Living in Society

Aging in America – Part VI

Worn t-shirt from the 50th anniversary of the Stratford Festival of Canada in 2002.

Passing Down History

I have conversations about stuff with our child. It is specific stuff. It is my stuff, eventually to be her stuff, at least some of it.

For example, a couple hundred vinyl LPs rest on my bookshelf. A lot of good music there, a lot of great memories. The technology is old and hardly portable. The sole album for retention to pass down is Beethoven’s Opera Fidelio because it was a memory from childhood. That will make it easier to dispose of the rest of them, I hope.

I want to pass down some of my Iowa history books but there are too many of them. I have hundreds. My guidance was to select maybe three or four of the best ones to pass down. My work is cut out. To get started, here are the first dozen that came to mind. It is a first draft of the list for posterity and by no means final.

  1. Iowa’s Groundwater Basics: A geological guide to the occurence, use, and vulnerability of Iowa’s aquifers by Jean Cutler Prior, Janice L. Boekhoff, Mary R. Howes, Robert D. Libra, and Paul E. VanDorpe.
  2. Eastern Iowa Prehistory by Duane Anderson.
  3. Black Hawk: An Autobiography dictated to Antoine LeClaire, edited by Donald Jackson.
  4. Wakefield’s History of the Black Hawk War by Frank Everett Stevens.
  5. Hunting a Shadow: The Search for Black Hawk: Eye-Witness Account by Participants compiled and edited by Crawford B. Thayer.
  6. The Emerald Horizon: The History of Nature in Iowa by Cornelia F. Mutel.
  7. In Cabins and Sod Houses by Thomas H. Macbride.
  8. Robert Lucas by John C. Parish.
  9. Executive Journal of Iowa 1838-1841, Governor Robert Lucas edited by Benjamin F. Shambaugh.
  10. The Trader at Rock Island: George Davenport and the Founding of the Quad Cities by Regena Trant Schantz.
  11. The Life and Times of Samuel J. Kirkwood, Iowa’s War Governor by H.W. Lathrop.
  12. Iowa: The Middle Land by Dorothy Schwieder.

Reducing the number of history books to three or four is an impossible task, although one worth considering as I write my autobiography. We’ll see how the list changes over time. By spring, I should have a better idea.

Figuring out what to pass down becomes more important as we age. Partly we seek to let go of the past. Partly we seek to make room for a future.

Kitchen Garden

2022 Garden Summary

Garden on May 31, 2021

The gardening season flashed by. The main issue this year was weeding: I didn’t keep up. Nonetheless the garden produced an abundance of vegetables and the integration of garden with kitchen and our local food bank yielded less wasted produce. Despite the failures, things are heading in a positive direction.

Suppression of weeds is done mostly by landscape fabric and grass clippings. I tried reusing landscape fabric from last year, yet it allowed too many weeds to penetrate the porous membrane. Likewise, my yard doesn’t produce enough grass clippings to mulch all the plants. This fall I plan to harvest enough grass clippings to over winter the garlic and then figure out what to do about next year.

Among the most successful crops were garlic, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, broccoli, herbs, eggplant, leafy green vegetables, and potatoes. Almost everything I grew under row cover did well. Marginal crops were celery (which didn’t get as big as I like it), peas (not enough yield), and tomatillos (did not grow large enough). Failures were onions, cauliflower, and beets, which produced no crop at all.

This was an off year for apples, although I harvest some of each of four kinds. I need to do something different to grow pears that are shaped the way they should be. The pears are one of the sweetest things we eat all year. Even with their deformities they are satisfying.

There was a lot of learning, although my experiences get incorporated with others I’ve had and are hard to attribute to a single season. More than anything this year, I noticed the abundance of insect life. I saw many more species than in previous years. I don’t know if they have been there all along or are expanding into the environment provided by my overgrown weeds. In any case, there seemed to be more beneficial insects and less enemies and that’s a good thing.

The weeds attracted significant small bird life. They perch on the tomato supports and fencing to feed on weed seeds and insects. The birds are particularly welcome.

The garden is big enough to offer a varying landscape for wildlife. Deer no longer jump the fence to eat plants. Rabbits are staying away as there is plenty of clover and other food in the yard for them. The presence of rodents is minimal (planting potatoes in containers helped). Squirrels are busy harvesting acorns from the oak trees. In many respects, this is what I have been working toward.

It is time to begin deconstruction of the garden and store the stakes and fencing. Soon it will be time to order seeds for next year. I need a solid few days to consider what happened this year and improve on next. It is a cycle, one in which we enjoy being a part. The 2022 garden was a success.

Living in Society

Autumn Begins


Autumn begins at 8:04 p.m. CDT today with the Autumnal Equinox. What I have to share is this photo of wildflowers along the state park trail and the thought spring and summer passed too quickly.

Living in Society

Bohannan is a Compassionate, Knowledgeable Leader

Christina Bohannan – Photo Credit Bohannan for Congress

Control of the U.S. House of Representatives could boil down to whether Christina Bohannan beats incumbent Mariannette Miller-Meeks in Iowa’s First Congressional District on Nov. 8. I’m voting for Bohannan. You should, too.

I met Bohannan before the pandemic at a coffee shop in Iowa City. My first impression was she was smart and engaged. As I’ve gotten to know her, she proved to be a compassionate, knowledgeable leader: the kind we need in the Congress. She will represent every district resident.

Her opponent made a case to elect Bohannan by going off the deep end once she got to Washington, D.C. Miller-Meeks quickly swallowed the extreme Republican Party narrative hook, line, and sinker. Bohannan remains a normal Iowan. There is value in that.

Like former Congressman Dave Loebsack, Bohannan is a college professor. She is a current colleague with former Congressman Jim Leach at the University of Iowa College of Law. Both have endorsed her. She is a mother and a state representative. What else is there to say?

Christina Bohannan is the Democrat in this race. That may be enough to earn our vote on Nov. 8: a Congresswoman who listens to and acts on behalf of all constituents.

~ First published in the Southeast Iowa Union on Sept. 20, 2022.


Late Summer Rain

Red Delicious Apple, 2022.

It is a bit weird, although correct, to call it late summer. Autumn doesn’t begin until Sept. 22 this year.

We had lightning and rain overnight. The ground remains wet this morning. Leaves on deciduous trees have begun to turn. Yellow wildflowers along the state park trail got frosted, even if it wasn’t cold enough for frost.

There were overnight thunderstorms in the county seat, enough to halt the big football game at Kinnick Stadium — three lightning delays totaling 236 minutes in duration. The home team shut out the opponent once the game resumed after midnight.

Today, I’m considering what’s next.

We are out of the coronavirus pandemic as much as we will be. While Governor Kim Reynolds was early, her Feb. 3 declaration that the coronavirus was to become normalized in daily, routine public health operations on Feb. 15 is a convenient bookend to a distinct phase of my life: The Coronavirus Pandemic Time.

I’ll continue to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms and get tested if there are any. If I get the virus, I’ll follow Centers for Disease Control protocols for isolation and treatment. I’ll continue to wear a face mask inside crowded retail establishments, and wear a mask indoors when with groups of people and the local risk is high. Periodic immunizations will become part of the fall health regimen the way influenza immunizations have been. That’s that.

The main consideration is how I will spend time going forward. During the pandemic I developed a routine that varies little from day to day. Events and activities from the world outside my routine seem like an intrusion. I want to contribute to society, yet not in the same way I have since my retirement from transportation in 2009. Solving this problem, the problem of how to engage in society, begins with shedding the old skin of a life lived well yet has become obsolete.

First comes a shedding of the past and remainders of past engagements. This is neither quick nor easy. It turns out it is difficult to leave a group to which so much of oneself has been given to create. Old habits die hard, as the saying goes. I’ve been at this for more than a year and there is a long way to go.

Next is to determine what’s most important. That’s not easy either. It is work that comes after late summer rain.

Living in Society

Aging in America – Part V

Lake Macbride State Park trail.

