Archive for February 2009

The afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001, is clearly etched in my mind. The country was under siege, everybody around me was working on a story about the terrorist attacks, and there I sat, writing a story and designing a page about an Italian restaurant in Atchison, Kan.

Insignificant or what? My boss and mentor, Pat Lowry, later tried to tell me that what I did that day was important because it gave us all a sense that life goes on, even under the direst of circumstances.

I again had that insignificant feeling today as I worked on the upcoming travel page for The Gazette while a coworker and friend was clearing out his desk a few feet away. I wanted to leave, go for a walk or something, but I felt I needed to stay. One, to do my job, and two, to show support for him.

My colleague was one of 13 fellow Gazette newsroom staffers who were laid off Tuesday as part of the continuing reorganization project, prompted by a combination of the changes in the newspaper industry, the devastating flood in Cedar Rapids last summer and the economic downturn that has left nobody unscathed.

The staff knew this day would come; we were made aware of it earlier this year. But it still didn’t make it any less shocking or difficult to absorb.

I have been through this before. My last three newspapers have gone through some kind of change during my tenure. In 2001, my husband and I were both on the chopping block of The Leavenworth (Kan.) Times. In 2003, a reorganization of sorts at the Atchison (Kan.) Globe saw the managing editor getting axed and me taking his place. Then, the next year at the Globe, my boss, Mr. Lowry, was shown the door. That was the final straw for me. I applied for one job and one job only at The Gazette in my homeland of Eastern Iowa.

Now, The Gazette is going through major changes and reorganization. I do believe changes are necessary to keep the business afloat. But I never like to see anybody lose their job and livelihood. I would say I have survivor’s guilt but I am not totally convinced yet that I am a survivor.

As disappointed as I am in The Gazette that good people have lost their jobs and now face an uncertain future, I still believe in journalism and The Gazette’s mission. We’ll see what the next few weeks bring…

My husband, Jeff, has been a coach of high school sports for more than 30 years. He followed in the footsteps of his father, former Vinton-Shellsburg wrestling coach Don Holmes, who coached in the late ’50s through the early ’70s.

Above all, my father-in-law was a teacher – in the classroom, on the mat and in life. Jeff took these lessons from his father, believing the most important part of coaching was instilling hard work, self esteem and yes, a little fun, in these student-athletes.

Photo by Cliff Jette/The Gazette    Cedar Rapids Washington's Brandon Burrell reacts after defeating Jacob Crawford of Southeast Polk during the Class 3A 285-pound championship match at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines on Saturday, Feb. 21.

Photo by Cliff Jette/The Gazette Cedar Rapids Washington's Brandon Burrell reacts after defeating Jacob Crawford of Southeast Polk during the Class 3A 285-pound championship match at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines on Saturday, Feb. 21. For more state wrestling photos by The Gazette, see

Over the years, Jeff has seen athletes burn out by the time they were in high school because of the pressure put on them early on to be the best. During Saturday’s finals of the fabled Iowa High School State Wrestling Tournament, Brandon Burrell, the heavyweight from Cedar Rapids Washington caught Jeff’s attention. Not only because he won a state championship, but because of the way he got there. 

Here’s Jeff thoughts on Burrell’s inspiring journey and win:

After walking away from a promising wrestling career at the University of Iowa in the mid-1990s, Matt Hoover gave up on his dream and in essence, his life.

Matt Hoover won "Biggest Loser 2" in 2005 by losing 157 pounds.

Matt Hoover won "Biggest Loser 2" in 2005 by losing 157 pounds.

He gained weight, as well as dangerous eating and drinking habits. His marriage fell apart and he seemed to have given up as his life spiraled out of control.

Fast forward to 2009, and Matt is happily married again with two young sons and at 33, is training for a spot on the wrestling team for the 2012 Olympics in London.

In a teleclass Wednesday sponsored by, the winner of NBC’s “Biggest Loser 2” spoke with Dave Lakhani about his transformation and determination to maintain a healthy lifestyle. 

 In 2004, Matt – well over 300 pounds – was watching the first season of “Biggest Loser.” Of course, he was sprawled out on the couch with a bag of chips on his belly and a beer in his hand. He thought the contestants were big babies with all of their tears and emotions. He immediately found out how to audition for the show and had little doubt that he could win. After all, he used to wrestle for the legendary Dan Gable . How hard could this be?

The first workout at the Biggest Loser Ranch was the first workout he had in years. “It dang near killed me,” he recalls. That was when he realized that just because he was a star wrestler years before, he couldn’t just pick it back up without working hard.

Matt Hoover weighed nearly 340 pounds when he started on "Biggest Loser."

Matt Hoover weighed nearly 340 pounds when he started on "Biggest Loser."

“Talent only takes you so far,” he says. If you are not willing to work hard, people with not as much talent will catch you, a lesson he learned quickly when first joining the Iowa wrestling team as well as on the Biggest Loser Ranch.

Living on the Ranch was not typical of normal life. There were no distractions, no jobs, no bills – just a beautiful setting with a big mansion, top-notch fitness equipment, trainers and an endless amount of food.  An average day on the Ranch consisted of working out, having a snack, taking a nap and then repeating the process.

In the real world, there’s a fast food restaurant on every corner, jobs, kids, etc. Needless to say, it was an adjustment coming home for Matt. He lost 157 pounds in nine months to claim the “Biggest Loser 2” title in 2005 as well as the $250,000 prize.

Then the hard work really began. He gained about 60 pounds after the show and found it hard to be a “fat man in a skinny body.” At other times in his life, when things got difficult, he just gave up and walked away. But this time he made the decision to put past behaviors behind him. “You don’t know if it’s going to work unless you stick with it,” he says.

If he doesn’t work out and exercise each day, Matt knows he will gain all the weight back. He realizes in these tough economic times, not everyone can afford a gym membership. But he also believes that you can’t afford not to be healthy. And there are plenty of other ways to exercise other than in a gym. There’s “no place that charges to use sidewalks,” he says.

 One of the most important lessons he learned from the show was “you cannot change until you’re willing to do so.” And willing to do it for yourself, not everybody else.

You also have to drop the excuses and take responsibility for your life, he says. “I chalked it up to bad luck. It’s not bad luck, but bad choices. I made up my mind that this is what my life was going to be – fat, broke and drunk.”

However, it’s not too late for anybody to turn their life around. “Things happen in your life that you can’t even expect,” he says. “Look forward and take action.”

Matt met his wife Suzy Preston Hoover on the show.

Matt met his wife Suzy Preston Hoover on the show.

Yes, the big prize money and the weight loss were great perks from winning “Biggest Loser”, but the most important thing he took away from the show was his wife, fellow contestant Suzy Preston.

Matt and Suzy now live in Seattle with their two young sons, Rex and Jax. “We are not going to raise our kids to struggle (with weight) they way we have had to,” he says. Suzy prepares the boys’ meals organically and they steer away from sweets and junk food.

A typical meal in the Hoover household is salmon, steamed broccoli and a salad with low-cal dressing. They prepare individual servings so they know they are not going over their limit. Matt doesn’t encourage leftovers, but if you have them, put them in the freezer so they are not so easily accessible.

They also make sure they are active together as a family. Playing with your kids is a great way to keep active, Matt says. “Be your kids’ babysitter, not the TV.”

Since the show, Matt has made a career out of public speaking and coaching health and fitness. One of the consistent themes he sees in people he trains is the not the fear of failure, but the fear of success. A lot of these people have never experienced success and have a skewed idea of what is successful, he says. Unrealistic expectations make it even more difficult to stick with a program.

Matt and Suzy are active members on and offer a training program. In 2008, Matt’s book, “Matt Hoover’s Guide to Life, Love, and Losing Weight,” was released. He is currently writing another book about being a dad.

On my mission to fight frump and get my groove back, I hope to get out and do more things. In the past five or so years, financial limitations, scheduling nightmares and parental duties have pretty much kept me at work or at home.

Nancy and Ann Wilson of Heart

Nancy and Ann Wilson of Heart

While driving to work yesterday, I heard that Heart was going to play an outdoor concert in June at the Riverside Casino and Golf Resort just south of Iowa City. Really? Ann and Nancy Wilson are my girls. They have been since my freshman year in high school in 1986 when my home-ec teacher used to play their comeback self-titled album (and yes it was an album) in class every day. My brother took some friends and me to their concert that spring at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, and I was hooked.

I saw them a couple more times in high school and college but then they seemed to stop touring. In 1999, my husband and I lost a bunch of weight through Atkins and were determined to live it up. We still refer to it as the “Summer of Fun.”  

SOF, as we called that summer, was based around our trip to Seattle for my cousin’s wedding in June which was in Bellingham, about an hour-and-a-half north of Seattle. It turns out Heart was going to play in their hometown Seattle while we were up there. Perfect, except that the concert was the same night as the wedding. We didn’t go to the concert but drove down to Seattle after the reception to see if we could still get into the club they were playing. No dice.

Later that summer we did catch their tour at a stop in Topeka. It was at the Performing Arts Center and the crowd was made up primarily of season ticket holders who weren’t quite as in to the concert as me. I felt deprived that I hadn’t seen Heart in their native Northwest. We got on their Web site and saw their last show of the tour was at Sokol Blosser Winery in Dundee, Ore. How cool would that be?

The stage where Heart played in 1999 at Sokol Blosser Winery in Dundee, Ore.

The stage where Heart played in 1999 at Sokol Blosser Winery in Dundee, Ore.

But we couldn’t just fly to Portland after being in Seattle two months earlier. Or could we? Our trip back to Kansas City from Seattle was delayed so we got discount vouchers. To top it off, a coworker worked part-time at an airline and got our seats upgraded to first class. So in late August we hopped on a plane again and headed back Northwest. We felt like true jetsetters.

The concert was unbelievable. We managed to wiggle our way into the front and absorbed my favorite band under the moonlight in the gorgeous Willamette Valley’s Dundee Hills. The next morning, less than 48 hours after we embarked on this adventure, we boarded a plane back home.

Since that grand Summer of Fun, doing something like this would be unthinkable. Going out to dinner in Cedar Rapids is a huge planned event for us now. I look forward to the concert at Riverside. It’s certainly no Oregon winery, but it’s a start.

Jeff and Angie Holmes on their wedding day Nov. 9, 1996

Jeff and Angie Holmes on their wedding day Nov. 9, 1996

I didn’t participate in Facebook’s 25 Random Things About Me because I didn’t think I could come up with 25 things. But for Valentines Day, I had no problem coming up with 25 things about the whirlwind journey with my husband, Jeff. This is just snippet of the first year-and-a-half of our nearly 14 years together.

  1. The week before I met my future husband, Jeff Holmes, I wrote a column for a bridal section about how hard it was to find a mate in rural Iowa.
  2. On Aug. 1, 1995, my intern Mariah (who was also one of my best friends) and I traveled to Fort Dodge to take pictures at the Iowa High School State Softball Tournament. I had never been on a photographers’ podium before and thought I owned it and stood anywhere I pleased.  Somebody tapped me on my shoulder and asked me to move over. It was Jeff. Annoying and in his way from the very beginning.
  3. Neither Jeff nor I were supposed to be there; we were both covering for somebody else in our respective newspaper companies. I was covering my alma mater Williamsburg and he was covering Independence. Ahh, fate.   
  4. It turns out he was from Vinton and I was from Belle Plaine, both in Benton County about 30 miles apart. Ahh, fate, again.
  5. On our first date a couple of days later he was on “scanner” duty, listening to the police scanner for anything major to go cover. As a fellow small-town journalist, I understood and was fine with it. Nothing major happened.
  6. Although he was cute, charming and intelligent, I thought it was too bad it would never go anywhere because he divulged he was divorced and was working at a newspaper. Oh, and he was 38 and I was 24. Too bad, he was such a nice guy.
  7. We did casually date for several months, having a good time taking pictures together at the state volleyball tournament and the bridges of Madison County. That was enough to make him my boyfriend and he first met my parents at Thanksgiving dinner hosted by my mom. No pressure.
  8. By mid-December I “just wasn’t that into him” and decided to break it off. He already had Christmas presents for me and I spent Christmas Day with his family. I never have quite deserved them.
  9. On New Year’s Eve, I went to a party with a friend in Cedar Falls and met up with an old flame. When I finally made it home the next night, Jeff brought me dinner because I sounded so pathetic (read: hung over) on the phone. Then he went with me to the office 15 miles away so I could work on the year-end review for the paper. Did I mention I didn’t deserve him?  
  10. We continued to date as friends for the next month and eventually our romance blossomed. At a Valentines dinner and dance at Tara Hills in Van Horne, I declared my love for him while slow dancing to Art Garfunkel’s All I Know.”  I don’t think I really knew until that moment. It was very emotional for me with tears and everything. Still kinda chokes me up thinking about it.
  11. While on vacation in Phoenix to visit his grandparents, I randomly walked into a jewelry store in a mall with him and started looking at engagement rings. I hadn’t really thought about marriage before that point, but the moment just hit me. The look on his face was priceless when we walked out of the store.
  12. When we got back from Phoenix a week later, I looking at a calendar to see when a good fall wedding date would be. I called him and said, “What do you think of Oct. 19?” What about it? “Do you want to get married then?” So, the story goes, I actually asked him to marry me.
  13. On Easter Sunday, he asked my parents for my hand in marriage. They said no. The divorce and age thing bothered them too (I obviously was over it by then). They also were worried that we hadn’t known each other long enough.
  14. When we convinced my parents that it was the right thing and we were ready, they then turned the conversation on me. “You know she’s a fireball, don’t you?” they asked Jeff.  I’m not sure if he did at that point, but he quickly learned about my charming temper.
  15. He planned to give me an engagement ring on my birthday, April 22. But the week before that I had been horribly sick with the flu and he wanted to cheer me up. On April 19 he brought over his mom’s homemade chicken soup and took care of me. He gave me a teddy bear with a ring box and officially proposed. He then gave me a couple Benadryl. They worked quickly as I fell asleep with a noodle hanging out of my mouth. The noodle story still remains one of his favorites.
  16. Our wedding date, Nov. 9, 1996, was based on two things: High school football season had to be over because he was a coach and Seven Villages Restaurant at the Amana exit had to be available for the reception.
  17. During the ceremony, I looked over and saw my maid of honor, Chris, all teary-eyed. I had to give her a comforting look. It was my wedding after all (I did not get teary-eyed; all smiles).
  18. We showed up late to the reception because our best man, Brad, drove us around the Holden’s Seed corn plots in Jeff’s company vehicle with a couple bottles of champagne. Long story, but let’s just say it was some sort of a tradition between my maid of honor and me.
  19. The first songs we danced to as a married couple were “Don’t Know Much” by Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville and “Head Over Feet” by Alanis Morrisette. We were told that Alanis wasn’t the most romantic singer, but the song fit us perfectly.
  20. The first night of our honeymoon we stayed at the Claytonian Inn, a bed and breakfast in Clayton, Iowa. We came across the quaint place along the river in our “just friends” stage while taking pictures of fall leaves the year before.
  21. Other than going to a Bob Dylan concert in Dubuque, we didn’t have anything planned for our honeymoon.  The morning after the concert, we decided to go to Chicago for a few days.
  22. About four days into the honeymoon, I wanted to go home. Chicago was cold in November, everything was expensive, and most of all, I couldn’t wait to live the married life.
  23. In February 1997, three months after we got married, Jeff made a gasping noise while reading a help wanted ad in Editor and Publisher. It was for a job at the Daily Union in Junction City, Kan. He said he hadn’t thought of Junction City since his days in the Army at nearby Fort Riley. A month later we moved there.
  24. We lived in Junction City for three months before moving to Leavenworth, Kan., where Jeff got a job as sports editor of The Leavenworth Times. We were only going to stay six months and move back to Iowa. Seven years later, in 2005, we finally moved back to Vinton, one of the places this whole story started.
  25. Remembering all of this makes me realize how lucky I am to have found my soul mate. Our life together has been a journey full of ups and downs, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I love you always, hunny. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Children of all abilities were given a boost Thursday when a special court ruled that parents claiming certain vaccinations caused their children to be autistic are not entitled to compensation.  

There has been a belief among a large segment of those affected by autism (and their lawyers) that the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccines and thimerosal-containing vaccines can combine to cause autism. This has caught fire with celebrities like Jenny McCarthy speaking out on the topic.

Don’t get me wrong, Jenny McCarthy is a wonderful advocate for autism awareness. The dedication to improving her son’s life is inspiring. But it has been a concern among some of us with autistic children that all the publicity surrounding the vaccine debate would cause parents to forgo necessary vaccinations.

When my son, Sage, first starting showing developmental delays when he was an infant, I was convinced it was because I took Prozac and thyroid medication while I was pregnant. He was also born five weeks before his due date and had a rough delivery. The umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck and his first Apgar score was 1. He was immediately put on oxygen and his score increased to 9 within minutes.

My doctors then and now have told (not necessarily convinced) me that none of these factors are related to Sage’s delays. He has received all of his vaccinations on schedule and I have never believed they caused him to be on the autism spectrum. His father and I are not sure why our son has always been developmentally delayed or why his social skills have put him on the autism spectrum. We are more focused on getting him therapy and preparing him to function in the real world.

According to an Associated Press story, here are some points in the ruling:

  • The judges in the cases said the evidence was overwhelmingly contrary to the parents’ claims – and backed years of science that found no risk.
  • “It was abundantly clear that petitioners’ theories of causation were speculative and unpersuasive,” the court concluded in one of a trio of cases ruled on Thursday.
  • The ruling was anxiously awaited by health authorities and families who began presenting evidence nearly two years ago. More than 5,500 claims have been filed by families seeking compensation through the government’s Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. The claims are reviewed by special masters serving on the U.S. Court of Claims.
  • “Hopefully, the determination by the special masters will help reassure parents that vaccines do not cause autism,” the Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement.
  • To win, the families’ attorneys had to show that it was more likely than not that the autism symptoms in the children were directly related to a combination of the measles-mumps-rubella shots and other shots that at the time carried a mercury-containing preservative called thimerosal.
  • “The petitioners have failed to demonstrate that thimerosal-containing vaccines can contribute to causing immune dysfunction,” a judge wrote about one theory that the families proposed to explain how autism might be linked.

This issue is certainly not going to go away with this ruling. There are people passionate about it on both sides. What do you think? Please comment or e-mail me at

As a mother of a 6-year-old on the autism spectrum, I found reading Laura Shumaker’s memoir “A Regular Guy: Growing up With Autism” at times funny, heartbreaking and just plain terrifying.

regular-guyShumaker chronicles her experiences as the mother of an autistic son, Matthew. Her journey begins with how her perception of those who are disabled was molded by her mother’s cousin, Uncle Henry, who had a severe case of cerebral palsy. Growing up, she couldn’t help but privately laugh at Henry with his awkward body and movements. She also couldn’t help but form opinions about disabled people she met during her teens and early 20s.

It wasn’t until her mother scolded her and told her to think about how those people’s mothers would feel if they knew somebody was making fun of them. That sobered her up, but she didn’t have to worry about it. That would never happen to her.

And then Matthew was born.  He was a beautiful baby who progressed normally his first year of life. He then seemed to regress.  He was different than the other toddlers. Laura and her husband hoped he would grow out of it. But he wouldn’t.

Although Matthew and my son, Sage, have some significant differences, there were parts of the book that I could have written about my experience, starting with my perceptions about “different” people before Sage came into my life.

The Shumakers began to wonder about Matthew when he developed an obsession with wheels and drains. Sage has had several obsessions in his young life – the most prevalent being fans and air conditioners. At the Iowa State Fair when Sage was 3 or 4, he ran what seemed to be halfway across the grounds back to a large fan he remembered we had walked by earlier. Just this February morning he turned on the air conditioner because he wanted to go look at the unit outside.

Another aspect of Shumaker’s book that struck a chord with me was the perception others had about her child – that same type of perception we used to have about awkward, and sometimes annoying, children. The disapproving looks, the unintended condescending comments, the behind-the-back snickering – these all are familiar.

One thing Sage doesn’t seem to share with Matthew is a lack of empathy. I believe Sage truly does feel remorseful when he does something wrong. He also cares when somebody, especially a friend, is hurt or sad.

The terrifying moments in Shumaker’s book for me were when Matthew would leave the house and disappear, engage in meaningless conversation or relentlessly hit or pick on girls he liked just to get their attention. After all, he just wanted to be a “regular guy.”

It is every parent’s desire for their children be “regular” and have a “normal” life. But like the autism spectrum, the realm of “normal” is broad and unique for each individual.  

If you are the parent or loved one of someone who is “different,” I highly recommend Shumaker’s book. If you are not, I recommend it even more.

Husband: “Can you make it home by 6:30 so I can take pictures at the basketball game?” Me: “I’ll try.” Sure enough, when I pull in the driveway at 6:28 p.m., he is standing at the door ready for me to take over the duty of watching our son.

Such is the life of tag-team parenting which certainly isn’t confined to my house. With our professions (my husband is a recovering journalist and I’m still bitten by the sickness), our schedules have always been rather non-conventional.

Before we became parents, this schedule was at times inconvenient, but really not a big deal. My husband, Jeff, was a sports editor so it was nothing for him to be gone nearly early every night of the week covering games as well as the Saturday night shift and Kansas City Chiefs games on Sundays. Tie in that he was a high school wrestling coach…well, you get the picture. My schedule consisted of covering night meetings, working long hours on special projects and the weekend shift.

A rare moment with the three of us all together. Of course, Sage's first birhtday was celebrated at my office, because I couldn't get away that day.

A rare moment with the three of us all together in 2003. Of course, Sage's first birthday was celebrated at my office, because I couldn't get away that day.

When our son was born in 2002 after six years of marriage, our whole way of thinking changed. Gone were the days when we could be gone at the same time or could just up and leave at a moment’s notice.  The first year-and-a-half was especially challenging as we lived in Kansas and had no family around. Moving back to Iowa in 2004 to be closer to our families was a no-brainer.

Not that our schedules got any better. As swing editor of The Gazette, it is my job to, well, swing from job to job when needed. This includes night shifts, weekend shifts and everything in between. There have been times when I’ve showed up for the day shift only to be sent home because I was needed on the night shift. Swing indeed.

Jeff continued to be a wrestling coach, which requires practice, night meets and the beloved all-day Saturday tournaments. To top off our scheduling nightmare, he started a weekly newspaper in 2005 with my help. Despite what some may think, this was an incredible amount of work and we were very dedicated to it. Meetings, games, events. It all had to be covered. And it all had to be put together.  In the midst of all that craziness, somebody at work (the real, paying job) said I was too blasé, especially during mind-numbing meetings. Blasé? Try comatose.

Our schedules have changed quite a bit in the past year. We are no longer involved with the paper we started, which was tough to take when the decision was first made, but is so much better for us as a family in the long run. My “normal” schedule has gone from working every Friday and Saturday night to just working every Friday night. Jeff is now the girls’ and boys’ high school swimming coach and helps with high school softball, gigs that still require some night and Saturday events, but are much more relaxed and reasonable than the Iowa high school wrestling scene.

Oh, there is still quite a bit of tag-team parenting going on with us. I must say we could not function without the help of Jeff’s parents, Don and Barb Holmes, who live just across town. They are life-savers when it comes to watching Sage and picking him up from school when we can’t. They love spending time with their only grandson and he just loves them to death.

We are lucky to have such a support system. I know others have a much more difficult time balancing work and their personal life. Do you have a story to share? Please leave a comment or e-mail me at

When Janet Rorholm received a call from a social worker in April 2006 asking her if she could take in two foster children, she was slightly taken aback.

Janet Rorholm

Janet Rorholm

Two? She was just expecting one; especially on her first stint as a foster parent. But when the social worker said it was best not to separate siblings, Janet agreed. Not quite three years later, Janet has officially adopted the siblings, Thomas and Katie.

Janet, 37, admits as a single woman with a full-time job, it can be tough raising two toddlers. But she says she can’t complain too much, because she “signed up for that.”

The editor of The Gazette’s  business magazine, The Edge, Janet has also worked as an investigative reporter. The stories that always got her the most were the ones about abused or neglected children.

Then, she came to the point in her life when she was ready to help these children and become a foster parent.  As a single woman, she wasn’t sure she qualified, but after some research, she began the process.

“I felt there was a need out there,” she said. “If I were married, I would still want to do this.”

She went through the Iowa Department of Human Service’s adoption and foster parent training at the same time. As the class progressed, the number of participants got smaller and smaller. Trainees drop out for different reasons, Janet says, including relocation, family or employment changes, or the realization that the goal of the foster system is to return children to their families. 

“That’s tough for a lot of people to swallow,” she says. “You want what’s best for the child.”

There is also a chance the children have been exposed to drugs or abuse prior to their placement in foster care.

