Voting – It’s All We’ve Got

Polling Place

Voting is important because, as regular humans in a world of powerful interests, it’s all we’ve got.

Sure, we can band together with like-minded people and be stronger together. However, as Americans, a rugged individualism runs through us and some say has made us what we are. We cherish our individual freedoms as voters and seek a society with liberty and justice for all.

If voting is so danged important, why is it so many voters don’t vote?

Each of us has friends and relatives in the non-voter category. I celebrate the freedom to let other people decide policy and our laws, but am still engaged enough to work to influence society for the better. We can’t give up on that, although some people may like it better if I did.

Our general election is Nov. 6 and I hope readers will make it a point to vote.

The Republican Secretary of State took away straight Democratic, Republican or Libertarian ticket voting so we will have to vote each race individually. Voters will have to know a little about each candidate to vote the whole ballot.

Our civics teacher would like the idea of learning about all candidates and voting every race. That’s what I plan to do.

~ Published on Sept. 20, 2018 in the Solon Economist

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Getting Salt in the Last Week of Summer

Bee Landing on Wildflowers

Another week of summer and already I’ve turned to fall.

This is Jonathan apple weekend at the orchard, marking halfway through the retail and u-pick season. When I think of a red apple, I think of Jonathan. We grow half a dozen varieties, including the heirloom. Except for the 89 degree ambient temperature yesterday it is beginning to feel like fall at the orchard.

At the end of my shift at the home, farm and auto supply store I moved pallets of water softening salt from the storage yard to the load out area for customers. Temperatures were moderate and the wind felt good as I traversed the length of the building in the lift truck. My two days a week schedule is facilitating the transition to retirement by providing some income and giving those days purpose outside the home.

Someday, maybe soon, all this will change.

September’s remaining days will be packed. Finishing garden, yard and kitchen work, and preparing for a winter of writing. After the general election, once the apple harvest is in, I hope for full days devoted to writing. I’m encouraged to work through the interim with positive results. Invested in the present, I’m looking toward a bright future.

Living life as best we can in an turbulent world.

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End of the Garden

Rapid Creek, Sept. 11, 2018

It’s down to eggplant, green beans, peppers, butternut squash and kale as the garden winds down in late summer. Four crates of tomatoes remain to be used, and the ice box, storage shelves and freezer are nearing capacity.

The next project is planning the garlic patch for October planting. I think it will go where the celery and cucumbers grew this year. It was a successful crop so I’m doubling the amount planted — all with seed from this year’s crop.

The Autumnal Equinox begins Sept. 22 this year. After that, the winter cycle of cooking and living mostly indoors is renewed. Garden cleanup will be after first frost, usually in the middle of October. Then there is collecting grass clippings for mulch and trimming branches from trees and shrubs for a winter burn pile.

Apples, Sept. 11, 2018

Tuesday I made a trip to the orchard to pick apples and brought home more than a week’s worth in eight varieties. I had to stop picking before getting to all the ripe kinds because the bag was getting heavy. They will keep in the refrigerator… I hope.

There are seven weeks left in the apple season and I’m looking forward to all of them. There is nothing like my work as a mapper, helping guests find apples in our orchard. Last Sunday it was so busy, with perfect weather and pent up desire for customers to get outdoors, I began losing my voice after explaining the operation so many times. The harvest is a series of fleeting moments stretching toward a vanishing point.

The orchard has 100 varieties of apples that begin ripening in late July and continue until the last day of October. Pictured are Cortland, McIntosh, Wolf River, Jonagold, Honeycrisp, Hudson’s Golden Gem, and more. I’d say they were delicious and that would be an apple joke.

Vegetables for Library Workers

I took a care package to our library workers on the way to the orchard. Some of them work on Tuesdays and we didn’t want them to be left out of summer produce. They always appreciate fresh vegetables and this year favored Japanese cucumbers.

The garden has already been a success with some of the best crops I’ve yet grown in many varieties. Where there were failures (bell peppers, radishes, snow peas) there were big successes (tomatoes, celery, cucumbers, spinach, butternut squash, hot peppers). It has been a great year despite the weird weather.

Being in semi-retirement made a difference in preserving the harvest. An extra day or two during the week enabled me to take care of what was planted and process what came in the kitchen.

The plan is to do it again next year.

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Empty Seats at the Political Forum

Empty Chair for Bobby Kaufmann

A report arrived they set up two extra rows of seats in the back of the Area Task Force on Aging legislative candidate forum yesterday. That didn’t take away from the sparse turnout for the event.

Long-time community advocate Bob Welsh told me a story which was apropos.

A church community hired a well known architect to design their new church. Everyone in the congregation knew and trusted him. He had one condition: no one would inquire into the design while work was in process or interrupt him. After consideration, an agreement was reached and the work proceeded.

