Saturday, January 21, 2017

Inch One Hundred Fifty-Four: Women's March

On the courthouse steps. Photo by Adam Stiffler
I had a lot of friends head to D.C. this weekend for the Women's March. I have seen pictures popping up on Facebook all day as this friend or that friend posts pictures from the march.

Some of us in this town held a kinda last minute mini-march in solidarity with those marching in D.C. This came together late on Friday, having been hatched on Thursday, and emails crossed and recrossed on the electronic highway.

I walked from our house to the Andrews House in downtown, our community gathering spot. My excitement grew as I realized there were a number of others headed the same way. Halfway there, friends Sally and Kris came down a side street and we walked on together. All in all, there were over 100 of us: women, men, children, toddlers, babies in strollers, and dogs on leashes.

Penny, one of the march's organizers, gave us the rules: "Stay on sidewalks, don't block intersections or crosswalks. Stay off of private property."

"Be respectful. Be positive."

We walked. We talked. Cars went by honking horns and waving. Some drove by and glared. One shouted an obscenity. But by and large, it was positive.

It was sunny. It was warm. I slipped off my jacket. Others shed scarves and gloves.

The destination was our county courthouse, which is an imposing Italianate structure with wide stairs that sweep up to the front door. (Note: the public can no longer use the front door, because of security reasons. Everyone enters through the rear basement door. But I practiced law long enough ago that I had the pleasure more than once of climbing those stairs to enter the courthouse,  and had the thrill after a successful hearing once to burst out those same doors and laugh all the way down the stairs.)

At the courthouse, the walkers in the front of the group (which had loosened up and strung out in downtown due to crosswalks) stopped, uncertain of what to do.

"I think we have to stay on the sidewalk."

My friend (and fellow lawyer) Judy and I quickly replied.

"Oh, no," said Judy, "this is public property. This is our property. We have a right to be on this property."

"Are you sure?"

"Absolutely," I said. "We can go right up on the steps. That's what the First Amendment is all about."

And with Judy leading the way and me close behind, we walked to and climbed the courthouse steps.

Afterwards, I hugged Judy goodbye as she headed off in one direction. I said goodbye to Sally and Kris, who were headed to our downtown diner for coffee and rolls. And I stopped to thank Penny, one of the organizers.

Penny, a Republican demoralized by the 2016 political scene, said she was just looking for a way for people to come together and express their concerns. She noted that there was so much anger and despair and that the goal today was to accent the positive.

Mission accomplished.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Inch One Hundred Fifty-Three: Stringent Monetary Controls

I have a large personal expenditure coming up in the next few months. I had a large personal expenditure last month, when I bought a new used car after five months of making do (walking, borrowing my dad's truck, borrowing Warren's car) when my old car died. That was $1900.00 cash, plus another $150.00 for title, plates transfer, and sales tax ($133.00). The car purchase knocked down what I call my "expense account" (a separate checking account I use as savings) considerably. The 3% COLA I received at work just about equaled the increase in my health insurance premiums. (I am not complaining; we have Cadillac coverage and only pay 10% of the overall premium.) And it being a brand new year, all of my health insurance deductible and out of pocket amounts have reset to zero, so I am looking at some sizable medical expenses early on in 2017. Oh, and did I note that my copay for oncology went up, as did the cost of my oral chemo.

In short, money is tight. In response, my overall goal for the next four months is to live as close to the bone as possible.

Fortunately, except for the medical costs, my needs are fairly small on a daily basis: food, gas, utilities. My wants tend to be things that don't cost money (or very little): books from the library, walks when our temperatures are not sub-arctic, time with friends. And I am fortunate beyond words to be married to a man who likewise takes pleasure in leftovers, making do, and coming up with inexpensive ways to spend time and life together. (Not only do I have someone on the same page as I am when it comes to being budget conscious, but Warren can sometimes underspend me!)

All the same, I find myself pondering how to keep the outflow of money as low and arid as possible. It is so easy to take out the debit card and buy the whatever. Although I am not buying high or even medium whatevers as a rule, even inexpensive ones add up. What to do?

