Friday, September 30, 2016

Signs of the Times

I've been feeling something missing in my life for many weeks and couldn't put the finger on it until my wife figured it out this weekend on our way to church. We saw only one political sign in a yard the entire way when at this time of year, I would expect to see hundreds of them on the same route.

My first thought was that since we have selected the two most unpopular candidates in history, according to some polls, it is no wonder people have not put out signs. However, after a little more pondering of the subject, I wonder if it isn't a sign of the times. Have old fashioned signs in yards been deemed unhelpful in persuading people? Had Tweets, Instagram and Facebook political opinion posts made signs obsolete? I suspect that both play a part and maybe the latter plays the larger part. Any thoughts from my readers?

Along those lines, I have pretty much made up my mind on who I am going to vote for in a handful of weeks and got online to see if I could find a Johnson/Weld sign from the Libertarian party that I could stick in my yard. I've never had a sign in my yard before because for the most part I've voted the lesser of two evils or for the Constitution party which barely makes the polling boards. This time however, I don't feel I will be voting for the lesser of evils, though I don't completely agree with the Libertarian platform, and the Libertarian party has been steadily increasing in the polls to where they might play a significant part in this election.

I figured there would be some official site where I could request one for free and someone from a local office would drop it by. However, all I could find is some on the official site that I had to buy in packs and pay for the cost of the signs plus shipping. I suppose because they are considered a fringe party, they don't get much cash support to do things like that and I only wanted one sign and not a pack. Other sites had single signs but they didn't appear to give any of the money towards Johnson and Weld. So I guess I will be like everyone else this political season and just abstain from a sign in my yard. Maybe I need to figure out how to Tweet or Instagram like everybody else.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Superwoman


I spent a day with my mom, whom at the time was going through her sixth of thirty-four days of radiation not too long ago. It's about a two mile walk one way from Hope Lodge to this facility above where she gets her radiation and she has set herself the goal of walking under her own steam those four miles every single day. Having done quite a bit of reading on others who have had similar radiation treatments, I wasn't too optimistic because it always seemed as if radiation beat them down by the end. However, as we were talking with Mom's oncologist on this particular day, he thought that as healthy as Mom is and since she has felt absolutely no effects of the radiation or chemotherapy now six days into her treatment, there is a good chance that should continue through the remaining twenty-eight days. It certainly made my mom (and me) happy to hear that.

My mom doesn't stop at just the four miles of walking though. She also walks to lunch some days using the extensive trail system in the college town and probably average six miles a day total. Since her treatments take about fifteen minutes of her time a day, she has the luxury of plenty of time and it was a real treat to spend it with my mom walking around town. With my backpack of some water and a book to read when she was seeing doctors, I felt like I was in college again.

Hope Lodge has a 28 patient capacity and they are almost always full. Still, it is rare to see the other cancer patients during the day except for around meal times. They all seem beat down and just go back to their rooms after eating, which isn't allowed in their rooms. So my mom ends up spending much of her times with various care takers of cancer patients who are more likely to be seen in the common areas. At first this worried me thinking my mom might end up like them four or five weeks from now. However, she is a superwoman, very fit and now the doctors have said she probably won't feel any effects. For now, my mom only goes to her room to sleep at night and has been keeping busy during the day. I hope the remaining weeks will go as fast as the first one did.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The South Still Lives In the North


Saw this sign on the way to a birthday party we were attending. I see stuff like that and I immediately wonder the story behind it. For someone to go to the effort of painting those words on the side of a small shack along the gravel back road we were on, it must have been something really important to them. It makes me want to sit down with whomever and interview them. Perhaps I should have been a reporter of some kind.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Small Town Life


I grew up in a small town, actually five miles south of a small town and since I graduated from school, I really haven't ever gone back through town except on the rare occasion. When I graduated, both sides of Main street was lined with two story brick business type buildings as well as the block behind me. These days, only one in the slightly left of center in this picture, remain on this block and none in the block behind me. The main highway actually goes south of town and has since before I was born. So after graduation, there was really no pressing reason to go through town other than for a driving look see now and then.

