The First “Un-iversary” of My Little Free Library

On July 24, 2019, with the help of my husband, I fulfilled a dream that I had had for many years. I was able to place a little free library in front of my house. It was an exciting moment, because books mean a great deal to me, and literacy means even more. By providing this service, I felt as though I was doing something very significant for my community.

For the uninitiated, little free libraries are boxes placed in communities and filled with books. You take a book, but you don’t necessarily have to return it (which is often the case in my library). You can also donate books for others to enjoy.

These libraries are great for those who don’t have the time or ability to go to a public library. They’re particularly effective in areas of high foot traffic. In my neighborhood, they seem to be used most by parents who are taking their children for a walk. It’s hard to keep children’s books in my library. And that gratifies me a great deal, because children who read become adults who read, and adults who read are more intelligent, and develop the critical thinking skills that are necessary to have a positive impact on society at large.

I don’t think I quite realized how much fun I would have in this endeavor. We have no neighbors right next door. It’s not a pop-in-and-borrow-a-cup-of-sugar kind of community. So I wasn’t expecting this magical little box to do so much to make me feel connected to the people in my area.

Now, when people see me watering the plants in the front yard, they say hello. If they are walking down the street and they see me pulling out of my driveway, they point at the library and shout a thank you. I have a log book in my library, and they leave the most gratifying notes. They talk about how much they enjoyed this or that book. They ask for books of a certain genre, and I do my best for them. They tell me about the books they’ve donated. They thank me for being an easy source of reading material for people who don’t have cars and can’t easily get to the public library. All these things bring tears to my eyes.

Unfortunately, due to this pandemic, I felt it was necessary to temporarily shut down my library. I didn’t want to. I really struggled with the concept. But in the end, I knew that doing the responsible thing takes precedence over doing what feels good.

This, for me, has been the hardest part of this pandemic. And I’ve been told by more than one passerby that it has been hard for them, too. In fact, they have begged me to reopen.

So we’ve decided to do so on a trial basis, with certain precautions. We have added a bottle of hand sanitizer, and a sign asking patrons to use it before touching anything. We’ve also removed the logbook, pens, rubber duckies, and bookmark giveaways. This breaks our hearts, but safety first.

I worry about the health of everyone in the neighborhood, but as tensions and boredom and temperatures are rising, and morale is at an all time low, I feel as though our little library is needed now more than ever. I hope that all of us have learned enough about safe behavior during this pandemic to treat the library safely and responsibly.

So there you have it. Today was supposed to be an anniversary celebration. I was thinking balloons and bookmark giveaways and cookies and a table with an even wider selection of titles. Instead, it has turned into an un-iversary, because we were closed for about 1/4th of the year, and we really can’t have a big fete.

All of this has me longing for better, healthier days. But it reminds me that it really is possible to make a difference. And that, in these chaotic, unpredictable times, is something to hold onto.

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Zero Shopping Days for Christmas

I have no intention of buying a single gift this holiday season. No, I’m not Scrooge. No, I’m not a bitter, lonely person. I’ve just outgrown the love of stuff, and am no longer a member of the cult of crass consumerism.

My husband and I are more into experiences than objects. My dogs don’t distinguish one day from the next. I have no children, and my parents have passed away. My niece and nephew are independent adults. My sister and I are long past the whole present buying thing. Thank heavens I wasn’t born into a family that takes the gift exchange to an extreme, buying for aunts, uncles, and cousins. And my fellow bridgetenders can’t be bothered with secret Santa. (Yay!) I don’t even mail out Christmas cards.

Yes, we’ll get a tree and decorate the house with lights. We will have a nice meal. We’ll listen to carolers and go to festivals and check out Christmas decorations in town. We’ll probably watch It’s a Wonderful Life while sitting in front of a nice fire. We might make a batch of cookies.

We keep Christmas in our own way. It doesn’t come wrapped in pretty paper. It’s not covered in ribbons and bows. But it will be merry in spite of, and perhaps even because of, that.

Christmas

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Touch

One of the many ways we explore the world is with our hands. Before buying an item of clothing, it’s not unusual to touch it first to see how it will feel against one’s skin. On the darkest of nights we extend our hands in front of us in order to avoid bumping into things. We probably run our hands though our hair a hundred times a day. (Go ahead. You know you want to.)

