Categories
Writing

Vacances dans l’Iowa

July Morning in Iowa

After finishing a month at the editor’s desk of Blog for Iowa I’m taking some time off. Because of the coronavirus I won’t be going far, maybe from my desk to the garden… and a daily trip on the trail.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back when my cable to the internet is repaired by the cable company next week, and when I’ve had a bit of rest from daily writing.

Hope summer mornings find you well, safe and happy. Jusqu’à plus tard!

Categories
Writing

Is It Over Yet?

Trimmed Shallots Drying

When Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds declared an emergency for the coronavirus pandemic on March 9 I felt it would be of short duration and we’d quickly get back to our lives as they were. I was wrong.

Epidemiologist Dr. Anthony Fauci said yesterday, “We are still in a pretty big first wave.” In other words the pandemic will continue well into 2021 and maybe further.

We Americans have demonstrated incompetence and ignorance during the pandemic. Our reactions to health professional guidance created a social environment where it will be difficult to dig out. Returning to normal seems unlikely.

At its most elemental we need to wear a mask in public, wash our hands frequently, and do testing for COVID-19 with contact tracing. Apparently we are incapable of such collective action and almost 150,000 humans have died from COVID-19, many of them unnecessarily. We can be a pathetic people.

At the same time there are brilliant moments in the pandemic. First responders, health care professionals, and regular people have functioned at a high level to address the continuing crisis. Their actions are admirable.

The governor signed a new proclamation on Friday re-establishing specific criteria for operations in the economy even though we are experiencing a surge in positive test results. One of the criteria was a release for dental clinics to do non-emergency work. My clinic cancelled my routine appointment in early March.

I’m not thrilled about venturing to Cedar Rapids to go to the dentist. The seven-day average of COVID-19 cases in Linn County is at its highest yet.

I called the clinic and they were taking appointments. They had a new online portal for completing the forms needed prior to the appointment. I went online and did what I had to do. Some of the forms were related to COVID-19. The screening questions I encountered on the TestIowa site were there and to be expected. There was a liability waiver which I summarize: The office will do our best to prevent transmission of the coronavirus but you might get it. If you do you may get horribly sick and possibly die. It’s not our fault if that happens and you can’t blame us.

This has been my dentist since they moved to Cedar Rapids after my former dentist retired. They are doing their best in the coronavirus pandemic. They worked hard to prevent disease transmission before the pandemic as a regular part of their practice. I’m going in. I don’t believe I’m at risk or I wouldn’t.

All the same it begs the question of how we re-start our lives after quarantine. Dental care is not life or death in my case. I don’t have insurance to pay for it so I write a check. Like my dental office, I’m doing the best I can to deal with change caused by the pandemic.

We have to go on with our lives so I’m keeping the appointment.

Categories
Writing

That Person Doesn’t Live Here

Campaign mailer sent to my home.

I gave the political mailer I received from Mariannette Miller-Meeks a B grade. While not very inspiring to a progressive blogger, it accomplished the basics.

She asked for a donation multiple times, explaining why she needed the money and how she would use it. She listed six key issues for her campaign, solicited my phone number and email address, and provided a check box list of ways to get involved, including the curious “get active in the blogs.” The mailer was paid for by the campaign.

Whoever forwarded my name to the doctor’s team hasn’t been reading my public writing since 1974. I know from experience how people get on mailing lists so that’s cool. Obviously Dr. Miller-Meeks doesn’t remember me from Adam and I’m okay with that as well.

“Your name was forwarded to me as a pro-Accountability, pro-Borders, pro-Life Republican who is fed up with Democrats’ obstruction tactics,” the mailer said. Well no. That person doesn’t live here. I’ve been a registered Democrat since we moved back to Iowa in 1993.

I’ve been covering Dr. Miller-Meeks for a while, mentioning her for the first time in 2010 with an unfortunate play on her first name:

There is no question that Loebsack’s opponent, Mariannette Miller-Meeks would be an enabler for the increasingly right wing Republican agenda. The talking points she uses in her speeches and appearances come directly from the playbook of the lobbying groups who support her. For example, her skepticism about the science of climate change is a talking point directly from the Iowa Farm Bureau. As her first name suggests, Mariannette Miller Meeks would be a puppet for the powerful interests, leaving middle class Iowans and those in poverty to fend for themselves in class warfare.

She hasn’t changed much, although she said in the mailer she’s depending on “the support of grassroots patriots” like me to take this seat back (after Dave Loebsack occupied it for 14 years). If anything, her positions have hardened during the Trump administration.

Over ten years I infrequently interacted with Dr. Miller-Meeks and heard her speak multiple times in different venues. In 2014 I wrote a post called Deconstructing the Puppet Show responding to a speech she gave at the Iowa State Fair. My propensity to make a pun using her first name regretfully persisted. Read the entire post here, but this is the main quote:

She is plugged into the mainstream of radical conservatism as much as any Republican candidate. In her soapbox speech, she covered their current talking points: Benghazi, Obamacare, Lois Lerner, the NSA and IRS, people getting tangled in the social safety net (that she would transform into a trampoline), drones targeting citizens, the Veterans Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, Keystone XL, and others, all in 15 minutes.

I’m not sure what attracts Republicans to Mariannette Miller-Meeks for a fourth campaign. In order to be successful, the winning candidate in this race has to have something in common with a majority of voters. Miller-Meeks can’t get beyond parroting Republican talking points and that will stop her short in the vote tally on Nov. 3.

This is where Rita Hart’s campaign has strength. She is genuine and original. Hart writes her own agenda and it includes representing every Iowan. The Republican Party of Iowa has lost its grip with the realities that face Iowans. The mailer I received didn’t cost much in the scope of the election. However, they will pay for this approach at the ballot box.

I won’t be completing the form in the doctor’s mailer. I’m voting for Rita Hart.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

Categories
Writing

Still Life with Weeds

Still life with yard weeds

Mother died eleven months ago and the time since then has been life-changing. It is partly because she is gone, partly because of the coronavirus pandemic and our resulting retirement, and partly because of a reckoning with my physical health.

A lot has happened and I don’t know where my life is heading.

Not only do changes center around us personally. American politics, the murder of George Floyd, the heat wave in Siberia, and a global human restlessness driven by complex factors set a backdrop in which anything we do beyond basic survival seems futile.

We must continue to take one step after the last one even if our destination is uncertain. We can’t give up.

Yesterday I found a zucchini under a large leaf. It was gigantic. I brought it to the kitchen and it maxed out the scale, somewhere about 2.5 kilograms. Normally such summer squash goes in the compost bin. This year I posted a photo of it on social media and it attracted a lot of attention, including suggestions on what to do with it. There was no shortage of ideas.

I grilled three slices for lunch, made soup using a suggestion from someone living in Italy, and shredded the rest to freeze for later. Sometimes one has to deal with the zucchini we are dealt.

Categories
Home Life Writing

Quarantined

Daylilies

Parts of the quarantine are tolerable.

Children running among my garden plots with inexpensive butterfly nets. From the house I can see only butterflies and nets bobbing to and fro above garden greenery.

Sometimes they leave their toys in the garden. I walk them across the property line to the scrub woods where they make a camp during cooler weather.

Life at home is tolerable.

Once I get too far out of a limited social circle it’s less so. My furthest reach was to the farm where I worked mostly in isolation to prevent the five quarantined farmers from getting sick. Other than that, grocery shopping, fuel, and a couple of trips to the orchard are the extent of my travels since March. I don’t feel comfortable doing any of it but feel I have to get out of the house and experience the reality of the pandemic.

Rain was forecast all day Wednesday although the forecast was worse than the actuality. After morning showers it hardly rained, enough so patches of the ground remain wet the next morning. The furthest I went from the house was to the garden and the mailbox, both within 80 feet. I encountered no other human during these trips.

COVID-19 reached the staff and residents of the elderly care center this week. To my knowledge it’s the first any area people contracted the coronavirus. The care center has been on lock down since the pandemic began so this is a new development.Someone must have brought it in.

On the positive side, I’ve written an outline of recurring tasks to give my days structure. The biggest gap is determining what projects I should be working on. There are projects needing attention, for sure, and little will to take them up.

For now I’ll settle for the sound and constant bobbing of young children in our yard. And waiting for something, what exactly it is will be revealed. At least that’s the hope.

Categories
Living in Society Social Commentary Writing

No Class Reunion

40th High School Class Reunion, Summer 2010.

This summer marks 50 years since about 260 of us graduated from Davenport Assumption High School. As a group, we were never close and that makes organizing a class reunion difficult. There won’t be one this year.

It was a Catholic high school and parish loyalties continued through the four years. To some degree, those parish-nurtured social groups continue. I still read about cliques of friends who get together from time to time. When we graduated, social media didn’t exist as it does today. Information about classmates’ current activities would be unavailable without Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

I helped organize our fifth reunion, hiring a band to play music during the event. I also helped organize the 40th reunion, a two-day event, working on building a database of contact information that put me in touch with many former classmates. The fifth seemed too soon, the 40th was enjoyable and productive given my role. I heard from people whether they attended or not.

I stay in touch with a few friends from high school. If there were a chance to get together it would be great. With the coronavirus pandemic even a small gathering seems unlikely. We are of an age where conditions of life are catching up with us and at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Maybe we’ll get together in some safer, future year should we be lucky enough to live so long.

For now I wish my living classmates well. For the increasing number who died, the Catholic faith holds hope of a life after this one. I remember them here. As for me, I continue to put one step in front of the last and go on living. Such living includes spending time every year considering those youthful days and learning what classmates are doing now. What else is a person to do?

Categories
Home Life Writing

4.875 Miles

Puch Cavalier 10-speed.

It’s been 12 days of riding my Puch Cavalier 10-speed bicycle.

I’ve had it since 1980, one of the last built in Austria. When we married, my wife had a women’s Puch 10-speed in the same color. When not being used they hang together in the garage.

Taking up bicycling again is a treatment for diabetes. My medical practitioner explained the health benefits of exercise in a way his predecessors at the clinic did not. Now I’m regularly riding 4.875 miles daily, weather permitting.

Why 4.875 miles? At first I just went out and rode. We live near the midpoint of a five-mile trail in the state park. I took turns riding from our home to either end and back. I figured it was a five-mile ride. Then I got an SY Bicycle Speedometer and Odometer. Once it was installed and adjusted I gained precision. Each day since then the odometer had the same reading, 4.875 miles.

Work was completed on another trail that leads from here to Waterloo in one direction, and to West Branch, Iowa City and Coralville in the other. A fellow gets tired of riding the same route every day so I’ve been exploring.

My current ride takes me from the garage down to the state park trail, then west until a road leading to the highway intersects. I pedal up that long, gentle incline to the highway and turn east. I ride along the highway until it intersects with the new trail at the roundabout. Then I follow the trail until it returns to the state park trail and turn west back to my entry point and home. The long initial incline gives me a workout, as does the long descent during which I see how fast I can go. My average speed is 10 miles per hour and the fastest just at 22. It takes about 27 minutes to make the route.

Hopefully the exercise will help my A1C, which measures what percent of my hemoglobin is glycosylated. The goal is to reduce it to less than 5.7 percent by the time I go back for a follow up in September.

A younger version of me wouldn’t be satisfied with 4.875 miles. I’ll get tired of the same route after a while, once it becomes too easy. The next goal will be to ride over to Ely on the new trail. For now my heart beats faster and I work up a sustained sweat. Doing that daily for an extended period of time is goal enough for now.

Categories
Environment Writing

Mink on the Trail

American Mink.

On Thursday I saw an animal eating fallen mulberries on the trail. The state park has an abundance of wildlife — every Iowa species is believed to live here. I didn’t recognize it and posted this photo on Twitter.

An abundance of responses identified it as a mink. I looked it up and it resembled a mink pictured on the internet. Most likely it is an American mink with more of them around the lake shore. Mostly minks are carnivores so the mulberry-eating was unexpected. Harrowing tales of chicken murdering ensued as the post got many engagements.

Every day we find something new is positive. When our curiosity wanes or we feel we’ve seen it all… that’s not good.

The newspaper reported another local theater troupe cancelled the rest of the season because of the coronavirus pandemic. Old Creamery Theatre sent termination letters to ten staff members Thursday night. The creative arts are really taking a hit during the pandemic. In addition to Old Creamery, Riverside Theatre had to give up its performing space, and bigger companies like Cirque du Soleil filed for bankruptcy. Live theater and concerts have been shut down with only a few productions testing a re-opening in the COVID-19 time.

Major theme parks like Walt Disney, where our daughter works, continue to furlough employees. As they begin to open up, the question is whether employees will be recalled, if the furloughs will continue, or will the endgame be being laid off. Live entertainment may never be the same if the coronavirus isn’t mitigated. As we know, that’s not going well in Iowa or in the United States.

I worry about independently-owned bookstores. There used to be many places to buy used books. Over the last couple of decades they consolidated, went on line, or went out of business. The selection has gotten worse. The main used bookstore in the county seat is Haunted Bookshop and I’m trying to support them as they continue to operate curbside pickup.

At first I bought a gift certificate to hold until they reopen. When it became clear re-opening was not in the near-term, I devised a poetry buying scheme. On Wednesday I wrote note saying, “Choose and mail me a book of poetry that I don’t already have once a month. Surprise me.”

I had criteria:

  • Short works by living poets. Short = around 100 pages or less. Up to 200 pages okay. About the length to read in a couple of sittings.
  • Less interested in comprehensive collections. For example, Crow by Ted Hughes but not Collected Poems of Ted Hughes.
  • I recently read and enjoyed Mary Oliver, Amy Woolard, Lucia Perillo and W.S. Merwin.
  • I’m looking to expand my reading and open to about anything. No Atticus or Rod McKuen.
  • Iowa connection would be a bonus, but not necessary.
  • Run the title by me before shipping so I can check to make sure I don’t have it.
  • These are not strict rules but guidelines. (Except for the part about Atticus and Rod McKuen).

Last night I received a favorable response. We are going to try the arrangement out. I’d rather make a monthly trip to browse the store. Until they are ready, this will have to do. Hopefully I will discover new poets in the process and they will have another small source of revenue.

I watered the garden shortly after sunrise. Our yard is the only one in the neighborhood where clover is allowed to grow. I do this so rabbits have something to eat besides burrowing under the fencing into the garden, and to attract bees and other pollinators. Last time I mowed, I set the deck high enough so all of the flowers wouldn’t be cut. It’s time to mow again and that’s my plan for the weekend.

Categories
Living in Society Social Commentary Writing

Independence Day

Obama’s Last Campaign Rally, Des Moines, Iowa, Nov. 5, 2012.

(Re-blogged from my post on Blog for Iowa, July 4, 2010).

We hear a lot about the founding fathers today, and the truth is who they were, as people, is clouded in the river of time. One admires the portrait of John Adams written by David McCullough, and particularly the personal risk to which Adams put himself on his trip to France in the winter of 1777. In Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia one can find a guide to living that serves in the 21st Century, with the notable exception that labor to maintain a lifestyle, once provided by slaves, must now be sought elsewhere through mechanization or wage laborers. The more we study the opening of the Old Northwest Territory we realize that Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and other founders could easily have fit in with the gang on Wall Street that nearly brought down our economic structure in 2008. But as was said, seeing who they were as people is a murky endeavor at best, so on Independence Day we can refrain from making judgments and be thankful for what we have as a nation.

What can be said is we often neglect to recall the dispossession of the natives in Iowa and further east, which amid today’s flag waving is equally important. Would Black Hawk and Poweshiek have ceded the land of the Black Hawk Purchase if they had fully understood what their signatures meant? We don’t know that either.

So what we are left with is history and documents from the times, all of which have their ideological outlook or viewpoint. Of interest is the following account of an Independence Day celebration in Jones County, Iowa shortly after settlement. Members of our family settled in Jones County shortly after the Black Hawk War, so this is a personal history as well. Happy Independence Day from Blog for Iowa.

An Excerpt from The History of Jones County, Iowa, published Chicago, Western Historical Company in 1879.

A grand county celebration of the Fourth of July, took place in pursuance of the resolutions and suggestions of the Board of Supervisors, made at their June meeting in 1861. The celebration was on Thursday, the 4th of July. 1861.

The perilous condition of the country brought men of all parties together to observe the anniversary of our national birth, and to repeat anew their vows to freedom. Early in the morning, teams, singly and in companies, began to throng from all parts of the county toward the point which had been designated by the Board of Supervisors, near the center of the county. At 10 o’clock, A. M., the scene was the strangest of the kind ever encountered in the West. The road ran along a high ridge, and on both sides of it and on each of the wide and gently sloping spurs, shooting out every few rods, were horses, wagons, buggies, carriages, men, women, children and babies by the thousands; and, in every direction, the American flag floated in the light and refreshing breeze, which, with the shade of the sufficiently abundant oaks, tempered the heat of a warm summer day. Such an assembly in a city is common enough, but this was an assembly in the wilderness. Not a house, not a sign that man had touched nature here was visible, save in the few brief days’ labor of the Committee of Preparation. It was a fitting place wherein to assemble on such a day and for such a purpose, when the nation was in its life and death struggle for existence.

The Committee of Arrangements had done as well as could be hoped for in the short time allowed them, and better than could have been expected. On the rather steep slope of a spur, north of the road, a staging had been erected facing up the slope, and, in front of this, seats sufficient to accommodate, perhaps, one thousand persons. Back of the stage, and at the bottom of the ravine, a well had been dug some ten or more feet deep, and, at the bottom, a barrel fixed. It was a comical sort of a well, but it served the purpose, in a measure, for some hours.

On another ridge and back of the wall, stood the six-pounder, manned by the Wyoming Artillery Company, in gray shirts, under Capt. Walker. The other military companies were the Canton Company, Capt. Hanna; they wore red military coats, were armed with rifles and were fine looking; the Rough and Ready?, of Rome, Capt. L. A. Roberts, with blue military coats, white pants and glazed caps, sixty-five men, also fine looking; Carpenter’s Company, Rome. Capt. Carpenter, eighty men, with gray coats, likewise made a fine appearance; the Greenfield Company, mounting eighty men, John Sccrist, Commander: these were in frock coats and wore white plumes; they, too, showed well, and still more in drill and fitness for the most desperate fighting; the Scotch Grove Guards, from Scotch Grove. Capt. Magee, formed a large company; these wore no uniforms, but their appearance indicated they were the right men for fighting. There were six companies of young men, all formed and drilled, in the space of three months. It appears that all these entered the army in due time and did good service.

The proceedings at the stand were patriotic and entertaining. During the reading of the Declaration of Independence, the general attention was close, and the responsibilities of the hour seemed to impress all minds. The singing with the Marshal waving the star-spangled banner to the words, was very effective. The address was by a Mr. Utley—a good Union speech, and was very generally approved. Music by the various military bands was abundant and lively. The picnic that followed was much enjoyed by all who partook of the dainties provided for the occasion. The military went through with some of their exercises and then the proceedings of the afternoon began, which consisted of speeches from different persons, when, owing to a want of an abundant supply of water, the vast assembly was dispersed at a much earlier hour than it otherwise would have been.
It was evident that the loyalty of Jones County could be relied upon, and that her citizens were ready to do their full duty in crushing out treason.

Click here to read the entire history of Jones County.

Categories
Kitchen Garden Writing

Garlic Time 2020

Head of garlic straight out of the ground.

The garlic is ready. Yesterday I dug a head from the plot and the cloves are mature. As this image shows, each clove is pulling away from the stem and when I cut into it, the hydrated precursor to the paper had formed around each clove.

I’ll dig up the 50 plants today or over the weekend, rack them in the garage, and cure them until it’s time to remove the stalk.

It’s a nine-month process from planting cloves in October until the July harvest. Done right, the time commitment is worth it.

Garlic is a basic part of our cooking: I can’t imagine being without it. I also can’t recall the last time I had to get some other than at the farms where I work. If the quality is good this year, I’ll save a third of the heads for planting this fall.

In addition to garlic, the zucchini, cucumbers, celery, and onions are ready. Tomatoes are forming but it will be a while before they are mature and ripen. By the calendar it’s time to dig new potatoes from one of the four containers. The garden is turning to peak production whether I’m ready or not.

As it does my attention turns to writing for Blog for Iowa the next four weeks. I will cross post here the following day, although it is more political writing than I usually do. There is a lot to say about that part of society these days and I’m glad for the platform.

The forecast is hot and humid the next ten days… Iowa summer. July will be a mad rush to get everything done as we remain is semi-isolation because of the coronavirus pandemic. There should be less distractions than in the before time. I’ll miss the company.