Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Same Life Different Day

Yesterday, after posting about my medical tests, I ran some errands, including stopping at the library. On my way out, I passed a little boy wearing a tee shirt that read:

Same Shirt
Different Day


I immediately realized I needed a shirt that reads:

Same Life
Different Day


I am feeling much better today about the medical news. I am penning a quick note to my regular oncologist, containing questions I want answered before I see him in October. These never occurred to me yesterday. I was in shock as we barreled through the results.

I also realized this morning what bugged me the most about the oncologist yesterday. He didn't listen. I told that to Warren this morning and he said "April, I was almost ready to say 'hey, would you shut up and listen to what my wife is saying?' but I didn't know if you would appreciate that."

Listening is a skill I put at the top of the list when it comes to qualities I want to see in my doctors. The only reason my cancer was discovered in the first place was because my amazing, truly wonderful personal physician Pat is a great listener (she's great at other things too, including interpreting lab results). As I talked about a laundry list of nagging medical issues, she frowned and said "you shouldn't be feeling this way. Let's find out what's going on."

I have often thought back to that moment. It would have been so easy for Pat to say "April, you're on the far side of 48, you are a single mom, you just came through a long divorce, you have a busy law practice, and you're very active in the community. You need to lose some weight and get some more exercise. Try that and come back and see me in six months."

Instead, Pat listened. She listened carefully and then went to work figuring out why I was feeling so lousy.

Pat's listening is why I am still alive today.

Yesterday's post also brought two immediate responses that reminded me again of the power of community, both here in Delaware and out there in Blogville. My friend Linda was along with me when I went to Oncology that very first time. She is the one who reached over and held my hand when Tim asked me "how much did your doctor discuss with you?" as he prepared to break the diagnosis to me.

After reading my blog yesterday, Linda emailed:

I have a card here that says "Take what you can use and let the rest go by." It has a kitty smelling the blossom of a flower....that pretty much says it...whatever I have that you can use...you may have.....sending you both strength to deal with this news....love Linda

Linda is a very dear friend and the type of person who would give away whatever she had if it helped someone else. She has always been there for me.

The other immediate response was from Sharon, my friend over at Musings of a Midlife Mom, who wrote:

Crap. Not what I wanted to hear either. But, my prayer chain has started and I have confidence that you have many, many more years of good living left. Sending lots of hugs and kisses. You will be okay. Period.


Thank you, Sharon!

My greatest asset when I immigrated to Cancerland was the support of family, friends, and even strangers. Whether it was delivering a meal, sending me a note, or adding me to a prayer chain, they let me know continually that I had their collective strength backing me.

Linda's and Sharon's notes, along with Warren's presence and my baby brother Mark's phone call last night (perfect timing, Mark!), remind me that no matter what I may be going through, I have that strength again every step of the way.

I was full of gratitude then and am even more grateful today.

The title of this blog is "Small Moments of Great Reward." That comes from a note Warren sent me very early on in our relationship. I will someday write about that note, but that one line is all I need to put down now: "I always try to make even the smallest moment of great reward." As I finish this post, I can hear and smell the rain, which my gardens needed. The world is fresh again and I am renewed.

Same Life
Different Day

What a great one.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Numbers Racket

2400.

No, that is not my daily caloric intake. Nor the number of times Warren and I have…well, you know. Nor the balance in my bank account.

2400 is my latest IgG Immunoglobulin count, delivered to me this morning by Dr. Mitchell, who is not my regular oncologist, which made this number all the harder to hear.

2400 is not a number I wanted to see. While it is not a horrific number, it is enough of an "uh oh" number that after the doctor calmed me down, he told me which tests he wanted to order immediately to better interpret that number. He wants to know how much of that number is polyclonal (i.e., okay) and how much of that is monoclonal (i.e., BAD)?

That lead to a discussion of finances and costs and self-paying patients, which is me. In the end we focused on the two tests he insisted on and decided the rest can wait. Even the two most important tests are pricey, so there went another itty bitty piece of my peace of mind. Dr. Mitchell talked about bargaining with the hospital on the charges, and while I can appreciate the wisdom of that strategy, I finally looked at him and said "I understand what you are telling me. But I am tired and this takes so much out of me."

(And I was in tears too, which is never a position of strength for me.)

Now there was lots of good news in today's lab results. My IgA and IgM numbers are rock solid, as are my white and red cell counts. If the myeloma is reactivating at a furious rate, those numbers start to get shaky quickly. Those numbers, my level of physical activity, and the fact that my weight is not plummeting, are all positive signs.

All the same, 2400 hit me hard. That's my highest IgG count since February, 2005. Back then, Tim (my regular oncologist), Pat (my wonderful personal physician) and I were celebrating a number in the low 2000s, because the previous count had been 6100.

If Tim had been there today, we would not have been celebrating.

Tim Moore and I go back to November, 2004, when he confirmed what Pat had already discovered: I had multiple myeloma. I can still remember that initial consultation. After discussing what I already knew about my blood work, Tim said that while there was a slim chance otherwise, the blood work was so devastating that he was certain it was multiple myeloma. Despite knowing that was what he was probably going to say, I burst into tears and said an obscenity (not one of the nice ones), then immediately apologized because I didn't know him at all and didn't know if I could say that in front of him.

I could. We bonded immediately and that bond has never been broken.

As the nurses scheduled my tests and next appointment, they kept handing me tissues. I have been with many of them for almost five years now and that made it easier to let my guard down. It also made for a wad of shredded, wet tissues in my pocket by the time they got me scheduled.

Warren was with me today, as he usually is on my oncology days. He walked me to the laboratory; he had appointments he had to keep and I was going to be awhile longer at the hospital. As he kissed me goodbye and said he loved me, his voice broke. There were tears in his beautiful blue eyes.

I hate making my husband cry.

Back in November of 2005, Tim and I discovered that the transplants I had just undergone did not "cure" me. My latest biopsy and blood tests indicated that there was still something going on. Tim said it could be a benign abnormality that I will live with always. Or it could turn back into myeloma again. He then gave me an analogy that has stuck with me ever since.

"April, imagine your blood cells are Russians and we have a picture of them all standing there in Red Square. We know everyone in the picture is Russian. But we can't tell by looking at the photo if they are KGB agents or not."

I am waiting to see if they are KGB agents.

Life goes on though and I am more than ready to move on with my day. Early on after I moved to Cancerland, I decided I could wring my hands and weep all day every day or I could pick up the pieces and make the most of what I had. I have never regretted choosing the latter path.

As I once wrote my friend Larry, who also shares this disease, "screw myeloma." And that's how I feel right now. Screw myeloma. It's today I need to live.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Behold the Broccoli!

July is winding down and our garden is gearing up. Gardens, plural.

After months of lollygagging around, the peppers have finally decided to grow. They are like the boy who was always the smallest one in class but suddenly puts on seven or eight inches over the summer. There are blossoms on most of them and maybe, just maybe, I might reap one Purple Beauty or Sweet Chocolate yet this year.

Maybe.

I may get a lone eggplant from the one plant that did not get overshadowed by the broccoli. The artichokes have also had to joust with the broccoli for sunlight. Everything I have read about artichokes says "180 days" and it will be nip and tuck with the calendar to see if they can produce a choke before the first frost.

I had no idea that broccoli grew so fiercely and could so completely dominate a garden. If my peppers are the smallest kid in the class, the broccoli is the boy whose parents start him a year late so he will be "good at sports." (Why was that always the reason given? Why didn't anyone ever say "I held my kid back so she could kick butt reading?")

The tomatoes have not been intimidated one whit by the broccoli. Thanks to my helter-skelter, post-planting transplanting, there are tomatoes everywhere. Pig is gone. Oh, it's still there, but hidden under the tomatoes vines that now cascade down over it.

The tomatoes are still green. Drat. I just know the first ones will ripen when we are out of town in early August. I know it, I know it.

Down in the sod garden, the pumpkins and zucchini are in full and beautiful bloom. Whatever has been nipping the zucchini blossoms seems to have slacked off. Maybe it didn't like the taste of zucchini stem that much. As for the pumpkins, after quickly taking over three-quarters of the garden, they have gotten down to the business at hand.

I recently learned that pumpkin vines have male and female flowers. What I did not know was whether we have enough bees and other pollinators around to make the necessary introductions. I am pleased to report that when I walked down to the patch this morning, I saw not one but several bees landing on and lifting off from the pumpkin blossom flight decks.

The bees know their stuff. We already have a baby pumpkin.

I cut the first broccoli last weekend. After I washed it and put it in a bag for later, I turned to Warren and said "let's stop at mom and dad's because I want to give dad some of the broccoli."

Mom and dad live about a mile (as the crow flies) from here, just outside of town on a rural road. When we pulled into the driveway, dad was out in his garden. It had been dry, so he had pulled the hose out to the garden, then ran it up a stepladder to a rotating jet sprinkler. Given the height of the ladder, dad figured the water could reach the whole garden. That is a typical "dad" solution: it may not be pretty, but it is practical and immediate. And it worked.

Dad came up to the truck as we got out. I handed him the broccoli and he grinned. My dad is not an easy man to get presents for, but certain things go right to his heart. The first broccoli from our gardens is one of those things.

Warren stood and chatted with mom (he is a favorite of hers, so much so that I have no question about where I stand on that scale) while dad and I looked at his garden. His tomatoes were dying off one by one; he thinks it is because he planted them at the end closest to the walnut tree at the lot line. Could be; walnut trees are brutal on gardens. The beans looked good though. (In fact, his beans are good. As I write this, I have a sack of green beans from him waiting to be blanched and frozen.) We talked about how next year he may move the garden further south and reseed to grass the section nearest the walnut tree.

I haven't thought too much about next year. Getting through this year is such an adventure. Oh, at times I look at the broccoli and wonder if I should expand the garden to give those bad boys more room next year. But for the most part, except for some occasional notes in my gardening notebook, I am too consumed with this year's crop to look ahead to next.

Our friend Kermit stopped over yesterday to give us some fresh peaches from South Carolina, where they had been on vacation. Kermit is gardening using the "square foot" method that seems to be all the rage this year. While we shared some zucchini bread at the kitchen table, Kermit and I compared garden notes. He likes the square foot method and is getting good results. Kermit is already planning ahead as this year was just a trial run.

I understand the principles of square foot gardening and can appreciate its appeal. I don't see myself turning to that method. I like the confusion and the mess of a traditional garden. I even like the weeding. My sprawling, higgledy-piggledy garden has brought me joy and contemplation and sweat all at the same time.

And maybe I am not tempted by square foot gardening because I remember the size and abundance of my grandparents' farm garden when I was little. The farm is long gone but my memories are not. Even if I could fit the right plants into the grids of the square foot garden, I am not sure I could fit my heart.


Friday, July 24, 2009

Musings on Foot

Warren and I were out late last night watching "American Graffiti" at the Wexner Center. We had time before the movie to walk around the Ohio State campus, which is where Warren did all of his undergraduate education and where I put in one spring quarter myself. My lone quarter coincided with his final quarter and on that vast campus of tens of thousands of students, we actually ran into each other as I was going down and he was coming up the stairs to a basement bookstore.

It was the first time we had seen each other in over two years.

The look in Warren's eyes when he saw me can only be described as "stunned." As in "what are you doing here?" I gave a greeting, he may have responded, and we both kept going our separate ways. When I got to the bottom of the stairs, I turned around and ran back up the steps after him, but he had already blended into the mass of students outside and I could not find him.

Last night as we walked to Mirror Lake and then back across the main quad, we both mused a little on what could have happened if I had caught up with him that long ago spring day and said what was on my mind, which was "I miss you."

See the sort of thoughts that walking can trigger?

I had a string of errands to run this morning. The stops I needed to make were all within a few blocks of one another, all clustered in or around our core downtown, which is about five blocks from this house.

I try to walk as much as possible when I need to go downtown. I can tick off a myriad of reasons for walking: it's good for me, I prefer to keep the car parked for short trips, it allows me time to turn over my thoughts, it's fun to see the changes in gardens through the seasons, and, most important of all, I like walking. Especially in Delaware.

Today I found myself idly jiggling the keys in my hand before leaving. Walk or drive? Walk or drive? I was tired (from the late night last night) and I had to measure which energy it was more precious to conserve: the gasoline in my car or the physical reserves in my body?

In the end, walking won out.

I'm glad it did. It is a classic Midwest summer day. Front yard gardens are full of blooms, from stubby marigolds to nodding coneflowers. There was an elderly woman who looked up from her seat on her front porch and exclaimed "I got my mail early today!" So did I and she beamed when I shared that news with her.

When I walk, my mind runs down all sorts of crooked paths. What is nipping off my zucchini blossoms? Squirrels, I'd say, looking at the neatness of the nip line. Do I plant coneflowers and Black-Eyed Susans next year to encourage pollinators? Maybe. I may be pollinating the pumpkins by hand this year given the lack of bees. Maybe I should order garlic sets from Seed Savers Exchange, but maybe it is better to put it off until next summer. Was Richard Dreyfus ever again so vulnerable as he was in last night's film? When will the tomatoes start to ripen?

I think about the household chores, about community projects, and about whether there is dessert tonight. Sometimes there is a quite a din in my head as I walk.

When I walk, the world comes closer. The slower pace and the pedestrian's eye view ensure that. On foot, I can look over a low fence to see the Big Wheel tipped sideways on the lawn where a child jumped off before heading to bed last night. On foot, I can watch the pinwheel planted by a front step turn in the breeze. On foot, I can share a stranger's delight in her early mail delivery. On foot, I can plan dinner, write a note to a colleague, think through a tangled project, and wave to a friend driving by.

