Monthly Archives: October 2018

Happy Halloween!

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It’s the great TURNIP, Charlie Brown!

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Taken by Rebecca Tischler, Reference Librarian

By Rebecca Tischler, Reference Librarian

We all love It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, but were you aware that the first Jack O’Lanterns were carved out of turnips?

Did you know that the horrifying mask worn by Michael Myers in the Halloween movie was actually a William Shatner Star Trek mask?

Halloween is the second highest grossing commercial holiday after Christmas. The National Retail Federation (NRF) predicts Halloween spending this year—including candy, costumes, and decorations—will hit $7.4 billion.   Candy will account for more than $2 billion of that amount and a quarter of all candy bought in the U.S. is for Halloween.

But what are the origins of this creepy holiday? Here’s what we do know about the history of Halloween: it wasn’t created by the Candy Companies, although they’ve certainly profited, nor was it created by the toilet paper companies (though I do wonder how much money they make with all the teepeeing).

The history of Halloween is a rather vague and confusing tale, mainly because no one can seem to agree on how Halloween evolved from a harvest pagan New Year celebration, to the candy gorging and anything goes costumes of today. One thing that everyone seems to agree on, even though there has never been a proven connection, is that modern Halloween begins with the Celtic festival of Samhain (although, they don’t know much about that either).

samhain_scarecrow_2_by_belisarius2930-d4es8y7Scholars are pretty sure that Samhain was an annual celebration of the end of the harvest months to honor the Celtic deities (as well little green leprechauns and tricky fairies). It was also a time to gather resources and slaughter livestock (or maybe they were sacrifices – who knows) in preparation for the upcoming winter months. Some say it was the Celtic New Year. It was also believed that this was the day that the veil between the dead and living was thinnest, and the dead could cross over. They would celebrate this day with bonfires, food laid out for the dead, and costumes to blend with the spirits. Strangely enough, they’re not sure whether these actions were to honor and welcome the dead or to ward off the visiting spirits. Either way, the dead were a big part of the pagan festival.

The second part of Halloween’s history that seems to be agreed on is the attempted Christianization of a pagan celebration. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III assigned the Christian feast, All Saints Day, to November 1, as a day was to honor all Christian saints and martyrs. It is generally believed that this edict was meant to cause All Saints Day to replace Samhain. However, instead of killing off the pagan traditions, these two celebrations combined to create All-Hallows Eve. The holiday was no longer about the Celtic deities, or about the Christian Saints. The previously celebrated supernatural creatures were now thought to be evil and the main focus of the holiday was about the wandering dead.

Bonaire_Holloween The third fact that seems to be agreed upon is that trick-or-treating came from another two practices that eventually combined. The first is “mumming”, a medieval practice where people would disguise themselves and go door-to-door asking for food in exchange for “tricks” (basically they were putting on shows and clowning around).  The second is the practice of leaving out food and offerings for the dead in order to gain favor with them, which is believed to be part of the original Samhain tradition. So basically, we give kids candy in exchange for entertainment, and to satisfy the little goblins that knock on our door.

 


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Scary Reads for Kids

By Alysia Maxwell, WCPLtn Library

It’s Halloween and that means it’s time for the creepy crawlies and the monsters to come out.  Kids are planning their costumes and their routes to the houses that give out the best candy. Houses are decked out in spider webs and eerie lights, and people are reveling in the supernatural and the macabre.

As parents, this time of year can be hard. We often want to protect children from the scariest things out there, but how much do we protect them and how much do we let them experience some of the fun of the season?  After all, what is it that we love so much about scary stories? Why do we seek out the things that send prickles down our spine? As adults we think that it’s that rush of adrenaline that comes from our senses being on high alert; but it’s more than that.  It’s also the relief that floods your body when you realize there’s not really someone hiding the closet. It’s the calm that washes away the fear when you know you are not in danger; everything is fine. You are safe.

That’s what it really comes down to, not the fear, but the feeling of safety.  No one actually wants to be scared all the time. We seek it out when feeling safe becomes too commonplace, too work-a-day, too boring.  We chase that rush of fear so that we can appreciate that feeling of tranquility again.

Kids are searching for that too, although they may not realize it.  The whole world is big and scary to them and they need to feel that reassurance as much as adults do, possibly even more so.  Of course, every kid is different and what barely startles one might be too much for another. I’m not telling you to traumatize your children, but don’t shy away from letting them read something that might be a little scary.  Let them experience those shivers so they can feel safe again. What could possibly be safer than being snuggled up warm with mom and dad reading a book together? Here are some great stories to read with your kids that will give you both the shivers.

Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman; Lucy hears  noises coming from inside the walls.  She is sure that there are wolves in the walls, but her family doesn’t believe it.  They tell her, “If the wolves come out of the walls, it’s all over”. This picture book is great for a younger crowd because it is punctuated with humorous moments that break up the tension. When the wolves finally do come out of the walls they end up doing silly things like wearing Lucy’s socks and eating toast and jam.  This story says to kids that the thing they are afraid of may turn out to be not as bad as they think, and maybe even something they can handle just fine.

Another Gaiman gem for slightly older kids is Coraline.  Yes, it is a movie and a graphic novel, both of which are fantastic – but for me, nothing beats the original novel.  Something about the way the light glints off the button eyes of the Other Mother is so sinister and frightening. Here is a story that is precisely that search for excitement and return to safety.  Coraline is bored with her uneventful life, but her search for adventure ends up more than she bargained for. When she goes exploring the house and finds a mysteriously (sometimes) bricked up doorway it leads her to a very unnerving and terrifying version of her own life. It hits kids close to home with a seemingly idyllic family trying to steal her away from her real family. And no adult comes to her rescue. Coraline is the heroine of her own story and must rescue herself as well as her parents.  What better way to empower a child than to show them they can face their own fear and conquer it.

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste is a wonderfully spooky story based on Caribbean folklore. There are menacing creatures in the woods with glowing eyes and dark intentions. Corinne believes they are just stories made up to get children to behave, but maybe they are not made up after all. There is a witch whose beauty and attractiveness give her an ominous quality, especially when she tries to insert herself into Corinne’s family.  Once again the children are the ones who have to confront that which they fear and defeat it. Baptiste gives us fresh monsters to fuel the imagination.

Scarlett Hart Monster Hunter by Marcus Sedgwick reads more like an adventure story than a terror filled one, however this graphic novel does feature zombies, gargoyles and all sorts of otherworldly foes as well as a very earthly one as well.  Scarlett’s got grit and gadgets and her own faithful retainer (sort of like Batman’s Alfred) to help her bring down the baddies.

Guys Read: Terrifying Tales collected by Jon Scieszka is a great compilation of middle grade short stories by various authors including, among others, the master of kids’ horror himself R.L. Stein of Goosebumps fame. These are fun for reading quick stories each night (under the covers of course!)

The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Parents may have read his beautiful Shadow of the Wind, but this oft overlooked YA title is particularly disturbing.  Max and his sister Alicia move to a small town and soon discover their new house holds a dark secret from the past.  They must uncover the mystery of a spectral creature who is trying to collect an old debt. If the weeping angels in Doctor Who send a chill up your spine this one is right up your alley.

The fun of Halloween is allowing ourselves to feel that delicious prickle of fear followed by the reassurance that we are not about to be eaten after all!  So grab a book and a flashlight, pull the blankets over your heads, and have fun reading these scary stories!

Columbus Day: A Study in Machiavellian Philosophy

By Shannon Owens, Reference Department

We can all recite the poem: “In fourteen hundred ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue”…I know, I know, I can see your eyes rolling from here.  Christopher Columbus, born in Genoa (like the salami) Italy, is frequently credited with “discovering” the New World (aka: The Americas). This is a rather dubious claim, given that Viking explorer, Leif Erikson, landed in Newfoundland and Labrador a good 500 years before Columbus went about destroying indigenous Caribbean culture (I digress). It’s impossible to say why Columbus remains ingrained in our history books and general psyche, whilst Erikson is relegated to a footnote, but I would hazard a guess here: American culture is profoundly impacted by Western European culture, whereas Nordic culture remains a mystery. It certainly wouldn’t be the only factor, but I imagine this is not insignificant.

Nevertheless, it’s worthwhile to take a closer look at the man who gives us parades, bank holidays, time off from work, and downright incredible retail sales (I’m eyeing a pair of gorgeous boots being sold at a fifty percent markdown as we speak, so kudos, Cristobol)! Mr. Columbus was a marine entrepreneur (read: seaman) who was obsessed with finding a western route to China, India, and the spice and gold islands of Asia.  Here’s where we run into another common misconception:  Lore suggests that the entire world thought the world was flat at this time and Columbus was the renegade willing to challenge this idea. Nearly all educated Europeans knew the Earth was round. This wasn’t even a recent revelation. Around the sixth century BC, Greek mathematician, Pythagoras, theorized that the Earth was round, and about two centuries later Aristotle concurred with his findings. So, no, Columbus’ crew was not terrified that they’d fall off the edge of the world (despite what Washington Irving would have you believe).

Columbus was barely successful finding anybody who would fund this venture. It took nearly a decade to find a backer (monarchies in England, Portugal, and France had all refused) and Spain was not an easy mark, either. In fact, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand had once declined before changing their minds in the eleventh hour.  Still, Columbus was granted his fleet and crew, comprised of three ships: the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria (two of which actually had different names…Spain was an extremely Catholic country and named all their ships after saints…Pinta was a nickname translated as  “the painted one” and the Nina was actually the Santa Clara). This joint venture could prove mutually beneficial: Isabella and Ferdinand could gain power while exporting Catholicism to locals and Columbus’ contract guaranteed him ten percent of any riches he found and a noble title.

On October 12th, the expedition reached land (probably Watling Island in the Bahamas). Later that month, Columbus sighted Cuba (which he thought was China) and finally in December, the expedition landed on Hispaniola (Columbus surmised that this must be Japan). Here, he established a settlement of 39 men, and went about his business, terrorizing the locals (the Taino people, though Columbus referred to them as Indians). In March of 1493, he left the settlement and returned to Spain. Nearly six months later, he returned to Hispaniola to find the settlement destroyed. To this day, nobody knows exactly what happened.  Columbus traveled island to island, and since he couldn’t seem to find the riches he had boasted of to his patrons, he sent Isabella 500 slaves instead. This was downright horrifying to the Queen, who believed these people were now Spanish citizens, and she swiftly rebuked Columbus for his monstrous actions.

Christopher Columbus landing in Santo Domingo

In 1498, Columbus embarked on his third journey to the New World. First, he visited Trinidad and then South America before returning to the settlement in Hispaniola (which he had left his two brothers in charge of this time).  Once again, it was decimated, but this time it was by the colonists themselves who had revolted against their leaders. It would seem that brutality and mismanagement run in the family.  Spain sent new governorship and Columbus returned to Europe in in chains, arrested for the goings on.  By 1502, Columbus had been cleared of most charges (although stripped of noble titles he had received previously) and the Spanish monarchy funded one last trip to the New World. It was an unmitigated disaster. Columbus made it all the way to Panama and then promptly abandoned four ships when they came under attack by natives. Columbus returned, bereft, to Spain, where he died in 1506.

It would seem that the man’s lasting legacy was one of abuse, brutality and ultimately, felony.  He enslaved locals and introduced diseases that decimated the remaining indigenous populations. Other European countries hopped on the colonial bandwagon, which created environment change along with the borderline theft of local natural resources. He is blamed, not unfairly, for biological warfare. Interestingly, the phrase “Columbian Exchange” is used by historians to describe the exchange of plants, animals, and goods between the East and West. On the other hand, advocates could make the point that his legacy underlines the importance and history of the Age of Exploration. It’s globalization in its earliest form. Obviously, his actions cannot all be discounted as negative. Perhaps his lasting legacy is a cautionary tale on the grandest scale.

 


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COMPOSTING: Cut Down on Food Waste and Help Your Garden Grow

By Sharon Reily, Reference Department

Most of this waste could be composted instead of ending up in a landfill.

Most of us don’t realize how much food we waste each year. It’s awfully easy to toss leftovers and less-than-perfect produce into the trash. Wasted food numbers are staggering. It’s estimated that in the U.S., 72 billion pounds of still-usable food (worth $218 billion) goes to waste each year and that approximately 25 to 40 percent of food grown, processed, and transported in the U.S. will never be consumed. Much of this food that is still safe and edible could be used to feed hungry families or be composted. But according to the EPA, approximately 94 percent of it ends up in landfills, where it takes up a lot of space and generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Let’s take a look at a few simple things we can all do to help reduce food waste, and then focus on one of the best methods of utilizing uneaten food – composting.

