Monthly Archives: January 2016

Monday Motivator: Battling Cabin Fever

No matter how much I might stay home and read when it’s my choice, the minute I don’t have that choice, I get a bad case of cabin fever. Last week, that fever was caused by the eight inches of snow that covered Nashville. Immediately, I wanted to get out. Unfortunately, I am the world’s worst driver on snowy/icy roads, so I stay put.

Luckily, after many years of this, I do now have a sort of cabin fever response kit. Here’s what gets me through:

  • Have snacks. Now, it’s easy to think that being snowed in is a perfect time to start your new diet, and you’ll be a responsible adult who eats the healthy food in your refrigerator and cupboards. Forget that immediately. After five hours of being snowed in with your family or yourself, you’ll need some sugar and/or grease to make it through the day. My personal favorites are powdered donuts and vinegar and salt potato chips. Believe me, when you’re in the 33rd hour of looking at the same four walls, powdered donuts calm you in a way that celery just can’t.
  • Get outside. Now for people who love snow, this is probably not much of a suggestion. In fact, they’re probably not even reading this because they are still outside building snowmen out of what’s left of the rapidly melting snow. Bur for the rest, it may seem like a lot of work to put on five or six layers of sweatshirts and coats, dig our snow boots out of the closet, and go outside where it is freezing cold. And it’s not always a good idea. Last year, during an ice storm, at least four people I knew ended up with broken bones. But this time, it was simply snow. So each day, I went out. I cleaned my walk. I walked to the mailbox. I took some photos. These little jaunts cheered me up.
  • Put your Pinterest account to use. According to Pinterest, I have several thousand pins, many of them about housecleaning tips or exercises. So now I have a very clean microwave, a sweeter-smelling dishwasher, and my abs are sore.
  • Of course, have books available. My to-read list is a little shorter.
  • And have something to watch. It was fortunate that our snowstorm coincided with the Australian Open. I could indulge my love of tennis late into the night.

A friend once told me that I didn’t have the strength to make it through a Northern winter. She is probably right. Because, even with my snow survival kit, the best thing is knowing that here in the South, even the worst cabin fever will be over in two-three days.

Reading Challenges: I Found Mine!

As I’ve mentioned before, there are many good reading challenges for 2016 out there. You can go with sheer numbers, classics, or diversity. This past week, a friend of mine posted one on Pinterest, and I decided to choose it. It’s called the 2016 Grown Up Reading Challenge.

Why this one?

  • The number of books (20) is reasonable. I read many more books than that, but I don’t want all my reading to be directed.
  • This challenge allows me to enjoy some of my favorite topics: history, biographies, classics, and prize winners.
  • But sometimes, I can get too comfortable with my reading choices. This challenge  makes go outside my comfort zone. I will read books on music, art, science, finance, and even (eek!) business. There’s also an “outside your comfort zone” category, but the only topic left would be math. Ack!

So I’ve chosen my list, and I’ll be updating my progress from time to time. I’d really like to know what you’re reading as well.



Reading Lists: David Bowie

Yesterday, when we discovered David Bowie had died, my friends and I reflected on what he meant to our lives. You only have to give social media the faintest glance to see how revered he was as an artist and role model.

I have various memories of Bowie. I remember listening to “Space Oddity” while lying on my bed and feeling just like Major Tom. (Or as a rural Alabama girl imagined Major Tom would feel.) I sat in a group of philosophical college students who discussed the lyrics of “Changes” and the deep meaning behind Bowie’s change of a word from one stanza to the next. I danced to “Fame,” “Golden Years,” and “Let’s Dance.” I still have “Suffragette City” on my iPod running playlist. And like just about everyone else, I longed to be a hero “if just for one day.”

Still, I realized yesterday after reading my friends’ posts about what Bowie meant to them, he and I had had a much more distant relationship. Perhaps I realized early on that David Bowie was smart. I mean, really, really smart. And I was never going to truly understand him.  So I kept my distance.

That feeling was reinforced when Bowie put his hundred favorite books on his Facebook page in 2013. I glanced over it and didn’t recognize the first few titles I saw and moved on to something else.

But yesterday, two colleagues were making an exhibit out of those books, and I took a second look. While I had only read seventeen of those books, this time, I felt more kinship with him. Sure, for a couple of the books we’d both read, I’m pretty sure he understood them and used them for his art while I was simply in an undecipherable word bog, counting how many pages until the torture ended. It was clear that he was not a lover of the Victorians. No Dickens. No Eliot. No Bronte. These are the writers I adore. He preferred the dense, the highly metaphorical, Don DeLillo over Jane Austen.  But in other cases, our reading worlds intersected.

For example, outside of graduate school, he was the only person I’d heard of who had not only read Ann Petry’s The Street, but apparently liked it as much as I did. And then there was Dante’s Inferno,  a book I had come to just this past year, which spoke to me deeply about my life and my choices. And he liked McTeague by Frank Norris, a choice that my fellow literature students ridiculed, but a book I found absolutely fascinating. We both liked The Great GatsbyMadame Bovary, and As I Lay Dying. 

Somehow the books we didn’t have in common did not seem as important as the ones we did. And I like to imagine him thinking of a way to work the symbolism of McTeague’s gilded tooth into a song and perhaps even chuckling about how no one would ever understand it.

Goodbye, David Bowie. You were a true Renaissance man. And we may never see your like again.



Monday Motivator: Control Yourself

After the Pittsburgh-Cincinnati game, a friend said, “Well, I guess self control will be the topic of your Monday Motivator this week.”

Of course, for most of us, our lack of self control doesn’t play out in front of thousands of people. It’s easier to hide, but the results can be just as devastating.  When I think of my own big failures, they were most often caused by my not being able to control my big mouth, my emotional reactions, or my procrastination. We need intelligence, we need skill, but without self control, we’ll never go as far as we could.


I once had a colleague who was obsessed about being disrespected. She was often at odds with other colleagues, students, store clerks, and even strangers on the street because something said or done that she saw as a personal affront. She then attacked. Often the recipients of those attacks were stunned, since they were not aware that they had disrespected her in the first place.

She was also often in trouble with her boss, who stressed that she had another option instead of attacking; she could simply not respond. Looking at the situation from a distance of decades, I see now that she had very little control over her actions. There was something about her self-esteem (or lack of) that meant her first reaction was going to be to protect herself from any and all attacks. And she was not interested in learning other ways to respond. Later, she was angry again when she was overlooked for promotion because our boss didn’t want anyone in a leadership position who couldn’t control emotions and think before acting. Then I moved, and we lost touch. I hope her life got easier.

I write about self control now at the beginning of the year because many of us are making resolutions. We want to be better, more successful people. But we need that element of self control. We need to be able to hold off on a reaction and choose the better path.

It is a hard path that is hidden by thickets of excuses. Just read the interviews with Cincinnati players today. But it’s worth choosing.


When Book Challenges Go Awry

Many,  many years ago, my sister decided to read all of Dickens. She asked me to buy her his novels for her birthday and Christmas. This made me happy because she’s not the easiest person to buy for and there are a lot of books by Dickens.

After a few years, I asked her which book was her favorite so far. She shrugged. “Oh, I haven’t read any yet.” I learned  that she had leafed through a few and couldn’t get into them. So I stopped buying Dickens.

Two years ago, I challenged myself to read a biography of each U.S. president as a way of studying American history. I even put up a poster of the presidents and circled each one as I finished the book.

Things started well enough. Washington and Adams both had interesting lives and great biographers (Ron Chernow and David McCullough). I found Jefferson more intimidating than interesting, but Jon Meacham was a skillful writer. In fact, all the way through Andrew Jackson (Robert Remini), each president’s story could hold its own. But after Van Buren, I felt I was in a wasteland. (And I take the blame; after all, these were tumultuous times in our country.) I just couldn’t find myself interested in the men between Jackson and Lincoln. I made  it through Polk, but then took a break and haven’t yet returned.

Unlike my sister, I do plan to return to the presidents. But I may have to find a way to deal with the ones who don’t speak to me. Maybe read a children’s biography or just read an article in an encyclopedia that will allow me to move on.

But I don’t feel like a failure. After all, if one book or subject doesn’t satisfy, there are so many others waiting!

Reading Challenges

The Jolly Librarian never has a problem finding things to read. The bookcases groaning with tomes yet to be read are evidence of that fact. But many of my fellow goal setters on are often asking for titles of books. (I’m beginning to think I’m the only avid reader that chose ‘reading’ as a topic on the site.)

This time of year, there are many reading challenges that can provide guidance for a happy year of reading. I like ones that provide flexibility. Especially if you are  just getting into reading for pleasure, you want to be able to experiment and follow your pleasure when you find an author or theme that entices you.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • Goodreads. The Goodreads challenge is wide open. You simply choose the number of books you plan to read this year and then add them as you go. My goal for this year is an ambitious 70. (Wish me luck!)
  • The PopSugar Ultimate Reading Challenge is a little more directed, but only a little. Categories this year include 1) a book set in your home state, 2) a book published in 2016, 3) a book with a blue cover, and 4) a book that takes place during the summer. So there’s a lot of choice. I took the challenge last year; the only real problem I had was an ethical one: If a book covered three categories, could I mark off all three at one time?
  • If you feel a need to visit the classics, there’s a challenge for that as well. The Twelve-Month Classics Challenge has more focus but still quite a bit of choice. The categories are broad: an American classic, a children’s classic, a classic written by a woman, etc.
  • For the adventurous, take the Read the World challenge. Each month, you read a book about or by an author in a different part of the world.  For example, January is Africa.

But if you are still wondering about what to read, go to your local library. Those folks will direct you to some good books.


Monday Motivator: Make a Resolution (or Don’t)

Many of my friends seem to be on an anti-resolution kick this year. Their Facebook posts are adamant that they are giving up on this constant self-improvement quest that so many of us seem to be on with its “I’m going to be better” and the resulting “I’ve failed again” cycle. They are proclaiming an attitude of gratitude for what they have and acceptance for who they are.

I admire my friends for their ‘resolutionless’ New Year. But I’ll not be joining them, even though I know I’m setting myself up for failure. Actually, for one of my resolutions, I have failed three of the four days of 2016 so far.

So why do I keep making resolutions year after year (and, in some cases, the same ones)?

Because resolutions, oddly, give me hope. I certainly wouldn’t have gone into education if I didn’t believe that people are capable of change. And so each  year, I give myself a set of goals, knowing that I probably won’t make all, or even any, of them. But it’s a statement of my belief that I can change, maybe not this  year or  next, but at some point.

And occasionally, they work. I probably won’t ever exercise everyday, but I certainly exercise more than I did before it became a resolution. And while my resolution to learn to play piano had many starts and stops, I now practice every day. Even my 25% beginning on this  year’s resolution is better than the 0% I had been experiencing.

The basic bottom line is this: Ignore New Year’s resolutions if they don’t help you. Make them if they do.