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Mar 20 2015

Devouring Downton

by Dea Anne M

Like many people (including some fellow bloggers), I have fallen under the spell of Downton Abbey, the PBS period drama. Through war and social upheavals; marriages, births and deaths; scandals and joys–I find the story of the Crawley family and the servants who work for them utterly irresistible. One aspect of the show I find particularly fascinating is the impeccable attention to detail that goes into the set designs and the costumes. Every aspect of the Crawley’s world seems rendered perfectly–including the routines of the household which, of course, feature many, many meals. I love watching scenes that take place at the many elaborate dinner parties as well as those of humbler meals shared by the servants. I think my favorite food-related sequences are the ones set in the Downton kitchens. I’m fascinated with the food that Mrs. Patmore and her staff prepare week after week, and I often wonder how everything appears so seamless. Well, this recent article in the New York Times makes it clear exactly how hard the show’s food stylist, the very talented Lisa Heathcote, works to guarantee the sleek appearance and historical accuracy of any scene involving food. Imagine cooking 60 chickens in one day! All in all, a very interesting article for of us Downton fans.

Can’t get enough of Downton Abbey? If so, you might want to explore these titles from DCPL.


If you’d like to delve into some of the cooking of Edwardian Britain (the series begins slightly after), consider Recipes From An Edwardian Country House by Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall, as well as The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook by Emily Ansara Baines. Fearnley-Whittingstall’s book is charmingly written while the Baines book includes recipes for some very scrumptious looking dishes with cutesy names such as Tom Branson’s Colcannon and Lady Mary’s Crab yearCanapes. I can’t vouch for the authenticity of the recipes in either book, but they look like fun. You’ll find more recipes in A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes, which depicts life at Downton during the year 1924 and includes descriptions of family trips and festivities.

In the show, Cora Crawley, i.e. Lady Grantham, is an American heiress whose fortune is key toward allowing Downton Abbey to stay in the family. This story reflects the reality of many wealthy young American women during what’s known as The Gilded Age. They flocked to England to marry noblemen whose finances were in need of some shoring up–basically trading money for titles. Arguably, the most famous of these so called “Dollar Princesses” was Consuelo Vanderbilt who became the Duchess of Marlborough in 1895. Her marrymemoir, The Glitter and the Gold: The American Duchess–In her Own Words, originally published in 1953, has been reissued in paperback and promises to be a fascinating read.

You can read more of Cora’s story, and those of her sisters in this peculiar marriage market, in Gail MacColl’s and Carol Wallace’s book To Marry An English Lord. Gossipy and engaging, the book provides insight into the pleasures, and often pains, experienced by this unique group of women. And for the view from “downstairs,” don’t miss Minding the Manor: The Memoir of a 1930s English Kitchen Maid by Mollie Moran and Below Stairs by Margaret Powell, belowboth written by women who worked as kitchen maids in two of the great houses in the early twentieth century.

Of course, I can’t seem to make it through a single episode of Downton Abbey without sighing over some item of clothing worn by one of the show’s characters, and now that the action has moved into the 1920′s (one of my favorite fashion eras ever!) the pleasures are non-stop. If you, like me, love the show’s costuming and you plan to be in Asheville this spring, be sure to check out the more than 40 Downton costumes which will be on display at our country’s own stately home, the Biltmore Estate. It might be worth making a special trip just to see the scrumptious green silk dress that Lady Mary wore at Matthew’s first Downton dinner.

Do you like Downton Abbey? What aspect of the show pleases you most and do you have a favorite character?


Terry Pratchett at the 2012 New York Comic Con - © Luigi Novi / Wikimedia CommonsThe world of fantasy literature lost one of its luminaries earlier this month when beloved author Terry Pratchett died at age 66 after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Pratchett was a prolific writer who was best known for his Discworld series, which spans 40 novels published over the course of more than 3 decades. He has also collaborated with other popular authors such as Neil Gaiman (Good Omens) and Stephen Baxter (The Long Earth series). The recipient of numerous honors and awards, Pratchett was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1998 and received a knighthood in 2009, in both cases for “services to literature.”