What I have ended up doing is printing off my check stub on payday (every two weeks). I have long categorized my pays as "1st pay" and "2nd pay." (Twice a year there is an extra pay, as we get paid 26 times a year, but I keep my focus on 1st and 2nd.) By sheer repetition, I know which set bills and expenses (utilities and oncology copays, for example) come out of which pay. I take the printout and write out, deducting from my take home pay as I go, all the fixed expenses that have to come out of that paycheck. What is left over is my spending money for two weeks.

Groceries, coffee with friends, postage come out of spending money; gasoline, in contrast, is a fixed expense. After I did the above exercise for the first pay of 2017, I had $89.00 left over. With a week to go, I still have $30.00.

I can't remember when, if ever, I charted out my expenditures looking forward. While I always did that mental exercise in my head with each pay period, my actual tracking was usually with hindsight. (How much did I spend?) It's an interesting exercise, seeing visually my declining account balance before the spending occurs.

Some frugalists out there make January a no-spend month. Check out the Frugalwoods, who I just stumbled across thanks to Katy Wolk-Stanley,  the Non-Consumer Advocate. Katy is a member of the Compact. (Compact members are committed to not buying new things. That's a simplistic version; you can go over to Katy's website to get a better idea. While you're there, read any posts titled "Goodwill, Badwill, Questionable-will" just for sheer laughs.) Me? I'm somewhere in the middle, with strong tendencies towards being a member of the Compact.

We do have one bigger than typical expense coming up  in February. Old friends of mine are flying into Chicago February to rendezvous with us. I am not too worried because we have a joint travel account which will be pay for our trip and, even with that earmarked account, we tend to travel frugally. We have free lodgings (our sister-in-law's condo in Oak Park), we'll buy a CityPASS to see the sights (as our California friends have never been to Chicago, I imagine the Art Institute, the Field, and other places are all on the list) and so save on admissions when seeing those sights, and Warren and I eat cheap no matter where we are, usually splitting meals. (I know you are wondering who visits Chicago in February, right? We do. And the old friends are headed to the Antarctic in March, so Chicago should be a piece of cake. Unfortunately for three of the four of us, it will not be baseball season when we are there, but you can't have everything.)

I get paid next week. Because I have credits at both the oncologist's and primary physician's office, the money I set aside last week for copays for those appointments will go into my expense account next week after I get paid. That will inch me a little bit closer to meeting the large expenditure I mentioned when I opened this post.

I never took economics/ I don't closely follow the financial world or even government (at any level) budget talks. But I know that by applying stringent budget controls, I should be able to meet my goal.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Inch One Hundred Fifty-Two: Soapbox

My friend Margo summed it up best. "I'm learning to be loud."

I don't like confrontation, which is why I never enjoyed trial work. As a mediator, my goal is to find common ground. I don't typically engage in electronic shouting matches or post political memes on Facebook (although I often "like" them).

But sometimes I read something and think "I have to say something." And this is that time.

In last week's post, I wrote of my fears and concerns about the incoming administration. A longtime reader, a friend and fellow blogger in the blogosphere, took me to task: "Please don't believe everything you hear, especially about the election. News media is very bias[ed] and most of what gets reported is not correct.Wait and see of what comes of this new administration. My bet is that it will get better."

Give the President-Elect a chance? He has already announced Cabinet choices, most of whom I disagree with politically and morally. Rex Tillerson? Steve Mnuchin? Betsy DeVos? JEFF SESSIONS????

So with all due respect, I think the President-Elect has already indicated the tone his administration is going to take, at least out of the gate. So I don't think I need to wait and see. 

The second comment was far more upsetting and this had to do with the upcoming planned armed Neo-Nazi march in Whitefish, Montana, against the Jews in that town. Armed march, mind you, because that's how hate groups roll. The blog comment was "I just saw what you were talking about at Whitefish. A bunch of idiots, who were not supported by those in charge. I don't see this any different that 'black lives matter' groups that condemn white people."

I agree that the President-Elect has no connection with or endorsement of the Whitefish march. But I am stunned that a man who is on Twitter relentlessly, a man about to become President of this country, who can chastise a Broadway cast or a SNL skit at the drop of a hat, cannot bring himself to tweet a criticism, even a mild one, about Whitefish. Or one about the Klan marches in North Carolina on December 3. Or about the Hitler salutes thrown at the alt-right conference in D.C. 

Hoping I was wrong, I spent time on Google hoping for a tweeted comment or criticism from the President-Elect. Nothing.

I find that silence, especially in light of the man's volubility, disingenuous.

