Work Life Writing

Two-Day Work Week

Soft shell taco, Spanish Rice, and refried beans. Midwestern staples.

Yesterday was my Monday and today is my Friday at the home, farm and auto supply store.

A two-day work week suits me.

I’m ready to call it quits from an operational standpoint. Spring is coming with its multitude of outdoors work. The two days could readily be used for more productive endeavors. It’s the paycheck that keeps me there. There is always a use for the income.

The Iowa precinct caucuses are Monday, which leaves four days to prepare for my role as temporary chair. I’m pretty well along but little else will get done in the run up to Feb. 3. After that I can focus on pruning fruit trees, getting our income taxes prepared, spring gardening, and everything else that has been delayed by winter.

Spring isn’t here, but it won’t be long.

Home Life Writing

Last Days of 2019

Front Moving East at Sunrise on Dec. 29, 2019

Snow flurried outside the dining room window for a while. I thought we might return to normal winter weather. The thought passed and snow stopped without accumulation.

We need a good streak of very cold days to prune the fruit trees. Last year it was difficult to find such a streak yet I’m hopeful this year. I’m not going to wait for ideal conditions. I’ll take what we get in our evolving climate.

This year’s reckoning with the past and planning for the future is taking more time and effort. It’s not because I did more. The process has been more organized and thoughtful than in recent years. I’m conscious of my age and weighing carefully which projects and activities will get my attention. At the end of it I want a definite plan with time lines. It’s a better process.

While our personal lives went okay in 2019, our participation in broader society was like the wafting odors from nearby feedlots. It was hard to stay separate from the international shit storm.

As Julian Borger pointed out in The Guardian, 2019 was the year U.S. foreign policy fell apart. “Donald Trump’s approach to the world is little more than a tangle of personal interests, narcissism and Twitter outbursts,” he wrote. That’s no way to run a country, even if a majority seeks to isolate American interests from the rest of global society. We can do better than this.

Steven Piersanti wrote on, “Under the bankrupter-in-chief, the national debt is skyrocketing while economic growth is lagging.” Trump is running the country just like he ran his failed businesses, according to Piersanti. “The country’s economic resources are being wasted and our economic health is endangered.”

“The next 12 months will determine whether the world is capable of controlling nuclear proliferation, arresting runaway climate change, and restoring faith in the United Nations,” Stewart Patrick wrote at World Politics Review. Those things matter to everyone and positive outcomes on any of them are dubious without American leadership. President Trump, ditcher of nuclear arms control agreements, critic of the need to address climate change, and bad-mouther of the United Nations does not appear to have an appetite or the capacity to lead at home or abroad. The prospects are bleak on these fronts and more until government changes hands.

It comes back to personal planning for next year. What amount of time will I devote to addressing these problems? The overarching motivation is to remove our current federal elected representatives from office and replace them with people who understand the importance of foreign policy.

At the same time, I can’t let politics be a single thing that absorbs all my time. Regardless of the Republican shit storm, we each need balance in our lives.

It’s taking a little longer to plan this year but the premise of it comes back to my tag line. How shall we best sustain our lives in a turbulent world?

A toast to 2019, an aspirin and vitamin for 2020, and off we go into an uncertain future with the potential for great things.

Home Life

Into Winter

Iowa Winter

After I returned from a shift at the home, farm and auto supply store I scrubbed and cut up potatoes to roast for dinner. Roasted potatoes, a burger patty and frozen peas made a dinner — comfort food as winter approaches.

The Thanksgiving leftovers are gone, our pantry and ice box are full. There was no need to grocery shop after my shift comme d’habitude.

In eight weeks it will be time to start onions, leeks, and shallots inside, then begin soil blocking at the farm a week or two later. For now there’s indoors work of reading, writing, cooking and cleaning.

A neighbor put out bird feeders to attract birds, then expressed concern that cats were hanging around, chasing the birds away and prompting her dogs to bark at them. I wrote a response.

This is an interesting topic. Although I don’t have any solution to the issue of dogs barking at wandering cats, by putting out bird seed, like I have, a person attracts a variety of animals to the yard, which includes not only birds but mice, voles, chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons, deer, and maybe others.

Because of our proximity to the state park, we see almost every species native to Iowa here.

The bird feeder also brings predators of small animals, including cats, but also hawks, owls, and foxes. Then there are the scavengers like possums, turkey vultures and crows.

My point is when we decide to place a bird feeder out we are creating an ecosystem, especially if we fill feeders year-around. If members have pets, they should be kept on a leash or indoors, that’s long been our policy. However, there is a bigger ecosystem that will continue, even in the event pets can be controlled.

