Skip Navigation
Iowa State University Extension

December 2007 -- From Jack Payne

Cartoon from

And to All, a Good Solstice!

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, … it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness …” -- A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens, (1812-1870)

Have you ever noticed how language seems to change to suit our interests? Take the word “season,” for example. It has morphed way beyond denoting the four divisions of the year that herald periodic weather changes. In fact, the winter season now includes celebrations and rituals that encompass presidential caucuses, skiing, ice fishing and what has come to be known as the Holiday Season.

Although we have created man-made seasons to complement our way of life, it is the planets and the sun that have the ultimate jurisdiction over us. The Earth leans slightly on its axis like a spinning top frozen in an off-kilter position. Global warming notwithstanding, this planetary pose is what causes the variety of our climate and the drama and poetry of our seasons, since it determines how many hours and minutes each hemisphere receives precious sunlight. Despite our efforts to light up the night with electric decorations, Winter Solstice is the shortest and darkest day of the year.

It’s fascinating to note that our ancestors had the same proclivity that we do today for putting a spin on the seasons. Winter Solstice was celebrated in cultures the world over for thousands of years as a celebration of light. The Mesopotamians observed a 12-day festival of renewal, designed to help the god Marduk tame the monsters of chaos for one more year. It was celebrated as a turning point.

Winter Solstice this year will occur in Iowa on Dec. 22 at 12:08 a.m. CST. Whatever words you use to celebrate this season, let’s include peace and goodwill in the mix.


Use your credit cards with care during last minute shopping

holiday gift

Planning to use your credit cards for last minute holiday shopping? First, try not to spend more money than you intend. Second, keep a close watch on your cards and account numbers, advise ISU Extension family resource management specialists. Only carry the credit card you anticipate using, and be sure to retrieve your credit card after completing a transaction. A distracted moment could result in the theft of your credit card. If your credit card or ATM card is lost or stolen, report the loss or theft immediately to the card issuer, the ISU Extension specialists say.

For money management tips that help during the holiday season and all year round, visit ISU Extension’s finances Web site or contact an ISU Extension family resource management specialist.

Iowa likely to follow U.S. trend: Slow decline in manufacturing

Ron Cox

What effect do national manufacturing trends like slow growth, higher prices and layoffs have on Iowa’s manufacturing economy? According to Ron Cox, director of ISU Extension’s Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS), Iowa, as well as the Midwest, “has bucked national trends. But I think it’s catching up with us. The whole U.S. manufacturing economy is starting into a slow down turn, and nobody knows how big it is.”

Cox says key manufacturing indicators suggest that at least for the next two or three months the United States is likely to continue to see a slow down, and Iowa will likely follow that trend.

In July Iowa had 231,800 people working in manufacturing; that number decreased to 230,300 in October — a loss of 1,500 manufacturing jobs in three months, Cox said. “But to put it in perspective, the rest of the Iowa economy grew by 4,500 jobs. Manufacturing is starting to behave in Iowa and the Midwest like it is behaving nationally – a slow decline.”

However, Cox said, “If we’re looking for a silver lining, Iowa did not behave like the rest of the country for most of the past year. Although we’ve had this recent decline, we have gained 600 manufacturing employees over the last year.”

In addition, some industries that are important to Iowa — the food industry, the chemical industry, machinery, electrical equipment and appliances, computer and electronic products — are all growing nationally, Cox said. “We have a lot of these industries in Iowa, so hopefully the growth nationally will help us out.”

Visit the CIRAS Web site to listen to Cox’s monthly radio commentary on manufacturing and the economy.

Latino immigrants to pilot health care discussion guide

Beverlyn Lundy Allen

This winter Latino immigrants in Sioux City, West Liberty, Perry and Mount Pleasant will be discussing health care, a hot-button issue in Iowa and throughout the country. According to ISU Extension sociologist Beverlyn Lundy Allen, they’ll be pilot testing a discussion guide on health care access issues facing immigrants as they navigate daily life in the United States. An ISU Extension community and economic development field specialist and a local bilingual facilitator will conduct the program in Spanish at each location.

After the pilots, Lundy Allen and Jan Flora, also an ISU Extension sociologist, will revise the discussion guide based on the groups’ recommendations. The guide is being developed to accompany Éxito en el Norte (Success in the North), a Spanish-language DVD series produced by Experience Education Inc., the Southwest Iowa Latino Resource Center and ISU Extension. Health care access is one of 10 topics in the series.

“We are beginning with health care access because it is one of the more difficult topics, since states have different policies and guidelines,” Lundy Allen said.

The discussion guide also will be a resource for Voices for Community Success, an ISU Extension program to increase civic understanding and develop leadership skills within local immigrant communities.

The sociology team hopes to develop guides for the entire Éxito en el Norte series, which also covers taxes, employment, public assistance, education, transportation, family finances, housing, the legal system and immigration law. For more information, contact Lundy Allen at

10 communities selected for Community Visioning Program

Before ... and after Community Visioning

Volunteers from 10 Iowa communities will participate in the 2008 Iowa’s Living Roadways Community Visioning Program. They’ll learn to think strategically as they develop landscape improvements that reflect local values and enhance the identity of their community. Local leaders in Belle Plaine, Ely, Grand Junction, Harlan, Lake Park, Manson, Osceola, Sac City, Webster City and Winthrop will take part in this program funded by the Iowa Department of Transportation and carried out in partnership with ISU Extension and Trees Forever.

The communities were selected because of their populations (fewer than 10,000), transportation-related issues, dedicated volunteers and willingness to contribute at least $1,000 to their local effort, said Sandra Oberbroeckling, program coordinator for ISU Extension. In return, during the next year each community will receive professional services valued at more than $14,000. Throughout the process the communities will receive support from technical experts from Trees Forever, a professional landscape architect and ISU Extension.

Two additional communities will be selected by late December. For more information, contact Oberbroeckling at

Parents can get answers online ‘just in time’

Just in Time Parenting

When can a baby eat solid foods? How do you know when a baby has an ear infection? eXtension’s new online resource, Just in Time Parenting, provides round-the-clock access to information and experts. Month by month as baby grows, parents can find out what they need to know about each particular life stage. Iowa State is among the more than 70 land-grant universities providing research-based information to this Web site that parents can access “just in time.”

The eXtension parenting content has been written and peer-reviewed by a multi-state team of Extension specialists, said team member Lesia Oesterreich, an ISU Extension family life specialist.

“The Web site is designed for busy parents,” Oesterreich said. “We highlight information and strategies that are crucial to helping children thrive: promoting healthy growth and development, preparing children for success in school, reinforcing positive parenting behaviors and affirming healthy interpersonal and family relationships.”

Beginning in February 2008, parents can subscribe to monthly “just in time” e-newsletters, keyed to the age of each subscriber’s child.

Although the current focus is infants, the Extension parenting content team plans to extend the resources from pregnancy through parenting in the teen years, Oesterreich said.

International program promotes ag understanding — with Iowa style

USDA Cochran program participants

They come to Iowa from throughout the world to learn about agriculture, build networks and gain skills they can take back home. These participants in the USDA Cochran Program for International Agricultural Understanding experience U.S. food production from the field to the processor to the consumer — with Iowa style. According to Madeline Schultz, who coordinates the program for ISU Extension Value Added Agriculture, “USDA tells me what they’re looking for and then I develop a training program to meet their needs.”

Two teams of Chinese journalists learned about human nutritional needs, the U.S. agricultural systems that produce the food to meet those needs and the media’s role in informing the public on food issues, she said.

A Philippine study team then requested a similar program to better understand the challenges in food production and learn new ways to help people get the nutrition they need, Schultz said. “The team was intrigued with the system of Extension here in Iowa, especially in regard to family health and nutrition.”

The programs have a mix of Iowa culture and history, farm and agribusiness visits, and food and nutrition training. Schultz also introduces visitors to farmer cooperation, state government and commodity and niche marketing methods.

“One of our most important goals is to showcase ISU Extension and demonstrate how knowledge is transferred from the university to citizens,” Schultz said. Extension professionals as well as Iowa State professors and students are involved. For more information, contact Schultz at