Category Archives: Blog

Students Have Some Things to Say


Image is a link to the “Mount Mercy Times” blog page.

I think this blog by MMU Times students is starting to take off. Check it our, I hope that you will like it.

The most recent post is by a student sharing ideas for students with mental health issues, such as he has.

The first post on the site was a nice slice of life (pun based on a bread theme) from a student at home.

timesflagI advise this newspaper staff and am proud of what they are doing here. The staff has struggled with how to keep student media relevant for a university whose campus is largely shut down, and this is one creative response. Student life continues, even if that life is spread out to the homes students came from.

And I might have written about this topic on my media blog, but Facebook consistently blocks any links to that blog, and, of course, is too busy to explain to any content creators why their content is blocked. I’ve “objected,” several weeks ago, but the Facebook pointless censorship remains in place. I hope this paragraph with the “forbidden link” doesn’t make that pattern spread to this blog!

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Filed under Blog, Freedom, Journalism, Mount Mercy

England Days 3-7: The Impact of Jet Lag


Granddaughter and wife on stroll to school. We are going with her on a field trip.

I started off this visit with a short burst of energy that allowed me to write daily blog posts for the first two days of my English trip, but then jet lag kicked in. Each evening, I would edit and post a few images to Facebook, intending, after that, to write a blog post about the day.

And I failed each day. Except that today, when I checked my blog, there were three recent nonsense posts, one just the numeral 5, while the rest weren’t even words, just strings of letters.

Wow. Jet. Lag.

Anyway, the visit to England has been better than the blogging. Let’s see, what have I missed telling you about?

Wednesday, June 19—Walked grandkids to school, went to City Centre and arranged to rent a bicycle next week. Matt went on business trip and I borrow his bike—first short bike ride.
Thursday, June 20—We drove to a nearby village for book shopping and visit to nice outdoor gardens. Longer afternoon bike ride.
Friday, June 21—Audrey and I are “parents” on a school field trip, Lizzie’s Year 4 class walks to East Anglia University campus for nature hunt in green space by a river. Sunburn.
Saturday June 22 and Sunday June 23—We agree to watch the grandchildren so Matt and Amanda can celebrate their anniversary with a weekend getaway to London. It seems to be going well (knock on wood, it’s several hours before they get home). It’s not as much work as it could be, Juliet was gone for much of Saturday on a Brownie excursion to a zoo, and Elizabeth had a sleepover birthday party, but still, we get some good karma for being brave grandparents.

I complained about the UK a bit on my bike blog, because navigating the streets for a bicycle ride was more challenging that it should be in any organized universe. This post will be way more positive, because there is a lot to enjoy about England.

I can’t claim to be an unbiased judge of that. With my oldest daughter and three of my grandchildren living here, I am predisposed to have good thoughts about the place that pleasantly houses some people I love. Still, biased or not, I can judge when I want to, and isn’t that what a blog is for?

So here are additional good points of the UK.

First, the school system seems good here. I don’t know too much about it, but the Friday field trip was a positive experience. For one thing, it’s a bit of distance from the middle school Elizabeth attends to the university campus. Google maps says it’s 1.1 miles, but that seems like a lie, because that would be like waking from our house to the Collins Aerospace duck pond and back—and we walked a lot farther.

Of course, Google may not be accounting for the walk across the University of East Anglia campus to get to the site of the nature hunt, but that was not a great distance. I am not sure many American schools would walk four classes of fifth graders as far as we walked Friday—and that’s sort of a score one for England.

The day seemed mildly well spent. The teacher and aides seemed to know the children well and to anticipate and deal with issues. There was one allergic reaction to pollen, one girl with sunscreen in the eyes (luckily, not Elizabeth), and so on—normal school stuff, which was dealt with calmly. I imagine many American teachers and aides would have done as well, yet it was still good to see.

Rounders, by the way, looks like a drunk person tried to plan baseball and failed.

A second positive aspect of England is that walking and biking seem fairly normal here. On a weekend in City Centre, for example, there are crowds of people and hundreds of little shops open and bustling. The English are not hidden in their houses watching TV or playing video games, they are out and about. And using their feet and their pedals, many of them—auto traffic is heavy, too, but it’s startling how many people you just see walking downtown contrasted with what a comparable American city is like.

There is also the food. You can find plenty of bland and bad food in the UK—the British are known for it. But that has not been our experience. Of course, part of that is that my daughter is a much better cook than I am, and feeds us grandly. But the meals out we’ve had have been local, quirky and quite good. For example, on our art trip Thursday to the Norfolk Children’s Book Centre and the Alby Crafts and Gardens, we ate lunch at a tea room at the craft place.


Tea room lunch. We were very pleased with it.

I got a chicken salad, as did Audrey, and we shared an order of fries at the table. It was a leafy, fresh salad with a tasty dressing—somehow, despite all of their reputation otherwise, it seems many Brits have learned not only to cook, but to cook well.

Granted, we made the mistake of buying store meatballs to feed the family Sunday for dinner, and they turned out to be very bland and made us miss American store meatballs—but that was a culinary exception. For the most part, eating here has a been a joy, and we haven’t even had proper fish and chips nor sticky toffee pudding yet.

England! I could eat you up.

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Filed under Blog, Grandchildren, holidays, Travel

Students Begin Their Blog Adventures

hands typing

Students typing in computer classroom.

As is normal in my writing classes, I have a set of students who are starting their blogs this semester. I look forward to reading what they do with their own stories.

Blogs sometimes can be too personal—online diaries. But many are entertaining and informative. I have students write blogs so that they can self-publish and play with professional writing. One of my former students, Jenny Valliere, a radio personality at z102.9 in Cedar Rapids, even told me her Mount Mercy blog was helpful to her in launching her career, and she has maintained a blog since then.

Blogging, of course, is not the main or only form of writing I’m hoping my students learn in Introduction to Journalism. But a person who aspires to be a communicator in 2019 needs some online communication experience, and I’m hoping to prod my students in that direction.

Besides clippings from “The Mount Mercy Times,” which students will gain this semester, I’m hoping that a few of them catch the blog bug and continue this form of writing.

Personally, I maintain three blogs: This one which is about gardening, life in general and my experiences as a professor at Mount Mercy University. I also blog about:

My experiences as a bicycle commuter.

My thoughts, as a journalism professor, on media and how media changes our lives.

Anyway, later I’ll post some samples of the students’ work. I’m always excited to see new student blogs, and where this new writing adventure will take them. Some of the writers:

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My Favorite Student Blogs This Term

As I often do in media writing classes, I required some students to establish or update a blog this semester.

Some student blogs never really take off. Others become more personal to the student, and she or he ends up doing some interesting writing.

This semester, I thought three blogs in particular have content that appealed to me.

Lakin Goodman has turned her blog into more of a personal web site, complete with resume information. She has an interest in photography, and I would like her to use more of her images on the blog, but she does have things to say. She notes that she has no theme to the blog—but that’s not really a downside, to me.


Chuck Uthe is a self-described nerd, writing about film and games. His reviews are not casual—they have some depth and background to them. I appreciate how reflective he is.


Matt Trueblood says he has more caffeine than oxygen in his blood right now—and I hope he can recharge soon. But his writing is honest and has what another blogger once called “emotional nudity,” which is meant as a positive thing. His blog seems to be an honest peek into his psyche—which is an interesting place to be.


I am sure I will continue this assignment in media writing classes. Now and then, a student who is introduced to blogging via the class will own it and continue their online efforts. Today, when students who wish to be communicators need to consider their online identity and the nexus of social media they can use to showcase and promote themselves, a blog gives them something to tweet about and share on Facebook. It also is a minor taste of web writing for students, which is a key skill.

The three that I am choosing to feature here (and it does not mean that other students have not done interesting work, this is a personal and ideosycratic look at blogs that just tickled my fancy) are all visually interesting, too–it’s a feature of this semester’s crop of student blogs that those who seemed to care the most about their writing also cared some about the presentation of that writing, which has not always been true.

I hope you check out and enjoy the writing that these students are doing!

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Filed under Blog, Journalism, Mount Mercy, Writing

The Modern Sounds of Writing


From wikimedia commons (, 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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Filed under Blog, Mount Mercy, Writing

A Year in the Life of a Blogger

What I like to see in my Hotmail in box. Someone had somethings to say on on my blog. Thank you, commenters!

The default “hello world” blog post was April 7, 2009, but it was April 8 that I wrote my first “real” blog entry. It was about the joys of riding my old Schwinn Continental bike, by the way.

My second blog was about blogging, and I posed questions about the reasons for and roles of the blog. Got some interesting comments, by the way.

For most of 2009, I blogged about once a week. As this school year went on, for some reason, my pace picked up a bit—I got more into the blogging habit.

Now, I probably post a new entry about twice a week, sometimes more often.

Why? Not sure.

Partly it’s that my small circle of readers, mostly family members or Facebook friends, will comment if I don’t blog, or will react to some of my blog entries. The Internet isn’t exactly the Matrix (yet), but it does allow me to form and maintain connections, and this blog is part of that pattern.

Me while finishing this post. Don't worry, won't abuse web cam by adding too many snapshots of old men to this blog.

Recently, I expanded into a secondary blog, where I post brief notes on my life as a bike commuter.

So, a bit more than a year into it, what does it mean? What are the highs and lows of blogging? Some thoughts:

  • No magic. In pop culture, a few blogs have “taken off.” My daughter is fond of quoting “Project Rungay,” an entertaining blog that partly comments on “Project Runway.” I haven’t tried for such a coherent theme and have not seen hundreds of thousands of hits on my blog, so I have not uncovered the magic of wider popularity. Not sure that was a goal of mine anyway, but accidental fame and riches would be OK.
  • Love comments. My sisters Pat and Cate comment most often, with Toni sometimes throwing in her two cents. I appreciate comments, they give me something original to read on my own blog and they also let me know a bit of what people react to. Don’t mind it when some place their comments on my Facebook page, but every time a comment is posted on WordPress, I get an e-mail at my Hotmail account. I admit it, it’s a bit silly, but still. “comment-reply” is one of my favorite e-mail subject lines because when it shows up in Hotmail, it means someone wrote something on my blog. Please comment on.
  • Personal stories. Amanda, my oldest daughter, has hinted in some of her comments that she likes my childhood stories. I’m sure that’s one role of this blog—it’s running self disclosure in what I hope is a mostly positive way. My sisters knew about the Irish Mail, but not my daughter.
  • Rising readership. Although my blog has not reached any pop culture fame, it has slowly gained readers, which is nice. I probably average several hundred a month now, although I don’t know how many are “new” or simply friends coming back for second looks. And, part of the driver of the trend is that I post more, which, I’m sure, draws more hits from my more loyal blog readers. Still, I think the long-term trend is bigger than that, and one point I will ponder later is who the new readers may be.
  • Plan to carry on. I may scale back a bit as summer comes on and Jon’s wedding approaches, but I’ve found the first year of blogging to be a pleasure, and I plan to carry on. My “bike” blog will continue, too, but this is my “real” blog home, where I’ll write longer posts.
  • Popular posts. For some reason, must have to do with topics people either search on Word Press or Google, a few of my old posts show up as being viewed every week. Months ago, I wrote about how I feel about my name. That post is a vampire post—it never dies. So, too, a random post last summer about how to slay rodents. Must be a theme that comes up now and then in people’s lives.

What are my favorite posts, regardless of popularity? Here they are, starting with the oldest (not necessarily the best):

  1. “Future of College Newspapers,” April 19, 2009. My points still hold up, I think. If you want more out of your college life, join your campus newspaper.
  2. “A Blog for George,” June 17, 2009. June of last year was a tough month, with my father-in-law passing away. I hope my words helped healing, a little, but George did leave a big hole in people’s lives.
  3. “The Spider Month,” Sept. 6, 2009. One of my sisters has never read it. You know which one. Arachnophobia.
  4. “The Life and Times of the (Half) Irish Male,” Oct. 9, 2009. Don’t know why, but this put a lot of us in “remembering” mood, although it was just a random post about a toy—which, as it turned out, had originally been my oldest sister’s.
  5. “Tristan’s First Bath,” Dec. 21, 2009. Tristan, Nikayla and Elizabeth—my grandchildren–have been recurring characters in my blog. Nikayla, the oldest, is probably featured most often simply because a child becomes much more interactive as she or he becomes more vocal and mobile. This bath blog entry, though, appeals to me for some reason.
  6. “The Horrid Holiday Sounds,” Dec. 24, 2009. What better, more heartwarming way to celebrate Christmas Eve that bringing to mind the worst of Christmas music?
  7. “A Joe by any Other Name,” Jan. 17, 2010. Comes with free photo of “Pleasure with Joseph and Stephanie.”
  8. “The Lovely Boots,” Feb. 1, 2010. She is outgrowing them now, but the boots retained long-term popularity.
  9. “Run, Sarah, Run!” Feb. 10, 2010. My “endorsement” of Sarah Palin. One of two “political” blog entries that I really like.
  10. “The ‘Science’ of Dan Brown,” March 3, 2010. Now there is a post that should resonate, but no, it’s “How to Kill a Mouse” that gets random hits. Must be some hidden code somewhere that says “don’t read this post.”
  11. “The Real Evil is Not Progressivism,” March 20, 2010. I have not checked the video links to see if they still work, but I hope so.
  12. “Last Times at the Times,” May 7, 2010. I’ll miss this year’s crew.

That’s my list of personal favs. I really like some of the ones that I wrote about Elizabeth and feel a little funny that none are at the “top” of my list–especially since the best photo on the blog is the one of a new baby E being held in hands–but there you have it.  I’m sure she’ll continue to be featured in many future favorite posts.  I don’t really hate or regret any of the rest of my posts, but it’s interesting to me that, although plants and gardening are the theme of this blog, the posts I personally like best are pretty much always on other topics.

Blog fans—one year in. Do you like reading this blog? Why? What are your favorites?
Please post a comment. Send Joe some auto-Hotmail and make him happy.


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