When the church was finished, as congregants entered the first service in the new facility, there was only one pew, all the way in the back. While taken aback, devotees took their seats. Once the pew filled, a set of invisible motors moved the pew from the back to the front of the church and a second pew appeared. Thus the church was filled from front to back.

It turns out the preacher went long as they are wont to do. At a certain point, without prompting or considering the point in the heavenly narrative, the pulpit began to sink into the floor until it was gone. It turned out the architect understood the nature of a church perfectly and executed his plan accordingly.

I’ve come to know and like Bob Welsh and it was disappointing there were so few people attending the forum. In years past there was standing room only. I remember my position along the stage right side of the room one year, waiting to hear what candidates had to say. No need to stand now.

A forum for four races is impossible. By the time all was said and done, the six of eight candidates in attendance got a minute closing time plus about 12 minutes to respond to questions in small chits of time. Two of three Republicans were no-shows, although the one who did and the Libertarian were most interesting as they broke up the uniform responses of the four Democrats.

State Senator Joe Bolkcom’s constant refrain was, “We’re broke.” It reminded us no new programs would be possible until the legislature found a way to pay for them. The path to doing that would be through regaining control of the executive branch of government and at least one chamber of the legislature.

The common denominator is Governor Branstad’s privatization of Iowa Medicaid. Democrats at the forum uniformly and properly said it was a disaster and needed to be reversed, something winning the governor’s race would make possible. There is a role for privatization of select functions within the Medicaid umbrella, but the state requires the low overhead of managing complicated cases themselves. Democrats made a rational case to the few dozen gathered and potential cable T.V. viewers.

Here’s one thing politicians didn’t mention: thousands of stories about the failure of the Branstad Reynolds privatization of Medicaid across the state. This is personal, private, and touches almost all Iowans. There are no success stories.

No one wants to talk about the trouble they had finding a nursing home that accepts Medicaid patients. We don’t hear of vendors who have taken seven figure loans to make payroll and fund cash flow while waiting for MCOs to pay their bills. We don’t hear the horror stories of how patients are treated except in bits and pieces from our closest family and friends. The question why aren’t there enough medical practitioners is tied irrevocably to the state’s rapid loss of young people and a flight from rural to urban centers. The Medicaid scandal is personal and most people don’t want to talk about it because they find it embarrassing they were caught up in it.

Johnson County is a Democratic County, one of a few in the state. There are organized political groups working hard to execute a strategy they think will win the election. What I’m seeing in evidence like the low turnout at the Task Force on Aging is this approach doesn’t work any more. What will decide the 2018 Iowa midterms isn’t the hard work of political organizers. It is convincing people aged 35 and younger to vote at all, getting voters who vote only in presidential elections to go to the polls this year and vote the entire ballot, and hoping the number of Iowans devastated by the shit storm that was the 87th Iowa General Assembly will be enough to turn the tide.

That’s a helluva political mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. I still like Bob Welsh and the forum he helped found and always will. Sadly it is more evidence our politics is broken as the rats continue to navigate the ship.

I’m working to turn out voters this cycle. Are you?

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Returning to the Trail

Jewelweed on the Lake Macbride Trail

I view trail hiking with trepidation.

Since entering a low-wage work world a few years ago, where standing for long shifts on concrete floors contributed to plantar fasciitis, I haven’t jogged and reduced the amount of trail hiking I do. Now that I’m semi-retired, my feet appear to be healing. I’d like to get back out on the trail on a regular basis.

We live near an entry point to the Lake Macbride State Park trail system.

The hard-packed gravel trail runs from the state park entry, five miles east to the City of Solon. It is well used by hikers, bicyclists, joggers and locals, and soon will be connected to a much larger trail system. Over the years I’ve used it a lot, notably as a jogging trail where in peak condition I’d jog five miles each day before heading into Cedar Rapids for work.

Friday I hiked home from Solon after dropping my automobile at the repair shop, then hiked back to town once it was repaired: six miles.

The trail is changing.

Human activity in the form of development has taken the biggest toll on nature. The Solon Recreation and Nature Area has been encroaching on natural areas near the trail since it was established. Addition of a paved, concrete bike path near the railroad easement has taken even more of the natural area out of the trail. The city end of the trail has been a mess since the construction began and will end up being an industrialized area rather than the nature it purports to be in its naming. I ran into a townie I know who said designers plan to keep the gravel portion of the trail. If that’s true, it is a blessing because there are so few low impact trails in the area.

My trail experience is partly about exercise, partly about viewing the condition and maintenance of the trail. I enjoy finding new wildflowers like the Jewelweed in the image above. When there were more of them I picked wild blackberries, competing with birds for the sweet treat. The good news is my feet didn’t ache Saturday morning and on Sunday they returned to normal. I should be able to hike regularly again… and complain about human activity encroaching on nature right in front of my eyes.

