Saturday, January 12, 2013

Teens Only | I Can't Drive 55

but can I write 55? 55 words, that is?

Each January or February, Record columnist Mike Fitzgerald hosts a 55-Word Writing Contest. Every year I think....this will be my year! I'm going to win that contest! And every year, no such luck. I wonder if my chances would improve if I actually entered the contest!

They say practice makes perfect. So, today, I'm beginning my practice. I'm going to practice writing something in 55 words. Exactly. Not 54. Not 56. 55 words.

I hear you laughing. You try it! It's tougher than you think! For today's practice, I think I'll channel a little Dr. Seuss.

Do you like to read a book? 

Yes I do, in my reading nook.

I will read when I'm in school.

I will read out by the pool.

I will read while lying in bed.

I will read standing on my head.

Hey Mr. Fitzgerald, sakes alive!

Look at the word count: it’s fifty-five!

I know. I know. I need some help. A lot of help. Fortunately I work at a library, and we have books on how to write. Next step in my quest to win this 55-Word Writing Contest is to study up on writing.

Here is where I'll start:

Extraordinary Poetry Writing by Margaret Ryan. 
This book has innovative strategies and 
multimedia approaches to stimulate out-of-the box thinking
 and help us find our own voice!

Are you with me? Try it. 55 words. I dare you!

Until next Saturday, be well!

Books On Film | Snow White

For the rest of this month, we'll talk about a couple of classic fairy tales that have been turned into films.

Snow White (originally titled Sneewittchen) is a German fairytale collected and published by the Brothers Grimm in 1812. There are several Snow White stories that originate in Europe, including ones where the heroine meets knights or dragons, but the German version is the most well known.

The story is about a young girl whose beauty obsessed step-mother wants to be rid of her because she will one day surpass her in looks. The tale was popularized in the Disney animated film Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs (1937). It was one of the earliest film adaptations of the fairy tale and is probably the most well known version. Although, the premise of the movie is the same as the book there are differences. For instance, true love's kiss in nowhere in the original fairy tale and golden dancing shows make no appearance in the animated film.

Last year we saw two live-action adaptations: The first, Mirror Mirror (2012)  was based on the novel by Gregory Macguire (author of Wicked). It starred Lilly Collins and Julia Roberts. The second, Snow White and The Huntsman (2012) later became a novelized book. It starred Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, and Chris Hemsworth. Like the Disney film, both live-action movies take liberties with the story. They are very different from each other and from the book, but they are still very much Snow White films.

Covers Courtesy of LibraryThing

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Wanderlust Librarian | Tips for Trip Planning

As a young traveler, I was obsessed with planning things down to the last detail: getting somewhere at JUST the perfect time, sleeping from X hour to X hour, visiting things in the "correct" (to me) order, eating at a certain place on a certain day...

Needless to say, this method of trip planning never worked out. In fact, if only one thing went wrong, it would throw a wrench in things and stress me out. This method also stresses out any travel companions. Nobody is happy.  This type of trip planning never worked out... ever.

Since I adopted a lot of these tips, things have (for the most part) worked out pretty well. I definitely haven't stressed out on trips and my travel companions are happy, too! 

Please keep this one mantra in mind:

There is no perfect way to plan any trip.

This mantra comes from years of planning and going on trips with other people (including family). Here are some helpful tips I'd like to share.  

  • Have a meeting with all of your travel companions and get on the same page (or at least a respectful understanding) about the trip expectations. If you and your travel companions are hindered by distance and time, consider using a free group chat program like Google + to plan. Negative feelings during a trip are never a good thing.

  • Have everyone make a list of the top 10 things they want to do on their trip. Talk about it at the meeting. At some points, the lists will have the same items. If not, plan a day to break up the group and then get together to talk about your adventures! Keep in mind, it's also okay to break away from the pack and go solo if nobody is interested in going where you want to go.

  • Do your research. When looking for things to do in Europe or Asia, try a book by Rick Steves! He has a lot of helpful information. Traveling in the United States? The library carries a lot of Frommer's Guides for different states and cities! 

  • Make sure you are aware of operating hours for places you want to visit during the time you'll be in town.  There's nothing worse than arriving somewhere just to find out it's closed or getting ready to close. 

  • Have at least one point person to help keep vital travel items together: reservation numbers for hotels and airline reservations, vital phone numbers, list of things that the group discussed, hours of operation for places, tickets for events, list of restaurants that the group talked about.  This person is not in charge of holding things like passports or IDs, just vital trip information! I like making a binder to keep these things together. I usually leave it out where any companion can take a peek at it. 

  • Something will always go wrong. It's the way of the world. Have a couple of contingency plans at the ready in case  when something goes wrong. 

  • When something goes wrong, don't freak out. You have a contingency plan, remember? Get the group together and talk about what you all would like to do based on that plan. It's all about compromising! 

  • Relax. Vacation is about having a good time, right? You're away from home! You're with friends, family or both! 

Some of the best memories you can take away from a trip are usually the little things. Take some time to enjoy the experience. Traveling should always be about learning and seeing new things. 

Adventure is out there (with good planning and a level head!)

Book Bucket List | The Pearl

Happy New Year!  I know I said I probably wasn't going to have a New Year's resolution, but I have an easy one: I will read more.  To make this easier on myself, I am going to start with a short novella, and then move into what I have chosen to start reading in January. (See my previous post here.)

John Steinbeck's The Pearl may be short in length, but it has always packed a punch for me.  Kino, a pearl diver, is barely able to make ends meet for his family until he stumbles upon the largest pearl anyone has ever seen.  However, news of the giant pearl, and the wealth it will bring, spreads quickly. This leaves Kino and his family on a race to sell the pearl before someone takes it from them.  In his novella, Steinbeck explores need, evil, greed, and how these effect people in stressful situations.

Anything by Steinbeck I love, so a 90 page novella I can get through in a night.  If you're looking for something quick for your bucket list, check out The Pearl! 

P.S.  The Book Bucket List will be on hiatus for two weeks! See you soon!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Short Attention Span Challenge | The Cake Boss Lady, sort of

Birthdays are an interesting time for parents.  For kids, it is exciting, full of presents, games and fun.  For parents, it is a nightmare.  Well, I am speaking for myself.  For me, birthday parties are a nightmare.  I really hate planning them.  Perhaps for me though, the part I like least is figuring out what I will do for “The Cake”.

I don’t know if it is Pinterest or Facebook, or Cake Boss but it seems like children’s birthday cakes have become quite a production.  It is something to show off, a piece of artwork.  What happened to cupcakes with some cheap little sprinkles?  When I was a kid, the “Barbie cake” was as fancy as it got.   As far as birthdays go, it isn’t keeping up with the Jones’s anymore, I’m just trying to keep up with the Jones’s annoyingly fancy cake (or the JAFC).  My kid goes to a birthday party, and the next thing I know she asks to make what might as well be an amusement park on a platter.  First off, let me admit, I am no baker.  I can handle biscuits and cookies, but cake scares me.  They never turn out right.  They are always overcooked, or undercooked, or just gross.  In my family, if you can make a cake and cover it successfully with fondant you are a cake master,  a “Cake Boss”.

The Challenge
So that’s what I learned this week:  How to bake and decorate a fancy fondant cake.  The JAFC.  This week I was “The Cake Boss Lady”.

My double boiler
The cake I chose to decorate was a Génoise , a French Sponge Cake.   According The Perfect Cake the recipe originated in Italy and in the 16th century Catherine de Médicis brought the recipe to France as part of her dowry.  I felt very French and fancy making it.  Although, I am sure her pastry chefs were rolling over in their graves.  Because truly, the reason I picked this cake, was the picture in the book looked like it was a cake you decorate.  I know, right? What a great research technique. I’m here at the reference desk next time you need help with your project.  I failed to notice this recipe required a double boiler (which I don’t have), cake flour (which I also didn’t have) and “cake soaking syrup” (which I didn’t bother to make).  However, even without the proper tools and ingredients, the cake turned out “good”.  Well, at least, according to my 4-year-old (who also enjoys eating Play-doh).

The Process

Fondant covered cake
I moved onto the decorating, as that was the part I was most nervous about.  Let me tell you a thing or two about fondant.  Fondant is that smooth cake decoration that is often seen on wedding cakes, and also the JAFC.  It can be used to cover the cake, make figurines and decorations.  It can be made at home, or purchased.  I bought it at Michael’s Craft Store. It was about $22 for a box of two packs, enough to cover a 3 tier cake.   

Mixing color

Fondant comes in colors, but for this challenge, I purchased white and mixed the colors myself (which I was able to get from a friend).  Fondant comes out of the box in a large, hard brick.  To use it, you knead it, and knead it, and knead it some more.  Then, either shape it to make figurines and/or roll it out to cover the cake.  This is the tricky part.  It is meant to be rolled thin, but not thin enough to break. I was using a small cutting board and my fondant didn't get thin enough so I had a large thick coat of fondant. In some ways it worked to my advantage, because it was easier to mold flatly onto the cake (with one of my kid's blocks rather than a cake smoother, as suggested in the book I checked out).  A big disadvantage of thick fondant is that fondant is not very tasty.  It the consistency of silly putty but tastes like straight sugar.  Apparently, my little Play-doh connoisseur thought it tasted fine.  To stick the fondant to the cake, I used buttercream.  After the fondant is set on the cake, fondant figurines or decorations could be stuck onto the existing fondant cover with water, buttercream, or jelly.

The Result
The Play-doh Connosseur/Amateur Fondant Sculptor
Cake decorating was not as scary as I thought it would be.  
As the author of one of the books I used said repeatedly, "It is so easy a child could do it" (Party Cakes for Children by Carol Deacons) .  In some ways, she was right.  The thing about fondant and cake decorating though, is that it takes a very long time.  I started this project at about 10 am and I was not done until dinnertime...which was perfect because we could eat it for dessert, but I probably won't be making any more JAFCs anytime soon.

