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.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Frederick Albert Ludwig Buchholz

Looking towards branches of my family tree not recently visited, I stopped at the one containing my 3rd great grandparents Frederick Albert Ludwig Buchholz and Amanda Jane Thomas. On the Thomas side of my family, the research has been quite extensive but on the Buchholz side, it is pretty slim pickings. In fact, the only picture I have of A.L. (he usually went by those initials in reverse order of his actual name) Buchholz is the one above which is a copy of a copy in a family history book on the Thomas family.

A.L. Buchholz grew up in Germany in Pankow which is a suburb of sorts to Berlin. Like others of his time, he was the oldest child and looking towards doing mandatory service in the Prussian army which had been anything but peaceful at the time. I suspect this decision weighed heavily on his parents decision to immigrate to America. He also had an aunt that had immigrated to America a decade earlier and I'm sure she wrote home to tell them how great things were.

S.S. Westphalia

So on April 28, 1869, my great grandfather age 19 along with his two brothers, a sister and his parents boarded the S.S. Westphalia in Hamburg along with 687 other passengers and set sail for America arriving in New York on May 11, 1869. Looking at the picture above, it looks plenty small of a ship for that many passengers and I can't imagine what the voyage must have been like. The Westphalia was built the previous year so was at least fairly new at the time and was 340 feet long, 40 feet wide at the beam with a draft of 33 feet.

The passenger list also lists another name on that list which I suspect is one of my 3rd great grandfather's half siblings of which he is reported to have two from one of his mother's two previous marriages. The Thomas family history book left blank the name of the ship they arrived on because it was unknown at the time but thanks to the internet and digitized records, that blank can now be filled in.

Sworn statement by the captain of the SS Westphalia
The family moved immediately to Iowa and from there, moved around quite a bit to various farms owned by various family members. They never appeared to be very prosperous as farmers which is why perhaps at age 54, he gave up and moved to town where he worked as a section hand for the Illinois Central Railroad. That was in March of 1904. By November he was dead.

According to family history, he was out chopping wood one fine September day when the axe clipped the clothesline. Somehow the axe head ended up splitting opn his scalp and penetrating his skull. It was removed and he soon recovered enough to dress himself and go about business but a blood clot formed and paralyzed him on his left side. I'm not sure how things were done at the time but the blood clot was described as being removed along with a chunk of bone "causing the paralysis" but he never regained consciousness.

Passenger list from the SS Westphalia
During his coma and with winter cooling things down, flat irons were often heated up and wrapped in towels to put in his bed to keep warm. Unfortunately one of those irons wasn't wrapped up well enough or was jostled so that it rested upon his skin. Despite being in a coma, the pain was enough to cause him to reach down several times as if to remove the iron and that is how it was discovered but the damage was already done and his leg was severely burned. Two months after the accident, he did at the home of his father-in-law Charles Thomas and was buried next to his father Johann Buchholz in a nearby cemetery. He was 54 years old.

Evidently my 3rd great grandmother Amanda has a life insurance policy on A.F. and used the proceeds to move and buy a house in another town. She lived there for a time but moved in with her father again during the final stages of his illness and then went to live with her mother. Amanda eventually got cancer of the stomach and bowels and had an operation but never regained her health and died in 1913. She was buried her father's cemetery 50 miles away from her husband.

The Buchholz brothers must have been quite the characters because Albert was the only one who married at age of 30 (to a 19 year old). The other two brothers remained single all their lives.