Kitchen Garden

Celery Day

Celery patch, June 2, 2021.

This celery patch was revealed from among the weeds yesterday afternoon. In the background of the photograph is a pile of grass clippings with which to mulch the plants until mature.

I tasted a stalk right there in the garden. The flavor of home grown celery is unlike any of your store-bought, shipped from California celery. Much of this will grow to maturity and be processed frozen. The culinary use is mostly for winter soups. Integration of the growing patches with the kitchen is what a kitchen garden is.

I harvested the largest kohlrabi and cleaned it in the kitchen. The flesh of the bulb tasted almost like butter: soft, mild, and delicious. Gardeners keep saying the leaves can be eaten. That’s a true statement, yet there are so many greens available kohlrabi leaves get neglected… and composted. There are six more plants in the first succession. When I harvest them, I might use the leaves as the base for more vegetable broth. I might not.

The forecast is for rain beginning at noon. Once the sun rises I’ll head back out to continue weeding and mulching. It’s much of what gardeners do in June.

Living in Society

What Else Are Iowa Democrats Doing?

Sage in bloom at the farm, June 1, 2021.

Associated Press ran a story on June 1, dateline Keokuk, Iowa, “Past the point of no return?” Iowa Dems hopes fading. It was a bit of a downer based on interviews with prominent Eastern Iowa Democrats bemoaning changes in the electorate that resulted in what we now know was a Republican rout in the 2020 general election.

The article featured the Second Congressional District race, which Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks won by six votes. Even this week some Democrats grumble, “count all the votes.” The race is over and candidate Rita Hart has not announced a rematch in 2022. The contest should never have been that close.

Johnson County, where I live, may be a liberal bastion in the state, yet that has little relevance to statewide elections. Even my precinct, in Iowa’s most liberal county, felt the sting of across the board Republican wins. My neighbors chose Donald Trump as president, Joni Ernst as U.S. Senator, Mariannette Miller-Meeks as U.S. Representative, Bobby Kaufmann as State Representative and Phil Hemingway for County Supervisor. Had there been two more Republicans in the race for county supervisor, they would likely have won here too.

So yeah, we Democrats are licking our wounds. We believed the results of the 2020 election would be much better than they turned out. What we didn’t expect was Secretary of State Paul Pate’s decision to mail an absentee ballot request to all registered voters because of the coronavirus pandemic would net so many Republican votes. The trope that increased voter turnout helps Democrats turned out not to apply.

What else are Democrats doing? Life goes on. We’re re-grouping.

Like most everyone in the electorate, we have lives that take precedence over politics. In my community that means continuing work with neighbors that never stops for elections. Unless I look at the county voting records, I don’t know if many of my neighbors are Democratic, Republican or something else. We felt the coronavirus pandemic here. One neighbor died of the virus and at least half a dozen got COVID-19. The condolence card I sent to the widow was no different based on party affiliation. As more people get vaccinated against COVID-19, thanks to the Biden administration’s work on vaccines, we’ll exit the pandemic and take up many of the things we used to do in early 2020. A lot of my neighbors are presidential election voters, so politics is not a constant priority.

Most of my political friends are wondering which Democrats will run for office in 2022. The governor and U.S. Senate races are at the top of the ticket, and there are plenty of public sources for information about which Democrats may be running for what. Rank and file Democrats are keeping our powder dry until we know who will run to replace Governor Reynolds, Senator Grassley and Representative Miller-Meeks. There is only so much to do before there is a candidate.

We are all watching the national political scene because it impacts Iowa politics as much as anything. The expectation here is now that a grand jury has been convened in New York, Donald Trump will be brought up on criminal charges. I read an article about how he could run for president from prison. There’s no telling anything to true Trump believers.

As far as the national Democrats go, they struggle to get their voice heard amidst the noise of FOX News, talk radio, social media and, increasingly, at large employers who have disclosed their politics. According to these right-wing outlets, Democrats can do no good. I mean, God help us if the Vice President of the United States posts on Twitter, “Enjoy the long weekend.” The flippin’ sky must be falling to hear their side of it. Information about the good Democrats have done during the Biden administration — and there has been a lot of good — is being actively suppressed. Active Democrats I know are trying to understand what the administration is doing and find ways to inject that into the negativity so prominent in daily life.

