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photoarkWow! Hundreds of amazing photographs fill the pages of The Photo Ark: One Man’s Quest to Document the World’s Animals by Joel Sartore from the fine folks at National Geographic. Sartore has spent most of the last decade travelling around the world to zoos, wildlife centers, private homes and wherever animals live under human care to photograph as many species as he can. So far, that’s over 6,000 species, several hundred of which are included here. He is the founder of National Geographic’s Photo Ark which hopes to add photos of every species under human care to its archive. In his introductory essay, Douglas Chadwick (wildlife biologist and journalist) points out that while Earth’s human population nearly doubled from 3.7 billion in 1970 to 7.5 billion now, during that same time, the number of large land animals fell by half. Ninety percent of the living land animals today are humans and their livestock. Fifty-nine percent of all large (over 33 pounds) and sixty percent of herbivores over 220 pounds are officially threatened with extinction. If pollution and other effects of human existence do not change, one-third of all species could be gone by 2100. Aside from the awful statistics and anxieties about extinctions and ecological disaster, it’s a lovely essay about biodiversity and what makes it a good thing, including how beautiful and interesting so many animals of all sorts are.

In his own essay, Sartore explains the genesis of the Photo Ark project. His wife was diagnosed with breast cancer which caused him to take stock of his life and work as well as to try to figure out what he could do for work while staying close to home (as he normally travelled for months at a time to find animals in remote locations to photograph). He decided to do something worthwhile—photographing as many endangered animals as he could—as well as work that would not require such long trips, which made zoos and the like great places to work. He began his photo ark with a naked mole rat at the Lincoln (Nebraska) Children’s Zoo, a mile from his home. His wife has recovered, and his work continues. He plans to photograph all 12,000+ captive species over the next 15 years, making this a 25-year project.

The animals are photographed in front of either black or white paper backgrounds in studio portrait style and the layouts vary, but are carefully thought out. For instance, in Chapter One (Mirrors), one page might be a bird with various shades of blue plumage while the facing page is a similarly colored butterfly, or a praying mantis on one side with an arctic fox on the other, both with their heads cocked or a giant deep-sea roach appearing to face off with a very similarly shaped Southern three-banded armadillo.  Chapter Two (Partners) features either photos of paired/grouped animals (breeding pairs or friends or littermates, mother and cub and whatnot) or opposite pages of “birds and bees” or “owl and pussycat” and so on. Chapter Three (Opposites) focuses on the unlike or antagonistic (snail and cheetah, Siamese fighting fish, a tiny katydid and a huge stick insect, etc.). “Curiosities” are featured in Chapter Four, your echidnas, platypuses, tarsiers, and other unusual animals along with strangely posed animals or pairings. Finally, Chapter Five presents “Stories of Hope.” Animals like the Bali mynah, rescued by a captive breeding program and re-introduced to the wild or our own Kirtland’s warbler, the rarest songbird in North America. A happy accident (a controlled fire that got out of hand) enabled scientists (in cooperation with nature) to reclaim the habitat necessary for their survival. The birds only nest in 10-foot tall or shorter Jack pines and, given those again via fire and plantings, are now making a comeback. Golden Lion tamarins are being bred in captivity and released to the wild in a repopulation effort that appears to be paying off. By the way, their “cousins”, the cotton-top tamarin, are the focus of Springfield’s Dickinson Park Zoo’s Proyecto Titi, a conservation effort to help preserve it, one of the most endangered primates in the wild.

Each photo is captioned with the animal’s species and its level of existential threat according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. So, EX equals extinct, EW is extinct in the wild, CR is critically endangered, EN is endangered, VU stands for vulnerable, NT is near threatened, LC means least concern, DD indicates data deficient, and NE means not evaluated.

There are a few scattered pages of “behind the scenes” looks at some of the photo shoots, capturing some of the methodology used in getting these extraordinary photos. Also distributed throughout are several “heroes” who have dedicated themselves to assorted conservation efforts, including raptor recovery, endangered primates, extinct in the wild pheasants, and others. The book concludes with an index of the animals photographed including the zoo or other center where the animal was photographed along with their web address.

Open to any random page and enjoy and, to cap it off, learn a bit about conservation efforts and why we need them.

 

index.aspxAs Tennyson had it, “In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” Well, around our house, that’s “thoughts of gardens.” In light of the rapid approach of spring on the 20th, it’s once again time to finish up (or start, for procrastinators) plans for what to plant this year. With that in mind, I present you with Victory Gardens for Bees: A DIY Guide to saving the Bees by Lori Weidenhammer.

As you probably know, there’s a crisis in the bee world. Over one-third of edible crops and three-quarters of flowering plants are pollinated by bees, and honeybees and most other bees are in drastic decline. At least four native species of bees have become extinct, and over fifty others are endangered. Why is this happening? Answers are complicated, but include climate change (which alters the timing of blooms so that they no longer coincide with bee needs), pesticides, habitat loss and parasites. Obviously, some of these things are out of the average person’s control, but we can help provide food and habitat for bees in our own yards. This book aims to help people do just that while also providing nice gardens for ourselves.The concept of a Victory Garden goes back to wartime and helping the war effort by growing food for one’s own household to free up resources for the war effort. The author has carried the concept over to helping in the “war” to help the bees survive and thrive.

Let us begin with the bees themselves. Most of us probably just think about honeybees (when we think of bees at all), but there are over 4,000 known bee species in North America alone! That does not, by the way, include honeybees. They are native to Europe. Not all bees make honey or live in hives, but all are pollinators, so all are important. There are pictures and information on a number of bees here, and tips for how you can help each of them in your yard whether for food or habitat. If you have trouble growing a lush lawn, you may be happy to know that one way to help a number of species of bees is to leave bare patches of ground because they nest in the ground and prefer it grass-free. Once you have gotten your fill of bee species information, you can move on to the enormous information on bee-friendly plants.

There are numerous seasonal charts of plants both for nectar and pollen. Perennials, shrubs, trees, meadow/pasture, natives, vegetables, herbs, plants “with benefits” (those that attract other beneficial insects, deter pests, are edible, etc.), and “weeds to leave” (“I’m not lazy—I leave dandelions for the bees!”) are all charted here. The charts are very detailed and useful, including hardiness zones, whether native or not, blooming period, what bees (and other beneficial insects) are attracted to them, heights and various plant notes.

Also included are a number of adaptable planting designs to help make attractive as well as useful landscapes. Whether you have a small patch to plant or acres and acres, you can find useful designs here. There are lots of photos of plants as well as bees, the aforementioned charts and designs, and the layout is varied and very attractive. I’d say this is an excellent resource for anyone interested in giving the bees a helping hand. By the way, if you are interested in perhaps providing a home for bees of your own (and getting some honey out of the deal), we also have a number of books on beekeeping to round out your education on bees. Buzz on in and check them out! (Sorry, couldn’t help myself).

gardenAbout a year after I started working at the library, Courtney Dermott joined our staff, working alongside me in our Circulation Department. I enjoyed her company here for the next nine years or so until her retirement. More recently, Courtney was on our Library Board of Directors, last serving as President. Sadly, Courtney recently died, leaving many bereft. She will be missed. Courtney would be happy to know that several of her friends and club mates have remembered her with Memorial Gifts to the library. You may not be aware that we buy materials in honor or memory of people (and organizations). We will select and purchase items that friends or loved ones feel would be suitable to memorialize a loved one or honor someone’s birthday, anniversary, graduation, or other event. Included in those recent memorial purchases is the title I’m reviewing this week, Native Plants of the Midwest: A Comprehensive Guide to t he Best 500 Species for the Garden by Alan Branhagen, which the Garden Club purchased in her memory.

This is a terrific book, lots of beautiful photos of all the plants included as well as full descriptions and information on how to grow them, where to use them in the landscape and their ornamental attributes. All that comes after the first eighty pages or so which delve into the whys and wherefores of using native plants as well as inspirations for design and selecting the right plant for the right location and use.

You may well be tempted to skip over those first pages and jump right into the plants themselves, which are broken up into numerous divisions, including shade trees, evergreen trees, small trees and large shrubs, vines, prairie perennials, woodland perennials, groundcovers and more. Many, if not most, of the plants listed were at least somewhat familiar to me, but there were quite a few I had never encountered before that I can recall, although most of those are plants I would not normally encounter in life or reading as they are succulents (which I generally don’t care for) or plants that only grow in specialized environments (like bogs, which I have never had a need to find plants for).

I was amazed at how many plants we now grow in our gardens are, in fact, native, given that for many years gardeners preferred to garden with mostly European and Asian plants as they were considered more interesting and exciting. More recently, interest in native plants has grown because people are more aware of the effect on the ecosystem (growing natives provides food and shelter for all kinds of animal life, including butterflies and birds) and that plants that evolved in a given climate and soil, etc. are better fitted to thrive there. Himalayan poppies, for example, are beautiful and one of the few truly blue flowers, but they don’t like it in the Midwest. The native blue eyed grass, on the other hand, while not as showy does have some truly blue selections and is allegedly relatively easy to grow from seed although it does not transplant well. Pitcher’s sage (salvia azurea) is also quite blue and much easier to grow and widely popular with bees and other pollinators (as well as pretty adaptable and easy to grow).

So, if you are interested in familiarizing yourself with a wide variety of really good native choices for your garden, now’s the time to start planning for spring with this beautiful and informative book, among many gardening books to be found at the Joplin Public Library.

great-foodAh, food! One of my favorite subjects, along with armchair travel, so that makes Great American Eating Experiences: Local Specialties, Favorite Restaurants, Food Festivals, Diners, Roadside Stands, and More by the fine folks at National Geographic a must-read for me.

Lots of great photography, interesting facts, wonderful descriptions of various foodstuffs, and an excellent index to boot, you can’t go wrong here. The book is divided into six geographic regions and then subdivided by state making it a good travel planning resource. Everything you would expect to find (lobster in Maine, russet potatoes in Idaho, chili peppers in New Mexico) as well as some less well-known outside their region treats (coffee milk in Rhode Island, vinegar French fries in Delaware, Cheerwine soda in North Carolina) await you inside. Some things sound so delectable it’s hard to imagine why they haven’t broken out of their regional status, like Wisconsin Kringles, a scrumptious pastry which my Chicao-born sister-in-law familiarized for the rest of the family. They can be purchased online, but I don’t know why no one seems to make them more than a few miles from Racine. And beignets are huge in New Orleans, but don’t seem to make frequent appearances elsewhere.

On the other hand, there are plenty of dishes that make one wonder why ever anyone anywhere would want to eat them. My grandmother made a dish she called scrapple, but it wouldn’t be recognized by any genuine scrapple eaters. Hers was cornmeal and pork sausage boiled together and eaten by the bowl or cooled and cut into rectangles then fried. Well, cornmeal and pork and frying are like “real” scrapple, but (luckily for me), hers didn’t include pig scraps, livers, hearts, and “everything but the squeal,” as does real scrapple. Nor did we eat it with maple syrup. Gulp. She was Southern, not from anywhere near scrapple’s home of Pennsylvania, so either she got her recipe from somebody else or heard about the real thing and said, “Say that wouldn’t be bad if you got rid of everything but the cornmeal and some sausage!” I don’t know, I’m just glad I never had to try to eat the real thing (and I’m not going to start now).

There are more than a few acquired tastes here, including the aforementioned scrapple and Moxie soda (New England, particularly Maine) as well as variants of widely-popular items like barbecue. While popular nearly everywhere, barbecue (whichever way you spell it) surely has more than enough regional differences. North Carolina alone has Eastern (whole hog, peppery vinegar based sauce), and Western or Lexington-style (just shoulder with vinegar but including ketchup and/or Worcestershire sauce) while Kentucky favors mutton, of all things. Never mind Memphis, Kansas City, and South Carolina which has mustard based sauce or vinegar or tomato, depending on the locale.

In addition to regional foods, the book covers numerous food festivals all over the country dedicated to apples, pawpaws, cheeses, the famous garlic festival in Gilroy, California, cranberries, buckwheat, cherries, pork, and ethnic delicacies from Norwegian to Garman to Russian and more.

Curious about things a bit closer to home? Missouri information includes St. Louis favorites Gooey Butter Cake, Toasted Ravioli, and St. Louis-style pizza as well as KC barbecue and Lambert’s Throwed Rolls while Kansas entries include Burnt Ends, the single remaining Harvey House still serving meals (in Florence), elk jerky, potatiskorv sausage, and zweibach (not the dry toast used mostly for teething purposes, but a sweet dinner roll). Oklahoma boasts the unknown to me Bristow Tabouleh Fest, the El Reno fried onion burger, fried okra, and sand plums. Okay, I hadn’t heard of sand plums before, either. Arkansas? Apparently the birthplace of the fried dill pickle and possum pie (no possum involved) as well as chocolate gravy and biscuits, a wholesome breakfast treat.

So, beautiful pictures, interesting food, a smattering of history and culture, what’s not to like? For foodies or travelers, well worth a couple of hours browsing, just eat first so you don’t drool on the book.

index-aspxEver find yourself in a situation where you have to talk to strangers? Not good at small talk? Want to feel more up to snuff watching the pundits on the news? Just like stuffing your head with bits and pieces of information that might be useful or interesting? Have I got a book for you! The Intelligent Conversationalist: 31 Cheat Sheets that will Show You How to Talk to Anyone About Anything, Anytime by Imogen Lloyd Webber has it all covered. Nearly  400 pages chock a block with info from language to math to religion to politics, history and more. Need a gloss on major religions of the world? Got it. Refresher on American history and presidents? Right there. Who were the Axis and Allied powers in World War II? Oh, yeah, them. And what’s up with the Electoral College, anyway?

