Home Life

Hard Break from Autumn

Corn-rice casserole for the annual orchard potluck dinner.

A hard break from autumn accompanied last week’s snowfall.

Outdoors there is garden clean up, raking leaves, and another mowing to be done, however, we’ve turned mostly inside.

A main issue has been determining how to get exercise without an active garden and walks along the lake. Yesterday I cleaned and set up the NordicTrack ski machine. This morning I tried it. It will serve for a while and, in any case, seems more focused than walks along the lake and yard work.

As orchard season ended I took an eleven day hiatus from carb counting. The point was to see the impact formal training and weeks of habit had on daily food consumption. Some things were easy: eating only one slice of bread at a meal, portion control, and selecting snacks that had less than 15 carbs in them. What was harder was dealing with cravings. I was mostly, but not always able to do so. At the end my average weight remained unchanged at a 15 percent loss. Clothes still fit and if I exercise daily indoors, I may have to get pants a size smaller. I went back to carb counting this morning and return to the clinic for more tests in three weeks.

The time between harvest and year’s end has been for reflection and for making plans. After a struggle when I retired in 2009 our situation stabilized with adequate income to meet short term needs and engaging work in the community. I feel fortunate to be approaching my 68th birthday with an ability to think beyond it.

I expect to continue to write short posts, although a format change at On Our Own is overdue. Before changing the look of the blog I want to print out past years for the book shelf. Financial constraints held me back from making a paper archive every year so I’m behind.

There is other writing to do. I recently ran into a former editor at the Iowa City Press Citizen and we discussed freelancing. It would take a compelling reason for me to seek publication more than I get in letters to the editor of the Solon Economist or an occasional guest opinion in the Cedar Rapids Gazette. If anything, the next period will be one of working on an autobiographical work. Whether that has import beyond family and close friends seems doubtful. It’s what an educated person does or at least that’s the paradigm through which I view it. Our daughter might appreciate the effort of culling old papers and artifacts so there is less for her to deal with when we’re gone. I don’t plan to be gone anytime soon.

Perhaps a few more autumn days lie ahead. The forecast looks dry through the end of this week. I took a vacation day from the home, farm and auto supply store to clean up the garden. If all goes well we’ll be able to turn inside when winter arrives in earnest.


Farmers Came to Town

Gold Rush and Snow Sweet apples purchased on the last day of the season, Oct. 31, 2019.

The soybean harvest was disrupted by snowfall.

Several inches fell in the last 48 hours. Farmers came to town, including to the home, farm and auto supply store.

It will be a wet crop, propane prices are already higher. The main worry is when will farmers be able to get soybeans and corn out of the field. There’s no clear answer.

Farmers sought things to help deal with unexpected winter weather: boots, gloves, salt, sand, feed, bedding, shovels, and the like. We do a fair amount of trade during and after snowstorms.

Employees who farm called in asking for an additional shift because they can’t get in the fields. Our pay is meager, but off-farm income is important in the financial calculus of small-scale farming.

In the nearby county seat there is little discussion of the daily lives of row croppers and livestock producers. Those city folk come to our store, but to purchase pet food, shovels for the walk, disposable hand warmers, and ice melting compounds less harmful to pets. We cater to everyone.

After my shift I diverted along the Interstate to visit the orchard sales barn on the last day of the season. While there, I was recruited to work an event in December. Details are sketchy but why wouldn’t I do it?

I picked a dozen Gold Rush apples for storage and another five Snow Sweet for fresh eating. There were still a lot of apple varieties available.

Hurrying home, I made final preparations for Halloween, which included sweeping and salting the front steps, preparing a bowl near the door for treats, and baking pizza for dinner. Our visitors during the two-hour window for trick or treating were neighborhood children, many of whom made a previous costumed appearance on their parents’ social media accounts.

Regarding the Nov. 5 election, I’m settling into choices. I asked around about the election of our trustee on the Kirkwood Community College board and plan to vote for the incumbent, Tracy Pearson. For school board my decision is not final. I’m leaning toward Carlos Ortega and Jami Wolf. I also like Lauren O’Neil. If she doesn’t win this time I hope she runs again in 2021 when three positions are up. I’ve written so much about the school board election I thought it important to communicate where I’m landing. It seems doubtful most of the hundreds of post readers will find this obscure reference to the election. I’m okay with that. It’s not about me.


Post-frost Planting

Garlic Patch Oct. 15, 2019

After missing last year I planted garlic on Oct. 15. A couple of clear days dried the ground sufficiently to mow the plot, turn it, and put seeds in the ground.

I increased the number of rows from two to five which if all goes well will yield plenty of scapes and about 60 head of garlic.

Whether I’ll harvest anything next July is always a question. A gardener learns to live with unanswered questions that remain so until season’s end.

This photo highlights a developing process of minimizing the amount of ground I turn over for planting. Garlic needs space with 18 inches between seeds and 36-inch row separation. There’s no good reason to plow up all the ground in the plot. Even though the soil was cold earthworms were near the surface. That’s not to mention the unseen organisms that make soil fertile. I no longer use a mechanical tiller and do everything by hand. It’s good exercise that doesn’t use fossil fuels.

Fingers crossed there is an abundant harvest.

At a meeting of our home owners association board, I announced I’m looking to exit responsibilities as board president. I’ll finish my current term, I said. If the other board members are nice to me I might be convinced to re-up for one more three year term. That would be it. I will have lived 68 years in December and it’s time to focus on other things.

Because of the board meeting I missed the televised Democratic debate. That’s a joke. I haven’t turned on our tube-style television in years. Now that Elizabeth Warren is leading in the polling averages the knives are out. Read last week’s post here for my take on why support for Warren persists now that she is the front runner.

As responses to my email to Solon School Board candidates come in, I’m impressed by the field. Three men and three women who would each bring something positive to the board. Because of a scarcity of information about the election, yesterday’s post really took off, becoming the most viewed new writing on this blog in 2019. The majority of views are coming from Facebook, but I don’t see much discussion in my feed. What that usually means is a group in the district has latched on to my post and discussed it in a private group. Last time that happened, someone trolled me with a letter to the editor of the local paper. Any discussion will be good for what is expected to be a low-turnout election.

I’m sitting on four bushels of apples and need to get to work processing them. It won’t be today or tomorrow as I’m back at the home, farm and auto supply store. I’m blown away by the quality and quantity of this year’s crop. Years like this make gardening rewarding. On deck are more dried apples, small batches of applesauce and apple butter, more juice for vinegar-making, and baked goods for potlucks. Some of the last-picked apples will go into sweet cider, and of course some of them will be eaten raw.

It is fall in the gardening year but even after first frost we are busy planting and processing the harvest. It’s how we sustain ourselves in a turbulent world.

Home Life Writing

First Frost

Eggplant Parmesan Oct. 12, 2019

Daylight remained as I drove into the driveway after a shift at the orchard.

If the garden appeared scorched by the previous night’s first frost, some tomato plants survived and the kale looked resilient.

The weather forecast is a couple of days without rain. I scheduled garlic planting for Tuesday when the ground should be dry enough. Fingers crossed I get a crop in this year.

I picked another bushel of fully ripened Red Delicious apples yesterday morning. This morning I used apples knocked down and damaged during the picking process to make an apple crisp for the county party’s fall fundraiser. In September I bought 30 aluminum food service trays for potlucks. This was the fifth one used.

We were busy at the orchard Saturday. Because of rainy weekends there is a pent up demand for the u-pick apple experience. I was tired at the end of my shift. I fixed eggplant Parmesan for dinner and could go no further. I was so tired I left the dishes to clean this morning. If there was any doubt, autumn has definitely arrived.

Garden Local Food

Fermenting A Vinegary Fall

Fermenting Apple Cider Vinegar

We were busy at the orchard last weekend with perfect fall weather: sunshine and cooler temperatures. Throngs of people visited picking apples, buying apple products, and having fun with friends and family.

We are at peak apple cider sweetness this week. Gala and Honeycrisp apples make the cider sugar content highest of the year. A great time to make fermented products — cider vinegar for me. Since my apple trees did not produce this year, I bought four gallons and started vinegar on Saturday.

The mother of vinegar I use is traced back to the 19th Century. It’s a proven process and if one cares about flavor in a home kitchen, a necessary ingredient.

I haven’t written for a week, due mostly to my brother-in-law’s passing on Sept. 19. Jim and I started at the University of Iowa the same year, although I didn’t run into him after university until Jacque and I met. He married Jacque’s sister. A Celebration of Life is planned in October.

This year has been a challenge for many people I know. As our eyes turn toward the midterm elections we’re hoping to break the spell of this sour time. At least dilute it enough so it is more tolerable.

Local Food Writing

Apple Weekend

Apple Harvest

Best news of the week arrived Friday afternoon via email. The Cedar Rapids Gazette decided to publish my opinion piece on the local food system at risk.

A writer lives for exposure to an audience and my readership will get a boost just by being in print media with daily circulation over 30,000.

I will probably run to the convenience store before sunrise to buy a copy as soon as I hit publish. (UPDATE: Here’s the link).

This weekend is mostly about apples. It’s Golden Days at the orchard. We have multiple varieties of Golden Delicious and for the most part, that’s what we’ll be picking. There are a lot of them still on the trees. Last night was family night and I spent most of my shift stocking shelves, coolers and freezers in preparation for what we hope is a good Saturday turnout. I laundered my orchard T-shirts last night and am ready to go. It’s the beginning of the end of the u-pick season.

Fallen Apple Pile

It’s time to pick the Red Delicious apples on our backyard tree. With the record-breaking heat apples are beginning to drop. I’d better not wait any longer. They are sweet enough to eat out of hand and should make great apple sauce. Whatever I’m able to harvest will be a fraction of the potential. We can only eat fresh and process so many.

So that’s the plan. Read and publicize my article in the Gazette and live in Iowa’s apple world. There’s work involved, but it will be a labor of love.

Local Food

Apples Toward Autumn

Deciduous Tree Leaves in Late Summer

Apples exercise hegemony over everything of late.

Yesterday our orchard’s chief apple officer cut a slice of Kidd’s Orange Red to sample and it’s been hard to think of anything else. A cross between Delicious and Cox’s Orange Pippin, developed in New Zealand by James Hutton Kidd, and introduced in 1924, the flavor is unbelievable. I’d say it was delicious but that would be an apple joke, favoring one parent over the other.

The orchard is in peak production. I picked one or two of each from the cooler to bring home: Gala, Crimson Crisp, Crimson Gold, Jonathan, Snow Sweet, and Jonafree. There are more than a dozen other varieties ripe for picking from the trees.

“Heat early in the growing season built sugar,” our chief apple officer told the Iowa City Press Citizen. “Sunny days with cold nights —like those in the past month — brought color and flavor.”

The Crimson Crisp apples are the best I’ve tasted this year. Food is about flavor as much as sustenance, isn’t it?

In our backyard the Red Delicious tree is ready to pick. This is a baseline commodity fruit apple for us. Like many home gardeners I make apple dishes from what is available. The fruit is smaller than usual because there are so many apples on each branch. There are plenty to make juice for drinking and apple cider vinegar, apple sauce, baked goods, dried apples and frozen slices for winter. Once they are picked, a mad rush to preserve them begins — I’m putting it off until Wednesday to work on a couple of other projects.

I took two bushels of kale leaves to the orchard on Sunday. I was surprised how many co-workers had never seen scarlet kale. Likewise my large leaves are much different from the bundles of small ones available in the grocery store. I asked one of my colleagues to compost whatever was left at the end of the shift. She said she wouldn’t but would take any remainders home. A gardener is always looking for outlets for kale.

In the garden, late pepper growth is happening. There should be plenty more Cayenne and Red Rocket hot peppers, some jalapenos, and maybe a few sweet bell peppers. The Fairy Tale eggplant is producing and there will be a few more large tomatoes. Some carrots survive but not enough to make a dish of them.

I took two days vacation at the home, farm and auto supply store next week to work in the yard. Garden cleanup, tree work and much needed mowing and trimming are on the agenda… also apple picking and processing. Here’s hoping the rain holds back those two days.

I’d move on to other work now except I can’t escape the complex flavor of apples. It dominates my waking hours and carries over while I sleep. As leaves on deciduous trees begin to turn I embrace the apple season, holding on until the last fruit falls, the last leaf turns to compost — sustaining a life in a turbulent world.

Environment Work Life

Hay Feeder Rings

Photo Credit - Tarter Farm and Ranch Equipment
Hay Feeder Ring Photo Credit – Tarter Farm and Ranch Equipment

Something is wrong when the garden produces tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers in Iowa the fourth week in October.

I’ll dice tomatoes for breakfast tacos later this week, Bangkok peppers are in the dehydrator, and cucumbers and jalapeno peppers in the icebox waiting to be used. There is chard and kale, oregano and chives. Those leafy green vegetables usually survive until November, but tomatoes and cucumbers?

Call it what you want but something is happening and we know exactly what it is.

I spent most of Friday working with hay feeder rings.

After re-resurfacing the outside lot where farm equipment is displayed at the home, farm and auto supply store, I assembled and re-merchandised the stock of feeder rings.

I don’t know if it was a day’s work, but spent a day doing it, working slowly and as safely as possible. I was tired after the shift with a hankering to leave everything and head west to work on a ranch — day dreams of a low-wage worker.

The garage was cluttered after a summer of intermittent work.

I checked off each item on the to-do list on my handheld device before heading to the orchard for a shift. I disassembled the grass catcher and stored it; re-mixed bird seed and filled the feeder; checked the air pressure on our auto tires; brought in salt and paper products from the car; stored 40 pounds of coarse salt in tubs for winter ice melting; cleared a work space on the bench; and swept the entire floor. It took about two hours. I wanted more, but time ran out.

Yesterday’s political events had me thinking of Gettysburg, Penn. My parents, brother and sister went there before Dad died. I remember reading President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address on a placard near where he read it himself. With deep roots in rural Virginia, and ancestors fighting on both sides of the Civil War, it was a seminal experience for me. It began the process of turning me from being a descendant of southerners enamored of romantic notions about plantation life to being an American eschewing the peculiar institution and those who stood for it. To my mother’s probable dismay, I brought home a Confederate flag and hung it in my bedroom. Visiting Gettysburg helped me understand the reality of the Civil War and those who fought and lived through it. I was coming of age.

My parents pointed out the house and farm where Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower lived after his presidency. Eisenhower hosted world leaders there, including Nikita Khrushchev, Charles de Gaulle and Winston Churchill. He also raised Angus cattle. We thought favorably of Eisenhower even if he was a Republican. As Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II he was a well known part of our culture. Seeing his farm enabled us to touch reality in his celebrity.

My life is here in Big Grove. I’m not heading west to work on a ranch. I don’t display the Confederate battle flag or think about it much any more. I will re-read the Gettysburg Address as I did this morning and wonder how my ancestors got along with each other after fighting in the Civil War. Perhaps there are lessons for the United States in 2016. I’m certain there are.

Home Life

Odds and Ends

Fall Colors
Fall Colors

LAKE MACBRIDE— It is a late frost this year. Oct. 20 and the tomatoes and peppers are still growing, inspiring hope to pick more before the season finally ends. I gave away a bushel of kale on Saturday, confident there will be more.

In between part time jobs there are blocks of time with which to build a life. There are fewer of them, but between interactions with members of the public and spells of writing in public, there is a private life about which I haven’t and won’t write much here.

In most ways, mine is the plain life of a common person. The profound awakening I had as a grader—that Cartesian view about communication with others through media—shaped much of who I am and have been. Realizing it was not unique to me has shaped my life as I moved from school to worklife to homelife. I don’t mind being a commoner.

Part of each week is spent with people in public, and discontent seems to lie below craggy surfaces. Some appear to have had a rough life, and take little joy in human interactions. Others, especially people accompanied by children, are more positive and joyful. Life in society is a mixed bag, and that is not news.

For me there is much more than getting through to the next day. Since Monday is my Friday, I am resolved to get something done during these weekdays. To transform this quotidian existence into something at least as beautiful as the fall colors—or as close as I can get.