Migration isn’t just for birds

Migration isn’t just for birds

OK, the morning temperatures are in single digits with wind chill below zero. Warm breezes and snow-free weather reports are encouraging many of my peers to give up their long underwear for long walks on the beach. But that’s not the migration I’m talking about.

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Let’s just say I’m a cloud hopper.  When you move a website from one service to another the technical term is migration.  Let me tell you, it is just about as messy as many trips to Ellis Island. If there is a misspelling of a name or a problem verifying a destination, all forward progress stops. And rarely does the interaction involve dealing with people.

This blog is the frontispiece of my new website. As with any work in progress, there are missteps and challenges. I’m still working to get the look and features just right. And in the cloud hopping department, I’ve moved from one host to another that should make the creative process a bit easier.

If it can be so tedious, why bother? I think I have something to say. And I know having the intellectual challenge of making this technology work for me keeps me sharp. Some very wise octogenarians keep showing me how much there is to learn at every age.  So I keep learning and exploring, between the pages of a book, walking a neighborhood or finding portals to brilliance on the internet.

Everyday I’m learning more. Please keep watching this space. After all, I’m Finding My Wings. And with a little luck and some help from my friends, I’ll fly!

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Reading, a portable vacation

Reading, a portable vacation

Forget the 10835269_904426496256072_731989134103596863_ogroundhog! You don’t need a rodent to tell you that winter’s got a firm grip on the U.S. Like everyone else, I’d be thrilled to have warm winds and long sunlit days but it’s not to be. The upside of howling winds and darkness is the pull of a comfy chair and lots of good books. How apt that February is Love of Reading Month.

For the last several years we’ve been listening to the ongoing debates about the merits of ebooks versus paper books versus audiobooks. The times definitely are a’changin’ and the publishing world along with it. After the noise died down readers recognized that there is a time and place for each of these versions. There really is a time and place for all. And I have to admit, my suitcases are lighter when my reading mix includes ebooks.

When I travel I try to cram new sights and experiences into every moment of the trip. And every trip includes a visit to a local bookstore, and two on a recent trip to New Orleans. Readers of some of the most popular social e-news sites, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed.com, Travel+Leisure, among others, routinely feature independent bookstores in all their glory from the four corners of the world. Even the airlines see the destination value in these local gems as this piece in the American Airlines/American Eagle magazine shows.

And when I’m home, I still travel. Nothing transports like a good book! First stop: my childhood. My comfy place is the reading chair of my childhood. Every evening my mother read the local paper sitting in this chair. That image and example she set helped create the reader I am today.IMG_2498Sharing my love of reading with friends really enhances the experience. Today’s reading “vacation” was spending the day with a friend at a day-long seminar, Reading Your Way to a Well-Educated Mind, at the Smithsonian. Susan Wise Bauer provided a wonderful framework for purposefully reading, be it the classics or current titles.     IMG_2500Whether the book is in hand, percolating in my thoughts, or part of a conversation, reading is interwoven throughout the fabric of my life. Stay warm and read!

 

Fighting hibernation

Fighting hibernation

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As much as I love reading, an activity perfectly suited for the shorter, colder, darker days of winter, there is nothing like an excursion to keep both mind and body sharp. This winter I’ve found myself a bit stymied in my quest to keep my inner excursionista happy. First off, the weather has not cooperated.  Not that it’s been so terrible but it seems too many times I’ve put something on the schedule and the specter of icy roads/delays quashes the plan. Sometimes it’s a mundane appointment that is then rescheduled on a day that would have been perfect for a good downtown wander. If I were still using a paper calendar my January would be one big eraser-created hole.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 5.58.55 PMBeyond the weather, a recent change to reading the Washington Post online (except on Sunday) has altered the number and range of local events/exhibits/opportunities that cross my path. Given the explosion of social media marketing and web guides you’d think it would be easy to hone in great things to see and do.  The truth is the algorithms may show you the top three exhibits in town for the weekend but can’t show you the range of museum or gallery shows in the same way the listings in an old fashioned newspaper can. When the seasonal calendar of all theater/art exhibits/concerts for the upcoming months appears it is so much easier to grab a pen, circle those of interest and tear out the pages. Whether you are a local or just visiting, I have a favorite place online to look for something to do – a walking tour, exhibit or lesser known performance – and it’s Cultural Tourism DC. There is an annotated calendar that makes it much easier to pick, choose and schedule. Now that I’ve shared a trick to finding fun, who’s game for a trip to see “Decoding the Renaissance” at the Folger Shakespeare Library? Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 11.20.42 PM

Coming to a (small) screen near you! Part 1- The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

Coming to a (small) screen near you! Part 1- The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

Huh? “What is The Book of Negroes?” you say. “I’m sure I’d have remembered a book with that title!” Therein lies the story. Lawrence Hill, a Canadian author, published The Book of Negroes in 2007. This historical novel quickly garnered critical acclaim and popular recognition, winning awards and being selected by the CBC-radio for its “Read Canada” event. The book tells the story of Aminata, a young girl stolen from Africa in the 1700’s and enslaved in South Carolina. She escapes and heads to Manhattan and aids the British during the American Revolution, serving as the scribe for the Book of Negroes, the registry of those freed slaves the British promise to award land for their assistance in fighting the colonists during the Revolution. Every day of her life she worked to better herself, a truly compelling character.

