The End

I love surprises. I like little surprises when children leave coloring pages and love letters on my desk. I like big surprises when I come home to my favorite dinner cooked by my husband. Of course, my favorite surprises are unpredictable ones. My husband and I found ourselves in a new address before the end of 2009. It was something that caught us by surprise as the year progressed.

As we find ourselves settling in to our new residence, we have entered into hibernation mode. It’s dark by the time we get home from work; we’re sleepy after a hearty meal; and we want to curl up with a good story in front of our new fireplace.

In the spirit of ending the year 2009 on a surprising note, I thought I’d share my favorite surprise ending stories:

I know you’ve probably already either seen or read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (J ROW or DVD SCI-FIC/FANT HAR SOR) but I think it’s fantastic enough to require a repeat reading. When Harry finds out the truth about Snape, I am still floored! I’ve read this series multiple times and watch as many movies as I can fit in every time I’m home sick. The ending still shocks me!

I bet some of you are really big into planning. All of my fellow librarians will tell you that I have my moments! But I bet none of you can compare to the protagonist in Lucky 7 (DVD COMEDY LUC). Amy’s life revolves around a timeline her mother created for her before she died. She follows the plan to a T and her seventh boyfriend will be “The One.” When her sixth boyfriend turns out to be Patrick Dempsey (a.k.a. McDreamy), she has to decide whether or not to abandon the timeline. You know who would get my vote! I think I’ll check this one out again while I wait for “Grey’s Anatomy” to return to the airwaves!

If you don’t know who Keyser Soze is, you have to checkout The Usual Suspects (DVD ACTION USU)! Kevin Spacey’s performance as a crippled witness to a crime is phenomenal and overshadows the acting skills of Gabriel Byrne and Chazz Palminteri.

M. Night Shyamalan’s films are always a (sometimes pleasant) surprise. The gifted child actors distract you from figuring out the unexpected plot twists. Enjoy Abigail Breslin’s first film role in Signs (DVD SCI-FIC/FANT SIG). Her character, although minor, plays a pivotal role in the film’s ending. It’s hard for me to look at Haley Joel Osment without hearing the eerie “I see dead people” whisper in my ear. Bruce Willis tries to keep up with him in The Sixth Sense (DVD MYS/SUSP SIX) as he plays a doctor trying to help him. (I can’t get anything past you…Donnie Wahlberg from the New Kids on the Block has a tiny role in The Sixth Sense. It’s probably the real reason I love this movie so much!)

With a star studded cast, the Ocean’s trilogy (DVD ACTION OCE) tops my list for best movie series. With the witty banter of George Clooney and Brad Pitt, and quirky humor of Matt Damon these movies are gems. Just when you think you figured the ending out, you’re wrong! Again, and again the ensemble fools you. I have to have a viewing of these at least once per winter!

What did I miss? What’s your favorite surprise ending story? Please share so I can add it to my winter list!

Lisa Shaia is the children’s librarian who will not be making any resolutions this year. She’d rather be surprised again next year.

How to Have a Relaxing Christmas

This Christmas I tried something new and pared down my to-do list!

My sister inspired me on Thanksgiving when she told me that she never sends out Christmas cards.  You would think I would have noticed whether my own beloved sister sent me a card, but probably because of the craziness of the holidays, I never noticed.  This got me thinking that people probably wouldn’t notice if I didn’t send them Christmas cards either. 

There are so many fun traditions surrounding the holidays that it’s hard to pick just a few.  This is where I went wrong in past years.  I tried to do them all and ended up stressed out and overwhelmed!  So I guess I’ve learned the best thing to do is just pick the ones you like the best and enjoy yourself.  Everyone else is so busy that they won’t notice the things you let slide.  🙂 

Here’s what I did and didn’t do this year.  I only did things that made me feel relaxed, happy & peaceful.  Isn’t that what the holidays are for anyway?


1.  Send out a mass mailing of Christmas cards.

2.  Bake huge amounts of treats to give away.

3.  Wander through store aisles listening to “Last Christmas I gave you my heart and the very next day you gave it away…” (worst holiday song ever, in my opinion!)

4.  Make a dish for every single holiday event.  I went to a Carol & Cookie Bake, but I didn’t bring a cookie dough to bake.  (Cutting calories too!)     


1.  Decorate a tree and put up a beautiful wreath that I got from the Litchfield Farmer’s Market for $10!

2.  Made egg nog & mulled apple cider for just me & my husband.

3.  Went to see the Nutcracker which I have seen every few years since I can remember.  I always see something new about life in it.  This is a peaceful and quiet thing to do–no words, just music and beautiful dancing. 

