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Kick, Punch, It’s All in the Mind

taekwondo_practiceThe sparring gear I was wearing made my body feel twenty times hotter than the dojang that I was sparring in. I was fighting a guy who was slightly older than me in terms of age, but light years ahead of me in terms of skill. I wasn’t just sweating because of the heat; adrenaline was pumping through my veins, my mind was in high alert, and sparring is nothing like doing drills. With drills, you are kicking pads or punching into the air at your reflection in the mirror or at some phantom opponent in your mind. In sparring, you are simulating a real fight, with a real person, who can really hurt you, which is simultaneously exciting and nerve-wracking.

I remember trying to get in a few roundhouse kicks to his chest, and at one point even tried to land a crescent kick to his head, but he was FAST, and was using the best weapons in his arsenal to combat me: his mind and his experience. It seems as if he could read my every move before I even made it. I kept trying to land blows, but it was to no avail, until I saw an opening! I had dodged one of his back kicks, which I thought was a mistake on his part, which left his back exposed for a moment so I went in with a front kick to land a blow.

But it was not a mistake on his part, I was being setup.

I went in for the kick, and saw him fling himself around quickly, then felt a quick, hard impact to my head. After that, my world went fuzzy. My headgear, which was tightly fastened to my head, went sideways across my face. My arms, which should always be in the “fighting position” during sparring, went straight down to my sides. I stared blankly in front of me in a daze and everything went out of focus. He had landed a roundhouse kick straight to my head.  I think the only reason I didn’t fall over and hit the mat was because my Taekwondo instructor, who was facilitating the fight, had told him not to land another blow.

Ah, the joys of martial arts. Roundhouse kicks to the head aside, learning taekwondo was a great experience, and learning ABOUT taekwondo was an equally enlightening experience. Through taekwondo I was exposed to the Korean language, food, history and culture. I also eventually got better at not getting kicked in the head!  Here at the library, we have plenty of books and e-books that can teach you how to be a better practitioner of the arts, and can also deepen and enrich your understanding of what makes each martial art unique.

Taekwondo is an art that originated in Korea, and was formally established shortly after World War II, but has even deeper roots in older arts like Japanese karate and numerous Chinese and Korean martial arts. It was introduced here in America by Jhoon Rhee, the “Father of American Taekwondo” in the late 1950s who opened his first martial arts studio in Washington, D.C. in 1962. Tae kwon do’s literal interpretation is “tae” which translates to stomp or trample, “kwon” which translates to fist, and “do” which translates to “way.” The book The Secrets of Tae Kwon Do: Principles and Techniques for Beginners, by Jennifer Lawler is a great resource for learning about the history, philosophy, forms, and techniques of taekwondo.  All martial arts are about combat at their core, and most have roots in some form of intense military training, but, as Lawler states in her book, “The ultimate goal of Taekwondo training is the development of qualities that make you a better person. All Taekwondo students are expected to learn and follow the Five Tenets of Taekwondo” which are:

  • Courtesy
  • Integrity
  • Perseverance
  • Self-Control
  • Indomitable Spirit

These tenets, along with the theme of personal betterment, are the reason many people pursue martial arts in general. As Lawler states, “Part of the process of living the way of taekwondo is to appreciate how to use the tenets not just in the training hall but in everyday life.” Martial arts is not just about training to defend yourself, it’s about reaching your highest potential and learning inner skills that can be used in all areas of your life.

I used to enjoy watching kids practice their drills and spar before my afternoon class would start. Unlike us adults, kids do not put in a full day at work before class, and are not as worried about getting hurt or being sore the next day. They just give it 110%! We have some great resources in our Children’s department for your little warriors. Taekwondo! by Terry Pierce is a Step into Reading book that will teach your little ones the fundamentals of reading and inspire them in their training. For the slightly older reader, we have Taekwondo, by Tim O’Shei which is a nice introduction to the history of taekwondo as both an art, and as a sport. As always, our Hoopla app is brimming with books for both kids and adults about taekwondo’s history and style.

Of course, taekwondo is just the tip of the iceberg. There are countless martial arts from all corners of the world for you to learn, and learn about. Each has their own unique history, distinct style, culture and philosophy. Here at the Morrill Memorial Library, we have all the resources you need to improve your fighting skills and hone the greatest weapon in your arsenal: your mind.

Check out some of these other great reads to learn more.

Tae Kwon Do: the Ultimate Reference Guide to the World’s Most Popular Martial Art, by Yeon Hee Park

Tae Kwon Do the Indomitable Martial Art of Korea: Basics, Techniques and Forms, by Dong Keun Park & Allan Schein

Tae Kwon Do: the Korean Martial Art, by Richard Chun

Brian DeFelice is the Information Technology Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for his article in the March 14, 2019 issue of the Norwood Transcript.


Sunbathing in Haiti, Surfing in Nicaragua

Nicaraguan-flag-lake-and-volcanoesIt was the summer of 2010 – one of my all-time favorite travel memories. A small rowboat carried me and my friend to a pristine beach cove, as beautiful as any postcard from a tropical paradise anywhere in the world. We had the entire palm-lined shore to ourselves, to sunbathe, look for shells, and swim in calm tepid water. At some point a man with a sack of fresh mangoes rowed up to the cove and sold some to us for about ten cents each, then rowed along to his next stop. The day couldn’t have been more perfect after an exhausting week of hard work and heartbreak. I should mention, we were in Haiti, six months after the devastating earthquake of 2010.

The earthquake measured 7 on the Richter scale and devastated a country already described as the poorest in our hemisphere. News cycles broadcast collapsed buildings, rescue efforts, then the raising of tent camps and influx of donations. Reporters spouted numbers on who promised how much aid money, which countries responded most honorably, and which NGOs warranted donations.

I wanted to see Haiti with my own eyes once travel re-opened for regular folks like me, as opposed to journalists and medical teams. Amy Bracken, a long-time reporter and radio producer specializing in Haiti, connected us with locals and provided tips for our potentially ill-conceived venture. The destruction proved worse and farther-reaching than I’d ever imagined, but I documented it with photos, and learned about Haiti from Haitians themselves. We ended up helping a group of locals clear the rubble of their collapsed three-story church by hand. The trip moved and changed me; the beach retreat was a bonus. The best (albeit minor) thing we did to “help” Haiti was to visit, learn, and put some tourist dollars into the local economy.

Flashback to spring of 2006 – another favorite travel memory. We lounged on hammocks surrounded by flowers all colors of the rainbow, watching exotic butterflies flutter by. It seemed as though each took its turn hovering over us, like a supermodel on a runway, then darted away making room for the next in line. My friend and I walked to the beach on a calm lake, and again, had the place to ourselves, aside from three horses who meandered down to sip some fresh lake water, then sleep on the sand. This happened on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua.

After that trip I returned to Nicaragua year after year, and started contemplating retiring there some day. I led groups of students to work on humanitarian projects such as building water filters, and helping out on a bookmobile. In-between work assignments we made excursions to some of the best surfing beaches in the Americas and zip-lining courses among howler monkeys, distributing our fair share of currency among the local businesses. I made connections with U.S.-based non-profits: the Newton/San Juan del Sur Sister City Project (on whose board I served for a decade), and the Hester Hodgdon Libraries for All Foundation, which partnered with my library-school alma mater, Simmons College. The true heroes I grew to know and admire were local leaders – the Nicaraguan organizers and activists who ran programs bettering their own communities, who called the shots and whose direction we followed.

During those years I fielded many calls by concerned parents of students, reluctant to allow their children to travel to a “war-torn” “third world” country. Understandably, they associated Nicaragua with the Iran-Contra scandal, the war between the Sandinistas and Reagan-backed Contras, Ollie North, and the Cold War threat of a Latin American revolution too close to home. Truth be told, we met dozens of locals who lived through those dark days and shared stories from their own memories, unfiltered by the news media, and students learned more than they could have from textbooks. When my own family expressed concerns over my choice of a second home, I assured them I felt safer on the Nicaraguan coast than at home in Boston, where I lived at the time amid the dangers of gang violence, break-ins and muggings.

Haiti and Nicaragua memories keep coming back to me lately as I anticipate two upcoming programs at the library. Haiti: Then and Now will feature journalist Amy Bracken, to discuss the country before the earthquake, in its immediate aftermath, and the state of things today. Nicaragua: Then and Now will include Dr. David Gullette, President of the Newton/San Juan del Sur Sister City Project, who has gone to Nicaragua every year since 1988, and offers expertise on the country’s history from the Sandinista revolution through the present day, including over 300 recent deaths of protesters. I plan to join both presenters to chime in as a tourist to these unlikely locales, and to advocate for the transformative experience of setting fear and assumptions aside to travel “off the beaten path.”

To learn more about Haiti and Nicaragua, please attend the following programs, or enjoy these recommendations:

Haiti: Then and Now, Morrill Memorial Library, March 11, 2019, 6:30-7:30 pm

Nicaragua: Then and Now, Morrill Memorial Library, April 22, 2019, 6:30-7:30 pm

The Country Under My Skin: A Memoir of Love and War, by Giaconda Belli

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, (Chapter 11), by Jared Diamond

John Pilger’s film, Nicaragua: A Nation’s Right to Survive

The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster, by Jonathan Katz

Lydia Sampson is the Technical Services Department Head at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for her article in the March 7, 2019 issue of the Norwood Transcript.


Revisiting the Monkees and Remembering Peter Tork


Just days after learning that the Monkees were on a national tour this past week, I heard the news about Peter Tork’s death. I questioned how a national Monkees tour could occur without Davy Jones, who passed away nearly seven years ago. Apparently, it wasn’t happening without Peter Tork, either, who had been ill and fighting cancer for the past ten years, but most specifically since 2018.

Tork was diagnosed with a slow-growing cancer of the head and neck in 2009. After surgery and during radiation treatment, Peter continued to play music on tour. For nearly a decade, he documented his struggle with adenoid cystic carcinoma on his Facebook page. In an interview with the Washington Post: Voices, “Peter Tork’s Cancer, In His Own Words,” published in July 2009, Tork described the scary words of his diagnosis, the harsh radiation treatment, and his commitment to continuing to perform.

After Monkee Davy Jones passed in 2012, I wrote “Hey, Hey, Find the Monkees… at the Library” for the March 23rd From the Library Column. In that column, I confessed that Peter Tork was actually my favorite.

When a library patron emailed me to remind me of my teenage fandom for the Monkees, and that he was sorry Peter Tork had died, I was prompted to reread the column. Fandom, of course, was not a common expression or word in the time of Monkees. Mania was. Specifically Beatlemania and Monkeemania. I was pretty maniacal about the Monkees television show, never missing a night of the season.

In the 2012 column, I admitted that I remembered “racing home from school clubs and babysitting gigs to catch the very start of the show each week.” Further, I confessed that we girls “were all a bit nuts about the Monkees. They were quirky, silly but cute. We all had our favorites (mine was Peter Tork). Davy was just too cute, Mickey Dolenz a bit odd, and Michael Nesmith way too moody.”

Peter Tork was chosen as one of the Monkees for his “open, Nordic look.” Dave Zimmer, in his biography of Crosby, Stills and Nash, wrote that twenty-one-year-old Steven Stills flunked his audition for the Monkees. He then recommended his blonde and lanky doppelganger, Peter Tork. Peter was already in his mid-twenties, older than the other three band leaders. (Davy Jones was a mere 19 when he signed on).

