Tuesday, December 30, 2008
"And give me a hand of thine. We'll take a cup o' kindness yet, for auld lang syne." Holidays like Christmas, Hanukkah and Easter have a wealth of songs and tales with which to celebrate - New Year's Eve really only has one, the Scottish traditional "Auld Lang Syne." Like most traditions, its roots are too long buried to clearly identify the original seed, and both words and melody are subject to countless variations. Still, when I think of New Year's, it's the song that instantly pops into my head, whether it be the brassy strains of the Guy Lombard Orchestra from those TV specials of my youth, or the warm, acoustic strains of James Taylor's more recent recording.
If you ever have the pleasure of spending New Year's Eve in the British isles, you'll find that people there not only know and love the song, they take pride in singing it together, in the same boisterous way we might chime in on the National Anthem or "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" on a summer's afternoon in Wrigleyville (or wherever else you watch your baseball). I discovered this one New Year's Eve while attending a performance of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Show ended, curtain call was taken, and then all the actors joined us in singing "Auld Lang Syne." A lovely memory to carry through the years that no travel guide could have predicted.
This will be a short PlainTalk post today, just to wish you and yours the happiest of New Years.
It's tempting to brush off 2008 as a year of trouble and woe, from the stock exchange to the Governor's office, from flooded basements to foreclosed homes. So PlainTalk will begin 2009 with a month of "Library Resolutions," 31 suggestions for how you can take full advantage of the Library's services in the coming year to get the most out of your investment (tax dollars and donations) in us. Like the song says, we've got a hand for you, trusted friend.
Need help finding a job? We've got it. Need help finding an affordable home or investment advice? We've got it. Need books, movies and music to help you escape from everyday cares? We've got it. Need training on the computer or for job interviews? We've got it. Need free entertainment or cultural enrichment for yourself or your children? We've got it. In 2009, think of the Des Plaines Public Library as your community center, your office away from the office, your theatre, your concert space, your haven from a chaotic world, your inspiration, your treasure chest, a place to Work, Learn and Play. We look forward to serving you and helping you achieve your dreams in the coming year and for decades to come. Happy New Year!
Friday, December 19, 2008
All of us are painfully aware that many American soldiers won't be home for the holidays this year. If you know of a soldier who would appreciate a care package from kindly folks back home, our local VFW post would like to know. Pick up a yellow form at the Library (1st or 4th floor) to request a delivery to your friend or family member. The same form has a list of needed items you can donate: bring them to the blue barrel on the Library's 1st floor. Monetary donations are also needed, as the packages cost roughly $9.00 to mail. If you can't make it to the Library, you can still send in your friend's name or make a donation. Just call VFW Post #2992 at 847-296-9878 or email them at email@example.com They can provide all the details and will make your the soldier in your life gets a nice surprise.
A Soldier's Wish List (this is a sampling - pick up a list for complete details): Personal items like:
- Lip balm
- Baby wipes
- Nail clippers
- Antacid tablets
- Hand-held games
- Pocket-sizes tissues
- Hand/foot warmers
- Snacks like mints, Chex Mix, Pringles, Nuts, hard candy, granola bars, microwave popcorn and much, much more! Please pick up a list today and bring some holiday joy to a soldier who cannot be home for Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year's, and all the celebrations we enjoy this time of year.
"On October 4, 1943, (Bing) Crosby recorded 'I'll Be Home for Christmas' with the John Scott Trotter Orchestra for Decca Records. Within about a month of its being copyrighted the song hit the music charts and remained there for eleven weeks, peaking at number three. The following year, the song reached number nineteen on the charts. It touched a tender place in the hearts of Americans, both soldiers and civilians, who were then in the depths of World War II, and it earned Crosby his fifth gold record. 'I'll Be Home for Christmas' became the most requested song at Christmas U.S.O. shows in both Europe and the Pacific and Yank, the GI magazine, said Crosby accomplished more for military morale than anyone else of that era."
Read the full article here.
The photograph above is also from the Library of Congress, showing the Washington D.C. Christmas rush in 1941 as eager soldiers waited for buses to take them home.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Tuesday afternoon I found myself, for the very first time, working at our third floor Readers' Services desk. Despite the heavy snow that had begun to fall outside, the desk was busy, lots of folks looking for that certain book or DVD to curl up with on a frosty night. I'd only been at the desk a few minutes when a particular scent attracted my attention - mmm, yum. What is that?
At that moment I realized the festive holiday decorations on the bookshelves behind me were not made of the artificial pine boughs so common at this time of year, but real pine! What a wonderful surprise, and undoubtedly the work of the library's resident gardener, Readers' Services staff member Linda Knorr.
Linda is not only a dedicated and knowledgeable library assistant, but her green thumb brings delight to the library year 'round, too. She sells plants to raise money for our Relay for Life team, and even made an appearance as "Professor Sprout," teaching wizards - I mean kids! - how to grow pumpkins at our Harry Potter event. Linda recently shared with the library staff some gardening tips for creating an evergreen container. I asked if I could pass those suggestions along to our PlainTalk readers, so read on. Next time you're checking out a DVD or novel, stop by and take a deep breath of the fresh pine behind the desk - it will definitely get you in the holiday spirit. Above all, be careful out there as the snow and ice pile up over the next few days, maybe even weeks. We want to see you back in the library in 2009!
"Winter Gardening" with Linda Knorr
Want to find books about winter gardening? Try these.
That is Linda in the photo above, posing with her handiwork up on the third floor.
