Categories
Living in Society

Being Sexagenarian

Pears forming.

People don’t use the word sexagenarian much. Because of lack of use one associates it with being a sexpot or something related to youth. Let’s face it. After turning sixty aging accelerates. Most of us are not as sexy as we may think, despite genetics, efforts, and vague intentions. It’s more like we are clinging to youth rather than embracing our experience.

My sixties have been about life after the big job. During my last year in transportation and logistics I was tracking to make more than $100,000 annually. Since then, it’s been about making do on a much lower income. I turned 60 more than two years after leaving my career and despite a couple of bumps, have been okay financially.

A person who said being sexagenarian is about getting ready to turn seventy would not be wrong. Septuagenarians and octogenarians have to make do with less. Practice makes perfect, or rather semi-perfect. Life is what you make it, they say. I’m spending more time doing what I want. 70 is coming right up and I haven’t thought about life as a septuagenarian. Having given up on youth, I suppose I’m clinging to middle age. I need to let go of that, too.

In graduate school we studied aging in America and part of aging is being a survivor. Since 2018, too many friends, mostly younger than me, have died. More than a dozen neighbors died during the last couple of years and only one of them from COVID-19. Should I survive, being a survivor is going to get worse. Planning to survive is part of being a sexagenarian.

The decision to retire at age 58 was sound. Had I continued, the kind of stress I experienced would most certainly have led to a premature death. After losing interest in my career, I luckily recognized it was time to go and did. As a result, I’m here to tell about it and using my sexagenarian years to prepare for and live a more varied retirement.

However, the word sexagenarian just sounds wrong. I’d rather have no part of it even though I’m close to outliving those years. Like with anything, we believe the best is yet to come, regardless of the weight of an aging frame. A sexagenarian knows better.

Categories
Writing

A Pear Tree

Pear tree.

I can relax. Pollinators showed up at the apple and pear trees Monday. The relief is palpable.

Ambient temperature soared to 83 degrees and the warmth brought insects drawn to the pollen of open flowers. It’s expected to be warm again today. Hopefully it provides an opportunity for fruit to set.

I woke around midnight with moonlight coming through the blinds on the windows. It was very bright. I couldn’t get back to sleep. I went downstairs and got the copy of N. Scott Momaday’s new book Earth Keeper: Reflections on the American Land that arrived on Monday and read its 66 pages cover to cover.

Momaday strips language describing the earth to essentials. There is scant mention of cultural aspects of American society. His focus is on native oral traditions. It is different from other works by less experienced authors who use certain objects to make a point.

For example, what does it mean to invoke the image of the Piazza San Marco in Venice? For me, it is about art. Here’s what I wrote in my Oct. 9, 1974 journal:

These art works abound in poses like I’ve never before seen. It makes Dejeuner sur l’herbe seem trivial. A sketch book could be filled with writing the numbers of figures. And scores filled with drawings. Yet the true art is seldom, if ever, derived directly from other artists., but through nature. We must remember that art history plays but a small part in the dynamic, changing integrity of life. I seem to be a verb.

Personal Journal, Venice, Italy, Oct. 9, 1974

I’d already studied Momaday, and R. Buckminster Fuller (obvious from the last sentence) by the time I made it to Venice. The main justification of my trip was to see works of art around Europe. I remember Piazza San Marco and walking inside grand buildings that were virtually abandoned. They were preparing for a concert that evening. I remember the piazza flooded while I was there, a shallow pool of water broaching the banks of the Venetian Lagoon. I don’t know if that memory is real.

I wrote the names of 16th Century artists in my journal and compared them to other experiences. In the end, Venice provided an epiphany about the role of art in society. What we write can be more like Momaday: sparing in societal reference points with a focus on traditional narrative driven by the land.

When someone references “Piazza San Marco” it distracts from the point an author is making. Cultural artifacts inserted into poetry or prose don’t always have the same meaning to readers. That can be problematic.

I’m not sure what to make of this. For now, I’m glad pollinators showed up yesterday. I’ll get outside after sunrise and chew on it while planting more of the garden.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Robins and Their Egg

Abandoned Robin Egg

Two robins were moving around the garden in a way that was not normal. The expectation was they would be poking in the ground, searching for earthworms. When I went to water the garden, in the middle of nowhere, I discovered a robin’s egg sitting in the mulch. The birds didn’t appear to know what to do, if anything.

Since there was no nearby nest in which to put the egg, I left it there. It remained intact, yet abandoned, the next morning. On the third day robins continued to maintain a vigil. Without incubation, the egg is a goner.

Three fruit trees are blooming and the fourth is not far behind. Except for a lone bumblebee I have not observed much pollination activity. It looks to be a great bloom, although without pollinators that would be as far as it gets.

The message this morning is there are uncertainties in life to be observed. What we do about uncertainty remains an open question.

Categories
Living in Society

Leaving Walt Disney World

Seedling trays at the farm, April 23, 2021.

I won’t likely be returning to Walt Disney World, yet not for the reasons you might think. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the consumer experience was shattered and one of the broken pieces is doing whatever we did for entertainment. Most of us won’t be going back to the way things were.

When our daughter was 11, I felt an urgency to provide her a theme park experience before she got too old. We went as a family, even though we couldn’t really afford a trip to Orlando. It was new even though it was the 25th anniversary of Walt Disney World. I remember it as a hot yet fun time where we could be ourselves. It was meaningful visiting Universal Studios and Walt Disney World together.

Lately folks are politicizing visits to Disney. Partly they accuse the corporation of playing politics. Please. Corporations have always played politics better than most. What is concerning to some is Disney recently announced cast members are permitted to display tattoos, wear inclusive uniforms, and display inclusive haircuts. I knew about the “Disney look” for many years and couldn’t see how they found enough non-tattooed people to staff the positions. Supposedly cast members being themselves has broken the willing suspension of disbelief many visitors bring with them to the park. Life is apparently crappy and folk need to travel to a theme park to forget about it. That’s a hella way to build a life.

There have always been guests at theme parks with grievances and disappointments. The new grievance of having one’s immersion into make-believe broken because Disney removed the Song of the South from Splash Mountain is something else. Something is missing.

I have no regrets about my trips to Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Sea World, Universal Studios, and the rest. It is a part of my privilege that I was able to go. So many were doing it, theme park trips came to be perceived as a norm for people who had the means.

What the coronavirus pandemic taught me is the important part of visiting theme parts was doing something as a family. It didn’t matter what we did and maybe that’s the point about Disney. Mickey Mouse is getting long in the tooth and society is ready to move on. The coronavirus pandemic changed several Disney employees I know… permanently. They are little different from the rest of us.

I’d like to suspend my disbelief in society’s promise. It’s okay with me if it’s with or without the Walt Disney Company. However, the pandemic taught me there’s a better way in sticking close to home.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Editor’s Desk #8

First kale harvest, April 11, 2021.

Red Russian kale over-wintered so we had fresh kale for our stir fry dinner Sunday night. I mixed it with some Winterbor and Redbor leaves collected while re-potting plants for final growth in the greenhouse.

This year’s garden work is just beginning.

I’ve been on spring break from writing my autobiography. If asked, I am working on the book. It’s been a long spring break. More accurate is the project is stalled and in need of a completed manuscript. It’s time to set aside new writing, crank up the engine, and edit what I have: some 170,000 unedited words.

Writing the book has been like mining a vein of coal to see where it goes. I often got caught up in its adventure and that part of the process is not finished. Why write an autobiography except to experience and find meaning in memories?

I spent Sunday afternoon considering two photo albums I made years ago. One of photos taken beginning in 1962, and another of images of Father taken over the years he and Mother were married from 1951 to 1969. I didn’t write anything. I simply looked at the images and tried to remember some of the moments. This is part of the autobiographical process, but doesn’t work toward a finished manuscript. More material from the vein to be sent above ground toward the tipple.

To get things on track, I will review the outline, then go through the words written. Last winter I spent time on the first five points of the outline. I previously wrote at length about the 1980s and 1990s. I know the story ends either at the beginning or end of the coronavirus pandemic, yet how it ends is unclear. That meaning must be extracted from the tumult and tension of daily living.

I don’t argue with other writers who say a daily goal with follow-through is needed. As today’s shift begins, gardening and writing are both on the schedule. I’ll add an hour to work on a plan beyond today.

Categories
Writing

Easter Sunday 2021

Lilac buds on Holy Saturday.

Easter was a time for us grade schoolers to don special clothing and attend Mass with Grandmother and our parents. There was a special Easter dinner, an egg hunt, a basket of treats, and Grandmother’s insistence on photographs of us dressed in our special outfits. We anticipated Easter throughout the year, which for me modeled the liturgical year.

Easter celebrated the Paschal mystery and was a special time, equal in its celebration to Christmas. Its main subject is the passion, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ – the work that God the Father sent His Son to accomplish on earth. Easter is central to being Roman Catholic.

What I didn’t realize then, but do now, is celebration of Easter with Grandmother was a cultural heritage derived from peasant life in Poland and carried to the United States by her grandparents. I wrote about the settlement of the Wilno, Minnesota Polish community and the bargain of establishing Saint John Cantius Catholic Church there. In a rich cultural life, Easter played an important role on the Minnesota prairie. Church life was also central to my growing up. It was a cultural impetus that eclipsed everything else in my life for a long time. In college, I even considered studying to be a Catholic priest.

Father attended Easter Mass with us but was not baptized Catholic. His interest, he told me, was in associating with the church community to locate patients for his nascent chiropractic practice. He was in process of conversion at the time of his death and neither made it to a chiropractic practice nor Catholicism before he died in the meat packing plant accident. Even so, the church was packed to the rafters at his funeral Mass celebrated by the Right Reverend Monsignor B. L. Barnes.

It is hard to shed the culture in which I came up, nor would I want to. Although Easter doesn’t mean as much these days, and I may go to hell because of it, I continue to note the occasion if only by celebrating the spring renewal of life all around us. Our grasp on today is tenuous and the well of our experience is both thirst-quenching and a potential drowning site. On Easter Sunday we must find renewal where it lies and work toward the potential for good rather than doom. The Pascal mystery teaches us there is hope and that’s a fit lesson for this time of contagion.

Categories
Living in Society Work Life

Amazon, the Merchant

Writing space in 2000 with a locally made central processing unit via which I ordered from Amazon.

We logged on to the internet from home for the first time on April 21, 1996. I made my first purchase from Amazon.com on Dec. 23, 1998. It was a gift card for my spouse.

During the first years on the computer I purchased a lot of VHS video tapes and almost no books from Amazon. Among those early purchases were The Great Train Robbery, Birth of a Nation, The Jazz Singer, The Seventh Seal and Roshomon, videos not available in local stores. I bought my first book in 1999, Decline of American Gentility by Stow Persons. It was unavailable in local bookstores even though Persons taught his course on American Intellectual History in Schaeffer Hall at the University of Iowa Pentacrest.

For books and videos, Amazon offered availability few others did. The immediacy of the internet made it preferable to driving half an hour to the nearest vendor in the county seat to place an order, then to return weeks later when the item arrived. When a person lives in the country, online shopping makes a lot of sense.

In 1998, Amazon.com reported a net loss of $124.5 million on $610 million in sales. They got better and are now very profitable. 2020 annual revenue was $386 billion with net income of $7.2 billion. They continue to grow and improve profitability, although no one dreamed they would dominate the marketplace as they do.

The trajectory of Amazon’s growth will accelerate as the company continues to control more of the supply chain and masters last-mile delivery (literally, the last mile(s) before the package reaches the customer’s door); This is the most difficult and complex aspect of fulfillment yet one of the most important touch points in terms of customer satisfaction.

Forbes Magazine, Feb. 21, 2021.

There are companies besides Amazon.com that moved their business model toward vertical integration, where all aspects of production through customer delivery were controlled. In the late 19th Century owners of such companies were called “robber barons” after feudal lords in medieval Europe who robbed travelers. The current owner of Amazon.com, Jeff Bezos, is easy to demonize as a robber baron, yet his business model requires customer satisfaction. A more practical criticism is to realize it is time for federal regulators to break up Amazon.com.

In Iowa, Teamsters Local 238 in Cedar Rapids is organizing local Amazon workers at facilities in Iowa City and Des Moines. Unions have had little recent success organizing private sector workers in Iowa. Most prominent union spokespeople in the state represent government workers. I am interested in Amazon from multiple perspectives.

If Amazon did not exist, there is little local retail infrastructure to replace them. For example, our local hardware store carries common items used to run a household. I enjoy going there first when I need something. One out of two times they don’t have what I need. Our local grocery store does not have many organic options. There are no specialty shops like books, fabric, and sundries. Bottom line, locals rarely have what I need.

When I look at recent online purchases, I’ve ordered a few things direct from vendors (a new Dell CPU and garden seeds). I get most clothing from J.C. Penney online, food from COSTCO, and books from Amazon. With the coronavirus pandemic more household sales went online.

In addition to retail availability, Amazon delivery drivers have become a presence in our neighborhood, as familiar as the United States Postal Service which also delivers some Amazon goods.

On Saturday I become officially “vaccinated” as it will have been two weeks since my booster shot of COVID-19 vaccine. Coming out of the pandemic I need new topics to write about and Amazon is in my sight. After 25 years of buying from them, I’m ready to do something else if they do not resolve some of the injustices created while growing their business, or if government regulators do not step in.

With a fixed income, managing money is important and lowest price for quality goods matters. Amazon is a suitable new topic for this blog.

As always, relevant reader comments are welcome.

Categories
Writing

Watching Sunrise

Sunrise Over Lake Macbride, Dec. 28, 2011.

I decided to watch the sun rise. There was an urge to grab my mobile device and take photographs. I resisted.

Not everything needs recording.

The sun rose east of the kitchen through the 25-acre woods. I made breakfast and viewed its changing colors. Another day’s beginning in Big Grove Township.

During the coronavirus pandemic my posts have become a diary of contagion. It wasn’t intended. Yet here we are, more than a year into the pandemic and despite the shipments of vaccines, there is a resurgence of cases of COVID-19.

These are uncertain times. We don’t know how a sunrise will play out, only that it’s the moment in which we live.

Categories
Writing

Concertina of Spring

Spring Flowers

A lone concertina-player walked on a darkened stage playing single notes of Love Makes the World Go ‘Round to begin the overture to the Michael Stewart and Bob Merrill musical Carnival. Because of the close relationship between the schools, our high school stage crew helped Saint Ambrose College produce the musical a few years after its release on Broadway.

I feel like that concertina player during these beginning days of spring. I must get my notes out before the rush of spring’s portending promise leads to a bustling season. While the arrival of the coronavirus vaccine may not have been “direct from Vienna” like the carnival in the musical, there is hope enough people will get vaccinated to move on from the dull winter of contagion.

Already lilacs are budding, grass is greening. While it was exceedingly dry the first months of 2021, today’s forecast is rain. I’m torn between needing rain and wanting to work the soil enough to get early lettuce and peas in the ground. Such is spring.

I planted a tray of 50 beet seeds in soil blocks and moved them from the greenhouse to the heating pad under a grow light. They are germinating. The purpose is to get them started and have more success when they go into the ground. Beets grow when direct seeded, yet by starting them in blocks and planting them evenly there are less complications. I have big beet plans this year.

Spring is a time to increase outdoor exercise. I met with a dietician yesterday and she reinforced the importance of exercise in regulating glucose. I don’t know that what she said was new to me, but it finally sank in. Exercise uses sugar stored in our muscles and liver. As our body rebuilds these stores, it takes sugar from our blood. This is a good thing when it comes to living with diabetes without taking medicine.

Grandmother was about ten years older than I am now when she was diagnosed with diabetes. While living in Mainz, Germany, a package arrived from her unannounced. It contained all of the gelatin and instant pudding boxes from her pantry along with a note. With diabetes, the doctor said she shouldn’t eat them any longer. Her frugality insisted upon finding them a home. My A1C is below seven percent, yet having the diagnosis now will help me live longer with it. Since there isn’t a cure, that may be the best I can do.

Also this spring I began listening to internet radio. I found a station in Hanga Roa on Easter Island that plays blues, reggae, and progressive rock… the good stuff. It’s here if you want to listen during the pre-dawn hours of an early spring day.

Categories
Writing

Spring in Louisville

Spring flowers pushing up

Editor’s note: This was gleaned from a March 20, 2009 post on my Facebook page. My work in transportation and logistics exposed me to the deepening relationship between Chinese manufacturers and American markets during the 1990s. It was in Louisville I attended some Elite Eight basketball tournament games while attending the truck show. I also attended concerts arranged by show management with Alabama, Kenny Chesney and Reba McIntire. While geared more toward independent contractors and small companies, I was able to meet with staff from our company’s major suppliers.

During our descent, I saw the white flowering dogwood spread over the city. Grass was green and skies clear, a great day for flying and learning about the culture of trade shows. Our host sent his concierge to pick us up at the airport and deliver us to the Mid-America Truck Show.

This trade show is a chance for manufacturers, insurance companies, massage therapists, truck stops, software companies, advertising outlets and everyone who seeks the dollars found in trucking to show up. Back in the 1990s, we bought a copy of the attendees list, and discovered that the vast majority of attendees come from within a 250 mile radius to the show. It is a big event, and local in focus.

Some folks plan to buy their new truck here. Hawkers demonstrate how to reduce knee and back pain. Recruiters hope to take a driver application. Truck stop operators hope to meet up with clients. There are too many booths to take it all in.

What I did notice was a number of booths set up by Chinese companies. In one, I found Buzz, a ten-year acquaintance, introducing the Chinese manufacturers to his American contacts. In others, five or six Chinese sat in small circles in the booth in front of their wheels or oil seals, looking like they were isolated from this sea of truckers, tattoos, and facial hair. That they were here is a sign of the times, and if their behavior seemed odd this time, I am confident that they will learn how to work this crowd. One of my traveling companions said that he was surprised to see the Chinese here, instead of working the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) crowd: that is where their best impact could be made.

The Louisville Truck show is our industry writ large. It was okay to see it yesterday, for what may be my last time. Louisville in Spring is, for me, more about the dogwood.