To answer the AP article question, no, Democrats are not past the point of no return. We are living our lives, keeping our powder dry, and preparing for the next opportunity to mount a campaign to win in 2022. In a way, that’s what Democrats always do. We don’t expect to take guidance from the media or Republicans.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

Kitchen Garden

Garden is In – 2021

Garden on May 31, 2021

On Memorial Day I fenced in plot #7 and planted Guajillo chili peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, and a variety of yellow squash and zucchini. There is always something more to plant, yet with the fences up, I’m saying the garden is done. A gardener needs closure.

The next step is to go through the greenhouse and see what I might have missed and find a space for it. There are also extra seedlings which can now be composted. The pumpkins, cantaloupes, and winter squash are not ready to go into the ground yet. From here it is a clean-up operation… and weeding.

There will be less weeding because of the landscaping cloth used in some of the plots. Our yard doesn’t produce enough grass clippings to mulch everything, so I had to do something. Last time I brought a load of mulch from the Iowa City landfill a whole new and different crop of weeds sprouted from it. It was free, but a bad option. I re-used the landscaping cloth from last year and with care it will make it through multiple seasons. It is a better choice than single-use plastic or contaminated mulch from the landfill.

The kitchen is transformed by spring produce. There have been a variety of salads, kale and other greens in everything, spring onions, spring garlic, and radishes. Most notable is the abundance of lettuce. Using row cover on lettuce made a big difference in the size and quality of heads. There is more than we will be able to eat fresh. That’s not to mention arugula and spinach, which together make a nice green salad dressed with a mixture of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper. The first batch of spring soup should be stellar.

Garlic scapes have begun to emerge, signaling summer and its long season of food preservation. I’m ready for the busy days ahead as the garden comes into its own and we enjoy the harvest.

It’s nice to call planting done even though a gardener’s work is never finished.

Living in Society

Beginning a Summer

Plot #7 drying on May 28, 2021.

167.7 million Americans have been vaccinated against the coronavirus. That’s 50.5 percent of the total population, according to this morning’s Washington Post. Society is loosening a bit, although when I went shopping last week, most people were wearing face masks in the store.

My sister-in-law came for a visit on Friday, the first time the two sisters spent time together, in person, since the pandemic began. A return to doing certain things has a trajectory of its own. People feel comfortable being together without a significant risk of dying or getting sick. COVID-19 may be lurking in the background, but being vaccinated, we feel okay forgetting about it for a while.

This summer will be a time of re-making how our small family lives. The Memorial Day weekend traditionally, unofficially, kicks off summer, so this post is some thoughts about what is next.

During the coronavirus pandemic we paid off our debt and improved retained earnings on our balance sheet by 12 percent. The pension structure we planned, with Social Security and Medicare at its core, will serve us well for the next 10-13 years. If the Congress does not address the projected shortfall after 2034, our pensions could be reduced. Developing a plan to deal with this possibility is in the mix of priorities, yet not high on the list.

I have little desire to be a wage earner again. I do seek some supplemental income aligned with my interests. No hurry here as we are getting along for the time being.

We’ve been blessed with reasonably good health. Improved diet and daily exercise are both important. So are regular visits to the doctor.

The pandemic changed our transportation needs. Our 1997 and 2002 automobiles need upgrading to a single, newer one with appropriate range to meet our lifestyle. The move will likely be to an electric vehicle, a new one. The question of hauling stuff like bales of straw, garden supplies and home improvement materials remains to be addressed.

This blog changed into something else during the pandemic. I welcome whatever changes are needed to make it relevant going forward. My morning habits have become ingrained. It’s hard to imagine starting each day differently from the way developed during the last 15 months.

Big projects. It became clear that I can work on only one big project at a time, whether it is right-sizing number of possessions, writing, gardening, preparing the house for our aging, or whatever. An air traffic controller can land only one plane at a time and so it is for us. This brings clarity and focus.

Finally, having an active, healthy mind is important. Some things we can’t control, yet a life of engagement in society can maximize use of our critical thinking capabilities… as long as we don’t begin tuning into FOX News. Reading the newspaper and linked articles on Twitter is part of this. Engaging in politics, social justice, and the climate crisis is another. It goes without saying that being supportive of our small family is also important to mental health.

There’s a clear path to finishing the initial garden planting today. My garden work is one of the few things that hasn’t changed because of the pandemic. Let’s hope that remains so going forward.

Kitchen Garden

A Beautiful Spring Day

Yard sign pick up display, May 29, 2021.

After an early morning frost scare, Saturday turned into a perfect spring day. Ambient temperatures in the mid sixties, and clear and partly cloudy skies, it was perfect.

We have a special election for county supervisor June 8 and I volunteered to help with sign distribution this weekend. In a county race, yard signs are more important than in a presidential race. There is availability across the county this weekend. I placed a couple, but few outside the campaign were thinking about yard signs: it was a beautiful spring day. There’s more of the same today.

I used the event to make political contacts, mow the front lawn, and collect grass clippings to mulch the garden. I finally mulched the tomatoes which are becoming well-established. It was a long busy day outdoors — the first in a couple of weeks.

I read Mark Bittman’s new book Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food, from Sustainable to Suicidal this week. In it was this chart about personal diets:

Page scan from Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food, from Sustainable to Suicidal by Mark Bittman.

If you can’t agree this is a key method of organizing an individual diet, you’re part of the problem with our food system.

Individual behavior regarding the food system is one thing, yet collective action is what will matter more in the long run. We Americans continue to be pretty individualistic and most people would claim to eschew collective action, even if they participate in it.

I like the idea of meatless Monday and so does Bittman. He describes it as part of a program among some school districts to mandate local sourcing and responsibly produced food. That is, eliminating trans-fat, high-fructose corn syrup, hormones and antibiotics, artificial preservatives, artificial colors and flavors, bleached flour and artificial sweeteners. Those of us who eat a vegetarian diet know a meatless Monday is not only possible, it can be a way of life.

Meatless Monday, and other, similar broad initiatives, are important because they break down individual action and require us to participate in a broader culture of food. The U.S. food production system is recalcitrant about changing anything so while one school district doesn’t make a big difference, it is a chink to set a piton in our climb up the face of a disastrous food system. We should encourage meatless Mondays from the broader potential they represent: even if, like with us, every day is meatless.

By the end of today I’d like to get plot #7 planted and there is a real possibility I will. After that, weeding and more weeding: the life of a gardener.

Living in Society

Memorial Day

Oakland Cemetery on Memorial Day

A soldier feels a sense of connection to his country that is like few other things. That connection is to current events, but to the lives of past soldiers as well. Being a soldier can be a form of living history.

When I left the 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry, and the Robert E. Lee Barracks in Mainz-Gonsenheim, Germany, I returned my service revolver to the arms room and never looked back. It was with a sense of duty, family tradition, and adventure that I had entered the post Vietnam Army. My enlistment was finished, I resigned my commission, and like many soldiers turned civilian, my main interest was in getting back to “normal,” whatever that was.

A soldier’s connection to country includes being a part of living history. For example, many of us are familiar with Lieutenant General George Patton from the movie starring George C. Scott. When I stood at Patton’s grave in the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial there was a personal connection. I learned a history I had not known. He died in a car accident after the war and his life seemed visceral, real…he was one of us. His actual life story, considered among the American soldiers laid to rest in Luxembourg, was real in a way no movie ever could be.

Words seem inadequate to describe the feeling I had when visiting the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial at Colleville-sur-Mer in France. I was traveling with some friends from Iowa and we went to Omaha Beach and Pointe-du-hoc, where the United States Army Ranger Assault Group scaled the 100 foot cliff under enemy fire. It is hard to believe the courage it took for these men to make the assault that was D-Day. The remains of 9,287 Americans are buried at Normandy. What moved me was that so many grave markers indicated deaths within such a short period, buried at the site of the battle. The lives of these men embody the notion of devotion to country.

The Andersonville, Georgia National Cemetery is where some Civil War dead are buried. This cemetery is active with veterans and their dependents continuing to be interred there. Andersonville is a part of our history that is often forgotten. Some 45,000 Union soldiers were confined at Camp Sumter during its 14 month existence. More than 13,000 of them died “from disease, poor sanitation, malnutrition, overcrowding, and exposure to the elements.” It was an ignoble death for a soldier and emblematic is the large number of graves marked “unknown” at Andersonville. It saddens us that citizens activated to serve the cause of preserving the union ended up this way. It seems like such a waste in an era when we have knowledge that proper public health procedures and basic sanitation could have prevented many of these deaths.

A friend of mine in Davenport kept the bullet that killed a relative during the Civil War on a “whatnot” in her living room. It was a constant reminder of the sacrifices servicemen and women make when they put on a uniform. It is also a reminder that defense of the common good is no abstraction.

On this Memorial Day, it is worth the effort to consider those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country and pay them respect. People and organizations are decorating cemeteries with American flags, reminding us that military service is not about images and speeches. It is about the decision individuals make that there is something more important than themselves and that from time to time it is worth giving one’s life to defend the common good.

~ First published on May 29, 2011 on Blog for Iowa.

Living in Society

Memorial Day Weekend

Service Flags at Oakland Cemetery, Solon, Iowa.

Editor’s note: I’ve written about Memorial Day so many times I can’t remember them all. This retro post is from May 29, 2010. Back in the day I would occasionally post live blogs of my activities to note an occasion. I was still writing to understand how to blog. This year the number of activities planned is less and there won’t be any live blogging. Instead, I’m hoping the rain abates and I can finish planting the garden. Happy Memorial Day weekend!

Friday: 9:00 AM: Five Mile run. Saw many (stopped counting at 30) goslings with parents near the shore.

1:00 PM: Trip to Stringtown Grocery. Perhaps the favorite item is popcorn, which comes in several varieties and is sold in bulk. It is worth the trip to Kalona for the popcorn. They also had local lettuce for a dollar a bag and brown eggs for $1.79 per dozen (much less expensive than at the farmers’ market). The clear blue sky made driving along Highway One a pleasure. The antique stores had banners unfurled and seem ready for business.

5:15 PM: Peace vigil at the Pentacrest.

7:00 PM: Iowa Press with the three Democratic US Senate candidates Roxanne Conlin, Tom Fiegen and Bob Krause.

Saturday: 4:15 AM: Wake and coffee made.

7:00 AM: Arrived early at the farmers’ market, parking on Iowa Avenue near the Unitarian Church to avoid the congestion of the lot south of Chauncey Swan parking ramp. Ran into Tom Baldridge and we discussed Nicholas Kristoff’s article in the New York Times on Sister Margaret MacBride of Phoenix. We passed a happy half hour, waiting for the whistle to blow, starting the sales. I bought a cucumber, asparagus, a bunch of turnips, a bunch of radishes and two quarts of local strawberries.

8:00 AM: There was a crowd of twenty outside the Solon Public Library when I arrived, waiting for the early bird opening. $5.00 to get in before the crowds to search through the 9,000 books on sale this year. There was a tall stack of free t-shirts and I took a couple for me and two to send to our daughter. I had a bag, which I filled, moving quickly among the piles to get through the majority of tables. I bought two dozen books, hoping to find time to read them. They are, community cookbooks from Mount Pleasant, Nauvoo, Illinois, Keokuk, Victor and Fort Madison. John Gardener’s Nickel Mountain, New Directions 27, The Life of Honorable William F. Cody, Now Playing at Canterbury by Vance Bourjaily, Vachel Lindsay’s Collected Poems, a biography of Mary Baker Eddy, the book and lyrics for Brigadoon, Kiss Me, Kate, West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, Porgy and Bess and other musicals of the American Theatre. There was a book of Tennyson, Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach about the Dutch tulip speculation. A second copy of Passing Time and Traditions: Contemporary Iowa Folk Artists by Steven Ohrn. Iowa Inside Out by Herb Lake, a book about the art inside the U.S. Capitol provided by former congressman Ed Mezvinsky. Selected Letters by Robert Frost, Robert Kennedy: In His Own Words, Mason and Dixon by Thomas Pynchon and a hardcover copy of The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe. Two more; Hope Here: Beyond East and West by Norimoto Iino and The Idea of Fraternity in America by Wilson Carey McWilliams. Quite a lot to tote from the truck; more of a commitment to read them all. Should be set for the next year.

9:30 AM: Garage work. Cleared out a space for one car. Collected grass clippings for the garden. Ran 2.5 miles.

2:45 PM: Made lemonade out of lemons. Listened to Awful Purdies on the radio. Wrote post for BFIA tomorrow.

5:25 PM: Gardening to prepare for dinner.

6:00 PM: Picked spinach, made a big salad for our dinner while listening to A Prairie Home Companion.

Sunday: 3:15 AM: Wake and first loads of laundry over coffee.

4:30 AM: Wrote post for BFIA on Memorial Day.

6:30 AM: Jacque and I attended the Solon Firefighters Breakfast in town, at the fire station.

Fire Fighters Breakfast

7:45 AM: Take a nap from being up so early and too many carbohydrates for breakfast.

9:53 AM: Weeding the Garden.

11:16 AM: Drink leftover lemonade after weeding. My shoes fell off and barefoot I walked and crouched in the dry soil, pulling weeds. Working in the garden takes practice, a hundred times of squatting and pulling unwanted grasses by the root by digging fingers deep in the soil.

12:44 PM: Departure for Iowa City.

Plum Grove Historical Site

2:47 PM: Return from Plum Grove. The home of Iowa’s territorial governor from 1838-1841, Robert Lucas, can be found at the south end of the streets Dodge (for Augustus C. Dodge an Iowa Territorial Representative to the US Congress), Governor and Lucas (both for Governor Lucas). It is open during the summer and there was an interpreter today, along with costumed interpretations of the governor and his wife, Friendly Ashley Sumner. The house seems typical for the time, and something I learned was that Governor Lucas was a part of the temperance movement and wanted Iowa to remain a dry state. That didn’t really work out.

5:30 PM: Dinner potato salad burger and baked beans.

6:10 PM: 2.5 mile walk by the lake. Very hot and sunny. Met neighbor’s new baby in a pram. Lots of pontoon boats out on the lake. The grasses are grown tall and gone to seed.

7:15 PM Prepared strawberries and ate a bowl of them for dessert. They taste much better than the ones trucked in from California.

9:02 PM: Just finished the last load of laundry. Took all day! Tomorrow morning is the ceremony at the Oakland Cemetery, and then more gardening and preparing for the coming week’s work.

Living in Society


Wildflowers on the Lake Macbride State Park trail, May 26, 2021.

Fourteen months after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, it was time to get the newer car serviced. For the most part, the 2002 Subaru sat in the garage or driveway during the pandemic. Wednesday I drove it to town, dropped it at the shop, and walked home along the Lake Macbride State Park trail. It was a near perfect day for a long walk, with clear skies and ambient temperatures in the mid 70s.

Rain is today’s forecast, as it has been for the last two weeks. We haven’t gotten much rain, only enough to retard gardening progress. It looks like drought will be more Iowa’s problem this growing season, although there has been enough moisture here.

In an effort to stop taking a post-operative opioid pain killer, I skipped a dose yesterday afternoon. I’ll likely skip another dose at 11 a.m. today and if the pain is subsiding, switch back to Ibuprofen (or nothing) before bedtime. It was useful to have access to a strong pain killer.

I’ve been mostly out of the garden since I put the tomatoes in and need to finish up initial planting with Guajillo chilies, eggplant, cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, cantaloupes, and acorn squash in plot seven. I also need to weed… a lot.

I’ve been reading Mark Bittman’s new book Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food from Sustainable to Suicidal. It presents a broad history of food in society, focusing on the detrimental aspects of agriculture. I’m reading the chapter on branding — the rise of Chiquita, Campbell’s, Heinz, Kraft and others. In my autobiography there is a section about the rise of grocery stores and branded prepared foods, so Bittman provides a great background for that work just when I need it. The current average rating on Goodreads is 3.88 which seems about right. I can’t say there is much new to me in the book yet he does part of my research for me.

At 9 a.m. this morning there is a 100% chance of rain, according to my weather application. As soon as the sun rises at 5:36 a.m., I plan to grab my spade and turn over as much of plot seven as I can before it starts. After being waylaid for a week, I’m ready to get back to the garden.

Kitchen Garden

Lettuce Progress

Magenta and Bibb lettuce, May 25, 2021.

This year’s spring lettuce crop beat expectations. I harvested a lot and the heads are healthy-looking. I set a wheel barrow with lettuce at the end of the driveway to share the abundance with neighbors. Only a couple found homes but I’m happy to place any of it. I’m not really marketing either.

I seem to have cracked the code for growing lettuce. Here’s what I am seeing.

It began with selecting variety. Magenta from Johnny’s Selected Seeds is a good summer crop lettuce and that’s most of what’s in the photo. I also procured five other varieties, which I’m trying in succession.

The germination heating pad made a big difference. Seeds germinated more quickly and that resulted in more viable starts. I recycled some nine-cell seed starter trays and that’s the right size per succession crop for our household. Before last frost I transplanted to larger containers and now I’m planting from the nine-cell trays directly into the soil.

Lettuce under row cover.

What appears to have made the biggest difference is planting lettuce under row cover. The heads grew quickly to maturity and the soil remains fertile with addition of composted chicken manure crumbles. The row cover also protects lettuce from excessive sunlight and from insects. I’ve grown lettuce from seedlings before, but never like this, with big heads and a high seedling success rate.

I did a financial analysis of gardening as a potential source of income and lettuce would be a key component. People will pay more for organically grown lettuce fresh from the garden. I haven’t thought much about taking it to the farmers’ market before, but after this spring, I can see a path to selling some of it next year.

A gardener is always observing the results of their work, trying new things, and staying up to date on tools and techniques available to improve cropping. When one hits on a success, like this lettuce crop, the work seems worth it.

Think I’ll have a celebratory salad for breakfast.

Living in Society

On Opioids

Lettuce for my neighbors, May 25, 2021.

Beginning with pain in my tooth after biting a piece of cheese last Thursday, it only got worse.

By Friday afternoon I was ready to see a dentist, although because it had become so late in the day I couldn’t get in until Monday morning. It was a sleepless, uncomfortable weekend because of the pain, even with Ibuprofen.

It was tooth #14, the same one on which I had a root canal in 2018. At the end of eight hours of diagnosis, including a three dimensional X-Ray, the endodontist determined the large root had cracked open and re-doing the root canal would provide no positive benefit. I went back to my regular clinic where they extracted it.

After the morning visit, I went to the pharmacy to get a prescription for pain killers and antibiotics. I knew it was serious medicine when the pharmacist asked to see my driver’s license. The guide to medication said, “Even if you take your dose correctly as prescribed you are at risk for opioid addiction, abuse, and misuse that can lead to death.” The handout mentioned death a couple more times. I waited until I returned home from the extraction to take the first pill.

I intend to get off the opioid as soon as I can tolerate the pain.

I have a couple of things to say about the episode.

First, both clinics were very accommodating to get me in for the emergency procedure. The fact that I get a regular checkup created a health care infrastructure upon which I could rely with the onset of unexpected pain. I sent each clinic a thank you note for going above and beyond normal expectations.

I’ve had dental care most of my life, since I grew teeth. I also worked at the University of Iowa Dental Clinic and had work done by students. I’ve learned to pay attention to what the practitioner says and does. Understanding each step of the process as we went along relieved any anxiety I may have had. Local anesthesia highly recommended.

Over the weekend, in my sleepless delirium, I had a dream that I went to the garage and extracted the tooth myself, and with ease. In real life, the top part of the tooth broke up during extraction because it had become brittle. Each of three roots had to be extracted individually. The one that had cracked open proved to be particularly difficult. Moral: don’t try to extract your own teeth even if you think you can.

The episode took six days out of my life and just today I got out in the garden to work for a while. I’m supposed to take it easy for a couple of days. I’m not sure I know how to do that, but will try. While I’m on opiods, there were only twelve pills and I don’t plan to get more.

The drug did ease the pain.