Monday, April 23, 2018

John Bolton

John Bolton is one of my ancestors whom I know little about but led a eventful life. He came over from England ahead of my Chicken ancestors and patented some virgin land in Wisconsin. From the satellite, it is all timber with some pastures in the very northeast corner and east edge. Whether even those pastures were there in the time of 1848, four years after he came over and the date of the patent, I will never know. I've always thought that if I were ever up in that area, I would like to find the owner of those 40 acres and see if they would allow me to walk over them.

John came over to America in the summer of 1844 with wife Mary on the baroque ship the Joseph Cunnard, named after the man who designed it. It arrived in New York City and after a period of time, John and Mary arrived in the southeast corner of Wisconsin. In 1846, their first child Selina Jane was born and four years later my 3rd great grandmother Frances Ann was born. Whether John was around to see the birth is debatable.

The following year after obtaining the land patent, gold was found in California leading to a rush of settlers seeking their fortunes. Though John was listed as a farmer, southeast Wisconsin was a mining area for lead and was full of miners, including my Chicken ancestors. From the history books, many of these miners set off in late 1849 and early 1850 to seek their fortunes in California and I assume John Bolton was one of them. Two facts lead me in this assumption. In the 1850 census, Mary and her two daughters were living with the Pilings, another English family that came over from the same part of England as the Boltons and the Chickens. John is nowhere to be found. In 1854, John and Mary had a son named Jeremiah born in California. So at some point, the family lived there.

For years I never knew what happened to the family or of the existence of Jeremiah because the family just disappeared after the 1850 census. However, on a whim, I started searching back and England and found what was left of the family in the English 1861 census. Mary is listed as being widowed, Selina and Frances are listed as being born in America and Jeremiah is singled out as being born in California which I find odd since California had been a state by the time of his birth there.

Jeremiah wouldn't live past his teen years dying at age 17. His mother Mary and Selina would live out their lives in England as "fancy seamstresses" and Selina would marry and have four children of her own. Frances, would immigrate back to America for her second time around the end of the Civil War and marry Joseph Chicken, just back from fighting in the war and who would go on to change his surname.

I have no records of John other than his name in the ship log as he made his way to America and his land patent. I most likely have identified his parents in England as John and Margaret Milner Bolton but can't positively make that connection. I have no record of his death other than his wife Mary being listed as a widow in an 1861 English census. Until recently, I took this as fact but have found another John Bolton born in England around the same age that was a miner in California into the 1860's. So it is entirely possible that he wanted to continue that lifestyle and his wife decided she didn't and went back to England.

At this point, I will probably never find out what happened to John Bolton unless some rare document explaining his demise shows up someday. Without documentation on him, I will never be able to say for sure if his parents are whom I think they are. This branch on my family tree will most likely never grow any further. Other than that 40 acres of trees in southeast Wisconsin, I have no other ties to this man other than some of his blood and genes still running through my veins.

John Bolton's 40 Acre Land Patent in Wisconsin

Friday, April 20, 2018

Childhood Homes

My mom graduated in May. I was born three months later in a small county hospital and then brought back to the farm. My grandparents then left the farm and headed back north after deciding farming wasn't the life they were meant to live leaving me, my mom and her newly married husband to look after things. I have no memories of that old farm house but it still stands down a seldom traveled gravel road if you know where to go. I drive by it every few years.

Living on a farm didn't suit my dad either so unbeknownst to my grandparents, he sold it and moved to the town where I was born in the small county hospital. That move didn't endear him to my grandparents since they expected to recoup their investment in the small acreage. My parents moved into a small apartment of which I have exactly one memory. I remember sitting underneath the kitchen table while my mom was calling my name trying to find me. We soon left that place and it no longer stands.

We moved into a small run down shack of a house in a small town halfway between the county hospital and the farm my mom lives at now. It was run down even by the standards of back then but I have lots more memories of it. I can still draw a detailed layout showing the bedrooms, kitchen and living room areas. I can remember my parents shouting all the time and I can remember my younger brother joining me in life. My dad left after a handful of years of shouting and never came back. Mom was left with two kids she couldn't afford so go a job in the urban jungle and we moved again. As junky as the house was back then, it continued to stand over the years but looked more and more like a drug lab all the time. It was still standing after I was married and my oldest daughter was old enough to look disinterested out the window at it whenever I pointed it out. It was removed from the face of this earth about five years ago and is just a vacant lot of weeds now.

The urban jungle was a tough life. We lived in poverty in some low rent apartment and I attended first grade while my brother went to all day daycare while mom struggled to get grocery money. I thought at the time she was spoiling us by making hotdog pizza. I didn't realize that was all she could afford to make. We went through lots of baby sitters when not in daycare and didn't see much of each other. Then Mom got engaged again and soon we were heading down to a farm just a mile south of where my mom now lives. The old apartment buildings stood for awhile and I would see them just off the interstate now and then during my trips to the urban jungle. I noticed a few times ago that I haven't seen them in awhile so they too have returned to the earth.

My new dad was a farmer and while we always had food, we had to grow and raise it ourselves. The countryside was crowded with mostly older families but they gradually left. The farm crisis got many. Old age got the rest. Now my parents are the only ones still living on that 6 mile ring of gravel roads. The old farmhouse was full of happy memories which was a change of pace for me and my brother and probably my mom. It was way too big even by today's standards for our family of four. My brother and I claimed our bedrooms on the main floor and all the rooms upstairs so it worked out. When my step-grandfather died one summer afternoon while I was away being a camp counselor, we decided to move to his farm a mile to the north. The old farmhouse was rented out for a time but the tenants gradually destroyed it as they tend to do out in poor rural areas. My dad had it bulldozed, burnt and buried. I can still feel its presence when I walk over top of it.

I only lived a couple years and a few summers in the new smaller farmhouse before I moved out permanently. There are memories with the farm but not too many with the house for some reason. I don't identify it with my childhood and it is mostly my parents house now. It was built by my step-grandfather the year my dad was born and with the exception of the time spent at the old farmhouse a mile south, he has always lived there. I'm sure he has many more memories of that house than I do. But for now, it still stands and holds the distinction of being just one of two of my childhood homes still standing.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018


This past weekend, I got an email out of the blue from a distant relative by marriage. She is married to my distant cousin of mine whom I have never met or known about. She found me because of a compilation story I put together about my Chicken ancestors that I have blogged about in the past on here many times and all the assorted stories I have come to know. What makes her unique, is that she and I are connected through my 2nd great grandfather's first wife. He had two wives and 99% of the people I talk to and have met are descended through his second wife.

We trades some information back and forth and through that exchange, she mentioned a lot of people on her side of the family tree who have had cancer throughout the years. It suddenly hit me that perhaps my mom's issue is all tied into this family tree and all thanks to Lynch Syndrome which she will be tested for next week. To remind you, Lynch Syndrome is a genetic "disease" where certain cell repair genes stop working correctly. Your body creates mutated genes all the time and this repair gene goes around fixing them in normal people. Those with Lynch Syndrome have a lazy gene fixer and so the mutated genes accumulate to much higher levels which is what increases your chances for various types of cancer. Many can be treated and cured and some like in my mom's case cannot.

The picture above is of my great grandfather Charles holding my grandma. Grandma had colon cancer in her 40's, one of the most common forms of cancer in those with Lynch Syndrome but has been cancer free for the last five decades. Her father, my great grandfather, Charles, died of lung cancer. He was a heavy smoker but lung cancer is also more common in those with Lynch Syndrome. Charles's father, my 2nd great grandfather, John Henry died young of complications from heart disease. His father Joseph who is my ancestor that changed his name from Chicken to a different surname, died at age 37 from causes I have never been able to discern. Now with this relative adding others on her side with colon cancer, lung cancer and breast cancer, I can't help but wonder if the Lynch Syndrome is present and being passed down through this line of my family tree. If a parent has it, there is a 50 percent chance each child would have it.

This also might explain why 99% of the people I talk to our descended through the second wife. Perhaps John Henry's first wife was the carrier of Lynch Syndrome and so the second wife and their numerous descendants are unaffected by all this. John Henry's first wife died very young but due to childbirth, I presume due to the circumstances. But had she survived, it might not have been for long anyway.

All this may just be coincidence and drawing lines to fit my conclusions and honestly, I hope that is the case. If not, well it may explain a lot of things that I was never really asking about until recently. If at the end of the day, it is Lynch Syndrome, well I am thankful I live in a time where we can cure some of the cancers that afflict those with the disease.

All this pondering started because of something I wrote a couple years ago that got passed around until someone wrote an email to me and we got to talking. What a small world.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Spring Is Missing

April 15th, tax day, nearly a month after the arrival of spring, this is how our daffodils looked yesterday morning. I'm not sure spring will ever get to this part of the country.

For our part, we made the best of it. My brother has come up from the deep south to spend a week on the farm with my parents. So I picked up my maternal grandparents from their apartment and we all gathered on the farm to celebrate my brother's birthday a few days early. It was the first time my grandparents had been out to the farm since Thanksgiving when my grandmother took a swan dive from the top porch step and broke her hip. This time we had enough younger bodies at the bottom of the stairs to absorb and fall but fortunately everybody made it down the steps without incident.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Picking Up Sticks

Despite the rain and snow falling every other day and the sub freezing temperatures, our lawn is starting to protest this weather delay and go ahead and started greening up anyway. Last year we were planting at this time. This year the snow just melted off yesterday. When I took this picture, it was the first sunny day above freezing that we have had in a long time. I used the opportunity to pick up sticks which is a pretty major chore on our two acre plot of land full of hundreds of mature trees on the edge of town.

Not only is there quite a bit of ground to cover and a lot of sticks to pick up, it is quite the work out going up and down the gully. Because I get so many branches a year, I burn them down in the bottom of the gully twice a year but most of the sticks fall on the tops of the knobs so it is a lot of up and down. I use a wheelbarrow where possible to save on trips but near the gully the sides are so steep I can't "park" it anywhere so that it stays upright when I take a hand off, so for that part I just tuck them in my arms and walk back and forth. This time with my arms full I hit a slick spot on a steep spot and after running in place like a cartoon character, I did a face plant in the mud. I wasn't hurt but my clothes had to be exchanged for cleaner ones when I was done.

I did a survey of all my trees that I have planted over the last few years to see if they survived. I think most of them survived our extremely dry summer last year thanks to my hauling water 10 gallons at a time to each of them once a week. I won't know for sure until the buds start opening. One tree appears to be missing altogether? I'm guessing rabbits as they temporarily got another one the year before. It sprouted up and came back again. That's one of the problems when planting twigs for trees.

While walking around to the various trees, I stumbled across a plastic Easter egg that didn't get found a few weeks ago. Our oldest was pleased to discover that the contents of the plastic egg were still intact and edible.

With all the sticks picked up and the grass starting to turn green, I am more than ready for spring. Tomorrow we are going to hit 60 degrees and 70 degrees for the first time since last year both in the same day. I expect there will be a lot of shorts on tomorrow. Now if only we get a stretch of that to grow the mushrooms....

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Strength and Fragility

Mom's doing better these days. The last time I was down to visit, she was back to tying her own shoes, something that we all took for granted since her early childhood. She also seems to have regained most of her strength back especially in her legs which allows her to be mobile. Her left arm is still a bit weak and clumsy but she is learning to compensate for that.

Still she appears fragile and defeated more often than not, though whenever I am around, she seems happy enough under the circumstances. It is another reminder to me that I need to spend as much time as possible with her.

Mom is never one to lay down to defeat. When I spoke to her the other day, she was already preparing meals for a month in the future so just in case she isn't able to do so then, they will still have food to eat. But her appetite is already starting to wane as she struggled to eat half a bowl of soup the last time I was down there. She says she is forcing herself to eat even that.

Her chemo pills came in the mail from a pharmacy one state over, the quickest and easiest way for her to get medication living in such a rural area. She took her first dose and won't have to do another one for six to eight weeks depending on blood counts. Already she says she is feeling tired from the medicine but the doctor told us that she shouldn't feel much of anything for four weeks. I hope it isn't an omen of things to come.

Fortunately my parent's church has a great support network. The last time I was down on the farm there was food that parishioners had dropped off. They also come and pick mom up whenever they go shopping if she needs to do some shopping as well. They certainly give me peace of mind knowing that they are in good care even if I am not there.

I've been contemplating going down to the farm this afternoon after dropping my youngest off at preschool and continuing to do so every Wednesday from now on. It gives me time to spend with mom and dad and since it is my wife's half day off, she can take care of our home front for me during that time. I've also been contemplating asking mom to let me record an interview with her. I'm not sure if she would be receptive or if it would only remind her of what she will be missing. Right now I'm just kind of waiting for the right time and perhaps the right signal.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Scorched Earth Policy

This past weekend I went down to the farm to help my parents burn some CRP land that was required as part of its annual maintenance along with spend time with my mom and counsel my dad. I've been helping do this for over three decades and for quite awhile, it was a Christmas day tradition after all the presents were opened and our Christmas breakfast was eaten. After my brother and I left the farm for other things, the tradition stayed for awhile but eventually faded back into early spring. This year with all that was going on, the days of getting a hot enough burn to do any good before it became too green were numbered which is why I made the trip to the farm.

In the top picture, I am backfiring along the downwind side. We plow a ring around the field and them burn the grass near the plowed ring to create a wide barrier to contain jumping flames and embers. The smoke in the top left of the first photo is my dad backfiring on the opposite side of the field. Once we get the downwind sides backfired, we work around the upwind side setting the head fire which you can see immediately above. It takes off racing with the wind and actually sucks the backfire on the far side of the field towards it creating tremendous fire whirlwinds and billowing smoke clouds. The goal is to get the fire hot enough to kill any tree shoots or noxious weeds and leave behind only native prairie grasses and flowers which thrive immediately after a fire.

Here you can see what remains after the fire has passed by.

This picture is nearer the downwind side of the field where the backfire has been sucked into the oncoming head fire creating huge billowing clouds of smoke. On some days, you can see tornado like whirlwinds of fire dancing around for a bit but on this day with just my dad and I doing the work, I was never in a position to see them that wasn't obscured by the smoke.

Less than ten minutes after we set the head fire, almost all is burnt and the fire out except for a few stray clumps of grass still smoldering and on this piece, thousands of ant hills. All told, we spent about an hour burning this 40 acre piece of land and went on to burn four more small pieces afterwards.

My mom went with us and was planning on driving a small utility vehicle a bit bigger than a traditional four wheeler with a small water tank and spray hose. Her job was to monitor the headwind and sides of the fire after we set the head fire to make sure the fire didn't creep into the wind across the plowed barrier strip of land. In low humidity conditions this does happen occasionally despite all the exposed dirt but on this day the humidity was high enough it wasn't a problem. However during the first fire we set, mom got confused and just kind of drove around and we were too worried that she might get in danger so we nominated her fire marshal and just parked her out of danger on the upwind side with her cellphone and ordered her to call us if she saw wisps of smoke where they shouldn't be. On the grand scheme of things, she was just happy being out in the sunshine and watching dad and I do our thing.

Friday, April 6, 2018

The New Normal

After spending more time with my parents, I went with them up to their followup appointment with mom's oncologist not knowing what my mom was going to decide. At one point she said she was done with radiation and chemo but then a few sentences later talk about a friend of hers with the very same malady and taking the same chemo now a year later still going on strong.

We met with her wonderful oncologist and mom made her decision. She didn't want any more radiation because of the effects it had on her mental faculties the last go around. She would however start chemo again with the knowledge that she could quit at any time. The doctor wrote the prescription and she will probably start it this weekend or the first of next week.

That's the good news.

The bad news is the confusion just seems to be getting worse. It is hard to describe since it really isn't a memory problem per se. It does affect her short term memory of remembering what you just told her but anything more than a few hours old she seems to remember fine. It mostly seems to be a decision making deficiency. Whenever she faces a decision, small or big, she gets flustered and then forgets/ignores what it is she was wanting to decide. She can set off to go downstairs, walk by the pantry, open its door and then go back to the living room and sit down. If you ask what she wanted downstairs she will remember and set off again, sometimes successfully and other times derailed by another decision along the way. The worst part is that she knows this is going on but just can't focus enough to prevent it. I keep reassuring her that we will take care of her and that always seems to bring her peace.

It hurts all of us to see this and flusters my dad. I am constantly reminding him that this is better right now than the alternative because she is aware and she still is in there, scared and sad. She is here for now and so we have to accept it and just be there for her. Mom did all the business aspects of the farm, all the housework, ran errands, managed their social calendar, etc. while my dad tended the farm work. Now he is having to do everything and it is a huge bell curve for him to climb. I'm doing my best by helping him with the tasks that can be done off the farm or on the phone/internet and he is getting better.

My younger brother is coming up in a week to spend time on the farm with my parents and then a month later has another trip up planned for another week. He wants to spend as much time with mom as possible while she is still here and aware. I think that is for the best. I too have tentatively made plans to go down to the farm during the week on the day my wife gets off work early so I can spend time with mom and then also spending weekends there as well with my whole family. I just have the feeling that time is really short and I want to make the most of it.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

No Decision

Thanks all of you for your kind words. As the shock has worn off and the emotions not so raw, though not nearly normal yet, I find myself more at peace again. It is still very difficult for me to talk about it in person but writing is much easier and so I continue as a form of self therapy. So here is more of the story picking up the day after the diagnosis.


We got to the farm on Saturday at lunch time and my mom was off at church helping to teach the youth how to sew along with some of her friends so I knew the Avastin to reduce the blood flow to the tumor and thus reduce swelling was kicking in and she was feeling better. Since she wanted to stay until one o'clock, it gave my wife and I time to talk to my dad alone.

I am just amazed at how my wife can lead a discussion without beating around the bush or dropping a bombshell on your lap. With her, she smoothly steers the discussion where she wants to go. I sensed from her questions, that they needed to get personal and I know my dad could never express what he was feeling in front of me so I volunteered to go pick up mom from church while my wife stayed and talked with my dad. By the time we got back, there was a lot of used Kleenex but I could see my dad had turned a point.

Picking up my mom was rough for me because she was still in a state of confusion now and then. It is never anything major but lots of little things like not recognizing that we were getting into my car and not her car. She then gets flustered because she knows she made a mistake and I have to reassure her that everything is okay.  It is hard for me to see someone who is so very smart, confused in this way. For the first time in my life, I felt like I do taking care of my grandparents and not just my mom's son. Despite the confusion, my mom is still in there and she knows what is going on.

We had a great lunch together and then while the kids played off in another room, we essentially counseled my parents. There were lots of tears and pauses and in the end, I think my wife was able to express what needed to be said about the future. I'm not sure in the end what route they will choose to go as far as treatments but we do know what we want to do with the time remaining. We will be concentrating on those things from now on. She also knows that we will take good care of her and support whatever she opts for with treatments.

The next day, my maternal grandparents and my mom's brother and his wife came down to our place for Easter Sunday. By happenstance, they all got there about an hour before my parents did so it worked out well. We were eventually able to talk about the elephant in the room and get it out of the way before mom got there. The rest of the day we were just a smiling happy family. It was a superb way to spend the day. When everyone had to leave to head back home, it did get a bit emotional but I wouldn't want it any other way.

We are on this journey together and as a family, we will get through the coming weeks and months.

Monday, April 2, 2018


I apologize in advance to those who read my blog. For me, blogging is a form of therapy. I write down stuff about my life that can/is personal because it makes me feel better to see it on a screen in black and white. Perhaps someday some of my ancestors might find it and understand me better. With that being said....

Two days ago while my mom was doing things around the house she spontaneously passed out and hit her head on a washing machine on the way down. My dad was working out in the shop so we really don't know for how long she passed out but eventually she came too and called my dad who came and took her to the emergency room. Based upon her history and passing out being a side effect of the immunotherapy drug she is taking, the doctors in the ER called her oncologist who issued her a steroid to reduce swelling and made an appointment to see her the very next day.

My mom got another MRI done and the cancer is back. The previous two spots were compact spherical balls of cancer measured in centimeters. This time it was an ugly looking mass probably larger than a baseball. My heart broke when I saw that because I knew it was probably going to be a deal breaker.

The week leading up to this, my mom started experiencing a lot of muscle weakness, particularly on her left side and exhibited a new level of confusion that we hadn't seen before. The made three attempts to leave the farm by driving away to an event that had been cancelled and once made it a fair way down the road before my dad was able to catch up and get her turned around and headed back home. Her driving days are over now and the keys are hidden.

Mom's oncologist issued her a drug that will reduce the swelling in her brain which should help with the muscle weakness on her left side and hopefully eliminate the confusion for the time being. However it does nothing to stop the progression of cancer, especially one that grew from nothing to the size of a baseball in a month.


She can take a new chemotherapy drug and because the tumor was in the second spot which hasn't received radiation, she is eligible for radiation. Some. Regardless of what route she takes, she probably won't make it another nine months. Both the radiation and chemo were extremely hard on her and took months of recovery afterwards and she is loathe to go through them again. I don't blame her. If she doesn't, three months is being very optimistic. Weeks wouldn't be surprising.

I made the decision to call and tell our immediate family who is all planning on coming down to our place for Easter. I wanted everyone to know ahead of time so the shock and grief can be dealt with ahead and perhaps we still can have probably what will be our last family get together in relative good spirits. They were hard phone calls and visits to make but I eventually got home just in time to make Good Friday service at the church. On the way home my oldest finally asked the question I had been dreading and I had to tell her too. Broke my heart to see her crying like that but I was relieved at how well she dealt with it. I know she will be fine in the long run.

This morning (Saturday as I write this) we are heading down to the farm for lunch with my parents. My parents are having a hard time making decisions and I think having my mom talk with my wife who although family is somewhat removed and has a clinical oncology background will help us through the hard decision we have to make. I already know now I will support whatever decision and I want my mom to know that.

Family is first, blog therapy be damned, so I'm not sure if I will be very frequent in my writings for awhile. I may anyway because I always seem to find a few minutes and I can type really fast. If I'm not, I'm sure you will all understand. Thank you ahead of time for all your prayers and well wishes. I'll let you know what happens eventually. I hope everyone had a happy Easter.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Waiting On Spring

Where is spring? It officially arrived last week along with about an inch of snow and a week's worth of below normal temperatures. The daffodils have sprung up but the trees remain leafless and the grass hasn't grown. It must be pretty hard for the deer this year because for the last three weeks, they have been spending their evenings churning through our front flower beds looking for old bulbs (I'm guessing) to eat. Not sure what it is they are eating but every morning I wake up to my front sidewalk covered in dirt and incriminating hoof marks. The obviously don't like daffodils since they remain untouched less than a foot or two away. They even do well to avoid our solar sidewalk lights which have remained unharmed all this time. Can't wait until spring gets here for real so that they have other more tasty things to eat than some old bulbs that were left over from a previous year.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018


Once again excuse the poor picture because I use panoramic mode on my phone to get a full top to bottom shop of the completed bathroom. It makes the bathroom worthy of a carnival fun house.

Once the tile was complete things went pretty well on the project front. I prepped the new vanity but putting in the fixtures before I hefted it into place. For those keeping track, I had my oldest and much skinnier and agile daughter lay on the floor and pull the pipes so that they found the holes I had predrilled for them and set it down in place. No bribing was necessary. I got it replumbed and like always when it comes to me and plumbing, I had my struggles. The sink drain came with its own plastic seals which leaked like sieves. So after trying unsuccessfully to tighten them enough to work, I went old school and got out my plumber's putty and was able to make it water tight. However, in my ongoing effort to buy things that will withstand the test of time, I bought metal trap pipes instead of the normal cheap plastic ones thrust upon me. They worked great and looked beautiful as expected but the water is so cold that it causes them to sweat and drip onto the cabinet shelf. So I had to buy pipe insulation wrap to prevent the warm and moist house air from coming in contact with the metal pipes. Problem solved but the beauty is now cloaked in insulation. At least it will last for the rest of my lifetime in this house.

A couple items to note in the above picture. We left the plastic on the mirrored medicine cabinet for now. We will probably pull them right before our Easter guests arrive so we have spotless mirrors to show off. Otherwise, the kids would have toothpaste smeared all over them by then. Also, you really can't tell but the door trim needs a paint job. I tried to repaint it with some leftover paint that I initially bought when we moved in six years ago but the can had rusted and lots of debris was in the paint. I tried unsuccessfully to work around the debris but eventually gave up and bought another gallon of paint which I will put on a tiny fraction of it this afternoon when the girls are in school to lesson the chances of a mishap. The wooden stool in the picture if for my youngest daughter so she can reach things herself.

The toilet install was a challenge as well... as it always seems. Why my least favorite part of a bathroom remodel has to be difficult I will never know. All the toilet plumbing in this house is 3" piping while today's standards are 4" piping. Of course all the closet flanges (the piece that keeps the toilet held down to the floor with two bolts) were made of cheap plastic back in the day because they never rust. However, they rarely hold together enough to make a reinstall successful. So I went through three different reinforcing plates before I found one that would work with three inch piping and our existing toilet. Fortunately this time I went with a foam/rubber seal versus a was ring so I was able to pull and replace the toilet multiple times without having to go back to the store each time for another wax ring. I think on the fourth time, I finally got it situated and discovered pleasantly that my tile job was perfect and the toilet is solid as a rock. When I did the master bathroom tiling, I didn't get the tile as flat and had to shim things to get them sitting solidly.

Finally, during the installation of the can light in the ceiling, I discovered that the ventilation fan outlet was pressed up against a bat of insulation instead of into a duct to the outside world. It wasn't a surprise since the ventilation fan never really worked well. Since the bearings on it were shot anyway, I bought a new ventilation fan which was advertised as could be installed without ever getting into the attic. I knew that wouldn't be the case because the old fan was screwed into the rafters so I made my first trip up there to unscrew it and remove it. Back downstairs again, I enlarged the opening to accommodate the new fan and then proceeded to spend the next half day making repeated trips up into the attic to get it installed. Long story short, all things ceiling wise are designed to work around standard drywall thickness. Some previous occupant had taken the easy route during a previous remodel and just installed a second layer on the ceiling versus repairing the original layer. Had I met the previous occupant that had done that when I was finished installing the new ventilation fan, I would have taken them out back and shot them. But eventually I was able to cobble together a way to hold it in place and it now has a duct taking the air outside instead of against a moldy piece of insulation which is now has been replaced.

Now I am going to spend the rest of the week resting my aching joints, cut up hands and cleaning up all the debris and tools strung all over the garage and think about my next project.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Mom Update

Although I am just about wrapped up with the bathroom remodel project, I have yet to take pictures so for today, I will do an update on my Mom.

I think I last left you with an update after her first immunotherapy treatment. She recently had treatment number two which like the first one, cost somewhere around $80,000 for the dose. None of us are really sure where things stand between the drug company, my mom's insurance, the doctor and the financial adviser assigned to my mom's case. To our knowledge, the drug company is currently picking up the tab but due to my parent's retirement and the selling of assets, it is unknown how this will affect them in the years to come if treatment continues. The insurance company hasn't yet issued a ruling when they were informed that her current treatment is the standard of treatment for someone in my mom's position and not an experiment. The doctor continues to insist that there are no problems with my parents finances and that they shouldn't worry about who is paying for it because it will be paid for by someone other than them. Finally, the financial adviser at the hospital insists that the insurance company is indeed paying for it otherwise she would be receiving particular information from the drug company. None of this is really a confidence builder but to date, my parents have not paid a cent other than their standard medical premiums towards the $160,000 in medicine my mom has received.

My mom has wanted to go on a Colorado river boating trip through the Grand Canyon for the longest time. My younger brother and father both went during their respective college years and did parts of the river. I went nearly two decades ago and did the whole thing and since that time, my mom has wasn't to go too. Last fall, with all the uncertainty, my mom decided if she was going to do it, it had to be sooner rather than later and made the reservation. That reservation is coming up in a couple weeks and will interfere with her treatment schedule as proposed by her oncologist. It will essentially postpone her every three week schedule to five weeks for the next dose. Needless to say, there has been a lot of soul searching. The oncologist finally said he has no evidence that timing of the doses is important at all and finally consented to letting her go. My brother and I also think my mom should go because right now, mental health, i.e. getting away and just thinking about other things for awhile, seems more important than being holed up on the farm. I think getting out and living one of her dreams for awhile will do my mom a lot of good. So they are packing up and will set off in a couple weeks.

I've read over and over that cancer affects the family, not just the individual and that is most definitely true. My mom has gone through two brain surgeries and a full round of radiation and chemotherapy. All those have played a toll on her brain and while technically as far as we know, the cancer has been removed, she has lots of scars. The spacial recognition or orientation abilities of my mom have been damaged and she is often turning in the wrong direction all the time whether it be beginning to paddle upstream on a downstream boating trip or turning down some random hall at the hospital when she has been walking the correct path many many times over the years. She struggles with other aspects of her life as well which frustrates my dad. I keep reassuring him that all these things are minor compared to the alternative but I do get his point. My mom is changing and probably not all of it will come back to the way it was.  It frustrates Mom too because she knows that it is affecting her which is why she has said that she won't be getting anymore brain surgeries and probably not any more radiation either. I can't blame her but urge her to keep her options open. Five years from now she might be more willing if it will give her another five years versus if she has to make a decision in five weeks after her next scheduled MRI.

Now that spring is supposedly here (we got snow yesterday), our focus has mostly been on making what time we spend together, quality time. When you know that there is a big possibility that time may be short, there really aren't any other options but to focus on the here and now as much as possible. For me, that is the blessing in all of this. We are making it count.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Finally Heading the Other Direction

The night before the tile was to arrive, I finally took out the toilet and set in the last piece of Duraroc. Above is a picture of the adhesive that binds it to the wooden subfloor and acts as a isolation barrier to prevent tiles from cracking. Once I set it in the adhesive, it gets screwed down every six inches around the perimeter and every 8 to 10 inches in the middle.

The tile didn't get picked up from the flooring place outside of town until early afternoon the next day and I brought it inside to acclimatize the rest of the day while I placed tiles here and there and tried to figure out how I was going to install them. At the end of the day, since we my wife decided to go with hexagon tiles, I wasn't sure which way they should orientate. When she got home later that evening, she decided to orient them so when looking from the doorway where I took this picture, they don't appear to be in rows. If you look from the other direction, they line up in straight rows.

The following day I did what you see below, essentially put down all the full tiles I could. Now I need to go around and do lots of cutting of tiles to fill in around the edges, grout and then I can start reassembling everything at last. Part of that will be adding a wainscoting around the perimeter which is why I didn't bother to paint down all the way. Then I can install the vanity along with the old toilet but with the new seat we my wife selected. My wife wanted a bidet which aren't sold around here that I have found. So I instead found a seat that attaches to a regular toilet with all the necessary equipment to turn it into a bidet and is much much much cheaper than the real thing. Part of making that work is the extra outlet I added down near the toilet (seen below) to provide a power source.

Laying the hexagonal tile was a first for me. I've only laid square ones in various sizes. It went okay and I'm happy with the result but it was much harder to keep even grout lines everywhere because it is almost impossible to use straight edges and lines to keep everything square. I tried to start off really straight to establish the pattern and then just plopped them in and adjusted as necessary. Since we are planning to use a nearly color matched dark grout, I'm not too worried it they aren't perfect because it won't really show up anyway.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Still Waiting

I'm still waiting and fortunately as I write this, the tile is just two days away. I took a quick panoramic shot (up and down) of the corner of the bathroom where the vanity sits (which explains the curved door jam) because frankly, who wants to look at our toilet or a very dirty shower which comprises the rest of the bathroom. As you can see, I have the new light fixture installed for hopefully the final time along with the new inset medicine cabinet. The walls are painted and three-fourths of the floor is covered in duroc. I have one more piece to throw down but need to uninstall the toilet first. I will probably do that tomorrow so when the tile arrives, I will be ready to immediately start in on the laying of it and minimize the number of days we have to go to the far corner of the house to use a different bathroom.

To add a little bit of pressure, we've been volunteered to host a family Easter party here in a couple of weeks. With my elderly grandparents living on the other side of town, and my grandmother took a header off the farmhouse steps last Thanksgiving breaking her hip (she's fully healed again), it just makes sense to host it at our house which is a ranch house with only one step up to the door. I'm hoping to have the floor done and throne reinstalled by then and if everything goes well, even the new vanity. But if it isn't, they are family and will hopefully understand if hands are washed elsewhere on Easter.

Monday, March 19, 2018


Right now I am in a bit of a holding pattern on the bathroom remodeling project. I'm waiting on tile. I was able to get the room painted, the lights permanently installed and the medicine cabinet hopefully permanently installed. We finally received the vanity. Here is the story on that.

The bathroom vanity had a little area rotting out on one side but otherwise seemed in good shape. It was still a dated style that my wife didn't want and so it was pulled out. If it had been my decision, I probably would have sat it at the curb until someone took it but my wife decided to take it to the urban jungle and have it recycled through one of those remodeling stores for used housing parts. I loaded it up and off we went. By the time we got the 100+ miles into town on post winter roads now full of potholes, there was a sizable amount of powdered compressed plywood on the floor of our vehicle where the vanity used to be. By the time I got it unloaded into the store intake area, even more was falling off. Not wanting to have to haul it back, I just quickly said I didn't need a receipt and ducked out the door. I'm sure it ended up in the dumpster out back.

Because it was an odd size, we had no luck finding anything local to replace it. But a quick search on the internet brought up a number of contenders and so we ordered a vanity shipped right to our door. Two weeks later it arrived however a shock sticker placed on the side of the package had obviously been triggered and the delivery man said I should definitely check it out before accepting the package. So we cut open the box and dug through a million layers of plastic, styrofoam and plywood to find that the top of the vanity was indeed broken in several different pieces. Per instructions from the seller, I refused delivery and the broken vanity was loaded back into the truck and hauled away.

Two weeks later, the replacement was delivered to my door by the same fellow, this time with the shock sticker intact. I told him that I wanted to quickly open it up again but he waffled saying he wasn't supposed to allow that. I refused to sign unless I did and after a quick call to his supervisor, he finally relented. We dug through a million more layers of packaging material to find everything intact this time. He immediately hauled ass out of my driveway and I was left to finish un-crating it, build a ramp, and push it on into our house for the time being.

I spent a couple days doing small bathroom projects in preparation for the tile but quickly got tired of moving the huge pile of crating debris from one spot to another to access this tool or that. So finally I loaded up the entire back end of our minivan and drove out to the city dump to dispose of it for a small fee versus spending the next month or two parceling it out in our trash can. My environmental karma is probably on thin ice right now so I'm going to have to do something to get back on its good side. But at least I now have a vanity when I get the tile installed.

Friday, March 16, 2018


Over the years, I've done enough home remodeling to become naive. What I mean specifically is, I'm come to expect every tiling job to be done with lots of corners cut which makes it easier to remove it before installing a properly done tile job. So when I started in removing the tile in our hall bath, I thought it would be a couple hour job. It turned out to take almost a day and a half because whomever installed this one, did it properly.

Most of the time I find tile set in adhesive applied directly to the subfloor. The adhesive rarely adheres to the back of the tile so it pops right off and then I grind the adhesive down to the subfloor and call it a day. This bathroom had adhesive gluing a layer of duraroc to the subfloor which then had another layer of adhesive applied that adhered the tile down very tightly. About the best I could do was to chip fragments of tile off until I had removed an entire piece and once I had an area cleared, went back and pulled up the old duraroc from the subfloor. Fortunately the adhesive doesn't stick to plywood really well, and that really isn't its purpose to begin with, so I didn't even have to grind the subfloor.

Finally a day and a half later, I had everything ready for a new tile job with the exception of the corner where our throne sits. The tile is still maybe 10 days from being delivered so to make things a little easier on us, I am going to let the throne sit until the new tile arrives to minimize the days without a convenient toilet. I will probably go ahead and install some of the new duraroc as well as do one more electrical project I have in mind. I also will probably go ahead and paint some of the walls so I can begin installing things like the medicine cabinet, etc.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


To break up the bathroom remodeling monotony, my wife and I took a trip to the urban jungle to do a little shopping and to get our sushi fix in. However in the late afternoon before heading home, we decided to try a new restaurant that opened up recently as a farm-to-table place. I'm not really sure how to describe it other than it was kind of like a place where you could order personal appetizers that really can't be shared. The serve told us that most people order two to three items off their menu for a meal. Since we still weren't killing hungry, we opted for two each. Above was my first item, brussels sprouts with a poached egg on top with bacon bits and onto of a "gumbo" as was described by the chef. It was out very tasty and I could really taste the brussels sprouts.

The next dish was described as a French Onion soup with beef broth and fried sweet meats. It was outstanding as well.

Two small appetizers was just right but we were tempted by the two deserts offered so in the end, we got one desert that we shared between us and our youngest daughter who had come along with us. It was described as a deconstructed lemon meringue pie with blueberry sauce. What little I ate tasted really good however, our youngest daughter ended up eating most of it because she was simply faster.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Fixing Up John

Well we finally decided the time was right to begin our bathroom remodeling project. This house has three bathrooms, well technically 2-3/4 bathrooms, and I have done 1-3/4 of them already. It was time to do the last whole bathroom which is our main bathroom that our kids and all guests use. The shower is in good shape still and the layout of the bathroom is decent but everything is original to the house nearly 50 years ago. So we are just going to basically refresh things a bit.

I started out by ripping out the vanity which of course requires one to shut off the valves underneath. As I had expected, I had to cut the valves off and cap the lines while the bathroom remodel in underway because they couldn't be shut completely off. I'm not sure why every house I have ever lived in has been built using cheap pot metal shutoff valves that don't work as shut off valves after a few years have gone by. Once I have the new vanity in place, I'll attach some new heavy duty brass ball valves that will last the rest of my lifetime and beyond.

Next I removed the medicine cabinet/light combo with no major problems other than I no longer had any light in the bathroom. I had always thought it odd that the only light in that bathroom came from the vanity lights but since it provided adequate lighting, I never really was concerned. So I temporarily installed the new light my wife picked out which you can see in the above picture which required me to put in a junction box and fish some wires but I finally got it working only to quickly realize, that it provided a small fraction of the light that the previous vanity lights had. So, I decided we had to go to plan B and install a can light in the center of the bathroom as well.

Another trip to the store later, I found myself in the attic above the bathroom staring at a junction box near where I wanted to install my new can light. It could really mean one thing, the bathroom originally had another light beside the vanity lights (as I had pondered earlier) and someone along the line had gotten rid of it by simply sheet rocking over it. This wasn't really a problem since had I used the junction box, I would be forced into a light fixture versus a flush mount can light so I just ignored the junction box and installed my can light nearby. It did require some jury rigging since can lights are meant to install on a single thickness of drywall and not two but I got it in.

Finally, I opened up the wall to install an inset medicine cabinet instead of a flush mount one. I had done the same in our 3/4 bathroom and really liked how it made the tiny bathroom feel much bigger that way but had paid the price by having to reroute the bathroom vent stack to accommodate it. That required a lot of dry walling which I absolutely hate doing. This time I lucked out and the vent stack ended up not running straight up so it was just a matter of blocking everything in to receive the new medicine cabinet.

Friday, March 9, 2018

News On the Home Front

As luck would have it, we ran into our neighbor up the street at a local symphony performance this past weekend. This is the same neighbor who asked if we were interested in buying her house last fall and then after we said yes, disappeared and never gave us a price. This was right as we were full tilt getting quotes for an addition and kitchen remodel project on our current house. Needless to say, that statement through everything in a bit of turmoil and soul searching.

I always suspected that she changed her mind and that there was a story about that decision that she wasn't ready to tell us and thus the silence and uncomfortable pauses whenever we walked each other's yards. Although I still don't know for sure, I think I now have a pretty good idea what happened.

First some backstory. She is a world renown romance novelist and her husband had some lesser fame also. I suspect because of this, her husband was kind of a recluse though he became friendly with us over the years. He eventually died a few years ago due to a inoperable cancer after living/suffering with it for nearly 15 years. Our neighbor, mourned but eventually she was able to move on and really developed since she was always more of a social butterfly.  We were happy to see her out and about.

Part of her sprouting wings involved a major house remodel (which coincidentally my wife and I always said we would do if we ever lived in that house). There were lots of remodeling trucks that came and went and then tapered down to just one finishing up one last project. However as my wife noticed on her early morning jogs, that last remodeling truck was there really early. I know that particular fellow and knew he had a full time job and this was just a hobby for him so I figured that he was just doing the project before his full time job, especially since we never saw the truck in the afternoons or evenings. Later my wife heard from another source that she had a boyfriend who moved in with her and we suspected that was the reason why she no longer wasn't interested in selling her house.

So at the symphony, she came over and we were talking when my wife asked how her remodeling was going. She replied in a way that said that the relationship and the remodeling were on hold, i.e. the boyfriend and the contractor whom I know were one and the same fellow. Oh. Oooh! We nodded. Now we knew what had occurred without her having to go into the nitty gritty of the relationship.

The contractor has always wanted to build his own house and I think at one point they were thinking about doing so and starting a new life together, thus her wanting to sell her house. But at some point the relationship went south, he moved out, she had just sunk a lot of money into remodeling and really likes living in her house. Thus she probably doesn't want to sell her house anymore now that the boyfriend isn't involved. So I think it is now safe to proceed with our plans of remodeling our house and not waiting on her anymore. Not that she was the holdup in our plans anyway.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Corner Bookshelf

While waiting on other projects, we got a spate of unseasonably warm weather and I made good use of it by finally finishing my corner bookcase project. All that remains is to brand it with my name (note the branding iron heating up on the tablesaw behind and to the left of the bookcase. After I left it off-gas for a few days, I will take it over to my grandparent's apartment where my grandma will use it to display some of her pictures and momentoes.

This all began with my grandmother asking if I could make a bookshelf for her after seeing how my APOTHECARY PROJECT turned out. Then after I agreed, she said it would be nice if it went in a particular corner of her apartment. I looked and looked for plans but couldn't find anything remotely close so I used two different plans for a regular run of the mill bookcase that goes along one wall and just winged it coming up with my own design. Because I loved how the cherry wood of the apothecary turned out using just boiled linseed oil as a finish, I decided to go that route with this too.

Despite having everything figured out ahead of time, I still struggled with the dimensions necessary to make the sides equal with a lopsided joint to put them together. After I figured all that out, I still struggled getting everything square until I finally realized that the framing square that I had obtained perhaps six or so years ago wasn't quite square. In fact, it turned out to be almost an 1/8th inch out at 16 inches. It works fine for framing but doesn't quite cut it for furniture building so I will have to find something else that will work.

Winter came and I couldn't glue the face frame to the cabinet so I had to pause on the project for several months. Besides, at the time I really wasn't sure how I was going to attach the face frame to sides that weren't square to it. By the time warm weather came to us early in February, I finally figured out I could use pocket screws if I custom adjusted the depth that I drilled the pocket holes. I got it glued in place and then cold weather returned until just recently. I finally got it sanded, the shelves cut, making sure not to use my un-square framing square and finished using some leftover boiled linseed oil and tongue oil from a couple projects. I think it turned out beautiful.

Now I need to figure out what to do with my CHEESEBOARD PROJECT.

Monday, March 5, 2018

More Story, More Hope, More To Worry About

More Story:

I met my parents at the regional hospital where she received her cancer treatments the last time and met with her oncologist. Like I have come to expect, they tend to be pretty vague at times unless you really pin them down (kind of like a politician) and they didn't tell us too much. At first he told us why he wanted to use this immunotherapy treatment over conventional treatment (i.e radiation and chemo) and under further questioning said that he wanted to do this because she showed a favorable mutation in her glioblastoma that responds well to a particular drug (Keytruda). He then mentioned that the mutation was very rare overall but common in people who had Lynch Syndrome. Because of that he said they would do a genetic test of my Mom to see if she was positive for it and if she was, they would do me next. After I pressed him a bit further about it, he told me to google Keytruda and Lynch Syndrome when I got home.

There was much debate as to whether or not insurance would cover the treatment at $80,000 a dose but after issuing the prescription and checking, they did and a bit later my Mom was in their infusion room getting her first dose through an IV which I calculated to be almost $2700/minute. My mom will get another dose in three weeks and then another MRI and if there are no signs of cancer, she continues for the foreseeable future. If there are signs, she continues with the immunotherapy but will receive additional radiation.

More Hope:

After I get home and start doing some research, it appears that yes, the particular mutation that my mom's cancer has is rare and yes it responds well to Keytruda. However, it is so rare, that there isn't much information on it. But what information is out there points that 75% show a reduction in the tumor and 40% are still around two years later and are considered stable at this point and there is no upper limit to their longevity, i.e. they are for all practical purposes in remission. These are a lot better odds than the essentially 0% I have been reading about for regular glioblastoma. Of course 60% odds of death are pretty sobering and they are quick to say it isn't a cure, if it means more time, it means hope and I'm all for that right now.

More To Worry About:

Unfortunately, my Mom is a great candidate for being positive for Lynch Syndrome since her mother (whom I am helping to take care of across town at age 84) had colon cancer when she was in her mid 40's. Lynch Syndrome is suspected of causing around 6% of all colon cancers and can cause other types of cancers as well including brain cancer. Lynch Syndrome can be hereditary. If my mom has it, I have a 50% chance of having it as well. If I am positive for Lynch Syndrome, I have an 53% chance of developing colon cancer at some point in my life and 15% chance for other types including brain cancers. I'm not sure how to digest all this and I guess right now I won't until genetic testing for my Mom occurs at her next appointment in three weeks. Even then, I will need to get tested to know for sure.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

O-o-h Child

I have never been a believer of premonitions and for the most part believe that our minds are very good at adapting reality to our dreams to make sense of things. But for the last week, I've woken up with this song stuck in my head. I've heard the song before when I was much much younger and I can't say I was ever a fan of it but I have felt comforted having it float through my head this week. This morning I finally looked it up online since I only knew the first four lines of it. Turns out that is just about 50% of the song. Songs were much simpler back then.

So back to the premonition part. My mom finally talked with her oncologist over the phone yesterday and called me to give me the news. Her glioblastoma has a mutation which makes it a candidate for a promising new therapy, immunotherapy to be exact. In my mom's case, they would give her a drug cultured from her own cells via IV that acts as a checkpoint inhibitor, which is a fancy way of saying it prevents the cancer cells from issuing signals preventing the body from launching an attack against it which in turn, allows the body's own immune system to amp up and fight the cancer. It has shown a lot of promise and there are currently several ongoing studies to test it along with other things in combination. Unfortunately, it is so new, I have been unable to find out any information on "how much better" it makes things but some articles have said that the latest results are to be published early this year. I wonder if my mom's oncologist has seen the results already? I'm hoping to know more tomorrow when I accompany my mom to her one on one meeting with her oncologist and gets her first dose of the new medicine.

Mom has now had two brain surgeries and she has sworn that this is her last one. She just doesn't want to go through the pain again. Likewise, she hasn't been looking forward to another year of radiation and chemo again but hasn't directly said no to them. However with this new immunotherapy, she only needs to get a dose of medicine via IV once every three weeks with no radiation or chemo. Again, this is just what my mom has told me over the phone and things might change once we visit her oncologist but for her sake, I hope it is true.

Even if this treatment does nothing for increasing life expectancy and just maintains it the same as conventional therapy, it would mean a better quality of life for whatever remainder my mom may have. That in itself would be a Godsend.

Perhaps my mind is adapting reality to my dreams or in this case, to a song stuck in my head that I have woken up to for the last week. Right now... I'm okay with that.

O-o-h child, things are gonna get easier.
O-o-h child, things'll get brighter.

Monday, February 26, 2018

The way things go

A cold winter has definitely limited the amount of time I have spent this season working on garage projects. I have two started and neither finished. The huge kitchen project has been in limbo but has had a little progress. After thinking about it and talking it over, we thought we could scale it back to just redoing the existing kitchen and expanding it into the breakfast nook which we don't use which would make it a bit bigger and thus more functional for us but would still be a long(er) and narrow kitchen. So I've been doodling around in my architecture software trying to come up with ideas to avoid paying another professional. Really the only reason I paid the professional the first time around was because there were structural issues that needed to be addressed with the addition. If we use the same footprint, that becomes a moot point.

As things tend to happen, as soon as we made that decision, one of the contractors that I had run into at a lumberyard called me back to say they were definitely interested in the project and were going to start working up some numbers. About a week later, I learned he happened to have joined a woodworker club that I am a member which meets once a month. So hopefully if I can introduce myself to him in that context at our next meeting, he might be more likely to actually give us a quote.

To make things a bit more complicated, I just happen to be cruising the internet revisiting some saved links I hadn't visited awhile and came across a realty site and a particular house listed there caught my attention. I read through the description and looked through the pictures and the house seemed absolutely perfect except that it is out in the country on the complete opposite side of town we live near now. (We are actually within city limits but only by about 50 feet.) Best of all, it was priced less than the value of our house plus the cost we have budgeted for the addition.  So we called up the realtor and went for a gander. It did meet all our needs but the living room was really small and oddly shaped. Plus there was the issue of my mother-in-law who can't have a drivers license due to her vision and requires friends (who live near us currently) to take her around town to events. It would also put some stress on my youngest daughter who starts school next year and would now go from having a direct bus ride there to having to switch twice to ride three different buses to school. In the end, we decided that it just wasn't perfect in all aspects and to not make an offer.

So with everything in some sort of limbo, we pulled the trigger and have ordered a few things for a bathroom remodel project. I've redone two of our three bathrooms already but our hall bath is the one all guests see and it really needs a refresh. Once I get all the pieces I need to complete it, I will start that project. I'm guessing the day after I finish tearing it apart will be the day we start getting plenty of warm weather and the contractor will come back with an extremely reasonable quote. These things always work that way.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Heading Into the Sunset

Unfortunately, the biopsy reports on my mom's brain cancer came back as Grade 4 Glioblastoma. It wasn't a surprise based upon the speed it grew and the extent it showed up on an MRI when cancer enhancing contrast was given ahead of time but it still comes as a shock.

We really won't know any specifics for a couple weeks while her brain is healing but the general expectations is that in as little as a couple weeks, she will be meeting with her oncologist and discussing options. The main option since it is occurring in a different part of the brain will be to start radiation and chemo again as soon as possible. The place where the original tumor occurred has received all the radiation it can handle and had the tumor occurred there, there is no other option other than going home and controlling pain. Perhaps she might participate in some study but many are in the earliest phases which means they are far from guarantees to do anything at all. Mostly the initial phases are to see if it works against a control group  (phase 2) and dialing in the dosage (phase 3).  You are just as likely to get a water injection or insufficient medicine as  you are of an actual drug that may or may not work. Mostly you are paving the way for others who might get the same malady in the future.

The hard part is that specific prognosis information isn't really known since everybody is different. Ted Kennedy lived 15 months, Gene Siskel lived 7 months, Beau Biden lived 21 months and John McCain is going on 8 months. On average, survival is between 12 and 16 months with less than 4% surviving past five years.

I guess the silver lining in all this is that it is known. So many lose their parents without ever having the chance to say goodbye and I will hopefully have a year to do so. My mom might make it to 64 years old which is too young to die but is old enough that she at least met all her grandkids and they got to know her. She has spent the last several decades doing what she loved to do and enjoying life more than many people her age are able too.

To paraphrase Ronald Reagan's final announcement, my mom now begins the journey that will lead her into the sunset of her life.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Waiting Patiently

My brother and father were talking a walk through the upper floors of the hospital while I kept my mom company this past Saturday when through the windows off in the distance, they saw two large red tailed hawks sending on a fire escape railing outside a window. The adjusted course to try to find that window and eventually did... in someone's office. As they peaked into the doorway, the occupant of said office looked up, smiled and invited them inside telling them she knew why they were there. The snapped this photo and the office occupant told them that at least one of these hawks comes there often and hunts pigeons. They both look well fed to me.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Holding Pattern

Thank you all for the thoughts and prayers. It was nice to feel my cellphone vibrate with an email arriving letting me know that someone out there left a comment and was thinking about my mom at that moment.

I met my parents on the morning of the surgery along with my brother from Alabama and within about a half hour, my mom was being wheeled away to surgery. Of the entire process, this was the part she was dreading the most since last time she was in severe pain for nearly a day after surgery before they got it under control. This time despite assurances that it would be differently, it ended up the same way but at least that part is over with.

Mom came through surgery doing well and the surgeons said everything went smoothly. They cut around the tumor staying mostly in the healthy tissue so they never really saw the tumor and still can't say what it is until pathology reports back later this week. They did say that all the tissue left behind appeared healthy so they are optimistic that they got it "all." I use quotes because how can it be all when it keeps coming back.

By one o'clock the following day, my brother was taking both my parents home in one car and I drove home in my car. We followed everything up today with a get together along with my elderly grandparents and were just enjoying being a family. Everyone's nerves are raw and frayed so mostly we just had idle chitchat and listened to my eldest put on a music concert with her violin and piano.

My mom is still there and very much alive but coming out of surgery, she had no spatial reasoning abilities at all. If she left her room, she couldn't find her way back without our help. Everything else was there and just as sharp but that ability was just gone. It's bounced back a little in the two days since surgery and right now I am hoping it is mostly due to the pain medication and anything permanent will for the most part bounce back. If that was all that was compromised, I would trade it for what future we now have and I'm sure my mom would too.

Now we wait for the news.

Friday, February 16, 2018


I got the call almost a week ago. My mom's brain cancer had come back.

Although her MRI done in November had been clear, the one taken three months later (last week) showed a large tumor in the frontal lobe of her brain. The previous tumor site in the rear parietal lobe still is clear meaning that if this new one is malignant, it has metastasized. Because her previous tumor didn't "light" up on the MRI and this one shows up really bright and has grown really fast, doctors think it is probably a really aggressive form. Her previous tumor was already stage 3 out of 4 so that doesn't leave much room for optimism because when you get to stage 4, life is measured in weeks or months and not years.

There is good news.

The tumor is compact and doesn't show any signs of "fingers" spreading out into healthy tissue. This is unlike the previous tumor which had fingers that limited its complete removal since they really don't want to scoop away healthy tissue. The doctors estimated that they got about 90% of the last one. With no fingers and the location being much better, i.e. less things to screw up if they scoop out the wrong brain cells, they think they can get all of it out through surgery.

That is where my mom is right now and as you read this, I am probably in a waiting room with my father trying to keep my mind occupied on something other than what is going on in the surgery room down the hall.

I'm pretty heartbroken right now. I've done a lot of reading these last 18 months and when brain cancer comes back and is more malignant, it rarely looses. We had been told and were hoping for the five year average but now we might be lucky to complete two by the middle of this summer. I'm praying and hoping that the miracle occurs and perhaps my mom can still be one of those that pushes the envelope back. I will probably know more in a few days when the pathology reports come back.

Any good vibes or prayers sent today would be well received. For those that know me on other social media platforms, I ask that this remain private for the time being as we probably won't be telling others in the extended family until we know what we are dealing with.

Thank you my friends.

Monday, February 12, 2018

It's a Start

One warm day about a month back or so, I used the opportunity to take one of the big slabs into "boards" and got about ten or so knocked out. I used one of the edge slabs with lots of irregular shaped bark and some insect damage. I did so mostly just to see what it looked like in a smoother state and was impressed. I showed off one piece to my wife and she promptly said she wanted a cheeseboard made from it only I needed to make the cheeseboard bigger. So I went out to the garage again and found another board I thought my suit and brought it inside. As I was asking her if those would make it big enough I noticed that I had grabbed the matching board so when butted together they made a fairly symmetrical grain pattern across the joint. Perfect. I edge glued them together.

After that, we had another very cold snap and the glue on the left end popped loose a little bit but I think it won't really be noticeable with finish on it. The rest of it looked stunning. I knocked off the bark and rounded the edges a bit but didn't intentionally try to make it look like West Virginia or a guitar body. I sanded it smooth and then debated on what to do for a finish for a couple days. That is when I noticed some fresh sawdust on top one morning and knew that the insect damage was still occurring. So I ruled out just using linseed oil and wax. I also knew that I needed to fill the voids with something food safe. I ended up ordering some food grade epoxy online.

There were no directions with the epoxy for application temperatures but I knew that the colder it was the slower it cured. So I put a heater on my workbench and after heating up the cheeseboard applied a coat of epoxy. It went on very nicely but due to the voids on top connecting to voids on the bottom, it wouldn't fill the voids and just ran out the bottom side. So I let the first coat set up a couple days, taped the bottom and poured more epoxy in the voids successfully filling them up. I let that cure a couple days and went to sand things smooth except that there was one area that still remained tacky.

I let it set up a couple days and tried sanding it again but as soon as I broke through the dry top later, it remained tacky underneath. I repeated it a couple days later (the heater running full blast all this time) but met with similar results. I finally decided to take a putty knife and dig out the tacky spot thinking I didn't get the hardener mixed thoroughly in that area and would put better mixed epoxy in the divot I dug out. However I quickly learned that the entire first coat of epoxy that I applied is still only hard on the very outside and still tacky up next to the wood.

At this point I don't know if it is the temps or the epoxy just isn't fresh or something else altogether. The project just sits on my workbench as I think things through and decide on my next move. Right now I think I will just leave it be for the time being and see if the rest of the epoxy will go ahead and fully cure. If it doesn't, I think I will have to sand or plane it all off and try again but that would be a lot of work for what was supposed to be a simple cheeseboard. If I go that route, I think I will leave the epoxy in the voids (assuming it sets up) and just oil the board instead of applying the epoxy all over.

I still learning as a woodworker even after all these years.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Intrigue On the Farm

I first heard it on the local news station with a brief report about a body found in a burnt out car in the neighboring county. The following day the newspaper carried an article on it and gave the address where the burnt out car was found. I knew exactly where that was and it is just a few miles away from the farm where I grew up.

I called my mom to ask her about it and she was able to tell me a little more. My dad had stopped and was talking with his hired hand down the road about something when another fellow, I'll call Steve and whom also lives nearby, stopped by to ask my dad's hired hand if he knew whose burnt out car was parked on the dirt road nearby. Neither the hired hand nor my dad did and so Steve called the police and drove off.

From where they were, my dad could see the police show up followed by a wrecker truck. The police left and then the wrecker truck proceeded to hook up the vehicle to tow it away but stopped before completing the task. The police, much more of them this time came back and were swarming around the car when my dad left for home. I assume the wrecker truck operator was the one who actually discovered the body.

This morning I get a text from my mom saying the police have identified the body. The body was Steve's ex-wife from 20 years ago. Hmmm.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Buchholz the Next Generation

My second great grandmother Maria Buchholz as a child in the mid 1890's
My third great grandfather Albert Buchholz may have had his life cut short by an axe, but he had seven children before the accident, five who lived to adulthood. Of the seven, five were daughters and one was a son. The first child who died at birth never had a gender recorded that I have been able to find. My 2nd great grandmother Maria, who went by Mary later in life, was the fifth child born.

She grew up on the farms that my 3rd great grandfather lived on from his in-laws side of the family and was 15 years of age when her father died to his axe wound to the head. My grandmother always describes her as a dour women and I wonder if the death of her father had something to do with it.

The next record I have of Maria is on her marriage day 3 years later at the age of eighteen when she married my 2nd great grandfather Ira. My great grandmother Amanda was born only three months later so perhaps there was a shotgun involved in the ceremony. But then again perhaps not. My 2nd great grandfather Ira had been married once before and already had three children. His first wife went to a circus one day and never came back. It sounds like from the article below, that a previous love of her came into town and they both departed for Chicago.

According to family history, Maria was hired to help Ira help take care of his three children and somehow feelings developed and a pregnancy occurred leading to the wedding. A shotgun still may have been involved and I'm sure Maria's mother who was still living at the time was more than concerned. Whatever the motivation, it ended up being for the best for they remained married for 44 years before Ira died at age 78. Maria would live another six years and die at the age of 69.

Ira and Mary Ackerson

Monday, February 5, 2018

House Update

It's been a long time for both you and me in receiving an update. As you may recall, we got the ball rolling of doing a long time in the making kitchen remodel/small addition to our house by getting plans drawn up by an architect. I sent those out to six different contractors in our area and received immediate response from all of them that they were interested and would send me a quote. Of those six, the one that sounded least interested in it actually gave me a quote and it reflected his interest level by being one of those if-I-do-it-I-will-be-well-compensated-for-it quotes.

We let the idea simmer for awhile and then out of the blue, a person who lives close by in a house we always loved, maybe a bit more than our own, sent me an email asking if we were interested in buying her house. Of course we were and sent a reply back but then she said she needed some time to come up with a fair price and that is the last we have heard from her in nearly four months.

To understand what happened, one must understand her background a bit. She and her husband were good friends of ours and her husband died two years ago leaving her widowed at a fairly young age. Her husband was a historical hoarder and I've helped her several times since to get rid of some of his things which allowed her to fix up those areas of the house. It is a perfect house for a family of five such as what we are but quite big for a widow and I think she was overwhelmed and on a spur of the moment just got it off her chest the thought of selling it by asking us. I don't think she was expecting us to be interested and was taken off guard when we were.

Since that time, we have learned through the grapevine that she has obtained a boyfriend who has moved into her place and which probably explains both why we haven't seen much of her or why she is probably no longer interested in selling her house. Telling us would probably just open a long conversation that she isn't entirely comfortable of having at this point.

So we are now contemplating what to do. A few months ago shortly after the offer, I ran into the owner of one of the contracting companies I had sent off plans to quote are addition and remodel. It came up in the conversation and I told him that his quoter had said he wasn't interested in quoting it because he was more focused on industrial type projects. The owner said that wasn't true and was part of the reason the quoter was no longer employed there and that he would love another chance. I told him is we didn't buy the house up the street that we would definitely give him a chance to requote it. I haven't yet done that but plan to do so soon.

I suspect because contractors seem overwhelmed with projects, it may mean that our plans are on hold for another year. That means I may have to come up with another project to do to keep occupied which might not be a bad thing. If the boyfriend doesn't work out, our neighbor might decide to sell their house again too.