Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Inch One Hundred Thirty-Two: The Trip

We have been back from our trip for about a week and a half and I am just now blogging about it.

My difficulty is in finding the words. Not because the trip was so incredible that words fail me, but because I have such mixed feelings that I don't know what to say.

We traveled by car to Colorado and back, a journey of 4261 miles per our odometer. Part of the time we stayed in a condo in the heart of the Rockies, the rest of the time we were either camping or staying in motels or with friends, but always at a different location each night.

The camping, despite that I have not camped since I was in my 20s and Warren does not like camping, was easier and more enjoyable than either of us expected. We camped five of six planned nights, once at 9000 feet, and would have camped the sixth night but for the the torrential rains the night before that left the tent, our air mattress, and everything else, including shoes, wet and muddy.
At 9000 feet

As I noted previously, we took a minimalist approach to packing. We could have packed even lighter, in retrospect. To do minimalist packing for a long trip (anything over a long weekend, as far as I am concerned), you need (a) access to laundry of some sort and (b) a tolerance for wearing the same clothes over and over. Fortunately, we had both.

What can I say about Colorado? We were in the Rockies for over a week and traversed Colorado from north out of Wyoming to south into New Mexico. The Rockies, even in August when the snowpack is light, are everything you would expect: majestic, awe-inspiring, stunning.


They did nothing for me except block the view. It occurred to me many times that had I been a homesteader in Colorado, I'd have spent my days longing for a horizon.  Great Sand Dunes National Park in south central Colorado redeemed the state for me, but I cannot help but rejoice that I never have to go to Colorado again.

Give me Nebraska.

This was Warren's vacation, revisiting places he had last seen when he was 15. We saw a lot of trains (Warren) and a lot of statehouses (both of us).  I was gratified to find in the Nebraska statehouse's Hall of Fame both Red Cloud and Bess Streeter Aldrich. And our guide in the Kansas statehouse was stunned that I knew who William Allen White was. "Are you a librarian? A journalist?" No, just a nerd who discovered White when I was still in junior high.
Lots of trains

 I'm very glad we took the trip, because it is now clear to me that the likelihood of our taking such a lengthy and wearing car trip again is slim. The trip was very hard on me physically and caused havoc with my body's reactions to the new medications I am on. But we made it through with no medical emergencies, not even a stop at an urgent care facility, and that was a victory.

It was a thrifty trip in many ways, with the one special event, a lengthy steam engine ride along, up, and over steep mountains, including a mountain pass at 10,000+ feet, being the big splurge. We spent more on eating out, even at the condo, ($291, with another $110 on groceries) and less on gas ($309) than we had expected. Without the train ride, we'd have done the trip for $1150, only 15% more than we'd hoped for. Even with the train ride ($200), we still came in under our maximum allowance of $1500, and the balance went back in our travel account the Monday we got back.

As much as possible, we traveled not by interstate but by US routes or state highways, so we saw a lot of the country up close. As is often the case when we travel, I was both uplifted and disheartened. Disheartened by how much poverty—tenacious and deep—this nation continues to hold. Uplifted because, in spite of the struggles, there were bright spots everywhere: thriving small businesses in small towns and cities, local-sourced restaurants in the middle of nowhere that the locals were supporting, civic/community developments (parks, concerts, farmers markets, downtown projects) in many communities. It is seeing those little spots that leave with me a sense of hope.

There was one stop we had discussed, but did not make and that was the site of the Sand Creek Massacre, yet another example of the US government committing genocide against Native Americans. I told Warren I didn't think I could begin to atone to the dead. And there was one stop we had not planned to make, but did, and that was Amache, a Colorado relocation center for over 7000 Japanese-American citizens forcibly imprisoned during World War II.

In the Chaim Potok novel In the Beginning, Rav Sharfman tells rabbinical student David that he will ordain him with the ordination that Sharfman's grandfather gave to him. But David must not be neglectful of that honor, as he would be liable to earlier generations. "You will have to go to the graves of those against whom you transgress and ask them to forgive you. But remember, you may be unable to do that. You may not know where the dead are buried."

Potok's words followed me the whole day, past the Sand Creek turnoff and through Amache. Then we came into Kansas, and the horizon opened up.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Inch One Hundred Thirty-One: Update

We are back from vacation, having arrived home Saturday in the early evening.

Sunday was spent in a whirl of laundry, cleaning, unpacking, recycling, sorting, shop work, gardening, and all the other tasks that accompany a homecoming after a lengthy absence. Monday we both jumped back into work: Warren with drumming and a benefit concert at the end of this week, me with the first session of a new court program that my good friend and coworker Cecelia created earlier this year.

Legal Clinic was last night. Clinic was packed with clients and I did not get home until later than I had anticipated (and I ended up leaving before we were all done). We were to have dinner guests tonight, but they had to cancel due to family matters. I regret the loss of the social time, but can make use of the resulting free time. My dear friend Katrina arrives tomorrow for a long weekend; her room is ready.

Chemo resumed yesterday. We (the doctors and I) are trying to get my new treatment regimen (new meds on top of old meds) smoothed out. The vacation, be it the high altitudes or the wear and tear of travel, impacted some of that process in less than wonderful ways and I spent a lot of time on the phone with my personal physician.

It has been raining raining raining here. We have been in and out of rain since Thursday evening of last week. The tomatoes started ripening while we were gone, so we came home to a flood of red. I picked them in some of that rain.

And those are just the headlines, folks.

I will not even begin to write about the vacation until next week. The minimalist packing (room for improvement there), the budget (we did run over the $1000 goal but came in under the $1500 limit), the sights, the impressions: all of that has to wait until later. 

Judy Garland clicked her ruby slippers three times and said "there's no place like home." I know just how she felt.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Inch One Hundred Thirty: Road Trip

We are coming back home tonight after over two weeks on the road.

Remember my post about minimalist packing when I went to Seattle and Portland earlier this summer? Minimalist packing turned out to be a brilliant (and successful) idea.

Well, this trip has combined minimalist packing and minimalist camping (to cut the cost of the trip).  We hope we have done it for under $1000 (subject to one footnote).

Just so you all know, I am writing this post BEFORE we head out, and scheduling it to run just as we return. So all of this is speculative: the camping, the cost, the endurance. But I did spend a fruitful morning the Saturday before we left making camping reservations from here to there and back again.

Once I get unpacked and some laundry done, I will write about what the last two weeks held in store for both of us.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Inch One Hundred Twenty-Nine: End of an Era

The Buick is dead.

The Buick is undeniably and reliably dead.

The Buick is not only merely dead, but really most sincerely dead.

Several weeks ago, after months of a brake warning light being on, the brake lines, which were original (1997), finally gave up the ghost. Yes, I was driving at the time. I was able to coast into and through an intersection, then turn up a small street and come to a safe rolling stop. Warren and I waited for the tow truck, then followed the Buick to my mechanic's shop.

My mechanic is swamped this summer, so it took another three weeks before he and his crew could get the Buick up in the air and look at it. I had already been forewarned by the office staff that I was looking at a major bill.

With 19 years on the car, major terminal rust throughout the body, and a whole host of problems just waiting to bloom, "major bill" meant to me "get ready to give it up."

At the beginning of the fourth week, my mechanic called. Dave and I have done business together for many years, and I appreciate that he wanted to break the news to me gently.

The news was bad. Without even getting into the brake calipers, I was looking at $1200. The underbody rust was so bad that the mechanics had a hard time getting the car hoisted in the air as rusted areas kept giving way.

Then Dave delivered the ultimate words.

"April, I can't advise you put that kind of money into this car. Use the money to get another one."

It was like agreeing to turn off life support. I did so. Dave then put a salvage company in touch with me and we made arrangements to have the remains removed.

Warren and I went out the next evening to clear out the car and remove the license plates. I took photos of the rear bumper, which sported bumper stickers of several kinds:

The BUC-EE'S sticker is from my friend Katrina, who used to live in Texas. We visited the Tennessee Parthenon last fall:

Then there is my favorite presidential sticker ever, right next to the just-went-on-the-bumper Tillamook Cheese sticker from my trip to Oregon this September:

Most of them cannot be replaced. I will miss them all.

For now, we are a one car family, although what with my chemo schedule and Warren's Symphony schedule, we often end up borrowing my dad's truck for a day or two. My office is only a four block walk. Other friends have made generous offers of their vehicles.

I live in a great community.

We are postponing looking for a new car until after mid-August. I will be looking for another older car, albeit now "older" means 21st century. The car may possibly come from the Goodwill auctions in Columbus as I just need reliable wheels. I do not need a car payment, so there will be no new shiny Prius in my future.

It is inconvenient being a one car (and a loaner as needed) family, but this is truly an inconvenience of first-world magnitude. Even within this community, it is a privileged inconvenience at that. Working at the Court and at the Legal Clinic, I know lots of us out there scrape by with no car or no reliable car, which is only marginally better than no car at all. And I know that my inconvenience will be relatively short-lived.

Alas, poor Buick, I knew it well.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Friday, July 22, 2016

Inch One Hundred Twenty-Seven: Conventions

When I was a child growing up in a multi-generational house (two separate households with our own separate living space), we always gathered in front of my grandmother's large (not by today's standards, mind you) color TV to watch the national political conventions. One week we would sit through the Republican convention, the next week through the Democratic one.

Often my Uncle Buster would be in town during convention time, visiting from Baltimore with my aunt and cousins. Buster would serve as color commentator for what was unfolding on television. A dyed-deep-in-the-wool Republican, he all the same ranted when Richard Nixon named Spiro Agnew to the veep slot in 1968.

"That guy's a crook!" Buster bellowed. "He's our governor in Maryland and he's a crook there too!" (And, as it turned out, Uncle Buster was right.)

The real excitement, however, would be when my Uncle Dawrence would be in town and stop in to watch the convention. A deeply committed Democrat, he loved nothing better than to talk politics with his brother. The two of them would end the evening shouting at one another about the merits and evils of the two major parties, an argument that would always close with Uncle Dawrence saying "Well, hell, I'm voting for Gus Hall [the perennial Communist party candidate] anyway."

Those were the days.

I gradually fell away from watching the conventions. Time got short, children came along: you know, the usual. I cannot remember the last convention I saw more than a few highlights of: maybe the 1988 Democratic convention? Once I gave up television, the decision not to follow the conventions, except by newspaper the next day, became even easier.

This year I do not regret that distance. The Republican convention just finished last night, with Donald Trump triumphing over the Republican establishment by accepting the nomination. I am appalled at the vitriol expressed over the last few days; I am aghast that Trump is the nominee.

(Vitriol expressed over the last few days? How about over the last several months?) 

And next week won't be any better.  Oh, it'll be different words and different themes, maybe, but I have as much enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton as president as I do for Trump. For different reasons, mind you, but the same conclusion: this person should not be president.

Third party tickets have little traction in this country, and, as deeply divided as we seem to be as a nation, I do not see the Green Party (Jill Stein), Libertarians (Gary Johnson), or any of the other small parties making much headway, except to act, perhaps, as a spoiler to either candidate. (Remember Ralph Nader in 2000?) And the independent candidates (many of whom have no affiliation with anything or anyone other than themselves) have no chance of being sworn in next January.

A coworker, a conservative Republican (for the record, most of my co-workers are conservative Republicans), frequently stops by my office to bemoan the state of politics. "April, we are so screwed this year. We are doomed." His "we" is universal, not "we, the Republicans," but "we, the people." He sent me this quote, from Mike Florio, former director of the NFL referees:
 Regardless of anyone’s political beliefs, we all should be a little troubled by the article in the New Yorker from George Saunders detailing the face-to-face squabbles of those who support and those who oppose Donald Trump’s presidential run. The red state/blue state divide that first emerged in the 2000 election has become a red country/blue country, with citizens of the two distinct nations living elbow to elbow and, on matters of politics, speaking entirely different languages fueled by the narrow echo chambers from which each side gathers its information and sharpens its opinions. Caught in the middle are those who have grown so weary with the complete lack of common ground and civil discourse that, eventually, apathy will take root.
 I hope I do not become one of the apathetic. I certainly am one of the alienated, one for whom neither major candidate speaks. This year, this whole bruising political, ugly year, is putting me to the test. All I can do is hunker down, focus on my community, and wait for the storm to hit.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Inch One Hundred Twenty-Six: Poetry Night

Poetry Night is every Wednesday evening, starting around 7:30 p.m.

Poetry Night can be at Mark and Mel's house, or my house, or Michele's house. We may not end up at Michele's house until the fall, because of other complications, but the point is that Poetry Night floats.

Poetry Night involves food and drink. And, of course, poetry. Lots of poetry. 


Poetry Night just started a few Wednesdays ago, but shows signs of becoming a permanent fixture.

If you come to Poetry Night, you may read either your own poems or poems by someone else. At the last Poetry Night, which was held on our back deck, we soon had a towering stack of poetry anthologies on the table. I read some of my own work, as well as "Supper with Lindsay" by Theodore Roethke. I read the Roethke because Mel had just read Ginsberg's "A Supermarket in California" and Walt Whitman appears in both of them. 

At that same Poetry Night, Mel also read Roethke's "My Papa's Waltz," which is a heartbreaking poem. 

You may attend Poetry Night and not participate, but so far that is a limited privilege granted only to my husband, who got badly scarred somewhere in his formative years and has been poetry adverse ever since. However, despite his scars, Warren sat and listened and smiled. 

Poetry Night is the inspiration of my friend, Mark, with whom I created the Death and Dying Poetry Club.  Because we know each other's work, he can say to me, "oh, read the one about the baggage," and I know exactly which poem he is referencing. 

At the last poetry night. Michele read a work in draft about fireflies. Some of the poem contrasted the use of the light for both mating and attracting prey. Mel and I heard the word "prey" as "pray" and so we had a whole different take on the poem. It was appropriate that we were on our back deck and the fireflies were just beginning to flash their lights as Michele read. 

Mark read some fragments of poems at the last Poetry Night, then emailed them to us all. Our assignment is to use the fragments as prompts for writing a poem. I wrote mine last Friday while sitting in the parking lot at the library waiting for it to open. Mine is called "When Walt Whitman Called Upon Emily Dickinson." 

Warren and I will miss two weeks of Poetry Night in August, when we are traveling out of town, but I am hopeful I will find some poems in our travels and bring them back with me to Delaware. By then, I should have received a copy of a small poetry anthology I just bought online at Etsy. It is a collections of works by indigenous poets, and my daughter-in-law Alise has a poem in it. I am looking forward to reading both her poem and my poem at the same Poetry Night. 

There are undoubtedly poems in Poetry Night itself, but none of us has written them yet.