Living in Society

Driving in Late Fall

First Lutheran Church with moon rise near Marengo, Iowa.

It took 42 minutes to reach Fireside Winery near Marengo where a group of political friends gathered for the first time since the midterm elections. Among topics discussed were the value of pedicures, local spa experiences, and nail salons. We talked about the election as well.

It was a long drive to get there, yet also important to stay engaged. Iowa County has half the votes in my Iowa House District.

In 2016, before redistricting, our current Republican state representative ran unopposed. In 2024 we may run a candidate again in the new district, although the strength of the Republican’s win was such it may discourage Democratic candidates considering a run. It only makes sense to run to win.

It was good to be among people with common interests. I refrained from drinking any wine at the gathering as I have given up drinking alcohol and driving. It turns out conversation is just as good without it. Drunken me would likely have rejected conversation about getting a pedicure. Now I’m considering getting one.

Fall colors along the long, mostly straight road from Ely Blacktop to the Highway 151 junction are captivating. Most row crops are in the bin with shades of yellow and brown dominating fields. Leaves on deciduous trees have mostly fallen. Traffic was light. It was a good afternoon to appreciate a long drive.

Living in Society

Neighborhoods in Autumn

Twin View Heights, Iowa.

Locals were in their yards dealing with the fallen leaves of deciduous trees. In that peculiar American way they worked autonomously. Each had their own way of handling a natural occurrence. One family makes an annual event of piling leaves high then zip lining into them. Others piled and burned them. Some ground them up with a mower and let them remain. One family bagged them. People like me ground and used leaves as garden mulch. It was a typical autumn afternoon as I went political canvassing in the area.

For the people on my door-knocking list the election was over. A few feigned indecision yet I doubt it. More than half had already voted. The electorate has picked sides and there were few questions for a random canvasser on a Sunday afternoon. The main thing I communicated was the polling place had moved this year from the public library to the Catholic Church. For the many who voted early, that may not matter. It was good to be out with people.

Last night was Halloween beggars night and I had about 30 children and parents. The weather was mild and I left the front door open for the two hours. I bought a bag of candy for treats from the wholesale club. More than half was left at the end of the night. I’m glad to see children and their parents doing something together in our neighborhood.

Golf carts of Halloween central.

I picked more kale and chard in the garden. The color is now deep green after a few nights of frost. Under the weeds I saw a few chive plants. The plot with greens turned into a bit of a weedy mess this year yet there was an abundant harvest.

According to my device I spent 2 hours, 45 minutes chatting on the telephone. Nothing urgent. Just catching up with friends and family. Such phone use is unusual for me. While the weather was perfect, it was a punk day for working outdoors, so the phone calls filled the time. That’s where I am in life.

One of my political stops was a man I’ve known almost since we moved here. If door-knocking is supposed to be efficient, this stop wasn’t as we caught up on what is going on in the community. He lives alone because his spouse is now living at the care center. I didn’t want to rush things and the conversation took many turns. It was good to get caught up.

The plan is to work outside for a couple of hours, getting the yard and garden ready for winter. If snow fell today, I would be satisfied with where things are. We live in a climate, yet it is the people who make life worth living. I enjoy my slice of humanity these autumn days.

Living in Society

Roof Inspection Day

Garden on Oct. 27, 2022 from the roof of the house.

It was a perfect day for inspecting the roof and cleaning gutters. No wind and moderate temperatures, the whole job took less than 15 minutes. At age 70, I feel confident climbing the ladder to do this work. I’m not yet ready to pay someone a hundred bucks to do this 15-minute job. I don’t know how many more years I will continue.

I took a traditional photo of the garden.

Living in Society

Leaves Fall

Fall colors are pretty, yet past prime.

Not much to say today, or any day before the midterm election. Here’s a photo of my front yard with leaves piling up. It’s great mulch for the garlic and more work to do! Thanks for reading.

Living in Society

Autumn Sky

Autumn Sky.

Some days it is best to just be.


Embers of the Derecho

Embers of a brush pile on Oct. 27, 2021.

The brush pile included the last branches blown down by the Aug. 10, 2020 derecho. With enough rain to sate the drought, it was time to burn it. By nightfall it was reduced to ash, then a steady rain fell until morning.

One more mowing and I will get the John Deere serviced. After that, it will rest in the garage until spring. Deconstruction of the garden is ahead. I’ll need the mowed lawn to spread things out and organize for winter storage. I want to salvage and reuse landscaping fabric and the staples used to hold it in place.

The compost piles need to be moved and turned. I want to clear the garden plot where they are for more productive use. As my gardening skills improve I want more planting space next year. I have many wants.

I sat on the grass and watched the fire burn. I re-stacked the burning logs with a garden hoe and reduced the perimeter of the fire as it burned. I used old business cards mixed with shredded paper to start the fire. A pile of them lay under the burning branches. Once I turned them over they ignited.

We had an unexpected overnight visitor. I made a pot of chili using a fresh tomato, canned whole tomatoes, two kinds of frozen tomato sauce, and a can of organic tomato paste. It provided flexibility for supper time so we could focus on conversation.

A new day begins in our post derecho lives. The brush pile is gone, preparing a path toward garden’s end and winter.

Kitchen Garden

Fall Garden Planning — 2021

Gleaning the fall garden.

Ambient temperatures are forecast to reach the high sixties today. It’s time to plan fall gardening and get to work.

The biggest task ahead is garlic planting. I cleared the plot where I had onions this year. The next work is to spade the soil, fertilize and till it. What’s left of the garlic harvest remains in the rack. It requires trimming, cleaning and sorting. I need about 100 of the best cloves for seeds and the rest will go into storage. It was a good crop and I hope next year will be better.

Because there were so many tomato plants the vines are still producing. They are not the best tomatoes yet fresh ones add value in the kitchen. Once frost comes, I will tear down the bed, stack and repair cages, and save the landscaping fabric and fencing for another year’s use.

I made the first pick of Brussels sprouts this week and they will produce into October. The plot where they are is the most diverse and will require gleaning it until frost kills everything. There will likely be tomatillos, peppers, cherry tomatoes and more sprouts. It will be the last plot to be torn down.

The main fall crop is apples. I went through the apple butter in the pantry and there is plenty to last two years and more. The same is true for apple sauce so the question is what to do with the abundance. I offered some of it to a neighbor who is coming next weekend to pick with their family. I plan to take the best fruit, make some baked goods and juice for apple cider vinegar and fresh cider. I also need to prune dead branches while leaves are still on the trees (so I can see what’s what). I don’t know what to do, if anything, about the scar on the Red Delicious tree where the derecho took a couple of big limbs. I’m resigned to eventually losing it. There is a lot of apple work ahead in the garden.

My greens plot was a success this year. We had plenty for the kitchen and the kale and collards will continue to produce into October. Some years kale makes it through November and last year it over wintered. There is landscaping fabric to recycle there along with fencing. Every plot needs work to prepare for winter.

As I organize and reflect on what happened, the overarching feeling is “where did the time go?” I’m thinking about my fall seed order already. Once the pension checks arrive this month I’ll reduce thoughts to an order and place it.

It’s been a great gardening year in a cycle that never ends.

Living in Society

Push Toward Fall Begins

Tomatoes, apples, onions and potatoes waiting to be used.

Signs of summer’s end are everywhere.

We knew fall was arriving last week when someone published the school bus pickup and delivery times on our community Facebook page. K-12 schools start tomorrow in our district.

The Iowa legislature and governor expressed an interest in dictating how schools would approach the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. They issued a written dictum through the Iowa Department of Public Health. Click here to see it. My main takeaway is that everyone should wear a mask and get vaccinated if they can, although neither can be mandated by the local school board. IDPH has adjusted COVID-19 surveillance to follow the influenza model, focusing on outbreaks and vulnerable populations.

We’re ready for fall with four home test kits for COVID-19 resting on the stairs for potential use. We restricted activities outside home during the return of students at a nearby university and the surge in hospital admissions for COVID-19. If there’s one thing we learned during the pandemic it is isolating from others is a good way to prevent respiratory disease, including COVID-19.

Political campaigning takes a holiday during summer. With Iowa Democrats seeking to regain some of the ground lost in 2020, activity is percolating to our attention. There is a U.S. Senate primary coming, with four announced candidates. There is one for governor with two. Yet most political activity remains unseen as summer ends.

As of this writing, our congressional district has neither been adjusted after the U.S. Census, nor identified any candidate for congress. The Iowa Legislative Services Agency is working on a redistricting map after last week’s arrival of U.S. Census data, and a candidate for congress or two make preparations to announce their campaigns for the June 2022 Democratic primary election. There is plenty of time to engage in campaigns. Most voters are loathe to do it and the recent trend is to wait until the last possible moment to evaluate candidates and cast a vote.

The garden reached the high water mark and the rest of the season is finishing tomatoes, tomatillos and peppers; taking greens as needed in the kitchen; and working toward a couple more crops of lettuce. The season will end with Brussels sprouts and Red Delicious apples in late September or October.

The calendar says autumn begins on Sept. 22 yet we’ve already begun to make the turn. I’m thinking about where to plant garlic, how to deal with apples still on the trees, and how to engage in politics this cycle. Comme d’habitude, I’m taking some time for myself until the Labor Day weekend. It looks to be a busy fall.


Prairie Burn

Prairie reconstruction after prescribed burn.

Back on my bicycle Monday with a 10-mile ride. Feeling my legs and lungs working as I climbed hills in low gear was affirming.

Today I’m going to take time to breathe.

Living in Society

Autumn in Iowa

Autumn Blaze maple tree.

The colors of the maple tree in front of our house don’t photograph well. We have to stand and take in the feeling they arouse. The variety is called Autumn Blaze.

Branches high up in the tree have been blown down and broken by wind storms. The foliage is not as dense as it once was. Like all maple trees the wood is soft and if the right kind of insect gains entry it will be curtains. I remember planting the tree with our daughter in the 1990s, shortly after moving to Big Grove Township.

We had no idea how the changing colors of autumn would make us feel. If we knew, we would have planted another.

The coronavirus pandemic rages in Iowa and in the United States. Republican politicians in charge are downplaying the seriousness of the virus so as not to have to address it before the election. Only a cynical, craven person could do so. The same kind of person who sent meat packers back to work without adequate protections after outbreaks were revealed.

The end of the year holidays are upon us with Halloween a week away. I wrote a post for our neighborhood Facebook page:

“My personal two cents: Just finished reading the complicated Iowa City rules for trick or treating during the coronavirus pandemic. To me, it’s simple. If parents want to take their children out in the neighborhood they should be free to do so. At the same time if members don’t want to participate, they should leave their front lights off and not answer the door. There should be no “tricks” or unpleasantness for anyone during the pandemic. As President Trump said in Florida last night, ‘you should do all the things’ to prevent spread of the disease. We know what those ‘things’ are: wear a mask, practice hygiene, use sanitizer, and clean up upon returning home. It’s important to create a positive environment for children during a fun holiday that marks the beginning of the end of year holiday season. I hope we are closer to normal by Halloween 2021.”

It really is autumn in Iowa.