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.


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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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

Living in Society

Laundering Face Masks-Again

Washington Post Screenshot, July 21, 2021.

Laundering home sewn face masks is back on the to-do list. It looks like we’ll need them.

On Monday I wrote we are not really taming the coronavirus in Iowa or in the United States as a whole. Too many unvaccinated residents are in social situations without protection. The unvaccinated make up the vast majority of hospitalizations for COVID-19. If you missed it, click here to read the post.

To my point about children returning to school this fall, also on Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended universal masking in schools for everyone older than age two.

While that recommendation was churning in the vessel, both political commentator Sean Hannity of FOX News and U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made strong public statements that people need to get the COVID-19 vaccine in their arms. McConnell was particularly direct, with a “get vaccinated or else” statement. Here is the clip:

What gives? Are we at a turning point in addressing vaccine hesitancy? We know Hannity and McConnell are not sincerely concerned about those who died or are afflicted with COVID-19. Was it Monday morning’s 750-point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average? Did they have a come to Jesus meeting… with Jesus? I’m sure I don’t know, other than it is self serving. Maybe they are worried too many of their anti-vaxx constituents will die of COVID-19, yielding the political fight to Democrats.

My cynicism about conservatives’ motivation aside, the increase in number of COVID-19 cases is alarming. While the majority of COVID-19 hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated, there have been prominent people who, while fully vaccinated, have contracted a new variant of COVID-19. On the one hand we have to go on living. On the other, there are unknown risks to be addressed.

The upshot is get vaccinated if you aren’t.

If you are vaccinated, the CDC recommends you comply with federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations regarding protection from the coronavirus, including local business and workplace guidance. If a merchant requires you to wear a mask on their property, just do so or walk away. Seek to get along in society knowing the pandemic brought out the worst among some people. Seek safer activities if you are in doubt, the CDC made a handy list.

And launder those reusable masks. Don’t be afraid to wear them in public. A mask won’t kill you but the coronavirus might.

Editor’s note: Sean Hannity spent time on his Thursday radio program back tracking on his encouragement to the unvaccinated to get vaccinated.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

Living in Society

Summer Community Parades are Back Despite the Pandemic

State Senator Kevin Kinney and County Supervisor Lisa Green-Douglass at the Solon Beef Days parade in Solon, Iowa on July 17, 2021.

Most people along the parade route reacted positively to the Johnson County Democrats entry in the Solon Beef Days Parade on July 17. All over the state, parades have re-emerged as a social activity after missing last summer because of the coronavirus pandemic. While the parade was a positive event reflecting community values and attitudes, it’s clear the pandemic is not over as vaccinations lag behind what is needed.

Nationally, 161 million people are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, representing 48.5 percent of the population. We are about the same percentage in Iowa with a million and a half people, or 49.0 percent of the population, fully vaccinated. The daily rate of vaccination has slowed considerably during parade season.

On Friday, Nick Coltrain of the Des Moines Register reported the majority of hospitalizations for COVID-19 are among people who are not vaccinated:

Almost all of the people hospitalized with COVID-19 since the spring have been unvaccinated against the disease, spokespeople for three of Iowa’s largest health care systems said.

At the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, upward of 90% of patients admitted due to COVID-related illness since April have been unvaccinated, spokesperson Laura Shoemaker told the Des Moines Register. About 95% of patients hospitalized at UnityPoint facilities since March 2021 were not fully vaccinated, spokesperson Macinzie McFarland said. And at MercyOne’s Des Moines hospitals, 97% of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 were not vaccinated, spokesperson Clara Johnson said in an email.

The COVID-19 vaccine has been widely available to anyone 16 and older since April 5.

Iowa City Press Citizen, July 16, 2021

It was fun giving small American flags to children lining the parade route on Saturday. We live for such moments of small joys and happiness. However, the potential for disaster looms in the fall when children are required to return to in-person instruction at schools around the state.

We know the way to avert disaster is to get a higher percentage of the population vaccinated. Yet there is not an approved vaccine for children under age 12, and poor vaccination rates among school-aged children who are eligible. With the combination of low vaccine rates, a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, and a population that clings irrationally to the idea that the COVID-19 vaccine is in some way dangerous or not needed, trouble is fermenting in Iowa.

While enjoying parade season, I hope our actual experience in the fall proves me wrong about new, school-based COVID-19 outbreaks. We have the information to do what is right. Yet as raconteur, philosopher and satirist Ron White said, “You can’t fix stupid.” That’s where we are with half Iowa’s population.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

Living in Society

Masking in the United States

Baggage Handlers at Orlando International Airport, June 27, 2021.

I recently flew to Florida to help someone move to the Midwest, my first non-local trip since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on March 11, 2020. We convoyed from central Florida to Chicago, following major interstate highways all the way. Evidence that the coronavirus pandemic had resulted in the deaths of more than 600,000 people–the most of any nation on Earth–was scant.

The airline enforced a mask policy both in the terminals and on board the aircraft. Hotels where we stayed had well-publicized policy that masks were required indoors and social distancing was necessary. None of the hotels enforced the policies for guests. Compliance was infrequent among staff. All of the other workers we encountered–at truck rental facilities, convenience stores, and restaurants–wore no masks at all. The restaurant delivery drivers all donned masks as they approached us to deliver a meal. Their business is predicated on no-contact delivery during a pandemic, so that was expected. In a Walmart in Indiana about two-thirds of the employees wore masks. The business community seems more interested in avoiding liability while catching up on lost revenue than in preventing spread of the coronavirus.

As far as regular, non-working humans go, few wore masks. In Florida (outside the airport), Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky I saw zero humans with a mask. That changed when we arrived at our destination in a Chicago suburb.

After the maskless trip from the South, I was pleasantly surprised by the neighborhood where people wore masks indoors and out. I asked one person why they wore a mask outside. They said they were vaccinated and the mask was to prevent contracting variants of the coronavirus that are currently thriving. Made sense to me.

I walked across the street to a local grocery store in which most people were masked, including all the employees. Disposable masks were available for $0.99 at the checkout counter. Not required for customers, yet available.

From the beginning of the trip I asked masked people if I should don mine in their company and the answer was a unanimous no. A couple of masked workers in a local Chicago bakery explained it best. They said I didn’t need to don my mask in their store. Customers would be inside for a short duration, however, they wore a mask because they would spend all day at the counter. This, too, made sense.

While settling into the new apartment a neighbor knocked on the door to introduce themselves. They wore a mask and of course we didn’t at home. I asked them if we should put ours on and revealed we both had been vaccinated. It turned out they had as well. We all went maskless for the rest of the encounter.

If there is a mask policy in the United States, it is either unknown most places I went, or unenforced. Masking is something we Americans do only when required, and not always then.

At this point in pandemic progress, people not vaccinated continue to be at high risk of COVID-19. There is a news story circulating about a woman who avoided getting vaccinated because of side effects people mentioned. She contracted COVID-19, was on a ventilator for a month, then died. Her two children lost their mother. Vaccinated people have not been getting sick with COVID-19 very much.

During our drive I noticed the crappy condition of the interstate highways: countless potholes and not enough construction crews. Whether it is infrastructure, healthcare, or masking during a pandemic, Americans don’t do it well. My advice is get vaccinated if you haven’t been, and wear a mask when indoors in a public place. It may not be socially acceptable among your cohort, although it may save your life.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa.