Monday, January 30, 2012

We can all use a little help

The talk of the Puerto Vallarta beach this past week was a turtle hatch.  Why the mama turtle chose a busy resort beach as the nest for her eggs is anyone's guess, but she did. Ultimately, it may have been a good thing.

During the week, a larger than normal surf rolled in, rearranging the sand dunes and exposing a turtle nest. The waves carried exposed eggs toward a backwater instead of toward the open sea. The eggs hatched during the day instead of at night. Black birds swooped in to take advantage.

People who know a lot more than I do were there to help. Baby turtles need to orient themselves to where they're born and walk to the ocean themselves. The re-arranged sand made their success unlikely.

A woman moved two baby turtles closer to the water. She didn't put them in the water, just put them within sight of the water. She and I stood and watched, cheering them on. One little turtle ran straight to the water and was swept away by the first wave. The second turtle appeared more unsure. The little guy walked parallel to the water for a while, the waves edging closer and closer. Finally, he, too, turned and walked in to greet the waves.

A man told me he'd watched over six little turtles until they were safely in the sea.

The exposed, unhatched eggs concerned many walkers. A couple went to the nearest hotel to alert security. They were told to collect the eggs and re-bury them in a secure area near the hotel until experts could come and relocate the eggs to the marina.

Maybe the hatchlings would have made it on their own, but the odds were against them. Many eggs were destroyed by the birds. A few more of the babies had a chance because people cared to look over them.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Reminiscing & Research

When our garden is in full swing, I pull out all the canning supplies and fill our fruit cellar shelves. Just like my mom before me, I can tomatoes, salsa, plums - whatever we grow.

Even though the containers I use for preserving produce are glass jars, I've always called it 'canning.'  I never gave a thought to the word 'canning.' Until this past week when I learned that 'canning' takes its name from a time when preserving produce was actually done in cans. Who knew?

Last week, I shared growing up country stories from my memoir with the residents at Valley View Village a senior living facility in Des Moines. The average age of those in the audience was at least 80, maybe older.

Many came to the meeting room in wheelchairs, using walkers or with assistance from staff. But what they lacked in physical capabilities, they made up for in mental sharpness.

As I talked about my stories of growing up in the 1950s, they remembered their own experiences growing up before and during the Great Depression. Roosters chasing them. Fixing meals for threshers. Milking cows by hand. Gardening and canning. 

Hearing stories of the older folks who come to my book talks is rewarding on so many levels. One is that as they're reminiscing, I'm doing research for my novel. They talk about cooking on wood stoves and shocking oats for the threashers, and I'm making mental notes of details that may work their way into my novel.  And then all of a sudden they say something totally unexpected - like canning was done in cans.

Those unexpected details are the best. Fun for me to learn something new and perfect for adding reality and depth to my writing.

I have to spend more time talking with these folks.

Monday, January 23, 2012

How well do we handle freedom?

“Use well thy freedom.” Those words are chiseled on a college building in Jonathan Franzen’s novel FREEDOM. They articulate one of the major themes of this 576-page tome, which follows the lives of Walter and Patty Berglund and their two children.

We want freedom. We cherish our freedoms. We fight to preserve freedom. But as I was reading this book, I was reminded of the line in the movie - A Few Good Men.

When Kaffee (Tom Cruise) says, “I want the truth.” Jessep (Jack Nicholson) responds, “You can’t handle the truth.”

We want freedom, but how well do we handle it?

Children raised in a totally permissive environment may grow up without the personal and social skills to thrive as adults. Unrestricted access to drugs may lead to abuse and destroyed lives. Often the rules that restrict our freedom exist to protect us from ourselves.

The characters in Franzen’s novel all fight to break the bonds that hold them – parents, marriage, work. For good or ill, all of Franzen’s characters experience their desired freedom at some point.

But the freedom they achieve might be liberating or destructive, or both.

I didn’t find myself particularly liking any of the characters in this novel - and when I invest as much time in reading a book as this one takes, I'd like to like at least ONE character. Because of this quality, getting through the 576 pages was a bit of a slog. But the characters were real. Their desires, their challenges, their lives. And I think the messiness of their lives is indicative of the messiness of freedom.

We need to use well our freedom.

Image from

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Crimes of passion - Stepping back

Jane beats a real estate broker bloody with her stiletto heel. Kit lays into her brother with a broken wine bottle. Physically and mentally abused by her husband, Leah finally takes it out on her children. Grace uses her own car as a battering ram on her daughter's boyfriend's car, totaling both vehicles.

