Saturday, September 7, 2013

Diagnosing Bibliophilosis...A Book Lover's Dilemma

"We read to know we are not alone."
- C.S. Lewis

Bibliophilosis* is not a diagnosed disease, but if you are a book lover, a bibliophile, you are at risk. Symptoms appear once you are traumatized by a lack of bookshelf space. Perhaps a move prompted meltdown. Boxing books and carrying loads to a new location. Not fun. Maybe you decided to simply simplify life, so some books have to go. You wouldn't take them in an emergency evacuation, would you? Perhaps your children are sleeping in the hall, and their rooms have been converted, even the crib, to crafty bookshelves and cozy library hideaways. You'll realize when you have a problem. It is time for an intervention.
Credit: Etsy
If you love to read and learn and hear stories, as I do, you will relate to some of these indications. If you do not, you are clearly not suffering from bibliophilosis. Curling up with a good book on a rainy day with a cup of something steamy (hot cocoa, coffee, or tea - your choice) would never come to mind. For true book lovers, a total mental picture and good feelings were just triggered by the words book and rainy day in the same sentence. So, look through this list of key symptoms, and see what speaks your truth.

  1. The Lie: I promise I won't buy one more book until I've read the others I own already.
  2. The Reality: I won't buy one more book until I hear about one that interests me. 
  3. The Challenge: (If, when you read non-fiction, you are a confessed chronic highlighter/margin note writer, this is for you.) When I've finished studying -- a.k.a. reading, then what? Now it is extra difficult to part with the book. Ugh. [Note: I've improved in this area since someone recently said to me, "I love seeing people's notes in a book!" - Homeland Security Agent. OK. It wasn't a snoop or Homeland Security Agent. But you never know, do you?] 
  4. The Fear: What if I give away this unread book sitting around, and then miss something good? Where will I ever find that nugget of wisdom, that engaging character, that page-turning suspense, that great how-to list to solve my problems if I give away the unread, shelf-space-hogging books on my "Read someday" shelf? [Oh, yes. The library. The Internet. For starters.] 
  5. The Inner Argument: My thoughts nag me. "Oh, sure, you're really going to read that someday,” mocking my sweet intentions year after year. After year. I sincerely vow to read that book. Soon. Maybe even this year. 
  6. The Tension: Just because I love books, that doesn't mean I want to marry them - commit to them for life. Parting with the good ones hurts just a little and sometimes it is downright stressful! Momentarily.
  7. The Choice: When the quantity of books owned exceeds shelf space, do I a) Get rid of some books, b) Buy more shelves, c) Sentence myself to purchase e-books from now on, or d) Other. 
  8. The Caution: I do not loan out my books. People never return them.
  9. The Guilt: I keep books I've inherited or been given by other people, even though I know I'll never read them, and the person who gave them is no longer in my life. Why? Why?
  10. The Creative Illusion: I buy books to simply safely store my bookmarks. [Unless, of course, you are a one book-at-a-time person. I've always admired those types, though it seems so controlled and dull and functional.]
  11. The Determination (Also known as Book Lover's Attention Deficit Dilemma): I will finish this book before I start another.
  12. The Dream: I wish I had a day all to myself just to read. And if, perhaps, it is a rainy day and there is a cozy fire to sit near, even better!
      Did you recognize any of the symptoms in yourself? If you identified yourself as a book lover, how do you balance your love for reading, the delight in owning a new, real, published, hold-in-your-hand book and your life? Is there any hope? Or will we all just die over-booked and content? Can you ever own too many books? Too many cats? Yes. We've heard stories about those folks. But too many books? Never.
      “I’d rather give up my husband than my books.” – Anonymous

      "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes." 
      - Desiderius Erasmus

      *Treatment of bibliophilosis is currently not covered under most medical insurance plans. You'll have to pay for more bookshelves yourself.


      Sunday, August 25, 2013

      Chasing Summer - Charting Joy

      Organizing summer? Are you kidding me? Isn't summer when we relax? If you, like me, are a chart and list kinda girl, this may appeal to you.

      Summers...woosh...and another one is gone. How do you define summer? How do you make the most of this season? Another one is almost over.

      Zuma Beach, California
      Back when I worked in the business sector, summer still came with an exhilaration for anticipated enjoyable times with friends and family, even if I only had two weeks off. Yet, I still thrilled at the longer days, a more relaxed sense of life, and plenty of time outdoors. [Note: During my business years, I lived in the Midwest, so that explains my comment about more time outdoors. Now that I live in Southern California, the time outdoors can happen all year.]

      I now measure summer in different ways, and I practiced summer appreciation. I am now an educator with an annual summer break. That does spoil me, and changed my perspective. Still, in summers past, I've found myself frustrated and disappointed at the quick end to the season, which always seemed to sneak up on me. I was motivated to change that.

      So, if you count the days between Memorial Day to Labor Day, at least this year, you'll come up with 100 days. What a perfectly round number of summer days! And doesn't 100 days seem generous? And when summer is connected to the calendar, not days off, my state of mind shifted. Put yourself in a summer state of mind Memorial Day to Labor Day.

      The second summer time frame came from the eleven weeks I had until school begins again. Well, that has flown past. School begins again tomorrow, but it can still be summer until Labor Day, right?

      Thirdly, consider the autumnal equinox, that high brow official term for a change in light resulting in a change in our seasons. The Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere are illuminated equally. That's almost romantic. How does that happen? A little research will reveal that day and night are the same on equinox days because the line or plane of the earth's equator passes the center of the sun. So brush up on geography and geometry and science and read all this again, if that doesn't make sense. Or jump on the Internet for a diagram. [Note: That really helped me understand!] So, it is technically summer until September 22 this year. A few more weeks to jam summer fun into your calendar.

      Regarding the actual summer time off, in my current career within education, five weeks and four days was my official summer break this year. I count that as my vacation, not my definition of when summer begins and ends. This year, I did that intentionally, anyway. It added fun to see it as a long break from work tucked inside summer, instead of defining it as my summer. Expanding my view of summer made it all seem nicer and comfortably long.

      Do you hear others bemoaning and complaining about summer going by too fast and how they didn't get enough done this summer and all that? I have. Some of that complaining came from me in previous years. What a downer! I decided to flip and expand my perspective and put a positive spin on summer with a "choice chart." It made a difference. You might be surprised how summer seemed more luxurious, without adding any additional days, when you recall all the opportunities that came your way.

      A Paper Source Calendar
      It has been a good summer. Things still didn't get done, but my perspective was more aware. I granted myself permission to stop and smell those roses, stop and be present, stop and enjoy today, instead of grumbling and listing regrets.

      So, here's that "choice chart" I tried this summer. Since it was the summer of 2013, I created a Summer of '13 chart to motivate action on things that would make it a good summer. This was a new idea. It was rewarding and fun. I created a chart of categories of activities I enjoy, and added thirteen spaces under each category. My Summer of '13 "choice chart" became a bit of a game, while subtly provided some focus. The Summer of '13 motivated me to aim at activities I value, completing them thirteen times before summer ended. My categories included:
      • 13 Books Read
      • 13 Places Visited/Tried (places, restaurants, etc.)
      • 13 Movies Watched
      • 13 Guests Over
      • 13 New Recipes
      • 13 Queries Sent (I'm a writer)
      • 13 Days of Fitness (defined as a minimum of 30-minutes of steady physical activity)
      • 13 Pounds Down 
      • 13 Times in the Pool
      • See 13 Friends (times connecting with buddies)
      • 13 Acts of Service
      • 13 Times of Learning
      • 13 Containers Organized (defined as a drawer, cupboard, box, etc.)
      • 13 Dates (with the husband of mine)
      • 13 Unscheduled Days (days with nothing planned; get up and see how the day unfolds; protected time)
      So how did it go? Well, I am pleased to report I experienced some great success and also have categories without much happening. That is just fine because I was alert and aware to what the days of summer brought my way. Instead of, as I've typically done in the past, arriving at September unable to truly remember all the good that happened over the summer. I now have my happy little list. I can look at my chart and see all I did get to do this summer. And I am GRATEFUL and feeling positive. I am nicer to be around.

