Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Storms of the Century

NASA satellite image of Hurricane Sandy - October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy has been the result of a hurricane colliding with a winter storm (and some extra-high tides caused by the full moon), creating a super-system initially dubbed a "Frankenstorm." Of even greater issue was Sandy's path: instead of approaching the U.S. East Coast from the south, like most hurricanes, Sandy made a sharp turn west to settle directly over highly-populated areas of New York and New Jersey. Property damage will run in the billions, millions are left without power -- and over forty people have lost their lives.

The damage and tragedy left in Hurricane Sandy's wake is not to be underestimated. But this "Frankenstorm" is hardly the first weather disaster in human history. Read on to find out more about these other "perfect storms:"

-- 1888: The Great Blizzard of '88

Downed power lines during the Great Blizzard of 1888

This "Great White Hurricane" lasted from March 11th-14th in 1888, dropping 40-50 inches of snow onto areas of New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. Winds gusting at over 45 mph created snow drifts in some places that were 50 feet high; Boston alone had nine inches of slush in the streets. With railways down, and power lines sagging from their telephone poles, people were confined inside their homes for a week. (Mark Twain, in New York City at the time, was trapped in his hotel for several days.) The damage was estimated at over $25 million -- quite a hefty sum for 1888!

One interesting fact?  The downed railways (which left 15,000 people stranded in NYC elevated trains) were a major force behind the creation of the New York subway system.

-- 1900: Galveston Hurricane ("The Great Storm")

19th Street, Galveston, Texas -- after the storm

September 8, 1900, saw the greatest natural disaster to ever hit the United States, killing at least 6,000 people in only a few hours. Galveston Island, located along the Gulf of Mexico, is a sandy island thirty miles long but only three miles wide (narrowing to as little as one and a half miles wide in some places). The city of Galveston, Texas was known in 1900 as "the jewel of Texas." (It was the center of cotton trade and was also the largest city in the state.) Despite the city's prominence and importance, however, a seawall had not been built to protect the town. When a Category 4 hurricane struck, the entire island was eventually submerged. After the waters receded, over 10,000 people had been left homeless.

(Read more about the Great Storm in Erik Larson's fantastic book, Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History.)

-- 1928: Okeechobee Hurricane

Storm wreckage in Okeechobee

The biggest tragedy of Okeechobee Hurricane?  Residents nearly avoided it. Although many Florida locals evacuated the area, when the hurricane failed to strike at the expected time, most returned to their homes -- thinking the storm had passed them by. The storm eventually hit the evening of September 16th, blasting the area with sustained 140 mph winds. The force broke one of Okeechobee Lake's dikes, and the ensuing weeks of flooding cost 2,500 lives.

-- 1987/1990: The Great Storm of 1987 & The Burns' Day Storm

Aftermath of the Great Storm of 1987

In October 1987, Southern England was slammed by a storm unprecedented in nearly 300 years. Not unlike Hurricane Sandy, the Great Storm was formed by multiple weather systems colliding -- in this case, a cold front from the Bay of Biscay merging with cold Arctic air against a blast of warm air from Africa. Winds blasted up to 115 mph, leaving 18 people dead, uprooting over 15 million trees, and costing billions in damages.

Only three years later, the Burns' Day Storm struck the UK on January 25. With similar wind speeds to the previous storm, and this storm affecting a larger area, 47 lives were lost.

-- 1991: The Perfect Storm ("The Halloween Nor'easter of 1991")

Bob Case, a retired NOAA meteorologist, gave the Halloween Nor'easter of 1991 its more well-known name in reference to the "perfect" set of weather conditions that gave rise to this early-winter storm. With most of the north-eastern United States cooling down with the approach of the colder months, the Atlantic waters remained warmer (ocean water has a higher heat capacity than landmasses). Cold continental air masses often meet warmer maritime air masses to create nor'easters -- but in the case of the Perfect Storm, a high pressure system collided with a low pressure system and the last traces of Hurricane Grace. While this "Halloween Storm" did batter the East Coast, the biggest dangers were for those out at sea, with 40-foot seas and 70-knot (80 mph) winds. U.S. Coast Guard ships like the Tamaroa were dispatched to rescue sailors and fishermen trapped out at sea.

(Read more in Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea. Or check out the film!)

