Before the Hard Frost

Volunteer weeds

A hard frost is coming. This is Iowa and it has usually been here by now. We wait.

Lilacs near the front door are beginning to bud, so it’s crazy warm. Rain is in the forecast, although chances seem slight. A dry spell would be better so the lawn can be mowed one last time. Outside my personal world, we could use more rain. We could also use a hard frost. I went walking on the state park trail since we had neither.

Determining where I left my autobiography this spring is not as easy as I thought it would be. I know where the major documents are located and the ideas I had for structure (sigh of relief!) yet things migrated elsewhere in the intervening months. The main trouble is when one has written consistently since 1974, and has access to much of that writing, it is hard to get through it to see where the narrative should go. These things don’t write themselves, I’m finding. At present I want it grounded in some kind of reality. That could change, yet not now.

Year two of this autobiographical writing will proceed differently. I must lay out a timeline and hang documents and artifacts on it. I accumulated stacks of three ring binders for the purpose. I wrote extensively about some key moments in my life, others come to mind frequently, and some I haven’t even touched. Need to organize, fill our the voids, and pare down repetition. If by spring I have a set of binders on a shelf with documents arranged in chronological order in them, this year’s writing will be deemed successful.

Friday was good. I have positive feelings about the coming weekend. We will make through winter again, I believe. On the other side awaits a new garden and fresh opportunity of the kind spring in the Northern Hemisphere can bring.

We anticipate the renewal which begins here and now. Yet first we want a hard frost.


Embers of the Derecho

Embers of a brush pile on Oct. 27, 2021.

The brush pile included the last branches blown down by the Aug. 10, 2020 derecho. With enough rain to sate the drought, it was time to burn it. By nightfall it was reduced to ash, then a steady rain fell until morning.

One more mowing and I will get the John Deere serviced. After that, it will rest in the garage until spring. Deconstruction of the garden is ahead. I’ll need the mowed lawn to spread things out and organize for winter storage. I want to salvage and reuse landscaping fabric and the staples used to hold it in place.

The compost piles need to be moved and turned. I want to clear the garden plot where they are for more productive use. As my gardening skills improve I want more planting space next year. I have many wants.

I sat on the grass and watched the fire burn. I re-stacked the burning logs with a garden hoe and reduced the perimeter of the fire as it burned. I used old business cards mixed with shredded paper to start the fire. A pile of them lay under the burning branches. Once I turned them over they ignited.

We had an unexpected overnight visitor. I made a pot of chili using a fresh tomato, canned whole tomatoes, two kinds of frozen tomato sauce, and a can of organic tomato paste. It provided flexibility for supper time so we could focus on conversation.

A new day begins in our post derecho lives. The brush pile is gone, preparing a path toward garden’s end and winter.


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.


Postcards from Iowa #10

Reverse side: illegible postmark and message written in pencil.

This postcard is intended to be a joke. I love it for its gossipy nature. It was written in pencil and the script has all but faded away. The postmark and address are illegible. If there was a written message, it is gone. Names are written next to the figures in the image, but can’t be read. It is reflective of a forgotten time of white privilege.

What world does this represent? The man and women are unlikely married and that alone is noteworthy according to the sender. If Facebook existed at the time of the postcard, an appropriate comment and discussion thread would be forthcoming.

I have used Facebook since March 2008 to stay in touch with our daughter after her move to Colorado after college. She encouraged me to join. I have no regrets.

To feel better about Facebook, I limit use of the platform. I cross post from Instagram, serve as admin for two private groups, and occasionally post some of my writing there. Most of my daily activity is checking notifications and responding as briefly as I can. I respond with a vague notion that friends who show up in my timeline will be those with whom I interact.

As part of my usage, I curate the “life events” part of my profile some Sunday afternoons. At first it was a timeline of selected musical concerts I attended. Eventually I added other significant events like an audience with Pope Paul VI, buying our first home computer, and selected key moments of engagement in society. I work on it from time to time and it encourages me look up dates and record them as a reference for my autobiography. Because I isolate myself from most of what is toxic about the platform my list of grievances is short. The private group with neighbors is particularly useful in my role as president of our home owners association.

While white privilege persists, societal attitudes reflected in this postcard do not. The circle of people with whom one might share such a titillating message is limited to a small subset of those we know. Most think the better of mocking young love in an age where joy is stripped from many aspects of life. We encourage behaviors of white privilege and keep such thoughts to ourselves. The better behavior would be to determine how to recognize and purge white privilege completely from our thoughts and deeds.

The postcard is distinct. Coming from the time it does, I appreciate the ideas behind it. That taunting, juvenile assertion more often found on the playgrounds of graders than in adult society.

To read all of my posts in the series, click on the tag Postcards from Iowa.


Newspaper Writing

An autumn morning.

Oct. 17 was an anniversary of sorts.

My first freelance article appeared in the Iowa City Press Citizen Oct. 17, 2014. In the first year I wrote 76 articles for the newspaper, which when added to my previous work for the Solon Economist and North Liberty Leader brought the total to 100 before moving on to other writing. At least I think that’s how it went.

Freelancing for a newspaper paid a flat fee per article published. The income was dependable, if low at $50 each.

The best part of newspaper work was meeting so many people in the community. It opened a window to the work and attitudes of young people and entrepreneurs. I also got chased away from a splash pad by someone because I “looked suspicious.”

Some of my favorites include Trevor Owen, who gave up culinary school to cook as he knew how and opened a restaurant in Wellman; interviewing local icon Willard Boyd; interviewing Scott Koepke about his visit to the White House garden; the bridal shop at Iowa River Landing; interviewing Ellen Buchanan; and learning about Iowa’s child mental health problems from Tammy Nyden. It’s hard to pick a favorite because every one of them was engaging at some level.

I’ve taken to writing letters and opinion pieces in newspapers and for the most part get published. There is no pay for that. I don’t have much interest in writing for money, although I created a Patreon account, just in case I lose the ability to pay for this website.

I kept paper copies of most of the printed articles. The differing sizes of the clippings makes them difficult to store. I suppose I’ll transcribe some of them into digital format and include the most significant ones in an appendix to my autobiography.

At least I had the opportunity to write for newspapers. I wouldn’t call sitting through school board and city council meetings fun, exactly. But it is a common experience I’m glad to share with others that had it.

Living in Society

Rain, Rain, Rain

Nine deer grazing at the apple smorgasbord.

It was another day of rain on Wednesday. We need rain yet I’m getting a bit tired of being cooped up.

We ate the last of the acorn squash I grew for dinner. We are down to the yellow and red storage onions, 27 garlic heads, and about ten pounds of potatoes. There is garden gleaning to do and the first frost has not been forecast. We have a glut of apples and deer are not making enough progress eating fallen ones under the tree, even if they all know the smorgasbord is open.

I bought two boxes of packets of USDA organic gummy bears for any trick or treaters this year. I haven’t decided whether or not to turn on the front door light because of the recent outbreak of COVID-19 in the schools. I want to be ready because of supply chain issues much publicized in the media. Only regret is the gummies have gelatin, so are not a vegetarian option for the kiddos, as parents today call their children.

I wonder how my mental capacity is changing with age. I wonder if I will be able to tell it changed… probably not. I’m not ready to kick back and work on my reading pile for the rest of my days. God help me if I connect a new television to the cable. There are more gardens to grow and a house to fix up, all with the limited resources of a pensioner. I’m ready to retire, but not sure what that means in 2021.

Meanwhile it rains, rains, rains.


Postcards from Iowa #9

“In All That Is Good, Iowa Affords the Best”

Reverse side: “In All That Is Good, Iowa Affords the Best.” Iowa was admitted as a state Dec. 28, 1846. The Capitol was built 1873-1886 at a cost of $3,296,256. The domes are plated with 22-carat gold. The mural “Westward” hangs at the head of the grand stairway. “Iowa, Her Affections Like The Rivers Of Her Borders, Flow To An Inseparable Union”

We don’t pick the circumstances of our birth. Because life has been tolerable in Iowa I stayed. I had experiences elsewhere: in the military which took me to South Carolina, Georgia and Germany, and a work transfer to Indiana. Both times I returned to my home state. If I had found a place more suitable for living I would have moved there. A person gets used to what they know.

I graduated from the University of Iowa twice yet I don’t consider myself to be a “Hawkeye,” the nickname for graduates. I don’t even follow the sports teams despite large sums of money the state invests in them. I don’t farm or work for someone any longer. As a pensioner I could live anywhere. So far I continue to choose Iowa.

It is not bad living here… yet. Despite growing coarseness in society, where personalities rage at one another, denigrate liberals and intellectuals, and do dumb things, I’m still here. We are a place where Qanon members and dark money lobbyists are close to the governor while I am not. The postcard is not clear about “all that is bad” yet we have plenty of that in Iowa. At the point where there is concern for personal safety I might leave. Where would I go? To a place where my pension dollars would stretch further. Perhaps outside the United States.

The designer of this card was a publicist and an optimist. I recognize the objects on the front side and have been in the state capitol and historical building many times. The idea we are an “inseparable union” is ridiculous in 2021. It would be fitting to mention the two bordering, polluted rivers flow to the Gulf of Mexico where they contribute to a large dead zone. Hardly stuff to be used in promoting the state. The card is undated but is a product of the 20th Century. We are so past that now.

We make the best lives we can. We are handicapped by education, social status and physical attributes. Those handicaps can be overcome. In Iowa I’ve always been able to find work enough to own a house and pay the bills. Emblematic of our financial circumstances is I drive a 2002 automobile. It is low mileage and serves basic transportation needs. I wouldn’t want to make a trip to New Jersey in it.

There is a migration of young people leaving the state. Why would they stay? Drawn to large cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, they also move to Colorado where Denver has become a gathering place for young professional people. Florida used to be a destination until Governor Ron DeSantis came along. Now there is an ongoing exodus from Florida as well. Iowa’s governor seems resolved to follow DeSantis’ lead. It’s another reason young people leave the state.

I like this postcard and wish the slogans were true. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.


New Writing Computer

Drying drainage ditch leading to the lake before the rain.

Friday I moved my 2013 CPU and installed a new one on my writing desk, a consequential decision for a writer.

On the one hand, things go bad with old hardware and I don’t want to crash and lose files. On the other, there is a lot to learn about using the new computer even though for most applications the transition has been reasonably smooth. I have a lot of files to deal with.

The most consequential decision was to convert from my 2006 version of Microsoft Office to Microsoft 365. The concern is I haven’t been through all of the email files going back to 1999 and that remains on the to do list for my autobiography. I don’t really want to import all those files to the new hardware or put it in the cloud. Luckily the new version of Outlook can synchronize with the web version of Gmail, or so it seems I’ll have access to that part of the archive. Is it worth a three-hour tutorial video to learn the functionality? Probably.

The other decision pertains to photos. I used Google Picasa since close to its inception. I have files from the earliest days of my conversion from film photography to digital, including a photo of Barack Obama taken on my flip phone at the Harkin Steak Fry in 2006. I began curating all the photos yet I hadn’t planned to convert software while I did. Google stopped supporting Picasa in 2016, which shows how closely I follow that segment of the internet. I don’t remember a notice from Google. I’m looking at newer photo managing software like Fotor and GIMP, but I may finish the curation project on my old CPU with Picasa and use the new software going forward.

Saturday morning I looked up a lot of passwords. I kept the old monitor, Made in China in October 2003, according to the sticker. I should likely upgrade to a new one when the budget gets a bit ahead of where it is now. A new monitor is not as critical as a new CPU. Other old peripherals bought long ago continue to function so they won’t be replaced until they die.

Sometimes I think we’d all be better off with a text-based command line interface to the internet. But for IBM, Apple and Microsoft, that could have been our future. It would have been a different digital world.

I needed this change. As I approach my seventieth birthday there is an urge to discard stuff not worth passing along to those who succeed me. Old computer files may be one of the least important legacies to leave behind. Curation work is full of memories and I appreciate that aspect of it. Curating files keeps me busy without spending money, which is also something a pensioner needs.

I welcome the new Dell CPU. Hopefully I won’t have to buy many more.

Living in Society

Facebook Comments on WordPress

Sumac on the state park trail, Oct. 5, 2021.

Most everyone was affected by the six-hour outage of Facebook on Monday, Oct. 4. Being offline with the social media network had limited impact on my daily life, although globally, many people rely on WhatsApp which was also down along with Instagram.

I discovered the outage while logging in to read the Facebook pages of school board candidates. The research was not critical so I worked on something else when I couldn’t get in. Like with any interruption, it was hard to get back to the project even when Facebook returned.

When former Facebook data scientist and whistleblower Frances Haugen was testifying before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection on Tuesday, it got wall-to-wall media coverage. For someone plugged into the internet like I often am, it could not be ignored. By the end of the day, Facebook founder and chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg had responded to the proceedings on his social media site. The endgame here is two things. When billions of people participate in an online social media platform there will be problems. Facebook and other social media applications should be regulated more than they are. Now it’s time for the Congress to do their work.

I joined Facebook in March 2008, the spring after our daughter graduated from college. It was a way to stay in touch. Over the years Facebook was eclipsed in our relationship by other social media apps and today I gain insight on Twitch, and to some extent Tik Tok. The migration of the millennial generation from Facebook has to be bad for the company’s bottom line.

I don’t use WhatsApp. I make a post on Instagram every day or two and cross post it to Facebook. My time on Facebook is reading notifications, wishing friends a happy birthday, being admin for two private groups (high school classmates and neighbors), and posting selected writing from this blog. I store some information on the platform yet my main biographical information is on LinkedIn. Facebook serves a function in my life yet could easily be replaced.

We hear about advertising on Facebook a lot. I don’t recall seeing many ads, and that’s likely because I rarely scroll my time line and when I do, my ad settings are to show me the most generic types of ads selected by the platform based on demographics they know. I get a lot of ads about medicines, the names of which I can’t pronounce. They are easily dismissed without reading. I am not looking to buy something when on Facebook so I pay little attention to ads.

My visits to Facebook are brief and with purpose. I save my scrolling time for Twitter where I maintain lists of users in whom I have interest. Facebook decided what posts I should see and occasionally I see something that is of genuine interest. Not often, though. Not often enough to spend much time there.

I’m agnostic about Facebook and its related companies. I use the application when it brings value. Otherwise I don’t open it and don’t have it installed on my mobile device. When there is a hiccup on the internet we all hear it. With time, it becomes part of the background noise and out of sight. I’m okay with that.


Postcards From Iowa #8

Reverse side: Abraham Lincoln from New Salem. This bronze statue by Avard Fairbanks was given to the State of Illinois by the Sons of Utah Pioneers in 1954. It is located at the top of the hill in New Salem State Park near the entrance to the village. Published by Color-View, Inc., 208 N. Main St., Rockford, Ill. Postmarked May 17, 1962 in Rochelle, Ill. with a note from Father.

I grew up in Davenport, Iowa. Iowa is not the land of Lincoln. That is across the Mississippi River in Illinois.

Father sent this postcard from Rochelle, Ill. where he presumably attended a meeting for the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America. I don’t recall. I was ten years old. The message on the back was, “I’ll be home before the card gets there so I’m saying goodbye to Rochelle.”

We stopped by Father’s step-mother’s place in Rock Island one time. She wasn’t home. Gladys was grandfather’s second wife after Ina Elizabeth died young of food poisoning. Grandfather died of complications from surgery. According to her obituary, Gladys owned and operated Deaton’s Diner for 35 years. She kept the family name, adding two additional husbands by hyphenation after grandfather died. She told me, in the only letter I have from her, that the marriage into the Deaton family was a business proposition. All three of her husbands are buried next to her in a Rock Island Cemetery we visited decades ago. The cemetery sexton knew “Mrs. Deaton” well.

In high school, we took the bus downtown then walked across the Centennial Bridge to Rock Island where a movie theater was screening a serialized story of The Batman made by Columbia Pictures in 1943. After the television program debuted in 1966, I was all about the Batman. All 15 serial episodes were screened one after another. It was a long walk to see them, but we felt it important to include the serial in our Batman fandom.

On my trip back to Iowa from military service I stopped and stayed with friends in Springfield, Ill. for a couple of days. During that trip we visited Lincoln’s tomb and his house, which had been opened to the public. I recall a number of book shops displaying various Lincoln books in street-facing windows. Many words have been written about the 16th president. He felt more real to me after that visit.

I spent the most time in Illinois when we lived in Indiana. Work took me all over. I got to know Chicago and the suburbs, as well as most other parts of the state. I went anywhere with an opportunity to recruit truck drivers.

I’m lucky to have this postcard. It’s one of the few notes Father sent me. It could easily have disappeared with my comic book and baseball card collections left in Mother’s attic when I moved from home in 1970 to attend college. I don’t think of Father much these days. When I do, it’s comforting to have things I know he touched as well. It is part of making a life in the time of the coronavirus.