      The Summer of '13 Chart
      Are you curious about my results? Maybe. Maybe not. If so, here you go. And be aware that it is not Labor Day yet! I may add a few more to my boxes. I experienced success in the categories listed above that are highlighted in bold pink. If you'd told me I had thirteen unscheduled days over the summer, I would be shocked unless I'd recorded the actual days! Evidence that I actually slowed down! Less than success happened in new recipes (tried one), queries (none), and pounds down (oh, well). Still, I did read nine books, saw ten movies, had eight people over, got in six days of fitness, jumped in the pool seven times (after none last summer), and shared in eight acts of service. On top of all that, what encouraged me the most was keeping things that are important to me foremost in my mind by playing this little game. I did much better at priorities and focus over the summer.

      If you created a chart called Fall of 2013, what categories would make the season fun and meaningful for you? What could you become more intentional about, so that your life doesn't fly by unnoticed? I cheer you on to create a simple chart. Fall is busier, so I'd have fewer categories, but maybe I'll try it again. Join me. I have more books to read.

      Thursday, July 25, 2013

      Health & Beauty Products - Healthy & Beautiful Environment

      Cleaning Out the Health & Beauty Cupboard Responsibly

      Do old, expired, and unused pills, capsules, tubes, and bottles go to your bathroom cupboard to die and thereby turn your bathroom into a drugstore mausoleum? Do you routinely clear out unwanted and outdated items? I tackled this household task starting a year or so ago, and just finished it today due to complications of safe disposal. Caring for the environment puts a whole new spin on the Gospel admonition to love your neighbor!

      A year or so ago, I emptied our "health and beauty cupboard" of all expired, old, unused materials, and bagged them up to go. But go where? This became overwhelming due to my interest in being good to the environment and my lack of answers to some key questions. I knew I couldn't simply toss it all in the weekly trash.

      So there the big bag sat. And sat. And sat, collecting dust, a monument to my American life and the ever necessary drugstore sundries. Each time I went in our bathroom, it would haunt me quietly from its corner, though on many days I was blind to it. I no longer noticed it. It waited, gathering dust and suffering from the neglect of a project yet to be finished. Those unfinished projects have a way of adding to one's stress. The unanswered questions remained. What is the best thing to do with all that? Where do I dispose of it in a responsible way? Things my mother never taught me, that now are an issue.

      It was clear from online articles, reports, and common sense when I'd read the ingredients, that these items do not belong in a landfill. Perhaps many others would simply carry it to the trashcan and be done with it. Over it. That wasn't good enough. Our environment suffers pollution and makes us sick due to toxic items that make their way into our soil and water. Scary stories exist on the Internet (no surprise!), like sterile male fish who suffered from birth control pills ending up in the water supply. Seriously, I read that and I don't have time to determine truth from legend. Anyway, I froze in my steps, burdened to figure out the best way to take care of all these medications, lotions, sprays, and nail polish, dragging this project on way too long.

      Summer vacation is drawing to a close. It's back-to-work in about a week and a half, well past time to tackle my summer project list. I walked through our home, making note of tasks to be done that would have some impact. My bathroom bag of goodies gone bad hit the top of my mental list. Today became the day to break free of this little task that had become way too much of a burden.

      As many of you know, the simple answer to the question, "How do you eat an elephant?" is, of course, one bite at a time. So I took on my task and broke it into small steps to release the pressure of figuring it all out and doing everything. Open the bag. Look inside. Listen to the questions that popped into mind. Research answers online. Proceed to sort.

      My question remained: Where do I dump the various things that come out of the typical bathroom cupboard?

      Here's what I learned. My pharmacy no longer accepts old medicine. Perhaps yours does. I did locate a local sheriff's department office that has a drop box for such items. I also came across information on the National Take-Back Day sponsored by the Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Agency known as the DEA. However, that only happens once or twice a year, and I refused to procrastinate any longer, if possible. So that takes care of the medicines, over-the-counter and prescription. I also learned other health and beauty products need to go in the hazardous waste category, and would have to wait to be disposed of until the next local hazardous waste collection event.