Several local organizations are on a mission to “rescue” unused food to feed hungry families and divert it from landfills by methods such as composting. Second Harvest Food Bank and the Nashville Food Waste Initiative work with businesses, food service companies, farmers, and individuals to gather food before it goes to waste, distribute it to groups serving the hungry, and keep it out of landfills. Sustainable America suggests ways to become involved in food rescue. Their websites (listed at the end of this article) offer a wealth of information about how we can help in these efforts.

On a smaller scale, there are lots of ways we can reduce food waste in our own homes, and most of them rely on plain old common sense:

  • Plan weekly shopping lists carefully to avoid buying too much food. Think of all the money we can save if we buy only as much food as we can use.
  • Consider how many meals we’ll eat at home in a week versus the times we’ll eat out.
  • Think about how many meals can be made with each food item and shop accordingly. Don’t buy in bulk unless all the food can be used before it spoils.
  • Learn how to store different fruits and vegetables properly to keep them fresh longer and preserve or freeze what can’t be used immediately.
  • Shop in the fridge first! Use what’s already there before buying more.
  • Learn the difference between “sell by,” “use by” and “best by” dates.
  • Get creative using safe edible food parts not usually eaten, such as vegetable scraps, in casseroles, stir-fries, and soups.

Some inedible food will remain even with careful planning, but much of it can still be diverted from landfills. One great way is to compost. Most of us can create a compost pile in our own backyards or at least collect waste material to be taken to a composting facility, such as Compost Nashville.

Benefits of Composting

Compost is simply decomposed organic material and composting is the natural process of recycling organic material such as leaves and vegetable scraps into a rich soil amendment called humus. The EPA lists several key benefits to composting:

  • Enriches soil, helps retain moisture, and suppresses plant diseases and pests.
  • Reduces the need for chemical fertilizers.
  • Encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create humus, a rich nutrient-filled material.
  • Reduces methane emissions from landfills and lowers your carbon footprint.

HOW TO

There are many different ways to make a compost pile. WCPL and its branches have several books on composting and there are many detailed composting instructions available online. Watch the WCPL website (wcpltn.org) for information about a program on composting coming in August 2019.

Here are a few composting basics.

Composting can be done in a simple pile, a DIY wooden structure, or a commercial unit like this tumbler.

Site Selection

  • Select a location with good drainage that is easily accessible from your kitchen.
  • Choose a partially sunny or shady spot. Too much sun will dry out the pile and total shade may keep it too wet.
  • Your compost unit can be as simple as an actual “pile” of materials in your yard, or you can build or purchase more complex composting devices such as various bins and tumblers. You can also compost indoors with worms, using special stacked worm bins. Eww!

Materials

Compost is made up of three main ingredients:

  • Brown materials, which provide carbon: dead leaves, branches, twigs, bits of cardboard, shredded newspaper, torn-up paper towel and toilet paper rolls, and small bits of cardboard
  • Green materials, which provide nitrogen: grass clippings and other yard debris, fresh uncooked vegetable waste, fruit scraps, and coffee grounds
  • Water, which provides the moisture required to help break down the materials

Some materials should NOT be added to a compost pile. Avoid:

  • Coal or charcoal ash
  • Dairy products
  • Diseased plants
  • Fats, grease, or oils
  • Meat
  • Fish or other animal bones
  • Pet fecal waste or used cat litter
  • Invasive weeds or plants that could root or germinate in the compost
  • Any yard debris that has been treated with chemical pesticides

    Typical green materials.

Establishing a Compost Pile

  • Begin your pile with equal amounts of browns and greens added in 4-inch layers. You could also just toss them in haphazardly, but the decomposition process will take much longer.
  • Water the pile. Keep it moist but do not let it get soggy.
  • After the initial setup, add greens and browns as they become available. Cover fruit and vegetable waste with several inches of compost materials.
  • Yard debris will decompose more quickly if it is broken into small pieces.
  • Stir the pile occasionally with a shovel or pitchfork.

The finished product!

The compost process can take anywhere from three months to two years. Compost is ready when it looks like very dark soil and has a sweet, earthy smell. To test it, put a small amount in a plastic bag. Sniff before sealing. Reopen the bag after a few days. The sample should smell the same as it did before. If it smells worse, your compost needs more time in the pile.