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The Book of Negroes is an actual historical document and becomes a pivotal part of the story. It is the connotation of the title that is so off-putting. We just don’t say that. So when the book was released in the US in 2008 the title was changed to Someone Knows My Name. The book has been brought to television with CBC (Canada) and BET (US) as the primary producers.  It has already premiered in Canada and will be shown on BET February 16 to 18. This is BET’s first  miniseries ever.  http://www.bet.com/shows/the-book-of-negroes.html 

Lawrence Hill has created a wonderful and well-written story in this, his first novel. This success has traversed borders, raising the controversial question, “What’s in a name?” When the book was published in the Netherlands in 2011 there were threats to burn the book over its title. Hill responded that the controversy is part of the message to be learned from the story.

I am excited at the prospect of watching the miniseries. My past experience with CBC productions has been quite positive. There’s still time to enter Aminata’s world on your own terms before you watch the show. My copy has traveled through many hands since I first read it and discussed it with a book group. Someone Knows My Name/The Book of Negroes is a good example of historical fiction that expands your understanding of history through the life story of its characters.

Paris 2015 | Paris 1943

Paris 2015 | Paris 1943

This week my book group was immersed in Paris. We planned it back in June. While it isn’t uncommon to have current events creep into the discussion, it is rare to have the past and present echo so strongly. Our book was The Paris Architect, Charles Belfoure’s first novel about a French architect in occupied Paris in 1943 – 1944 who is persuaded to use his talents to create extraordinary hiding places for Jews. The book is not a conventional Holocaust novel. First, it takes place entirely in Paris, after the round-up and barely references the trains or camps. None of the major characters in the story are Jewish.

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 9.19.21 AM  An overriding theme of the book discussion was the importance of empathy and the recognition of shared human interests despite differences. Belfoure’s architect, Lucien, begins the novel totally self-absorbed and driven by his desires to design and make money. Only after several clandestine projects is he willing to acknowledge the humanity of the Jews he has been tasked to hide. The Nazis Lucien must deal with are also not uni-dimensional. They range from completely sadistic, to amoral to delicately walking a fine line between self-serving and turning a blind eye to Lucien’s activities.

Watching the demonstrations in Paris and public and governmental reactions worldwide, the counterpoint of the legitimate outrage seen now and the silence in the 1930’s and 40’s is astounding. The murdered writers of Charlie Hebdo and the victims of the kosher market attack were cast as citizens beyond Paris. The reaction to such events is encouraging. The hatred and terrorism that spawned it is not.

And the takeaway for today? I like to think it’s not just the 24/7 media frenzy that has resulted in outrage at acts of hatred and violence against others be it for racial, religious, political or ethnic reasons whether in France, the U.S., Mexico or Nigeria. The terrorism of Boko Haram in Nigeria is not reported less for a lack of concern for the victims but rather because of more difficult communications and imminent danger to anyone trying to get the information out. The victims of the Holocaust in Europe and the Japanese in China during WWII, regardless of the reason they were selected, died in part because of silence and apathy and the unwillingness of those who knew what was going on to do something.

Seventy years ago, on January 17, 1945, Raoul Wallenberg was taken into custody by the Russian army, never to be seen in public again. As a Swedish diplomat, Wallenberg issued passports and transit documents to Jews to save them from the Nazis. Wallenberg remains the face of standing up to injustice in the final days of WWII. While we have learned of many other righteous men and women who put their lives at risk to help Jews and others facing almost certain death, it is the fundamental lesson of their acts we should remember – it is the obligation of each of us to fight back against any person, group or government that seeks to harm others for their beliefs.

And as I look at this historical trajectory, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. must be mentioned as well. He walked the bridge, both real and metaphorical, that has taken us on this path. And he died carrying the message forward.

May their memory continue to be a blessing and a lesson to the world.

Library = Community; Amazon, not so much

Library = Community; Amazon, not so much

Community-CalendarAlmost 60 years ago, Charles Tiebout put forth a theory of political economy that individuals select where live by the mix of services provided and costs associated with them. People may move, vote with their feet, when their requirements are no longer met. Through the 20th century, “regular” folk often included in that mix good local schools, libraries and houses of worship, nearby transportation (either roadways or public), and ready access to groceries, drugstores, hardware stores and clothing stores. Jobs were sought, houses purchased and families raised based on these choices, the localities that provided the governmental services and the costs to attain the whole package.

