Categories
Home Life

Furnace Cleaning Day

Peppers and radicchio gleaned from the garden before first frost.

Early Friday morning I swept around the furnace so the technician arriving in the afternoon had a clean workspace. Most autumns we have the same company who installed our furnace in 1993 inspect and clean it before winter. It is a good idea.

The technician and I chatted outdoors near the garage door. Having chats like this is becoming a thing for me. I learned about the heating and air conditioning trade in the area: which companies worked on what brands of equipment, which were acquired by a larger company. We talked about how smaller companies maintain parts inventory with so many different brands of furnaces and air conditioners. Some companies will work only on brands in which they specialize. As our furnace ages, it will get increasingly difficult to get it serviced. There will be pressure to upgrade to new equipment. Like with anything in the economy the heating and air conditioning business is in transition.

We talked about electrification of homes and he knew few people who did not use natural gas for heating. If we are to get to a decarbonized economy, natural gas, a fossil fuel, will have to go. The conversation illustrated how far we have to go to leave fossil fuels in the ground and get to zero emissions by mid-century..

MidAmerican Energy supplies our home with natural gas for the furnace and water heater. On Oct. 12, they said, “Based on the market prices for natural gas over the last month, residential customers in MidAmerican’s service area can likely expect their total bills to increase by 46-96%.” We keep the thermostat low already, so we’re looking for ways to stay warm and run the furnace less this winter. We’re not sure what to do differently.

I recently fixed the smoke and CO detector on the lower level, replacing the one that stays plugged in with a new one with a ten-year lithium battery. If I’m still living in 2031, I need to remember to change it out. I should be testing it weekly as well.

Thursday afternoon I checked the garden. Weather forecasts were for a first frost that didn’t actually arrive by Friday morning. I gleaned jalapenos, bell peppers and a head of radicchio. The refrigerator is jammed with jalapenos wanting a dish. It will be some form of jalapeno sauce for use in cooking or maybe as salsa on tacos.

I went outside Saturday morning and frost is in the air. A month into autumn, winter will soon be here. We are ready.

Categories
Home Life

Clearing Work Space

Temporary work surface for sorting stuff.

Since we became a one-car family in August the extra garage space filled the way water seeks its own level. Garden stuff, tools and equipment were scattered in every available space. I spent a couple of hours cleaning up and organizing on Saturday. It was a mess, and now is less so.

When I began having larger garlic harvests I cut two by fours to make temporary sawhorses for a drying rack. “Temporary” because I didn’t nail them together so they could be disassembled and easily stored once the garlic cured. In my large panel storage rack I had the remnant of the four foot by eight foot by three quarter inch plywood left from making the platform for our daughter’s loft bed in college. I spread four two by fours across the span of sawhorses and put the plywood on top, finished side up. It made a sturdy table.

I used this surface to clean up the stairway where many cups, COVID-19 test kits, picture frames, and other detritus of living were camped. I also cleared the other sawhorse table near my writing table of its contents. Now I have two transitional surfaces to go through stuff. Three if I can clear the folding table I brought with me from Germany.

In a home, space tends to get used. While approaching septuagenarian status the goal is to clear that space and dispose of old printers and computers, countless electrical cords, and everything not needed for living out the rest of my days. I don’t need one hundred coffee cups. To live a life less on a life expectancy of 15.4 more years (figured using the Social Security online calculator) and more on being here now. That means stop talking about getting rid of stuff and actually do it. No more delays!

Once space was cleared, my daily task list quickly filled with activities related to the disposition of things. I’m a bit excited about the prospect of owning less. We also have plans for new space created. That is, plans other than filling it with more stuff.

Categories
Home Life

Soup Night

Fallen apple, September 2021.

I brought a generous pound of potatoes and two pints of canned vegetable broth from downstairs. There was an almost forgotten patch of leeks in the garden so I made leek and potato soup for dinner. With some sliced apples from our tree, spread with peanut butter, it made a meal.

