Categories
Home Life Writing

Bicycling Again

Gaddis Pond Rest Area, Big Grove Township.

When my medical practitioner diagnosed plantar fasciitis in 2015 it mean I had to give up running. I’d been running for exercise since 1976 when I enlisted in the U.S. Army.

Doc suggested bicycling. I took my Austrian-made Puch Cavalier ten-speed down from the hooks in the garage and delivered it to the bicycle shop where I bought it in 1980 to get tuned up. Parts were scarce for the old bike, but the technicians found them. I brought it home and hung it in the garage where it stayed until this month.

During a recent medical check up I asked again about running. I needed more exercise and my feet felt better. I could run again, I thought, maybe not five daily miles as before, but something. He said if I returned to running, plantar fasciitis would flare up again. I started walking and it wasn’t enough.

On June 18 I dusted the bicycle off and rode for the first time: about five miles. I’ve been out the last four days and expect to continue bicycling, gradually increasing my daily distance.

I’m a cautious bicyclist. I have a good sense of myself on the bicycle and know how to use the derailleur gears as they were designed. I couldn’t locate my helmet or riding gloves so I adjusted our daughter’s helmet so it would fit. I put a fanny pack over the handlebars to hold my mobile device and the garage door opener. I still have the plastic water bottle I got when the bike was new. I have two pair of bicycling pants with the cushion in the crotch. I’m wearing my old running shoes for now.

While I was in graduate school I ran and rode a lot. I would run from my apartment on Market Street in Iowa City out to the Coralville dam and back. Afterward I rode the bicycle for another ten miles. I was a restless soul then. I made all the usual rides: to Sand Road Orchard; to Kalona before dawn where I saw kerosene lamps illuminating homes and barns; to Stringtown Grocery; to the Kalona cheese factory; through Hills, Lone Tree and Wellman. I was a primitive rider, having no training and an undisciplined approach. I made a century ride with the Bicyclists of Iowa City and experienced glycogen burn out. At the time I didn’t know what was happening to me and it was a little scary. Not freak out scary though, and I made it home safely.

I need more exercise. It’s cheap medicine. Today I rode 7.6 miles with a goal of being able to make it to Ely without stopping. After that, who knows? For now it’s enough to feel the cool breeze as I ride and make progress toward an unspecified goal.

Another part of life in Big Grove Township.

Categories
Home Life Writing

Snapping Out of Coronavirus Funk

Eventually I will snap out of this coronavirus funk.

For weather and productivity this was the best spring I remember. The garden is doing great and I have time to give it daily attention. Without work commitments each day is mine. I spend more time outside and at the state park. I’ve gotten my bicycle out and ridden for the first time in years. The weather has been drop-dead gorgeous. What is the matter with me?

I live in a broader society that is going to hell in a hand basket.

My response is stay positive, although negativity drags on my spirits. It takes a village to make a life and when we are each isolated because of the coronavirus, it’s tougher to do.

Here are some photos from early summer to cheer us up.

Tasty Jade Cucumbers
Monarch Caterpillar
Wild Section of Garlic, Milkweed, Iris and other plants.
Sunrise above the garden, June 27, 2020.
Categories
Home Life

Stormy Day

Lake Macbride State Park trail.

Thunderstorms are forecast until 7 p.m.

Between showers I hope to accomplish some gardening tasks yet most of the day will be spent indoors: in the kitchen, garage, and at my work desk. There’s always something to do.

The Washington Post reported the White House is preparing for a fall resurgence of the coronavirus. My analysis: we couldn’t wear masks in public for 3 months so now we will have to wear them for a couple of years until a cure is identified and implemented.

The president held a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Saturday with 6,200 attendees. Some number of those were paid actors, campaign and White House staff, plainclothes security and the like. By the way, who pays people to attend a political rally?

In pages of commentary, few pointed out that people getting together for a big political rally during a pandemic would not be supported by those with common sense. The lower than expected turnout is evidence people continue to protect themselves first. Tomorrow he is holding another rally in Arizona where the number of diagnosed cases of COVID-19 spiked over the weekend. I don’t know much about who is running his campaign but these pandemic rallies can only reflect poorly on the president and raise the question, why is he holding them? There is no good answer.

I’m anxious to move on from writing about the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic affected almost every part of my life and frames what I do going forward. All the same, the circle of people with whom I have contact is small. It includes my spouse, the farmer where I worked this spring, and neighbors I encounter at home and while trail walking. I tested negative for COVID-19 on June 16, but if I were positive it would be pretty easy to trace my contacts because they are so few. I don’t like the lack of broader contact with people.

Yesterday at the farm, Carmen came to the greenhouse and took a chair for a conversation while I worked. In the time before the coronavirus there would have been a seeding crew working alongside me. The greenhouse used to be a bustling place. With the pandemic it’s been just me with a couple of check ins from Carmen during my shift. The work gets done yet I yearn for the conversations with a variety of workers. We discussed a long list of farm and garden topics during my last shift of the season.

I spent one day in the field this year. My special project was learning to better grow peppers. Part of that was planting pepper seedlings with Carmen’s sister. The rest of the crew worked the same field and maintained social distancing while Maja and I worked and talked. It was a highlight of the spring.

The sound of rainwater falling in the drainpipe started. Maybe I won’t get out to the garden to check on broccoli, trim the tomatillo plants, and pick some greens. We’ll see how the day unfolds. Living in the actuality of it may be the best I can do on this stormy day.

Categories
Home Life Social Commentary

Forward

Milkweed on the state park trail.

It’s time to move forward.

In a couple of hours I’m heading to the farm for the last shift of soil blocking this year. After that the rest of the year is a blank slate.

I’ll be writing something on it, to be sure.

Yesterday was a quiet day in Big Grove Township. After working the garden, processing the harvest, exercising, and cooking dinner, I figured out how much of my pension would be left when the next check comes and donated to Democratic candidates Joe Biden, Theresa Greenfield and Rita Hart. A person’s gotta do something.

Some of the local grocery stores are recalling bagged lettuce because of contamination by the parasite Cyclospora. I’m picking up lettuce at the farm today, enough to hold us over until the next wave is ready in the garden. The crew takes appropriate precautions to ensure our food is safe, so I have little worry about what we eat when it comes from the farm.

2020 has been a hella way to transition. The coronavirus pandemic pushed me into retirement. With a pension that pays basic bills, I can test pilot a financial structure in which I no longer trade labor for dollars. It’s like universal basic income, only just for us in the disorganized mess U.S. society currently seems to be. For the longest time I directed my life to this place. I did not expect to make it here.

I think I forgot to take my prescription medicine before sleeping last night but feel okay this morning. Feeling good is an existential threat. It causes us to take risks we may otherwise not have taken. There is a four-day spike of COVID-19 cases in our county. Initial analysis by elected officials is most of the cases are young adults. In other words, people who live as if there is no tomorrow and they are invincible. They feel good now and cast aside recommendations by our public health staff (if they are even aware of them). I prefer to have a list of conditions which moderate my risk taking. I need to do something to remember to take my pill before going to bed.

Humans have no choice but to move forward. We cherish nostalgia yet it’s not enough to sustain us. We enjoy stories yet there is a difference between a narrative and what really happens. I believe it is possible to understand reality. When I suggested on social media I might view The Matrix, a friend posted a reply, “Jeezus, take the red pill already.” That’s fine, I think I did, but can’t remember. Instead of taking it again I’ll initiate the next step forward.

Categories
Home Life Politics

Summer Solstice 2020

Sugar Snap Peas

In these waning hours of spring I have no regrets.

There are challenges created by the coronavirus. There is a legacy of challenge from the before time. Many are substantial and require action. Summer starts at 4:43 p.m. today and with its new season comes hope of means and methodology to address what challenges us in a new paradigm.

Last night I had planned to escape into one of my favorite movies, The Matrix most likely, although Out of Africa or Blade Runner maybe. Instead, I listened to former Barack Obama campaign manager David Plouffe interview Joe Biden’s campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon. The podcast made me hopeful that Democrats could win the Nov. 3 election. For my first ever podcast, it was not bad.

