Monday, July 16, 2018

Welcome to Iowa!

I may have mentioned, once or twice, that I am not from around here...…
That things like State Fairs, and crop reports, and weather(tornado) conditions and mid-west life in general are a cultural shift from my earlier years spent living in Massachusetts.  It has been a pleasant learning curve to adjust to a life of "Iowa Nice", low cost of living, and a grocery store chain that still has a butcher that will cut your meat to order.  I could probably do without the -20 temps in the winter and the 105-heat-index-for two.straight.weeks. temps, but as someone once said....It's not's Iowa.

In my current position as a museum professional, I have the opportunity to interact with guests from all around the world.  People from India, Pakistan, China, Japan, France, Germany...….have all meandered their way through 300 years of Iowa's agricultural heritage.  We have discussed the similarities and differences of farming and technology in our respective countries.   We have enjoyed learning new things about new-to-us cultures.   I have become entranced with Iowa life, and feel like I have been here long enough to  be able to say "Welcome to Iowa" to those who are newer to the state than I.  It's fun greeting people and assuring them that while Iowa may be new and different from the culture they left behind, it is well worth their time to settle in and make this their new home.

I have created a small check list of things to recommend to future Iowegians :)
Even if you don't participate in them, it is nice to know what they are so you can follow along in a conversation with the "locals".

In reverse order...
10) Maid Rites

9) Detasseling Corn

8) how to use a 4-way intersection with stop signs

7) bacon

6) E85

5) Cyclones vs Hawkeyes

4) Caucus season


2) Dyersville

1) The State Fair

I may or may not geek out over this list when meeting new transplants to the state.

Okay....I do.....geek out....more than a little...…

But that didn't seem to phase the young couple that found themselves in 1875 Iowa this past Saturday.  After passing a pleasant few minutes discussing all things medicinal in the Victorian Era, we discovered that we were from the same part of the world...and had experienced some of the same cultural shifts.   They had already started on the recommendation list....and had already prepped for the top 3!

After spending a few moments describing all the glorious things that are the Iowa State Fair and why it was so important for them to see the Butter Cow, I was able to leave them with this small bit of wisdom....

Iowa is a great place to work and live.....especially now that we run on Dunkin....

The look of relief on their face was almost comical.

Because while I didn't miss the class on all the things that make this place close to Heaven, I also didn't miss the class on comfort foods and having a small link to your former home.....

Welcome to Iowa, former New Englanders.....relax and have some coffee :)

Friday, April 20, 2018

April 20.....before and after Columbine

OK, I'll admit it.    I'm from the age of dinosaurs.  Old as dirt.  Maybe even pre-historic.

I know this because I looked at today's date, listened to the news on the radio and realized:

I remember teaching before and after Columbine.  

My student teaching practicum involved learning the emergency procedure for fire drills.  Just fire drills.  We did them once a semester.

For my first few teaching jobs, I'm not even sure if the front or side  doors were locked during school hours.

And then Columbine happened. And things changed.

Locked doors, lock-down drills, check-in policies, evacuation procedures....our new normal. Multiple times a year.

Things you never found in your college curriculum and training classes were now part of your  professional duties.

Such as:
Asking the school board to find enough money to re-do the locks on classroom doors because your current lock could only be turned from the outside, with a key.

Hearing an alert tone on the intercom and your first thought being...."How many students can I fit out the window before someone makes it into my classroom?"

Walking into work and thinking..."Hmmm, I wonder if today is the day...."    Every. Day.

And now, as a parent, making sure my own children understand their school's active shooter response.

It feels terrifying and hopeless to get up, the day after a school shooting, and drop your own flesh and blood off at a school building.  To watch them walk away from you and into a "soft target".   Sometimes it makes me want to go back to teaching, because if something happened, I would at least be in the building with them, and not one of those parents on the other side of the police line, waiting for some small bit of information.

Because this is life after Columbine, and Sandy Hook, and.....and......and......

There are days when it feels so dark for this generation.

But there is a glimmer of hope.  And I was honored to see it last night.

A group of freshman in our district presented their Humanities projects on Conflict Resolution.
They lead presentations and discussions on  everything from "How to handle conflict on Social Media", to the current events on the South China Sea, The Ukraine and Russia, The Israel/Palestine conflict, and how conflict in other countries influences  people to come to the United States.
It wasn't just the topics presented, it was the presenters themselves.  Freshmen, who can barely drive a car, were driving well researched conversations with their adult audiences.  They could even find The Ukraine on a world map.  They challenged the adults in their lives to be more informed about world and local issues.  They made us talk to each other about how we, personally, handle conflict in our own lives.  And one student spoke about his desire to return to his birth country to share the peace of Christ, which, despite being what could get him killed, could also be what brings an end to conflict in his home land.

I teared up a bit on the ride home telling my daughter how proud I was of her and her classmates.
Her response: "Yeah, sometimes I think people forget how much teenagers actually know. They should listen to us more often.  Things would get done."

Oh, the naivete of youth ..... and..... oh, the pain of my stepped-on toes.

April is an odd month.   It marks the beginning of so much conflict in world history.  Including two of our own country's wars for freedom.  Which were fought with guns.  Which brings me to today.  The day that marks 19 years of life after Columbine, and a national student walk-out.

No, not all of the students fully understand the issues.  Some may think this is just a way to get out of class for a few minutes.  Some, however,  may have done more research than most adults and have a future in law school or Congress.   Remember what you were like in high school?

Regardless of where you stand on the issues they are protesting, remember life before Columbine and listen with patience.

Because their school day reality is very different from when this dinosaur was a student.

 I hope I didn't miss the class on this one.  Because while I was not in Colorado 19 years ago, I was in a school, and class has never been the same.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Armistice Day

Someone once asked me to describe my favorite part about the Fourth of July.

My answer:  It is the one day of the year when there is a peaceful use for gunpowder.

I am an historian.  I know and appreciate the fact that gunpowder has been used to defend many of the rights and privileges  that I have been blessed with.  I watch the battle reenactments where the participants use a small fraction of the gunpowder and ammunition used in the actual event. 

And I cringe at the smoke, and the noise, and the chaos and the destruction.

And can't begin to imagine the real event.   
And because of the time and place in which I live, I do not have to.   But others must.

Here in the United States we are celebrating Veterans' Day.  We thank our current and former military members for their service and sacrifice.  Please don't confuse this with Memorial Day

In Europe they are marking the 98th anniversary of the Armistice of WWI.  Please don't confuse this with a Peace Treaty.

100 years ago this week, we were re-electing Woodrow Wilson because he "kept us out of the war".
April 2, 1917 that same President goes to Congress to ask for a Declaration of War. 
 For a comprehensive timeline of events in WWI please see this link:
You'll notice quite a few places that are still in our news feeds today.

Armistice Day was when the troops stopped shooting each other, but not when the war was over.
Political Peace would take much longer.  Some would argue (myself included) that it never really came.  

And here we are.  November 11, 2016. 

Can we call an Armistice?
It is not a surrender, but a cessation of hostilities.   So that talking can get more results than shooting (our guns or our mouths).
But this time let's do it better than 100 years ago.   Let's not just talk, but listen.
Let's not send us straight into a political WWII.

I can think of no better way to honor our military veterans, than to be a part of the peacemakers who also help protect the country they defended.

Because political warfare can cause just as much smoke and noise and chaos and destruction as military warfare and is just as hard to heal from.
I have 100 years of history to learn from and I didn't miss the class on that.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016


Election Day

The end of 3 years, 11 months and 27 days of campaigning.

Hey....I live in is ALWAYS campaign season.  (we take a few days off to watch some college football lol)

I know we all think this one has been a particularly brutal campaign.  Tweets, wikileaks, FBI investigations, SNL skits (ok...those were sadly funny) and all the blocking and unfriending on FB could make a person wonder why we pay attention anymore.

We all have it......the undeniable phenomenon known as Election Syndrome.

Unfortunately we are not done with it.   We have to survive today, with it's wall-to-wall media coverage and post game analysis.  The potential lawsuits and result challenges hover like a grey specter over our beautiful fall day.  It feels like we are hanging on by one collective polyester-singly-ply thread of sanity.  If we hear one more rumor of an FBI investigation or rigged election we will snap.

Except we won't.

Because we are better than that.

Six days ago I woke up to a 6 a.m. national news report focused on my usually quiet and sane part of the country.
Just so you know.....hearing the names of cities near you, on a national news outlet, at that time of the day is never a good thing.

Overnight, we had lost two officers in an unspeakable act of violence.

But we had not lost our human decency.  In the hours and days that followed, the communities of Urbandale and Des Moines and neighboring towns came together to show support for the families of the officers. Flowers, cards, prayers, and financial donations from private individuals and local corporations came pouring in. 
And by the very Police Departments that were impacted, a request for privacy and safety for the family of the suspect.
Simple human kindness.  Because we will not stoop to the lowest common denominator.

We expect it from our political candidates, and yet we don't always expect it from ourselves.  Mostly preaching to myself here....but sometimes we gossip.  Sometimes we cut someone off in traffic.  Sometimes we yell at our kids, or our  spouse, or our dog.  Sometimes we lie, or cheat or steal.
Why are we surprised when our politicians do the same?
If we are not willing to hold ourselves to a higher standard, why are we surprised when our national elections turn into the political equivalent of Middle School Student Council elections?
 Wait.....that's insulting to the Middle Schoolers.  They behave better.

So today....if only for one day.... and if "only" out of respect for those officers being buried this week and the departments and communities they represent, choose kindness.

Because kindness IS a choice.  On a day when we have some important choices to make, start with the most important personal one.

And because it's Iowa....these are posted within 100 yards of my polling place.....
'Cause WE didn't miss the class on that...

Sunday, August 21, 2016

changing the routine.....

Traditions are important to me.  Predictability even more so. 
Combine those two together and you've got a bona fide  "stick-in-the-mud" on your hands.

Since we now live in Iowa, we of course have to have a predictable tradition to go along with our adoptive home state.  

And "Nothing Compares" to the tradition of the Iowa State Fair.

For the past four years we have had our comfortable, traditional process of attending the fair.  As I am also an social introvert who usually avoids anything with crowds of more than three people, we typically head to the fair early on opening day instead of the weekends.  We go to the same buildings and exhibits, eat the same food and walk the same route through the grounds....we even use the same entrance/exit gate every year. 

This year things went a bit haywire.

I forgot to ask for a day off on Opening Day.
The family calendar was packed for the entire remaining days of the fair.  The only day left open on my schedule was Sunday, Aug. 20th.

Also known as the last day of the 2016 Iowa State Fair.

Which is also known as half-price day.  And Free Concert night. And it was the best weather we've had in the last three months.

Which mean everyone and their cousin was going to be swapping oxygen molecules with the equivalent population of a small European country.

But I couldn't not go.  It's the Sate Fair.  In a state known for being nice, it's the one time a year I can think of when Iowans get just a bit competitive with each other.  Quilting, canning, photography, baking, agriculture, animal breeding, horsemanship, 4-H and FFA everything, and the world famous Butter Cow are all not to be missed.

So we broke tradition and headed to the other side of the county to join thousands of our closest friends and neighbors for the afternoon. 
Considering the fact that  we were already breaking with tradition with our attendance day, this stick-in-the-mud went hog wild and suggested a few more changes for the day.

We went in a different entrance.  Gasp.  Then....we went to the top of the hill instead of starting at the bottom.....double gasp!

We toured the State Fair museum....and liked it.

We went to Pioneer Hall and saw all the antiques....and...found this new treasure...


Then we did a few more traditional stops on the hill since I am never one to pass up a free egg-on-a-stick and a quick glimpse at the Butter Cow.

From there we strolled down for our annual pilgrimage to the Varied Industries Building.
We did stick with tradition and freely sampled the popcorn and coffee.
After all...who would pass up free popcorn and coffee???

Keeping with the theme for the day, we tried something new in the Fabrics and Threads area....we all helped in the quilting for charity room.   These quilts are made with donated fabric and volunteer hours and are sent to different children's charities throughout Iowa. It had been on my "State Fair Bucket List" for the last four years and today was the day to get involved.

                                                                     ALL of us ;)

The group spends all ten days of the fair making comfort quilts for children. They also spend all ten days relentlessly recruiting anyone who walks in the door of their work room. Saying no to them is like saying no to your sainted grandmother. It just ought not to be done. Today we helped un-pin the quilts that had been layered and sewn to get them ready to be trimmed and bound. The total blanket goal was 425 this year. When we left  they were at 385 and still had a few hours to go. I hope they made it.  It was fun, our help was appreciated and there was no special skill or talent required.

And when your daughter asks, " many days can we come back and help next year?"  the "never-change, stuck-in-a-rut, stick-in-the-mud" quickly adds this new activity to the Traditions category of State Fair activities, with a mental note to relentlessly recruit some of her friends.

Because while the State Fair has plenty of ice cream, walking tacos and fried candy bars, it also has plenty of room for people to try something new and help a child in need.

And I didn't miss the class on that.  :)

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

....enjoying the latest techno-trends....

Dear Niantic,

Let me introduce myself.  I am the curmudgeon who gripes and complains about the mindless mobs of manic gamers roaming the streets of my town.  I am the one who uses words and phrases like "durned whippersnappers" and "uppity upstarts" when referring to those who play your game.
I am also the one who could become your single best weapon in terms of planning the PR campaign for your next update/release of Poke-whatever....

No.  Seriously.   Stop laughing so hard.

I know I can barely figure out how to answer the incoming calls on my cell phone.
I know I am the one who still insists on writing paper checks and using envelopes and stamps to pay her bills.
And yes, I am the one human left on the planet  who still has a land line.

Which makes me the perfect consultant for your next product launch.
You see, us techno-grumps have a unique skill set that you need. 
It's called "vision killing" and it will save you countless hours of company time and untold millions in corporate profits as I help you avoid bad publicity and lawsuits associated with the release of your products.

Had you hired me before the launch of your latest, hottest techno-trend I could have helped you with the following situations as they triggered my inner "grump-o-meter".....

Had I been allowed to see that you had (inadvertently, I'm sure) placed Poke stops at places like Arlington National Cemetery or the Holocaust Museum, my in-born, over driven sense of appropriateness would have immediately sounded the alarm and begged you to re-consider that option.

If I had but known in advance that you had alarmingly confused "open to the public" and "public space" (again, honest mistake, I am assuming), I could have helped you locate and apply the legal definitions of public vs private property, trespassing, and personal responsibility.

I would like to make you an offer you can't refuse:
Hire me.

OK.....stop laughing......again....

Hire me to be the one who Poke-holes all your ideas before they hit the www.

Hire me to remind you of all the pitfalls and problems that come when you don't Poke-check in with all the private business, organizations, property owners and individuals that were not allowed the option of having Poke-thingys on  their lands or persons.

Hire me to help you remember that while you are Poke- possibly contributing a good thing to society, it should never be at the cost of respect and common decency.

Hire me because it will be less expensive than negative PR and the lawsuits you will surely face.

Hire me because I could use the money, and you could obviously use the help of a few curmudgeons.

Hire me, because, while I am all for more family time, exercise, fresh air and foot traffic directed towards some of my favorite non-profits, I do think we can try to achieve these goals without stomping on everyone's Poke-toes in the name of progress and entertainment.

'cause I didn't miss the Poke-class on that ;)

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Gift Giving.

At least....being on time with the gifts.

In my mind, I have these wonderful plans of perfectly selected tokens of my love and appreciation.
In reality I have a pile of unfinished crafts and a shopping list a mile long.

Take Christmas, for example.
As in Christmas 2014.
As in the present from 2014, intended for my sister, that is still sitting in my "to be finished" quilting stash.

Or birthdays.
As in our daughter's 12th.
As in that being the age where we told her she could get her ears pierced.
As in 12+ months later .....and no extra holes in her head. 
(I DID buy earrings though....AND remembered to give them to her.)

My excuse is that I am paralyzed by wanting everything to be so perfect and fear failure so much, that I never just DO something.

I should probably get over that.

You see, my husband is great at getting things done on time.  Birthdays,  Christmas, Mother's Day, Anniversary.....

Like today. 
Today marks 18 years of him surviving moments like this morning:

Him: Good Morning
Me: Happy Anniversary. 
Him: Happy 18th Anniversary
Me: Wow.  That's a long time....... I mean....I Love You!*

He then proceeded to chuckle at his fuzzy-brained wife and hand her his pre-planned, pre-purchased anniversary gifts.  Which were prefect.

I, on the other hand, am still "shopping" for the table saw he wanted for Father's Day.

I think I can get that done before another 18 years pass.....

Because while I may not be the best shopper-co-ordinator-present-giver, I do love him very much, and would love to see him have a new "toy" to play with as he works so hard to make our house a comfortable home.  I did NOT miss the class on appreciating all his efforts.

Happy 18 Wonderful Years Calvin!

*not to be held responsible for anything said before being properly caffeinated