Taking A Break – Shopping


Orchard Apples

Tuesday was the first of three days of holiday in Big Grove. It began with commerce.

Meeting mercantile needs inevitably leads me to the county seat, and to people in the community I’ve known for years.

To get a long past due oil change I went to the Jiffy Lube on Highway One in Iowa City. “Jiffy” had been removed from the process, as each oil change takes 20 minutes, and they have crew enough to do only one car at a time. I left unwilling to wait an hour and headed to the Mobil 1 Lube Express on Riverside Drive, which I noticed for the first time on my drive in. In and out in 10 minutes. I asked the cashier, “is this place new?” “We’ve been here ten years,” he said.

Next stop the HyVee grocery store on North Dodge for two items, both of which they carry, but our main store does not: a certain size plastic storage bag, and whole mustard seed. I ended up paying more to get some Morton & Bassett brown mustard seed which proclaims it is “all natural, salt free, gluten free, non-GMO, preservative free, no MSG and non-irradiated.” I didn’t know irradiation was a thing with spices. I also picked up four links of vegetarian sausage for gumbo. There’s a bag of okra in the freezer that needs using. The new store is nice, but pricey.

Orchard Apples

Orchard Apples

Turning east on Dingleberry Road off Highway One, I headed to Wilson’s Apple Orchard where I’ll spend the next six weekends as the mapper in a u-pick operation. I spent two hours walking through the 110 acres, re-familiarizing myself with the layout, the new groves, and which apples are ripe where. Gala are at peak now, and this Labor Day weekend is the Honeycrisp weekend. I tasted some Honeycrisp and they are almost there… just a couple of days away. The rough creek crossing was flooding over the rocks, so I rolled up my pants and felt the cool water running across my sandal-clad feet. When I got back to the barn, I was covered with sweat. I bought a gallon of fresh apple cider and a small bag of apples, and talked for a while to the manager while dripping sweat from my arms to the floor.

Apple SignNorth on Highway One, Rebal’s Sweet Corn had their sign up so I stopped and bought a bag of ears. The farmer said there were two more patches to harvest. One for the Labor Day weekend, and the second was uncertain with it being so late in summer for sweet corn. It’s only the second time we’ve bought sweet corn this season.

The final stop was at the hardware store in Solon where I bought four boxes of canning jar lids and a box of rings. It’s more expensive there, but I enjoy my visits to get hardware close to home. The folks that run the store are making a business out of it, and there is something to learn about small town life each time I stop.

Once home, I picked tomatoes for dinner, which was sweet corn, thick-sliced tomatoes and apple cider. The whole day set me back $117.53 plus fuel.

A bargain vacation while sustaining a life in a turbulent world.

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Hillary At Summer’s End

Hillary PrideHillary Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field in recent Iowa polling. Simply put, the remaining contenders seem unlikely to close the gap between summer’s end and the Feb. 1 caucus.

It’s possible, but unlikely, even if something new about Hillary comes up.

She has a proven ability to shed Republican faux scandals. The form they take once debunked is of distorted sound in the mostly right wing echo chamber. Rank and file Democrats aren’t listening, even if Democratic elites are. To the extent Clinton’s Democratic rivals bring them up, their campaigns are the less. Read Greg Sargent’s take on the elites here.

Media reports this week revealed “there was no policy prohibiting the use of a private email account at the State Department.” Like it or not, her State Department emails are expected to persist in the Republican lexicon, and real people will spend substantial resources working to gin up some trouble for Clinton, even though the State Department said she did nothing wrong.

Hillary’s polling in other states is not as favorable as it is in Iowa. Bernie Sanders edges her out in his backyard state of New Hampshire. If Sanders is viable in any respect, he should win New Hampshire. If he does not, it’s game over and Hillary Clinton will become the Democratic nominee

Gabriel Debenedette pointed out on Politico Hillary has the resources and more importantly boots on the ground in the Super Tuesday, March 1 states. One expects she will have the nomination wrapped up by then. According to Debenedette, she’s building a firewall there.

I hang out with an informal group of low-wage workers from time to time. One could call it a focus group, but that would be giving it more structure than probably exists.

There is pent up demand to talk about Donald Trump.

The other day someone mentioned his name and the mere mention unleashed comments from almost everyone. It was evidence of Trump’s mastery of popular culture — something that should be no surprise to anyone familiar with his long-running television program.

“Donald Trump is building his Republican presidential campaign staff in Iowa similar to his defunct NBC-TV series ‘The Apprentice’ — and his celebrity is making it easier on some fronts,” Todd Beamon pointed out on Newsmax.

What do members of the group say about Hillary?

“I don’t know if we can trust Hillary,” said one, confirming what the polls say. If Hillary is the nominee, the ones whose politics I know best will still vote for her.

Most only wanted to talk about Trump.

Labor Day will signal the end of summer and the beginning of the next political canvass for candidates working the process. The textbook method is to finish the second canvass in October when the end of year holidays are imminent.

Based on what I’m seeing in rural Iowa, the only Democrats working the process are Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley. Will Iowa Democrats caucus for a party outsider like Sanders? Will Joe Biden make it three?

I don’t know, but as summer turns to fall, Iowa has been all about Hillary Clinton.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

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Getting Nuclear With Loebsack

Dr. Maureen McCue speaking for the Iran Deal at Rep. Dave Loebsack's Office

Dr. Maureen McCue speaking for the Iran Deal at Rep. Dave Loebsack’s Office

IOWA CITY – A group of peace-loving constituents assembled Wednesday afternoon in front of U.S. Congressman Dave Loebsack’s office to demonstrate support for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action negotiated between the P5 +1 nations and the Islamic Republic of Iran, also known as the “Iran Deal.”

The Iran Deal is designed to prevent Iran from enriching uranium to develop a nuclear weapon. If Iran complies with the agreement, they will get relief from sanctions that brought them to the negotiating table during the Obama administration.

Congress is expected to vote on approval of the Iran Deal as early as Sept. 9. Congressman Loebsack has not made a public statement on the matter, hence a concern of those assembled.

The gathering began with Dawn Jones, Wellman, serving as master of ceremonies. Jones helped organize the demonstration, which is part of a nationwide series of similar events under the MoveOn.org umbrella. At one point 55 people were in attendance, as well as the local FOX News/CBS Channel and a couple of videographers.

Dr. Maureen McCue, Oxford, board member of the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights and chapter organizer for Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility, enumerated the benefits of the Iran Deal and urged Loebsack to vote for the bill. (Details of the Iran Deal are linked at this July 27 post).

Tom Baldridge, advocated for the Iran Deal on behalf of the Eastern Iowa Chapter of Veterans for Peace, as did Ann Stromquist of PEACE Iowa, Nancy Porter, John Rachow, Dan Daly and others.

Demonstrators Filing into Rep. Dave Loebsack's Iowa City Office

Demonstrators Filing into Rep. Dave Loebsack’s Iowa City Office

After the speeches, Jones walked into the office and spoke to Dave Leshtz, district representative for Loebsack. The group was invited inside to present a petition calling for an aye vote on the Iran Deal.

“(Loebsack) has a strong concern that many of the people who are pushing for a ‘no’ vote are the same people that pushed us into a misguided war in Iraq,” Leshtz said. “He believes in diplomacy. It is better not to shoot first and ask questions later.”

The frustration of several in the group was that Loebsack had not taken a leadership position by speaking for the Iran Deal well in advance of the vote. Some hoped he could influence his colleagues in the lower chamber.

David Leshtz and Maureen McCue

David Leshtz and Maureen McCue

“What’s holding him back from taking a position,” asked Shelton Stromquist, emeritus professor, University of Iowa American, Social and Labor History. “I just don’t understand. There’s broad support for this agreement. He comes from a progressive constituency. He hasn’t provided leadership on this or many other issues. What’s holding him back?”

I don’t know, Shel,” Leshtz said. “A vote will come. He will cast his vote. He may say something before. This (petition and demonstration) is helpful I think.”

Dan Daly, Iowa City, stressed that many in the room had helped Loebsack get elected in 2006.

“We want to stay positive. Urgency. Take action. Soon and very vividly, so more congresspeople can take cover behind his leadership,” Daly said.

Leshtz deferred to the congressman, who knows many of the demonstrators personally.

Both Iowa U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst are expected to vote “no” on the measure.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

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Opening Pandora’s Boxes

Pandora (1879) - Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Pandora (1879) – Dante Gabriel Rossetti

The greatest evil for a sixty something is theft of time. There is only so much of it — all here and now. There is also a sense we must create value with this limited resource.

How shall time be spent downsizing?

There are boxes to open — lots of them — each containing artifacts of this life, and potential villainy.

Pandora was the first woman in classical Greek Mythology.

“When Prometheus stole fire from heaven, Zeus took vengeance by presenting Pandora to Prometheus’ brother Epimetheus,” according to Wikipedia. “Pandora opens a jar containing death and many other evils which were released into the world. She hastened to close the container, but the whole contents had escaped except for one thing that lay at the bottom – Elpis — or hope. That’s what I’m seeking as the downsizing of personal artifacts begins.

Sorting Station

Sorting Station

There are two temptations leading to perdition.

The first is spending time with things that should be discarded. There was a reason to keep each one — such reasons eclipsed by the urgency of now.

The other is to discard something of value, an artifact worth keeping a while longer, with monetary value, or to pass along.

Some small percentage of the artifacts will go to our daughter, but we don’t want to load up her space with our junk. Too, some of the pieces will inspire new writing for this blog or other publication. There are books to read, artwork to contemplate, and relics of past lives wanting to be relived. I’d better make quick work of it or I’ll never finish.

It’s already going poorly as I was up in the middle of the night reading a history of World War I. I should know all of that by now.

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Stand In The Kitchen

Scarlet Kale

Scarlet Kale

The word “cooking” was on the calendar this afternoon. I went into the kitchen at the appointed time and stood there.

After a while I turned the radio to National Public Radio news, and stood there.

I stood there and let the quiet of a placid summer afternoon sink in.

Filling a wide-mouth Mason jar with ice, I drew filtered water from the icebox and drank.

I refilled the jar.

The green beans had gone bad, so into the compost. A moldy squash was removed to the compost bucket.

There were too many cucumbers, so the small ones were made into sweet pickles (I hope).

When I selected Brandywine tomato seeds last winter I had no idea the fruit would be so good. A dozen were lined up on the counter in the order of ripeness. I took the biggest one and made two slices from it. I diced one more that was injured from growing between wires on the tomato cage and piled it on top. With salt, pepper and feta cheese, it made two meals by itself.

I cleaned and picked over a crate of kale and found a couple of green worms on the leaves. The predators have arrived. Removing my guests, I tore the leaves and filled up the salad spinner. The kale dried on the counter.

I stood there a while longer, but now I knew. The other dish would be a kale stir fry.

Slicing half an onion, seven cloves of garlic, and a yellow squash, I sauteed them in extra virgin olive oil until tender. Then I piled on the kale and stirred gently. First it turned bright green, then it wilted. It cooked down to two servings, which was just right.

The meal was satisfying, and unexpected. Which is what happens if one would but stand in the kitchen and live.

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Creating a Life

Picked Scarlet Kale

Picked Scarlet Kale

We live in the only home we planned and built. When I arrived in 1993, ahead of the rest of the family in Indiana, the lot was a vacant remainder of the Kasparek farm with two volunteer trees and tall grass.

