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.

Madison Coates

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.

Victoria Roe

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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Friday Floral Feature: Stolen Tuesday Flower Photos


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Lilac in bloom. Sweet smelling time!

I already wrote about planting seeds with the aid of two granddaughters, so I’ll let that just be part of the Earth Day march for science post.

This week, cool April weather returned. We’ve had a generally warm and pretty April, but in the second half of the week, cold and clouds rolled in. It rained, and snow was also in the air, although I did not see any of the white flakes, and I’m OK with that.

While lows have been in the 30s, thankfully we have not really had a freeze, and with April entering its final days, I would expect that the weather trend soon will be much warmer.

Before the rains moved in midweek, on Tuesday morning I did a very quick walk in the gardens about before leaving for work, and I made some flower images in a few stolen minutes during the attractive golden light of morning.

I’m glad I have several different types of crab apple tree. Some are already getting past prime, but others are just coming on. In the front yard, the larger white crab apple is shedding many of its pedals, while its pink-and-white cousin (both trees were tiny twigs when they went into the ground on the same day, part of the same Arbor Day Foundation set) is just getting into its prime.

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Tulip in back garden.

Same story in the back yard—some crab apples are getting beyond prime bloom time, others are just kicking in.

The Moscow Lilac is at its peak and may be faded when sunshine returns. Redbuds, for the most part, are starting to put out leaves, so the pretty pink flowers aren’t going to be around long. One darker Redbud in front, however, is just getting ready to bloom.

Bluebells are still blooming well. Some Lily of the Valley have heavy looking buds, just getting ready to bloom. Early peonies are going to pop any day now—maybe once the sunshine returns.

Well, cool rainy days aren’t the best days to be outside. Still, to a gardener, cool damp days at this time of year are welcome. New grass is sprouting in back. And the grandkids and I recently planted seeds—and you know what they say about April showers.

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Crab apple in front yard.

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Marching Bigly for Mother Earth


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Iowa City March for Science April 22–my wife and two granddaughters and I took part.

The March for Science, planned this Earth Day, April 22, 2017, was not overtly political. After all, science is supposed to transcend politics—the chemicals of your body don’t care whether you voted for Hillary or Donald.

But, I was there, joining the nearest event in Iowa City, mostly due to politics. It feels as if both political parties ignore science, to our peril. Some liberals fuss about GMOs or vaccinations—or wonder why we spend money on NASA. But, pained as I am by irrationality on the looney left, let us give the right wing its due—it’s irrationality is much more widespread and, due to who is in power now, more dangerous.

Never in my lifetime have we elected a president so abysmally ignorant of everything—history, politics, and, yes, science. Never has one political party—the GOP—worked so hard against biology (yes, evolution is a thing), chemistry (if you burn that carbon it will go somewhere with some effect), Earth science (yes, the globe naturally warms and cools, but no, this particular extinction event is not natural), etc.

So I was in Iowa City to March. And it felt right, somehow, that I was there with two young grandchildren. Their lives have been shaped for the good by science—they live at a time when many humans, especially in northern North America, are well fed, comfortable and safe form most physical harms thanks to science.It wasn’t just the idea of democracy that made America great. It was the idea of ideas.So here is how I spent Earth Day 2017:

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Cool Iowa spring morning–planting pollinator friendly flowers on Earth Day with the help of two granddaughters.

First, we planted. I don’t even know who sent me some pollinator-friendly seeds at work, but thank you, benefactor. Those and other seeds (I’ve received bee-friendly packs from various sources) went into the ground this morning. Some of the seeds will be dormant until 2018—milkweed, for instance, must overwinter before germinating. But, where there is Iowa dirt, there is hope, and I hope this morning’s plantings will eventually aid both bees and butterflies.

Second, we marched. One daughter, with her young son, headed to Des Moines to march with our mathematician son who lives in Ames. My wife and I took two granddaughters to Iowa City. The girls made signs, petted dogs and gamely walked the whole March route. I am sure they didn’t understand what was going on, but I deeply felt that what we were doing was for their sake. The currently irrational political storm that is raging threatens science at many levels, and attacks on basic research are very shortsighted. Plus, we are delaying action that will be necessary to come to grips with global warming, and my grandchildren may suffer more than I do from our current shortsightedness. So, we march.

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One of many signs at Iowa City March for Science.

I am not naïve enough to think that today made a whole lot of difference. The miserly small-minded mindset of governments in both Des Moines and Washington wasn’t changed by my few small steps. But I was trying to make America great again.

Once, we were a courageous country that put footprints on the Lunar surface. We saved the Bald Eagle from extinction, and cleaned up much of the smog that chocked our great cities. We changed our habits so that rivers in Ohio would not remain flammable.

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Granddaughter during march.

Yet, today, we can’t even agree that Iowa water is dirty, that the planet is warming, that space is worth exploring or that science matters.

It does. I won’t be silent as my once great country falls into a deep intellectual malaise.

It’s time to speak, act, march and make some noise. We had the drive, brains and courage in our past to do great things. We still have them. We must overcome the bigly sad shrill voices of ignorance that dominate our discourse today.

Mother Earth, on behalf of Iowa and our nation, I apologize. I don’t know, somehow we got drunk in November 2016 and are living in an extended nightmarish hangover.

I don’t want us to do that again, and I vow to do what I can to do better.

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Friday Floral Feature: When Shy Bloomers Decide the Time is Now


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April 19–Moscow Lilac starting to bloom for the first time.

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April 19–Harsh winter two years ago killed off a red bud tree, which I replaced with a Magnolia. It is also blooming for the first time this spring.

News this week from the gardens: Several shy flowering plants have decided 2017 is the year to get into gear.

I purchases a tiny “Moscow Lilac” some years ago, about 8, I think, in a fund-raiser by the Art Program at Mount Mercy University. The bush is in a spot a bit too shady for lilacs—but then again, that pretty much just means it’s somewhere on my property. I’m a bit tree crazy, I admit.

Nonetheless, various other lilacs in my yard manage to push out a few flowers despite the copious shade. I was not surprised the first couple of years when the new bush was busy growing and not blooming. But two years ago it had reached about 5 feet, and it started to seem ridiculous—how big does that bush need to get before it can spare some sugar for sex?

About 8 feet, it appears, because that’s how tall the bush is. Two weeks ago, its leaf buds started to show, and I took a close look and decided, darn, another sterile spring.

I was wrong. On Easter Sunday, I noticed that way at the top of the bush, where I could not check the buds easily, Mr. Moscow had a surprise lurking. Flower buds were visible, and three days later, on Wednesday when I shot my second set of pictures for this weekly flower update, the buds were starting to open.

See my weekly Facebook flower gallery for more images. But here are a few of my favorites flower photos of the week:

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As advertised, the Moscow Lilac bush has pretty white blossoms. Now that it has started, let’s hope it can catch enough photons between the tree leaves to continue to flower.

The lilac isn’t all that’s newly bloomed this year. My “new” magnolia tree, planted in 2015, didn’t bloom in spring 2016, but is doing very well with pretty pale lemon yellow flowers this spring.

So far, the apple trees that are adjacent to the white Moscow lilac seems to be following their usual habit of not blooming. But, who knows?

I’m hoping some year soon to see Tulip Tree flowers and Catalpa blooms. Maybe 2017 is the year.

Maybe I’ll even see some apple flowers soon … if not this spring, then maybe next year? After all, crab apples in my shady yard manage to flower.

the weather has been good in Iowa this week. We’ve cooled off a bit, and there has been some rain, but we still have enough warmth and sun to feel like spring. How are your gardens doing?

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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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Joe’s Spring Day in 20 Images


It rained overnight, but by 7 a.m., it was over and the sky was clearing. Despite the wet streets, I rode my bike to work today. After a brief stop in my office, I had to go downtown for a visit to The Gazette that my Intro to Journalism class makes each year.

And it was a beautiful, clear spring day, warm in the afternoon, crisp and clean for the rest of the day. Here are 20 things I saw today:

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Rhododendron

1-Right outside my door, on the way to get my bike. The flower is still wet with rain, but you can see the sun. Rhododendron blooming for the first time by my front steps.

