Saturday, January 23, 2021

Jumpstarted by Two Youths

This is not a post about Millennials or Generation Z. When I wrote "Youths" in the title,  I was referring to individuals under the age of 15, and I'm only hedging on that because I can't remember how old Liam is, although he is still in middle school, so I know I am more than safe with that age range. The other young person is Ramona, who is not yet eight and a half years old.

So, jumpstarted by youths. I could say "inspired," but "jumpstarted" is more accurate. I just had my car battery replaced, and Warren had to jumpstart me on two different occasions just before that, so that sound of turning the ignition key and hearing the power surge on is spot on. 

Ramona first. Ramona my oldest grandchild, Ramona the amazing. After months of irregular video chats,  complicated by busy schedules, online schooling, activities, family matters, and time zone differences, to name a few factors, she and I now chat online on Wednesday afternoons (my time) as Wednesday is the weekday her online school classes are the shortest. As has always been the case with Ramona, she hits the conversational ground running and we never know where that talk will lead. It is a blast.

During our most recent talk, we started off talking books. Ramona reads a lot of fantasy, especially if it features dragons. She is enthralled with the Wings of Fire series and sometimes we explore tangential threads to that series, including dragonflies of the genus Pantala, also known as rainpool gliders, which Ramona immediately connected to the Rainwings in the series and drew comparisons between the characteristics of the dragonfly (I read them aloud) and the dragons.

She then segued to a "chapter book" she is writing. She wanted to read some of it to me, but it is packed away in preparation for her family moving (today, in fact). However, she recited (or pulled up on her iPad) a list of the characters and ran through them quickly. I then shared with her that I was writing a novel, but I had not worked on it in months (well, years).

Ramona bounced straight up. "What? You're writing one? What is it about?" I  told her it was a novel about her completing a quest with the help of Aunties Jenna and her little brother. She beamed when I said it was about her. "Read some of it to me," she demanded. 

Well, what could I do with a command request like that? I got my manuscript (which is always, always setting out) and told her I would read her the prologue, after asking her if she knew what a prologue was. Polite eye roll. Yes, she was very familiar with prologues (and correctly explained it to me) as well as epilogues (the same), adding, patiently, "I know all the logues."

So I read it to her. 

There was a split second of silence, then an outburst. "That's good! Read more."

I read a little more, with Ramona asking questions, then told her I haven't finished it and haven't been working on it. 

Ramona cut me no slack.

"You need to finish it."

After we finished talking, I told Warren about reading some of the novel (which he has not read) to Ramona and her response. Then I added, "I want to go back to it and see it through. I thought it was just a discarded idea, but now I feel ready to tackle it again." 

Ramona jumpstarted me. 

The second jumpstart was with Liam, the middle-school aged son of my friend Cecelia. I have known Liam since before he went to kindergarten. Recently, Liam got both a Facebook page and a new camera, and has been posting photos on his page. 

Liam has a good eye. Several of the adults in his Facebook world have said that to him, including me. It's one of those intangible "I know it when I see it" qualities; Liam has it.

I have written before about my love of photography. When I was Liam's age, I started thinking about whether I could be a photographer; National Geographic was my goal. I set that career path aside long ago, but I still love photography and cameras and seeing what others are doing in the field. I have a great camera; I mean to use it more, but, like the writing (all writing, not just the novel), it gets set aside too easily.

Yesterday Liam posted some of his latest work. It was really, really good. I had my same reaction: Liam has a good eye. (And you bet I told him that on Facebook.) I had a second reaction, which I did not post but came naturally: I miss photography.

Which is why when I saw the morning sun lighting up the kitchen, particularly the pot of beans on the stove, I took this photo, then posted it on Facebook with the comment, "Liam, you are totally responsible for this shot."

Just because

Because he was. Like Ramona, his enthusiasm for photography jumpstarted my too often dormant love of it. Because of that surge of energy, I saw the plain pot and the sun and the day entirely different.

Jumpstarted by the young ones. What a gift.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Food Spending in December

Well, was that a year or what?

And I'm just talking about groceries.

Way back in the old, pre-pandemic days, I set a goal of our spending $180.00 a month in 2020 on groceries, including household items such as detergent and toilet paper.

That seemed reasonable. More than reasonable. That was a little higher than the $175.00/month we'd been overshooting, and not that far off of what we averaged in 2019.

Easy peasy. 

Well, okay, we overshot that amount the second month in, but I was pretty sure we could rein our spending in and go through the year hovering around $180.00.

Excuse me while I roll on the floor laughing.

I just finished tallying our December grocery purchases. Food? $278.39. Household? $7.99. Grand total? $286.38.

I can explain some of the December spike. Meijer (a Midwest grocery chain) had a great pre-holiday sale on smoked, spiral-sliced hams. We bought two, making one for Christmas and freezing one for later. That was about $20.00 right there. Towards the end of the month, Kroger had fresh salmon on sale. That was another $40.00. (Yes, we have a lot of meat right now in our freezer!) I bake a lot of almond biscotti in December, and this year baked other cookies as well for the musicians performing in the remote  holiday concert. Baking supplies on one outing ran over $26.00. And that doesn't count the almost $14.00 spent (again at Kroger) after the holidays when we discovered that Kroger had discounted much of the extra supplies it brought it for holiday baking: coconut, semi-sweet chocolate chips, semi-sweet Baker's chocolate. 

So, yeah, it added up. And, to be fair, we have a lot of items that will carry us through January.  (Heck, on the meat front, since we only eat meat a few times a week, we can probably go until June or later.)

Monthly average for 2020 when all was said and done? $237.12, or about $58.00 a month over what I had originally thought was reasonable. But that original figure did not take into account the pandemic. Food costs did rise around here. Meat rose, at times sharply. I'm glad we don't eat a lot of it. At different times of the year, eggs, milk, and some produce all rose. So maybe our final result was par for the course compared with other friends.

I will note there was one (one!) eating out expense in December, 2020. I had infusion later in the day than normal in December. My infusion day, not counting travel, runs about five and a half hours from the moment I check in; travel adds another hour plus to the day. So coming home late in the afternoon, tired, worn out, and hungry. (I don't eat at infusion; since the Covid restrictions went into effect, it is more challenging for me to deal with eating and drinking.) There is a KFC right at the highway interchange just as we turn onto the last stretch of highway to Delaware. I'd already told Warren: turn in there. It was a superb way to spend $11.35.

I'm still mulling over what approach to take in 2021. Set a new goal? Just go with the flow? Something else?  I think it is very important coming into this year to watch the grocery figure as I will explain in a post I hope to have by next week. 

But this is enough for now. The 2020 spending on food is in the books. Let's see what 2021 brings.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Last Comment on 2020

 Oh, I have posts to come: December food expenses, looking back at 2020, looking ahead to 2021, but I couldn't let 2020 slide away without one last photo for a most mixed up, godawful, WTF year ever.

If when I am out walking and see a coin on the ground, I pick it up. This year, I picked up a total of 61¢, all but 7¢ of which was picked up BEFORE mid-March. There are several reasons for that date, the top one being that change disappeared from stores and people stopped carrying coins around. However, in the last three weeks, I found two pennies and one nickel.

The nickel sums up 2020 better than any quote or any meme. Is this how we all feel about 2020 or what? 

Here's to 2021, everyone. May it treat us all more kindly than 2020. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

A Further Note on Hanukkah, Light, and Love

My husband Warren read my last post and commented (on the actual post, not just to me) that he was there for Hanukkah as well as "an observer and a supporter." 

I cannot say enough about Warren and his acceptance of my Judaism.

I have written about my faith before, including taking a long, hard look at it back in 2011, but Warren's comment caused me to think back about the support that I have had or not had over the years since converting to Judaism many decades ago. 

I was introduced to Judaism through the children's series All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor. I had discovered these books while I was reading my way through my childhood in our local library. In the Lutheran church in which I was raised, Judaism was a religion that should have died out with the onset of Christianity. The realization to me when I was 8 or 9 that there were people out there— girls out there—who were Jewish was staggering. That began what was more or less a 15 year journey that ended in my converting formally as a young adult.

At the time of my conversion, I was married into a "culturally Jewish" (well, kinda sorta) family. My father-in-law was agnostic; my mother-in-law was an atheist, but they identified as Jews (to a limited extent) and observed some of the hallmark holidays (to a very limited extent). My then husband, David, was much the same: fiercely atheistic, but more than willing to play the Jewish card when it benefitted him. My in-laws were pleased when I converted, although my mother-in-law (who was and still is a force of nature when it came to respecting the beliefs of others) made it clear she thought all the "God stuff" was foolish and hoped I would soon abandon the religious side of Judaism. 

David, on the other hand, was very opposed to my conversion once it became clear I was going through with it. So opposed, in fact, that he cornered the rabbi before the ceremony and tried to argue that the conversion could not go through without his approval. I still remember Rabbi Stampher politely but firmly informing David that he could either sit down and be quiet or he could leave, but either way the rabbi was moving ahead with the conversion and was not wasting energy on pointless arguments.

I was a believing Jew in a sea of non-believers. Judaism, though, is like that, running the gamut in faith and observance, so while my situation wasn't ideal, it was nonetheless manageable.

My second husband was a lapsed Catholic, albeit one with 12 years of parochial school under his belt. In the early years, he claimed to be very supportive of my beliefs. We attended a few seders together, I lit menorahs every Hanukkah. I took Ben as a very young child to the Reform synagogue in Stockton for some of the holidays. 

That didn't last. For reasons mired deep in mental health issues, my then husband became opposed to my observing any Jewish holidays, let alone exposing our children to Judaism in practice or belief. I ended up raising my children without Judaism even as a belief system (apart from the observances), a loss I regret yet. 

Fast forward to now, or near now. (Scrooge to The Ghost of Christmas Past: "The long past?" "No, your past.") Very early on, Warren and I talked about faith. He was raised in the Christian Science faith, which is a very minority church in mainstream Christianity. While he never joined the church, he nonetheless absorbed many of its tenets. He understood the reality of belonging to a minority religion, especially in this community. More important, Warren made it clear he would support my beliefs however and wherever he could.

So that brings us to now. Every Hanukkah when I light the candles, Warren is present (the exception in pre-pandemic years being when he was not home because of a rehearsal). He listens to me chant the Hebrew, watches me touch the shamash (leader) to the night's candles, even corrects me when I make a lighting error, to our mutual amusement. (My favorite menorah, the Konarski-Anderson menorah, has a shamash but it is not removable to light the other ones with; I touch an extra candle to it and proceed to light the others with the extra. Sometimes I forget the order.) 

I have written about this holiday and the importance of the light. Rabbi Lawrence Kushner said it best: "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."

Yes, I remember the divine presence. And I very much look at my dear Warren, sitting on the couch watching me light the menorah, to know what a light he is in my life.

Monday, December 28, 2020

A Different Holiday Season

Who didn't have a different holiday season this year? 

Okay, Hanukkah was pretty much the same. Eight nights of lighting candles is always something I look forward to, and this year I used that time to read and reflect. I put my menorahs on a small table in our front window, watching out, as JewBelong reminds us, for the curtains and for anti-Semites. So far, so good. 

 The last night I didn't get the candles lit until late (because I had Poetry Group earlier), so they burned long into the evening. I own three menorahs and light them all, so there was a lot of light:

The last night

Christmas was a whole different experience this year. Normally, December is a rush of holiday concerts and performances for Warren, but in the pandemic world, live music is on hold indefinitely. That alone made December feel different. For example, we typically put off buying a Christmas tree until after the last performance (which would have been December 21 at the earliest); this year, we bought one out of sequence in part because there was no sequence and in part because, in Ohio at least, there were localized runs on trees, with various vendors selling out. We did get a tree. It stayed on our porch for several days until a windstorm made that a losing proposition, then it stood unadorned and unlit in our living room until, well, about the 21st. 

It wasn't for lack of enthusiasm; it was for lack of time and...time. Among other things, Warren was producing the first live (as in prerecorded concert) by the Symphony for the Symphony's Holiday Concert. (There had been an earlier prerecorded concert, produced and shot by the Farm Bureau for the annual Benefit in the Barn fundraiser; this one was solely a Symphony production.) Until it went live on Facebook on December 20, it consumed a lot of energy and time in this household. Want to see it? Here it is:

Actually, we had two trees this year. The first was a pine tree, the one I just wrote about. The second was a sculpture that we had bought back in January, in one of our Mayo cross country jaunts (the last of 2020, unbeknownst to us at the time). It sat outside all summer, but came in for the winter and Warren thought it would make a great tree. 

It did. And yes, that is a trout in the upper circle on the right. 

A tradition Warren and I started our very first Christmas is buying a special "us" ornament. We label these and keep them in a separate box. Over the years, we started buying an ornament from somewhere we had traveled that year as our "us"ornament, then expanded that to buying "us" ornaments from all of our trips in any year. So, for example, here is our 2012 ornament from Whitefish Point when we went to Lake Superior that year:

But guess what? We scrubbed all of our 2020 travel plans because of the pandemic. Other than the trip to Rochester for Mayo and Warren's Midwinter Conference in NY, both in January pre-pandemic, we went nowhere. 

Nowhere. Not Minneapolis (for the 2020 League of American Orchestras conference, which went virtual), not Rockland, Maine (to see our friends David and Vince in their retirement home), not to Indianapolis (for PASIC 2020, which went virtual) and, the hardest of all, not to Portland/Vancouver to be with our family out there. 

Not a single place. And although in the early years we bought an ornament unrelated to travel (that started in 2010), neither of us were going into a store just days before Christmas. And it wouldn't be the same, frankly.

I'm the one who solved the 2020 dilemma, shortly after Warren set up the second "tree." We still had the price tag from that sculpture, and, well, that was a 2020 trip:

(For the record, we paid $50.00, not $75.00, for our piece. I would also note that the sculptor is Tom Nelson, no relation.)

For such a screwy year, it is a perfectly heartfelt reminder of what 2020 held. 

We didn't hang a lot of ornaments this year. Our "us" ones, some others that held special meaning or just felt "right," three wood flowers that Mona, my grandchildren's beloved Nana, had each of them paint and then sent to me earlier this year:

Orlando's efforts

And one more. 

A very special one. 

Earlier this year, my good friend David (the one in Maine) announced that there would be "21 Days of Just David," and he would send me something by mail for 21 days. Sometimes it was a postcard. Sometimes it was a bumpersticker. Sometimes it was a heartfelt letter. Sometimes it was dirt. (There's a story behind that too.) One of the packages arrived much later (he had warned me) and turned out to be an ornament of Frodo Baggins as played by Elijah Wood in the movies "The Lord of the Rings." 

Seriously. David had found someone on line in Canada who turned these out:

Why? David, Vince, and I together watched each of the three "Lord of the Rings" movies when each was released and all of us made fun of the agonizing faces Wood made as Frodo. That was 12+ hours of Frodo agonizing over every single breath he took, mind you. It became a running joke over the years between us. Here, for example, is David being Frodo as he does dishes:

Frodo/David agonizing over the dishes

You get the point. 

Of course the Frodo ornament had to go on the tree. I went running upstairs to my study to grab him and bring him down. 

There is a quote from the final movie on the back of this ornament and I teased David that the first sentence (minus the "Sam") would be my response to inane questions for the remainder of 2020:

May 2021 be brighter for us all. 

Friday, December 18, 2020

Observations (Albeit Late) About November Spending


I know, we are deep into December. I have had November numbers available since, well, since the end of November. But the last three weeks have held more so much on all fronts that posting about November held on the food front has been beyond me.

So here is a very belated report.

November was a disaster if I look at my 2020 goal of holding food/household spending to $180.00 a month. An absolute disaster. (Note: Many, many goals of 2020 went by the wayside this year. I'll be writing about that later this month.) In fact, November was such a disaster on the money front that it has made me rethink how to approach our food spending heading into 2021 (again, a topic for later this month or early January). 

So how much of a disaster? $300.64 on food; $44.71 in household items (toilet paper, detergent). Grand total? $345.53.

I can't even begin to account for all of that. Some of it was stocking up. Some of it was buying baking supplies. Our garden did finally come to an end after snow, but we didn't buy whopping amounts of lettuce to make up for that loss. None of it, alas, was lobster, rack of lamb, caviar, or other such items. 

Year-to-date: $2559.06. Monthly average for 2020: $233.64. 

As I noted last month, even with a month like November, both our November spending and our year-to-date averages still come in lower than the USDA "thrifty plan" for a two-adult household in our age bracket. I won't wring my hands over November's dollars but, as I noted, it is food for thought, no pun intended.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

An Update and an Addendum

 Back in September, I wrote my attempts to get an avocado seed to sprout. At the time, I noted how much of the issue was my impatience, even as I quoted Hope Jahren's reminder that every single tree in this world "was first a seed that waited."

Three months later, here is the result of that waiting:

The avocado tree today

That picture was taken a week ago. You might notice a small green blot on the left side of the pot.  That blot is the addendum in my title. Sometime in November, eating a seedless clementine, I spit out a seed. Warren looked at it and said, "So why not plant it?"  

That wayward clementine seed sprouted sometime in the last two weeks and here it is today:

Another seed that waited 

 I'm not sure what will (eventually) become of either of these trees. I am not in a warm enough climate to get either to ever bear fruit outside. What I have not investigated is whether I am even in a temperate enough climate that either would survive outside, even with the climate change that is diminishing our cold weather. 

But for now, I marvel at them: the seeds that waited, the trees that sprouted.