February dreck

I’ve been in a bad winter funk lately. I’ve just been indoors way too much. The weather sucks. My job has been way too sedentary and slow-moving for my tastes. I’m gaining weight again after losing a bunch of after the holiday. My bicycle is outside rusting because I don’t have room for it in this tiny apartment, and so I won’t be able to just jump on it and start riding when the weather turns nice. Fortunately it’s a cheap bike, but I still don’t have room for a better one.

I feel a little better this evening after yoga, and a good dinner. I made a spinach salad for the first time in a while. I think I bought a bag from that company that poisoned a bunch of people last summer. Anyway, it was a good salad even if it kills me.

The Girl Scout cookies both help (they taste really good) and hurt (they make me fat). The dualism.

Girl Scout cookies

I bought a box of girl scout cookies and they were delivered on Sunday. I haven’t had Girl Scout cookies in years. I bought Samoas, which are my favorite, except that they aren’t called Samoas anymore, they are called Caramel Delites. Which is just depressing. Please tell me Samoans didn’t complain that the name was offensive. And then please don’t tell me the Girl Scouts of America didn’t tell the Samoans could shove the complaint up their sizeable asses. Please. Oh, I think I know better…

Urban crows

Thousands of crows roost on the trees along the stream near the food co-op where I buy groceries. It’s a regular murder. Some evenings when I stop there on my way home, the crows are returning from wherever they go during the day. They are very noisy. Tonight I heard a couple as I walked by and I thought, “Oh, there’s a couple of those crows.” Suddenly a few hundred took flight. The crows sitting on the leafless treetops make the trees look like giant sumacs with dark clusters of berries. I’ll try to get a picture but since they only alight there at night, it might not work out.

It reminds me of the flocks of crows I used to see in the park I worked at in New York. Sometimes they’d be harassing an owl or hawk. They mostly disappeared in the years after West Nile Virus struck. I remember once seeing a crow and thinking, “Oh, look, a crow”, which made me realize I hadn’t seen one in months. I wonder if they ever came back.

Winter weather weekend

The weather is absolute crap this weekend. When I moved to Iowa I was looking forward to some snow and cold, but why does it always snow on the weekends? This weekend we’re getting everything: ice, snow, sleet, and… lightning? I can’t remember ever seeing lightning during a snowstorm. It lights the sky up like Timex Indiglo.

Most of today was freezing rain–there was as much as a quarter-inch on everything–but now it’s snowing. I’ve been indoors and fortunate not to have lost power here at my apartment. I went to Susan’s this evening; they lost power a couple of times. Coming back the road were pretty bad: heavy wet snow over slush. I almost didn’t make it up the hill by City High. On the third try I backed halfway up the opposite hill and muscled my way over the crest.

Hard times

I finally returned “Hard Times”, by Studs Terkel, to the library. The more I learn about Herbert Hoover at work, the more I’ve taken an interest in the Great Depression. Hard Times is an oral history of the depression, mostly from people in the Chicago area.

After reading it for a while, you get the picture that the depression hit people pretty hard. Still, there were a lot of mixed feelings about FDR and the New Deal. Writing in the late sixities, Terkel asked his interviewees (Great Depression survivors and Baby Boomers alike) about present conditions. The younger generation had greater expectations of and demands for prosperity; the elders feared that a new depression would bring on the revolution that never happened in the thirties.

Letter to the Des Moines Register

I’ve come out of letter-writing retirement with an acerbic missive to the Des Moines Register. I was responding to a couple of letters-to-the-editor criticizing organic farming. I did not read the original article.

My letter is as follows:

Two letters to the editor on February 21 complain about favorable coverage of organic farming, citing, among other things, that organic produce requires more land for cultivation because of their lower yields.

Might the same ethic that drives people to buy foods with a lesser impact on the land also drive them to eat less and to waste less? Better consumption habits would go a long way toward offsetting the demand for farmland caused by lower output.

When you see someone squeeze their 400-pound frame into a booth at the Chinese buffet every Wednesday afternoon to gorge on the early-bird special, consider whether that person is a regular purchaser of organic food or not. I doubt it.

My guess is that the letters were written by farmers who don’t farm organically, and don’t like favorable coverage of the practice. I know very little about farming, but I suspect there are stong links among industrial agriculture, farm subsidies, cheap food, obesity, waste, and environmental degradation. Just a hunch.

I feel rage

Frontline. Bad for my blood pressure. Tonight was about how the government is pressuring the media to not report anything that might make it look bad. As if it would make a difference. There was lots of footage of the Quisling talking heads at Fox News screaming for a new dawn of fascism to set things right.

Sometimes I can’t believe all that stands between me and Dick Cheney’s coronation as unquestioned dictator of the universe is brief document written over 200 years ago by a bunch of old slave-drivers.

Land of Lincoln

A couple of weeks ago (Jan. 22-25) I was in Springfield, Illinois for training. I forgot my digital camera, so I bought a disposable and I just this evening got the photos back. Here they are.

Amish wake

The husband of one of Susan’s former students died on Friday. Susan used to teach at a rural public school in an Amish community, and she’s kept ties to that community. So yesterday I accompanied Susan to the wake. Yes, that’s right. Adam, boy of suburban Long Island, attended an Amish wake.

It’s been really cold in Iowa, with a high of 1° F yesterday. We drove down the well-kept gravel roads in the farmlands of Buchanan county, near Jesup. The fields were icy and a haze of fine blowing snow grayed the atmosphere.

We pulled up to a farmhouse with a lot of black buggies and a couple of trucks parked in the driveway. The horses had ice on their coats; men had ice in their beards. The farm had a couple of barns and big chicken house. We walked into the house without knocking.

Amish homes have big kitchens and dining rooms and areas for congregation, as they attend church in the members’ homes. A couple of elder women (one of whom was not all that old but said she had 102 grandchildren) were warming up some of the donated food, and there was plenty. A few men were standing in the dining room, but most of the visitors were seated on benches in another room.

The wakes was very, very quiet. Sixty or seventy men, women, and children dressed in black sat in silence, with occasional whispering and sobbing. As the deceased man was was only 26 and had died suddenly, I imagine the collective shock only magnified the solemn atmosphere. Most of the wakes I’ve been to have been Italian wakes; we talk a lot and rarely sit.

Susan spoke to the young widow and her family; I was offered a seat on one of the mens’ benches. We were the only “English” (non-Amish) there. The few people who spoke to me were polite. But I won’t lie, it was awkward. I felt and looked (bundled up in many layers), not as much like an outsider as like a voyeur. And even though I went to support Susan, the opportunity for this rare glimpse held some attraction to me.

Occurrence at Burlington and Governor

On my way to the grocery store tonight I was stopped at a red light. I saw someone run up behind my car. She tried to open my passenger door. I looked at her and shook my head and said, “No you don’t!” Then she realized I was not whoever she thought I was (the other guy in town with a gold Hyndai perhaps).

She scared the hell out of me. I was ready to drive off with her hanging onto the door handle. How funny would that have been if I had left her rolling around on the asphalt without her realizing it was the wrong car? Then her boyfriend would pull up a few minutes later and say, “Hey baby!”

What’s even more funny, at that intersection is a big sorority house. How often do strange sorority girls just try to jump into your car? I can’t recall the last time it happened to me. Next time I’ll leave the passenger door unlocked.