Living in Society


Tree bark on the state park trail, April 6, 2021.

For the first time since February 2020 I got a haircut at a professional shop. Despite two home haircuts during the coronavirus pandemic it was shaggy.

It felt good seeking a professional now that I’m fully vaccinated. The mask-wearing stylist asked me how I wanted it cut. As usual, I didn’t know. I suggested we look at the various sized combs that go with the electric clipper and she pulled four of them out of her drawer. We settled on number six.

My instructions were the same as always: tapered in back, a part on the left side, and cut it short in front so the outdoors wind doesn’t blow it into my eyes. We both wore masks during the session.

Getting my hair shorn was a welcome break from a year of contagion.

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 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, 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 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, 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

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.


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.

Living in Society

With People Again

Sundog Farm on March 28, 2021.

Sunday was my first shift of soil blocking at Sundog Farm this spring. Besides shopping, medical appointments, and trips to government offices, it was the first time out since being restricted by the coronavirus pandemic a year ago. There were people (wearing masks) and animals (who weren’t)… and four dogs!

To see a short video of farm life on Sunday, click here.

It was partly cloudy with intermittent snow flurries. We worked outside with me making 35 soil block trays (4,200 seedling blocks) and a varying seeding crew of four or five, socially distanced across the concrete pad, planting broccoli, kale, mustard greens and other early vegetables. Last year, at the beginning of the pandemic, I worked mostly alone in the greenhouse. Sunday felt a bit more normal. The farmer and I negotiated our barter agreement and will continue discussions next weekend.

While it was relatively easy for me to get the COVID-19 vaccine, it has been a struggle for the farm workers who are mostly 20-somethings. I’ve had two doses and they had one. Both the state and federal government could do more to get rural Iowa vaccinated.

It’s good to be back to work, though. Here is a photo of my first tray of soil blocks for the season.

Tray of 120 soil blocks. March 28, 2021.
Living in Society

My Politics Addiction

Lake Macbride, March 26, 2021.

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared at the Machine Shed Restaurant in Urbandale Friday morning, kicking off the 2024 Iowa Republican presidential nominating contest. He didn’t stop to speak to the press.

Republicans said they would hold a 2024 precinct caucus as usual regardless of whether Democrats do. A majority of Iowa Republicans favor Trump 2024 according to recent polls.

For his part, Joe Biden said he plans to run for a second term at his inaugural press conference last week.

Bloomberg reported U.S. cases of COVID-19 are rising again. It’s still bad in Iowa. Maybe it’s due to events like Urbandale where people gathered in public without social distancing or masks. The crowd looked pretty old and mostly male. Maybe they are all vaccinated, he laughed. News photos depicted what appears to be an aggregation of various daily coffee gatherings that occur around the state among retired and mostly male locals. Seeing Pompeo was something different to do, I suppose.

These days I have limited interest in politics. We are living in a time of Republican dominance in Iowa and I have no interest in watching the horror show. Yet I’m drawn to it… political stories in newspapers and on Twitter. One supposes I have an addiction. I don’t seem motivated enough to beat the addiction…yet. Likely, I’m in denial.

Part of my addiction is isolation resulting from the continuing coronavirus pandemic. In isolation, every human contact takes on increased importance. In normal times, it was easier to select which issues to work on and which to leave to others. Pandemic-caused isolation makes ridding myself of the addiction more complicated.

I intend to continue to vote, and will likely donate a few dollars to good candidates when I can. Anymore, political engagement is mostly determining whether a candidate is a Democrat. Advocacy has been co-opted by national players and the federal judiciary is in process of re-making the assumptions upon which my advocacy was once predicated.

Like anyone, I will try to help my local candidates. I can’t go cold turkey from politics. At the same time, I expect to get better focused on a handful of issues I deem most important. Readers of this blog know it’s the environment and its biggest threats: a warming plant, nuclear war and armed conflict.

There are many factors, physical, mental, emotional, and biological that make quitting politics difficult. It’s the rural Virginian in me that keeps me engaged. A low level dosage won’t cure me yet like the COVD-19 vaccine, it may inoculate me from the distractions that are possible. I should lean on my Polish ancestors who just came here, went to church, and made a life.

In any case, I’m addicted to politics and can’t let it dominate my life.

Living in Society

Be Neighborly, Get Vaccinated

Woman Writing Letter

Last week we located our scars from the polio vaccine. It was fun as we reminisced and discussed a friend who got polio as a child. It was important for everyone who could to be vaccinated against polio.

Today it’s important everyone who can get the COVID-19 vaccine.

My perspective is from serving six years on the county board of health. Vaccines can and do prevent illness, of that there is scientific evidence.

Why get the vaccine? First, it reduces the likelihood of contracting COVID-19 which causes sickness and sometimes death. That’s motivation enough for most. Being vaccinated also decreases the amount of time we must live with social restrictions because of the coronavirus pandemic. Everyone I know is tired of the restrictions now in their second year.

Some people pooh, pooh the vaccine and the pandemic and while illogical, that’s their choice. At the same time, we would all like to get out of the pandemic and return to a semblance of normal. People who don’t or won’t get vaccinated are holding the rest of us up.

Eventually the population will reach what’s called “herd immunity.” Medical experts are not sure if a person gets COVID-19 once they will be immune because people have contracted COVID-19 multiple times. As you may have read, the vaccines currently approved by the FDA are very effective.

We’re retired so we can wait out herd immunity as evidenced by a drastic reduction in the COVID-19 case count. People want to get on with a more normal life, though. So we did the neighborly thing and got vaccinated. I encourage readers to do likewise if they can.

~ Submitted as a letter to the editor of the Solon Economist

Kitchen Garden

First Day of Spring

Garden on March 20, 2021.

Saturday was a punk day because of Friday’s COVID-19 vaccine booster shot. I felt tired most of the day, took a long nap, and curtailed outdoor activities even though skies were clear and temperatures moderate. I took this photograph of the garden as the sun set. It’s a starting point for the gardening season.

Garlic is poking through the straw and everything else needs clearing. The forecast today is a high of 65 degrees, so if I feel better, I’ll be out in the garden. I need to be out in the garden.

We have three head of fresh garlic left from last year. After using it, there is a pint of pickled garlic, and a jar of commercial chopped garlic to use. If we can’t make it to scapes, I’ll buy some elsewhere to see us through.

The pandemic had us cooking more at home, resulting in flats of empty Mason jars stacking up. Maybe ten dozen have been emptied since harvest. We are almost out of prepared vegetable broth, so I plan to make seven quarts from the freezer to tide us over until turnip greens are ready.

It’s not just me. A lot of us want the coronavirus pandemic to be over. There are some positive signs. At the Friday vaccination clinic one of the people administering shots said there were less than half a dozen coronavirus hospitalizations at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. No one there was on a ventilator. Outbreaks have been reduced to close to zero at Iowa nursing homes. The media narrative changed rapidly when supplies of vaccine boosted by the Biden administration’s efforts began to arrive. The pandemic is not over, yet as we see the number of cases and deaths decline, there is hope.

Gardening continued during the pandemic. It has been a source of normalcy. As the new season begins, I’m ready to see what adventures arrive in our patch of Big Grove Township. It’s been a long, isolated winter that on this first day of Spring appears over.


Spring Hiatus

Onion starts, 2021.

The schools and most of the neighborhood are on spring break so I’m taking one as well. I’m not sure when I’ll return to posting, and to be honest, I’m not concerned about that now.

I’m worn down by the coronavirus pandemic and need to give writing a rest. Friday we get our second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. By April the antibodies should have formed and I’ll be ready to go again.

As always, thanks for following and reading Journey Home. May this post find you well and strong.

Living in Society

Polish-style Soup at Home

Seeded tray of garden vegetables.

As part of a new Saturday tradition, I made a pot of vegetable soup.

Mine is a variation of Krupnik, which is a thick Polish soup made from vegetable broth, containing potatoes and barley (kasza jęczmienna, archaically called krupy — hence the name). I modified the traditional recipe, eliminating meat, mushrooms and dairy, and adding dried lentils for protein. I also used up items in the freezer — shredded zucchini, leeks and green beans. It’s a thick, hearty soup that goes well with a slice of bread. It makes an easy dinner that can simmer on the stove all day, with leftovers. While Mother and Grandmother didn’t make the soup, they would likely recognize mine if they were still living.

On Friday we have an appointment to get the second of two doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. It’s a necessary step along the way toward returning to a semblance of normal. It will take 10-14 days after the second shot for our bodies to build immunity. After that, we’ll follow CDC guidelines to begin to engage in society again. It’s been a long road.

There is not much unique about this information. It reflects a shared experience not only in the small community where we live, but by fall, for most Americans. President Biden indicated last week vaccines will be available for all who want it. We’re hoping enough people get vaccinated to abate the pandemic this summer.

With our only child living many miles away, our Sundays are usually just the two of us. There are phone calls and occasional video conferences, yet the isolation is palpable. I’m not sure that will change once the coronavirus pandemic is over. We developed new habits and a new way of living that folds into the isolation. It is good preparation for aging.

I’m glad to be finished with dangerous work. My days of working in steel mills, packing houses, and manufacturing plants are behind me. I didn’t realize the risk of infections that came with retail work until retiring. I haven’t been sick since leaving the home, farm and auto supply store. Likewise I haven’t flown on an aircraft in a long while. Last week, I bought gasoline for one of the automobiles for the first time since December. The reduction in work and travel-related risk is positive. Yet I yearn to be with people.

When the coronavirus recedes I plan to seek some form of work. Because of our pensions and relative good health we are okay without it. I want to interact with people, in person. For now I’ll tend my garden and conserve resources… and make Polish soup on Saturdays.

Living in Society

Bittersweet March

First time crossing the bridge in 2021.

A year ago yesterday the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global pandemic. It has been a weird year.

March is full of anniversaries: March 7, the governor activated the state emergency operations center for COVID-19; March 8, the state hygienic laboratory reported the first three Iowa cases of COVID-19; March 9, the governor signed the first Proclamation of Disaster Emergency Regarding COVID-19; March 24 was the first Iowa death attributed to COVID-19; and March 29, the president extended the federal stay-at-home order until April 30. That’s in addition to the historic anniversaries like the beginning of spring, our daughter’s birthday, and recurring tasks of the month to begin planting for the garden, return to farm work, and sweep sand from the road in front of our house to use next winter.

The good news is our families and the families of friends well-survived the pandemic, thus far. Now that production and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine has ramped up, there is a chance for every adult in the U.S. to be vaccinated by the end of May. That would make Memorial Day something worth celebrating.

How has my life changed during the last 12 months? There are some obvious ways. I left work I had been doing for others. My last day at the home, farm and auto supply store was April 2, 2020, then I did not return to the orchard in autumn or to the farm in late winter this year. I haven’t eaten at a restaurant — either dine-in or take out — since my friend Dan and I had lunch at Los Agaves restaurant on March 13, 2020 — no bars or coffee shops either. I started checking the air pressure on the auto tires because we went weeks without using one or the other. I moved all the neighborhood meetings to telephone conference calls and participated in any other groups to which I belong via video conference ( I am not a fan of Skype and Zoom meetings). I perfected a recipe for home made pizza and read 66 books. I began riding my bicycle. One of the few things that didn’t change was work in the garden, although it benefited by my being at home more.

There were less obvious changes:

  • Using up the pantry and freezer.
  • Reduction in food variety.
  • Wearing holes in my socks.
  • Laundry once a month.
  • Taking naps.

In beginning my autobiography, I wrote a lot of words. The value of the project has been considering where I came from and who I have become, with an eye toward the future. It is a fit undertaking for quarantined times.

The emotion I feel after a year of restricted activities is of longing. I’d like to get back to in-person society and social events. We are heading that direction with the Biden-Harris administration. It can’t come soon enough.

I don’t know if a celebration is in order. These anniversaries are more like the terrorist bombing of Sept. 11, 2001. We don’t like them but feel obligated to mention them. And so, it goes, in Big Grove Township.