Given his prodigious output, readers unfamiliar with Pratchett’s work may wonder at the best place to start. This handy graphic might be useful in making that determination; it lists all of the Discworld novels, grouped by storyline and arranged chronologically, with the connections between individual novels mapped out. Personally, I’d suggest beginning with Small Gods; it is almost entirely stand-alone but provides a great introduction to the Discworld setting and Pratchett’s characteristically humorous and satirical style.

Pratchett’s wit and way with words have resulted in a plethora of notable quotations attributed to him, many of them originating as lines in his novels. The quote used in the title is from the book Going Postal, and I’d like to conclude this post with another from the book Reaper Man:

No one is finally dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away — until the clock he wound up winds down, until the wine she made has finished its ferment, until the crop they planted is harvested. The span of someone’s life, they say, is only the core of their actual existence.

By that measure, Terry Pratchett will live on on our bookshelves forever.

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Mar 11 2015

National Freedom of Information Day

by Glenda

foidayMonday, March 16, 2015 is National Freedom of Information Day. Freedom of Information Day is an annual event held on or near March 16, the birthday of James Madison. James Madison is regarded as the Father of the Constitution and an advocate for openness in the government. Freedom of Information Day comes from the Freedom of Information Act of 1966. On July 4, 1966, the Freedom of Information Act was enacted and came into effect on July 4, 1967.

As described at foia.gov: “The Freedom of Information Act is a law that gives citizens of the United States of America the right to access information from the federal government. It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about the government. Under the Freedom of Information Act, agencies must disclose any information that is requested–unless that information is protected from public disclosures.” Frequently requested records are automatically disclosed as a requirement of the Freedom of Information Act. The Executive Branch, which is led by the President of the United States of America, is responsible for administering the Freedom of Information Act across the government. The Department of Justice’s Office of Information Policy oversees all agency compliance with the Freedom of Information Act directives and requires all agencies to comply fully with requests. So the next time you stop by your local library to look at the President’s Budget, the DeKalb County Budget, or the DeKalb County Code, you will know that this information was made available due to the Freedom of Information Act and the commitment of public libraries to openness in government.

If you want more information about the Freedom of Information Act and more, check out these books.

The Right to Know: Your Guide to Using and Defending Freedom of Information Law in the United States by Jacqueline Klosek

Secrecy Wars: National Security, Privacy and the Public’s Right to Know by Philip H. Melanson




Mar 9 2015

Survival 101

by Hope L

232In a couple of months I will be going on an Alaskan cruise. That’s the good news. The bad news is that we will have to fly to Vancouver, B.C., to begin the cruise. I’m excited, as this will be my first cruise. Alas, it will not be my first time flying.

When I was growing up my family traveled a lot, so flying was no big deal for me. And frankly, I did not think about how and why that huge thing we were in was up in the air.  But the older I get, the less I want to get on an airplane to go anywhere.  I should not have started reading about aircraft.

You see, some fifteen years ago, I made the mistake of reading about airline turbulence and what can happen when one is not wearing a seatbelt. This was around the time when airlines started asking passengers to keep their safety belts fastened even after the captain turned off the seatbelt sign. It was then that my OCD really started to kick in and I became obsessed with hurtling through the sky in a tube. (It shouldn’t surprise you that during this time I began to experience panic attacks.)

According to Aerospaceweb.org, a Boeing 777 has a typical cruise speed of about 560 mph (900 km/h) at an altitude of 35,000 ft. (10,675 m).  That’s TEN MILES up, folks.

Now, I know that it is common knowledge that flying is much safer than riding in an automobile (which on I-285 can be a real death wish), but still.

Recently, I read Flight 232: A Story of Disaster and Survival by Laurence Gonzales, and I have learned that yes, it IS possible to survive an airplane crash. So now, I shall choose to meditate on my “Brace, Brace, Brace” position (this is what the flight attendants called out to remind the passengers what to do just prior to when the plane landed -er- crashed in that Iowa cornfield in the summer of 1989).    Miraculously, 184 of 296 passengers and crew lived.

A miracle because:

“…the captain has told us that we have lost all our hydraulics.”  (According to a flight attendant informing another United pilot onboard.)

“He stared at her for a minute…. He knew that wasn’t possible. DC-10s must have hydraulics to fly them. Period.”

But the aircraft had lost its hydraulics.  And according to the pilot:

…The plane was traveling northeast at thirty-seven thousand feet. Just east of the Cherokee airport, the fan on the number two engine blew apart, cutting hydraulic lines and disabling flight controls.

“Having hydraulic fluid in the lines is a necessary condition of flight in a DC-10. After a complete loss of hydraulic power, the plane would have no steering. It would roll over and accelerate toward the earth, reaching speeds high enough to tear off the wings and tail before the fuselage plowed into the ground. Or it might enter into an uncontrollable flutter, falling like a leaf all the way to the earth, to pancake in and burst into flames.”


And yet the pilots of this aircraft managed to steer and careen, in circles, and somehow lower the 185-ton behemoth. You can see the wild flight in the diagram below.


Evidently, I’m not the only one obsessed. The author of this book has written other books about surviving, the following which are available at DCPL:

Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why–True Stories of Miraculous Endurance and Sudden Death

Everyday Survival: Why Smart People Do Stupid Things

Actually… I’ve just been thinking…wouldn’t the view be just gorgeous to Vancouver on Amtrak…or Greyhound?




Mar 6 2015

Racing the Clock

by Dea Anne M

Regular readers of this blog know that cooking is one of my hobbies. I love nothing better than spending hours in the kitchen, chopping, sauteing, stirring and braising, all in the service of what I hope will be a memorable meal. Realistically though, on a day-to-day basis, I don’t have hours to spend cooking–unless I wanted to sit down to dinner at ten or eleven every night, which I don’t. That’s one reason why I’m excited about Mark Bittman’s latest compendium How to Cook Everything Fast: A Better Way to Cook Great Food.

I’ve long been an admirer of Bittman’s work for the “Opinions” column of The New York Times as well as his food writing for the paper’s “Dining” section. Bittman’s opinion pieces can inspire, shall we say, lively debate among readers. He’s a passionate advocate for a more plant-based diet and for cooking at home, as well as stricter government regulation of food production. His outspoken stand on these and other related issues has earned him labels ranging from elitist to hero to public menace. He tends to provoke commentary that often boils down to “Mark Bittman can’t tell me what to do!” In any case, his cookbooks are admired by a larger group than perhaps appreciates his politics and none more so than his “Everything” titles–which include the original How to Cook Everything: 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Good and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food.

Since Bittman is focusing on speed in How to Cook Everything Fast, you won’t find every recipe under the sun. Still, at 1,056 pages, it’s a surprisingly comprehensive work. No, you won’t find cassoulet or beef stew here … except wait…there are recipes for cassoulet and beef stew! True, these are streamlined versions of the cook-all-day classics, but they appear to be creditable renditions nonetheless. I’ve already pegged Beer Glazed Black Beans with Chicken and Chorizo and Pasta with Kale and Ricotta as two recipes I plan to try this week. You could cook exclusively from this book for a very long time and never repeat yourself.

Are you someone who appreciates a delicious dinner but needs to get it ready fast? If so, DCPL has resources to help. Along with Bittman’s book (very highly recommended) check out the following:

Weeknight Wonders: Delicious, Healthy Dishes in 30 Minutes or Less from the Food Network’s healthy cooking guru Ellie gourmetKrieger.

Gourmet Weekday: All-Time Favorite Recipes by the editors of gone, but not forgotten, Gourmet magazine.

Kitchen Simple: Essential Recipes for Everyday Cooking by celebrated cookbook author and master of technique James Peterson.

kitchenEveryday Food: Great Good Fast from the kitchens of Martha Stewart Living.

Real Simple Meals Made Easy by Renee Schettler, from the editors of Real Simple magazine.

Everyday Easy by British food television superstar Lorraine Pascale.

What’s your favorite way to get dinner on the table fast?




Mar 2 2015

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!

by Jesse M

Dr. SeussThe man who would come to be known as Dr. Seuss was born Theodor Seuss Geisel on March 2, 1904. He made his living as a writer and cartoonist, and is most famously an author of children’s books, responsible for such well-known characters as The Cat in the Hat and his nemesis the Grinch. The award-winning author has seen his work adapted into a variety of formats, including animated films, movies, and musical theater.

Although his entire bibliography is worth celebrating, as a child my favorite books of his were those whose pages featured a variety of zany fictional animals, like On Beyond Zebra, Scrambled Eggs Super, If I Ran the Circus, and If I Ran the Zoo. All of those titles and more are available from DCPL!

In recognition of the appeal that his books still hold for young readers, March 2nd has been designated Read Across America Day by the National Education Association. Across the country, thousands of schools, libraries, and community centers participate by bringing together kids, teens, and books!

To view information about Dr. Seuss related programming at DCPL, follow this link.


Feb 27 2015

Pi Anyone? This Year, It’s Epic!

by Rebekah B

keep_calm_its_pi_day_2015Hello readers,

I always look forward to March 14th, not because I am a math geek, but mostly because I love a good opportunity to be creative…and I also love a homemade pie!  Last year, I shared Pi Day with my coworkers at the Toco Hill branch, and I prepared a strawberry pie with a gluten-free almond crust, adapted from a recipe found in A Year of Pies.

This year’s Pi Day is especially remarkable because of this year’s date, making the first consecutive five digits of the mathematical constant Pi match the date of this holiday–which has been gaining in popularity in recent years. Adding to the excitement for the more precise (or more precisely nerdy) is the addition of the next five digits–or even six if you can bear it–by celebrating at 9:26:54 a.m. I found a wide array of t-shirts, mugs, and other celebratory Pi Day gear available online, advertising the once in a lifetime nature of this year’s event.

Larry Shaw

Pi Day was first inaugurated by physicist Larry Shaw, and the first recorded celebration was held at the Exploratorium–a science and discovery museum–in San Francisco in 1988, in which participants marched around the rounded space and consumed fruit pies.  Pi Day was later recognized by the House of Representatives on March 12, 2009, at which time a resolution for recognition of the event was passed (HRES 224).


The rituals involved in the observance of Pi Day vary by location, but include preparing or eating pies, throwing pies, and discussing the nature of Pi (the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter).  Many schools around the country hold contests to see which students are able to remember the largest number of consecutive digits of the commemorated constant.

MIT applicants receive decision letters that have been posted online on Pi Day at 6:28 p.m. to pay tribute to both Pi and Tau. (Pi is half of Tau.) In fact, Tau supporters are looking forward to celebrating Tau Day on June 28, 2031.  In Princeton, New Jersey, the Pi Day celebration coincides with Albert Einstein’s birthday.  Einstein lived and worked in Princeton for over 20 years, and the town adds Einstein Look-Alike contests to the traditional Pi Day rites.

Here are some books in the DCPL collection that will encourage you to celebrate and share some of the wondrous and uniquely comforting PIes in your life:



Feb 23 2015

In Memoriam: Farewell to a Diva

by Hope L

BellaShe went for her regular hair appointment because she always had to look fabulous for her fans. And as was her fashion, she went out looking just mahvelous.

Not that beauty was her only claim to fame–she was so sweet, so above the cat-fighting and hissing of her peers, carrying herself with a certain regal otherness, that she garnered the respect and adulation of all.  She was, after all, a pedigree in every sense of the word, and she had the papers and the photos to prove it.

She was unflappable and did not lose her cool over anything–not over petty quarrels with her brother and sister, or the recent arrival to the household of a street-wise juvenile delinquent (who took to pouncing on and chasing her), not even pest control guys with canisters or strange women wielding vacuum cleaners and mops.  She was unperturbed about practically everything save for sharing her heating pad, for being cold was beneath her.  And, she needed her beauty sleep.

Now, Lady Bella Lusignan WAS high-maintenance–much like Queen Elizabeth, for example, she had a busy schedule and was almost impossible to seat for an interview or photo session. Her feeding schedule was unlike that of the others (who were given dry kibble to nosh on all day long) in that she required only the rarest of Fancy Feast flavors at only certain times during the day.  Always very graceful and svelte, it was difficult for her in recent years to keep the weight on her tiny frame.  She demanded certain treats, especially for her glamorous mane, sensitive stomach, and just plain picky nature.

So, although it was a shock, it shouldn’t really have been all that surprising that when her time on this earth was up, she was still the picture of health, beautiful as always, perfectly poised and yet still insistent on jumping up on the kitchen counters at will.  Upon her visit to the hairdresser last week, she was buffed and puffed and fussed over while the juvenile delinquent commoner was in the clinic receiving ordinary childhood vaccines and a deworming. It was at that time that she determined this was indeed quite a convenient and classy time to make an exit from her storied career as the resident diva of our home, where she reigned for almost 17 years.

I miss her terribly, and the whole place has gone down a notch since she left.

Here are some of DCPL’s offerings related to the loss of a pet:

Coping with Sorrow on the Loss of Your Pet by Moira Anderson

The Loss of a Pet by Wallace Sife

Animals in Spirit: Our Faithful Companions’ Transition to the Afterlife by Penelope Smith

When a Family Pet Dies: A Guide to Dealing with Children’s Loss by JoAnn Tuzeo-Jarolmen




Looking to unburden yourself of old electronic equipment? This Saturday, February 21, Keep DeKalb Beautiful is partnering with the DeKalb County Police Alliance to host an electronics recycling event. Click here to see a PDF version of the flyer.

The event will be held from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the DeKalb County Sanitation North Lot, located at 2315 Chamblee-Tucker Rd in the City of Chamblee. Proceeds from the event will go to support the building of the K-9 Memorial, which will be dedicated on May 15, 2015 as part of the 100 year anniversary of DeKalb County Police Services.

A variety of electronic devices will be accepted and recycled for free, including computers, cell phones, game consoles, and “anything with a cord!” Televisions are also accepted, but there will be a charge for CRT TVs & monitors, wooden consoles, and projection & plasma TVs.

They are also looking for donations of gently used shoes.

Even if you can’t make it out to this event on the 21st, DeKalb County has a couple of permanent sites for electronics recycling; click here for more information.

Want to learn more about the importance of electronics recycling? You might be interested in checking out the book High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics and Human Health by Elizabeth Grossman. You can also browse for books on recycling in general; click here to see of list of related materials.


Feb 14 2015

Presidents’ Day

by Glenda

presidents-dayThis year, we celebrate Presidents’ Day on February 16, 2015–but what is Presidents’ Day? Initially, it was called Washington’s Birthday to celebrate our first President George Washington. Later, Presidents’ Day was meant to include President Abraham Lincoln. However, there were and still are states that do not like to celebrate President Lincoln.

The states of Massachusetts and Virginia celebrate Washington’s Birthday and it is called “Washington’s Birthday” or “George Washington’s Birthday.”  The term “Presidents Day” was informally coined to include multiple presidents. In most states, Presidents’ Day includes all former presidents and the current president. When I was younger I was told we celebrate Presidents’ Day in February because most presidents were born in February–but that is not true. Six presidents were born in October and only four were born in February. Guess which four? Ronald Reagan was born February 6, 1911; William Henry Harrison was born February 9, 1773; Abraham Lincoln was born February 12, 1809, and George Washington was born February 22, 1732. The six presidents who were born in October are Jimmy Carter, born October 1, 1924; Rutherford B. Hayes, born October 4, 1822; Chester A. Arthur, born October 5, 1829; Dwight D. Eisenhower, born October 14, 1890; Theodore Roosevelt, born October 27, 1858, and John Adams born October 30, 1735.

The federal holiday honoring George Washington was originally implemented by an Act of Congress in 1879 for government offices in Washington and it expanded in 1885 to include all federal offices. Initially, the holiday was celebrated on President Washington’s actual birthday of February 22.  On January 1, 1971, the holiday was changed and Washington’s Birthday was celebrated on the third Monday in February by the Uniform Monday Holiday Act.

Source- Strauss, V. (2014, February 2). Why Presidents’ Day is slightly strange? Retrieved from The Washington Post.

If you would like more information about Presidents’ Day, check out these items from DCPL:

Presidents’ Day by Natalie M. Rosinsky

Presidents’ Day by Sheri Dean