Posted on May 25, 2018

National Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This is a perfect time to address mental health and our responses to it.

For much of my life, I knew little about mental health, and I bet I’m not the only one. When I was young, a book or movie might mention a mental illness, but I didn’t understand the different kinds or how many people had them. And I didn’t hear about treatments for mental illnesses beyond the occasional joke about Prozac. Even later, when I saw that members of my family had mental illnesses and I had my first bouts of depression, I didn’t know how to take care of my mental health. Now I know more.

I’ve learned that many of us are dealing with this. Roughly one in five American adults experience mental illness in a given year, and approximately one in five American youth experience a severe mental health disorder in their lifetime. Sixteen million adults had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. (See sources for these and other stats at  With so many people affected by these illnesses, why don’t we hear more about them?

In one word: stigma. People are afraid to speak about these illnesses because others might think bad things about them. We have thoughts like “People will think I’m crazy,” or “People will judge my family if I tell them about my sibling’s illness.” This stigma is keeping people from speaking up about an important part of their health, and from getting help. 

We don’t hesitate to tell others when we have heart disease or asthma or any number of physical health problems. We need to be able to do the same thing with mental illness. And, like people with other illnesses, most individuals experiencing mental illnesses live average, productive lives with professional help.

Want to learn more about mental health, get help for your own, or deal with a family member’s illness? NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) is a great place to start. I took the Family to Family class, and recommend it highly. Check out their website at    

Posted on May 18, 2018

#Let’sThinkAbout Critical Thinking and Libraries

As you may know, I’m pondering critical thinking this year. (See .)

There are lots of places we can go to learn how to hone our critical thinking skills. One of the best is at your local library. Here are a few examples of what librarians are doing online to help us learn about critical thinking:


The Albany Library website has a good page on how to identify fake news at


The Middletown Thrall Library website has lots of resources on critical thinking, with topics such as Fact Checkers and Fake News Alerts, Research Problems to Avoid: Useful Tips for Researchers, and Deceptive Digits: Examining Numbers and Statistics at


Royal Roads University Library has a Critical Thinking Guide, including resources to help analyze logic of articles and argumentation at


Thanks to all the librarians out there who are helping us look carefully at the world around us!

Posted on May 3, 2018

The Origins of the University of Alaska

On May 3, 1917, Governor John F. A. Strong signed the bill that created the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines in Fairbanks, Alaska. It was a logical place for it, since mining and farming went on in the area, but people were skeptical about the territory’s ability to support higher education.

Delegate (Judge) Wickersham (in photo, credit Tanana-Yukon Historical Society) had wanted the college for a while. (Learn more about him here: He laid a cornerstone on the site on July 4, 1915, and met with indigenous chiefs from the area in the following two days, hoping to jumpstart the idea into action.

It seemed to work, as the bill passed a couple years later. The Main Building was erected in 1918, and classes started in 1922.

The College started off small, with seven professors (one female and six males)  and six students (two females and four males). I was impressed by the number of women included, but they were pretty progressive back then— women’s suffrage was the first bill passed by the Alaska Territorial Legislature.  There was no housing at first, so people lived in town and came to campus for classes. Over time, more buildings and programs were added. The school became the University of Alaska in 1935.

Later, other campuses were added in Anchorage and Juneau, leading to our system of University of Alaska Fairbanks, University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau, and University of Alaska Anchorage with satellite campuses all over the state. Almost 31,000 full- and part-time students are enrolled in 400 programs. University researchers help Alaskans and others with economic, scientific, and other research projects that enhance our lives. Not bad for what started as a tiny college in the middle of nowhere!

You can learn more about the university and its history at 


Posted on April 27, 2018

Garden Daydreams

The long days of light are back–almost 16 hours today! This is the time when gardeners like to daydream. It’s too early to plant anything, but we can start seeds and make plans for the glorious days of summer.

I imagine my vegetable garden full of goodies to eat. I plan to try zucchini, and experiment with more herbs and a few garlic bulbs. I’ve started some seeds for broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, and tomatoes. (The last two will end up in our mini-greenhouse.) And I’ll augment by buying some starter plants for lettuces and maybe a few impulse purchases at the nursery.

I am also thinking about flowers and the rest of the yard. I have dianthus and potentilla seeds started, will buy some colorful annuals to plant by the mailbox, and hope to do some work to make part of the backyard more natural by filling in with some native trees and plants.

Will all of this happen as planned? Probably not. But hey, I’ll still have fun playing in the dirt this summer. And these daydreams will get me by until then.

Hope you have fun planning your summer, whether you’re a gardener or not! 🙂


seed starter

Posted on April 20, 2018

Happy Shakespeare’s Birthday!

As you may know, April 23rd is William Shakespeare’s birthday! 

(It’s also his death day, but I’d rather celebrate his coming into the world.)

I consider Will Shakespeare a personal hero and favorite writer. Not only did he coin lots of words and phrases, have beautiful word choice, and write great stories, he also had a great understanding of human nature. That’s why his characters and plays resonate with us today. Want to study how power corrupts people? He wrote a few plays about that. How women can operate in a mans’ world? He did that, too. How to win over the one you love—or how not to? He’s got you covered.

I also have some personal connections to Will Shakespeare. My mother was an English major and major Shakespeare fan, and I grew up hearing stories and devouring plays and books, etc. with her. My husband and I met at a production of Much Ado About Nothing—he was an actor and I was working backstage. So you could say Will is a big part of my life.

Here are a few links to Shakespeare-related websites for your enjoyment. Some of them are on social media, too—the sites will give you that information as well.

Folger Shakespeare Library:

Royal Shakespeare Company:

Shakespeare’s Globe:

And just for fun, the Reduced Shakespeare Company:

Happy birthday, Will! 😉

Posted on April 13, 2018

#Let’sThinkAbout Critical Thinking and Campaigns

This year, my ongoing theme is #Let’sThinkAbout Critical Thinking (

I recently volunteered with the Fair Anchorage campaign. It helped defeat Prop 1, a “bathroom bill” in the Anchorage municipal election that was designed to repeal part of Anchorage’s nondiscrimination law. While you may or may not agree with me on this issue, please read on to see what it has to do with critical thinking.

Many campaigns rely on fear and anxiety to drive people to action. Neil Strauss explains the science behind this technique and why it works so well in the October 20, 2016 Rolling Stone ( I recommend you read his entire “The Age of Fear” article to learn more about how it happens, how fear is the fight-flight response we’ve often heard about, and anxiety is a more complex response to things that might happen in the future.  But for our purposes here I’ll focus on the effect of inflicting anxiety on people through media and political campaigns.    

Strauss writes, “There are two particular ways, among many, in which living with these anxieties month after month can change your brain.

The first: ‘If you look at the cellular level of the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus’- the thinking and memory-forming parts of the brain – ‘when you’re living under constant states of fear and anxiety, you can actually see them shutting down,’ says Justin Moscarello, who works in LeDoux’s lab. ‘They shrink. They wither. And the amygdala actually gets bigger.’

In the process, attributes such as conscious decision-making, risk-taking, exploratory activity and social thinking are adversely affected.

The second way: Anxiety can turn to fear. Part of threat detection is learning, and the brain can create a false correlation when a stimulus that’s not actually a threat activates the body’s threat-response system.”

So that’s why negative campaigning and playing on our fears can be so powerful. The get into our brains and our bodies.

Thank goodness Strauss also has some good news: “But if our anxieties and fears can be stoked by certain techniques, why can’t they also be quieted by other techniques?”

He lists several in his article. One way to counteract this is to interact with a diverse group of people. Another is to believe you have a voice and can influence your environment. A third is to accept ambiguity and change. The last is to remind people of compassion and shared values, instead of differences. (See Strauss’ article for more explanation.)  

Back to our election, the supporters of Prop 1 used arguments to induce fear and anxiety. They said that men would come into women’s bathrooms and assault women and girls, for example. The Fair Anchorage campaign used more of the other techniques to help voters regain their critical thinking skills.

Fair Anchorage gave transgender men and women opportunities to tell their stories and show they were people just like their neighbors. They explained the facts, that sexual assault would still be against the law and there hadn’t been any incidences of transgender people assaulting women since the initial nondiscrimination law was passed. They reminded voters that Anchorage is welcoming and we don’t want discrimination here.

And in the end, Anchorage voters agreed and defeated Prop 1. It gave me confidence in our current residents, but also that we can re-connect our critical thinking. We can listen to reason even when we’re surrounded by cues to do otherwise. We can still have compassion for our neighbors.

Let’s do this for all our communities, and not just in political situations. Regain your critical thinking skills by taking some steps on your own life journey. Unplug from negative news and commentators. Be open to change and a life drawn in shades of gray instead of black and white. Take action for yourself, your neighborhood or your community.  Mix it up with people of different backgrounds and groups. Live with love and share it with others. You’ll be happier and healthier—and we will be, too.

Posted on April 6, 2018

National Library Week 2018

National Library Week 2018!

As you probably know, I am a huge fan of libraries. They helped shape me into the reader and writer I am today, and I am constantly impressed at the services they provide to patrons in their communities. Want to check out a free book? Go to the library. Want a place to host your folk dance group, makers club, or teen writing group? Go to the library. Want to learn how to tell fake news from real news? Go to the library. You get the idea….. 

April 8-14 is this year’s National Library Week.  The theme is Libraries Lead, and the public can participate by telling their stories of how the library led them to something important in their lives. Here’s the details from the American Library Association (ALA), taken from

One randomly selected winner will receive a $100 VISA gift card and a copy of “Firebird,” the Coretta Scott King Award-winning book by Misty Copeland, 2018 National Library Week Honorary Chair.

Library lovers can post to Twitter, Instagram, or on the I Love Libraries Facebook page during National Library Week for a chance to win. Entries can be a picture, video, or text.  Creativity is encouraged. Just be sure they include the hashtags #NationalLibraryWeek and #LibrariesLead on their social media post for a chance to win.

Join in the fun. The promotion begins Sunday, April 8 at noon CT and ends Saturday, April 14 at noon CT.

National Library Week Misty Copeland

Misty Copeland serves as 2018 National Library Week Honorary Chair

In 2015, Misty was promoted to principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, making her the first African American woman to ever be promoted to the position in the company’s 75-year history.

Misty is the author of the New York Times bestselling memoir, Life in Motion and her 2014 picture book, Firebird, won the Coretta Scott King Book Illustrator Award in 2015. Her new book, Ballerina Body, an instant New York Times Bestseller, published in March 2017.

Misty’s passion is giving back. She has worked with many charitable organizations and is dedicated to giving of her time to work with and mentor young girls and boys. Misty was named National Youth of the Year Ambassador for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America in June 2013. In 2014, President Obama appointed Misty to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition.  And in 2015, she traveled to Rwanda with MindLeaps to help launch its girls program and to establish The Misty Copeland Scholarship.

The National Library Week 2018 celebration will mark the 60th anniversary of the first event, sponsored in 1958.

Celebrations during National Library Week

  • Monday, April 9: State of America’s Libraries Report released, including Top Ten Frequently Challenged Books of 2017.
  • Tuesday, April 10: National Library Workers Day, a day for library staff, users, administrators and Friends groups to recognize the valuable contributions made by all library workers. #nlwd18
  • Wednesday, April 11: National Bookmobile Day, a day to recognize the contributions of our nation’s bookmobiles and the dedicated professionals who make quality bookmobile outreach possible in their communities. #bookmobileday2018
  • Thursday, April 12: Take Action for Libraries Day. #fundlibraries

So, let’s celebrate libraries! Happy National Library Week!

Posted on March 30, 2018

Camp NaNoWriMo

You’ve probably heard of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. (If not, you can see my post about it at .) But have you heard about Camp NaNoWriMo?


Camp NaNoWriMo ( takes place in April. It is run by the same group, and similar to NanoWriMo, except writers have more freedom. You can choose your own project. For example, you can choose to revise a manuscript, or choose how many words you’ll write that month.


I’m going to try Camp NaNoWriMo this time. I find that declaring my writing goals in public helps me to take them more seriously. My goal is to finish my current work in progress. I encourage all the writers out there to check it out.


Posted on March 23, 2018

Break Up: a Beautiful and Ugly Time in Alaska

We’re having break up (also spelled breakup or break-up) right now. That is the time of year when all the snow and ice melts–sometimes over a period of a few weeks, sometimes agonizingly slowly, depending on the temperatures and precipitation. It’s a good thing, especially for those Alaskans who are tired of winter. But it’s also an ugly time of year.

If you look down, all you see is partially melted snow, ice, and slush. Our cars get so dirty it can be difficult to see what the original color was, and we better wear ice grippers or cleats on our boots so we don’t fall on our cans. The roads are full of puddles and potholes. Breaking up is hard to do. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself!)




Break up 2

Break up 3





But the good news is, there’s often blue sky, and the daylight is getting longer. If you remember to look up, it’s a beautiful time of year. Happy break up!


Break up 5

Posted on March 16, 2018

#Let’sThinkAbout Debate and Critical Thinking

As you may know, this year I’m encouraging folks to think about critical thinking. (See more at A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to judge at the Alaska State DDF (Drama Debate and Forensics) Tournament. There, my faith in humanity was renewed as I watched all the high school students using their critical thinking skills to consider many topics, from plea bargaining to editorial cartoons. And it reminded me how important debate can be for high school and college students.

Contrary to the stereotype, debate is not just a fancy term for arguing. Debate is a great activity to help students learn how to think critically. Good debaters can see both sides of an issue and analyze details to see how logical and persuasive they are. They learn to write clearly, create plans to solve problems, and speak in public. All these skills are helpful in and outside of school to create civil discourse.

The book Why Debate: Transformed by Academic Discourse ( explains this brilliantly. In this collection of essays, edited by Shawn Briscoe, eighteen authors describe different aspects and advantages of academic debate for students and the world around them. “Competitive debate serves as a foundation for growth as students learn to navigate through society, form relationships, and develop the skills they need to succeed in college and beyond. Those who participate in the activity develop skills and dispositions that help them succeed in their chosen professions. Ultimately, debate makes us aware of what needs changed in the world; and it gives us the ability to effect meaningful change.” I’ve seen this happen with high school debaters, and been impressed by the service they provide after they graduate. 

Another reason to buy this book—Briscoe shows his commitment in the entry ( “A minimum of 50% of the profits from this work will be used to support debaters, debate programs, and/or debate organizations.”

I highly recommend this book, and debate programs in general. I encourage you to look for a debate program in your school district or community and support it, or better yet, participate as a student or an adult judge or other volunteer. You will be inspired, and maybe make the world a better place in the process.