Friday, December 18, 2015

2015 Christmas Greetings

Volume XLII                                                                                                                December 25, 2015

Christmas 2015

Although this is only our 42nd consecutive Christmas letter, we have actually lived in Monmouth for 52 years.  Yogi Berra said it best.  It’s the type of place where, “It gets late early out here.”  Our cure for this in the last few years has been to head to Arizona right after the New Year.  That’s where the time shift makes it late even earlier. Whether early or late our Arizona outings have given us the time to do different things more.  We spent  January, February, and part of March last year happily ensconced in Tucson where we enjoyed the weather and had a great time walking  in Sabino Canyon. This was our second year in the same location and we can now even find our way to the store without getting lost. Besides the weather we have found that Tucson offers marvelous restaurants, a fine library system,  and great access to the arts.  So keeping Yogi Berra in mind, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”  

After our return to Monmouth Jim barely had time to get his golf clubs polished before we left for Europe and a ten day cruise on the Danube.   The Budapest waterfront at night was clearly the most beautiful sight. The most moving experience was the Terezin Concentration Camp where both Christians and Jews perished during WWII. 

Following our river voyage we jetted off to Helsinki for a week with son David and his family. The biggest news from there, as you can see, is that David and his wife Lotta have added another precious jewel to their family.  We were, unfortunately,  gone before the birth,  but hope you will all give a giant welcome to Selma Sofia Elisabeth who arrived on September 25th at  9 pounds and 20 ½ inches.  

She joins her 3 year old sister, Frida who loves to dress up in princess garb and show her growing independence.  She is now attending an English Language Day Care, which will assure a bi-lingual future.  With Lotta still on maternity leave, David continues to spin computer magic from his high in the sky office at the Kone Elevator Company.

I apologize for not including as much levity in this year’s letter as you might have come to expect, but some years generate dark clouds and this was one of them.  Jan was diagnosed with breast cancer in July and since then we have been devoted to doing what needs to be done to effect the cure. She will finish her six chemo treatments just before Christmas and then start six weeks of radiation in late January.  She has been a trouper and luckily so far has suffered minimal side effects. We are full of hope that her toughness and the recent advances in treatment will stop the disease in its tracks.       

 Returning to the good side of life, we have had the support of many friends and neighbors and especially our daughter Amy and her family who have made several trips from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to help with yard work, food prep, and Christmas decorations.  In between Amy continues her teaching career in Cedar Rapids and Todd continues to work difficult irregular shifts at his job.  They have had a two year double whammy as they spent long hours tending to Todd’s dad during his serious illness last year and are now taking up the slack here.  They get a special salute, for like most caregivers, they often go unsung.

Real joy will kick in this spring when Amy and Todd’s nineteen year old son (TJ) gets his diploma from DMAAC (Des Moines Area Community College) with a degree in Fire Science.  He is already working part time for a Des Moines area Fire Department.  Next fall he plans to continue at DMAAC to complete his Paramedic Certification.  We are so proud to see him walking a path toward service and saving lives.  Second son Mikel is in eighth grade and looking forward to attending High School next year.  He just got his first motorized set of wheels—a moped.  He also must have eaten the same magic beans his brother ate because they now both tower over grandma and grandpa by some inches.     

And, as Walter Cronkite used to say, “That’s the way it is,” this Christmas.  In spite of her illness Jan has continued to serve on the library board and keep up with her American Association of University Women (AAUW) duties.  Jim, meanwhile, has been retrieving his old Howard Johnson cooking skills and learning how to do laundry.  He has found welcome relaxation with good friends at the local golf course and continues his ever expanding duties on the board at the Warren County History Museum.  And he still does like the sardonic not quite PC joke, like the new transgender Chia Barbie. You apply water and she sprouts whiskers.  It comes with a miniature shaver and tiny tweezers for ingrown hairs. With that and a warning that you heed Marianne Moore’s admonition that “You mustn’t be so open-minded that your brains fall out,” we do pray that any storm clouds that entered your lives this year will be erased by a mild winter and warm spring showers.    
Merry Christmas!   

Jim and Jan De Young 
P.S. We have a new e-mail address.  Out with the old and send to the new.  (

DISCLAIMER:  This fall it was my intention to fully document our marvelous Danube Cruise, but as this letter indicated, there was a change in priorities as a result of Jan's illness.  Given that we will not be able to make it to Arizona this winter, I will devote some cold weather down time to getting some of the many photos I took up on this blog.  Look for Episode #1 Budapest coming to this space sometime soon.  

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Warren County History Museum Supports Internationalism

This past weekend the Warren County History Museum drew a large crowd to its "Christmas Around the World" holiday event.  Recognizing that the demographics of our own community are changing, the committee secured the assistance of international students and resident immigrants from multiple cultures to build a fulfilling afternoon of food, fun, and education.  Nuff said, as the pictures tell the story. 

This is the America we want to see and be!
All photos by Jim

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Goodman Theatre's "The Little Foxes" is a True Classic

You may have wondered what happened to me.  Or maybe not.  I had been a pretty faithful blogger for some time and then time stood still.  On our return this summer from Europe I was ready to start chronicling our Longboat Journey on the Danube and our return to Helsinki. At least a 1000 photos were ready to illustrate the trip.  We had just returned from our trip when my wife's yearly mammogram returned with some suspicious spots.  Within a week she was under the knife and shortly thereafter our oncologist laid out the required treatment package that included six doses of chemotherapy administered at three week intervals.  Then she gets a month to recuperate before six more weeks of radiation. Needless to say our trip and my photos have receded into the background.

We are now fast approaching the 4th of the six chemos and it may be time to start stirring the pudding again for as my title quote says, "Life moves only forward never back" 

So without further ado we take you to the Peoria, IL Airport where we began our long flight to Budapest via Helsinki on June   

Thursday, April 16, 2015

August Wilson's Two Trains Running Goodman Theatre 2015

The Goodman Theatre's 2015  production of August Wilson’s Two Trains Running was beautifully acted and Wilson’s musical prose was allowed its full due in director Chuck Smith’s tasteful rendering . 

You will want to see it if only for its fully detailed and basically loving picture of a group of African-Americans living out their ordinary lives amid but outside of the front line of the racial turbulence of the late sixties.  For the most part their presence and ultimate passing will be unnoted in the annals of the upheavals of the times.  It is not accidental that the thriving business in the neighborhood is a funeral parlor and the restaurant that delivers life (both real food and emotional support) is down to a menu of beans and coffee.  

The diner setting, by the way, seemed to me a bit too large,  too clean and too unused for a location twenty feet away from an encroaching urban renewal rubble pile. The booths looked like they had rarely been occupied and the windows were too large and too clean.  It certainly filled the stage, but this is one of those shows that needs a smaller scale. Designers,  when forced to put it on the stage in a large theatre, are hard pressed to keep it from looking more palatial and roomy than it might have been.   

Nevertheless the world inside the diner is depressing—though not filled with the total bleakness of Harry Hope’s bar in Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh.  Memphis, the proprietor,  seems to have a thing about keeping things clean even if it is Risa, the slow moving waitress,  who seems to be doing all the work.  Inhabitants and customers  all share the dream of a better situation down the line.   Unfortunately most of their yearnings seem to hinge on striking it rich in the numbers racket or cornering the siphoned gasoline market.  Memphis wants a better price for his restaurant and does get it, but it is clear that the community it served will be destroyed and won’t be automatically replaced by a new building somewhere else.  Risa and Sterling want love or acceptance though there may be little future for the couple if he continues to steal rather than working for a living.  Hambone just wants his tiny fair pittance of ham.  There lies the rub.  These wasted,  down and out lives rove in vast numbers through the streets of our inner cities.     

The last scene of this long play has to strain a bit to reach its conclusion.  Sterling leaves with no explanation and I thought he was setting out to get an engagement ring rather than liberating some meat.  Admittedly it is hard to top the romance novel embrace in the next to last scene that garnered cheers and applause from the audience on the day we saw the show.  Thus, when Sterling  returns to hold up a ham to place in Hambone’s coffin, it seems too obliquely tied to that racial locomotive steaming  all too slowly toward the promised land.  We are left with a too small helping, delivered too late for its namesake, and too few portents of a better dinner that might be waiting at one of the next stops.        


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Bye Bye AZ for another year.

We took our last walk in Sabino Canyon on Friday and as usual it did not disappoint.  

Here are a fw of the things that caught our eye.  On the bird front there was no activity in the raven nest but we did manage to see one of the finches sitting on their tiny nest.  Neither one of these produced much in way of pictures.  For that we had to wait until we got on the path behind the dam where the Coopers Hawks live.  I did get a great shot of one of them sitting majestically in a tree near their nest.

New on the scene was this pair of House Finches

And of course the Cactus Wrens were on their stations.

In  spite of our constant trekking in the past two months we even saw a few new flowers.
This is called Mexican Vervain
Jan was thrilled to discover this one on the Bluff Trail. It is the Coulder Hibiscus and it a beauty.
We've seen Baby Bonnets below, but this shot was pretty enough to lobby for a return viewing. .

The butterfly watch turned up an Empress Leilia   

and an Echo Spring Azure munching on a Fiddleneck.

And our Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar was still hanging around. 

We will especially miss the path in the Riparian area that takes us to the little pond behind the dam
We'll off for now and hope to rejoin the blogosphere sometime after we return to the Midwest. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Gila Monster Day at Sabino Canyon

We don't need guides to take us around the canyon anymore.  We can stumble about all by ourselves and still find something to look at that intrigues, excites us, or more likely stumps us.

We started off the day with a good looking Triangle Leaf Bursage.  No problems there.

After some looking in our books this seems to be Dogweed, but there are a hell of a lot of yellow flowers out there.

For instance this may be Desert Senna or it may be some other DYF (damn yellow flower.)

There are a lot of whites too and it doesn't help if two flowers literally on the same Chickory plant sit side by side and don't look any more alike than a Doberman and a Spaniel.

Sometimes identification does get easy though.  This here nasty fellow is a Graythorn Bush and you do not want to tangle with it.

 Another one we are getting pretty good at is Mustard Evening Primrose

And this is Odora with a bit of Lupine thrown in for color

 Jan thinks this is cat claw acacia.  I am not convinced. Answer will have to wait for next year.

No dispute on this one. We have been following the Pipevine on which the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly lays its eggs for several weeks. We saw the eggs and now we are seeing the caterpillars. They are a bit scary looking but don't worry--they're only about an inch long.
You want worry, try this one on.  At the end of our walk and only about 1/4 of a mile from the crowded visitor center, we spied this creature lumbering along just off the trail . The Gila monster is indeed a scary beast.  They are poisonous and if they get ahold of something they don't release it easily. Keep your hands in your pockets and keep your distance.


Great finish to a great day.
Moral: Don't put your camera away until you are back at your car.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Ned's Nature Walk With Anne

Ned's Nature Walk group was so big today that they split it into smaller groups.  We went with, "I stop for plants" Anne.  Our route took us up the Esperero Trail to the intersection with the Rattlesnake Trail and then back down the main road.

What did we see that was new and exciting?     Sandbells.

Then Chia, which is a rather skunky smelling member of the mint family.  Flowers are arranged in little pagoda like balls.  Seeds are in some kind of nutlet and are used in the Chia Pet industry.


We've seen these before but have always had trouble identifying them.  Anne says, and she is the Mustard Queen, that it is the Mustard Desert Primrose.

Again we've seen this before on the cliffs on the Bluff Trail and didn't know its name.  Anne nailed it down as Arizona Spike Moss. It stays brown and dead looking until it gets water and then will green up almost immediately.  A more common name is Resurrection Moss or Vampire Moss as it seems to change so rapidly.

Not at all new as it is everywhere, but the Caliche Globe Mallow can make a pretty picture.

For ID purposes I have generally tried to take closeups of single plants.  That tends to ignore the beauty of mixed blooms that make bouquets all over the desert at this time of year. Here is a nice spread of Chickory, Fairy Dusters, and Sand Bells

As the day warmed up the butterflies started to appear. I think this is an Empress Leilia not a Texan Crescent.

This one matches up nicely in our butterfly cheat book as the Southern Dogface

The critters just don't want to sit very still or pose with their wings open so the guess on this one is provisional. Let's try an Orange Skipperling here as a possible. Click on image to get an enlargement.

Lizards aren't any easier to identify as many of them are able to change colors to blend in with their environment.  We're pretty sure this is the Side-blotched Lizard.

This is a Greater Earless Lizard. 


We had some discussion on this one. I think it might be a female Eastern Collared Lizard; others weighed in as a side-blotched with its normal turquoise speckles on upper back and tail. Look carefully as the head is actually visible center left.  


 Nobody argued here.  It's clearly the Southwestern Stogie Bush.  


MORAL: You can find almost anything in the desert if you look.