Thursday, December 30, 2010

Laugh Yourself Thin!

Share of hands: Who has ever made a resolution to lose weight (and with it find more happiness) in the new year? You can join a diet program, start going to the gym three times a week, cut carbs... The list of options is endless. Or, you can laugh!

Melanie W. Rotenberg's new book Laugh Yourself Thin: Making Happiness, Fun, and Pleasure the Keys to Permanent Weight Loss teaches you how to do just that! This accessible, entertaining, and humorous book describes scientifically proven methods that will help people have fun while permanently losing weight.

Here is an excerpt from Chapter One to help inspire and motivate you to just laugh it off and be happy in the new year!

Turn Your Head and Laugh: Happiness, Joy, and Pleasure in the Pursuit of Weight Loss

Laughter is the key to weight loss. Well, really, it’s those things that cause laughter, like happiness, fun, and pleasure. But we can use laughter as a good gauge of how happy and content we are. Stress, negative emotions, and misguided thought patterns are a leading cause of obesity.

Yet diet books almost never address an overweight person’s mental state or level of joy. They might have pages of dietary restrictions and recipes, but rarely is there more than perfunctory prose on relieving negative emotions. There might be a chapter or two on exercise, but nowhere is there a description of the cardiovascular benefits of a good pillow fight.

And we all need a good pillow fight on a regular basis. The way to lose weight and to keep it off permanently is to lower stress, depression, and other negative emotions through positive thinking, humor, fun, and lots of laughter. A lighter approach to life leads to a lighter waist line.

A recent study by Dr. Mark Wilson at Emory University brings home this point. He offered unlimited nutritious food to two groups of monkeys, high-status, contented, happy ones and their miserable, stressedout, low-status subordinates. All the monkeys ate about the same number of calories. However, when Dr. Wilson substituted high-fat and sugary junk food pellets in unlimited supply, the high-status monkeys ate about the same calories as previously, but their stressed-out brethren couldn’t stop munching. Those miserable primates continued to eat the junk food all day long and well after sundown, similar to human snackfood grazers. The researcher concluded that eating high-calorie foods is a common coping mechanism to deal with daily life stressors, even in those who don’t have a cranky boss, prolonged commute, or nasty mother-in-law.


Concentrate on losing weight for the joy of feeling and looking better, rather than because of the fear of illness or the fear of being lonely. Toss guilt, fear, and shame (the three most common emotions in dieting) out the window, and embrace joy, compassion, and contentment as part of your new attitude about weight loss. Learn to accept and like yourself as you are right now. Understand that you are not perfect and are a “work in progress.” We all are. Do not become defeated by lapses in judgment while you are on your weight-loss journey. Don’t go there. If you learn to like yourself right now, even with imperfections, this will lead to greater happiness and better follow-through with weight-loss behaviors.

Eliminate self-criticism. Overweight people contribute to their negative emotions by being very harsh on themselves. In the business world, it has been demonstrated that an uplifting management style is a much more eff ective way to change behavior permanently than a negative one. Concentrate on positive feedback when things are going right, and leave it at that.

Successful permanent weight loss occurs through laughter and happiness. Develop joy through positive physical and social activity. Happy people are busy, unself-conscious, productive, fulfilled, and realistic in setting goals. Accept mistakes. Forge close, loving relationships, and focus on the positive. Then watch how easy it is to slim down forever.


10 important things to remember from Laugh Yourself Thin:
  • Weight loss should be approached as painless. Eating is pleasurable. Having fun and laughter around meals and playing with food are important. Additionally, exercise and activity are not burdensome but invigorating. If you want to get skinny for the long term, it’s time to embrace laughter, compassion, and contentment and abandon anger, cynicism, and pressure.
  • I believe eliminating stress is one of the keys to permanent weight loss. You can be very busy and not be stressed. They are not the same thing. Indeed, having too little meaningful work to do results in boredom, which is a pervasive but often overlooked cause of stress.
  • Learn more about yourself by carefully studying your reactions to everyday events. Start examining what really makes you happy and what turns you off . Gravitate toward those things that really give you pleasure, and don’t worry about what others may expect of you.
  • While you are examining what brings you more joy and less stress, think about things like walking, biking, singing, dancing, meditating, music, and sounds of the beach or the woods. I’m always surprised how few people I see outside enjoying nature and using their muscles. Exercise is an antidepressant and works as well or better than medications, so not only will it help you to lose weight, it will also relieve stress and improve mood.
  • Make a point to have fun around meals, with lots of laughter. ... What’s wrong with playing with your food? Try doing this with a straight face: put black olives on all your fingers, then eat the rest of your meal. You’ll be laughing so hard, you might forget to clean your plate.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask yourself daily, “What is my passion? What is my purpose, and what gives meaning to my life?” Answer carefully, always keeping an open mind. A happy life is driven by meaning and purpose. The best, easiest stress-reducing activity that also lowers blood pressure and improves daily coping skills is physical touch. This includes hugs and cuddling.
  • If you take a drink when you get home from work and then a couple more before you can face the kids or the spouse and make dinner, is that the best way to treat your body and your mind? What would benefit you both physically and spiritually and be better for you and your family? How about stopping for yoga class on the way home, walking in the park on the good weather days, meditating for 15 minutes in pure silence before the gang gets home, or dropping that extra project at work that’s been causing you all those extra hours?
  • Think of a list of easy, stress relieving good-for-you activities. These can be as simple as taking a walk, getting into nature, listening to calming music, or having game night with the family. They might include reading a joke book, calling a supportive family member, or sharing time with friends. These do not need to be time-demanding activities but should be included every day in your schedule. Add more active things to do, not because you have to but because you want to.
  • It is unnecessary to spend large quantities of money to be healthy. The most precious gift that you can give yourself, the gift of excellent health, should not be expensive.
  • Another very important way to bring more positive emotion into your life is to give more of yourself to others, but not in a stressful way. Make a positive difference through volunteering, giving, and showing compassion. Donating time and money is not only emotionally rewarding, it’s been shown to increase immune function!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Win a Free Book!

