Eating As a Silicon Valley Techie Eats


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My wife and I walking on the Golden Gate Bridge this spring break.

During spring break this year, my wife and I flew out to San Francisco to visit with our son and his wife.

They both work in technology out there—she designs human-machine interfaces for Samsung, he is a software engineer for WhatsAp, a division of Facebook.

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Daughter-in-law and son do an “ussie” during a visit to a San Francisco park with us.

One highlight of our visit was the half day we spent at the Facebook campus. With tens of thousands of high tech employees, the company’s site is a mini city. It has a main plaza with shops and restaurants, for example. You can get your hair cut, visit the dentist, drop off some dry cleaning and get your bicycle fixed (or buy a bicycle) without leaving the company grounds.

Jon explained that he thought it was just smart for the company to provide those kinds of services because tech employees are highly skilled, and the corporation benefits by providing services that keeps those people together and talking with each other.

The day we visited Facebook, we ate both breakfast and lunch there—and both meals were a surreal experience. You walk into a company cafeteria, grab a tray, and go through a food line—and then there is no cashier. You just proceed to a table to eat. Have as much as you want of whatever you want.

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It does rain in California, despite the song. Drizzly day when we visited Facebook.

Again, Jon noted that the food perk, while costly, enhances collaboration and boosts  morale.

Gosh, my wife and I said to each other during the visit. That seems like a neat idea. Maybe they could do that at Mount Mercy University. Then, we shared a laugh. We don’t work for a rich, high-tech company.

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At Facebook, they have a wall where you can post any comment you want for random passing people to see. Someone should invent an online equivalent …

Well, surprise, surprise—fast forward to this week, when we had the “opening day” all-employee assembly in the chapel. The President was speaking, and announced a new program at MMU.

On one designated day each week, employees can have lunch in the cafeteria. For free.

The day is Friday in September, and will change each month.

The idea is pretty simple. Students eat there all the time, and having faculty and staff share a meal encourages informal conversations, both among employees and between employees and students. We can break bread together and hash things out over hash.

They don’t offer free food daily, and don’t have the kind of variety and fancy eateries Facebook offers. What’s available is college cafeteria fare. Some may balk at that—it is institution food.

Me? Most days I brown bag it, but in the past on very busy days, such as when I’m staying late on campus for a newspaper production cycle, I have eaten in the cafeteria. And I love my cafeteria days, for several reasons:

  • I like the collaboration it fosters. I have ended up, unplanned, chatting with others about all kinds of topics related to MMU. A lot of plans for the Fall Faculty Series have been hatched over lunch in such informal encounters.
  • I think there is value in seeing my students and them seeing me in this context. If you encounter a person as a student in a class (or as a professor in the class) you have a particular kind of relationship. Seeing them in another place doing something entirely else sort of humanizes them. It makes them more of a familiar “person” rather than “student” or “professor.” In particular, there is something a bit interpersonal in being in proximity to another as they eat. You don’t eat with enemies, and the people that you regularly eat with become, in some minor way, a bit more family like.
  • I love cafeteria food. I know many students complain about the cafe food, and maybe with some reason, but in my experience the cafeteria offers a buffet of wondrous delights. Their cooks have a slightly heavy hand with spices—sometimes you scoop up some veggies and are thinking “bland” and you take a bite and suddenly you’re thinking “chilies.” But I am a spice boy. I’ll tell you want, what I really, really want—some pork or chicken or fish coated in whatever breading, served in a giant pan under a warming lamp prepared by the fine cooks at MMU. Maybe some of my MMU friends don’t agree—food opinions are like music opinions, they are personal and nobody need apologize for their preferences—but I am a fan of MMU cafeteria food. Go Mustangs! To the feed!

Anyway, I understand that the free food program is an experiment, and that it is offered only one day a week. I am also familiar with the old, reliable, wise saying TANSTAAFL (there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch). MMU will continue the program only as long as MMU sees some payoff, and if budgets get tight, so might our waistbands.

But for now, I can eat like a techie, at least once a week. I think it was a smart idea for MMU to introduce, and I hope it does what the powers-that-be hope it does so it can continue.

More networking and contacts between employees and students? A plus. Soft serve and salad bar? Count me in.

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The Life and Death of Rainbow Sunshine


 

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July 8–one of the people running Monarch Day at Indian Creek Nature Center holds one of the stars of the show.

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Rainbow Sunshine in cup the day we picked the caterpillar up. Sadly, the story does not end well.

It is sad to report, but Rainbow Sunshine did not make it. Earlier this summer, on July 8, there was a very nice event at the Indian Creek Nature Center—a warm Saturday devoted to Monarch butterflies.

We went to the Second Annual Monarch Fest, and we met some grandchildren there. They helped make clay Milkweed seed balls, and while riding RAGBRAI this year, I did indeed toss seed balls. The Nature Center gave away some butterfly flowers, and I grabbed some and planted them in my garden.

And they gave away Monarch caterpillars that you could take home, nurture and watch turn into butterflies.

I’m happy to report that’s exactly what happened to a caterpillar named “Cali” that was adopted by the family of four grandchildren and their parents who were with us. They fed the caterpillar Milkweed from their own yard, and successfully raised and released a Monarch butterfly within a couple of weeks.

We tried, too. We brought home a caterpillar, and I gathered Milkweed leaves for it while on bicycle rides. I also daily cleaned the plastic glass where the caterpillar lived and gave it a new, fresh leaf.

My mistake? I think it was when I gathered some leaves from Milkweed plants that were pushing through some bushes at a nearby business. I don’t know if that’s what went wrong, but something did—my theory is that the leaves may have been sprayed with something.

We named our caterpillar Rainbow Sunshine, which was a bit of a family joke (when she was very young, my oldest daughter once asked my wife, “Why didn’t you name me Rainbow Sunshine?”)

Anyway, the caterpillar ate and grew for about four days, but then suddenly stopped moving. The instructions said it might do that for a day or so as it molted, but the caterpillar didn’t seem to molt. But it stopped eating, moved seldom and finally, after several days, was obviously an expired caterpillar, lying in the bottom of its cup home belly up.

I waited, but when the corpse seemed to start to mold, I called it and released Rainbow Sunshine into the soil of our garden.

Well, we were disappointed, but insects lead hard lives or they wouldn’t lay so many eggs. It’s a crap shoot whether any particular baby butterfly will make it to metamorphosis.

Anyway, flash forward. I have been gone from home for almost a week, riding my bicycle across Iowa on RAGBRAI. As I describe on another blog, that didn’t go exactly as planned, either, but still it was a nice five-day ride.

I got back and noted that the new butterfly flowers I had planted with others I was already growing seemed to be doing OK, which made me happy.

Then, on Saturday, the day after I got home, I did a double take.

It wasn’t Rainbow Sunshine (wrong garden), and I’m not sure if it is on a butterfly flower or one of the “maybe Milkweed” plants I tried to grow from seed—but there it was: yellow, white and black, nice and fat, quietly eating away—a caterpillar, already larger than Rainbow Sunshine had been at the time of its unfortunate demise.

I photographed it and checked on it the next day. I saw it for the first time Saturday, and Sunday, it was already bigger (and the plant it’s on has fewer leaves).

There are no guarantees. This humble little bit of life may go the way of Rainbow Sunshine and most other caterpillars. But it has already grown large, and maybe it will form its chrysalis soon.

Of course, I want to see a butterfly emerge in my garden. In any case, whatever the fate of this particular young Monarch, I feel good that I have been working for years to plant varieties of Milkweed in my garden.

And Sunday, as I sat waiting in a rocking chair on my front porch for family members to come outside for an afternoon walk to a park, I saw a shadow on the lawn. I looked up, and an adult Monarch was flitting around 10 feet above my head. It was moving too fast for me to tell if it was a he or a she, and it may have been attracted by the many Coneflowers I have blooming beside the house rather than my tiny Milkweed patch—but there it was.

Hope. Maybe not for you, Rainbow Sunshine, but for your kind.

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Two views of the surprise guest. One of my grandchildren is convinced I tossed out my caterpillar too early and it simply grew–not likely, the timing is wrong and this is the wrong garden, but still.

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Planting Before Father’s Day and After


Iowa Tiger Lily

Iowa Tiger Lily

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Iowa Tiger Lily

Lilies! They abound in the garden right now—especially the tall native Iowa Tiger Lily, commonly seen in ditches around the state. I planted some in my gardens so I can enjoy them up close—and they are my favorite lily. They are pretty, large and very hardy—compared to hybrid lilies which seen likely to fade in a few years, these lilies are tough.

And they spread, which is there one downside. Anyway, some recent garden pictures here in my Facebook floral gallery.

The Friday before Father’s Day, when plants went on sale at a local HyVee Drug Store, I picked up some comfort plants. None are new to my gardens, although some represent species that have died out. In past years, for instance, I had some nice Hollyhocks, but have not seen them for several years. I keep trying to plant new ones, but seem to have trouble getting these started—still, two Hollyhocks were among the comfort plant purchased, along with two Foxglove, two Butterfly Flowers (a kind of Milkweed) and two Shasta Daisies.

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To make room in a fairly sunny area (all of these are sun-loving flowers), I dug out some native Tiger Lilies, which ended up moved to other backyard gardens.

And today, more than a week later, I saw some inexpensive peony roots at a farmers market in Hiawatha, and bought one. More lily relocation was done to make room.

My wife is convinced the new peony looks terrible, and she is right, but my experience with transplanted peonies is that the tops often die, but that doesn’t mean the plant won’t come back. Anyway, I hope this one does because it’s supposed to be pink—a color of peony I like, but don’t happen to have in my gardens.

We had plans to add a new garden in back this summer, but it looks like that project may get put off. Time is getting away, as it often does. Still, it always feels like an act of hope to put new flowers into the garden—so here’s hoping for future Hollyhocks, Peonies, Daisies, Foxglove and Milkweed!

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By Accident, This Turned Into Art Week


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My sister is part of trio singing “The Times They Are A-Changin'” at Quire concert. Love the hat, too.

The performance of “The Times They Are A-Changin’” was particularly poignant. Despite the election of 2016, long-term tides of history are still flowing.

The Quire: Eastern Iowa’s GLBT Chorus presented “Make Them Hear You: Songs of Pride and Protest” on June 10 at Zion Lutheran in Iowa City. It was a great concert, and I’m glad I went.

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Singing “You Have More Friends Than You Know” at concert. This is actually my favorite image of my sister from the concert, because she is so caught up in the song.

It began with “Fire and Rain,” by James Taylor. Not exactly what you think of as either pride or protest, but a song that always gets to me. It’s such a raw, sad, direct song, full of emotion. The Quire did it very well.

Anyway, you can see my images of the Quire concert here.

It was one of two concerts my wife and I attended this week. On Monday, we traveled to Des Moines to hear Tom Petty—who seems to be in pretty good form, still doing well with his 40 years of songs.

“Won’t Back Down”—now that would have been a good song for the Quire concert, too. Anyway, I enjoyed hearing Petty himself sing it in Des Moines.

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Tom Petty in Des Moines June 5, 2017.

Besides two concerts, we were by chance in two different outdoor sculpture displays. Before the Petty concert, we spent some time strolling through the Papajohn Sculpture Garden in Des Moines. And the morning before the Quire concert, we went to a farmers market in Marion, and ended up walking up and down the Art Alley there. See my images from Des Moines and Marion.

I can only hope the times are indeed changing, as I have some problems with the times we are in now. One response to troubled times, I think, is art. It can help us share and express emotions and tap deep experiences that aren’t just tied to the news of the day.

So bravo, Quire, Petty, Des Moines, Marion. Art! In both music and sculpture, we need it.

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Friday Floral Feature: The Week the Tick Magnet Appeared


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An awesome opossum visits the yard.

Not the chick magnet—the tick magnet. I was eating a late breakfast in the sunroom that overlooked our back yard, when I noted a freaky, scary looking creature casually ambling across the yard.

Behold the opossum. North America’s only marsupial, and about as ugly a critter as you would ever hope to see.

I went and got my 4-year-old granddaughter, who was staying with us for the day, and we watched the possum. It noticed the attention and darted off. Although they look fierce, most sources say the nocturnal opossum is generally shy and tries to avoid people. This one was certainly true to form.

And of all the native mammals to spot in my yard, honestly the freaky looking possum probably is about the least problematic. Squirrels dig up blubs and sometimes even bite holes in your eaves to set up house in your attic. Woodchucks chew woody plants. And rabbits—don’t get me started. As I’ve written on this blog before, if God were a gardener in the Midwest and Eden was in Iowa rather than Iraq, it wouldn’t be the serpent who messed up paradise. To an Iowa gardener, our native snakes are benign, helpful presences. No—in the Iowa Eden, the Devil is personified by that destructive critter second only to Bambi in its capacity to wreck havoc in the garden—the bunny.

That rascally rabbit.

Anyway, so what we saw was a possum. And, if it were a rabbit, I would immediately go outside and sprinkle around that kind of animal repellent that seems more like a prayer ritual than anything that has an actual impact on the universe, but we do what we can. For a possum? Meh.

It’s a tick magnet. Possums don’t pose any threat to plants, but are insect eaters, and, according to Iowa lore, their favorite snack is the tick. So you’re welcome to hang around my yard as much as you want Mr. (or Ms.) Possum. Ticks carry disease, and Possums eat ticks. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Anyway, in other garden news this week: Snow! Not winter snow, summer snow. Early each summer, the cottonwood trees release their seeds, and we have the faux snowfall that heralds warmer weather. Tuffs of fluff are in the air.

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Cottonwood seeds on front porch rocking chair.

Also, most peonies are still in the bud stage, but a clump in front picked this week to bloom. I know some gardeners don’t like peonies because they are associated with ants, but ants are everywhere and I don’t quite get that attitude. I don’t do anything to prevent ants on my peonies—they in fact are eating nectar the plant is producing with the intention of attracting ants, so I let nature be. The theory on the Iowa Extension site I consulted is that ants helps prevent pests. They are not required for peonies to bloom, but helpfully remove the waxy nectar film, and thus promote blooming—mostly, they are a neutral presence the plant may have evolved to attract just because other bugs don’t appreciate crowds of ants.

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And Irises are in bloom. Both Peonies and Irises appeared around town a couple of weeks ago, but my gardens are in a strange time zone where everything seems to bloom a little later. That’s OK with me, as long as the plants boom!

I’ve also been impressed with the bloom time of a Clematis in front that produces giant blue flowers. They flowers are in no hurry to fade, and there are many more buds. The Clematis season should go on for a while, since some plants in back are just starting to bud.

Anyway, it’s another rainy day today. I hope you enjoy some of the flower images from sunnier days this week.

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Memories of the Class of 2017


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Dr. Ron Feldt, retiring professor of psychology. See you at Half Price Books, Ron.

Commencement weekend at Mount Mercy University has come and gone. The class of 2017 has graduated, even as I still struggle with a mountain of grading for the classes of ’18, ’19 and ’20.

At Commencement, it was a good year for the newspaper staff. The top two honors given at Commencement—the Mary Frances Warde and Mary Catherine McAuley Awards, given respectively to the top transfer student and the top student who started at MMU—both went to MMU “Times” staff members.

Capria Davis, photo editor of the “Times,” won the Warde prize for a whole host of activities, including helping to found the Black Student Union at MMU. Bianca Kesselring, who wrote an entertainment column for the “Times,” won the McAuley honor. She was active many things, including choir and student ambassadors.

The paper also saw the graduation of Anna Bohr, a key staff member. For the past two years, her title—web editor and then multimedia producer—implied work on the paper’s internet presence, which is accurate, but she was always an important and reliable staff member who made important contributions to the print newspaper. Capria was recognized as this year’s outstanding Communication Program student; Anna was the outstanding journalist of 2017.

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Capria Davis, outstanding Communication graduate of 2017, and Anna Bohr, outstanding graduating student journalist, after Friday’s Honors Convocation.

Graduation this year had many highlights, but in particular two other items stand out to me.

On May 19, at the Honors Convocation, the President’s Award was given to Gabriel Acosta. The other two top student graduation honors are voted on by faculty and staff—but this award comes straight from MMU’s president. And Laurie Hamen got a bit choked up when she spoke of Gabby. His life journey put him squarely, if innocently, in one of the hot political debates of the day. As a young child, Gabby was brought, undocumented, from Mexico to Iowa by his undocumented immigrant parents.

And his family is being separated today by the stiffening of American immigration policy.

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Gabriel Acosta, 2017 President’s Award winner.

Throughout it all, Gabby has been open and honest and willing to share his story to help others understand. Sadly, it’s not been enough to turn back the tide of nationalism that trumps any sense on immigration, but I can’t think of a more deserving graduate of MMU for the honor President Hamen bestowed.

Another poignant moment for me was seeing Professor Ron Feldt lead the procession of faculty at commencement today. He is now an emeritus professor, retiring from the full-time faculty this year.

Others also retired, and will also be missed, but Ron was special to me. He was part of my tenure review group. I valued his feedback. He and I have both served as chairs of the faculty, and I think there’s a bond between those of us who have tried to lead this group of independent souls we call a faculty.

More images from the weekend are in my galleries of the Honors Convocation, Commencement Mass and Commencement Ceremony. MMU’s news release about the event is here.

At graduation today, Bianca gave a good speech, Ron and two other retiring faculty members were applauded and many students walked the stage. Monday will be anticlimactic for me; it will be a day spent tying up thousands of loose ends so the spring semester and school year can officially be called “over.”

But it’s over now for the class of 2017. Good luck, and let us know what shenanigans you get in to.

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Friday Floral Feature: The Maybe Milkweed Week


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What do you think? Is it Milkweed?

Hope springs eternal in the spring. This week saw Dwarf Lilac in full bloom, a second Clematis with giant flowers take center stage in my front garden, and something else. Or so I hope.

Maybe Milkweed?

We’ll see. My gardening heart has been broken many times by this tough but hard to get started Iowa perennial flower. Of course I want Milkweed in my garden. It’s the only kind of plant that a Monarch Butterfly will lay eggs on, and the decline of the Monarch is at least associated with the decline of Milkweed in the Iowa countryside.

So, I try to do my part. Year after year, I sow the seeds. And year after year, nothing.

Last year, I purchased some “Butterfly Flowers” at a nursery. It’s a variety of Milkweed, and two of the purchased plants are coming up again this spring, which is nice.

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Yes, Milkweed–plant I bought last year is coming back.

But the common wild Milkweed plant grows larger and is preferred by the butterfly. It is a bit odd, I suppose, for a flower gardener to try to raise plants hoping that caterpillars will devour them, but that’s the way it is.

And the “weed” in Milkweed’s name is simply a mistake. It’s a pretty native perennial flowers, and all of us who grow anything to look at in our gardens ought to plant it, especially now. MMU, I’m looking at you.

Anyway, back to my garden this week. Something is coming up in front—something that popped up suddenly this May, just when Milkweed should appear.

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Peony after Wednesday night storm. Many in town are in bloom, but not in my gardens yet.

Sadly, there are lots of plants that look like this when they are young, but at least Milkweed is among them. After years of frustration, is this the spring when Mother Nature took pity on me?

I vote “yes,” although my vote means nothing. We shall see. At least I know that the store-bought variety of Milkweed has appeared this week, and that makes it a good week in the gardens.

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A second Clematis–with dramatically large flowers–bloomed this week.

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