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Highlights of CWW17

posted Jun 15, 2017, 6:30 PM by Cherie Dargan

Our speaker, Cynthia, with our workshop founder, Shelly. Jolene and Anne present strategies for developing characters.After lunch music + movement results in a dance party down front.

Last week I attended the Cedar Falls Christian Writers Workshop--for at least the sixth year. 
I always come away feeling renewed, refreshed, and ready to write! 

Here are some of my notes from last week's workshop

Music + movement = mood enhancement (lunchtime music and dancing, thanks to Jean)

The musicality of language – (I loved that phrase) – Cynthia
Readers hear the rhythm and tone of your language choices

Lots of alliteration with "P" words: procrastination or perfectionism can both be problems for writers

Editing reminders
Remember: 1 space after sentence, not two!
Don’t let critiques destroy you: learn from them. 
Shorter paragraphs are more readable.
Shorter chapters help hook your readers: about 2,000 words is a good length for fiction.
Don’t use colons and semicolons in fiction. (Me: Yikes!)

Readers may take only 4-7 seconds to decide if they are going to read your book.

Readers read through a filter (CR) made up of many things that you need to acknowledge.

God doesn’t waste anything: writers write from their own history of pain. (Mary PK)
Good book: Opening up by Writing it Down, by Dr. James Pennebaker
Writing a journal helps you process grief.  Great examples in C. S. Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle.
Mary kept a journal and then later used it in her book about grief.

A book proposal is a business plan for a book (Shelly).
The average book sells 500 copies.
Give your publisher what they want! Know their guidelines, genre, requirements.

My blogging workshop, Friday afternoonMy very first time to display books at the conference.

Use methods from left brain & right brain to develop characters, whether it’s an Excel spreadsheet or a mind map (Jolene and Anne) (I've done both!)

Some people DO get accepted by Chicken Soup for the Soul (Susan got the news at the workshop).
It’s a SMALL world – I reconnected with an old friend, Sharon, from Grad School days at Iowa State.
Be willing to do the work! Research, write, revise, and edit.
Lots of ways to build characters beyond physical appearance (food preferences, mannerisms, way of speaking, virtues and vices, fatal flaw, and personality) (Shelly)

There are many motivations for coming to this workshop: working through grief, fulfilling a promise to tell a story of a loved one, desire to become a better writer, interest in getting published, and for those who return, the social aspect of connecting with other writers and spending time with friends is also a big draw.

My blogging Workshop was an introduction for some; however, we needed a computer lab, so everyone would have access to Blogger, but I shared my experience and strategies.

My first book display--I wrote a chapter for two books in my first year of retirement. It was exciting to set up a space on the table. The book about mothers was a great chance to use my mother's materials to write about our family and her life. The book about Midwestern authors and regionalism gave me the opportunity to write about Iowa author Ruth Suckow's life and career. While she didn't like to labeled, her writing certainly captures "the folks" who lived in Iowa's small towns and on its farms.

It was a good workshop; however, I missed the last day because it was also the weekend of the BIG Annual Meeting of the Ruth Suckow Memorial Association.

See you next year!

Last updated June 15, 2017

The box of Books Arrives

posted Jun 3, 2017, 4:42 PM by Cherie Dargan   [ updated Jun 3, 2017, 6:14 PM ]

The box of Books Arrives!

There are few things like opening a box from a publisher with copies of a book that you helped to write! A box arrived today from Hastings College Press and inside I found four copies of The Midwestern Moment, a collection of essays about Midwestern writers and artists and the impact of regionalism.

My essay, “The Realistic Regionalism of Iowa’s Ruth Suckow,” argues that Suckow was more than a realist and a regionalist. “…Suckow's remarkable story-telling abilities, her realistic portrayal of characters—especially women—and her contribution to the regionalism debate” make her “an outstanding Midwestern writer and a key figure in the early twentieth Midwestern Moment in American literary history and a voice that deserves to be heard again.”

I learned a great deal from researching and writing my essay about Ruth Suckow. She didn’t care for labels like “regional” or “local” writer because she thought her stories had more universal meaning. However, reading her fiction is like taking a trip back in time: you can see the rolling hills of rural Iowa, its small towns and farms, the people who worked so hard to build up our state. Her quiet descriptive prose captures their dialogue, the food they ate, their daily routines, and their struggle against poverty and the elements.

When I first read Suckow’s short stories and novels, I thought “this is the world that my mother grew up in….that my grandmother and great grandmother knew—the farms, small towns, little schools, and churches. The impact of the Great Depression, the First World War, the bringing of electricity, indoor plumbing, and telephones….”

I used to tell my students that Ruth Suckow is the most famous writer from Iowa that you’ve never heard of! We used one of her short stories, A Rural Community” in my Intro to Literature class and I always enjoyed hearing their comments about it. A man in his late 30s arrives on a train early one morning: he is back in his old home town to visit his adopted parents. Ralph is a successful journalist who travels the world and hasn’t been back in 15 years, but sends a check to his parents every Christmas. He has to ask for directions because his parents have moved to town from the farm; as he walks around, he sees all of the changes in the town and yet concludes that overall it has stayed the same.

He surprises his parents and they visit before sharing a wonderful home cooked lunch. He goes to the family cemetery with his mother to decorate graves. They visit more and Ralph gets uncomfortable when they begin asking when he is going to marry and settle down! However, he is surprised when his mother brings out a scrapbook full of his writing: she says to him over and over, “surely, you’re one of ours!” After supper his adopted siblings come in from their farms for a visit. Afterwards, he walks back to the train station to catch the midnight train.

He gets onboard and settles down, but:

…he was aware that since he had stepped off the train in the morning, the current of his thoughts had changed. He felt steadied, deeply satisfied. He looked toward the dark pastures beyond the row of dusky willow trees. They widened slowly into the open country which lay silent, significant, motionless, immense, under the stars, with its sense of something abiding.[i]

My students could relate to Ralph’s experience of going home and finding a new Casey’s or seeing how Main Street has added a Diner or changed the Street Lights. They crack up when his father suggests he look up his old high school girl friend and they sigh when they read about the fried chicken and all of the sides. They like the way the arrival and departure of the train frames the story and they notice her vivid description of the farm fields. The story was written in 1924 but my modern, smartphone toting College students “get it.”

I’m thankful for the opportunity to write the essay and be part of this book. I’m also happy for the focus it places on a group of writers, editors, and artists who have been largely forgotten—including John T. Frederick, the editor of a regional literary magazine called The Midland that featured many of these writers and introduced their work to the world. He gave Ruth Suckow her first chance to be published with some poetry and short stories and then introduced her to the great editor H. L. Mencken, who helped her take her writing career to the next level—national.  In all, 16 of her short stories appeared in anthologies from 1924 through 1954 but regionalism was going out of literary style and most of her books were out of print by the time she died in 1960.

Then her husband Ferner (who was 11 years younger) and his second wife Georgia got together with a group of friends and formed the Ruth Suckow Memorial Association in 1966. The group worked to preserve Suckow’s legacy and their hard work resulted in the reprinting of Country People and Iowa Interiors in 1977. Later, A Ruth Suckow Omnibus was published in 1988, thanks to the efforts of Clarence Andrews, a Board Member of the RSMA. Finally, a new edition of The Folks came out in 1992 as well as a biography and book looking at Suckow’s work, making it possible for new readers to discover her work.

If you would like to read some of her short stories for free, just go to the website www.ruthsuckow.org and find the link for her short stories.

The Midwestern Moment: The Forgotten World of Early Twentieth-Century Midwestern Regionalism, 1880-1940 -- Jon K. Lauck, editor. Hastings College Press, Jun 1, 2017

ISBN 1942885490, 9781942885498  $24.99

The book will be available on Amazon by July 1st.

It will also be available through the Hastings College Press website.


[i] Ruth Suckow, “A Rural Community,” The Midland, July 1922, 1. PDF available at http://www.ruthsuckow.org/home/ruth-suckow-s-short-stories

Last Updated June 3, 2017

Rituals of Memorial Day

posted May 29, 2017, 9:06 AM by Cherie Dargan   [ updated May 29, 2017, 9:19 AM ]

Creating memories and linking generations through the rituals of Memorial Day
Memorial day w Nellie
mid 90s last mem day w mom
 Nellie and family, 1980    Family photo, 1990s with my mom Turner Cemetery, 1990s

Every year I buy a variety of plastic flowers to decorate family graves. It is a tradition that seems as much a part of May as shopping for graduation cards or thinking about gathering family and friends for a picnic or cookout. It is also very much a ritual for many families in the Midwest, especially for those who still have a grandmother or great aunt—someone who knows the family history and the significance of the names on the tombstones.

As a little girl, several generations of my family got together every Memorial day weekend and it usually took several vehicles to get us all to Turner Cemetery, the little country cemetery on a narrow gravel road off T-47, going towards Garwin. Then we would go to Dobson cemetery, which is next to the little Carlton Brethren church that my mother once attended.

We had a few additional graves in what my mother called the Pioneer cemetery, just off the gravel road leading to Nellie’s farm and the schoolhouse on the corner where my mother once taught. I went there with my daughter Mikki a few years ago and marveled at the age of the tombstones there: it’s tiny, with fewer than two dozen graves but dates back to the Civil War era. On either side are farm fields and the lane leading to the cemetery is lined with quite a few trees, so there is a strange other worldly sense walking back to the cemetery of walking back in time.

Each Memorial Day was both a celebration of our family’s stories and history and a chance to get together. We would sometimes go to eat at the Maid Rite in Tama afterwards or go back to Marshalltown to a restaurant or go to someone’s house for a simple meal. It was also a chance to take a bucket, some rags, some Windex or bottled water and physically clean up the tombstones of our loved ones. Generally there weren’t any weeds around our family’s tombstones, but if they had dared make an appearance, they would have been tended to rather promptly.

I can still picture Grandma Nellie walking around, wearing her little housedress, a light sweater, and a chiffon headscarf tied around her face. She was a small person but a good supervisor! Great grandma Eva went along for some of those trips as well.

Little ones would run around looking at the different stones and asking questions; Grandma Nellie or one of the Aunts would patiently walk around and point to different stones and tell us something about the person buried there.

After all of the flowers had been distributed, all of the stories told, and the bucket of cleaning supplies had been put back in the car, there was one more part of the ritual--taking pictures of the family behind the tombstones. 

Later, when I was a newly married young woman, my husband and I purchased our own set of five plots for $75.00 and so did other cousins and my sister. Once, my mother and her two sisters were walking around and discussing where we would all be buried someday, and fretting that we should have purchased additional plots. One of my older cousins, Lee, whispered to me, “Just wait—they’re going to ask us to lie down and see if we all fit!”

As the years passed, Grandma Nellie and Great Grandma Eva passed away, and if not for my mother’s notes and family history notebooks, their stories would be lost to us. And then my mother died in 1997, and I felt that loss doubly on that first Memorial Day. My father went with us for many more Memorial Days, and my sister Cathi, cousins Charlene and Anne, and Aunt Jeanne and I continued the tradition. 

When my father died and was buried beside my mother in 2013, I remember feeling a tremendous burden being passed to me: I had been given all of my mother’s photos, notebooks, and big family history books, with stories about each one of our ancestors.

After the graveside service had concluded, I walked around the stones near my parents’ graves and told my great niece and nephews about the people buried nearby. Then, their father, my nephew David, who had done such a wonderful job with the service, walked up and said quietly, “Listen to your Aunt Cherie. She’s the storyteller now. She knows our family history.”

I started to say, “No, that’s my mom!” but then I realized he was right: the title of story teller had been passed to me. So, I have read through my mother's stories and I've scanned in a number of her pictures. Last fall I wrote up my mother’s story for a book of essays about mothers (We are Our Mothers’ Daughters). Now I am at work on an essay about my two grandmas—Nellie and Eva, technically daughter-in-law and mother-in-law, but more like mother and daughter. I watched them tend our family graves as a little girl; I saw them walk around and talk about the people buried there.

