Summer chili, happened so fast

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chili peppers

That title is my clever attempt at a reference to Grease (Summer Nights? John & Olivia?). But in honor of these first days of summer, last night I made what I refer to as my “summer chili”–it’s lighter, brighter, and makes great use of zucchini and corn, although you can make this chili all year. And it’s fast and easy to make after some chopping and dicing and opening of cans. Yes, despite all the fresh ingredients available this time of year (or soon to be available), this chili still makes use of stuff that comes in cans. Even if homegrown tomatoes were available locally, I think the can (or box) variety works better in chili. And since the corn stalks around here are woefully short right now, I used sweet yellow corn from the can instead of fresh. Fresh corn is always better than canned as long as it’s fresh from a local farm. While this recipe uses ground turkey, I bet it would stand alone as a vegan/vegetarian chili with some improvisation. That said, this entire recipe is an improvisation–my favorite kind. I can give you an idea of amounts and measurements, but the beauty of chili is that you can create the perfect blend of flavors and heat just by using your own judgment. Enjoy!

SUMMER CHILI

Canola oil
1 1/2 lbs. ground turkey
1 small/medium red onion, chopped
1 small/medium yellow or white onion, chopped
1/2 medium zucchini, chopped
3 very small peppers (the mini variety)–red, yellow, and orange–chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely diced
As much garlic as you like, chopped (I used 3 cloves)
Kosher salt and pepper (freshly ground or fine ground)
About 3 Tbs. taco seasoning
About 3 Tbs. chili powder, regular
About 1-2 Tbs. ancho, chipotle, or hot chili powder
About 1 Tbs. cumin
Dash of crushed red pepper
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
1 small can tomato sauce
1 small can tomato paste
2 cans navy beans, drained
1 1/2-2 cups corn, fresh from the cob or from the can, drained
1 1/2 c. water
Basil, cilantro, sour cream, shredded cheese for serving

Heat a swirl of canola oil (or other oil) in a large saucepan or soup pot. Add the turkey, onions, zucchini, peppers, and garlic and stir and cook until the turkey is no longer pink and the vegetables are soft. Season with salt and pepper, taco seasoning, chili powder, cumin, and crushed red pepper. Stir to combine. Add canned tomato products, beans, and corn. Add water to achieve the consistency you like. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Cover and simmer for 30-45 minutes for best flavor. To serve, top with fresh chopped basil and/or cilantro, sour cream, and shredded cheese. A twist of lime might be nice, too.

Eat.

chili

Five things I’ve learned in five months

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teachaFive months ago tomorrow, I left one library job for another. I went from being a cataloger at the Library System of Lancaster County to being the District Consultant for the Capital Area Library District based at Dauphin County Library System’s McCormick Riverfront Library in Harrisburg as the District Center for Dauphin, Cumberland, and Perry counties. Part of a district consultant’s job is to help others learn; however, as is more often than not the case, I have certainly learned more than I’ve taught during these first several months on the job. I’ve learned lots of specifics–new processes, new procedures, new skills–everything new. But I have also been reminded of some universal truths that apply to all library jobs, jobs in general, and life overall. They are simple, common sense abilities but so fundamental to success. I’m not saying I’ve achieved success in my new job–the verdict is still out on that and will be for some time. But here are five things I’ve learned in five months that have kept me moving forward-

1)  Never make assumptions. Do not assume that something is known, has been tried before or said before. Don’t assume that an idea is not original but also don’t assume that it is. Don’t assume that you are lacking the knowledge, information, or experience that would make your input more valuable. Don’t assume that others know your background or what you have to offer. Assume nothing. Assumptions always create an immediate, invisible barrier that can’t easily be broken through because no one knows it’s there. There’s just a lingering sense that something may be in the way.

2)  Don’t pretend. Do not pretend to know something that you don’t know even if you can find out after the fact to avoid revealing your lack of knowledge or inexperience to someone in the moment. It may feel uncomfortable to admit ignorance, but acknowledging a lack of understanding allows for an immediate infusion of information and answers and prevents the other person from assuming that you know something that you don’t. It also creates trust.

3)  Communicate. Just put it out there. Tell everyone what they need to know. Share information. Don’t assume they know and don’t pretend that you don’t know. Don’t assume that they don’t want to know. If they don’t want to know, then they don’t have to listen (see below). Communication is a two-way street; however, you are only in the driver’s seat of one vehicle. You can’t control the other side but you can make sure there are no roadblocks in your lane.

4)  Be transparent. Hidden agendas are not good. Selective communication is not good. Having secrets is not good. Be an open book as much as possible. The same information should be shared as widely as possible without editing on a case-by-case basis. If you’re editing your communication on a regular basis depending upon your audience it could be that you are trying to keep everyone happy or telling everyone what they want to hear rather than simply stating the facts and the truth in a very clear and direct way. Not always easy and not always possible. But it’s a great goal to strive towards.

5)  Hear. I first typed the word “listen” but really the operative word is “hear.” People listen all the time without hearing. Hear what someone tells you and consciously use that information or consciously disregard it. But hear it first. Don’t waste someone’s time by “listening” to them without hearing them. And if you’ve listened to and heard what someone has to say but you know you’re not going to act on it, then be transparent enough to say so.

I plan to learn much more in the months to come. And it’s not that I didn’t know these five things before. But I’ve come to understand how important it is to remember them and put them into action whenever and as often as possible. I know I will fail and fail often–we all do. The best we can hope for is to be mindful of the ways in which we can circumvent potential pitfalls along the way. Sometimes it’s tempting to assume, pretend, remain silent, hidden, and deaf. There’s a certain safety in doing your job and doing it well while flying under the radar.

But doing great work while existing within a vacuum prevents others from learning from you. Everyone has something to teach; everyone has something to learn.

Pure love

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Girl silhouette

Today is my youngest’s–my son’s–18th birthday. Between looking at old pictures, writing a sentiment in his card, and generally thinking about the last 24 1/2 years of having and raising three children, I have worked myself into a state of high emotion–a mix of joy, happiness, pride, and a hint of wistfulness for days gone by.

The days go by so fast. Everybody says that because it’s true. Each day in and of itself may not always go fast, but in the aggregate, the last 9000 days or so have simply vanished into what is now the past. I’m not sure how we got from there to here without noticing that time wasn’t stopping and what was would not be forever.

For me, and for my husband too, everything we do is diminished when viewed within the shadow of parenthood.  The money we make, the things we buy, the places we’ve been, the people we’ve known, the lives we’ve lived are small in comparison to the privilege of being parents. There is nothing else that I have ever done or will ever do that will be more fulfilling than being a mom. I feel so lucky and so grateful that my world includes three wonderful people who are no longer children but will always be my kids.

Despite the worry and fear that goes along with parenting, the love always wins. It’s a pure love that never changes except to grow. It’s risky to love so much. But very few things that really matter are without risk. Joy trumps risk when it comes to a parent’s love for a child.

I can’t wait to see what comes next. I may have given birth to my children, but they have given me life.

On Valentine’s Day, ten things I hate about Excel

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HeartI have a hate-hate relationship with Excel. I recognize that it’s an amazing tool. I also recognize that much like a winch, it’s a tool that I have a limited ability to use. Why do I hate it? Let me count the ways-

1.  Sheets are divided into cells. Enough said.

2.  There are formulas that seem to take on lives of their own.

3.  I can’t figure out how to get it to do what I want.

4.  I don’t even know what I want it to do.

5.  I like paragraphs.

6.  As soon as I get a row, column, or cell formatted correctly, I touch something that screws up everything else.

7.  I keep hitting “undo” and I get nowhere fast.

8.  Numbers.

9.  Projects are called “workbooks.” Brings back bad memories of math in elementary school.

10. It makes me feel dumb.

I swear on a stack of spreadsheets that I am going to master this evil devil if it kills me. In the meantime, Happy Valentine’s Day to all–except Excel. I’ve got no love for you.

