Monthly Archives: June 2012

The River That Runs Through It

Licensed under creative commons:

There are certain locations and buildings that tend to show up in films again and again, and after spending last weekend in Southern California, I was reminded of one of my favorites–the Los Angeles River basin. You may not have realized that what you were looking at on screen is in fact a river basin, since it is so often filmed when the river is low or nearly non-existent, such as in this iconic scene from the film Grease:

A newer film that uses the L.A. River to delightful effect would be Drive, wherein Ryan Gosling takes a ride down the canal while dreamy pop music plays on the soundtrack:

And then there is that scene in Terminator 2 where a kid riding a bike is being chased by a giant semi-trailer:

There is a key scene if Repo Man (my favorite L.A. film) when our heroes get in a drag race versus the Rodriguez Brothers:

And my absolute favorite L.A. River scene (that doesn’t feature an actual river) would have to be the silly end credits for the movie The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai:

These days the L.A. River has been cleaned up considerably, thanks in large part to the efforts of Friends of the L.A. River and the Los Angeles River Revitalization project. Certain scenic sections of the river are now even navigable by kayak:

Amazingly, even though this iconic slab of concrete has shown up in an unbelievable amount of movies, music videos, and television shows, I never get sick of seeing it–it’s always strangely haunting, equal parts lovely and sinister. Here’s hoping that now that it’s navigable, we’ll see a boat (rather than a car) traveling down the river on screen.

– Tara

PS – What L.A. movies am I missing?


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Yes, You Can Do It Yourself – But You Might Need Help!

So, as I mentioned recently, last month I bought a house. This has, naturally, led to a series of do-it-yourself projects. There were some of the usual things that I have done before: painting, putting up shelves, minor repairs to toilets, water valves to be open/shut/tightened, and lots of cleaning. But we did embark on one major project that was brand new to us, refinishing our hardwood floors. How hard could this be? We’re both college-educated, reasonably intelligent, semi-handy people. We should be able to do this, right?

As it turns out, yes, we can refinish floors. It just took some patience, cooperation, a few rental tools, some library books, several Google searches, multiple trips to the home improvement stores, and lots more time than we thought it would. (Turns out that it works best to do this type of thing when you’re on vacation. Coming home after a hard day at work to sand floors is not that fun.) Below are our before, during, and after pictures. Do the floors look like a professional did them? No, but that’s OK. We like the results, are proud of ourselves and each other, learned a few things about being handy and about our relationship, and (here’s the best part) we get to tell everyone that WE DID IT ALL BY OURSELVES!

Boys’ Room – before

Boys’ Room – during (stain is half done!)

Boys’ Room – finished!

Our Room – before

Our Room – during (after all sanding was done)

Our Room – finished!

Hall – before (we took up mauve carpet only to find tile made to look like wood was underneath!)

Hall – during (under the wood-look tile there was a layer of particle board nailed to the floor)

Hall – finished!

If you’d like to embark upon some home improvement adventures for yourself, the library has a plethora of resources available to assist and guide you.  Below is just a small sampling…

How to Cheat at Home Repair: Time-Slashing, Money-Saving Fixes for Household Wear Hassles and Breakdowns by Jeff Bredenberg

Same Place, More Space: 50 Projects to Maximize Every Room in the House by Karl Champley

The Complete Photo Guide to Home Improvement

Staying Put: Remodel Your House to Get the Home You Want by Duo Dickinson

The Portable Dad: Fix-It Advice for When Dad’s Not Around by Steve Elliott

Refresh Your Home: 500 Simple Projects & Tips to Save Money, Update, & Renovate by the editors of The Family Handyman

What’s a Homeowner to Do? by Stephen Fanuka and Edward Lewine

The Vintage House: A Guide to Successful Renovations and Additions by Mark Alan Hewitt and Gordon Bock

The Complete Guide to Green Building and Remodeling Your Home: Everything You Need to Know Explained Simply by Martha Maeda

Money-Wise Makeovers: Modest Remodels and Affordable Room Redos That Add Value and Improve the Quality of Your Life by Jean Nayar

So, You’re Renovating! Do-It-Yourself Video Collection (DVD)

Spend-a-Little Save-a-Lot Home Improvements: Money-Saving Projects Anyone Can Do by Brad Staggs

Right-Sizing Your Home: How to Make Your House Fit Your Lifestyle by Gale C. Steves

Not So Big Remodeling: Tailoring Your Home for the Way You Really Live by Sarah Susanka and Marc Vassallo

Ultimate Guide Home Repair and Improvement

-Melissa M.

P.S. The floors even got the thumbs-up from my hard-to-please mother! That was when we knew we had really done an OK job.


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Lousy Anniversary

On June 24, 2011 I was diagnosed with Type-2 diabetes. To say this was a surprise would be the understatement of the century. It doesn’t run in my family. I wasn’t obese. My diet wasn’t fabulous, but it certainly wasn’t diabetes inducing. I wasn’t an exercise fanatic, but I walked a lot, took the stairs, etc. Even my poor doctor was baffled. Despite having nearly every symptom of diabetes she tested and retested and retested. [For my fellow diabetics: My fasting blood sugar level was 269. After not eating for almost 18 hours. My first A1C level was 13.6.]

To make matters worse two days after this alarming diagnosis (when I couldn’t stop crying) I went to New Orleans, Louisiana for five days. I’m in one of the major food capitals of the world and I’m afraid to eat anything (because all food will kill me dead immediately.) I would be starving from only eating nuts and berries so out of frustration I would eat five pieces of fried chicken. Neither option is a viable way to exist (although I would like to give a shout-out to Brothers Chicken on Carondelet St.) I can only say that during those first few months I was a hot mess.

A year later I’m angry. I’m angry as only a person who was never sick a day in their life is angry. I’m angry that diabetes affects every single part of my body; my eyes, my skin, my teeth. I’m angry that there is sugar hidden in everything (I’m looking at you marinara sauce and peanut butter.) I’m angry that diet pop tastes terrible. I’m angry that people say things like, “Once they start cutting they don’t stop,” and “Now that you have lost so much weight you should be cured,” and “At least it isn’t cancer.” I’m angry that I’m 35 and take a handful of pills twice a day and at bedtime. I’m angry that body isn’t my body anymore, but something that I need to constantly pay attention to and worry about.

All of this anger has made me determined to educate myself and be as healthy as I can be (while still living my life.) I exercise nearly every day- a combination of walking the South Side city steps and hot yoga. I eat a lot of vegetables and fruit. I use sugar substitutes. I (sort of) learned to cook.

Thankfully the library has a ton of quality resources, some that I discovered researching for this post.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Health and Wellness Resources

  • This is an excellent place to begin if you are looking for any health information. You can search a medical dictionary, search for information about specific disorders, finding a doctor, and paying for health care. This is also where you can get access to the libraries’ collection of health databases.

Diabetes page

  • This page provides links to national and local diabetes resources, for children and adults. There is also a section of relevant subject headings to browse and a short list of cookbooks.

Healthy Eating

The Kitchen Diva’s diabetic cookbook: 150 healthy, delicious recipes for diabetics and those who dine with them by Angela Shelf Medearis

The Joslin diabetes healthy carbohydrate cookbook by Bonnie Sanders Polin and Frances Towner Giedt

The essential diabetes cookbook : good healthy eating from around the world by Antony Worrall Thompson

The diabetes comfort food cookbook; foods to fill you up, not out! By Robyn Webb

  • I highly recommend the Cheddar Cheese and Broccoli Soup, especially if you can get someone else to make it.

The Stella Family cookbooks

These cookbooks inspired me to make my own almond flour for banana muffins and experiment with new kinds of salads. I assure you, I am not the sort of person who makes their own flour.


Bikram yoga : the guru behind hot yoga shows the way to radiant health and personal fulfillment by Bikram Choudhury

  • Yoga in a room heated to 105 degrees isn’t for everyone, but there is a type of yoga out there for everyone!

Yoga for beginners by Brian Burns, Howard Kent, and Claire Hayler

Baron Baptiste’s hot yoga basics. Level 1, Power yoga for beginners, DVD

Walking : a complete guide to the complete exercise by Casey Meyers

The Leslie Sansone series of videos and books

Many people swear by this series of walking videos and books. The five mile walk video clobbered me.

These are only a few of the resources I personally used after my diagnosis. I will (grudgingly) admit that I am healthier now than I have ever been in my life. So if you are surprised by a health crisis, don’t forget the library. And maybe don’t eat 5 pieces of fried chicken in one sitting.



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Happy Birthday, Peter Lorre!

Born László Löwenstein in 1904 in what was then Rózsahegy, Hungary, versatile character actor Peter Lorre rose from humble beginnings to stand among the brightest lights of old Hollywood’s celebrity aristocracy!  You need look no further than Mr. Lorre’s impressive IMDb page to appreciate the amazing accomplishments of his storied career.

Stephen D. Youngkin’s wonderful The Lost One : A Life Of Peter Lorre details the actor’s sometimes tumultuous professional and personal life.  Typecast early as a brooding psychopath, Mr. Lorre played the effete criminal Joel Cairo in the film adaptation of Dashiell Hammet’s Maltese Falcon.  A year later, in 1942, he played a small, but important part as the thief Ugarte in the classic romance Casablanca.  He did get to play the hero a few times, including opposite Sidney Greenstreet in the criminally under appreciated The Mask of Dimitrios, a 1944 film that the Carnegie Library system only has available on VHS at a couple of our suburban partner libraries.   Tedd Sennet writes about this unlikely pair in his amazing book, Masters Of Menace : Greenstreet And Lorre.

Mr. Lorre died on March 24, 1964, and was by all accounts a kind and gentle man whose uneven career ultimately fell prey to his own success.  We should remember him on his birthday as a diligent worker and a consummate professional.  Now I think it’s time to watch the Maltese Falcon again!



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Hate Ain’t Sexy, and Other Wise Things You Can Learn From Poetry

“I write poems, and I am a poem.” — Vanessa German

copyright 2003, – all rights reserved

Everybody is a poem waiting to happen, even those of us who flinch at the word “poetry,” perhaps those of us especially, because at some point in our upbringing or education we were taught that poetry is only for the special, or the weird, not for us. Poets are either safely dead or dangerously alive, and either way, you’d best give them a wide berth because poetry stains, like blood and chocolate, and good luck washing it off of you once it’s had a chance to seep in.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Scared? Don’t be. You are a poem. You may never put pen to paper in all your born days, but your life is a poem. Some people just take it one step further and put themselves (and other people) on paper, so the rest of us can step back from our own perspectives and see the world around us in a new way. Exploring poetry is simply another way of exploring your world.

If you do not like poetry, I strongly suspect is simply means that you have not yet found your poet. Or maybe it’s just one poem, your poem, buried somewhere in the stacks or lost in the tangled web of the internet (Indra net?).  Does the possibility disturb you? Excite you? Send you back to bed with the covers safely pulled up over your head?

Good. That means you’re getting somewhere. Treat reading poetry like speed-dating: flirt shamelessly, experiment prodigiously. Walk away from whatever doesn’t resnoate with you, but be willing to try anything at least once. Allow your eyes to be seduced, romanced. Extend the same courtesy to your ears.

Consider the possibility that your poem hasn’t made it to the library yet. Maybe your poet, your poem, are out there in your city, the next county, half a world away Go to readings. Introduce yourself to the poets you meet at readings and ask them what they’re reading these days. Listen to podcasts. Talk to bookstore owners and librarians and random people reading poetry in coffee shops. Hunt for your poet, your poem, as if it were a golden ticket, because it is.

If you still doubt me, I can only shake my head and retreat back into the dumbstruck wonder of my own experience. I am not a poet, and yet, when I surround myself with poets, and dive into their work, my own writing gains something it would not otherwise have had. Poets have taught me that hate ain’t sexy*, that the devil is in the details, that children’s stories are secretly for grownups, that incremental repetition can be an effective technique for making your point. Poetry reminds me that, no matter how much I have learned, there is so much more to learn. It’s the most real thing there is, poetry, and it’s yours.  Free. For the taking.

–Leigh Anne

also a poem

*This line was uttered by the aforementioned Vanessa German, during a reading here at the Carnegie Library. At the time she read the work she called it “Jorge,” and it’s either just never been recorded and posted anywhere, or I simply can’t find it.  It’s my favorite poem that apparently only exists in my head.


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“Where there’s red smoke there’s usually Communist fire.”

What do Leonard Bernstein, Dashiell Hammett, Langston HughesGypsy Rose Lee, Alan Lomax, Arthur Miller, Zero Mostel, Pete Seeger, William L. Shirer, and Orson Welles have in common?

They all appear in Red Channels: The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television, which was first released on this day in 1950.  The Library of Congress describes it succinctly:

In June 1950, three former FBI agents who had created American Business Consultants, a vigilante organization to combat communism, issued Red Channels, a booklet listing 151 people connected with the broadcasting industry whom they suspected of subversive activities. The publication listed organizations and activities with which each individual had “reported” associations. Along with in-house private lists, Red Channels was adopted by the radio and television industries as a blacklist to deny employment to those named.

Pretty crazy, huh? Well, it gets even crazier once you wade into it:

The purpose of this compilation is … to indicate the extent to which many prominent actors and artist have been inveigled to lend their names, according to these public records, to organizations espousing Communist causes. This regardless of whether they actually believe in, sympathise with, or even recognize the cause advanced. (p. 9)

Looks ominous.

Let’s for a moment ignore the fact that “inveigled” is an awesome word that doesn’t get used nearly often enough, and focus on the fact that you could end up on this list even if you didn’t believe in Communism. Even if you didn’t know or care about Communism. Damn, that’s harsh.

To a modern reader, the variety of “subversive activities” listed within is both confusing and hilarious. According to Red Channels, those sneaky Communists intend to destroy America by attending spring balls, supporting Paul Robeson, entertaining at anti-Fascist rallies (isn’t that a good thing?), trying to abolish the House Un-American Activities Committee (that one’s a big no-no), reviewing Russian poems, sending telegrams to the President, and sponsoring milk drives.

Telegrams and milk drives. Wow.

If you’d like to learn more about this depressing, paranoid, and just plain weird chapter in American history, look in our catalog under Blacklisting of Authors – United States and Blacklisting of Entertainers – United States. You’ll find books like these, and more.


For easy, clickable fun, here are a few web resources.

I learned about Lord Haw Haw in college. Neato.

The title of this post comes from an August 15, 1949 editorial in Broadcasting magazine, quoted on p. 6 of Red Channels. The full editorial, pictured at left, is taken from

Subversively yours,

Amy (once again not writing about Film or Audio)


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Irene Dunne: Lovely to Listen to

You might know actress Irene Dunne (1898-1990) from her movies.  I have yet to see any of her dramatic films; her hilarious comedic turn with Cary Grant as a sparring couple in The Awful Truth was my introduction to her.  And she was one of the reasons why I watched the fashion show musical Roberta where she sang her hit “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”  She had a lovely voice which is why I’m so glad that the UK record label Sepia has recently compiled and released a CD of recordings of hers from the 1930s and 40s.  The album, titled Irene Dunne Sings Kern and Other Rarities, mostly features tunes by Jerome Kern (1885-1945) who was most famous as the composer of the musical Show Boat.

Dunne’s voice was certainly a well-honed tool: she attended the Chicago Musical College on a scholarship and auditioned for the Metropolitan Opera in NYC (see Wes D. Gehring’s fawning Irene Dunne: First Lady of Hollywood for more biographical info).  Unfortunately, some folks might describe Dunne’s vocal style as “dated.”  So what?  What’s wrong with a musical style that defines an era?  I think of it as a bridge between the ultra-rounded vowels of classically trained singers and the brassier, wide-mouthed style of later musical theater.  Give it an ear or two and see what you think.  My favorite tune on the disc, “Lovely to Look At” (from Roberta), is proof enough for me that Dunne is also lovely to listen to.

— Tim

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Good Listeners

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh holds history. The most obvious form of history housed here may be the written word, but the spoken word lives here too, in both recordings and transcripts.

I read in today’s newspaper that James Billington, the Librarian of Congress, announced that a collection of recorded interviews has been donated to the Library of Congress.

More than 25 years ago, retired music executive Joe Smith accomplished a Herculean feat—he got more than 200 celebrated singers, musicians and industry icons to talk about their lives, music, experiences and contemporaries. The Library of Congress announced today that Smith has donated this treasure trove of unedited sound recordings to the nation’s library.

Yesterday I leafed through Joe Smith’s book, Off the Record: An Oral History of Popular Music. In entries of only a page or two, the individual voices of 200 musicians gleam like select gems.

Oral History as a scholarly discipline emerged with the advent of portable recording devices, which allowed taped interviews with subjects where they lived and worked. John and Alan Lomax, father and son oral history pioneers, collected folk songs as well as interviews with singers, preserving not only the music, but also the stories behind the songs. One of Alan Lomax’s best known projects is his 1938 recording of interviews with and performances by Jelly Roll Morton. The result is nine hours of recordings that fill seven CDs—Jelly Roll Morton: The Complete Library of Congress Recordings by Alan Lomax. An eighth disc includes a PDF document containing a complete transcription of all dialogue and lyrics on discs one through seven.

Studs Terkel, who helped establish oral history as an important historical genre, began his career with the Federal Writers’ Project, part of the WPA. The FWP produced written guides to each state. Part travelogue, part local encyclopedia, these books and pamphlets include material from oral histories collected from residents throughout the United States, many from previously unexplored and unrecorded regions. A history of the FWP was published in 2009,  Soul of a People: The WPA Writers’ Project Uncovers Depression America, and a companion DVD, Soul of a People: Writing America’s Story: A Unique & Powerful Portrait of 1930s Americana.

Division Street: America, Studs Terkel’s first book of interview transcripts, debuted in 1967. Two companion books followed, Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression (1970), and Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do (1974). One reviewer stated, “His success is, I think, due less to the questions he asks than to his genuine interest in people and his genuine curiosity about their points of view. He is that rarest of birds among radio or television personalities, a good listener.”

In my next post, I’ll introduce you to a few more good listeners who documented musicians’ stories and songs, in both written and recorded forms.

Happy listening!



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Goodbye, Babylon

I don’t know how I forgot about the boxed sets on the second floor. I’ve visited the Film and Audio section of the Main Library  about a million times over the years and scoured those CD cabinets countless times. Despite all that, I probably looked a little like St. Paul when I went to the very end of the CD section and saw all of those big boxes of music. It was a revelation!

Goodbye, Babylon

They were kind enough to include cotton in the box for us Yankees.

The box that caught my eye was Dust to Digital’s  big, beautiful Goodbye, Babylon. I first heard about this 6-disc set on a gospel show called Sinner’s Crossroads that I religiously (sorry–couldn’t resist) stream from New Jersey freeform giant WFMU. The show plays mid-century, mostly Southern, gospel music, the kind that had a big influence on R&B, soul, and rock and roll music, to name a few, a genre I came to after learning that many of the greatest soul singers were first gospel singers.

Goodbye, Babylon was touted as a great primer to more obscure gospel sounds, and it seemed to be universally well-reviewed. Alas, it also cost about sixty bucks, so I relegated it to the part of my brain where I keep ideas of what I’ll buy when I become a wealthy celebrity librarian. But then, all of a sudden, there it was, a big pine box packed with cotton (really!) and a lovely booklet.  Hallelujah!