      After gathering three grocery paper bags (and yes, they still come in handy), and a big plastic food bag that seals, I began sorting the items:

      1. Bag 1 (Plastic, 1-gallon, closable): Prescription Medications: Remove labels to prevent personal information getting into the wrong hands. I will take these to the drop box at my local sheriff's office. I need to call first, because sometimes the drop boxes are full, need to be emptied, and no additional items can be deposited until then.
      2. Bag 2: Toxic health and beauty supplies: If it is an aerosol can or has chemicals listed in the ingredients, or you just wouldn't want to eat or drink it, I considered it hazardous waste of the chemical sort. I'll let the hazardous waste collectors make the final determination. I will take these to the next local hazardous waste collection.
      3. Bag 3: Loose pills, tablets, capsules - non-prescription (Plastic, 1-gallon, closable): I emptied supplements, lozenges, etc. - more harmless items into the bag loose. I disposed of the empty containers in Step 4. The bag of non-prescription, non-toxic items can be put in the trash, but one sight recommends adding used coffee grounds or anything to prevent children and animals from eating the contents. Another sight suggestion adding water to the bag to dissolve. The plastic bag will go into the landfill and last for years, so I'll keep reading to figure out a better way.
      4. Bag 4 Recycling: I put empty plastic containers, boxes, and foil wrappers in this bag from emptying the contents into Step 3.
      Once everything was sorted, I sealed the big plastic bag and set it inside the hazardous waste bag, and closed all four bags, labeling each. I set the medication bag near the door to be delivered to the sheriff's later today. Hazardous waste went to the garage to await the next collection event. The recycling went out to the blue recycling container. Done! Finished! Freedom! The bathroom looks better. I feel better. And it all took less than an hour after all that procrastination. Of course. And one thing I know now, consuming less and using what you buy would make this all easier, too.

      Now there is a plan in place for the next attempt to update the health and beauty cupboard. Sure, this took more time than simply dumping it all in the trash dumpster. But I feel better knowing I took a little time to protect the environment which in turn is a great way to love your neighbor!

      Do you pay attention to expiration dates? Does your pharmacy take back old medicines to help you dispose of them? What do you do when you clean out the medicine cabinet, or the health and beauty cupboard as I like to call it?

      Helpful websites:


      Monday, July 1, 2013

      Weeknight Dinners - Dread or Delight

      Weeknight meals. On some days, fixing dinner is a struggle, or a challenge, or just a bit of an ongoing nuisance in an effort to simplify it. Eating out was formerly the default, but with budget and healthy eating priorities, that has been redefined. Perhaps you can relate to this dilemma.

      The weekday, or workday in my situation, zooms by. I often find myself at the end, unprepared to do the dinner thing. As the sun sets, so sink my ambitions of fixing something fast and flavorful. Some weeks, I plan, I shop, therefore I am ready. Other weeks, it is like a daily surprise that sneaks up on me. Really? It is time once again to gather around a plate or bowl that does not mysteriously fill itself. So I seek and search out sages of survival, like my mom, who could serve a meal and make it look effortless and taste satisfying.

      In Bread & Wine, by Shauna Niequist, I found some worthy advice. I found her common sense information practical and comforting. On page 265, she writes a few pages of down-to-earth tips and advice that made my weeknight dinner life look more hopeful. And I discovered I am not alone in this. At the end of the day, we are tired, time is short, and people are hungry. The perfect storm of feeding.

      By the way, Bread & Wine is a great book to read, especially if you enjoy cooking and shared meals with those you love, friends and family. I appreciated this honest look at life and how centering a shared meal can be.

      Here is a summary I created of a section near the end of the book. This is useful to me for personal reference. You may find it helpful as well, so I wanted to share it here. My notes are somewhat abbreviated, so I apologize if something does not make complete sense here, and suggest grabbing the book to broaden your understanding and to get many more great insights, ideas on life and food, including recipes. The following is adapted from the section titled "On Weeknight Cooking, With Pantry List:"

      Weeknight dinner rules of thumb:
      • They are largely about what you have already done, as in cooked for another meal, a.k.a. leftovers.
      • Planning and shopping are necessary.
      Step 1: Look for leftovers. Leftovers lead the way.
      Step 2: Ask…salad, soup, rice bowl, or taco? [Other options: pasta, sandwich] - Brilliant suggestions!
      Step 3: Select and begin. 

