Hardy Succulents by Gwen Kelaidis

Hardy SucculentsWant to try something a little different in your garden? Take a look at plants like cactus, yucca, sedums and echieverias; many of these low maintenance, exotic-seeming plants are surprisingly at home in our Zone 5 weather. It’s very likely that you’re already growing sedums – the ubiquitous “Autumn Joy” is lovely in the perennial garden year-round and the lowly hen-and-chicks make charming ground covers (they also make ideal house-warming presents; in some parts of Europe it was believed that when planted on the roof they would ward off lightening strikes) And you may be surprised to learn that Prickly pear cactus (Opuntia humifusa) is native to Iowa.

Gwen Kelaidis’ Hardy Succulents will open your eyes to the many forms, varieties and colors succulents come in, and will show you how to integrate them in your existing landscape. She also offers tips for how best to grow them, the best varieties for cold regions, and combinations for container gardens. Many gorgeous photos spotlight their graphic shapes which are both modern and timeless. Succulents are showing up more and more in nurseries; be sure to try a few – you may get hooked!

The Armchair Traveler – Oh, to be in England, Now That Spring is Here

EnglandThe land where Chick Lit was born is the next stop for AT.

The Goddess Rules by Clare Naylor

Kate Disney is an artist who lives in a garden shed. She begins to stand up for herself after becoming friends with an outrageous and funny actress/icon who lives in the main house. Kate herself is self-deprecating, but very honest and direct. She alternates, romantically, between scumbag Jake and the perfect Louis.

The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella

Through an hilarious series of misunderstandings and mis-communications, attorney Samantha Sweeting tries to pass herself off as a housekeeper for a nouveau riche couple in the country. She is as inept a cook as she was brilliant as a lawyer, but she transforms herself and finds romance with the gardener, who has aspirations of his own.

Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married by Marian Keyes

Singleton Lucy and where mates live it up in London, while looking for Mr. Right. In typical Keyes fashion, their blunt honesty is witty and true, yet she doesn’t shy away from darker issues like alcoholism.

Weekend in Paris by Robyn Sisman

Molly is sympathetically innocent and guileless. Fired from her first job, she takes a planned trip to Paris anyway, and undergoes complete immersion in French culture.

The English American by Alison Larkin

Pippa Dunn, born in the United States, was adopted by an upper class English couple. She never felt that she fit in; she is sloppy, creative and emotional and her aristocratically reserved parents are very different. She finds her birth mother in New York and discovers they are both artistic and similar in many ways. After living in the U.S. and meeting her birth parents and siblings, she comes to know herself, England and her adopted family in new ways.

Look Me in the Eye by John Robison

Look Me in the Eye by John RobisonUnable to communicate effectively with other people, John Robison was labeled as a “social deviant” at an early age and struggled to to fit in. With a mentally disturbed mother and alcoholic father, there was no help at home, but by luck he finds a niche working with mechanical gadgets and electronic circuits. Finally, when he was 40, John was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism.

Look Me in the Eye is an uncompromising, sometimes hilarious account of John’s many struggles of trying to cope with a world that he cannot comprehend and which does not understand him. Unable to recognize social cues such as facial expressions and body language, he has difficulty making and keeping friends. Successful inspite of these barriers, John now helps others who are struggling to live with Asperger’s.

Although this is a memoir and not a diagnostic manual, it does provide a unique, unforgettable glimpse into the world of people with Asperger’s.

Knitalong by Larissa Brown

Knitalong by Larissa BrownMost everyone that knits learned the skill from someone – a grandmother or beloved aunt, a friend or a helpful clerk at the local yarn store. Knitting seems to invite gathering together. Knitalong: celebrating the tradition of knitting together by Larissa Brown shows the many ways that knitters (and crocheters and spinners) connect from meeting at a local coffee shop for an hour to creating lively online communities.

(And by the way, if you’re a knitter (or crocheter or spinner) and you’re not on Ravelry yet, why? Stop whatever you’re doing right now and get your name on the invitation list. It’s an amazing database/community/resource for fiber enthusiasts. If you’re already a member, you understand my enthusiasm)

Some of the wide-ranging examples of community knitting shown in Knitalong include the Knitting Olympics, an online knitting challenge held during the Winter Olympics, knit cafes (cafes that encourage people to bring their knitting), Stitch n’ Pitch, where knitters knit during major league baseball games (the White Sox host knitters on August 6, the Cardinals on May 28), World Wide Knit in Public Day which is just what it sounds like (and is on June 14 this year) and knitting for charities (afghans for Afghans is just one example). Knitalongs also take the form of a group of people knitting the same pattern (called KALs); everyone shares tips and progress reports and cheer you along. The internet has been a boon to this simple craft; besides the phenomenon of Ravelry, there has been an explosion of knitting blogs where people share their craft and develop friendships from around the world.

Interested in joining other knitters for camaraderie and encouragement? Local knitters meet every Tuesday evening at 6:30pm at the Fairmount Street Library, next to the fireplace. Newcomers are always welcome!

On the Wing by Alan Tennant

On the Wing by Alan TennantPart naturalist exploration, part adventure story, On the Wing follows Alan Tennant in his pursuit of the peregrine falcon. One falcon in particular, to be precise, named Amelia. Teaming up with George, a World War II vet and his beat up Cessna, Alan follows Amelia via radio signal from the Texas barrier islands, north to the Arctic and back south again through Mexico, Belize and the Caribbean. Alan and George run into their fair share of trouble and excitement, both moving and funny in a story that will quickly make you part of the experience.

Peregrine falcons can travel faster than any other animal on earth, reaching speeds of up to 200 mph when making steep dives. They are prodigious migrators (the subject of Alan’s research) sometimes traveling thousands of miles, and can be found on every continent on earth except for Antarctica or in deserts, high mountaintops, polar regions and, interestingly, New Zealand.

The most common prey for falcons is small birds such as pigeons and ducks, caught by disabling their victim in mid-flight (that speedy dive aims for a wing of the bird they’re pursuing). Mating for life, they nest on steep cliffs and, fairly commonly now, on skyscrapers. Peregrine falcons nearly disappeared from North America in the 50s and 60s because of pesticide use, but have made a strong recovery with the help of protections provided by the Endangered Species Act.

You can see these incredible birds right here in the Quad Cities; a nesting pair – Scorpio and P/D – are occupying a specially built nesting box located on the Mid American building in downtown Davenport (our own version of a skyscraper) If you’re not lucky enough to spot them in flight, check out WQAD-TV’s Falcon Cam for some live, up-close shots of the happy couple as well as links to more information about peregrine falcons and this pair in particular.

April Showers Bring …. ??

umbrellaWell, of course, they bring May flowers, or we hope they will anyway! But April is also a popular month for other kinds of showers — particularly wedding and baby showers. Since June is still a favorite time for many North American weddings, April is the perfect choice — not too close to the wedding date, and yet not too early. As for baby showers, they can be anytime, but springtime seems an especially appropriate time to celebrate new life.

If you’re thinking about hosting a shower, you might want to check out some of our library books on the subject. One title I found especially appealing was Simple Stunning Wedding Showers by Karen Bussen. Beautifully photographed, the book not only has many theme ideas, but easy, elegant recipes and thoughtful planning and organizational suggestions. And as all of you Martha Stewart wannabees already know, early preparation and planning is key to any successful party.

Speaking of Martha Stewart, Baby Showers: Ideas & Recipes for the Perfect Party was written by two former editors for Martha Stewart Living, Gia Russo and Michele Adams. They obviously learned well under her tutelage (though they don’t mention if they worked for her before or after her prison stint) as this book also has inviting photographs and clever decorating ideas. I recently gave a baby shower and used some of their ideas from the “Daisy Brunch” chapter. They recommended cutting the stems off and setting the daisy tops all around the buffet table. I adapted this idea by simply putting daisies (plus a few other small flowers) in small votive candle jars all around the house. This served a dual-purpose –they made for relatively inexpensive decorations, but they also served as favors for the guests to take home at the end of the party.

Games are something else you might want to consider for your shower. In the past, some games got a bad rap for being too cutesy or boring, but they can serve an important function by involving your guests and making them feel important. One game that works for both kinds of showers is bingo. Simply print out blank cards available online for free. Have guests fill in the empty blanks with the names of gifts they think the bride or mother-to-be will receive. As she opens her presents, they can cross off any applicable items. This helps everyone pay attention, plus they just might get a chance to open a gift of their own!

Besides the bingo website, preggiepeggy.com is another one I found that had a wealth of ideas for baby showers. Giving a shower can be fun, but it’s also a great way to show someone special that you care.

Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World by Dan Koeppel

BananaThe banana is the perfect food! A snack with it’s own handle that comes in a biodegradable wrapper, it’s the ultimate convenience food. This unassuming, soft, sweet fruit has a fascinating and treacherous history. In Banana: the fate of the fruit that changed the world, Koeppel sets out to explore the scientific, economic, political, and historical aspects of the lowly banana. For good measure he even throws in a dose of banana humor.

While the history of how the banana spanned the globe makes for good reading, the real drama begins when the fruit was domesticated by shrewd American businessmen in the late 1800s. They realized the economic potential of the tropical fruit and set out to make it available to the masses. Through marketing and advertising, U.S. banana importers were able to make a product grown thousands of miles away cheap enough that it became a daily snack for many Americans. This was not without cost though to the fruit itself and those directly involved with production and harvest.

It’s not exaggeration to say that the banana has shaped and toppled nations. In Central and South America, workers who attempted to unionize were squelched by the influential banana industry which was backed by the U.S. government. Thousands of workers died in these insurrections.

The human toll in the banana industry parallels the destruction of the fruit itself. Only one variety of banana was commercially cultivated because it was transportable and long-lasting. This proved to be fatal when in the 1950s it was wiped out by a soil fungus. A replacement species was introduced, but it too is susceptible to the same fungus. Every banana we buy is a genetic duplicate of the next, and this lack of biodiversity is threatening to totally eradicate the fruit.

While the book can be very somber, it also provides many fun facts that you can use at your next party. Did you know:

  • some scholars believe the “forbidden fruit” in Genesis was a banana, not an apple?
  • the banana split MAY have been invented in Davenport, Iowa? (see page 65)?
  • the song “Yes, We Have No Bananas” originated in 1950 when Panama Disease wiped out an earlier variety of banana?
  • the first bananas sold in the U.S. came peeled, sliced, and wrapped in foil to prevent the fruit’s suggestive shape from offending Victorian sensibilities?

A Librarian in the Land of Totem Poles

tlingit-totem-pole.jpgAs a librarian I always enjoy it when a patron asks a question about something that relates to my own personal interests. Recently I helped a patron with a question about totem poles. In 2004 I accepted a an interim library job at a small college in Sitka, located on the coast of Alaska, a decision that turned out to be a tremendous adventure. One unique Alaskan adventure I was able to experience was the placement of a new totem pole. Carved in Sitka National Park, the entire town was invited to the totem pole raising ceremony, where, after several ceremonial rites including a formal naming ceremony, adults manned the ropes on the sidelines which helped to guide the pole as children from the town tugged on the two long ropes which pulled it up and into place.

It is said that the most important person or object on a totem pole is the one that is at the base. This is an important distinction between Western and Native culture (since we usually think that “low man on the totem pole” designates a low status). There is a pole in a main square in downtown Sitka which illustrates this cultural difference. At the time this pole was constructed, the govenor insisted that he be placed at the top. Since the object of ridicule is always at the top the carvers were happy to grant the governor his wish!

The University of Alaska at Anchorage has an excellent website including an authoritative article on totem poles as well as a wealth of information about Alaskan history and culture. A trip to Alaska is always unforgettable; check the library for travel guides (917.98) and information on it’s colorful history (979.8) as well as the dvd aisle for a taste of the state’s spectacular beauty. And for more pictures of totem poles, look for The Most Striking of Objects: Totem Poles of Sitka National Park in our Government documents collection.

The Armchair Traveler – Life (and death) in the Twin Cities

Mary Richards

Minneapolis is the site of the Public Library Association’s national conference this week. Hope those librarians can stay out of trouble…

Pretty Girl Gone by David Housewright

Ex St. Paul cop Rushmore McKenzie spends time doing favors for friends and getting drawn into messy murder cases. In the third book in the series, he ventures into rural Minnesota. It’s a chilling look at small towns in the Midwest where racism and methamphetamine use are prevalent. McKenzie is a self-deprecating and funny narrator – often too out-spoken for his own good.

Snow-Blind by P.J. Tracy

The story begins in the Cities (with the murder of two policemen) It moves to a fictional northern Minnesota county, when two Minneapolis detectives help a newbie female sheriff with a murder that may be connected to their case. This is part of the Monkeewrench gang series which features a group of computer geeks for hire.

Eyes of Prey by John Sandford

IMHO, this is the best of the “Prey” series which star a tough, Porsche-driving Minneapolis cop. In this book, Lucas Davenport is suffering from depression brought on by a previous case, while he investigates the brutal murder of a doctor’s wife. The ending really was a surprise – to me, anyway.

Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen mysteries

These cozy mysteries always have excellent dessert recipes and a cast of wacky characters. The reader can exercise some wish fulfillment through Hannah and her coffee shop/bakery in small town Minnesota. Can you resist the Cherry Cheesecake, Fudge Cupcake, or Sugar Cookie Murders?

Flower Confidential by Amy Stewart

Flower ConfidentialFor all their beauty and association with romance, flowers are part of a huge business, generating world-wide sales of more than $40 billion yearly. Yet the industry barely registers with most consumers beyond picking up the occasional bouquet or arrangement. Stewart’s fascinating book takes a look at many aspects of the industry including:

-The quest for new and “improved” flowers that will last longer in the vase, or bloom in unusual colors or shapes. However, this has come at a cost as fragrance is often sacrificed (most notably in roses)

-How large quantities of flowers are grown in greenhouses which allow the grower to control weather, insects and diseases and stretch or completely alter the natural growing season. Many flowers never touch soil, but are grown hydroponically.

-How flowers are sold. The majority of flowers for sale in the United States are grown in South America and funneled through the Miami airport for inspection. Before a flower reaches your vase it may have been out of water and traveling for 5 to 7 days.

-The impact this industry has on countries such as Ecuador and Columbia. Rainforests have been destroyed to make room for greenhouses, pesticide regulations are lax and workers rarely have the same protections and benefits as in the United States.

-The emergence and growth of the organic flower market. Still relatively difficult to find, the popularity of organic flowers is increasing.

Filled with interesting stories and great insights, Stewart’s book will open your eyes to the work behind the beauty.