As our wireless connectivity has increased, many of these interpersonal and neighborhood connections have loosened considerably. Telecommuting makes employment possible across time zones and offices are in guest rooms. Children are as likely to go to magnet schools, charter schools, private schools or be home-schooled as they are to attend the school around the corner. And for many, the UPS or FedEx driver is the regular face of the clothing/hardware/sundries purveyor. Even the  general practitioner has been supplanted by the clinic-in-the-drugstore or urgent care center. There are gains in breadth of choice, competitive pricing and the flexibility to shop on our own schedules wearing (or not) whatever we may please. These conveniences and changes come at another price, a widening disconnect from our neighbors, neighborhood and the larger physical community in which we live. Person to person interaction can be messy but it does keep us human.

And then there is the library. The modern public library is now a mash-up of our new technological life and the classic community center. Think about it for a minute, where else in the community can you regularly find people of every age and (dis)ability. There are voracious readers, pre-readers and those aspiring to read with literacy training in the library. Those without home computers checking email, purchasing health insurance or looking for jobs. During school hours there are storytimes for pre-schoolers and discussion groups.  From opening to close people search newspapers, thumb through books and ask librarians some of the craziest things.  After school there are students looking for a quiet and safe place to do homework or meet with a tutor. Newcomers to the area or to the US seek out connections in their new home and touch base with the home they left. And there is basic civics- tax forms, voter registration information and materials on government services – all in one place.

images FoundationLibraryAs a home to everyone, the library is far from a panacea. The doors are open to all causing librarians to serve as peacekeepers or social workers at times.  Libraries may serve as a daytime refuge for those who live in shelters or an escape from an abusive family member. It may be the primary social contact for someone living alone. Changing times and changing needs require a balancing act between unfettered access and patron safety.

At its best the modern library reaches far beyond its doors or mobile vans. It has an identifiable presence with online information channels as diverse as the people who walk through the brick and mortar doors of the traditional building. Occasional system crashes are a reminder of how dependent we have become on the 24-hour “virtual” library for audio and e-books, catalog searches, transactions and online databases. They are great additions to the many library services but can’t replace the assistance of a trained librarian and the experience of wandering through the stacks.

Now let’s go back for a minute to the idea of people choosing the mix of goods and services that define community. Over the last few years Little Free Libraries have been popping up in front yards or in neighborhood common spaces. IMG_2149Expressing the personality and at times the skills of the founder, each is a “take a book, leave a book” means of connecting one neighbor to another. As simple as a box or elaborate as an architectural mini-gem, each invites connection and elicits smiles from passersby. We may be spending more time attached to a device than connecting to our neighbors but every visit to the library, or exchange at a Little Free Library, reconnects us with our neighbors. Tiny Free Libraries are only one way new expressions of community are popping up in our neighborhoods. Watch for more in this space in the months to come.

Not Closing the Book on 2014, Just Turning the Page

Not Closing the Book on 2014, Just Turning the Page

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 10.27.06 AM  There’s no escaping that one year is ending and another beginning.  My personal philosophy is to embrace all new years as they occur since a reboot, not a do over, is often needed. So many aspects of my life are tied to books and readers that I’ve decided look at this transition as turning the page.

I am very fortunate to be seeing out 2014 with a good amount of family time. Dan and I just returned from several days with my parents. As a family we are so lucky that my parents remain in pretty good health and very active for folks in their 80s. Just this Saturday Dan helped Dad with his once a month shift to pick up food at a whole route of grocers on Hilton Head to deliver to a food bank for Second Helpings in Hilton Head.IMG_2398Seven hours and 4300 pounds of food later, the crew was definitely ready for some down time. While the trip to see “Singing in the Rain” at the Arts Center and outings for dinner and shopping are nice, it is the time spent relaxing together or prepping meals that stay with you. We are seeing the year out with our daughters and their friends and starting off 2015 at the Winter Classic hockey game at Nationals Park.

There are two other changes afoot as 2015 opens. Dan will be working in a “regular” office on a full-time basis. Consulting, teaching and giving back to the IT world have kept him busy in his home office for the last two years. It will be an adjustment for us both. And this month I handed over the reins of the JCC Book Festival Book Selection Committee and the Book Club Brunch for reimagining in the new world of books and events. So no more anticipatory emails getting a committee on board for the year.

Having made this book-related change, I hope to make a few more. Over the last several years I have amped up the range and variety of book activities I lead. I’ve been fortunate to connect with some authors seeking book group feedback for their works. Doing several facilitations for each has honed my skills in this area and created the desire to work with more groups. All these experiences have changed the way I read and respond to material.  I have come to realize how much we can learn about the world around us through literature. Modern research has given new vibrancy to historical fiction and the shrinking world brings every culture imaginable and some other-worldly ones to my nightstand or reader. Whether in discussion or through this blog, I hope to share them.

But it’s a big world and it’s important to get out there. Last year included New Orleans, Portland (OR), Philadelphia, NYC and my own backyard. This year, who knows? But I want to take it all in.

Wishing all good health and good times in 2015!