Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Wedding, A Death, And Life

My son Ben and my almost daughter-in-law Alise have set a wedding date for this August in Helena, Montana.

I'm thrilled! I'm overjoyed! I love Montana! I love Ben and Alise!

And I'm looking at my budget trying to figure out how on earth to manage it. (Don't worry, you two, we'll be there. Oh, we'll be there!) Earlier today I was running trip estimates and despairing each time a new balance came up on the calculator. Warren could hear it in my voice when we talked on the phone.

In all fairness, it's not just the expense of that trip that is on my mind or in my voice right now. Yesterday I saw Tim, my oncologist, for a quarterly checkup. While I got good reviews, we talked at length about the costs of tests and how far apart I could space them before he started losing vital connections to my health history. I told Tim I needed time to pay off the medical bills that have accumulated since Dr. Bully put me behind on the count and could we delay everything for another six months? I knew from his face and carefully worded response that he was uncomfortable with that option. He had questions of his own. How much did it cost just to see him? What if I saw him in 90 days without any testing? Could I afford that? We compromised by agreeing I would see him in three months - without any labs or other tests - and then repeat the kappa free light chain assay, one of the best tests today for myeloma, when I see him in the fall.

I said to Warren as we drove home, "Tim doesn't like my IgG." It hasn't moved upwards since last July, but it hasn't moved down either.

So that is gnawing at me.

Interlaced with my medical and medical/financial concerns, our household is running on vapors right now. I have taxes bumping aside the medical bills in the next two weeks. Both of us are writing grants for our respective employers. Our weekday schedule has changed now that I drive Sam to and from work every day and we are still all adjusting to the new schedule. Warren has been playing concerts all over, has more coming up, will be playing Easter at Maple Grove, has the May concert and the composer residency bearing down like a steam locomotive on him and the Symphony, and is trying to finalize another food pantry benefit concert, all while trying to finish building a vibraphone for the May concert (as well as have a set of crotales cast so he can machine and finish them in time to play in the same concert).

And our friend and neighbor Tom Prengaman died last week.

Tom was only 57. He had had three bouts with lymphoma over the last 17 years. It sounds as if his death was caused by a recurrence of it, although he didn't live long enough for his oncologist to run definitive tests. If the cause of death wasn't lymphoma, the lymphoma was the major contributor.

I'm sad and upset that Tom died. Besides being a friend (along with his wife Kris and their now adult daughters, who I have known since they were in grade school) and our backyard neighbor, Tom lived in Cancerland. Just like me. When I was facing my first stem cell transplant, Tom sought me out at a barbeque and talked about his own experiences and transplant. He talked directly and bluntly about his illness, which I appreciated deeply.

Tom's death is gnawing at me. I know it is and I know why. Those of us who populate Cancerland live with the reality of the cancer someday coming back with a vengeance. We know it. We don't always face it, but we know it deep in our bones. Tom dying last week made me face that it could happen to me too.

It could happen to me too, but it is today I must be living. And while I pound away at the grant application, or shuttle Sam to and from work, or rework the figures on a trip to Montana, I need to keep that thought - that it is today I must be living - first and foremost in my mind.

Funeral processions have the right of way on our roads. We pull over and let them go by; if we are at a light and it turns green, we sit and wait until the last vehicle in the procession clears the intersection. Besides being the law, it is the remnant of a time when we knew our community well enough to know who was being buried and stood silently by in respect as the procession went by.

In the Jewish tradition, however, the outcome is different in one situation. If a funeral procession meets a wedding procession at a crossroads, the wedding procession has the right of way. The rationale behind this custom is that life always takes precedence over death.

Life takes precedence over death. It is today I must be living.

We've got a wedding to get to in August.

Congratulations, Ben and Alise!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Walk With Dad

My friend WP, who blogs at I am the working poor., recently wrote beautifully and movingly about her father, who is dying of cancer. She reflected on his burial, which she knows is inevitably soon:

One of the things my dad did when my mom passed was take her ashes to the private family burial ground. He reconnected with her relatives and they welcomed him. The burial site is on top of a mountain in a long gone coal mining community. Her father died, crushed in a mining collapse when she was just three months old. Long story short she had a rough life and longed to know her real father. My dad buried her ashes and the old coal mining lantern that her father had on his hat when he was crushed which she had kept on display all her life.

This mountain top next to his wife is where my dad wants to be buried. He has the names and numbers ready for me when it is my time to reconnect with the relatives. He said they would be real glad to meet me. He said I would have to walk the remaining mile or two up the mountain because there wasn't a safe road anymore. So I am reminded that my next trip will be to a remote mountaintop where I will walk a long way, a shovel for a walking stick, my last trip with my father.

WP didn't identify in which state that family cemetery is located, but I'm guessing West Virginia or Kentucky, based on her description. Coal mining and family cemeteries - gotta be somewhere in or around those two states.

WP's post was very powerful and brought back strong memories of my own.

My dad was born in Greenup County, Kentucky, which is not quite mining country, but darn close. Greenup County hugs the Ohio River just across and down a ways from Portsmouth, Ohio. It is a land of hollers (hollows) and steep mountainside farms. The regional author Jesse Stuart spent his life in Greenup County, the last few decades of it in a log cabin he bought from my great-aunt Nora Jane and had moved across W Hollow Road, on which they both lived, to his farm, which is now a state nature preserve. Although his reputation is now dim outside of Kentucky, Stuart captured well the look and feel of that land in his stories, poetry, and memoirs.

My dad's parents moved north to Ohio in 1936, fleeing the devastation the Great Depression wreaked on an already impoverished area. All the same, they kept strong, deep ties to those family members who stayed on in Greenup County. My childhood and youth were well-laced with trips back and forth between here and there.

We - my dad's family - have two family cemeteries up on hills in Greenup County. One is the Gullet cemetery, which is my dad's mother's family. My great-grandfather Gullet died of black lung when my dad was a little boy, but my great-grandmother lived to be almost 100 and was a fixture of my childhood. The other is the Nelson cemetery, which is my dad's father's side of the family.

It has been decades since I have attended a family funeral down home, but I remember it clearly. Dad's Uncle Bill had died and was to be buried in the Nelson cemetery. Some of the men in the family went up the day before to dig the grave; no backhoe could navigate the hilly terrain. The grave digging was hampered by it being March and the ground being still partially frozen, so midway through, some of them went down and came back up with dynamite to blow out the frozen soil and rocks.

After the funeral in Greenup, the hearse drove to the foot of the Nelson cemetery hill. The house at the bottom of the hill and the hill itself were owned by others than members of the family, but the gate to the path to the top was open. The pallbearers unloaded the coffin and then handed it off to the first of two or three teams of local men - those who lived up and down the holler - waiting in stages up the hillside. Dressed in hunting clothes and coveralls, they relayed the coffin to the top while the rest of us picked our way up the slick clay path.

Up on top, Cousin Athene pointed out another hill, a few hilltops over. "That there's the Gullet cemetery where your great-grandma will be buried someday."

When great-grandma Gullet died, I was out west in law school and lacked the funds to make it back to her funeral. I have yet to see the Gullet cemetery. I haven't been back to the Nelson cemetery since 1976. When my dad dies, he will be buried in a small cemetery here in Delaware County, next to the high school he attended but never graduated from. His parents are both there, as is the baby girl, Heather, that he and mom lost 55 years ago. Mom will either already be waiting for him or will join him later.

Dad is 77 this summer. Despite having had diabetes for almost a quarter of a century now, he is in very good health. He has already outlived his mother, a diabetic who ignored her disease until too late, and at some point will start closing in on his dad's mark. All the same, Dad knows that his time on this earth is growing finitely short. By all appearances, he is still going strong, but I am increasingly aware, and he is too, that he is starting to slow down physically.

It has weighed on my mind for some time now that before too much more time passes, Dad and I need to drive down to Kentucky and visit the family cemeteries while we can still explore them together. As I write these words, it occurs to me that this is a trip I should not put off much longer. The month of April was Jesse Stuart's favorite one, and he often wrote about the wild beauty of spring unleashed in his beloved hollers and hills. I'm thinking April might be a good month to head south.

WP's heartfelt post about her last trip with her father was a powerful and poignant reminder to me that I need to take a walk with my father, and soon, up two hillsides down in the hollers of Greenup County.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Week That Was

This has been a busy, busy week. I am so glad it is Friday.

I have already written about my United Way week. But United Way was not the only thing that happened this week.

This week I filled, seeded, and watered 66 pots. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, broccoli, some ornamental gourds (seeds from another, so they may be crossbred) because Warren wants to experiment with gourd instruments some more. After doing that Sunday I was tired, tired, tired.

While I was in United Way meetings all day Tuesday, Warren and the Symphony were launching the big event of the year: the Symphony participating in the Ford Made in America program. The kickoff event was a luncheon of community leaders to introduce the program, explain the related community events, centered around a four day residency with composer Joseph Schwantner, and seek community imput.

And at home in the evenings, Warren was building a vibraphone. Except for Tuesday night, when we went to hear Liz's band concert.

When I wasn't at United Way this week, I was in court meetings. I am the lead writer of a grant due April 8 and those days are ticking fast.

When I wasn't at United Way or in court meetings this week, I was on the road. Sam started work on Monday and I am driving him to and from the job each day. That has required us to set the alarms earlier and run the days a little later.

Today is the first day all week that, after driving Sam to work, I have not had to turn around and prepare for a meeting outside of the home. Maybe I can catch up on a lot of laundry, paperwork, writing.

As I said, this has been a busy week full of hard work, accomplishments, proud moments, news from Montana (there's a wedding in the works!), and Sam's new job. Whew.

Mother Nature apparently felt left out of the whirl, so she added her piece to the week as well. This morning, the last Friday in March, we all woke up to this sight outdoors:

And this one indoors:

The broccoli is up! Now that's the way to end a busy, busy week!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Look, Ma! No Hoops!

Marilyn, my CIC co-chair at United Way, said yesterday, "I don't see how they are going to do all this [carry out an ambitious proposal] unless someone on that staff grows a gill."

I burst out laughing. Brandon, our United Way president, gave her this look and repeated, "grow a gill?" And with Marilyn's statement and our responses, I knew we had officially crossed into United Way March Madness.

As I wrote last year, for those of us who volunteer as Impact Team members for United Way of Delaware County, March is not about tournament brackets, Cinderella teams, or the Final Four. Rather, it is about reading funding proposals, two weeks of agency site visits, and team meetings that run up to three hours while we discuss the merits of the proposals.

Today was Day Two (and the final day) of those marathon team meetings.

As a warm-up exercise both days, Tracy, who is Community Impact Manager for United Way, had us go around the room, introduce ourselves, and throw out one word that described the Impact Team process:















The Impact Team process is all of those words and more. It is an uplifting and humbling experience. Every year I come out of March in awe of the strength of this community.

I also come away punch drunk from the wackiness that envelops those of us closest to the process. Prior to this week, our volunteers conducted agency site visits. Yesterday and today, some 30+ volunteers reviewed 39 proposals over the course of four separate Impact Team meetings. Marilyn, Brandon, Tracy, and I attended all four meetings, read all 39 proposals, and between us, made sure that at least two of us (one CIC co-chair and one staff member) attended each site visit.

Little wonder we all get a little tipsy on United Way March Madness.

There was a lot of laughter yesterday and today. We get silly. This morning when Tracy gave her word, "grateful," she added "for all of you volunteers," then threw out "I love you guys!" in an Academy Award winning baritone. I looked at Brandon, who had yet to give his word, and said "top that." Rod, who works for Nationwide and is a veteran volunteer himself, pointed out the role Red Cross fills at local disasters, such as house fires. "Who's the first on the scene?," Rod asked, before answering, "Besides a Nationwide adjuster, that is." Another volunteer opined how unsettling it was as to how much personal information could be gathered easily from the internet. I said, deadpan, "I know. I look you up all the time!" Marilyn, describing an agency site visit and some of the volunteer comments, said, "well, it wasn't like acid reflux when we suggested it."

I'm going to miss United Way March Madness.

This is my fifth and final year as an Impact Team volunteer. I've had a long tenure, by local United Way standards, and I am grateful for that. I've loved it. I've loved getting to know my community even better than I had ever imagined possible. I've loved working with so many other volunteers from all parts of the county and many walks of life, some of whom have become friends beyond our United Way confines. I've loved serving as CIC co-chair, despite the extra hours and extra commitment.

I will help lead the CIC meeting in mid-April, at which we make our funding recommendations, and I will make the presentation to the United Way Board the last Monday in April. And then I'm done. It will be time to pass the senior leadership into Marilyn's steady, capable hands. Like me, she will be fortunate beyond words to have Brandon and Tracy alongside her for next year's Impact Team process. And Marilyn has an excellent sense of humor, which will serve her well.

When my friend Kermit is truly impressed by someone's character, he will say, "there are not enough words in the dictionary to adequately describe" his admiration of the person. I'm going to borrow that phrase from Kermit as we ring down the curtain on our March United Way season. Brandon, Tracy, and Marilyn, there are not enough words in the dictionary to adequately describe my admiration and gratitude for your commitment and energy. You, and all the Impact Team volunteers, have made yet another March a success, and I have been fortunate beyond words to have shared the experience with you.

See you April 17.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Healing Houses

Walking to my final United Way site visit on Friday, I ran into my friend Don, who said, "You know, Nora really likes that little house."

I replied, "I'm so glad! I always liked that little house."

Don nodded. "I think it's a real good house for her to be in."

Nora is a recently divorced mother of young children. She is in the process of reassembling her life and moving forward.

"That little house" is a post-war bungalow, one floor, on a quiet little street, just a block away from the neighborhood elementary school. About 1100 square feet; three bedrooms, one bath.

It is the house into which Sam and I moved in 2005, as I was starting my cancer treatment, and in which we lived, eventually joined by Warren, until the fall of 2008.

It was a healing house.

When I left my marriage, my life in pieces, my children's lives in shambles, my older son Ben and I moved into a newly renovated, spacious 1920s era apartment on the top floor of an 1889 commercial Italianate building in the heart of downtown Delaware.

Ben, a sophomore in high school, fled the house for some of the same reasons I did - peace, quiet, safety, our inalienable right to own our own lives.

Sam, only in 6th grade, was torn and hurt and shattered. It would be a year before he would agree to stay overnight with me, and only then because he missed his big brother, who refused to stay overnight with his father, so much.

The separation and divorce marked a terrible time in our lives. We all needed healing, but the apartment, while great space, was not a healing house. It held us together, temporarily and loosely, while we each started to reassemble the pieces of our lives. The divorce became final. Ben went to college, which became his great healing experience. Sam floated between his parents' respective addresses.

And then I got sick. Really, really sick. And the apartment, which was a 3rd story walkup up two flights of really steep, 1880s style stairs, became not only unaffordable but also unlivable.

Enter that little house. I found it driving around town looking for small places to rent. It was only three blocks from the high school. It was only 1100 square feet. It had no stairs. It had a Dutch door on the front and sunlight flooding every room.

An army of friends and family moved us in on a cold, wet March day. At some point, I whispered, "thank you so much. Now please go away." Sam and I were left alone in our new space. I was very ill. Sam was scared and anxious. The house wrapped itself around us. We stood there, listening to the silence. Sam smiled a little crooked smile. "This house feels really good." I nodded.

We didn't know it yet, but it was a healing house.

That first summer there, I had tandem stem cell transplants, each time returning to that little house to recuperate and grow well. Some days my biggest activity was walking to the rear sun porch and sitting down for the afternoon. Ben came home for college and he and Sam ran the household with and without me.

It was a healing house.

Sam's dad, who'd pledged never to abandon him and who had vilified me as the one who abandoned the family, moved abruptly out of state. Ben headed back to college. That left Sam and me together, creating a whole new family again.

It was a healing house.

It was while living in that little house that Sam rocketed through anger and depression before finally deciding he needed professional help, asking for it without any prompting.

It was a healing house.

My healing was physical and emotional. Badly battered by cancer, somewhat banged up and bruised by an ill-timed and worse-fated brief relationship, I needed that little house to retreat to, to reflect in, to grow strong again.

It was a healing house.

Later, when Warren was fleeing his own marriage, he moved in - severely underweight, unable to sleep more than a few hours at a time, scared for his emotional and physical safety. Slowly, he started to gain weight, sleep again, and take steps to assemble a new life.

It was a healing house.

After we married, after Warren regained possession of his own home, we made plans to move. Sam found an apartment. We gave up that little house.

I cried when that day came. It had been a healing house. It had become a healing home.

So I am not surprised one bit that Nora is finding it to be a good house. My hope and wish is that it is a healing house for her and her children too.

A friend, about to be divorced, is moving this weekend out of the house that she and her husband bought 18 years ago and in which most of their now adult children were raised. Like me, her long term marriage were marred by serious mental health issues that, ultimately, destroyed the fabric of the marriage and the family.

I wrote her: May we forever dwell in places that make us strong, ready to be surprised by joy.

That is a line from Around the House and In the Garden: A Memoir of Heartbreak, Healing and Home Improvement by Dominique Browning, written in the aftermath of her divorce. I have always loved the hope in that sentence.

May my friend's new apartment be a healing house.

Monday, March 15, 2010

March Updates

A few weeks ago, I drove Sam to a job interview at an area nursery. He interviewed for over an hour for a minimum wage job. When he came out, he said the interview was "good but not great." He then laughed and said, "well, it wasn't as bad as the one at the call center."

On the way home, I suggested following up the interview with an email thanking the interviewer for his time. That triggered a frustrated reaction from Sam. He had no problem with working for minimum wage if that is what a job paid and he took it, but he didn't like to have to appear grateful or jump through hoops to get an entry level, minimum wage, grunt work job.

I asked him what he meant by "jumping through hoops."

"You know, like make phone calls every few days to tell them how interested you are and ask if they have made a decision, and then find out you didn't get it." He added, "A person that wants to work should be able to show up, fill out an application, say 'I'm willing to work,' and be hired right there."

He then got quiet and said, "I guess there are just too many people looking for work and too few jobs."

Sam was right as to too many applicants and too few jobs. The NY Times recently ran a story on the millions of Americans who may never work again thanks to the Great Recession. Luckily, Sam got his foot in the door and has been hired on at the nursery - not by the manager he interviewed with, but by another (a longtime friend of mine). He starts next Monday.

He will be working 40 hours a week, $7.50 an hour until August, when he hopes to start college in Oregon.

Sam is ecstatic. I took him to the grocery today and he radiated happiness. The job, per my friend, "can be really boring, grueling work - weeding, watering, potting plants." Sam doesn't care. He likes hard labor and he is so delighted to be heading back to work that he just beamed at everyone - me, the cashier, the little kid in the aisle.

"I'm so happy to be going back to work," he said more than once.

It shows.

I recently wrote that I would be seeing my oncologist this week. Today, I had a voicemail waiting for me: Dr. Bully would be seeing Tim's patients tomorrow.

Just hearing his name caused my heart to race. I immediately called the oncology clinic back and started in with a "there is no way I will see Dr. Bully" statement. The receptionist waited until I paused to breathe and then reassured me that she understood and they would reschedule me.

"You're about the fifth patient today to call and ask to be rescheduled rather than see Dr. Bully," she added. (She called him by his real name, for the record.)

That was an interesting comment.

Patients are often selective about who they see. A cancer patient sometimes is understandably very reluctant to see anyone else but "my oncologist," because the treating oncologist knows the case history and patient's history better than anyone else.

On the other hand, I have to wonder if some of it is due to Dr. Bully's treatment of patients. I know it is in my case. If Dr. Bully had treated me with a smidgen of dignity and respect, I would have agreed to see him tomorrow.

Dr. Bully rides again, apparently, but not over me.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Last Year's Gardens, This Year's Gardens

I tramped out into the backyard this morning. It is a rainy, gray March day, but, un- deniably,  spring is on its way.

I walked down to the back garden for the first time since December. Until last weekend, the back garden was still under snow. It has emerged now: rough, grass-grown. I will need to rototill it again this spring and inch it that much more along the "real garden" continuum. It is just past being considered a raw sod garden, but not by much.

The garden by the house - the one I call the kitchen garden - is in much better shape. That makes sense as it was already established. It is too wet and muddy to begin spading the soil, let alone adding the compost, but that time will come.

Work lies ahead, starting with the seedlings. Actually, starting with the pots for the seedlings. I made them from newspaper last year, which allowed me to plant them directly into the ground. That method worked really well and I will do it again this year.

What better way to spend a gray, rainy, chill March Saturday than making seedling pots?

Last year I grew broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, onions, eggplant, pumpkins, zucchini, artichoke, and some potatoes. Plus herbs. All but the zucchini, pumpkins, and potatoes were in the kitchen garden.

Yeah, it was kinda crowded.

The artichoke never made it to the flower/choke stage; eggplants and peppers didn't do so hot either. That is because the broccoli overshadowed everything. I had no idea broccoli got so big and broad. So they are going down to the back garden this year.

I'm going to try the artichoke again in a large (very large) planter. The cherry tomatoes will probably go in planters this year as well, as they got lost in the uproar in last year's garden.

I will probably cut back on the herbs. I liked them for the smells they released whenever you brushed against them, but I never really used most of them other than the basil and the chives. The chives wintered over; I transplanted some of the ones that remained from Ellen's gardens from 30 years ago. A good friend recently rhapsodized about fresh cilantro and I promised I would plant some for her.

My biggest problem is knowing when to stop. Last year I wanted to grow so many things that the kitchen garden was way too crowded. Even after I ripped the broccoli out, the eggplants, onions, tomatoes, and peppers were constantly elbowing one another. Moving the broccoli from the kitchen garden to the back garden should help free up some space.

Maybe I can put some into my dad's garden. Yeah, that should work. Dad is here working on the house with Warren this morning, and I asked him casually if he would like me to start some plants for him. I'll slip in some of my own as well.

As I plan this year's garden, we continue to eat the bounty of last year's garden. As I type, peppers, tomatoes, and zucchini are thawing in the sink for tonight's meal. When I wrote about our grocery bill being less than $200 a month, last year's garden is a huge part of that.

Following up on the great food discussion, I tracked all of our grocery costs in February. We finished the month at $158.46 for groceries, with an additional $11.26 for household items such as dish soap and toilet paper. Our eating out bill for the month was $66.88, which we both consider higher than average but included the tail end of the New York trip as well as Warren taking his daughter out for her 16th birthday. During the month of February, we had friends over for dinner on three separate occasions and I was also the hostess for a quarterly potluck with girlfriends. (Being the hostess means preparing an entrée for five.) So our February grocery costs included four social occasions. (Okay, I'm bragging.)

I'm tracking our expenses for March as well. Halfway through the month, our grocery bill is at $73.59 and our eating out is at $7.90. I figure we will once again come in under the $200 mark. We couldn't begin to do that without our freezers and the gardens.

Besides the pleasure of eating food I grew last summer, our low grocery costs help on the money front.

Money is an issue because medical bills are an issue. I am still dealing with the economic fallout from Dr. Bully riding roughshod through my life. Even with the hefty discount I get from OhioHealth for being both uninsured and not financially flush, I am still paying off his charges to my account back in July and October, the bulk of which could have been avoided if Dr. Bully had just asked me the simplest of questions regarding my medical treatment. When all is said and done, Dr. Bully will have cost me almost $1000 in unnecessary and unwanted testing and OhioHealth almost $700 in write-offs. I see my oncologist next week and will ask him if we can push my next visit after that 180 days out, rather than 90, so I can get caught up on the medical bills.

So the low monthly grocery bill feeds more than just our satisfaction in eating healthily and economically. It helps me thwack away at the medical bills as well, and allows me to feel a little less like Sisyphus toiling away eternally with his boulder. I am grateful for the bounty of last year's gardens in so many ways.

Except for the food we continue to cook and savor, last year's gardens are now a memory. This year's gardens are still a dream.

William Rainey Harper, on establishing the University of Chicago, said "now the dreaming is over and the real work begins."

I know just what he meant.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

March Whirl

United Way March Madness has started in earnest. Agency site visits, emails back and forth with my co-chair and UW staff, proposals to read. I have only a few left on my "to do" pile, but I have to REREAD proposals so I am ready for an agency visit. (And will reread them - or at least skim them - one more time before the teams meet the fourth week of March to discuss them.)

I am in the whirl of United Way. And nothing else in my life - court work, Symphony, laundry, my marriage - goes away during this month. It's busy around here. I have wanted to write for my blog and feel as if I have just had no time. No time, no time, no time!

Tonight I am making some time. Warren is at a Symphony meeting; my most pressing court work is done for the day; I have no agency visits scheduled for tomorrow.

Last Sunday afternoon was the Central Ohio Symphony's March concert. Concert Week is always packed around here; Warren is headed in about seven different directions at any time. From tickets to programs to rehearsals to staging, everything flows through his hands, directly or indirectly, during Concert Week.

There was an early afternoon rehearsal as the out-of-state soloist had not yet practiced with the orchestra. Warren and I went over midday to open the building. Standing on the empty stage, watching the almost-spring sun come in the windows, I took in the silence and the hush before the musicians arrived, before the conductor arrived, before the audience arrived.

The concert was stunning. Simply stunning. The guest soloist, performing the Sibelius violin concerto, was brilliant. Breathtaking. When the piece concluded, while her bow was still up in the air and Jaime had just lowered his baton, one concertgoer cried out - a vocalized gasp of admiration and longing - and then the audience stood up in waves for a lengthy ovation. One of my friends told me afterwards that he turned to his girlfriend at that point and said "that was possibly the greatest musical performance I will ever hear in my life."

Writing about it tonight, Sunday now seems so far away. As I noted when I started this post, I am in the whirl of things and my whirl starts with the phrase "United Way."

Whirl or no, I am not so far down the United Way tunnel (well, I don't think I am) that I am oblivious to the changes outside. After an unusually snowy February and bitter early March, spring has started to come on with a vengeance. The air is softer; it hit the high 60s by midafternoon.

I made a point of walking to all of my meetings today just so I could take in the changing scenery. Crocuses are up; daffodil shoots are up. I walked by several patches of snowdrops and some bright yellow flowers I do not recognize. I saw a pussy willow in bloom in someone's side yard.

In front of Robinson's, one of our local funeral homes, the yellow crocuses were in brilliant full bloom. That would have been enough to make me smile; I love the brightness. And then I noticed something small working the crocus patch. I stood for a half moment, watching, almost holding my breath.

The first honeybee of 2010!

Flower by flower, bee by bee, spring is muscling winter out of the way.

The poet Shelley wrote "If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?" I'm a step ahead of Shelley after seeing that bee today.

If Bees come, can Gardening be far behind?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Racing Derby

March has started fast right out of the gates. It is Symphony Week (concert this Sunday). It is United Way Reading Week, with agency visits starting next Monday at 9:00 a.m. I have read 30 of the 39 proposals at this point. (And, no, Katrina, I am NOT whining. I am pumped for United Way March Madness to begin!)

The pace is brisk around here. I can hear the thunder of hooves.

I love carousels. (Weren't expecting that jump, were you?) I have always loved them. As a little girl, my ride tickets at the county fair would go only to the merry-go-round and the Ferris wheel. Nothing else came close.

While I have always loved the beauty of a horse, there is something Big and Large and Uncontrollable about a real one. My lifelong friend Cindy has spent most of her life on the back of a horse and I admire her comfort and ease around them. Me? I like to stand on the other side of the fence and watch. I'll gladly pat their flanks, but don't expect me to sit easily on top of one.

On a carousel, though, the horses are brilliantly colored and easy to mount and you can ride like the wind (accompanied, if you are really lucky, by an authentic band organ playing traditional music).

Cedar Point Amusement Park, in Sandusky, Ohio, contains one of two "racing derby" style carousels left in the country. On that type of carousel, the horses go back and forth, rather than up and down. The horses are four abreast; the rider "races" the other riders in the lane. After you have ridden it a time or two, you learn how to sit to make your horse stay in the lead.

Racing derby carousels have a distinctive rumbling sound to them. This is largely due to the power needed for the turntable to reach its top speed of 15 mph (which is pretty fast for a carousel). The rumble sounds like thoroughbreds pounding down the home stretch, which adds to the fun of the ride.

And brings me back to March starting off fast right out of the gates.

March is supposed to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb.

Mine came in with the thunder of hooves.