Tuesday, March 21, 2017

I know, I know

I know, I know. I'm just getting back from Hawaii not to long ago, I'm just getting through some of the more sensitive backlog of written posts on my blog and here I am taking off for another week for a spring break of sorts to be with my family and my parents. It had originally been schedules as a boating and hiking bonanza but now I'm not so sure. See the next paragraph.

I'm not so sure because this past Saturday, I somehow managed to dislocate my kneecap, something I didn't know was possible. I'm healing now and I'm not sure what I will be able to do or not do on spring break where we are heading but I'm going anyway. I don't pass up the opportunity to spend time with family even if I had to wait for them to get back while I read a book and hobble around all day. I'll write more about that story when I get back.

Also, another splurb to let everyone know that my mom had her next scheduled followup MRI result at the end of last week. The "new" spot next to the tumor that was removed has not grown in size at all. The highlighting in the region of where the original tumor was removed is still continuing to shrink. It's hard to pin a doctor down, and I should know being married to one, but the best answer as to why these regions continue to highlight on an MRI four months after radiation ended is that the cancer cells secreted "liquids" as they were dying and the body is slow to absorb them. My translation is that they really don't know either but as long as they aren't growing, we still have time and lets enjoy it. The next MRI is scheduled for mid May.

My mother-in-law left for six weeks to go take care of business back home giving us a breather of sorts. No matter what kind of relationship you have with your mother-in-law/mother, living with them full time can eventually cause friction and it is nice to pull that bandaid off for a month and a half and let the wounds scab over and heal. They always have before so I have no doubt they will this time. She is also slated to return in mid May.

My grandparents are settling in and I continue to stop in several times a week to adjust furniture, or say hello. I was on my way to do just that and to pick up a box of old photo to digitize when I messed up my leg. (Teaser; I was hopping onto a locomotive when it happened.) Needless to say, I opted to not carry all of them to the car and told them I will pick them up after spring break. I'm pretty excited about that.

So when I get back home and caught up next week, I will catch up on everyone's blogs and catch up on mine as I'm sure you want to hear my train story. Until then!


Monday, March 20, 2017


We are going about everything backwards. Our original plans were to remodel the kitchen and then get new appliances. However, I haven't yet gotten to that project and we only have one surviving appliance left and it has been showing signs of flat lining a time or two already.

When we moved into this house, the door on our old microwave looked like it had gone twelve rounds with Mike Tyson. The frame of the door was all broken and the handle itself was caved in. At the time, I was able to find old "new stock" parts to repair it and it serviced us well for over four years. However, the handle due to poor design, broke off the machine again and there was no fixing it and there were no parts anywhere to be found for such an ancient machine. However, by grasping the underside of the door, we could still open and close it so we used it as is for another six months. However the continual torquing of the door played a toll on the plastic pieces and eventually it too broke off dropping the glass onto the stove below. (I'm not sure how it didn't break but it didn't!)

With no glass, I figured it was now a safety hazard (sarcasm there) and unplugged the machine. One problems I have these days with appliances is that hardly anyone stocks anything anymore. You have to go to a showroom, pick out something that you like, order it and wait for weeks or months until it arrives. With a five person household that makes 99% of all our meals and believes in making extra to reheat for quick meals in the days to come, a microwave anymore is a necessity. I ordered my microwave and was told it would be two weeks. Past experience has taught me that it could be twice as long.

I wasn't sure how we would survive without a microwave for up to a month so as I was driving home, I pondered the possibility of buying the cheapest microwave possible with the thought that it had to just survive a few weeks and then we could sell it this spring at our garage sale. I knew the only place that would have something cheap and crappy enough for my needs was Walmart so for the first time in decades, I stepped foot inside our local store. They indeed had a cheap piece of crap microwave made entirely of thin brittle plastic for $49! How someone can make a microwave that cheap is beyond me. It was bright red and could barely hold our dinner plates but barely was good enough for me. As a plus, it held up for two and a half weeks (see I told you it would take longer) for our stainless steel microwave to arrive.

Our old microwave was a recirculating model which isn't the best especially when you have a gas cook top directly underneath. The gas cook top, while a dream to cook with, has a downfall in that it generates a lot more heat than our previous electric cook top did, which in the summer makes the kitchen much warmer. Although super efficient in burning the gas without noxious fumes, the possibility is always there and that always worried me. Also, my wife likes to fry these Asian fish that can stink up a house for days during the winter time. With all these in mind, I bought a microwave that can be vented up through the roof. Our house has a hipped roof meaning we have to vertical surfaces accessible via attic space to vent fumes and the nearest outside wall if in the front of the house next to the front door, not an attractive place to vent fumes either. However, I figured I could work something out one way or another.

As it turned out, a previous microwave had been vented up into the attic so there was a hole already there to add ducting but I'm guessing that is where it stopped. Pumping heat into an attic here in the winter time leads to ice dam formation on your eaves and water damage to your walls so I didn't want to just dump all the fumes and heat into the attic. However, our roof has regular vents about every six feet along the peak of the roof and there was one within 92-1/2 inches of where the duct from the microwave came up. I know this for a fact because I initially bought a 60" duct thinking it was enough, returned a second time for a 24" chunk thinking that would get me there and having to return a third time for another 60" chunk that I cut down.

After much bumping of my head, barking my shins on rafters, taping together numerous joints and insulating the entire length, I finally got my microwave plumbed to the outside air at the peak of our house without adding a new hole in our roof. Now we can vent stinky fish fumes out the peak of our house which probably won't offend anyone but the neighbors downwind. Finally, all this is just before we are starting to get serious about remodeling the kitchen to the point we finally pulled some strings and are getting an architect to layout some options. However, I plan to recycle this microwave and all our other new appliances in the new design and the last remaining holdout, the double wall oven, if it lasts that long will finally be kicked to the curb and replaced with something new. It is nearly 45 years old so it has had a good run.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Settled In

I know exactly why my grandfather changed his mind and decided to move up here closer to his daughter, grandchild (me) and great grandchildren. It wasn't because my wife and I were more convincing in our reasoning that we gave them over Christmas. It was because my mom, their daughter, has brain cancer. Although it is technically still in remission, it is still there and isn't curable. Depending on when it comes back, my mom may have options to prolong her life further, but ultimately it will be a terminal disease. Brain cancer is measured in the percentage of people who live five years with the disease. In my mom's case, she has a 25% chance of living that long. I'm sure all this played heavily in my grandparent's decision.

This also scares me too because if my mom becomes unable to offer my grandparents assistance during their remaining years, I'm by default, probably going to inherit the brunt of that task. After nearly 20 years of only seeing my grandparents once or twice a year due the distances involved, it will be nice for an excuse to play catch up with them. But it may also be a serious time commitment and that scares me. However, even if it turns out to be the worst of all time commitments and I'm looking back at it with 20/20 vision, I know I would still do it because we are family and that is what families do.

Onward with the rest of the story though.

My parents got my grandparents escorted up here via the only direct flight between our airports to make things as easy as possible. However when they arrived, I could tell they were exhausted and I think more from dealing with my grandfather than the physical kind. As I later learned, I was right. As my grandfather's health has declined to the point where he can't see very good, can't hear much of anything unless you talk loud and into his hearing aid and much of his mobility has gone, he has become somewhat of a bear to be around. I don't blame him because I absolutely understand the frustration, loss of pride, depression that he is going through. As I help him, I keep reminding myself that it isn't his fault that he is that way, it is just what he has become due to everything else. Still, it is mentally exhausting some days repeating that to myself over and over.

Because all my grandparent's furniture was being hauled up from Florida by my uncle, it didn't arrive for two and a half days which meant that I played host for my grandparents. We made good use of the time by getting my grandfather comfortable and then my grandmother and I would head out to do all those things that one must do when moving to a new location/life. Finally the furniture arrived and I don't think I have ever seen my uncle and his wife, my parents, and the rest of my family moves so fast to get it unloaded and into their new apartment. We decided to have them spend one more night with us so that we can get another day under our belt helping them unpack and settle in and hopefully a little sanity will return as we all get a breather.

Their new home is in a complex run by the Good Samaritan Society. My grandparents will live in an independent living building for now that provides some services like one meal a day, cleaning and some shuttles around town for shopping but no personal type care. If/when they should need assistance with their personal care, they can hire someone to help them where they live or transition into an assisted care facility across the parking lot. If necessary, there is also a nursing home/hospice building as well. I've never met a more cheery, friendly staff and clients staying in the independent living part of the complex. With all the benefits and perks, I think it would be a great way to live out my remaining independent years and I'm sure my grandmother will thrive there. I'm not so sure that my grandfather isn't already to the point where he needs outside personal care but that is something I don't want to dwell on here right now. They are still settling in and for now, I'm making daily trips out there to help them get settled in.

Funny how history sometimes repeats itself. Though I was too young to have any memories, my great grandfather stayed down in Florida too long and eventually had a stroke that rendered him unable to talk or walk. He didn't want to fly so my grandparents went down to bring him home and only when they arrived at the airport did he realize that he was going to fly whether he wanted to or not. Fast forward and my grandfather has stayed down in Florida too long and now needs a walker to get around (and with a lot of effort on his part) and initially didn't want to fly. My family actually talked about surprising him at the airport but he eventually capitulated on his own and flew anyway with my parents flying down to escort him back. I can't see my parents ever wanting to live in Florida, no offense to any Floridians who read this, so I don't think I have to worry about that but someday I may be escorting one of them or both back from where ever they may be. History has a history of repeating itself.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Moving Fast

I'm not sure where I left this story at and I don't want to go search so I'll briefly recap it. I've been going down to Florida for seven years over the Christmas/New Year holidays to spend time with my elderly grandparents who weren't up to traveling anymore. My grandfather especially is getting worn out and probably doesn't have a whole lot of years left above ground. My mom and uncle have spent many years trying to convince my grandparents to move back closer to home but it usually ends up with my grandfather getting upset and wanting nothing to do with that idea. This past Christmas trip to Florida, my wife and I spent an afternoon talking with my grandparents and showing them options near us where they could live in an independent living apartment building that would also allow them to transition to assisted living and eventually into a nursing home, all in the same complex. It is the nearest place to the home farm and just so happens to be across town from where I live now. Surprisingly they seemed interested and asked that I go look at it myself and take some pictures for them.

I did them one step better and not only took pictures, but spent a long time talking with the manager of the facility and getting them all sorts of information. Best of all, this facility normally has wait times of over a year but currently had two units available, the best one with a nice view had been spoken for but no money had been put down for a down payment yet. I passed all this information along to my grandparents. Two days later, they called me up and said they were going to sell their house and move there by March 1rst!

It took a couple weeks of sending paperwork back and forth through snail mail and I went back another two times to take some more pictures and put a deposit on the "spoken for" unit which turned out was spoken for by a couple who wanted to sell their house first. I then spent the next couple weeks working out all the logistics of getting my grandparents moved up here when one of them spends all day sleeping in a recliner. My uncle for various reasons I won't go into here, doesn't get along too well with my grandfather and my mom was on vacation so I ended up doing most of the legwork but I was happy to do so. I arranged for my uncle to drive back to Florida with his wife and pull a rental trailer behind his truck back with their possessions and his wife will drive my grandparent's car back.

When I was down there over Christmas, my grandfather had been adamant that he didn't want to fly here and would prefer to drive. My mom spent some time trying to convince him that it would be much easier on him to spend three hours flying than three days driving, not to mention getting him into all the bathrooms, restaurants and motels along the way when he has a hard time walking. He still didn't want anything to do with flying. So once again I called up to see if there was anything I could do to change his mind but before I could say anything they informed me they wanted to fly. So hours later I had purchased plane tickets for them (and my still vacationing parents to fly down and escort them back) before they could back out.

As I write this, it is still two weeks before March 1rst and everything is a go for flying them up here March 2nd and moving them in on March 4th. That was almost two weeks ago by the time you read this and this is already long enough so I'm guessing my next post will be on the conclusion of that whole ordeal. I'm excited and scared about all this but more on that later.

Monday, March 13, 2017


As I normally do when taking pictures and blogging, I always end up with several pictures that I like for various reasons but don't fit in the narrative of a longer post. So I have just included them here with a short description of why it attracted me. The above was a sand snowman I found on a beach that was looking pretty sad.

While hiking one morning to a pair of waterfalls well down a rugged and steep trail, I came across this vehicle lost in the jungle. I'm always amazed when I see stuff like this realizing that back in the day, there were roads going many places that have since been swallowed up by time and Mother Nature. It always reminds me that long after the human species is gone, the Earth will heal and survive.

This plant grabbed my attention as I got up from watching a sunrise to go back to the resort and grab my stuff to head out for another day of exploring.

Perhaps because we don't have palm trees in Iowa or it was a perfectly blue sky, I was captivated by this palm tree off our balcony.

Iowa has a retail footprint even in Kauai. I've had better whiskey but I've had much more examples of worse whiskey than Templeton Rye.

Up near the highest point of the island this view could be had and although you could drive right to it, it was off the beaten path enough it was never crowded either time I was there. It looks down a deep valley to the north side of the island that is inaccessible by roads. There was a trail that went down that way but I saved it for another day. They tried to build a road down there many years ago but all the equipment (being run by convicts) got stuck in the lowland swamps and abandoned. The equipment remains there to this day I'm told.

There used to be a true tunnel of trees along this road to our resort that I drove nearly every day. However a hurricane awhile ago thinned them out so that it isn't a true tunnel anymore though it still looked beautiful to my eye.

I'm not a big art consumer. I would rather display my art than someone else's on my walls or tabletops. However, if I had nearly $4000 with nothing else to spend it on, I would have bought this. I have absolutely no idea how this island volcano with a waterfall is made but I had a hard time keeping my eyes off of it in a high end retail store in the resort lobby.

I love history and knew I had to see the place where Captain Cook first discovered the Hawaiian islands. He first landed on Kauai but later spent most of his time and was killed on other islands in the chain. I spent a morning at the beach where he landed offshore of the Waimea river but there wasn't much to see there that every other sandy beach along an ocean doesn't also have. I had heard there was a statue commemorating his landing nearby but couldn't find it. I gave up and started looking for a bookstore back in town to see if I could find some history books pertaining to the island but couldn't find it either. (I later realized the book store was in the next town east and succeeded in picking up a couple books.) I went into a nearby grocery store to pick up an ice cold drink and was sitting on a picnic table trying to figure out what to do next when I looked across the street (further inland from the store and quite a way from the ocean) and saw the statue commemorating Cook.

I have gone many times to the Pacific rim and several times to Europe but the flight to Hawaii was the longest time I spent over open water. The flights to the Pacific rim usually go up the North American coast to the Bering Straight and down the Asian coast. The flights to Europe go up through Newfoundland, Greenland, Iceland, and never too far from someplace where a plane could land if trouble found it. So flying for so long over nothing but water weighed heavily on my mind. On the way home, we flew overnight so we couldn't see anything out the window until we crossed into the United States via Los Angeles airspace. I never thought seeing Los Angeles would bring me such relief.