Categories
Home Life

Summer Will Not Be Repressed

Social Distancing Pick Up at the CSA

Shopping in person is my least favorite thing in the third month of the coronavirus pandemic.

I dislike losing control and exposing myself to maladies real and imagined. Since the pandemic is real, personal shopping activities are reduced to a minimum. That bodes ill for the economic recovery. Our household will be just fine with less shopping.

Some stores require customers wear a mask and others don’t. I have two clean, homemade masks in the car with me and wear them into retail establishments. Most retailers have taken action to protect their workers, but customers? “The customer is always right” has taken on new meaning.

In our neighborhood things are loosening up. We live next to a large lake. Foot traffic to the boat docks and trail was heavy over the long weekend as families made their way to get out of the house. A couple of residents are planning yard sales in early June. Rest assured there will be no social distancing in those driveways and garages. One neighbor plans to walk the streets to distribute popsicles in celebration of a child’s birthday. Don’t get me started on the ice cream truck that plays an annoying version of Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer while hawking wares. At least the parcel delivery drivers wear masks, if the USPS contractor does not.

The small town convenience store is a barometer of what’s going on in the community. I had to get gasoline to finish mowing so I stopped at one on the way to the CSA to pick up our weekly share. I paid at the pump. Tension rested over everything as I stood fueling. They were busy yet activity seemed subdued compared to previous holiday weekends. No one was wearing protective equipment. I used only my right hand to touch anything. When I got back in the car I cleaned up with a sanitizing wipe kept for that purpose.

I didn’t go inside to play the lottery, which I normally like to do. Last time retail clerks wore masks and gloves, although they hadn’t put up a plexiglass barrier like other convenience stores. That was several weeks ago and they may have changed. Money is dirty whether there is a pandemic or not.

We are out of milk. That’s the sign it’s time to make a shopping trip. Dread it though I do, I’ll venture out. I have a list so I can spend the least possible time inside the store. There won’t be any impulse purchases today and that’s bad for the economic recovery as well.

Being an American is a mixed bag. We have some of the smartest people on the planet working on big issues, but everyday folk could care less. Part of the problem is a lack of political leadership. Part of it is tied to a progressive deterioration of learning. Everything gets politicized and in practice facts have been cut loose from their mooring. We are on our own to study and make a determination of what to do with our lives. Some call that “freedom.” I call it re-inventing the wheel.

If the past weekend taught anything it is summer will not be repressed. People have priorities and one of them is re-enacting trusted and valued behaviors. In the age of the coronavirus people will have their summer. I believe most of us will survive. What do I know?

Categories
Social Commentary Writing

Poetry for a Life

Service Flags

Best wishes on Memorial Day from this veteran who made it home. As Mary Chapin Carpenter says on her series of songs from home, “Stay well, be peaceful, be mighty.”

I’ve written what I will about Memorial Day. Some of those words can be read here, here and here. I’ve soured on the American celebration of the spring holiday yet one thing I’ve learned is the death of our soldiers in combat is no abstraction. May they rest in peace.

Iowa is one of 24 U.S. states with uncontrolled coronavirus spread. That alone is reason to stay home, read, write, cook, clean and weed the garden. At some point we’ll get caught up with those homebody tasks and venture out of this pandemic pattern, but not yet.

For vegetable gardeners Memorial Day marks the end of spring planting. At the farm we are taking next week off from starting new seeds. The following week we’ll start the fall crop. In between rain showers I hope to get the cucumbers in — the last of my vegetable plots — and weed, weed, weed.

During a rainstorm I reviewed the books on the Reading List tab of this blog. I’m not reading enough poetry as poems comprise only 7.1 percent of listed books.

7.1 percent! I can’t get over that. I want to do better so I asked twitter: “I want to read more poetry. Which author would you recommend?”

The recommendations were pretty good.

When I received a payroll bonus from my part time job in high school I went downtown and bought two books of poetry at the M.L. Parker Department Store: The Complete Poems of Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg’s Complete Poems. I didn’t really understand poetry and still have my failings, but it felt important to mark the beginning of my nascent home library with something other than young adult books.

Over the years I’ve developed other favorite poets. Of those well-known, my favorites are William Carlos Williams and Vachel Lindsay. I also favor Charles Bukowski, Wisława Szymborska, Lucia Perillo, Adrienne Rich, Gary Snyder. Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Seamus Heaney. Of the classics I enjoy Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare but could never get myself to read Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queen, although feeling like I should have.

In response to my Twitter query our daughter recommended atticus so I signed up for the newsletter and followed him on Twitter. I’ll be looking for an opportunity to read The Truth about Magic: Poems.

Recommended by a follower in the UNESCO City of Literature are Amy Woolard and Jeremy Paden. Their books Neck of the Woods (Woolard) and Broken Tulips (Paden) are available so I’ll start with them when I can get my hands on a copy.

Another I’d not read is Mary Oliver, recommended by an Iowa farmer. I studied Oliver in response to the tweet and will obtain a copy of American Primitive for which she won the Pulitzer Prize. It is curious Oliver worked at the Edna St. Vincent Millay home for Millay’s sister. Millay was another recommended poet whose Collected Poems was already on my shelf. I’m building a pile of poetry on the dresser in the bedroom.

Emily Dickinson and Ted Hughes were recommended by a follower and fellow gardener in Canada. I pulled down copies of Poetry Is and Crow by Hughes and The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by Thomas H. Johnson. Punctuation editing is an issue with works by Dickinson as we know. Hopefully Johnson’s edition will serve.

A local friend who lives part of the year in Italy recommended W.S. Merwin’s Garden Time. I will locate a copy and start reading Writings to an Unfinished Accompaniment which was already on my shelves.

Richard Eberhart of Austin, Minn. was recommended by another Midwesterner. On my shelves, rescued from a Goodwill Store in 1994, was a copy of the New Directions Paperbook edition of Selected Poems 1930-1965, which I am reading now. The iconography of these poems is very familiar.

If Memorial Day is the unofficial beginning of summer, 2020 will be the summer of poetry in a pandemic.

Categories
Garden

Warm Weather Vegetable Planting

Mustard greens – walnut pesto with a flat loaf of freshly baked bread.

On Friday I planted the rest of the tomatoes and the sweet, bell peppers. I’m running out of room for hot peppers so I harvested mustard greens and made pesto with ingredients from the pantry. I’ll use that space for a variety of hot peppers.

I have more seedlings than will fit in my seven garden plots so choices must be made. The last plot will be cucumbers with room for whatever else will fill the space, likely the single zucchini plant that germinated, and more hot peppers and tomatoes.

Succession planting is important to space management but the ice box is filled with leafy green vegetables and a family can only eat so many per day.

Rain is forecast in the next hour. As soon as the sun rises I want to harvest turnip greens to make the last of the vegetable broth for canning.

I’m trying to get better at growing bell peppers. Here’s a passage from the Jan. 18 barter proposal to my farmer friend Carmen:

We talked about mentoring on how to grow bell peppers. The idea we discussed was me spending some individual time with you discussing seed variety, irrigation systems, weeding, fertilizing, pest control and other issues, then helping you grow this year’s crop. While this means more labor on my part, I consider that part of the learning process for which I’d be bartering, not an added expense to you. As the crop comes in I would want a fair share for fresh eating and freezing as long as the harvest continues, some prime quality and seconds depending on what’s available. What is the value of that learning experience? I don’t know but I’m willing to settle the remaining accrued value for it, making us even.

Thursday I spent a couple of hours at the farm planting peppers. Below are comparison photos of the farm’s peppers and the row I put in my garden yesterday.

Pepper row at Local Harvest CSA
Pepper row in my garden.

