For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
January 15, 1997 - Bean Soup
I don't know if it's the weather, or that it's January and so the new year. But about every twelve months I get a strong urge to cook up a batch of bean soup. And when I get the urge, I call my dad for the recipe.
It's not that I can't, or haven't, written it down. But somehow the phone call is one of the ingredients that makes for good soup. "About half an hour before it's done," my dad says, "add about half a cup of ketchup."
"Ketchup!" I always say, wondering. "Why ketchup?"
"For color," he says.
It's a remarkably simple recipe: a ham hock (or something like it), a pound of Northern beans, a chopped onion, a hard sprinkle or six of garlic salt, some pepper, a tablespoon of dried mustard, and enough water to cover it all by at least an inch. Bring it to a boil, then cover and simmer it forever. A good bean soup takes at least a Saturday or Sunday, a good six hours of heavenly percolation. And don't forget the ketchup.
There's a little more to it. You should look in on it every couple of hours, and for the first part of the day, you can add a touch more water. But after about four hours, the soup begins to get serious, and you dasn't dilute it.
As I was chopping up the onion, gathering spices, and talking to my dad this last time, he admitted that he didn't have a library card. Naturally, I gave him a hard time about it.
He tried to defend himself by saying that he reads regularly to Nathalie, my 1 and a 1/2 year old niece and his youngest grandchild. Oh yes, dad said, every time he goes over there, Nathalie waddles up with a new book and says "read me!" He wondered where all those books came from.
It happens that I know. Before Nathalie was born, I put some pressure on her mother, Katy. "Let me tell you about one of the best, most enjoyable baby-sitting techniques in the world," I told her.
"First, you get a library card. Then, you take your daughter to the library, at least once a week. Be careful to read one or two books to her while you're there. That helps her learn what kinds of books she likes best. It also makes her feel comfortable."
Katy looked a little dubious, but I kept hammering. "There's a right way to teach your children how to be read to. You have to put them in your lap. They can feel with their whole body that you start reading on the left, and move to the right. When they sit in your lap they feel safe, and focused. You don't come between them and the book.
"You'll be amazed," I said, "how fast kids pick up vocabulary this way. You'll also be grateful for how well it works to calm a child down.
"Trust me," I said.
Well, she did. And it paid off. Little Nathalie is bright, articulate, a good baby who is known to her local librarians.
Soups feed the body, books feed the soul, and there's more than one kind of family recipe.