Wednesday, January 29, 2014

‘Nuff Cold Weather for Ya?

Think HAWAII…those palm fronds above you swaying in sweet warm breeze…gentle blue waves…warm sand between your toes…some neon-colored drink in your hand...watching the Hawaiian sunset…Aaaah!

Can’t manage to get away?  Here is what you might do.
Check out DVDs from the library to watch under your blanket. 

Read about Hawaii, also under your blanket.

Aside from The Descendants and Hawaii, both based on books of the same titles, MCPL has:

THEN throw your blanket off and start planning your trip.

My favorite is Hawaii the Big Island Revealed and other “Revealed” series on Hawaii's other islands.
Both Fodor’s Hawaii (2012) and Frommer’s Hawaii (2012) are available in e-book format, which means you don't need to lug the heavy guide books around.   Not sure how to get e-books or e-audiobooks? Try MCPL's e-book information page.

When you get really serious, visit the Official Hawaii travel site. While you're at it, you might check romantic places in Hawaii.

Have fun and send us some pictures!   

Megumi L.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

We're Walking

Cover image for A walk in the woods : rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail / Bill Bryson.OK, so it’s January and walking probably is not on your radar at this moment. But the days swim by, and all of a sudden it will be March, and you may feel the tug of the great outdoors. Here are some titles written by those who have walked, and walked and walked.

My old favorite and I’m sure many of you will agree is A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson, wherein he and his friend Katz, an overweight couch potato, attempt to walk the entire length (2,100 miles) of the AT from Georgia to Maine. Although he and Katz do not realize their goal, Bryson paints a vivid picture of life on the Trail. He laughs about himself, the trail, other hikers and especially Katz, at the same time he offers an informative yet distressing dose of history. Bryson does not hesitate to express his opinions—of the Trail, the Park Service and the other hikers.

I particularly enjoyed the part when he and Katz finally get to a town after a particularly difficult hike and buy a package of three Hostess cupcakes. They each eat one and plan to split the third. But a particularly obnoxious hiker acquaintance comes along and eats it first. Bryson describes the combination of crestfallen and murderous look on the face of his junk food addict friend, Katz.

Bryson has written books on many different subjects: travel, memoirs, science, and history, with his patented funny/serious approach and I liked them all, but A Walk in the Woods will remain my favorite.

On the other side of the country is the Pacific Crest Trail, much more arduous and less populated than the Adirondack Trail. Cheryl Strayed, 22 years old with almost no hiking experience, decides to walk the 1000 miles from Southern California to Washington State, and more importantly, to do it alone, as therapy for her life gone astray (hence her name).

After the death of her mother, her family fell apart, and then her life fell apart. She left school; she left her husband, got into drugs and then got deeper into drugs. She happened to see a guidebook on the Pacific Crest Trail, and then made up her mind to do it, without any training. Her memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, documents her adventure on the trail, from her incredible unpreparedness, to the friends she met along the way. It was more of a soul searching journey than Bryson’s book, but she graphically describes her travails, such as her feet and her toenails (or the lack of them by the end of the hike). It is definitely a page turner, and the reader will look forward to finding out if her life turns out the way she wants it to.

Another soul searching “walk as therapy” memoir is Lynn Darling’s Out of the Woods: a Memoir of Wayfinding. Finding herself alone after her daughter leaves for college, she searches for answers to her life by moving to rural Vermont with her new dog and a compass, and hikes unmapped trails. Will she find the direction she seeks? Read this well received book.

Walking the Amazon, 360 days One Step at a Time by Ed Stafford is only for the hardiest of hikers. Stafford’s goal was to hike the length of the Amazon River….4,000 miles, some of it alone. He literally was attacked by Indians at one point. How much more exciting can you expect?

For those of you that would like to stay closer to home, and have a tamer adventure, here are some ideas:

Happy walking!

Lisa N

Thursday, January 16, 2014


We are two weeks into the new are those resolutions going?

Good intentions pave the way at the beginning of the year for many people, especially with perennial favorites like starting a diet, exercising regularly, giving up bad habits of all sorts or getting your personal finances in order. The morning talk shows have had non-stop features these last two weeks on the latest and greatest diet plans and fitness trends. I don’t really have resolutions so much as an ongoing commitment to better health in general and to being aware that my food choices affect my mood, my energy level and my brain in addition to my weight.