The lineup consists of artists ranging from the very famous (Mahalia Jackson, Flatt and Scruggs) to the famous-to-those-who-listen-to-this-kind-of-music (Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Reverend Gary Davis) to a long list of performers whose work was previously only available (or not) on 78. A large booklet, designed to look like an old hymnal, includes background essays for each song in the collection.

Anyone with an interest in the origins of secular pop music in the U.S. should have a good time recognizing the close harmony, driving rhythms and impassioned vocals that have characterized commercial pop music in the postwar era, here in raw form. If you haven’t listened to many old recordings, it might take a few listens to get accustomed to the sometimes poor sound quality; I’d advise you to think of it as part of the atmosphere and, soon enough, you won’t notice it anymore.

Although I’m tempted to keep this library find close to my chest, lest it become so popular that it’s checked out when I want to revisit it, I feel inspired (perhaps by the fire and brimstone sermons that make up disc 6 of the set) to spread the good news about this wonderful collection of Americana.



P.S.: If there is a wait for this collection, don’t despair! The Main Library has a great collection of old gospel, including Mahalia Jackson, the Blind Boys of Alabama, the Louvin BrothersRev. Gary Davis, and many other luminaries.


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Isn’t It Romantic?

It was a happy coincidence that Sheila wrote about Fifty Shades of Grey on Friday (while I agree with her assessment, I cannot stop reading the stupid series. Those books are like the worst kind of junk food. Andy Capp Cheddar Fries, maybe?), because today, I have a few suggestions for some romance series that actually have a little substance to them. And all of them are perfect for lounging by the pool this summer.

Historical Romance, or I Love to Swoon:

Tessa Dare‘s Spindle Cove series is set in a seaside haven for society ladies who don’t quite fit into proper society. Populated with widows, spinsters (most in their late 20s – the horrors!), and supposedly ruined women, the small town allows them to exist without judgement. So far, we’ve met Susanna, the headstrong daughter of an inventor who works for the military, and Minerva, a genius archaeologist. The third book, featuring orphaned musician Kate, is due out in August. I love that Dare lets these quirky, wonderful characters shine in her series.

Grace Burrowes is five books in to her expected eight about the large Windham family. The first three in the set focus on the brothers of the family – Gayle, Devlin, and Valentine – and the remaining have been about the girls – Sophie and Maggie, so far. Also, not one, but two of the siblings are recognized “by-blows” (each has a less than awesome biological mother, so they’re doing okay). With so many characters, Burrowes does an admirable job of giving each distinct personalities with obstacles to overcome on the road to love.

Contemporary Romance, or Modern Love is Rough

Louisa Edwards is a recent discovery of mine. A former food critic, her two overlapping series follow chefs in New York. The first series is set at a newly opened restaurant, where head chef and co-owner Adam falls for a critic, celebrity chef Devin gets his ego checked by a Southern Belle, and Wes, a line cook, finds himself challenged by a chemist. I really loved that each book is connected not only by the restaurant, but with a great arc about the relationship between sous-chef Frankie and a young waiter named Jess (I wish more romance writers put this kind of effort into their gay characters). I’ve only read the first book in the second series – about chefs at an old-school steakhouse who are trying to give their restaurant a boost by winning a national cooking competition – but I’m very much looking forward to reading the next two. (For the foodies out there, Edwards will make you super hungry from her descriptions. Luckily, she includes a few recipes in the back of each book.)

Lori Foster has written a lot of books. For the sake of brevity, I’ll go with her most recently completed series, the aptly named “Men Who Walk the Edge of Honor.” The heroes in these books are all professional mercenaries with a special interest in stopping human trafficing rings. It’s helpful to kick things off with the short story “Ready, Set, Jett,” in the Guy Next Door collection. Book one is about defacto leader, Dare; book two picks things up with the very intense Trace; book three follows Trace’s sister Alani and the goofy-but-still-hot Jackson; and book four wraps things up with outsiders Spencer and Arizona. This series is a little darker than some others, but that’s what helps set it apart.

Hopefully, some of these will provide a nice alternative to Fifty Shades of Grey. What junk food books are you reading now?

– Jess


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