On that note, we head into winter.


2019-2020 Winter Reading List

2019-2020 Winter Reading List

Ten books queued on my bedside table for winter reading:

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick.

What I Stand For is What I Stand On: The Collected Essays of Wendell Berry 1969 – 2017.

The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World by Charles C. Mann.

A Life on the Middle West’s Never-ending Frontier by Willard L. ‘Sandy’ Boyd.

The Mosquito: A Human History of our Deadliest Predator by Timothy C. Winegard.

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond.

Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis by Jared Diamond.

Energy: A Human History by Richard Rhodes.

Presidents of War by Michael Beschloss.

Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974 by Kevin M. Kruse and Julian E. Selizer.

I will add some fiction, cooking, and gardening books as winter progresses. Feel free to share what you are reading this winter in the comments.

Kitchen Garden

Chickpea Salad

Chick pea salad sandwich

An acquaintance from the Climate Reality Project posted a photo essay depicting the process of making a “‘No-Tuna’ Salad Sandwich” on Instagram. I found the recipe on line and made the dish for lunch.

Mostly vegetarian, I long for food eaten at home with Mother. Because of over fishing, slavery in the Asian tuna business, and the negative impact of global warming on fish stocks there are plenty of reasons to eschew tuna and other seafood. If I don’t consume it, someone else will and that’s another problem of society on a long list of them.

The recipe produced a tasty meal, reminiscent of tuna sandwiches of my youth, but not. With a few tweaks the recipe will be a keeper.

Chickpea Salad (Modified from an original recipe by Dana Schultz)


1 – 15 ounce can of chickpeas or 425 grams cooked, drained and rinsed
3 tablespoons tahini
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup diced red onion
1/4 cup diced celery
1/4 cup diced dill pickle
1 teaspoon capers, drained
Salt and black pepper to taste


Mash the chick peas in a bowl, leaving the mash uneven with some peas left whole.

Add tahini, mustard, honey, red onion, celery, pickle, capers, salt and pepper and mix to incorporate. Adjust seasonings as needed.

Refrigerate to enable the flavors to meld together.

Scoop a generous amount on a slice of toasted bread and garnish with lettuce, tomato and Dijon mustard or as desired. Can also be used on crackers as a party appetizer.

Four sandwich-sized servings.

Kitchen Garden

Seeders Galore

Kale one week after planting.

I was first to break the snow on 120th Street while driving east to the farm for a soil blocking shift. There were a lot of people in the germination shed participating in a complex bartering situation. I’m not sure any money would ever change hands.

I planted:


Extra Triple Curled, Ferry – Morse, 75 days.


Blue Wind, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 49 days.

The kale uniformly germinated since last week. I should have plenty of starts to cull, plant, and give away. No apparent action on the leeks and celery. They take longer to germinate.

I got out into the garden briefly this week. There is the usual spring week to do. The ground remains hard, even with the recent rain. Planting is a while away. Lettuce seeds are ready to go in.

Summary: Recent rain melted most of the old snow but it ran off because the ground is still frozen. New snow fell last night. We’re running behind and so is everyone. I was asked what’s new in my garden this year. I have guajillo chilies and tomatillos planned. A Mexican food sub plot. Tacos and more tacos.


Flooding at Mill Creek

Cedar River at Iowa Highway One Sept. 27, 2016 at 11:36 a.m.

Mill Creek swelled its banks swamping nearby farm fields. It looks like the nearby city sewer system was spared inundation… for now.

Snow melt is everywhere in the county. Inches of packed snow yielded to ambient temperatures in the 50s and continuous rain. After a frigid, snowy winter the ice and snow pack is melting all at once. Snow was here Sunday and now is mostly gone.

Winter’s damage is being revealed. Our driveway buckled with the big swings in temperature. In one event, ambient temperatures swung more than 70 degrees in a day. Ice melted, then refroze under the cement, buckling the slabs leading to the road. Yesterday’s rain diverted inside the garage because of a buckle, requiring clean up to prevent further damage. Whether the buckled driveway will settle back down as it has before is unknown. It’s never been this bad.

The scale of the melt in a short period of time is what has Mill Creek flooding. Farmers removing buffer strips to grow a few more rows near the creek will take topsoil and farm chemicals downstream. It was foolish to sacrifice topsoil for a few more bushels of corn or beans. Farmers who did this likely didn’t see it that way even though flooding is not new to the area. Topsoil can’t be easily replaced but chemicals can.

Is this about climate change?

“A historic March blizzard is taking shape across Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota,” according to the National Weather Service. “Between one and two feet of snow is expected in some locations with wind gusts as high as 80 MPH.”

It is called a “bomb cyclone.” With hurricane strength, it has been forming over the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains, creating blizzard conditions and stranding hundreds of motorists.

“During the first 10 days of March, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center recorded more than 500 avalanches statewide (a record number),” wrote Jonathan Romeo in the Durango Herald. “For the season, a total of eight people have been killed in avalanches.”

Issues abound. Icebergs and open water were found on Norton Sound near Nome, Alaska where the Ititarod Sled-Dog Race finished this week. It’s raining in Greenland when it shouldn’t be. Global oceans are at the highest heat content on record. The planet is warming, there is no doubt.

It won’t take long for water to recede into the banks of Mill Creek. When everything melts at once, immediate damage is exacerbated, the duration shortened.

My colleagues with The Climate Reality Project are meeting this week in Atlanta to train another group of leaders. As newcomers join thousands of others, let’s work to mitigate the effects of climate change on humans. March has been a month where the evidence of climate change has come to the forefront. March has run only half its course.


Tuesday Snow Melt

Snow Melt Patterned by Deer Hooves

Depressions in the snow pack made a Swiss cheese-looking melt outside the French door where we feed wildlife.

Deer are nocturnal grazers, eating what birds, squirrels and mice don’t, leaving their hoof prints behind in the snow.

We hope this melt is the end of winter. Despite problems with downstream flooding, we are glad to see it go.

It has been a solitary winter. So cold we didn’t feel much like leaving home. So snow-packed it was a struggle to get into the yard. The driveway buckled, providing new places for ice melt to pool. Reading, writing, cooking and hanging out were tasks to relish for the season. It is time to turn the page.

Kitchen Garden

Early Garden Planting

First Seeds Planted in the Greenhouse on March 10, 2019

I planted seeds at the greenhouse and am hopeful of the results. Here’s what I planted:


Scarlet, Seed Savers Exchange, 60 days.
Winterbor, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 60 days.
Starbor, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 55 days.


Tall Utah, Seed Savers Exchange, 100 days.
Conquistador, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 80 days.


Megaton, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 90 days.
King Richard, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 75 days.
American Flag, Ferry-Morse, 150 days.

The garden continues to be snow covered. According to the National Weather Service, frost in the region is estimated to be 24 to 36 inches in the ground. Needless to say, until I can see the ground, I can’t dig in it.

Summary: The garden is running behind, the greenhouse is chilly, and the soil is frozen. Planting in the ground will be delayed until the soil can be worked. Hopefully the greenhouse starts will be successful. Garden work has begun.

Environment Kitchen Garden Work Life

Wind Howled All Day

Squirrels Dining on Sunflower Seeds

The store manager from the home, farm and auto supply store phoned Sunday afternoon to ask me to work on Monday. The colleague who assumed my full time job last spring was visiting family in Nebraska and bad weather closed roads across the state, including Interstate 80. She couldn’t make it back in time for her shift.

In Iowa, helping out is part of our culture. I said yes I’d work and rearranged my plans so I could.

In addition, the farmer decided the weather was bad enough she didn’t want people venturing out to the farm. The roads were iced over and the wind howled at 30 miles per hour all day. Her sister, the shepherdess, posted social media photos of installing a new anemometer and weather station. Its LED panel displayed the digital message, “hold onto your hat!”

As I was settling in last night, the Washington Post put up an article about White House plans to form an “ad hoc group of select federal scientists to reassess the government’s analysis of climate science and counter conclusions that the continued burning of fossil fuels is harming the planet.”

In other words, the Fourth National Climate Assessment told the story of how dire our future could be without climate action. Rather than doing something, the administration is arguing with their own scientists that global warming is not caused by burning fossil fuels. These are times that will fry men’s souls.

Which part of yesterday’s howling wind was an amplification caused by global warming? The answer doesn’t matter because it’s the wrong question. We know the deleterious effect of burning fossil fuels. We also know thawing permafrost, agriculture, methane releases during oil production, building construction, manufacturing processes, air transport, deforestation, landfill decomposition and other human activities contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. We can’t get bogged down in details when the bigger picture is we have an obstructionist government led by Republicans and their conservative, dark-moneyed think tanks who would interpret the howling wind as something else. The better question is when will voters do something to fix this?

Yesterday’s wind was the kind that calls for hunkering down until it ends. Eventually we will have a calm, sunny day and the opportunity to work as normal. Or maybe it is something else, as Bob Dylan sang in the 1970s,

Idiot wind, blowing like a circle around my skull
From the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capitol
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth
You’re an idiot, babe
It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe.