Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sunday, March 24, 2013

As a kid, I couldn’t keep straight beans from peas.  Somehow I had gotten it confused, thinking that the little round green things were beans and the straighter green things were peas.  I was nervous about my confusion, because, after all, as a farmer’s daughter, one should know one’s vegetables.

I remember all of this because of my one-week hospital stay when I was five.  On the first night, dinner came with straight green things on the plate.  When my parents came to visit later that night, my mother asked me what I had for dinner.  I don’t remember the entrée, but remember conveniently leaving out the reference to any vegetable.  Of course she asked, with a slight frown, didn’t I have any vegetables?  I remember thinking, “Beans? Peas? Beans? Peas?”  I thought “peas” were a safe bet, 50-50 odds being good enough for me. 

The second night, the dinner plate had the little round green things.  Why couldn’t I have carrots, I wanted to know.  Or broccoli, maybe.  I knew broccoli.  Sure enough, my mother asked me that night what I had for dinner.  (She would later ask me this after every law firm interview – what nice restaurant did they take me to, and what did I order.)  And sure enough, she asked me what vegetable they served.  “Peas,” I replied, re-thinking that maybe the little round ones were peas, after all.  And I figured if I were wrong the night before, I’d be right tonight.

This logic was lost on my mother.  Frowning more than the night before, she said, “But you had peas last night.”  “Uhh, beans, maybe they were beans.”  I felt found out.  I didn’t know enough to be worried about the pneumonia in my lungs; I remained worried about my green pod dyslexia.  As the week wore on, I was relieved that my mother developed a repertoire of other questions to ask me.  Or maybe she just figured that this hospital just served a lot of peas, and left it at that. 

Snow peas do well on my trellises in the spring, and tonight’s harvest ended up in chicken vegetable soup.  Beans do well on those trellises later in the summer, and this year I’m trying scarlet pole beans, which I started from seed in pony packs, ready to transplant when the snow peas run their course as the weather starts to warm up.  Akemi returned last night to an incoming snow storm in Boston, but it was 75° this afternoon in Pasadena. 

Good thing I know which is which now. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Like the fashion industry, church choir directors think two seasons ahead. 

My irises are blooming, and we have yet to put on this Easter’s program, but already it is Christmas around my dining room table and piano.   As I play through sample copies of various arrangements, I sort them into piles: “forget it,” “maybe – come back to it,” and “show Janet,” our organist/pianist.  Janet and I have worked together for many years, and we share programming sensibilities. 

She and I also have been fortunate to have been part of a close set of professional and professionally-trained musicians in the Pasadena Stake.  Somehow we’ve always managed to have a pretty deep musical bench.  Our ward in particular has had among us a soprano with LA Opera and the Los Angeles Master Chorale, a violist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and a conductor of the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus.  We’ve had any number of piano majors move in and out, and our stake right now has two Doctor of Musical Arts students at the USC Thornton School of Music. 

Our church has a great music heritage, what with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (which we affectionately call the “MoTabs”) and all, but the reality is, it is a struggle to maintain a standard of high-quality music in our church services and events.  We are all volunteers, so singing or lending instrumental support comes on top of everything else everyone is busy doing in their lives.  We may have our stand-out talents, but most of my ward choir singers do not read music, have not ever had any vocal training, and have not ever sung in any other choir.  Yet the goal is to sound as though everyone is a stand-out talent. 

So those of us here in Pasadena who bring our musical training to the metaphorical stable, like the Magi with their gifts, have had a “one for all, and all for one” attitude.  We constantly cover for one another, which includes taking time off of work whenever there is a funeral, to sing, play the piano, or direct the congregational hymns, occasionally for a family member of someone we may not even have known. 

Janet and I, and others, have talked about this over the years, and we think that perhaps our biggest church musician responsibility has been to raise children who themselves have become church musicians, trained not only in what to do – the music competencies-- but also in how to do it – to serve unconditionally.  At Janet’s request, I taught her daughters piano about 20 years ago; one of them has become a beautiful organist in her own right.  Many in our ward have hosted Akemi in their homes to have a “practice audience” before a competition or recital.  Just the other night, Akemi, home on spring break, played through a few pieces for her recital next Saturday night for one ward family, and we got to hear their son and daughter play their upcoming recital pieces, as well.  We all had such fun, and it was the kind of “pay it forward” evening I cherish.

One Sunday morning a few years back, Janet, Deanne, and I stood in the back of the chapel, watching our daughters Shannon, Allison, and Akemi rehearse a number together.  We put our arms around each other’s shoulders and told ourselves, “Look at that; we did it.”  Our children are taking their places not only as musicians, but also as music administrators and leaders in their own right. 

Tonight in between Akemi practicing Bloch’s “Baal Shem” and her other recital pieces, she has been taking breaks by plunking away at a few hymns, the results of NEC keyboard technique classes.  I’ve rotated in on the piano bench, reading a few more Christmas pieces at a time, and am proud I can ask her what she thinks of an arrangement. 

It’s Christmas in March, not only because of the advance seasonal choir planning, but because the Magi have brought the heritage of musical training to the stable. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

My dad set his spoon down, still regarding the hollowed-out grapefruit half on the kitchen table in front of him.  Tonari’s tree is good,” he said, as much to himself as to me.  “I think I’ll go get me one.”

Tonari is what he and my mother often called my “Uncle” Mits, our neighbor with whom we have been bonded by land.   He and Mits periodically compared notes about how their trees were doing on their adjacent lots, former orange groves.   We didn’t have a grapefruit tree, and my dad liked having one in the morning.

Later he showed me the label on the tree he brought home from the nursery.  It was a then-new hybrid, developed as I now know, at UC Riverside, a cross between a white grapefruit and a pomelo called oroblanco.  The pomelo features make it large and very sweet; oroblancos are true to their “white gold” name for eating.

Once my dad’s tree started bearing fruit and he started giving them away, his became the grapefruit of choice among our family and friends.  After you had tasted one of my dad’s, the smallish tart ones off the large tree in my front yard just didn’t hack the breakfast scene any longer.   During the season, we would bring his grapefruit home from Peralta Hills to Pasadena, while my own plentiful but outclassed grapefruits found their way into marmalades, chutneys, and candied peel.  

When I landscaped my back yard three years ago, I put high priority on planting three semi-dwarves of exactly the citrus varieties I wanted: a navel orange, a Meyer lemon, and, yes, an oroblanco grapefruit.  The lemon started bearing fruit the very first year.  Then last year was the first year the orange kicked in.  I was excited to see my first oranges ripening on the tree, when one morning, much to my dismay and annoyance, I watched a squirrel scamper off with first ripe one.

Now this spring for the first time, my own oroblanco is crowded with fruit, as well as with buds, ready to pop.  In a few days, my backyard will have the fragrance I love of citrus blossoms.  Maybe this is why my taste in perfume and lotions have gravitated to citrus and floral scents.   

At the two-week mark after a treatment, I’m feeling much better.  I can tell I’m back to normal again, as I’ve regained interest in eating something besides variations of chicken soup, in cooking at all, in poking around the garden, now in daylight-savings evening light, to see what I could collect for dinner.  Some arugula, kale, parsley, mint, and grapefruit segments, tossed with lemon olive oil?  Some baby beets sautéed with oranges?  Some “Bright Lights” Swiss chard and sugar snap peas in (more) soup or over pasta?

After a couple of weeks of feeling crummy in body and soul, I’m happy to be happy with spring springing, and the accomplishment of having my own oroblanco tree.  I know; a grapefruit tree might not do much for you, but it does something good for me.  

Friday, March 1, 2013

Thursday, February 28, 2013

As I was web-surfing tonight to see what was going on with sequestration, I learned that today was Rare Disease Day.  Apparently a number of world-wide organizations designated today for various activities to raise awareness for the so-called “orphan diseases,” those ailments which are “orphaned” from research attention because of the relatively small number of people they afflict.  In the U.S., a rare disease is defined as one that affects fewer than 200,000 Americans.

When it comes to “rare,” well, I’ve got “rare.”  The estimated number of Waldenstrom’s cases in the U.S. a year is only about 1,500.  Treatment approaches for Waldenstrom’s essentially have been extrapolations from treatments for multiple myeloma and more common lymphomas.  Too bad that this effort fell on the eve of the sequestration deadline.  What I hear in my university hallways is that all federal funding of scientific research is about to shut down, which isn’t going to help any of us.

I had hoped that after Tuesday’s treatment, I would be done, at least for a while.  Based on Tuesday’s lab results, though, my USC doctor reluctantly agreed with the Dana-Farber Thanksgiving-time recommendation that I stay on this course for maybe three more treatments, so nine more months, at least. 

The IgM level did drop, but the rate of the drop seems to be slowing down.  This isn’t unanticipated – I’ve read in the literature about various possible reasons why.  One theory is that treatment gets the “low hanging fruit” but ultimately can’t get to the most resistant WM cells which have managed to hide out deep in the bone marrow.  Others relate to whether there are WM stem cells at mischief.  It seems inevitable that I’m facing the “diminishing returns” scenario.  In any event, I felt much better today than yesterday, but still don’t feel like anything ambitious.

After Bing died, I discovered in the grocery store the “Mitford” series in paperback – a collection about a lovable Episcopal priest in a country town in North Carolina with a cast of townspeople dealing with one another’s travails and heart-warming joys. It was good, clean escapism for me, and I clung to it even though Akemi would routinely come into my bedroom and ask, “So how are things in Mitford tonight?”  I think it’s time to stop reading about sequestration, and head for Mitford instead.  

P.S. The narcissi growing outside my bedroom window.