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Author Archives:Sam Simas

Pick-Me-Up Books That Leave Worries Behind

Open any paper, stream the news, and soon you will feel overwhelmed with the world. A car bomb killing hundreds in Bagdad, a train going off the tracks in Pennsylvania. Truly it’s a wonder we get out of bed every day and head to work or the gym.

Lately I’ve found myself avoiding many things but reading isn’t one of them. Instead my tastes have changed. Now I’m searching for what I’ve termed a good “Pick-Me-Up” book. No, not a book on dating, but one that makes me smile. While I may be The Queen of Denial, a humorous escape seems like the perfect remedy to this world’s ills.

I’m sure many of you remember that old television ad for Calgon, the bath bubbles that “take you away” from your worries. In that vein, I’m including six books that can also carry you away. (Of course, if you check them out from the library be careful not to drop them into the bubble bath). Here they are:

F In Exams: The Very Best Totally Wrong Test Answers by Richard Benson. If you need a laugh, this is the book for you. Of course, teachers will find it amusing, having lived through these foibles in their classrooms, but anyone will get a chuckle. The book is divided by subject, ranging from Chemistry or Math to Psychology or English. Here’s a few samples to give you a taste. Under Biology the question on a test was “What is a fibula?” The student’s answer: “A little lie.” Under Physics: “Describe what happened during the Big Bang?” The answer: “A lot of noise.” And one of my favorites from History and Geography: “Define the term ‘intensive farming.” It takes a special student to reply: “It is when a farmer never has a day off.”

We Are Women: Celebrating Our Wit and Grit by June Cotner and Barb Mayer.  This fun and flashy book is a real “feel good” read for summer. By combining vintage photos with inspirational and fun-loving quotations, the authors have created a power-packed package. As Cotner describes it, the pairing of photographs with famous sayings serves to “remind readers how women’s character and strength have endured through time.” So take this one to the beach. You can’t go wrong!

You Can Date Boys When You’re Forty by Dave Barry. Over the years I’ve fallen in love with numerous Barry books and he has yet to let me down. This time Barry tackles parenting and family issues with comical finesse. One of my favorite chapters touches on the modern day conveniences that have gone over the top, including a men’s public restroom where you no longer need to flush the urinal. As only Barry can describe it: “This tedious chore is a thing of the past because the urinal now has a small electronic “eye” connected to the Central Restroom Command Post, located deep underground somewhere near Omaha, Nebraska, where highly trained workers watch you on high-definition TV screens and make the flush decision for you.”

Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler. It’s hard to believe but I haven’t read a book by Anne Tyler until now. Yes, I’ve been living under a rock, but this was a fabulous place to start. This is the story of Ira and Maggie’s marriage. It begins with a bang, literally, when Maggie is picking up her car from the repair shop. Surprised to hear her ex-daughter-in-law on the radio revealing that her one true love is still Maggie’s son, Maggie promptly shoots the car out of the garage into a passing Pepsi truck. Mind you, the car has just been repaired. Thus begins the couple’s literal journey to comfort a friend, Serena, during her husband’s funeral and the metaphorical journey to explore and reignite Maggie and Ira’s marriage. Their adventures are full of the joys and disappointments that await most married couples, all told with Tyler’s perfectly-timed sense of humor. (I hope to watch the 1994 movie with James Garner and Joanne Woodward too)

Does This Beach Make Me Look Fat?: True Stories and Confessions by Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella. Another confession. I love short chapters. They make me happy, and so does this summer pick-me-up. This mother-daughter team really pack a punch and it begins this way: “People go to the beach for lots of reasons, namely, the sand, the sun, and the water. I go for the food.” As Scottoline reveals, growing up in a family of self-described “chubby Italian-Americans” molded her point of view on life. From Hollywood selfies to first dates, Scottoline and Serritella had me in stitches. After all, I can relate to these words: “I have met the love of my life, and it comes in a box. I’m talking, of course, about ThermaCare. The heat wrap you buy at a drugstore that you stick to various parts of your achy body.”

