Saturday, July 4, 2015

driven to distraction at work

driven to distraction at work

Adult nonfiction
To look at the Orono Public Library adult new nonfiction
section, you'd think we'd won the library lottery. Every time I visit
there are fresh new books on fascinating and timely topics packing the
shelves. Driven To Distraction At Work: How To Focus And Be More
Productive by Edward M. Hallowell, MD is one of the more useful volumes.
Hallowell is a big time expert on ADD and ADHD. People consult
him to see if they have one of those disorders. "They come to see me
because they've lost their ability to focus on anything; they're
always in a rush, bouncing from task to task like boats against the
current, worried that they're falling behind even as they strive to
get ahead. Multitasking, hopping from project to project, e-mailing
while talking on the phone..." (Sound like you or anyone you know?) He
coined a term to describe people who were functioning poorly and
experiencing discomfort but did not qualify for either diagnosis: ADT
(attention defecit trait also known as modern life). Where the former
are intrinsic, the latter is caused by the situation.
Anyone who has been around long enough has a sense of what he's
talking about. The same electronics that provide many benefits have
also become rather intrusive and domineering. The constant pings and
buzzes that alert us to incoming texts and other messages can fragment
the ability to concentrate. Our 24/7/365 electronic communication
ability can enable work related matters to intrude on family time
while those tempting games, websites, and silly kitty pictures can
make at work time less productive. Overexposure to toxic news (If it
bleeds, it leads) can lead to anxiety. Multitasking, that desperate
doing two things at once because otherwise we can't get to everything,
can leave us unablity to do any of the tasks well....
Hallowell contends that advice that concerns itself only with
the visible output, such as the adages concerning list making and more
efficient time management, are doomed to failure. To make meaningful
change you have to understand exactly what you are up against. The
first part of his book is devoted to in depth exploration of the six
most common ADT causes. An example we're all probably familiar with
screen sucking (when electronics control life at least a little too
much).
There are, however, general methods of improving balance and
focus just as there are ways for achieving physical health and
vitality. The second part of the book deals with ways of working them
into daily life. I am thrilled with the importance he gives to three
considered unaffordable luxuries by so many people today: adequate
sleep, play, and face time with actual human beings.
We can't turn back the hands of time and return to a simpler era
many long for. Electronics, for better and worse, are here to stay.
But we can learn to take back our lives and be their masters rather
than their Pavlovian dogs. So I highly recommend Driven To
Distraction At Work.
On a personal note, I am taking advantage of the social and civic
slowing down summer affords. In the time over and beyond more routine
tasks (such as cooking and keeping my blog up) I am focussing on two
major projects I plan to finish by September: the master cleaning and
organizing of house and shed including painting public rooms and the
poetry manuscript I plan to sell to a small publisher. I'm sure some
of the tips I've learned from Dr. Hallowell will help me achieve these
goals.
A great big shout out goes out to my wonderful readers along with warm
wishes for a fabulous Fourth of July weekend.
Julia Emily Hathaway


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Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Year We Sailed The Sun

The Year We Sailed The Sun

Juvenile fiction
Back in the day Theresa Nelson acquired herself a mother-in-law
who had lived (or survived) a most unusual childhood. Instead of just
thinking "wow" (like most of us would have), she wanted to share her
story with the world. It took her quite awhile from inspiration to
product--longer than it took me to raise up my three children from
Amber's birth til Adam's high school graduation. But if you're lucky
enough to read The Year We Sailed The Sun you will consider it well
worth the time she invested.
The year is 1912; the settings are the Kerry Patch and the Bad
Lands, two of the toughest, most lawless, hardscrabble neighbors in
pre WWI St. Louis. Tomboy narrator Julia, 11, is an orphan. Her
grandmother who took her and her older sister in (both parents are
deceased) has just passed.
You gotta love her first sentences.
"I suppose I will go to hell for biting that nun.
Mary (sister) says it's a mortal sin, for sure.
Never mind. It was worth it. I would bite her again, if I got
the chance.
Bill (brother) says Pop's down there frying already, so I won't
be lonesome."
[If you can read that opening and not put that book on your
summer reading list, I don't want to know].
Julia (great name for a narrator BTW) is shooting marbles (still
in her funeral attire) when her reluctant temporary guardian hauls her
into the parlor where she comes face to face with two nuns ("...a big
one with a face like George Washington on a dollar bill, and a little-
bitty plump one, like a pigeon with spectacles...). Horrified, she
recognizes them as the orphan nuns. "...I'd seen 'en, marching their
charges to church on Sunday mornings. Drab-looking girls in brown-and-
white uniforms, each one homelier than the last, trudging down Morgan
Street with their eyes straight in front of them, past the pool halls
and the whiskey bars and the ramshackle floozy houses, tramping along
in lockstep, two by two."
Now the nuns have come for Julia and Mary.
The House Of Mercy: Industrial School and Girls' Home is all
Julia feared it would be and more. The plaid uniforms are not only
ugly, but uncomfortable. The girls are packed in like sardines. The
food is pretty much what you'd expect. Finances are always tight. In
fact, much to her chagrin, Julia becomes one of the girls taken round
to beg alms from the rich. The sisters are quite strict. Breaking
rules can lead to spending time in the sin room, a chamber little
bigger than a broom closet with no furnishings except a chair and
chamber pot.
Julia is a very clever escape artist. As she gets around she
begins to understand not-so-savory episodes in her family's past. She
also learns why her brother is in mortal peril...
...unless she and her siblings can get away which would be a
miracle, a miracle she somehow has to achieve.
The Year We Sailed the Sun is one of the most delightful,
enthralling books I have read this year to date. The details bring
time and place vividly to life. Julia's voice is distinct and
unforgettable.
On a personal note the Veazie school budget has been far from routine
this year. We (school committee) worked hard to come up with a budget
that would be realistic while not endangering the children's
education. The town council insisted we make drastic cuts. We
refused. They insisted again. We refused again. They put their
number on the referendum. We got the people to vote it down. Monday
we had a Nightmare on Main Street meeting between both those groups
and budget committee. But Tuesday when it was just School Committee
and Budget Committee we reached a compromise. Now if we can just sell
it to town council next Monday... If I could bring all the devout
nuns from the book to life, I would have them praying constantly
between now and then.
A great big shout out goes out to the children in Veazie and their
families and larger community on whose behalf we are working diligently.
Julia Emily Hathaway


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Monday, June 29, 2015

Haunted Maine

Haunted Maine

Adult paranormal
It's not surprising that on those summer nights when we are able
to sit around a campfire, watching the sparks fly upwards, trying to
stay out of the way of the smoke, toasting marshmellows and devouring
s'mores, scary stories feature prominently among our methods of
entertainment. Much of the year our state can be downright eerie.
How about those winter months when darkness falls not long after the
children ride home on bright yellow school buses? How about those
nor'easters when wind whips ominously abound our abodes and all it
takes to lose power is a breaking tree limb? How about the early
mornings when mists rise up from the river, cloaking trees and fields
in ghostly swirling whiteness?
How about this story? It's about a dreaded appirition revealed
from time to time to Casco Bay fishermen: an old time wooden ship so
rotten its skeleton could be seen somehow not taking on water and
going down as the laws of science would predict, somehow avoiding all
obstacles despite lack of visible crew. "What is the dead ship's
purpose, it's mission?," Charles Stansfield Jr. asks in his Haunted
Maine: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena in the Pine Tree State. "Why
does this phantom ship appear out on the water only just before a
death onshore? Is the dreaded dead ship bringing the Angel of Death
across the waters? Or is she arriving just in time to ferry the
departing spirits of the dead on their journey to another world?..."
The Dead Ship of Harpswell is one of about eighty supernatural
spooky stories Stansfield narrates so eerily well. Among other
haunting tales you will learn about:
*the cursed tombstone of judge Jonathan Buck. He sentenced an alleged
witch to death. Some versions of the story have them carrying on an
adulterous relationship. The imprint of a foot and leg (which I have
seen) can not be removed from the obelisk which rises over the judge's
mortal remains;
*a UFO encounter that was not revealed for half a century. In the
50's two teens were where they weren't supposed to be (the local
lovers' lane). They were doing what they weren't supposed to be doing
(use your imagination) when they experienced a very intimate alien
encounter. By the time they let the rest of the world on their secret
anyone who could have punished them had already passed;
*a house in North Edgecomb that is said to be the eternal stomping
grounds of Marie Antoinette. How a French queen, killed hundreds of
years ago by Revolutionaries, would end up in a place she'd never set
foot in in life is quite the story...one you'll have to read the book
to learn;
*a British sea captain, buried on his native turf who traveled 3,000
miles to haunt a house in Falmouth. He wanted a leg that had been
amputated to save his life. He wasn't going home without it. Only a
house had been built right over it;
*a desert in Maine surrounded by the forest and pasture land more
usual in the state. Rumor has it that a farmer on his deathbed
instructed his second wife to give his property to his son by his
first marriage. When she gave it to someone else his ghost played the
vengeance will be mine card
I would highly recommend Haunted Maine to anyone who needs to
build up a campfire story repetoire or who simply enjoys good ghost
stories.
My only disappoint with this elagently eerie book is that its
author seems to share the nearly universal bias of equating Maine with
coast, dwelling far to much on that prime real estate and skimming
over the rest of the state. Stories from the interior constituting
just one of five chapters seems to me a bit lopsided.
On a personal note, some of my sweetest memories involve Amber's great
fondness for scary stories. When she was really young the children
and I attended our church's retreat center whenever possible. One day
we found children's books of ghost stories in the library of that
stately mansion. My children and their friends would cuddle like
kittens around a mother cat while I read those stories out loud. Back
to home Amber and I beguiled many lovely rainy afternoons and drowsy
evenings as I read her volumes from the Goosebumps and Fright Time
series (so often the covers nearly fell off) and the novels of Maine's
own Stephen King. When we read the choose-your-own-endings books
neither of us wanted to make the decisions on which page to turn to
next. :) Those were the days! Now Amber is writing her very own
scary novel. I couldn't be more proud of her.
A great big shout out goes out to all scary story writers who transfix
us with manageable and pleasant horror.
Julia Emily Hathaway


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Our Kids

Our Kids

Adult Nonfiction
Saturday I was in Bangor to march in the annual Pride Parade.
While we were being placed in marching formation and then after the
parade while I looked at the booths of organizations I was approached
by people with clipboards asking me to sign a petition for raising the
minimum wage which is not enough to sustain life and health,
especially if children are in the picture. One woman spoke especially
poignantly. She, herself, as a teacher, earned plenty enough.
However, her choice of vocation gave her intimate knowledge of the
lives of children in families with at least one working parent who
were crushed by the burden of family poverty. We talked about this
economic brutality. I reached into my backpack. Did I have a book
for her...
...and for you, too, dear Reader. I will assume that if you
choose my blog you care about children's futures. Robert Putnam,
author of Bowling Alone, which is also a must read, gives us dire
warnings about the future in his Our Kids: The American Dream in
Crisis. Not only are the childhoods of the poor increasingly
precarious, but their futures and those of their unborn progeny are
compromised.
We have this Horatio Alger American Dream belief, epitomized by
the once popular song that stated that every little boy [sic] can grow
up to be president of the United States. At some points in our
nation's history it was a fairly feasible (although not universal)
expectation that kids from all family backgrounds could get good
educations and, if not the Oval Office, decent careers through hard
work and perseverance. At other times, including the one we live in,
this adage has been a myth used to blame those in need of help. Just
look at Maine Governer Paul LePage's obsession with eliminating
welfare cheating and keeping "able bodied" adults from getting
Medicaid rather that seeking to ameliorate the conditions under which
there is so much need for both.
Putnam, a child of the '50s, grew up in Port Clinton, Ohio.
"Though small and not very diverse racially, Port Clinton in the 1950s
was in all other respects a remarkably representitive microcosm of
America demigraphically, economically, socially, educationally, and
even politically." In his youth neighborhoods and schools were mixed
class wise, income inequity was low, civic engagement was high, and
the socioeconomic ladder was not out of reach for the relatively
disadvantaged. Not surprisingly, most of his classmates who graduated
high school in 1959 went on to prosper, many doing better than
previous generations.
Today's Port Clinton is quite the contrast. In the intervening
years the decently paying manufacturing jobs disappeared for the most
part. At the same time social solidarity was dying out and the ultra
rich were discovering the natural beauty of the region and snapping up
their little bits of lakeside paradise. Increasing residential
segregation (as in adjoining census tracts with child poverty rates of
1% and 51%) has led to seperate neighborhoods and schools. A child
from a disadvantaged family with the desire to improve his/her lot
would have much more of an uphill struggle.
In Our Kids Putnam explores the complex ways in which in
contemporary America impoverished childhoods lead to vastly diminished
opportunities. (I would do a grave disservice to his work if I tried
to cite a few). In doing so he undercuts the beliefs of up-by-the
bootstraps cherished by conservatives like the aforementioned Mr.
LePage. He combines meticulous national research with candid
narratives in a way that makes the book eminantly readable. I would
recommend it to all people who work with children and families in any
capacity and elected and appointed officials at all levels. In
particular I would challenge conservatives to try to reconcile it with
their cherished Horatio Alger beliefs.
On a personal note, the parade was awesome. The marchers and viewers
were jubilant, not surprising on the day after the Supreme Court's
landmark ruling in favor of marriage equality. In addition to floats
and people there were plenty of dogs (all agreeably sharing space) and
even a ragdoll rescue cat (I kid you not) in a rainbow tulle dress
riding regally in a pillow topped wagon (I could not make this up)
directly behind a St. Bernard who probably outweighs me clad in a
purple tutu. Even the weather, sunny with a breeze, could not have
been more perfect. It was a privilege to have been invited to march.
Great big shout outs go out to the many people who worked so hard to
attain marriage equality, those who strive to give throw away animals
like the ragdoll cat decent lives, and those who write about and fight
for the futures of children living in poverty and precariousness.
Have you ever noticed that the people who argue against raising
the minimum wage are those who don't have to try to survive on it?
Julia Emily Hathaway


