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.

Living in Society

Pandemic Being Normalized

It had been 13 days since I started the automobile. Luckily, it turned over and was ready to go across the lakes to the wholesale club for provisioning. The trip there and back took less than two hours. I won’t leave the house again until mid month if all goes well.

All of the staff and about half of the customers at the retail outlet were wearing masks to protect against the coronavirus. No one bothered me as I wore my KN95 and went about my business. I worked as efficiently as possible, staying away from the unmasked as much as I could. It seemed a bit weird because absent were many of the well-dressed, Chinese-speaking folks who frequent the place, replaced with scruffy-looking white folks shopping without masks and heatedly discussing shopping choices among themselves.

The governor’s press release arrived after I returned home. It indicated there is no ending the coronavirus pandemic. She is extending 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. I’m not surprised.

Here is the press release in full:

Governor Kim Reynolds ★ Lt. Governor Adam Gregg 
CONTACT: Alex Murphy, 515-802-0986

Gov. Reynolds announces expiration of Public Health Proclamation, changes to COVID-19 data reporting

DES MOINES – Governor Reynolds signed the final extension of the state’s Public Health Disaster Emergency Proclamation today, announcing it will expire at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, February 15, 2022. The signed proclamation can be found here.

The proclamation was first issued in accordance with the Governor’s executive authority on March 17, 2020, to enable certain public health mitigation measures during the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Over time, it included hundreds of provisions assembled in the midst of an emergency to quickly address a pandemic the nation knew little about. Today, the remaining 16 provisions focus primarily on lingering workforce issues exacerbated by the pandemic that are best addressed outside of emergency executive powers.

The State of Iowa is working with stakeholders in an effort to address pervasive workforce issues through more permanent solutions like legislation, rule changes, and grant programs.

“We cannot continue to suspend duly enacted laws and treat COVID-19 as a public health emergency indefinitely. After two years, it’s no longer feasible or necessary. The flu and other infectious illnesses are part of our everyday lives, and coronavirus can be managed similarly,” stated Gov. Reynolds. “State agencies will now manage COVID-19 as part of normal daily business, and reallocate resources that have been solely dedicated to the response effort to serve other important needs for Iowans.”

The expiration of Iowa’s Public Health Disaster Emergency Proclamation will result in operational changes related to the COVID-19 response. The most noticeable change will be how data is reported publicly. The state’s two COVID-19 websites, and, will be decommissioned on February 16, 2022, but information will remain accessible online through other state and federal resources.

“While our COVID-19 reporting will look different, Iowans should rest assured that the state health department will continue to review and analyze COVID-19 and other public health data daily, just as we always have,” stated Kelly Garcia, director of the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH). “The new format will include data points that Iowans are used to seeing, but moves us closer to existing reporting standards for other respiratory viruses. This new phase also assures that our teams, who have been deeply committed to the COVID-19 response, can return to their pre-pandemic responsibilities, and refocus on areas where the pandemic has taken a hard toll.”

IDPH will report relevant COVID-19 information weekly on its website, similar to how flu activity is reported. Data will include positive tests since March 2020 and in the last seven days, cases by county, an epidemiologic curve, variants by week and deaths since March 2020. Vaccine information, including total series and boosters completed, demographics for fully vaccinated Iowans, and vaccination by county, will also be reported. Aligning the agency’s reporting processes will create greater efficiency for its staff while continuing to provide important information to Iowans. The new report will be available starting February 16 at

The State of Iowa and its health care providers will also continue to report COVID-19 data as required by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC’s COVID Data Tracker reports state-level data for cases, deaths, testing, vaccination and more. The site is available at or

The State Hygienic Lab will continue to operate the Test Iowa at Home program. As testing supply increases and more options for self-testing become available, the state will reassess the need for the program. For more information or to request an at-home test, visit

States are not required to have a disaster proclamation in place to be eligible for federal coronavirus-related funding or resources. Iowa will continue to receive vaccine and therapeutic allocations as normal after the proclamation expires.

Nearly half of U.S. states have already discontinued their public health proclamations, and several more are set to expire in February if they aren’t renewed.

Press Release Feb. 3, 2022, Iowa Governor’s Office.

So it goes.

Living in Society

Saturday Baking

Bread made from a mixture of regular organic all purpose flour and flour of an indeterminate kind.

The coronavirus pandemic persists toward the end of its second year.

