Iowa Spring Enters Phase 2

tulip 1

Thursday morning–the first tulip blooms.


March in Iowa is usually a spring month, but one that can have lots of winter—and in some years, winter lingers well into that month.

This year was a cool, but mild March. Both snow and rain fell, but we tended to rain with no persistent snow pack. All month, signs of impending spring were around, with flowers poking up out of the thawing grounds, and, a bit over halfway through the month, early flowers bursting forth.

Now it is April, and although snow would still not be abnormal, spring is taking hold. They are small and not terribly numerous yet, but on a warm afternoon you notice that there are insects again in the world—gnats on a bike trail or tiny spring bees darting among the squill.


Small bee on flower.

We have entered phase 2 of Iowa spring. In my garden, April 2 is the day that the first hyacinth, daffodil and tulip all bloomed. Most tulips are not even showing buds yet, and some in front have been eaten by rabbits, but the early ones are in bloom. Many more daffodil buds, but just one flower today.

The trees are bare, but many are showing swelling buds. The magnolia has not yet bloomed, but its buds are cracking. Lilac bushes are staring to have the “bunch of grapes” look of flower buds. Crab apples are pushing out their first early spring leaves, which have not really unfurled yet.

I am pleased to see lots of clover in the muddy back yard that features only limited grass. I had almost no clover there last year and planted a bunch. I hope this summer features a blooming lawn. All around, the brown world has shifted, as yards are starting to show that the grass is waking up.

And in this season of isolation, enjoying signs of new life is especially important. Nature carries on, so will we!

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Goodbye, RIP, Adam Schlesinger

I did not realize that the Fountains of Wayne singer-songwriter was also involved in one of my favorite Tom Hanks movies, “That Thing You Do,” but he was.

And, at the young age of 51, Adam Schlesinger joins the cost of COVID-19, a death of a singer from a respiratory virus.

Any death is a tragedy, but these are particularly so. Victims of this virus die alone and at a time when we can’t gather to mourn them.

I’m afraid our losses are just starting, and I can only hope this nightmare ends soon. Stay healthy and stay isolated, my friends. It is all we can to protect each other and minimize the cost of this pandemic.

Anyway, Fountains of Wayne is, of course, known for the novelty song “Stacy’s Mom.” But I enjoyed the band and many of their other songs. A few of my favorites as a memorial for Adam:

And finally, I do think this Katy Perry cover is a good version of this song. Farewell, Adam, and thanks for the tunes:

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The Corona Diaries

via The Corona Diaries

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April 1, 2020 · 9:35 pm

First Flowers of the COVID-19 Spring


The first flowers to bloom early this March–the snowdrops I found when I raked the gardens.

campus sun

Early March morning sun at MMU campus.

Earlier this month came the snowdrops. The first blooms were actually hidden in my gardens under last year’s leaves. On March 9, I cleaned the gardens in back off, there the first flowers were.

Tulips and daffodils have been emerging slowly, pushing their leaves above the thawing ground. No flowers, yet, but the plants are getting taller.

It was a while after the snowdrops bloomed before the first crocus in my yard flowered. I saw some first at Mount Mercy University, and for days the buds in my gardens almost seemed to be mocking me—there, ready to bloom, but not opening.

Now, on sunny, cool March days, there are pockets of colorful flowers. Hyacinth are starting to bud. I have not seen bluebells yet, but they can’t be far away.

And it won’t be all that long until the daffodils and tulips kick in.

I am running low on bird seed. I stopped buying it early in March—which is usually when I taper off feeding. The open ground, the return of insects, the first signs of plant growth—birds will find other sources of food. Still, it has been a comfort seeing them—one of my sisters once called them “winter flowers,” and as this slow spring wakes and yawns and stretches towards the green world that is coming, I’ve enjoyed watching the little dinosaurs.

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COVID-19 has robbed us of a lot. I’m lucky—my job is relatively secure, so far (knock on wood) I and my family are healthy. I can work at home, even if I’m not all that good at it.

But as we hunker down in this winter of the virus, which seems likely to be with us for some time, seeing nature go through her rhythms and begin to come to life. I like the coming of the flowers every year, but somehow, they seem more important in this weird spring.

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How I Hope to Survive the Pandemic


March 16 rush hour traffic in San Francisco.

I know, I know. Although I’m over 60 years old and have moderately high blood pressure and a persistent old-man cough, so I’m more at risk than you healthy young people, I am not at serious risk.

I’m not over 80, and despite my cough I don’t have an underlying breathing or serious health issue that is likely to complicate the disease should I be unlucky enough to get COVID-19.


End of walk Sunday. Shadows on the sidwalk.

My chances of surviving are excellent, though not 100 percent. I hope, like I’m sure everyone else does, that I don’t get sick. I pray that if I do, it’ll only be a mild case.

And mostly I don’t want to get the virus because I don’t want to be a vector for it—despite the mostly positive prognosis for me, I don’t want to be part of chain that infects a person whose body cannot fight it off.

So, I think I’ll physically be OK. I am more worried about my mental well being. I gambled a lot by traveling to the San Francisco area—a hot spot for the virus—during the outbreak, and in the short time I’ve been here, things have gotten really odd and scary.

I’ve been walking at some famous places—by the bay, for example. While there were some crowds on Market Street on Sunday, mostly the streets have been much quieter than one would expect. Today, Monday, the mayor announced a ban on any unnecessary travel, and ordered restaurants to switch to strictly takeout or delivery business.

My wife and I went for an afternoon walk today (the mayor specified walking outside is OK) at what would have been rush hour. San Francisco looked like Ely, Iowa, at 10 a.m. on a particularly quiet Thursday. In other words, very quiet.


Spanish-American War memorial in Union Square, pretty empty on a weekend.

Except grocery stores. My son and I had, earlier in the day, make a quick trip to Safeway. We anticipated crowds and craziness, and the grocery store did not disappoint. I am pleased to say most Californians were being polite—although one woman sprinted through the store, cursing at everyone for not maintaining a 6-foot distance. Lady, we were pressed in the aisles like sardines. We were stiffly formal and careful to not actually touch, and I heard no coughing—but 6 feet was a physical impossibility in the canned goods lane of Safeway.

Actually, I held the shopping bag and let my son, with his son strapped to his chest, do the hunter-gatherer thing in that crowded aisle. I waited in the empty potato section, but even there I was not as isolated as guidelines call for.

On the way home, we noticed that another neighborhood grocery store was limiting customers by having an entrance queue. Not sure if that was effective—by preventing people from crowding in the store, you were having them crowd on the sidewalk.

Well, we do what we can. I washed my hands as soon as I got back to the apartment. And, while waiting in the long line at Safeway, I felt the familiar tickle in my throat. My old man cough, ready to roll.

I’m happy to say I deliberately salivated (try that sometime) and was able to use nature’s cough drop to prevent discomfort to those around me. Success! We exited Safeway with no social embarrassment.

And not all the groceries we planned, either. No flour, for example. We would have bought potatoes if we saw any, but honestly weren’t optimistic about seeing those scarce spuds. In this time of crisis, there may not be potatoes, but there was corned beef. There was no green cabbage, but we got some purple. As the resident Irish person, I am prepared to prepare Tuesday’s official holiday meal, and if there are not potatoes, there will still be corned beef, cabbage, carrots and soda bread (my son is not totally out of flour), so our suffering is pretty muted.

I am not sure my trip, made because it’s my wife’s and my first chance to see a young grandson, was a great idea, but the travel advisories changed daily and the travel ban was not in place when we boarded our plane.

When we get home and self-quarantine, the brave new world of online teaching awaits. The newspaper I advise is done printing for the year. Meetings and events are being reshuffled. All of our lives are being upended. Having to induce salivation in a grocery store line is, on the whole, pretty small potatoes (and metaphoric potatoes are the only ones to be had, at the moment).

I’ll roll with it. It’s a blessing to be around to take part in the struggle. May your struggle in the time of corona virus not be too bad. I hope all of you heed health advice, and don’t fret too much. Most of us will make it through, and more of us if we behave ourselves.

Now, go wash your hands.

UPDATE March 18: There were potatoes on St. Patrick’s Day! Daughter-in-law went to neighborhood store in the morning and found some. A small victory during troubled times.


St. Patrick’s Day meal, bread by my son, rest cooked by me, including …. POTATOES found at local store that morning by my daughter-in-law.

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The First Flowers of Spring


March 8–snowdrops in back garden. My first flowers.

On Sunday, while raking leaves off of the back garden, I noticed the snowdrops in blooms. Other bulbs are starting to come up, tulips and daffodils rising up from the cool earth. In front, by the mailbox, some crocus are also poking up.

The crocus will bloom first, but you see the daffodils emerge first, or at least that’s what I’m used to.


Daffodils emerging March 6 on Mount Mercy University campus. It’s still brown and dormant overall here in Iowa, and the last few piles of snow are still about, but spring is starting.

Spring! It’s early spring, still brown, just a few swelling buds in the trees and the slightest hints of green in the mostly dormant lawns.

But, flowers! The very earliest are here, and great to see.

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I Am So Ready to Leap Into Spring


Seeds purchased at a local store. My spring planting this year will be from what I find in town.

Iowa in February can be a cold, bitter place. We’ve been lucky in 2020. There has been plenty of winter cold, not but bitter arctic cold. We’ve not been exposed to weeks of harsh winds nor many temperatures with a hyphen before the number.

The month was a bit gray and dreary at times, but the final week was dry. There was also snow this month and nasty cold rains, but not oodles.

So, as Februarys go, this is not the worst one to have an extra day in it. Happy leap day, and a special happy birthday to all those who turned 4 today and are getting their driver’s licenses.

For Christmas 2019, my wife wrapped a seed catalog and told me I could spend $100 on ordering spring flowers. I never got them ordered—I’ve been busy. And we’re traveling over spring break this year, and worried a bit about the possibility of an ill-timed delivery.

Then, just a week ago, stopping at a local farm-and-home chain store that we call the “popcorn store” because it’s where we go after church for popcorn, we saw that seeds were on sale. On a whim, we bought a packet of climbing annuals. I am unsure about when exactly I am planting them, but I like all these flowers and will put them somewhere.

My wife reminded me this week that I had not ordered any plants yet, and she thought I had missed the deadline. I told her no, that I knew one catalog had a March 1 order deadline (and the same company just sent me another catalog with a later date), so time had not run out on my gift.

“Why don’t you just buy plants locally,” she then asked.

Hmmm. Well, I like pink lily of the valley and have not seen any locally—but honestly, beyond my yearning for that one particular flower, I kind of liked her thinking. I am not starting any new garden this spring, so I don’t need a bunch of mail order plans. And if we buy plants at local stores, we would be in total control of when the flowers were “delivered” and could plant them right after acquisition. We would also be putting actual plants in the ground and not hoping for results from mailed roots.

True, we’re also planting seeds. But for the spring plants, I think you see my point.

So, no online flower ordering for me this spring. We’ll instead wait to see what Mother Nature brings and when we have time to shop and plant.

I like that plan, or lack of it. I don’t always mind when aspects of my life are not mapped out. So I’m not sure what my garden plans are this year; they are more organic then they sometimes are. I’ll let them form on the fly.

Like a flower.

Happy leap day to you all, and it looks like March this year will begin on a fairly nice note in Iowa, too—the lion is being polite, at least for the first week.

We’re almost through with February. Moving into early spring. And I’m ready for the change.


In the garden area by the house yesterday. It’s on the south side, the warmest garden we have, and daffodils and tulips are starting their growth even while there is still snow elsewhere. It’s not really here yet, but spring is coming!

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