“It’s not an easy journey,” Janet says. “On one hand these kids are resilient and on the other hand they may have been scarred.”

Thomas and Katie enjoy the pumpkin patch.

Thomas and Katie enjoy the pumpkin patch.

Janet recalls the day 22-month-old Thomas and 11-month-old Katie came into her life – April 13, 2006. It was the day a tornado heavily damaged Iowa City.

“It was a hot, muggy day,” she says. “We just sat down for supper and the tornado alarm went off.”

She and a visiting friend each grabbed a child and headed to the basement of her Cedar Rapids home. As they sat there in the dark with the children on their laps, “that’s when I realized my life had changed,” Janet says.

The children showed little emotion when first placed in Janet’s care. “They were bewildered by everything. They never gave me any trouble because everything was a new experience. They were taking it all in.”

Within three or four months, the social worker told Janet that Thomas and Katie might be available for adoption.

“I remember hyperventilating about it,” she says. “That’s not what I had in mind.”

It instantly changed her mindset from “they’re going home” to they could permanently stay with her.

In the summer of 2007, the children’s birth parents’ rights were terminated. After a year and a half of red tape and bureaucracy, Janet’s adoption of them was finalized last week.

Katie and Thomas enjoy the playground.

Katie and Thomas enjoy the playground.

Janet currently has another foster child living with her and Thomas and Katie. She doesn’t know if she will continue to be a foster parent as her adopted children are getting attached to their “little sister.”

Juggling the demands of a full-time job and raising two children has been a balancing act for Janet. But she has been fortunate to have a lot of support from family, friends and coworkers.

“If you don’t have that, it would be very difficult,” she says.   

Her parents live more than four hours away in Sioux City. She sometimes wishes she had relatives closer to Cedar Rapids to lend a helping hand on a moment’s notice. But when in need, her parents do travel across Iowa to watch the kids.

Since the beginning of 2006, Janet’s life has changed dramatically. Gone are the days when she could work late and take the weekend shifts.

“One thing I miss is silence,” she says.

But the sounds of her children’s laughter make it all worth it.

When I was a kid, I loved to look at my parents’ high school yearbooks. My dad graduated in 1963 and my mom in 1964 from Kanawha High School in north central Iowa.

The Jinx, as the KHS yearbook was called in those days, was filled with school pictures of boys with slick crew cuts and suits and girls with beehive hairdos. The candid shots revealed a clean-cut bunch who enjoyed football games and dances.

AP/The dance floor Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake as it looks today.

AP/The dance floor of the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake as it looks today.

One of their favorite destinations was the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, which was about 35 minutes from Kanawha. A group of teens would routinely head up to the popular dance hall on the weekends. My dad recalls how he and my mom made up for good at the Surf after one of their many high school boyfriend-girlfriend spats. He clearly remembers she was wearing a short red skirt that night.

AP/The poster commemorating the Winter Dance Party featuring Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson.

AP/A poster commemorating the Winter Dance Party featuring Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson.

He also remembers seeing such legends as Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash there. In 1959, my parents were a little young to join the crowd at the Winter Dance Party featuring Ritchie Valens, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and Buddy Holly. But they do remember hearing about the plane crash near a corn field just outside Clear Lake that killed the three musicians as well as pilot Roger Peterson.

I always heard my parents talk about the dances at the Surf and didn’t quite understand why they were so special until my cousin’s wedding reception in February 2000. It wasn’t at the Surf, but at the ballroom in Duncan, a tiny town north of Kanawha. The hall was just beautiful with its hardwood dance floor. Outside it was a cold, desolate tundra on the vast Iowa plains. But inside it was alive with people of all ages dancing and having a great time.

I’ve been reading and watching with great interest about the activities in Clear Lake the past couple weeks, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the “day the music died.”  

Like I did while studying the pages of my parents’ yearbooks, I once again imagined what it was like to live in a simpler time. When I was a kid, I usually listened to my parents’ old albums – The Everly Brothers, The Mamas and the Papas and Peter, Paul and Mary.

Then albums were replaced by cassettes; cassettes by CDs; and CDs by downloads. In a time when technology makes it possible to socialize and keep entertained without ever stepping away from your computer, it’s comforting to know a ballroom in Iowa can still attract the attention and affection of people from all walks of life.

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    February 2009
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