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Food and Music are the Keys to Memory

   Friday, April 16th, 2010 - by: Becky Herrmann, Library Director

Do I need help? I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time thinking and talking about food.

As I ponder the benefits of using Meyer lemons over your basic supermarket brand, I wonder at times what matters of consequence I could be contemplating instead - the pros and cons of health care, the meaning of life or perhaps why the sky is blue. But no, I would prefer to think about food. It is part of my genetic make-up - when planning family get-togethers, the first question any of my sisters asks is, "What can I bring?" (meaning food, of course…).

I think I have been obsessed with meal planning since I made my first dinner from the Betty Crocker Boys and Girls Cookbook - homemade "Shake and Bake-style chicken, a bunny salad (pears with cottage cheese tails) and molasses crinkles for dessert.

Food stimulates my sense memories - it is how I navigate my history. I even recollect visits from friends by what I served them for dinner - "Ah yes, I remember it well, that was the night of the roasted tomato and goat cheese appetizer." "No, I think you are wrong - I distinctly recall we had the porcini mushroom risotto."

Food is my memory trigger. It starts with the recollection of the meal, leads to remembered conversations - a shared laugh and a visual journey down memory lane. Food memories are how I orient myself. I even give directions in the Boston area using restaurants as my compass points - they are just around the corner from Redbones; they live half a block from Dali; you won't miss their place, they are right next to Rosie's Bakery.

Music is the other trigger for me - a familiar provocation for most. Rickie Lee Jones' "Chuck E.'s in Love" sends me to a spring day, hanging out on a dorm roof in my first shorts of the season. "Truckin" by the Grateful Dead brings me to Harvard square on a summer evening, listening to the street musicians. Green Day's "Good Riddance (Time of your life)" has me back in an auditorium seat watching the Senior class video as my daughter graduated from high school. And it is not always your favorite songs that elicit the memories - "Dust in the Wind" by Kansas was my senior high class song. I am sure that is what made it pour that day.

There is nothing I like better than to invite friends over, try out a few new recipes and put on some of my favorite music. Here are two cookbooks I have recently admired and a few CD's that are worth checking out.

Cookbooks:

The Conscious Cook -Delicious Meatless Recipes That Will Change Your Life by Tal Ronnen - A vegan cookbook that puts protein at the center of the plate and creates satisfying meals for both meat-lover and vegetarian palates. 75 creative and diverse recipes accompanied by beautiful full-color photographs (and they taste good too!).

Stir: Mixing It Up in the Italian Tradition by Barbara Lynch - A local girl, self-taught chef Barbara Lynch was raised in the projects of South Boston, where she ate mostly processed foods. She was introduced to cooking by her high school home economics teacher and fell in love with the craft. Since then, she's opened a cooking school, a cookbook store, a deli, a butcher shop and several award-winning restaurants including No. 9 Park. She has also given us this gorgeous cookbook filled with mouth-watering recipes including a few of her restaurants' signature dishes.

Music:

Theresa Andersson, Hummingbird, Go! - Raised in Sweden and based in New Orleans, Andersson got her start recording quirky harmonies in her kitchen. Influenced by both folk music and Motown, her voice is reminiscent of a contemporary Dusty Springfield.

Big Star, #1 Record and Radio City - With the untimely passing of Alex Chilton, it is time to look back at the pop band, Big Star - a cult-level band that followed Chilton's stint as the lead singer of the Box Tops. Big Star was said to combine elements of the Beatles, the Who, the Kinks and the Byrds. Bands like R.E.M., the Replacements and Wilco have helped Big Star to gain its mythic stature, citing the band as influential on their music (watch for these two CDs, soon to be in our collection).

XX, The XX - This young Indie quartet from London sings candidly about relationships and makes music that's simple and raw, but very captivating. I suspect that this is a band to watch.

Neil Young, Sugar Mountain Live at Canterbury House, 1968 - Neil Young was just 22 when he took the stage at the Canterbury House in Ann Arbor, Mich. He was nervous and had to be coaxed from his hotel room. The concert was an intimate performance combining new material and familiar Buffalo Springfield tunes. Forty years had to pass before we could hear this concert in its entirety - but it was worth the wait.

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Books for Parents of Teenagers

   Thursday, July 10th, 2008 - by: Becky Herrmann, Library Director

When I couldn't see the apple on the picnic table, I knew I was in trouble. I was twelve. It was the school-wide eye exams. The tests involved looking through a device somewhat like the old Kenner toy projectors - the ones with the removable slides. As you gazed, the nurse would ask, "Is the apple on the picnic table or is it off? On, off, I could barely see the apple - never mind its placement. Four Eyes - I thought dispiritedly, they are going to call me Four Eyes. I needed glasses and I was not looking forward to it.

Some of us remember when Jan Brady got her glasses. Marcia may have had to wear the braces, but she still got Davy Jones and her date for the dance turned out to have braces too -- it was Jan who we really worried about. The path from clear-eyed to bespectacled can be rough. Adolescence can be a road filled with bumps where self-image is a sensitive issue.

Navigating your child's course through these years can be challenging. Many parents have turned to books like Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls by Mary Pipher, and Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys by Dan Kindlon and Michal Thompson. These two books came out in the 90's but are still relevant and helpful today. Another updated and popular title is How to Talk so Teens Will Listen - and Listen so Teens Will Talk by Adele Faber - its original version was directed at younger kids and came out in the eighties.

If you are mystified as to why your child went from being a chatterbox to responding in monosyllables, then Not Much, Just Chillin': The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers by Linda Perlstein might give some insight. And if you want to hear what kids really think - in their own words - try Real Boys' Voices by William S. Pollack or Ophelia Speaks by Sara Shandler. Both feature the unfiltered voices of adolescents talking about their struggles and passions.

Books to hand to your teens directly include Am I Weird or Is This Normal? - a girl's 411 on what happens to your body, feelings and relationships during adolescence by Marlin S. Potash or The Teenage Guy's Survival Guide by Jeremy Daldry - a humorous but practical guide on everything from shaving to peer pressure and why girls make guys crazy.

For fictional titles that deal with self-esteem and self-image in these formative years, some oldies but goodies include One Fat Summer by Robert Lipsyte and The Goats by Brock Cole. More recent titles include: What My Girlfriend Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones, Just Listen by Sarah Dessen and Peter Cameron's Someday this Pain Will be Useful to You. These titles and others are all available at the Chelmsford Public Library. Check out our website at www.chelmsfordlibrary.org for a complete list.

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Teen Reads for Summer

   Wednesday, June 18th, 2008 - by: Becky Herrmann, Library Director

"I don't have anything to wear!" The pink shirt is too babyish - the tank top is too tacky. The black jeans are too "emo." "Mom - I can't wear skinny with baggy, don't you know anything!" The list goes on.

Too tight, too wide, too tall, too small - my daughter is like Goldilocks when she dresses each morning. If only I could make everything just right - but these days I am not the Mom who can kiss the boo-boo and make it better. That is so last year - I am the mother of an almost 13-year old whose favorite retort (with an eye roll) is "I know..." Far be it for me to offer any kind of advice - although, that doesn't stop me from trying.

In spite of everything, there is still one area I seem to have some sway - books. She eagerly sorts through the piles I bring home and curls up with a book every night before bed. So, here are a few teen titles to try this summer:

For those who never feel like they fit in, try reading or listening to the confessions of Georgia Nicolson in Angus, Thongs, and Full-frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison. (We have both print and audio-book versions of this series.) The laugh-out-loud antics of Georgia, a 14 year-old British girl who is trying to reduce the size of her nose, tame her wild cat and romance a popular boy at school make this a popular selection for vacation time. (And as there are multiple titles in the series, reading about Georgia could last all summer long...) Another title to try is Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler. I think the title says it all.

For the girl who enjoys school settings and the social scene, a light summer read would be the L.B.D. books by Grace Dent - a series about "Les Bambinos Dangereuses" - three fast friends who put on a rock concert at their school. Lily Archer's Poison Apples about a trio of unlikely friends who meet at boarding school and all have evil step-mothers would also be a good choice.

For Harry Potter fans who enjoyed the romance between Ginny and Harry, try the romantic and comic novels of Sarah Mlynowski. The series begins with Bras and Broomsticks and continues with Frogs and French Kisses and Sleeping Bags and Spells.

For those who liked the darker side of Harry Potter, try the Last Apprentice series by Joseph Delaney. The first title is Revenge of the Witch and it follows one young man, Thomas Ward, who must fill the shoes of an aging Spook who has protected the local villages from evil. Twenty-nine apprentices have failed, only Thomas is left. As there are 4 books in the series, you can guess he is successful, but there are some genuinely gruesome and heart-stopping adventures along the way. Also, in a similar vein is Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landry in which a young girl inherits her odd uncle's estate -and at the reading of the will she is joined by a walking, talking skeleton who persuades her to join forces with him to save the world.

For the paranormal romance fan, Stephenie Meyer's vampire/werewolf series has been hugely popular with teens. The first in the series is Twilight - the 4th book Breaking Dawn will be published on August 2nd - just in time for a summer read. If your teen can't wait till then, try The Silver Kiss or Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause or Owl in Love by Patricia Kindl.

For those who contemplate the unknown, try Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin, a remarkable envisioning of what happens when you die. It focuses on the sudden death of a 15 year old girl in a car accident, imagining her reactions to her own death. Also of interest might be Gossamer by Newbery-award-winning author Lois Lowry in which she creates a fantasy back-story for how and why some folks have pleasant dreams versus nightmares.

For those in search of a mystery, try the light-hearted Lulu Dark books by Bennett Madison. The series begins with Lulu Dark Can See Through Walls and continues with Lulu Dark and the Summer of the Fox - Lulu is a reluctant sleuth with a satirical wit and the books are fast-paced, smart and funny. Speaking of reluctant - if you are trying to coax your computer-oriented child into reading, try Cathy's Book: If found, call (650)-266-8233 by Sean Stewart and Jordan Weisman. This fast-paced mystery includes telephone numbers that readers can call and an interactive website to visit to help solve the mystery.

And as far as I am concerned, you never get too old to be read to. A book for parents and teens to read aloud together is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. This coming of age tale set in Brooklyn at the turn of the century still holds up. And hey, if you can't get them to sit with you at home, try popping the story into your car stereo at the beginning of your vacation trip. Happy summer reading and listening!

To see a listing of all the books mentioned here, see the Library's Reading Room webpage.

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Learning How to Grow Old Gracefully can Happen at the Library

   Thursday, February 28th, 2008 - by: Becky Herrmann, Library Director

I wore a trendy little jumper to work the other day with a jaunty black cap and a co-worker complimented me on my outfit, saying I looked “cute.”

I asked my 12 year old daughter - “So, what do you think, can someone approaching 50 still look cute?” Her response? “Sure, Mom, I think old people are cute.”

Aargh, between the hot flashes and the AARP mailings (awfully premature, if you ask me, I am NOT quite 50 yet...) - I have enough reminders of my approaching senility. I don’t need my almost-teenager chiming in... Besides - age (as they say) is “a state of mind” - and the state of my mind is decidedly young.

So if you are feeling a little creaky in your joints or you find yourself enjoying a nap on the couch more than a night out on the town or if you are constantly misplacing your keys - don’t blame it on getting old! Stop fretting and Get a Hobby - Tina Barseghian’s information packed guide gives you 101 different hobbies to explore. It has everything from beachcombing to needlework to growing bonsai.

You Can Do It! - The Merit Badge Handbook for Grown-up Girls by Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas will also get you up off the couch. Whether it is running a marathon, trekking to Nepal or learning to sing on stage, this book celebrates your dreams and tells you it is never too late to start! It is all up to you. You, Staying Young: The Owner’s Manual for Extending Your Warranty is just the ticket for fighting the effects of aging. It includes a 14 day plan to help you stay young, along with information about the biological factors in growing old.

If you are still worried about crow’s feet and flabby arms, join the club. We all say I Feel Bad about My Neck along with the comic author Nora Ephron and many of us ask Martha Weinman Lear’s eternal question Where Did I Leave My Glasses? Lear’s aptly-titled book about the what, when, and why of normal memory loss reassures us that a certain amount of forgetfulness in middle-aged folks and the young elderly is normal. It is not necessarily a harbinger of Alzheimer’s. We should also take our cue from the likes of Ben Bradlee, Lena Horne and Carl Reiner, octogenarians who say they have never felt so young. They are featured in 80: Eighty Famous People in Their Eighties Talk about How They Got There and Live There by Gerald Gardner and Jim Bellows.

As we grow older, many of us find that we are becoming Predictably Irrational - Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist argues that human behavior is often anything but rational - that thoughts are not random, but instead are systematic and predictable. Or perhaps you find yourself thinking that your life is Not Quite What I Was Planning? This newly-published illustrated collection of six-word memoirs is alternately humorous, sad, and strange. It includes authors Jonathan Lethem and Richard Ford and comedians Steven Colbert and Amy Sedaris.

Ultimately though it is important to heed the advice of Nobel Prize winner James D. Watson and Avoid Boring People. Watson’s lessons from a life in science include an account of his early work in discovering the structure of DNA along with secrets he has found to getting along in the world. It is a witty and instructive memoir. You can embrace Watson’s teachings and Keep Your Brain Alive with Larry Katz and Manning Rubin’s 83 neurobics exercises designed to increase mental fitness. Start thinking hard today!

But if today is one of the days that you have a brain cramp and you still haven’t found your keys or your missing glasses - have someone drop you by the library and enjoy some of our programs. Upcoming events include a program on financial fitness, lunch box seminars, a poetry slam, a salon-style discussion group and an art reception. Join us! For more information, check out the website at www.chelmsfordlibrary.org

aging, book, books, growing, older

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Genius, interrupted

   Thursday, February 14th, 2008 - by: Vickie Turcotte, Head of Technical Services

Once upon a time, I was a genius. Straight A’s, scholarships, cum laude and honor societies – the whole deal.

Now, I have children.

Even before they arrived, I began to doubt myself. I read too many books about babies and was amazed by what I didn’t know. (I’ll take a moment to note that my husband had no such qualms and was sure he knew all about babies.) The children arrived, two daughters in two years, and we learned together. I learned how to understand my little girls’ needs and my husband learned that knowing about babies was different from owning them.

The babies grew into school-age girls and here I became a genius again. I could help with all the homework and answer endless questions about the world around them. My head swelled with pride when I would overhear “Ask Mom – she’ll know,” spoken with complete confidence and trust that this would be so.

Then another baby arrived and I lost my genius status again. This baby was more challenging than the first two and I forgot everything I had learned. When she got to school age, she didn’t need any help with homework and so I couldn’t dazzle her with my brilliance. The older girls were still impressed with my ability to answer Jeopardy questions in the stress-free comfort of my living room, but they too had started to doubt my genius in the wider world. (I could tell by the sighs and eye-rolling that occurred whenever I shared my wisdom.)

Now they are 15, 13 and 9, and I doubt that I shall ever be a genius again. The world has changed so fast that my 20th century IQ is irrelevant and inadequate. Lucky for me, the publishing world has seen my pain and come through with books clearly written just for me (and maybe you, if you’re honest.)

Feeling less than smart? Try a book from the “For Dummies” series – MySpace for Dummies, Violin for Dummies, Irish History for Dummies, etc. They cover computers – Wikis… and eBay…; business – New Product Development… and Accounting… ; education – Athletic Scholarships… and Algebra… ; health Diabetes Cookbook… and Low Calorie Dieting… and a hundred other topics – Nostradamus…, Betting on Horse Racing…, Genealogy Online…, Golf’s Short Game… and my personal favorite Parenting for Dummies.

Feeling even less than dumb? We also have titles from the Complete Idiot’s Guide series – Complete Idiot’s Guide to Cigars, ...Going Back to College, …the Bible, …European History, …Middle East Conflict and one that makes me a little nervous, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Electrical Repair.

But perhaps you don’t feel like a dummy or an idiot. We have books for you, too. Try You, the Smart Patient : and insider’s guide for getting the best treatment (Roizen and Oz), Smart organizing : simple strategies for bringing order to your home (Sandra Felton), The Genius Engine : where memory, reason, passion, violence and creativity intersect in the human brain (Kathleen Stein), What Would MacGyver Do? : true stories of improvised genius in everyday life (Brendan Vaughan).

Finally, for those among us who have a special kind of genius that is bored with the details of ordinary life, we have just the book to help you channel your energies – 51 High-Tech Practical Jokes for the Evil Genius (Brad Graham).

All the titles mentioned above, and many more like them, are available to dummies, idiots, geniuses, and everyone in between, at the Chelmsford Public Library and MacKay Branch.

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