At the farm they have a mechanical device to lay plastic for the rows. It creates a berm of soil in the middle of each sheet into which seedlings are planted. There is drip tape irrigation under the plastic. In my garden I manually made the berm with a hoe and garden rake, then covered it with a 48-inch layer of landscaping fabric. I placed grass clippings on each side. I have no drip tape and therefore need to make sure peppers are adequately watered.

The seedlings I used were a combination of ones I started and the main crop peppers at the farm. I also put in six plants of Guajillo chili peppers and two each of Serrano and Jalapeno. Fingers crossed I produce some peppers out of this.

A lot of weeding remains to be done. Also remaining is the related grass clipping collection for mulch. For that to happen I need a solid block of weather without rain. Doesn’t look like that will happen today.

Categories
Garden

First Kale

Red Russian Kale

I picked the first bunch of Red Russian kale and gave it to folks at the public library.

Despite the coronavirus, life goes on.

I spent a couple of hours at the farm learning how to grow bell peppers. Growing hot peppers has not been an issue. A generous supply of garden-grown sweet bell peppers has eluded me. By taking time to learn the process with more experienced hands I hope the harvest will be better this year. Fingers crossed.

Writers block hasn’t been a thing for me, but maybe it now is. Everything feels in between. In the third month of the pandemic I’m looking for new goals, new projects on which to work. I look at the calendar and realize the limited time left this year. Here’s hoping I find worthy projects pronto.

Categories
Work Life Writing

Writing About Work

Story Board

I began writing in grade school. The earliest remaining written document is a letter to my parents from YMCA Camp.

I reported having fun.

When reading those handwritten words, forgotten memories emerged. They reside in my brain like fossilized footprints from yesterday’s muddy garden. Such memories mean something. I can say with some certainty camp was fun.

When writing about worklife I seek several things. Partly I want to understand my own work history. It is more than a small chore to write a timeline of a life’s main events. Seeking that will aid telling my story.

More than a timeline I seek to understand why I worked and how it affected me. When I took my first job as a newspaper carrier the work was possible, something boys my age just did. I took a job in high school at a retail store called Turn-Style which was an entry into after school work life. It was possible and common among my classmates to have an after school job. Both of these early jobs funded activities that would have been less likely if I didn’t have income. The most significant activity Turn-Style funded was buying a used car and fuel to keep it going.

During the summer of 1971 I returned home from college. Like most of my male high school classmates I was able to find a summer job in industrial and manufacturing plants in the Quad-Cities. I landed at Oscar Mayer’s slaughterhouse working on the maintenance crew. It was dirty and hard work but in three months I made enough (at $4.04 per hour) to pay the sophomore year college expenses my scholarship didn’t cover. I learned how to clean a lard rendering tank among other valued skills.

After college the employment situation in Davenport seemed dire. Globalization was beginning to take hold, with some jobs moving to Mexico or overseas. It impacted the community with layoffs and those easy to find manufacturing jobs were less easy to secure three years later. I also did not want to get caught up in being a “shoppie,” working a career in manufacturing.

I didn’t have high expectations but after working a couple of low-wage jobs to make ends meet I enlisted in the U.S. Army and was gone for four years. Because of the G.I. Bill, I attended graduate school and got my M.A. in 13 months without other paid work. There were no good or exciting job options in 1981 after graduation so I applied and went to work at the University of Iowa.

After meeting my future spouse at the university, and getting married in 1982, I took a job in transportation and logistics with CRST Inc. in March 1984. I spent more than 25 years doing that type of work. I earned enough money so Jacque could work at home until she was ready to enter the paid workforce again.

Beginning in July 2009, I retired from CRST Logistics with a sheet cake and going-away gifts to enter a period of low wage work. In all I logged 24 different jobs and work activities since then — some paid and some volunteer. There was a lot of diverse experience in all that, about which I’ve written in this blog. What I’m left with today is being a blogger, writer, gardener and human.

While frequent blog posts are an important part of my writing, there is more. The coronavirus pandemic has been an opportunity to consider my writing and develop other projects including a memoir. I’m not finished working yet the number of paid jobs is close to zero as we enter the third month of the pandemic. It provides a perspective that might not have been otherwise possible.

As the sun rises on a forecast dry day I plan to work in the garden planting tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. While I do, I will consider what’s next for me and the meaning of my years in the workplace. The pandemic isolation brings this into focus.

I hope what I write next is as meaningful as that letter to my parents written so many years ago. If it isn’t, at least we’ll have vegetables.

Categories
Work Life Writing

A 1960s Newspaper Boy

M.L. Parker Department Store

My first job in grade school was as a paper boy for the Des Moines Register.

I wanted a paper route. It was what boys my age did. After discussing it with Mother, she arranged the job by calling newspaper circulation desks. The Register route was available.

It was a long, morning route because the Register wasn’t as widely circulated as our home town newspaper, the Times-Democrat. I could ride my bicycle and get the papers delivered with plenty of time to get ready for school.

Before long, I changed to an afternoon Times-Democrat route located on Marquette Street between West Central Park and Locust Street. The Times-Democrat had morning and evening editions at the time. Less walking, more deliveries, and more money for me. I kept the route until high school when I was told it was time paper boys moved on to other things. Having a little money, maybe a couple of bucks a week, made a difference in my life and in the range of activities possible in grade school.

I made weekly collections from subscribers on Fridays. Some subscribers were the worst. They were never home on Friday and when I finally found them on other days they would deny they owed for multiple weeks. My collection pages had a coupon that indicated each week that was due so I knew where each account stood. I gave customers the coupon for a week after they paid. When they got four weeks behind and didn’t pay I called the newspaper to cut them off. My supervisor never wanted to do it because the newspaper had subscription targets. Statistically, the majority of my customers were nice and paid on time. However I do remember the deadbeats. In retrospect, my margins sucked but there was enough money to satisfy my nascent financial needs.

On Saturdays I paid my bill for the bundles of papers dropped on the corner of Marquette and Lombard Streets. I took a city bus from nearby Mercy Hospital to what was then a thriving downtown Davenport. I spent parts of every Saturday morning downtown, beginning at the newspaper office on East Third Street.

One of my favorite downtown places was the automat at the M.L. Parker Department Store where I occasionally bought a pre-made hamburger and warmed it under an infrared light bulb. We didn’t have such a heating device at home. I stopped at W.T. Grant, F.W. Woolworth and occasionally went to Petersen Harned Von Maur, inconveniently located across a busy Second Street. I also stopped at Louis Hanssen Hardware Store where they had a centralized cashier operation connected to the sales floor by a small trolley system.  There was a coin shop which was almost never open as early as I was downtown. The idea coins that passed through my hands on the paper route were worth more than face value was fascinating.

In 1964 a friend and I rode the bus downtown. After paying my bill we went to the local Democratic party office and stuffed envelopes for Lyndon Johnson’s presidential campaign. Our motivation was to trade labor for an LBJ for the USA button. After finishing with the Democrats we walked a couple of doors down to the Republican party office and did the same thing for a Goldwater button. The idea our families would vote Goldwater for president was ridiculous. Father had worked hard to organize for JFK and was doing the same for LBJ. It felt weird being in the Republican campaign office but I brought home a button which had “Au H2O” printed on it anyway.

My male schoolmates were also shoplifters at the downtown department stores. Having a steady income from my paper route, I never shoplifted. From time to time I met up with my mates at one of the movie theaters for a matinee. They compared the results of their thievery that morning. For a while they stole bottles of men’s cologne which they tried to sell me. What would I do with cologne? Retail managers wised up to what was going on and secured the products in display cases. That apparently ended such thievery.

My interest in meeting my friends was to see movies at a reduced price of 35 cents. Most of what we saw was related to World War II: The Longest Day, The Great Escape, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and others.  When the cost of a matinee went up to 50 cents, I felt we were being gouged.

One time we saw an ad for a movie in Rock Island about the Batman. Someone had compiled all 15 episodes of a Batman serial made in 1943 by Columbia Pictures. The Batman television show became a popular topic on the school playground, so we wanted to see the serials. We took the bus downtown and walked across the Centennial Bridge for the matinee. I told Mom what we were doing so she wouldn’t be surprised when I was gone for so long. I remember it was a very long walk across the Mississippi River although worth it because I now knew something others didn’t about the Batman.

In the mid-1960s working as a newspaper carrier expanded my horizons. I got to see how my customers lived and had a chance to explore a world outside the confines of our neighborhood. I found there was a broader world where everyone did not share the same values we did at home.

I felt the relationship with my manager was good, although my daily work was disconnected from him. I was always the last to know about sales promotions and newspaper policy that pertained to me. It led to an attitude that I would do my job as I saw best without worries about my supervisor or whether I was right or wrong in what I did. That proved to be a defining aspect of my character at the beginning of my work life. Being able to work on my own without regular, direct supervision became part of who I was and remained so for the duration of my work life.

My first work experience was positive and that made a difference as I progressed through life. Adapting to work in a positive manner was an important part of the working class home in which I came up. It prepared me for the challenges of a career yet to come.

Categories
Social Commentary Work Life Writing

New Chances after a Pandemic

Apple blossoms ready for pollination.

It has been two months since the Iowa State Hygienic Laboratory in Coralville reported the first positive test results for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

We look forward to returning to a semblance of our pre-pandemic lives. We also know our lives won’t be the same as the pandemic could continue until there is a cure a year or two from now.

I could have continued to work at the home, farm and auto supply store. Because of my age I chose a voluntary COVID-19 leave of absence, then retired after the first thirty days ended. Not everyone has these choices.

One hopes a better society emerges from the chaos the virus and its inseparable economic depression have wrought. Our president’s reaction to the pandemic cost us the strong economy he inherited and caused preventable mass death. It is delusional to believe informed people will accept his work and re-elect him for another four years. We have to work to make sure someone else, presumably Joe Biden, is elected to stop the destruction caused by the current response to the pandemic.

There is also more to life than politics.

In a series of posts I plan to write about the worklife I have known and how it may change after the pandemic. There is a clear delineation of my personal work timeline into several periods.

When I began outside work in grade school as a newspaper carrier there were expectations of knowing what types of jobs were available and then securing them. After college graduation the workplace had changed, offering few positions in which I found interest. This led to frustration and then entering the military.

After returning from overseas I went to graduate school. When finished I found even less desirable opportunity than five years previously. When I eventually found work in the transportation and logistics field it was a compromise between what I wanted to do and producing enough income to support our young family. It was never the best, but it accomplished a degree of financial security.

When I took early retirement in 2009 I wasn’t sure what the future would hold. I used part of our retirement savings and entered a series of low-paying jobs that helped pay bills but did little else to advance us financially. I’ve written often about this and hope to bring a new perspective to it. During and after the pandemic there will be another phase of worklife. In some ways it is a journey home to being the person I was when this all began.

The president and governor say it’s time to reopen the economy and our lives. From my perch in Big Grove Township the economy never fully closed and the first wave of the pandemic is not finished. To understand how we can restructure our lives in society we must understand from where we are coming. That’s the hope of the next series of posts.

Categories
Home Life Social Commentary

Pandemic Turning Point – What’s Next?

Lilacs in bloom.

Friday J.C. Penney filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy, another victim of the coronavirus pandemic.

To say I disliked the in-store experience is an understatement. To say how much I loved the on-line experience is impossible. They are a great alternative to Amazon where we can find affordable attire. Fingers crossed they come out of bankruptcy.