The quote in today's subject line is from a beautiful Christmas song by Amy Grant, "Emmanuel, God With Us." The library has a great selection of Christmas and holiday CDs. You can browse through them on the third floor, or click this link to see them listed in our Catalog.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
So, here's an idea to warm you up and get your creative, community spirit going: a winter holiday photo contest! Show us the best part of wintertime and the holidays in Des Plaines, IL. The details:
- The contest is open to all Des Plaines Public Library cardholders only. Please, no DPPL employees or employee family members.
- What we need: your best digital photos of winter scenes and holiday celebrations in Des Plaines, IL (or suburbs where our other cardholders live). Your kids building a lopsided snowman. Your neighbor's awesome Christmas lights. Beautiful icicles hanging from a church window, carolers outside your front door, a procession for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a glowing menorah. Please briefly identify the scene in each photo.
- How many? Each cardholder can submit as many as 4 (four) photos. Photos must be your own, local work - please, no copying and pasting from the Internet!
- Where? Email photos to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please, resize photos to no more than 1024 X 768, and files no larger than 100 kb. If necessary, send each photo in a separate email. In each email include: your name, home address and your DPPL card number, please.
- What will we do with the photos? All submitted photos will be included in our holiday-themed slideshow, which will appear on the Library's home page between December 23, 2008 - January 2, 2009. After January 2, the slideshow of photos will appear on the Library's "Life in Des Plaines" Web page through the month of February 2009. We will not identify people in the photos, for the sake of privacy.
- Where does the "contest" part come in? The first 10 cardholders to submit at least one photo will receive complimentary admission for four guests to the Museum of Science & Industry and its "Christmas Around the World/Holidays of Light" exhibit, now through January 4, 2009. (If you want to submit photos but are not interested in the free passes, just let us know if your email.)
ALL cardholders who submit at least one photo will be entered into a grand prize drawing for a $25 gift card to the winner's choice: Jewel Food Store, Panera Bread or Borders Bookstore.
- When...? All photos must be received no later than noon (12 PM) on Monday, December 22, 2008. The drawing will be held on December 22 at 5 PM and the winner will be contacted via email.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
When Brenden was diagnosed with what would be a fatal bout with leukemia, he was asked to make a wish, for something extraordinary, something that would bring him joy. That's not unusual, for many children who are ill are offered that kind of opportunity, as they should be. What was unusual was Brenden's response. Seeing a large group of homeless people lined up for a meal while he was in the car, getting home from the doctor's office, Brenden saw his wish: "I should just get them something." His wish was passed along to some volunteers, who made hundreds of sandwich meals in brown paper bags with "Love, Brenden" written on them. But it didn't stop there. The story began to spread and something about the utter selflessness of Brenden's wisdom touched a lot of people, even in the midst of this scary recession. Food drives have now sprung up all over the country, in memory of a young boy who simply had his eyes open to the realities around him, realities we are often so ready to dismiss as being more than we can handle. Brenden passed away on Friday, November 21, 2008, but the thoughts and actions he left behind challenge all of us.
If you want to know more about Brenden Foster, just Google him! (By the way, that is the correct spelling of his name, not "Brendan.") If you want to know how you can help the homeless, why not consider the local possibilities?
I've already told you that the Library collects non-perishable food for the Self-Help Closet and Pantry, so next time you're stopping in for a book or DVD, why not bring a box of pasta, some soup, rice, or canned vegetables? Make it easy and look for "two for one" deals at the grocery store, which enable you to fill up a bag for very little money. Same thing with our Mitten Tree: with all the discounts being offered at retail stores right now, it doesn't cost much to pick up a warm winter hat or mittens, which will go to a local person in need this winter. The Mitten Tree can be found at locations across Des Plaines - check here for details. The Self-Help Pantry and Mitten Tree collections are on the second floor of the Library - follow the candy cane trail.
What are other ways you can help the homeless?
- The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless sells special coffee blends and the proceeds benefit local homeless persons. Learn more about "Home Ground" here, and order online. Even if you aren't a coffee drinker, buy a few pounds and add them to Christmas baskets with some home-baked items - your friends will love you for it!
- The Enterprising Kitchen is a Chicago-area non-profit that provides work to unemployed/underemployed women at risk. Women receive paid employment, intensive job training, life skills training, financial planning and many other support services, with the goal of each woman moving into sustainable employment within a few months. It is often said that a "hand up" can be more helpful than a "hand out," so support the workers of The Enterprising Kitchen by purchasing their lovely handmade soaps and spa products. The products are reasonable, high quality and will do good in our neighboring community while making your holiday shopping burden a lot lighter.
Friday, November 28, 2008
Typically, I am not into the Thanksgiving meal. My coworkers will vouch that my foodie days are long over (a trend I went through from about 18-22 years old, which has never returned), so the idea of spending an entire day, or several days, worrying over and working on one meal never appealed much. My mother truly detests cooking and all the heavy clean-up that surrounds it, so we've celebrated family Thanksgivings in restaurants for many years. In fact, we spend Easter and Christmas in restaurants, too. While there's much to enjoy about that scenario, restaurants are often very crowded on holidays, the staff is cranky because they'd rather be home, and the food often seems like it was prepared back in the Puritan times and then left under a warming lamp...
This year we had a wonderful meal. We chose a simpler, less expensive, neighborhood restaurant, and clearly that was the right choice (Chessie's 11 Grille in Barrington, IL, if you are wondering). Everything tasted fresh, like it was made just for us, and there was enough variety that one could easily avoid that marshmallow-yam casserole. Ahem.
But now it's "Black Friday," which reminds me of a Steely Dan song while it reminds everyone else of Christmas shopping. The Library is open today, Black Friday or not, so I'm working and thinking about this amazing coconut cake that's sitting in the lunchroom (right next to my office), courtesy of Veronica Schwartz, Head of our Youth Services Department. I'm realizing that I ate several helpings of turkey yesterday, delicious cornbread stuffing, chicken piccata, two pieces of light-as-a-feather cornbread, carrots in a yummy walnut sauce, and...any number of desserts. Whew. Thank God I was eating my Thanksgiving dinner in Illinois and not in New York City, where many restaurants (those with 15 or more locations nationwide) have to post the calorie count for every food item. If I knew there were - what? - 7 or 8 zillion calories in that slice of Italian cream cake, would I have eaten it?
The New York City Department of Health's initiative has generated much discussion, especially in the online world, where pretty much everything is dissected and chewed over many, many times. How do you feel about it? On the one hand, I think it's a great idea. In this article from the New York Post, I discovered that the average onion has 35 calories: the Bloomin' Onion at Outback Steakhouse has 2,275 calories. Ouch. A Chipotle Grilled Chicken Burrito - which sounds like a low-cal number, right? - weighs in at 1,179 calories. And who's going to eat a burrito without some chips? and salsa? and maybe some refried beans and rice...Ouch!
Of course, a lot of calorie and nutritional information is freely available on the Internet, if you're brave enough to look. I'm a big fan of Caesar salads. I'm a big fan of not cooking at lunchtime, but I recently discovered the yummy Caesar salad at a nearby takeout place has almost 1,000 calories, and that's not including the side of flatbread and the oatmeal raisin cookie I feel obligated to buy. If you want to open that Pandora's box for yourself, check out The Daily Plate, which offers calorie counters plus the ability to create a food diary for yourself, a great way to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. I also suffer from serious acid reflux problems. Looking up my diet soft drink of choice, I found out it has 50% more caffeine in it than other "versions" of the same soda! Curious? Go to Energy Fiend and look up your beverage.
Want to really spoil your holiday cheer? Type in the phrase "ten worst foods" in your favorite search engine, and be prepared to read 'em and weep. Or, follow this link to read a list of the 20 worst foods in America, courtesy of the Today Show.
Better yet - want to watch your waistline without the scare tactics? Come to the Library and fill up on diet, nutrition and exercise books and DVDs! Use the one-click searches to get started. After all, if you watch what you eat and drink most of the time, you'll never notice that little splurge on some Italian cream cake...right?
Nutrition - books, audiobooks and DVDs
Food habits - books on portion control, better eating habits, etc.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Maybe you've never tried online shopping. More and more Americans are shopping from the comfort of desk or couch. Why not? You save on gas and time, and looking for the right online stores can mean saving on sales tax and shipping, too. Watch for so-called "sales" that offer meager discounts, however, since the shipping often adds 10-15% onto your total. One possible drawback - online shopping isn't as "green" as it might seem, because items need to be shipped which widens your carbon footprint, and many retailers still use tons of very non-green packaging, like styrofoam. However, you can purchase inexpensive carbon offsets from sites like Carbonfund or focus on local retailers, so the shipping won't cause much more damage than your daily mail.
With online retailers, a very smart thing you can do is sign up for email alerts from your favorite sellers. This will clue you in to special deals, so if you can, hold off on shopping until they give you a good reason to click "Purchase." Before you make that click, check your In Box, too -- sometimes you've forgotten that 25% off email or free shipping offer, and then you'll be kicking yourself for ordering too soon.
Want to give your online shopping a boost this year? Visit Hoffman Estates, IL-based Coupon Cabin. www.couponcabin.com gathers online deals from well-known retailers all into one, easy-to-browse place. Just looking at the site a few days ago, I saw deals from The Home Depot, Target, Zappos, Macy's, Kohl's and many other famous names. The coupons are only good for ONLINE purchases, but of course you can browse a brick-and-mortar store, then go home and place your order. By the way, did you know some stores will do the online ordering for you, if you come in for an item and they don't have it in stock? Also, many retailers will allow you to make free returns, even if you bought the items online - save on those shipping costs!
Coupon Cabin also offers access to Restaurant.com, where you can purchase $25 restaurant gift cards for only $10 - and sometimes even less!! One interesting thing to note about Restaurant.com is that they feature local restaurants - I assumed it would contain mostly chains, but the focus is local, including Des Plaines stand-bys like the Black Ram and Cafe La Cave. Do read the fine print, as certain rules apply, like minimum purchases or gratuity included, and sometimes gift cards for certain restaurants are out of stock. If you think this might make gift-giving awkward ("Hi, I bought you this discounted gift card, and you have to spend a minimum of $50 for it to work.") use it to treat yourself or help pay for a night out with friends. A tip -- more gift certificates are added on the first of the month, so wait until December 1st and start shopping on Restaurant.com.
Many people avoid online shopping because they fear their credit card information will be compromised, maybe even their entire identity! While this is certainly a terrible experience, the fact is: it also happens in retail stores. So, if that's been your reason to avoid shopping on your computer, you may want to reconsider. I remember a friend who refused to send her credit card number over the Internet for many years - she would place her order, and then fax in her credit information. As if sending a fax to a roomful of strangers in another state was safe!
That's a little bit about saving money online this holiday season. For more online suggestions, check out this feature from CNN: http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2008/holiday.shopping/index.html.
Later this week, I'll introduce you to some places where your shopping can provide delightful gifts for friends and family, but also make a vital difference in the larger world. Wow - can you believe it's almost Thanksgiving!?!?
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
I suspect that people who have no shelter, or who struggle to pay heating bills every winter, don't find much warmth in their cold hands. The good news is, those of us who are blessed with a little (or a lot) more financial comfort can help warm those cold hands - stop by the Mitten Tree on the second floor of the Library.
