The Chris Farley Show: a Biography in Three Acts by Tom Farley

Chris FarleyFans of comedy can probably look back and wonder where they were when they found out that comedian Chris Farley had passed away at the age of 33. If they read the papers at that time, they can also recall not being shocked.

The hot nonfiction title The Chris Farley Show, cowritten by his brother Tom, is an illuminating character study broken into 3 acts. Act I paints the portrait of a deeply religious and well-intentioned boy from Madison, Wisconsin with a Midwestern innocence that he never lost even at the darkest hour. Act II shows a fireball ascent through the ranks of Second City, Saturday Night Live , and motion pictures by a natural talent with spot-on instincts in terms of timing, physicality, and energy. Unfortunately, Act Three ends like it does in the real world, as the professional parallels between himself and idol John Belushi materialize in an all-too real fashion. The conclusion is painful, as the book shows us a kinder man than the one John Q. Public merely saw take pratfalls for the amusement of unseen millions.

The writing style takes a while to get used to, as the linear narrative of the author is consistently backed up by quotes from his friends, family and celebrity co-workers. It’s worth it. You’ll wish you could change the ending, though.

Iowa Wildflowers

Iowa\'s Wild PlacesAt one time, Iowa had more prairie for it’s size than any other state in the union. Within ten years of the arrival of the pioneers (mid-1800s) nearly all of it was gone. Less than one tenth of one percent remains. Fortunately, there has been a movement lately to not only preserve what is left, but to restore unused land to native prairie.

Prairies are a diverse and complex ecosystem, supporting a wide range of birds and wildlife. They are also very beautiful, ranging from spring ephermals to an explosion of summer color to the drama of the tall grasses (growing taller than a man)

One of the best places to see prairie being restored is at the Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge in Prairie City, Iowa (just this side of Des Moines) They have an excellent, kid-friendly museum and interpretive center, walking trails, and a driving tour. As well as the amazing number of grasses and wildflowers that are being restored, there is an elk herd and a buffalo herd. Several native birds that were believed shooting star wildflowerto be extinct or rarely seen in Iowa have again been sighted here.

Closer to home, Rochester Cemetery near Tipton, Iowa offers a unique and memorable experience. Tucked between farms on a hilly site, it is considered one of the best examples of Oak Savanna in the Midwest and is known for it’s huge white oaks and it’s wildflowers. Growing on land that has never been disturbed, the variety and sheer quantity of flowers is astounding, especially in the spring. Especially the shooting stars. There are, literally, thousands of them, blanketing the ground in every direction, an amazing sight. (Please note: if you do visit, remember that this is still an active cemetery; please be respectful of the gravesites and stay on the mown paths)

For a beautiful guide to the prairies and wildflowers of Iowa, take a look at Iowa’s Wild Places by Carl Kurtz, or visit the Iowa Prairie Network for a listing of the remaining Iowa prairies, information on prairies, a calendar of events and volunteer opportunities. Help keep Iowa’s wild places wild.

Bike to Work Week

Miles from NowhereGas prices making you cringe? Gained a few pounds over the winter? Try riding your bike to work. It’s a great way to get and stay in shape, requires no expensive trips to the gas station and it’s better for the environment. Plus, biking is fun! We’re lucky to have one of the best recreational trail systems in the country right here in Davenport and the Quad Cities. In addition, all Citibuses have bike racks; there is no extra fee to use them and they can expand your options for getting around on two wheels.

Bike to Work Week is May 10-16 to both encourage people to commute to work and to raise awareness of bicycles on the road. Bike Iowa can give you lots of tips on how to commute and lots of reasons why it’s a good idea.

Need a little inspiration? Miles From Nowhere by Barbara Savage is about the round-the-world bicycle trip Savage and her husband made. This is a great book – funny, exciting, sometimes tense (attacked by rock throwing men in Egypt), always interesting, Savage and her husband quit their jobs and spent two years on their adventure. Their story makes for can’t-put-down reading and may inspire you to dust off your own bike for a trip around the neighborhood.

Honoring Mothers On Their Own Special Day

Some say the holiday we celebrate traces its roots back to the 16th Century British holiday of Mothering Day, the annual custom of visiting one’s mother church annually, which meant that most mothers would be reunited with their children on this day.

In the United States Mother’s Day was first observed in 1907 when Anna Jarvis asked her Philadelphia church to hold a service in memory of all mothers on the anniversary of her mother’s death. Jarvis and friends undertook a letter writing campaign in 1909 lobbying for the creation of a national Mother’s Day. In 1914 Congress designated the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day is celebrated on different days in other world countries. For example, Spain and Germany honor mothers on the first Sunday in May. In Ireland and the United Kingdom it is celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent.

Little Heathens – a book for Mother’s Day

Little Heathens

Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression by Mildred Armstrong Kalish

The 80-something Kalish writes with simplicity and directness about growing up on an Iowa farm in the thirties. The details of meal preparation, crops and care of the farm animals are so specific they ring with authenticity.

Daily life is made vivid with the telling detail – the feel of grass on bare feet, a snack of new potatoes with a shaving of butter, or preparing dandelion greens after a long winter. She describes how the kids were assigned tasks such as gathering tomatoes, potatoes fresh from the garden, milk and butter from the cellar for dinner. Yet she doesn’t romanticize the work involved in preparing and cleaning up after three meals a day.

Read this with your mother, grandmother, or any older relative and share their memories of a way of life fast disappearing from our collective memory. Thank goodness for memoirists like Kalish.

The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift

how-to-eat-supper.jpgAs a devoted fan of NPRs The Splendid Table, I was anxiously awaiting this cookbook. I must admit at first glance I was slightly disappointed because I didn’t see lots of food pictures. It took almost no time though for me to fall in love with How to Eat Supper.

As loyal listeners know, Lynne and Sally share an immense curiosity about all things food. Like the show, this book goes far beyond the recipe to include history, techniques, references, and great stories. There is also a “Building the Library” blurb every few pages that suggests other great cookbooks. Some wonderful quotes about food and eating from a diverse group of people, the likes of Henry David Thoreau to Miss Piggy are also included.

Even though the categories of recipes run the usual gamut of salads to sweets, the individual recipes themselves are far from the normal supper fare. Not to worry though, even novice cooks will find that these are things that they can cook.

I’m going to try the Pan Crisped Deviled Eggs. Let me know what recipe you try!

CD’s for spring

Dare I say, it might be time to turn off the DVD player or Tivo and finally spend some time outside.

I’ve been watching you, and some folks have been just driving around to feel what the moving air is like coming in the car. How long has it been?

Anyways, here are some new CD’s for all ages and interests that just hit the shelves at Davenport Public Library. Click on the links, put a hold on them, give ’em a road test and tell us what you think.

Black Keys — Attack and Release

Mariah Carey – E=MC2

Gnarls Barkley — The Odd Couple

Madonna — Hard Candy

Portishead — Third

George Straight — Troubadour

3 Doors Down — 3 Doors Down

Neil Diamond — Home Before Dark

The Armchair Traveler: Scandanavia (it’s cold, but hot)

scandinavian-crime-novels.jpgIn the last ten years, there has been a renaissance of Swedish, Norwegian, and Icelandic crime writers. The brooding and world-weary Nordic antihero has emerged as a leading trend in mysteries.

The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo

Voted “Best Norwegian Crime Novel of all Time” by Norwegian book clubs, this is a good example of parallel storytelling. Detective Harry Hole is drawn into a case with ties to World War II and Norway’s cooperation with Nazi Germany. Alternating between the Russian front and contemporary Oslo, Hole finds that aging collaborators are being murdered one by one.

Sun and Shadow by Ake Edwardson

Swedish detective Erik Winter likes the finer things in life (he is a sharp dresser with a taste for good jazz and fine food), but pressures of his personal life and work are taking their toll.

The Man Who Smiled by Henning Mankell

This is the fourth in the Inspector Wallander series; Swedish author Mankell was one of the first of the Scandinavian wave of crime writers. In this one, Wallander is ready to quit the force in Ystad when a friend asks him to investigate a death (and is then killed himself).

The Torso by Helene Tursten

Irene Huss is an interesting example of the female side of law enforcement. She is a stressed out cop in Gothenburg, Sweden. Tursten’s strength is depicting the demands of the job and an equally demanding family life

Other fine writers are Asa Larsson, Kjell Eriksson, Arnaldur Indridason, Karin Fossum and, of course, Peter Hoeg.

The Art of Mexican Cooking by Diana Kennedy

The Art of Mexican CookingMexican cooking is more than tacos and salsa; it is in fact a rich, complex and varied cuisine with distinct regional differences. Originally published in 1989, The Art of Mexican Cooking by Diana Kennedy is back in print filled with not only recipes, but stories and information about the unique, delicious foods of Mexico.

This is a cookbook for aficionados; many of the recipes and techniques are advanced (making blood sausage or cleaning a squid), but there are many accessible dishes as well (such as Mexican masa ball soup) Emphasis is on authentic ingredients and produce, most of which are now readily available in American markets. One chapter is devoted just to chilies and another on the sauces and relishes of Mexican cuisine, as well as chapters on corn, pork, chicken and desserts among others.

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo with some real Mexican food!

To The Swift edited by Joe Drape

To the SwiftGlamour, tradition and, oh yeah, bourbon – what’s not to like about the Kentucky Derby? It’s also, of course, America’s premiere horse racing event and sets the stage for the Triple Crown (the Derby, the Preakness in two weeks and the Belmont three weeks after that)

Of the 40,000 Thoroughbred foals born in the United States each year, only 20 get to the Kentucky Derby. Only eleven horses have gone on to the win the Triple Crown. To the Swift chronicles the triumphs and heartbreaks, drama and hope of this beautiful and exciting sport. Heavily illustrated and filled with stories of not only the winners but those that came up short, this collection of stories from The New York Times combines original reporting with new essays on the sport.

Now, what was that about bourbon? The key ingredient for mint juleps of course! No traditional Kentucky Derby Party would be complete without them.

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