Name that Library System–please!

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blank card

As a former employee of the Library System of Lancaster County, I have been following with interest and dismay the recent turmoil involving the public libraries of Lancaster County, county officials, and the System. I’m not here to take a side. There are no bad guys. There are only good people trying to do the right thing. The problem is that no one can agree on what that “right thing” is.

When I worked at the System, I did not believe it was appropriate to write about the turmoil (which has been ongoing in one form or another for decades) using inside information. Now that I no longer work there, I do not believe it is appropriate to write without having inside information. I don’t know all the facts. I only know what I read in the newspaper and blogs. If you want to know more, go to LancasterOnline and search “public libraries” to find articles of interest.

I do know that having worked as a consultant these past three months for a district in which there is one federated system (individual libraries each with their own boards along with a central office that provides support services to all the libraries, also with its own board), one consolidated system (one board, one administrative office, and library “branches”), and several independent libraries (individual libraries, individual boards, no central administrative office) there is no perfect model. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, and I don’t think that the model affects the function as much as some people think. I think the function (or dysfunction) depends on a lot of factors. Seeing three separate models in action has given me perspective but has certainly not made me an expert nor given me license to weigh in on the Lancaster County situation. I would not attempt to offer advice on how things can be changed. Except for one thing-

No matter what happens–whether the System stays as it is now or morphs into something else or whether it goes away–please take care of one thing. One very simple thing–low-hanging fruit as we like to say–Change the name. Now.

It makes no sense to call The Library System of Lancaster County by that name. Nobody–and I mean nobody–except Lancaster County library insiders understands that The Library System of Lancaster County is one, independent organization, one building, one office with 20ish employees. Any reasonable person, upon reading the name, The Library System of Lancaster County, would think the writer is referring to the system of public libraries in Lancaster County–all of them. It is confusing and why add confusion to an already muddled situation? I have no idea why it was named that in the first place.

The name is the least of its problems, you say? It’s true that it’s just a name, but it’s a name that does not even describe the organization’s purpose. The System provides support services to the public libraries in the county. Based on the definition of “system” as “a group of related parts that move or work together,” using the name The Library System of Lancaster County would make sense if it referred to the entire group of Lancaster County libraries. But it doesn’t. So it doesn’t make sense. No sense at all. Not one shred.

And maybe it’s not such a little thing. There should be no identity confusion at a time when libraries need support. People are hesitant to support structures they don’t understand or that seem unnecessarily complex. Changing the name is a simple way to clarify the identity of an organization that is getting a lot of press and to differentiate that organization from the public libraries that directly serve the community. All the pieces are important. But they are not all the same.

LSLC is referred to as “The System” in articles, and that seems to me to have a negative connotation. It sounds ominous. “The libraries vs. The System” sounds a lot like the little guy fighting the Man, the establishment, and that isn’t really true. In this case, the “Man” is more than an administrative bureaucracy. It is a group of talented, dedicated, committed people providing essential support services to the libraries–libraries that do brilliant work in their communities.

Why worry about changing the name if the future of the System is in question? There are good reasons. If the System remains in place and continues to support the libraries, then it should have a name that reflects its function. If the System goes away, then please act now to prevent headlines like, “The Library System of Lancaster County closes its doors” that will cause many to believe that all of the public libraries in Lancaster County are closing!

Call it Public Library Support Services Center (PLSSC). Call it Lancaster County Public Library Support Services (LCPLSS). Call it System Headquarters. Call it Henry James Beauregard, V! Call it whatever you want except don’t call it The Library System of Lancaster County.

That way, when the time comes–and I know it will–that instead of reading about dysfunction, we will be reading about the great things that the public libraries in Lancaster County, together with a center for support services, have accomplished, we can refer to that group as The Library System of Lancaster County and everyone will know what that means assuming that the libraries would like to be known as a cohesive group of independent libraries serving the public’s needs with the help of an organization dedicated to its success–a “system” in every sense of the word.

