Living in Society

Happy Weiberfastnacht

Fasching Parade in Mainz, Germany.

The Thursday before Ash Wednesday is celebrated as Weiberfastnacht in the German Rhineland. It is a day when women assert their dominance by cutting off the neckties of men they encounter. Some of us long recognized that women should be in charge of society, and not only on “Silly Thursday” as today is known. Helau! to those who celebrate.

We had a dusting of snow overnight in Big Grove Township. It was lightly falling when I looked out the pre-dawn window and is expected to continue into tonight. It may be a proper blizzard and a good day to get indoors work done. I’m writing today about my return from Mainz and the work I did at an apartment at Five Points.

When I returned to Iowa from Germany I stayed at Mother’s house for a week or so, and then found an apartment at Five Points in Northwest Davenport. I was settling into my new place by Nov. 11, 1979.

We called it Five Points because it was the intersection of Division Street, West Locust Street and Hickory Grove Road. From the intersection there were five directions one could go. All five led to distinctly different parts of the city. There is another five points located in the city’s poorer district, although it is not well known among the majority white population.

Hickory Grove Road used to be a wagon trail before the arrival of paved roads. Follow it northwest and it intersects with U.S. Highway 6, not far from the place Jack Kerouac wrote about in On the Road.

“The sun was going down, I walked, after a few cold beers, to the edge of town, and it was a long walk,” Kerouac wrote. “All the men were driving home from work, wearing railroad hats, baseball hats, all kinds of hats, just like after work in any town anywhere. One of them gave me a ride up the hill and left me at a lonely crossroads at the edge of the prairie. It was beautiful there.” For me, it was a place to stay while I figured out my future. I wasn’t sure which direction I would go.

Excerpt from an autobiography in progress, Feb. 16, 2023.

I have living memory of that apartment at Five Points. While I was in Europe, a number of friends from high school had gotten married and I missed all of their weddings. Now that I was back, I ordered wedding gifts from a mail order catalogue so I could visit with them individually, present the gift, and get caught up on our lives.

The UPS delivery person was a high school classmate. He attended elementary school at Saint Vincent’s where since 1895, the Catholic Church had cared for children as an orphanage and school. My friend said he could get me a job at UPS if I wanted. If I had taken him up on the offer, I would likely have earned far more than I did during my worklife. I thanked him and declined. He ended up retiring early and moving to Florida.

I wrapped all the gifts and contacted my friends by telephone to set up dates. It wasn’t like being at their wedding, yet it was something positive. If I had stayed in Davenport, I would have attended their weddings and maybe closed in on one of my own. Marriage had not been a priority for me while in the military or as I returned to Iowa.

I don’t celebrate carnival any longer, except on social media. I used to join friends to attend the annual Rose Monday Parade in Mainz near the thousand-year-old Saint Martin’s Cathedral. It was a big deal, with hundreds of thousands of people in attendance. I note the date of my settling in at Five Points was the same as the beginning of the carnival season in Germany. A coincidence, I suppose… although maybe not.

As snow falls in Big Grove Township, we are bunkered in with provisions. I don’t plan to wear a necktie, yet if we get into a celebratory mood, I would. Happy Weiberfastnacht to those who celebrate… and Helau!


Holiday Retreat – Day 2


On day two of my five-day retreat I feel the first day was a success.

Dinner was tacos using leftover filling with some added hot sauce. I made the sauce using older hot pepper sauces and salsas in the refrigerator and pantry. I also found a jar of “hot vinegar” to add. The pot simmered all day until it reduced in volume by a third. Next I strained out the larger solids and blended them into a paste to store and use separately. The main hot sauce has excellent flavor and displaces any need to buy commercial products well into gardening season. Thumbs way up!

I made a loaf of bread yesterday and it turned out dense. I added too many extras like bulgur wheat, oat bran, and mystery flour, and the yeast wouldn’t rise. I started over this morning with straight all purpose flour and the King Arthur Flour basic recipe. We’ll see how this goes, fingers crossed. If I’m successful, I’ll have a better starting point for using up all the flour-like things in our pantry.

A modest investment in an electric snow blower proved to be wise. I’m of an age where I shouldn’t be out shoveling snow in extreme cold. The electric snow blower is easy and fast. There hasn’t been a lot of snow during this blizzard so I blew the driveway only once. Limited snow is forecast today yet the wind will be continuous, creating drifts. I may go outdoors to shovel the front steps when ambient temperatures get to one degree around 3 p.m. We’ll see.

Organizing was important on day one. I checked the website for used book donations at the public library, and they are pickier than they have been. They recommend books published within the last ten years. Whoever wrote that standard doesn’t understand books. I divided the current culled books into two piles, one for the library used book sale and one to be donated to Goodwill which doesn’t have any criteria on their website. Another hundred books will go out the door once the blizzard relents.

The dining room table is cleared so I brought up my files on medical stuff. They accumulated over the years and I plan to go through them before my spouse returns. Getting that done during these days would be nice.

Overnight we dropped to minus ten degrees. I set the thermostat on 60 and got out the third wool blanket for the bed. My nose was a little cold yet every thing else stayed warm.

I called a friend and we talked about an hour. We have been working on politics together for a long time. I reflected on my favorite political events. Here is a short list of memories revisited:

  • Stuffing envelopes for the 1964 Lyndon B. Johnson campaign in Davenport.
  • George McGovern rally at Old Capitol in Iowa City before the 1972 general election.
  • Standing for Ted Kennedy during the 1980 presidential caucus in Davenport.
  • Crossing a street in Des Moines when a van load of apparent preachers, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, whizzed by in 1984.
  • Taking our child into the polling booth with me to vote for Bill Clinton.
  • Our family attending the 2004 Iowa caucus and standing for John Kerry.
  • Meeting Barack Obama at the Tom Harkin 2006 Steak Fry near Indianola.
  • Dave Loebsack’s 2006 campaign.
  • Being precinct secretary at the 2008 Iowa caucuses.
  • Seemingly endless Hillary Clinton events in 2016, including getting a selfie with her.
  • Elizabeth Warren event in Tipton, Iowa in April 2020.
  • Leading the 2020 precinct caucus and the ensuing reporting snafu..

All these memories are important. I expect to work each of them and more into my autobiography. In addition to politics, there are multiple thematic subjects to include and I haven’t decided how to approach them. This retreat is providing some ideas.

Today is about holiday baking. Bread, an applesauce cake, and at least one batch of cookies are in the works. I donned a stocking cap from the merch store of the Twitch stream I follow and am styling multiple layers this morning. It appears the worst of this blizzard’s cold weather is behind us. The new process of working in the kitchen before arriving at my workspace continues to deliver results. By 10 a.m., I got a lot done.


Holiday Retreat – Day 1

After Snowfall

I decided to make a five day retreat, beginning today, at home. I’m not exactly sure what that means in 2022, yet with our child in Chicago, and my spouse in Des Moines, it’s just me here in Big Grove. It is telling the first thing I did when alone was to create structure.

When I went on a retreat in high school, a bunch of us boys crowded into one of the Saint Ambrose College dormitories for an overnight. The key takeaway had little to do with religion. A couple of classmates filched whisky and dandelion wine from their parents’ liquor cabinet and brought it. While I didn’t drink any, the main point of the weekend was doing what our parents wouldn’t let us. Priests supervised us, but, you know, post Vatican II.

A few things are determined the next few days. For one, I’m changing my morning schedule. Instead of making coffee and heading to my writing desk immediately after waking, I plan to work in the kitchen. With only me in the house, I can make as much noise as I like, when I like, without worrying about disturbing someone. I can turn the radio volume up.

After kitchen work will be reading, the usual minimum of 25 pages per day. The book I’m reading is good, so likely more than that. During the snow storm, clearing the driveway will be important. It’s easier if I blow it a couple of inches at a time, multiple times a day, instead of waiting for it all to accumulate. All these activities are intended to restart old habits, develop new ones, and provide fresh perspective. After “morning chores” the day begins. After today’s regimen I got a lot accomplished by 9 a.m.

While bunkered in during the blizzard I’ll pay more attention to food preparation. There are plenty of provisions and an open book on how much hot pepper I can use in cooking. No fancy dishes, just personal favorites on the spicy side made with butter, eggs and other dairy products.