You can't miss it - follow the path of candy canes and you'll find a Christmas tree with barrels waiting for your goodies. Since it is the Mitten Tree, there is a barrel for mittens, gloves, hats and scarves . There's another barrel where we're collecting NEW, unopened toys for tikes. The third barrel is for our local Self-Help Closet and Food Pantry. They have a special need for canned foods, dry soups, cereals, pasta, sugar, any other non-perishable food items plus paper goods and diapers in sizes 3, 4 and 5.
Think about it. Almost all of us are experiencing financial strain right now, but sometimes it's an eye-opener to remember: there's always someone worse off than you. Can you spare $5-10 for a new winter cap or gloves, or $10 worth of canned goods? I bet if you went without an expensive cup of coffee or breakfast pastry for a few days, you could do it easily. Please bring what you are able to our Mitten Tree donation area. Mitten Tree and toy donations are being accepted through December 12, 2008. The Self-Help Pantry needs your help year 'round, so when the barrel is moved from the second floor you'll find it in our atrium.
Help someone have warm hands and a warm heart this winter.
The cute (if cold!) doggie picture is from the Web site, "LOLdogs, Dogs n' Puppy Dog Pictures: I Has A Hot Dog." What are LOL dogs? Followers send in digital snaps of their dogs, cats, and other pets doing hilarious things, and readers write their own "dialogue" for the scene. That makes you "LOL" - or, laugh out loud. If you love dogs and need a smile, check it out. (Yes, there's a cat version, too.)
Monday, November 17, 2008
Let's start with a tradition that often arrives early - holiday cards. I'm always stunned when I receive a Christmas card before Thanksgiving - now that's a dedicated card sender! But, let's talk greenly: "The 2.65 billion Christmas cards sold each year in the United States could fill a football field 10 stories high." (http://www.cygnus-group.com/use-less-stuff/ULSDAY/42ways.html)
While I love a beautiful or funny holiday card as much as anyone, that number is startling because of the underlying truth: all or most of those cards end up in the garbage - some may be recycled. Often, the more attractive the card (think glitter, foil, mylar, fancy envelopes), the less likely it can be recycled. So consider ways to trim down your mailing list. Save the paper cards for those who will truly be touched that you remembered them - I know, for example, that sending a card means a lot to some of the senior ladies at my church who do not have the wide circle of friends they once enjoyed.
When you've got the list whittled down, considering buying cards that are made from recycled materials and/or cards that can be easily recycled. Better yet, skip the boxed cards at the discount store and buy cards that can make a difference. How? Well, chances are you, like me, receive packages of greeting cards in the mail from charities asking for a financial donation in return. They may not be the prettiest, stylish cards, but send in your check and use them. You'll feel better, you will have skipped the mall entirely, and the people who receive them will get the message - you care enough to send a card and care enough to make the world a better place.
If that doesn't work for you, consider buying cards that benefit charitable organizations. Some are right here in the Chicago community, like Little City in Palatine, IL. Little City sells holiday cards every year that are designed by and that benefit its developmentally disabled residents. Check them out here -- fun designs that send an important message about the dignity of the disabled and your desire to help. The picture at the top of this post is a Little City card, designed by Brian Kaplan - it's my favorite of their designs this year. Another option is UNICEF. They have cards for every season, and special occasions like birthdays. Buy several boxes and you'll be set for the year. See the cards here.
These are just two examples - if you know of another organization that sells holiday cards to benefit its good works, please post the information here and share it with us. Thanks to reader Sara who informed us about Misericordia's cards - see them here. (I like the mixture of religious and non-religious cards, plus some cool Chicago-themed choices.) Yes, buying cards that benefit a charity is more expensive, but it's also a way of giving back, so that your efforts to spread the joy aren't simply spreading a trail of paper. It's particularly perfect if you aren't exchanging gifts with people this year - a card that is also a donation is an ideal way to share the true meaning of the holidays with your community, with the whole world.
If you haven't taken our Christmas shopping poll, there's still time -- just click your answer into the box at the top of this page.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Instead, it was the kind of message I think many of us are pondering: "I was wondering if we could not exchange Christmas gifts this year." On one hand, it surprised me. I've always admired her and her husband for their successful professional careers and beautiful home. If they are worried about money...wow. On the other hand, it came as a relief! I'm paying off a big school loan and with the price of gas and groceries, my earnings just don't go as far as they once did. My credit cards are already bulging with debt, so not having to charge a few more Christmas gifts seems wiser than gold, frankincense or myrrh.
Not everyone feels this way. The newspapers are full of stories predicting the demise of many familiar retailers if people don't get out and shop 'til they drop. In the latest edition of Town & Country magazine, a writer bemoans the trend of replacing gift-giving with charitable donations. In her mind, it takes all the fun out of the holidays. Now, that trend is different from not exchanging gifts at all, but I think both ideas stem from the same issue: What is the wisest way to celebrate Christmas, or, any other special occasion (because I know not everyone celebrates Christmas)? If I'm worried about the economy, my mortgage, my retirement savings, is it okay to say "No gifts," at least for a year or two? If I don't feel like I can make a dramatic show of gift-giving or I'm fed up with excessive spending, is it okay to say, "I'll make a donation in your name this year?"
PlainTalk will feature, in the weeks to come, various ways in which you can get more out of your holiday gift-giving: suggestions for local organizations that need your donations; places where you can buy relatively inexpensive, "fair trade" gifts, so you can give and give more; "green" and charitable suggestions for holiday cards, wrappings, and other necessities; and, opinions, my own and yours, on the ins and outs of gift-giving.
At the top of this page, to your right, you'll see a poll - let us know what your plans are for Christmas shopping this year. You can also let us know if you have no Christmas plans! Want to add your Comments on this topic? Type them in below - you can list your name, or even post anonymously.
Want to learn more about Savvy Shopping?
Use our "Savvy Shopping" guide!
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
To be sure, I've found a lot of things I love about this town. It's fun to work in what feels like a living, breathing city. I live in a very quiet "bedroom community," which is great for sleeping but not very energizing and inspiring for one's creative sense! I love that I can take a short walk and pick up a burrito at Mexico restaurant, or a dozen kolacky from Shop And Save to bring to Mom (the kolacky are almost as good as Mom's, without the need to knead, if you know what I mean!). I like that friends can take the train to come and visit me here, but I'm also so close to major expressways. (Granted, an "expressway" in Chicago is something of a misnomer - they're never moving too quickly!) I can drop those last-minute bills in the mail at the little post office on Lee Street, and try whenever I can to patronize other local businesses, like Walgreen's, Panera, Jewel, etc. I figure Des Plaines is working hard to employ me, so I ought to give back to the local economy.
From time to time, pretty darn cool things happen in Des Plaines. Yesterday, there was a good, old-fashioned circus parade, with elephants and horses taking a stroll through town on their way to the Allstate Arena in neighboring Rosemont. (My coworker Linda Knorr took in the parade and got some photos.) Did you see it? We've got a great 4th of July parade that people come from far and wide to enjoy. There are big events like Taste of Des Plaines and the New Year's Eve celebration, but also small, everyday treasures, like the train at The Choo Choo and the pretty drive past Lake Opeka on a sunny day.
So, can you help me add to our page of resources on the Des Plaines community? You can find the current page here. What else should be listed here? Should we create a community photo gallery? A list of "hidden gems?" A place to review local restaurants and businesses? What do you love most about DP? Tell me what would be most useful to you - use the "Comments" space here to make your suggestions. Thanks! Also, you can always send me your suggestions about the entire Library Web site. To do that: On the Library Web site, look for the "How Do I" pull-down menu in the top right-hand corner. Choose "Contact the Library" and find the link to mail the Web Services Librarian.
Monday, November 3, 2008
That means most of us, right now, are thinking about money - being careful with what we have and, yes, wondering about sensible ways to earn more.
I thought about money yesterday when I noticed a large "bed and bath" store plastered with "Going Out of Business" signs. I wandered into the store and felt a tinge of sadness, seeing rows and rows of new Christmas decorations - the store opened a year ago and had obviously planned on being around a lot longer. The current state of the economy can stir other emotions as well. A few weeks ago, I bought a simple beauty tool online. It came highly rated by other purchasers and was featured on a blog I like, Truth In Aging. At $22 plus shipping, it seemed overpriced, but heck, if it works, right? Wrong. This weekend I accompanied a family member to one of those dollar stores, where, lo and behold, I found not only the same tool but a higher quality version! For a dollar plus sales tax. Talk about feeling like a fool.
What are you doing to save money right now? Are you a coupon-clipping fiend? Do you scour the Sunday ads for the best deals? Are you using public transportation instead of driving? Are you just "going without" at times? Share your tips here and help out your neighbors in the community. To get you started, I'll share some of mine and some ideas from the Library, too.
- First one's easy -- check out books, magazines, DVDs and CDs from the Library instead of buying! I love getting some new songs on my iPod without adding another charge to my credit card, and buying magazines often seems truly frivolous. Use our BookChecker tool if you often browse the online booksellers -- with one click, you will know if we have access to the same book, saving you the anxiety of an "impulse" buy.
- Use the Library's Consumer resources & "Savvy Shopping" guide, found on the page, "Research Databases by Topic."
- Do the math (and that's tough for me, being an English major!). Don't let big, bold "SALE" signs fool you into getting less for more. For example, most supermarkets now post a "price per ounce" or similar information on the shelf. I was recently buying Parmesan cheese, and discovered the sale price of the smaller package was still more per ounce than the larger package. A sad fact - many of the world's poor not only lack the ability to read and write but also this kind of "consumer literacy," which allows a person to calculate if the larger package is a better value than the small. Two-for-one sales are a great value if the product has a long enough shelf life and you use it on a regular basis - I look for these on my favorite hair and bath products all the time.
- Also for those items you use all the time -- buy when the sale is hot, and don't wait until you run out! I make this (dumb) mistake all the time with items like contact lens cleaner and solution. I pick up the bottle and it's empty, and my only option at 10:30 PM is the local grocery, where those items cost $2-4 more than they would at, well, you know - the store with the big red bullseye. (I want to avoid recommending any specific stores here, as I don't think that's appropriate for the Library.) As long as the product won't spoil and has a practical use, it's often smart to shop ahead.
- Don't forget to think about the long-term cost of your purchases, too. You might be offered a great deal on a gas guzzling SUV -- but add in the cost of filling the tank and the cost to the environment and it's no deal at all. Some big box discounters fill their shelves with inexpensive items -- made overseas in factories with no labor standards and unhealthy work conditions. Purchasing one of those "bargains" can have a lasting, negative effect on the economy and the lives of ordinary workers. The urge to buy, buy, buy can leave your home cluttered and unwelcoming, and then your next step might be to throw away that unwanted stuff, clogging up a landfill.
Friday, October 31, 2008
Next time you are in the Library, stop by the second floor display case and see the work of our Story Explorers!
The Story Explorers meet for one hour a week and participate in theme-based activities, along with snacks and just plain ol' fun. I don't often get a chance to work with the kids who visit our Library, but when I do, I'm always delighted to discover how creative, personable and SMART they are! Hmm - does that mean smart kids hang out at the Library, or does hanging out at the Library make you smarter? I was one of those kids who couldn't get enough of the Library. I was lucky enough to have two within walking distance of my school, and often on the way home I'd find a reason to visit one or the other. I don't think I had an inkling then that I'd make libraries my career, but what great inspiration those after-school visits must have been!
