December Directions

Lake Macbride State Park, Dec. 1, 2020.

Time to take a break for 2021 planning and to finish some projects before 2020 escapes into the mist.

I’ll be back soon. Be well.


Processing Journals

Lake Macbride State Park trail, Nov. 30, 2020.

It’s never a problem to fill days with activity. Setting and working toward a broader goal is proving elusive during the coronavirus pandemic.

Activities once taken for granted are now impossible. So many people are on the lookout to prevent contracting COVID-19, causing massive deterioration of our shared social life. My reaction to the extended pandemic was reasonable: a decision to focus on my autobiography. Increasing parts of each day include such work.

In the Jan. 28, 2019 issue of The New Yorker, historian Robert Caro recounted a meeting with his managing editor, Alan Hathway at Newsday in 1959.

“Just remember,” Hathway said. “Turn every page. Never assume anything. Turn every goddam page.”

Caro took the advice to heart. My book won’t be as detailed as his books on Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson. However, it is important to read what I’ve previously written and saved. It’s important to go through the souvenirs, books, boxes and trunks that clutter our household. When the pandemic recedes it will be important to visit places and again speak in person with friends and acquaintances. It is important to give things consideration as I distill them into a couple hundred thousand word memoir.

I started keeping a journal after graduation from the university. The first volume was stolen with my back pack in 1974 at a youth hostel in Calais, France. The rest of them sit on a shelf within arms reach of my writing table. There are more than 35 bound volumes and more in photo albums, media, three-ring binders and file folders in the next room. That’s not to mention photographs, the trove of letters I wrote Mother and got back after her death, or the thousands of blog posts and hundreds of newspaper publications. It’s a lot to read, examine and consider.

I don’t know what to do except begin and let the thread go where it will. With that in mind, below is the first journal entry that remains with me.

Winston Churchill Gardens, Salisbury, England, 11:45 a.m.

Very sunny here today near Stonehenge, and other ancient ruins. Stonehenge yesterday brought to attention the very tourist like notions of seeing something only to tell your friends about it when you get back. It may be that these days this is the notion you should have or at least most common, but it is also a notion of which I refuse to partake. It is only a very insensitive person who will go look and come back in one hour as the tour bus takes, but then there’s hours and barb wire fence to keep you from doing it any other way. Yet here too comes the notion that since there are so many books and pictures and articles about Stonehenge why even bother the few minutes to even see the thing.

On the way from the rocks to the return bus, the drivers were talking and one said to another, “It’s too bad it started to rain. It spoiled their trip.”

Here it seems that there is such a “holiday” preconception among these drivers (and all Britons as well) that it prevents them from seeing what is really, actually there: some rocks with barb wire about them with people crowded within these premises. At any rate, I was no different from the others when I paid my 65p and walked, took some photographs, and bought some postcards which I today mailed to the states.

Journals, Aug. 27, 1974
Kitchen Garden

Butternut Squash and Pasta

Butternut squash.

It is easy to grow butternut squash. By the end of the gardening season, our kitchen counter accumulates half dozen or more. They keep for a long time at room temperature, so no need to be in a hurry to eat them all.

Mostly we halve them, remove the seeds, and roast them to use the flesh as a side dish. We’ve been exploring new recipes that reduce the amount of dairy products and oils in our meals. Roasted squash fits right into the menu.

We found a way to make a main dish out of butternut squash and tried a new recipe last night. It is called “butternut squash mac and cheese with broccoli.” It tastes nothing like macaroni and cheese and there is no cheese in it. The name is pretty lame. However, we normally stock the ingredients in our kitchen, and I commonly use the required cooking techniques already. I believe we will try this again. Below is how I would prepare it next time.

Butternut Squash with Pasta and Broccoli

  • medium butternut squash (~1 to 1-1/4 pounds)
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • sea salt to taste
  • black pepper to taste
  • 8 ounces dried penne pasta
  • 3 cups small broccoli florets

Peel, seed, cube and steam the butternut squash until the flesh yields easily with a knife.

Cook the onion, garlic and seasonings in a saucepan with a quarter cup of broth or water. Keep adding broth to prevent the vegetables from sticking to the pan.

Start eight ounces of pasta in a large pan with plenty of water. Set the timer for five minutes before reaching al dente stage. May have to SWAG this.

Put the almond milk, vinegar, onion-garlic mixture, nutritional yeast, in a blender and stir briefly to incorporate. Add the squash and run at the puree setting until the big pieces are smoothed out. Because there was so much liquid and squash, I did this in two batches. Place the mixture in a large wok or saucepan.

When the timer goes off, add the broccoli to the pasta and cook together for the remaining five minutes. Drain the pasta-broccoli mixture and add it to the sauce pan with the squash mixture. Stir everything together over medium heat until it comes to temperature.

Makes four generous servings.

Tips: I cut the almond milk in half from the original recipe. The amount will require some tweaking. Use pasta made with chick peas or lentils to increase the amount of protein in the dish. I used frozen broccoli which had been parboiled before freezing. I’d try fresh if we had it. I’d also try Brussels sprouts instead of broccoli but cook them completely before adding to the final dish.

Living in Society

Blue Dot in Iowa

Earth from Voyager at 6 billion kilometers, Feb. 14, 1990. Photo Credit – NASA

The recount in Iowa’s Second Congressional District was completed Saturday afternoon resulting in a win for Mariannette Miller-Meeks over Rita Hart with a margin of six votes. According to this morning’s data on the Secretary of State website, 394,430 votes were cast in the race.

Miller-Meeks won our precinct hands down, so I’m not surprised at the result.

The state is expected to certify the election results tomorrow. Unless there is substantial evidence of foul play, that will be that. Because the race was so close, I expect the 2022 campaign for the seat to begin immediately. In a politics imbued with money, that was a given for the congresswoman. If Hart runs again, she should start now.

The Des Moines Register reported the Iowa Democratic Party is expected to release the results of an investigation into the 2020 Iowa Precinct Caucuses. I’m not sure what there is to investigate. The problem was they developed a computer application on the cheap and the results reported through it were all balled up. The brouhaha about the reporting application masked something else at the time.

There were only 70 percent of the caucus attendees in our precinct compared to 2008. What happened to the missing 80 voters? I gave an answer only passing thought after the caucus. After the general election it’s pretty clear what happened. The missing voters died or moved, and new people moving into the precinct lean Republican. We are a more Republican precinct this year than when we moved here in 1993. I’m not sure if Dave Loebsack were on the ballot he would have won. It was that kind of year in local politics.

Nationally, there is a ray of hope. We elected Joe Biden and Kamala Harris at the top of the ticket, and retained a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. The U.S. Senate race is complicated by the two Georgia Republican Senators who failed to get a majority of votes in the general election. Both are facing a Jan. 5, 2021 runoff election. If Democrats win those elections, the senate will be split 50-50 with Harris breaking any ties. There are no guarantees Democrats will win the Georgia runoff races.

There is a ray of hope, yet like the bands of sunlight reflected by the camera in the photo it is not real. Our politics has lost its way. What is the benefit of the tens of millions of dollars being spent on politics? To common folk like me, not much. It is a crime against people who are less fortunate.

For the time being we Democrats are a pale blue dot in a vast, dark universe. It’s always been that way, although the epiphany came late to me. We have to seek the light, avoiding the camera’s refraction, and find a better way. None of us can do that alone.

Next is a jump ball and I haven’t played basketball since being a grader.


The 1970s Part I

Lake Macbride State Park, Nov. 27, 2020.

My experience of the 1970s is book ended on one end by graduation from high school and attending the Kickapoo Creek Rock Festival in Heyworth, Illinois on May 30, 1970. On the other is cutting up my military service identification card on Nov. 25, 1979 at a party in my apartment near Five Points in Davenport.

Life was not what I expected.

Some of my high school classmates married immediately after graduation. I expected to marry a woman, yet that would not be until later in life. Like many in my cohort I left home to attend college rather than settle down. The following ten years were a time of adventure and learning about the world beyond my home place. I sensed life would not follow a standard path.

There was an unseen momentum that led me to attend and graduate from university. Father’s death in 1969 resulted in questioning the efficacy of the life I’d been planning with him. Had I not been awarded the full scholarship through the efforts of the meat packers union, I doubt I would have attended or finished at university. My last discussion with him was about studying engineering, although he did not affirm that I should. He was busy with his own struggles attempting to turn the page from working at a slaughterhouse to passing the state medical board examination required to become a chiropractor.

Before I left home I had a conversation in the living room with Mother about whether I should stay in Davenport to help her get through the loss of Father and help with my younger siblings. She wouldn’t hear of me staying and encouraged me to leave Davenport to attend university. After working the summer at the Turn Style discount department store I left for the University of Iowa. More than any other parental guidance, this conversation set the course for who I would become.

A person does not experience life by becoming set in patterns of existence. The whole idea behind automation was the elimination of routines. By allowing standardization of products to dominate the ambitions of men, we can reach the point where society is nothing more than a group of zombie-like creatures who are willing to conform to what everybody else does. This is why European thinkers criticized the machine as a cancerous growth on humanity.

School papers, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa. Fall 1970.

It seems appropriate my university coursework brought me to this conclusion about standardization. Few of us realized in 1970 what the impact of automation, branding, technology, communications, and dominance by corporate interests and other institutions would have on our lives half a century later. Part of my life has been standing up to such standardization. Even so, my 1970s were not that different from others.

I attended university, made a three-month tour of Europe, came back to Davenport for a year, then enlisted in the U.S. Army. By the time I returned to Iowa in 1979 — and collected all of my belongings from storage, shipped from Germany, and from Mother’s house — I knew I wouldn’t be long for my home town. This letter to the editor summarizes how I felt.

As a college graduate, I would like to believe that a rewarding lifestyle consists of more than a hefty paycheck with plenty of taverns in which to spend it. I would like to believe that my future in Davenport holds more than a secure family life.

Letters to the Editor, Quad-City Times, Dec. 30, 1974.

Looking back on the 1970s I see the beginnings of the same path I’m on today. While it was not a standard path it has been pretty consistent all along. I expect to continue, at least for a while.

Living in Society

Pandemic Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Dinner 2020

The measure of Thanksgiving came this morning when I took my blood pressure and stepped on the scale.

My systolic blood pressure was normal and the diastolic slightly elevated. It was elevated to the same point where my medical practitioner and I had a conversation about medication a couple of visits ago. We decided I wouldn’t take meds and I expect my blood pressure to return to normal by tomorrow.

My weight was the same as 24 hours ago, meaning the huge plates of food consumed in the celebration, which made me feel stuffed and drowsy, won’t likely be added to my waistline.

The two of us were alone for the holiday as we’ve been for many years. Our family is small and no one makes a big deal of the holiday. We do all have some kind of feast. Phone calls, text messages, emails and social media posts were made. It was all reassuring. It all felt like normal.

Washington Post, Nov. 27, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic is here and the incidence of cases elevated to the highest level since it began in March. Keeping the gathering small was easy for us: we just had to be ourselves. The Centers for Disease Control recommended Americans not travel. Americans are not good listeners. “In a pandemic-era record, 1,070,967 people passed through security at America’s airports on the day before Thanksgiving,” CNN reported. I expect the numbers on this chart to soar higher in the next couple of weeks.

We are lucky to have enough to eat. CNN reported yesterday some 50 million Americans didn’t on Thanksgiving. Food pantries were swamped and some ran out of food. The toll of the coronavirus pandemic on health, on employment, and on income is tangible. In graduate school, during interviews with survivors of the great depression, they told me having a garden was a big part of how they put food on the table. Because so much of what was on our plate was produced locally or from our garden, food insecurity was not a direct issue here. For that we are thankful.

I did most of the cooking beginning at 11 a.m., continuing for six hours. Over the years we developed recipes for baked beans and wild rice which are the two most complicated dishes and take the most cooking time. Beans and rice are the center of a vegetarian meal. For sides we had steamed broccoli, cooked carrots, butternut squash and sweet potato. I ate a few home made pickles while I was cooking. For beverage it was fresh apple cider and for dessert a take and bake peach pie, both from the local orchard. Everything in the main meal was low fat. Except for the peach pie there was little refined sugar. Eating an ovo-lacto vegetarian diet has its advantages.

Part of my Thanksgiving is politics and I spent time reading Barack Obama’s presidential memoir, A Promised Land. He wrote about the 2006 Tom Harkin Steak Fry where he spoke and my friends and I had a chance to shake his hand in the rope line. While others have written about the campaign, notably David Plouffe in The Audacity to Win, it was good to read familiar stories of that campaign. There may not be another like it because of changes in American society since then.

The president took press questions for the first time since the election while I was cooking dinner. He made what were described as “stunning claims” about the election, without evidence. We are a nation of laws. Mr. President, either show us evidence the election was rigged or shut up. He did say he will plan to leave the White House after the electoral college votes on Dec. 14. There is no doubt Joe Biden won the election. President Trump really has no say in the matter of his leaving by Jan. 20, 2021.

In normal times I would be scheduled for work at the home, farm and auto supply store this morning for Black Friday sales. I left retail work because of the pandemic. I’m not sure I will return to it. We’ve discovered how to get by on our pensions.

During my regular end of year planning it appears our budget for next year is sustainable. My best hope is 2021 does not bring another pandemic Thanksgiving.

Kitchen Garden

Thanksgiving Pancakes

Pumpkin pancake.

What to do with leftover roasted pumpkin?

A plastic tub of roasted pumpkin rested on the top shelf of the ice box. A few days ago I made pumpkin bread with the rest of it and did not want another loaf. I made pumpkin pancakes instead.

With only my personal cooking knowledge, I knew I would puree the flesh along with milk and go from there. I researched ingredients and came up with this list:

  • 1-1/2 cups milk
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon each ground allspice and cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Measure the leftover pumpkin and place it in a mixing bowl. Add an equal amount of milk. Using a stick blender smooth everything to a consistent texture.

Incorporate the remaining ingredients and judge if the batter is moist enough. If not, add milk until it is. Incorporate but don’t beat the batter to death.

Spoon the batter on a heated, buttered skillet on high heat. Flip when the first side is done and let the other side finish.

Serve with a pat of butter and a favorite topping. I topped mine with apple aronia berry butter.


Lend-A-Hand Club

Mae Jabus

Editor’s Note: There is a photo of my maternal grandmother sitting at the kitchen table in our house on Madison Street at my first Thanksgiving dinner. She looks on while Father carved the turkey and Mother captured the photograph. I sat against the wall between them. This post is about my return to Iowa from Fort Benning, Georgia for a brief Thanksgiving visit before departing for Europe in 1976.

Grandmother lived near or with us from my earliest memories until we moved to the Marquette Street house in 1959. After that we visited her occasionally. More commonly, Father picked her up at her apartment and brought her to our house for a special meal, holiday or event. Eventually she located at the Lend-A-Hand Club at the foot of Main Street on the riverfront.

The Lend-A-Hand was established in Davenport in 1886, part of a national network of Lend-A-Hand Clubs — a place for young women who lived and worked away from home to associate in a safe environment. After Grandmother left the farm in Lincoln County, Minnesota, she found such living arrangements, either with the people for whom she worked as a servant or cook, or in small apartments in a subdivided single family structure. In 1973 the Lend-A-Hand Club was rented to the City of Davenport and converted to elderly housing. Grandmother was one of the first residents after that. The building was listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

I visited her often after leaving Davenport in 1970. I can remember her room as if I were there today. She took a couple of photographs during those visits and I use them from time to time to aid my memory.