The neighbor who owned the grocery store in town for 40 years took to walking the state park trail in retirement. He used a cane and we stopped to talk from time to time. I was wondering where he was last Monday. It turned out he died at home on Sunday.

I didn’t know the family well, although I stopped at their home on association business a couple of times through the years. Seems like a lot of people in our association died the last few years — at least five since 2018. While we are well below general U.S. statistics for deaths per 100,000 population, when people we know die, it has greater impact.

Being in the community for more than 29 years makes a difference. When people move out or die, we notice the broken relationships. The trail remains, with its joggers, bicyclists, and walkers. On Monday morning, when the work week begins, there is a loneliness on the abandoned gravel path.

As we age, we come to accept it.

Juke Box

Juke Box – She Had Me at Heads Carolina

Maybe I’m making too much of the song “She Had Me at Heads Carolina” by Cole Swindell. It says a lot about contemporary culture in the context of the decline in public schools.

"Heads Carolina, tails California"
Maybe she'd fall for a boy from South Georgia
She's got the bar in the palm of her hand
And she's a '90s country fan like I am
Hey, I got a Chevy, she can flip a quarter
I'd drive her anywhere from here to California
When this song is over, I gotta find her
'Cause she had me at "Heads Carolina"

I’ll have more to say. One thing, though. What does it even mean to have “the bar in the palm of her hand?” Don’t @ me because I know the answer to my question. It’s related to these lines from Shakespeare’s As You Like It:

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts...

I’ve been thinking about this song for a week or so and haven’t processed it. It is a successful song on a couple of levels. It sets a context for the action of a protagonist removed from broader society. At some level we all want that — a place of our own with comfortable surroundings. Yet what is the challenge in that? What is the social good? What is that context of a bar where people catch up with each other and socialize? How is this not a form of veiled misogyny? I’ll be thinking about this for a while.

In the meantime, here is a link to the YouTube video.

Living in Society

Midterms Home Stretch

We had already entered the fall campaigns after Labor Day. Seven days of summer remain and there are 53 days until the midterm election when a lot rides on the outcome. Will it be a fair election? We hope so.

In Iowa, where Republicans dominate the political landscape, Secretary of State Paul Pate prides himself on following election rules. As long as Republicans win, I don’t anticipate any funny business counting votes. Lately, especially after the recruitment of church-going folk to register and vote, Republicans tend to turn out.

Four congressional seats plus one U.S. Senate seat are on Iowa ballots. Most voters are interested in federal races. Pollsters and political prognosticators I read show Iowa favoring Republicans. Democratic candidates in these races have other ideas. It is conceivable there will be close races, yet Democrats are all playing catch-up.

After the Democratic build up to the 2016 and 2018 elections, and the subsequent deflating when Republicans won by a lot, I’m not hopeful. In 2020, my precinct in Johnson County turned solidly Republican. Iowa is returning to its Republican roots, although it is not the same Republican party as it was when Robert Ray held the governorship for 14 years.

My main volunteer work this cycle have been writing letters to the editors of newspapers and financial donations from a limited budget. I do not attend a lot of fund raisers because my funds are spent the day after my pension hits the bank. I wrote post cards to voters a couple of times. I attend meetings of the Johnson and Iowa County Democratic central committees. I am getting too old for door knocking and telephone canvassing. I stay busy with politics, but it’s different from when I re-activated after the 2004 Iowa Precinct caucuses. As a septuagenarian, I slowed down.

As we head into the home stretch, a large majority of voters have made up their minds and are simply waiting to vote. The rest of the campaign involves finding those who haven’t decided and persuading them to vote for our candidate. Candidates who do a good job of that have a chance to win. If they aren’t organized to do so, they don’t. It’s pretty cut and dried.

I retain hope Democrats will win some races. Some of the local races have Democrats running unopposed: County Attorney, County Treasurer, and County Recorder. It’s time to do what good we can before polls close on Nov. 8.

Living in Society

Day After Patriot Day

Box of matches from The World Trade Center, Summer 1980.

I have two main memories of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. The first is from 1980, of having a post-Broadway show dessert and drink at Windows on the World located on the 107th floor. The second was viewing it on television after the first plane hit the north tower on Sept. 11, 2001. The attacks began while I was at the Moline airport where I had been scheduled to fly to Philadelphia. All flights were cancelled so I returned to my office in Eldridge, Iowa where televisions were tuned to the breaking news.

Sunday was a day to remember those who lost loved ones on Sept. 11, 2001. May we never forget their lives and legacy.

President George W. Bush, on whose watch the 9/11 attacks occurred, was among the worst of our recent presidents.

My memory of George W. Bush is from Philadelphia, shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. I was on Interstate 95 heading into the Bartram Gardens area where I managed a trucking fleet. Bush’s motorcade was on the other side of the interstate heading back to the airport to return to Washington. In that moment, whatever hope I had Bush would pull the country together after the terrorist attacks was dashed. He made the trip early in the morning and finished by 10 a.m. It was a publicity event that had little impact on the national interest. It was unclear to me why he would spend so much money for what must have been a one to two hour publicity event. I remember other things didn’t make sense during the Bush administration. More than this, his invasion of Iraq made the least sense and proved to be a costly error. That is, unless one was a contractor who profited from the debacle.

Presidential Coat Rack – Republicans, Paul Deaton, Nov. 17, 2019.

The deceased and injured deserve our thanks, memories and support. Support for public servants injured during the attack and its aftermath, those who worked at ground zero after the carnage, was slow in coming from the Congress. We enjoy our symbolism and stories of valor and just work, yet beyond yesterday’s remembrance, events fade further into the cesspool of memory that is contemporary America.

I’d like to remember The World Trade Center as that place we visited in 1980. The realities of the War on Terror and killings of innocents in the Iraq War won’t let me. Instead, we have maudlin remembrances of politicians and a vague notion that “Patriot Day” means something.

On the day after we are better prepared to see who we are as an American society. The view is much worse than it was on the 107th floor of The World Trade Center.

Living in Society

Aging in America – Part IV

Vegan applesauce muffins.

For septuagenarians, an overnight visit from a child is a big deal.

We prepared for weekend guests most of the week. That meant cleaning the house and making space for extra people to sleep. I emptied the vacuum cleaner dust trap many times. There were countless loads of laundry. It seemed like a miracle, yet by the time they arrived we were ready. We are thankful for the work of preparing for a visit.

Our child lives close enough for a weekend visit to make sense. Time together was limited. We had dinner of tacos Saturday and my homemade corn tortillas were well-received and eaten up. I prepared a grab and go meal of vegan applesauce muffins with a fresh apple and some peanuts for an early Sunday departure. We are thankful for the time together, the chance to plan a meal and share it with someone other than ourselves.

The main challenge of aging is to live independently for as long as possible. In part, that means taking care of our health — eating a proper diet, exercising, regular visits to health care professionals. Part of it means a solid financial platform — making do with a fixed income and living from our own resources. There is also a part about dealing with potential and actual emergencies, although I try not to let that dominate my life. Once those parts have been addressed, everything else is optional.

Well, sort of. As we age, we need help from other humans.

The lilac bushes planted soon after we settled here need cutting back. After delaying this work the last couple of years, I hired a professional to do it in the fall. The windows and doors need attention after 29 years. We never built the deck I had planned or finished the lower level of the house. We replaced the roof in 2010 and it will need replacing again in a few years. All of that requires the help of professionals.

For now I can mow the lawn and work in the garden. I’m hoping to continue that work into the future, at least for another ten years. Whether the lawn tractor we inherited from my father-in-law’s estate back in the 1990s will make it that long is doubtful. I rely upon having a good tractor mechanic in town and being able to locate new parts for repairs. I avoid thinking about it when he talks about slowing down and retiring.

Making the transition from a work life to a home life sneaks up on a person. What was once a sideline to a career takes center stage in the form of yard, garage and garden work, and cleaning the house to prepare for visitors. I’m glad to have lived this long, and being aware of these parts of life is essential to successfully aging in America.

Even though we are not rich, we are better off by having a family and home… and by preparing for overnight guests.