Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Central Branch Library thoughts

In a break from the political opinions (and the crowds go wild!!) I thought I’d reflect on the remodeled Central Branch of the Howard County Library.


I had just finished blogging here one night, when I heard an older patron and an older librarian discussing the new building.  To put it mildly, neither was impressed with it.  They disapproved of the style, the color, the patterns, the amenities, the staff space.  Whew! It did start me thinking of my initial response, and my subsequent perspective on it.  And I think I disagree with them.


The library structure hearkens back to the early days of Columbia, and the eclectic architecture of the 60’s and 70’s.  In some respects, the color scheme and the style brings that back into focus.  The green wall, the exposed brick, the slightly psychedelic carpet that is evocative of the sky in Van Gogh’s Starry Night.  The exposed wood of the ceiling is certainly a step up in looks, along with the lighting and the better utilization of natural light from the windows (including some I never knew were there)


I do agree that the librarian stations upstairs are a bit small. I suspect this is in part to the librarians now having a portable electronic tether to work with as they move about.  Still, it would be nice to have a double seat at the station.  And while I love the open space of the computer area, I do wonder how noisy it will be when more people come back (right now it is wonderfully quiet….like a library used to be ❤ ).


What I really wanted to tell the patron and librarian (and didn’t) was — this wasn’t done for you.  They, and even me, are not part of the demographic that the system is trying to grab.  Libraries will fail if they serve only the post-40 or post-50 or older clientèle.  They need to attract the digital natives and the digital explorers.  This space is designed to make them welcome, to make them feel like the coffee shop they are used to using to surf the web.  And that’s okay from my standpoint.  I still want there to be a library.  I still want people who are trained in the science and can help me with my research or just give me a different place to ruminate.


And it seems to have opened up just in time for me 🙂





It’s Back! Finally :)

I sit here this morning in the newly re-opened Central Branch library.  I FINALLY have a branch on the way home from work that is easy to get to!  Yay!!!  Although I know this means the East Columbia Branch will soon close, so crowds may be an issue still 😦

I will say, it is not at all what I expected.  It is, to me, a bit odd, a bit retro in design, but still interesting.  The space is very open, the walls now either uncovered brick or windows. The computer stations are more central, and adjacent to the open seating space (which I fear will be a noise issue)  The overhead lighting is the same, although the dark back-end of the upper floor is now more day-lit. In a couple of spaces the other-wise isolated windows are now more available to provide light to the whole floor since the shelves are aligned to better allow daylight penetration. The color scheme I suspect was intended to be more whimsical, although it does have a retro feel, which perhaps is not surprising given the age and design of the exterior of the building.

I still need to ask around to see if the building was renovated under LEED guidance as a green building (I’m suspecting not, but who knows, perhaps I’ll be surprised).

However….and maybe this is bad….three days before the election I’ll have a more convenient local from which to blog.

Welcome back library 🙂





Ned Talks :)

Yes…that was  a deliberate play on the Ted Talks title 😀



The Howard County Library is once again having a good speaker session at the LEED Gold Miller Branch on Thursday October 20.  Local author and naturalist Ned Tillman will be speaking  on “Saving the Places We Love”, his second book (third is in the works!).  I haven’t read this one, but his first book “The Chesapeake Watershed” was a great multifaceted talk about the history, geology, biology and function of the Chesapeake Bay and the watershed that feed it.  I particularly like the discussion of the Patapsco River Valley from a natural and historical perspective. It is not a great stretch to read that book and understand how the terrible Ellicott City flood of this summer came to be so devastating.


I’d recommend coming out early…if you haven’t walked on the green roof of the Library, it is a gorgeous pieces of extensive green roof, wonderfully planted and tied into the patio, and the interior carpet to evoke the waters of the valley.



Shenandoah– A story unfolded


One of he great things about the Howard County Library system (and there are many!) is their series of author presentations. I’ve been to probably 6 or 8 over the past three years, and have enjoyed each one as I learned something new and mind-engaging. In this case, I just finished the book from the January Meet the Author. The book was Shenandoah: A Story of Conservation and Betrayal by Sue Eisenfeld.

