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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"Here's a hand, my trusty friend..."

"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

"I'll be home for Christmas...if only in my dreams."

As a child, I loved to sing along with Christmas carols like "I'll Be Home For Christmas." They seemed sentimental and romantic, as I snuggled into the warm glow of our little house. But I also remember my mother telling me these same songs made her sad, because they reminded her of growing up during wartime. It never occurred to me until she clued me in that the person who would only be home for Christmas in his dreams was, in fact, a soldier, although the song has certainly taken on other meanings through the years.

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 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
  • Toothpaste/toothbrush
  • Deodorant
  • Nail clippers
  • Antacid tablets
  • Hand-held games
  • Batteries
  • Detergent
  • 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.
A little note about "I'll Be Home For Christmas" from the Library of Congress Web site:

"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

We dim the light, we stoke the fire, we breathe the evergreen...

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
If you want to liven up your balcony or porch for the holiday season try putting together a container of evergreens. Local garden centers sell supplies and often offer classes. (Or if you're lucky, you have evergreens growing in your own yard or a friendly neighbor's yard.

Start with a medium sized container (plastic pots work better than pottery as the clay expands with the cold and may crack) and add potting mix or top soil to about an inch beneath the rim. If you have a little money to spend buy a spruce top (look for one with cones for more interest) and a selection of branches from several of the following evergreens: white pine, spruce, juniper, noble fir, arborvitae, yew, etc. Then add a few red or yellow dogwood branches, a branch or two of berries (winterberry is gorgeous but expensive) and add some pine cones and a red bow. You can also add a few artificial branches and berries if the "live" ones cost more than you want to spend. Add water to the pot, after you've arranged it the way you like it, so that it will freeze and last longer. Most will look good until well into January and beyond. Enjoy the season!

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

Des Plaines Public Library Winter Holiday Photo Contest - win a gift card!

Well, like it or not, the snow, ice and cold have arrived! I'm not one of those folks who finds the cold "invigorating" but even I can admit that winter has its special charms, particularly during the holiday times. Snow makes driving a nuisance but a pine tree covered with fresh, untouched snow makes a lovely sight. Last night I was grasping the steering wheel in panic as I slowly made my way home, but I did chuckle at some of the over-the-top Christmas decorations I saw!

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 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.)

    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.
Good luck! I'm looking forward to seeing your creative work and sharing lots of good things about Des Plaines with the rest of the world!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

If you had one last wish, what would it be?

Like many people across the country, I was captivated last week by the story of Brenden Foster. Brenden was an 11 year old boy living in the Seattle, WA area. I never met him, but discovering his story quite accidentally while checking my Yahoo email account gave me more to think about than a year's worth of email, quite frankly!

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.
A few suggestions, in honor of Brenden Foster's simple yet profound wish. If you would like to add your own ideas, please do so! I know that the difficult economy is on everyone's mind right now, but rather than dwelling on our own problems, isn't it healthier and more satisfying to think about what we can do for others?