Tag Archives: Cedar Rapids

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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The Rhetoric of an Immigrant Building


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Dr. David Klope speaks.

The Mother Mosque, the oldest standing mosque in North America, was built in Cedar Rapids in 1934, used as a house of worship until the early 1970s, and then fell into disrepair until it was renovated as a historic building in the 1990s.

And, according to Dr. David Klope, the building “speaks” to Cedar Rapids. That is, the associate professor of communication at Mount Mercy University made the case Nov. 1, 2016, buildings can be thought of as a medium of communication that send messages.

For example, he noted the new African American Museum in Washington, D.C, communicates by its design and location that it represents an important and integral part of the American experience.

The mosque is in a quiet, modest residential neighborhood south of the Cedar River. The way it is designed and located, Klope said, communicates that Muslims are long time neighbors in Cedar Rapids, part of the immigrant quilt that built Iowa’s second city, an integral and accepted part of the fabric of our community.

image-of-logo-colorThe presentation tonight, part of the MMU Fall Faculty Series on immigration, was attended by about 40 people—a good turnout for a Tuesday night. It also brought the first reporters to one of our series events—which is a bit of a surprise to me. The Gazette, KCRG, KWWL, KGAN, WMT, Mediacom—they all have had material about our series, but primarily small announcements of upcoming events, or, in the case of The Gazette, guest columns by speakers. Here is a link to Dr. Klope’s column.

While I’m grateful that the fall series has generated some local media buzz, I’m a bit taken aback that the first journalists to attend a series event are from Japan. Julia Masuda, from Yokohama, and Akihiro Yamamoto, an NTV production coordinator from Japan but based in New York, were at the forum tonight. I don’t know for sure what story they are working on—they actually were speaking with Taha Tawil of the Mother Mosque when they learned of the MMU event—but there you have it. Journalists have arrived. I guess I just assumed when that happened, they might be from KCRG or The Gazette before they were form Yokohama.

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Akihiro Yamamoto, a production manager, listens. Two journalists attended the presentation tonight–both from Japan.

Anyway, I found Dr. Klope’s presentation to be engaging and interesting. I had not thought of the way a building itself is the convener of messages, but I think he makes a valid case. His rhetoric sold me.

But the best line of the night, I think, was from Imam Taha Tawil of the Mother Mosque, who spoke after Dr. Klope finished. Tawil recounted a bit of his personal journey from Jerusalem to Cedar Rapids, and reviewed, as did Dr. Klope, some of the history of the Mother Mosque. He also invited all of us to call him someday and tour the Mother Mosque, something I hope to do soon.

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Taha Tawil, Imam of The Mother Mosque.

Anyway, Tawil finished the night with some thoughts about American Muslims and politics. He noted that Muslims in America are a diverse group whose members have more political opinions than “the colors of the rainbow.” And he noted that it’s a terrible error to paint all Muslims with the same brush—to say, for example, that ISIS, which he condemned, is somehow representative of one of the world’s largest religions.

“It’s like saying the mafia represents Catholics,” he said.

Yeah, that was it. Valid rhetoric, I think.

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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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Mercy Week & Mother Nature


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Father Tony Adawu talking about Pope Francis and Mercy. My wife, a nursing faculty member and OB nurse, was impressed Francis clearly knows how to hold a baby.

Here we go again. Just at the end of Mercy Week 2016, as we celebrate Mount Mercy’s heritage as a Sisters of Mercy institution, we have a reminder that the Sisters of Mercy take an extra vow—a vow of service. So service is part of the ethos of MMU.

In 2008, when devastating floods destroyed neighborhoods, Mount Mercy became a staging area for Iowa National Guard troops called in to help with the disaster. But that flood took place in summer—we’re facing the Flood of 2016 in the midst of a semester.

The good news, knock on wood, is the crest is not expected to reach the 2008 level. But it will be bad, and it will do some damage to some culturally important parts of Cedar Rapids—Czech Village and New Bo, for example.

And one reason that the Flood of 2016 might not be as devastating as 2008 is whole areas wiped out by the earlier flood have left empty patches of land where once vibrant neighborhoods stood.

In eight years, lots of plans have been slowly made to protect Cedar Rapids from flooding, but little has been done. Here’s hoping Mother Nature shows us some mercy—may this be a “brush-back pitch” that gives us fair warning, rather than the gut punch that 2008 was. And may it spur government, especially the federal government which provides the most finding for flood protection and must approve plans, into action.

Anyway, Mercy Week continued on campus today, with several fine events. In a morning class, which had three sections combined for the presentation, Sister Jeanne Christensen from Kansas City spoke about human trafficking, and showed this video.

She noted that trafficking can impact anybody, and can involve enslaving another person through three strategies: Force, often physical abuse; fraud, making false promises; and coercion, or various kinds of threats, such as threatening to embarrass someone by revealing their secrets.

One theme of her presentation is that local law enforcement often treats the virtual slaves engaged in sex trade as criminals, when they need help and treatment. As the woman in the video said of her own experience: “Being arrested over and over again did nothing, absolutely nothing.”

Anyway, at least the woman in the video was able to escape from her pimp. Sister Jeanne brought home the reality that slavery is not really something we left behind in history, but rather is something that has become a modern, shadowy reality.

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Sister Jeanne Christensen speaks to three 8 a.m. classes. By being there, she said, “We have all earned sainthood.”

The mood was lighter at lunch today when Father Tony Adawu spoke of Pope Francis and the Catholic Church’s Year of Mercy. He had us write down who we would want to show mercy to—and at the end noted few of us had included ourselves.

“It’s OK to be merciful with yourself,” he said. Well, that’s a relief, because I managed to accidentally erase a whole bunch of very fine images I shot of Mercy Week events today—I copied them to my computer without realizing I had files of the same name, and when the computer asked if I wanted to copy over the old files, I said “no.” I assumed I had accidentally copied the files twice and formatted my SD card before I checked.

Ouch. Mercy me.

Anyway, sadly many of the gone images were of the Peace March that took place at 11:30, but at least I posted two of those images before the fiasco. I lost some good ones—I really liked a few I shot at the end after the group reach the Peace Pole, but there’s not use crying over spilled pixels, especially when an impending flood helps make little tragedies seem appropriately tiny.

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Freshman Kasey Kaimann, who wrote a op/ed reflection on today’s presentation for the MMU Times. And, Times reporters note–she was done with her story by 4 p.m. Just saying.

Back to Father Tony—to illustrate Mercy, he talked about a man in his home town in Ghana, Kwesi Essel Koomson, recognized girls in the town had little educational opportunities. He was a driving force in setting up a new girls’ school, and in coming up with a financial incentive so that local fishing families would send their daughters to school rather than off to work.

Sadly, Koomson grew sick and died a few years ago, but the school is continuing the grow, Father Tony noted.

Well, it’s good to know that parts of stories sometimes turn out well. I hope that is the case with the Flood of 2016—may it turn out to be less than we fear and puny compared to 2008. Inevitably, though, it will hurt some. May we find ways to show them mercy.

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The News From Precinct Six


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Crowd in Peace Church, deep in Bernie country, looking out towards Hillary Town.

Man, I never knew there were so many Democrats in north Cedar Rapids. We’re a pretty white bread, GOP neighborhood, but several hundred showed up to pack the Peace Church for the Precinct 6 caucus Monday night.

In the end, it was pretty much a tie. The few Martin O’Malley people and a few undecided joined the larger Clinton and Sanders camps.

On the way, I decided to stick with my tribe and stand with Sanders. I can’t wish Hillary any ill will, and am sure I will vote for her if she is the nominee, but I went with my heart more than my head tonight.

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Audrey in Bernie area. The three behind her  are the O’Malley crew. Then, on the other side, Sandersville continues. O’Malley is the University Heights of Bernie Sanders.

I don’t know how things were at other places, but in Precinct 6 we were mostly a polite, if rather disorganized, lot. Despite the clear almost 50-50 split, which meant both Sanders and Clinton would get two delegates to go on to the county convention, they had to keep recounting and recounting. The totals added up to more than the number of people registered, until they realized they had under counted the registrations.

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Erika, a former ME of the MMU Times. Her first caucus.

In the meantime, I got to chat with Erika, a former Mount Mercy student who now works in marketing for a big accounting firm. I’m hoping to get her to come back to MMU to speak with one of my classes.

The meeting room at the church was a bit stuffy and got rather warm. After an hour and a half, my young grandson decided he was done. We tried to leave and got held up because their plan was to have the Hillary people leave first—and they would count again to verify numbers as people filed out.

But a cranky baby is a powerful motivator, and they figured they could count three Sanders votes first.

That’s my report from Precinct Six. How was your caucus night?

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There you go, Ben Sheller, I did it. Are you pleased?

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‘Drinking From The Fire Hose’–Learning What Journalistm Is Like


Francis, my bike, parked right outside the entrance to the Gazette Tuesday morning. Bikers always get the best parking places!

Francis, my bike, parked right outside the entrance to the Gazette Tuesday morning. Bikers always get the best parking places!

After touring the offices of The Gazette and KCRG Tuesday, one student in my Introduction to Journalism class vowed that she would never become a journalist. The hours and pay didn’t seem attractive to her.

Well, that’s OK. She’s a young mother, and making that kind of decision based on the kind of life balance she seeks isn’t wrong, in my opinion. As for me, I miss the madcap world of daily newspaper journalism any time I get to tour a newspaper office, so I had the opposite reaction–I envied those still caught up in that world.

Zack Kucharski, executive editor of The Gazette, kindly led our tour. We saw the combined KCRG and Gazette newsroom, and the sports and circulation areas upstairs.

CO120: Introduction to Journalism students tour the KCRG news studio.

CO120: Introduction to Journalism students tour the KCRG news studio.

Then, we entered the room that impressed the student’s the most—the KCRG studio. It’s interesting to see and hear how students react when some of them see an actual TV studio for the first time—I think the main shock is how small it is compared to what it appears to be on TV. You forget that when you point a camera at something, the camera only sees a narrow rectangle right in front of itself—it doesn’t see the tangle of cords, the robot cameras, the grid holding lights, the cement floor, etc. As one experienced student observed Thursday when the class debriefed on the tour—“that’s pretty much the way they all look.”

Anyway, fun as the tour was, I think the conversation after the tour—when Kucharski; Diana Nollen, arts and entertainment writer; and Jennifer Hemmingsen, opinion page editor, took time to speak with students in a conference room—was even more entertaining.

Zach Kucharski; executive editor of The Gazette; Jennifer Hemmingsten, opinion page editor; and Diana Nollen, arts and entertainment writer speak with my Introduction to Journalism students after Kucharski has led a tour of the Gazette.

Zack Kucharski; executive editor of The Gazette; Jennifer Hemmingsen, opinion page editor; and Diana Nollen, arts and entertainment writer speak with my Introduction to Journalism students after Kucharski has led a tour of the Gazette.

They summed up their experiences briefly. I liked Hemmingsen’s description of her first post-college journalism job working for a 6,000-circulation daily newspaper as her “drinking from the fire hose” experience. I worked for a small daily newspaper, too—it is indeed an intense first step.

She also said, and I agree, that despite all of the shakeups in the media world to date, there is still a vital role for the watchdog in our society. As Hemmingsen noted, people are so bombarded by instant information and misinformation that a journalist’s role in uncovering and telling the truth takes on new relevance. “That essential craft is more important than ever,” she said.

Kucharski went on to note that journalists are starting to learn some key lessons in the digital age. Early in the internet era, the new 24/7 internet news cycle put so much pressure to get the information online first that lots of mistakes have been made, even by credible news organizations.

That’s starting to change, he said, as journalists re-discover what they already knew—it’s more important to be right than to be first.

“Competition is a really dumb reason to make mistakes,” he noted.

Amen to that. As a professor, I see how hard it is for students who are in communication fields to learn the basic news gathering skills in the first place. To know what you know, and to take care to verify facts before passing them on, is not easy. And getting there first if you get it all wrong is not much of an accomplishment.

While one student may have been turned away from journalism, I don’t count that as a bad outcome. It’s important that students make clearheaded choices about what they want to do, and if you don’t feel the missionary zeal, than the life of a journalist is not for you. And the student I’m writing about is a PR major anyway; I don’t want to leave the impression that the Gazette turned off a budding new talent—her reaction against journalism as a career was more along the lines of affirming a choice she had already made, not changing a path she was on.

And not all students reacted that way. Most seemed to think it was really cool to see the inside of The Gazette. And I had one student speak to me briefly after class today. This student wants to add “News Processing,” a four-hour class that he would take as an elective, to his schedule next year.

Something has inspired him to learn more about journalism. Maybe it was partly the whole Gazette tour experience.

So, for me and my students, visiting the Gazette and KCRG was great fun. The Gazette is a smaller place now that it has relocated out of its older building into what once was just KCRG. But it’s still a vibrant hub of activity, an important place in the Cedar Rapids community, and it provides a vital democracy-building role.

So thanks Gazette and Zack and Jennifer and Diana. We had a great time. I hope to see y’all again soon. And y’all are invited to our fall faculty Vietnam War series of events at Mount Mercy University!

Near the end of class Thursday after Gazette tour. One of my students had my wife's class prior to my class, and they had some doughnuts left over, which they shared. Taking about newspaper journalism while eating cast off, greasy treats? It only Iowa, not Heaven, but it's close.

Near the end of class Thursday after Gazette tour. One of my students had my wife’s class prior to my class, and they had some doughnuts left over, which they shared. Talking about newspaper journalism while eating cast off, greasy treats? It only Iowa, not Heaven, but it’s close.

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How Does Rain Draw Our Parched Minds?


Rain falls on a toddler walker on the back deck Sunday afternoon, April 13, 2014. The fish looks happy.

Rain falls on a toddler walker on the back deck Sunday afternoon, April 13, 2014. The fish looks happy.

One of my memories of elementary school was the big windows that Sacred Heart School in Clinton, Iowa had. On a rainy day, I doubt I ever heard what the nun trying to teach us said.

True, the nuns would probably say, I didn’t hear that all that much on a sunny day either. While I was a top student in high school, I can’t say the same about my elementary years.

Anyway, what was it about rain that drew me so? Why must rain be watched? The sound of it, the drumming on a roof, the way waves of it form when there’s a wind, the thrill of danger if there is lightening.

I can’t explain it. I can’t say I totally love a rainy day—I like being outside too much to want it to rain all the time—but I am easily distracted by water cascading from the sky.

Today, there was a tornado warning east of here. I hope nobody was hurt. We had rain pelting down overnight, lighter rain this morning, and a very wet, sometimes wild, afternoon.

Raindrop on young lilac leaf.

Raindrop on young lilac leaf.

It was in the mid-afternoon that I couldn’t stand it any longer and shot some photos. I wasn’t that crazy, however—the photos are all shot through windows while I’m safe and dry inside.

Well, we need the rain The creek behind our house, however, is now out of its banks. Even this parched earth is having trouble absorbing the water as quickly as it comes down.

But, welcome rain. I don’t know why you draw my mind away from everything and put me in a rain trance. Still, it’s a good thing we are getting you. The grass is suddenly much greener.

Rain on a tin roof sounds like a drum. We're marching for freedom today, hey!

Rain on a tin roof sounds like a drum. We’re marching for freedom today, hey!

Then again, it is April. Before the water stops cascading from the sky, it’s should start floating. Yup. Snow tonight.

Hot sun Saturday, cold rain Sunday, snow Sunday night. Springtime in Iowa, baby! More photos on flickr.

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