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.

Home Life Writing

Toward Life after a Pandemic

Aerobically composted chicken manure granules for garden fertilizer.

It rained overnight. The driveway was damp as I stepped outside to look at the sky. Clouds were clearing and the big dipper stood out, pointing to the North Star. We are not lost.

It’s a good day to live.

As of yesterday the official number of deaths from COVID-19 was 21,050. By official, I mean those submitted to the National Center for Health Statistics and recorded based on death certificates. There is a lag in the data as the coronavirus reaches exponential spread in the United States. It takes a while to prepare and submit death certificates.

Iowa is in dire shape. We’ve slowed growth of the bell curve yet a surprising number of cases in meat packing plants and care facilities drives the number of cases upward. According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, “After June 26, 2020, relaxing social distancing may be possible (in Iowa) with containment strategies that include testing, contact tracing, isolation, and limiting gathering size.” June 26 is two months away. We’re not out of the woods, and we can’t see the edge of the forest.

I donned protective garb and went out. On Tuesday I went to the wholesale club to provision up on dairy, fruit and vegetables, and a few pantry items. Grocery shopping is my least favorite thing during the pandemic, so I got enough to make it another two weeks.

Yesterday I drove to Monticello to pick up two 50-pound bags of aerobically composted chicken manure crumbles for the garden. I followed their limited contact pickup procedure which was writing the check at home and turning it in after I backed up to the loading door. The warehouse worker loaded my trunk while I returned to the driver’s seat. I also stopped at the public library to pick up supplies for the volunteer project on which my spouse is working. No contact social distancing all around.

In a certain sense, we just crashed into the isolation that is social distancing. A couple of things clarified. I’m not sure I will return to work at the home, farm and auto supply store after my 30-day leave of absence. If I do resign, I doubt I’ll reapply any time soon. It also seems clear our pensions will pay our basic bills with something left over. We’ll continue to pay down debt, although likely at a slower pace.

My daily life remains an educated mishmash. My schedule from 3 a.m. until sunrise is pretty good. It’s the rest of the day that seems to have little planning. What holds me back is besides gardening and a few household maintenance items, I don’t know what will be my main direction after the pandemic recedes.

There is no going back to a life lived prior to the pandemic. These days are good preparation for living more with less resources. Maybe I will be able to retire from paid work. If retired, I’ll still need productive work. In the middle of the coronavirus pandemic it’s hard to determine what that is. Defining post-pandemic life will take deliberate planning. If I approach it with considered hesitancy, it’s because I know what’s at stake.

Home Life

Two Things About The Pandemic

Identifying the Logitech C250 web camera to find a driver.

It’s been 21 straight days of posting about life in the coronavirus pandemic. Thanks for reading. Two things became clear:

First, life as we knew it was scrambled and for the most part that’s been a good thing. When social good comes in the form of staying at home and distancing from others in public to avoid spread of the virus, it’s not a huge personal challenge for a retiree. Many of us needed relief from a busy schedule where it was hard to keep up anyway. The least important parts of my to-do list have fallen off, enabling focus on better priorities.

Second, the coronavirus will be around for a while, into 2022 at least. Once a vaccine is developed, we expect COVID-19 will be among the diseases addressed in annual flu shots. For those of us who get our flu shots, that’s a positive. We’re not there yet, but there is confidence in scientists working to understand the virus and developing a response. For now, we wait. What else is there to do as vaccine development takes time.

My last shift at the home, farm and auto supply store was on April 2 before taking a coronavirus leave of absence. I’ve gone to the farm for two shifts with another today. We practice social distancing in the greenhouse, which means most of my time is spent alone, doing my work. I’ve been grocery shopping twice, wearing a mask and trying to stay away from other shoppers and staff. I picked up volunteer work for my spouse at the library where the worker brought it to the door. We maintained a distance and chatted for a couple of minutes. She’s also one of my kale customers.

There is already pent up demand to get among people again, not just for me, but generally. In Iowa the number of confirmed tests for COVID-19 is still increasing, as are the number of daily deaths reported by the Iowa Department of Public Health. We are a distance from resuming normal activities as the “curve” is still progressing on the upward side of the bell. So we wait.

When I interviewed a U.S. Senate candidate on Thursday, we used the newly popular video conferencing platform Zoom. Since I didn’t know we were using Zoom until minutes before I was to log in, I didn’t have time to address my lack of a web camera. It looked pretty lame for just my name to show on the screen, although the interview went reasonably well.

A physician friend gave me his old monitor for my desktop when he upgraded. It has an October 2003 manufacture date. My technology works, but it’s old.

Digging through boxes of electronic gear, of which there seem to be a large number, I found the Logitech C250 web camera that plugs into a USB port, downloaded the driver, and am now ready to go on Zoom, Skype or whatever platform requires it. With social distancing, I’ll need it, probably.

No end to the pandemic is on the horizon. At the same time, the advent of spring is undeniable. A time of hope, of making plans, and for planting seeds. This year I’m increasing the productivity of the garden by using more space. Friends and neighbors may need the produce as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

Home Life Writing

News Fasting

Homemade crackers.

At noon yesterday I decided to take a 15-hour break from reading news.

I got work done in the house, including making the crackers in this photo.

I slept through the night and feel ready to go. There is pent up demand to get outside in the garden, conditions are favorable, it’s all systems go.

Part of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic is managing time while social distancing. When the weather keeps us indoors for a couple of days we don’t want to go crazy. The news makes me crazy. Now that I recognize that, it’s possible to do something about it.

Once the sun comes up, it’s out to the garden I go.

Garden Home Life

Mid-April Snow

World’s Best Dad

Last night’s snowfall should melt by sunset as the forecast is ambient temperatures in the 40s. The sound of melting snow moving in the gutter is already background for this morning’s work.

Three inches of heavy, wet snow is melting on the car parked in the driveway. I won’t get into the garden again today. Early vegetables are in, so no worries.

Last night I participated in a Facebook live interview of former Admiral Michael Franken who is running in the June 2 Democratic primary election for U.S. Senate. With the coronavirus pandemic, in person interviews are taboo. We discussed his name recognition, the climate crisis, arms control, media reform, the postal service, federal research funding of infectious disease in livestock, unions, China, and the military budget. Here’s the link. My interview ran about an hour.

We received a package from our daughter who, along with tens of thousands of employees and contractors at the Walt Disney Company, is going on furlough Sunday, April 19. According to artifacts unearthed in the box, I am the “world’s best Dad.”

Just leaving it there for today.

Garden Home Life

Gardening in the Pandemic

Pear Leaves.

Buds of leaves and flowers are beginning to burst. Spring has sprung with its sunny yet chilly good news. I planted in the greenhouse and in the ground on Friday.

In the greenhouse:

Multi-colored Swiss Chard, Ferry-Morse, 50-60 days.

In the ground:

Oregon Giant Snow Peas, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 60 days.
Super Sugarsnap Peas, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 60 days.
Hakurei Turnips, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 38 days.

I took one of the cars for a spin, literally. I drove out of the subdivision, north on the lane to the highway, and proceeded to the roundabout at the intersection leading alternately to Ely, the state park, or back to the City of Solon. I drove around a few times. My gas gauge showed full, so I drove back home. The traffic was light so I didn’t bother anyone.

Today is the ninth day since I worked at the home, farm and auto supply store. I began my 30-day unpaid leave of absence for the coronavirus pandemic on April 6. Time away from structured work will scramble life in a way I hadn’t anticipated. Unimportant things fall off. There is new focus on daily habits and patterns. Something different and hopeful will emerge from the isolation. There is no path back to my life before the pandemic. I appreciate social isolation yet recognize our common endeavors on this floating blue-green sphere. I look forward to diving back into society.

The rest of my day was spent considering how to layout the garden, working in the garden, and managing seedlings in my portable greenhouse. I expect to bring seedling trays back from the farm on Sunday so I’d better make room.

