Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Quotophiles

Our quotation for this week: 

When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself.–Tecumseh

Colette: I am truly thankful for the same things for which most people are thankful – good health and the love and support of family and friends.  Those are the only things, at the end of the day, which truly matter.  I’m also thankful my son is soaring, out in the world and away from the nest. All in all, I have led a pretty cushy life, and I thank the universe, often, for that.   On a lesser note, I’m also thankful for Ben and Jerry, heated bed pads, a reliable car, the sweetest dog this side of the Mississippi and strong coffee.

Emily: It’s a given that most people are thankful for the three f’s: family, friends, freedom. Therefore, I’d like to recognize some of the oft forgotten things that help make Thanksgiving possible:

  •  Turkey: Let us be thankful the pilgrims weren’t whalers, so that Thanksgiving create not an ethical quandary.
  • Butter: Let us be thankful for the foundation of every Thanksgiving side dish.
  • Zantac : Let us be thankful it works fast, lasts longer.
  • Splendid Table’s euphoric Thanksgiving episode: Let us be thankful for Lynne Rossetto Kasper.
  • The National Dog Show: Let us be thankful Great Aunt Martha can’t tear herself away.
  • Tryptophan: Let us give thanks for a peaceful Thanksgiving afternoon.

 Pam: It takes me only one second to know what I am most thankful for: My mom still being here with me. It has been one rough year. We all struggle, I know, with personal conflicts and sadness the older we get. But this year has been particularly tough. I flew home to be with Mom in the hospital back in the early summer when I was informed that she had gone into total renal failure. I noticed while there that she was having trouble putting the merest of thoughts together. After two weeks there and her kidneys now fully functioning, she was sent to a rehabilitation center to help rebuild her strength, but her mind seemed to go farther away. With no explanation for her confusion, within days she could no longer feed herself or form sentences. I am thankful for so many things, but perhaps the five most important things I can cut-to-the-chase and say here are:  I am thankful #1. that my mom is back to her ‘real self’, (and not the ‘sweet, little, old, confused lady” the nurses all thought was her true personality), and has a good chance to be around for many years to come. – BECAUSE #2. My co-worker and friend, Colette Strassburg’s sister, Gina, one of NSCC’s 2 yr. nursing graduates, actually made the correct diagnosis when she used her critical thinking skills and stated to Colette that, “It sounds like she has too much ammonia in her blood”, and Colette then shared this with me, and my sister then had the doctors test her for this. She was INSTANTLY brought back to her right mind when this was addressed! #3. My sister and Mom have grown closer throughout this ordeal, and a deeper healing has taken place. #4. Mom is eating nutritiously and taking terrific care of herself after such a scare. What MORE could I possibly be thankful for? #5. The small family that I cherish so much is going to spend Thanksgiving together. I am so, so grateful to have them with me.

Sally: I am thankful for my parents being in good health, my husband, son and his family, and for my health.  If you what to get a smile on your face check out the app “Smile Epidemic”

Jolly Librarian: While this is a year I will not be sorry to see the back of, there are still many things for which I am grateful: my family, my friends, my home, my job, my colleagues, and memories of better times. I am also grateful for the following: ice cream, any episode of Mad Men where Pete Campbell gets his comeuppance, the fact that Kate Atkinson is still writing wonderful novels, and the leftover desserts that Librarian Emily brings to work on Mondays.


Getting Gritty: Build Your Resiliency Skills

 Fall seven times and stand up eight– Japanese proverb

There is a basic fact to be faced in working towards a goal: There will be failure. After that failure, you decide to give up or keep going. That’s what resiliency is all about: learning from troubles and continuing on. 

So how do we build our resiliency skills? The American Psychological Association has some tips:

  1. Have a support system (friends, family).
  2. Take care of your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs.
  3. Trust in your ability to solve problems.
  4. Set realistic goals and break them down into small action plans. 
  5. Try to solve problems instead of avoiding them.
  6. Focus on what you can do in the present, instead of possible future catastrophes.

Perhaps the key lesson here, and to all the ‘Getting Gritty’ posts is best summed up by Ken Bain in his book, What the Best College Students Do: “In part, success comes simply from taking control over your own education, from realizing you are in charge.”

The same can be said for life.


Monday Motivator: Make a Gratitude List

Many of my friends who actually cook and host holiday gatherings have been making lists for the past week. They have lists of things to buy, things to clean, things to cook, and so on.

I’d like to recommend one more list: the gratitude list.

Take a few moments to jot down items that make you thankful. And I recommend going beyond the obvious ones, such as family, friends, shelter, and health to take note of the little, eccentric things that somehow put a smile on your face and make you glad you’re alive. (Because let’s face it: When the turkey is still an unappealing red color and Uncle Jack and Cousin Fred are arguing over politics, it may only be the small oddity that can put a smile on your face.)

Here’s a sample from my gratitude list (besides the big stuff):

  • Some of the wittiest colleagues in the universe.
  • Facebook (Luckily, I have a core group of friends who have the same offbeat sense of humor. And I recently discovered that I can hide the political rants and the overly-saccharine memes.)
  • Always having at least five books on my to-read list so I have a choice when I finish the current one.
  • Raspberry frozen yogurt.
  • Snow Patrol.
  • Tulips. When I grow them, they last about a day, but still there is something so cheerful about them, I am glad they are in the world.
  • Cats. One should always be reminded of one’s place in the universe–as a cat’s servant.
  • Dogs. How can one not be grateful for such unconditional love?

What’s on your list?


The Quotophiles

A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.– Ernest Hemingway

This week’s question: What animal would you be and why?

Colette: It’s hard to shed my human brain and assume the singular mindset of another animal.  I rather like my opposable thumbs.  I’m too lazy to be a predator (or at least one that lives past its first couple seasons) and too easily bored to be myopically fixed on getting food from sun up until sun down.  How dreadful.  I also can’t imagine eating only leaves and twigs.  I wouldn’t want to mate with amphibians or fish or insects, or be the mom of a snake, so I’m not left with much in the animal kingdom from which to choose.

I guess I’d be a domesticated dog, with the added qualifier that I have a really good owner.  My ideal owner would let me be a dog, which means I’d be smelly on occasion and I’d be allowed to get dirty when I rolled in something grossly wonderful.  I’d live in a house with a big yard, which I’d have free, roaming access to, in case I saw a squirrel I needed to run down and/or bark at before I took a nap in the sun spot on the bed.  I’d get treats, but not for doing parlor tricks; I’d get them just because I’m so wonderful.  I wouldn’t be forced to wear sweaters or Halloween costumes or get toted around in some ridiculous purse.  My toenails would be dog colored, not pink.  I’d be big, and smiley and smart and allowed to take up more than my share of space on the furniture.  My owner would not chain me, cage me, give me an embarrassing name, like Mr. Smoochums, talk baby talk to me, or deny me ear and belly scratches.  Our love affair would be gloriously mutual.  happy dog

Emily: Well, I’m pretty pleased with being human, but if I had to pick another animal I’d go with the giant octopus. They’re clever, get to mostly keep to themselves in the deepest, darkest depths of the ocean, and have a good sense of humor. octopus

Pam: Ah, to have the honesty of a cat…to not be afraid of seeming unkind or aloof if my mind is somehow not in tune with another’s needs or I am perhaps distracted with something and not as patient and caring as I should be. But I do not know how to just be intentionally, uh,  stuck-up, for lack of a better word. And, being a cat-mother of 4, they can sure be royal hairballs! It pains me to hurt anyone’s feelings (and this doesn’t even count the possible end result of making someone mad or upset with me). Hark! Ah, to be a cat for a day and escape caring what others may think of me. I think not. Lest I become a comfortably selfish, less than likable prima donna. disdainful cat

Sally: The animal I would be is a Polar Bear, because I love snow and cold weather and they are cute animals.  I am looking forward to mountain biking to work in the snow.  

Jolly Librarian: I would be a hedgehog. In fact, after reading this list of hedgehog characteristics, I think I already may be part hedgie:

  • Hedgehogs are prickly!!  Your hedgehog will poke you. When you first begin learning to handle your hedgehog it may seem as if you are handling a critter cactus.
  • The average hedgehog is naturally shy, nervous, and does not come when called, display outward affection, or perform tricks.
  • They are nocturnal in nature and may appear to do nothing except “stay balled up all day.”
  • You may need to work through the grouchy quilling stage, and a grouchy hedgehog may always be grouchy.
  • Hedgehogs do have teeth and have the potential to bite.  Biting is typically not done out of aggression but as a way of communication. (Source:  

Getting Gritty: Practice Like You Mean It

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I have been trying to master some Christmas songs on my keyboard for, oh, about two years now. It has not gone well for several reasons: One, I tend to give up when things get hard and two, I am teaching myself from scratch.

Anyway, the past weekend, I was giving “Good King Wenceslas” the old college try again, and I found myself getting stuck at the same place over and over. It’s at the end of the song where there is a quick chord change from C to G7 to F. These changes turn my version of the song into a dirge since it takes about two minutes for me to get my fingers in the right spot.

But this time, things were different. I actually used some of the skills I’d learned in researching grit, practice, and student success. Usually, when I’d get to this hard part, I’d play on and then start over from the beginning. But this time, I stopped, isolated where I was going wrong, and practiced that section several times until I was more comfortable with making the chords. Now, no one is going to be asking me to accompany their Christmas cantata, but progress was made.

So, according to researchers, what are some of the things to keep in mind when practicing, whether it’s music, math, composition, or anything at all? Here are some tips:

  • Correct as quickly as you can. (My problem in practicing the piano was that, instead of correcting my mistake at the end of the song, I returned and started over where it was easier. The result was that I got really good at the beginning, but the ending didn’t seem to improve. Now, I focus on where I went wrong and fixing that spot before I move on.) This is one of the advantages of the flipped classroom where practice is done in class; there is less practicing of the wrong way.  
  •  As much as drill is a dirty word in some educational settings, it’s important to learn some skills to the point of automatic functioning. (Sports coaches know this.) It’s not a lot of fun practicing chords (or multiplication tables or orders of operations or comma placement). But the less you have to think about basic skills, the more energy you can put into more advanced ones.
  • Have a specific purpose for each homework or practice session. (And getting them finished so that you can watch cat videos online doesn’t count.)
  • Don’t repeat. Redo differently. One of the mistakes that beginning college students make (or people in general) is that we redouble our efforts instead of analyzing where we went wrong. That’s often why the same mistakes show up again and again. 
  • Isolate the skills. Students are often in a hurry to get finished with an assignment. When I’ve asked students where they went wrong on a homework assignment, they are often puzzled by the question. But we are not totally ignorant of what we’re doing. We start out fine and then something goes wrong. Being able to isolate what the problem is and when it occurs in the process is very helpful in solving that problem.
  • Practice on a regular basis. You’ve heard it all your lives, and it’s true: Shorter, regular practice/study sessions are more effective than cramming.
  • Put the skills in context. Sure, you may practice chords or commas in isolation, but if they stay there, they’re not much good in the real world. (I’ve had more than one student who could place commas correctly in sentences in worksheets, but could never transfer that skill into actual essays.)

Here’s the bad news: If you’re one of those folks who find homework something to be endured and done with the purpose of getting a check mark in a teacher’s grade book, then you’re going to have a harder time truly learning a subject.

Here’s the good news: If you start to view homework and practice as a chance to really learn something and improve your skills, you will be amazed at  how much more interesting the subject can be and how much better you’ll perform.

If you want to know more about improving your skills, here are some good books:

Daniel Coyle. The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills.

Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway, and Katie Yezzi. Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better.

Ken Bain. What the Best College Students Do.




Monday Motivator: Decide and Dash

Yesterday I went in the Sephora store to buy some moisturizer. I’d been using samples from a previous visit for the past couple of months but had come to the last of those little square packages.

Now there is probably no store that shows the surfeit of choice in modern life than Sephora. Not only do skin care companies have moisturizer but so do most cosmetic companies. So you can find moisturizer on almost every aisle. And each company has moisturizer for different needs: There is anti-aging moisturizer (a weird term if you ask me; it implies that there is also moisturizer that ages you), brightening moisturizer, calming moisturizer, even firming moisturizer. You can choose a cream, lotion, or gel moisturizer. You must choose between scented and unscented. And you must decide if you want SPF, and if so, how much: 8, 15, 30… And, of course, you must know whether you want this moisturizer for day or night.  

All of these choices come with frenetic Sephora salespeople popping up every few seconds to ask if they can help you. As one kept rubbing various lotions on my hands and asking how they felt, I did the only thing possible: I said I needed a minute to think and then ran out of the store. 

Once in the relative calm of the Macy’s lingerie section, I thought through my options. I needed moisturizer. It needed SPF. It should cost less than a down payment for a car. So I looked at my hands, and while nothing miraculous had happened, one felt smoother than the rest (a good sign for the application of foundation). I crept back into Sephora, ignoring all salespeople, grabbed the moisturizer, and paid.

It was a good reminder that there are times when great thought needs to go into making a decision. Buying moisturizer is not one of those times.

And as I get older, more and more items go into the “life is too short for this” group. 


The Week in Review

  1. Number One Message to Students This Week: We don’t know why the printer is acting up, but it’s nothing you did. You don’t have to apologize. (Yes, we have such polite students!)
  2. The Most-Frequently Asked Question This Week: “How do you cite this?”
  3. The Runner Up: “What is a (social sciences, humanities, natural sciences) elective?”
  4. Worst Decision of the Week: Eating turkey and dressing for lunch, which means fighting off a nap for the rest of the afternoon.
  5. Most Bizarre Moment: When Pam decided to build Colette a cubicle using an old world map, some banners, and a coat tree. ImageImage


The Quotophiles

Our quotation for this week is attributed to Voltaire: “The most important decision you make is to be in a good mood.”

So how do we put ourselves in a good mood?

Colette: Listening to music is my cure all.  The right chosen song, at the right moment, is pretty much a guaranteed mood enhancer for me.  The Fruit Bats’ When U Love Somebody could happy-up a root canal.  Grinding rocks in my lapidary shop also keeps my happy meter high.  If I happen to get a “just saying hey” text from my son, while listening to music in my rock shop, that is my good mood trifecta, the holy grail of happy. 

Emily: A cup of coffee. (Obviously, Emily answered this before she had her first cup of the day!)

Pam: Many things make me happy, but I will write of this past month in particular. As I huff and puff and make it up to the top of a difficult hill on my bicycle, my heart pounding, thighs burning and lungs heaving for air, I top the hill and start flying down the other side–the wind sweeping across my face and into my neck where I am sweating from the climb. The golden leaves whiz by, and I am like a child once again with complete abandonment of the world, feeling only this amazing, fun moment of speed and freedom. THIS gets me in a good mood. ON the way home I see two dogs wrestling in the yard, nipping and yapping and I remember my sweet Boston, Gracie Gadd, and smile with sheer joy at their joy. I picked out a pumpkin from Kroger and heaved it into my cart, and as I wheeled away from the produce department, I realized I was smiling. Picking the banjo to the drone of a fiddle sawing away on an old time tune makes my heart dance with joy. I’m in a good mood now, just writing…Autumn leaves are a mile high in my yard, and I want them to stay forever. Leaves turn red and gold and stay awhile longer, for that’s what makes me happiest.  

Sally: The thing that makes me the happiest is riding my bicycle to the library and helping students find the information they need. Something I get to do everyday!  Everyday is a new adventure when you are a librarian.  “Books and bicycles both take you places without wasting anything, and a good day is riding your bike to the library.”   Life is best savored from the seat of a bicycle. 

Jolly Librarian: Going for a walk or to the YMCA always puts me in a good mood as does listening to music or reading a good book. Seeing the confusion fade from a student’s face also cheers me up. If I’m in a particularly bad mood, I can switch on a rerun of The Big Bang Theory (which now is always playing on a channel somewhere) and I’m laughing within minutes. Then, of course, there’s ice cream.

Getting Gritty: Be ‘Curiouser’ and ‘Curiouser’

Curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous intellect.― Samuel JohnsonThe Rambler

Now people who work in a library tend to be a curious bunch. And one of the perks of our job is that we get to research different topics a day. There are always interesting new topics, such as Texas cuisine, zombie culture, and the question of whether penguins have the worst lives in the animal kingdom. Now, granted, some times the topics are familiar: the legalization of drugs, abortion, school uniforms, and home schooling, but even then we like to help students find a new angle on a worn subject. In fact, more than once, we will continue to research a topic after the student has left the library.

 Blessed are the curious, for they will never be bored. Even if this trait did not lead to success, it would still be worthwhile just for that. But, obviously, the curious also have an advantage when it comes to learning:

  • When receiving a poor grade, the curious are more likely to ask, “How did this happen and how I can do better next time?” than cursing and hiding the test away.
  • When conducting research, the curious go beyond the obvious to find better and more reliable sources. And not just because they want a better grade. They sincerely want to know the answers to the questions they’ve asked themselves.
  • Because they are personally invested in their learning, they often remember ideas longer and in more detail.

So if you are not one of the naturally curious, how can you develop the trait?

  • Stop labeling things as boring. Instead, look for a connection that interests you. (As I used to tell my students, “Every subject you call boring has a scholar out there who has dedicated his/her entire life trying to understand its mysteries.”)
  • Ask questions. Spend some time with a toddler and count how many times the child asks ‘why.’ You were once a toddler and you were once as curious. Get back to that state by asking questions. Don’t be satisfied with simple answers. Keep digging.
  • Open your mind. Try new subjects each week. Read!
  • Reframe your fear. Sometimes we label something as boring when we’re really afraid of trying something new or failing. Just realizing that you’re afraid instead of bored can change the way you view a task.
  • Just say yes.  Besides being the title to a Snow Patrol song, it is also a good way to develop your curiosity. Students can get wrapped up in good grades and playing it safe to maintain them. But curiosity means branching out to something new. So make ‘yes’ your default answer to new experiences.   

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity. – Albert Einstein



Monday Motivator: Look Beyond the Immediate Pain

My sister loves cats. This past week, she and a colleague trapped a feral cat at their workplace, and he is now imprisoned in her garage. It is clear that he sees himself in prison. He sits in his litter box and howls whenever anyone comes into the garage. And then there’s the hissing. And anyone brave or dumb enough to attempt a pat will get a clawed swipe. In order to soothe him, my sister put one of her tshirts in the cage in the hope that he would get used to her smell. He put it in the litter box. It’s hard not to see that as a rejection.

My sister plans to get him fixed and then take him out to a friend’s farm where he should have a much more secure and happy life. Of course, he doesn’t know this; he’s only a cat.

Yet I’ve been like this cat on more than one occasion. I’ve gotten so used to a less-than-ideal situation that I mistook the discomfort of transition with a pain that had to be avoided at all cost. I still have to remind myself to examine closely current discomforts and see if there is something better on the other side. And if so, keep going.

This is what my sister keeps trying to tell the cat, but he keeps yowling too loud to hear her.