Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Our New Friend

One February day following one of Kim's surgeries, we were unable to travel and not ready to visit with friends. So we decided to make a new friend of our own. Kim stayed indoors and took photos through an open window. In case you did not notice, it was winter. Our heating bill was high that year, but the whole process helped to warm us.

Friends change. This one changed his clothes, hair, and even his nose! The snowman became a daily activity for us though the winter.

Our snowman became popular - he attracted other friends.

It might have been the seeds we put on the hat.

Sometimes the parties with these friends got a little out of control.

But winter must come to an end, and sometimes friendships may melt away.

But the spirit of that friendship can still take flight.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Kim's Health

Kim’s Health

Some of you read this blog to keep track of Kim’s health. Here are some current highlights:

·      She has experienced several days of a heightened sense of smell – my breath was a culprit, along with some maple bacon I bought by mistake and some corn meal mush we tried for breakfast. A google search found that the primary suggested cause is pregnancy. Her chemo has a number of side effects. I plan to contact Pfizer about this one.

·      Kim recently attended a class dealing with beneficial herbs. She reported back on what she learned, but I don’t remember most of it. What I do remember is that we should drink lemon juice before breakfast (doing it) and that it is good for your digestion to drink before dinner a vodka martini, graced with a splash of orange juice and garnished with a slice of the peel, including the gummy white stuff. You are to eat the garnish because the bitters are good for digestion – a small price to pay for a vodka martini. I probably heard this through some sort of filter, and I’m not sure what all this has to do with Kim’s health, but we both felt pretty good drinking our martinis.

·      Kim experiences more or less continuous back pain. “But it’s only pain,” she says, “and I can deal with that.” Her pain a result of the extensive back surgery, where her cancer-eaten vertebra was replaced by a cage. 

      We went to a pain doctor who said, after examining Kim, that there was little she could do other than some sort of X-ray guided procedure to kill some nerves near her spine, which she did not recommend. We had quite a few hydrocodone tablets left over from her recovery from surgery, but we turned them in to the sheriff’s office because they clouded her thinking, and she did not want to deal with addiction. Several of our friends, none of them doctors, have suggested marijuana. Justin, a homeless guy we met on a walk suggested where we could get some. Kim has expressed an interest, but I think it’s mainly because she wants to give me some so she can be entertained.

·      Kim’s pain sometimes interferes with her sleep, though this does not usually slow her down much. She usually goes to sleep pretty easily, though I can’t tell for sure because I’m sleeping. When she can’t get comfortable, she may move to the couch, and if she can’t get comfortable on the couch she rejoins me in bed.  When she is awake in the middle of the night her mind may become busy designing the stonework on our fireplace, deciding what the column supporting our front porch should look like, or choosing which trees to plant once the cottage is done. Our normal wake-up time is about 6:30, which I hit pretty consistently. With Kim it depends on how long she stays awake during the night.

·      Kim has also experienced some fatigue as a result of either her surgery or her chemo, or could it be her lack of sleep? She frequently runs out of gas at about 5 p.m., which happens to be the time when she is preparing my dinner. Kim, being Kim, fixes and serves our meal (I’m in charge of liquids and, occasionally, salads). After dinner I usually do the dishes and Kim may retire to the sofa for a nap, depending on the liquid I poured. Her fatigue also means she does not always climb the four flights of stairs to our condo, sometimes choosing the elevator. I remember how tired I felt at age 18, climbing four flights of stairs to my freshman dorm room. It has not gotten any easier. We still try to walk a mile each day, though some winter days it has to be indoors in our quarter-mile long building.

·      And the cancer? It’s still there, of course, though it’s not entirely clear where “there” is. Nothing has shown up on various scans taken every few months, though metastatic cancer has gotten into her circulation, blood or lymphatic, to move through Kim’s body. The cells are probably still circulating, though her lowered estrogen levels are starving them (or so we imagine), and her chemo works “to put the brakes on cell growth and division in both healthy and cancer cells.” It’s not exactly like Pac-Man. I picture the Ibrance scooting around putting condoms on the cancer cells, or maybe feeding them saltpeter to (allegedly) reduce their reproductive urges (much the way it was rumored to be added to our mashed potatoes when I was in college).

·      The most important feature of Kim’s health status is that she is still alive and kicking. This is something that we celebrate every day, despite the possibility Kim is like Wile E. Coyote when he just ran off the cliff. I remember when Kim was recovering from seven hours of delicate spinal surgery back in May. She was in a lot of pain, but remembering how she had narrowly escaped paralysis, we realized that it was better than being numb, or dead. And when you are alive you can feel a flame burning inside you, glowing, and Kim feels that flame every day. Dead people probably don’t experience that glow.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Red Barn Society

Kim and I love old barns. Last week we took a drive just to photograph some of the ones we had seen here in northern Michigan. (Truth be told: We were looking for one specific barn, but we couldn’t remember where we’d seen it. Never did find it.)

The older we get, the more we appreciate old barns. They remind us of simpler times, though to be honest, those times, for us, are largely imagined, not remembered – neither of us has ever lived on a farm. (In Darien, Connecticut, we had golf courses instead of farms.) But even knowing that the nostalgia is fake, it still has its power.

But the appeal of old barns is more than nostalgia. We identify with them. I told Kim that we are not really old - that we have just acquired patina.

She elaborated, perhaps feeling the effects of her chemo on her hormones and energy: We may have lost some paint . . .

we may lean a bit to the side . . .

our foundation may need some shoring up, we leak a bit . . .

things are growing on us and in us . . .

and there may be some snow on our roof . . .,

but we are still standing, damn it!

This, despite the powers that dwarf us.

We think of barns as red, but this is not always the case.

And some are not barn-shaped.

One thing that is especially appealing to us is the color red when it lingers triumphantly, like the memory of passion that still can generate warmth.

And sometimes the red is new, like a passion learned or discovered despite our age.

Some barns appear masculine.

Even with the red, there is something peaceful about old barns.

         Maybe it’s not just patina we have acquired. Old barns have “character,” whatever that term means. I think of Kim’s dad, living in the woods in Michigan’s U.P., telling me that one thing he liked about retiring to the woods was that he did not have to deal with assholes any more (he had just met me). Kim smiles to recall how he would keep repairing his favorite pants, coats and shirts, stitching them up with Frankenstein stitches of any old color. He did not see the point, at his age, of buying new clothes or putting up with bullshit – except maybe his own. He had character. Kim and I are approaching his age.  Some of us aren’t cute any more. Instead, we have character.

Maybe we just hope that if we love old barns, people will love us. And we do sometimes wear red.


John Perkins:
          Our barn story: In 1974, I took my first faculty position at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, just north of Cincinnati.  A very rural area, which at the time we liked.  We bought our first house, just outside of Oxford; it was a pre-Civil War house, and it had a barn, plus 16 acres.  Presto, we were farmers, in the eyes of the IRS if not God's.  The first year we owned the house, I had a research grant that provided a summer salary, woo-hoo!  I thought it might make the long Ohio summers a bit more prosperous, and then I took a good look at our barn.  It had a saddle-back roof, i.e. the roof was on its way to collapse.  We figured, fix it or lose it, so we fixed.  The entire summer salary went into the barn, plus some, but let me tell you, we had a barn with a mighty fine roof.
          Not only were we farmers, we were also share-croppers, an institution with a somewhat tawdry reputation.  A "real" farmer down the road had been renting our barn and land for many years, and we kept up the tradition.  His use of the barn was essentially as a brothel: he put his sows, with one boar, into the barn, and glory be, the sows came out pregnant.  We were very proud that this miracle of procreation took place under the finest barn roof in southwestern Ohio, although the noises that pigs make when they get down to business, often at night, is not entirely dignified.
          At one time our barn might have been red, but we could see no trace.  It might have even had a Mail Pouch Chewing Tobacco ad painted on, but that, too was gone.  We never got around to painting it.

Jerry Beasley:
          When I was a kid I spent a lot of time on the old "home place" in "Sleepy Holler" off Beasley's Bend in the Cumberland River near Lebanon, Tennessee. My dad grew up there. Uncle Wally stayed there, and the farm had an old barn, built in 1900. He kept his mules there (yes, he plowed with them until the early 50s and then kept them until they died many years later). When my own daughters were little I had a small farm (no barn, but a nice tractor shed) near Earleville, Maryland, about a mile from the Chesapeake Bay. Had a few head of cattle, a large organic garden, and a big old farmhouse. My daughters spent their formative childhood years there, helping out, and my older daughter became quite a carpenter helping me--from the time she was 8 or 9 years old--as I restored the old farmhouse.