The Grandest Characters

“What children need most are the essentials that grandparents provide in abundance. They give unconditional love, kindness, patience, humor, comfort, lessons in life. And, most importantly, cookies.” — Rudy Giuliani

Well, with one of my grandmothers, it was root beer floats, not cookies, but the point still stands. Grandparents, and those wonderful people who step into the role, are often fundamental people in a child’s life. They impart wisdom, they teach us to have fun and enjoy the little things, and we carry those lessons with us throughout life. I was lucky enough to grow up with three of my grandparents living nearby and involved in my life. Maybe that’s why I love grandparent characters in books and movies so much.

The grandparent character is a common trope in fiction. They’re rarely the main character of the story; instead, they usually show up at key moments to support the main character and get them back on track. Sometimes this involves a pep talk, sometimes a light-hearted break from tension, and sometimes just a reassurance of unconditional love. Often, grandparents serve as a reminder of the character’s origins, of where they come from.

In honor of Grandparents Day, celebrated on the Sunday after Labor Day, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite fictional grandparents.

The grandfather from the movie adaptation of The Princess Bride is a wonderful example of the grandparent trope. When his grandson is home sick, he pays a visit to read a traditional fairy tale (to his grandson’s dismay). This grandfather humors his grandson’s aversion to romance, reassures him when the characters are in peril, and successfully distracts him from both his misery and his video game.

In complete contrast, Grandpa Edwin from Little Miss Sunshine is a crass, rude, and vulgar character. He does, however, openly adore his granddaughter Olive. He shows his love for her by supporting Olive’s dream of winning a beauty pageant, bolstering a truly inspiring level of self confidence. His approach to showing affection to the rest of the family is, at best, described as tough love, but Grandpa Edwin doesn’t let anyone talk down to his granddaughter.

Granny Weatherwax from the Discworld series doesn’t have any biological grandchildren, but she does have apprentices. Granny Weatherwax isn’t openly affectionate, but she looks out for her charges and teaches them important life lessons. The most important lesson, and the core of Granny’s personality, is the difference between Right and Wrong. Granny is a no-nonsense, strong-willed, and clever role model for her pseudo-grandchildren.

I haven’t read the Princess Diaries books, but in the movies, Mia’s grandma Queen Clarisse is a complicated grandmother. She’s strict, royal, and unfailingly diplomatic. Clarisse is firm about teaching Mia the tedious skills she will need as a ruler. However, she isn’t averse to occasionally setting her duties aside in order to have fun with her granddaughter. When it comes down to it, Clarisse shows time and again that she puts her granddaughter’s happiness first.

The world is blessed with so many wonderful grandparents. I’ll leave you with this quote to celebrate amazing grands:

You are the sun, Grandma, you are the sun in my life.
—Kitty Tsui

Library Extension

Do you use Chrome or Firefox to browse the Internet for books on sites such as Amazon, Goodreads, or Audible? Have you ever wondered if the book you’re interested in is available at your local library? Then the browser extension, Library Extension, is for you! This week I discovered this handy dandy feature that will instantly check your library’s online catalog and display the availabilty of that item on the same page. Here is how it works (the below instructions are for Chrome but the process will be similar in Firefox):

First, you will visit https://www.libraryextension.com/ and then click one of these options:

On the next screen, click “Add to Chrome” and then “Add extension.” You will know that the Library Extension is active when you see the little book icon next to your browser address bar. You will now want to click on the book icon and connect with your local library.

To connect with us, click “Choose your state”, select “Wisconsin”, find “L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library” in the next drop-down menu, and then click “Add.”

If you would like to see results from our hoopla collection select the button “Click to Add hoopla Results to the Library Extension.” You can also choose exactly which sites the Library Extension will be active on by selecting “Sites” from the menu on the left of the options screen.

When browsing Amazon.com you will see the Library Extension on the right side of the screen.

If you are a Goodreads.com user, you will find Library Extension under the title summary.

Photo of art print area

Getting Artsy!

The Pastel Dog by Kat Prevanas

Do you have a wall that’s looking a little dull? Do you want to wow all your friends with your artistic tastes? Have you always wanted to display local artists work but can’t decide on just one piece of art? What if I told you that you could fix all of the above for FREE with only one catch? What if I told you that the catch is just having a library card, which is also FREE! That’s right, the library has an awesome assortment of art prints by local artists for you to check out!

The process is simple, you come into the library and head up to the 2nd floor. Just to the left of the reference desk you’ll find all the art prints that are available currently for check out. A convenient catalog shows all the different pieces offered in the collection with their corresponding number. Once you’ve found the prints you want (yes, you can check out more than one!) just grab them from the shelving and check them out using the barcode found on the label attached to the case. If you’re struggling at any point during the process, just ask a staff member and they’ll be glad to assist you. Checkouts for the artwork are for 42 days but if you’re really loving your art prints you can renew it up to two times.

If you find the art print you want is already checked out, you can always check from home using the MORE Catalog to check the current status. Searching “art prints’ in the search bar of the catalog will bring up all the different prints in the collection. If looking for a specific one, you can search by the name of the art piece if you know it or “art reproductions x” where “x” is the number of the art print you are looking for. The catalog is a little finicky, so make sure “reproductions” is plural.

Hopefully the next time you look at a spot on your wall that looks a little boring, you’ll remember your library card gives you access to over 30+ art prints! Did I mention it’s FREE!

Making Contact

While you might not be able to communicate with space aliens, did you know that you can directly talk with astronauts aboard the International Space Station?

Amateur radio has been featured in science-fiction films such as Contact, Frequency, and Independence Day. While the extraterrestrials and situations in each are fictional, you can connect with real people across the nation, the globe, and even beyond by learning to use amateur radio equipment. The Amateur Radio on the International Space Station program allows educators and students to schedule time to communicate with the station’s international crew, but any radio operator can attempt to connect and see if anyone is up for a chat.

Astronaut Sunita Williams speaking over amateur radio on the International Space Station.

With 2019 being the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, it’s also important to note that the moon plays a role in amateur radio, too. Technicians reflect radio waves off of the moon in a technique called Earth-Moon-Earth propagation or “moonbouncing” to reach distant locales.

The moon as seen from the International Space Station

Interested in giving it a try? Contact the Eau Claire Amateur Radio Club to talk with current radio operators and to become certified. And you can learn more about amateur radio here at the library.

Community Building Event

Change can be exciting, scary, interesting, uncomfortable, and wonderful. Sometimes it happens all at once.

If you have visited the library in the past several months you may have noticed more than just new materials to check out. There’s new furniture, re-imagined spaces, and new faces to help you. The library is working hard to find new ways to serve our ever growing, and changing community. To adapt to the needs of our community we have added more staff members, a Community Resources Specialist, and an Early Literacy Outreach Librarian.

Libby Richter, our Community Resources Specialist, is a certified social worker willing to help customers address challenges in their life, and connect customers with their community. Jerissa Koenig, the new Early Literacy Outreach Librarian, has already been hard at work finding new and innovative ways to help young children fall in love with reading.

These changes are all so exciting, and we want you to be a part of it! We are hosting a Community Building event on Thursday July 25th from 6pm to 8pm to celebrate our new connections to the Eau Claire community. Come meet Libby and Jerissa, and have some light refreshments. You will also be able to check out our new Braille printer, see which spaces we have updated, and take a peek at the plans for your newly envisioned public library!

Hands reading braille. As a library, we understand that we need change to fit the needs of our community, whether the change is hard or easy. We are making changes here, so that you can make changes for you or your family. The library is a place where children can learn to read, learn to love the mysteries of the world, where they can grow up and hang out with their friends. As adults, the library is a place where you can go to get help, whether it is finding a book, or finding out which community agency is going to help you overcome a barrier. As we age, the library will help you keep up-to-date with the newest technology, or connect with people. Your library is a safe place for everyone. We are already thinking towards the future, what classes can be offered to help you be successful, or to find new spaces will best meet your needs. Swing by the library, and let us know what change we could be a part of in your world.

 

Who Loves Miscellaneous Information?

Who loves miscellaneous information?

Brad loves miscellaneous information.

Is it true?

Mm-hmm! I do, I do, I do, I do-oooh!

And what better place to find such miscellaneous information than in the library’s 000s section of non-fiction? The 000s are arguably the oddest and most diverse collection of materials throughout all of the non-fiction collection. Some credit must be given to the 700s which contend for quite a variety as well with “Arts and Recreation” (Pst, it might be my other favorite section). The 000s originally held the classification as simply “General Works,” but have since been extended to “Computer Science, Information & General Works.” Now, the 000s have potentially thousands of subcategories as Dewey intended, so I will refrain from spending a novel’s worth of explanation and will focus on the beefiest areas we have available in our collection.

001.9:
Ah, yes. Quite a specific number after declaring my intent to be broad, and it even has a decimal point! I promise this will be the only one. 001.9 could be considered fascinating be you believer or skeptic. No, not a religious believer. That’s mostly reserved for the 200s. 001.9 focuses on a variety of material including UFOs, conspiracies, cryptids (Loch Ness monster, Bigfoot, etc.), and anything similar that isn’t classified as “Paranormal,” which is located a skip or two down the aisle in the 130s. 

002-006:
Now here’s a nice clump of numbers. 002 through 006 blankets the tech stuff. If you just bought your first smartphone, are trying your hand at photo editing, need to brush up on entering data into spreadsheets, or anything between, then this area contains the information you might be seeking. If it’s tech, it’s probably here. Conspiracy theories and technology located so near each other. Hmmm.

020s:
Okay, this isn’t the section for the average browser. But it’s important nonetheless. This is where we keep the actual library topic material. We library staff need a place for our information as well! This is it. If you’re ever curious why a library does something a certain way or is changing to some new norm, you might find the answer here.

030s:
We honestly do not have much material in this category, but the material that is there is quite popular. This is where the random facts are located like Guinness World Records or Ripley’s Believe It or Not. This is considered the area for “Encyclopedias & Books of Facts.”

070s:
This is another diverse area that includes content for “News Media, Journalism, and Publishing.” Journalism covers work, theory, ethics, etc. You can also find materials for the field of publishing. If you work in the field or you are a writer looking to get published, there are some essential materials like Writer’s Market as well as various Dummies guides on the industry. Writer’s Market, in particular, is quite useful for finding contact information for agents, publishers, and magazines, in addition to workshops and contests.

A Midsummer Night’s Musings

Midsummer’s Eve, alas, has come and gone;
embark upon the drudg’rous plodding path
of dwindling days and never-ending nights
‘til the sun’s rebirth at winter solstice.

But far from o’er is glorious summer.
Nears the month of ambitious Julius;
Fiery, famous, frenetic, and fierce as
its founder, ‘tis rife with festivities.
Then succeeding Julius, as in life,
tribute to victorious Augustus:
celebrated, triumphant, and mighty.
As Augustus ushered in the final
era of the Roman Empire, his month
heralds the beginning of an ending,
the slow decline of summer’s dynasty.

Time will forge on, meter’d, unrelenting,
through crisp ev’nings of harvest’s equinox
to cross the distant borders of autumn
for ill-fated Persephone’s penance.

As the sunlight slips away, we will cling,
desperate, to the elusive hours,
wringing ev’ry moment of enjoyment
from fleeting days of Midwestern summer,
to preserve, like the fruits of our gardens,
for the bitterly cold days of winter.

Summer is short – don’t waste it! For actual authentic Shakespeare or information on upcoming summer events, visit the Information and Reference desk, now on the 2nd floor of the library.

cover image of "1984" by George Orwell

Words as Friends and Enemies

Beautiful eyes

are rolling

over these

short lines

When I first read this mini-poem my face was gray and my brain was cooked from plowing through the Western world’s literature. At that time reading had become more than a full-time occupation for me, since Comparative Literature was my first subject at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden—and my professor had scared me witless.

She expressed the very first day that her students should come to the Study of Literature (one could actually hear the capital letters in her speech) with knowledge from both real-life experience and with one or, preferably, a couple of other university subjects under their belts. I had neither and felt very lacking.

I was a Don Quixote fighting the windmills in form of these dense texts of geniuses, or an Icarus whose wings of hubris were melting from exposure to abstrusely antiquated language…you get the picture.

But then the above lines by the Swedish poet Bruno K. Öijer (translated by me) caught me by surprise; this was like fresh air among the crammed dusty readings. Someone was actually speaking to me in the exact moment of reading, reaching across time and space into my present moment. And furthermore, he was complimenting me—in a metatext way.

As I come from an immigrant family I have always had a heightened sensibility for language. The shame I felt over my parents’ Finnish accent made me feel socially inferior when I was a child, and that was perhaps one of the reasons that I pressured myself to compete in school. (Swedish and Finnish are totally unrelated and I would need tutoring the first two years as my Swedish vocabulary was lacking.)

Kids would ask questions I couldn’t answer: ”My dad is wondering why you’re so good in school when your parents can’t even speak Swedish properly…?” I wish I could have defended myself, but at the time I just remained silent, and only felt more singled out.

Unfortunately, I can still remember how I would pretend that I actually wasn’t present in the grocery store or the bank, when my mother would misunderstand and have problems in talking to people in everyday situations. I picked up very early on that she was treated differently because of her imperfect Swedish. So I knew that language had the power to shut you up. Make you or break you, or at least shape you.

In the 1940’s the Austrian writer Ernest Schachtel described how Western culture has created a tight control over our minds through the very construction of language. According to him, our original, non-linguistic ways of experiencing the world as children are stymied by conventional ways of thinking about the world, he calls these patterns schemata or clichés. The way we think and remember as adults is strictly schematized and governed by the language schemata we have been taught by our parents and teachers.

Schachtel claims that we all more or less suffer from childhood amnesia, as our conditioned minds are incapable of thinking outside the box of our given language. The only times we can break free from these shackles are through involuntary recalls of sensual remembrances.

cover image of "Remembrance of Things Past"

An often quoted example is how Marcel Proust’s sensation of his childhood’s madeleine cookies triggered eight volumes and 3,000 pages of a Remembrance of Things Past. Aside from the arts, we also have some access to these forgotten memories through our dreams.

Schachtel means that the purpose of this manipulative cultural system is to maintain a controlled society of efficient worker bees, with a small group of free thinkers (or feelers) on the side.

He writes that “cultures vary in the degree to which they impose clichés on experience and memory, but the more a society develops in the direction of mass conformism—whether such development be achieved by a totalitarian pattern, or within a democratic framework by means of the employment market, education, the patterns of social life, advertising, press, movies, best-sellers and so on—the more stringent becomes the rule of the conventional experience and memory schemata in the lives of the members of that society.”

In George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four the fictional totalitarian society has similarly created a language that no longer speaks the original meaning of words. In the language called “Newspeak” freedom is the same as slavery, and hate has come to mean love.

cover image of "1984" by George Orwell

But the lines between fiction and reality are very thin, just as between democracy and fascism. In Orwell’s dictatorship the Ministry of Brainwashing has been made into the Ministry of Love.

In 1949, right after Nineteen Eighty-Four was published, a fascinating real-life renaming took place in American society: the United States Department of War suddenly became the Department of Defense. Commentators, such as the linguist Noam Chomsky, have pointed out that this shift surely gave more leeway to the notion that the United States could defend outward aggression and interventions by the implicit notion that it was done in the name of defense.  Another example from today is how someone’s “freedom fighters” are usually someone else’s “terrorists.”

These and numerous other examples make it seem that language is the perfect tool for shaping our minds and expressing power.

But there is hope. Schachtel believes that artists, writers, and poets are the ones who can narrow the gap between words and true experiences. Since words are just symbols in our conventionalized language the writer has to work against the clichés, has to “fight constantly against the easy flow of words that offer themselves.” True expression and communication are as hard as the search for truth, “which never reaches its goal yet never can be abandoned.”

So to stay alert and improve our critical thinking skills, I believe we can gain much insight from continuing to enjoy all the artistic explorations of language in books, movies, music and theater.

As for our own public library in Eau Claire, I am proud of the fact that we recently hired an Early Literacy Outreach Librarian, who can help spark the interest for language in our children, and assist parents who may not have the resources or time to give their children the best tools.

Let’s have Emily Dickinson have the last word:

A word is dead

When it is said,

Some say.

I say it just

Begins to live

That day.

It’s Gonna Be May!

Okay, it already is May. I was neither lucky enough nor had the forethought to try and get last week’s blog post. So what’s this about? May holidays! May celebrates so many days recognizing culturally significant popularities and ideas. Why? We can only speculate. Maybe it’s a way to fill a lull in holiday celebration or maybe we need to create days to reflect our enlightened moods with the onset of spring. It’s also possible that we just need to find the time to celebrate our favorite things. Whatever the reason, here’s a list of several great days that are sure to touch on some interest of yours.

It’s Gonna Be May (April 30th)
No, it isn’t actually in May, but April 30th celebrates the coming month with a play on the lyrics from N’Sync’s “It’s Gonna Be Me.” The day might be done and gone but you can still find this blast from the past and enjoy the popular tune from the 90s.

Space Day (First Friday, May 3rd) & Astronaut Day (May 5th)
Two separate days celebrate related endeavors. Space Day celebrates humanity’s past achievements and continued exploration of the cosmos. Astronaut Day, celebrated in honor of the first manned space flight by Astronaut Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr. on May 5, 1961, recognizes the heroic achievements of some of our bravest heroes who have risked all to explore the unknown. For science!

May the 4th Be With You! (…May 4th)
When talking about May holidays, you can’t skip out on Star Wars Day! Star Wars Day, celebrated by fans and supported by Lucasfilm, is the day to don your favorite Star Wars themed outfit and attend a local Star Wars celebration. Keep your eye out for any scoundrel scuffles. #GreedoShotFirst

Free Comic Book Day (First Saturday, May 4th)
This year Free Comic Book Day shares its day with Star Wars. If you have never tried reading comics before and want to try without the investment or you just want some free comics, stop in at your local comic book store and pick up your free copies. This is largely considered the biggest day for comic books which means there are often exciting new launches and reveals at the same time.

National Teacher Appreciation Day (May 7th)
Some of the greatest influences in our society have a much deserved day of honor, our teachers. Honor your present or past teachers who have had a powerful impact on who you are as a person. You can give them a nice gift to show your appreciation, give them a shout out on social media, or even make a donation in their honor. Whatever you can do, teachers appreciate a little recognition for their impact.

Mother’s Day! (Second Sunday, May 12th)
Almost everyone recognizes this day in one way or another, but we can’t forget the other days for those who may not gain the same enjoyment from traditional Mother’s Day. Birth Mother’s Day (Saturday before Mother’s Day, May 11th) is a day for mothers who have given birth to support one another and still be acknowledged for those they brought into the world. It’s also Dog Mom’s Day (Second Saturday, also May 11th) for those whose babies contain a bit more fur, a tail, and a slightly wetter nose. We can’t forget the mother of all May holidays–I know I’m punny–Mother’s Day. Give your mother, biological or non-biological, a little recognition for all she has contributed.

Armed Forces Day (Third Saturday, May 18th)
Not to be confused with Memorial Day, a day of recognition for those who lost their lives in service for this country, or Veteran’s Day, a day of recognition for those who have served in the past, Armed Forces Day recognizes those who are currently serving in the Armed Forces of the United States. If you know anybody that serves, sending them a care package as a thank you is an outstanding way to give them thanks. I can attest to the rarity and the wonderful feeling of receiving care packages when serving away from home.

Memorial Day (Last Monday, May 27th)
Arguably second only to Mother’s Day, Memorial Day represents many things including a transition to summer and the biggest camping weekend of the year. It’s really supposed to be about honoring those who lost their lives in service to this country. It’s nice to think of those who passed later or even those who are still alive and served in the past, but it’s important to remember the real reason we have this nationally recognized holiday. Maybe try leaving the campsite a little earlier and taking a side trip to a local VA cemetery. Give a little recognition for what some of those soldiers had to do in defense of your privilege to have had that amazing camping experience.

Creativity Day (May 30th)
If it wasn’t made via a natural process, then it was created. And if it was created by you, then this day honors you! Whatever you might like to create, this is the day to celebrate it. Spend some time creating whatever you want and feel a sense of pride along with a world full of other creators who are hopefully doing the same. You can stop in the Dabble Box and create something there on May 30th between 3 pm and 5 pm.

Happy Earth Day, Everyone!

In the weeks leading up to Earth Day, I’ve been watching a lot of nature documentaries. In addition to conditioning myself to trust everything David Attenborough says, I’ve gained a renewed appreciation for all the wonderful and weird things that exist in nature. If you enjoy the Planet Earth series, keep an eye out for the BBC’s newest wildlife mini-series; Dynasties dedicates an entire episode each to five well-known endangered species. This focus goes nicely with the Earth Day Network’s 2019 theme: Protect Our Species.

Earth Day is 49 years old this year (expect a big 50th Anniversary event in 2020). The annual observance started in 1970 as a protest against pollution and environmental deterioration. There was massive participation in rallies all over the country, kick-starting some impressive political change. The following months saw the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and major amendments to the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, all before the end of the year.

Since that first year, Earth Day has expanded into a global event, observed by more than 1 billion people in 192 countries. As the world and its environmental concerns change, so does the focus of the Earth Day Network. These days, their main concerns are dealing with the impacts of climate change, ending plastic pollution, and protecting endangered species.

People celebrate Earth Day in many ways. Some easy things you can do to be a bit greener today (or any day) include investing in a reusable water bottle or coffee mug, replacing old lightbulbs with energy efficient ones, using reusable grocery bags, planting a vegetable garden, and walking, biking, or using public transportation. Eau Claire Transit is providing free bus rides on all routes today, April 22.

Though Earth Day is a great day to reduce your impact on the planet, it also has the greater long-term goal of effecting lasting change. To learn about ways you can live greener all year or get involved in protecting our planet, go to https://www.epa.gov/earthday or https://www.earthday.org/