However, that's not what I'm writing about today - I'm writing about our Story Explorers. This great group of kids took the time at last week's session to compose some very unique works of art that also serve as calling cards to introduce their creators to another group of children, many, many miles away. The Des Plaines Public Library is very proud to be the Sister Library to Biblioteca Benjamín Franklin in Guadalajara, Mexico. In a few weeks, these colorful, personalized artworks will be on their way to say "¡Hola!" to children in Guadalajara, so stop by and see them soon. You can also meet our Story Explorers and see a few examples of their work in the short video up above.
In a world where children are often taught to fear and dislike people who are, in any way, different from them, I think any effort to break down barriers and celebrate our common humanity is a wonderful thing. Thanks, Story Explorers, for your good work and your good example!
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
However, I first want to thank everyone who participated. We had seven contestants - not a huge number but all of them had great suggestions for ways to go green at home and in everyday living. I'm not only going to publish their suggestions here in PlainTalk, but I'll also add them to the Library's Web site on "Green/Environmental Resources," where they can inspire other people to find life-changing but simple ways to care for the Earth. Here are the contestants' green suggestions, and the names highlighted in green (of course!) are the 5 winners of "Smart Home" ticket vouchers. Please keep reading and writing in to PlainTalk and watch for other contests in the future. Last summer, we gave away a $20 Panera Bread gift card, so you just never know what surprises await you!
Vitaly and Marina G.
"I am very interested in the green, sustainability revolution that is coming to the United States. My favorite suggestion for how to go green at work or home is using less material. By using less material, we are able to reduce the strain that we as humans put on the environment. An example of this is: using less paper towels or completely eliminating them and using a towel to wipe your hands dry. This is green because it would require the cutting down of fewer trees. Also, if you must use paper towels, it is best to use 100% recycled paper. At work, instead of making coffee in a Styrofoam cup, bring a cup from home and reuse it everyday. Little contributions that each individual makes daily it was will globally alter the way humans change the relationship we have with the environment. A very simple thing is using energy efficient lighting throughout your house. This reduces not only your energy bills, but uses less nonrenewable energy sources that release CO2 into our environment and slowly strain the health of the earth."
"One of the hardest things to recycle or reuse is the bad guy Polystyrene, aka Styrofoam. Most communities' recycling programs, including mine, won't take these items. Recycling the styrofoam that comes with most appliance packaging is an easy one - just break it up and use it in your next Ebay shipment.
But what about the endless restaurant styrofoam take home boxes that are dirty after you've gobbled down your yummy leftovers? If you are gardener like me, these are great to use in your potted plants for drainage and filler. Just don't mix them into your dirt beds. Your backyard animal visitors may eat the pieces and become ill or suffocate."
"Our family recycles everything, we use energy efficient light bulbs and use high efficiency appliances. We think conserving energy and being green is very important. We are hoping to get our elementary school on board, and start a paper recycling program at Plainfield School through our PTSO. I would love to take the kids to the museum to see the Smart Home exhibit!"
"I would like to have a plastic bottle, glass bottle recycling program at my work place. We use a lot of bottles in the hospital which could be recycled, but are not."
"I like to clean my home without chemical based cleaners. I use baking soda, vinegar and basic soaps such as the Method brand. I also use Borax instead of bleach. I use laundry soap without chemicals. I am happy that I am not adding more toxins to the air inside or out."
"We have stopped buying bottled water for outings and trips. It was very convenient to keep a case of bottled water in the car for whenever we were out, but I was very concerned about the waste since we weren’t always able to find a recycle bin when disposing of the bottles. So, we have purchased a variety of sizes of reusable water bottles and fill them up before we leave the house."
"Use reusable grocery bags. If you leave them in your car, you won't forget to bring them to the store. You can also fit more items in a large canvas bag than you can in a plastic bag from the store, so you can make less trips carrying your purchases from your car to your home. Also, because they won't rip like plastic does, your items aren't in danger of spilling out and breaking. And some stores give you a discount for using reusable bags."
Friday, October 24, 2008
Nevertheless, the young and not-as-young here at DPPL try our hardest to reach out to teens and engage them, get them interested in what the Library has to offer. We recently rolled out a whole new Web site for teens - designed, thankfully, by a bright and talented very young man who made me feel like a senior citizen when I met him. :) The site looks great, from the crumpled paper background to the handdrawn graphics on every page. We also did our part by improving the resources we made available to teens online and added lots of new features. If you, or the teen in your life, haven't checked it out, please do. There are places to write your own book and music reviews, information about the Teen Advisory Board, and links including the Blog of Awesome. Oh - not to mention great online homework help. We'll keep adding to it to make sure it stays interesting and relevant. We offer a lot of events specifically for teens, including a teens-only book discussion of American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang on November 15, 2008.
Right now we're also having a contest just for teens who are artistic and creative. We desperately need a new (and cool, please) logo for our Teen Advisory Board, to use on their t-shirts. Here's the scoop on the contest: We're looking for the best graphic depiction of the spirit of the Teen Advisory Board. To find out what that is, click here. Your design can be words, pictures or a combination of both. Be creative, but keep it simple, too. Teens from grades 7-12 are welcome to participate. RULES:
- Only original 2D artwork can be submitted.
- One submission per artist.
- Your design must be no larger than 8.5 X 11" paper. Submissions must be clean, dry and uncrumpled.
If you know a teen with a gift for graphic design, please pass this info along - we're really excited about this contest and showing off the creativity of Des Plaines teens!
Monday, October 20, 2008
One side effect of this social isolation can be a lack of good sources for help and advice. Living relatively alone for the last 9+ years, there have been so many times I could have used a sounding board for how to fix something in the house or the car (my parents, while lovely, intelligent people, would be the first to tell you they are not very "handy" people). Turns out, the same World Wide Web I work on for so many hours daily is a great source for helpful "how to" advice. I've used the Web to find out how to disconnect a washing machine and how to mix a martini in all its varieties. Of course Web sites are super handy for driving directions. Along with being a librarian, I'm a professional singer, and the Web helps me find song lyrics or tunes to download when I need to learn something fast. It may not be the same as leaning over the backyard fence, getting advice from a neighbor, or as snazzy as a GPS system in the car, but it's better than being left to your own devices! In these tough economic times, more of us are going to be tempted to attempt household and auto repairs on our own, so it's good to know where to find help.
Here are a few worthwhile places to look online for "how to" instructions, advice and ideas. But, "Caveat Websurfer," or something like that: remember that most of the advice on these sites has been posted by well-meaning, supposedly knowledgeable experts. I find it's best to get a second or third opinion, too, (often available on the same site) and see if all the sets of instructions jive with each other before jumping into my task.
Bloggers can be excellent sources of advice and instruction - you can browse by topic at a site like Bloglines.com, find blogs that deal specifically in advice, like The Wisdom Journal, or just do a Google search: blog how to change a tire.
eHow - How To Do Just About Everything
Lowe's Home Improvement How To Library
Yahoo Answers - Get answers from real people, browse for information
For automobile repair help, visit our own Automotive Subject Guide.
How Stuff Works - more of a learning site, with some "how to" thrown in
How To Videos - from About.com
Expert Village - how to videos, topics from playing the bass guitar to plucking your eyebrows
Are you an expert on a topic? Many of these sites will let you contribute your expertise as well.
Do you have a favorite "how to" or advice site online? Share it with us in the Comments section.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
When staff here at the Library began planning our Centennial Croquet Tournament in 2007, I don't think anyone ever dreamed it could become an annual event. But the combination of good times, sunny skies, a rose garden and some jovial contestants proved too irresistible and the Library's Annual Croquet Tournament was born! Enjoy the slideshow of photos from this year's tournament up above - we thank everyone who participated and we are also grateful to the Des Plaines Park District for their cosponsorship. If you think the tournament looks like fun, watch our calendar next Fall! Don't forget, we're giving away 5 pairs of tickets to the Museum of Science & Industry's "Smart Home - Green + Wired" exhibit - see all the details in the post down below.
Monday, October 13, 2008
So we'd like to offer a special opportunity to some of Des Plaines' greenest residents - a chance to visit the Museum of Science & Industry's "Smart Home: Green + Wired" exhibit, absolutely free. (It looks really, REALLY cool!) We're giving away 5 pairs of tickets, each pair with a total combined value of $46 and general admission is included. The ticket vouchers are valid until 1/4/2009. The tickets come with a phone number - just call and give the reservation representative the code on the ticket and you'll be on your way. Why are we doing this? As part of our ongoing effort to encourage "greenness," and also to provide lifelong learning experiences of every kind to the Des Plaines community. We want you to think of the Library as the place where Des Plaines works, learns and plays.
So - how do you win a pair of tickets? Send me an email at GreenTeam@dppl.org
In that email, I need 4 pieces of information:
- Your name
- Your home address
- Your Des Plaines Public Library card number
- Most important - your favorite suggestion for how to go green at home, at work, or at play.
- The contest is open to all Des Plaines Public Library card holders (including those with a non-Des Plaines address) only.
- ONE ENTRY PER card number, please.
- You must be 13 years of age or older to participate. Younger than 13? Have mom or dad send in your entry.
- Employees of the Des Plaines Public Library are not eligible.
- A drawing for the tickets will be held on: TUESDAY, OCTOBER 28, 2008, so entries must be received by 9 PM on Monday, October 27, 2008.
Questions about the contest? Type them in the Comments space here.
Questions about the Smart Home exhibit? Visit the Museum of Science & Industry's Web site.
Have you seen our latest green endeavor? It's a little ditty about "Mr. Totebag!" Use our Green Resource Guide to keep up on the latest, local, green activities.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
Turns out, I was unprepared and in way over my head. Still, at best, a novice videographer, I struggled with how to express everything a public library does to get the average citizen in touch with democracy. Suddenly, my lack of a special effects department, my small but mighty Sony videocam and my utterly self-trained video production abilities seemed, gosh, pretty pathetic. Oh - and the video had to be less than 5 minutes, and you, dear PlainTalk reader, know how wordy I can be.
I did in fact make a video for the contest, and my coworkers gamely went along with it, and I knew the moment I submitted it that it was nowhere near good enough. Lesson learned, that one can't approach such a task casually and with the sense of irreverent goofiness I bring to my video projects for DPPL. Proverbial tail between my legs, I've been back to work on the blog, the Web site, all the other, somewhat less glamorous tasks I pursue on a daily basis - only to find out my coworkers had been the ones finding democracy after all.
For the last few months, we've been encouraging people to come the Library to vote. And, you heard us, particularly in the last week, October 1-7, 2008 - during that time 417 people registered to vote at the Library, with almost 300 registering on the last two days! Proves that just rolling up your sleeves and getting to work is often the fastest, most direct way to reach your goal, something we're pretty darn good at around here. I salute my colleagues for all their efforts during our voter registration drive, and leave you with some thoughts from our Head of Public Information, Heather Imhoff, in an email she addressed to the library staff:
As always, you guys really pulled together and pulled this off in the most efficient way possible! A special thanks to Susan and the entire circulation staff, who were already pros at the registration process and really showed us how it’s done!
Amongst those registering to vote for the very first time were new U.S. citizens from countries world, including India, Poland, Mexico, China, Algeria, Philippines, Bulgaria, Peru, Korea, Ukraine and Russia. On a personal level, I was surprised by how honored I felt sitting at that table registering so many new Americans to vote for the first time. I know about the struggles of those who’ve come before me, who have secured my right to vote, and yet until now, I really have taken that right and gift for granted. Participating in this process opened my eyes and I feel a little bit more American today because of it. I hope that all of you who participated took away something from the experience, as well.
Now that you've registered to vote, don't forget to take that democracy you've found and use it. Vote on Tuesday, November 4, 2008. Need guidance in making your decision? Check out our 2008 Election Guide.
Watch a quick slideshow to learn about events and programs coming up this month at the Des Plaines Public Library. If you missed last weekend's reenactment of one of the Lincoln/Douglas debates, there's plenty of Lincoln-inspired programming in the works. And this Saturday, October 11, is our 2nd annual Croquet Tournament! Even if you didn't register to play, spend a wonderful afternoon outdoors with us at the Central Rose Garden in Des Plaines. The rose garden is accessible from Thacker and is across from Central School. Stop by the park between 1-5 PM and watch the fierce croquet competition, while listening to live folk music and enjoying the gardens.
Want to learn more about our events and programs? Visit our Web site, www.dppl.org, 24/7, all year long.
Monday, October 6, 2008
But as we all know, there's a lot on the Web that is unkind, slanderous and hurtful. As a "Web Services Librarian," I struggle with my personal and professional belief in freedom of speech and the free-for-all environment of online publishing. You've probably noticed that many mainstream news sources, such as the Chicago Tribune and the Daily Herald, allow people to comment on their online news stories. When you take a moment to peruse the comments, you can lose a lot of faith in your fellow human beings. The poor spelling and grammar might make you chuckle or shake your head, but the racist, misogynist, violent language used in many posts is a source of deep dismay. It's as if the playground bully is all grown up and lurking on his/her computer, just waiting to steal your good name and your lunch money. (Am I the only person who cringes at those, "My kid beat up your honor student" bumper stickers?)
It's one thing if you choose to seek out that kind of information on the Web - while I can't go there with you, I respect your right to create and use information that runs counter to my own beliefs. (As long as the information is legally acceptable.) But it does disturb me to find these "comments" posted on what I long thought were credible news sources -- and typically posted anonymously, when these same news outlets would be heavily criticized for using anonymous sources within the articles themselves. It really hit home for me recently when I found a front page story on a woman who had been brutally murdered, a woman I "know" only from the unhappy circumstance of singing at her funeral. The comments left after that article were so disappointing and insensitive, many of them suggesting it was the victim's "fault" for not buying a gun and killing her assailant first. I couldn't imagine how her family would feel, seeing these comments published for all the world to see.
Have you noticed this trend? How do you feel about it? Go ahead and leave a post here -- but please remember that the Des Plaines Public Library respects all people, all points of view and is a place where children should feel safe and comfortable, so we can't accept posts filled with obscenities and hateful speech.
So, how does this fit in with "Random Acts of Kindness?" First of all, there's lots of good stuff online, so take the time to find it and encourage it! A coworker, Heather Imhoff, recently forwarded this blog to me: The Happiness Project. In this blog, writer Gretchen Rubin test-drives "every principle, tip, theory, and scientific study" on happiness she can find, and shares her successes and failures with readers. So it's positively-focused, but not Pollyanna-ish - Rubin brings along a realistic world view and a heaping dose of intelligence. Check it out and see what you think - if you know if similar blogs or Web sites, devoted to a more positive way of living, please use the Comments space here to make your recommendations.
Secondly, perhaps we can start a trend of courteous, meaningful, intelligent public discourse, to loosen the powerful grip of the anonymous hate-speakers out there. Use those Comment forums on news articles to flex the muscle of your mind and your vocabulary, rather than resorting to name-calling, bigotry and even downright falsehood. The current Presidential campaign is certainly a public forum where it seems that intelligent, truthful conversation has been all but forgotten - can we challenge our candidates to turn that situation around for the good of our nation, for the good of our children? I believe we can.
Your comments are welcome.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
That being said, there's a new kid in town (great - now I'll have THAT song in my head all day!). If you haven't yet read PlainTalk's "sibling" blog, Positively Ellinwood Street, you're missing out on a treat. Positively Ellinwood Street, which I will call "PES" for short, is a group effort, written by the staff of our Readers' Services department. Once or twice a week, a new post appears on PES, and the subject matter is widely varied but always engaging - the common threads being reading, watching, and listening. In the past month, there have been articles on Neil Diamond, short stories, great comedy films, Banned Books Week, and the "mysteries" that our patrons bring to us: "Can you help me find a book I read 10 years ago? All I remember is there was a bird on the cover..." Book and movie reviews from our open-minded but opinionated staff can help you find your next great reading or viewing experience, and will also invite you to explore the depth of our CD collection. You may find that someone on our staff has taste very similar to your own, so you can look forward to that person's next post and, yes, leave your own comments and suggestions. Another PES author may encourage you to plunge into a subject area or genre you'd never considered.
You will find links to Positively Ellinwood Street all over our Web site -- always on the home page, the "What's New" page and the "Read/Watch/Listen" page, too. Take a few minutes to say hello to PlainTalk's sibling blog - I think you'll find yourself returning again and again. An aside: Positively Ellinwood Street's cool name sprang from the imagination of staff person Laura Adler, inspired by our street address and the piquant songwriting of American legend, Bob Dylan.