We have both a DVD and a CD of the Nutcracker here at OWL: 

The Nutcracker, a ballet in two acts.  DVD CUL NUT

Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.  CD CLASSICAL TCH

4.  Crocheted a sweater for my husband (shh!). 

5.  Bought 3 gifts:  A present for my niece, my nephew and my family’s secret santa.  My niece and nephew are 2 years old and I couldn’t have stopped myself if I tried!  😉

6.  Went to a reading of the Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson (J ROB).  This is a tradition in my family and my step-sister turned it into an event.  I got to listen to a nice story while I finished crocheting my husband’s sweater. 

7.  I enjoyed the snow, the icicles, the little birds huddled on a bush outside my window & the silence…

8.  And, of course, I will spend Christmas with my family eating a hearty meal and singing Christmas carols! 

Come to OWL (we’ll be open Sat the 26th and Sun the 27th!) and check out some peaceful winter/holiday items like these:

Seasons by Hal Borland 500.9 BOR:  The last section, Winter, is a reminder of how this season is good for the earth.  There are  some interesting photos of our beautiful Northwest CT.   

Tomie dePaola’s Book of Christmas Carols J783.6 D.  This has a nice assortment of simple Christmas Carols and fun pictures. 

Wildflowers & Winter Weeds and Weeds in Winter Both 582.12 BRO.  I like to bring some of the outdoor decorations inside. These are two interesting books on how to identify plants in their winter state.  We are lucky to be in New England where plants have 4 stages of beauty.

Animals in Winter J591.5.  A picture book of all our winter neighbors and what they are doing now.  Just a taste of what you might see if you take a winter walk! 

Please read Thoreau’s A Winter Walk in the book Excursions, 818 THO, a beautiful description of the silence and beauty of winter.

Jesse Lee Harmon is the bookkeeper/library assistant and promises she is really not a Grinch! 

Merry Christmas!!

Property Virgins- Litchfield Style

I love watching the Home and Garden Network. My family and I are often found glued to the channel all weekend long. There is something mesmerizing about reality tv, isn’t there? Thankfully we are mesmerized by the “normal stuff” and not the wild and crazy reality tv. Well– I am the odd man out when it comes to GhostHunters— my husband and daughters love that show.

But I digress-

Our favorite HGTV shows are Property Virgins and My First Place. Property Virgins takes viewers inside the world of house hunting through the eyes of first-time buyers. The series focuses on the roller-coaster journey of property virgins’ first foray into real estate, offering tell-it-like-it-is entertainment and practical take-home advice. The show, My First Place also follows a set of first-time buyers and their realtor along the stress-filled, yet exciting, search for the perfect home.*

This past summer we decided to do our own personal version of Property Virgins and start shopping around for our first home. To prepare, I checked out Nolo’s Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home.(643.12 BRA) This book was absolutely phenomenal in addressing everything we needed to know about purchasing our first abode. The book is filled with advice from lawyers, real estate agents and mortgage experts.It has fifteen chapters stuffed full of information and guidance tools as well as a cd with downloadable checklists as you embark on a very stressful but exciting adventure.

Off we went, armed with the wonderful Nolo guide, our preconceived conceptions from HGTV and a local real estate guru. As with all things in life– the television show was not “really” reality but it offered some comical thoughts in my head while we were shopping: not all houses come equiped with granite counter tops, new hard wood floors and a pool?? And they really do not haggle over the prices too much. And yes, you really can live with one bathroom or live without a master suite . Moral of the story: you can be entertained by television but you better arm yourself with the facts.

As we settle in, as “virgin” home buyers, we have required a few purchases of appliances and tools. My husband has been bitten by the home improvement bug . Hence, the recently acquired combo pack of re-chargeable super duper power tools. We were able to research at length our expenditures with OWL’s new online tool, Consumer Reports. One purchase it really helped us with was our new energy efficient washing machine. If your contract reads “appliances included”, it may be that they do not work when you go to use them even when they worked at the inspection(and the final walk thru).
Consumer Reports is also available in print form at the OWL.

We were very successful and are happily getting settled into our new home. Now I will be checking out many home improvement and maintenance books!

Browse the OWL  home improvement sections. You will find great books such as:

Sunset Tiling (698) Learn the basics of tiling, from showers to back spashes. I found the outdoor tiling chapter interesting.

Plumbing and Heating by Popular Mechanics (696.1 JAC) This handy book covers household emergencies and regular home improvements. Avoid costly plumber bills with this book to guide you along with your plumbing needs.
This book caught my eye as I was browsing as it has easy to read diagrams and how to visual guides:  How Things Work in Your Home(and what to do when they don’t) (643.7 TIM)

The House Always Wins by Marni Jameson(747 JAM)  Jameson guides the reader through the endless maze of choices and decisions every home owner faces with home improvements and design changes.

Get your list ready for the spring!