Empower or destroy?

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missile

Last month I read this post from Sarah Houghton, and this passage struck me-

I’m not writing as often, not by a long shot.  My average was 61 posts per month in 2004 and in 2013 my average is 2 posts per month. Part of the reason is that I can’t write about much of what I do in my daily work now due to confidentiality, good taste, prudence, and respect.  I would love to write about progressive discipline, coaching employees, facilities emergencies, presenting to City Council, dealing with other city departments, being “politic” without bullshitting anyone, banning patrons, and a host of other things that fill my days.  But I can’t.

That’s a big problem for a blogger. In fact, I would say that in many cases, the more experiences you have, the more you learn, the more you know, the less you have to write about. There is simply too much that is off limits within the parameters of one’s own job.

A blogger can choose to write about the broader issues that stretch across the profession and are not tied directly to one’s job. The problem there is that if one chooses to challenge a popular viewpoint or directly address a controversial issue, one can probably expect to be attacked, demeaned, and generally dismissed by those who disagree with them. You can view a comprehensive list of related posts here in case you’re wondering what I mean.

So what’s left to write about? Technology news, the philosophy behind the purpose of libraries, library trends and developments, the latest and greatest achievements–all good stuff worthy of a blog post. Also stuff that probably won’t generate a lot of intense discussion. There may be a lot of kudos and high fives and thoughtful discourse, but nothing that will get to the heart of deeply rooted interpersonal relationships and differing perspectives that are often a source of contention and obstruction in any profession.

If we can’t write about the issues closest to us, and we can’t disagree on the broader issues without dissolving into contemptuous debate, there is very little of substance left to say. Maybe substance isn’t the right word because educational, philosophical, and instructional blog posts and articles do have substance. But they don’t have much to do with relationships between and among people, which is really where the heart of the matter usually resides.

I believe that the mission of librarians is to connect people to one another, and as Roy Tennant recently said, to empower. I believe we do a good job of that in our communities. I believe we could sometimes do a better job of that among ourselves.

Do you believe librarians empower each other to speak our minds even if what we say crosses an invisible cultural line? Or do we empower only those we agree with and verbally destroy the rest?

Sometimes the little picture is the big picture

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file2781242214133One of my biggest complaints about being a cataloger was that because I am a “big picture” person I was not well suited to the detail-oriented nature of cataloging. While that’s partially true, it’s also partly a load of crap.

It is impossible to focus solely on the big picture of anything because if you do, then dozens of little-picture details will fall through the cracks. Even the biggest, big-picture person has to tie up loose ends every day. Without thoughtful attention to bolstering productivity through tying up those loose ends and making sure the little stuff gets done then the big picture will probably fall off the wall and hit you on the head.

A big picture is made up of thousands of pixels. When a digital image is pixelated, it is not easily recognizable. It would certainly be fun to sit back, prop one’s feet up on the desk, and dream of what may be or could be or should be. But nothing will happen to realize that vision without first putting all of the pixels together. Each pixel must be put into place in order to bring the whole image into focus.

If I had never been a cataloger, I’m not certain that I would notice the details quite so much or appreciate their importance. It almost drove me insane to focus on details such as copyright dates versus publication dates; periods versus brackets; capital letters versus lower case and all of the other minutia that goes into creating an acceptable catalog record. But having done that has given me a healthy perspective on the importance of the little picture. I always say that the devil is not in the details; details are the devil. But I’m glad I had a job that taught me how to concentrate on what’s in front of me because now I have a job where what’s in front of me differs from hour to hour and day to day. If I focus only on the big picture then nothing will get accomplished.

Some people are task-oriented and prefer to focus only on what’s in front of them. Employees like that are valuable and necessary to any organization. Others, like me, prefer to look through a wider lens that allows them to make connections and find commonalities that can bring people or organizations together for the greater good. Employees like that are necessary, too. However, that second group of people can’t rely solely on the first group to cross all the Ts and dot all the Is. The dreamers have to show up and contribute in a tangible way. For me, it’s always been the intangibles that make life interesting. But it’s the nitty gritty that makes things happen.

And then there’s this: Having spent the better part of the last seven weeks visiting about 20 different libraries and talking to many directors, managers, and staff it’s easy to see that the little picture for one library is the big picture for another. With the disparity that exists in resources, staffing, and facilities for libraries everywhere, there could be as many as ten people or as few as just one even looking at the picture at all whether that picture be big or small or somewhere in between. It’s hard to work on creating a makerspace in your library if you’re having trouble staffing the desk.

Just because someone knows where they’re going doesn’t mean they know how to get there. Most likely they will get there one detail at a time. If you need help sorting out the details, just ask the nearest cataloger for help. They’ll show you how to see the trees despite the forest.

You get the picture.

Yes, Virginia. There is a Santa Claus

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KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Lately, I have been largely MIA in the greater library blogosphere. While starting a new job is often refreshing, it is also stressful, at least in the beginning. Therefore, I have been focused on learning the ropes and getting the lay of the land in order to be effective in my new position as quickly as possible. The result is that I have been off the grid and disconnected from what’s trending.

I haven’t stopped following the chatter altogether, though. In fact, just today I stumbled across four posts that made me stop and think. Two of them were serious posts that fed off a third, and all are worthy of consideration. However, it was the fourth post that jolted me into action in the form of a comment–something I haven’t done in quite some time.

My comment wasn’t pithy or insightful or deep. I simply acknowledged that the blogger (Will Manley) made me laugh, which is very much appreciated. Leave it to Will to cut through the muck and say something irreverent, curmudegon-like, and completely honest.

After all, ’tis the season to be jolly. What better time to step back and consider fully what really matters, what is just distraction, and what should be ignored whenever possible. Thank you Santa Claus, aka Will Unwound, for giving me the gift of levity.

I hope to return to blogging in the New Year. If and when I do, I hope I will focus on the heart of the matter. I have learned so much over the past six weeks. Visiting the 22 libraries in my district has been the best part of my new gig. For every bit of disparity that exists, there is a thread of common ground. My goal (and challenge) is to build upon that foundation in order to best serve the libraries in my district.

Maybe that is the key to our profession–to find common ground without rubber-stamping all libraries (or librarians) as if they have the same story.

Merry, merry. Happy, happy. And to all a good night.

Sand tarts

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rollinoatstampa.com

When I think of Christmas, I think of many things, including sand tarts. My grandmother and my mom made sand tarts every Christmas without fail up until a certain point. They would make them in early December, filling an empty tin of Hammond’s Pretzels with dozens and dozens of paper-thin, crunchy cookies cut in the shapes of angels, Christmas trees, stars, and bells, among others. They were topped with a combination of red and green colored sugar. According to my dad, the best ones were so thin and browned that they were almost burnt.

thisnext.com

My grandmother is gone and my mom no longer makes them; however, I have taken up the mantle, but as a horse of a somewhat different color. I have never been able to duplicate the fragile dimension of those cookies that were rolled to a point where they were almost impossible to peel from the rolling surface in one piece. I tried, but I just didn’t have the patience, not even using my grandmother’s old marble slab and marble rolling pin. So my sand tarts are a bit thicker and chewy, not crisp. We have also added a nontraditional shape–a dog–and nontraditional colored sugar–blue, purple, yellow, and pink.

I say we because it is now our family tradition to make sand tarts on Christmas day (my kids and I make them; my husband eats them). Since we celebrate with our extended families during the days before and after Christmas, we have the big day to ourselves and making sand tarts has become part of the festivities. I make the dough the day before (as per explicit instructions from prior generations), chill it, and then let it soften just a bit before rolling and cutting. Using Wondra flour is also essential, according to the recipe (it provides a more “sandy” consistency to the dough).

They are mostly gone by the end of the day. We don’t make dozens and dozens, more like a few dozen. And I do save some for my mom and dad to enjoy, but I suspect they can tell the difference between our cookies and the ones from days gone by. But they never complain. (On occasion, I have tried to burn a few just for my dad. My dad likes his sweet potatoes cooked in an electric skillet and burned to a crisp, too.)

I’ve always thought of sand tarts as part of my Pennsylvania Dutch, Lancaster County heritage, but I’m fairly sure they originated elsewhere (even the librarian in me couldn’t bring myself to research the history of sand tarts for this blog post). I know there must be many recipes out there, too. (I have a friend who has veganized his family recipe.) But the best thing about making sand tarts is that it is an event–an undertaking worth some time and effort (just not the amount of time and effort required to produce the paper-thin, browned-to-a-crisp version).

I think this year we will return to the tradition of red and green sugar only (maybe eliminate the dog, too). We can’t duplicate the measure of the cookie itself, but we can create the best imitation possible. Which reminds me…

I never, ever appreciated sand tarts as a kid. I never appreciated the time and effort (and patience!) that went into making them the way that my mom and grandmother made them. I preferred the thick, chewy sugar cakes and the chocolate chip cookies they made closer to Christmas over those in the tin that lasted for weeks without ever getting stale.

Now I can’t imagine Christmas without them.

New kid on the (library) block

bridges

Original photo by Bonnie Powers

This picture is only tangentially related to this post. I am the new kid on the block; however, this bridge is technically not part of that block. It a part of my view as I walk across another bridge from my parking space on City Island in Harrisburg to my job on Walnut Street. But I really like this shot, which I took yesterday morning on my way to work, and I wanted to show it off. So I did.

Starting a new job is always stressful in the most insignificant ways as well as in the big ways–in all ways under even the very best of circumstances and in the best jobs and workplaces. It’s those little things that cause a lot of the initial anxiety no matter where you work or who you work with. Until one learns the norms of their new work culture, one can make the most egregious errors or faux pas without ever knowing the difference.

From, is it okay to close my door sometimes to when is the mail delivered and picked up to where are the good places to eat to where do I get supplies to where is the bathroom, which door do I use to enter/exit the building, how do I use the microwave and with regard to the names, the titles, the roles, the protocol, the unwritten tribal customs–it takes a while to fit in.

But here’s the thing with the land of libraries–it’s a small, small world, at least in Pennsylvania. If you’ve come from another library system, chances are you will be able to connect the dots between yourself and at least ten other people right away-someone who knows someone who used to have your job, worked in your library, worked in your system, with a former colleague. And that creates an immediate sense of belonging. Even though (based on my experience) most public libraries are fiercely independent, they all relate to each other on an organizational level in a very collegial way and with a familiarity that is bred from shared concerns and common challenges. We are all in this together even though we protect the turf on which we stand until we stand on other turf. And then we say and do the same things because we know the language that is used among those that inhabit this world of wonderful, quirky, passionate, dedicated, obstinate, sometimes obtuse and often politically savvy people who are the citizens of what we call libraryland.

In moving from library to library within this world, one is never really quite the new kid on the block. Upon entering the world of libraries for the first time, however, well, that is a different story. You will be an outsider until you assimilate into the culture. You don’t have to accept the culture (and maybe shouldn’t) or become indoctrinated, but you have to understand it. Until you understand it, there is no hope of changing it in the ways it may need to be changed. You not only have to understand the culture, you have to respect it. Until you respect the culture of libraries, you can not even begin to gain for yourself the respect that is needed in order to be heard when you say and do the things that may make people shake their heads but end up making the biggest differences of all.

So, yeah. After two weeks on the job, I’m still the new kid on the block–I have a new street address. But I’ve been around the library block a few times now. Funny thing–an outsider eventually becomes an insider, and it happens gradually, over time. But an insider that thinks like an outsider can be so much more effective than an outsider who doesn’t even try to understand or respect the insiders. Sustainable change happens from the inside out. Embrace what is before you complain about what isn’t.

This new kid has learned a few things along the way around the block.