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.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Inch One Hundred Seventy-Three: Ripple Effect

My brother Mark recently posted a long commentary on Facebook that caught my attention. After ranting about the anger and rage in the world, he wrote:

Would it be so hard to have some compassion or show some empathy towards someone? Put yourself in their shoes for a little bit. Look at their situation. We are all guilty of not doing this. You can affect your little part of the world and maybe, just maybe help someone in the process. The person you affect may help someone else. It is like when you throw a pebble in the water and you watch the ripple spread. 
Tomorrow let us be the starting point, the pebble so to speak. See if you can make the world a better place.

Music to my ears.

At Juvenile Court, we (coworkers and I) facilitate a class called Victims Awareness. We spend a lot of time working on concepts of control and impact.

We pose them this problem: What can you control? What can you not control? We write their responses on the room's whiteboard. Control? "My anger." "My choices." "My reactions." "Who I hang out with." Not control? "Other peoples' choices." "Other peoples' actions." "What someone says about me." 

Lively discussions accompany some of the selections. 

We discuss control after we take the juveniles through the ripple effect. The ripple effect is simply the concept that the choices you make almost always have consequences that you may not have thought of at the time. Like a rock tossed in a pond, your actions—good or otherwise—set in motion a series of ripples that affect others. One of our juveniles' tasks is to parse on a chart the impact of their offenses: who was affected, how they were affected. Here is a typical ripple: my mom was affected when I shoplifted because she had to come to court with me. Oh, and that impacted her employer because she could not work that day. And that impacted her paycheck because she lost a day of work.

Ripple effect, choices, what can I control, what can I not control. They all come together in the class. Often there is a moment, usually midway through the five weeks of class, where I see the lightbulb come on in the juvenile's eyes.


When I read Mark's post, I immediately thought of our kids. When we do the ripple effect exercise using their offenses, we follow that up with an exercise in paying it forward. The inverse of a negative ripple effect is doing something positive: a random act of kindness. We challenge our juveniles to find a way to do such an act before the next class. We emphasize it doesn't have to be BIG, it doesn't have to cost money. They report back: I helped my grandma clean her house, I bought my friend lunch at the school cafeteria because he was out of money, I helped someone at the grocery store load groceries. Little ripples of good deeds. 

We also have our juveniles weekly capture on paper a good choice and a poor choice. As the class continues, the good choices move from "I studied for a test" to "I walked away from arguing with my mom" or "I did not punch the kid calling me names." Our youth are reflecting on their control, and starting, slowly, to weave that reflection into their lives.  More ripples, more realizations that there are real choices even when you are only 15. 

My brother got it right when he wrote "the person you affect may affect someone else... [Be] the pebble so to speak." 

I'm stepping away from facilitating the Victims class. We are just finishing a sequence and this one will likely be my last one. My job has changed in ways that make facilitating harder to work into my hours and the later day (we run class until 5:30, followed by a debriefing) takes a bigger toll on my health and energy than it used to.

I will miss the kids. I will miss the lightbulb moments. 

And I will watch for the ripples. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Inch One Hundred Seventy-Two: My Good Enough Garden, Year Two

Last year, I blogged about my good enough garden. Another year has come and gone, and this year's garden will also be a good enough garden. At this point, the harder work has been done.

Tilling? Borrowed our neighbor's electric tiller. It's small, but so is our garden. Warren tilled some, I tilled some, Warren tilled some more, and if it took more than 45 minutes, that would only be because I had trouble moving the fairly lightweight tiller when I wanted to till a different patch.

Budding butterfly weed
The perennials that we planted just to winter over until they could be transplanted to new beds? We didn't move them last fall. We didn't move them this spring early either, so they are solidly up and, in the case of the butterfly weed, budding already. Warren tilled carefully around the flowers to get the tilling started.

The plantings? I went out to one of our local family farming enterprises and bought tomatoes and peppers. They went in the ground on the heels of the tilling. We had a day of (mostly) soft rains yesterday, so the plants settled in and are doing nicely.

The flowering sage
The sage, to my surprise, wintered over and is in full bloom. I'll sow some basil seeds close by because I cannot imagine a garden without basil and without bees in the basil flowers. I'll sow marigold seeds in the concrete blocks that delineate two sides of the garden and call it done.

It remains to be seen whether the cucumber beetles return to plague my tomatoes this year.

In an effort to thin out the spiderwort that dominates our front bed, I moved more clumps to the backside of the house. There is a spindly strip of "garden" along the backside of the house and I cannot think of any better place to let spiderwort run riot than there. Spiderwort is the easiest plant I know to transplant. You dig a big hole, you go dig up a clump of them with a shovel, you slide the clump into the big hole, you put the dirt back, you call it a day. Other than the physical energy needed to shovel up a large clump of spiderwort, it's low effort work.

Fortunately for any latent gardening impulses I have, we have new young neighbors to the south who are energetic gardeners. The day that Warren and I visited late last fall to welcome them, they invited us in and I spied a copy of The Urban Homestead on a table. Wonderful! Our neighbors (and their very, very young daughter) have taken urban homesteading to heart. They have planted fruit trees of every kind and have put together two substantial raised beds in which all kinds of vegetables are already up and flourishing. I love seeing it and I love seeing someone other than me laboring over such a full garden. And I was pleased to hear that they planted cucumbers, which means the aforementioned cucumber beetles may stay to the south and leave my tomatoes alone.

With luck, I will have some tomatoes by the second week of July. That is when the Pacific Northwest contingent—all of them—are arriving and I would love to have the joy of watching Ramona pick tomatoes off the vine.

A good enough garden? You bet.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Inch One Hundred Seventy-One: Bone Tired and Other Little Bits

Last week I wrote about finishing the attendance mediation and speculated on its length and depth. I spent a part of the work week this week running numbers. Our department attended 384 mediations, 341 of which were mine. Our first mediation was, as I had speculated, in September 2016; the last was almost eight months to the day in May 2017.

And I am still recovering.

How tired am I? Yesterday I gave our bathroom a long overdue deep cleaning (and noted this morning as I showered that I still missed some spots in the shower). A byproduct of the cleaning was a stack of wet, dirty cleaning rags, destined for the washer. This morning, I started to hang up the rags to dry before I washed them, um, later today.

Really? Really?

You know you are really, really tired when you start to hang the wet dirty rags so they'll be dry when you go to wash them the same day.

While I type this, Warren is downtown doing some of the earliest grunt work for the weekend's Arts Festival. Time was, a decade plus ago, when I would have been downtown at about 5:30 a.m. to help chalk the streets and prep for the vendors to arrive. I have great memories of those days, but can't say I'm sorry they are over.

2007 Arts Festival Prep

A well-meaning friend recently reminded me that, in our early 60s, we are all at the age where we are more tired, take longer to heal, and generally are older, so I should not be so quick to look to my myeloma as the source of my exhaustion. I replied that I know we are all older, and I take that into consideration, but trust me, there is a difference between the two types of tiredness and I can tell the difference.

The caption of this post promises "Other Little Bits."

The first little bit is that I got my first poetry acceptance by an online journal. No pay, just publication. I am thrilled. More to the point, I am encouraged to go on.

The second little bit is about pets. When my sons were growing up, we did not have pets. Period. Their father was opposed to having a dog, ever. There were enough allergies in the house that a cat was ruled out as well. Ben, especially, very much wanted a dog, so it was no surprise to me when, as a young adult, he and Alise acquired Lucy, a medium large dog of indeterminate background (at least to me) and gentle temperament. Lucy accepted Ramona without much fuss and has tolerated her many depredations over the years.

Let's hope the newest addition to the family does as well. Meet Squishy Sanchez, joining Alise, Ben, Ramona, and Lucy this week:

I don't name them, folks, only meet them on social media.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Inch One Hundred Seventy: Finish Line

Yesterday, I completed the last three attendance mediations of the 2016-2017 school year.

We are done.

It has been a long season. I do not have my work folders at home while I type this, but I am pretty sure our earliest mediations were in September. September! The school year was still fresh and new then. As of yesterday, when we concluded the last mediation, there were eight days of school left. Eight! 

I scheduled and appeared at over 300 mediations; a coworker appeared at another 60+. "Appeared" means I was there, along with one of my amazing school colleagues, Stacy, Vikki, or Lisa. "Appeared" does not mean we necessarily had any parents show up to participate, but because we hold the mediations at the schools, we have to be there, period. (Historically, I do not mediate without a parent, but we are changing that policy, at least at the high school level, for the upcoming year.) Next week, I will run the numbers on how many mediations were actually held. That number varies widely by district, to no one's surprise.

Ohio has just revised its laws on attendance, decriminalizing the offense for juveniles. (The adult offenses, failure to send and contributing, seem to not have changed, but many of us are still combing through the new legislation.) I sit on a committee at the Ohio Supreme Court charged with helping the Court direct our state's juvenile courts on how to implement the new legislation, which took effect April 6. All of us on the committee are going into the upcoming year with our eyes as wide open as possible, albeit wide open staring into a pretty murky fog.

One thing is clear: there will probably be even more mediations next school year.

But back to being done. I would like to say that we finished and popped champagne bottles (well, seltzer water—we do work for a court, and a juvenile court one at that, after all) and that confetti and balloons dropped down from the ceiling. I would like to say that Lisa and I walked out of the middle school and airplanes were writing "WELL DONE, LADIES" in the vast blue sky above us. I would like to say a brass band was waiting for me when I pulled back into the parking lot at court.

No. No balloons, no skywriting, no brass bands. We finished the year quietly. When I got back to the courthouse, I went in and up to my office, logged out of my computer, shared the news ("we're done") with my supervisor, and came home.

I am spent. I feel like I could be in one of those videos of runners who are physically depleted but staggering blindly, often with help and encouragement, to the finish line. I am grateful I made it over that line, grateful for the aid and encouragement of my colleagues and my husband.

The school year is all but over around here. It will be back soon enough in mid-August. I will be ready when it comes.

But for now? Let summer begin!

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Inch One Hundred Sixty-Nine: Anne Sexton

Anne Sexton
I have spent the last several evenings immersed in Anne Sexton, reading first her daughter Linda's memoir, Searching For Mercy Street, and then Diane Middlebrook's in-depth biography, Anne Sexton, interspersed with selections of Anne's work out of The Complete Poems.

 April was National Poetry Month, and as I have done for the last few years, I marked it by posting a poem a day on Facebook. This year, subconsciously or otherwise, I posted mostly works by women poets, Anne Sexton among them.

I don't know which poets, if any, are in today's high school literature texts. (Poetry has fallen out of favor because it doesn't lend itself to standardized testing.) When I was in high school, back in the 70s, the poetry curriculum was very much the white male canon, English and American poets only. No works in translation, only token writers of color (yes, Gwendolyn Brooks, but only if it was "we real cool;" no Langston Hughes), and few women except Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who I found monotonous (and still do) and Emily Dickinson, who was still decades away from being reexamined and was still very much presented as a troubled agoraphobe who quaintly used string to bind her poetry around marmalade jars.

I discovered Anne Sexton by wandering in the library, as I was wont to do, sniffing around the 811 (Dewey Decimal System) aisles. It may have been All My Pretty Ones I cam across first. At some point, I discovered Transformations, her wonderful adaptation of Grimm fairy tales. No matter, I was hooked.

Sexton was a revelation. For one thing, she was a contemporary poet. High school lit texts, the process being what it was to get one approved and to market, let along adopted, ran decades behind contemporary writers, especially in poetry. All the poetry I'd been exposed to in school to date was by poets now dead.

For another, Sexton wrote with a loud voice. For an aspiring writer, for an aspiring female writer, I was thrilled to find that the whispery lines of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Emily Dickinson (as she was then portrayed) were not my only options.

In the poetry world, Sexton was in the vanguard of the confessional poetry movement. Sylvia Plath, George Starbuck, Robert Lowell, William Snodgrass, Anne Sexton—these were poets who wrote of intimate, intense themes—mental illness, body, divorce, family, sex—that the academic and critical poetry world did not recognize. Confessional poets were willing to take their own lives, their own triumphs, failures, and shortcomings, and shape them into poetry in the first person voice. It was that first person voice that delineated confessional poetry from the impersonality and universality of the then standard canon.

And maybe that's what drew me to Sexton (and then to Plath, hard on the heels of Sexton): that sudden realization that poetry did not have to be written in the third person, did not have to be removed from the poet, but could be immediate and personal. Poetry could be about messy topics, about hurtful topics, about real topics, about anything. As I commented to Warren as I talked about this post, I observed that if you looked at what little poetry from my past still remains, you could see the shift from the impersonal remote to the first person. That was Sexton's influence on me.

Anne Sexton committed suicide in October, 1974. I was in college in Chicago when it happened; I read the news in The Maroon, the school newspaper.  It shook me up enough that I remember having to find a place to sit down and reread the brief article. I would like to think I was conscientious enough to have headed to the library to find a volume of her poems, but I doubt it. But the realization that this poet, this bold, audacious writer, was dead, stayed with me for days.

I stumbled backwards into this recent immersion. Too pressed for time to get to the library for new reading material, I resorted to what was at hand on my shelves and Sexton came to the top. I don't know yet if I will tackle her collected letters (which are well worth the read), although I hear their siren call as I type these lines. At this point, Sexton has been dead for almost as long as she lived and I have outlived her by a decade and a half. But the power of what she wrote, and the impact of that power on my own writing—that is still with me all these decades later.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Inch One Hundred Sixty-Eight: Small Moment

Today is the next to last day of April, which means it is the next to last day of National Poetry Month. That sigh of relief you just heard was from my dear Warren, one of the most poetry-adverse individuals I have ever met. (I believe I have written this before, but somewhere in his past he had a doozy of a literature teacher who scarred him for life.) 

I was all set to write about poetry and indeed had as of last night a post about 80% done on that topic. It can wait. I want to write instead about a small moment, a small personal moment, that happened and that has been warming me ever since.

Those who know me know that my schedule is hectic, especially during the school year. I wrote about some of the hectic quality in this blog just last week, in fact. This week has been no exception. Thanks to changes to the Ohio attendance law, our attendance season is stretching longer into the school year, which is rapidly coming to a close (25 days, but who's counting?). As a measure of how tired my colleagues and I are, Stacy arrived at a school yesterday for yet another set of mediations, slid into the seat next to me, then laughed and said "I had to ask myself if I had the right school. Is this where I was supposed to be? They are all blending together at this point."

I write for a column for the online Myeloma Beacon, and my April column just ran. It is about treading water, because sometimes that's the best I can do. (You may find my column here if you are wondering.) 

So here is my small moment, which took me out of the pool, out of the hurly-burly, just out. 

Warren and I went out for dinner (which is a rare enough event). My only requirement was that it be quiet. Our mutual requirement was that we stick to Delaware. One by one, we rejected locations, mostly on the issue of noise. We finally settled on the Panera on the west side of town.

Note: We are not Panera patrons. Nothing against the chain, mind you. We just don't eat there. Ever.

Panera was quiet. (The drive-through line was heavy, but the indoor area had only a few diners here and there.) Warren ordered this and that; I ordered that and this. The meal came. It was warm, it was filling, it was delicious, I was starved (I had not eaten since breakfast due to an unusual schedule that day). 

We ate slowly and gratefully. Grateful for the food, grateful for the quiet, grateful for one another, grateful for the chance to talk and catch up on the day, grateful to be across from one another. 

As we sat there, talking or not, savoring the interlude, I felt the world drop away. It was just us. The Symphony, my workload, my health, our families, Aunt Ginger, the nation, Warren's shop work, the upcoming schedules, all receded. 

It was a small moment. It was a quiet moment. It was a Warren and April moment.

And it was all I needed. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Inch One Hundred Sixty-Seven: End of the Season

No, not that season. Although we at Court are nearing the end of the attendance season, it's not over yet, even though the school year almost is. I am currently slated for mediations up through May 4, and we may add some more before calling it for the year. Some would question whether it makes sense to mediate attendance so late in the school year. The schools are all out by May 25; seniors are out even before then. Yes, it makes sense, especially when we are having the discussion and a parent suddenly says "oh, I didn't know that..." (usually but not always said in the context of how many parent notes may be used each year) and can tuck that information away for the 2017-2018 school year.

The season I am talking about is the end of our Symphony season. Season 38 of the Central Ohio Symphony comes to a grand conclusion this evening, with an all Ohio emphasis. The concert features Ohio composers, Ohio arrangers, and Ohio soloists. (And, of course, all of the orchestra musicians and our conductor are also Ohioans.) Aptly titled "Hear Ohio," it should be quite a performance.

I realize I have written a lot lately, both here and elsewhere, about how much I deal with exhaustion and illness on a daily (hourly) basis. My friends both here and by mail, admonish me to slow down, pull back, don't push so hard. My Aunt Ginger today looked at me and said "don't do it all at once. Take it in small pieces until it is done." (She then sat silent for a moment, then added, "so says mom" and giggled.)

Finishing the Symphony season tonight takes a little off my plate. I am not as deeply involved in the group as I was in years past, but you can't be married to the group's Executive Director and not be married to the Symphony. I don't do the heavy lifting and carrying anymore, but I still write the press releases, proofread when asked, and generally aid and assist in smaller ways.

And I still bake our wonderful conductor a pie for each and every concert. Here is the End of the Season pie for another amazing year.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Inch One Hundred Sixty-Six: Keeping My Accounts

Back in January I wrote about putting stringent monetary controls in place so I could achieve some upcoming financial goals. I had two looming expenses at the time. The first expense was meeting my 2017 out of pocket and in network medical deductibles ($1500.00). As of the last EOB, I am within $5.00 of accomplishing that, and with the EOBs trailing the actual medical bills, I know I have met that figure early on.

The second expense, a goal really, was buying tickets for the whole Pacific Northwest contingent to fly home in July for a week together. I bought the tickets on the last day of March, managing to reach that goal in the first quarter. That expenditure ($2150.00) knocked my account (my "expense account," now renamed my "goals account") to under $300.00, but with recent deposits, including my March mileage check from my job, I am closing in rapidly on a balance of $1000.00.

For someone whose finances have ranged from tight to tightest for a decade and a half, being able to see I almost have $1000.00 set aside in an account separate and apart from my daily checking account is a stunning moment. I all but blink back tears when I think back over those years: a lengthy separation and divorce during which I shouldered 99% of the expenses of two households, the medical catastrophe of an incurable and expensive cancer, being unable to work for over a year, a bankruptcy, and on and on. There were long stretches of time, even as my finances stabilized, even after Warren and I married and both of us had more financial stability, when I wearily wondered whether I would ever get past living paycheck to paycheck. [A note: Warren and I keep our finances separate. When I talk about living paycheck to paycheck, I am talking about myself only.]

And here I am.

I continue to print out my pay stub every payday and pen out where my dollars will go. This has been a great visual tool to keep my mind focused on the relationship between money in and money out. On the home front, I am tracking our 2017 monthly grocery/household expenses and we have dropped them from $200.00 a month (not counting eating out, which continues to regularly come in under $50.00) to about $175.00 a month. (Thank you, Warren, for being as thrifty as I am.) And thanks to my outright antipathy towards shopping and mindless consumer consumption, my expenditures tend to be few and far between.

In Walden, Thoreau often wrote of economy, which is fitting given that his time at the pond was an experiment in seeing how close to the bone he could live. In my recent rereading of the book, I came across this wonderful bit of advice: "keep your accounts on your thumb nail."

What a great sentiment! I don't do my nails ever, but if I did, I would have $1000.00 painted onto my thumbnail, just to remind me of how far I have come.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Inch One Hundred Sixty-Five: Small Connections

Mary Poppins by Mary Shepard 
We are still in what I call attendance season: the span of months from October to early May in which three colleagues and I at Court spend much of our week mediating attendance matters in four school districts. I am only the mediator; Vikki, Lisa, and Stacy, in addition to mediating, also meet with students individually on an ongoing basis throughout the year. Between the three of them, they will have over 3000 contacts; add 300 mediations and you are talking a lot of work.

A. Whole. Lot. Of. Work.

It goes without saying that I am tired. I am invigorated by the pace but exhausted. Early May cannot come soon enough. Coffee with friends has gone by the wayside. Other appointments are squeezed into the cracks between the mediations. (Actually, it is the other way around. I set appointments that I cannot move—Aunt Ginger's hair appointment, for example, or chemo—and then wedge mediations in around them.) And the three colleagues I work with are going at my pace and beyond.

So what does this have to do with small connections? Stay with me.

Christopher Robin & Pooh by E. H. Shepard
Warren has been playing in the pit orchestra for an area high school's musical, "Mary Poppins." I went to see the show last night. Let it be known that I am a huge fan of the books by P. L. Travers. I am not a fan of the Disney movie, which removed all of the wit and wisdom of Travers and added a huge dose of saccharine musical numbers and dialogue. (Which is too bad, because Julie Andrews was excellent and would have been every bit as good, probably better, if she had the real Mary Poppins to play instead of the Disneyfied version). The musical version, still a Disney vehicle, is better, allowing a bit of the vinegar back into into the story, but it is still a far cry from the books.

Which is a long way of saying this morning at breakfast, after a late night getting home from the musical, we were discussing the show and certain scenes, and I jumped up to get my 80th anniversary omnibus edition of the Poppins books. (The revised Poppins books, because Travers had the good sense to remove some wildly racist writings, with apologies, and totally rewrite the stories, although she still missed a scene here and there). In thumbing through the book, I came across one of the line drawings that showed Warren what I was referring to.

In my tiredness, I looked at the drawing and thought "Shepard."

Toad by E. H. Shepard
E. H. Shepard illustrated all of the Winnie the Pooh books and The Wind in the Willows. His line drawings for many of us define what Pooh and Toad look like (hint: not the Disney version, either). But to my knowledge, E. H. Shepard had not illustrated Mary Poppins.

And indeed he had not. Mary Shepard had. Related? A quick Google search confirmed that Mary was the daughter of E.H.  E.H. was too busy to illustrate Poppins when it came time to find an illustrator. Travers claims she saw a Christmas card illustrated by Mary, liked what she saw, and the rest was history.

And my small connection today. Not dot to dot, but line to line, drawing to drawing, book to book, father to daughter, Milne to Travers, Pooh and Toad and Mole to Poppins and Jane and Michael.

We were having a later than usual breakfast this morning due to a later than usual night out last night due to the musical. We were having a slower than usual breakfast because it was Saturday and neither of us had to rush to the office or to a school or to rehearsal. Warren and I have not seen a lot of one another the last few weeks because of rehearsals and work and mediations, so we took the time to talk and smile and savor Margo's homemade English muffins (a birthday present to me) and reconnect.

Connections. Some big, some small, all just right.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Inch One Hundred Sixty-Four: Writing Prompt

My awesome coworker Cecelia and I have just finished the latest writing class at our court. We facilitate an eight-week group for court-involved juveniles during which they write about their choices, their goals, their supports, their obstacles, and so on. We have seen some amazing writing and some amazing juveniles come through our class. Sometimes our juveniles write straight from the heart, and the words are so pure that there is often a silence when one of them finishes reading because everyone is so blown away we cannot even formulate a "WOW!" (Trust me, though, it and other compliments do get said.)

Cecelia and I write alongside them during class and, like the juveniles, share our writing. Having both the youth and the staff write sometimes opens up some interesting dialogues.

Writers are often given the choice of writing based upon the class topic or using a prompt (related to the topic) as a jumping off point. We sometimes dictate the form: write a letter, write a haiku, write stream of consciousness. We sometimes tell them to write in whatever form they feel like.

For the last class, the form was short story. My chosen prompt was "With that, she walked into the rain and did't look back. That was the last time anyone saw her."

When she walked out that night, a few of us had waved or nodded. The party was pretty low key—just a study group that'd gone as far as we could before opening the wine and eating the cookies someone had brought.

She—christ, I can't even remember her name now—had been pretty quiet all night. Oh, she'd commented here and there as we studied, citing some arcane law or opinion that changed the outcome—but not much more than that, really. I seem to remember her pouring a glass of wine, then drinking it in one smooth, long gulp. That stuck with me all these years.

It was raining when she left. Of course it was—it always was in Portland. She gathered her notebooks and her books, pulled on her hoodie, and paused at the door.

"See you around," she said. And with that, she walked out into the rain.

Only we never saw her again. Never. She didn't show up for class the next day or the day after that. One of us, closer to her perhaps, drove to the little house she rented in Multnomah. No one answered the doorbell. Looking in the windows, the place was scoured clean.


And nothing ever came of it—no leads, no crime tips, no note, nothing. She'd disappeared entirely.

Decades have gone by. Whenever my class gets together, we talk about ourselves—who's a judge, who just retired, who's argued before the Supreme Court. We drink the wine and eat the hors d'oeuvres and talk about days gone by. "Remember Lansing's Golden Spare?" "Remember the IRA kegger for St. Patrick's Day?"

And invariably, someone, usually a woman, will say "I wonder what ever became of..." and then pause, because, damn it, no one remembers her name.

Just that she's not there.

No, it's not a true story. Yes, I was surprised to find myself drawing on a topic and era—my law school years—I rarely think about, let alone write about. I'm not even sure where that came from, but clearly it was waiting to get out. Other than two tweaks (we all write longhand), this is what came out Monday.

The next class starts in two weeks. I can't wait.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Inch One Hundred Sixty-Three: Winnowing

How many more times, after all, am I likely to read Walden?

I recently posed that question, largely rhetorical, to my son Ben. I have just finished reading Walden as of this past weekend. This is perhaps my fourth time through it since I first read it back in the 1970s.

Walden came up because I am in the mood to winnow out more of the domestic flotsam and jetsam of my life. A Facebook friend and his wife recently sold the family home and downsized. He posted photos of stacks and stacks of boxes throughout the new space, commenting wryly that apparently they "didn't get" the concept. 

There but for the grace of God go I. 

Some of the impetus is feeling the (very faint) stirrings of Spring—some incipient sense of spring cleaning, perhaps? Some of it, as my close friend Cindy and I discussed earlier this week, is that we have all hit an age (our 60s) where we realize we all just have too much STUFF. 

Some of my mood, I am quite sure, is that I am applying for assisted living for my elderly aunt Ginger. I will be moving her from a one bedroom apartment with decades of accumulations to, in all likelihood, a small studio. Even if not a studio, a decidedly smaller space. This means I will be tasked with distributing and disposing of everything else, which ranges from a small dinette table to sacks full of papers. The papers include but are not limited to the 2013 Changes to Medicare Manual. Later editions may not be available because I have already intercepted and recycled them, but because Ginger has mixed quasi-important papers with the dross, and because some of the papers contain personal information (account numbers and the like), I will have to go through the sacks one by one by one.

It will be an Augean task.

On my own home front, I have been building a small wall of paper sacks in my study, all destined for Goodwill. One bag holds strings of large, incandescent Christmas bulbs, the old fashioned kind that look like glowing snowdrops on a snowy night. The last time we used them, our electric bill doubled. Another sack holds Boy Scout popcorn tins, the overpriced decorative ones that Cub Scouts with innocent faces sell. I've held on to several thinking they'd be perfect for holiday treats. The holiday treats, incidentally, that I do not make (other than biscotti). The cup cozies from conferences, the dress pants that were never comfortable, the jigsaw puzzles that have been worked—you get the picture. 

The bags will head to Goodwill soon enough. Having finished Walden, I walked it Sunday to a nearby Little Free Library. I'll still have a house and life full of stuff, but maybe just a little less stuff.

Thoreau, in writing Walden, exhorted the reader to "Simplify. Simplify." I'm trying, Henry. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Inch One Hundred Sixty-Two: Friends

My friend Cindy's dad, Jim, died last last week.

Jim was 86, well on his way to 87. His physician had discovered end stage cancer several weeks earlier. His death was not unexpected.

Cindy and I go way back. She is a year older than I am; we grew up together. Her mom, Mary Lou, and my mom became friends in their girlhood and graduated from high school together. My dad and Jim knew each other from young adulthood on. My maternal grandparents knew Cindy's maternal grandparents. Our families have been linked in so many ways for so long.

Growing up, it was not unusual several times a month for my family to be at Cindy's house or her family to be at my house. The adults would play cards and drink pots of coffee all evening; we kids would play endlessly (when we were little) or talk nonstop (when we were older).

I always knew that my dad and Jim were close friends but I didn't realize the foundation and depth of that friendship until Jim's funeral.

My dad was asked to speak at the service. For me, it was a first to sit back and listen to my father speak in public. In keeping with his personality, Dad kept his observations short and plain. In talking about Jim, he told a story I had never heard before.

When Dad was a young adult, newly married with a baby on the way, he was trying to learn a trade. Because he was draft age, the local industries in this town did not want to spend time training him. So while he found work at low-level entry jobs, he was shut out of learning machining, which is where the money was.

When Dad finished his Army stint and came back home, he had the same dilemma. He needed a job with a future in it if he were to support his growing family. He had mechanical skills, but still few marketable trade skills.

Jim had those trade skills. Three years older than my dad, Jim had learned machining somewhere along the way. In addition to his shop job, Jim also owned a lathe and did piece work for his employer as a way to earn extra money. Jim used his lathe and machining equipment to teach Dad the basics on being a machinist.

My dad paused in speaking at this point.

"Because of Jim teaching me, I was able to get a job as a machinist, improve my skills, make better money, and work my way up. If it hadn't been for Jim, I would have gotten by, but not had the opportunities or the eventual good income that being a machinist gave me."

Several years before ever meeting Jim, Dad had been told by some stranger that he'd one day work with electrical things. When Dad retired as a master machinist after a lifetime of machine shops, he retired from General Electric.

"So you see," Dad said slowly. "It must have been predestined that I'd meet Jim."

Predestined? Who knows? The common thread more likely was Mom and Mary Lou being longtime friends and young wives and mothers. But put in the context of a lifetime friendship, of gratefulness for another man taking the time and effort to teach a valuable trade—well, maybe predestination does play a part.

It was a touching tribute and a fitting goodbye to a lifetime friend. We should all be so lucky to have a Jim in our lives. We all be so lucky to leave behind such a powerful impact.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Inch One Hundred Sixty-One: My Reedie

I love Reedies.

Reedies are students at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Twice a year I get a phone call from one of them as part of the fall or spring college fund drive

Tuesday night my Reedie called.

All Reedies follow a script; that's just the reality of fundraising. But what I love about Reedies is how they deviate from the script quickly. My Reedie, looking at my connection to Reed College, asked me about my son Ben (Reed, 2008). That lead to my commenting about my daughter-in-law Alise (also Reed, 2008). She then asked questions about whether they met at Reed (of course) and all but swooned when I said they got engaged on Commencement Day. "That's so romantic," she breathed.

My Reedie this time around is a linguistics major. She knows German and "some Chinese," but the language she is concentrating on presently is sign language. To me, that was a classic Reedie answer.

My Reedie asked me if I'd ever been to campus. Oh, yes, oh, yes. I explained that besides Ben's commencement, I was occasionally on campus during my Portland years (1977-1983). In fact, as I shared with her, when I transferred at the tail end of my junior year to a Portland college, the only reason I applied to Lewis & Clark instead of Reed was that L&C had a three-quarters residency requirement, whereas Reed required six quarters. Wanting to be done with my bachelor's degree, I chose efficacy over quality. It was the right decision for me at the time, but I always had a slight tinge of regret that I skipped Reed.

Maybe that's why I encouraged Ben to look at Reed closely when he started his college search. And when Ben said he was applying only to Reed, I backed him 100%.

Reed gave Ben a lot of thing, starting with acceptance. At Reed, he gained intellectual growth, being a part of a close community, and his wife, among other things. Because of our greatly reduced financial circumstances (Ben went to Reed during the years I was in dire financial straits), much of his education was free.

It is that last point—that Reed paid for much of my son's college—that explains why, when my Reedie asked me if I would give again, I said yes and pledged $25.00.

Under my current stringent financial controls, that small pledge will come out of my "spending money," which currently stands at $74.00, with another week until payday. That might make things a little tight, especially if I end up buying any groceries this coming week, but I can make it work.  It's for a college that set my older son on his path to adulthood.

And besides, my Reedie asked.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Inch One Hundred Sixty: It

As I wrote last week, I was sick with some sort of short-lived respiratory virus. Short-lived, but intense. I was sick sick sick. Sick enough that I missed work, which almost never happens. Sick enough that I ran triple-digit fevers that should have sent me to the ER, only I gambled that acetaminophen and sleep would knock them down. (I won that bet.)

Sick enough that it took me until well into this week, as I eased back into work, before I could discern between the remnants of the mystery virus and the perpetual sickness I carry with me. That moment came Wednesday of this week, when in a quiet spot I felt and thought, "Oh yeah, there It is."

"It" is what I have come to call a sickness I carry in me. We—my two oncologists, personal physician, Warren, and I—don't know exactly what It is or why It is omnipresent in my body. The most popular theory, and one I agree with, is It is what twelve and a half years of myeloma and lots of treatment, more or less nonstop for almost five years, looks like. It is not nausea nor exhaustion (which I also deal with on a daily basis). It is a blend of malaise and ill-feeling, waxing and waning throughout the day and night.

Whatever It is, It sucks. And as I age, and the myeloma continues, It takes a bigger toll on my day to day life.

With very few exceptions, lunches with friends or my husband are out. They take too much out of me, especially if I am working that day. I've given up the Mansfield rehearsals (but not the concerts) for the same reason. I put off many coffee dates, missing the camaraderie, but not having the reserves to focus on them. Besides my job (which is simultaneously grueling and stimulating this time of year), my only outside activities are Legal Clinic one night a month and Poetry Night two nights a month. I worry that I may have to cut back on the former at some point; I leave the latter early and come home both exhilarated and exhausted from the talk and the poetry.

Travel, especially longer distances, is becoming harder, thanks to It. (Hell, some days a walk in the neighborhood is a stretch.) That's why my kids are coming here this summer for a week instead of me flying out there.

Well-meaning people, and by that I mean almost everyone, tell me I look "great." People, people. One, I know what I look like and "great" is not the word. I look passable, but give me a break. I know It is taking a toll on all of my body, not just my face.

So what does this all mean? Frankly, not a whole lot. It is not going away. Neither is the cancer. I have learned that if I am deep into something—a mediation, a good book, writing, for example—I can shove It aside for a blessed hour or two. When I am sharing time with a friend or Warren, I can relegate It to the back row. Although It tracks me all night long, I am able to sleep most nights without It taking up the bed space. (I am only aware of It when I wake up in the middle of the night, and with luck I am soon back asleep.)

And I go on, because that's what we all do.

The past several months have been hard on our community and on my circle of friends and family. Yet we all go on. I have come to appreciate that simple reality: we all go on.

Here's to those who simply go on. You know who you are. And I am right there with you.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Inch One Hundred Fifty-Nine: Friday Morning Thoughts About the Newest Newberry

It is Friday morning and I am sitting at the kitchen table, the sun bright on the table, on the floor, and on me. The sheets are in the washer downstairs while I sit here and pen my thoughts.

For anyone who knows me and my work well, you know that a Friday morning at home this time of year is unheard of. We are in the throes of attendance season when I am scheduling and attending multiple mediations at multiple schools all over Delaware County. (Indeed, I had three scheduled today. Thanks to a coworker taking over for me, I am home.) This is not the time of year that I lollygag at home.

I'm home because I'm sick. I'm home because in February alone I have been exposed, sometimes repeatedly, to pneumonia, pleurisy, bronchitis, the flu, and every garden variety illness every school building harbors. I'm home because my body finally caved.

I think I have just a bad cold. Given my battered immune system, if that's all it is—a cold—I will be thrilled. I would love it if more serious possibilities glanced off me.

My being sick with a cold is not unlike my being sick with cancer, at least as far as my evenings go. Granted, it is a lot messier, what with the nose blowing, but otherwise I spent last evening as I spend most evening, curled up under a blanket reading.

Last night's reading was extra special because I held in my hands the brand new 2017 Newberry Award book. Once again, as they do more often than not, the committee members picked a wonderfully inventive, beautifully written work, The Girl Who Drank The Moon by Kelly Barnhill.

The Girl Who Drank The Moon is a fantasy novel, aimed at middle schoolers. It is light-filled, not dark. Yes, there are two villains; they are vanquished without gore or violence. Luna, the girl of the title,  is smart and funny and heartbreaking. She grows from infancy to age 13 over the course of the book, and Barnhill nails age-appropriate behavior and language at every stage. While the book is about growing up and coming of age, it is about love and family (and its many configurations) and loss and hope and love in the face of loss. Indeed, it is that hope and overpowering love that save everyone and lift the book to its glowing end.

As a further bonus, The Girl Who Drank The Moon has the most intriguing use of paper folding I have ever read, causing me to say out loud the ultimate compliment to a writer: "I wish I had written that."

So last night, as I sneezed and blew my nose and ran a small temperature, I disappeared deep into the Forest with Xan and Luna and the wise Swamp Monster (Gherk) and the Perfectly Tiny Dragon Fyrian who in the end grows and makes a Simply Enormous Decision. I loved every minute of it.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Inch One Hundred Fifty-Eight: Shabbat

It is Friday night.



I am sitting at the kitchen table writing this by longhand, that act (writing) being a violation of strict Sabbath observances. I lit candles after sunset, another violation, then turned on the oven (and another) and baked brownies (and another).

I am not an observant Jew.

Despite my lack of observation, I am deeply appreciative of the Sabbath and its spiritual importance. For Jews, it is 24 hours (sunset to sunset) in which we are to step out of the secular world and into a world of prayers, family, contemplation, study, community, and reflection.

It is our break from the everyday.

I am rarely removed from the secular world on the Sabbath, but I try hard to lace in bits and pieces of it when I am able.

Tonight, as the sun was setting and the Sabbath was arriving, I took a walk downtown to post some letters and enjoy the early evening. I had just enough time, I figured, to get home and light the candles before the sun set. (Note: I rarely light Sabbath candles, yet another indication of my persistent failure to remove myself from the secular world.)

As I walked home, I walked past Linda and Mark's house. Linda, a longtime dear friend, was on her porch. I hailed her and crossed the street.

We hugged.

Linda and I sat on her front step and talked. Talked of family, talked of aging, talked of community, talked of life. While we talked, the sun went down and the shadows grew deeper. The Sabbath was well upon me before I stood up and said I had to leave so I did not trip in the dark.

As I walked home, I thought of my long friendship with Linda. We have been through some life adventures together in the almost twenty years I have known her. I reflected on the pleasure of just sitting and talking and being in the moment of that long friendship. Indeed, for that fifteen or twenty minutes, I stepped out of the secular world into the world of community and friendship.

I may not have observed this Sabbath by the book, but I think I observed it in my heart.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Inch One Hundred Fifty-Seven: Bonds

"And what about Sam B____?" I asked.

"Oh, Sam retired a few years ago," said Dick.

Sam retired! There are photos of him holding Ben as a baby. Sam retired! But Ben is 31 now, so that is not improbable.

We—Dick, his wife Milly, Warren, and I—were sitting around a table in Chicago having this conversation. I have known Dick and Milly for almost 30 years; they are friends from long ago when I lived in Stockton, California.

Way back then, Dick worked in the county Public Defender office with my then husband. Milly and I both had law degrees and very young children.  Paths diverged. We moved to Ohio. Dick became a judge. Milly continued her solo practice. I practiced law, got divorced, became ill. Our boys grew up. Life went on.

The bonds of friendship held. I last saw Dick and Milly (and their sons, then in their late teens) in 2006 in Cleveland. When Warren and I got married two years later, they sent us a hassock of camel leather that Milly had brought back from Egypt or Morocco. (Dick and Milly are world travelers.)

Over the decades, we exchanged Christmas cards and an occasional phone call. [Note: A Christmas card from Dick and Milly is a mini-travelogue. Seriously.] We'd talk of getting together but they were in California and we were in Ohio. "Get to Chicago," I'd urge, "and we'll drive up to see you."

And that's what finally happened. Last weekend they flew in and we drove up for a much anticipated reunion.

We had a long weekend of food and talk, of storytelling and catching up, of comparing life notes and telling jokes that even Warren, who'd just met them, soon joined in. After one final breakfast together Monday morning, we all hugged hard and went our separate ways. It was wonderful.

In my past life, I was frequently criticized for "hanging on" to old friends. Anyone qualified: friends from my childhood, friends from my college days, friends from anywhere. My ex-husband would accuse me of "always dragging along" people from my past, implying that I had some deep, unhealthy motive for keeping these relationships.

As we sat at breakfast Saturday. laughing and talking, I saw a table full of those I'd hung onto from my past. (That includes Warren, incidentally.) I didn't drag any of these friends along into my life. Instead, it was the bonds we'd made over the years that brought us together: bonds of friendship, bonds of laughter, bonds of love. And here we all were, making new bonds, strengthening old bonds, and celebrating all of the bonds, past, present, and into the future.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Inch One Hundred Fifty-Six: Inching Along

I did not post last week. I believe that is my first miss in over three years of posting weekly inches.

Last week was an intense week, full of much work (I am in the middle of school attendance mediations, always heavy on my schedule), doctor appointments (3!—Count 'em!—3!), aging family member issues, and a long weekend out of town meeting old friends in Chicago.

As I flashed through my to-do list Thursday evening, knowing that we were leaving very early Friday, I made an executive decision not to post something that night. I had neither the time nor the concentration.

My weekend was largely internet free. I did not want to spend time online that could be spent with Warren, with good friends during the day, with a good book at night, and all in a great city. When I started this post, it was in pen in my trusty notebook (think back to school paper sales), curled up on a couch in Oak Park.

We got back earlier today, pulling into our driveway about 5:00 p.m., having said goodbye to our friends after an early morning breakfast. Tomorrow both Warren and I will resume our regular routines of work, chemo (well, I will), and the routines that make up our days.

Life resumes. I'm back.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Inch One Hundred Fifty-Five: What Norm Said

With most of January behind me, and two paychecks deposited and accounted for, I am surprised at what I have already learned from my new way of tracking my expenses and monitoring my spending. 

What have I learned? Tracking my cash flow visually instead of mentally makes me far more inclined to watch when, where, and on what I am spending money. Given that I do not spend casually or freely to begin with, this revelation has made my current strict money policy a little more flexible.

So I was thrilled to read that my personal discovery was validated by Norm Brodsky, a columnist for the magazine Inc.

Inc. is a magazine aimed at entrepreneurs, business start-ups, and small businesses. I first read it back in the 90s after I received a free subscription as a lawyer. A few years ago, after a long hiatus, I subscribed again.

I'm not an entrepreneur. I'm not a venture capitalist. I am not burning (or even warming) with desire to start a business. But I do find the magazine irresistible. One of the many features I look forward to is Norm's monthly column, "Street Smarts."

In the most recent issue, Norm wrote about getting a feel for one's new business by setting aside the spreadsheet and the P & L statements and approaching the company finances differently. "By writing the numbers down [by hand] and doing the calculations yourself, you begin to have a feel for the relationships between them."

Norm is right. And somehow I managed to stumble on that insight when I reassessed my financial forecast for 2017.

February is almost here. January held an unexpected medical test. With my insurance out-of-pocket costs reset to zero at the start of the year, my projected out-of-pocket contribution (payable at the time of the test) hit my expense account. Hard. Thanks to my paycheck exercise, I could see where the balance of the cost would come from without threatening my fixed expenses. Better yet, I could pencil (well, pen) out my numbers and see the the deposit that would start replenishing my depleted account.

By working the numbers by hand, instead of whirring through them over and over in my brain, I could feel it. What a great thing.

Just like Norm said.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Inch One Hundred Fifty-Four: Women's March

On the courthouse steps. Photo by Adam Stiffler
I had a lot of friends head to D.C. this weekend for the Women's March. I have seen pictures popping up on Facebook all day as this friend or that friend posts pictures from the march.

Some of us in this town held a kinda last minute mini-march in solidarity with those marching in D.C. This came together late on Friday, having been hatched on Thursday, and emails crossed and recrossed on the electronic highway.

I walked from our house to the Andrews House in downtown, our community gathering spot. My excitement grew as I realized there were a number of others headed the same way. Halfway there, friends Sally and Kris came down a side street and we walked on together. All in all, there were over 100 of us: women, men, children, toddlers, babies in strollers, and dogs on leashes.

Penny, one of the march's organizers, gave us the rules: "Stay on sidewalks, don't block intersections or crosswalks. Stay off of private property."

"Be respectful. Be positive."

We walked. We talked. Cars went by honking horns and waving. Some drove by and glared. One shouted an obscenity. But by and large, it was positive.

It was sunny. It was warm. I slipped off my jacket. Others shed scarves and gloves.

The destination was our county courthouse, which is an imposing Italianate structure with wide stairs that sweep up to the front door. (Note: the public can no longer use the front door, because of security reasons. Everyone enters through the rear basement door. But I practiced law long enough ago that I had the pleasure more than once of climbing those stairs to enter the courthouse,  and had the thrill after a successful hearing once to burst out those same doors and laugh all the way down the stairs.)

At the courthouse, the walkers in the front of the group (which had loosened up and strung out in downtown due to crosswalks) stopped, uncertain of what to do.

"I think we have to stay on the sidewalk."

My friend (and fellow lawyer) Judy and I quickly replied.

"Oh, no," said Judy, "this is public property. This is our property. We have a right to be on this property."

"Are you sure?"

"Absolutely," I said. "We can go right up on the steps. That's what the First Amendment is all about."

And with Judy leading the way and me close behind, we walked to and climbed the courthouse steps.

Afterwards, I hugged Judy goodbye as she headed off in one direction. I said goodbye to Sally and Kris, who were headed to our downtown diner for coffee and rolls. And I stopped to thank Penny, one of the organizers.

Penny, a Republican demoralized by the 2016 political scene, said she was just looking for a way for people to come together and express their concerns. She noted that there was so much anger and despair and that the goal today was to accent the positive.

Mission accomplished.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Inch One Hundred Fifty-Three: Stringent Monetary Controls

I have a large personal expenditure coming up in the next few months. I had a large personal expenditure last month, when I bought a new used car after five months of making do (walking, borrowing my dad's truck, borrowing Warren's car) when my old car died. That was $1900.00 cash, plus another $150.00 for title, plates transfer, and sales tax ($133.00). The car purchase knocked down what I call my "expense account" (a separate checking account I use as savings) considerably. The 3% COLA I received at work just about equaled the increase in my health insurance premiums. (I am not complaining; we have Cadillac coverage and only pay 10% of the overall premium.) And it being a brand new year, all of my health insurance deductible and out of pocket amounts have reset to zero, so I am looking at some sizable medical expenses early on in 2017. Oh, and did I note that my copay for oncology went up, as did the cost of my oral chemo?

In short, money is tight. In response, my overall goal for the next four months is to live as close to the bone as possible.

Fortunately, except for the medical costs, my needs are fairly small on a daily basis: food, gas, utilities. My wants tend to be things that don't cost money (or very little): books from the library, walks when our temperatures are not sub-arctic, time with friends. And I am fortunate beyond words to be married to a man who likewise takes pleasure in leftovers, making do, and coming up with inexpensive ways to spend time and life together. (Not only do I have someone on the same page as I am when it comes to being budget conscious, but Warren can sometimes underspend me!)

All the same, I find myself pondering how to keep the outflow of money as low and arid as possible. It is so easy to take out the debit card and buy the whatever. Although I am not buying high or even medium whatevers as a rule, even inexpensive ones add up. What to do?

What I have ended up doing is printing off my check stub on payday (every two weeks). I have long categorized my pays as "1st pay" and "2nd pay." (Twice a year there is an extra pay, as we get paid 26 times a year, but I keep my focus on 1st and 2nd.) By sheer repetition, I know which set bills and expenses (utilities and oncology copays, for example) come out of which pay. I take the printout and write out, deducting from my take home pay as I go, all the fixed expenses that have to come out of that paycheck. What is left over is my spending money for two weeks.

Groceries, coffee with friends, postage come out of spending money; gasoline, in contrast, is a fixed expense. After I did the above exercise for the first pay of 2017, I had $89.00 left over. With a week to go, I still have $30.00.

I can't remember when, if ever, I charted out my expenditures looking forward. While I always did that mental exercise in my head with each pay period, my actual tracking was usually with hindsight. (How much did I spend?) It's an interesting exercise, seeing visually my declining account balance before the spending occurs.

Some frugalists out there make January a no-spend month. Check out the Frugalwoods, who I just stumbled across thanks to Katy Wolk-Stanley,  the Non-Consumer Advocate. Katy is a member of the Compact. (Compact members are committed to not buying new things. That's a simplistic version; you can go over to Katy's website to get a better idea. While you're there, read any posts titled "Goodwill, Badwill, Questionable-will" just for sheer laughs.) Me? I'm somewhere in the middle, with strong tendencies towards being a member of the Compact.

We do have one bigger than typical expense coming up  in February. Old friends of mine are flying into Chicago February to rendezvous with us. I am not too worried because we have a joint travel account which will be pay for our trip and, even with that earmarked account, we tend to travel frugally. We have free lodgings (our sister-in-law's condo in Oak Park), we'll buy a CityPASS to see the sights (as our California friends have never been to Chicago, I imagine the Art Institute, the Field, and other places are all on the list) and so save on admissions when seeing those sights, and Warren and I eat cheap no matter where we are, usually splitting meals. (I know you are wondering who visits Chicago in February, right? We do. And the old friends are headed to the Antarctic in March, so Chicago should be a piece of cake. Unfortunately for three of the four of us, it will not be baseball season when we are there, but you can't have everything.)

I get paid next week. Because I have credits at both the oncologist's and primary physician's office, the money I set aside last week for copays for those appointments will go into my expense account next week after I get paid. That will inch me a little bit closer to meeting the large expenditure I mentioned when I opened this post.

I never took economics. I don't closely follow the financial world or even government (at any level) budget talks. But I know that by applying stringent budget controls, I should be able to meet my goal.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Inch One Hundred Fifty-Two: Soapbox

My friend Margo summed it up best. "I'm learning to be loud."

I don't like confrontation, which is why I never enjoyed trial work. As a mediator, my goal is to find common ground. I don't typically engage in electronic shouting matches or post political memes on Facebook (although I often "like" them).

But sometimes I read something and think "I have to say something." And this is that time.

In last week's post, I wrote of my fears and concerns about the incoming administration. A longtime reader, a friend and fellow blogger in the blogosphere, took me to task: "Please don't believe everything you hear, especially about the election. News media is very bias[ed] and most of what gets reported is not correct.Wait and see of what comes of this new administration. My bet is that it will get better."

Give the President-Elect a chance? He has already announced Cabinet choices, most of whom I disagree with politically and morally. Rex Tillerson? Steve Mnuchin? Betsy DeVos? JEFF SESSIONS????

So with all due respect, I think the President-Elect has already indicated the tone his administration is going to take, at least out of the gate. So I don't think I need to wait and see. 

The second comment was far more upsetting and this had to do with the upcoming planned armed Neo-Nazi march in Whitefish, Montana, against the Jews in that town. Armed march, mind you, because that's how hate groups roll. The blog comment was "I just saw what you were talking about at Whitefish. A bunch of idiots, who were not supported by those in charge. I don't see this any different that 'black lives matter' groups that condemn white people."

I agree that the President-Elect has no connection with or endorsement of the Whitefish march. But I am stunned that a man who is on Twitter relentlessly, a man about to become President of this country, who can chastise a Broadway cast or a SNL skit at the drop of a hat, cannot bring himself to tweet a criticism, even a mild one, about Whitefish. Or one about the Klan marches in North Carolina on December 3. Or about the Hitler salutes thrown at the alt-right conference in D.C. 

Hoping I was wrong, I spent time on Google hoping for a tweeted comment or criticism from the President-Elect. Nothing.

I find that silence, especially in light of the man's volubility, disingenuous.

But what struck mw to the core was the casual comparison of Neo-Nazis and the Black Lives Matter movement. The latter is a movement arising out of deliberate and unlawful killings of citizens, primarily black men and usually unarmed, by law enforcement. Period. It is not a "let's kill the white people" or even a "let's kill the police" movement, despite what FOX News reports. (Talk about "most of what gets reported in not correct.") Black Lives Matter is about calling attention to the very real threat that millions of Americans live with daily because of their skin color. The Whitefish march is about threatening and intimidating a population because of its religion. I cannot begin to connect those dots.

In my gut, I feel my personal security and civil liberties are threatened by the upcoming administration. So are the safety and civil liberties of my sons (Hispanic and Jewish), my daughter-in-law (Native American), and my granddaughter (Native American, Hispanic, and Jewish). And so are the civil liberties of million of American citizens because of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual identification, disability, and gender. Regardless of what the President-Elect may believe, he has surrounded himself with staff and cabinet choices who are against me and others of us in this nation. Think of Steve Bannon, chief strategist for the President-Elect, and tell me I am wrong.

Three final comments and then I will step off my soapbox.

First, contrary to others in my circle of friends, I do know people who voted for the incoming administration. One of my very closest friends, Katrina, campaigned for the President-Elect. We may have to tiptoe around political discussions for a long time. Yet I am confident that our friendship will last because I believe that should my worst fears be realized, she would not turn her head and pretend she did not see. Katrina would have her Colonel Welch moment.

Second, Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote The Wave of the Future (subtitled A Confession of Faith) in 1940, a little book which was seen at the time and forever after as an apology for and a plea for accepting the evils of Nazism and fascism as necessary to better the world. (Among the many critics of her work was E. B. White, in his December 1940 essay "The Wave of the Future," in which he neatly dissects her disturbing position.) AML followers like me now know that Anne was heavily influenced and pushed to write this by her husband, Charles, who was anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi and may not have had any choice to do otherwise. That's not the point. That book cost Anne her reputation for decades. I own a copy of the book and have read it, but I cannot bring myself to read it in 2017.

Third, I am not allowing comments on this particular post. It is a soapbox of one. In my personal life presently, there is too much going with friends and family to respond to "yes, but you didn't consider this" comments. This is not an equal time open forum today.

I wish I were braver. I wish I were louder. And I fervently hope that, when tested, I speak up and say "this is wrong."