More Thawing

Indoor Seedlings Feb. 23, 2021

The gutters drained snow melt all day. High was in the mid-forties on Tuesday. We’ve been on restrictions for almost a year because of the coronavirus pandemic, it feels like something is going to bust loose as snow melts.

Feb. 22 the number of official U.S. deaths from COVID-19 passed the 500,000 death mark. For perspective, the Spanish Influenza killed an estimated 675,000 in the U.S. The population has more than tripled since 1918.

I’m scheduled for my first vaccine shot this weekend at the Methodist Church. The event was announced via email on Friday by the county senior center. Registration closed an hour later because there was so much demand.

Dr. Anthony Fauci expressed hope CDC would establish guidelines for people who get fully vaccinated. That would be nice, although Iowans are not good listeners to this type of guidance. Iowa has the lowest percentage of people fully vaccinated of any U.S. state. It’s also a month before we would get our second dose of vaccine. Perhaps CDC will tell us what post-COVID-19 society will look like by then.

A year of restrictions is a lot. Because of video conferencing people are more accessible than ever. While such human contact is sometimes welcome, it’s not the same as being together in person. I turn down more video calls than I accept. Once the novelty wore off, I went back to being myself only with less human interaction. That’s not really who I am, though, and I look forward to doing more in society than securing provisions to stay at home.

The melt continues. The ground above the septic tanks is already showing. It won’t be long before the snow is gone and the scent of spring is in the air. With so much snow remaining, it is hard work to slog through it to get to the composter. Maybe in a couple of days the snow will be gone completely. It’s time in more ways than one to move forward.

Home Life

Stir Crazy

View toward the compost bin, Feb. 18, 2021.

A year ago Governor Kim Reynolds signed a proclamation of disaster emergency regarding COVID-19. It’s still on. I had to get out of the house today to preserve my sanity.

I put on my army boots with buckled overshoes bought in Indiana, my Carhartt coat from the home, farm and auto supply store, the U.S. Army issued scarf I wore in the Fulda Gap, my Johnny’s Selected Seeds stocking hat, and ventured into the unbroken snow. I found deer tracks and followed them to the black composter. It was a cure for cabin fever.

A large animal lay down in the snow near an apple tree, leaving a mark in the snow. I walked all around the house and emptied two five-gallon buckets in the composter. The ambient temperature was really comfortable and bright sunlight felt good. I wasn’t outside long, enough to break the spell.

On days like this it is tough to concentrate. I finished seasoning the new cookware and stored the pieces. I washed dishes, and viewed our daughter’s on-line stream. While there was plenty of work, I didn’t feel like doing much of it. Cabin fever.

Of course, it’s now tomorrow. A chance to begin work anew. Also it’s Friday, whatever cultural resonance that might evoke in the post work-a-day world of the coronavirus pandemic.

Nontheless, Happy Friday y’all!

Living in Society

Long Winter

Newly plowed driveway, Feb. 16, 2021

I cleared the driveway of snow a dozen times this year, including yesterday. There has been snow cover for weeks and it is expected to continue. It’s the first real winter, the kind we had when I was a kid, in a long time.

The record-setting cold that has gripped the central U.S. has pushed snow cover across the 48 contiguous states to an all-time high in the 18-year database of the National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center.

Snow covers about 73.2 percent of the U.S. to an average depth 6 inches (15 centimeters), according to the agency. A year ago 35.5% was covered to an average depth of 4.6 inches.

Bloomberg News, Brian K. Sullivan.

Restricted at home during the coronavirus pandemic, there are new things to explore. While tracing an internet order, I noticed the delivery vehicle had a satellite tracking device which updated location every 10 – 30 seconds. For a while, in between reading passages in a book, I followed the truck around our area on the map, noting where it stopped and the routing. The driver used roads I don’t normally think of using. There were a lot of stops. Anticipating arrival of the package, I opened the curtain and watched her truck pull up. Curiosity satisfied, I’m not going to spend a lot more time at this yet it’s something new to break the pattern of living at home with just the two of us. A different aspect of life in Big Grove.

I spoke to the local medical clinic to confirm my upcoming blood test and follow up appointment. They will provide the COVID-19 vaccine once it becomes available. They didn’t know when that would be. If they have it by my appointment, I can get it then. That’s the second opportunity in our area once the vaccine supply chain starts flowing.

It appears the new president takes the pandemic seriously and we have a chance to return to normal. At a town hall meeting in Wisconsin last night, CNN reported this from President Biden.

President Joe Biden would only commit to a return to normal by next Christmas during a CNN town hall on Tuesday, saying he did not want to boost Americans’ hopes when he could not be certain of a still-early vaccine rollout.

The prediction of nearly another year in pandemic-dampened conditions was admittedly not optimistic. But Biden still said it was as good as he could offer with any level of confidence.

“As my mother would say, with the grace of God and the goodwill of the neighbors, that by next Christmas I think we’ll be in a very different circumstance, God willing, than we are today,” Biden said. “A year from now, I think that there’ll be significantly fewer people having to be socially distanced, having to wear a mask.”

He added: “I don’t want to over promise anything here.”

CNN Politics, Kevin Liptak.

And so, it goes.

Kitchen Garden

Seasoning During A Pandemic

Snow Tracks

It is a four day process to season the new carbon steel cookware.

Heating the pans in the oven for an hour, then letting them cool completely down before applying another coating is what takes time. I’m doing three seasoning applications in four batches during the initial go-around.

We bought a new set to replace our current non-stick-coating pans. If we take care of them, the new ones should serve for a long time.

Yesterday I discovered Radio Garden. It is software that projects a globe with green dots on our screens. Each dot is an internet radio station. There are thousands of them.

By bringing distant voices close, radio connects people and places. From its very beginning, radio signals have crossed borders. Radio makers and listeners have imagined both connecting with distant cultures, as well as re-connecting with people from ‘home’ from thousands of miles away.

Radio Garden is based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Our dedicated team is hard at work tending to the garden on a daily basis. Planting seeds for the future and keeping the weeds at bay.

Radio Garden started out in 2016 as an exhibition project commissioned by the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision in the context of the research project Transnational Radio Encounters. It was created, designed and developed by Studio Puckey & Moniker.

Radio Garden,

I spent an inordinate amount of time listening to radio stations. Current favorites are Radio AkuAku in Hanga Roa on Easter Island and Radio FJV FM in Gdansk, Poland. A main interest is using the Android application to convert my mobile device into a music source I can carry around with me when working in the kitchen garden. There is a lot to explore.

Bit by bit, whatever life I had before the pandemic is peeling away. I embrace the future and try to remember some of the past. It’s another day during a pandemic.


Second Saturday

Experimenting with traditional pancakes using rice flour and butternut squash.

2021 has been rough out of the gates. The coronavirus pandemic is raging, armed insurrectionists occupied the U.S. Capitol for a few hours on Jan. 6, and as a society we are as divided as ever. Happy flippin’ New Year!

The combination of cold weather, snow cover, and the virus have kept me mostly indoors. No more trips to town unless it is for provisioning or medical appointments. In the last three weeks I made one trip to the wholesale club, and that’s it for leaving the house.

I go to the driveway and breathe fresh air a few times a day. I don’t want to risk turning an ankle walking on the trail or in the yard.

It’s just as well because I’m using the time before gardening season to get a solid start on my book. 8,882 words this week with a stack of edits waiting for later today. The process is a bit sketchy as it’s the first time I began the project with a long-term writing schedule. Some days writing is based on artifact(s) or previous text, some days mining memory. The main roadblock is so much of my archival material is unorganized and stored throughout the house.

Yesterday I used a photo album from the early 1960s. Taking time to observe each photo, letting memory work, one thing led to another and my daily word goal was met easily. We’ll see how the edits go yet I believe idea production was good. It’s pretty easy pickings because I’m at the beginning of the project.

Another thing is there is so much material. I’ve been a pack rat about keeping artifacts, and there will be inadequate interest to make this book as comprehensive as it could be. I’m undecided about photographs. Picking a dozen or so would take a lot of distillation and they would represent more than their content. A benefit of going through the writing process is the archives will get organized. Presumably the quantity will be reduced.

On the second Saturday of 2021 the local environment seems quiet. It is a good day to stay indoors and work on projects. With the coronavirus everywhere, it’s a safe thing to do.

Living in Society

Remaining Strong

Pizza Toppings

With the surge in positive COVID-19 tests, hospitalizations, and ICU patients we plan to reduce trips outside our home and immediate area even more than we did beginning last spring.

Our last provisioning trip was Nov. 11, and it should hold us for at least until Thanksgiving, maybe longer. There is a doctor’s appointment in the real world and everything else will be done via video or voice conference.

We’re learning to live with the coronavirus pandemic which is expected to be with us until at least 2022. It’s hard to say what life will look like on the other side.

Weekend weather sucked. It rained all day on Saturday and high winds blew Sunday. Except for taking kitchen compost to the bin and retrieving mail, neither of us left the house. Even with ambient temperatures in the 40s, it feels like winter is coming.

When we emerge from isolation there will be much to do in society. Everyone will be out there with different agendas. With the challenges of life in the pandemic we must remain strong so we can compete. It will be a competition. In many ways it already is.

Living in Society

Road Work

Street sign fixture.

Vandals tore down the street signs on the corner and ran off with them. I took ownership of the replacement process. If I can get the screw in the bottom left of this photo to loosen, finishing the job will take about ten minutes.

It won’t come out.

I ruined one driver by applying more torque than it was designed to take. I tried placing the driver on the screw head and tapping it with a six-pound sledge. I sprayed lubricant on the top and bottom and let it sit overnight. That screw is stubborn to give it an anthropomorphic quality. Someone suggested applying heat so I tried holding it over a candle. Still stuck. Not sure what’s next.

The weather was beautiful for working in the garage. Cool temperatures, partly cloudy, and little wind. I rode my bicycle on the trail. It was the kind of fall day for which we yearn. A couple more of them would provide time to prepare the yard for winter.

As soon as I’m finished with this road work.

Living in Society


2021 Garlic Patch.

Even with advances in electronic communication, those of us who take the coronavirus pandemic seriously have become increasingly isolated. Not everyone takes their chances of contracting COVID-19 seriously, which complicates things.

In Iowa, the governor’s approach to containing the virus has been mostly voluntary. The results speak for themselves. Last week the Iowa Department of Public Health released a White House coronavirus task force report. The Des Moines Register reported:

“Iowa continues to see more than twice as many coronavirus infections as the national average,” White House officials warned. “Community transmission has remained high across the state for the past month, with many preventable deaths.”

Since Governor Kim Reynolds’ March 9 Disaster Proclamation, more than 100,000 cases of COVID-19 have been identified (three percent of the population), and 1,471 people died from the disease. Mitigation of the coronavirus is not going well in Iowa.

Yesterday, while visiting the county seat to get bicycle parts, about nine in ten people wore a face mask on the streets, a marked improvement reflecting the seriousness of the pandemic. More generally, Iowa is not reporting similar face mask usage.

A retired physician sent some 3M-brand N95 masks. Their spouse, who is a practicing physician, couldn’t get an adequate supply at work so they purchased them in bulk. It’s a sad state of affairs when front-line medical workers, who deal with coronavirus infected patients daily, can’t get an adequate supply of personal protective equipment seven months into the pandemic.

Many of us are not afraid of the virus. We’re following the recommendations of experts, which is to stay at home as much as possible and wear a mask while practicing good hygiene in public. The stay at home part sucks.

It’s not that there isn’t work to do at home. I haven’t been to a restaurant since March, all social events were called off or restructured to maintain social distancing, and emails, phone calls and text messages have increased dramatically. Meetings are conducted on line using Zoom or Google Meet, or via conference call. It’s not the same as meeting in person, shaking hands, interacting with other humans. If the logistics of meetings are much improved, the personal nature of them is diminished. There is no end of the pandemic in sight.

In the spring my work at the farm was isolated from the rest of the crew because I was the only worker living off the farm. Moving most workers on-site was their reaction to staying COVID-19 free. The plan is working. I gave up my part-time retail job at the home, farm and auto supply store in April, and didn’t go back to the orchard in August. Retirement was forced upon me by the pandemic. My new potential cohort of retired seniors is not getting together as they once had. I wasn’t ready to give up the human interaction of the workplace, yet did in response to the risks of continuing.

I spend some time with neighbors who joke about wearing their Trump campaign face masks. They know I’m supporting Joe Biden and I’m used to the friendly political interaction. We don’t discuss politics that much. When one family’s child brought COVID-19 home from school, a pall fell on the neighborhood.

With winter approaching, 2021 looks to be isolating. I planted garlic last week and went to the metropolis to get straw bales for winter cover. Like the garlic cloves just planted, we are alive and and ready to spring to life when conditions are right. For the time being, we are isolated.

Living in Society

Feeling A Cage

Peppers gleaned from the garden.

While riding my bicycle around the trail system I press against the edge of a boundary. It is mental, not physical.

I feel trapped in a cage, ready to break out.

June 18 was the first bicycle trip. I don’t remember where I went. The scale told me this morning I dropped two pounds since then. The purpose of increasing daily exercise wasn’t weight loss though. It was a way to deal with my diabetes diagnosis.

Since seeing my health practitioner in June I developed five types of exercise to get my heart going, produce a sweat, and support whatever magical physiological workings reduce blood sugar. I missed only three days of 25 minutes or more of exercise that included bicycling, jogging, using a ski machine, walking, and sustained gardening and yard work that produced a sweat. Combined with watching my carbs, eating fewer big meals, taking Vitamin B-12, an 81 milligram aspirin, and a cholesterol drug, my numbers came down to a more normal range. If I went to a physician today I wouldn’t be diagnosed with diabetes.

I’m ready for what’s next.

Part of me wants to ride and ride the bicycle. Mostly I run one of four five-mile routes and once or twice a week ride 10-14 miles. I have no interest in riding across Iowa with the tens of thousands who do so most years but I’m pressing the limit. I want more.

Desire is balanced by caution because of my age and the age of my 40-year old bicycle. Bicycles are always needing repair, adjustment, and maintenance so I’ve learned new skills and identified a bicycle repair shop. Even though I don’t work outside home there is a lot to do and I can’t afford a two or three-hour daily trip just because I’m restless. My lower body is strengthening and my jeans fit better. For the time being that may have to be enough.

During the days before the Nov. 3 U.S. general election the limits of my range are more profound, the cage more tactile. A lot depends on the election outcome. If Trump and Republicans do well, there is one course. If Biden and Democrats win there is another. I expect the results to be mixed in Iowa. There is a broad Republican base where Democrats win majorities only when everything aligns. Recent polling showed Biden leading Trump by 14 points in national popular vote polling. Hillary Clinton led Trump by 14 points in the same polling exactly four years ago. Political work remains this cycle.

With cooler weather approaching I’m not sure how much more outdoors exercise I can accomplish before winter. I have a good start on the ski machine and expect that to be my daily regimen until it warms again. Between the plan and reality comes a shadow.

For now, I’ll continue what I’ve been doing. At the same time this bird wants its freedom and to break loose from restrictions of a cage where we’ve been living too long. Not today, but soon.

Living in Society

Rain Continues

Derecho Woodpile

From drought to rain the last week has been unrelenting.

The garden continues to produce and grass is growing again creating another task once the landscape dries.

Doesn’t look like drying will happen today.

I am helping the local political party distribute campaign yard signs. There are few parts of the county north of the interstate highway I don’t recognize. I’ve gotten requests from voters on some new streets yet when I look for them the same roads and streets are in memory to find them. I remember a lot of door knocking from past political campaigns.

I stopped to refuel my 1997 Subaru Outback. At the convenience store no one was wearing a mask. Not a single person. I couldn’t see through the window whether the cashiers were, although I hope so. Keeping my distance at the fuel pump I sanitized my hands once back in the driver’s seat. Risk avoidance is a key part of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. I resisted the temptation to go inside and buy a Powerball ticket.

It’s just as well it’s wet outside. I have an indoors project with a deadline and it’s easier to avoid distraction when it’s raining. I’m about to make my second French press of coffee for the day. It may not be the last. I’m digging into the history of our community. There’s a lot of food for thought and memory. It should keep me busy all day.