Home Life

Sweet Corn in Big Grove

Putting up sweet corn.

My spouse and I processed local sweet corn for freezing last night. It is a relic from a past when food preservation played a bigger role in home life. We have stories about our lives with sweet corn to tell each other. A simple truth is we can buy big bags of frozen, organic cut corn from the wholesale club for less cost. If local corn is good, the taste of summer on a cob, it is worth the extra effort to buy local and put it up.

We have frozen corn leftover from last season, so our needs this year aren’t that much. Our main supplier went out of business and we’ve been hard-pressed to find a replacement. That is, we haven’t found outstanding sweet corn this year. Weather conditions have been a problem, according to our local ABC affiliate:

ELY, Iowa (KCRG) – Over thirty years as a farmer, Butch Wieneke knows what high quality sweet corn looks, and feels like. That’s why selling anything other than the best, is not an option for him and his family.

Last Thursday, they made the tough decision to stop selling.

“It just dried up. The ears weren’t filling out and I wasn’t going to sell sub-par corn. It’s just…I’m not going to do that. I don’t care what price it is,” said Wieneke.

The quality of sweet corn can change very quickly, and because of the lack of rain Eastern Iowa saw last week, the personal and public orders stopped.

Now, they’re waiting and watching to see how the crops develop.

Libbie Randall, KCRG-TV9, Aug. 2, 2022.

When we moved to Big Grove, I decided quickly to outsource sweet corn growing, in the mid-1990s. After a year or two, I found corn takes too much space and the results were not as good as what farmers produce. Because of today’s shortage, I’m considering a patch of sweet corn in next year’s garden. We’re not ready to give up on the annual family tradition and if I can produce a couple of bushels, that would best serve our culture.

While August grinds into its second week with hot, humid temperatures and plenty of rain, I’m ready to return to daily writing. I’m thankful for the break, yet there are important happenings not being covered by traditional media. When I write such stories, people find my posts and view them. I don’t have an editorial calendar yet, although as something new, I blocked out time today to write one.

The rest of the year is expected to be like drinking from a fire hose as far as news goes. I may as well dust off the keyboard and dig in now that sweet corn is put up.


Postcard from Summer Holiday – #5

Clouds before the thunderstorm, Aug. 3, 2022.

The coronavirus pandemic continues in Iowa.

The number of hospitalizations for COVID-19 increased by 25 percent last week. The number of patients requiring intensive care nearly doubled. 35 Iowans died of the virus. The number of new people being vaccinated remained low in the state at less than 60 percent. The virus is ubiquitous. Click here to read a report from the local newspaper.

While fewer people don a protective mask in public, I still carry and wear mine when going to a retail store or large indoors gathering. I’m getting out with people more, yet it is mostly outdoors events where there is less risk of contracting the virus. Thus far I tested negative on the few times I got a COVID-19 test. I am learning to live with the virus.

Tomatoes, potatoes, onions, garlic and acorn squash on Aug. 3, 2022.

It rained most of Wednesday. In between showers I picked tomatoes so they would not burst from the influx of moisture. There are some problems with the way I planted tomatoes this year. They are too close together and the patch of Roma and cherry tomatoes is not producing as well as I would have liked. It was a mistake to plant them under the shade of the oak trees. However, the San Marzano tomatoes are doing fine and there are enough to can once they reach peak ripeness. I have some empty jars from our child to fill first, then will put up as many as possible for the pantry until the season is over.

There are too many cucumbers and plenty of pickles already prepared. A family can only eat so many. Every other abundance — bell peppers, zucchini, greens — can be dealt with by freezing them for future use. Herbs can be dried.

This year my participation in society is going through a sea change. I read the extensive activity list for seniors in the newspaper and don’t feel ready to join the group. There is too much to do at home. My cohort of elected officials is finding their way to the exits and it’s not the same with new folks. Local political candidates have not been engaging as they have in the past although that frees my time. The time since I left my last job at the home, farm and auto supply store has been a landing zone. I’ve not skidded to a full stop quite yet.

Once the garden finishes in October I’ll return to my autobiography. This will be the third winter writing it. In a good world, I’ll finish the draft of the timeline through completion of graduate school up to our wedding. When the written record begins in 1974, I have another choice to make: whether to edit writing from my journals, blog posts and letters into a narrative, or to write a new narrative based on them. It could go either way. For now, I’m focused on bringing the writing to the point in 1981 when I was living on Market Street in Iowa City.

For the moment, I’m still on holiday. I want to return to daily writing yet not that much. The picture of where I land after the pandemic is complicated by the fact it is not ending. I’ll have to seek other ways forward.

For the time being, the kitchen garden — harvesting and processing vegetables for storage — consumes much of my time. It is a good thing.

Living in Society

Postcard from Summer Holiday – #4

Summer dinner during sweet corn season.

Iowa is heading into a major heat wave with ambient temperatures forecast in the high nineties by midweek. It seems it has been hot already yet this will be a scorcher with high humidity. My reaction to high heat and humidity is to get outdoors work done early in the morning, then move indoors to work at my desk or in the kitchen. Coping with heat waves has become ingrained into daily life.

I harvested the first of four tubs of potatoes yesterday. I grated and had the nicked ones for breakfast this morning. Hash browns, scrambled eggs and cherry tomatoes is one of my favorite summer breakfasts. These days we have tomatoes with everything, including locally grown sweet corn and green beans from the garden. It is the best time of year for a kitchen garden.

The freezer is beginning to fill with ingredients for future meals. The next big projects are putting up sweet corn and canning tomatoes.

Not much else to report at this point in the holiday. I’ve been getting out with people more. I avoid densely populated areas like the county seat and areas around it. It seems my sleep patterns are permanently changing to stay up and sleep later. I’ve begun reconstructing my daily schedule. Once that process is done, I’ll be back to daily writing here.

Enjoy the rest of summer! Stay cool this week!

Living in Society

Postcard from Summer Holiday – #3

Wildflowers along the state park trail.

The Midwest is bracing for a heat wave next week when ambient temperatures are forecast in the 90s. On Wednesday it is expected to reach 103 degrees. The Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Service issued a reminder to farmers of what to do to protect their investment in livestock. It is going to be a scorcher in the corn belt from top to bottom.

I finished my month of posts at Blog for Iowa earlier in the week and am ready to turn my attention back to Journey Home. This blog has had four names since I created it to move from Blogspot to WordPress in 2008. If we ever get out of the coronavirus pandemic, I might give it a fifth. We are at a distance from the end of the pandemic.

The challenge in the garden is keeping the plants watered, yet not too much. They will survive the heat with adequate hydration. Early morning or late evening watering has been best.

Tomatoes are beginning to ripen and we had our first slicers for dinner last night. Yesterday I grated and froze zucchini for winter soup and tried a quick dill pickle recipe I saw on TikTok. From here until Labor Day, part of every day will be food preservation. I have a row of San Marzano tomatoes to convert to canned wholes for use throughout the year. I tasted the first ripe ones and they were deliciously different from other varieties I have grown.

My sleep patterns have changed while on holiday. I stay up until 9 p.m. and am sleeping through the night, getting six or seven straight hours of sleep. It has been a long time since I did that. I’m hoping the new patterns persist.

I keep plugging along with reading and have almost finished Loretta Lynn’s memoir Coal Miner’s Daughter. The book reminds me of the part of Appalachia where my father was born and how people there lived and still do. Lynn’s birthplace, Butcher Holler, Kentucky, is about 85 miles from Father’s birthplace. Of course, Lynn got to know June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash through her music. June Carter Cash is a shirttail relative of ours.

It is easy to see why people liked Loretta Lynn’s music back in the 1970s. She was part of a social revolution that changed how people lived. In part, it was based on Roe v. Wade and introduction of the birth control pill which Lynn wrote about. In her song, “The Pill,” she wrote, “I’m tearing down your brooder house ’cause now I’ve got the pill.” Husband Doolittle got a vasectomy after birth of their twins and Lynn wrote about that too.

Wildflowers bloom in July with an ever-changing array of color. Now that the garden switched from planting to harvesting, I walk along the state park trail almost daily to watch nature’s changes. Even though The International Union for the Conservation of Nature added the migrating monarch butterfly to its “red list” of threatened species in July and categorized it as “endangered,” I saw a few Monarchs on the trail yesterday.

The world we know may be dying due to the climate crisis yet there is evidence of our past in every walk along the trail. Stay cool next week!

Living in Society

Postcard from Summer Holiday – #2

Wildflowers on the state park trail.

Entering the last week of July, the garden is coming on strong. The refrigerator is full, the freezer is getting full. There is a lot to do in our kitchen garden every day.

Last night’s dinner was what I’d call garden soup. I harvested a bin of vegetables and as I cleaned them threw bits and pieces (cauliflower leaves, broccoli stems, peas and cabbage leaves) into a soup pan along with mirepoix, bay leaves and seasonings. It was occasion to use up veggies that had been in the refrigerator a while, like wilted lettuce, zucchini, kale, green beans, kohlrabi, and sweet corn. I added a couple of cans of prepared beans, a handful each of lentils and barley. Soup like this always comes out good. I froze enough for two future dinners.

I adjusted to being on holiday. That means I am getting more sleep, exercising daily, eating well, and spending my days as productively as possible. There are naps… in the middle of the day.

Reading consisted of two books this month, Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler. and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I didn’t care for the violence in either of them. I started Loretta Lynn’s memoir Coal Miner’s Daughter and set aside books that require deep engagement in social or historical facts. I’ve been doing “summer reading.”

My work at Blog for Iowa turned into covering for much of the month of July. I hope readers enjoy the writing I am cross-posting here. I’ve been posting at Blog for Iowa since February 2009 and as long as the publisher continues to have an interest, so will I.

This July has been exceedingly hot. There has been good rainfall but the heat makes going outside in the afternoon oppressive. I attended an evening potluck dinner at the nearby city’s park and the breeze took away the oppressiveness. For a while it felt like summer I remember from being a grader when our home did not have air conditioning. It was a positive feeling.

I’m not back from holiday and will continue at least until Labor Day. For the moment I’m enjoying what days I can and living a life. The direction I hoped to find has been elusive yet there is time. Sometimes we need to simply drift and get our bearings.

Enjoy the rest of the summer!


Postcard from Summer Holiday – #1

Heads of garlic curing in the garage.

The main effect of summer holiday has been to get more sleep. It hasn’t been good sleep, just more of it, maybe seven or eight hours per 24-hour period. I felt fully rested a couple of days since beginning this holiday and hopefully more of the same is in the immediate future.

My main activities have been gardening, walking the trail in the nearby state park, and cooking in tune with seasonal produce from the garden. There has been time reading on my mobile device, although my book reading slowed down. It is beginning to pick up again as I just finished Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. Since my sister-in-law gave us her old television, I’ve been watching some of the January 6 Committee hearings and cooking shows on Iowa Public Television. These things are a preview of retirement life to come.

We decided I’m too old to be climbing on the roof for my annual inspection and cleaning of gutters. I haven’t resolved how to get this done yet I’m thinking of buying a drone to fly around the roof and send pictures of its condition back to the ground. At 12 years since the installation of the current roof, it may be showing some wear. When I’m ready to clean the gutters, I’ll post a notice on our community Facebook page feeling confident someone will help. The gutters do not appear to be clogged with organic debris and haven’t been since I cut down the maple tree I mistakenly planted too close to the house.

I drove our new car 1,196 miles since we bought it. A trip to Chicago, three trips to Des Moines, and the rest of the miles are local errands. It is good to own a newer car, one that runs well and gets better fuel economy. I also enjoy the ability to charge my mobile device while driving. The 2019 Chevy Spark is a subcompact and the feel of driving it is a bit rough. It’s not like I live in it, so it is tolerable. During holiday I’ve been considering what other trips I may want to make. No decisions, yet I’m looking at Saint Louis and another trip to Chicago.

When conditions are right, I spend time outdoors. There is unending garden work and a host of long delayed yard projects. There will never be enough time to do everything myself, so I’m going to have to hire some help. Once finances stabilize after replacing the freezer and auto, I’ll take a look at a fall project by a contractor.

The main purposes of this summer holiday were to rest and consider where I want to take this blog. I know some things about my writing, but haven’t made any progress toward a decision. I expect the blog will survive in some form.

For now, it has been raining with scattered thunderstorms. The lightning woke me earlier than usual this morning. If it stops raining, I’ll walk on the trail by the lake and take it all in. I’m in no hurry to determine what’s next.


Neoliberalism in Iowa: An Interview with Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann

On Wednesday, June 29, I interviewed Thom Hartmann in advance of the September release of his new book The Hidden History of Neoliberalism: How Reaganism Gutted America and How To Restore Its Greatness.

This will be the eighth book in Hartmann’s Hidden History series reviewed by Blog for Iowa. My reviews of the Hidden History books have been very popular.

The interview covers a wide range of progressive topics and Hartmann demonstrates his deep knowledge of them all. We discuss the exit of manufacturing jobs from the United States, Iowa soybean exports to China, the right-wing propaganda machine of talk radio and FOX News cable television, ALEC, Americans for Prosperity, the Heritage Foundation, and the influence of dark money that permeates Iowa society and our politics.

We read in the news media that Americans broadly support Social Security, gun control, abortion, universal health care, equal treatment under the law and more. At the same time, we send Republican politicians, who don’t support any of these things, to Washington, D.C. I’m speaking of Chuck Grassley, Joni Ernst, Ashley Hinson, Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Randy Feenstra.

The gadget below will play the 34 minute, 51 second interview. I hope you will listen to this timely, informative conversation.

Thom Hartmann interview June 29, 2022

~ First published on Blog for Iowa


Independence Day 2022

Blog for Iowa publisher Alta Price (right) in a Quad Cities parade entry. Photo provenance unknown.

Happy Independence Day from Blog for Iowa.

Where I live Independence Day is often about the weather. Today, the weather was exceptional: scattered clouds set against the azure sky, moderate temperatures and low humidity. It was a great day to be outdoors, and that is where many of us spent much of the day, celebrating the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

While tradition and family are part of holiday celebrations, the enactment of tribal culture, and each perceived instance of it are most significant. As we stood in the Ely parade lineup area, people walked past us in what seemed like an endless procession: to town, with folding chairs, in small groups, to watch the parade. It is this walking and the beliefs and artifacts around it that are at the core of shared values. It is less about the parade entries, even though they may be what people saw and talked about. It is more about the social behavior enacted by the larger group.

At the Ely Firemen’s Breakfast, compliance with cultural expectations was visible everywhere. The fire station was arranged for efficiency in handling the large number of people, there are public health considerations with food preparation. Extra activities, like the raffle, were organized to occur outside the fire station and after people had eaten breakfast. During breakfast, people gathered around the tables in family groups. There was not a lot of mingling. The expectation was that people would be friendly, but not intrusive. In this setting, it would be hard for an outsider to penetrate a specific social group without a means of introduction. Participation in the Firemen’s Breakfast becomes a cultural marker for such an introduction, which is unlikely to occur at the event and more likely to occur in other circles at other times. I enjoyed this event immensely and it looked like a lot of money would be raised for the fire station.

As a walker in several parades, I found joy in the interaction between participants and observers. Along the route, those closest to the parade were the youngest. Interaction with very young children, mostly through giving them a gift, made the day. I would present a sucker to the child, say “happy Fourth of July,” and wait for them to take it. Only one child did not take the candy, and most said thank you. At Fourth of July parades, the children are on display as much as the parade entries.

There were reactions to each entry in which I participated. The favorable reactions, cheering, clapping or thumbs up hand signs provided validity to the work we had been doing to get our message out. I am not sure we convinced anyone about any politician or cause we were supporting that day. Like all messaging, penetration can occur only with repetition. What I do believe is that in this aggregation of tribal groups, we were tolerated, and there were some supporters for our causes. These things make us Americans as we celebrate Independence Day.

~ This post is recycled from July 4, 2008, my first Independence Day blog post.

Living in Society

Summer Holiday

Police boot on a car violating street parking rules in Skokie, Illinois, June 25, 2022.

Thank you readers for sticking with me as I work through how to write in public in 2022. To write more meaningfully, I’m taking summer holiday to recharge my batteries and find inspiration for the next chapter of this blog.

I am working on some projects, which I will post here, notably, my upcoming interview with progressive talker Thom Hartmann scheduled this week. I’m also reviewing his upcoming book. I’m filling in a few days at Blog for Iowa this summer and anything I post there, I’ll cross post here. If I write any letters to the editors of newspapers, I’ll also cross post here. Mainly, I’ve gone on break, though.

As Robert Johnson wrote, “And I’m standing at the crossroads, believe I’m sinking down.”

I hope you will rejoin me in the fall.

Living in Society

Memorial Day Weekend 2022

Service Flags

The only national holiday I note is Memorial Day. Giving one’s life for their country is the ultimate sacrifice, something to be noted and revered, even if the death occurred in the most ignominious circumstances. Long ago I fell away from celebrating birthdays and holidays. My celebratory focus is the Memorial Day weekend.

Partly, it’s because Memorial Day is in spring. Leaves on the fruit trees and oaks look the best they do all year, before insects arrive and ravage the pristine growth. I endeavor to get the garden in by now, although I’m behind this year.

Military service has been important in my life. I wanted to do my part for a greater good and that led me to enlist in 1975. I was a peacetime soldier. It seems important to recognize those who gave their lives while serving in the military.

The weekend began last weekend when I asked our state house candidate whether they would attend the fire fighter’s breakfast to greet people. No, there were other plans. Even though our child left home in 2007, my spouse remains with her sister to finish the move to Des Moines, and I don’t get out much, I continue well-worn habits.

Friday, for the first time since March 13, 2020, I had dinner at a restaurant with friends. Our political writing group has been itching to get out and break the coronavirus pandemic isolation. A good time was had at a local brewery where they make an “Iowa City lager.” I learned to love pilsner beers while serving in the military. We have been writing together since we met before the 2006 general election cycle.

Saturday was a catch up in the garden day. I spaded the last plot, planted bell peppers, and harvested what is expected to be an avalanche of kale and other greens. I cleaned up and moved to the kitchen where I made a batch of vegetable broth. I closed the evening there, made a big salad for dinner, and water bath canned the vegetable broth, finishing up at bedtime.

I missed listening to A Prairie Home Companion on the radio. The program was my Saturday night for so many years. I couldn’t stand the loss so I went to the living room and turned on the new (to us) digital television to watch an episode of Pati Jinich’s Mexican Table from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Jinich is no Garrison Keillor, and that’s a good thing. Her history as a policy analyst, focused on Latin American politics and history, makes her more interesting. Nonetheless, I missed the tradition of listening to the radio while working in the kitchen. No. I’m not hooking up a television in the kitchen to watch cooking shows. That would be so wrong.

Today is the fire fighters breakfast and I plan to attend when they open at 6:30 a.m. Almost everyone in the area comes into the station and I can break the isolation at home for an hour. I don’t particularly enjoy the industrial food, yet greeting locals I haven’t seen since last year makes the event worthwhile.

After the breakfast I would normally get out a copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby for my annual read. It is one of the best books about summer, although I missed last year’s read and may let it lie this year as well. Noting my fandom, our child gave me a couple of posters derived from the book. They are not a fan of Gatsby. I hope to get the posters framed. I may yet read Fitzgerald again, although it’s time for new habits and new interests. The garden isn’t in yet so there is that work to do today. I’ll need something else after it is in.

Tomorrow is the holiday and I’ll put the flag outside. I eschew the ceremonies in town which have turned into an “all veterans” celebration. That misses the point. I considered driving west in the new legislative district to Marengo for their Memorial Day remembrance. The legion has gone to an “all veterans” format as well. I’ll likely just drive to the cemetery and pay my respects after breakfast this morning.

Freedom has a cost, and there is no more salient aspect of it than the sacrifices men and women made by giving their lives in military service. Memorial Day celebrations are tempered with a feeling of loss, isolation, and sadness this year. One hopes participating in the holiday makes us stronger as we enter summer.