free love, listened to music and used a lot of drugs.

The differences, I think, are mainly in style. Color was important to Hippies, the more the better. And bell-bottomed pants, the wider the better. Music was important to both. Beatniks preferred jazz while Hippies liked rock. The instrument of choice was also different. Beats banged on bongo drums while Hippies played the guitar. The Beat movement was based around literature, both poetry and prose. Hippies  sometimes read the psychedelic literature of Carlos Castaneda, but writing didn't have the same importance.

To round out my recent Beatnik experience, I borrowed the DVD Howl. This docu-drama is about Ginsberg's poem, the obscenity trial that followed, and interviews with Ginsberg (played by James Franco). The scenes flip back and forth from one to the other.

I have never read On the Road by Jack Kerouac, but that's on my list. How can I consider my Beatnik phase complete without reading that Beat classic?

As I said earlier, I was sort of a Hippie. I wore the clothes and the long, straight hair, smoked my share of marijuana and participated in other Hippie doings. Sometimes I think "Those were amazing and exciting adventures" and other times I think "How could I have done that?" Overall, financial security and basic comfort was important to me; I always had a job and an apartment.

I remember in the early to mid 1970s going to see the musical Hair which was playing at UMass. The music was great as were the costumes. And the cast "dropped trou" at the end. I also remember afterward thinking the play felt very dated. The Hippie years were over.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Self-Help Books

It was the tagline "Letting go of bad habits, guilt, and anxiety around food" that led me to request the book Food Freedom Forever by Melissa Hartwig.

Like many people, I respond to life's stresses by eating. When I'm happy, I want to celebrate with a hot fudge sundae; when I'm upset, I want to console myself with a box of chocolates. And when I'm eating something that tastes good, I don't want to stop, even when I'm no longer hungry. Though I've been better in recent years, food cravings can be an issue for me.

I'm not sure I'm ready to undertake the Whole30 eating plan, but reading this book gave me a lot of insight and many ideas about approaching eating. On the Whole30 program, for 30 days you "reset" your metabolism by totally eliminating grains, legumes, soy, alcohol, dairy and added sugar. "Added sugar" includes honey, maple syrup, steevia, etc. but the sugar that is naturally included in fruit is okay. After 30 days (there is some flexibility in this plan; if you feel like you need 35 or 40 days, do it), you re-introduce one of the food groups (e.g. non-gluten grains) for a few days and observe how you feel. Did your skin break out? Do you have gas? A headache? More energy? If so, your body is reacting to this food. Take notes. Stop that food and re-introduce another, perhaps dairy, and observe your body and mood again. Keep doing this with all of the individual food groups - which will take another 30 days or so. Now you have a good idea of how your body reacts to different foods and to different amounts of a food. The author has a gluten sensitivity, but has found she can eat ONE cupcake. More than one does terrible things to her gut. Other foods may have no effect one way or another.

Once you know the effect different foods have on your body and mood, you can make wise decisions on what to eat and how much to eat because you know what will happen. And because you're eating mostly natural foods with no additives, food tastes different, tends to be more satisfying and there are fewer cravings for sugar. Sounds good, but does require at least a two month commitment.

As I said in the beginning of this post, I'm not ready for this program yet, but the book itself has a lot of good information and is actually fun to read!

I don't usually read two self-improvement books in a row, but I was caught off guard and the only other book in my "to read" pile was Spark Joy by Marie Kondo. There are several books at the library waiting for me, but given the limited library hours during the holidays, I haven't had a chance to pick them up.

I'm a pretty neat person and don't have a lot of clutter, but I'm always interested in other ideas to keep order in my life. Like Whole30, the KonMari method uses a specific approach. Most people start de-cluttering one room at a time. KonMari says to de-clutter by type of item and begin with clothes.

Bring all of your clothes into one place; then you can see exactly what you have. That makes sense. Most of my clothes are in the closet next to my bedroom, but I have off-season clothes in the closet in the spare bedroom and outer wear in the closet near the front door. Instead of looking for things to eliminate, focus on what you want to keep - which is anything that "brings joy". Take each piece of clothing (she recommends starting with tops), hold it, hug it if necessary, and feel if it brings you joy. If so, keep it. Maybe the article of clothing is worn, it brought you joy once but no longer. In that case, thank it for it's excellent service and let it go. I can truly say that most of my clothes bring me joy.

Like Whole30, there is flexibility in KonMari's program. She recommends hanging clothes in your closet going up from left to right (long stuff on the left, shorter stuff towards the right). I have found a way of hanging my clothes that works well for me. Certain types of clothes are hung together (e.g. long sleeved blouses, short sleeved blouses). When I wear an item and rehang it, or wash an item and rehang it, I put it on the left. That way I know I wore that item most recently. The next time I go to choose a short sleeve blouse, I first go to the right-hand side as that is the item that has been hanging there the longest. If I don't want to wear it, I work my my leftwards. The result is that if something stays on the right hand side and I keep passing it by, it no longer "brings joy" and I seriously consider finding a new home for it.

While Spark Joy was not quite as much fun to read as Food Freedom Forever, I found lots in both books to incorporate into my life. And I actually found the motivation to do a few things I've been putting off.

I think what I like best about both of these books is that 2 young women have found success doing something they like. Both are consultants or coaches of the methods they've developed and both have now written more than one book. I am not an entrepreneur, but I'm so happy when I learn what others have been able to accomplish.