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.