May 11

Daybreakers – Willem Defoe, Ethan Hawke, Sam Neill

In the year 2019, an unknown plague has transformed the world’s population into vampires. As the human population nears extinction, so does the blood supply. Now the vampires must find a blood substitute before time runs out. Researcher Edward Dalton and a clandestine group of vampires have made a remarkable discovery, one which has the power to save the human race.

May 18

Extraordinary Measures – Harrison Ford, Brendan Fraser

On the fast track and ready to taste the success of corporate America, John Crowley walks away from it all in hopes of finding a cure for two of his fatally ill children. With his wife Aileen by his side, he teams up with brilliant but unconventional scientist Dr. Robert Stonehill, and together they form a company to develop a life-saving drug. But just when it appears that a solution may be found, the relationship between the men is tested and the fate of John’s children is at stake.

Invictus – Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon

Nominated for two Oscars

Newly elected President Mandela knows his nation remains racially and economically divided in the wake of apartheid. Believing he can bring his people together through the universal language of sport, Mandela rallies South Africa’s underdog rugby team as they make an unlikely run to the 1995 World Cup Championship match.

I have long been fascinated by Nelson Mandela — intrigued by how an individual could endure 27 years in prison and then become South Africa’s charismatic leader during a critical phase in its history.  Though not a biography, this compact book, subtitled Fifteen Lessons on Life, Love, and Courage, gives us insights into the man’s character and allows us to easily absorb some of his life’s essentials truths.  Here are a few examples:

  • Courage is Not the Absence of Fear
  • Have a Core Principle
  • See the Good in Others
  • Know When to Say “No”

The author, Richard Stengel, editor of Time magazine, spent nearly three years with Mandela, eating with him, traveling with him and watching him interact with other dignitaries — and it shows.  Stengel obviously has deep affection for his subject, and he uses events in Mandela’s life  to illustrate the lessons — how as a child, Mandela was raised by a tribal king as a companion for his own son — how he became a freedom fighter and seldom saw his own family —  and how he found new love and remarried at the age of eighty.

I enjoyed this easy-to-read book and would recommend it not only to adults eager to gain new leadership skills, but also as an appropriate gift for those soon-to-be graduates on your list.

Prom Night in Mississippi Proms are known for having high levels of high school drama, but for the 2008 Prom for Charleston High School of Charleston, Mississippi, the drama engulfed the entire town. Earlier in the school year, actor Morgan Freeman made an offer to the Senior Class: he would pay for their entire prom if they would end the school’s tradition of separate events for white students and black students and have the first racially integrated prom in Charleston history.

The documentary Prom Night in Mississippi follows a group of Charleston High School students in 2008 as they deal with the town’s racial tension, choose their prom dresses, fight with fellow students, find dates, and explain their decisions for why they will or will not attend the parents-sponsored “white-only” prom. Although witnessing the town’s undercurrent of racial prejudice that supported the continued segregation of the school’s prom (the school itself was integrated in 1970) is disheartening, the students’ honesty and their determination enjoy their prom is challenging and uplifting.

Emily Shelby has never met her grandfather, but after her mother dies unexpectedly she has nowhere else to go. Returning to the small North Carolina town that her mother fled as a teenager, Emily discovers that the past is still very much alive, that Mullaby NC is a town that is both ordinary and magical and that family ties can strangle you or free you.

Filled with vibrant characters and a sprinkling of magical realism, The Girl Who Chased the Moon follows Emily’s quest to learn more about her mother and to fit into her new home. Her grandfather Vance is, literally, a giant, so tall he can “see into tomorrow”. The wallpaper in her bedroom changes according to her mood – lilacs when she’s calm, colorful, fluttering butterflies when she’s worried – and a mysterious bright light moves through the garden at night. Her neighbor Julia, who has her own painful secrets in Mullaby’s past, bakes cakes, trying to summon what she once lost.

Throughout, the characters must learn to make peace with the past, accept how it’s shaped them into the people they’ve become, and move on to the future. That this future holds so much more than they imagined – or thought they wanted – is part of the magic of this book.

The title of this amazing book, full of incredible stories about women overcoming obstacles, is taken from an old Chinese proverb: “Women hold up half the sky.”  The authors, Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, received the Pulitzer Prize in journalism, and I first saw their work featured on the Oprah show.  Their primary premise is that, “Throughout much of the world, the greatest unexploited economic resource is the female half of the population … Unleashing that process globally is not only the right thing to do; it’s also the best strategy for fighting poverty.”

Rather than tire the reader with boring statistics,  the authors wisely chose to illustrate their point by letting us “get to know” individual women.  Warning — the majority of these reports are very sad, even horrific at times, dealing with subjects such as sexual slavery, inequities in gender education, and maternal mortality.  However, each chapter is also followed by a success story, proving time and time again that one person can make a difference.

April 18-24 is National Volunteer Week; I can’t think of a better book to read for it than this.  Besides a plentitude of inspiration, the final chapter gives suggestions on “What You Can Do” with “Four Steps You Can Take in the next Ten Minutes.”  Step One?  Go to GlobalGiving or Kiva and open an account.

Can you believe that we’ve been celebrating Earth Day for 40 years?  I remember the first one, so I guess that dates me!

Anyway, while reading my Mid American Energy bill last month, I picked up an easy tip to help save water — and thus save energy, which in turns helps preserve our beautiful planet.  Did you realize that a leaky toilet can waste up to 7,000 gallons of water a month?  I didn’t.   Plus, this is so easy!   All you do is just put a little food coloring (about a teaspoon) in the tank part of your toilet — then check it about 15 minutes later.  If you then find colored water in the the bowl,  you have a slow leak!  (Remember to flush it a few times afterwards, so you don’t end up with any permanent stains.)

I didn’t have any reason to suspect that any of our loos were leaky, but apparently, one was — the fancy one  (a so-called “quiet flush” in the powder room).  So now I just needed to replace the flapper valve.  And I found out how to do it myself  at this website: www.doityourself.com/stry/replacetoilettank

One small leak stopped — one very small step closer to a healthier earth.  What small step can you take?  Share your solutions with us and help others to help save our planet, too.

My favorite essay in John McPhee’s book, The Silk Parachute is “My Life List.” McPhee talks about the weirdest things he’s ever eaten, and, in doing so, he describes an encounter he had with that icon of the 70’s, Euell Gibbons. He shared boiled dandelions and water mint tea (remember the Grape Nuts commercial?) with Euell.

This  seems mighty tame compared to the weasel, lion, whale, grizzly bear and bee spit meals he had.

McPhee’s great skill is to make any subject, no matter how arcane, fascinating. He supplies just the right detail and sets the scene and before you know it, you’re sucked in.

In this series of essays written for the New Yorker, he often refers to feedback he received from legendary editor, Wallace Shawn.

America’s Lost Landscape: The Tallgrass Prairie tells the rich and complex story of one of the most astonishing alterations of nature in human history. Prior to Euro-American settlement in the 1820s, one of the major landscape features of North America was 240 million acres of tallgrass prairie. But between 1830 and 1900 – in the space of a single lifetime – the tallgrass prairie was steadily transformed to farmland. This drastic change in the landscape also brought about an enormous social change for Native Americans; in an equally short time their cultural imprint was reduced in essence to a handful of place-names appearing on maps. America’s Lost Landscape examines the record of human struggle, triumph, and defeat that prairie history exemplifies, including the history and culture of America’s aboriginal inhabitants. The story of how and why the prairie was changed by Euro-American settlement is thoughtfully nuanced. The film also highlights prairie preservation efforts and explores how the tallgrass prairie ecosystem may serve as a model for a sustainable agriculture of the future. The extraordinary cinematography of prairie remnants, original score and archival images are all delicately interwoven to create a powerful and moving viewing experience about the natural and cultural history of America. Written by David O’Shields

David O’Shields and Daryl Smith are the producers of this  film.

David O’Shields is  writer, producer and director with New Light Media, Cedar Falls, IA. David has been a working member of the production community since 1985. In addition to his work in public television, he has extensive experience as a cameraman and director in commercial television. David founded New Light Media in 1995 to pursue his dream of making important and engaging documentary films.

Daryl Smith has served as head of UNI Department of Biology, president of the Iowa Academy of Science. A native Iowan, Smith has been involved in prairie preservation, management, and restoration for 35 years.

In celebration of Earth Day this month, below are a sampling of books that focus on different ways that you can contribute to a green planet right in your own home!  These books, along with countless others in the library, can help you make your home and your life more environmentally friendly.

The simple “green manual,” Easy Green Living is based on the author’s TV series dealing with green home and garden care issues.  The author provides basic tips to make healthy living affordable and not time consuming.  By not overwhelming the reader with too many suggestions, Loux breaks down and gives examples of small daily differences that you can make to be more environmentally friendly and peppers each chapter with a “5 Step List” of products that can be easily found in your home.

Super Natural Home by Beth Greer is a fantastic resource for the environmentally conscious family with its easy to use format with helpful quizzes that identify a home’s “toxic hot zones.”  Chapters include tips on healthy tap water, indoor air quality and safer alternatives to household cleaners.

Green Goes with Everything Transform your home into a “safe sanctuary” free of harsh chemicals with this book by author Sloan Barnett.  The author advises on the best ways to make healthy and safe choices for your family.  Topics featured in the book include healthy food preparation, cleaning solutions and safe water tips.

Green Housekeeping is an extensive resource by Ellen Sandbeck and includes chapters such as: clearing clutter and organizing your belongings in an environmentally sound way and learning to live without some toxins that could be found in homes, as a few examples.  Green Housekeeping contains numerous ancedotes that are authoritative and useful to help families save money and time – something we all can use!