I’ve looked at their photos and read my mother’s notes on both of them: both endured loss, heartbreak, loneliness, estrangement, separation, poverty and hard work. Yet both had the sweetest spirits, smiles, and an abundance of affection, unconditional love, and acceptance. I took special care this weekend to pick the prettiest flowers for my parents, my grandma Nellie and great grandma Eva. 

I didn't have to clean off their stones this year: the rain did that for me. The gathering was smaller, but I was thrilled that my best friend from childhood, Beth, was there with me--she had driven up from Kansas City to fulfill her own promises to decorate some family graves in the same small country cemetery.  Our husbands chatted as we walked around, she holding an umbrella over my head, decorating graves and talking about the loved ones buried here. We took pictures; the ritual was completed as we shared a meal in Marshalltown and caught up. My sister Cathi joined us for a few minutes making it all the more special.

I am part of the fifth generation of my family to be born and live in Iowa: as I learn more about those who came before me, I feel very blessed to walk in their footsteps. I have so many wonderful memories of Memorial Days and decorating the family graves: it is a ritual that I will continue to observe!

Last updated May 29, 2017 

Decluttering Strategies

posted May 18, 2017, 1:54 PM by Cherie Dargan   [ updated May 18, 2017, 2:11 PM ]

Decluttering Strategies by Cherie Dargan – Highlights of a Panel Presented at the Western Home, May 18, 2017


 Our house in Waterloo Our new Villa in Windcrest

Our Journey to Windcrest

Our story and a half house in Waterloo had many built-ins, closets, a full basement, and large garage. We wanted to downsize, simplify & not deal with steps, the yard,  or snow. I hired two women, Lynn and Kathy, retired teachers with a business (“What Needs Done”), to help declutter, room by room. Next they helped pack up the house, and then unpack: I could not have done it alone!


My Three Questions

1. Do I need it?

If not, should I give it away to a friend or family member, consign it, or donate it?

2. Do I really want to keep it?

If yes, WHERE does it go in my new place?

3. Does it have meaning for me?

For things from my parents, grandparents, how do I use it, display it, or repurpose it?


Tools: Tubs, Clipboard, Lists, Layout

Room by room, what do you need?

We looked at our new house, listed the major furniture we had for each room & noted where it would go

Helped us determine what we might need to buy, what we saw as essential, & what NEEDED TO BE SOLD, GIVEN AWAY, DONATED


Consider Consigning at Stuff, Etc.

I set up a free account at Stuff, Etc. in Waterloo and began taking two tubs at a time in 2014: I’ve consigned clothing, household goods, books, furniture.

I’ve made over $3100 since 2014!


What to do with what you aren’t taking to the new place!

Asked my children to look at tubs with childhood memories: they sorted through them and decided what to do with the contents

Gave away furniture to extended family, friends

Took carloads to Goodwill, House of Hope

Arranged for St. Vincent de Paul to pick up a truckload of furniture and misc. boxes

Took a lot of books, magazines, and misc. stuff to the “free box” in front of my office at Hawkeye Community College


Chunk it down….room by room

Tackle one room at a time, and maybe even one closet or drawer at a time

Enlist friends, family, children or HIRE HELP!

Need at least three boxes or tubs: Give away, Sell, and keep/pack up

Don’t get overwhelmed. Take a break!


Lessons learned

I took pictures of many things before I gave them away or donated them

Second wedding dress donated to Theater

Kept reminding myself WHY we were doing this: for a better, simpler life in our new place!

Repurposed, reused some items like our old dresser and mirror for “entertainment” center and mirror flipped around for a shelf. Old church sign became a hallway entry mirror.


Preserve treasures

Wore my Mom’s 1940s Wedding dress in 1974: took to Varsity: cleaned, boxed up to keep. I donated my second dress to the community theater.


I gave away this dress, but tried it on first!

I kept my first wedding dress—also my mother’s

Wearing my mother’s wedding dress, 1974



Take a Picture of Things you give away

Repurpose & Display old Family Treasures



This lovely old church sign became our hallway mirror

My step grandpa’s pocket watch went to my nephew

The old long dresser is now our entertainment center, with drawers holding photo albums, CDs, DVDs, and the top works for our X box, blue ray player, etc.


Get creative! Fun with Walls


We found an old blueprint from the early 1900s: my grandfather Patten had a construction company in Hollywood, CA.

I had this big wall so decided to have fun: here are my Swedish great grandparents. We added the rug beater for interest and then my father’s old level and it works!



What do you do with….

Excess towels – homeless shelters, Vet clinics

Excess socks, clothing, cleaning supplies, personal care items – homeless shelters

Long dresses, costume jewelry – community theaters

Old pantyhose—my helpers used them to create “the humiliator,” (a yardstick covered with hose for getting under things!)

Books—consign, local library Friends, Goodwill


Tough Stuff: Reduce, Consolidate

I love books, and had way too many—and way too many bookcases. We had to get ruthless.

Inherited mom’s numerous photo albums: tore majority apart (old plastic sheets) and reduced bulk to several tubs of photos.

I will scan in photos for kids. Will discard those we cannot identify.

I inherited mom’s 35-40 boxes of slides! Sorted, scanned in majority and threw out many of clouds, sea gulls, sea, landscape, etc.

I inherited mom’s slide projector, movie projector, and donated them to a local museum.


SHRED sensitive documents!

You don’t need to keep 15 years of checkbook registers, tax returns from ten years ago, etc. HOWEVER, don’t just throw them away.  Shred!

If necessary, invest in a heavy duty shredder and do it yourself – or check out professional services.


Decluttering & impact on behavior

Got rid of more than half my holiday decorations & got rid of more since moved!

Reading more e-books and audible books, and library books because bookcases are full! Cutting back on magazine subscriptions.

Emptied at least half a dozen tubs that I then got rid of!


Get rid of it!

We sold our mower with an online ad. We gave away our snow blower. We gave away the long ladder to my son.

We consigned a lot of garden tools. I gave my son and daughter in law the lovely garden arch

We took some things (old grill, garden bench) to the curb & someone took them!


True Confessions: I’m not done

I still have numerous projects: A tub of slides to scan, several smaller tubs of pictures to sort and scan, and my Mom’s correspondence, family history to read, scan, Files to sort, discard. Paper, paper, paper! Fortunately, we have seven closets, the garage, and furniture that contain a lot of these things.


It’s a Process

We spent over a year decluttering, packing for the move and a chunk of a year unpacking & settling into villa, but continue to declutter!

It’s about time to start going back, room by room

My trick: 2 empty tubs. Try it!

Set aside two empty tubs and challenge yourself to fill them up. When full, make an appointment to consign, and if Stuff rejects it, it goes to Goodwill.


Questions? Thanks! Cherie Dargan




My friends, Lynn and Kathy, “What Needs Done?”  Chore Service. See me for a business card.


 Last Updated May 18, 2017

Spring into Fitness with Mobile Devices and Apps

posted May 12, 2017, 9:17 PM by Cherie Dargan

Spring into Fitness with Mobile Devices and Apps

 Otterbox clip Pedometer app Map my walk app

There are signs of spring everywhere: the birds are chirping, flowers are blooming, trees are filling in, and people are hitting the Cedar Valley Nature trails, walking or jogging. Many of those folks are wearing a Fitbit or other device to track their progress, as wearable technology becomes mainstream: these devices come with an astonishing array of features and price points. If you want to track your steps and trade in that old-fashioned pedometer for something fancier, what should you do? Let’s look at some options.

Many of you would head for the store and buy a Fitbit. Fitbit remains the dominant company in wearable technology, according to experts; however, they have lost market share over the past year. They still managed to ship over 6.5 million units in the last quarter of 2016, and if you have been looking at them online or in the stores, there is a wide range of models and prices from $59 to $250 or more. Not surprisingly, there are competitors, including Apple, Garmin and Samsung who offer smart watches and activity trackers. You may not have heard of the Chinese company Xiaomi but their Mi Band 2 sells for around $23, a fraction of the cost of the other brands, and the company sold over 20 million trackers last year.

At the same time, smart phones are changing the way people do everything from communicating with family and friends via text, calls, and social media to managing calendars and finding products or services. Pew Internet reports that as of January 2017, an average of 77 percent of adults have smartphones; however, breaking that down into age categories is more revealing, with 92 percent of those 18 to 29 having a smartphone and 88 percent of those 30 to 49 having a smartphone. In contrast, only 74 percent of those 50 to 64 have smartphones. So, the majority of adults already have a mobile device—do you need another one?

Many people have discovered the simple tools built into our Apple and Android phones that can help us reach our fitness goals. There are hundreds of apps that turn your phone into a fitness device.  Check PC magazine’s recent article, which lists health and fitness apps: in addition, www.appannie.com lets you search for apps.

Now there is research to support using your smartphone to get fit! An article from Berkeley Wellness reported on a study that compared activity trackers and smartphone apps. While it was a small study, it has generated a lot of attention. They asked a group of participants to use a treadmill to walk 500 steps and then 1,500 steps multiple times, while wearing a variety of devices, including:

• “On the waistband: one pedometer and two accelerometers

• On the wrists: three fitness trackers

• In one pants pocket: a smartphone (Apple iPhone 5s) simultaneously running three step-tracking applications (Fitbit, Health Mate, and Moves)

• In the other pants pocket: a smartphone (Samsung Galaxy S4) running one step-tracking application (Moves).”

The researchers compared the data from the various devices and noted that the smartphone readings were only “slightly different—either higher or lower—from observed step counts, while fitness trackers differed more from observed counts.”  Several experts point out that the position of a device makes a big difference in accuracy, and that the preferred position seems to be on the waistband or in a pocket as opposed to the wrist.

If you already have a smartphone, and don't want to buy another device, here is how my husband Mike and I use our iPhones to monitor our steps. We purchased belt clips when we bought our phones. Otter box makes them: you can find them on Amazon for about $17. The clip snaps over your phone case., letting you attach it to a belt or pocket. Then use the built-in Health app, free Pedometer app, and Map my Walk app.

  Pedometer is easy to use: it measures your steps and uses color coded bars, with orange for under 10,000 and green when you reach 10,000 steps. It also tells you how many miles you have walked, and how many floors you have climbed. You can send the results to yourself in email, text, add them to the built-in notes app or post them on social media. So, it lets you see your progress and motivates you to do it again the next day. The icon is green with a stick figure person walking on it.

Map my walk is a great app for measuring miles walked; there is a related app, Map my ride, for bike rides. The icon for Map my walk is purple with a stick figure walking; Map my ride is red with a stick person riding a bike. These apps are free from the app store.

Health is an app built-into the iPhone and shows you your average steps by week, month, or year, as well as other information related to activity, nutrition, mindfulness, and sleep. The app’s icon is a simple heart on a white background

As it turns out, Fitbit also makes an app that does not require a device other than your smartphone: it is a free download. The app is aqua with a collection of white dots that forms a square tilted on an angle. It records your steps for the day, week and reminds you to aim for 10,000 steps a day.

I downloaded the Fitbit app and was curious about the ability of all of the apps to measure my steps: I took a walk, did a workout, went shopping, and for most of the time had my phone on the belt clip on a pocket or inside a pocket at my waist. At the end of the day, the Health app recorded 10,110 steps while the Pedometer app measured 10,399 steps, and Fitbit only recorded 9,811—so I walked around the house until the Fitbit reached 10,000! This morning, it reports that I walked 10,110 steps yesterday. So you may find some variation in your results.

After using your smartphone and these fitness apps, you may still decide to get a Fitbit or other smart watch or device. However, many of you will find your smartphone and apps more than enough great tools to get fit. So, grab your smartphone and get out there and enjoy the trails! And did you know there is now a mobile app that helps you find and enjoy those trails anywhere you go? It is called Trail Link and it searches for nearby trails, telling you the length of the trail as well as identifying its surface (Asphalt, Concrete, Dirt, Gravel). You can find it at the App store or Google Play.




Fitness trackers vs smartphone apps.


Fitbit Hangs on to #1 in Wearables Market Share for Q4 2016 by Alexander Maxham. March 2, 2017.


