Friday, June 23, 2017

Inch One Hundred Seventy-Six: Life's Essentials 70% Off

We have weekend company arriving later today. This will be a shorter post than usual because I have been putting my time and energy into cleaning the house, getting their room ready, and getting groceries. A little gardening early this morning and going to the office later today are tucked in there too.

Oh, and a pie is in the oven as I type these words.

The guests are family: Warren's brother, Brian, and Brian's wife, Margaret. I have known Brian even longer than I have known Warren, and that's saying a lot. Margaret and I are very close. I have commented more than once to Warren that I am so glad his brother had the great sense to marry that woman.

I recently deleted a piece of spam titled "Life's Essentials 70% 0ff." I never opened the email, so I don't know what those essentials were and why they were 70% off. I strongly suspect my list would be radically different and I would have found few of what I consider essential in that email.

This weekend is an example of life's essentials. Family arrives later today. There is a small ensemble outdoor concert tomorrow. Brian brought his bike, and my friend Corroto, who bikes all the time, marked out some area routes for him. Margaret and I will talk and talk and fit in some long walks. We will make cinnamon rolls together for Sunday breakfast. There is pesto from last year's garden in the freezer and one of our meals will be pasta and pesto. They are staying until Tuesday so that Margaret can join me at Poetry Night.

And there will be pie.

Life's essentials? My weekend will be full of them. I will have family and music. There will be good talk and quiet togetherness. There will be walks and laughter and Poetry Night. These sorts of things tend not to come 70% off anything, as they are one of a kind ephemera.

After all, how can you put a price tag on homemade cinnamon rolls, made side by side with a friend you love? Or a slice of that pie, which I made for those I love?

Life's Essentials, Priceless.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Inch One Hundred Seventy-Five: You Know You...

You know you have lived a long time in a percussionist's world when, looking at an online auction to see its format, a set of five brass bells catches your eye and you bid on it. And then up your bid after the original bidder ups the bid. 

You especially know you have lived a long time in a percussionist's world when you watch the online auction tick down to make sure your bid stays the high bid and then gloat when it is over and you have won. I will be picking them up later this afternoon about five blocks from here. They are a gift intended for the percussionist in my life. He already knows, so I am not giving away any secrets here.

You also know you have lived a long time in a percussionist's world when, in trying to describe how you feel, you revert not only to musical terms but also to tuning terms. (Because, among other things, I have acquired more than a passing knowledge of how tuning bars and crotales works.)

For the next few weeks, I am on a drug holiday from all (ALL) chemotherapy and related treatment regimens. Earlier this morning, apropos of nothing, I said, "Well, I think we can answer Dr. Leung's question about whether it was the chemo making me ill all this time." 

Expectant pause.

"It's not. We all pretty much knew that. But it's different off the meds."

Oh?

"Well, the exhaustion is one long sustained chord now, instead of being broken up with a whole bunch of different dynamics."

Okay.

"And the sick feeling? Kinda the same. A steady pitch without any overtones. Does that make sense?"

Absolutely.

So you really know you have lived a long time in a percussionist's world when not only are you analyzing your incurable cancer in music terms but also your partner (the percussionist) understands what you are describing.

Warren and I are coming up on 11 years together. I have lived in his percussion world all that time, including but not limited to attending international percussion conferences, having a timpani room in the house in lieu of a family room (doesn't everyone?), having a machine/wood shop in what used to be a garage (ditto), and learning that absolutely anything—anything—can be (and often is) turned into a percussion instrument. 

And you know you have lived a long time in a percussionist's world when that's the norm. And you're okay with that.

More than okay. 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Inch One Hundred Seventy-Four: Detroit

I spent three days this past week in Detroit, attending the national conference of the League of American Orchestras. When you are married to the Symphony, you often end up at these things.

The League has stepped up its focus on and push for diversity and cultural equity in the orchestral world. These are topics that resonate deeply with me, so I was thrilled to attend three excellent panel discussions (two being interactive with the audience) on these themes. I came away with new points of view, some new discussion points, and some new approaches for the implicit bias workshop I will be co-facilitating at work later this month.

The conference was held in downtown Detroit, at the Renaissance Center. The Center is the world headquarters for General Motors, backing up to the Detroit River. We stayed at a small, just adequate motel within walking distance, and so walked the 4 or 5 blocks daily to the conference. I also went off by myself to walk around the downtown, exploring a little before I caught the QLine (light rail) to the Detroit institute of Arts.

Much was made at the opening plenary session, a panel discussion, of Detroit's rebound from its bankruptcy of 2013 and the Detroit symphony's rebirth from the musicians' strike of 2010-2011. Rebuilt neighborhoods, urban farms, the QLine: these are all measures of forward progress. The Detroit Institute of Art, one of this country's great collections, was saved in the Grand Bargain. But some panelists reminded us that much is yet to be done. This July is the 50th anniversary of the violent Detroit riot and, some reminded us, the city is still dealing with the aftermath of that event.

What struck me hardest about Detroit was the visible and omnipresent poverty. I am not a newbie when it comes to poverty and I know that in big cities, I am more likely to run into people asking for spare change, for a few bucks, for some help. What I saw in Detroit was far beyond that. Yes, there were people asking for change, but there were adults, mostly men but some women, who were sleeping nightly in the green spaces downtown or in a little protected back entrance of a building with no place to go. Unless you deliberately turn a blind eye, you cannot help but see them. It cut me deeply. Call me a dupe, but I gave away every bit of pocket money I had. I don't care what the recipients did with it; once it left my hands, it was theirs to spend.

On Thursday, the last day of the conference, I took a break late morning. I crossed over to the park that runs alongside the Detroit River, just behind the Renaissance Center, and sat for a long time in the dappled shade of a tree, looking across the river at Canada. A musical duo was playing steel drum and keyboard somewhere over my shoulder behind me. In front of me was a sidewalk fountain, a series of jets that shot up different lengths (a variation of a dancing fountain, but larger and more complex than the ones I have seen). It was a warm, sunny day and children were playing at the fountain. Children shrieking, laughing, dancing, jumping, drinking, squatting, yelling with delight. They would run back and forth to their parents, sitting or standing in near proximity. I watched in particular one little girl, maybe all of 3, who saw an older child bend over and wet his head in a spray. She carefully bent over and doused her own head: her forelock first and then all of it. Standing up with a gasp, she shook her head and trotted back to her parents, laughing in delight. There are far worse ways to spend a long half hour in Detroit.

We left Detroit a few hours later, and I carried a swirl of images: the tiger sculptures at Comerica Park, the woman who slept each day in a sleeping bag, one medium-sized purse near her, on a grassy sward just yards away from the Renaissance Center, the Rivera Court in the Detroit Institute of Arts—stunning enough to make me gasp when I entered it, the young teen, who looked surly and unapproachable, but who helped an older woman with a cane boarding the QLine car to a seat, and helped her up when she reached her stop down the line, listening to passionate musicians of color talk about the need to stop talking and to move forward on breaking down the barriers, and the elderly man to whom I gave money, who thanked me and told me his name, and then asked me mine.

And the laughter of children. The laughter of children dancing in the fountain.


Saturday, June 3, 2017

Inch One Hundred Seventy-Three: Ripple Effect

My brother Mark recently posted a long commentary on Facebook that caught my attention. After ranting about the anger and rage in the world, he wrote:

Would it be so hard to have some compassion or show some empathy towards someone? Put yourself in their shoes for a little bit. Look at their situation. We are all guilty of not doing this. You can affect your little part of the world and maybe, just maybe help someone in the process. The person you affect may help someone else. It is like when you throw a pebble in the water and you watch the ripple spread. 
Tomorrow let us be the starting point, the pebble so to speak. See if you can make the world a better place.

Music to my ears.

At Juvenile Court, we (coworkers and I) facilitate a class called Victims Awareness. We spend a lot of time working on concepts of control and impact.

We pose them this problem: What can you control? What can you not control? We write their responses on the room's whiteboard. Control? "My anger." "My choices." "My reactions." "Who I hang out with." Not control? "Other peoples' choices." "Other peoples' actions." "What someone says about me." 

Lively discussions accompany some of the selections. 

We discuss control after we take the juveniles through the ripple effect. The ripple effect is simply the concept that the choices you make almost always have consequences that you may not have thought of at the time. Like a rock tossed in a pond, your actions—good or otherwise—set in motion a series of ripples that affect others. One of our juveniles' tasks is to parse on a chart the impact of their offenses: who was affected, how they were affected. Here is a typical ripple: my mom was affected when I shoplifted because she had to come to court with me. Oh, and that impacted her employer because she could not work that day. And that impacted her paycheck because she lost a day of work.

Ripple effect, choices, what can I control, what can I not control. They all come together in the class. Often there is a moment, usually midway through the five weeks of class, where I see the lightbulb come on in the juvenile's eyes.

OH.

When I read Mark's post, I immediately thought of our kids. When we do the ripple effect exercise using their offenses, we follow that up with an exercise in paying it forward. The inverse of a negative ripple effect is doing something positive: a random act of kindness. We challenge our juveniles to find a way to do such an act before the next class. We emphasize it doesn't have to be BIG, it doesn't have to cost money. They report back: I helped my grandma clean her house, I bought my friend lunch at the school cafeteria because he was out of money, I helped someone at the grocery store load groceries. Little ripples of good deeds. 

We also have our juveniles weekly capture on paper a good choice and a poor choice. As the class continues, the good choices move from "I studied for a test" to "I walked away from arguing with my mom" or "I did not punch the kid calling me names." Our youth are reflecting on their control, and starting, slowly, to weave that reflection into their lives.  More ripples, more realizations that there are real choices even when you are only 15. 

My brother got it right when he wrote "the person you affect may affect someone else... [Be] the pebble so to speak." 

I'm stepping away from facilitating the Victims class. We are just finishing a sequence and this one will likely be my last one. My job has changed in ways that make facilitating harder to work into my hours and the later day (we run class until 5:30, followed by a debriefing) takes a bigger toll on my health and energy than it used to.

I will miss the kids. I will miss the lightbulb moments. 

And I will watch for the ripples. 


Friday, May 26, 2017

Inch One Hundred Seventy-Two: My Good Enough Garden, Year Two

Last year, I blogged about my good enough garden. Another year has come and gone, and this year's garden will also be a good enough garden. At this point, the harder work has been done.

Tilling? Borrowed our neighbor's electric tiller. It's small, but so is our garden. Warren tilled some, I tilled some, Warren tilled some more, and if it took more than 45 minutes, that would only be because I had trouble moving the fairly lightweight tiller when I wanted to till a different patch.

Budding butterfly weed
The perennials that we planted just to winter over until they could be transplanted to new beds? We didn't move them last fall. We didn't move them this spring early either, so they are solidly up and, in the case of the butterfly weed, budding already. Warren tilled carefully around the flowers to get the tilling started.

The plantings? I went out to one of our local family farming enterprises and bought tomatoes and peppers. They went in the ground on the heels of the tilling. We had a day of (mostly) soft rains yesterday, so the plants settled in and are doing nicely.

The flowering sage
The sage, to my surprise, wintered over and is in full bloom. I'll sow some basil seeds close by because I cannot imagine a garden without basil and without bees in the basil flowers. I'll sow marigold seeds in the concrete blocks that delineate two sides of the garden and call it done.

It remains to be seen whether the cucumber beetles return to plague my tomatoes this year.

In an effort to thin out the spiderwort that dominates our front bed, I moved more clumps to the backside of the house. There is a spindly strip of "garden" along the backside of the house and I cannot think of any better place to let spiderwort run riot than there. Spiderwort is the easiest plant I know to transplant. You dig a big hole, you go dig up a clump of them with a shovel, you slide the clump into the big hole, you put the dirt back, you call it a day. Other than the physical energy needed to shovel up a large clump of spiderwort, it's low effort work.

Fortunately for any latent gardening impulses I have, we have new young neighbors to the south who are energetic gardeners. The day that Warren and I visited late last fall to welcome them, they invited us in and I spied a copy of The Urban Homestead on a table. Wonderful! Our neighbors (and their very, very young daughter) have taken urban homesteading to heart. They have planted fruit trees of every kind and have put together two substantial raised beds in which all kinds of vegetables are already up and flourishing. I love seeing it and I love seeing someone other than me laboring over such a full garden. And I was pleased to hear that they planted cucumbers, which means the aforementioned cucumber beetles may stay to the south and leave my tomatoes alone.

With luck, I will have some tomatoes by the second week of July. That is when the Pacific Northwest contingent—all of them—are arriving and I would love to have the joy of watching Ramona pick tomatoes off the vine.

A good enough garden? You bet.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Inch One Hundred Seventy-One: Bone Tired and Other Little Bits

Last week I wrote about finishing the attendance mediation and speculated on its length and depth. I spent a part of the work week this week running numbers. Our department attended 384 mediations, 341 of which were mine. Our first mediation was, as I had speculated, in September 2016; the last was almost eight months to the day in May 2017.

And I am still recovering.

How tired am I? Yesterday I gave our bathroom a long overdue deep cleaning (and noted this morning as I showered that I still missed some spots in the shower). A byproduct of the cleaning was a stack of wet, dirty cleaning rags, destined for the washer. This morning, I started to hang up the rags to dry before I washed them, um, later today.

Really? Really?

You know you are really, really tired when you start to hang the wet dirty rags so they'll be dry when you go to wash them the same day.

While I type this, Warren is downtown doing some of the earliest grunt work for the weekend's Arts Festival. Time was, a decade plus ago, when I would have been downtown at about 5:30 a.m. to help chalk the streets and prep for the vendors to arrive. I have great memories of those days, but can't say I'm sorry they are over.

2007 Arts Festival Prep

A well-meaning friend recently reminded me that, in our early 60s, we are all at the age where we are more tired, take longer to heal, and generally are older, so I should not be so quick to look to my myeloma as the source of my exhaustion. I replied that I know we are all older, and I take that into consideration, but trust me, there is a difference between the two types of tiredness and I can tell the difference.

The caption of this post promises "Other Little Bits."

The first little bit is that I got my first poetry acceptance by an online journal. No pay, just publication. I am thrilled. More to the point, I am encouraged to go on.

The second little bit is about pets. When my sons were growing up, we did not have pets. Period. Their father was opposed to having a dog, ever. There were enough allergies in the house that a cat was ruled out as well. Ben, especially, very much wanted a dog, so it was no surprise to me when, as a young adult, he and Alise acquired Lucy, a medium large dog of indeterminate background (at least to me) and gentle temperament. Lucy accepted Ramona without much fuss and has tolerated her many depredations over the years.

Let's hope the newest addition to the family does as well. Meet Squishy Sanchez, joining Alise, Ben, Ramona, and Lucy this week:



I don't name them, folks, only meet them on social media.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Inch One Hundred Seventy: Finish Line

Yesterday, I completed the last three attendance mediations of the 2016-2017 school year.

We are done.

It has been a long season. I do not have my work folders at home while I type this, but I am pretty sure our earliest mediations were in September. September! The school year was still fresh and new then. As of yesterday, when we concluded the last mediation, there were eight days of school left. Eight! 

I scheduled and appeared at over 300 mediations; a coworker appeared at another 60+. "Appeared" means I was there, along with one of my amazing school colleagues, Stacy, Vikki, or Lisa. "Appeared" does not mean we necessarily had any parents show up to participate, but because we hold the mediations at the schools, we have to be there, period. (Historically, I do not mediate without a parent, but we are changing that policy, at least at the high school level, for the upcoming year.) Next week, I will run the numbers on how many mediations were actually held. That number varies widely by district, to no one's surprise.

Ohio has just revised its laws on attendance, decriminalizing the offense for juveniles. (The adult offenses, failure to send and contributing, seem to not have changed, but many of us are still combing through the new legislation.) I sit on a committee at the Ohio Supreme Court charged with helping the Court direct our state's juvenile courts on how to implement the new legislation, which took effect April 6. All of us on the committee are going into the upcoming year with our eyes as wide open as possible, albeit wide open staring into a pretty murky fog.

One thing is clear: there will probably be even more mediations next school year.

But back to being done. I would like to say that we finished and popped champagne bottles (well, seltzer water—we do work for a court, and a juvenile court one at that, after all) and that confetti and balloons dropped down from the ceiling. I would like to say that Lisa and I walked out of the middle school and airplanes were writing "WELL DONE, LADIES" in the vast blue sky above us. I would like to say a brass band was waiting for me when I pulled back into the parking lot at court.

No. No balloons, no skywriting, no brass bands. We finished the year quietly. When I got back to the courthouse, I went in and up to my office, logged out of my computer, shared the news ("we're done") with my supervisor, and came home.

I am spent. I feel like I could be in one of those videos of runners who are physically depleted but staggering blindly, often with help and encouragement, to the finish line. I am grateful I made it over that line, grateful for the aid and encouragement of my colleagues and my husband.

The school year is all but over around here. It will be back soon enough in mid-August. I will be ready when it comes.

But for now? Let summer begin!