The Hesitant Traveler

The world has changed immensely since I took a trip overseas more than a decade ago. My personal world has changed as well. Last time I traveled across “The Pond,” I didn’t have children. Also, my cell phone was the size of a brief case, and maps were things that I folded and unfolded rather than tap and click.

This spring I learned that my husband would be speaking at a scientific conference in London, and I was determined to join him. Why not? Free flight, free room—there was nothing to lose. After the euphoria dissipated, however, I began to feel a bit hesitant. I would be navigating the city for five days on my own. There were so many things to see and do. How would I narrow down all the choices?

Of course, this is our job as librarians every day. Taking the mountain of information that is out there, and discovering the best trail for navigating to the top. Still, the thought of refining my London sightings to a few gems seemed daunting.  Certainly, eBooks and apps awaited my fingertips, but my request wasn’t easy. I wanted to find those touristy interests that suited my personality. Where to turn?

My first choice might seem surprising. I turned to Facebook. In a sense, this was like asking my best friend what she would do while visiting London—except I was asking 1000 friends. The response was a bit overwhelming, but it made me aware of the options that existed. I realized, with just five days in the city, I had to select one or two museums to visit. I also realized there were places that I wouldn’t waste my time on. After all I couldn’t cram everything into one trip.

Once I had an idea about the places I wanted to see, I turned to the library. Call me middle-aged and old-fashioned, but I prefer having at least one book and one map in hand. Sure, apps can be helpful when the “global services” were working, but there’s no guarantee. I wanted something handy and non-wireless in my backpack. Turns out the tried and true map saved the day many times on my trip.

We have an abundance of tour guides at our library. It’s worth a trip in to see all we have to offer on travel. From Scotland to Spain, Costa Rica to Russia, the world awaits. I perused many titles on London. We have over 12 on the famous city alone. A few of my favorites were the following:

Top 10 London by DK Eyewitness Travel. This book is a handy size with a pull-out map and guide. It functions in a topical manner, highlighting churches, museums, pubs, etc.

Insight Guides: London by APA Publications. The nice thing about this resource is the topics are divided by main areas of interest (ex: West London, Southward and the South Bank, Knighsbridge, Kensigton and Notting Hill). I was able to find the area I was staying in and all the local sights nearby. Chock full of information, this guide felt a bit too heavy to toss in my pack.

London’s 25 Best: What to See, Where to Go, What to Do by Fodor’s. This is also a handy size and includes a map. I like books that narrow things down to the essentials, and this one did a good job with that. The summary page of the top 25 things to do was useful. Ironically, I ended up visiting just four of the suggested Must-Sees.

And my favorite book that I brought with me was London 2013 by Rick Steves. This is a “personal tour guide in your pocket.” It includes self-guided walks and extremely helpful tidbits. From here, I learned about purchasing the Oyster card, which is similar to our Charlie card in Boston. With this, I was able to navigate the Tube and the turnstiles easily to all my destination points. I also took a double-decker bus tour thanks to Steves. This was the best deal around. I hopped on one of the last buses at 3 pm, but the passes were good for 24 hours. The next day (with my same ticket) I took two walking tours—The Royal London Walk and The Harry Potter Film Location Tour, thanks to Phil Harris and The Big Bus Tours. This was worth its weight in gold, and bonus, I saw Prince Charles in his Royal cab thanks to Phil’s fabulous tour guide instincts.

There were some books that I didn’t consider, but they might interest others. Walking Haunted London by Richard Jones, Secret London by Andrew Duncan and Take the Kids London by Joseph Fullman (did not touch that one!!).

Believe it or not, the best advice I received was from a friend. She recommended “being open to the element of surprise.” For the hesitant traveler this seemed risky, but it worked beautifully. At a café in Kensington, a woman sitting next to me leaned over to tell me some of her favorite places. Her spontaneous review was invaluable. The taxi driver on the way in from Heathrow was fabulous as well. London happens to be a city chock full of friendly people. Anytime I had a question, I received a helpful reply.

As it turned out, my favorite things in London were a bit of a surprise to me. While preparation is a wonderful thing, so is the element of surprise. Remaining open to where the wind takes you or fog, in the case of London, proved to be the best advice of all.
And, just in case you’re wondering. . .

My Five Favorite Things Were:

  1. The Big Bus Tours (eng.bigbustours.com) and my tour guide, Phil . . . the bus provided a fabulous overview of the city and their guides offer a variety of walking tours.
  2. The British Library…thanks to a librarian friend of mine, I ventured into the library near King’s Cross station and I was amazed by what a found. Not only is the library gorgeous, but the Map Room contains original documents, including the Magna Carta, the Gutenberg Bible, Jane Austen’s Persuasian (with her edits) and original sketches and notes from Leonardo di Vinci.
  3. High Tea at St Pancras Station . . . I wanted to experience High Tea with clotted cream and cucumber sandwiches, but I didn’t want to pay a fortune, or have to dress in high heels.
  4. Westminster Abbey…not cheap to tour, but worth it all for the Poet’s Corner alone. This was the one place that I knew I wanted to discover after reading about it in the tour books, and it was the first sight that I headed to after landing. As it was right before Easter, I was able to attend a five o’clock service.
  5. The Tower of London . . . the tour guide did a great job and kept me on the edge of my seat with all the tower’s intrigue and mystery. I kept my eyes peeled for the ghost of poor Anne Boyleyn. Maybe you’ll catch sight of her when you go!

Accounting for Dogs

Nancy Ling is an Outreach Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read the published version of Nancy Ling’s column in the January 30, 2014 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.
 

    As with many children growing up in the seventies, I had a love of dogs that began with one television show—Lassie. Didn’t every kid long for heroic friend to push all the world’s bad guys into a well? While Lassie took less than 30 minutes to solve her weekly drama, I’d wait on the edge of my seat for the commercials to wrap up and a happy ending to occur.                                                         
   Growing up I spent many a day plotting to bring a steadfast, four-legged companion into my life. As an only child, I’d dreamed of having an older brother to protect me. However, I decided a dog seemed more practical. I’d grown up hearing stories of my father’s escapades with his Cocker Spaniel, Skippy. Surely, he’d want those same memories for his own child, right? Unfortunately, my father remembered the hard work behind dog ownership, so he devised a plan. If I worked hard and saved up enough money to purchase AND care for a dog, then I could go ahead and pick out a puppy.
    So I began saving. Then the day came to head off to the Farmington Savings Bank. That’s when I opened my “Dog Account” with less than twenty-five dollars. After that I headed to my local library to check out several books on dogs. My favorite was a book called Dogs by Joan Elliott (a 1978 copy is in the catalog).  On its cover was a pooch that looked like Benji. What a surprise I had that Christmas when I unwrapped my very own copy.  I sat for hours poring through pages of all the different dog breeds. By the last page, I knew exactly what type of dog I wanted—a miniature Rough Collie. I scribbled his name on my bank account book that same day…“For Sherlock.”
    Somehow months grew into years. My father observed me quietly—selling pumpkins from our garden, mowing lawns and, as I grew older, babysitting the neighborhood children. He knew, no matter what happened, I was learning about hard work. I’m sure he also knew that the best of dreams can be deferred, for that was exactly what was happening. Looking back I realize it was the “idea” of owning a dog that intrigued me, more than a dog itself.
    By the time I entered college, the writing was on the wall. The account that I’d worked so hard to develop paid for text books, college meals, and extra expenses. My life was moving at full tilt and the thought of caring for a dog was far beyond me. While the idea had captured much of my childhood, my life was complete without a dog. Maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t a dog person after all. And maybe, my father had known this all along.
    Still the appeal of a dog never disappeared completely. The topic comes up now and then with my own children. Rather than suggesting a “Dog Account,” I recommend dog-sitting. This way my girls get a taste of dog ownership. One little Shih Tzu named Diana (Princess Diana, to be exact) took us by surprise. We’d agreed to watch her while her parents were vacationing for a week. We couldn’t help but fall in love with her. We loved her playful romps in the snow and the way she fell asleep next to her favorite toy turtle. Even our parakeet, Sunshine, enjoyed our friendly visitor. At the week’s end, we were sad to see Diana go, but we knew she wouldn’t be our last guest. We’d grown attached to our role as dog-sitters.

     Like my own experiences as a child, I also encouraged my girls to discover dogs in books. Certainly, there’s a plethora of resources available at our library for both dog owner and potential owner. One of our family’s favorite DVD series is The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan [Season 1-5]. We love watching Cesar’s “uncanny ability to rehabilitate problem dogs.” The library also has several books by Cesar Millan, including Cesar’s Rules: Your Way to Train a Well-Behaved Dog; A Member of the Family; How to Raise the Perfect Dog; and Cesar’s Way: The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding & Correcting Common Dog Problems.

    For the true-blue dog lover out there, we have an amazing collection of charming dog stories. One of the current favorites is Giant George: Life with the World’s Biggest Dog by Dave Nasser with Lynne Barrett-Lee. George began his life as the smallest pup in the litter. Soon this “baby” grew to be almost five feet tall to the top of his head, seven feet long and 245 pounds. Sound like any friend of yours? In 2010, George made his way into the Guinness World Records as the Tallest Dog in the World.
    Of course, there are other ways to celebrate our canine friends. If you aren’t up to reading a whole story, June Cotner’s book Dog Blessings: Poems, Prose, and Prayers Celebrating Our Relationship with Dogs may be just your cup of tea. As Bernie S. Siegel, MD, writes: “Since I love dogs and relish their company, I love this book and all the wonderful poems and stories about one of God’s most complete creations.” Organized into categories such as Puppies, Devotion and Aging Gracefully, it’s the kind of book that you can savor for years to come.
    Or how about taking a camera’s eye view of dogs?  I’d highly recommend picking up William Wegman’s Dogs on Rocks. Wegman is famous for photographing his Weimaraners in various costumes and poses. In Dogs on Rocks, he uses the Maine coast to provide the backdrop for his photo shoots. His collection includes “six dogs from four generations.” Most were taken on Baker’s Island, for any of you Maineophiles, and all are memorable.
    Who knows? A dog might await you in the near future. As Tom Ryan experienced in Following Atticus [Norwood Reads – One Book, One Community], dogs have a way of taking us completely by surprise. And maybe, just maybe, I will astonish myself and revisit my old bank account with “For Sherlock” on its cover.

My Ten LONG Resolutions

~I will clean the house less frequently, because one child reading a picture book of mine at bedtime is worth all the dust bunnies in the world.
~I will invite more people over to dinner this year than last so I can eat my husband’s fabulous cooking more often.
~I will finish “the novel” I started because I have no reason not to. Plus, I will try not to end my sentences with a preposition.
~I will continue to curl up in bed with my teen and pre-teen before they fall asleep because this is when they tell me all their dreams.
~I will blog because it’s a necessary evil, and I will eat my nuts, fruits and veggies while I blog, for the same reason.
~I will have more Friday night family game nights so I can become a Scrabble whiz and cream Lisa during the next retreat (she knows who she is), and become better at crossword puzzles so dementia won’t set in. Wait, what was I talking about?
~I will pack my gym clothes and put them into the car with every intention of hitting Planet Fitness on my way home from work, but I may wait until February when the parking lot is empty.
~I will teach my girls to do more chores like cleaning the grill and washing the parakeet cage.
~I will greet my husband with a bow in my hair and a grin on my face when he returns home from work. Cut, Cut, that would be frightful. How about, I will go on more dates with my husband when he’s traveling overseas?
~And my favorite resolution, I will spend time with those seniors who are alone and unable to get out and about. Oh, that’s part of my job. Lucky me! But I will treasure those times all the more!

