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!

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Inch One Hundred Sixty-Nine: Anne Sexton

Anne Sexton
I have spent the last several evenings immersed in Anne Sexton, reading first her daughter Linda's memoir, Searching For Mercy Street, and then Diane Middlebrook's in-depth biography, Anne Sexton, interspersed with selections of Anne's work out of The Complete Poems.

 April was National Poetry Month, and as I have done for the last few years, I marked it by posting a poem a day on Facebook. This year, subconsciously or otherwise, I posted mostly works by women poets, Anne Sexton among them.

I don't know which poets, if any, are in today's high school literature texts. (Poetry has fallen out of favor because it doesn't lend itself to standardized testing.) When I was in high school, back in the 70s, the poetry curriculum was very much the white male canon, English and American poets only. No works in translation, only token writers of color (yes, Gwendolyn Brooks, but only if it was "we real cool;" no Langston Hughes), and few women except Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who I found monotonous (and still do) and Emily Dickinson, who was still decades away from being reexamined and was still very much presented as a troubled agoraphobe who quaintly used string to bind her poetry around marmalade jars.

I discovered Anne Sexton by wandering in the library, as I was wont to do, sniffing around the 811 (Dewey Decimal System) aisles. It may have been All My Pretty Ones I cam across first. At some point, I discovered Transformations, her wonderful adaptation of Grimm fairy tales. No matter, I was hooked.

Sexton was a revelation. For one thing, she was a contemporary poet. High school lit texts, the process being what it was to get one approved and to market, let along adopted, ran decades behind contemporary writers, especially in poetry. All the poetry I'd been exposed to in school to date was by poets now dead.

For another, Sexton wrote with a loud voice. For an aspiring writer, for an aspiring female writer, I was thrilled to find that the whispery lines of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Emily Dickinson (as she was then portrayed) were not my only options.

In the poetry world, Sexton was in the vanguard of the confessional poetry movement. Sylvia Plath, George Starbuck, Robert Lowell, William Snodgrass, Anne Sexton—these were poets who wrote of intimate, intense themes—mental illness, body, divorce, family, sex—that the academic and critical poetry world did not recognize. Confessional poets were willing to take their own lives, their own triumphs, failures, and shortcomings, and shape them into poetry in the first person voice. It was that first person voice that delineated confessional poetry from the impersonality and universality of the then standard canon.

And maybe that's what drew me to Sexton (and then to Plath, hard on the heels of Sexton): that sudden realization that poetry did not have to be written in the third person, did not have to be removed from the poet, but could be immediate and personal. Poetry could be about messy topics, about hurtful topics, about real topics, about anything. As I commented to Warren as I talked about this post, I observed that if you looked at what little poetry from my past still remains, you could see the shift from the impersonal remote to the first person. That was Sexton's influence on me.

Anne Sexton committed suicide in October, 1974. I was in college in Chicago when it happened; I read the news in The Maroon, the school newspaper.  It shook me up enough that I remember having to find a place to sit down and reread the brief article. I would like to think I was conscientious enough to have headed to the library to find a volume of her poems, but I doubt it. But the realization that this poet, this bold, audacious writer, was dead, stayed with me for days.

I stumbled backwards into this recent immersion. Too pressed for time to get to the library for new reading material, I resorted to what was at hand on my shelves and Sexton came to the top. I don't know yet if I will tackle her collected letters (which are well worth the read), although I hear their siren call as I type these lines. At this point, Sexton has been dead for almost as long as she lived and I have outlived her by a decade and a half. But the power of what she wrote, and the impact of that power on my own writing—that is still with me all these decades later.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Inch One Hundred Sixty-Eight: Small Moment

Today is the next to last day of April, which means it is the next to last day of National Poetry Month. That sigh of relief you just heard was from my dear Warren, one of the most poetry-adverse individuals I have ever met. (I believe I have written this before, but somewhere in his past he had a doozy of a literature teacher who scarred him for life.) 

I was all set to write about poetry and indeed had as of last night a post about 80% done on that topic. It can wait. I want to write instead about a small moment, a small personal moment, that happened and that has been warming me ever since.

Those who know me know that my schedule is hectic, especially during the school year. I wrote about some of the hectic quality in this blog just last week, in fact. This week has been no exception. Thanks to changes to the Ohio attendance law, our attendance season is stretching longer into the school year, which is rapidly coming to a close (25 days, but who's counting?). As a measure of how tired my colleagues and I are, Stacy arrived at a school yesterday for yet another set of mediations, slid into the seat next to me, then laughed and said "I had to ask myself if I had the right school. Is this where I was supposed to be? They are all blending together at this point."

I write for a column for the online Myeloma Beacon, and my April column just ran. It is about treading water, because sometimes that's the best I can do. (You may find my column here if you are wondering.) 

So here is my small moment, which took me out of the pool, out of the hurly-burly, just out. 

Warren and I went out for dinner (which is a rare enough event). My only requirement was that it be quiet. Our mutual requirement was that we stick to Delaware. One by one, we rejected locations, mostly on the issue of noise. We finally settled on the Panera on the west side of town.

Note: We are not Panera patrons. Nothing against the chain, mind you. We just don't eat there. Ever.

Panera was quiet. (The drive-through line was heavy, but the indoor area had only a few diners here and there.) Warren ordered this and that; I ordered that and this. The meal came. It was warm, it was filling, it was delicious, I was starved (I had not eaten since breakfast due to an unusual schedule that day). 

We ate slowly and gratefully. Grateful for the food, grateful for the quiet, grateful for one another, grateful for the chance to talk and catch up on the day, grateful to be across from one another. 

As we sat there, talking or not, savoring the interlude, I felt the world drop away. It was just us. The Symphony, my workload, my health, our families, Aunt Ginger, the nation, Warren's shop work, the upcoming schedules, all receded. 

It was a small moment. It was a quiet moment. It was a Warren and April moment.

And it was all I needed. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Inch One Hundred Sixty-Seven: End of the Season

No, not that season. Although we at Court are nearing the end of the attendance season, it's not over yet, even though the school year almost is. I am currently slated for mediations up through May 4, and we may add some more before calling it for the year. Some would question whether it makes sense to mediate attendance so late in the school year. The schools are all out by May 25; seniors are out even before then. Yes, it makes sense, especially when we are having the discussion and a parent suddenly says "oh, I didn't know that..." (usually but not always said in the context of how many parent notes may be used each year) and can tuck that information away for the 2017-2018 school year.

The season I am talking about is the end of our Symphony season. Season 38 of the Central Ohio Symphony comes to a grand conclusion this evening, with an all Ohio emphasis. The concert features Ohio composers, Ohio arrangers, and Ohio soloists. (And, of course, all of the orchestra musicians and our conductor are also Ohioans.) Aptly titled "Hear Ohio," it should be quite a performance.

I realize I have written a lot lately, both here and elsewhere, about how much I deal with exhaustion and illness on a daily (hourly) basis. My friends both here and by mail, admonish me to slow down, pull back, don't push so hard. My Aunt Ginger today looked at me and said "don't do it all at once. Take it in small pieces until it is done." (She then sat silent for a moment, then added, "so says mom" and giggled.)

Finishing the Symphony season tonight takes a little off my plate. I am not as deeply involved in the group as I was in years past, but you can't be married to the group's Executive Director and not be married to the Symphony. I don't do the heavy lifting and carrying anymore, but I still write the press releases, proofread when asked, and generally aid and assist in smaller ways.

And I still bake our wonderful conductor a pie for each and every concert. Here is the End of the Season pie for another amazing year.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Inch One Hundred Sixty-Six: Keeping My Accounts

Back in January I wrote about putting stringent monetary controls in place so I could achieve some upcoming financial goals. I had two looming expenses at the time. The first expense was meeting my 2017 out of pocket and in network medical deductibles ($1500.00). As of the last EOB, I am within $5.00 of accomplishing that, and with the EOBs trailing the actual medical bills, I know I have met that figure early on.

The second expense, a goal really, was buying tickets for the whole Pacific Northwest contingent to fly home in July for a week together. I bought the tickets on the last day of March, managing to reach that goal in the first quarter. That expenditure ($2150.00) knocked my account (my "expense account," now renamed my "goals account") to under $300.00, but with recent deposits, including my March mileage check from my job, I am closing in rapidly on a balance of $1000.00.

For someone whose finances have ranged from tight to tightest for a decade and a half, being able to see I almost have $1000.00 set aside in an account separate and apart from my daily checking account is a stunning moment. I all but blink back tears when I think back over those years: a lengthy separation and divorce during which I shouldered 99% of the expenses of two households, the medical catastrophe of an incurable and expensive cancer, being unable to work for over a year, a bankruptcy, and on and on. There were long stretches of time, even as my finances stabilized, even after Warren and I married and both of us had more financial stability, when I wearily wondered whether I would ever get past living paycheck to paycheck. [A note: Warren and I keep our finances separate. When I talk about living paycheck to paycheck, I am talking about myself only.]

And here I am.

I continue to print out my pay stub every payday and pen out where my dollars will go. This has been a great visual tool to keep my mind focused on the relationship between money in and money out. On the home front, I am tracking our 2017 monthly grocery/household expenses and we have dropped them from $200.00 a month (not counting eating out, which continues to regularly come in under $50.00) to about $175.00 a month. (Thank you, Warren, for being as thrifty as I am.) And thanks to my outright antipathy towards shopping and mindless consumer consumption, my expenditures tend to be few and far between.

In Walden, Thoreau often wrote of economy, which is fitting given that his time at the pond was an experiment in seeing how close to the bone he could live. In my recent rereading of the book, I came across this wonderful bit of advice: "keep your accounts on your thumb nail."

What a great sentiment! I don't do my nails ever, but if I did, I would have $1000.00 painted onto my thumbnail, just to remind me of how far I have come.