My work table in our upstairs bedroom

My work table in our upstairs bedroom

Mining my commonplace books for future blog posts and projects

Mining my commonplace books for future blog posts and projects

I seem to think better with a pen in my hand.

I seem to think better with a pen in my hand.

Last week I took advantage of a back-to-school door-buster sale to purchase three new spiral notebooks for 19 cents each.  How small an investment to bring so much joy to my life!  I use these ordinary notebooks as commonplace books, repositories for lists, interesting newspaper and magazine clippings, ticket stubs from museum visits, and most importantly, interesting quotes from the books I read.  I now have quite a pile going back years, and like a cabinet of curiosities, these collections of my jottings are something of a reflection of my Self.

I like that these analog notebooks are hand written.  I seem to think better with a pen or pencil in my hand, and copying out quotes by hand slows me down and I feel closer to the author in some weird way.  And then, I just like the look of cursive handwriting.  Years ago when I was in school, I used to have a huge callus on my middle finger from where I held my pen or pencil.  These days, there’s hardly a discernible bump.  We have so few occasions to handwrite anything anymore.  My notebooks still provide that pleasure for me.

From time to time I like re-reading my notebooks.  Right now I plan to go through them slowly to mine them for ideas for future blog posts or larger projects.  That means copying out useful passages (again) onto loose-leaf notepaper so that I can organize these random writings into categories.  For me, this is a labor of love.

I do get satisfaction from knowing how little money it takes for me to quest for purpose and meaning in my life.  The public library provides an endless supply of reading material that is so often the springboard for my thoughts.  Add to those free books a simple pen and notebook, and I am a happy camper.

“Much in the marketplace urges us toward safety, comfort, and luxury — they can be bought — but purpose and meaning are less commodifiable phenomena . . .”
— Rebecca Solnit, A Paradise Built in Hell










Leaving My Head Inside a Book

September 2, 2012

Piles of books on my dining room table

An Afternoon in the Stacks
by William Stafford

Closing the book, I find I have left my head
inside.  It is dark in here, but the chapters open
their beautiful spaces and give a rustling sound,
words adjusting themselves to their meaning.
Long passages open at successive pages.  An echo,
continuous from the title onward, hums
behind me.  From in here the world looms,
a jungle redeemed by these linked sentences
carved out when an author traveled and a reader
kept the way open.  When this book ends
I will pull it inside-out like a sock
and throw it back in the library.  But the rumor
of it will haunt all that follows in my life.
A candleflame in Tibet leans when I move.

This has been a week of books and reading for me.  The Seattle Public Libraries have closed for the week for budget reasons, and I spent my week off without pay immersed in book after book.  Books are my way to travel on the cheap, to transport myself out of the humdrum of my routine life.  An ideal vacation in many ways.

(P.S. One of my favorite novels from my week of reading was Ivan Doig’s The Bartender’s TaleDoig, who now lives in Seattle, is one of my favorite writers.)

ser-en-dip-i-ty  . . . The faculty of making fortunate and unexpected discoveries by accident”
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language

Even when you have a fairly detailed itinerary, when you’re on a long road trip, you simply cannot predict when and where you’ll need to stop for a bathroom break, snack, or place to stretch your legs.  We made several serendipitous and memorable stops during our journey through Colorado.  Let me tell you about some of them.

The Park County Library in Fairplay

Public libraries are excellent places to stop for a bathroom break.  As you pass through small towns, you will invariably see a sign pointing you to the library.  If you have time, you can check your e-mail at the library’s internet computers.  And be sure to say hi to the staff — librarians are some of the friendliest people you’ll meet.

We stopped for a picnic lunch on the expansive lawn of this lovely library in Fairplay.  It was formerly a bank, so the building had some interesting features, including a big walk-in safe!   It now houses the coroner’s office in the basement.  Cliff swallows had built nests in the eaves.  While we were picnicking, we struck up a conversation with Terry Dean Hill, weather watcher and HAM radio enthusiast, who came to our attention because his van sported a forest of 8 antennae on its roof!

Spiral staircase in the historic Park County Library in Fairplay

Door to the coroner's office. This library caters to dead people and books!

Terry Dean Hill, weather watcher and HAM radio enthusiast, and his antennae-laden van

We were led to Pachelli’s Deli & Italian Cuisine in Monte Vista by Lonely Planet Colorado.  The guidebook gave this little eatery its “top choice” designation, luring us with its description:  ” . . . the smell of garlic and warm bread as you walk through the door is a prelude to the excellent food to come.”  They described the owner, Fred Pachelli, as “charismatic.”  He had not seen the review in the Lonely Planet guidebook, so we made his day.  We ordered two HUGE sandwiches to go — Tuscan pork and avocado chicken — so that we would not have to cook at our campsite.  Each sandwich was big enough for two people.  (Thank you, Lonely Planet, for the recommendation!)

Fred Pachelli, owner of Pachelli's Deli in Monte Vista, with a loaf of his freshly baked bread

While looking for a place to get a good cup of coffee, our eyes were drawn to Zuma Natural Foods near Mancos by the eclectic vehicles parked in front.  The “hippie” van alone signaled that this was our kind of place!  We weren’t mistaken.  The coffee and pastries were great, and the bathroom was one of the nicest on our trip.

Colorful "hippie" van in the parking lot at Zuma's Natural Foods. Even the tires were decorated.

Bumper stickers on a Prius in the Zuma's parking lot

Mural-decorated bathroom in Zuma's Natural Foods

Another nice touch in the Zuma's bathroom

We were on the lookout for fresh Colorado peaches and Olathe sweet corn, so we made it a point to stop at farm stands along the way.

We stopped at this farmer's market store near Paonia for fresh peaches

The Lonely Planet Colorado guide once again steered us to a great dining spot, the burrito bus across from the Safeway in Leadville.  My smothered burrito was excellent!  (Thanks, again, Lonely Planet!)

Burrito bus in Leadville

Reading Room at Suzzallo Library, University of Washington

This week is National Library Week, and I celebrated by visiting a few of the libraries on the University of Washington campus.  The UW Visitor’s Center has a map of the various libraries on campus, some of which are housed in their departments.  I didn’t have time to stop in at all of them.

Grand Staircase, Suzzallo Library

Hanging globe, Suzzallo Library Reading Room

Atrium, Allen Library, University of Washington

Hanging raven sculptures, Allen Library

Rack of foreign language newspapers, East Asia Library, Gowen Hall, UW

The Music Library has a magnificent view of the cherry trees on the quad, University of Washington

Cherry blossoms, UW

Cherry blossoms on the quad at the University of Washington

Cherry blossoms in the morning light, UW

More fancy digs in the middle of Texas! The Armstrong Browning Library at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

When I was doing research to plan for our Texas road trip, I learned that the world’s largest collection of the works and memorabilia of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning is housed at the Armstrong Browning Library on the campus of Baylor University in Waco, Texas.  We passed by Waco on the way to Dallas, so I was determined to stop and check out this amazing library.

The Browning collection began with the personal collection of one of Baylor’s English professors, Dr. A. Joseph Armstrong, and it has grown over time.  The Browning Library is a lovely Italianate building with 62 stained-glass windows.  It is one of the most beautiful libraries I’ve visited.

When I mentioned the library to my friend, Lynne, she passed along to me a couple of websites devoted to the most beautiful libraries of the world.  You can link to them here: and here:–Unique-Libraries.  I was pleased to see two of Seattle’s libraries represented:  the Central branch of the Seattle Public Libraries and Suzzallo Library at the University of Washington.  I guess I’ll have to add making pilgrimages to some of the other libraries to my life list of things to do before I die!

One of the rooms of the Armstrong Browning Library at Baylor U

Stained-glass window celebrating Browning's Pied Piper of Hamlin

Another of the 62 stained-glass windows in the Browning Library

The Armstrong Browning Library

Part 2: Reading Less

“Actually, reading is both a blessing and a curse.  It is one of the finest and most ingenious inventions of the human mind.  Used selectively it is a marvelous aid to growth.  But it can be overused until it dominates our lives, acting as a consumer of time that should be used for direct, firsthand experience.  With many of us, reading is an addiction.  We get the reading habit and it stifles our real lives.”
     — William S. Coperwaite, A Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity

“Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits.  Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”
     — Albert Einstein

“My days are not lived so much as wasted in compulsive reading.”
     — Kathleen Norris, Acedia and Me

My current pile of library books

I am addicted to reading.  Perhaps someone should stage an intervention.  When I was growing up, one of my mother’s common refrains was, “Get your nose out of that book.”  Now that I am a grown woman and in charge of my own life, I too often indulge my passion for reading to the detriment of other areas of my life. 

My problem is that my reading list mushrooms.  I decide to take a trip, so must research guidebooks, travel writings, and literature about the destination.  I read a nonfiction book, and the author mentions other interesting titles, which I add to my list.  I follow many fiction authors, and they release a new book every year, which I must read.  As I do my job at the library, an intriguing title or cover catches my eye, and I add that book to my list.  My friends recommend even more books.  And on and on. . .

Book spines on my bookshelf

Book spine art had not really crossed my consciousness until I read Jessica Pigza’s blog post about her project to select 10 favorite books spines from the New York Public Library collections for an article in a zine called Afterzine. 

Let me introduce you to Pigza, an amazingly creative woman who is also a rare books librarian at the New York Public Library.  She calls herself “The Handmade Librarian,” and she has her own blog —  Among the amazing things she does is facilitate Handmade Crafternoons at the library, a DIY forum for bringing together working artists, crafters, and library patrons who use the library collections for inspiration.  For example, Denyse Schmidt, one of my favorite quilters, was invited to host a free Crafternoon program last December.  How cool is that!! You can find out more about the New York Library programs at

I’ve long had a trip to New York City on my personal “bucket” list.  And when I do finally get there, I will definitely check out a Crafternoon event at the library!

The Reading Room at Suzzallo Library on the University of Washington campus

“The library is often the place where you can find the spirit of the monk:  in silence, the lustre of old woodwork, the smell of ageing paper, reading, retreat from the world, rules and authorities, tradition, volumes of wisdom, catalogues for contemplation.”
     — Thomas Moore, Meditations

While I was on the University of Washington campus viewing the cherry blossoms, I stopped by Suzzallo Library just to experience the hallowed atmosphere of one of my favorite libraries.  I suppose that it brings a taste of Hogwarts to the current generation of undergraduate students, who grew up with the Harry Potter novels!


Stairway to the second floor Reading Room, Suzzallo Library

Softly lit staircase, Suzzallo Library

Church-like ambience of the Suzzallo Reading Room

Grillwork, Suzzallo Library