Shifting Gears

Interstate 80 in Nebraska, Winter 2012.

Beginning today, I’m spending less writing time here and more on other projects. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve gone long stretches of posting every day. The uninterrupted string of posts may end soon, even if the pandemic doesn’t.

I’ll continue to cross post from other platforms, although my main work lies elsewhere, at least until spring.

Now that the end of year holidays kicked off with Thanksgiving, I’m ready to go. However you celebrate year’s end, have a good one.

Thank you for reading Journey Home. Hope to see you on the other side.


What is a Home Library?

Snapshot of part of my home library

The place where I write is surrounded with books. There are more books in the next room, in boxes and piled on tables. There are shelves of books in the garage. There are documents going back to the 1950s. There are also boxes of artifacts. What is all this stuff?

To call it a library is not quite accurate. It is a collection of things, yet only in the loosest sense of the word. I set up my desk when we moved in, the same place it is today, before electricity was connected to the structure. Things collected here the way flotsam washes to shore. There is little agency in the word “collection” as applied to my place.

“Archives” doesn’t get it right either. In a corner is a tree trunk from the pine tree that grew outside my window during the 1960s. On top of it I pile each bill as it comes in and is paid. The stack of papers is 16 inches tall. When someone wants a document, I say it is filed on the stump. A stump is not a filing system, they say. I don’t argue the point.

As a newly minted septuagenarian I’m concerned with a couple of things.

When I die, I want people to be able to find relevant things, such as my will, whether I paid the last electricity bill, the title to the automobile, and a list of my computer passwords: an archive of the exigency of now. This is a given, it exists, and can be improved upon.

There are too many books to read or to pass on to someone else to sort through. A sorting has begun. A library is a place to find something specific. As needs change, so should the contents. Getting rid of many books and papers is common courtesy to my survivors. I try to be courteous. It is difficult to find things if I’ve forgotten what I have. This can be a problem when considering what I leave behind.

Mainly I want quick access to books and papers I need for my writing. Egads! I’m not there and time’s a wasting! Archival materials would describe this if I had taken time to archive everything, which I have not. I’d like to get the collection to a manageable size, one that would fit in a single room. Once I get there I may call it a home library and be justified in doing so. For the time being, it is what it is and the word “library” is not an accurate fit.

It is a place to work. A place of my own. That will have to suffice for now.

Living in Society

Don’t Tell Us What to Read

Morning Reading for $1.25

I got my first library card in 1959 and have been reading ever since. When I was young, teachers kept an eye on my reading and made their opinions known. If they didn’t like a particular book, I read it at home where my parents supervised me.

My first conflict was in eighth grade over a book written by Ian Fleming, one of the 007 series. The priest saw I had it and confiscated it because of Bond’s interaction with women. I discussed it with my parents and eventually bought another copy from my allowance.

In high school I heard about J.D. Salinger’s book Catcher in the Rye and wanted to read it. It was prohibited and unavailable in the school library. I read that one too. I managed the conflicts between teachers and my reading.

What I can’t abide is the state legislature regulating which books should be allowed in schools. This decision should be between teachers, librarians, and parents. The claim parents don’t know what books are in schools seems bogus. If the legislature wants to do something, fund on-line access to card catalogues throughout the state. We don’t need lawmakers telling us what to read.

~ First published on Jan. 22, 2022 in the Cedar Rapids Gazette


Double Dipping on Carbon-Capture

Field Corn

Governor Kim Reynolds mentioned carbon-capture in her condition of the state address during a segment on renewable energy.

I am introducing new legislation that will improve access to E15 and B20 and upgrade Iowa’s fuel infrastructure to offer higher blends. And I’m proposing that we invest in carbon-capture solutions to sustain and build on our leadership position in renewable energy.

Governor Kim Reynolds Condition of the State Address, Jan. 11, 2022.

To be clear, the governor supports carbon-capture to protect Iowa’s investments in ethanol and bio-fuels. It has nothing to do with addressing the climate crisis, and everything to do with continuing to grow corn for ethanol. We are not sure if carbon-capture even works.

“The U.S. Department of Energy invested $684 million in unsuccessful carbon capture and storage demonstration projects at coal plants under the 2009 stimulus package, a U.S. Government Accountability Office audit found,” according to Karin Rives at S&P Global. “This time, the DOE has close to $1 billion from the 2021 infrastructure law earmarked for large-scale carbon capture pilot projects, as well as $2.5 billion for carbon capture demonstrations.”

If DOE spent $684 million on carbon capture and it failed to capture carbon, why would our government increase the amount to be spent? To address the climate crisis, ethanol and bio-fuels need to go out of business. Society should develop true alternative fuels that free farmer fields to grow food crops and don’t rely on release of carbon dioxide to produce ethanol.

Fool me once on carbon capture, shame on you. Fool me a second time, shame on me.

Read all of my posts on carbon-capture at this link.

Living in Society

Miller-Meeks Didn’t Support the Military

Mariannette Miller-Meeks on the Iowa State Fair Political Soapbox on Aug. 13, 2010. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks should be consistent about where she stands on support for the military. On Jan. 12, she voted against expanding eligibility for educational benefits to our National Guard and Army Reserves in the Guard and Reserve GI Bill Parity Act of 2021.

In June, Miller-Meeks said, “I can think of no better way to help those transitioning from our military than by giving them access to the benefits they have earned.” She gushed on her congressional website how she voted in favor of four bills to help our military members.

Which is it congresswoman? Are you for or against supporting the military with improved benefits?

I’m weary of hearing her military resume because while she used the GI bill for her own education, leveling the playing field between National Guard/Reservists and active-duty personnel is something she can’t abide.

I may have missed some fine print right wing politicians find objectionable, yet the big picture is Miller-Meeks voted against a bill to help men and women in uniform.

Our military personnel deserve our thanks on behalf of a grateful nation. But no, Miller-Meeks couldn’t provide it.

~ First published in The Daily Iowan and also in other local newspapers

Kitchen Garden

Hatch Chili Sauce

Hatch chili sauce using a blend of Hatch and Guajillo chilies.

A variety of dried chilies waits for me in the pantry. Yesterday I made chili sauce with the rest of the Guajillo chilies I grew, and some Hatch chilies from the grocer. It is a bit of a production yet this chili sauce is great on just about anything.

First put a kettle of water on to boil. Stem the chilies and split them to remove most of the seeds. Place them in a bowl and pour the hot water over them to enable them to hydrate. Cover with a plate to hold them under water. Soak for at least an hour or until they are flexible.

Place the chilies in a blender with a cup of the soaking liquid. Add whole garlic cloves, at least one large head. Add pepper and Mexican oregano. Blend until it is as smooth as possible.

Place a tablespoon or so of peanut oil in a frying pan and heat. Using a strainer, pour the sauce mixture into the frying pan, pushing as much through the mesh as is possible using a spatula. Set the strainer with bits of chili skin aside and stir the strained sauce.

Add a dash of salt and a teaspoon of sugar to bring out the flavor of the chilies. The idea is not to sweeten the sauce, but to make the chilies taste more fruity.

Stir and mix, mix and stir over medium low heat. Reduce the sauce until it is the consistency of a thick tomato sauce or tomato paste. Use the soaking liquid to dilute the sauce if it gets too thick. Make it the consistency you want.

Put it in a jar, refrigerate, and use it like you would any hot pepper sauce. If I had summer greens, I’d make a taco filling with it along with black beans. I’m the only person in our house who eats spicy things. All the same this Hatch chili sauce won’t last long.


Writer’s Week #1

I discarded worn hats and pulled these out. Spring styling has begun.

It was a good week for my autobiography.

I made steady progress on re-writing the first four chapters. The time was about ten to one editing over writing. The most difficult challenge is getting the narrative right so it is honest and understandable. I located key documents I’d forgotten. I also created one empty banker’s box. That last part is particularly rewarding for a retiree with too much stuff.

There was a file with old resumes in it, including a Statement of Personal History (DD Form 398) I completed in 1982 or 1983. It includes every job I held and every address I had from birth. That will be useful in creating a time line. A quick glance revealed a number of inaccuracies. I know more now about my life than I did when I was living it, which seems normal.

Importantly, I located the family history documents Mother provided about my paternal line. It is a set of genealogy forms with a lot of information completed. This makes the process easier. Like with every documentation, there are some mistakes and omissions. I can fill in the blanks if I choose. I debate whether to tamper with the originals and have thus far mostly left them as is.

In 1983, we made a long automobile trip from Iowa City to Saint Louis; Evansville, Indiana; Wise County, Virginia; and then to Philadelphia to visit friends and relatives. It was a sort of second wedding trip after our first one to Chicago in December 1982. I located my journal entries from the trip, in which I recorded the interaction with my Uncle Gene when he traveled from Florida to Wise County to be with us. He explained his family life in and around Glamorgan, Virginia where he and Father were born. The journal will help. I may quote most of it directly as it tells the story as well as anything I could write now.

Uncle Gene also took us to some of the home places, including a parcel of land described as “lying and being in Wise County, Virginia on the waters of Guests River in the Rocky Fork section of the Gladewell Magisterial District.” This property, called Rocky Fork by family, goes way back. We explored it during the visit.

I spent considerable time thinking about the 1920s and 1930s this week. I’m reading a book called Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore. It recounts the history of use of the element radium in manufacturing consumer goods, and the impact of radioactivity on workers. The radium girls literally glowed from toxic radium contamination.

Part of the Radium Girls narrative presents the history of The Radium Dial Company, founded in 1917 in Ottawa, LaSalle County, Illinois. It supported what became the Western Clock Company in 1919, featuring the Westclox brand. Radium Dial Company made watch dials painted by hand with radium so they would glow in the dark. The Westclox manufacturing plant was in Peru, LaSalle County, Illinois.

In the book there are two references to Starved Rock, which is where my maternal grandmother worked when she arrived in LaSalle County from Minnesota about 1925. It was a place for group outings for the radium girls and others. I hadn’t considered the broader context of LaSalle County in my autobiography, but now I am. Reading this book was a breakthrough.

As Moore points out, not everyone had automobiles at that time. Likewise, there was radio but no television. People mainly got news from each other, and from newspapers. For a historian, newspapers make it relatively easy to follow coverage of major stories like the one of the court cases of the radium girls.

This led me to think about how I gather news.

We need news, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, yet always. First priority is news about key family members, which is mostly sourced from networks of family and friends. After that, we seek news about what could impact our daily lives. How we gather news changed since the 1920s and during my lifetime. It will likely continue to change.

Our family tuned the television to watch the Huntley-Brinkley Report for news during my formative years. With theme music from the second movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, it had a weighty feel. News stories were told in direct, clear language. It catered to what passed for adults back then. It went off the air the summer after I graduated high school.

We subscribed to local Davenport newspapers, the Times-Democrat and the Catholic Messenger. In eighth grade we had a project to read and clip newspaper articles into a scrapbook. I got an A on the project. I was a paperboy who delivered the Times-Democrat in our neighborhood yet hardly read it except for a school project.

In graduate school we watched KWWL-TV news when we had a chance. They had opened a news bureau in Cedar Rapids which featured a recent college graduate, Liz Mathis. Mathis is currently running for Congress. I can’t recall when I stopped watching television news. It was long ago.

Today the day begins reading newspapers. I subscribe to online editions of the Washington Post, Cedar Rapids Gazette, Iowa City Press Citizen, and Solon Economist. Each of them informs me from a different part of the community. I’m a member of Practical Farmers of Iowa, the Arms Control Association, and the Climate Reality Project. Each of these sources provides specialized news. I subscribe to the governor’s press releases, to the county supervisors and public health news releases, and to a number of political office holder newsletters, including people who represent me in the Iowa legislature and the Congress. Lastly, I follow news reporters on Twitter. One exercises caution in picking them. I read their biographies and some of their work before following. There are a lot of great people writing relevant news stories about contemporary society if one is lucky enough to find them.

I had a good writing week and felt like sharing. Thanks for reading.

Living in Society

Funding Public Schools

Officer Writing a Letter by Gerard ter Borch. Photo Credit – Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Government should be in the business of funding public schools so that every child has access to a world class education. In her condition of the state address, Governor Kim Reynolds explained how much money state government was contributing to public schools. Everything was fine until school choice came up.

“But for some families, the school district doesn’t fit their values or meet the needs of their child,” Reynolds said, pivoting to school choice.

If parents want or need school choice, they should be able to find an alternative. At the same time, it is not government’s job to fund every parent’s dream education for their child. That’s where Republicans and I differ.

In the 1960s, compulsory school standards caused a problem in Oelwein. The school superintendent required Amish children to attend public school and they refused. Democratic Governor Harold Hughes intervened to request a moratorium on compulsory education for the Amish and defused the situation. In 1967 the legislature passed a law exempting the Amish from compulsory education and school standards based on their religious affiliation.

What is going on today is nothing like that. Public schools struggle with inadequate funding and we are talking about more money for private schools?

My member of congress, Mariannette Miller-Meeks is in sync with the governor and has adopted a D.C.-based approach to school choice.

In an editorial in the Independent Advocate, Miller-Meeks wrote, “Not every school is right for every student; thus, it is imperative that we give families the choice to send their child to the school that works best for them.”

Miller-Meeks introduced The Choice Act in the U.S. House. The Choice Act “would allow parents to be in control of their children’s education by expanding school choice programs and by creating greater awareness of different types of programs,” she wrote. The Choice Act takes us the wrong direction.

What is the limit on school choice? How much should the federal government be involved paying for school choice?

Public schools exist for a reason, to make the best use of tax dollars to provide quality education for all children. School choice as Reynolds and Miller-Meeks frame it is counter productive to good public schools.


Waiting for Scions

Shallot seeds germinated first this year.

Inconsistent winter weather disrupted fruit tree plans. On Wednesday snow melt began flowing in the gutters and downspout. It felt safe enough to make a trip through melting snow pack to the composter near the garden. A slushy mix returned to the end of the driveway. Weather has been weird.

It takes several days of subzero temperatures in a row to prune fruit trees. I prefer a week of ten or twenty below zero yet we haven’t had that. I also seek to harvest scions, (pencil shaped fruit tree cuttings) to graft on root stock. I would save the Red Delicious apple tree which was damaged in the Aug. 10, 2020 derecho. It served us well while it was whole. Trees need dormancy for scions to work and we haven’t had that either.

This week has been a fake spring. It’s still winter, for Pete’s sake! Yet the buds on trees look healthy, like they are ready to sprout. The lilac bushes were leafing just last month. I wouldn’t mind spring’s arrival yet I want a winter too.

At least the onions and shallots planted Jan. 6 are germinating.

We bunker in to avoid the coronavirus and wait for a deep freeze and dormancy it would bring. These days have been good for writing.

It is difficult waiting for winter and fruit tree work when what we really want is a normal spring. Today, I’d settle for a normal winter so I can harvest scions.

Living in Society

Congressional Survey Responses – January 2022

Portion of mailer from Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks.

My member of congress sent a couple of official mailings since she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. They are purported to be government business, yet any such outreach is obviously also political. These questions seem intended to frame political discussion going into the midterm election. I’m not going to reply in this format, yet I will submit my answers via message on the Miller-Meeks official website. Here are the questions and my answers.

What are your thoughts on the issues at our southern border?

Enable the Biden-Harris administration to manage border crossings along with the border state governors.

Should government be more involved in our health care system?

This is not a simple answer. Yes, regulation is needed, and as long a people can’t get access to care for any reason, there is not enough regulation and government support. At the same time, health care providers need to be able to make a living and I agree with the Obama administration in passing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that there is a role for for-profit health care providers and their employees. Since the federal government created all veterans, it continues to be needed to regulate and improve the care system for active military personnel, veterans, and their families. I fully support the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to manage the current global pandemic of the coronavirus.

Do you believe reducing federal regulations and red tape are more likely to 1. create jobs and improve our businesses, 2. allow corporations to harm employees and consumers or 3. other?

See previous question for my thoughts about government regulation of the health care industry. Since the government has been captured by undue influence from corporations that provide healthcare, and industry capture already harms employees and consumers, the best course of action is to reform campaign financing and reduce the ability for healthcare corporations to donate to members of congress and political action committees in order to influence governance.

How should Congress tackle our $29 trillion debt?

Of the suggested answers, raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans is first priority and overdue. The Trump tax cuts should be reversed as quickly and completely as possible as they drive a significant portion of the debt. In addition, the Congress needs to audit the military budget, which has seemed for some time to be out of control and enriched beyond the country’s national security needs. Why would the Congress approve a higher budget than the Biden-Harris administration requested? They shouldn’t. The Social Security Administration is self-funded and has a plan for when it begins to run out of money in 2034, namely, reducing benefits. Any debt reduction plan should include shoring up the protections for our seniors and disabled after 2034. We shouldn’t wait until then to start working on it.

Which issue should be Congress’ top priority right now?

If we don’t address the environment, the country we have now won’t exist. Mitigating both the causes and effects of the climate crisis should be the Congress’ top priority.

Should federal control and funding of education be reduced?

The states have proven incapable of providing racial equity in education, so there is a role for the federal government and funds are required. All federal funding of home schooling, charter schools, private schools, religious schools, and any school not defined as a public school should be phased out with a rapid off ramp for federal funding. This should be a discussion, not a mandate. The Choice Act takes us in the wrong direction.


Is What People Say Real?

Wise County, Virginia Civil War Group

I’ve been reading more obituaries lately, partly because of my main writing project, and partly because as I age, long-time friends and acquaintances are passing. Survivors put the best face on the deceased in an obituary. That is okay. I wrote a draft of my own obituary to make it easier on my survivors. Not everyone does it and that’s okay, too.

As a proof reader at the local weekly newspaper I edited the obituary section. Mostly, they needed work in terms of format, grammar and punctuation. It was easy to tell when a funeral home used a template. I tried to make them grammatically adequate and positive regarding the life of the deceased. It was a minor part of the job yet I enjoyed it. No one ever complained.

An obituary requires specific information and it should all be accurate: birth date, death date, and if married, a wedding date. Survivors are a nice addition, yet we don’t need to read the names of all the great, great grandchildren or pets. Spouse, children, parents, siblings and partners, if any, are enough. The author should mention a career although an obituary is not a resume. What the deceased did in retirement is good if they were lucky enough to live so long. The obituary should make the deceased stand out without portraying them as being too highfalutin or better than everyone else.

Instead of “devoted wife,” I’d like to read how impossible the marriage was because she was a shrew. I’d also like to hear how the husband spent all his time at the bar after work improving the cirrhosis of his liver. I don’t suppose my wishes will be granted.

Military service is typically mentioned, although is not really necessary. Uniformed service is nothing special unless one served in a combat zone. I read this in an obituary about someone I had been with twice. The header was “Another of the ‘Greatest Generation’ has passed.”

How fitting that his death came in alignment with Veteran’s Day, for he was a true patriot. He is a decorated veteran of World War II, having been awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star medals for his actions during combat operations in the Ardennes Forest, known as the Battle of the Bulge. He was an infantryman in the 23rd Armored Infantry Battalion, 7th Armored Division, and fought across Belgium in the winter of 1944-45.

If they had mentioned it while living, I may have thanked them for their service and talked about General Anthony McAuliffe’s negotiations with the Germans in the Ardennes. McAuliffe told them “nuts,” in case you forgot or didn’t know. I might have mentioned my own trip to the Battle of the Bulge site during the 1970s.

Where this ramble is going is whether what people say about each other is real. It is as real as it can be, I believe. At the same time, I read accounts of history in which there is no agreement over simple things. Spelling of the name of a person can vary radically. Dates were not the forte of 19th Century rural communities. Everyone knew at the time when someone was born, yet when a relative made it to the county seat to have the birth recorded, time could pass and with it some of the specifics.

When it comes to public events, vagary is endemic. In the case of the 1927 lynching of Leonard Woods in Pound Gap between Jenkins, Kentucky and Pound, Virginia. There are multiple stories of what happened and depending upon to whom one listens there are many interpretations. What stands out to me is the local sheriffs did not write down a single license plate number of the hundreds of vehicles driven and parked at the site of the lynching. Sometimes people don’t want to say what happened.

I couldn’t find a Leonard Woods obituary. The text on the historical marker placed on Oct. 16 2021 will serve:

Leonard Woods Lynched — Leonard Woods, a black coal miner from Jenkins, Kentucky, was lynched near here on the night of 29-30 Nov. 1927. Officers had arrested Woods for allegedly killing Herschel Deaton, a white man from Coeburn, Virginia, and had taken him to the Whitesburg, Kentucky, jail. On the day of Deaton’s funeral, a white mob numbering in the hundreds broke into the jail and brought Woods close to this spot, where they hanged, shot and burned him. No one was ever arrested. In the aftermath, at the urging of Norfolk editor Louis Jaffé, Norton’s Bruce Crawford, and other journalists, Virginia Gov. Harry F. Byrd worked with the General Assembly early in 1928 to pass the nation’s first law defining lynching as a state crime.


From what I’ve read, these words are true. They are not the whole story and maybe that’s my point. The historical society put the best face on this murder. I want to know the rest of the story.