Sunday, July 15, 2018

Small Moments

We took down a large tree earlier this year, one that had been planted by Warren's parents soon after they moved into this house in 1964. It had been dying from the ground up, foot by foot, yard by yard, over the last several years, and it was time for it to come down.

In its place, we planted a redbud (Cercis canadensis), a tree we are both fond of. I paid for the tree, telling Warren that after I die, I wanted him to have a visible reminder of our love and the home we made together. The tree that came down had a large base, now a mulched bed, so we planted some bright yellow coreopsis nearby to fill it out.

We wanted to add more perennials to the bed, and yesterday we came home with five plants. Two of them are Echibeckia, which I had never seen before and which turn out to be a cross between a coneflower (Echinacea) and Rudbeckia, a native plant family that includes Black-eyed Susans. We also bought three large, feathery purple plants: Agastache Blue Fortune, also known as Mountain Mint, also known as Hyssop. We didn't buy Agastache because it is native (although that it is a huge plus in its favor) or because of its spiky beauty (Agastache is Greek for "many spikes"). We bought it because Warren pointed out at the nursery that the plants were covered in bees. My eyes widened. This was clearly the plant for us.

It was hot yesterday and we parked the plants on the backside of the garage until this morning, when it was cool. (6:30 a.m. we were out there, folks.) Warren dug, I pulled the plants from their tight pots and set them in the holes. We had both the Echibeckias in as well as one of the Blue Fortunes, when Warren stopped shoveling.

The first bee in the Agastache
"Look," he said. "A bee is here already."

I had turned to pick up the next Blue Fortune, and turned back to look. Indeed. There was a bumble bee, already busying itself on the blossoms. I looked at Warren.

"I have tears in my eyes, just seeing that," I said. "Oh, Warren."

The flowers are in. The bees have already found their way to them.

And life is good.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Acquiring a Teacher

Vijay Gupta, from his website 
When we were in Chicago in June at the national conference of the League of American Orchestras, the keynote opening speaker was Vijay Gupta, an extraordinary individual by any measurement. His topic was social justice in the music world, and he spoke at length about his ideas of what that means and what it looks like and about Street Symphony, an organization he helped found that works alongside and with the Los Angeles Skid Row community.

I was blown away by Gupta. (So were  a lot of others in attendance, judging by the faces around me and the comments afterwards, including those from Warren.) I was so rapt that I didn't take notes, just listened. I was so impressed that I jettisoned one interesting sounding breakout session the next day to attend one with him. (And was blown away again.) And I was so moved by what he had to say that, when walking to a session following the opening keynote address, I saw Gupta and League CEO Jesse Rosen exit a side room, I cut Rosen off mid-sentence, saying "I'm sorry, but this is more important," and thanked Gupta for what he said. (He was wonderfully gracious, thanked me for my kind words, and, the next day, when I walked into the breakout session, smiled broadly and said "Hello again!")

In short, Gupta's vision and philosophy and engagement in the world outside the concert hall made a huge impression on me. Warren and I have talked about it at length in relationship to the Symphony and the community engagement work he does with and through the orchestra. I have thought about Gupta's comments in relationship to the Legal Clinic and our community of clients.

Gupta's vision has caused me to reflect on the population we serve at Legal Clinic: not only who we serve but also how we serve them. When we come together each month, we are engaging in what Gupta calls "radical mutuality" and "radical intimacy." I think of not only the clients we serve, but other members of our community who come not for legal advice but for a warm meal and some social contact. We strive to treat everyone who comes through our door with dignity and respect, knowing that for many clients just opening that door is a huge and often intimidating leap of trust. Gupta understands—deeply and passionately—that those "others," those denizens of Skid Row in his case, those clients we work with in ours, are us. They. Are. Us. It is not about Gupta dissipating his considerable musical talent on the "musical equivalent of a soup kitchen or legal clinic," as someone said to me. It is not about our volunteers squandering their time and talent on "those people." It is about creating safe space—a sanctuary—and all coming together in that space.

The Talmud directs me to acquire a teacher, and if at age 62, I have acquired a 30-year-old wunderkind as my teacher, well, isn't that great?

Monday, July 2, 2018

June Finances


So here I am at the midway point of the year, looking at the groceries and household costs for June.

The happy couple
Ouch. June hurt. But it was pricier for the very best of reasons: we hosted a family wedding (my nephew and his bride) in our backyard on the very last day of the month. While we did not buy food for the wedding (the groom and bride did most of that), we did make and bring food to the family cookout the night before and hosted four house guests over part of the weekend, buying extra food to have on hand for them. I also bought some ingredients for making pesto, as the basil is going great guns in the garden this year. And some of that expense was the result of my apparently forgetting every math skill I ever acquired and miscalculating how many pounds of potatoes I needed to make potato salad for the aforementioned cookout. How many pounds of potatoes did I buy? A lot. How many? A. Lot. A small line item, in some ways, but I probably could have spent $6.00 total on potatoes instead of, ummm, about $15.00. 

So what are the June numbers? On groceries (food items): $247.19. Yeah, you read it right. Non-food household items (such as dish soap) were another $23.60, for a grand total of $270.29.

Ugh. I'm aiming at $175.00 combined food/household items per month. Clearly, I overshot that mark. However, the saving grace is that when I average the six months of 2018, my monthly average is $177.19, darn close to the $175.00 per month I have targeted. So I'm comfortable that I can come in around the $175.00 mark by the time I finish the year.

Because I am also committed to as little food waste as possible, I will be storing (carefully) or donating some of the excess to one of our local community players, a local church whose mission is feeding the hungry of our city. Those potatoes are NOT going to waste!

Eating out? $39.80 I can account for, and probably $80.00, estimated, overall. We had a trip to Chicago early in the month for the national conference of the League of American Orchestras. Conference included some stunning sessions on social justice, a couple of which left me reexamining my own commitment and my own work, both paid and unpaid. (Social justice and symphonic music? Absolutely.) The eating out figure includes our road trip expenditures coming and going. (In fact, the grocery figure above includes the trip to the Jewel-Osco in the neighborhood where we stay when in Chicago.) What the $39.80 does not include are two meals downtown during the conference. My guess is that for the two of us, they cost about $40.00 total, so the overall eating out cost is $80.00, not $40.00. Minus the conference, our eating out costs would have been $25.30, which is much more like it.

July holds a trip to Mayo Clinic, one which will stretch over a few days (the trip, not my Mayo appointment). We will be joining family and friends for much of it, and, of course, packing our meals for the trip up, so I'm hoping the overall impact is not too great on the food front. Given what we spent in June, I'm not sure we need to buy very much in July, other than perishables.

So that was June and the first half of 2018. Let's see what July holds.

A magical evening for all 

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Small Moment

I have written many, many times about books and the importance of books in my life. When I was a child, they were my refuge and my beacon to the future. They never let me down.

Books were important to my son Ben, growing up as he did in a house fraught with tension and emotional landmines. It was a sign of how far he had come emotionally when he told me I could let go of his children's books and give them to his cousin for his daughters. Ramona would be fine, he assured me, with all the books already in her life and all the books yet to come.

And he was right.

Books are threaded throughout my life, Ben's life, and Ramona's life. To me, that's the way it should be. So imagine my joy when Alise's mother Mona, Ramona's beloved Nana, sent this to me this week:



The little boy on the left is Ramona's cousin Lyrick, who I will finally meet this August. And the little reader bent over the book on the right? That's our Ramona, reading away.

Ben told me, the last time we talked, that Ramona is reading a lot now. "She can't wait for you to come out so she can read to you," he added.

She can't wait? I can't either.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

To Everything There Is A Season

 And this is the season for books.

Many have expressed to me their amazement at my rate of reading, either catching up with the count in this blog or asking me outright. What can I say? I read quickly and I read a lot. A whole lot. Given my uneven energy levels on any given day, an evening spent with a good book or two is sometimes the very best of all worlds emotionally, mentally, and physically.

So what have I read since I last posted? Oh, lots. LOTS:
109. Mean by Myriam Guba (this is a memoir with an attitude by a queer, mixed-race Chicana growing up in a small town)
110. (((SEMITISM: Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump))) by Jonathan Weisman (I can't describe how much this book impacted me, especially given that one of the most pointed personal attacks I have experienced for being Jewish came recently not from the alt-right but from a very close friend of very liberal bent; Weisman correctly points out that at some point on this topic, the far right and the far left are not that far apart)
111. How To Survive Without A Salary: Learning How To Live the Conserver Lifestyle by Charles Long (before Amy Dacyczyn [the Frugal Zealot], Dave Ramsey, Katy Wolk-Stanley [the Non-Consumer Advocate], or the Frugalwoods (#97], there was Charles Long and his wonderfully wacky treatise on truly doing without; this was a reread of a copy I have owned for 30 years)
112. Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation (updated edition) by Tom Bissell (essays about writing and filmmaking and the creative process)
113. Educated: a Memoir by Tara Westover (Westover grew up in an isolated family of survivalists in Idaho; this is her breathtaking and heartbreaking memoir about what it took to break from her family to save herself)
114. Kudos by Rachel Kusk (the concluding novel of Kusk's trilogy (see #105 and 108), a review on the book's back called the tale "alienating" and I cannot disagree; having read the entire series, I can safely say I do not care one whit for Faye, the center of the novels)
115. Whiskey & Ribbons by Leesa Cross-Smith (heartbreaking, heart-lifting , beautifully written novel)
116. Happiness by Aminatta Forna (this novel has many threads, including urban fox populations and habits; while I was reading it, Warren casually mentioned "You know what I saw today in our yard? A fox!")
117. Disoriental by Négar Djavadi (Kimiâ is many things—a child traumatized fleeing Iran, a bisexual person in a culture that cannot accept anything other than heterosexuality, a daughter, a sister, a political refugee, a writer—and she narrates her stories in fits and starts in this patchwork novel)
118. Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires (excellent short stories that keep interconnecting and interweaving with each other story in the collection)
119. Being Mortal: What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande (I read this book in 2014 when it first appeared; rereading in 2018, I am hit and moved even harder by Gawande's views on the disservice the medical profession does those of us with progressive, terminal diseases by refusing to talk meaningfully about end-of-life choices)
120. Calypso by David Sedaris (Sedaris is a writer I cannot read without laughing out loud; thank you forever Ben and Alise for introducing me to his wit)
121. There There by Tommy Orange (this first novel is getting a lot of well-deserved attention; Orange writes knowingly and devastatingly about urban Indians in Oakland California, pulling several characters into a horrific event at a powwow—I told a friend who has it on her "to read" list that it is superb, but remember to breathe)
122. Chasing Slow: Courage To Journey Off the Beaten Path by Erin Loechner (this book is about minimalism and, perhaps, about finding oneself; I enjoyed it because Loechner has the humility to laugh at her own ludicrous lifestyle choices along the way)
123. Sick: A Memoir by Porchista Khakpour (a memoir of Lyme disease, of dislocation (Khakpour's family fled Iran), of addiction, of mental illness, of PTSD, of racism, of writing; this book is not for the faint of heart)

I'm curious where I will be a week from today, at the year's midpoint. You'll find out.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Small Moment

We had a break in the hot, heavy weather last night when a gentle rain rolled through. This morning was cooler and fresher, so I walked to work.

Walking to work on a summer morning is a gift.

A block away, Darrell was out on the swing on his front porch, a mug of coffee in his hand. Darrell goes way back in Warren's life as an instructor and mentor, and I have gotten to know him over the years as yet another benefit of being married to Warren. We exchanged greetings and comments about the weather. Darrel hoisted his mug and said he might just spend the whole morning on the porch with his coffee. As I said goodbye and walked on, he called, "Say hello to that great guy of yours!"

Yes, I thought, smiling, he is that great guy of mine.

Further up the block (literally and figuratively, as the street rises), in front of one of the houses, a cat eyed me with feline superiority. On the front steps of the same house, coffee cups in hand, were the brother and sister-in-law of our next door neighbors. They raised their cups high as we swapped greetings.

Further along, I brushed by lilies spilling over the sidewalk from a waist-high fence planter.

Another two blocks and I was at Court, all the fresher for the walk, the greetings, the gardens, the day.

And that has made all the difference.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Grateful For Those Who Open The Door

Back in 2009, in my very first post, I wrote about opening doors: to the world, to pain, to community. The jumping off point was a favorite quote from I Heard the Owl Call My Name, a beautiful, small novel by Margaret Craven. The novel is about a terminally ill young priest serving a Native village on a coastal inlet in the Canadian Northwest. There is only one other white person there, the government-hired teacher who doesn't want to be there. After the priest is killed in a landslide, the villagers wait for his body to be found and returned for burial:

The village was waiting and listening, and it was the children who heard first the canoes coming up the river, and they ran down the main path calling “They come now. They bring him now.”

In his tiny house the teacher heard the running footfalls on the path to the riverbank, and he went quickly to the door and could not open it. To join the others was to care, and to care was to live and to suffer.


I recently had an unsettling conversation with a very close friend who, while not dismissive of my activities, made it clear that she had not been and would never be involved in her own community. There were lots of reasons why, some of them personal that demanded much of her, but the foundation was simply "I'm not putting myself out."

She could not begin to open the door.

Me?  I open the door every chance I get.

Thursday just past two coworkers and I had a lengthy discussion about some of the juveniles with whom we work. Many of our kids have backstories that are sobering, to say the least. After we finished talking about two in particular and the hurdles facing them, there was a long silence. Then I said, "I love this job and it breaks my heart over and over." The other two agreed.

We're all door openers—those two colleagues and I—along with other coworkers. As our court administrator has observed, none of us are doing this work for the money. My friends and colleagues at Legal Clinic likewise are door openers. So are all the people in this community who give time and themselves to our community, be it with the Symphony, our Farmers Market, food pantries, and other such projects. We do this work because when we hear those footfalls on the path, we go quickly to the door and open it wide to join the others.

I'm grateful for the door openers.