Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Just one week - A daffodil ode to spring

On March 21, we woke to six inches of new snow. Normally, I'd say 'How pretty!', but then we were not exactly heading into Christmas.  The daffodils stood tall in the snow.

Three days later, daffodil buds looked ready to pop.  Might we have blooms by Easter Sunday? I kept my fingers crossed.

Another three days and the bud heads were bowed, a sure sign blooms were not far away.

This morning the first bright daffodil blossoms were nodding in the breeze. What a difference a week makes!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Iowa roadways suffer bug plague

Iowa's roadways suffered a bug plague of unprecedented proportions over this past winter, according to an official of the Clean Iowa Ditches Coalition.

"Litterbugs were out in force over the winter," confirmed Illa Pickup, spokesperson for the coalition. "It's unbelievable what we're seeing now that the snow has melted. These vile pests took advantage of every snowfall to scatter more waste."

Ms. Pickup had just returned from another walk and was sputtering mad as she hauled bags of bottles, cans, and other waste up her driveway.

"Apparently the economy is not too bad since litterbugs are willing to throw money out the window," Pickup said with thinly veiled sarcasm as she shorted bottles and cans that could be returned for deposit from items that could be recycled.  Pickup reports that she paid for groceries for a month last year from the bottles and cans she retrieved along a single three-mile stretch of road.  As she flexed her back, Pickup admitted that this year the money may have to go to a chiropractor. "Lugging bags of glass bottles for three miles puts a kink in my shoulders."

Pickup says earning money as she takes a morning walk makes it marginally easier to tolerate the litterbug droppings.  More satisfying is the good feeling she gets from doing something for the environment.

"The roadways look better after they've been cleaned up," Pickup said with a satisfied smile. But then she frowned. "Unfortunately, it doesn't last.  Litterbugs are relentless in the damage they do. I can fill a bag with bottles and cans every week. From the same stretch of road." Then she smiled again. "More free groceries!"

The Clean Iowa Ditches Coalition is an informal group made up of an undetermined number of Iowans. "I have no idea how many of us there are," admitted Pickup, who acknowledged when pressed that the group had never met. "I just know I'm grateful for every person who picks up any bit of litter and disposes of it properly.  It's such an easy thing to do. I really wish litterbugs didn't throw out their trash in the first place but since they do, I urge everyone to help stamp out litterbugs by calling the No Litter hotline - 1-888-NOLITTR."

NO JOKE:  Keep Iowa Beautiful (KIB) works diligently to assist communities and organizations in cleanup and beautification projects. KIB and the Iowa DNR estimate that litter on the landscape costs Iowans nearly $30 million per year to clean up. KIB sponsors a hotline for anyone to report litterbugs. If you see someone littering, call 1-888-NOLITTR (665-4887). The litterbug will receive a letter from Keep Iowa Beautiful reminding them not to litter along with a trash bag to keep in their car.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Iowa's Indie bookstores - jewels on main street

My love affair with bookstores stepped up a notch this past year when I was assigned to write a feature on Iowas independent bookstores for The Iowan magazine.

Visiting these unique locations and talking with the owners was as much a delight as opening a new book.  The cover tells you one thing and with each page turn you learn something new.  Each indie bookstore reflects the interests of the owners and the local reading public.

Readers of my article: "Cover to Cover: Indie bookstores read Iowans" will experience some of Iowa's unique bookstore treasures. The Book Vault in Oskaloosa, which occupies a converted bank building, and where the vaults with their heavy doors and impressive locking mechanisms guard special collections of mysteries and Iowa authors. The Bookvine in Cherokee where bookshelves share space with the works of local artists and a wine collection. The Book Store in downtown Des Moines catering to business and travel readers. Spaces as unique as O'Town Books in Ottumwa where children and teachers are a major focus and as iconic as Prairie Lights in Iowa City.

My travels took me to far more bookstores than are included in the article.  But not to all of them.  The more I looked around, the more bookstores I found.

Iowa is fortunate to have these bookstore treasures - jewels on main streets across the state. With owners who understand and cater to local readers, offering spaces that meet the local gathering needs of book clubs for adults and kids, and giving their owners an opportunity to indulge and pursue their personal dreams, whether those dreams involve wine or wood carving or art. Iowa's indie bookstores face the economic challenges of all small businesses. Sadly some went out of business even as I was trying to contact them for my article.

An all-Iowa treasure hunt to find these jewels would be a great adventure. And while you're there talk to the owners - and buy one book or buy many.  Iowa's bookstores are treasures we will be wise to support.

Photo by Paul Gates, courtesy of The Iowan magazine.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

reBlog from Drew McLellan: The Marketing Minute

A round of applause, if you will, for these awesome and dedicated professionals!Drew McLellan, The Marketing Minute, Mar 2010

You should read the whole article.

I've watched the social media world grow and expand until I could do nothing other than jump in.  So when Drew McLellan put out the call for authors for the third edition of "The Age of Conversation," I responded.

Contributing a chapter to a book is a new experience for me, one Drew made easy. Staying within the 400-word maximum for a chapter was easier having spent time blogging.

Check it out! Drew, Gavin and the 157 authors who contributed to this new social media discussion will thank you.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Some like it hot

Snow is gone, birds are back. Flocks of robins all over the lawn. Flickers in the tree outside my office window.  Birds lined up to eat from a suet feeder David put up this winter - downy woodpeckers, nut hatches, gold finches. On the ground juncoes cleaned up any seeds that dropped.

Bird song fills the air during my morning walks. Seeing the birds, hearing their clear songs lifts my spirits.  Spring is here!  Or so I thought.

I consider any day a good day when I learn something new. Today, I got my learning in early when I read that turkey vultures are the true sign of spring. Turns out they don't like their food frozen, so they fly south for the winter and return to protect their territory when they're certain their favorite carrion will be available thawed.

Thinking about vultures reminded me of a rhyme we chanted as children whenever confronted by an image or idea that was ewwww, gross!  It began:

Great, green gobs of greasy grimy gopher guts,
Mutilated monkey meat ...

And ended:

And me without a spoon!

Yesterday my husband and I were commenting that it could still snow, could still freeze. There could still be a good shot of winter left in the system. We'd taken comfort in the snow melting and the return of so many birds to our yard.  But now I'll be searching the skies for turkey vultures. The true sign of spring. Hoping they find a tasty, warm lunch of whatever suits them. And I hope they find it before I do. Ewwww, gross!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Ready, Set, Be Patient!

It can't last forever, this snow. I keep telling myself that. The days do get longer. Melting snow slides off the roof, plinks into the gutters, trickles in a steady stream out the downspouts.  Yes, spring is coming. I know it.

But, I have a hard time keeping my desire for sunshine and warm weather in check. I am so eager, so impatient. I ache to see the snow gone, to feel the sun on my cheeks - knowing I can shed my coat on morning walks, to find the ground dry enough to work in the garden.

That's it, really. I want to work in the garden. That desire, that itch, to plant the seeds, to see them grow, is age old. The itch runs in our family, most likely in the blood of all farm people.

Each spring, my dad took oat seed from the bin, sprinkled it on a damp handkerchief, rolled it up and sealed it in a fruit jar that was placed on a south-facing kitchen window sill to catch the sun. In a week or so, he opened the jar, gently unrolled the cloth and counted the seeds that germinated. That annual test of whether the seed in our oat bin was viable was the signal to me that spring was coming.

Soon enough, Dad was in the machine shed, getting the tractor and plow ready to roll.  He said as soon as you could sit your bare bottom on the ground without getting cold, it was time to plant. I admit, I never actually saw him do this.

These days, I'm sure spring is here when my husband brings out his box of vegetable seeds, sits down with the season's stack of seed catalogs, and begins to sketch out this year's garden plan on a yellow pad. He's been working it over in his head all winter, but it's serious when he finally puts pencil to yellow pad.

For my part, I look with anticipation at the sticks littering the ground - hid until now by snow drifts, but revealed stick by stick as the snow melts - knowing I'll be gathering them up and throwing them on the chipper pile. I dream of hostas and cone flowers and Black-eyed Susans emerging so I can divide the new shoots and transplant them to my son's garden. I calcuate how much effort and sand it will take to right the leaning garden sculpture.

Oh, I have dozens of projects that will let me get dirt under my fingernails, result in an inevitable ache in my back, lead the way to bug bites and complaints about the heat. I don't care. I want it all. Now!

I am ready. I am set. And, I just have to be patient.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Writing a place in time

Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres.  To experience life in a different place and a different time fascinates me. As a writer aspiring to write historical fiction, I read these books with one eye on the story and the other on 'how did they do that?'.

I just finished Divining Women, a novel by Kaye Gibbons.  Gibbons is an author I return to again and again because I appreciate her ability to tell a good story with well developed characters in only a couple hundred pages. 

Gibbons packs her pages with turn-of-the-20th-Century, 'place in time' elements, from the mention of homes decorated with new William Morris wallpaper patterns to characters practicing spiritualism and nudism to a lamplighter.  The elements that establish the time do not intrude to take over the story but rather support the characters who are just living their lives.

Finding the balance between which details to include and how to include them so that the reader is comfortable and confident in this place in time - that's the challenge.