Tag Archives: stress

Sounds of Hope During Fall Planting


Whimsical street signs in Madison, Wisconsin.

It’s a stressful time for your gardener correspondent. Mid-term hit me like a ton of bricks, and I’m swimming hard to dig myself out of my work hole.

But what else is new? It’s the rhythm of life for a college professor. And my students would hasten to add that I can reduce my own stress by reducing theirs—fewer assignments would make grading a lot easier.

Anyway, in between grade binging, I took a recent trip to Madison, Wisconsin—a brief fall break getaway to a nearby city I had not visited before. My wife and I went, along with one of our daughters and a young grandson.

The 3-year-old grandson, for the most part, had a blast. The daughter was ready to smother her father in his sleep. My snoring, apparently, is not a restful background sound. Sorry about that.


View of Madison from observation deck high on the Capitol.

Anyway, now that I’m back, I have found a few minutes for things other than school work. Starting last weekend and continuing this weekend, I’ve been planting bulbs—the usual suspects, some tulips and daffodils and crocus. The young grandchild has been “helping,” and his grandmother even got him his own gloves and trowel today.

Well he used them for a few minutes, then wandered off to the sandbox. Despite a cool, wet day, he removed his boots and socks—because, for unknown reasons, it’s a rule to him that the sandbox is a no-shoe zone.

Anyway, I haven’t gotten all of the bulbs in the ground yet, and may not tomorrow. I’m over halfway done, however. I also have some milkweed seeds to put out. A few of my milkweed were, I’m afraid, completely consumed by hungry caterpillars, killed by the butterfly that I’m trying to aid. I’ll plant more.

Although I never have enough time for it, I always like fall bulb planting. It seems like an investment in future hope, and I need that.

Also, I was watching four grandchildren for a daughter whose babysitter was not available, and tonight after supper, one of those grandchildren volunteered to play a tune on the piano. That piano originally was my mother’s. I owned it for a while, but had to give up piano lessons because I didn’t have time for them. I gave the piano to this granddaughter, who wanted to take lessons.


Small hands pick out a tune on an old piano. These hands are small I know, but they are hers they aren’t my own and I enjoyed what they did. (Yes, I’m quoting a Jewel song, why not?)

And it was nice to hear the old piano make some music. Again, it’s a connection to the future. The future is uncertain and sometimes a frightening place, so it is good, I think, to have some positive ties to it through music and flowers and Madison.

We’ve talked about taking more grandchildren on short trips next summer, if time and our lives and theirs allow it. Madison isn’t the only place we may go, but based on my our first trip there, it won’t be our last.

Among other things, I am thrilled that the city is committed to having public places publicly accessible. We wandered into the state Capitol and were astounded at how open it was—entering the Iowa Capitol feels like going through airport security by comparison. The zoo in Madison is fine and free. We paid to get into a botanical garden and a children’s museum, but the entry fees were ridiculously low by 2020 standards. And we didn’t have any bad food experiences in Madison; we enjoyed our every meal there.

Well, cool. And again, something from my past that I can also look forward to in the future.

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Facing the Pressure of Impending Spring


Ice melting at the end of a Mount Mercy parking lot March 24. It’s been cold, but the March sun is slowly warming the world.

Not that I want winter to continue forever. In fact, it feels as if it has already.

But spring is bringing with it a seasonal load of stress. The second half of spring semester is normally my most busy time of the school year, and it lasts only a few weeks, but this year feels more stressful than most.

For one thing, I’m behind in my grading. I had hoped to finish grading all speech proposals, group grades, group papers and mid-term exams by Wednesday of spring break. It didn’t happen. I got a substantial amount of grading done, just nowhere near as much as I wanted to get done—not even half. There is still half a week of “break” left, but I’m feeling a bit burdened by the fact that there is only half a week until the rush and crush of the final few weeks of spring semester come crashing down on me.

For another things, and, in terms of my personal stress, probably the bigger thing, there is no editor-in-chief for the “Mount Mercy Times” for 2014-2015 yet. The deadline to apply for the job was Friday before spring break, and we got zero applicants. That has not happened to me before. Most years we get at least two applicants, which means the Board of Student Publications can meet, do interviews and make a choice. A few years there has been only one applicant, and the interview-choice process feels odd and false, but still, the paper has a leader.

I had a student in mind this year, a young woman who I thought would be excellent for the job, but she is in many other activities and decided against taking on this new burden. Although every editor I’ve ever had in 14 years of advising this paper has been glad, in retrospect, that he or she took on that daunting job, it is a daunting job. And the student in question is not holding herself back—she is very busy and aspires to leadership in some other areas. I have to respect her, I think that she made the decision that is best for her.

But I don’t have a plan B. There isn’t another pitcher warming up in the bullpen. Enrollment in my communication and journalism courses has been eroding in recent years, and I’m afraid the bench is getting thinner.

It’s not empty. There are students who have expressed some interest in lower leadership position for the paper. But, so far, none who wants to be the primary leader.

Yeah, I’m a bit bummed. It feels like a valuable brass ring nobody wants to reach for. Students: come on. The most marketable route to a writing career is through this job.

I am at a loss as to what is logical for me to do. I’m facing a battle with no strategy in mind, no tactics to deploy. All I have is a rather lame checklist that I’ll run through: Extend the deadline, contact Kirkwood again to let them know an incoming transfer student has an opportunity, talk to a small handful of students who had been on the staff in the past to see if any are interested—but I have a feeling I’m fishing in a pond where the water has been getting more shallow and the big ones more scarce.

Any great ideas, blog pals? I realize it’s not all me, but somehow feel as if I should have seen this coming and had some grand plan, and frankly I’m not sure what to do.

Other things are gradually grinding at my sense of self, too. I’m not sleeping as much or as well as I ought to be, and feel like I’m slowly growing more and more tired. Other than creeping late middle aged weight, which is difficult to do anything about but the root of a host of potential health problems, I don’t’ feel anything terrible is going on, but the trend isn’t helpful to me as I head into the “busy time.”

There are some good things I’m trying to do at MMU right now. I had the bright idea of staging a campus-wide World War I remembrance series, and the idea has caught on. So, one of the neglected tasks of spring break that I’ll get to someday is writing a proposal for funding for the series. It has to be done by April 1, I’ve never written such a proposal, and I don’t frankly know what to put in it or who to ask for help on it. I suppose when it’s time and I have to produce something the results won’t be that bad, but it’s another nagging thing hanging over my head.

I also suggested that the idea of a video facility be revived at MMU—because we have multiple disciplines such as marketing, communication, art, even education which must use more video projects and have to emphasize video work more in their curriculum, but we don’t have a place, a decently-equipped studio, to do any student video work.

Others who heard me speak on video have liked that idea. “Write something up, Joe,” they say. I don’t know what document I’m writing or for whom, but I know I’m expected to be the one who puts the information together and that it was urgently needed yesterday. And I don’t really even know what information I need or where to get it.


Winter. Followed by spring. It’s normal that when the weather starts to get nice and the first flowers bloom that I take some time to bike or walk and enjoy the sun—but that I also feel guilty taking that time because each year there are too many urgent tasks piling up in my horribly messy office in spring. This is just a particularly bad one.


Hawthorne tree in my yard. It’s  a stump surrounded by young branches–much of it didn’t make it through the winter of 2013. I hope it can revive after the much tougher winter of 2014. We’ll see.

And I feel as if Mother Nature has created that kind of spring of pressure for every living thing in Iowa. There was a story in The Gazette a few days ago about honey bee keepers being worried because the long winter has killed off an unusually large number of bee hives. I know that in my own yard, some bushes may not make it to spring because hungry rabbits or squirrels gnawed off all the bark they could reach as the cold carried on and no new lush green growth was there to eat. I remain concerned that some of my young trees will not revive after this unusually long dormant season. Online, there is anxiety about the Decorah eagles—did the eggs laid this year already freeze and will we have a spring with no baby eagles? Here are some photos I took of some late March snow this week.

I feel as if the whole world in my little corner of the world is on edge. End snow, come warm weather, we can’t take much more.

And I’m ready for warmer weather, for green and the color of crocuses and the happy yellows of daffodils.

But, I’m also not ready. So not ready this year. So dreading May and graduation and the future. I think the feelings are unrealistic—somehow, putting together the WWI thing, while it’s added to my work, has always been a delightful diversion. Somehow, the paper will find its way forward even if I can’t see what the route is at this point. Somehow, as best I can, I’ll cope with the crush of spring classes.

Still, I can’t help hoping that the march of time doesn’t do what it usually does each spring. The final weeks of the semester always seem to come in a headlong rush. I have too much to do, and too much to wish for: A student editor; a more rational schedule to keep up with grading and classes; and a way to deal with registrations, assessment reports, faculty summaries and whole the host of bureaucratic crap that always comes with years end without going crazy.

OK, I’m looking forward to spring. And I’m not, too.

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A Look At Me Playing Handbells

This video made me smile, and I needed that.

I attended a handbell workshop on Saturday, and it was a bit rough. A large group of more than 50 ringers were rehearsing four selections for a late afternoon concert, and it didn’t go well for me.

There were too many eighth notes, odd tempos and bell changes for me to keep up with. I quickly got lost in every song. The gentleman to my right kindly offered to share music in a vain attempt to keep me on tempo, but the songs were too challenging for me, and even with his help, I pretty much just stood there, listening to others play, feeling, if truth be told, pretty miserable.

It made me reconsider whether I even want to continue playing hand bells. Probably not the result that MMU had it mind when Campus Ministry sponsored me for the workshop.

Well, today I felt a bit better. I decided I could cut down to one rehearsal a week, and see if that lowered my stress. And I recalled that the most challenging song we’ve played this year we already played at the Holocaust Memorial, and I don’t have to deal with it again for now.

Also, the video helped me feel a bit better today. Will I continue to ring in the future? Right now, I’m honestly not sure. This was supposed to be my easier semester, compared with fall, but what with one thing and another I feel totally swamped right now.

Again, little of the stress has to do with the bell choir, but I have to figure out where to cut stress where I can. I was thrilled to have Amanda and her family come visit for a few weeks, but evening and weekend grading time was truncated during that visit, and this weekend I spent all day Saturday at a workshop, then ended up with family commitments all day Sunday. It’s coming on to Sunday evening and the new school week is ready to dawn, and I don’t have enough hours in the day.

Come to think of it—I guess that’s probably exactly how my students feel.

Anyway, I decided that quitting the bell choir in the wake of one discourating workshop would be a bit unfair to the group. So I will cut down to one practice a week and see where that leads. And the video is nice. I may feel totally clumsy in the music world, but with enough practice I can play a little.


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