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Friday, June 26, 2015

The Haunting of Sunshine Girl

The Haunting of Sunshine Girl

YA novel
It had been raining all day, duplicating the ambiance of the
suspense story I was unable to put down. On the pages the weather
escalated into a thunder storm. Suddenly in real life lightning
flashed across the sky while there was a crash like a bomb going off.
I will have to admit to being startled by that bit of life imitating
art.
Sunshine, 16, narrator of Paige McKenzie's The Haunting of
Sunshine Girl, has lived in Austin, Texas all her life. When her
mother, Kat, gets a job offer in Washington (the state) they move.
Sunshine finds the gloomy atmosphere decidedly creepy even before she
enters the house her mom rented off Craig's list, a house that smells
musty and moldy. Her first night she hears footsteps and the giggles
of an unseen child.
Sunshine becomes convinced that the house is haunted by the
ghost of a child. At home she is chilled to the bone. Things that
could not logically do so get wet. Her belongings are constantly
moved. In one eerie scene her taxidermied owl flies in circles
through the air.
Logical minded Kat goes through the most frightening episodes
oblivious to anything supernatural going on around her. She can't
even see photographic or video evidence. She's convinced Sunshine is
simply unhappy so far away from her lifetime home. Best friend Ashley
becomes impatient when Sunshine tries to tell her about her
predicament. Sunshine feels not only haunted but abandoned. Why
can't anyone else perceive her ghost...
...if that's all it is. Pages interspersed of unknown origin
point to a more malignant entity.
The Haunting of Sunshine Girl is a great read for suspense
loving young adults and adult adults...
...except maybe not in the middle of a lightning storm. :)
On a personal note, I am cleaning my younger daughter's room which, in
the year since she's lived there, has gained a hurricane aftermath
ambiance. I want it nice for her to stay in when she comes home to
visit. It will also be a reading/writing/crafts room for me. It's
haunted in a different way than the house in the book. So many of the
objects I touch are conduits to beautful memories. Sigh.
A great big shout goes out to Katie who is rocking her post college
dream job. You go, Girl.
Julia Emily Hathaway


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Wild Things

Wild Things

Adult Nonfiction
Children's literature is often like Rodney Dangerfield. It gets
no respect. People especially are prone to seeing picture books as
sweet nothings. Anyone who has been a parent or a child can write one
without much effort. (In an alarming trend celebrities are doing just
that and drawing attention and resources from seriously good
literature by virtue of name recognition sales potential).
In Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature Betsy
Bird, Julie Danielson, and Peter D. Sieruta state, "We've long
wondered what causes so many adults--sophisticated, worldly, and even
downright cynical adults--to get sloppy and sentimental at the mere
mention of books for kids. It seems that for many, the topic conjures
up a lost world of gumdrops, rainbows, and fluffy little bunnies that
love you forever and like you for always. In an illustrated lecture
he once gave at the University of Utah, Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss)
referred to those as 'bunny bunny books' or 'the fuzzy mysterious
literature of the young'."
As anyone who has spent much time studying the full array of
children's lit can attest, even picture books for the youngest readers/
listeners are far from always fuzzy bunny warrens. Topics include the
Jewish experience in world war II, death, AIDS, being black in the Jim
Crow era, and poverty. Censors go after books ranging from In The
Night Kitchen with its nude protagonist to YA novels with gay narrators.
Wild Things is a comprehensive look at the books that defy
stereotypes and the authors and illustrators who created them. It
looks at how juvenile books have covered some quite contentious issues
and how some quite subversive bits--both verbal and visual--have
gotten past the censors. There are speculations on contemporary issues:
*Is there any value in the books kids love and critics hate?
*Are books by celebrities as harmless as they seem?
*Will there ever be another Harry Potter?...
There are also quite candid looks at the private lives of
authors and illustrators? In a stereotype that goes hand in glove
with the fuzzy bunny caricature these folks are assumed to have
private lives as blandly g rated and wholesome as their literary
output is alleged to be. You will learn that this is not always the
case.
I believe this book is a must read for librarians, teachers,
children's literature affeccianados, and authors and illustrators who
feel a call to produce books for the young and young at heart...
...especially if their fuzzy bunnies have vampire fangs.
On a personal note, Wednesday night was the Orono Public Library's
outdoor book sale and concert. It was fabulous. People really had a
fine time. Kids were free to run and play in the great outdoors. The
music was superb. Friends of the Public Library made money for
programs. People including yours truly stocked up for summer
reading. Folks loved my sparkly butterfly wings. Marketing, you
know. And at the end there were free cupcakes. Who could ask for more?
A great big shout out goes out to all the folks who worked hard to
bring this fabulous event to fruition.
Julia Emily Hathaway


