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?

Davenport Library to Expand

Davenport Main LibraryToday it was announced that the Davenport Public Library will expand by adding two floors to the top of the existing Main Library building at 321 Main Street. These additional stories will allow for expansion of the library’s book collection as well as room for a full-service restaurant with banquet facilities, a therapeutic massage center (free massages for Davenport card holders) and a dog training facility. “We are excited to be able to offer expanded services to the citizens of Davenport” exclaimed LaWanda Roudebush, director of the Davenport Public Library. “Our goal is to make the library the best it can be and I believe we are doing just that.”

Construction is slated to begin in early 2009 with completion projected for late 2010.

April Fool! There are no plans to add floors to the Main Library building. However, the good news is, the Davenport Library is expanding with planning of the Eastern Avenue branch library in the final stages and groundbreaking expected sometime in 2009.

Working at the Ballpark by Tom Jones

Working at the BallparkAt last! Baseball season is here (does that mean spring is almost here too?) Baseball, the most American of games, has become entwined with our history, our memories, even our language. Most of us grew up playing it, either in organized leagues or with the kids in the neighborhood and even non-fans probably understand the basic rules (“three strikes and you’re out”) creating common ground for all of us.

Lots of kids fall in love with the sport and dream of growing up to be a baseball player. Of course, not many of us make it to the big leagues, but we remain fans. Even without a curve ball or a .300 hitting average, people have found a way to stay with the game. Working at the Ballpark by Tom Jones is the story of people who work in major league baseball, from the peanut vendor to the announcers to the ballplayers. 50 people are interviewed, each giving a unique view of national pastime, of what they do and why they love their job.

Sometimes dreams do come true.

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?

Auto Repair Reference Center

Auto Repair Reference DatabaseGot car troubles? Need to figure out the difference between fuel injection and the fuel pump? Need a wiring diagram for your 1992 Honda Civic? The library has a fabulous resource that can help you and you can access it from your home computer! It’s the Auto Repair Reference Center, a full-text database of all kinds of information on auto repair, covering cars from 1945 to present. The best part – it’s really easy to use!

Start at our homepage, then click on “Do Research Online”. This will bring you a page that lists all the online databases we offer (which, by the way, are worth taking a look at – there’s an amazing amount of information offered here). Scroll to the very bottom of the page; the next to last database listed is the Auto Repair Reference Center. Simply click on the link. You’ll be asked to enter your library card number (sorry, this database is available only to Davenport Library cardholders) Click on Login and the to gateway automobile reference is opened to you.

A word of caution: the earlier years listed have very limited car models and information available; you have to go to about 1962 before many models appear. The more recent entries have lots of information including wiring diagrams, service bulletins and recalls, repair procedures and specifications. The information is well illustrated and give detailed, step-by-step instructions.

Some cool extra features of the database include “Auto IQ” which gives detailed descriptions of various car parts, where they’re located in most cars and what their purpose is and is illustrated with diagrams, pictures and video clips. There is also a section of “Care and Repair Tips” so that you can avoid future car repairs and “Troubleshooting” to help you diagnose problems.

Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan’s LabyrinthVisually stunning, chillingly frightening yet finishing with a ray of hope, the memory of this Spanish foreign language film will linger with you long after you’ve seen it.

Set after the bloody Spanish Civil War in 1944, Spain is being decimated by Fascists who brutally crush the Resistance. A particularly cruel and ruthless General brings his heavily pregnant wife and step-daughter Ofelia to the countryside to await the birth of his son. Left on her own, Ofelia explores the area surrounding the old farmhouse and explores a walled garden where a labyrinth leads her to Pan. This mysterious figure promises her that if she completes three difficult tasks she will save her mother and her problems will end. Suddenly Ofelia is caught in a battle between good and evil and the line between reality and fantasy blurs.

Beautiful, horrific, brutal, sometimes terrifying, this is a fairytale for adults about the power of the imagination and hope for the hero in each of us.

The library has many foreign language films available for check-out as well as many “independent” films that may not have shown locally. Be sure to browse our collection for amazing films from around the world.

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.

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