First things first – where’s the bathroom?


I’m just one test, group presentation, article, writing portfolio and blog post away from saying so long to my first year ­– junior year – at Mount Mercy. Easy schmeezy compared to what the last couple weeks have been like.

I thought I’d use this post to show you around a little – not what the MMU brochure shows you, but the grit lurking below the manicured surface. (Mostly I just wanted to take photos). Even if you don’t give a rat’s hiney what a day in the life of me at school looks like, indulge me and come along anyway. It’ll be fun.

My first semester’s classes were primarily held in Warde Hall, which was built in 1924 as a convent. I’m sure it hasn’t been remodeled since.  Once I had the lay of my new classes and schedule, survival instincts kicked in. I’d need to secure the basics – bathrooms and coffee. (Do you suppose there’s a correlation?) Warde has neither. Nuns only come in one gender, so they didn’t need many restrooms. Plus, back in the day sisters were apparently the size of gnomes, which explains the size of the stalls. The bathrooms in Warde are so head-shakingly amusing, I knew you’d appreciate an insider’s glimpse:

Don’t be shy…come on in. Back in the 1920’s female humans were known as “LADIES.” We were

ladies#2mostly literate, so could find the toity without having to look for a drawing of a triangle with a circle head and stick legs. I think I would prefer being a LADY who reads to being a triangle.

Aren't they pretty? Makes you want to drop everything and have a tea party.

Aren’t they pretty? Makes you want to drop everything and have a tea party.

Heating registers are also a nice thing about Warde. It reminds me of my childhood.  I’m not sure why the bathrooms and the heating registers they contain are baby-girl lavender. It’s certainly an under-represented color, so I guess it’s a step in the right direction for pastel-equity.

And the stalls? Maybe twenty inches wide, if I’m generous. And the lavender door hits right about where an airplane seat does when you’re flying economy class. Like economy class, there’re neither snacks or cocktails. But you can have all the free toilet paper you like.

You'll need to suck it in girls. These are skinny stalls.

You’ll need to suck it in girls. These are skinny stalls.


Speaking of toilets, we do have those and they are charming, you have to admit. Being in the arts building, they have a certain sculptural sensibility that transcends purpose and place.

And for the safety conscious, there is a stylish fire alarm. Of course it’s nearly twelve feet off the floor. I think I could stand on top of the counter, stack my book bag on my purse as a step stool, then jump a little and I might be able to…to what? I have no idea how to work that thing. There’s no glass window to break and no lever to pull. Did I mention it’s nice to look at?


Enough of the little English major’s room. On to some of the things that made me miss Warde Hall when my second semester was scheduled mostly in the nice new building with modern bathrooms and a coffee shop….

wardehalldoorThere are lots of stairs and the slowest, ricketiest elevator in town. Taking the stairs means you get to listen to the pigeons coo outside the window and soak in a little natural light.


If you walk there from the outside, you get the glossy brochure version of Mount Mercy…

Warde Hall from the outside.

Warde Hall from the outside.

slapaduck-tunnelIf it’s raining cats and dogs so you travel via tunnel, you find some pretty disturbing ideas. Violence is never the answer. Unless the duck slaps you first.


Finally, I’ve been wondering about something all year – why a secret high voltage danger room on a mild-mannered midwest college campus? Is this where the students in several of my classes who inexplicably “dropped” never to be seen again disappeared to?  It’s a mystery novel waiting to be written…

Until someone does so and then assigns it to be read in its entirety by the next day, I’m planning to have a summer that’s restorative of home, heart and relationships.


Platitudes for the weary – from me to you.


Sometimes I’m jealous of my dog. No one ever says to let sleeping mothers lie.

I’m bone weary. And I’m not alone. Whether you have piles of high-stakes papers and research and projects and reading to finish within the next couple weeks, or have other things to do that actually matter – like raising kids or running a business or planting tomatoes – burning the candle at both ends is just not good.

