Friday, December 4, 2020

This Week

 This entry will be short.

It has been a long, hard week. My mother—our mother, counting my two brothers—died Sunday after a long, weary, draining (on her, on my father, on all of us) struggle with dementia. 

Add to that a workload, both at Court and in the volunteer arena, that has skyrocketed courtesy of the pandemic. The stories I am hearing range from matter-of-fact to heartbreaking and are only going to get worse as the pandemic and its economic fallout deepen. My two coworkers in the mediation department are also swamped, which is why I held mediation for two and a half hours the morning of my mother's afternoon graveside service. 

I am exhausted. Today in trying to schedule a mediation while on a Zoom meeting with colleagues at Court and at our high school, I stopped and said, "What day is this? What day are we looking at?" One of the participants kindly said, "It's Friday the 4th, April." Thank you.

One small note and then I will close. While working today, I heard a knock at the front door. When I went to look outside, a delivery person was holding a flower arrangement in her hands. "April Nelson?" Yes. She set the container down on the porch and left.

The arrangement was a vase of yellow roses, my mother's favorite flower. My dad had a spray of them on her casket at the service. I knew it had to come from someone who knew my mom well. I was right; it was from a lifelong friend, Mary Lou, whose daughter Cindy has been my friend my entire life.

And that is a wonderful note to end this long week on. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Observations About October Money

As I predicted in my post about our September food spending, October's expenditures were indeed higher. We ended up spending $226.83 on food last month, with an additional $12.83 spent in household items. That brought our October total to $239.66 and our year-to-date average to $221.35.

There were some food purchases in October that were worth the extra pennies. We bought bacon—regionally raised and locally cured by a farm family now in its 4th generation of small scale, high quality pork production—and at $9.99/pound, it was worth every tasty, savory, hickory-smoked bite. That was a little over $21.00 of our food purchases there. And there was another $24.00 at a local orchard: culled apples to peel and freeze for apple pies and locally pressed apple cider that was the best apple cider I have had in decades. It was a luxury at almost double the going cost of commercial cider and one that we savored over three weeks, stretching out that deliciousness for as long as we could.

The cost of local food is one of those knotty issues that, gratefully, we are privileged enough to be able to sidestep. The locally grown food is far superior to what I can buy in a grocery. The dollars go directly to the grower—the orchardists in the one case, the pork producers in the other—so the money stays in the community. But if we were hurting financially with a severely limited income or job losses, the bacon and the cider and apples would be far beyond our reach. If we were not in dire straits but still on a tighter budget, I would have to choose between supporting our local agricultural community or being able to buy cheaper food. 

On the home front, our garden is done for 2020. A hard frost a few days caught the remaining cherry tomatoes, which were not ripening very much outside and would not ripen inside. The Bibb lettuce that flowered earlier in the summer reseeded itself and came up, providing us with some October/early November salads, but it was soured a little by the frost and is showing signs of wear and tear. I still had four cherry tomatoes, not very flavorful, and after putting them on a salad earlier this week, I bid goodbye to tomatoes until next June. 

Another knock to my conscience was seeing a recent reference to the USDA's monthly food reports. Call me a nerd, but I am fascinated what the official word is about food costs. The USDA presents four plans: thrifty, low-cost, moderate-cost, and liberal. The fine print at the bottom of each report spells out the foundations for the reports, including that "all meals and snacks are prepared at home." Other than exceptions for living in Hawaii and Alaska, where food costs bear little resemblance to the other 48 states, there are no other differentiations, such as dietary restrictions. 

Under the September 2020 report, the most current one, the thrifty monthly plan for two adults ages 51-70 is $381.90. Right now Warren and I are cruising well under that level. I'm okay with that.

I will share that for the first time in MONTHS, we had not one but two (TWO!) eating out (well, carry-out) experiences. The first was when we bought the bacon at Mom Wilson's, the local source of the best bacon ever. They also sell pulled pork sandwiches and we bought one to take home, splurging on the $8.00 "combo," which netted us chips and a huge dill pickle. Splitting it, we celebrated our 12th anniversary earlier this month. The second came when driving home after my infusion last week. Infusion days start with breakfast at about 5:30 a.m. and end with my getting back home and eating lunch around 1:30 p.m. When Warren picked me up to head home, he mentioned that the power was out when he left. All I could think of was I was tired, I was groggy from my meds, and I wanted food. Warm food. Tasty food. $15.12 later, we pulled out of White Castle with a bag of sliders, onion chips, and milkshakes. Money well spent on a long, hard day.

Eating the White Castle food brought back an old memory of the Minority Law Students Association (MLSA) at the law school I attended 40 years ago. The MLSA was holding a potluck gathering to kick off the year and I was there with my then husband, who belonged to the MLSA. Students were encouraged to bring a favorite ethnic dish from their family. We brought a Cuban dish. Some of the Filipino students brought rice dishes. An African-American student from Chicago walked in with a grocery sack and commandeered the stove and a frying pan. Chopped onions and little square hamburger patties went into the pan, while he set out small buns and a jar of dill pickle slices on the counter. By the time he placed the buns on top of the patties and put a lid on the pan to steam them, everyone had gathered around trying to guess his contribution. "White Castle!," I shouted and the student whirled around with a grin on his face. He pointed he spatula at me and said, one Midwesterner to another, "The best, right?"

Yes, they were. And sometimes still are.

On to November.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

What Another Morning Brought

 It was quiet and moist and foggy this morning. I walked out to dump the kitchen scraps on our neighbor's compost and a shimmer in the pine trees caught my eye.

Another morning of small moments: the most fragile of constructions, the sturdiest of homes.

Friday, October 16, 2020

What One Morning Brought

 Earlier this week, I cut off a soft portion of a late tomato. It has broken open—the tiniest of breaks—and was weeping gently, so I sliced it off and tossed it into the small compost bowl I keep on the counter. The bowl has a lid, and I snapped it into place.

In the morning, a surprise greeted me:

Within the warmth of the lidded compost bowl, the weeping tomato turned into something else.

I was entranced. I was fascinated with its beauty and delicacy. I grabbed my camera and started snapping. 

I know. It's just mold. I get that. But in the early morning light, it was a wisp of a unicorn's forelock, a bit of fairy hair, a thing of beauty.

And that makes it a joy forever.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Observations about September Money

I see that in writing about my August food expenditures, I did not even make predictions about September. 

As it turns out, September food dollars came in under the $180.00/month I set so optimistically back in the start of this year. How much under? A lot. Total dollars spent were $151.38, all on food. I think this is the first month ever we have not made any expenditures for common household items. 

Year-to-date average? $219.32. I've done the math. There is no way we will average $180.00 a month for the year with only three months remaining. As I have observed before, the pandemic threw monkey wrenches in our grocery buying that I could not have predicted. 

I will add that we had an eating out expenditure in September, the first in months! Two scoops of Graeter's ice cream (a regional ice cream chain). I had lemon sorbet; I don't remember what Warren ordered. Why ice cream out of the blue? Because I needed dry ice to ship blood (don't even ask and no, I did not ship blood after all was said and done) and every Graeter's sells dry ice for $1.75 a pound. Since we had to be there to buy the dry ice, why not treat ourselves as well? 

That lemon sorbet was absolutely delicious.

The garden continues to putter along. I predicted last month that we would likely have zucchini until the first hard frost. Nope. Most of the plants started dying of old age in mid-September and I yanked all but one out. That one had a few potential zucchini at the time. I picked one (and gave it to an out of town friend) and left the other, which never developed into anything more than a twisted and skimpy squash, so I let it go. We have about 35 quarts of sliced zucchini in the freezer, and several packets of grated for baking, so with all we ate or baked fresh or gave away, I can't complain about the zucchini being done for the year. I am still picking tomatoes, albeit at a very slow rate. They are reluctant to ripen in the waning sun, preferring instead to go soft. 

The last zucchini

I am also restocked in both cinnamon and canned pumpkin, whatever that shortage was about. 

