Wednesday, July 26, 2017

It's One Year Anniversary

This years as June slipped into July, my mom passed her one year anniversary of her diagnosis of anaplasic astrocytoma grade 3 brain cancer. It. Since I haven't seen any cards or t-shirts saying that, I just gave her a hug and said congratulations. She knew exactly what I meant.

The MRI's continue to come in every couple months showing no new growth of IT. I can always tell when an MRI is coming up because my mom becomes stressed and when stressed, she exhibits non-typical behaviors that only came about as a result of IT. It took me a long time to realize that when somebody scoops out a golf ball sized part of your brain and then nukes some more of it with high doses of radiation, those cells aren't coming back, for better or worse. As time passes, the non-typical behaviors seem to be reduced to the point I don't think other than my immediate family, anyone would even know but they are there. The brain is a marvelous object and seems to be able to rewire itself with time.

When the MRI has been completed and results reported, life is back to normal and even better than normal. So much relief at knowing IT hasn't come back yet and there is still time to do things. Slowly but surely we have been making plans to cross off items on my mom's bucket list of life. As you read this, she will be off in Ireland and then England on a bicycling adventure with my dad and another couple. I can't wait to hear about their adventure when she returns.

Fear of IT never goes away though. Almost to the day that my mom felt like she was having a stroke which led to IT being diagnosed, we did a spur of the moment trip to an urban jungle up north. The last similar trip we took last year was interrupted by a phone call saying my mom was being life-flighted to a hospital. This trip was also interrupted by a phone call saying my mom was on her way to the emergency room. Immediately fear grips me thinking that perhaps this is the beginning of the end that I know is coming. Despite being bone weary from hours on the road, we drop the kids and mother-in-law off at home and keep on driving to the large hospital where she was transferred too. Long hours were spent keeping her company in the emergency room and trying to avoid the elephant in the room and eventually we drove back home for the evening only knowing what it wasn't. In the end, everything was ruled out and she was sent home the following day with guesses that what occurred might have resulted from a past surgical procedure long ago. Still, the fear of IT never quite goes away.

My mom is still taking chemotherapy and will continue to do so for at least one year after she started it which means until late fall this year. Although she doesn't like the thought of swallowing poison pills, she seems to get along fine with them and as long as those clean MRI's keep rolling in, it just seems like the right thing to do. At some point during her treatments, they did a DNA sequencing on IT and found that the version my mom has responds well to chemo which is why they went from six months to a year.  Although it responds well, it isn't a cure and IT won't go away. We weren't really surprised since in the beginning before radiation even started they told us that chemo might continue for the rest of my mom's life. Of course it wasn't until much later that I grasped that they might be saying that because perhaps her life wouldn't be very long. They don't say that anymore which I hope means that they feel my mom's life will be longer than the chemo treatments. It's those little things that we grasp for hope. Hope is a wonderful thing.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Rest of the Story


Last week I was blogging about a project that I'm working on to level out a bed for my lilac bushes I planted at the end of the drive and also straighten up what I refer to as the trash heap for pavers around the drain pipe that carries water underneath my driveway. I forgot to take a before picture but I think it is pretty obvious when you see this picture what it looked like before even though I'm already underway with the project.

My aim is to continue with the retaining wall and replace the loose pavers over the top of the drain tile before ending the wall. All the loose pavers I'm thinking about recycling and creating some sort of wing walls on either side and making perhaps a couple of ledges to neaten the who thing up so that it looks planned instead of a trash dump.

Finally I need to mulch the lilacs and rethink my deer protection system for them. This is the first year they have started propagating through their root system and I suspect next year the will start propagating underneath their caged boundaries increasing their chances of getting munched on or mowed off. I've read that deer won't eat lilac bushes but the deer around here already eat a number of things, especially on dry years like this one, that the internet says they won't touch. I'm not ready to chance it just yet. I may put one big fence around them for a few more years until they are more established and then perhaps I might see how things go.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Kitchen Remodel: Part Nine

Contractors.

I knew this would be a difficult step. Every time I deal with someone in the service industry is seems like a difficult step these days compared to years gone by. I'm not sure why it is. Changing societal demands or changing ethics perhaps? Whatever it is, when my wife demanded that I needed to get at least four quotes for our kitchen addition project, I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing.

I dutifully got the names of four contractors in our area that I've heard good things about and made the phone calls one morning. In two instances, I was able to speak with a live person who promised to pass on my request to someone who would call me back. In the other two cases I am forced to leave a message with the promise that someone would call me right back.

A week goes by.

Finally I get a call back from the contractor I thought would most likely call me back. He happens to live on the next hill over from us and I know his kids and wife fairly well since the kids sometimes ride the bus with my daughter. I had never met him though personally other than to wave whenever he drives by and I happen to be out in the yard doing something. We met and he seemed like a really nice fellow and after showing him the project promised me he would get back to me in a few weeks with a quote.

Another week goes by.

I finally get another call from the company I most likely think we will choose since they come highly recommended by absolutely everyone. They set up an appointment for the following week and then don't show up. I call back and get apologies and it is rescheduled for Thursday evening of that same week. Thursday morning they call me up saying they really don't want to quote it since it will be six months out and want me to call them back in a couple months. I tell them that I'm okay with the timeline and if we have to adjust prices in six months that will be fine but I would really like someone to at least give me a rough quote so we can see if we are in the same ballpark and get on a waiting list which I doubt will ever be shorter than six months. He reluctantly agrees to these terms and tells me he will be there at six. At five o'clock, I get a call from the secretary saying that a family emergency happened and that they would have to call me back on Friday to reschedule. The call never comes.

Immediately I want to interpret that they just aren't interested in the project and move on. In fact, I fully figured they would never call back. But after a weekend to cool my jets, I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and call back the following Monday. He immediately apologized upon hearing my name and scheduled a meeting for the following day. This time he did show up and he seems like an excellent fellow to help with this project. I think we would click well and they would do a great job. He promised to get back to me in a few weeks with a quote and offered several more apologies for the previous two meetings he missed.

That brings me up to now. The remaining two companies I called have yet to call back. I have since called a fifth company that somebody else recommended highly and spoke with the owner who promised to call me back later that week to set up an appointment. Two weeks have passed and he still hasn't called either. I fully suspect that two quotes will be all I will get, assuming both of them deliver quotes in a few weeks as promised.

This is why I laugh every time someone says to get four or more quotes. It just never seems to work that way. Based on my average, I would expect to have to call at least ten companies to get four quotes back. And it doesn't seem limited to the construction trades either. I have the same problem trying to get a repairman to call back, a heating and air conditioning person to show up, or really anybody in the service trade.

The good news is that from what the two contractors had hinted at for costs seem to be well within our budget even if we hire them to do everything and not just the outside work as I initially desired. It might mean that I will have to work on another project altogether while they do a turnkey job. Time will tell.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Working From the Neck Down


Like a fool, I forgot to take a picture before this project got started so here is one that is five years old before I re-leveled the garage side of the house, resided the house, installed a new garage door and re-poured the buckled and broken asphalt driveway with a level concrete one. To take this photo, I am standing along the edge of the street that runs in front of our house though you can't really see it in the photo other than the beginning of the gravel shoulder on the right border.

Several years ago after many of these trees had been cut down due to death loss, I repopulated by planting new trees. As part of the package deal from the arbor day society, I got to pick out four shrubs for "free" to go along with my donation and the ten trees. Having grown up on an old farm with some old fashioned lilac bushes, I selected lilacs. I planted them near the end of our driveway where it meets the road out front, right next to the top of the ditch you see running through the middle of the photo.

The reason I planted them there is because when we poured the new driveway, I back filled with some beautiful black river bottom dirt and it was an easy place to stick them. However, there are several problems with this arrangement. Now that it is bone dry and I'm trying to water them enough by hand to stay alive, it is hard to saturate the surrounding area. The water has a tendency to flow on down into the ditch below. The other thing I dislike is that the ground from the driveway to the ditch is so steep, you can't even walk up it. The third thing I dislike and can't really be seen in this photo is that the pipe underneath our driveway to the head of the ditch has a jumble of landscape pavers that someone tried to stack years ago to make it look nice but they have all fallen over and look like a trash pit for old pavers.

Ideally, I would like to create a rock berm along the entire driveway to create a nice flat area on top and a more gentle area next to the ditch that can all be mowed using a riding lawnmower instead of hand mowing it with a weed eater with one hand and hanging onto something to keep from sliding down the embankment with the other. But that would cost a lot of money and require use of equipment I don't own for marginal gain. So I have started doing something halfway in-between.

In the mornings when it is still cool out, I have been working on installing a smaller retaining wall partway down the slope mostly concentrating on the area at the end of my driveway around my lilac bushed and the trash pit for old pavers that is the outlet for the drainage pipe underneath our driveway. I soak the dust the night before to get some moisture into the soil I am working with and then level out, the ground and stack a few more rows of retaining wall blocks before back filling with some gravel and dirt and moving on toward the street and soaking it for the next day's work. It has been slow back breaking work and by nine or ten, it is so humid and hot that I have to quit for the day and do other things.

I will try to grab a better picture to show you with the work halfway completed to give you a better idea what I'm talking about in another post.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Living In Technicolor


I've always been partially colorblind though I never knew it until I was almost into my teen years. I was sitting on my grandparents screened in back porch and everyone was discussing how many apples were in the tree and I couldn't see a single one. If I stared, I could see the occasional outline of an apple but I couldn't distinguish the red from the green at a distance.

I've learned to live with it over the years. I deal with the questions of "What color is this?" but for the most part always give the correct answer. I know what color of tan looks like a light shade of green to you. I also know what color of reddish brown leaves looks a brilliant red on a maple in the fall. I know the colors but just can't see them in the same way.

I think I first saw it on the evening news when they showed a clip of a man trying on glasses meant to help the colorblind see colors as the rest of the world. The man broke down in tears seeing colors for the first time. Since then the internet has been flooded with videos of similar reactions among other colorblind folk. I took the online test for one company and it said that maybe their glasses could help me but it wasn't guaranteed. My type (and there are many types) of colorblindness was only partially helped based on past experiences. I mulled it over awhile and waited until this spring after my eye appointment and correction change before finally biting the bullet and ordering a pair of the glasses.

I suppose thanks to the clips on the news and internet, they were overwhelmed with orders and I was told to expect them in 5 to 6 weeks. At six weeks, I called to check on the status of the order but was always put into a digital answering machine and told to leave a message so they could call back. They never did the first, second or third time I left a message. I searched online for a way to contact them in another form but their site was mysteriously void of contact information other than the one number that always went to voicemail. Fortunately, I looked back through my emails and saw that the "lab" had sent me an email shortly after placing my order asking for my prescription. So I responded back with a polite email at the beginning of week 9 stating that unless I heard back by the end of the week I would be filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. The next morning they emailed back to say my glasses were completed and in the mail, no mention of the lack of response up to this point.

A few days later they arrived and I put them on. It wasn't an overwhelming response and I didn't break down in tears. It did however partially work. I immediately noticed that the siding of my house wasn't a shade of greenish tan but a brownish tan. I could also spot rose blossoms among the mass of green bushes on the back side of the house. But mostly it just made colors that I could sort of tell much more vivid in color. I googled color blind tests and pulled up many images like the one above. For the most part, I still can't see what is in the above image or any of the others that I can't see without the glasses. But on the images where I can just make out something without the glasses, I can see the images much more clearly.

So it appears that while it doesn't cure my form of partial colorblindness, it can correct some of the affects and make colors appear more natural. I've been wearing them and seeing shades of colors on things that I have been misidentifying for many years. Although I probably won't wear them all the time since they are sunglasses, I do plan to wear them when I am out and about and am excited to see some leaf color in the fall where I know I've always been deficient.