Monday, April 19, 2021

This Year's Newbery

Ever since 2011, when I read all of the Newbery Award winners to date (even the really awful ones), I have made a point of reading each year's winner. I just read the 2021 Newbery Award book: When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller.

I finished it yesterday morning, sitting in the parking lot of the nearby Home Depot while Warren went inside. I started crying soon after the start of the 39th chapter (I had teared up a few times just minutes before that) and my tears did not stop until I finished every last word.

Tears all the way to the end. I'm glad we were parked on the far side near the big doors where contractors load so that no one would see me sitting there crying. Not because I am ashamed to cry but because I didn't want anyone knocking on the window to ask me if I was okay. 

Why did I cry? Because Tae Keller writes beautifully. Because she captures lyrically and authentically the emotions of loss, of love, of change. Because it is about a young girl trying to save her beloved grandmother, who is dying of a brain tumor, and finally realizing that she can't save her from physically dying (the granddaughter's magical wish) but that the stories and secrets she unlocks can provide relief to her  grandmother by letting her know how much she meant to them all. (And yes, I cried because I saw myself and my Ramona in those roles and this book reminded me of how hard it is to leave so much love behind and how I have to continue to keep my hands open to death.)

Back in 2011, I declared the book When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead to be the best of the best when it came to Newbery books. It won those honors in 2010. It too is a stunning beautiful book and I was in tears reading part of it. I still love it. (There are a lot of Newbery books I love.)

But When You Trap a Tiger? Oh, Tae Keller, well done. Stunningly well done. 

Thank you. 

Monday, March 29, 2021

Our Daily Bread


Our schools in the area are all on Spring Break. Because the overwhelming bulk of my job from August through May is school attendance meetings, I am on break for most of the week as well.

My written To Do list this week ranges from mundane (clean off my desk) to major (do my dad's 2020 taxes). On the unwritten list are the small tasks—the myriad of things that anyone's day may hold—that get slotted into the leftover bits and pieces of my days, depending on my energy, what else the day holds (or held if it is evening), and how my myeloma and I are dealing with each other that day. These are things that in any day, week, or month often fall to the wayside, only to crop up again and continue to crop up until done or eradicated. 

On my unwritten list today was to make bread; I have been making most of our bread for the last several weeks. (Okay, I've been baking some of our bread for the last several weeks, with my efforts supplemented by the stunning baguettes and other loaves our next door neighbor Adam brings over. His wife Maura is responsible for a flow of baked desserts from their house to ours, with help from their young daughter Alice. Have I mentioned what GREAT neighbors we have?) [Yes, we reciprocate. My sourdough peanut butter/chocolate chip cookies are always a huge hit.] 

I thought I would duplicate the sourdough loaf I made last week in the bread machine, a behemoth Warren bought years ago. I go between using the machine and making bread by hand, depending on my energy levels and my myeloma burden. I tweaked the recipe some, remembering that the first time I had had to add additional liquid, which I did. 

Two hours into the process, Warren and I in our respective upstairs offices said, almost simultaneously, "I smell smoke." I elaborated, "I smell burning bread." We rushed downstairs to find a kitchen full of smoke, a bread machine that belched smoke the moment I lifted the dome, and...yeah. 

In thinking over the tweak, I just now realized I doubled the extra water. Oops.

I carried the still smoking machine outside, where it still is an hour later. Warren went around opening windows. And then I started another batch of bread the old-fashioned way. It is rising (or should be) as I type. I'll check on it shortly. At some point I will start to tackle cleaning the bread machine.

All that has gone through my head is the old Smith Barney ad with John Houseman. Remember that one? "They make money the old-fashioned way. They earn it." Only in my case, he is sneering at my efforts: "April, you need to make bread the old-fashioned way. Not burn it."

Thanks, John.

Closeup of the overflow and burn pattern. Sigh.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Long Time Passing

 I knew it had been a long time since I had posted, but I didn't realize it had been that long.

Lots to say, lots to share, but not yet. Not because I am being coy, but because the tsunami of school attendance mediations has not yet finished. The run-up has been extensive due to the devastation the pandemic has wrought on our families. The five of us who make up the Juvenile Court school team are exhausted; after today we are in the 4th quarter for the 2020-2021 year. 

Yes, we are counting weeks (10). And days (48).

I hope to be writing more regularly come later spring. About money, about retirement, about my family out west (no, even with the vaccinations, we cannot travel safely because of my overarching cancer status), about baking, about...everything.

For now, here are some loaves I made last night. The recipe still needs tweaked; it came from King Arthur Flour and you can find it here.

Catch you all later.

Last night's baking

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Jumpstarted by Two Youths

This is not a post about Millennials or Generation Z. When I wrote "Youths" in the title,  I was referring to individuals under the age of 15, and I'm only hedging on that because I can't remember how old Liam is, although he is still in middle school, so I know I am more than safe with that age range. The other young person is Ramona, who is not yet eight and a half years old.

So, jumpstarted by youths. I could say "inspired," but "jumpstarted" is more accurate. I just had my car battery replaced, and Warren had to jumpstart me on two different occasions just before that, so that sound of turning the ignition key and hearing the power surge on is spot on. 

Ramona first. Ramona my oldest grandchild, Ramona the amazing. After months of irregular video chats,  complicated by busy schedules, online schooling, activities, family matters, and time zone differences, to name a few factors, she and I now chat online on Wednesday afternoons (my time) as Wednesday is the weekday her online school classes are the shortest. As has always been the case with Ramona, she hits the conversational ground running and we never know where that talk will lead. It is a blast.

During our most recent talk, we started off talking books. Ramona reads a lot of fantasy, especially if it features dragons. She is enthralled with the Wings of Fire series and sometimes we explore tangential threads to that series, including dragonflies of the genus Pantala, also known as rainpool gliders, which Ramona immediately connected to the Rainwings in the series and drew comparisons between the characteristics of the dragonfly (I read them aloud) and the dragons.

She then segued to a "chapter book" she is writing. She wanted to read some of it to me, but it is packed away in preparation for her family moving (today, in fact). However, she recited (or pulled up on her iPad) a list of the characters and ran through them quickly. I then shared with her that I was writing a novel, but I had not worked on it in months (well, years).

Ramona bounced straight up. "What? You're writing one? What is it about?" I  told her it was a novel about her completing a quest with the help of Aunties Jenna and her little brother. She beamed when I said it was about her. "Read some of it to me," she demanded. 

Well, what could I do with a command request like that? I got my manuscript (which is always, always setting out) and told her I would read her the prologue, after asking her if she knew what a prologue was. Polite eye roll. Yes, she was very familiar with prologues (and correctly explained it to me) as well as epilogues (the same), adding, patiently, "I know all the logues."

So I read it to her. 

There was a split second of silence, then an outburst. "That's good! Read more."

I read a little more, with Ramona asking questions, then told her I haven't finished it and haven't been working on it. 

Ramona cut me no slack.

"You need to finish it."

After we finished talking, I told Warren about reading some of the novel (which he has not read) to Ramona and her response. Then I added, "I want to go back to it and see it through. I thought it was just a discarded idea, but now I feel ready to tackle it again." 

Ramona jumpstarted me. 

The second jumpstart was with Liam, the middle-school aged son of my friend Cecelia. I have known Liam since before he went to kindergarten. Recently, Liam got both a Facebook page and a new camera, and has been posting photos on his page. 

Liam has a good eye. Several of the adults in his Facebook world have said that to him, including me. It's one of those intangible "I know it when I see it" qualities; Liam has it.

I have written before about my love of photography. When I was Liam's age, I started thinking about whether I could be a photographer; National Geographic was my goal. I set that career path aside long ago, but I still love photography and cameras and seeing what others are doing in the field. I have a great camera; I mean to use it more, but, like the writing (all writing, not just the novel), it gets set aside too easily.

Yesterday Liam posted some of his latest work. It was really, really good. I had my same reaction: Liam has a good eye. (And you bet I told him that on Facebook.) I had a second reaction, which I did not post but came naturally: I miss photography.

Which is why when I saw the morning sun lighting up the kitchen, particularly the pot of beans on the stove, I took this photo, then posted it on Facebook with the comment, "Liam, you are totally responsible for this shot."

Just because

Because he was. Like Ramona, his enthusiasm for photography jumpstarted my too often dormant love of it. Because of that surge of energy, I saw the plain pot and the sun and the day entirely different.

Jumpstarted by the young ones. What a gift.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Food Spending in December

Well, was that a year or what?

And I'm just talking about groceries.

Way back in the old, pre-pandemic days, I set a goal of our spending $180.00 a month in 2020 on groceries, including household items such as detergent and toilet paper.

That seemed reasonable. More than reasonable. That was a little higher than the $175.00/month we'd been overshooting, and not that far off of what we averaged in 2019.

Easy peasy. 

Well, okay, we overshot that amount the second month in, but I was pretty sure we could rein our spending in and go through the year hovering around $180.00.

Excuse me while I roll on the floor laughing.

I just finished tallying our December grocery purchases. Food? $278.39. Household? $7.99. Grand total? $286.38.

I can explain some of the December spike. Meijer (a Midwest grocery chain) had a great pre-holiday sale on smoked, spiral-sliced hams. We bought two, making one for Christmas and freezing one for later. That was about $20.00 right there. Towards the end of the month, Kroger had fresh salmon on sale. That was another $40.00. (Yes, we have a lot of meat right now in our freezer!) I bake a lot of almond biscotti in December, and this year baked other cookies as well for the musicians performing in the remote  holiday concert. Baking supplies on one outing ran over $26.00. And that doesn't count the almost $14.00 spent (again at Kroger) after the holidays when we discovered that Kroger had discounted much of the extra supplies it brought it for holiday baking: coconut, semi-sweet chocolate chips, semi-sweet Baker's chocolate. 

So, yeah, it added up. And, to be fair, we have a lot of items that will carry us through January.  (Heck, on the meat front, since we only eat meat a few times a week, we can probably go until June or later.)

Monthly average for 2020 when all was said and done? $237.12, or about $58.00 a month over what I had originally thought was reasonable. But that original figure did not take into account the pandemic. Food costs did rise around here. Meat rose, at times sharply. I'm glad we don't eat a lot of it. At different times of the year, eggs, milk, and some produce all rose. So maybe our final result was par for the course compared with other friends.

I will note there was one (one!) eating out expense in December, 2020. I had infusion later in the day than normal in December. My infusion day, not counting travel, runs about five and a half hours from the moment I check in; travel adds another hour plus to the day. So coming home late in the afternoon, tired, worn out, and hungry. (I don't eat at infusion; since the Covid restrictions went into effect, it is more challenging for me to deal with eating and drinking.) There is a KFC right at the highway interchange just as we turn onto the last stretch of highway to Delaware. I'd already told Warren: turn in there. It was a superb way to spend $11.35.

I'm still mulling over what approach to take in 2021. Set a new goal? Just go with the flow? Something else?  I think it is very important coming into this year to watch the grocery figure as I will explain in a post I hope to have by next week. 

But this is enough for now. The 2020 spending on food is in the books. Let's see what 2021 brings.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Last Comment on 2020

 Oh, I have posts to come: December food expenses, looking back at 2020, looking ahead to 2021, but I couldn't let 2020 slide away without one last photo for a most mixed up, godawful, WTF year ever.

If when I am out walking and see a coin on the ground, I pick it up. This year, I picked up a total of 61¢, all but 7¢ of which was picked up BEFORE mid-March. There are several reasons for that date, the top one being that change disappeared from stores and people stopped carrying coins around. However, in the last three weeks, I found two pennies and one nickel.

The nickel sums up 2020 better than any quote or any meme. Is this how we all feel about 2020 or what? 

Here's to 2021, everyone. May it treat us all more kindly than 2020. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

A Further Note on Hanukkah, Light, and Love

My husband Warren read my last post and commented (on the actual post, not just to me) that he was there for Hanukkah as well as "an observer and a supporter." 

I cannot say enough about Warren and his acceptance of my Judaism.

I have written about my faith before, including taking a long, hard look at it back in 2011, but Warren's comment caused me to think back about the support that I have had or not had over the years since converting to Judaism many decades ago. 

I was introduced to Judaism through the children's series All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor. I had discovered these books while I was reading my way through my childhood in our local library. In the Lutheran church in which I was raised, Judaism was a religion that should have died out with the onset of Christianity. The realization to me when I was 8 or 9 that there were people out there— girls out there—who were Jewish was staggering. That began what was more or less a 15 year journey that ended in my converting formally as a young adult.

At the time of my conversion, I was married into a "culturally Jewish" (well, kinda sorta) family. My father-in-law was agnostic; my mother-in-law was an atheist, but they identified as Jews (to a limited extent) and observed some of the hallmark holidays (to a very limited extent). My then husband, David, was much the same: fiercely atheistic, but more than willing to play the Jewish card when it benefitted him. My in-laws were pleased when I converted, although my mother-in-law (who was and still is a force of nature when it came to respecting the beliefs of others) made it clear she thought all the "God stuff" was foolish and hoped I would soon abandon the religious side of Judaism. 

David, on the other hand, was very opposed to my conversion once it became clear I was going through with it. So opposed, in fact, that he cornered the rabbi before the ceremony and tried to argue that the conversion could not go through without his approval. I still remember Rabbi Stampher politely but firmly informing David that he could either sit down and be quiet or he could leave, but either way the rabbi was moving ahead with the conversion and was not wasting energy on pointless arguments.

I was a believing Jew in a sea of non-believers. Judaism, though, is like that, running the gamut in faith and observance, so while my situation wasn't ideal, it was nonetheless manageable.

My second husband was a lapsed Catholic, albeit one with 12 years of parochial school under his belt. In the early years, he claimed to be very supportive of my beliefs. We attended a few seders together, I lit menorahs every Hanukkah. I took Ben as a very young child to the Reform synagogue in Stockton for some of the holidays. 

That didn't last. For reasons mired deep in mental health issues, my then husband became opposed to my observing any Jewish holidays, let alone exposing our children to Judaism in practice or belief. I ended up raising my children without Judaism even as a belief system (apart from the observances), a loss I regret yet. 

Fast forward to now, or near now. (Scrooge to The Ghost of Christmas Past: "The long past?" "No, your past.") Very early on, Warren and I talked about faith. He was raised in the Christian Science faith, which is a very minority church in mainstream Christianity. While he never joined the church, he nonetheless absorbed many of its tenets. He understood the reality of belonging to a minority religion, especially in this community. More important, Warren made it clear he would support my beliefs however and wherever he could.

So that brings us to now. Every Hanukkah when I light the candles, Warren is present (the exception in pre-pandemic years being when he was not home because of a rehearsal). He listens to me chant the Hebrew, watches me touch the shamash (leader) to the night's candles, even corrects me when I make a lighting error, to our mutual amusement. (My favorite menorah, the Konarski-Anderson menorah, has a shamash but it is not removable to light the other ones with; I touch an extra candle to it and proceed to light the others with the extra. Sometimes I forget the order.) 

I have written about this holiday and the importance of the light. Rabbi Lawrence Kushner said it best: "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."

Yes, I remember the divine presence. And I very much look at my dear Warren, sitting on the couch watching me light the menorah, to know what a light he is in my life.