Lake Macbride from the Trail, Sept. 7, 2018

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The Clean Power Plan is not Killing Coal

Coal Mine Demonstrators Going Down – 1950

We’ve known the 45th president seeks to eliminate regulations on the fossil fuel industry so it’s no surprise he announced his intention to modify the Clean Power Plan developed by President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency.

The plan was announced by the president in Charleston, West Virginia at a campaign-style rally on Aug. 21. Here’s what Al Gore, Chairman of the Climate Reality Project had to say.

Whether or not the Clean Power Plan exists makes little difference to the future of coal-fired power plants according to Taylor Kuykendall.

Regardless of executive actions, the days of coal fired power plants are numbered. Electricity produced by wind, solar arrays and natural gas will push coal out of the picture because they are cheaper. This was true when home owners replaced coal furnaces in their homes with natural gas in the 1950s and 1960s. It’s true now. Not only that, there are public health issues with burning coal. It is market conditions that will reduce coal consumption in the United States.

One assignment during my transportation career was to start a school in Boone County, West Virginia to re-train coal miners to become truck drivers. We got a one year grant from the governor’s office to train 250 people. The day we announced it was front page news in the Coal Valley Times. Along side the article about us was one indicating another round of coal miner layoffs.

I recall standing in Democratic Governor Gaston Caperton’s office watching a train laden with coal making its way along the Kanawha River. We knew the coal industry was dying then, it’s dying now, and no amount of special interest pressure on our federal government will bring it back.

Clean coal is a dirty lie and despite efforts to prop the fuel up, government should let go of it and leave it in the ground. As Gore said, “we will not be deterred” from building a stronger, clean energy economy.

~ First posted on Blog for Iowa

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Holiday Weekend

Apples Ripening

Since 2013 I’ve worked at the apple orchard on Labor Day.

The holiday coincides with ripening of Honeycrisp apples which is one of our most popular varieties. There are more than a dozen others, including Gala, McIntosh, Red Gravenstein, Burgundy, Cortland, Ginger Gold, Red Free and Akane, ripe and ready to pick.

It rained on Saturday, which suppressed the crowd, but Sunday a couple thousand guests stopped by. It was our busiest day this season.

My job title is “mapper.” That means I talk to many of our customers and help them have a positive experience at the orchard. A large map is displayed at my work station, from which I tell a story about how to find apples. Even when a majority of people seek the same variety, each customer is wants something a little different. It’s my job to figure out what that is and help them find it in a personal way. Sometimes I draw a map on a slip of paper showing where specific apples are. Mostly I use the map as a reference point and work to enable customers to break the chains of intellectual engagement and look at the 80 acres of land that makes up our orchard. With popular varieties that’s easier because the rows of apple trees are visible from my perch at the top of the hill. Among the many things our orchard represents, it is a chance to get away from daily life for a while.

Rain had been holding off Sunday until around 4:30 p.m. when clouds gathered and let loose a shower. Our guests headed into the sales barn and to their vehicles to get out of the weather. Rainfall signaled the end of the day more than our business hours.

I enjoy working at the orchard, especially when it is busy. My personal tradition has been to work on Labor Day and I’ve done it for as long as I can remember.

In the transportation and logistics business operations never ceased and our family had no culture of celebrating this holiday. I recall a Labor Day I drove into the Chicago loop to work in my office. I parked at a construction site near Lake Michigan, walked the block and a half to work, and went through security. I was one of the few people other than security inside the Standard Oil building on Randolph Drive. I believe I got a lot of work done that day, although today am not so sure.

Over the years we’ve become a family that doesn’t celebrate the eight or ten big holidays of the year. That might change in retirement. Even though I grew up in a union household, was a union member at the meat packing plant where my maternal grandmother and father worked, and have a daughter who is represented by a large union, Labor Day is a forgotten time for me. Maybe because I’d been part of management most of my worklife. More likely if I took the day off I wouldn’t know what to do as celebration. In the end, I’d rather spend time with people who are getting away from la vie quotidienne and help make their experience better on Labor Day.

After the rainfall I policed up trash from the picnic area and a young couple asked me to take a photo of them. Guest relations like this is an unwritten part of my job. I looked for proper framing where I could capture the day for them. She handed me her mobile device and I got them to smile. I snapped a photo of them in front of apple trees with our restaurant on the hill in the distant background. The photo pleased them.

I picked up discarded apples, plastic and paper and put them in trash barrels not full enough to empty. That work will be for Labor Day, when if the rain holds off we should have a couple thousand of guests seeking something, apples mostly, but also learning how to live in the 21st Century.

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