Friday, December 31, 2010

Good from bad: a temporary reprieve

Given that the early evening hours in a nursing home is the time when the staff is most hard pressed because all of the elderly patients must be collected and put to bed, it is no wonder that our son’s repeated calls to have someone attend to his nasogastric tube went unanswered. The thing had plugged up and was causing him to gag. It became unbearable, and he grew tired of waiting for them to come, so he just pulled it out himself. That was almost 4 days ago.

And he has been able to eat small meals, including a grilled cheese sandwich, but he is being very careful not to overload his stomach, and he hasn’t vomited.

Had the nursing home staff not screwed up, he would still be sitting there with the tube sucking nourishment out of his stomach as fast as it got put in because no one had a clue that he would be able to tolerate being without it.

He also no longer needs the oxygen -- his O-Sat is running in the 90s on room air. So for the time being, he is no longer tethered to plastic tubing. It may be that this is just a temporary reprieve, but we are thankful nonetheless, and so is he.

The morphine pump gives him a small dose every 20 minutes, and the amount has gradually been increased, so he has a tendency to “nod off” frequently, where he says he has funny little dreams.

 I love sitting there watching the expressions pass across his face.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mother gets a little helper

With the ominous words of Jagger and company’s late 1960s song lurking, I pay an early afternoon visit to the rural clinic where “I am not a doctor, just call me Bob” takes care of me, to see if he can offer anything to help me calm down and sleep at night. I feel so guilty that God is not enough to get me through, but I am so wound up emotionally and I looked so awful from lack of sleep in the last pictures we took at the nursing home on Christmas that I decided...  

Steps Needed to be Taken

This man is not like Dr Kutz, the neurosurgeon who removed our son’s brain tumor and who arranged for $90,000 of radiation treatment that our son was never charged for.

Not a doctor Bob is not tall, and he does not, as our son noted so accurately about Dr Kutz, “light up the room” when he comes in.

He is not so handsome, like Dr Cavagnol, the surgeon who removed the axillary mass but could not complete the operation on Dec. 13, that I must look at his shoes in order to hear what he saying.

No indeed. One can look full into Not a Doctor Bob’s homely face, which is round and fat and looks a little like a toads, and be reminded of a comfortable couch or chair that you can nestle down in and relax with. He took my hand when he sat down and held it. He hugged me with both arms, when we stood up to leave. He gave me a 6-week sample of one drug and prescribed two others, as needed, to get me through the day and night. And he did not charge me for the visit.

I am aghast at the idea of taking these drugs – I feel guilty that I even need these drugs (after all, I have God, why do I need pharmaceuticals?), but even so, I definitely need something to help me sleep. Just take it as you need, he reassures me. It will get you over the hump.

Okey dokey, Just Call Me Bob, I’ll trust you…. As long as these keep me calm and together and I don’t start hallucinating and run into Alice...

I’ll be OK.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Sitting up and taking nourishment

I used to clean house for this delightful old man and there was a certain routine we fell into when I arrived at his house. I would say:

“And how are you today?”
And he would respond:

“As long as I can sit up and take nourishment, I guess I can’t complain too much.”

We are very grateful that N can still sit up and take nourishment, even though it isn’t very much and even though it gets sucked out of his stomach fairly quickly. He has a great deal that he could complain about.

Occasionally, the suction for the NG tube can be turned off for about a half hour or so while he is eating to give his stomach a chance to absorb a bit more of the nutrients, but inevitably the suction must be turned back on and then it all comes back out. Or not.

They are trying all sorts of things to see if he can chew it fine enough, and sometimes he can, and sometimes he can’t, and then the tube becomes clogged.

We have become quite adept at unclogging the tube if it clogs at the connector, but if it gets clogged in his stomach, or starts to pull out, then we have to get help, which is the main reason why we are not able to bring him home. It would take the hospice nurse about 45 minutes to get here.

On Saturday, we had a rather nicer Christmas dinner with friends – which was a blessing because we had totally forgotten about trying to make a Christmas dinner for ourselves – than he did, but it did us good to see him enjoy the taste of the food he was given...

and wearing a new hat his Uncle Andy got him. Unfortunately he is not able to wear a new shirt he he was given given because (1) the heat is cranked up very high in the nursing home and he overheats easily, and (2) even though his flesh is beginning to melt away, his belly has swollen so much because of the effects of the tumor that the t-shirt it is too tight and uncomfortable against his skin.

Nate developed a very special relationship with the crew that mans the local train that delivers empty cars and picks up full ones on Sundays at one of the local manufacturers, and I was going to make an effort yesterday to today to disconnect him from the suction pump, bundle him up, and take him for a ride to where they do the switching, but unfortunately, it was very cold and N said he was too weak to walk to where the train would be. If it warms up enough toward the end of the week, I will try again to wheel him out to the car and at least bring him home for a little while.

In the meantime, while he is still alert and oriented and not requiring so much morphine that he is out of it, we are trying to make the best of what time we have left.

Friday, December 24, 2010


Last Christmas, Jim Beam and I got together and made some truly awesome chocolate-walnut fudge that I sent off to members of my family as part of the Christmas box and gave to various people here, including our friends Judy and Charlie, and we ate quite a bit of it ourselves.