It has taken some work to get the soup right. While sauteing the leeks and diced onion, seasoned with salt, in some of the vegetable broth I peeled and cut the potatoes into a half-inch dice. I added them to the leek-onion mixture with enough broth to just cover them. The Dutch oven simmered on low heat until the potatoes were soft.

Next I added a tablespoon of arrowroot powder mixed with water, then a cup of oat milk, and then two cups of frozen corn. It simmered a half hour. I added sliced chives from the garden and it was ready to serve. We don’t blend the soup to get a smooth texture, although one could. The key is reducing additions of cooking liquid so the soup thickens. Arrowroot helped.

I finished reading Poet Warrior: A Memoir by Joy Harjo this morning. Harjo is poet laureate of the United States. It was moving in a way other memoirs have not been. It had me thinking about my own life and how it differed and was similar to hers. Now that I’ve tended to my mother’s death bed, reading her story about her mother’s death resonated. I had not previously known of her connection to the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. Maybe what she learned there makes it easy to relate to the narrative. Highly recommend.

Our vehicle is in the shop getting a wheel bearing changed. The mechanics work was made difficult by rust formed on the chassis and undercarriage during our 20 years of ownership. They can do this work, but parts are becoming less available. “It’s not a long-term keeper,” my mechanic said of the vehicle. This is the second or third conversation we’ve had about the rust. Now I’m asking the question, “what kind of vehicle does a septuagenarian need to make it until he can no longer drive?” No answers yet, but thoughts.

The future of transportation is electrification, especially for passenger vehicles and light trucks. If I planned to keep a vehicle for a few years, then trade it, I would have no issue going electric now. We didn’t win the lottery last night and can afford to buy just one car to last. Electrification of automobiles is in transition presently, so as technology develops, who knows if what goes on the market today will be eclipsed by newer technology tomorrow? Well we do know. It will be eclipsed because there will be issues. I’ve worked with Original Equipment Manufacturers enough to know this.

I’m leaning toward a new Toyota Prius which operates with excellent fuel economy and has been on the market long enough to have bugs worked out of it. It is the right size for the two of us and I’ve ridden in them with friends on many occasions. We have a dealer in the county seat that posted a starting price of $28,814. Pricing is negotiable and dependent on specifications. I’d rather just keep the car we have but if repair parts are unavailable and the undercarriage rusts through, our hand is forced.

Once the wheel bearing is replaced we should be good to go for a while. A while may be all we have.

Categories
Home Life

Friday is My Day

Carrot harvest.

We are bunkering in for another lock down. In Iowa, the governor doesn’t believe in mandatory lock downs and schools are opening without mandates to wear a face mask or to get vaccinated. It is a setup for disaster. I bought an extra 30-pack of toilet tissue at the wholesale club and am ready.

While I would not recognize their music, last night the band Nine Inch Nails summed up where American society is two months into Summer 2021:

We will come out of the coronavirus pandemic eventually, either walking upright or six feet under. Am hoping it’s the former.

My current project is structuring a week that makes sense to a retiree. The seven-day pattern is a bit arbitrary, yet it is what I’m used to, what cultural resonance that remains encourages. Friday is my day.

On Fridays I eschew shopping and leaving the property to focus on household activities. For example, on deck today is picking up fallen apples under the EarliBlaze trees, harvesting tomatoes, canning Roma tomatoes, making apple cider vinegar, wrapping up a book review for Blog for Iowa, and my usual morning routine with an added hour of reading. The end of the day usually begins with supper of a home made pizza and sometimes a beer.

If there are things to wrap up with my engagements with groups, I pay attention to them on Friday. If it can wait until Monday, it does. Friday represents a turning toward renewal over the following two days of the weekend.

I’m okay with where Fridays are landing. We have to maintain our sanity, and making Friday my day is a step in that direction.

Best wishes to my regular readers for a happy Friday!

Categories
Home Life

Making Space

Second food bank donation: Winterbor kale and garlic scapes.

After ending her relationship with a large entertainment company in Florida last November, our daughter decided to move to the Midwest to pursue creative endeavors. Her new apartment rental agreement starts July 1. We plan to make some storage space in our home for extra possessions in case she needs it. Logistics and storage is part of what a parent offers an adult child.

