Wednesday, August 22, 2012


I opened a Facebook account today.

I have very mixed emotions about this decision. For years, I have avoided Facebook like I should've avoided the poison ivy at our new home. I avoided it even though just about everyone I know – family, friend, acquaintance, coworker, stranger – has an account. I avoided it despite the fact that there are 800 million regular users (800 million!) worldwide, according to Facebook.

No, I didn't avoid it because I think Facebook represents some nefarious plot by a stateless organization to take over the world or infiltrate our minds. I didn't avoid it because I'm adverse to social media. I do have a Twitter account, after all. (And, I like it.) I avoided Facebook, because, quite simply, my life is cluttered enough. It's complicated enough. I've got more going on in my life than I can keep track of, much less stay ahead. Also, I know who my friends are, and I certainly know my family. I can reach out to them in other ways.

Lastly, I have no burning desire to find out what friends of yore, long lost flames and people with whom I've had random encounters are doing.

I like things simple, more or less. Facebook makes things not simple. Therefore, I had no driving interest to join.

So, why the heck did I do it?

I've opened a professional account. It will display the stories my colleagues and I are producing describing the discoveries, findings and advances that are taking place at the University of Iowa. It is another means to communicate those stories for anyone who's interested.

You will find precious little information about me on my page. You'll find one picture – my profile pic – which is more of a tongue-in-cheek shot than anything else. You won't find pictures of my family, and you won't find dispatches of our lives. That's what this blog is for.

So, if you're interested in what I'm writing about, take a look. If you're not, then you probably won't be too interested.

But now I guess I can look up all those people I had mildly wondered about. All 800 million of them.

Monday, August 13, 2012

More Than Meets The Eye

It's 9:30, I'm tired, and it's a trying week at work and with our new house. So, I'll make this a quick one.

We've been taking the boys with us as we work on the house. And, man, there's a lot to do – far more than Michelle and I imagined. A lot of it is stuff that we did with our house in Rhode Island: tearing up carpets, removing clutter, painting trim, painting rooms, landscaping, etc. On top of that, some of the things we did in our house in Rhode Island, such as redoing walls and refinishing hardwood floors, we're not attempting to do here.

So, why is it taking so long? There are two quick answers here, neither of which we took fully into account: Bigger house and children.

Our house in Rhode Island is about 1300 square feet. Our house in Mt. Vernon is 2200, or 69 percent larger than the Rhode Island home. I guess that's supersizing, although I'd submit our home (with one bathroom, mind you) was more of a mini than a regular. Anyway, painting trim, walls, cabinets – you name it – in the new house is taking that much longer due to the fact that it is larger. Duh. Should've thought of that one.

When we bought our home in Rhody more than 8 years ago, we had no children. So, we could work anytime we needed, for as long as we needed, until the job was done. And when we worked, it was both of us (for the most part), so we covered more ground, workwise, than one person. Now, we have the two boys, and that means that usually only one of us is able to do work. Typical example: This evening. I drove to our home in Mt. Vernon all hepped up to do some work. When I got there, Michelle was knee deep in cabinet painting, so it really made no sense for her to stop and take the children to her mother's and sister's. So, I did. Of course, by the time I wrangled the children through bathtime, dinner, brushing, book reading, singing and sleep, it was 8:30 p.m., and I still had dinner to eat, shower and shave and a work email check to do. It would be pushing 10 if I had returned to the house. No sense in that.

Tomorrow will be another game of pass-the-children baton. Who takes the handoff this time?

Tune in!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Infested with Ivy

I've got a pretty good case of poison ivy.

It started two weekends ago, when I was clearing much of the overgrowth that had been choking the yard at our new home. Although I had been warned that poison ivy had been spotted to and fro, I clambered about clumsily, too intent on weeding stuff out to parse between plants.

Within a day or two, groups of mottled, red bumps dotted my arm, signaling, I assumed, that I had brushed against poison ivy. Sure, it itched a little, but really it wasn't a big deal. An annoyance, yes, but little more. I did nothing.

For a relatively closeted city slicker, I thought I was taking my lumps from nature pretty well.

A week went by, and last weekend came. I resumed my clearing of overgrowth, and this time, I took note of the poison ivy. It was everywhere, the 3-leaved shoots rising from mazes of vines that snaked along the ground, tenaciously anchored to the soil like a series of tents staked to the ground. Fascinated, I began pulling the shoots, then the vines, out of the ground. I'd pull one plug, only to discover that it was connected to another vine. And I pulled that. It was connected to yet another vine. The network of vines was so dense, so confusing, crisscrossing every which way, that I finally gave up. It was too hard to follow.

By Saturday night, I noticed some welts on my left leg, in the inner part above my knee. By Sunday, the welts had migrated to my left ankle, and a matrix of little bumps had appeared on my right arm just below the wrist. Meanwhile, the bothersome blotches on my left arm had suddenly become a lot itchier, as if they had become energized by the Red, Bad-Ass Revolution overtaking my body. By the time I went to bed, new welts had popped up on my right leg. And, they itched. All of them. A lot. I was miserable.

By Monday morning, I realized I was itchy above my left eye, under the brow line, and on the bridge of my nose. Guess what? The ivy had made a bold attack to my face. Was there any stopping the advance?

Desperate, I asked coworkers if there was some magic elixir. No, they said. But you might find temporary relief in something called Calamine. I was out the door before they could spell it.

So, as I sit here tonight, I am covered in a Calamine-like balm, trying to keep the severe itch – and the wicked temptation to scratch – at bay. I don't know how I'm going to get any sleep tonight.

Poison ivy, you have my respect.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Rains Came (Finally)

We have been baking in the nation's heartland.

Most know this already, at least in some way. Most have read about the intense heat. But my dad and his wife excepting (who experience extreme hear in central Texas each summer), it's hard to fully appreciate how hot it has been here this summer, when you break out in a full sweat in a matter of a few paces. Most have read about the drought gripping Iowa and the agricultural belt. But it's hard to fully appreciate how dry it has been unless (again, excepting my dad and his wife, who endured an epic drought last fall) you see swaths of grass gone brown and expanses of corn fields turn from aspiring, green shoots to withered, tan stalks. It's a real eye opened, I tell you.

It just hasn't rained here.

That is, until today, when we got a real doozy of a storm.

I was at our new house, bagging all the leaves, sticks (I never knew there could be so many sticks in one place.) and yard debris. It was late morning, and humid. It had rained a little on and off for a half-hour, but considering how much we need, it was more the sky spitting in our eye than delivering anything substantive. I had started to think this would be another day of promise unfulfilled, when I looked to the west. The sky had turned green, and it grew completely still, nary a breath of air.

I knew something was coming, so I began to collect the lawn bags and take them into the garage. Within minutes, the storm hit, a freight train of thunder, lightning, wind and pounding rain. It was downright awesome in its intensity. I rushed around the yard like a fool, collecting the yard implements, then sprinting to my car to roll up the windows, then dashing into the house to close the storm windows.

Then I waited in the dark when the power went out.

Michelle, meanwhile, was at her mother's and sister's house experiencing much the same. Except while I dealt with gushing water and gusty winds, Michelle watched with some degree of horror as 70-mph winds sheared off huge limbs from the maple tree just behind the house, blew lawn chairs and jettisoned branches like javelins against the windows. It must've been a little like being in nature's war zone.

Ten minutes later, the storm belt had passed. But even in that short time, it dropped 1 1/2 inches of precious water on the soil and crops. I think we got more in our little town.

Scary? Yes, a little. But more than worth it.