Some reality shows are actually good

I am not a fan of reality shows. I have enough drama in my life…why would I want to watch someone else’s? I have to admit, though, that there are some shows that shouldn’t be put into the same category at “The Kardashians” or “Jersey Shore.”

Kurt Warner, host of "The Moment."

Kurt Warner, host of “The Moment.”

There are one or two that I can actually sit down and watch without wanting to throw something at the TV. “The Moment,”  on USA Friday nights is hosted by retired football player, Kurt Warner, and one show that I actually enjoyed. The show gives people a second chance to complete dreams they may have started but for some reason, were unable to finish.

My son and I were invited to watch the final showing of the series last night at Regis Middle School in Cedar Rapids. Storms threatened in the distance, but we took a chance and joined approximately 50 others who were just as anxious to see the finale and a chance to meet the executive producer of the show, Charlie Ebersol. After the show, Charlie answered questions about the show and his other projects, including his work with Ron Howard during the production of another reality show, “The Wanted.” I have seen only a few episodes of “The Moment”  because it’s on kind of late time and on a television station I don’t normally watch.

My son Sean and Charlie Ebersol, executive producer of "The Moment." Photo by Cynthia Petersen

My son, Sean, and Charlie Ebersol, executive producer of “The Moment.” Photo by Cynthia Petersen

In any case, the “Moment” shows I have watched are very heart-warming and I walk away from the show applauding the efforts of these lucky people. Charlie told the audience at Regis that Kurt was chosen as the host of the show because his life paralleled the premise of “The Moment.”

He added that Kurt often commented that he was given a second chance of his own and he was very grateful for that. Kurt was turned down the first time he tried out for the NFL and ended up stocking groceries at Hy-Vee in Cedar Falls. He never gave up on his dream and someone finally gave him a second chance.

After the show, music teachers at Regis were presented with a $4,000 check so they could install air-conditioning at their school. The money was donated by Mediacom and USA.

It’s too bad this show isn’t being given a second chance of its own. Maybe if the show had been put in a better time slot, more people could have benefit from its lessons.

‘Tis the season…for tornadoes

Growing up in Iowa, I have been through my fair share of tornadoes. It’s a scary experience, especially when it catches you off-guard.  And even  though we have the most sophisticated equipment in weather history, tornadoes can appear in the blink of an eye and change your life forever.

Photo of a tornado that hit Charles City, Iowa May 15, 1968. Photo borrowed from the NOAA's website.

Photo of a tornado that hit Charles City, Iowa, May 15, 1968. Photo borrowed from the NOAA’s website.

Years ago, we didn’t have the elaborate warning system we have now. We had to rely on our three local TV stations, and our common sense.

If it’s extremely humid and the clouds have a funny green tinge to them, be prepared to move to the basement.  (I have seen tornadoes occur without those elements, but not often.)

 I was 5 years-old when I experienced a tornado for the first time (that I actually remember). I was playing in the front yard with my brother. It was unusually hot for May and the air was heavy. The sirens went off suddenly and my sister, who was babysitting, called for us to come in. She wasted no time in leading us downstairs.

While we were safe in our basement under some blankets,with the flashlight and transistor radio by our side, she explained how powerful tornadoes are and the damage they cause. The storm was over in less than an hour, but I had gotten my first lesson in tornado safety.

The damage  from the storm was minor in Cedar Rapids, but those who lived in the communities north of us were not so lucky.

The NOAA reports that, “During the late afternoon and early evening of May 15, 1968, five tornadoes (two F1s, one F2, and two F5s) occurred in Iowa.  These tornadoes were part of the May 15-16, 1968 outbreak (39 tornadoes) which affected ten states.  In Iowa, the tornadoes caused 18 fatalities and 619 injuries.  Since this outbreak, no other tornadoes have produced this many deaths or injuries in Iowa.  There have only been two other F5 or EF5 tornadoes in Iowa since 1968 (Jordan – June 13, 1976, and Parkersburg – May 25, 2008).  [The picture above was taken by the Floyd County sheriff (L. L. Lane) at his spotter position on Highway 14.  It shows the tornado when it was 2 miles southwest of Charles City.]”

