Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Terror Incognita: Australia Day, Part 1

January 26th is Australia Day, the official national holiday of Australia. 
We celebrate the day with a two-part entry on this weird, wild, and wholly unique country:

Sunrise in the Outback

Taipan snakes. Funnel web spiders. Redbacks. Great white sharks. Saltwater crocodiles. Bluebottles. Box jellyfish. Cone shells. Cassowaries. Blue-ringed octopuses. Coffin rays. Stonefishes.

That's a small, utterly non-comprehensive list of all the things in Australia that are venomous, poisonous, or otherwise capable of causing extreme bodily harm to a human who ventures just a little too close. And that is, of course, only considering the animals; I've left off such things as floods, hurricane, cyclones, temperatures so hot they can literally cook a person alive -- and riptides, which many consider to be a far greater danger than any of the local wildlife.

Australia: A Summary

The point remains: Australia is not for the faint of heart. So imagine my surprise last May, when I found myself signing on for a two-week trip to the Land Down Under. I was, as my friends and family could've all told you, somewhat apprehensive about just what creepy-crawlies (or, y'know, massive crocodiles) I might run into while I was there. But there was undeniable appeal at the chance to go somewhere so utterly unique, so completely unlike anywhere I had ever gone before.

The Australian Outback

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to bounce from place to place in Australia, getting to experience several different locations entirely different from one another. There was Cairns, for instance: a veritable tropical paradise of a city, situated on the northeast coast of the country (or, if you prefer, the northeast coast of the continent, Australia being the only place that can claim the distinction of being both continent and country).

Cairns is where you go if you'd like to view the Great Barrier Reef, located just off the coast. Exactly how big it is has become a matter of some debate (280,000 square kilometers by one reckoning, 344,000 by another), but by even the shortest of estimates, it stretches the same length as the west coast of the United States. It contains incredible amounts of wildlife: fifteen hundred species of fish, four hundred types of coral, four thousand types of mollusks -- and is said by many to be the largest living thing on earth. (Some argue that, as the reef is composed of three thousand separate reefs, it is not a single entity; that hardly makes it less impressive.) Comprised of trillions of miniature coral polyps, the Great Barrier Reef is centuries old.

Saltwater crocodiles at the Marineland Melanesia Park 
on Green Island -- off the coast of Cairns, Queensland

Then there was Sydney, Australia's most famous city (despite the fact that Melbourne is swiftly gaining popularity and may soon overtake Sydney's population numbers -- and that the actual capital of the country of Australia is Canberra). It has the Sydney Opera House, Australia's most famous bit of architecture. There's also the Harbour Bridge, which our guide informed us many tourists will pay hundreds of dollars to climb across the top of (because, I was forced to assume, there are actually tourists who do not find Australia hazardous enough to begin with).

The 'roos at the petting zoo outside Sydney are 
realizing I'm almost out of treats. 
I felt like the little kid in "The Lost Worldwhen the dinos 
find out she doesn't have any more sandwiches for them.

And then, of course, there's the Australian outback. There are great, vast expanses of outback; in fact, it comprises the majority of the continent. It redefines the concept of "in the middle of nowhere." But despite overwhelmingly high temperatures and the usual assortment of dangerous creepy-crawlies, the outback is undeniably magnificent. And nowhere is this more evident than at Uluru.

Uluru (the Aboriginal name for Ayers Rock) is a rock formation that's a mile and a half long, five and a half miles around -- and a hundred million years old. It's a type of geological marvel known as a bornhardt: a deposit of weather-resistent rock that's left behind after the wind and rain and water has worn away its surroundings. The thousand-foot-high structure is considered a holy place by the Aboriginal people -- and it's not hard to see why.


So, yes: it's wild and massive and even, perhaps, at times, a bit terrifying. But Australia remains a truly fascinating place.

Just be sure to check the sheets for spiders before you go to sleep. I know I did.

And, hey: not all of the animals are scary.

-- From Terry Pratchett's The Last Continent:

"I want," he said, "A book about the dangerous creatures of [Australia] --"

"Hmm …" He picked up a book at random and read the cover. "'Dangerous Mammals, Reptiles, Amphibians, Birds, Fish, Jellyfish, Insects, Spiders, Crustaceans, Grasses, Trees, Mosses, and Lichens of Terror Incognita'," he read. His gaze moved down the spine. "Volume 29C," he added. "Oh. Part Three, I see."

He glanced up at the shelves. "Possibly it would be simpler if I asked for a list of the harmless creatures of the aforesaid continent?"

Something white [came] zigzagging lazily through the air. Finally he reached up and caught the single sheet of paper.

He read it carefully and then turned it over briefly just in case anything was written on the other side.

"'Some of the sheep,'" he read aloud. "Oh, well. Maybe a week at the seaside'd be better, then."


From the Catalog:

-- The Last Continent - a satirical novel by Terry Pratchett

-- In a Sunburned Country - A hilarious, and highly informative, Australian travel guide by Bill Bryson

-- Crocodile Hunter's Croc Files [DVD] - Host Steve Irwin takes viewers on an informative tour on the wildlife of Australia

-- The Rescuers Down Under [DVD] - An animated film set in the Australian outback

-- Post by Ms. B 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

National Peanut Butter Day

Whether you prefer crunchy or creamy, on toast, with jelly or eating it straight out of the jar, peanut butter is one of America's favorite foods. More than 3 pounds per person is consumed in the U.S. every year - that's enough to cover the floor of the Grand Canyon!

The very first peanut butter was created 3,000 years ago when peanut growers combined it with cocoa. The Spanish took the peanut back to Europe in the 1500s and it spread around the world after that.

Modern peanut butter can trace it's beginning to 1890 when a St. Louis physician wanted to find a way to find a way for his elderly patients to eat peanuts because of their high protein count. He turned to a food processor who whipped up some barrels of peanut butter. By the early 20th century there were a few manufacturers of peanut butter, but it still faced one problem - it spoiled easily. In 1922 Joseph L. Rosefield patented a process to keep it fresh longer. The brands we know today, Skippy, Jif and Peter Pan, all had their start then.

To celebrate National Peanut Butter day on January 24th, check out the websites and books relating to all things peanut butter-y!

From the Catalog:

From the Web:

-- Peanut Butter Lovers - This website includes recipes, nutrition information and fun facts from the Southern Peanut Growers.

-- Homemade Peanut Butter Recipe - Food Network's Alton Brown shares his recipe for making your own peanut butter.

-- 10 Ways to Use Peanut Butter - This website shares some hints on what to look for when buying peanut butter and also shares different ways to incorporate it into your diet.

-- Classic Peanut Butter Cookie recipe - This is my go-to recipe from Better Homes and Gardens.

--Post by Tracy

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Great Experiment

The date was January 16, 1919, and the Eighteenth Amendment had just become a reality.

Prohibition -- the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution -- legally banned the manufacture, transportation, and sale of intoxicating liquors. Often referred to as "The Great Experiment," it had its roots in the previous century, championed by the Anti-Saloon League (an Ohio organization founded in 1893). The League had their work cut out for them: in 1909, there was one saloon for every three hundred Americans. There were more saloons than schools, libraries, hospitals, theaters, parks, or churches. (Location was a factor, however; the city of Chicago had more saloons than the entirety of the South.) Interestingly enough, the Anti-Saloon League consisted of members who, generally speaking, favored progressive politics such as votes for women, an end to monopolies, better working conditions, and immigration aid.

Before Prohibition, there was the Webb-Kenyon Act, which was passed in February 1913. Overriding a veto from President Taft, the law regulated the transportation of liquor from "wet states" to "dry states" (that is, no transporting liquor from the states that sold it to the states that did not). Four years later, Congress passed the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; by January 1919, forty-six of the forty-eight states had ratified the amendment (Rhode Island and Connecticut being the two hold-outs). Despite ratification, however, many states failed to actually adopt state Prohibition, including Pennsylvania (as well as California, Illinois, New York, and others).