But what struck mw to the core was the casual comparison of Neo-Nazis and the Black Lives Matter movement. The latter is a movement arising out of deliberate and unlawful killings of citizens, primarily black men and usually unarmed, by law enforcement. Period. It is not a "let's kill the white people" or even a "let's kill the police" movement, despite what FOX News reports. (Talk about "most of what gets reported in not correct.") Black Lives Matter is about calling attention to the very real threat that millions of Americans live with daily because of their skin color. The Whitefish march is about threatening and intimidating a population because of its religion. I cannot begin to connect those dots.

In my gut, I feel my personal security and civil liberties are threatened by the upcoming administration. So are the safety and civil liberties of my sons (Hispanic and Jewish), my daughter-in-law (Native American), and my granddaughter (Native American, Hispanic, and Jewish). And so are the civil liberties of million of American citizens because of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual identification, disability, and gender. Regardless of what the President-Elect may believe, he has surrounded himself with staff and cabinet choices who are against me and others of us in this nation. Think of Steve Bannon, chief strategist for the President-Elect, and tell me I am wrong.

Three final comments and then I will step off my soapbox.

First, contrary to others in my circle of friends, I do know people who voted for the incoming administration. One of my very closest friends, Katrina, campaigned for the President-Elect. We may have to tiptoe around political discussions for a long time. Yet I am confident that our friendship will last because I believe that should my worst fears be realized, she would not turn her head and pretend she did not see. Katrina would have her Colonel Welch moment.

Second, Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote The Wave of the Future (subtitled A Confession of Faith) in 1940, a little book which was seen at the time and forever after as an apology for and a plea for accepting the evils of Nazism and fascism as necessary to better the world. (Among the many critics of her work was E. B. White, in his December 1940 essay "The Wave of the Future," in which he neatly dissects her disturbing position.) AML followers like me now know that Anne was heavily influenced and pushed to write this by her husband, Charles, who was anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi and may not have had any choice to do otherwise. That's not the point. That book cost Anne her reputation for decades. I own a copy of the book and have read it, but I cannot bring myself to read it in 2017.

Third, I am not allowing comments on this particular post. It is a soapbox of one. In my personal life presently, there is too much going with friends and family to respond to "yes, but you didn't consider this" comments. This is not an equal time open forum today.

I wish I were braver. I wish I were louder. And I fervently hope that, when tested, I speak up and say "this is wrong."

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Inch One Hundred Fifty-One: Wrapping Up Another Year

Last year, I wrapped up the year by looking at numbers. This year, I am not sure where and how to begin counting. It is a cold, gray afternoon, the wind and occasional rain or sleet lashing the trees outside.

It has been a year of losses, starting with the death of Kim Lance, husband to my friend Judy, from a massive heart attack in early November. It hurts to watch Judy grope her way through the deep grief of losing her best friend. Their three children, young adults all, are finding their own way in a world without their dad. I think more than anything else ranging from the national election to bad diagnoses sprinkled too liberally over friends and colleagues, Kim's death and the resulting holes his death ripped in his family, his college (he was a chemistry professor), and the community have been the hardest losses this year.

On the bright side? The Cubs won the World Series and the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and its allies stood their ground and, at least for now, won.

I am penning this out in longhand, sitting in the living room. On the coffee table in front of me, all three menorahs are ready to be lit in a few hours for the eighth and final night of Hanukkah. Given the ugliness of the campaign and the continuing rhetoric of the incoming administration, I worry at what point my personal safety will be at risk to light a menorah, given the strong sense of validation the extreme and violent right took from the election results. Think I am exaggerating? Two words: Whitefish, Montana. How appropriate then that I am celebrating a holiday celebrating a victory against a regime that wanted to eliminate the Jews, albeit by assimilation and not genocide.

At a recent gathering of the Death and Dying Coffee Club (to join, you have to have an incurable and preferably terminal illness, typically cancer), one of our members put to us the question of what was our most profound truth learned in 2016?

"How far backwards we have gone in race in this country, I said gloomily, "because I truly believed we were better than this."

My buddy Corroto was a little more (emphasis on "little") sanguine. "That the only place I can impact is here, locally. All politics really are local." And by local, Corroto means block by block, right here and now. He said he could not affect Washington, our elected state and national officials, and maybe not even our own City Council. But he could make an impact here where his house meets the sidewalk. His new effort was picking up trash when he was out walking the dog, based on an example set by another neighbor.

Small? Absolutely. Inconsequential? I would say not.

Jews are charged with tikkun olam, repairing the world. Our duty is to make those repairs, no matter how small. Picking up trash when you walk is one way. Will I do that too? Maybe.

As I finish typing in my rough notes, I glance out the second floor window. The day is getting gloomier. All the same, I plan to put on my coat and head outside, walking out the year that is dying, girding myself for the one awaiting us all.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Inch One Hundred Fifty: December Legal Clinic

We wrapped up the 2016 year at the Legal Clinic this past Tuesday. It was a quiet night; the weather or the holidays or both may have kept clients away. All the same, we had volunteers showing up to advise, to assist, and to just be there. At one point in the evening, we had one volunteer playing Christmas music on the piano, three lawyers sharing tips and suggestions, and a young mother and her little girl eating a late supper at a nearby table.

One of the things I do after every Clinic is send out a thank you email to the volunteers. We are a unique model in that we do not have a board, do not have funding, and rely solely on volunteers to make this thing work. I try hard to make sure I let those who serve know how much they are appreciated.

This is the email I sent out:

One and all:

We finished the year with 219 clients, not counting phone clients. I have not been tracking phone clients (ones that a volunteer talks to when there is a burning issue and no Clinic anytime soon). IF we had 10 phone clients in 2016, and we may well have, then we have served 2500 clients since starting in October 2003. (Given that some early records are missing, I think it is safe to say we have sailed past that benchmark.)

Well done, everyone. Your time and commitment make Delaware a richer, more inclusive community. I especially appreciate that we all come together--tired from work, from life, from chemo, from too much on our personal/professional plates--and willingly set it all aside to do this month after month. 

Some shoutouts for last night's Clinic: Erin and Colin, who accompanied their mother, Karen M. (FOOD), and kept two children of a client wonderfully entertained for almost two hours (including some rollicking rounds of hide-and-seek); Karen M. and Sue P. for a year's worth of hot and delicious meals, including desserts; Doug W. for the concerned, patient look on his face as he crossed the waiting area to grab a handful of tissues to take to a crying client; Kate S. for jumping into Intake (and talking to the aforementioned upset client); Dave H. for taking a seat at the piano and playing Christmas music for us all.

Last night there was a young woman with a little girl--not a client but someone who gets services from Andrews House--and she ended up staying while her little girl ate some of the delicious Karen/Sue offerings. Mom explained to me that her daughter is in daycare about 50 hours a week while mom works (and there are two other older children at home) so they really look for time they can spend together. Mom took home leftovers from Clinic and extras from the Mobile Market; her daughter was ecstatic because we tucked the extra Santa napkins in one of the take-home bags. It made me appreciate how much Andrews House shelters us all, and how our Clinic sometimes serves those who aren't even there for legal advice. 

Thank you for a wonderful 2016. I'm looking forward to working with you all in 2017. 
My email prompted this response from Dave, who was one of the founders of the Clinic as well as the piano player:

Thank you all!

April's email causes my eyes to well up when I think of all that Mel and the Andrews House do for our community and how much this clinic has grown over the years despite having no real, official organizational structure.

At the outset of this endeavor back in 2003, we hoped to see a few clients every month and perhaps give them some direction and advice.  The clinic has now served more than 2,500 clients and routinely more than 200 a year.  It has a grant to allow some outside legal work.  It received another grant to remodel the basement of Andrews House into meeting rooms.  It routinely provides not only legal advice, but also nourishment- of body and soul- to those who come.  And, I like to think that it provides some of that same nourishment to those of us who volunteer there (along with a little CLE credit too!)

I cannot speak for others who were involved in the early days, but I could not have possibly envisioned what the clinic has become through the hard work of you as volunteers and Mel (and Don before her) at Andrews House.  It warms my heart to see it every month.  It strikes me that the clinic works without a formal 'board' or governing structure because it has taken on a life blood of its own- fed by too many volunteers who care too much about it to let it slip in any way.

I'm getting sappy now- but thank you all for your involvement in this project and for improving the lives of people who would otherwise have nowhere to turn to.  


