Thursday, October 20, 2016

Inch One Hundred Forty-One: What's In A Name?

The co-chair of the working group kept addressing the other co-chair by the wrong name throughout the entire teleconference. The former was white, the latter was African-American. (I know this because I have met both of them.) The white woman has a Ph.D. and was addressed as "Dr. Susan" by the moderator. The African-American woman, Shelisa, is from a small Ohio county and is court staff, as are several of us in the working group.

Dr. Susan called Shelisa "Shelist" and "Shelista" and "Shelizza." Not once in the call, which lasted 50 minutes, did she pronounce Shelisa's name correctly.

I doubt that Dr. Susan intentionally mispronounced Shelisa's name. But she certainly did it carelessly. Shelisa did not correct her, but did make a point to say "This is Shelisa..."whenever she spoke during the call.

I wondered after the call whether I should have spoken up and said "Look, can you call Shelisa by her  right name?" But I was too polite and the moment and the call passed. Shelisa, without confronting the issue directly, made sure she introduced herself clearly each time she spoke. She handled the situation in her own style.

I have a saying on my refrigerator: "Speaking up is a choice. And yes, standing on the sidelines is a choice."

During the teleconference, I stayed on the sidelines. Next time I need to choose better.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Inch One Hundred Forty: The Cost of Eating, Part Two

At the start of September, I blogged about how much we used to spend on food, eating out, and household items a month. At that time, it was $200.00 a month for food, plus another $25.00 a month for non-food household items. I was comfortable thinking that we were still in that ballpark, and so spent the rest of the month tracking food expenses. Here are the results.

In some ways we are still in that ballpark. On household items, which covers anything from cleaning items to toiletries to to toilet paper, we spent a whopping $13.18. As I noted in my earlier post, we tend to stay under $25.00 a month in that category and are often under $10.00, so September was pretty typical.

In edible groceries, including farm markets, we spent a total of $169.17 for the month. That included some restocking of items we purchase in bulk once a year or so (such as buckwheat flour); the restocking came to $12.50. There were other bulk purchases, but they were more routine, so they did not represent deviations from our typical purchases. For example, we bought a large pack of chicken breasts, which we cut up and froze into smaller proportions for meals. Along with a few other meat purchases in September, we will likely not buy meat again, except for Thanksgiving, until December.

The one area in which we went way, way past our typical spending patterns was eating out. In September, we spent a whopping $65.42. Now, $15.21 of that was an out of town concert Warren was playing; we ate between dress rehearsal and the performance. That cost doesn't bother me because while we occasionally brownbag that particular meal, there is no comfortable place at the theater to eat comfortably and clean up easily afterwards. $11.98 was takeout one night after work when we were both running on empty physically, mentally, and emotionally. With my ongoing treatment, there are occasional nights when cooking at home, even if it means thawing something from the freezer, is beyond me. I'm pleased it was just the one night this month. A staggering $17.98 was a meal one Sunday when we were down in Columbus and stopped at the North Market, always a pricy proposition, for takeout rather than driving home to eat. The remainder were frozen hot chocolates (my weakness, and about $14.00 of the total) and a miscellaneous purchase, such as ice cream, here or there.

Grand total on food: $234.59. If we had eliminated the restocking purchase and the North Market, we'd have come in at $204.11, or pretty close to the $200.00 mark. Of course, I had estimated we would come in under the $150.00 mark. If we eliminated the eat out category and the restocking, we'd be just about there.

When my brother and sister-in-law and I talked about the $200.00 mark, Jackie especially was intrigued at how I do it. I think we just follow some basic guidelines that seem to keep the costs down. When I went back and looked at what I wrote in early 2010, now almost seven years ago, a lot of that still holds true, so I have revised and updated my commentary on how we shop (and eat).

We don't eat a lot of meat, red, chicken, or otherwise. I probably cook meat less than once a week but we may use what I cook in several different dishes. So there is a big $$ saver right there. I make a lot of soups (bean soups, split pea) as well as stock, freezing most of it. We don't buy a lot of processed foods or "convenience" foods; we don't drink coffee; we don't drink alcohol. (All huge budget drains.)We rarely buy soda (I don't care much for it). Warren brownbags lunch; so do I. We don't eat out a lot because our schedules are often so full that there is no time for that; when we do, we almost always split an entree (and when we don't split one, we always bring home leftovers). We also don't hesitate to buy marked down food when it is something we like and can eat right away or freeze. I have no qualms about buying food with red "REDUCED" labels on it because I know that even if the milk has an expiration date of tomorrow on it, it will be fine unopened for some time. If I buy marked down meat, unless we are eating it that day or the next, I repackage it and freeze it. I have no problem letting food packaged right stay in the freezer past the recommended freezer time; this winter we will be eating the last of the 2015 zucchini and neither of us have noticed any diminishment in quality. I rarely use coupons, mostly because they tend to be for processed food items that we don't eat or they are for name brands and rarely can the name brand even with a coupon price beat the store brand price. We also never turn down offers after a meeting where there is leftover food to take home some of it!

We eat leftovers. I know a lot of people who do not or who have spouses who will not. Not this household. And we eat leftovers changed into something else: the stale bread becomes a small bread pudding on a night we need a pick-me-up. I buy small quantities of fresh produce, with a strict rule of not buying more until the first is gone. As a result, I have noticed that our food waste (what we throw away because it has gone bad) has decreased greatly, especially over the last year.

If you opened our refrigerator, you might gasp and say "where's the food?!" But if you opened our freezer and cupboard doors, you would see the makings of many meals. For the most part, we do a good job of that, even after a long day at work. We always, always have basic staples in our house, ranging from rice and frozen vegetables to flour, sugar, oatmeal, and raisins.

As I noted above, the biggest hurdle we face and one which will likely increase is how much my health will impact both our diet and my ability to prepare food. Because of the side effects of a new oral chemotherapy added this summer on top of my infusion chemotherapy, I now have to take Coumadin (warfarin) daily. As a result, I have to closely watch how much Vitamin K, which is found in EVERY GREEN LEAFY VEGETABLE IN THE WORLD, I ingest. (Yes, I am shouting because it has really had an adverse impact on my diet.) I am getting the hang of watching the K intake, but it is frustrating. Warren is watching me and trying to get the hang of it, but it is probably even harder for him since he does not have the same restrictions.

As for impacting food preparation, that impact is also increasing. Historically, I have been the primary cook and baker in this relationship, although Warren is an excellent cook. I don't work as many hours as he does, so I am often the one planning, prepping, and cooking. But my chemo schedule impacts my afternoons and how I may feel on any given day impacts my enthusiasm. On a really bad day, we either drop back and punt ("How about scrambled eggs? Oh, look, here's the tail end of that loaf of bread we bought. We can toast it.") or get takeout. I'm pleased that only one of our meals out in September was a "can't function" meal. If we can continue to hold the line at one or two a month max, I'll be pleased.

So there you have it, April and Warren's empty nester food strategies. Mark and Jackie, I love you lots and hope you find something of use in this!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Inch One Hundred Thirty-Nine: Chapter MCMLXVI, In Which I Am Reminded I Am Not 20 Or Even 30

When I was in my twenties and living and going to school out in Oregon, I drove cross-country more than once, setting all kinds of personal speed records. (This was back in the day when Montana and Wyoming allowed you to set your own speed limit provided it was "reasonable" for the road conditions.) With three drivers, I could get door to door, a distance of 2500 miles, in 48 hours, stopping only for gas, food to eat in the car, and bathroom breaks.

Now that was driving. But again, I was in my 20s when I did that.

I don't pretend that I am in my 20s. Or my 30s or 40s or 50s. I'm 60. I was not guaranteed I would ever reach 60, so I relish being 60. And at 60, I know my limitations, be they physical, mental, emotional, or any combination thereof.

So what was I doing driving cross-country across Indiana on US 30 at 11:30 p.m. last night, arriving home in Delaware close to 3:00 a.m. this morning?

Warren and I had the best of intentions. I was at Mayo earlier this week, we were supposed to leave Monday afternoon, and arrive home Tuesday early after a night in Oak Park. But more testing was ordered late in the day, which meant staying in Rochester a second night. By arriving early and taking a seat in a waiting area for over three hours on Tuesday, I managed to benefit from a cancellation and move my afternoon appointment to mid-morning, allowing us to leave the fair City of Medicine at noon. Great! With steady driving, we would be home before midnight, stopping briefly at Oak Park to retrieve items we had left for our return trip.

Well, that was the plan. And it held firm until we hit the worst ever traffic tie-up in west Chicago.  WORST EVER. It took us over an hour to crawl two miles. (I clocked it.) The cause was a badly damaged tanker; we saw tow trucks (plural) hauling it away. And the result was over two hours lost over a handful of miles.

We had a decision to make. Do we stay at Oak Park for a few hours, rest, and then drive some more? Or do we just keep driving? The latter won out, despite the little voice in my head screaming, "ARE YOU NUTS? ARE YOU CRAZY?" We stopped for 10 minutes in Oak Park to gather our goods, and then resumed the drive.

Goodbye, Chicago. Goodbye, Skyway. Hello, Indiana.

I drove a major chunk of Indiana, from Merrillville in the west to Warsaw in the east. That was so Warren could rest and drive the last leg into Ohio and home. To entertain myself, I softly sang show tunes, an old, old fallback from those long ago marathon drives. Once Warren took over, I fell into a numb trance, not quite awake, not quite asleep, just counting down the miles.

It is just past noon on Wednesday as I write this. I have been awake and up for some four hours, after about five hours of sleep. Warren went to work; I called off.  My body is reminding me sharply that I am not 20. Or any other age than the 60 I am.

But it is a beautiful fall day out. And I am home.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Inch One Hundred Thirty-Eight: Golden Moment

It has been a long week already and is not even over yet. There was a family medical emergency earlier this week that is resolved for now. I have had an atypically strong reaction to this week's chemo despite it being the very same chemo I have had for weeks now, so I have been dealing with fevers and cold chills and other miscellaneous reactions (but no nausea) since Tuesday. Earlier today I spoke at a Magistrate's conference in the late morning, leaving from and returning to Court, resulting in a late lunch. And today was a longer day than usual because we just started a new Victims Awareness group, which means working with the kids until 5:30 and then staying on to debrief until almost 6:00.

To say that I was done in by the time I got back up to my office after debriefing would be an understatement. I was way past done in. Done in was in the rearview mirror.

Before shutting down my office computer for the night, I checked email. Court email was routine. But in my personal email was a gift, pure and simple:

Hey Mom,
Just writing you to say we love you. We are as busy as ever as working lots and hanging out with Ramona and having a good time.

My son Benjamin could not have timed his email any better if he tried. It was just what I needed, a little shot of love that was totally unexpected, a little pick-me-up at the end of a long, hard day, a little moment shot through with gold.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Inch One-Hundred Thirty-Seven: Burning Down The House

Today's post is short, and comes from my job.

Several weeks ago, my fabulous coworker Cecelia and I started a new writing program at Juvenile Court. We work with a small group of juveniles (there are four of them in this this first round), giving them themed prompts and encouraging them to write. In any class, there are three to five prompts taped to the wall, and the juveniles may pick and choose as suits them. We then share the writing, discussing issues that come out in the course of the writing.

Did I say we encourage them to write? Encouragement has not been a problem. Sometimes, the issue is getting them to stop writing and share within the 90 minutes we have.

One of the unexpected consequences of facilitating the writing group is that I am writing more. For one thing, the kids expect us to write alongside them and demand that we too share our work. For another, it is impossible to be in a small room with everyone bent over their notebooks, pens and pencils scratching away, and not be moved to put down something. Not every piece I produce is a winner, but occasionally I sit back and think "not bad."

This week's class was about control. One of the prompts was "He was like a forest fire, burning down the excess beauty in the name of control." This is what I wrote in response:

Burning Down The House

Sometimes you just burn it all to the ground.

Sacrifice the curtains and the towels
and the china
and the painting over the couch.

Sit back and watch the show
The sirens coming closer
The flames shooting through the roof
The garden trampled by the firefighters.

Flick the soot off your jeans
and walk away.
Nothing to hold you now.

In the remaining weeks, we will be tackling such topics as goals and overcoming barriers. One of the prompts I hope to use is this one attributed to Mizuta Masahide: Since my house burned down I now own a better view of the rising moon. Seems like an appropriate one for me to write about it light of my piece this week.

I love my job. I love this part of my job even more. And I love that I get to go on writing with Cecelia and an amazing group of young people.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Inch One Hundred Thirty-Six: Of Words and Writing

I am soaked in words today.

I am so soaked in words that I walked around this morning murmuring the opening lines of Eve, by Ralph Hodgson:
EVE, with her basket, was
Deep in the bells and grass,
Wading in bells and grass
Up to her knees...
Back in July, I wrote about Poetry Night. Although August was pretty much a wash for me because of travel and other obligations, here it is September and we are still at it. In deference to schedules (Michele being a teacher and school being back in session), we are going to a 2nd and 4th Wednesday schedule for the school year.

At this week's gathering, we talked a lot about the writing of poetry. Casey, who just joined the group, posed the question: How do you do it? We talked about the economy of words. Michele is teaching Emily Dickinson right now, and those are poems so sparse there is not an inch of fat on them.

We talked about saving scraps of lines, scraps of thoughts, a phrase or an idea. Michele presented a stapled together sheaf of papers in which she wrote down lines and ideas, thumbing through it to a draft poem she has not yet strung together in final form. I held up my latest spiral notebook, bought for dimes at back-to school sales and used until I have torn out every page.

Intermixed with that talk were readings of our own works and the works of others. Casey read this one by Raymond Carver:

So early it's still almost dark out.
I'm near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.
When I see the boy and his friend
walking up the road
to deliver the newspaper.

They wear caps and sweaters,
and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
They are so happy
they aren't saying anything, these boys.
I think if they could, they would take
each other's arm.
It's early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.
They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs pale over the water.
Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn't enter into this.

Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.

It is a beautiful work that none of us knew and we all asked him to read it again, the words hanging in the evening air after the sound of the last line faded.

I walked home quickly in the gathering dusk thinking about the conversation, the topics, the words. Michele had talked about the making of ink from charred bones and that one stuck with me. Whose bones? I spent a good hour just now researching ink made from char. It is often called Ivory Black when made from bones.

I am watching the fruit of the dogwood turn red and wondering whether the little red pellets can be pressed into ink. And would I write a different poem in dogwood red than ballpoint blue?

I am wondering what it would mean to write a poem, tear the paper up, then soak and press it into new paper. What words might come to the surface of the new paper? Would it be a new poem?

I am thinking of little poems, of words writ small, of words scribed onto a sliver of parchment.

I am soaked in words today.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Inch One Hundred Thirty-Five: The Cost of Eating

My brother Mark called me Monday evening, as I was finishing cleaning up the kitchen from an all-day session of making stock and bean soups (split pea with ham, Cuban black beans) to freeze for eating later in the fall and winter. Somehow we got around to talking about our household budgets.

Mark and my sister-in-law Jackie just became true empty nesters with my niece Elizabeth (their youngest) moving to New England for graduate school. I said that ought to be a positive impact on the bank balance. In the middle of that discussion, I mentioned our grocery bill.

Several years ago, I blogged that we spent less than $200.00 a month on groceries, with another $25.00 on non-food household items (soap, toilet paper, shampoo, toothpaste). That figure did not include prescription medications, but did include eating out, which has rarely ever exceeded $25.00 a month (and usually does not exceed $10.00). When I was talking with Mark, I gave him the wrong figure: $100.00.

Mark was intrigued. "$100.00? Really?"

Well, not quite. I discovered my error today and emailed Mark and Jackie to tell them the figure was actually $200.00. During the phone conversation the night before, I told Mark that I had not tracked our food spending closely for a long time, and that I was tracking it this month to see if we are still close to that figure, given just the overall rise in the cost of food.

When I learned the target is $200.00, I was thrilled. Heck, $200.00? Piece of cake, especially since I think our actual spending is closer to $150.00. If anything, we have reduced our food expenses in the six years since that first blog post ran. 

At least I think so. I'll know in a few more weeks.

So I will be saving the grocery receipts, noting the non-receipt purchases ($7.50 yesterday at my friend Donna's great farm stand to get local sweet corn, some cherry tomatoes (mine having mostly bit the dust thanks to an invasion of cucumber beetles), and four of the most beautiful bell peppers I have ever seen and all four of which ended up going into the black bean soup mentioned above), tallying up the odd meals out here and there.

And then we'll see what September brings.