We’ll see if storage space is actually needed. I looked at her new apartment online at a real estate marketplace company website. It appears she will have plenty of room as she is moving from a situation where she rents a single room in a house shared with others to a three-room apartment. She is planning the move and we are standing by to help as we are asked.

The storage space here can likely be created by discarding packing material accumulated over the years. Once finished with that, I’ll consolidate building materials in one spot and use the platform of the loft bed I built for her in college for any new storage items. Prepping the space is likely a one-shift job.

Since we married, we lived in five different places, including the current home since August 1993. The idea of us moving seems like too much work. Our home has become our main financial investment and the majority of our net worth. We are lucky to have a home we own outright. Even if financial conditions get dire, we’ll try to retain ownership.

After years of accumulation — from settling estates, from auctions and tag sales, from failing to dispose of outdated clothing, appliances and the like — we are filling it up. That needs to change as we prepare the home for our aging. For the time being, we can still make more space.

Categories
Home Life Writing

Gravel Roads

Cedar Township

We rely on the county secondary roads department to keep farm-to-market routes in good shape. Each spring, gravel roads need grading and gravel application. While they are not well-traveled, people notice if they are in disrepair. Secondary Roads did a great job on those I use, like the one in the photograph taken after my shift at the farm.

My soil blocking at the CSA is winding down. Yesterday I started early because of mid day heat. I showered afterward and went to the wholesale warehouse to get provisions. That’s my work for the week so the next scheduled trip off property is not until Monday to deliver produce to the food pantry. That is, unless she calls ready to come home.

Having the house to myself is a little weird. I set up a music station on the dining room table. The three-in-one device plays radio, compact disks or audio cassette tapes. We keep things pretty quiet most of the time, so it is evidence of temporarily letting loose. Last night I played my Greg Brown CDs. Brown tells a story I’d like to believe about Iowa.

The menu I wrote for the both of us is out the window. There was leftover rice so I used it with other bits and pieces from the ice box to make a dish: leftover beans, kale, onions, bell pepper, and seasonings. That served as breakfast and dinner on Wednesday.

In addition to drinking a Coca-Cola on Tuesday, last night I drank the first beer since March 13, 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic. I bought a case of Stella Artois at the wholesale warehouse and with temperatures in the upper 80s, I relished the first taste.

There is a big bowl of limes to be used up. I have something mixed with vodka in mind, although I am no mixologist or hard-liquor-drinker for that matter. For complicated reasons I am reluctant to open the bottle of Stolichnaya Russian Vodka purchased at the Me Too grocery store in Cedar Rapids around 1986. I hauled it out to Indiana and then brought it back to Iowa. The label says, “Imported from the USSR” and that’s half the story of its travel. Once I open it it’s a matter of time before it will be gone. I’ll probably hang on to the unopened bottle a while longer. In all this time, only about an ounce has evaporated through the sealed cap. I’m not keen on vodka consumption anyway.

Peas are ready to pick in the garden, so that’s first up when the sun rises. Some kind of stir fry will follow. There will also be soup today. Ambient temperatures are forecast for the 90s this afternoon, so garden work will be finished early, and most of the day will spent indoors.

It seems too hot for early June. The drought in Western states is horrific. The Colorado River basin is disastrously low on water and it seems doubtful rain will come in needed amounts. My worry is the drought is creeping eastward. I lived through the 2012 drought and worked outdoors in it. I don’t want to repeat that experience, yet may have to. Fingers crossed we get back to normal weather before long.

Categories
Home Life

Summer of 1996

Summer wildflowers.

During Wednesday’s walkabout there was frost on the ground. It was clearly the last frost of spring. It’s time to plant warm crops in the ground and get ready for summer. Here we go!

Some parts of our lives stand out more than others. For me, the summer of 1996 was one of them.

At the transportation and logistics company, after taking every assignment offered — some I liked and others I did not — I was transferred back to operations as weekend manager. My schedule was Friday through Monday with three days off. I supervised everything that went on for a growing firm operating across North America.

Our daughter was coming into her own, finishing fifth grade that year. The new job enabled me to spend more time with her and I did.

We didn’t go far from home. Mostly we went to the nearby state park. Sometimes we bicycled to town and had breakfast or lunch at a restaurant. Other times we drove to the beach and went swimming. We picked wild black raspberries along the trail. It was a great summer at the core of my memories from when she lived at home. We get only so many times like that.

As I prepare for a long day in the garden I’m heartened by memories of life with family. I think often about the summer of 1996. The present is much different. The state park trail is ravaged today compared to then. Derecho damage remains, and development continues to encroach on the natural beauty that once was here. Our patch of wild black raspberries is gone in favor of a junction for the natural gas company. Sad, yet changing times, I guess.

There was a time I enjoyed being in the country with its neat, rectangular farm fields, sunshine, and long vistas. No more. Farm operations result in contaminated water, which in turn closed the beach when we swam that summer. The beach has been closed the last few years. Likewise, the scent of livestock wafts over our house from time to time. Not often, but enough to remind us there are 24.8 million hogs in Iowa, or about eight per human. The popular phrase to describe what Iowa has become is “a low education, low wage, extraction economy state.” There is no longer anything bucolic about being in the country.

There is no going back to the summer of 1996, except in memory. Just as the Mill Creek sawmill cut up the original stands of forest to create today’s rural landscape, life has irrevocably changed. We have a choice: linger in memory or continue forward. Both have a role to play. As annual seedlings wait in the greenhouse for sunrise, human nature doesn’t give us much choice. We are compelled to start anew.

May we do so cognizant of what was lost, what we have, and what we may lose through neglect. My wish for today is to make new memories as good as those of the summer of 1996. It may be difficult, yet the possibilities are endless, at least that’s what we are told.

Categories
Home Life

Pandemic Weekends

Snow melt heading to the lake on March 3, 2021.

In the isolation of the coronavirus pandemic, weekends are less of a thing. Days go by. Without a calendar, one day can’t be distinguished from another. Even before the pandemic, when I worked full time, the idea of a Monday through Friday work week followed by a weekend was seldom reality.

Perhaps the best expression of weekend culture I experienced was in June 1977, while on temporary duty with the French Infantry Marines in Brittany. I arrived on a Friday and was whisked away to a small cafe where at once we began putting away cognac while introducing ourselves. After checking into lodging and changing clothes, there was an afternoon meet up at the officers’ club with more pastis than I can remember as officers kept buying rounds. This was followed by an evening dinner with Chinese-style food, champagne and wine at the home of a field grade officer.

Saturday morning was free time. I walked from my room to downtown Vannes where I observed women making lace near the sea as had been done for generations. Rejoining my host and a friend, we dined that evening at a restaurant serving oysters of Locmariaquer. Although I’d never eaten oysters, we ordered the signature, regional dish and chatted over the meal. After dinner we went to a dance with a live band and were out late.

I began Sunday with a run. It became a day of eating and drinking again with an afternoon meal at a private home, followed by a dinner of snacks from the ice box and pantry at my host’s apartment. By Monday I felt somewhat “poisoned in my veins” from all the food and drink of the weekend. Maybe one needs to drink alcohol for a weekend to exist. Given the popularity of beer with televised sports, I’m not wrong.

In retirement, even without the pandemic, the weekend is a bit challenging. Since we’re mostly at home and have no relatives living close, there’s little to distinguish it from the rest of the week. In a usual scenario the weekend is centered around meals with home made pizza Friday night, home made soup on Saturday, and Sunday night open as we prepare to begin the next week.

When young, attending church services was part of the weekend. I remember the change of Vatican II when we could attend Mass Saturday afternoon instead of Sunday. In some ways, attending church framed the weekend when I still lived at home. The churches near Big Grove don’t really fit. Instead of church, I read on Sunday afternoons and often take a nap.