Dinner was simple when I returned from the road last night: a veggie burger made into a cheeseburger with a bagel for a bun, potato chips, and dill pickles on the side. It served.

Soon, maybe tonight, I will make stuffed bell peppers. Saturday, Christmas eve, will be chili and cornbread. After that, I haven’t decided. Some sort of festive, holiday fare, no doubt.

The reason I need a retreat is to get organized for 2023. The big stuff: writing, gardening, home repair, and cooking are all necessary components. To take a step back and review where I find myself is an important part of setting appropriate goals for the coming year.

I’ll definitely write about the experience daily. I hope some readers will follow along.

Living in Society

Holiday Travel 2022

Winter Travel

Word is in from the news media-meteorological information trust that a significant Midwestern winter storm is brewing for the days leading into Christmas. Our family is splitting up for the holidays and have travel plans. Because we are retired and flexible, we will comply with the media overlords and travel Wednesday. If I were still working outside home, I would travel when schedules permit. Military service instructed me life goes on regardless of weather conditions.

It snowed overnight yet only a dusting remains. A half hour with a broom will clear what the sky dropped. I’ll wait until sunrise to get that chore done. Otherwise, there is plenty of indoors work to accomplish today.

The last time I was alone on Christmas was after my arrival in Mainz, Germany. While I was being processed into our battalion they were on field maneuvers until the last days before the holiday. When they returned, everyone hurried to be with family and I was left alone. By then, I was 18 months into being a regular journal writer/diarist. I used the time alone for reflection:

Personal Journal
25 December 1975
Mainz, West Germany

I have just spent the last few minutes waiting for water to come to a boil on the stove for tea. While waiting, I skipped through this journal, stopping every so often and reading random pages. It seems that what I have written at other times is sufficiently removed from me to permit my pursuit of authorship of literature. This is good.
The things I have read also pain me at times. The thought of a past once present now changed into memories.
As I sit today, Christmas, before my desk, I will not forget, I cannot forget myself when I am writing -- it soothes me by its connection with the past, direct, like looking through the space that I have traveled from the eternal point of view. Sehr gut.
I sit down, spreading ink on paper and what yields it? Ink on my small and ring fingers and a touch with the past.

I’m looking forward to Wednesday’s trip and getting off property for a couple of hours. In deference to the weather, I’ll stop to provision on the trip home. I won’t like being separated from everyone, but at least we have free video conferencing… and, of course, social media. When there is a small family, that’s how it goes some years. I’m okay with it once in a while. Wouldn’t want to make it a holiday tradition, though.


Winter Snowfall/Heat Wave

Geese walking on the lake, yet not for long.

Today’s high is forecast to be 78 degrees. Now Mother Nature is just messing with us. On the plus side, maybe the warmth will melt the 3-4 inches of snow that fell overnight. Iowa weather always has something a little different. What I found to be different is I used a different weather app to check the forecast and it was set to Washington, D.C. We don’t need a weather app to know there will be a lot of hot air over there.

Seven trays of vegetables rest on the germination table and the landing near the front door. Everything looks reasonably good. I added the task “assemble greenhouse” to my list and am ready to move onions and cruciferous vegetables outdoors. After the snow melts, I will.

There was an F3 tornado on Saturday that killed six people in central Iowa. Today, the Iowa legislature takes up House File 2299 which would make it harder for Iowa homeowners to prove damage from disasters like a derecho or tornado. There is a GoFundMe for one of the families affected by the tornado, and that appears to be the way society is going these days. We are on our own.

I like it when I can turn off the fan on the ceramic heater in front of my desk. It looks to be one of those days, that is, after I bundle up to take care of snow removal on the driveway. Soon the space heater will be moved to the greenhouse. I can’t wait.

Kitchen Garden

Spring is Coming 2022-Style

Working in the garage with door open on Wednesday, March 2, 2022.

I resumed daily walkabouts around our property line after the snow melt and noticed the toll taken on our trees. Of 15 remaining trees, all but one of which I planted, only six have no apparent issues.