Yesterday we brought you an excerpt from Gini Graham Scott's brand-new book: The Very Next New Thing: Commentaries on the Latest Developments That Will Be Changing Your Life. The excerpt was from "Chapter 8: The Plane Truth" and commented on living "green" and the popularity of sustainable building--which reached new heights in 2010. 

Other topics in this fascinating collection include: Advances in Medicine; Animal Behavior; Animal Hybrids; Arts, The; Breakthroughs in Space; Changes in the Business Environment; Changing Lifestyles; Entertainment; Forensics; Genome Sequencing; Healthcare Technology; Human Behavior; Love, Marriage, and Family; New Developments in High-Tech; New Products and Services; Popular Culture; and Scientific Breakthroughs.

CONTEST: We want to hear from you! What was the most important, interesting, or significant event or product of 2010? It could be anything from the iPad to President Obama's visit to Indonesia to the WikiLeaks controversy. Tell us what you think and, most important, WHY it's significant, and you will be entered to win a free copy of Scott's The Very Next New Thing and one copy of a book of your choice from the ABC-CLIO website. Email your submission to by Midnight, January 2. Good luck and Happy New Year!

Rules: Submissions must be in by 12:00 a.m. January 2, 2011. The book of your choosing must be a single volume title. The winner will be notified the week of January 3rd.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Green Living - The Very Next New Thing


Now the green movement is literally taking flight with the first “green” or environmentally friendly house that has been made from a retired 747 jet in Malibu, California. The trend to building green has been gathering steam, as more new homes are built with solar panels, sustainable lumber, energy-efficient devices, and other elements of eco-friendly homes. This house made of from recycled airliner parts is drawing attention to this growing trend.

Talk of this jet-style home has been all over the news—from TV news broadcasts to Internet news feeds. As described in one of these articles from the Times Union,  the house is being built for Francie Rehwald by David Hertz and his architectural firm, Studio of Environmental Architecture, based in Santa Monica. A photo of the house shows it nestled under two large wings which measure about 5,500 square feet that form the roof. The rest of the house includes every other part of the plane. For example, a piece of fuselage is used to create an art studio; part of the tail is being turned into a viewing platform overlooking the Pacific; the first-class lounge is being turned into a guest house; and the nose cone is becoming a center for meditation. In fact, the architectural design calls for every part of the plane to be used in the building.

The project got started when Rehwald, an environmentalist and art lover, decided on a house that combined her love of recycling, green houses, contemporary architecture, nature, and the natural environment. She approached Hertz and his company, widely known in the building industry for “building ‘green’ houses out of recycled and natural materials.” After she found the old 747 in an airplane junkyard in the Mojave Desert, she purchased it for $35,000. Then she had to go through a bureaucratic and logistical nightmare to get the house made—she had to get approvals from 17 government agencies and hire a helicopter at $10,000 an hour to fly in the huge 125-foot wing sections to her property in the Malibu hills. Fortunately, her neighbors approved and even loved the concept. Once Rehwald moves in, probably by early 2011, undoubtedly, the press will be out in force to cover the unusual living arrangements.

I was especially intrigued by this story, because it highlights the growing interest in green living, which is not only reflected in new eco-friendly cars, healthier eating and diets, more interest in exercise and fitness, a rise in urban gardening, and a decline in smoking, but in living in green homes, too. Hertz and his architectural firm have designed dozens of such places for customers featured on his Web site, and dozens of Web sites now feature green homes.

For example, the Web site lists such homes for sale all over the country, such as an elegant solar-powered adobe home plus studio near Santa Fe, New Mexico, and an extremely energy efficient, net-zero energy house with passive and active solar systems. The Environmental House Energy and Green Building Resource Center ( offers home energy audits, tours of its facility, and consulting on various programs, techniques, and projects. 

Another site,, with the ABC standing for architecture, building, and culture (, provides green home plans, a link to green homes for sale, a directory of environmental and green building projects, and links to Internet resources for “sustainable development, green building, and environmental communities.” Environmental House Plan ( offers building plans and blueprints for an energy-effi cient, environmentally friendly home powered by solar panels. 

Thus, a growing market is developing for eco-friendly, energy-efficient homes, and, as the 747 house illustrates, more and more of these homes might be made from recycled materials, which might be an especially important trend, as resources dwindle due to the population explosion, climate change, and other factors. Perhaps other people may be inspired by Rehwald ’ s example to want to live in a home made from a recycled plane.

There are many other possibilities for recycling, too. For instance, consider all of the junked autos left in junkyards or abandoned on city streets. Maybe the materials from these could be salvaged and used in homes. Another source of materials might be long-closed warehouses. Or maybe the factories of manufacturing companies that go bankrupt might have materials that can be used in homes. Still another possibility would be old mineshafts—possibly some of the structures left in the Earth might find another use above ground.

Perhaps builders and architects might scour the local dumps for possible materials to use. At one time, the San Francisco dump had a resident artist who used found objects from the dump to make art that was later exhibited and sold. Maybe artists and architects might apply to local dumps that don’t currently have an artist in residence to establish such a program; such art might be especially appealing to the clients buying these eco-friendly homes. In fact, maybe art galleries or Web sites will spring up devoted to such art. I’ve seen occasional shows in the San Francisco Bay Area featuring artists working with such materials. As more and more people live in homes created from recycled materials, there is apt to be a growing market for recycled art.


Check back tomorrow for an ABC-CLIO end-of-the-year contest, and you could win a free copy of Gini Graham Scott's new book, as well as one book of your choice from the ABC-CLIO catalog.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Into the 21st Century

To a large extent, Christmas is what Kris Kringle, in Miracle on 34th Street, called “a state of mind.” It is a broadly inclusive notion that expanded throughout the twentieth century in tandem with commerce and continues into the twenty-first. The combination has allowed Christmas to maintain a prominent place on the American calendar. At the same time, its ambiguous meanings and uses within the culture continue to render it vulnerable to ongoing reinterpretations and borrowings—the same processes that generated the domestic form of the holiday as it emerged in the antebellum years. Changes in concepts of private and public, a declining portion of the population claiming to be Christian, a rise in multiculturalism as a national value, and the significant expansion of consumer-driven economies in previously more traditional cultures outside America, have changed the holiday in subtle but important ways.

For example, changes to Christmas have resulted from greater American emphasis on cultural diversity. In the 1960s and 1970s, minority groups increasingly claimed rights to celebrate their own beliefs, sometimes in place of Christmas and sometimes alongside. Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, a traditional but minor Jewish holiday, took on a higher profile after the founding of Israel in 1948. In the United States, its observance has continued to increase, providing both a symbol of Jewish identity and, since the eight-day festival usually occurs in December and has developed a gift-giving component, a counterweight to Christmas. Kwanzaa, another December holiday, celebrates African American and pan-African unity. American Maulana Karenga created the seven-day celebration of “traditional African values of family, community responsibility, commerce, and self-improvement” in 1966, as an expression of black consciousness. Kwanzaa has since spread throughout the world; an estimated 18 million now annually affirm its Seven Guiding Principles. These are but two examples of ways in which the keeping of Christmas has come to share, rather than claim with near exclusivity, in the expression of American identity.

This widened sense of the holiday season comports with demographic trends and a series of Christmas-related church-and-state legal opinions. Between 1990 and 2001, the proportion of the population classified “Christian” dropped from 86 percent to 77 percent, while “none of the above” has grown significantly. This changing religious demography has been reflected in an increased sensitivity to Christmas displays in public places. Some claim that a Nativity Scene, a school choir singing “Silent Night,” or, most recently, a store employee greeting a customer with “Merry Christmas” conflicts with personal beliefs and practices of non-Christians and nonobservers. The heightened tension has resulted in a number of lawsuits concerning the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, some of which have ascended to the Supreme Court. Yet courts have not set a clear standard. At most, the Court seems to have put a “stronger emphasis on the context in which Christmas symbols are placed than on the symbols themselves.” The implication is that a single crèche in a city park may be unconstitutional, but if “plastic reindeer,” Santa, and other secular symbols are displayed with it, the scene transforms from religious to a secular tableau and will probably be allowed.

The evolving pluralism of the American holiday season, replete with the most enduring of popular Christmas artifacts and symbols, has taken on an international dimension. Some regard this as a specimen of cultural imperialism or the result of the globalization of the marketplace. Following World War II, for instance, as occupied Japan became a trading partner with the Western world, it began to adopt a secular version of Christmas. Holiday lights and gifts began to appear side by side with eastern traditions and belief but seemingly offered little real religious or cultural competition. In fact, American-type Christmas celebrations may be characteristic of nations as they modernize trade and seek new and wider domestic markets. In most cases, Santa Claus, a god of materialism, reigns, but as important, each nation’s dominant culture adjusts its new holiday to its own ways. For example, secular Christmas images have begun to appear seasonally in China’s big city stores, but within the context of Chinese life, holly and Santa take on a slightly altered meaning and look. The same can be said of the holiday as it emerges in other lands. A recent television image showed Iraqi street hawkers wearing Santa hats. The red and white hats evoked Christmas, but not precisely the Christmas that Americans know.

At each turn, the expansion of Christmas has raised questions about its profanation, secularization, and commercialization. While some groups periodically fight to “put Christ back in Christmas,” others stress its more pluralistic values of peace on earth and good will toward all. Perhaps it is this very tension that keeps the holiday woven tightly into the fabric of American culture.


By Len Travers
Greenwood, 2006

Did you know the Puritans did not celebrate Christmas? Or that trick or treating on Halloween began in the late 1930s?  Every holiday has a history, and this book sets out to tell it.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A History of the Christmas Tree


Just as Santa’s visit and opening gifts marked the moment of the Christmas holiday, the Christmas tree demarcated the span and locale of the celebration. The tantalizing array of trinkets, toys, and mementos tied to its branches, and weightier treasures stowed beneath an imposingly decorated tree, created a powerful icon of the emerging American Christmas. The first accounts of a Christmas tree, a vestige of the evergreens Romans used at winter to symbolize regeneration, date to the German Reformation, after which the practice spread northward to Scandinavia. In England, Prince Albert, a German, made a gift of a small Christmas tree to his wife Queen Victoria in the mid-nineteenth century, reputedly marking the tree’s first appearance in England. The custom spread easily and quickly in America. Charles Haswell remembered that as a teen in the 1830s he braved “a very stormy and wet night” to go to Brooklyn, where a number of immigrant German families had settled, to see their “custom of dressing a ‘Christmas Tree.’”

Harriet Martineau had predicted the popularity of Christmas trees as early as 1832, when she noted that she had “little doubt” they would “become one of the most flourishing exotics of New England.” An affluent urban class, which had grown fond of traveling, delighted in the Christmas trees they saw in Europe. Anna and George Ticknor toured Germany in 1835, where on Christmas Eve they had been dazzled by an evergreen alight with candles, the first they had seen. Two years later, they held a party at their home in Boston. Mrs. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who attended, wrote in her diary that the Ticknors had “a beautiful Christmas tree decorated with presents from one relation to another.” It was the first she had seen and she “was as much excited as the children when the folding doors opened and the pyramid of lights sparkled from the dark boughs of a lofty pine.”

Before long, small Christmas tree markets began to spring up in town squares. Sunday schools (and only later, often with protest, churches proper) began to set up Christmas trees and hand out candies to children. Magazines and books, increasingly available, also familiarized Americans with details of Christmas trees and the rituals attending them. In 1851, when her “children had such a number of gifts,” Mahala Eggleston, who lived on Learmont Plantation near Vicksburg, “made a Christmas tree for them.” She had learned about them “from some of the German stories” she had been reading. “Mother, Aunt and Liz came down to see it; all said it was something new to them,” she wrote in her diary. Godey ’ s Lady’s Book especially helped define the tree’s place in the American home Christmas. In 1850, it published in its December issue the first widely circulated picture of an small evergreen, decorated and atop a table, surrounded by a family.

The reasons for the tree’s popularity were not hard to discern. Candies, toys, and candles transformed it into a fanciful vision of delight that dispelled the gloom of winter. At the same time, it expressed perfectly the age’s romanticism that made nature a metaphor for moral ideals. The tree’s symmetry and perpetual green when all outside was barren reflected beauty, order, and life in God-created nature. Its impressive presence in the parlor attested to the importance of the home Christmas holiday, creating a proper setting for secular, domestic, and even sacred holiday rituals.

This was especially so in the industrializing North. Yet the new aspects of the holiday—Santa’s visits, a tree in the parlor, gifts wrapped in paper and string—were beginning to overlay southern traditions also. The conclusion of the Civil War hastened the expansion of this new Christmas tableau. Christmas possessed potent resources for grappling with issues of absence, discord, misunderstanding, forgiveness, and regeneration. It beckoned men and women past earthly travail into an idealized domestic haven that was neither particularly northern nor southern in its origins or biases. Moreover, it created a way of creating common bonds and traditions to bind the nation together. “In a day of general change,” the editor of Harper’s wrote, “we sigh for conservative elements and wonder how we may more closely attach the country to its best hopes and traditions.”


By Len Travers
Greenwood, 2006

Did you know the Puritans did not celebrate Christmas? Or that trick or treating on Halloween began in the late 1930s?  Every holiday has a history, and this book sets out to tell it.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Facts

Here are some interesting things you might not know about Christmas:

• Christmas is celebrated every December 25 and was declared a national holiday in 1870.

• Jesus’s exact date of birth is mentioned nowhere in the Bible, nor is there any other reliable evidence when he was born.

• The Roman Catholic Church declared December 25 as the Feast of the Nativity in the third century C.E. ; the first known Feast was held in 336 C.E.

• The Feast of the Nativity was created to counter popular Roman pagan winter solstice celebrations.

• In Norman England the Feast of the Nativity was marked by feasting, gambling, dancing, and games—activities frowned upon at other times of the year.

• Calvinist Puritans and Cromwell’s Puritan Commonwealth condemned Christmas in the mid-1600s as a Popish holiday. Older, bawdier customs persisted nonetheless.

• English colonists brought Christmas customs with them to the New World in the early seventeenth century.

• The Massachusetts Bay General Court banned the keeping of Christmas in 1659. King James II forced the Court to lift the ban in 1681.

• Christmastime rowdiness peaked in the early nineteenth century when packs of mischief-making young men would wander city streets, drinking and fighting, banging and blowing on homemade instruments, and enter the homes of the elite for food and drink.

• By the mid-1800s an emerging middle class popularized new Christmas customs, including Santa Claus, the family dinner, and decorated trees, which domesticated the holiday and resolved complicated interrelationships between faith, market, community, and family.

• Santa Claus was popularized by Clement Clarke Moore, whose 1822 poem “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” was reprinted in newspapers around Christmastime.

• The custom of keeping a decorated evergreen tree in the household during Christmastime arrived in America via Germany and the Nordic countries around the mid-1800s.

• Sending Christmas cards became popular in the late 1800s after German immigrant Charles Prang perfected multicolor lithography.

• Santa’s credibility as an American folk hero depends on his role as a highly successful manufacturer and distributor of toys, placing him in the pantheon of America’s captains of industry.

• New York City was the fi rst to erect a Christmas tree in a public square, in 1912. In 1923 President Calvin Coolidge began the tradition of an annual National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony.

• In 1939, Montgomery Ward distributed free to its customers nearly two and a half million copies of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, a story written by its ad department.

• In 1998, Americans spent more than $160 billion on presents, about $700 per person.


By Len Travers
Greenwood, 2006

Did you know the Puritans did not celebrate Christmas? Or that trick or treating on Halloween began in the late 1930s?  Every holiday has a history, and this book sets out to tell it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Kwanzaa: A Brief Overview

For many people throughout the world, the month of December is focused around the celebration of Christmas. Others celebrate Hanukkah. Another observance also takes place during the seven days from December 26 to January 1. Established in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, Kwanzaa is an African American celebration that focuses on culture, community, and family.

Karenga's Idea: Sprung from the Ashes

Karenga, currently a Black studies professor at California State University, Long Beach, founded Kwanzaa to be a nonreligious observance to encourage African Americans to connect with their African heritage and its traditions and to strengthen and deepen the bonds of family and community.

A defining moment in Karenga's founding of the Kwanzaa holiday was the Watts riots on August 11, 1965. The riot that broke out in an African American ghetto of South Central Los Angeles shocked the country; for many, it marked the first time the depth of African American anger toward social injustice became palpable. Further, its extent and ferocity swept across the country into other riots like the Chicago Race Riot of 1966. It was those events that convinced Karenga that a malaise had taken hold of black culture and that the rootlessness could be solved only by reconnecting African Americans with the African traditions lost since the transatlantic slave trade. He formed a movement called US (in opposition to "them") to promote black pride, and a year later, he established the cultural holiday that became Kwanzaa.

The word kwanza means "first" in the Pan-African language of Swahili and is a reference to the traditional African harvest ("first fruits") celebrations that date as far back as ancient Egypt. Because seven children wanted to represent the celebration in its earliest days, Karenga added the final "a" so the name would have seven letters. Seven also became an important number in the holiday's ideals: during the seven-day celebration, seven principles, known by the Swahili phrase Nguzo Saba, are emphasized. Those principles include umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity), and imani (faith).

"I created Kwanzaa in the context of the black freedom movement," Karenga said later in an Ebony magazine interview. "We wanted to speak our own cultural truth to the world." Kwanzaa, he explained, reaffirms "our rootedness in Africa. It's stepping back to black! That was a strong push in the 1960s, getting back to roots."

Kwanzaa Controversy

In the more than four decades it has been celebrated, Kwanzaa has been the source of some great controversy, which primarily revolves around its meaning and its participants. While Kwanzaa was established to refocus thought on community and cultural values (rather than material gift giving), concerns about its overcommercialization have long been a topic of debate among those who celebrate Kwanzaa.

Especially since the 1990s, when Kwanzaa's popularity soared within the African American community, books about Kwanzaa have abounded, as have Web sites that feature Kwanzaa items for sale. Many retail stores throughout the United States prepare Kwanzaa displays for the holidays in an attempt to "mine" the Kwanzaa market. Since one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa is cooperative economics—meaning, in part, support within the African American community for African American businesses and products—the apparent "co-opting" of Kwanzaa by white-owned businesses has been particularly criticized.

The Spread of Kwanzaa

In the years after the holiday was established, Karenga traveled around the United States to promote the celebration of the holiday to African Americans. He was joined by Amiri Baraka, who promoted Kwanzaa at meetings of the Congress of African Peoples. Over the years, Kwanzaa has spread to various Caribbean nations and other countries by individuals of African descent as well as to millions of Africans throughout the diaspora. People in such diverse nation-states as Canada, the United Kingdom, India, and Turkey now observe Kwanzaa, and by the end of the 20th century, an estimated 15-20 million people in various countries celebrated the holiday.

Though it has expanded and changed throughout the years, Kwanzaa has remained focused on the remembrance of black heritage and civil rights.

"Kwanzaa: From Civil Rights to Spiritual Rites: Background." The American Mosaic: The African American Experience. ABC-CLIO, 2010. Web. 15 Dec. 2010.

For more information on Kwanzaa check out the African American Experience database.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Storied Dishes: Ruth's Holiday Cranberry Bread

Dayna D. Fernandez Wenzel

Most people who celebrate Christmas have fond childhood memories of the holiday season, such as the anticipation of St. Nick coming down the chimney, depositing stacks of presents to be torn into on that special pajama-clad morning. I, however, think of cranberries.

Every December, our homey little kitchen in Los Angeles would transform into a magical production line of holiday candy and treats. Except for the annual homemade birthday cakes or homemade pie for the school carnival, we did not have sweets. As a sugar-deprived kid, I did not appreciate what a huge favor my parents were doing me. As a result, I grew up with no sweet tooth at all! I am sure to this day that I am the only woman on the planet who doesn’t eat chocolate because its sweetness “burns my mouth.”

But back to the cranberries.

The highlight of our holiday baking was my late mother’s cranberry bread. We would bake for days. It seemed like hundreds of loaves were produced, although I am sure it was more like a dozen. After cooling, wewould carefully wrap each in plastic, followed by festive gift paper, fi nished with a pretty bow. Most of these precious loaves were given only to our closest friends and family, and maybe a favorite teacher. We savored the few that were rationed for our family.

The recipients always had the same reaction–“Love it! Very unusual! May I have the recipe please?” The question was politely deflected or ignored. No recipe was ever provided.

Once I grew up and moved away, I always looked forward to coming home for the holidays. I had only one menu request–cranberry bread. It didn’t matter what else was going to be served, who cared? Just have that bread ready, please. And a couple of loaves to bring home on the plane. Cranberry handling is not as easy as it might sound. It involves three steps: careful washing by hand, followed by careful de-stemming by hand (although Ocean Spray does a pretty good job), and finally, cutting each cranberry three times to produce four equal slices. According to my mother, they must be sliced “widthwise, not lengthwise,” to ensure optimal “texture” in the final product. When you have sliced enough cranberries, you will realize that they really are slightly longer than wider.

As an adult, I tried shortcuts such as using a food processor or various slicing/dicing machines. They all failed. The bread turned out lumpy or soggy. Only careful hand slicing resulted in the right texture and taste. And forget about any of those fancy granite countertops that don’t stain or scratch. My mother’s bread board had a permanent red spot in the middle from the annual slicing. I thought my red fingers were quite festive too, especially since I was too young to wear nail polish.

Once they were sliced, my mother would carefully measure, and immediately add the precious berries as the last ingredient in the secret family recipe. As the loaves baked, the smell was mouthwatering, prompting me to sneak a few tart berries. No, they didn’t taste half as good as the bread smelled, but kids like to sneak things behind their mother’s back. My brother Nate had the better job as he was usually in charge of nut chopping. Sneaking a walnut is a vast improvement over a raw cranberry.

As an adult, for several years I lived in France, where I began to appreciate that cranberries were indeed a peculiar American berry. Not only did their name not translate into French, they were also not available in local markets. Mon dieu! Every berry from the world was displayed at the outdoor market, but not my precious cranberry. Luckily, other Yankees from across the pond were equally starved for their various vittles and someone opened a small shop featuring American packaged goods such as peanut butter and macaroni and cheese. For the price of a fine bottle of wine, I happily procured my bags of Ocean Spray berries and proceeded to make my bread every holiday season.

I still faithfully make cranberry bread each Christmas, playing the role of my mother as I load up my brother with several to take home, and save most for my own consumption. And yes, I too guard the recipe. Even my brother Nate had to repeatedly ask me for it when he wanted to make the bread one holiday season. His guilt trip of reminding me that he was “co-owner” worked ... and I provided a copy. My dear mother would be proud to know that my brother and I did learn something in her kitchen, and that we honor her memory with her special bread every year.

I even became so fascinated with this versatile little berry that I have collected a number of offbeat recipes over the years that feature cranberries as a key ingredient. Cranberry soup, anyone? I’m not sure what my mother would say about her secret recipe being published. I hope she is smiling from heaven and gently saying, “Remind them to be careful–don’t cut your fingers as you slice your berries.”


Praeger, 11/2010

Pick up this book for Ruth's Holiday Cranberry Bread recipe, as well as recipes for: Jonny’s Shrimp, Cardamom Coffee Bread, Duvi’s Chilaquiles, Great-Grandma Spielberger’s Spaetzle, Jiao-Zhu (Chinese Dumplings), Rustic Miniature Apple Pies, Christmas Carp, Joy’s Baked Garlic Soup, and more!


Share your storied dishes with us! We'd love to hear from you. abcclioblog [at]


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

David Fincher: Films that Scar

‘‘I’ve always been interested in movies that scar. The thing I love about Jaws is that I’ve never gone swimming in the ocean again.’’ —David Fincher

David Fincher is arguably the leading filmmaker of his generation, with a body of work that includes Fight Club, Seven, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. His movies are distinctive and often disturbing, but to date, very little has been written about how they actually work. In terms of existing critical literature on Fincher, there are huge gaps. There are studies on single films, such as Richard Dyer’s Seven (1999), which approaches the film as an inquisition into the nature of sin and David Thomson’s The Alien Quartet (1998), which is chronological and reasonably thorough but frequently recounts the plot and virtually paraphrases dialogue. At times, Thomson becomes hugely self-indulgent, explaining over pages, especially in relation to Alien Resurrection, the film he would have liked to see, rather than dealing with the one we have.


It is a contention of this book that David Fincher is one of the most imaginative filmmakers at work today and the complexity of his films not only invites, it demands, a more detailed, analytical response than has hitherto been the case. Critical energy has so far only been directed toward very specific areas, such as masculinity-in-crisis and the glorification of violence in Fight Club, the groundbreaking cinematography of Seven, and the failure of Alien3 to meet the expectations of that particular franchise.This book endeavors to look afresh at the films in their entirety and reconsider neglected critical areas, such as the literary background to Fight Club, Benjamin Button, and even Alien3

Rather than imposing a preexisting view onto the films, this book will seek to analyze the films closely and derive conclusions from evidence. Fincher’s background in music video and commercials is often cited as a criticism and de facto proof of a superficial aesthetic. However, to the contrary, Fincher’s experience with shorter film forms makes him acutely aware of the potential of every single shot, in which he needs to show sensitivity to a different sense of storytelling rhythm based around the three-minute pop song and remain in touch with state-of-the-art visual effects. These experiences and his rejection of film school as a route into the industry link him with a small but growing band of directors who have taken a similar career path—Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Gore Verbinski, and Wes Anderson.

In terms of readership, this book is aimed at the thoughtful film viewer. Fincher makes films to be seen by a mass audience and therefore discussion of his work should be accessible to that same market. That said, this book assumes basic knowledge of the films themselves and an awareness that disciplines such as Film Studies exist. This author feels it is important to go beyond regurgitating plots or repeating established critical positions about them. This book aims to be critically rigorous but avoid unnecessary jargon that would exclude a mainstream reader. Ideally, it should make the reader want to look again at films he or she thinks they know and try out those they may have missed.


