Talk of Iowa

Weekdays at 10 a.m. on IPR News and News/Studio One and 9 p.m. on IPR News

Talk of Iowa brings a mix of regular guests and a range of experts to the microphone to discuss what’s happening in Iowa and what makes this a special place to live. Guests include wildlife expert Jim Pease and the Hort Gang on Fridays.

Talk of Iowa is hosted by Charity Nebbe @CharityNebbe.  It’s produced by Dennis Reese, Emily Woodbury @EmilyWoodbury, Lindsey Moon @lindseysmoon and Clare Roth @ClareAliceRoth.  Our Executive Producer is Katherine Perkins.  Our theme music is by The River Monks.

Louis / Flickr

When Alyssa Varner’s college apartment was torn apart by a tornado in 2006, it got her thinking about the weather.

“I started thinking about tornadoes as villains,” she says. “I was living with 9 other people in a house, and we were all scrambling because of the tornado. It didn’t hit the house next to us, and I got to thinking about how selective severe weather can be.”

Robert S. Donovan / Flickr

  Over the last few months, Beth Howard has traveled more than 30,000 miles and has visited 9 countries and has made 211 pies as a part of her “World Piece” tour. She set out to learn about pie around the world and spread the joy that pie making adds to her life. What she found was both good and bad.

“I went to a refugee camp in Syria with my host to give away some pie, and it was really hard. The family I visited had been living in a tent in the camp for two years,” she says.

Seney Natural History Association

As agriculture and new construction in Iowa continue to expand and occupy Iowa's wildlife habitat, humans are in contact with predators like coyotes more and more. Like a caller said today during the our broadcast, one of the ways to handle that problem is to kill the predators that threaten domestic pets and backyard chickens. 

But author John Shivik says there’s another way. “Moving forward, we need to balance lethal versus non-lethal methods of dealing with predators. We can biologically deal with the issue instead of killing them to make ourselves feel better.”  

Courtesy of the Clinton Lumber Kings

Joyce Wilkerson has been going to as many Clinton Lumber Kings games as she can since the early 1990’s. She keeps coming back because she loves the stadium, the fans and the team. “There’s no time in baseball; I love that.”

Vera Kratochvil/Wikimedia Commons

It may not feel like it yet, but it is officially fall. This hour on Talk of Iowa, Charity Nebbe talks with Aaron Steil, assistant director of Reiman Gardnes in Ames, and Iowa State University Extension horticulture expert Richard Jauron about spring blooming bulbs. It’s best to get them in the ground before the first frost, sometime in early fall. 

Jauron says that when you’re talking about tulips and daffodils, it works best to plant between 15 and 20 bulbs in a clump.

Better than Bacon / Iowa Public Radio

Steven Pinker has studied language and the mind for more than two decades. Now, he's written The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. Though he's added another book to the pantheon of writing guides and rule books out there, he's the last to say that a reference text is in charge of what is and isn't allowed in writing.

University of Iowa

Women's health pioneer Byllye Avery has for more than 40 years been on the front lines of the women's heath movement in the United States.  It was her husband's sudden death at age 33 that was the catalyst for her commitment to improve the health of the African-American community.   She told IPR that it was 1970 and she and her husband, who was close to getting his doctorate, had two small children and a third child on the way.  But she says the health care system at the time did not make it clear to them how deadly high-blood pressure could be and her husband tragically died of a massive h

Alan Light/Wikimedia Commons

A new coalition of organizations in Iowa is working to keep young people who identify as LGBTQ out of the welfare and juvenile justice systems by finding them supportive places to live. The group calls itself AFFIRM, and it’s looking to include gender-neutral language in all paperwork required of potential foster and adoptive parents.

One of AFFIRM’s founders, Penny McGee, says such changes may not be as easy as they appear, possibly requiring legislative approval and some costs.

What makes Iowa, Iowa?  How did we get to be ‘us?’ These are questions that Michael Luick-Thrams, of the TRACES Center for History and Culture based in Mason City, set out to answer. 

"I grew up in a very different Iowa. Iowa has changed," he says. "Moving forward, there will be more changes, and the questions is 'how thoughtful will it be?'" 

Iowa State University

With Iowa trees readying themselves for fall and the changing colors of leaves, look no further than Ames, Iowa for a new healthy seedling.  Bill Graves, Associate Dean of the Graduate College and Professor of Horticulture at Iowa State University, says he is excited about the Swamp White Oaks offered this year.  Graves loves to see people who enthusiastically purchase trees from ISU as well as discovering what becomes of those trees.

Dr. Dan Murphy

Dr. Dan Murphy has spent the past seventeen years working in East Timor, a Southeast Asian nation which gained independence from Indonesia. He grew up in Alton, Iowa and received his medical degree from the University of Iowa but realized his help was needed outside the U.S.

In the last 20 years, he's traveled to Mozambique, Laos, and Nicaragua but found East Timor most in need.

  “East Timor was kicked around worse than any other country I can think of… and it’s a place that cried out for attention.”

Fourth Wall Films

U.S. Highway 6 runs from California to Massachusetts, the longest of all highways.  It has traversed Iowa in one form or another since about 1910, when parts of it were made from wooden planks.  We don't sing songs about Route 6 and it doesn't carry the historical mystique of the Lincoln Highway, but it's a road with a fascinating history and many associated stories from over the decades.

Katherine Perkins / IPR

There was a time when Iowans knew their neighbors. They relied on each other to help with labor on the farm, or to keep an eye on children. And if you didn't see your neighbors during the week, you saw them on Sunday at church. But as church attendance declines and farms are fewer and farther between, Iowans are finding new ways to form community.

RDECOM / flickr

For most of us middle school is the most awkward time of life. Kevin Brockmeier has plunged back into this difficult years with his new memoir, A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip: A Memoir of Seventh Grade. Today on Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe revisits middle school with Brockmeier.

Later in the program, Director of the Iowa Youth Writing Project, Dora Malech, talks about the importance of getting kids writing, along with some tips and best practices.

Doug McGr / Flickr

When the automobile became available to the larger population, it made major waves in how people spent their weekends. Iowa was no different, as both rural and urban areas saw the advent of drive-in movie theaters.

“We had over 80 drive-ins across the state at one time. You could be in a larger town, but towns like Pocahontas had drive-ins, Perry, Emmetsburg, and they would stay open late into the fall,” says Iowa State Historical Society state curator Leo Landis.

Iowa Digital Library / Flickr

From one room country schools to high tech multi-million dollar facilities, schools in Iowa have changed a lot. What goes on inside the schools has changed a lot too.

“Every decade or two we see these large transformations in what the school is asked to do."

On this edition of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe kicks off "Iowa Week: Then and Now" with a look at education in Iowa over the years.

Mark Kortum / Flickr

Parenting in Iowa has changed a lot over the decades.

“We have the luxury of giving lots and lots of time and energy to kids that our great-grandparents didn’t,” says Pamela Riney-Kehrberg of Iowa State University.


The way we think about food has changed a lot over the last 30 years. Today, we see yogurt and brown rice on mainstream grocery store shelves, but that wasn't always the case. Theresa Carbery, one of the founders of New Pioneer Food Coop in Iowa City, says in the early 1970s, she was a part of a buyers' club to get foods that weren't available in grocery stores. 

Mary Adams

As summer comes to a close, insects and arachnids have a lot of work to do to get ready for winter. That makes them especially visible in the fall. Iowa State University Extension Entomologist Donald Lewis says this year, he's seeing and hearing a lot more than usual about orb-weaver spiders. 

"We always see more spiders in the fall of the year because they reproduce and then die during the winter," Lewis says. "There are more than a hundred different kinds here in North America. This time of year you see those webs in the garden. Its their time to get that last gasp of food." 

Wikimedia Commons

Most of the time, there's more to what we say than the words we use. English language expert Patricia O'Connor says that the tone, volume and pitch of our voice, as well as our body language, plays a huge role in how we communicate. Those aspects of conversation are called paralanguage. 

"The para in paralinguistics  is taken from a Greek word. It means parallel or equal to but outside of language," she explains.  "The message is right there under the surface."

Wikimedia Commons

Thirty years ago this month, a handful of musicians including Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp organized a benefit concert for Midwestern farmers struggling to make ends meet during the farm crisis of the 1980’s.

George Naylor, who farms near Churdan and went to the first concert in Champaign, Illinois in 1985, says the morale boost the show afforded family farmers in Iowa was invaluable.


The death of a central Iowa cyclist in a drunk driving accident last month has sparked a conversation among bikers and motorists about keeping cyclists safe on our state’s roadways.

Mark Wyatt, Executive Director of the Iowa Bicycle Coalition, says that while Iowa has three to five cycling deaths per year, if you compare that on a per capita basis, we’re not having fewer accidents than anywhere else.

Nancy Hugo, CKD / Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

If you're thinking of selling your home, or buying a fixer upper, it's hard to know which remodeling projects will bring a good return on that investment. Home Improvement expert Bill McAnally suggests contacting a home inspector before deciding where to start. He says knowing what a home inspector is likely to point out to a potential buyer may change your focus completely. "If you're going to sell it, you have to fix [problems] that you know about, or that has to be in a disclosure statement." And, obviously, issues with the safety of the home trump any cosmetic concerns.

teachernz, licensed under Creative Commons / Flickr

If you see lumps or weird shapes on the leaves of your oak tree, don't panic, says Laura Jesse, director of the Plant and Insect Diagnostic Clinic at Iowa State University. She says it's likely a gall, which is harmless to the plant.

"They're the most interesting shapes," says Jesse, who calls them "beautiful." Jesse also says if you break them open you can usually find a wasp larvae that began feeding on the tree and prompted it to grow a gall around the insect.

martinak15 / Flickr

What if a handful of your memories are fake? It’s likely that at least a few of them are.

“Much of our memory is reconstructive. It’s not like we’re pulling a book off a bookshelf. We’re creating it as we go,” explains Dr. Steven Anderson, Director of the Neuropsychological Rehabilitation Laboratory in the Department of Neurology at the University of Iowa. 

He says that while you can get better at remembering things with conscious effort, sometimes what we “remember” is what other people have told us about something that happened.  

Emily Woodbury

The Yes Men have been pulling pranks and engaging in guerilla activism for 20 years. They’ve targeted the World Trade Organization, George W. Bush, big industry, and in their most recent film, they’re battling climate change.

"This latest film is addressed to the people who can actually make change, which is all of us," says Bichlbaum.

Courtest of Doug May

Having a sibling is one thing, but sharing the womb with your sibling is something else entirely. 

For Don and Doug May, that bond has always made them feel unique.

"Our mom used to take us around to twin contests. It was clear to us pretty early on that we had a special relationship," Doug says. "We got a little bit of the 'Well, you're cuter than your brother,' and whatnot but we dealt with it. Being a twin is special. Everybody wants to feel special."

Alex / Flickr

It’s called the “makeup tax” – referring to the time, money, and energy spent by those who wear makeup.

On this edition of Talk of Iowa, Charity Nebbe hosts a discussion on makeup culture in the U.S. and why the cosmetic industry in the country is worth more than $62 billion.

Joining the show: Gigi Durham, professor and collegiate scholar at the University of Iowa, Rachel Weingarten, beauty historian and author of Hello Gorgeous!: Beauty Products in America '40s-'60s, and Caty Leonetti, a makeup artist from Des Moines.

USFWSmidwest / Flickr

Right now some Iowans have noticed their front yards dying out in patches. Iowa State University horticulturist Nick Christians says there's a variety of reasons for that.

photo submitted

Noonan syndrome is a genetic condition.  The characteristic facial features include low set ears, widely spaced-eyes, bright blue or blue-green eyes, a low hairline at the back of the head, and multiple congenital problems like heart defects and an unusually shaped chest.

A person with Noonan syndrome is often short, has a broad or webbed neck, low set nipples, and bleeding problems.  Developmental delay or intellectual disability are also common.