Living in Society

Shooting from the Hip

February Snowfall

An octogenarian friend talks about “shooting from the hip.” The way I take it is absent guidance, leaders will step up and help us navigate through difficult times together, leaving no one behind.

We need more of that because our political leadership is failing during the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic crisis.

Responding to a perceived need, and not any urging from government, my friend began organizing the logistics for a mass COVID-19 vaccination near where we live. With the structure in place, one hopes the supply of vaccine will be forthcoming. I expect it will be eventually.

People do plan for emergency response. They should. That such planning for a pandemic response appears absent from our government makes leaders among us shoot from the hip because the need is now, and it is real. Maybe that’s what our governor wants. She should just come out and tell us we are on our own. It is one hella way to go about a national and global crisis, though. It makes me wonder why we even have a government if it cannot respond adequately to a once in a hundred years pandemic.

So, we shoot from the hip.

Living in Society

Lynching in Iowa?

Field Corn in the Fall

Editor’s Note: Iowa DCI, Grinnell Police Department and Iowa-Nebraska NAACP held a press conference at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 22. DCI announced four suspects had been apprehended and charged. There was no indication the crime was based on race. Coroner’s report indicated a cause of death consistent with strangulation. Investigation is ongoing. A number of major media companies attended the press conference and one assumes they will continue the story. I left this unedited and will let them tell the rest of the story.

The burned body of Michael Williams of Grinnell was found in rural Kellogg on Wednesday. The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation is treating the death as a homicide. A hate crime has not been ruled out. Williams was black in a city that is 92 percent white.

“As if taking his life was not bad enough,” Powell Mejias, the victim’s mother wrote. “On Sept. 16 the perpetrators of this crime moved his body to Jasper County, dumped him on the side of the road, then set his body on fire.”

News has been scant. The Perry News headline is “Lynching possible in death, burning of Grinnell man.” Here are a couple of links to news stories.

Newer coverage from the Daily Beast.

Link to Perry News.

Link to The Scarlet and Black.

This is Iowa in the time of Donald Trump. Black Lives Matter.

Kitchen Garden Reviews

Book Review – A Cook’s Tour of Iowa

A Cook’s Tour of Iowa by Susan Puckett.

A Cook’s Tour of Iowa is a well-curated collection of culinary culture that represents a certain view of Iowa. It’s the picture Iowans can recognize. We also recognize many of the things mentioned as fading in cultural prominence.

As a resource for writing autobiography, the book conjures personal memories of Iowa things like the Grant Wood Art Festival, Maytag Blue Cheese, the African-American community in Buxton, Iowa, and many more. It is indispensable for that reason.

What is lacking is the diversity of what Iowa has become, even since 1988 when the first edition of A Cook’s Tour appeared. Our culture is also leaving behind things like VEISHA, Old Creamery Theater (no longer in Garrison, or Amana), and some of the festivals and events to which Puckett referred.

If we had an Iowa-themed dinner party, picnic or cookout, one might search the book’s contents for dishes to make for pure nostalgia. However, life in Iowa has become more than that.

I appreciate the work that went into A Cook’s Tour of Iowa. I may not open it often, but knowing it is there provides comfort as the food system changes along with the society that engendered it.

Work Life

Retirement in the Coronavirus Pandemic

Detail of Garden Plot #4

I decided not to return to the home, farm and auto supply store after my voluntary COVID-19 leave of absence.

Whatever the cultural resonance of the word “retirement,” I’ll take my leave from the workforce without fanfare, without the customary sheet cake, and fade into the background of our life in Big Grove Township.

It’s been a good run. Whatever uncertainty lies ahead, I’m fortified by decades of experience in business and in living — the latter making the difference.

More than anything, our Social Security pensions make retirement possible. I made my first contribution to Social Security in 1968, thinking retirement was in the distant future. All along the way, in every job I held, I paid in. I paid in on my last paycheck on March 17. Of all the government programs that exist, Social Security, and its methodology of enabling even the lowest paid worker to save for retirement has been there. I hope it endures not only for my lifetime but for every American into a future as distant from today as is the teenage boy I was when I started.

What’s next? Subscribe to this blog or follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram to find out.


Farmers Markets in a Pandemic

June 15, 2013 Farmers Market in Cedar Rapids

There is nothing better than buying a bunch of radishes at a farmers market, biting the root off one at the booth, eating it, then buying a few more bunches if they taste good.

The sights, sounds and smells of an open air farmers market are something unique. During the coronavirus pandemic the fun and experience of markets diminished as they closed and now are expected to become a place of accommodation as they begin sales again.

Nothing like a good old proclamation by the governor to suck the joy out of a farmers market:

SECTION TWO. Pursuant to Iowa Code § 29C.6(6) and Iowa Code § 135.144(3), and in conjunction with the Iowa Department of Public Health, I hereby order that farmers markets, as defined in Iowa Code § 137F shall not be prohibited as a mass gathering under the Proclamations of Disaster Emergency issued on April 6, 2020, or April 16, 2020, but only to the extent that the farmers market complies with the following requirements:

A. Farm Products and Food: The farmers market may only permit vendors who sell farm products or food. Vendors selling other goods or services are not permitted.

B. Entertainment and Activities Prohibited: Musical performances, children’s activities, contests, or other entertainment or activities organized by the farmers market or vendors are prohibited.

C. Common Seating Prohibited: Farmers markets must eliminate all common seating areas, picnic tables, or dining areas and shall prohibit vendors from having any seating for the public to congregate or eat food on the premises.

D. Vendor Spacing: Farmers markets shall space all vendor booths or assigned parking areas so that there is six feet or more of empty space from the edge one vendor’s assigned areas to the neighboring vendor.

E. Social distancing, hygiene, and public health measures: Farmers markets shall also implement reasonable measures under the circumstances of each market to ensure social distancing of vendors and customers, increased hygiene practices, and other public health measures to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 at farmers markets consistent with guidance issued by the Iowa Department of Public Health, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

Any other farmers market, festival, or community gathering of ten or more people that does not comply with these requirements is prohibited. Customers of farmers markets are strongly encouraged to engage in social distancing, wear a mask or other protective face-covering if unable to maintain a distance of six feet from others, practice good hygiene practices, and attend the market alone without other family members.

Who will venture to a farmers market at this point in the arc of the coronavirus pandemic? Iowa is projected to reach peak resource utilization and number of deaths per day about May 4 according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Once we reach peak, we will be only halfway through the number of positive test results and deaths from COVID-19. In other words, it will be at least six to eight weeks after peak before the incidence of cases and deaths tapers off to a level regular people are willing to risk exposure to do normal things like visit farmers markets.

Farmers markets have less to offer when stripped down to an economic exchange of money for food. Tasting radishes and the like will be restricted and impractical under the proclamation. Interaction between customers and farmers is a key aspect of a market and restricting it diminishes them. It is more difficult to get to know the face of the farmer when they are wearing a mask.

Farmers are developing other means to get to market while social distancing. Our local food hub developed and is implementing an on line ordering system to minimize human contact during the pandemic. While not the best, it does provide some market for growers and as a local solution can be more acceptable to local food seekers than the governor’s proclamation. Interest in community supported agriculture rose since the pandemic began with every operator I know full or expanded this season.

We hope the coronavirus will eventually recede into the background the way influenza has. Until there is a vaccine that works consumers are expected to be skeptical about going places that are not essential. Given the low level of trust people have in our government, no proclamation from the governor will change that.


Earth Day 50 Years Later

Earthrise by Bill Anders, Dec. 24, 1968

I helped organize my home town for the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970.

Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders’ Dec. 24, 1968 Earthrise photograph changed the way we look at our lives. We became aware of the fragility of human society spinning through the void of space.

As we complete the 50th year since then, society changed.

The Environmental Protection Agency was created in December 1970. The Republican president led an effort to protect our natural environment through legislation including The Clean Air Act (1970), The Clean Water Act (1972), The Endangered Species Act (1973), and more. These laws made positive things possible.

50 years later our government seems ready to throw all that in the ditch because it is too much of a burden for business. Powerful interests infiltrated our government. Corporations write environmental laws that protect their interests first, rather than the common good. A form of nationalism is rising which says, “Put America first.”

We live in a global society in which we are intimately connected, as Anders’ photo suggests. Large American companies manage a global supply chain and produce much of their revenue in other countries. We are connected as the current pandemic suggests: the coronavirus does not recognize national borders.

We must transcend nationalism and consider the best interests of everyone. We must lead in a way only the United States can. On the first Earth Day we thought that was possible.

I hope it still is.

~ Published in the Solon Economist on April 16, 2020.

Kitchen Garden

False Spring

Pulling plastic at Wild Woods Farm, Feb. 23, 2020.

Sunday a group of us gathered at Wild Woods Farm to pull plastic over the new greenhouse.

Pulling plastic takes a couple of experienced team leaders and a crew that can follow directions. The idea is to make the plastic covering as taught as possible then secure it with wiggle wire for years of use. The work proceeded as planned on a warm, clear and calm day.

It’s pruning time for grape vines, fruit trees, and any kind of tree. This weekend people were pruning in t-shirts because it was so warm. The concern is sap begins to flow before the cuts heal, creating an entry point for disease. Fingers crossed I got mine pruned in time. Folks are preparing to tap maple tree sap for syrup so we are at the in between time for finishing pruning.

My onions and shallots have sprouted and I moved them to the landing to get more light. They seem feeble at this stage. I’m not sure what else I can do but make sure they have moisture and light. This is the second year I tried starting them myself. The first didn’t produce usable onion sets. This year’s experiment is for the crew at Sundog Farm to start some of my shallot seeds as well to compare results. Eventually I’ll get this right, hopefully this year.

While garden and yard work beckons it is still winter. Piles of snow remain on the ground. Snow is forecast this week. There is hope for spring, but it is a false hope. It’s best to use the time to catch up on indoors work so when true spring arrives we are ready.


100 Years of Iowa Parks

Jerry Reisinger at the Solon United Methodist Church, Feb. 7, 2020

Dedicated in 1920 as Iowa’s first state park, Backbone State Park, is one of the most geographically unique locations in Iowa, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The steep and narrow ridge of bedrock from the Maquoketa River forms the highest point in northeast Iowa — The Devil’s Backbone — giving the park its legendary name.

The park originally had three words in its name: Devil’s Back Bone, according to Jerry Reisinger who gave a presentation about the state parks on Feb. 7 at the United Methodist Church. That was a bit spooky so the “devil” part was dropped.

The centennial celebration is replete with organized fishing tourneys, bicycle touring, jogging, hiking, boating, bird watching and other events. While it’s a bit old school, taking a picnic luncheon to enjoy with family at a state park is a popular activity.

There is a traveling art exhibition called 20 artists 20 parks organized by DNR, the Iowa Arts Council and Iowa State University.

To mark the 100th anniversary of Backbone State Park’s dedication, a three-day festival is planned May 28-30 with all events open to the public.

Expansion of the state park system seems unlikely as farmers seek to increase acreage for crop production. The state parks made it to the centennial and that seems worth celebrating.

Kitchen Garden

October Days

Sunrise over the garden, Oct. 10, 2019.

The forecast calls for 32 degrees tonight so tomatoes and peppers need gleaning from the garden.

There aren’t many left, maybe enough to make the effort useful. While at it, I’ll pick apples I can reach as well.

It is the end days for this year’s garden.

My farmer friends have already been through their fields. They remind me the garden season is not over as kale and other greens, root vegetables, and some squash will continue to grow. They have high tunnels which extend the season. I’m in the fall share with one of them and look forward to seeing what we will receive on Monday.

Last night I made a burger that violated Anthony Bourdain’s instructions on keeping it simple. Using a veggie burger, I thawed a frozen bun leftover from a potluck in the microwave. Buttering it, I placed it butter-side down on the frying pan with the burger patty. When it toasted, I removed it from the heat and piled on mustard, ketchup, a tomato slice, lettuce and onions. It stood three inches tall when fully assembled and hit all the flavor notes. It was a positive, day-ending meal.

Political interests turn toward the school board. One incumbent and five other candidates are running for two seats in the Nov. 5 election. I don’t know any of them very well and plan to attend a forum hosted by the Solon Education Association and the Solon Parent Teacher Organization on Oct. 22. Being on the school board is a thankless, unpaid job that requires a lot of engagement. People are upset with the way the board implemented recent changes to collective bargaining law. It is important to make an informed decision.

On Our Own has become something of a public journal, especially since Mother died on Aug. 15. I’m not sure of the future direction, but for now it serves. There is a lot to engage us in a busy society. Some of that needs consideration for further understanding.

Living in Society Reviews Social Commentary Writing

Parade and Fragments

Sprayer in the Solon Beef Days Parade

A summer parade in Iowa is a chance to showcase lives for the entire community.

Farmers, restaurateurs, insurance agents, bankers, retailers, construction companies, government organizations and more cleanup their equipment and parade it through town handing out treats and small gifts along the route.

People line the street to watch, sitting on lawn chairs, standing under shade trees and chatting with friends on the sidewalk. It’s mostly for children yet adults get involved as well. Anyone can stand almost anything that marches by in the span of a couple of minutes.

Solon Beef Days Parade Watchers


In 2013 our situation got dire. I had run out of money and held no job that paid enough. Not wanting to return to transportation, I took one low wage job after another to earn enough to get by. Most of the work involved standing on concrete floors, which precipitated a case of plantar fasciitis. Not only did my feet hurt, on a physician’s advice I gave up jogging after 37 years because of it. While the condition is resolved, it persisted until I left full-time work in 2018.

Expenses got delayed during this period, as did preventive health care. It wasn’t clear how tight money had been until I began taking Social Security benefits which brought relief.


An Early Thanksgiving

The story begins with the proximity of relatives. Our maternal grandmother and grandfather made visits to our home. I never knew my paternal grandparents except in stories and photographs. As much as anything, my grandparent story is about my relationship with Grandmother from my earliest memories until she died Feb. 7, 1991.

We were lucky to have her with us for so long.

Grandmother had five children and 15 grandchildren. She spent more time with our family because of our proximity. She lived with us off and on during my early years, but eventually maintained her own apartment. In later life she lived at the Lend-A-Hand, a residence for women at the time, then moved to the Mississippi Hotel where she lived the last years of her life in an apartment until moving to the Kahl Home for a brief period. Grandmother had many sisters and a brother. We had a lot of relatives, or so it seemed.


I read The Overstory by Richard Powers. It engaged in a way most fiction fails to do. The author must have spent an enormous amount of time researching trees, forests, and the culture around them. He wove them into a spellbinding narrative. I could go on gushing about the book, but just pick it up and read it. If you do, and are interested in the environment, I doubt there will be any regrets.