DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Nov 20 2015

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

by Camille B

turkeySo, the Thanksgiving festivities are on the way and you’re mingling about trying to be a good host, making sure that everyone is feeling welcome and comfortable–parents, siblings, in-laws, a few friends and neighbors you invited. Suddenly you look across the room and spot an unwelcome visitor, the same one who showed up at your perfectly planned holiday last year and wreaked havoc. That’s right, Mr. Stress himself, all decked out in his finest, lurking in the shadows and waiting for his cue to rain on your parade. Your heart sinks. Who on earth invited him?

Well, it just so happens he could have come in with any number of your friends or relatives–perhaps that aunt who, even though you tell her every year a bottle of wine is perfectly fine, always insists on bringing that special dish that nobody likes but everybody has to eat anyway, or maybe it’s your brother-in-law who goes around pushing everyone’s buttons–and oh, he’s here for the entire weekend. Then there’s your son. You clearly remember telling him to ask first, but he still arrives at the last minute with two of his buddies in tow–and they’re all the size of giants. You don’t want to be a scrooge, but there goes half the turkey!

Sometimes, in spite of our best efforts, the Thanksgiving Holiday–a day when we come together with friends and loved ones to relax and give thanks, not just for what we have but for each other as well–can prove to be more stressful than we care to admit, testing the endurance of even the most patient folk.

And this is true not only for the host, but sometimes for guests as well–that new son or daughter-in-law, boyfriend or girlfriend, or invited co-worker. Guests can find themselves caught in the middle of Thanksgiving sagas and dramas that easily spiral out of control from simple things (like fights over the remote, a turkey leg or a wishbone) to really heated debates and brawls that stem from arguments over politics, sports teams or just the re-ignition of old family feuds.

Oh yes, Mr. Stress will show up at your Thanksgiving dinner. You can count on it. And though you may not be able to eradicate his presence altogether, you can minimize the role that he’ll play at your gathering by being prepared and always a few steps ahead.


There’s no way you can do everything yourself, so don’t even try. Brushing away people when they try to offer their assistance, while at the same time complaining at the end of the day that you had to do it all by yourself–you can’t have it both ways. Many hands make the work light, even small hands. And yes, you can enlist your guests as well.

Things don’t have to be perfect. So your cousin Rae-Rae didn’t mash the potatoes quite the way you like them, there’s no need to blow a gasket and call for everybody to get out of your kitchen. She was only trying to help. Believe me, no matter which way you offer up the potatoes–unless they’re burnt to a crisp–they will disappear right along with the rest of the meal. Take heart if it doesn’t look like it came out of Martha Stewart’s kitchen. Your family and guests will still love it and you–and appreciate your effort and hard work.

First-time hosts: Keep it simple. Now is not the time to try and impress your new mother-in-law with your non-existent culinary skills. Unless you’re a naturally great cook with event planning experience under your belt, you’ll probably make a few blunders along the way. No love loss. A lot of people still dread Thanksgiving preparations even after umpteen years of doing it. If this is just your first go at it, grab a good friend or two to help out. Your day will come when you will be able to put forth a Thanksgiving feast just like Mama used to make.

Try to be the most gracious host you can be. It’s sometimes hard I know. Maybe your aunt’s gesture was well intended, even though you had to chow down her questionable casserole made from that very secret recipe. It probably made her feel good just to be a part of things and offer up her contribution–and she may not be the only one you have to make peace with. Thanksgiving conflicts flare up like wild fires in an instant. Though you cannot be everywhere at once, you can do your best to ignore negative comments, steer conversations to otherwise neutral topics when you sense what’s coming (some people are habitual offenders), and basically douse water on any embers you see that can potentially erupt into an altercation.

Thanksgiving Dinner


Don’t come empty-handed. Even though your host insists that you bring just yourself and your appetite, it’s still a nice gesture to bring a non-food item or beverage–wine, flowers, or something that is needed as part of the event, like napkins, forks or even a gift for your host.

Let the host know ahead of time if you have any dietary issues. It can be really stressful to go through all the trouble of fixing a great feast only to realize at the last minute that someone cannot partake because they’re vegan or have specific allergies to items on the menu. Knowing ahead of time can enable your host to consider your diet in the meal planning.

Ask before you invade your host’s kitchen, and space as a whole, as this can be a good way to lose a limb or not get invited back next year. Unless you’re a really good friend of the family and you’re quite certain they’ll be okay with it, don’t go rummaging around in the refrigerator or cupboards, stand around in the kitchen obstructing foot traffic, or begin doing chores you weren’t asked to do.