Matthew 25:35-40 
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.

I Write for Days Like These

When I wrote My Sister, Alicia May, I had a specific reader in mind. Surprisingly, I didn’t write solely for the Alicia Mays out there in the world. While I did want to give a voice to those children who have Down syndrome, I wanted to reach the child who was the brother or sister of “Alicia,” that child who  has a tremendous responsibility in life–caring for and loving and defending and, yes, sometimes just coping with a sibling with special needs. And I wanted to tell them that they are special too, as the narrator, Rachel, in my story comes to understand.

While my first book was published in 2009, it continues to reach the very kids for whom I was writing. Sometimes I receive a note from the families who have just found my book. Other times I find an email in my box from a family updating me on their lives. This is one of those updates from the Hawley family, and it is my privilege to be part of their classroom experience in some small way. After all I write for days like these. I hope you enjoy Stuart and Alice as much as I have!

http://plinth.org/wordpress/?p=476

What I Would Say

Nancy Ling is an Outreach Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read the published version of Nancy Ling’s column in the September 27, 2013 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

The problem was it happened in a split second, as these things do. I was late and dashing out the door for book club at the Senior Center, when I glanced to my right. A young girl was standing near the Circulation Desk by the announcement of Essay Contest Winners. She was there with a woman I presumed to be her mother. In that split second as I’d rushed past my first thought had been, “I wonder if she’s one of the winners?” Now as I climbed into my car I realized the truth—the young girl had been crying.
My heart sank. It was clear she was one of the 125 essay contest entrants. She’d come to the library with hope, longing to find her name on that board. Beyond a doubt I knew she had poured her all into that essay, only to be disappointed. While my job had been to apply for the grant, organize the event and make those final calls to the winners, there was one thing I’d forgotten—the disappointment that follows. This young girl’s sense of rejection was as real and palpable to me as the summer air.
And so this article is for her and others like her. If I could go back, I would hug her and tell her that she is not alone. I’d also tell her that many authors have a trail of rejections covering their walls, and I am one of them. It took four years, a slew of revisions, rejections and workshops for my first picture book, My Sister, Alicia May, to be published in 2009 (Pleasant St. Press). After that I thought the next book would be a piece of cake, but that’s when children’s book publishing took a nose dive. It took four more years for my next bite from Chronicle Books (Double Happiness comes out in 2015), and more waiting.
I would also ask my young writer if she’s read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Many know J.K. Rowling’s rags to riches story, but it bears repeating. In 1993 Rowling’s life was anything but rosy. As a single mother, she was living on a welfare check of $100 a week in a mice-infested flat in Edinburgh, struggling to raise her daughter. With no heat in her place, she escaped to a local coffee house for two hours at a time. There she began to write an idea that had been percolating since the summer of 1990 when her train was delayed. Her character’s name was Harry, a boy who discovers he’s a wizard. While Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was picked up by Bloomsbury Children’s Books fairly quickly once Rowling submitted her work, her life demonstrates her tenacious spirit. One year after its British publication, Scholastic Books bought the American rights for $105,000. For a children’s writer with only one book to her name, this was unbelievable.
I’d tell her all this and more. After all there are so many writers who’ve had to find a road out of the rejection pile. Many of these rejection letters seem comical now. It’s hard to believe John le Carré was told that he “didn’t have a future in writing.” Now the famous spy novelist has over 96 books under his belt, and several movies, including his classic Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. And then there’s William Golding. His Lord of the Flies was rejected by 20 publishers. It was called “an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.” Joseph Heller received a letter saying “I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say” regarding his Catch-22. John Grisham’s first novel, A Time to Kill, was rejected by a dozen publishers and 16 agents before a small New York publisher called Island Books signed him on. And poor Sylvia Plath was told that her poetic abilities weren’t anything to write home about: “There certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice.”
Ironically, 20 rejections seems like a walk in the park compared to Kate di Camillo’s experience. DiCamillo’s success was anything but overnight. She spent a decade working odd jobs and simultaneously submitting her manuscripts. By the time her first novel, Because of Winn Dixie, was accepted, she had received almost 400 rejection letters. How’s that for depressing? As DiCamillo says, “I decided a long time ago that I didn’t have to be talented. I just had to be persistent.” Surely her persistence paid off. Because of Winn Dixie became a Newbery Medal winner. According to Kirkus Reviews it is a “well-crafted tale of community and fellowship of sweetness, sorrow, and hope. A gem.” Not to mention, it’s about a girl and her new-found dog, Winn Dixie. How can you go wrong?
I fully realize all these facts might not help soothe a young girl’s heartache. At times rejection can feel like mourning. The good news is it’s temporary. It may take a week, a month, or a year but true authors begin again. Maybe we change the plot or reword a sentence, maybe we write and rewrite, but we don’t give up because good things a wait.
Certainly, this is what I would say to that tearful, young writer—someday you will look back and remember this experience as a catalyst—something that spurred you forward to write more, to submit again, and, yes, to fly!

Where Have All the Good Dads Gone?

For all of you living in a hole, Sunday is Father’s Day. Along with thoughts of ties and drills, I’m  thinking about books and characters. I can’t help it. Authors do these things. I’m also contemplating fathers in literature. Well, not just any dads, good dads. What I’ve realized is . . . they’re hard to find. I’m not sure if that’s because we are modeling our stories after society or because we’re writing what is trendy? After all, if the child has to become the hero, her parents must be dead, dying or delinquent. My question is, does it REALLY have to be this way? Can’t we have some heroic fathers, too. There must be some fabulous father figures out there?
Maybe you can help me! Do you have a favorite book with a cool dad? If so, I’d like to add him to my list. In the mean time, here are a few that feel destined to be on most people’s list of The Top Ten Dads in Stories. See if you agree.     

 Heroic Dad: The actor who plays Brick on the television show The Middle is named Atticus. My guess is he’s named after Atticus Finch who, in my estimation, has to be THE best dad anyone could have. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout observes her father at home and in the court room and, while he is human and has his faults (maybe?), he is an EPIC dad in every sense of the word. Hats off to Atticus, and to Harper Lee who created such a great character.

2.      Secure Dad Yes, these days fathers seem to come and go, but not Pa Ingalls As described by his daughter, Laura Ingalls Wilder in the Little House series, Pa was the kind of father whom you could count on. He may have been a “country” man, but he was intelligent and brave and humorous. And while he kept his family safe in the wildness, he allowed his Half-Pint, Laura, to explore her world and to use her talents outside of the home.   
      Foster Dad: The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak is up there as one of my Top Ten All-Time Favorite books, in great part because of its father figure, Hans Hubermann. In the midst of World War II and dire circumstances, Hans takes the moral high road again and again, despite the personal threat to his life by the Nazis. Through his actions, 13-year old Liesel, his foster daughter, learns to stand up for injustice herself. And, like the narrator Death, the reader comes away loving her for it.

      A Modern Day in a Classic World: Mr. Bennett is father to Jane, Lizzy, Mary, Kitty and Lydia, in Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. In many ways, he is a classic Victorian father. He doesn’t want to meddle in the everyday decisions of the family. He leaves those things up to his wife. However, when Lizzy is about to make the mistake of her life by marrying a dud like Mr. Collins in order to save her family from financial ruin, Mr. Bennett pulls through. In his words, “An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.

      Inventor Dad:  In The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Hugo is inspired by his father, even though he is deceased. As with so many stories, there are characters who give the protagonist the will to persevere and they do so from the grave. It is the memory of his father that keeps Hugo tinkering with the automation, and it is the skills that his father gave him that help Hugo succeed. Along the way, Hugo discovers a new father in Georges Méliès, who begins to offer his love to the orphan when he needs it most .

      Caring Dad: Even before our own economic struggles, Ramona Quimby’s father had a few of his own. In Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary, Robert Quimby, aka Bob, has lost his job and Ramona’s mother must go back to work. Certainly Cleary was ahead of her time in many ways with this theme, but Mr. Mom Quimby enjoys spending time with his daughters, even though they always give him a run for his money.
                       
      Well-Meaning Dad, But…: I have to include one father who barely makes the list. Paine Underwood is the father of Noah in Flush by Carl Hiaason. When the story opens, Noah is visiting his dad in jail on, you guessed it, Father’s Day. Paine is as far removed from Atticus Finch as you can get and yet, he is in jail for trying to do the right thing. He wants to stop his former boss, Dusty Muleman, from dumping waste from the Coral Queen’s holding tanks into the water at night. Initially, Noah is anything but pleased with his father’s actions. That’s until he uncovers his father’s true motivations—that he’s trying to save his family and the environment, It’s by following in his father’s footsteps that Noah saves the day.

         Timeless Dad:  Mr. Murry in A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, is another father who has disappeared. While his daughter is considered a misfit in many peoples’ eyes, Mr. Murry has faith in Meg, knowing it will be her intelligence that will rescue him from It, a giant disembodied brain, on the planet Camazotz.

      Loveable Dad: Trixie’s dad in Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Taleby Mo Willems might be mistaken for a pair of legs and nothing more…and yet, he is a truly loveable father. Most likely, he is the one who has played a role in the loss of Trixie’s beloved bunny, but he is also the dad who will do anything to get that bunny back.

      Movie Dad: Yes, Life is Beautiful is a story as well, but most of remember Guido onscreen. He is the father of Joshua and is portrayed by Roberto Bernini. At first he is a fun, lovable guy who is known for his silly displays and sweet charm. As life grows more horrific for father and son in a Nazi death camp, Guido continues to preserve his  son’s spirit, protecting him by making fun of the evil monsters surrounding them.

Raise a Glass, and then What?

It’s that time of year again. You’ve found yourself smack dab in the middle of the holidays. In the midst of all the hustle and bustle, there is a chance that you might be called upon to give a toast, especially if you are hosting a party. Perhaps this year you’ll blow the socks off of Great Uncle Lou when you raise your glass and offer a toast with great poise and finesse. In the words of de Cervantes, “Preparation is half the victory.”
Of course all the preparation in the world can’t prevent those unanticipated events best known as bloopers. Think of the hours, months, days that go into planning the perfect wedding. If you’ve watched those famous wedding bloopers, all it takes for one ceremony to go amuck is a well-meaning best man stepping on the bride’s train. Next thing you know both the bride and the minister are splashing into the pool’s blue waters behind them.
Still, as any professional toastmaster will tell you, it pays to keep a toast or joke in your back pocket for those important life events. When done well, a toast is memorable—a custom worthy of preservation. In days of old, even the humble blacksmith was equipped to ring in the New Year with a few words:

            May your nets be always full—
            your pockets never empty.
            May your horse not cast a shoe
            nor the devil look at you
            in the coming year.
As Paul Dickson says in his book Toasts: Over 1,500 of the Best Toasts, Sentiments, Blessings, and Graces, “There are a number of old things which we are well rid of—child labor, the Berlin Wall, scurvy, glass shampoo bottles, and too many others to mention—but there are still others that we are foolish to let slip away. Toasting is one of them.”
The custom of raising a glass to health, prosperity, and the holidays dates back to antiquity. It may be difficult to picture the cavemen toasting to a good hunt, but certainly the Hebrews, Persians and Egyptians were toasters. Even Attila and his Huns “led no less than three rounds of toasts for each course during a dinner of many courses,” according to Dickson. We can only imagine what a New Year’s toast by Attila would sound like: “Here’s to fast horses and conquering the small people of the world.”  Certainly, no one would want to leave Attila off of their guest list; there might be dire consequences.
In Great Britain, some of the first toasts to the New Year began as old wassailing songs, the following being one of those recorded:

Here’s to ________ and his right ear,
God send our maister a Happy New Year;
A Happy New Year as e’er he did see—
With my wassailing bowl I drink to thee.
While that toast may be outdated for our tastes, even the modern toaster can feel daunted trying to find the perfect toast for an event. One can be left tongue-tied and uninspired at the last minute. It’s true, the modern guest can whip out a smart phone from his back pocket, Google “Toasts” with one hand and raise a glass to cheer the New Year, all in one stride. This is all well and good, but there is something in the presentation that might be missing. After all, toasting is an art, a form of human expression.
Along with Dickson’s book, there are other helpful sources that can be found in our Minuteman system. Toasts for Every Occasion: Warm, Wise, and Witty Words Collected from Around the World by Jennifer Rahel Conover contains 1,300 toasts with an extensive list of 170 categories, including the blacksmith toast above. Some of the categories will give you a laugh between Baldness, Drunkenness and the light topic of Hell. For the New Year, you can’t go wrong with this one:

Here’s to the blessings of the year,
Here’s to the friends we hold so dear,
To peace on earth, both far and near.
The editors of Town & Country publish one of my favorite books. Town & Country Toasts for Every Occasion is well-organized, easy read. Along with several holiday toasts, you can find a toast or two on the subject of Fishing. What more could one need then a little hook, a line and some bubbly? Maybe Attila could have learned from this well-mannered book. As the saying goes, “teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”
The book with the most toasts and sayings is entitled, Toasts & Quotes: Little Giant Encyclopedia by Sterling Innovation. Perhaps the most helpful section of this resource is the ten pages at the beginning with tips on presenting a speech. I find “short and sweet” to be the best words of advice I’ve ever received when it comes to a good toast. Dag Hammarskjöld proves this point with the following:

For all that has been—Thanks!
For all that shall be—Yes!
When all is said and done, and we’ve survived the Mayan calendar and entered 2013 with gusto, it’s likely most of us can relate best to the pragmatic toast of the beloved O—Oprah Winfrey:
Cheers to a New Year and another chance for us to get it right.

Even the blacksmith of old might raise his glass to such a sentiment as that.

First Steps

It began on a trip to Alaska. I read about a library in a small town that provided books to the newborns in their local hospital.
       “Hey,” I thought. “We have a hospital in Norwood. Why not do the same thing?”
I wanted to jump right in. As soon as I returned from my vacation, I planned to let my idea take flight.  Except . . . even the best of plans take some time to come to fruition—a year and a half, to be exact. Still, the timing couldn’t have been better. Just look at our first sweet recipient. First Steps Norwood has been launched, and I couldn’t be more excited.

The Art of Journaling

When I was ten years old, my family took a trip to Nova Scotia. I decided to bring along my new diary. It had blue and orange stripes and the all-important lock on the outside. The pages were gold-tipped, and soon the sparkles were flaking onto me and the backseat of the car. When we stopped at a local restaurant to eat, my Mom spent the first part of the meal wiping the endless sparkles from my nose. 
The thing that I treasured the most about my new diary was all the empty pages waiting to be filled. Do you know that feeling? With the right pen, the sky was the limit. Pages were awaiting my brilliant thoughts and recorded memories. For three days, that dream was a reality. I wrote about the beauty of the Cabot Trail, the Bay of Fundy, a nice retired couple I’d befriended, and the cozy inn where we stayed. 
By Day Four, I decided to take a break. I’d start up again the next day. That was a promise but, by Day Five, that promise was broken.  I was only ten years old, after all, and covered in sparkles. Not to mention, I’d discovered something about diaries. There was a lot of pressure attached to this daily recording.  So, the rest of my diary remains empty to this day. Crisp, clean, boring.
Not until I became a writer did I realize the trick to the art of journaling: a journal is different than a diary. A diary is something that includes the date on each page. Some folks love this method. My Uncle Warren is a Civil Engineer. In meticulous fashion, he logs in every day, things like the weather, the barometric pressure, the day’s highlights. He would be the perfect witness at a trial. The problem is that many of us lose our drive to write when we are trapped by the “rules” of daily recordings. 
Journaling is a whole different experience. Journals can have various subjects or themes: a travel journal, a baby journal, a memory, an idea journal. The latter is what I do best. My journal entries aren’t chronological or neat or profound or earth-shattering. Well, at least not all the time. Sometimes I glue in a picture or a postcard. Sometimes I scribble an idea onto a receipt from the gas station (I have a lot of those) or a torn paper bag. Then I’ll tape or glue that idea into my journal. To me, a  journal captures moments and memories and ideas, all without guilt. Guilt-free.
It was my own love of journaling that compelled me to share this art with others. I’ve led many journaling workshops over the years, but I have one that I truly treasure. With a nudge from Pam Chubet at Norwood Housing Authority , I began to lead a journaling workshop at the Walsh Housing over a year ago. We meet on the second Tuesday of the month and we explore memories.  I bring a simple canning jar with a pop lid, and from the jar I pick out a few prompts for the day. It’s amazing where these questions take us. We write for several minutes and then we feel free to share. I’m blown away by the detailed memories that my participants recall: the ice man coming up the street for deliveries, the day President Kennedy was shot, the boy who greeted his neighbor every day while she was healing from an illness on her front porch. My prompts are simple, but the responses are always unique.                                                                                                                                                                       
As with any art, we can find ways to improve our technique with time. Over the years, I have found several sources to guide my journaling. My own desire to journal was fostered when I took a class with Alexandra Johnson. A teacher of memoir writing and creative nonfiction at Wellesley College and the Harvard Extension School, Johnson won the James E. Conway Award for her distinguished teaching .  Her book, Leaving a Trace: On Keeping a Journal, serves as a guide to enriching “your experience of recording your thoughts and impressions of the world around you.”  By examining the journals of famous writers, such as May Sarton and John Cheever, Johnson is able to coax others to try the same techniques.
For those journal keepers who prefer to mix art with words, there are two other useful sources.Visual Journaling: Going Deeper than Words by Barbara Ganim and Susan Fox demonstrates how this combination can be extremely powerful. Sometimes we can’t find the words to express ourselves, especially when we are younger. Visual journaling uses art to reduce stress, release anger and give voice to your soul, all within the confines of a journal. You don’t have to be an artist to record your memories in picture form. 
For those who are artistic, there is another book entitled Artist’s Journal Workshop: Creating Your Life in Words and Pictures. Cathy Johnson draws on her own insight, having used this process for structure and inspiration in her own life. However, she also shares pages and advice from 27 international artists and their journals. 
Of course, it is up to the journal keeper to decide who will read her words. Journaling may serve as a cathartic process and that may be enough. On the other hand, the journal keeper may discover a book waiting to be written after unearthing unique and captivating memories. Author Phyllis Theroux did just that with her memoir, The Journal Keeper. Well-known for her essays, Theroux takes her reader on a journey through six years of her life as a writer (from 2000 until 2006), revealing topics that occupy all of  us—love, finance, death, loneliness. 
And really, at its best, this is exactly what journaling should accomplish: your thoughts, your words, your memories, captured for time. Only you can record your story as you see it. As Holocaust survivor and author, Elie Wiesel said: “That is my major preoccupation –memory, the kingdom of memory. I want to protect and enrich that kingdom, glorify that kingdom and serve it.” After all, the human story is your story, too. Don’t be afraid to write it down.