Dave's email prompted this response from Mel, who is the Executive Director of Andrews House, our home since the Clinic's inception in 2003:

Good Morning all,
I didn’t expect to be so emotional this early in the morning.  I can’t thank you all enough for what you continue to do at the Legal Clinic and for our community.  I ditto Dave & April, the nourishment people receive (for body & soul) at the Legal Clinic, in addition to the legal advice in the kind and generous way you all have, is a such soothing balm to our clients.  It warms my heart every month I witness it.  Thank you for continuing to volunteer and for bringing food and supporting the Legal Clinic.  Andrews House is honored & blessed to be part of it.
Very Merriest Holiday wishes to you!

And finally this response:

You good people share good words and kind thoughts. Thanks to all of you for sharing your valuable time and abundant talents with those in need. (Those in need include us lawyers, of course!) God bless you wonderful people!

We feel always the spiritual origin and part of the Clinic, but maybe more so at this time of the year. From its very humble beginnings, the Clinic at Andrews House has carried on and been guided by a very clear and simply-stated mission, to help people in need of legal services. The Clinic operated simply. (For example, there used to be no food served!) It still operates pretty simply, but with some nice additions and many more clients and volunteers. The Clinic has grown into an important and valuable community resource (one of many emanating from and nurtured in Andrews House). On Tuesday, I took a moment in the hustle and bustle of the evening to stop and take in what was going on. April captured much of it in her e-mail. Your donations of good food and good cheer, David’s pretty music, and your shared, warm camaraderie, coupled with the concerns, problems, anxieties, and tears presented by clients, made for a poignant time. Apparently, many of us felt that poignancy. You all are doing good work, with simple kindnesses, Andrews House hospitality, and wise legal counsel.


The world is often a cold, hard place. This Tuesday night, thanks to the open hearts of many, it was a little warmer and a little softer.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Inch One Hundred Forty-Nine: Benjamin

My son Benjamin is thirty-one years old today. He came into the world early on a Monday morning, just past 5:00 a.m. I remember taking him into my arms and exclaiming, "Benjamin is here!"

Benjamin lit up my world that morning. He has never stopped.

Happy birthday, Benjamin.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Inch One Hundred Forty-Eight: Christmas Memory

Last week I wrote about my Aunt Ginger, with whom I spend more and more time each week. In addition to being physically frail, Ginger also has dementia, which has been making steady inroads in her mind. I am Ginger's caretaker; I watch after her money, take her to all medical appointments, and in general try to help her navigate old age as independently as possible for as long as she is safely able.

On Friday I took her to a medical appointment, and on the way home we talked about Christmas cards and how many people still sent them, and whether she had done hers yet (next weekend, Aunt Ginger, next weekend). This topic repeated for several miles, until we got back into downtown. Then Aunt Ginger said, still thinking of Christmas, "well, you know, the boys rung the bells and then it was Christmas."

I asked her which boys, what bells? Church bells? Sleigh bells? What memory was she dredging up?

Aunt Ginger was quiet for a moment or two, then said "Mom and Pop always had a tree, but it would be bare underneath. There were no presents underneath and we would go to bed Christmas Eve. Then in the morning, in the dark, some boys—it must have been my brothers—would ring a bell outside and that would be Santa Claus. Because we didn't have a chimney, he had to deliver to the house. And the presents would be on the front porch and we would bring them in and then have Christmas, because Santa Claus had been there."

She remembered that the presents were simple, and that there weren't a lot, because it was the time of the Great Depression. 

I know the house my Aunt Ginger grew up in, because it was the same house I grew up in. It had a long, narrow hallway from the front door to the first floor living room. I wonder whether the brother ringing the bell stood in the hallway, out of sight, and rang some sleigh bells. I wonder whether the presents were in the hallway as well; even in the 1930s, I am not sure my grandparents would have left presents out on the porch in the cold.

But I do not doubt the story, even if the details are fuzzy. The brothers would have been 13 or more years older and probably more than willing to join in the fun. Assuming my mother was in the picture, we are talking late 1930s, when Aunt Ginger would still have been in grade school and Santa still would have been real. I can only imagine the excitement on the girls' faces to know Santa had come and left something for them. 

The brothers are long gone. The family home was sold many years ago. More and more memories for my aunt are erased. But somewhere, in the swirl of Aunt Ginger's mind, there is the empty tree, the ringing of bells, and the joy of Christmas.