It’s been 35 days since Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds activated the state emergency operations center to prepare for COVID-19. According to the Iowa coronavirus website there have been 1,388 confirmed cases of the disease and 31 deaths. Hardest hit have been middle aged adults (ages 41-60) with 537 cases, followed by adults (ages 18-40) with 432. We don’t have detailed statistics about ages of the deceased. 506 people are recovering.

“Flattening the curve” entered common parlance. The idea is to spread contraction of COVID-19 over time so medical capacity is not overwhelmed by patients needing care. As of today, Iowa has enough hospital beds, ICU units and invasive ventilators to meet demand during the pandemic. It is early, but if caseload holds at current levels we may run out of ICU units first. We are a long way from using available hospital beds. Given the projected numbers, a tweak in the system will be needed to accommodate patients. Today, peak resource use is projected for April 30.

We don’t know how many have contracted COVID-19 because of a lack of testing beyond people who self-identify with symptoms or are diagnosed by a medical practitioner. Many have criticized the government response to the pandemic. After all, we live in a Democracy with social media. My sense is the state is doing the best they can while the shit show in Washington, D.C. provides distraction for those who want it. There is no lack of things to distract us.

The governor announced the June 2 primary election will go on. The Secretary of State announced he will send absentee ballot requests to every registered voter. This weekend we’ll print requests ourselves, fill them out, and send them to the county auditor. The only contested races here are for county supervisor, U.S. Senate, and county sheriff. Easy decisions all. The big election is Tuesday, Nov. 3.

It’s hard to believe people are undecided about the direction of the country. Social media allows minority opinions to flourish and gain traction within that small universe of voters. People are bitching and moaning about various aspects of the candidates and process. But undecided? How is that even possible now that we know the choices for president? In October 2008 David Sedaris summarized my current feelings about undecided voters.

I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?”

To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.

Rain is forecast after 2 p.m. There is more planting to do, branches to cut into firewood and fencing to clean and mend. Making space in the greenhouse takes time, but that will be done in the garage if it rains.

It’s part of sustaining a life during the coronavirus pandemic.

Home Life Social Commentary

Cold and Windy Spring Day

Portable Greenhouse

Tuesday was the last time I started the automobiles.

I plan a drive in each of them later today to make sure the batteries don’t drain. With gasoline selling for $1.259 per gallon I’ll don a protective mask and gloves and fill the one I missed while out to buy groceries.

It’s a maintenance mode of living as we wait out the coronavirus pandemic.

Strong gusts of wind had me bring the greenhouse seedlings into the garage yesterday afternoon. If it did blow over, I didn’t want to lose the work done since February. It’s still standing this morning.

Overnight ambient temperature dropped below freezing, so when I return the plants to their shelves after sunrise I’m going to run a space heater out to warm them. The forecast is ambient temperatures around 50 degrees after noon. The sun should take over warming by then.

The death count in Iowa due to COVID-19 was 29 yesterday. It’s not as bad as in New York where they are digging mass graves, running out of morgue space, and recruiting mortuary workers and out of state funeral directors to help with the volume of work as bodies pile up. Projections in Iowa are there will be plenty of mortuary workers to handle the expected 565 COVID-19 deaths projected by Aug. 4.

The pandemic is real and people who own and operate small businesses are getting antsy. Under normal circumstances a small business owner is eligible for unemployment payments only if they pay in for themselves or their employees. Most sole proprietorship operators don’t.

There is discussion in the national media about stimulus bill funding for small business owner payrolls to make sure they make it to the other side of the pandemic. People I know in this situation, who have applied for unemployment to Iowa Workforce Development, had their claims denied. There is a lack of information about how this provision of the stimulus will work, or whether it even exists. Bottom line is the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been too little, too late.

With non-essential business shut down three weeks ago, small business operators are having trouble making ends meet without their regular cash flow. Some are considering returning to work to resolve the stress. It’s easy to say that’s not a good idea during a period of contagion, but our household is financially stable and as such, mine is a perspective of privilege.

As retired workers, our family relies on our Social Security pensions. Politicians floated the idea of increasing Social Security payments temporarily this week. That doesn’t seem necessary. The main thing about Social Security should be to ensure that the trust fund is solvent now and beyond 2034 when if nothing is done it will begin to run out of money. That’s a worry for another day in light of the pandemic.

After Tuesday’s trip to the wholesale club we are provisioned so we can make it through the end of the pandemic. According to current projections the peak is expected to be April 27 although it will take some time past that date for the CDC or Iowa Department of Public Health to give us an all-clear.

For now, I’m focused on planting the garden. If the pandemic continues into summer, we’ll need the produce.

Garden Home Life

Planting During Green Up

Storm Brewing

Green up is all around and it’s time to get tomatoes and peppers planted.

Sunday, in a long session, I planted tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos and eggplant — hopefully enough seedlings for our garden with leftovers to share with neighbors. I planted from seed:

Bell peppers:
Pepper Quadrato D Asti Rosso, Ferry-Morse, 95-110 days.
Garden Leader Monster Bell, Ferry-Morse, 75 days.

Hot Peppers
El Eden (Guajillo), Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 65 days green, 85 days red.
Baron (Ancho), Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 65 days green, 85 days red.
Red Rocket, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 55 days green, 75 days red.
Pastilla Bajo, Ferry-Morse, 80-90 days.
Serrano Chili, Ferry-Morse, 73 days.
Bangkok, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 75 days green, 95 days red.
Long Thin Cayenne, Ferry-Morse, 72 days.
Jalapeno Mild, Ferry-Morse, 72 days.

Slicers and Plums
German Pink, Seed Savers Exchange, 85 days.
Martha Washington, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 78 days.
Black Krim, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 80 days.
Amish Paste, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 85 days.
Speckled Roman, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 85 days.
Granadero, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 75 days.
Brandywine, Seed Savers Exchange, 80 days.
Abe Lincoln, Ferry-Morse, 70-77 days.
Big Rainbow, Ferry-Morse, 80-102 days.
Aunt Ruby’s German Green, Ferry-Morse, 80-95 days.
Box Car Willie, Ferry-Morse, 80 days.
Pruden’s Purple, Ferry-Morse, 67-85 days.
Big Red, Ferry-Morse, 85 days.
Mortgage Lifter, Ferry-Morse, 83-90 days.

Jelly Bean, Ferry-Morse, 70 days.
White Cherry, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 59 days.
Red Pearl, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 58 days.
Matt’s Wild Cherry, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 60 days.
Jasper, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 60 days.
Citrine, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 60 days.
Taxi, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 64 days.

Galine, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 65 days.
Early Long Purple, Ferry-Morse, 75 days.
Black Beauty, Ferry-Morse, 85 days.

Tomatillo Purple, Ferry-Morse, 75/85 days.

We had a wind storm last weekend and it shook the portable greenhouse so much the two trays on the top shelves fell to the ground. I was able to salvage much of what fell down. The three varieties of leeks will be difficult to distinguish when I plant them, because they went all over the place. Note to self: bring the trays inside during windstorms.

Cooking Home Life Local Food

Nostalgic Breakfast Tacos

Fresh Cilantro Tacos

There is a 25 percent chance of rain beginning at 9 a.m., according to the weather application. I pulled the cars out of the garage so that space can be used for other projects if the forecast proves to be true. Despite the coronavirus epidemic the waste hauler is working today so I put the trash and recycling bins at the end of the driveway.

I made a taco for breakfast this morning and one of my go-to recipes is easy.

Nostalgic Breakfast Taco

When Mother began cooking tacos at home it was revolutionary. We hadn’t had that at home until the 1960s. The change was partly due to the rise of mass-produced, Mexican-style options at the grocery store. It was also a result of her work at the grade school cafeteria where they made dishes different from what we grew up with. Cafeteria work broadened our home food repertory. While we don’t eat beef in our home now, commercial soybean crumbles create a texture and flavor that reminds me of those early days when she made tacos for the first times. Here’s how it went this morning.

Two frying pans go on high heat. In one cook a pre-made organic flour tortilla. In the other heat a scant tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.

Dice half a medium-sized onion and part of a frozen bell pepper. They go into the hot oil. You’ll hear the sizzle. Stirring constantly, season with salt, dried cilantro and powdered chilies. Cook until the onions and peppers are soft. Stir in a clove or two of minced garlic and cook until a garlic aroma rises from the pan. Stir for a minute or so and add one half cup of commercial frozen soybean crumbles. Stir until thawed and set aside.

Place the cooked tortilla on a dinner plate and garnish from the bottom up: a layer of Mexican cheese to taste, pickled sliced jalapeno peppers, salsa or hot sauce to taste. Put the fry up on top of the garnishes and serve with a beverage of choice.

I look forward to when garden cilantro and tomatoes are available. Tacos are a way to explore your palate and discover who you are. For me it’s a chance to remember standing around the kitchen in that American foursquare home with family while reflecting on how our lives have changed. Even on a rainy day that is positive experience.

Garden Home Life

First Big Grove Garden Plot

First Garden Plot, Feb. 24, 2020.

I planted our first Big Grove Township garden in Spring 1994. What I grew is lost in memory.

Yesterday the original plot looked a wreck with desiccated weeds and a hodge-podge of sunken containers, fencing, two composters, a wheel barrow, an old wash tub, six-inch pieces of drainage tile resting on a couple of pallets, and a locust tree. The locust tree was intended for transplant but it got away from me.

I don’t know if the locust tree will recover from last winter’s extremely cold temperatures. The tips of branches in the crown did not leaf out last spring. If it doesn’t recover I’ll take the tree out even though the shade it provides protects plants and conserves moisture during our increasingly hot, dry summers. The plot was not meant to be a permanent residence for trees.

A friend in Cedar County gave me black plastic tubs in which feed for their animals was delivered. I cut large holes in the bottom for drainage and buried them to grow potatoes, radishes, lettuce, basil and sundry root crops. Mostly it was for potatoes which when planted in the ground fed small rodents who thrive with us in the garden. The containers worked to keep them away from the roots.

Composters are necessary for a garden to turn organic matter into fertilizer. One is an open air composter made from pallets retrieved from the home, farm and auto supply store. Garden waste goes in there. The other is a sealed, black plastic container for organic household waste such as peelings, fruit cores, and other fruit and vegetable matter generated from the kitchen. That is, it used to be sealed. Over the years something got inside and has been pushing stuff out of the entry point chewed into the plastic. I should fix or replace it. Until I do it remains a place to dump the kitchen compost bucket and produces some usable compost. The next time I move it there will be compost.

If I had a garden shed I would not use the plot for storage. I continue to think about building a shed, but that’s as far as it has gotten. It won’t be this year, or probably next.

Despite all the useful clutter, the plot continues to be productive. Last year I grew broccoli, eggplant, radishes, basil and beets there. The year before I grew cucumbers. The containers are always busy with multiple crops each year. As I plan this year’s garden I see better utilization of this plot.

Ideas about 2020 in plot #1: Belgian lettuce on or about March 2; potatoes in containers on Good Friday; radishes in a container; a crop of something, cucumbers, eggplant, or maybe hot peppers to change from cruciferous vegetables planted here last year. These are ideas, and the beginning of planning. We’ll see how it unfolds, although Belgian lettuce seems certain a week ahead of the date.

I remember digging this plot in 1994, measuring the distance from the property line, a memory of nothing growing in the yard except grasses and a mulberry tree in the Northeast corner. I barely knew how to garden then. In the interim, my views of how to garden have changed for the better.

Based on the 15-day weather forecast, winter is finished. As temperatures climb and the remaining snow melts we had just better accept it we won’t have had much of a winter. It is time to lean into the growing season as soon as Mother Natures enables us. Soon it will be Spring.