If I weren’t so worn out, I’d muster some sincerity and help out in a meaningful way. But since I’m the proverbial anemic turnip, I’m giving you these helpful platitudes instead.  They’re free, so take what you like. If there’re any you think might be helpful to someone else, I’m not greedy – pass them along. Seriously, I don’t want to have any leftovers:

There’s no rest for the wicked, you get what you pay for (again, this post is free), hang in there baby Friday’s coming, it’ll all be worth it, there’s no “I” in team, such is life, it is what it is (duh.), it’s all good (unless it’s not), winners never quit, God never gives more than you can handle (He does so), it takes teamwork to make the dream work, you’re living the dream (feel better yet?), follow your bliss (What if my bliss is eating cake and wearing tiny sizes, Hmmm?), never give up, rinse and repeat, it’s not rocket science (unless it IS rocket science), just keep trying, what goes around comes around, you are what you eat, Rome wasn’t built in a day, nice guys finish last, age is just a number, work hard play hard, beauty is only skin deep, the customer is always right (No, they’re not.), patience is a virtue, get some beauty rest, pretty is as pretty does, it’s always darkest before the dawn, wash your face before you go to bed, no shirt no shoes no service, what the mind can conceive it can achieve…..come to Me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.

I call dibs on the last one.

You guys take the rest. Please, because they look like they’re starting to mold.

You’re welcome.

Just a few weeks more of this semester and all my rad has worn off.


 At this point my self-efficacy has two flat tires and is upside down in a ditch, out of gas with one of those little orange flags the highway patrol puts on lost causes so the normal productive people don’t run into them. I don’t really believe I’m going to read several more novels and write several more super-brilliant “A” papers and find an awesome and challenging paid internship that will lead to the perfect job one day. End-of-semester final projects? Forget about it.

At this point all I want is a glass of wine and uninterrupted Netflix bliss. And cheese. Cheese would be nice.

So being behind on blogging and flat out of inspiration, I asked my Facebook friends if they could do the heavy-lifting while I went to the grocery store. We were out of milk. Boys need milk. I decided this blog would be about whatever they said it would be about.

Which is this:

 1. Lilacs. This was from a northern Canadian who, while still suffering the occasional snowfall, wistfully assumed I’d be smelling the lilac bush outside my bedroom window. Nope. But we still have some pretty significant spring progress. As pretty as the early blooming trees are, I’m most crazy about the little chartreuse baby leaves. Leaves are the bomb.



2. Another friend asked what it’s like going to school with students the age of my own kids. I’m a fan. Though I probably annoy them a lot. It is a hoot when (several times this has happened now) you realize you’ve changed one of your peer’s diapers in church nursery or they used to play at your house when they were little. The thing is, 22-year olds bear no resemblance whatever to their cute little kid selves. So I may be in class for weeks with them, relating on a first-name basis only, until I go, “ohhhhhhhhh.” I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, even at the beginning of a semester.

3. I was asked to comment on free-range parenting. I don’t know what this is. But it sounds like what I was as a kid – basically left to run outdoors till all hours with little supervision or knowledge of my whereabouts. It was pretty fun, though I know I wouldn’t be comfortable with this arrangement with my own kids. I do know the older my kids get, the freer the range becomes and I need to let go and be OK with that.

4. Here’s a good one ­– how music transports you. Music is definitely a time machine. For my friend it was how belting Bye Bye Miss American Pie takes her back to the playground in third grade. For me, it would be how Fifty Ways to Leave your Lover sends me directly to the art room at Tilford Junior High. Because leaving lovers was so applicable to me in the eighth grade that I required fifty ways to do it and my own theme song.

5. The value of coffee friends. This just makes me feel sad and guilty. Because I do SO value my coffee friends, but I’m a hypocrite because I haven’t taken time to make this happen. I’m the poorer for it and will correct this as soon as possible.

Hello Brewhemia. I will be back one day. With friends, if I have any left.

Hello Brewhemia. I will be back one day. With friends, if I have any left.

