Summer, my favorite!

I’m sad at the end of summer. No matter how much I’ve crammed into it, there’s always regret for the things I’ve missed. Riding my bike, learning to sail, hiking at the Ledges are on the list this year. Even when I extend the season by starting  June 1 and going til the Autumnal Equinox, it’s never long enough.

I spent my best summers on my grandparents’ farm in northeastern Missouri. What made them the best wasn’t their proximity to Hannibal or the Mississippi River. It wasn’t the trip to St. Louis  when we got to see “The King and I” at Forest Park. I do remember that as a magical night when my Mom, her sister and my oldest sister actually went out on the town and left us three younger kids at home by ourselves. Something about the Gaslight District. Hmmmmm.

It was the ordinary things we did every day that made those summers so wonderful. Pulling on shorts, tee shirt and sneakers early to go milking with my Grandpa when everyone else was still asleep. Balancing with the whole family on the water wagon. Shoveling corn into the grinder with my cousin Tommy, and the song he made up about my abilities to pitch a bale of hay just like a boy.

Building fantasy neighborhoods under the Silver Maples with Leo and Nancy and sitting through reading lessons with Leo and Mother on the front porch. Dancing in the rain after a long dry spell. Playing “Ghost in the Graveyard;” I only recently learned this name for Hide and Seek in the dark. Such a deliciously scary game.

Starting at Camp Good Health, summer programs for kids affected by the achievement gap has occupied a lot of my adult life. Moving on to career exploration and leadership development on the Mesquakie Settlement, workshops on everything from feminism to drama in the teen program in Cedar Rapids. Then the day camps we did in Des Moines that developed into year-round school at Moulton Extended Learning Center and elsewhere.

Now at the first of September, it’s not too soon to start planning for next summer. This article from the US Department of Education’s EdBlog makes an excellent point for schools and community organizations to work together, not just during the summer but throughout the year. They link to some great examples of summer successes in the South Bronx, Pittsburgh, and Chicago.

Kids who start school behind tend to catch up some during the school year, but then fall behind when their summers lack  enrichment opportunities that wealthier kids enjoy. Summer programs keep them thinking and learning all year. Anything we can do to narrow that achievement gap is a good thing!

Enjoy a Picture Book

Picture books. I’ve loved them since before Mom read The Pokey Little Puppy to Leo and me. I just learned it is the best selling picture book ever. When I saw this book in the New York City Library’s exhibit about The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter, I was in for a surprise. I sat down on one of their big green blocks and read it for the first time in years.

I thought The Pokey Little Puppy was about how bad it is to be late. It’s really about having adventures, but coming home in time for dinner. Or maybe it’s about minding your mother. Or treating others the way you want to be treated. Or treating others the way they treat you? Not really about being late or being slow or dawdling though. No, not so much.

In fact the book points out the rewards of dawdling pretty convincingly, at least to me. I really think dawdling gets a bad rap. In this story, the pokey little puppy’s nose to the ground dawdling provides clues to strawberry shortcake and rice pudding for supper! I know my dawdling has gotten me down the path of creativity more than once. But that’s not the only lesson in picture books.

A Bargain for Frances by Russell Hoban is a wonderful story about friendship and trust. Where the Wild Things Are is about unconditional love and again, exploring. In the end Max comes home in time to find his supper still hot. I miss having Maurice Sendak on this earth so much!

And one of the wisest authors I know is Arnold Lobel, who wrote Ming Lo Moves the Mountain and Fables. Both books teach lessons about acceptance, parenthood, and positive attitude. All told with tongue tucked firmly into cheek.

Sitting cross-legged on the floor in the library or book store? Lying in bed at nap time? On your stomach in the grass? I think there must be 1000 ways to enjoy a picture book!

–Martha McCormick

Au Courage

“The thing we tend to overlook about adventures is that the people having them don’t know how they’re going to turn out.” How true! Seven years ago when I was hatching Next Step, I really didn’t know how it would turn out. I still don’t. That’s what makes it an Adventure!.

I’ve come to believe that most things are adventures. And looking at them that way opens up all kinds of possibilities that aren’t there when we think we know how the story will end. I bet Jessica Rowe didn’t have a clue where life would take her when she started at the Blanden Art Museum in Fort Dodge in 1977.

Paris has countless examples of the controversy of great art. From the depths of the catacombs to the top of the Eiffel Tower, I was struck by the courage of the French people. disease from overcrowded cemeteries and the collapse of quarry ceilings inspired the funereal art of the catacombs. Many saw the Eiffel Tower, the most iconic symbol of Paris as an eyesore during its construction and long after.

Anna Gaskell, who originated the quote at the beginning of this post, designed a maze for HyVee Hall. I’ve admired it from above and look forward to the tour this spring that includes it. The public art that Jessica Rowe and other have brought to Des Moines adds a sense of adventure to walking, driving or biking around Des Moines.


Kids These Days

I just made this short video from my first Internet radio show two years ago, We’re Entrepreneurs. We Can Help. Because my daughter was home for the holidays, it was a great opportunity to have a conversation with some 20-somethings. Listening to it further reinforces my opinion that Generation Y has some really great qualities. Travis Wells identifies his childhood with the cold war, and he and Lucy McCormick both talk about how important community is to them and for solving the big problems we all face.
Bruce Lehnertz and I were totally overwhelmed by the technical aspect of the studio, the microphones and cameras staring us in the face, and all the dials and slides. We ended up with only one or two camera angles, but luckily the audio worked fine.
This bit is Travis Wells, aka Madison Ray, a rising young musician here in Des Moines. My daughter, Lucy McCormick talks at the end of the clip about Scattergood Friends School where she was teaching at the time. Both of them are passionate about guiding the next generation.
Older generations have been ragging on younger ones since at least Aristotle’s time. I certainly was a rebellious youngster in the late 1960’s and 1970’s. We were serious when we said we didn’t trust anyone over 30. Now I’m twice 30, and count among my blessings the number of 20 & 30-somethings I call friends.
Take a look at the video, let me know what you think, and watch this space for more of the conversation in coming weeks.

Don’t Forget to Travel

When I retired, my brother gave me luggage and said, “Don’t forget to travel.” Going on the road keeps my juices flowing. Last Thursday Tim and I took a little road trip to Mason City to explore some local architectural history.

The city recently opened the Historic Park Inn, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and meticulously restored to the tune of about $20M. It is amazing! Besides the hotel, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Stockman House is a great example of the Prairie School of architecture. On Friday we walked through a neighborhood just east of downtown of well-preserved homes from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The area includes Prairie, Craftsman, and Victorian styles. There are brass plaques embedded in the sidewalks with the name of the architect, the year the home was built, and the style of architecture.

We were pleasantly impressed by the vibe of Mason City. We ate three excellent meals at three very fine local restaurants. I didn’t expect that the local food movement had reached a town in northern Iowa. But Ralph’s is all about it. They are able to get nearly all their meat and eggs within 30 miles, and buy as much other food locally as possible.

Mason City’s other claim to fame is the boyhood home of “The Music Man.” Meredith Willson grew up there, and Tim and I both worked backstage on our high school productions of his famous play. We walked the footbridge over Willow Creek, but Tim drew the line at the tour of “Music Man Square.” Next time.

When we visited Florida last month, I painted two landscapes on the beach. I put my apron over my swimsuit, set up my plein air easel, and voila. Because the scene changes so quickly–people and umbrellas move, the light changes–there’s no pressure to take the time to get it down perfectly. I feel I captured the stormy feeling of the sky, and the carefree attitude of the coast.

A couple years ago, I made a trip to Greece and Turkey I had dreamed about since I was about twelve, and read “The Moonspinners.” My daughter and I explored Delphi, the Acropolis, and Meteora, archeological sites that inspired my childhood interest in Greek myths.

Though famously struggling these days, Greece has preserved its culture, identity, religion and homeland through Turkish, Persian, Roman, German and American occupations.  After several weeks in Greece, I concluded the secret of their survival is complete confidence that the culture that began there will prevail through time.

What’s the point? That getting out of the daily routine gives us new eyes. It opens possibilities we don’t see in day-to-day life. If I’m struggling with a project, even taking time out for a walk can loosen my mind enough to find the answer.

Accept Autumn

I watched a full moon rise the other night, riding my bike home from yoga. Fall is nearly here. I’m not thinking of snow coming in a few months. I’m not thinking of snow. No snow.

The garage is organized enough to find the snow shovels, but the kayak REALLY needs to learn to hang from the rafters. Is there still time to plant some of those seeds that didn’t make it into the ground last spring?

An irresistible urge to buy new notebooks and pencils. Can I rationalize a new computer and cellphone? When IS that next iPhone coming out???

I am seeking visual order. I tend to be a big-picture person, and very field dependent. so it’s hard for me to function amidst clutter. My daughter moved much of her four-bedroom farmhouse into the Hostel Taco (my house) this summer. She worked hard to put it away, but there seems to have been an explosion in the studio, and I don’t know where to start! I was sorting old photos when spring arrived, and they are still strewn over the red tables. Now other layers are encroaching. Remnants of sewing projects. Candidates for EBay and Craigslist. Ironing??? It’s time to get the house ready to spend more time in. Sort, toss, and drive loads to the DAV.

My grandparents’ lives depended on “putting things by.” I have potatoes to dig, and tomatoes that will surely stay green forever. I hope my tiny volunteer butternut squash will grow to eating size before the first killing frost. Is there still time to put in some fall lettuce and kale? Oh boy! There’s still time. For a couple more days!

I need to establish a new routine after this chaotic summer. Start with morning pages? That feels good. A walk or yoga? Maybe. Time for spiritual connection. I started my painting class with a self portrait I’ve worked on for nearly a year. The Martha looking out at me is angry. I have plans for her.

Stipple Your Eggs

I was actually sad when I attended my last school conference nearly nine years ago. As my daughter grew up, each passing semester offered a new adventure. The year she changed her name, I introduced myself as “Kate’s mom.” The blank stare was followed by, “Oh! You mean Lucy!” By the way, she’s still Lucy!

Spring semester that same year, she was having a little trouble in Spanish class. I believe she may have gotten a referral to the office, or walked out of class one day. She’s always been a big doodler, and one day Mr. Takalo asked her what she was doing, drawing on the palm of her hand. “I’m stippling my eggs.” I can’t blame him for dropping that one like a hot potato.

Doodling is a good way to keep the creative, right side of our brains busy so our left brains can deal with the facts that we need to focus on. This study says doodling may help us remember things better because it requires just enough attention to keep our minds from daydreaming. And daydreaming, that’s the real enemy of attention! I came across this video–Learn How to Draw Snakes and Graphs; it’s really fun to watch and offers some legitimate math related information. I’m still not enough of a numberhead to understand it alll


Go to the Library

A major highlight of my growing up years was the weekly (Really? Weekly?) trip to the library. We had two–Covina and the Los Angeles County Library in West Des Moines. The LA Library opened when I was older, and seemed just huge. Mom read to me and my brother every night long after we could read to ourselves. Then I went to bed and read to myself. The book I remember best was Palace Wagon Family, about the Donner Party crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

I just got home from the AVID (Authors Visiting In DesMoines) launch of Sara Gruen‘s new book, Ape House. Gruen’s talk was wonderful. It’s a good thing, since I am running on 4 hours of sleep in the last 24. As soon as I finish writing this, I’m going to bed with my new copy of the book. Ape House is a novel loosely based on the Great Ape Trust right here in Des Moines. It’s not an easy place to visit, but Gruen’s talk certainly piqued my curiosity.

The AVID book launch took me back to the libraries of my childhood. When we spent summers on our grandparents’ farm, the Bookmobile dropped off the only books available at the little store in Woodlawn. I’m sure Braxie’s business really picked up when our family was visiting!

I loved going there with grandpa to pick out another week’s worth of books. He usually bought me an orange soda too! I got in trouble many times for hiding out on the couch with a book when there were tomatoes to be canned.

So, tonight I got in touch with my inner “Library Geek” and intend to stay that way! What are YOU reading?

Start Your Business

I think I’ve been a frustrated entrepreneur my whole life, so developing Next Step, Inc. has been an exciting adventure. When I was in high school, a lot of people thought that girls could only be moms, nurses, teachers or secretaries. But now women run some of the world’s most successful businesses–Pepsi is headed by a woman. And then, of course, there’s Oprah.

Do you want to work in the business world someday? You could be an officer in a bank or open a shop and watch it grow. Invent something and sell millions on the internet. One of the Chrysalis After-School groups–the Whyld Girls–started a business about 2 years ago. It’s called Product with Purpose, and with the help of their mentors, the girls run it themselves. The profits from their jewelry sales go into a scholarship fund; two Whyld Girls are set to graduate from high school this spring. The Product with Purpose scholarship fund is there to help them achieve their dreams.

If starting and running a business sounds like fun, check out Business Horizons, a week-long camp for high school students where you’ll learn about the world of business while you have fun and meet new friends. Participants stay on Simpson College campus in Indianola, July 25-30, while they explore their talents and how to use them.

At camp, each business team develops a product and figures out how to sell it. Teams create marketing plans and infomercials about their products, and then present their product ideas to potential investors. The teams manage mock manufacturing businesses where they make decisions about pricing, production, marketing, research and development, and capital investment. Here is what a couple girls had to say about the camp–

“Man I had a great time this summer! I am kind of disappointed that it is only a week long. Someone told me that this was a business camp… who knew business was so fun!”–Kashonna Drain, Waterloo

“Business Horizons was an amazing program. This week I was able to …network with some entrepreneurs in the Des Moines area, and I had a great time doing…this. I would recommend this program to anyone, it was an amazing experience!”–Kristi Philips, Ames High School

Engineer Your World

When I was growing up and even until I went on college visits with my nephew Wil, I had no idea how much engineering is a part of all aspects of life–travel, energy, safe water, medicine, almost everything.

Wil is a junior now at ISU’s College of Engineering. He’s having a great time (maybe a greater time than his parents would like him to have) and some interesting learning experiences. He will be going to California to talk about a project he’s been working on for Pella Windows as part of Team Tech through the Society of Women in Engineering (SWE).

Unfortunately, the number of women in engineering is still much lower than the number of men. Engineer Girl is trying to change that with this Web site where girls can explore careers and meet people who are doing the work. The site is sponsored by the National Academy of EngineeringEngineer Your Life is easy to navigate, has video profiles of female engineers and a lot of information on–

Let us know about YOUR engineering adventure!