Saturday, December 9, 2017


It is a cold Saturday morning in Ohio, with the temperatures hovering in the low 20s and the sky gray. Warren is at rehearsal for tomorrow's holiday concerts. We left the house so fast and so early this morning for a community breakfast and last minute orchestra matters that neither of us nudged up the thermostat from its nighttime temperature of 61º.

The thermostat is still on 61º four hours later. I walked home from the concert hall, the 20 minute hike warming me up. Once here, I turned on the oven to bake a batch of biscotti and here I am an hour later, shuttling between the kitchen with the biscotti and the basement, where I am hanging laundry to dry.

As I sit here writing at the table in a cool kitchen and a chillier house, I am reminded of the homes I grew up in. I never lived in a house with central heating until long after I left home.

My lifetime-long friend Cindy and I emailed back and forth earlier this week about heat. She lives in a manufactured house, and there is always a worry about the water pipes running underneath freezing when there is a sudden cold snap. I wrote back that I remembered the first floor kitchen in my childhood house. (My grandparents and Aunt Ginger lived on the first floor; we lived on the second for most of the 14 years I lived there.) The sink was against an outside wall that I am pretty sure was just wallboard over stud frame and outside shingles. When it got really cold, someone would hang a lightbulb under the sink to warm the pipes all night (there may have been a fixture or a plug under there for this purpose; I don't remember). I told Cindy that the kitchen was unheated except for stove/oven activities. I went on to explain that there was no central heating: there were gas stoves (floor stoves) in a few rooms on each floor and that was it. She did not remember that, but I sure did. And when we moved to the house my parents still live in, there was only a coal furnace in the basement and floor grates on the first floor. Any heat beyond that was by virtue of hot air rising. All of us kids had bedrooms on the second floor. To this day, I remember the ice that formed on the inside of my bedroom windows in the dead of winter.

As a result of growing up with no central heating, I learned to prefer sleeping in cold air, a preference that is a great trial for Warren. Because I was a teenager (i.e., old enough to be reliable) when we moved, my dad taught me the basics of operating a coal furnace. I know how to bank a coal fire for the night and how to rekindle it for the morning. I understand how furnace flues work. I also know what it is like to shovel coal and stoke a furnace. (Relax: my parents switched to first oil and then natural gas to heat with, installing central heating. My dad is not shoveling coal at 84.)

As I look back, I realize that growing up without central heating made for family times in the winter that are less frequent in today's lifestyles. Think of the chapter "Winter Night" in Laura Ingall Wilder's book Farmer Boy. The Wilder family (her future husband's family) spent cold nights in the kitchen, where it was warmest, talking, doing needlework or greasing moccasins, eating popcorn, reading the paper aloud. My family likewise gathered in the winter after supper in our living room, near the gas stove, to watch television, read, work on homework, polish shoes, or play. I would sit crosslegged on the floor on Saturday nights while my mother put my hair up in curlers for church the next day. Dad would make popcorn. Even as my older brother and I aged and got moodier, we rarely retreated to a bedroom with a closed door in either house. It would be have been too cold! We needed those doors open for that heat to circulate.

Don't get me wrong. I like heat. I am grateful I don't have to struggle financially to keep the house warm in the winter. The biscotti is almost done and I will turn up the thermostat so Warren doesn't freeze when he gets home.

But I don't regret the childhood memories of family time in the evening, the wonderful way those stoves would warm mittens before going outside, or even the ice in my bedroom. That other time, those other memories.

Later note: After writing this out by longhand while the biscotti baked, I retreated to my second floor study to type. I confess: it's cold up here. Back to the first floor!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

And We're Off!

December is the most grueling of months in our household. As a performer, Warren (as well as many of his colleagues) is in high demand for church cantatas, holiday concerts, and whatever else may come along. Last evening it was Handel's The Messiah in Lancaster; this morning it was a Christmas cantata at Maple Grove Methodist (where Warren is an Easter regular) in Columbus. Next week will be our Symphony's holiday concerts, which means a morning rehearsal (all morning) on Saturday followed by two concerts Sunday afternoon. The following weekend holds the Mansfield holiday concert (or concerts—I don't remember how many). I think but am not sure there is a Friday rehearsal in Mansfield, but I am not looking at my calendar to know for sure. Warren thinks but is not sure there is also a Thursday rehearsal in Mansfield, which I hope is not the case, as we will be Rochester at Mayo on the 13th until mid-afternoon, driving away to stay the night southwest of Chicago, then waking early and barreling across Indiana as fast as possible to get home as soon as possible on the 14th. I would hate to see Warren have to turn right around and head to a rehearsal.

Well, and then there's that: the aforementioned Mayo appointment smack in the middle of the month.

And did I mention Warren has a major grant due? One which, because of Mayo, he has to finish and file before the afternoon of the 11th, which is when we jump in the car and rush to Oak Park for the night before driving on to Rochester on the 12th.

December is often a blur and this year is no exception. I will miss the first two nights of Hanukkah because I will be on the road. I've no idea when we find time to buy a Christmas tree, let alone decorate it.

Three years ago, I quoted Rabbi Lawrence Kushner on the miracle of lights at this time of year: "At the darkest time of year, the tiniest bit of light reminds us that we are all whistling in the dark and hoping, by these rituals of miracles of candlelights and bulbs on evergreens, we remember the divine presence."

I'm hanging onto his words as we roar through the first three weeks of this month. Last night, we got home from the performance and drove through our neighborhood to reach our own door. Houses were decked out in strings of holiday lights and the sight of them lifted my tired spirits.

Those tiniest bits of light.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Small Moment

This is what contentment looks like.

Not to mention gratitude.

And thankfulness, for that matter.

And let's not forget love.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

All The Little Girls

This is the season of little girls. There are three I am thinking of in particular right now: our next door neighbor, Alice, my granddaughter Ramona, and my niece (well, great niece) and Ramona's cousin, Frida.

I only had boys. My sons were and are great. I loved raising them; having grown up with only brothers, I was on familiar territory with Ben and Sam. I do not regret for a single moment that I never raised a daughter.

Little girl territory—their mannerisms, their interests—I could be anthropologist watching a hitherto unknown population for all I know of little girls. And in the past several days, I have had three little girl moments that melted my heart.

Alice next door is sweet and shy, just past two years old. For many months, she would duck her head if she sees us, although as she grows older, she knows Warren and me well enough that she no longer hesitates to run up and talk. Two weeks ago, when we were in Indianapolis, I brought her back a small tambourine as a thank you for some cookies she had brought over to us. A few days after I dropped off the tambourine, there was a very soft knock at the door. There was Alice (and her mother Maura) with another little bag of cookies. When I thanked Alice for more cookies, Maura asked Alice is there was something she wanted to tell me. That little smiling face looked up, and she said "Thank you for the..." You could see her mind working for the word, then she burst out "TAMBOURINE!" with an even bigger smile on her face, if that was possible.

Heart melt.

Ramona with her Legos
The next little girl moment was with Ramona. Since she has started kindergarten this fall, my son Ben and my daughter-in-law Alise alternate days when one leaves work early to pick her up, working from home and saving on childcare. One of Ben's days is Monday and we have started video chatting with Ramona when they come in from school. Ramona talks about school (some), her toys (a lot), and answers questions with a natural nonchalance. Last Monday, she was showing off her new Playmobil hospital. At some point while she toured Grandma April and Grandpa Warren through the rooms ("this is the maternity ward"), we said something and she responded "I remember visiting your house this summer." Then she got close to the camera and said "I miss you."

Heart melt.

Note from Frida
The next day was a long day for both of us: chemo (Warren goes along and works in the cancer center lobby while I get my treatment), then back to the office for Warren and home for me, then Legal Clinic for us both until mid-evening. By the time we got home, tired, hungry, I was ready to be done with the day. Sorting through the mail (a thousand pieces of non-profit mail for Aunt Ginger, who was on every mailing list in the world), I came across an envelope from my nephew Eric. Eric is a schoolteacher and an artist, so I thought he was sending me one of his works. Upon opening it, I found a sheet of paper with drawings not by Eric but his oldest daughter Frida, who is a year younger than Ramona. "Dear Aunt April," it began, and went on to describe what she had drawn.

Heart melt.

A handful of little girl minutes. A handful of melted hearts.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Small Moment

From my favorite people at JewBelong, some thoughts for Thanksgiving:

...Maybe gratitude has nothing to do with joy. Maybe being grateful means recognizing what you have for what it is. Appreciating small victories. Admiring the struggle it takes simply to be human. Maybe we're thankful for the familiar things we know. And maybe we're thankful for the things we'll never know. At the end of the day, the fact that we have the courage to still be standing is reason enough to celebrate.  Meredith Grey 

And that pretty much says it all.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Loose Ends

It is a rainy, gray Saturday here and I have spent most of it inside the house doing small chores. I just sent off an email to some of our attorney volunteers at the monthly Legal Clinic. In Ohio, volunteers may earn CLE (continuing legal education) credits for their time, but the Clinic administrators (of which I am one) must keep records of the attorney's time. We have our attorneys sign in and out for each clinic: a simple, serviceable method. As the end of the year nears and our reporting is due in early 2018, I have gone back through the records and found a spot here and there where the attorney marked his or her time, but failed to sign out.

So there's a loose end: get those signatures.

I have a stack of papers on my desk that I am going through. I try to keep my desk surface relatively tidy, but admit I have let the stack get too tall. Much of it can be recycled, some of it needs filed away.

Another loose end: get rid of the papers.

If I don't stay on top of the paper flow, too much paper piles up on my desk and I end up moving some of the stack to the guest bed in my study. As I look sideways at what is on the bed right this moment, I realize (not for the first time) that the whole bed is one big collection point.

A BIG loose end: make the bed reemerge.

I suffer from the common condition of hanging onto papers way too long. Hard copies or electronic documents: they clog my study and my files and my computers. I am not talking about Important Papers or Family Records. I am talking about, to look at a loose handful, a water bill (paid), a program from a colloquium that has a book title scrawled across it (the only reason I kept the program) that I meant to look up in the library but have not, and a notice urging my Aunt Ginger to take advantage of a special offer to renew her subscription to Woman's Day magazine RIGHT NOW.  For the record, Aunt Ginger has a subscription current through March of 2019. Yes, 2019. The woman is 88 years old. Unbeknownst to me when she moved into assisted living earlier this year and I took over all of her affairs, she had been blithely resubscribing to most of her magazines every time they sent a notice, even if she had just resubscribed. They will all expire eventually, but so will Aunt Ginger.

That's a whole bunch of loose ends and writing it out reminds me I should call the funeral home and make some prearrangements. We have had two hospitalization scares lately, and while Aunt Ginger bounced out of both, I know the day will come when there is no return.

Another loose end: make funeral arrangements.

I am laughing at myself as I type these out. These are all first world problems of the highest order. Not to mention problems of someone with some fair amount of privilege in that I have the means to sit here musing about this. I am privileged that I get to spend a rainy Saturday noodling around in my study instead of having to work a shift at Wal-Mart or one of the local groceries or fast food joints around town. Privilege, or the lack thereof, poverty, hunger, income equity: good lord, I could drift off on that line and not get anything done in this study the rest of the day.

So let me turn my thoughts back to the task at hand. The pile on the desk. Back to those loose ends.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Small Moment

Kim, the blogger at Out My Window, commented on my last post that she "could never get enough" of drumline, being a dancer and former drumline coach.

This is a little bit of the drumline performance from Elkhart High School, who ended up placing 2nd in the competition at PASIC 2017:

Kim, I hope this makes you feel better! Enjoy!