Ten places I’ve lived

  1. Dayton. Inside the city limits but with a working dairy farm a half-block across the street.
  2. Bloomington. On the Indiana University campus, and later at the edge of town.
  3. Binghamton. In the ‘hood, then on a hippie farm near the New York-Pennsylvania line.
  4. The yoga ashram. Out on a yoga farm in the Pocono mountains.
  5. Fostoria. In a loft downtown, over St. Vincent’s charity store, in what was once Ohio’s Great Black Swamp.
  6. Yakima, Washington. Including three years in an orchard.
  7. Warren, Ohio. We bought a lovely arts-and-crafts bungalow in an industrial city in economic collapse.
  8. Baltimore. Downtown in the trendy Bolton Hill neighborhood and then out in suburban Owings Mills.
  9. Manchester, New Hampshire. By the Merrimack River, then atop the tallest hill.
  10. Dover, New Hampshire. A mile from downtown. The longest I’ve lived in the same house, by the way.

And one other place that never really counted.

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Tell us something good or bad about someplace you’ve lived. Like maybe your favorite?

So what’s so special about Iowa?

It’s not Ohio, for one thing, even though a surprising number of people don’t know the difference. And it’s really quite distinct from Idaho, out in the Rockies further west. It doesn’t even have a big-league sports team.

But thanks to its unique party caucuses for presidential candidates, the Hawkeye State is back making headlines, at least for now. It makes for a big diversion, now that the crops are in.

Here are some quick perspectives.

  1. Dubuque, the state’s oldest city, grew out of the arrival of Julian Dubuque in 1785, shortly after the Revolutionary War. He was a French-Canadian lead miner working the bluffs along the Mississippi River, and Iowa was still claimed by France.
  2. Cedar Rapids-based Quaker Oats is the world’s largest cereal company.
  3. Wright County has the highest percentage of grade-A topsoil in the nation.
  4. The St. Francis Xavier basilica in Dyersville is the only Roman Catholic basilica in the United States outside of a major metropolitan area. The pope is supposed to hold forth there whenever he’s in the area.
  5. In key social justice advances, married women received property rights in 1851. Women were allowed to become lawyers in 1869, making Arabella Mansfield the first female attorney in the U.S. “Separate but equal” schools were outlawed in 1868. Prohibitions against same-sex marriage were struck down in 2009, making Iowa the third state to allow gay marriage. On the other hand, the state was also a leader in prohibiting alcohol sales: bars were outlawed in 1851, followed by a strong prohibition law in 1855, and a constitutional amendment in 1882 made Iowa a “dry state.” According to one version, women wanted their men to stay sober. The Women’s Christian Temperance Movement was big in Iowa.
  6. West Branch native Herbert Hoover was the first U.S. president born west of the Mississippi River. His mother was a Quaker minister.
  7. Iowa State University is the nation’s oldest land-grant college.
  8. The device for creating sliced bread was invented by Iowan Otto Frederick Rohwedder in 1912. He wanted his bread to fit into the toaster more neatly.
  9. The state has the nation’s highest concentration of wind-powered turbines. The towers produce nearly 40 percent of the state’s electricity.
  10. There are more hogs than humans – 21.2 animals to a tad over three million people.

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Ever been to Iowa? What can you add to the list?

Ten facts about the Ohio River

In a whimsical twist in my novel What’s Left, I placed the town along the Ohio River. Well, the navigable waterway is a defining element of southern Indiana.

  1. Length of the Ohio River: 981 miles
  2. Length along Indiana: 240 miles before adding twists. Drains all but the northernmost area of the state.
  3. At its mouth: It is considerably larger than the Mississippi, making it the main hydrological stream of the whole river system.
  4. Number of states feeding into the Ohio River: 15.
  5. Largest tributary: Tennessee River, 652 miles long. Its watershed includes Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, a corner of Louisiana, as well as Tennessee and Kentucky.
  6. Largest northern tributary: Wabash River, 503 miles long. It originates in Ohio and flows across Indiana before becoming part of the border with Illinois.
  7. Average depth of Ohio River: 24 feet.
  8. The biggest city along its way: Pittsburgh, metropolitan population of 3.5 million. The river begins with the confluence of the Allegheny, from upstate New York, and the Monongahela, which drains part of West Virginia and Maryland as well as Pennsylvania, at Point State Park in the Gold Triangle.
  9. Next largest: Cincinnati, metropolitan area population of 2.2 million. Can be seen as the waterway’s hub.
  10. Major hurdle: Louisville, Kentucky, sits at the Falls of the Ohio, which once presented a barrier to river traffic. The McAlpine Locks and Dam stand where the Louisville and Portland Canal was built in 1830 to allow vessels to bypass the falls. It was the first major engineering project on the river and, by some accounts, the first on an American waterway.

PLAYBOY CENTERFOLDS VERSUS MY OLD GIRLFRIENDS

Like many young males of his generation, Kenzie in my new novel Daffodil Uprising gazes on the Playboy magazine centerfolds as an ideal of feminine form.

In fact, he mysteriously receives a manila envelope containing about two dozen of them, and they wind up being taped to the ceiling of his dorm room. They fit perfectly in the recessed space between the beams.

Never mind that he still didn’t have a real love life. She would be coming along shortly.

Thinking of this while revising the book had me revisiting images of some of those classic “playmates” online. To my surprise, they’re far more ordinary than we guys would have admitted at the time. To be honest, I think of at least ten of my former girlfriends were more attractive.

My, have times changed! Just think of all the selfies floating around on the Net or all of the plastic surgery enhancements now considered routine. Baring skin no longer has the risqué air it carried back then, either.

Me? I still prefer a natural look. As did Hef back then, when the mansion was still in Chicago.

Note the space between the beams in the ceiling. Perfect for displaying Playboy centerfolds, back in the day. By the way, we never had bookcases as standard furniture. Had to make our own with boards and concrete blocks.

BOTH NOVELS TAKE PLACE IN THE SAME TOWN MANY YEARS APART

My newest novels are both set in the same college town, but each one focuses on a different locale within it.

Daffodil Uprising takes place largely on the campus, and even when three of the characters move off into a shabby apartment, their focus is on college. It’s an outpost in more ways than one.

What’s Left, in contrast, settles into a neighborhood between the school and the courthouse square. The town and its university aren’t even named in this account. Instead, Cassia’s family’s restaurant is the center of attention, along with their surrounding properties. This story has a strong sense of the town itself, including the river, and the family’s impact on the community.

One thing I’ll confess is that in abstracting the location, I’ve created a place that doesn’t actually exist in the state. There’s nowhere along the Ohio River that’s just an hour from Indianapolis. Consider it as something like the visual tricks Edward Hopper performed in his paintings. Things feel right, despite the realities.

Southern Indiana, with its hills and forests, really is defined in large part by its relationship to the river. I hope I’ve heightened that sense.

CARPE DIEM

Among the historic divisions among Friends, none were more traumatic than the Hicksite-Orthodox separations, 1826-27. While New England and North Carolina were spared, most other American yearly meetings were torn in two. The reasons were deep and complicated – often along socio-economic and geographic lines. Subsistence versus commercial farming, artistan-craftsmen versus industrialists, rural versus urban, traditional versus forward-looking, tensions between having the polity of Friends lodged within the monthly meeting or at the yearly meeting level, even language itself, one holding to old expressions versus those wanting to embrace a new evangelical ecumenism.

We were not alone. The Puritan legacy, for instance, splintered into Congregationalists and Unitarians about the same time we Quakers split, theirs ostensibly over naming the president to head, first, Dartmouth College and then Harvard. The Dunkers (or German Baptist Brethren), meanwhile, managed to hold together, although their tensions would finally reappear in the 1880s, leading to a five-way split, producing the Church of the Brethren – about the same time many Friends began turning to pastor-led programmed worship. Curiously, the Brethren, laboring under a single yearly meeting, faced major tensions between the Eastern, old-fashioned members and the “Western” (west of the Appalachian Mountains) progressives – the same lineup that Friends would see in the quietist versus pastoral worship styles, with our Western Yearly Meetings going programmed and the Eastern ones largely holding to tradition.

These tensions were fueled by and reflected in many larger societal issues. In politics, the Jacksonians reflected the emergence of westward expansion. In religion, the Great Awakening first blazed through New England (sometimes as the New Lights movement) before igniting in Kentucky and the newly settled regions. In the economy, the industrial revolution was well under way.

For Quakers, the divisions essentially shut down the itinerant ministry from traveling Friends, which had kept the central messages of the faith and practice intact. That loss no doubt played into the emergence of the pastoral system in places where Friends were settling, rather than long settled. Another loss was a breakdown in the sharing of epistles and other written material. We no longer had a common vision to express or unite behind.

I reflect on these not so much as history but as a recognition that our larger society is in one of those watershed transitions – as our presentations and discussions on envisioning the future have suggested. How do we parlay what’s been entrusted to us into the future? Will Friends, as a whole, respond with radically new worship, organization, expression? Will we be sufficiently open to be led where we are needed? Of course, Israel under Roman occupation turned out to be another of those watershed moments, spreading both Judaism and the newly emerging Christianity across the empire. But that’s a much larger and more complicated story, except for the fact that we’re Friends as a consequence.

Or, as old Quakers would say, “Christ is come and coming.” It’s more than “Season’s Greetings,” after all.