Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sunday, March 27, 2011

This bouquet is my annual spring tribute to the two artists whose spirits permeate my Howard Street property.

If you’ve ever been to my home, you have heard the gist of the story. The “great room” was originally the barn of the house next door, built as a Victorian transitioning into Craftsman around 1900 by noted artist Alfred Cornelius Howland. A Mayflower descendant born in 1838 in Walpole, New Hampshire, Howland was part of the Barbizon School of landscape and figure painting in Paris in the 1860s, the Camille Corot crowd. Upon his return to the U.S. in 1865, he became known as the “Corot of America” for his New England landscapes and traveled in the circles of Winslow Homer and landscape painter Homer D. Martin. He maintained his primary residence in New York City and summered in Williamstown, Massachusetts, eventually retiring in what was then a fashionable part of Pasadena known as the “Monk Hill” neighborhood. He died here in Pasadena in 1909. Today his paintings are included in the collections of the Smithsonian, the National Gallery of Art, the Naval Academy, and Yale University.

Another artist, Geraldine Birch Duncan, subsequently lived in the Howland house for nearly fifty years, from the 1920s to her death in 1972. Born in 1883 in Forest Row, Sussex, England, Duncan was a portrait painter and etcher who, like Howland, also studied in Paris. She also did landscapes and opened a workshop in Pasadena in 1924. What became the structure of our “great room” with its high ceiling, brick fireplace, and north-facing windows was her studio built around this time. A fire in 1932 destroyed some fifty of her paintings right before a planned exhibition of her work, and the studio was rebuilt. When Bing opened up the west interior wall once to do some repairs, we saw charred studs that were not replaced. She won an award at the Provincial Exposition in Victoria, British Columbia in 1932 and also exhibited at the New York World’s Fair in 1939.

Just before we bought this house in the fall of 1989, the two bedrooms and baths had been added and kitchen facilities installed in the “great room” to make it a single family detached house for the first time. At that time, a brick pathway encircled our house, connecting it to its Howland “mother ship” house next door. During our first spring here in 1990, Bing was on the roof to fix a leak (yes, we have a 20-year “This Old House” theme here). The front yard at that time had remnants of a series of concrete ponds and what we called “mystery bulbs” were starting to appear. That morning, Bing called to me, “You’ve got to come up here and see this.” Mind you, I was in my first trimester of pregnancy with what would become Akemi, but I was very careful climbing up the ladder, and always will remember what I saw from the roof.

Looking down, we could see the patterns of bulbs planted in Impressionist swirls around the ponds and the brick pathway. How I wished I had a time machine and could go back to see what the garden looked like in its heyday. A landscape architect historian told us that the stampings on the old brick are from the 1920s and 1930s, so on that basis I have assumed that Geraldine was the gardener. I identified the first wave of bulbs that come forth in January as leucojum vernum or “snowflakes,” reminiscent of lilies of the valley with their sprays of small white bells. Then in March came pure white irises. And finally in April white freesia, a particular favorite of mine. I started to really connect with Geraldine’s floral aesthetic.

Later that spring and summer, Bing and I (increasingly larger in pregnancy) dug out and saved all that brick, which he later used to make the front courtyard. I also dug up and saved as many of the bulbs as I could. The snowflakes now have propagated throughout the front yard. Geraldine’s freesias didn’t survive the transfer, but Bing later bought me those bulbs, which now are planted next to the irises by my David Austin “Heritage” rose.

After a week of steady storms (which put a literal damper on Akemi’s spring break week home), I walked outside this morning in between the concluding drizzles to appreciate the irises and freesias in their glory. I have come to love all-white, fragrant flowers generally, and gathering these flowers each spring in honor of Geraldine.

I always have thought it appropriate with the history of this property that our great room has continued to function as a studio, albeit for music. And have hoped that Alfred and Geraldine would consider this family to be good stewards of the artistic spirit in this corner of Howard Street.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Today's LA Times had a heart-warming story about four NBA players who helped pay for an out-of-network surgery for their then-coach, Kim Hughes, former assistant coach of the Clippers. Seven years ago when Hughes was diagnosed with prostate cancer, he opted to immediately have surgery rather than wait two months for insurance approval. The swiftness may have saved his life; he's quoted as saying if he had waited, it would have been too late.

The consequence of plunging ahead without the insurance authorization, though, meant that the surgery was not covered by his insurance and Hughes was out of pocket for the operation which cost $70,000. When current Clippers player Chris Kaman and his then-teammates Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, and Marko Jaric learned of the situation, they chipped in, to the shock and lasting gratitude of Hughes, especially because they did so quietly without wanting their generosity to be publicly revealed.

Every day I give thanks for my medical insurance. I choose not to do the math of how much I've paid over the years in premiums and whether I'm getting my money's worth out of the insurance company at this point or not. What I learned with Bing's care is that the costs add up with horrific speed. You may not know that most medical policies have lifetime payout limits of $1 million, and hopefully you will never, ever need to pay attention to that limit. But at the rate we were going with Bing, I was actually worried about hitting that limit if he had lived longer.

