Monday, July 23, 2018

Nuggets of the Past

My grandfather recently needed a ride up to the urban jungle for a meeting with an eye specialist to see if there could be any treatment for the macular degeneration in his one remaining "good" eye. Since my grandmother was under the weather and couldn't drive, I volunteered and gave my grandpa a ride. Along the way we had a good time talking and he told me about his maternal grandfather Frank seen above in the photo on the far right. My grandfather is second from the left next to his maternal grandmother Nettie.

Frank had really bad cataracts later in life and since my grandfather was only 22 when Frank died, I'm guessing they were already in progress when this picture was taken. Frank loved to fish and always took my grandfather with him fishing. My grandfather said that he knew Frank's eyes were getting bad when he had to tell him that the bobber had gone underneath the water and "when they hit the side of the bridge a few times in Frank's Model T!" That last thing would have probably scared me FROM fishing had I been in my grandfather's shoes.

I know very little about Frank in general so any little nugget of information about his is one that I treasure. I know more about Nettie simply because I have quite a few of her letters that she wrote my Great Uncle Keith (my grandfather's brother and the sailor in the above photograph) during his service in World War II and read them from time to time. Below she talks about how Frank went out fishing everyday except one last week and wore himself out both physically and health wise.

Interestingly enough, and something I have blogged about before, but Nettie and Frank were second cousins because Nettie's maternal grandfather and Frank's paternal grandfather were brothers. I always wondered if they knew that bit of information and assume they did since both brothers (my 4th great grandparents) and their mother (my 5th great grandmother) are buried in the same small family cemetery up the hill from where their descendants still farm.

Friday, July 20, 2018


Suckers by the hundreds popped out of the old oak tree in our front yard this year, the first time I have ever seen such a thing. I've been walking in the woods since I was knee high and I can't recall seeing hundreds of suckers growing out of the trunk of a tree from the ground to as far as I can see up in the air.

I did a google search and it sounds like the most likely culprit is stress. Since we are in our second year of severe drought conditions, I'm guessing that is the likely culprit. However, mature trees start to get them at they begin to decay and because this oak tree is probably 150 to 200 years old, it may be that time.

It has already developed a bad case of the galls. Galls are caused by the horned oak wasps who lay eggs and a substance which interacts with tree tissue to form the mass which then protects and provides nutrients to the larvae for the next two years before they hatch.

A severe storm blew by our area a few weeks ago downing dozens of mature trees in the area much younger than this old oak but it spared our land for some reason. Even the dead snags at the base of the hill are still standing. Since this is the only tree within falling distances of our house, I guess I need to keep an eye out on the health of it to make sure it doesn't take us out one storm. By the time the upper branches hit the living portions of our house, I don't think it would come through but it might do a bunch of roof damage just the same.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018


I happen to read Ron Chernow's book on Hamilton before it became a best selling play. Although interesting and I learned a lot about a person who was prominent among those whom we consider our founding fathers, I wasn't blown away by the book. It could have easily been 300 pages shorter (or more) and been a much better book.

Eventually the Miranda play came to Broadway and was a smash hit. Ever since I heard about it, I've been green with envy those I have known who have been in New York and seen the play. So when I heard that it was coming to my humble state, I knew I had to try and get tickets to it.

When tickets went on sale, I immediately registered online and was assigned a "spot inline" with a promise that they would email me when I had ten minutes left before my spot in line would be in front where I could purchase tickets. To hedge my bets, I repeatedly hit redial on my phone trying to call in to their phone sellers for the next two hours before I had to leave on other business. I never once got into the phone system.

Four hours later when I had pretty much given up hope, I got an email saying I was near the front of the "line". Long story short, there were nearly two dozen shows and all but two were sold out but behold, the one I was interested in still had tickets, albeit only premium tickets. I sucked it up, typed in my credit card and bought the limit of four tickets. Ouch!

You weren't allowed to select actual seats, those were chosen for you. So when I got my tickets and saw that the row number was MM, I was a little bit pissed since the theater seats go from A to Z and then continue on from AA to PP. There were only three rows behind me for PREMIUM seats! But the die was cast and I figured it was better than nothing.

After some discussion, we decided to sell the other two tickets to some friends of ours who were a couple and have been for years but are not married. A week before the performance I sent them a text just to remind them I had their tickets and that is where the AWKWARD began. They evidently were/are breaking up and I had texted both of them at the same time. The man responded first saying he was definitely going with us along with his mother. Huh? That is when my wife texted the lady and found out the splitsville situation. We had been planning a day of it with this couple and were planning on eating at a fancy restaurant afterwards. Now it would be a couple, a friend and his mom.

We were already committed at that point so we pushed on and saw the play. AWESOME! OUTSTANDING! BAR SETTING EXPERIENCE!, all in capital letters come to mind. I've been listening to the soundtrack for days afterwards and still dreaming of that experience. The seats though in the rear of the theater were adequate and though it would have been nice to have been closer to actually see facial expressions, it really wasn't necessary for me to thoroughly enjoy the play. Afterwards, my wife and I got in the souvenir line and essentially big our accompanying "couple" a good night while we waiting to get a souvenir hat.

We then went to a restaurant my wife has been jonesing to go to for a long time. We knew we didn't have reservations but we've always been able to get into places like that before by going a bit early and it was only five o'clock when we walked into an almost deserted Baru66. Evidently they take their reservations seriously and the waitress later told us that on Saturday, if you don't call by the previous Monday, you don't get in. Fortunately they let us set at a small table for two on the waiting bar side of the divide. I thought we would get poor service eating in the bar (always seems to be the case anyway) but the service was stellar and the food were the same capitalized words above for the play. The actual chef in puffy white hat and french accent even came out not once but twice to greet us and inquire about our dining experience which thrilled my wife to no end. So I will just post the pictures of our three course meal as some eye candy to this post.

Wife's appetizer of pan seared scallops with peach chutney, cornbread and a citrus vinaigrette

My appetizer of Ahi tuna crudo with yuzu vinaigrette and ginger

Wife's entree of roasted duck breast with cherry-port-thyme jubilee sauce and potato-herb pancake

My entree of wild caught halibut pan seared fillet, lobster bisque and saffron pommes parisienne

My wife's dessert of lavander creme brulee

My dessert of rhubarb-strawberry panna cotta with a roasted rhubarb-strawberryelderflower sorbet

At the end, they brought this with the check and it wasn't on their menu. The ramekins contained some sort of raspberry cream and the dough chunk was like a mini fried donut. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Mom Update

It's been awhile so I thought I would do another quick update. As I write this, my mom has just completed another Avastin infusion and is on her second dose of the chemo drug. The latter she takes orally and then monitors her blood counts for the next six to eight weeks to see when she can take the next pill. She did start losing her hair again so in a preemptive strike cut it short like mine and as hot as it has been this summer, I don't think she is regretting that decision.

The last MRI she took a month ago showed that while the tumor was still present, it hadn't grown much and as a result, most of the swelling that had been impairing her functions has gone away. This was as expected since the infusion and chemo are specifically to slow down the blood flow to the tumor which in turn, limits its growth and gives her brain time to heal. It is doing its job. However it doesn't really make me feel any better knowing that it isn't an attempt to fight it even though I know it is the right decision for my mom. Everyone makes a big deal out of "fighting" cancer but in my experience, it is more like playing a board game with set rules and due to random factors outside of your control, how it ends up can be different every time. In my mom's case, it is late in the game and she knows she can't win but it making an effort to enjoy the experience. It is enough but sometimes it still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

Although I went with my mom to her last MRI, I didn't go with her for the last infusion a couple weeks ago. I wish I had. Her oncology doctor mentioned trying her on the immunotherapy drug again, the one which had so much promise. With my mom's genetic mutation, it was supposed to have a 40% chance of outright sending her into remission and a 70% chance of significantly reducing the tumor. My mom ended up being in the 30% group where it didn't affect her at all and according to my mom repeating what her oncologist told her, made her brain swell so badly. The oncologist wants to start her back on the immunotherapy drug after she has had the standard six courses of her current chemo drug. This too is confusing since with six to eight weeks between doses and it has been averaging right at eight weeks, she still has approximately twenty-eight weeks before that can happen. If what we were told earlier is correct, she only has four to sixteen more weeks left to live on average. So for now I/we are just biding our time to the next time she sees her oncologist and gets her next MRI, (less than two weeks from when you will read this) and hopefully with my presence, we should get some more clear answers.

Functionally, my mom is doing outstanding. To almost everyone outside her immediate family, she appears normal and is normal if you don't know what is growing inside her brain. To me, she is the mom I've always known though just a little more absentminded on occasion. One could easily peg it up as just the aging process if it weren't for the fact that she is only 63 years old. She still rides her bicycle around 20 miles a day, which at one point the oncologist had told her that is she rides her bicycle again, it would be a tandem one and not a single. He also recommended that we take her license away which we did but has since given it back. So from my perspective, things are going better than I had hoped and we are much further into the year than I thought we would make it on the cold February day when we got the bad news.

Since before the cancer diagnosis, my family has been planning on a trip to the Philippines sometime late this year and the plan was always for my brother and his family along with my parents to join us. Soon we will be buying plane tickets to make that possible. As of right now, my mom is still raring to go and I hope to make that happen. If she does, that means she will have lived enough to see 64 and to have crossed off every single item on her bucket list except one. The one she hasn't crossed off was to boat down the Grand Canyon which she was supposed to have done this spring until the re-occurrence of the cancer forced her to cancel the trip. Perhaps if we get through the trip to the Philippines, we can work on making that one come true as well.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Food Porn

Fried dill pickles appetizer
 The son of my daughter's godmother, I guess that would make him my daughter's godbrother, was being ordained a priest and after his ordination, we decided to look for a place to cool our heels and get some good food. A quick google search located a farm to table restaurant with great reviews and so we decided to give it a try.

Really there was no doubt since every single farm to table restaurant I've eaten at has had excellent food and the presentation of it is definitely something outside of the scope of average food found here in the rural Midwest. It was outstanding and if we ever go back to that area, I'm sure we will hit this place again.

On to more pictures of food:

My entree, a cheese steak sandwich unlike any other I have ever eaten

My side of french fries which my kids consumed. The one I had was excellent.

My wife's entree was almost as tall as she is. It was a Korean BBQ sandwich.

S'more Pie for dessert. I could only eat one bite as I was full from my sandwich.