Everyone invited to our holiday gathering was under the weather so we cancelled Saturday’s in-person event and video-conferenced. As we spoke, tissues were passed around and microphones muted while participants took care of sinus congestion. It was sub-optimal, yet worthwhile. Ours is a small family, so we are flexible. Those who tested for COVID-19 were negative.
We have plenty of uncooked leftover food. Enough so this week’s provisioning run will be extra light coming home.
I met a friend for breakfast on Friday at the Tipton Family Restaurant. It was our first in-person meeting since the coronavirus pandemic was declared in March 2020. We picked Tipton because it is the midpoint between where I live and he was staying. The restaurant gets three stars, yet to be clear, it is not on the Michelin star scale. Breakfast was fine as was our conversation and walk along the main street.
The rest of the long weekend was highlighted by cooking. We ate simple fare on Thanksgiving, a veggie burger patty with two sides. On Saturday I changed my dried bean recipe from baked beans to bean soup along with vegan cornbread. Sunday I made a pizza for lunch. Since pizza is mostly a delivery mechanism for melted cheese, and I haven’t found a way to make palatable vegan pizza, it was pizza for one. I incorporated home grown red pepper flakes into the sauce. I was sneezing for about ten minutes afterward.
At some point we will make the full holiday meal that includes wild rice, baked sweet potatoes, baked beans, scones and cranberry relish. We don’t know when that will be. Taking the big meal out of Thanksgiving changes the tenor of the holiday. We are okay with that.
This morning I got out a clean pair of blue jeans and put them on. I’d been wearing the last pair since election day and it was time to get them laundered.
I keep a few pair of “nice” jeans, which means they have no known defects, fit well, and are suitable for outings into society. Currently, these are Levi’s brand, although it varied through the years. To avoid constantly laundering them, I wear nice jeans a few days around the house after an excursion. There are three pair of nice jeans in the closet.
Jeans that fit loosely and have been damaged or have holes worn in them are used when I’m working outdoors or in the garage. These are “garden” jeans. They get pretty dirty from kneeling on the ground and are usually good to wear for several days before laundering. Mostly these came from my time before the pandemic when I wore them to work at the home, farm and auto supply store. I don’t mind if these jeans wear out or get damaged on a tool or fence post. When they get unwearable, I launder them and recycle the denim.
Jeans between nice and garden are those deteriorated enough from being nice and are suitable to wear around the house. This everyday use doesn’t have a special name, yet most of my jeans fall in this category. They take the workload off the nice jeans and eventually will be converted to garden use. I purchased a pair or two of these when we lived in Indiana in the early 1990s. Good jeans last a long time.
One conversation I had with Father was about “work” clothes compared to clothes worn around the house. He felt his best clothing should be worn to drive forklift in the meat packing plant, with inferior or damaged garments used at home. He was trying to get out of the packing plant to become a chiropractor and believed his appearance in public mattered. He died wearing his work clothes while driving a forklift into an elevator. Having driven a forklift in the same packing plant after he died, the work didn’t seem too public, warranting the best clothing. His discussions about it likely led me to my present organization of blue jeans.
Now that the midterms are over it is time to get to work. I spent the days after the election hanging around the house, reading, writing and cooking. I want to say I was thinking about the election yet that’s not accurate. It was more like recovering from the losses. On Sunday I didn’t leave the house at all.
It’s time to turn the page and get to work. For that, a clean pair of jeans is just what we need to get started.
My spouse and I processed local sweet corn for freezing last night. It is a relic from a past when food preservation played a bigger role in home life. We have stories about our lives with sweet corn to tell each other. A simple truth is we can buy big bags of frozen, organic cut corn from the wholesale club for less cost. If local corn is good, the taste of summer on a cob, it is worth the extra effort to buy local and put it up.
We have frozen corn leftover from last season, so our needs this year aren’t that much. Our main supplier went out of business and we’ve been hard-pressed to find a replacement. That is, we haven’t found outstanding sweet corn this year. Weather conditions have been a problem, according to our local ABC affiliate:
ELY, Iowa (KCRG) – Over thirty years as a farmer, Butch Wieneke knows what high quality sweet corn looks, and feels like. That’s why selling anything other than the best, is not an option for him and his family.
Last Thursday, they made the tough decision to stop selling.
“It just dried up. The ears weren’t filling out and I wasn’t going to sell sub-par corn. It’s just…I’m not going to do that. I don’t care what price it is,” said Wieneke.
The quality of sweet corn can change very quickly, and because of the lack of rain Eastern Iowa saw last week, the personal and public orders stopped.
Now, they’re waiting and watching to see how the crops develop.
When we moved to Big Grove, I decided quickly to outsource sweet corn growing, in the mid-1990s. After a year or two, I found corn takes too much space and the results were not as good as what farmers produce. Because of today’s shortage, I’m considering a patch of sweet corn in next year’s garden. We’re not ready to give up on the annual family tradition and if I can produce a couple of bushels, that would best serve our culture.
While August grinds into its second week with hot, humid temperatures and plenty of rain, I’m ready to return to daily writing. I’m thankful for the break, yet there are important happenings not being covered by traditional media. When I write such stories, people find my posts and view them. I don’t have an editorial calendar yet, although as something new, I blocked out time today to write one.
The rest of the year is expected to be like drinking from a fire hose as far as news goes. I may as well dust off the keyboard and dig in now that sweet corn is put up.
Gentle rain suppressed my desire to attend the Amana free-will donation fire fighters breakfast this morning. It is part of my project to get to know Iowa County, which became part of my state house district and will remain so for the next ten years. It was a solitary endeavor and therefore easy to delay until next year. Now that the garden is in, we can use the rain.
I have indoor projects requiring attention, more than I care to admit. A main one is to develop a reading plan for the rest of summer. I closed May re-reading The Great Gatsby, a Memorial Day weekend favorite. Today I hit something of a wall.The books on my to-read shelves seem a tedious chore. Where did my reading mojo go?
Maybe I need a break. My program to read at least 25 pages of a book each day has been good and I look forward to resuming progress. During a break, I need to take stock of what I’m reading and figure out what I need to read. This post is toward that end.
Some dynamics are at work in my reading life. I have been a book buyer since I had an income as a grader. I have been a keeper as well. As a result, I have a large home library which contains as many unread books as those I read. My buying slowed in recent years, yet there is plenty to read a step or two away from my desk. I also bought books with a vague notion of building collections around a topic. For example, I have eight books about Iowa authors and the University of Iowa Writers ‘ Workshop. It is a collection waiting to be read when the spirit moves me.
Research for my autobiography set me on a path to read books to understand the background against which I was born, educated, worked and lived. This year, The Trader at Rock Island: George Davenport and the Founding of the Quad Cities by Regena Trant Schantz is an example. I bought it soon after publication and read it during the time I wrote about the 1950s in Davenport. It was a useful reference about a story that had not been adequately told until Schantz wrote her book. There will be others on my list like this.
I don’t write much poetry yet I read it each year to gain exposure to how other express themselves. I read Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver this year and am looking for my next book of verse. Over the years, I built a large collection of unread poetry, bought mostly at thrift stores and used bookstores. There is plenty from which to choose without leaving the house.
Books about writing are a mixed bag. I have a shelf of them and once or twice a year I read someone different. I have yet to read one this year, so I’ll pick one.
A lot of my time is spent talking to people in person or online. I get book recommendations frequently. Sometimes they work out and sometimes not. It tends to stretch my understanding of what is worth reading. If left to my own devices, I would read and re-read the works of William Carlos Williams, Saul Bellow, Joan Didion, John Irving, Vance Bourjaily and David Rhodes over and over and over again in an unending loop. Recommendations are important to maintaining an active mind.
I have an appetite for good fiction and read a couple books per year in this category. The most recent is The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles. With Gatsby, they are the only two fiction books read this year. Perhaps another is in order for the summer. Whatever summer fiction I read, I don’t want it to be too much work.
Finally, there are cooking books. These serve the endless quest to determine new dishes for our kitchen garden. I’m at the point as a home cook where I don’t consult with recipes very much. I know the range of ingredients and techniques and fit them into meeting the needs of ovolacto-vegetarian me and my vegan spouse. One of my projects is to build a cookbook shelving unit for the kitchen-dining room and reduce the number of cookbooks to what will fit on it. That’s a project for winter, though, so I’m still exploring.
With that in mind, here is my draft of a summer reading list:
Les Halles Cookbook: Strategies, Recipes, and Techniques of Classic Bistro Cooking by Anthony Bourdain.
The Groveland Four: The Sad Saga of a Legal Lynching by Gary Corsair.
Seven Sinners of Shiloh and other Poems by Franklin Walker.
The Hidden History of Neoliberalism: How Reaganism Gutted America and How to Restore Its Greatness by Thom Hartmann.
Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy by Matt Stoller.
The Government of the Tongue: Selected Prose 1978 – 1987 by Seamus Heaney.
Sarajevo: An Anthology for Bosnian Relief edited by John Babbitt, Carolyn Feucht and Andie Stabler.
From Oligarchy to Republicanism: The Great Task of Reconstruction by Forrest A. Nabors.
Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming edited by Paul Hawken.
Siberian Dream by Irina Pantaeva.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.
Wish me luck and/or comment with your recommendations.
Home alone, I made a spicy dish for dinner: red beans and rice. There is no recipe, yet it was everything to which decades of kitchen and garden work led me. Supper was life, as good as it gets. The process of anticipation, planning, and pulling items from the freezer, ice box and pantry culminated in deliciousness. The meal was why we pay attention to flavor rather than the names of dishes or ingredients.
I didn’t know I needed spring break, yet here we are. The combination of my spouse helping her sister move to a new home, 45 mile per hour winds and cold temperatures for two days, and a form of isolated winter exhaustion led me here. Break will continue until I see my doctor later this week. I already have my blood test results and the key numbers improved from six months ago. I noted Earth Hour last night and feel rested and ready to get into the garden and yard. The winds subsided overnight.
Saturday I spent five hours participating in the county Democratic convention via Zoom. I don’t like virtual events, yet they are efficient. I’d rather be talking to political friends and acquaintances in person. The upside of a virtual convention is when it is over, there is no need to use an automobile to get home. A couple of notes.
1984 was my first Johnson County Democratic convention. Most people were nice, although I was frustrated with the process. The county convention revisited decisions made at the precinct caucuses and walked away from what voters said they wanted in favor of special interests. That burned me on politics for a while. Since then we spent six years in Indiana. When we returned to Iowa, I was not active in politics for ten years, until 2004. The virtual event was reasonably organized, yet kinda sucked. What’s a person to do? An old Polish proverb applies, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”
Age is not treating some of my long-term cohorts well, at least from the images presented on Zoom. There are a number of new people, likely more than half. I’d rather step back from organized politics. I volunteered to be a delegate to the district and state conventions to make sure enough people were available to fill 74 slots. The district convention is at a nearby high school across the lakes. When it was time to ratify the slate, all slots weren’t filled. People don’t seem that engaged in politics this year, even if they should be. That may be bias created by the virtual format, yet I’m seeing the same thing in every segment of local culture.
There were ten platform amendments submitted at the convention. The platform is irrelevant, mostly because Democratic candidates for office don’t support every plank, even if they acknowledge a platform exists. Why does the county party spend time on it? The answer, I guess, is it is a way of life for party members who want a shared experience in articulating their beliefs. As a writer, I get plenty of that from elsewhere. As long as we keep the platform’s irrelevance to formal policy in mind, and don’t expect candidates to fully support it, let platformers platform.
I’m preparing to write about my senior year in college when I lived in a small house on Gilbert Court in Iowa City. Artist Pat Dooley rented it from a local businessman and managed the many residents who came and went during that six month period. It was a small, decrepit three-bedroom structure built on a stone foundation. According to Google maps, it has now been demolished.
Dooley was part of a group of writers and artists loosely referred to as “Actualists.” He did the cover art for The Actualist Anthology edited by Morty Sklar and Darrell Gray. Gray overnighted with us for a brief period before leaving Iowa for California. Many Actualists visited our house at Dooley’s invitation, where we socialized in the common room. Alan and Cinda Kornblum, Jim Mulac, Dave Morice, Sheila Heldenbrand, John Sjoberg and Steve Toth stopped by more than once, as best I can recall.
By 1974, I finished required coursework for a major in English and needed to fill out the total number of required hours. My coursework during that final undergraduate semester included French conversation, separate classes in ancient and modern art, Harry Oster’s American Folk Literature, and early modern philosophy. I hadn’t prepared for a career during university, although the Oscar Mayer Company, for whom I worked two summers, called to offer me a job as a foreman in the Davenport meat packing plant. I declined.
There are a couple of additional days before I must get to work in earnest. Spring break, while unexpected, is not over.
When I make stir fry for dinner there is enough rice to produce leftovers. There are plenty of things to do with leftover rice, yet the most common in our kitchen is making another dish to serve on top of it. This week it was black beans cooked with onion, celery, garlic, tomato and bell pepper. Both meals were satisfying.
During walkabout, the edge of the lake was beginning to melt. The geese in the photo will soon be swimming instead of walking on the ice. Spring officially arrives on Sunday yet for practical purposes, it is already here.
The challenge during this transition is to take my exercise outdoors and work in the garage, yard and garden for part of the day while temperatures are above 50 degrees. While doing so, I hope to preserve the time spent writing and reading in early morning. I have a better process this year, so I am hopeful.
Yesterday, I attempted to change the headlight on the auto and gave up before I broke the clip that holds it in place. I called my mechanic and scheduled it in the shop on Friday. Maybe their expertise will get the job done. For the time being, I don’t drive after dark, and there are fog lights, so it’s not an issue if I do.
