Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Eve of the New Year

The iconic event of this holiday for many Americans is the dropping of the mega-ball in Times Square. Do you have any idea how long this has been going on? On December 31, 1907 over 200,000 revelers witnessed the original descent of the electric ball from the Times Tower. It was a huge hit! The crowd's noisy approval could be heard in Shropshire. Well, maybe not, but I'm sure it was very loud. The previous 3 years Adolph Ochs, owner and publisher of the Times, shot off fireworks from the Tower. From the base of the Tower. In the middle of New York City. At the Turn of the Century. Miraculously, the city didn't burn down to a teensy pile of ashes, and we can thank the Mother of Invention for the existence of the New Year's Ball. Read all this and much more in:
The Devil's playground : a century of pleasure and profit in Times Square

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Celebrate Rudyard

So on this day in 1865 Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay India. Actually Joseph Rudyard Kipling was born. Why he chose his middle name over the perfectly spell-able Joseph remains a mystery. There can't have been that many Kiplings running around for pete's sake. The 'Rudyard' didn't keep him from winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907. He wrote poetry, novels, short stories, children's books - everything but agricultural manuals. So L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz has one up on him. Baum's first book was The Book of the Hamburgs, A Brief Treatise upon the Mating, Rearing, and Management of the Different Varieties of Hamburgs. Hamburgs are chickens. You'd think they'd be cows, but no. I digress! Two of Kipling's most famous works, the Jungle Book and Just So Stories start with the letters 'ju'. What were the chances? About the same as someone choosing the name 'Rudyard' instead of 'Joseph'.

Graphic source: Biography Resource Center

Monday, December 29, 2008

Not Kitschty, but recycled.

Wrapping paper bows. This is such a good idea! You know all those scraps of gorgeous wrapping paper that you are loathe to pitch, but they're waaay too small to wrap anything? Use 'em to make even more gorgeous bows. Cut the scraps into strips, width and length dependent on the size bow you want. Strips should be more than twice as long as the desired diameter of your bow. (should have given you a math warning, huh.) Experiment! They're scraps already! Make a loop of each strip and squish the middle together, keeping the ends of the scrap in the middle of the squish. Staple through both layers of the strip in the middle of the squish, making sure the loop ends are secured. Keep making smaller and smaller loops, and set them inside the original loop. Adjust the position of each loop so the bow takes on a full appearance. Fluff so the staples are not visible. Admire your handiwork. Wear it as a hat if you wish. I'm not tellin'.

Graphic source: Instructables

Friday, December 26, 2008

And...Closed Again

All six buildings of the Des Moines Public Library are closed yet again! We'll come back tomorrow, we promise.

Today's Tidbit from our Local History Wiki:
The latest day to record snowfall in Des Moines was May 28, 1947.

Graphic Source: Dover Sampler

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Still Closed

All buildings of the Des Moines Public Library are still closed!

Today's Tidbit from our Local History Wiki:
The top snowfall in Des Moines was 19.8 inches on January 1, 1942!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

We are Closed Today

All buildings of the Des Moines Public Library are closed today. But you can still return items in our drop-boxes.

Today's Tidbit from our Local History Wiki: The lowest temperature ever recorded in Des Moines was –30 degrees on January 5, 1884!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Sleep Like a Baby. A happy, just-fed one.

OK, I know you tried a vegetable yesterday and I'm guessing your system did not reject it. (There were no news reports about spontanous human detonations, anyway.) See how well that worked out? Here's something else I'll try to goad you into, as my campaign to keep you healthy escalates. You have got to get some sleep! Go to bed now! This is what I tell myself when I'm up late staring vacantly at a mound of stuff that needs to become some other kind of stuff. If repeating this to myself 20-30 times doesn't work, my husband eventually registers the lump in the chair and encourages me to make the effort to move. In the past this has occasionally involved gently pushing me up the stairs. But not everyone has a personal trainer, so you may need a little help sleeping. This book could be just the thing. You know how I am about books. They're the next best thing to a pushy husband.

50 ways to sleep better / Neil B. Kavey

Monday, December 22, 2008

Eat One Healthy Thing Today

If you're like me, your blood currently contains near-hallucinogenic levels of sugar. I see sweets everywhere - oh wait! They're real! All too real and I cannot resist them. So I force myself to have a bran cereal for breakfast instead of cookies. I know, I'm being too hard on myself. But you might want to try the odd veggie or two this season. Best reason by far - it make the chocolate taste even better! If you need inspiration, here are titles:

Friday, December 19, 2008

Foreign Film Festival

Sounds dreary, doesn't it? Movies long on deep, subtle meaning and short on entertainment. But it's nothin' but fun if you go with Hayao Miyazaki's work. He is the premiere artist of animated film today, in my opinion. You've got your brave and lively young heroines; interesting and often bizarre worlds; and familiar plots that seem fresh again. Here are 4 recommendations, and the order in which I think you should see them. From good to absolutely amazing.

Kiki's Delivery Service. Kiki delivers by way of broomstick. Just light fun and the inevitable storm. Too bad Kiki doesn't pack a so'wester when she's outside running deliveries on her dust bunny destroyer.

Howl's Moving Castle Sophie is bewitched and winds up a servant in a handsome wizard's castle. The castle looks like a Rube Goldberg creation and staggers around with a Goldbergian lack of grace. The movie is meatier than Kiki's Delivery Service, but stumbles when Miyazaki introduces elements not found in Diane Wynne Jones' book, on which the movie is based. But you'll love Sophie enough to forgive this.

Princess Mononoke In this gorgeous movie, the battle between industry and nature is played out between physical embodiments of both. The people of the mine destroy the earth not for personal fortune, but to give a better life to society's cast-offs. The gods of the forest, appearing in animal form, fight back. Prince Ashitaka tries to avert war. That gives you the plot basics, but there is more going on in this thoughtful (yet action packed!) movie.

Spirited Away. Chihiro and her parents enter a tunnel in a remote area and come out in a mysterious place with a row of restaurants, completely unattended. Her parents eat and eat and disappear! Chihiro finds employment in a bath house for spirits - the design work here will take your breath away. There are several plots, all related to over-consumption and pollution but they mesh beautifully with the main story line. Spirited Away was awarded the Oscar for best animated film in 2003, a recognition well-earned.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Chain Letters Anonymous

This is just a hoot. So you get an email chain letter that threatens dire consequences if you don't send it on. Like your dog will experience a long bout of incontinence. Or you'll burn in some kind of unpleasant afterlife. Nasty. But you don't want to burden your friends with this, they've got enough to worry about without their pets exploding. Chain Letters Anonymous is here to help. They want to be your buds! Just send the email to them and it automatically goes to your 10 new best friends, who are less afraid of cosmic karma than you are. The chain stops there, the sun comes out, all is bright and hopeful again. From the geniuses at the Skeptical Inquirer. If you'd like to read up on different types of, well, hoaxes is the word that comes to mind, here's a dandy book:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

They're Always Wright

TODAY IN HISTORY! In 1903 the Wright Brothers flew 'Flyer 1' at the interestingly-named Kill Devil Hills. No one died, but each of their 4 attempts crashed. The last flight stayed aloft 59 seconds, for 852 feet. Now that was flying! Because automotive motors were too heavy the brothers built their own engine from aluminum-copper alloy, which was mighty ingenious. But because they were so secretive - for fear of losing their invention - Europeans thought the whole thing was a fake. The brothers were vindicated, and are now rightfully famous. If you'd like to know more, this 544 page book should answer your questions.

The Wright brothers : the remarkable story of the aviation pioneers who changed the world

Source: The Equivocal Success of the Wright Brothers; Schlenoff, Daniel C Scientific American 12-01-2003

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Other Holiday Dangers

The top of my head is burned. Have you been to the tropics, I hear you ask? Nope, I've been to the attic storage. Do you have a sun lamp there, I hear you ask? Nope, just package-wrapping accoutrements. The storage area is quite long and has a low, slanted roof with a single bare light bulb smack in the middle. Yep, I've been walking into the light bulb. You'd think after the first time I would pay more attention. Nope, too busy looking for that curling ribbon I know is up there. I also have 2 small burns on my right hand from baking disasters (see Dec. 15 post) and I incurred severe glute ache from sitting cross-legged on the floor wrapping presents. Upon arising from that position, I walked like John Wayne - only much less gracefully. Let my experiences serve as a warning. The holidays are dangerous. Wear a scarf.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Cookie Monster

Not the Sesame Street guy. I'm talking about my oven. I baked 2 kinds of sugar cookies last week and had to watch them like a hawk. The recipe says 8 minutes, so I check at 8 and they're not done. But they're almost done, so I have to stand there like idiot and open the oven door every 10 seconds. Are they done yet? Are they done yet? Are they done yet? You think this would prevent burning. But did it occur to you that I can only do this so long before I can't stand it anymore and wander off? I didn't burn too many, but the uncertainty drives me nuts. Plus some of them came out tough because I used a mixer instead of beating the dough by hand. The recipe did not say I couldn't use a mixer. Well it does now, but it's just a little too late, isn't it? My sister says you can buy cookie dough that's already in shapes, you don't have to cut them out. Hmmmm. Anyway, if you'd like to have a pleasant cookie-making experience, here are some books to try.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Big Generators - Write Your Own Ticket

Another goody. The Concert Ticket Generator is your entree to the world of event promotion. You could even make out tickets for your New Year's Eve party. Be sure to have someone at the door to rip the tickets if you want to achieve true verisimilitude. Aren't you impressed I know that word? And I was only off 1 letter when I spelled it the first time. Tickets, please!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Big Generators Week - You got it

Have you ever wanted receipts for intangibles? Say, excellent advice you gave your child? Acknowledgement that you suffered through an entire episode of "According to Jim" for love of a spouse? Now you can have them. Yes, the Custom Receipt Maker is there for all your emotional needs, and it looks really real! Except for the across the bottom, but hey, it's their software. Type in your store name (or person's name), your items, your prices - it will even add for you! Fill your pockets with these to remind yourself how swell you are. If you'd like to put in historical items and prices, we have some old Sears catalogs. Most are on microfilm, plus we have one that checks out. Just cool to look at -

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Big Generators - But I'm No Dummy!

You are chock-ful of knowledge, I just know it. Maybe you trounce everyone in the latest version of Grand Theft Huggies. Maybe you make the best-ever almond cookies and people fly them from Des Moines to exotic locations like Fonda! So pull up Dummiez Book Cover Maker 2008: and make your own ...for Dummies back cover. Why not create many of them, Renaissance people. C'mon, you've always wanted to tell someone who is ignorant in your specialty that maybe they need just a teensy bit of help. This'll be subtle. If you want to learn a new skill, check out our skillion Dummies books.
Finding Dummies Books for ... um... Everybody!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Big Generators - I'm no Einstein

Just a little something fun here. You've got your Albert, wild hair and all, and you can make him say anything! No matter how goofy! Break up your sentence though because each line only takes a few characters. So head on over to Hetemeel's Einstein Form and scratch away with your pithy, albeit brief, thoughts.
Need something snappy to feed Mr. Smarty-Pants? Check out The mammoth book of zingers, quips and one-liners.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Big Generators Week - Vinyl

I love the generators! They're those free things on the internet that let you do stuff you could probably do with some fancy imaging software if you happen to have it. But I don't! I do like to play with words and images though and that's what these generators let me do. Free! Bless you, software fun guys. By the way, none of these are endorsed by the Des Moines Public Library. They just entertain me. I've already highlighted a few generators in the blog - you now can make your own catalog cards, word clouds, transform a photo into some kind of garish nightmare with the Warholizer - I know, you're thinking what more could possibly be out there? Your life is so full now. But who wouldn't want to make their own 45-record images? Just mosey on over to's Vinyl Record Generator and produce your own images of songs that never were, but should have been. Now that you're thinking vinyl, you'll want to know that the new movie Cadillac Records is based on the Chess Records company and we just happen to have books about that establishment.

Machers and rockers : Chess Records and the business of rock & roll

The story of Chess Records

Friday, December 5, 2008

Books to Distract You - Deep Fathom

Those of you who like action-adventure and have not been introduced to James Rollins are in for a treat. One of the best things about his books is the puzzle - the characters don't know what's going on, what the best choices are - the uncertainty makes you want to read read read so you can find out what's happening! This one concerns an expedition to the ends of the earth to find out why the planet is suddenly in chaos! What is this mysterious thing miles down in the ocean that may have some relation to the disasters? Why is it there, who put it there! Aaaaahh! You have to know!!!! So anyway his books are fun, read em' all.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Books to Distract You - Bellwether

Connie Willis is a Science Fiction writer and this book is shelved in the Science Fiction, but don't let that worry you. It's actually a fun fast read about how social information is conveyed. OK, that doesn't sound too exciting. What if I said it's about how one certain person wears a cummerbund with tap pants and suddenly everyone is wearing that ridiculous outfit without really knowing why. They just know it's cool. Because the bellwether wore it. Sound better? I must warn you that Willis says somewhat unkind things about librarians - how dare she! Who does she think buys all these books? So brace yourselves for those little bits. Otherwise just hang on and go with it!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Books to Distract You - A Walk in the Woods

Native son (from Des Moines) Bill Bryson gets it into his head that he'd like to hike the Appalachian Trail. Never mind that it's an enormous undertaking for seasoned hikers, and Bryson isn't even lightly salted. And, because Bryson's a lucky guy, his buddy Stephen Katz shows up to go along for the ride. Now Bryson has done his research, bought the right gear, really tried in his scholarly, city-boy way to prepare for the trip. Katz is even more out-of-shape than Bryson and bonus: Katz pitches all his hiking stuff almost immediately because it is too heavy. Bye bye water. Later, Katz gets lost. I'm guessing no one was surprised by this. Bryson delights in his friend's company nonetheless - Katz is a really nice guy. And he makes for terrific anecdotes. This is a lovely winter read (sunshine! sweating! nature!) from a genuinely funny writer.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Books to Distract -- Mama Makes up her Mind

How shall I describe this one? Oh, yeah, it takes place in the South, so that's already a point in its favor. Plus, by my admittedly boring standard, these people are nuts. For some reason I can't recall but believe me it wouldn't be reason enough, they keep a container of worms suspended from the ceiling in the kitchen. Being alive, the worms wriggle around and occasionally drop from the container onto whatever or whomever happens to be underneath them at the time. Worms dropping from the ceiling. This is why I can never see the movie Suspiria. Eek. But here are two pleasant, intelligent women sitting calmly in the kitchen whilst the worms drop about them. Whistling while Rome burns comes to mind. Only really really funny.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Books to Distract You - Not buying it

If your head is buried in the holidays and you can barely breathe, this week we'll suggest books that could give you a break. And OK, this first one is about shopping, but it will not be urging you on. Levine's year without shopping doesn't mean she grew her own food and made her own medicines. She just wanted to try to buy nothing but necessities for a year. Whether she was successful or not I'll leave up to you - she had some difficulty defining neccessity. The hardest part may have been that she had to think before spending money on all those things we just take for granted: going to movies, eating at restaurants, picking up some clothes on sale. Made for a new way of looking at her world. She's a braver gal than I am.

Not buying it : my year without shopping / Judith Levine