Excerpted from the "Introduction" to David Fincher: Films That Scar by Mark Browning
Praeger, 2010.
Sample topics include: Alien3; Cinematography; Commercials; Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The; De Palma, Brian; Detective Films; Fight Club; Film Noir; Fitzgerald, F. Scott; Hitchcock, Alfred; Intertextuality; Kubrick, Stanley; Literary Adaptations; Palahnuik, Chuck; Panic Room; Pop Videos; Rendezvous with Rama; Se7en; Woman-in-Peril Movies; Zodiac

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Golden Globe Nominees Announced

The 68th Annual Golden Globe Award nominees were announced today, and The Social Network has earned a number of nominations. The film itself is up for Best Motion Picture - Drama, while Jesse Eisenberg, who plays the founder of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg, is a contender in the Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama category. Costar Andrew Garfield (who plays his friend turned ex-business partner Eduardo Saverin) made the top 5 for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture. The film is also up for Best Original Screenplay. 

And, David Fincher, the films highly acclaimed director, is a nominee for Best Director. Learn more about him and his films in David Fincher: Films that Scar by Mark Browning.

In case you missed it, check out our blog post on The Social Network and find out why you should add this must-see film to your list before winners are announced January 16, 2011! Do you agree that this film should be nominated for a Golden Globe? Let us know what you thought about The Social Network.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Holiday Storied Dishes

By Elizabeth Millar, Senior Marketing Coordinator, ABC-CLIO 

With the holidays around the corner, my baking has begun. Each year I try to make sugar cookies, gingerbread men, and shortbread. If I'm crunched for time, I'll focus on the shortbread. In my family, it's not Christmas if you don't make Great Grandmother Hardie's shortbread! Not only is it delicious and buttery, but it's also tradition.

As a child, I watched Mom and Gram bake shortbread cookies every year. It was the one cookie that I wasn't allowed to help bake. I could roll out sugar cookies, gingerbread, etc., but the shortbread was the grown-ups' responsibility. Once I became a teenager, my mom showed me how to do it. It's a fairly easy recipe, so I only had to make it a few times before I had it down. A few years ago was my Gram's last Christmas, and I remember sitting with her and talking about how great my uncle's shortbread cookies were. We laughed about how easy they are to make for being such a delicious cookie.

Throughout history and across world cultures, women have traditionally been the keepers and transmitters of oral tradition, such as the teaching of cherished food preparation techniques by family elders to the next generation. Great Grandmother Hardie's shortbread is actually called, "Robertson Shortbread." Great Grandmother Hardie immigrated to Vancouver, Canada from Scotland at the turn of the century, and "Robertson" was her maiden name. The recipe comes from the women on her side of the family. But, that is all I know of the history. (My uncle is the family historian, so I have something to ask him about when I see him at Christmas!)

For people of every ethnicity, food provides much more than mere fuel for the body—it contains an invisible component that ties families and generations together with the continuity of shared experience. And for the women who are entrusted with the responsibility of keeping that priceless cultural thread intact, family recipes embody tradition, bridge generation gaps, and erase age differences.

Do you have any "storied dishes" you'd like to share? I'd love to hear from you!

Would you like the secret recipe for my "Robertson Shortbread?" Email me and I'll send it to you!

Linda Murray Berzok, Editor
Praeger, 2010

This compilation of cross-cultural, generational essays and accompanying recipes offers unique insight into the profound impact and significance of food dishes in American women's lives.


Check back later this week for a holiday recipe and excerpt from Storied Dishes.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Free Information Literacy Vodcast Series with Mike Eisenberg Part 4

It's Giveaway Friday!

We are excited to partner with Big6's Mike Eisenberg to bring you the exclusive Mike Eisenberg Information Literacy Series of vodcasts. View these informative vodcasts completely free of charge, and please share them with your colleagues!

Vodcast #4 
The Role of the Teacher-Librarian and the School Library Program


In this vodcast, Mike answers a series of questions collected from students and colleagues around the country about the roles of teacher-librarians and the school library program in information literacy.


ABCCLIOLive is our YouTube channel that brings our award-winning authors, their books, methods, and guidance straight to you free of charge. Just click here to start learning today!


If your school blocks YouTube, you can view our videos on our TeacherTube page.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

John Lennon's Legacy

It was on December 8, 1980 – thirty years ago today – that legendary singer/songwriter, John Lennon, was shot by an obsessed fan in New York City. From the time John Lennon was a young boy, he imagined that he would die a violent death. As his fame grew, he anticipated that he would be “popped off by some looney.” But he never let this fear paralyze him or keep him from doing what he wanted. He once explained, “I’m not afraid of dying. I’m prepared for death, because I don’t believe in it. I think it’s just getting out of one car and getting into another.” But he never could have anticipated just how soon or suddenly his death would come, in the midst of a creative comeback on the music scene and planning for the future with his wife, Yoko Ono.

