Shifting Gears

Interstate 80 in Nebraska, Winter 2012.

Beginning today, I’m spending less writing time here and more on other projects. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve gone long stretches of posting every day. The uninterrupted string of posts may end soon, even if the pandemic doesn’t.

I’ll continue to cross post from other platforms, although my main work lies elsewhere, at least until spring.

Now that the end of year holidays kicked off with Thanksgiving, I’m ready to go. However you celebrate year’s end, have a good one.

Thank you for reading Journey Home. Hope to see you on the other side.


2022 Garden Seeds Ordered

2015 Seed Catalogs

In between kitchen duties of helping prepare our Thanksgiving meal, I spent time finalizing a seed order for the 2022 garden. Between Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Totally Tomatoes, I found most of what I needed to adjust the seed inventory before next year’s planting.

When our daughter left Iowa we lost our way during the holidays. Old habits fell away and Christmas decorations we displayed each year after Thanksgiving remain in storage as they have for the past several years. Given the changes, it is hard to determine the meaning of the end of year holidays. What they meant isn’t any longer. For the most part we embrace the change… and plan the next year’s garden, and other activities.

Behind these blog posts, a lot is happening related to my writing. Last winter’s work was one of getting words down on a page, an average of 1,218 per day during the first half of this year. This winter I’m putting together the structure and plugging drafts into slots on the narrative frame. I cleared a shelf which now contains a dozen empty three-ring binders. Inside them will go the draft book, along with key reference material. I hope to fill those binders during the coming months. I will have a better idea of what progress is possible after the first pass.

The days after Thanksgiving are a quiet time. We all need a break and thrive in peacefulness. On April 21, 1996 we bought our first home computer. During the last 25 years, we learned how to spend long periods of time in front of a computer screen. Most of that time is dull, yet occasionally we find something of interest. Something engaging is always a click away, or so we believe. The information comes at us so quickly on line. One story after another piles up, invoking rage, happiness, and joy, but seldom denouement or catharsis. When we are sitting, looking at a screen, we often get tense or anxious. Sometimes we are outraged, which causes us to stand up and converse with others, to let off steam, to slow things back down to a normal pace. We appreciate the relative quiet in between times.

This Thanksgiving weekend is an in between time. Now that seed orders are placed, the next main event will come along soon enough. It’s getting so I no longer look forward to “main events.” I would much rather be in between.

Home Life

Postcards from Iowa #15

The bean feast, Jacob Jordaens (1593 – 1678) Wien, Kusthistorisches Museum.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Our vegan menu:
Assorted homemade pickles
Wild rice pilaf
Baked Great Northern beans
Acorn squash
Peas and carrots
Brussels sprouts
Cranberry relish
Apple crisp
Fresh, local apple cider
Filtered ice water
Final presentation.

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.


Writing About Politics

Iowa City political event during the 2010 campaign. Note U.S. flag incorrectly displayed. We fixed it before the event began.

Voting and politics have been part of my life since the earliest days. I remember discussing Dwight Eisenhower with my parents. He was a Republican and we didn’t like him for that. When he started building the Interstate Highway System, it had a direct impact on our lives. We revised our position to say he wasn’t so bad and looked forward to cutting down the time it took to drive to my aunt and uncle’s home in Nashville, Tennessee.

Harry Truman was president when I was born. I have no memory of him in that role. I recall seeing news footage of Truman taking a walk from his retirement home in Independence, Missouri. Mostly, I reference his memoirs to see what he had to say about decisions he made as president. I’ve read the passage about his decision to drop the atomic bomb several times.

Father campaigned for John F. Kennedy in 1960. He had mimeographed canvass sheets he got at the union hall and diligently filled in the names of everyone on our block and how they would vote. When he finished our block, he worked on nearby ones. Kennedy lost Iowa to Richard Nixon and, as we know, won the general election.

The 1964 election of Lyndon B. Johnson framed the way I thought Democrats should govern. LBJ had a big majority in the legislature and was able to pass legislation. In his book The Vantage Point: Perspectives of the Presidency 1963-1969 he listed them inside the front cover. It’s a long list. If his political legacy is tainted by the war in Vietnam, it is dominated by many policies and legislation that changed the United States for the better. I was shocked when Hubert Humphrey failed to win the 1968 election as I felt he was cut in the LBJ mold and would be a great successor. Nixon beat Humphrey 301-191 in the Electoral College. It wasn’t even close.

I have nothing good to say about the Nixon years. 1972 was the first year I was eligible to vote and I don’t recall if I did vote for George McGovern. I remember some confusion about whether I could vote in Iowa City, where I attended university, or whether I had to vote at home. I recently wrote about the 1972 election and McGovern here. Nixon was a liar and it was with a sigh of relief I welcomed his resignation in 1974. I didn’t care who was president. Gerald Ford? Fine.

I didn’t vote in the 1976 election as I was engaged in military training. We were rid of Nixon, so I didn’t much care who was elected. My thinking was “America, figure it out.” From my perch in Mainz, West Germany I thought Carter was doing an okay job. I felt he was unjustly criticized for lack of support for the military when I saw the results of his policy and spending not far from my caserne. During a major field exercise in which I participated, our commanding officer would travel back to the states each week to provide an update to the White House. I saw some of the ideas we discussed in a tent in Germany turned into policy in Washington. It was a heady feeling.

Reagan was the beginning of the decline of America’s greatness with its focus on reducing the power of the central government, favoring the rich. Maybe we were just receiving a comeuppance after the LBJ years. The Reagan administration began overturning reforms of the New Deal, something that would persist with every subsequent Republican president. Each played a role in dismantling the social fabric we had come to depend upon. The years since then left us with with hyper-partisanship and a flow of wealth to a small percentage of people.

My early years, through exiting the military in 1979, were formative. It would be difficult to write about the politics as a separate topic in an autobiography. The challenge is to incorporate these stories in the flow of the book without having them dominate. Figuring this out is where I am this Monday morning.

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.


Postcards from Iowa #13

Copyright: Joan Liffring Zug, photographer.

Reverse side: Made by Dexter Press, West Hyack, New York. Published by Mennonite Historical Society of Iowa, Kalona, Ia. 52247. Old Order Amish and conservative Mennonite daughters wear traditional plain homemade dresses familiar throughout 450 years of Anabaptist history. These are the children of a buggy maker living and working near the Kalona Cheese plant of Twin County Dairy, Inc., Highway 1, Kalona, Ia.

Two girls posing for a photographer who had permission to take their picture. There has been more than a little controversy about photographing Mennonites and Old Order Amish. It is permissible with the former, and against views about graven images with the latter. The images are well-circulated.

I used to visit the Twin County Dairy when bicycling from Iowa City. Cycling alone for the exercise, I would stop and buy cheese curds at the dairy. That is, if it were open. Often my trips were predawn when the glow and flicker of kerosene lamps came from house windows and the doors of barns. I no longer travel to Kalona as I learned how to produce almost everything I formerly bought at Stringtown Grocery and other shops scattered in the rural area.

Twin County Dairy, established by a group of Amish and Mennonite farmers as a cooperative in 1946, was shuttered in 2014. Kalona Creamery, a part of Open Gates Business Development Corporation bought it the following year. Their businesses included Kalona Organics®, Kalona Farms, Farmers Creamery, Awesome Refrigerated Transit of Iowa, and Provision Ingredients. I don’t know if they have a retail store that sells cheese curds. Since there is a creamery a few miles from home, I have no need to go and find out.

Author David Rhodes wrote about the area in his novel Rock Island Line. I have a library copy of the first edition, published in 1975. No doubt I bought it at a thrift shop. There is a rubber stamp inside the front cover that reads, “Outdated Removed from Circulation.” Young girls in the Mennonite community and their photographs won’t become outdated any time soon.


Postcards from Iowa #12

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon, July 20, 1969 – Apollo 11. Photo credit: Neil Armstrong.

Reverse side: Cumquat Publishing Co. P.O. Box 4932, St. Louis, MO 63108

When considering this photo the isolation stands out. Besides Michael Collins orbiting the moon while waiting for their return, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong were alone. The sense of isolation is profound.

They were trained to deal with the mission and by all accounts did well. It was a unique moment in history, one in which many Americans took pride.

I witnessed what I could on television when it happened or on replay. I remember grainy images, a reality that seemed surreal.

It is a great photograph. One I’ll think about all day.

Living in Society

Exiting the Work Force

Leaves from the maple tree fell all at once.

We often co-exist with an illusion we have unlimited time to live our lives. Living each moment, our fundamental outlook is there will be another. Many of us believe that each new moment has the potential to be better than the one in which we find ourselves. It may be true, yet there are limits.

When I retired April 28, 2020, at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, I wasn’t ready. I looked forward to getting dressed in my uniform (jeans, a shirt with the company logo, and hard-toed boots), driving across the lakes in my 1997 Subaru, and working an eight-hour shift that had a unique yet recurring set of variables that demanded something from me but not a lot. It was a retirement job to pay bills until Social Security kicked in at the full rate. I exited the work force with eyes open to avoid contracting the coronavirus.

I want another source of steady income.

If I return to the workforce, it will be on my terms, avoiding any public-facing job because of infectious diseases living in members of the public. That was a lesson of my last employment. I spent a lot of time sick before the pandemic because of contagious people.

While transferring files from my 2013 CPU to the new one I found file folders with ideas for earning money. Some of them brought income, yet not enough to rely on them without other sources. Having retired from my main career in 2009, I spent time exploring alternative forms of employment that would help pay the bills. It was a mixed bag, the best part of which was meeting so many people. A fellow couldn’t live on it.

We have a decent home life. I improved my gardening and cooking, and I’m writing more. I am focused on being a better photographer. I don’t view any of these activities as sources of income. If I have an abundance from the garden I may sell it at the local farmers market or donate to the food bank. Freelance writing brings something in, but it is lowly paid work. I would rather enjoy this creativity for what it is: a regular decent meal with ingredients I grew, and a legacy of writing. From time to time a subject gains a broader readership, as in the recent school board election coverage. There is personal satisfaction in it and that’s enough.

I resist commercializing our home life. A life worth living has some privacy. I enjoy creative outlets provided by gardening and meal preparation, opinion pieces to newspapers, and posting photos on Instagram. I attempt to refrain from stupid stuff on Twitter, which is my main place to mouth off. I am careful about what I say and depict about our private lives on those platforms.

What will I do with this moment? Write a few more words, edit, then hit schedule so it posts at 5 a.m. comme d’habitude. I look forward to breakfast as it’s been 11 hours since eating anything. There are onions and garlic from the garden… and a half used jar of Guajillo chili sauce I made. I’ll concern myself with breakfast just as soon as I finish this post. The anticipation makes life worth living.


Postcards from Iowa #11

Photo Credit: The American Scene Collection, American Oil Company 1969.

Reverse side: Washington Skyline, Washington, D.C. Located on the axis of the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, the Capitol Building is shown in the foreground with the Washington Monument illuminated in the background. See the U.S.A. in a Chevrolet. As you travel ask us.

Life would have been simpler if I had stuck to the same path as friends in high school. Maybe follow a narrative such as after school and military service find a job, raise a family, work it until retirement, then settle back and relax in the golden years. Simple.

Actual living was not simple. While many in my cohort married and started a family immediately after high school, I did not and that made a difference.

The trauma of being injured while young, and the subsequent hospital stay, removed me from conventional pathways. I wrote about it in 2009:

My earliest defining moment was the day, at age 3-1/2, when a swing-set set up in the basement of our Madison Street home collapsed and injured my head. My parents were horrified. I remember the pool of blood on the basement floor, holding the thumb of the ambulance driver, taking ether dripped into a funnel to anesthetize me for the stitches to mend my gashed head. I am lucky to be alive. What I learned through the injury and recovery in the hospital was that there is an infrastructure of knowledge and caring to support us when things happen. I watched the routines of the hospital staff, the doctor checking up on me, changing room mates and bed linen, daily visits from my parents and the handling of my propensity to get out of bed and walk around. This experience assured me that although we are vulnerable, we are not alone.

Over the years, Doctor Kuhl would examine the scar on my forehead and talk about my recovery when I visited him in his office. Today, I don’t think of the scar, and suspect most people do not even notice it. What I do think about is that while we are not alone, we must be part of a society that helps protect those who are most vulnerable, including the injured and infirm. When I was very young, I made a withdrawal from this bank and now the debt needs repaying.

Big Grove News, Jan. 18, 2009.

Little has changed since I wrote this. While I relied on the infrastructure of society, at high school graduation I had neither the interest nor skills to get married and start a family. I went to college instead.

In late 1968 or 1969, I sought Father’s approval while figuring out what to do after high school. Maybe I would study engineering, I told him. The practical, rational approach of an engineer to problem-solving was appealing. He neither approved nor disapproved. He looked surprised it was on my mind. He was completing his own education and perhaps was preoccupied. He would be gone soon afterward.

During senior year in high school we made a class trip to Washington, D.C. and New York City. It was my first trip on a commercial aircraft. We saw the U.S. Capitol and Washington monument depicted in this postcard at about the time it was printed. We played cards for nickels and dimes in our room each night. My winnings paid for incidental expenses through New York. In some ways the class trip was the beginning of living on my own and experiencing the world outside my home town. It seems appropriate it would start with the nation’s capitol.

My life divides into segments: preschool, education, work and family, moving to Indiana, and moving back to Iowa. Each was important for different reasons. As I went through time I didn’t know how each step would unfold.

My education, including military service and graduate school, had the momentum of youth. When I finished school at age 29, I was ready to do great things. Available opportunities were a disappointment. The trajectory of youth found me alone and unsettled, without a career or path forward. I would have to make my own way and that complicated things. In retrospect it was a good complication. If I hadn’t left my home town permanently for university, life may have been simpler.

I’m glad my circumstances gave me the chance to leave home and be different.