Saturday, December 30, 2017

What Christmas Held

One of our special ornaments: a bird from the National Museum of the Native American
Warren and I tend not to give one another large or extravagant presents ever. Birthdays, anniversary, Christmas: they tend to be celebrated in mood rather than in presents. There are many reasons for that. Neither of us are much moved by tangible gifts and we tend to be frugal when it comes to one another. I do not lust after jewelry, clothing, shoes, expensive kitchenware, and the like. In fact, early on in our courtship Warren sent me a note in which, looking at our respective financial positions and lack of luxury, he wrote: "You probably aren't going to get Europe, diamonds, many expensive meals or lots of shoes."

And that was and is fine.

So leading up to Christmas, the one thing I pointed him to was the just out first volume (paperback) of Mary Oliver's collected poems. It was in a shop in Rochester when we were there two weeks ago, modestly priced, and I thought that would be perfect gift for me. So when I unwrapped it (knowing which present it was) Christmas morning, I felt very much like Beth March, on the second Christmas in Little Women, who said "I'm so full of happiness, that, if Father was only here, I couldn't hold one drop more."

Another special ornament: the Santa we bought early on 
It turns out there were drops yet to come. Warren had two large boxes under the tree with my name on them. Again, in and of themselves, they did not arouse suspicions. We each have been known to wrap very small modest presents in big boxes; Warren especially is notorious for that trick. I unwrapped the first: it contained solar-powered outdoor lights in the shape of fireflies. I laughed, delighted. Warren grinned and said he thought they would look good out on the deck. I said they would look good out on the deck when my nephew gets married in our backyard next June.

Then Warren said, "That's not the present I thought it was. Unwrap the other."

The other had more heft to it. I only had a little of the paper off before I realized what it was.

A brand new DLSR camera, with lenses. (To be accurate: a Canon EOS Rebel T6.)

To say I was stunned would not begin to capture what I was feeling. Shocked. Floored. Caught entirely off guard. And emotional to the point that tears came into my eyes.

Back in October, I wrote about my introduction to and love of photography. What I did not write about, although my friend Cindy and I talked about it, as did Warren and I, were the limitations of a simple point and shoot (a Nikon Coolpix S3600) and whether we should invest in something better. Eventually I concluded with Warren that it was probably not worth the cost, given our schedules and busy lives. Warren, though, tucked away that discussion. He heard my tone of voice when I talked about how much I loved and used to shoot photos, and he acted on it.

The biggest gift in my life? My husband's love for me.

I didn't shoot the camera for the first few days. Cindy pressed me: just do it. I told her I was intimidated by the new machine. I told her it felt like writer's block; I just couldn't couldn't bring myself to do it. "My finger is frozen just hovering over the shutter release: I emailed. Cindy then gave me the best photography advice I have ever received: "NO!!!! PUNCH IT!!!"

She was right.

I am still learning my new camera, getting used to its many bells and whistles. I pulled out my old Nikon (film camera) that served me so well for so long, and spent time comparing the views through the respective viewfinders. It was Warren that figured out the focus issues tripping me up; I am the one who figured out some of the manual settings.

Even with what little I have taken, two of the photos shown here, I am ecstatic. I foresee photography in my life in 2018 in ways it has not been in a long, long time. 

Many decades ago, I wanted to be a photographer for National Geographic. (Before National Geographic, it was Life magazine I wanted to work for, but it folded in 1972, while I was still in high school.) That dream is long, long over, but the girl who had that dream and who loved seeing the world through a viewfinder is still deep inside me.  

And she can't wait. 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Just Days Before Christmas

We are hosting family members for Christmas this year. The elders, of course: my dad (84), my mom (82), and Aunt Ginger (88). Aunt Ginger has been having health problems and there is every likelihood that this will be her last Christmas. My brother Mark, his wife Jackie, and their adult son Matt will be joining us as well, driving over from their home about 30 miles away. David, my stepson, may be briefly at the table before going to join his elderly grandmother's meal. It will be traditional holiday fare, and, yes, there will be apple pie for all. With about 50 hours to go before the meal, there is a lot remaining yet to do, but these thoughts come first.

I always have mixed feelings about Christmas and this year is no exception. This is not because of my Jewish faith and the disconnect between it and the dominant Christian one in this county. I was raised with Christmas. My children celebrated (and continue to celebrate) Christmas. Warren celebrates Christmas. No, my feelings are tangled up in old memories, dismay over the crass consumerism the holiday brings out in so many of us, sorrow over the state of our country, and the insistence that we all be merry. Not thoughtful, not contemplative, not kinder, but merry.

By definition, "merry" means "cheerful and lively." Synonyms include "joyful," "carefree," "high-spirited,""jolly," and "lighthearted," to name but a few. Nothing wrong with any of those responses, but one size does not fit all, even at Christmas.

I like better this quote by L. R. Kost that I came across in another blog:

Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.

Now that's something I can get behind this time of year. It very much reflects the Jewish obligation of tikkun olam, or repairing the world. And it honors the notion of doing good in a dark, broken world, regardless of the number of presents under the tree.

See you on the other side.

Saturday, December 9, 2017


It is a cold Saturday morning in Ohio, with the temperatures hovering in the low 20s and the sky gray. Warren is at rehearsal for tomorrow's holiday concerts. We left the house so fast and so early this morning for a community breakfast and last minute orchestra matters that neither of us nudged up the thermostat from its nighttime temperature of 61º.

The thermostat is still on 61º four hours later. I walked home from the concert hall, the 20 minute hike warming me up. Once here, I turned on the oven to bake a batch of biscotti and here I am an hour later, shuttling between the kitchen with the biscotti and the basement, where I am hanging laundry to dry.

As I sit here writing at the table in a cool kitchen and a chillier house, I am reminded of the homes I grew up in. I never lived in a house with central heating until long after I left home.

My lifetime-long friend Cindy and I emailed back and forth earlier this week about heat. She lives in a manufactured house, and there is always a worry about the water pipes running underneath freezing when there is a sudden cold snap. I wrote back that I remembered the first floor kitchen in my childhood house. (My grandparents and Aunt Ginger lived on the first floor; we lived on the second for most of the 14 years I lived there.) The sink was against an outside wall that I am pretty sure was just wallboard over stud frame and outside shingles. When it got really cold, someone would hang a lightbulb under the sink to warm the pipes all night (there may have been a fixture or a plug under there for this purpose; I don't remember). I told Cindy that the kitchen was unheated except for stove/oven activities. I went on to explain that there was no central heating: there were gas stoves (floor stoves) in a few rooms on each floor and that was it. She did not remember that, but I sure did. And when we moved to the house my parents still live in, there was only a coal furnace in the basement and floor grates on the first floor. Any heat beyond that was by virtue of hot air rising. All of us kids had bedrooms on the second floor. To this day, I remember the ice that formed on the inside of my bedroom windows in the dead of winter.

As a result of growing up with no central heating, I learned to prefer sleeping in cold air, a preference that is a great trial for Warren. Because I was a teenager (i.e., old enough to be reliable) when we moved, my dad taught me the basics of operating a coal furnace. I know how to bank a coal fire for the night and how to rekindle it for the morning. I understand how furnace flues work. I also know what it is like to shovel coal and stoke a furnace. (Relax: my parents switched to first oil and then natural gas to heat with, installing central heating. My dad is not shoveling coal at 84.)

As I look back, I realize that growing up without central heating made for family times in the winter that are less frequent in today's lifestyles. Think of the chapter "Winter Night" in Laura Ingall Wilder's book Farmer Boy. The Wilder family (her future husband's family) spent cold nights in the kitchen, where it was warmest, talking, doing needlework or greasing moccasins, eating popcorn, reading the paper aloud. My family likewise gathered in the winter after supper in our living room, near the gas stove, to watch television, read, work on homework, polish shoes, or play. I would sit crosslegged on the floor on Saturday nights while my mother put my hair up in curlers for church the next day. Dad would make popcorn. Even as my older brother and I aged and got moodier, we rarely retreated to a bedroom with a closed door in either house. It would be have been too cold! We needed those doors open for that heat to circulate.

Don't get me wrong. I like heat. I am grateful I don't have to struggle financially to keep the house warm in the winter. The biscotti is almost done and I will turn up the thermostat so Warren doesn't freeze when he gets home.

