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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.

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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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I Was Asked For A Ho Ho


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Santa, students and Mrs. Claus at MMU.

It was Christmas Eve, in the morning, and I was at the gym. A janitor who chats with me now and then came up and said, “can you say ho, ho, ho?”

Well, I have, now and then. I was a mall Santa when I was in graduate school, and had minor Santa gigs this Christmas season at Mount Mercy University.

I hope your Christmas was fine. Mine was good. I’m still munching on the plethora of chocolates available due to that day (who knew the birth of a poor Palestinian refugee 20 centuries ago would be so good for candy sales?). I got and gave several nice gifts—my wife decided it was the year of the gnome for me, and I am quite fond of both the gnome coffee mug she found, and the figurine of a T Rex devouring gnomes that will no doubt grace either my office or my gardens.

For her, I mostly gave gifts related to a new three-season room we added to the house—pictures to hang there, a clock and a radio. We’ve got to have some NPR and KMRY in that room.

Christmas Day itself was a bit odd due to weather—we don’t often have thunderstorms on Christmas Day. Note to our new president: The Chinese did not invent global warming. Trust me on that, please.

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Granddaughter in Christmas cat mask.

Anyway, besides the odd rainstorm, it was a great day. There were enough grandchildren running around to cause a constant Christmas cacophony, which is the way it should be. We got to Skype with the daughter and grandchildren in England, and my wife chatted with our California son. Turkey was cooked and eaten, a bottle of wine opened and consumed.

It was, in short, a fine holiday. I hope yours was filled with fun and family, if you celebrate Christmas, and if you don’t, I hope you have some fun family day around this time anyway. To celebrate the season, here are a few more Christmas lights I made pictures of.

I’ve always liked Christmas, although I’m happy to report I’m slowly growing out of the habit of waking at 5 a.m. on that day. This year, I slept in. Until about 6:30.

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Santa filter glasses turn Christmas lights into these images.

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What We Learned About Immigration


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Art by Gabriel Acosta. The MMU student displayed many of his works that center on immigration.

Well, that was a quite a day.

Today, Oct. 15, Mount Mercy University held an event called “Our Immigration Stories: Coming to Cedar Rapids & Mount Mercy.” It was a series of presentations that began at 10 a.m. and went until about 4 p.m.

So I’m struggling a little on how to contain my reactions to one blog post. I have something like 6 pages of notes. A lot happened and was said today—my only regret is that I wasn’t quick enough to get everything nailed downs so that the event could be publicized more. We had about 25 people in the audience at the start of the day, and that dwindled to about a dozen by day’s end (it’s wasn’t all the same people, audience members could come and go, so the total number of people who attended any part of the event was more than 25, possibly 50 or so).

Well, live and learn. I’ll have to process what I think are lessons from the day from the point of view of how the series is organized. But logistical issues aside—what a day! Those who were there learned and experienced a lot. I was hoping to have interesting, multiple perspectives from many sources—and that’s what we got.

The day began with a keynote speech by Gabriel Acosta, a senior graphic design major from Monticello, Iowa, who sneaked across the U.S.-Mexico border with his mother when he was 6.

He noted that his father had to try to cross into the U.S. nine times before he made it—luckily, Gabriel and his mother only had to try once. His story of that crossing, and his adjustment to life in Iowa, was full of interesting details: How he was separated from his mother for 30 minutes during the border crossing, and it was the longest half hour of his life. How he planned to just get a job after high school, but a guidance counselor recommended college, and Gabriel contacted several, and first heard from Mount Mercy, which said it didn’t care about his status.

“Whoever called back from MMU said, ‘we’re not the border patrol and we’re not ICE,’” Gabriel said.

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Gabriel Acosta speaks at MMU.

He made a point that was echoed throughout the day by others: it’s OK to call someone “undocumented,” but the term “illegal alien” is demeaning. “There is no such thing as an illegal human being,” he said.

From a legal standpoint, a later speaker, attorney Yer Vang, pointed out that crossing the border without a visa is considered a civil infraction under federal law—it’s not a criminal act, so the term “illegal alien” lacks legal correctness as well as political correctness.

Gabriel at one point ruminated on how there are two very conflicting stereotypes of undocumented immigrants: That they steal American’s jobs, and that they are lazy. “What am I going to do, steal your job and then just sit there?” he quipped. As for Gabriel, he noted: “I will be working hard.”

Under DACA, Gabriel is now here legally and has a green card. Bravo, I say—his presence certainly enriches MMU.

Anyway, after Gabriel gave his excellent keynote speak, students from a Latino-Latina literature course taught by Dr. Carol Tyx recited poems, accompanied by pictures. Carol herself also read a poem.

That somehow set the stage for what came next, which I consider the two highlights of the day. First, we heard from four students, who told of their personal immigrant experiences. Gabriel was one, and there was another student who was also from Mexico, plus a Liberian and a Salvadorian.

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Student immigrant panel, Mauricio Diaz from Mexico; Philemina Towah from Liberia; Gabriel Acosta from Mexico; and Marlon Flores from El Salvador.

Gabriel gave yet another memorable line during this panel presentation, describing how when he first started school in Iowa: “I was the only burnt piece of rice in the bowl.”

After the student panel spoke, a group of faculty and staff (or spouse of faculty) shared their experiences. I was moderating both talks and asking questions, so I don’t have detailed notes, which is too bad because, as I said, I think these two panels were very important. It’s hard to denigrate immigrants as a faceless, scary “other” when you have eight of them sharing their compelling, personal stories.

Dr. Ayman Amer, for example, talked about how the Cedar Rapids community rallied around its Muslim neighbors to protect them from any backlash in the wake of 9/11.

Amir Hadzic described how, in his first nights in America, he wanted to go for a walk—but the cousin he was staying with lived in a sketchy neighborhood of Queens in New York City, and told him that a walk at 10 p.m. was not a good idea. He ended up the soccer coach at MMU almost by accident—he was in Iowa and saw an ad in the Gazette. He didn’t have a resume or any materials, but had been a professional soccer player in Croatia. The MMU athletic director liked what he saw and hired Amer.

Father Tony Adawu told of a priest in Baltimore, Maryland, who sight unseen invited him to be part of his parish. He didn’t have a work visa and couldn’t earn a salary, but could accept a place to live. Father Tony spoke of how there was tension in the parish when he arrived—but not “go away” tension, more like “who are you?” tension. “Together, we worked it out,” he said.

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Faculty-staff panel: Ayman Amer from Egypt; Suresh Basnet from Nepal; Father Tony Adawu from Ghana; and Amir Hadzic of Croatia.

Father Tony spoke of some lower class white parish members, and how they had no choice but to live life “the hard way.” He says he thinks of those people when he hears others talk of “white privilege,” and said it’s dangerous to generalize too much about others. Some white people “struggle big time,” he noted. He echoed Gabriel, and noted he agreed with Gabriel’s point was that it’s always important to try to understand another’s point of view.

Interestingly, all of the faculty-staff panel members had their very initial experiences of the U.S. in New York City, while three of the student panel crossed the U.S.-Mexico border.

In the afternoon, Yer Vang, an immigration attorney, clued us in on the complexity of the U.S. immigration system. She described a system that is complicated, slow and not always logical. She also said that the U.S. already does extensive screening of anybody attempting to claim refugee status—“the screening process is very burdensome and involved multiple agencies,” she noted. To me, it sounded like we already have “extreme vetting.”

In Iowa, she noted, about 5 percent of the state’s population is foreign born. Close to 100,000 are not citizens. In a state that struggles with stagnant population and whose economic growth is limited by that factor, I would think we would be all about welcoming immigrants. We need them, even if we don’t always remember that.

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Yer Vang, based in Decorah, is an attorney with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Dubuque.

After Yer, we heard from Paula Land of the Catherine McAuley Center; Monica Vallejo of the Young Parenthood Network; and Kassia Scott of Kirkwood Community College. All noted that many local agencies want volunteers who can work with immigrants—Land in particular talked about tutoring English at the Catherine McAuley Center. That’s something that’s been on my “to do” list for some time. Maybe if I can get someone else to coordinate next year’s fall series it will be time to try that out.

image-of-logo-colorThe day was capped off by Mark Stoffer Hunter of The History Center in Cedar Rapids. He described the patterns of immigrants coming to Cedar Rapids over time, especially the wave of Bohemians after the Civil War, and the early arrival of a Muslim population. Cedar Rapids, he said, was different from many other Iowa cities. While the Czech population did settle in an area that is still called “New Bo,” the city overall was less divided into distinct ethnic or religious neighborhoods. Partly, that’s attributable to the rather open minded attitudes of the Bohemian population that settled in Cedar Rapids—they often opened their social halls to any other group that wanted to use them.

So Russian Jews, Muslims and others became part of the fabric of this city.

Well, that’s just scratching the surface. There was a lot more said and learned today. I am grateful for all the fine speakers who contributed so much to the event today at MMU. More of my photos.

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The Hunt For My 8-Legged Friend


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I have many day lilies, and I like them, but the prettiest are these native ones.

I’m not sure what thumbnail Twitter or Facebook will choose for this blog post, but I’ll add a few bonus flower pictures in hopes that it won’t be the spider image coming up.

I have some sensitive family members, and although I’m not among them, I don’t want to be responsible for nightmares.

Here is the true story: I was watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I’m up to season 3) last night, and dozed off after the homecoming dance where neither Buffy nor Cordelia was elected homecoming queen.

When I woke up near midnight—an appropriate witching hour, I think, there was a spider just sitting in the middle of the carpet.

Not just any spider. A SOUS—spider of unusual size. Before I had a major freak-out like a crazed Republican somehow thinking email sloppiness is high treason, I toddled over—because there was a question in my sleep-addled mind.

Toy? Or spider?

I grabbed a plastic container and nudged it, gently. It took off.

Not in my direction, or I might have screamed like, well, I don’t know, an old man facing a SOUS coming at him.

But, the spider was 2 ½ inches across and probably stood a half inch tall. The contest wasn’t at all equal. In the end, said spider was quickly under said container.

As far as I could tell, no harm was done to the SOUS. That’s my general attitude towards arachnids—I’m not happy to see them, but they don’t harm me so I try not to harm them.

I went to bed. In the morning, I showed the SOUS to my wife and grandson, and held said grandson while the wife slipped some cardboard under the SOUS and carried it (gender unknown) outside.

Where it was released, and photographed. Calm yourselves, faint of heart, here it is:

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Yup–this is the real photo of the real spider. It’s outside on a basketball hoop base. Big thing, but kind of cute. Google says wolf spiders make good pets–but I’m not willing to go that far …

What is it? Five minutes with Google were not conclusive, but I think it’s a species of wolf spider. Most wolf spiders I’ve seen are far smaller, but the big G says they can range in size, and some fairly common species are considered large spiders.

Well, I consider this one huge. And free. I hope it doesn’t break back in. I don’t want my next Buffy episode punctuated by something with eight legs. And, just in case the thumbnail ends up being the last photo:

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Spring tulip, no spider.

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