But touch can also be reciprocal. There’s nothing quite as disconcerting as discovering that the touch you are giving is not the touch the other person is receiving. That’s happened to me several times in life. I once reached out to pat a friend’s shoulder in an attempt to comfort her, and she recoiled and said, “Don’t touch me!” Another time I went to hold someone’s hand, a thing I’d done with this person dozens of times before, but on this day he was just not in the headspace to do so. Another friend enjoyed being touched, but had been beaten so often as a child that you had to make sure he saw it coming or he’d flinch.

And then there are those times when you touch something expecting a certain sensation and you get another one entirely, as when you think something will be cool and it burns you. Electric shocks are like the anti-touch, as is being stung. Injuries to the hand can feel like a reproof.

Is there a word for that instant of giving a touch and then receiving something back? That moment of exchange, when you are either accepted or rejected, hurt or comforted? If there isn’t, there ought to be. That thing, that transition, that interchange is what allows us to thrive as living creatures. Without it we wither and die.

Touch
[Image credit: freegreatpicture.net]

Giving

A well thought out gift will always say, “I cared about you enough to take the time to really think about what would make you smile.” What could be more special than the gift of caring? That’s why we say it’s the thought that counts. You took the time to know me, know what interests me, know what my favorite color is and what size I am, what I wish for, what I need. You took an interest. We don’t make that sort of effort for just anyone.

Today many people in the world will exchange gifts. Some of those gifts will gather dust on a back shelf, or be relegated to the “regift” pile. That’s so unnecessary. Those gifts were usually exchanged out of some sense of obligation. The ugly sweater that doesn’t fit from the distant relative. The coffee mug from the coworker who has overlooked the fact that you don’t drink coffee. Don’t even get me started on the inedible fruitcake. And the frustrating thing about these types of presents is that the giver and the receiver usually both know what a waste they are.

The world is already full of more stuff than we need. Why add to that mix stuff that won’t be used or appreciated? In recent years, when I have felt the need to give a gift to someone who isn’t in my most intimate circle of friends or relatives, I have given a microloan to Kiva.org or a donation to Heifer International in their names. That way someone who really needs help to help themselves will benefit, and you can share in that warm feeling with the recipient of that gift. You can’t go wrong like that, because I guarantee you that the life of someone, somewhere will be improved by your generosity.

Always remember the most basic reason for giving someone a gift. It’s a way to show love. In the end, that’s all that really matters. If you are not sincerely putting love into the process, the least you can do is send some care and consideration out into the wider world.

Happy holidays, dear readers.

gift

[Image credit: fanpop.com

Foreign Travel Advice for Americans

Recently my amazing nephew contacted me for travel advice. I have been to 19 countries to date, so he figured I’d have some useful information. I’d forgotten what it was like, planning my first overseas trip. Those were the days. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve made a lot of mistakes over the years, but I’d like to think I’ve learned from them. I specify that this advice is for Americans, but that’s only because the links I provide are for American sites. But really, I think this would help any traveler.  Having said that, here are a few basic tips and links for the foreign travel newbie.

  • First and foremost, before deciding what country to visit, check out the US Department of State’s website to find out just what you’re getting yourself into. They have up to date country specific information. Getting kidnapped or stumbling into a war zone will definitely put a damper on your travel plans. Some countries are very safe except in certain regions. Know your geography and avoid hot spots. Nothing can guarantee your safety 100 percent, but it would be foolish to not make an effort to mitigate your risks at the very least.
  • Once you’ve decided upon a country (or countries), make the effort to educate yourself about them in advance. At a bare minimum, get a CURRENT guidebook. My absolute favorites are the Lonely Planet Guides, or, if you’re traveling in Europe, Rick Steves has some great books as well. But read those guides in advance, because there’s nothing more annoying than getting back home and discovering that there was something really cool that you could have done while there that you didn’t know about. If you are lucky enough to be in a foreign country for a long time and language will be an issue, I also highly recommend the Berlitz phrasebooks.
  • My favorite site for finding the cheapest airfare is kayak.com. They compare hundreds of sites. It’s always cheaper if you buy your tickets well in advance and travel mid-week, and your guidebooks will tell you what is low, shoulder and high season for your destination. That will impact your price, too.
  • Read up on the history and culture, too. Learn about their art, their music, their archeology, their architecture, their food. It will only make your experience richer. And if you can ask the locals educated questions, it will show people that you respect their country and want to know what it’s all about. It’s a great way to make lifelong friends.
  • Whatever you do, do NOT wait until the last minute to get your passport. It will always take longer than you think and trust me, you don’t need that type of stress.
  • Many countries require inoculations. Check with your local purveyor of overseas immunizations to see what’s required. And some things aren’t required, they’re just recommended. If that’s the case, get them, too, because once you get some exotic disease, there’s no turning back. Also, have your doctor prescribe a strong diarrhea medicine to take with you just in case. The prescription kind is more effective than anything you can get over the counter. You won’t regret having it.
  • If you have any valuable electronics that you’re planning to bring with you and they’re not obviously old and ratty, take them to your local customs and border protection office and fill out form 4457, “Certificate of Registration for Personal Effects Taken Abroad” or risk having people assume you bought them in country and face having to pay a duty fee at customs. This goes for cameras, cell phones, laptops, etc.
  • Make three photocopies of your passport, credit cards, identification, and any other documentation (like those customs receipts I mentioned above). Keep one copy in your checked baggage, one in your carry on baggage, and one copy with a trusted friend or family member whom you’d be able to reach by phone if necessary. Also include your name and address not only on your luggage tags, but also on a 3×5 card taped INSIDE your luggage in case those tags get ripped off.
  • Create an in case of emergency card for your wallet which includes your name, date of birth, medical allergies, blood type, medical conditions, physician’s name and phone number, emergency contact name and how this person is related to you, plus their phone numbers.
  • Make it a point to get about 100 dollars in the local currency, because there’s nothing worse than arriving in a foreign country after a long exhausting flight only to find that all the money exchange places are closed and your taxi driver only accepts cash. Thomas Cook is a great resource for advance currency exchange. The rest of the time, in this day and age, (unless you’re going to the back of beyond) you’ll be able to survive by using a credit card. But make sure you have a card that does not charge foreign exchange fees, because if you get home and discover you’ve been charged 10 dollars per transaction, you will have a heart attack. As of this writing, Capital One credit cards do not charge foreign exchange fees, but double check, because that could change.
  • Once you’ve decided which credit cards to take, call the companies and tell them in which countries you’ll be traveling and when. Otherwise they may think it’s suspicious activity and block it, and that’s a nightmare to untangle long distance. Also, they then WILL be able to block suspicious activity. For example, I bought a souvenir in Turkey, and within 24 hours, some loser in Israel had stolen my identity, and since I’d given the credit card company my itinerary, they were able to block the Israel transactions before I was wiped out, but didn’t block my Turkey transactions. Also, confirm the pin numbers for your credit cards before you go.
  • A lot of travel sites will suggest that you get a money belt to avoid pickpockets. I have always found this to be an unnecessary expense. Instead, I do the following: Carry a small amount of cash and one credit card in your wallet. Put that wallet in a fanny pack, keep the pouch portion of the fanny pack in the front at all times, and walk with your hand resting on top of it. Then, Take a sock, cut off some of the length, then use the toe part as a home made pouch. Put additional money and your passport and another credit card in it, then pin it to the inside of your pants with a couple safety pins. If you need to access these funds, you just step into the nearest bathroom, and there you have it.
  • This will be evidence of my anal retentive personality, but over the years I’ve created a master packing list (which can be found here). Whenever I’ve discovered that I’ve forgotten something, I add it to the list for the next time. When I’m about to take a trip, I copy that list, then remove the items that don’t apply to this particular trip (like winter coats for trips to the tropics, for example) and then I have a pretty comprehensive list of what to pack. But don’t overdo it. Travel as lightly as you can. Lugging a lot of unnecessary crap will just make your trip a lot less enjoyable, especially now that airlines are charging luggage fees. If you absolutely need something that you’ve forgotten to pack, you can always buy it in country. If it’s not available in country, that means an entire country has learned to live without it, and that means you can, too.
