Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Celebration: Robert Frost's Birthday

In honor of Robert Frost's 134th birthday today, enjoy! And while you're at it, consider becoming a Friend of Robert Frost.

Bond and Free

Love has earth to which she clings
With hills and circling arms about—
Wall within wall to shut fear out.
But Thought has need of no such things,
For Thought has a pair of dauntless wings.

On snow and sand and turf, I see
Where Love has left a printed trace
With straining in the world’s embrace.
And such is Love and glad to be.
But Thought has shaken his ankles free.

Thought cleaves the interstellar gloom
And sits in Sirius’ disc all night,
Till day makes him retrace his flight,
With smell of burning on every plume,
Back past the sun to an earthly room.

His gains in heaven are what they are.
Yet some say Love by being thrall
And simply staying possesses all
In several beauty that Thought fares far
To find fused in another star.

by Robert Frost

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Library is Open! Hurray!

After two long, grueling months without a library down the street, I have been rewarded.

My library has opened again — to the acclaim of all. The library had a party, and literally hundreds of people showed up.

In the age of Mega-Bookstore-Cafes and Internet saturation, I worry about the humble library. It's a municipal institution, and most people think "municipal" is not sexy. And while going to other libraries to get my book fix, I saw that to be true in older edifices: low ceilings, close bookshelves, fluorescent lighting, few chairs, even fewer tables. And no coffee or cookies for sale — not that our lard-fanny society should miss a Starbucks or hundred....

However, if my newly opened library is any indication, modern libraries are evolving. Now you can bring coffee in if it's in a sealed cup. There are easy chairs, wingback chairs, high ceilings, pleasant lighting and ambiance. There are DVDs of the latest movies, CDs of the latest books, new lending strategies for popular books, expanded hours and a selection that should make even the heartiest bibliophile salivate.

The problem is that we pour money into Borders without a second thought, but we cringe at the idea of doing the same to our libraries. Think about it: in these economic times, when the R-word is being bandied about and politicians are trying to think of way to "save" the economy, think about what gets cut first in government budgets. Libraries often are on the cutting block. We expect librarians and library staff to work longer hours and provide expanded service and product but somehow expect less, while we keep expecting more.

I'm not saying there should be a "tip jar" at the checkout counter of every library. (I hate those things.) What I am saying is that when budget time comes around for your municipality — which is just about now for those with a July 1 fiscal year start date — make sure government leaders know what you support. More importantly, make sure you know how the government is spending your money. Get a copy of the city or county budget and read it cover to cover. Find how how much (or how little) the state and feds provide. Talk to your elected representatives and your municipal leaders. Know what the government values, and make sure it matches the values of your community.

From what I have seen today, when hundreds of people thumbed through magazines, sat on the floor with their children to listen to the flute duo or stood in line to check out books, libraries are very highly valued. Make sure your government agrees with you. After all, it's your community.

Now go check out a book and celebrate the public lending library. I will see you there.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Apparent Anathema of Phone Numbers on the Web

I have spent the better part of today trying to find phone numbers on Web sites.

I fear they don't exist.

Don't get me wrong: I sympathize with those providing thorough information on the Internet. I do it myself, every day. The amount of time and energy it takes to post complete information should be rewarded by people using it.

However, there are plenty of people who do not have access to the Internet, or who have additional questions that are not covered (or not easily accessible) on the Web site.

Also, just because I think I've answered every question doesn't mean I have. Trust me, after answering thousands of phone calls about hundreds of subjects, I have a good idea of the kinds of questions people ask — and that I must answer with information I provide. However, there's always one — and for that reason alone, phone numbers are imperative both in publications and on Web sites.

I tried recently to find out the phone number for VitalChek. There literally was not a contact phone number on the Web site. I looked for 20 minutes on multiple pages. I also noted this Web site did not have a "contact us" link on any page. There were links on assorted pages for assorted services, but not a phone number on site (or in sight).

Granted, if I really wanted a phone number, I can call directory assistance (there are directories for both "local" calls and toll-free numbers). However, I found out about the service from a state Web site — which linked to VitalChek.

The same for utilities: if I want to set up cable service, or telephone service, finding a number on the Web is a challenge. Thankfully, though, these companies have "contact us" sections accessible from the home page. Now, every "contact us" page plugs the online service with great fervor — and that's fine with me. Just give me a phone number so I have choices.

By the way, the amount of information needed just to get a phone number for a "local" utility is phenomenal. What ever happened to the law against monopolies? Ask Ma Bell, who was divvied up — just to find new life a few decades later offering multiple services in numerous states: cable television, telephone (landline and cellular) and Internet service.

Next: human beings actually answering the phone — myth or reality?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Amethyst Remembrance

As my GemsTV ring rests on my finger, the amethyst sparkling in the light, I thank Tammy Powley of www.jewelryandbeading.com for reminding me about this gem by Emily Dickinson.


I HELD a jewel in my fingers
And went to sleep.
The day was warm, and winds were prosy;
I said: “’T will keep.”

I woke and chid my honest fingers,—
The gem was gone;
And now an amethyst remembrance
Is all I own.

by Emily Dickinson
Complete Poems, published in 1924, courtesy of Bartleby.com: Great Books Online

Friday, January 18, 2008

GemsTV, the Newest Obsession

I am not one for infomercials or shopping networks, but I stumbled upon a nifty little, er, gem of a station: GemsTV.

I had never paid attention to it, blindly surfing past it or skipping it entirely. Then, for some reason, I stopped on the channel. The woman sitting behind the counter was enthusiastic, knowledgeable and more than just a little friendly.

The jewelry was pretty, the price was good — but it was the presenter that made me stop. I had never seen anyone as enthusiastic as Karen. She seemed like someone I'd have coffee with, someone I'd chat with at the grocery, someone I'd want at my party.

So I watched.
And watched.
And watched.

The theme for this channel is "Let's play the game." The presenter pulls out the jewelry and the station posts a "starting price" for the jewelry. Then the price "crashes" to something ridiculously low, like 10-15 percent of the starting price. (Even if the "starting price" was hefty, the "crashed" price is very reasonable, even inexpensive.) The presenters talk up the piece, noting the gemstone weight and type, metal weight and color, how common or rare the gems are, how they're mined — that kind of thing. It's chatter that fills the space during the sale.

I love jewelry, to begin with, but the presenters kept me coming back for more. They all were fun, goofy and enthusiastic. I liked them. I wondered if I could keep up that kind of prattle for minutes at a time — then realized I already do.

I keep minutiae in my head about pretty much anything. I have walked friends up and down the main aisle at my Borders and commented on every single book, then turned to the stacks and started on them. I rattle off summaries, reviews, character information — like I wrote the darned things. When I volunteer for local historic tours, I can keep my audience listening to details they never thought to consider about local history, buildings, current development, the whole gamut.

So watching people share seemingly useless minutiae about something I really like was a joy.

It became a sport. Brooke or Rob or Lindsey or Jim would present a piece and I'd guess what the final price would be. (I am rarely off by much.) Even David got into the game, commenting on the pieces and the prices. As time went on, I became much more critical of the pieces, lamenting the lack of yellow gold in the GemsTV collection, learning about the origin of many stones I never really paid attention to before. I kept it on in the background, mute, while reading and blogging. I'd glance up and see what was on. I went online and checked the channel's inventory. I watched the "commercials" about the jewelry makers. Educational, I told myself. Harmless fun. It doesn't cost to watch.

And then I found a piece I really liked: an amethyst ring. I had announced just a week earlier that I didn't plan to purchase any more rings because I had enough. (When you stop laughing, you can continue reading.) Then this ring came on and I said to David, "I think I would wear that one." I have no amethyst in my collection, and I never really paid attention to it, but this piece was nice. So I succumbed.

It's due in the mail next week.

I won't go crazy and start supporting GemsTV with large portions of my salary. (That dubious honor belongs to Borders.) However, I will enjoy tuning in from time to time and watching people do what they love, as well as gander at a pretty bauble or two. I'll tune down one channel, watch lackluster performances by other jewelry salespeople, then return to enjoy the show GemsTV provides. After all, it's harmless fun — right?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Two Words

As this, the cold, flu and (apparently) sinus infection season, heads into full gear, I have two words for you: sinus irrigation.

I am enjoying my first sinus infection of the calendar year, and I continue to beat the drum for the healthy practice of sinus irrigation. I am not the only one — NPR noted the same thing in one of its most e-mailed articles from last year, "Got a Runny Nose? Flush it Out!" (NPR Morning Edition, February 22, 2007).

The idea is simple: keep the area irrigated and clean, and sinuses have a chance to stay healthy. A lot of people (including Alicia) are convinced they cannot do this. You're talking to a woman who couldn't even use a nose spray — and who, in desperation, gave irrigation a try. I am grateful I did, and I heartily recommend it to everyone.

I make my own saline solution: using a mayonnaise jar (clean, of course), I mix three teaspoons of canning/pickling salt and one teaspoon of baking soda. (Do not use table salt.) Mix well and deliver into the sinuses. I use a small syringe (the ear size, not the huge one) to inject the solution directly into each nostril.

As you can see, it doesn't always keep sinus infections completely at bay, but it does help stave them off. Had I not begun this practice years ago, my chronic sinus infections would never cease.

So, as I heal from this discomfort, think of all of the things you'd like to mention, ponder, discuss and otherwise mull — then leave a comment at the end of this post so I know what's on your mind. In the meantime, I'm downing Mucinex-D like there's no tomorrow and trying to sleep away the pain.

See you on the other side of this illness.

Monday, January 7, 2008

YouTube and Doing the Right Thing

If you want to see anything that has been video recorded, chances are it's on YouTube.

Many people who actually own the videos post them themselves on the YouTube Web site, including Weird Al Yankovic, the Dixie Chicks and Britney Spears.

Nickelback's record label also has posted a couple of their videos, including "Rock Star" (censored and not) and "If Everyone Cared." (I have recommended in the past that you listen to Nickelback. I hope you did. If not, please stop what you're doing right now and watch "If Everyone Cared." You don't have to be a fan to appreciate the call to character. You will be moved by what the band encourages.)

Not everyone owns the videos they posted, which is a shame. If it's not yours, it's not yours to give away.

The Internet is a big place — and if you want to hear and see free video and audio clips, there are plenty of legal ways to do it. I watched/listened to Fergie on Yahoo for months before I purchased "Fergalicious" (then soon after purchased the "clean" versions of the songs I liked). I continue to listen to Shakira to determine if I want to purchase her latest disc. If I'm not sure if I want the entire disc, I take the safe route and purchase the singles on iTunes.

Sometimes, posting videos seems harmless — after all, if you're not making any money, what's the harm? You tell yourself you're actually helping to sell the album if you post pictures of your pre-teen cousins dancing to "Hips Don't Lie" by the Chipmunks — people will go buy it now, you tell yourself. The thing is, rationalization doesn't make it right. It's still not yours to give away.

So watch what's legal, do what's right. And go watch "If Everyone Cared." Let me know when you do, and let me know what you thought of it.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Order, Darkness and Light

Yule, celebration of winter solstice, was December 22, 2007. On that day, ancient people celebrated the the return of the sun, its warmth and what its rays will once again help to grow as the seasons turn warm again.

The growth of the days is gradual, almost imperceptible — but the amount of Christmas decorations, even in a small home like mine, is infinite.

I'll be working on my decoration clean-up this weekend — but for those who are ahead of the curve, here's a wonderful poem for you to enjoy with your home back in order.

Taking Down the Tree

"Give me some light!" cries Hamlet's
uncle midway through the murder
of Gonzago. "Light! Light!" cry scattering
courtesans. Here, as in Denmark,
it's dark at four, and even the moon
shines with only half a heart.

The ornaments go down into the box:
the silver spaniel, My Darling
on its collar, from Mother's childhood
in Illinois; the balsa jumping jack
my brother and I fought over,
pulling limb from limb. Mother
drew it together again with thread
while I watched, feeling depraved
at the age of ten.

With something more than caution
I handle them, and the lights, with their
tin star-shaped reflectors, brought along
from house to house, their pasteboard
toy suitcases increasingly flimsy.
Tick, tick, the desiccated needles drop.

By suppertime all that remains is the scent
of balsam fir. If it's darkness
we're having, let it be extravagant.

by Jane Kenyon
from Collected Poems © Graywolf Press, 2007
(with gratitude to The Writer's Almanac)