Even though we are early in October, I see that the food dollars will likely be higher. We did a major restocking at Aldi a few days ago, and with the limited other purchases we have already made, we are closing in fast on the September figure, let alone the $180.00 goal. 

Let's see what the month brings. 

Friday, September 18, 2020

Awaiting the New Year

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, comes at sunset tonight. Rosh Hashanah marks the start of the High Holy Days, eleven days of self-reflection and self-assessment. I noted on Facebook that I was glad for it starting, then added I very much needed it. 

The last two weeks have been raggedy on almost all fronts. Not bad, but raggedy. As I look back at what I have done in the last year and how I can better serve in the year to come, I feel the tattered edges of this week and last pressing down on the months yet to come.

Some mending needs to be done, starting with myself.

I love that we start our New Year in the fall, my favorite season. Outside, the days are starting to mellow. The skies are turning deep October blue. Out in Vancouver, Washington, where my son Ben and his family live, he noted they had rain today and the clearest skies they have had since the conflagrations began. 

The garden is starting to slow down. In a few more weeks, I will be bringing it down for the year. But not yet, for the bees are still working intently, bringing in their own harvest to get through the winter ahead.

One of the last things I did today before turning to this post, after which I will shut down my computer for the next few days, was call a client of our Legal Clinic. She has a complex issue beyond the scope of our volunteers, and I am trying to match her up with another resource. I called to let her know I am still working on the match and that we had not forgotten her. She thanked me for the update. I had waffled whether to make the call at all; it is late on Friday, I'm tired, it could wait. But she needed to hear from us. I updated my Clinic cohort, Mel, on what I had done, adding that call was a good deed and it is good to wrap up the end of the year with a mitzvah.

I'll see you on the other side. 

Monday, September 7, 2020



"Every replete tree was first a seed that waited." Hope Jahren, Lab Girl 

I love Lab Girl and have read it twice. But this post is not about that book or about Hope Jahren and why I find her an intriguing writer and scientist.

Rather, this post is about waiting.

I had long known that you could get an avocado seed to sprout if you removed the seed coat, poked toothpicks into it, and then suspended the seed over a glass of water, with the lower part of the seed submerged. Even in my college days, when this was popular, the only time I remember seeing that experiment up close was at the house of my first mother-in-law,  who sporadically would try to coax an avocado seed into sprouting. Muriel was not the most patient person in the world and only wished he had a green thumb, so it was not unusual to walk into the kitchen, noticing the avocado seed/tumbler was missing from the sill of the kitchen window, inquire, and be told that she had "pitched the damn thing."

I have never once been tempted to try the toothpick/glass method.

But on the strength of absorbing some of Jahren's philosophy about being and waiting, I looked at an avocado seed differently this summer. Why wouldn't it sprout if it were put in soil and watered? Wasn't that what seeds are programmed to do? (I would help it along by removing the seed coat; unlike chicks, who have to peck their way out of the eggs, seeds are not weakened by being helped.) 

What if I just waited?

My first attempt ended when I got impatient four or five weeks into the experiment and tried to rock the seed a bit in the soil. Crack. I realized I had most likely broken a tap root and on further inspection, it turns out I had.

Lesson #1: Don't be impatient.

My second attempt was cut short when an overreaching chipmunk or squirrel leapt onto the small table on the deck on which the seed in its pot had sat for two or three weeks. I came out one morning to find the pot overturned, the dirt scattered, and the seed on the deck floor, looking gnawed.

Lesson #2: Animals are part of that randomness of whether a seed becomes a tree.

A month ago, I tried one more time, again removing the seed coat, but this time finding a space inside on the overcrowded plant table. Other than watering the seed from time and time, I left it alone.

I waited.

And the seed, true to its internal program, responded. 

Lesson #3: Wait. Wait. Wait.

I realized this weekend that the avocado seed had indeed sprouted. It has sent up a tall stalk with delicate small leaves (or presumably they will be when they unfurl). 

"Each beginning is the end of a waiting," writes Hope Jahren.

And here we are: beginning.