What will a retail experience look like on the other side of COVID-19? I don’t think anyone knows.

I’m reading another Obama administration memoir, this one by Ben Rhodes. I also read Samantha Power, David Plouffe, Jill Biden and Michelle Obama. On the bookshelf waiting is Susan Rice… I’m just passing time though, until the big guy’s book is finished and released.

It’s hard to believe the Obama administration existed at all in the age of Republican control. It’s like an Arthurian legend we lived through except now it is transformed into myth. So much so it’s easy to believe it never happened. It did happen and the memoirs serve to remind us of another possibility than the one dominated by a needy president.

I stopped and stood outside the garage breathing the fragrance of lilacs. They are close to full bloom and won’t last much longer. It is difficult to stop and experience flowers yet we must. A lot depends on the fragrance of lilacs.

I participated in a Zoom conference with friends yesterday afternoon. We are on the last mile of cable with our internet provider and the connection is sometimes inconsistent. After being dropped five times during the call I gave up. It was good to see everyone again, even if intermittently.

Life on the other side of COVID-19 will be different. For me, it precipitated full retirement and that change alone is big. There’s more though, and not just about one person’s experience of the pandemic. If anything, we are getting used to living with less. That should be good for us, and good for society. I’m confident J.C. Penney will try to adapt to the new reality. If they don’t, the world will be the less.

Categories
Garden

Rainfall in Big Grove Township

Garden on May 14, 2020, after the rain.

Rain fell on Big Grove Township last night and this morning.

Lilacs are in full bloom with branches weighed down by residual raindrops. It will be a day indoors to cook, to clean, to read and write.

The second batch of vegetable broth quarts has 20 minutes left in the water bath. Once sealed, cooled and dated they will join the others on the shelf. I heard one of them fracture when I submerged it in the hot water. Old Mason jars don’t last forever.

While digging in the cupboard to find 14 empty quart jars there was an old one with colored glass and a sharp edge on the lip. It had been chipped and was unlikely to hold a seal. I placed it in the recycling bin.

It’s another day in the coronavirus pandemic when we wait to see if the federal government begins to manage the crisis. Our governor gave the okay for beauticians, barbers, hair stylists and massage therapists to go back to work. I’ve seen a production of Sweeney Todd so I’ll continue with my aches and pains and let my freak flag grow back so I can let it fly once the rain ends and the pandemic has run its course.

Categories
Environment Garden

At Low Level

Spring Garlic

The shoreline was exposed as I crossed Coralville Lake to secure provisions.

While it looks like we are in a drought, it is better to say we are ready for extra water coming from upstream snow melt and spring rains flowing into the Mississippi River basin.

Lake water level is decided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a function of their plan to mitigate flood damage. The experience was a reminder ours is a built environment.

I stopped at a chain drug store and at the wholesale club to stock up. I’ve been donning a mask and going shopping every other week during the pandemic. Most other people inside retail establishments wear masks. If I didn’t want dairy products or were vegan I’d go to town less often, maybe once a month.

We harvest something daily from the garden. This morning it was spinach. With a spring share from the farm, I’m getting backed up on greens. It’s time to make vegetable broth for canning. I’ll carry six quarts over from last season and want 20 quarts on the shelf to make it through another year. Broth has become a pantry staple. I use it to cook rice, make a roux, and add flavor to soup.

In addition to making broth, today’s work will be preparing the main tomato bed for planting. That means to spade lanes in the plot, rototill the lanes, rake the surface smooth, lay garden cloth on the surface and put enough grass clippings on top to hold it down until the seedlings are in. I’m short of grass clippings for mulch but tomatoes are a high priority and will take the entire stockpile.

My creativity is at a low level and I’m not sure why. Partly it is the coronavirus pandemic, partly something else. Perhaps I’m simply enjoying this glorious spring weather — the part before insects begin foraging every living plant. Spring serves as fit distraction for what ails us. One can do a lot worse than spring.