MUSCATINE — On Jan. 7, Sarah Lande got a call on her cellphone from Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad that has turned her life upside-down.
Branstad confirmed what the two talked about for several months: Xi Jinping, the man expected to soon become the top leader of China, wanted to visit the home of Lande and her husband, Roger, in Muscatine.
When The Wall Street Journal reported the news in late January, reporters began burning up the phone lines to eastern Iowa.
Staffers from the Daily Telegraph in London, the China Daily News, Bloomberg News, CNN, National Public Radio and "NBC Nightly News" have talked to Lande. The State Department wants her to write a blog. As of Friday, she logged conversations with 37 media outlets.
The reporters all want to know how the China-Muscatine connection came about and, based on previous meetings, Lande's impressions of Xi as well as what he is like.
Although she has told her story many times, she repeats it with enthusiasm, as if doing so for the first time.
"I love talking with people," Lande, 73, said last week. "I love people from other countries. It's fun."
While she speaks on the phone, one can hear the click of at least five incoming calls, two of which she answers, and three she lets go to voicemail.
The China connection began in 1985 when Lande helped coordinate a visit to Muscatine for a delegation headed by Xi, then an up-and-coming official in a hog-farming region of Hebei province, Iowa's "sister state." He wanted to see how hogs were raised here and learn about different applications for corn. Apparently, the hospitality he received made such an impression that he wanted to return.
But because he now is China's vice president, things are different this time.
In addition to the avalanche of media interest, there have been - and will be more - security sweeps of the Landes' circa-1866 home in the West Hill Historic District, and an "advance team" advises Lande daily on preparations.
Although Xi will be in Muscatine for only an hour - his Wednesday visit is sandwiched between stops at the White House and Des Moines - the preparation is weighted heavily with details.
Everything will be scripted, with the advance team conveying what protocol must be followed.
"Our plans are directed by Xi," Lande said.
For example, Xi will be greeted outside by Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Landes, and a young child is to present him with flowers. For this honor, Lande has picked her granddaughter, Lucy Lande, 6.
Also outside will be 14 students from Muscatine High School who are in their fourth year of studying the Mandarin language, and there will be a welcome banner.
Xi will walk across the Landes' open front porch, then into the home's vestibule, with a Chinese scroll for "good health, good wealth" on the wall and a vase of orchids on a marble-topped table.
"‘He will really chuckle at the banner,'" one of the advance men told Lande.
Through the next door, he will step into a large foyer with a staircase straight ahead, a large living room to the left, a dining room ahead and a sunken solarium to the right. The rooms are painted in rich colors of red, green and blue, trimmed with cream, and the warm hardwood floors are softened with Oriental rugs.
Once inside, there will be no "where shall we sit?" kinds of questions. Everyone will know where to go, what to do and what to say.
"There is a gift protocol and protocol for who says what first," Lande said. "A person at this level - we really want to do it right."
Meeting with Xi in the Lande home will be the 17 people who still are living among those he met when he visited Muscatine the first time. Several residents have inquired about being added to the guest list, but Lande was told she could not expand it.
"He wants just old friends, people he met in 1985," she said.
This group will be in the living room, and they will introduce themselves individually, each sharing a memory from the 1985 visit.
The advance team already has rearranged furniture to best accommodate the crowd; as of Friday, a grand piano was still waiting to be moved to give the media pool reporters a place to stand.
In addition to the "old friends," others attending will be the Chinese ambassador, various ministers and some Muscatine community leaders; they will be in the solarium.
The occasion is not a sit-down dinner, but there will be tables of food in the dining room, including spring rolls, bacon-wrapped water chestnuts and filet of beef on bread, prepared and served by a caterer. There also will be green tea and drinks for making toasts: champagne and a non-alcoholic sparkling beverage.
"It's a lot to do in an hour," Lande said.
In addition to talking to the media and ordering food, she has had her home's windows washed, is anticipating "filling the house with flowers" and is making arrangements for their two black labradors to go elsewhere for a few days.
As details began piling up late in the week, she enlisted the help of a team of friends and employees of Stanley Consultants. The latter were going to acquire gifts and help handle media needs.
Although she has visited China four times, Lande never has studied the language, so will rely on interpreters and the 10 or so words she has memorized. And she still was debating what to wear. She was leaning last week toward a red blouse she received as a gift during her 2008 trip to China and pairing it with slacks.
"I am really proud and humbled" by the visit, Lande said. "I want to promote our community, friendship and the state of Iowa. I still can hardly believe it to think about it."