Category Archives: Tempest Tarn

Things to do in N.W. Iowa when it’s -21 outside….

Today, the temp hovered around -1, with windchill to -21 and 25 mph winds. And here’s how we spent the day:

7 a.m.: wake up to walk the dogs before driving 45 minutes to Quaker meeting. Open back door and find excessive frost on the screen door:


Remember how painful it was to walk dogs 2 weeks ago, when wind chill was -16. Reflect that at least two Iowans have died of exposure this month, following one-car accidents. Avoid making eye-contact with dogs. Go back to bed.

9 a.m.: Get up a second time. Crank the heat up to 74 so the basement will be at least 64 when going down to shower. Shower. Dry hair, feed cats, feed bird, feed dogs. Do not say the word “walk.” Do not look at the back door. Do not make eye contact.

9:10 a.m.: If you’re a little green parrot, gobble down breakfast. You never go outside anyway, so what do you care?


10 a.m: In a fit of guilt, rearrange living room furniture so loveseat is under window and Violet can look outside.


10:30: If you’re Violet, look outside for half an hour and then go sleep on your pad in the bathroom. Do they think a comfy window seat will make you forget the complete absence of a walk?

11 a.m.: If you’re Ricky, mope because someone still hasn’t taken you for a walk.


11:15 a.m.: Go outside to prove it’s not too cold to take a walk. The sun is shining, even.


11:16 a.m.: Walk around outside. Stay in lee of garage because it really is freaking cold and windy outside.

11:20 a.m.: Come back inside. Mope some more — people control everything and could probably make the weather better if they wanted to. Everybody hates you and you hope they noticed that you did not touch your breakfast (but Violet gobbled it down after eating hers, so the drama of an untouched bowl is kind of lost).


Noon: Have lunch. Remove 4 of the licorice whips before taking the picture.


12:30 – 2:30 p.m.: Work on patchwork tote bag.


2:35 p.m.: Memorialize patchwork with digital camera. Realize two of the same patches are right next to one another. Decide not to care.


2:40 to 3:45 p.m.: Take nap on bed, with dogs. Even though they’ve been sleeping all day, they love nap time with their person. Must be some weird pack thing. Oh, and they expect a walk afterwards, as almost always happens. When getting up, don’t make eye contact.

4:00 p.m.: Check the weather. Wind chill has warmed up to -19.

4:15 p.m.: For no good reason, take picture of self with bird.


4:30 p.m.: Realize you’re bored and probably need a good walk. It’s still too cold outside.

4:45 p.m: Feed cats, bird, dogs.

4:50 -5:10 p.m.: Play indoor tennis ball chase with Ricky while simultaneously playing plush ball toss/catch with Violet. Raised heart rates and mild satisfaction ensue for all involved.

5:15 p.m.: Decide to make bean soup with cornmeal dumplings.

5:17 p.m.: Realize there aren’t enough canned beans.

5:18 p.m.: Or cornmeal.

5:20 p.m.: Make tomato soup and a toasted cheese sandwich.

5:21-5:23 p.m: Wonder why everyone in the world except for you and your immediate family calls it “grilled cheese” rather than “toasted cheese.”

5:25 p.m.: Settle down with dinner and season three of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

6 p.m.: Realize you have reading responses to grade.

6:02 p.m.: Decide not to grade them. Ask self what’s the point of being the teacher if you can’t not grade stuff? Turn up T.V. and eat some more licorice.

9:00 p.m.: check temperature and wind chill. Both are the same, zero degrees. Resolve to walk dogs in morning before school.

9:10 p.m.: Write blog entry.

9:45 p.m.: Finish blog entry. Wonder if one or two licorice whips may have escaped your notice. Wander off in search of them.


Coming ’round again….

Regular readers may remember that I spent much of last January in the bathtub, drinking fruit juice with brandy and tearfully pretending I wasn’t really worried about my looming breast surgery.

I’ve got to say, this January is progressing in a much more satisfactory manner.

After returning from a sybaritic 8 days in Kansas, I spent a few days hanging out with the livestock, reading mystery novels, and buying a bit of fabric. This week, I’ve cut out and halfway finished a corduroy skirt, spent a morning at a friend’s house piecing quilts for Project Linus,* and spent last night at another friend’s house with her, her almost-4-year-old daughter, buddy Kathy, and three other friends, having Craft Night. I knitted,** Kathy and Donna made earrings, Katherine cross-stitched, Ellen knitted, Stella, the four year old, strung a necklace and asked endless questions, and Chase, our host, embroidered a quilt square AND made earrings — her first pair ever, perfect and artsy. But we like her anyway.  Next Tuesday we will quilt for Project Linus again, and Wednesday have another craft night.

Lest we forget, however, the fleeting nature of contentment, my yearly mammogram is happening about an hour from now. Cross your fingers, please, for a good, clean reading — I’m all out of brandy and I haven’t scrubbed the tub in a couple of months.

*not that I know much at all about quilting, nor did my buddy Kathy. But Bev, whose house and fabric and project is was, marshaled our forces like a general d’calico, and graciously ripped out our mistakes without (too much) comment.

**Xmas present for my friend Robin. Robin, you’ll be getting this around Ground Hog Day, ‘kay?***

***and Jennifer, I haven’t forgotten you. Your prezzie is half crocheted and will be finished next time I settle down for an evening of Angel, first season.****

****In A Christmas Carol, Dickens asks us to keep Christmas in our hearts all year round. Crafters, of course, do just that, but with a sense of frustration Dickens probably didn’t intend.

Insidious Midwesternization

I would have laughed, scoffed even, if a year or so ago someone had told me, "you will spend the evening of Saturday, July 15, 2006, sitting in a hot tub in nw Iowa, eating Dove ice cream miniatures* and watching fireflies. When the wind shifts to bring you a whiff of pig manure, you will sniff, decide it’s not so stinky, and reach for another beer."

*which are FABULOUS

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I’m the Peanutbutter M&M Queen….

So yesterday I attended the annual Storm Lake Star Spangled Spectacular (we’re heavy on alliteration here in the cornbelt). The parade started at 10:30 and went on for over an hour. In that hour plus, maybe 8 floats went by.* One troupe of horseback riders. One high school band. One gaggle of middle-aged men in Shriner fezzes, driving funnycars. Seven or eight groups of people representing different nationalities, some in traditional dress, which was neat. And the entire rest of the parade was tractors, car dealers, politicians (often also car dealers), and agricultural queens. Oh, and riding lawnmowers moving in synchronized patterns, like square dancers.

The agricultural queens included the Buena Vista County Pork Queen and her court of Pork Princesses,** the Schaller Popcorn Queen, the Buena Vista Fair Queen and Little Miss, and, I believe, a 4-H Queen; I lost count among the all the tractors and politicians.
I’m sure agricultural queens have a long and rich history (seriously) and I don’t want to make too much fun of the traditions of my new hometown. But Pork Princess? Makes me picture Carrie Fisher in white overalls with a breaded chop over each ear.

The parade was ultimately satisfying, however, in a hometown kind of way. EVERYBODY either came to watch the parade or to march in it, and the route went along the lake front. Afterwards, we strolled through the connected lake parks, eating pork burgers and popcorn and funnel cakes.*** The sun was shining, the humidity was low, people were friendly, and a good time was had by me.

*The Iowa Agricultural Authority or some such organization had a float that was a wooden platform with their name painted on the side. That’s it — no plants, no animals, no people, no tissue paper roses. Nothing remotely agricultural, living (or dead), on the platform. I wonder if I’m the only viewer who found that ominous?

**The Pork ladies threw candy to the crowd, like everyone else. Shouldn’t they have been tossing pork rinds, or maybe bacon strips?

***If they need a funnel cake queen**** next year, I’m their gal.

****At my age, I’m really more of a funnel cake dowager. Which is okay, ’cause dowagers get to be eccentric, then crabby, and then we go take a nap.

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It’s cold in space…and in Iowa

We have had a lovely fall here in n.w. Iowa. Sunny days, cool nights, brightly colored leaves that slowly fell to carpet the sidewalks with a satisfying crunch beneath my sneakers. Mornings have been jacket weather for some weeks, but afternoons have required only a sweatshirt, if that. I love me some Iowa autumn.

For a month or so, I’ve been asking various students and colleagues about Iowa winters, and the most common responses I’ve received are 1) a quiet, throaty chuckle and 2) a comment that the worst part is the wind. Yesterday winter came to Storm Lake and I’m here to tell you, neither the chucklers nor the windies prepared me for anything like this.

First, calling the wind "bad" is an understatement that ranks with FEMA’s early characterization of Hurricane Katrina, and I say this as one who lived with the yearly March gusts of Reno, Nevada, where the wind howls over the Sierra snowpack and screams down the valley and through the artificial canyons of the downtown casino buildings. The cold wind here in Storm Lake scours through town like Mother Nature’s own frigid brillo pad, intent on scraping cheeks and chins and noses and knuckles down to the very bone.

The other thing about this nw Iowa winter is the way it arrived: instantaneously. One day I’m wondering if I really need a light jacket for my afternoon walk and the next day — literally — snow is falling. And while the snow itself was picturesque, when it stopped the wind started up and blew it crosswise all over town and into my face no matter which direction I turned. That same wind is still blowing, and I’m starting to wonder if it will continue through the next millennium.

I once read a short story about a woman living in a sod house on the prairie. The constant wind drove her mad and she killed her family and gave herself to the wolves. This makes a lot more sense to me now; it’s probably nice and warm and, most importantly, non-windy, in a wolf’s stomach.

In the absence of wolves, however, the best I can do is knit myself a hat. I’m making it fast, and I’ll post some pics when done. Until it’s complete, maybe I’ll tie the cats nose-to-tail and wear them on my head. What’s that you say? The wind might be driving me mad? Nonsense. Mad would be wearing Zeke on my head — he’s too small to warm much more than an ear.

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There’s no lake like Storm

I’ve been living here in n.w. Iowa* for nearly 3 months and I’m almost embarrassed to admit how easily I’ve acclimated.

How acclimated, you ask? Well, when I first moved here, I could detect more than eleven levels of offensive odor coming from the Tyson hog works on the other end of town; I closed my windows for all but level one, wrinkled my nose at everything above a 3, and tried to stay indoors during 5-11. Now I recognize just three levels of abattoir odor: What a nice day, Oh yeah, we have a slaughterhouse in town, and Holy Mother of GAAHH! I will shut the windows on a GAAHH day if it occurs to me and I’m already up.

How acclimated? Last Saturday I drove 60 miles to Sioux City for the sole purpose of visiting the Hobby Lobby. I bought a book of knitting patterns and 6 skeins of yarn and then I had a bagel and cream cheese at the cafe next door to Hobby Lobby. I was there and back by noon and it was the absolute highlight of my week.

How acclimated? I’m already contemplating entering some of my knitting in the county fair next summer. I’ve had idle thoughts about learning how to can. I ate some jambalaya in the school cafeteria yesterday — jambalaya meant to appeal to native Midwestern students who find dark-light swirl rye bread disturbingly exotic — and I thought it was too spicy.**

So what does my easy and near-complete*** transition into rural life mean? Am I simply that plastic, molded by my surroundings and possessing little or no true character? Was I somehow warped by my extensive childhood viewing of Green Acres and Petticoat Junction and only now discovering my inner gingham dress? Or (and this is the truth, I feel), is Reno, NV, where I’ve lived the majority of my life, really just a big small town, as it used to claim on its welcome arch?

I guess we won’t know the truth for sure unless and until I put my hair in pigtails and take a bath in the water tower.

*I was going to write rural n.w. Iowa, but then I realized it was a thrice-repetitive term.
**I cut the spicy taste with a slice of white bread spread with oleo.
***I WILL NOT eat Miracle Whip. One must hold the line somewhere.

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Inez’s Guide to Storm Lake


Storm Lake, Iowa, 50588 sits on the northern edge of a small body of water also called Storm Lake, which might seem obvious until you contemplate the icy isle that is Greenland.

According to various online sources (and they couldn’t print it if it wasn’t true, could they?*), Storm Lake occupies 3200 acres, is a natural, glacial lake, and is the fourth-largest lake in Iowa. The folks here certainly seem to enjoy it — I see sail boats, other types of boats,** jetskis, and swimmers. I see lots of people fishing, too.

The city maintains very nice parks and docks along about 1/2 of the lake’s shoreline.

If I sit sideways to my living room window and scrunch down a bit, I can see the lake — I’m living about 1 block north of it. I have yet to actually do anything lake-related, other than walk or bike along the shore paths. My brother-in-law Leroy offered me a plan*** to meet a boater/fisherman, but I don’t think I’m quite that desperate for companionship or fish at this point.

And so, some pics of Storm Lake:

Boatpierpark Parklake1

Lakepier Lakeshore

*A common tenet of university freshman writers — trust me.

**Like I can identify basic boat types. Sail boats have sails, all other boats don’t.  Give me a break, I’m from Nevada.

***He said I should put on some make-up, or even just do my hair up nicely,**** and ask a fisherman to teach me how to fish.***** The request and the hair will evidently place the man completely in my power.******

****I can’t decide if Leroy is attributing low expectation for female beauty to the average fisherman or if Linda has trained him to appreciate the least of her efforts — in which case I say "You go, girl!" I too like my men to be absolutely bowled over if I wear a clean shirt and apply some Chapstick.

*****Thus feeding me for life, or at least making me stinky for life.

******Were I Linda, I’d be asking Leroy some pointed questions about his own solo fishing trips…

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