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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

How You Spent Your Summer Vacation

Every season of the year comes clothed in memories of seasons past and summer's memories often involve family vacations. Maybe you were one of those lucky kids who flew to Orlando or Anaheim for a vacation - but the closest I ever got to spending summer with a large mouse was in the Wisconsin Dells.

Love 'em, hate 'em, the Wisconsin Dells and adjoining Lake Delton are part of the childhood lore of many a Chicagoan. (I suspect many a Wisconsinite, too, but on the other hand, maybe they escaped to Michigan...) In my case, it's even a part of my pre-history - my parents, now married 51 years, honeymooned in the Dells. Like death and taxes, a summer trip to the Dells was inevitable in our household. A Dells vacation meant swimming in Lake Delton all day, building sand castles, eating bologna sandwiches and drinking Fresca on the beach.

At night, freshly scrubbed, we headed into town. The downtown area of the Dells is to a small child what Vegas must be for the addicted gambler: where shall I spend my money tonight? Miniature golf? Skee-ball? Arcade games? Roller coasters and go-karts? Toys and t-shirts and faux Native American paraphernalia of every kind? As much as I adored those lazy days on the beach, the warm nights in the Dells were magical to me. Families would spread out on the park benches and sidewalks in a state of Dairy Queen-induced bliss. More families packed the rustic restaurants and taverns, throwing peanut shells on the floor and often listening to a local strum his guitar while singing pop songs. Very late in the evening, my siblings and I would return to the beach, giggling and goofing around under a starry sky reflected in the calm lake water.

That was, oh, 20 or 30 years ago. Believe it or not, my family still makes a pilgrimage to the Dells almost every summer, although I won't be joining them this year. The giant mice are still there, clutching enormous wedges of cheese. There is now a towering Trojan horse on the main motorway, but the entire downtown area still smells like fudge and leather moccasins - and sometimes beer and onions. As the years roll by, I find more and more people whose summer vacation memories, like mine, are full of a funny mix of sand, water, fresh air, rock formations and a heaping dose of carnival kitsch. Judging from the surge of new construction in the Dells and Lake Delton areas, the trend shows no signs of stopping. It's a short drive, it's relatively inexpensive, and if you're bored in the Dells, well, there's probably no hope for you. :)

How about you? Did you spend your childhood vacations in the Wisconsin Dells? Have a funny or poignant story to share? Post it here! Did you visit the Dells this summer? How was it?
Do you, like me, miss the cinnamon rolls at the old Patio restaurant?
Please write in and share your experiences - we'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Looking for some hot dogs, eh?

No, I don't mean these two festively-garbed grill jockeys. I mean the things they're cooking, those deliriously unhealthy yet delicious hot dogs. Much like our pizza, people in Chicago and its suburbs take hot dogs very, very seriously. We have our own hot dog "style," so to speak. According to our friends at Wikipedia,

"A Chicago-style hot dog - as served in the U.S. city of Chicago, Illinois and its surrounding suburbs - is a steamed or boiled all-beef, natural-casing hot dog on a poppy seed bun. The hot dog is topped with mustard, onion, sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices or wedges, sport peppers, and a dash of celery salt; but never ketchup."

Amen. I'll never forget an episode of PBS's "The Frugal Gourmet," back at the height of his popularity, when Jeff Smith practically drooled while describing the "salad on a bun" that accompanies a Chicago dog. Truthfully, I tend to lean more toward just mustard on mine, but stand in line at a hot dog spot and listen to the detailed orders being placed - Chicagoans order hot dogs like Seattleites order their cappuccino.

And lest you think the current fast-food smorgasboard of chicken sandwiches, turkey burgers, fresh fruit cups and Tex-Mex Ranch BBQ Thai Cilantro Kiwi-flavored Whatsit is cutting into Mr. H. Dog's popularity, here's the hard truth: According to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food & Drink in America (2004), more than 1.25 billion pounds of all types of hot dogs are sold every year in retail stores alone. That's a lotta dogs.

How about here in Des Plaines? Where's the best spot for the perfect dog? And while we're at it, who's got the best fries, since enjoying a hot dog without fries is tantamount to treason in these parts? A PlainTalk reader specifically requested that we take a local survey of the best hot dogs, so please send us your favorites! All you need to do is click on "Comments" and start typing. And hurry up - I'm getting hungry!

