Feel the Breeze

Western Sky at Sunrise

I’d rather have spent both of this week’s days at the home, farm and auto supply store in our garden. Temperatures were warm enough to work in shirtsleeves and the garden is way behind.

Outdoors tasks occupied my work day: unloading field tile and plant trucks, rearranging the yard, and moving tall pallets of pine shavings, first outside while unloading the truck, and then back inside as I made room in the warehouse.  We had trucks of merchandise from our main warehouse, a load of feed, and a truck from Missouri with odds and ends of a retail operation: ladders, pipe, light bulbs and sundry stuff. It seemed like I was on the lift truck the entire time.

The best part of the days was feeling a breeze through my hair as I drove from one end of the lot to the other on the lift truck. Father died on a lift truck at the meat packing plant. That thought is never far from me as I finish my days in the work force.

Now begins the rest of today: coffee with an elected official in the county seat and a shift of farm work. If I have the bandwidth, and thunderstorms hold off, I’ll work in the garden later this afternoon.

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Spring Burn Pile

Spring Burn Pile

Part of yesterday was spent outside — in the garden, working compost, cleaning buckets, collecting the bits of drainage tile used to support celery plants, tending the garlic, planting turnips and radishes.

Using a bag of shredded office paper and a match, I started the burn pile created in the aftermath of an unusual wind storm last year. An arborist cut down the big branches and I sawed them into smaller logs and branches. The wood was dry and burned quickly even though it was covered with snow a couple days ago.

The first spring burn pile marks the beginning of gardening season.

I didn’t connect the garden hose as we are expecting freezing temperatures again this weekend. There is plenty of moisture in the ground to give the seeds a start.

A week ago I got a haircut. Partly it was too shaggy and in my eyes while working outside at the home, farm and auto supply store. Partly it was about casting aside the experience it represents for a new start.

My retirement March 16 has been something of a crash landing. Long anticipated, I know the major themes — writing, gardening, farm work, home maintenance and community organizing. I’ve had to add a need to deal with my aging frame and life systems. I made an appointment to see a medical doctor for a physical next week.

Even though I have more time, there never seems like enough to get what I want accomplished. With that in mind, I’ve come to believe what I said in February, that low income workers and retirees can’t afford social media. I posted this on Facebook this morning:

I’ve decided to end my relationship with the Facebook application on or about April 30. I joined in 2008 to follow our daughter and she deleted her account a couple of years ago. It’s not you fair reader, it’s me.

I listened to Mark Zuckerberg testify to Congress yesterday and his plans for dealing with public issues here. I have no interest in artificial intelligence reading my every post to determine if it is worthy according to Facebook criteria.

That said, I will miss the exchanges, likes and shares and appreciate your interest in what I’ve been doing. Facebook has been a creative outlet for me and I plan to channel those impulses elsewhere.

You are invited to continue to follow me elsewhere. I plan to keep my twitter account @PaulDeaton_IA and my WordPress account pauldeaton.com. If you are on WordPress click the button on my home page to add me to your reader, or click on the Follow Via Email button if you are not.

So that’s it. Hope to see you around… literally.

The burn pile was hot and I had to keep my distance while using a hoe to move partly burned branches to the top of it. By supper time it was a pile of white ashes with minerals returned to the ground and carbon released into the atmosphere. I plan to add another garden plot where the burn pile was.

We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. A burn pile reminds us all of the natural world is in transition. In a burn pile there’s no judgment, just the heat of released energy and beautiful, ever changing orange-yellow-blue flames.

In this moment that’s all we require to sustain ourselves.

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Day in the Life of a Political Junkie

Senate District 37 Candidates, Coralville, Iowa. April 9, 2018

Politics embraces the idea elected officials have term limits and the electorate gets a chance to accept or reject what they have done in office. That’s basic, and not saying much if it’s all we have.

I managed to avoid retirement life by attending political events yesterday. Countless conversations and eight hours invested by the time I got home, I’m not sure I’m any wiser.

When State Senator Bob Dvorsky announced his retirement he did it long enough in advance for a field of potential Democratic successors to file for election to replace him. We saw them together for the first time yesterday afternoon.

At the Senate District 37 candidate forum in Coralville, Eric Dirth, Imad Youssif, Zach Wahls and Janice Weiner created a dialogue that was informative and wide-ranging. As usual, the Johnson County Task Force on Aging arranged an event that enabled candidates to showcase their positions, personality and public speaking ability. All four candidates demonstrated a reasonable command of the issues in this race. There will be at least two more forums before the June 5 primary election. I’m voting for Wahls.

Three Democrats are vying for two seats on the Johnson County board of supervisors. Mike Carberry, Pat Heiden and Janelle Rettig filed nominating papers and will be on the ballot. When I dropped off some extra garden seeds to my friend John Deeth at the auditor’s office yesterday, he said early voting begins Monday, May 7.

One of my picks in the county supervisor race is incumbent Janelle Rettig who I got to know when she first ran eight years ago. She has a pistol of a personality and a bullet-point approach to her life as a politician. She’s been known to take aim at injustice in the county. As a journeyman datahead, I appreciate that and have supported her since the beginning.

I’ve known Mike Carberry longer through our mutual association with Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility. We got to know each other in our work to stop coal-fired power plants in Waterloo and Marshalltown, and then worked together when MidAmerican Energy proposed a bill in the Iowa Legislature to have legislators approve a process for a new nuclear power plant. We were successful in stemming the tide on those bad ideas. I haven’t given Mike the nod at this time and am in no hurry to decide my second primary vote.

Supervisor candidate Pat Heiden has not previously served in public office. I’ve known her only since she retired from her career at Oaknoll Retirement Residence where she was executive director for 21 years. She’s positive and talented. What I noticed about her at most events we both attended is she is continuously meeting people, handing out business cards, and talking about issues. She seems a natural politician. I haven’t given her the nod either.

Since the filing period for the supervisor election closed, I’ve discussed the race with numerous Democratic primary voters. It’s surprising to me how much dissatisfaction there is with the current board. Most with whom I spoke were voting for Pat Heiden, many bullet voting. I’ve had my nose to the grindstone and haven’t been paying the supervisors much attention. What happened?

There have long been people I know who don’t think much of what the county supervisors are doing. The dissatisfaction I’m hearing now is different from that and more widespread. The reason I gave hours of my life to a county Planning and Zoning Commission meeting last night was in an effort to understand what’s going on. I’m not there yet, but from that meeting, and my conversations with voters, the supervisors appear to have a wicked problem. It’s called process. Boring? Yes. Voters don’t pay much attention to process unless it spills over into their lives, and that’s what appears to be happening and in turn driving negativity.

There’s more to do to understand this, and I expect another post, maybe two, once I’ve spent more time on it.

For now, I’m going to finish a shift at my desk and get outside to begin garden preparation a couple hours after daylight. I’m also going to quit reading the book Unbelievable by Katy Tur. It reads like eating political cotton candy and I’m pretty sure it’s not good for me. It’s been another day in the life of a recovering political junkie.

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Spring Reset

April Snowfall

We’re behind at the greenhouses.

The high tunnel is fully planted. The ground is too cold for transplants. Cooler temperatures retard growth of fledgling vegetable sprouts. There is no place to go with the trays of lettuce, kale and greens coming along. The greenhouses are full.

It made an easy weekend of farm work for me with 24 trays of soil blocks on Friday and 20 on Sunday, about half the usual volume.

My good news was after about four weeks, the celery seeds germinated! The depth of flavor of home-grown celery has become essential to our kitchen. Because I had given up on the first planting, ordered new seeds, and re-planted I was thrilled. I delayed planting pepper seeds as it is clearly not too late to get them started. Several inches of snow fell last night and dampened any prospect of gardening today.

What’s different this year is weather and work kept me out of the garden completely in late winter and early spring. In past years I’ve planted lettuce, potatoes, radishes, turnips and spinach by now. I’m past ready to get started. The cold temperatures look to break for a brief planting window tomorrow or Wednesday. I’m hitting the reset button on Spring.

Friends conversed about Facebook this weekend. So many want to delete their accounts. At the same time, we manage information and pages that make it seem important. We long for personal information posts and can’t give them up — a form of craving or confirmation bias. Our presence on the popular social media platform persists… for now.

24 days into retirement I’m not fully healed, but have bottomed out. I cleared the last hurdle of winter by filing our federal and state tax returns this morning. A path to creativity cleared of nagging concerns. Now for a slow, methodical climb to the light. A fall could be fatal. Hope springs if the season has not.

Daily writing is important. It provides a chance to work through wicked problems and understand, if not resolve them. It is also a chance to consider experience deeply. If this blog is a way of dashing off notes in the form of an electronic journal, I’m okay with that. I appreciate my regular followers and readers. There is something more. I’ve dedicated part of this new life to determining what it is.

On another day of waiting for Spring to break I’ll work at home and contemplate where I’m bound. Along with any view of the future is the baggage of a life lived. I’m not sure I need all that baggage any more.

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Journeyman Datahead

Political Retirement Party

I volunteered to be the “data guy” for a local political campaign this year.

Being a datahead, data guy is a reasonable fit, although I prefer the usage “datahead” to “data guy.” Whatever they want to call me will do.

“Datahead” refers to a person who is well versed in general knowledge. What we dataheads know is data is dead if it becomes disconnected from a living society. For example, in politics people often compare the number of registered Republican voters in a district to the number of registered Democratic voters and make an argument based on “data.” Often forgotten in such analyses is that no preference voters, like those in the district on which I am working, have more voter registrations than either party-specific voter group. People are weary and suspicious of politics and no preference voters include mostly recovering Democratic and Republican voters. Think of it as the voter version of Alcoholics Anonymous: Voters Anonymous. I’m not quick to draw conclusions based on voter registrations, despite what such data may indicate in a spreadsheet or computer application.

After arrival at Fort Jackson, S.C. for U.S. Army basic training I was assigned to a barracks on Tank Hill. On weekends we hung out at the barracks. I would read Chaucer in my upper bunk while a group of fellow soldiers played whist on the lower bunk. They called me “professor,” and I liked the appellation. Sometimes people call me “professor” today but I am no longer the sharpest knife in the drawer, so I’m not sure the usage is warranted. I know a few things but have forgotten as much as I know. I enjoyed hanging out with those Alabama National Guardsmen.

In a political campaign people have specific questions and want answers. My experience often comes into play. In part, I serve as technician, collecting and analyzing data and experiences… suggesting which voters to contact, which strategies and tactics to pursue. I’m also an advisor using life experience to influence the direction of a campaign while answering questions. I’m a journeyman datahead, helping where I can but always deferring to others in decision making. I enjoy hanging out with people working on our campaign.

Much has been made of the data-driven campaign beginning with Howard Dean and Joe Trippi in the run up to the 2004 election. There is no political substitute for meeting voters, especially at their home, and ferreting out what they believe and feel about the needs of the body politic. Campaigns will always need workers to do the tedious, repetitive work of voter contact. Lesson learned: wearing orange hats while canvassing voters, as out of state Deaniacs did, is not recommended.

I’m glad there continues to be a role in politics for journeyman dataheads like me. It’s a chance to make a positive contribution as we pass the baton to the next generation.

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Wanting to Wake Up

Community Pond

At retirement plus 19 days I thought I’d be more productive.

Yesterday, after a shift at my desk and an hour-long visit with a neighbor and a team of surveyors, I took a nap… with long, deep sleep. Groggy when I woke, the better part of the day had escaped me.

More time to heal after a life of work.

It’s not like the main spring work of gardening was doable. Rain and ambient temperatures in the twenties and lower thirties gave me a chill most of the day. My farmer friends take advantage of every micro dry spell to plant a row of seeds or plow a field. A home gardener needs an ample period of dry ground and time to get in seed potatoes, early lettuce, radishes, turnips, peas and the like. Thus far the burn pile remains and the ground is unbroken, indicating there was a garden but little else. On the other hand, when the weather breaks, I’m ready.

Boxes of canning jars pile up as we draw down the pantry.

Last night Jacque and I went separate ways for dinner. She prepared a pasta dish with pasta made from lentil flour accompanied with a side salad. I prefer pasta made with semolina flour. These days a salad is organic greens from a specialty grocer, carrots, celery and home made dressing.  When she finished in the kitchen I made a dish I had been thinking about for a week.

Mother made a simple gravy with bacon grease, flour and milk. My supper was a variation of that.

The gravy recipe is easy: three tablespoons fat, three tablespoons flour to make a roux then two cups milk simmered on low heat until thickened. We cook vegetarian at home so I substituted salted butter for the bacon grease. Mother added cooked hamburger to the gravy but I wanted more.

Dinner preparation began with diced storage onions, bell pepper from the freezer and a four ounce can of sliced mushrooms from the Netherlands sauteed in extra virgin olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper. When the onions began to soften I added two finely diced cloves of garlic from Kate’s farm and incorporated them into the vegetables.

Next was two cups of Morningstar Farms recipe crumbles stirred in until thoroughly thawed and mixed. When the ingredients reached the proper stage I made a well in the center of the frying pan and added three tablespoons of salted butter to melt. I added an equal amount of flour to make a roux. When the roux had cooked for a couple minutes I added two cups skim milk and stirred the mixture until everything was incorporated. I brought it to a boil and turned down the heat to a simmer for about ten minutes until the liquid thickened.

I toasted a slice of sourdough bread, diced it, and spooned the mixture on top in a big bowl. That and a couple of raw carrots was dinner… with leftovers. Comfort food from memories of Mother.

In the annals of human history yesterday wasn’t much. Two people getting along in a place where we’ve lived for 25 years.

“I feel as if I’m fixin’ come out of hibernation and need to work with friends on something meaningful,” I emailed a friend. “What that is will eventually manifest itself… I hope we can recognize it when it does.”

For now I wait for the weather to break, rest and heal.

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Janelle Rettig Democrat for Johnson County Supervisor

Janelle Rettig

Janelle Rettig announced March 18 she would run for re-election to a third term on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors.

Rettig will face incumbent supervisor Mike Carberry and Democratic Central Committee member Pat Heiden in the June 5 primary election for two board seats.

“In the eight years I have been a supervisor we have a long list of accomplishments,” Rettig said in an email. “We have lowered the countywide levy while undertaking significant projects. Progressive accomplishments and financial responsibility are my driving causes.”

Rettig is a graduate of Knox College who has lived with her spouse, Robin Butler, in Iowa City for over twenty eight years. They are involved with numerous non-profits, are activists, avid bicyclists, and ride a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. They also have a border collie named CJ.

“I think my single best contribution to the board of supervisors has been to focus on financial issues,” Rettig said. “I have led in the creation of a Finance Department, financial policies and transparency.”

While on the board, Rettig used short-term bonding to access Tax Increment Finance districts thereby reducing cost on individual property taxpayers. It allowed the county to take advantage of lower construction costs and get more road projects completed more quickly, she said.

“I spend a lot of time reviewing our financial reports and studying budget requests,” she said. “I often figure out a way to get things done without significant tax increases.”

Rettig is proud of her role on the board.

“We have built six solar projects, increased programs and funding for mental health/disability services and for those living in poverty,” she said. “We have improved our infrastructure by building roads, bridges, trails and paved shoulders, and we have invested in affordable housing — all while creating a finance department, balancing every budget, and lowering the overall county debt. In addition, we have increased sustainability, raised the minimum wage, and implemented a Community ID system.”

An important part of the board’s recent work has been the Johnson County Comprehensive Plan.

“I have been consistent with current land use plan and believe supervisors should follow the plan and not pick winners and losers based on things that are not contained in the plan,” Rettig said. “I have supported a number of amendments to the Unified Development Ordinance that I believe have made our land use plan stronger.”

“The new plan under consideration currently has some items that concern me. I’m afraid that the proposed map and matrix may lead to more political decisions and may lead to more development on higher corn sustainability rated land. I look forward to reviewing the final plan that will be recommended by (the Planning & Zoning Commission) and listening carefully to a public hearing with input from residents.”

“In the past eight years, I have worked every day to reflect the progressive values of the people of Johnson County,” she said. “None of this happens in a vacuum. It takes leadership, innovation, vision, determination, teamwork and sometimes courage.”

“My most rewarding vote was to raise the minimum wage,” Rettig said. “The vote that will have meaning long after I am gone is the vote to save the Sutliff Bridge.”

Website: janellerettig.com
Facebook: Janelle Rettig

Editor’s Note: The author has endorsed Janelle Rettig for Johnson County Supervisor in the June 5 primary.

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