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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.

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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.

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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

Categories
Home Life Writing

Quarantined

Daylilies

Parts of the quarantine are tolerable.

Children running among my garden plots with inexpensive butterfly nets. From the house I can see only butterflies and nets bobbing to and fro above garden greenery.

Sometimes they leave their toys in the garden. I walk them across the property line to the scrub woods where they make a camp during cooler weather.

Life at home is tolerable.

Once I get too far out of a limited social circle it’s less so. My furthest reach was to the farm where I worked mostly in isolation to prevent the five quarantined farmers from getting sick. Other than that, grocery shopping, fuel, and a couple of trips to the orchard are the extent of my travels since March. I don’t feel comfortable doing any of it but feel I have to get out of the house and experience the reality of the pandemic.

Rain was forecast all day Wednesday although the forecast was worse than the actuality. After morning showers it hardly rained, enough so patches of the ground remain wet the next morning. The furthest I went from the house was to the garden and the mailbox, both within 80 feet. I encountered no other human during these trips.

COVID-19 reached the staff and residents of the elderly care center this week. To my knowledge it’s the first any area people contracted the coronavirus. The care center has been on lock down since the pandemic began so this is a new development.Someone must have brought it in.

On the positive side, I’ve written an outline of recurring tasks to give my days structure. The biggest gap is determining what projects I should be working on. There are projects needing attention, for sure, and little will to take them up.

For now I’ll settle for the sound and constant bobbing of young children in our yard. And waiting for something, what exactly it is will be revealed. At least that’s the hope.

Categories
Home Life Writing

4.875 Miles

Puch Cavalier 10-speed.

It’s been 12 days of riding my Puch Cavalier 10-speed bicycle.

I’ve had it since 1980, one of the last built in Austria. When we married, my wife had a women’s Puch 10-speed in the same color. When not being used they hang together in the garage.

Taking up bicycling again is a treatment for diabetes. My medical practitioner explained the health benefits of exercise in a way his predecessors at the clinic did not. Now I’m regularly riding 4.875 miles daily, weather permitting.

Why 4.875 miles? At first I just went out and rode. We live near the midpoint of a five-mile trail in the state park. I took turns riding from our home to either end and back. I figured it was a five-mile ride. Then I got an SY Bicycle Speedometer and Odometer. Once it was installed and adjusted I gained precision. Each day since then the odometer had the same reading, 4.875 miles.

Work was completed on another trail that leads from here to Waterloo in one direction, and to West Branch, Iowa City and Coralville in the other. A fellow gets tired of riding the same route every day so I’ve been exploring.

My current ride takes me from the garage down to the state park trail, then west until a road leading to the highway intersects. I pedal up that long, gentle incline to the highway and turn east. I ride along the highway until it intersects with the new trail at the roundabout. Then I follow the trail until it returns to the state park trail and turn west back to my entry point and home. The long initial incline gives me a workout, as does the long descent during which I see how fast I can go. My average speed is 10 miles per hour and the fastest just at 22. It takes about 27 minutes to make the route.

Hopefully the exercise will help my A1C, which measures what percent of my hemoglobin is glycosylated. The goal is to reduce it to less than 5.7 percent by the time I go back for a follow up in September.

A younger version of me wouldn’t be satisfied with 4.875 miles. I’ll get tired of the same route after a while, once it becomes too easy. The next goal will be to ride over to Ely on the new trail. For now my heart beats faster and I work up a sustained sweat. Doing that daily for an extended period of time is goal enough for now.

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 Living in Society 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.