This transitional time is the most difficult of the year. There has been so much work delayed because of cold weather. Like with leftover rice, there are plenty of uses for the new found outdoors time. Here’s hoping I can get to work and preserve what I spent all winter developing indoors.
On walkabout I saw the damage to the Mulberry tree. From the stain emitting from the cracked trunk, we can tell it was trauma. I suspect it was damaged during the Aug. 10, 2020 derecho. Because the damage faces Northeast, away from the house, it wasn’t noticed until now.
I’ll observe the progress of the wound to see how it goes. I believe the tree is a goner, yet will let nature take it’s course. I’m in no hurry to take it down with a chainsaw.
While the mulberry was a junk tree presumably from a seed dropped by a bird sitting on a length of rebar left by a surveyor as a property marker, it has been with us for our whole time here.
It produced berries, mostly for birds, and there may be more crops ahead. It is the last of two volunteer trees growing here when we bought the lot.
If it dies or falls apart I won’t replace it with another. It’s trunk grew to straddle my lot and two adjacent ones. It’s better to keep trees on my side of the line. One should not rush into tree management. Decisions made today are consequential for years to come. Sometimes we make the wrong decisions as I have.
After a quarter century, I’m getting to know the lot we developed. It is time to get outdoors and spend more time in the environment in which we live. Even if that means little more than walking in the yard.
I added a walkabout to my daily routine. Once the sun rises, and after I finish daily writing, I leave by the garage door and walk the property line of our 0.62 acre. Each day I saw something unanticipated.
The condition of trees, activities of squirrels and birds, and windblown trash deposited on our lawn. The walkabout provides an opportunity to take stock of our land and consider what needs doing, what should be left alone. I’m discovering a lot of neglected work.
There are at least three bird nests I’ve found. I’m amazed at how they take found objects and craft them. Anything pliable seems a likely building material, including plastic wrap and bits of fiber. I don’t remove the nests unless they fall from the tree or bush. For the most part they are woven into live branches with a sense of permanency.
I’d forgotten how large our yard is and how many distinct landscapes are in it. As we head into winter the walkabouts will be a time for observing, thinking, and planning our landscape. I don’t know how I went so long without this as part of each day.
Retirees will soon migrate to winter homes. Pontoon boats were pulled out of the lake, scrubbed down, and covered with tarps. The last volunteer work is finished, and even though local weather is quite pleasant, rents have been paid for winter homes, or second homes are owned in Florida, Arizona, or other points south and west. Warmer climates beckon.
The two of us remain in Iowa year-round. When it is cold, we leave home less often, read more, and with higher natural gas prices forecast this winter, will keep the thermostat down and stay warm with additional layers of clothing. I put an extra blanket on the bed when I made it this morning. We’re from here.
My reading consists mainly of three types: I read between 40 and 50 books each year; subscribe to four newspapers and several daily newsletters; and read linked articles in my Twitter feed. I stay well informed without watching television, listening to radio, or using streaming news sources. Reading is a mainstay of staying engaged in society.
In November I might read five 250-page books. It is getting harder to answer the question, what’s next? There is a backlog of books to read, both recently acquired and those that have been in the stacks for a while. Figure I’ll keep reading until at least age 80, so there’s room to read about 500 more books. The days of seemingly endless available reading time are over. Each book choice matters.
I spend a lot of time gardening and cooking yet read few complete books on the subjects. I have enough experience to do this work and improve it by tweaking current practices. I consult with books and online articles, yet more with farmers I know both locally and in other parts of the country. I seldom read a cook book or gardening book all the way through.
What am I seeking in a book? Some poetry, some fiction, and a lot related to my life. For example, I recently read Elizabeth Warren’s book Persist because of my connection to her presidential campaign and my interest in politics. I just finished The Age of Wood: Our Most Useful Material and the Construction of Civilization by Roland Ennos. I enjoy books that have broad historical sweep because I need escape in them from time to time. Lately I’ve been reviewing books from Thom Hartmann’s publisher and that work kept me busy in late summer. I recently read Passions: Love Poems and Other Writings by Gabriela Marie Milton who I found through WordPress. There is a stack of books about or by people I have known. My process for reading selection exists and needs a bit more self-awareness and adjustment.
A person can effectively read only one book at a time, so I work to choose the next one well. With winter coming I’ll read four or five books each month. I want to make sure it is the ones from the stacks, shelves and boxes in my indoors writing area that will serve my interest in remaining engaged in society.
It goes without saying, I want to protect my eyesight so I can go on reading as long as I have the mental capacity to do so.