From the beginning, Prohibition had its work cut out. Many large cities outright rejected state or municipal liquor bans. The states where Prohibition proved unpopular often decided that the federal law was a federal matter, and so left the law's enforcement to the federal government. And while Prohibition did not prove costly (about a quarter of what states were spending on their parks department), it had the side effect of cutting funding in its own way -- in 1914, before the Amendment had been passed, one-third of the federal government's revenue came from liquor licenses and taxes on domestic liquor sales.

Then, too, were other (unexpected) side effects. Bootlegging, the illegal manufacturing and selling of liquor, became a booming business. As it was also an illegal business, it was organized crime who benefited from bootlegging the most; it's estimated that Chicago's Al Capone earned $60 million a year alone, thanks to the bootlegging operations and speakeasies he controlled. Those living in large cities were generally the most vehement protestors of Prohibition, and law enforcement and politicians alike were bribed there to look the other way. Once the Great Depression took hold, the popularity of Prohibition slipped even further. When Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for presidential office in 1932, his campaign included the repealing of the 18th Amendment. (Roosevelt won the election).

Ultimately, Prohibition was reversed with the 21st Amendment, proposed and enacted in 1933. The Great Experiment was at an end.

More on the History of Prohibition:

-- The 18th and 21st Amendments - Complete with scans of the original amendment, newspaper articles, and more.

-- Prohibition: Facts and Summary - From the History Channel.

From the Catalog:

-- Last Call: The Rise And Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent.

-- The Prohibition Hangover: Alcohol in America from Demon Rum to Cult Cabernet by Garrett Peck.

-- Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition by Karen Blumenthal. For YA readers.

-- Prohibition: A Ken Burns Documentary [DVD]

Other Reads (from the Catalog):

-- Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol by Iain Gately.

-- Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol by Ann Dowsett Johnston.

-- Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp

-- Post by Ms. B 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

January Library Reads

The January Library Reads list is out and here are a few highlights. Click here to see the full list. 

As Chimney Sweepers Come
to Dust: A Flavia de Luce
by Alan Bradley

“After the unexpected recovery of her mother’s body brings the de Luce’s family secrets to light, Flavia’s life is turned upside down. Now on her way to a Canadian boarding school, she must survive her first term–and more importantly, uncover the mystery of a corpse found in her dorm room chimney the night she arrives. A delightful installment in the series!”

Lizzie Gall, Grand Rapids Public Library, Grand Rapids, MI

The Girl on the Train: A Novel
by Paula Hawkins

“Rachel is a washed-up thirty-something who creates a fantasy about the seemingly perfect couple she sees during her daily train ride into London. When the woman goes missing, Rachel manages to insert herself into the investigation of the woman’s disappearance. In the vein of Gone Girl, this dark psychological thriller is fast-paced and features some very unreliable narrators.”

Andrea Larson, Cook Memorial Public Library, Libertyville, IL

The Dress Shop of Dreams: A Novel
by Menna van Praag

“Tidy, romantic, and fine escapism. All the characters here have interesting back stories: Cora is believable as a no-nonsense gal trying to rebuff sweet Walt’s advances, and Etta is someone I’d like to meet in real life. Reminiscent of Love Actually and P.S. I Love You, this cute little book is recommended to readers who want to be charmed by the possibilities of love.”

Andrienne Cruz, Azusa City Library, Azusa, CA

The Bishop’s Wife
by Mette Ivie Harrison

“As a practicing Mormon, I felt Harrison did a great job of detailing Mormon culture and doctrine without evangelizing. I appreciated that the bishop is a good man, and the bishop’s wife is a woman who has been through her own struggles. The bishop’s wife sometimes can barely keep up with all the drama and mysteries around her. But she does, and does it quite well under the circumstances. This is a rather brave book.”

Amanda Monson, Bartow County Library System, Cartersville, GA

First Frost
by Sarah Addison Allen

“First Frost is a great continuation of the stories of sisters Claire and Sydney, and Sydney’s teenage daughter, Bay. Each of the Waverlys has their own somewhat supernatural gift, and all of them struggle with issues of identity and family. As with Allen’s previous works, this novel will appeal to fans of Alice Hoffman and readers who enjoy family stories that are not overflowing with angst and drama.”

Lauren Mitchell, Pima County Libraries, Tucson, AZ

--Post by Tracy

Friday, January 9, 2015

Get Organized

January is Get Organized Month -- but if you're like me, that's easier said than done. Read on for some tips, tricks, and advice on getting order back into your life!

At Home:

5 Projects You Always Say You’ll Do ... and How to Finally Do Them -- Cleaning a closet, reclaiming a junk drawer, even planning meals in advance: here's how to complete those five chores we all mean to get to "one day!" (RealSimple.com)

10 Ways to Cut Clutter in Your Home -- Try these simple suggestions to cut through the clutter. (WebMD)

Organizing Mistakes That Make Your House Look Cluttered -- You may be more organized than you think!  Follow these expert tips to be truly clutter-free. (HGTV)

At Work:

Organizing Your Desk -- A neat workspace doesn't just suggest professionalism, it also makes it easier to access your tasks. Here's some great tips if (like me) you need a little help in figuring out how to clear off your workspace. (Getting Organized Magazine)

5 Tips for Getting Organized at Work -- It's not just about appearance: structure allows for stress release!  It's also important to remember that "organization" may mean different things for different people. Find the method that works for you. (HowStuffWorks)

Going Digital:

PCMag's "Get Organized" Series -- A collection of columns offering advice on organizing your digital world. (PC Magazine)

Taking Your To-Do List to Task! -- A list of recommended apps for creating a virtual "to-do" list. (Getting Organized Magazine)

At Life:

When Resistance Smacks You in the Face -- Drawing on his experiences as a writer, author Leo Babauta shares ways to organize your own distractions and doubts to get any task done.

From the Collection:

Get Organized -- by Ron Fry.

How to Organize (Just About) Everything: More Than 500 Step-by-Step Instructions for Everything from Organizing Your Closets to Planning a Wedding to Creating a Flawless Filing System -- by Peter Walsh.

Time Management Secrets for Working Women: Getting Organized to Get the Most Out of Your Day -- by Ruth Klein.

Managing Workplace Chaos: Solutions for Handling Information, Paper, Time, and Stress -- by Patricia J. Hutchings.

The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential, in Business and in Life -- by Leo Babauta.

The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload -- by Daniel J. Levitin.

And remember: it's a work in progress.
Stay positive!

-- Post by Ms. B 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Beautiful Soup!

"Of soup and love, the first is best."
Old Spanish proverb

Who doesn't love soup? I know I do! A really great soup warms you up on a cold day and, with the right ingredients, can be very filling and healthy. Soup is one of the oldest dishes known to man. Soups started out more for medicinal purposes, but by the middle ages, soups were being prepared for everyday meals.

Growing up, we mostly had soup from a can. My Mom made a few different soups from scratch, but they did not appeal to me as a child. Now, homemade soup is one of my favorite things to make. A few of mine are even quite popular with many of my friends! I'm not a great cook, but I like to make meals from scratch as much as possible, and soups usually have a great and uncomplicated recipe.

To help you get started at soup-making, or to give you a few new ideas, check out the list of books and web sources below. Have fun!

From the Catalog:

-- Soup forward by Eric Schlosser

-- Twelve Months of Monastery Soups by Brother Victor-Antoine d'Avila-Latourrette

-- The 30-Minute Vegan: Soup's On: More Than 100 Quick and Easy Recipes For Every Season by Mark Reinfeld

-- 500 Soups: The Only Soup Compendium You'll Ever Need by Susannah Blake

-- Cooking Light: Soup from the editors of Cooking Light

From the Web:

-- 50 Soups from Foodnetwork.com

-- 30 Easy Soup recipes from Better Homes and Gardens

-- Best Homemade Soup recipes from Country Living

-- Best Soup and Stew Recipes from Epicurious

-- Top 10 Recipes for Soup from Taste of Home

And here is a link to one of my favorite go-to soup recipes, Bean and Barley soup, from Eating Well.

Soup Of The Evening
Lewis Carroll

BEAUTIFUL Soup, so rich and green,
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such dainties would not stoop?
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!
Beau--ootiful Soo-oop!
Beau--ootiful Soo-oop!
Soo--oop of the e--e--evening,
Beautiful, beautiful Soup!
Beautiful Soup! Who cares for fish,
Game, or any other dish?
Who would not give all else for two
Pennyworth only of Beautiful Soup?
Pennyworth only of beautiful Soup?
Beau--ootiful Soo-oop!
Beau--ootiful Soo-oop!
Soo--oop of the e--e--evening,
Beautiful, beauti--FUL SOUP!

--Post by Tracy

Monday, December 29, 2014

New Year's Resolutions: 2015 Edition

This Thanksgiving, your faithful MPL bloggers had a lot of fun coming up with a list of the pop culture properties that we are most thankful for. But as the holiday season progressed, and we began looking towards 2015, it got us thinking: what other books, films, shows, and music are out there waiting for us to discover?

So we've decided to make a few resolutions. That book we always meant to read?  The films we never got around to watching?  The song Ms. B has always meant to learn to play on the piano?  (More about that in a bit.) This year, we've decided, is the year we tackle such projects.

We now present our official list of New Year's Pop Culture Resolutions for 2015. Wish us luck!

(We'll be back, as the year progresses, to let you know how we do ...)


- Continue watching Classic Doctor Who

Doctor Who is one of the most popular shows in the world. Its very first episode broadcast over 50 years ago. After a brief hiatus in the 90s, the show returned to television in 2005, and became even stronger and more popular than it had ever been. I have only been watching the rebooted Doctor Who for a few years, but I am a genuine Whovian!

Although I am all caught up on the current show, I have much to catch up on with the classic Doctor Who. If you are not familiar with Doctor Who, it is a show about a time-traveling alien who uses an old English police phone box, known as the TARDIS, as his space ship. Oh, and he's really, really old -- but doesn't always look like it! He regenerates into a different body when his current one is too damaged. So there have been 12 Doctors (or 13, depending on how you count them), each played by a different actor.

Classic Doctor Who covers the adventures of the Doctor through his first eight incarnations. I have watched as many as possible of the first two Doctors, but I've been stuck on the Third Doctor for awhile now. I resolve to continue watching Classic Doctor Who episodes until I am caught up!

Request Doctor Who titles from the Catalog.

- Read a gothic novel

One of my favorite Jane Austen novels is Northanger Abbey. It is a story of Catherine, a young woman who is fascinated by the gothic novels that were so popular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This fascination gets her in a bit of a misunderstanding with her new friends.

Jane Austen was a reader of these gothic novels herself and, in Northanger Abbey, she parodies them. Now I want to be able to understand that type of novel better. Several novels were mentioned in Northanger Abbey (known as the "horrid novels"), most notably The Mysteries of Udolpho by Anne Radcliffe. The others are The Italian, also by Radcliffe, and The Castle of Wolfenbach by Eliza Parson.

 I resolve to read at least one, if not all, of these novels!

Request The Mysteries of Udolpho from the Catalog.

Request The Italian from the Catalog.

- Make more geek-related crafts

I love to make crafts for myself and as gifts for my friends and family. Unfortunately, I have not been making as many as I would like. My crafting ability lies mostly in counted cross-stitch, but I am also a decent crocheter. 

Last year I discovered the book Star Trek Cross-Stitch: Explore Strange New Worlds of Crafting. I've already made a few things from it, but I want to make more! And the internet is full of patterns for all kinds of geek-related shows, movies and books. What I really want to make is this Death Star pillow that you see above. It would look great sitting on my couch! So, I resolve to crochet the Death Star pillow in 2015!

Online craft sites to check out:

Geekcrafts and Pinterest are great places to look for geeky craft ideas too.


- Read Victor Hugo's Les Miserables

I was a junior in high school when our English Lit class studied the much-beloved musical Les Miserables. Based on the book by Victor Hugo, the musical tells the story of Jean Valjean, a convict imprisoned for nearly twenty years after stealing a loaf of bread for his starving sister and her family. Pursued by the unrelenting police inspector Javert (after Valjean breaks the conditions of his parole), Valjean is soon swept into the events of France's June Rebellion of 1832 (more on that historical event here and here).

I've been a fan of the musical ever since 11th grade, but I've never read the original Victor Hugo novel. Coming in at between 1,200 to 1,400 pages (depending on the edition), and chock-full of historical and political detail, it always seemed like a daunting task -- perhaps too daunting.

But this year, that changes!  I resolve to read Victor Hugo's Les Miserables -- from cover to cover. 

Request Victor Hugo's Les Miserables from the Catalog

- See the '80s Classics

Though I am, technically, a child of the '80s, I was young enough that I missed out almost entirely on the pop culture of the era. And that means I've never watched a number of classic films that came out in that decade.

What films, specifically?  I've had a number of classics on my list for quite some time, including The Goonies, Gremlins, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Labyrinth, Footloose, Ghostbusters, Superman II, The Untouchables, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Fly, and Beverly Hills Cop.

A list that long seems just a little bit intimidating, though (especially since I've got twelve hundred pages of Les Miserables waiting for me). So I hereby resolve to watch at least five '80s films throughout 2015.

Request The Goonies from the Catalog

Request Pretty in Pink from the Catalog

Request Ghostbusters from the Catalog

- Watch Star Trek: Voyager

I've been a Trekkie since before I can remember. And, happily for me, there's been plenty of different flavors of Star Trek for me to enjoy. As a kid, I loved Star Trek: The Next Generation; while in grad school, I became a huge fan of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Over the past few years, director J.J. Abrams's rebooted Star Trek movies have earned a place among my all-time favorite films. I've even started watching the original '60s series.

But for all that, there's one particular Trek that I have no experience with -- and that is Star Trek: Voyager. I've been interested in watching Voyager for years, especially since it remains the only Trek show to have a woman (Captain Kathryn Janeway) in the command chair. But despite hearing about its intriguing premise and great characters, I've never quite gotten around to giving the show a try.

The time has come to remedy this, and so I resolve to watch all seven seasons of Star Trek: Voyager by the end of the year.

(There's still Star Trek: Enterprise to get through, but we'll worry about that in 2016.)

Request Season One of Star Trek: Voyager from the Catalog

- Play the music of Hans Zimmer

Maybe not in quite this fashion.

As I've mentionedI'm a huge fan of film scores and soundtracks. I'm also a particular fan of the scores of Hans Zimmer, the composer behind such film soundtracks as Interstellar, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Dark Knight trilogy, and Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes. Considering that list more or less comprises my favorite films, it's been a delight to have Zimmer's fantastic and memorable music show up in these movies to help tell their stories.

It also just so happens that I've been playing the piano (to varying degrees of success) nearly all my life. While I haven't been playing much in recent years, I've decided that this is the time to change that.

So, inspired by the works of Hans Zimmer, I resolve to learn to play at least two Zimmer-penned songs on the piano by this time next year. And if I'm successful, I'll upload a video of my performance.

Fingers (and tentacles) crossed!

Request the Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest soundtrack from the Catalog

Request the Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows soundtrack from the Catalog

-- Post by Tracy and Ms. B