I became familiar with O’Malley Dillon when she was Iowa State Director for John Edwards’ presidential campaign. I re-read some of her emails from 2007 this morning and don’t have a memory of meeting her in person. She became part of the 2012 and 2016 Democratic presidential campaigns. She knows who she is and what she’s doing.

While I listened through headphones that cover my ears, I began to walk about. I had to roll up the 12-foot cord and stick it in my pocket so I wouldn’t trip on it. I did dishes and started a load of laundry that included my used home made face masks. I’m not a pod person but might be if others are this engaging. What she said revealed where political organizing stands in the coronavirus pandemic.

O’Malley Dillon thought the entire presidential campaign would be conducted virtually. She reported how the rate of contact through text messaging was high, and that because of the coronavirus it was important to keep canvassers safe. I am reluctant to relinquish in person campaigning and adapt to text and phone banking. The podcast put me on the way to overcoming my hesitation and joining the campaigns of Biden, Greenfield and Hart as a canvasser.

The tradition of canvassing is long in my family. My father organized for JFK in 1960. Working with his union, he was part of a substantial effort to elect Kennedy. Even though Richard Nixon won Iowa with 56.7 percent of the popular vote, our family celebrated Kennedy’s election. After the assassination, I did a small part in helping elect Lyndon Johnson by a landslide. Taking the in person part of canvassing out because of the coronavirus goes against the grain.

So much is at stake in the Nov. 3 election we have to get involved. While I’m busy with our garden I’m also figuring out how I will engage to elect Democrats. O’Malley Dillon and Plouffe put me on the road to doing that before the Summer Solstice.

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
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 Home Life

Lilac Time

Lilacs through the front door.

The lilacs will soon be in full bloom. They don’t last long. What does?

Social distancing in the coronavirus pandemic has me well ahead in the garden, creating an in between time to consider life’s possibilities.

This week I plan to plant tomato and pepper seedlings and get everything I can into the ground. We are past the last frost, although with as chilly as it’s been, things aren’t growing well yet. There’s no hurry.

That said, there has been plenty of arugula, lettuce, spinach, spring garlic, pak choy, mustard greens and spring onions. What we don’t get in greens from our garden we get from the CSA spring share. I have big salads on the dinner menu three times this week and side dishes of stir fried greens every other day but Friday. When I was a younger gardener I didn’t understand the importance of greens to the enterprise. Now I do.

I’ve taken to hanging a U.S. flag over the garage door. The one I use flew over the U.S. Capitol. I paid $16 for it through our congressman. For a long while I flew the flag I took with us on field maneuvers in the Army. I flew that one from the radio antenna during non-tactical road marches. It got worn so I replaced it. Flags wear out. Everything does.

I’m down to my last face mask so Jacque has been getting input on what kind she should make for me. The one I have is a dust mask from the garage workshop. It fits snugly. It serves. The new one will have parts of an obsolete vacuum cleaner bag as the filter medium. While Americans have poor discipline in their behavior to prevent spread of COVID-19 (or lack of discipline, more likely), we’ll do our best not to catch it or transmit. The main thing is going out only when we need to. With the garden and plenty to do inside it shouldn’t be a problem. It’s better for us anyway.

Today’s challenge is figuring out what to do beyond getting through each day. I’d been dodging the idea of retirement and now that the pandemic flipped me to this new status I’m not sure what to do with the rest of my life. I’m not used to working without a clear plan. I need to make one and for that I need new priorities. It’s an in between time for now and those decisions will be delayed for another day.

For the time being, the allure of lilac scent beckons me outside.

Categories
Home Life Writing

Don’t Cook Tonight

Great Grandmother in her garden.

When I was a grader, Mother would send me to the corner grocery store to secure provisions for the evening meal.

We had a corner grocery store. It was a block and a half away from home. There were no supermarkets within walking distance.

