No Winter January

My Cookbook

My Cookbook

We had a brief, light snowfall this month, and that’s it. With four days left in January, it seems unlikely winter as we know it will come.

We have had the scenic vistas, frozen lakes and automobile crashes associated with Iowa winter, but the temperatures have been nowhere near cold enough to kill off pests we want dead come spring.

I’m not an entomologist, however, it’s a problem if bugs over-winter.

On the other hand, even with warmer temperatures, most of life at home is indoors. Drawing down the pantry, preparing to file taxes, reading, writing, budgeting and planning take up much of the desk time. It’s okay, but not as much fun as it may seem.

It is time for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to enter the tax filing scene. Businesses utilizing part time workers in their operations are expected to have a reckoning with the Internal Revenue Service. Depending on what time period is audited, businesses with part time employees with more than 780 hours in six months, or 1,560 hours in 12 months, will be required to pay full benefits. My 2014 totals for the job where this is relevant were 694/1,249, so my employer is in the clear.

This has been a complaint about the ACA It is said to limit how much money part time no benefits people can earn and make it more expensive for employers to add employees. IMHO, those are bad arguments against the law. If the government had provided Medicare for all instead of the ACA, the financial burden would have been much less for everyone.

As it is, the cost of health insurance premiums went up post ACA. I’m not sure this was caused by the law, or by insurance companies using it as an excuse to improve margins.

From a cost standpoint, the ACA made health insurance less expensive only in the framework of what certain lower income people pay for health insurance. There were more dollars, just shifted around with government subsidizing many newly insured people.

What matters more about the ACA is how employers manage their business.Employee costs are always a concern and a key part of any business model. Let’s face it. Small and mid-sized businesses would like to get away with all employees being independent contractors without benefits from the company. The problem is the wages paid are comparable to what used to be offered in the form of wages plus benefits, only without the benefits or the amount of money it takes to provide them.

I’ve heard I will have a reckoning with the IRS in the form of a question on my tax return about health insurance. For 2014, the answer is we had it.

As the sun rises it’s time to turn to other work. Working on newspaper articles, planting seeds and cooking will figure prominently as we work through January hoping winter actually comes.

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Writing Into the New Year

Writing About Apples

Writing About Apples

Writing is about finding an audience. The prospects for any writer to develop a multitude of readers is slight and we take what we can get.

Suffice it that in time of social media some will follow, but whether and what they will read is an open question for which there are no native answers.

We put things out there, promote them as we can, and hope for the best.

There is a craft of writing, and the more I write in the 400-1,000 word form, the easier it comes. Countless blog posts, letters to the editor, speeches and emails have been a continuous written work in progress since my first published pieces in the 1970s. When I read my early work, it’s clear I’m getting better.

That said, I’ll be writing into 2015 with some of the same topics—gardening, local food, peace and justice, politics, and living in society—as I have.

There is a reality to deal with: sustaining a process to support writing. Steven King’s idea that writing is a form of self-hypnosis is a good starting place for this. As a writer, it is possible to set aside existential demands to focus on words for a few hours each day. The goal is to have about four hours of writing per day, hopefully according to a regular routine. When we come out of the trance, reality is there again, waiting like slobbery dogs of war to fill our attention.

Dealing with existential demands is incorporated into my writing, and the posts written with the tag “worklife” are examples of this. See the tag cloud in the right column.

At the same time, wonder, imagination and anticipation seem better topics for writing. Hope that whatever dirt from which we spring will be seeded, grow, flower and reproduce with the sweetest scent of pollination. We need a form of hypnosis to forget quotidian lives and experiences that seek to fill our attention the way water seeks its own level. Writing cannot only be escape, but must be engagement in the human condition without drowning.

This morning in late January is what we have lived for so long. Here’s hoping to build an audience and create something that matters in the page pixels in front of us. And continue to believe that’s possible.

Posted in Writing | Tagged


Dawn at Home

Dawn at Home

The sky was colorful and glorious. Then dawn came.

January is waning. To what it will yield is uncertain. We haven’t had winter yet— the killing of pests, stopped flow of sap and soil moisture protection. Whether winter will come at all is also uncertain in these days of extreme weather. Many wouldn’t miss winter. However, I would.

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Climate Change is Real

Andromeda Galaxy

Andromeda Galaxy

Yesterday the U.S. Senate voted 98-1 that climate change is real. More specifically, “to express the sense of the Senate that climate change is real and not a hoax.” Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi was the lone vote against the amendment to the Keystone XL Pipeline bill.

The Senate wouldn’t go so far as to say that climate change is influenced by human activity, thus providing wiggle room for the climate deniers who voted for this amendment.

Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) wrote the book on climate change as a hoax, co-sponsored and voted for the amendment. Once he took the gavel as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Inhofe proceeded to lay out his view of the matter on the Senate floor, including explaining what he meant by a climate change hoax. Emily Atkin took apart his presentation on Climate Progress, but here we are—a climate denier is now in charge on an important Senate committee.

This week, NASA released the largest photographic image of the Andromeda Galaxy ever, rendering the meaning of the Senate votes small by comparison. Comedian George Carlin said “the planet is fine, the people are fucked.” This too gets lost in the scope of the universe in which we live.

Nonetheless, life as we know it continues and where we’re bound is rarely certain. This week’s lesson is to be cautious about inflating our relevance as we endeavor to sustain our lives in a turbulent world.

Posted in Environment | Tagged , , , ,


Imagination can better capture the actuality of falling snow. Better than my smartphone, or camera. Better than words on a page or screen.

Falling snow is.

That is enough.

Posted in Home Life | Tagged , ,

Cooking – Sort Of

Soup Ingredients

Soup Ingredients

When there are two of us, dinner is usually a snap. I cook some dishes like there is a whole crew, and it leaves an ice box full of leftovers—it’s easy to grab a jar of homemade chili and call it dinner.

The six-pack of eight ounce packages of cream cheese needed to be used. Yesterday I made a spread of one package, roasted red peppers, three cloves of garlic, and a tablespoon of mayonnaise. Once the cream cheese is to room temperature, everything comes together in the food processor. Three cloves of garlic bordered on being too much, but the spread will serve for a couple of days.

This morning a pot of mixed beans is cooking. On the cutting board are generous mounds of carrot, celery and onion. Once the beans are cooked, the whole lot will go into the pot with some bay leaves and enough homemade stock to cover. It will simmer a couple of hours until it becomes soup—just in time for lunch before I head over to the warehouse for a shift.

While there is prep work, and transformation with heat, is this really cooking? At a basic level it is. Acquired knowledge about spreads, soups and chili makes the work quick and easy. Even a long prep and cooking time, like there is with bean soup, is not hard. However, it is certainly not glamorous or particularly inventive. It is subsistence at the most basic level: turning raw material into food for sustenance.

As easy as this type of cooking is, there is a temptation to use prepackaged, precooked food as the main course in a cuisine. There are so many varieties of processed food, a person could go for months without having the same dish twice. At a price point of around $10 for a multi-serving package, processed food seems cheap, even if it isn’t. In the end, any home cooking is leveraged from the idea of controlling what we eat and the ingredients from which food is made more so than food cost. For the most part processed food is an infrequent convenience or comfort.

With the abundance of food in the U.S., it is hard to figure how people go hungry. They do. Even in our community of about 5,000 people we have a food bank that is well used. Perhaps we have gotten too far from producing meals in a kitchen from raw ingredients.

My mixed bean soup is easy to make, but there is a process to be learned and followed. It will make a dozen servings, and whatever the cost, that is cheap both in money and in work. We need to eat, so why not some bean soup? Why not indeed.

Posted in Local Food | Tagged , ,

Now and Then a Day Off

Parker Putnam Building, Davenport, Iowa

Parker Putnam Building, Davenport, Iowa

On Saturdays I took the bus downtown to pay my newspaper bill. In the mid-1960s my home town had a downtown, and it wasn’t unusual.

Newspaper carriers collected subscription fees from customers, then remitted the cost of the papers at the building where they were printed. Whatever was left—a few dollars at most—was our margin.

I spent mine on the bus trip, on snacks at the automat inside Parker’s Department Store, and for an occasional book or magazine. Back then there were at least four department stores downtown and I shopped at them all from time to time.

I continue to have an urge to go downtown on my day off, but of course there is no downtown the way there was.

Sometimes I give in and go, but the impulse is less about the trip itself than feeding a connected and primal need. It’s not the same even though today’s mental awareness is connected to that long ago paperboy. Usually I end up buying things we need if I venture out, like food, light bulbs and hydrogen peroxide.

Days off are more complicated than they were. On every day there is some paid work to be done whether at a work site, or at my desk. I don’t mind. Modern life is about choices we make.

After re-purposing, there was no idea where the road would lead, and that was mostly a good thing. I knew there would be constant work to sustain a life outside of the old fashioned single big paycheck. I embraced the change. Some say over 40 percent of the U.S. workforce, or 60 million people, will derive their livelihood from this kind of “freelancing” also known as “working as needed.”

Dig a bit deeper, and what I am doing is a harbinger of the near-term future, which according to the Intuit 2020 Report, is where “2020 will see a new breed of senior citizens with ‘unretirement’ and active engagement best describing their lifestyle choices.” Translation: my cohort will be working for money until we croak.

So even if I feel the urge to venture downtown, a place that no longer exists, capitulating from time to time seems okay. I would argue it is necessary because so much depends on our connections to the past that if we don’t periodically revisit them, sustaining a life in the present would be nigh impossible.

So now and then, I take a day off.

Posted in Work Life | Tagged