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.

Environment Living in Society Sustainability

Day to Day Politics

2018 Top Instagram Photos

Last June I broke publicly from our state representative Bobby Kaufmann and endorsed Democratic candidate Jodi Clemens for House District 73 in a letter to the editor of the Solon Economist.

With a circulation of less than 1,000 weekly copies, I’m not sure my endorsement was widely read.

I went on to post three additional pieces critical of Kaufmann before the midterm elections. I am confident he saw the ones in the local newspaper. He won the election without breaking a sweat.

Today’s question is whether I should drive to town to attend his town hall meeting. The 88th Iowa General Assembly convenes tomorrow.

Yesterday I emailed Kaufmann my priorities for the session, mentioning three things:

  • The legislature should support ways farmers can produce more revenue per acre.
  • I questioned the need for more tax relief and encouraged him to find a permanent solution to the back fill problem Republicans created in 2013 when they altered property taxes for farmers and corporations.
  • I reminded him of our local issue of keeping the restriction on larger horsepower boat motors on Lake Macbride during boating season.

Of everything on my political wish list, these three things seem possible yet also insufficient. The better way to impact the legislature would have been for Clemens to have won the election. We came up short. It’s time to accept the results and move on.

In a Sept. 24, 2016 opinion piece in the Cedar Rapids Gazette I articulated what is most important in society: follow the golden rule, nuclear abolition, and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Under President Trump, none of these is going well in our government. My work continues regardless of who my elected officials might be. Politics by its nature will almost always disappoint and party affiliation of our leaders does nothing to change the primacy of these focal points for action.

I’m left wondering why I would attend today’s town hall meeting when there is other, more important work to do.

The legislative agenda is being set by Republicans. If Democrats were in charge, it would be much different. I don’t accept the mental construct that the opposition party should resist the party in power as an end goal for the Iowa legislature. Likewise the idea we are “holding elected officials accountable” by constantly calling and emailing them is off the mark. I’ve been in Senator Chuck Grassley’s D.C. office when such calls came in and the impact was a tick mark in a pro or con column on a tally sheet to be read by staff. Grassley gets his legislative feedback directly from Iowans in his annual tour around the state, and from the Washington, D.C. community of which he has long been a part. So it is with with local representatives. That’s a case for showing up today, although not a strong one.

When I wake each day I don’t think about politics until I read the newspapers. As humans we are attracted to conflict and there’s plenty of it recounted in news media. Republicans have been a long time coming to power. Now that they have it, they are remaking the state in their eyes, changing long-standing policy. That’s the nature of political power. The longer conservative Republicans maintain control of government the harder it becomes for Democrats to undo policy changes. With two more years under Republican hegemony it seems unlikely there is any going back to what used to be.


Snow stopped falling overnight. The driveway needs clearing then there’s community organizing work for the coming year. Our infrastructure needs maintenance and if we don’t do it, no one will. Isn’t that always the case?

It reduces to a simple maxim that guides me through life: there is no other, just the one of which we are all a part. That perspective gets lost in today’s political culture. Working to improve our culture is as important as anything else we do. Such work starts at home where I expect I will spend the day.

Home Life

Returning to the Trail

Jewelweed on the Lake Macbride Trail

I view trail hiking with trepidation.

Since entering a low-wage work world a few years ago, where standing for long shifts on concrete floors contributed to plantar fasciitis, I haven’t jogged and reduced the amount of trail hiking I do. Now that I’m semi-retired, my feet appear to be healing. I’d like to get back out on the trail on a regular basis.

We live near an entry point to the Lake Macbride State Park trail system.

The hard-packed gravel trail runs from the state park entry, five miles east to the City of Solon. It is well used by hikers, bicyclists, joggers and locals, and soon will be connected to a much larger trail system. Over the years I’ve used it a lot, notably as a jogging trail where in peak condition I’d jog five miles each day before heading into Cedar Rapids for work.

Friday I hiked home from Solon after dropping my automobile at the repair shop, then hiked back to town once it was repaired: six miles.

The trail is changing.

Human activity in the form of development has taken the biggest toll on nature. The Solon Recreation and Nature Area has been encroaching on natural areas near the trail since it was established. Addition of a paved, concrete bike path near the railroad easement has taken even more of the natural area out of the trail. The city end of the trail has been a mess since the construction began and will end up being an industrialized area rather than the nature it purports to be in its naming. I ran into a townie I know who said designers plan to keep the gravel portion of the trail. If that’s true, it is a blessing because there are so few low impact trails in the area.

My trail experience is partly about exercise, partly about viewing the condition and maintenance of the trail. I enjoy finding new wildflowers like the Jewelweed in the image above. When there were more of them I picked wild blackberries, competing with birds for the sweet treat. The good news is my feet didn’t ache Saturday morning and on Sunday they returned to normal. I should be able to hike regularly again… and complain about human activity encroaching on nature right in front of my eyes.

Lake Macbride from the Trail, Sept. 7, 2018

Living in Society Social Commentary

‘I’ve got mine’ is not enough

Main Street in Solon

Our town has a bustling Main Street thanks to smart investments by the city council and willing businessmen and women.

Shops serve basic needs: hair styling, hardware, groceries, fuel and insurance. There are plenty of restaurants. The newspaper is located off Main Street at the only four-way traffic light in town. The library and medical clinic are down the hill. New construction is building capacity for shops and I hope the city welcomes entrepreneurs who give it a go.

Solon’s downtown seems idyllic: a place to forget about the rest of the world for a while. Many of us appreciate that aspect of living here.

At the same time, the Solon area also serves as a bedroom community for lives elsewhere.

During 24 years our family lived here I’ve worked in Cedar Rapids, Coralville, the Quad Cities, Iowa City and North Liberty. I’ve travelled to 40 of the 50 states and to Canada on business and on holiday. We bought our first home computer in 1996 when we connected to the World Wide Web. All of this is to say despite our idyllic setting we live in a much broader world.

There’s the rub. In the generally happy, peaceful and pleasant setting we’ve made for ourselves we bear some responsibility for what goes on elsewhere. We’ve got ours, but what about the rest of society? When we see the tumult and conflict in the United States and around the world it is not enough to say, “I’ve got mine.”

Protecting what we value in society falls on each of us whether it is public safety on our roads or doing something about the genocide in Myanmar. There is something to work on for each of us and Solon makes the perfect base camp for us to make a difference. We should make a difference.

~ Published Oct. 12, 2017 in the Solon Economist

Living in Society

Haying and the School Board Election

Hay Bales

Haying is a social and economic movement and around here farming takes precedence over schooling.

There’s a school board election Sept. 12 in farm country.

Farmers are buying 9,000-foot spools of Brazilian baler twine, windrow teeth, left and right handed rake wheels, baling wire, reels of bale netting and a lot more.

Tens of thousands of straw and hay bales have been harvested the last couple of weeks. Some went into bunkers and barns, some sit in large round rolls near the field, and some were sold and trucked out.

Because of Thursday’s rain showers more farmers than usual came to town. I got an update on the season from several of them at the home, farm and auto supply store. Not one talked about the school board elections.

Thursday was also the school board election filing deadline in Iowa. I live in the Solon Community School District where activities of the school board continue as background noise to a number of large construction projects. Since 2000, district resources have been invested in a new high school, a ready to open middle school, a new performing arts center, a new football stadium and a new sports complex. Except for the graduates who stayed in town, public works projects are the most visible aspect of recent school board activities.

I tried to get the skinny about who was running for three seats in the Sept. 12 election but no one seemed to know, including current and former board members, the newspaper, and local political activists. I found out from the county auditor after the filing deadline. Four people filed for three open seats.

The terms of Dick Schwab, Rick Jedlicka and Tim Brown are up this year. Jedlicka and Brown filed for re-election and barring controversy should be easily re-elected. Former board member Dan Coons and newcomer Nichole Pizzini also filed. Schwab decided to end his long service on the board, opting to move out of state before the next school board term would have ended. That leaves his seat open for either Coons or Pizzini in this non-partisan election.

A few years back a local group, many of whom were associated with Saint Mary’s Catholic Church, made a successful, concerted effort to take control of the Solon school board. Coons and Brown were candidates the group supported. Both are registered Republicans according to Johnson County Auditor records.

Pizzini’s family has long been interested in politics. Her husband, Shawn Mercer, filed for state representative as a Democrat when Ro Foege retired in 2008. He withdrew once party leaders indicated Nate Willems of Mount Vernon was the insider pick to replace Foege. Mercer is a current member of the Solon City Council. Pizzini is a registered Democrat.

In school board elections personality matters more than politics, so the advantage goes to Coons over Pizzini from the get-go because he organized for previous campaigns and has name recognition as a former board member. There is a stunning lack of controversy about the school board today. Because of the positives of a new middle school and sports complex, the political environment favors incumbency.

In recent years, the highest vote getter in a Solon school board election was Don Otto in 2000 with 1,118 votes, according to the county auditor’s website. Word of mouth is the most effective tool to get information from the candidates to voters. Pizzini is the underdog as a newcomer, however, with smart work she could get the votes needed to win a seat. That makes the Coons – Pizzini match up interesting. The expectation is voter turnout will be low, even with a contest, so either Coons or Pizzini could activate the number of voters required to win.

In Solon there is living memory of attending the one-room school house at the edge of town. For many we are not far removed from that time and its deep roots in farming. Nonetheless, in addition to qualified teachers, adequate, modern facilities are important. Recent school boards in Solon have delivered.

I look forward to learning more about the candidates as the campaigns progress.

Social Commentary

News from the Lake

East Wall of George's Buffet
East Wall of George’s Buffet – People’s Climate March Advertisements

LAKE MACBRIDE— A steady rain fell and continued through the night, providing respite for the weary and sound sleep. Having thought I would retreat from society on a day mostly off work, it proved to be impossible, beginning with the trip into town to vote.

Two measures were on the ballot yesterday. Voters approved a $25.5 million bond issue to build a new middle school, a performing arts center to replace the one at the current middle school, and a special education classroom in a 698-294 vote. Voters also approved renewal of the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy of $1.34 per $1,000 in assessed value when the current levy expires on June 30, 2017.

To Change EverythingThe City of Solon was platted in 1840 and named for the Athenian statesman and poet. Ironically, the school district mascot is the Spartans, and the rivalry between Athenians and the Spartans has played out in the community ever since we moved here. Relevant to yesterday’s vote, debate has been about improvement of the auditorium facilities for use between the performing arts departments, and sports enthusiasts. Sports boosters defeated performing arts in the first battles and now we have a ginormous sporting complex in the city. Engaged residents of the district have decided it is time to invest in the performing arts. A ground breaking is expected in 2015.

In addition to passing through the city, I visited the county seat to pay property taxes. I also spent some time in the auditor’s office to see where my tax dollars go. My sense was that county government workers aren’t used to a lot of questions, but I received the answers I wanted.

Poster on the Unitarian Church
Poster on the Unitarian Universalist Society Building

Advertisements for the People’s Climate March on Sept. 21 in New York City have appeared in a couple of locations in downtown Iowa City. I have been engaged to speak for five minutes about the humanitarian campaign against nuclear weapons at a supporting rally in the Iowa City pedestrian mall. That is, assuming I can get off early enough from work at the warehouse.

September and the start of school is always prime time for social movement initiatives, and a lot is at stake with regard to mitigating the causes of global warming. As the saying goes, “to change everything, it takes everyone,” and we are a very long way from engaging everyone in addressing the climate crisis.

The other piece of September news is that every freaking politician I know is doing some kind of event. Between the frequent text messages, email invitations, snail mail and telephone calls, it is impossible to miss the fact that an election is coming, and a lot is at stake. My ability to contribute in kind and financially is limited this cycle, but it is good to know politicians are working. That in itself is a form of news.


Frida Kahlo Mexican Restaurant and Lucy’s Bakery

Road Sign
Road Sign

SOLON— Frida Kahlo Mexican Restaurant and Lucy’s Bakery is open and the tres leches cake is delicious.

A friend and I stopped for afternoon coffee, and if the interior was reminiscent of previous restaurants in the space, the food was delicious. The chef made a fresh pot of coffee when we ordered. What a great place to spend an overcast Friday afternoon.

I posted previously on the new opening, and any concerns expressed there were abated by our visit. From the well organized floor space to the friendly staff, the interior is inviting and colorful. Plan to return after your first visit.

Tres Leches Cake
Tres Leches Cake – Two Kinds

The web site at has details about the menu, specials and logistics. Click on the link and check it out.

There is patio seating for when the weather is nice, and two separate sections of indoor seating when it’s not.

Located off Highway One south of town, Frida Kahlo is worth a visit, and then another.

Frida Kahlo Mexican Restaurant and Lucy’s Bakery
101 Windflower Ln. #500
Solon, Iowa 52333
Tel: 319-624-2107

​Monday through Thursday: 4 until 9 p.m.
Friday and Saturday: 11 a.m. until 10 p.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m. until 9 p.m.

Call 319-624-2107

Daily from 4 until 6 p.m.

Social Commentary

Friday at the Town Festival

Hay Bale Toss
Hay Bale Toss

SOLON— The hay bale rises above the crowd to clear the bar. Main Street is packed for the hay bay toss— a farm-related activity in a festival put on where traditional farming, matters.

Bingo has begun, a band with a local lead singer is covering The Band Perry, and the beef and pork sandwiches are sold as quickly as the crew can make them.

The restaurants on Main Street offer specials during Beef Days, local beef, food, drinks and music, but the Cattleman’s Association is in the spotlight as the sun sets and we forget about our troubles for a while.


A Second Mexican Restaurant

El Sol de Solon
El Sol de Solon

SOLON— Can a community of about 2,000 people support two Mexican Restaurants? The founders of El Sol Mexican Cuisine believe it can.

Diego Rivera (no kin to the artist) is the former owner of El Sol and a related restaurant in Mount Vernon. With his former manager, Joel Vazquez, they hope to succeed with a new venture, Frida Kahlo Mexican Restaurant and Lucy’s Bakery, in a strip mall at the edge of town.

Corner of El Sol Mexican Cuisine
Corner of El Sol

Frida Kahlo de Rivera, namesake of the new restaurant, was a Mexican painter, perhaps best known for her self-portraits.

“Her work has been celebrated in Mexico as emblematic of national and indigenous tradition, and by feminists for its uncompromising depiction of the female experience and form,” according to her website.

Kahlo has been described as “one of history’s grand divas… a tequila-slamming, dirty joke-telling smoker, bi-sexual that hobbled about her bohemian barrio in lavish indigenous dress and threw festive dinner parties for the likes of Leon Trotsky, poet Pablo Neruda, Nelson Rockefeller, and her on-again, off-again husband, muralist Diego Rivera.”

Too controversial a symbol for a small town? Time will tell, but most local people don’t dig that deeply.

The issue may be that the space for the new restaurant is a graveyard to a succession of culinary failures, most recently The Dock Fine Dining. The new venture will test the viability of the strip mall space, however, Nomi’s Asian Restaurant and Subway have been successful a few doors down, and this pair of entrepreneurs has been successful in town with their first Mexican restaurant.

Rivera recently returned from a trip to a culinary school in Mexico where he learned about pre-Hispanic cuisine.

“When the Spanish arrived in Mexico, the Aztecs had sophisticated agricultural techniques and an abundance of food, which was the base of their economy. It allowed them to expand an empire, bringing in tribute which consisted mostly of foods the Aztecs could not grow themselves. According to Bernardino de Sahagún, the Nahua peoples of central Mexico ate corn, beans, turkey, fish, small game, insects and a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, pulses, seeds, tubers, wild mushrooms, plants and herbs that they collected or cultivated,” according to Wikipedia.

One hopes for authentic dishes that are reflective of more than standard Mexican restaurant fare. Having witnessed the development of this pair of restauranteurs, Frida Kahlo Mexican Restaurant and Lucy’s Bakery looks promising.


Saturday In Photos

Main Street in Solon
Main Street in Solon

Deteriorating Building Front
Deteriorating Building Front

Southeast Corner of Main at Market
Southeast Corner of Main at Market

Southwest Corner of Main at Market
Southwest Corner of Main at Market

Michigan Cherries
Michigan Cherries

Pasta Sauce
Pasta Sauce

Pasta and Cherries
Pasta and Cherries