6. Next question ­– what was my first driver’s ed class like? I learned to drive in my family’s red VW Beetle with a stick. Driver’s ed cars are automatic. I’m thankful for seatbelts, because while the brake is in approximately the same place as the clutch in an automatic transmission car, it is not the same thing and should not be stomped on with the same gusto. My apologies to all who were nearly thrown through the windshield.

7. And finally, I was asked if I would share a childhood memory. (“Granny Barker, what was it like in olden times before cars and computers?”) Well little Timmy, it was nice. I made things with my hands out of actual physical stuff and didn’t have to learn to edit videos on a computer. As far as memories, I remember climbing an apple tree, eating green apples, and reading books. My mom didn’t know where I was, so I guess that made me free range.

 Thanks to my Facebook friends. In the time it took me to go from school to store to home, they generated all of the above disjointed randomness. We all need a little help from our friends. 

I judge. I’m frequently even (GASP) prejudiced.

Some may be prejudice against this little guy's weediness, but I was so happy to see his cheery little face I dropped everything and snapped his portrait! In my judgement, at least during the first week of April, he's a flower!

Some may be prejudice against this little guy’s weediness, but I was so happy to see his cheery little face I dropped everything and snapped his portrait! In my judgement, at least during the first week of April, he’s a flower!

I’m constantly judgmental. I dare to admit this even though whether on a college campus or at a grocery store judgment is about the worst most heinously Hitler-esque sin against humanity anyone can ever commit.

Not only do I judge often, but I think it’s a good practice and I highly recommend it to others. I judge because it’s my responsibility to thoughtfully decide things for myself rather than to guzzle down the brew-du-jour I’m spoon-fed, whether the spoon happens to be held by current societal practice, the media, my friends, church leadership, or professors.

Take food for example – I bought a bag of Twizzlers for the “family.” They were made of corn syrup, flour, sugar, cornstarch, partially hydrogenated soybean oil and a long list of things that aren’t food at all like Potassium Sorbate and Red Dye #4. The family never saw said Twizzlers – they sugar-rushed me through a week of late-nights and one all-nighter while writing mid-term papers and studying for a test. They also sentenced me to an uncomfortable amount of bathroom of time. ‘Nuff said.

For lunch during that extra-busy week, I hurriedly grabbed handfuls of clementines, almonds and carrots. They were made of clementines, almonds and carrots, and digested just fine thank you very much.

Using my brilliant God-given powers of deduction, I feel good about my prejudice against Twizzlers. They have bad stuff in them that hurts my body. On the other hand, I judge clementines, almonds and carrots to be better. I’m not nasty about it. If you want to eat Twizzlers, I won’t be picketing your snack-time. Plus, being a l total hypocrite about food choices, I’ll probably join you and feel sorry about it later.

My snack analogy is admittedly shallow and imperfect. The things we judge that matter are bigger and more difficult – like personal faith and who it’s in and behavior and ideologies that affect people and relationships and nations. It can’t all be best and right. And dismissing people or ideas because their type is out of vogue is just lazy. As is stubbornly resisting change because it’s not the way you were raised. Falling in lockstep with a time and culture’s assumptions isn’t the same as making reasoned choices based on values and commitment bigger than our own convenience and desire.

Places I’ve fallen and who picked me up



In my creative writing class, we were writing things. I couldn’t think of a story, so I started making lists. I’m good at lists–grocery lists, Christmas lists, to-do lists. Lists make you feel accomplished and self-aware, and unlike actually doing stuff, require minimal outlay of time and work. This exercise turned into an abridged list of places I fell down. Then a list of who picked me back up. Some of the names are real and some aren’t because I can’t remember. It’s not exaggerated much:

  1. Into a ditch in rural Benton County. Off the back of a horse which subsequently kicked me in the head.

a. George Herger. He was driving by, and said the emergency room wasn’t far out of his way. Not sure who picked up the horse, but I know someone did because I rode it again the next day.

2. Off a roof, also in rural Benton County.

b. Cathy Herger. Only fair since she’s the one who insisted the branch would hold if I used it to swing off the roof.

3. Out of a haymow onto a cement slab.

c. My mom. She couldn’t understand how I could have a concussion in the back of my head and a broken nose in the front. See 2-b and ask Cathy Herger if you have further questions.

  1. Hopelessly in infatuation with a basketball player named Garrison in junior high, which these days is called middle school. Garrison was quiet, smart, and most importantly the only boy in school as tall as me. Of course we never spoke. I’ve subsequently managed to avoid falling in love – instead I consciously slide into it. With falling you can’t stop. With love you get to choose.

d. No one. Boys were an on-going problem.

  1. On a stage, playing trumpet, into the drum set directly behind me. The song was “Going Out of My Head,” a jazz standard.

e. Some boy.

  1. On a stage, from the back of the risers, this time forward into the soprano section. The song was “One Tin Soldier,” a Vietnam protest song by The Original Caste. I was supposed to have been the soloist.

f.My surprised parents. A private girl, I had neglected to tell them about my singing debut.

  1. On a little mountain while skiing for the first time. The adorable ski-bunny gear I had spent hours purchasing the day before at an actual ski shop was not doing its job.

g. My very patient brother-in-law who claimed it was easy. Falling down is easy. Skiing is not.

  1. The ski lift, this time during a work team-building outing. Ill-advised, this is more serious than number seven.

h. My boss and program director. Having somehow slipped from the flying picnic bench intended to scoop me up like a cake off a griddle, they each gripped an arm while I dangled over the mountain ravine for too many minutes. They dropped me in a tangle of skis when we reached the top.

  1. On a nature trail in July. Grown women should know better than to roller blade with a helmet on when it’s 102-degrees and meteorologists find it necessary to report the heat index. The meteorologist probably also warned about heat stroke, but I didn’t listen.

i. A kind stranger who sat me on a bench and made sure I had water.

  1. The bathroom in my first house as a married woman on 38th Street NE when I had the flu (actual, not bottle) and fainted and hit my head on the toilet.

j. My husband, who has learned that I’m prone to fainting.

  1. In love. Forget number four. I fell permanently and madly in love with the dark unwavering stare of new son after new son after new son.

k. Twenty-five years and still fallen.

  1. On the way from a pond to my car, running from a large angry swan while carrying a thirty-five pound two-year old who wanted to see if there were eggs in the nest.

l. Myself. Of course I picked up my son as well.

13. On hard times. This is what they say when you lose your job and don’t have much money.

m. God. He didn’t so much pick me up, as hang out with me while I was there. It’s nicer than it sounds.

  1. Out of grace. Multiple times. This is what they call it when someone’s decided you’re not their favorite after all.

n. God. Again, not an instant rescue as much as keeping me company and giving perspective. Not fun, but deeply good.

  1. Into sin. Multiple times. Taking what I want from who I want and giving nothing in return. Like love, not so much a cataclysmic fall as a willful slide made one small compromise at a time. And as with love, I get to choose.

o. God again. Sort of like George Herger swooping me up, senseless in the ditch, then taking me to the E.R. in His pickup truck.

  1. Into place. This is the sublime rarity – what they call it when all is as it is hoped to be. When the bread rises and the bills are paid and love is in the house. The place I’ve been caught and held tight before the fall.

Ugly’s real. Hope is realerer.


Look at this. So hideous. The snow’s melted for the big reveal: dirt, trash, and in my yard –lotsa piles of dog poop. I’ll spare you poop pics.

My yard today. A tasty stew of rotted grey and brown.

My yard today. A tasty stew of rotted grey and brown.

So why all the good cheer? As you can see, the white blanket of sparkles that covered our imperfections in fairy dust has been reduced to a scab. Now I have only dirt and mud everywhere. The color scheme is brown with brown accents.


I think all this pre-spring joy is because humans are wired for faith. Or hope. Whatever you want to call the inner spark that’s bigger than the dry historical knowledge that green has happened every year, so there’s no reason it won’t happen again this year too.  Ugly’s real, but it’s just a road bump on the way to this:

No lie, in a few weeks this will be happening in the exact same spot!

No lie, in a few weeks this will be happening in the exact same spot!

It works on a personal metaphorical level too.  Even though I look like this…

Again, my yard today. Lovely, right?

Again, my yard today. Lovely, right?

….by exposing what’s muddy and gross,  the sun and rain will do their thing and eventually it will be spring break and I’ll sleep and eat more vegetables and be transformed into this:

This will be that same spot in my yard around June.

This will be that same spot in my yard around June.

So, to review. Looks awful:

This one's at Brucemore Mansion. Kind of like my yard, only larger and with a team of professional gardeners.

This one’s at Brucemore Mansion. Kind of like my yard, only larger and with a team of professional gardeners.

But hang in there, because it’s all part of the process that results in this:

brucemorepondNow I want to wear flip-flops and go on a picnic by this pond on this grass.






Coffee. Its importance cannot be overstated.


Essential for brain, body and soul function, coffee is foundational to student (mom, astrophysicist, indian chief) success. I’m telling you, don’t even bother to buy a book or show up for class without it. I’ve tried and not only does studenting not work without coffee, it’s flat-out dangerous. Like lighting-a-match-in-a crowded-shopping-mall-full of-flammable-gas dangerous.

My commitment to snobbery is exceeded only by my thriftiness. So much tension. Balance is struck between pretty good beans and super-clearance beans.

My snobbery is exceeded only by my thrift. So much tension. Balance is struck between pretty good beans and super-clearance beans.

While fabulous coffee is preferable, those of us on a student budget (work study=minimum wage that all goes for tuition that just went up a zillion percent) need to keep it real. I’m not talking Folgers real, because that’s just not acceptable. More like TJ Maxx or grocery store real.

This is my coffee cupboard – where the morning magic happens. With three people and three schedules, we go through a lot. Which explains why we’re so healthy and smart, right?

But sometimes you may want something a little fancier. Or maybe you need to take the study-show on the road, since the paper due tomorrow is having a hard time competing with the allure of laundry and unpaid bills. I can help. Here’re a couple of my favorite places if you’re so fortunate to live in the Cedar Rapids area.

My favorite is Brewed Awakenings. My favorite barista there has the same last name as me, which is completely coincidental since we’re not related.corie@brewed

Beatnik cappuccino is my drug of choice. The espresso (ristretto shots) at Brewed is more on the earthy, chocolatey, sweet side of coffee love. Unlike the tart lemony espresso that’s more in style with the kids these days. They have a happy hour, and a discount card for students. Even old ones.

Eight ounces of everything's gonna be all right.

Eight ounces of everything’s gonna be all right.

Coffee makes people cute.

Coffee makes people cute.

Today was sweet because my son Collin and his betrothed, Miranda, were in town, so they tagged along to Brewed with my husband and I. Collin is my barista spawn, working at what’s considered the best coffee shop in the midwest. Miranda’s a fine barista too, at a different Minneapolis coffee shop. While I do officially advocate careers in one’s field of study, I’m super-proud of their combined coffee awesomeness. I was a barista for a lot of years, but these two exceed my humble skills by a mile!


Hello, beautiful.

Another study spot I frequent, this one more for their brewed coffee and all-around loveliness, is Brewhemia, across from Newbo Farmers Market – they’re a bright spot in post-flood-recovery C.R.

This cup is full of whatever the dark roast was this morning. It was stunning with an orange scone.

Finally, I have to say, though Starbucks is the Appleby’s of coffee houses, it’s still where I end up half the time. They’re my people. It’s the company that taught me about good coffee, back when they were just a mail-order outlet with a store on the west coast, and before they were ubiquitous.  Plus they’re open late, which is when I do most of my work. The Starbucks photos I took specifically for this blog didn’t turn out well, so I’ll close with this oldie:


Eyes closed, apron on.