Honorable Mention: the Johnstown Flood ("Great Flood of 1889")
Read all about this famous Pennsylvania flood in our blog entry here.

-- Post by Ms. B

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Staff Recommendation #8: "Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir)" by Jenny Lawson - "the Bloggess."

Staff review by Ms. B

It started with towels.

"This morning I had a fight with Victor about towels," writes Lawson, in a chapter entitled, And That's Why You Should Learn to Pick Your Battles. "I can't tell you the details because it wasn't interesting enough to document at the time, but it was basically me telling Victor I needed to buy new bath towels, and Victor insisting that I NOT buy towels because I 'just bought new towels.' Then I pointed out that the last towels I'd bought were hot pink beach towels, and he was all 'EXACTLY' and then I hit my head against the wall for an hour."

What she found at the shop (instead of towels) has to be read to be believed. But the rest of the story, which Lawson originally posted on her ten-year-old blog, rang hilariously true to her readers. So true, and so hilarious, that the blog posting went viral -- and a year later, Lawson's "mostly-true" memoir was published and appearing on the New York Times Best Seller List.

Having discovered Lawson (who writes under the handle of "the Bloggess" on her personal website) from that famous -- or perhaps infamous -- essay, I was eager to read the new book being touted by reviewers as the funniest book they'd read in a long time. What I wasn't prepared for was what this book really is, however: not, in my opinion, a humor book (although it certainly is funny), but rather the memoir of a woman who has spent much of her life wrestling with an anxiety disorder.

Detailing her wacky and wild childhood in rural Texas, Lawson writes with tongue-and-cheek humor -- and obvious affection -- for her parents and younger sister, Laura. She writes about her high school experiences; meeting her eventual husband, Victor, while the two were in college; her wedding; the birth of her daughter, Hailey. And much of her story is laugh-out-loud funny, whether she's detailing her afternoon on a class field trip to the local stockyard (there's a cow involved) or recounting her experiences as an employee of a company's HR department.

An artistic rendition of the Bloggess, from her website

But woven through the day-to-day hilariousness, there is the story of a person struggling through a life-long anxiety disorder, coupled with social anxiety and bouts of PTSD. Most of her stories are hilarious, but some of them are heartbreaking -- as Lawson describes leaving home for the last time or dealing with a series of painful miscarriages. To call it a humor book is midleading to me: it's not so much a book of humor essays as it is the story of her life.

And yet, Lawson is a skilled enough writer that, more often than not, the two subjects are one and the same. At no point is this more obvious than when Lawson writes about attending a costumed Halloween party held by her husband's co-workers. Lawson, whose social anxiety makes dinner parties highly stressful, was handling herself quite well -- until the conversation turned political, and she was put on the spot by a pointed jibe thrown in her direction.

"And that's when everything started to get all fuzzy, because I was explicitly warned not to talk politics, and so I froze in panic and searched my mind for any appropriate response that would change the subject. Then, after a moment of painful silence that seemed to hush everyone around us, I blurted out what was likely the most improbable sentence ever uttered at a dinner party:
'One time I got stabbed in the face by a serial killer.'"

The way Lawson writes, she has you wincing in sympathy and laughing out loud at the same time. It's the story of her life, told in hilarious and unexpected anecdotes, but as hard as you laugh (and believe me, you'll laugh) -- you're also rooting for her, because you understand how awkward, nervous, and uncertain we all sometimes feel. Lawson pulls off that most magical of authorial tricks: she makes the reader feel a connection.

Lawson, at a reading of her memoir

If you're expecting a book that's all laughs and no heart, this isn't the memoir for you. But if you'd like to read a particularly hilarious account of one person's trials, tribulations, and triumphs through day-to-day life, give this book a try. Just don't read it in public if you don't want to be caught laughing out loud.

(By the way: if you'd like to hear the end of the tale of the towels, you can check out Lawson's original post on the subject on her blog. Be warned: Lawson is a down-to-earth sort, and her writing contains some strong language.)

Request the audiobook version of Let's Pretend This Never Happened, read by the author

-- Post by Ms. B

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

NYCC 2012

Founded in 2006, the New York Comic Con is the big comic book (and sci-fi/fantasy) East Coast event of the year. Featuring comic book writers, artists, and editors -- as well as animators, actors, directors, and authors from all walks of pop culture -- this convention goes well beyond comic books to celebrate all things Geek. (And trust me when I say that I mean that as a compliment.)

