Sorry, We’re Closed

Mother’s Marketplace

I live in Hood River, Oregon. The river for which it is named flows north from the foothills of the Mt. Hood National Forest. Its three forks converge ten miles south of town. My youngest son and his family shelter in place near that spot. From there it meanders through woods, pastures, and orchards before emptying into the Columbia River at the waterfront where I often walk.

My wife and I moved here more than forty years ago. Good fortune came from that choice. We raised our sons in the upper valley. Our first home sat on a plateau between the middle and west forks of the river. The roots of the grandkids sprout from the same soil that nurtured their parents. They share the same legacy of mountain forests and streams; wildlife and rural community.

Ace Hardware

The county of Hood River depends upon agriculture and tourism for its existence. The orchards and vineyards thrive in spite of the virus. Tourism, however, stopped abruptly when Oregon’s governor imposed restrictions to prevent the pandemic’s spread.

The itch to be normal again is strong. But, uncertainty circulates through our community. One day there’s confidence the coronavirus will dissipate in the ether of time. The next you are reminded that this disease persists with an ubiquity reminiscent of dandelions. It’s everywhere. 

Camp 1805

Locals, unemployed by the shutdown of small businesses, return to work with caution. Some retail outlets prefer to continue offering their products from behind closed doors. Some restaurants feel takeout only is still appropriate. Other stores allow customers to browse their wares. A few serve food with revised seating to maintain a semblance of social distancing.

Our health department reports 16 cases of COVID-19. Some have completely recovered, none required hospitalization, and no one in Hood River has died from the virus. Sheltering in place and the discouragement of visitors worked to keep the level of infection low. Now, as we open ourselves up to outsiders, the risk of disease looms.

What have we learned from the pandemic of 2020?

We know that 370,000 people world wide have died from the disease.

We know that the United States owns over 100,000 of those deaths.

Lampoei’s Thai Food Has Always Been Takeout Only. Suddenly, It’s A Great Business Model.

A disproportionate number of the deaths are borne by the elderly.

We know the delayed response from our national leadership was a mistake.

Rosy pronouncements from the White House conflicted with reality again and again.

We know its disorganized rollout of plans and promises seldom materialized into action.

We know, incredibly, the president has fostered division instead of unity.

The result is confusion and the world’s worst rates of contagion and death.

The result is a collapsed economy that still wobbles.

We know 40 million people are unemployed in the United States.

Forty. Million. People.

We Miss Hanging Out With The Grandkids.

We know simplicity, once enacted, made a difference.

Social distancing, masks, and good hygiene flattened the curve.

We know essential workers in a community are ordinary people, doing ordinary jobs.

We know, if we choose to adjust priorities, hope exists to renew our troubled planet.

*****

The wonders of our rivers and forests and wildlife carry on, unaffected by the crisis of disease. The human community, however, restricted activities to protect themselves from contagion. Now, with the relaxation of those controls, what consequences will the latest new normals deliver?

Answers elude us about things such as whether public schools can open next fall. Then, there’s the renewed permission to be going out and mingling with one another. It’s like a blind date with mortality. You hope to be lucky.

I wait. Time goes by. There will never be no risk. But continuing with safe behaviors will increase your luck. 

Deserted Streets, Empty Spaces

The Ruddy Duck on Oak Street, with some good advice.

In the early spring in this year of the pandemic we live in a house on a street that divides the city from the county. The trees in the fruit orchards nearby are past peak blossom and west winds scatter their petals onto the pavement. Strangers walk by the house, in groups of two or three or alone. Some wear masks, some don’t. The roads are quiet as families shelter in place and many are out of work and few cars drive by.

Downtown, some retail businesses operate a version of what was once a normal schedule. They restrict access to limit exposure for customers and staff. Hotels are closed to deter tourists. Restaurants provide takeout meals only, which further discourages outsiders. Deserted streets and empty spaces prevail.