A deal on another lot had fallen through, and there was an urgency to find a place to settle. This lot, with its proximity to Lake Macbride was to be it.

I remember sitting on the high wall after the contractor dug the lower level from the hillside, before the footings were in. A cool breeze blew in from the lake — the kind that still comes up from time to time.

Like our home, the lives we built here are a construct — decisions made, things accumulated and behaviors played out. As we live each day we make it anew from materials with which we’ve grown familiar. Over the next month, the construct will be under review, with new energy once things are shored up against what is expected to be a tumultuous future.

Some parts of life here were well-decided. The large 0.62 acre lot allowed our garden to grow and flourish, producing more food than we can eat and preserve given a busy life.

Others just happened.

So this week’s pledge is to get started on more conscious creative endeavor in this place we built 22 years ago.

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Slavery and the Costco Halo

Slave Vessels - Photo Credit AP

Slave Vessels – Photo Credit AP

On Thursday the Los Angeles Times reported a Costco member sued the retailer on allegations that it knowingly sold frozen prawns that were the product of slave labor.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California, alleges that Costco was aware that the prawns it purchased from its Southeast Asian producers came from a supply chain dependent on human trafficking and other illegal labor abuses.

The suit, which seeks class-action status, named seafood producers Charoen Pokphand Foods Public Co. in Thailand and C.P. Food Products Inc. in Maryland as defendants.

Based on claims of unfair competition and fraudulent practices, the lawsuit seeks a court order stopping Costco from selling prawns without a label describing its “tainted” supply chain and from buying, distributing and selling products they know or suspect to be derived from slave labor or human trafficking.

Read the rest of the article here.

If the allegations are true, the Costco halo with regard to labor relations should dim.

More than any other large retailer, Costco is in the good graces of members of the progressive community for its labor practices.

In January 2014, President Obama choose a Costco in Lanham, Maryland to advocate for an increase in the federal minimum wage because the retailer is “acting on its own to pay its workers a fair wage.”

“To help make that case, look no further than Costco,” said Thomas Perez, secretary of labor at the event. “Costco has been proving for years that you can be a profitable company while still paying your employees a fair wage. They’ve rejected the old false choice that you can serve the interests of your shareholders, or your workers, but not both.”

“Labor union officials and backers agree,” according to an article in USA Today, “saying other retailers, such as Walmart, could learn from the way Costco treats its workers and the results.”

Costco’s example is on the left end of the retail spectrum, and is set up to be taken down a notch. Slavery in its supply chain is nothing new as their shelves have long been stocked with canned tuna derived from a Thailand based fishing trade that sources from slave vessels. The Costco halo has protected it… perhaps until now.

When in high school I enjoyed having a tuna melt sandwich at Ross’ Restaurant in Bettendorf after working on the stage crew. The warm tuna salad, with a slice of melted cheese, served on toasted bread was sensually appealing and delicious. We are not in high school any more.

We live in a society where the mere mention of symbols of 19th century slavery creates cacophonous public debate. Just look at the recent news cycles regarding use of the Confederate battle flag in public places. It was a media firestorm with the defining act arguably being removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state capitol grounds. Modern day slavery? Barely a word about it.

Whether Costco’s association with slaves in its supply chain will become an issue among its members is uncertain at best. As a society don’t like to take down the symbols in our hagiography, even if all large-scale retailers, including Costco, are far from saintly. We take comfort in developing patterns and relationships with our retailers, creating a refuge from a world that seems increasingly hostile. “I like this brand,” a consumer might say.

The argument comes down to the face of the farmer. When we discover the farmer is a slave, it requires action on our part. That is, unless we concede the world is so screwed up there is no hope.

I’ve never eaten a prawn, and don’t plan to start. If the lawsuit is successful, I’m not sure it will matter among prawn-eaters or other Costco members. However, progressives should care, and stop referring to Costco as a model for labor relations until it pledges, and lives up to the pledge, to take slavery out of its supply chain.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

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