I can imagine that any woman - possibly any man, too - would be able to see themselves in the shoes of one of these characters. Angry and pushed to the limit. Committing crimes of passion. Each action completely understandable in the moment. None of the actions appropriate or acceptable. Because none of them backs off at the critical moment, all of these women need a miracle.

Kris Radish's new book TUESDAY NIGHT MIRACLES tells the story of these four women who have one chance to avoid jail through a court-ordered anger management group. Their group is led by accomplished psychologist Dr. Olivia Bayer who has overcome her own anger issues. Close to retirement, Bayer uses non-traditional approaches to help her charges find themselves and each other. 

The characters in this book are vivid and believable. The techniques Dr. Bayer uses are ones any reader could use to stay in touch with herself, provide emotional outlets, and hopefully allow one to step away from the anger.

An excellent read.

Photo from

Monday, January 16, 2012

Ode to spring - and hope

I walked yesterday afternoon. The sun on my face. A gentle breeze ruffling my hair. In an hour, I was ready to shed the light jacket I’d put on before I left the house. I love spring in Iowa.

Oh, wait! It’s not spring, though it sure seems like it. The thermometer regularly reads 50 degrees, even up to 63 degrees. Who would imagine that the light dusting of snow we had last week, only half an inch, would be only the second snowfall this entire winter to last longer than one day?

The beautiful weather has drawn everyone out - walkers, runners, bikers, golfers - in shirtsleeves and shorts. In January. In Iowa.  

The open water of the local pond has become the favorite gathering place of 10,000+ Canadian geese. They are out, too, doing their rather messy thing. 

It’s been so warm I’ve spent more than a few moments concerned about the trees. I walked recently with a friend and passed a magnolia tree that was putting out flower buds. In JANUARY!

After spending some days worrying, I realized there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. So at this point, I just put out a little hope. I am hopeful the trees have this figured out and somehow know that this is one weird winter and they are not fooled. I hope that if we do lose the blossoms and therefore the fruits for this season, I hope we do not also lose the trees.  

And I hope we get more days like this. I'll be out walking again this afternoon, the sun warming my face. I am very much enjoying springtime in January!

Friday, January 13, 2012

HNY to you, too

HNY, a friend signed off her email. HNY? What's that? I wondered.

Since I traded my office as a public relations agency executive for an office in my house where I write in relative solitude, I often feel completely out of it when it comes to the latest trends. My writing genre choices don't help - a memoir about my childhood in the 1950s and now historical fiction set in the early 1900s.

These days I spend my time trying to put my head in an era without electricity, a time when horse and buggies were the most common conveyance, a time when a 'glimpse of stocking' was something shocking. It takes a concerted effort to strip away all allusions to electricity, air travel, and sex. Actually, sex is all allusion, so that's a different issue.

One of the things I always enjoyed about working in the public relations world was being on top of the current pop business phrases - "tipping point" and "at the end of the day," for instance.

Alas, I find myself slipping further and further behind. The 2012 Banished Words List actually includes words I still like and use, like "Amazing!" It does not help that I don't use a smart phone. I have a cell phone, but I seldom use it. My texting ability is limited to 'ok.' And I sometimes get that wrong.

Perhaps Twitter will help. I'm trying it out - @CABodensteiner. For someone who is challenged to write short blogs, having only 140 characters forces me to abbreviate.  Twitter demands I keep one toe in the 21st Century.

Hence my problem with HNY. All of a sudden, people are signing off seasonal messages with HNY. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out that meant Happy New Year.

Oh well. HNY to all of you!

Monday, January 9, 2012

What I approve

"What I approve is a reflection of me."  

My boss had those words written on flip chart paper and tacked to his wall the entire 10 years I worked for him. Every time I was in his office, I read that sentence. Those words were a reminder to himself and to all of us that there was no distinction between what he put his name on and who he was as a professional.

I was reminded of my boss's saying when I read a recent article in Forbes magazine. The article included this sentence:

"Contrary to the assumptions of East Coast magazines such as The Atlantic which paint a picture of a devastated and dumb rural America, places like Iowa are doing very well indeed and are likely to continue doing so."

The Forbes writer referenced the article written by Stephen Bloom. But Bloom is forgotten here. The writer invokes the well known magazine name - The Atlantic.

Readers have expectations when they pick up a magazine or newspaper. They expect the editors will ensure a level of writing quality and content accuracy consistent with the editorial mission - whether the stories are produced by employees of the publication or provided by a free lancer, whether the articles are in the print or online editions of the magazine. In the public relations world, we called this editorial oversight 'third-party endorsement.' That endorsement was why clients valued public relations placements so highly.

Readers of The Atlantic have an expectation that the magazine's editors reviewed and approved of the Bloom article, a piece of writing riddled with errors, laden with out dated stereotypes, and illogically, purposely vindictive. Did regular readers of The Atlantic feel short changed by Bloom's article? Did readers question why a nationally respected magazine they read and admire would publish such a piece?

Do the editors of The Atlantic now question using Bloom's article? They might want to consider that. After all, what they approve is a reflection of them.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Sticks & Stones get personal

How do we protect ourselves from a verbal assault? The Stephen Bloom Affair (okay, that's what I'm calling it) has made me think about that more than a little.

Bloom's article in The Atlantic hurled a stream of vindictive comments at rural Iowans, calling them "lacking in educated, (sic)" "old people waiting to die," "toothless meth addicts" and "wastoids."

I read his article with interest but also some detachment. After all, I'm educated, drug free, have a full set of teeth (including wisdom), hold an advanced degree and even though I grew up on an Iowa farm have lived in urban areas for many years. As an Iowan, I was affronted by Bloom's article, but more interested and confused - able to view the writing with professional detachment. I could deflect the actual hurt of the attack because, of course, Bloom wasn't talking about me.

My distance was safely in place until I read Peter Feldstein's opinion piece published in the Des Moines Register.  Feldstein is the photographer and co-author with Bloom of The Oxford Project, a book that tells in words and photos the stories of 100 residents of a small, rural Iowa community.

Bloom spent more than a little time with the people of Oxford, getting to know them, writing their stories, presenting them to the world with what felt like both honesty and compassion. When Bloom wrote his diatribe for The Atlantic, he did it from the perspective of knowing those real rural Iowa people up close and personal.

When the folks of Oxford read his article, they can't retain a protective distance. For them his words are personal. They have every right to feel insulted and betrayed. They don't have that protective shield of  distance. Bloom knows them. And now they know what he really thinks.

Peter Feldstein offered the most stinging indictment of his co-author's essay when he concluded his own essay this way: "A few days ago, I picked up the book for the first time since the brouhaha. I had a very sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I wish Stephen Bloom's name was not on it."

The sticks and stones Bloom threw at Iowa all of a sudden feel very personal. His words landed hard on the good people of Oxford.  And they hurt.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Never on Sunday

We woke up yesterday - January 1, 2012 - and turned on the TV, expecting as we always do to watch the Tournament of Roses Parade. The parade was nowhere to be found.

Finally I Googled it (thank you, Google) and learned that the parade is 'never on Sunday.' Early parade organizers didn't want to frighten horses tied up in front of churches and risk disrupting church services.

If someone had asked, I would have responded that I watched the Rose Parade every year of my entire life. Not on Sunday? I hardly knew what to do with the rest of the day.

Growing up on the farm, the only day my folks let us kids sleep in was New Year's Day. They took pity on us because New Year's Eve was the only night we could stay up beyond 10 p.m. Or even wanted to, for that matter. Getting up before 6 a.m. every day to do chores and milk cows meant we could hardly keep our eyes open after dark. That didn't have positive implications for dating, but that's a different post.

On New Years Eve, we gathered with the Zidlickys and Staneks. The adults played cards. We kids played Monopoly, ate dishpans full of popcorn, and did our level best to stay awake until midnight. Then we put on hats and blow horns and rang in the new year. Before midnight, we dined on oyster stew and chili - or if we were at Zidlicky's, we ate lutafisk and lefsa. It was a night unlike any other in our year. When we finally hit the beds, it was with the blessed knowledge that we could sleep in.

On New Year's Day, our dog Butch did not come in to lick us awake, we stumbled out of bed long after daylight and still dressed in pajamas settled in front of the TV. Mom oohed and aahed along with us as the floats passed by.

I do not recall the Rose Parade ever falling on a Sunday when I was a kid, but it must have. I expect we did not notice because even if we didn't have to pile out of bed to milk cows, we never missed church. And it didn't matter how late you were up the night before. And it didn't matter what big thing was on TV. Church was always on Sunday.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Adieu to 2011

Nature provided the perfect conclusion to 2011. 
A molten lava sunset, better than any fireworks.

Wishing you a happy and healthy 2012!