About Us

Today is the anniversary of the day Jim and I got married. I’d love to tell you that it was a perfect fall day like today, sunny with crisp, cool air, but I don’t remember. In fact I think there were clouds for at least part of the day.

I do remember standing at the front of the small chapel with Jim, our family members in pews behind us. Jim’s sister played guitar as my brother-in-law sang “The Wedding Song.” The church organist indulged us with harpsichord music, including “Ode to Joy” for the recessional. I remember our wedding reception, surely the most boring one in history. Even I was bored! And the photos, almost all taken with the top of the tallest person’s head missing.

Like our wedding, in some ways our marriage is really ordinary, and in other ways it’s quite unusual. I’ve learned over time that no one has a very good view into someone else’s marriage. What on the outside looks very solid can be built on sand. Other marriages may look destined for failure, but in reality be full of strength we can’t see. So I am not the best judge of what parts of our life are unusual and what parts are typical.

What I do know is few women grow up planning to marry a man who already has two young children. When our older daughter was 19 and the younger 16, we had our son. If only in that, our life together has been unusual. But I think there is more. For more than three decades we’ve worked as partners, rarely at odds on any substantial issues. Long ago we understood the value of “giving in” to the person who cares more about something. Fortunately neither of us is a recreational fighter, and our values are so similar that giving in doesn’t need to happen much.

We find the same things funny, as well. Jim could always make me laugh, from when we first met. He told me jokes about the hippopotamus or the school bus… We made up limericks and word play as we drove from one place to another. Now we tell each other stories about the people and places we see, making up long narratives about what led to the current scene, or what the outcome will be. The stories almost inevitably end in laughter.

He taught in three different high schools from the time I met him, and finally retired from school teaching in 2007. Then he spent several years as an office worker before retiring again. I was a student, an office worker, a teacher, at varying times. His work was in physics, mine in finance.

Our professions were in different realms, but our outside interests overlap. We both love sharing and teaching on our blogs, and in person when opportunities arise. Politics and policy are important to us. Our similar values place us on the same side of most policy issues. We both love hiking, and try to stay physically fit through activity and what we eat.

Is this like most couples? I don’t know. What I do know is, whether or not our marriage stands apart, Jim does.

To put it simply, Jim is the best person I know. He treats other people with respect and kindness that seems to be exceptional in the world these days. The way he treats others is not for show. It’s how he is, and how he also treats me, his children, and his closest family members and friends.

More than that, Jim is a rock. He is MY rock. Some people think rocks are boring because they don’t change, but this is not how I see rocks or Jim. Rocks are solid and tangible, but not unchanging through time. They can have many layers, each with a little different character. They wear and weather, changing their shape and revealing new colors. Forces can change their location, leaving them to settle into new circumstances. Sometimes they sport colorful lichens or ferns that grow on rough surfaces or in crevices.

Jim is solid, a rock in my life. He changes but is not fickle or surprising. He reveals new layers to me through time. He makes himself at home in new locations, finding comfort even after upheaval. And he makes room in his life for color, enjoying adventures both at home and away.

Is our marriage unusual? Again, I don’t know. When Jim and I attended a wedding a few years ago, those at our reception table commented about how long they’ve been married. When I noted the length of our union, one of the guests asked, “And how much of that has been happy?” The question startled me and made me wonder. Is a happy marriage so atypical that a question like that is warranted? I answered, “Almost all of it!”

Indeed there have been unhappy days and times of great stress. We’ve negotiated our way through numerous transitions, with multiple homes and states and jobs over time, with distant family support, with our age difference.

Even so, the sun shines most days, as it does today. And when it does not, I have a rock to shelter me.

Jim here… I want to add a few things. You surprised me with this. That’s one of the things about you I like. Thank you for the kind and flattering words.

You are honest and generous. You let people know how you feel without playing games. You try to make the world a better place for those near you. You bring color and beauty to our home. Those are only a few of the reasons I love you. I am blessed.

My Private Meeting

I had a ‘private meeting’ with President Obama. About 25 of us were invited to meet him when he visited the U of IA for a speech in 2012. We were asked to line up along the wall at the far end of the room where our meeting was to take place. 

Twenty minutes before his speech, he entered the room and stood in front of a blue curtain backdrop. The first person in our group walked toward him. For each of us in turn, the President reached out his hand, said hello, and asked our name. I said I was very happy to meet him and work for his re-election. He thanked me. I was thrilled with his ‘endorsement’ of my efforts.

We turned with arms around each other. The photographer took a flash picture. I left the room. The next person followed in this efficiently organized set of ‘private meetings’.

My ‘private meeting’ took all of 30 seconds. The President had no idea who I was. Based on what I have read and learned, Kim Davis of KY had the same kind of brief arranged experience with Pope Francis. He had no idea who she was. Their ‘private meeting’ was arranged to get political mileage for a cause according to these Esquire and NY Times stories, among others.

She claims to have received a rosary gift. So did everyone else. I have a picture with the President as proof of my meeting. If I had a political cause to promote, this evidence could easily be used to show the President’s interest in me and my cause. I think that is what the supporters of Davis are doing. It is wrong to use the Pope and his influence that way.

That is my opinion.

Matthiessen State Park

by Melanie and Jim

Last Friday we had time, opportunity, and weather for a perfect morning in Matthiessen State Park. Matthiessen is located in north central Illinois, very close to I-80. On Thursday evening we’d been in Sycamore, IL for my presentation to a quilt guild. On Friday we needed to head southward to my sister’s home. Matthiessen was right on the way.

The skies were bright and dry with early fall crispness. Clouds of dust arose on both sides of the highways, stirred up by farmers harvesting corn and beans. As we approached the park, there was little evidence of it besides a stand of trees in the distance. Like so many midwestern parks, instead of rising above the surrounding landscape, Matthiessen’s best features are below, hidden from view until you are deep within.

At the north end of the park are the dells trails around and through a water-eroded sandstone canyon. Reaching the upper trail requires descending a broad, stable stairway about five or six flights long, which some would find difficult. Once that far, the upper trail is a well-maintained loop and relatively easy for most hikers.

There also are stairways into the canyon for those who are more adventurous. Depending on water levels, the lower trails can be off limits. For us, they were open, though deep mud prevented us from exploring all the crevices we wanted.




In the pictures below, you can get a sense for the lower trail within the canyon. On the concrete stairway stands an older woman who generously gave me a mom hug. I had explained to her that I’d visited Matthiessen as a child, and that my mom had led those trips. That day also was my mom’s birthday, which made a poignant reminder for me. That’s me in the bright pink shirt.


Below the staircase the canyon walls rose on both sides. A path allowed access both upstream and downstream of the stairs. Across from the stairs was a small stream, the seasonal remains of the eroding waterway.

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen


In the bowl, water has worn away caverns on the undersides of the walls. Kids enjoy exploring the small caves.


Jim created a panorama of the canyon bowl. He is standing below the roof line of one of the caverns.

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen


And here is his video in the bowl.

After we ascended the concrete stairway, Jim and I disagreed about the correct direction to take. Should we cross the bridge spanning the canyon, or go up farther to the trail from which we’d come? The quickest way to answer the question was to head up to the trail map at the top. We both climbed more stairs, up another five flights to check. And as it turns out, Jim was right! We wanted to cross the bridge below.

A little farther along, we descended into the canyon again. This area was less used and it had more natural impediments. At one point we picked our way along a foot-wide ledge, avoiding tumbling into the bottom 12 feet below. Here we continued upward, climbing up through a series of stone ledges. After another section of stream bed hiking, we exited the bottom and returned to the upper trail.

Matthiessen is a great park for families. With picnic areas above, a recreated French fort, easy to moderate trails, and fascinating geology, there’s something to please everyone. The park will always be on our list to return to.

Lunar Eclipse | Images | Tetrad Part 4

Originally posted on JAR Blog:

We left central Illinois well before sunset. It was overcast. The prospects for seeing the lunar eclipse were not very good. As we headed northwest toward our home in eastern Iowa, the skies showed signs of improvement. Minutes before the Sun set, it shined brightly through a big opening in the clouds. That was a good sign.

Driving west on I-80, we could see brightness in the east behind the few remaining clouds indicating that the full Moon had risen. We stopped for a driver change. There was the Moon just entering the shadow of the Earth. I periodically rotated the rearview mirror up to take a peek at the eclipsing Moon behind us. Eclipse in progress.

After we unpacked the car, I put my camera on a tripod on the front porch. This first shot showed the Moon about 50% into the umbra. Notice the curve of the Earth’s shadow. It…

View original 192 more words

Lunar Eclipse | 27 Sep 2015 | Tetrad Part 4

Originally posted on JAR Blog:

Previous posts about this tetrad of lunar eclipses can be found by following this link. Visit those links for explanations of the phenomenon if you need them.

Part 4 of this tetrad takes place Sunday evening 27 Sep 2015 for North and South America. First evidence of the partial phase begins at 8:07 pm central daylight time. The total eclipse phase begins about an hour later at 9:11 CDT. Totality lasts a little more than an hour ending at 10:23 CDT.

The timing of this lunar eclipse is very good for viewers in North and South America. It begins when most people are still up. If sky conditions are not overcast, it will put on a show all evening. You do NOT need eye protection.

You don’t have to watch it continuously. Look every 20-30 minutes. You will see the Moon change color and coverage as it transits Earth’s shadow.


View original 88 more words

Morning This Week

Originally posted on JAR Blog:

Up before the Sun. It rises later now.

Venus passed the Earth and is now bright in the morning sky. Welcome back.

MoonVenus1 9 Sep 2015

MoonVenus2 10 Sep 2015

moonvenus3 11 Sep 2015

moonvenus4 11 Sep 2015

One more thing…

NASA posted this as their Image of the Day for 8 Sep 2015. It shows the silhouette of the International Space Station passing in front of the Sun as viewed by Bill Ingalls. He was in Shenandoah National Park, Front Royal, VA on 6 Sep 2015 to capture it. On board were 9 astronauts traveling 5 miles per second.

NASA | Bill Ingalls | NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren, Russian Cosmonauts Gennady Padalka, Mikhail Kornienko, Oleg Kononenko, Sergey Volkov, Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui, Danish Astronaut Andreas Mogensen, and Kazakhstan Cosmonaut Aidyn Aimbetov.

View original

Tacoma WA | Favorite Places

We visited Tacoma in August to see our son. He lives a few blocks from Commencement Bay. The bay is visible from his windows, as is Mt. Rainier. We enjoyed a wide variety of sights and activities. We spent several evenings at a city waterfront park enjoying the view of the bay and some ships. See the arrow on this map.


More highlights here…Enjoy