Bernie’s Book Bank

I may have mentioned that my awesome employer allows for each of us to have two work days each year for volunteering events.  Last week we spent some time at Bernie’s Book Bank.  Their mission: “facilitates the collection, processing and redistribution of new and gently used children’s books to significantly increase BOOK OWNERSHIP among at-risk infants,
toddlers and school-age children throughout Chicagoland.”

They receive donations of used books from individuals and groups as well as new books from publishers.  The volunteers sort, label, and package up books for the kids. My group did the packaging for second and third graders.  It was sort of like wrapping Christmas presents!  Except instead of wrapping paper, the books were in plastic bags.  The regular volunteers told us to mix up the traditional gender books because the kids get an opportunity to trade with their classmates.  (Or, I might add, second graders might be less hung up on the traditional gender thing.)  So it was pretty easy.

When our session was over, we were shown a video of a school delivery and we could see how excited the kids were.  And check out this Thank You note that was blown up and put on the wall:


Bernie’s has plenty of “drop in hours” so that people can show up and volunteer whenever they like without making a big commitment.  And they can certainly accommodate groups by appointment.  Even little kids can get in on the action, as one of the jobs is to put Bernie’s labels on each of the books.  So obviously, I am endorsing this place as worthy of time and donations.

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The Year in Review – Sort Of

I have been a horrible blogger this year.  So horrible that when I sat down to write about my goals and whatever, I went back to read my post on reflections from 2013 and found that I hadn’t written one.

In a larger context, I rather think 2014 sucked in a “validating the title of my blog” way.  Yesterday, when news about the death of Mario Cuomo broke, someone linked to a clip of his address to the 1984 DNC.  And I thought, “Thirty years later and not a damn thing has changed in this country.”   Too many people still can’t make ends meet and even more feel hopeless, helpless, or otherwise disenfranchised.

For me personally, it has been a pretty good year.  I continue to be unreasonably lucky in my health, family, finances and opportunities.  I‘m afraid that I am becoming too comfortable.  It has been five years since I finished my Master’s Degree and I haven’t seriously considered any other major pursuits.  I continue to volunteer with the same places – doing good work – but hardly branching out.  I continue to work with the best employer ever, which has me placing my work above other priorities.  I’d planned to stop doing that.  I’ve said before that when one chooses to be child-free, the question of The Meaning of Life is not a no-brainer.  But we do know it is not to spend more time in meetings.

So maybe this year isn’t about how many books I am going to read or how many blankets I am going to make or how many volunteer hours I put in or how many visits to the gym.  Maybe it is about getting the hell outside my comfort zone and doing something different.

The Book List for 2014

I did an incredibly poor job of writing down my thoughts on books this year, but I can at least compile the list:

  1. The Song is You, by Megan Abbott
  2. Dead to the World, by Charlaine Harris
  3. Dead as a Doornail, by Charlaine Harris
  4. Definitely Dead, by Charlaine Harris
  5. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin
  6. A Dangerous Friend, by Ward Just
  7. All Together Dead, by Charlaine Harris
  8. From Dead to Worse, by Charlaine Harris
  9. The Valley of Fear, by Arthur Conan Doyle
  10. Fury, by Salman Rushdie
  11. Dead and Gone, by Charlaine Harris
  12. Fallen Skies, by Philippa Gregory
  13. Dead in the Family, by Charlaine Harris
  14. Sweet Tooth, by Ian McEwan
  15. Dead Reckoning, by Charlaine Harris
  16. Black Coffee, by Agatha Christie
  17. The Girl at the Lion d’Or, by Sebastian Faulks
  18. The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis
  19. Deadlocked, by Charlaine Harris
  20. Dead Ever After, by Charlaine Harris
  21. The Purpose Economy: How Your Desire for Impact, Personal Growth and Community is Changing the World, by Aaron Hurst
  22. After the Funeral, by Agatha Christie
  23. Dr. Kookie, You’re Right!, by Mike Royko
  24. Dracula the Undead, by Dacre Stoker
  25. Love Story, by Erich Segal
  26. A Star for Mrs. Blake, by April Smith
  27. The Winter Ghosts, by Kate Mosse
  28. Social Gravity: Harnessing the Natural Laws of Relationships, by Joe Gerstandt and Jason Lauritsen
  29. American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee, by Karen Abbott
  30. The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner
  31. To Have and Have Not, by Ernest Hemingway
  32. Tender is the Night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  33. Light in August, by William Faulkner
  34. Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back, by Todd Burpo
  35. Allegiance, by Timothy Zahn
  36. A Brief History of Robin Hood, by Nigel Cawthorne
  37. The Time Keeper, by Mitch Albom
  38. Valour and Vanity, by Mary Robinette Kowal
  39. The Waterworks, by E.L. Doctorow
  40. Speaking from Among the Bones, by Alan Bradley
  41. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson
  42. Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America and American in Iran, by Azadeh Moavveni
  43. Murder at the Vicarage, by Agatha Christie
  44. Choices of One, by Timothy Zahn
  45. Clara and Mr. Tiffany, by Susan Vreeland
  46. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, by Alan Bradley
  47. Caleb’s Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks
  48. Razor’s Edge, by Martha Wells
  49. A Pocket Full of Rye, by Agatha Christie
  50. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
  51. Christopher’s Diary: Secrets of Foxworth, by V.C. Andrews
  52. Silver Linings Playbook, by Matthew Quick
  53. Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline
  54. Brothers Emanuel: A Memoir of an American Family, by Ekekiel Emanuel
  55. A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan
  56. Killing Patton: The Strange Death of World War II’s Most Audacious General, by Bill O’Reilly
  57. Holiday Grind, by Cleo Coyle
  58. The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion
  59. A Christmas Beginning, by Anne Perry
  60. Honor Among Thieves, by James Corey
  61. The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles’ Dickens’ A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits, by Les Standiford
  62. The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson
  63. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan

The Least I Can Do

The news broke last night that a Grand Jury determined not to indict the officer that shot Michael Brown to death in Ferguson, Missouri.  At about the same time, Marissa Alexander accepted a plea deal in Florida.  Ms. Alexander was facing decades in prison for firing a warning shot – hurting no one – at her abusive husband.  Her case has been held up in contrast to both George Zimmerman’s in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin a few years ago and this recent case in Ferguson.  As you can imagine, both my Facebook and Twitter feeds are flooded with..conversation.  In a lot of ways, these cases demonstrate the title of this blog.  And with all of my white privilege, I have a sense of despair.  But I am trying to listen more than I talk.

24 hours later, Ferguson is still burning and there have been a lot of suggestions tossed around about What We Can Do.  One that I saw more than once was something like, “Ferguson schools are closed today, but its library is open. Donate to help the community.”  Now you all know I am in favor of voting with my pocketbook, and I think libraries are the cornerstone of civilization.  But somehow, my head keeps going back to Marissa Alexander.

Domestic violence.  Self-defense.  Stand your ground.  Oh, how I hate guns.

Crowdrise, my favorite online giving tool, is having a – very well sponsored – fundraising campaign over the holiday season.   I used it to donate to the WINGS Program.

The WINGS Program is “one of the largest domestic violence service and housing providers in the state of Illinois.  Single women and women with children are able to receive temporary safe shelter through WINGS housing while staff provides one-on-one, individualized assistance that allows women to set personal goals that will enable them to work, continue their education, and care for themselves and their children.

Instead of fighting racism, I am helping women.  Instead of helping Ferguson, I am going local.  But this Thanksgiving week, this is where I can find some meaning in the madness.  I hope you can find some, too.


Chasing Off Boys

I had a sleepover with my nieces last night while their brother, father and grandmother were out of town.  They  are both fascinated and sometimes intimidated by my dogs.  Both dogs are very barky, though Fiona settles down and makes friends pretty quickly.  Gibbs is high-strung, high-energy and tells the whole world when something makes him uncomfortable.  Like little girls running around the house.  I snapped this shot shortly before bedtime last night.  Fiona was busy being petted by Ashlyn.

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This morning, we were gathered in my mother’s bedroom.  The dogs were doing the wrestle/chase thing and Ainslie couldn’t tell if they were fighting or playing.  I told her that it was sometimes hard to tell with Fiona and Gibbs because Fiona is the big sister and when Gibbs annoys her, she can be pretty bossy.  (Yes, yes.  I said, “bossy”.  I didn’t have another wordy handy for conversation with a six-year-old.  My bad.)

Ainslie said she had the same problem with her brother, Alex.  “He’s bossy and mean sometimes even when he is playing!”

I asked what she does when Alex is bossy and mean.  “I make him go away.”

“How do you make him go away?” I asked.

“I sing ‘Let it Go’,”  she replied.

“The song from Frozen?”

“Yeah,” she giggled.  “I don’t even like that song, but he really hates it and when I start singing – he goes away!”

The child is a genius.

An Evening with the History Nerds

Civil War BooksFriends of the Glenview Library hosted a program last night with John Alexander, a Civil War scholar who runs a used bookstore downstate with his lovely wife.  I found him particularly charming because he said several times that his interest was not necessarily in the military, so when he was doing the Q&A and someone asked about the action he would say something like, “Well, my military friends would tell you that the West had the A team in the field.”

He argued that Senator Douglas has been made to look like a villain because “every hero needs a villain”.  But in fact, Douglas totally had Lincoln’s back after the election was over and he made sure to bring the unionist democrats with him.  Mr. Alexander maintained that the election of 1860 killed Douglas and I rather believe it.

Another intriguing line of thought was that it has been popular to argue that Grant was the worst president ever, but he thinks the tide is going to turn and History will declare that he wasn’t so bad after all.  He didn’t have time to elaborate  – he literally had to talk over the “library is closing” announcements.

So.  Next time you are downstate, please look up Books on the Square in Virden, IL.  It’s for history nerds.