Please also take a look at the OWL’s great selection of Nolo Legal Guides for help.  Nolo helps to make the legal system accessible to everyone. They help individuals, businesses and nonprofits navigate through their various legal needs .

Nolo Quicken WillMakerPlus(346.73 WIL) Create a will and protect your property and assets.

For guidance with Family Law :
Look at  Nolo Building a Parenting Agreement That Works(346.73 LYS) and Nolo Divorce without Court(346.73 STO)

and of course, For  Real Estate look at the guides such as Nolo Foreclosure Survival Guide (346.73 ELI) and the  Nolo’s Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home.(643.12 BRA)

This post is authored by Audra, who is very happy to spending her first Christmas in her new home 🙂

* excerpt from

DIY Holiday

Tis the season to…buy gifts and spend lots of money? Well, maybe, but why not try a “home-made” approach to the holiday and winter season this year!? As the cold weather creeps upon us, I find myself turning to indoor activities, such as crocheting, to get me through the winter months. After the energy of summer and autumn days has left, it causes me to turn inward, not just in the sense of being indoors but also time for reflection and tranquility. Some of my favorite indoor winter pastimes include reading, crocheting, baking, watching movies and listening to music next to a warm fire. Some of the simple things you love to do could easily be turned into a gift for friends and family.   Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always cherished and been more excited over a hand-made gift from someone than I am from store-bought goods.    In Made From Scratch (640 WOG) by Jenna Woginrich, twenty-six year old Jenna takes us into the homemakers lifestyle chapter by chapter. Whether she is telling us about beekeeping, growing and making our own foods, or designing your own clothes she keeps the informative nature of the story alive with her wit and humor. She offers some great resources and places where you can find information if you want to start a homemaking life yourself–which, according to Jenna isn’t all that hard if you’ve learned some of the basics!

Here are some gift ideas that are simple, fun and cost efficient:

Crocheting-A nice warm scarf, hat or gloves or even something even more advanced like a sweater or skirt would make a lovely, not to mention impressive, gift for someone this holiday. Even if you are just beginning, a simple scarf would not only be a great gift but you can add to the gift card that he/she is the recipient of your first project! For some ideas, check out  Hip to Crochet (746.434 SWA) or Crochet in No Time ( 746.434 GRI) from our knitting/crocheting collection. If you enjoy sewing, Crafy Chica’s Guide to Artful Sewing has tons of bright, colorful and innovative projects.

Food: Baked Goods/Canning-Mmmmm, who doesn’t love receiving a home-made gingerbread, holiday cookies, or some canned preserves from the garden?! Baking and canning is an age-old tradition that has somewhat gotten away from our society with all the boxed and microwaveable “food.” I love to look through my grandma’s collection of cookbooks, old and new, and find something different to surprise people with. Since I’m on a budget this Christmas, many of my friends will be receiving tasty treats, created by my hands, wrapped up on a plate with a nice bow rather than something store-bought. (Hope they like it!) OWL has an expansive collection of cookbooks to browse through, starting in section 641.  To get you started on home-made preserves try the Complete Guide to Home Canning and Preserving (641.42 U.S.) or Canning and Preserving Without Sugar (641.42 MAC). The nice part about canning is you can place a bow or sticker on top of the jar and it has its own cute packaging that is reusable later!

Jewelry/Accessories: I like to make simple bead bracelet’s strung on hemp string. It’s inexpensive and fun, especially picking out the beads. If you like to and have the patience for more detailed projects, The Complete Encyclopedia of Crafts (745.5  COM) has some great jewelry projects, as well as many others including pinch pots and simple quilts.

Spa Inspired-With some simple ingredients that you probably have at home, you can make a lovely body cream or bubbly bath for someone special! One of my favorite facial masks is Yogurt and Oatmeal with a touch of honey–it makes your skin so soft and smooth, and those two ingredients are always in stock at my house. Face Cream, Hair Rinses, and Body Lotions: Recipes for Natural Beauty 668.55 (FAR) is a fabulous book loaded with all kinds of body pampering recipes. It even includes a chapter on gift wrapping and storing techniques.

Ornaments and Decorations: Ornaments and decorations can be made from basic household items and from things found in nature, like pine cones and red berries. Simply Handmade: 365 Easy Projects for Every Occasion (745.59 SIM) contains an abundance of fun ideas, not only pertaining to the winter holidays. I like the “singing star ornaments” (made from old sheet music) and  the “glorious gift bags” made from any kind of fabric (they recommend sheer or satin though). Try making your own wrapping paper this year by using a brown paper bag decorated with stamps, glitter or your own design…or recycle a magazine or comics page that already has color and design.