      Option 1: Salad...go big...full sides. Suggestions: Start with baby spinach, add protein (diced chicken), add crunch (pecans), add fruit (dried or fresh), add cheese, and toss with vinaigrette. My friend just introduced me to a salad like this with cheese tortellini as the protein.

      Option 2: Soup...starting of course with the aromatics (onion, garlic, or perhaps ginger). Use rice, chicken, veggies (perhaps a can of diced tomatoes), and fresh herbs. Niequist suggests an easy chicken and rice soup combo: onion, cooked chicken, rice, broth, salt and pepper. She suggests other alternatives in the book. I liked her ideas to add a handful baby spinach or frozen peas, carrots, celery, or cubed potatoes. She notes that carrots and potatoes increase cooking time, so be aware.

      Option 3: Rice Bowl...brown rice, chicken or chicken sausages, broccoli, and softened onion. She does include easy to follow steps for creating a simple rice bowl. The sauce she suggested made my mouth water: into the pan where the cook just pan-fried chicken breasts or sausage, add softened onion back in (cooked prior to the chicken), spoonful of Dijon, a splash of white wine or a few tablespoons broth. Let it mix and bubble and cook down to a quick pan sauce. Option: add a bit of butter or a few tablespoons of heavy cream or whole milk. Yum! Niequist also goes on to describe creative simple alternatives to change this up a bit.

      Option 4: Tacos...she's served scrambled egg tacos, which might be worth a try. Also, she suggests black bean and goat cheese tacos or sliced avocado and hummus tacos with a splash of salsa. She provides more direction and suggestions to create quick tacos with what's on hand.

      Lists: I am a list junkie. On pages 271-272, Niequist gives lists for what to keep on hand in the pantry, freezer, and refrigerator to make the weeknight dinner routine more drama-free. I'll lean into those lists as I continue to try to plan and shop to make dinner nice and not a nightmare.
      "Who's up for scrambled eggs, pickles and syrup for dinner?" she cheered, and then realized with Shauna's lists, her dinnertime drama would soon end.
      I feel empowered. What are your tips and tricks for weeknight dinners?

      Note: I married a guy skilled in the kitchen with the gift of being able to throw open cupboard doors and like magic create a good meal, when I just stand there staring and groaning that there is nothing to eat. I am blessed to have a partner in the effort to provide dinner. Mondays are even his assigned night, since I'm doing all our laundry that day. Teamwork! So the weight of evening meals is not my burden to bear alone. for which I am grateful to him.
      "There's nothing to eat for dinner," she cried in despair.

      Wednesday, May 15, 2013

      Summer Fun Idea: Backyard Movie Night

      I saw this photo in a recent Crate & Barrel catalog.

      Crate & Barrel Spring Catalog 2013

      My friend, Brynne, got me thinking about backyard movie nights a few years ago, but we never explored the idea much further. This photo started a new flood of ideas. Maybe this will be the summer we give this a try.

      We can suspend a white sheet. We can tell friends to bring pillows. We can spread quilts and blankets on the lawn. Food will be the easy part.

      I'm not sure about a projection device. I'm not sure how the volume of an outdoor movie would impact my urban neighborhood. I won't have fancy lanterns with burning candles staggered around the grounds due to lack of funding and concern about flames and kids at the same level. We could resolve that by using battery candles. And as far as noise level is concerned, we could use subtitles and have a silent movie night. Ha! Perhaps there is potential there, but I'll need to give more thought to a sound system outside. The reality is that my husband will be asked to give more thought to that.

      Anyway, it could turn into a grand evening with friends, and a summer to remember.

      Oh, and one more thing. I can guarantee we won't be watching home movies. But then again, there are copyright laws related to showing produced films, like a Disney cartoon, to a group. I better call my lawyer and find out the scoop on that! I don't have a lawyer. I'll have to read the copyright info at the beginning of the flick.


      Have you ever watched a movie in your backyard? What advice do you have?

      Sunday, May 12, 2013

      Good-bye Old Stove!

      “The estimate for the repair is over $500?”
      “That’s what he said. Time to go look for a new stove. What are you doing tomorrow morning?”
      “Looking for a new stove with you.”
      “I think so!”

