Saturday, July 2, 2022

Winning and Losing

I ran my first 10k in 2002, at the age of 42. It was the Exira Road Run, and I won a ridiculously huge plastic trophy for finishing as the fastest 40+ runner. 

Today, 20 years later, I ran the same race for probably my 18th time. I know I skipped in 2005 because at age 45, I'd just had a breast biopsy that had bled profusely three days before the race. The doctor told me to skip the run. On July 6, I was told I had invasive breast cancer. 

So yeah, I missed that year. I probably missed another race or two since then, but the reasons are mundane and therefore haven't lodged in my memory.

The point is, I run this race every year to prove to myself I can--what? do it?  

Last year I ran well. 

This year, I knew I could not match my 2021 time. So instead, I decided to run not for time, but in celebration of a body that for the most part still does what I ask it to do: it thinks (slowly); it moves (with creaks and groans); it hangs in there. I can't complain. This body has been a good life companion.


Like most small-town road races, the Exira Road Run would not be possible if only elite runners participate. The towns could not support a race that brought in only the 10 best runners in the area. They NEED slow runners like me to keep the event profitable. For this reason, I will never apologize for running at a 13:00 pace (which I did one year); if I weren't here paying my $15 entry fee, those speedy cheetahs wouldn't get to run at all. 

Thank me.


Today's run started at 7:45 a.m. I had been in Iowa City all week for a class and had "rested my legs" (i.e. avoided training) for four days. Furthermore, I'd signed up for a very hilly race after running only flat trails for the past two months. I vowed to pace myself and listen to my body. The goal was to finish without injury.

At the one-mile mark, I glanced at my phone and realized I was almost two minutes/mile ahead of my usual pace. I'd just run the fastest mile of my summer--mostly because the other 13 runners had taken off like a pack of gazelles. 

Just then a jaunty red-head (I'd guess age 10) came by on his bicycle. 

"You're losing!" he shouted gleefully.

"No, I'm WINNING!" I shouted in gleeful response. 

And I was. When an hour (+) later I accepted my gold medal as the first (and only) finisher in the 60+ age category, I wish the little redhead had been there to see me skip up to the awards table. 

Be well.



Monday, June 27, 2022

A Dark Day: June 24, 2022

When COVID hit in 2020, predictability was erased by a swath of the great unknown. I steadied myself by coming to the page--this blog--to focus on the immediate and the mundane. I recorded (mostly for my own sanity) the reality of my days. Doing so gave me purpose in a time that otherwise felt quite purposeless. My raison d'ĂȘtre, I told myself, was to pay attention. Notice the experience. Record it.


I was standing at the kitchen counter Friday morning, June 24, 2022, when my phone pinged. I glanced down to see the headline: Supreme Court Overturns Roe v. Wade. 

We all knew this was coming. A draft of the decision was leaked nearly two months before. Yet my reaction surprised me with its visceral force: a gut punch. 

An hour later, after a run, I rested under a cobalt Iowa sky. I felt the breeze tingle against my arms. I sipped ice water. 

I had hoped immersing myself in these physical sensations would push back the feelings in my head and heart: sorrow and rage. 

It hadn't.


Similar to March 15, 2020, I am unmoored. 

The world I've known has shifted with the Dobbs decision. I can vote, I can protest, I can contribute money. 

I will, I will, and I will. 

But maybe what I can do best is pay attention. And I can commit to words what I see and experience. My perspective as a 62-year-old woman (I was 12 when both Roe v Wade and Title IV became the law of the land), as a mother of six, and as a current teacher of high-school students can be offered (Offred?) here as simply that: one person's view as we enter what I expect will be a(nother) time of uncertainty, fear, and confusion.


That is why I'm here blogging again. If I'm wrong, and the Dobbs ruling is only a tiny blip, I will praise every small pot-bellied god. 

However, I'm betting that our current Supreme Court will continue to hack away at what many of us came of age believing were inalienable rights. 

I am here to record my observations while paying attention. 

I am also here to pay attention to my personal reactions and feelings. Consider this not objective journalism, nor an attempt to sort through the layers of politics and religion that brought us here, but instead an open diary--something Offred-esque. I will simply record my experience and observations. 