But I don't regret the childhood memories of family time in the evening, the wonderful way those stoves would warm mittens before going outside, or even the ice in my bedroom. That other time, those other memories.

Later note: After writing this out by longhand while the biscotti baked, I retreated to my second floor study to type. I confess: it's cold up here. Back to the first floor!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

And We're Off!

December is the most grueling month in our household. As a performer, Warren (as well as many of his colleagues) is in high demand for church cantatas, holiday concerts, and whatever else may come along. Last evening it was Handel's The Messiah in Lancaster; this morning it was a Christmas cantata at Maple Grove Methodist (where Warren is an Easter regular) in Columbus. Next week will be our Symphony's holiday concerts, which means a morning rehearsal (all morning) on Saturday followed by two concerts Sunday afternoon. The following weekend holds the Mansfield holiday concert (or concerts—I don't remember how many). I think but am not sure there is a Friday rehearsal in Mansfield, but I am not looking at my calendar to know for sure. Warren thinks but is not sure there is also a Thursday rehearsal in Mansfield, which I hope is not the case, as we will be Rochester at Mayo on the 13th until mid-afternoon, driving away to stay the night southwest of Chicago, then waking early and barreling across Indiana as fast as possible to get home as soon as possible on the 14th. I would hate to see Warren have to turn right around and head to a rehearsal.

Well, and then there's that: the aforementioned Mayo appointment smack in the middle of the month.

And did I mention Warren has a major grant due? One which, because of Mayo, he has to finish and file before the afternoon of the 11th, which is when we jump in the car and rush to Oak Park for the night before driving on to Rochester on the 12th.

December is often a blur and this year is no exception. I will miss the first two nights of Hanukkah because I will be on the road. I've no idea when we find time to buy a Christmas tree, let alone decorate it.

Three years ago, I quoted Rabbi Lawrence Kushner on the miracle of lights at this time of year: "At the darkest time of year, the tiniest bit of light reminds us that we are all whistling in the dark and hoping, by these rituals of miracles of candlelights and bulbs on evergreens, we remember the divine presence."

I'm hanging onto his words as we roar through the first three weeks of this month. Last night, we got home from the performance and drove through our neighborhood to reach our own door. Houses were decked out in strings of holiday lights and the sight of them lifted my tired spirits.

Those tiniest bits of light.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Small Moment

This is what contentment looks like.

Not to mention gratitude.

And thankfulness, for that matter.

And let's not forget love.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

All The Little Girls

This is the season of little girls. There are three I am thinking of in particular right now: our next door neighbor, Alice, my granddaughter Ramona, and my niece (well, great niece) and Ramona's cousin, Frida.

I only had boys. My sons were and are great. I loved raising them; having grown up with only brothers, I was on familiar territory with Ben and Sam. I do not regret for a single moment that I never raised a daughter.

Little girl territory—their mannerisms, their interests—I could be anthropologist watching a hitherto unknown population for all I know of little girls. And in the past several days, I have had three little girl moments that melted my heart.

Alice next door is sweet and shy, just past two years old. For many months, she would duck her head if she saw us; as she grows older, she knows Warren and me well enough that she no longer hesitates to run up and talk. Two weeks ago, when we were in Indianapolis, I brought her back a small tambourine as a thank you for some cookies she had brought over to us. A few days after I dropped off the tambourine, there was a very soft knock at the door. There was Alice (and her mother Maura) with another little bag of cookies. When I thanked Alice for more cookies, Maura asked Alice is there was something she wanted to tell me. That little smiling face looked up, and she said "Thank you for the..." You could see her mind working for the word, then she burst out "TAMBOURINE!" with an even bigger smile on her face, if that was possible.

Heart melt.

Ramona with her Legos
The next little girl moment was with Ramona. Since she has started kindergarten this fall, my son Ben and my daughter-in-law Alise alternate days when one leaves work early to pick her up, working from home and saving on childcare. One of Ben's days is Monday and we have started video chatting with Ramona when they come in from school. Ramona talks about school (some), her toys (a lot), and answers questions with a natural nonchalance. Last Monday, she was showing off her new Playmobil hospital. At some point while she toured Grandma April and Grandpa Warren through the rooms ("this is the maternity ward"), we said something and she responded "I remember visiting your house this summer." Then she got close to the camera and said "I miss you."

Heart melt.

Note from Frida
The next day was a long day for both of us: chemo (Warren goes along and works in the cancer center lobby while I get my treatment), then back to the office for Warren and home for me, then Legal Clinic for us both until mid-evening. By the time we got home, tired, hungry, I was ready to be done with the day. Sorting through the mail (a thousand pieces of non-profit mail for Aunt Ginger, who was on every mailing list in the world), I came across an envelope from my nephew Eric. Eric is a schoolteacher and an artist, so I thought he was sending me one of his works. Upon opening it, I found a sheet of paper with drawings not by Eric but his oldest daughter Frida, who is a year younger than Ramona. "Dear Aunt April," it began, and went on to describe what she had drawn.

Heart melt.

A handful of little girl minutes. A handful of melted hearts.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Small Moment

From my favorite people at JewBelong, some thoughts for Thanksgiving:

...Maybe gratitude has nothing to do with joy. Maybe being grateful means recognizing what you have for what it is. Appreciating small victories. Admiring the struggle it takes simply to be human. Maybe we're thankful for the familiar things we know. And maybe we're thankful for the things we'll never know. At the end of the day, the fact that we have the courage to still be standing is reason enough to celebrate.  Meredith Grey 

And that pretty much says it all.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Loose Ends

It is a rainy, gray Saturday here and I have spent most of it inside the house doing small chores. I just sent off an email to some of our attorney volunteers at the monthly Legal Clinic. In Ohio, volunteers may earn CLE (continuing legal education) credits for their time, but the Clinic administrators (of which I am one) must keep records of the attorney's time. We have our attorneys sign in and out for each clinic: a simple, serviceable method. As the end of the year nears and our reporting is due in early 2018, I have gone back through the records and found a spot here and there where the attorney marked his or her time, but failed to sign out.

So there's a loose end: get those signatures.

I have a stack of papers on my desk that I am going through. I try to keep my desk surface relatively tidy, but admit I have let the stack get too tall. Much of it can be recycled, some of it needs filed away.

Another loose end: get rid of the papers.

If I don't stay on top of the paper flow, too much paper piles up on my desk and I end up moving some of the stack to the guest bed in my study. As I look sideways at what is on the bed right this moment, I realize (not for the first time) that the whole bed is one big collection point.

A BIG loose end: make the bed reemerge.

I suffer from the common condition of hanging onto papers way too long. Hard copies or electronic documents: they clog my study and my files and my computers. I am not talking about Important Papers or Family Records. I am talking about, to look at a loose handful, a water bill (paid), a program from a colloquium that has a book title scrawled across it (the only reason I kept the program) that I meant to look up in the library but have not, and a notice urging my Aunt Ginger to take advantage of a special offer to renew her subscription to Woman's Day magazine RIGHT NOW.  For the record, Aunt Ginger has a subscription current through March of 2019. Yes, 2019. The woman is 88 years old. Unbeknownst to me when she moved into assisted living earlier this year and I took over all of her affairs, she had been blithely resubscribing to most of her magazines every time they sent a notice, even if she had just resubscribed. They will all expire eventually, but so will Aunt Ginger.

That's a whole bunch of loose ends and writing it out reminds me I should call the funeral home and make some prearrangements. We have had two hospitalization scares lately, and while Aunt Ginger bounced out of both, I know the day will come when there is no return.

Another loose end: make funeral arrangements.

I am laughing at myself as I type these out. These are all first world problems of the highest order. Not to mention problems of someone with some fair amount of privilege in that I have the means to sit here musing about this. I am privileged that I get to spend a rainy Saturday noodling around in my study instead of having to work a shift at Wal-Mart or one of the local groceries or fast food joints around town. Privilege, or the lack thereof, poverty, hunger, income equity: good lord, I could drift off on that line and not get anything done in this study the rest of the day.

So let me turn my thoughts back to the task at hand. The pile on the desk. Back to those loose ends.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Small Moment

Kim, the blogger at Out My Window, commented on my last post that she "could never get enough" of drumline, being a dancer and former drumline coach.

This is a little bit of the drumline performance from Elkhart High School, who ended up placing 2nd in the competition at PASIC 2017:

Kim, I hope this makes you feel better! Enjoy!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Back From Percussion Universe

We just spent three days in Percussion Universe, aka the 2017 Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC). As a non-percussionist, I am pretty much an anomaly there, but I end up finding sessions and situations to pass the time.

As always, there were some standout sessions. I fell in love with the French group SR9 Trio, a threesome of masterful marimba players who also perform music theatre. I saw a performance by Kultur Grenade, a dance/percussion/poetry/theatre group that left me standing on my feet screaming my approval. As Warren and I drove home last night from Indianapolis, I told him that watching that group perform gave me a whole new perspective through which to view and approach my own poetry writing and readings.

And I wrote a whole batch of new poetry while I was there.

One of things I tried to do this year was capture a little bit of the feel of PASIC. Everyone at PASIC ends up at the Exhibitors Hall, and a walk through that is always a hoot. There is the quiet section, where you will find attendees trying out the latest cool (and quiet) instruments:

Then there is the louder (loudest) side where you will find both exhibitors and attendees trying out lots and lots of drums. Here's a guy demonstrating his wares:

I learned a year or two ago that one of my best ways to spend a morning was watching the drumline battle. It is the marching band geek in me. (In fact, I am such a marching band geek that next year I may shell out money to go watch the Bands of America National Championship, which goes on at the same time in Lucas Oil Stadium, right next to the Indiana Convention Center (which hosts PASIC). The marching bands stay in the immediate area and practice in the Convention Center, so I was always seeing high school musicians and flag twirlers walk through the halls.)

Drumline competition was superb this year. There were high school and college lines and one independent line. The high school drumline from Elkhart, Indiana took a well-deserved second, but it was the independent team, Cutting Edge from Fort Worth, Texas, that blew us all away. Here is about a minute of their 90-120 seconds of performance; my camera was running out of power, so I clipped it off early:

You had to be there.

Before we left for PASIC at 5:00 a.m. Thursday, I was having my doubts as to how much I would get out of it. It had been a rough week, with my Aunt Ginger going back into the hospital on an emergency basis the prior Sunday and not being released until Wednesday. Rather than heading into PASIC with a lot of energy and joy, I headed in with a load of worries and little sleep.

But in the end, it all worked. There was energy, there was poetry, and there were drums and drummers and every other percussion instrument imaginable.

And that was enough.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Small Moment

Lunchtime frugality at its best. This is Sunday's lunch: the two heels and one last (now tough) slice of bread, thus finishing off the loaf, and the remains of a block of Kraft Velveeta Cheese that entered our home back in July when Ramona was here. (Her parents bought it for making macaroni and cheese as Ramona is particular about her mac and cheese.)

No food waste here!

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Goodbye To All That

The new courthouse (photo by Delaware County) 
Our county is getting a new county courthouse for the first time since 1874. It opens officially this coming Monday, with a brief flag raising ceremony at 7:45; public open house to follow in December. (Our county Juvenile/Probate Court, which is where I work, is not moving into the new building. We are housed next door in the newish County Building.)

For the last several weeks, but especially this week, office and court staffs have been busy moving from the old to the new. Earlier in the week this was the scene behind the old courthouse:

Moving Day (photo by Delaware County) 

Stair detail in the old courthouse. Trust me, not in the new! 
I toured the new building, or much of it, earlier this week. It is all sleek lines and neutral colors: buff, sand, gray. The courtrooms feel amazingly large compared to the old ones. The view to the east and north from the corner where the glass north wall meets the glass portion of the east wall on the fifth floor is stupendous and one that I will return to, camera in hand, from time to time. But aside from taking an occasional photo, I doubt I will spend much time in the new courthouse. I don't practice anymore and I am no longer involved in Common Pleas projects, such as the felony mental health docket.

I knew that after this Friday just past, the old courthouse would be locked until it was rehabbed and repurposed. Early Friday afternoon I went over to the old courthouse, wanting one last look. The deputy at the security point told me that everything was closed. "I know," I said. I told him I was an attorney and wanted just one last look. He waved me through: "Be my guest."

I have a lot of hours and a lot of memories in that building. Before I became a lawyer, if I was in town for Election Night, I would join hundreds of others on the first floor watching the returns. The Board of Elections staff would count the ballots by hand as each precinct box came in and then post handwritten tallies on the walls. I met the attorney who would become my mentor at Election Night when he ran for City Council. My son Ben and I stayed long and late one Election Night making sure the school levy to build the new middle school, a building he would not even attend as it would open when he was in high school, passed.

Compared to colleagues of mine who practiced criminal law, I spent relatively few hours in the
THE courtroom (photo by David Hejmanowski)
courtrooms. The courtroom where I did my first (and about only) major civil trial, the old, old Probate and Juvenile courtroom, was rebuilt into a larger courtroom years ago. But the main courtroom on second floor still looks relatively the same as it did when I first came to town. My friend Judy Maxwell commented on this photo: "This is THE Courtroom that I practiced in when we first moved to Delaware in 1988. Back in those days, Henry E. Shaw, Jr. was the General Division Judge, and Thomas E. Louden was the Probate/Juvenile Division Judge."

Yes, they were. Judge Shaw was infamous for his tirades from the bench. I once saw him tell an attorney for Conrail who was lax about responding to our motion for discovery to comply immediately lest the Court shut down the entire track through Delaware County. The attorney, new to our county, made the mistake of opening his mouth to reply to Judge Shaw, which merely inflamed the matter. Used to Judge Shaw's ways by then, I made sure to keep my eyes down and on the papers in front of me. And Tom Louden, who was one of the gentlest of judges (and the worst mumbler ever when he was on the bench) is the only judge who ever had to reprimand me and opposing counsel for arguing with one another before him in a hearing. That all happened in this courthouse.

I went into the main courtroom for a few minutes. The lights were off. The pictures of previous
The view from Main Courtroom to hallway on the last day
judges were still on the walls. I did not disturb the dark nor the memories.

As I came downstairs one last time to leave the building, I ran into a good friend and colleague, David Laughlin, a DR magistrate who earlier that day had held what was probably the last evidentiary hearing ever in the old courthouse. We talked for several minutes, much of it about the courthouse, and then said goodbye with the kind of hug you give someone after a memorial service. David commented later on Facebook: "That's what I will take as memories...the great conversations with terrific attorneys such as you...that place facilitated practicing law the way it should be...with the collegiality and great relationships while helping people...the contacts and talks and stories that make such good memories."


As I walked back out past checkpoint, I thanked the deputy who'd waved me in an hour earlier. "No problem" he called as I walked through to the double doors to the outside, out of the past and into the now.

The old courthouse (photo by Delaware County)

Monday, October 30, 2017

Friday, October 27, 2017

Black and White

My first camera was a simple box camera, plastic, with a silvery cavity for a flash bulb.  I think my mom sent away for it: 50 cents and a box top back in the very late 1960s. My best friend Cindy got the very same camera, if memory serves me. That summer, our moms were 4-H leaders in a pilot photography project, and Cindy and I started down the path of learning the basics of photography.

Everything was black and white back in those days. I don't know if Kodak (because it was all Kodak back then) even made color film for that camera. If Kodak did, black and white film would have been infinitely cheaper both to buy and to process. Besides, as a 4-Her, we were not allowed to use color film in Photography 1. Oh no: only black and white. (Color film was not allowed under Photography 3 or 4 back then.)

So everything was shot in black and white. Paul Simon to the contrary, everything looked good in black and white. Eventually, I started using my dad's 35mm camera (he had brought it home from Japan in 1954) and I remember the thrill of using Tri-X film: still black and white, but faster, for action shots. Tri-X was grainier when you shot landscapes; I loved that aspect of it too. In those long past days, by my last years in 4-H and high school, I learned to develop my own film (black and white). I bought an old used enlarger and took over my grandmother's bathroom every few Saturdays to develop and print my own work.

That was real magic. There was the tang of chemicals in the air, there was the magic of sliding a piece of exposed photographic paper into the developer tray and watching the images form out of nothing under the water. It was like watching dreams develop.

Eventually, of course, color came. Fuji film came, 4-H let us shoot and exhibit in color, and black and white faded away in my albums. It was all color all the time.

Fast forward to the digital era, in which I have been participating for not quite a decade now. Everything is color. Bigger, brighter, my god, look at the detail (and I just have a simple point and shoot).

Until this week. This week is when my brother Mark tagged me on Facebook: seven days of black and white photos, ordinary items, no titles, no explanations. Go.

It took me a half hour of fooling with the camera to find how to do black and white. But I figured it out and I have been posting black and white photos.

My friend Cindy—the very same Cindy—and I have been emailing back and forth about the experience for the last few days:

          April: LOTS of memories. LOTS AND LOTS of memories--remember early 4-H when we only did black and white? I forgot (until I was changing the colors on my camera) how beautiful it can be. How dreamy.  I MISS FILM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

         Cindy: I have been seeing the black & whites!  Love them!!!  I remember you developing black & white pictures in the bathroom on Flax street!!!  Remember that?!!!!

         April: Oh yeah! I couldn't sleep last night and so started thinking about film and I thought all about Flax Street. It was magic to watch those photos form out of the air.  Am really, really intrigued with dropping back into black and white world. 

         Cindy: YES, Black & White World!!! 

So here I am, back in black and white world for a few days. Maybe for longer. It has been so long since I have shot just for the heck of it. Most of my shots these days are "occasions:" the kids home, a Symphony rehearsal. Maybe a few garden shots here and there, but a lot of time the camera stays in its pouch, up in my study.

But black and white? Just ordinary everyday things? I can do that. I may keep doing that.

And it is still dreamy.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Money Money Money

It is Friday night as I write this out by longhand. Warren is an hour away in a rehearsal with the other orchestra in which he plays. He won't be home until after 11:00 p.m. Tonight is the peak of the Orionid meteor showers; with Warren coming home so late we are planning on going out into the country in the hopes of seeing a few.

Money has been on my mind more than usual as of late. We have family members facing some hardships: a serious medical crisis that will not resolve soon in one branch, the loss of the primary job in the other. There is and will be financial fallout in both. My phone hums all day long with news from the medical front and news from the unemployment front.

These times remind me of my own life over a decade ago, when I was in the middle of a protracted separation (and eventual divorce) that killed me financially, followed immediately by the diagnosis of cancer, which finished destroying any financial stability I hoped to regain post-divorce. Those were  long, hard times, and ended up with my credit destroyed and a bankruptcy under my belt.

I survived it all, with a lot of help from friends and family. Joining my life with Warren was another boost (we do not share accounts; we do share expenses). Acquiring a stable job (I had been an independent contractor) with benefits was also a huge step forward.  Bit by bit, penny by penny, I got back to solid ground.

Looking back from the stability of now, I am grateful for all the help, be it dollars or encouragement. I also learned a valuable lesson: live below my means, however minimal those means may be.

Even today, I look for ways to cut our household spending. Warren and I are not big time consumers as it is, but I can still find adjustments. We have cut our use of the dryer to about one hour every other week. Most of our laundry hangs for 24+ hours on inside clotheslines strung across the basement. We are resisting turning on the furnace until the weather gets markedly colder. Extra blankets at night, an afghan over my lap while I write, corn bags for our toes in bed, passive heat on warmer afternoons: I hope to make it well into November before that furnace goes on.

I've been tracking our grocery spending all year. Through September, we are averaging about $208.00 a month on food and common household items (toilet paper, detergent, that kind of thing). I'm hoping to get it under $200.00/month for the year, but with only three months to go, we'd have to cut a little bit deeper to make that happen. That figure does not include eating out, but we in most months spend less than $20.00 total on eating out.

I did splurge today when shopping at Aldi. [For the uninitiated, Aldi is a German grocery chain that offers limited selections and great prices.] In the meat section were fresh salmon fillets, all set to expire the next day, and all $12.00 off the sticker price (which ran from $18.00 to $22.00). I bought two large ones, each originally $18.00 and change, about 4.7 pounds of fish. My final cost was a little over $13.00 for both, coming in at about $2.60 a pound, a price I have not paid for salmon since I lived in Portland, Oregon almost 40 years ago. The fillets are already cut, wrapped, and in the freezer, except for the slab I am cooking for dinner tomorrow.

Don't think we live a parsimonious lifestyle. I think we live frugally, but with our hands open. (Thank you, Amanda Rigo, for introducing me to the wit and words (and music!) of Amanda Palmer.) I just watch where the dollars go, and make sure they flow to the resources most important to me (Sunday night yoga, Halloween candy to ship to Ramona, a used copy of Carl Sandburg's complete poems).

Back in April, I wrote a post (about money, of course) in which I quoted Thoreau: "keep your accounts on your thumb nail." I still do.

Postscript: We went out last night after Warren came home and sat for some 25 minutes on an empty country road, watching the sky. No meteors (the commentary said they would be best seen "just before dawn"—thanks, but no thanks). But we did see a glorious night sky, we watched Orion rise, and although we are in a populated area and not out west in a remote location, we even saw the Milky Way, a sight that never fails to fill my heart.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Small Moment

We have entered that time of the baseball season that I love the best: playoffs and World Series time. Realize that even this time of year, we don't haul out the television, or stream the game online, or even (for the most part) listen on the radio. Sometimes I'll check the score of a game while it is happening, then turn to other things. It is the idea of the series, that they are happening now, that fuels my passion.

My beloved Chicago Cubs are in the League Championship Series once again after a 5th game win against the Washington Nationals last Thursday. Warren was livestreaming the game part of the evening and I happened to be listening during the 5th inning, which had to qualify as one of the wildest innings in playoff history. I was yelling incoherently—I think some variation of "YES! YES! YES!"—and said to Warren after the side was retired, "I can't listen anymore." So I did not know until the next morning that the Cubs held on and won, propelling them into the LCS.

Last year close to this time the Cubs were bearing down on returning to the World Series for the first time since 1945. Warren and I were out somewhere in Columbus that evening when a text came in from my son Ben:

       Not sure if you are still up but the cubs are 3 outs from                 going [to] the world series

I don't remember whether we were listening to the game when Ben texted but we quickly found it on the radio. That may have been the evening we got back home before the game ended and I told Warren to drive a few blocks more so I could hear them finish. The Cubs won and my phone lit up again:

       They did it! We love you

Indeed the Cubs did it.

I have saved those texts, locking them on my phone and in my heart. They were quick hugs from Benjamin—baseball, love, World Series, the Cubs—across the miles. October once again, I pull them up and reread them:

       They did it! We love you

I love you too, Ben. Here's to this baseball time of year.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Don't Read This Book. Read This Book.

I just read The Best of Us, the new memoir by Joyce Maynard. I first found Maynard when I was 16 and she was 19, when she wrote Looking Back: A Chronicle of Growing Up Old in the Sixties. I have followed her ever since. The Best of Us is Maynard's account of her life with her husband Jim Barringer: their courtship and marriage in their late 50s, his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, 19 months of treatment, and his death.

Don't read this book. It will break your heart.

Read this book. It will break your heart.

Maynard is, even at her best, a high maintenance individual. She makes it clear in The Best of Us that she can be (and often was) self-centered, demanding, impatient, and a whole host of other less than wonderful characteristics. In the end, she concluded, her husband's cancer and their experiences burned away the dross—the need for constant attention, the need to always have the last word, the needs to be the center of attention, the need to always be right—and brought out the very best in her.

Don't read this book. It will drain you with the ups and downs of their lives as the cancer raged ahead.

Read this book. It will move you by the love and devotion that rose like cream above the nightmare of living with an aggressive cancer.

Two-thirds of the way through The Best of Us, I closed it, looked at Warren, and said, "You cannot read this book. Ever." I was quiet a minute, then said, "Mel [a close friend whose husband has cancer] can't read this book ever either." When Warren asked why, still blinking in surprise at my pronouncement, I added "because it will kill you both."

This book pierced my heart. After finishing it, I threw myself on the bed to think about it. Warren lay down beside me. I thought about what is ahead for both of us. Then I told him I was thinking of the book.

"I'm not surprised."

Then I voiced what has long been in my heart but I have rarely said out loud. "I don't want to leave you."

With that, I started crying. Warren's eyes welled up and tears ran down his face.

"I know you don't."

As I said recently, in the start of an eulogy, all of us are going to die. I know that. But I'm not thinking big universal concepts here. I'm thinking small picture. Personal picture. Our picture.

And that is where The Best of Us triumphs. Maynard's focus is on the small picture, her and her husband's small picture. Because in the end, that's what mattered.

Don't read this book.

Read this book.

Yes, read this book.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Small Moment

The other night, running into my longtime friend Donna at a gala event, she asked me how my basil did this year.

Pretty lousy is how my basil did this year. Even the bees were irked at me.

"I think I still have some left," she replied. She said she would check and if she did...

"Pesto in exchange for basil?"


Midday Sunday she texted me that she indeed had basil. "It's on a bag on the porch near the caladium pot."

Well, I didn't know what caladium was (I do now), but I found the bag easily. Pesto making is in my immediate future.

I don't can anymore; I gave my canner to Goodwill and my jars to our Court's Girls Group. I don't do a lot of labor intensive cooking anymore. I do have a lot of containers of bean soup, different kinds, in my freezer, because bean soup is the world's easiest food to make in bulk and then freeze in portions. But I will gladly spend an hour or so tonight making pesto, some to freeze, some to give back to Donna.

Just a small moment. A little friendship. A little community.

Saturday, October 7, 2017


Trigger warning (which I do not believe in, in principle): This is a personal and political post.

I am feeling very vulnerable these days for lots of reasons. My health is increasingly a question mark. There are many nights I crawl into bed with something—the cancer, the treatment, anything—muscling its way to the top. For several nights now I have reached the flat plain of the mattress with gratitude, hugging it as a shipwreck survivor must cling to the first land she washes up on.

Earlier this week both a Confederate flag and a White Power flag went up outside a house about two blocks from here. Even in our "nice" neighborhood, there are people who want to see people like me—any of us who are "other"—eliminated. The neighborhood response was to write affirming slogans of equity and love and acceptance on the sidewalk of the house next door. The flags came down sometime in the middle of the night, but I doubt it was a one-off incident.

How appropriate that I feel that way these days, and that our community had a polarizing event, because I also feel vulnerable as an American living under the current administration. My safety—personal, religious, medical, physical, you name it—is increasingly at risk. All I think about, especially in light of the just concluded High Holy Days, is I have been guilty for being "aware" but not really "getting" what individuals of color go through every single day of their lives. I am so sorry that until the last several months I have only sympathized and occasionally added my verbal support, but have stayed too quiet otherwise.

I am sorry it took Charlottesville to make public what I'd already suspected but not said aloud since the new administration took over: people of color, Native Americans, LGBTQ individuals, Jews, people in poverty, Muslims, anyone who is "other"—we are all in danger. I am sorry that it took this year's attacks on the American Care Act to point out the wrongfulness of my thinking "oh, they'll never take away protecting those of us with pre-existing conditions because even the most flinty hearted conservative Congressman doesn't want to see people die." I am sorry that it took the threat of a Justice Department headed by Jeff Sessions becoming a daily reality of "where am I not safe now?" or, more correctly, "where are we not safe now?" to catch my attention.

I just read The Wrong Way To Save Your Life by Megan Stielstra and found strength in her words. A few months before that, I read Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay and found strength in her words. I just copied two essays, one from each book, and sent them to my friend Anne, hoping they give her strength. I tell myself there are strong voices and minds out there and I draw strength and encouragement from that.

I worried whether to allow comments on this post. Steilstra writes about the vulnerability of writers in this electronic age, the ease with which one could be traced, stalked, threatened, and she concluded she might as well be public about her voice and her stances as a determined individual could find her no matter what. I don't worry about being harmed in that way (fantasy thinking of an older white woman living in a "nice" neighborhood, albeit one with a White Power adherent two blocks away), but I worry about something far more insidious in me: offending others. I am still learning to speak up for what I believe in, even if my voice shakes.

Like right now.

Saturday, September 30, 2017


Yom Kippur came in last night, Friday night, as we ate a late evening supper of blacks beans and rice, a side salad, and bread.

If you are Jewish or familiar with the rites of Judaism, you know that any sentence linking Yom Kippur and eating is immediately suspect. Yom Kippur is the capstone of the High Holy Days, the Days of Awe, which started midweek last week with Rosh Hashanah. It is considered the holiest day of the Jewish year, one of introspection and atonement, and requires fasting from sunset to sunset.

But there is an exception from the fasting. If you are ill and it is against medical advice to fast, you do not have to fast. In fact, some Talmudic commentators observe that under such circumstances, the individual is prohibited from fasting as to prevent further harm to the body.

As a person with cancer who is in ongoing treatment, treatment that just moved into Phase 2 earlier this week, I get an exemption. Given how I felt by day's end (at the start of Yom Kippur), I knew I had slid past the point of no return on feeling okay (heck, I'll even say "decent") and was rapidly approaching the stage of red flashing lights accompanied by a loud repetitive buzzer.

I am coming up on my 13th anniversary of being diagnosed with multiple myeloma. I have far exceeded the mortality tables for this particular cancer. Six to seven years post-diagnosis is a good, solid number for how long one lives. Over eight and the crowd starts thinning. At 13 years out, I feel like I am perched on the far rim of the flat world depicted by Renaissance cartographers.

Here be dragons.

The High Holy Days, regardless of how I observe them in the larger Jewish community, are for me a meaningful time of the year. Perhaps the most meaningful time of the year. I spend the days leading up to them, the waning days of the old year, reflecting on the year past and the year to come. During the ten days between the start and conclusion of the Days of Awe, I often meditate on what I could have done better or differently in the last year and what I hope to be and do in the year just beginning. What am I going to do to be a better friend? A better colleague? A better partner/spouse/companion to Warren? A better parent? A better family member? A better member of this community? Tikkun olam—the obligation of each Jew to repair the world, not matter how small a repair that may be—is always present in my mind.

There is always, always room for improvement in the community, in my work, in my life, in my family.

Tradition has it that during the Days of Awe, the Book of Life is opened in heaven, so that one's fate for the coming year may be inscribed. The book closes at the end of Yom Kippur. A traditional saying is "may you inscribed for a good year in the Book of Life."

May we all be so inscribed.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Loose Threads

Yesterday Warren had an afternoon rehearsal (followed that evening by a concert) in Mansfield, which meant I had a lengthy block of time in which to read and write.

Reading I did. I finished off Bootstrapper, a painful, thoughtful, hilarious memoir by Mardi Jo Link. It is appropriately subtitled From Broke to Badass on Northern Michigan Farm and is about divorce, poverty, and scraping by. 

But the writing? Sometimes I just can't make the sentences flow coherently no matter what. This was one of those times. Three starts, 400+ words in each time, and...nothing. The topic would bog down and I couldn't salvage it. Or the next one. Or the next one.

Sometimes all I have are bits and pieces of thoughts. It is not unlike opening my well worn sewing box and seeing a sketchy layer of snippets of threads from prior repairs, some still threaded through a needle, but all too short to use.

So here are my loose threads, in no order chronological or otherwise, from my afternoon and my blog attempts:
  • Doug's wonderful memorial service and the many layers rippling out still from it
  • Effigy Mounds
  • Dinner in Rochester with my longtime friend Tani and her partner Tom (Tani and I go back some 30+ years)
  • Decorah, Iowa, and wondering where that little gem has been hidden all my life
  • Mayo
  • Mayo
  • Mayo
  • A vivid prairie sunset
  • Realizing there were still plenty of tomatoes in my garden 
  • Being on campus at the University of Chicago and realizing we were in the middle of the freshman arriving on campus
  • Remembrance Rock (Carl Sandburg's ashes are under it) 
  • Crossing the Mississippi River three times in one day
  • Making a sour cherry pie with my dear sister-in-law and savoring every bite (our husbands, brothers, do not eat cherries in any form, which baffles Margaret and me, but leaves more pie for us)
  • Super Dawg
  • The iconic red barn set against the autumn trees 
  • Nomadland (Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century) by Jessica Bruder (If you are reading only one book on the continuing economic wreckage of modern America, this should be it) 
  • Taylor, my "other" son, getting married yesterday midday
  • Making it home Wednesday evening before sunset and Rosh Hashanah began
  • Gifting a piece of art—one that I love so much that Warren said, with surprise in his voice, "you're giving them that?"—to someone I love and knowing it was the absolutely right present

And that is enough for now. 

Friday, September 15, 2017

Lost Dreams

Last night my brother Mark texted me:

I was just thinking. If Dale was still here and was able to open up a business on the islands, it would have been destroyed. That would just be the exclamation point of his business decisions...Just saying.

Our older brother, Dale, whose 64th birthday is next week, will have been dead two years come this October.  At the time of his death, Dale was underwater and delinquent on two mortgages (his residence and a rental property that I have written about before) and owed tens of thousands of dollars on overdue credit accounts, utilities, and my parents. Along the way, he had depleted every retirement account he had—not that he had huge sums in them—presumably feeling the tax hit was worth getting the cash.

It was the sort of debt that at 62 he would never climb out of, what with the real estate market soured and his only real income being hard-earned as a car mechanic.

But Dale had a plan, along with several others. Now whether he or the others or he and the others came up with it is immaterial. The plan was to turn his back on his mountain of debt and the creditors dunning him, and move to St. John Island in the U.S. Virgin Islands to open a bar along with those others. They had found a willing investor and Dale no doubt saw himself living a worry free, cheap Island life.

And while our brother had a string of business busts dating back some 30 years, he at least had the right personality for that line of work. Dale was funny, congenial, and a good listener. No wonder he was so angry whenever anyone mentioned the gravity of his situation (Stage 4 metastasized lung cancer). His dream was just right over there, just a plane hop away.

So when I got the text from Mark, I texted back:  Word. The final act of the play.

Mark agreed: Yep, the curtain came down. 

Without looking at a computer, I figured St. John Island was hit hard by Irma. After supper, I went online to find out. Words like "devastated" popped up immediately.

Mark was right. Had our brother made his escape, and assuming he'd been able to pull off the bar dream (and actually keep it a viable business), it would have come to a crashing end with Irma.

All that came to mind was Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman and that magnificent Requiem at the end. What was our older brother but a later version of Willy Loman, chasing a tired dream and coming up short?

In the end, our brother's estate was insolvent and messy. I resented the toll it took my my brother Mark, the executor, who saw it through to the end. It was Mark who got stuck tracking down all the debt, the scant handful of assets (old—not vintage—vehicles, small change in bank accounts, some furniture). Every get-rich plan and every get-rich scheme, because Dale had both, had come to naught.

Over the last several months, I have been thinking about our family trajectory and narratives. Dad came out of harsh Appalachian poverty; my mom came from a working class poor family. It was our dad who broke the poverty cycle by becoming a skilled machinist. And so I scratch my head at my brother, a skilled mechanic in his own right, searching for Easy Street, hoping for a golden ticket when he unwrapped the chocolate bar.

In the end, it didn't make any difference. Dale is almost two years gone and the bar dream died with him, rather than getting flattened on a hurricane-ravaged island. He got out from under his mountain the debt by dying, not by skipping off.

There is nothing funny about the destruction of Hurricane Irma. Nor was there anything funny about the mess my brother left or the fact that he was willing to walk away from the mess without taking responsibility. But as Mark and I went back and forth, he texted me this:

I could picture him thinking, well I got one over on everyone I owe money. In my mind he is saying that as he is hanging onto a flagpole with his feet straight out behind him. 

And that is funny.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Ready Or Not

We played a lot of hide-and-seek when I was a kid. We had a large back yard, and a game at dusk on a summer night could go on for multiple rounds. The great thing about hide-and-seek, whether you are the hider or the seeker, is that moment when the seeker finishes counting and shouts out "Ready or not, HERE I COME!"

Ready or not, here I come. 

I'm back. Back ready to write. Back aiming for a post once a week. I'll see how it goes.

So what changed when I walked away from a weekly post back in July to a spotty silence to now?

I changed.

Some of the change has been physical. When I brought an end to my weekly posts, I was at a very low point. I had spent months and months feeling lousy all the time. I had little or no energy. I had just started a new drug regiment with fairly disastrous effects. My quality of life was mediocre at best and poor all the rest of the time.

As of this week, I just finished eight weeks of the new (to me) treatment. I feel better now than I have felt in a very long time.

REALITY CHECK: Let me temper that good news. (1) Multiple myeloma is incurable. Still. It will be for the remainder of my life. (2) This is the last approved drug currently available that I have not had before. There is nothing else for me to take, other than combinations of things that I have had before with limited results. (3) I feel much better. I also accept that the myeloma is still advancing, albeit slowly (we hope). To paraphrase my favorite medical realist, Dr. Atul Gawande, the myeloma night brigade is still out there on my perimeter, bringing down the defenses.

With those small reality bites stated, let me just say the overall message again. I. Feel. Much. Better.

But feeling better physically is not the sole impetus to my coming back to blog. The bigger factor—bigger by far—is that I have finally realized once and for all what I'd been paying lip service to for a long time. In order to write, I have to write.

Well, duh.

If I went back through this blog, I would find numerous posts in which I would plaintively write something very much like this: "oh, I want to write, I need to make time to write, I need to honor time in which to write, blah, blah, blah, blah." And after whining about my not writing, I would go right on not writing. Oh. I'd write here and there, but only in the cracks of my life. Even the simple rule of "write 30 minutes a day no matter what" didn't stick.

So what has changed in me? Lots of things. A very good friend just died of stomach cancer. He gave me a model of how to die with grace and love and peace. The last nine months or so of his life, he reached out and savored life, not filling a bucket list, but tasting the world one final time, knowing it was all winding down. 

Losing Doug earlier this week was one change. 

Another change is an internal sea change. Maybe it was getting so low and so sick before the new drug regimen. Maybe it is knowing that this is the last drug and I cannot rely on there being another when this one stops working. Maybe it was seeing my family this summer and seeing Ramona as a different child from the other Ramonas she was previously. I don't know. But I recently realized that I am more acutely aware pf the passage of time—personal, seasonal, generational—than before. (And I was no slouch before.) And I am more aware of the physical world than before, almost intensely so. Dew on the grass, the deep red sunflowers opening, a cold white moon high in the sky: they all stop me in my tracks these days.

As I already said, I am aiming for a post a week. I'll not do inches again, although Anne Lamott's words remain fixed in my head. I don't know where my pen will lead me.

As for carving out time, my phone alarm is set to go off after 30 minutes. I am sitting in the living room penning this out in longhand. 30 minutes is my minimum bar. I'm free to write longer, of course, but going forward I am committed to 30 minutes daily be with with pen and paper or keyboard and screen.

I have been writing poetry all summer. I'm getting my column back on track at The Myeloma Beacon. I'm ready to return to my three-quarters done MG novel.

I'm ready to write.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Best Book of the Summer

Last week, Warren received an email at the Symphony office asking surreptitiously whether I was feeling okay. The sender had not seen any posts from me recently and was worried that perhaps I had taken a turn from the worst. 

This morning I received a call from longtime friends Dick and Milly. Dick came right out of the gate fast: he reads my monthly column in The Myeloma Beacon (and perhaps this one too) and was concerned that I wasn't doing well because he hadn't seen anything from me recently. After I had assured him I am fine, really, he said "good!" and passed the phone over to his wife.

August was a grab bag: treatment, zucchini bread (24 or 30 loaves to date), school mediations (yes, we have started already), poetry, a benefit concert, tomatoes, and most of a solar eclipse (although not as much as Ramona got to see in Vancouver, Washington). Threaded throughout it all has been books—so many that I cannot recall most of them except in snatches. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay (highly recommended), $2.00 A Day (which I am reading for the second time), a splendid new biography of Henry Thoreau by Laura Dassow Walls just in time for the bicentennial of his birth, some memoirs (always a favorite genre). 

And then, thanks to a glowing review that piqued my interest, I found and read what is clearly The. Best. Book. Of. The. Summer. 

The book is Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children's Literature as an Adult, by Bruce Handy. 

Handy is only two years younger than I am, which means we share some common touchstones in both our reading and our childhood/adolescent experiences. That made his book fun to read, even if, unlike Handy, I did not discover the Narnia books until Ben was young. But it is the sheer love of reading and the love of children's literature that snared me immediately. That Handy references many books that I (a) love, (b) read to my children, and (c) still read from time to time sealed the deal.

