Monday, August 3, 2020

Observations about July Money: Maybe We're Getting the Hang of It

So after speculating about our shopping patterns in May and June, and reading comments about pandemic shopping on this blog and elsewhere about what other bloggers were noticing in their own households, I am relieved to report that our July grocery expenditures were $156.61 for food and $19.23 for household items (including name brand parchment paper because no stores have anything but that these days).

The grand total was $175.84, which is the first time since April we have come in under the monthly goal of $180.00. 

Since April. 

We seemed to have finally fallen into a pattern of stocking up the basics as they run low, and filling in here and there when something unexpectedly comes up short. We were doing that before (or so I thought), but it seems there were such gaps in the basics that stocking up to a level we felt comfortable with, even a modest one, took more dollars than we had realized. 

It doesn't hurt that the garden is running full steam these days.  

And maybe there's not a lot more to say on this topic for our July grocery expenses. As the pandemic continues to surround us and we continue to shelter at home, I am grateful for the privilege of having food to eat and a roof to provide that shelter. To borrow from Matchless by Gregory Maguire, "they had the warmth of one another, and enough on which to live, and in most parts of the world, that is called plenty." 

Monday, July 27, 2020

Some Updates

July is winding its way down and I thought it would be a good time to update some previous posts.

Volume #5 of my commonplace books

That commonplace book I started two weeks ago? The first quote went in on July 16. Francesca Wade, author of the book Square Haunting: Five Writers in London Between the Wars, had this beautiful observation about cities, although her comment could apply to many communities:
Cities are coimposed of roads and buildings, but also of myths and memories: stories which bring the brick and asphalt to lifeand bind the present to the past.
The book was superb, incidentally.

Sourdough doughnuts

I continue to live in a sourdough world, as I first noted in April. Every weekend I feed the starter; every weekend I come up with a different use for the discard. This weekend I made sourdough doughnuts, a repeat from an earlier weekend. I'm still working on the glaze (I want something that hardens better) and I bought a new cooking thermometer because I doubt the veracity of the one I have been using, but they are pretty tasty all the same. 

Some of them went to the family of four who are neighbors on one side, some of them went to the elderly neigbor on the other side, and we ate the rest. Pete (the elderly neighbor) texted to say they were very good; Alice (who is almost 5) came springing across the lawn to say (from a safe distance): "Thank you for the doughnuts, April. They are DELICIOUS!" 

Alice expressing her doughnut delight

On the garden front, after a slow cautious start and then my announcing the first tomato and first zucchini, we have sailed past (way past) keeping track of the harvest. I am slicing and freezing, baking and eating, and will be making tomato sauce in a crock-pot (and then freezing it) for the first time ever. 

Some of the tomatoes. Some. 

And some of the zucchini. Some.

We harvested the cabbage, which went from tiny starts to behemoths. One we know tipped the scales at 5 pounds, 10 ounces, because our neighbors (Alice's parents) weighed the one we gave them. Another huge one went to Warren's daughter, Elizabeth, for ham and cabbage soup, and we kept the two "smaller" ones.

Three of the four. Note the tomatoes photobombing the shot.

We continue to shelter in place, with both of us still working from home. It suits us both well most of the days. Warren and I have had workday lunches together more in the last 4+ mounths than the last twelve years...and for the last nine of those years we have worked within two blocks of each other's offices! 

Stay tuned. August is closing in fast. 

Monday, July 13, 2020

One Finished, One Starting Soon

Somewhere back in the annals of this blog, I wrote about the fact that I collect quotes. I'm not scrolling back to find it (and my labels do not include the word "quotes") but I probably wrote about my love of writing down (or photocopying and taping in) quotes and excerpts that moved me at the time and important to keep over the years.

"Years" is an understatement. My current collection dates somewhere from the late 1980s, looking at what it contains. I did not start dating the collection until somewhere in the middle or end of the second volume, when I realized that an occasional chronological reference was useful. Even if I  take 1990 as the start point, I'm holding 30 years of quotes.

I had an earlier quote collection, one I started in the 1970s. It is long gone but I remember (vaguely) one quote in it was the beautiful observation by Christopher Milne (yes, that Christopher) about the original Pooh and friends being donated to the New York Public Library and having to explain that he had no attachment to those stuffed animals. The quote was something along the lines about he did not want them to be reminded "here was fame" and certainly didn't need them to be reminded that "there was love." 

My first book starts with this observation by Sarah Orne Jewett, a late 19th century Americn novelist, from her novel In The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896): "More than this one cannot give to a young state for its enlightment; the sea captains and the captains' wives of maine knew something of the world, and never mistook their native parishes for the whole instead of a part thereof..."

The book I finished filling last night ends with this quote from Love, Roddy Doyle's newest novel (and the first one I have ever read): 

—This place hasn't changed, he said.
He pointed at a line of old photographs.
—The dead writers are still dead, he said.

How could I not include that quote? 

Book 5 is waiting. I can hardly wait to see what it will hold. 

Saturday, July 11, 2020


It's that time of year.


The first zucchini. 

The first tomato.

In the coming weeks, the numbers will grow (I'm already up to eight zucchini harvested in one week) but for now, I am savoring the firsts.

This was just a blossom a few posts ago

A Super Sweet cherry tomato was the first one

Friday, July 3, 2020

Observations about June Money and Pandemic Groceries in General

Back in early June, looking at our May groceries expenditures, I made the optimistic observations that our June expenditures would "drop off precipitously." 

Pardon me while I roll on the floor in a fit of uncontrollable laughter. 

Okay, let me add this clarification: our June expenditures would have come in below the $180.00 monthly target (at $169.18) had we not done a stock-up shopping through Aldi on June 25. Cost of that (all food, no household items)? $115.37. Total June expenditures? $284.55, of which $25.00 represented household items and the rest food. 

Year-to-date monthly average? $232.17.


So what was that end-of-the-month Aldi purchase all about? It was about the latest pandemic numbers nationwide and in Ohio, and our realization that we probably need to hunker back down in our household with as little going to stores, even including getting groceries delivered, as possible. Warren and I did a survey of our freezer, cabinets, and pantry, made a "stocking up again" shopping list, and, $115.37 later, considered ourselves stocked. (Well, except for the July 1 complete-stocking-up at Kroger. So now we consider ourselves stocked.)  

Musing on pandemic grocery shopping, that may be the way this year goes. I wrote as much in May, but was more optimistic in predicting the pattern would be alternating lean month, heavy spending month. Instead, looking at my year-to-date figures, the pattern seems to be two heavy spending months, followed by a lean month. 

I want to make a prediction for July, but my crystal ball, faulty at its best, has indeed gone dark. It should be a lean month per my last paragraph, but at only three days into it, who knows? 

On the bright side, the Hej garden has taken off with a flourish and there are blossoms on the zucchini as I discovered when we went to water it this morning. No ripe tomatoes yet, but we're getting close. All the lettuce in the planters has bolted and withered as the summer heat comes on, but the Bibb lettuce is still going strong, and we are eating fresh salads daily while that fortune lasts. 

Onward through July. 

The Hej garden two weeks 

The Hej garden this morning 

Zucchini blossom

Still green

The Bibb lettuce bed 

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

A Farewell

So here it is June 30, and one half of 2020 is over in another nine hours as I start to type this.

And where are we? Heck, forget "we." Where am I?

I have now been home since March 12, or 110 days. 110 days. I have been working throughout that entire time, so there has been no financial disruption, but 110 days since I last set foot in my office is mind-boggling. In some ways, this reminds me of 15 years ago, when I was preparing for and then undergoing tandem stem cell transplants; I spent a lot of time at home and not in my office (which I would give up later that summer). A difference is that in 2005, what I went through was  personal, and in 2020 we are all going through a deadly pandemic.

Another difference is that in 2005,  I was the one who chose to step away and close my law practice. I chose. I was in control. I have no illusions as to control in this pandemic. There is none. I don't know when I will be allowed to return to my office, even if I were to go in after hours, wearing a mask, not touching anything except the door handles. (Looking at the failure in this country to control COVID-19, I sometimes wonder if instead of "when," I should be writing "if.")

And down the hallway at Symphony Annex North? Warren and his colleagues around the world are watching orchestra after orchestra postpone or scrap their seasons. Each daily briefing from the League of American Orchestras brings another wave of announcements. Major orchestras are furloughing their salaried musicians, furloughing their staff, reexamining how to proceed safely and sensibly in this new world. Warren, his Music Director, and other partners are discussing daily the possible trajectories for our upcoming season. 

In the midst of all this upheaval, I learned that about 20 months ago, Jerry Luedders died. 

Now, if I am just learning that Jerry died, clearly this is not someone I was in close touch with over the years. He and I last communicated by email maybe five, maybe ten years ago after I had stumbled across some reference that made me suddenly think "so where is Jerry these days?" and track him down. We had a friendly "glad to touch base" exchange and that was it. 

I learned he died in a similar fashion. While editing grant material for Warren, the material referenced a saxophone instructor and I suddenly thought of Jerry and went looking for him online. 

And that's when and how I found Jerry had died.

Jerry was the incoming Director of the School of Music at Lewis and Clark College in the fall of 1977, when I was there for the last three quarters of my undergraduate degree. We met because he was directing the Wind Ensemble (band) that fall while the director was on leave, and I joined the ensemble for one quarter because I realized that this would be my last chance ever to play tuba. As it turns out, I was the only tubaist on campus, so he was glad to have me We hit it off immediately as two newcomers, as two outsiders, as two strangers who connected over those other two commonalities. He had just come from Minnesota, I had just arrived from Chicago, and we were at a small, pristine, preppy college before the word "preppy" had even come into vogue. 

Jerry was witty, and deeply knowledgeable about music, and a gifted conductor. He was also a world-class classical saxophonist (which is not an oxymoron). He was openly gay at a time when many people were still in the the closet and his off campus wear ran the gamut from "business casual" to "Let-me-remind-you-who-I-am-and-proud-of-it" leathers. He threw parties at his house high in the Portland Hills, he tooled up and down the hills of Terwilliger Boulevard in a Volvo PV 544, and it was not unheard of for me to be walking on campus and hear him shouting my name. My favorite time was when he ran up behind me yelling "April, you are such a slob!" and grabbed me in a hug. (It was one of the many days I wore a mechanic's shirt, battered jeans, and worn out shoes. Compared to Jerry and most of my fellow students, I was a slob. I would have passed easily and fit in better at Reed College across the river, but Reed had a 6-quarter graduation requirement for transferees, and I didn't want to spend another year in college.)  In the spring of that year, my last quarter, he begged me to come join the orchestra's low brass section for a performance of the overture of Die Meistersinger von N├╝rnberg

How could I say no? That turned out to be the last time I played tuba, and I am forever grateful it was with Jerry on the podium.

I have taken to walking a local labyrinth many mornings (you can read my reflections on that here) and there are days where I think of those dear to me who have died and gone before me. I often murmur a name, followed by "blessed be their memory," a variation of a common Jewish statement of mourning. 

Jerry Luedders, blessed be your memory. 

Jerry Luedders, 1943-2018

Sunday, June 21, 2020

A Look at the Gardens

Back in late April, I shared that our vegetable garden, the one I call the "kitchen garden," had been cleared and tilled by Warren, and was just waiting for planting. It looked like this then:

What I have not shared, because my posting has been, ahem, irregular at best, is that we added a second garden, the Hej (pronounced "hedge") garden. The Hej garden actually sits on our backyard neighbors' parcel. The owner before the current ones was an avid gardener, a certified Master Gardener, and she had established a thriving vegetable garden in the far back corner of the yard, just where it butts up to the little dogleg on Warren's parcel. It has been tilled but not planted for several seasons, as our current neighbors have many, many demands on their time and a garden just wasn't one of them. So I proposed that we take over the garden, they can have some of the vegetables grown on it (making me a sharecropper no matter how I look at it), and there we go. 

The Hej garden is our zucchini garden, because our kitchen garden does not have enough space for zucchini. It has been planted twice, because the first planting of 20 zucchini seeds resulted in five coming up.


You could toss a coin, call "heads," and get better results than that.

About three weeks ago, I tore out everything but those five zucchini and planted it over again, this time marking the seeds (which I doubled and tripled) with spoons:

And today, I was in the garden at 6:30 a.m., transplanting the zucchinis that came up in twos and threes to the spaces where there were still not results, marking the transplants and their former companions with the spoons upside down:

It's been a lot of work. This garden also contains  five extra tomato plants we had from my over-ordering tomatoes this year; they are along the fence on the left side of this photo. 

The kitchen garden and I likewise got off to a rocky start, but we have smoothed out our most of our differences. How rocky? Lettuce that didn't come up, parsley that didn't come up, marigolds (border) that didn't come up. You get the picture. So there was some extensive replanting in that garden as well. 

But just a day into summer, and it is looking good:

Bit by bit, it is coming along. Tomatoes are starting to form:

Indigo Rose

Early Girls

My very favorite feature is the ceramic partial border in the kitchen garden. As I continue to sort through stuff in my house, some of the stuff is headed west to my sons out there. Sam declined any of his childhood pottery attempts; Ben and Alise took a few. I couldn't just toss my children's offerings over the years, so I put them in the garden instead. 

The border

A ripply plant impression plant by Ben

A skull by Sam

I smile every time I walk by, seeing my children's art springing to life in the garden.