Using Compost

Compost is an amazing amendment to your garden soil and can be applied in several ways.  Think of it as food for dirt. Spread it over your lawn to nourish the grass, or mix it into garden soil.

  • Vegetables:
    • Give your vegetable garden plenty of compost in the fall. Spread several inches of compost on top of the existing bed, then till it into the soil in the springtime.
    • Put a handful of compost in each hole when you’re planting.
    • Once plants begin to grow quickly, you can add a half-inch layer of compost around the base of the plants. Provide “heavy feeder” plants such as tomatoes, corn, and squash with 1/2 inch of compost monthly.

      Adding compost to your garden soil can produce beautiful, healthy plants.

  • Flowers:
    • In the spring, loosen the top few inches of annual and perennial beds and mix in a 1-inch layer of compost.
    • In the fall, apply a 1-inch layer of compost as a mulch to protect plant roots from freezing and conserve moisture.
  • Potted plants and window boxes:
    • Nutrients in potting soil may be depleted as plants grow. To replenish them, add an inch of compost to potted plants and window boxes twice a year.
    • You can make your own potting soil using two parts screened compost to one part sand or perlite.
    • Brew a compost “tea” by steeping compost in water and use it as a foliar spray or a soil drench.

Clearly, composting can be a win-win endeavor. It allows you to cut down on the amount of unused food that otherwise would end up in a landfill. It creates a great, nutritious supplement for your garden. Why not plan to begin a compost pile as your next garden project?

Happy Composting!


SOURCES AND FURTHER READING: Read the rest of this entry

Jack London: The Traveling Outdoorsman

By Allan Cross, Reference Department

Jack London

It now seems intuitive that Jack London would dream of living in a rustic setting. As a journalist, writer, and public speaker, London knew both renown and controversy. His output established him as a man of adventure, who expressed his beliefs with drive and vehemence. On January 12, 1876, London was born John Griffith Chaney in San Francisco, California. His mother bore him out of wedlock and later changed his last name to that of his stepfather, John London, but from his earliest years, they referred to the boy as “Jack.”

The adolescent Jack London thrived on curiosity, which transcended the bounds of his blue-collar upbringing. Hours spent at libraries developed the young London’s mind, while instilling in him another desire: to travel. By the age of 17, he had gone on a sealing voyage in the Pacific. The trip was a professional catastrophe, but London and his shipmates returned home alive. The budding scribe jotted down his maritime story and used it to win a local writing contest. So began Jack London’s method of drawing themes from Mother Nature.

As he matured, London’s exploration only increased. After spending some time on the East Coast, he returned to California and attended UC Berkeley. London did not graduate, instead heading to the Yukon at the time of the Klondike Gold Rush. This period in Canada supplied material for his novel, The Call of the Wild.

Jack London’s cabin in the Yukon

After the success of Call of the Wild, London was in demand and had made a fair amount of money. His innate ruggedness led him to avoid urban life. Like Thoreau before him, London sought out a countryside retreat, finding one of his own in Sonoma County, California. Here he purchased a ranch and lived in a small cottage, while conceiving plans to build an estate, Wolf House, on the property.

Though he no longer stood destitute, London still identified with the problems of working people. He didn’t hide his leftist views. London gave many lectures critical of capitalism. He also penned combative works that took on the upper class. London stayed always a fighter for the underdog. He never lost interest in travel, going as a newspaperman to cover the Russo-Japanese War of 1904.

London married twice. He and his second wife, Charmian, once made a grand escape across the Pacific. Their destinations included Hawaii, Samoa, Fiji, and Australia. Unfortunately, London’s heavy drinking and extreme pursuits took their toll, forcing him to back off from seafaring. London returned to Sonoma County, where he resumed construction of Wolf House.

In the year 1913, an accidental fire destroyed the still incomplete Wolf House. London was aging fast and construction of the estate never restarted. The end of that dream disappointed him, but London’s intrepid fervor remained. He continued to explore, in spite of his doctors’ advice. Nature kept providing London with a foundation for stories, though at a growing personal cost.

Jack London’s gravesite

On November 22, 1916, Jack London passed away of kidney disease at the age of 40. His ranch has since become part of the Jack London State Historic Park. London’s cottage, a quantity of his belongings, and the shell of Wolf House remain preserved there. By reviewing London’s life, one might better understand the task of all writers: to hit upon the balance of careful refinement and unfettered inspiration.


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(All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

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