Kitchen Garden Sustainability

Going Home — Local Food

Garden April 20, 2020

Like most people, I want a decent meal when it is time to eat. In 2012, I launched a major study of the local food scene and was not disappointed in the results coming into and out of our kitchen. By working at a number of farms, growing and expanding our home garden, and participating in legislative advocacy, I learned so much about where food originates and conditions which engender growth of a variety of fruit and vegetables.

The impact of local food systems on our home life reached its peak in development of the kitchen garden idea. Now that the work is finished, I have less interest in writing regularly about food. It is an assumed part of a background against which I pursue other interests. I’ve learned what it means to know the face of the farmer. I maintain an interest in doing so. I just won’t write about it as often. Mainly, others are doing a better job of writing about our food system.

Food is basic to a life. It is not the most important thing. I am glad for the work I did, yet I feel it is finished. It is time to concentrate on more important aspects of life. It is time to keep a focus on life closer to home.

Living in Society

On a Clear Day You can See Forever

Closeup of Antoine LeClaire Monument
On a Clear Day You Can See Forever
Retro Post from Jan. 11, 2012

It was another clear, warm day yesterday. When I ran the trash cart and recycling bin to the street this morning, the sky was clear, stars bright. The waning gibbous moon illuminated the house, driveway and yard with its silvery light, reminding me of how minuscule earthly troubles are in the scope of life in the universe.

Inside the trash cart were remnants of chicken wire from Monday’s garden work and a number of old pillows, one of which I brought back from Germany with me in 1979. No real trash as we did not generate enough this week to make a full bag.

The Iowa House of Representatives implemented new video webcast functionality at the beginning of the legislative session. I viewed Governor Branstad give his 17th condition of the state address to a joint session of the legislature. He focused on two things: economic growth and education reform. President of the Iowa Senate, Jack Kibbie, could be seen behind the governor applauding politely from time to time. Hopefully, the governor will find common ground with the legislature this year. As House Speaker Pro Tempore Jeff Kaufmann pointed out with regard to property tax reform, there are three versions, the governor’s, the House version and the Senate Democratic version. This three part division seems likely to follow everything the legislature does this year.

I drove to Runge Funeral Home in Davenport for visitation, memorial service, and interment of the mother of a long time friend. My mother came for the visitation and we sat in the parlor, waiting to speak to Dennis, whom we have both known for a long time. Mom drove separately and when she left the visitation, we went to nearby Mount Calvary Cemetery to visit the graves of family members. Many people from my childhood are buried there.

As one enters the cemetery, the road passes Antoine LeClaire’s grave. He was one of the founders of Davenport who interpreted the autobiography of Black Hawk. Our family is buried further back. This visit I noticed one of my grade school classmates is buried next to my father’s plot. My classmate died in 2010. We visited my father, my grandmother and my great grandparents. At least three of my grandmother’s sisters are buried in the cemetery. We visited Pauline and Margaret’s graves, which are near their parents.

Mom brought a holiday fruitcake for me which I transported in the passenger seat, a simple pleasure.

When Mom went home, I returned for the memorial service which was conducted by a Lutheran minister. The music was Anne Murray, “Can I have this Dance?” Willie Nelson and a Polka with bird chirps superimposed on it. We said the Protestant version of the Lord’s Prayer.

At the interment, Dennis invited me to his sister’s home for sandwiches and we sat at the dining room table talking about diverse issues. In our younger days, we discussed Bellow, Hegel, Nietzsche and Sartre. Now, we discuss oncology, magnetic resonance imagery, physicians, and a too long list of human diseases and ailments. We did manage to work Joan Didion, Richard Ford and Philip Roth into the conversation.

The drive west went quickly. I was too late for the veterans meeting in Coralville, so I went directly home, tired from the day and ready for a long sleep. In this morning’s silvery, predawn light, Orion sat on top of our house as I walked back to the garage. I stopped and pondered, knowing that my recognition of the constellation was transient, and that I was ready for another day.


The Journey Home

Trail walking at Lake Macbride State Park on Oct. 25, 2021.

By the end of the year I will be seventy years old. More than anything, I’m glad to have lived this long. The plan is to go on living.

My work life ended last year because of the coronavirus pandemic. I would like a new source of income to supplement our pensions, yet there is only slight financial pressure to locate one. I am not ready to return to retail or any public-facing job as I’m not convinced it would be good for me. Each day without work outside home seems a little weird. I’m trying to adjust to a new path. It isn’t going well.

There is no bucket list because I did most of what I intended going through my days. The list of things I want to accomplish isn’t long: organize and write an autobiography; maintain good health and a decent quality of life. I need to be here for those who depend upon me.

How childcare was handled during my life helped me become who I am. Mother stayed home with us while Father worked at the meat packing plant. She was there for most of the important moments of my life. I don’t know how they made it on less than $100 per week yet we had a good quality of life even after Dad died and as I left home for college. When our daughter was born, I earned enough for my spouse to provide full time childcare while I worked outside home. It freed me for jobs that demanded time and energy. I was able to travel much of the country and see things of which I had no idea. My life would have been different had these childcare arrangements not existed. Now my concern is who will care for me as I become infirm.

Having taken a course on aging in America in graduate school, I feel ready for what is ahead. Coping with sadness and loss is here. So is dealing with physical limitations. I can sense the isolation and loneliness coming. With turbulence in society there is concern for our physical security. Most of all, changes in the environment, in our neighborhood, and in myself will require attention I hadn’t anticipated. For the time being I feel hope these changes can be adequately addressed.

Today it feels comfortable to get in the car and go on a couple hundred mile trip. That won’t always be the case and I’m ready to let go of driving when the time comes. For the moment, our 2002 Subaru won’t last another five years so it will need to be replaced. I did a study of how much we can afford to spend on big purchases over the next ten years based on our income. It is not as much as I would have liked. Fingers crossed, it will be enough.

What I’ll do with my remaining time is unknown. The framework is two stages: the next ten years, and those afterward. If I maintain my health and avoid common diseases (cardio-respiratory, cancer, diabetes, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and depression) the septuagenarian years will be a time of getting bigger projects done: writing, home repair and refurbishing, and gardening. After age eighty, should I live so long, the pace of things is expected to slow down. Both my mother and maternal grandmother were mentally alert and active until age 90 so I’m hopeful.

Time goes so fast!

I walk on the trail as often as I can. It is exercise. It is a chance to reflect on my life. It is an opportunity to consider the future. Mostly, though, it is walking. As long as I’m doing it I feel I’ll live forever, even if I know differently. It is always a journey home.

Home Life

Clearing Work Space

Temporary work surface for sorting stuff.

Since we became a one-car family in August the extra garage space filled the way water seeks its own level. Garden stuff, tools and equipment were scattered in every available space. I spent a couple of hours cleaning up and organizing on Saturday. It was a mess, and now is less so.

When I began having larger garlic harvests I cut two by fours to make temporary sawhorses for a drying rack. “Temporary” because I didn’t nail them together so they could be disassembled and easily stored once the garlic cured. In my large panel storage rack I had the remnant of the four foot by eight foot by three quarter inch plywood left from making the platform for our daughter’s loft bed in college. I spread four two by fours across the span of sawhorses and put the plywood on top, finished side up. It made a sturdy table.

I used this surface to clean up the stairway where many cups, COVID-19 test kits, picture frames, and other detritus of living were camped. I also cleared the other sawhorse table near my writing table of its contents. Now I have two transitional surfaces to go through stuff. Three if I can clear the folding table I brought with me from Germany.

In a home, space tends to get used. While approaching septuagenarian status the goal is to clear that space and dispose of old printers and computers, countless electrical cords, and everything not needed for living out the rest of my days. I don’t need one hundred coffee cups. To live a life less on a life expectancy of 15.4 more years (figured using the Social Security online calculator) and more on being here now. That means stop talking about getting rid of stuff and actually do it. No more delays!

Once space was cleared, my daily task list quickly filled with activities related to the disposition of things. I’m a bit excited about the prospect of owning less. We also have plans for new space created. That is, plans other than filling it with more stuff.

Living in Society

What’s In A Week?

Onions drying in the greenhouse.

Once life is separated from the work week everything changes. It’s not that we become unhinged. Days just resemble each other without differentiation.

As denizens of the United States, if we seek continued participation, we need something to tell days apart. The worklife week served as we had one. For me, it fell apart during the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting retirement from paid work.

I developed a morning routine which begins around 3 a.m. and continues until it is done. It is my time to learn about the world and my role in it. I like the routine because, for the most part, I own this time of day, every day. After that things can get muddled.

I want to have a weekend… a Monday and Friday. I need a hump day. I want them to mean something. What I find is without a job, the days blend into each other. Increasingly, I accept it.

I don’t know what to do about it. I feel a need to do something. Today’s Monday. Maybe I’ll start there.

Living in Society

Being Sexagenarian

Pears forming.

People don’t use the word sexagenarian much. Because of lack of use one associates it with being a sexpot or something related to youth. Let’s face it. After turning sixty aging accelerates. Most of us are not as sexy as we may think, despite genetics, efforts, and vague intentions. It’s more like we are clinging to youth rather than embracing our experience.

My sixties have been about life after the big job. During my last year in transportation and logistics I was tracking to make more than $100,000 annually. Since then, it’s been about making do on a much lower income. I turned 60 more than two years after leaving my career and despite a couple of bumps, have been okay financially.

A person who said being sexagenarian is about getting ready to turn seventy would not be wrong. Septuagenarians and octogenarians have to make do with less. Practice makes perfect, or rather semi-perfect. Life is what you make it, they say. I’m spending more time doing what I want. 70 is coming right up and I haven’t thought about life as a septuagenarian. Having given up on youth, I suppose I’m clinging to middle age. I need to let go of that, too.

In graduate school we studied aging in America and part of aging is being a survivor. Since 2018, too many friends, mostly younger than me, have died. More than a dozen neighbors died during the last couple of years and only one of them from COVID-19. Should I survive, being a survivor is going to get worse. Planning to survive is part of being a sexagenarian.

The decision to retire at age 58 was sound. Had I continued, the kind of stress I experienced would most certainly have led to a premature death. After losing interest in my career, I luckily recognized it was time to go and did. As a result, I’m here to tell about it and using my sexagenarian years to prepare for and live a more varied retirement.

However, the word sexagenarian just sounds wrong. I’d rather have no part of it even though I’m close to outliving those years. Like with anything, we believe the best is yet to come, regardless of the weight of an aging frame. A sexagenarian knows better.

Living in Society

Dave and Terry Loebsack Inducted Into Hall of Fame

Iowa City Press Citizen, Nov. 8, 2006

On Saturday, July 18, Dave and Terry Loebsack were inducted into the Johnson County Democrats Hall of Fame.

The event is usually a dessert and cash bar event with socializing being the best part. This year, because of the coronavirus pandemic, it was held via Zoom. We yearn for the social element of the event yet made do.

U.S. Senate candidate Theresa Greenfield, and Second District congressional candidate Rita Hart gave brief speeches. They were both upbeat about their prospects for the Nov. 3 election even though their races are tight.

Many on the Zoom event were part of Loebsack’s first campaign for Congress in 2005 and 2006. Dave reviewed the names of attendees and remarked we are getting “long in the tooth,” highlighting the need for younger Democrats to get involved with party politics. The thing about older Democrats is we can spare a donation to attend events like the Hall of Fame and every Democrat will be needed going forward.

Dave recounted election night in 2006 at the Hotel Vitro in Iowa City, how he won the election day vote but we were waiting for the Johnson County absentee vote to be reported. He was confident he would win the absentee vote as we waited for his opponent to concede.

It is a long drive to the county seat so I went home after the polls closed. Like may, I wasn’t sure Dave would win. When it became clear Dave would win, toward midnight, I got dressed and drove in to join the celebration. It was a big win and Loebsack successfully defended the seat six more times.

Dave has been a journeyman congressman. He’s not flashy, he does the work of the district, his story hasn’t changed much since he went to Washington D.C., he remains the person I got to know in his 2006 campaign office. He is still working.

Last week’s news highlights some of his work: With Congresswomen Cindy Axne (IA-03) and Abby Finkenauer (IA-01) he introduced a cattle marketing reform bill. He co-sponsored the PPP Flexibility Act to fix problems with implementation of the CARES Act for small business owners. He co-authored a letter to U.S. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to address the carbon neutrality of farm crops. He worked on the Water Resources Development Act of 2020. Loebsack is not in Washington just for the perquisite of the congressional gym, even if he often talks about who he sees there. He is doing the work we sent him to do.

From his speech, Dave and Terry are planning to actually retire. Dave is part of the Mount Vernon political crew that gave us David Osterberg, Ro Foege and Nate Willems. Over the years Dave has proposed legislation to prevent members of congress from becoming lobbyists after serving. It would be surprising and uncharacteristic for him to become a lobbyist now. He talked of going on road trips with Osterberg in retirement although what actually happens remains to be seen on the other side of the pandemic.

Congratulations Dave and Terry Loebsack for being inducted into the Johnson County Democrats Hall of Fame.

For more information about Congressman Dave Loebsack, visit his website at this link. Here is a link to a recording of the entire Zoom event.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa


Going Home After Notre Dame

Kale Seedlings from the Greenhouse, Ready to Plant

I’m going home.

Yesterday’s fire at Notre Dame Cathedral, on Île de la Cité in Paris, brought that feeling from the darkness.

It is no longer my world.

When I visited Notre Dame I didn’t take photos. I brought a dozen rolls of Kodak film with me on a 12-week trip to Europe. They had been stolen in Calais. I reluctantly bought two to replace them and used them sparingly. Having studied Gothic architecture in art history class, I figured there were enough extant photographs to call up memories without any light I personally exposed to film. It turns out those memories, in light of the fire, remain prominent without external stimulation.

I remember standing below the large stained glass window, made in the 13th century, in awe of the accomplishment. In 1974 the cathedral wanted repairs and there was ongoing work being done. The flying buttresses looked fragile, the stone facings of the church well worn by pollution from acid rain and vehicle exhausts. I marveled that the stained glass survived two world wars and read the story of how they did. A religious service started and I left the cathedral.

News reports this morning say the stained glass window that made an impression on me 45 years ago was saved from the fire. The collapse of the roof and gutting by fire of the interior means any repairs will be costly. With the centuries-old struggle to keep the building up, it’s hard to see how a complete restoration would even be possible. In any case, the 13,000 trees cut to make the roof —an entire forest — can not be replaced after so many centuries.

We are used to landmarks being changed or disappearing. The World Trade Center in New York City and the Bamyan Buddhas in Afghanistan are two different types of examples in my lifetime. How uncaring people can be about preserving history. How fragile is what has been entrusted to us by the past.

When the world you’ve come to know changes, it is time to go home.

According to the Social Security Administration’s life expectancy calculator I can expect to live 17.4 more years. I’ll do my best to live a good life, however, the journey home has already begun.

Milestones Writing

We’re Going Home — Donald Kaul

RAGBRAI 1973; Photo Credit – RAGBRAI

We knew Donald Kaul had prostate cancer and it spread to his bones. He’d been ill for a number of years but after this diagnosis, the prognosis was not good — we expected him to die this year and he did on July 22, just as the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, which he co-founded with John Karras, was getting started.

I’ve never ridden on RAGBRAI, but made a few long runs on the bicycle I bought after graduate school. I even made a century ride through the countryside near Iowa City and discovered what glycogen depletion is. Kaul played a role in Iowa’s bicycle culture. His influence was more than that.

After returning from the military I found a paucity of intellectually engaged people in my home town. Not that there weren’t like-minded men and women, just not very many of them. I began to follow Kaul more than I had.

My first paid work was delivering newspapers for the Des Moines Register while in grade school. That was around 1965 which was when Kaul began writing Over the Coffee full time. The Register didn’t sell many papers in Davenport and my paper route involved a lot of walking with very few deliveries. I recall one of my customers talking about Kaul when I collected — his column was somewhat controversial. I moved on to the Times-Democrat which sold a lot more papers. When I began high school in 1966 I had to give up my paper route. There was apparently a rule.

Despite this history, I was not an avid newspaper reader. I certainly didn’t read every column Kaul wrote. He was a placeholder for the idea that we could do better in life than work for a wage, hit the bars, sleep it off, and wake up to do it again. I wanted something else from my life in Davenport and Kaul created an option.

“Donald Kaul is at least five different columnists, which is a pretty spectacular bargain for his readers,” Vance Bourjaily wrote in the forward to How to Light a Water Heater and Other War Stories: A Random Collection of Essays.

Bourjaily famously moved from the East Coast to work at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He lived in the country and named his place Red Bird Farm. He wrote about men and horses and going to the dentist: things that resonate if one lives around here. Bourjaily captured the essence of Kaul.

“It is one of the pleasures of following Kaul’s column in the Register most days, as most of Iowa does,” he wrote, “that one can never be sure which of the five columnists the paper boy will bring this morning.”

Since Bourjaily died in 2010, I won’t have to break the news “most of Iowa” didn’t have home deliveries of the Register, ever. Some of those who did detested Kaul’s columns, and cancelled their subscription over it. Nonetheless, I like to think the inflated picture Bourjaily drew of Kaul as representative of what I hoped would be… even if it wasn’t.

I keep copies of some of Kaul’s books close by. If I need a lift, or inspiration, I read one of his columns. He was part of the development of my pursuit of intellectual interests. He may have prevented me from staying on in my home town to become another shoppie. Thank God for Donald Kaul, although that’s pretty ironic given his atheism.

If only I could write so well.

Donald Kaul has gone home and we’ll miss him.

Home Life

Goodbye 2008

Poor Richard’s Restaurant, Colorado Springs

Driving through ranch and mining country along Interstate 76, large square bales of hay are stacked four high as a windbreak around feedlots. The harvest is in and irrigation rigs idle.

On the distant horizon are wind turbines, It’s difficult to see if their blades are turning. Empty coal trains are on the move and motor traffic was light. Cloud formations played against an azure sky coming into Colorado.

As we exited to the Denver bypass, an enormous flock of birds descended onto a surface of water. We too were intending to settle for the night in Colorado Springs.

After dinner at Poor Richard’s Restaurant, we checked in at The Antlers Hilton.

The Antlers was opened a couple of years after the founding of Colorado Springs in 1871, situated with a view of the mountains and close to downtown. It was and is a resort designed to be away from the rough and tumble of the mining community and daily life. There were not a lot of cars in the adjacent self-park garage, and the hotel staff has been personable and helpful. It has been quiet during our stay.

At the end of 2008, the patterns of our lives feel played out.

Getting through the year marks us as survivors, pragmatists, realists and as individuals pitted against a society that rebukes our endeavors to rise above the trivial and petty. There are powerful interests at work.

As individuals we can cope through focus on family and friends and by renewing our efforts to take actions that result in improvement of our life in society. Our hope is that after the family retreat, and we head back home through rural Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa, there will be a new opportunity to repair the society in which we have been participants for much longer than there have been retreats in the Colorado mountains.

From this mile high view, it does not look like we will miss many of the events of 2008. It was a year of reality staring us in the face, and was not always pretty.

Will we make something of the coming days, or will we resemble revelers at a ball, donning a mask to look through the rigid certainties of the maker’s design. We must work toward the former with all of our energy as we return home to the next work.

~ An earlier version first posted December 31, 2008.