Saturday, December 31, 2016

Inch One Hundred Fifty-One: Wrapping Up Another Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small? Absolutely. Inconsequential? I would say not.

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

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

Friday, December 23, 2016

Inch One Hundred Fifty: December Legal Clinic

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

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

This is the email I sent out:

One and all:

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you all!

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

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

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

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

Dave

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

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

And finally this response:

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

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

Doug

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

Friday, December 16, 2016

Inch One Hundred Forty-Nine: Benjamin

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


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

Happy birthday, Benjamin.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Inch One Hundred Forty-Eight: Christmas Memory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, December 3, 2016

One Hundred Forty-Seven: Ginger Rogers

I took Aunt Ginger to a funeral today. A classmate with whom she had gone to school all twelve years had died and Aunt Ginger wanted to be there. At 87+ years old, Aunt Ginger is starting to be frail and wobbly on her feet. The day is long gone when she could put on her coat, quickly walk the almost four blocks to the funeral home, and walk home, especially on a cold, gray day. Her physical decline, coupled with her advancing dementia, made me call her and say "I will pick you up and take you."

I did not know this classmate, Phyllis, although I had heard about her over the years. I'll give credit to the minister leading the service; he painted such a picture of Phyllis that I felt I did know her by the time the short service was over. The funeral home was crowded and Aunt Ginger sat right in front of me. As the minister recalled this or that story about Phyllis, I could see her head nodding in agreement.

The minister then called for anyone who had a story to stand and share it. One nephew spoke up about Phyllis's kindness to his mother during a lengthy illness and decline. Another family member spoke about Phyllis's lasagna. I stood up and told a story I have heard many times.

I introduced my aunt, explaining that she and Phyllis had gone to school together starting in elementary school. Phyllis's maiden name was Rogers. My aunt, whose proper name is Virginia, had already adopted "Ginger" as her name at a young age. The two would often walk home together. One crossing guard, no doubt a lordly 6th grader, would stop them and demand to know their names.

"What is your first name?," he would say to my aunt.

"Ginger," she would reply.

"And what is your last name?," he would say to Phyllis.

"Rogers," she would say.

He would then make them say "Ginger" and "Rogers" over and over until it was a duet of "Ginger Rogers," before letting them across the street.

When I finished my story, Aunt Ginger turned to the man next to her, who was one of Phyllis's nephews, and said "and that's a true story."

The Ginger Rogers duo stayed friends their entire life, despite taking markedly different paths through life. And today I am grateful I got to bring the surviving member to say goodbye to her partner from long ago.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Inch One Hundred Forty-Six: Biscotti Weather


In the achingly beautiful short memoir, "A Christmas Memory," Truman Capote recalls "my friend," the distant cousin on whom the story centers along with his seven-year-old self, waking on a late November morning and exclaiming "Oh, my...it's fruitcake weather!"

Yesterday I stood at the window, looked outside at the gray November day, and exclaimed, "Oh my, it's biscotti weather!"

Six years ago I wrote about my biscotti baking. I still bake biscotti every year, the circle of recipients widening. Now I bake for the Andrews House Christmas Cupboard, an annual fundraising event by one of our local non-profits doing frontline work among those who are in need. Our Legal Clinic has been hosted by Andrews House for over 13 years, and this is a way for me to say back to the staff and board "thank you." I ship more biscotti out west than I used to: some to my children, some to my extended family of Alise's parents and of Eric and Brandee and their girls. Some will be shipping south; some will be delivered just a few blocks away.

When I blogged about the biscotti in 2010, I included a recipe. While I still follow the same recipe, some of my opinions have changed, so I am setting out below the recipe with April's 2016 editorial comments.

And biscotti even brings me to poetry, including this from last fall:

On Time

I have been baking biscotti
For days now
In a slow rhythm
And shutting down the computer tablet email facebook
Each evening
Trying fiercely to carve out sanctuaries of time.

In the morning
When I come downstairs to make oatmeal
I open the deck door and step outside
In the chill dark
Or the damp
And stand there to try to measure the day
Not to tell the weather
But to make myself more aware
Of the fragility of each day.
Sometimes a lone crow
High in the walnut tree caws.

While I type this
At my office
I think of the deck
And the silence of the morning
And the smell of cinnamon
Lacing the house each evening.

*********************

The Biscotti Recipe

As I noted six years ago, this is not a secret family recipe. No one in my family on either side of the family ever baked biscotti. I can pretty much guarantee that not one of my four grandparents ever even heard the word biscotti, let alone tasted it. Somewhere I stumbled on the recipe, and in a happy moment of serendipity, biscotti became my holiday baked item.

BISCOTTI

1½ cups pecans or almonds*
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon**
5 eggs
2 cups sugar
½ cup melted unsalted butter***
1 ½ tablespoons grated orange rind****

Notes on ingredients

*This recipe originally called for almonds. I made it with pecans for years. Either works. I now prefer the almonds, as they make for a more flavorful cookie.

**At a minimum. If I am using what I call OTC cinnamon (the regular, widely available stuff as opposed to more pungent specialty cinnamons), I usually use a heaping tablespoon.

***Using salted butter will not kill this, but it really is better with unsalted. I have never made this with margarine or any other substitute, so I have no experience with using something else.

****Use it if you have it. I used to skip this ingredient entirely. A few years ago I realized it was worth the extra effort to buy some oranges and grate the rind.

Steps

Preheat over to 350°. Prepare 2 baking sheets: I use parchment paper, but you may coat lightly with vegetable spray or Crisco. With parchment paper, I am guaranteed the biscotti will not stick.

Chop (by hand or with food processor) ½ cup of nuts fine (like flour); set aside.

Coarse chop the remainder of the nuts and place in small bowl with flour, baking powder and cinnamon. I usually whisk these ingredients to blend them.

In large bowl, beat eggs on medium speed until fluffy. Add finely ground nuts (the ½ cup), sugar, butter, and orange peel. Beat until blended. Note: I use a mixer through this step.

Stir in flour mixture to form dough. The dough should be fairly stiff and heavy, but not dry. I will use a mixer to start the process, then finish with a spoon. (Note: I have a hand mixer, not a stand mixer. If you have a heavy-duty Kitchenaid or similar workhorse, you may be able to mix everything with your mixer.)

Divide dough into quarters. On well-floured work surface, roll and shape each quarter into a log approximately 12 inches long and 1-2 inches wide. It is like rolling fat "snakes" from clay; dust your hands with flour. Place 2 logs on each baking sheet and bake 25-30 minutes, until "firm in center" per the original recipe. There is no magic to this: 25 to 30 minutes in a stove at 350° will get the desired results. (Note: you can bake both sheets (all 4 logs) at the same time, rotating top/bottom, front/back at 15 minutes. I used to do this, but now bake one sheet of logs at a time. I was reminded why with my first batch, when I doubled up and the bottom sheet became too browned on the bottom. Tasty, yes, but not pretty!)

Let logs cool slightly: 10-15 minutes. While still warm, cut each log diagonally into ½ inch thick slices (or whatever other thickness you desire). Place slices face down on baking sheets (as opposed to on edge). Bake 7-8 minutes; turn slices and repeat on other side. Again, you can bake two sheets of biscotti at the same time; rotating top/bottom, front/back. Depending on your cutting and layout skills, you may get all biscotti baked at the same time. Or you can slow down and stretch out the experience. The individual biscotti can be set close, as they do not spread. Cool on wire rack.

Makes up to 80 cookies a batch, depending on how thick you cut the slices. I tend to get 20 cookies to a log.







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Saturday, November 19, 2016

Inch One Hundred Forty-Five: Madeleine and Me

I did not discover the writer Madeleine L'Engle until my older son Ben, who is now almost 31, brought her books home sometime in elementary school. Even though her earliest works, including her Newberry Award winner A Wrinkle In Time (1962) appeared during my childhood, somehow I managed to make it into adulthood before realizing what a rich literary universe she created with her "Chronos" and "Kairos" series.

Trust me, I made up for lost time.

Because I became a L'Engle fan, I tended to gravitate towards her titles when I came across cheap books or throwaway books. Which is why about 12 years ago, when my friend Linda and I came across some boxes of discarded books during a morning walk, my hands immediately went to a battered hardback of A Swiftly Tilting Planet, the third book in the Kairos series. It was a discard from Brookville High School, worn but still serviceable.

It is a first edition, published in 1978. And, wonder of wonders, it is signed by the author.
For all at Brookville High School—
Ananda—
Madeleine L'Engle
Well, there's glory for you.

I have held onto my signed first edition for all this time, enjoying seeing Madeleine's flourish across the page. I figured finding a signed book randomly was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

It turns out I was wrong.

Delaware has started to see a proliferation of Little Free Libraries. Little Free Libraries are a wonderful community project at a grassroots level. They operate on the "take a book, leave a book" principle and Delaware now has a handful of them.

The libraries are mounted in front yards, near a sidewalk, so passersby may stop and explore the offerings. There is four within easy walking distance of here. (I have not yet talked Warren into building and installing one.)

One is very close to the county building in which I work. A few weeks ago, I stopped to scan the titles. There was a paperback version of L'Engle's Troubling a Star, and I took it. It is not my favorite work by her, but I figured I could read it at chemo and recirculate it at another LFL.

The book sat on a coffee table for a week or so before I picked it up to pack it for the day. And that was when I opened the book and found this:



Really?

Madeleine L'Engle died in 2007, but her books live on. In 2011, when I read all the Newbery Award books to date (something I have continued to do since 2011), I named When You Reach Me by Patricia Stead the best Newbery ever, not in small part because it was a beautiful tribute to L'Engle and A Wrinkle In Time.

And I have her beautiful signature flowing across two books, both acquired randomly, both part of my library.

Madeleine and me. Best book friends forever.





Saturday, November 12, 2016

Inch One Hundred Forty-Four: Walking



It's been a hard several days. A week ago Thursday, my friend Kim, chemistry professor, father, husband to my good friend Judy, died of a heart attack at age 56. To say that Kim was well-respected and beloved in this community is the least of it. His memorial service, held yesterday, was SRO.

When a friend dies so suddenly, one's sense of the immediacy and fragility of life is sharpened acutely.

I have been walking a lot lately, walking to clear my thoughts, walking to mute the questions in my mind about my own mortality. We are having a spectacular fall, and I try to get out into it every single day. This morning I walked for an hour, first downtown to deposit a check, then home via several streets in the neighborhood. The morning sky was brilliant blue. Many trees are still holding onto their leaves, and when the sun lights the yellow-gold and red ones up against that sky, it is enough to make me catch my breath in wonder.

As I finish this post, I have just come in from another, far shorter walk. Aunt Ginger lives a block away, and I walked down to check on and visit with her, then walked home. It is late afternoon now and the sun hangs heavy in the west, far to the south. My steps were slower than this morning; I am tired.

My "good enough" garden is in its late fall stage. The border marigolds, mostly between three and four feet tall (yes, feet, not inches) have managed to survive the frosts so far. So have the blanket flowers, planted closer to the back of the garage. The frosts, however, are getting deeper and coming almost nightly now. The day is not far off when there will be one hard killing frost and the garden will be done.

Up until these last few days, as the sun warmed the air, bees of various shapes and sizes could be found in the marigolds, often headfirst in the heart of the bloom, mining whatever remaining bits they could for the long winter ahead. This time of year, the bees are slower and I am able to get close to photograph them without fear of being stung. I wandered outside late morning today; the air, despite the sun, was still chill at noon and there were no bees plying their trade. They may be gone for the year. 

Our Poetry Nights continue. We've added Margo to the group, and may be bringing in one more person. Our evenings are full of poems and laughter and thoughtful discussions. At our second October gathering, reflecting on the bees, I shared this one:

It Is Late October

It is late October
The marigolds are still standing
Despite the frost
The bees are burrowing
Headfirst
Into the marigolds
The bees are slower
Sluggish
Yet labor on against the encroaching winter
Storing up treasures
Not knowing when spring will come again.

It is late October
I too am still standing
Despite the frost
I too am burrowing
Into life
Headfirst
I am slower
Sluggish
Yet labor on against the encroaching winter
Storing up treasures
Not knowing if spring will come again.

I feel a closeness to the bees and the marigolds. I too am in the autumn of my life, with winter coming on. I too am burrowing headfirst into what matters most to me, hoping to store up one more treasure, one more moment, one more sunlit leaf. 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Inch One Hundred Forty-Three: Words of Wisdom

My "little" brother Mark, with whom I am close, often posts quotes on his Facebook page. Some are observations. Some are inspirational. Sometime he will tag someone—his wife Jackie, one of his adult children, me—in his post.

In October, I suggested to him that we post a quote a day throughout November. Mark accepted and we are off and running.

My advantage is that I have almost three decades of quotes written down in commonplace books I have been keeping since the late 1980s. I am currently filling out volume 4. I sat down two nights ago and went through the volumes, bookmarking quotes I thought would be good. I went through again last night and winnowed out some of the bookmarks, as I reflected further on what I wanted to share. Even with the second read, I still have more than 30 marked, so I should cruise through the month.

Mark's advantage is that he beats me to the computer. I thought he was just an extra early riser, but I discovered this morning that he posts his quote the night before. Either way, that means he gets his quote for the day up way before I do. If we both have chosen the same quote, Mark has first dibs, which is why I will not be posting an Albert Schweitzer quote later this month since Mark used it yesterday. Mark generously suggested that I post my quote the night before too, but I shut off my computer in the early evening and cannot access the internet through my old flip phone. So I will continue to trail Mark, and trust our respective interests range far enough that I won't be foreclosed too much.

My quote today was going to be by E. B. White. But when I woke up and saw that the long-suffering Chicago Cubs had indeed won the World Series, I posted one by Andrea Hairston instead: "Hope is always a guest at our table."

I will no doubt post several quotes about hope this month, as I have captured many on that theme throughout the decades. It was fascinating to see hope recur continuously in different variations, including the White quote that I will use later this month.

Robert Frost wrote "Pretty things that are well said—it's nice to have them in your head." I have them in my notebooks, but I know what Frost meant.

And so does Mark.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Inch One Hundred Forty-Two: One Last Look at the Cost of Eating

I recently posted our September food expenditures, commenting on our eating and shopping habits. The very best response I received came not on the blog itself, but from my close friend Katrina, who wrote in a recent letter: My mother would love your blogs about your food budget—and then she'd try to beat them so I'm glad I didn't have to see that. I turned to Warren and said "June Lofgren was a formidable cook." And she was. Katrina's words brought back a lot of warm memories about her mother and long ago times spent in their home, enjoying June's hospitality.

The same post also brought a pert rejoinder from reader Ellen Goldstein, who commented exuberantly on her own lifestyle choices ranging from parking to food. It was a great glimpse at how she approaches money and budgets, and I grinned when I read it.

All the same, I felt I was being scolded a bit, or at least challenged (as in "oh come on, now") when she wrote "Perhaps having such control over your finances gives [you] satisfaction." 

Ouch! Do I detect a hint that I am a bit obsessed and should lighten up?  

My first comment is that neither my husband nor I go to great lengths to be deliberately frugal. Neither of us hunch Scrooge-like over the ledger, counting the pennies and begrudging the lump of coal for the fire gone cold. Nor are we adopting frugality as a chic lifestyle. It is, as Warren said in response to reading the comments, "just the way we are."

My second observation is that, like Ellen, I do not hesitate to enjoy now what I own rather than setting it aside for some future day that may never come. My case in point is the complete set of gold-rimmed china that my uncle sent his younger sisters from Occupied Japan. My aunt and my mother kept their respective halves of the set boxed and untouched for decades. When I received the entire set, I proceeded to use it, sometimes daily. I was famous in my young mother days for serving toddlers on the china (they never broke a piece); I was famous in later days for hauling it out for pizza.

My third response is that there is an unspoken assumption in the gentle chiding. The unspoken assumption is that I have the means to not have to be concerned about money.

Well.

It has been a long time since I have written about our finances, but here is the short version. We have enough by any standard. We pay our bills monthly; we have no credit debt, not even a mortgage. (The lack of mortgage is because my husband purchased his house out of his parents' estates with a portion of his share, not because we were frugal and paid off a joint mortgage early.) The lights are on, we have heat in the winter, we eat well (if inexpensively), and we have suitable wardrobes.

That being said, we are not flush with extra money. Extra money? We are not flush, period. Both of us have modest incomes. Money is not so tight that spending an extra $100.00 a month on food would sink us, but we would still feel it.

As I type these words, I juggle in my head the financial landscape of the next few months. I am still in the process of replacing my car, presently relying on using Warren's when available or my dad's truck when not. Dad's truck is not a monster gas guzzler, but it still drinks heartily at the pump and my out of pocket gas expenses are higher right now. As soon as we get past the next few weeks, Warren and I can buckle down and search more seriously, but we had to get the season launched (last weekend) and have to get an out of town concert (tonight) over first. Because of jobs and treatment schedules, not to mention how I feel on any given day, our search windows are fairly narrow. I am looking at cars 10-12 years old, preferably under $2500 or, even better, under $2000. That amount will empty my emergency account and I may still end up borrowing from Warren.

Buying the car, a necessity for my job, will push a return trip to Oregon farther into the future.

But wait, there's more. December brings new insurance premium deductions from my paycheck. January resets my out of pocket and annual medical deductibles back to zero. This coming year, both the premiums and the deductibles are higher; the former modestly, the latter by quite a bit. With a trip to Mayo potentially looming in early 2017, I'll be paying some hefty amounts right out of the gate in 2017.

So our money landscape is layered and challenging.

But you know what? I don't care. We have enough. Enough is plenty. Enough means I do not feel deprived. Nor miserly. Nor miserable.

Maybe it is my Depression-era mentality. The stories my beloved Grandma Skatzes told me of raising her family through those years made a huge impression on me as a child. As my Aunt Ginger ages and tells me her memories, she has added even more details and depth to those tales. By the standards of that era, we are flush.

Maybe it is my work at court and with the Legal Clinic. In both environments, I take as a reality that many have to scrape, and scrape hard, to keep a roof over their heads and many more manage to keep food on the table only with the help of our local food pantries. That makes my "enough" look like a fortune.

And maybe it is because I have a lot bigger challenges facing me in the next few months than worrying about money.

In Matchless, a retelling of the Hans Christian Anderson tale, "The Little Match Girl," Gregory Maguire captures what I am trying to say so clumsily: The family was still hard pressed for money, and dreamed of savory treats to eat, but they had the warmth of each other, and enough on which to live, and in most parts of the world that is called plenty.

We have plenty. We always have plenty. And sometimes I serve it up on gold-rimmed china.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Inch One Hundred Forty-One: What's In A Name?

The co-chair of the working group kept addressing the other co-chair by the wrong name throughout the entire teleconference. The former was white, the latter was African-American. (I know this because I have met both of them.) The white woman has a Ph.D. and was addressed as "Dr. Susan" by the moderator. The African-American woman, Shelisa, is from a small Ohio county and is court staff, as are several of us in the working group.

Dr. Susan called Shelisa "Shelist" and "Shelista" and "Shelizza." Not once in the call, which lasted 50 minutes, did she pronounce Shelisa's name correctly.

I doubt that Dr. Susan intentionally mispronounced Shelisa's name. But she certainly did it carelessly. Shelisa did not correct her, but did make a point to say "This is Shelisa..."whenever she spoke during the call.

I wondered after the call whether I should have spoken up and said "Look, can you call Shelisa by her  right name?" But I was too polite and the moment and the call passed. Shelisa, without confronting the issue directly, made sure she introduced herself clearly each time she spoke. She handled the situation in her own style.

I have a saying on my refrigerator: "Speaking up is a choice. And yes, standing on the sidelines is a choice."

During the teleconference, I stayed on the sidelines. Next time I need to choose better.





Friday, October 14, 2016

Inch One Hundred Forty: The Cost of Eating, Part Two

At the start of September, I blogged about how much we used to spend on food, eating out, and household items a month. At that time, it was $200.00 a month for food, plus another $25.00 a month for non-food household items. I was comfortable thinking that we were still in that ballpark, and so spent the rest of the month tracking food expenses. Here are the results.

In some ways we are still in that ballpark. On household items, which covers anything from cleaning items to toiletries to to toilet paper, we spent a whopping $13.18. As I noted in my earlier post, we tend to stay under $25.00 a month in that category and are often under $10.00, so September was pretty typical.

In edible groceries, including farm markets, we spent a total of $169.17 for the month. That included some restocking of items we purchase in bulk once a year or so (such as buckwheat flour); the restocking came to $12.50. There were other bulk purchases, but they were more routine, so they did not represent deviations from our typical purchases. For example, we bought a large pack of chicken breasts, which we cut up and froze into smaller proportions for meals. Along with a few other meat purchases in September, we will likely not buy meat again, except for Thanksgiving, until December.

The one area in which we went way, way past our typical spending patterns was eating out. In September, we spent a whopping $65.42. Now, $15.21 of that was an out of town concert Warren was playing; we ate between dress rehearsal and the performance. That cost doesn't bother me because while we occasionally brownbag that particular meal, there is no comfortable place at the theater to eat comfortably and clean up easily afterwards. $11.98 was takeout one night after work when we were both running on empty physically, mentally, and emotionally. With my ongoing treatment, there are occasional nights when cooking at home, even if it means thawing something from the freezer, is beyond me. I'm pleased it was just the one night this month. A staggering $17.98 was a meal one Sunday when we were down in Columbus and stopped at the North Market, always a pricy proposition, for takeout rather than driving home to eat. The remainder were frozen hot chocolates (my weakness, and about $14.00 of the total) and a miscellaneous purchase, such as ice cream, here or there.

Grand total on food: $234.59. If we had eliminated the restocking purchase and the North Market, we'd have come in at $204.11, or pretty close to the $200.00 mark. Of course, I had estimated we would come in under the $150.00 mark. If we eliminated the eat out category and the restocking, we'd be just about there.

When my brother and sister-in-law and I talked about the $200.00 mark, Jackie especially was intrigued at how I do it. I think we just follow some basic guidelines that seem to keep the costs down. When I went back and looked at what I wrote in early 2010, now almost seven years ago, a lot of that still holds true, so I have revised and updated my commentary on how we shop (and eat).

We don't eat a lot of meat, red, chicken, or otherwise. I probably cook meat less than once a week but we may use what I cook in several different dishes. So there is a big $$ saver right there. I make a lot of soups (bean soups, split pea) as well as stock, freezing most of it. We don't buy a lot of processed foods or "convenience" foods; we don't drink coffee; we don't drink alcohol. (All huge budget drains.)We rarely buy soda (I don't care much for it). Warren brownbags lunch; so do I. We don't eat out a lot because our schedules are often so full that there is no time for that; when we do, we almost always split an entree (and when we don't split one, we always bring home leftovers). We also don't hesitate to buy marked down food when it is something we like and can eat right away or freeze. I have no qualms about buying food with red "REDUCED" labels on it because I know that even if the milk has an expiration date of tomorrow on it, it will be fine unopened for some time. If I buy marked down meat, unless we are eating it that day or the next, I repackage it and freeze it. I have no problem letting food packaged right stay in the freezer past the recommended freezer time; this winter we will be eating the last of the 2015 zucchini and neither of us have noticed any diminishment in quality. I rarely use coupons, mostly because they tend to be for processed food items that we don't eat or they are for name brands and rarely can the name brand even with a coupon price beat the store brand price. We also never turn down offers after a meeting where there is leftover food to take home some of it!

We eat leftovers. I know a lot of people who do not or who have spouses who will not. Not this household. And we eat leftovers changed into something else: the stale bread becomes a small bread pudding on a night we need a pick-me-up. I buy small quantities of fresh produce, with a strict rule of not buying more until the first is gone. As a result, I have noticed that our food waste (what we throw away because it has gone bad) has decreased greatly, especially over the last year.

If you opened our refrigerator, you might gasp and say "where's the food?!" But if you opened our freezer and cupboard doors, you would see the makings of many meals. For the most part, we do a good job of that, even after a long day at work. We always, always have basic staples in our house, ranging from rice and frozen vegetables to flour, sugar, oatmeal, and raisins.

As I noted above, the biggest hurdle we face and one which will likely increase is how much my health will impact both our diet and my ability to prepare food. Because of the side effects of a new oral chemotherapy added this summer on top of my infusion chemotherapy, I now have to take Coumadin (warfarin) daily. As a result, I have to closely watch how much Vitamin K, which is found in EVERY GREEN LEAFY VEGETABLE IN THE WORLD, I ingest. (Yes, I am shouting because it has really had an adverse impact on my diet.) I am getting the hang of watching the K intake, but it is frustrating. Warren is watching me and trying to get the hang of it, but it is probably even harder for him since he does not have the same restrictions.

As for impacting food preparation, that impact is also increasing. Historically, I have been the primary cook and baker in this relationship, although Warren is an excellent cook. I don't work as many hours as he does, so I am often the one planning, prepping, and cooking. But my chemo schedule impacts my afternoons and how I may feel on any given day impacts my enthusiasm. On a really bad day, we either drop back and punt ("How about scrambled eggs? Oh, look, here's the tail end of that loaf of bread we bought. We can toast it.") or get takeout. I'm pleased that only one of our meals out in September was a "can't function" meal. If we can continue to hold the line at one or two a month max, I'll be pleased.

So there you have it, April and Warren's empty nester food strategies. Mark and Jackie, I love you lots and hope you find something of use in this!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Inch One Hundred Thirty-Nine: Chapter MCMLXVI, In Which I Am Reminded I Am Not 20 Or Even 30

When I was in my twenties and living and going to school out in Oregon, I drove cross-country more than once, setting all kinds of personal speed records. (This was back in the day when Montana and Wyoming allowed you to set your own speed limit provided it was "reasonable" for the road conditions.) With three drivers, I could get door to door, a distance of 2500 miles, in 48 hours, stopping only for gas, food to eat in the car, and bathroom breaks.

Now that was driving. But again, I was in my 20s when I did that.

I don't pretend that I am in my 20s. Or my 30s or 40s or 50s. I'm 60. I was not guaranteed I would ever reach 60, so I relish being 60. And at 60, I know my limitations, be they physical, mental, emotional, or any combination thereof.

So what was I doing driving cross-country across Indiana on US 30 at 11:30 p.m. last night, arriving home in Delaware close to 3:00 a.m. this morning?

Warren and I had the best of intentions. I was at Mayo earlier this week, we were supposed to leave Monday afternoon, and arrive home Tuesday early after a night in Oak Park. But more testing was ordered late in the day, which meant staying in Rochester a second night. By arriving early and taking a seat in a waiting area for over three hours on Tuesday, I managed to benefit from a cancellation and move my afternoon appointment to mid-morning, allowing us to leave the fair City of Medicine at noon. Great! With steady driving, we would be home before midnight, stopping briefly at Oak Park to retrieve items we had left for our return trip.

Well, that was the plan. And it held firm until we hit the worst ever traffic tie-up in west Chicago.  WORST EVER. It took us over an hour to crawl two miles. (I clocked it.) The cause was a badly damaged tanker; we saw tow trucks (plural) hauling it away. And the result was over two hours lost over a handful of miles.

We had a decision to make. Do we stay at Oak Park for a few hours, rest, and then drive some more? Or do we just keep driving? The latter won out, despite the little voice in my head screaming, "ARE YOU NUTS? ARE YOU CRAZY?" We stopped for 10 minutes in Oak Park to gather our goods, and then resumed the drive.

Goodbye, Chicago. Goodbye, Skyway. Hello, Indiana.

I drove a major chunk of Indiana, from Merrillville in the west to Warsaw in the east. That was so Warren could rest and drive the last leg into Ohio and home. To entertain myself, I softly sang show tunes, an old, old fallback from those long ago marathon drives. Once Warren took over, I fell into a numb trance, not quite awake, not quite asleep, just counting down the miles.

It is just past noon on Wednesday as I write this. I have been awake and up for some four hours, after about five hours of sleep. Warren went to work; I called off.  My body is reminding me sharply that I am not 20. Or any other age than the 60 I am.

But it is a beautiful fall day out. And I am home.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Inch One Hundred Thirty-Eight: Golden Moment

It has been a long week already and is not even over yet. There was a family medical emergency earlier this week that is resolved for now. I have had an atypically strong reaction to this week's chemo despite it being the very same chemo I have had for weeks now, so I have been dealing with fevers and cold chills and other miscellaneous reactions (but no nausea) since Tuesday. Earlier today I spoke at a Magistrate's conference in the late morning, leaving from and returning to Court, resulting in a late lunch. And today was a longer day than usual because we just started a new Victims Awareness group, which means working with the kids until 5:30 and then staying on to debrief until almost 6:00.

To say that I was done in by the time I got back up to my office after debriefing would be an understatement. I was way past done in. Done in was in the rearview mirror.

Before shutting down my office computer for the night, I checked email. Court email was routine. But in my personal email was a gift, pure and simple:

Hey Mom,
Just writing you to say we love you. We are as busy as ever as working lots and hanging out with Ramona and having a good time.

My son Benjamin could not have timed his email any better if he tried. It was just what I needed, a little shot of love that was totally unexpected, a little pick-me-up at the end of a long, hard day, a little moment shot through with gold.


Friday, September 23, 2016

Inch One-Hundred Thirty-Seven: Burning Down The House

Today's post is short, and comes from my job.

Several weeks ago, my fabulous coworker Cecelia and I started a new writing program at Juvenile Court. We work with a small group of juveniles (there are four of them in this this first round), giving them themed prompts and encouraging them to write. In any class, there are three to five prompts taped to the wall, and the juveniles may pick and choose as suits them. We then share the writing, discussing issues that come out in the course of the writing.

Did I say we encourage them to write? Encouragement has not been a problem. Sometimes, the issue is getting them to stop writing and share within the 90 minutes we have.

One of the unexpected consequences of facilitating the writing group is that I am writing more. For one thing, the kids expect us to write alongside them and demand that we too share our work. For another, it is impossible to be in a small room with everyone bent over their notebooks, pens and pencils scratching away, and not be moved to put down something. Not every piece I produce is a winner, but occasionally I sit back and think "not bad."

This week's class was about control. One of the prompts was "He was like a forest fire, burning down the excess beauty in the name of control." This is what I wrote in response:

Burning Down The House

Sometimes you just burn it all to the ground.

Sacrifice the curtains and the towels
and the china
and the painting over the couch.

Sit back and watch the show
The sirens coming closer
The flames shooting through the roof
The garden trampled by the firefighters.

Flick the soot off your jeans
and walk away.
Nothing to hold you now.

In the remaining weeks, we will be tackling such topics as goals and overcoming barriers. One of the prompts I hope to use is this one attributed to Mizuta Masahide: Since my house burned down I now own a better view of the rising moon. Seems like an appropriate one for me to write about it light of my piece this week.

I love my job. I love this part of my job even more. And I love that I get to go on writing with Cecelia and an amazing group of young people.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Inch One Hundred Thirty-Six: Of Words and Writing

I am soaked in words today.

I am so soaked in words that I walked around this morning murmuring the opening lines of Eve, by Ralph Hodgson:
EVE, with her basket, was
Deep in the bells and grass,
Wading in bells and grass
Up to her knees...
Back in July, I wrote about Poetry Night. Although August was pretty much a wash for me because of travel and other obligations, here it is September and we are still at it. In deference to schedules (Michele being a teacher and school being back in session), we are going to a 2nd and 4th Wednesday schedule for the school year.

At this week's gathering, we talked a lot about the writing of poetry. Casey, who just joined the group, posed the question: How do you do it? We talked about the economy of words. Michele is teaching Emily Dickinson right now, and those are poems so sparse there is not an inch of fat on them.

We talked about saving scraps of lines, scraps of thoughts, a phrase or an idea. Michele presented a stapled together sheaf of papers in which she wrote down lines and ideas, thumbing through it to a draft poem she has not yet strung together in final form. I held up my latest spiral notebook, bought for dimes at back-to school sales and used until I have torn out every page.

Intermixed with that talk were readings of our own works and the works of others. Casey read this one by Raymond Carver:

Happiness
So early it's still almost dark out.
I'm near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.
When I see the boy and his friend
walking up the road
to deliver the newspaper.

They wear caps and sweaters,
and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
They are so happy
they aren't saying anything, these boys.
I think if they could, they would take
each other's arm.
It's early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.
They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs pale over the water.
Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn't enter into this.

Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.


It is a beautiful work that none of us knew and we all asked him to read it again, the words hanging in the evening air after the sound of the last line faded.

I walked home quickly in the gathering dusk thinking about the conversation, the topics, the words. Michele had talked about the making of ink from charred bones and that one stuck with me. Whose bones? I spent a good hour just now researching ink made from char. It is often called Ivory Black when made from bones.

I am watching the fruit of the dogwood turn red and wondering whether the little red pellets can be pressed into ink. And would I write a different poem in dogwood red than ballpoint blue?

I am wondering what it would mean to write a poem, tear the paper up, then soak and press it into new paper. What words might come to the surface of the new paper? Would it be a new poem?

I am thinking of little poems, of words writ small, of words scribed onto a sliver of parchment.

I am soaked in words today.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Inch One Hundred Thirty-Five: The Cost of Eating

My brother Mark called me Monday evening, as I was finishing cleaning up the kitchen from an all-day session of making stock and bean soups (split pea with ham, Cuban black beans) to freeze for eating later in the fall and winter. Somehow we got around to talking about our household budgets.

Mark and my sister-in-law Jackie just became true empty nesters with my niece Elizabeth (their youngest) moving to New England for graduate school. I said that ought to be a positive impact on the bank balance. In the middle of that discussion, I mentioned our grocery bill.

Several years ago, I blogged that we spent less than $200.00 a month on groceries, with another $25.00 on non-food household items (soap, toilet paper, shampoo, toothpaste). That figure did not include prescription medications, but did include eating out, which has rarely ever exceeded $25.00 a month (and usually does not exceed $10.00). When I was talking with Mark, I gave him the wrong figure: $100.00.

Mark was intrigued. "$100.00? Really?"

Well, not quite. I discovered my error today and emailed Mark and Jackie to tell them the figure was actually $200.00. During the phone conversation the night before, I told Mark that I had not tracked our food spending closely for a long time, and that I was tracking it this month to see if we are still close to that figure, given just the overall rise in the cost of food.

When I learned the target is $200.00, I was thrilled. Heck, $200.00? Piece of cake, especially since I think our actual spending is closer to $150.00. If anything, we have reduced our food expenses in the six years since that first blog post ran. 

At least I think so. I'll know in a few more weeks.

So I will be saving the grocery receipts, noting the non-receipt purchases ($7.50 yesterday at my friend Donna's great farm stand to get local sweet corn, some cherry tomatoes (mine having mostly bit the dust thanks to an invasion of cucumber beetles), and four of the most beautiful bell peppers I have ever seen and all four of which ended up going into the black bean soup mentioned above), tallying up the odd meals out here and there.

And then we'll see what September brings.



Friday, September 2, 2016

Inch One Hundred Thirty-Four: An Apology Letter

Warren and I do not argue. Heck, we rarely pick at one another.

Ever.

I know what you're thinking. That's unhealthy. That's the sign of a disconnected relationship. I know: I read all those "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" columns in the Ladies Home Journal when I was growing up too. Where couples said "we never argue," the counselor would be quick to note that all couples needed to learn healthy and vigorous ways to express their disagreements or the relationship would stagnate and wither.

But that is not our situation. We don't argue because at this stage of our lives, coming into a later-in-life marriage out of two contentious marriages marked by a lot of strife, we choose to resolve differences in ways other than arguing.

But last night came as close to an argument as we ever come, especially when I threw my napkin across the table, jumped up, sprinkled two inappropriate words in the sentence I flung at Warren, and stormed into the percussion room to cry and mop at my nose, which chose that moment to start bleeding.

The flashpoint? How I have characterized the vacation we just took. The match that lit the kindling? A sentence in a letter from our sister-in-law about "Warren's vacation."

Warren was hurt. It was our vacation. Why have I characterized it as his vacation? That makes it sound like he demanded we go to Colorado.

I was defensive. But this vacation was for Warren, I insisted, in that we revisited places he had hoped to see for the last few decades. I was thrilled to take it for the pleasure I hoped it would bring him. Why wasn't he appreciating that and accepting it as a gift from my heart? I'm not sure how many more vacations I have left in me and wanted one that would be special for him.

At one point Warren even said I characterized the vacation unfairly in my blog. I did not, I insisted.

I looked at my blog this morning.

Warren was right. The sentence is right there: This was Warren's vacation, revisiting places he had last seen when he was 15. 

Crap. That is not what I meant to say. At all. What I meant to say was This was a vacation we planned together, in part to revisit some places Warren had last seen when he was 15. I figured everyone could read between the lines. 

I help facilitate a class at Juvenile Court called Victim's Awareness. It is a class for juvenile offenders who just don't quite get the victim piece. Either they are clueless they had a victim at all ("I shoplifted from a Big Store. They didn't get hurt.") or they don't care that they had a victim ("She deserved it."). One of the homework exercises the juveniles struggle the most with is writing an apology letter to their victim. They then have to share the letter by reading it aloud to the rest of the class. We require the letter have more than just "I'm sorry." The letter must acknowledge the wrong behavior and recognize how the victim was hurt. 

And it must be sincere. 

Oh man, that's torture. I have seen kids turn red at this assignment.  I have heard kids labor through the reading, not because their reading skills are substandard but because it is so hard to say "I'm sorry." 

I know why this exercise is so hard for our juveniles. Because it is hard. It is hard to say "I was wrong." It is hard to say "I'm sorry" without adding a "but" to the rest of the sentence. The "but" leads to an excuse. Or a justification. It is hard to say "I hurt you," especially when the victim is someone you know and love, like a family member. Sometimes our juveniles break down and cry reading a letter.

I am not crying while I write this blog post, but I think I now know how a juvenile feels facing that empty white page. I need to own up to my thoughtless actions that made a victim, in this case my dear husband. I don't get to say "I didn't mean it the way you took it" or "how could you think I felt that way?" or even (although I did not resort to this last night) "you know I don't feel well anymore and you need to cut me some slack."

I need to swallow my pride and excuses and defensiveness and own up to my actions.  So here's my apology letter:

Dear Warren:

I hurt you by my calling and characterizing our vacation as "your vacation." This is unfair and gives the idea that I had nothing to do with it except accompany you. My behavior diminishes the trip we took, the sights we saw, and the fun we had. I know from last night that my words have hurt you deeply. I am sorry.

With love,

April



Inch One Hundred Thirty-Three: Birthday



This girl turned four yesterday. Here she is from earlier this summer, when I was out in Portland visiting.

Grandpa Warren and I talked with Ramona very briefly last night: she was full of sushi and shouting, and very, very wound up at being FOUR.

I would be too.

Happy birthday, Ramona!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Inch One Hundred Thirty-Two: The Trip

Nebraska
We have been back from our trip for about a week and a half and I am just now blogging about it.

My difficulty is in finding the words. Not because the trip was so incredible that words fail me, but because I have such mixed feelings that I don't know what to say.

We traveled by car to Colorado and back, a journey of 4261 miles per our odometer. Part of the time we stayed in a condo in the heart of the Rockies, the rest of the time we were either camping or staying in motels or with friends, but always at a different location each night.

The camping, despite that I have not camped since I was in my 20s and Warren does not like camping, was easier and more enjoyable than either of us expected. We camped five of six planned nights, once at 9000 feet, and would have camped the sixth night but for the the torrential rains the night before that left the tent, our air mattress, and everything else, including shoes, wet and muddy.
At 9000 feet

As I noted previously, we took a minimalist approach to packing. We could have packed even lighter, in retrospect. To do minimalist packing for a long trip (anything over a long weekend, as far as I am concerned), you need (a) access to laundry of some sort and (b) a tolerance for wearing the same clothes over and over. Fortunately, we had both.

What can I say about Colorado? We were in the Rockies for over a week and traversed Colorado from north out of Wyoming to south into New Mexico. The Rockies, even in August when the snowpack is light, are everything you would expect: majestic, awe-inspiring, stunning.

Truly.

They did nothing for me except block the view. It occurred to me many times that had I been a homesteader in Colorado, I'd have spent my days longing for a horizon.  Great Sand Dunes National Park in south central Colorado redeemed the state for me, but I cannot help but rejoice that I never have to go to Colorado again.

Give me Nebraska.

This was Warren's vacation, revisiting places he had last seen when he was 15. We saw a lot of trains (Warren) and a lot of statehouses (both of us).  I was gratified to find in the Nebraska statehouse's Hall of Fame both Red Cloud and Bess Streeter Aldrich. And our guide in the Kansas statehouse was stunned that I knew who William Allen White was. "Are you a librarian? A journalist?" No, just a nerd who discovered White when I was still in junior high.
Lots of trains

 I'm very glad we took the trip, because it is now clear to me that the likelihood of our taking such a lengthy and wearing car trip again is slim. The trip was very hard on me physically and caused havoc with my body's reactions to the new medications I am on. But we made it through with no medical emergencies, not even a stop at an urgent care facility, and that was a victory.

It was a thrifty trip in many ways, with the one special event, a lengthy steam engine ride along, up, and over steep mountains, including a mountain pass at 10,000+ feet, being the big splurge. We spent more on eating out, even at the condo, ($291, with another $110 on groceries) and less on gas ($309) than we had expected. Without the train ride, we'd have done the trip for $1150, only 15% more than we'd hoped for. Even with the train ride ($200), we still came in under our maximum allowance of $1500, and the balance went back in our travel account the Monday we got back.

As much as possible, we traveled not by interstate but by US routes or state highways, so we saw a lot of the country up close. As is often the case when we travel, I was both uplifted and disheartened. Disheartened by how much poverty—tenacious and deep—this nation continues to hold. Uplifted because, in spite of the struggles, there were bright spots everywhere: thriving small businesses in small towns and cities, local-sourced restaurants in the middle of nowhere that the locals were supporting, civic/community developments (parks, concerts, farmers markets, downtown projects) in many communities. It is seeing those little spots that leave with me a sense of hope.

Amache 
There was one stop we had discussed, but did not make and that was the site of the Sand Creek Massacre, yet another example of the US government committing genocide against Native Americans. I told Warren I didn't think I could begin to atone to the dead. And there was one stop we had not planned to make, but did, and that was Amache, a Colorado relocation center for over 7000 Japanese-American citizens forcibly imprisoned during World War II.

In the Chaim Potok novel In the Beginning, Rav Sharfman tells rabbinical student David that he will ordain him with the ordination that Sharfman's grandfather gave to him. But David must not be neglectful of that honor, as he would be liable to earlier generations. "You will have to go to the graves of those against whom you transgress and ask them to forgive you. But remember, you may be unable to do that. You may not know where the dead are buried."

Potok's words followed me the whole day, past the Sand Creek turnoff and through Amache. Then we came into Kansas, and the horizon opened up.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Inch One Hundred Thirty-One: Update

We are back from vacation, having arrived home Saturday in the early evening.

Sunday was spent in a whirl of laundry, cleaning, unpacking, recycling, sorting, shop work, gardening, and all the other tasks that accompany a homecoming after a lengthy absence. Monday we both jumped back into work: Warren with drumming and a benefit concert at the end of this week, me with the first session of a new court program that my good friend and coworker Cecelia created earlier this year.

Legal Clinic was last night. Clinic was packed with clients and I did not get home until later than I had anticipated (and I ended up leaving before we were all done). We were to have dinner guests tonight, but they had to cancel due to family matters. I regret the loss of the social time, but can make use of the resulting free time. My dear friend Katrina arrives tomorrow for a long weekend; her room is ready.

Chemo resumed yesterday. We (the doctors and I) are trying to get my new treatment regimen (new meds on top of old meds) smoothed out. The vacation, be it the high altitudes or the wear and tear of travel, impacted some of that process in less than wonderful ways and I spent a lot of time on the phone with my personal physician.

It has been raining raining raining here. We have been in and out of rain since Thursday evening of last week. The tomatoes started ripening while we were gone, so we came home to a flood of red. I picked them in some of that rain.

And those are just the headlines, folks.

I will not even begin to write about the vacation until next week. The minimalist packing (room for improvement there), the budget (we did run over the $1000 goal but came in under the $1500 limit), the sights, the impressions: all of that has to wait until later. 

Judy Garland clicked her ruby slippers three times and said "there's no place like home." I know just how she felt.






Saturday, August 13, 2016

Inch One Hundred Thirty: Road Trip

We are coming back home tonight after over two weeks on the road.

Remember my post about minimalist packing when I went to Seattle and Portland earlier this summer? Minimalist packing turned out to be a brilliant (and successful) idea.

Well, this trip has combined minimalist packing and minimalist camping (to cut the cost of the trip).  We hope we have done it for under $1000 (subject to one footnote).

Just so you all know, I am writing this post BEFORE we head out, and scheduling it to run just as we return. So all of this is speculative: the camping, the cost, the endurance. But I did spend a fruitful morning the Saturday before we left making camping reservations from here to there and back again.

Once I get unpacked and some laundry done, I will write about what the last two weeks held in store for both of us.


Thursday, August 4, 2016

Inch One Hundred Twenty-Nine: End of an Era

The Buick is dead.

The Buick is undeniably and reliably dead.

The Buick is not only merely dead, but really most sincerely dead.

Several weeks ago, after months of a brake warning light being on, the brake lines, which were original (1997), finally gave up the ghost. Yes, I was driving at the time. I was able to coast into and through an intersection, then turn up a small street and come to a safe rolling stop. Warren and I waited for the tow truck, then followed the Buick to my mechanic's shop.

My mechanic is swamped this summer, so it took another three weeks before he and his crew could get the Buick up in the air and look at it. I had already been forewarned by the office staff that I was looking at a major bill.

With 19 years on the car, major terminal rust throughout the body, and a whole host of problems just waiting to bloom, "major bill" meant to me "get ready to give it up."

At the beginning of the fourth week, my mechanic called. Dave and I have done business together for many years, and I appreciate that he wanted to break the news to me gently.

The news was bad. Without even getting into the brake calipers, I was looking at $1200. The underbody rust was so bad that the mechanics had a hard time getting the car hoisted in the air as rusted areas kept giving way.

Then Dave delivered the ultimate words.

"April, I can't advise you put that kind of money into this car. Use the money to get another one."

It was like agreeing to turn off life support. I did so. Dave then put a salvage company in touch with me and we made arrangements to have the remains removed.

Warren and I went out the next evening to clear out the car and remove the license plates. I took photos of the rear bumper, which sported bumper stickers of several kinds:


The BUC-EE'S sticker is from my friend Katrina, who used to live in Texas. We visited the Tennessee Parthenon last fall:


Then there is my favorite presidential sticker ever, right next to the just-went-on-the-bumper Tillamook Cheese sticker from my trip to Oregon this September:


Most of them cannot be replaced. I will miss them all.

For now, we are a one car family, although what with my chemo schedule and Warren's Symphony schedule, we often end up borrowing my dad's truck for a day or two. My office is only a four block walk. Other friends have made generous offers of their vehicles.

I live in a great community.

We are postponing looking for a new car until after mid-August. I will be looking for another older car, albeit now "older" means 21st century. The car may possibly come from the Goodwill auctions in Columbus as I just need reliable wheels. I do not need a car payment, so there will be no new shiny Prius in my future.

It is inconvenient being a one car (and a loaner as needed) family, but this is truly an inconvenience of first-world magnitude. Even within this community, it is a privileged inconvenience at that. Working at the Court and at the Legal Clinic, I know lots of us out there scrape by with no car or no reliable car, which is only marginally better than no car at all. And I know that my inconvenience will be relatively short-lived.

Alas, poor Buick, I knew it well.