Overall, I honestly believe that the almost euphoric anticipation we feel towards the Thanksgiving holiday and what it represents is too great–and the time and effort we put into making it the best day possible for our loved ones too precious–to let trivial matters come in and ruin it in mere seconds or minutes, causing us to sometimes forget why we came together in the first place. So this year when you spot Mr. Stress worming his way through your holiday celebrations, don’t grow wary, let him bring it! You’re prepared.

ArtOfTheVisitEase into your Thanksgiving season with the following selection from DCPL:

The Art of the Visit: Being the Perfect Host, Becoming the Perfect Guest by Kathy Bertone

Keep Your Cool! What You Should Know About Stress by Sandy Donovan

How to Survive Your In-Laws: Advice from Hundreds of Married Couples Who Did – Andrea Syrtash, special editor

How to Cook a Turkey: And All the Other Trimmings from the editors of Fine Cooking

Holiday Collection (DVD)

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Nov 18 2015

A Woman in Charge

by Hope L

Hill2Will 2016 be the year that a female takes the highest office in the United States of America? Is America ready for a woman president? How about a First Gentleman?

A few weeks back I attended a speech Hillary Clinton gave at Clark Atlanta University. I wondered why, at age 68, this very controversial yet very famous person would even want to go through the rigors, the barbs, the glad-handing, the clawing–let’s face it–the virtual pain in the neck that is running for POTUS and then fulfilling that role should she win. It has greatly aged all 43 men who have come before.

HillSo, I decided to check out Hillary Clinton. I mean, literally, to research whatever I could find out about her.

And, of course, to learn more about Hillary Rodham Clinton is to learn more about Bill, for the road to the presidency and Hillary’s meteoric rise (well, it wasn’t exactly an overnight thing–she’s been in politics most of her life in one capacity or another) to presidential candidacy is almost as much about William Jefferson Clinton as it is about Hillary.

Or, is it the other way around? Was Bill’s meteoric rise to the presidency due in large part to Hillary?

CarlRight now I’m reading A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton by Carl Bernstein.

If you’re interested, DCPL has other books about Hillary Clinton. Click here to see what’s available–as we wait until next November to see who the new person in charge will be.



Burger King seemed to have the popular edge over McDonald’s in Orlando, Florida, where I spent most of my formative years. Maybe this is because in 1953, Jacksonville became the original Home of the Whopper. In any case, fast food wasn’t much of an issue when I was growing up. On the very rare occasions that my family went out to eat (usually before the drive-in double feature and always in the car), it was Burger King all the way. I suspect this is because my father preferred the Whaler (as the Big Fish was then called) to the Fillet-O-Fish. My own taste leaned toward the milkshakes, as did my brother’s, and we pronounced them “superb” from the back seat as we discussed (i.e., fought over) the relative merits of strawberry versus chocolate.

Well, it’s a not-so-secret secret that fast food juggernaut McDonald’s has been in a sales decline for at least a few years now. In fact, according to this recent article in the New York Times “Big Food” as an industry is facing some very scary times. Now you may greet that news with glee, dismay or utter indifference, but the fact remains that businesses are in the business of staying alive and growing as much as they possibly can. What is to be done?

This story from the November 2nd issue of The New Yorker suggests that more and more people want a healthy meal at a good price. Of course, “good price” is a relative term and a fully loaded one. The young Manhattanites featured in the article’s opening consider eight to fifteen dollars for a meal a pretty fair deal. While you can certainly spend that much at McDonald’s, a typical lunch might run you a little over five dollars, and get you out of the drive-through line in about that many minutes. When it comes to real value, these same young Manhattanites–as well as increasing numbers of people everywhere–want tasty food, free of antibiotics, unpronounceable additives, and the now thoroughly tarnished reputation of factory farming. Reasonable prices are desirable too, but not as a consolation prize in the absence of those other factors. It would seem that McDonald’s has a complicated trek ahead if it wants to recapture its previous market glory. In fact, it’s difficult to see this happening unless it becomes something quite different indeed.

Still, let it not be said that we Americans don’t love our burgers and subs and chicken and barbeque. Furthermore, we love to eat out…a lot. The average American might eat 5 meals a week or more in restaurants, and most of those restaurants will be fast or what is known in the industry as “fast casual.” Are you fed up with (so to speak) the pack ’em in and move ’em out fast dining experience? Maybe you value reasonable prices and also sustainability and healthier ingredients–or you just want food that tastes better. This recent article from Bon Appetit‘s website will point you toward 32 fast service restaurants to watch. Some of these, like Five Guys Burgers and Fries and Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches, are familiar to us here. Others, like the West Coast’s In-N-Out Burger and the British chain Pret-A-Manger, are still expanding. One of them, LocoL, has yet to open at all (as of this writing). Still, the future for restaurant dining looks a little brighter.

Or you could always cook at home.

“Dream on,” you say. “I always pick up a bucket at KFC on Tuesdays. The kids are like wild animals after soccer so why on earth would I fry chicken at home? Besides, think of the mess!”

Believe me, I hear you–but, before you completely dismiss the idea, consider these resources from DCPL.

My partner cherishes a fond memory of Outback Steakhouse’s Bloomin’ Onion. My partner is not a basketball team–which you would have to be (a basketball team, that is) to burn off the heft of this titanic “appetizer.” Deep-fried and lavishly sauced, this well disguised allium resembles the sort of novelty you purchase on a whim at the county fair and regret as soon as the double Ferris wheel starts its ascent. At almost 2000 calories, it is in no way an appropriate teaser for a full steak dinner. This istop secret a highly personal point of view, of course, and one with which my partner, being a reasonable person, has come to agree. However, if I wanted to, I could make it at home, and Todd Wilbur’s Top Secret Restaurant Recipes would coach me every greasy step of the way. Other books by Wilbur include Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 (for Chili’s Southwestern Egg Rolls) and Top Secret Recipes Unlocked (for McDonald’s Sweet Iced Tea). Of course, you and I both know that I won’t be making a Bloomin’ Onion any time soon. I mean, think of the mess!

eat thisDavid Zinczenko is the author of the popular Eat This, Not That series of titles in which he schools us all on the better choices we can make at fast food and fast casual restaurants–including, of course, in the mall. For those cooking at home, there is Cook This, Not That. Zinczenko shows us how to save calories, as well reduce the fat and sodium in our diets, by cooking in our own kitchens. This, in itself, cook thiswould be a bit disingenuous since most nutritionists agree that home cooking is almost always a better choice. However, Zinczenko does come up with some truly tasty alternatives. The book’s title might imply that you are recreating clones of favorite restaurant dishes in your own kitchen, but what you’re actually doing is cooking recipes that mirror the less desirable restaurant meals. It’s your choice, but I will say that the food in Cook This Not That looks remarkably delicious with recipes like Mushroom Swiss Burgers and Cauliflower and Butternut Curry. Let me repeat–this book most emphatically is not in the business of giving you exact recipes for dishes like Olive Garden’s Spaghetti and Italian Sausage or Applebee’s Steakhouse Burger. Instead, Zinczenko shows you how to make Spaghetti with Spicy Tomato Sauce and the previously mentioned Mushroom Swiss Burger. To my mental palate, these are trades well worth making.

madhungryFinally, here are a couple of books in a similar vein to those mentioned above:

The Chinese Takeout Cookbook by Diana Kuan

Mad Hungry Cravings by Lucinda Scala Quinn

Of course, there are times when you want, crave, need a Big Mac or a Spicy Italian Sub, and you’re on the road, exhausted, laid up with the flu or otherwise don’t want to go anywhere near a kitchen. For these times, keep in mind that list of “better” restaurants mentioned above and see if a reasonable alternative presents itself. Just remember–a burger and fries from Five Guys, or the Atomic Wing Combo at Wingstop, are still going to be a burger and fries and a basket full of wings and, not say, a salad and a piece of broiled fish.

Not to ruin your good mood or anything.

As for me, I’m kind of in the mood for a strawberry shake (made at home, of course).  Then, maybe I’ll find a handy car to drink it in, surrounded by uncontentious silence, or perhaps in the company of a kindred spirit who remembers the shakes of yesterday with as much fondness as I do.


Nov 6 2015

It’s the Climb

by Amie P

My aunt and uncle live at the base of the Superstition Mountains, just outside Phoenix, Arizona. We recently went to visit and arrived in the dark, so I was happily surprised by the awesome view they have when I stepped out onto the back patio in the morning.

“There’s our mountain!” my uncle said, then added casually, “About 8 or 9 people die out there every year.”

“These mountains?” They are beautiful, but certainly not the tallest mountains we saw on our trip. In the case of these mountains, however, size is not the problem.

“Every year people go hiking up there and they don’t bring enough water. Some make it back, some don’t. Recently a couple walked off a plane and came out here first thing. Only one came back.”

thin airUnfortunately, many climbing expeditions end that way. Mount Everest has captured the imaginations of people from around the globe, and many have tried to climb to the highest peak in the world. Over 250 people have died trying to reach the top. Reporter Jon Krakauer details the story of his personal tragedy on Mount Everest in his book Into Thin Air: a Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster. Krakauer made it to the top with his team, but not all of them made it back down.  The story is gripping and powerful, but don’t expect a happy ending.

k2Not quite as tall, but four times as deadly, Mount K2 spears up out of northern Pakistan. Ed Viesturs, a world-renowned mountaineer, details the story of this deadly mountain’s history, including his own near-miss event in which a single ice pick kept him and his climbing partner from sliding away in an avalanche. You’ll find it in K2: Life and Death on the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain.


ledgeThese things happen in our own backyard also. The Ledge: An Adventure Story of Friendship and Survival by Jim Davidson and Kevin Vaughan tells the story of two men who survived a cave-in that took them deep into a glacial crevasse while climbing Mount Rainier in Washington State.



summitWondering why climb mountains at all?  Check out To the Summit: Fifty Mountains that Lure, Inspire and Challenge by Joseph Poindexter. This book is a visual tour of 50 of the world’s great mountains, with full-page photographs to draw you in.  A book can’t substitute for the real thing, but this one tries its best to tempt you.


If you’re not ready to tackle Mount Everest, I’d recommend hiking the Superstition Mountains in Arizona.  It can be done, I will attest.

Just bring plenty of water.


Nov 2 2015

The Know-It-All Gets Schooled

by Hope L

KIAI’m sure you’re wondering: What can DCPL’s Know-It-All library card do for someone like me, a dyed-in-the-wool Know-It-All if there ever was one?  Through the end of the year, DCPL is running its Proud Card-Carrying Know-It-All campaign to encourage DeKalb residents to get a library card.

Now, I ask you, why do I need a library card? After all, I’ve already claimed to know it all. What else could I possibly learn?

Plenty, I have discovered. There is still SO much to know, to learn, and to enjoy. Or to rant about!

Why, I just discovered Marlene Targ Brill’s book Let Women Vote! at DCPL and learned about Carrie Chapman Catt, a leader of this country’s suffragist movement.  (Note the insistent exclamation point at the end of that book’s title!)womenvote

Catt marshaled the forces in Tennessee in July 1920 in the final fight in the struggle for women’s suffrage–the right to vote.

Thirty-five states had already approved the amendment, which said: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged (limited) by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

“Catt packed a small overnight bag at once. She expected to stay in Nashville only a few days, long enough to prove that the women worried needlessly. After she arrived, however, Catt changed her mind. Men and women who opposed the vote had flooded into Nashville. The size and strength of groups against woman suffrage shocked her. Catt quickly sent home for more clothes. For the next six weeks she fought one of the toughest battles in the seventy-two-year-long suffrage war.”

And just consider what I heard on NPR and researched online at DCPL recently: Suffrajitsu and Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons!

Suffrajitsu came about when the powers that be in the British women’s suffrage movement got tired of violent threats, being spat on, and frankly, being beaten up by those who were against their cause. (Or, like the famous line from that classic media/journalism movie Network: “I’m mad as he** and I’m NOT going to take this anymore!” Yessiree, Ms. Know-It-All remembers Peter Finch got an Oscar for that role.)

HippolytaAnd then there’s this from the juvenile fiction book by Jane Yolen and Robert J. Harris, Hippolyta and the Curse of the Amazons, available at DCPL:

“Hippolyta is a true Amazon princess:  Her heart beats for the thrill of the hunt, the rush of her daily battle training, and the abiding community of her fellow female warriors. She would do anything to protect the secure, empowering life the Amazons have built. But when her entire world is threatened, will this thirteen-year-old warrior be able to save it?

“Battling against time, fighting against incredible odds and even the gods themselves, Hippolyta will have to do the unthinkable to save the legendary race of female warriors:  accept the help and love of a boy. And as she journeys to her nation’s mythical homeland of Arimaspa in search of salvation, Hippolyta finally learns what it really means to be an Amazon: finding the courage to face your fears and overcome them in order to change the world.”

Well, Hippolyta may have needed to accept the help and love of a boy, but the Suffrajitsu Amazons did not. Okay, the suffragettes did have husbands and other enlightened men assisting in their battle to be able to vote. But, there were many more men who were dead set against it! Now, they could’ve called a few he-men in to do the job, but no, this called for the Suffrajitsu and the Amazons–sturdy women who would protect the suffragettes in their travels, protests and skirmishes. (Ms. Know-It-All wonders if she could have made the cut as a sturdy Suffragette?! But alas, we shall never know that.)

suffWhy, I even learned that Britain’s Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst, a suffragette, was named by Time Magazine in 1999 as “One of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century.”

(Meryl Streep, Ms. Know-It-All’s favorite actress, plays Mrs. Pankhurst in the female-produced, directed and written film Suffragette, starring Carey Mulligan, which just opened at the end of October.)

Protests, marches, imprisonment and hunger strikes were some of Mrs. Pankhurst’s tactics. But, when she began getting roughed up, she began evading police by using disguises. Eventually the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU, started in 1903 by Pankhurst and her colleagues) established a jujitsu-trained female bodyguard squad to physically protect her.

Now that I’m a card-carrying Know-It-All because of my free, official DCPL library card in my wallet, I’m like the Suffrajitsu, except I’m ready to fight back with the facts instead of fists! You can bet that I won’t leave home without it!

And, by the way… What’s in YOUR wallet?


Oct 30 2015

Free Floating

by Dea Anne M

I am four or five. Maybe I’m six–memory, always slippery at best, becomes more so with time. We are visiting my South Georgia grandparents for the summer and in a few days we’ll be celebrating July 4th on St. Simons Island. There will be cousins to play with, a picnic dinner, the beach (which I already love passionately) and, best of all, us kids get to stay up late, past 9:00, and see fireworks! Like most kids I know, I imagine an exotic, secret world that bursts open after I am asleep–a world that only adults know about–and I have never seen fireworks before. I’m excited in that jumpy, can’t-stop-talking way so familiar to parents everywhere. Then someone, an aunt or maybe even my adored grandmother, speaks the awful words.

“There’s supposed to be a strong chance of rain that day. We need to make some other plans in case we wind up staying at home.”

In an instant, I feel overwhelmed–almost crushed–by the plain fact that it might, possibly could, rain and ruin what was promising to be one of the most thrilling and enjoyable days of my life. Normally an optimistic and happy child, I am starting to display a bent for the dramatic reaction particularly when confronted with anything perceived as “unfair.” The feeling is entirely sincere and, some of the time, embraces a wider scope than my own pleasure and concerns, but it’s a trial to my parents nonetheless and probably to anyone else within earshot. I know all of this and yet I can’t help myself. I start shedding anxiety like a skin that keeps growing itself and shedding all over again. I am verbal, highly so, about my distress. What I want, what I need, is for someone to assure me that all will be well–that it will, in fact, not rain on the Fourth of July.

Children are often prone to worries and fears, really as much so as adults. I think some adults do have an unfortunate tendency to dismiss childhood fears as silly or merely something to outgrow as quickly as possible.

“There’s a monster under your bed? Wait’ll you have a mortgage and two car payments! Now, go to sleep.”

“Olivia and Caden don’t like you? Well, just be yourself! Besides, in ten years’ time, you’ll have forgotten their names.”

alligatorOf course, that monster is as real as can be–to your young self–and ten years might as well be forever when tomorrow morning, yet again, you’ll have to face the school bus and your classroom where Caden and Olivia loom large.

The parents in Mercer Mayer’s There’s An Alligator Under My Bed don’t believe there is an alligator because they, of course, “never saw it,” so the resourceful young hero devises his own plan of action. This includes luring the creature to the garage with food, including the last piece of pie. I find the story and the illustrations charming (as I do with almost all of Mayer’s work) and I think this book will help children, especially very young ones, confront their own fears and worries.

scaredFor older children, James J. Crist’s What To Do When You’re Scared and Worried can help with all sorts of fears and concerns ranging from concrete worries about bullying, to social anxiety, and phobias.

Tools include journaling and behavior modification exercises, as well as advice to parents about when it might be time to consult an expert. Recommended.


I am in my late twenties, living in a shared house with roommates who hate each other, and working at a job that I am convinced is going to kill me with stress. I start waking up in the early morning hours convinced that I’m somehow not living life the way I should. I’m desperately unhappy and yet I don’t know what I need to change. Live alone? Move to San Francisco? Quit the job and just see what happens or look for something else and hope for the best? I feel trapped inside my circumstances. One morning at 4:00 a.m., I wake up with my heart racing and unable to take a full breath and nearly paralyzed by fear. 

“I have to do something,” I whisper aloud. 

I start the yoga relaxation exercises I had learned years before–until I can breathe again. Then, I get out of bed and practice yoga postures until I feel stronger. A month later, I’ve found an apartment and moved out. (Fortunately, the year lease is up and the house’s owners want to sell.) Three months later, I quit the job and I am fortunate enough to find another in a short time. 

I’ve always been a worrier and anxiety has reared its head often in my life. My partner told me recently, “You know there’s a new study that theorizes that people who worry or overthink are likely to be creative geniuses.” “Wow,” I thought to myself. “I could have formulated the Theory of Relativity or written Valley of the Dolls.” This despite the plain fact that I was born too late for either accomplishment, but well… it could have happened.

monkeyI sound flippant here and I don’t mean to be. Anxiety is no laughing matter, though DCPL carries two titles that, in part, depict the humorous aspects of extreme worry. My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind by Scott Stoessel and Daniel Smith’s Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety are both very readable, and often hilarious, memoirs through which fellow sufferers (or those who love them) may find some perspective at least.

yogaAs far as my own anxiety control is concerned, yoga remains a mainstay. Yoga Therapy For Stress and Anxiety: Create a Personalized Holistic Plan to Balance Your Life by Robert Butera, Erin Byron and Stefan Elgelid is a good place to start your exploration of the time-honored practice. The Chemistry of Calm: A Powerful, Drug-Free Plan to Quiet Your Fears and Overcome Your Anxiety by Henry Emmons is another source that emphasizes movement, nutrition and meditation to help calm the over-busy brain.

“It doesn’t matter,” he says. “In the end, it doesn’t matter at all.” Speaking is a friend of mine of many years standing and much beloved. He has survived a long battle with depression and anxiety with the help of therapy and medication and his own persistence. He’s in a slump right now but I have known him long enough to understand that this one is relatively minor, and quiet support and empathy will do more good than jokes or dismay. He has driven me nearly crazy many times through the years, but honestly, I think he’s one of the bravest people I know.

The title of this post is something of a misnomer. Generalized Anxiety Disorder is the accepted designation today for what Freud called “free-floating” anxiety. In very basic terms, it is worry or anxiety unconnected to events or a specific life situation (although it can seem to be). Very few of us enjoy lives free of care–and certainly, I think there are transitional modes of being or feeling that are part of the human condition and that can teach us a great deal if we allow it. Remorse comes immediately to mind. Generalized Anxiety Disorder, however, can be debilitating in the extreme. If that is your situation–and it has been going on awhile or threatens to become all-consuming–then I would urge you to seek out all the assistance and support that you can. Life is too fragile and precious for anything less.

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Oct 26 2015

Traditions, Myths and Superstition

by Camille B

Photo of Green CloverI was working as a cashier at a grocery store some years ago when I had the strangest reaction from a customer while ringing up her items. When her final total appeared on the screen, she inhaled sharply like someone had pinched her. When I turned to look at the screen, sure enough her purchases had come up to, you guessed it, $6.66. She promptly turned to the candy rack behind her and added a pack of gum to change the offending numbers. Then, with everything right in her universe again, she walked out of the store looking satisfied, or was it relieved?

The gentleman in line behind her was shaking his head as he placed his items on the counter. I didn’t ask him why, but I figured it was either because he couldn’t make sense out of what he’d just witnessed or he simply didn’t believe in it–luck, karma, jinxes, call it what you will.

According to an article on WebMD titled The Psychology of Superstition, more than half of Americans admitted in a poll to being at least a little superstitious. Says Dr. Stuart Vyse, PhD and author of Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition“Superstitions provide people with the sense that they’ve done one more thing to try to ensure the outcome they are looking for.”

The list is endless for the things that people do, worldwide, to either ensure good luck or ward off the bad–black eyed peas to ring in the new year, throwing rice on the bride and groom, no opening of umbrellas in the house, 7 years of bad luck for broken mirrors–the list goes on and on. Here is A List of Good Luck and Bad Luck Superstitions that includes many we’ve probably heard of at one time or another.

Maybe you don’t think you’re superstitious, you’re much too level headed and practical for that. The WebMD article notes:

Intelligence seems to have little to do with whether or not we subscribe to superstition. …On the Harvard campus–where one would assume there are a lot of intelligent people–students frequently rub the foot of the statue of John Harvard for good luck.”

“Wanting more control or certainty is the driving force behind most superstition. We tend to look for some kind of a rule, or an explanation for why things happen.”

And, as Dr. Vyse explains: “Sometimes the creation of a false certainty is better than no certainty at all, and that is what most research suggests.”

I honestly believe that we are more superstitious than we may think. I believe in the positive placebo effect–if you think something will help you, it may do just that. There is “power in belief.”

So, you may not consider yourself superstitious. You’re not likely to walk around the neighborhood avoiding every crack in the sidewalk for fear of breaking your mother’s back, or avoid step ladders and black cats at all cost, but you may knock on wood for luck, dash a pinch of salt over your shoulder before you eat, or check your horoscope on a daily basis–things that have become more habitual and ritualistic to you than superstitious.   Black Cat

For some, it might be that you’re more of a traditionalist than you are superstitious. Habits, rituals, and customs you hold dear–they have been handed down to you through culture, family or religion and have become a part of who you are. You wore something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue at your wedding. You always bake cookies and let the kids leave them out for Santa. Or, the guys always come over to your house for the Super Bowl.

And what about those traditions we keep but we know not why?

The story is told about a young girl who was one night helping her mother prepare the Christmas dinner. She suddenly turned to her mother and asked the reason why they always cut the end of the ham off before putting it in the pot to boil. Her mother thought about this for a minute and said:

“Honey, you know I don’t know, go and ask your grandmother, it’s the way she always cooked it and that’s how I do it now.”

So the girl went to ask the same question of her grandmother: “Grandma, why do we cut the end of the ham off before we boil it?” The grandmother frowned a while, and finally said:

“You know dear, I don’t know the exact reason, I got if from Nana, that’s how she used to cook it. I guess you’ll have to go ask her.”

Finally, the girl went to her great grandmother hoping that she was finally going to get her answer. “Nana, why do we cut the end of the ham off every year before we put it in the pot to boil?”

Nana smiled her toothless smile and said:

“Oh girl, one Christmas many years ago we were getting ready to boil that ham and realized it was way too big to fit in the pot, so we had to cut the end off to get it to fit.”

And that’s tradition for you. Some things we hold dear to us and cherish for very specific and sentimental reasons; others we met in place and follow because it’s what we know, what’s been passed down to us through the years and as such have become sacred.

Sometimes it’s a myth or legend, passed down through the years and retold so many hundreds of times, the lines between truth and reality have become blurred and entwined. Even though the logical part of our brain tells us this simply can’t be true, a teeny part of us still wants to believe in Big Foot and the Loch Ness Monster, Atlantis, and the Bermuda Triangle. (Yes, maybe they are true!)

Finally, you may not identify with any of the above–you’re not one who is overly superstitious nor are you a traditionalist (and let’s not get you started by mentioning the word Yeti), but do you at least hold on to some favorite token or item that you figure brings you luck or good fortune? Grey’s Anatomy Doctor McDreamy wore his favorite ferryboat scrub cap while performing his surgeries. What do you use for your mojo? I know there must be something–a lucky penny perhaps or that special pencil you always use when you take your exams? Could it be that red rag you keep at the back of your sock drawer or maybe the rabbit’s foot hanging from the rearview mirror of your car? Whatever it is, I bet you that you’re not alone.

These were some of the items I discovered at DCPL while doing research for this post on the topics of myths, legends, superstitions and traditions.

Why People Believe Weird Things and The Believing Brain by Michael Shermer

Don’t Sing Before Breakfast, Don’t Sleep in the Moonlight by Lila Perl

Wisdom Tales from Around the World by Heather Forest


Oct 19 2015

Ann Rules Indeed

by Hope L

annrulesAnn Rule wrote 30 New York Times bestsellers, all of which are still in print. I, for one, think she really does rule. Unfortunately, the prolific author died July 26, 2015, at age 83. She had her first bestseller in 1980 with her book about serial killer Ted Bundy.

It may not be the first of Rule’s books that I’ve read, but The Stranger Beside Me definitely is the one that scared me the most and was the most memorable. I think it was the personal connection that Rule had to Ted Bundy that made that book unique and incredible–that, and of course, the subject matter of Ted Bundy, a serial killer whom most of us have heard about.

More recently, I read her book about Gwinnett County dentist Bart Corbin, Too Late to Say Goodbye: A True Story of Murder and Betrayal.

Ann Rule was once a Seattle police officer, and that’s why her writing seems so authentic, so mesmerizing. Right now I’m reading Every Breath You Take: A True Story of Obsession, Revenge, and Murder, and she fleshes out the myriad of details and somehow puts everything into a fascinating  account. Allen Van Houte, the criminal in this book, is truly unbelievable–and she recounts with incredible heartbreak the many people whose lives he ruined.


I’ve read a lot of true crime books, and I’d have to say that Ann Rule is right up there at the top of my favorites. She would write forewords to her books that spoke to readers like they were friends, often inviting them to drop her a line or an email.  Indeed, Every Breath You Take was written after Rule received a request from a fan who said that her sister wanted Rule to write her story should she ever die tragically (at the hands of her then ex-husband).

Click here to see what’s available by Ann Rule at DCPL.


The world is full of awards for literature—the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, the Edgar Allan Poe Award—but a recent conference introduced me to one I had not been familiar with before.

Named after a child born with cerebral palsy, the Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award is given every other year to the authors and illustrators of books, written for children and young adults, that show an accurate portrayal of individuals with developmental disabilities.

The award-winning titles feature characters with a range of disabilities, from Autism or Down Syndrome to intellectual disabilities that cause trouble in school.  The authors give us good stories with a lot of heart and help us genuinely empathize with the characters.

A few books I had read and loved previously went on to win this award:

scarA Small White Scar by K. A. Nuzum

In the summer of 1940, all Will wants to do is get away.  He’s sick of working the family ranch, sick of his father holding him back from what he wants to do, and sick of taking care of his twin brother, Denny, who has Down Syndrome.  But when Will decides to run away to compete in a rodeo, Denny follows.


The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowdlondon

Salim got on the London Eye Ferris Wheel—his cousins Kat and Ted watched.  But when the ride stopped a half hour later, Salim was nowhere to be found.  The police can’t find him, but Kat and Ted, making use of Ted’s unique way of viewing the world, are on the case.

rememberRemember Dippy by Shirley Reva Vernick

Johnny planned on enjoying his summer, but a change in his mom’s plans means he has to stay with his aunt and take care of his older, autistic cousin, Remember.  Will a pet ferret and the weather channel be enough to save Johnny from complete boredom?


The Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award is a collaboration between the Division on Autism and Developmental Disabilities, the Council for Exceptional Children, and the Special Needs Project.  For more information about the award, and a full list of winners, click here.


Oct 9 2015

Meru vs. The Holiday Inn

by Hope L

meruI have written previously here about adventurous sports like mountain climbing, ultra-marathons and cross-canyon treks.

But when I saw the film Meru (which won the Audience Award at Sundance) over a weekend at the Midtown Art Cinema, I thought, “Oh, come on now!”

Narrated by one of my favorite authors, Jon Krakauer (who knows a few things about mountain climbing), the film follows the pursuit of three climbers to summit the thus far unattainable Himalayan peak Meru. (Click here to see the movie trailer featured at The Guardian.)

Now, when I read and blogged about Krakauer’s and other climbs of Mount Everest, I thought surely that must be the ultimate challenge. Hardly. Meru sort of makes Everest look like the Holiday Inn.

I’m exaggerating, per usual, but watching these guys in their ledge bivouac, dangling precariously and waving in the sheer winds of an ice storm, having first lugged their equipment up the straight vertical cliffs (no sherpas in their right minds would work here), fighting frostbite and avalanches in a quest to perch atop a single “shark fin” protruding from this massive rock–well, let’s just say they wrote the book on crazy.

But almost running out of food and fuel has to be the last straw. It’s not like they have Papa John’s on speed dial up there.  I mean, even at the bottom of the Grand Canyon you can get a meal in a restaurant!

No, although the views are breathtaking at the top of the world, I fear my only involvement in extreme sports will have to continue to be outlasting the green-haired Generation X-er on the Stairmaster next to me at the gym.

And oh, does that make me happy!

Mammoth Book of Eyewitness EverestBut undoubtedly I will be reading more about Everest soon, inspired by the new movie with Jake Gyllenhaal.  There’s nothing better on a chilly day (or a hot one) than reading inside in a comfy chair (or sitting in a climate-controlled theater) while the crazy people in freezing, life-or-death adventure-dramas do their thing.

Use this link to find more books at DCPL about mountaineering and Everest, including The Mammoth Book of Eyewitness Everest edited by Jon E. Lewis, with 32 firsthand accounts.

Note to self: Stock up on hot chocolate and popcorn!  It’s going to be a COLD winter!

If you want to view the trailer for Gyllenhaal’s film, see: Everest – Official Trailer (HD) – YouTube.