I don’t recall its name. A family owned it and the husband was the butcher. When it closed, run out of business by the multi-location Geifman Food Store that situated a block and a half away, they moved to the west end of town where the butcher was murdered in his store.

I was a paper boy for the Times-Democrat. The hyphenated name is from a 1964 merger into what eventually became part of Lee Enterprises and is now the Quad-City Times. I delivered the evening edition after school and the corner grocery was near the end of my route. At that time paper boys collected subscriptions directly from customers. When I finished weekly collections I’d stop at the store to buy a package of baseball cards or a candy bar. I remember a six-pack of 10 ounce bottles of Pepsi sold for 60 cents, the lesser known sodas bottled a few blocks away sold for 54 cents. Mother discouraged us from drinking soda.

The corner grocery store was an important part of our family life. Then it wasn’t.

Grandmother grew up on a farm and knew how to cook. She knew where food came from and how to prepare a live chicken. In our early years she lived near us, next door when I was a toddler, upstairs when I was in the first grade. After that she was a regular guest for Sunday dinners and special occasions like Easter when she checked in with her grandchildren and helped mom in the kitchen.

In the 1960s we began to eat more food prepared outside our home. Mom also began experimenting with different food preparations. We developed a taste for tacos and I recall the corner grocery didn’t carry some Mexican ingredients we liked, requiring me to walk to nearby Geifman’s. It was a sign of the end of the corner store.

In 1966 Joe Whitty moved to Davenport and ended up living with his young family in a rental the second house north from ours. It was across the street from a family that owned the dairy. He worked at the nearby hospital where I had been born, first as a baker, then as dietary director. He went on to establish a chain of pizza and ice cream stores. One of the ice cream stores ended up on the lot where the corner grocery store had been, although after I left Davenport.

On the other side of the church where I was baptized, about two blocks away from home and next to the Geifman Food Store, was a restaurant called Chicken Delight. They had a radio jingle, “Don’t cook tonight, call Chicken Delight.” The chain was founded in Illinois in 1952 and grew to have more than 1,000 locations. It was a take out and delivery only place and I don’t recall eating their chicken during the eleven years I lived at home there. Without the dining room we had little interest. If we had their product at home, I have no memory of it.

Chicken Delight was not known for its quality as each store followed their own cooking process, sometimes with their own equipment. That’s unlike the McDonald’s franchises which grew to prominence in the 1960s. McDonald’s prided itself on consistent quality in all their stores. They even had a “Hamburger University” near Chicago to train managers in how to operate with consistent results. Today there are not many Chicken Delight stores and most that remain are located in Canada. The women in our house knew how to make chicken and the family consensus was ours was better. Eventually one of the former neighbor’s pizza restaurants located in the Chicken Delight space.

That’s not to say we didn’t dine out in the 1960s, we did. We favored local, family run restaurants like Riefe’s Family Restaurant and Bell Eat Shop. Our parents knew both families. When McDonald’s built a restaurant on Brady Street we drove over there as a family once in a while. Their burgers and fries were different from Mother’s. They were cheap too. We ate in the car. We also drove to the A&W Root Beer stand where servers brought trays of food and drinks that hung on our car windows.  The rise of automobile culture made home delivery pizza popular and inexpensive.

Grandmother would take us to Bishop’s Buffet on special occasions. We enjoyed being able to pick what we wanted from a generous selection of items like Mom and Grandmother made at home. In some ways it was a form of nostalgia. Grandmother insisted on paying the bill. These family events were important to her.

That’s the range of our 1960s dining experience outside home. A lot has changed since then. When Grandmother was born in the 19th Century people cooked most meals at home or took a dish to a potluck for weddings, funerals or other occasions where they ate what others had prepared. Prior to the current pandemic food prepared outside home comprised more than half of American diets according to the USDA. When the coronavirus recedes I expect there will be a rebound in restaurant eating.

It takes work to remember these things. Memories are not always accurate. What is important now may not have been important then. In the end, it is up to the author to research and present each story leaning on known facts. We must resist the temptation to tell a story only because the narrative flows or with ideological intent. It is hard to listen to one’s own voice and ignore what others may have experienced or have to say about something. We each own our memories even though there are shared experiences. We must be true to ourselves.

I’d like to be writing more pieces like this. I hope I will.

Categories
Home Life Social Commentary

Living with COVID-19

Supermoon viewed through the atmosphere, May 7, 2020.

I participated in a United Parcel Service webinar about challenges posed to supply chains by the coronavirus pandemic.

Rich Hutchinson of Boston Consulting Group presented an overview of our response to the pandemic that made plain, clear sense. He used three Fs — Flatten, Fight and Future — to frame his discussion.

We read and see a lot of information about the pandemic. In Iowa we fixate on daily reported number of cases and deaths. We need a break from that. The take away from Hutchinson’s analysis was as global corporations and mid to large size businesses use the pandemic to re-engineer their approach to supply chain and how they operate their businesses, regular people should be doing the same.

We understand what flattening the curve means, the first F. By reducing spread of COVID-19 we take the peak load off the bell curve of hospital bed usage and ventilator deployment so our health care system can handle the pandemic. In Iowa we began flattening the curve eight weeks ago with the governor’s March 9 proclamation of a disaster emergency due to COVID-19. Thus far the health care system has been able to handle the caseload. Hutchinson expected this phase of the pandemic to last several months with regional variations depending upon the extent of community spread of the disease.

Recent surveys show most people are not ready to end sheltering at home and restriction of business operations, although the president and the Iowa governor favor easing restrictions now. Governor Kim Reynolds issued new orders to ease restrictions yesterday. Whether we agree or disagree with elected officials’ approach, at some point people have to do more than shelter at home and shop on line or in limited trips to retail establishments that remain open. When the flatten the curve stage of the pandemic is over, COVID-19 will persist into the next phase. To cope with it, new approaches to what we previously took for granted about social interaction must be developed and adopted.

The second F, fight COVID-19, is not much discussed, but needs to be. Fighting the pandemic is expected to be book ended by an end to the first phase (i.e. the curve has been flattened) and development and implementation of either a cure or herd immunity. Policy implemented during the flatten the curve phase continues but will be relaxed. It could get ugly. Cases of COVID-19 continue to exist and spread during the fight phase, including additional significant outbreaks. The expectation is this phase will last another 12-24 months until there is a cure. This is the scariest part of the pandemic because as severe restrictions on business and social interaction are relaxed, identification of cases of COVID-19 and deaths are expected to continue in our daily reporting.

The most important phase is our future, the final F. I’m concerned about what the future will look like. My spouse retired last year and I retired last month because of risk of COVID-19 exposure. It seems likely my consumer behavior will change and be more limited than it was last year. With retirement this would happen without COVID-19. Society is not in a place where it makes sense for our political leaders to tell us “the economy is opening.” Nor would the advice President George W. Bush gave as we were coming out of the recession, “to go shopping,” make sense. I empathize with small business owners like cosmetologists, nail salon operators, and barbers who are itching to get back to work and generate operating income. At a minimum we need to deal with the pandemic for at least another couple of years and accommodate new behavior to protect us from the disease. How will businesses create needed changes in light of an extended pandemic? Our path forward is unclear at this writing.

If the question is whether workers will offer themselves as human sacrifice on the altar of late stage capitalism, Americans seem unlikely to do that. That’s not who we are. We expect more from our political leaders than they have given. The vacuum of leadership at the top — the president, the legislative branch of the federal government, and the Iowa governor — created a disconnect between corporations which can lobby government and people like me who lack such standing and may be forced to return to society beyond its digital aspects. My bottom line is no one is providing us with the type of information we need to make it to the new future us. That is as much a problem as the pandemic itself.

The first step in developing a future, post-pandemic life is recognizing our current location in the process. For a newly retired person it is easier to develop a future life than for those in their prime earning years. Our lives depended on so many beliefs and assumptions which have now been scrambled. If nothing else, Americans are a resilient people and we’ll figure it out together. Here’s hoping.