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Daffodils and Clarence

2-Just arrived at MMU and parked my bike (the bike is named Clarence). The bike is in the background as I make an image of some daffodils.

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More MMU daffodils.

3-Still in the garden by Warde Hall at MMU. Damp daffodils in the cool, clear morning.

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Cedar Lake

4-Pelican on Cedar Lake. I can’t go around the lake for a closer view because I’m riding quickly to get down to The Gazette. Just passing by the lake.

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Blooming tree by Cedar River Trail, downtown Cedar Rapids.

5-I passed a pair of CR bike cops–one of them waived me on. “We’re in no hurry,” he said. “We’ll be here all day.” And lucky they were to get bike duty today. I’m in downtown CR, almost to Greene Square and The Gazette.

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Executive Editor of Gazette and MMU student.

6-Each year, we are hosted by Zach Kucharski, executive editor of The Gazette. He always seems bright and thoughtful, and I appreciate his comments to students. On the other hand, he’s one of those men perpetually cursed or blessed to forever look 16 years old. I had an inappropriate thought when editing this image–it looked to me like the president of the chess club was trying to ask a cheerleader to prom, and it doesn’t appear to be going well. Of course, I could not say something like that on a public Facebook gallery! So I put it here in my blog. Anyway, I think Zack is actually talking about the Pulitzer Prize won this week by Art Cullen, editor of The Times in Storm Lake, Iowa.

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Zack speaks with MMU students.

7-Maybe it’s the change in angle or that there are more people in this image, but this looks more like a newspaper editor talking with college students. Note Gazette’s Pulitzer in background, won years ago. Since Art Cullen’s daughter works for The Gazette, I asked Zack if he had bought her a box of doughnuts and asked her if Pulitzer’s run in the family, and when she would win a second one for The Gazette. He did say he heard from Art Cullen this week, and Art said to give his daughter, Clare, a hug from dad and a raise.

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Diana Nolen, arts and entertainment.

8-Another Gazette journalist who each year generously spends time with my students is Diana Nolen, talking in conference room as other editors gather for morning news meeting/smartphone party.

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ME party.

9-The Gazette’s managing editor speaks, while next year’s managing editor of the MMU Times and another student listens. (Man in cap is ME–an ME cap).

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Spent forsythia flowers.

10-I am chugging up the back hill at MMU–the one that goes behind Andreas House to the library. Along the way, I pause to take some forsythia pictures. The best turns out to be spent flowers that have fallen onto the grass. Then, it’s onward, up the MMU hill!

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Pear

11-At the top of the hill, I pause to photograph the Busse Library pear trees.

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Magnolia.

12-And, near the Donnelly Nursing Building (not it’s official name, but it will do), a magnolia bush in bloom. There is also a white one blooming by Warde Hall, but this is the Donnelly magnolia.

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MMU football. Student throws (above) and catches (below).

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13 and 14–MMU students where enjoying the morning, which by 11 is finally getting a little warm, by tossing the pigskin on the campus central green space.

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Birds at Cedar Lake.

15–Now the day is ending. It’s around 7 p.m. and I am biking home. Naturally, since it’s so pretty, I head to the trail and check out Cedar Lake one more time. This is a very distant shot–I’m looking north from the south end of the lake, and way above, a bit north of the lake, I see this. Not sure at this distance, but the bird in the left corner looks like a bald eagle, to me. Some nest next to the Cedar River and sometimes can be seen over Cedar Lake.

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The maybe eagle.

16-The maybe eagle, or possibly an umbrella, heads off into the sunset west sky.

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A duck.

17-Mallard on Cedar Lake. Two males were hanging out together and I caught some couple shots, but I thought this individual shot with a hint of  reflection was better.

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Pelicans.

18–At night, I have more time, so I can circle the lake and get a bit closer to pelicans.

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Sun peeks.

19-I am now riding north on Cedar River trail, looking west over I-380. Clouds are building to the west, and the sun is peeking out through some holes in the clouds. With the late afternoon, early evening, the lights is a pretty gold.

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Hey pinkie! Get out of here!

20-And on a fence along the trail, a blackbird lets me know how much he appreciates the company of bikers. He doesn’t.

Well, that was it, my day, from about 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. It was an interesting day, and a great day to be outdoors as spring really grabs hold.

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The First “Real” Spring Weekend


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When he was a feature writer for the Des Moines Register, Ken Fuson did a front-page “brite,” or happy feature story, about the first warm weekend day in Iowa in March (“What A Day!”). It was one long, joyous sentence.

I won’t try to mimic Fuson’s style—but this was such a day today. Granted, there has been nice weather in 2017 already—sunny, unseasonably warm weekends early in March. And it’s April now, so maybe nice weather is not such a jolt to the system.

But it still topped 70 degrees today. The sun was shining down, and it felt like the first true foreshadowing of the Midwest late spring yet to come. We’ve even had warmer days before, but the flowers and green and spring are just far enough along the road today towards true spring. In our minds, we could imagine June, the month of the year when Iowa can be the most pleasant spot on the planet (as long as it’s not rainy and flooding). Today, we could picture June.

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Grandson removes shoes late in morning. It had been cool, was was starting to hint at warm.

The day began windy and cloudy, a bit on the cool side. I spent the morning at a soccer pitch in Monticello, Iowa, watching a kindergarten-age grandson studiously ignore the rather random soccer game that languidly swirled around him without disturbing his great concentration on whatever it was he was so deeply focused on.

Well, the athletic gene runs shallow in the Sheller clan.

After that, there was a playground at the fairgrounds (where the soccer fields in Monticello are). The sun peeked at us now and then, there were a few random bug sightings, but we kept our sweatshirts (if not our shoes) on.

Then came lunch. Then, the afternoon. The afternoon! After our midday pizza feast, many of us started to warm up in the backyard of my daughter’s home. Coats were forgotten, ladybugs were everywhere, and my sweatshirt was draped over the cross bars of the swing set as I fulfilled a grandfather’s burden for a shifting cast of grandchildren (I pushed).

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Tired and exhausted by running, tossing and swinging in the increasingly warm, sunny, pleasant day, we headed back to Cedar Rapids. After a rest (the grandkids watched “Zootopia,” of which I saw only the snippet of opening credits and final 5 minutes—I suspect there was mid-movie snoring in the family room), I went upstairs. My 15-month-old grandson was up from a brief nap, so we donned shoes and headed in back for a flower photo safari. Within 5 minutes, several other grandkids joined us, so I did a fair amount of ball tossing and swing pushing between photographing flowers.

The cool morning had turned to a genuinely warm afternoon, milky sun beating down, buzzing bugs flying about—it had the smell and feel of the next coming season. The trees are still shaking off their winter slumber, but at the ground level, the annual hoedown of life is already do-si-doing.

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Early peony bud.

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First tulip.

I shot lots of images of crocus, early tulips, daffodils and other spring flowers. Bluebells, AWOL until now, have suddenly popped up. They are not super early spring flowers and are not blooming, but suddenly, like little garden salads, clumps of bluebell leaves have poked up all around the shady gardens.

Then, late in the afternoon, the dam burst. The bicycle would not be denied. I had taken my main commuting bike that I call “Clarence” and assembled the bus Friday by putting on the toddler seat and attaching a Tag-A-Long. I met the kids at a park Friday and took two home with the bike. The oldest grandchild had been lobbying for a bike ride all day today, and it was time.

The original plan was for her to ride her bike and for two other grandchildren to ride Clarence with me, but for some reason plans morphed. Recognizing we would climb some hills, the oldest granddaughter shrewdly shifted plans to the Tag-A-Long.

What followed was a series of bike rides of 2-3 miles each with a shifting cast of grandchildren. On ride number two, with the oldest grandchild, we paused to inspect a garter snake basking on the trail. Many birds, puppies, cats, birds and the one snake were all inspected or commented on during the rides.

Tomorrow, I plan to put in some grass seed and trim a few trees, as well as spending hours grading. I supposed I could have graded today, but the sun was calling, there were many, many grandchildren to play with (we had seven with us for most of the day) and it was THAT Saturday, the First Summer-Like Saturday, a day to drink nature in with no thought of tomorrow and no regrets.

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