Juke Box – Bloody Sunday Sessions

Labor Day 2014

Working the Garden

Working the Garden

LAKE MACBRIDE— Labor Day means a work day in Big Grove, and that’s fine with me.

Today began by finishing and filing two articles for the newspaper. After a session of garden work, and making juice from some apples I picked two days ago, I’ll work a shift at the orchard. Then, the CSA share will be ready for pickup, as they are working today as well. The new vegetables will need processing, so there will be a lot more to do before sleep comes again.

During my transportation career I made a point to go into the office on Labor Day. I felt that was my job, and a day to get caught up on work the exigencies of managing a multimillion dollar operation blocked out. Any more, it is a day to do work that in another life would just be called living.

This summer pushed the envelope of how much formal work can be crammed into a schedule. As many as eight paid jobs needed doing, and still they didn’t generate enough income to get past regular bills, a few emergency expenses, and paying down a small amount of debt. While it has been a struggle, worklife is also about framing.

I reject the class frame. Neither am I middle class nor working class, although if I were, the latter seems more appropriate. We’re not serfs either. Those frames belong to others. I look at myself as a writer in an Iowa City the City of Literature sort of way. Here’s what I mean.

What I do more now than ever is spend time writing. Everything else supports that work. A small bit of my income comes from writing, but alone, it is not sustainable. So I sign on to do specific part time or temporary work for pay. The few hours each morning at my desk it supports are what matters most.

Fame or notoriety will escape me most likely. The challenge these days is to find meaningful venues for my writing. For Labor Day, though, I just plan to work.

Pear Harvest

2014 Pear Harvest

2014 Pear Harvest

LAKE MACBRIDE— Our pear tree is very tall. So tall the highest fruit can’t be reached without a ladder and a picker. Even then, some will be left on the tree.

That’s okay because the shelf life or pears is very short, and we have all the pear butter we can use already in the pantry from last year. We’ll bask in the glory of fresh, organically grown pears for a week or so, and give a lot away during that time.

The money spent to purchase this tree was paid back years ago. Just this year, I paid attention to how to harvest them, and found this information from Stark Brothers to be useful. If left on the tree, pears ripen from the inside out and taste mealy. Don’t want that.

This one tree has been the perfect producer for us. Not too many pears, and not too few.

It turns out I’m okay with eating pears for a few short weeks when they come in, and have little craving for them the rest of the year. One more way to sustain ourselves throughout the year with local food without eating the same thing over and over.

Friday In Iowa – Writing In Public

Throes of Creation by Leonid_Pasternak

Throes of Creation by Leonid Pasternak

“I’ve been reading the paper lately,” said Kevin Samek to the Solon City Council on Aug. 6 during the citizens speak agenda item. “I’m a little concerned about the north sewer trunk.”

Samek had been reading my newspaper articles about the council and this long-standing community issue.

He went on to express his concerns about the way council was handling finances regarding the sewer line, and on a second topic said that public safety could be improved on Main Street by lowering the speed limit.

Council addressed his concerns by lowering the speed limit on Main Street from 25 to 20 miles per hour, and by unsuccessfully attempting to reach agreement with a developer over the sewer line at their Aug. 20 meeting. Samek filed to run for city council shortly afterward.

Two things about this story explain why some of us write in public.

Samek read my newspaper articles, and then did something about it, first by speaking to council, and then by deciding to run for public office. Informing and activating people to take action is what public writing is about. Whether we write for a newspaper, a blog, in social media, or appear on television or radio, the purpose is similar. We attempt to say something meaningful to readers and urge them to action.

The second important part of this story is that someone was there to witness the work of the city council and report on it. Often I am the only person seated in the gallery at council meetings and if I don’t write about them, it is doubtful anyone outside government would. Being there and having a point of view is important to restoring our Democracy. Writing publicly about what we witness is equally so. This is true not only for our government, but for much else in society.

As my summer job with Blog for Iowa ends, I urge readers to get involved with community life and take progressive action. We each have a unique perspective that is needed. There is a world out there and not enough people witnessing its reality and sharing it in public. Or, as Saul Bellow said more artfully, “there’s the most extraordinary, unheard-of poetry buried in America, but none of the conventional means known to culture can even begin to extract it.”

My hope is that people read what I wrote this summer and were moved to do something about issues that are important to them. As the political season turns to the fall campaign thanks for reading my summer posts. My advice is to never give up.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

Cowboy Caviar

Cowboy Caviar

Cowboy Caviar

Cowboy caviar is a fancy name for a simple mixed salad of beans, peppers, tomatoes, corn and other summer goodness. There is no good reason to purchase this salad ready-made from a store, as it is easy to make at home.


1 – 15.5 ounce can black beans, drained
1 – 15.5 ounce can black-eyed peas, drained
1 – 15.5 ounce can of diced fresh tomatoes
2 cups cooked sweet corn
1 small red onion, finely diced
1/2 cup pickled jalapeno peppers, finely diced
1 cup home made oil and vinegar dressing (or what you like)
3/8 cup dried cilantro leaves
Garlic salt to taste

Add the ingredients to a bowl, toss gently and season with the garlic salt. Refrigerate an hour or more before serving to let the flavors combine.

Making Vinegar

Cider, New and Apple Vinegar

Cider, New and Apple Vinegar

LAKE MACBRIDE— From the moment an apple falls from a tree, deterioration begins. Over 20 years of tending our small orchard, I learned to keep the ground under the trees picked up to discourage bugs and worms from spreading throughout the trees. Before the main crop is ready, there has been usable fruit on the ground. One recognizes when it is time to pick based on how many apples fall in a day. I brought about five pounds of apples to the kitchen to make vinegar.

Making vinegar is pretty simple. Core and cut away bad spots, including bruises, from a bowl of apples and juice them with a kitchen juicer. (One can also make apple cider, but securing and using a cider mill is a big production not suitable for small baskets of fallen apples). Strain the juice and pour it into a half gallon canning jar. Add part of the mother from the last batch, or a small amount of last year’s vinegar, and cover with a cotton cloth to allow it to breathe. I use a scrap of our daughter’s diaper, as the warp and woof is just right to let air out and prevent bugs from entering. Set the jar in a dark cupboard and leave it alone for a couple of months, inspecting it occasionally to see if the process is working.

A process byproduct is straining and bottling the last batch. A lot of mother was produced in last year’s effort, and what I couldn’t use went into the compost. The jars in the photo have vinegar from apple cider, the new batch and from apples juiced in the kitchen. The latter is by far the best tasting and most acidic.

Cucumbers and onions are in, so maybe a batch of refrigerator pickles to recipe test the results.

Leaves Fall, Harvest Coming In



LAKE MACBRIDE— The season turned— to sweet corn, celery, pepper and aronia berries— before we knew it. Now it’s a game of keeping up with the fall harvest, making some delicious meals with the fruits of labor, industry, genetics and climate.

Sweet corn is a favorite, and my spouse spent the better part of Sunday putting up 180 ears with her sister. We don’t have room in the freezer, so it is stored in theirs. We also have two dozen ears fresh from other local sources and ready to cook in the kitchen. Over the years I’ve gotten away from growing our own sweet corn as the yield has been small for the amount of space it takes. Leveraging the work of others makes more sense.

Peppers are coming in and this year’s crop looks great and is abundant. A little goes a long way with hot peppers, but the three types are doing exceptionally well. There will be plenty of them to preserve and eat fresh.

The experiment in celery produced a couple of bunches. The quality is very good, so it is worth expanding upon again next year.

We bought two pounds of aronia berries from a local grower. Here’s what he wrote in the promotional literature:

What we do have for sale right now are aronia berries. They were unfazed by the winter. Aronia berries are native to North America; they are very astringent, like a wine grape, and have twice the anti-oxidants of cranberries, four times that of blueberries.We have used aronia berries for jam (alone and with blackberries), in bread, in muffins, and in salsa. There are many recipes available on the Internet. We can send recipes if you are interested.

They are frozen, waiting for suitable use.

Lastly, there is everything else from gifts, the CSA and from our garden. The kitchen is a processing way station, counters clean and at the ready for another day of putting up.

Side note: one of the neighbor’s trees has begun to drop leaves. A precursor, perhaps, to an early frost.