One of my favorite rituals at the end of each year is preparing next year's calendar. I open the new calendar (this year - celestial maps) and page through last year's calendar transferring birthdays, anniversaries and other notes reminding myself to renew the car tabs and seal the driveway. It is usually a peaceful process to go through the old year remembering where we were and what we did -- the occasions, the appointments, the vacations, the happy hours -- and contemplate the upcoming year with anticipation. While not the sexiest of rituals, my old calendar is the closest thing I have to a diary, besides time-stamped photos, and once a year I enjoy the process of recollecting that 'on this day I [fill in the blank].' And my new calendar helps me visualize the new year and set goals and benchmarks for myself.

So, imagine my chagrin when, as I began the transfer of memories and envisioning the new year, I slowly realized that my new calendar's grid starts with Monday, and places Sunday at the end of the grid. Why, oh, why did the publishers have to throw me off that way? I figured it had to do with how grids are displayed in other countries around the world (the Time and Date.com calendar generator indicates my suspicions are correct), and, I get that the work week starts on Monday for most people, etc., but still. This could really throw me off. Sheesh!

Anyway. I'll live. Or get a new calendar. But, it got me thinking about other calendrical facts that I manage to forget.
  • The Gregorian calendar system began in 1582. Because the change in systems was a papal bull, several protestant countries continued to use the Julian calendar. England didn't switch until 1752. Many other countries didn't make the switch until the 1900s.
  • The Jewish calendar is based on the moon's revolution around the earth, as well as the earth's rotation and revolution around the sun. (It seems like most people can keep this straight whether they are Jewish or not, but maybe that isn't the case). The holidays are on the same day of the Jewish calendar every year, but I'm going to need some help to keep track (mainly for purposes of putting out the Passover books at the appropriate time of year).
  • The Chinese calendar (again, of interest so I display Chinese new year books at the right time) is similarly based on lunar and solar observations. Chinese new year begins at the second new moon after the winter solstice, btw. There are legends about how the years were named, but I guess the animal name system is mainly used today for practical purposes. I was born in the year of the Snake, FYI.
  • The types of calendars (covering lunar-based, solar-based, and combinations of the two and how they fit with Muslim, Chinese, Mayan and other calendar systems) are nicely summarized by the Hermetic Systems calendar software company.

And finally, on the topic of calendars, there are sooooo many posts in the blogosphere about organization during this time of New Year's Resolutions. iCalShare is a place to publicly post your calendar and allows users to view upcoming calendars from tons of different organizations. Pretty nifty.


Kat's Index

2007 was a year of ups and downs...here is a review, Harper's Index Style. By the way, this doubles as my Christmas letter, which I never wrote and therefore never mailed to anyone.

Number of weddings in which my brother married his best friend: 1
Number of those weddings my husband and I were honored
to be a part of: 1
Number of new nieces: 1. The perfect-in-every-way young Dannika.
Number of birthdays in which I turned 30: 1. So far, I like 29 better.
Number of years my husband and I have been married: 7
Number of cats we have: 2 lovely Siamese
Number of books read or listened to that I actually remembered to
write something about in my book journal: 92
Number of books read in Spanish: 3
(Ramona la Chinche, Colmillo Blanco, and another one)
Number of home improvements: 3
(including a new deck, new window and interior paint)
Number of significant problems that came up with my POS car: 5
Number of cavities: 2 (I didn't think I had room for any more)
Number of years since I have been to the dentist prior to this year's visit: 7
Number of breakfasts I ate at Hell's Kitchen: 27 (the lemon ricotta pancakes
are stillthe best item on the menu, with the porridge coming in second)
Number of reubens I ate in the last week: 2
(at Cecil's deli - so so so so so delicious!)
Number of reubens I ate prior to this year: 0
Number of pairs of high-heeled shoes or boots
I have worn regularly this year: 6
Number of pairs I have worn prior to this year: 0
Number of television shows I watched regularly: 0. Seriously.
Number of video blogs I watched regularly: 2
Number of storytimes done at the library: 52
Favorite new library programs:
Classics Bookclub, Reader's Theater, Mad Science
Number of hours playing Rise of Nations, Civilization, Big Bang Reversi,
Pootris, and Guitar Hero Rocks the 80's: lots and lots
Number of hours spent knitting: 0
Number of 'movies' I made: 4
Number of months I held an account on second life: 8
Number of months I actually *enjoyed* my account on second life: 3
Number of feeds in my Google Reader as of 12/28/07: 90
Number of songs purchased on iTunes: 47
Number of friends on Facebook: 32
Percentage of those friends who are family members: 47%
Number of friends made that I wanted to know
for a very very very long time: 1
Number of those friends that I lost: 1
Number of match-making attempts: 1
Number of those attempts that were successful: 1!
Number of farm animal rubber duckies received at Christmas: 12
Number of hours I have spent with friends and family,
feeling truly blessedby how many wonderful people are in my life: countless

So, there you have it. May you have the happiest of new years, Dear Readers!


Toodles, 2007

I like reviewing various things that happened when years come to a close. Lists like Time Magazine's 50 Top 10 Lists of 2007 are just so fun to browse through. So, here you have some other lists with minimal commentary.

The National Book Awards (yay! Sherman Alexie), the Pulitzer Prizes and Nobel Prizes have been awarded for 2007, but we must wait until January 14th for the Caldecott, Newbery and Prinz award announcements, and until February 24th for the Oscars.

Book Reviews
Library Journal, Publisher's Weekly, Hornbook and many many others provide their Best Books of 2007 lists. And, I'm not ashamed to admit that I got involved in the frenzy surrounding both the final installment of Harry Potter AND the third installment in the Twilight series.

The CNN top stories include the Minneapolis bridge collapse, the Virginia tech massacre and the deaths of Benazir Bhutto and Anna Nicole Smith. Yahoo News stories, on the other hand, while ranking the Virginia tech massacre as the top story, feature the birth of the Duggar's 17th child in their coverage. Hmmmmm.

The Internet
The Bloggers Choice Awards have announced their 2007 winners (why wasn't I on there? Hee hee), while the Cybils (literary awards given by bloggers) and the Webby Awards (billed as the Oscars for the Internet) have extended their deadline for submissions. Mashable presents their best of the best in 2007, including viral videos, web apps and trends. Top Web 2.0 Applications for Education - useful tools in education based on ease of use.

Top 10 British Out of Print Books - I hope there is an American counterpart to this list and that publishers are paying attention to it.
Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl brilliantly reviews the best dishes of 2007. Yum. I really must try Broder's Pasta Bar and La Belle Vie.
Wikipedia provides an overwhelming list of deaths in 2007, but WCCO provides an easier tribute to follow, even though they neglected to mention Madeleine L'Engle. I stumbled upon the Neatorama post listing the 30 Strangest Deaths in History, which includes death by bookcase and death by beard, among other..well...strange deaths.

People Magazine and Entertainment Weekly sum up the year's celebrity gossip. Hey. I enjoy this stuff!


Of esquires and godparents

During the recent holiday gathering, two terms came up that meant one thing for half the group, and another thing for the other half of the group.

My husband was feeling that he should have some extra titles after his name on his business card, and his brother suggested "esquire." Most thought it was a term reserved only for lawyers, others thought it was simply an honorific term.

Findlaw defines esquire as

n. a form of address showing that someone is an attorney, usually written Albert Pettifog, Esquire, or simply Esq. Originally in England an Esquire was a rank just above "gentleman" and below "knight." It became a title for barristers, sheriffs and judges.
and Merriam Webster defines esquire as
1: a member of the English gentry ranking below a knight
: a candidate for knighthood serving as shield bearer and attendant to a knight
: used as a title of courtesy usually placed in its abbreviated form after the surname Esq.>
4archaic : a landed proprietor.
We're both right. In the end, my DH decided his business card was impressive enough. And I agree.

I was startled and honored when my atheist brother-in-law asked my husband and I to be the godparents for their little daughter. Startled because he used the term godparent - honored that he and his wife trust us. I have only heard the term godparent used to refer to religious sponsors at baptisms, and my godparents are not the people I would have gone to live with if something had happened to my parents. So, is there another term for backup parents? Associated Content uses the term godparent, so it isn't out of the ordinary. Findlaw uses the term guardian, and most legal documentation uses that term. Either way, we know what is being asked of us, and are able and willing.


First Wives Club

We have a regular patron who wants to know the first wives of famous actors, singers, and lately her daily inquiries have entered the realm of presidents, generals and martyrs. She doesn't want to know the names of any subsequent wives, but always the first.

Most of the time I don't know who she's talking about - the actors and singers are from an era that I am not particularly familiar with - and she doesn't seem to know that I have to look the information up. I do not have this information filed away in my memory. I always site my source with her, and tell her it will take a moment for me to find the information for her, but I sense her frustration when it takes more than one second to look it up. Most of the time, IMDB (which includes spousal information in the minibiography section) and Wikipedia (which often contains personal information for people) are the best first stops for this particular patron, but sometimes we need to look elsewhere for the first wives.

and Infoplease Biography are usually a good first stops for quick basic information about people, but neither provide links to different aspects of their biographical information, and neither include marriage information consistently. Who2 also provides only quick basic information, but the stats are easier to find and their Famous People by Category list includes some unusual categories - including accident victims, attempted assassins, clergywomen and groupies. As our patron strays more and more from actors, we may have to consult specialized biographical dictionaries. Excellent lists can be found at the IPL and ALA websites.

Anyway. A scary thing happened the other day - our patron called asking about the first wife of an actor I had never heard of. I told her the name of the woman, and later that night, that woman was referenced in the novel I was reading. And I knew was able to say I knew who she was.

Cat vs. Cat

Title Cat vs. Cat: keeping the peace when you have more than one cat
Author Pam Johnson-Bennett, a feline behaviorist that, according to her website, charges $285 for a 60-minute phone consultation. Wowsa.
In a nutshell Tips (that actually aren't too hokey) for keeping a multi-cat household.

Update: I meant to give credit to
Alicia for the "in a nutshell" summary of book reviews in blogs. Very helpful!

I picked this up on the off-chance that I would be able to bring about the end of the war between Tiki and Sam. As much of an animal lover as I am, I was quite skeptical about this book. I was mostly worried that she would be overly obnoxious in anthropomorphizing cats, but I was pleasantly surprised. A lot of her explanations and tips make sense to me, and she kept the feel-good cutesy stuff at a minimum. Plus, I was worried that this would get into pet psychic territory, which I don't buy into at all.*

Some things I learned:
  • When Tiki continuously buts her head against mine when I come home at the end of the day, it's called bunting. She's giving me the familiar colony scent, and welcoming me back home.
  • We messed up big time when we introduced Tiki and Sam to each other. I've known this for five years, but now I have specific information.
  • Tiki and Sam both want to be alpha-cats, and whose on top actually shifts. For example, Tiki walks in the center of the room for awhile, then Sam does for awhile. Tiki eats first for awhile, then Sam does.
  • I'm surprised they don't fire us. The author recommends we scoop the litter twice a day. We scoop more like twice a week. But! There is a possible solution for Sam's practice of hanging his toosh over the edge of the litter box. Yay!
  • It is more intimidating to clean themselves and act disinterested in the fight they're having. So, Tiki's way of swatting at Sam and chasing him out of the room and then cleaning her ass is her way of attempting to intimidate him.
  • The basic behavior cycle is hunt, feast, groom, sleep. So! To prevent them from waking us up in the middle of the night, I can do some interactive play and feed them right before bed. It's working.
  • Finally, there is a way to reintroduce cats as though they had never met, but it is a lot of work. It involves baby gates.
I think there will be peace on earth (at least, our house) yet.

*A psychic at a bar once did a free reading on Tiki. He dangled his little charm over the picture I have of her on my cell phone. That was very very weird, but he did tell me that she is very happy with me.


