Weekly Photo Challenge: Silhouette


This was one of the last photos I took on my quick trip to Iowa last weekend. It had rained earlier, and the sky was full of incredible cloud formations, but it was getting dark quickly. South of Marcus, I saw these 7 identical little storage bins silhouetted against the western sky. (I’m sure they have a name, but I just can’t think of what it would be.) One of my favorites from the trip.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Room


Weekly Photo Challenge: Room

This is a photo of my parents’ living room in their home in Marcus, Iowa. The carpet was 1980s orange. The curtains (according to the stories I heard) were sewn by my great-aunt, my grandmother’s sister. My great-grandparents lived in this house many years before my father and mother bought it and retired here.

On this day we moved all the furniture on the front and side lawns for my dad’s house sale. It was a beautiful September day in 2010, and the day after that we cleaned the last things out of the house and closed the door forever. My father died in January 2013, and I have not returned to Marcus since. I hope to do that this summer sometime.

When I took this photo, I remember how the sun poured into the room, and how it was so quiet inside. I remember the muffled sound of the auctioneer as he sold away the things of my parents’ life together.

Racing the storm


Racing the Storm

                                              Jagged rage flicks overhead,
grumbles in primeval throat.
                                              Maddened cloaks of sea green
                                                         shroud tunnels of tall corn.
                                             Truck headlights skitter over
splintered cottonwood sentries.
You look back at rosy sunset,

then grind clutch,
spit gravel.

I wrote this short poem awhile ago, and it appeared in a lit magazine called Sliver of Stone, which is produced by students in the creative writing program at Florida International University in Miami, Florida.

At this time of year, I remember how quickly the clouds could turn that sickly shade of pea green in Iowa. How the wind would come up and then it got real still, and then how the hail would come down. And how my mother would stand outside and watch the sky as it bubbled and churned, especially if my father was still out working in the field.



A poem finds a home


Doing the Dishes, 1966

The farm wife filled the zinc with water so hot
it steamed. Then, plunged her hands in.

Glasses, first. Assorted sizes bought at farm auctions.
Then Melmac plates, bowls, platters,
with deep scratches and turquoise flowers.

Next, flatware, carving knives, serving spoons:
A delicate rose pattern, some with bent tines,
others with advertising on the handles.

Finally, pots and pans.
Burned bits of pork roast and fried chicken soaked,
while she washed the scarred kitchen table
where eight of us knew our place.

As they dried dishes with embroidered flour sacks,
she listened in on her daughters’ days –
jokes, bickering, small victories, jealousies.

From the kitchen window, she looked out
on a broken-down windmill, cornfields and a gravel road,
where distant trees marked neighbors’ farms.

In summer, she lingered as a breeze lifted the curtain.
In winter, as filigreed frost etched her reflection.


I was pleased to learn yesterday that this poem, which was held prisoner and in limbo for so long because of computer problems on the poetry site’s end, earned an honorable mention award in the 2013 Mississippi Valley Poetry Contest.

1st Place: “The Widd’er Woman” – Jessica Glover
2nd Place: “For wrapping trees in cellophane” – Xan Roberti
3rd Place: “Novena for the Nameless” – Kelly Lynn
Honorable Mention:
“Phoenix” – James K. Zimmerman
“Doing the Dishes, 1966” – Julia Meylor Simpson
There were also 13 finalists in the category.

The poem will appear in their print publication, Off Channel, along with the winners and the finalists in all three categories.

Thank you!

Weekly photo challenge: Windows


This gallery contains 7 photos.

  On one of my last trips with my Dad, we visited the Bogenrief Stained Glass Studios in a reborn elementary school in a sleepy little Iowa town. The studio has had some famous clients and was working on fixing some … Continue reading

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I opened my father’s gift of song this morning


Thoughts of my dad keep bubbling up this morning. First on NPR and then CBS Sunday Morning.

Not thoughts, actually. Musical notes. Humming.

That Bing Crosby parum-pa-pa-pum that feels like a warm blanket.

The NPR story was about a home for the elderly. I just caught the end. An old man was asked to sing “White Christmas” at Christmas morning breakfast. His voice sounded so much like my father’s voice, that I cried as I drove home from spin class.

Warm and true and not quite hitting the high notes. Instead of going home, I drove around until the story ended. I thought that was my message from the cosmos – a reminder of song that once was almost a daily part of my life.

Then I got home and turned on the TV to catch the last half hour of my favorite program – CBS Sunday Morning. That’s when I realized the cosmos was not done with me. The story was about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir – little stories about the singers and their love of music.

Again, I was in tears. My earliest memories of my father was his singing – whether in the choir or sitting in the pew with us. Driving in the car. Working in the basement.

As my siblings and I got older, and it was harder to get us out of bed in the morning, he would put a record on the stereo turntable and crank up the sound and sing along to wake us up.

And my last memories of him are of singing, too. My mother died a few years before my father, so he lived in the house in town for about two years before he moved in with my sister and then to the nursing home.

When I visited, I woke in the morning to his singing in the basement, where he took his shower. He would put an audio tape into his old cassette player and sing along, and the sound worked its way through the whole house. It always made me smile.

So, the old man’s voice on the radio this morning instantly brought me back there. It was a gift wrapped inside the songs of the past.

“… Just like the ones I used to know.”

Thank you, cosmos. Thank you, Dad.

Reading the newspaper

Marcus High School Class of 1975 on Main Street

Marcus High School Class of 1975 on Main Street

Reading the Files from the Past in the Marcus News

110 Years Ago — 1899

Mrs. Scott Zink, 21, died Wednesday, July 19, in the home of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. William Richards. She had contracted typhoid fever on her way to visit them.

90 Years Ago – 1919
John Baertling departed for New York City, New York, where he will sail on a Norwegian liner, the Slavangenfjord, for Sweden. It will be his 14th trip across the briny deep.

70 Years Ago – 1939
Grasshoppers are unusually thick in some places, especially south and east of Marcus.

Mr. and Mrs. W.H. Daubendiek of West Bend recently spent eleven weeks in Germany. They report that the people are very happy and contented with no employment. They enjoy five good meals daily. Mr. Daubendiek feels there will be no war unless someone attacks them.

65 Years Ago – 1944
Donald W. Hendrickson, USMM of Marcus, is another Marcus boy who participated in the invasion of France on D Day.

Weekly photo challenge: Unusual Point of View #2


Weekly photo challenge: Unusual Point of View #2

Love this alley shot of the back side of a great little coffee shop in Des Moines, Iowa.

Celebrating art and poetry

Last night I walked around the periphery of an art gallery reading poetry and looking at the art that had been created in response to these words. It was a real treat — a surprise, a gift. I was almost overwhelmed by the experience. The woman who chose to recreate my poem in art was a calligrapher, so it was a joy to see my words recreated in wispy strands and stars. It was perfect. I  want to thank Kim M. Baker, the poet who conceived the idea, and the Wickford (RI) Art Association, that provided the time and space to make it happen. The exhibit is open through Aug. 25. I hope to return to get my fill of words and art again.

This is the poem that my artist made dance.

Dancing in the Dark

After her Saturday night bath,
the girl donned a worn flannel
nightgown, knee-high socks

and slippers to ward off January
drafts sifting across linoleum.
She sat in front of a black-and-white

TV with her little brothers and sister
awaiting the first popping bubbles
of The Lawrence Welk Show.

On cue they jumped up and circled
round the room, banging into the couch,

then rocking chair and coffee table.
She dreamed of being a Lennon Sister,
tap dancing with Bobby and Barbara.

Later, she ascended stairs to a bedroom
filled with two double beds, three
sisters, and a hundred unshared dreams.

She fell asleep to the beat of a winter
blizzard roaring down from the North,
past solitary farms and barren fields.

The tempest rattled the windows
until she opened one eye to see Bobby
urging her to join him on the dance floor.

And she stepped out into that vast
ballroom, took his hand and tapped
across silver stars till morning.



Her Rolling Pin


Another poem that is in the works. The final poem will probably look different from this first draft. Any comments? Any suggestions? Any confusion? Any questions?

My Mother’s Rolling Pin

The wood is rich, warm, almost oily,
from years of shaping pie dough, the lard pressed
deep into its solid core.

Attached are mismatched handles:
one painted red, one of blonde wood.
Surely jerry-rigged by my father to make do for a day.

My mother made pies, especially in summer,
when fruits made their way into her kitchen
in children’s pails and bushel baskets.

But it has been years since she patted dough
on a floured board and set her weight
against the misshapen lump.

She rolled up and down, back and forth.
A sprinkling of flour dusted on a sticking place,
and the dough stretched and gave.

And then the folding and unfolding into the pie tin.
And then into the oven, crust browning, juices
oozing out, scenting the curtains, tugging us in.

I slip my hands around the grooves my mother made.
And then I hear what I’d never heard before.
She was humming: so soft, so sweet, so sure.

Here, then, her brush, her pen, her dance, her song,
her flute, her sculptor’s knife, her poem.
And the artist I never knew.