Work Life

Retirement in the Coronavirus Pandemic

Detail of Garden Plot #4

I decided not to return to the home, farm and auto supply store after my voluntary COVID-19 leave of absence.

Whatever the cultural resonance of the word “retirement,” I’ll take my leave from the workforce without fanfare, without the customary sheet cake, and fade into the background of our life in Big Grove Township.

It’s been a good run. Whatever uncertainty lies ahead, I’m fortified by decades of experience in business and in living — the latter making the difference.

More than anything, our Social Security pensions make retirement possible. I made my first contribution to Social Security in 1968, thinking retirement was in the distant future. All along the way, in every job I held, I paid in. I paid in on my last paycheck on March 17. Of all the government programs that exist, Social Security, and its methodology of enabling even the lowest paid worker to save for retirement has been there. I hope it endures not only for my lifetime but for every American into a future as distant from today as is the teenage boy I was when I started.

What’s next? Subscribe to this blog or follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram to find out.


Brad Kunkel for Johnson County Sheriff

Brad Kunkel Formally Announcing Campaign for County Sheriff, May 5, 2019.

There is a Democratic primary race between Brad Kunkel and Al Fear. I’m supporting Brad Kunkel and here’s why.

He has been a Johnson County deputy sheriff since 2001. His work well prepared him to manage county law enforcement with a minimal learning curve.

He is well-known in the community, having served on the Solon City Council where the decisions he made were well-considered and thoughtful. He has a proven record in governance.

He is engaged in the community, active in many important groups. He is notably a board member of 100+ Men Who Care and of the Domestic Violence Intervention Program.

He is willing to engage with community members individually. Brad and I have had numerous conversations about gardening, especially since he moved to a more rural part of the county. He has the temperament to get along with people and that’s important in an increasingly diverse county.

I hope you will join me in voting for Brad Kunkel for sheriff as our candidate in the June 2 primary election.

~ Published in the May 7, 2020 edition of the Solon Economist

Farming Garden

Spring Share and All

Tomato seedlings taking a ride home.

Today is the first spring share at our community supported agriculture project.

The farmers developed a no-contact method to deliver shares during the coronavirus pandemic. Each member’s share will be prepacked in a cooler and left under the oak tree that dominates the farm entrance.

No more self serve from bins in the walk-in cooler until risk of infection passes. With portable coolers there is less to sanitize after pickup.

Sunday was a drop-dead gorgeous spring day in Iowa. Cumulus clouds floated in blue sky and the temperature was perfect. Neighbors were outside working in yards, kayaking on the lake, and walking the roads and trails. There are only so many days like this each year before insects arrive to eat our greenery. Each leaf on each tree looked perfect in the mid day sun.

The first tray of tomato seedlings took a ride home in the passenger seat after my shift at the farm. The forecast is rain the next couple of days so I’m not sure when I will plant them. The portable greenhouse is getting full.

A group of friends from high school participated in a Zoom meeting last night. The host, who also played keyboards in our 1970s band, organized a weekly meeting using the service. I found value in the conversation.

One of the guys on the call is an unemployed nurse who found work last week helping a team from the Iowa Department of Public Health administer COVID-19 tests to slaughterhouse workers. Beginning Friday he spent three days in Waterloo with a team drawing blood and doing nasal swabs to about 3,500 people. Today they head to Columbus Junction for more. I’m glad he found work.

Whatever the reason for the governor’s hesitation, unchecked spread of the coronavirus happened in Iowa because of it. Chasing it in meatpacking plants and care facilities alone will be a major undertaking. She started this scale of testing too late to head off the worst aspects of the pandemic. We are in this until researchers develop a vaccine and distribute it world-wide. Word on the street is it will take three years to accomplish that.

Yesterday we completed our ballots for the Democratic primary. Like many, we are voting by mail because of the coronavirus. Primaries are the time to vote your beliefs. Once voters express their preference, we’ll support the nominees in the general election to retake our government. We can flip the Iowa House of Representatives this year, and if stars properly align, the U.S. Senate. It will be an unusual election because of the pandemic.

So much depends on so many things. Yet when spring is as glorious as it was yesterday the work ahead in politics fades from view. Our collective journey home continues.

Local Food

Farmers Markets in a Pandemic

June 15, 2013 Farmers Market in Cedar Rapids

There is nothing better than buying a bunch of radishes at a farmers market, biting the root off one at the booth, eating it, then buying a few more bunches if they taste good.

The sights, sounds and smells of an open air farmers market are something unique. During the coronavirus pandemic the fun and experience of markets diminished as they closed and now are expected to become a place of accommodation as they begin sales again.

Nothing like a good old proclamation by the governor to suck the joy out of a farmers market:

SECTION TWO. Pursuant to Iowa Code § 29C.6(6) and Iowa Code § 135.144(3), and in conjunction with the Iowa Department of Public Health, I hereby order that farmers markets, as defined in Iowa Code § 137F shall not be prohibited as a mass gathering under the Proclamations of Disaster Emergency issued on April 6, 2020, or April 16, 2020, but only to the extent that the farmers market complies with the following requirements:

A. Farm Products and Food: The farmers market may only permit vendors who sell farm products or food. Vendors selling other goods or services are not permitted.

B. Entertainment and Activities Prohibited: Musical performances, children’s activities, contests, or other entertainment or activities organized by the farmers market or vendors are prohibited.

C. Common Seating Prohibited: Farmers markets must eliminate all common seating areas, picnic tables, or dining areas and shall prohibit vendors from having any seating for the public to congregate or eat food on the premises.

D. Vendor Spacing: Farmers markets shall space all vendor booths or assigned parking areas so that there is six feet or more of empty space from the edge one vendor’s assigned areas to the neighboring vendor.

E. Social distancing, hygiene, and public health measures: Farmers markets shall also implement reasonable measures under the circumstances of each market to ensure social distancing of vendors and customers, increased hygiene practices, and other public health measures to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 at farmers markets consistent with guidance issued by the Iowa Department of Public Health, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

Any other farmers market, festival, or community gathering of ten or more people that does not comply with these requirements is prohibited. Customers of farmers markets are strongly encouraged to engage in social distancing, wear a mask or other protective face-covering if unable to maintain a distance of six feet from others, practice good hygiene practices, and attend the market alone without other family members.

Who will venture to a farmers market at this point in the arc of the coronavirus pandemic? Iowa is projected to reach peak resource utilization and number of deaths per day about May 4 according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Once we reach peak, we will be only halfway through the number of positive test results and deaths from COVID-19. In other words, it will be at least six to eight weeks after peak before the incidence of cases and deaths tapers off to a level regular people are willing to risk exposure to do normal things like visit farmers markets.

Farmers markets have less to offer when stripped down to an economic exchange of money for food. Tasting radishes and the like will be restricted and impractical under the proclamation. Interaction between customers and farmers is a key aspect of a market and restricting it diminishes them. It is more difficult to get to know the face of the farmer when they are wearing a mask.

Farmers are developing other means to get to market while social distancing. Our local food hub developed and is implementing an on line ordering system to minimize human contact during the pandemic. While not the best, it does provide some market for growers and as a local solution can be more acceptable to local food seekers than the governor’s proclamation. Interest in community supported agriculture rose since the pandemic began with every operator I know full or expanded this season.

We hope the coronavirus will eventually recede into the background the way influenza has. Until there is a vaccine that works consumers are expected to be skeptical about going places that are not essential. Given the low level of trust people have in our government, no proclamation from the governor will change that.


Poem from Dance Cards

The sound must have come
from the lake front pavilion
and the alumni dinner-dance.

To music by the
Play Boy orchestra
she danced with Rudy ten times.

Mrs. A.H. Jones sang the solo
after the toastmaster’s remarks.
Then the judge gave an address
after presentation of the class.

Present were officers, patrons,
sponsors and chaperones.

She danced with Alice,
Dorothy, Elaine and Eunice.

With dance cards spread
like an ornamental fan.

Black, red, green, yellow and purple
printed confetti specks
trace down to the image of balloons.

Home Life Writing

Toward Life after a Pandemic

Aerobically composted chicken manure granules for garden fertilizer.

It rained overnight. The driveway was damp as I stepped outside to look at the sky. Clouds were clearing and the big dipper stood out, pointing to the North Star. We are not lost.

It’s a good day to live.

As of yesterday the official number of deaths from COVID-19 was 21,050. By official, I mean those submitted to the National Center for Health Statistics and recorded based on death certificates. There is a lag in the data as the coronavirus reaches exponential spread in the United States. It takes a while to prepare and submit death certificates.

Iowa is in dire shape. We’ve slowed growth of the bell curve yet a surprising number of cases in meat packing plants and care facilities drives the number of cases upward. According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, “After June 26, 2020, relaxing social distancing may be possible (in Iowa) with containment strategies that include testing, contact tracing, isolation, and limiting gathering size.” June 26 is two months away. We’re not out of the woods, and we can’t see the edge of the forest.

I donned protective garb and went out. On Tuesday I went to the wholesale club to provision up on dairy, fruit and vegetables, and a few pantry items. Grocery shopping is my least favorite thing during the pandemic, so I got enough to make it another two weeks.

Yesterday I drove to Monticello to pick up two 50-pound bags of aerobically composted chicken manure crumbles for the garden. I followed their limited contact pickup procedure which was writing the check at home and turning it in after I backed up to the loading door. The warehouse worker loaded my trunk while I returned to the driver’s seat. I also stopped at the public library to pick up supplies for the volunteer project on which my spouse is working. No contact social distancing all around.

In a certain sense, we just crashed into the isolation that is social distancing. A couple of things clarified. I’m not sure I will return to work at the home, farm and auto supply store after my 30-day leave of absence. If I do resign, I doubt I’ll reapply any time soon. It also seems clear our pensions will pay our basic bills with something left over. We’ll continue to pay down debt, although likely at a slower pace.

My daily life remains an educated mishmash. My schedule from 3 a.m. until sunrise is pretty good. It’s the rest of the day that seems to have little planning. What holds me back is besides gardening and a few household maintenance items, I don’t know what will be my main direction after the pandemic recedes.

There is no going back to a life lived prior to the pandemic. These days are good preparation for living more with less resources. Maybe I will be able to retire from paid work. If retired, I’ll still need productive work. In the middle of the coronavirus pandemic it’s hard to determine what that is. Defining post-pandemic life will take deliberate planning. If I approach it with considered hesitancy, it’s because I know what’s at stake.


She Danced With Rudy 10 Times

Dance Cards from 1927-1928

She danced with Rudy at the Junior Senior Prom on Saturday, May 21, 1927, in the Lake Front Pavilion.

They quoted Milton on the dance card, “Haste thee, nymph, and bring with thee, Jest, and youthful jollity.”

Rudy signed it ten times, although toward the end of the event he began using ditto marks. Maybe she wrote his name, it’s not clear. The enthusiasm of seeing Rudy’s name written waned by music from the Play Boy Orchestra near Lake Michigan. Ditto marks came to mean something else for the cohort of their children.

The couple married and lived a long life. The reason I know and have these souvenirs is they were abandoned in a box I bought for a buck at their estate auction.

I can’t keep them forever either.

Outside after waking, the sky was clear, the stars bright. A lone aircraft made its way to the Cedar Rapids airport, crossing the starry night southwest of me. It violated a serenity of wonder… about the stars, about the dancing couple before the financial crash that ended the era.

I’m left with signatures on a dance card, but not the dance. It would take a partner to reenact the dance. My partner is sleeping and I’m alone under this starry night still full of wonder.


Third Plot Planted

Garden April 20, 2020

In a cool, calm morning I finished planting the third garden plot.

Sugar Snap peas, Snow peas, carrots, Hakurei turnips, kohlrabi, three varieties of kale, Pak Choi, red onions, Imperial broccoli and spinach.

The wind came up in the afternoon. Hopefully everything didn’t get beaten down.

Home Life

Two Things About The Pandemic

Identifying the Logitech C250 web camera to find a driver.

It’s been 21 straight days of posting about life in the coronavirus pandemic. Thanks for reading. Two things became clear:

First, life as we knew it was scrambled and for the most part that’s been a good thing. When social good comes in the form of staying at home and distancing from others in public to avoid spread of the virus, it’s not a huge personal challenge for a retiree. Many of us needed relief from a busy schedule where it was hard to keep up anyway. The least important parts of my to-do list have fallen off, enabling focus on better priorities.

Second, the coronavirus will be around for a while, into 2022 at least. Once a vaccine is developed, we expect COVID-19 will be among the diseases addressed in annual flu shots. For those of us who get our flu shots, that’s a positive. We’re not there yet, but there is confidence in scientists working to understand the virus and developing a response. For now, we wait. What else is there to do as vaccine development takes time.

My last shift at the home, farm and auto supply store was on April 2 before taking a coronavirus leave of absence. I’ve gone to the farm for two shifts with another today. We practice social distancing in the greenhouse, which means most of my time is spent alone, doing my work. I’ve been grocery shopping twice, wearing a mask and trying to stay away from other shoppers and staff. I picked up volunteer work for my spouse at the library where the worker brought it to the door. We maintained a distance and chatted for a couple of minutes. She’s also one of my kale customers.

There is already pent up demand to get among people again, not just for me, but generally. In Iowa the number of confirmed tests for COVID-19 is still increasing, as are the number of daily deaths reported by the Iowa Department of Public Health. We are a distance from resuming normal activities as the “curve” is still progressing on the upward side of the bell. So we wait.

When I interviewed a U.S. Senate candidate on Thursday, we used the newly popular video conferencing platform Zoom. Since I didn’t know we were using Zoom until minutes before I was to log in, I didn’t have time to address my lack of a web camera. It looked pretty lame for just my name to show on the screen, although the interview went reasonably well.

A physician friend gave me his old monitor for my desktop when he upgraded. It has an October 2003 manufacture date. My technology works, but it’s old.

Digging through boxes of electronic gear, of which there seem to be a large number, I found the Logitech C250 web camera that plugs into a USB port, downloaded the driver, and am now ready to go on Zoom, Skype or whatever platform requires it. With social distancing, I’ll need it, probably.

No end to the pandemic is on the horizon. At the same time, the advent of spring is undeniable. A time of hope, of making plans, and for planting seeds. This year I’m increasing the productivity of the garden by using more space. Friends and neighbors may need the produce as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

Home Life Writing

News Fasting

Homemade crackers.

At noon yesterday I decided to take a 15-hour break from reading news.

I got work done in the house, including making the crackers in this photo.

I slept through the night and feel ready to go. There is pent up demand to get outside in the garden, conditions are favorable, it’s all systems go.

Part of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic is managing time while social distancing. When the weather keeps us indoors for a couple of days we don’t want to go crazy. The news makes me crazy. Now that I recognize that, it’s possible to do something about it.

Once the sun comes up, it’s out to the garden I go.