Sunday, January 13, 2019

Small Moment

This is a photo of my feet yesterday morning. Oh, nothing special about the feet, trust me. Rather, the socks are the star of this post.

The combination of years of cancer treatment (including eye-watering doses of thalidomide in the very early years) and the onset of diabetes in the last seven months has done nothing but increase the neuropathy in my feet. The neuropathy makes itself known in a a spectacular array of ways: numbness, shooting pains, spasms, tingling, loss of balance.

The neuropathy also makes me shed my shoes whenever I can, which is most of the time I am at home. I have to wear something on my feet because I cannot stand the sensation of walking on any surface in my bare feet (yet another gift of neuropathy). Spring, summer, and fall, I immediately switch to flip flops when I walk through the door. In the winter, I don house slippers, or, more accurately, house boots. I wear them on the large side, to avoid putting too much pressure on my feet. To keep them on my feet, I always wear a pair of socks.

My favorite winter indoor socks are a wonderful pair of socks that my friend and Myeloma Beacon editor Maike knit for me. They are soft, they are warm, they are blue.

And yesterday they were in the wash. What to wear? What to wear?

I asked Warren, before we even got out of bed that morning, whether we still had the orange socks. Yes. They were in the drawer in which he keeps his heavier work socks. Problem solved: I would don the orange socks.

The orange socks are mine. I got them when I was in high school. Yes. in high school. To put that date in perspective, I graduated in June, 1974. 1974. That was many, many, many years ago. They may have been a Christmas present that senior year December (1973).

The socks have been with me ever since. They have traveled to college and to law school, making appearances in various classes over the year. They have gone from Ohio to Illinois to Ohio to Oregon to Ohio to California to Ohio, and points in between. They have been in snow on Mt. Hood, in Hyde Park in Chicago, and, of course, here in Delaware.

When I put them on this morning, I discovered a hole in the toe of one sock. I laughed as I grabbed my mending kit. "I don't have to match thread color," I said to Warren. "Not like these are going to be on display." Five minutes later, the hole was sealed and the socks and slippers were on my feet.

Those who know me well know that I do not like to buy clothes, I rarely buy new, and, once I have something, I wear it endlessly. One top I wear regularly is older than my son Ben, who just turned 33, by at least two years. It has held up fine through court, through concerts, through speaking events. In fact, I wore it when Warren and I got married. At this rate, it will outlast me.

But the orange socks take the cake. 45 years and counting. They are well traveled, they are well educated, and they are well worn.

And they are just fine.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Shabbat Meal

Shabbat starts at sunset on Friday evenings and tonight I did something I had not done for a long time: light Shabbos candles. [A note: Shabbat is Hebrew for the Sabbath, Shabbos is Yiddish for the same.]

I did not light the thick, white Rokeach Shabbos candles I bought several years ago on a markdown of a markdown at our local Kroger (this town has an infinitesimal Jewish population, so the candles weren't really flying off the shelf). Instead, I lit some hand-dipped candles that Warren and his daughter made years ago, recently dredged up from a basement bin as we try to reduce the amount of stuff we have in this house. I lit them quietly as the dusk came on, murmuring the Hebrew prayer.

And like that, it was Shabbat.

Our meal was homemade pizza: a yeast crust I started midday in between work and errands, chopped tomatoes out of our freezer (from our garden) mixed with a can of diced, a handful of cheeses, a candy onion (that's its name, truly) we had bought last summer and sliced and frozen, and spices.

Like this:

I didn't calculate the cost of the meal, but I figure the whole pizza (a 12 incher) comes to less than $5.00. The two salads I added to our plates? Maybe $1.00 each. (Yeah, I'm bragging.)

We ate in the warm kitchen, talking over our respective days, savoring the flavors in our mouths, cherishing the quiet time together.

The Shabbos candles burned lower as we turned from the table, Warren to shop work, I to cleaning up. I blew them out after finishing the dishes and putting the kitchen to rights.

This year I am trying to take time more slowly when I am not at work or otherwise in a situation where other issues and others' needs are more pressing. Many Jewish writers talk about carving out time, even suspending time, in the observance of Shabbat.

And tonight I feel I found some of that timelessness.

A favorite Thoreau quote (one of many, and one I have quoted in this blog before) speaks to that quality: "Time is but a stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars."

Let me go a-fishing.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Small Moment

A morning view from our deck, but not at THIS time of year! 

I have started off 2019 trying to alter my daily routine in small ways. As I have noted before, I don't make resolutions. But much like I feel during the High Holy Days, I see the changing of the calendar year as a time of reflection and self-examination.

One of the very small things I have been doing is stepping outside on our back deck, often before the sun rises, for a moment or two each morning (the moment is very short if it is raining). I stand there  in quiet appreciation that I am still here to see this day.

Line 24 of Psalm 118 comes to me as I stand there: This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

I will rejoice indeed.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

These Historic Days

Representatives Haaland and Davids embracing afterwards

On the 3rd of January, the 116th Congress was sworn in. This body has already received much attention as being the most diverse (in so many ways) Congress ever and there were many hand-to-my-heart moments fas I read about the new Representatives, especially the women elected to Congress.

Nothing moved me more deeply than the swearing in of two Native American women: Deb Haaland, New Mexico, a member of the Pueblo tribe, and Sharice Davids, Kansas, a member of the Ho-Chunk tribe. Haaland wore her regalia to her swearing in, signaling visually that the times they are a changin' indeed. I cried as stories popped up about them, about their swearing in, about the Native color guard present in D.C., about the hug (and tears) the two of them exchanged immediately afterwards.

On the same day, these photos popped up in my email from Mona, Alise's mother. She and Ramona were out shopping.

Here is Ramona with her beloved Nana:

And her is our granddaughter showing off her new hoops:

Ramona is a force to be reckoned with: bright, confident, full of energy. My father is a huge fan of hers. "That girl is going to be our first Native American president!" he will often exclaim.

He and I talked about the two new congresswomen and what it meant for this nation and what it meant to the tribes to have this representation. He repeated his prediction that Ramona will go far.

As the grandmother of two, soon to be three, Native children, I am grateful this moment has happened. I know that Ramona, Lyrick, and Orlando will face challenges in this country because of their ethnicities (all of them) and tribal connections (Montana Little Shell Chippewa tribe).

But I also know that a BIG door opened on January 3. 

Here's to their futures.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Finishing 2018 (December Finances) And Looking Ahead To 2019

Holy smokes.

Our food spending for December took a large (LARGE) jump. And while I can point to some reasons why—the holidays, my aunt's hospitalization and death, restocking some key items, extra baking—I still winced when I totaled up the figures for December.

Grocery (food) spending in December? $266.85. Yes, you read that right. $266.85. (Enlarging the font size there makes it so much more real.) We spent another $27.07 on household items: soap, toilet paper, that kind of thing.

December total? $293.92.
Here, let me blow that WAY UP: $293.92. 

When I plug that figure into the rest of the year, Warren and I spent $2288.18 this year on groceries and household items. That comes out to $190.68 a month average, rounded up to $191.00, which puts me $16.00 over the $175.00 a month I was aiming for.

Okay, not bad. But I'd like to do better. (I'll come back to that comment.)

Our eating out bill in December was (for us) staggering: $134.52 (more or less, as I estimated a meal that I didn't have the receipt for). [An aside: December eating out was less costly than November!] Again, there were some extraneous circumstances: meals at the hospital, a luncheon after the graveside services, some other meals out with family because of the holidays. (When Warren or I treated others (the luncheon after the service, for example), I only added that portion of the bill directly related to what the two of us ordered.) Some of those meals out were because we were just too worn out and sad to prepare a meal.

When I add up our 2018 eating out expenses ($884.45) and divide by 12, I get $73.70 a month for our average on eating out. Not the worst figure by a long shot, but considerably higher that I would have guessed before we began this year. That in and of itself was eye-opening. I truly has no idea we averaged that much.

So, back to my comment about wanting to do better in 2019. Those who know me well know I do not spend money casually. Some of that is underlying frugality (not entirely unrelated to my grandmother's stories of making it through the Great Depression, all of which I took to heart as a child), some of that is knowing I will always have medical expenses (even with excellent insurance) that I need to be prepared to meet. (January 2019: insurance out of pocket and deductible costs to be met! Thanks to Mayo Clinic and Zangmeister Cancer Center, I'll probably hit that mark before the end of February!) Longtime friends (and readers) know that I went through a bankruptcy in 2005, caused in large part because of my cancer diagnosis in 2004. While almost 100% of my staggering medical bills were covered by Medicaid, I was unable to work, so I could not support myself, let alone my children. (It didn't help that I had absorbed a lot of credit debt from the recently concluded divorce, trying to keep two households afloat.) So having been truly and utterly broke, dependent on help from family and friends, I tend to keep a close watch on my spending. (It also helps that I don't like to shop for or buy many things. Clothing, household decor, electronics, cars—no thank you.)

So what? No, I mean, what does this mean for 2019? I'm going to track our grocery spending again, still shooting for that elusive $175.00/month average. (Interesting that I am willing to track groceries, but not books!) After Warren and I have a chance to talk, I'll set a monthly eating out goal and see how close we can come to it in 2019. And on all other fronts? Continue to watch my spending, focus of reusing and repurposing what I already have when I am able, and keep lowering the monthly cost of living for both of us. As I did at the start of 2018, I will continue to parse my paychecks (starting with the one tomorrow, the first of 2019) and set aside as much as possible in my "expense account." (Looking back at my 2018 posts as I write this, I just realized I wrote extensively a year ago about my money goals. I did get our monthly grocery/household spending under $200.00 per month, even if I didn't hit the $175.00 mark. And I see I was laughably naive about how much we spend on eating out!)

2019 holds some challenges and some aspirations. There is a new grandchild on his way, which will send us west again. There will be several trips to Mayo, including one this month (testing) and one next month (oncology appointment). (It's a long, complicated, insurance-mandated story why the two are not combined; let me just say that I am eternally grateful to Mayo for getting the testing approved.) Warren has an elderly aunt in Florida (near where we have close friends who just relocated from Ohio) and we will likely travel south for a long weekend this winter to see them all. I am banking on my health to hold steady—a more and more elusive goal the farther I am from my original diagnosis—so we can do all this. We'll see.

A quote I often recall when I am writing about money is this favorite from Thoreau: "Keep your accounts on a thumbnail."

I hear you, Henry!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Looking Back: The 2018 Books

My last library receipt of 2018

Way back in January, I started the year with a "challenge" (in the most casual sense of the word) to read 50 books in 2018. (Well, it wasn't my challenge exactly but the challenge my friend and yoga instructor Amanda put out in the world.)

Okay, I passed 50 books sometime in March. Yes, I am bragging. No, I am not bragging because I knew going into the year that I read a lot. 50 did not surprise me in the least.

So where did I finish the year? At a respectable number, but not as far as I had hoped. As I noted before, November and December took a lot out of me in so many ways, and reading was one of them. I finished with a solid list, but maybe 30 to 40 books off the projected mark.

So what were my final 2018 books? These:
203. Why Religion? A Personal Story by Elaine Pagels (this memoir/examination of faith by a preeminent religion historian is stunning; I could say so much more but words fail me)
204. Who Asked You? by Terry McMillan (I always enjoy McMillan's writing and this novel from 2013, written on the edge of the heroin epidemic, was no exception)
205. The Names of the Mountains by Reeve Lindbergh (this was a reread of a novel by the youngest of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's children, in which Reeve first explores, albeit in fictionalized form, her mother's dementia)
206. Said I Wasn't Gonna Tell Nobody: The Making of A Black Theologian by James H. Cone (reading #203 led me to Cone when Pagels thanked him extensively in her acknowledgments, mourning his death in 2018 and expressing gratitude that he completed this book, his memoir, of being a "Negro graduate student" who was transformed and radicalized by the Black Power movements in the 1960s, and becoming a Black theologian who pioneered black liberation theology; I cried several times while reading this one)
207. An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott (while not Little Women [let's face it: nothing is Little Women], this is nonetheless a classic Alcott tale of a poor but resourceful young woman who finds purpose and love in her life; this was, of course, a reread)
208. Belonging: A German Reckons With History and Home by Nora Krug (this graphic memoir is an amazingly open look at the author's research of her German family, their lives in Nazi Germany and whether they participated in the Nazi regime, and her finding a small piece of hope and comfort in tracking down the son of a Jewish survivor who possibly kept her grandfather from imprisonment and prosecution post-war for being a registered Nazi)
209. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (a reread of the beloved story of Milo, who finds his way, replete with Jules Feiffer's brilliant illustrations)
210. Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachan (the wonderful Newbery Award novel about two young children and their father "testing" out a mail order candidate for matrimony; known for many years as the "shortest" book ever to win a Newbery, this book lost that status when the Newbery committee honored Last Stop on Market Street, a picture book, with the medal in 2016)
211. The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels (in the memoir above [#203], Pagels writes about her interest in ancient texts and her writing of this book, which in 1979 caused a great uproar in the Christian theological world; as someone who intentionally (deliberately, thoughtfully) left the Christian faith for lots of reasons, I found this book enormously enlightening and comforting, but I can see why the Christian theological establishment attacked Pagels and this book when it came out)
212. Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson (a reread of another Newbery classic, this one by two-time Medal winner Paterson, the story is narrated by Sarah Louise, who carries hurt in her heart until she realizes she was loved and worthy of love always)

I finished that last book late yesterday afternoon and wondered which way to turn next. Some weeks ago, I had started The Dollmaker by Harriet Arnow, a gut wrenching Appalachian novel that I read years ago. In light of my Appalachian readings earlier, I had turned back to it, then set it aside when library books, with due dates, flooded in. (Spoiler alert: If the title sounds familiar, there was a made-for-television version decades ago starring Jane Fonda in the lead role: the happy ending manufactured for television is NOT how the book ends!)

But speaking of libraries, my last check-out receipt for 2018 is above, showing that I saved over $3500.00 in checking out library books this year. I don't think our library started tracking checkout costs until March, when it joined a large consortium, so my 2018 savings were probably even larger. Still, $3500.00 is nothing to sneeze at, and when I posted the photo in the 2019 No Spend Challenge Facebook group I belong to, it got a lot of Likes and Loves.

So what have I learned this year?

A lot.

A. Lot.

One thing I learned about myself was that I do not like tracking my reading. I have good friends (Mel especially comes to mind) who faithfully record their reads, titles and authors, in ledgers, some of those ledgers dating back many years. Me? This year was interesting but no thanks moving forward. I read what I read and if I feel like talking or writing about it, I will, but no more lists.

What else have I learned? More than ever, my 2018 reading, which included some very deliberate choices, slammed me in the face with what privilege I have as a white reader in a country which primarily publishes (and reviews and promotes) white authors.

Holy smokes.

One of the challenges I set out in early 2018 was to read through this list of 46 books by women of color. Our library consortium contains all but three of those books, so I had 43 books to read. As of yesterday, I had read 38 of them (88%). Many of those books, especially the essays and even the acknowledgments, led me to other authors of color of all genders.

And it was a humbling experience. I had to read outside my box to see the larger picture. And it is not that this picture is "new" or the result of the current administration, loathsome and racist as it is—this reality of racism and bias and "otherness" has always been here in this country. Always. I am the one who has failed to acknowledge it in any significant way.

I could not read authors of color in 2018 without recognizing this over and over and over again. I could not look at the publishing house lists and the New York Times book reviews without seeing this. I could not think of books for my grandchildren (the two here and the one coming) without wondering what I get to read to them. (Other than Last Stop on Market Street for both households!)

"Own your privileges," say writer Roxanne Gay and social activist Vijay Gupta, among many others. Here are the privileges I own: as a white person, as a woman of a certain age, as a college educated woman, I have so many privileges that I more than take for granted that allow to move through my day and my life without hassles, without setbacks, without struggles. Yes, I have had other setbacks and barriers, socio-economic and family of origin issues chief among them, but my white status has given me a leg up. These privileges are so inherently a part of my life that I don't even think of them. And reading books by authors without those privileges made me have to face those privileges, have to think of those privileges, and, like Vijay, think of how to move ahead not taking those privileges for granted but using them in ways to move us all forward. To paraphrase and turn back on myself a Black food activist quoted in Buttermilk Graffiti (#135), what am I willing to give up so that others may succeed?

A most apt question on which to start a new year, especially as I am starting to take a deeper and longer look at time and especially my health, which continues to decline, albeit slowly and gently. In my daughter-in-law's (and grandchildren's) culture, death is often spoken of as the person "walking on." I have seen my life, especially in recent years, as a long walk first towards and now into the foothills of the mountains, knowing that my old companion Death is walking alongside me. When I walk on, I want to have left this community in better shape. And more than ever, many of my readings in 2018, by those shut out, have moved me to greater commitment than ever.

Here's to 2019, and all the books it may hold for all of us.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Still Picking Up The Pieces

For the last few weeks, I have been sorting through the tangible personal property (to use a legal phrase) of Aunt Ginger's life. I had weeded out a lot of items ranging from knickknacks and furniture to kitchenware and linens when she moved from her apartment of almost 40 years to assisted living 18 months ago, and then downsized her belongings again when she moved from assisted living to memory care. All the same, there was a surprising number of items yet to move to our house and sort through.

Some items were easy to move to new homes. Ginger collected angels for many years and wanted friends and family to take one with them after her death. So we set them out at the gathering we held in her memory with this sign:

By the end of the evening, the last angel flew out the door.

Other items required more careful sorting. Ginger had a desk (which went to my brother per her wishes and her will, which will likely not be probated at any point), but I had to empty it out first. That proved to be fun. 50+ pencils, many of them promotional, many of them unsharpened: into the box of Goodwill items. 20+ small, blue, ancient rubber bands, all at the point of crumbling: trash. Mementos from family events: an article about my brother, my son Benjamin's high school graduation program: those will go to the individuals featured (sorry, Ben). Opened envelopes from cards sent years ago (without the cards): recycling.

And then there were the clothes.

Ginger owned lots of clothes. Lots and lots. She took excellent care of her clothes and so items often lasted for decades. But she also liked to shop for clothes. She was never a spendthrift or very extravagant, everything she owned was probably bought on sale or secondhand, but over the last few decades her wardrobe grew.

And grew.

And grew.

When I brought home the remaining clothes, the ones from the dresser and the ones from the closet, I had to use two beds in two separate bedrooms to accommodate them all. It was not unlike the scene in An Old-Fashioned Girl (one of Louisa May Alcott's books) in which Polly performs a thrifty makeover of Fan's wardrobe: Fanny brought out her "rags" and was astonished to see how many she had, for chair, sofa, bed, and bureau were covered, and still Maude, who was burrowing in the closets, kept crying, "Here's another!" 

For the first few weeks, the clothes just sat in heaps and bundles. I had other matters demanding my attention and, honestly, my heart wasn't ready to deal with the clothing. But finally the disorder overcame my reluctance, and I started folding and sorting and washing (some pieces had dried food and other stains on them; I treated and washed those out, throwing away only the few that would not come clean). Garbage bags piling up on the floor of my study replaced the heaps of clothing.

We have a local community agency, Common Ground Free Store Ministries, which is exactly what it sounds like. It is a free store, free to all, open to all. It opened 12 years ago to serve our community with this mission: It's amazing how something as simple as providing clothing and household items to people in need can help open new doors in their lives. We provide a place to meet everyday needs for the people of Delaware. 

What better place to donate Ginger's clothes? And it was even more fitting because the store is located on the East side of our town (the "other" side of town) only three blocks from where Ginger (and all her siblings) grew up (as did I and my siblings until I was in high school) and where Ginger lived until she was almost 50.

This was my car back seat and trunk this morning before I left:

A half-full backseat...

...and a FULL trunk! 
(The red coat just visible in the back of the trunk was Ginger's favorite. It was a number of years old and in immaculate condition. I hope to see it again on someone else around town!)

It took me a good ten or more minutes to unload my car when I got to Common Ground. When I was through, my car looked like this:

My backseat is back again! 
And so is my trunk! 

 I spoke with one of the volunteers as I unloaded and told her the source of the clothing. "I'm so sorry for your loss," she said. "I am too," I said. "But trust me, my aunt would be thrilled to know her stuff will be going to others who can use it."

And she would have been.

And so am I.