Five year countdown starting now

I've seen more than a few references to the Mayan prediction that the world will end on December 21, 2012 in the last few days, the most recent being a booklist provided by Shelf Awareness (a daily newsletter for people in the book business). (I love that in the newsletter she mentions Sounds True as one of the publishers producing some titles. I know nothing about that particular publishing house, but just the name... sounds true. Sounds being the operative word. Oh well.)

I am fascinated by the Maya. The first hook for me was their beautiful and complex writing system, and I was quickly taken in by their architecture, religious belief system and political practices. Their advanced knowledge of science and mathematics is impressive, as is their numbering system (which is base 20. We are base 10). I have two Mayan calendars in my house - one that shows the cycle, and another that depicts the date of my wedding. But this prediction stuff is pretty far-fetched, in my humble opinion.

Looks like most people agree that the world won't *end* on that date (I intend to live it up anyways), but there are some scientific and new age (hokey shit) reasons beyond the Mayan prediction for people believing that there could be some sort of cataclysm on 12/21/12. Mausumi Dikpati of the National Center for Atmospheric Research predicts that the next solar maximum will be a doozy, and will happen in 2012. New Scientist (and others) report that when solar flares peak in 2011 or 2012, GPS signals will be severely disrupted. In a report on a cool-looking crop circle, BBC reported that the galaxy will begin a new era in 2012 as its 26,000-year cycle comes to an end. My favorite, though, which doesn't seem to be supported anywhere else on the interwebs, is the India Daily editorial about volcanic eruptions in the year 2012. Come ON!

Of course, there is quite a bit of evidence that debunks the whole thing, not to mention common sense and the fact that we can't do anything about it. I certainly don't get wrapped up in doomsday stuff (although post-apocalyptic fiction is probably one of my favorite types of fiction), but one good thing about blogging about this phenomenon is that I found a list of historic calendars. Fun!


Food History

The last post made me think about food, so I decided to poke around the Food Timeline site. Dear Reader(s?), I recommend you do the same. It's fun.

Some tidbits...
  • The punishment for shortchanging customers on beer in 2100 BC was death by drowning in the Code of Hammurabi.
  • Chickens have been domesticated since 3200 BC.
  • Rice pudding was thought of as medicine in the first century.
  • I can most likely thank 9th Century Arabian law prohibiting wine for my morning coffee.
  • The debate over who invented the hot dog can be quite heated.
  • Instead of Raisinets, I would have had hazelnuts in Elizabethan England.
  • It's French Onion soup because of the bouillon crafted in 17th-Century France.
  • While the crystallization process was created by a German apothecary in 1747, I can probably thank Napoleon for the sugar beet industry that gives my college town that awful smell!
  • This site is the only other place besides the Library of Congress Subject Headings list that I have seen the word cookery. Good thing we can search modern library catalogs by keyword these days.

Norwegians and Swedes and Finns, oh my!

Once, I got in a fight with someone who lives in South America after I asked about their heritage. Oh, the anger! "What'd I do wrong? It is a common question in the United States!" Thinking it might have been an issue of translation, I gave my example. "I'm Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish." Anger still. So I said it again. That person got startlingly huffy, replied "I never ASKED you what your heritage is. Italian, okay?," and walked away.

O. K.

For some reason, at work especially and with family, ancestry comes up and we talk about it. "Well, you're Norwegian, so you know that..." or "That's the Finnish in you..." or whatever. I don't really know much about my Norwegian or Swedish or Finnish heritage. I like knowing my grandparents' stories (all but one born in the U.S.) and shopping at Ingebretsen's, and I love making lefse with my mother, but I've never particularly wanted to travel that part of the world or find distant relatives or display traditional Scandinavian paraphernalia in the house or anything. So, I don't know why I talk about it, or particularly why I asked my foreign contact about ancestry. Where did I expect that conversation to go, anyway? Oh well.

Today the table in the breakroom was filled with traditional Scandinavian deserts that I had not seen or heard of before. Krumkake, rosettes, sandbakkelse and lingonberry sauce over cheese. "How could you not know these are Scandinavian?" Give me a break -- it's not like there are tons of Norwegian restaurants around, like there are Indian, Russian, Korean and Mexican! (Well, I did know about the lingonberries -- thank you Ikea!)

It got me thinking about today's immigrants, and the challenge of retaining cultural values and tradition. I started thinking about the melting pot/salad bowl metaphor, and current policy, practice and treatment of some immigrant and refugee populations. I thought about language acquisition and retention. Immigration today is a serious issue, and one that I care about, but tonight, I decided to look up what traditional Scandinavian food I've been missing out on instead.

Looking over this list of Norwegian recipes, the only ones I remember my family having were lefse (from the Norwegian family), lutefisk, herring and meatballs (from the Swedish family), and cucumber salad and cardamom bread (from the Finnish family). I didn't know that Svenskarnas Dag (Swedish Heritage Day) was even a day, or that it is celebrated less than a mile from my house every year in June, and I don't recall ever having the food served at that celebration during any family get-togethers. My Finnish grandmother was an excellent cook, but I don't particularly remember anything from this one list of traditional Finnish recipes. And, just because I went through a phase when I wanted to be Korean, I had to look at some traditional Korean recipes. Just for fun. Yummmmm.

And, on the off chance that my mother is reading this blog, I like the food we had growing up, and don't really feel that I missed out on anything. And I am really happy about bringing lefse for Christmas.


Royality is not a word...

...but it is better than M-W's w00t. But more on that later.

So. I watched The Queen yesterday, am listening to The Virgin's Lover (not as good as The Other Boleyn girl), and finished Shakespeare's Secret (a children's mystery involving a necklace belonging to Elizabeth I) last week. With all these Royal stories floating around in my mind, I have been prompted once again to sort out the history of the British Monarchy.

To quote Queenie (from Blackadder) "girls should be called Elizabeth...or Mary," so I don't feel too bad about not being able to keep at the Marys, Annes, Elizabeths, Catherines, Henrys, Edwardses and Georges straight. But, for someone who has always been fascinated by royal figures, I figured it was time to figure out their history...again.

The Official Website of the British Monarchy is an excellent resource. The history section provides overviews of the dynastic families of Scotland and England before 1603, and of the United Kingdom after 1603. PDF files of the each family tree certainly provide a helpful visual, but doesn't necessarily answer my next question...

How do the rules work? I would probably turn to a book for more in depth explanation of specific circumstances for particular successions, by for my purposes tonight, Wikipedia best provided the kind of answer I was looking for, and of course royal.gov.uk again offers the current list of succession as well as an overview of how the succession to the throne is governed by both descent and statute.

Other royal issues I can't seem to keep straight...
  • Mary Queen of Scots was not the daughter of Catherine of Aragon, as I thought for years, but the granddaughter of Henry VIII's sister Margaret, and mother to James I of England. She is the Mary that Elizabeth I had beheaded, though, as I thought.
  • Prince Albert became King George VI in 1937 after his brother, Edward VIII, abdicated the throne to marry Wallis Simpson. (Now, there's a grand gesture). King George VI's daughter is Elizabeth II. Neither of them wanted or expected the roles they held.
  • Queen Mother is an official royal title, but Queen Elizabeth (mother to Elizabeth II) is one of the few who decided to use the term.
  • Titles are declared and specific. For example, the title 'Prince of Wales' may be possessed only by the eldest son of a Sovereign.
And much more, but I'll sign off...


Control your cupid!

Wise words, wise words indeed.

We all know about the little winged boy, son of Venus and Roman god of love. But what's his story? And does the myth offer any advice for modern matchmakers today that get wrapped up in exciting process of introducing two fantastic people in the hopes that they'll hit it off?

The first thing to do is distinguish between Cupid (Roman) and Eros (Greek). But, it seems like the Roman deities simply have their Greek counterparts, and I'm going to leave it at that for now.

Tip # 1: Avoid deceit.
Poor Eros / Cupid almost lost his wife, Psyche, after he deceived her into marrying him sight unseen. When she discovered his identity, he had to disappear due to his fear of his mother's wrath.

Tip # 2: Don't be attached to the outcome.
Cupid's arrows can bring people together, or pull them apart. Yikes!

Tip # 3: Don't play around.
One story is that Cupid and Venus were playing around with the arrows and accidentally hit Hades straight in the heart. He fell in love with Persephone, and took her to the underworld (hell?) with him.

Tip # 4: Control your Cupid when drinking.
Friends don't let friends drink and shoot arrows. :)

This holiday season, give the gift that keeps on giving...

...a pair of rabbits. (A favorite quote from Todd Signs in Duluth)

I know animals have their ways of adapting for the harsh winter, but I started to wonder about the rabbits that live in my yard. I could say with certainty that they don't hibernate, but I started to wonder how quickly I could find information about their survival strategies by using major search engines. I got such a wide range of results just on the first page from each search engine. So, rather than a list of what these little guys are doing to survive, I'm going to share just a few of the random results I got.

From Google, I stumbled across the DNR site, and I learned that some rabbits have tattoos from the 4H site;

From Dogpile, I got a brief article from Science Made Simple about how animals adapt, and two posts down, an article from About discussing survival strategies for your thyroid; and

From Vivisimo, I found info on how to hunt for winter rabbits, and keeping your 'carrot' warm.

From Yahoo, I found a quick guide from Canada's Hinterland Who's Who, (the rabbits in my yard are not snowshoe hares), a variety of DNR pages from different states, and then I realized that they changed their search interface, was quite impressed and therefore got really distracted and wasted a lot of time searching for random things on Yahoo.


One of my favorite things

I've been doing an outreach program called Read to Me at the women's section of the Adult Correctional Facility this month - one of my favorite opportunities my job has afforded me. In three evenings, six residents and I get together and enjoy children's literature. They have long, productive work days, yet they come to the sessions ready to share stories, ask questions, and participate fully in the discussion. I always bring bags full of books that highlight different early literacy skill areas, and of course, read some favorite books aloud. We watch videos, read poems, talk about how libraries have changed (yet remain the same), and laugh. At the end of the program, the residents send a book, a tape recording of themselves reading from that book, and a photo to their child. I have the best time.

I have done this program for two years now, and it never even occurred to me to wonder about what kinds of offenses land someone in a correctional facility (as opposed to a jail or a prison) until my husband asked about it. Well, in Hennepin County, the ACF houses those convicted of a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor and sentenced by the district court for up to one year.

This program is definitely one of my favorite things.


Celebrate the freedom to read

Title: King and King
Authors: Stern Nijland and Linda de Haan
Ages: 5-10
In a nutshell: A prince forced by his mother to marry a princess finds his true love - another prince - and they live happily ever after.

Read it. Enjoy it. And celebrate the freedom to read with a children's book that illustrates the diverse world we live in, and the love that brings a range of modern families together.

I don't intend to write about news articles often, but this one about some parents demanding that King and King be taken out of circulation at their public library more-than-irked me. I know this isn't the only instance in the country where this book has caused some controversy - I'm just particularly fed up with people trying to censor for the majority right now. I can understand their frustration. Truly, I can. I felt strongly about the O.J. book. I didn't even want to hear talk about the proposed book, much less see it published and then carried in bookstores or libraries and purchased by people. But the operative word here is felt - as in feelings - as in my feelings do not get to determine what other people can take in for their information.

From the article:

Kathee Rhode, the library's director, said censoring books based on subject matter is the duty of parents, not the library. She said the library strives to provide material representing a spectrum of views and ways of life.

''That's what a public library does, and you make the choice,'' Rhode said. ''We certainly want parents to make that decision for their children -- not one parent making that decision for all children.''

Well said. It is up to families to determine their values and what is right for them, and while I may internally cringe at some ultra-conservative parenting styles, I admire the parents who can say "this book isn't for my kid," and move on with their lives. Don't make that choice for everyone.

By the way, there is a sequel to this book, called King and King and Family, where the newlyweds go on their honeymoon and come home with an adopted baby.


Celebrate the freedom to celebrate

I quite enjoy the holidays with family, particularly Thanksgiving and Christmas. I spend Easter with my family too, and a lot of times there is a family event on the weekend before or after July 4th. This is all good, but I wish we had a Friends day. I spend wonderful quality time with friends throughout the year, but with Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Grandparents Day and even Administrative Professional Day, we don't have a day to celebrate friendship. (Other countries have established this - earlier this year I got a Friends Day card from a 'friend' who lives in another country. I received an International Women's Day card from that person too. Why don't we celebrate that day here? I digress).

Well. Today is an important day, and comes close to the friendship holiday I seek. This day in history, December 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment repealing prohibition was ratified. Today is a day that we can and should celebrate our constitutional right to consume alcohol. Who better to do that with than dear friends? So, I think we should support these folks in making Repeal Day a national holiday. :)


Passed by Congress February 20, 1933. Ratified December 5, 1933.

Section 1.
The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

Section 2.
The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or Possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.

Section 3.
This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.


Um, how on earth did I miss this?

I was quietly weeding easy nonfiction books today. A pleasant task. While browsing through a book on materials, I came across this simple statement: plastic is made from oil.

I never really thought about it before. I think I assumed plastic was manufactured using some kind of random scientific process like this one, involving 'polymers.' Polymers sounds pretty innocuous, but after digging a little deeper on the chemistry archive, the polymers for consumable and industrial strength plastic are built using ethylene. Specifically, molecules of the material have to react with one another and end up joined, so that you can make huge long molecules (polymers) that are chains of the molecules you started out with (monomers). For example, ethylene, a common component of natural gas, reacts to form very long polyethylene molecules, the stuff out of which plastic bags and milk bottles are made. According to AmericanChemistry, other pure forms of carbon, like coal, can be used to make plastic too. Huh.

We had a Go Green display at the library when we stopped offering plastic bags, and part of that display included little factoids, which I apparently didn't read. One of the factoids read "when 1 ton of plastic bags is reused or recycled, the energy equivalent of 11 barrels of oil are saved." What other connections have I neglected to make? I wonder.


Seven stories

In the past three days I have heard two separate references to the "seven basic plots" in literature, so I tried to figure out what they are. The Internet Public Library guide to The Basic Plots in Literature suggest that others have identified three basic plots, twenty or thirty six, and even one.

7 basic plots "as remembered from second grade by IPL volunteer librarian Jessamyn West:" (This article is referenced often, but I'm kind of surprised that the IPL would leave this summary up there based on a memory from second grade...not exactly authoritative)
  1. [wo]man vs. nature
  2. [wo]man vs. man
  3. [wo]man vs. the environment
  4. [wo]man vs. machines/technology
  5. [wo]man vs. the supernatural
  6. [wo]man vs. self
  7. [wo]man vs. god/religion
OR, from this review of The Seven Basic Plots, by Christopher Booker:
  1. Overcoming the Monster (Beowulf, Jaws)
  2. Rags to Riches (Cinderella, David Copperfield)
  3. The Quest
  4. Voyage and Return (Alice in Wonderland, The Time Machine)
  5. Tragedy
  6. Comedy
  7. Rebirth (Christmas Carol, Snow White)
But even he couldn't stick to seven. He added two more plots...
8. Rebellion (1984)
9. Mystery (for the detective novels)

Oh well. I personally like Vonnegut's analysis of the plots. "There's a person, doing stuff. And it's okay. And then, oh shit! Something happens!"

Anyway. I enjoy how others have creatively used the notion that there are seven basic plots in literature. Seven Stories, the Centre for Children's Books in the U.K. is an organization and museum celebrating British literature. At least one independent publisher has used "seven stories" in their name, and bloggers (probably struggling to name their blogs) have incorporated the idea into their blog names as well.