Inspirational Words for a Football Team


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Colorado author aaron abeyto speaks Sept. 27, 2018 to a packed Flatherty Community Room at MMU.

I enjoyed all of the snippets of writing read by author aaron abeyta Sept. 27 at Mount Mercy University.

An English professor at Adams State University in Colorado—and mayor of a small town, abeyta was also recently the local high school football coach. In that letter, he offered this working definition of being perfect:

“You are perfect because your imperfections have not derailed you,” he said.

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Student notes.

abeyta’s writing ranged from Satan in a bar fight to a calculus problem written as a love poem. As he changed genres and topics, abeyta’s voice would change and his pace would quicken or slow.

He said it’s because he is a conduit for poetry, and reads each poem in the voice of the person who inspired it.

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Explaining cover.

One of my favorites was a people about clichés—loaded, of course, with clichés.

Flaherty Community Room at Mount Mercy was packed for this event. The lighting was pretty dim, but I think I managed to get some images anyway. It was a great evening, and enlightening with many insights provided by the mayor of

abeyta, between readings, reflected a bit on the nature of writing. He noted that he usually revises a lot, and that writing involves being able to deal with rejection without getting discouraged.

“Poems are work, folks,” he observed. So are other forms of writing, a point I think this small-town Colorado mayor would probably agree with.

NOTE: In correcting this post the next day, I deliberately did not capitalize the author’s name. No disrespect intended–in many uses, it seems he prefers it not capitalized, which is why I decided to go with that unusual usage.

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Student listening.

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Living in Harmony, Recognizing Dignity


Dr Bryan Cross

Dr. Bryan Cross, assistant professor of religious studies at Mount Mercy University, speaks Sept. 18, 2018.

At the end of a sometimes discouraging presentation that had multiple examples of the damage humans have done to the Earth and ways in which people take advantage of each other, Dr. Bryan Cross, assistant professor of religious studies, offered a brighter view.

“If we think it’s too late, it will definitely be too late,” he said. “You have to do what you can. And I still have hope.”

Cross, a professor at Mount Mercy University, spoke during the Fall Faculty Series called “Sustanability: Human/Nature and the Future of the Earth.” His Sept. 18 forum, the second in the series, also happened during Mercy Week at MMU, when the university celebrates its Sisters of Mercy heritage—and the week this year is dedicated to concern for the Earth. The presentation was called “Pope Francis’ Laudato Sí: Harmony with the Natural Order and the Dignity of Creatures.”

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Shadow of Dr. Bryan Cross.

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Dr. Bryan Cross explains a slide.

The presentation, using ideas from a book written by Pope Francis, began with some religious perspective on why it’s important to care for our planet. Partly, it’s recognition that nature has intrinsic value. And it’s also showing respect to other humans, too, including those who will come after us.

“I am my future generation’s keeper,” Cross said. Exploitation of other humans, viewing them only as utility, is part of the mindset that allows exploitation of other living things and the Earth itself—so the antidote is a recognition of dignity of others—other people, but other parts and pieces of this reality, too.

About 60 people attended, which is a pretty good turnout. The audience seemed caught up in the presentation, and there was lots of good discussion at the end. I thought I spoke a bit too much—a bad habit I tend to have—but it was still an enjoyable evening, if a little discomforting, too.

And I also felt that it set the bar pretty high for me. I speak next in the series, on Oct. 11 I will give a presentation called: “Hot Story: How the Media Struggles to Cover Climate Change.” Hope to see you there!

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How to Turn 60


Audrey and I pause for a selfie before riding the Sac and Fox Trail.

My 60th birthday won’t come again, but tomorrow will the only day after my 60th birthday, and that day won’t return, either.

But if I were to be stuck, “Groundhog Day” style, in a 24-hour period that would repeat—well, today might not be my best choice, but it would be a decent choice. Today was a pretty good day.

It began with me fixing a special breakfast for myself—I made plain oatmeal, added some butter, salt, pepper, two over-easy eggs and cheddar cheese. It was a tasty way to begin my birthday.

We’ve had rain recently in Iowa, a pattern expected to return tomorrow, but today was cool in the morning and very pretty in the afternoon. I have been driving to work most of the week, but today I put on the special bicycle shoes and rode my road bike. A day at work is always a better day if I get there and return on two wheels.

And for lunch, my wife took me to Taste of India—probably the best restaurant in Cedar Rapids for a birthday lunch, if you like Indian food. I do.

After afternoon work, I got home about 4:30, and noticed a flat of mums on the front stoop. My wife had already gotten me two Rose of Sharon bushes for my birthday earlier this week, and I will plant those this weekend. Mums are one of her favorite flowers, but I enjoy that splash of fall color, too—and I love to plant pretty things. I think of it as an investment in hope, the future and the wonderfulness of this planet we find ourselves inhabiting. Planting always boosts my mood, so seeing the flower flat was another reason to smile today.

And the house smelled divine when I got home. Someone had baked an apple crisp for me.

Before we watched “Thor: Ragnarok,” a DVD someone got for me on this special day, I attached the bike rack to the van and loaded our mountain bikes on it. My wife had suggested that, if the weather was right, we might enjoy a bicycle ride on my birthday—if I agreed. I did, and I suggested we got to the Sac and Fox, a trail I have been on several times this year, but have not shared with her before today.

And the bike ride on the trail was delightful, featuring perfect late afternoon golden light, and clouds enough to keep us from warming up. We had ridden maybe 5 of the 7 miles on our way to the south end of the trail, and I had noted to Audrey that, although it had been a very pretty ride (the Sac and Fox is the prettiest bike trail in Cedar Rapids), I was surprised there had been no deer. I had encountered deer on my summer pre-RAGBRAI rides on this trail.

And almost immediately, on cue, there, up ahead—a group of maybe seven deer, adults and fawns, loitering on the trail. They moved north off the trail as we approached, but stayed nearby in the woods, so I paused and photographed them.

Two of the deer.

Yes, the ride went well. And we felt we had earned our post-ride supper of apple crisp with ice cream (that’s all we had—but honestly, after a Taste of India buffet, how much could we have possibly eaten?).

My birthday season hasn’t really ended yet. The weekend after Labor Day, we’ll probably host a family brunch with kids and grandkids, and that will be fun. And probably there will be cake.

I don’t know that I would recommend 60 all that much. My body is aging, and showing its wear and tear in various ways. I’m still battling a stubborn ear infection, and getting to learn what my father’s life was like as his hearing faded away. My arthritic knees and hips dictate a certain slowness to my gait, when they don’t inflict pain. My family has a weight-loss challenging going, and I truly am trying, but at the start of your seventh decade on this planet, trust me, weight does not melt away. Well, I suppose apple crisp suppers (or savory egg and oatmeal breakfasts followed by spicy buffet food) don’t help, either.

But, whatever. I’ll do what I can and also try to enjoy myself. I’m 60. The little things don’t matter any more. And today I had a very good day—thanks, mostly, to my wife. Shout out to my delayed twin, my four years to the day younger sister, who still lingers in the midst of her sixth decade.

Sis, 60 is coming, knock on wood. And when it gets here for you, I hope its arrival is at least as nice as it was for me.

We ride off into the sunset.

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The Modern Sounds of Writing


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From wikimedia commons (commons.wikimedia.org), English portable typewriter of the 1970s. From user Dwight Burdette.

In the 1970s, when I learned to type in high school, typing was a loud process. Manual typewriters had a particular sound—the noise of fingers hitting the levers, the much louder smack of the letter against the inked ribbon and paper and the hard rubber-coated roller, the “ding” when you grabbed that lever and advanced your paper to the next line.

The latest technology in my typing class was the electric typewriter. Its motor hummed, its clack was artificial and less loud than the smack of a mechanical typewriter, but each letter produced a quick “snick.” The ball of letters would spin and hit the paper. It was a still an audible experience, but very different—sort of like the satisfying thud of a wooden baseball bat compared to the ping of its aluminum counterpart.