Mostly, I stayed home in January. I made five retail store visits: two to the wholesale club, one to a supermarket, one to the orchard, and another to the home, farm and auto supply store. I picked up milk at the convenience store twice when grocery store trips became too infrequent. Only so many jugs of milk fit in the refrigerator at a time.

Snow covered the ground for much of the month so I moved exercise indoors. I don’t want to risk turning an ankle on the snow pack during walkabout, or slip and fall on an ice patch. The trip to the mailbox and weekly delivery of trash and recycling bins to the end of the driveway became my main regular outings. Using sand collected from the road during previous years, I heavily sanded the ice patch where the concrete meets the gravel.

Other outdoors activities included pruning fruit trees and emptying the compost bucket. Compared to normal times, outdoors activities slowed.

Indoors, I have been cooking more and reading a lot. I finished nine books in January. I’ve been making steady progress on the autobiography. We are using up food preserved in the pantry, freezer and refrigerator.

In my quest to make a weekend, I’ve been thinking of the loaf of bread I baked Saturday. Setting aside some Saturday time for baking would be a positive, potentially recurring thing. It would also enable me to use up some of the older flour sitting in cupboard containers.

I found two containers of mystery flour. At first I thought it was whole wheat. After tasting them, I’m not sure. Mixed half and half with all purpose flour, whatever it is made a grainy loaf that was risen, yet somewhat dense. It was great for making finger sandwiches with mustard and cheese from the refrigerator for afternoon snack.

I started onions and shallots and they are doing well. In early February I plan to start cruciferous vegetables. Inch by inch the garden is beginning to grow. Outside, deer are beating a path between the plots. They are coming from the 25-acre woods and heading west to parts unknown, likely the wooded area west of our subdivision. The fencing hopefully discourages them from stopping to see what I’m growing during the gardening season. There is not much edible out there now.

Debt was incurred in January. On a fixed income, I use a credit card to handle spikes in expenses. There were one-time expenses: subscription to the Washington Post, biannual servicing of the John Deere, and printing an annual blog book. There were increases across the board on recurring expenses: the monthly escrow amount, gas, electricity, broadband, and health insurance. The debt is manageable and it won’t take long to pay down if there are no February surprises.

Noteworthy is the sense of being alone when my spouse is sleeping or busy working on a project. Since I can remember I’ve been active in society. I wrote a friend,

I’m leery of volunteering with the COVID-19 surge and all. I would like to volunteer doing something once I feel more comfortable being out in the world.

Just turned 70 years old last month, so there is a lot of living left to do.

Letter to a friend, Jan. 15, 2022

There is a lot of living left to do.

Kitchen Garden

Gardening in 2022

Shallot and onion starts – 2022.

The gardening season kicked off in Big Grove Township with onion and shallot planting on Thursday. I planted two varieties of shallots and five of onions. After consultation with farmer friends, I decided to start earlier this year to see if my starts had a better result for planting in the spring. The trays will rest on a heating pad until they germinate. I ordered onions starts from the seed company again as an insurance policy.

Friday was the coldest day of winter thus far. It reached ten degrees below zero and ambient temperature is expected to remain below freezing until Monday when sub-zero temps return. If the forecast holds, I plan to be pruning trees Monday as the sap will have stopped flowing by then. Like with anything relying on weather, I’ll wait to see what happens.

Friday was trash pickup day. There was no trash in the trash cart and the recycling cart was less than a third filled. Because of the cold I left them in the garage this week. We are getting good at reducing our household waste.

We have provisions enough to last a couple weeks without leaving the house. This week, the county public health department suspended COVID-19 case investigation and contact tracing. They issued a press release, which said, in part,

During the past week, there has been a 250% increase in cases from the previous week. The total amount of cases in the past week reached an all-time high of almost 1,400 positive individuals. Due to this dramatic increase, Johnson County Public Health no longer has the ability to contact everyone who tests positive to conduct case investigations and contact tracing. JCPH will continue to monitor COVID-19 cases in high-risk groups and coordinate with organizations who experience a rise in cases, evaluate capacity, and keep the public informed of changes in our COVID-19 response.

Email from Johnson County Public Health dated Jan. 5, 2022.

This is what it looks like when a pandemic inundates the public health system. They can’t do their normal work because there are too many cases of COVID-19.

It is probably best, with the cold, the raging pandemic, and a full pantry and refrigerator, we stay home and bunker in. There is no lack of things to do. We want to live until spring to plant these onions and shallots in the ground. The 2022 gardening season has begun.


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.

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.

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.

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.