In my garden, I plant petunias and nasturtiums in the sunshine. Coleus plants go where indirect light filters through the overhanging branches of trees. Birds chatter and sing and bathe in a concrete trough, oblivious to the worries of us humans.

Portway at midday.

At the hospital, which I visit twice a month to treat my cancer, everyone must wear masks. Nurses, in the infusatorium, move among us like bees attending a hive. They set IVs, adjust the flow of chemo drips, and take vitals. 

The coronavirus has yet to deplete the hospital’s resources. Gloves, masks, face shields and paper gowns seem plentiful. These protective measures minimize the dangers. True safe distancing, however, is an illusion one accepts in order to continue treatment against the more visible foe of a malignancy.

As of the 26th of April, our town has just five confirmed cases of the disease. No one has died and none of the five are hospitalized. The air is clean to breathe, the colors of spring bright, yet concern about the future mars the improving weather.

Mike’s Ice Cream, normally a hub of activity.

In the last month, global deaths from the coronavirus occurred at a rate of 50,000 every eight days. The elderly carry the load of this mortality. Paeans to beloved grandparents pepper human interest stories in the media. Many die alone, in the twilight of their lives, absent the providence of human touch and the presence of loved ones.

Illness and death aren’t the only factors in the equation that defines our current hardship. Restrictions on movements and livelihoods can lead to isolation. For many, financial ruin is a reality. Everyone feels the weight of an uncertainty that goes on and on and on. Bailout checks signed by an empathy challenged president won’t soothe the anguish. Weeks become months, and a sticky cobweb of contagion adheres to our consciousness.

We all want something settled and predictable to counter the chaos caused by Covid-19. Patience is our ally. Hanging in there is good advice.

Random thoughts and other things…

I wonder why some people stop blogging. I follow some great bloggers in the UK and in Wales. When I clicked on the blogs they follow most of them no longer blog. They seemed quite successful and nicely laid out so one wonders did a life event or spam stop them cold in their tracks.  I think blogs evolve because you change and so does your world. Children grow up, some people have illnesses, etc. Anyway, just some random thinking.

Yesterday, I made it to the gym and it was not crazy busy but still somewhat busy. The 10am slot must be the busiest since most people are out and about plus there are 2 classes still going on at that time. I like to go around 10:15 am but I may bump it out to 11 am as most people are leaving then. ( another random thought)

Today I’m home doing some house things and cooking. I have 12 large potatoes in the oven to make double stuffed potatoes. This will make about 9 halves that I can freeze for easy dinners. Then later I plan on making a turkey roast and will have one or two of the baked potatoes with that. Earlier this week I made Maine Baked beans from Mavis over at 100 dollars a month

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the recipe again so maybe it’s in an old post.

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Basically, you have to soak the navy beans overnight and then cook for an hour or two before putting in the oven. I only did an hour and it really did need another one. But then you bake in a dutch oven for @ 6 hours. It really was delicious. It’s not an easy on the table meal but great for a rainy weekend. I like her recipe since it didn’t add bacon which the veggie can’t have. But I added Adelle’s chicken sausage on the side.

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Tomorrow I have the jury deliberations. I’m on the fence with it so I guess I’ll hear what other people say. I hope we’re out by noon.

other random things…

I checked the Cobra and the medical was canceled so that’s good. I still need to call and find out how we get a card so we can use the Vision and Dental?? Always something to call and check on.

We also made the decision to postpone Yosemite with the Norovirus so maybe we’ll try again in March.

Summer

Summer chore.

Summer came and went. It left behind a northwest parched by a succession of hot spells so extraordinary that even climate change deniers had their ‘come to Jesus moments’.

Rain arrived, at last, in early October. The dire predictions retreated, forgotten along with admonitions to floss our teeth, avoid sugary drinks, and quit smoking. We are such a peculiar, comical species, us humans. We exist in the moment when it’s convenient to our self perception or our preferred politics. Unlike other animals, we can anticipate the future but rationalize away its consequences to justify poor choices.

Just a boy and his wagon.

In spite of the heat waves, winter is out there. In May, when our government destroyed any pretense of social justice by separating immigrant parents from their children, I received three cords of wood. I chose to split it early so that it could dry during the summer. But, allowances had to be made for the oppressive heat. I limited myself to frequent morning workouts with the log splitter. I toiled in the shade and stopped well before midday. By September, I had completed the process of splitting, drying, and stacking our supply of wood.

Now, with the recent rain and cooler temps, I coax small fires in the wood stove each morning. At dawn, while warming my toes, I observe that the debacle over the new Supreme Court justice has reached a disappointing conclusion. Those who favor the confirmation resent the process that challenged their candidate. And, those who saw their protests ignored, lick wounds with bitter tongues. The only thing that unites us as a nation is our unhappiness with democratic ideals.








In the midst of these signs of social decline, including multiple criminal investigations into our president’s affairs, taxes, and electoral legitimacy, my wife and I joined with friends to tour Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks. We saw buffalo, pronghorn deer, elk, bear, and a herd of humanity. The park accommodations are full even at the end of their season. Dinner reservations are necessary at the historic lodges and sometimes not available. Nonetheless, we reveled in what Ken Burns identified as “America’s Best Idea,” our system of National Parks.

The four of us are relaxed travelers. We met over 40 years ago at a New Zealand National Park. Three of us are retired and the fourth partly so. We use that flexibility and free time to visit a National Park each year.

These days, we are day hikers. Back packing lost its allure years ago. A good book, a relaxing chair, and a national monument’s lobby suffice for adventure on many an afternoon. Nonetheless, we did find trails that wound through the natural environment preserved by these parks. In the Yellowstone-Teton ecosystem, you needn’t venture far from a road to experience wilderness.

So too, our country has not ventured far from the belief in compassionate governing. Currently, we find ourselves ruled by the chaos of cynical leadership. By choosing to indulge in the freedom of our prejudices, we have lost our way. Yet, a path back to decency and a government for all can be found. It goes through the voting booth. I hope you will follow it this November.

 

Latest numbers in The Drill.

 

 

Perspective

I had an inheritance from my father,

It was the moon and the sun.

And though I roam all over the world,

The spending of it’s never done.”

Ernest Hemingway

Egg River

I am an early riser. I don’t sleep all that well these days. Illness, late middle age, and my adorable, annoying cat conspire to disturb each night’s rest. So, I am usually awake when, at five am or so, I receive a text from my youngest son, Isaac, inviting me to breakfast.

He is a building contractor. He lives in the upper Hood River Valley with his wife and two children. The kids, one and four, make for unpredictable nights. One or the other or both may have awakened him. After settling the children, he is ready to eat and get on with his day.

Bette’s Place

There are two restaurants we frequent, Bette’s Place and Egg River. We like the oatmeal with fruit at one. The other is famous for their cinnamon rolls. Most importantly, though, it opens earlier. 

Often, we talk about life in the fast lane of parenting: the sleepless nights; the diaper duty; the child’s loving worship; the financial strain; family stress; the shared joy of a child’s wonder at the world, and the list goes on. I find it difficult to remember the doubts and fears from when I was the parent and he the child. I seem to recall only the fun times. Accordingly, my counsel is always … patience.

Dad and brother Earl (Butch) 1945. We lived on Jesse St. in San Francisco. It was behind the telephone company and it dead ended at Bekins Van and Storage.

As we munch our oatmeal and sip coffee, we are sometimes visited by the ghost of my own father. Like my son, he worked with his hands. Isaac builds houses, my dad was a welder. Unfortunately, he died young from the complications of alcoholism. We never connected as adults. In my teens, I was ashamed of him. My defense mechanism was to tune him out.

I shared my childhood with three older brothers, something like a secondary moon in the orbit of their comings of age. About the time they were leaving the house, a younger sister arrived. My perspective then shifted to that of observing my parents cope with this “surprise”.

Like the grandchildren, my siblings and I were the source of much love and some terror for my parents. My mom had strong roots as a third generation offspring of German dairy farmers. Dad, however, was raised as an orphan in Oklahoma and separated from his sister as a child. Dad’s insecurities were engrained at a young age. Eventually, the unsteady foundation of his childhood crumbled under the weight of alcohol.

1985, Noah was five and Isaac was three.

Nonetheless, he made sacrifices to assure us opportunity in our lives. Opportunities, I might add, that he did not have. Opportunities, furthermore, that I did not appreciate until years later.

Perspective is the reward for living a long life. It erases the pain of the past. It reveals wisdom neglected and forgiveness earned. I see the well being and self confidence of my grandchildren to be the byproducts of good parenting. We did some things right, as did the parents of my daughter-in-law. She and my son pass it along.

So, too, my parents were determined to do right by their kids. My selfish needs as a teenager notwithstanding, I did feel loved and wanted. These days, I finally understand the value of their gifts. And, I am humbled when dad occasionally stops by in spirit … he would have liked Isaac, they could talk about tools.

Hallelujah

 

Tulips

The primary colors of tulips brighten my yard. Chlorophyll rich grasses sprout between the bricks of the garden path.

Manic behavior infects the bird life. They chatter about coupling and food, warmth and territory. Juncos and towhees are joined by seasonal rivals at the feeder. Finches and song sparrows visit. The numbers increase, but everyone gets a turn. Then, a horde of aggressive starlings arrive. They squabble among themselves and bully the smaller birds. So, I put the suet cage away. 

Instead, I spread treats on the trunk of our flowering cherry. This makes for a more democratic cafeteria. There’s room for all and the snack of fat and protein will help fortify the nesting birds. 



I walk the waterfront. An east wind pushes the balmy air of distant prairies through the Columbia Gorge. The prevailing westerlies are slow to establish a flow, but athletes test the fluky breeze on their kite boards. Nearby, a playground throbs with the squeals of toddlers. Dogs fetch thrown balls and a solitary boy tugs at the string of his own reluctant kite.

Sailboats return to the river. A regatta plys the current around a buoy marked course. Like a pod of lost whales, they beach overnight on the sandy shore. 

Finally, the wind turns. A daylong gale scours the valley. It steals hats from the unwary and strips fruit trees of their blossoms. Spring sweeps aside the curtain of winter and sings in a major key. It’s time for hallelujah not hibernation.

An audio version of this post may be viewed here. Thanks to Rod Salaysay for his rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, played on the ukulele.

The latest numbers are posted in The Drill.

Six years blogging…

I started this blog in April 2012.

I had relapsed from Myeloma 2 years earlier and was on Revlimid. I decided to start writing about my journey with cancer and life in general. I never was a journal/diary keeper. But writing blogs came to me quite easy.

I greatly enjoy writing this blog about the subtle nuances of my life.  And sometimes not so subtle…

Anyway, I’m up to 900 blog posts so sometime in the next 3-4 months I’ll hit 1,000 posts. That could be my next goal.

It’s still enjoyable and fun for me.

HDT quote

My NON post

When I first began blogging, in March of 2007, a more experienced blogger informed me that I had to publish a post every day in order for my blog to be visible on Google and not be deemed “inactive.” If I stopped writing and publishing, even for ONE day, he added, my blog be more difficult to find on the search engines, meaning that I’d lose my readership. He talked about blogging as though it were a competition.

Well, I didn’t care about competing with other bloggers and/or becoming THE most popular myeloma blogger (!), but I did want to reach and possibly help as many people as possible, so I tried very hard to write and publish a post every day. Not easy, when you have “distractions,” such as a loving hubby, a job, a bunch of cats needing attention and care…and so on and so forth….

At a certain point, though, I decided, ENOUGH. I wanted to enjoy my life outside the blog. I’d done enough research to last almost an entire lifetime and, to be honest, I was sick and tired of reading scientific jargon every single day…

Plus, sometimes I didn’t know what to write about/had writer’s block. Writing became a bit of a struggle, even though I have to acknowledge that it’s only thanks to my blog that I have discovered how much I love writing…

Anyway, back then, in short, I needed a break.

And so I took a break from blogging. Just as I’d been warned, my readership dropped. Day by day, practically. It’s now down to less than a third of what it was in the “golden years.” But I didn’t care. I was outside, breathing fresh air, enjoying life, with plenty of time to spend with my friends…and so on and so forth. 😉

Mind you, I still had, and have!, a lot of readers writing to me with their questions and findings. In fact, many of them have become friends in real life, which is just wonderful. I also still had and have a lot of mail to sort through on a daily basis…often so much (mail) that I cannot reply to everyone, and for that I apologize.

Recently, though, I’ve been coming across some really interesting and/or promising stuff, which I’ve found on my own or thanks to blog readers (you know who you are, THANK YOU), such as:

  • the bone marrow microenvironment studies
  • the EBV-MM connection
  • Dieneke’s case study getting published in the UK (yaaaay)
  • andrographolide
  • the Chinese MM patient’s case study
  • astragalus

There seems to be a lot going on, which is very exciting. Inspiring, in fact. And for a while I almost got back to a post/day… 😉 

But ever since Stefano came down with shingles (he’s better now, btw, but still in quite a lot of pain…hasn’t gone back to work yet), I haven’t felt much like writing. It’s so hard to see the person you love in such pain. His pain has had an effect on me, too.

I haven’t stopped doing research…But these days it’s been mostly on the natural ways to relieve the pain caused by shingles, and in fact the turmeric-based topical applications have really helped him. However, only prescription-strength Tylenol (the Italian equivalent) is able to reach the sort of INTERNAL nerve pain he has been experiencing…My poor sweetie!

BUT, of course, this negative period will soon be over. Stefano is already feeling better, and the awful rash is fading. That means that I’ll soon be back to blogging more. I’m already looking at a couple of studies on my desktop,  hoping they’ll inspire me to write a post…

Okay, it’s time now to go check on my patient. Take care, everyone! CIAO!   🙂 

Ten Years

“It’s just … it’s like it’s always right now, you know?”

Mason from Boyhood 

An inversion layer spreads over the Hood River Valley. Temperatures drop to the high 20s at night and creep into the mid-30s during the day. At elevation, upon the slopes of Mt. Hood, sunny skies prevail. But here, in the foothills, no wind, no snow, and no sunshine. Instead, a thick blanket of overcast spreads gloom. Enthusiasm for activity wanes. Last weekend, I stayed home and wore pajamas all day. Nonetheless, my mood is bright. This December marks ten years since my diagnosis with the blood cancer, multiple myeloma.




An irony of cancer rests in a biological enigma: it destroys the host that sustains it. As it strives to survive it also brings about its death. My disease results from an error in DNA programming, a mutation gone awry. That, being so, and given its prevalence, can we not view it as a metaphor for humanity’s abuse of the environment? Are we destroying our host? Are we, too, a mistake?

While mulling over this puzzle, I venture outside to scatter seed for the birds. I keep their water station thawed. They congregate on the boughs of the ornamental cherry. They alight to drink a drop or two, wash themselves, and then gather with others in the barren branches of our shrubs. There are juncos, chickadees, sparrows, a few finches, towhees, jays, and mourning doves.

Occasionally, an opportunistic hawk visits. He perches on the cross of the power pole. We all entertain one another. I provide food and water. The yard birds sing and chatter. They navigate, with aplomb, the maze of thickets in the yard. The raptor waits.





In spite of my lazy weekend, I make the effort to exercise. Quiet walks on the waterfront immerse me in the rhythms of the natural world. Fewer and fewer people go outdoors. Locals, walking their dogs, populate the paths. The animals, paragons of pure joy, walk in the  company of a human they adore. To them, the world is alive with scent, and each happy breath produces a visible cloud as the heat of their body greets the frigid air.

On the river, mud hens float together. Ducks splash as they land. They squabble. A lone heron, the vicar of the waterfront, hunches his shoulders in ecclesiastical contemplation. Above me gulls glide and squeal. Gaggles of geese pass, honking as they proceed somewhere far from here. Physically, I am present, my senses absorbing the sights and sounds. My mind, however, wanders.

The sky is opaque. I feel gratitude. Ten years far exceeds my prognosis. Looking  back, I experienced  challenges and emotions. I’ve pursued a workmanlike blue collar treatment program. I follow the research, the trial developments. I moved through the protocols that existed at diagnosis. I add those that emerged during my decade of care.



My medical records weave between progression and stasis. The Drill reads like my monthly photos of the waterfront: repetitive views that are at once the same and different. I don’t dwell on the incurable nature of my condition. I don’t get overly excited by promising developments in the regulatory pipeline. Perhaps, they will evolve to assist me, perhaps not. What fate has put in motion makes me thankful for each and every right now.

Tagged: blogging, Boyhood, cancer, Columbia River Gorge, Good Blood Bad Blood, Hood River, Hood River Valley, mortality, nature, writing

Autumn Slips Forward

Turning one leaf at a time.

Autumn slips into place without a sound. One leaf, then another changes color. Concentrations of green break down into red and yellow. At first glance, I wonder, is that tree diseased? On succeeding days, the contagion spreads to an entire stem, then a branch. Like chameleons, leaves drain their dominant shade, which transform into radiant hues.

Autumn slips forward with the quiet magic of chemistry. Daylight declines and temperatures cool. The mask of chlorophyll falls away. Underlying pigments in the leaf reveal themselves. They blend to create brilliant orange and reddish colors along with deep multi-shaded browns. Silently, the season tattoos foliage with melancholy.



Autumn slips in under the cover of summer’s forest fires. It infiltrates the canopy of deciduous trees while smoke filled skies distract our attention. The sun’s glow softens, diffused by the particulate in the air. It gilds the horizons with glamour and a tule fog of tragedy besmirches the streets of Hood River.

The scenic Columbia River Gorge burns with ferocity this year. The fire, fueled by dry timber and strong wind, leapt from 4,000 acres to 33,000 acres in the first five days of September. I grieve for the destruction of forest land. The reckless behavior of a few hikers ruined habitat and caused the death of a multitude of small animals.

Status of the fire on 9-6-17. No significant growth or containment as of 9-11-17.

Initially, the fire headed west. Then, the wind shifted. It grew at a deliberate pace, moving in a southeast direction, and headed our way. Then, again, the wind shifted the blaze back upon itself. The fire continues to burn but its growth slows. For now, we can relax a bit. Weather forecasts are favorable.

It seems, though, no matter where we are, something is always headed our way. The fury of hurricanes in Texas and Florida, and the Eagle Creek fire in Oregon made for a hellish beginning to autumn. These are American catastrophes. Elsewhere, however, destructive incidents persist: famine, disease, wars in Syria and Myanmar.

Smokey sky, a premonition for wildfire.

Solace resides in the machinations of the natural world. The routine, the inevitability of seasonal change occurs in spite of our behavior. The winter inherent in fall’s splendor; the rebirth and growth of spring immanent in the bitter dormancy of January. An underlying balance exists. Yet we seem at odds with the process. We interfere and, like a serious illness, we threaten the host which supports us.

Autumn slips forward into an unknown future, propelled by the past. It quietly changes everything. We age with each season. We order our lives, we prepare for the good and bad. Harmony surrounds us. But often, our eyes close. We lose balance and the wonder slips away.

Tagged: blogging, cancer, Columbia River Gorge, Good Blood Bad Blood, Hood River, Hood River Valley, mortality, writing