What I find most interesting is that musicians Jones, Nesmith, Dolenz, and Tork never played their own music on the two-season television series. Davy Jones was an accomplished actor and singer, playing the Artful Dodger in Oliver as a teenager. Dolenz took drum lessons so he could act like he was playing the drums, but he was a guitarist, along with Nesmith and Tork. Nesmith played country and rock, publishing his own songs. Dolenz had acted since he was a child, and played guitar in cover bands. In addition to the guitar, Peter played piano and banjo. Tork was a Greenwich, CT native, and spent years as a folk musician in Greenwich Village after a stint at Carleton College in Minnesota.

Even though Peter Tork was cast as the dumb-blonde, often playing the dummy on the Monkees television show set, as a 14-year old teen girl I was definitely attracted to his refined and cultivated side. In the early 1970s, just after I had graduated from high school, Peter moved to Northern California where he joined a local choir. Later, he spent three years as a high school educator, teaching music, social studies, math, French and history in Santa Monica. And coaching baseball on the side.

In 1967, after the television show had aired both seasons, the Monkees were finally given their due. They released Headquarters, an album on which they played the instruments in addition to singing. Peter Tork co-wrote several of the songs and received acclaim for them.

Peter Tork created the Shoe Suede Blues in 1994, playing as a band for a benefit. They were an instant hit and were asked to perform at other events, including at the Monkees 30th Anniversary Convention in 1997 (which was televised). Peter and the Shoe Suede Blues, in fact, continued to play their blues across the country in small venues, releasing albums from 1999 to 2018. Saved by the Blues and Cambria Hotel were a few of the best. Relax Your Mind is their most recent.

Peter’s given name was Thorkelson. His father was a college professor in Connecticut, and he had two brothers and a sister who, of course, did not use the name Tork. Peter went on to marry four times, the last surviving his death this past week. He had two daughters and one son.

Tork was a realist about fame. He felt that “happiness came simply from doing the work. In a Los Angeles Times article written in 1992, twenty-five years after the Monkees television show ended, he confessed that he wanted to play music full time. “A little bit of fame is fun, but I’ve had enough, thank you.”

Nostalgia about the Monkees is apparently here to stay, and we’ve collected many Monkees recordings at our library. The DVDs of the two seasons of the Monkees television show (1966-1967 and 1967-1968) feature 32 and 26 episodes, respectively, along with the movie Head, which hit the screens in 1968, just three years after the Beatles’ Help! The story of the Monkees and their manufactured music and band can also be watched online on the Smithsonian Channel. The 46-minute documentary is fascinating and includes footage of all the Monkees, including reclusive and moody Michael Nesmith. If you would like to reserve any of these titles in DVD or CD version, please call the Reference or Information desks of the library, 781-799-0200, or reserve them in the Minuteman library catalog.

On “The Real Peter Tork (official)” Facebook page, Peter’s family wrote that “Peter’s energy, intelligence, silliness, and curiosity were traits that for decades brought laughter and enjoyment to millions, including those of us closest to him. Those traits also equipped him well to take on cancer, a condition he met with unwavering humor and courage. We are asking fans who would like to make contributions in Peter’s name to donate to the scholarship fund at The Institute for The Musical Arts in Massachusetts, a nonprofit that provides young women with music education, music recording, and music community.

Charlotte Canelli is the Director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for her column in the February 28, 2019 issue of the Norwood Transcript.



Lessons Learned From Gluten-Free Baking


After struggling with GI issues for many years, I recently decided to take my diet in hand. I had previously gone “dairy-free” for the same reason and experienced some success, but I still wasn’t where I wanted to be, gastrointestinally speaking. Gluten, a storage protein in wheat that gives baked goods that elasticity and lightness, has long been touted as a contributor to aforesaid GI issues. My sister had already gone gluten-free for the same reason. There was only one thing standing in my way: my undying and uncompromising love for baked goods. I didn’t see how I could ever give them up and experience a satisfying diet. So, I went in search of gluten-free alternatives.

First, I bought several packaged brands of breads, bars, and some sweets. They were, for the most part, pretty horrible: dry, tasteless, heavy, just not a good “mouthfeel.” I found one or two bread brands that I liked, but I certainly wasn’t eating a sandwich every day. A little discouraged but still somewhat hopeful, I turned to homemade goods.

I have always loved to bake. It is relaxing and rewarding for me, and I enjoy trying new recipes. Since I have quite a bit of experience in the baking department, I figured this would be a cinch. There are many gluten-free (GF) flours available out there: rice, brown rice, soy, almond, and coconut, to name a few. I would simply substitute one of these flours for any white flour the recipe called for.

The first item I tried was GF pancakes. Easy! Same ingredients, just substitute the GF flour. The pancakes were rubbery with a gritty mouthfeel. Just in case I missed something, I tried again… with the same result. This was not a pancake that I could recommend, or for that matter, serve. After trying muffins, quick breads, cakes, cookies and brownies, I was discouraged. It was at this time that I discovered the Twist Bakery in Millis. This lovely little gem has not only gluten-free baked goods, but also dairy and nut- free. They have many selections, and everything I tried there was simply delicious. I live in Canton and can only get over there once in a while, so unfortunately Twist would not become my baked goods supplier. It did, however, inspire me to do some research. If GF baked goods can be this good, I can learn how to make them.

I went into the Minuteman catalog and typed in a search for “gluten-free baking.” One of the books that came up was The How Can It Be Gluten-Free Cookbook, by America’s Test Kitchen (ATK). Intriguing. After reading the introduction, I could see that good GF baking comes down to understanding the relationship between the amount of glutenin (a wheat protein) and its reaction to water and mixing. It’s not just a matter of using gluten-free flour. If the gluten is taken out, something else must be substituted, or one ends up with the aforementioned pancakes.

Three main factors come into play when one is using a gluten-free flour. First, the amount of glutenin in the flour is very important, as more glutenin = more strength and elasticity. With bread flour, for example, there is more glutenin, and using it results in a nice mouthfeel for bread. Cake flour, on the other hand, has a lower glutenin content and produces a soft structure that is perfect for cakes. Second, water is a big factor in the development of gluten. The more water, the stronger and more elastic the gluten is. This gives the baked good an “airier” result and is pleasing to the palate. Finally, mixing time is very important. The less a mixture is stirred, the less gluten will develop. In the case of muffins, this is why all package directions warn you not to “overmix.” Result? Tough, hard muffins that do anything but melt in the mouth.

Now we come to the substitutions for gluten. In the recipes from HCIBGF, America’s Test Kitchen, after literally thousands of tries, has developed a flour blend that can be used to produce pretty yummy baked goods. Their secret? A mix of GF flours, a mix of starches (for that elasticity), and nonfat milk powder (to help with browning). And for DF folks, we can use soy milk powder in place of the milk powder, with the same result. One other element is necessary with GF baking, and that is a binder. A binder acts as strengthener and gives the baked goods desired elasticity. ATK basically recommended xanthan gum, and, though it is not added to the ATK flour blend at the outset, each recipe calls for the flour blend AND a teaspoon or so of the xanthan gum.

The Living Gluten-Free Answer Book, by Suzanne Bowland

The How Can it be Gluten-Free Cookbook, Volume 2, by America’s Test Kitchen

https://www.americastestkitchen. com/guides/gluten-free/keys-to-successful-gluten-free-baking

Carla Howard is the Senior Circulation and Media & Marketing Assistant at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for her article in the February 21, 2019 issue of the Norwood Transcript.


A Fierce Kind of Love

how-to-be-a-good-creature-book-coverI was running errands at some point around the holidays when I happened to tune in to a radio segment about tarantulas. This is not a subject I’ve ever had any interest in, and I would normally have changed the station at once, but the topic wasn’t immediately clear to me. A woman was describing a furry creature with delicate, pink-tipped feet. I tried to guess the animal, factoring in her obvious admiration. I was hindered by the detail of her holding it in her palm. When one of the hosts of the show expressed his disbelief that a tarantula could be charming, I actually recoiled. My hand, which had been hovering near the radio buttons, yanked back as if a huge spider might suddenly appear there. Who was this lunatic? In short order, I learned that the woman speaking was naturalist and author Sy Montgomery, who has been described by The Boston Globe as, “Part Indiana Jones and part Emily Dickinson.”

Don’t get me wrong – I’m no slouch when it comes to loving animals. During my childhood summers, I would prowl the adjacent properties of my grandmother and aunt in rural New Hampshire, which hosted a menagerie of ponies, goats, cats and various breeds of dogs. Wildlife wandered through the profusion of flowers and the acres of trees that graced that happy place. The aunt encouraged my fascination with horses by gifting me books like Marguerite Henry’s Born to Trot and My Friend Flicka by Mary O’Hara, which I followed with others, from Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty to James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small. My grandmother provided art supplies with which I would depict the pony I planned to have one day. An array of pets over the years included a turtle, fish, hermit crab and dog, but I never did get that pony.

I learned that the aforementioned spider was one of the baker’s dozen of characters featured in Sy Montgomery’s latest book: How to be a Good Creature: a Memoir in Thirteen Animals. The collection includes a sampling of Montgomery’s signature adventures with the strange inhabitants of exotic locales, including her first such journey. She recounts that experience in Australia tracking a trio of emus, where she slips into a level of engagement reminiscent of Jane Goodall with her chimps; she shuns the role of observer in favor of participant in order to more fully know her subjects, noting their different personalities and behaviors. However she doesn’t write solely about exotic creatures. She also shares stories about the animals she has rescued, from a runt piglet to several dogs. She begins with her childhood Scottish Terrier, Molly, and ends with a half blind Border Collie named Thurber. Montgomery writes with unapologetic passion and isn’t afraid to show the fierce kind of love she has for animals. She credits all of the animals in her life with being her teachers, which is an outlook that I share.

As an adult, I’ve had the privilege of caring for three retired racing greyhounds. The first one my husband and I adopted was a sleek brindle we named Abby. She was beautiful, smart, and a social butterfly around people, but she could’ve taken or left other dogs. Her “roo” (the howling noise favored by this generally quiet breed) was deep and beautiful, and could perhaps have been dubbed into a movie as the distant cry of a wolf. Having the good fortune to be entrusted with this special dog made both of us feel like we’d won some sort of cosmic lottery. Three months after she came to us, I received unrelated, terrible news: my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Over the next two-and-a-half years while she fought for her life, Abby was by my side as I navigated moments of pain, despair, and (false) hope. When my mother died, it was Abby who consoled me. Perched on the couch next to me with her chin slung over my leg, she did something no person could do: bear witness to a torrent of tears without feeling the need to smother it with words. The gratitude I felt for this gift was immeasurable. It was also short-lived. Five months later, Abby was also diagnosed with untreatable cancer. This time there was no silent witness to my pain. It was the moment when I realized how much I had relied on my friend. I was bereft. Then slowly, with time, I was able to find a new narrative in these events. Abby arrived before the darkest time in my life, and she stayed by my side throughout it. All I have to do is imagine that time without her presence to feel lucky all over again.

I had expected to read the memoir of an animal lover. What I actually found when I read this book was much more than the title promised. While it does recount events from Sy Montgomery’s life through a series of vignettes about different animals she has known, her own story is interwoven with those of the animals so deftly that in movie parlance she would be just one of an ensemble cast. She lives her message. I couldn’t stop reading this book, which is a testament to Montgomery’s way with words (who knew reading about octopi could be so compelling?) She also has a way of writing about connecting with wild creatures that makes it seem not that odd an event.

Sy Montgomery is the author of dozens of books for both children and adults. Those who are hungry for more can check out The Good Good Pig: The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood or The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness. If you’re looking to branch out, Montgomery’s recommendations include: My Life with the Chimpanzees by Jane Goodall, Gorillas in the Mist by Diane Fossey and Farley Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf.

Kirstie David is the Literacy/Outreach Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for her article in the February 14, 2019 issue of the Norwood Transcript.

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