April 2023 in Big Grove

Trail walking in Spring 2023.

The last few days of April have been marvelous. Rain subsided, ambient temperatures were mild with low humidity. It has been a spring month, as good as they get. No more close friends have died this month, so there has been psychological relief as well. We needed a breather.

Spinach planted in the ground on April 15 is up. Onions are doing well. Yesterday I planted cauliflower, cabbage and kale, and there are two more rows in that plot for broccoli, collards, and other leafy green vegetables.A mad garden rush will be happening in May with the target of getting the initial planting done by Memorial Day, which this year falls on May 29. Gardening is going well.

The Biden administration announced that it intends to end the presidential declaration of national emergency and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) public health emergency attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic on May 11, 2023. I was at a restaurant last night where a couple of people continued to wear a facial mask. With my full regime of COVID-19 vaccinations, I did not.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been 104,538,730 reported cases of COVID-19, 1,130,662 deaths attributed to it, and 55,743,629 doses of vaccine administered. There are currently 9,167 hospitalizations due to the coronavirus. It was, in no uncertain terms, a public health disaster. The scale of 1.1 million U.S. deaths is difficult to wrap one’s head around as we close in on the end.

The Iowa Legislature has taken up budget bills, which means we are close to the end of session. Thank goodness. There has been so much controversy over bills it had been like drinking from a fire hose trying to understand what is happening. Republicans won super majorities in 2022, and are exercising their power like never before. Democrats are hanging on, trying to get a message out. Democratic messaging has been like trying to light a candle in a derecho: word is not getting out beyond political junkies.

Our blogging group went to dinner Friday night at Royceann’s Soul Food Restaurant in the South District Market in Iowa City. The menu has a fixed number of daily items on it and diners can order a meat and two sides for $18. It is a bit tough for vegetarians to find something on the menu, and tougher for vegans. I ordered cabbage, cornbread, and macaroni and cheese. The preparations were distinct and tasty. I plan to return to try the collards with cornbread. I usually say I can cook better than what I find in restaurants, yet not this time.

Our furnace gave up the ghost this month. We have been discussing which new one to get and have made a decision. When an expensive item hits a household on a fixed income, it takes some wangling to determine how to pay for it. We have it figured out.

I have finished reading seven books in April. Check out what I’ve been reading on the Read Recently page by clicking on it at the top of this page. I got new glasses for the first time since 2019. It’s great to be able to see clearly again. Hope your April was as good as mine. Thanks for reading my post.


Aging in America – Part VII


It is getting easier to box up books to donate to the friends of the public library used book sale. I donated seven boxes so far and three more are ready to go. Creation of two large sorting tables has helped move library downsizing along.

The room I built for writing has bookcases on all four walls. For the first time in years I am dusting and rearranging them. I’m not sure there was any consistent method in how they were shelved.

A lot of space is taken with collections by author: Norman Mailer, Saul Bellow, John Irving, Joan Didion, Jane Smiley, Vance Bourjaily, David Rhodes, Ruth Suckow, James Baldwin, Hamlin Garland, Al Gore, William Faulkner, William Carlos Williams, William Styron, W.P. Kinsella, and others. There is a case to be made the collections by author belong in boxes. If I labelled the boxes, I could draw on the books when I need them, leaving shelf space open for my current research and interests.

I keep thematic collections: U.S. Presidents, Iowa City and Iowa writers, Iowa history, reference books, cookbooks, gardening books, art books, and poetry. One shelf is devoted to a printed copy of my blogs. Another has volumes on ancient history. I find myself asking the question, “which books are meaningful for life going forward?” Not as many as there are.

With retirement during the coronavirus pandemic, things changed to enable this sorting and downsizing. Our automobile remains in the garage most days. The weekly shopping trip has become a special event, for which I shower, shave and consider which clothes I might wear to the store. There is time to work on the project especially when weather is wintry.

Part of the great book sort is learning more about myself by remembering who I have been. A different me bought a copy of The Great Escape by Paul Brickhill at the corner drug store soon after seeing the then recently released film. I used money earned from my newspaper route in grade school. Today, I feel compelled to buy John Irving’s latest book, The Last Chairlift, in part for his Iowa City connections, in part for his discussions of the LGBTQ community, and in part to fill out my shelf of Irving novels. Sorting books juxtaposes all the different versions of me during the last 60 years. There are more than a few of them.

I am lucky to have lived to be seventy. Book sorting is teaching me to be more deliberate in life, to consider each element of life’s construct. I also realize there is not enough time left to read everything I want. If luck holds, I will read everything I need.

Living in Society

2022 In Review

Broken furnace fan.

What did I do all year? I am at the point in retirement I had to look. One day blends into the next and I lose track of the calendar.

There is no ending the coronavirus pandemic. The governor extended the state’s Public Health Disaster Emergency Proclamation on Feb. 3, announcing it will expire at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 15. After that, the coronavirus becomes normalized in daily, routine public health operations, she said. By declaring the pandemic normalized, the governor washed her hands of it. We are on our own. I still wear a protective KN-95 mask when among large groups of people, mostly when grocery shopping.

I got more involved with politics than I wanted to be. I volunteered to be an alternate member of the county central committee from our precinct. The two people who replaced me did not continue for another term so I’m back to being our single, main representative. I attended the county, district and state conventions, and participated in a number of events, phone calls and meetings for varied candidates. I worked as a poll watcher at the Big Grove Precinct polling place on election day. My main work of postcard-writing, door knocking, and events was for the Kevin Kinney campaign for state senator. I continued the long-standing personal tradition of stuffing envelopes, this time for the Christina Bohannan campaign. Politics beyond county offices was a bust this year.

Our last old automobile wore out. The 2002 Subaru broke some things for which we could not get new repair parts. It was a safety issue, so we donated it to Iowa Public Radio and bought a used 2019 Chevy Spark. I would have driven the old car for a while longer if we could have gotten parts. I like the new car’s fuel economy and tight turning radius.

In March, my sister-in-law moved to Des Moines for a new job. In July, our child moved to a new apartment in the Chicago area. We helped with both moves. That is a big task for septuagenarians yet we did the best we could. They appreciated the help.

We spent about $3,000 on “home operations.” About half of that was hiring a contractor to remove stumps and cut back our overgrown lilac bushes. The other big expense was repairing the yard tractor. All of the equipment I use around the house is getting old and in coming years will need repaired or replaced. Just this week we had to replace a fan in the furnace. After almost 30 years, it was developing the sound of failure.

I continue to serve on our home owners association board and as a sewer district trustee. I wanted to exit this work in June, yet there was no one to step up and do it. There is responsibility in complying with regulations pertaining to public water and sewer systems, so it is a non-trivial job. We do the best we can. I understand this water system management is part of living outside city limits and someone has to do the work.

Most of my time was spent writing, reading, cooking and gardening. I began devoting 30 minutes per day to downsizing some of our possessions. Am hoping slow and steady gets this done. I find going through and getting rid of belongings provides new energy for projects.

I seek opportunities to socialize and would do more if I could figure a way. Plain truth is once a person is “retired” they become less of a public entity and less important as younger folks assume responsibility in society. I’m okay with fading away once the need for my services ends. When it comes to community work, though, there may never be an end.

Coming out of the pandemic has been a long process yet that’s where we are. The last three years have been punk times. I’m ready for some new plans and fresh energy. I’m confident about finding both.


Road to Everywhere

Single ingress/egress for the place where we live.

The coronavirus pandemic changed our family’s lives. It goes without saying the pandemic had us withdraw from society. I left paid work, quit all but utilitarian travel, spent more time at home, and downsized our operation to being a one-car family with a newer, smaller automobile. Change is not finished. The pandemic is not finished either, although it is being normalized.

When I consider leaving the property it is about trips to retail merchants, on political errands, or to visit family or friends. That is it. I did my traveling for education and adventure when I was young. Career work with a large transportation services firm had me traveling as well. We took a few vacations when our child was young. These days, when driving along the single egress from our home, I seldom leave the state. Usually a gallon of milk accompanies me on the trip home.

While the chip and seal access lane to our development is a road to everywhere, is it really if we choose not to travel it? Going left at the main road takes me to the dairy store, to my dentist, to political friends in Iowa County, and to the airport. A right turn takes me to town, to the clinic, to the county seat, to shopping, and to visit family. It is a much bigger world than that. I know, because I have been there.

I may plan a trip for recreation or learning. The Stanley Museum finally opened on the University of Iowa campus after being flooded out and permanently evacuated from its previous home along the Iowa River in 2008. Maybe I’ll visit and try not to get grumpy about repatriating all the African artifacts Maxwell and Elizabeth Stanley brought back from their travels. After all, seeing Joan Miró’s A Drop of Dew Falling from the Wing of a Bird Awakens Rosalie Asleep in the Shade of a Cobweb inspired me to learn more about the artist and eventually see him making a film in Saint-Paul de Vence in 1979. I have no desire to see Jackson Pollack’s Mural, which was a gift to the museum by Peggy Guggenheim. So maybe there is a possible non-utilitarian trip in the future.

For now, I appreciate the opportunity to walk along the road and take a photo on a beautiful fall day. That is travel enough in a time of pandemic.

Juke Box

Juke Box – Don’t Dream It’s Over

There is something about the Hammond B-3 organ. We’ll look back on these coronavirus pandemic videos with fondness one day, I predict. (hat tip to David Shorr).

Make it a great weekend!

Don’t Dream It’s Over by Crowded House.

Postcard from Summer Holiday – #5

Clouds before the thunderstorm, Aug. 3, 2022.

The coronavirus pandemic continues in Iowa.

The number of hospitalizations for COVID-19 increased by 25 percent last week. The number of patients requiring intensive care nearly doubled. 35 Iowans died of the virus. The number of new people being vaccinated remained low in the state at less than 60 percent. The virus is ubiquitous. Click here to read a report from the local newspaper.

While fewer people don a protective mask in public, I still carry and wear mine when going to a retail store or large indoors gathering. I’m getting out with people more, yet it is mostly outdoors events where there is less risk of contracting the virus. Thus far I tested negative on the few times I got a COVID-19 test. I am learning to live with the virus.

Tomatoes, potatoes, onions, garlic and acorn squash on Aug. 3, 2022.

It rained most of Wednesday. In between showers I picked tomatoes so they would not burst from the influx of moisture. There are some problems with the way I planted tomatoes this year. They are too close together and the patch of Roma and cherry tomatoes is not producing as well as I would have liked. It was a mistake to plant them under the shade of the oak trees. However, the San Marzano tomatoes are doing fine and there are enough to can once they reach peak ripeness. I have some empty jars from our child to fill first, then will put up as many as possible for the pantry until the season is over.

There are too many cucumbers and plenty of pickles already prepared. A family can only eat so many. Every other abundance — bell peppers, zucchini, greens — can be dealt with by freezing them for future use. Herbs can be dried.

This year my participation in society is going through a sea change. I read the extensive activity list for seniors in the newspaper and don’t feel ready to join the group. There is too much to do at home. My cohort of elected officials is finding their way to the exits and it’s not the same with new folks. Local political candidates have not been engaging as they have in the past although that frees my time. The time since I left my last job at the home, farm and auto supply store has been a landing zone. I’ve not skidded to a full stop quite yet.

Once the garden finishes in October I’ll return to my autobiography. This will be the third winter writing it. In a good world, I’ll finish the draft of the timeline through completion of graduate school up to our wedding. When the written record begins in 1974, I have another choice to make: whether to edit writing from my journals, blog posts and letters into a narrative, or to write a new narrative based on them. It could go either way. For now, I’m focused on bringing the writing to the point in 1981 when I was living on Market Street in Iowa City.

For the moment, I’m still on holiday. I want to return to daily writing yet not that much. The picture of where I land after the pandemic is complicated by the fact it is not ending. I’ll have to seek other ways forward.

For the time being, the kitchen garden — harvesting and processing vegetables for storage — consumes much of my time. It is a good thing.

Living in Society

Postcard from Summer Holiday – #3

Wildflowers along the state park trail.

The Midwest is bracing for a heat wave next week when ambient temperatures are forecast in the 90s. On Wednesday it is expected to reach 103 degrees. The Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Service issued a reminder to farmers of what to do to protect their investment in livestock. It is going to be a scorcher in the corn belt from top to bottom.

I finished my month of posts at Blog for Iowa earlier in the week and am ready to turn my attention back to Journey Home. This blog has had four names since I created it to move from Blogspot to WordPress in 2008. If we ever get out of the coronavirus pandemic, I might give it a fifth. We are at a distance from the end of the pandemic.

The challenge in the garden is keeping the plants watered, yet not too much. They will survive the heat with adequate hydration. Early morning or late evening watering has been best.

Tomatoes are beginning to ripen and we had our first slicers for dinner last night. Yesterday I grated and froze zucchini for winter soup and tried a quick dill pickle recipe I saw on TikTok. From here until Labor Day, part of every day will be food preservation. I have a row of San Marzano tomatoes to convert to canned wholes for use throughout the year. I tasted the first ripe ones and they were deliciously different from other varieties I have grown.

My sleep patterns have changed while on holiday. I stay up until 9 p.m. and am sleeping through the night, getting six or seven straight hours of sleep. It has been a long time since I did that. I’m hoping the new patterns persist.

I keep plugging along with reading and have almost finished Loretta Lynn’s memoir Coal Miner’s Daughter. The book reminds me of the part of Appalachia where my father was born and how people there lived and still do. Lynn’s birthplace, Butcher Holler, Kentucky, is about 85 miles from Father’s birthplace. Of course, Lynn got to know June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash through her music. June Carter Cash is a shirttail relative of ours.

It is easy to see why people liked Loretta Lynn’s music back in the 1970s. She was part of a social revolution that changed how people lived. In part, it was based on Roe v. Wade and introduction of the birth control pill which Lynn wrote about. In her song, “The Pill,” she wrote, “I’m tearing down your brooder house ’cause now I’ve got the pill.” Husband Doolittle got a vasectomy after birth of their twins and Lynn wrote about that too.

Wildflowers bloom in July with an ever-changing array of color. Now that the garden switched from planting to harvesting, I walk along the state park trail almost daily to watch nature’s changes. Even though The International Union for the Conservation of Nature added the migrating monarch butterfly to its “red list” of threatened species in July and categorized it as “endangered,” I saw a few Monarchs on the trail yesterday.

The world we know may be dying due to the climate crisis yet there is evidence of our past in every walk along the trail. Stay cool next week!

Living in Society

Politics In An Unending Pandemic

Coralville, Iowa Independence Day parade, 2021.

Part of the new protocol for summer events in Iowa, including political events, is recognition of and taking action to avoid contracting the coronavirus. It may not be going well because it seems a lot of people recently tested positive for COVID-19.

This came home when a participant in an Independence Day parade emailed a group of us they tested positive:

I wanted to let the people I had contact with on the 3rd know I tested positive for COVID so they can monitor their health. So sorry if I exposed you and I hope you all remain in good health!

Because parades are outdoors, one hopes the risk of contagion is minimal. Nonetheless, the coronavirus pandemic has not ended and is a palpable presence in everything we do in public, including political campaigning.

State Senator Rob Hogg tracks weekly Iowa COVID data and posts it on social media. He reported for the week ending July 6, there were 15 more deaths, 201 new hospital admissions, and 3,980 new cases. The Centers for Disease Control reports 88,056,795 COVID-19 cases (an under count), and 1,015,070 deaths (also an under count because of the way deaths are reported). We would like to get on with our lives after the pandemic without concern for contracting a virus that could kill us. Instead, we have a new reality.

Iowa Democratic response to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 was a disaster. There were positive vibes about having great candidates that could retake a majority in at least one chamber of the state legislature. Person-to-person campaigning seemed very limited. Once the results of the election were in, such positive vibes dissipated as Republicans gained ground across the board. We can’t afford to be misled by the happy talk of campaigns again. There is no going back to the way our politics was because society was palpably changed by the coronavirus pandemic.

I attended a political event in Amana before the primary. U.S. Senate candidate Michael Franken was there and he incorporated coronavirus prevention measures in everything he did. For example, after shaking hands with everyone at our table, he got a small bottle of hand sanitizer from his pocket and sanitized his hands. On May 23 he reported a positive COVID-19 test. His symptoms were mild, yet he got the virus despite his precautions.

Here in Iowa’s liberal bastion of Johnson County there is a semblance of returning to normal as Democrats hold in-person meetings and open a second office next Friday. The coronavirus hangs over it all, a literal presence. Campaign offices serve as a meeting place, distribution center, and all-around way to connect Democratic voters. Having in-person connections is better than repeating 2020 would have been. These are positive things yet we must be careful regarding the coronavirus without withdrawing from engagement.

These are transformational times in Iowa Democratic politics. As one cohort of legislators finds their way to the exits, a new generation is rising to take their place. This is necessary and good. Scarred by the coronavirus pandemic, we are cautious, yet optimistic of rebuilding. By accepting the new reality of politics in the coronavirus pandemic we will be stronger in the long term. The immediate problem is the challenge of unseating Republicans this November and returning common sense to our governance.

The widespread presence of the coronavirus is a factor in our politics. It is essential we both get involved in campaigns and take necessary precautions to avoid contracting the virus. How that will evolve during the coming 17 weeks is an open question, yet evolve, we must! I recommend each person find a way to do something to advance the campaigns of Democratic candidates. It begins with contacting your county party and offering to volunteer. Taking care of yourself is equally important.

~ First posted on Blog for Iowa

Kitchen Garden

Turning the First Spade

Seedlings back inside the house while it has been cold.

Ambient temperatures are expected to rise by 20 degrees during the next two hours. Winds are down and skies clear. It is time to turn the first spade in the garden.

This is the latest I’ve begun gardening and there is a long to-do list. Once indoors chores are finished, I’ll get after it.

If the ground is frost-free the order of business is set up the first plot with row cover and plant seeds and seedlings for early harvest. Once that is finished, preparation for potato planting is next. I’m keeping the buried containers, although moving them. Also on the list is transplanting kale and other leafy greens to a bigger pot to help them grow before going into the ground closer to last frost. Any tear-down of fences and ground cloth from last year’s garden will be a bonus. I scheduled a five-hour shift and hope to work all of it.

Society is getting busy again. As the coronavirus pandemic appears to be normalized, my hope is people can be reasonable in preventing the spread of infectious disease. COVID-19 vaccination should be rolled into vaccine schedules that already govern our health.

Spring has sprung and people are anxious to get busy doing things they couldn’t during the pandemic.

That includes me.

Living in Society

Death March Continues

Chart from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Feb. 15, 2022

As we enter the third year of the coronavirus pandemic, no end is in sight. The United States is proving to be less competent than we thought in managing this pandemic. I lost track of how many people I know contracted COVID-19 because there are so many. The virus is penetrating my close circle of family and friends more deeply and effectively this year than it did in 2020 and 2021. Fortunately, my spouse and I have been able to avoid it.

The total number of COVID-19 deaths reported to the CDC as of yesterday was 920,097. The number of excess deaths since the pandemic began already exceeds one million, they reported. With climate change and degradation of our environment, we expect other viruses presently unidentified to affect humans. It was not helpful that the Trump administration dismantled and hobbled the mechanisms we had in place to monitor and mitigate new infectious diseases. The coronavirus seems likely to persist among other viruses and diseases.

In February 2022 we are ready for the pandemic to end. The pandemic continues unabated. We made adjustments.

The main impact personally is we seldom leave the property. When we do, we wear a mask and clean up thoroughly when returning home. I’ve been starting the automobile once or twice a week. When I have been outside the house in winter it has been to take compost out to the bin, work in the yard, take a walk, or head into the retail centers for provisions. The restaurant food I’ve had was delivered by a service, and only when I helped move our daughter from central Florida last summer. Local restaurants have gotten no business from us since March 13, 2020. I picked up vegetables last spring at the farm using a pandemic protocol. We attended no in person meetings, except with our daughter. I severed relations with most of the groups to which I belonged. Combined with my retirement, the pandemic brought substantial change.

What is next? I haven’t done a deep analysis of the COVID-19 death march, although I know enough to see it targets the elderly, people with compromised immune systems, and people who have not been vaccinated. We must remain vigilant so as to avoid getting COVID-19, and that means continuing to make do on our property as much as is possible. There is plenty to do. That the pandemic coincided with the beginning of our pensions and retirement from paid work means it impacted us less than younger people who must work for a living.

March 11 is the two-year anniversary of the World Health Organization declaration that COVID-19 is a pandemic. Yesterday the Iowa governor ended her proclamation of disaster emergency. Today, the death march continues.