Although San Diego Comic-Con is both far larger and far older (SDCC was founded back in the 70s), NYCC has spent its seven-year history becoming one of the most popular conventions in the country. Its guest list has grown increasingly impressive -- this year's notables included Christopher Lloyd, Julianne Moore and ChloĆ« Grace Moretz, Kevin Smith, television Batman duo Adam West and Burt Ward, director Guillermo Del Toro, authors Anne Rice and Sir Terry Pratchett, and several cast members from the hit television series The Walking Dead.

NYCC 2012

It's also a pop culture paradise for those convention-goers who are comic book aficionados, with comic authors and artists from DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, Image, IDW Publishing, and dozens of other comic publishers and independent freelancers. Fans are given the opportunity to go to panels, and even meet in person, their favorite comic book creators -- asking questions, getting autographs, and perhaps even acquiring an original art commission.

And don't forget the fantastic convention-goers' costumes. Many fans come dressed as their favorite superheroes, movie and TV characters, Halloween horror types, and more.

My personal favorite: 
Kyle and Kyle's Mom from TV's South Park

This year's con was my fourth time attending NYCC. As always, it was an exciting, exhausting, exhilarating weekend, a whirlwind of comic-book awesome that already has me looking forward to Comic Con 2013. I attended panels, met artists and actors, toured the exhibit floor, and spent way too much money on souvenirs. While my personal highlights were many (attending Grant Morrison's panel, seeing exclusive footage from the animated The Dark Knight Returns: Part Two, meeting mystery author Lyndsay Faye, and chatting with artist James Silvani), there was almost too much Awesome to choose from.

Highlights of this year's con included:

-- The biggest event of the con may have been Saturday's Walking Dead panel. (Read the inside scoop here.) Fans began lining up at 9 p.m. on Friday night for the chance to snag one of a hundred tickets being given away for a meet-and-greet with the popular show's cast members. And if you didn't manage to get a ticket for the meet-and-greet, then there was Saturday afternoon's panel -- featuring much of the cast, along with producer Gale Anne Hurd and show creator Robert Kirkman.

-- Grant Morrison. For you non-comic fans, Morrison is one of a superstar quartet of 80s-90s comic book creators (along with Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, and Alan Moore). This was Morrison's first trip to NYCC, and he was there to tell fans all about his current and upcoming projects, including the four-issue miniseries Happy! and his future plans for Batman, Inc. Morrison is known for being quirky, imaginative, and wholly original -- which wasn't hard to notice as he fielded questions from the audience:

AUDIENCE MEMBER: "Any advice on what to do if you accidentally conjure up a demon?"
MORRISON: "Well, I mean, you just have to deal with it."  

No one can really explain Grant Morrison; you just have to read him for yourself and get the general idea. 

-- A first look at the trailer for Carrie, a remake of the 1976 Stephen King-penned classic, which will be released to theaters next year. Stars Julieanne Moore and ChloĆ« Grace Moretz were also on hand, answering questions about the film and sharing their thoughts about the remake and their characters.

-- Celebrating the upcoming 50th anniversary of long-running British sci-fi television series Doctor Who was the fifth Doctor himself, Peter Davison. (Eleven different actors have taken their turn at portraying the title role.) On hand for a delightful panel about his experiences on the set of Who, All Creatures, and his current series Law & Order: UK, I was particularly lucky enough to also meet him later at Autograph Alley. (He's as congenial and forthright as one would hope the Doctor to be.)

An array of "Doctors" at NYCC

-- For you Avengers fans, the Marvel Television Presents panel released what was possibly the biggest comic-related news to come out of the Con: despite his apparent death in the Avengers film, Agent Coulson (played in the Marvel movies by actor Clark Gregg) will be back to star in Marvel's S.H.I.E.L.D., a new television series currently in the works. (Read more about this surprise announcement here.)

-- And, of course, there was the velociraptor:

Because at Comic Con, there's always a chance that you might get to see a velociraptor.

If you decide to visit NYCC next year, be sure to stop me and say Hi. I'll be the one in the Batgirl t-shirt.

... of course, the wonderful thing about NYCC is that that doesn't really narrow it down.

-- Post by Ms. B

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Capes Need Not Apply

Having returned from a successful trip to New York Comic Con (more on that later this week), I got to thinking about the graphic novel medium for storytelling. One of the points made clear through several sessions of Comic Con was that you don't have to be a fan of superheroes and science fiction in order to enjoy graphic novels. Many people tend to view graphic novels as a genre instead of a medium -- assuming that they all tell stories of superpowered characters in tights and capes saving their cities from disaster.

But there's an astonishing variety of stories being told through the medium of graphic novels, stories that go far beyond capes and cowls. The storytelling possibilities present through the use of text matched to artwork is boundless, and writers and artists have used the graphic novel medium for Westerns, mysteries, sci-fi and fantasy, historical fiction, and even autobiographies. So if superheroes aren't your thing, you might want to try picking up one of these titles instead, and see if you don't have an inner comic book fan waiting to be released.

Just be sure to read them in time for New York Comic Con 2013. Only 357 days to go!

-- Bone, by Jeff Smith

Lord of the Rings meets Seinfeld?  This fantasy series has a unique humor that has made it wildly popular for fans of all ages, detailing the adventures of the Bone cousins (Phoney Bone, Smiley Bone, and our hero, Fone Bone) as they find themselves lost in the mysterious Valley. The series eventually grows to encompass a Tolkien-styled quest to save the world, but there's plenty of misadventures and high good humor along the way to make this series a thoroughly unique read.

-- Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi

Satrapi wrote and drew this autobiographical series about her experiences as a girl and young woman in  Iran, during and after the Islamic revolution in the late 1970s. Satrapi's use of heavy black-and-white artwork makes for a compelling, powerful read, emphasizing the effects of political unrest on Satrapi's everyday life. The graphic novels were eventually adapted into an animated film.

-- Maus, by Art Spiegelman

It's hard not to think of Orwell's Animal Farm while reading this book, the first-ever graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize. Don't let the animals in the artwork above fool you, however: this graphic novel is a true story, based on interviews between Spiegelman and his father, in which the elder Spiegelman recounted his experiences as a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor. Of course, some details were changed -- most notably that of the characters, in which the Jewish people are drawn as mice (while the Nazis are portrayed as cats). Part fable, part memoir, it's a powerful look at one of the darkest periods in human history.

-- Womanthology

Keep an eye out on MPL's shelves for the soon-to-be-added title Womanthology, a book written and drawn entirely by female writers and artists. After criticism was leveled last year at the comic book industry for their lack of female creators (and characters), artist Renae De Liz came up with the idea for an all-female-created graphic novel. Posting the project on Kickstarter (a site designed to allow artists and creators to gain financial backing for their independent projects), the book took only a single day to meet its $25,000 fundraising goal. The result of the project was a book featuring original stories by over 150 female creators, and was successful enough to warrant an ongoing series.

-- A Wrinkle in Time, by Hope Larson

It will probably be helpful to read Madeleine L'Engle's fantastic (prose) novel A Wrinkle in Time before picking up this graphic novel adaptation. However, if you've read, and loved, L'Engle's story, this becomes a must-read. L'Engle's classic "science fantasy" details the story of Meg Murray, her brother Charles Wallace, and her classmate Calvin O'Keefe, on an adventure across space and time to find Meg and Charles's missing father. The creatures, worlds, and enemies they encounter defy description, however, and here they are brought to life in blue-toned artwork that is weirdly and wildly imaginative -- while never losing track of the emotional heart of the story.

-- Post by Ms. B

Thursday, October 11, 2012

James Bond at 50

On October 5, 1962, the first James Bond film, Dr. No, made its premiere in London. Since then we have had 22 films in 50 years with the 23rd soon to make its appearance on November 9th. I, for one, can hardly wait until then to see it!

I have been a fan of the James Bond films most of my life. My Dad was a fan, which is how I got my first exposure to the series. A James Bond film was one of the few times my Dad even considered going to the movie theatre to see a film (otherwise he'd just wait until it came on TV!).

The early films in the series were based on books by Ian Fleming, who worked for Naval Intelligence during World War II. The first book published was Casino Royale (1954). Twelve more titles would follow until his death in 1964. Fleming took his knowledge of the spying game and glamorized it. The English people ate it up. The country was still trying to repair the physical and emotional damage of World War II so it was just the kind of distraction they needed. James Bond came them something to enjoy.

Then came the films. The first to appear was Dr. No in 1962 starring Sean Connery. Since so many different actors have played the role, there is of course debate over who is the best. While I greatly enjoyed the Roger Moore Bond films when I was younger, my favorite Bond is Connery (although Daniel Craig is a very close second). And then there is the one time Bond, George Lazenby (he replaced a burned out Connery who returned in Diamonds are Forever). When On Her Majesty's Secret Service came out Lazenby was heavily criticized for his performance. But now many people consider this film one of the best of them all. I hate to admit I still have not seen the Lazenby film.

With so many different Bonds to chose I'm listing my favorite films from each of the five actors who have played him more than once:

Dr. No (1962)
This was the first Bond film I ever saw and I was hooked. In this film, Bond traces a mysterious murder to a Chinese scientist living on a small Jamaican island who, working for SPECTRE, plans to disrupt American rocket launches. Once again, the allure of space won me over. We also get to see Jack Lord as CIA operative Felix Leiter before he became known as Steve McGarrett on Hawaii Five-O.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
This is considered to be the best Roger Moore Bond film of the seven that he made (more than any other actor so far). Bond teams up with a female Russian agent to locate missing nuclear submarines and encounters Stromberg who plans on creating a new undersea world. This film also introduces us to one of the most iconic characters of the series - Jaws played by Richard Kiel. Jaws would also appear in the next Moore film, Moonraker (1979).

The Living Daylights (1987)
After 1985s A View to a Kill, Roger Moore decided to step down as James Bond (or it's also said he was forced out). The hunt was on to find a replacement. The talk for years had that it would be Pierce Brosnan, the star of television's Remington Steele. Unfortunately, Brosnan was unable to get out of his contract. In stepped Timothy Dalton. At the time he was seen as an unlikely choice and he only made two films as James Bond. After Moore's portrayal for so long, I actually found him to be a nice change of pace. In this film, Bond teams up with a female cellist to investigate the fake defector for whom she was allegedly working, leading them to a weapons-for-drugs smuggling scheme headed up by powerful arms dealer. For me, this film marked the return of the action and spy thriller and not one of buffoonery that the later Moore films had turned into.

Goldeneye (1995)
After the last Dalton film in 1989, there was a long hiatus before Pierce Brosnan finally became James Bond. With the new Bond also came a new M (head of MI6) played by Dame Judi Dench after years of men in the role. This story has Bond fighting to prevent a syndicate of techno-terrorists from causing a global financial meltdown through usage of the GoldenEye satellite weapon against London. With the changes, this film felt much more fresh and current than the series had in awhile. Brosnan would go on to make four Bond films, the last in 2002's Die Another Day.

Casino Royale (2006)
When Daniel Craig was cast as the new James Bond I didn't know what to think. I didn't know who he was and it seemed like a gamble to cast an almost unknown actor in such an iconic role. But it's turned out to be a wonderful decision. They also made a wise decision in re-booting the series. This entry has Bond attempting to frustrate the schemes of a terrorist financier by defeating him at a high-stakes game of poker. In the meantime he falls in love with treasury employee Vesper Lynd, who turns out to have an agenda of her own. With the re-boot we get to see Bond as he is becoming 007 and even has him resigning his position with MI6 at one point. We also get to see the vulnerable and human side of Bond as he falls for Vesper. This was followed by Quantum of Solace (2008), which continued the story but was a bit more confusing, although still very good. We'll see how Skyfall is when it is released on November 9th.

To read the Ian Fleming books click here
(Trivia: Ian Fleming is also the author of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!)

To see any of the Bond films click here.

And for a bit of fun, here is Daniel Craig's appearance at the London Olympics with the Queen!

-- Post by Tracy

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

It's a Jungle Out There

When Monk premiered on USA Network in July 2002, no one, least of all the network themselves, could have predicted its runaway success. But Monk, almost instantly, became a hugely popular show, going on to run for eight seasons and ushering in a whole new type of television programming -- not just for USA Network, but for all basic cable channels.

The show starred Tony Shalhoub as Adrian Monk, a detective whose obsession with order and detail put him on par with Sherlock Holmes when it comes to solving crimes. Unfortunately, Monk's skills come with a price: he suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, as well as a massive list of phobias, that make day-to-day life almost unbearable. Previously, he'd been able to master his tics and quirks well enough to become a detective on the San Francisco police force -- at least, until the murder of his wife, Trudy. Unable to cope, Monk loses his badge, haunted by the unsolved murder of his wife ... the one case even Monk can't solve.

When the show starts, it's been four years since Trudy's murder. Monk isn't ready to rejoin the force, but he is serving as an official consultant to Captain Stottlemeyer and Lieutenant Disher of the SFPD -- with the help of Sharona Fleming, a registered nurse, who remains at his side with an arsenal of emotional support -- and handwipes. (Sharona would eventually leave midway through season three, with a new assistant for Monk, Natalie Teeger, joining the cast.)

Monk, Stottlemeyer, Disher, and Natalie

The show was loved by its fans for the quirky, hilarious, and endearing antics of Monk himself, whose obsession with cleanliness and constant phobias (he's scared of snakes, mushrooms, heights, crowds, elevators, and milk -- just to name a few) are a constant source of frustration to everyone around him. But the show wasn't all laughs. At its heart, we had a main character who was desperate to bring his wife's killer to justice -- and who, as the series went on, became increasingly determined to overcome his fears. With its combination of hilarious and heartfelt, Monk was a show unlike any other. It aired its last episode in 2009, but to this day, it remains my absolute favorite show.

So, in honor of series star Tony Shalhoub's October 9th birthday, let's take a look at ten of my favorite episodes of Monk (because ten is a nice, even number):

-- Mr. Monk and the Candidate (Parts One and Two)

This two-part pilot movie -- which plays more like a film than an episode of a television series -- remains one of the best pilot episodes I've ever seen. We meet the characters, established through countless little scenes that are both hilarious and heartfelt, and by the end of the episode, you know you've found a truly special story. Plus, the mystery Monk's confronted with (the attempted assassination of Warren St. Claire, who is running for mayor) is possibly the best in the show's entire run.

-- Mr. Monk and the Airplane

"It's just not possible, is it, when you really think about it." I don't like flying much more than Adrian Monk does, and I love this episode in which Monk finds himself trapped on a cross-country plane trip. Luckily, there's a murder in midair to distract him!  Keep your eyes peeled for the flight attendant, being played by Brooke Adams -- Tony Shalhoub's real-life wife.

-- Mr. Monk and the Three Pies

Like Sherlock Holmes, Adrian Monk has an older brother who's actually smarter than him: Ambrose Monk. The only reason Ambrose isn't a greater detective than Adrian?  Ambrose suffers from agoraphobia, a fear of going too far outside of one's comfort zone -- which, in this case, keeps Ambrose from ever leaving the house. The two brothers haven't spoken in years, but when Ambrose becomes convinced he's witnessed a murder, he brings his little brother in on the case. Guest star John Turturro won an Emmy for his role as Ambrose.

-- Mr. Monk vs. the Cobra

"The light is your weapon, Mr. Monk. Be the light." This was only the second episode featuring Monk's new assistant, Natalie -- but it says something to how quickly they were able to integrate a new character into the cast that this episode works as well as it does. Natalie's aghast at Monk's refusal to reimburse her for her work expenses; Disher's obsessed with proving that his favorite actor, Sonny Chow, is still alive (and apparently a prime suspect for a murder) -- and Monk's simply trying to find his way through the dark. We even get a very sweet window into Monk's life with his wife, Trudy, before her murder. This one is one of my all-time favorites.

-- Mr. Monk Stays in Bed

Nobody likes getting sick. But for a hypochondriac, it's the worst. Monk's come down with a bad flu, but that can hardly be expected to stop him from solving a murder or two. Unless he drives everyone crazy first.

-- Mr. Monk Meets His Dad

Any episode exploring more about Monk's family is not to be missed. This Season Five Christmas special ushers in the long-awaited appearance of Monk's father, Jack.

-- Mr. Monk Is Up All Night

After glimpsing a strange woman in a crowd, Monk is haunted by her face. He knows he's never seen her before -- but there's something about her he can't let go. Unable to sleep -- for three days -- he takes a walk through the streets of San Francisco, where, of course, he witnesses a murder. Only trouble is, all trace of a struggle (and a body!) is gone by the time the police arrive. This is a good one to watch if you're struggling through your own case of insomnia.

-- Mr. Monk Buys a House

After the real-life death of Stanley Kamel (who played Monk's psychiatrist, Dr. Kroger), this lovely little episode was written about Monk coping with the loss of Dr. Kroger. Not to be missed -- just keep a box of tissues handy!

-- Mr. Monk on Wheels

Monk gets shot -- and it's all Natalie's fault!  (Or so Monk insists, anyway.) With Monk recuperating in a wheelchair, he's more than happy to order Natalie around on his every whim ... until he finally starts to realize their friendship trumps his anger and frustration. It's a heartfelt lesson -- but I love this episode for its comedy, with one of the funniest scene in the entire series taking place with the whole cast helping Monk out of the car and into his chair.

-- Mr. Monk and the End (Parts One and Two)

It was never any doubt that Monk would not solve the mystery of his wife's murder until the series finale. The only real question -- beside whodunnit (and why) -- was whether the wait would be worth the pay-off. Some fans quibbled over the way the end of the story was written, but I found this series-closing two-parter to be a perfect ending to an unforgettable show. Watch and judge for yourself!

-- Post by Ms. B

Friday, October 5, 2012

Financial Planning Week

With the economy the way it has been for the last several years, it's hard for many people to think about putting money into their nest egg. Many people are lucky just to pay their bills and put food on the table. But even then, it's good to have some sort of financial plan. And since it is Financial Planning Week, it seems like a good time to take a look at some tools (in print and online) to achieve your financial goals.

Online Tools: -- This government website from the Financial Literacy and Education Commission provides materials designed to promote financial literacy and education in the United States. There is information geared toward different life events, along with tools and other resources.

Choose to Save -- This national public education and outreach program is dedicated to raising awareness about the need to plan and save for long-term personal financial security. Be sure to check out the Calculator section and the Ballpark E$timate section for tons of helpful and interactive information.

Consumer's Guide to Credit Cards -- This site, from the Federal Reserve Board, provides a basic guide to navigating the credit card process. There is a nifty little tool to help you determine how long it will take you to pay off your credit card balance.

America Save$ -- This site, comprised of over 1,000 non-profit government and corporate groups, is designed to encourage Americans to save and plan for the future. There are areas with Savings Tips and What to Save For, along with other topics. -- This site gives some information for kids and teens to help them understand the importance of saving their money. There is even an area for parents.


The Busy Family's Guide to Money by Sandra Block

The Wall Street Journal Guide to Starting Your Financial Life by Karen Blumenthal

For a list of Suze Orman books, click here.

For a list of Dave Ramsey books, click here.


Kiplinger's Personal Finance



Better Investing

And for in-person information, plan on attending a couple of programs we have coming up at Monroeville Public Library, presented by CPA Wil Stunkel from the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants:

Learning to Save - Tuesday, October 23, 7-8:30 PM (Gallery Space)

Good Debt, Bad Debt - Tuesday, November 13, 7-8:30 (Gallery Space)

-- Post by Tracy

Thursday, October 4, 2012

30 Years of Celebrating the Freedom to Read

"There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches." - Ray Bradbury 

This week marks the 30th annual Banned Books Week, an event sponsored by such organizations as the American Library Association, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the National Coalition Against Censorship, and the National Council of Teachers of English, among others. Celebrated by libraries, schools, authors, publishers, and many other individuals and organizations, Banned Books Week focuses on celebrating the freedom to read.

This week gives free speech advocates the chance to raise awareness on issues of censorship and intellectual freedom. Check out the articles below to learn more about the history and current issues surrounding banned books:

-- Timeline: 30 Years of Liberating Literature -- Check out the history of significant banned and challenged books.

-- Bill Moyers Calls Out Book Censorship -- Journalist Moyers is one of the Honorary Co-Chairs of this year's Banned Books Week. Watch a video on his thoughts here.

-- Banning Books in the Age of Information -- An article from the Huffington Post about the effects of technology on book-banning and intellectual censorship ... worldwide.

-- Yes, Virginia, They Still Ban Books in Tucson, Arizona -- An update on the outlawed Mexican American Studies program of Tucson, Arizona, shut down by the Tucson Unified School District last school year.

-- After the War: The Librarian: Books Spirited to Safety Before Iraq Library Fire -- I don't think you can be a librarian and not love Alia Muhammad Baker, an Iraqi librarian who formed an "underground railroad" to save 30,000 books from her library's collection.

-- Post by Ms. B