      Our first married stove, and the first stove I’ve ever even owned, was purchased in the spring of 1995. That was eighteen years ago. Today, we bought that stove's replacement.  For me, it is a bit stressful to spend on a new appliance and to take a guess on selecting one that will prove worth that investment.

      We had been hand-lighting the top burners on the old stove for years. They quit igniting along the way. Our old stove clock, in times of power outages or time changes, could only be reset by unplugging, plugging it back in, and then setting the time. The timer hasn’t worked for years. We just dealt with it and took it in stride. Inconveniences, but not essentials. Then this week the oven died. That was the crushing blow that resulted in our new purchase.

      My husband, who enjoys cooking, too, has opinions on these matters. We had fun looking for the new stove together. We debated getting the cheapest stove we could find or one more expensive, yet more suited to our needs over time. This one will serve us better in the long run.

      We got it loaded in the truck and, with help from a friend, moved it into our kitchen. That saved a delivery charge and we did not have to wait to get it home. He confidently installed it, with only two trips to the local hardware store. He also cleaned behind the old stove, for which I am so grateful. That was a dusty, grimy scene, evidence of housekeeping neglect for who knows how long.

      New, shiny, and so clean...
      So, we have started the clock to see how long the new stove will last. We bought the five-year warranty, which I’ve come to accept as necessary these days. Appliances are not as reputable as in our parents' days. Replacing appliances has its financial challenges all bundled with hopes for a good product that will serve and last.

      Our new gas range is a better-looking appliance, of course, as styles and tastes change through the years. Once we got it home, I realized a simple pleasure for the first time in my grown-up life: a white refrigerator, white dishwasher, and now white range. They all match. Our old stove front and the top panel were black, which now looked dreary and dreadful. 
      Old Faithful...
      Aside from color changes, the new stove comes with minimal razzle-dazzle technology and dashboard of keypads, which we learned to use quickly.  It comes with a bigger oven and five burners, which my husband thinks will be useful, especially with two couples cooking in this house - and all four people cook, the men and the women. [Another couple lives upstairs]

      Our new KitchenAid range
      Now we have burners that actually ignite when you turn the switch/knob, a bit of a thrill that I do not take for granted. The clock/timer problems are now solved, additional pleasures of the purchase. I'm feeling a bit spoiled.

      We can now roast or bake with a convection oven. That will save energy, something pro-environment for me. It seems easy enough to do, according to the instruction manual.

      Within less than 24-hours, we broke in our new stove and gave it a whirl: 

      First baked item, Monkey Bread – a worthy choice.

      First spill – melting butter with brown sugar.
      • First piece of popcorn hit the stove top and came to rest – proof that love is in the air and plenty to share.
      • Grease spattered while cooking this morning's breakfast bacon. I had to back down almost immediately from my new vow of hyper-vigilance in keeping the stove top clean all the time, though I am hoping we keep it cleaner than the one we are retiring.
      I was feeling a bit reflective with the transition in stoves, another turn of the page of time. A stove is so central to our home life, to the kitchen, to the meal. A tool for nourishment and connection. The stove itself, a choice, a selection made by two minds, two sets of opinions, with hopes of being able to afford it, and dreams that it will last a long time. It is a blessing to have a marriage that outlasts a stove these days!

      Thoughts included summers where it is too hot to cook. Holidays where certain baking and roasting smells fill our home and announce a season or a festive meal. Watching cheese melt and bubble on a pizza through the oven window at the end of a busy weekday. Anticipating a cake or cookies or fresh fruit crisp for a sweet treat. New recipes to try with humbled expectations and fun in the process. All these things revolve around a stove. The sizzle of sauté whether onions or garlic or something else. Stirring a hearty soup. Caramelizing anything. These are some of our delicious times around the stove that create bonds and memories, anticipation of something good, and value for the process.

      So, out with the with the new. Good-bye old stove! Now we have to figure out what to do with the old one. It looks so used and dirty with the new one nearby. It served us well for many years and now we will dispose of it in an environmentally conscious way.
      Did you know new ovens no longer include broiler pans? Do you think replacing a major appliance ever comes at a convenient time?