With my parents under stress, we felt it would do them good to get off the farm for awhile on the weekend and enjoy small town life. My home town was having its annual fall festival and so we drove into town to enjoy it. It started off with a parade down the entire two blocks of Main street where they turned around and went back up the other side of Main street all two blocks. It took about 15 minutes total to complete.

I was reflecting upon that when I got to think of how great small town parades are. My daughters got more candy in those 15 minutes than they do in the 3 hour long parade that my current hometown holds here in a month. Less competition and since it is much, much shorter, more generous people throwing the candy. In the larger parade, one must get there early to find a good position and there is much jockeying going on to mark out your space. As you can tell above at the small town parade, there was plenty of space for all 100 locals to spread out along the two blocks of the parade route.

After the parade was done everyone in the parade and those that watched gathered in the park nearby for a lunch under the shade trees and to talk. I was amazed at all the people who looked vaguely familiar from my youth with whom I was having to pull names for from the foggy depths of my memory banks. My parents who still live five miles south of town get there more often so they had an advantage over me on this aspect. There were some other events later in the afternoon but we had a birthday party for a friend to attend so after dropping off my now well relaxed parents back off the farm, we had to head towards home again without seeing them. Next year I think I would like to go back for the whole day.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Treatments

In case somebody stumbles across these posts about my mom and her anaplastic astrocytoma brain cancer, I thought I would include a post about her actual treatments. As I said earlier, she is getting both radiation and chemotherapy at the same time to maximize their effectiveness on her brain cancer.

To back up a bit, her anaplastic astrocytoma brain cancer is of a diffuse nature which means like water, it can leech into healthy tissues of the brain and not have a defined wall like other types of cancer. As a result, even though then did a complete resection as they like to call it, they couldn't get it all without scooping out important parts of gray matter that control necessary functions like walking and talking. This makes getting what cancer cells remain very important to increase life expectancy before the cancer, a highly aggressive cancer returns. Due to the radiation dosing, Mom can't get more of it once her initial treatment is complete for another six months so if the cancer returns in that time, it is essentially game over. If she can go six months, then when (we hope that when is actually if) the cancer returns, we can go through another resection and treatment to push the ball, in this case Mom's life, down the road a bit further.

For the radiation part of it, Mom had to get a mold made of her head while in position on their machine. This mold actually bolts down to the machine holding my Mom's head so firmly in place, she can't even blink. Once in place, they took a high resolution MRI scan of the area where the tumor had been removed so that they can get very precise coordinates to target with radiation. This minimizes the damage to surrounding healthy tissue that can affect her in less than desirable ways. To take it to the next notch, she has to put a mouth piece in connected with some long wires connected to some balls suspended above her head. If she wiggles even a little by just swallowing, the balls wiggle cutting off the radiation treatment immediately so not to do collateral damage. The entire process take her about fifteen minutes to get bolted down to the machine with the mouth piece in and the machine programmed and about two minutes for the actual application of the radiation. Another few minutes to get her unstrapped and she is done for her treatment for the day. She gets treated five days a week with weekends off to recuperate and she has 34 treatments scheduled which will run until the last week of October.

The chemotherapy portion which runs concurrently with the radiation portion is an oral pill. It's actually several pills exactly dosed to a particular weight. So for example, there is a pill for 100 pounds of weight, another for 20 pounds, another for five pounds and another for one pound. Depending on your weight at that time, they get the pills that add up to that correct weight and you swallow the whole works the night before your treatment the following morning. The make you very nauseated which is no surprise since you end up with a belly full of chemicals foreign to your body, so my mom also has to take anti nausea pills along with others that help reduce swelling in her brain from the radiation. While on radiation treatment, the chemo dose is fairly low and when she finishes radiation 7 weeks from now, they will up the chemo to a much higher dose for a period of time yet to be determined. Eventually, she may be taken off chemo or put on a "maintenance" dose for the rest of her life.

As stated before, none of this is a cure for anaplastic astrocytoma and studies have shown that it only provides limited additional symptom free life beyond those that don't get treatment.  But cancer is a very fast changing field and if there ever is a cure, days and weeks may be critical. Also, though few, there are those that defy the odds and continue to live fifteen years after doctors told them they were supposed to die. These people got complete resections followed by chemo and radiation therapies, exactly what my mom is getting. The hope is that she can add her name to that list of people that doctors will be telling future patients have defied the odds. That is why Mom has decided to fight this disease even after being told it is unwinnable. One just never knows.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Hope Lodge

Because Mom lives a little over a two hour drive away from the cancer center meaning she would have to spend 4-1/2 in a car daily plus the person driving her since Mom isn't allowed to drive, we were looking for places near the cancer center where she could stay during the day. That is when we found Hope Lodge.

Hope Lodge is a free place for those 18 years old and older who are undergoing cancer treatments. They have 28 bedrooms, a kitchen and dining area, a library, a sitting area, and a few other common areas scattered throughout the building. Each patient gets a reserved spot in one of several communal refrigerators, freezers and pantries as well as use of the huge fully stocked kitchen. I've mostly been making up food ahead of time so that my mom can just thaw out and microwave a meal but if she feels up to it she, or the person staying with her, can prepare a meal fresh. A local bagel place brings all their leftovers from the prior day in as well to leave and other patients/helpers will cook extra and distribute.

The rooms come with two queen beds so that if a mandated helper is required such as in my mom's case, they have room to sleep. My mom, an avid quilter, brought up her sewing machine and gear so she can do some quilting in her down time. The mandated helper threw us for a loop since we were mostly just planning daily visits and leaving her to spend her sleeping hours alone. However, the sleeping hours are the most dangerous if she were to have a seizure that wouldn't be found out until the following day. So on short notice, I bumped up my mother-in-law's return to the country (she's already back as you read this) so that I can spend more time with Mom while my MIL takes care of the kids and keeps my wife fed when she gets home from work. My brother is taking five weeks off from work and driving across the country to be here. We also have a list of good friends and other family that are willing to take turns babysitting Mom.

On top of taking turns, I am also going up once a week to spell the person up there with Mom to get away and do some other things. This allows me to take up some more food or other supplies mid week if needed though the Hope Lodge also has a shuttle and the helper with Mom has a vehicle to get out and about if needed or desired.

If that isn't busy enough, harvest is just a couple weeks away as I write this and maybe less than a week away as you read this and the person who does all the combine driving is getting radiation and chemo treatments 120+ miles away. This will require myself and my brother and perhaps others, to fill in as able to get the bumper crop this year our of the fields and into the bins. Because the combine driver is also the main cook (my mom), I am also cooking food in bulk and taking it down to the farm so that my dad doesn't starve.

I am never going to be so happy for winter to get here as I will be this year!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Underway

Like most children, I am used to my parents stepping in between my brother and I to smooth over disputes. However, having to call both of my parents individually to get things settled down is not something I'm used too.

The first day of treatment which is really just getting situated in the living quarters and doing a dry run of radiation was about to start so my parents loaded up the car and set off to the large regional cancer treatment hospital. Somewhere along the way they got into road construction with misplaced detour signs that led them on a 12 mile loop, twice, that still didn't get them onto the freeway they wanted to get onto. That evidently led to some dispute between my parents.

When I got in touch with my Dad on the way home from the regional center that evening to run the farm, he was obviously upset. He thought there was something wrong with Mom's head that changed her mentally. I knew that was not true of course and that it was just stress, in both of them. I told him so and that as soon as Mom got into a routine with her treatments that things would get better (and they did) and that seemed to calm him back down. The next day when I talked to him, he was back to normal and had realized that they had just both been stressed.

After talking with Dad, I called up Mom and talked to her. She too was stressed and admitted that she had been pretty hard on Dad on the way up. She couldn't help it when she had to say goodbye knowing that everyone was healthy and here she was sick by herself. (Know that she isn't alone and has to have a person with her at all times during the initial weeks of therapy.) By the following day as we sat talking at Hope Lodge, she was back to normal and no longer worried about the radiation since she had completed her first dose out of 34 scheduled doses. I don't blame either of my parents for this because I know I would be feeling the same in either of their shoes but it certainly is a first for me getting in-between and having to smooth ruffled feathers.

Mom was still a bit stressed when I left because her chemo treatment would begin that evening. She has five chemo pills that precisely dose her on body weight that she has to take along with anti nausea drugs. She's worried about putting all those chemicals in her body and I can't blame her and have to resist telling her that the chemicals are no longer what's going to kill her. Although their are no statistics that support a cure, if there is ever to be one, her best chance is taking the chemo and getting radiation.

I'll write another post next time about the treatments and the Hope Lodge so to not make this post some long. 33 more treatments to go.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Cousins, Or Aren't They?

I finished a batch of slides for my parents, made a DVD of them to take home with the old slides and requested that they bring up a new batch of slides to scan on their next visit, which they dutifully did. Whenever I get a new batch of slides, mostly in trays, I often don't have a single clue to the contents except for the age and style of the slide tray. So when I start scanning them, I create a folder called unknown to put that tray's digitized files into and then rename it later in the process when I know enough about it to give it a descriptive title my parents will understand.

So I put the first four slides of a new tray into the scanner and got it to working. Generally while it is working I do other desk work that needs done or surf the web, answer emails and such. When the scanner stops, I look up at the screen to see the four digitized pictures and save them into the folder I created on my computer's hard drive. This time when I looked up, I saw the faces of my cousins. Except they couldn't be because the age of the tray was older than they or I were by several years.

From the other three photos, I quickly figured out that I was actually seeing my Aunt and Uncle on their wedding day and my cousins had yet to be born. It got me to thinking about how we look so much like our ancestors but due to the generational gap, the only way we really ever see that at times is through the magic of pictures and time. Sure we sometimes have genetic triggers like a distinct color of eyes or shape of the nose, but when you compare photos 30 years apart side by side, you can see how similar people really are.

My aunt in the recently scanned photo looks exactly like my cousin. My grandmother in another photo looks almost identical to how my aunt looks like in current time. Three generations and they all look so much alike.

I'm married to a native of the Philippines and our daughters look nothing like me these days due to the heavy influence of their mother's genes. However, if you take their baby pictures and slap them up against a baby picture of me, we look like the peas in the same pod. If I had had sons, perhaps they would still look like me when I was their ages.

Its one of those things that should be intuitively obvious but it still caught me by surprise when I looked up and saw my cousins about 30 years too early.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Good Fences


Long term readers will know that I've been scanning thousands (3000+ at last count) of slides into digital format for my parents over the last five or six year, even I have lost count. I sometime go for weeks or even months between sessions but this last time, it was almost a year since the last time I scanned anything. A lot of that has to do with my winter project being an office remodel which makes it hard to do such work not to mention, a project like scanning is mostly done during the winter when I have no other projects going.

However, with my mom's diagnosis and many many boxes of slides yet to touch, I felt the urge to do some more scanning whenever I get a chance. I don't know where these photos were taken but they were taken somewhere along the northern tier of states while my parents were riding across America for the third of four times. It reminded me of the adage "good fences make good neighbors" because someone really went all out to create this fence. I would think the labor wouldn't justify the longevity because eventually the wire will rust out as well. I have put in hedge posts that have lasted almost as long as the wire did, especially with animals involved.


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Fifteen Years Later

The television blared in the bank lobby as a few people stood by and stared at the screen. Used to the normal quietness at the bank, I felt annoyed at the loud intrusion as I cashed my severance check from a job I had been laid off just a few days earlier. I gassed up the car and grabbed a bite to eat on the way home.

As I got out of my car, a lady ran out of her nearby apartment and started telling me about some planes crashing everywhere in New York. I nodded and walked into my apartment not wanting to discuss the day with someone obviously a few fries short of a happy meal. Never the less, I turned on the television and within seconds after the screen popped up, people started screaming as the first World Trade Center building collapsed, apparently live judging from the caption. The air went out of me like a sail and I collapsed into the chair. Thirty minutes later the other building collapsed and I knew that my world had been fundamentally altered and would never be the same.

I don't remember much of the details of that day other than I spent it all sitting in that chair watching the horror unfold. Another plane crashed into the Pentagon and another in a field in Pennsylvania. People were dying everywhere it seemed. I remember feeling alone at times, calling people and taking calls from others just to talk to someone else and reassure ourselves that we still weren't. I called my girlfriend in England to let her know I was still okay. That evening, I went to bed early, more exhausted than I would have been working a 16 hour day on the farm doing manual labor. I wasn't sure what the world would be like when I woke up.

The next morning I walked down to the gas station to grab a newspaper, since I had cancelled mine to save money while unemployed, and there was a line two blocks long of people filling up with gas. I wondered if I would ever be able to get another job if people were this scared here a thousand miles away from New York.

Now here we are fifteen years later and watching memorials of that day make me realize that those emotions I felt then are still present. The feel raw and oozing just beneath my skin. Those responsible were dead that same day. Others who helped plan it have long ago been killed or imprisoned. Yet I don't feel any better. We've been at war for 15 years now and nothing really has changed other than to increase the hatred of others against those that "lead" us. That girlfriend I called that day married me later and we have two girls, both who have never known a life without a war going on or bombs going off. They have always lived in a world where there have been terror alert levels, layers of airport security and people with machine guns standing outside of important public events. I was right back then that my world had changed forever. How I wish it hadn't for my girls sake.


Friday, September 9, 2016

Happy Birthday

The sun was up and it was terribly humid out. I could feel the sweat running down my back like a small river as I stood in the honor guard listening to the priest sing one last song before we laid Doug to rest.

Although a decade older, Doug and I had been good friends serving both in the honor guard I was currently standing in as well as the local school board. We both often went to our meetings early so we could just talk about things. Only a handful of times I have met people like him in my life but I treasure them. They are the ones in which we can sit for hours on end and never run out of things to say, never think the other one is talking to much or not saying enough, and the conversation is always interesting. Many times as other members would arrive for the meeting and eventually we would get pulled away into other conversations, I would be left with regret that we hadn't been able to talk longer.

When I met Doug he was a cancer survivor twice over. But cancer had it in for him and kept coming back. Doug kept fighting it off and for the last five or so years, held it at bay but eventually cancer won. Doug had told me earlier that in the end victory was his because all the cancer got was his body while he received eternity in heaven. In the end, he held on while his parents drove from southern Florida all the way here arriving in time to spend his last two hours talking before he went to sleep and within minutes, took his last breath. His was a good death.

The priest blessed Doug's coffin and the funeral home director invited everyone to a lunch at the club where I am now president and Doug was a past president. Just as people were about to break from their stances, Doug's widow popped up and requested that since this day, the day Doug was being laid to rest, was his birthday, could we please sing Happy Birthday one more time. We honored that request.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Fresh Pictures After A Foul Post


After the last post about foul things, I thought I would blog about fresher things like a walk in a partially restored prairie nearby. This part of Iowa has throughout history been partial hardwood forests and tall grass prairie. However, the prairie no longer exists except in a few places where it has been recreated. I doubt any original prairie exists in this area. After the family in my previous post spoiled our planned afternoon, we drove on down the road to a place we've hiked in the past and had it all to ourselves. This time I had my SLR with me so I got some better pictures.








Monday, September 5, 2016

Foul Odors and Foul Language


I've lived in this town for nearly five years now but have by no means explored all the surrounding area. Chief among the unexplored areas was a place a few miles outside of town named for a rock where the settlers and Indians used to meet along the river that contains a shallow cave in the rocks up a nearby stream. One cool late summer afternoon, as opposed to the oppressively hot and humid ones we have been getting all summer long, we drove out to do some exploring.

Unfortunately, we arrived seconds after a family of five along with two large bulldogs. As we were getting out of our vehicle, they were just setting off along the trail. With all three children under five, they were pretty slow and we followed along. The air reeked of their cigarette smoke and echoed with the curses as they yelled at their kids and dogs. Although they are supposed to have their dogs on a leash, neither were and being large bulldogs, my kids were a bit scared of them. When we finally arrived at the cave, they stopped in the middle of the path to explore the cave and made no effort to control their dogs or move aside. Finally, my wife ended up taking our two girls back down the girls while I made my way down the trail, pushing their dogs out of the way with my feet and continuing on the trail up above the cave where I took the above picture. All the while listening to the parents yell F-bombs at their kids and dogs.

Had it been a really neat place, I would have been more disappointed than I was. But as it turned out, there was trash everywhere and spray paint graffiti in even more places. It seemed fitting that such a family was there filling the place with their smell from the cigarettes and filth from their mouths along with I'm sure plenty of physical trash including dog turds and cigarette butts. Perhaps someday we'll go back to explore the trail on above the cave but I'm not sure walking through the trash and graffiti to get there is even worth that. Such a shame.


I shouldered my way back past the dogs and family still blocking the path and made my way back down the trail to my own family now out of ear range. We explored some of the rock overlooks on the way back down the trail and then went up a side trail that went up a ridge to the top of the river valley. Up there, we came across a really old cemetery in the woods that hadn't had a burial in almost a hundred years but was still maintained a bit. All but a handful of tombstones were knocked over, broke, or just missing. I bet the inhabitants have a really great view of the river valley during the fall and winter months but at the time we visited, we could only just make out the river far below through the leaves. I will definitely have to come back here after the leaves are off the tree.

I later found a rudimentary map online showing a trail that the local boyscouts created that extended another mile and a half past the cemetery along the ridge top and we found remnants of the trail leading up to the cemetery but couldn't find one any further. Again, I would like to come back and explore it further. Judging by the lack of trash, graffiti, foul odors or language, much of the traffic doesn't want to expend the energy to climb the ridge to get up here. That's fine by me.



Friday, September 2, 2016

Wildlife


I don't use my SLR nearly as often as I should because it takes great pictures. But it just isn't convenient to lug around and certainly doesn't fit in my pocket like my cellphone camera does. On a recent hike, more on that in another post, I did bring my SLR along and was surprised to find that it contained almost 60 pictures that I had never downloaded. So here is the first of a few posts, catching up on things that I thought worthy to photograph but never got around to blogging about.

Last year, we had two hen turkeys raise about twenty young between them. This year, most of the young are gone but a couple of new tom turkey's have been roaming about with about a half dozen hens. I'm sure all are from last year's brood. I've been trying to take a picture of one of the tom's when his feathers are displayed but have only gotten fuzzy pictures thus far. Still, every once in awhile I do get a fairly sharp picture of one of the turkeys like the photo above.


Ignoring the smudge in the lower left corner that is my deck railing that I'm trying to barely shoot a picture over, here is one of an easily spooked doe. Last year she raised one fawn and this year she had two more.


The does twin fawns as seen earlier this year. Currently their spots have just about faded completely away and they are quite a bit bigger.


You can't really tell but there is a deer path that the twin fawns are heading down that is about five feet wife and beaten down to a hard pavement like consistency heading onto my neighbor's property. It gets well used.


We don't see many rabbits around mostly because we have a pretty good hawk population flying around at any given time. Still, they are out there.

Also not photographed is the local fox that lives down in the ditch below our house. I've seen her a few times this year but never with my camera and never for more than a second or two at a time. I would love to get a photograph of her or the local bobcat that lives up the street aways. I've never seen that one but have seen a photograph that my neighbor took with a huge lens that I couldn't justify or probably even afford.