Tornadoes have hit various communities in Iowa, including Parkersburg, Iowa City, and Washington, but we have been extremely lucky here in Cedar Rapids. The storm that moved through Iowa Sunday night was just a precursor of what to expect during this tornado season. It varies from year to year so it’s still too soon to predict what kind of year we will have for tornadoes.

I was living in a mobile home in 1998 when we experienced an active year for tornadoes.  Every Sunday, it seemed, a watch or warning was issued for our county, making it almost impossible to plan any outside activities.

The mobile home park had a shelter that we sometimes used, but it was more than a block away so we usually just waited until we heard the sirens to use it.

One Sunday after we had gone to bed, the sirens went off. I looked at the clock on my nightstand. It read 3:00. I threw on some jeans and a T-shirt and went to every child’s room to wake them up. “Leave your pajamas on,” I told them and ushered them out the door.  

There were others already at the shelter and we made small talk about the weather. Someone had a radio and we listened to the weather announcements until the warning expired. Nothing materialized that night, thank goodness, but it was a good reminder that we are helpless when it comes to the weather, and we have to be ready for anything.

Tornadoes threatened so often that year that I finally decided to stay at my parent’s house when bad weather was forecasted. They had a nice basement with a bedroom, and I felt more secure and I could sleep much easier.

When you live in the Midwest, you get used to the idea of tornadoes. You hope you never have to deal with them, but chances are, you will.

The tornado that hit Moore, Okla.  and the tornadoes in Texas earlier this month are reminders that tornadoes can devastate a community in just a few minutes, leaving destruction in its path. We have no control of where it goes or what it does, but we do have control of how we handle the situation.

Tornadoes need to be respected but you can’t spend your life being afraid of them. Knowing where to go, what to do if there is no shelter, and how to defend yourself against flying debris are just a few things you can learn to control the situation and feel safer.

 The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s website is a great resource to learn more about how you can be prepared for inclement weather.

 Here are a few myths and facts from their website:

 “Tornadoes may occur in the middle of the night and even during the winter.”

FACT: Although the likelihood is lower at night and during colder months, tornadoes have caused death and destruction during these times of day and year. Violent tornadoes, while very unlikely during the winter months, do occasionally occur at night. When severe weather is forecast, ensure your NOAA weather radio is on and working properly before you go to bed.

“A tornado is not coming directly at me, I am safe.”

MYTH: tornadoes have been known to act erratically, often changing directions quickly. Sturdy shelter is the only safe place to be during a tornado. Although it may be tempting to follow a tornado to get a cool photo, please leave the tornado chasing to trained meteorologists.

“Hiding under a freeway overpass will protect me from a tornado.”

MYTH: While the concrete and re-bar in the bridge may offer some protection against flying debris, the overpass also acts as a wind tunnel and may actually serve to collect debris. When you abandon your vehicle at the overpass and climb up the sides, you are doing two things that are hazardous. First, you are blocking the roadway with your vehicle. When the tornado turns all the parked vehicles into a mangled, twisted ball and wedges them under the overpass, how will emergency vehicles get through? Second, the winds in a tornado tend to be faster with height. By climbing up off the ground, you place yourself in even greater danger from the tornado and flying debris. When coupled with the accelerated winds due to the wind tunnel (Venturi Effect), these winds can easily exceed 300 mph. Unfortunately, at least three people hiding under underpasses during tornadoes have already been killed, and dozens have been injured by flying debris. If you realize you won’t be able to outrun an approaching tornado, you are much safer to abandon your vehicle, and take shelter in a road-side ditch or other low spot (see Tornado Safety). For more information on the use of highway overpasses for shelter, please see this NWS discussion on highway overpasses. Note: If a highway overpass is your only shelter option, only consider it if the overpass has sturdy roadway supports, next to which (at ground level) you can take shelter. Avoid the smooth concrete, support-less spans at all costs.

“I can outrun a tornado, especially in a vehicle.”

MYTH: Tornadoes can move at up to 70 mph or more and shift directions erratically and without warning. It is unwise to try to out-race a tornado. It is better to abandon your vehicle and seek shelter immediately.

“While there is no such thing as a category 6 hurricane (the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale only goes to category 5), there can be an F6 tornado.”

FACT: The Fujita Tornado Damage Intensity Scale actually goes up to F12! The F12 level only begins at wind speeds exceeding Mach 1.0 (or around 738 mph at -3°C), so the probability of a tornado having winds of this speed is infinitesimally small. Could a tornado be an F6? Yes, however, the Fujita scale is based on wind speeds that are estimated from the damage the tornado produced (because no one has been able to stick an anemometer into a tornado to measure the actual wind speeds). Since the winds of an F5 tornado (up to 319 mph) are sufficient to completely destroy just about everything in its path, an F6 really wouldn’t do much more damage than that, and therefore could not be definitively labeled as an F6. When accurate measurements of wind speed inside an extreme tornado are eventually obtained, it is not impossible that they may exceed 319 mph.

More myths and facts, as well as information about tornado preparation, safety and the difference between watches and warnings, can be found on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website.

The truth about cell phones

The discussion about the safety of cell phones began some time ago. Concerns about whether cell phones caused cancer spread across the nation, only to be cut short with, “Maybe it does; maybe it doesn’t.”

Does anyone really know?

The answer is, yes and no.

Yes, there is reason to be concerned. No, it has never been proven that using cell phones cause cancer.

Some people believe that those who have died from brain cancer used their cell phones excessively and always held the phone to the same ear.

Others say that studies are inconclusive because massive cell phone use began only 10 years ago and it is too soon to tell.

I am not an expert, nor do I pretend to be. However, after reading a few articles and studies about the subject, it’s safe to say that I agree with some of what they say.

I think it’s pointless to cause panic, but I believe that people who use cell phones should use caution because it has been shown that what we do in our lives may not show up in our systems until years later.

Saccharin, red dye, and hundreds of other carcinogens were not discovered until people already developed cancer and the history of the lifestyles were revealed.

It was pointed out to me that though cell phones do emit radiation, it is less that what is emitted from a microwave and much less than that of an X-ray.

However, if you go around with a cell phone stuck to your head, it really can’t be healthy, any way you look at it. Not just for your physical health, but your mental health as well.

One researcher suggested that people who use their cell phones excessively should switch ears often. Or going one further, switch to a headset instead.

Take a break from your cell phone. Use the land line more, put your phone down and go for a walk, or have an actual  face to face conversation with your friend or loved one.

Many of us find ourselves chained to our cell phones, which is just another reason to take a look at how we use our phones, and change our habits accordingly.

We may not know all the facts about cell phone safety for many years, but just being aware of the potential dangers could help us later in life.

Celebrating mom, not just on Mother’s Day

My mom is 82 years-old.Mom's Birthday 023yes

Every step she takes is excruciating for her, and so she spends much of her time sitting in her chair with her dog by her side, watching television.

She complains that with all the television stations the cable company offers, she still can’t find anything to watch.

“I’m going to cancel cable, I think,” she says, but she never does.

My mom doesn’t like to do much of anything else. Every hobby I suggest is met with a slow shake of her head.

“Would you like me to get you a good book?”

“No…” she says. “I used to like to read.  I don’t know what happened.”

“How about a craft….scrap booking, maybe?”

“No….” she says with a sigh.

She likes doing the daily crossword puzzle in the local paper, and at least, that seems to be keeping her mind active.

I sit and talk with her when I can.  I tell her about the changing landscape of the city-new businesses that are going in up the street, old buildings that are getting knocked down to make room for the new.

I offer to take her out on nice days to show her.

She shakes her head.

“It’s just too hard,” she says.

She has started using the laptop I encouraged her to buy so she could stay informed about what is going on in the world. But she doesn’t understand any of it and seems to find comfort in what’s wrong with the world today, instead of what is right.

“I don’t understand why people come over to visit me and then sit there texting on their phones instead of talking,” she told me one day.

I shrug my shoulders. “That’s just what people do now,” I say. “It’s not right. It’s just what is.”

She looks at me and laughs. “Yeah…I suppose. I’m just lost, is all.”

Her statement makes me want to cry.

My mother, a once active and vibrant woman lost more than a spouse when my dad died five years ago. She lost the desire to participate in life.

She doesn’t say it, but she’s mad. She’s mad at her situation and mad that my dad left her alone. She’s mad that she can’t do many things she used to.  I have tried to lift her spirits, to make her see that she still has a lot of life to live, but she just doesn’t seem to care anymore. She is just existing.

I wrote my mom’s story for the family a few years ago and through our many conversations, I learned that my mother may not have had the best of everything, but she certainly did the best with what she had.

My mom grew up during the Depression, and though times were tough, her parents made sure the kids never went hungry. Grandpa trapped squirrels and caught catfish from the river.  She told me that there were several times her parents went without meals so she and her brother had enough to eat.

She said she started working when she was 11, at a downtown laundry business. She remembered how they had to take salt pills because they sweated so much.

She found herself having to carry the burden when my dad was in a terrible car accident when I was 4. He nearly died, and couldn’t work for a year. With nine kids to feed, she worked nights and took care of the family and my dad during the day. She worked until she was 63, and traveled with my dad to exotic destinations before my dad became sick.

“I miss him everyday,” she told me one time, as she gazed at his picture sitting next her on the table. “But sometimes I feel like he’ s still here.”

This woman, who means the world to me, who picked me up when I fell, who dried my tears after breaking up with a boyfriend, who shared my happiness on my wedding day and over the birth of my children, who encouraged me when I didn’t think I could go on, who always taught me to be the best person I could be….

…this beautiful woman, proved to me time and again, what it means to be a mother.

It means sacrificing your happiness so your children could have a better life. It means going without, so your kids could have new clothes to start school.

Being a mother means being there when your child needs you. It means spending sleepless nights worrying about their well-being. It means never, ever forgetting what it means to be a mother.

My mother taught me well.

Though her anger and sadness seem to cloud over her love for life, she is still the loving and devoted mother she has always been.

My mom and I don’t always agree on everything, and I doubt we ever will. But I know that she loves me and would do anything for me. Now I have the opportunity to show my appreciation by being here for her.

Mother’s Day is not just a day to recognize and celebrate my mom, because I celebrate her everyday.

But rather, it’s a day to remember why we become mothers in the first place and to pass on that love only a  mother can give, and only a mother can receive.

The love between a mother and child-the love that lives forever.

Anyone can be a gardener…can’t they?

It’s true.

My tomato seeds, four days old

My tomato seeds, four days old

Anyone can be a gardener, even someone like me, who has accepted my lack of green-thumbery with grace.

I stopped by Dollar General Tuesday after work to pick up a few notebooks. I happened to walk through the garden and seasonal aisle and spotted a tomato-growing kit for $1.

Sure, it was only a couple of containers, and I had to buy the dirt, but it was enough to motivate me to buy the kit, take it home, and prepare the containers to set in the sun.

I will say it again; I do not have a green thumb. I like the idea of growing my own veggies, but I am not one to sit in  the sun for hours, weeding, watering, and toiling over a bunch of plants.

I have tried planting gardens, but either the soil was not good, or the animals got to the plants before they had a chance to mature.

I thought about building a raised garden, but decided I would try tomatoes in a small container first to see how dedicated I was. (Kind of like borrowing someone’s dog to see if I can handle being a pet owner.)

I am planning on putting the plants in a larger container when they get big enough, but for now, I am OK with taking care of them on a smaller scale.

Anyone can be a gardener. Put a seed in some dirt, water it once in a while, and set it in the sun. POOF! You’re a gardener.

Just kidding. I don’t really think it’s that easy. I have a lot of respect for people who can spend their time cultivating a vegetable or flower garden. It must take a lot of dedication to encourage these little seeds to take hold and grow into what they were meant to be.

Time will tell.

I’ll be proud if tomatoes really do grow on these plants. And when I pick them, wash them, and finally eat them, I will know that I can grow my own vegetables….if I have to. And you never know. I may find that I really love gardening and plant even more next year.

On the other hand, I may find out that I’d rather just write about them.