Several Christmas movies on a book shelf with the movie, Elf, faced out.

Favorite Christmas Movies

I admit it! I love movies! My wife and I miss going to an actual movie theater, but what can you do?

When it comes to Christmas movies, I certainly do have my favorites. However, to me, a Christmas movie has to do with the actual holiday, and the wonderful ideas of family, friendship, love, giving, hope, and peace on earth. For Christians, the birth of Jesus is a significant event.

Searching for the most popular Christmas movies, there are several that come up that are not really about the Christmas Holiday, but only take place during the season. Home Alone was a riot with Macaulay Culkin, Bruce Willis was my hero in Die Hard, and Ben Affleck wearing a Santa outfit at the end of Reindeer Game was a hoot. But each of these was more about the story and characters, than about Christmas.

There are many classic Holiday movies out that I have truly enjoyed over the years. Some of these are It’s a Wonderful Life, The Polar Express, White Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Holiday Inn, Miracle on 34th Street, plus several Grinch productions, with Jim Carrey as my winner. Also, Scrooge has had many different lead actors, but I think Patrick Stewart portrayed Ebenezer the best in the 1999 Christmas Carol production.

Some newer comedic movies I also enjoyed were Christmas with the Kranks, Four Christmases, and The Christmas Chronicles on Netflix.

Here are my five favorites:

5. The Holiday, with Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, and Jack Black. Wonderful story about four lonely and flawed people that meet over the Holidays after the two women in the story swap houses from Los Angeles and small-town England.

4. A Christmas Story. Who has not seen Ralphie almost shoot his eye out with his new Red Rider BB gun? Or stuck their tongue to a flagpole on a cold winter day? How many of you have a leg lamp as a Christmas ornament?

3. Elf. You may have to be a Will Ferrell fan, but Buddy is just so cute, loveable, and innocent that you just have to pull for him. Zooey Deschanel is simply adorable as Buddy’s friend, and Ed Asner looks and sounds, well, just like Santa!

2. The Santa Clause, starring Tim Allen. He plays an ordinary man, Scott Calvin (same initials as Santa Claus), who accidentally causes Santa to fall off his roof on Christmas Eve. Scott then must assume the role of Santa, and delivers presents around the world with his son Charlie, played superbly by Eric Lloyd. The drastic transformations Scott goes through the next year, such as weight gain and a beard, are magic special effects. It is a funny and heartwarming story about believing not only in Santa but family as well.

And #1 on my list? Love Actually. This sexy romantic comedy starts five weeks before Christmas, delving into the different aspects of love from a variety of individuals, many are shown to be interlinked at the end. Bill Nighy as an aging rock star is hilarious, Hugh Grant as a serious, love-struck Prime Minister, and Liam Neeson’s son Sam, played by Thomas Sangster, flawlessly plays a tween boy who falls in love with a classmate. With several other intertwining stories and characters, it is a must-see. There are several other well-played parts of the story by Colin Firth, Keira Knightley, and Rowan Atkinson. Like life itself, not all the stories have happy endings.

Love Actually movie posterAs always, the library has many of these available to check out. With our new hold pickup service, library staff want to help all of us get past what has been a challenging 2020 for many people. Our only goal is to help you get the movies, books, and music you love into your hands.

The Reference Team is here to help 10-5, Monday-Friday. Please give us a call at 715-839-5004, send an email to librarian@eauclaire.lib.wi.us, or contact us via our new chat window.

Merry Christmas, and Blessed New Year to all!

Holiday Nostalgia

With the turning of the calendar over to December, a trip to the grocery store and a certain Mariah Carey song reminds you of the fast approaching holidays. Although it can be hectic, it is one of my favorite times of the year. The music, the smells, the lights, they all sort of bring back a magic nostalgia I don’t get any other time of the year.

Easily one of the biggest and instant hits of nostalgia is felt whenever my favorite Christmas album, “A Charlie Brown Christmas“, comes on. I’m instantly whisked away to my childhood home helping my mom make Caramel Crispix Mix and listening to those Vince Guaraldi tunes on the CD player in the kitchen. I was also the official taste tester and my approval was very necessary to ensure only quality product was delivered. Or maybe I just couldn’t resist snacking.

A container of Cool Whip, on the other hand, brings a more cautionary nostalgia during this time of year. Because, just like Thanos, someone getting a finger covered in whipped cream to the face was always inevitable during dessert.

If you are seeking some more tunes, holiday recipes to tap into that magical feeling, or a film to put you in the mood, please check out this curated list of titles available in the MORE catalog. May you find some comfort and joy this holiday season.

Ode to an October Classic: The Pumpkin Smasher

Long, long ago, back in the October days of my youth, visits to my grade school library meant finding a secluded corner to hunker down with a stack of Halloween picture books and diving into illustrations of amazing autumn days and murky, monster-filled nights. I can’t really remember most of the book titles, just page after page of spooktacular images.

Except one. I do remember one book: The Pumpkin Smasher.

I count circling The Pumpkin Smasher on my Scholastic book order form as one of the very best decisions of my entire life. This book isn’t just my favorite Halloween book, it’s one of my favorite books, period.

The artwork? Fabulous. Smasher was written and illustrated by mixed media printmaker and handmade paper artist Anita Benarde, and published in 1972. I don’t know anything about Anita, but I’m confident history will recognize her as…just really awesome. The entire book is colored in only black and orange, with gorgeous illustrations of a small town called Cranberry.

Every year just before Halloween, someone (or something) appears in the dead of night to smash every pumpkin in Cranberry. The town almost cancels Halloween until some troublemaking twins take matters into their own hands.

© Anita Benarde

As an adult, you’ll get a strong ’60s or ’70s vibe from the book, which creates a much richer tone, as if the story, decades later, may have become a kind of urban legend.

Looking over the illustrations, I quickly realize how this book pretty much defined autumn and Halloween for me—it hardwired certain images into my head which became the gold standard for how this time of year is supposed to look. A creaky old wooden wagon stuffed with pumpkins and hay. Kids in warm coats climbing scraggly trees to hang up ghosts. A giant orange moon looming over a black town square.

Years ago, I tried to find my old copy of the book within the dusty boxes of childhood junk my parents keep in their basement. But it was gone. And it was also out of print. You could find used copies online, but they were pretty pricey. I wasn’t sure I’d ever see The Pumpkin Smasher again.

Until 2013. Because in the summer of 2013 the book was reissued (to much rejoicing), making it way more affordable (to much rejoicing). That year, my family surprised me with our very own copy (to much, much rejoicing).

So I beg you—go find a copy and make your autumn season that much better.


P.S. Our very own MORE catalog has a copy. (Thanks, Chetek!) There used to be more in circulation, including a handful of copies here in Eau Claire’s collection, but the quality of the reissue is unfortunately kind of flimsy, and it looks like most are gone.


 

Latinx at the Library

During this month and throughout the year, library staff are working to improve access and develop more inclusive and equitable collections. National Hispanic Heritage Month is September 15 through October 15 and I wanted to encourage folks to check out a book from one of the library’s Latinx booklists or a music title from the Latinx music list listed below.

Libraries need diversity in books and other library materials because they can expose us to the world and to people who are different from us. The Latinx lists bring together recent book titles concerning a Latinx experience from history, heritage, and accomplishments of Hispanic and Latino Americans of past and present. These selections are by or about the people, and shine a light on the rich cultural contributions we see in our modern lives. From memoirs to cooking to popular fiction, I sincerely hope you enjoy the range of topics and formats!

Books Worth Re-Reading

Have you found yourself in a reading slump? If yes, you are not alone. When the quarantine first began, I initially thought that I would get so much reading accomplished. I was looking forward to all the books I was going to finish. But guess what? It didn’t happen. After talking to a co-worker about my reading slump, she let me in on a secret. I wasn’t alone. Finding the right book can be comforting so why not return to an old favorite? Here are a few books that I enjoy reading again and again. Share your favorites in the comments below.

 

Friday, the Australian Shepherd Puppy

Puppy Love

It has been twenty-three weeks (yes, I am counting) since the state’s initial stay-at-home order. By day three, I wanted a puppy.

Now I know what you are thinking: “Ah, yes, yet another pandemic puppy,” and maybe you are right. But what better way to get through this pandemic than to bring home a lovable furball who is (mostly) oblivious to the high-stress environment surrounding her. Another creature to bring joy to our family; something to focus on other than the latest news and our lack of normalcy. And I’m not the only one! Four other staff members at LEPMPL have adopted puppies this summer!

In celebration of all these new library pups, here are some top picks from our catalog featuring some fabulous canines.

  1. Dog Man: Grime and Punishment by Dav Pilkey (Author, Illustrator) From the creator of “Captain Underpants” comes #9 in the “Dog Man” series, release date September 1, 2020, so place your hold today! What type of dog is dog man? A hound.
  2. Think Like a Dog (DVD) Oliver is a middle-school tech prodigy whose science fair experiment has a furry twist that gives him a telepathic connection to his dog, Henry. If you are wondering Cover Art of Where the Red Fern Growswhat kind of dog Henry is, he is a Labradoodle.
  3. Muzzled by David Rosenfelt Reluctant lawyer Andy Carpenter and his beloved golden retriever are back on the case in this 2020 release about a missing owner.
  4. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls A list of titles featuring dogs would be incomplete without this classic tale of a young boy and his adventures in the Ozarks with two redbone hounds.
  5. The Call of the Wild (DVD) If you want to see Harrison Ford take on the role of Jack London’s John Thornton, the final owner of Buck, a Saint Bernard/Scotch Collie mix, check out this 2020 title.

If your household has recently been blessed, (or the other, depending upon how sleep-deprived you are right now), and you are looking for some training guidelines, wondering why your puppy seems to have a witching hour at 7 p.m. every evening, or need some advice on crate training, check out this list of puppy training titles available in our system.

Happy training and enjoy those puppy snuggles!

Time Warp

Time is weird. Let’s just acknowledge that.

We experience the passing of time in odd and inconsistent ways and it shows in the way we describe it. Time flies, it crawls, it slips by, it stands still. Some months always seem to drag on (February, I’m looking at you) while others are gone in the blink of an eye (July, where’d you go?). Time seems to move slower when we’re stressed, bored, or sad and faster when we’re busy or happy. After all, time flies when you’re having fun and a watched pot never boils.

Here in 2020, time is even weirder than normal. Most of the routines, events, and traditions we use to mark time are either altered or completely gone (except bills, those are still like clockwork). The added stress combined with often monotonous days makes time slow and lethargic, but when we look back there are few stand-out events to show that time really is passing. As a result, most of us have noticed that our sense of time is a bit wonky. I sometimes struggle to remember not just the day of the week, but the month as well.

Maybe it’s the weird time dilation of this year (and maybe it’s the fact that I recently finished binging the second season of The Umbrella Academy), but I’ve recently gotten (back) into time travel fiction.

I was nine years old when I first encountered time travel in a book – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Harry and Hermione only travel a few hours back in time, but Merlin’s beard do they change a lot (somehow without actually changing anything at all). It was complex and mind-bending and I fell in love immediately.

Since then, I’ve read and watched all kinds of time travel books, movies, and shows. From classics like H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, to the quirky long-running BBC show Doctor Who, to blockbusters like Avengers: Endgame, there are so many different theories on what time travel would look like if it were actually possible.

Time travel has a lot of appeal. Since it’s not possible (that we know of), time travel stories are all about speculation. What do we think the world will be like in the future? What would the world be like now if we could change the past? What would the past look like from a modern perspective? Time travel offers not only an escape from our current reality but a way to imagine our reality differently or to view it in a different light.

So if you’re reminiscing about how things were last summer or worrying about how things will be in the future, I recommend escaping into a time travel story for a while. The world will still be here when you get back.

Getting Things Done

My summers are usually filled with lots of fun events. Normally, we go on a road trip (or two), attend music festivals, play on a volleyball league, and enjoy our time at the fairgrounds. Now suddenly, I find myself left with canceled events and lots of time on my hands.

You’d think that I would be super productive right now and have so many tasks checked off my list. Instead, I find myself struggling with picking up a book, getting to my organization projects at home, and finding the motivation to get on the treadmill.

I decided that enough was enough and that something needed to change. I’ve been wanting to read Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen for a while now. I finally picked up the audiobook and have found lots of inspiration on how to become more productive. My biggest takeaway so far has been to write EVERYTHING down. Allen describes your short-term memory like RAM (the main memory in most computers). If there are too many things that you are trying to remember, your brain will crash. Allen gives some great advice on how to process and organize all the “stuff” you are juggling. For a quick crash course from David Allen on GTD, check out this 20-minute Tedx talk from Claremont College.

 

Dare to Experiment

As the pandemic has kept me mostly confined to my workplaces and home, I’ve found I’ve had a lot more time to delve deep into the Internet. Specifically, I have become obsessed with three YouTube series, The Burger Show, Burger Scholar Sessions, and Strictly Dumpling. I spend my evenings with a video game on one computer screen and a video on the other. What I wasn’t planning was how much these channels would inspire me to try some new foods or cook some of the things I’ve seen.

The Burger Show and Burger Scholar Sessions showed me plenty of neat tricks to up my burger game, but my favorite has to be putting a pile of extremely thin sliced Vidalia onion strips on your burger patties before smashing them. It caramelizes the onions and enhances the taste of the patty itself all at the time! I used a vegetable peeler to get them to the right thinness. My next venture with burgers will probably be to try out the Memphis deep-fried burger!

As for Strictly Dumpling, I’d recommend not watching before bed unless you want to go to bed hungry or filled with regret from snacking. Mike Chen goes around the world trying all kinds of cool local eats. In my attempt to live a similar lifestyle, I recently ordered from a local Asian restaurant and only ordered things I had never had before. I was rewarded with everything being delicious!

However, there was one thing I saw in a couple of his videos that I couldn’t seem to find on menus around the area, and that was crispy pork belly. Queue early last week, I was at my local butcher shop and saw that they had pork belly with the skin on and I knew it was destiny. I went home and looked up a great recipe for Siu Yuk and I went and picked up all the other ingredients I needed. I was rewarded with a tantalizing dish that I can’t wait to make again!

Virtual Vacation

Summer is getting closer and COVID-19 projections and precautions have erased many of our typical summer plans. This is usually the time of year when spring fever eases, but this year it’s reaching new and unprecedented heights as the world buckles in for months and even years of recovery.

As someone who finds large crowds exhausting, I’m not usually a big event-goer. I won’t really miss things like music festivals and amusement parks (though I do enjoy some local events like concerts in the park). Instead, what I’m struggling with most is the inability to travel.

Most of my family lives in Minnesota about a 5-hour drive from Eau Claire, and it’s tough not knowing when I’ll be able to visit. I also just really enjoy going on vacations in the summer, whether it’s a relaxed day trip to a nearby destination, an epic road trip, or a long-distance journey requiring air travel.

At this time, the CDC, the U.S. Department of State, and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services all advise against any nonessential travel outside of your local community.  This makes sense to me. I understand how travelers can inadvertently bring the disease with them to their destination or carry it back when they return home. I think avoiding travel is sensible advice. That doesn’t make staying home any easier.

To curb our collective wanderlust, many destinations around the world have made virtual tours accessible online (and quite a few were already available). From home, you can explore famous museums, zoos, landmarks, and national parks.

Here’s a list of a few of my personal favorites:

Have you discovered any amazing virtual tours? Share them with us in the comments. Until we can travel safely: stay home, fellow wanderers, and stay safe.