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.