Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Looking Back

The 2013 book with the box of prompts

I have often chronicled my attempts to get back to and stay in the habit of writing on a daily basis. Writing writing, that is: essays, posts, poetry, that unfinished novel (well, more than one). And, in all honesty, my attempts run in fits and starts, depending on what else I am working on or involved with, what else is going on in the family, the Symphony, the community, the world, and how I feel physically. 

So many excuses, so little time, perhaps, but also so many other passions and commitments that I cannot just set aside.

Back in May of 2013, I blogged about one such attempt to write regularly using prompts. And I actually did it for a short amount of time. A very short amount of time. I don't know what happened to the box of prompts (well, I know they probably got tossed at some point). I do still have that notebook, however, and have dipped into it from time to time, including recently, trying to make sense of writing. Or life. Or both. In doing so, I have been flipping back through it and looking at the prompts I did write those many years ago.

I surely was rereading Dante's Divine Comedy at the time, or at least the first book, Inferno, because references to it and him pop up in a few of my 2013 prompt responses. I was dealing with the resurgence of the myeloma and the impact of new treatment on it. (Well, there's a familiar theme that I managed to tie into several prompts.) I wrote about walking and seeds and time. 

Time. Always time. Time is always threaded through my thoughts and my words. I certainly did not write in 2013 thinking that I would reread those words in 2022. But here I am and here are my words.

Below is a writing from that 2013 era. I allowed myself five minutes only to respond to a prompt; I have not edited it or polished it for today. The prompt was a quote by Alix Kate Shulman, "Amor fati goes the Latin proverb now tacked up over my desk: accept what is—literally, love fate."

Love fate? But fate is a wild card dealer. If this were Las Vegas, fate would be sitting in the dealer's seat, dealing the cards, no smile on her face, her hands flicking them silently and precisely to my seat.

No indication in her cold stone green stare what she has sent skimming my way.

So fate deals. Only this is the truth Tim told me years ago: You got one lousy card in your hand—myeloma. The rest look to be pretty good.

So what do I have? My kids, Alise, Ramona. David. Warren above all. A job, family, friends. Food & shelter. Laughter. Writing prompts. Being able to walk to work, to downtown, to the library.

Maybe it is not so hard to accept what fate has dealt. Or rather, what is. Love fate.

Maybe if I stepped away from the card table & opened both hands—stand outside, stand by the ocean, stand under the stars—then I love fate. I love what is.

Back to those stars, Dante's stars. I come out from my rant about loving fate and see the stars above.


My, oh my. 

Some things have changed: Alix, fna Alise, is my child-in-law. The grandchild count has gone up, the family has both expanded and contracted. I no longer work, but I still walk everywhere. 

And the sight of the stars still renders me silent and grateful.

And how it looks in 2022

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

This Year's Gardens: Part 11

The season's first zucchini, the first pepper (this one a sweet banana pepper), and tomatoes picked yesterday and this morning.

Nothing says "summer" like a basket of tomatoes. Especially for those of us who wait from October to July for that first bite.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Second Quarter Pennies Review


Back in April, I wrote about our household expenses, especially groceries, and made some projections for where prices were going. In retrospect, even though I was aware of rising food prices, I did not take into account just how much food prices were rising. Tallying our grocery purchases for the second quarter of 2022 drove that point home.

At the end of the first quarter, our monthly grocery expenditures averaged $206.03. That is both food and common household items such as toilet paper, dish soap, and so on. 

I recently totaled our expenditures for the second quarter of 2022. Our household purchases have remained low, less than $20 a month. But our food? Oh yeah, it has gone up. In two of those three months, food purchases came in just under $300.00. I can make some excuses, such as "Well, we did have a guest artist stay with us in May and then one in June, and so I bought extra," but that doesn't entirely explain the figure. It's not like I was buying lobster and champagne. (Frozen lobster tails right now are running about $43.50 a pound locally.) And there was the half gallon of skim milk that I had to buy in downtown Rochester because I forgot to buy it at Kwik Trip before going to our hotel. That lapse, sending me to an in-walking-distance small store near the Mayo Clinic, cost me $3.89. But again, those little lapses do not explain the overall rise in our groceries.

But other things do. I have been tracking a few items, one we buy frequently. A gallon of milk? $2.99 all spring, then jumped to $3.49 or thereabouts in the first week of May. Flour (5 pound bag, unbleached, all purpose white) took a 50¢ raise from April to June. (White wheat flour took an even greater leap.) Bread has gone up across all the stores by 25¢ or more. Sometimes the leaps are huge, sometimes they are small, but so far of the items I am tracking, very few have held steady. So start adding pennies, dimes, quarters, and more to your shopping list items, and the rise is there. 

So what did we spend in the second quarter of 2022? In food alone, we spent an average of $266.00 a month. ($265.99, to be exact.) With the household items added in, our monthly average groceries came to $277.75 for the second quarter, which raised our year-to-date average to $241.89.  

Yeah. $241.89.

It is not just us, of course. In a long conversation with a good friend past weekend, he commented that he budgeted $50 a month for household items such as laundry detergent, toilet paper, and the like. "And that is no longer enough!" he exclaimed. That friend is a household of one; I didn't comment on our average expenditures for such items ($11.65/month through the first half of 2022) in our household of two.

Looking ahead into the third quarter, there are some bright spots. We are halfway through July and have spent less than $60.00 on groceries. Our food waste is almost zero in this house, so we're making the most of what we have. And all those hams we bought back in April? We have been carving them up and enjoying ham sandwiches and other ham meals steadily. Our June guest enjoyed the sliced ham, as did my dad (who I sent home with ham slices both to eat and to freeze for later). Only one ham remains intact out of the six; it may make an appearance as a whole ham much later this year. And the garden is coming on; I have yet to see zucchini, but my hopes remain high. 

I am grateful that our household continues to run smoothly on the money front. From my volunteer work with our Legal Clinic, and in talking with friends and colleagues active in the food world (food banks, summer lunches, and such), I know that there are many who do not have that luxury in these times.

Monday, July 11, 2022

This Year's Gardens: Part 10

 When I last wrote about the gardens, we had just fenced in the two open sides of the Hej garden and I had some (some) hope that things would improve. The original fencing is old, with larger weave, and in my naiveté, I thought that would solve the rabbit problem.

I thought that right up to the evening of June 27, when Warren showed some guests the Hej garden and two rabbits INSIDE the garden looked at him and then bolted.

Needless to say, now the entire Hej garden is fenced in with the same small gauge chicken wire and the plants are finally, finally starting to respond. The oldest zucchini plants have beautiful blossoms on them, although I have yet to see any signs of pollination. (Prior to excluding the rabbits, the oldest plants had bitten off stubs where there should have been a blossom.) And the younger plants should be putting out blossoms soon. Two of the cabbages are starting to form and the rest are lifting up their leaves in gratitude that nothing is chewing on them. Finally. Finally. 

So where are our gardens mid-July? The Hej garden is recovering and starting to gather steam. The kitchen garden is going great guns on some fronts. The tomato plants are weighted with fruit. The peppers are playing catch up from, guess what?, rabbit attacks, but I see blossoms starting to open. As for the basil, keep reading.

Early July brought the first of the tomatoes: 

In the spirit of full disclosure, the first four tomatoes, all off the same plant, which happens to be the only one I potted, suffered from blossom end rot. (I had to look it up, folks.) I don't think the still green tomatoes on the same plant have it, and the fruits on the plants in the garden show no signs, so here's hoping. I just cut off the bad part and enjoyed the first one (above) and the three that followed.

July has also brought this: 

The basil is gorgeous this year and I made the first batch of pesto this weekend.

And, while not entirely pertinent to the vegetable discussion, Sunday morning we went to a local nursery and bought two agastache (hyssop) plants. I used to have three in the front bed, but the redbud overshadowed them. I transplanted them earlier this year, but it didn't take. So two came home with us. We will plant them in the kitchen garden by the back garage wall, where they will get lots of heat and light. 

I love these plants. Bees love these plants. So much so that they already are finding their way to them:

The bees have been back, but seeing them already on the agastache makes my heart soar. 

Friday, July 8, 2022

The Best Newberry Winner Ever



Friends who know my reading habits know that one of my quirkier reading accomplishments (feats?) is that I have read every Newbery Medal book from the first in 1921 to the present, the 102nd. I did it out of curiosity and a love of reading; my initial read was in 2011, and I have read each year's winner since then.

In 2011, I wrote that the very best Newbery Medal book ever (ever!) was When You Reach Me, the 2010 winner by Patricia Stead. When You Reach Me is a beautiful nod to Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time (which won the Newbery in 1963) as well as a skillfully, wonderfully wrought story. 

Every year since 2011, when I read the newest Newbery Medal winner, I mentally compared it to When You Reach Me, my gold standard. There have been some superb Newbery Medal books since then. Last year's winner, When You Trap A Tiger by Tae Keller, came as close as any book to taking the title of "best." It was certainly right up on the heels of When You Reach Me, a very close runner-up.  

And then this year's Newbery Medal book, The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera, came home from the library last weekend with me.

The Last Cuentista is set in the future. Earth has been destroyed and only those few hundreds chosen by the Collective to carry on humanity were on the escape shuttles to create a new world in a far distant galaxy. Petra is on the shuttle, a young girl who wants to be a storyteller like her beloved abuelita (grandmother), and awakens from her suspended animation to find that the Collective was not pure minded and noble. I'll stop there; go read the book to see how it turns out.

The book is classified as Science Fiction. Yes, definitely. And just as When You Reach Me was a love letter to Madeleine L'Engle, The Last Cuentista is the same to many science fiction and fantasy writers, many of them referenced by name (Neil Gaiman, Octavia Butler, Ursala Le Guin, to name a few). You can see Higuera reaching further back to Orwell and Huxley and their dark futuristic works. But don't dismiss it as "just " sci fi.  As with all great tales, it is a story of love, of family, of resilience, of making connections and bringing out the best in those connections. 

I am more literate in the science fiction/fantasy genres than I used to be, thanks to my sons Ben and Sam. Even so, I am sometimes still slow on the uptake. The morning after reading a significant chunk of the book, I was raving about it to Warren, then stopped mid-sentence and said, out of context, "Oh! Hyperion! OF COURSE!" 

I finished the book just before we headed off early afternoon to set up the stage for the evening's 4th of July concert. I read the very last page of the story and let out a small cry of love and sorrow. I sat there quietly, holding the book to my heart, with tears running down my face. 

It was that stunning.

As we drove over to the concert site, the book still fresh in my heart, my son Ben called to talk. I told him about the book. My voice broke in connecting it to me to him and back again and I was in tears all over again.

I ordered Ben a copy for him and Ramona and it is en route. (In fact, may already be there.) I ordered myself a copy as well. I don't buy books (or much of anything else, for that matter) ever, so that tells you a lot about what it meant to me. 

When You Reach Me will always be on my very short Newbery Medal book "read this one" list. So will When You Trap A Tiger

But The Last Cuentista

The best Newbery Medal book ever.


Friday, July 1, 2022

Midpoint 2022

 The month of June proved to be challenging on the physical well-being front (How do I feel?), the emotional well-being front (How do I feel?), and the personal well-being front (How do I feel and what do I have to face today?). These are very much the same issues I stirred around a few weeks ago and, as I noted then, have been mucking around with for years. 

The last week of June brought a lot (A. Lot.) of Symphony activity and a lot (A. Lot.) of Legal Clinic activity, taking every bit of energy (physical, emotional, personal) I had, including any reserves, which, even on my best days, barely exist. 

The week was grueling. The week was exhausting. The week was uplifting and exciting and fulfilling and all those other great words. How often do you get a contemporary harpsichord work and a contemporary theremin work on the same program? (Never, that's how often.) We surpassed Client #200 for the Clinic this year, a statistic both heartbreaking and stunning. So add to this jumbled, amazing week too many long, long days, too many late, late nights, and too many early, early mornings. (Note: I am an early riser by nature, but 5:30 risings (not my rising time) coupled with late bedtimes are not a good mix.) Oh, and there was a treatment day in there too.

My exhaustion turned to frustration and, at times, even to tears. It was a very full week.

Halfway through 2022, I seem to be struggling to learn the same lesson: I can't do like I used to, I can't go like I used to, I can't burn my candle at even one end, let alone both ends, without taking into account how long I can let that candle burn.

I need to revamp my expectations of myself. That's the lesson. 

We're definitely at midyear. July includes the big 4th of July concert and the kickoff of the Symphony's small ensemble summer concerts. I just pulled two of the last four quart bags of sliced zucchini out of the freezer in the belief that more will appear in the garden to fill the shelf again. 

In the days to come, I'll be updating the garden report (oh, the rabbit battles continue) as well as looking at where grocery purchases stand at the halfway mark. But for this first day of the second half of 2022, I believe I have done enough. 


See the rabbit behind the planter on the left at about the midway point? The rabbits decided the planters were personal salad bars. The lettuce just got burnt out by the heat, so that bonus has ended for them. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

The Effing Truck


Photo by Ian Parker on Unsplash

Back in May, I wrote about my oncologist Tim using the truck analogy for the first time with me. In short, the truck analogy is that with an incurable, progressive cancer, the disease is like a truck  that has started rolling down the hill it was parked on. You can slow the truck, maybe, but cannot stop it.

The truck. The effing truck. 

In the last three weeks, I have had good (great) consultations both with my Mayo oncologist (by video) and a Mayo neurologist (in person). They—both the doctors and the discussions—gave me reassurance as where I am on the myeloma path (persistent but stable) and what the neurological landscape looks like (low end of the neuropathy scale, no red flags, keep walking). 

Both of those discussions lifted huge weights off of me, some of which I was aware of and some not. The utter relief. The sheer exuberance of those worries lifting away.

But I would be kidding myself if I pretended or ignored the reality of the myeloma in me. It is a daily presence. It is the effing truck.

My dad has outdated and homespun notions of what cancer is and what my cancer is. Until my older brother was diagnosed with metastasized lung cancer and my father started going to oncology appointments with him, Dad thought cancer was something you caught. In fairness to him, he is almost 89 and came up in a hills culture, so I get it. He will sometimes make a comment, if I say I am tired, that "your cancer is chewing away on you." His cancer experience and images are of tumors eating away at livers and brains and other organs.

But here's the thing. My cancer doesn't have to "chew away" on me. Tumors "chew away," yes, because that's how they move through the body to new locations. But myeloma? Heck no. Dr. Leung explained it best when Warren once raised a concern about the myeloma metastasizing elsewhere in me. "It doesn't have to. It's already all over her body in her blood and bone marrow." 

I am bathed in it. 

The effing truck will roll down the hill.

My challenge going forward is not how to slow the effing truck, but how to accept it. I go through this process—how to accept the disease—increasingly as I age, as the years with myeloma accumulate, as my energy declines. What is important? Keep that. What is not? Let that go.

The effing truck is what it is. I don't add it to the process, only acknowledge it. The rest of my life is what matters.

I am writing this out by hand sitting on the front porch. We had heavy storms pass through in the night and the air is cool and damp. There are bees in the spiderwort. I just rescued a firefly from a spider web. I will get a walk in soon before the high temps move in and the morning turns on me.

What is important? Bees in the spiderwort. 


[An editorial note: I use the adjective "effing" on purpose. I am married to a wonderful man who grew up without being exposed to swearing and who is very uncomfortable with it under any conditions. I, on the other hand, went to law school during a time when female students were very much a minority and swearing was a way for women students to make it clear we were there to stay. It was (and perhaps still is) embedded into the collegial side of the law: we swear a lot. What can I say? Marrying Warren cleaned up my language a lot and I do not regret that, but it is an effing truck.]