Category Archives: Personal

Burls

I noticed two huge burls on this big old oak tree during a recent walk. They are at least 18″ (~0.5m) across. They are on city park land and should be safe. They are valuable wood and can be made into beautiful objects.

As I walked farther, it occurred to me I had a very tenuous connection to another burl. Burl Icle Ivanhoe Ives was born in southeast Illinois. I was born in Illinois. He attended Eastern Illinois University not far from his birthplace. I attended EIU. He dropped out. Sixty years later a university building was named after the school’s most famous dropout. I graduated with a master’s degree in physics education. No buildings were named after me.

His brother Clarence Estie Ives farmed only a few miles from our home farm in western Illinois. He is buried in a cemetery I passed many times as a youth.

 

Peace | Can’t We Act Better?

by Jim and Melanie

We stepped out the front door into the sunshine for a walk. Nearby were two young doves. They sat very still so we would not see them. Adult doves fly away in an explosion of sound. These sat there until our return.

How nice if they carried a message of peace and harmony between people of Earth. Such terrible things we humans do to each other. Our thoughts and prayers are with our French brothers and sisters today.

Dove1

Dove2

THIS is Iowa

by Melanie

Note: It’s time to remember what community is about, and the intricate, sometimes invisible ways we’re bound together. I wrote this four years ago after an evening at the North Liberty Barbecue and Blues Fest. 

Your vantage point may be different from mine. If you see Iowa from 30,000 feet, or perhaps whizzing through on I-80 at 70 mph, you don’t see what I see.

From my vantage point this evening, I saw feet. Settled into grass rough as a boar’s bristle hair brush, I ate my barbecued brisket sandwich and cole slaw, and I saw feet. Women’s feet, clad in rubber flip flops, towering high heels, strappy sandals, ballet flats. Stretched out in front of me, my own feet, the exception: clad in thick crew socks greyed from a laundry mishap, and a pair of athletic shoes.

Children, little boys with pale skin, pinked from the heat and sun. Many have blond or reddish hair — the northern European genes still run strong in this part of the state. Other little boys with their chocolate brown skin and tightly curled hair. Little girls, towheads with tank tops and tiny skirts, and dark-haired girls, dressed the same, all holding tightly to a parent’s hand.

I remember passages of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book Little House in the Big Woods, where she so aptly describes the swirling skirts dancing at Grandmother Ingalls’ house, all from the viewpoint of a small child. I think of my view from the ground, how limited my scope is here, how little I see.

Looking up I see more, taller children, young adults, young families pushing their strollers. Varying colors and attire, still they seem much the same. The police officer stands out in his uniform, though. He sports a painted pirate patch over one eye and a curling mustache, lending unexpected panache to his appearance.

The next generation older, those of us in our 40s, 50s, 60s, we are more diverse. Men wear tank tops or polo shirts or Sturgis rally t-shirts. They have long hair and crew cuts, beards and smoothly shaved faces. Dew rags and straw hats and ball caps… If you think all Iowa men wear “farmer” caps, John Deere or Case caps, let me assure you it isn’t so. Half the men I saw tonight in their 60s look like old hippies, and the others looked like anyone’s neighbor.

THIS is Iowa. Iowa is not what you see from 30,000 feet, nor speeding by on our main highway. Iowa is not defined by our agriculture or our industry or even our presidential caucuses.

Iowa is our people and how we come together. We come together at the North Liberty BBQ and Blues Fest this evening, at the Kalona Fall Festival, at Hooverfest and the Iowa City Jazz Festival, and hundreds of festivals across the state, across the year. We come together at the farmers’ markets and the football games and community concerts, at churches and synagogues and the Mother Mosque of America. We grant each other a high degree of tolerance and respect.

We are not well represented by the fringe elements proposing a radical GOP platform. We are not well represented by the vile and reprehensible Steve King. We are purple, not red. We are well-educated and rational. We love jazz and blues. We have a long history of progressive civil rights laws, and we were one of the first states in the nation to welcome marriage equality.

What you see from a distance is not what I see. The view from afar does not show you our people, our faces, our children of many colors. The view from the ground is different, is real, and is the future. THIS is Iowa.

Tools of Engagement

by Jim and Melanie

Before internet, talk radio, and social media platforms, it was not so easy to express your opinion in public. Your choices included speaking to the person(s) face-to-face, calling them, public demonstration, and writing a letter to the editor. Today, we have access to multiple tools that allow us to express our opinions and engage with those with whom we agree and disagree.

Is this a good thing? It can be argued both ways. I am like most people. I like having the tools to socialize with others. I enjoy discussion both in person and online. We are social beings. We band together with others who share our viewpoints. People have always been that way.

People have also always disagreed with others and their viewpoints. This aspect of human nature combines with our ubiquitous tools for engagement to cause some of the problems we are seeing today. The tools of social engagement have sharpened the differences between people.

One can express a multitude of reactions to a Facebook post by simply clicking a button. Nothing more is expected. One can give thumbs up or thumbs down on some online posts. One can call talk radio shows on a wide range of topics and express your good, bad, or ugly viewpoint. One can write the most vile of remarks in the comments sections of stories that don’t deserve that kind of treatment. Why?

In my opinion, it is not that people are any worse than ever before. I think they have too many easy tools to put their negative feelings out there at all times of day and on nearly everything online. These tools work too fast. In the past, we had to think over something we didn’t like. We had to go see the person(s). We had to organize a protest. We had to write a letter and wait for it to be published. Not today. It happens in seconds.

Recently, I read a reminder on Facebook of something I posted six years ago.

It’s time to stop viewing the other as always wrong, with nothing positive to offer. In our families, towns and communities, we accept differences of opinion and decide to work with
the things we agree on. It solves problems we face. Why make more trouble by being obstinate, unyielding and inflexible? Nothing gets done.

Things don’t seem any better than they were then. In fact, they seem worse.

Merle Haggard, Rest in Peace

It’s been a long time since I cried about an entertainer’s death. Steve Goodman passed in September 1984, just before the Cubs clinched the National League East. I cried bitter tears for that sad irony. And I expect I cried when Harry Chapin died. I still miss Harry.

But yesterday was different. Learning about Merle Haggard’s death was more personal. Merle has been a part of my life for around thirty years.

At 79, a lung cancer survivor, Merle Haggard succumbed to double pneumonia. He was ill and frail, and he couldn’t hold out for another tour.

The first time I even heard of Merle Haggard, Jim and I saw him in concert. It was the late 1980s, and he was on a concert bill with three other big-name acts. Honestly I can’t remember which one we bought tickets for. Merle is all I can remember. Merle Haggard and the Strangers. The ensemble work of their music, the fun they seemed to have, his smooth voice, all left me a fan.

In 1988 he was performing near us. I desperately wanted to get tickets but couldn’t figure out how to make it work out. You see, his performance date was on my due date for delivering my baby. We skipped that concert, and the baby was born a couple of days later.

In 1991 he substituted for Reba McEntire after her band was killed in a plane crash. Jim and I went to that performance but were pretty disappointed. He seemed to be quite drunk and it wasn’t a good show.

But we had one more chance to see him recently. Three years ago he performed a few miles from us. The concert was not very spontaneous, but at 76, the old guy could still sing and make the fans happy, including us.

I’ve never been the kind of fan, of his or anyone’s, to follow all the news reports or learn the full biography, or to follow performances around the country. I couldn’t have bought all of Merle’s albums if I tried (though I have at least eight.) With more than 40 albums and 38 number one hits, stretching across decades, Merle was prolific. He toured even more than he recorded, spending much of his life on a bus.

When I read the news yesterday, I cried a little, and cried some more, and found my eyes leaking a few more times during the day. And as I listen to his music in the future, likely there will be more tears. But in truth I will have lost very little of Merle Haggard, as my relationship with him was through his recordings. As long as I can still listen, I’ll still have him in my life.

I can’t pick a favorite song, but there are a few that are especially meaningful to me. Here is just one:

We’re Not Laughing Anymore

Imagine a bright, breezy day at the beginning of July. Jazz notes slid through the air like fingers across a keyboard. Music lovers relaxed in their lawn chairs or sprawled on blankets. Then the rumbling began, the sound of a small plane moving into view above the Old Capitol’s golden dome. Behind the plane a banner trailed, and as festival goers saw the banner, a chuckle arose from the crowd.

Johnson County, Iowa, is a Democratic bastion. As home to the University of Iowa, the surrounding community advocates for and votes for progressive principles. The jazz festival, held annually in downtown Iowa City and on the university campus, is just one aspect of the community’s support for the arts and inclusive values. Many of the festival attendees, perhaps most, would describe themselves as Democrats, liberals, or progressives.

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 5.53.30 PM

The plane circled the area several times before disappearing, and we laughed. The banner trailing the airplane said, “IOWANS FOR TRUMP”. What a waste of money, Jim and I thought, useless to try to drum up fans in Iowa City.  And we assumed Trump’s campaign would disappear nearly as fast.

In August while visiting our son, we recounted the story to him. “It’s not funny, Mom,” he said. “Imagine if he were my commander in chief!” And yes, the idea of Trump’s candidacy became much less funny. Still, we thought it would end swiftly, mercifully, by Iowa’s caucus on February 1.

In the intervening months, Trump has proved himself to be a bigot, a misogynist, a serial liar, and a bully. From a psychological standpoint, likely he is a narcissist, too, though I’m not qualified to make that diagnosis. This week he failed to disavow the support of white supremacists. Later he claimed that his earpiece for the interview didn’t work well. However it worked well enough for him to say David Duke’s name. Clearly he heard that, and that he was being asked about Duke’s support.

The Washington Post wrote about Trump’s white supremacist connections: “The overtly racist stuff is supposed to be a political loser and radioactive to mainstream Republicans. What is not usual is that same cast of racist characters and organizations feeling at home and well represented at the very apotheosis of Republican Party politics, in the campaign of the prohibitive front-runner for the party’s presidential nomination.”

Whether or not Trump welcomes the attention from the nazi fringe, he has attracted it. That in itself shows what kind of person he is. And it shows the type of people willing to support him. Even if they themselves don’t hold to the fringe beliefs, they cheer on the man whose views invite them.

We are not laughing anymore, and have not for many months. Trump is a danger to our country. The only laughter I can manage is for John Oliver, with his recent take-down of Trump. It’s about 20 minutes, but worth your time.

Diving Tony the Tiger™ | Cereal Box Prize

DivingTonyIt was always a treat for a kid to find a toy in a box of cereal. This prize was offered in the 1980s by Kellogg’s in their Frosted Flakes cereal. At that time we lived in the western suburbs of Chicago. I was active in a physics teacher group that met monthly in order to share teaching ideas and demonstrations. There were two other groups for the northwest and the southwest suburban areas, as well as a group active in Chicago itself.

Once a year all of the groups met at a central college campus for an evening of sharing and give-aways. Melanie suggested that I should write to Kellogg’s and request some Diving Tony toys to give away to the teachers at the next meeting. That I did. Kellogg’s sent me a free boxful of perhaps 100 of the toy. Needless to say, Tony was a big hit with the physics teachers. Everyone got to take Diving Tony the Tiger home to show their students.

Recently, we were watching NCIS, one of Melanie’s favorite shows. There was a scene in which a small diving toy-like device was used to show how some criminals accessed their underwater drug stash. We both looked at each other, laughed, and said ‘Diving Tony!’ That prompted me to write to Kellogg’s again.
Divider1

Dear Kellogg’s

In the mid-80s, I wrote to Kellogg’s and requested a large number of Diving Tony the Tiger toys to give away to my fellow physics teachers at a large meeting. The company graciously obliged and sent me a box of them. There might have been 100 in that box.

Do you have some background information about that promotion that I can read? History, popularity, how many the company gave away in cereal boxes, etc. I am not able to find much on your site or anywhere else.

Thank you … Jim

Divider1

Jim,

Thank you for taking the time to contact us. To better assist you with this, we ask if at all possible. If you could can send or email us an image of the item that was provided (tony the tiger toys) ?

Thanks again, Jim, for contacting us.

Divider1

This video should be helpful. It was posted by Doug McCoy on YouTube.

Divider1

Jim,

We appreciate you following up with the link to the YouTube video showing the diving Tony premium offered in 1987.

While details are limited on this item, I was able to find out that this was an extremely popular item that we offered in the 1980s. Over 27 million were packaged in boxes of Frosted Flakes in 1987 between October and December. Additionally, there was a “Tony’s Treasure Hunt” on the side of the box that could be placed behind a water source and used as a game. With 4 different depths, it was your objective to be able to get Tony to each depth and back to the surface.

Please know that your comments regarding our past premiums are valued and will be shared with the team.

Thank you again, Jim, for contacting us. We wish you all the best.

Divider1

I found this comment posted 2 years ago on the YouTube channel below the video.

Nostalgia Factor…
I had a friend who dove Tony in a bottle then capped and sealed it with tape. He hid that sealed bottle in a closet for years. I told this story to another one of my friends & his eyes lit up, regaling me with his love for that lost toy. we rescued Diver Tony from the closest & took that thing everywhere. I once visited a rest stop on I-23 near Battle Creek, MI where Kellogs were having a demo. Met Tony the Tiger and showed him my Diver Tony. He did a little dance and took a picture with me.

Oh My Stars | Winner Chosen

Thanks for the offers. Here is the winner.

How I See It

Melanie and I are happy to announce the recipient of the Oh My Stars donation quilt. The story and monetary offer combined to make a compelling case that it should go to this person. She will be known as Grace in order to maintain her privacy. Here are details of the donation quilt offer in case you missed the earlier post.

Grace has been a volunteer with her local hospice center after they cared for her mother and father. She has assisted patients and their families as they transitioned through the hospice process. Grace knows first-hand the wonderful help they give to others in their hours of great need. She has chosen to donate her offering to Iowa City Hospice.

Melanie and I visited the office of Iowa City Hospice. We brought the quilt and Grace’s donation. We explained the circumstances of the quilt project that led to her donation. They…

View original post 256 more words

Oh My Stars | Quilt Donation

Would you like to own this quilt and help a charitable group, too?

How I See It

Two years ago, Melanie made the quilt below for a blog project that I especially liked called Oh My Stars. I want to offer it for someone to purchase. The quilt dimensions are 59″x60″ (1.50m x 1.52m). A deserving charitable organization in our community will receive the money. I’ve never done this kind of thing before. We learn by doing.

MyStarsQuilt My Stars | Melanie McNeil | Catbird Quilt Studio | 2013

MyStarsQuilt2 My Stars | Melanie McNeil | Catbird Quilt Studio | 2013

The basic plan is for interested persons to (1) explain why they want the quilt, (2) make a monetary offer, and (3) choose one of the six organizations below as the recipient of their offer.

Offers are to be made in private using my email address provided below. Only offers submitted using that email will be considered.

Only offers from the U.S. will be considered due to shipping cost constraints.

The winner…

View original post 121 more words

Shalom

We fight over how to achieve peace. We kill in the name of preserving life. We shove and kick each other to reach the last item on a shelf, an item we intend to give with love. We draw farther and farther apart, deeper into darkness. The greatest irony is that, generally, we share the same basic wants. We all want safety, nutrition, love, opportunity. But our perspective on how to achieve those seems to be separating.

Jim and I have a friend whose vision has deteriorated over the last few years. The images he saw fractured and multiplied, making it more difficult to tell what was real. It had gotten to the point that he couldn’t drive safely. Were the red cars ahead of him actually two red cars, or just double vision of one? Our friend needed new glasses to reintegrate the images, so he could see what was real.

We are used to the idea of “shalom” meaning “peace.” Another interpretation of “shalom” is “wholeness.” From wikipedia,

Shalom, in the liturgy and in the transcendent message of the Christian scriptures, means more than a state of mind, of being or of affairs. Derived from the Hebrew root shalam – meaning to be safe or complete, and by implication, to be friendly or to reciprocate. Shalom, as term and message, seems to encapsulate a reality and hope of wholeness for the individual, within societal relations, and for the whole world.

Shalom is peace, wholeness, integration. We need new glasses to see what is real, that we are one whole. When we give in to hate, whether to refugees from another country or to those who oppose them, we give in to darkness. There is no “other.” We are connected. We are one.

Shalom. Peace. Wholeness. Love.