Home Life

Rain Broke the Dry Spell

Two days after a full moon, in pre-dawn darkness, it was difficult to see it rained yesterday. It hadn’t rained long, just enough to get the ground wet and start water flowing toward the ditch. It was not enough to seal cracks in the ground caused by a lack of moisture. The ditch near the road has hardly been used for runoff this spring. I hope the dry spell is broken.

After a hiatus, today I return to writing. Garden plot seven remains to be planted yet the hard work of putting in a garden is almost done. Already an abundance of vegetables was harvested even if my favorite hot peppers wait in the greenhouse to be planted.

At the point I realized our yard couldn’t produce enough grass clippings and leaves for garden mulch, and began laying down weed barrier to hold moisture and suppress weeds, everything changed. It was helped along by relenting to the need for fertilizer (composted chicken and turkey manure) and some pesticides used by my organic farming friends. Not everything improves with aging, yet my garden was made better by experience.

May was a month of stuff breaking. We scrambled to cover the expense of new appliances: washer, dryer, range, furnace, and air conditioner. We previously replaced the refrigerator, water heater, water softener, and our 2002 automobile. The new technology is clearly better. I can’t get over how quickly batches of water-bath canning jars come to temperature and boil. Our clothes get cleaner as well. All of this took time in May. We are over the hump, fingers crossed.

The acquisition of Twitter by Elon Musk created turbulence in my social media space. The main change is I notice more trolls. I know to block them without question, yet it is an annoyance. I tried Mastodon, Post, and Spoutible and none of them fills the same need as Twitter. Mastodon was too complicated with their decentralized server model. Spoutible and Post have a lot of nice people, yet the depth of relationship is lacking and may become an issue. The other legacy social media accounts (Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook) are doing what they do without issue.

There wasn’t a lot to write about in Iowa Politics this spring. Republicans in the legislature had super majorities and could and did pass what they wanted. The trouble for a political blog writer is getting a handle on the changes and creating an approach that makes sense while Democrats are in the minority. One would have thought logic and reason would be the path, yet no. Republicans now take legislative action based on tropes and whims from the great beyond. To use logic serves their misinformation purposes. Building a story board will require more effort than usual as we prepare for the 2024 and 2026 elections.

Lack of rain is concerning. The Midwestern garden relies upon a consistent amount of rainfall spaced at predictable intervals. As the atmosphere and our oceans warm, more moisture is stored in the atmosphere. Rainfall we were used to became the exception rather than something upon which gardeners can rely. It leaves us with the unpredictability of life. When the dry spell breaks, we can breathe easier, at least for a little while.

Living in Society

An Assembly

Stinocher Post #460 American Legion Color Guard on Memorial Day, 2023.

Members of our community gathered for events over the Memorial Day weekend. I did not know most of the people I encountered, yet felt a part of it. I did recognize most of the veterans in the American Legion color guard at Monday’s service.

We don’t neighbor the way we used to when I was coming up at the American Foursquare in Davenport. I remember getting to know everyone on our block, at least a little, when I was a grader. I had been inside most of the houses and apartments. It was hard to keep up with the several rentals, yet if someone owned their home, I knew who they were and a bit about their history. Geography was an important part of neighboring. It is less so today.

We gather in different ways in the 21st century. Our county Democratic party is trying to resuscitate the idea of “neighborhoods” in an effort to prepare for the 2024 and 2026 elections. Such geographical neighborhoods they describe don’t exist any more, especially in rural Iowa. In a place where automobile culture takes us to remote jobs and commercial enterprises, we are less rooted in the physical community. With increasing specialization of interests, there are fewer people who share them in our immediate locale. While rural folks may reflect the same humanity as anyone, the distance from population centers and their work, shopping, health care, and intellectual assets creates a divide unlikely to be breached.

By nature of our humanity we live in a place. How we socialize is unchained from restrictions of geography. That makes assumptions about how one canvasses and gets out the vote in a geography obsolete. That is, we need to invent a new way of locating and turning out voters. Thus far, if the string of Iowa Democratic losses is any indication, we’ve not proven to be much good at it.

Why do we gather in person? On Memorial Day, the reasons are clear, and each person has a role in a public ceremony. The difficulty I increasingly experience is separating from people by political party. The old methods of winning elections haven’t worked for a couple of cycles, and I’d rather spend time with people I know who don’t have the interest of Democrats. Age, status in life, volunteerism and others mean more than politics. The assumption that we associate only with people we resemble has not well served us. We need to let go of old ways and assemble under new, to be defined practices.

I don’t opine much about “society,” yet society will be better if we change our associations with others.

Living in Society

Culture of Open Inquiry

Green up on the Lake Macbride Trail.

In 1820 most countries started out on a relatively equal economic footing. Translation: People and regions were poor around the globe.

Author Jeffrey D. Sachs described this world:

Life expectancy was extremely low; children died in vast numbers in the now rich countries as well as the poor countries. Many waves of disease and epidemics, from the Black Death of Europe to smallpox and measles, regularly washed through society and killed mass numbers of people. Episodes of hunger and extreme weather and climate fluctuations sent societies crashing.

The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time, by Jeffrey D. Sachs.

What changed, according to Sachs, was the onset of the Industrial Revolution. Why did this happen in Britain before China, which had been the technological world leader for a millennium? In part, British society was relatively open after the decline of serfdom, its traditions of free speech and open debate contributed to the implementation of new ideas, and Britain became one of the leading centers of Europe’s scientific revolution. “With Britain’s political openness, speculative scientific thinking was given opportunity to thrive, and the scientific advances on the Continent stimulated an explosion of scientific discovery in England,” he wrote.

The impact of these conditions of intellectual inquiry is old news. Yet today’s Americans should take note as legislatures around the country restrict tenure among university professors, ban books, control school curriculum, regulate who can use which bathroom, and remove funding from projects that contribute to understanding of our most significant problems. Lawmakers are putting a damper on open inquiry. Dumbing down and censorship do not represent a path to create the explosion of new ideas and technological innovation needed to survive and thrive in the years ahead. Who could even have imagined this might become a concern?

The deliberate destruction of knowledge is not new. Libraries and archives have been attacked since ancient times. Today, public libraries fight for their very existence as they are censored, deprived of funding, and subject to pressure from political, religious and cultural forces. Open inquiry in this context is hobbled by real constraints.

The latest hobble here in Iowa is elimination of funding for an important water quality sensor program at the IIHR Hydroscience and Engineering center at the University of Iowa’s College of Engineering. Erin Jordan of the Cedar Rapids Gazette covered the story here. “Iowa deploys about 70 sensors each year on streams and rivers across the state that measure nitrate loads and concentration so observers can tell whether water treatment plant upgrades, wetland improvements and agricultural conservation practices are working to reduce pollution,” Jordan wrote.

“Defunding progress reporting and monitoring is not the direction we should be going in our approach to nutrient pollution in Iowa,” Alicia Vasto, water program director for the Iowa Environmental Council told the Gazette. “Iowa taxpayers deserve accountability for the funding that is being spent on nutrient reduction practices.”

Hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico, caused by nutrient runoff in Midwestern farming operations, is a problem. Closing down open inquiry into solutions to the problem is exactly the wrong direction.

We Americans are better off today than we were before the Industrial Revolution. The lesson that should be taught in schools is open inquiry into the problems of our day is as important as any curriculum item. Regretfully, my opinion may be viewed as that of just another advocate. In today’s society, the powers that be don’t want the rest of us to do too much thinking. Therein is the problem.

Living in Society

From Society to Soup

Vegetable soup before cooking.

I’ve turned from society to soup. Not sure how I feel about that, yet the soup smells pretty darned good. The leafy green vegetables were harvested the same day, many of the vegetables were grown in the kitchen garden last season then preserved, and lentils and barley came direct from a super market. This soup made a fine dinner with five quarts leftover for the coming week and beyond.

As we age we spend more time alone. Children, if we have them, develop their own lives. In the Midwest, many of us work to age in place and the home becomes a quiet warehouse of memories and too much stuff no one needs or wants any more. To expect something different puts too much burden on our offspring. A key element of successful living after age seventy is learning to live well alone… and to let go of the possessions because you can’t take them with you.

After working a five-hour shift in the garden, I’m pretty tired for the rest of the day. Yesterday I came indoors for lunch and started the pot of soup. Most of the knife work was done before I put up the vegetables last year. All I had to do was peel potatoes and carrots, gather items from the freezer and pantry, and put everything in the pot with salt and a few bay leaves. It simmered all afternoon.

Loneliness is a normal part of aging. Because of connections formed over a lifetime, we live in a galaxy of friendship. From time-to-time we forget about our network, although we shouldn’t. When one makes so much soup, there is plenty to share.

Living in Society

We’re Going Home – Gordon Lightfoot

Gordon Lightfoot passed on Monday. Early Morning Rain was on my playlist when I performed on the guitar. It is one of my favorite songs of any artist. May he rest in peace.

Living in Society

Radio Still On

Compost Bin with Solar/Spring Powered Radio

My earliest memories of radio are of neighbors across the alley listening to Chicago baseball games. They turned the volume loud enough we could hear the sports announcer yet not make out what they were saying. It created a summer neighborhood ambience in the pre-JFK years.

Today a radio is on when I’m working in the kitchen, garage or garden. I also turn it on in the car. My listening habits are steady: country music in the garden, car and garage, and classical in the kitchen. I no longer like listening to news broadcasts on the radio.

Transistor radios were popular when I was a preteen. We could listen to the AM radio and hear the latest music without parental supervision. I tuned in to KSTT radio in Davenport and remember the songs from 1963 until I went to high school. It felt cool to be able to directly link to the broadcasts. I tried to get a copy of the printed weekly Top 40 list and follow along with the songs.

Radio was important when I lived in Germany. For the most part, I had no television and listened to the Armed Forces Network in my truck or at home. They played a lot of old radio serials, which I enjoyed. News had a Europe-centered slant. I have living memory of a radio announcer reporting from the Vatican during the conclave of the College of Cardinals to elect a new pope. We waited dramatically for the color of the smoke from the Sistine Chapel to be identified and announced.

A Prairie Home Companion first aired on July 6, 1974. I didn’t know about it until after my return from Germany in 1979. After we married, it became a staple on Saturday afternoons. When Garrison Keillor left the show (for the second time), nothing good replaced it and my Saturdays were never the same.

My crank powered radio with a solar panel on it gave up the ghost. The crank spring wore out and the dials wouldn’t turn any more. I bought a new one that can also charge a mobile device. I don’t crank it much, using the solar receptors for my garden radio experience. If there was a night-time power outage, we could keep our mobile devices charged.

When I retired, I moved my clock-radio-alarm from the bedroom to on top of the refrigerator. The device has a 9-volt battery, which when there is a power outage, enables it to keep time. I figured I didn’t need an alarm after retirement. It turns out that figuring was accurate.

When the radio plays a song I recognize it does something to me. I listen and follow along with the lyrics if I know them. It is getting so I do know the lyrics of a lot of songs. I suppose the radio is training me to get addicted to listening. Thing is, I’m usually too busy working on something that requires my attention. Even if I focus on the task at hand, the radio plays in the background. After all these years, I guess I like it that way.

Living in Society

Cold Saturday

Blue Bells.

I planted peas yesterday. It seems late getting them in, yet like everything in gardening, we sow our seeds and hope for the best. There is nothing like a bowl of sugar snap peas in the refrigerator for snacking.

Cooler ambient temperatures have made it difficult to get in the garden. Meanwhile, seedlings started indoors have used up almost every available space. We need a few days in a row of better weather to get at least the cruciferous vegetables in the ground. Fingers crossed we’ll get that this week.

I finished reading William Styron’s memoir about depression, Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness. It made me think about whether or not I have been depressed. My tendency is to say no, yet after reading Styron, I’m not sure. I certainly haven’t had debilitating depression like he did. When I heard him read from The Long March at university, he had no appearance of being depressed. He recovered from his depression and wrote the memoir. The fame of it eclipsed that of his previous books. Despite depression, Styron achieved a level of success few writers have.

Depression has not played any significant role in my life.

Darkness Visible raises the question of suicide. Styron lists many successful, creative people who took their own lives. He considered suicide himself. I’ve considered what suicide is, yet have not been tempted to take that step in my creative endeavors. I accept that I’m alive, and thanks to my parents I felt valued as a child. That carried me through difficult times in my life. I’m more worried about unintentionally killing myself by things such as falling off the roof during my twice annual inspections, flipping the John Deere tractor while mowing the ditch, or by falling down the stairs because there is no handrail. These situations need resolution soon.

The best news is I continue to crave sugar snap peas grown in our garden. Growing them keeps me engaged with life and chases the blues away. I can’t wait to get back out in the garden… So I can chill a bowl of peas in the refrigerator.

Living in Society

Trash Talk

Iowa State Capitol.

Republicans in the Iowa legislature are treating children like trash. It is part of their view of the role of children in society. It is not right.

Republicans embrace our forefathers, and seek to make Iowa and America great. They don’t want to hear alternative views of American history, like those presented in The 1619 Project created by Nikole Hannah-Jones of Waterloo. They also don’t want to go back to our founding in 16th Century Britain, although that’s where we seem to find ourselves today.

Today’s Republicans embrace the worst aspects of 16th Century colonization, including the idea of Richard Hakluyt that children of the poor be “brought up in labor and work” so they would not follow in their parents’ footsteps and become “idle rogues.” These Republicans are no different than the British elite who had never set foot in the Americas as they rounded up the poor, indigent, and criminal, as well as children, to send to North America and return riches made with the sweat of their brows.

When I woke at 3 a.m. this morning the Iowa Senate was deadlocked over Senate File 542, a bill to roll back protections for children against inappropriate types and amounts of labor. The bill was written by the governor and a small coterie of restaurant and retail establishment lobbyists seeking to resolve Iowa’s labor shortage. Deadlock was related to the spoken intent of the bill. Republicans didn’t want to say anything about their intent, so they refused to answer direct questions about the bill during debate. This is behavior unworthy of their oath of office.

I worked on the cleanup crew of a large slaughterhouse as an adult, and it’s no place for children regardless of the law. This is common sense.

Children are not something to be used up and thrown into the garbage. Yet that is the effect this legislation could have. Republicans frame this as learning the responsibility to work and saving a little money for higher education or other advancement of personal goals. I see it for what it is: a chance to indoctrinate children to do the bidding of the wealthiest among us and in doing so, give up part of their childhood.

No matter how you look at it, it is a raw deal for children when they are treated like expendable commodities. The Iowa House will debate this bill next.

Living in Society

We’re Going Home — Jim Schmidt

New Road, 1939 by Grant Wood.

When Jim Schmidt had a stroke 15 years ago, he was never the same. He almost died. Jim was one of a small number of people in this community of 7,000 with whom we could engage more deeply about intellectual matters. The stroke took that away from us. It hurt no less when he died on Friday, April 7, 2023.

Jim Schmidt’s obituary from the Cedar Rapids Gazette can be read here.

Part of Jim’s legacy was his analysis of the local terrain where Grant Wood painted New Road in 1939, with its mention of the City of Solon. The article, written by our mutual friend Janet Brown, was quite popular. It contributed to the Solon Public Library securing the rights to make prints and note cards of the image, and sell them to raise much needed funds for the library.

After so long, memories of our discussions faded. What remains important is we had those discussions, and for a while, had hope of making the world a better place. May his memory be a blessing.

Home Life

Iowa Spring – 2023 Edition

Trail walking on April 12, 2023.

My spouse and I noticed the mulberry tree on walkabout Tuesday afternoon.

The mulberry tree was damaged by the 2020 derecho and has begun to die. Branches high in the canopy are losing bark and not regrowing it. Soon it will need to be cut down and recycled. This is the only tree remaining from when we bought the lot in 1993.

We were discussing what to do with the yard. Mainly, we need to plant the area in front of the house where it was cleared last year. A flower bed of some kind will go there.

We took out the maple tree stump last year. We are considering replacement with some kind of tall bush rather than another tree, a forsythia or hydrangea, maybe.

More than half the Red Delicious apple tree is gone due to wind storms yet it seems very robust. Hard to tell if there will be an apple crop this year, yet under normal circumstances, there should be one.

Finally, the trays of seedlings are now outdoors in the greenhouse. It should be easier to water them. Next into the ground are onion sets, beets, and spinach. Hopefully there will be progress midst ambient temperatures in the 70s today.

Now to close this entry out and head for the lake trail for a morning walk.