November 1, 2014

Wonder of Words Festival begins in Des Moines

Iowa’s largest city is launching a series of events today celebrating books and reading. The Wonder of Words Festival features four-dozen happenings in Des Moines over the next 16 days, including a new take on the “pub crawl,” called a publishers crawl.

Participants will walk from bar to bar to bar where various authors will be reading from their books and taking questions. Salome Nengean, program manager of the fest, explains the goals of the third annual celebration. “Our purpose is to connect readers and writers and publishers at events that celebrate reading and share the joy of lifelong learning,” Nengean says. “We have a variety of ways to do that, from the serious to the not serious to the haunted to children’s programming.”

Dozens of authors known on the local and national level will be holding readings over the next two weeks, including: Gary Soto, Leonard Pitts Junior, Colin Woodard and Billy Collins. Nengean says Henry Rollins, the former frontman for the band Black Flag, will be featured on November 14th.

“Henry Rollins is a mix of a musician, an actor, a DJ, a spoken word artist, an activist, author, all of those things,” Nengean says. “He will be performing a spoken word show touching on his travels around the world, his vast experiences, his unusual encounters.”

Other featured speakers include: John Shors, a Des Moines native and the best-selling author of “Beneath a Marble Sky,” Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer David Peterson discussing his new book, “The Drake Relays: America’s Athletic Classic,” and author Chad Lewis, who explores haunted bridges, cemeteries, historic homes, roads and theatres in his book, “The Iowa Road Guide to Haunted Locations.”

Find a full list of the 48 events over the course of the festival at:


Teal Pumpkin Project seeks safe alternatives for kids allergic to candy

Teal-PumpkinHalloween isn’t a very happy holiday for the estimated one in every 13 Iowa kids who have food allergies since they can’t partake in the annual ritual of gobbling piles of candy after trick-or-treating.

A central Iowa woman has launched a non-profit group that aims to raise awareness of food allergies during this holiday and year-round. Kelly Williamson, of Ankeny, has an eight-year-old son who has multiple food allergies.

“When he first starting going trick-or-treating, we would get the sad face and the tears when we took all of his candy away, but he has since learned that he doesn’t want to end up in the hospital,” Williamson says.

She founded Food Allergy of Iowa in 2011 as a way “to improve the quality of life to those affected by dietary restrictions.” She urges Iowans to consider giving Halloween treats that all kids can enjoy and to display a teal-colored pumpkin outside their home to send the message.

“The teal pumpkin signifies that there is a safe alternative,” Williamson says, “meaning, it’s not food-related, more along the lines of pencils or suckers. We’ve had everything from rulers to stickers, little toys, little trinkets.” There are eight common food allergies, but when it comes to candy, the main concern is around those that contain nuts, and most candy bars are ruled out.

The teal pumpkin movement started on the East Coast and she’s hoping it will catch on in Iowa. Williamson says, “It’s nice to know that person has taken the extra initiative to have something alternative for kids that can’t eat most of the Halloween candy.” So, just where do you get a teal pumpkin? They don’t grow that way. Williamson suggests buying a can of teal spray paint and simply painting your orange gourd. Learn more about the program at the Food Allergy of Iowa Facebook page.


Railroad officials warn of dangers of hunting on train tracks

trainRailroad officials whose trains travel on several hundred miles of track across Iowa are urging hunters to resist the temptation to hunt on railroad property. Mark Vaughn, assistant general manager for the Iowa Northern Railroad, says walking on or near the tracks is illegal and it’s dangerous because it can take a mile or more for a train to stop.

“We urge everyone to only cross the tracks at approved public crossings,” Vaughn says. “If you have to get to your favorite hunting spot or fishing hole, we also caution everyone on the dangers of walking across railroad trestles and bridges. Those areas are particularly dangerous because there is no place to go when a train approaches.”

Vaughn say the company’s trains often carry unusual and oversized freight, like wind turbine components and tractors from the Deere Assembly plant in Waterloo. He says those items could be dangerous if someone is walking nearby. “Locomotives and railcars typically overhang the track by at least three feet on either side and the various cargos we carry can extend over even further, in addition to loose straps and tie-downs or cables that could extend farther over than those limits as well,” according to Vaughn.

Besides facing the dangers, Vaughn says those who trespass on railroad property could be arrested and fined. Union Pacific railroad crews in Iowa have been busy in recent weeks touching up “No Trespassing” signs along the tracks. The railroad has also launched a project called U.P. CARES which stands for Crossing Accident Reduction Education and Safety.


Christmas toy drive for needy kids already underway

Toys4TotsIt may be late October but the organizers of a popular year-end charity campaign that provides gifts to low-income children across the region are already gearing up for the season ahead.

Kathy O’Hara is spokeswoman for the United Way of the Midlands. “It does probably to most of us feel far too early to think about Christmas,” O’Hara says, “but in order to run a program the size of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program, they need to get started early.”

There are multiple campaigns underway in various parts of the state. In the Omaha-Council Bluffs area, O’Hara says Toys for Tots provided 40,000 gifts to kids last year.

“For the Marine Corps Reserve to get all of those loaded up to a warehouse where they can sort them all by age,” O’Hara says. “They’re asking for people to donate new and unwrapped toys. These would be items that would be appropriate for anywhere from an infant up to a child who’s age 14.”

Families who want to apply for the program in most Iowa cities can call 2-1-1. Applications will be taken in many areas starting this Saturday. Toy drop-off boxes are already in place in dozens of locations.


Lutheran Social Services celebrates its sesquicentennial

An organization devoted to helping Iowa children and their families is celebrating a major milestone, its sesquicentennial. Lutheran Services in Iowa was founded 150 years ago this month. Penny Ploog, site manager for the agency’s Scott County office in Davenport, says from very humble beginnings, they’re now one of Iowa’s largest human services organizations.

“A little over 150 years ago in Andrew, Iowa, a pastor came upon seven youth that needed a home,” Ploog says. “He started an orphanage there and from that point on, we’ve expanded through the needs throughout the state.” The Davenport office has a staff of 47 and serves about 11-hundred children.

Ploog says, “Over 50% of our staff devote their time to working with prenatal moms and even fathers with children under the age of five, educating the parents, and we also offer them GED classes if they haven’t gotten their diploma.” Founded in 1864 in eastern Iowa, the agency now employs more than 1,200 people across the state and Ploog says they’re always looking for more volunteers.


Senator Grassley says quarantines for Ebola are not a big deal

Senator Chuck Grassley

Senator Chuck Grassley

Saying he’s “scared to death of Ebola,” Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley admits he doesn’t understand all of the fuss over quarantining health care workers who return to the U.S. from Africa. It should be simple, he says: Those who have been exposed should be quarantined until it’s determined they’re not infected and not a risk.

Grassley, an 81-year-old Republican from New Hartford, says maybe it’s just a generational gap. “I remember being quarantined in our farmhouse,” Grassley says. “Somebody would come around and put up a sign saying you’ve got measles, you’ve got whooping cough.”

That’s just how it had to be done decades ago to prevent dangerous diseases from spreading, and in many ways, Grassley says little has changed in how to handle the unknown. “We were quarantined within our home,” Grassley says. “I don’t know what the big deal is about quarantine besides under the 10th Amendment, states have the responsibility for maintaining the public health and safety of its citizens.”

A nurse from Maine returned from Ebola duty in West Africa late last week and was forced into a quarantine in New Jersey. She threatened to sue over her treatment and was released on Monday. There is disagreement over how long Ebola may take to appear in someone who’s infected, be it five days or 21 days.

Grassley says Congress may be called to take action and address the outbreak, which has killed nearly 5,000 people, mostly in Africa. “If there is a reason to look at this whole issue at the federal level, I’m willing to do it because I’m scared to death of Ebola,” Grassley says. “Maybe I don’t mean that in the personal sense that I’m worried right here being in the state of Iowa or even in Washington D.C. to worry about it, but we have to worry about the health of the nation.”

Several members of Congress have called for lawmakers to return to Washington in an emergency session to address various concerns over Ebola, but it hasn’t happened. Congress is scheduled to return from recess on November 12th, more than a week after next Tuesday’s elections.


Grinnell hospital picked to test promising bacteria-killing metal alloy

GrinnellA hospital in east-central Iowa is the only one in the state and among just a few in the nation to test out all sorts of products — from light switch plates to toilet flushers — made from a type of metal that kills bacteria.

Todd Linden, president and CEO of Grinnell Regional Medical Center, says the copper alloys have already been shown in government studies to have remarkable qualities.

“They have a natural property of killing bacteria,” Linden says. “So, if you have a copper-based surface and there’s a live colony of bacteria on that surface, over the course of about 90 minutes, 100% of that bacteria is dead.”

The makers of the copper alloy say its properties will never wash out or wear away and will continue killing infectious bacteria 24-seven, so Linder says it’s a win-win for the hospital environment.

Linden says, “Things like the IV poles and the over-bed tables, the pulls on the cabinets, the toilet flushers and sink handles and grab bars, places where we can use this commercial product called CuVerro (coo-VAIR-oh), which has this amazing ability to continuously be killing bacteria.”

He says an earlier study by the U.S. Department of Defense found the use of the copper-based alloy in touch surfaces brought a 60% reduction in hospital-acquired infections.

“Over the course of the summer, we’ve been installing these various products in half of our medical surgical rooms,” Linden says. “We’ve continued to do random sampling of the control rooms against these rooms that have been copperized.” By year’s end, it’s hoped they’ll be able to present the results of this comprehensive clinical trial.

“We have a long history at our medical center of patient safety and focus on quality,” Linden says. “Obviously, the last thing we want is for somebody to come to our hospital and end up getting an infection or for infection to spread amongst our staff.”

The private, non-profit Grinnell hospital serves more than 40,000 residents in a six-county rural area. It has 49 beds with 50 physicians, 400 employees and more than 300 volunteers.