On our refrigerator is a quote by Gandhi: There is more to life than increasing its speed. I try to keep that thought in the forefront on a daily basis. I am not always successful - life moves speedily regardless of my wishes and plans. Some days are car days no matter what my intentions are and some days fly by so fast that I get to day's end and wonder what hit me.

I know I cannot hold back time, no matter how sweet the moment. There are times that lesson is bittersweet to the point of tears. But I also know that walking allows me to slow time down and stretch it out just a little longer to enjoy the flowers, to exchange the greeting, and, 33 years after that chance meeting on a stairway, to savor a cross campus stroll with the man I love.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Fragility

Being poor takes time because you live in such a fragile world that you spend all day worrying about and dealing with things, tangible and intangible, breaking down.

I recently attended a daylong workshop on the program "Bridges Out of Poverty," taught by Phil DeVol. He's the one who made the above observation. He went on to define poverty as "the extent to which a person does without resources." Resources include financial, emotional, intellectual, physical and other quality of life factors.

One Bridges exercise is to evaluate one's own resources in the different categories and rate them on a scale of 1-5, 5 being the best. I have not done the exercise in full, but it came to mind this morning as I dealt with some healthcare matters ("physical").

On healthcare, I give myself a 5 (quality of doctors), a 2 (my overall health, which is pretty good except for incurable cancer), and a 0 (no insurance, no coverage, no nothing), for an overall score of 2.3. Because of the 0, I spent some of my morning visiting a financial counselor at the local hospital, which is where I see my oncologist (who is one half of the 5 score, my wonderful personal physician being the other half).

I went to see the financial counselor for two reasons. First, I receive a 35% discount from the hospital because I am uninsured. If I saw a counselor, that same discount would apply to all of my oncology visits at the hospital as well. That's about a $35 savings and given that I see my oncologist next week, I needed to do that. Second, I just had a very specific blood test done for next week's appointment and I wanted to know the cost of the test. (Note: Finding out costs at a hospital is surprisingly difficult, due to the labyrinth-like nature of hospital billing systems, which have been permanently warped courtesy of the insurance industry. We never did find that figure.)

So out I went, spent about twenty minutes with a harried but genuinely warm counselor, filled out some paperwork, and came home with more papers to retrieve and get back to her as soon as possible.

I need to get them back quickly not merely for my own benefit, but because it turns out that our local hospital, which was consumed several years ago by a BIG Columbus-based system, is closing its financial counseling office at the end of this month. Everything related to financial assistance will now flow through one central portal somewhere else.

The counselor made it clear, with a tone in her voice I could not quite decipher, that Corporate was calling the shots on everything. I would have to fill out financial aid papers, involving income declarations and proof of income, for the new system to evaluate my status.

Just hearing that brought me to tears. Admittedly, I was already on edge. Financial dealings having to do with my healthcare are touchy topics to begin with. Healthcare is my fragile world.

Being faced with paperwork was more than I wanted to deal with this morning. The counselor knew I was stressed. She probably talks to stressed individuals all the time. After all, we live in a country where we have historically chosen not to care whether medical care is available and affordable for everyone. (Thank you, President Obama, for saying that is so wrong.) In the midst of this Great Recession, my guess is that her cubicle is full of financial woes.

She all the same took the time to sit down with me, fill out the new paperwork, then list what additional proof Corporate would need.

I asked the counselor twice whether the 35% discount applied no matter what my income was. As sweet as it would be to get a larger discount, 35% makes a huge difference and I needed to hear, apparently more than once, that it applied to any uninsured patient. As it is, I can only afford to have some lab work done and see my oncologist once a quarter, which is shaving my healthcare needs very closely for the cancer I have. (I don't make huge sums of money, folks.) My repeated question is an indication of the fragility of my medical resources: tell me the discount I have will not be affected, because I am really, really counting on that resource to continue to exist.

I wonder if Corporate has considered the effect of eliminating the local office. People in hospitals tend to be people with lots of stress to begin with, regardless of their income levels. How to pay the hospital bills is only one of those stresses. People with chronic illnesses, like an incurable cancer, are constantly dealing with a fixed level of stress because they know that "chronic" means "always."

My stress level rises steeply when I have an oncology appointment approaching. If I had had to have the same discussion over the phone that I had today in person, I would have hung up and cried, then eaten all the rhubarb bread left over from last night's Legal Clinic. Instead, thanks to Susan the counselor, it took only three pieces to calm me down.

I will probably spend 45 minutes or longer gathering the paperwork that Corporate needs to determine if I qualify for more than the standard 35% discount. I will deliver it in person locally rather than ship it off into some unknown void, which is what awaits me after July 31.

Next week I see my oncologist and get my test results. I will try not to worry too much between now and then. The numbers are what they are and we will deal with it when I see Tim. I will also try not to worry too much about the cost of the test that was done yesterday. We need those numbers; I needed the blood test.

One thing I won't worry about is the financial paperwork that took up this morning. Ultimately I will get a determination as to whether I qualify for more than a 35% discount, but I know that in no case do I get less than a 35% discount.

What I don't know is what happens to the local financial aid staff when their office is closed at the end of next week. Has Corporate found places for them in the new department or is that function being outsourced? Has Corporate found other positions at our local hospital so they can continue to work in this community?

Or has Corporate given them a pink slip and shoved them into a suddenly fragile world?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Anarchy in the Pumpkin Patch

I am a scofflaw gardener.

I just learned this today while searching for chickens in our City Zoning Code.

Why chickens? Because I would love to have a few. When I was a girl, my grandparents kept chickens on their farm (yes, I know, it was a farm) and I still have strong memories of feeding the hens and gathering the eggs.

A growing number of urban areas permit residents to keep chickens in their backyards, with some limitations on flock size and gender. Last week, when David and Vinnie came to dinner, we started talking about urban chickens. Vinnie is City Planner for Columbus, just down the road. There it is a health district issue (you need a permit), not a zoning one, so Columbus allows personal urban flocks.

I was pretty sure that Delaware had an ordinance against keeping "farm animals" in residential districts. Vinnie used to be Delaware's Planning Director and said he thought I was right.

This morning, meaning to blog about urban chickens, I started looking through our zoning code.

Note: I am a retired lawyer; my license is on inactive status with the Ohio Supreme Court. While recovering from my stem cell transplants four years ago, I made the decision that returning to practice, as much as I enjoyed it, was probably not a healthy thing to do. So I parked the license. But the training remains. And one of my specialties when I practiced was zoning law, so reading through Delaware's zoning code is a romp in the park for me.

I started to look through the zoning code for the elusive urban chicken. As I remembered, chickens are indeed not allowed in residential districts.

As it turns out, neither are vegetable gardens.

The way you read and interpret a zoning code is this. First, you look at permitted uses in a given zoning classification. In this case, we are talking about a residential (houses, apartments) zoning classification. I think this house is zoned R-3, but the zoning map on the city website lacks a legend explaining the colors, so I am not sure. Rest assured, regardless of the level, this house is zoned Residential ("R").

Chapter 1134 of the Delaware Zoning Code ("ZC" hereafter) contains the Residential District Regulations. ZC 1134.02 sets out Permitted Uses. In zoning law, a Permitted Use is exactly what it sounds like: it is something you are permitted to do on your property. Some uses are "principal" (allowed outright), some are "conditional" (allowed with limitations).

Permitted uses are often listed broadly. Zoning codes do not contain a laundry list of every permitted use but speak to such general categories as churches, single-family residences, and professional offices. ZC 1134.02 contains a handy chart of permitted uses within the various residential classifications.

Chapter 1134 also contains the regulations for the A-1 classification, which is Agricultural. On the chart in ZC 1134.02, Agricultural uses are only permitted in an A-1 district and not in any R districts.

And this is where I crossed the line from law-abiding citizen to scofflaw.

Zoning is definition driven. In Delaware, Chapter 1121 controls the definitions. ZC 1121.02(B)(5) defines "agriculture" as follows:

"Agriculture" means the production, keeping or maintenance, for sale, lease or personal use, of plants and/or animals useful to humans, including but not limited to: forages and crops; dairy, poultry and livestock including products breeding and grazing thereof; trees and forest products; or lands devoted to a soil conservation of forestry management program.

The words "crops" and "plants" are not otherwise defined in section (B). ZC 1121.02(A) takes care of that: "Words used in this ordinance are used in their ordinary English usage."

Uh oh. No matter how many dictionaries I consult, I cannot come up with any construction of the words "crops" or "plants," let alone the phrase "useful to humans," that excludes my tomatoes and broccoli.

The code is very clear as to my garden's status. ZC 1134.02(f) reads:

Any use not specifically listed shall be a prohibited use in these zoning districts and shall only be permitted:
(1) Upon amendment of this Ordinance and/or Zoning Map, as provided in Chapter 1130, or
(2) Upon a finding by the Planning Commission that a use is substantially similar to a principally permitted or conditionally permitted use in the district according to the procedures in Chapter 1129.


Uh oh again. I am definitely producing for my personal use plants useful to humans. I have not sought an amendment of the Zoning Map or Ordinance, and there is no principal or conditional permitted use in an R district that is "substantially similar" to my garden.

In short, I am breaking the law hand over fist. Which reminds me, I took some broccoli - the first of the season - to my dad last night. Despite my making a gift of it, I probably compounded my crime.

Before jumping to further conclusions, I checked other parts of the Zoning Code to see if home gardens had slipped in somewhere else. There was nothing in Chapter 1166, Landscaping and Screening Regulations, or Chapter 1171, Design Criteria.

Chapter 1151 deals with non-conforming uses, which are uses, now illegal, allowed to continue to exist because they predate the Code. No luck. Although my in-laws used to have a sizeable vegetable garden at this address, they ceased growing vegetables sometime in the 1990s at the latest. Under ZC 1151.03(d)(2), any non-conforming use discontinued for more than one year ceases to be allowed.

Even if there had not been a discontinuance of the gardening use, my garden will still not slip in as a non-confirming use. ZC 1151.03(b) forbids enlarging, increasing, extending, or relocating to another part of the lot any non-confirming use and I have definitely done that. Ellen and Art used to garden in the area where Warren's new shed now stands.

Under ZC 1127.11(b), I am committing a minor misdemeanor, which carries with it a fine of $100. Every day that I am in violation of the Zoning Code - every day that my garden exists - is a separate offense.

This could get pricey.

If I am cited, my case will have to be heard by a visiting judge, as I work for the Municipal Court judges and that makes them ineligible to hear the case. So my case could become an expensive proposition for the justice system as well.

The only good news is that I will have company in the criminal docket if the City cites me. The Delaware County Juvenile Court maintains a vegetable garden that some of the offenders work in during the summer. I guarantee that the plot, located on Union Street across from the Hayes Building, is not zoned A-1. Judge Spicer and the three magistrates can join me in the docket.

Unfortunately, Scott, my former law partner and personal lawyer, may not be able to represent me as he is doing some container gardening just two houses away and could end up in court as well.

It could be a very crowded docket should all of us home gardeners get cited. Delaware contains about 30,000 people within its limits, most of whom live in areas zoned some classification of Residential. There are an awful lot of home gardens all over town. Just a walk around this neighborhood turns up more than one vegetable garden in more than one backyard.

I don't know if the courtroom could contain us all.

The absurd results of this exercise is a powerful reminder of the power and reach of zoning.

Am I worried about being cited for a violation and hauled into court for my garden? Not really. But what started out to be a search for chickens turned into a disquieting discovery that in seeking to limit "bad" uses in residential neighborhoods, the City has outlawed my onions and basil as well.

Zoning affects property rights. Because of that, the courts require that zoning laws be very specifically written and narrowly construed. Because zoning laws are so strictly construed, a government cannot write a definition such as the one above and then say "we didn't mean for it to be interpreted that way." A government must say exactly what it means when enacting zoning ordinances.

I agree with requiring strict construction of zoning laws. Otherwise, you are on a slippery slope to unequal protection. I also believe that, as a whole, zoning laws are good things. I don't want my neighbors to open a tannery next to me.

On the other hand, when establishing zoning laws, we have to be careful not to cross over the line and prohibit not only backyard dairy herds but also backyard zucchini.

Stewart Brand, the author of How Buildings Learn, wrote that "Quelling change, zoning quells life." In this case, zoning would quell my garden.

I have long admired Henry David Thoreau, an eloquent voice for civil disobedience. In another context, Thoreau wrote "I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion."

I'm making my stand. They'll have to issue the summons to me care of the pumpkin patch.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

For the Price of a Tomato


Our downtown turns into our family kitchen twice a week from May until October. On any Saturday morning or Wednesday afternoon, you can find the sidewalks lining Sandusky Street, our main drag, overflowing with locally grown or produced vegetables, flowers, honey, fruits, cheeses, jellies, jams, and baked goods. In the five years since it was started by our local Main Street organization, our downtown farmers market has grown from a handful of vendors to a block and half on Saturday as it hits full swing this summer.

I love farmers markets. Some of that love is sensory: the sight, feel, and smells of a farmers market are indelible. But visiting a farmers market is more than just a trip to an outdoor produce aisle. When you are at a farmers market, whether or not you buy a single item, you are immersed in a rich swirl of talking and laughing and sharing opinions as to the wares all around you. You talk to the farmers, you talk to the bakers, you talk to the other shoppers, friends or strangers, just to share the moment. It is community making at its very best, and I am a huge believer in community making.

It is more than just socializing that makes our market a com- munity tool. Here in Delaware, the Council for Older Adults has a voucher program for seniors on limited incomes. The seniors can redeem the vouchers at area farmers markets and the Council will reimburse the vendor dollar for dollar. In 2008, the Council spent approximately $61,500 on the program, of which $40,000 was redeemed in our downtown market. That is a win/win for our seniors, for our vendors, and for our community.

I visit farmers markets in other communities whenever I am near one. While in Chicago in June, I jumped at the chance to go to the Lincoln Park farmers market, despite the cold, rainy weather. It was worth it just to see the mountain of asparagus at one booth and what was

surely the most photogenic lettuce in Chicago at another. In Lexington, Kentucky, I chatted with a farmer about "greasy beans" and purchased pawpaws, which prior to then I had only known as a song item. It was off-season when Warren and I were in South Haven, Michigan, but despite the snow and the ice skaters, the bright mural on the nearby wall spoke of what was in store in months to come. Clearly communities across the country agree that good things happen when you bring the grower and the consumer together in downtowns and parks.

When our local farmers market first opened, I joined forces with a friend and we sold baked goods - pies and breads (me), coffeecakes and rolls (her) - at the first several Saturday markets. Baking for that market meant baking late on Friday night and then getting up early Saturday to complete everything. (At that time I lived downtown, three floors above Sandusky Street, so getting goods to the market was easy.) I remember that summer as being full of energy and excitement and exhaustion all at the same time. I learned to bake eight pies simultaneously that summer and I learned how truly much I enjoyed the give and take on the street, talking to customers, remembering the repeat buyers. My sons loved it because they got any leftovers and because I always had a box full of money at the market's close. That extra money made a huge difference at a time when my income was being stretched way past too thin to cover two households. Ben's sandals came from those pies that summer and so did the little bit of extra cash for the guys to go to a movie, buy a pizza with friends, or just not feel quite so broke. (It served the same purpose for me.) I have never repeated that experience but I treasure it still.

Farm markets play a large role in community building and our local market is no exception. Nationwide, there are over 4600 markets operating. The USDA calls them an "integral part of the urban/farm linkage." The Ohio Farm Bureau calls them "building blocks" for a community's renewal and vitality. The Project for Public Spaces calls them a tool to build better places. Through an activity like a farmers market, mere space becomes place and through a sense of place, we come together and thrive as a community. Our local farmers market brings people into our core to shop, to visit, to laugh, to talk, and to compare tomatoes.

I am a firm believer that lasting commu- nity change comes through group effort. Farmers markets are wonderful ways for all of us to effect change, whether it is feeding our seniors or reinforcing our commitment to local food producers. Looking at the activity in our downtown market reinforces my belief that we share common goals and a collective future in this town we call home.

Community building and place making for the price of a fresh tomato. Priceless.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Another One for the Books

I have a Facebook page. When you are on Facebook, you see all the quizzes, name assignments, and other folderol that one's friends play. Some of my friends are more game to play (so to speak) than others; all the same, sooner or later, they will surely run out of names, colors, movie stars, and 20th century decades that they resemble the most.

But every now and then one crops up that makes me smile. Frances came up with a winner earlier this week.

Monday morning, Frances's status read: "She still says nothing, just stands with her back to me, pouring two mugs of coffee."

My mind started puzzling over her comment. It was written late the night before. Did she have a fight with her mother? One of her sisters? Then I read the comment Frances had posted underneath:

Grab the book nearest you. Right now.
* Turn to page 56.
* Find the fifth sentence.
* Post that sentence AS YOUR STATUS. AND POST these instructions in a comment to this status.
* Don't dig for your favorite book, the coolest, the most intellectual. Use the CLOSEST book...


For a book junkie like me, that was like laying out a pharmacopoeia of controlled substances and saying "Take your pick, April. Have seconds!"

I held off until Tuesday before I succumbed. I picked up the nearest book, turned to page 56, counted to five, then posted: "You knew, you knew that was going to happen and you didn't say a word."

The source? The Time Traveler's Wife, which was sitting on my desk because I just finished rereading it Monday night.

The rules of engagement intrigue me. The "closest" book? For those of us who read a lot of books all the time, that makes for some rather interesting choices. Sometimes they are all "closest," especially if I am at my desk in the first floor study. For those of us who frequently go back to old favorites when we are in between "new" reads, the possibilities become even more quixotic. And for those of us who frequently return to what may be deemed "children's fiction," well, the challenge becomes irresistible. (You know what I am writing about because chances are you do the same thing. Why is it that we have all read the entire Harry Potter series countless times? Good writing, for one thing, but also for the sheer comfort of worrying about Voldemort rather than the latest unemployment figures.)

Using the core of the idea, I have designed a two-part challenge. I went and pulled 15 children's novels (children's literature, youth fiction, call it what you will), not entirely at random, and wrote down the fifth sentence on page 56 from each one. If there was no fifth sentence due to a chapter ending, I wrote down the last sentence. If the sentence was part of a quote in the original, I put quotations around it to keep it in context. The sentences are:

"I've scattered largesse."

"You deserve a reward."

But the owl laid motionless and pathetic as a toy on the floor of her cage.

"You can share the ribbon."

"There must be some other way to - " began Milo.

"But I suppose it is all humbug, like so many other patented articles."

Ginger rubbed herself against my legs.

All light was gone.

"You don't have to spin a web."

I stuck a few ferns in them so they would look as if they were growing there, and then ran back to camp, breathless.

John and Barbara gurgled from their perambulator.

"They're going to finally let you out of here!"

"Where?"

It was all right, then, to lick the maple syrup from your fingers.

With a gun and a knife and some matches.

Have you figured them out? Do you know where they came from? You know a few of them, surely. (The answers are at the end of the post.)

The second part of the challenge is to take the random sentences and assemble them into a narrative. (You may dispense with the quotation marks as you need to for this part of the challenge.) The result, depending on your sentences, can be very avant-garde. Here is mine:

I've scattered largesse. All light was gone.

"They're going to finally let you out of here!" John and Barbara gurgled from their perambulator. "Where?"

"There must be some other way to - " began Milo. With a gun and a knife and some matches. But the owl laid motionless and pathetic as a toy on the floor of her cage.

"You can share the ribbon." Ginger rubbed herself against my legs. "You deserve a reward."

It was all right, then, to lick the maple syrup from your fingers. But I suppose it is all humbug, like so many other patented articles. I stuck a few ferns in them so they would look as if they were growing there, and then ran back to camp, breathless. You don't have to spin a web.

I suppose for some people this is too geeky, but as I have previously established, my geek credentials are the gold standard. And if you are like I was when I read the Facebook post, you are already reaching for the closest book.

Go ahead. Page 56 is waiting for you.

Answers in order of quote: The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett; These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling; Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary; The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster; Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum; The View from Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg; A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle; Charlotte's Web by E. B. White; My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George; Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers; Holes by Louis Sacher; All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor; Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt; Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Making Community: Our Grandmothers and Mothers Before Us

As I have noted before, there are several blogs I read on a regular basis. The blogger at My Money and My Life recently posted one called "I want to be a domestic goddess." In it, she wrote about wondering how to fill her day when she is home and ended by saying

I wanted to take part of this summer to learn some new domestic skills, grandmother skills as I like to think of them, but I don't know what to learn or where to look. So, dear reader, I pose this question to you. What domestic skills are essential, and what are nice to have? Gourmet cooking? Decorating? Crafting? Ironing? (Please don't say ironing, please don't say ironing, lol)

I commented back, writing in part about how I filled my days: I volunteer. A lot. I suspect a lot of our grandmothers, even the "small town" ones, did a lot more "community work" than we realize, because that was the fabric of the community, on a neighborhood or town level.

As I wrote those words two hours ago, I had an "aha!" moment. Not about me: I know how I fill my days. My aha! moment was about the notion of "community work" and what it meant in Delaware 40, 50, 80 years ago. Two women came immediately to mind: Warren's mother, Ellen, and my own grandmother Skatzes. Both of them did "community work" in their own ways in their own decades and although they lived very different lives, in some ways they lived very similar lives.

Ellen moved to Delaware with her husband, Arthur, in 1950. He was a newly minted optometrist, courtesy of the GI Bill, and she was a thoughtful, college-educated woman eager to put down roots and enrich her community. Like many women of her era, her initial years were spent working (at the local college as a secretary), then quitting to have children (three eventually) and establishing a home, a small starter home first and then the one Warren and I live in yet today. From the outset, she was active in her church, the First Church of Christ Scientist. As her children grew and she had more time, she served on the board of the Delaware Children's Home and on the city Shade Tree and Strategic Planning commissions, as well as being an active member in the Irving Club and the Delaware Music Club.

Ellen participated fully in Delaware life all of her life. That is her on the far left of the photo below, posing with her friends for their roles in the 1958 Sesquicentennial Pageant. When she died in 2004, her obituary noted that she was "extraordinarily generous and interested in other people and always had time for those who needed help, or to comfort the discouraged." (That was my dear, late mother-in-law to a tee, and I cannot count how many times since marrying Warren I have heard that from those whose lives she touched.)


From her board to her club memberships, Ellen's activities epitomized what I would call "ladies community work" for a college-educated woman of her era. Although she never worked for pay outside the home after the first of her three children were born, she always took an active and heartfelt role in bettering her community and the world around her.

Now, step back another twenty or thirty years to the 1930s. You are still in Delaware, but now place yourself on the other side of the Olentangy River, which splits our town into its east and west sides.

The east side of the river was and still is the blue collar, lower income side of town. It was the original industrial side of town (and still contains two pre-Civil War era industrial buildings); it drew and housed the railroad workers back when Delaware contained the major engine shops for the Big Four railroad, as well as the local stockyard workers, as the stockyards were by the railroad. (It is important for me to note that there was and is still a pronounced division - psychological, economic, cultural - between the two sides of town, and while I live on the west side of town, I grew up on the east side and still retain many emotional and psychological connections to it and its history and people.)

My grandmother Skatzes was a young bride back in the early teens, and started what became a large family soon afterwards. Her ninth and tenth children, my aunt Ginger and my mother, were born much later than their siblings, with Ginger coming in 1929 just days before the stock market crashed and my mother bringing up the rear 1935. My grandmother, whose family had moved to Delaware when she was an infant, had grown up in a railroad family; from everything I can tell, her husband was a self-employed carpenter and handyman throughout his work years. With many children and erratic income, their household epitomized life on the east side.

When the Great Depression hit Delaware, it hit the east side of town hard. Work was scarce, resources were scarce, food was scarce. It was not coincidental that a Works Progress Administration (WPA) sewing project and the county relief storeroom were both located on the east side of town in the small commercial district just a few blocks from where my grandmother and her family lived.

As a child, I grew up hearing my grandmother's stories of her life. Her Depression stories fascinated me the most. The East Side did not have the ladies clubs or the aid societies that the west side of town had. But women like my grandmother nonetheless did the type of community work necessary to hold together the neighborhoods through this bleakest time. My grandmother had an open door policy, in defiance of my grandfather (who was not a kind or generous man), throughout the Depression and the war years that followed. If you came to their home, you had food to eat and often a place to sleep. It might just be homemade noodles stretched to feed "just one more" and a blanket on the floor, but you would be fed and sheltered. For my uncles, at least one of whom went into the CCC during the Depression and all of whom were in the service during World War II, this meant they could show up with a friend who had no place to go and know that their friend would be seated at the table.

As my grandmother would say in telling me these stories, "we all helped each other through these times. You did what you could because we all needed to stick together." In her own way, in her own era, my grandmother served her community every bit as much as Ellen a generation later.

My grandmother Skatzes made a deep and lasting impression on me. Although she has been dead for over three decades, she still influences me. The community work I do that means the most to me - the monthly legal clinic - takes me back to my grandmother. The issues that concern me the most - community, hunger, poverty, place building - tie me back to Grandma Skatzes.

I just completed an all-day workshop on a program called Bridges Out of Poverty, from which I came home back exhausted physically and energized in every other way. Early in the day, Phil DeVol, the presenter, defined poverty as "the extent to which an individual does without resources" (resources being financial, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, physical, support systems, relationship/role models, and knowledge of hidden rules of society/class).

It was an intense day and one I am still absorbing. But the overview I got on Friday fits in with my thoughts about community work and the work of women like Ellen and my grandmother.

Ellen Wilson Hyer and Clare Skatzes grew up and lived in very different economic circumstances, in very different worlds, in different worlds in the same town. They never met, but they would have been very comfortable had they because they were shared common core values. Both lived to make the lives of those around them - their families, their neighbors, the greater community - richer and more secure in any way they could. Both were rich in intangible resources and both made sure they invested and reinvested their resources and themselves in their respective worlds. Both of them made sure the fabric of the community was stitched together as securely as they could make it.

How do I fill my days? In many different ways, but in part, I hope, like Ellen and Grandma before me.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Weekend Wrap Up

I had planned on writing about our Farmers Market, but I am too tired to do so.

Monday I was exhausted. Way past the limp dishrag stage. (What's more tired than a limp dishrag? I don't know, but that is what I was.) Tuesday was better but I was still drained enough that a colleague at court said "You're still worn out from this weekend, aren't you?" (He was too polite to add "because you look really awful.")

So here it is Wednesday morning and the needle is finally coming up off the E.

I knew going into last weekend that it would be a full one. Our symphony was playing a free holiday concert on the 4th, then turning around and heading to Lake Erie the next day to play the same concert at Put-In Bay, which is a 30 minute ferry ride from the Ohio shore.

Being married to the Symphony as I am, I double as a roadie. A double concert weekend is roadie hell. And that was before the rain issue came up Saturday evening.

This year was the Symphony's 24th July 4th concert. It has always been held outdoors, somehow managing to take place between storms when they have come up. Sometimes there are afternoon showers and volunteers start toweling off seats at 6:30 p.m. More often than not, there is no rain and no concern.

This year all the radars showed a solid wall of green bearing straight down on us. There was no rain per se, just a lot of sprinkling off and on. So we set up outside as we always have, eyeing the sky throughout the day.

As Executive Director, Warren makes the final call as to whether to move inside. He held off. The crowds started arriving. It was sprinkling.

Then it started sprinkling harder.

Strings players will not play in sprinkles. They all clustered inside like chicks in an incubator. Warren kept the percussion equipment inside as well. Knots of people - Warren, the production manager, some trustees, me - formed to talk.

Moving the concert inside posed a host of logistical issues, the least of which was resetting the stage. The need for a cover for the outdoor stage came up more than once. Then one trustee said "could we get enough pop-up canopies to cover the musicians?"

His words electrified us. The fire chief volunteered one immediately and called the station for two more. The symphony had one in the office one block away. A church group in the audience had a very large one that they agreed to bring to the stage.

Suddenly the outside concert was a go. What happened next resembled films you see of military units scrambling on alert: we were running from tent to tent, some of us popping them up while others hustled chairs, mics, and stands out of the way. (Thank you, Pete O'Flaherty, for jumping in to help to raise the roofs.) One up, another up. A third up. The sixth and final tent was 8 miles north of town and would be en route as soon as it came down. A couple of us waited on a side street to race it to the concert site as soon as it arrived.

The concert went on, about 20 minutes late, but it went on with the musicians under the tents and the crowd under the skies (which never did open up). Afterwards, as we broke down the stage and packed for the next morning's trip, we all congratulated ourselves for Making It Work.

All the same, it was a late, late night before everything was done and we were home.

The next day dawned clear and early. Too early. Warren and the production manager, Dick, were on the road by 9:00 with the truck full of stands and percussion. At 10:30, I went to our high school to meet the bus and help check in musicians. There was mass confusion about who was hauling the basses to the lake. A horn player had not shown up (she wasn't riding the bus, it turns out). Good thing those took some extra time to sort out because at 11:00, when we supposed to depart, our teenage vocalist came flying off the bus exclaiming "Reuben is on his way! He just left his house!"

(I have known Reuben since he was in middle school, so I had no qualms saying to him "we almost left without you…and I will never let you live this down." The only thing I didn't say was "just wait until I tell your mother.")

The trip continued to be full of small snags and disruptions. There was confusion at the ferry landing: the employee checking us in wanted one set of numbers, the employee running the tickets wanted another. We finally settled on counting the yellow Symphony passes going over, but agreeing that every musician would have a ferry ticket (now all in my possession) coming back. The van with the basses had not yet arrived and would have to take a later ferry. That caused great consternation among the bass players.

By the time we arrived at the concert site, I was tired (no surprise), hungry (breakfast had been hours ago), hot (it was sunny and very warm), and frazzled (courtesy of the bass issues, the ferry ticket snags, the heat, and the hunger). In short, I was on overload.

I was not awful to be around, but I wasn't very nice either. I wanted to be left alone, alone, alone.

Poor Warren.

But the quiet passing of time helped. Sitting in the shade on the porch of the visitors center with a cool lake breeze helped. Knowing we had managed to shepherd the musicians to the island, despite the snafus, helped, especially when the basses arrived on the next ferry. Knowing a box supper would be arriving shortly helped. Missing Warren, who had wisely moved to the porch on the other side to give me some space, helped.

Pretty soon I had recovered enough to ask him if the offer to go up the tower at Perry's Monument, which he had so happily made when I first arrived and was not fit to be around, still stood.

Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial is part of the National Park Service and commemorates both the key naval victory of the War of 1812 ("Don't give up the ship!") which took place in the waters just off the island and the long-lasting peace between Britain, Canada and America. It is only five miles from the Canadian/American border, the longest undefended
border in the world. The monument, in the form of a Doric column, is 47 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty. You take an elevator to the upper deck platform, which is 2 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty's torch.

The upper deck platform is a great place to view the world and recover your spirits, especially if you are me and Warren is anywhere nearby. By the time we came back down, I was grounded in more ways than just physically.

The concert at Put-in Bay was stellar. Perhaps it was the setting, perhaps it was the local islanders in attendance, perhaps it was one of those times when the audience and the orchestra are in perfect synchronicity. The emotional highlight was when our vocalist Dominique sang "God Bless America." Audience members began rising to their feet to stand
silently while she sang, whether out of respect for the song or her voice or both. By the time she finished, many of us were in tears as we applauded and called out our admiration.

After the last note of "Stars and Stripes Forever" died away, it was time to reverse our morning route. We struck the set, loaded the equipment, headed to the ferry, waited for the ferry, boarded the bus, and rode home. The basses beat us back this time. By the time we got to bed, it was already Monday.

And now it is Wednesday. I cancelled appointments Monday, knowing I was too tired to think straight. Tuesday I had the meeting I had moved from Monday, and that was when my colleague politely inquired about my well being.

And I am still tired today.

But you know what? It was worth it. It was worth every moment, even the frazzled, frustrating ones. It was worth it to see the smiles of the musicians reflected in the smiles of their audiences, it was worth it to see Dominique (newly gradated from high school) woo not one but two audiences, it was worth it to rush to set up tents so the show could go on, and it was worth it to once again watch my husband at his best as he solved various production problems and then took his place in the percussion section as if there was nothing else in the world but the notes on the page.

For me, who has not lived in the orchestral world until recently, music is a miracle. Out of the confusion - misplaced parts, broken strings, sore hands, wrong notes - comes the sublime. Each concert is the musicians' collective attempt to make the world new again with music. Sunday night, our musicians did just that.

By the time our ferry left Put-In Bay that evening, the sun was setting. I stood on the deck watching the reds and purples wash across the horizon. The family in front of me held their young daughter up to see the colors. She laughed and clapped her hands, smiling into her parents' faces, reaching towards the sky, reaching towards the miracle.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Happy 4th of July!

I love the 4th of July. It is my favorite holiday hands down. I love our city parade, I love the concert in the evening, I love the fireworks, I love it all.

Our parade is small by big city standards, but that does not diminish my pleasure in it one whit. You can't watch it without knowing someone in the procession - a Cub Scout, a clarinetist in the high school band, someone driving a decorated tractor. Aunt Ginger lives on the parade route and we will all gather there to wave and laugh as our friends go by.

The evening concert is special for lots of reasons, starting with that it is put on for free by our local symphony, the Central Ohio Symphony. This is the same symphony that my husband Warren is the executive director of and that back in April raised over 2000 pounds of food for our local food pantry with just one benefit concert (a national record).

In short, this is one great symphony before they even begin to play.

On July 4th, the orchestra plays a mixture of patriotic songs and Broadway and movie hits. This year, because it is the 40th anniversary of man landing on the moon, music from "Apollo 13" has made its way into the lineup.

The symphony plays outdoors on the campus of Ohio Wesleyan University, which nestles right up to our downtown. Seating is on the lawn. We bring picnic dinners, sodas, lawn chairs, desserts, blankets, wine, and sparklers; children run up and down the walkways; everyone and everything is decked out in red, white and blue.

This concert draws 5000 or more annually. It is not a noisy crowd but neither is it a performance hall quiet crowd. There is always a low undercurrent of talk, of friends greeting friends, of old neighbors reconnecting. Crowd enthusiasm is obvious from the opening ("Fanfare for the Common Man" and the Star Spangled Banner) and does not diminish the rest of the evening.

During "Armed Forces Salute," veterans and active service personnel stand when their military branch's theme song is played. My dad and brother Mark will be on their feet for the Army; my friend John Smith, a WWII veteran who was at Iwo Jima, will stand up for the Marines. We the audience will applaud enthusiastically.

The last two pieces are always the same: Tschaikovsky's "1812 Overture," followed by Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever." Before the last note has faded, concertgoers are up and moving half a block over to see the city fireworks display. The street by the campus is closed off and we all pitch our chairs and blankets right there on the road or the practice fields and look up until the first one explodes.

I'm also a sucker for fireworks. Always have been. There is something about seeing those colors bloom, shimmer, and fade away that thrills me every year. I ooh and aah right along with everyone else, and "everyone else" includes everyone who was at the concert just 10 minutes earlier.

It is a perfect evening.

30 summers ago, when I was 23, I traveled around Europe for six weeks. I was in Hamburg (then West Germany) on July 4 and homesick, not for my apartment but for America. I wanted to be there - anywhere - in the United States that day. I have never missed another one, including even the summer I was being treated for myeloma and in between stem cell transplants when the 4th came around.

I almost always spend the concert with Sally and Chris, who were my across-the-alley neighbors when I first moved back to Delaware. Back then, we would watch the concert and the fireworks together, then come home and let the kids light sparklers and smoke bombs and throw pop drops until late into the evening. Those were magical days for the children and any of them at the mention of the 4th will still say "remember when we used to light all those fireworks in the backyard after we got home?"

Yes, I do.

On July 3, 1776, John Adams wrote his wife Abigail his thoughts about celebrating Independence Day:

I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

Adams was actually writing about July 2, which was the day the Continental Congress approved the idea of independence. The vote on the Declaration of Independence did not come until the 4th, which is why we have celebrated that day as Independence Day ever since.

No matter. Adams was dead on right when he wrote he believed that succeeding generations would continue to mark the day. The notion that individuals could come together and create a nation founded on principles of justice and equality was a stunning, indeed a revolutionary, idea for its time. It continues to be so today. We the people have not always lived up to those principles, but we the people continue to strive towards realizing them. I am optimistic enough to believe that the ideals that drove Adams and his colleagues to take that giant and dangerous leap into the unknown continue to guide us yet today.

Adams wanted us to mark Independence Day with "Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more."

I'm with him.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Pig Has Landed

Last Christmas, I received a stone pig. Cast from volcanic material (so it says), it was from a courthouse colleague who was leaving after a year and a half of starting a new court program that I had helped design.

Why a pig?

Early on in our relationship, she told me that her husband was a deputy at the Franklin County jail, a large urban system. Inmates would often complain to him about being in jail, adding "it's not fair," and he would respond "Fair? Fair? Isn't that where people show pigs?"

When I heard that story, I told her about the pig showmanship class I had seen many years before at a county fair.

A showmanship class is one in which the handlers, in this case all 4-Hers, demonstrate how well they can show off their pig's fine points. It usually consists of walking the pig around a ring with other handlers and pigs while a judge watches both the pig and the ease of the showman. In a pig showmanship class, the kids often carry canes. They use them to tap the pig from time to time to keep it walking in the right the direction. In extreme moments, they might one to correct the pig in case it had any thoughts of getting pugnacious with its neighbors. A pig's nose is especially sensitive and sometimes a quick tap there will catch its attention.

This particular class took place on a very hot and humid Ohio summer day. Contrary to the saying about "sweating like a pig," pigs don't sweat. That is why they wallow in mud: to stay cool. Obviously, there are no mud wallows in a fair ring as the pigs are well groomed and clean.

It was a very, very hot day.

Early on in the class, the pigs started to become irritable. There were some porcine mutterings, some deliberate bumping (pig to pig), while the 4-Hers looked concerned and briskly tapped their charges. The ring announcer asked parents to bring sprinkling cans to the ring and help water the pigs to cool them down.

It didn't help. The pigs became more and more irritated. They didn't want to be paraded around a ring. They didn't want to be tapped. Bumps became nips, grunts became squeals. The 4-Hers, most of whom looked to be about 12, look worried, then distressed.

Finally, the pigs began fighting. Three or four bunched into a corner, catching their handlers with them, even pinning one to a fence, and began tussling. There were yells, there were squeals. The ring was dry and the dust rose. Pretty soon you could not see much of anything in the corner except a cloud of dust, an occasional pig rump, then a lone cane rising high up in the air and descending over and over.

Whack! Squeal! Whack! Squeal! Whack! Squeal!

At that point, several pig farmers jumped in the ring and helped shove the fighting pigs apart. The cane turned out to be wielded by a small boy who I had noticed originally because he was wearing a vest over his shirt. Now his hair was disheveled, his face was dirty, and his vest was askew. His pig, though, was once again walking docilely in front of him.

I told that story to my colleague and she laughed to the point of tears. After that, pigs became our touchstone as to the ups and downs of starting a new program. Sometimes we had to whack something - a rule, a procedure - to get it to settle down and behave. And sometimes things weren't fair and one of us would remind the other, "Fair? Fair? Isn't that where people show pigs?"

The pig was sitting on my doorstep, a bow around its neck, when I arrived home one day last December. It sat under the Christmas tree throughout the holidays, then sat in the former family room (currently the construction staging area and overflow shop storage until Warren moves materials into the newly finished shed) until yesterday.

Last night, I looked at the pig, I looked at the garden, and I plopped it down in front of the tomatoes. I imagine the pig will migrate as the summer wears on; with a grin like that, I see it in the pumpkins come the fall.

For now, though, the pig has landed.

John Steinbeck's motto was ad astra per alia porci - to the stars on the wings of a pig - "not enough wingspread, but plenty of intention." He even had a stamp made up with a small winged pig, "Pigasus." In the early days of our start-up program, we certainly had plenty of intention even if we were occasionally short on wingspread. It's not a bad motto for my sod garden either.

Come to think of it, it's not a bad motto for life in general.

To infinity, and beyond, on the wings of a pig!