Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Inch One Hundred Twenty: Seattle Bound

By the time this post appears, I will be en route to Seattle and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) annual conference. The AFCC is an international organization; this is its 53rd annual meeting. The theme this year is "Modern Families: New Challenges, New Solutions."

My daughter-in-law Alise and I are co-presenting a session on Friday morning. It is a Big Deal to be chosen to present at AFCC and I am looking forward to it. We titled our session "Seeing Color in a White World: Courts Working With Families Across Cultural Lines." That topic is near and dear to my heart and I am hoping for a lively session. After AFCC concludes midday Saturday, Alise and I will head to Portland on Amtrak.

As excited as I am about presenting, I am even more thrilled that I managed to pack all of my clothes
and toiletries in one small bag measuring approximately 19 x 8 x 9 inches. Not only did everything fit, but if I had been truly economical on what I took, I probably could have traveled with a half-full bag. But I splurged on underwear (packing enough to get me to Portland without having to wash any in the hotel room in Seattle) and on a second pair of shoes. I'll wear running shoes out; the sandals are in the bag. I have problems with neuropathy in my feet, and wearing a pair of sandals for 14 days is not an option. I did a run-through of the packing Sunday afternoon and laughed with glee when I zipped up the bag easily. (In the photo, I am touching the bag, so you can appreciate how small it is.)

So what is packed in the bag? 1 pair of sandals, a skirt (easily the most voluminous piece in the bag, being my Frida Kahlo in Oz skirt), a swimsuit, an oversize tee and soft shorts to sleep in, a pair of shorts to wear, 3 tops, one other tee-shirt (not to sleep in), 2 pairs of socks, 8 pair of underwear, and 2 quart size bags for toiletries: one with liquids for TSA and one with the rest of my toiletries. On travel day, I will wear a pair of jeans, a top, shoes and socks, underwear (of course), and a lightweight sweater.

And yes, I did a list. 

I will carry a second over-the shoulder purse with my ID, my AFCC papers, my tickets, and assorted
items such as a brush, a small notebook and pens. The second bag, which will double as a purse, measures 12 x 15 inches, not counting the handles. This is one of my favorite bags, made by a good friend, and it has served me on a variety of trips and for a variety of purposes, including being my go-to-chemo bag. Moby-Dick just came out of the bag for the duration and will float on my desk until I return.

In a pinch, both bags could fit under the seat in front of me.

The hardest part of all this is knowing that I will be away from home and Warren for the next two weeks. Time is growing increasingly precious, especially our time together, and two weeks is a long time. While I worked on the garden Sunday morning (yes, I got it all done!), I took a break and sat on the deck stairs while Warren got me a glass of ice water.  He came back out to the sight of tears running down my cheeks, as I was thinking of the future and how much I love Warren and our life together. We sat quietly together, my head against his shoulder, before I went back to the garden.

I will enjoy the trip. I cannot wait to see Alise, Ben, Ramona, Sam, Mackenzie, and Alise's family. I am looking forward to seeing Eric, my former nephew, and his family. I am seeing old friends in Seattle as well. I am thrilled to be traveling so light.

And it will be a great homecoming at the other end, when I land back in Ohio, back at home, back in Warren's arms.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Inch One Hundred Nineteen: Queen of the Lists

I am not referring to myself. While I will often make short "to do" lists on a busy day to make sure I cover my bases, I am not the Queen of the Lists.

No, that honor belongs to my friend Cindy.

Cindy and I have been friends since before we knew how to be friends. Her grandparents and my grandparents knew one another, her mother and my mother grew up together, and Cindy was no doubt introduced to me when she was 13 months old and I was a new baby. Fortunately, the introduction took. We grew up together, we have shared our lives for 40+ years, and she and I exchange emails daily through the work week. We have shared sibling issues, aging parents issues, health issues (our own), pet and animal issues (hers), children issues (mine), money issues, relationship issues, and everything else one can imagine sharing.

And Cindy holds solid to the conviction that one day, somehow, she will convert me to being a dedicated and avid list maker. She believes that so fervently that for Christmas she gave me the gift of organization: paper, pens, pencils, and two memo notepads, each capable of being stuck to the refrigerator.

This is how dedicated Cindy is. If I mention that I am taking a trip in, say, two to three months, her first question is "do you have your lists yet?" An even better example is her own planning: she already has her suitcase and makeup case out and her lists started for a late July trip she is making.

I am heading out of town right after Memorial Day, flying west to attend a conference in Seattle and then south to spend time in the greater Portland area with my family. (Warren, alas, will be tending the home fires while I am away.) I told Cindy I was making "little" lists and she praised me like one praises a small child who put her toys away for the first time.

I do have little lists: things that I absolutely have to get done before I leave, many of which I knocked off this morning. The biggest item on the list is get the garden planted: my hope is to put it in this evening when the sun is far in the west or tomorrow early before the heat comes up.

But if I were being totally honest with Cindy, I would admit that my packing list is vague at best. I am still wanting to pack minimally, a feat I can get away with because I will have a washer and dryer to use when I am with family. I am curious with how little I can get away with packing for a 13 day trip. Will my clothes all fit in the small bag Warren packs his bongos in? If they do, then I can use my "purse" (using the word very loosely) to carry conference papers, travel papers, and personal items (my wallet, my phone, and so on). I have to think of how each item I want to take will be used and whether I really need it. As a result, when I sit down to make a packing list, I pen a few items and then think "too much."

When Charles Lindbergh flew solo across the Atlantic in 1927 (the 89th anniversary of that flight was seven days ago), he carried no radio to save weight and increase the fuel efficiency of The Spirit of St. Louis. In Wild, Cheryl Strayed writes of tearing out and discarding pages of books after she had read them to reduce the weight of her backpack while she walked the Pacific Crest trail.

Me? I'm just trying to get from Ohio to Washington and back again without having to schlep baggage. Yeah, yeah, I know: I can check it through. But I don't want to. I don't want to lug a bag, even a moderate sized bag, one single step. I certainly don't want to have to lift something BIG (anything that is not small) into an overhead bin. No, no, no.

So minimalist packing. That means minimalist lists. (Of course, that may be the secret to minimalist packing: making a list so spare and honed down that only the bare necessities go.) Who knows? (Cindy would, of course. )

For now, though, I stare at the little lists. They are lists. And Cindy would be so proud of me.

After all, that is what friends are for.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Inch One Hundred Eighteen: Last Year's Garden, This Year's Garden

Last year's vegetable garden was pretty much a bust. Some of it was due to heavy rains early on and lack of heat later on: the basil never really came up, the pepper plants stayed small. The tomatoes, such as they were, were spindly and few in number.
Warren is turning over the garden one shovelful at a time. 

Some of it was due to my mediocre health. I was struggling with a relapse, struggling with a treatment change, just struggling, period.

And some of it was due to a lack of interest and attention.

This year's garden will be different. At least that's the plan.

We still haven't moved out the daylilies and coneflowers we planted in the fall of 2014 to winter over. We haven't started the new flower bed for them. I told Warren I don't care if they continue to occupy the vegetable garden: I like the colors. I can plant around them.

This year I am buying plants. I already bought some at the hardware store the other day. They are all waiting to go into the ground. I will buy a few more: some herbs, some another pepper or two. The days of seedlings in the percussion room, huddling under a lamp for heat, are over. I don't have the mental or the physical energy for it anymore. My interests are elsewhere.
Waiting to be planted 

My goal—and this is a drop dead date—is to have everything in the ground by Memorial Day. Warren is slowly spading the garden, turning it over one shovelful at a time. I have cleared out the perimeter, where I plant marigolds to deter pests. I'm putting the seeds right into the "pots" (the two hollow spaces in a concrete block laid on its side) because I learned a long ago that marigold are hardy and seem to sprout within minutes of being planted.

That's what's on my list for next weekend.

Why the rush? I have places to go and people to see, starting on May 31. Warren will remain behind, guarding the home front.

And the garden.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Inch One Hundred Seventeen: Windings

I have the day off and have spent the morning running some errands and doing some chores. I needed to stop at my Aunt Ginger's apartment, a block away, to get her signature on various documents for an upcoming medical appointment. While there, I asked her if she wanted to come out with me while I went to the bank, and then take a drive.

Ginger jumped at the chance. As she ages, her world becomes smaller and smaller. A car ride is a great opportunity to see some sights.

After a stop at the drive-through bank, I told her we were heading to the East Side, the side of town where we both grew up, the side of town where Ginger lived more than half her life. She would like that. So I headed across the river, turned on Milo, and turned up Flax Street.

The house—the one her father built, the one she lived in for almost 50 years, the one I grew up in—still stands. It has been clad in vinyl siding, replacing the old, soft white asbestos singles that used to cover it. I had to point it out to Ginger: between her fading memory and the different appearance of the house, she wasn't sure which one it was. We turned up Carlisle to Delta, passing the house that Mrs. Willis lived in throughout both our childhoods, turning past the house that was always Aunt Jane's house and, before that, my great-grandfather's house. She commented on all the new houses in what used to be large lots; Habitat For Humanity has transformed the neighborhood. We drove past the old junkyard, long decommissioned and now empty. We turned back down Flax and I commented that whoever owned the Flax Street House had fenced off a small part of the backyard and let the rest to the north go to trees and brush. It gives the backyard a wild, enticing air.

I then drove Ginger out of town, first to the cemetery where her parents and her paternal grandparents are buried. Three of her infant brothers are out there, as well as Uncle Arthur, who died in combat in World War I. We walked slowly back to the graves, Ginger holding firmly onto my arm. From there we went to the Kilbourne cemetery where my brother, my dad's parents, and my infant sister are buried, and where my parents and Aunt Ginger will eventually be. Then we turned and headed back to Delaware.

At 86 and several months, Ginger is unsteady on her feet. Her body is slowly winding down: the bones ache, the arthritis flares, the gait is shaky and uncertain. She always takes an arm when it is offered.

Her mind has been winding down for the last few years as well. There are more and more gaps in her short-term memory, and I have taken over most of her responsibilities for appointments and financial matters. She may ask the same question several times; today's question was whether she had a headstone yet. But Ginger's sense of humor is intact, and her memories of long ago, even though repeated more than once in a conversation, are still strong. Today the talk was of an adult neighbor up Flax Street who had dirty feet (Ginger knew this because the woman went barefoot and often propped her feet up on the porch rail) and the proprietor at the little corner store who ran a numbers racket on the side back in the 1930s. We shared memories of Aunt Jane, her older sister, and laughed together.

At 60, I am aware of my own winding down. Some of it is just being reflective of my age, as in both "I never though I would make 60" and "so this is what 60 is like." More of it is my awareness that the myeloma is wearing me down. In my most recent Myeloma Beacon column, to run later this month,  I compare myself to Tik-Tok of Oz, Baum's mechanical man who was tireless as long as he was wound tight, but who came to an abrupt halt when he wound down.

At this stage of the myeloma, I too am starting to wind down.

We had a beautiful morning, my aunt and I. We laughed, we talked, we wound our way around the county from town to rural cemetery to rural cemetery and back again. By the time I walked Ginger into her apartment, she was glad to be home so she could rest. She is winding down. By the time I drove the block to our house pulled in, I was glad to be home as well and for much the same reason.

I am discouraged somewhat by my winding down, but not surprised and, so far at least, not overwhelmed by it. For some months, I have been coming to the realization that I am having to learn how to say goodbye to the world. Even so, there are still those moments, so many moments, of incredible joy and delight and wonder. I would say even at the lowest points, joy and delight and wonder still light my path.

One of today's joys was being out with Aunt Ginger, just two aging women who are winding down, winding through the county and through our memories.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Inch One Hundred Sixteen: The Reading List

I just tossed out the reading list.

Well, "list" is perhaps too tame a description of what I just tossed. My list was a small, spiral-bound notebook in which I had listed title after title, some crossed out if I had read the book. Stuffed into the loose leaves of the notebook were 50 or more pieces of paper with more titles on them, pages ripped from the Daedalus Books catalogue with titles circled, and even a line or two of notebook paper torn from a friend's letter.

It was too much. I was drowning in good intentions, good recommendations, good reviews.


Even if I live to be 100, which I most assuredly will not, I will never ever read all the books I hear of, read of, learn of, am told about. For every one I read, three more titles will sprout in its place.

Even a benevolent Hydra is still a Hydra. And I am not Hercules.

Finally realizing that is what lead me to my bold decision to take the notebook, pull out every note stuffed into it, rip out every page I had written on (100 titles? 500 titles?), and chuck it all in the recycling bin.

Recycling pickup is on Tuesday.

Like Jacob Marley, I have been dragging a heavy coil wrapped tight around my waist. Only instead of of "cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds and heavy purses wrought in steel," my chain is one of unread books.

It is a ponderous chain!

Rest assured, this is not a renunciation of reading. I cannot live without my books. Friends will continue to thrust volumes into my hands and I will continue to view the library as my personal smorgasbord. I will happily read on into oblivion. Rather, this is a renunciation of collecting titles, of squirreling away each and every bright possibility with the best of intentions and then putting each and every successive possibility on top until I had a stratum that would rival any geologic layers.

So I've let it go. I have opened my hands, literally and figuratively. I have loosened my grip. Accompanied by a soft clank of covers and the faint scent of best intentions, I have stepped free of the coil I had forged myself, link by link.

I'm as light as a feather.