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

October 2013

Oct 29 2013

Jack-o’-lanterns!

by Jesse M

There are a lot of things to love about Halloween: the haunted houses, the costumes, the candy! But perhaps my favorite aspect of Halloween is one I observe every year, even when I don’t elect to dress up or decorate much, and that is pumpkin carving.

Extreme pumpkin carving coverThe origin of pumpkin carving is uncertain. In the United States, the first jack-o-lantern associated with Halloween was recorded in 1866, although carved pumpkins were first associated with the harvest season in general long before they became emblematic of Halloween.

Freakishly cool pumpkins coverThese days, the art of pumpkin carving has evolved into a complex affair, with numerous contests showcasing elaborate and inventive works of art that most of us couldn’t hope to equal. Yet there are resources available through DCPL that can help you create the jack-o-lantern of your dreams (or perhaps nightmares?), such as How to Carve Freakishly Cool Pumpkins and Extreme Pumpkin Carving. Other good resources for techniques and ideas are available online.

Did you carve an awesome jack-o’-lantern this year? Snap a picture and share a link to it in the comments! Here is one I’m particularly impressed by: R2D2 of Star Wars fame, carved just yesterday by my girlfriend. Below photos courtesy of Amy E.

Photo courtesy of Amy E.

Photo courtesy of Amy E.

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The holidays are upon us, whether we are ready or not. As soon as Halloween ends, we start thinking of Thanksgiving and Christmas and all of the happiness these holidays bring us. However we never think about all of the problems these holidays bring. I really love Thanksgiving, because my mom makes all of the food that she does not make all year long. However getting the food is the problem. The grocery stores—all of them—are a nightmare the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. During this time of the year cheese, sugar and flour become hot items; they are even featured on the cover of the weekly ads in the grocery store. But once you have done all of your grocery shopping, including those last minute items that you always forget to buy, like eggs, you are okay, right? Wrong! Because the granddaddy of them all is on the way—Christmas. Christmas, not only does it monopolize the grocery stores, but all of the other stores as well. Traffic is horrible everywhere and there is never anywhere to park. Christmas is just a shoppers nightmare.

To help deal with the holiday stress, check out these books.

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Oct 22 2013

Scare Me Silly!

by Hope L

scared-woman-retroI like to be scared.  Not grossed out, and not shocked by violent images.

A good scary movie—the kind I like—is hard to find, especially nowadays. The scariest movie I can remember seeing as an adult was when I saw The Blair Witch Project by myself (during a time in my life when I lived in a house in the woods—the movie and the screech owls in South Carolina had me running into my house after I got out of the car at night).

The Conjuring, released this year, was not that scary, but then of course, I no longer live in the woods or by myself. Nor do we have screech owls bidding their hellos at night where I now live.

The Conjuring tells the story of Lorraine and Ed Warren, paranormal investigators who founded the New England Society for Psychic Research in 1952 and who had dealt with the case made famous by Jay Anson’s 1977 book, The Amityville Horror (which was itself the basis for ten films released between 1979 and 2011).

Now, just in time for Halloween, here are some other scary movies I’ve loved:

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Oct 18 2013

Earthly pleasures…all year long

by Dea Anne M

As regular readers of this blog know, I am an enthusiastic, if still inexpert, gardener. I’ve posted here before about the four raised beds in my yard and I have to say that in the year-plus since that post I’ve learned a lot about the proper use of compost, the importance of weeding (even in raised beds), and what vegetables grow best in our climate. Over the weekend, I took out the last of the summer plants—tomatoes, pole beans, and spent tomatillos and went ahead with my plans for a fall/winter garden. The traditional view of gardening is that after the early fall harvest and clean-up, vegetable gardens sit fallow, usually under a blanket of pristine snow. Well, according to the USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map my zip code corresponds with Zone 8a which means that, with care, I should be able to grow something all year round. For the fall, I’m growing lettuces, radish, carrots, mustards, bok choy, turnips, and two varieties each of broccoli and spinach. I’m growing everything from seed so it will be awhile before I’ll start to see the results of my planting but I’m holding out hope for success. I’m especially curious to see what “Red Velvet” lettuce looks like as well as an heirloom variety of spinach called “Monstrueux de Viroflay” which I suppose translates as “monster of Viroflay.” It was developed in France in the 1800’s and the plants can supposedly grow to be up to two feet wide. We will see.

Are you interested in trying some year-round gardening? If so, you’ll find help with these resources from DCPL.

Eliot Coleman has long been acknowledged as a guru of year-round vegetable gardening and his book  The New Organic Grower’s Four Season Harvest: how to harvest fresh organic vegetables from your home garden all year long is considered a classic. The book came out in 1992 so it’s hardly new today but you’ll still find plenty of useful information within.

starterI’ve mentioned Barbara Pleasant’s Starter Vegetable Gardens: 24 no-fail plans for small organic gardens on this blog before. This book remains an absolute gem for any gardener, new or veteran. I mention it again in the four season gardening context because many of the garden plans that Pleasant presents are tailored to specific climate patterns, such as our long, hot summers, with ideas of what to plant during the traditional “non-growing” season. Highly recommended.

idiotsThe Complete Idiot’s Guide to Year-Round Gardening by Delilah Smittle and Sheri Ann Richerson includes information on growing flowers as well as fruits and vegetables. Topics include greenhouse gardening as well as traditional gardening and the authors even cover how to garden in your root cellar (not that many folks I know here in the Southeast have those). One element that I particularly appreciate about the authors’ approach is that they emphasize over and over the importance of soil quality. I have found through my years of gardening that starting with the best soil is the surest guarantee of quality results. Smittle and Richerson also provide expert guidance on starting seeds indoors—invaluable advice for any gardener who wants to grow a wider variety of vegetables for less money than one pays for starter plants or anyone who wants to experiment with heirloom varieties that are only available as seeds.

Finally, allow me to suggest two books that could very well provide you withtender the inspiration to grow your own. Both are cookbooks and both are penned by British authors. The first, Tender: a cook and his vegetable patch comes from Nigel Slater who wrote the wonderful memoir Toast: the story of a boy’s hunger. The second is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg: 200 inspired vegetable recipes. Fearnley-Whittingstall is a leading champion of the sustainable food movement in Britain whose books also include The River Cottage Fish Book. Both Fearnley-Whittingstall’s book and Slater’s feature wonderful writing, straight-forward recipes, and beautiful photography. Slater’s recipes are not necessarily vegetarian (though Fearnley-Whittingstall’s are) but either book will show you the stunning variety of delicious dishes that revolve around vegetables—whether you grow your own or not.

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Oct 17 2013

Tell me if you’re chicken

by Rebekah B

Robert L.

Right: Mr. Robert Leonard wearing his “My Chicken is Smarter than Your Honor Student” t-shirt

Through a recent misadventure with ten to fifteen thousand tenacious yellow jackets who set up residence in one of the larger plant containers on my porch, I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Robert Leonard, a local beekeeper, chicken farmer, gardener, home improvement expert, and bartender, among other occupations.  I found Robert by Google searching for beekeepers in the Decatur area.  Robert was very kind and quickly offered to come and evaluate the situation, happily risking and succumbing to multiple stings and hive destructions before eradicating the problem.scarecrowhives

Left: Scare crow in Mr. Leonard’s vegetable garden. Right: A view of his bee hives.

Back to our chickens!  During my four year tenure at DCPL, I have noticed that a large number of books are devoted to the raising of chickens, the building of artful chicken coops and the designing of gardens specifically for the enjoyment of poultry.  Meet-up groups and books devoted to homesteading, organic gardening, urban farming, and heirloom vegetables abound.  After meeting Robert, my curiosity about chickens was awakened.  I wanted to find out in person why chicken farming is so appealing to the middle class urbanite and suburbanite.  Is it a quasi-romantic or nostalgic desire to experience an attachment to the land, to grow one’s own food?  Is it the environmentalist’s quest for traceability, to know exactly where one’s food is sourced?

[read the rest of this post…]

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Oct 11 2013

Bill Bryson

by Jesse M

Although the majority of my reading material tends to be fiction, I like to mix it up every once in a while with a good nonfiction book, and in today’s post I’ll talk about one of my go-to non-fiction authors, Bill Bryson.

Bryson writes on a number of topics, ranging from science, history, and etymology, but he is perhaps best known for his travel writing (he has actually been mentioned before on this blog in that context). Whatever his topic of choice, Bryson thoroughly explores the subject with his trademark wit and humor, using a writing style that is easy and pleasant to read (and listen to as well; he even narrates many of his own audiobooks!).

Interested readers can find the majority of Bryson’s output in the DCPL catalog, but if you’re new to his work, allow me to recommend some of my favorites:

A walk in the woods coverA Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering the Appalachian Trail describes his attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail, interspersed with discussions of matters relating to the trail’s history, and the surrounding sociology, ecology, trees, plants, animals and people. It is as much a book of personal discovery as it is an exploration of the Appalachian Trail, and it is hard to say which aspect of the book I enjoyed more.

In a sunburned country cover In a Sunburned Country, written in a similar style to A Walk in the Woods, details his travels by car and rail throughout Australia, with asides concerning the history, geography and ecology of the country, along with his wry impressions of the life, culture and amenities (or lack thereof) in each locality. This book has the distinction of being the funniest that I’ve read by him, which is saying something since all of his work is quite humorous.

A Short History of Nearly Everything coverA Short History of Nearly Everything deviates from the travel guide style of the previous two books, instead focusing on the history of scientific discovery and an exploration of the individuals who made the discoveries. In this fashion he covers a variety of topics including chemistry, geology, astronomy, and particle physics, moving through scientific history from the Big Bang to the discovery of quantum mechanics. The book has won multiple awards, claiming the Aventis prize in 2004 for best general science book and the Descartes Prize the following year for science communication.

At home coverAt Home: A Short History of Private Life is a history of domestic life told through a tour of Bryson’s Norfolk home, a former rectory in rural England. The book covers topics of the commerce, architecture, technology and geography that have shaped homes into what they are today, showing how each room has figured in the evolution of private life. Possibly my favorite of Bryson’s many works, this is a must read for anyone interested in the fascinating history of everyday things whose existence most of us take for granted. To get an idea of the breadth of what the book covers, take a look at the wikipedia page.

One Summer coverBryson has recently published a new book, titled One Summer: America, 1927, which examines the events and personalities of the summer of 1927, a momentous season that begins in May with Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight and ends with Babe Ruth hitting his then-record-setting 60th home run on the last day of September, amongst many other notable events. Bryson will actually be in Decatur this evening (Friday, October 11 2013, 7:00 pm—9:00 pm) at First Baptist Church Decatur as part of the Georgia Center for the Book’s Festival of Writers series to promote the new book. For more details visit this page.

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Oct 9 2013

Are You Ready for Read Pink?

by Jencey G

whataliceforgotOctober is National Breast Cancer Awareness month. In the past three years, Penguin has offered selected special edition Read Pink titles that feature Read Pink seals on the cover and additional information in the back of the book underlining Penguin’s support of The Breast Cancer Research Foundation’s mission and urging readers to become actively involved in supporting the organization.

This is the fourth year of the program for Penguin, and they will donate $25,000 to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation regardless of sales. The Breast Cancer Research Foundation is responsible for many important discoveries in the fight against breast cancer. Some of the Read Pink selections are available at the library. Check them out:

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Oct 7 2013

The Atlanta Mary Mysteries

by Hope L

Truth really is stranger than fiction. That’s the main reason I enjoy reading non-fiction books.  In this post and the next, I will explore the strange stories of the two Marys.

I’m fascinated with true crime mysteries right here in our own metropolis, but none intrigue me more than the cases of the two Marys: Mary Phagan, a 13-year-old pencil factory worker who was found murdered in 1913, and Mary Shotwell Little, a 25-year-old C & S secretary who disappeared seemingly into thin air from Lenox Mall in 1965. Mary Shotwell Little vanished after eating dinner with a friend at the S & S Cafeteria at Lenox Mall.

Here are a few books from the Library’s collection about the Mary Phagan case. My next post will highlight some publications on the Mary Shotwell Little case.

And the Dead Shall Rise:  the Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank, by Steve Oney, is definitely the most thorough account of the Phagan/Frank crimes I’ve read.  If you don’t know about Mary Phagan:  The 13-year-old was found murdered in the pencil factory where she worked. Factory superintendent and part-owner Leo Frank was tried and convicted of the crime. His death sentence was later commuted by the governor to life in prison. Upon hearing this, an angry mob took Frank at gunpoint from the state prison at Milledgeville and brought him to Marietta where they hanged him. Frank was ultimately pardoned posthumously. The story became nationally famous because of the anti-Semitism involved, the founding of B’nai B’rith’s Anti-Defamation League, the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan and the local newspaper sensationalism pitting the working class and child labor vs. Atlanta’s moneyed elite.

Murder in the Peach State – Infamous Murders from Georgia’s Past, by Bruce L. Jordan, starts with a chapter on Mary Phagan and Leo Frank. The book itself is dedicated to columnist Celestine Sibley, who was a court reporter for years covering the trials of Georgia’s most infamous murders.

The Murder of Little Mary Phagan, by Mary Phagan (great-niece and namesake of the Mary Phagan), tells the family’s side of the story and the grim nature of the crime. Another book about the story is The Leo Frank Case, by Leonard Dinnerstein.

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Oct 4 2013

Life changes…in the kitchen

by Dea Anne M

The economy may be slowly improving (according to some sources) but I think most of us would agree that any particular economic situation could alter in a sudden and dramatic fashion. We hope it won’t but sometimes it does and when it does we have to find inner resources and develop strategies to meet new challenges. One place to do that is in our kitchens. Broad agreement seems to exist that cooking at home saves money over eating out (although even that seemingly reasonable tenet comes under dispute now and then).

Maybe our financial situation remains stable but our life changes in some other way. Maybe we fall in love and relocate. Maybe we become parents. Or maybe we want to develop a more focused and resourceful  lifestyle. Even here, some of the most significant changes come about through shifting our perspective towards food and cooking. Here are a few memoirs that I’ve read over the past year that center around life changes and how those have effected the author’s perspective on the kitchen.  All are available at DCPL and all are, I think, well worth your time.

feastThe author of Poor Man’s Feast: a love story of comfort, desire, and the art of simple cooking is Elissa Altman, who also creates the popular blog by the same name. Altman was living a busy life in Manhattan, a life filled with work and complicated dinner parties, when she fell in love with a woman who lived in rural Connecticut. Altman moved to be with her new love (now her spouse) and, over time, found herself embracing Susan’s devotion to simple living and her practical (yet passionate) approach to food and cooking. My favorite andecdote is when Altman suggests making lobster bisque at a time when both women are between jobs. Susan gently insists on split-pea soup instead and the results prove that often simple is best and sustenance has a meaning beyond mere fuel.

nearbyThe title of Robin Mather’s The Feast Nearby: how I lost my job, buried a marriage, and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering, and eating locally (all on $40 a week) may seem like an exagerration but you soon find that this is not so. Within the space of a week, Mather lost her job and learned that her husband wanted a divorce. She moved to rural Michigan to re-group and start over and, lacking unlimited funds, determined to eat locally produced food and limit her food budget to $40 a week. Not everyone can, or wants to, grow vegetables and keep chickens – much less roast their own coffee beans – but Mather’s experience helped her forge connections in her community and develop a life both rich and deep. This is a moving, and quite upbeat, book that has lessons for all of us.

breadWhen Jennifer Reese, who writes the very funny food blog The Tipsy Baker, lost her corporate job she decided to experiment with trying to make food at home which she had previously purchased ready-made. The result is Make the Bread, Buy the Butter: what you should and shouldn’t cook from scratch — over 120 recipes for the best homemade foods (which I’ve mentioned before on DCPLive). Reese found out that homemade is often best…but not always. Some things are worth making yourself (hummus, marshmallows, peanut butter). Others aren’t worth the time and trouble ( butter, ketchup). Some foods Reese recommends either buying or making (yogurt, mayonnaise) depending on one’s available time and energy level. Wildly humorous, yet practical ( the recipes really work), I couldn’t recommend this book more highly.

eatingTwenty-something Brooklynite, Cathy Erway, experienced an epiphany of sorts while dining out with friends. A no-better-than mediocre burger and a ho-hum beer made her realize just how much time (and money) she was spending eating out in the city where “no one cooks.” Erway decided to experiment by making all her food at home (for two years!) and blogging about it. Not Eating Out in New York is still going strong five years later and inspired Erway’s interesting memoir The Art of Eating In: how I learned to stop spending and love the stove. Erway experiments with urban foraging, freeganism, and competition cooking. Along the way, she faces challenges such as “If you can’t go out to dinner,  what do you do on a date?” Erway also forges a deeper connection with her friends and family and she does indeed save money.  This is a fun read that poses provocative questions about what it means to lead a sustainable lifestyle.

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Oct 2 2013

Movies worth watching

by Joseph M

I’ll admit that I’m not really a “movie person”. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching movies on occasion, but truth be told I rarely make the time for them. However, there are a few filmmakers who have consistently impressed me as a viewer and left me wanting more. Wes Anderson is one such individual. As a director, screenwriter, and producer, Mr. Anderson has been involved in some excellent films, many of which are available at DCPL. These include:

I am especially fond of those last three films.

Who are some of your favorite filmmakers?

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