Most of them are damaged from either the 2020 derecho, or from one or more of the straight line wind events we’ve had in recent years. Disease is creeping into the two EarliBlaze apple trees as lower branches blacken, die, and are cut off in pruning.

The Green Ash by the house appears to be doing well. We expect the Emerald Ash Borer to take it eventually, although there had been no infestation as of yesterday.

The Bur Oak is native to Iowa and is also doing well. Planted in the 1990s, it will come to dominate the front yard as years progress. It is a good tree. In the backyard there is a Bur Oak planted from an acorn from the one in front. There were three oak trees planted from acorns near the garden at the same time. Two of them blew a kilter during the derecho. I removed one last year and the other needs to come down. The backyard Bur Oak that will remain is flourishing.

The pear tree planted at our daughter’s high school graduation party is thriving. We all placed some kind of organic matter in the hole before planting it. Most years we get pears. They are sweet and juicy and some years there are enough to put up pear sauce. The only issue is it is growing too tall to collect all the ripe fruit. It was a nice addition to the back yard.

The two apple trees planted near the garden have been growing acceptably. I hope they begin to fruit before the three remaining apple trees have faded and are gone.

It is unclear what to do about the trees this spring. I considered taking scions from the Red Delicious tree and growing new from the same genetics. The trouble is it will take from six to eight years for them to grow to maturity and fruit. That’s too long for a septuagenarian to wait.

I planted lettuce. My maternal grandmother passed down the tradition of planting “Belgian lettuce” on March 2. Usually it is to be direct seeded, although the ground was still frozen. I honored the tradition by planting a flat indoors for transplant into a row covered planting area. Spring is coming and we’ll want lettuce when it arrives.

“Belgian lettuce,” March 2, 2022.
Living in Society

Pivot Toward Spring

Kyiv bookshop. Photo Credit : Wikimedia Commons.

An inch or two of snow fell overnight indicating winter is not finished.

There is not enough trash and recycling to roll the carts through freshly fallen snow to the street for pickup. I’ll wait until daylight to blow snow from the driveway, without cart tracks and my footprints. With our intent to stay home, I could let it go and natural warmth would clear the driveway within 24-48 hours. I’m ready for some outdoors activity.

Despite snowfall, one senses a pivot toward spring.

The ten-day forecast is for ambient temperatures to begin climbing above freezing tomorrow. After that, highs are forecast in the upper thirties to mid forties going forward. I’m reminded some of our worst Iowa blizzards have happened during March. It may not be the end of winter, yet one can’t help but think of spring. The ground remains frozen.

We hope for spring, even if another thing that fell overnight was Russian missiles on Kyiv, Ukraine.

I try to shut out commentary and focus on news of the Russian invasion. There is plenty of news available, although one needs a filter to separate wheat kernels from the chaff. A cook can’t make bread from opinions. It is ironic that U.S. companies maintain large grain export operations in Ukraine and Russia when Iowa grows 50 percent of its corn to make ethanol. Ethanol should be eliminated due to its impact on the environment. That is commentary readers may not welcome.

While stationed in Germany as an infantry officer, I prepared to fight a European land war against the former Soviet Union in the Fulda Gap. A soldier should know that if Russia planned to lay siege to Kyiv, it would begin this morning at dawn. There is no satisfaction from seeing my prediction come true as it did. Spring is not the best time for tanks to navigate through the countryside. One presumes Russia will make quick work of the invasion and occupation of Ukraine, while the ground remains frozen, before spring thaw and planting time arrives.

I have reading and writing to do and welcome a couple more days of cold weather. I’d like nothing better than to browse a bookstore for a while to see what is available. Instead, due to a lingering coronavirus, I’ll stay in and follow the news of the Russian invasion while keeping my eyes on imminent spring. The pivot has already begun.

Kitchen Garden

Warm Winter Day

50 degrees in Big Grove, Feb. 15, 2022.

Two days of ambient temperatures in the 40s and 50s drew back snow cover to reveal a well-beaten deer path. Their droppings are scattered all over the ground. They hadn’t yet eaten tender young branches growing above the six-foot fence protecting two new apple trees. Maybe they won’t. Deer have become a regular animal in the yard. I don’t always look when I see them running down hill from the corner of my eye.

I walked around, picking up branches pruned from the fruit trees and placed them in a brush pile for spring burn. The ground didn’t give at all, remaining frozen. With temperatures today and tomorrow back in the single digits and teens, we are a distance from spring thaw.

I went to a grocery store. You know the kind. One that sells lots of different things. The organic kale looked great so I bought a bunch for stir fry and soup. I picked through the cauliflower for a clean head. Can’t remember if I ever bought kale in a store before. I don’t think so. Previously its been grown by me or my farmer friends. Frozen kale is used up, so a person has to do something to secure greens for winter meals.

One of the varieties of kale seeds didn’t germinate. The seeds are from the 2019 season, so it’s not a surprise. I’m putting together another order from my main seed vendor and expect it to be the final seed order for the 2022 garden. Seed catalogues are piling up next to the reading chair in the living room. Any more, I don’t spend much time looking at them as I know most of what I want.

A neighbor is planning an extended visit to relatives this summer. They offered me their garden plot, which is a nicely fenced area adjacent to our property. I’ve been thinking I could use more space. I’m considering it. I’d plant it with a uniform variety of vegetables, maybe fall crops of broccoli or cabbage, and adopt it for the season as the eighth plot. We’ll see.

It was good to get outside and exercise. It’s too early to begin turning dirt, so we wait. Parsley looks like it will over winter. It’s time to finalize plans for the garden.


Mid-winter Thaw

Deer paths in the snow.

Ambient high temperatures are forecast around 40 degrees the next couple of days. If that bears out, most of the snow should be gone. It has been a welcome time for cocooning yet this week’s weather indicates it won’t be long before working outdoors.

Onions and shallots need a trim. Broccoli seeds planted Sunday have begun to germinate. It’s good to see the older seeds are still vital. I’m thinking of setting up the greenhouse yet it’s too early.

We’ll see what Iowa’s weather does. For the moment, hope of spring is not far away. That’s enough to encourage me to get to work on everything.

Kitchen Garden

Pruning Day

Deer eating buds and tender branches of a limb felled during apple tree pruning.

On the fourth day in a row of freezing and subzero weather I bundled up and pruned the pear and three apple trees. As the sprouts and branches came down, they were frozen: sap flow had ceased. That’s what we want during fruit tree pruning.

I pruned what could be reached. I used a ladder to remove a large branch that was crowding the spruce tree. With the bulky clothing I didn’t want to maneuver too much on the ladder, risking a fall. If the trees survive, there should be a crop in 2023.

Branches will remain where they fell until it thaws. In late winter or early spring, I’ll move the branches toward the brush pile, cut them up, and burn them, delivering their minerals to a garden plot. I enjoy the spring burn as much as anything I do in the garden.

A couple of hours after pruning, deer arrived to eat what they could of the fallen tender buds and first year growth. Food for them is scarce in mid winter.

I read my ninth book this month. In winter, when I’m not writing, cooking, sleeping, or shoveling snow, I’m reading. There is a list of my reading at the menu tab labeled “Read Recently.”

We have been avoiding public contact as much as possible during the surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant. The county Democrats decided to convert the Feb. 7 in person precinct caucuses to online because of the surge. My spouse hasn’t been out of the house in quite a while. I go to the grocery store once every week or two. I still drink fluid milk and have to re-provision from time to time at a convenience store. I frequented about half a dozen retail stores during the pandemic and organized my shopping so I spent the least possible time inside each.

Onions and shallots are doing well on the heating pad. When it’s time to plant the first spring seedlings, they come off the heat and get a trim. Last year I started cruciferous vegetables indoors on Feb. 7, so there are a couple of weeks to take care of shallots and onions.

Deer took an after dinner rest near the spruce tree. It is a popular spot for wildlife year around. Creating a habitat is one of the successes we have had. It is an accomplishment. Each time I see deer, squirrels, foxes, birds or an opossum, I consider how little wildlife there was when we built here. Hopefully the apple trees will survive long enough for birds to nest in them a few more seasons.

Deer resting on the grass near the spruce tree.