Tag Archives: holidays

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year… To Listen to Audio Books

Welcome to the end of the year! You’ve made it… basically. There is really only one more day. For me, the past week has been filled with good food (I’m going to take credit for a lot of the baking), good company (I’m hilarious… and I love my family), and a lot of travel (in short, travel increases 23% during Christmas and the New Year). I do a lot of driving during the holidays, and my drives are normally around five hours long (on a good day) but can go as long as… I think 9 hours was the longest on a really bad day. That’s a long time to be alone in a car… or a long time to be with some family, too. I’ve started to download audio books to keep me company, and I’ve found that downloading can be easier than using books on CD, because I never have to switch to another CD and be distracted while driving. Audio books can be awesome, and it helps me start to dwindle my (200 and counting) TBR pile, but they can also be hard to listen to depending on the narrator. The following books I’ve enjoyed because of the story and the plot, but also because I can tolerate the narrator*.

Bone Gap

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby is a great fantasy/magical realism/mystery/young adult book. The story follows a young man who knows about gaps in the town that people can fall through. He believes a person who is important to him, Roza, has been kidnapped and taken through one of the gaps. The question is, can he prove this to a town that doesn’t believe, and can he find Roza before something worse happens to her? This was a book that I really looked forward to reading, and I was happy with the narration overall for the audio book. They did a good job of really giving the different characters voices.

say what you will

Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern is a book about a boy who is struggling with OCD, and even admitting and figuring out what OCD is and entails, and a girl who has cerebral palsy. The book deals with a variety of issues that can be hard to read about, but I found overall that the book was good to listen to.

There are so many audio books out there and so many options. Some will be good and some will be bad, but if you find yourself traveling during the holiday season, it may be worth taking something to listen to.

-Abbey

*Full disclosure, not everyone will like the same type of narrator. I get really frustrated listening to narrators that are all breathy and whispery (it’s a word… I think), you know the type I mean. Some people may enjoy that type of narrator, and that’s awesome, but if you try an audio book and don’t like it at first, try and figure out if it’s the book or the narrator, and try other narrators before you dismiss audio books completely.

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Ten Holiday Albums to Stream Right Now

Last year, our music and film specialists at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Main offered up their suggestions for holiday tunes that were a little off the beaten path. This year we’re making it even easier—here are ten albums we recommend that you can download or stream right now through the library with Hoopla. (And if you don’t yet have a Hoopla account, you can learn more about it here.)
beachboys

The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album

If gloomy winter weather is getting you down, there is really no better balm than the sunny California sounds of the Beach Boys.

 

charliebrown

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Has there ever been a more maudlin song that included lyrics like, “Christmastime is here/Happiness and cheer”?  For me, this album perfectly sums up the holidays with its mixture of joy and bitter sweet nostalgia.

ellfitz

Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas

This is one of the funnest, jazziest holiday albums around. Ella Fitzgerald belts out classics from the raucous “Jingle Bells” to the wistful “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve.” Highly recommended.

 

elvisxmas
The Christmas Collection: Elvis Presley

If you’re looking to make it a blue Christmas, look no further than The King. This album is one half rockin’, one half bluesy gospel and all great.

 

soulsville
Get down for Christmas with the likes of Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes and Booker T. & The MG’s.

 

 

jamesbrown
Christmas albums do not get any funkier than this. You cannot go wrong with James Brown.
franksinatra

Make it a Rat Pack Christmas with the jazzy, loungey vocal stylings of one Frank Sinatra.

 

staplesingers

The 25th Day Of December – The Staples Singers

The Staple Singers are well known for their R&B hits of the late 60s and early 70s, but prior to that, they were a really groovy gospel group. The Staple sisters all have wonderful voices, but it’s Pops Staples work on the steel guitar that really makes these gospel tunes something special.

 

venturesxmas

The Ventures Christmas Album

Like the Beach Boys, the Ventures are sure to cheer any listener up on a gloomy day with their swinging surf-rock melodies.

 

 

mowtownxmas

The Ultimate Motown Christmas Collection

Nearly two hours of holiday music from the likes of the Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye. Put your dancing shoes on and enjoy!

 

Happy Rockin’ Holidays,

Tara

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In Praise of Scroogenomics

Scroogenomics

Yes, I fully realize I’m a bit of a killjoy, posting a review about a book called Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays

And yes, I fully realize the irony that a good many Eleventh Stack readers might very well be out doing the exact thing that economist Joel Waldfogel cautions against, instead of reading my brilliant review of this intriguing book.

To that I say, bah humbug.  Because really, it is high time that someone tells it like it is in regards to holiday gift giving.  It isn’t a secret that every year we spend way too much on gifts people don’t want, don’t need and would never buy for themselves.

Walk through a major department store in December. The aisles are blocked not just with panicked shoppers but also with tables covered with “gift items.” In the aisles near the men’s clothing department, you’ll find lots of golf-themed knickknacks — mugs festooned with golf balls, golf club mittens, brass tees, and so on. Would anyone buy this stuff for him-or-herself?  Does anybody want it? I’ll hazard a “no” on both counts. But it’s there every year, along with singing fish — and it sells — because of a confluence of reasons that together make a perfect storm for wasteful giving (6).

According to Waldfogel, we spent $66 billion dollars on this type of crap during the 2007 holiday season (and that was eight years ago!). He breaks down how he came up with this $66 billion dollar figure in great detail, including examining the retail sales for November, December and January. You’ll just have to read the book for those calculations, while trusting me that his math makes much more sense than mine ever could.

Where the wastefulness comes in is with an economic term called “deadweight loss,” which describes “losses to one person that are not offset by gains to someone else.”   The way I understand this is if you buy me a sweater for $75, that same sweater might only be worth $25 to me.  (Or, in other words, if I was to purchase said sweater for myself, $25 would be the maximum amount I would personally spend.)  Hence, the “deadweight loss” is $50.  That’s the wastefulness aspect of the holidays and when you multiply this by billions of crappy cheesy sweaters and stupid singing fish, then you’re talking some big bucks being wasted.

I think this is a concept that most of us kind of already knew, but seeing these numbers tossed around is sobering.  It makes me want to never buy another thing again, for any holiday.

One might think that the solution is to give gift cards, which is logical and reflects the increase in gift card sales in recent years.  But Waldfogel states that even gift cards (while a better alternative to yet another FORE THE BEST UNCLE! golf mug) have some negatives.  They expire.  They get lost.  Sometimes they are for stores that the recipient isn’t interested in.

Waldfogel presents (heh … pun not intended) his theories in great detail, with many supporting facts.  Scroogenomics is more wonkish than whimsy, and since I’m not a mathematician (despite sometimes playing one in my day job here at the Library) some of the number-crunching made my eyes glaze over a bit.  Waldfogel calculates and compares the United States’ holiday spending with that of other countries and with the amount spent in decades past, as a way of stating that this over-consumption of gift-buying isn’t new. It’s a valid argument and one that makes much sense.

(And cents.)

Although Scroogenomics has a bit more highfalutin math than I was expecting, I still enjoyed this book, which I borrowed from the library (naturally).  It’s an eye-opening read jam-packed with information and facts that would likely appeal to fans of Freakonomics or Malcolm Gladwell (which I am.). It’s the epitome of efficient (it’s about the size of my palm) which makes for a fast (and sobering) read.

Bah humbug.

~ Melissa F., who hasn’t bought a single holiday gift yet and is more inspired than ever to procrastinate on her shopping.