Handy writes with humor, an occasional snarky comment or two, and great insight as to why some books work and some books don't. He makes no pretensions about this being a comprehensive look at children's literature; this is his personal stroll through his favorite library, and he brings the reader along for the walk.

Handy starts with Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and ends with E. B. White's Charlotte's Web, which he rightfully concludes was one of the finest books ever written. I still have a copy of the White and so can turn to it, but his homage to Brown was so on point that I almost drove to a store to buy a replacement copy. I won't tell you what other titles and authors he works his way through (although the title and the cover should give you a hint as to at least one of them): read it yourself.

I will add that I picked it up this past Wednesday evening, reluctantly set it aside to get some sleep, read some more while the oatmeal cooked Thursday morning, and then finished it off with great satisfaction (and not a little anguish because it was over) Thursday night. 

Of course I read it in great gulps. I could do no less. 

So that was the Best Book of the Summer. Heck, it may qualify as the Best Book of the Year, and given how many books as I read, that's no small beer.

It is a gray and damp Saturday evening as I type these words. The remnants of Hurricane Harvey have been moving through the area for the last few days. I think of all the displaced people, children and adults alike, in Texas, and hope that there are books in the shelters to help shut out the overwhelming trauma of the storm. 

We have had a wonderful (albeit atypical) cool summer this year. Not great for the tomatoes, but not to be beat for curling up in the evening with a good book in hand. Or at hand. Or both. 

It's nice to be noticed. So Becky, this is for you. You too, Dick.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Dandelion Wishes

Those who know me well know I am not a shopper. I am not drawn to malls, to boutique shops, to online shopping, to anything. Heck, in the last two years we have had both an upscale outlet mall and an Ikea open within 20 minutes of my house and I have yet to set foot in either of them.

So when a recent work group broke for lunch and we ended up at a restaurant with a gift shop attached, I cracked up when everyone else at the table announced they had to look in the gift shop before we went our separate ways.

Really? Really?

I followed my colleagues up the stairs to the open, airy gift shop and looked around. Clothing and jewelry that way. Quilts that way. Decorative household items over there. Gift books and clever toys for children back there.

N was soon holding up a rhinestone encrusted watch. S was in the clothing, looking at colorful scarves. The other S was thumbing through a gift book on friendship. She explained her best friend had just lost her father, and maybe this would be good to send her. Then she turned over the book, looked at the price tag, and said "that's the cost of a shirt for my daughter, and school starts soon."

I wandered through the space, bemused. This was more exposure to items intended for sheer consumer consumption than I had experienced in months and months.

Wall plaques are big business in this shop. You know: heartfelt sayings painted or printed on wood to nail to your wall or prop up on your mantelpiece. Some of them were grouped by theme: Family, Autumn. There was one area of eclectic: some inspirational, some faith-based, some silly.

It was on the hodgepodge wall that I saw the one item in the whole gift shop that I actually looked at. "Looked at" as in touched it, looked at the tag, then thought "I don't need more stuff in my life." It was a small plaque, painted distressed bright white, with an Impressionistic dandelion splashed against the white. (I admit it: the brightly colored dandelion is what caught my eye). Underneath the dandelion were the words "some see a weed, I see a wish."

To my husband's dismay, I love dandelions. I love their brightness when they bloom, I love their airiness when they go to seed. I still love to pick the puffs and blow them into wishes. Warren is pretty vigilant about snapping their heads off and digging them out when one makes its way into our lawn, but every now and then one slips by his eagle eye. And if I am out walking and see one in an untended lot, I do my bit by dispersing the seeds.

I walked away from the plaque without any regret. As I thought at the time, I don't need more stuff. But the sentiment of weeds and wishes has stayed with me.

My next walk, I may just have to look for wishes.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Inch One Hundred Eighty: Changes

This is the 180th Inch I have posted. Not counting a couple of soapbox posts from the time I resolved to post a weekly inch, I have been posting an "inch" of my writing weekly for over three years.

There has been a change in the lineup.

July, even though it is not yet over, has demanded a lot of me. I moved Aunt Ginger into an assisted living facility. With the help of several others, I emptied out and cleaned her apartment. Unneeded furniture headed to an auction, household/decorative items headed to my sister-in-law's yard sale, and all the rest headed to...our downstairs study, where it has taken over all available space. Mostly it is family-related: old photos to send off to cousins, old papers to shred. It has been an Augean task and I am not yet done with it, although with the move long behind me and the apartment empty and ready to be relinquished, two huge weights are off my shoulder.

July held, of course, a long-anticipated visit with my family traveling to Ohio. I still have not sorted through the photos I took, let alone the emotions. Biggest hit for the travelers? Fireflies. They don't exist out west and three of the five had never seen them before. Every evening, Ramona would announce loudly, "It's almost time for the Firefly Show! Come on, everybody!" Her very last evening in Ohio found her, Grandpa Warren, and me out on the deck, watching one last Firefly Show while the grownups packed.

One of my biggest regrets for the trip? That Ramona and I did not bake a pie together. She asked if we could. I simply did not have the energy to make one. I am hoping there will be another opportunity, here or out there, to bake a pie with my granddaughter.

This month also marks my return to treatment after about eight weeks of "holiday," which in Cancerland means simply "we're taking you off your drugs right now to let your body recuperate." (My body has been wearing down from the ongoing treatment and from the slow action of myeloma.) Last week I resumed treatment, starting a new drug regimen.

It has not been pretty.

I knew going in and had been counseled by nurses and oncologists that the initial treatment might produce a bevy of side reactions. That's why it is given very slowly in the first session. What none of us (least of all me) expected was for my body to react very strongly to the new treatment. Nausea? I threw up so hard and so much that I broke a blood vessel in my cheek and looked (well, still do) like someone cold cocked me. Rash? The skin around my eyes swelled and turned bright red. Respiratory? My nasal passage totally shut down and my throat started to close too. My reactions were such that my oncologist came up to Infusion from his office downstairs to consult with the nurses, talk with me and Warren, and shut down treatment until they could get me stable. I had to come back the next day to finish the initial treatment; Day 2 went off without a hitch.

No, I don't feel well. No, I am not myself right now. I go back this Tuesday, and will continue to do so for some time. We are all hoping I got all the reactions over the first time, but we don't yet know that.

The fun never stops in Cancerland.

And because the fun never stops, I am stepping back from my commitment to post an inch a week. I'm not going silent. I'm not walking away. I love writing. I just am out of inches right now.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Inch One Hundred Seventy-Nine: Here And Gone Again

They should be in the air and headed back to Portland as I type. Too many feelings to write.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Inch One Hundred Seventy-Eight: Update

Last week I previewed some of July and now I can update what has happened and what will happen.

Aunt Ginger is moved. I have the rest of this month to dismantle her apartment.

4th of July was a huge success. The weather was perfect and the crowd was large and enthusiastic. The link at the end of this paragraph should take you to the 1812 Overture, viewed from the orchestra, when the theater cannons are being set off at the end of the work. You do not need a Facebook account to see it. (Warren is on the timpani at the right of the video, playing timpani.) 

We are under 24 hours and counting for the plane to touch down and everyone to disembark.

And, despite my predictions to the contrary last week, Ramona will be able to pick a tomato.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Inch One Hundred Seventy-Seven: What July Will Bring

It is early morning on the first day of July. We had heavy rains last night; the air is cool and damp. The skies have not yet cleared, but in looking at the radar, that should follow soon.

Brian and Margaret have come and gone. The pie was delicious. The company was even better. We did eat the pesto (it, too, was delicious), Brian took several lengthy bike rides, and Margaret joined me at Poetry Night. (Heck, even Brian and Warren sat in on some of it.)

Much is afoot here. Tuesday is 4th of July, which in this household means the day starts early and runs late. Long after the last firework has faded from the sky, Warren and I and a host of volunteers will still be striking the stage from the annual concert. Looking back at past 4th of July posts, in which I sound similar themes, I would also note that my garden is right on pace (perhaps even a little ahead) and the coneflowers, earthbound mimics of fireworks that they are, are already thrusting their bright colors straight up into the heavens.

Even without the 4th of July thrown into the mix, the first week of July this year starts out with a bang. Later next week I will helping my beloved Aunt Ginger move into assisted living.

Aunt Ginger will be 88 this October. I wrote about her on her 80th birthday, which we all (30 or so of us) celebrated happily and noisily. At 88, my aunt is frail physically and mentally. She is not happy at all about the move (this will only be the 3rd address she has had in almost 88 years), but after shedding a few tears every time we talk about it, she squares her shoulders and tells me she will just have to make the best of it. And knowing Aunt Ginger as well as I do, she will. With bells on.

And right after the Big Move? The contingent from the Pacific Northwest arrives with Ramona, Alise, Mackenzie, and my sons, Ben and Sam, flying into Ohio and into our house for a week of family and cooking and family and laughter and family and love and family.  Oh, and fireflies (lightning bugs) which Alise and, of course, Ramona, have never seen. We have a bumper crop this year and I cannot wait to see their reactions to our nightly light show.

And of course there will be pie. Likely more than one this time.

I started this morning (after typing the first paragraph) with breakfast with Warren followed by my going into the admittedly soggy garden and weeding. The basil is finally showing signs of coming up. There are lots of tomatoes on the bushes, but I doubt any will be ripe enough for Ramona to pick. That's life.

Any day (and month) that starts with breakfast with my beloved husband followed by quiet time in the garden is bound to be a great one. Welcome, July, welcome.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Inch One Hundred Seventy-Six: Life's Essentials 70% Off

We have weekend company arriving later today. This will be a shorter post than usual because I have been putting my time and energy into cleaning the house, getting their room ready, and getting groceries. A little gardening early this morning and going to the office later today are tucked in there too.

Oh, and a pie is in the oven as I type these words.

The guests are family: Warren's brother, Brian, and Brian's wife, Margaret. I have known Brian even longer than I have known Warren, and that's saying a lot. Margaret and I are very close. I have commented more than once to Warren that I am so glad his brother had the great sense to marry that woman.

I recently deleted a piece of spam titled "Life's Essentials 70% 0ff." I never opened the email, so I don't know what those essentials were and why they were 70% off. I strongly suspect my list would be radically different and I would have found few of what I consider essential in that email.

This weekend is an example of life's essentials. Family arrives later today. There is a small ensemble outdoor concert tomorrow. Brian brought his bike, and my friend Corroto, who bikes all the time, marked out some area routes for him. Margaret and I will talk and talk and fit in some long walks. We will make cinnamon rolls together for Sunday breakfast. There is pesto from last year's garden in the freezer and one of our meals will be pasta and pesto. They are staying until Tuesday so that Margaret can join me at Poetry Night.

And there will be pie.

Life's essentials? My weekend will be full of them. I will have family and music. There will be good talk and quiet togetherness. There will be walks and laughter and Poetry Night. These sorts of things tend not to come 70% off anything, as they are one of a kind ephemera.

After all, how can you put a price tag on homemade cinnamon rolls, made side by side with a friend you love? Or a slice of that pie, which I made for those I love?

Life's Essentials, Priceless.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Inch One Hundred Seventy-Five: You Know You...

You know you have lived a long time in a percussionist's world when, looking at an online auction to see its format, a set of five brass bells catches your eye and you bid on it. And then up your bid after the original bidder ups the bid. 

You especially know you have lived a long time in a percussionist's world when you watch the online auction tick down to make sure your bid stays the high bid and then gloat when it is over and you have won. I will be picking them up later this afternoon about five blocks from here. They are a gift intended for the percussionist in my life. He already knows, so I am not giving away any secrets here.

You also know you have lived a long time in a percussionist's world when, in trying to describe how you feel, you revert not only to musical terms but also to tuning terms. (Because, among other things, I have acquired more than a passing knowledge of how tuning bars and crotales works.)

For the next few weeks, I am on a drug holiday from all (ALL) chemotherapy and related treatment regimens. Earlier this morning, apropos of nothing, I said, "Well, I think we can answer Dr. Leung's question about whether it was the chemo making me ill all this time." 

Expectant pause.

"It's not. We all pretty much knew that. But it's different off the meds."


"Well, the exhaustion is one long sustained chord now, instead of being broken up with a whole bunch of different dynamics."


"And the sick feeling? Kinda the same. A steady pitch without any overtones. Does that make sense?"


So you really know you have lived a long time in a percussionist's world when not only are you analyzing your incurable cancer in music terms but also your partner (the percussionist) understands what you are describing.

Warren and I are coming up on 11 years together. I have lived in his percussion world all that time, including but not limited to attending international percussion conferences, having a timpani room in the house in lieu of a family room (doesn't everyone?), having a machine/wood shop in what used to be a garage (ditto), and learning that absolutely anything—anything—can be (and often is) turned into a percussion instrument. 

And you know you have lived a long time in a percussionist's world when that's the norm. And you're okay with that.

More than okay. 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Inch One Hundred Seventy-Four: Detroit

I spent three days this past week in Detroit, attending the national conference of the League of American Orchestras. When you are married to the Symphony, you often end up at these things.

The League has stepped up its focus on and push for diversity and cultural equity in the orchestral world. These are topics that resonate deeply with me, so I was thrilled to attend three excellent panel discussions (two being interactive with the audience) on these themes. I came away with new points of view, some new discussion points, and some new approaches for the implicit bias workshop I will be co-facilitating at work later this month.

The conference was held in downtown Detroit, at the Renaissance Center. The Center is the world headquarters for General Motors, backing up to the Detroit River. We stayed at a small, just adequate motel within walking distance, and so walked the 4 or 5 blocks daily to the conference. I also went off by myself to walk around the downtown, exploring a little before I caught the QLine (light rail) to the Detroit institute of Arts.

Much was made at the opening plenary session, a panel discussion, of Detroit's rebound from its bankruptcy of 2013 and the Detroit symphony's rebirth from the musicians' strike of 2010-2011. Rebuilt neighborhoods, urban farms, the QLine: these are all measures of forward progress. The Detroit Institute of Art, one of this country's great collections, was saved in the Grand Bargain. But some panelists reminded us that much is yet to be done. This July is the 50th anniversary of the violent Detroit riot and, some reminded us, the city is still dealing with the aftermath of that event.

What struck me hardest about Detroit was the visible and omnipresent poverty. I am not a newbie when it comes to poverty and I know that in big cities, I am more likely to run into people asking for spare change, for a few bucks, for some help. What I saw in Detroit was far beyond that. Yes, there were people asking for change, but there were adults, mostly men but some women, who were sleeping nightly in the green spaces downtown or in a little protected back entrance of a building with no place to go. Unless you deliberately turn a blind eye, you cannot help but see them. It cut me deeply. Call me a dupe, but I gave away every bit of pocket money I had. I don't care what the recipients did with it; once it left my hands, it was theirs to spend.

On Thursday, the last day of the conference, I took a break late morning. I crossed over to the park that runs alongside the Detroit River, just behind the Renaissance Center, and sat for a long time in the dappled shade of a tree, looking across the river at Canada. A musical duo was playing steel drum and keyboard somewhere over my shoulder behind me. In front of me was a sidewalk fountain, a series of jets that shot up different lengths (a variation of a dancing fountain, but larger and more complex than the ones I have seen). It was a warm, sunny day and children were playing at the fountain. Children shrieking, laughing, dancing, jumping, drinking, squatting, yelling with delight. They would run back and forth to their parents, sitting or standing in near proximity. I watched in particular one little girl, maybe all of 3, who saw an older child bend over and wet his head in a spray. She carefully bent over and doused her own head: her forelock first and then all of it. Standing up with a gasp, she shook her head and trotted back to her parents, laughing in delight. There are far worse ways to spend a long half hour in Detroit.

We left Detroit a few hours later, and I carried a swirl of images: the tiger sculptures at Comerica Park, the woman who slept each day in a sleeping bag, one medium-sized purse near her, on a grassy sward just yards away from the Renaissance Center, the Rivera Court in the Detroit Institute of Arts—stunning enough to make me gasp when I entered it, the young teen, who looked surly and unapproachable, but who helped an older woman with a cane boarding the QLine car to a seat, and helped her up when she reached her stop down the line, listening to passionate musicians of color talk about the need to stop talking and to move forward on breaking down the barriers, and the elderly man to whom I gave money, who thanked me and told me his name, and then asked me mine.

And the laughter of children. The laughter of children dancing in the fountain.