The buttercream left on the flower could have been brushed off with a pastry brush.

The kitchen aftermath

And the blooper...
When mixing color into buttercream, do not try and mix it directly in the bag, especially if you have not put the frosting tip in first.  Otherwise, you will have to reach your hand into a bag of colored frosting.  The colored frosting just might get all over your house, including furniture, clothing, and maybe even your children.

Learning | Scrabble

I saw a Scrabble calendar in a store recently.  I simply could not resist buying it, even though I really didn't need it.  I already have a planner on my desk at work, and an enormous wall calendar at home.  But this calendar has something interesting on every page: some days have a challenge to score a bingo with all seven letters provided, or tips for improving one's game. 

I need those tips. I play Scrabble online daily with my best friend--the one who makes up new words in her sleep. She tends to whomp me soundly in the game on a regular basis, but I persist, because the occasional victory over her is all the sweeter for it.  
There is a 2005 movie available on DVD called Word wars: tiles and tribulations on the Scrabble game circuit. It's  an entertaining documentary about the cutthroat world of competitive Scrabble.  

One of my favorite facts learned from this film: the name of legendary guitarist Eric Clapton is an anagram for narcoleptic.   

The library has some books to help you build your own Scrabble skills, including The Ultimate Guide to Winning Scrabble Brand Crossword Game. Hmm, I wonder if it would help me to whomp Roberta.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

4 Kids | Do Not Steal

Stealing is wrong. We all know that. The guilt can eat away at you. And then you'll probably get caught. And when you get caught, you'll get punished. Oh, stealing is so wrong. 

So please don't think I'm promoting stealing when I say my favorite book of 2013 involves stealing. Stealing a hat, to be exact.

I didn't think I could love a book more than I Want My Hat Back. It's laugh out loud funny, even if the ending might be a tad bit upsetting to some of you gentle readers. The illustrations are awesome, and that bear. What can I say? You just gotta love him.

But that author, Jon Klassen, has done it again! My new favorite book of 2013 is This Is Not My Hat. Once again, there is a hat theft. At the beginning of the book we meet a little minnow wearing a blue hat. But it's not his hat. And trouble could be right behind.

In both of these books, you've got to pay attention to the pictures. They help tell the story, because sometimes our dear narrators aren't too swift.

So pick up a copy of one of Klassen's books and enjoy! If you don't find them on the picture book shelves at a SSJCPL branch library near you, just place a request! We'll get one to you!

And since this is my first post of the New Year, I thought I would pay tribute to a few kids' book I read and loved during 2012. Perhaps one will strike your fancy and you'll want to read it too!

Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry. Second grade Gooney Bird Greene has some very interesting, and somewhat unbelievable, stories to share with her classmates.

Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker. Two very different girls, living together under the care of an elderly woman, barely speak to each other until the woman, Louise, unexpectedly dies. Fearing they'll be placed in another foster home, they bury her body in the garden and try to hide that she has died.

Walter, the Story of a Rat by Barbara Wersba. A rat that can read and write! What's not to like about this?

I can't wait to see what books the New Year has in store for me! Let me know what you're reading. Post a comment below....and don't forget, if you recommend a book to me, I'll read it! And I'll write about it! I promise!!

Happy New Year....and Happy Reading!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Life & Style | Chavez Library Tours

Did I tell you that I am giving Library tours starting January 23rd?

It is going to be on Wednesdays at 4:00 pm.

I am so excited.

I know from personal experience that libraries might sometimes feel a bit intimidating.
Where to start? One might ask.

A library tour is a good place to start, I guarantee it.

I think people sometimes don't realize all the free services available to them in the library.

For example, did you know that you can checkout pre-loaded Nooks from your library for free?

So come over and and I will personally show you around.

You might even meet our library ghost.

Don't laugh. There might be one you know.

I am gonna tell you a secret; just between you and me.

Years ago, when I got hired at Chavez library, the typewriter of Harriet Chalmers Adams; the famous American explorer, was sitting right in the middle of my work station for months. I didn't dare move it from my desk for months thinking that it was part of the landscape. But every once in a while I could hear this soft noise coming from it. I am not kidding, I am dead serious.

I am happy to report that that typewriter is no longer sitting on my desk scaring the bejeezus out of me.

Any way,

Here are some facts about Cesar Chavez Library:
  • Chavez Library was opened on September 19, 1964.
  • Chavez Library was build at a cost of $1,750,000.
  • 22,144 visited Chavez Library this November.
  • Chavez Reference Staff answered 3650 reference questions in the month of Nov 2012 alone.
  • 24,144 items were checked out of the Chavez library in Nov 2012.
Knowing your library resources can be as useful as knowing how to change a flat tire.  

So if you are free on a Wednesday, come over to Cesar Chavez for a quick library tour at 4:00 pm. The Tour begins in front of the first floor customer service desk.

You never know, You might end up eating a cookie or two at the end of your Library tour.

Signing off until next Monday- Panteha