Work Life

Drama in Society

Parking Space
Parking Space

LAKE MACBRIDE— The conventional wisdom is that people leave a job because of the relationship with their manager. At my temporary job across the lake, people almost never talk about their manager. They talk about drama.

“I don’t need the drama,” said a colleague who started the same day I did. He was frustrated by someone with whom he shared a work station. Wage earners come to work, perform their job, and seek to leave workplace worries when they punch out. Unless conflict is directly related to the work, who needs it? We all have our reasons for taking a job, and workplace drama is not usually one of them. It is also a sorry substitute for the real thing.

My trainer said, “I work on first shift, so I don’t know the drama on second.” It is a focus on colleagues, their attitudes and personality projections. The usage is a derivative of reality television shows like Survivor and Big Brother. As if the whole world was watching as petty problems, ambitions and peccadilloes play out in real time. Society mimicking the media.

We are forced to deal with popular culture as it influences our interaction with others. Should we participate in the drama, or observe? The media reinforces our role as an observer.

If life in society is a construct, then we hold the power to make it how we would. Emphasis on “we.” Going forward, I’ll take my drama from actors treading the boards, and not based on a perspective influenced by answering the question, “who will be the biggest loser?” Society may be better off if I do.

Kitchen Garden Writing

Knowing our Farmers

Germinated Seeds
Germinated Seeds

RURAL CEDAR TOWNSHIP— The seeds I planted last week had sprouted when I returned to the farm for shift number two. The work was easier this time and I finished quickly. I used a water bottle to stay hydrated, and it helped a lot. The greenhouse is starting to fill with the flats of seedlings for three growers who use the space.

Even though it was only my second day of making soil blocks, the skill had been learned, and I trained another worker.

The CSA where I work is not organic. “We can’t afford that,” said the producer. This attitude is common among vegetable growers, and while some equivocate, saying they use “organic practices,” the truth is the discussion about organic is based on penetrating markets. While it is not mentioned much anymore, the purpose of Community Supported Agriculture is to know your grower, and how they raise vegetables. It requires the buyer to have a depth of knowledge beyond fungible commodities. Being part of a CSA is about more than just the weekly share of vegetables, even if our consumer culture focuses on that aspect of the arrangement.
Most consumers don’t have time to know the farmer, and buy food at the grocery store. Maybe there is an alternative, and while labor intensive, it starts on farms like this one.


Talk of the County

LAKE MACBRIDE— People were talking about the planned re-zoning of a farm near here, to subdivide it into the first-ever cluster of homes after the 2010 policy that created the rural cluster designation. On Tuesday, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors approved the first and second reading of a resolution supporting the plan.

I wrote to a friend on Monday, the cat is out of the bag— urban has already sprawled from Iowa City to Cedar Rapids. What difference does one more subdivision make in the Corridor? Those protected by stopping the development would be affluent landowners, living on expansive properties in expensive homes. I can see why they wouldn’t want a rural cluster invading their relatively secluded reserves. The problems of the affluent bourgeois are not mine.

The property owner was quoted in the Iowa City Press Citizen, “everyone here had an opportunity to purchase 40 acres of prime farm land, as they put it. The opposition claims how important it is to preserve farmland and this area, yet no one would make that commitment,” she said. “They have been relentless in this obsession and seem to think that they and only they know what’s best and feel absolute in their self-appointed role as guardians… The bottom line is that I own this property and as owner I have property rights.”

To the extent we accept the premise of land rights— that Black Hawk and Poweshiek intended to cede their rights after the Black Hawk War— it is hard to take issue with the property owner. What is bothersome is there is a real climate crisis ongoing, and this local talk is a diversion from something much more important than whether another subdivision of McMansions is built.

Work Life

Getting Wheels

MOUNT VERNON— While test driving a 1997 Subaru Legacy Outback along the Cedar River Road, the river looked ready to jump its banks and flood the pavement. With the ground still frozen from winter, the recent rain had nowhere to go, and a river that was near empty a few weeks ago was now flowing strong with the runoff. The soil needs moisture, but so do the arterial waterways of North America. With a sense of new hope, I bought the car.

One never knows about a used car. Will it last? Will it break down? Will parts be available? How much more should be invested in repairs when needed? My decision to buy a used car was based less on these questions— given my budget, a new car was not an option. The local car dealer web sites had little in the price range I wanted to spend, so for convenience sake, I upped the budget rather than spending time to find a cheaper alternative. The trade-in Outback was well used, but everything appeared to work, and the wagon space will prove to be useful.  The dealership delivered it to our home last night around 5 p.m.

This car is a beater. It is not intended for long trips, but for getting around the community to run errands. A reliable vehicle is essential to finding and getting to work, and easing some of the challenges of being a one-car family when both of us are still active. To the extent a car represents one’s personality, it will take me some time to getting used to a red vehicle. But I can already imagine myself as an Outback kind of guy.

Work Life

Day Laborer

CEDAR RAPIDS— The temp agency takes applications from 8 until 11 a.m., Tuesday through Thursday, so today was the day to show up. From the calls the person at the counter took while doing my paperwork, they seem to have work. It’s a reason for being there. I brought my citizenship papers and spent the hour filling out forms. For the effort, I received a new hire booklet.

I had no idea what to expect. My last job search was in 1984. Based on the questions asked during the application process, the fact that I have good work habits, don’t do drugs, don’t want to get into a fight over my manhood, haven’t been injured on the job and generally follow the rules in someone else’s world, will give me an edge. She said three times or more they opened at 6 a.m. and it was important to sign in in person until they got to know me. I’ll be there tomorrow at 5:55 a.m. to see what happens.

There are a lot of questions that could be asked, but when a person needs paying work, those get pushed into the background. I agreed to a background check, to release my medical records, to arbitration in some disputes, but not all, in lieu of litigation. I completed forms on a Palm device, on paper, and into a computer. I signed my name more than a dozen times. When we are not doing paid work and need it, there is a lot to which we might agree.

What is a person worth? I decided at least $9 per hour. Partly because while my mother believes me to be special, most other people don’t put extra value on another day laborer. Also because that’s what they pay for the job I saw on the Workforce Development web site. I may be worth more, but I have no bargaining position yet.

Over the coming days and weeks, I should have fresh insight into the phrase “all in a day’s work.” I am looking forward to this experience.

Home Life Writing

On Our Own

Main Street
Main Street

LAKE MACBRIDE— Unexpectedly, as the automatic garage door opened, the rural mail contractor was pulling up the driveway in his SUV to leave the box that contained my last 1,610 posts, written in a fever since 2008. They didn’t seem like much for the investment in time and resources. I thanked him for the delivery and walked into the garage and closed the door.

Within a few minutes the box was opened on my writing table, the volumes examined, then in place on the bookshelf with the previous iterations of this blog. Familiar with the work, it was time to turn to other things.

It was foggy on Sunday as I left the newspaper to return home. The new lamp posts faded from view down Main Street. I focused on traffic, instead of a distant view obscured by weather. The new crosswalk was comforting— the brick-like impressions guiding me across Highway One and toward the vehicle which would carry me home via Main Street, then Highway 382, going west out of town.

It is hard to imagine the landscape without roads and pathways. Harder still to believe it is possible to step off main traveled roads. Yet, in the fog of morning, after the snow has been melted by rainfall, we think we can make our own path— and sometimes do.

At times like these we are on our own, hard pressed to explain how or why— making it hard for others to provide succor, even when succor is needed. In a turbulent world, full of beaten paths and depleted resources, we make choices and ask, is all vanity, or is it possible that if the earth shall abide forever, we shall too?

With this refreshed blog comes a challenge, the same challenge as before, to sustain our lives on the prairie, but with it, something different. It is an edgy feeling— an urgency. That before long, our time to make a difference will have elapsed and our relevance in society faded like the vanishing point on Main Street that morning. By beginning again, there is new hope, a fresh view. There is a belief we can depart from la vie quotidian and sustain a life when people seem caught in a vortex of desperate conformity. It doesn’t have to be that way, especially once we realize we are on our own.

Home Life

Sagrada Família Basilica

LAKE MACBRIDE— Runoff rainwater filled the ditch along the road most of yesterday, eroding the soil mixture laid there by the contractor last fall. The frozen ground could not absorb water, so it accumulated, and flowed downstream to Lake Macbride, the Coralville Reservoir and beyond. We needed the rain. There was talk of snow, but none stuck here, if it fell during the night— we continue to need the moisture.

While paying my property taxes, the newest Johnson County supervisor walked into the building, paused in the entryway, a lanyard dangling from his right pocket. He lacked purpose with which most people enter, perhaps he is still getting used to the building and position. He seems taller and thinner than he appeared in news media.

While in town, I stopped at Paul’s Discount store on Highway One and purchased some garden seeds. With the snow melting, it is time to get ready for planting. I bought some soil mix and a plastic flat to try starting seeds. Now that I have seen how it’s done at the CSA, I feel more confident about growing my own seedlings.

In 1974 I took a photo of the Sagrada Família Basilica in Barcelona. There was a story about it on television last night. It wasn’t a basilica then, Pope Benedict XVI consecrated the unfinished structure as such in 2010. A lot of work has been done since my visit. It remains unfinished, but with hope for closure via completion sometime in the next decade or two. It has been a remarkable project, spanning generations.

As I write this morning, I am considering a name for the new weblog. The issue is not settled, but will be soon.

Home Life Kitchen Garden

Food in the Afternoon

LAKE MACBRIDE— Food. The afternoon revolved around food after a once every two weeks trip to the grocery store. Root vegetables, a turnip for $1.09, a parsnip for $0.85, potatoes for $0.40 per pound, carrots from the fridge and a leek for $1.05. It’s chik’n stew tonight. With protein cubes from Morningstar Farms®, and vegetables past their prime, but good for stew. The pot is full of the simmering stew. Hope it tastes good, as there is enough to last ten days and I hate to waste— food.


Brownies and the New Format

LAKE MACBRIDE— Last night I made brownies for the first time since I can remember. I saw the box of baking cocoa, the recipe on the package, and knew we had all the ingredients in the house. They came out very well, light and chewy, so I copied the recipe into my red book.

Have been preparing my new blog on a test site, and here is a very tentative snapshot of what it will look like. More to come as it develops.

Draft Blog HEader
Draft Blog Header
Home Life

Snow Cover is Deceptive

LAKE MACBRIDE— The snow cover is deceptive, hiding spring, which is here, but not showing for a couple of weeks— an illusion that there is more time before outside work begins. There is a lot to do to organize for planting, and everything else.

The blog books have been shipped from the printer, and I am a week or so away from creating a new look for my blog. I have been sampling the free templates, and the only one I settled on was the same used during the previous iteration of this blog. Will work harder on it.

I have resolved to take down most of my posts here, once the paper copies have arrived. Browse through the older posts if you are so inclined. By April, they will be deleted.