Meet Maria Nhambu

Last fall I wrote about Maria Nhambu’s memoir, Africa’s Child. You can read my blog about it here. It tells the story of how she grew up as an orphaned, mixed-race child in Tanzania. The first book in the Dancing Soul Trilogy, Africa’s Child is as heartbreaking as it is inspiring. It leaves you wondering where she went from there.

I am thrilled to share that the second book, called America’s Daughter, has been published. In it, Nhambu chronicles what it was like for her leaving Africa. She was eighteen years old with a newly-adoptive mother who was barely four years older than her. She found a vastly different culture in America and began building a new life in it.

Laugh and cry with her as she recalls the many differences between Tanzania and Minnesota. She reveres education as her key to escaping a life of poverty and oppression. It is no surprise that she chose a career as an educator (at one point, she taught a soon-to-be famous musician named Prince Rogers Nelson.) Nhambu has a love for music, especially African music. She went on to create a program called Aerobics With Soul. It incorporates African dance into a fitness workout.

Nhambu still spends summers in Minnesota, but lives in Delray Beach, Florida during the winter. Thanks to family ties she has to the Quad Cities, she will be visiting us at Eastern on Saturday, Sept 9 at 10:30am to share her story with us in person. Joining her will be her adoptive mother and sister. Refreshments and copies of her books will be available. If we are lucky, there will be dancing. 😉

Nhambu is a gifted storyteller whose candor has made me cry, then cheer for her. Come meet a fascinating woman whose indomitable spirit has proven that love truly does conquer all.

100 Things Every Homeowner Must Know

The day I first became a homeowner, I felt like a queen.  Little did I know then I would also soon become its plumber. In addition: painter, arborist and electrician  (I installed a programmable thermostat and you can, too!)

I have much respect for professionals in these vocations, and value their expertise. That being said, there are times -often late at night or on the weekends- when a homeowner must take care of things as best they can in a pinch. These are the times you learn things on-the-go that you never knew you needed to know.

To help toward that end, the Library is offering a program called Adulting: Finding and Keeping a Home or Apartment. It will be at Fairmount at 6pm on Tuesday, Sept 12. Our aim is to help you learn some useful information about finding the right place to live for you, and what you’ll likely need to do to keep and maintain it.

We’ll be bringing in experts Melissa Wegener from RE/MAX, Chad Mansfield from IH Mississippi Valley Credit Union, and Cody Eliff from the Davenport Civil Rights Commission to share some things you’ll need to know about the process of becoming queen or king of your own castle. We’ll also have lots of library materials on hand, like 100 Things Every Homeowner Must Know: How to Save Money, Solve Problems, and Improve Your Home.

This is a helpful book, which includes tips on how to:

  • Save on home insurance
  • understand your plumbing system and prevent burst pipes
  • be ready for blackouts
  • understand your heating system
  • prevent home fires
  • eliminate ants, mice, and other pests
  • and much more!

I now share the top 3 things that I learned the hard way after moving in to my castle.

Check it before you wreck it. Find out if you have a sump pit in the basement. A sump pit is a basin (read: hole in the floor) where excess water can go. It is a good thing to have, as it helps prevent flooding in the basement. The sump pit should be equipped with a sump pump to periodically get the water back out. This is done via a hose that goes outside. When outdoor temperatures go below freezing, ice can block the portion of the hose that is still outside. Water will sometimes still find its way into the pit, activating the pump, which is a persistent little thing because if it can’t get the water out the first time it will keep trying and trying until it wears itself out. My household burned through a nearly-new sump pump one winter because we didn’t think to check the hose for ice and remove it. We removed the hose and a powerful surge of water came out of the side of the house, forming a not-so-nice little trench in the yard. To solve this problem, I installed some patio pavers there and that took care of that. Every year I check them and backfill with paver sand. Now, we keep a close eye on the temperatures, taking care to replace the hose once it warms up, because it isn’t ideal to have the pump just spray the water directly out the side of the house.

Lube it before you lose it. Did you know you should spray the moving parts on your garage door with WD-40 or similar lubricant on a monthly basis? Neither did I – until I found myself having to replace a garage door before its natural life span. It had been making a loud noise for a while, but I had no idea what it was. I assumed it was just part of the aging process. (We all make strange noises as we get older, right?) Had I known to regularly check and lubricate my garage door’s moving parts I could have prevented the chain reaction that led to its early demise and saved myself a thousand dollars. Set up a monthly reminder to lube your garage door’s rollers, hinges, track, and spring. Also, check the spring for cracks or signs anywhere of stress. If it doesn’t sound right, get it checked out.

Going skiing? Keep the pipes from freezing! The winter of 2013/2014 was a record-breaker for low temperatures. There were warnings about leaving your water at a steady drip if you were going away for any extended period of time. The frost had reached so far underground (a very rare occurrence) that it was causing the water in many buried pipes to freeze. We didn’t get that memo until it was too late. We returned from a weekend away to find that we had no water to the house. The blockage was located about 75 feet from the house, somewhere between our house and the water main. This went on for nine and a half weeks. You read that right. I was pretty stinky by the end of that time. Just kidding – after about a week of schlepping buckets of water from the neighbor’s house, we temporarily moved in with local relatives, to whom we are forever grateful. In comparison to others in the community that ended up with burst pipes, we feel fortunate because we were spared the huge expense of getting the pipes replaced. All we had to do was wait it out. Throughout the wait, the number one question I remember being asked during that time was, “What are they doing about it?” I think people often assume there is always someone to blame for every problem, someone who should claim responsibility and fix it. In this case, the only “they” was us. Not the water company. Not the city. Just us. But thankfully, we live in a community of people who brought us fresh water and let us borrow their bathroom whenever we needed.

Other things that homeowners I know have learned the hard way:

Change your furnace filter. This is a disposable pleated object made from paper and polyester that you insert at the place on your furnace where the air comes in. Depending on your model, the cost can vary but you can likely get one for about $5. You should replace it four times a year because it can get very full of dust and, if you have pets, dander. If you never replace it with a fresh one, you could be recirculating all that gunk throughout the house. Putting a reminder on your calendar when the seasons change is a good idea. I write the date I installed each filter on the cardboard edge, so I know exactly how long it has been in use.

Check your dryer vent periodically to be sure it isn’t blocked. You should clean the lint screen with each load, but it still doesn’t catch everything. Lint can build up in the ducts leading to the outdoor vent, making your dryer less efficient and raising the risk of a house fire. There are cleaning tools made especially for this task, or you could use your vacuum. For more, read this article from Consumer Reports.

Trim the tree branches so they don’t hang over your gutters and block the flow with fallen leaves & debris. Clean gutters seasonally. If you can’t safely do so on your own, hire a professional. It is worth it because you may prevent costlier repairs in the long run. Blocked water could freeze in the downspouts, causing a split or water overflowing from the gutter could damage your home’s foundation and landscaping.

I’ll now leave you with my personal favorite homeowner tip: When you leave the house in summertime set the AC so it doesn’t run so often when you are gone. At least eighty degrees is a good place to start. In the winter, set it to turn the heat down (no lower than 55 degrees) when you are not home.  If you don’t already have one, you can install a programmable thermostat to automatically do this for you. But it is pretty simple to walk over to the thermostat and do it yourself, too. You just have to remember to do it. If you are wondering, “Doesn’t that just force the furnace or AC to work harder when it comes time to heat or cool the house back to the optimal temperature?” This article explains more about why it is more energy efficient to turn it down while you are gone, rather than leaving it on all day.

Are there any valuable tips about finding and keeping your own home that you have learned? If so, please share them with us!

 

Fake News – What It Is and How to Evaluate It

There is a lot of talk in the U.S. and around the world right now about fake news. What, exactly, is fake news? Generally, fake news is information that is wholly or partially made up, but designed to look like an authentic news report and to attract lots of attention – often resulting in advertising revenue. It often appeals to the strong emotions of its targeted audience.

Oxford Dictionary acknowledged its influence by announcing the 2016 word of the year: post-truth, an adjective, defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.

I think we should all exercise caution especially when dealing with those stories that do cause an emotional reaction. That doesn’t necessarily mean it is fake news (just because you don’t like the message doesn’t mean it is fake news) but it can be a red flag that the story merits double-checking with additional sources. Seek those not related to the first source where you encountered it.

Here are some websites that you can use to evaluate news sources:

The Media Bias/Fact Check news website has a search bar on its main page where you can type in the name of a news source and retrieve a scale that attempts to qualify how far to the left or right that news source typically leans. They maintain a list of questionable sources. The website also has a list of what is generally accepted to be the least biased news sources, which you can find here. MBFC explains their methodology and acknowledges that no evaluation is 100% without bias. Check out the list – you may learn about a new source that you will want to make a habit of checking on a regular basis. I’ll admit the ads are bothersome, but it is how they pay to keep the site running.

FactCheck.org is one source you can use to double-check information. Facebook recently announced that it is partnering with this source to help identify and flag fake news circulated on its platform. FactCheck.org is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. According to their website, their mission is “to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics…Our goal is to apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding.” This site is primarily focused on U.S. politics. During election years, they will report on the accuracy of what is aired on political TV ads and in debates, speeches, interviews and news releases.

Another source to verify political information is Politifact.com, self-described as “an independent, nonpartisan news organization… not beholden to any government, political party or corporate interest.” They have a long history, which you can read about here. The system of evaluation they use is called the Truth-o-meter, which ranges from “Truth” on one end to “Pants on Fire” on the other. They have a newsletter to which you can subscribe if you wish to receive information updates on the latest fact-checks. They are also partnering with Facebook to help flag fake news when it is shared.

For information that covers a broader array than politics, Snopes.com can be helpful. I like the search option at the top of the page where you can easily type in any keywords and retrieve information on rumors and urban legends. It began in 1995 and has become a well-known online source for debunking falsehoods or verifying facts with evidence.

As an information professional, I encourage people to take some time to verify information sources before accepting them as completely true. When presented with information in any form, take care to ask yourself these questions:

 

  • Who wrote/originally said this? Is the author clearly identified? What else has the author written and has it been disputed in any way?
  • What is this? Is it a presentation of facts? An opinion piece? An advertisement?
  • When was it written? Is there new information available that could shed more light on or take the place of this information?
  • Where was the information gleaned? Was the person reporting it actually a witness to the events reported? Is there data/photos to back it up and are the sources cited? Are there quotes from others in the know and are they relevant to the topic being reported?
  • Why did the author write this? Is it designed to entertain, to influence my purchases or affect my decisions in a certain way?

 

We at the library want to help you build awareness about information and what it is designed to do. Not all information is presented to simply inform. Much of the information we are deluged with on a daily basis is designed to influence. That is not necessarily bad, but we all need to be aware of how information influences us. Likewise, we need to acknowledge our own personal biases and be honest and gracious with ourselves and others that they exist.

I invite you to learn more about this topic by attending a panel discussion about fake news, hosted at the Eastern Avenue branch library on Monday, Feb. 6th at 6:30 pm. The event is free of charge and refreshments will be provided. Please come with questions for our panelists, which include representatives from local television, print and radio news sources as well as writers and educators in the field of journalism. Visit our webpage for more details.