  • Give your loved ones your itinerary so they can contact you in an emergency, but also register your itinerary on line with the State Department. If you do nothing else, do that, because if things turn unexpectedly ugly, for example, if war is declared, you want the good guys to know where you are.
  • If you’re driving yourself to the airport, make sure you get gas for your vehicle, top off your fluids, and get air in your tires the day before. Nothing is worse than missing your flight because of a flat tire. That would spell the destruction of your holiday.
  • If there’s any way to get a ride to the airport, do so, because long term parking fees are obscene. If you have absolutely no choice, research the park and ride shuttle companies near your airport, and then make reservations to leave your car with them. Slightly cheaper, at least.
  • It is recommended that you arrive at the airport two hours early for international flights, but don’t assume that is the rule of thumb on the way back. If I hadn’t arrived 4 hours early to the airport in Istanbul, I’d still be sitting in that airport right now.
  • Upon your return, pack all your souvenirs and receipts separately for customs. They always appreciate it when you make life easier for them.
  • For the love of god, if you have even the tiniest brain in your head, DO NOT SMUGGLE ANYTHING into or out of a foreign country!!!!!!! Go to youtube and look up any episode of “Locked Up Abroad” if you want to see how incredibly stupid it is to take that sort of risk. Don’t want to wind up in a foreign prison? Simple. Respect the laws of the country that you’re in.
  • If you’re going to be renting a car, get an international driver’s license from AAA, and print out the international traffic signs so you know what they mean. You can find them on Google. The life you save could be your own. Check to see if your auto insurance will cover your rental, because if it does, it will be a lot cheaper than taking out the rental agency’s insurance. They won’t like it if you waive their insurance, but you are within your rights to do so. But make sure you’re covered.
  • If you have a student ID, bring it with you. You never know when you can take advantage of a student discount.
  • Check to see if the country of your choice requires visas. If you can obtain them in advance, do so.
  • If you are bringing anything irreplaceable with you, such as glasses, camera, etc, put that in your carry on luggage. Do not check it. Murphy’s law dictates that it will disappear. Also, bring a copy of your glasses prescription in case they get broken during your travels.
  • Put a temporary hold on your mail, and if possible, get someone to occasionally go by and check on your house. Put timers on your lights so that your place will appear inhabited. Turn off your water heater and unplug everything you can. Adjust your thermostat.
  • It makes me sick to have to say this, but if you are an unmarried woman and will be traveling in a conservative country, go to the flea market and buy yourself some wedding rings. You will be treated with much more respect. And unfortunately, as liberated as you may be, there are places in the world where a woman should just not go alone, especially at night. Research the countries customs and beliefs, and whether you agree with them or not, take them seriously.
  • Also, if you are traveling to a country where Americans are not appreciated which is pretty much everywhere these days, you may want to consider getting Canadian flag patches to sew on your backpacks and Canadian flag luggage tags. Everybody loves Canadians. And although they put out a quality product, American Tourister is probably not the brand of luggage you want to use in this day and age.
  • Make sure you keep  your prescription medication in its prescription packaging. And if it’s anything that has any type of street value, do not leave it in the hotel for the maids.
  • If you are going to an area known for malaria, you need mosquito repellant with DEET. The best for anti-malaria is Sawyer Controlled Release DEET formula.
  • When you know the exchange rate, calculate things out so you know what equals a dollar, 5 dollars, 10 dollars, etc, and write them down on a 3×5 card so you can quickly know how expensive things are.
  • A note about reservations: It’s good to have reservations at the beginning of your trip when you’re tired, and at the end of your trip when you’ve got to make sure nothing goes wrong, or if you’re arriving in a city late at night. But if you are brave, you can often get a better deal by finding places as you travel around so you can be more flexible. On the other hand, youth hostels, which I HIGHLY recommend if you are not completely wedded to the concept of privacy, often require reservations. Print out your reservation documentation. Don’t be surprised if reservations get lost, or if your room turns out not to be available or if you’re suddenly charged a higher rate. It happens ALL THE TIME. Stand your ground. Have your documentation. Be polite, but don’t take any crap.
  • If you’re bringing anything that requires a charger, make sure you purchase adapters if the country in question uses a different currency or plug.
  • Bring a small box of powdered detergent so you can do hand wash in the hotel sinks. That way you can pack fewer clothes. And pack lighter weight things, such as khakis instead of blue jeans, because they dry faster. You can always layer if need be.
  • Bring extra batteries, but know that the airlines will require that you pack them separately from the devices. In fact, it’s a good idea to check out your airline’s luggage policies in general.
  • Remove perishables from your fridge and take out your garbage so you don’t come home to a  stinky house.
  • The more you plan on the front end, the more you’ll be able to relax and have fun when you’re there, so make a to do list and cover all the bases. Enjoy your trip!

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