Our daughter began streaming last year. She streams a crafting program Sunday afternoons in which I usually participate. With this, meals, and a life to live, we’ll eventually assemble some kind of weekend normalcy. The pandemic has been sobering to the detriment of how I remember the weekend. The good news is there is a chance to re-invent it for the better.

Like with anything we must make the most of what opportunities present themselves.

Categories
Home Life

Stir Crazy

View toward the compost bin, Feb. 18, 2021.

A year ago Governor Kim Reynolds signed a proclamation of disaster emergency regarding COVID-19. It’s still on. I had to get out of the house today to preserve my sanity.

I put on my army boots with buckled overshoes bought in Indiana, my Carhartt coat from the home, farm and auto supply store, the U.S. Army issued scarf I wore in the Fulda Gap, my Johnny’s Selected Seeds stocking hat, and ventured into the unbroken snow. I found deer tracks and followed them to the black composter. It was a cure for cabin fever.

A large animal lay down in the snow near an apple tree, leaving a mark in the snow. I walked all around the house and emptied two five-gallon buckets in the composter. The ambient temperature was really comfortable and bright sunlight felt good. I wasn’t outside long, enough to break the spell.

On days like this it is tough to concentrate. I finished seasoning the new cookware and stored the pieces. I washed dishes, and viewed our daughter’s on-line stream. While there was plenty of work, I didn’t feel like doing much of it. Cabin fever.

Of course, it’s now tomorrow. A chance to begin work anew. Also it’s Friday, whatever cultural resonance that might evoke in the post work-a-day world of the coronavirus pandemic.

Nontheless, Happy Friday y’all!

Categories
Home Life Living in Society Social Commentary

Denial, The Coronavirus Is Your Friend

View from the kitchen window

When the U.S. Congress passed the CARES Act there was an unspoken assumption the coronavirus pandemic would be of short duration and gone by now.

Based on this, the Republican president and Republican Iowa governor pushed to “reopen the economy.” As they did we discovered Iowa and the nation were still on the upward slope of a curve of COVID-19 cases. As of Sunday, the Cedar Rapids Gazette reported the seven-day average number of COVID-19 cases in Linn County was the highest since the governor declared the emergency on March 9.

Epidemiologist Dr. Anthony Fauci made the situation clear in an interview with the publication MarketWatch. “We are still in a pretty big first wave (of the pandemic),” he said.

Cedar Rapids-based manufacturer Gary Ficken got a CARES Act small business loan to keep his athletic apparel business afloat, according to the Washington Post. He used the money to hire staff back early in the pandemic only to lay them off again when there was no demand for his products.“It ended up being a bridge to nowhere,” Ficken said.

As some of the benefits of the CARES Act expire, the Republican caucus in the U.S. Senate doesn’t know what they want to do. “Half the Republicans are going to vote no to any phase four package,” Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said on Sunday. “That’s just a fact.” Senate Democrats don’t have to negotiate with Republicans who are a firm no on any new relief bill, so we may as well stick to our guns.

Already the White House floated the idea of a short term extension of some parts of the original CARES Act. In the meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, the main Republican negotiator, is discussing changing the $600 per week federal subsidy of unemployment benefits in the CARES Act to a new formula of 70 percent of earnings. Again, half the Republicans won’t vote for whatever bill he writes. Late Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described the Republican proposal as “pathetic,” saying “it isn’t serious.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called it “totally inadequate.”

It is hard to say with certainty what the federal government should do in the form of relief for the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. The U.S. House passed a stimulus bill in May with which the Senate has done nothing. What needs to happen, and fast, is to stop denying we are in a pandemic. Denial is the coronavirus’ best friend.

If you are already past denial, here’s an informative podcast of In the Bubble with Andy Slavitt. Special guest epidemiologist Larry Brilliant, who helped eradicate smallpox and is hard at work on coronavirus, grades our performance on a scientific, sociological, and political basis. He doesn’t mince words about political leadership or the CDC. “There is a special place in hell for some of the people who are lying about how dangerous this disease is,” Brilliant said in the podcast.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa