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.


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

How many seasons do you have?

I’ve already written of my sense of having eight seasons a year where I live, created by blending the four solar-seasons with the equinox- and solstice-based calendar seasons. (To wit: Solar spring begins around February 2, while the calendar season begins on the equinox six weeks later. Thus, the “six more weeks of winter” the groundhog gets blamed for. And so on.)

But we get a slew of other seasons, too. Here’s a sampling.

  1. Sports seasons. As in baseball season, football season, or basketball season. In professional sports, there’s a lot of overlap. Throw in skiing or hockey in my part of the world.
  2. Indian summer, technically after the first killing frost. It can greatly extend our short, six-week summer.
  3. Freezin’ season. Here in New England, that can run five months, from early November into April. One variation is heating season, which can start in early October and run into June, eight months.
  4. Mud season. Rural New Englanders who live along unpaved roads know this one well. When the ground thaws, their cars are soon thoroughly splattered with mud – and a trip on foot can do the same to their clothing.
  5. Black fly season. Follows mud season. The swarms of these tiny, nearly invisible ravenous insects are truly nasty, making mosquitos seem nearly benign.
  6. Waves of flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Ours start with asparagus and end up with apples. In large parts of Maine, blueberries or potatoes are big markers.
  7. Fall foliage. Generally, the month of October. As the landscape goes Day-Glo, the highways, restaurants, and motels are crowded with tourists, all before we’re plunged into November and its dreary clock change into Eastern Standard Time.
  8. The so-called holiday season. Or, more accurately, shopping season. Nowadays, it starts with the Halloween buildup and runs through New Year’s Day.
  9. Allergies season. For some, it’s the whole year.
  10. Campaign season. In New Hampshire, the big one comes every four years. Like right now.


What would you add to the list? Hunting and fishing, perchance?



That’s ten times ten equals one hundred, more or less Roman style.

Assuming the empire had an equals sign or even multiplication.

How did they ever do math?

Especially since they didn’t have a zero, which seems to have come into its own, as a number, around the 5th century C.E. in India and worked its way into Europe via the Italian mathematician Fibonacci (aka Leonardo of Pisa) around the year 1200. That’s the background on what’s considered a full zero, the average of minus one and one.

Before that, the written orb was just a placeholder, like a punctuation mark or the zeros in the Arabic numeral 100. That placeholder usage likely started in Babylon between 400 and 300 B.C.E.

To thicken the plot, an awareness of full zero also originated from scratch in Mayan culture of the New World around the first centuries C.E.

Which is a roundabout way of pointing out that when it came to the radical mathematical concept of nothing (or less), the Romans came up empty.

There wasn’t even a Year Zero, back then. Our current dating system goes from 1 B.C.E. to 1 C.E. That’s why this year technically isn’t the beginning of a new decade, but the final year of one.

Not that we ever were taught any sense of the wonder of all that, back in our math classes. The closest we ever came was the mystifying concept of multiplying anything by zero and watching it disappear.

So back to that XXX = C in the title. I can’t help thinking it looks somehow obscene. Like graffiti.

How about you?

Ten big events in my life during the past year

  1. Completing my “final” book of fiction. The middle novella and end pieces are entirely new and quite a departure for me. The other two-thirds are major revisions of two novellas now linked by Jaya’s imagination. Look for The Secret Side of Jaya at Smashwords, available for preorder now.
  2. New wheels. I probably jinxed the old one by a Tendrils posting early in the year, but my Camry fell victim to rusting serious enough to keep it from passing state inspection. There were enough other problems to make me concede it was time to move on (and downsize) a bit before the odometer rolled over to 300k miles. Wound up with a three-year-old Chevy Sonic I call the Scooter.
  3. Recovering my swimming distance and time. I try to swim a half-mile every weekday, but one of my cardio meds kept taking a toll. Getting to a quarter-mile was an effort, and my speed was way down. But at the checkup on my one-year anniversary of the stent implant, my doc decided he could switch to something less potent. Hallelujah! I’m back to normal, or something like that. The nosebleeds and bruising have lessened, too.
  4. Downeast, Maine. We got away for an extended weekend in May and were astounded by the desolation and poverty of much of the easternmost corner of the United States. But we’re also enchanted by the natural awe and community and have been returning. Somehow, it reminds me of the Pacific Northwest, where I lived for four life-changing years. I’ll be posting a lot of photos in the coming year that reflect our discoveries. Hey, it’s still New England and far less well known than Boston. And, oh yes, we bid on a piece of property with an ocean view, though the sellers turned it down and still have it. Please stay tuned!
  5. Beekeeping. Yes, you’ve been reading about it.
  6. And the rabbits. This time, I took the lead in our pet situation. They’re evermore cute and entertaining.
  7. Backing off from the choir. I’m a charter member of an amazing community chorus in Greater Boston, but the weekly commute to rehearsals is getting too demanding. The trip to and from occupies a half of a day, for one thing, and keeps me up later than usual, for another, plus the mileage and tolls add up. When my carpooling buddy’s new job meant he could no longer fit our music-making into his schedule, the time for change had arrived. Still, I had an opportunity to sing behind Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul, and Mary fame at an outdoor concert in September.  That said, I really do miss the group and our shared high. We’ll see what happens ahead.
  8. Shifting into “author” mode. With my books now in place, my focus should be shifted away from drafting and revising new work, which is essentially solo time, and into more presence in the literary world. At the beginning of summer, for example, I started reading and reviewing ebooks at Smashwords that touched, one way or another, on subjects in my novels. It’s been refreshing.
  9. Closing out my IRA and getting serious about downsizing. It’s not like there was a huge amount, but it had grown to the equivalent of two years’ salary at my maximum income. We realize the house (and barn) are really too much for two people to sustain, and some costly work is needed before we put it up for sale. After all, we’ve accumulated a lot over the years, especially in our two decades together. And we’ve taken on a lot to manage, sometimes too much, as I often feel about the garden, or at least its weeds. If we relocate to another house, it will have to be somewhat smaller and definitely more economic to heat and maintain. We realize something has to go sooner or later, so we’ve started. Unlike a diet, this brings us to stages of reflection, not always easy. Many of the items are infused with memories or dreams.
  10. Our younger daughter’s engagement. Saving the best for last, we finally get to call him “son” officially. Yay!


What’s been a highlight of your year?


Meanwhile, upstairs?

Living in New England, I’ve been in rain falling at 26 degrees Fahrenheit and snow coming down at 36 F as well as mixed precip everywhere in-between.

Much of that, of course, depends on the temperature higher overhead (the case, too, with hail) or sometimes the ground-level influence of our nearby ocean.

Guess we just have to be flexible when in comes to dressing accordingly, right?

Have you ever encountered similar confounding or weird weather?

A definitely wrong spirit of Christmas

As they pulled up at home after a jaunt to the grocery, another car scuttled out the other end of their driveway.

They didn’t recognize the vehicle or the figures who had hopped in a split-second earlier, but the action certainly was suspicious.

Then they found one Christmas wreath on the ground beside the barn and another, still hanging on the white clapboards, with its wires quite bent.

Yes, two people were trying to steal the Christmas wreaths from the siding!

Kinda puts a damper on that “goodwill to men,” doesn’t it? Though the phrase is, more accurately, “to men of good will.”

We’re still baffled that some people have so little conscience that they’ll resort to this, but maybe they’re desperate to veil themselves in images foreign to their real nature.

Um, look around, though, and it’s far more universal than I want to think.

This points toward the hard work of changing hearts and actions – literally, repentance – that the life of Jesus embodies.

Well, I won’t go off on that sermon just now. But we are still saddened by the audacity of ill will.