Fans who mourned John’s death refused to accept that he was gone, and some carried signs that claimed “John Lives.” In many ways he still does live on through his music and art. In the years after his death, Yoko carefully and systematically continued to release music, writing, and art that John created, and in 2009 she constructed an exhibit of personal items, creative pieces, music, and film in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Annex in New York City that caused fans to both laugh and cry. The exhibit allowed close-up views of intricate collages John created as gifts for Ringo and others, and it provided an opportunity to see the piano, complete with cigarette burns, that John used to write music when he lived at the Dakota, his apartment building in New York City. At the end of the exhibit, in an enclosed glass case, sat the brown paper bag filled with John’s clothing and personal effects, just as it had been returned to Yoko from the hospital after his death. She never opened it, and as a piece in the exhibit it conveyed a message about the cold and impersonal brutality of murder. John Lennon was the 701st victim of armed assault in New York in 1980. In the year preceding John’s death, 10,700 people died from gunshot wounds in the United States. Next to the stark brown bag in the exhibit was a large white poster where people could sign their names as part of an effort to control guns and gun violence in the United States.


By Jacqueline Edmondson
Greenwood, 2010

This biography provides a comprehensive account of John Lennon's life for students and general readers, integrating information from interviews conducted during his life with published accounts of Lennon from a range of perspectives. It covers the time from his birth in Liverpool in 1940 to his murder in New York City in 1980.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pearl Harbor Attack (1941)

Early on the morning of Sunday, December 7, 1941—a day that President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed would “live in infamy”—Japanese fighter pilots attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. This surprise attack, which Japan undertook without a declaration of war, provoked the United States to end its neutral stance on World War II and join the Allies (Great Britain and the Soviet Union).

In early 1941, the Japanese government began a two-pronged strategy. Japanese diplomats in Washington, D.C., entered into negotiations regarding Japan’s desire for expansion in Asia; at the same time, the Japanese Navy was directed to develop plans for an attack on the Americans should the negotiations fail (which they did). Under the direction of Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, the Japanese outlined an attack on Pearl Harbor that would disable the U.S. fleet, while Japanese forces simultaneously launched invasions into Southeast Asia and the Pacific islands.

At dawn on December 7, a Japanese task force was positioned 275 miles north of Hawaii. The first wave of 51 dive bombers, 40 torpedo bombers, and 43 escorting fighters took off without incident. As they approached Hawaii, they were detected on U.S. radar screens, but because the technology was new and the technicians poorly trained, the technicians were unable to read the size of the approaching force. They assumed it was a flight of B-17 bombers arriving from the U.S. mainland. Therefore, the Japanese were able to launch their attack with no warning given at the target. Just before 8:00 a.m. local time, when flight leader Mitsuo Fuchida saw the U.S. ships completely open to attack, he signaled the code words for success: “tora, tora, tora” (“tiger, tiger, tiger”). 

Not until the bombs began to fall did the Americans respond. As “battle stations” sounded on the parked ships, the sailors operated whatever guns they could reach. There was little they could do as the attacking aircraft scored hits immediately. Four of the docked battleships were hit by torpedoes in the first five minutes, as the dive bombers and fighters attacked from above. Japanese fighter aircraft strafed U.S. aircraft parked at the half-dozen airfields on the island of Oahu. Only 38 U.S. aircraft were able to get airborne and engage the attackers, and 10 of those were shot down.

The first attack went on for 25 minutes and was followed by a second wave at 8:45 a.m. The second wave was less successful, suffered more casualties, and did little more than add finishing touches to the already battered U.S. ships. In all, the Japanese lost only 29 planes and 55 aircrew; they had expected to lose half their force. It was as complete a surprise attack as possible.

Pearl Harbor was the worst naval disaster in U.S. history, with more than 2,000 casualties, dozens of aircraft destroyed, and 16 ships damaged or destroyed (eight battleships, three destroyers, and three cruisers were disabled, and two battleships—the USS Oklahoma and the USS Arizona—were sunk). Moreover, the outrage of Americans was palpable after the attack. While Americans had previously been divided over whether to enter World War II or maintain a policy of isolationism, Japan’s surprise attack effectively ended the debate. On December 8, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appeared before Congress, where he called December 7 “a date which will live in infamy” and asked for a declaration of war against Japan. Congress complied; Japan’s allies, Germany and Italy, declared war on the United States on December 11.


John E. Findling and Frank W. Thackeray, Editors
ABC-CLIO, 12/2010

This comprehensive and highly readable collection of essays highlights 50 important events that changed the course of American history.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


Hanukkah (or Chanukah), sometimes referred to as the Festival of Lights, began December 1st. It's an eight-day holiday recalling the events of the Maccabean Revolt, the reclaiming of hegemony over the Temple at Jerusalem, and a reliving of the celebration that followed.

Modern Hanukkah is an eight-day celebration starting on the 25th day of the month of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar, which places it in late November or December on the Common Era calendar. There is a story told in the second book of Maccabees concerning the relighting of the altar fire by Nehemiah as the result of a miracle that had occurred on Kislev 25. This event from an earlier era appears to be the reason
Judah Maccabees selected Kislev as the day for the rededication of the altar in 165 BCE.

Observance is carried out through a set of rituals performed each day of the eight days. Most are family-based and occur around the evening meal, the most important being the lighting of the candles soon after nightfall. On the first night a single light is lit, that number increasing by one each of the eight nights. The Hanukkah menorah has room for nine candles, the ninth, the shamash or guardian candle, should be higher than the others and is used to light the other candles. As the candles are lit, specific blessings over the lights and remembering God’s miracles are said.


Edited by J. Gordon Melton and Martin Baumann
ABC-CLIO, 2010

This masterful six-volume encyclopedia provides comprehensive, global coverage of religion, emphasizing larger religious communities without neglecting the world's smaller religious outposts.