List of the top fitness apps


List of health and fitness apps, free and paid


Find Trails Near You (For Apple and Android alike)

Reflecting on my “new life” since retirement

posted May 2, 2017, 1:17 PM by Cherie Dargan

What a difference a year makes! Reflecting on my “new life” since retirement

I saw a friend the other day and she asked if I was still teaching part time: I responded that no, I was doing other things and gave her one of my “Geeky grandma” business cards. I had been reflecting on what were the rituals of the months of April and May for the past 25 years of my life: as a Community College teacher, with at least three sections of Composition 2, one of Intro to Literature, and one of the Technology in the Classroom, these four to six weeks were frantic!

There were essays to read and grade, worksheets to score, exams to update and administer, gradebooks to update, and anxious students to deal with, including some who wanted to negotiate for a better grade. Yikes. There was the wonderful thing called FINALS week, which is no more, by the way: a terrible decision, I believe. For my Comp. and Lit finals, students did an activity in class and then I spoke with each one briefly to look at their final grade. My Tech in the Classroom students did presentations, showing off their Thematic Units. These activities do not always work well in a 50-minute slot. There were endless days and nights of grading almost nonstop when not in class, and then when the last scores were entered into the gradebook, the process of deciding if a student’s total was closer to a C or a D. I learned not to be the first one to post grades: it would simply mean that more students would be contacting me to contest their final grade.

I remember coming home, as if waking up from a bad dream, and looking around my messy house with bleary eyes from lack of sleep. Things had a way of piling up when you didn’t have time to deal with them during those last two or three weeks: mail, laundry, dishes, newspapers, and clutter. My office at work would also be less than pristine. I usually began the summer exhausted!

So, what are my weeks like now that I am retired? I’ve gotten more involved in my community and done some volunteer work. I have especially enjoyed the involved with the Cedar Falls Authors Festival committee; we have been working together since September, and our events begin this weekend!  Check out our website, www.cfauthorsfestival.org for details and notice the events page, with an embedded Google calendar.

I feel productive: in the last two weeks, I have tweaked the Cedar Falls Authors Festival website that I created over the past semester, I’ve given a friend feedback on blog entries, and I helped another friend revamp her resume and cover letter. I wrapped up my semester with Molly, the UNI student I have been meeting with all semester and attended the party where we celebrated the friendships we had made and received our books with our students’ stories about us. I had a wonderful student, Trey, in the fall.

Not only that, I wrote my column for the Courier about fitness apps and devices. I took a tub of things to Stuff and worked in my garage sorting through tubs. I took things to recycling and sorted through a set of binders, trying to get rid of old papers that I no longer needed.

More importantly, I have spent a day every week for the past two semesters with Mason, my three-year-old grandson: in addition, I have had him and big brother Corbin a few days around the holidays when there was no school or daycare. Mason and I have had fun playing in the back yard, at the playground, at the pond with a gazebo on the Western Home grounds, or shopping at Walmart. I’ve made a small mountain of waffles, watched Daniel Tiger and Curious George with him, taken pictures of his antics, laughed at silly things he did, and made things with Legos or magnetic shapes.  We’ve made messes, we’ve cleaned them up, and he has demonstrated his sock folding skills, understanding of the importance of brushing one’s teeth, and helped me learn how to relax.

I have also invested an hour a day in my physical health, and missed very few days since January in walking and tracking what I ate. It took some time to get past the 5,000 to 7,000 steps mark but now I generally hit 8,000 to 10,000 steps. I’m down at least 12 pounds but getting into smaller jeans, so I know that I have made a difference.  My husband Mike and son Jon inspired me: both have taken to walking for fitness in the past year.

Mike and I have taken a few trips in the past year, with lots of plans for the future. We’ve worked our way through an impressive list of Netflix series, and so far, we have enjoyed them all.

I also saw the book of essays about Mothers published last fall; I wrote a chapter about my mother, Charlotte, and now I am working on one about her mother Nellie and grandmother Eva, who were like mother and daughter. I’m digging into mom’s photos and multiple volumes of typed up family history.

Sometime in the next few weeks I hope to get a copy of the book The Midwestern Moment about the Midwestern Writers of the 1900s in the mail: my chapter about Ruth Suckow is included and represents a great deal of work. I had several wonderful peer reviewers: Mike and Barbara.

All in all, it has been a wonderful first year of retirement. I still have a list of people that I want to contact and reconnect with over lunch; I still have tubs to go through, pictures to sort and scan in, paper files to sort and discard. However, I have had time to reflect, read, write, blog, and enjoy the beautiful view from my four season porch!

Last updated May 2, 2017

Iowa's Forgotten Literary Legacy: Ruth Suckow and "A Rural Community"

posted Apr 21, 2017, 9:16 AM by Cherie Dargan   [ updated May 3, 2017, 8:57 AM ]

Iowa's Forgotten Literary Legacy: Ruth Suckow and "A Rural Community"

Ruth Suckow's grave, Greenwood cemetery, Cedar Falls

        I have been pondering the irony that in spite of growing up in Iowa, becoming an English major, going to graduate school at Iowa State for a Master's degree in Comp and Rhetoric that included a LOT of literature, and then becoming a Community College English teacher, that I had NEVER heard of Ruth Suckow before 1999 or so, when my then boyfriend Mike took me on a "hot date" to the Annual Suckow meeting in Earlville, Iowa. On the way there, I sat in the back of a friend's van reading short stories that were like a time machine, letting me see the Iowa of the early 1900s. Ruth Suckow died when I was 7 years old, but reading her stories gives me a glimpse of the Iowa that my mother, grandmother and great grandmother knew.

       Who IS Ruth Suckow? She was a realist, a regionalist (in spite of resisting that label), and a feminist. Ruth grew up as the daughter of a Congregational minister who moved around a lot, and that childhood pattern seemed to imprint itself on her: I call her an itinerant writer because she and husband Ferner Nuhn did a lot of traveling in their marriage, living in New Mexico, Washington, D. C., and spending a summer with poet Robert Frost.  I recently wrote a chapter about her for a book ("The Realistic Regionalism of Iowa’s Ruth Suckow" by Cherie Dargan) about the forgotten Midwestern writers, The Midwestern Moment, edited by Jon Lauck (Hastings College Press, 2017) and here is how I introduced her:

"Ruth Suckow (1892-1960) was an itinerant writer and realistic regionalist whose description of the people, small towns, and farms of Iowa was based on her keen observation of life in the early 1900s. Suckow’s portrayal of the lives of ordinary “folks” enables modern readers to empathize with her characters, many of whom were Midwesterners. Her poetic descriptions of the Iowa farmland evoke the artistic realism of Grant Wood paintings and place her squarely in the Midwestern regionalist milieu of the interwar years. Suckow was recognized during her lifetime as a gifted writer and she was widely anthologized from the 1920s through the 1950s.[i] Suckow’s nearly fifty short stories include “Midwestern Primitive,” “A Rural Community,” and “A Start in Life.” The latter focused on a young teen's first day as a hired girl and became Suckow’s most widely-anthologized story. Her nine novels include Country People (1924) and the best-selling The Folks (1934). Suckow’s prose was so descriptive that Allan Nevins called her “a painter of Iowa” in his review of The Bonney Family (1928) and he called her short stories “among the most authentic and veracious of all records of middle western life.”[ii] Even Smart Set editor H. L. Mencken said Suckow was "unquestionably the most remarkable woman . . . writing stories in the republic."[iii]

[i] Margaret Stewart Omrcanin, Ruth Suckow: A Critical Study of Her Fiction. Appendix II : “A Chronology of Writings of Ruth Suckow. 4. Anthologized Stories” (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Dorrance & Company, 1972), 208-211.

[ii] Allan Nevins, “A Painter of Iowa: Review of the Bonney family,” The Saturday Review of Literature, March 10, 1928, https://www.unz.org/Pub/SaturdayRev-1928mar10-00666 (Feb. 14, 2016).

[iii] Tom Longden, “Famous Iowans. Ruth Suckow: Writer, 1892-1960, Hawarden,” Des Moines Register, (April 5, 1992), http://data.desmoinesregister.com/famous-iowans/ruth-suckow (Feb. 6, 2016).  

        I’m now the webmaster for the Suckow website (www.ruthsuckow.org) and the VP of the Ruth Suckow Memorial Association. Mike and I married and he developed the original website and then turned it over to me. 

        I used one of Suckow’s stories--"A Rural Community"--with my Community College literature students at Hawkeye, and was amazed that a story written in the 1920s still resonated. They could relate to the story of Ralph, who visits his hometown and adopted parents, and find it is both changed, and the same. His parents worry about him being single, bring up his high school girlfriend, and wonder if she is still available. They laugh at that and then say how hungry they get reading the description of the lunch his old mother makes: 

        “And he knew the food! The platter of fried chicken, the mashed potatoes with the butter making a little golden hollow, the awkward bowl of gravy, the big slices of good home-made Iowa bread, the cucumber pickles, sweet pickles, beet pickles, red jelly, honey,  corn relish, in a succession of little glass dishes that kept him so busy passing he hardly knew when to eat.”

        My students liked the way the story began and ended with the train arriving and then departing. There is a very reflective tone to the story and while the story is 20 pages long, they commented on being able to relate to the main character, who comes away feeling reconnected to his family and to the land.  I have read the ending to the story out loud to my students many times, and feel a sense of awe as I do, because it is so descriptive and satisfying. I am the sixth generation of my family in Iowa, with roots deep in rural Tama and Marshall counties. I understand Ralph's sense of quietude.

        "But he was aware that since he had stepped off the train in the morning, the current of his thoughts had been changed. He felt steadied, deeply satisfied. He looked toward the dark pastures beyond the row of dusky willow trees. They widened slowly into the open country which lay silent, significant, motionless, immense, under the stars, with its sense of something abiding.

        The train came in – huge, noisy, threatening in the silence. Ralph sprang expertly aboard. The familiar sense of travel engulfed him immediately. He had found his berth, arranged things swiftly, before the station of Walnut was left behind. He was alert, modern, a traveler again.

        But all night long, as he lay half sleeping, swinging lightly with the motion of the train, he was conscious of that silent spreading country outside, over which changes passed like the clouds above the pastures; and it gave him a deep quietude."

To download a copy of "A Rural Community," you can visit the Suckow website. Or, you can click on the copy attached below!

Last updated May 3, 2017

You can’t go home again – but you can visit!

posted Apr 19, 2017, 2:17 PM by Cherie Dargan

The ICN Room at Hawkeye Community College, 1994

I went out to Hawkeye last week for just the second time since retiring. I stopped by my old hallway and saw a few friends and “fed” some magazines to the “free box” outside my old office. I chatted with several people around Hawkeye Center. I went over to Grundy Hall to another friend’s office; she was in class so I left her a note, but got to chat with her office mate. Out shopping I ran into several more HCC people. Every time I log on to Facebook, I see many of my former colleagues as well as former students.

As I left campus, I was smiling as I thought of all of the experiences that teaching at Hawkeye opened the door to—teaching on the ICN, teaching writing in a computer classroom, teaching online, using the internet in the classroom with YouTube, and developing class websites with all of the materials available to students 24/7. I remembered the hours spent leading or attending committees, grading, prepping for classes, and trying to keep up with students’ questions in email. I remembered getting to develop new classes and how much I enjoyed teaching the Intro to literature class, Comp. 1 and 2, and the Technology in the Classroom class, where my inner Geek got to play with iPads, Prezi, Tumblr, and Pinterest.

I thought of that first semester at Hawkeye back in 1992. I worked so hard to reinvent myself after a divorce, getting three college degrees within five years. I worked as a substitute teacher, adjunct, and headed up a small inter-faith Social Services agency while looking for a full time job. Then, I got a full time job on the western side of the state only to have the rug ripped from under my feet, metaphorically: it was a job funded in part by state funds and in part by federal funds, so when Gov. Branstad cut the budget, my full time job went to a part time job. I had moved us from Marshalltown to Sioux City, and was in debt from the move.

My children came back to stay with my parents in rural Tama county. I finished my contract in the fall and they started school in country schools: Mikki became a cheer leader in fifth grade at Garwin and my mom took her to practices. My son went to Green Mountain for third grade and found it less than welcoming: he told me that “they don’t like you at that school if you aren’t a cousin!” My father took him to cub scouts. My parents lived out in the country in their retirement home: the old school house remodeled into a lovely five bedroom, two bathroom country home, with a large garage, big garden, and deck on the garage roof. The view of the rolling hills of Tama County, the gravel roads, and the old family farm made it an especially pleasant spot.

Then, I finished my contract, arranged for our possessions to go into storage, and moved in with my parents while we waited for our apartment to be ready. I applied for jobs and found the ad for Hawkeye, which was transitioning from a Technical school to a full-fledged Community College. I had an interview with Dr. Cox, was hired as an adjunct and shortly after beginning the semester, met my future husband, Mike, who had also been hired to teach writing classes. I soon fell into a routine of teaching at Hawkeye, subbing a few days a week, and trying to keep up the hunt for a full time teaching job. I did several other jobs during this period of my life, and some of them were more focused on technical writing. But I missed the classroom. I got a major break in my career in 1994 when I got a phone call from the Dean: “How would you like to be a TV Star?” she asked. And so my opportunity to teach on the ICN (Iowa Communication Network) began. I loved it, but I was still doing a lot of driving to teach two classes an hour away from home.

So, two years later, I took a job as a Pregnancy Prevention Specialist (possibly the most exciting job title ever) and thought my days at Hawkeye were over. Now I was driving to Des Moines. I loved the challenge of going into various schools and doing presentations with my friend and co-facilitator, K. D. He was black, a former student from Buena Vista, and an amazing man. We went into schools where he was probably the only black person; we went into schools where I was the minority; we went into at-risk schools where one student said in a very bored voice, “everybody’s been raped…it’s no big deal” after we had watched a video clip that was to set up a conversation about date rape, sexual assault, and dating violence. We used a G. I. Joe and a Barbie Doll for some of our presentations, and I loved this job because who else gets to shop for doll clothing on the clock? Not only that, but I had to practice my technique doing a condom demonstration, so my two young teenagers got plenty of information from mom regarding human sexuality and birth control.

Then, I got a phone call from a friend at Hawkeye that someone was retiring and there was a job opening. I didn’t want to apply one more time—why bother? I hadn’t even gotten an interview up to now. Two of my friends intervened and asked HR to send me the application. You can guess the rest: I was hired in August 1996 for a full time job in the Communications Department, and much of it was based on my willingness to embrace technology—from the ICN classroom to the first computer classroom to teach writing, to teaching online and learning at least half a dozen Course Management Systems to using iPads to develop lesson plans with my Education students.

Two years later, I reconnected with Mike and we began dating; he took me to London for Spring Break in 1999 and we married in 2000. For “an old bachelor farmer” with three Master’s degrees, he has been such a supportive and loving partner, I can’t imagine my life any differently.

I loved teaching; I loved working with students, learning new technology, going to conferences, making good friends with other teachers, and continuing to learn and grow as a person. However, it was very hard work. I have no regrets about taking early retirement: there is more time to read, write, think, and spend with my family.

Looking backwards, it is easier to see God’s hand. Throughout those days after graduate school, when I was trying so hard to find full time employment and cobbling together an income to support my children, I worried about everything. What if the car breaks down? What if it snows when I am out of town? What if the kids are sick? Somehow we made it through and I have two amazing young adults for “children” and a husband who can still make me laugh. I know now that my childhood faith was tested but strong.  My life in retirement is a gift, and while I will go to campus from time to time to visit, I have found new purpose and love my office out on the four season porch, with lots of light and sun and inspiration.


Last Updated April 19, 2017 

Signs of Spring

posted Apr 10, 2017, 8:08 PM by Cherie Dargan   [ updated Apr 10, 2017, 8:12 PM ]

Signs of Spring: A Listicle


When I was still teaching at Hawkeye Community College, I could TELL when Spring was starting to make itself known—some of my students would show up wearing shorts and flip flops, along with heavy sweatshirts or hoodies because it WAS Iowa and cold in the morning but warm by afternoon. Or I would walk out into the front yard between our property and our neighbor's house and see the beautiful tulips coming up.

Now that I am retired, the signs of Spring are everywhere.....our Condo is on the corner of a new street in a fairly new housing development. The Recreation Trail runs right in front of our house. We can see construction workers building more Villas and the big Apartment complex and Wellness Center. My three year old grandson spends the night so that I can watch him the next day: we are venturing back outdoors more, after spending too much time "stuck" inside.
1.      Swapping closets after walking outside and thinking "I’m too hot!"
2.      Grabbing a couple of sweaters and sweatshirts put away too soon.
3.      Trying to find the Capri pants that FIT!
4.      Watching the busy pace of the many construction workers  and projects in our neighborhood (those guys are up on the roof in their t-shirts! Must be warmer)
5.      Walking out onto our patio and smiling at the green grass and sense of possibility (what kinds of plants will we get this summer?)
6.      Grilling the first burgers on our little grill even though it's probably too soon to get the big Umbrellas out of the garage
7.      Seeing people wearing shorts out and about on the sidewalk, in the stores, and on my husband for his nightly strolls
8.      Watching people walking, walking dogs, and biking on the Rec Trail that runs in front of our house
9.      Wanting to open up the front and back doors for that lovely breeze—70 in April? Yes, please.
10.   Listening to the birds chirping away (silly me--I ALMOST said twittering, but that is something else altogether!)

Last Updated April 10, 2017

10 Terrible Budget Cuts

posted Apr 2, 2017, 9:13 PM by Cherie Dargan   [ updated Apr 3, 2017, 7:01 AM ]

My List of Ten TERRIBLE things to cut in our Federal Budget

I spent a number of years in poverty as a young Minister's wife in a small church, and then as a single mom after our divorce. Several wonderful women helped me navigate the network of agencies and organizations that help people become more self-sufficient. I have seen the value of these programs and was appalled to hear the man who is in charge of the Trump Budget blather on about not funding this program or that program because they don't work. He sounded like a high school kid who forgot to write his speech: unprepared, flustered at being challenged, and forgetting that he was to use DATA from sources, not just make stuff up!  

First, Meals on Wheels. Volunteers taking meals to the elderly, the disabled, the low income. This program keeps people in their homes, saving THOUSANDS of dollars. It connects volunteers with people who need a little help and often there is a sense of bonding. These volunteers notice when things are not right and can alert folks when someone needs more help. It is a win/win in every way: economically and socially alike. I saw my elderly father and his wife benefit from this program: I lived an hour away and was thankful that Hazel’s daughter had signed them up. Fund it!
Second, Reduced and Free breakfast and lunch for school children. Ask any teacher how well children learn when they are hungry. They don’t. These programs provide vital nourishment to growing children. Why would anyone want to look at a small child and deny them these meals? I challenge hard hearted Republicans to go to a neighborhood school and see how children are benefitting from these lunches. MY CHILDREN did! As a young single mom, subbing in several school districts and teaching part time at several colleges, my children qualified for reduced lunches. Fund it!
Third, Heat Assistance – designed to help low-income families literally stay WARM during the winter, these funds are not at all frivolous but not glamorous either. However, we cannot call ourselves a civilized nation and have people shivering in their houses once the Utilities have been shut off. Fund it!
Fourth, Head Start – designed to help low-income children catch up to their more affluent peers, children not only get a safe place to play and learn, they get meals, instruction on basic hygiene like washing your hands and brushing your teeth, and engage in play that prepares them for Kindergarten. When my son was enrolled, I visited with the teachers: as an Education major I knew all too well the value of teaching children their letters, numbers, right and left, tying shoes, etc. I was astonished when the teachers told me that some children had not handled crayons, scissors, play doh, or pencils prior to coming to Head Start. It is an invaluable program! Fund it!

Fifth, Public Radio and Public TV – Even if I had not been addicted to Downton Abbey, I would still be a fan of public TV. My children grew up with Sesame Street, Dr. Who, and the Electric Company. I once sang “Conjunction Junction, What’s your Function?” to a class at Iowa State University. I married a man who listened to NPR every day and I came to love it too. I had college students who became jaded about the media who told me that they appreciated NPR and the BBC for news. Public Radio and TV are FREE, so rich and poor alike can use them and benefit. They provide quality programs for children, the elderly, college students, shut-ins, and everyone else! Fund them!

Sixth, Planned Parenthood.


    1. Forget about abortion for a moment: we should be able to agree that we want FEWER unplanned pregnancies (thereby reducing the need for abortions). We should all want healthy babies and healthy families, and if so, we should support Planned Parenthood, which has over 650 health centers across the nation.

·        Each year, more than 2.5 million women and men in the US visit its health centers for services and information, and its website receives 60 million visits annually.

·        According to a Government Accountability Office report in March 2015, 83% of its patients were 20 or older. Nearly 80% had incomes at or below 150% of the federal poverty level, according to the report.

·        With a focus on prevention, Planned Parenthood said that 80% of its patients receive services to prevent unintended pregnancy.  FUND IT!


Seventh, The EPA – our environment needs protection from the TRUMP administration, which seems eager to gut an agency that has worked hard to make our air, water and soil cleaner. I found a list of the top ten accomplishments and it is impressive!


List of accomplishments: The home runs on the list—which was compiled by a group of more than 20 environmental leaders, including several former EPA officials—include:

--banning the widespread use of the pesticide DDT, which was decimating bald eagles and other birds and threatening public health; 
--achieving significant reductions in sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions that were polluting water sources via acid rain; 
--changing public perceptions of waste, leading to innovations that make use of waste for energy creation and making new products;

--getting lead out of gasoline; 
--classifying secondhand smoke as a known cause of cancer, leading to smoking bans in indoor public places; 
--establishing stringent emission standards for pollutants emitted by cars and trucks; 
--regulating toxic chemicals and encouraging the development of more benign chemicals; 
--establishing a national commitment to restore and maintain the safety of fresh water, via the Clean Water Act; 
--promoting equitable environmental protection for minority and low-income citizens; 
--and increasing public information and communities’ “right to know” what chemicals and/or pollutants they may be exposed to in their daily lives.

We have made tremendous progress: don’t take us back to the smokestacks indoors and out! Fund it.

Eighth, Scientific RESEARCH into health topics—the kind of stuff the National Institute of Health does.

“And even though Trump himself tweeted up a storm about the Ebola virus back in 2014, his budget would slash $5.8 billion from the National Institutes of Health that led the global fight to contain Ebola, while zeroing out the Fogarty International Center at the NIH, which was right in the middle of that fight.”


Ninth, Medicaid


·        “Medicaid provides vital health insurance coverage to over 70 million people, including more than 32 million low income children, over 20 million non-elderly adults (including parents), nearly 7 million elderly adults, and more than 10 million Americans with disabilities.

·        Since implementation of the Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act)’s Medicaid expansion, the number of people covered by Medicaid has grown by about 17 million, helping drive the nation’s uninsured rate to the lowest level in history, below 9 percent.

·        States, the federal government, and stakeholders have partnered to make Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) the bedrock of the nation’s system of health coverage by strengthening and expanding coverage, improving the delivery of care, enhancing quality, and fostering innovation.”


Finally, Education, both K-12 and Higher Ed.

If our economy is to grow, we need workers with SKILLS—so why is Education such a very small slice of the budget pie?

In Iowa, our governor has come dangerously close to bankrupting the state in his failed experiment to turn our Medicaid system over to three for-profit companies, who keep demanding more money and he keeps handing it over. In contrast, Education has been cut multiple times. He has also given away tax credits and breaks to an alarming number of big companies: some of them pay NO taxes. Who is ACTUALLY paying for these breaks: it is our children and grandchildren, our schools, and our teachers and administrators and staff.

Pie chart of spending -- someone posted a pie chart on Facebook that sort of exaggerated the categories. Here is the article debunking it on Politifact.com, along with a more realistic pie chart. 


corrected pie chart


Note on Meals for Wheels—Community Development Block Grants fund the 5,000 Meals on Wheels groups across the country.


The truth: Trump's budget calls for the elimination of one program that some of the nation's 5,000 Meals on Wheels groups rely on: Community development block grants, a $3 billion program that started in the Ford administration to give states and cities more flexibility in how they combat poverty.

Last Updated April 3, 2017

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