Top Picks: SiriusXM's 'The Loft,' Maggie Smith on 'Downton Abbey,' and more

Time for Kids' new book shows kids how to solve science mysteries, Karimba's new CD makes listeners want to get up and dance, Andrew Lloyd Webber's classic musical 'Phantom of the Opera' records a performance for its anniversary, and more top picks.

Solving science mysteries

What makes soda bubbly? Can a battery turn a nail into a magnet? How can water bend light? Time For Kids' new Big Book of Science Experiments tackles these and about 100 other everyday mysteries, geared toward kids ages 8 to 12. The book offers step-by-step directions so junior scientists can get their hands dirty with minimal adult supervision – and without a huge kitchen cleanup afterward.

Downton's dowager

Since the British series "Downton Abbey" premièred, critics and audiences agree that grand dame of acting Maggie Smith runs away with every scene she's in as Violet, the sharp-tongued dowager countess who clings to old ways. So it's only fitting that Georgia Public Broadcasting compiled a video of 10 great quotes from Smith from the first season of the show, including the dowager countess's thoughts on weekends, friendship, and swivel chairs. It can be seen at:

Get up and dance

Karimba, the third full-length release from Peruvian band Novalima, masterfully blends Afro-Peruvian music, dub, and electronica. Combining deep dance-floor techno grooves with ecstatic percussion, call-and-response vocals, and tight horn arrangements, the 12 tracks take listeners on a nonstop propulsive ride. If this doesn't make you want to get up and dance, you might want to check your pulse!

Music of the night

In celebration of its 25th anniversary, the long-running Broadway and West End musical Phantom of the Opera arrives on Blu-ray and DVD as well as an On Demand digital download Feb. 7. This event DVD was recorded live at the Royal Albert Hall in October and includes a "Making of" featurette.

Hang out in 'the loft'

Since the marketing folks wrestled FM radio away from the talented, eclectic DJs of the '60s, radio has been somewhat of a copycat medium. But eclectic is back on The Loft, Channel 30, the best of SiriusXM satellite radio's gazillion music channels, where 24 hours a day DJs with laser-sharp radar present great new and deserving older music in an always entertaining crazy quilt of styles. Live, in-studio, and remote music sessions broadcast weekly, and guest hosts like Lou Reed, David Johansen, and Elton John lyricist Bernie Taupin keep things lively.

Trash cans beware

The varmints are taking over the country – the four-footed masked ones, that is. Tune in to PBS's "Nature" Feb. 8 to find out why we are living in a Raccoon Nation. Turns out all human efforts to thwart the pesky adventuring of these urban critters into human activities may just be accelerating their ability to adapt. Yikes!

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to