How often does a story that first appears in the Home & Garden section become a national phenomenon?
Not too often. Probably never before, in fact.
That is why "American Pickers" - the tale of how antique collectors Mike Wolfe of LeClaire, Iowa, and Frank Fritz of Davenport landed a show on TV's History channel - is our No. 1 story of the year.
Next month, the mega-hit show begins shooting its third season, and the duo's business, Antique Archaeology in LeClaire, has drawn as many as 400 visitors in a day.
A second store is opening in Nashville, Tenn., and there is a "pop-up" store in Times Square, New York City.
That's some success.
2. New rules about lead-based paint
In April, the federal Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, came out with new rules regarding home renovations that might disturb lead-based paint, rules that substantially change the way contractors do their work.
Now, those working in pre-1978 homes are required to contain the work area, minimize dust and clean up thoroughly so that lead-based paint doesn't become airborne, causing health hazards.
For people living in pre-1978 homes - and that's the majority in the Quad-Cities - the rules are meant to protect them, especially children.
Homeowners doing their own work are not required to follow the rules. But people dealing with lead paint issues say that for their own safety, do-it-yourselfers will want to take precautions, too.
3. Remodeling projects; $1,500 federal tax credits
In our story about Kathy and Earl Swarts - who "went bold" in re-siding their Bettendorf home a chocolate color - we also reported about federal energy tax credits available for certain projects.
The credits for qualifying insulation, siding, windows, doors, water heaters, roofs, and heating and air-conditioning systems expires Dec. 31.
Several Quad-City business owners told us the credits were a big boon to their business.
Other remodeling/decorating projects included Wendy Kraft's Arts & Crafts porch in Davenport; 1-year-old Brayden Schaeffer's rainforest mural, created by his dad, Dave, of Blue Grass, Iowa; Gerda and Jerry Dirth of Davenport, who love the color red;
Jane and Bill McDonald, who switched their Park View, Iowa, kitchen from country to contemporary; Jim Schumacher, who's converting an old Pleasant Valley onion barn into a home; Eric and Sheri Barta, who updated their not-very-old Bettendorf home; and Bob and Mary Ries, who created a bistro in their Rock Island condo.
4. ‘The Bee Man of Orion'
Horticulture schools sponsored by the Rock Island, Muscatine, Clinton and Jackson counties Extension services continued to draw healthy crowds, and the most unexpected thing about the Muscatine program was that it introduced us to Ron Fischer, "The Bee Man of Orion."
What a find this was!
Fischer is famous for having had his picture taken by internationally known photographer Richard Avedon while he (Fischer) was covered with bees. It's an iconic image.
5. Bees, chickens
Speaking of bees, they are not allowed to be kept in any of the immediate Quad-City communities except Rock Island ... and neither are chickens.
Chickens were in the news a lot this year as various cities, including Des Moines, Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, decided to allow a limited number of hens within the city limits as part of the local food movement.
The issue never came up in the Q-C, though.
6. Community gardening.
While gardening first exploded as the Home & Garden topic in 2009, it continued to be a popular endeavor in 2010 as well.
This year the focus shifted a bit to community gardens, including one started by Mike Markell in Rock Island's Greenbush neighborhood because he got tired of looking at all the weeds in a vacant lot.
We also revisited Jaron Gaier, working at Augie Acres in Rock Island, and found that while weeds were less of a problem at the college-sponsored garden than last year, groundhogs took a bite out of every cabbage raised!
6. Individual gardens/landscapes.
Numerous Quad-City residents shared with us the stories of their landscape and gardens, and 85 readers replied to our "Square Foot Gardening" book giveaway, telling us about their gardening plans.
Michael and Susan Wahlmann and their precocious daughter Emma showed us their Rock Island garden. Lynn Klunder of Davenport won a garden makeover sponsored by The Garden Growers and learned how much hard work you have to do to claim a free prize. And Brian Rashid of Bettendorf and Sean Eckhardt of Davenport took us through their extensive backyards.
Matt and Marcy Mendenhall of Bettendorf were among the readers who shared their "pretty face" landscape projects.
After judging container garden shows at the Rock Island and Clinton counties fairs on two very hot, humid days, yours truly, Alma Gaul, profiled the winners and passed along tips.
Ray and Sandy Gruver of Camanche, Iowa, Linda Willaredt and Bob O'Hare of Davenport and Linda Zurborg, also of Davenport, opened their yards for public tours sponsored by community organizations.
And whenever we needed inspiration, we checked the blog of the ever-creative, ever-enthusiastic Kim Woodward of Rock Island. Go, Kim!
7. Home Rookies
Speaking of creative, enthusiastic young people, Times co-worker and quilter extraordinarie Stephanie De Pasquale debuted her "Home Rookies" column, regaling us almost weekly with the challenges and joys of owning a new home and yard. (Don'tcha wonder what her husband looks like?)
8. Home tours
Where would we be without people willing to let us walk into and photograph their homes?
In a case of reverse migration, Marshall and Carol Daut retired back to the Quad-Cities from Arizona to buy a house in Davenport's Bridge Avenue Historic District and lovingly redecorate it.
Judy Shawver and Dan Portes traded their McClellan Heights home for a contemporary apartment at The Waters Edge, a recently renovated building on Davenport's East River Drive.
Tony and Joyce Singh planted literally hundreds of trees and a prairie to create a nature preserve on their property in rural LeClaire, Iowa.
And Vickie and Lambert Matthis bought, spruced up and landmarked the old C.I. Josephson house in Moline.
9. Random stuff
Betty Dexter of rural Eldridge, Iowa, led the list of readers who shared travel mementos. Patrick and Jean Street of Campbell's Island explained their photovoltaic solar project that gets them "off the grid." Dan Carlson and Marc Peterson of Clinton, Iowa, and Rob Seals of Davenport clued us in on their crazy hobby of growing BIG pumpkins, and Ruth Anne Hartman of Taylor Ridge, Ill., showed how to decorate with all things Swedish.
We also "followed the flush," tracing the water that leaves your toilet and gets processed back into the Mississippi River in the space of about 12 hours, and reported on the growing needs of fruit trees and berries, how to attract butterflies and control Japanese beetles and the danger of planting trees too deep, as evidenced by the dead tulip trees at Davenport's Vander Veer Botanical Park.
The Quad-Cities is awash in history, and we love to shine the spotlight on efforts to preserve our heritage.
We visited with Barbara Wheelan, a resident of Steepmeadow, one of the buildings on the Rock Island Historic Preservation Commission's list of "100 Most Significant Unprotected Structures."
Steepmeadow is significant because it was the Q-C area's first condo project, is the tallest building in Rock Island and was designed by the Chicago-based architecture firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, one of the largest, most influential and recognized in the world.
Peter McDermott received an award from the Moline Preservation Society for renovating a downtown commercial building for his business and residence, and Debbie Lee of Rock Island won an award from the Rock Island Preservation Society for her care of her Arts & Crafts home.
Bob and Barb Braun of Rock Island's Broadway Historic District, and Tim Huey and Sandy Doran of the Village of East Davenport opened their homes for tours, allowing the public to see the beauty and character of older houses.
11. Christmas cheer
For the past five weeks, we've been visiting holiday decorators and bakers who have shared their homes and hearts.
They include Cathy Kessel from the Festival of Trees, Mike and Nancy Murphy of the DeWitt, Iowa, holiday home tour, Ed and Barb Simpson of the Port Byron/Cordova, Ill., holiday home tour, Heather and Brian Wessel of the Long Grove, Iowa, holiday home tour, Shelly DeFauw, of the Geneseo, Ill., holiday home tour and Cheryl Smeed, a Davenport cookie maker.
Just last week we checked in on a plethora of decorators: Richard Mumm, who's been decorating on his rural Long Grove farm since he was a teen, Leila Rekemyer, who creates Christmas in every room of her home in rural Walcott, Chris Tilton, the lighter of the "White House Christmas tree" in Davenport, Jim and Nancy Mullins, the "Noel people" in Davenport, and Rhonda Hintermeister, who has decorated a tree in a Muscatine, Iowa, nursing home with vintage hats.
12. Sharing time with you
Finally, there is the ongoing blessing I feel in being able to write a weekly column and share thoughts back and forth.
My dad would be amazed to learn that strangers in the Quad-City region really are interested in learning about his old mailbox and Farmall diesel tractor.
I enjoyed meeting - over the phone - all of the people for whom the Lindsay Park oak tree, felled by a May storm, was a touchstone.
I appreciated all of the advice I received from you regarding my clothesline and other issues.
I had the privilege of reporting on snowflakes, ice falls at Wild Cat Den, making maple syrup, monarch butterflies, Templeteon Rye whiskey, the Hauberg Woods in Rock Island, barn quilt squares and Mr. Burr, a longtime teacher at Bettendorf High School who passed away this summer while teaching College for Kids.
As our son Matt said, "If you had him as a teacher, you were a part of something special."
We also met people who make the area more beautiful by planting flowers, and we met Trudi Temple, the German-born, Hinsdale, Ill., gardener extraordinaire who founded the Market Day fundraiser. When she gave a hugely attended program at the Quad-City Botanical Center, employees had to shoo people out at closing time, including Trudi, who was still talking!
The most heart-wrenching topic this year was the disappearance of Iowa State University student Jonathan Lacina, who was our son's first roommate at college. My heart ached for his family when Jonathan first vanished in January and also when his body was found during April in an old dairy barn south of the Ames campus.
But I also was awed by how Jonathan's father, Tom, chose to deal with this awful thing that should never happen to anyone.
He and his wife maintained that the best way to honor their son is to go on, to live life fully.
"Life is precarious, and living every day fully is not just foolish optimism; it is a recognition all of us share the same end no matter what, and not living fully is at best laziness, or fear, or, at worst, a denial and a form of disrespect to those, older and younger, who have worked to enrich our lives," he wrote.
I can think of no better way to end this recap of the year than with those inspiring words.