I bought a condo last year and one of my first “resolutions” then was to stop spending so much money on eating out (I did that a LOT). That was partly a commitment to healthier living and partly a commitment to reduce my spending.  Conventional wisdom holds that cooking for yourself at home is much less expensive than eating out. A recent study published in the British Medical Journal shows the cost gap might not be as big as we think. (The BMJ study is interesting, if’s a briefer, easier to read summary from Runner’s World magazine’s Australia edition.) The variables can make a big difference in calculating costs: are you comparing the expense of groceries and time for just one meal for one person or taking into account that purchasing ingredients to cook at home usually yields several meals? Are you really going to buy the $20 an ounce flavored oil used by the restaurant or are you more likely to buy something similar but much less expensive? Also, this study assumes direct comparison in terms of what is included in a meal, as in recreating a restaurant version of steak and potatoes in your own home.  The reality for millions in the United States is that even creating that same meal from fresh ingredients is too expensive or time consuming. It is faster and easier to reach for the box of “instant scalloped potatoes” on the grocery shelf than it is to buy the fresh potatoes and do the work ourselves. The trade-off in food quality and nutritional value is enormous, though. This post comparing eating out vs. eating in addresses some of those variables.

If you want some extra incentive to change eating habits, check out a few books or documentaries about the food industry and processed foods. Having read quite a few of these books and seen several of the documentaries, I can tell you that they have definitely influenced the way I shop for food and eat. I “shop the perimeter” of the grocery store and make an effort to get to a local farmer’s market whenever I can. I also pay attention to the “small print” on packaging. It can be surprising how many foods are “flavored with” things rather than containing the real thing itself (juices are a notorious example). Remember the documentary Super-size Me? In case you don’t, Morgan Spurlock ate nothing but fast food for 30 days. The changes to his body in that short a period of time are incredible...and not in a good way. The shock factor made it memorable and I think it heralded a new wave of interest in and investigation of the food industry and American eating habits. Many high school students in Montgomery County have chosen Fast Food Nation as part of their summer reading. (You’ll never think of chicken nuggets the same way again.) Here are some other suggestions for reading and viewing:
Even fiction writers pull elements of agribusiness and food culture into their books, like David Liss in The Ethical Assassin and Daniel Suarez in Freedom

Full disclosure: reading some parts of these books may have the opposite effect of what the author intends. The chapter in Salt Sugar Fat about how manufacturers scientifically calculate the perfect “mouth feel” of their foods had me salivating for my favorite crunchy, salty junk foods. And yes, I indulged myself that week even though I knew exactly how that wicked deliciousness was calculated to create an addiction. The good news is that I managed to stop after a handful (or two).


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Reaping the Whirlwind

Tornado in Moore, Oklahoma
Tornado in Moore, Oklahoma
In this season of year end retrospectives on 2013 one theme is echoed across the news media. It was a year of Extreme Weather, in the United States and around the world. The U.S. experienced record-breaking snowfall, floods, wildfires, tornados, heat, and cold.  The disruption of normal weather patterns made headlines across the globe.
  • In February, Winter Storm Nemo (they get names now) dumped an all-time record 36" of snow on Connecticut and in April the snow in Duluth, Minnesota was 50.8" deep.  Arkansas saw snow in May for the first time ever.   Major storms disrupted travel before both the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.  Abroad, the UK was crippled by the worst snow in 30 years and Cairo, Egypt experienced its first snowfall in 100 years.
  • Winter also brought record cold across the U.S. and summer record heat waves.  On June 30 it was 129.2 degrees in Death Valley!  
  • Rainfall broke records in the Mid-Atlantic region in June and July and caused terrible floods in Colorado with loss of life.  Meanwhile drought in the west made for one of the worst wildfire seasons ever, capped by the tragic death of 19 firefighters in Arizona.
  • Tornados raged across the mid-west, including one of the worst ever which hit Moore, Oklahoma on May 20 with winds up to 210 m.p.h.
  • Typhoon Haiyan, the most powerful storm ever recorded worldwide, hit the Philippines in November killing thousands.
The cumulative effect of all these weather disasters was to focus the news media on the science of climate change and global warming, a topic many had shied away from as it became a politically controversial topic.  But the consensus among scientists is clear and as the evidence has accumulated, thicker than the record snowfalls, we are seeing more scientifically accurate reporting in the media.  

Among the stories I noted this year was the interesting case of the message in a bottle.  In 1959 a scientist stuck a bottle under a pile of rocks on a Canadian Arctic glacier. Inside he left a note recording the distance between the rocks and the edge of the glacier.  This year scientists found the bottle and new measurements show the glacier has retreated 233 feet in the intervening years. 

Another story caught my eye because it seemed so preposterous - vineyards in England!  The idea would have seemed like science fiction in my youth, but now the winemaking industry is thriving in southern England because the climate is so much warmer.

The topic of climate change can be a challenge to research because there is still a lot of misinformation out there, often funded by industries with their own agenda. These websites are reliable sources of information:
  • from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
A subject search of the MCPL library catalog brings up an extensive list of resources including these: 
  • The aptly named Global Weirdness by the non-profit journalism and research organization Climate Central, Inc is also an excellent summation of the current science and what can and can't be done about it. 
Still not worried? Take a look at this time-lapse video of unusual melting at the North Pole in 2013. Or check out the new genre of disaster novels spawned by climate change, like 2013's Odds Against Tomorrow by Nathaniel Rich.  The cover, showing a submerged New York, was designed seven months before Hurricane Sandy actually did result in flooding part of the city. 

Rita T.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Presents You Don't Want

“The Fourth Santa of the Apocalypse,” Spotswood, N.J. Santa skeleton on horse.
“The Fourth Santa of the Apocalypse,” Spotswood, N.J.

Well, here we are again: the gifts have been opened and, alone in your home, you survey the loot. Maybe it doesn't all come up to your expectations, maybe there are some real misses in the pile, but you know, it could be worse.  Here are some weird presents the Huffington Post listed in 2012:
  • Dog Lamp With Poop-shaped Floor Switch: You step on the poop to turn it on.
  • Cheese Head Bed: A mattress shaped like a slice of cheese.
  • Barking Door Alarm: This plays the sound of an angry dog when someone tries to forcefully open your door.
  • UnderUps: Suspenders that go under your shirt so you don’t look like a throw-back from the 70s.
  • Wine Rack Stealth Cooler Bra: This bra holds 25 ounces of alcohol and it comes with a rubber straw for sipping.
  • CanBeGlobal: A can of air from any one of the fabulous cities around the world.
  • Bloody Wall Mural: This is wallpaper that offers a morbid and bloody scene.
There's a list for 2013, too. Be thankful you didn't get the grass covered flip-flops.

Grass covered flip-flops

You can find another odd list on that includes fake hairy feet shoes from Nike, endangered feces, and pork flavored dental floss.

Shoes from Nike that look like hairy feet.
Nike Hairy feet shoes

At least if you received a present as terrible as some of these, you'll have a good tale to tell, huh?  People enjoy sharing their "really bad present" stories:
My aunt once gave me a book entitled, "How to Save Your Marriage." My other aunt gave me a Weight Watchers scale. -- Plain Jane
Okay, some are just plain sad.

But kids--kids actually ask for weird presents.   For example:
  • My 3 year old really really wants ANOTHER invisible puppy for Christmas. I don’t know if it’s in the budget.
  • My oldest asked for “a real baby sister and a toy stepmother” — she already has a baby sister and the step mother thing isn’t going to happen.
  • My 5 year old asked for kitten chow. We don’t have a cat.
  • My four year old told me he wants one of those “roller thingies that he can lay on and roll underneath cars so he can see underneath cars” …..and no, we do not have any mechanics in the family that he could have gotten this idea from…..he also wants a locker, his own refrigerator, and his own washing machine…..
  • When my son was 5 he asked for a clipboard. I didn’t think he really wanted one so he didn’t get one and in Christmas morning that is the one thing he said “Santa didn’t bring me a clipboard.” He asked for one when he was six also, he got it that year.
  • Last year my 14-year-old asked for SPAM! Yep she got it. Not only from Santa, but from everyone that knew she wanted it! We went to Hawaii earlier that year and she fell in love with Spam!
  • This year my son ask for a bag of concrete and chicken wire!! I have no clue what he is planning.
  • My 3 year old wants to go to the car wash for Christmas
  • My son asked for a fart machine so he could blame it on his toy 
Next year, to know your presents for others will not be on one of those lists, use our consumer information pages to help you make your choices.

Now it's time to treat yourself.  Come to the library and borrow that book you didn't get in your stocking.  You can find a list of books on order, and read suggestions at the Reader's Café  or on the sites for kids or teens.

Happy New Year!

Cartoon of Annette