Meet Rachel Sweeney

Rachel Sweeney is the newest member of the AnswerLine team!

Rachel giving a 4-H baking presentation.

AnswerLine is a new role for Rachel Sweeney, but Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is not. Rachel grew up on a diversified farm outside of Iowa City and was actively involved with Johnson County 4-H as a member of the Graham Champions 4-H Club. At an early age, she realized she could turn her interest in food and nutrition projects into a career, she decided to attend Iowa State University and major in that area graduating with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in dietetics and exercise science. After graduation, she spent a year in Nashville completing a dietetic internship at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Rachel’s began her professional career as an ISU Extension and Outreach human sciences specialist in Nutrition and Wellness, serving southeast Iowa for nearly seven years. In this role she led food preservation workshops, food safety trainings, and nutrition trainings for child care providers. After a brief stint as a retail dietitian, she returned to ISU Extension and Outreach as a program coordinator for Iowa 4-H Youth Development’s SWITCH (School Wellness Ingetration Targeting Child Health) program, an innovative school wellness initiative designed to support and enhance school wellness programming. After two years in this role, she got a new job title, MOM, in November of 2021, and a need to balance work and family life. AnswerLine provided the perfect opportunity for her to continue to work and enjoy her young family. One month into the job, Rachel says, “I have really enjoyed my first month on the job answering client’s questions and I look forward to continuing to learn and grow in this role to best serve the citizens of Iowa and Minnesota.”

When Rachel is not answering client questions via phone or email, she is likely with her family, 5-month old son, Thomas, and husband, Jim. She enjoys gardening, cooking and baking, food preservation, traveling, and being outside. As if she isn’t busy enough with work, family, and her many interests, she is also training for the swim portion of a half-Ironman relay-team competition in June! GO Rachel!!!!!

Rachel is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and stays involved with the Iowa Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Let’s Go Maple Syruping!

When you think of Iowa, maple syrup probably isn’t the first thing to come to mind. However, maple syrup is one of the state’s oldest agricultural crops dating back to pioneer times.  Native Americans were the first to tap Iowa’s maple trees followed by early pioneers who also tapped maple trees for their annual supply of sweetener. 

Today, Iowa has a small number of commercial producers mostly located in the northeastern part of the state and several small commercial or home-use only producers scattered across the state. According to the USDA 2017 Agricultural Census, Iowa reported 53 farms with 13,808 taps.[1] Producers use a variety of methods to collect and boil sap into syrup.  However, the methods are much the same today as used by our ancestors.  Small holes are drilled into the tree trunks (taps), sap drips into buckets or tubes below, and evaporators boil the clear sap into delicious maple syrup.  The color of maple syrup varies depending upon when it was tapped.  Late winter tapings yield a light brown syrup with color deepening as spring advances.  Color is not an indicator of quality; maple syrup is graded by color with color affecting flavor.  Grade A syrup is a light amber color, while Grade B is darker and thicker. Grade A is mild in flavor with Grade B syrups having a deeper, more robust maple flavor. 

On the average, it takes 40 gallons of maple sap to make 1 gallon of pure maple syrup.  A tree will produce 10-20 gallons of sap per tap on the average.  A tree may have more than one tap depending upon its size/circumference.

While maple syrup is a sweetener, the nutritional benefits of maple syrup are numerous.  One tablespoon of maple syrup contains 50 calories along with the following vitamins and minerals:

  • 20 milligrams of calcium
  • 2 milligrams of phosphorous
  • 0.2 milligrams of iron
  • 2 milligrams of sodium
  • 5 milligrams of potassium [2]

Maple syrup can be used as an alternative to sugar in cooking and baking in a 1:1 ratio. When used in baking, decrease the liquid by 3 to 4 tablespoons per 1 cup substitution.  If no liquid is called for in the recipe, add about 1 tablespoon of additional flour for every ¼ cup of maple syrup.  [3]

Iowa’s maple syrup season generally begins in late February or early March and runs 4 to 6 as six weeks. Warm daytime temperatures and cold nights are needed for the sap to flow; the season ends when the trees begin to bud. If you are looking for some early-spring family fun, a number of groups have planned events and demonstrations across the state to allow nature lovers of all ages to take part in this unique agricultural activity. Below is a listing of a few.  Registration and fees may be required and pancakes and maple syrup might be included with some events.

Botna Bend Park, Hancock, March 5, 2022

Hartman Reserve Nature Center, Cedar Falls, March 11-13, 2022

Mahaska County Environmental Learning Center, Oskaloosa, March 8, 2022

Indian Creek Nature Center, Cedar Rapids, March 26-27, 2022

Sharon Bluffs State Park, Centerville, February 24, 2022

Events are also planned in Minnesota.  For a complete listing, check out the Minnesota DNR website.

Resources:

1 United States Department of Agriculature, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Iowa, Table 40. Woodland Crops Sales: 2017 and 2012.

2 Neff, Michelle, Maple Syrup Nutritional Facts, Michigan State University, MSU Extension

3 Ameden, Kye, Baking with Liquid Sweeteners, King Arthur Baking, 2017

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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September is National Sewing Month

September is National Sewing Month!  “Sew” it “seams” we should take time to honor the history of sewing and celebrate those who enjoy this art form or craft.  National Sewing Month was first celebrated in 1982 after President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation “in recognition of the importance of home sewing to our Nation.” 

While sewing might imply the use of a sewing machine, it encompasses the many ways of stitching with thread and needle—garments, home décor, embroidery, needlepoint, cross-stitch, quilting, and all other forms of drawing a thread and needle through a medium. Sewing is a hobby enjoyed by millions of people from all walks of life throughout the world.

The art of sewing dates back to 25,000 B.C.E. when sewing was used to make clothing and shelter. Early materials consisted mostly of hides from animals and plant leaves. Thin strips of animal hide or long fibers drawn from plants made the first threads with bone and ivory being the first forms of needles.  Thomas Saint is credited with the invention of the sewing machine in 1750 followed by Isaac Singer’s prototype in 1851 that was to become the basis for the mechanization of sewing and the standard for the modern sewing machines we have today.  Prior to the 19th century, sewing was done by hand which allowed for perfecting skills as well as developing techniques for creative and decorative stitching.

Sewing has long been a favorite hobby of mine beginning with creations made with fabric scraps, thread, and needle for my dolls.  After my great-grandmother taught me to use her treadle machine, I turned out creations in mass.  As a 4-H member I enjoyed learning to use my mother’s electric machine and a pattern to fashion clothing for myself.  Each year was a new project with new skills.  That love of creating with fabric and a desire to understand fibers and fabrics led to my eventual college major.  While I never worked in the textile industry as I once envisioned, the skills and knowledge have given me a hobby and creative outlet that I still enjoy today.  And by joining with friends in guilds, I have learned and enjoyed many other forms of stitchery that have furthered by love of sewing. 

My deep love of thread and needle did not take root in my children; however, they were each fascinated enough to learn the skill of sewing with a machine to sufficiently take care of themselves.  Now I am sewing with my grandchildren who are intrigued with the creative process as they learn new skills.

While we may recognize the creative form of self-expression that sewing provides in the month of September, it is enjoyed all year.  During this month, there is a long list of retailers, bloggers, organizations, and others that promote “sewing” in an attempt to renew interest, share ideas, inspire, and teach.  If one was ever inclined to pick up thread and needle and try some form of sewing, the time to start is now. Creating quilts, clothing and other masterpieces not only develop new skills, but personal satisfaction, too. Sewing is a pleasurable activity to enjoy solo or with friends.  Happy sewing!

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Celebrating Quilts and Crafts and Those Who DO IT


March might be the month of spring, but it is also National Quilting Month and National Craft Month! A time to celebrate and appreciate the two artistic forms.  Is it coincidence that the two commemorated activities come in the same month?  I have to wonder since they are so closely related.

