7 Things About 2016

Hats and Rags
Hats and Rags

It’s Christmas Eve in Big Grove, the ambient temperature is about freezing, and we’re ready to bunker in, finish decorating our Christmas tree and prepare a traditional supper of chili and cornbread.

My Christmas wish is for peace on earth.

Elusive as that may have been during 2016, we can’t give up hope. Not now. Not like this.

As winter solstice brought longer days — increasing light imperceptible in each day’s cycle — it is time again to fly with eagles, gain a broader perspective, and thank people who are always in these written words if rarely mentioned — my wife Jacque, our daughter, my parents and my maternal grandmother.


I continue to read more on my phone and computer than I do full-length books. Nonetheless I managed thirteen books in 2016, the most important of which were authored by people I know: Connie Mutel and Ari Berman.

Methland by Nick Reding had the biggest influence, by a distance.

Here’s the list of books, most recent first:

Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It by Anna Lappé; My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem; Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Haran; Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town by Nick Reding; Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America by Ari Berman; A Sugar Creek Chronicle: Observing Climate Change from a Midwestern Woodland by Cornelia F. Mutel; Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories by Simon Winchester;  And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East by Richard Engel; Slavery in the Upper Mississippi Valley, 1787-1865: A History of Human Bondage in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin by Christopher P. Lehman; The Diary of a Napoleonic Foot Soldier by Jakob Walter; Old Man River: The Mississippi River in North American History by Paul Schneider; MiniFARMING: Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre by Brett L. Markham; and Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser.


I wrote 175 posts on On Our Own during 2016. I also sought increased readership by posting letters and articles outside my blog. Previous years’ posts garnered the most views. The most popular new posts (in descending order) were: We Like Amy Nielsen, Iowa Democrats Convene, Supervisor Race Update, Flesh Wound, and Living in the United States. Among my favorites were Into the Vanishing Point, Rural Door Knocking, and Palm Oil is Bad for Iowa.

For the fourth year I edited Blog for Iowa while Trish Nelson took a break, writing at least one post each weekday during August. My book review of Give Us the Ballot ran in The Prairie Progressive, a guest column ran in the Cedar Rapids Gazette, and I wrote two letters to the editor of the Solon Economist since the general election. I cross posted Next for Iowa Democrats on Bleeding Heartland, my first post there.

More outside publication is planned for 2017.


Income from five jobs helped financially sustain us in 2016. Work at the home, farm and auto supply store provided health insurance and a regular, predictably low paycheck. In descending order of income were jobs at Wilson’s Orchard, Local Harvest CSA, Blog for Iowa and Wild Woods Farm.

Each of these jobs was good for a reason. Blog for Iowa encouraged me to write every day. Farm work helped me connect with others in the local food movement. The home, farm and auto supply store provided a venue for conversations with low-wage workers. I’ll seek additional income in 2017 and maintain relationships with each of these organizations.

The common denominator among these jobs is interaction with people. As I enter my last year of work before “full retirement,” I seek that as much as income.


2016 was another improved year in our home garden. Among many experiments were growing root vegetables in containers (a success with carrots and daikon radishes), growing squash in the unused storage plot, and using sections of 4-inch drainage tile to protect young seedlings. Failures included bell pepper plants which succumbed to weed competition, and loss of tomato yield due to a lack of attention. The best crops included broccoli, celery, eggplant, tomatoes, Bangkok peppers, turnips, basil, sage, oregano and kale.

Ancillary activities included distribution of kale and a few other vegetables to local library workers and friends, and weekly posts about the garden on Facebook.

We raised adequate produce to serve the needs of our kitchen. I also learned a lot through collaboration with friends and neighbors.


I followed the 2016 apple season at the orchard and continued to develop our home apple culture. Our apple trees did not produce a crop this year.

The last of the 2015 crop is peeled, sliced and frozen, or turned into applesauce and apple butter. We have enough frozen apples left for a Christmas Day dessert. This year’s orchard apples were mostly eaten fresh.

I made more apple cider vinegar. The process was simple: I added Jack’s heritage mother of vinegar to apple cider from the orchard in half-gallon ventilated jars and waited. This year I added an eighth-teaspoon of brewers yeast to each container at the beginning. The benefit was hastened alcohol production and a superior final product. I also learned that a cooler temperature slows alcohol production and this can produce a better result. Today there are two gallons of apple cider vinegar in the pantry and another gallon and a half in production.


The general election did not produce the result many people, including me, wanted.

At the same time, a lot of acquaintances seek to become active and “do something” during a Trump administration. There is plenty of work to resist the expected rollback of what we value in society. Specifically, work toward protecting the environment, reducing the number of nuclear weapons, and ensuring social justice.

My term as a township trustee ends Dec. 31, so regarding politics, I can be an unencumbered agent of change. The next step is to leverage the opportunity the general election brought with it.


The time since my July 2009 retirement from CRST Logistics can be divided into clearly defined phases. First came a period of social activism characterized by work with community organizations. It lasted until the end of 2011. Next was the political year 2012. After that, life found me working low-wage jobs to support my writing. That’s where I am today. In 2016 came a realization that in order to spend more time writing, I have to get past the finish line to “full retirement” as defined by the Social Security Administration. For me that’s in December 2017. I took the first step by signing up for Medicare this month.

2016 was a time to learn, work on writing, and do things that matter. More than anything, I have been writing. Everything else provided a platform or material for it. If 2017 presents significant challenges, there should be plenty to write about.