May is Mental Health Month

One in every five people in the US carry some sort of “mental Illness” diagnosis – 20% – making it almost twice as common as killer heart disease, yet people hear the term “mental illness” and pictures of unshaven, alcohol-soaked homeless men and babbling old women with uncombed hair and too many cats come to mind (Don’t judge me!).

In reality, that’s far from the common truth. The umbrella term of “mental illness” includes everyone from your depressed cousin, your churning anxiety over political situations, and Uncle Louie, who served in Iraq and spends most days with his friend Jack Daniels. It includes the teen with autism who works down at the laundromat (don’t jump on me; a strong majority of autism includes OCD and anxiety, with phobias topping the list at 30%), the hoarder you drive past on your way to work, that girl on the cheerleading team who wears a baggy size 0, and that guy at work who stays four hours later than anyone else and talks so fast you can’t follow him. It includes celebrities, like Robin Williams, Margot Kidder, Robert Downey Jr, Brittney Spears, Carrie Fisher, Brooke Shields, and so many more.

“Mental Illness” is more common than COVID.

While some introverts have fared well through the pandemic and quarantines, many people have not. Rates of depression in adults went from 8% pre-pandemic to 28% – almost one in three – after. For those who lived alone, the rates approach 40%. Isolation, job loss, poverty, loss of loved ones, anxiety, and long-haul COVID symptoms all play their part in feeling crushed by a microbe. Among children, who can’t always understand the details of what’s going on, rates of depression and anxiety straddled 40%.

Unfortunately, our image of “mental illness” is tainted by historic images of schizophrenia, the king of all mental illnesses, and often the most resistant to treatment. We watch movies such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, while not remembering that these movies depict mental illness treatment from as much as 70 years ago, when diagnoses were vague, medications were ineffective and dangerous, people believed in insulin comas and the disaster of lobotomies, and there were no PET or MRI scans to show exactly what the problem was. There was a time not very long ago when the number one treatment for syphilis was mercury. Times have changed, and chances are there’s actual help for that now.

How can something affecting 30% of the population be abnormal? Here’s a fact: it’s not, but our refusal to admit it keeps people feeling ashamed and afraid to seek treatment. If you feel down, if the social distancing and anxieties are getting to you, if your child is fearful and withdrawn and having trouble sleeping, reach out! Help is just a phone call away. No insurance? No worries. There are places to help you get medical coverage, and places that work on a sliding scale. There IS help, for everyone. Don’t be afraid to ask.

If you feel like life is overwhelming you, if you are worried about a loved one, if you are struggling with just getting through your day, CALL the CT ACTION line (Adult Crisis Telephone Intervention and Options Network). It’s available 24 hours a day, because the worst thoughts usually happen during the night.  1-800-467-3135,  or just call 211, which is the general help line for state services.

Don’t want to feel like you’re the only one on the planet feeling down? Check out these popular books and films on people having difficulties. Chances are, yours aren’t that bad.

Indoor Sprouting

I’m no gardener. Sure, I have flowers all over my yard, I grow enough vegetables to bother canning, but I consider that a miracle of nature, not anything I do. I throw some plants in the ground, and if they’re lucky I remember to water them in the heat of summer. If they’re REALLY lucky, I may actually fertilize them. The only thing I try hard to remember to keep fertilized is my tulips, because my soil is two steps shy of toxic, and tulips like sunlight and fertilizer, and my tulips are spectacular (my soil is so bad that the only reason my flowers look good is because in our second year, we scraped away all the soil and replaced it with 5 cubic yards of new soil. Move away from the new soil, and the plants don’t do well).

But hope, like the seasons, springs eternal, and every year I start out hoping my gardens will outdo themselves (Not likely. I planted 150 croci, and 8 survived). I pour over the catalogs and dream of a yard landscaped out of a high-end advertisement, wanting to buy 50 of those beautiful flowering plants, only to sigh when the ad says they cost $30. A plant.

If you don’t want to sink huge coin into plants that, like my azaleas and pink dogwood (who else manages to kill a pink dogwood?), are likely to croak before the end of the season, there is always the elusive task of growing your own from seed.

Yeah, right.

That always works for other people, who, when the weather warms, bring out trays and trays of robust seedlings ready for transplant, when, despite the best potting soil and grow lights and care, I have spindly little fragile things in half my pots, wishing they could die and end their misery. I repeat, the beauty of my gardens is a mystery.

I prefer to purchase my seedlings from local nurseries – they have a much better shot at living – but I dutifully fill a tray or two of seeds with the kids in late winter, hoping to inspire a love of nature, and maybe a greener thumb. It doesn’t take much – a $2 packet of carrot seeds, a glass container, and you can watch roots grow as well as green leaves. Sadly, planting seeds and watching them grow doesn’t always inspire kids to eat that vegetable. Plants can be started in egg cartons, yogurt cups, red Solo cups, even eggshells – seeds, as you can tell from the cracks of pavement, aren’t fussy on where they sprout, though you may have to move them to a bigger cup if you’re using eggshells. If nothing else, it gives the kids something to do on a dreary day.

But seeds take time, and kids aren’t patient, so what are the easiest seeds to grow? The cheapskate in me says plant seeds for the most expensive plants you want to grow, but that doesn’t mean the seeds will take. I’ve planted enough catnip seeds for a jungle, and just five plants finally grew – outside, not in a pot. I could mention morning glories, but morning glories are a lifetime commitment; they can be invasive, and even if you plant them only once, you might be yanking up sprouts for the next 10 years. These are some of the best seeds to grow with kids, and some books to help you once they’re past their leafy infancy. Give it a try!

Marigold
Zinnia
Peas
Bush beans
Tomatoes
Peppers
Watermelon
Cat grass
Nasturtiums
Sunflowers
Corn (or better yet, try your own popcorn.
Even if the ears are 2″ long, it’s fun!)

Want to learn more about starting a garden? Check out the 635 section of non-fiction books in both the Adult and Children’s sections at the library:

Nitty Gritty Gardening Book

New Gardener’s Handbook

Sowing Beauty

Backyard Herb Garden

 

High-Yield Vegetable Gardening

Super Simple Kitchen Gardens

Starting and Saving Seeds

Seed Sowing and Saving

 

Epic Tomatoes

Starter Vegetable Gardens


The New Seed Starter’s Handbook

Plant Parenting

Books for Budding Chefs

I used to enjoy cooking and baking once, but life happened (as it does), and over the years it evolved from a fun hobby into a chore. I’ve bounced back from my low point of lockdown-era frozen buffalo chicken strips, but cooking is still not something that brings me joy. Even when I try new recipes. No, especially when I try new recipes. There’s too much thinking, too many variables, not enough autopilot. I groan whenever my produce subscription boxes send me yet another unidentifiable root vegetable that requires a consultation with the internet. And if a new recipe starts going sideways – I’m looking at you, butternut squash gnocchi that I made for Christmas – I tend to season the cooking process with a heaping spoonful of expletives.

Luckily, my attempts at culinary novelty usually turn out pretty good. But I still prefer to fall back on my tried-and-true recipes: the ones I could do in my sleep, without sounding like I’m performing a read-aloud from the recipe section of Bad Manners. I applaud the home cooks who enjoy tackling new kitchen adventures. And I especially applaud those who can do it with little ones running around. If you need to clear some table space for creativity, or if you’re just trying to cook off this week’s mystery veg without introducing young ears to – ahem – new vocabulary, why not keep your kids safely occupied with a book? These fun and engaging stories cover some of our favorite foods, from nachos to chocolate chip cookies. They might even inspire your kids to go beyond the role of Brownie Batter Bowl Licker and move up to Chef-in-Training… even if the position is only open on low-stress dinner nights where the only duty is arranging the frozen buffalo chicken strips (or more likely, dinosaur chicken nuggets) on a baking sheet.

Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando.   Every day, Ando Momofuku would retire to his lab–a little shed in his backyard. For years, he’d dreamed about making a new kind of ramen noodle soup that was quick, convenient, and tasty to feed the hungry people he’d seen in line for a bowl on the black market following World War II. “Peace follows from a full stomach,” he believed.  With persistence, creativity, and a little inspiration, Ando prevailed. This is the true story behind one of the world’s most popular foods.

How the Cookie Crumbled: The True (and Not-So-True) Stories of the Invention of the Chocolate Chip Cookie.   Everyone loves chocolate chip cookies! But not everyone knows where they came from. Meet Ruth Wakefield, the talented chef and entrepreneur who started a restaurant, wrote a cookbook, and invented this delicious dessert. But just how did she do it, you ask? That’s where things get messy!

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix.  For Chef Roy Choi, food means love. It also means culture, not only of Korea where he was born, but the many cultures that make up the streets of Los Angeles, where he was raised. So remixing food from the streets, just like good music—and serving it up from a truck—is true to L.A. food culture. People smiled and talked as they waited in line. Won’t you join him as he makes good food smiles?

Dumpling Dreams: How Joyce Chen Brought the Dumpling from Beijing to Cambridge.
A rhyming introduction to the life and influence of famous chef Joyce Chen describes how she immigrated to America from communist China and how she helped popularize Chinese food in the northeastern United States.

The Hole Story of the Doughnut.  In 1843, 14-year old Hanson Gregory left his family home in Rockport, Maine and set sail as a cabin boy on the schooner Achorn, looking for high stakes adventure on the high seas. Little did he know that a boat load of hungry sailors, coupled with his knack for creative problem-solving, would yield one of the world’s most prized pastries.

Minette’s Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat. While Julia is in the kitchen learning to master delicious French dishes, the only feast Minette is truly interested in is that of fresh mouse!

Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack.   Celebrating 80 Years of Nachos, this book introduces young readers to Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya and tells the true story of how he invented the world’s most beloved snack in a moment of culinary inspiration.

And because my editor would be very unhappy if I got this far without mentioning at least one cookbook, here’s our newest titles to help your Chef-in-Training build their skills:

The Big, Fun Kids Cookbook.   Each recipe is totally foolproof and easy to follow, with color photos and tips to help beginners get excited about cooking. The book includes recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and dessert — all from the trusted chefs in Food Network’s test kitchen.

Kitchen Explorers! 60+ Recipes, Experiments, and Games for Young Chefs.    What makes fizzy drinks fizzy? Can you create beautiful art using salt? Or prove the power of smell with jelly beans? Kitchen Explorers brings the kitchen alive with kid-tested and kid-approved recipes, fun science experiments, hands-on activities, plus puzzles, word games, and more.

Grandma and Me in the Kitchen.   This cookbook, made just for Grandma and her little chefs, is full of foods they will both love to cook together! Along with recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and desserts are tips for creating traditions and finding ways to celebrate the everyday wonderfulness of just being together.

 

We have tons more cookbooks in the children’s and adults sections of the library. What are you planning to cook up in 2021?

CPL Staff’s Favorite Reads of 2020

Ask a librarian for some good books, be prepared for a long list! I recently asked our staff members to share some their favorite reads in 2020, and the answers that came back were many and varied. We really do read a lot! Not all the books on this list were published in 2020, (some were older books we just got around to reading in 2020!), but all received a solid thumbs up from a member of our staff:

Children’s Books

Picture Books

Chapter Books

YA Fiction

Adult Fiction

Adult Non-Fiction

 

( * – this book was recommended by more than one staff member)

 

Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope – book review

No matter what you read lately, whether it’s political, economic, or even comedy relief, the concept of a national divide keeps popping up. It seems there is nothing that we’re not crabby about – which song got the Grammy, whether poodles are better than dalmatians, whether corn counts as a vegetable or a starch. Umpteen books have been written on the divide of “liberal” vs. “conservative,” urban vs. rural, prosperity vs. lazy poor, criminal drug abuser vs. victim of Big Pharma, and into that mix Nicholas Kristof throws out an excellent one, called Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope.

Kristof grew up in rural Yamhill, Oregon, a White, conservative town of 1100 people. More than a quarter of the kids he went to school with died of drugs, alcohol, suicide, or reckless accidents caused by drugs or alcohol. Why did he make it out in one piece, while his friends died slowly of alcoholism, often homeless most of their lives? Why did families lose 3, 4, 5 kids to drugs and alcohol? Why did some do fine?

To keep it real, Kristof explores people in similar situations in places like South Dakota, Oklahoma, New York City, Baltimore, and more, bastions of poverty and drugs in the U.S. What he finds is the same issues, handled differently – humanely – makes a world of difference. In places like Oklahoma, the entire penal code is stacked against poor people. Indigent and need a free legal defender? You are then arrested for being indigent, and fined for your arrest. Now you’re in debt to the state. So you are sent to prison for being a debtor – even if it’s only ONE dollar! Now you have more fines added. People are released from prison – private, for-profit prisons, of course – with hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines from a mere $25 parking ticket. Can’t make the payments on your fines? Back to jail, and more fines. It’s a gerbil wheel of punishing the poor – even though intervention programs can save $10 of tax money for every dollar spent.

And of course, once you have a felony conviction, you can’t get a job. So people turn to selling meth and heroin. And get convicted, and can’t get hired, and get homeless and depressed and turn to drugs…. Over and over and over. Why are Mexicans taking the jobs from under-educated poor white people? Because the Mexicans can be counted on to show up for work, and aren’t drunk or stoned.

Kristof narrows the biggest issues down to two: One is education. Most of the people he knew didn’t graduate, had parents that barely made it to 8th grade, and grandparents who might not have made it to fifth. If you come from a home where there are no books, no magazines, and no expectations of further education, it’s harder to succeed. He explores one family where the mother had a 5th-grade education, and five children by four different fathers. When the first was expelled from kindergarten twice for behavioral issues, she – with a fifth-grade education – decided to home-school her kids (5 under the age of 6). How much of a chance do those kids have?

The second predictor of success was coming from a two-parent home. If you had two parents – and usually two incomes – you had a much greater chance of being successful. Single mothers with a trail of children left those kids in chaos. More than one child entering Yamhill kindergarten was described as “feral.”

Kristof also explores the programs – often started by those who had had enough – that give people just the right boost, whether it’s paying those $1 legal fees and freeing people from prison or getting them a job or housing or a drug treatment program. Such programs are a lifeline for the people involved, and often get them on the track to permanent success. Unfortunately, many of the government programs to do just that have been eliminated in recent years.

The book is easy to read, informative, and does not preach or even really point fingers. It’s careful to present only facts, though the family situations and the culture of violence surrounding them can be maddening. Despite the grim realities, the book ends up on a positive note. This is one to put on your To Be Read list, and check out these other titles in similar vein:


Hillbilly Elegy
The Left Behind
Evicted
White Trash
Dimestore
Dreamland
Chasing the Scream
Detroit
Broke, USA
Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America
Survival Math
Nickel and Dimed