The book is really two stories intertwined like DNA double helix.  The first story is the transformation of a Philadelphia city girl into an avid hiker (a romantic relationship helps this 🙂 ).  Moreover, she and her husband are bushwhackers, people who leave the marked trails and head out into the massive amounts of back country available in the mountains.  What she discovers during these expeditions are parts and pieces of society that she didn’t expect to find.  They were the remnants of the materials, homes and lives of the hill country people who were displaced, sometimes forcibly, by the government from the Park.

It turns out that the hills and valleys that form the Shenandoah National Park had been home to scores of  communities.  Some of these families and communities had been living on the land for two hundred years or more.  They had found livelihoods by farming, orchards, stills, lumber, tanning and more.  They had homes with foundations, walls, fireplaces and mantels.  Churches, schools, stores, mills.  And they did not want to leave when the Commonwealth of Virginia came calling at the behest of the Federal Government to remove them from the land.  But removed they were under a grossly misapplied effort of eminent domain.

What I found most amazing in this story was the vilification of the people.  Do you remember L’il Abner?  As part of the effort to gain support for the park, a sociologist went to the area and wrote a book Hollow Folk about the people.  The people and communities were portrayed as burdened with poverty and inbreeding.  Children illiterate about the Pledge of Allegiance or the Lord’s Prayer, barefoot and savage.  They were all lies, but became part of the story of the park as that (now discredited) book contributed to the eviction process.

The book was an enjoyable, informative, entertaining read.  My regret is that it left me with unscratched itches…wanting to know more about the demise of the chestnut forests, the loss of varieties of apples, how communities functioned and even flourished in those times.  Sadly, Sue indicated that she wasn’t planning to follow-up on the topics.  It would have been interesting too, to have a little information of how this couldn’t happen today. Or could it?  The recent award of the Goldman Prize to a student activist for stopping the proposed incinerator in Curtis Bay shows that while we may decry the past, we haven’t necessarily advanced past it.  Still, the Shenandoah story made for a good read and lots of opportunities for contemplative thought.



The Drillmaster

I’m not sure why, but the past year or two has seen me read more books on the American Revolution than any other historical topic (and probably more than I’ve ever read in total).  I had the opportunity the previous  fall to give a presentation at a conference in Valley Forge, and went through the National Park there.  As a souvenir, I got a book about an aspect of the events there that seemed potentially interesting.  I managed to score massively on that random selection!    The book was the fairly easy read titled “The Drillmaster of Valley Forge: The Baron de Steuben and the Making of the American Army” by Paul Lockhart.   I realized from the title that it would be about Baron Von Steuben, but other than his nickname, I knew nothing about him.

The book left me with two major realizations.  The first was about the Baron and his role in the revolutionary war.  It would not be an exaggeration to say that without his skill and abilities (as well as another that I will discuss in a different blog, Gen. Nathaniel Greene), there is a great chance that the war would have been won by the British.  The total lack of drill, discipline, and martial abilities that the ragamuffins of Valley forge suffered from was nearly fatal before that winter, and would have certainly been so in the spring campaigns had it not been for the Baron’s intervention.  In an incredibly short period of time he turned a mob into a military unit, and by the end of the war won the accolades of the French that there was no finer force in Europe…including the British.  The speed at which the Baron worked his miracle, and the immediacy of the positive results on the battlefield, were amazing.

The second major point was the re-enforcing of the realization, gained from the previous books on George Washington,  that the Revolution was a very near-run thing, and that our winning it was truly a series of unforeseen miracles strung together.  This was true for the entire Revolution and how it played out, and seems to be highlighted in the history of nearly every major actor and event.   Just looking at it from Steuben’s perspective:  he almost wasn’t given a commission to come over and help the cause; his time in Valley Forge was incredibly short, and had he arrived a month later, might have been for naught; Gen. Charles Lee’s blundering defeat at Monmouth would have been catastrophic had Steuben not been close enough to rally troops; that without his work in Charlottesville the British might have destroyed enough of the American army to avoid the defeat at Yorktown that effectively ended the war.

The characters of the Revolution may be the most incongruous group of victorious leaders the world has ever seen.  The more I read, the more it becomes clear that there is likely no battlefield that has seen so many accidental heroes and surprisingly effective neophytes in one place.  Washington, Steuben, Greene, Knox, Sullivan, Marion, Mifflin, Morgan, Smallwood. All in some way uniquely unqualified to do what they did, and yet they did it.




Civil Rivals

For whatever reason my reading recently has included several books on the American Revolution.  It is interesting to see the differences, and the similarities, between politics then, and now.  The story of James Madison and James Monroe provides a snapshot of how politics and personalities should be played….would that today’s demigods understood that.  Madison and Monroe were on opposite sides of one of the greatest pivotal points in our history, the debate over the Bill of Rights.  And as fate would have it, these two friends of the Revolution, who had been interconnected through work, and friends until finally meeting and becoming fast friends and correspondents, were opponents in the battle for a position to the ratifying Congress.


Each fervently believed they spoke the truth about the Bill of Rights.  One convinced it was the necessary tool to redress an issue from the Constitution, the other equally convinced it was unnecessary and dangerous.  In a country separated from its founding war  (a war both served in) by scant time, and still fresh memories, they battled each other on the topic.  Groups from out-of-state threw money and resources to sway the vote.  In the end, Madison won, the Bill of Rights was passed, and the fledgling US moved down its path to eventual superpower status.

Madison and Monroe?  They remained friends until they died, respected each other both then and until their final days.

It’s a shame that our current political rivals cannot understand how to disagree with respect, with honor, and with integrity.  How much better the modern Congress would be if they could emulate this revolutionary pair of civil rivals.

Journal Junkie

I’m reminded of that memorable scene from “Mr. Mom” (hmmm…yes, yes, yes,, a very dated reference to a movie I know, but bear with me). The Father is trying to convince the son to give up his woobie, his special blanket. He warns him “I understand that you little guys start out with your woobies and you think they’re great… and they are, they are terrific. But pretty soon, a woobie isn’t enough. You’re out on the street trying to score an electric blanket, or maybe a quilt. And the next thing you know, you’re strung out on bedspreads. That’s serious.”


image from

I get it
I’m a journal junkie.
I’m not sure how I got here. For someone who blogs, I find it amazingly soothing, helpful and creative to pick up pen and paper, and to write instead of typing.
It was my 7-year-old daughter who started me. She gave me an old journal of hers to use when we went out, so I’d have something to do when she wrote in her journal. I didn’t want to lose that one, so I had another when I traveled. I thought it would be helpful to put my faith walk thoughts into a separate one (or two :-/). A year later, when my daughter separated from me, she gave me another one. I couldn’t use it for more than a couple of time because it reminded me she was gone from my life, so I got another one. Then I got one that I dedicated to the special events, joys, and gratitudes in my life, along with some of the  answered prayers. The one I have now was given by a girlfriend on my last birthday before we split up.  I carry it everywhere when I go out to eat, just in case inspiration hits me. All used, all in use, all to be used.
Really, I do need them all…


I’m Jeff.

I’m a journal junkie

Hi Jeff!

American Crisis……redux

Congress has no credibility, among any group in the country or the electorate.  Deep, deep divisions exist between parties over almost everything, from revenue and taxation to foreign affairs and, of course, ending the war.  There is even in some the belief that there should be no “united” states.  the future looks bleak, forlorn, nearly hopeless.

The scenario is, surprisingly, that of the country in 1781-83, at the end of the Revolutionary War.  I recently finished reading “American Crisis: George Washington and the Dangerous Two years after Yorktown, 1781-1783”.  I was struck by how similar to the current temper of the country could be easily matched by that of the country 230 years ago.  Actually, that whole time period has, in at least tone and tenor, a surprising number of similarities with the current political climate.  The difference is that at time we at least had Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and several other brilliant, selfless leaders to help navigate the course.  Today, sadly, it seems we have two ends of the spectrum with not much more than vitriol to offer.  Yet, perhaps, there is a comfort in knowing that this level of angst, this scale of disfunction, this amount of danger, is not new and that we have the ability to endure and move past.  Maybe, knowing that we survived that period of turbulence,  there is some solace in knowing that “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

I hope so.