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Writing

November Trail Walking

Lake Macbride State Park trail, Nov. 21, 2021.

Days of the week have been differentiated. Defining a “week” with no work outside home seems essential to emerging from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Where are we on the pandemic?

According to CDC, less than 10 people died of COVID-19 in our county during the last seven day period. The actual numbers were “suppressed” on their website. The rate of admission to hospitals for COVID-19 is three per day for the same period. Our county has a high level of community transmission of the virus compared to most other counties in Iowa which are described as “substantial.” The percentage of positive tests for COVID-19 is on an upswing and expected to get worse as the end of year holidays are upon us. The county health department encourages us to get vaccinated if we aren’t, and to get a booster shot before December if we are eligible. The vaccine is available on a walk-in basis at pharmacies. We appear to have reached a period of stasis in the pandemic.

Some days of the week are better defined than others. Mondays are about catching up on desk work and starting new projects. Wednesdays are for shopping in person if needed. Fridays are for finishing up the week’s work, and the weekend is back to being the weekend with less travel and most activities occurring at home. Without effort on my part days would have continued to blend into an endless series of indistinguishable sunrises and sunsets. It is important to impose structure on our lives, so I have.

Every day I attempt to exercise. Of late, most of it was walking on the state park trail. When we chose to build our home here, proximity to the state park was an attractive feature. Not only is the trail well-maintained, the abundance of wildlife can be astounding. Waterfowl and birds alone are a constant source of wonder. The point is the exercise, though, and the trail serves.

We don’t know if or when the coronavirus pandemic will end. What you see is what you get, I suppose. Maybe it is over and we just haven’t said so. I plan to continue to wear a mask in public, especially when shopping, long after the threat of COVID-19 has diminished. There are plenty of other colds, viruses and contagions to avoid. If this is an eccentricity of the elderly, then so be it. I embrace it. I’m at a point where I don’t care that much how people view my appearance. I do want to fit in when in social settings, but there are lines to be drawn. I have plenty of N-95 masks.

The weather has been delightful this fall, with more temperate, clear days than we deserve. I’m planning to hike the trail again today, partly for the exercise, and partly to see the activity of a society of people and wildlife in transition. Here’s hoping there is change for the better.

Categories
Living in Society

Post Pandemic Weekend

Old license plate display in the garage.

The automobile sat in the garage since I returned from provisioning last Wednesday. There is plenty to do at home and I’m getting better at organizing each week. The last three days felt like a “weekend,” something I haven’t felt in a long time.

Absent work outside home, the days can turn into an endless stream of the same. By scheduling certain types of activities for different days of the week, a sense of normal is returning after the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic and ending paid work. I make the weekend seem as it is by intent.

If anything, I miss being with people and doing things together. While taking my daily walk I encounter neighbors I’ve known for years. There have been good conversations on the trail, yet it’s a different kind of interaction. I miss meeting younger people and doing things with them in society. Partly, my cohort is getting older and has less relevance to youth. However, it’s the isolation that has been challenging to embrace.

The public response to the pandemic is shifting. Last week a COVID-19 vaccine was approved for children aged 5-11. Locally, there was a rush to get it, yet a large segment of the population could care less. They say the coronavirus is with us forever, we must get used to it and develop natural immunity through exposure. Getting vaccinated for COVID-19 is recommended by most medical authorities, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The current seven-day moving average number of deaths per day attributed to COVID-19 is 1,110. In 2020, COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer. It is difficult to accept a thousand deaths per day from COVID-19 as the new normal yet people who once said getting vaccinated was a personal choice are now saying vaccination is bad. Scheduling a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine is on my to-do list for today, so you know where I stand.

To maintain good mental health we need structure in our lives. When confronted with a decision of what to do next, the part of the week devoted to planning pays dividends. If things keep going how they did the last few days, weekends will take on new meaning. They will be differentiated from the rest of the week and become something to which I look forward. Lately I’ve been enjoying Sunday afternoons working on sundry projects without structure. I hope they continue.

The pandemic changed our lives permanently. Humans will figure out a way to cope with it or die trying. My recent activities serve as an example of human resilience. If anything, humans are that. It turns out, so am I and I’m happy to have my weekends back.

Categories
Living in Society

Into Autumn

Fallen apples, some partly eaten by deer and other wildlife.

It rained the last two days and Tuesday’s forecast is clear in the high sixties. After my appointment in Cedar Rapids, the plan is to work outdoors. There is the garden to glean, apples to pick, dead branches to trim, and a brush pile to build. As I age, progress on my list of tasks proceeds steadily yet more slowly.

I don’t like where the coronavirus pandemic is going. It’s not ending. In fact, there was an outbreak this month in the K-12 schools. It doesn’t appear Iowa will hit anything close to 70 percent of the population vaccinated. The delay in a vaccine for young people is part of the problem. Rejection of the science of vaccines is the rest. Iowa used to lead the nation in the quality of our education, but no longer. Living in society is being dumbed down.

Rain is typical of mid-October and this year it is welcome. I’ll wait a week or two to mow for the last time. I’ll set the deck low to produce a lot of grass clippings for the garden. After that, I’ll schedule the mower in the shop for what is becoming every other year maintenance. I don’t use my tractor for much besides mowing.

We scheduled the HVAC technician to come out and go over our furnace. It is the same shop that installed the system new, although staff changed since 1993. Once that is done, we are as ready for winter as we’ll be.

A pall hangs over everything. Partly it is the isolation caused by participating in so many things via Zoom, Google Meet, Twitch and social media. Partly people are focused on their families. Our politics is unreasonable, and there seems to be less common cause in everything. Dog eat dog, every every person for themselves is the way things are going. The insularity will not be good for society, yet I have no good alternatives.

I’m thinking about the burn pile I need to build. It’s purpose is to clean up the yard of brush from trees and bushes I planted when we arrived in Big Grove. I could have saved the trouble and not planted them. Yet what kind of place would this be without them. It would be the less and we can’t settle for that.

Based on squirrel activity the last two weeks, our backyard will be a Bur Oak forest in ten years. I hope we live to see it.

Categories
Living in Society

Labor Day 2021

Labor Day weekend work: preserving Guajillo chilies.

For the second year in a row I’m not employed on Labor Day. The kinds of events marking the day are not the same as they were.

An announcement on the Iowa Labor News website read, “Most of the Union sponsored Labor Day events around Iowa have been cancelled, for safety reasons.”

“Safety reasons” refers to the coronavirus pandemic, which is not over, which has no end in sight. “The virus is here to stay,” Governor Kim Reynolds said at a Sept. 2 news conference. “Which means we have to find a way to live with it in a responsible, balanced and sustainable way.” There is no going back to the way things were before the coronavirus came along on Labor Day or on any day.

It’s been 48 years since I carried a union card at a meat packing plant. Since then, private business restructured to minimize its exposure to a unionized workforce. I’m not sure what Labor Day represents any longer. It sure isn’t about unions even if they are the groups most likely to plan events during better times.

Locally grown Honeycrisp apples.

This weekend the orchard began its Honeycrisp apple season, the university had a Saturday home football game, and there is a Labor Day Vendors Market in nearby Mount Vernon. It’s not much considering how many people work for a living. This year’s Labor Day Mayor’s Bike Ride in Cedar Rapids has been cancelled due to the pandemic. Suffice it Monday is a holiday and the weekend can be a time to take it easy.

Labor Day weekend is the “unofficial end of summer.” That’s going to have to do. Since I returned from a trip to Florida at the beginning of July the weather has been exceedingly hot and humid. Sunday morning’s ambient temperature was 59 degrees, reminding us of autumn’s approach. Sumac along the state park trail has begun to change color. There are signs of the end of summer all around.

In February I bought a new CPU to replace the one I’ve been using since 2013. This Labor Day weekend I hope to get it up and running, with files transferred. I face the same issue as in the past: what files do I want to keep? Ready or not, change has come and it’s time to decide. Like with the Labor Day holiday I must act like there is no going back. What is hard is deciding whether that means keeping old behavior or developing new. For now, I plan to work at home on Labor Day.

Categories
Writing

Summer Heat and Humidity

View of the garden from the rooftop, Aug. 28, 2021.

The gutters overflowed with water in a recent rain storm. During the following heat and humidity I climbed the ladder to have a look. Sure enough both sides were plugged with leaves and maple tree seeds. It took less than a minute per side to clean them.

While up there I inspected the roof. The south peak is showing wear, as it is windward. The roof will be good for a while longer. It was the only planned ascension this year.

I go indoors when the heat index is in the 90s. Ten or more years ago it didn’t bother me to work hour after hour in heat and humidity. With a cooler of water bottles on ice, I had everything needed to work straight through. The record drought in 2012 raised my awareness. I began needing a break from the heat about every hour or I would get dizzy. Now I don’t push it. If the forecast is in the high eighties and it’s humid I find indoors work to do.

It’s not like the lawn needs mowing. While the two recent rains greened things a bit, most of the grass remains dormant. I don’t like mowing when it is in this condition. The number of yard and garden tasks is backlogging into a real project. There is no reason it can’t wait until the ambient temperature is cooler.

Perhaps the worst thing about drought-like conditions, combined with a resurgence of the coronavirus, is the isolation. I have intense desire to be with people. Like with the heat and humidity, I’m taking no chances and staying home.

There will be a fall, I’m certain. It will get cooler. I will work in the yard again. In the second year of the pandemic I yearn to do things with people. I’ll be ready when inhospitable conditions abate.

Categories
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.

Categories
Home Life

Friday is My Day

Carrot harvest.

We are bunkering in for another lock down. In Iowa, the governor doesn’t believe in mandatory lock downs and schools are opening without mandates to wear a face mask or to get vaccinated. It is a setup for disaster. I bought an extra 30-pack of toilet tissue at the wholesale club and am ready.

While I would not recognize their music, last night the band Nine Inch Nails summed up where American society is two months into Summer 2021:

We will come out of the coronavirus pandemic eventually, either walking upright or six feet under. Am hoping it’s the former.

My current project is structuring a week that makes sense to a retiree. The seven-day pattern is a bit arbitrary, yet it is what I’m used to, what cultural resonance that remains encourages. Friday is my day.

On Fridays I eschew shopping and leaving the property to focus on household activities. For example, on deck today is picking up fallen apples under the EarliBlaze trees, harvesting tomatoes, canning Roma tomatoes, making apple cider vinegar, wrapping up a book review for Blog for Iowa, and my usual morning routine with an added hour of reading. The end of the day usually begins with supper of a home made pizza and sometimes a beer.

If there are things to wrap up with my engagements with groups, I pay attention to them on Friday. If it can wait until Monday, it does. Friday represents a turning toward renewal over the following two days of the weekend.

I’m okay with where Fridays are landing. We have to maintain our sanity, and making Friday my day is a step in that direction.

Best wishes to my regular readers for a happy Friday!

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Apple Time 2021

EarliBlaze apples.

EarliBlaze apples are ready to pick. They are sweet and crunchy. I have two five-gallon buckets of them to make apple cider vinegar, although I’ve been eating down one of them and might need more.

Taking stock of the pantry, we don’t need any applesauce, apple butter, dried apples or any apple products really. Fresh eating, baking and cider vinegar will be the main uses of this August apple. A lot of them fall before they are ready to pick. Deer come each evening to help us clean them up.

When Red Delicious ripen during late September or early October, I’ll revisit the plan. I have at least one person who would like this year’s apple butter, so I may make more. Despite losing a major branch during the Aug. 10, 2020 derecho, and more during a strong wind storm this year, it will be a big crop.

I would have planted the orchard differently in the 1990s had I known what I know now about apple culture. I planted trees too closely together. The six original trees were two EarliBlaze, two Red Delicious, and one each of Lodi and Golden Delicious. Wind and disease took a toll and only one Red Delicious and two EarliBlaze remain.

The varieties I chose are not the ones I would pick today. Having worked at an apple orchard since 2013, I learned a lot about which trees do well in Iowa’s climate and how to plan continuous apple picking from late July to the first hard frost in late October. In addition, I would match the varieties to what I want to accomplish in the kitchen. Late apples are more attractive to us now and everything they mean: storage for winter, apple cider making, and of course, fresh eating. There are no do-overs for our home orchard. The main questions today are what else will be planted in our yard for fruit, and what will we do when the three trees I planted finally live their last days.

I decided to decline returning to work at the orchard this year. The reason is pretty clear. The coronavirus pandemic played a key role.

I changed my mind about working this fall and won’t be reporting for work on the 28th.

The main reason is the surge in the coronavirus pandemic in Johnson County. Hospitalizations increased close to bed capacity, there is an influx of 30,000 people to attend university (about whom we know little of their vaccination status), the University of Iowa cannot require vaccination for COVID-19, and the CDC rates our level of community transmission of the virus as substantial.

Since I wrote this, the level of community transmission has gotten worse.

In late summer, the whole garden seems to come in at once with apples being a key crop. There is pressure to deal with all of it. Not enough pressure to prevent us from enjoying the taste of summer.

Categories
Living in Society

One Car Family

1997 Subaru Legacy Outback on the last day of ownership.

The coronavirus pandemic made a couple of things clear. I didn’t need to work outside home unless I wanted, and we didn’t need two vehicles.

I bought the used 1997 Subaru Legacy Outback in 2013 after I sold my pickup truck to our daughter. These Outbacks have a reputation as reliable and this one demonstrated the accuracy of the moniker. There were issues with the aging vehicle, the most serious of which was an overheating problem. It was repairable to the extent the car became what we call “a beater.” At 218,890 miles, those of us who drive a Subaru know at some point before 300,000 miles, the engine and transmission are going to go. After that the automobile becomes scrap because of a lack of repair parts availability.

The main use of our second car was getting me to work; hauling straw bales, soil mix and fertilizer for the garden; and basic transportation in and around Eastern Iowa. I delivered a few shares for the community supported agriculture project, worked on political campaigns, and generally supported household operations. The car was a work horse.

When it came to getting rid of it, the increased age of the vehicle had me worried about selling it to someone I know. The differential was acting up, the hatchback only sporadically opened, and… it was old. Someone else might want to drive a beater. I didn’t want the responsibility of being the previous owner.

I decided to donate the vehicle to Iowa Public Radio. I had been hearing the advertisements on the air for a while and they take old vehicles:

When you donate a vehicle to benefit Iowa Public Radio, you actually turn your car into the news and music you rely on and love. Donate your vehicle, and we’ll use the proceeds to support your favorite programs like Morning Edition and Talk of Iowa, plus the great variety of music you hear daily on IPR. This gift makes a difference at Iowa Public Radio.

Donating a car is fast, easy and secure. Iowa Public Radio accepts any vehicle – running or not – including cars, trucks, boats, RVs, motorcycles, and more. We work with our public radio colleagues at Charitable Adult Rides & Services (CARS) to ensure that your donation delivers the highest possible revenue to Iowa Public Radio and that your experience is convenient, efficient and even fun.

Iowa Public Radio website.

Public radio was a major part of my weekends for many years. I turned it on in the garage and took my solar powered radio with me out to the garden. I turned it on while preparing Saturday dinner in the kitchen. I recall Garrison Keillor’s “last show” on June 13, 1987. I set the cassette recorder to record the show then took our daughter for a walk. When we returned, the show had run over and I missed the last part. As we know, Keillor came back for a second version of the show. Like him or not, I was a fan.

Public radio doesn’t have the revenue to buy big shows like that any longer. The format is talk-oriented, and the string of Saturday music shows like Mountain Stage and A Prairie Home Companion were replaced by an aging guy and his eclectic record collection.

I feel good about donating the Subaru to Iowa Public Radio. It was the biggest financial donation I made to them. I took the last trip on Monday to deliver garden produce to the community food pantry. The vehicle reliably served its purpose, which is what a person wants from an automobile.

We are a one car family now.

Categories
Living in Society

Doing The Right Thing

Iowa State Capitol

Governor Kim Reynolds has neither the bandwidth nor expertise to manage the coronavirus pandemic. I didn’t vote for her, yet that is cold comfort. As COVID-19 cases increase in Iowa, and in all 50 states, her latest statement is evidence of her mismanagement. Here it is verbatim.

Reynolds Statement on New COVID-19 Guidance from the Biden Administration

DES MOINES (July 27, 2021) – Governor Reynolds released the following statement following the Biden Administration issuing new COVID-19 guidance:

“The Biden Administration’s new COVID-19 guidance telling fully vaccinated Iowans to now wear masks is not only counterproductive to our vaccination efforts, but also not grounded in reality or common sense. I’m concerned that this guidance will be used as a vehicle to mandate masks in states and schools across the country, something I do not support.

“The vaccine remains our strongest tool to combat COVID-19, which is why we are going to continue to encourage everyone to get the vaccine.

“I am proud that we recently put new laws in place that will protect Iowans against unnecessary government mandates in our schools and local governments. As I have throughout this pandemic, I trust Iowans to do the right thing.”

Governor’s website, July 27, 2021

The kernel of truth is the third paragraph about the COVID-19 vaccines being our strongest tool to combat the virus. The rest is political bluster.

Iowa is a state where on Wednesday, less than half the population had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. This statistic is from the Washington Post as the governor has decreased the visibility of state coronavirus statistics by reducing reporting frequency to once per week. Her decision to hide daily data begs for transparency.

The vaccine is widely available and free, so the distribution system created by the Biden administration is not the problem. The governor needs to act more aggressively in her encouragement of vaccination of the remaining half of Iowans. I propose she become a more public advocate of getting vaccinated. Her behavior has been to drop a press conference or written statement and remain otherwise silent.

Much has been made of the Iowa Board of Health missing a meeting because the governor has not appointed enough members for a quorum. While appointing a full board would be nice, helpful even, lack of a board of health is not the main issue. There is plenty of competent guidance about what the state should do. If the guidance doesn’t fit the governor’s framing, she’s not listening.

She closes by saying. “I trust Iowans to do the right thing.” It is a purposefully vague and meaningless statement subject to interpretation. This phrasing has become a political talking point. The way I interpret it is to listen to the Biden administration, do my best to comply with the new CDC guidance, and work hard to elect a new governor in 2022. Especially that last part.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa