Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Week in Review

Best Research Question:  Why are bananas so cheap?

Best Myth-busting Revelation: Abner Doubleday did NOT invent baseball.

Best Item in the Holds Drawer: A plaid hat for a guy’s girlfriend. “She forgets everything,” he said.

Worst Moment: A student did not realize “TR” meant Tuesday/Thursday and had only been attending classes on Thursdays. 


Best Overdue Book Title: Riding Dirty on I-95

Worst Summer Decision by the Jolly Librarian: To read a biography of every U.S President. (Oh, James Madison, do something. Have a duel. Pick up a shady lady in a tavern. Get your mind off the Constitution for just one page!)


Summer Bucket List: Recycle, Reuse, Give Away, or Just Throw Out

One of the items on my to-do list each summer is to get rid of some stuff. For some reason, the hot, steamy weather makes me want to declutter and have breathing space around me. So our assignment this week was to get something out of our houses. Here are our reports:

Colette: I’m pretty sure that taking out the kitchen trash doesn’t count…so, I failed miserably this week.  I didn’t throw away or recycle a single thing.  Nearly all my belongings are in storage, languishing, until I buy a house.  I am pretty much stuff-less.  I have about three things in my possession.  If I throw away one of those three things, I’ll only have two things.  Eeek.  Two things.  I’m a grown-up; I need at least one more item than I can carry in two hands.  When I get into a living situation where I have access to four things, I promise to throw away or recycle at least one of them. 

Emily: A couple weeks ago I cleaned out my kitchen and took any select kitchen gadgets that I had multiples of to Goodwill. I once read that if a kitchen gadget only serves one purpose, you shouldn’t buy it. I can’t say that I always adhere to this rule, but I kept it in mind as I sifted through my drawers. I discovered that cheese graters are a particular weakness of mine. I’d guess my kitchen is stocked with five different graters post kitchen gadget cleansing though no two shred the same size/type of cheese. As I see it. any well stocked kitchen should have multiple cheese graters – fat cheese, skinny cheese, a microplane, a box grater, etc. I still managed to get rid of two graters, a rusted chef’s knife, several cheese knives, kitchen towels, basting brushes, a napkin holder, and kitchen thermometers (among other things). I was unable to part with the melon baller or the apple slicer, because, let’s face it, when you need a melon baller, nothing else will do.  

Pam: WHAT?! We were supposed to get RID of something? Um, I got that mixed up and instead added quite a nice assortment of things into my home from a spree of yard sales I hit on Saturday. Does that count? Well, then, let me continue…. For only $10 each, I bought 2 wonderful mahogany hard chairs with soft seats with a harp carved into the back of them. Also, 1 pair of Bass ($3) sandals, 1 great lap desk ($2), a frog gigger—yes, a frog gigger, BUT I use it as a garden prod to loosen up the dirt before watering –works Wonders! And, last but not least, I picked up another nice load of big rocks for my yard, bought a clematis off the sale shelf at Home Depot for only $4, and got a half truckload of mulch from the Co-op store off Dickerson Road. This week I’ll look for something to throw out…hum, perhaps that raccoon could be caught and relocated that keeps coming around making my cat growl…Happy Summer Everybody!

Jolly Librarian: I have a strange quirk. I don’t like summer shoes. I mean, I don’t like them on anyone. Once it gets warm enough that I have to put my boots away, I am forced to wear what I consider ugly footwear until it gets cold again. Since I think all summer shoes are ugly, I have a difficult time recognizing which ones might be truly hideous. Therefore, every May when I open the container that stores my off-season shoes, I am faced with several pairs that I pray were put there during the winter by shoe gremlins and I did not actually go out in public in them the previous summer. Which brings me to the white shoes in my closet. I bought them last summer while I was planning my trip to Italy because they looked comfortable for walking. They were not. They also make my average-sized feet look kind of like giant concrete blocks. So they have to go. A pair of black shoes are also going; they are some sort of hybrid between sandal and shoe, too heavy for skirts. They would look fine with dress pants, but I don’t have any summer dress pants. They too are gone. The good news: Only four months to go until boot weather!


Getting Better: Strive for Mastery of Each Skill

In the books I’ve been reading about developing skills, one idea comes up over and over again. That is to drill on the basics until they are perfect. It is just too hard to build on imperfect or half-learned basics. Math professors Edward Burger and Michael Starbird, authors of The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking state that most math professors say that students have trouble in calculus “because they don’t know the basic mathematics they saw in eighth or ninth grade.” You have to master the prerequisite skills before you can hope to do well in one that builds upon them. Burger and Starbird recommend, “In any class, when preparing for you next exam, make sure you can earn a 100% on all the previous exams–if you can’t, then you’re not ready for the test looming in your future.”

Professional athletes and musicians know this. More than once, I’ve read about tennis players, when in slumps, going back to the beginning and practicing and re-mastering the basics. Musicians, I am told, often return to basic chords to perfect them once again. 

Then why are we as students so willing to move on with only partially-learned material under our belts? While 70 percent may be considered passing, it also means that there is 30 percent of the material that you don’t know. And you’re entering the next phase of your course on a less-than-solid foundation. 

Let me give you an example: In my French class, even though I made an A, I was aware that I wasn’t taking the time to learn the gender of each noun. But I was still passing tests, and I just looked up each word when I needed to know the gender on written assignments. Now I’m doing an online program in French, and I have realized that I’m not going to get the adjectives right if I don’t know the noun’s gender. So I’m crashing through the floor of my shaky French foundation. 

Certainly we can never be perfect, and there is nothing wrong in celebrating an A, B, or even C grade if you worked hard to earn it. But to really ensure that you learned the topic, you need to evaluate your the assignment:

  • Work the problems you’ve missed until you have mastered them.
  • Analyze problems in essays. Are you having trouble paraphrasing? Making logical arguments? Are you making the same grammar errors over and over? Then fill in those gaps before the next assignment. 

Think of it as mental athletics if that helps. You got to know the fundamentals before you can win.


Monday Motivator: Everything Has a Cost

I had three pieces of limestone on my desk, but I was terrified to find that they required to be dusted daily, when the furniture of my mind was all undusted still, and threw them out the window in disgust.– Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I sometimes imagine Thoreau, walking around Concord, throwing out these little bits of advice to his neighbors: “Hey, Mrs. Williams, if you didn’t have so many knickknacks, you could think deep thoughts,” or “Hello, Farmer Sam, why are you worrying about feeding your children when your own mind hasn’t been fed?” But since there are no reports of Thoreau being regularly being beaten up by his neighbors, I’m guessing this never happened. Or perhaps his neighbors just taunted him back with something like, “It’s easy to talk about simplifying when you’re having dinner at Emerson’s house all the time!”

Okay, so maybe I’m the only one who goes around imagining what 19th-century authors were doing in their spare time. Still, this is one of my favorite lines from Walden and not only because I can imagine Thoreau physically tossing rocks out the door. Thoreau’s rocks remind me of what economists call opportunity costs: “The cost of an alternative that must be forgone in order to pursue a certain action.”

Opportunity costs come in all shapes and sizes and can easily be overlooked in the excitement of buying something new. We’ve probably all had the experience of buying a car and adding on the Blue Tooth and the satellite radio and five or six other extras because the salespeople tell us how wonderful it will be and how easy it is to add them now rather than later. We can so caught up in the mental image of how we’ll look in the top-down model talking on our Blue Tooth that we forget the opportunity costs–that the $3000 more for all the extras might have paid for a trip to New York or made a real dent in a credit card bill or . . . you get the picture.

The same is true for time costs as well. We fall in front of the television and veg out for three or four hours and think nothing of it. But if we consider what we’ve given up to do so, whether it be going for a run, reading a book, playing with our kids, or hanging out with friends, we see that that nightly vegging out starts costing us significant chunks of our lives. 

So from now on when deciding to do or buy something, don’t just see if you have the time or the money, ask yourself what else you’re giving up in order to have this experience or item. Make sure it’s truly worth it.




The Best Moment of the Week

A student was checking out some DVDs, and I noticed Jane Eyre among them.

“Have you read the novel?” I asked.

She nodded. “Oh yes. I love to read.”

“Well you might like The Flight of Gemma Hardy. It’s based on Jane but set in England in the 1950s and 60s.”

She took out a notebook. “Say it again so that I can write it down.”

It’s always good to discover a fellow reader!

The Summer Bucket List: Watch Something Fun

Sometimes the hot, steamy days put you in the mood for sitting in the cool to watch a blockbuster movie or catch up on some television. Here are our recommendations:

Colette: Summer television is a sea of reruns and pap, so it’s the perfect time to see an older show you didn’t see the first time around.  Hands down, one of the best things to ever grace the television screen was an HBO series titled Six Feet Under.  It was created and produced by Alan Ball (who moved on to mastermind True Blood).  It ran for five seasons from 2001 – 2005 and honestly, I’m still mourning its loss, just a little bit.  It was smart and dark and funny and poignant.  Critics thought so too; it won 9 Emmy Awards and 3 Golden Globes in the categories that really count – writing and acting.  It was a true drama, without any reality nonsense like voting people off the show or weight loss make-overs. 

 I highly recommend getting all five seasons, some comfy pajamas, Costco sized snacks and cancel any plans to leave your house until all 63 episodes are under your belt.

If you’d like to get all brainiac with your television viewing, the NSCC Library has an ebook titled Reading Six Feet Under:  TV to Die For.

Emily: Perfect summer time movie: Say Anything

Perfect summer time TV show: the first 15 minutes of Wipe Out (after 15 minutes it’s a bore).

Pam: I have to admit that I’m not much of a TV watcher in the summertime except for Frazier and Chopped, which are both available through the cheapest DISH package, so these would be my recommendations. The only movie I’ve seen in years at the theater is Man of Steel, last Friday night, and at almost $12, plus $4 for my coke and $7.50 for a popcorn, I can’t say it was worth it; it was very over-the-top special effects, noise and plot. Good grief, but sort of touching in a good vs. evil way. To end on a positive note, though, I say Nashville needs to reopen a drive-in so that we can all make a bag of homemade popcorn and go have a fun night out – CHEAP! 

Sally: I recommend the movie Mother Nature’s Child.

Jolly Librarian: In the summer, I like to get whole series on Netflix and then watch them as one long movie. I just finished up the last season of Fringe. Now this is a show that I liked, but by the time I had the last season in hand, I had forgotten some of the complicated plot points of earlier ones. So my recommendation is watch it all at once or take notes. Other shows in my queue include Arrested DevelopmentMad Men, Portlandia, and Vera (a British police procedural).

For summer movies, I love the tried-and-true silly comedies: Ghostbusters, What About Bob, and Men in Black. 

Getting Better: Step Away from the Clock When You Study

The Jolly Librarian has been amongst students her entire working life, so she has probably heard this refrain several million times when there’s a bad grade: “But I worked on this for hours/days/weeks/months!” 

Now I sympathize with those students; it is natural to think of the time put in on any project. But time, while important, can be a most misleading indicator. For example, when I was an undergraduate, my friends and I would go to the library to study so that we could get away from the distractions of the dorm. Once there, it took time to find a table that would seat us all. Then we had to chat for awhile. Then we got down to studying, but there might be some interesting people to watch as they walked in the room. Soon, it was time for a snack. So we went downstairs to the vending machine. The break, which was supposed to be fifteen minutes, often stretched out to thirty minutes or even a hour. Then we returned to our table and got ourselves set up when one of us would surely remember something we’d meant to say on our break but forgot. . . 

If anyone asked, we said that we studied for five or six hours in the library, but a closer analysis would reveal that we were in the library for that time, but only 50% was spent in actual studying.

That’s why most experts recommend setting specific goals for each practice session instead of committing only to a specific amount of time. For example, if you are trying to learn the piano, you can say that you’ll practice for a hour or you can say that you will practice until you can move smoothly from the C to the F chord. (Or, in my case, I will play the tune with my right hand until someone in the house recognizes it as a song.)

This change in approach can be very helpful for reading/writing activities. Most of us know what it’s like for our eyes to move across page after page but to have no idea what a chapter was about after that hour of ‘reading.’ Better options might be these:

  • I will be able to answer the review questions at the end of the chapter.
  • I will be able to summarize each section in a sentence or two.

The same is true for writing assignments. Many folks say they spent hours on a writing assignment when they mean that they agonized over a blank page or screen for most of that time. Instead of saying that you’ll work on a paper for two hours, choose a better goal:

  • I will have a rough draft (no matter how bad) written by the end of this session.
  • I will outline my paper.
  • I will have five sources in hand to show my instructor.

It is true that to learn anything, you have to put in the time. But that’s only a partial truth. It also must be time wisely spent.


Monday Motivator: Revisit Your Failures

Ken Robinson, in the book Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life, notes that, as a child, he thought he wanted to be a famous pianist but then realized that all the really good pianists used both hands. So he moved on to something else. Seriously, he also points out that we often think we’re not good at something when we simply have no evidence to make such a judgment. He says that if we have never seen a living horse, then we have no way of knowing if we’d be good at riding one.

And sometimes, we assume that we’re bad at something when it might simply have been the learning conditions our first time through. For example, I have always assumed that I am bad at geometry, and this very well may be true. However, when I took the class in high school, I was taught by a former coach who enjoyed analyzing the Friday night game with the football players more than teaching class. (And the football players in my class were all good at math and could afford to lose class time in such discussions.) But from that year on, I started acting as if I were bad in math, and I sealed my own fate. (However, I still have fond memories of that teacher for the day that he was passing out papers and told the homecoming queen, “You might be Miss New Hope High, but you’re certainly not Miss Geometry!)

Maybe this is a good week to revisit all those things we’re so sure that we can’t do. Maybe we’ve never tried. (Two weeks ago, I canceled an handyman appointment and changed my front door locks. It took me two hours, several searches on YouTube, and a certain amount of swearing. But I can now get in and out of my front door.) Maybe we never had the opportunity. (Anyone want to join me for a year in France to try the immersion method of learning a language?) Or maybe we messed up the first time we tried. (The incident where I mistook baking soda for baking powder.)

So clear your mind of the things you think you’re bad at, and try one of them anew. You might be pleasantly surprised. 



The Compliment of the Semester!

Monday night, a student came up to me at the reference desk. 

“I graduated last month, but the ceremony was such a blur. So now I’m going by and thanking all the people who helped me get there. May I give you a hug?”

So we hugged. She said, “It took me 22 years to get to this point. But now I’m going to TSU next semester, and I’m ready.”

We chatted for a few more minutes about her goals. Then she leaned in and whispered, “You see that gentleman over there. He’s frustrated about his course shells and thinks he’s going to fail. I told him to ask you guys for help. He said that he was worried that you’d get mad if he asked for help too many times.”

She grinned at me. “I told him that you can’t ask them too many times. They’re always going to be happy to help you.” She said goodbye and went on to her class.

It was one of those moments that, no matter what else has gone wrong, you know that you’ve done something right.

I’ve never been prouder of the library team. 


The Summer Bucket List: Being Creative

“To be creative means to be in love with life. You can be creative only if you love life enough that you want to enhance its beauty, you want to bring a little more music to it, a little more poetry to it, a little more dance to it.” – Osho

One of the nice things about summer is that with longer days and a slower pace, we have the time to do something creative. Or perhaps the warm, long days put us in the mood to get out and do something new. Anyway, our goal for this week was to do something creative (and we each got to define ‘creative’). 

Here are our reports:

Colette: I’m not sure what got into me, but I crafted like it was Christmas this week.  In addition to things I routinely do, like writing and grinding cabochons in my lapidary shop ( I made a pretty cab out of a deep red jasper), I added a couple new tasks to the list.  I typically just pile my finished cabs into a drawer or put them in the attic.  I don’t wear much jewelry and have never gotten interested in turning my stones into jewelry, but this week I turned a piece of lace agate into a necklace. Voila!  Now I can start piling necklaces into a drawer or in the attic.  I also made my dad a Father’s Day card, which I haven’t done since I was a kid.  It turned out well and I think it will make him smile.  Maybe I’ll make him something out of dry macaroni noodles too, and really turn back the time machine.

Pam: I like this one. I am collecting large rocks from along the road and putting them around my trees and certain flower arrangements throughout my yard. It is SO much fun and helps me get exercise and get my mind off things! I will take pictures of my new ongoing adventure! 

Sally: I am creating a sampler for my grandson with his name, date of birth, weight and some nautical symbols on it. I am also creating a presentation about the new MERLOT website for the librarian and the ROCC conferences this summer at ASPU. 

Jolly Librarian: I am writing a series of short stories about characters who all attend the same concert at the Ryman Auditorium one evening. I took one story to my writing group, and I joined a second writing group this week.