A Winter Sort

Garden Seeds

A majority of the garden seeds wait in a corner on the lower level of our home.

I cleared a sorting table and next month will plant celery and kale at the first greenhouse shift. There is no immediate need to plan more.

The seven garden plots have stands of seed-spent foxtail and last year’s fencing. Clearing the plots will begin after a long period of subzero temperatures, assuming we have one. The first traditional planting is Belgian lettuce on March 2, although last year there was no early lettuce because of frozen ground during a spell of weird weather. The weird weather was related to global warming. A gardener, like a farmer, must adapt.

The 2018 vegetable growing season was challenging for farmers I know. However, to a person they responded to the challenges of late start, crop failures, uneven moisture, and other farm-related issues to produce an abundant harvest. They meet 2019 with renewed optimism and energy as the new cycle begins with the annual Practical Farmers of Iowa conference Thursday through Saturday in Ames.

Experience tells me not to worry about what might be during the upcoming gardening season. To deal with its actuality is sufficient. So much of what may happen this year is beyond our control. It’s best to deal with it as we go.

This approach is part of sustaining a life in a turbulent world.

Posted in Environment | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Legislature to Convene, Life to Go On

Capitol Dome

This morning our local newspaper, the Iowa City Press Citizen, ran an Associated Press story about Iowa GOP priorities during the legislative session convening today. The party is intent on re-making Iowa’s governance. By the end of this two-year general assembly they seem likely to touch every aspect of it.

We won’t hear much about Democratic priorities as Republicans continue to control both chambers of the Iowa legislature. What Democrats would have done this session faded into the history of the 2018 midterm elections. Those issues are likely to be forgotten and practically speaking, already have been. Former U.S. Senator Tom Harkin famously said government is like a car’s transmission. When in D (Democratic control) the state moves forward. When in R (Republican control) the state moves in reverse.We are a red state for at least the next two years and it’s up to the Republicans to make progress.

I certainly would hope the governor will reach out to Democrats,” Senate Minority Leader Janet Peterson told the Cedar Rapids Gazette. “I think there’s a number of issues where we can come together and come up with bipartisan solutions.”

Time will tell, although it won’t take much time for the truth about bipartisan possibilities to reveal itself.

In our household there are some concerns.

When the IPERS pension system completed its last biennial review, Republicans brought in a Koch Brothers backed organization called the Reason Foundation to assist. After public conversation about potentially changing IPERS, the backlash was such that House Speaker Linda Upmeyer is saying no changes are contemplated. Governor Reynolds publicly agreed. Politically, it would be dumb for Republicans to reverse course on IPERS during this general assembly.

Governor Kim Reynolds will support her predecessor’s decision to privatize Medicaid, one of the most contentious issues in the 2018 midterms.

“We got off to a bad start,” Reynolds acknowledged to the Des Moines Register. “We took on probably more than we should have. We should have phased it in. And we probably tried to — we talked too much about savings.”

Newly sworn in State Auditor Rob Sand has pledged to perform an audit of the state’s Medicaid program to supplement what his predecessor produced after the midterm elections.

Reynolds is right to a degree. The measure of success or failure of privatized Medicaid will be how clients, practitioners and health organizations are treated by the managed care organizations. The cost of Medicaid to Iowans will matter as well. By almost all accounts, service to these constituencies sucked immediately after implementation. The measure of Republican success in improving Medicaid privatization after a disastrous implementation will be the degree to which patients see less hassle receiving care the program was designed to deliver. The administrative aspects of the program, including timely payment of providers, will matter as well. Will the care get better? Will providers get timely paid? Will there be savings? It seems too early to tell.

One of the things we like about Iowa has been fairness in governance. We have proven and fair methods for nominating judges to the bench and for redistricting after the decennial U.S. Census. Voter rights came under attack during the last general assembly and it was recently learned voters who should have been able to vote were disenfranchised by clerical errors originating in the Secretary of State’s office. For Iowa to be Iowa, it is important to maintain fairness in governance which includes making voting as inclusive as possible. All three of these areas of governance are expected to be reviewed this year.

Republicans will do what they do. They don’t seem concerned about backlash and believe they are doing what Iowans want. They won the 2018 elections and now we get another chance to see how they govern. If the 88th Iowa General Assembly is like the 87th, I believe they won’t maintain their majority beyond the next election.

I’ll be watching for points of leverage to influence the legislature, like there was during the IPERS discussion. For the time being, life will go on as we sustain our lives in a turbulent world.

Posted in Politics | Tagged | Leave a comment

Day to Day Politics

2018 Top Instagram Photos

Last June I broke publicly from our state representative Bobby Kaufmann and endorsed Democratic candidate Jodi Clemens for House District 73 in a letter to the editor of the Solon Economist.

With a circulation of less than 1,000 weekly copies, I’m not sure my endorsement was widely read.

I went on to post three additional pieces critical of Kaufmann before the midterm elections. I am confident he saw the ones in the local newspaper. He won the election without breaking a sweat.

Today’s question is whether I should drive to town to attend his town hall meeting. The 88th Iowa General Assembly convenes tomorrow.

Yesterday I emailed Kaufmann my priorities for the session, mentioning three things:

  • The legislature should support ways farmers can produce more revenue per acre.
  • I questioned the need for more tax relief and encouraged him to find a permanent solution to the back fill problem Republicans created in 2013 when they altered property taxes for farmers and corporations.
  • I reminded him of our local issue of keeping the restriction on larger horsepower boat motors on Lake Macbride during boating season.

Of everything on my political wish list, these three things seem possible yet also insufficient. The better way to impact the legislature would have been for Clemens to have won the election. We came up short. It’s time to accept the results and move on.

In a Sept. 24, 2016 opinion piece in the Cedar Rapids Gazette I articulated what is most important in society: follow the golden rule, nuclear abolition, and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Under President Trump, none of these is going well in our government. My work continues regardless of who my elected officials might be. Politics by its nature will almost always disappoint and party affiliation of our leaders does nothing to change the primacy of these focal points for action.

I’m left wondering why I would attend today’s town hall meeting when there is other, more important work to do.

The legislative agenda is being set by Republicans. If Democrats were in charge, it would be much different. I don’t accept the mental construct that the opposition party should resist the party in power as an end goal for the Iowa legislature. Likewise the idea we are “holding elected officials accountable” by constantly calling and emailing them is off the mark. I’ve been in Senator Chuck Grassley’s D.C. office when such calls came in and the impact was a tick mark in a pro or con column on a tally sheet to be read by staff. Grassley gets his legislative feedback directly from Iowans in his annual tour around the state, and from the Washington, D.C. community of which he has long been a part. So it is with with local representatives. That’s a case for showing up today, although not a strong one.

When I wake each day I don’t think about politics until I read the newspapers. As humans we are attracted to conflict and there’s plenty of it recounted in news media. Republicans have been a long time coming to power. Now that they have it, they are remaking the state in their eyes, changing long-standing policy. That’s the nature of political power. The longer conservative Republicans maintain control of government the harder it becomes for Democrats to undo policy changes. With two more years under Republican hegemony it seems unlikely there is any going back to what used to be.


Snow stopped falling overnight. The driveway needs clearing then there’s community organizing work for the coming year. Our infrastructure needs maintenance and if we don’t do it, no one will. Isn’t that always the case?

It reduces to a simple maxim that guides me through life: there is no other, just the one of which we are all a part. That perspective gets lost in today’s political culture. Working to improve our culture is as important as anything else we do. Such work starts at home where I expect I will spend the day.

Posted in Environment, Nuclear Abolition, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bunkering in During Snowfall

Last of the Fresh Kale

Snow began overnight and is expected to continue all day — the first real snow this winter.

We need more from winter, a week of subzero temperatures to kill bugs in the ground and to stop the sap flow in trees before pruning. Today’s snowfall gets us started, although the long-range forecast shows ambient temperatures well above zero the rest of the month.

We are ready to bunker in. We have reading piles, plenty of food, an internet connection, and an operational forced air furnace. I expect to drive my spouse into town for work so she doesn’t have to scrape windshields afterward. Having lived in Iowa and the Midwest most of our lives we know what to do.

Breakfast was kale cooked in a style of central Mexico with caramelized onions, finely chopped garlic and red pepper flakes. This recipe is worth trying because it allays the bitterness sometimes associated with kale, making a hearty and delicious vegetarian meal. Here’s what I did.

In a medium sized frying pan warm extra virgin olive oil on medium high heat. Cut three medium onions in half,  slice them into quarter-inch ribbons, and add to the olive oil. Salt generously to taste. Once the mixture is cooking, reduce the heat and caramelize the onions. Finely chop three cloves of garlic and add them to the caramelized onions along with red pepper flakes to taste. Mix and cook just until the garlic loses it’s raw taste. Add one half cup of vegetable broth and a generous amount of kale. Cover the pan with a lid and let it cook for five minutes on medium low heat or until the kale is tender. Mix the ingredients thoroughly. At this point I laid two home made bean burgers from the freezer on top of the kale and covered again until the pre-cooked burgers were warmed through and the moisture evaporated. (If you want to use the kale mixture as a taco filling, the bean burgers aren’t needed). Transfer the kale and a burger to plates and top with Mexican cheese and fresh salsa. If you have it, freshly chopped cilantro would be a nice addition. The breakfast of champions.

Five weeks remain until soil blocking begins at the farms. It’s a chance to garage the car for days at a time and turn inward as if there is just us in the world. The snow is getting deep enough to shovel the driveway before heading to town.

Already it is becoming a productive, mostly indoors day. Winter at its best.

Posted in Cooking, Local Food, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Composing 500 Words

Jewelweed on the Lake Macbride Trail

Post today, move on to tomorrow, and for the most part, walk away once the post is up. That’s blog writing.

While a writer can improve his or her craft by writing regularly, the impetus to post on a blog can erode time normally spent editing and rewriting. As a result, blog writing can be hit or miss.

John Irving said, “More than a half, maybe as much as two-thirds of my life as a writer is rewriting. I wouldn’t say I have a talent that’s special. It strikes me that I have an unusual kind of stamina.”

Blogging is anathema to Irving’s kind of writing. As a result blogging builds bad habits. How does one break the cycle? The answer is not in more careful planning, writing, editing and rewriting 500 word blog posts.

My blogging process developed a template. After getting a bee in my bonnet I spend time framing 500 words. Next, I rewrite what I’ve written with the goal of lowering the word count and making better sense. How can I say something more succinctly? How can I avoid common problems? How can I avoid using certain words like “but” and “that” and eliminate clichés that mindlessly pop into the text? After a rewrite, I look at the content and make sure I’m drawing a conclusion — that I haven’t developed a cache of author-only supporting information off line. A once over for spelling and grammar, insert a photo, justify, tag it, and hit “publish.” Pretty straight forward. It takes about 90 minutes on a good day.

I’m more careful with letters to the editor and pieces I know will reach a broader audience. They more represent writing according to the Irving model. When I get a chance for 500 words in the Cedar Rapids Gazette, with a print circulation of more than 34,000, I spend more time making sure the writing is thoughtful, well edited, and cogently composed. I haven’t had much trouble getting my work accepted with minimal editorial intervention.

If I had unlimited funds, I’d pay for an editor to review everything I write. When I’ve had an editor — at the newspapers and at Blog for Iowa — my writing improved. For a low wage worker and pensioner, an editor is not an option very often.

Rewriting is important in my writing life outside blogging. However, when I write 10,000 words I often abandon the project until a “later” that doesn’t arrive. This requires fixing through diligence and Irving-like stamina. Perhaps it’s the next thing on which to work.

In my 12th year of blogging I developed a following and am grateful. I often meet people I don’t know who are regular readers. My number of WordPress followers has slowly grown since I made this site public. I am thankful for readers and hope to retain their interest. The way to do that is to constantly improve my writing. Few enjoy process posts like this one. From time to time they are needed.

Posted in Writing | Tagged , | 3 Comments

88th Iowa General Assembly – Is There Common Ground?

Iowa Capitol

Voters chose Republican control of the Iowa legislature last November and elected incumbent Republican Kim Reynolds governor. When the 88th Iowa General Assembly convenes next week, Democrats are expected to have limited influence over policy and law emerging from the state house.

We’ve been to this rodeo during the 87th General Assembly, and there is no reason to believe the efforts to remake our state in a more conservative mold will end. Is there common ground?

First, there is common ground, something forgotten during the politically divisive times in which we live. Among the most discussed issues during the general election were appropriate levels of funding for K-12 schools and higher education, improving water quality, encouraging a resilient system of agriculture, and bringing better fiscal discipline to privatized Medicaid.

There are other issues with less agreement that also require work. The legislature doubled corporate tax credits over the last five years and there is no evidence they are working to create jobs or improve Iowa’s economy. In 2010 voters approved a Natural Resource and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund which hasn’t been funded by the legislature. In 2013, legislation mandated a “rollback order” shifting the property tax burden from businesses to homeowners and farms. The legislature has been budgeting a “back fill” to protect property owners and a permanent solution is needed. It seems likely the general assembly will produce an amendment to the Iowa Constitution to enshrine the verbiage found in the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution. To make any impact on these, Democrats will be required to work smart against tough opposition.

We live in a conservative part of the most liberal county in a conservative state. We have a Republican state representative and a Democratic state senator as we have since after 2010 re-districting. The message I have for them going into the 2019 session is simple. Hold the line on guns, tax cuts, worker rights, reproductive rights. Create a bipartisan initiative to help farmers produce more revenue per acre, and do things (anything) that makes sense and supports Iowa values.

We’ll see if they are up to the challenge.

Posted in Politics | Tagged | Leave a comment

Cabin Fever

Garden in Winter

My to-do list has grown since retiring from my transportation career in 2009. The number of items on it was supposed to decrease yet it’s not.

After retiring that July 3, I engaged in life outside home in a way I hadn’t in a long time. I joined groups working on social issues. I joined the boards of some of those groups. I had a measure of freedom to pick activities from the broad palette found in a region with a large University town and Iowa’s second largest city. Almost ten years later I view that first retirement as a failure. I left a career and job but didn’t stop working.

This time, beginning with leaving full-time work last March and taking my Social Security pension, it is different. The stress of living paycheck to paycheck is relieved yet the to-do list sits quietly, awaiting action. I can’t get started and each day becomes a challenge to gain impetus on it. Why? I blame it on cabin fever.

“Retirement” is a story we tell ourselves in order to live. When I write, “career in transportation,” it stands for working 25 years in a series of jobs in that field. I worked to provide financially for our family. In quiet mornings of 2019 that narrative is stripped away leaving me mired in passing time. I have to work through it and get on track.

Part of the challenge is awareness. I’m of an age where every path chosen, every task undertaken, means another is pushed aside, maybe never taken up afterward. Perhaps it’s always been this way and I didn’t see it, wouldn’t acknowledge it. Choices made now have a different meaning — the bucket has limited capacity to hold our tears and sweat and I must choose carefully.

Of course that’s also some bullshit. That the door leading to the garage needs painting doesn’t go away. It will take several hours with buying supplies, prep, undercoating and finish. It can be fit into my schedule adding something positive to the quality of our lives. We only ever have the moment in which we live. There is no bucket of tears.

If I’m feeling cabin fever, not to worry. I’ve arranged start dates at the farms, and warmer weather will spark work on the garden. As warm as it’s been, I could work in the garden now, removing the weeds and fencing, organizing the plots. However, cold weather is coming, I hope. Once it gets below zero for a week, there is winter pruning to do… then a burn pile… then before you know it, back in the swing of things.

If we stay busy, cabin fever disappears. Our only challenge is to get started.

Posted in Home Life | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment