Box of Reality

Shoe box full of print photographs, March 21, 2023.

I found a passport I thought was lost in a box of photographs on Monday. It expired in 1983, issued by the American Consulate in Frankfurt, Germany. I put it in the drawer with the previously expired passport it replaced. One less thing nagging at me as a result of the discovery.

I was opening unlabeled bankers boxes to see what was inside. It makes no sense to stuff things in a box without a label, yet that’s where I find myself. Along with some transportation memorabilia, one box contained this shoe box full of photographs. The images covered the entire timeline of the book draft I had finished Sunday. I thought these photos were lost forever.

My habit of making photo albums (using selected images after developing and printing batches of photos) resulted in this collection. It contains remainders of rolls of film from several of those albums. The prints are all mixed up, with different sets of film stuck in the shoe box in what appeared to be random order. At a minimum, I must organize them the way I discussed a few days ago. This is a big and welcome find!

Next will be to organize and edit the images to create another layer of the book narrative. I also want to label them in groups, so I can more quickly find something for my writing. This will take longer than I want, yet it should improve the writing.

I looked through a few hundred photographs yesterday afternoon after chores. I have living memory of taking most of those shots, recognizing them and the place they were taken almost immediately. The harder part is determining what these moments of reality mean in the context of my septuagenarian life. I expect that will be a collaborative project. Already I sent a duplicate of a photo taken in 1981 to the subjects. There will be more of that type of sharing.

It seems best for the autobiography to have been drafted before looking at these photos. Tapping memory and public documents enabled a reasonably researched narrative. Now that I found more photos, we’ll see what else memory dredges up for inclusion in the book.

With Spring arriving yesterday afternoon, it will be challenging to make time for writing. Yard and garden work is also important. After sunrise, I will be drawn outdoors. All the same, how could writing about these memories not be meaningful? I can’t wait!

Living in Society

Next for Iowa Democrats

Rita Hart

A letter-to the editor writer in the Cedar Rapids Gazette admonished readers this morning.

Wake up, Iowans, and get off the sidelines — because the next freedom they take away could be yours.

LGBTQ+ bills in Legislature a sign of what’s to come,” by Karen Butler, Cedar Rapids Gazette, March 20, 2023.

Wake up call noted, yet it wasn’t really needed. For people who still follow local news, we are quite aware of Republican hegemony in our state government. We are aware of political attitudes toward trans-gender surgery and support because our state legislators quote chapter and verse from the New Testament in support of their belief God assigned biological sex at birth. Describing something they call “gender fluidity” as a political movement, Republicans oppose it. As they remind us, they won the 2022 midterm election. As the recent Selzer poll found, “Majorities of Iowans support Republican legislation to restrict instruction on LGBTQ topics in schools and ban gender-affirming care for transgender minors.”

What are we going to do besides wake up since most of us never went to sleep?

The Iowa Democratic Party elected Rita Hart as chair on Jan. 28, and she has been steady at it answering that question. She appeared on the March 10 edition of Iowa Press where she outlined her plans to stay in conversations about presidential preference during the 2024 Democratic caucuses. She approached the party’s future in a thoughtful manner typical of her management style.

She recently sent a letter outlining what’s been happening since her election as Chair. Hart wrote, “My focus is squarely on how we can start winning elections again.” She introduced a “Mandate for Change” to facilitate winning elections:

  • Reconnect with folks on the ground.
  • Rebuild our fundraising base — and make it sustainable.
  • Organize everywhere, all year.
  • Improve our data and technology.
  • Hold Republicans accountable in the media.

As part of the rollout of this new Democratic mandate, Hart appeared on Sunday, March 19, at Terry Trueblood Park in Iowa City at a fundraiser. Also speaking were Iowa Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls and Iowa House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst. I discontinued donating to political causes because with the increases in utilities, groceries, property taxes, and other retirement expenses and living costs, the $50 requested donation was more than our budget could afford. Wahls posted two photographs of the event on social media, so we know it happened. The event was lost in the noise of the Iowa Women’s Basketball team advancing to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA championship. I hope they raised a lot of money.

The problem Iowa Democrats have is we need to change how we relate to other members of society. While the five-point mandate Hart outlined includes essential requirements for the party infrastructure, we have missed the boat on messaging in media, and in relating to our neighbors. The latter is more critical, although media, especially radio and television, influences the electorate of which pollster Ann Selzer is taking the pulse.

Most of the people with whom I interact every day are Republicans. This is Iowa, and for the most part, that’s to be expected. I learned that lesson after the 1960 presidential campaign when Richard Nixon won Iowa. For those historically challenged, John F. Kennedy became president after that election. We Iowa Democrats took refuge in our national politics, not unlike what we did after the 2020 general election that brought us President Joe Biden. National politics doesn’t adequately help us win local elections.

I plan to do what I can to support Rita Hart in her newest role as party chair. She said, “I’ll level with you, we have a lot of work to do, and building up the infrastructure we need to win is not going to be easy…” We knew that, the same way we heard the wake up call from Karen Butler in her letter. There are limits to what we can do as individuals. There are few in my area interested in spending any time on politics, let alone building the Democratic Party. This doesn’t bode well for electing Democrats here, yet we Iowa Democrats are a tenacious bunch. I haven’t given up on Iowa, nor should readers.

Home Life

Morning Routine

Western Sky at Sunrise

To keep our sanity, some daily organization is needed. I have a routine, curated over a period of decades, and in retirement, I follow it closely. I had a thought on Saturday, I should post about it. So here it is.

My morning routine is typed and held by a clipboard near my writing desk. I typed it to make sure I don’t forget anything. Depending on the whims of each moment, I could easily get waylaid.

Whenever I go to bed, I sleep four or five hours and then get up to use the bathroom. I return to bed and attempt to sleep until 2:30 or 3 a.m. Occasionally I will sleep straight through. Infrequently, I’ll sleep until 4 a.m. or later. I feel like I get enough sleep.

Upon waking for the day, I sit up on the edge of the bed and take my blood pressure. I record the numbers on a mobile application and then shed my clothing to step on the scale and record my weight. As long as I have the mobile device in hand, I click on The Weather Channel application and check the hourly forecast for the day.

Next comes clean underwear and socks, and dressing in my at-home uniform of well-worn jeans, a t-shirt, and in winter, a sweatshirt. I make the bed, pick up my mobile device, turn off the light, and walk to the kitchen.

I turn on all the kitchen lights and make coffee with my Kenmore drip coffee maker. I take my morning pills, which are Vitamins D and B-12, plus a low dose aspirin. While coffee is brewing, I head downstairs to turn on the lamp in my writing space and power up the desktop computer. In winter, I tend to seedlings started on a heating pad under a grow light. I perform chores like taking the trash and recycling bins to the curb, checking the salt level in the water softener, and cleaning up projects on my writing table to prepare for the day’s work.

Climbing the stairs, I return to the kitchen and pour the first cup of coffee. I take it to the living room where I sit in my chair, check text and email, and view notifications in my Twitter account. I search for breaking news. Once finished, I read at least 25 pages of the current book on my reading list and record the results in the Goodreads application. I head back downstairs.

At my writing table I log in to the applications I will use that day. I do banking, pay bills, record information, transfer photos from the cloud into file folders, and read newspapers. If there are small tasks related to my writing, I take care of them at the time. For example, this morning, I remembered something that should be included in my autobiography, opened the document, and insert it.

When all of this is done, it is usually 5:30 a.m. and time for breakfast. For me, breakfast is the biggest meal of the day and I take time to make tasty food that will carry me until lunch time. Once breakfast is finished, I clean the kitchen, do dishes, brush and floss, and I’m ready for my day.

There is daily variation, yet I mostly stick to the routine. The first shift of writing after breakfast is the best part of my day. What happens after that is based on a to-do list. Yet on many days, it is free form. Regardless what I do, I feel better for having a morning routine.

Living in Society

Read Prairie Progressive

I recommend reading The Prairie Progressive because there is nothing else like it for progressive readers.

The Prairie Progressive has roots in the Democratic Socialist movement in Iowa. The publication was called the Democratic Socialists of America Iowa Newsletter when first published in July 1985. It has been produced at least quarterly ever since. The most recent edition is hot off the union presses and can be found here.

In this issue is the writing of Clarity Guerra, Nate Willems, Kim Painter, Marty Ryan, Robin Kash, Laura Bergus and Carol Thompson. Who are these people? They are current and past elected officials, and local activists mostly in the Johnson-Linn County corridor with a distinctly progressive perspective.

Did I mention, the most recent edition is hot off the union presses and can be found here?

The revenue to sustain quarterly publication comes from paid subscriptions. It is affordable and available in the United States in hard copy for $15 per year. To subscribe, send your check to The Prairie Progressive, Box 1945, Iowa City, Iowa 52244. The Prairie Progressive is funded entirely by reader subscriptions, so your subscription matters.

Recently, editor Dave Leshtz decided to take the enterprise online. Our roots are in print, so we delay online publication long enough to allow our hard copy subscribers to have a first look. The website is here. In addition, the University of Iowa digitized and archived past issues here.

I hope readers of this blog will take a look at The Prairie Progressive.


Writing for Newspapers

Solon Economist – 2016

I will insert seven newspaper articles I wrote from 2014-2015 in my autobiography. The insertion will display that form of writing and indicate my thinking at the time. They record some memorable events which advance the book’s narrative. I winnowed the articles from the 100 I wrote and picked these:

  1. Van Allen school to be expanded — Feb. 6, 2014. My first article in a newspaper was coverage of the Iowa City School Board meeting for the North Liberty Leader. This story was about the aspects of the meeting that affected residents of North Liberty. The challenges of covering the school board are many. Before the meeting there is a packet to read. It often exceeds 500 pages. The meetings themselves can be quite long. Capturing an interview or two can be challenging as key figures depart the meeting as quickly as feasible. When I conversed with the district’s chief financial officer, the superintendent intervened to break up the conversation, thereby controlling messaging. With all this work, a freelancer won’t make money on this important coverage. That was a lesson learned.
  2. Connecting Solon with trail system — Sept. 11, 2014. Doug Lindner was owner/publisher of the Solon Economist and North Liberty Leader when I worked there, first as a proof reader, and then as a freelance writer. I appreciate his giving me a chance to freelance. This article in the Solon Economist covered a joint meeting between the Solon City Council and the Johnson County Board of Supervisors about our local trails. They found funding and acquired land for the trail to connect Solon with the Cedar Valley Trail in Linn County. This new trail has been in constant use since it was completed. We can hop on our bicycles and ride all the way to Waterloo if so motivated.
  3. UI to mark 50 years since name change — or not –Oct. 22, 2014. I had to leave the Solon Economist to pursue freelance opportunities with the Iowa City Press Citizen. This front page article was about the State University of Iowa, as named in the Iowa Constitution. Because of the official name, the Iowa City university was often confused with Iowa State University in Ames. On Oct. 22, 1964, the State Board of Regents gave permission to use “The University of Iowa” as its name. I enjoyed interviewing former university president Willard Boyd for this article.
  4. White House Kitchen Garden inspires Iowan — Dec. 5, 2014. Scott Koepke worked at New Pioneer Food Co-op when I interviewed him for the Iowa City Press Citizen about his October visit to the White House Kitchen Garden. His sister arranged the visit and Koepke brought ideas back to Johnson County to use in his work. “If the president can do it, so can we,” he said.
  5. Advocating for the environment — Feb. 18, 2015. I pitched this story to my editor at the Iowa City Press Citizen, Emily Nelson. She said yes. It was an opportunity to travel to Des Moines and interview many people I know in the environmental advocacy community, as well as elected officials. It was great fun, although a freelancer won’t make a dime on a story like this because of the work that goes into it.
  6. Farm crawl to highlight women — Sept. 23, 2015. This article was publicity for an upcoming Women, Land and Legacy Farm Crawl in Johnson County. The purpose of the farm crawl was to address a need for more networking opportunities in the region. I interviewed three farmers at their farms, two of them I met for the first time. Like most articles I wrote, this one was a money loser because of the high number of hours invested to cover the event adequately.
  7. Bill Northey tours Local Harvest CSA — Sept. 26, 2015. Bill Northey was Iowa secretary of agriculture when I interviewed him. By the time I wrote this article, I had worked at Local Harvest CSA for three seasons. I first heard from Northey, “About one out of four rows of soybeans in Iowa ends up going to China.” Iowa governor Terry Branstad had announced a number of soybean contracts with China earlier in the day and I got the local scoop.

I am glad to have had the opportunity to write for newspapers. My role as a freelancer existed because news organizations were being squeezed about overhead costs, including the salaries of permanent reporters. In a transitional newspaper publishing economy, I am proud of my 100 stories.


Editing Photographs

Photo of the author, 1973-74.

In stable Midwestern households, photographs accumulate. We don’t move as often in Iowa, and when we do, we know how to store photographic paper so it doesn’t get wet and humidity is suitable to preserve them. I’m speaking of printed photographs more than digital. Well into the post-millennium-bug digital era, we continue to have uses for printed images. We tape them to our computers, pin them on bulletin boards, use magnets to hang them on the refrigerator, and frame some to place on the bedroom dresser, piano, or whatnot. We know what a whatnot is in Iowa.

Our millennial child has fewer printed photos than we do. One challenge of aging is to assign meaning to countless photographs so we don’t just dump them on the next generation. That was true of my parents’ generation. When Mother died, Sister retained the family photographs. I made a project of digitizing the ones in which I was interested. I did that while Mother was still living. She was well-aware of approaching the end of life and we had many happy discussions. It is hard to know if that will be possible for our child and me.

Before I ditched all of my Yahoo products, I wrote an autobiography in photographs on Flickr in 2011. It was 16,000 words and 133 images with a page devoted to each image. It was widely viewed after I posted a link on social media. I will be drawing on that narrative in my current project.

What does one do with thousands of paper photographs and even more digital ones?

  • The first task is to find the images. Most people have a place where most photographs are stored. Those are easy. There are many more sources, I’ve found. Some are in ceramic dishes in the bedroom. Many are filed with written pages in file folders, and digital images remain on various computing devices around the house and need migrating to a common platform. Collecting them into one place can be a major challenge.
  • We must turn every page and look at them. Watch out for the rabbit holes of memories. At the same time, enjoy them while examining them.
  • Sorting can mean multiple things. For paper photos, made with exposed film, there are often mistakes where the image is intelligible. Discard those from the collection while looking at them. In the digital era, we tend to take multiple exposures of the same scene because the cost of doing so is negligible and we want a good shot. As long as you are there, delete the 19 worst of 20 exposures and keep only the best one or two.
  • Rededicate space for storage. Some will remain in frames or on the refrigerator and some will find a home in a cool, dry space or in the cloud.
  • Decide what you want to keep. For me, that means how many images of the cucumber patch are necessary? More than you might think, yet not that many. How many photos of geese flying over the lake? In a series of images from Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs, keep only the ones that make a narrative point. If there were multiple visits, keep some from each distinct time period. At the beginning this seems intimidating, although having a process and sticking with it is helpful. Continuous improvement of the process makes things better as we go along.
  • Do every batch the same way the first time, and do it right. Define for yourself what that means.
  • Convert selected paper images to digital.
  • File photographs in an organized fashion by subject, theme, or date. It will make it easier to find something when a project calls for it.
  • Take time to enjoy them. Especially as we age, there are only so many times to look at old photographs. The reality is we may not return to them again. Make notes on the ones intended to pass along.

Mid-westerners can be lucky for the stability, financial security, and good health that is possible here. When one is getting a grip on seven or eight decades of Midwestern life, a thoughtful process — one that improves as we proceed — seems necessary. I would also acquire a whatnot.

Living in Society Reviews

Book Review: Our Revolution

Bernie Sanders exploring a presidential run in Johnson County 2014. He mentions this event in Our Revolution.

Our Revolution by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders is an outstanding blueprint for fixing much of what ails us in society. Income inequality, corporate greed, dark money in politics, climate change, immigration reform, prison reform, poverty, and more are all present in the narrative and adequately addressed. Here’s the rub: Sanders’ positions have been well known for a long time and twice Democrats rejected him as their presidential candidate.

Sanders used his position in the Congress to advance what he can of his agenda. He writes about his successes in the book. He also serves a useful role as a gadfly on Democrats. He has gotten work done during the two years after the 2020 election, especially as chair of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. There is value in having Sanders caucus with Senate Democrats. Sanders’ ideas haven’t gained broader traction.

During the 2020 Iowa Democratic caucus held in Big Grove precinct, Sanders was not even viable when four other candidates each took one of our four delegates to the county convention. This is to say while Sanders’ vision is based on common sense and logic, those two things can be found only in the discount bin of today’s political superstore.

The lack of common sense and logic in our politics is maddening. Our Revolution will serve as a reference when one of its topics arise. Yet because the electorate is only partly driven by common sense and logic, it will likely gather dust until such time as Democrats regain substantial majorities in the U.S. Congress. It is uncertain when that might be.

Politicians increasingly seem to lack foundational common sense and logic. My state representative posted on their website:

This week in the Iowa Legislature, we passed landmark legislation that protects children under 18 years of age from irreversible damage that happens through transgender surgeries and chemical therapies. My inbox absolutely exploded with “Thank You” emails from people expressing gratitude for taking action to protect children!

Brad Sherman Liberty Letter, March 11, 2023.

What does “absolutely exploded” mean? Does it mean a majority of the 22,000 registered voters in the district emailed their thanks to him? No, it does not. It means he got a lot of emails from close supporters of his last campaign. I can see why he would want to lead his weekly column titled, “Crimes of Communism & Our Moral Compass” with fake popularity. He is a long-time non-denominational minister used to writing jeremiads. He needs a strong first paragraph to get his message across.

Iowans do support the anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ+ agenda Iowa Republicans in the legislature have advanced.

Majorities of Iowans support Republican legislation to restrict instruction on LGBTQ topics in schools and ban gender-affirming care for transgender minors, according to a new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll.

Des Moines Register, March 13, 2023.

The issue is the poll does not come from a perspective of common sense and logic. It parrots the scare tactics of right wing media outlets that prevail in Iowa and have amplified anti-LGBTQ+ ascendancy as a moral imperative. The logical policy would be to assure every Iowan, including transgender children, gets equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

U.S. Constitution, Fourteenth Amendment

Like Bernie Sanders, I am a voice without adequate support to enact my views, based on common sense and logic, into law. That’s not where society is right now. The question political writers and activists must ask is “What do we do now?” That’s an open question, and common sense will not be enough. I recommend keeping a copy of Our Revolution close by for when we break through.

Living in Society

Sunday Morning Rising

This table is full of seedlings. There are more on the heating pad.

I have a story about learning pronoun usage when I volunteered with the Elizabeth Warren campaign. Most family members have heard it, more than a couple times, and are getting tired of me repeating it. I probably need some new stories. That has been a key revelation of writing my autobiography. I won’t concern the reader with my well-worn story.

20-something me didn’t worry much about pronouns, or repeating stories. I felt a creative impulse that drove me to learn about our world, understand it, and then write about my understanding. In reading those 40-50 year old pages today, I found myself repeating things a lot.

A main concern I had in the 1970s was a lack of meeting and dating women. A typical journal entry went, “I am sore in need of a woman, this much is true.” That’s not all I thought about even if I repeated similar sentences in my journal. There was my writing and my job, both of which occupied most of my time and energy. Finding a mate, permanent or temporary, was never that high a priority. While there was a Crazy Sexy franchise prostitution outlet within walking distance of my quarters, I never used it. My needs weren’t that sore.

I viewed myself as a camera lens, trying to capture what was going on in broader society. Women I knew in Germany didn’t play much of a role in that.

In November 1977, I traveled by automobile to Strasbourg in the Alsace region of France with a couple I met through the Army. Strasbourg was a beautiful city with a cathedral containing many stained glass windows and dark alcoves for pensive moods. After making this trip, I decided, “I prefer to travel alone.” We tended to talk about what we already knew during the trip. It did not get me away from quotidian life enough to enable anything resembling pensive. My travel experience would likely have been worse if I had traveled with a mate.

I made a decision that if I was to learn about European culture, that needed to be my focus. I recall seeing Goya’s Los Caprichos at a museum in Darmstadt. I spent time with each of the images considering what they meant. A companion, especially an American companion, would tired of the length of time spent in the museum. No doubt we would hustle off to to the gallery cafeteria, partake in vending machine fare, and chat over coffee or wine. The people I knew weren’t that interested in the satire of a Spanish artist.

It is difficult for me to parse sexuality, gender presentation, femininity and masculinity, gender roles, and most certainly gender stereotypes. Let’s just say I prefer to stay behind the camera lens. However, if one is to engage in society in the 21st Century, staking out a territory among these things is important. It’s not just political organizers who want to know your pronouns.

Living in Society

Food Bank Shortfall

A message from CommUnity Crisis Services and Food Bank:

It’s difficult to find words for the situation our community is in right now. We are so grateful to receive incredible support from our community, and we’re lucky to be surrounded by people that truly care about their neighbors.

However, the current economic climate has created an urgent situation at our Food Bank. Food and financial donations are both down, and our inventory is scarce. In January, we had 1,640 more visits to the Food Bank than the month prior. And with everyone’s financial situation being affected by inflation in the past year, in-kind donations decreased from almost 15,000 lbs. of food in December to just over 5,000 lbs. in February. We are in need of Food Bank donations in order to keep our neighbors fed. We understand every budget shrank this year, but if you are able to help, we really need you right now.

If you can help with a financial donation, click here.

To learn more about CommUnity Crisis Services and Food Bank in Iowa City, click here.

Kitchen Garden

Winter Cooking

Taco supper on March 8, 2023.

We accumulate empty canning jars as a result of winter cooking. As the integration between our garden and kitchen continues, I’m learning which things we will use and which not so much. I’m also comparing various ways to preserve vegetables. It has been a good winter of meals.

Canned and frozen tomatoes, garlic, vegetable broth, frozen kale, apple sauce, apple butter, and dried herbs are most used. There is plenty of each to make it to next season.

The flavor of what we ate improved. We recognize when the flavor of a dish is sub-optimal. There is a long way to go, yet growing awareness of flavor will be good for our life and diet.

Making vegetable soup uses the largest variety and amount of preserved vegetables. Soup is based on a mirepoix of carrot, celery and onion with a few bay leaves. I start each batch with a quart of canned tomato juice or vegetable broth. This is where the stems of leafy green vegetables get used, along with their leaves. Barley thickens the soup and lentils add protein. If there are root vegetables, especially potatoes, they get peeled and diced, and go in. I preserved parsley in ice cubes and a couple of those go in. Whatever is available goes in. Soup makes many a winter meal.

My project to make hot sauce by using up old jars of preserved hot and dried peppers has been a roaring success. The flavor is better than anything store bought. After extracting the sauce, I blended and froze the pulp in a muffin tin. That has become a useful ingredient in fried rice and other spicy dishes. Home made hot sauce is superior in flavor. There is enough of it to last until the next pepper harvest.

We make a lot of taco filling. Our vegan, non-spicy version has bell pepper, onion, garlic, black beans, leafy green vegetables and tomato sauce. When I’m cooking for myself, I use guajillo or hatch chili pepper sauce instead of tomato, and lots of red pepper flakes. We buy our tortillas raw from the wholesale club. We like them because they have simple ingredients and no additives. The addition of white miso and Mexican oregano elevates the dish.

I use garlic in everything and there is plenty left from the July harvest. Home grown garlic proved to be the best.

We began to use apple sauce more quickly because we put it in vegan cornbread. After opening a quart jar, the rest gets eaten. Apple butter remains aplenty. Going forward, I don’t need to make so much of either when our trees have a bumper crop of apples. A dozen jars of apple butter serves through winter and gifting to next year’s harvest. Maybe two dozen pints of sauce, and a dozen quarts. The rest can go to sweet cider and apple cider vinegar.

We miss fresh vegetables in winter, yet we get by with flavorful meals. As a cook I am learning to adapt to the availability of vegetables.