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson. Think Des Moines, Iowa, 1950s, in combination with one of the best travel humorists, and you have one of my favorite books of all time. Bryson has come a long way from his childhood in the Midwest, but it becomes clear that his sense of humor started early. Take his view of his mother. He admires that she was a woman who dared to head back into the workplace when few others did the same, but he also revels in the outcome. As he writes, “We didn’t call it the kitchen in our house. We called it the Burns Unit.” He goes on to say, “Happily, all this suited my father.  His palate only responded to two tastes — burnt and ice cream — so everything suited him so long as it was sufficiently dark and not too startlingly flavorful.  Theirs truly was a marriage made in heaven for no one could burn food like my mother or eat it like my dad.”

Hopefully, one of two of these reads will float your boat this summer. Remember, even the resilient reader needs an escape now and then from this crazy place we call home.

Nancy Ling is an Outreach Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read Nancy’s column in the July 21st issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

Free Fun in Massachusetts: A Day at the Zoo

In 1889, when Andrew Carnegie wrote his essay titled Wealth, it was published in the North American Review and soon after became known as The Gospel of Wealth. In the article, Carnegie reasoned that successful capitalists have an obligation to improve the world, both culturally and socially, with the bulk of their riches. They must, he contended, leave the world better than they found it. “I should consider it a disgrace to die a rich man,” in Carnegie’s words speaks to his legacy to the world. Carnegie’s wealth built over 3,000 public libraries in English-speaking countries, many of them in the United States. The foundation in his name endures to this day.

Although it can be argued that Carnegie was just one of the many American industrialists who made their fortunes using the sweat and blood of common laborers, there is no debate that he and many other capitalists left fortunes in foundations that are still enriching the world today. George Morrill, Norwood’s wealthy printing ink manufacturer, undoubtedly read The Gospel and Wealth written in 1889. Morrill not only provided the funds for our elegant public library, but he and his wife advocated for the location, hired the architects and contractors, chose the exterior granite and interior mahogany, and funded the furnishings and volumes of books. In 1898, Morrill turned the keys over to Norwood – with no strings attached. The building and its contents was erected as a monument to their youngest daughter, Sara Bond Morrill. Yet, it is also obvious that this legacy was also a testament to the love of their town and their personal way to leave Norwood (which they eventually did en route to New York) better than they had found it.

Today, the hype about gifts and grants from philanthropists like Bill and Melinda Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffet, Mark Zuckerberg, and dozens of others are splashed across the print and online news. We may claim that this philanthropy is only a portion of their wealth. Or we may debate the fact that the American rich have made their millions and billions exploiting American workers or insulting our intellect. However, without philanthropy in America, many social, educational, medical and cultural initiatives would not have been funded in the past or continue to be funded today. To date, Warren Buffet has donated over $30 billion. Bill and Melinda Gates over $29 billion. Others like George Clooney and Angelina Jolie raise millions of dollars to support humanitarian causes. Money may make the world go ‘round, but philanthropy (or from the Greek, love of man) makes the world a far better place.

One of Boston’s many philanthropists is responsible for making Boston a better place to be in the summers. Fun Free Fridays is the brainchild of the Highland Street Foundation. Libraries promote Fun Free Fridays even though you don’t need to get a coupon or pass at the library. Each Friday, 10 wonderful places are open to the public for free all day. Attendees are only asked their zip code as they enter.

The Highland Street Foundation was established by David McGrath in 1989. Friends and entrepreneurs, David McGrath and Tom Cook were both MIT students when built their company, TAD Resources International in 1956. From there, McGrath and Cook became very successful and McGrath and his wife decided to give back by endowing the Highland Foundation. After David McGrath’s early death at the age of 62 in 1995, TAD (a staffing and contract services company) was sold and the proceeds from that sale make up the majority of the endowment of the Highland Street Foundation today. David’s wife and their five children oversee the Foundation and over $170 million has been given to non-profit organizations to date. Dozens of grants, community events and programs, and initiatives are funded each year. Best Buddies, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Cradles to Crayons, and the Tadpole Playground in the Boston Common are just a few of Highland Street’s beneficiaries.

The Fun Free Fridays project was rolled out in 2009 and nearly a million visitors have taken advantage of this generous program over the past eight summers. Parks, museums, zoos, and exhibits across the state from east to west and north to south are participating venues. From the end of June to the end of August, about eight of the eighty locations each Friday are open to the public absolutely free. Included are Sturbridge Village, the Franklin Park Zoo, the USS Constitution, the JFK Presidential Library, and 76 others.

Gerry and I were lucky enough to have two of our grandchildren and their mothers visiting us over the Fourth of July week. While out and about in along the south coast of Massachusetts, we decided to have our picnic lunch in New Bedford on Friday. In the center of New Bedford’s Buttonwood Park is the Buttonwood Park Zoo and it was open free to the public that day as part of the Fun Free Fridays program.

This perfectly-sized zoo in the center of New Bedford was a delightful excursion for our eighteen-month old twin grandchildren, Ava and Judah. The Buttonwood Park Zoo’s ten acres of creatures include elephants (Emily and Ruth who are 51 and 56 years old, respectively), three black bears, one coyote, a bison, and assorted other mammals, amphibians, fish and fowl.

The Buttonwood Park Zoo has been named one of America’s best small zoos and is definitely affordable even on non-free days. It’s the twelfth oldest zoo in the United States and was founded in New Bedford during its prosperous 19th century whaling and textile eras. It’s owned and operated by the city of New Bedford (which funds 1/3 of its operating costs) and is open year-round, welcoming about 150,000 visitors a year. It is supported by donations through the Buttonwood Zoological Society.

Come to the library and pick up a Fun Free Fridays brochure or visit the Highland Street Foundation’s website for a downloadable one. The library continues to post the Fun Free Friday dates poster on our Facebook page and website. Thanks to the Highland Street Foundation and the family of David McGrath for this delightful venue for a summer picnic and romp with our grandchildren on a Fun Free Friday of summer.

Charlotte Canelli is the Director at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read Charlotte’s column in the July 14th issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

Netflix and Binge

Sometimes sunny days are just too sunny.  That’s what I used to tell my mom when I was a kid and sick of being outside in the summer.  She thought I was nuts.  She may still think I’m nuts.  I’m not a home-grown New Englander but I can complain about the weather with the best of them. Yes, I griped about the cold and the snow all winter and groused about any rainy day in the spring. Summer is finally here and the weather has been perfect.  Like San Diego-perfect.  Like it’s a crime-to-stay-inside perfect.  And yet…sometimes sunny days are just too sunny! 

I once had a colleague tell me how burnt out he was after he moved to California. A native Northeasterner, he had been programmed from birth to get outside the minute the weather turned warm.  Of course, every day in Southern California is gorgeous and so he spent every spare minute pursuing outdoor activities.  He completely exhausted himself with too much sunshine!  Californians didn’t think anything of staying inside since they had complete assurance that tomorrow would be just as beautiful as today.  But my colleague had not yet learned how to pace himself in the face of perfect climate conditions.

So what are we to do when this amazing weather just wears us down? We don’t have the kind of endurance that residents of warmer climates do. The long, hot dog days of summer are coming and there will most definitely be a point when “sunny days are just too sunny”.  We need to make sure we have enough down time if we are to survive this unnatural good weather.  As a librarian, I feel obligated to remind you to have a good book at the ready for such days when it’s all too much. But I’m a realist. I know a lot of us need passive entertainment.  So it’s time to “Netflix and binge”, as the kids say.  Not on food but on the Golden Age of television that is currently sweeping the nation.  Binge watching is our latest TV phenomenon and the library is on board.

What is binge-watching?  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, binge-watching is the act of watching multiple episodes of a television programme in rapid succession, typically by means of DVDs or digital streaming.  Binge watching has changed the way the we watch television and certainly the way we critique a show’s content. Binge watching has even changed the way streaming services and networks deliver shows for viewing, most notably with Netflix and Amazon Prime Video making whole new seasons of shows available on one specific day.  It’s actually become a point of pride in certain circles to brag about how long it took you to binge on the latest season of your favorite show.

Not everyone approves of this trend.  In 2012 for Slate Magazine, Jim Pagels calls binge-watching a pandemic and claims that watching episodes in rapid succession ruins the joy and the artistic merit of TV as a format. Pagels posits traditional television schedules offer viewers time to develop deep relationships with characters over a number of years and the critical distance to build up plot analysis necessary to enjoying long story arcs.  That theory is unnecessarily archaic and doesn’t give smart TV viewers enough credit for their critical eye.  It also doesn’t acknowledge reality!  We live in an age where appointment television is not something our busy lives can accommodate.  We can, however, fit our favorite programs in when time allows and binge watching caters to our full schedules.

So how does the library support the art of the binge-watch?  First, any TV series on DVD that the library owns will now circulate for three weeks instead of one.  Even though binge-watching is consuming our culture, library staff found that our patrons don’t let it consume their whole lives and that one week was simply not enough time to finish an entire season of a show. Secondly, the library now subscribes to our very own online streaming service, Hoopla.  Hoopla give all Norwood residents with a Morrill Memorial Library card access to hundreds of TV shows that can be streamed on any computer through Hoopla’s website or any mobile device with the free Hoopla app.

Finally, the library circulates four actual Roku streaming devices to our patrons!  The Roku 1 allows our patrons with older TVs to turn them into smart TVs!  This device comes with a remote, one HDMI cable, a set of standard A/V hookups, and instructions.  In addition, the library also owns three Roku Streaming Sticks.  These portable devices can be hooked up to any HDMI port on a computer or TV. All of these Roku devices allow you to use various streaming services to watch TV and movies.  The library has also subscribed to a Netflix account for our Roku streaming devices.   Additionally, the Roku search feature on all its devices will allow people to search for content across multiple streaming services like Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and HBOGo.  The library’s Roku streaming devices have become very popular so be sure to speak to a staff member about reserving one if you are interested in borrowing one.

Kate Tigue is a Children’s Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read Kate’s column in the July 7th issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin. 

Magical Thinking: Food Fight!

Fights within a family are nothing new. The world’s oldest literature records them (Cain and Abel), history chronicles them (Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth 1), and folklore embellishes them (the Hatfields and McCoys).

Massachusetts is not new to family troubles, either. In-laws in the Porter and Putnam families tussled in Salem during the 1600s and some of that acrimony fed the Witch Trials. The Friendly’s brothers fought over ice cream. Even the famous Koch brothers’ in-fighting has a tie to Massachusetts – three of the Koch brothers attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The Demoulas’ of grocery fame began their epic family fight many years ago when one side of the family discovered that they seemed to have been cut out of some of the profits from the other. It’s a complicated story and one that really hasn’t yet ended.  Most of us, however, sighed a giant sign of relief in August 2014 when Artie T. was victorious over his cousin Artie S.

During those July and August months I bemoaned the unhappy fact that I didn’t live closer to a Demoulas Market Basket. I desperately wanted to picket the store myself!  I nearly drove to the closest location in Bellingham, MA just to drive in and out of the parking lot to show my support for Market Basket employees. I devoured the news each day and subscribed to the Save Market Basket Facebook group. Many of us eagerly awaited Artie T’s triumph, although none of us may have truly believed it would really happen. It was wishful thinking; after all, what grassroots campaign of working class people really prevails?

Fast forward 30 days from July 28 to August 27, 2014 when the seemingly impossible happened and Market Basket clerks, managers, vendors, truck drivers, stockers, and the shopping public pulled off an amazing feat. Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, the people from Market Basket prevailed and we sat in disbelief that people’s movement succeeded. Artie T. had finally fashioned a deal that would result in Market Basket rebirth.

Shortly afterward, I invested a small amount in a Kickstarter* campaign to help finance a documentary about the incredible business/labor/loyalty movement, “Food Fight: The Battle for Market Basket”. The filmmaker, Jay Childs, promised that the story would be told with footage from the 30-day saga that would focus on the popular story, from the ground up.

When the film was finished nearly six months ago, it was screened for audiences across New England in Portsmouth, Cambridge and Providence and many other cities across New England.  I was invited to a screening as a Kickstarter backer of the project, but none of those screening locations were particularly convenient to me. I knew, however, that part of the Kickstarter campaign promise was to provide me with a copy of the DVD.

*(Kickstarter, for those of you who don’t know, is a global online community that backs creative projects. From Kickstarter’s website, “over 11.1 million people from every continent on earth have backed a Kickstarter project” in dance, film, food, fashion, art, design, journalism, music, publishing, technology and many more worthy categories.)

About a month ago, the filmmaker realized that the backers who were not able to watch the film around New England desperately wanted to. Soon, we were sent a link to the documentary and I was able to watch it online. It is fantastic and I will donate the actual DVD to the library when it is received and we will show it at the library to all who are interested.

The documentary Food Fight! did not disappoint. I was struck by the fact that it is not an Artie T. marketing tool. As a matter of fact, he rarely is on screen. The Demoulas’ family saga is explained in an almost perfunctory manner. In fact, many might want to Google the story online to navigate the complicated history and backstory of the Market Basket saga. The documentary focuses on the inspiration workers and support of the community. Many serendipitous events helped the cause – an empty industrial complex across from Market Basket headquarters, a summer climate that fostered barbecues and parties for striking workers, and the loyalty of vendors, drivers, and working class families.

What the film highlights is the non-hierarchical, of-the-people,bottom-up movement that led to Artie T.’s victory over his cousin, Artie S. While it was the managers who were fired (and were fired up!) who acted first, it was the people who worked for Market Basket, or those who shopped at Market Basket, and those who supplied Market Basket, that put their livelihoods on the line – and prevailed.

The Gloucester Clam, on online newspaper, chronicled the story of Market Basket in a four part “history of crazy.” It is a non-biased story that begins with the immigrant story of Athanasios (Arthur) Demoulas who began “a tiny grocery in Lowell selling fresh lamb.” The story of the Demoulas family focuses on the fact that Athanasios was searching for the American Dream, and found it in the Acre, an area of Lowell which was home to Greek immigrants from across the world. Athanasios actually arrived at Ellis Island in 1906, found work in a tannery and sent for his sweetheart, Efrosine.

Athanasios and his wife started DeMoulas Market (emphasis on the capital M to make it distinctive) in 1916, catering to the immigrants in the Acre. Fast forward to 1954 when their sons, George and Mike, bought the business, expanding it in the 50s and 60s in the Lowell area.  George died unexpectedly in 1971 and the saga that brought on infighting in the family began. It reached a peak with lawsuits in the 90s and continued until that fateful summer of 2013.  It is explained in Market Basket history that you can read online or in books, or view in the documentary, Food Fight!  In 2015, a book by Daniel Korschun and Grant Welker described in detail the incredible story in “We are Market Basket: The Story of the Unlikely Grassroots Movement That Saved a Beloved Business.” Another documentary by filmmaker Nick Buzzell, “We the People: The Market Basket Effect,” has also been released at small theaters across New England.

We all knew at the time that the story of Market Basket would make a heck of a story and that management, finance, and sociology classes would be studying this legendary tale for years to come. If you are interested in the details behind this amazing story, check out We Are Market Basket or express your interest in viewing Food Fight! when we screen it at the library.

Charlotte Canelli is the library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte’s column in the June 30, 2016 issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

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