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Forget Monopoly, Let’s Play Eurogames!

GamesGrowing up, everyone has a favorite board game. Mine was Scrabble.  I memorized all the two- letter words and most of the three-letter words. I knew that in a pinch, you could get rid of a pesky Q by playing QAT or QI and that great parallel plays depended on ridiculous Scrabble-only “words” like AA, OE, or UT. But there were other games that I liked less.  Sometimes a lot less. Monopoly was probably my least favorite.

At least my family and friends didn’t have the habit of stealing money from the bank. But the game would always start with miserable inequality and get worse from there – one person would get Baltic and Connecticut Avenues, another would get Park Place and Boardwalk, and a third would somehow end up with all the railroads. Hours would pass as players were slowly forced into debt and mortgages, to be strung along by Chance or Community Chest or Free Parking, but still agonizingly moving towards defeat for all but one.

This was, of course, the point of The Landlord’s Game when Elizabeth Magie first developed it in 1903. The game was intended as a statement about tax policy and the dangers of predacious real estate investors. A bad run of the dice or starting out in a weak position meant that the rest of the game would almost certainly go against you. You can dress it up in anything from Simpsons to Star Wars, but it’s still the same game.

All this being said, no one was happier than I when the library announced that it would be expanding its existing collection of games. Scrabble is fun for me, but if you haven’t prepared, a contest between unequal players can be a bit tough. Other games of skill, like chess or go, have similar problems, while those like Battleship or Chutes and Ladders rely too much on chance to be fun for older players. Many of the library’s new additions are in a style that has become increasingly popular over the past twenty-five years: Eurogames.

I was first exposed to “German Style” board games in graduate school, where I studied medieval history. On a whim, my wife’s mother bought us a copy of Carcassonne, a game created by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede in 2000.  Based on the French city of the same name, Carcassonne can be played by any number of players and involves drawing tiles from a bag to create increasingly elaborate city walls, surrounded by winding roads, farmland, and monasteries. Each player can score points in a wide variety of ways and pursue different strategies as the game goes on.  No one is eliminated, and it can often be difficult to tell who’s winning until the final tile is drawn from the bag.

Each game has its own theme and complex, but easy to learn, rules.  Ticket to Ride asks you to create railroad lines connecting cities across the US or Europe. Alhambra lets you build an Islamic palace in medieval Spain, and Settlers of Catan simulates competition for resources in a new land. Some games have tiles, others involve rolling dice, collecting cards, or purchasing resources. No matter how complex or how many players a game is aimed at, it usually just takes an hour or two to play and can be enjoyable for preteens and adults alike.

Settlers, as it’s frequently called, is the game that really started to attract attention to Eurogames in the United States. Klaus Teuber, a German dental hygienist, spent years developing games with his family as a hobby before he was picked up by a major publisher in the 1990s. Just like a book author, he’s developed a loyal following and fans and critics alike get excited about each new project. Settlers is a great “entry level” game because it still has elements of chance familiar to American audiences – rolling dice every turn – and conflict – you can trade resource cards with other players and gang up on someone who seems to be winning. But the game really stands out with its artistic design featuring an island made up of interchangeable hexagons, each of which is illustrated with a small landscape. Like other Eurogames, another attraction lies in the multiple scoring strategies that can be used: building towns or roads, acquiring resources, trading in materials to recruit armies or founding a school or library! Each player can do something different and still have a chance at winning.

Games like Settlers have players competing indirectly with each other, but others, like Pandemic, actually encourage cooperation. Developed by an American, Matt Leacock, in 2008, Pandemic draws inspiration from the classic board game of Risk. However, whereas Risk features players with increasing numbers of armies and countries striving to eliminate each other, Pandemic gives players a world map where cities are infected with increasing numbers of diseases. Two to six players work together each turn to eliminate cases of infection before they spread and to discover cures. If all the viruses are cured, everyone wins, but there are several different ways for everyone to lose.

All these games, competitive or cooperative, allow more room for socializing and conversation between players. Even if you lose a game, you’ve still gotten a chance to build and strategize, and you can think afterwards about different ways to solve a problem, rather than just wishing you’d rolled better dice. When I first started playing games like Carcassonne and Settlers, they were hard to find except at specialty game stores, stocked between Magic: The Gathering cards and Dungeons & Dragons manuals. Now, stores like Target and Barnes & Noble will regularly stock some of these new classics and toy stores compete to find the next big breakout hit. The US isn’t quite as far along as Germany, where the annual Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) prize attracts national media attention, but you should come down to the library, borrow a game, and find out what all the fuss is about!

Jeff Hartman is the Senior Circulation Assistant, Paging Supervisor, and Graphics Designer at the Morrill Memorial Library.  Read Jeff’s column in the February 16, 2017 issue of the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin.

2016 Sneak Peeks

Reserve February and March Best Sellers and Sneak Peeks

Want to get a preview of some of the new releases coming out next month?

2017 February Book News
Download or view the February Fiction and February Non-Fiction lists to see if anything interests you. Click on the links for the complete list with titles (in blue) linked to the Minuteman Library catalog.  Log into your account and place a reserve. You may also pick up a complete list in the library and ask librarians to request them for you.


A Little Love for the Library

The Story is Valentine (002)It’s no secret that many of you love the Morrill Memorial Library. We receive compliments each day–at all the desks of the library–from many of you.

Often, we hear it on Norwood’s community Facebook page, Norwood Now. You praise us for the print books and magazines we have in the library. You love the streaming and downloading services we offer 24/7. You are thrilled that we now offer appointments for passport and notary services.

You attend and applaud our children’s and adult programs and make appointments for our technology training from our staff who solve problems for you every day. You recommend our Outreach services to the homebound and public-assisted housing, and you commend our amazing literacy programs and services. Finally, you appreciate the varied answers to most of the questions you can think to ask. Remember, if we don’t already know the answer, our talented and educated reference staff who will try to find it for you.

Each year, around this time, the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners fights for additional funding for libraries. You already know that the Town of Norwood generously funds the library (all 360 towns in Massachusetts rely on local funding for basic library services), but are you aware that we rely on state support too? That funding awards grants so that we can provide innovative programming (for example, Norwood Reads in 2013-2014 and the children’s STEAM programs in 2015-2016). The Commonwealth also provides the State Aid to Public Libraries grant that we receive each year (if we meet the regulatory and statutory requirements). That grant allows us to offer terrific programs such as Titles on Tap, our many movie series, and fantastic technology additions to our collection such as ROKU steaming players, Wi-Fi hotspots, digital downloads. And so, so much more.

The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, or MBLC, is the agency of our Commonwealth that has the responsibility to develop and improve library services for Massachusetts residents. The nine commissioners and the MBLC staff have a mission to provide each and every resident equal access to the resources that the library has to offer in every town across the state.

State budget lines not only pay to staff and fund the MBLC, but they provide necessary funds for online resources, for the talking book libraries for the blind at Perkins and Worcester, for digital resources, and for additional funding for the nine library networks across the state (Minuteman is ours, for instance). State funding pays for 100% of the operating costs for the Massachusetts Library System, a cooperative that provides training for library staff, fosters innovation in all libraries, and nurtures cooperation between all types of libraries (public, academic, law, medical, school, etc.). Most importantly for most of Norwood’s library users, the Massachusetts Library System operates the free service known as delivery – sharing books and other materials between libraries in the state. If you request an item from another library, the delivery service provides the sort and travel to you and back to the home library.

Won’t you take a minute or so to send a little love to the state senators and legislators to thank them for their support? Let’s face it – we know that there is only one funding pie. All agencies and services in the Commonwealth are fighting for its share. Legislators in the State House have tough decisions to make and letting them know how much you appreciate us is important to them.

I’m proud to serve on several of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners task forces and committees and I’ve been a member of the Public Relations Advisory Committee since 2006. We are the ones responsible for getting the word out about libraries –letting every resident know about the library jewels in their town.

This February, it’s time for us all to thank our legislators for their past, present and future support of libraries. That’s why we are hoping you’ll show a little love for us. We have valentines all ready for you to send so that you can praise us to them. Those valentines will be on the delivery vans to Boston where they will then be delivered to legislators around Valentine’s Day by staff at the MBLC.

You can also visit lovemasslibraries dot com and fill out the online version and tell them why you love YOUR library. As that website says: “During our busy everyday lives, we don’t always get a chance to let our libraries know how much we care about them. And we rarely take the time to share that with our state legislators.” Why do you love visiting your library? Is it a smiling face at one of our desks? Is it the cozy reading room? Or perhaps the fantastic selection of items you can borrow? What critical service does it provide to you or your family? Is it free internet and Wi-Fi? Incredible educational or entertaining programs offered almost every day of the week? Or answers to your many questions?

Please share a little of your love for us! #LibraryLovers on Facebook.

Charlotte Canelli is the Director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts.  Read Charlotte’s column in the February 9th issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

water drop

Mindfulness is Everywhere

water dropWhen I was in my teens and twenties, it seemed to me that my parents worried about everything.  I was determined that I would never worry like they did when I grew older.  I would be calm and relaxed and take all of life’s ups and downs in stride.  Now I know better.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that worry and stress are my constant companions.  The challenges of work, parenting adult children, and aging, not to mention worrying about the state of the world, cause me stress from which I find it difficult to escape.  It appears I’m not the only one struggling with the stresses of 21st century living.  One researcher reported that 7 in 10 Americans suffer from physical symptoms due to stress, and 67% reported high levels of daily stress.  Given that ongoing daily stresses can contribute to serious health problems, as well as taking away from enjoyment of life, what can we do to manage our stress?  One answer is mindfulness.

Mindfulness is everywhere in the news these days.  In the last month, I’ve read articles about mindfulness being used by librarians to offset the stress of heavy workloads, by teachers stressed over high stakes testing and time urgency, by professional basketball players to slow down the mind to get into game shape, and by the U.S. Marines preparing for deployment.  The library catalog has numerous books on mindfulness, for parenting, for people dealing with pain and acute illness, and increasingly, for children in school, as well as many other situations.

So, what exactly is mindfulness?  Is it different from meditation?  Mindfulness is simply awareness.  It is slowing down, paying attention to the present moment in a non-judgmental way.  Meditation is a large umbrella term encompassing many techniques and practices to reach a heightened level of consciousness.  According to Jon Kabat-Zinn who has studied mindfulness for over 35 years, practicing mindfulness is actually a form of meditation, and all meditation is about paying attention, no matter what tradition or technique is used.

Jon Kabat-Zinn was a molecular biologist who began meditating as a graduate student at MIT, and founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University Massachusetts Medical School in 1979.  In developing the first program to help patients deal with chronic pain, he brought an ancient tradition into the mainstream of Western medicine.  He and his colleagues at the Stress Reduction Clinic began an 8-week program known as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction or MBSR.   At the end of the 8 weeks of mindfulness training, participants reported lower stress levels and a greater ability to deal with chronic pain, as well as other stressful situations. Kabat-Zinn and his colleagues began researching the patient outcomes of their program.  Since then, many thousands of peer reviewed scientific studies have confirmed the usefulness of mindfulness training in helping people cope with stress and develop a broader repertoire of ways of experiencing themselves. Other benefits have been shown in treating cardiovascular disease, depression, addictions, and many other conditions.  Today, MBSR programs exist at hundreds of medical centers and clinics in the U.S. and around the world.

The developing field of cognitive neuroscience has made it possible to actually see the effects of mindfulness training on the brain.  Recent MRI studies done before and after an 8-week MBSR program show structural changes in four regions of the brain, areas involved with learning and memory, emotional arousal, and empathy and compassion.  Other studies have shown changes in brain activity during mindfulness activities, specifically an increase in connectivity between regions of the brain.  These structural and functional changes in the brain correlate with decreased stress and greater calmness and balance in patients.

So, how does one begin the practice of mindfulness?   Jon Kabat-Zinn says that you can be mindful anywhere, anytime, and with anyone you like.  This is simple, and at the same time, difficult.  When I take my morning walks, I try to focus on what I am seeing and sensing — the trees and sky, the sounds of birds, the warmth of the sun on my face, the way my body feels as I walk.  Inevitably, I find myself thinking about other things, trying to solve problems, planning my day.  Each time I realize that my mind is wandering, I bring myself back to focusing on the present moment.  I’ve read that with practice, paying attention to the present moment becomes easier.   One of the simplest things we can do to get back to the present is to focus on breathing in and breathing out.  I’ve found that ten minutes of slow, regular breathing relaxes me and reduces my stress.  It is encouraging to me that practicing mindfulness doesn’t require advanced skills to be helpful and effective, and that a small time commitment to practice can provide immediate benefits.

I’ve been reading several books on mindfulness, all of which have aided me in understanding this topic.  Mindfulness for Beginners by Jon Kabat-Zinn is a collection of reflections and practices that he has found most useful with his students, and includes a CD with 5 guided mindfulness meditations.  In This Moment: Five Steps to Transcending Stress Using Mindfulness and Neuroscience by Kirk Strosahl and Patricia Robinson provides practical strategies for dealing with the daily stresses we all experience.  Mindfulness in Eight Weeks by Michael Chaskalson gives detailed instructions to support you in learning mindfulness in a structured way.  And finally, The Little Book of Mindfulness by Patrizia Collard is just that – a small book, containing simple 5 and 10 minute practices to let go of stress and anxiety.  These are but a few of the numerous books on mindfulness in the Minuteman Library Network.  I encourage you to take a look at some of them.  I hope you will find them useful as I have.

Bonnie Wyler is an Outreach and Literacy Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts.  Read Bonnie’s column in the February 2, 2017 issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

bird book

Another for the Birds

bird bookOver a decade of birdwatching has taught me that “if you feed them, they will come.” This works with teenagers and a multitude of other creatures, too.

I became a novice birder when I married my husband, Gerry in 2007.  He has been a birdwatcher most of his life and his backyards have always boasted bird feeders and bird houses and he’s been known to grandfather dozens of nest of bluebirds in the spring. His bookshelves were full of bird books when I met him, and they’ve become fuller since he married me.

A few years ago, I had made it my New Year’s resolution to learn more about the 300 species of birds that frequent the Bay State. I wouldn’t say I’ve been consistent with this goal, but I’ve learned that I can at least impress my grandchildren with a few names and facts here and there. And so, this past weekend found me reading An Introduction to Massachusetts Birds by Christopher Leahy.  It’s a short paperback book, pamphlet-sized actually, published by the Massachusetts Audubon Society in 1975.

My grandchildren are certain to quickly surpass me in their birding knowledge and I’m going to have to learn fast to keep up.  One of our youngest, 1-1/2 year old Maeve, was pointing out the dark-eyed juncos by our feeders this past Sunday morning within minutes after Gerry pointed them out to her.  Three-year old Phoebe is well aware that she bears the name of one of her Papa’s favorite birds and he’s taught her the Phoebe’s birdcall.  Papa and Phoebe counted over 50 robins in our front yard last weekend. Papa and I watch  the male and female cardinals who visit our yard year-round with 2-year old twins Ava and Judah 1-1/2 year old Gabby. We can’t wait for our youngest, 2-month old Jack, to learn to watch for and point out Great Blue Herons as they pass overhead at dusk each summer evening on their way to the rookeries with food for their babies.

Over the past four years, since moving into a weekend home on the south coast, we’ve welcomed more and more species of birds. Our journal notes over 45 types from juncos just before the start of winter and the starlings and blackbirds in the first days of spring. Red tail hawks have landed on our woodpiles, always seeking the most vulnerable of the birding and natural world. We’ve seen our feeders go instantly still, birds suddenly freezing one second to the next, hoping the hawks won’t detect a breath or shiver. Gangs of mourning doves gather below our feeders and coo their delight in the seeds that have been generously dropped by previous visitors.
When reading Leahy’s Introduction to Massachusetts Birds, I was aware that his words of wisdom in the very first chapter of the book were true. If your feeders are full, and if you create a welcoming space, the more likely the birds will come. Gerry and I  know that when we’ve been absent for a just a few weeks, and our feeders are empty, that it takes at least 24 or 36 hours before the word is out.  There is food again! And the backyard birds return to visit.

Julie Zickefoose is the author of some of the most enjoyable books about birds. She and her husband, Bill Thompson, editor of Bird Watcher’s Digest, both blog and write about birds from their home in Whipple, Ohio. (Yes, Whipple. Named after the stream Whipple Run. Named after the man who tripped and fell in the stream. True story.)

Husband Bill Thompson has written numerous birding books, among them Birdwatching for Dummies. He’s also collaborated on books with his wife, Julie as the illustrator. Some of those are The New Birder’s Guide to Birds of North America (2014) and Identify Yourself: the 50 Most Common Birding Identification Challenges (2005) and Natural Gardening for Birds (2001).  They’ve collaborated on books for children such as The Young Birder’s Guide to Birds of North America (2012) and they’ve written and illustrated many more.
Zickefoose started her career as a field biologist and became a nature illustrator, using her own experiences with birds and animals in Appalachia. She is a contributor to both NPR’s All Things Considered and Bird Watcher’s Digest, writing articles and submitting cover paintings the magazine. (Her website includes many other examples nature, including mammals, amphibians, reptiles, insects and plants.)

Books written and illustrated by Zickefoose are enchanting works of art. The lovely prose and the beautiful artistic renditions make them my favorites.  The Bluebird Effect was published in 2012. Baby Birds was just released just months ago in 2016.

The Bluebird Effect is a published journal full of wonderful essays about a variety of birds, organized by season. Among many other species, spring includes the bluebird, summer the osprey, fall the red tail hawk, and winter the mourning dove. Zickefoose questions whether bluebird and their nests would survive without the gentle nurturing of their human beings’ concern.  That is also true of Osprey that live bountifully along the south coast of Massachusetts where many organizations nurture their nests. These shorebirds summer in tall coastline habitats, built by humans who care enough to nurture them.

Zickefoose’s latest book, Baby Birds: An Artist Looks into the Nest (2016), is a wonderful book to peruse with a preschooler. The artist’s renditions chronicle the bird from egg through chick to fledgling. The book includes all Eastern species including house sparrows, northern cardinals, tufted titmouse and ruby-throated hummingbirds.  When reading to a 3 or 4-year old, almost all of the prose can be abbreviated. The illustrations can tell the story.

Sharing nature, particularly wildlife such as birds, can be an added bonus to everyone, whether it be with your children, friends, grandchildren, or spouses. Bill Thompson brings their children, Phoebe and Liam, birding and points out reasons why children should become birders early in life. I agree with Julie Zickefoose who claims “Every day I find something new.”

Charlotte Canelli is the Library Director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts.  Read Charlotte’s column in the January 26th issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

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