Category Archives: thoughts

Libraries Saved My Life Or Why Kindle Won’t Do

When I was growing up, I found refuge in a library. Home was often chaos, and a walk or a bus ride to a library saved me. I escaped to the library building and within the covers of each book I checked out.

I discovered all sorts of books by accident as I wandered the aisles of shelves. I could pull down and examine any number of books at my leisure and take them home for free. Good deal since I had more curiosity than money.

I discovered different cultures. At home, the only place I found culture was on a carton of buttermilk.

One time, I found “The Source” by James Michener and I thought I found the most profound book ever written. Later on, when I found “The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov, I began to scratch the surface of a world of truly great books out there.

The library arranged books in nice, organized  rows on identical shelves. Unlike home where stuff was strewn all over and never put away.

I loved the quiet in a library. Home had loud, senseless drama.

An e-reader has no shelves to wander around. It has no walls, no chairs, no tables. It has no spines to glance at as I meander.  It has no old or new paper smell, nor atmosphere. It is no place.

Even if e-readers existed back when I was young, I would not have been able to afford one. I wish people would wake up to the power of knowledge that a free library offers to even the poorest person. It’s not boring, it’s freeing.

So many people question the value of a library building today.  There is no question in my mind that value exists within those walls. I still go and find gems. I don’t always know what I’m looking for. Sometimes it finds me instead.

The pleasure, knowledge, and peace I have found inside a library will keep me one of its biggest fans. My kind is rare today, I hope I don’t become the last card-carrying member.


The Philosophy of Parakeets

When I was young, a neighbor friend of mine had two parakeets. The family was tired of these birds and since I always enjoyed them, they asked me if I wanted to keep them. I said yes.

These neighbors were German, or I should say they were Americans with German ancestry. They gave the birds German names: Nietzsche and Schopenhauer.

Now those were some complicated names for a kid and a couple of parakeets. My friend’s brother explained that they were named after some kind of philosophers. At the time, that explanation didn’t mean much to me.

The birds kept those names. I spoke endearing little things to Nietzsche and Schopenhauer every day.

I ended up being interested in philosophy. Recently, I read The Birth of Tragedy by Nietzsche and enjoyed it.

It didn’t start out that way. I tried to read it about two years ago and couldn’t get past the language and ideas. But if I put a book down and restart it at a later date, I discovered that not only can I get through it, I often have a good reading experience after all.

The first thing The Birth of Tragedy reminded me of was Camille Paglia. She also wrote extensively about the division between Apollo and Dionysus. And this Nietzsche guy was writing this way before her! How fun. I love to make connections between the past and present.

Also it reminded me of an English professor that taught 19th century American literature. He used to drop philosopher’s names in class in order to illustrate some point. I wanted to know more. I had already read some literature from the 19th century and loved it; his class increased that love. I still reread sections of Moby Dick as if it were scripture by just randomly pointing to a sentence in the book and going wild with the implications and deeper meaning. The 19th century Nietzsche with his deep and dark is right up my alley.

Back to reality. My mother used to force me to call my father. She wanted me to beg him to come back to her even though she divorced him. Between the calls she made and the calls she forced me to make, he was getting in trouble at work. I started to refuse to call him. After one such refusal, she grabbed one of my birds and threatened to kill it if I didn’t call him. She eventually released the bird, and I did not call.

I never knew which bird she grabbed. Was it Nietzsche or Schopenhauer that nearly bit the dust? A question for philosophy.

I must continue my readings.

It Was a Good Idea at the Time: Why I Blog

My friend told me to start a blog. She said everyone has one these days and you’ve got some crazy ideas to write about.

I figured she might be right since I had so many brilliant ideas floating around in my head. It was a shame not to share them with others or at least just get them written down. Yes, set my brilliance free for the universe to enjoy!

Translating those ideas into words on the computer is far more difficult than I imagined.

First I try to capture those floating ideas. I make some quick notes. Then, I start writing out the basic thoughts into sentences. Rough sentences, rough like a jagged rock.


My Jagged Blog
image from

If I thought it would be more like a worry stone, a smooth, polished gem from the start, I was dead wrong.

Unlike the worry stone, my jagged rock blog fills me with stress instead of relieving it. Instead of soothing away troubles, it leaves my fingers a scratched up, bloody mess.

Since I can’t manage a polished gem, I try to write just one nice paragraph. Sometimes I’m happy to write one decent sentence instead.

The Blog I Wantimage from calm

The Blog I Want
image from calm

My great thoughts never come out quite the same as they appeared in my mind when they were unformed and only theoretical. Those ideas were far better roaming about. My problem started when I tried to make them so concrete. If only I could stop falling down and skinning my knees.

My friend encouraged me to blog; I wish she had told me that blogging is bloody work. Yet I keep clawing my way through this rough terrain. I guess it’s not all painful. I’m learning that everyone wants to be a writer, but only a few write well. Who knows, those hard edges may be on the brink of becoming a cool, green, smooth piece of jade.

My Dead Mother-in-Law Got Me Hooked on Craigslist

If American business relied on Americans buying things that they truly needed, American business would be out of business.

When my mother-in-law died, she left a house full of fabric. It was in the attic, it was in the basement, it was in each bedroom. My unscientific guess (by weighing a few containers) was that she left about 6,000 pounds of sewing fabric. She didn’t sew that much or create crafts. She bought the pretty, bright colored fabric when it went on sale only because it was on sale and the colored patterns caught her eye.

I’m sure fabric stores rely on people like my mother-in-law to keep them afloat. If people only bought what they needed, that would mean 5,995 pounds less fabric for this one woman alone.

Just a small sample of the fabric

Just a small sample of the fabric

And she was not alone. Two weeks after she died, the wife of my manager’s neighbor died. She left a houseful of fabric . . . and 15 sewing machines.

An ad on Craigslist helped us get rid of our fabric. One woman came by after most of it had been snatched up for free by many people. She complained that the fabric smelled musty. Well, it was stored in plastic containers for, in some cases, decades. What did she want for free? Right after coming to our place, she was heading off to another house filled with fabric left by another deceased elderly lady.

Before she left, she still grabbed a good amount of our musty fabric and told us she had buckets and buckets full at home. Note: big fabric giveaway going on at her house after her death. What goes around, comes around.

Virtually every house hunter reality show on television has that woman that complains about the small closets in a house. She says, “That closet will only fit my clothes, my husband is on his own.” Or, “That closet will only fit my shoes.” The older houses have minuscule storage space and that same women is shocked to think about how few things people must have owned back then. Huge shoe collection? Not a thing in the past.

Maybe buying stuff gives people a high. Maybe they keep so much stuff because it might be useful someday. Unfortunately, by the time they need that item, it is lost in the other old junk they saved or new stuff they bought.

I blame ubiquitous advertisements. Can anyone get through the day without an ad overload? Everything we look at or listen to sends us an ad for some product or service. One reason I don’t own an e-reader is because of the ads that pop up on them. Sure you can pay more and not get ads, but I’m sure that someday the ads will still come, outright or in a subliminal manner. My computer is probably sending subliminal ads to me at this moment. Paranoia is a land I’m well acquainted with.

Government, along with business, encourages us to keep mindlessly buying. Buying stuff is good for the economy (and not saving is bad for the economy – go figure).

Both rich and poor overbuy. The less wealthy buy cheaper stuff (i.e., 6,000 pounds of fabric) and the wealthy can buy enough expensive clothes to fill a 1,000 square foot home or more. If we lived a dozen lifetimes, we couldn’t wear out so many clothes or sew with so much fabric.

I’m ready to cross my cultural references and throw my shoe at the TV next time someone complains about a “small” 2,000 square foot house with kitchen countertops that are “not granite.”  Then I’ll be in the market for a new TV. I’m part of the problem.

Risk Management Ruined the Christmas Party

The old librarian was pissed at me. I was young, in my early twenties, and made a sarcastic comment on the newly minted Risk Management department at our workplace.

I said that risk management was practically an oxymoron. Risk can only be managed up to a point; beyond which it was impossible.

She lashed out at me for my impertinent remark. The librarian yelled at me for making fun of the highly educated Risk Manager. The intensity of her anger was a shock.

The Risk Management department came into being in the late 1970’s. I’m sure someone else performed the insurance analysis, procurement, and risk assessment before that, but now an entire department became dedicated to it.

So much for the Christmas parties. Before Risk Management, each department head had a liquor cabinet to open up when they entertained other management. Management also invited the staff in during the holidays for a drink.

Christmas parties were stocked with alcohol and people mingled between floors to have a drink and an appetizer. Too much drinking and driving went on back then. Too much drinking and working went on too (or something that resembled work).

I can’t remember how many times I had to help a coworker find a lost car, only to later find out they moved it during lunch and forgot where they parked it.

After Risk Management, the free-range parties and open liquor bottles ceased. Too much liability.

I’m now as old as the librarian that attacked me, yet my opinion has not changed.

I don’t support an unrealistic belief in science that lulls people into a false feeling of safety. Does science provide all the answers to the world’s problems? If the answers aren’t evident, will more research or better rules or laws do the trick?

I concede that some risk can be managed. Crossing the street at a light and looking both ways can reduce the risk of getting smacked by a car (although I have been hyper-vigilant and drivers still nearly hit me as I walk across the street).

And the Risk Manager was right about the fact that on-the-job drinking doesn’t mix with the on-the-job working and the just-off-the-job driving home. On this point, I’ll raise my glass to the Risk Manager that I had once disparaged.

But risk is a future event with no objective existence. Managing risk includes failures and limits to see this future. At some point science must fall back on the imagination, assumptions, or pre-established beliefs in order to do its job; all highly unscientific methods.

Risk is inherent in life and cannot be escaped by finding just the right formula.

Now that I’m old, maybe I should just yell at that young person over there working on that lifelike avatar that will make him immortal. Or wait, maybe I just found the ultimate risk manager?

Disparate Housewives

After my mother died, I rescued her 9 by 7 inch three-ring binder cookbook from her home. Flipping through the pages sent me traveling back in time. I remember the food cooked from the old handwritten pages. Also the recipes she clipped from newspapers and food labels. One of her few pleasures in life was cooking; by rescuing this book I have a positive connection to her.

I also found some odd little household hint clippings in one envelope in the binder. These clippings are brittle and yellow with age.

Household Hints from the Past

This one I certainly wouldn’t share with any of my guests:
If your’re not completely certain about the freshness of cream, beat in a pinch of baking soda. The cream won’t curdle, even when you add it to hot coffee.

Maybe this one was penned by a lawyer and a precursor to the overly obvious warning labels on products today:
Always oil your sewing machine according to the directions in the booklet that came with it and not as you think it should be done.

Due to my lack of artistic ability and fear of injury, probably not this one:
If you’re at all creative you can fashion your own cookie cutters, thereby having designs meaningful to your family. Remove the serrated metal strip from wax paper cartons and bend it into the shape of your choice.

wax paper

wax paper (Photo credit: eraine)

Does anyone own and polish silverware anymore? If you do, here’s a tip:
Once you have the silver polished for the holidays, help it stay bright by placing a stick of white chalk in your silverware chest. It will help retard tarnish.

Now for some uninspiring beauty advice:
Here’s a great exercise to reduce your waist measurement. Place your hands on your shoulders. Bend your knees slightly. Keeping your hips facing forward, twist your upper torso as far as you can to the right and then to the left. Repeat until tired or bored.

This doesn’t sound too easy nor effective:
Use your long-handled sponge floor mop to clean the kitchen ceiling easily and effectively.

Hey this idea may be useful or at least fun to watch:
Q: How can I determine if baking powder is still active?
A: Mix 1 teaspoon baking powder with 1/2 cup water. If mixture bubbles enthusiastically, it’s still good.


Reaction (Photo credit: Hoppo Bumpo (Liesl))

I don’t know how well these vintage household hints translate to the year 2012. Maybe I also rescued a bit of my mother’s sense of humor as well.

Blood and Toys

Three years old on the kitchen floor

Pulling a toy at top speed

Snapping plastic pieces in the air

Clacking colorful shapes together

Too mesmerized by play.

Going somewhere.

The angry red jacket

One arm in, drop toy

Soon ready to go.

Zip zipper onto neck flesh

Angered by this business of childhood

A bandage to cover the pain

Out the door.