Saturday, February 15, 2020

100 Words

Good friend Tani read my Medium article and suggested I write a memoir. "You've got wonderful insights."

More than once I have thought about writing a memoir. Flax Into Gold would play the tale of Rumpelstiltskin against my growing up on Flax Street. Spinning straw into gold? A magic trick. But turning my hardest experiences into gold? There's a winner. It would be witty and moving and insightful...

I've never written it for lots of reasons ranging from my subconscious refusal to honor my writing time to my belief that, frankly, I'm not gold. Brass maybe: less valuable, still durable.

Friday, January 31, 2020

January Observations About Money

So here I am, on the last day of January, a month that for many of us felt like it would never end. But here we are and I can finally flip the calendar over come the morning.

As I type these words, two (yes, two!—count 'em!—two!) plumbers are deconstructing tearing out part of a bathroom wall to reach otherwise inaccessible water lines to the shower. The shower has been dripping since sometime in December. We have been frugally capturing the drip water and watering the household plants with it; they have never looked so lush. But the time had come to take on the drip professionally and about twenty minutes into the first plumber's foray, the problem suddenly became much larger and much more labor intensive. Plumber #2 showed up with #1 after the first went for more supplies and lunch.

Their work and some other events of this month have caused me long periods of thinking about sustainable household income. A sustainable household income is one in which you have enough to pay certain items deemed necessities (housing, food, transportation, healthcare, utilities, among others) and, then, in the acid test, could put your hands on $400.00 for an unexpected bill without having to borrow it, put it on a credit card, or skip paying a necessity to pay it.

We are a sustainable household here. Or, rather, we are two sustainable households as we keep separate accounts and there are some expenses that one or the other of us is solely responsible for (major household repairs: Warren because it is his house; my medical bills: me because it is my health). Warren is on more solid financial footing than I am, but, again, we are both sustainable. Still, listening to the plumbers work away, I wince. I just paid my first large medical bill of 2020 (and I have truly excellent insurance, so I am grateful it was only what it was) and I am feeling the need to watch my pennies closely while I rebuild my savings account.

That being said, I am particularly pleased that we are finishing January with decent expenditures on the food/household fronts. In previous posts, I had not yet set a monthly goal for that kind of spending. For the last few years, we had been shooting for $175.00 a month for food and common household items (dish soap, laundry detergent, and the like). The Department of Agriculture has predicted that food-at-home costs will rise only slightly in 2020 (an average of 1%), so tweaking my goal number would be not due to inflation in the outside world but internal inflation (as in "why exactly did you buy that?").

That being said, I'm moving the dial slightly upward for 2020 to $180.00. which is almost halfway between last year's goal of $175/month and our 2019 average of $186/month.

So what did we spend this month? $156.88 in food and $21.44 in household items, for a total of $178.02. And yes, I took that amount into consideration in setting the new monthly goal.

There are a couple items in that $156.88 to which I want to call particular attention. One is that
So many apples in the freezer that I just shoveled them anywhere they would go
we spent $28.99 on apples, all of which I peeled and either froze sliced to make pies with or made into applesauce (much of which went into the freezer). Why so many apples? Because they were there. Because I had the chance to buy several huge loads at bargain prices (lots of culls). Because the Symphony may participate in Pi Day (Warren and I thought about National Pie Day this month, but we just could not pull it off). Because...well, just because.

The other purchase I made note of in my monthly sheets was two bottles (48 fluid ounces) of canola oil marked down to—wait for —75 cents each. Unopened, not leaking, but put on the Kroger bargain shelf for some inexplicable reason. I was not going to leave those bottles behind.

Our eating out costs in January are solely related to necessary travel: the trip to Mayo in early January and Warren traveling to NYC for the Midwinter Managers Meeting by the League of American Orchestras. When I analyzed our eating out costs for 2019 and noted how much was due to conferences and training, Kim at Out My Window commented that I was being too hard on myself. Thank you, Kim! For 2020, I am not going to track food costs related to Mayo or conferences (for the record, I did note the January Mayo costs: $112.28 for 6 days). Those trips are unavoidable and we both work to keep our food costs as low as possible (we always start to Mayo with a packed lunch; Warren boarded the train to NYC with the same). So going forward, I am not tracking those. I will track our local eating out, from coffee dates to "too tired to cook" to "let's treat ourselves."

Those costs in January? Zero. And since I already have supper thawing out, I know we won't be adding to that princely sum.

Heck, at that rate, my anemic account will be flush in no time.

Friday, January 24, 2020

100 Words

A recent submission to the Myeloma Beacon got rejected: too dark and blunt. I really believed in it, so I self-published it on Medium. It got curated, which means the folks at Medium liked it.

For a first-timer, that is like a rookie getting a hit on the first at-bat in the majors.

I write about the inevitable choices I will have to make. At 15+ years of myeloma, I am wearing down. 

And I write about what an amazing world it is.

I am stable. I am not stopping treatment. But I am looking ahead.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Some 2020 Thoughts

Everyone—everyone—is writing about the new year, their ideas about what the year may hold, some goals they hope to attain. Letters from friends reflect the same: what will 2020 bring?

Writer Katrina Kenison is standing on "pause, choose." Ben Hewitt, whose writing I greatly admire, just posted his first 2020 words at Lazy Mill Hill Farm, reflecting on being too busy to take notice and write, then promising himself to "pay attention," if just for the moment. My child-in-law Alise has set the intention to step free of "that old' gifted child' trap of perfectionism," being okay with not being immediately good at something, and hoping that her 35th year (she's a January 2 baby) she can give herself "some grace to continue to learn and grow."

The new calendar year is not yet three weeks old and I find myself wondering about 2020 myself. I feel I have only half-baked thoughts at best, but here are some of them.

The myeloma, progressive and incurable, continues to be surprisingly stable. My longevity (15+ years), flatline labs (no gains, no losses), and other medical markers, including no bone involvement, make my oncologists shake their heads. I am truly an outlier. Nevertheless, my overall quality of life, including declining energy and dragging around this disease's growing weight (figuratively speaking; think Marley's ghost), continues to deteriorate. I've had to step back from commitments at work and in the community, and from coffee dates with dear friends. I've met with my supervisor about changing projects I am too ill to undertake to the same degree I had intended. It has been several months of coming to accept that my body is wearing out.

That being said, I go on. "Persist," my longtime oncologist Tim told me Tuesday, as we discussed this. And I will, until it is no longer beneficial to persist. Part of my persistence in 2020 will take the form of being even more mindful of my daily life activities, especially diet and movement.

In the last months of 2019, my writing trailed off. I only have a few posts on this site (and some of those just about the mundane topic of money); my last Myeloma Beacon column was in September. Perhaps, like Ben Hewitt, I have been too busy to take notice and need to pay more attention.

Something I will try in 2020 is a once-a-month 100 word post on this blog. Over my most recent trip to Mayo (just last week), I read the excellent Shapes of Native Nonfiction, a series of contemporary essays. One of the writers (and I did not note this closely enough) spoke about a series of 100 word essays she and other Native writers had published and the discipline it takes to write in only those few words. I was intrigued. Cait Flanders writes several 100 word posts within a larger post, which is one approach, but I am more interested in the spareness of just 100 words.

I am looking for ways to write more, be it this blog, poetry, or other forms. I just got my first poetry rejection of 2020 (okay, listen, one of those poems was really superb) and am aiming for 100 rejections this year. They don't have to all be in poetry.  As I think about it, I have TWO rejections for 2020 as in a first-time-ever move, my editor and publisher at the Myeloma Beacon rejected probably some of my best writing ever for being dark and too blunt. Only 98 to go.

I continue to work at cutting out the noise (literally and figuratively) of daily life. My phone is often on silent; I try not to automatically turn to the electronic siren of Facebook and email and Google. I find I am still breaking that twitch, sometimes hourly, sometimes daily.

I still tend towards piles building up before I sit down and tame them, but I am getting better at reining the flow in before having to tame it.

Concentrating on writing more (see above) should help. (I usually write with pen and paper before turning anything with a keyboard on.) And although it is only January 18, I am increasingly thinking of this year's garden. I want to join Thoreau in fishing in that stream of time.

I'll write about money issues in a separate post. As I looked back on 2019 spending on food, I made some observations and I am still turning those over. Stay tuned.

Although my earnings have increased in 2020, the demands on my money have become much tighter. I'll write about that too in the weeks to come.

Warren and I have been doing some retirement planning, realizing that it will be him alone in retirement as even with persisting, I likely do not have that many years left. Our mutual goal is to make sure he is in a good position after I am no longer alive and part of this household.

More to come.

We (Warren and I) don't know what this year holds in terms of travel, conferences, and such. As I noted in my last post, we did treat ourselves to a slightly longer excursion to Mayo last week. Instead of blasting up and back, we meandered up and dallied back, spending two nights in Chicago (with the additional bonus of Warren being able to attend a board meeting of KV265 in person instead of over the phone). There are grandchildren in the Pacific Northwest, and dear friends in Maine, one place in this country I would very much like to see again. The League conference is in Minneapolis this June and I string together wild plans to travel to PDX (solo), meet up with Warren in Minneapolis, and then drive home via Mayo (my next appointment will be that time). I don't know if I am able to fly solo that far (see HEALTH, above) or able to afford that side trip (see MONEY, above). But it's fun to think about.

In the aforementioned rejected column, which may see light in some other site, I noted the amazing freedom in saying out loud that I can feel my body (and life) starting to wind down. It is as if the emotional and psychological equivalent of the 4th wall in the performing arts came down with that acknowledgment. The world has become far more immediate, far more real. Amazingly, it has stayed that way since that moment.

And that is something I can carry into 2020.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Small Moment: Grateful For The Small Moments

To say that Life (with a capital "L") has been demanding as of late is an understatement.

Maybe "understatement" should be capitalized too.

An Understatement.

That's better.

On the Dad front, he is finally home from the skilled nursing center and regaining strength and balance and independence. It will be a long but steady (we hope) haul. He got home just before Warren and I headed off to Mayo and Chicago (and points in between) so it is only recently that I got a good look at Dad in his home environment. Massive improvements.

On the myeloma front, my labs continue to be flat line steady. Yes. that is good news. With an asterisk: the cancer continues to progress, albeit slowly, and my body is wearing down. For now, though, we (Warren, my two oncology teams, and I) are staying the course.

The individual whom I mentioned in my last post of 2019 as being homeless and having premature twins and mental health issues? We (the team) hope that tomorrow she will sign a 9 month lease and at least get that sliver of her life stable. For now. After that piece is secured, I will write more because this is a situation that will take more than a village.

Did someone say Carl Sandburg? 
But here it is Sunday morning. In the last week, I have spent time with family and good friends in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Chicago. I have seen effigy mounds that I was unaware of before (not that I am any expert on them), including one we were directed to by a local metal artist at whose shop we discovered while turning the corner in a tiny Wisconsin town a week ago today. (The metal artist is Tom Nelson—no relation to my knowledge, the shop is Dark Metal Artworks, his works are amazing, and yes, we bought one.)

And this morning, despite the concerns and issues hanging overhead, I have had a most excellent day so far sharing breakfast and good talk with Warren, a Facebook exchange about Carl Sandburg with my friend and boon companion Judy, a discussion about the above referenced individual with Kelsey (a key member of the team), and the poem "Kindness" by Naomi Shibab Nye with my friends on Facebook.

Even folding the laundry hanging on the basement line was a quiet small moment.

I'm not sure it gets any better than that.

Friday, January 3, 2020

December Money Review

So here I am three days into 2020 and looking at the numbers from 2019. I have been tracking groceries all year long, both food and common household items (laundry detergent, dish soap, cleaners, toilet paper). I ran figures last night and am both pleased and aghast at what I discovered about our 2019 spending.

Let's start with the easy stuff: what did Warren and I spend on groceries in December? To my amusement (well, kind of), we spent $174.27 for food/household items, just a smidgen under the $175.00 I had been using as a benchmark all year long. $12.16 of that was household. Some of those food dollars were spent on baking supplies for biscotti, so coming in this low surprises me. When I add the December dollars to our yearly totals, we finished the year at $2231.04, or a monthly average of $185.92. In essence, we shot over the monthly goal by $11.00 for the year. Last year we came in at a monthly average of $191.00, so we actually reduced our spending. Bonus points!

Of the total dollars spent, only $124.97 was spent on household goods. Seriously? That is about 5% of our overall expenses. Dang.

The figure that caused me to wince (Wince? How about "react violently" instead?) was our eating out for 2019. In 2018 we spent just under $885.00 for the year "eating out," a phrase which covers everything from grabbing a coffee with a friend to dinner between a rehearsal and concert when we are out of town to "hey, let's go out," which includes getting take out as well. (The latter is the least likely to occur, incidentally.) 2019 total? $1391.61, or about $110.00 a month.

Ouch. That hurts.

Now, when I dive deeper into that figure, the numbers reveal other things. Rehearsal and concert-related meals and snacks? About $170.00 of that. Conferences (less reimbursement, in my case, of my per diems from the Court)? An eye-watering $466.00, more or less. Okay, there were multiple conferences this year, but still, I was staggered. Mayo trips cost us, even with packing some of our meals and the ever bountiful and ever cheap Kwik Trip deli, about $195.00 (four trips in 2019, so about $50.00 a trip). And our vacation to Portland cost another $93.00. (All of these figures are rounded up.) Take those figures out and we spent about $397.00 for the year on eating out, or about $33.00 a month.

Wow. Well, the first and most obvious statement I will make is that we will not have five conferences this year. Warren will have a couple, but my Court-related conferences should come in at zero. That alone should make a dent in the figures.

I have not yet thought through 2020, either on the eating out or the grocery front. We are about to leave for (wait for it) Mayo, so there will be some eating out costs right out of the gate. On the other hand, I just bought two massive containers of laundry detergent for $1.05 total, including tax, through a combination of the sales price and Bonus Bucks (or whatever they are called) from CVS. (I earn those extra dollars through my pharmacy purchases, not by shopping at CVS.) So the first few days of 2020 hold both challenges (the trip) and wins (the detergent) right out of the gate.

I'll be thinking about our spending habits while we are on the road, and will share some of those thoughts when I get back. Warren and I are delving into more serious retirement discussions, both between ourselves and with others. I'll be sharing some of that too as we examine 2020.

So here's to 2020.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Stub Ends of 2019

How did it get to be December 31 already?

In my late November post, I noted that the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving had been hard, making that unexpected Thanksgiving so much the more special. The pace and the issues did not slack off after that holiday, but steamed ahead into December.

The last two months of this year have been brutal, including grandson Orlando being hospitalized in PICU for RSV. But there are slivers of hope and light: Orlando got home and is healthy again. Dad will be coming home from the skilled nursing facility this Friday after a long stay. Another person in my life who has been homeless and recently gave birth to incredibly premature babies and lives with significant mental health issues (can we say "Enough" yet?) may be (we hope; I hope) approved for an apartment with the help of community agencies and others stepping forward to get and keep her housed. (I'm awaiting the approval call from the leasing office.)

Little bits of hope, of forward progress.

December is always a whirl for the musician in our household. Warren's last gig, a Christmas cantata at a Columbus-area church, was on December 22.  It is such a relief when the last one is done, beautiful though some of them are. I attended most (all?) of the performances, which included a stunning choral concert one weekend and our Symphony's holiday concerts (possibly the best ever) two weekends later. There were times when I closed my eyes and let the music wash over me.

Little notes hanging in the air.

Hanukkah just concluded. Warren kept me close company while I lit my menorahs. The second night, in large part because of the chaos and hardships going on, I sank to the carpet in front of them and lit them from that position, my voice cracking from stress and tears coming into my eyes. (I put my menorahs on a small outdoors table positioned by our front windows; the menorahs are at eye level if I sit on the floor, as I discovered that night; it turned out to be so gratifying that I lit the menorahs from that position the remaining nights.) Lighting the candles, saying the prayers, and reflecting on my beliefs (spiritual, personal) carved out some much needed space and silence. On the eighth and final night, I looked up at Warren (in a chair next to me) and asked "would you like to light one of the menorahs?" The thought had never occurred to me to ask him and it caught us both by surprise. Yes, he did, and yes, it meant so much to me.

Little bits of light.

So here I am, on the last day of the year, thinking of what the year held (including our new grandson) and what the year ahead may hold. I am looking to focus even more on the essentials and cut away the excess and the unnecessary, whatever that may mean. I am looking to try to truly hold each day in my heart.

Little bits of light, little bits of hope.