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Dysfunctional Fun for the Holidays

conte-noel

Family love is messy, clinging and of an annoying and repetitive pattern… like bad wallpaper. -Friedrich Nietzsche

This year, for the first time in many years, I am heading home for the holidays. Most of my family live in Oregon, and as much as I’d like to see them every year for the holiday season, I don’t like dealing with airports. Rare circumstances are bringing me home this year though, and I’m really looking forward to it — despite having to deal with air travel and lengthy flights.

 

I’m pretty fortunate in that my family is fairly low-key and drama free during the holidays. Sure, we have our political squabbles, but we mostly hang out and eat, watch movies and plays cards. [Side note: If I win at cards my dad will say it is “luck,” and if he wins it is inevitably due to “skill.”]

 

If you too are visiting loved ones this holiday season, take a moment to ponder how lucky you are that you don’t belong to the following families.
 

contenoel

A Christmas Tale

A bone marrow transplant, mental illness, self-injury, alienation, general family dysfunction and Catherine Deneuve. It’s a very French holiday film!

cityisland

City Island

The Rizzo family is sent into turmoil when the patriarch of the family brings home an ex-con to stay with them. Everyone in this family has a secret, but no one’s sharing, and the consequences could be incredibly uncomfortable.

familystone

The Family Stone

The Stone family presents a united front when eldest son Everett brings home his fiancé, Meredith, whom they all despise. Feeling out of place, Meredith begs her sister to join her in the Stone household, setting off a series of further complications.

familypreys

The Family That Preys

Two families are torn apart by ambition, secrets and infidelity — in the end, will they come back stronger than ever?

kidsallright

The Kids Are All Right

Two moms, two kids … and one sperm donor interloping with family affairs. This is a sweet comedy where the kids of the title may have it more together than the adults.

littlemiss

Little Miss Sunshine

A dysfunctional and emotionally bankrupt family is brought together when the youngest member of the clan is accepted into a beauty pageant. Despite complications due to drugs, Nietzsche and a recent suicide attempt, the family ultimately triumphs.

idiotbrother

Our Idiot Brother

When idealistic and sweet-natured Ned is kicked out by his hippy girlfriend, he decides to visit each of his three sisters, quickly sending each of their lives into disaster.

royalten

The Royal Tenenbaums

Cancer, resentment, secrets, depression, attempted suicide, unrequited love — it’s all here.

stepbros

Step Brothers

Two stunted man-children (Will Ferrell & John C. Reilly) must learn to get along after their mother and father  marry.

16candles

Sixteen Candles

Poor Samantha. All she wants is for someone in her family to remember that it’s her sweet 16th birthday — unfortunately the only person who seems to take an interest in her is a nerdy boy named Ted.

thisiswhere

This is Where I Leave You

When their father passes away, four grown but stunted siblings return to their childhood home to sit Shiva with their free-speaking mother.

 

welcomehome

Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins

Successful talk-show host RJ Stevens was bullied and put upon by his family as a child. When he visits home he’s determined to show everyone how much he’s changed. Unfortunately, RJ’s Southern relatives have other plans.

 

Am I missing any of your favorites? Feel free to share in the comments below!

Happy Upcoming Holidays,

-Tara

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What I Love

Dear Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh,

Perhaps it is a little early in our relationship to tell you this (you’ll recall that tomorrow marks our four month anniversary together), so forgive me if I’m being presumptuous.

But tomorrow is also Valentine’s Day, so this is the perfect occasion to say those three little words.

I’m in love.

With everything about you.

I love that you allow me to check out up to 50 books at a time.

And that nobody at the circulation desk blinks an eye when my fines creep higher and higher.

And higher.

I love the secret window that allows me to look down upon the dinosaurs.

I love that someone put a warm scarf on Dippy the Dinosaur during this long cold winter.

I love the quiet sense of history I get whenever I walk in the building.

I love that kids don’t have to be quiet.

And that kids all over the globe are discovering the Library online through My StoryMaker.

And that our libraries are the cool places for teens to hang out.

I love the way that Main looks at night.

And that you can come enjoy the Library After Hours.

I love that the First Floor librarians are enablers, telling me to “take as many as I want” when they see me browsing the stacks.

I love the conversations that happen among strangers on our Facebook page.

And among real life Library users when you find yourself browsing in the same stack, interested in the same thing.

Chalkboard I love reading the chalkboards.

I love when I feel guilty about taking a new display book from its stand, I know another excellent one will quickly replace it.

I love that I can renew my books online at 11:59 p.m., avoiding a fine by mere seconds.

I love when a donor tells me that he or she loves the Library.

I love that brilliantly magical moment when a child gets his or her own library card and for a few seconds, traveling back in time and becoming six years old again.

I love getting lost in the stacks (I need to carry a GPS) and discovering a new author.

I love that we have a GLBT section on the First Floor and that it’s not hidden away.

I love that we offer so many diverse programs and events.

I love that we offer Sensory Storytimes for children with special needs.

I love that when we were looking for a family-friendly place to go with my son with autism, we came to (and were welcomed at) the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Main.

I love that every one of our CLP branches is different.

I love the immensely talented staff members I’m privileged to work with and call friends.

I love going to meetings and coming back with five books.

And recommendations of five more to read.

I love the peacefulness of the International Poetry Room.

I love being able to hear a new-to-me song on the radio while driving into work in the morning, and checking it out so I can listen to it on my drive home.

Or downloading it via Freegal.

I love walking up those worn marble steps.

I love that patrons can drink coffee anywhere on the first floor.

And that a Donor Plus Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh card offers a discount at Crazy Mocha.

I love that I could continue this list forever.

And that there is still so much more at the Library to fall in love with.

Love, Melissa F.

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Finding the Good in Winter

 “A man,” said he, “must have a very good opinion of himself when he asks people to leave their own fireside, and encounter such a day as this, for the sake of coming to see him. He must think himself a most agreeable fellow; I could not do such a thing. It is the greatest absurdity — Actually snowing at this moment! The folly of not allowing people to be comfortable at home, and the folly of people’s not staying comfortably at home when they can! If we were obliged to go out such an evening as this, by any call of duty or business, what a hardship we should deem it; — and here are we, probably with rather thinner clothing than usual, setting forward voluntarily, without excuse, in defiance of the voice of nature, which tells man, in every thing given to his view or his feelings, to stay at home himself, and keep all under shelter that he can; — here are we setting forward to spend five dull hours in another man’s house, with nothing to say or to hear that was not said and heard yesterday, and may not be said and heard again to-morrow. Going in dismal weather, to return probably in worse; — four horses and four servants taken out for nothing but to convey five idle, shivering creatures into colder rooms and worse company than they might have had at home.”

Mr. John Knightley, traveling on Christmas Eve to Randalls, in Emma, Jane Austen (1816)

It’s too bad that the holidays fall during the winter months, my least favorite time of year. It’s cold, it’s long–how can days that are so short make a season seem so long?!–it gets dark out early, the trees are bare, colds and flu are rampant, and traveling becomes difficult.

As I get older, however, I’m trying (very hard!) to make the inevitable winter not quite so arduous.

These things help:

  • Hot chocolate (this vegan likes hers with raw cacao powder, stevia, & soy milk)

  • Hot salted popcorn (made on the stove!)

  • Daily exercise and walking brightens my mood

IMG_0442

  • Laughing: reading the daily Dilbert  comic app on my iPhone

  • Going home every month for a long weekend, easing my homesickness and is something to look forward to

  • Having proper warm clothing, which means trading my cotton sweaters for wool. As my fellow blogger, Irene, once quoted, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” *

How about you? If you dislike winter, how do you make it more bearable?

~Maria

*I tried but could not find an original source for this quote. It has been attributed to explorers Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Roald Amundsen and is also thought to be a popular Scandinavian proverb.

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Radio, Radio!

Back in the day, before Philo T. Farnsworth turned the world upside down with tiny television tubes, the radio was the family’s home entertainment center. Although I’d always been aware of classic radio content, it wasn’t until my husband starting bringing home records–yes, actual LPs–featuring the Marx Brothers, Nick Carter, and Captain Midnight that I could fully appreciate what the radio experience must have been like for my parents and grandparents. Snuggling up on the couch, paying rapt attention to the adventures of the Green Hornet, is very different from watching a television show or film; while I’m certainly not giving up my favorite visual programs anytime soon, there’s definitely a thrill in using my imagination to fill in the blanks TV usually provides.

Enjoying the classic records led us to Dodge Intrepid and the Pages of Time, a blisteringly funny serial tribute to the days of yore, written and performed by local talent. Dodge Intrepid features a time-traveling librarian trying to prevent a very special book from falling into the hands of an evil industrialist out to bend history to his will. With the help of his hyperactive sidekick, Pluck Gumption, Intrepid (a moniker second only to Ford Prefect for sheer amusement value) manages to save the day again and again. If you missed their live performance last weekend at Arcade Comedy Theater, fret not: you can check out the Dodge Intrepid podcasts and catch up with every last wonderful faux advertisement and Pittsburgh reference (trust me–these guys did their homework).

Just one of the many fun fan posters available here.

Just one of the many fun fan posters available here.

Call me a hopeless romantic, but I’m now officially hooked on the radio experience. Luckily, there are plenty of fun shows for me to explore, and possibly plan parties around. Observe.

maskedmarvelsMasked Marvels, a compilation of programs featuring identity-hiding heroes like The Lone Ranger and The Shadow, sounds like a great introduction to the superhero genre. Obviously you’d ask your guests to show up wearing creative facial disguises. Just to up the ante, though, don’t tell anyone what kind of snacks you’re serving, and make sure you hide all the food under opaque platters. While you’re at it, peel all the labels off of whatever beverages you’re serving, and keep the lights very, very low.

The Saint Solves the Case is a 10-disc collection of digitally remastered episodes in which the notorious crime-solver Simon Templar saint“keeps company with corpses, amnesiacs, publishers, gamblers, and a monkey.” Crime-fighting and a monkey? The party decorations practically plan themselves. You should also definitely serve either angel food cake or devil’s food cupcakes (for the irony!) and listen to one disc at a time, so you have an excuse to have ten parties with monkeys and cakeTemplar costumes optional, but encouraged.

darkfantasyDark Fantasy: Adventures in the Supernatural is the perfect pick for a Halloween gathering. Instead of braving the cold, hoping your neighbors bought the good candy this year, why not stay toasty warm in your own haunted mansion and let these classic horror broadcasts scare you silly? In keeping with the “dark” theme, make sure you serve chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate, with perhaps a bit of chocolate for variety. Dress as your favorite mad scientist.

In the same vein, Christmas Radio Classics would be a fun way to put a new spin on the midwinter celebration, don’t you think? christmas_radioHoliday episodes of Burns and Allen, Jack Benny, Red Skelton, and their ilk are the perfect soundtrack to a vintage Christmas party. Shake up some classic cocktails, bake a lot of treats, and turn the speakers up high. You can make your own Christmas ornaments while you listen, or try your hand at crafting some homemade gifts. Speaking in period slang is optional, but make sure to wear your ugliest sweater!

Too silly? Probably, but a lot of the classic material can strike contemporary ears as pretty funny, whether or not that was the intention. If you’re not ready for this particular jump in the WABAC machine, you can test-drive more contemporary radio fare, like Car TalkA Prairie Home Companion, The Reduced Shakespeare Company, or Bob and Ray, to name just a few. A catalog search for radio programs will give you more than enough options to get started.

Were you raised on radio, or did video kill the radio star? We’d love to know!

Leigh Anne

who wonders if  Sgt. Preston of the Yukon would freak out the cats…

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