This year I did not get around to making the fudge because other things forced their way to the top of the list of things to do. So, R went to the local tourist stop a mile or so down the highway and bought fudge from them. They sell a lot of it, and it is OK fudge, but definitely not as good as the homemade variety. Last Friday, he was at the hospital with our son trying to get everything coordinated with hospice and getting him discharged to the local nursing home, so I packed up the Christmas box, put a box of fudge in each family’s bag, called Judy and asked if they could P-U-L-E-E-Z-E help me by taking the package to UPS.

And bless them, they did. Charlie arrived and I gave him $50 and told him I thought it would be about $25. Silly me. It cost $35 to send two boxes to California. We are going to do something different next year, but that is another story.

I had several boxes of fudge left over. Apparently I was supposed to have given each family two boxes of fudge.

We had coffee with Judy and her husband earlier in the week and exchanged small gifts – she gave us a plate of homemade cookies and fudge she had made, and we gave them two doohickeys to keep ants out of hummingbird feeders and a box of the fudge.

When we got back home, we sampled some of her fudge and I sort of cringed with embarrassment because her fudge looked so much better than what we had bought and it certainly tasted a great deal better than the fudge we had given them. I had visions of her offering the box of fudge to someone else, who takes one look at it and passes it on again…. and again…. the perpetual gift of fudge…

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Breath of Heaven...

Back on December 20, 2005 I posted some of the lyrics to the Amy Grant song, Breath of Heaven, because I was stressed out about something and was trying to rest in God's presence to get me through.

I suspect the problem had something to do with our son. He has had a very difficult time negotiating life.

The song is playing in my head a lot now, too. Since June we have been flirting with the edges of the Valley of the Shadow but now we are headed deep down down into it...

Breath of Heaven
Hold me together
Be forever near me
Breath of Heaven

Breath of Heaven
Lighten my darkness...

I feel a certain affinity for Mary these days. She was not expecting to get pregnant, and neither was I. We both brought forth sons into the world; her's of course had a somewhat more important role to fill on this earth than mine did, but I am just now finding out that he touched peoples' lives in ways I never suspected. She watched her son die at age 33. So are we.

I am just so thankful I have God's presence to walk with us through it.

Monday, December 20, 2010

I cook my tongue

My mother was a very creative cook in the kitchen. She fed 4 children and her husband very well with plain simple food cooked very well. Until she was about 10 years old, she lived on a small ranch near Elbert, Colorado, and she grew up eating beef, pork, and chicken that her father and brother butchered themselves. They used every part of the animal they killed that was edible. I don’t know how involved she was in helping her mother in the kitchen during those early years, but in the years after they left the farm and moved to Los Angele during the Depression, she was well trained at knowing how to get the most bang out of her buck. And she often came home from the store with very cheap cuts of less desirable meat and did amazing things. A big pot of pork hocks cooked with potatoes and sauerkraut was one of my favorite.

I remember the first time she opened a package of beef tongue and laid it out on the counter. I was stunned at how gross it looked, and thought, “no way am I eating that.” But after she had cooked it and gotten rid of the outer skin with all the bumps and had chopped the meat, it tasted wonderful.

So, I did not turn my nose up a month or so ago when I was offered a beef heart and a tongue. I had put it in the freezer and had sort of forgotten about it, but Richard reminded me that I needed to cook it so he could free up the space, so I did. I found a recipe and cooked it in the crock pot.

He came walking up to the counter as I was peeling off the outer skin.

“Are you going to eat your tongue for dinner?”

We looked at each other, and began to laugh. And we have had a few other amusing moments in the days since discussing the disposition of my tongue.

It looks like I will be eating the whole thing myself. Richard took one look at the organ laying there on the cutting board and offered the opinion that he wouldn’t eat it in a million years.

How about a small taste? It really is very good.

Does it have the texture of liver?

No. It is a muscle. It has the texture of any other muscle meat. Sure you don’t want any?

Absolutely not.

His loss.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

My, what beautiful shoes you have…

It was just totally weird the sorts of things that flashed through my mind as I sat in the hospital room a few days ago and the surgeon who removed the mass in our boy’s armpit in July, and who was to have done the operation on Monday, came in to tell us the bad news.

News that was taking away the last little sliver of hope.

The man is so strikingly handsome, that it was too distracting to look at his face and try listen to what he was telling us at the same time. I stared at his feet instead. He was wearing beautiful brown leather shoes, glistening shoes, in perfect character with everything else about him.

And then shortly after he left the room, I went out to the hall and down corridor between the two wings of rooms on that floor, and I stood against the wall, sort of out of sight, and I cried. Much to my surprise, he was suddenly there, rubbing my back and expressing how sorry he was. I think he meant it. From what I can see of his Facebook page, he has two young boys. Perhaps he was imagining the unimaginable….

Friday, December 17, 2010

Rollin’ along…

Years ago I read a most gripping novel about a driver maneuvering his seriously powerful race car in a European race. I think he had nicknamed it the “Green Hornet." This race was not on an oval where they just go round and round and round and round hour after hour – but one of those races like Le Mans, where the course is over public roads, and in this case up into the mountains. The author described in wonderful detail the techniques the driver uses to coax his Ferrari or Porsche or whatever it is to take the curves he comes up on as fast as possible without leaving the road. I remember that much of it, but not the author’s name nor the name of the novel.

We now have six cars – six! (count 'em folks) – keeping in mind that up until 2 weeks ago there were 3 people driving. It’s hilarious in one way and pitiful in another, but there is a good explanation for all of this; in any event, we will begin shedding some of these cars fairly soon. We have been rolling down the highway in any of several of these cars that we trust enough to get us to the hospital. Every day this week, in fact, at least one of us has climbed into a vehicle and powered his or her way down the highway for 90 minutes to get to the hospital.