Each cheat sheet begins with either a few paragraphs or pages on the subject or a handy grid with terms and explications of the terms and ends with how to argue the point covered, a “crisp fact” (a neat bit of trivia on the subject) and a “pivot” (a handy question or statement to move things away from the current discussion). Some cheat sheets have Red Flags to watch out for, like things that are just either way too controversial or way too well known. Nothing like a nice batch of eye rolls from your audience when you spout off with something that “everybody knows.”  There’s a nice little section on British slang (the author’s a Brit, which helps explain Chapter 15, which consists entirely of a huge grid of the kings and queens of England since 1066, covering 27 pages. Here’s an entry on Edward II to show the sort of info (and writing style) you’ll find: “Qualifications—Son of Edward I. He was created the first Prince of Wales in 1301. Quirks—Edward II was deposed by his wife Isabella (Phillip IV of France’s daughter) and her amour Roger Mortimer. Edward II gave up his crown to Edward III. Edward II was later murdered at Berkeley Castle. Notable Feats/Fiascos—Into favorites, most famously Piers Gaveston and Hugh le Despenser. Edward II was inept. Cue the barons getting very irritated. He also was defeated by Scot Robert the Bruce in 1314 at Bannockburn, which did nothing for his popularity.”

For readers more interested in modern history, there’s a cheat sheet on Middle Eastern history, twenty-odd pages of info about the most unsettled part of the globe and how it got that way. The Pivot question on this section, by the way, is “Qatar won the bid to be the first Arab country to host the FIFA World Cup in 2020. Are you a soccer fan?” How’s that for a change of subject?

Feeling a little uninformed about culture? Have a gander at cheat sheets 27 (authors you need to know about), 28 (artists), and 29 (composers) while Chapter 30 gets you a smattering of theater information.

The writing is all most definitely in the snarky British humor vein, and the politics are noticeably left-leaning. If you like that, it’s a big winner. If not, maybe you can overlook that and just enjoy buffing up for your next trivia contest or become a couch champion watching Jeopardy.

Every four years, when the presidentialout race rolls around, folks say “If (fill in the blank) wins, I’m moving to Canada!” Or maybe Bolivia, or “anywhere but here.” With that in mind, we recently ordered the latest edition of Getting Out: your guide to leaving America. For many reasons, I’m not going anywhere, but I thought it would be interesting to have a look and indeed, it was. After some introductory info about how the book came about and who it’s intended for, the meat and potatoes appear. First a section on different sorts of visas as well as gaining foreign citizenship (which is usually pretty difficult unless you marry a native or have oodles of money). After that, different methods of supporting yourself overseas, including the Peace Corps (if you don’t mind going wherever they send you) and other volunteer organizations, retirement, working for the U.S. government, entrepreneurship, etc.

The next section is the largest and, to me, the most interesting.  Lots and lots of info on different countries, including which ones speak English, which ones are least/most expensive, how corrupt the governments and police are generally, who has good/bad infrastructure including roads and internet, where crime is high or low, etc. Interspersed all along the way are bits of info from expatriates who have relocated to lots of different places. Some of them are really eye-opening, but mostly they boil down to “remember it’s not the U.S. and you’ll be happier.” Some people really like their new homes, whether temporary or permanent, while others put up with various issues simply to live where it’s cheaper or more aligned with their worldview or because their spouse is native and they accompanied them home.

After the general information on statistics and culture, we finally come to the country by country list of places you might consider and a short list of places not to consider (Somalia, Chad, Haiti, Sudan and a few other notable places best avoided). For each of the sixty countries listed, there’s an info box about climate, form of government, population, currency, major languages and religious groups, ethnic groups and a comparative cost of living. That’s followed by a overview of “living there” including a bit more on governance, quality of infrastructure and internet, healthcare cost and quality, how likely it is that you might be able to work there, the tax situation, and a bit about crime, whether or not you can buy real estate, and whether abortion is permitted as well as gun control and marijuana laws. Something I found a bit troubling in spots is the snippet on “Women’s Issues.” While it’s certainly worth knowing if you might be taking yourself (or your wife or daughter) to someplace rife with sexual harassment, I think that stating “Domestic violence is a problem in Aboriginal communities” in Australia seems to imply that the European descended folks are all peaceable and well-behaved.  The section on “Moving There” goes a bit more deeply into who can/can’t take up residence in the country. Sadly, just about anywhere I would consider going won’t take me unless I win a sweepstakes or lottery (and I’d need to anyway in order to afford the cost of living in those places).

By the way, if you’re interested in high-tailing it out of the country to avoid the long arm of the law, there’s a list of countries with no extradition treaty with the U.S. The book concludes with a section on web resources for up-to-date and more in-depth information for those who are more than merely curious about becoming an expat. At any rate, whether merely curious or itching to get overseas, you’ll find plenty to inform yourself with here.

bookOnce, while visiting my brother’s family in Chicago, somehow the subject of White Castle came up. I’d never eaten there, since there aren’t any within shouting distance of anywhere I’ve ever lived. Sadly, my brother decided to be gracious and bought home a big bag of said establishment’s “sliders” for dinner that night. I managed to eat two of them, which may be the lightest meal I’ve had in my adult life. I know millions of people are devoted to them, but if I never see another of their burgers, it will be too soon. If forced to describe them, the kindest thing I can think of is “Ummm. . . Steamed meatloaf sandwich?” This is all a roundabout way of saying “Not all fast food is created equal,” and that’s the rationale behind Fast food maniac: from Arby’s to White Castle, one man’s supersized obsession with America’s favorite food by Jon Hein.

While Hein is no Jane or Michael Stern (authors of Roadfood, and other foodie books, several of which we have here at the library), he has provided a serviceable summary of all the major national fast food establishments and a number of regional ones as well. So, in this book you’ll find a brief history of each company along with a chart of what they’re best known for, any “secret menu” items, and whether or not any of their items made his Top Five lists.

The first section is devoted to Arby’s, McDonalds, and so forth, the big chains mostly available cross-country (and some around the world, though some are really just super-regionals, like Bojangles or widely scattered like Checker’s or Fatburger). Here you’ll find that A & W is the oldest fast food franchise in the U.S. and the fact that the biggest selling item at Jack in the Box (closest locations are in Tulsa) are the tacos (2 for a dollar!) I remember Jack fondly from my childhood in Southern California, before their taco days, I think. At least I always had hamburgers.

The second section is somewhat misleadingly labeled “regional,” because while some (like Culver’s and Braum’s ) are truly regional, others (like Massapequa, New York’s All-American Burger or Krazy Jim’s Blimpy Burger in Ann Arbor) are single outlets or at most single-town, like Dick’s in Seattle.

In-N-Out had the first 2-way speakers at a burger drive-thru in 1948. In-N-Out has a devoted following, sadly the chain is primarily in California and Arizona. Hein is a big fan, claiming that his first stop whenever he travels to California or Arizona or the other four states they operate in is always the nearest In-N-Out. Closest to us? Dallas/Ft. Worth. Given the excellent things I’ve heard about them, I think I’ll track one down next time I have to go to the Big D. Hein awards them his first place for burgers and third place for fries. At least we can get the second best fries right here at home at McDonald’s! (The best are at Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs, which you can try in St. Louis).

Other listings in the regional category include Pink’s, known world-wide for hot dogs and Primanti Bros. in Pittsburgh , famous for their sandwiches containing your choice of meat and/or cheese and (drumroll, please) cole slaw, tomatoes, and (wait for it) French fries! Yup, your fries come on your sandwich. Tradition has it that a truck driver (one of their biggest customer groups back in the day) asked for his fries and slaw on his sandwich the better to eat with one hand while driving with the other. I can only surmise he had really big hands!

As I mentioned, I spent my early childhood in California, home of Weinerschnitzel (Der Weinerschnitzel at that time), but never made it there. I used to hear their ads on the radio and was always hopeful of getting a chance to try that rare thing, the weinerschnitzel. Fortunately, I never got the chance since I found out from this book that said fabulous item is. . .a hot dog. I felt a little bit like Ralphy from A Christmas Story when he got his Little Orphan Annie secret decoder ring and found that the secret message was “Be sure to drink your Ovaltine.” Hot dogs?! Glad we went to Jack in the Box!

Hein wraps up with lists of which places have the best you-name-it (burgers, fries, shakes, burritos, straws. Yup, straws, and loads of other items) and tips and tricks for fast food dining, some useful and some just silly. Next to last is a list of his favorite “secret menu” items (which I have never had the nerve to try to order anywhere) and finally an “In Memoriam” page or so of gone-but-not-forgotten fast food joints of the past.

Happy reading, and I’d suggest you have lunch before you start unless you don’t permit fast food to pass your lips.