Thursday, March 22, 2018

How to Shop

            Back in my B.K. era (Before Kim), I went shopping for shoes at a K-Mart. I tried one on and it fit OK, and it was inexpensive, so I put it in the box, paid for it, and went home. The next morning, I discovered that I’d purchased two right shoes. “That’s OK,” I figured. “I can find a way to make this work.”

            I subscribe to targeted shopping. I know what I want, I find it as quickly as possible, and then I can leave the store. Kim, and I suspect many women, has a different shopping experience. She makes comparisons between similar products, evaluating them. She might go to more than one store. She may decline what a salesperson suggests, as she did yesterday with a salad-spinner at Williams-Sonoma. (I have never rejected a salad-spinner in my life.) She may even try on both shoes before purchasing them.

            Now, Kim is not a person who simply enjoys shopping as a social experience – going out with The Girls for a day. And it’s not an aesthetic experience where you get a lift looking at beautiful clothes, furniture, or salad spinners. Kim’s usually too busy looking after me to shop just for the pleasure of it. No, Kim usually shops for stuff she needs, or we need, but it’s her commitment to something she calls “quality” that takes her a bit longer than it takes me. She does not shop for shoes at K-Mart.

            Some history:

            When we got married, Kim took a long look at the clothes in my closet and made me an offer: For every three shirts that she threw away, she would buy me a new one. I was puzzled, but I accepted the offer.

            She later told me about an incident when we were courting. Wearing an apparently memorable bright yellow shirt and a brown and yellow argyle sleeveless sweater, I approached her desk at the school where we both worked. She told me she thought it was a clever joke I was pulling, testing for her response. I’m not sure she believes, even today, that I had no such intention – that was just what I chose to wear. It may go back to my first marriage, when I had to leave for work early while my wife was still asleep, so I would dress in the dark. Some days I would be surprised to discover what I had “chosen.” This is why I put Kim’s word “quality” in quotation marks. (I later offered Kim’s son, Scott, $50 if he would wear the shirt and sweater out the door. Broke at the time, he declined my offer. The outfit was last seen in the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum somewhere in Florida.)

            Our friend Alice advised that in choosing an outfit you don’t want to be “all matchy-matchy.” I was delighted to realize that my fashion sense is cutting-edge. I’m pleased when I discover that my socks match.

            It’s important to keep your primary goal in mind when you are shopping. For Kim, it’s a quality product that meets a specific need – boots to wear in the city in the winter, jeans that fit, look good, and will last for a while. Similarly, I try to keep my primary goal in mind: Don’t buy anything. I am not always successful. Yesterday I told Kim that I needed some black socks. “Yes,” she said, “I noticed that a couple of pairs had holes in them.”

            “Three pairs had holes.”

            “Did you throw them out?” Kim knows me well.

            “Yes,” I lied. I was wearing one of them.

            We left Macy’s with eight pair of black socks, plus two undershirts that Kim said appeared to be of higher quality than my graying ones.

            Kim is, in fact, nudging me toward quality. For example, I love the quality of my new Merrill insulated snow boots. My old boots weren’t waterproof or insulated, and they were starting to fall apart, so I figured they had a few years left in them. So Kim found my Merrill boots online and bought them for me.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


            No, I didn’t get the flu. If I had, you would have heard about it because it would have been the worst flu ever, my suffering greater than anyone else’s. I would be overheard moaning. “Kim,” I would say, “do you think your cancer is bad? Well, I have the flu.” Or: “At first I was afraid that I would die. Then I was afraid that I would not die.” No, I’m not very good at being sick.

            And no, Kim did not have the flu either. When her fever was spiking and her coughing nearly continuous, we went to the doc to be tested. The conclusion was that Kim had some sort of virus with flu-like symptoms. We considered going to the E.R. when her fever hit 102, but we feared the germs in the Waiting Room, and her fever dropped shortly after that, so we decided to ride it out. We’ve been riding out Kim’s illness for over three weeks, now, with slow improvements but continued fatigue, coughing, etc.

            Kim’s struggles with her non-flu have put her cancer in perspective.          

            Kim’s oncologist told us that although there is no cure for stage 4 cancer, we can do a lot to “manage” the disease. “Manage?” Here’s what Merriam-Webster says as the primary definition of the term:

     To handle or direct with a degree of skill: such as
·         to make and keep compliant (“can’t manage their child”)
·         to treat with care (“managed his resources carefully”)
·         to exercise executive, administrative, and supervisory direction of (“manage a business”)

            To this point she has been managing her cancer more effectively than she was able to manage her non-flu, which pretty much knocked her on her ass despite all the water and NyQuil. It will be good to have the non-flu gone so that all she is struggling with is cancer, which she has been “managing” with the help of her chemo drugs, various supplements, and her own spirit and determination.

            I’m thinking of the examples suggested in the definition above. Managing cancer is a lot like managing a child – a very difficult child who needs to be treated with a combination of firmness and, occasionally, a deliberate ignoring of misbehavior. And there is also the managing of resources – treating Kim’s time and energy with care. Managing resources does not mean all saving and no spending. It’s spending wisely on commitments both to creative and joyful projects such as her photography or building our cottage, and to her sustaining and life-affirming connections with family and friends.

            And the exercise of executive, administrative, and supervisory direction of her illness is an important part of Kim’s disease management. She keeps meticulous records of her meds and her appointments, adjusting them as needed. As I write this she is looking over the results of her last round of blood tests. If cancer, at its core, is an uncontrolled proliferation of cells, then Kim fights back by exerting as much control as she can: managing her illness.

            The goal, of course, is to die healthy. Lots of ways to define “healthy,” and I think most definitions apply to us.


Thursday, March 8, 2018

Side Effects

            I’ve recently noticed that much of the television that Kim and I watch features commercials for pharmaceuticals. Why this is so? I’m not sure – it may have to do with our age. Much of our tv watching, other than Netflix movies, consists of news programs, and maybe advertisers know that we need drugs to tolerate the news these days.

            If you have seen those drug commercials, you know they feature lengthy lists of possible side effects, none of them good. You know, things like fatigue, vomiting, death, headaches, seizures, insomnia, constipation, depression, and erections lasting more than 4 hours. If you see these drugs advertised in print (Do you remember print?), this language is in a tiny font the at the bottom of the page, but on television we get quickly and quietly spoken words of doom while the video attempts to distract your attention with folks having fun while taking the drug. Kim’s chemo drug, Ibrance, has a recurring role on our television.

            I doubt that Pfizer and the other pharmaceutical companies announce all these dangers voluntarily. It’s probably one of those regulations that Trump has not yet abolished, one we would be fine without. Come to think of it, we’d be fine without the pharmaceutical commercials altogether.

            On the other hand, what it would be like if all products advertised on television included their own list of nasty side effects, many of which are worse than the fine-print warnings?

            Cars? Possible side effects include exploding air bags, traffic accidents, traffic jams, traffic tickets, trips with your children who are not looking out the window at the Rockies but updating their Chatbook or sending Instafaces, and global warming that leads to lethal weather, rising sea levels and the destruction of coastal settlements. (On a positive note, this would include the swamping of Mar a Lago.)

            Coca Cola? Possible side effects include tooth decay and obesity, diabetes, higher health insurance premiums to cover the illnesses, and hyperactive children. For Diet Coke, add cancer to the list, along with even more obesity.

            Cell phone service provider? Side effects may include the dissolution of family relationships, the end of real vacations, atrophied attention span, the decline of reading and writing, and the encouragement of addictive behavior and bad posture, leading to neck and back surgery.

            Cosmetics? Animal testing – need I say more? If I do need to say more, think of blows to self-esteem from comparisons with models. Same goes for shampoo commercials.

            McDonald’s? Visits may induce fear and trembling if family members suffer from coulrophobia – a fear of clowns. Also, see Coke warnings, above, despite the fact that McDonald’s has reduced the size of fries portions in Happy Meals.

            Cruise ships? Travel includes risks of serious illness, hangovers, falling overboard, and if you are traveling with Australians, beatings.

            Home and Auto Insurance? We should be cautioned that, despite the amusingly weird misfortunes that entertain us in the commercials, the insurance may not cover what happens to your home or auto. For example: sink-hole damage in Florida. Another risk is that a substantial amount of your premiums will go toward television commercials. I believe in insurance, but better get an agent you can trust.

            OK, OK – you get it. At this point you can no doubt come up with your own list of nasty side effects that could be mumbled during commercials you see. Do it. I’ll help you get started: Beer?

. . .

            You are probably wondering how you can thank me for providing you with all these insights.


            Just try to avoid the shit and enjoy life. We are the people in the Ibrance commercial. Screw the side effects.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Road Trip

 Many Michiganders head south in February. We went north.            

 Two weeks ago, Kim felt well enough for our first post-surgical road trip. The plan was three days of birding at Sault Ste. Marie, a.k.a. "the Soo," located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where Lake Superior drains into Lake Huron through the St. Mary’s River. Founded in 1668, it's one of the oldest cities in the country - sources disagree whether it's 3rd or 10th oldest. We were chasing birds thanks to our guides from Grand Traverse Audubon, but we saw a lot more than birds.

On the drive north we got a preview of the Yooper Cuisine, where vegetables, other than potatoes, rutabaga and ketchup, are only a rumor.

We also got a glimpse of the ice stretching below the Mackinac Bridge, joining the Upper and Lower Peninsulas.

Friday was a long day. We were up at 5:30 a.m., nibbled scones and an apple for breakfast, and then drove a total of about 100 miles through the countryside, usually at about 10 m.p.h. so we didn’t miss anything. We had about a dozen stops along the way, one highlight being a park where we could hike a quarter-mile to a latrine. I was glad we had cut back our morning coffee intake.

Our first stop on Friday morning was at the hydro-electric power plant, built in 1898 from rock excavated from the water channel. The headhouse is more than a quarter mile long and contains 80 power turbines that are still generating electricity. We didn’t see any birds of interest, but it was one of my favorite stops.

Here are a few of our bird highlights:

Ruffed Grouse
Ruffed Grouse, profile

Pine Grosbeak

Herring Gulls in Snow

Along the way we saw some barns that showed up too late for our blog post of barn photos:

And we saw some Northern Michigan snowscapes:

We got back to the motel a little before 5. The plan was to rest a bit, then go looking for Short-Eared Owls, then go to dinner. Then do it all again on Saturday, and again for most of Sunday. At that point we had already seen six new species, and we were tired (Kim had slept only 2 hours, and I am getting old), so we decided to follow the advice of Barry Goldwater concerning how to end the War in Viet Nam: Declare victory and go home. We thanked our fellow birders, especially Leonard, our guide, and left for home on Saturday morning.

But our winter adventure was not over. On the drive home we stopped in and around Petosky for some photos:

Oak Leaf

Ice Cave
Winter Fun

This is the actual color of the ice here on Lake Michigan.

And when we got home, we took a short drive to visit Socia, our local Snowy Owl.