As one heads west from Willow Springs toward Springfield, the land flattens out quite a bit and the winding, up and down roads near the house began to level out and straighten, but even so, here and there are turns with warning signs to reduce speed – especially for the big rigs that have habit of turning over if they go too fast.

Yesterday as I was rolling along, I came to one of the two curves on the highway that one really does need to slow down a bit to be safe, and as I adjusted my speed and kept a steady hand on the wheel and keeping an eye on the car next to me, I imagined, just for a second, that I was that race car driver maneuvering my Porsche around a turn rather than a mother heading off in her 1998 Olds to spend some time with her terminally ill child.

Yesterday ended on a fairly good note considering that the end note is going to be very bad indeed. The chest tube that was continuing to pour out fluid has stopped draining. This is huge, because it means there is more of a chance that it can be taken out and he can be moved to a facility closer to home. His care while he is at the hospital has been transitioned to the palliative care doctor, who has added drugs and increased doses and has made our boy much more comfortable. Nate asked for a nasogastric tube yesterday, which is not very pleasant but is much better than the nearly constant vomiting of vile stuff from his stomach, and as the day progressed, it was much easier to be in the room with him.

So on the trip home last night as I climbed into my powerful race car and rolled on down the highway toward home, I was actually feeing at peace. And I managed to reach  two of the three intersections on the highway with stoplights when they were green.

"Gee", my husband said when I walked in, "you sure made good time!" Little did he know….

Monday, December 13, 2010

A change of plans...

If I were a psychiatrist trying to figure out what makes me tick, I might ask me why in the midst of the drama connected with our son and his deteriorating health, I am writing about garbage disposals falling out, mistakes I have made while preparing tapioca pudding, and pickling green tomatoes. There are several possibilities, but the fact is that life does go on. The sun comes up, we get out of bed and put one foot forward, and move through the day, and other things happen that we have to think about besides the problems with our son.

The general surgeon who removed the baseball size mass in our son’s armpit a few months ago appears to be a very good surgeon. This I was told today by a man who came to visit our boy. His brother is an anesthesiologist at the hospital and works with our surgeon regularly, and he is highly regarded.

Our guy may very well be a good surgeon, but I am rather angry at him at the moment because he will insist on adding his voice to the choir of other physicians who are taking care of our son as they sing their old favorite…

“There Is No Hope For Your Son….”
He did it again this morning, when he was discussing with us the reason why the operation that was supposed to begin at about 7:30 to remove the baseball in Nate’s abdomen was going be temporarily postponed, if not canceled outright.

You understand, he said, that this is palliative. All this will do is buy him some more time.
Of course, I want to scream at him. Of course I understand. But I don’t want to hear it.

I did not want the surgery to be postponed. Every day that the operation is delayed gives the mass in his abdomen one more day to grow and become harder to remove – if indeed it can be removed at all at this point.

Our son’s ability to breathe began to deteriorate the day after he saw the surgeon last week to schedule the operation. And this morning, the surgeon, with his impeccable logic, explained to our son that his lung function was so bad that if he was having trouble breathing now – his right lung was not moving any air at all – he certainly would have far more trouble after the operation and he might not even survive the operation.

So, instead of the operation, he was admitted to the floor and went for a CT scan to see if they could figure out a reason why all this fluid had collected in the pleural space between his lungs and the ribs, and a thoracic specialist stuck a needle in there and drained out more than a liter of fluid... and then they put in a chest tube…. and

And tomorrow will be a new day and I have no idea what is going to happen…. 
Except the sun is going to come up....
and I will get out of bed...
and put one foot forward….

Friday, December 10, 2010

I packed a peck of pickled…

Hats off to the frugal woman of yesteryear who, having found herself up to the armpits with green tomatoes that had no chance of ripening, experimented around and discovered that they could be turned into some pretty darn good pickles.

For the first time ever, our tomato plants this year not only survived the summer, but were loaded with beautiful tomatoes – albeit green -- right up until the first hard frost. I have never had to deal with green tomatoes before, but I found me a gallon jar, and some pickling spice, and the Internet was good enough to find me a recipe that did not require hot water bath processing, and so I put up a gallon of pickles.

And they rested in the refrigerator for the specified time. I opened it earlier in the week, and I am suitably impressed.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

A spoonful of sugar…

The last step in making this recipe called Orange Tapioca Pudding that I have involves adding a pinch of salt to 2 egg whites, whipping until soft peaks form, and then adding 1 tablespoon of sugar.

This was taking place on Sunday. I had already made a stew out of a beef heart a friend gave me (thanks Donna for reminding me how good beef heart is).

And I had made a lovely loaf of Italian herb bread in my cast iron pot….

And now I was finishing up the dessert. I very cleverly (I thought) had put the tapioca in the small crock pot, which meant that in between periodic stirring, I could vacuum and mop the floor and clean the outside of the refrigerator and the cabinets and sweep down cobwebs and so on, rather than stand glued to the floor in front of the stove stirring constantly for a very long time.

I was doing all of this because I had taken the unusual and very impulsive action of inviting my friend Judy for lunch on Monday. I am not very comfortable inviting people for a meal. I am embarrassed about my house, and I worry that the food I make is not going turn out, and on top of that, I do not seem to have that “gift of hospitality” that my mother and sister have been gifted with. But I love Judy and I needed to talk to her about stuff.  

After the egg white were nicely foaming, I added the tablespoon of sugar and finished beating them and folded them in to my lovely orange tapioca pudding. And then I thought I had better taste it.

Have mercy!

I had dumped in a tablespoon of salt instead of sugar.

Richard heard my cry of dismay and came in the kitchen. “Throw it away,” he said.

I could not bear to dump all of that tapioca down the drain, so I put it in sieve and washed the “pudding” part away, leaving the orange slices and the clear balls of tapioca, and then I found a box of instant vanilla pudding and prepared that and mixed it all together.

It was not quite as good as the original would have been, but it worked.

And I had a lovely visit with my friend.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Coffee can is lookin' pretty good

We have an account at one of the Big Banks in the town down the road because we had a customer in Germany who paid us with wire transfers and it was the only bank in the area, at that time,  that was set up to accept international electronic wire transfers.

This morning I was entering the accounting into the computer and I see that....

In July the account earned 13 cents in interest. Wow!

In August the account earned 13 cents in interest. Double wow!!

In September the account earned 11 cents in interest. What the....?

I go roaring into R's office:

Shouldn't we have earned a bit MORE interest in September seeing as the account now has 26 more cents in it? How come we only got 11 cents?

All he could think of was that they must have cut the amount of interest they are paying.

I have never been particularly fond of this bank. When I was in college, I got so riled up about this bank and its policies (this was during the Vietnam war, doncha know) that I joined other students in a protest at one of its local branches.

In the meantime, I am thinking that there is absolutely no advantage to having our money in this bank. We would be just as well off putting it in a coffee can and burying it in the yard.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

I can say “No!”

When I was in high school, I was a member of the choir, and every year we put on several productions – a Christmas concert and a Spring concert, which was usually excerpts from musicals that were popular then.

One year the Spring production included segments from Oklahoma! and the choir director insisted that I try out for the part of Ado Annie Carnes, who sings the song that begins

I'm just a girl who cain't say no,
I'm in a terrible fix...
I was just stunned that she thought I was a good enough singer to try out for the part. I had a decent alto voice back then, and the part was low enough for me to manage, but even so, I knew I probably had a snowball’s chance in a hot place of ever getting the part. Just the fact that she asked me shocked me so much that I said “yes” and tried out.

A much better singer than I also auditioned and I did not get the part.

But that was OK. Just being thought “good enough” to try out did my quivering self-esteem a world of good.

In any event, I have found over the years that I have been in a similar circumstances as poor Ado Annie – I am almost never able say “No” when people ask me to do things.

My motives for saying “Yes” have not always been admirable. I suspect I am something of a “people pleaser:”

  • I want to be thought of as being a cooperative and helpful
  • I want people to like me
  • I want to impress them
 Sometimes, of course, I actually do want to do what I have been asked to do and I am very happy to say “Yes” because I genuinely want to do it.

I was very tired late yesterday afternoon – we had gone to Town to pay our property tax bill at the Courthouse, pick up a garbage disposer, and to do some shopping at 5 or 6 other places (WalMart is really exhausting). When we returned, Nate was trying to coordinate an appointment with his oncologist and a consult with the surgeon for next week on the same day so we could avoid making 2 trips within a few days (which did not work out—the surgeon is in surgery on the day the appointment was scheduled with the oncologist; and the oncologist is at another facility on the day when the surgeon could see him), so I was somewhat stressed about that on top of being tired, and then I was further preoccupied by a manuscript that had arrived that morning by an author group from Taiwan who had put together some very strange sentences.

In midst of this, I received a telephone call from our pastor wanting to know if I could come to the church tonight at 7:30 and play 3 Christmas songs (hard ones!) on the electronic keyboard (which has a recording function) so the people from church who are going to ride on the Christmas float in the upcoming Christmas parade down main street will have accompaniment.

I almost had a meltdown right there on the phone. Without even thinking too much about this, I was very surprised to hear myself say “No, I am sorry, I cannot do it.”

We talked a bit longer and then I sat there staring at the phone in stunned disbelief.

I had actually said “No!”

Today of course I am feeling a bit guilty for putting them in a bind, but I am also feeling very relieved that tonight at 7:30, I will not be heading out the door to play (very badly indeed) 3 Christmas songs on the electronic keyboard.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

We reactivate the bucket brigade

During the height of summer, we try to recycle as much of our water as possible to water the garden, and so a 5-gallon plastic bucket stands ready and able in the kitchen to catch the water we use to wash and rinse the dishes.

And once the garden is done, the bucket wanders off and goes into hibernation until summer, or some other need arises.

About 2 weeks ago R noticed drips coming from the side of the sink where the garbage disposal is installed and so he cleared everything out under that side of the sink and put a plastic storage tub to catch the water and began searching out a reasonably priced garbage disposal. There ain’t no such animal, at least not at this time of the year. So he put off buying one.

Then this afternoon he came in where I was working away on manuscripts about shoulder and elbow surgery and wondered if I knew what was happening in the kitchen.

Well, no.

I had no idea what was happening in the kitchen. Whatever had happened in the kitchen had happened very quietly.

It seems the garbage disposal (with a 1-year warranty) that he installed some 30 years ago had rusted out and had totally disconnected from the sink – it was only held up by the drainpipe connecting it to the rest of the sink plumbing. It does amaze me sometimes how these things do not conveniently break on Monday morning.

And now the garbage disposal is not there at all, and so the 5-gallon bucket is once again in service and we are barely avoiding stubbing our toes on all the stuff from under the sink that is now scattered about the kitchen floor.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

I am thankful today…

A month or so ago my friend Judy gave me a printout by someone connected with her church, who wrote on the importance of having a thankful heart – not as an emotional response – but as a state of mind. It was quite profound, and I meant to write about it today, given this is the day we set aside to be thankful. Similar to the phrase, where is a cop when you need him?… the paper has vanished into the morass of other papers and I can’t put my hand on it right now.

A little later today, sometime around noon (indeed, by the time I finish this post it will be time for me to put the small turkey into the oven), our little family will sit down together, and we will be giving thanks in much better spirits than we thought might be possible several days ago.

One of the things I am most thankful for this year is that the oncologist who is treating our son, recognizing that he does not know much about melanoma, sought out one of the leading experts in melanoma in our state to consult with. And because he made a wise choice, the other physician that we must drive 3 hours (one way) to see, just happens to be the only physician in the state who is part of a trial of a new gene-based autoimmune therapy drug to help melanoma patients.

We found out yesterday that after Nate recovers from his next operation, and baring some other unforeseen circumstance, this doctor will enter him into the ongoing study with this new drug, which has had very good success in helping melanoma patients. 

I am thankful for anything that will give our son more time.

And among all the other reasons for being thankful, I am especially thankful to this niece...

and her boyfriend...

for going out of their way on their day off that week to take our boy on a sightseeing tour

and to Hollywood...

to make one of his “dreams come true”…

and for feeding him at a famous hot-dog stand….

I am also thankful to my brothers who bent over backwards to make sure he had a good time on his visit.

Services from Cottonwood Church, where my sister attends, are broadcast on the church channel on Wednesday evenings, and I always set aside 30 minutes to listen. Last week he said, “Have you ever read Habakkuk? You better, because when you get to heaven you are going to meet him and he is going to ask you what you thought of his book….” Well, I have read it and so I will be able to tell Habakkuk that I especially like one thing he wrote:

Even though the fig trees have no fruit
and no grapes grow on the vines,

even though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no grain,

even though the sheep all die
and the cattle stalls are empty,

I will still be joyful and glad,
because the Lord God is my savior.

The Sovereign Lord gives me strength.
He makes me sure footed as a deer
and keeps me safe on the mountains.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Prophecy almost fulfilled

About 10 years ago, as Richard was nearing the end of the construction project to finish our two-car garage, the husband of a couple that we met almost as soon as we moved here commented that eventually there would not be room for our two vehicles in the garage because it would quickly fill up with stuff and both vehicles would end up parked outside on the concrete.

Richard laughed and said, “Oh no. That will never happen….

Yesterday morning, I received in the mail a card from the wife, and this is what I saw when I opened it.

She had come by on Friday on her lunch break, with her lunch in hand, and we had spent about 45 minutes visiting before she went back to work.

I was a bit overwhelmed by this unexpected blessing. This is not the first time that she has given liberally to me in a time of need.

As it happens, we are not in dire financial need at the moment because God has prospered my business. Which is a good thing, because also yesterday, Richard had a $1,500 visit to the dentist and we joked that it is a good thing I am working because we need to keep his teeth in the style to which they are accustomed.

Even so, tomorrow we will embark on yet another long-distance trip to take our son to the massive Barnes-Jewish Hospital complex  St. Louis for a consult with the melanoma specialist who is coaching the oncologist who regularly sees Nate. 

Nate wonders why they wait until the day before Thanksgiving to schedule this appointment, which we have a feeling may not have very good news for us even though the most recent MRI scan showed no evidence of cancer in his brain. As I pointed out to him, there really is no good time for bad news; but then again, let's not anticipate too much: maybe there will be good news!

We have good records of the money we have spent on gas since this adventure in living occurred in June, but we don’t need accurate records of expenses for food and other odds and ends connected with these marathon trips to doctors and hospitals to tell us that we have spent a lot of money. And my friend’s kindness is definitely appreciated. 

But, back to her husband’s prediction. Both cars have indeed been sitting outside the garage for several weeks because the materials for various home repair projects -- that have been planned but not completed -- have usurped the space where the cars are supposed to be.

This situation is further complicated by an attempt on Richard’s part to clear out some of the older “stuff” so the new stuff can be stored (our barn has finally collapsed, precluding putting anything out there), which resulted in a great collection of stuff being scattered all over the garage.

Last night we were under a tornado watch, which is not unusual for this time of year. At about 8 pm, thunder was rumbling in the distance. A tornado watch usually means there will be hail even if there is no tornado, so Richard raced downstairs to clear enough space in the garage so that the good cars could be pulled in. And indeed there was hail – but not very big and not very much—fortunately, because although he did manage to get the smaller car in, about 1 foot of truck was still hanging outside.

He seems fascinated by the programs on hoarding that are so popular now on TV…. Wonder why?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Life’s a Beach…

The Talisman, the epic novel by Stephen King and Peter Straub, begins thusly:

On September 15th, 1981, a boy named Jack Sawyer stood where the water and land come together, hands in the pockets of his jeans, looking out at the steady Atlantic. He was 12 years old, and tall for his age…. He stood there filled with the confused and painful emotions he had lived with for the last three months…

I thought of this passage as I stood and watched our son, much older of course than 12-year-old Jack, and about average size in height for a man his age, standing for the first time in 6 years in the ebb and flow of the surf at the Manhattan Beach pier, with one hand in his pocket of his jeans shorts and one hand holding his shoes.

I have no idea what exactly was going through his mind, but I know that he too has lived with confused and painful emotions for going on 6 months now. Because conditions were very nearly perfect the week we were there, we could easily see the gradual “C” shape of the coastline beginning with the mountains that lurk over the beach at Malibu to the north...

and sweeping around to the Palos Verdes Peninsula to the south...

with Catalina Island 25 miles off the coast in sharp relief. It was gorgeous.

We laughed with delight at the 3 little shore birds running up and down and back and forth in front of us,

seeming not to mind at all that we were not that far away from them.

And a pigeon, hunkered down in the warm sand.

I know that pigeons are not thought very highly of in urban areas, but I like them very much. My uncle raised homing pigeons and raced them -- of course they were quite a step up from the mongrel birds that grace urban landscapes -- and I had a coop of pigeons when I was a girl – until we went on vacation and some boys in the neighborhood stole them (but I did not find out who did it until many years later, at my 10-year high school reunion).
I hope that he will not have to wait another 6 years to stick his toes in the Pacific. I hope that he will be able to return to California in June when my sister's youngest daughter... 

marries her sweetheart.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Mi familia

When I think of my family in general terms, I am reminded of the amusing scene from the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding, where the quiet, emotionally conservative parents of the woman’s fiance are introduced for the first time to her boisterous and emotionally exuberant family.

My sister’s girls have both become involved with boys who come from very quiet families. One can only imagine what they must have thought the first time they came to one of the big family gatherings.

We all gathered last Saturday to honor our family’s patriarch on the occasion of his 86th birthday. My mother was a very quiet woman, and during our formative years, he had much to do with the level of noise in the house.

 He knows how to behave in front of the camera,

…but this is also typical. We all share memories of many family occasions when we were kids – especially when the cousins from Northern California were there – when all he had to do was look at us with one of these silly expressions on his face for us to collapse in hysterical giggling.

So, when it came time to take the pictures, we posed correctly for the camera to document the occasion...

 – especially important since it has been 6 years since our boy has had a picture taken with his relatives and we  do not know what the future holds,  

And then each time after both pictures were taken... 

decorum went by the wayside, as is typical.

What is missing is the sound effects as fists were being pumped, with everyone blaring like an air horn from a truck or train.

At any rate, it was a proper birthday party, and a good time was had by all... 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Rolling back the years….

Because the teachers in the elementary school I attended routinely organized us in class alphabetically by our last names, I frequently found myself sitting near a boy named Lester, beginning very early on in school.

He had to do double-duty. I remember him complaining bitterly that his parents made him go to Japanese school on Saturday.

When we gathered in the school playground for our 6th grade graduation pictures, Lester managed to lean into the photo. I am in the middle there. I am not sure why I am looking so miserable

...perhaps I did not want Lester in the photo.

Except for 2 years when I attended a different junior high school because we had moved out of the district, Lester and I were classmates from elementary school through high school and into at least several years at the same 4-year state college.

Etsuko, another classmate from high school, has been organizing lunches and dinners for other members of our high school graduating class who still live in the area and maintains a large e-mail list of these people. Last Thursday she arranged dinner at a Japanese restaurant in town, and a few people I knew in high school came. And I was amazed to see that all of them were 61 years old, just like me.

Including Lester...

who complained she had chosen a Japanese greasy chopstick (equivalent of an American “greasy spoon”) because it wouldn’t take credit cards and he had to leave and find an ATM to get some money so he could pay for his meal…

And Marlene...

a school teacher, who I knew from our years in choir and who had a beautiful singing voice…

And Laura...

who has nearly lost her sight because of the ravages of diabetes.

And Amy...

who graduated from law school and works at one of the courts in downtown Los Angeles and recently went on a missionary trip to Uganda with her church…

And there were three other people, but I did not get pictures of them because they were sitting on the same side of the table as I was, so Joel, and Marjorie, and Etsuko herself are missing from the lineup. Nobody thought to have someone take a picture of us as a group. Oh well.

A few days later I had another reunion with another high school classmate, Sue...

who I met at church when we were in the third or fourth grade and who was my friend through high school. Our sons are 1 year and 2 days apart. I saw her last year at my mother’s memorial service and she came this year to my dad’s birthday party.

And the next day, there was another very special meeting with yet another classmate, Judy, who teaches mentally disabled students and has survived two bouts of cancer. She came bearing gifts for our boy, and had some very insightful things to share.

Some people flit in and out of our lives, never to be thought of again, and others make a lasting impression.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sittin' on the dock....

When I was a kid, my dad often took us to the harbor at San Pedro to see what we could see. My dad loved to look at the ships and watch the bustling activity on wharfs. Often there were naval ships docked there that had free tours. When our boy was little and we came for visits, Grandpa often took him to the harbor to carry on the tradition.

Once upon a time a ferry operated from one of the piers in San Pedro. And then in 1963, a big bridge was built that made the ferry obsolete, and the building was converted into the Los Angeles Maritime Museum.

This time my sister’s husband offered to take us to San Pedro to the Maritime Museum, and so we piled into the car and off we went.

The museum maintains a tugboat, and the courtyard behind the museum, on the harbor side, has benches that look out over the channel, giving a wonderful view of the loading dock for the Evergreen container port for the container ships across the channel.

We spent some time sitting on the dock of the bay...

watching the mobile cranes stacking the containers on the deck of the ship, listening to the whoop whoop of the warning sirens on the small machines that were zipping around...

watching the seagulls...

watching large barges being shoved and pulled back and forth down the channel from a dredging operation.

I had some fun trying to get a decent picture of the huge starfish clinging to the dock, which was rocking gently all the time, without falling in.

A stone plinth in the courtyard sports a large cannon that was captured at Santiago de Cuba on July 17, 1989, during the Spanish-American War.

 I wonder what this weapon might have sounded like as it fired.

I also wonder how many more visits my dear old Dad will be able to make to this place that he loves so much.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Home again…

I have seen any number of cartoons over the years where the artist has depicted Hell as a place where people are forced to endure an eternity of looking at other peoples’ vacation pictures.

I have quite a few here to share, but aren’t you all lucky that I have so much work piled up to do that I will not be able to write a nice long post about it for a while. So bits and pieces it is.

To assure anyone who might have been worried. We were picked up in good form—and without any tears—at Los Angeles International Airport by my brother in my father's car. He drove us to his place of work (the exterior of the building where he works doubles as the headquarters for the TV series CSI: Miami). And much to my surprise, there in the parking lot was a flash from the past. The Oscar Meier Weinermobile

And yes, the sky really was that blue. The winds were blowing in the right direction and it was crystal clear there – not a trace of smog – the mountains surrounding Los Angeles were in sharp relief.

And then he hopped out of the car and  I drove us back to my Dad's house. Piece of cake.

Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Meier weiner
That is what I truly wish to be…
Now I’ve gone and done it. That will be with me for the rest of the day.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Parting shot

In the midst of last minute organizing the clothes we will take on our trip, I leave the room to take care of other things, and when I return, I see there is another item in the bag.

Sorry kitty... can’t come.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Desperately seeking urad…

It wasn’t until I began eating authentic Indian food prepared by the dada from the Ananda Marga center, who cooked lunch every day for the woman whose house I cleaned, that I even knew such a thing as urad existed. Urad is a small bean sort of thing that is used to make dal.

He complained to me one day that cooking authentically the dishes from home was difficult because they couldn’t find the right ingredients locally. They had to depend on a monk from Kansas City (about a 6-hour drive) to bring them supplies.

Some of the monks marched in the 4th of July parade several years ago.

I thought it was great.

I think we have become aware in recent years that cultures around the world grow and eat fruits and vegetables and other things that we have no clue about. Sometimes these strange fruits and vegetables show up in the markets.

Having grown up in the city of Gardena, with a very high percentage of Japanese American and Asian residents, I was aware of all of the exotic things from Japan that could be fashioned into wonderful meals. But Indian food was mostly a mystery until we moved here.

The last time Richard and I drove to California, we went to Little India and I came back with mass quantities of these small urads in various colors (but I did not top Richard, who in another previous trip, bought two 25-pound sacks of sticky rice from the Japanese market in Gardena that we hauled home.)

Fortunately, we don’t have to stock up any more on Japanese items and carry it 1,500 miles across country because in the last 5 years or so several Asian markets have sprung up in Springfield. In fact, when I stopped by the Asian market the last time I was in Springfield, I met up with a couple who I see here at the Y several times a week who were also stocking up (the wife is Vietnamese).

And now the urad is finally gone, and there still is not a source for Indian things in Springfield. I can make do with mung beans and red lentils for dal, but it really is better with the urad.

So. I will have to decide if (1) I am going to journey to Little India and by more urad, and (2) if I do, how much can I cram into a priority box to mail back home?

Friday, November 05, 2010

I have a bit of a meltdown….

I am the oldest child in the family, and next in line are two brothers, followed by a baby sister.

Both of my brothers work at jobs that are located within about 10 minutes of LA International Airport. Nobody is too anxious for our father to drive into LAX to pick me up.

So, this brother called...

and said he would be picking me up.

That was fine with me.

Then another phone call arrived while I was out and our son answered. My brother said he was not picking me up, but the other brother, Danny, was.

And he really is sort of a goofy guy.

Strange things happen when Danny gets involved with picture taking.

Except I didn’t hear anymore about it from Danny and I did not have his mobile phone number. About a week ago, my sister e-mailed me about Danny picking me up, and I sort of had a meltdown in the middle of answering her back. I started crying because I hadn’t heard from him.

It was just ridiculous.

It struck me later that I have coped fairly well, I think, with a lot of very serious stuff in the last year. I haven’t exactly sailed along all the time, but I have done OK. So why I broke down and started bawling because I hadn’t heard from my brother beats the heck out of me. There is a bit in the Bible about “little foxes ruining the grapes,” and I think it applies here as well. In the midst of a major crisis you know you can’t fall apart, but it is OK to collapse in a heap with something very minor.
But. I am happy to say we are all squared away. He did e-mail me, I have his mobile number, and it appears my son and I will be picked up at the airport after all.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Vinegar does the trick…

There are many varieties of flies that belong to the Drosophilidae family, some causing economic devastation to agriculture, some being the go-to organism for genetic researchers, and some just being a minor nuisance in the kitchen.

They are fairly far down on the list of Insects I Do Not Tolerate. I probably wouldn’t do much about them except I find it annoying to have them hovering around my mouth when I am trying to eat salad, or fruit, or my Sunday morning omelet dressed with salsa on the side. 

The other night I think I may have swallowed one that got too close to the vegetables I was eating, coated as they were with a bit of Italian dressing.

Always on the look out for organic and non-lethal-to-human means of ridding the house of unwanted insect pests, as summer drew to a close, I had considered trying to persuade a hummingbird not to leave and instead to spend the winter in my house eating the fruit flies.

But then my brilliant friend Judy told me to leave out a small bowl of vinegar with a few drops of dish-washing liquid in it.

That will do the trick, she says. Promise.

They will come to the vinegar and will drown.

She was right. It is working.

On occasion, one can attract more flies with vinegar than with honey.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

I play it safe

For about 15 minutes this morning my blog had one of the most beautiful banners that I have ever created.

I received an amazing card in the mail.

Go ahead. Click on the link and look at it. I'll wait for you.

Ain't it beautiful?

I took a photograph of it and create the banner and uploaded it, but then I had second thoughts about it, so I asked my husband who is an expert in all things legal having to do with copyright if what I did violated the artist's copyright. 

Absolutely, he said.

So I thought about getting permission from the artist  (click on that link too -- pretty amazing) to use the artwork -- which I have done in the past -- but I decided not to pursue it for the time being.

Richard informs me that there is a group of attorneys whose main business is suing bloggers for violating the copyrights of other people. So.... I decided to pay it safe.

Doggone it.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

What was that you said?

I wrote this yesterday, intending to post it yesterday, but one thing led to another, and here it is at the end of Thursday, but we will just pretend it is still Wednesday so I don't have to rewrite the whole thing. I have a hard enough time as it is.

We arrive very early for lunch at the pizza place, and we are the only ones there. We are in the midst of eating our  salads, Richard starts to talk. I look up at him to acknowledge his comment. I watch his mouth moving, and he makes words and finishes his statement, and I realize I did not understand one thing that he has said.

This reminds me of the hilarious scene in the C.S. Lewis novel That Hideous Strength where everyone at the banquet begins speaking gibberish.

I begin to laugh. And the more I think about it the harder I laugh. As I said, no one else has arrived for lunch, which is fortunate. Heads tend to turn when I start to laugh.

I finally get control of myself and wipe my streaming eyes. I explain that I did not understand a thing he said and would he please say it again.

He did.

We used to eat at the restaurant every Wednesday because we liked the lunch special, as did another woman who would arrive on her large motorcycle with her small granddaughter who was strapped into a child seat behind her. She was a very interesting woman. He wondered if she would come to the restaurant today.

We discuss her for a few minutes. In the intervening years another granddaughter was born and she could not mange two young children on the motorcycle, so I said she probably would not come on the motorcycle. I was right. She did not come to the restaurant.

Silence breaks out and we continue to eat, and a few minutes later he begins to talk again.

One again I look up at him to acknowledge that he is talking, and the only word I hear clearly is “plate.”

Again I begin to laugh, even harder this time, if that were possible. I eat much slower than he does, and I have just finished the plate of vegetables that I got from the salad bar, the small carrots are the last things I am eating.

He has said that he wanted to have carrots but there was no room for them on his plate.

Our personal pan pizzas arrive, and we discuss a few other things as we continue to eat. Once again conversation stops as we chew our food.

A few minutes later I hear a string of gibberish and the word “glass.”

I look up at him in incredulity. Before I can say anything, he starts to laugh. 

I did that on purpose he says. I couldn’t resist, it was a perfect set up.

Well, what did you say, I asked

He begins to laugh even harder: Mumble, mumble, glass.

As I was sitting there looking at this man I have been married too since 1971, I think about the things that endear him to me, the things that I value in him and right at the top of the list is that he enjoys teasing me and wanting to make me laugh.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I am forbidden to kill the cat

It is about 6 pm. The Evil Squeaker has been captured and the doors to the outside are shut. She does not want to be inside, but we cannot leave her out all night. First, she will eventually want in, at a time when it is most inconvenient for us to let her in; second, it is not very safe for her out there – feral tom cats frequently come around to bully her; aside from her own species, there are fox and coyotes and probably bobcats and she is an idiot and doesn’t have sense enough to avoid danger.

She has learned that two of the doors leading to freedom do not always latch unless they are shut with enthusiasm, and she has become quite adept at checking these dodgy doors and teasing them open if they aren’t actually shut. So, she has checked the doors but instead of settling down and going to sleep…

she is restless and is wandering through the house meowing and making everyone cross.

Richard has retreated to take a shower, and I am heading from into the kitchen to make some tea, when I hear a loud crash from the living room area and she comes shooting around the corner like a rocket and disappears into one of the other rooms. At first I thought Richard had fallen in the shower. But he was fine.

Next to the chair where I sit to watch TV in the evenings there is a plastic storage unit on wheels with three pull-out drawers. I have sat a board on top of this and on it sit my colored pencils and the pencil sharpener and other stuff.

Occasionally, I like to color at night during the commercials when I am watching TV. I am not gifted when it comes to drawing and painting, but if someone gives me the lines to color, I can have a good time doing it.

It does not take Sherlock Holmes to figure out that she is the source of the crash. She had leaped up on the board, landing on the edge, which caused the board to flip off the storage unit and onto the floor, taking it with it the colored pencils and everything else. The pencils were carefully organized, but now they are scattered everywhere.

I scream unkind things at the cat, who has vanished. I replace the board, and add a brick to the middle in case she tries it again, and I pick up the pencils.

“Sorry,” says Richard, having come out of the shower and beet red where the hot water has hit his back, "you cannot kill the cat.”