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The Earth Has A Tickle in its Throat


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Dr. Drew Dellinger, poet and prose writer, speaks at Mount Mercy Oct. 26, 2017, as part of the Fall Faculty Series and Visiting Writer program.

The message of writer Dr. Drew Dellinger is relevant and important: We live on a fragile small rock moving through space, and maybe we should learn to act like it.

That is, we are of the Earth, rooted in the planet where we reside, formed from the same old stars were our carbon and other trace elements were compressed from hydrogen, made of that universal dust and lava and DNA—in short, as he said, “things aren’t even ‘things.’” That is, our temporary existence on this planet is rooted in the sacredness and magic that science helps us discern in life and objects all around us.

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2017 Fall Faculty Series Logo by MMU.

And Earth is not happy. These are not good times for her carbon-based life forms which are all related to each other and all interconnected—not good because one of those life forms seems determined to deny its connection to the whole, and to behave in ways that threaten the habitability of our common home.

About 40 people attended Dellinger’s talk this evening at Mount Mercy University. During the speech, called “Planetize the Movement: Ecology, Justice, Cosmology, and Democracy,” Dellinger emphasized research he has done into Martin Luther King—according to Dellinger, King’s was an early voice talking about the connection between ecology and social justice.

Repeatedly, Dellinger said, King used language like: “All I’m saying is that all life is interconnected.” That unity between social justice and concern for the planet is what Dellinger said needs to be urgent now.

At the end of his speech, he read one of his poems. His voice caught for a minute—as he noted, people are not separate from the Earth, but of it, and in this case, Earth had a bit of a tickle in one of its throats. After a drink, a small living sliver of Earth continued.

“It’s 3:23 in the morning and I’m awake because my great-great-grandchildren won’t let me sleep. My great-great-grandchildren ask me in dreams … what did you do while the Earth was unravelling?”

“What did you do once you knew?”

Those sound like important words to ponder.

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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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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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MMU Scholars Give Voice to Introverts


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Face rattles by MMU student Mariah Kidd.

At the closing reception of the 2017 Scholarship Day May 3, a variety of student artwork was on display in the art gallery. I wandered around, sipping Chardonnay, enjoying myself.

The art included some ceramic heads, created by Mount Mercy student Mariah Kidd, that function as rattles. “Every time you shake a face rattle, an introvert finds their voice,” read the artist’s signs on tables. So I did some shaking. Introverts need their voices and we need to listen, these days.

We seem to have entered a post-fact universe. So it was especially nice today to hear about and view scholarly research done by Mount Mercy University students.

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Madison Coates, junior nursing student with a journalism minor, describes the story she did with IowaWatch.org.

One of my students, Madison Coates, a junior nursing student who is minoring in journalism, described a project she did with the Iowa Center of Public Affairs journalism, which runs the web site IowaWatch.org. She was writing about the current state of Iowa college newspapers.

Among other findings, Coates said most colleges in Iowa are printing fewer pages, but most are still producing newspapers.

Because of my schedule today, I could only sample a few sessions. I missed one of my favorites, such as the annual Paha literary magazine launch, although I did jack a corner slice of Paha cake. At least I did listen to Coates and went to the closing reception.

Renetta Jenkins

Renetta Jenkins investigated gender differences in salaries. Among other things, she found women are far less likely to negotiate during the hiring process then men are.

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Victoria Roe investigated breast cancer treatment.

I also viewed a few of the posters in the Sisters of Mercy University Center. Renetta Jenkins spoke of her business project investigating gender pay differences. Victoria Roe described how a holistic clinic seems to produce higher patient compliance with medicine routines. Skylar Hop and Alivia Zubrod spoke to me about their psychology project on how people find meaning in life.

It was a fun day. It came just a half week after numerous faculty members presented their research during a Faculty Scholarship Day held Friday April 28.

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Dr. Mohammad Chaichian (right) introduces Dr. Joy Ochs for her presentation on novels from India. Chaichian also presented his research on the Hyde Park area of Chicago.

On Friday, I heard Dr. Joy Ochs talk about an Indian writer who pens novels in English (one of the primary spoken languages in India) for an Indian audience. Among other things, the novels explore interesting intersections between the environment and people.

Dr. Mohammad Chaichian gave us an introduction to the Hyde Park neighborhood in Chicago, a neighborhood partly defined by the University of Chicago campus, whose large campus police force helps the area maintain a set-apart identity from the largely African-American neighborhoods that surround it. Hyde Park is also partly isolated by a barrier of parks that helps define its borders.

I wish I had more time to attend sessions on Friday and again today. Both faculty and students at MMU have done interesting scholarly work this year.

And maybe that’s some comfort. There is light to press back against our present darkness.

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Introducing Friday Floral Feature


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Bee on rhododendron in my front garden April 14, 2017.

Spring is definitely underway in Iowa—some magnolias are in bloom, redbuds and crabapples are getting heavy with buds, some fruit trees have flowered.

I tend to post fairly often about my gardens on social media. I’m sure I’ll do that again this year, but to control my habits a bit, I am going to try something new in the 2017 growing season—I’ll put up garden and yard photos on Friday—I’ll do a Friday Floral Feature on Facebook and WordPress.

So, happy Friday! And here is the full weekly gallery on Facebook.

This week in the gardens: Crocus are still in bloom, but finishing up. The first mow of the lawn in front is not far off, but I’ll try to hold out until close to May. I hate to mow too early. Early tulips are in bloom, although most are yet to come.

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Cherry blossom in back yard.

We have a weeping cherry tree and a nearby cherry bush in our backyard—both are in bloom. Many daffodils are blooming, but more are on the way. Irises are shooting up, but no buds yet. Peonies have emerged and are about 6 inches tall, but still have the red look of early growth. However, I have two kinds of peonies, and there is an early “frilly” variety that is already budding.

Red buds are budded, but not blooming. Crab apple trees are budding and look like they will burst into copious flowers soon—pear tree is starting to bloom already.

All of the most recently planted trees seem to be doing well—the gingko has green buds. The new magnolia tree is not as far along as the older pink bush—but—hooray—appears to clearly have a good number of flower bulbs.

Clematis has suddenly awoken, and many vines are already holding flower buds.

It has been a good week—some rain this week, often at night, and relatively warm temperatures. A few plants do disappoint—once again, the apple trees seem barren, and a lilac bush that should have pretty white flowers again seems to have nary a bud.

But overall, my gardens are looking pretty good. How about yours?

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Red bud tree buds. This one is in front garden.

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California City Life by the Bay in San Francisco


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First day–we visit the Golden Gate Bridge.

If you come to San Francisco, it turns out, flowers in your hair are not required.

For spring break this year, my wife and I jetted to the left coast to visit the city by the bay. Our son and daughter-in-law have tech jobs in the computer capital of the universe, which is not exactly San Francisco, but nearby, south of the city.

For one week, we sampled quite a variety of experiences. We ate and ate and ate—prime rib, and Chinese dumplings and Korean Chicken and burritos in the Mission District that are the kind of burrito angels in Heaven order when they get a hankering for some Mexican.

We walked through the peninsula to the larger part of Golden Gate Park and toured the Botanical Gardens. We partly crossed the Golden Gate Bridge on foot. We saw the Sutro Bath ruins and the remains of a federal fort and prison at Alcatraz.

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It was a thrilling whirlwind, and our gracious hosts assured us there is much more to see, which I fully believe. We didn’t see wine country nor the big redwoods. We only spent significant time in two museums—the Cable Car Museum, cool because the machinery that actually runs the cable car system whirs away before your very eyes; and The Computer History Museum which was just cool. So we got to see technology that was the height of 19th century cleverness as well as 21st century wires and silicon chips. And, yes, we’ll be back again, I’m sure.

Of course, most of all we got to spend time with our son and daughter-in-law. Jon and Nalena, thank you for being such gracious hosts. Thank you for putting up with the slow walking speed of an old man with a failing left knee—and, honestly, the many miles of walking each day seemed to do me some good, although I could skip the stairs.

The weather forecast for the week called for clouds and rain most days, and I suppose there was some rain more days than not, but it often fell at night, and we were blessed most days with sunny skies that made me regret not brining an Iowa baseball cap (probably one that says “Diocese of New Orleans,” but that’s another story) and some shades. In particular, our Alcatraz Island tour was favored by sunshine—and although it turned cloudy at the end of the day, by then, who cares?

San Francisco was warm and green compared to Iowa. We’re warming up here, but are still 10 degrees or so behind central California. There will come a time, in June or so, when Cedar Rapids, Iowa, starts being hotter than San Francisco, California, for the Midwestern summer—and an Uber driver assured us the green we saw was a bit misleading. “We forgot what green looks like” during recent drought years, she said.

We engaged in some competitions while in the Bay Area. One minor high point of my trip was defeating my very intelligent oldest son in a game of chess at the headquarters of Facebook. However, I will make no further mention of the two chess games played earlier in the week.

We had a Facebook-based photo contest—my wife, son and I each chose 10 photographs of San Francisco to post in a “Seen in San Francisco” gallery, and used scoring based on “likes,” “loves” and comments. My son and wife are close in the scoring, but my wife seems to be winning. Me, I’m way behind. Besides overall points, there is a competition for best photo, too—and it’s a tie right now, between photographs I did not take. And let’s not talk about Bananagrams—come to think of it, I didn’t do well at any of our competitions this past week.

Oh well. I was still winning. I was in San Francisco. See the competition images here, and more of my SF pictures here.

The Bay Area, while a bit crowded, busy and dirty, was nonetheless also quirky, interesting and full not just of pigeons and trash, but also charming Victorian houses, street art and restaurants.

Restaurants! San Francisco is not much larger in population than Des Moines, Iowa, but the Bay Area has Iowa beat to Sunday and back in the food area. Yes, it can be pricey, but I had the best Korean, Mexican and even American (prime rib) food that I think I’ve ever eaten. There is just one Puerto Rican restaurant in San Francisco, as far as our son knows, but even it serves food that makes you think you needed to walk six miles a day just to make up for that lunch.

Some people have left their hearts in San Francisco. I can see that—but me, I think I would leave my stomach.

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Playing with Photoshop at The Computer History Museum. Bad Hombres in SF.

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