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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Essentialism

Essentialism

Adult nonfiction
The day after their daughter was born Greg McKeown visited his
wife in the hospital. She had given birth to a baby girl, their
daughter. Instead of being totally present in the moment, however, he
was torn between them and work communication and ended up leaving to
go to a client meeting, a decision he came to regret.
"As it turned out, exactly nothing came out of the client
meeting. But even if it had, I would have made a fool's bargain. In
trying to keep everyone happy I had sacrificed what mattered most.
On reflection I discovered this important lesson:
If you don't
prioritize your
life, someone
else will."
Fortunately for readers, this epiphany led McKeown to plunge
into the study of how people make personal and professional decisions
and whether there are better ways of making those constant choices.
His research culminated in Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of
Less.
Basically essentialism consists of less but better. In today's
world where we are bombarded with too many choices, technology has
amped up our sense of social judgement, and there is pressure to have
it all, it's easy to try to take on every challenge and opportunity,
even those we don't want.
McKeown shows how that is an exercise in futility. He compares
life to a cluttered clothes closet--a closet in which additions are
not balanced by thinning out. Even when a purge is attempted, things
that might be useful someday are kept. In the same way, people's
lives become cluttered with acquaintances, activities, and commitments.
McKeown says that we can only do a finite amount of things well
and with a sense of peace and well being. The trick is being
proactive, knowing our most important values, and alligning time and
effort expenditures with them. Most activities need to be pruned,
even perfectly good ones, in order to give adequate space to the best.
"...There is tremendous freedom in learning that we can
eliminate the nonessentials, that we are no longer controlled by other
people's agendas, and that we get to choose. With that invincible
power we can discover our highest point of contribution, not just to
our lives and careers, but to the world."
Pretty heady stuff, huh? And that leads to the one weakness of
the book. This kind of self actualization is only available to folks
with a certain amount of economic security. It's beyond the reach of
many people, not only in third world countries, but here in the United
States. If you're a single parent working retail or fast food, for
example, life can be a constant marathon of must dos.
Anyway if you can afford to be an essentialist McKeown gives a
lot of concrete advice on how to make this life-changing transition.
He also provides ideas on how to assert values and choices without
feeling guilty and deal with people who aren't happy campers when
you're no longer available 24/7/365.
If you feel stretched too thin, if there never is enough time,
if you can't enjoy the people and activities you truly love, and if
you have the luxury of being able to decide how you spend your time,
you will find Essentialism a very worthwhile read.
On a personal note, coincidentally, it was childbirth that made an
essentialist out of me. The day after 16 hours of labor and an
emergency c section I was able to hold the most amazing baby in the
world. I fell heads over heels in love to a depth I'd never felt
possible. My life focus sharpened with amazing clarity. I said to my
husband, "I don't want to leave her." Fortunately for me he said, "I
don't want you to."
I set up a home typing business and later switched over to free
lance writing to add to our household income. Amber gained two
siblings. I was able to fit my work in with family. Even in the more
busy periods I was able to enjoy and be present for my children and
take them everywhere from library story hours to DC peace marches. My
house sometimes looked like a hurricane hit it and cooking was
simple. But my life and heart were where my treasure was. Life was
good. I have 25 years of journals to prove it.
A great big shout out and eternal thanks go to the husband who agreed
with me. Over the years he's had to work very hard to provide and do
without a lot of niceties that two incomes could have provided. I'm
sure it wasn't easy.
Julia Emily Hathaway


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