Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Trim Your Budget: Borrow a Book

Thanks again to the Waterloo Public Library's blog for this humorous New Yorker riff on advice that one should “check books out of the library instead of buying them. . . . New releases of hard-cover novels cost $25 and more these days. If you buy just two a month, that’s $600 a year.”

New Yorker humorist Ian Frazier’s tongue-in-cheek response to that advice appeared in the article, “Ten Sure Ways to Trim Your Budget.” Here are a few:

“As an accountant, the first thing I tell my clients is ‘Get a library card!’ Otherwise, you’re too subject to temptation, and liable to find yourself in over your head. Few people know that the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the United States is the Clan of the Cave Bear novels.”

“Eventually, I was able to cut back on novels to one a month, then half a novel, then just a few pages. As of this week, I have not looked at a novel (except from the library) for eighteen months, knock wood. For the first time, I’m learning what it is to live within a budget.”

“If every American back in 1950 had quit buying novels and invested money in high-yield bonds, today we would be looking at a savings surplus of several trillion dollars, and Social Security would not be in the mess it’s in.”

But seriously . . . in this holiday season, when budgets get stretched, using the library is not bad advice. The public library remains one of the few services that can be enjoyed without having to pull out your credit or debit card. Join us for reading material and free activities this month!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Once the turkey is stuffed and in the oven, it’s time for the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The parade got its start 80 years ago when employees of the chain’s flagship in New York City dressed in costumes, borrowed animals from the Central Zoo, and marched with floats and bands. More than a quarter of a million people watched the festivities and Macy’s decided to make it an annual event.

By 1927, balloon animals replaced the real ones. Felix the Cat was first filled with air, but by 1928 helium was used. The Mickey Mouse balloon first appeared in 1934. During World War II, the parade was suspended due to the need for helium and rubber in the war effort. In 1947, the parade achieved true fame when Hollywood featured it prominently in the film Miracle on 34th Street.

The 2006 parade will feature Miss USA Tara Elizabeth Conner, “American Idol” winner Taylor Hicks and Barry Manilow. The Homewood High School Patriot Marching Band of Alabama will also be performing for their seventh time -– a record for return engagements at the parade.

Eat hearty on Thanksgiving –- it will fortify you for the rigors of “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving, which has historically marked the kickoff to the holiday shopping season.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

“Fourscore and Seven Years Ago . . .”

In several days, we will mark the anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It took less than two minutes to deliver and was less than 300 words, but it’s considered Lincoln’s best speech and perhaps one of the most eloquent in the English language.

The speech was delivered on November 19, 1863 at the dedication of a cemetery for the 7,500 soldiers who had died at the Civil War’s Battle of Gettysburg five months earlier.

Lincoln was actually invited as an afterthought to the ceremony. The main speech was delivered by Edward Everett, a former secretary of state and U.S. senator who was considered one of the great orators of the era. In the program, Lincoln’s speech is just listed as “Dedicatory Remarks.” Also, contrary to myth, the president did not compose the speech on the back of an envelope on a train to Gettysburg.

Five copies of the speech in Lincoln’s handwriting still exist, including the version begun at the White House and finished in pencil at Gettysburg the morning of the dedication. It is kept at the Library of Congress.

For more on Lincoln’s famous words, check out:

Books That Made History, Part 2 by J. Rufus Fears (available on CD and video).

Lincoln’s Speeches Reconsidered by John Channing Briggs.

Lincoln’s Prose by Abraham Lincoln (eAudiobook).

A New Birth of Freedom: Abraham Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War by Harry V. Jaffa.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Gingerbread Houses

This week the National Gingerbread House Competition takes place down in Asheville, North Carolina at the historical Grove Park Inn. Hundreds of edible and decorative concoctions will fill the resort’s Grand Ballroom, to be displayed until January 6, 2007. The grand prize winner and selected other winners will appear on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Friday, December 22.

Gingerbread dates from the Middle Ages when Crusaders brought back ginger, sugars, almonds and citrus fruits from the Near East. Catholic monks started to bake gingerbread for Saints’ Day, often using saints and religious symbols in their concoctions. ("A Gingerbread Tradtion," Journal of Antiques and Collectibles, December 2000)

Cooks in the more secular 17th and 18th centuries baked gingerbread into the shape of lords and ladies, soldiers, castles and sometimes flowers or geometric patterns. By the late 19th century, when Christmas became more commercial, no bakery window was without a gingerbread house.

If you would like to try your hand at this ancient art, great instructions and good links are available at About.com -- Gingerbread Houses. Or check out:

Making Gingerbread Houses: Dozens of Delectable Designs and Ideas by Veronika Alice Gunter.

Making Great Gingerbread Houses: Delicious Designs From Cabins to Castles, From Lighthouses to Tree Houses by Aaron Morgan.

Gingerbread Houses: A Complete Guide to Baking, Building and Decorating by Patti Falzarano.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Children’s Book Week

November 13-18 is Children’s Book Week, sponsored by The Children's Book Council, the nonprofit trade association of children’s and young adult book publishers.

Children’s Book Week dates from 1919, when it was organized at the annual American Booksellers Association. It had its roots, however, about seven years earlier at the 1912 ABA convention when publisher E.W. Mumford delivered a paper entitled “Juvenile Readers as an Asset.” The New York Times reported on the presentation, which was a strong indictment of the harm done to children by reading “trashy” books. The head of the Boy Scouts read about the presentation and decided to partner with the ABA and the American Library Association to sponsor a “Good Book Week.” It evolved into Children’s Book Week several years later.

Since the first Children’s Book Week 86 years ago, children’s literature has certainly evolved. If you’re interested in some of the best in picture books and children’s literature published over the years, browse the list of Caldecott and Newbery medal winners on the library’s Web site. The awards are given annually by the American Library Association.

Check out the special Children’s Week activities at the Fairfax County Public Library.

Monday, November 06, 2006

At the Polls

It’s the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November again and at the 10,000 precinct polling places scattered across the country, voters will be lining up to cast their ballots from sunup to sundown.

For many who work, Election Day can be an inconvenience. There are those who suggest it should be moved to a weekend. But back in 1845 when Congress decided there should be a uniform day for elections, the first Tuesday in November was quite convenient for the farmers in a rural society. The hard work of the harvest was done, but the weather was still mild enough in most areas to travel the dirt roads common at the time.

Tuesdays were chosen because it often took a day’s travel to get to the county seat where elections took place, and Sundays were reserved for church. Congress also ensured that a Tuesday Election Day would never fall on November 1 -– All Souls Day and a Catholic holy day –- by insisting that it always occur after the first Monday in November. (Why We Vote When We Do)

This year all 435 seats in the House of Representatives are up for election; as are 33 of the 100 members of the U.S. Senate and 36 of the 50 governors. For more on elections, check the Politics and Election section of the library’s Web site.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Sandwich Day

November 3 marks the birthday of John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, born in 1718. He is credited with inventing the food staple that consists of meat, vegetable or cheese between two slices of bread. However, it’s more likely he lent his title to a food item that already existed. According to Wikipedia, the ancient Jewish sage Hillel the Elder created a form of sandwich when he put meat from the Paschal lamb and bitter herbs inside matzo (or flat bread) during Passover. On the other hand, it’s probable that matzo was soft back in the 1st Century BC, and what Hillel invented was actually a wrap.

Check out:

Beautiful Breads and Fabulous Fillings: The Best Sandwiches in America by Margaux Sky.

Nancy Silverton’s Sandwich Book: The Best Sandwiches Ever From Thursday Nights at Campanile by Nancy Silverton.

Vegetarian Sandwiches: Fresh Fillings for Slices, Pockets, Wraps and Rolls by Paulette Mitchell.

Wrap It Up: 100 Fresh, Bold and Bright Sandwiches With a Twist by Amy Colter.

Speaking of food -- sandwiches and otherwise -- Jane and Michael Stern, authors of “Two for the Road,” a monthly column in Gourmet magazine, as well as Roadfood and Eat Your Way Across the USA, will share their expertise on delicious holiday menus, giving food and wine as gifts, and more at 7:30 p.m. on November 8 at the Fairfax County Government Center. To sign up for this free event, call 703-324-8428 or e-mail libraryevents@fairfaxcounty.gov. Books will be available for sale and signing courtesy of Barnes & Noble - Tysons Corner.