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.

Kitchen Garden Writing

Early Summer

Celery Harvest

When the electrical power went off I located my portable charger and plugged in my phone. The WiFi was dead yet access to the internet is crucial in an emergency.

A neighbor asked if our power was out via text message. I responded, “Yes, do you need cucumbers?” I walked a bag of freshly picked cukes over to the back door of their house where they were preparing the grill for a cook out.

The rural electric cooperative website reported more than 1,600 homes without power. The plotting of outages on their map was based on reports from customers so I phoned in our report. The operator was patient and helpful. All the information she had was on the website except that crews were working on the problem.

Our association has a Facebook page which was more active than normal. The loss of electricity didn’t have any apparent effect on social media. No new information there, just neighbors asking what up?

The duration of the outage was about 90 minutes. Just as power came on the doorbell rang. One of the well volunteers came down from the well house to report the water pressure was going down and soon they would have to turn on the back up generator. He smiled when I told him the electricity was back on. I made a post on our Facebook page pointing out the well volunteers were monitoring the situation.

In a rural subdivision we rely upon each other for information. Mobile phone technology makes our lives better. Glad I adapted back in 2012.

These summer days are gorgeous. Temperatures are rising to about 90 degrees each day with clear, calm skies. Humidity has been high so I get my outdoors work done early after sunrise and spend most of the day indoors. There is plenty of work.

I harvested the rest of the celery yesterday. Most of the harvest gets chopped into bits and frozen for use in soups and stir fries. The flavor of home grown celery is hard to believe, better than any celery grown for commercial sales. Fresh celery lasts a shorter time than store bought. That’s okay. It is worth the 120 day growing season for the flavor.

I sorted and brought the last of the 2019 onions to the kitchen. They need using up. In the meanwhile the portable greenhouse shelves are filled with this year’s crop, drying so they can be trimmed and stored.

Drying Onions
Environment Writing

Mink on the Trail

American Mink.

On Thursday I saw an animal eating fallen mulberries on the trail. The state park has an abundance of wildlife — every Iowa species is believed to live here. I didn’t recognize it and posted this photo on Twitter.

An abundance of responses identified it as a mink. I looked it up and it resembled a mink pictured on the internet. Most likely it is an American mink with more of them around the lake shore. Mostly minks are carnivores so the mulberry-eating was unexpected. Harrowing tales of chicken murdering ensued as the post got many engagements.

Every day we find something new is positive. When our curiosity wanes or we feel we’ve seen it all… that’s not good.

The newspaper reported another local theater troupe cancelled the rest of the season because of the coronavirus pandemic. Old Creamery Theatre sent termination letters to ten staff members Thursday night. The creative arts are really taking a hit during the pandemic. In addition to Old Creamery, Riverside Theatre had to give up its performing space, and bigger companies like Cirque du Soleil filed for bankruptcy. Live theater and concerts have been shut down with only a few productions testing a re-opening in the COVID-19 time.

Major theme parks like Walt Disney, where our daughter works, continue to furlough employees. As they begin to open up, the question is whether employees will be recalled, if the furloughs will continue, or will the endgame be being laid off. Live entertainment may never be the same if the coronavirus isn’t mitigated. As we know, that’s not going well in Iowa or in the United States.

I worry about independently-owned bookstores. There used to be many places to buy used books. Over the last couple of decades they consolidated, went on line, or went out of business. The selection has gotten worse. The main used bookstore in the county seat is Haunted Bookshop and I’m trying to support them as they continue to operate curbside pickup.

At first I bought a gift certificate to hold until they reopen. When it became clear re-opening was not in the near-term, I devised a poetry buying scheme. On Wednesday I wrote note saying, “Choose and mail me a book of poetry that I don’t already have once a month. Surprise me.”

I had criteria:

  • Short works by living poets. Short = around 100 pages or less. Up to 200 pages okay. About the length to read in a couple of sittings.
  • Less interested in comprehensive collections. For example, Crow by Ted Hughes but not Collected Poems of Ted Hughes.
  • I recently read and enjoyed Mary Oliver, Amy Woolard, Lucia Perillo and W.S. Merwin.
  • I’m looking to expand my reading and open to about anything. No Atticus or Rod McKuen.
  • Iowa connection would be a bonus, but not necessary.
  • Run the title by me before shipping so I can check to make sure I don’t have it.
  • These are not strict rules but guidelines. (Except for the part about Atticus and Rod McKuen).

Last night I received a favorable response. We are going to try the arrangement out. I’d rather make a monthly trip to browse the store. Until they are ready, this will have to do. Hopefully I will discover new poets in the process and they will have another small source of revenue.

I watered the garden shortly after sunrise. Our yard is the only one in the neighborhood where clover is allowed to grow. I do this so rabbits have something to eat besides burrowing under the fencing into the garden, and to attract bees and other pollinators. Last time I mowed, I set the deck high enough so all of the flowers wouldn’t be cut. It’s time to mow again and that’s my plan for the weekend.

Living in Society Social Commentary Writing

Independence Day

Obama’s Last Campaign Rally, Des Moines, Iowa, Nov. 5, 2012.

(Re-blogged from my post on Blog for Iowa, July 4, 2010).

We hear a lot about the founding fathers today, and the truth is who they were, as people, is clouded in the river of time. One admires the portrait of John Adams written by David McCullough, and particularly the personal risk to which Adams put himself on his trip to France in the winter of 1777. In Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia one can find a guide to living that serves in the 21st Century, with the notable exception that labor to maintain a lifestyle, once provided by slaves, must now be sought elsewhere through mechanization or wage laborers. The more we study the opening of the Old Northwest Territory we realize that Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and other founders could easily have fit in with the gang on Wall Street that nearly brought down our economic structure in 2008. But as was said, seeing who they were as people is a murky endeavor at best, so on Independence Day we can refrain from making judgments and be thankful for what we have as a nation.

What can be said is we often neglect to recall the dispossession of the natives in Iowa and further east, which amid today’s flag waving is equally important. Would Black Hawk and Poweshiek have ceded the land of the Black Hawk Purchase if they had fully understood what their signatures meant? We don’t know that either.

So what we are left with is history and documents from the times, all of which have their ideological outlook or viewpoint. Of interest is the following account of an Independence Day celebration in Jones County, Iowa shortly after settlement. Members of our family settled in Jones County shortly after the Black Hawk War, so this is a personal history as well. Happy Independence Day from Blog for Iowa.

An Excerpt from The History of Jones County, Iowa, published Chicago, Western Historical Company in 1879.

A grand county celebration of the Fourth of July, took place in pursuance of the resolutions and suggestions of the Board of Supervisors, made at their June meeting in 1861. The celebration was on Thursday, the 4th of July. 1861.

The perilous condition of the country brought men of all parties together to observe the anniversary of our national birth, and to repeat anew their vows to freedom. Early in the morning, teams, singly and in companies, began to throng from all parts of the county toward the point which had been designated by the Board of Supervisors, near the center of the county. At 10 o’clock, A. M., the scene was the strangest of the kind ever encountered in the West. The road ran along a high ridge, and on both sides of it and on each of the wide and gently sloping spurs, shooting out every few rods, were horses, wagons, buggies, carriages, men, women, children and babies by the thousands; and, in every direction, the American flag floated in the light and refreshing breeze, which, with the shade of the sufficiently abundant oaks, tempered the heat of a warm summer day. Such an assembly in a city is common enough, but this was an assembly in the wilderness. Not a house, not a sign that man had touched nature here was visible, save in the few brief days’ labor of the Committee of Preparation. It was a fitting place wherein to assemble on such a day and for such a purpose, when the nation was in its life and death struggle for existence.

The Committee of Arrangements had done as well as could be hoped for in the short time allowed them, and better than could have been expected. On the rather steep slope of a spur, north of the road, a staging had been erected facing up the slope, and, in front of this, seats sufficient to accommodate, perhaps, one thousand persons. Back of the stage, and at the bottom of the ravine, a well had been dug some ten or more feet deep, and, at the bottom, a barrel fixed. It was a comical sort of a well, but it served the purpose, in a measure, for some hours.

On another ridge and back of the wall, stood the six-pounder, manned by the Wyoming Artillery Company, in gray shirts, under Capt. Walker. The other military companies were the Canton Company, Capt. Hanna; they wore red military coats, were armed with rifles and were fine looking; the Rough and Ready?, of Rome, Capt. L. A. Roberts, with blue military coats, white pants and glazed caps, sixty-five men, also fine looking; Carpenter’s Company, Rome. Capt. Carpenter, eighty men, with gray coats, likewise made a fine appearance; the Greenfield Company, mounting eighty men, John Sccrist, Commander: these were in frock coats and wore white plumes; they, too, showed well, and still more in drill and fitness for the most desperate fighting; the Scotch Grove Guards, from Scotch Grove. Capt. Magee, formed a large company; these wore no uniforms, but their appearance indicated they were the right men for fighting. There were six companies of young men, all formed and drilled, in the space of three months. It appears that all these entered the army in due time and did good service.

The proceedings at the stand were patriotic and entertaining. During the reading of the Declaration of Independence, the general attention was close, and the responsibilities of the hour seemed to impress all minds. The singing with the Marshal waving the star-spangled banner to the words, was very effective. The address was by a Mr. Utley—a good Union speech, and was very generally approved. Music by the various military bands was abundant and lively. The picnic that followed was much enjoyed by all who partook of the dainties provided for the occasion. The military went through with some of their exercises and then the proceedings of the afternoon began, which consisted of speeches from different persons, when, owing to a want of an abundant supply of water, the vast assembly was dispersed at a much earlier hour than it otherwise would have been.
It was evident that the loyalty of Jones County could be relied upon, and that her citizens were ready to do their full duty in crushing out treason.

Click here to read the entire history of Jones County.

Kitchen Garden Writing

Garlic Time 2020

Head of garlic straight out of the ground.

The garlic is ready. Yesterday I dug a head from the plot and the cloves are mature. As this image shows, each clove is pulling away from the stem and when I cut into it, the hydrated precursor to the paper had formed around each clove.

I’ll dig up the 50 plants today or over the weekend, rack them in the garage, and cure them until it’s time to remove the stalk.

It’s a nine-month process from planting cloves in October until the July harvest. Done right, the time commitment is worth it.

Garlic is a basic part of our cooking: I can’t imagine being without it. I also can’t recall the last time I had to get some other than at the farms where I work. If the quality is good this year, I’ll save a third of the heads for planting this fall.

In addition to garlic, the zucchini, cucumbers, celery, and onions are ready. Tomatoes are forming but it will be a while before they are mature and ripen. By the calendar it’s time to dig new potatoes from one of the four containers. The garden is turning to peak production whether I’m ready or not.

As it does my attention turns to writing for Blog for Iowa the next four weeks. I will cross post here the following day, although it is more political writing than I usually do. There is a lot to say about that part of society these days and I’m glad for the platform.

The forecast is hot and humid the next ten days… Iowa summer. July will be a mad rush to get everything done as we remain is semi-isolation because of the coronavirus pandemic. There should be less distractions than in the before time. I’ll miss the company.


The Before Time

Kale and black bean taco filling.

Bit by bit, elements of my life are falling away to reveal the person I’ve always been. I didn’t expect that from the coronavirus pandemic.

I remember driving across the Coralville Lake to work at the home, farm and auto supply store. Already the landmarks on that route are being forgotten. They are in the before time.

Yesterday’s post about bicycling is an example. I don’t know what made me get the bicycle down, other than it was ready, I was ready, and the weather was clear for a ride. Riding a bike is part of who I used to be. As an older bicyclist I have to be careful. A crash could be disastrous. Yet it is who I am becoming.

The garden is another example. This year I have time to do things right. The tomatoes are caged and pruned, the peppers properly arranged and producing fruit, and kale and other leafy green vegetables are planted to maximize space usage. As a result, there are plenty of fresh vegetables for the kitchen. Gardening was an afterthought in the before time.

The before time is gone. I don’t have a name for the new time. Something will come to me. Or maybe it won’t. The need to name things as a method of control is part of the before time. It’s gone to memory and fading fast.

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.


Anchoring the Week

Milkweed Flowers, June 28, 2020.

Each week of the coronavirus pandemic is anchored by a few things.

Monday I make a to-do list and get things done remotely using the computer and telephone. Things like coordinating the community road repair, checking with kale customers, lining up garden tasks, and scheduling projects. I rarely finish everything on the to-do list.

Other weekly anchor points are grocery shopping on Tuesday or Wednesday, pizza for dinner Friday night, and garage work on Saturdays. The week ends on Sunday with a nap in the afternoon and a simple dinner. It is not much of a schedule but it helps keep me sane.

While there isn’t a “week” per se, the convention makes it easier to divide endless days into renewable chunks. It’s an endeavor of constant renewal, something humans need.

I’ve been more engaged in insect life in the yard and garden. The diversity and specialization is astounding. If chemical treatments reduce the volume of insects in farm fields, their absence in my garden attracts them. I thank the pollinators and murder some pests like the Colorado Potato Beetle, cabbage worms, and squash bugs.

The presence of insects, combined with open space and plenty of perches, attracts birds. The birds attract loose cats and other predators. The cats control the rodent population in the garden, although we don’t like it when they capture birds or ground squirrels. Rabbits like the quiet when I’m gone and fencing keeps them from chewing on vegetable plants. Occasionally we get other predators, like hawks and foxes. Neighbors reported coyotes although we’ve not seen one here. All of this means there is a local ecosystem and we do our part to fit in and provide diversity.

The sun is rising so I’d better finish and get on to what’s next. No rain is forecast and ambient temperature is expected to reach a high of 88 degrees. Exercise and gardening need doing before it gets too hot.


A Writer’s Schedule

Sunrise June 23, 2020.

Letting go begins with acceptance that life now has the potential to be better. It’s hard to let go of the fact the coronavirus forced me into retirement from outside work. Resentment lingers.

I recently declared on my Twitter profile I am a “blogger, writer, gardener, human.” Writing that description was a first order organizer. It is accurate in how my time is spent each day: I’m focused on creating better writing and being a decent human. However, habits persist from the before time, before the coronavirus pandemic. I want the diversity of my creative output to increase. Continuing old habits will produce the same results therefore they must improve through conscious change.

My daily process of waking, making coffee, and descending the stairs to my writing table was built on the premise creative work had to be done before the day’s activities began. Until July 2009 that meant before working a high profile, energy-consuming job. When I started blogging in 2007, a majority of the hundreds of thousands of words written since then were created before sunrise or immediately thereafter. They were written before going to work.

Now that work outside home has been eliminated there is an opportunity to break past habits and embrace a new writing paradigm.

Today, light coming around curtains on the east-facing window is a reminder to finish and get on with the day. Habits built around working persist. Habits can be broken and re-shaped into something more suited to today and provide a positive influence on writing. How does one do that?

At the core of my working career in the before time was the impulse or urge to separate my creativity from the work I had taken on to buy a house, spend time with family, and pay the electricity, gas, sewer, transportation and communications bills. Some measure of creativity was devoted to paid work, yet until recently I had not been able to bring everything together. Work remained separate, something about which I felt I shouldn’t write. Whatever efforts I made in the interim period to blend these aspects of daily life, after the coronavirus everything changed: it is a clean break.

What life will be is unclear.

For now I know few other ways to start my day and feel I have accomplished something positive. I can’t envision private time — leisurely breakfast, exercise, coffee, house cleaning, conversation — before going to work at writing by mid-morning. I am not now a night person. I feel uncomfortable with big changes although what may be best is blowing up the before time habits and letting life fall where it may. Worse things could happen.

The opportunity is to design a writer’s schedule with writing more at the center, less based on habits formed over decades. While habits play a role in life, we’d go crazy without them, from time to time self-awareness is needed and can be a positive force. There has been no time like now.

Morning writing will be ongoing while I sift through this. In summer it’s hard to stay indoors so desire to finish and get outside continues. By winter though, careful thought about new habits is in order. I doubt my writing will be successful without a change. I expect it will be better.

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.