Category Archives: Community


Recently I was introduced to Deborah, who works with my new neighbor, Heather. When I told Heather about it, I thought about the web of connections leading to this chance meeting. 

A mid-August day in western Illinois can take your breath away. Temperatures run high that time of year. The humidity of the Mississippi River and the flat, fertile ground clings to everything and makes it hard to breathe. But on that day in 1933, the air was milder than usual and a light rain freshened the skies.

On that day in 1933, John welcomed Dorothy to his side, and they spoke their vows to honor and love each other, vows that were kept for 69 years. While Dorothy held his hands, her bridesmaid and cousin Rosemary held the bride’s bouquet.

John and Dorothy had nine children together, one of whom was Jim. Rosemary and her husband had children, too, one of whom was Chuck. Chuck and Jim, second cousins, knew each other as they grew up, attended the same university, and had overlapping social circles.

When Jim graduated college, he married, began a teaching career, and became a father. His teaching career thrived and his daughters grew, but his marriage struggled and ultimately ended.

One summer Jim began a master’s degree program at another university in Illinois. While there, a mutual friend introduced him to Melanie. Melanie and Jim quickly fell in love and married the next year.

After Melanie finished her degree, she applied for a job in downtown Chicago. Her interview was on the coldest recorded day in Chicago history (really!), and she got a job developing software for a major bank. One of her work mates was Bruce. Soon Bruce left the software development team to join the bank’s trust management group.

After a couple more years, Melanie left the bank to enter graduate school. She finished the degree and gave birth to a son, after which she taught Finance at the same school.

In the summer of 1992, Jim, his wife Melanie, and their young son moved to Iowa. Melanie was about to start graduate school (again!), but Jim didn’t have a job arranged yet. After 23 years teaching high school science, he hoped to find a similar position.

John and Dorothy’s son Jim spoke with Rosemary’s son Chuck. Chuck had a connection in the same Iowa town, a man who worked in administration for the school district. With Chuck’s recommendation to ease the way, Jim accepted a teaching position in the district. Jim had many talented co-workers at his school, people dedicated to their students. One of those was Jan, a gentle man who taught physical science.

Jim, Melanie, and Son were fortunate in other ways in their new home. Across the street in one direction lived Darrell and Judy, who treated the new family with kindness. In another direction lived Kathy’s family. Her son attended the same school and played on the same soccer team. The mom of another boy on that team was Beth, a relative of Kathy.

In 1996 Darrell and Judy moved across town. Melanie finished her degree in 1997 and applied for a job in trust investment management. The man who interviewed her and hired her was Bruce, her co-worker from Chicago, now living in Iowa.

Between Melanie’s new job and Jim’s teaching position, it made sense to move. In 1997 they moved to a new house, right next door to Darrell and Judy. Darrell and Judy’s neighbors on the other side were a woman named Hazel and her daughter Holly.

Holly was older than the son, but the two became friends. Their friendship deepened when Holly helped Son learn how to play clarinet and saxophone. She helped him learn the basics and Son came to love the saxophone. When he entered junior high he was fortunate to have an excellent band teacher. The band teacher encouraged the kids to play in the jazz band, which Son did.

In high school he continued to play. His jazz band excelled and often won area jazz band contests. One of those contests was hosted each year at Son’s high school. It was the annual qualifying contest for state competition. Many of the judges are professional jazz musicians and educators from the area. When Melanie helped run the qualifying contest in 2006, she met a jazz musician and professor named Steve.

Steve plays with a few different bands. One of those bands is called “The Beaker Brothers,” and they play a lot of rock from the late 1960s and ’70s. Ed is one of Steve’s bandmates in that group.

After Jim retired from teaching in 2007, his friend Jan recommended he work for an education resources company. Jan started there when he retired from teaching. Ed worked there, too, as did Darrell.

Backtracking in time… In 2002 Jim and Melanie and Son moved to a different house. Next-door neighbors on both sides worked for the same education company where Jim later worked. Two doors down lived Nancy, a retired teacher who quilted. In 2007 Nancy invited Melanie to a meeting of the local quilters guild. At the meeting, Melanie reconnected with Bethrelated to Kathy, who lived across the street from Melanie and Jim when they first moved to Iowa. Beth quilts, too. 

In summer of 2017, Nancy and her husband, the neighbors two doors down, sold their home to downsize. Heather and her husband, moving to town to work at the hospital, bought the house.

A different stream of time… For decades Jim has been a blood donor. Years ago, one of the phlebotomists at the blood bank, who frequently jabbed Jim when he donated, was Deborah. Yes, the same Deborah who recently met Melanie.

On a Friday night a couple of weeks ago, Melanie and Jim went out to hear The Beaker Brothers play. Steve and Ed were on stage with their bandmates, covering the Allman Brothers and other bands of the era. When they took a break, Steve visited with Jim and Melanie. As he did, Deborah approached to say “hello” to him. She already knew Steve through her friendship with Ed and his wife. As it turns out, Ed is Deborah’s ex-in-law.

Deborah recognized Jim and introduced herself to Melanie. She now works at the hospital in a different department. It is the same department in which Heather works.

Deborah and Heather might know each other despite all the other connections. But Jim and I only know that Deborah and Heather know each other because of all the other connections.

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”

Herman Melville


Tacoma WA | Favorite Places

We visited Tacoma in August to see our son. He lives a few blocks from Commencement Bay. The bay is visible from his windows, as is Mt. Rainier. We enjoyed a wide variety of sights and activities. We spent several evenings at a city waterfront park enjoying the view of the bay and some ships. See the arrow on this map.


More highlights here…Enjoy

Independence Day

We all experience different levels of freedom in our lives. Obligations and commitments constrain most of us. Economic problems hold others back. Education and opportunity are not equal. We are not equally free.

It would do us well to remember that the Declaration of Independence was not an assertion of the individual’s right to freedom, but of the collective’s right. After describing the offenses of the king, it is declared:

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.

The Declaration does not declare independence for the individual. Instead it enumerates the individual’s endowed rights as including “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is our right to pursue happiness within the constraints imposed by the collective will, determined by our social institutions. Those institutions include government, cultural norms, religious expectations, and others.

Liberty, one of the listed unalienable rights, is not independence. Though we may be largely free from the authority of others, we still depend on them. On July 3, 2009 I submitted my letter of resignation to my employer. I still think of that as my personal independence day. But while I am free of work obligations, I am no more independent now than I was before resigning.

We are not independent as individuals, nor can we be. Even the most alone of us are connected to the whole in myriad ways. I believe we are best when we recognize that connection. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it this way:

Strangely enough I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way the world is made; I didn’t make it that way, but it’s like that. And John Donne recorded it years ago and placed it in graphic terms: ‘No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.’ And then he goes on toward the end to say: ‘Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind. Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.’ Only by discovering this are we able to master the breadth of life.

We are interdependent by design. Kelly Witchen writes about “shameless reliance” for the site She describes the V-formations of flying birds and says, “We must learn what the birds already know: Admitting you can’t do it alone, and leaning on those around you is not a weakness — it’s restoration.”

Even the last sentence of the Declaration of Independence affirms this mutual reliance:

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

When we recognize our dependence, as well as that of those around us, it may be easier to both ask for help and extend a hand. If we could celebrate our need for others rather than see it as weakness, we might treat them with a higher level of empathy and civility.

This Independence Day, commemorate the independence of these United States from the control of a monarch. Likewise recognize the dependence each of us has on the other, for food, health, and safety, for work and play, for support and defense. No one stands alone, and for that we should celebrate.


Election 2014 | Some Thoughts

How I See It

French ballot box 2007 | wikimedia

Our team of volunteers was like thousands of others around the country. During the two weekends prior, and during the four days of GOTV November 1-4, we sent out canvassers to knock on doors. We reminded people of their early voting opportunities and of the need to return their absentee ballots if they had one. We sent canvassers at 9, 12, 3, and 6. Some returned to our staging location with absentee ballots which we gave to our county auditor that day or the next.

Ours is a heavily Democratic county. Our tally of votes during the general election would help our candidates running statewide for U.S. Senate and Congress. The countywide results after the election showed our Democratic candidates received twice as many votes as their Republican opponents. We did our job well. Statewide, the results were disappointing for the Democrats. Iowa is a rural…

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Election 2014 | Getting Out The Vote

How I See It

Communities all across the U.S. have elections this coming Tuesday Nov. 4. My state of Iowa is electing a governor and a senator. We will also elect a member of congress from our district. There are races for many other state and local offices and some ballot questions to decide.

Both Melanie and I are volunteering with our Democratic party Saturday through Tuesday to Get Out The Vote – GOTV. We have also been helping before these final days. There are thousands upon thousands of citizens who are doing this all across the country. They come from both major political parties. I think this is the correct grass-roots way.

The overwhelming amounts of BIG donations coming from undisclosed donors is destroying our system where each common person feels their vote counts as much as the next. People feel their voice does not count any more. They are losing interest and are fed up and…

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People Gotta Eat

by Melanie and Jim


One of my favorite quotations is from Mother Teresa. She said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, just feed one.” In other words, we all have the capacity to make someone’s life better, even if we can’t change the world.

Sometimes our impact is through a kind word or gesture. Other times we literally feed someone. Today Jim and I had the opportunity to do something more rare. We fed a hundred.

Several times a year the Johnson County (Iowa) Democrats and OFA (Organizing for Action) prepare and serve for the Free Lunch Program. The program provides a free hot meal six days a week to anyone who shows up. On average, more than 130 meals are served a day. There is no obligation, no expectation, and no religious or other preaching. From the website:

Respecting the dignity of the guests has been the cornerstone of its service. “An open door, a full plate, no questions asked.” This guiding principle of unconditional respect and hospitality has been as integral to the program as the hot, nourishing meals.

We have helped with this service for a couple of years. Our roles have varied from meal prep, to serving, to clean-up. It takes more than a dozen people to pull this off. Today we had a crew of seven to fix the meal, and we helped with the prep. I stirred up two big pans of cornbread, helped with the dessert, and readied three large bowls of greens for salad. Jim and I also got the dining room ready, moving chairs from tabletop to floor, and wiped tables off.

The menu today was a popular one we’ve used before: baked chicken thighs with barbecue sauce, baked beans, cornbread, two kinds of salad, hard-boiled eggs, and peach crisp. It was good to use a familiar menu, because we were in an unfamiliar location.


It was fun to see the faces of some other volunteers as they came into the new facility. The former location was in the basement of the Wesley Center near downtown. It was the home of the Free Lunch Program for 30 years. The kitchen was small and very crowded. One large center island served for food prep and storage of dishes, cups, silverware, hot pads, etc., in the compartments below it. The serving room was full each day. Storage and freezer space was in three different locations. Equipment was on its last legs.

The new location has ample room in the kitchen and in the dining area. There is new and donated equipment to make the work easier. There is a lot of shiny stainless steel. Front doors unlock automatically at 11:30 and re-lock at 1:30. Folks come in and head for the bathrooms and then some hot coffee. Serving starts at noon. Any food leftovers are offered for take-home.

It is a wonderful change from the cramped and dated space before. Mary, the person who has been in charge for the entire time of the program, is beaming with happiness about the new facility. She feels she has accomplished her primary goals and announced her retirement from the position last September as work progressed on the new location. As of today, no one has been hired to fill her post. They had better get moving. Mary deserves a break from her years of hard work.

This post may be an unusual addition to the list, but we are linking up with the Novice Gardener’s Fiesta Friday. We hope you all have a great weekend, and next time you fill your belly with delicious food, please remember Mother Teresa’s exhortation. Because people gotta eat.

Hunger News Review 1/28/14

It’s been a while since I published any hunger news links. People are still hungry, and we still haven’t figured out how to fix that. In a sense, there is no news there.

But importantly, we’ve been waiting for Congress to pass a new Farm Bill. Both the Senate and House had passed their own versions, but they were far enough apart in some key issues to doubt the ability to reconcile the two versions. This morning comes the announcement of bipartisan agreement to screw hungry people more than Democrats want and less than Republicans want. I guess that’s as good as agreements get these days.

The most recent version of the Farm Bill was passed in 2008, and it was scheduled to be renewed in 2012. Congress couldn’t come to agreement then, except to extend the existing provisions until September 30, 2013.

In case you’re not aware of the Farm Bill’s scope, here are a few of the areas it covers:

  • Commodities regulation (commodities crops and dairy, and commodities futures)
  • Agricultural trade and international food aid
  • Nutrition assistance programs including SNAP (food stamps)
  • Agricultural loans and crop insurance
  • Research
  • Conservation
  • Forestry service
  • Livestock and poultry production

These programs are all administered by the US Department of Agriculture, or USDA. The largest portion of the budget is nutrition support. This covers programs including SNAP (food stamps), school and summer lunches, WIC (Women, Infants, and Children supplemental foods), and others.

Nutrition supports directly benefit the individuals who get to eat, of course. They also benefit retailers, wholesalers, and farm producers. SNAP, the largest part of the largest part, also has direct flow-through as broad economic support. These programs do not hurt the economy; they help individuals, businesses, and the economy broadly.

Now with that background, the news:
According to the New York Times, the negotiated bill

will eliminate or consolidate dozens of agriculture subsidy programs, expand government-subsidized crop insurance and cut about $8 billion from the food stamp program over the next decade.

The House is expected to vote on the measure on Wednesday. It is unclear when the Senate will take up the legislation. Many Senate Democrats are likely to be unhappy with the food stamps measure, which cuts roughly twice as much as senators approved in May.

Yet the food stamp cuts may not be large enough to appease House conservatives, who in June helped defeat a bill backed by Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio that would have cut $20 billion from the program. The House eventually passed a bill covering only nutrition programs that would have sliced nearly $40 billion from food stamps.

Note that both the House and Senate need to approve the legislation, which at this point cannot be amended. Though it is expected that the bill will pass, it’s possible House Republicans will reject it. In that case, it would be back to the drawing board.

Full details of the bill have not been released. However it appears that the majority of cuts to SNAP come from closing loopholes in the way some states calculate benefits based on household utilities costs. Most beneficiaries in those states will still receive benefits but may at a reduced level.

This is far from ideal for those concerned about hunger in America. We shall see the impact if the bill is enacted. More news to come…

2013 Year in Review

It seemed so simple. All we wanted from 2013 was a better, easier year than the one before. 2012 was marked with stress arising from the election, extended family tensions, health concerns, and other matters. Surely 2013 would be better.

But the year began badly, marked by events we couldn’t have foreseen, with effects on us and others that continue.

We are strong. We go on. And even with such a rough start, we succeeded in our modest hopes. It was, in fact, a very good year.

Neither of us are especially nostalgic, eschewing all the year-end reviews that mark the end of December. This year, however, we write our own.

Though stunned from the beginning, we quickly turned focus to upcoming celebrations. Our son graduated in mid-May with his master’s in mechanical engineering. The next day he commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force. And at the end of May, we helped move him to Vance Air Force Base in Enid, Oklahoma, where he began his pilot training. Those stories are told here:
On becoming an officer
On moving to Vance Air Force Base

We also looked forward to travel, with plans to visit Glacier National Park and Canada’s Banff National Park in July. In the meantime, we enjoyed hiking with my sister and brother-in-law in Illinois’s Starved Rock State Park. Before and after our big trip to Glacier, there were other hiking expeditions in Oklahoma, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia. A few of those stories, with wonderful photos by Jim, are here:
Glacier National Park, part 1
Glacier National Park, part 2
Banff National Park, part 1
Banff National Park, part 2
Maquoketa Caves State Park
Backbone State Park
Hike Along the Cedar River
Shades State Park Again After 33 Years
Hocking Hills Winter Hike
Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

We write, and we teach. To create venues for those needs for expression, we began this blog, Our View from Iowa. Our interests are broad, and we use this to publish posts on politics, hunger, and other social issues, science, nature, and personal concerns. In addition, Jim created the JAR Blog as a site more focused on science topics. In July, I also launched Catbird Quilt Studio. With more than 300 posts between the three blogs, I guess you could say we’ve been very expressive!

Besides working on our own blogs, we helped update the website for our nearest food pantry, the North Liberty Community Pantry. Since early this year, I’ve also volunteered a couple hours a week at the pantry. They provide seasonal clothes for children, and I help take care to make sure area children have appropriate, stylish clothing to wear.

After countless hours volunteering for the election in 2012, Jim’s taken a breather this year. He even retired (for the last time!) in June. But he stays busy. His gardening in the summer filled our freezer with produce to enjoy throughout the year. And he plays electric blues guitar regularly, one more creative outlet for him.

This has been a year of creativity for me in my quilting. Most of my quilts for the year are shown in this gallery.

As the year comes to a close, we find our lives full and rich, blessed with family and friends, with much to do, and means to reach out into the world.

We look forward to 2014, not with any wish for “more” or “better.” Our lives are blessed with plenty, and with peace and happiness.

We wish you a year of peace and plenty in 2014, as well.

Hunger News Review 12/09/13

Hunger is a primary concern of mine. Adequate nutrition has positive impacts on every part of our lives, individually and collectively. To put it differently, if you eat the right amount and make healthy choices, your good nutrition affects both you and me. The reverse is true, as well.

I’ve written a lot on hunger issues and will continue to. With this post, I’m starting a new, related series. This post debuts a hunger news digest, no pun intended. As I see reports about hunger, food insecurity, the costs of poor nutrition, the political jousting around food stamps (SNAP), I will collect them here. Showing quick summaries with links will help you find your way around the news, and hopefully will highlight the prevalence of a sometimes hidden issue.

With no further ado, here’s the hunger news.

What Separates A Healthy And Unhealthy Diet? Just $1.50 Per Day
Opinions have differed about whether eating a healthy diet is more or less expensive than an unhealthy diet. A Harvard cardiologist and epidemiologist undertook a meta-analysis of existing studies to resolve the question.

So he and his colleagues decided to pore over 27 studies from 10 different developed countries that looked at the retail prices of food grouped by healthfulness. Across these countries, it turns out, the cost difference between eating a healthful and unhealthful diet was pretty much the same: about $1.50 per day. And that price gap held true when they focused their research just on U.S. food prices, the researchers found in their of these studies.

The researchers evaluated the cost of food by types of eating pattern — for example, a diet heavy on vegetables, nuts and fruits, like the Mediterranean diet, versus one rich in processed foods and meat. They also looked at price differences within specific food categories, such as grains, proteins, fats and dairy. The biggest price differences arose when it came to proteins/meats: Healthier, leaner cuts, they found, were on average about 29 cents more per serving.

The cost difference is especially noteworthy when considering the reductions to food stamp benefits as of November 1.

Thanksgiving: Food stamp cuts leave pantries struggling to meet rising need
Food stamp cuts leave families with fewer options. One option is food banks and food pantries, where they are available. But federal funding has been cut for them, too.

On Nov. 1, the 47 million people who rely on food stamps — also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — saw a decrease in benefits when Congress allowed a 2009 program funding boost to expire. As a result, a family of four will receive $36 less in food stamps in November and each month thereafter, according to the USDA.

Barkley said that NY Common Food Pantry has also had to adjust to a lack of government funding this year. In 2012, the U.S. government purchased $560 million worth of food for charities, but in 2013 the funding was slashed to $495 million. Feeding America’s director of tax and commodity policy, Carrie Calvert, said food banks will have to find a way to compensate for the 25 percent decrease in federal food deliveries.

From a political standpoint, Republicans are pushing hard to reduce food stamp benefits farther. Democrats generally are resisting that push. The disagreement is part of what has delayed the enactment of a new Farm Bill. But who actually uses food stamps?

Interactive: Republicans More Likely to Have Constituents Who Use Food Stamps
The information and graphics in this article show heavier dependence in congressional districts represented by Republicans. Please click the link to see the map of food stamp usage.

When the House voted in September to cut $40 billion from the federal food-stamp program over 10 years, all but 15 Republicans supported the measure while not a single Democrat did so.

But according to a TIME analysis of county-by-county food-stamp-enrollment data compiled by the nonprofit Feeding America, it appears that House Republicans represent more districts with high levels of participation in the program than House Democrats. Of the 350 congressional districts in which TIME was able to estimate the percentage of people enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), 76 had levels of 20% or higher. Of those, 43 are held by Republicans while 33 are controlled by Democrats.

Links to other hunger news are welcome. Thanks for reading.

Deer Hunters Support Food Agencies

Under the light of a nearly full moon, the ten-point buck nibbled at the bushes, ten feet from my front window. The next day, a young deer grazed, unconcerned, close to the house in my back yard. I live in town, in a neighborhood with young families. It’s more common to see deer in the yards this time of year than to see kids.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) estimates the state deer population after the hunting season at about 200,000 animals. Their tremendous reproduction rate, along with some migration from other states, has brought the herd back from a few hundred animals in 1936.

Unchecked, Iowa’s deer herd could grow at a rate of 20% to 40% each year. At this rate, deer numbers would double in as few as 3 years. With Iowa’s abundant agricultural crops providing food, densities could potentially reach 100 or more deer per square mile before natural regulatory mechanisms would begin to affect deer health and slow the rate of growth. Deer numbers this high would cause economic hardship to Iowa’s landowners as well as alter the natural vegetative community. Maintaining a deer population in balance with the wants and needs of the people in the state is a difficult task, but hunting is the only viable management option to achieve this goal. [Emphasis added.]

HUSH, or Help Us Stop Hunger, is a state-sponsored program in Iowa.

HUSH is a cooperative effort among deer hunters, the Food Bank of Iowa, meat lockers and the Iowa DNR. The two main goals of HUSH include:

(1) reducing the deer population while

(2) providing high-quality red meat to the needy in Iowa.

In the 2012-13 deer hunting season, more than 5,200 deer were donated. With partner meat lockers and the Food Bank of Iowa, the state distributed enough venison to generate 880,000 meals.

Iowa’s shotgun deer-hunting season begins December 7, for the general population. Hunters can buy extra permits for antler-less deer. Once the deer has been field-dressed and delivered to a cooperating meat locker, the locker will process the meat.

The state pays the lockers $75 per deer. If an “average” deer yields 60 to 100 pounds of usable meat, the state pays approximately $1 per pound.

Food Bank of Iowa distributes the meat through partner agencies in 55 of the 99 counties in Iowa. These partner agencies include:

– Food pantries
– Soup kitchens
– Homeless shelters
– Shelters for victims of domestic violence
– Nonprofit day care centers
– Residential care centers
– Child and senior programs

With a retail price for beef well above $3.50 a pound, and even bone-in chicken legs at $1.50 a pound, venison is an inexpensive alternative.

Agencies that prepare meals, as well as individuals, can find venison recipes that may be useful. The Ohio DNR offers dozens of recipes at this link.

In Iowa, deer is a plentiful resource for meat. The cooperation of many parties makes it possible to distribute that meat to where it’s needed. In addition, the harvest of deer helps control damage to crops and landscaping alike.

Note: this post is not intended to promote or glorify hunting, guns, or red meat. It is just information about one of the ways more food becomes available to more people. If you want to argue about hunting, guns, or red meat, please do it elsewhere. For over 50 million people in America, hunger is a reality. Food insecurity affects 1 in 6 of the U.S. population, including more than 1 in 5 children.