When senior dining began at the Lend-A-Hand she volunteered as a hostess. She also used an electric skillet to cook some of her own meals in her room. I often shared meals she cooked during my visits. She worked as a cook, seamstress and housekeeper most of her life and was good at it. I keep a couple of recipes she wrote down for me in my cook book in the kitchen.

The 1970s hold fond memories of our time together. On Nov. 26, 1976 I visited and wrote this journal entry. It became important later in my life as I became involved in the local food movement. It is lightly edited because I couldn’t stand some of the usage.

Today I visited Grandmother at the Lend-A-Hand and we ate ravioli from LaSalle, Illinois. They hand pack it there. It is a treat whenever we get a chance to make some.

I wonder about the brand names which grace our pantry — Kraft, Nabisco, Campbell’s, Carnation, Betty Crocker, Aunt Jemima, Libby’s, Quaker Oats, Folgers, Post, Hershey’s — and marvel at the simplicity of the containers in Grandmother’s shared kitchen.

There are milk cartons with all the ladies’ names on them; bulky, shapeless packages with owners’ names written on them; old butter dishes covered and taped shut; white and tan boxes each with a name on them. It seems fitting that the name of the consumer rather than the producer or canner appear on foods awaiting the pot.

Perhaps these women are not swayed by the numerous labels enticing them from supermarket shelves. Maybe they learned that a carrot is only a carrot, no matter who laid hands on it. But food is food and when one has it, one is grateful.

Journals, Davenport, Iowa, Nov. 26, 1976

A Standing Military

My Army Boots

Mother took me downtown to a federal office building to register for the draft. I was 18. I have my draft card with the Selective Service number on it in a trunk with other memorabilia from the time.

Dad served as an army paratrooper during the occupation of Japan. There is a photograph of him and Uncle Don, fresh from Tallahassee, with parachutes strapped on, ready to jump.

It was with a sense of family history, personal commitment, and duty that I followed the law by registering. Not all of my friends would contemplate entering military service, a couple of conscientious objectors were among my cohort. I felt no such compulsion and if I were called up, I would go.

In the eighth grade I had an assignment to read the newspaper and clip articles about topics which engaged me. The spiral-bound notebook I made has a section on the Vietnam War, including a newsprint photograph of a soldier that had just been hit by small arms fire and was falling to the ground. Going to the war was a real possibility, one I didn’t take lightly.

Like so many young people, I was enraged by the killing of four college students at Kent State University on May 4, 1970. A neighborhood friend organized a peaceful protest march to the military armory. I carried an end of a mocked up coffin representing one of the dead students in Ohio. A photograph of us made the local newspaper. I came to feel strongly the Vietnam War was wrong.

I took a student deferment as I had the option, and wanted to exercise it, delaying military service until after graduation from the university. I ended up cancelling the deferment when it became clear during sophomore year my draft lottery number would not be called. I was off the hook and breathed a sigh of relief as the Vietnam War was ongoing, and only crazy people wanted to fight there.

The conclusion I reached once the war ended on April 30, 1975 was the military was a mess and citizens had a personal, civic responsibility to improve it. That led me to explore options for enlistment. I enlisted to become an officer and left Davenport in January 1976, the bicentennial year. It was somewhat patriotic.

When I arrived for basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina I entered a different world. There were about a dozen white guys like me who had enlisted for officer training. They came mostly from New England and states above the Mason Dixon line. The majority of the company was comprised of local black guys and Puerto Ricans, many of whom knew each other from home and had enlisted together. There were a couple of white guys seeking to get on the draw with the Alabama National Guard, although they struggled to perform basic military tasks. At the time I believed Alabama did not send its best people. If you asked me in 1976 who would fight in our wars, my answer would have been black and Puerto Rican soldiers. It was a volunteer army and that is mostly who volunteered.

Ingrained in me was the liberal idea of equal rights under the law and equal protection. It mattered not that I was in a racial minority in basic training because it felt normal to me. I’d been exposed to different races and ethnicity when our family visited Florida where Father attended high school. I also shared a bunk house at YMCA camp to which staff had assigned all of the black campers plus me. Equal protection and equal rights used to be an American idea yet even as a grader I knew we had a long way to go. In South Carolina, in the military, it was obvious we weren’t equal as all the officer candidates were white.

The Unites States requires a standing military to meet our global commitments. Until the current president assumed office the United States stood as a force for good all over the world. Deployment on tough missions had become a norm. We continue to have a global military footprint, although its role has changed. Arms sales have become increasingly important to the U.S. under Trump’s “America First” foreign policy. The administration is changing the balance of power in the Middle East and elsewhere. We hope President Joe Biden can restore respect for the U.S. during his administration. What remains constant, though, is the need for a citizen armed forces and a standing army.

In his book, Who Will Do Our Fighting For Us? George E. Reedy, who extensively studied the selective service during the Nixon administration, wrote, “I believe that democracy can live more easily with the conscripts than it can with the professionals. The former do not like what they are doing — and that is precisely the reason they should be preferred.”

The need for military troops ebbs and flows. Some skills are highly specialized and require a longer term service commitment. Aircraft pilots are an example of this. For the most part, our military trains for specific missions and ramps up to meet staffing requirements. When operations end, units stand down. That is a normal progression and endemic to how the U.S. military operates. Having people from all walks of life, rather than dedicated professionals, enables citizens to witness our military and make sure we do good. That begins with a commitment to service, duty and honor when we consider our options in society. For me, the choice was easy.


Laying Out Davenport

Antoine LeClaire Monument, Mount Calvary Cemetery, Davenport, Iowa.

By the time the City of Davenport was laid out, the Black Hawk War had ended. American men involved with the war, including some who would later become famous — Zachary Taylor, Abraham Lincoln, Winfield Scott, and Jefferson Davis — had departed. There was this land on the Iowa side of the Mississippi River.

With the Indian tribes removed, something needed doing with it, or so they believed. By any measure, the enterprise was a commercial venture in an arbitrary location. Its lackluster beginnings would haunt the city, certainly until I was born more than a century later.

(Spelling and punctuation preserved from the original text).

In the fall of 1835 a group of men met to form a company for the purpose of purchasing land and laying out a town site on the Iowa side of the river across from the fort. These men met at the home of Colonel George Davenport to discuss the issues concerning the town. Other than George Davenport the following men attended the meeting and became part of the company: Major William Gordon, Antoine LeClaire, Major Thomas Smith, Alexander McGregor, Levi S. Colton, and Philip Hambaugh. Another member of the company was Captain James May, in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania at the time.

The spring of 1836, Major Gordon surveyed the land that was to become the City of Davenport. The spot selected was west of the LeClaire Reserve and bounded by what is now Harrison Street on the east, on the north by Seventh, west by Warren, and south by the river. It included 36 square blocks and six half blocks. The cost of the entire platt was $2000.00.

In May, the area had been divided into lots, streets, and a proposed business section. Then the enterprising company offered an auction. People were brought from St. Louis by a steamboat and docked on the river front. The sale continued for two days. During the day the area was shown and in the afternoon an auction was conducted. In the evening the ballroom of their steamboat hotel was turned into a place for a lavish party in hopes that the second day of the auction would be as big a success as the company had hoped for. Unfortunately the sales were far from what was expected. Only fifty or sixty lots were sold at $300.00 to $600.00 apiece.

The promotional adventure to sell the city of Davenport was not a success in the number of sales made or amount of money collected. Most of the lots went for low prices to St. Louis speculators who hoped to make a profit on a resale.

A Clearing in the Forest by Gayle A. McCoy