Category Archives: Iowa

Driving Lessons

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My middle child, Henry, is sixteen and anxious to learn how to drive.  And like all young drivers, he has yet to get into his first accident, is awkward behind the wheel, and is determined to be the best driver the world has ever seen.  So, we gave him a driver’s instruction course, which he completed by July 15th, though he hasn’t taken the wheel yet in a driver’s ed car.  And I had to come to terms with the idea that, even though I shelled out more than 300 dollars to have someone else teach him to drive, I was still going to be the one riding in the passenger’s seat and cringing every time the car lurches towards oncoming traffic and hideous, painful death.

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I decided that since we were visiting Iowa where populations are shrinking and little towns like ours are dying, we might as well take advantage of nearly empty streets and lack of other drivers competing for road space.  We went to Rowan to practice driving.

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Of course I had forgotten how narrow the streets are in my little home town.  Some of the avenues can’t sustain two cars passing in opposite directions at once.  And there are more than a few junk cars, old tractors, and other wheeled things parked in the way, just begging to be hit and make a dent in our affordable insurance.

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Leave it to me to be multi-tasking while teaching the boy to drive the family battleship down the narrow streets of Rowan.  I wanted to take pictures to do this post.  I also wanted to take my mind off the depressing realization that Donald Trump will likely be the next president, and our lives will continue to go down hill as we are treated more and more like cash-generating farm animals for billionaires, corporations, and the owners of all the debt we have accrued by selfishly spending money on life’s necessities in order to keep on living.  We stopped to take a picture at the house I grew up in.  It was depressing to see that the house has not been painted since I put that blue paint on it when I was a teenager.  Dang!  I’m sixty now.  And the poor people who live there now couldn’t afford to paint it even once in the last forty-two years.

But even with all the potential distractions, we managed to practice driving and parking and driving again without any catastrophes or sudden fiery death.  We did pass the same lady walking her little white dog four different times on four different streets.  We only made a wide turn and nearly squished her dog one time.  And we only had one incident where he accidentally pressed the gas instead of the brake while the car was in reverse instead of drive.  Unfortunately, that happened on Main Street.  Fortunately, the one and only car parked on Main Street was in front of us and not behind us.  So we were successful.  An hour and a half of driving practice with no costly accidents and no blood or death.

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Filed under autobiography, humor, Iowa, kids, photo paffoonies, politics, self portrait, the road ahead

Dows, Iowa

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Bustling downtown Dows with the grain elevator in the background

There are many simple truths to be gleaned from a simple visit to the scene of your childhood.  You need every so often to get in touch with where you came from and the roots of who you are.  Dows is not the town where I grew up.  But we played them in 4-H softball, and we won almost as much as we lost to them.  It is a town near enough to my little home town to be a place that impacts who I am.

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You have no idea what this is, right?

Day before yesterday we went to Dows for a dinner with relatives.  My cousin and her second husband were there.  Her parents, my uncle who still lives on Uncle I.C.’s farm place that has been in the family for more than a hundred years, and my aunt who is going bald a bit, were also there.  We ate in a totally Pepsi-Cola-themed restaurant and had a Rueben pizza with roast beef and sauerkraut on it (talk about your total cultural potpourri!)  The experience taught me a simple lesson.  We come from a bizarre mixture of themes and things cooked together in a recipe for life that can never be repeated and cooked again for our children.

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You don’t order Coke here.

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We avoided talking about politics because Iowa is very conservative and none of us enjoy yelling at each other about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton using fact-free Fox News talking points and cow poop about how building a wall that Mexico pays for will cure all our economic problems because we all think we know how Hispanics moving into Iowa are ruining our lives.  So, instead, we talked about how Eaton’s machine tool manufacturing plant in Belmond is facing more lay-offs.

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The restored and re-purposed Dows’ Rock Island train station.

We talked about businesses that have gone out and not been replaced in the little Iowa towns around us.  We talked about how no one walks beans any more, walking the rows of soy beans to pull button weeds and cockle-burrs by hand and chop rogue corn with hoe.  We talked about how farming has gone to spraying weed-killing chemicals and factory-farming pigs instead.  It is a simple lesson in how ways of life come to an end and are not necessarily replaced with something better.

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There is an artist working on a patriotic project to put one of these in every county in Iowa.

We constantly remake ourselves as the world changes and ages around us.  Nothing lasts forever.  Life is a process of growing and withering and regrowing.  A simple word for that is “farming”.  Who we were impacts who we have become and will affect what comes after.  But we learn simple lessons from going to the places we love best and doing our dead-level best to get from there to here and move eventually to someplace beyond.  And Dows, Iowa is just one of those places… I guess.

 

 

 

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Filed under autobiography, family, farm boy, farming, feeling sorry for myself, humor, Iowa, photo paffoonies

Idea Fertilizer

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Picture borrowed from the North American Manure Expo’s Facebook page

This morning as I was going to QT for my daily dose of wake-up juice with caffeine in it, Jody Dean and the Morning Team on KLUV radio station were making fun of the North American Manure Expo taking place in London, Ohio this week.  Jody Dean, the radio talk-show host, was suggesting that the Expo would’ve been a natural thing to host in Fort Worth because, well, Texas and cow poop just naturally go together.  But it occurs to me, that this is fortuitously a part of Ohio this month because the GOP convention is taking place shortly in Cleveland, and the bull dookie won’t have to be shipped as far for that.  Besides, having grown up as an Iowan, I have a farm-boy awareness of the intrinsic need for poo-poo conventions where the latest distribution technology is on display.  After all, cow poo is fertilizer… it makes stuff grow.

Yesterday I was unable to write the post I had planned about the tragic police shooting in Dallas.  There was a lot to write about.  It was a terrible thing that affected me deeply and did considerable damage to the fight for human rights in this country and preserving the respect and dignity we owe to the men in blue who too often give their lives to keep us safe.  It also gave our Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick a chance to actually put both feet in his mouth at the same time, and for Dallas resident and former rodeo clown turned president George W. Bush to do a goofy smiley-faced dance during the playing of the Battle Hymn of the Republic while the memorial to the fallen Dallas policemen was in the middle of a rather somber occasion.  Poop makes stuff grow, and that post would’ve been epic.

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A project I was working on yesterday while sulking.

You see, yesterday I didn’t have the usual amount of time for writing because I had to install an air conditioner for my hot wife.  It was difficult to install because the bedroom I installed it in has no regular windows.  Only a window/door onto the patio.  And I had to do the installing because my wife wanted to take a sledge hammer to the bedroom wall and knock out enough bricks to make a vent hole for the air conditioner.  I did not want my determined little wife taking up the hammer herself, so I carefully mapped out a plan and bought supplies to cut a hole in the drywall and then jury-rig a makeshift air duct to a pre-existing hole in the brickwork.  I got the hole cut in the drywall and then ran into a snag when I exposed a support beam in the way of my plan.  Well, this led to a discussion of the details executed rather loudly and I believe I was compared to a donkey at least three times.  We then reached a compromise (by which I mean what husbands usually mean when they use the word “compromise” which is that we did things the way my wife wanted them done.  Or, rather, my wife picked up the hammer and crowbar, and I retreated to my room to sulk like a proper adult.  The air conditioner is now humming.  It is blowing half of the exhaust out through the space left by the two bricks she knocked out rather neatly, and the other half up through the wall into the attic.  Oh, well, it works and she is happy with it.  Hopefully no building inspectors read this post.

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Another piece of alien art done while sulking.

The point is, cow poop happens.  And cow poop is fertilizer.  It makes things grow.  Including ideas for posts on my blog.  I was able to illustrate the Telleron alien kids from two of my novels while I was busy sulking and feeling sorry for myself.  In fact, the novel Catch a Falling Star probably only exists because of Iowa and cow poop.  Yes, life in farmville is resoundingly boring and uneventful, so my fertile imagination couldn’t help but make up an alien invasion of a small Iowan farming community.  And my imagination was probably fertile due to so much exposure to cow poop on my grandfather’s and my two uncles’ farms.  So now you know.

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Filed under artwork, autobiography, blog posting, farm boy, feeling sorry for myself, humor, Iowa, irony, Paffooney

Time Marches On

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The basketball weekend was wild and wicked and mostly unsatisfying.  ISU advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.  But Iowa was taken out easily by Villanova.  And the UNI Panthers fought the Texas A&M Aggies to a two-overtime loss.  It was a better showing than last year.  Better than Iowa has done in a long time.  Still, it would’ve been better if there had been even one more victory.  Sorry.  Success makes me greedy.  Maybe the Iowa State Cyclones can win again and make it better.

Over the weekend I discovered that giving up taking the blood pressure medicine I was on because of rising drug prices may have saved my life.  The drug they put me on reduces blood pressure by suppressing adrenaline.  It has side effects that robs the body of energy.  It has also been proven to elevate certain chemicals in the body that collect in the lungs and hamper lung functions.  This explains why I have COPD.  It also explains why I have been feeling better after I stopped taking the medication.  Maybe I have to start thanking my piratical health insurance company for refusing to pay for anything and forcing me to give up medication that may have been killing me.

I have been getting viewer traffic on this blog at higher rates than ever.  I just went through a period of ten straight days of 50-plus views per day.  I went as high as 150 on Sunday the 13th and hit over a hundred one other time as well.  I am looking at it as a good thing because I don’t actually believe the NSA takes my conspiracy theory posts seriously and isn’t closely monitoring me as a potential tinfoil-hat problem.  (You know the tinfoil hat is supposed to make it harder for the government to read your mind, right?)  So, there is some degree of confidence that I am getting away with stuff because I am hiding behind the mask of writing humor.

Anyway, today’s post is merely a time-waster meant to keep my string of every-day posting alive and keep me in practice writing down words and ideas.  There is never a guarantee that they will be funny ideas, or thoughtful ideas, or even coherent ideas.  That is the nature of writing.  You can’t always be Tolstoy.  Even Tolstoy wasn’t Tolstoy sometimes.  (Except that technically he was always Tolstoy.  You know what I mean.)  Now let’s see what the NSA makes of that.

 

 

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Filed under healing, humor, Iowa, medical issues, tinfoil hats, writing

Elmer Mater Does Good!

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I am a graduate of both Iowa State University, where I earned my Bachelor’s Degree in English, and the University of Iowa where I got my remedial master’s degree so I could teach English.  It sometimes makes rooting for college sports difficult due to divided loyalties.  But not yesterday.  Yesterday we rocked the NCAA basketball tournament.  The Iowa Hawkeyes beat tenth-seeded Temple 72 to 70.  The Iowa State Cyclones beat Iona 94 to 81.  And my little sister’s team, the UNI Panthers, even stunned the tournament by beating Texas with a last second shot 75 to 72.  All three Iowa teams in the tournament advanced to the second round.  It was the first time ever.  And Iowa State is looking especially good as an advancing number 4 seed.  I rarely get such a chance to gloat over Elmer Mater’s success.  (I do realize it is supposed to be Alma Mater, but we are Iowa country folk… Elmer sounds more likely.)

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NCAA Basketball Tournament - First Round - Northern Iowa v Texas

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – MARCH 18: Paul Jesperson #4 of the Northern Iowa Panthers celebrates with his teammates after hitting a half court three pointer at the buzzer to defeat the Texas Longhorns with a score of 75 to 72 during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Chesapeake Energy Arena on March 18, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

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Filed under humor, Iowa, sports

Timeline – Part 2

Val B22You may remember that yesterday I was giving a run-down of my various Home Town Novel projects according to the order they supposedly happen in real time (measured in years).  Here is what I went over yesterday;

Superchicken, set in 1974, the first Home Town Novel that I completed.

The Baby Werewolf (also possibly titled The Wolf in the Attic), set in the Fall of 1974, not yet completed.

The Forever Boy, set in Spring 1975, not yet written in manuscript form.

Sweet Pickles, set in the Fall of 1974 and Spring of 1975, half written, but possibly too graphic to publish.

Under Blue Glass, set in 1977 and not yet written in manuscript form.

When the Captain Came Calling, is set in 1983-84, the manuscript is currently at 25,000 words and being worked on.

And the novel I am editing for publication this week, Snow Babies, set in the Winter of 1984.  Snow Babies is the story of how the small town survives the raging blizzard and faces the prospect of freezing to death.  Valerie Clarke, in the picture above, is the central character in a large cast trying to avoid being the one the snow spirits have come to claim.

The second generation of Norwall Pirates, the boys’ club of dreamers, goofballs, and liars, have come to be led by a girl, Mary Philips and Valerie is the second girl ever to join the club.

Crooner

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The next novel has undergone two transformations.  It started as a book called Little Boy Crooner.  It is about an orphan from France who comes to live with ne’er-do-well Iowegian relatives.  Homesick and deeply troubled, the boy has discovered a natural talent for karaoke, and has a voice that people come from miles away to hear.  Then, the clowns of the Dreamlands began invading this story and had to be renamed.  It is now called Sing Sad Songs… with Clowns.  I may, however change the name to just Sing Sad Songs.

 

Sing Sad Songs and the next novel in the series, Fools and Their Toys, happen at the same time in 1985-86.  They not only share a setting and many of the same characters, but they share a villain and many of the same plot-shaping events.  They are, however, very different stories.

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Fools and Their Toys is the story of autistic Murray Dawes.  Because he has never really been able to communicate before, his turning point comes when a new member of the family, an adopted little brother, makes for him a ventriloquist’s dummy in the form of a zebra.  He calls it Zearlop and uses it to unleash the hidden intelligence that was there through all those years when other people thought he was retarded.  Unfortunately, just as Murray is blossoming, a serial killer comes along, targeting young boys.  More unfortunately still, some from the area believe Murray may be the killer.

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Leadership of the Pirates is passed from Mary to Valerie.  And in 1988 I have set my current contest novel The Magical Miss Morgan.  Valerie passes the leadership of the Pirates to her highly imaginative and extremely annoying cousin Timothy Kellogg.  Tim is a the second most important character in the story of the teacher, Miss Morgan, who loves to teach.  Miss Morgan is the sister of original Pirate wizard, Milt Morgan.  Because of her brother, she inherits responsibility for a local war between good and evil fairies, while at the same time trying to save her job from evil principals, parents, and school board members and teach a lesson or two worth remembering forever.  This full manuscript novel is currently being judged for the contest, and will be submitted for publication after.

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Tim Kellogg is one of two main characters in the next novel, The Bicycle-Wheel Genius.  Orben Wallace, the inventor, is the title character who may have accidentally created a time machine.  The novel is set in the years from 1988 to 1990, and it is about how the genius’ old inventions come back to haunt him as he tries to solve the problem of having invented a time machine, having worked on mysterious government projects, and having helped to fight off an alien invasion.  This novel is also complete and merely awaiting the proper time to get published.

 

Catch a Falling Star is the published novel that started this blog and my dream of making it as a novelist.  It is set in 1990 and tells the story of when the Telleron alien empire of frog-like fin-headed aliens fail to invade Norwall, Iowa because they hadn’t reckoned on meeting the Pirates.See Catch a Falling Star on Amazon here.

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I guess I leave it here for today.  It seems there is enough more to fill another blog… Part 3.

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Filed under aliens, characters, clowns, humor, Iowa, novel plans, NOVEL WRITING, Paffooney, publishing, Snow Babies, writing humor

Mason City in Pictures

We went to Mason City, Iowa on July 6th to see the new statues in the downtown business area.  This is a post shortened by the need for travel, but because a picture is worth a thousand words, this must be a nine thousand-word essay.

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Filed under humor, Iowa, photo paffoonies