Getting Beyond Coal

Move UI Beyond Coal, near Jessup Hall on the University of Iowa Pentacrest. Photo by the Author on Nov. 16, 2011.

In 2019, the University of Iowa signed a 50-year contract for a consortium of private companies to operate their coal-fired power plant and more. They should have phased out the coal plant and initiated a plan to transition to alternatives to provide the electricity and steam required. No one was listening to any of the advocates for shuttering the plant. They hadn’t been listening for years. It was an inside deal in an increasingly less than transparent state government.

In return for a $1.2 billion cash payment to fund an endowment, the university assumed different responsibilities regarding the facility. The consortium attorneys contend they didn’t understand their role and did not meet contractual obligations, according to the lawsuit. For Pete’s sake, not even three years in and there is a lawsuit? Shaking my head.

In November 2011, there was a demonstration at Jessup Hall on the University of Iowa Pentacrest urging then president Sally Mason to cease operation of the coal-fired power plant. We delivered a petition to her office. There were speeches on the steps of Jessup Hall. I gave a speech, among others.

Our deeds that day fell on deaf ears.

I remember when mass mobilizations and demonstrations could accomplish positive things in society. The best example was in 1974 when we drove Richard Nixon to resign from office as president. Those days are no more.

Instead of making social progress, big money politics of a wealthy consortium wielded their power to make more money. Filing a lawsuit is just part of the deal, even if the details over which they are suing should have been clarified well before a signature was inked.

Because the state, and the board of regents, is involved, taxpayers will ultimately pay for the suit. That’s not the future we had hoped for when we advocated for the University of Iowa to go beyond coal.


Climate Slog Begins

Sky during a January tornado warning. Two tornadoes touched down in Iowa County, the first winter tornadoes in 56 years.

There is a lot of climate-related stuff going on in Iowa. The presumption that made Iowa an agricultural center is there would be enough naturally occurring rain in the growing season to support our major crops of corn, soybeans, and hay. I’m not sure where winter tornadoes fit in. On Jan. 16, two tornadoes were sighted near Williamsburg, Iowa, the first winter tornadoes in 56 years.

There is an ongoing drought about which some local buddies and I talked on Tuesday. Our discussion centered around good yields with drought resistant seeds, pivot irrigation rigs found near Marengo, and the need to protect the Silurian aquifer where our village well draws its water. We shouldn’t want to become like western Nebraska where they are drawing down the Ogallala aquifer. Things appear to be akilter as far as atmospheric moisture and precipitation goes. Corn and beans won’t grow without rain.

It is important for our government get involved with mitigating the effects of climate change. Doing something significant is beyond the power of a single citizen or community. I wrote our U.S. House Representative this week to encourage what she’s doing already.

Congratulations on being assigned to the Committee on Energy and Commerce and for providing some history of the committee’s work in your last newsletter.

I’m writing today to encourage your work on the House Conservative Climate Caucus. I also note your participation at COP 26 and COP 27. Thank you for engaging in one of the most important issues facing our society.

While you and I may not always agree on how to approach climate solutions, I believe the science will out. If anything, you have repeated you believe in science-based solutions. I agree with that wholeheartedly.

Good luck in the 118th Congress. I’ll write again if I have any more specific requests.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide feedback.

Email to Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks on Jan. 16, 2023.

If I hear back, I’ll post the response here. I’m not hopeful she or her office will respond, as they did not respond to my last email in 2022.

With Republicans assuming the reins of government in Iowa, everything about addressing the climate crisis will be a slog. Because political work to gain more climate friendly representation during the last three cycles proved futile, we have to make do what what we have. That means staying in tune with what’s going on in the atmosphere and spreading the word as it is revealed. It will not be super-sexy work, yet it is what is needed and climate action takes a back seat to tax cuts for the wealthy.

I have confidence we’ll slog through it no matter how difficult.

Living in Society

Into 2023

Winter dawn.

Thursday’s 60-degree ambient temperature was weird. The seventy-degree, one-week swing from ten below zero was bad enough. It won’t be good for our fruit trees. They are already weirded out by double leafing last year. Hopefully cold weather returns soon.

I don’t make “New Year’s Resolutions” any more yet there are activities upon which to focus in 2023. Here’s a brief list:

  • Last winter I finished writing in February. This year I want my off-line writing, mainly of my autobiography, to continue throughout the year.
  • More than 300 books have been donated from my library to charity this winter. I set aside 30 minutes each week to work on my library. The goal is to organize it by project and to make the book display more useful to my life and writing. Hundreds of additional books will be donated in 2023.
  • This year’s iteration of a kitchen garden will continue toward growing things we use and expanding the varieties and quality of plants. How produce grown is used in meal preparation is also a consideration for improvement.
  • Regular exercise is important to health. I seek to take advantage of the trail system surrounding us by using it more and in different ways.
  • As suggested in my post about budget, I seek to supplement income to enable new things beyond basic living.
  • We made a home project list of things to fix, make, or do to improve the quality of our home’s physical structure.
  • With Republicans dominating the state legislature and having exclusive control of our federal delegation, we’ll be playing defense in politics. My letters to the editor during the recent campaign were mostly critical of the two Republicans who will now represent me at the state house. To get anything other than defense done will require more work. This is a new reality with which to cope.
  • I need to sort through advocacy issues and pick one. Climate change has been the go to, yet I’m not sure it will be in 2023 when so many other issues beg for attention. I plan to sort through this as we approach the beginning of the 90th Iowa General Assembly on January 9.

This list does not represent significant change from previous years. If anything, activities have been distilled for clarity and reduced in number. That should make life in 2023 more livable.

Living in Society

Happy Holidays 2022!

Christmas Display

As we enter the main holiday season, thank you for reading my posts on Journey Home. Writing them helps me more than you’ll know. As many recurring visits from readers as I see, I’m confident about providing value by publishing here. I plan to continue.

It’s time for me to hunker down with my books, papers, maps, music, and computers and make a go of winter writing again. It is time to start the onions and leeks in trays. It is time to write a budget with funds for writing supplies as needed. The pantry, refrigerator and freezer are stocked. While it may be cold outside, there’s plenty to keep a writer busy.

My new year’s wish is for readers to have the freedom to find and be their authentic selves. That’s not as easy as it may sound.

Happy Holidays, or as we said where I grew up, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Living in Society

2022 In Review

Broken furnace fan.

What did I do all year? I am at the point in retirement I had to look. One day blends into the next and I lose track of the calendar.

There is no ending the coronavirus pandemic. The governor extended the state’s Public Health Disaster Emergency Proclamation on Feb. 3, announcing it will expire at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 15. After that, the coronavirus becomes normalized in daily, routine public health operations, she said. By declaring the pandemic normalized, the governor washed her hands of it. We are on our own. I still wear a protective KN-95 mask when among large groups of people, mostly when grocery shopping.

I got more involved with politics than I wanted to be. I volunteered to be an alternate member of the county central committee from our precinct. The two people who replaced me did not continue for another term so I’m back to being our single, main representative. I attended the county, district and state conventions, and participated in a number of events, phone calls and meetings for varied candidates. I worked as a poll watcher at the Big Grove Precinct polling place on election day. My main work of postcard-writing, door knocking, and events was for the Kevin Kinney campaign for state senator. I continued the long-standing personal tradition of stuffing envelopes, this time for the Christina Bohannan campaign. Politics beyond county offices was a bust this year.

Our last old automobile wore out. The 2002 Subaru broke some things for which we could not get new repair parts. It was a safety issue, so we donated it to Iowa Public Radio and bought a used 2019 Chevy Spark. I would have driven the old car for a while longer if we could have gotten parts. I like the new car’s fuel economy and tight turning radius.

In March, my sister-in-law moved to Des Moines for a new job. In July, our child moved to a new apartment in the Chicago area. We helped with both moves. That is a big task for septuagenarians yet we did the best we could. They appreciated the help.

We spent about $3,000 on “home operations.” About half of that was hiring a contractor to remove stumps and cut back our overgrown lilac bushes. The other big expense was repairing the yard tractor. All of the equipment I use around the house is getting old and in coming years will need repaired or replaced. Just this week we had to replace a fan in the furnace. After almost 30 years, it was developing the sound of failure.

I continue to serve on our home owners association board and as a sewer district trustee. I wanted to exit this work in June, yet there was no one to step up and do it. There is responsibility in complying with regulations pertaining to public water and sewer systems, so it is a non-trivial job. We do the best we can. I understand this water system management is part of living outside city limits and someone has to do the work.

Most of my time was spent writing, reading, cooking and gardening. I began devoting 30 minutes per day to downsizing some of our possessions. Am hoping slow and steady gets this done. I find going through and getting rid of belongings provides new energy for projects.

I seek opportunities to socialize and would do more if I could figure a way. Plain truth is once a person is “retired” they become less of a public entity and less important as younger folks assume responsibility in society. I’m okay with fading away once the need for my services ends. When it comes to community work, though, there may never be an end.

Coming out of the pandemic has been a long process yet that’s where we are. The last three years have been punk times. I’m ready for some new plans and fresh energy. I’m confident about finding both.


Eschewing Avocados

Avocado from Mexico.

It is my minority opinion that avocados should be avoided in the United States. Don’t buy them, don’t eat them. The fruit has become popular, and because of it, Mexican growers can’t keep up with demand. This creates a problem.

To meet surging demand in the U.S., farmers in Mexico have cut down swaths of forest in the western state of Michoacán, one of the most important ecosystems in the country. By some estimates, as many as 20,000 acres of forest — the area of more than 15,000 American football fields — are cut down each year and replaced with avocado plantations. The rapid expansion of orchards will threaten forests in Mexico for years to come.

The bad news about your avocado habit by Benji Jones, Vox, Feb. 13, 2022.

Dishes like guacamole, avocado toast and smoothies taste delicious. Refined oil from the fruit is popular among foodies and nutritionists because of its unsaturated fats. By one estimate, sports fans eat through 105 million pounds of avocados on Super Bowl Sunday. The deforestation problem is directly related to such consumer demand.

The immediate catalyst for this post was a project to reduce my cookbook collection. I found many recipes for guacamole and felt we needed a reminder to moderate consumption and address the deforestation their popularity causes. I can hear long-time readers asking, “Didn’t you cover this before?” Yes, I did in the post titled, “Can Hipsters Stomach the Truth about Avocados from Mexico?” Not much has changed.

What can consumers do about deforestation which creates high-margin avocado plantations? Solutions are complicated. Ecosystem Marketplace outlines some of the challenges here. In the meanwhile, go light on the guacamole and avocado toast, and find another oil for cooking.

It is something we can do to contribute to efforts to solve the climate crisis.

Living in Society

Costs of Development

View of Trail Ridge Estates on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021.

SOLON, Iowa. — It is no surprise a year into development of Trail Ridge Estates by the Watts Group additional public costs are being identified. The first is environmental.

The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported yesterday the Watts Group was fined $3,000 by Iowa Department of Natural Resources for pumping construction runoff into a storm drain that leads to Lake Macbride. I note the Watts Group built the storm drain after developing what was previously a farm field. Such environmental pollution is part and parcel of a development this size. The lake is already feeling pressure from development and this additional loss of farmland has an impact. The matter was settled by the parties in a consent order signed Oct. 25.

What will cost more is the recently announced $25 million school bond expected to go to voters this spring. Trail Ridge Estates will contribute directly to area growth and the requirement for more classroom space in the school system.

The district, like the town of Solon, has seen a steady increase in enrollment since 2014, and anticipates planned housing developments — with another 500 new residential units — to bring additional families in to the district. Solon schools’ current enrollment is 1,450 and is expected to increase by about 350 to 750 students over the next 10 years, depending on how quickly new housing developments take shape.

Solon schools plan $25 million bond, Cedar Rapids Gazette, Nov. 28, 2022.

The farm field in development was planted mostly in corn and soybeans, so converting it into housing is no significant loss to the food system.

Trail Ridge Estates was annexed to the City of Solon and will contribute to significant growth, maybe 50 percent more than the 2020 U.S. Census count of 3,018. What may get missed in this news is the area is evolving from what it was when we moved here into something new: a more expensive, environmentally compromised place to live. While promoters of the bond issue say it won’t increase taxes, how can it not increase expense as the school system grows to match population? The district will eventually see increased costs as a result of this development.

We will welcome more information on the bond issue. I plan to study it closely yet will likely vote for the bond. Public schools are endemic to thriving communities and we want our nearby city to thrive.

Living in Society

Calendars in Place

Garage calendar in place.

Each year I get two advertising calendars: one for the garage, and one for my writing desk. This year the garage calendar is from the car dealership where we bought and service our Chevy Spark. The other is from the grocery store in town. They each serve a useful purpose while I work. Putting them in place represents the beginning of another new year.

The political climate in Iowa had me delaying plans until after the election. It is time to begin filling those calendars with hope.

Among activities planned is writing, reading, exercise and generally supporting our personal and financial well-being. There is a budget to be managed, work to maintain the physical structure of our home, and another year of yard work and gardening. The garage calendar will prove to be handy in this.

My recent posts here indicate my intellectual interests. I feel lucky to have avoided any illness which might impair intellectual capacity. I hope to keep it that way.

Now commences a review of 2022 and a course correction for the time ahead. In coming weeks, I’ll review my reading, my autobiographical and other writing, social activity, and my health. Indoors time is best for this. I’m not quite ready to begin, yet soon will be.

Repair, maintenance and improvement of the house will be a function of available resources and prioritized needs. Over the coming years we need to make sure our home is suitable for aging and the physical plant is maintained at the ready.

Today meteorologists expect snow to stick. Ambient temperatures are forecast around freezing with continuous snowfall until 6 p.m. We’ll get an inch or two. I would like a couple dry, warm days to run the mower again and make more garden mulch. With the crazy weather we have been having, that’s not out of the question in mid-November. I’ll be okay if I have to wait until spring. Blank calendars are in place.

Living in Society

Ron’s Book Sale

Books acquired at Ron’s Memorial Book Sale at the Solon Public Library.

What does a person do with 1,800 books after the owner dies? If one supports our local library, they have a book sale and donate the proceeds to Friends of the Solon Public Library. That’s what my friend Pat did after her husband Ron died just before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic in 2020.

While visiting Pat after COVID-19 had been normalized in Iowa, she offered me what books I wanted. I took one, and said I would just wait until the sale to buy more. Sometimes a person has to show up.

Besides sating my immediate reading wants and perceived needs, the sale was a chance to catch up with people in the community. The people I knew had retired or were scaling back to part time work. Our community has a small yet devoted group of readers and will show up for a book sale.

A younger me would have brought home a lot of books. Instead, I made a free will donation for these seven. I hope to read them all, likely beginning with Pat Conroy’s memoir. It will not be the same as having a conversation with Ron, who was not only well-read but could talk intelligently about almost any topic. Reading Ron’s books is no substitute for those conversations, yet that is where we are.

Iowa is among the least educated states in the country. Those of us outside academia who pursue intellectual interests get to know each other and support our public library. In our community of several thousand people there are not many of us. When someone dies, or experiences a stroke, dementia, or Alzheimer’s Disease it is a substantial loss. We are of an age when that possibility is tangible.

The first snow fell in small flakes as I left for the sale. It continued while I was browsing books, and until I arrived home. Winter has not arrived, just a reminder of it. For me that means hunkering down in the warmth of our home to read and write until spring. Those of us who remain must go on living. That’s what I plan to do.


Autumn Days

Autumn morning at Lake Macbride.

I drove across the Iowa hinterland on Saturday. Soybeans look to be harvested with corn not far behind. With dry ground, minimal wind, and cool temperatures, it was as good as it gets for a row crop harvest. Dozens of tractors, combines and grain wagons were deployed across the autumn landscape.

The trip took longer than expected because I stopped three times to check in with a political organizer. I had been done with door-to-door canvassing after the Hillary Clinton campaign, yet I’m working a couple of shifts this cycle because I feel it is needed. The organizer said he expected a lot of people to help this weekend. I’m going out this afternoon.

I have a bag full of cowboy cards to take along. Most candidates running in our district are in there. A door-knocker gets only a couple of sentences at each door. One of them is encouragement to vote on or before Nov. 8. This is paramount. Whether they will is uncertain, yet it is the best we can do in a free, midterm election.

Nine days remain before election day. Already I’ve turned to what will be next. On autumn days one thinks about the future. In a fleeting few days we will try to do something about the future by electing candidates who will pursue what is right for our community. Whatever the outcome, there will be life after the election.

The better question is whether it will be a better life. During this autumn day it is an open question.