Great Intel Ad

I spend far more time complaining about TV ads than praising them, but I just saw a new Intel ad I must applaud. The ad spotlights Ajay Bhatt, co-inventor of the USB, and uses the tagline “Your rock stars aren’t like our rock stars.” For once an ad that is intelligent, subtle, funny, and thought provoking. The music doesn’t overwhelm. The visuals pull you in and keep you there. And it made me think about something I use daily but no doubt under appreciate – the USB port. All while reminding me that Intel brought this technology to the party. Great job, Intel! If you haven’t seen it yet, click here to see it on YouTube

The past & the future – an Iowa prairie

Returning part of our acreage to native flowers and grasses has been on my mind since we moved to this acreage four years ago. Interviewing sources for the article I wrote recently on Iowa’s endangered species spurred me to action.

My research led me to Ion Exchange in Harpers Ferry, Iowa. The helpful folks there walked me through site selection and preparation and choosing the right kind and quantity of seed.

Though my husband has made it clear that this is my project, I knew he would never be far away. I staked out an area 40’x80′. He moved the flags to 20×40. We compromised at an area roughly 30×60. Applications of glyphosate and several weeks later, the existing lawn and weeds were effectively dead.

We planted our prairie garden this past Memorial Day weekend. David tilled the ground. I firmed up the seedbed by running the tractor over it. The biggest task was mixing the seed in 10 times the volume of wet sand and spreading it by hand. This action was, I believe, also the most satisfying.

As I walked over my plot, broadcasting the seed/sand mixture in one direction and then another, I thought about bringing the land back to what it was 200 years ago – or trying to. Who knows which of my seeds will grow? Or if they’ll be the same plants that once grew here? Regardless, this bit of prairie will be unique to our land preparation and the randomness of my seed scattering, and the vagaries of today’s weather and wildlife.

I am eager to see the result, but I’ll have to practice patience. Prairie gardens do not establish quickly; three years to reach maturity. I’m in it for the long haul – remembering the past and looking to the future – on my own little piece of Iowa prairie.

The wild things

“Carol! Look out in the horse pasture!” my husband yelled one morning last month. “I think that’s a coyote.” I scrambled to the window just in time to catch a clear glimpse of what was certainly a coyote. Before I could get the binoculars, the neighbor’s dogs ran out barking, scaring our uncommon visitor back into the trees.

We talked about it for days. I had never seen a coyote ‘in the wild’ before. Let alone in our back yard.

Then a week ago, I looked up from my computer screen to see a wild turkey running across our front yard. Just one, running full tilt. No doubt escaping the neighbor’s dogs.

Granted, wild turkeys are fairly common in the Iowa countryside these days.I see them from time to time as I drive. But still, coyotes and turkeys are not the animals that graced the Iowa fields as I grew up here. They’re quite a sight to see. What is ironic about seeing them just now is that I recently wrote an article for The Iowanabout the status of threatened and endangered species in Iowa.

I learned in writing on the wild side that the 21st Century landscape of Iowa has changed more than any other state. Our agricultural bent makes that logical, but I admit I hadn’t thought of that before. The folks at the DNR say we should be excited – thrilled even – to see these wild species. I know I sure was!

Playing in the sky

“You have to make your own fun,” Dad told me. His comment embodied both a life philosophy and the financial reality of our eastern Iowa dairy farm in the 1950s. So as often as not, our fun came from what we made rather than something we bought.

One year when the March winds were strong enough to make a skinny kid like me think I could stand on a hilltop, spread my arms and fly, Dad taught us to make kites.  He brought dowel rods to the dining room table; Mom dismantled brown paper bags. He showed us how to measure and cut, fold and glue until we had a sturdy diamond-shaped kite.

We were giddy with anticipation as we carried our kite to the field south of the house. Dad coached one of us to run with the kite while another played out the string.

Time after time, the kite swooped in the air and then nosedived into the ground.  It just would not fly. Dad stood perplexed. Then he remembered. “A kite needs a tail,” he proclaimed. Back to the house we trooped.

Mom dug an old sheet out of her rag drawer and we tore it into strips. We crafted one long strip, knotted smaller cloth strips down the length, and tied it to the end of the kite.

Back in the field, one good run, one solid gust of wind, and that kite took off, its fancy tail sailing in the wake. “Let out the string!” Dad urged. It was all he could do to leave the ball of string in my hands.

We played the kite out. It soared higher and higher. Swooping. Diving. As high as an airplane! We had made our own fun and it reached the sky.

This piece was published in the April 2009 “Fiftysomething” section of the Des Moines Register

Helping the blind to read

My mother had macular degeneration, a disease that destroys straight ahead vision but leaves peripheral vision. She could no longer sew or read or see the faces of people right in front of her. But fortunately, we found the Iowa Department for the Blind. The tips they shared, including the use of puff paint to mark stove and washing machine dials, microwave buttons, and radio & TV remote controls, allowed Mom a quality of life in caring for herself in her own home that she’d have lost without them.

The biggest blessing of all, though, was Talking Books. The Department for the Blind provided the player and librarians quickly learned Mom’s preferences in books and authors – biographies and Louis L’Amour. Books arrived in her mailbox and when Mom was finished, she returned them to her mailbox in the postage paid mailers. She was never without a book to ‘read.’ And her reading resulted in weekly book discussions between us.

When I published my book Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl, I was fortunate to be able to read it for the Iowa Department for the Blind Library, thereby making it available to everyone with low vision.

During the process of reading my book for their library, I learned that tens of thousands of Iowans qualify for the services of the Department but only a few thousand use them. That’s a shame. The services are free. The quality of life bestowed, priceless. If you know someone with low vision, don’t hesitate. Give the Department for the Blind a call.

A mature garden is like …

I took advantage of the beautiful weather – spring at last? – yesterday to clean up one of my perennial gardens, the first I planted when we moved to this acreage four years ago. In the process I was struck by how much a mature garden is like a mature woman, in some ways like myself.

After the winter, my garden takes some time and some doing to wake up and look fresh, just as I do after a long night’s sleep. Raking away the leaves and cleaning the paths is like combing my hair. Areas to untangle. Spent foliage to remove. Mulch where it doesn’t belong. Quite the mess.

My garden wakes up in stages, sending out one plant and then another as though recognizing it is not necessary or possible or even advisable to appear in full flower all at once. First the brilliant yellows and deep purples of daffodils and hyacinths. Then the pink and purple blossoms of the pulmonaria. With last year’s foliage cleared way, the first tender shoots of the hostas emerge. I, too, wake by stages. A long walk. A cup of coffee. The newspaper, before I am ready to face the day. Though I am not so bright as spring’s first flowers!

My garden is comfortable in its predictability. I know which plants will eventually appear even if I may forget about them until they come forth, just as I know my own talents and patterns of responses to opportunities and crises. I do not have to approach every situation as though it never happened before. I do not have to learn it all for the first time. After all these years, I know myself. For the most part.

But there is still room for the ‘new,’ for surprises, even in a mature garden. It takes three years for some plants to become fully established and when they do all of a sudden you have offshoots springing up everywhere. Virginia bluebells appear like magic yards from their parent. Purple Palace hucheras and Raspberry Splash pulmonaria pop up at random.

As a result, a mature garden like a mature woman has much to share. Hostas that have overgrown the path can be divided. All those baby bluebells, huchera and pulmonaria go off to populate the gardens of my friends.

When I finished my garden work, I saw patches of bare ground, areas that were rough and wrinkled. The area was clean but looking a little tattered. But I know that in a few weeks, hostas, astilbe, huchera, sage, purple cone flowers, daisies, black-eyed susans will fill in. My garden will be dressed in all its glory. And I know the old girl will look pretty good.

Salute to Librarians

This coming week – April 12-18 – is National Library Week. An annual celebration of the contributions of our nation’s libraries and librarians. The theme this year: “Worlds connect @ your library.

I am personally indebted, past and present, to libraries and librarians for connecting me to the world. As a child, I climbed the steps of the Maquoketa Public Library on many a Saturday to disappear in the stacks in search of Zane Grey and the wild west or Jack London and the northern wilderness or Tarzan in the African jungles. These days, I visit libraries state wide sharing the stories of my book, Growing Up Country. In visits with people across the state, I learn how closely the worlds of people who grew up on farms and rural communities connect, regardless of age or location.

So go check out the world at your local library this week. Thank the librarians for being there, helping us all connect with our worlds.

Our stories connect us

After taking a couple of months (the really cold, really snowy ones) off, I’m back on the road again, doing readings, discussions and signing events at Iowa libraries. Three weeks ago, Maquoketa; last week, Bettendorf, this week, Clermont and Elgin.

The more people I talk to, the more I discover how common the experiences of growing up in rural Iowa are. And the most common experiences are the ones I least expected. Chickens, for instance. The smell of wet chicken feathers. The sight of a chicken with its head cut off. The fear of being attacked by a territorial rooster. The sudden, sharp, startling peck of a setting hen defending her nest. Who would have imagined that traumatic chicken experiences would connect so many people?

Whether people are 90 or 60 or 40 or 20, someone starts to tell stories of growing up in Iowa and all of a sudden memories come flooding back. Doing laundry. Milking cows. Weeding the garden. Driving tractor. One story leads to another and all of a sudden people who didn’t know each other at all are reminiscing as though they’d grown up in the same house. Sharing stories – connecting with – people about growing up in rural Iowa is one of the great, unexpected pleasures of my life these days.

Failure worries dog life insurers

“Failure worries dog life insurers”  This was a headline in the Des Moines Register yesterday.  When I read this, I thought that with all the economic woes the country is facing, the failure of people who insure dogs just could not be high enough on the list to be the lead on the business page.  I launched into reading the article fully prepared to tsk and cluck and shake my head at a country so flush we can have dog insurance.  I also thought of the two Mastiffs my son and his wife keep and wondered if they have insurance for their animals.

Several paragraphs into the article, I couldn’t find anything about dogs.  I went back to the beginning. Maybe in my haste, I had read past the point.  All the way to the end. Still nothing about dogs.
 
I read the headline again.  I have been known to misread headlines.  But no. It said “Failure worries dog life insurers.”  
 
I read it again and again.  Finally. Finally. Finally, I realized dog was the verb. Worries was the subject!  I didn’t exactly slap my head, but I had to laugh.  “Hey, David,” I called to my husband. “Listen to this!”  We had a good laugh over my misread of the headline.  
 
I love a day that starts with a laugh.  And I’ll take a good laugh when I can get one. Even at my own expense. That headline is a keeper.

Throwing away money

Okay, visualize this.  Every day as you drive home from work, you reach in your pocket, pull out a nickel, and throw it out the car window.  Every day.  Sometimes you throw out a dime.  By the end of the work week, you’ve thrown out a quarter or more. By the end of the month, more than a dollar. Does this make any sense?  Of course not.  But people are doing it.

I know this because I take a walk most mornings and along the way I see pop bottles and cans, beer bottles and cans, liquor bottles.  Each worth five cents. I know people throw these containers out their windows every day because I carry a plastic bag just so I can pick up this refuse. No sooner have I cleaned up the roadway than it is littered again.  I can pick up a dollar or more – each day.  
 
Lazy. Disrespectful. Flagrant. Annoying. The people who throw out trash along the road defy my understanding. For crying out loud, just put it in the waste basket when you get home! Even more astounding is people who throw away money. My husband has seen people at gas stations take bottles and cans out of their vehicles and deposit them in the trash cans just outside the convenience store door.  They could have taken those bottles and cans five steps further and collected the deposit. 
 
Governor Culver over reached during the last legislative session.  He had the door open to add juice and water containers to the Bottle Bill in Iowa. Then he got greedy and added a tax to the process.  As a result, the whole thing went down.  Too bad. We needed that addition. 
 
But I guess this proves one thing. Clearly the economy is not as bad as we’re led to believe if people are still rolling down their car windows and throwing out nickels!