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Few Potter Pix

Check out some pictures from our Harry Potter Extravaganza, which took place last Friday, July 19, 2007, here at the Des Plaines Public Library. Thank you to all who attended, to all who worked so hard to make this event a success, and an extra big "Thank you!" to our Friends of the Library for their generous sponsorship of this special evening. (You can see some of our Friends in these pictures, dressed in their wizardly garb.) If your child attended our event and would like to write about it, please encourage them to send us their Comments down below.

We took lots of pictures and video of the HP Extravaganza, and the first part of our Harry Potter Extravaganza is now up on YouTube! Just click here to check it out.

Friday, July 20, 2007

We're Still Wild About Harry - Are You?

It's Friday, July 20, around 8 PM CST, and it's hard to imagine but incredibly wonderful that right now, hearts are a-flutter the world over because of a book. Tonight, at the stroke of midnight, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," the final book in J.K. Rowling's magical and wildly popular "Harry Potter" series, is released to a world breathless with anticipation.

Nothing makes librarians smile quite like a public passionate about books, and one would be hard-pressed to recall another recent book, particularly a work of fiction, that has stirred up the range and depth of feelings caused by Mr. Potter's literary saga. And as if the popularity of the books isn't enough (over a quarter of a billion sold, according to, the stories have been reimagined into blockbuster films, each awaited with the same giddiness the world is experiencing tonight. The story of Harry Potter has quickly moved into the realms of a timeless literary classic, beloved of children and adults alike.

The Des Plaines Public Library is literally ABUZZ with activity this evening. At the somewhat magical hour of 9:30 PM, when the library is typically closed, we'll be reopening our doors and admitting the new crop of Hogwarts students. (A few Muggles will also be present, hence Hogwarts' humble redecorating as a public library...) The Sorting Hat will place the students into their appropriate houses and then they'll get a chance to test their mettle and magic in a variety of classes taught by Hogwarts' most respected professors. You can probably guess which house claimed the young wizard pictured here...and could he be a Malfoy?
A grand feast will follow all that careful study and then - at the stroke of midnight - 10 very lucky students will receive a free copy of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows."

So, what about you? Wild about Harry? Have you seen "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," the latest Harry Potter film, which arrived in theaters just a few weeks ago? Did you preorder a copy of the new book and clear your calendar for tomorrow so you can read it right away? And, if you're reading this on Saturday, were you one of the lucky Hogwarts students who spent a wizardly evening at the Des Plaines Public Library this weekend? Click on "Comments" down below and send us your book and movie reviews of the latest "Harry Potter" adventures. If you attended our Harry Potter Extravaganza, let us know if you had a good time! As soon as possible, we'll share photographs and video of this very special event with you - watch here for more details.

The Des Plaines Public Library has lots of Harry Potter books and movies, and even materials relating to Harry Potter. Click here to see everything in our Library Catalog about Harry and his exploits.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Okay - We'll Beg!

We'll do whatever it takes to get you to read our PlainTalk blog and send us your comments - so watch this video to learn the Top Ten Reasons why we need your contributions!

So, come on, Des Plaines - we need your comments and input to make PlainTalk an interesting place to visit. Yes, our video of Top Ten reasons was pretty silly - but trust us on this one, we really think you'll have fun reading our blog and sending in your own comments on the topic of discussion. You can browse through the previous blog postings down below to get a sample of what we've done so far. Join the conversation!

Friday, July 13, 2007

"Summer's here and the time is right...

For dancing in the streets!"

Now, we here at PlainTalk cannot recommend dancing in the streets of Des Plaines, IL, unless it takes place during a parade or a neighborhood festival when the street is safely protected from traffic. However, dancing within the safe and comfy confines of your own car on a gorgeous summer night can certainly make you feel good and even relieve the stress when you're stuck at ONE MORE freight train.

Summer is indeed the season for cruising with the perfect song on the car stereo. Spring is too rainy and unpredictable - better to keep your eyes on the road. In the Winter, it takes 30 minutes for our hands to warm up when we first get in the car - so fumbling with CDs and radio knobs is less than ideal. But ah...the sweet sounds of music in the Summertime. Your Web Services Librarian (and blogger) has been known to juggle between CDs, iPod and radio, looking for just the right song to fit the mood, the weather and the surroundings.

How about you? Do you have a favorite Summer driving song or album? (We can still call CDs "albums," right?) Is there one song that always brings back warm weather memories for you? A song you heard on a first date or on the night you graduated from high school or even that magical evening when Mom or Dad handed you the car keys for the first time? A song that transports you to a summer vacation in the Wisconsin woods or a long road trip to Disney World, or maybe just a late night cruise down Lake Shore Drive? Whether it's a classic 50s ballad, a big-haired 80s rocker or even some lively Mozart, everyone has a preference when it comes to Summer driving music.

I have so many favorites I can't possibly name them all here - but I will add my votes down below in the Comments section. If you've been wondering how to leave your own Comments on this blog - after every post you'll see a link that says "0 Comments," or "Post A Comment" depending on how many responses have already been made. Click on that link and you'll find a place for typing in your own thoughts. Please write to us! We love hearing from you and we want PlainTalk to reflect the entire Des Plaines, IL, community.

So send us the sounds of Summer. Do you know the Des Plaines Public Library has a large collection of CDs? Some particularly fun selections are CDs that collect songs from particular eras, found in our "Rock Collections" area. For example:

The Sounds of the Seventies collection features driving songs like "Truckin'" by the Grateful Dead (1971), "Takin' It To the Streets" by The Doobie Brothers (1976) and "Cruisin'" by Smokey Robinson (1979).

The Rock N' Roll Era collection has classics like "Leader of the Pack" by The Shangri-Las, "Shake, Rattle and Roll" by Joe Turner, "Sh-boom" by The Chords and yes, even "Dancing in the Streets" by Martha and the Vandellas.

Billboard's Top Rock 'N' Roll Hits collections are organized by year and you'll find such hits as Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild" and the Jackson 5's "Dancing Machine."

Stop by the Readers' Services desk and ask the staff for the Rock Collections area of the library or any of our Music collections - they'll be glad to help you find the music that will make your Summer memories come alive.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

One Last 4th of July Hurrah!

Here's our latest video - get a front row seat for the Cart Wheels book cart drill team command performance at the Des Plaines 4th of July parade. Our trusty cameraman Raul Silvestry took footage of the entire parade - so watch our Web site this week for lots more video. You may even see yourself!

(Pssst...the video is just over 8 minutes, so you might want to let it start loading, go grab a cold drink, then sit back and enjoy when it's fully loaded. You'll know it's done loading when the red bar under the screen is completely filled in.)

Monday, July 9, 2007

In Celebration of Book Babes

In our last full-fledged blog posting we featured the Cart Wheels, our new library book cart drill team. Today's blog celebrates the amazing work done by our Relay for Life team, the Book Babes. The Des Plaines Relay for Life event took place on Friday, June 29, 2007 on the grounds of Maine West High School and the Book Babes gave their very best .

This was the first time I had ever attended a Relay for Life and I was so impressed by the positive spirit and energy of everyone participating. If you're not familiar with Relay, this is a community event sponsored by the American Cancer Society to raise money for cancer research and treatment. It's also a dance party, a walk/run, a fashion show, an art exhibit and most of all, a celebration of life for those who have survived cancer and a time to honor lives lost to the disease. "Celebrate! Remember! Fight Back!" - this is the rallying cry of Relay for Life. There's a Relay for Life in Des Plaines but you'll find them all across Illinois and around the country.

Being a newbie to Relay, I parked my car at Maine West and walked somewhat hesitantly toward the busy scene. What I found was an enormous and buzzing tent city, a bazaar of raffle prizes and crafts and snacks, a walking track being continuously paced by the Relay teams, music and dancing in the air. Like all great moments of community, the Relay brought together a diverse mixture of people united by a common passion. I can't recall the last time before Relay for Life when I saw so many people gathered in one place who were happy, calm, and radiating goodness. I found myself playing catch with one of my new coworkers (John Lavalie) and a little boy whose mother was also participating in Relay. I haven't played catch in about 30 years! :) I bought raffle tickets and then gave the rest of my cash to "Miss Jimmy," a high school boy who good-naturedly dressed up as "Queen of the Relay," along with many other gents, to raise more money. An infectious generosity lingered in the air, assisted no doubt by some gorgeous early Summer weather and a glowing sunset.

The Library is especially proud of Youth Services Librarian Pat Horn and her husband Jerry Horn, both cancer survivors, who served as honorary co-chairs of this year's Relay as well as Book Babes.

The Book Babes are led by Youth Services Head Veronica Schwartz (also a Cart Wheel, and a recent recipient of a Super Star Volunteer award from the city of Des Plaines, along with staff member Cheryl Gladfelter and our Teen Advisory Board. Veronica wows all of us with her unflagging energy.). Veronica and her team have been raising money all year 'round, hosting bake sales, plant sales, Denim Days and other events within the library. Then the Book Babes set up their campsite at Relay and sold raffle tickets, note cards, bookmarks and cups of snack mix to raise even more funds.

As of today, the Book Babes have reached a new personal best, raising more than $9,000 in the fight against cancer this year. If you want to meet our Book Babes as well as catch a glimpse of some of us who came up to support them, watch the photo video in the post just down below. For the record, the Des Plaines Public Library's Relay for Life Book Babes are:

Veronica Schwartz
Pat Horn
Gail Bradley
Bonnie Gaynor
Francine Gralak
Linda Knorr
Kathy Kyrouac
Joseph Miller
David Whittingham

Were you involved in this year's Relay for Life? How did your team do? What was the best part of the event? Please leave your comments here. While we want the PlainTalk blog to inform you about the library, we also need to hear from you to keep the conversation going. Relay for Life is just one outstanding example of all the good work being done by the community of Des Plaines, something for which we can all be very proud.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Check out the Book Babes at Relay for Life!

Watch for a new blog post any day now - but in the meantime, enjoy our short video honoring the Book Babes, our team at the Des Plaines Relay for Life. The Book Babes raised over $9,000 in the fight against cancer this year and, well, we're just awfully proud of them. More to come! The video is just down below. Enjoy.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

"I love a parade...

"...the tramping of feet, I love every beat I hear of a drum."

Yes, there really is a song called "I Love a Parade," a true "golden oldie" written back in 1932. Residents of Des Plaines lined Center Street on 4th of July morning to display their patriotic pride and their love of parades. 4th of July brings out the best in our communities and Independence Day remains a day when we celebrate with old-fashioned simplicity. Picnics and barbeques, parades, church pancake breakfasts and ice cream socials, flag waving and, of course, fireworks - nothing too high tech, no rampant commercialism, just love of country and gratitude for hard-won freedom.

Did you see the library in the parade? In all honesty, we were hard to miss. We followed the gleaming trucks and roaring sirens of our city's police and fire departments and our Bookmobile (pictured above) was decked out in red, white and blue finery. What really made us stand out in the crowd was our awesome new book cart drill team, the Cart Wheels. If you watched yesterday's parade you must have seen them, with their festively decorated red book carts carrying birthday cakes in honor of the library's Centennial year. Circling in pinwheels, doing a little do si do with their book carts, waving and smiling in the humidity and heat, our Cart Wheels did us proud. We will be posting some video we took at the parade very soon - however, you can watch our video about the Cart Wheels and their rehearsals for the big day right here on our blog. Just click on the YouTube window to the right of your screen and enjoy. Then post your rave reviews below.

How did you celebrate the 4th of July this year? What made your day spectactular? It sure was nice that the forecasted storms came on Tuesday evening and allowed us to enjoy the parade and the holiday without umbrellas. While the parade was boisterous and happy, surely many of us also took a moment to remember our men and women serving in the Armed Forces. My friend PTC John Moran is serving in Baghdad and I hope he's home next year to celebrate Independence Day with his family and friends, who miss him terribly. If you have someone special in your life who serves in our American military, feel free to post a little tribute here in our Comments section. Today might be July 5th, but in America every day is "Independence Day," and we should always be mindful of and thankful for that freedom.

Tell us about your 4th of July 2007 - we hope it was a safe and happy one. Let us know what you think about the Cart Wheels, too. If you visit the library soon, you can even see their book carts on display.