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Zalloween: Zoom + Halloween = Some Alternatives to Trick-or-Treating

Trick-or-treating has always been a huge part of the Halloween experience. Second only to finding the right costume, receiving free candy in exorbitant amounts has kids talking about Halloween for months in advance. This Halloween may be very different from any that have come before it. With social distancing and PPE, children will be under stress to be safer than ever before. And what if trick-or-treating is not an option?

Growing up in NH, the weather was not always cooperative. Some years it rained (or even snowed), and the weather put a damper on trick-or-treating. Undaunted, we created our own fun. A favorite activity was to create a haunted house, complete with bowls of veins, eyeballs, and blood (spaghetti, peeled grapes, and ketchup, respectively). My husband horrified me by sharing that when he and his brother were growing up they also created haunted houses. However, theirs was a bit more realistic, complete with an axe-wielding maniac jumping out and chasing hapless victims. I’m sure my mother-in-law put the kibosh on that one pretty quickly!

Halloween games were another way to enjoy the holiday. Pin the Tail on the Cat (or Nose on the Pumpkin) and the Great Donut Race (seeing who could gobble their hanging donut the fastest) were fan favorites and were always on the docket.  We also played “Blind Man’s Bluff” and “Hide and Seek.” After the games, we were ready for a good creepy story or two that kept us and the neighborhood kids on the edge of our seats. My mother was a master at this. She told the story of “The Viper,” with much gusto. I was a scaredy cat, so she whispered in my ear, “it has a funny ending!” and I relaxed and enjoyed the story. As I was thinking back over these Halloweens from times past, I thought we could use some of those ideas and have a back-up plan that would enable our kids to still enjoy Halloween, even in 2020.

This generation of children (I call them “Baby Zoomers”) are already familiar with the online neighborhood. Why not use it to our advantage and host a virtual costume party? Kids can dress up and receive prizes for funniest, scariest, and most creative costumes. What to give as prizes? How about some of that candy that they would have been getting had they gone trick-or-treating?

I already mentioned a homemade Haunted House; there are tons of ideas out there on the internet to make an age-appropriate version. And for those of us with space constraints, how about a Fairy Haunted House? Just as much fun, but in miniature! Another fun activity is to let your children decorate their own bedrooms. This doesn’t have to be a costly option. Halloween decor and materials are readily available at your local Dollar Store. While you’re there, you can grab some great Halloween crafts, from costume-making to decorations. One super-easy and fun craft: making mini “real” Jack-O-Lanterns. Give them real mini pumpkins, markers, glitter, and googly eyes, and watch them create! (Hint: I saw these little gourds at Trader Joe’s for only 69 cents each!) It might be fun to have a Jack-O-Lantern contest, similar to the costume contest.

Another activity that kids love is baking. The library even has a mini pumpkin cake pan that you can check out! Kids can make their own mini pumpkin cake, complete with sugar googly eyes and purple and orange frosting. I have even seen edible glitter at Joann Fabrics or AC Moore. Perfect!

Your local library also has many different games and Halloween books, and of course Halloween movies: Hocus Pocus, Halloweentown, and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, to name just a few. For the older kids, you could have a Harry Potter binge-a-thon and theme your entire event around it!

Below are a few websites to help with your Halloween plans. Good luck and happy haunting!

Happy Halloween!

Monstrously Good Books for Kids

Pumpkin Carving Templates

Glowing Ghost Jugs | Crafts for Kids

Top 25 Websites to Get You Ready for Halloween

Carla B. Howard is the Senior Circulation and Media & Marketing Assistant at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for her article in the October 22, 2020 issue of the Transcript and Bulletin.

spruce-pond-creamery-pizza

Pizza! Pizza! In the Library?

pizza-boxBelieve it or not, October is National Pizza Month. This might be one of those factoids that only catches a librarian’s interest, but did you know that on average three billion pizzas are sold every year in the United States? That breaks down to 350 slices every second. Likewise, it probably comes as no surprise that Americans prefer meat toppings to veggie at a ratio of roughly two to one, at least according to a 2018 survey by Alto-Hartley.

My husband jokes that I am compelled to sample pizza whenever we travel. I could be in Caribou, Maine or Honolulu, Hawaii and my favorite “pie” will be calling my name. Even when we traipsed through Shanghai, I was determined to try the local Pizza Hut (the menu is completely different from in the States). That’s when I realized my husband was right. I really do need a “once-a-week pizza fix.”

While it would be unfair to name my preferred local pizza parlor, I can safely mention an “all-time travel favorite” on the West Coast. It comes from a restaurant in Mill Valley, CA. Even now the thought of the “Corn Pizza” at Pizza Antica makes my mouth water. Topped with bacon, caramelized onion, pesto, arugula and, of course, corn, it is the epitome of Californian cuisine. To die for!

Sadly, I am now at the age where I should be slowing down in the cheese and carb consumption lane. Still, who can resist a slice now and then? After all, it is a favorite American food. Shouldn’t that make it a worthwhile topic to discover in our library stacks as well?

Let’s start with movies. Almost everyone has heard of Mystic Pizza. Honestly, I should re-watch this classic that propelled Julia Roberts to fame. If you look at the TripAdvisor website, this famous spot has made it onto many a bucket list. Who can deny part of the allure is the hope that Julia might walk right out of the kitchen. Here’s another movie for your list, though. Simply called Pizza, the movie stars Ethan Embry and Kylie Sparks. As described, “Former high school hotshot Matt is now the world's oldest pizza delivery boy. Matt delivers to a brainiac with multiple personalties, and finds that she is the only guest at her own party. He invites her along for the ride and a lesson is learned.”

And parents, don’t worry. There is also a cute movie for children based on William Stieg’s book entitled Pete’s a Pizza. The movie has three stories in one. The first shows how Pete’s parents cheer him up when he is in a bad mood by making him into a pizza. Try that on a bad day.

Speaking of children’s books, Jack Prelutsky’s A Pizza the Size of the Sun is a fun one to check out. Filled with playful poems about a variety of topics, the title poem does not fail to bring a smile. In fact, it ends with this couplet:

I hardly can wait till my pizza is done.
My wonderful pizza the size of the sun!

Prelutsky also includes poems about jellybeans and cookies, so all the important food groups are covered. (Wink!)

For adults we have a variety of pizza-themed books as well. One of John Grisham’s early works is entitled Playing for Pizza. The main character, Rick Dockery, is a third-string quarterback for the Cleveland Browns and arguably gives “the worst single performance in the history of the NFL.” No team will have him, except for a little-known one in Italy, the Panthers of Parma. They could use his help! Not only does Dockery arrive without speaking a word of Italian, but his journey beyond pizza and football is about to start.

If Grisham is not your cup of tea, perhaps a cozy mystery or two awaits? Author Chris Cavender has written a series that begins with A Slice of Murder and ends with The Missing Dough. A Pizza to Die For sounds like a humdinger as well. In this series the owner of a pizza shop, Eleanor Swift, starts her sleuthing when one of her late night delivery customers turns up dead. Cozy mystery fans can be rest assured, a recipe or two are included in each book.

Recipes, you say? By now you might be craving a slice yourself. Well, the library has the antidote for that too. Any Rachel Ray fans out there will find just the thing in Chapter 4 of her Everyone is Italian on Sunday cookbook. Ray includes easy recipes for dough, sauce, and a range of pies. The only one she hasn’t sold me on is the Regina Pizza, which consists of tuna and tomato. Perhaps someone else will be game? Peter Reinhart’s book, Perfect Pan Pizza, also caught my eye. Reinhart’s recipes are “for making Detroit-, Sicilian-, and Roman-style pan pizzas and focaccias in a home oven.” At least check out a few of these selections, and try them for yourself.

Of course, you might argue that tacos are actually America’s favorite food. Turns out you will have to wait for my next column to see if you can convince me. Until then, Buon Appetito!

Nancy Ling is the Outreach Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for her article in the October 15, 2020 issue of the Transcript and Bulletin.

you-got-this

Help Yourself to Some Food for Thought

you-got-thisThese days, when it isn’t easy to get away or even just get out and socialize, more and more people are turning to books and other media as an escape. Audiobooks, normally my second choice after print, have achieved a new significance for me: they break the silence of semi-isolation with a human voice. You might think I’d lose myself in fiction, but nonfiction helps with the void created by my self-imposed news diet. I often choose titles about why we do what we do and how we can do things better. For reference, my last pick was Insight: The Surprising Truth about How Others See Us, How We See Ourselves, and Why the Answers Matter More Than We Think, by Tasha Eurich, whose TED Talk on the subject had sparked my interest. Recently while browsing the books-on-CD section in the library I came across 50 Self-Help Classics: 50 Inspirational Books to Transform Your Life, from Timeless Sages to Contemporary Gurus. The book seemed to be in my wheelhouse, yet I wondered how useful a compendium like this could be. Would there be enough substance to make it worthwhile?

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the entries therein, while pithy, still pack a punch. Butler-Bowdon’s selections range from Lao Tzu and Marcus Aurelius to Deepak Chopra and Anthony Robbins, thus transcending what I would typically consider ‘self-help.’ I sped through most of the offerings in the book, even lingering in my driveway once or twice to finish a segment. I also checked out the print version so that I could revisit ideas that sparked my interest and make note of books I’d like to read in their entirety. Entries include short excerpts, a one- or two-sentence encapsulation of the work’s main philosophy, references to similar titles within the volume, a summary of main points, final comments and when possible a biography of the author.

While I’m no slouch about tackling full-length nonfiction in this genre, I have to admit that sampling an assortment holds a certain appeal. There’s something about dipping into a collection; beyond the promise of variety, it’s the thrill of not knowing quite what you’ll get. These notions are similar but not identical. You can have plenty of variety within a certain category – 31 flavors of ice cream, for instance – but in the end you know you’re getting ice cream. However, in attending a potluck dinner you might end up trying dishes unknown to your existence. The variety of ideas here is more the latter; the twist is that while Butler-Bowdon includes some traditional and well-known human potential works, he also finds guidance in everything from The Bhagavad Gita to How Proust Can Change Your Life. It’s also worth noting that even for those not looking to improve, a good deal of the material here is just a good tonic for our current, tumultuous times. As my great-aunt would say: It’s good for what ails you, and if you’re not sick it’s good for that, too. If you’re unnerved by living life in the presence of a runaway virus, civil unrest or anxiety about the upcoming election and what the results will mean to our fragile collective consciousness, you could do worse than to tap into the works presented here for comfort and inspiration. Merely skimming the biographies of some of the authors may leave many with the sense that trials of all sorts come and go, but we are always in the company of people who rise above.

Many of the works highlighted have sold millions upon millions of copies, but the author recognizes that they’re not for everyone. Some of his final comments read more like rationales for inclusion or entreaties to ingest what you otherwise might find distasteful (eat your broccoli!) Yet for the most part I found the fare agreeable, or at least interesting. My momentum dwindled over several selections, but I didn’t expect all fifty to resonate. The beauty of reading a compilation is that one can feel free to skip over the unappealing bits; treat it as a buffet and help yourself as you like. Another benefit of this format is the ability to revisit ideas from titles you’ve already read without having to give it another go. If the reading was a while back, it can be interesting to reconsider the ideas from a current perspective. Years ago I read (and thought I remembered liking) one of the works featured, but could barely get through the entry, here. Certainly our opinions can change over time. Curious to see if this was the case or if it was a failing of the book, I skimmed the title in question. As it turns out, my orbit had shifted, and the message resonated less with me-now than it did with me-then. Perhaps this phenomenon speaks to the strength of collections; certain entries might appeal at different times as one brings a new perspective to the reading. I’d read other selections and it was interesting to compare Butler-Bowdon’s assessments with my own.

Given the title, clearly the included works were deemed important – and arguably many are. Yet with the passage of time and generation of new books in the genre, even Butler-Bowdon was forced to reevaluate what should be included in such a book; I discovered that a second edition was released in 2017 with the slightly modified title 50 Self-Help Classics: Your Shortcut to the Most Important Ideas on Happiness and Fulfillment. The new version swapped five of the original entries for newer works from Brené Brown, David Brooks, Clayton Christenson, Charles Duhigg and Marie Kondo.

Butler-Bowdon went on to turn his concept into a series that includes: 50 Success Classics, 50 Spiritual Classics, 50 Psychology Classics, 50 Philosophy Classics, 50 Politics Classics, 50 Economics Classics and 50 Business Classics (with several volumes revised in 2017.) All of the titles are in the Minuteman network, and Norwood residents can access the digital audiobooks using Hoopla.

Kirstie David is the Literacy/Outreach Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for her article in the October 8, 2020 issue of the Transcript and Bulletin

browsing-in-bookstore

Not Just Another Job

browsing-in-bookstoreWhen I was in college, I worked part-time at a CVS developing one hour photos. It was a job I had started out loving – I liked the process of pulling the film in the blackout bag, putting the film through the chemical baths, and seeing the resulting photos. I had to go through the photos to make sure they developed correctly, and I tossed any defective prints so customers wouldn’t have to pay for them. I saw all ranges of humanity – including the highs (birthdays, weddings, vacations,) the mundane (home improvements, kids playing in the yard,) and the lows (car crashes, abuse, funerals.)  It was a very busy store and we never seemed to have a lull in business.

After two years of this, I was burnt out on this exposure and customer demand. I had to move on, but was stuck on where to go. A friend simply asked me, “What is your dream job?” It had literally never occurred to me to think like that, and I just assumed a young person with almost no job experience could do something other than fast food or the most basic of customer service jobs.

My answer had been, “To work at a bookstore!” My first choice had been a small locally owned store, and we also had a Barnes and Noble nearby. I applied to both, but figured I wouldn’t be called back. To my surprise, that local store, a place named  Baker Books*, called me for an interview.

I don’t remember the details, but I somehow got the job. I was intimidated and excited to work with people I assumed would be very intellectual. Being surrounded by books, and knowing enough about many of them to offer recommendations seemed like a big responsibility. I wasn’t sure I was prepared.

I soon learned that though all of my co-workers were readers, the staff contained a plethora of personalities and backgrounds. There were some older women, one who had been a teacher and another a former social worker, who were great with book club picks. There were mothers who could recommend any children’s book for any age or occasion. There was a guy who didn’t love dealing with customers, but was a huge history buff and knew all about the local nautical culture, and he created painstakingly rendered model ships as a hobby. Kids in high school that read sci-fi and fantasy, or were interested in politics, and college students studying art, English, and biology. A person for every kind of book.

Book stores, much like libraries, attract a range of characters, and many times, when these people come together, connections are made that can last a lifetime. I still keep in touch with many of the friends I made there. I even met my husband there – although my first impression was, “oh god, who is this big weirdo?” But that was the thing – we were all kind of weirdos who worked well together in the name of books.

I spent five years working there.  I went from an art student trying to earn money to keep my car running to full time bookseller and sometime events coordinator. I wasn’t great at recommending books at first. I made that classic mistake of recommending things I liked, and not what would work for a particular customer. When I couldn’t find a job teaching art, I stayed on and helped host author events. I met so many interesting people, including Augusten Burroughs, Elizabeth Berg, Christopher Moore, Gregory Maguire, and Jarrett Krosoczka. Being around these successful authors and running events helped me grow out of my shyness. I learned to plan the logistics of an event, work with community partners, design and send out marketing materials, and then stand in front of a group of people to introduce a speaker. I grew up there.

What started as a fun part time job changed the course of my life. Though I still love making and teaching art, books became my professional calling. After the bookstore, I went on to work in publishing in New York. I helped  a sales team prepare materials to sell to clients and set up at book fairs, along with additional background support. But after a few years, I missed the interactions with new people everyday I had at the bookstore. And though I liked being a bookseller, I hated making people part with their hard earned money. I wanted to connect people with books, and plan and hold events. I wanted to know more about literacy and community. So I went to school at night to become a librarian.

I have always loved stories of how a chance meeting changed someone’s life, or how a person could fall into a totally different career almost on accident. I couldn’t have seen this coming when I started at that job twenty years ago, but it all seems fated from this side of my life. Though that part of my life is over, it is hard to believe the store itself is gone (the building was literally demolished last year.) Inside customers and employees alike, a local bookstore can live on forever in each of us.

*Baker Books was an independent bookstore that was established in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1989. It later moved to a building in Dartmouth, where it stayed for the remainder of its 25 years.

Nicole Guerra-Coon is the Assistant Children’s Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for her article in the October 1, 2020 issue of the Transcript and Bulletin.

kitchen-stove

Everything but the Kitchen Stove

kitchen-stoveMy stove died. Right in the middle of baking cookies with my daughter. Of course, it’s 2020. What can I expect? It’s been such a challenging year that a small inconvenience like having no stove or oven didn’t really phase me and I sighed as I called the service department of the appliance store where I purchased this stove less than a year ago. The technician couldn’t come to my house for a few days and, adding on time for parts and repair work, I estimated I’d be sans stove for about 10 days.

I posted the requisite GIF of a dumpster fire on social media when I reported the death of my stove and my friends cheered me on, saying this was the perfect excuse for takeout and a cooking vacation. I admit, I was tempted to give up and rely on curbside service of some tasty local restaurants. But my family was just recovering from tons of takeout and fried food during our most recent vacation at the Cape. Also, I like to reserve takeout for those desperate nights when I’m fed up with feeding my family and exhausted from a busy work week. Finally, ordering out is expensive! So I decided that I would use my creativity to see how I could cook without my stove for the next week.

Every generation has its iconic kitchen gadgets that seem to define the cuisine of that era. For our moms, it was the slow cooker and the fondue pot. In the 80s, many of our families got our first microwave and spent most of our time staring into that little window before our parents caught us and lectured us on the dangers of eyes getting zapped. In the 90s, college students and novice cooks everywhere rejoiced over the ease of the George Foreman grill. During the Aughts, coffee lovers everywhere were thrilled with the Keurig and health nuts loved turning any vegetable into “noodles” with the Spiralizer.

Well, now it’s 2020 and two gadgets dominate the cooking scene: the air fryer and the InstantPot. If you aren’t a home cook or don’t keep up with the latest kitchen trends, the air fryer is essentially a fancy, mini-convection oven. Many ovens already have a convection setting but those can be a bit intimidating and most people don’t bother. An air fryer is a convenient, countertop appliance that crisps up your food without the grease and the oil.

An InstantPot is basically a pressure cooker and slow cooker combined into one convenient appliance. Many people have slow cookers but complain about the required meal planning for using it. Pressure cookers have their own dubious reputation, with nightmare scenes of sauce splattered on the kitchen ceiling after models from the 1970s would erupt without warning. The Instant Pot combines the best of both of these devices and has developed a devoted following on social media. Facebook groups are dedicated to Instant Pot recipes and troubleshooting issues for newbies.

Being the kitchen gadget obsessive that I am, I own both of these. I also love to grill in the summer. Thankfully, the weather seems to be holding out into September so I can still fire up the grill and get dinner ready before it gets dark. Of course, working at the library, I am never at a loss for cookbooks. In fact, our extensive cookbook collection contains thousands of recipes that maximize the unique features of each appliance.

Mark Bittman specializes in the basics of cooking and his book How to Grill Everything is no exception. He features simple, flavorful recipes that never take longer than 45 minutes to prepare and cook. I especially appreciated the section which focuses on the basics of grilling poultry and features different ways to add flavor to boneless, skinless chicken breasts, a weeknight staple in my house. Most of his recipes also include tips for variations depending on what spices or herbs you have on hand.

Another attractive grilling cookbook is The Big Flavor Grill by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby, which claims to have “no marinade, no hassle recipes”. This appealed to me because I often fail to plan ahead and so many grilling recipes contain complicated marinades that require lots of time to add flavor. Most days, I arrive home at 5:00 PM and then quickly scan my fridge for dinner items I can cook in a relatively short period of time. Much like Bittman’s book, this title features central recipes with two or three spin-offs per meat type. I’m keen to try the lamb chops with roasted garlic vinaigrette.

I’m also a fan of my air fryer and so picked up the Good Housekeeping Air Fryer Cookbook to find more recipes. Air frying goes behind french fries and wings. This handy little gadget is a great way to cook up vegetable sides without turning on your oven. Unlike roasting or traditional frying, most recipes call for less fat when using the air fryer, making it a healthy option for families. The recipe for Roasted Sweet and Sour Brussel Sprouts is amazing and makes a difficult vegetable extremely tasty.

Now that the weather is turning a bit cooler, I’m ready to put my Instant Pot back on the counter. Recipes for the Instant Pot require a bit more planning than the air fryer or grill so I tend to use it on the weekends for family dinners and store the leftovers for weekday lunches. The Instant Pot Bible does look a little overwhelming but I like that it contains recipe modifications for different Instant Pot models and directions on how to either slow cook or pressure cook your favorite dish. I’m fairly traditional when it comes to making my own homemade pasta sauce but desperate times call for desperate measures. I’m going to attempt making sauce in under 4 minutes in my Instant Pot and see if the Buttery Marinara Sauce, a take on the Marcella Hazan recipe, can hold a candle to my regular stovetop, slow-cooked sauce.

While I love these gadgets, I do miss my stove. Stovetop and oven cooking are still the most convenient and often fastest ways to get a meal on the table. But I’m going to soldier on and get the most out of my underused kitchen appliances. Hopefully, my stove will be back in service by next week. If not, I’ll just keep plugging along, trying new recipes. And if all else fails, there’s always takeout!

Kate Tigue is the Head of Youth Services at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for her article in the September 24, 2020 issue of the Transcript and Bulletin.

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