A fun website to browse on living the old fashioned way:

These are just some small ideas to get you started…there is so much that you can do with a little creativity, patience and time. The possibilities are endless. Start with a book from OWL’s collection and then add your own magic touch for a special holiday gift this year.

Gentleman Snowman by Tracey RiedelSarai is the Publicity Coordinator/Library Assistant and is planning on baking some whole grain gingerbread on this blustery, winter day!

You’re Invited

One of my New Year Resolutions is to have more parties and social gatherings. Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, cell phones… do they alone help us feel closer to each other or do they add clutter to our lives? Perhaps, as we all access these innovative ways to communicate and enhance our lives, we’ll crave even more those special face-to-face gatherings that parties provide. I know that I do, and I’m going to do something about it. To learn the ins and outs of putting on a great party, my first step was checking out OWL’s collection to get advice and ideas. So let’s get entertaining!

Kimberly Kennedy in her book, The Art and Craft of Entertaining, reminds us that parties are “about pleasure not perfection”. She advises the party-planner to not worry about being perfect or having a spotless house or the perfect decor. The point is for everyone to have a wonderful time enjoying each others’ company and in creating a memorable evening. As a hostess, she tells us to relax, have fun, and always be gracious. In her book, she provides a plethora of excellent advice and tips for entertaining. She first considers style by noting that, “Style is about expression, not imitation, and it’s not the same as fashion”. Once we have a sense of our style, this will guide us in how we develop our party plan. She recommends keeping a party planning journal where you jot down idea over time and then use it when it’s party planning time. Kennedy’s book is full of excellent tips and ideas from planning lists, seasonal flower choices, party favors to designing your own invitations. An excellent guide!

In The Party Planner by David Tutera, he provides especially helpful information on the atmosphere of the event. Tutera gives several examples of different parties including cocktail, formal dinner, outdoor, and holiday parties. For each selection, he divides party planning into five sections: the look, the scent, the touch, the taste, and the sound. He then ends each selection with a few additional helpful hints and tips. Tutera’s book expertly guides you to elegant entertaining and decor at its best.

If decorating the house and crafting special invitations sounds too daunting for you, don’t despair! Check out Block Parties and Poker Nights by Peggy Allen. Allen gives tips, lots of simple recipes, and excellent ideas for block parties, welcome gifts, poker and other game nights, and more. All of her advice is casual with little fuss. No decorating or special invitations required!

At Home with Michael Chiarello is predominately a cookbook but there are a couple pages of quick tips for entertaining at the end of the book. Chiarello advises us on our dining area, kitchen needs and equipment, cleaning tips and solutions, recipe scaling, and wine basics. His advice on scaling recipes for larger or smaller crowds is especially helpful.

Even if my husband and I aren’t entertaining guests, I still take delight in making our dinners special because there is nothing more important than the “social gathering” of your family! I particularly enjoyed browsing East Meets West Table Setting by Kuwako Takahashi. This enchanting book offers both elaborate as well as simple ideas for setting your table with style and beauty. Takahashi says that setting the table is “like choosing a dress for my food… it is a visual treat that embraces the guest the minute they enter the room”. Even if you don’t replicate her exact pairings, I felt Takahashi provided many beautiful and delightful concepts and ideas. The decorations were often simple household items that Takahashi made elegant and appealing like using autumn leaves or setting a table for two by the fireplace. Gorgeously illustrated, I hope you have as much fun looking at and being inspired by this book as I did.

Tablescapes: Setting the Table with Style by Kimberly Schlegel Whitman is a book for sophisticated dining. If you are an experienced party-planner and the idea of decorating for a dinner party of 100 sounds fun (rather than something that seems completely unimaginable) then this book is for you. This is essentially haute couture table setting! Not for the beginner.

If you’re ready to take entertaining to the next level, then check out A Guide to Napkin Folding by James Giner. Giner presents with clear instructions, graphs and photographs forty different napkin designs! Who would have imagined that there was forty different ways to fold a napkin? I’m not sure I’m ready for this but there was a fascinating history of napkin folding. Apparently napkin folding dates back to the 15th century!

For the person with creative skills, sending hand-made cards makes your party invitations particularly unique. For help with ideas for card-making, check out Artful Cards: 60 Fresh and Fabulous Designs by Katherine Duncan Aimone or Ultimate Cardmaking by Sarah Beaman. On the flip side, if you are a guest to a dinner party, a hand-made thank you note would be a thoughtful touch.

…and if you’re not sure about the menu, don’t forget that OWL has a marvelous collection of cookbooks including books specifically about party drinks, desserts, vegetarian, and more found in the 640’s.

So, turn off the computer and go call some friends over for coffee and dessert or afternoon tea or brunch or….

~Ann Marie

Ann Marie is the Library Director of the Oliver Wolcott Library.