So when I was in the clinic on this last cycle with the IV started in my arm, I was alarmed at the conversation my nurse was having on her cell phone. While she was monitoring my IV, she was saying into her phone, "What!?! What do you mean Mrs. Leung's treatment today is not authorized? The IV is in her arm already. I can't take the chemo out of her arm. You just have to authorize it." And she hangs up, pats me on the non-IV arm, and tells me not to worry. "These people," she says. Easy for her to say, don't worry. I knew that the Bortezomib is billed at about $5,700 a little shot. Before you gasp at that, this is a bargain compared to the Rituxan I had last fall at about $15,000 each infusion.

Her cell phone rang again. "Listen," she says sternly, "this is Mrs. Leung's regular schedule. It's been approved before. Nothing's changed. If it didn't get approved before today, that's your problem, because it should have been. So just get it approved," and hangs up. Shakes her head, and tells me again not to worry. I sat there staring at the IV, thinking about all the things I would rather do with nearly $6,000 than have chemo.

Her phone rang again. "Okay, good," she simply says, hanging up again. "See, not to worry, your treatment has been approved." Thank heavens for players' loyalty to their coaches, and for great nurses who know what they're doing and make the right things happen, and not just for getting the needles in the right places and bringing the warm blankets.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Monday, March 14, 2011

Now that we’ve celebrated Girls Day on March 3rd and before we become honorary Irish for March 17th, let us pause today, 3/14, to celebrate Pi Day. It’s the day to eat some kind of pie with crust and tell corny math jokes related to pi or 3.14159.

What do you get when you take the sun and divide the circumference by the diameter?

Pi in the sky.

You get the idea (hopefully). Akemi and I think this is fun, but reasonable minds may differ.

The only question is apple, lemon meringue, or chocolate cream?

P.S. You can read more about Pi Day 2011in this
Forbes article here.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sunday, March 13, 2011

At breakfast a few days into my 2009 summer experience at the HERS Institute, the conversation buzz was about the labyrinth on the beautiful Bryn Mawr campus. Cut into the grass of a gently rolling hill, this labyrinth seems to have been designed and situated for serendipitous discovery. As more of my HERS “sisters” came to delight in this landscape gem, walking the labyrinth became a shared experience which bonded many of us, a metaphor for our respective personal journeys.

The labyrinth has its roots in Greek mythology with the maze, supposedly first built for Minos, King of Crete, to hold the Minotaur. Whereas a maze is meant to confuse and trap with a puzzle of path choices, a labyrinth is meant soothe and calm, providing a singular way to guide one to the center and back. They can be found in cathedrals and back yards, gardens and courtyards. The pattern could be laid out or marked with any material: marble or tile, gravel or sand, even flowers or string. As a meditative means, walking the labyrinth is meant to slow down life’s hectic pace, clear out the daily noise, and allow individual inspiration to bubble up.

As I joined my HERS sisters in that picturesque spot for after-dinner exercise, returning on my own after early-morning runs, I found that walking the labyrinth could be a metaphor for life. The first few times require concentration on one’s feet, becoming familiar with the path’s twists and turns; putting one foot in front of the other to stay on course is the initial priority. After getting used to the seeming unpredictability of the pathway, one’s gaze can venture upward and take in the ever-changing perspective of the surrounding scenery. Approaching the labyrinth’s center, the turns become sharper. All too soon, one reaches the core and realizes what felt like a long road when starting out was not really that long after all. But reaching the center is not the end: one must continue back to the beginning, the return filled with questions about what one should make of the experience. Some answers come—and more questions are posed—in the companionship of others; some come in the solitude of one’s own thoughts and emotions.

The Bryn Mawr experience, even with its rigorous schedule, allowed me the chance for contemplation and personal devotions. Removed from freeway commutes, office politics, housekeeping, and even single parenthood (Akemi was backpacking through Europe with classmates on her own high school graduation trip), it was a sustained break, a real break, from the daily grind. With excuses removed, I had time for plentiful prayer, scripture reading, journal writing. . .and the Sunday New York Times. In this regard, I came home from Bryn Mawr both reinforced in these good habits and reminded in the need for rejuvenation.

In his address last October “Of Things That Matter Most,” Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “My dear brothers and sisters, we would do well to slow down a little, proceed at the optimum speed for our circumstances, focus on the significant, lift up our eyes, and truly see the things that matter most.” I’ve been thinking of the lesson of the labyrinth and of this Uchtdorf advice as I start to feel better. I want to make the most of what window of energy this may be, but I know I’m not doing myself any good by overdoing it. I keep studying to understand the bioscience complexities of Waldenstrom’s, but I’m tired, really tired, of thinking about it. Somehow I still want life to be “normal” again, but what is the “new normal”? I’m taking advantage of this next week with USC on spring break to lift up my eyes—think about work without having to fly from one meeting to the next, construct some “personal retreat” time at the temple and in other regenerating activities, and get ready to have Akemi home the following week for her spring break week.