National Quilting Month has been sponsored by the National Quilting Association (NQA) since 1991 when it designated the third Saturday in March as National Quilting Day; over the years it has expanded to the entire month of March giving quilters more time for shop-hops, shows, and classes.  In 1994, the Craft & Hobby Association created National Craft Month to help people rediscover and learn about the benefits of crafting.  While crafting may conjure up images of kids working with popsicle sticks and glue, crafters, in reality, are people of all ages who produce something tangible with their hands. 

I quilt and I craft.  Both provide me with joy and a sense of accomplishment but I have no idea if that makes me a quilter, crafter, or a kind of artist.  The word ‘craft’ is synonymous with the word ‘trade,’ meaning skilled labor in an area such as weaving, carpentry, pottery, etc.  Crafting also means creating anything by hand that has an artistic aspect to it such as knitting, scrapbooking, jewelry making, etc.

Whether one is quilting or crafting, there is skill and creativity involved.  Both are done with the hands and require supplies and equipment unique to the project.  Either can be an occupation with some earning a living by selling their creations or by teaching their skill.

Quilts and various crafts can be beautiful as well as useful or not.  It is for this reason that we have shows and museums to expose, share, study and enjoy the skill.  Whether quilt or craft, both adhere to aesthetic principles by the materials chosen, shapes used, or how the various pieces come together.  The completed pieces may be useful or have no purpose at all.  When they provide beauty or please our sense of aesthetics, the outcome is art.

Benefits of Quilting and Crafting

Regardless of how we see ourselves, quilting and crafting are intertwined and interdependent.  Crafting, whether quilting or otherwise, offers outlets for hands-on creativity and the benefits are numerous:

  • Relieves stress by turning on our endorphins, decreasing blood pressure and heart rate, reducing fight or flight, heart attack and stroke.
  • Increases mental acuity with problem solving, math or geometry, and critical thinking.
  • Meaningful work or sense of accomplishment provides pleasure rewards for the brain.
  • Increases appreciation, empathy and tolerance of others and other forms of creativity.
  • Builds confidence and inspires one to think ‘outside of the box’ in other aspects of their lives.
  • Brings people together as they enjoy and inspire one another.
  • Helps one learn about themselves and their values, beliefs, and attitudes.
  • Boosts productivity, resilience, concentration and focus by boosting neurons between the right and left brain hemispheres.

Celebrate Quilting and Crafting

There are any number of ways one can celebrate quilting and crafting in March or any other time. 

  • Rediscover a prior skill. 
  • Try something new or expand on a skill. 
  • Visit a museum or craft or quilt show to appreciate and learn more about the craft or art. 
  • Spend time with someone who quilts or crafts to learn more about their work. 
  • Take a class (virtual or in-person) in a craft that interests you. 

Do whatever it takes to get into the spirit of crafting or quilting.  Let your itching fingers, yearning heart, and skill set combine with your creativity to make something.  Reap the rewards that come with discovering yourself through hands-on crafting or quilting and celebrate and appreciate whatever your accomplishment may be! 

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Neighborhood Gardens

Using a vacant space in the backyard as a garden plot is by no means a new idea; in fact, it’s steeped in history. What if that space was to become a neighborhood pick-what-you-need garden? 

Last spring, my son-in-law (Guy) had just that idea. He enjoyed having a small garden and the fresh vegetables that came from it.  But as we know, sometimes even a small garden can produce more than a family can consume fresh.  Instead of simply sharing or tossing the excess, he reached out to his backyard cul-de-sac neighbors to see if they would like to participate in a neighborhood garden.  He volunteered to oversee the garden building and tending since none of his neighbors were familiar with gardening.  However, if everyone participated in the planting and care, anything that grew would be available to all for the picking.  The neighborhood enthusiastically accepted his idea and so the process began.

One neighbor with an oversized lot volunteered space where there was good drainage and plenty of sunshine.  Since this was a recently developed area with a lot of soil compaction, Guy brought in new soil and compost.  He designed the garden to have raised beds on three sides with a walk path in the middle for easy access to the raised beds.  The raised beds were covered with a weed barrier and a fence and gate were added for deer and rabbit protection. Everyone pitched in with the preparations as they were able.

Tomato, cucumber, pepper, and bean plants were decided upon and acquired.  On planting day, Guy invited all the neighborhood kids and showed them how to plant the various seedlings.  As spring became summer, the kids and their families watched the baby plants turn into maturing plants setting blossoms and fruit.  With the first sight of baby fruit, everyone waited impatiently for ripening and the first picking.

No one could have predicted the amazing effects of this garden.  The first of the fruits to be harvested was a cucumber picked by an adult who had never picked anything in his life; he was ecstatic and wanted to know if it could be made into dill pickles!  The children went into the garden for right-off-the-vine snacks; in fact, one little girl loved the garden so much that when she couldn’t be found any other place, she was in the garden.  The children also enjoyed searching for tomato worms and watching the moths and butterflies that visited the garden. Sometimes there was a bit of friendly competition of who was going to get the next ripe and ready tomato, pepper, cucumber or bean.  For others, it was the first time they had ever tasted a freshly picked vegetable.  In the end, even this small garden produced more than the neighborhood could use.  Everyone was grateful for the experience and is looking forward to another garden this year.

The comradery of this neighborhood is unique and special.  The same ‘loose’ organization might not work in another neighborhood; other neighborhoods may need or want a well-organized plan and established ground rules before they begin. When that becomes the case, neighborhoods or community groups should develop a garden plan, like a business develops a business plan, to address such issues as

  • How to pay for supplies?  Should there be a membership fee?  Who will handle finances?
  • Who will oversee or supervise?
  • Who are the workers and what are their tasks?   
  • What will be planted?
  • How will distribution of produce be handed?
  • Will fertilizers, chemicals, and pesticides be used?  Will the garden be organic?
  • Liability?

Other considerations and tips on starting a neighborhood or community garden can be found using these resources:

Start It Up – Eat Greater Des Moines
Starting a Community Garden – American Community Gardening Association
How to Organize a Community Garden – North Carolina State Extension

Regardless of how big or small, the benefits from a shared garden are numerous.  In addition to providing fresh vegetables, a garden can also be a tool for promoting physical and emotional health, connecting with nature, teaching life skills, teamwork, neighborliness, and security.  Spring will be here soon.  If a neighborhood garden is a consideration, it is time to start planning now.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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A New Year, a New Start, New Resolutions = Goal Setting

2020 is gone and it is time to start anew.  After a chaotic year, we eagerly welcome 2021 and a ‘fresh start’—anticipation that every new year brings—new hope of what can be and better things to come. For many, this leads to the tradition of making New Year resolutions for self improvement of one kind or another.

A big part of making resolutions is goal setting. Goal setting?  Yes, goal setting.  Having goals in life is essential and especially so when things are chaotic. Just having good intentions alone changes nothing. Resolutions without a plan is only wishful thinking. As 2021 begins anew with unlimited opportunities to change, perhaps it’s time to rethink goal setting as well.

Goal setting during a pandemic may seem silly when we’ve all learned that the best of plans or perhaps even goals can go awry.  The pandemic has also made the path going forward uncharted.  As many pundits are noting, a “return to normal” or life exactly as it was before COVID-19 entered our vocabulary, is highly unlikely. Therefore, perhaps it is best to set short-term goals for 2021 as we navigate the upcoming months of vaccinations and make our way back into a more social world.

For many years, 4-H members and their families have learned and practiced life skills: among them, setting and writing goals for their individual projects or a fair exhibit.  Surely the tips for 4-H projects apply to life and would appropriately be used to write our personal goals for 2021. 

So what makes a goal different from a resolution. A goal is the road map or navigator one uses to plan and reach a destination. A resolution is only a decision; there is no destination. From Tips for Writing 4-H Goals, goals include the following:

  • Goals must have three parts—ACTION (what one wants to do)—RESULT (what one is going to do)—TIMETABLE (when one plans to do it or have it done).
  • Goals must pass the “control test.”  Do YOU have control over the outcome of the goal or does someone else have that control?  Is the goal yours or that of someone else?
  • Goals must be S.M.A.R.T—SPECIFIC – MEASURABLE – ATTAINABLE – REALISTIC or RELEVANT – TIMELY.  For goals to be powerful, they should be designed to be SMART.

SMART goals are . . .

SPECIFIC.  What do you want to accomplish? Get down to the nitty-gritty. Saying you want to lose weight won’t cut it. Instead try, “I will lose 10 pounds and work out 20 minutes every day.”  Goals must be something that motivate you or gives you a reason to achieve them.  “By losing 10 pounds, I will feel better and fit into my slacks.”

MEASURABLE.  Consider the time necessary to reach your goal and break your goal into bite-sized chunks. Include precise amounts, dates, and so on in your goals so you can measure your degree of success. Simply saying, “I will pay off by VISA card” will not get the job done unless you have a stash of cash.  Instead, consider the debt and give yourself daily, weekly or monthly steps to reach the goal by realistically determining how much you can set aside for payment OR reach out to a debt counselor to help you reach your goal step by step.  Without a way to measure your goal, you have no way of knowing whether you achieved success and have reason to celebrate “I did it”.

ATTAINABLE.  The idea is to set a goal that ‘raises the bar’ by realistically challenging you. It makes no sense to set a goal that you have no hope of achieving or setting yourself up for failure.  Perhaps you’d like to climb one of the Colorado 14ners but presently don’t have the stamina to do so.  Rather than don your boots and attempt Pikes Peak, set a goal to find and follow through with a training program to develop cardio stamina, strength, and flexibility for the adventure when you are ready.

REALISTIC or RELEVANT.  Goals are personal and must be yours—not that of another family member or your boss.  The goal needs to come from within you so you have reason to achieve it for your own personal gain or direction you want to take your life, career, hobby, health, retirement, etc.  You must be the one to control the outcome.  A goal to get a pay raise or promotion is not within your control but to perform at or prepare yourself for the next level is.

TIMELY.  Set a time limit to cross the ‘finish line’ (the third part of a goal)—a time to evaluate whether you did or did not reach your goal—what was the outcome, were you pleased, what could have been done better.  From the onset, you need to define a plan of action or a realistic step-by-step approach, which can also be set in time increments, enabling one to get to the finish line.  For example, you might say, “I will learn how to use my new camera so well that using it is second nature to me by May 31.” To make that happen, calculate and schedule daily or weekly time and steps needed to learn the various aspects of the camera and practice shooting photos using what you learn.  Then do what you can to hit that goal by your target date.

Lastly, but equally important, goals must be written down along with the steps needed to get there. The physical act of writing down a goal makes it real and tangible, holds you accountable, and tracks your progress. As you write, use action words like “will” or “shall”.   It’s also a good idea to include the reasons why you want to attain this goal. Success is achieved when you clearly define exactly what you want and understand why you want it in the first place.

As already pointed out, goals are personal and therefore may come from any or all of the meaningful aspects of our lives:  spiritual, fitness, health, educational, family, career, social, or financial.  Living through the months of pandemic uncertainty and restrictions has likely given many of us a pretty good idea of our personal vulnerabilities and a desire to be or do more or “. . . put ego away and really evaluate and try to figure out how do you chart a course to become the best version of yourself you can be.” (Matt Campbell, Iowa State University Head Football Coach, November 27, 2020)

Life happens and goals may go off track; 2020 was filled with one surprise or mishap after another. In real life, pandemic or not, there are speed bumps and roadblocks in our journey. As long as we stay the course, focusing on the end goal and taking small steps toward getting there, we will be on our way to attaining our goals and becoming the best version of ourselves.   Let’s get going!  2021 is here!

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Tell Your Story

Recently my granddaughter who lives in North Carolina started first grade virtually.  She was telling me how her online school works.  She seems to like it well enough, but she’d rather go to school.  As we were talking, she asked, “Did you go to school, Grandma?” 

“Yes, Grandma went to school but school for Grandma was very different!” which brought the conversation around to Grandma’s school days.  Since she reads well and is quite computer literate, she recently got an email address.  We agreed that I would write a short story daily telling her all about my school days.  The daily story telling has begun.  Each day I develop a story around a theme such as getting to school, recess, lunchtime, celebrating holidays, a typical school day, my classmates, etc. When I can, I try to add old photos that help tell the story. Since I attended grade school in a rural Nebraska one-room school, I am sure she must think I grew up with the dinosaurs!

While writing these little stories have been a trip down memory lane for me, psychologist suggest that sharing our stories with our grandchildren is an irreplaceable gift.  Researcher, Marshall P. Duke from Emory University has discovered that this shared information nurtures children emotionally and psychologically. Duke writes, “research shows that children who know a lot about their family tend to be more resilient with higher levels of self-esteem, more self-control, better family functioning, lower levels of anxiety, fewer behavioral problems, and better chances for good outcomes when faced with challenges.” As we know these qualities are important for success in life.

So grandparents, tell your story.  Tell them about what life was like when you were growing up.  Tell them about the silly things you did.  Tell them about their parents growing up.  The stories can be written or shared verbally or told in drawings or pictures–anyway that you can express yourself.  All you need is love for your grandchildren and family and desire to open yourself up and invite them to enter your world.  If you don’t live nearby, get creative with Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, email, journals, or even old-fashioned letters.  Sharing stories will melt the distance into nothingness.

For more information on the value of sharing stories see HOW FAMILY STORIES CAN STRENGTHEN AND UNITE.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Create Your Own Cooking Channel

Our completed scones!

We have had a weekly Zoom call with my entire family most Sunday evenings. That call has included my parents and all of their kids, grand kids and great grand kids. We are living in three different time zones and we have had the best time getting caught up on what is happening in every ones lives. This is one of the benefits of the pandemic-making us realize the importance of staying connected with family.

On one of our calls we were talking about cooking and we decided to schedule a Zoom class where I could show those interested how to make scones. After a search on the internet, we chose a white chocolate raspberry scone recipe for us to make together. I sent the recipe to everyone who was interested and available and scheduled the call. We ended up having 4 participants and everyone was pleased with how their scones turned out. Our next class is going to be on making homemade pretzels and I think we will have even more participants! I have even had some friends ask if they can be included on the next session.

Keeping in touch with others is so important especially when we are still social distancing. This was a really fun way to spend a morning together and to learn to make a delicious treat.

Beth Marrs

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Adult Home Economics Education. I love to cook and entertain and spend time with my family.

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Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is here to HELP!

While AnswerLine has been providing information and resources for Iowa consumers with home and family questions for over 40 years, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has been serving Iowans since the early 1900s.  The Mission of ISU Extension and Outreach is to engage citizens through research‐based educational programs and extend the resources of Iowa State University across Iowa. AnswerLine is just one of the entities of extension outreach. Let me introduce you to some of the other resources available to help individuals and families navigate issues that may concern them. 

  1. Stay informed on general ISU Extension and Outreach resources and opportunities through the Extension home page and news feed.
  2. The Iowa 4-H team has at-home learning resources which are publicly available for members and families to use.
  3. Iowa Concern offers free and confidential calls and emails 24/7 to help with stress management, financial issues, legal aid, and crisis resources.
  4. The ISU Horticulture and Home Pest news page offers download publications, how to improve your garden videos, and a Hortline for answers to lawn and garden questions.
  5. Get help with meal planning and food budgeting through the Spend Smart Eat Smart website.
  6. Visit the Beginning Farmer, Women in Ag and Ag Decision Maker websites for updates on programs and helpful resources from the Farm Management team. You can also contact the farm management field specialists with your questions. 
  7. Preserve the Taste of Summer offers a number of publications and resources for safe food preservation techniques.
  8. For great information on home gardens, farmer’s markets and u-pick operations, plant sales, and more or how to become a Master Gardener, the Master Gardener Program site is a must.
  9. When Teens don’t know who to talk to, Teen Line can help with a variety of issues that affect Teens and their families.
  10. Use the ISU Extension Staff Directory when looking for a specific person or persons in a specific area of expertise.  The Contact page offers additional resources and provides a form to send an email with questions, concerns, or suggestions. Ask An Expert is always available for questions; those questions come to AnswerLine where we either answer the query or send it to someone in Extension (Iowa or elsewhere) that can better answer it.

Besides these resources, one can always find help at the ISU Extension and Outreach extension offices located in each of Iowa’s counties, on social media outlets, and the many blogs written by Extension staff on current topics.  At the present time, most ISU Extension and Outreach in-person events throughout the state have been canceled through May 31 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  However, ISU Extension and Outreach staff remain committed to serving Iowans during this difficult time; phones and emails are being answered by Extension staff at the county and state levels.  Please check out the resources available that may provide the help you seek and watch for updates on how ISU Extension and Outreach will proceed to serve Iowans after May 31.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Mask Makers, Mask Makers, We Love You!

Experienced and inexperienced sewers alike have found their way to a sewing machine in recent times.  For some, sewing is their hobby or passion and they have a love affair with their machine.  Others, have dug an old machine out of the back of the closet, dusted it off, oiled it, and once again have learned how to thread it.  And still others who have never owned a machine and/or perhaps have never used a machine, have purchased one or borrowed one from a friend, and are experiencing the joy of using (or frustration) of having a sewing machine.  What all of these sewers have in common is a drive to help others by making masks and other PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) that is in short supply as we combat COVID-19.

MY HAT IS OFF to all those who are giving of their time, talent, or donations to help our frontline workers as well as friends, neighbors, and loved ones.  While many do it in the quiet of their home and donate as they desire, others have achieved some fame for their outreach.  There have been numerous stories of this selflessness including Iowa 4-H members who have exceeded their goal of 10,000 masks.

I, too, opened my sewing machine and made several dozen masks for a local group.  As I started this venture in March, I was frustrated by the mixed information that was coming forth from varying agencies and individual groups.  Each had a different idea of what was the best mask and each wanted a given style which in most cases was unlike someone else’s.  As the need grew, so did the number of mask styles and the formation of groups, locally and nationally.  As I write today, there is an unknown number of mask styles available online with YouTube tutorials showing how to make them.  Really anybody can do it!  And for the most part, most groups are now accepting masks regardless of pattern as long as they meet CDC guidelines. 

So if one is interested in joining the cause, here’s some basic information:

  1. Masks should meet the latest CDC guidelines.  If masks are to be made for a designated group, check their specific guidelines to be sure that your work will be used.
  2. For open donations, the exact style is entirely up to the donor.  Masks may be made with elastic, ties, nose pieces, or pockets for filters.  After trying many different patterns, the one I found to be the fastest and easiest for me was shown on YouTube by The Brick Ballroom.  When elastic ran out, it was easy to convert to ties.  It is also easy to add a channel for a nose piece and accommodates a filter if desired.  JoAnn Fabrics has mask kits available free of charge.
  3. Fabric used must be new, washable, tightly woven, cotton or cotton blend.  Quilting fabrics (scraps or yardage) are perfect.
  4. Masks should be made in a coronavirus-free home.
  5. Use clean hands and sew in a clean, smoke-free place.
  6. Package donations in clear plastic, zipper lock bags.

If one is unsure of where to send or take their masks, one place is Mask Helpers, a clearing house created by Keokuk, IA brothers who help connect those who need free, non-medical grade, reusable masks with those who are able to make and donate them.   They also provide information on how to send the masks without leaving the safety of your home.

Again thank you to all the Mask Makers.  We LOVE you!

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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