On Saturday, June 25, 2022, one of the 30-somethings in my life mentioned she had donated $100 to an organization that helped fund women who must now travel out of state for abortions. 


Later that evening I had dinner on the deck with two more young women within my circle. The Dobbs decision worked its way into our conversation only tangentially. I don't believe we were avoiding the topic so much as finding respite for a few hours. The wide Iowa sky and good food offered a graceful pause.  

But within 10 minutes of their departure, I had donated to Planned Parenthood on their behalf. 

Be well.


Saturday, September 4, 2021

It Could Have Been Otherwise

I have long loved Jane Kenyon's poem "Otherwise." Read it here. 

Kenyon catalogs the simple actions of an ordinary day with sensuous imagery. She stands on "two strong legs," eats a "ripe, flawless peach." At noon lies with her mate, eats dinner "at a table with silver candlesticks."  

Her poem is both a study in the pleasures of the moment and--in the final line--a gut-punch reminder of life's brevity.

I thought of Kenyon's poem as I biked home from my mother-in-law's on this perfect September afternoon, reflecting on the chamois soft satisfactions of the day.

Kathy, my neighbor and dear friend of 37 years, stopped for coffee. We shared video clips of our grandbabies' antics. We commiserated over our farmer-husbands' similarities. We laughed aplenty.

After an indulgent Saturday nap, I played online Bridge with my dad. It went much better than last week, when his increased confusion dragged the single hand to nearly 90 minutes of struggle. Today we kept the game to 30 minutes. A win.

I then set my timer to commit to 20 minutes of school work. I clicked "reset" two more times to clock a rock-solid hour of tending to my grade book. I made a notes chart for my freshmen's writing strengths and weaknesses.

It then took me two minutes to tie my shoes and strap on my helmet. I rode my gravel bike to Dan's mom's house for accordion practice. Two years ago, we practiced with the goal of care-center concerts. The polkas we're now perfecting are for our ears only. 

Tonight Dan and I tidied up a little to drive into town to eat at Rancho Grande. 

We're now easing into the close of day. Dan's dozing in his chair. I'm on the sofa, reflecting on the satisfaction of a most uneventful day. 

It could have been otherwise.

Be well.


"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives."

--Annie Dillard 

Lucky to get even one snap with Dan. No re-takes with this photo hater.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Writing Through COVID-19: One Year Ago Today

year ago, I wrote about the first significant COVID outbreak in Cass County: 12 positive cases in a single day, the highest number since the previous high of four. The uptick included students, which sent the volleyball team into quarantine. The county's total number of cases at the time was 74. 

Today, 1522 of our county's 13,091 residents have tested positive. That means at least 11.6% of our population has had the virus. 

Fifty-five people have died.  That's one out of every 238 people in our county. 

Enough of the stats.

In talking with a teacher friend yesterday, we agreed this August feels like a repeat of last year without the can-do adrenaline surge. We are faced with the reality that, at least for the foreseeable weeks, our schools will again be destabilized by the unknowns of COVID. 

The second time around, we know some shortcuts, which is good news! I, for one, will forego the face-shield and nurses' scrubs that I wore for much of the 2020 fall semester. Was it overkill? Yup. But I was trying to establish a level of protection that allowed me to teach with confidence that I was not in the direct line of infection.

This year, vaccinated, I will still mask and maintain distance as possible. I'll still wipe down the desks between classes. (I might do this until I retire. I was surprised to see how grubby the desks were when I cleaned them each hour last year. Who wants to sit at a desk that a previous student has snotted on?)

I'm awaiting protocols for the sharing of equipment, spacing students, and managing online learners. 

I'm meanwhile considering what parameters to set within my own classroom if my district does not re-assert last year's COVID mitigations. Should I allow vaxed/unvaxed/masked/unmasked students to mingle for group work? Without a school-wide policy, the hour my students spend in my room may be their only "safety-zone" hour of the day, in which case my protective efforts are for naught. 

(This is the point at which everyone shouts "Gee! I want to teach in Iowa!")

When banning mask mandates and vaccine passports, Governor Kim Reynolds has repeatedly said "Iowa stands for freedom, liberty, and personal responsibility." I'm not sure what this means. 

Does "personal responsibility" apply only to oneself (emphasis on the PERSONAL)? Or does it include one's children? The neighborhood? The community at large? Is Ms. Reynolds asking us to step up and responsibly get our vaccines and wear masks? If so, why doesn't she expressly say it? Instead, her message is clouded. Why do I suspect she is using the phrase "personal responsibility" to mean "do what you please"? 

Responsibility is easy if you are only responsible for your own single self. As you extend responsibility to loved ones, and then to people you know, and then--even! unthinkable!--to those you DON'T know, the weight of "responsibility" increases.

Kim Reynolds, are you asking Iowans to be responsible only to themselves? That seems to be a narrow and dangerous call.

Let's look at Wolf: 
Be well.


Monday, August 9, 2021

Writing Through COVID-19: Outbreak, School, & Sweet Corn

My parents' care center notified us today of their first COVID outbreak in months. After one resident tested positive, all residents and staff were tested. Four additional residents and five staff then tested positive. This tallies 10 current cases in a facility that has logged a total of 159 infections in the 17 months since the pandemic began. 

For the time being, indoor visits and resident activities have been suspended. Families are asked to cancel all non-essential outings with their loved ones. Residents have been asked to stay in their apartments.

Three students met me in the Journalism Lab today to work on our final pages of the yearbook. I wore a mask. The students did not. 

Our local paper ran a story today explaining that our school district will follow the Iowa Department of Public Health guidelines for COVID-control in the coming school year. Of course, the IDPH is hogtied by HF 847, which outlaws school districts' right to set masking guidelines as they see fit. So much for local control.

Read the document summarizing Iowa's plan for COVID control this fall here

Or if you'd rather, scan my favorite lines. My editorializing is in bold:

  • While not required (!!!???), vaccination for everyone who is eligible continues to be the most effective way to prevent COVID-19 illness and stop the spread of COVID-19. 

  • HF 847... prohibits a school district from adopting or enforcing a policy that requires employees, students, or the public to wear a mask while on school property....[M]asks must be optional for students, teachers, and visitors. (Local control was once a pillar of Republican politics.)

  • IDPH is not currently issuing isolation and quarantine orders for COVID-19 positive or COVID-19 exposed individuals. (Freedom.)

  • LPH (Local Public Health? This acronym is not identified in the document.) cannot require schools to perform case investigations or contact tracing.

  • (In case you didn't get it the first time...) HF 847, signed by Governor Reynolds on May 20, 2021, prohibits a school district from adopting or enforcing a policy that requires employees, students, or the public to wear a mask while on school property.

  • Schools should allow students, teachers, other staff members, and visitors who want to voluntarily continue to wear a cloth face covering for reasons that make sense for their family or individual health condition to do so. (Why, thank you.)

  • The CDC issued an Order effective February 1, 2021, imposing a requirement for persons to wear masks while on public transportation conveyances, and in its Frequently Asked Questions document accompanying the Order the CDC indicates that “passengers and drivers must wear a mask on school buses, including on buses operated by public and private school systems, subject to the exclusions and exemptions in the CDC’s Order." (Children will be masked on busses, but only on busses.) 

  • HF 889, signed by Governor Reynolds on May 20, 2021, prohibits the mandatory disclosure of whether a person has received a COVID-19 vaccination as a condition for entry onto the premises of a governmental entity. (Right. Obfuscation has always been the best policy for building trust.

Happy notes:

On July 16 I posted a photo of the season's first sweet corn to our family group text and declared it the first of 30 days of sweet-corn supper. Palmer's boyfriend asked if we really ate sweet corn for a month straight. 

"Yup," she said. 

We really do.

This evening I harvested what I insist will be my last sweet-corn haul of the season. My oldest daughter mowed down her final Corn 4 a Cause rows a few days ago. Harrison's yard plot is looking sketchy. But I was able to gather 30 ears tonight, cooked some from supper and some to bag, then declared my season OVER. It wasn't 30 days, but 25 is close. Yum. 

Be well.



Saturday, August 7, 2021

Writing Through COVID-19: Day 507 - Cancer and Cows

I drove to Iowa City Friday for my annual mammogram. It was 16 summers ago that I had a mastectomy after a breast-cancer diagnosis. I was 45. My youngest children were 11 years old. At the time, I hoped to survive 10 years to see them into adulthood.

Yesterday before my appointment, I was asked to complete a survey about my cancer anxiety levels and offered services of support if my diagnosis was causing me distress. As I clicked through the list, I realized how far my cancer worries have receded. On a scale of 0 to 10, how much worry is cancer causing me? Zero. Ahhh.

EVERYONE at University of Iowa Health Care was masked. (One woman in a waiting room had removed her mask and a nurse immediately instructed her to put it back on.) Entrance to the facility was limited, and patients were not admitted without proof of appointments. 

In other words, the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics are aware that the COVID virus is alive and thriving in Iowa. 

En route to and from Iowa City, I found the rest of the state to be less aware. I was in the thin minority wearing a mask when I stopped to fuel up or grab a snack.

In March 2020, I felt tense and self-conscious as I entered stores as one of the few masked shoppers.

In August 2021, I feel resigned. Weary. A little irritated.

I'm sad that my weeks of unmasked normalcy were so brief.

This evening a colleague texted to ask if I'd be masked on our first day back, Aug. 18. She said she would be. "Here we go again," she texted. 


But we have an additional layer of concern here in Atlantic. Our district's middle-school building sustained extensive water damage after a roof-top fire 11 days ago. Staff and 330 students have been displaced. The sixth- and seventh-graders will be housed in the alternative-school building. The eighth-grade students will be in our high-school building. This means adding 120 bodies to our building just as the CDC recommends we mask and distance K-12 (while Governor Reynolds has forbidden mask mandates). 

Something positive? My grandson Wolf knows the answer to the urgent question: What does the cow say? 

Be well.


Thursday, August 5, 2021

Writing Through COVID-19: Visiting the Parents

I attended an English teachers' workshop on Tuesday. When we planned it in May, the Iowa Council of Teachers of English was excited to host our first face-to-face event in almost two years. COVID was on a steep decline, we were vaxed up and ready to mingle!

When we met in Cedar Falls Tuesday, the rules had whiplashed. We were indoors. No one knew the vax status of the others in the room. (I think we should wear buttons, "I Like Ike" or "Nixon Now" style. The vax status can proclaim our political alignment and COVID transmissibility simultaneously.) I'd guess that six or eight of the 40 of us were masked. I ate my lunch on the patio where I could feel the breeze.


On my way home, I went through Ft. Dodge to visit my parents. They have moved into a two-bedroom apartment and one of my sisters is now living with them. It's not ideal. Is any elder-care setting ideal? But I was glad to see the three of them genial, safe, and hungry for sweet corn. 

I brought them a fresh batch from our field, and we enjoyed husking it on their patio. When we finished, I tossed the husks into the plastic tub I'd brought the corn in and said I'd take the husks home to my compost bucket. 

"Let me help you!" my mom chirped. 

I did not need help. The container plus husks weighed perhaps two pounds. But before I could dismiss her offer, she'd hoisted the tub onto her walker's seat and begun pushing it toward the door. 

My initial impulse was to refuse her "help." But by the grace of the pot-bellied gods, I kept my mouth shut, and my mother happily rolled my husk tub on her walker out to my car. 

She walked briskly, hands poised confidently on the walker. As we made our second turn, I wondered if she'd find her way back to her apartment; I flung prayers into the void. 

When we reached my car, I thanked her for her help. I hugged her birdlike bones against my chest. 

It was on the drive home that I started to sort out the poignancy of her helpfulness. My mother has spent her life helping, teaching, giving to others. I understand that age can rob us of our health, our mobility, our memories, our strength. 

But as my mom bustled the corn husks to my car, I saw something else. My parents have fewer and fewer opportunities to feel helpful, to be of use. 

Be well.