Today in a writing lab, I am requiring students to write a blog post—it can be about anything. It can be about writing blog posts. It can be about their favorite (or least favorite) professor this semester. I can be about Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Tessa Violet.

But it’s interesting to me that the act of writing, while it is much quieter than decade ago, still has an audible quality. You can hear the fingers dancing across the plastic keyboards.

Several students brought their own laptop computers, a totally legitimate thing to do, although I know from experience that many laptops have quieter keyboards than their desktop cousins. Me, I’m more of a fan of writing at a desktop computer, when I can, because my big, fat old fingers don’t always find their way well on a small laptop keyboard. No tiny orange hands for me!

Don’t get me started on trying to write on a cell phone. A cell phone is Satan’s keyboard.

Anyway, there is a buzz of conversation going on in class, along with the clacking of keyboards. One issue with writing in a lab situation is the distraction factor—I know I do prefer to be by myself when I write, far from the maddening (or annoying) crowd.

But professional writing often takes place in distracting group environments, so dealing with distractions is a good experience for students.

 

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I assign students to write blogs for several reasons. Mostly, it’s because a professional communicator today should have a web site—blogging and other web content development is usually a requirement of a PR or journalism career. Writing a blog also provides students with a venue that reflects the reality that professional writing is a public act—a performance that is open to the world to view, which makes it different from many other forms of academic writing.

And I know that blogs I have required students to write have, now and then, aided them in a job interview when the interviewer asks about their URL. They have an answer, and original content of their own to show, which can be important.

But today, what I am mostly thinking about, is the sound of writing, which makes me happy. Clack. Clack. Clack Clack.

No dings.

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The Summer of Milkweed and Butterflies


swamp

When I shot this image in June, this was a mystery flower–it’s swamp Milkweed.

It began in spring. I have for years planted Milkweed seeds in my gardens, with almost no results. Last year, I purchased some “Butterfly Flower” Milkweed plants at a local nursery, and at least those plants did grow. Also last year, for the first time, a few baby plants that maybe could be Milkweed were spotted in the garden, but didn’t grow much.

This winter was a bit mixed. We had some cold. It was not a particularly harsh winter, but it lingered and the spring that followed felt very truncated before hot weather suddenly appeared.

And somehow that odd combination—a chilly winter and quick spring, followed by Iowa hot—seemed to be what Milkweed had been waiting for. While in past years, results had been limited, suddenly in the front garden last year’s baby Milkweed sprang up like, well, weeds.

milkweedgirl

Final day of RAGBRAI, West Liberty, I stop to get some Milkweed seed balls to toss in ditches.

The Butterfly Flowers didn’t all come back, but the plants that did grew robustly and bloomed with pretty orange flowers. The common Milkweed didn’t bloom yet this year—but several of the plants grew to several feet in height.

And in the side garden, a tall spiky stranger appeared, an impressive, 3-foot plant with pink flowers. I didn’t know what it was until we attended the Monarch Fest at the Indian Creek Nature Center, where there were pictures of Swamp Milkweed.

And not only was Milkweed suddenly present in the gardens, but Monarch butterflies on whose behalf these plants were installed didn’t waste much time in finding my Milkweed patch. Suddenly, this year, there were those distinctive black, yellow and white caterpillars. Indeed, the identity of the Swamp Milkweed was confirmed by the presence of baby Monarchs.

caterpillar

Caterpillar on Swamp Milkweed this week.

Well, it’s August and the press of school work is starting. I have syllabi to prepared, a newspaper staff to help organize and a bike club to encourage. The end of RAGBRAI, in my universe, is sort of the unofficial end of summer.

And this summer, we adopted a caterpillar from the Nature Center, fed it and had the pleasure of watching it fly off.

My gardens had a few losses from the winter that have not been restored—my two Rose of Sharon bushes both died, for example. I like that kind of flower and eventually will replace them, although I didn’t find them this year. No butterfly bushes are growing in my gardens this year despite the welcome presences of many butterflies—that perennial is dicey in my region of Iowa and is really almost an annual.

But this was the first year the dogwood tree in back bloomed, and the first year in which Milkweed firmly took hold in my gardens. All in all, I’ll list it as a successful growing season.

And now summer is psychologically, if not physically, over, the fall bulb catalogs are arriving, and the year is marching onward.

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An Unexpected Nature Show


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Grandchildren at the Old Capitol at the University of Iowa, Iowa City. We thought they would all prefer the Natural History Museum, but several said this historic building was their favorite thing to visit during our day out.

We were hosting four grandchildren this week on an overnight stay, and had most of a day until late afternoon that we would spend with them.

So we planned to make a day of it—french toast for breakfast, a trip to the Natural History Museum and Old Capitol at the University of Iowa, lunch out, some park play, finishing it off with afternoon ice cream.

As it turned out, the best laid plans of mice and men sometimes work at as well as you could possibly expect. These four young grandchildren are old enough to enjoy the museums, liked playing in a city park in Coralville, and appreciated the ice cream. It was a good day, according to plan.

And it was also unexpectedly much better. I was glad the museums don’t open until 10, because packing up four young children takes a bit of time. And as we were slowly accumulating all the stuff we needed, encouraging children to take restroom breaks and don shoes, something wonderful that was not on the agenda took place.

As I was carrying a bag with sunscreen and bug repellent out to our minivan, I noticed a Monarch butterfly nervously flitting about. I have tried to grow Milkweed in my gardens for years, with little results, but for some reason things are different this year—“Butterfly Flower” purchased from a local nursery came back strong this year, and Common Milkweed seeds chose this spring of all springs to finally germinate and strongly grow.

And it did not take much time this year for butterflies to find this new habitat. I have not been able to locate pupae, and so I’m not sure if any butterflies have resulted from my efforts, but clearly butterflies have been laying eggs on my plants, based on the caterpillars.

It is funny, I think, that most of the time gardeners are not thrilled to have caterpillars consuming their work, except when Milkweed is planted. Then, the larval stage of this pretty insect is most welcome.

Anyway, back to our museum day adventure. Monarchs are not particularly skittish, as butterflies go. They live their lives knowing that their caterpillar diet has made them nasty to eat, so they are fairly bold. What was wrong with this skittish, spastic specimen of a usually serene insect species?

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Butterfly in front garden.

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Pausing on Milkweed (with the same caterpillar I made images of before).

I paused and watched. And then I figure out what she was doing. She would land quickly on a leaf, hanging on to the edge, and loop her body under the leaf, then flit to another leaf and repeat.

This female insect was bursting with eggs and was depositing said eggs in my garden.

I called out to the grandchildren. They responded to my urgent calls as grandchildren usually do—slowly, one at a time. The mother butterfly flitted off and I was worried they had missed the show.

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Laying egg.

But no—as I encouraged grandchildren to exit the house and get settled in the van for the trip to Iowa City, she kept coming back. She laid eggs on the Common Milkweed while one granddaughter watched. Another saw her as she focused on nearby Butterfly Flower.

And once all the kids were in the van, she provided her best show. There is a tall, spiky flower in my side garden that showed up for the first time this year and bloomed in small pink flowers in a broccoli shape. Common Milkweed blooms pink in pom-pom shapes—and none of my young plants of that sort have bloomed yet, anyway. But, I suspected that this tall plant was Swamp Milkweed, which is just a another variety of the butterfly –friendly family of plants.

Confirmation came this morning. For the first time, we spotted caterpillars munching on that side garden plant—Monarchs don’t make many mistakes. Milkweed is what this plant is.

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What is this tall plant that mama butterfly is pausing for a snack at? It is Milkweed, too, as was proven by caterpillar presence.

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Strong evidence–this is the same plant with the pink flowers. Young monarch doing it’s best to eat it.

And, as if she thought it was her duty to teach young children one last nature lesson, as the doors of the van were still hanging open but the children seated within, the butterfly came back again, landing on the side of the swamp plant that was just feet away from the nearest grandchild sitting in a van.

She hung at the end of the leaf, curled her bottom side over, which seemed like she was posing for the best egg laying photo I managed to get, and then took off.

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Egg that was placed there while children watched.

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Monarch on mystery plant that we can now call Milkweed with confidence. In this egg laying festival, she hit all three varieties of Milkweed I have planted.

There, on the bottom side of leaf, was the egg.

That was cool.

We adopted a caterpillar at the recent Monarch Fest held at the Indian Creek Nature Center, and it formed its cocoon last week. I am still hoping it will emerge before I leave for a week of riding a bicycle across Iowa, but there is no sign of change from it yet.

Still, it felt like we were exposed to the full range of Monarch life cycle Wednesday—several caterpillars, a busy laying adult, a clear view of an egg and the cocoon in my kitchen.

Thank you, butterflies, for making a good day a great day. The day seemed like it had potential to be a good one anyway—and it was. Luckily, the thousand things that could have gone wrong (sick child, serious meltdown, big fight) did not take place. The children enjoyed themselves, which meant the grandparents enjoyed themselves.

And beyond the museums, there was the impromptu lesson provided by a skittish insect. So often in life, spontaneous pleasures are the best.

If you haven’t, find some Butterfly Flowers and plant them in your garden. And Monarchs aren’t the only pollinator in trouble, but plants that help them, including native flowers like cone flowers, aren’t hard to plant, either. Recall that fall is the time to sew Common Milkweed seeds. It may take a few years, the plants grow when they want to and not on your time schedule, but there are rewards for the effort.

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Peonies, Roses and Daddy Longlegs


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Earlier this month, Daddy Longlegs on flower in side garden.

The odd, ever changing summer in Iowa continues.

On Tuesday, dodging rain, my wife and I had gone shopping, and we picked up a few of the season’s last plants on clearance. We got two small rose bushes and two pink peonies.

My plan was to plant them under a birch tree in our front yard. I think my back yard is just getting too shady for these kinds of flowers.

Anyway, when I went out to garden Wednesday, I started by taking my good camera and making a few images of the fine morning. It had rained Tuesday and was very damp, but fine and nice on Wednesday—usually this summer, we’ve been either very humid and warm or downright wet, so Wednesday was one of the precious in-between days. No rain and no extreme heat—it was just Iowa pleasant.

I was impressed by the number and variety of Daddy Longlegs I found this morning, crawling at the edge of plants, on patrol for food to scavenge. I learned via a PBS article and a DNR web site that these non-spider arachnids basically don’t hunt—they are walking around looking for dead insects or decaying leaf to eat.

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Pair of Daddy Longlegs on Hosta. They shed legs as a defense, and according to a PBS article, if a male wants to mate and the female is not in the mood, she may rip one of his legs off.

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On Milkweed.

And, if attacked, they shed a leg and move on. More than half of Daddy Longlegs will lose at least one leg in escaping a predator (or potential mate) during their life.

Well. It was not the only interesting nature note of the morning.

As I planted my roses and peonies, a bit of a disturbance broke out in a nearby ash tree. A small bird was being chased about by a tiny bird—a hummingbird was swooping at another bird, which was complaining about the harassment.

I’ve seen hummingbirds several times this summer, but never caught an image of one. I pointed the good camera up in the ash tree, hoping to be lucky. And I was, because it appeared the hummingbird actually roosted, waiting for its next opportunity to be macho or birdo or dino—whatever we should call it.

And when, on the computer, I looked at the image, I realized the tiny bird was not sitting on the branch—it has a tiny nest in the ash tree.

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Hummingbird on guard in nest.

The city is cutting out ashes, and this is a city tree, so at some point it will be removed. I hope it’s after the fall migration.

And I hope to see some pretty pink peonies next spring!

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