Notes To My Grandson

Hospital parking lot.

Hospital parking lot.

On the day you arrived, temperatures dropped into the single digits. A winter storm had battered northwest Oregon. For three days, feathers of dry snow fell in the mountains and throughout the Columbia Gorge. The Hood River Valley, which is named for the town that will be your home, rested under a thick white blanket.

Schools closed and the interstate shut down. A weather advisory halted activity in most communities. But you were safe in the care of your intrepid mom and dad. They arrived at the hospital at 5:30 am, having navigated blizzard-like conditions with the aplomb for which they are renowned. Your parents possess the determined grit of athletes, a trait you will inherit.

You and mom.

You and mom.

We knew when you would be born. A C-section was scheduled for January 11, 2017. Risk factors that arose after your sister’s delivery, three years ago, predicated the operation that brought you into the world. Your birth occurred at 8:28 am. You weighed 9.7 pounds and measured 21 and 1/2 inches in length.

You emerged from surgery with bruises on your upper arms and a red abrasion on the back of your head. At my first sighting in the maternity ward, your skin glowed with colors ranging from light pink to deep purple. You had remarkably long fingers and toes. Chubby, well developed arms and legs reflected the strength of the woman who carried you for the nine months of your development.

You quickly took to nursing even though mom’s milk did not flow the first day. With each attempt at feeding you lay contented on your mother’s chest nuzzling and bonding alongside she who would be your primary guide during infancy.

You and dad.

You and dad.

Everyone took turns holding you. First of all, your dad. His self-confidence is one of your birthrights. As a builder, he gets things done. You will come of age in a community built, in part, by your father and his friends.

After dad came Grammy Jennifer, Gramma D, Nana, Papa Guerra, and myself. You have adoring grandparents who were present on the day you were born. Grandpa Jeff came a day later, equally proud and excited by your arrival into the world.

Your long wavy hair resembled big sister Savannah’s at the time of her birth. She had spent the morning with the grandmas, then visited for the first time in the middle of the afternoon. You were not yet eight hours old when she held you gently in her arms. If you fussed, she consoled you with soft reassurances. Mostly, though, she marveled at your twitches and reflexes … your aliveness.

You and Nana and big sister Savannah.

You and Nana and big sister Savannah.

Soon, her every move will captivate your attention. Her creative play and caring nature are personality traits you will mimic. You could not ask for a better role model.

On day two, donor breast milk satisfied your hunger. This led to long naps punctuated by squeaks, snuffles, and murmurs. I held you for 20 minutes during one of these rest periods. If you stirred awake, gentle rocking helped you relax.

By the third day, your sleep periods increased further. Again, I cradled you in my arms, this time for over an hour. You slept peacefully, occasionally shrugging your big shoulders and kicking the blanket off your feet.

Courtyard of the hospital cafeteria.

Courtyard of the hospital cafeteria.

Later that day, Friday the 13th, you exited the hospital. Packed snow covered the streets. The temperature hovered at 17 degrees. Your birth certificate read, Samuel Edward Smith. The first name has a solidity that appealed to your parents. Your middle name is a tribute to grandfather “Papa Guerra,” your mom’s dad.

I like the name. Nonetheless, given the wildness of the winter’s weather, I felt partial to calling you Stormy.

Tagged: C-section, Caesarian Birth, Childbirth, Columbia River Gorge, Donor breast milk, family, grandchildren, healthcare, Hood River, Hood River Valley, Oregon, Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital, weather

Stormy weather.

“March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.” Not this March. The weather here is stormy, strong winds and heavy showers. Only a few weeks ago the weather was much more spring-like. It seems according to weather lore that the reverse also applies “If March comes in like a lamb, it will go out like a lion.” 

Mike is currently at the hospital having a central line put in. His kidneys are now so bad that he cannot wait for the fistula to be put in. They say that he is on the list for a fistula as a priority, but no further information on when. Once the line is in place they will put him on a dialysis machine for two hours. They have to build up the length of time slowly from two, to three, to four and finally up to five hours, the drawbacks of being the size and weight he is. Five kilos lighter and it would be four hours three time a week.  

The weather certainly matches my mood swings. The swing from relief that something is finally being done to try and improve Mike’s health across to upset that we find ourselves in this position at all. Anger that the kidney problem seems to be completely separate from the myeloma swinging to relief that the myeloma seems to be quiet for now. 

It is going to be a difficult few months (hopefully only a few months) with Mike having to spend so much of the week away on dialysis, especially if the weather improves and Mike has to spend his days inside. 

So today I am baking, baking up a storm. Cakes, biscuits, meringues custard tarts. You name it I’ll cook it. Only one problem, I’ll end up eating it all myself!  

An afternoon update: 
The cooking was a complete failure. Nothing turned out right. Then to top it all Mike sent me a text saying the hospital had called and told him his fistula appointment is Thursday at 7 a.m. So not only am I a failure at cooking, but also I now look foolish with my earlier post. Life sucks sometimes. 

The Relenting Winter

November storm.

November storm.

The winter’s weather is muted, like my cancer. You expect its harshness, you prepare for it, but sometimes it doesn’t assert itself. In mid-November, a cold snap blistered the orchard and deciduous trees in the Hood River Valley. Many had yet to lose their leaves. The cold’s sudden arrival plunged deep into the autumn soil and receptive bark. Come spring, we can assess the damage.

Snow fell during this storm. I shoveled our small driveway and cleared the mailbox. But it didn’t last. Warmer weather and rain returned and by Thanksgiving, winter’s retreat surprised us long time residents.

I missed that holiday’s gathering due to a nasty virus. Now, two months farther along, winter storms remain conspicuous in their absence. Once again, I became sick with a bug and just enough of a fever to make my creaky bones ache. Saturday, a week ago, I thrashed about in bed all day. Sunday, things improved. Now, a troubling cough lingers.

I wonder if some sub-zero temperatures wouldn’t kill the microbes that keep shredding my immune system. The 10-day forecast, though, is for unusually mild weather. Last week, as I pushed my granddaughter in her stroller, I noticed budding on some ornamental trees. “Ominous,” I remarked to my wife.

The natural world, though, does not watch the calendar. Using its history to predict its future is an unreliable entertainment. That’s why our antennae prickle when the expectation for nature’s repose and rebirth is disrupted.

Uncharacteristic weather for January

Uncharacteristic weather for January

Yesterday, temperatures rose to near 70 degrees, an unusual phenomenon for January. I asked local farmers about the effects of the early, bitter cold and the unusually mild winter afterwards. Their livelihoods are tied to normal conditions. So, of course, they speak of the season’s gentleness with foreboding.

Nonetheless, I take advantage of what nature offers. At this time of year, I’m normally holed up tending the wood stove with my nap buddy, Spanky the cat. Surprisingly, however, I am playing golf with friends.

We walk in circles around the mucky track. Sunshine soothes the stiffness in our shoulders. We feel younger even though I cough like a 50-year smoker. My pals wonder about my health but all is well. It’s just, I think, the weather.

P.S. Two things. I strongly recommend the book, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Also, I’ve written some memoir about a neighborhood I lived in with my birth family. Links to Southwood, A Memoir are in the menus.


Scientists announced recently that we hit the tipping point of 400 parts per million. I’m talking about the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. Of course, climate change has been bandied about so much that almost immediately the eyes begin to glaze over when the subject comes up. Someone in the crowd starts talking about global warming and it’s received like the kid in class who reminds the teacher that no homework was assigned.

But it is a little scary to think about it because we’re already seeing the effects of the higher temperatures both on weather and arctic ice. A cry for help is heard from some of the island nations in the Pacific whose land mass is shrinking fast, already to the point that people are being permanently evacuated. The hurricanes haven’t so much increased in frequency as they are multiplying in power. Severe destruction from storms has moved from once or twice in a decade to once every other year. Tornadoes are also increasing in number, ferocity and location. We can’t seem to go a month without extreme weather being a news focus, and we are right now swinging into tornado season with hurricane season hot on its heels. All of this is because the sun’s heat is not being reflected back into space as it once was. Greenhouse effect caused by carbon dioxide is the reason for the heating.

But what doesn’t get talked about a lot is the effect that the heightened carbon dioxide is having on health. People afflicted with breathing disorders like asthma and COPD are suffering more, and the effects of the heat on the elderly is another source of adverse health effects. People are being hastened to their death. What does get talked about, and to the point that no one even hears it anymore, is that 400 ppm is the level from which there is no going back. If the scientists are right, and it’s surely looking like they are, we have reached the point where “flywheel effect” is going to hasten the damaging changes significantly. The worse it gets, the worse it will get. As it does, the victim count rises.

And that’s it. That’s the message. It isn’t a big message or a complex one –although examples of coming events can be debated and discussed ad nauseum. It is true that “carbon footprints” are being reduced now, it’s not like nothing is being done. The problem is that we waited too long and spent our time debating and discussing instead of doing the things we’re just now getting around to. Further discussion of the problem isn’t necessary or productive. The conversation needs to be about what we are doing now and how we can do more of it so that we can slow the worsening of the ecological changes, and the unavoidable tolls they will take.

A short message today, but sometimes the biggest things come in the smallest containers. Like parts per million.


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When one is younger, they are excited about the bright glow that greats them on a morning after it has snowed the night before. Not me, today, I was excited by the grey, damp day which greeted me this morning. I was excited by the dullness of British weather because I knew that this meant one thing and one thing only, Freedom.

The snow and the ice has melted (nearly), leaving in its wake, dampness and puddles. It is difficult to slip on these things.

After four days in the flat, I left last night to go to the cinema, informing the taxi driver that he had to pull up right to the curb. Safety first.It was bliss. If I lived on a busy street, I probably could have left sooner. Today, I was able to walk to the shops. Everywhere looked dirty in the post snow carnage. That was bliss too.

I am quite relieved. Hopefully, the snow will stay away forever and ever and ever. Or at least until my bones are a little bit better.

Snow ⛄❄

Once upon a time, I used to love the snow. I do not love it anymore.

The current nationwide obsession with the weather is clearly an overreaction. It may be below zero, but this is not an Apocalypse. For me, and this may also be an overreaction, the snow represents incarceration. I am a prisoner to the snow and this is partly due to me being sensible and partly because I am scared of it.

My mood up until Friday was pleasant. I was not thinking about My Myeloma, or my treatment, I was just getting on with things, and when the snow started, it put a dampener on all of that. I have not left my flat since Friday, and to be honest, I have barely left my bed. I knew the snow was coming, every media outlet told me so, and I prepared for it. I panic bought and my flat is full of activities to keep me occupied. I have not done anything. I do not have the inclination to do anything and that is the snow induced depression talking. I have had days where I have stayed in the flat for longer than this, but that is not when I have felt this well. I feel reasonably healthy right now, and that is making this prison so much worse. My addiction to social networking is also making it worse. I see images of people having fun in the snow. In my pre-myeloma days I would have been one of those people. I would be making snow angels or taking a walk with my wellies on listening to the powder break beneath my feet with my imaginary boyfriend or A Twin, but I cannot do that now. I cannot pop into the pub after a winter walk to warm up, because I cannot go for a walk. I promised people I wouldn’t.

My experience of the snow amounts to this:





On Friday, my wonderful break was interrupted by having to go to the hospital, which obviously reminded me of the fact that I have cancer. By the time I was at the hospital, I did not need to be reminded, the fear I had leaving my front door and getting into the ambulance was enough. A normal person could slip on the ice and break a bone. I do not know what damage I could cause to myself and this is constantly in the back of my mind and the reason I am still in my house. Such was my concern about the outdoors that I considered not going to a dinner in the evening because I did not want to chance a fall. Instead, with agreement with my friends, we settled on me walking slowly, accompanied. I had to be accompanied like a child. The whole affair made me feel like a pathetic little child, who is afraid of the snow. It was then that I decided I would keep my promise and not go out again.

If the snow was not enough to send my mood south, I had the hospital appointments with the inevitable waiting and anxiety, and the dinner. Not through anything my friends did, but more because I felt like I could not offer anything to the conversations. Try as I might, My Myeloma has changed me. Anything new from me is related to My Myeloma and this is not what people want to hear on a Friday night. It is important to me, and the things that can impact upon it. When one of my friends told me in jest that me talking about the weather was boring, I do not think she understood just how much this weather is creating a storm in my life and thus, how much it means to me. I talk and I think about it, because it stops me from doing things that I used to take for granted. I long for the day when the matter of boys and going out are at the forefront of my mind, but on Friday, it was clear to me that they are not and I do not know when they will be again. I cannot expect others to feel the gravity of my situation like I do. Others cannot understand how a comment or conversation would upset me, when I hardly know it myself, plus my sensitivities change daily. I am an emotional roller coaster. I am my own Nemesis. Since my diagnosis, the hardest thing to get my head round is realising that everybody else’s life goes on, even though mine does not.

I have spent most of the last 48 hours thinking about how boring I am and the paranoia has been in free flow. I cannot help but think that I am dull. At least the tears were hidden on Friday. If I cannot have fun with my friends, who can I have fun with?

I am frustrated because my imprisonment may appear like an over the top reaction, much like this spiral I have found myself on, but the stakes of me leaving the comfort of my flat are high.

It is what it is however and I have to deal with it, I just wish that I could do so without feeling sorry for myself. It’ll get better, starting around…. Now.

I blame the snow. It’s all the snows fault.

Bring on the rain please. ☔☔☔☀☔☔☔

Time to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps!

I’ve decided it’s about time we got ourselves out of the doldrums caused by too many “bad” things over such a short space of time. I know that Paula wouldn’t have wanted us to be moping around forever. I still look every morning for an email from her, but that too will pass, to use an expression I’ve often heard.

Of course the weather doesn’t help. I think we’ve had two dry days the past month, one was on the day of Paula’s funeral and the other was yesterday. The garden has suffered for it. Nothing much has grown except the lawn which we can’t cut due to the rain and the chickweed which threatens to choke everything.

Toni, who hates getting wet, certainly doesn’t like the state of things. Having to “go” outside is a real problem. She firstly has to go out in the rain, which did I mention she hates and then she has to “go” on grass that is almost taller than her!

PLEASE don’t make me go out :(

Actually we did try and cut the lawn yesterday but someone left the mower too close to the garage door and during the mini flood we had last Thursday, water got into the handle. Now I thought “that was a week ago, it’ll have dried out by now.” Obviously not given the loud bang and black smoke that billowed out of it when we tried using it! No real harm was done and Mr Lawn Mower is now at the lawn mower hospital. I on the other hand will probably never be able to look at a Flymo again without breaking out into a cold sweat.

More Spring Teasers

Here’s a first for the Villa: Snowdrops blooming… on March 11! The snowdrops are “volunteers,” meaning I didn’t plant any seeds or bulbs, they just suddenly showed up. In Molly’s yard, no less. Tiptoe through the poo piles.

My picture is so bad, I went to Google Images to find a better one. (By the way, I make an effort to find pics that are not copyrighted. Apologies if I’ve erred.)

Along the way, I found this mad cool floor lamp inspired by the snowdrop. My sister and I are both lamp-a-holics, and this one just sends me right over the edge.

Indian Spring?

Friday night I had dinner with Gracie’s humans, a lovely dinner highlighted by fresh Gulf shrimp from their recent trip. My appetite is still pretty small, but I will always make room for fresh shrimp. It is the one food I think I could eat til I burst, and showing any restraint or courtesy is a huge challenge. (I came home to find the Bims in mid par-tay, and had to park at the end of the block. Thanks, girls. Looking forward to Karma returning the favor.) Saturday night, we gathered at a cable-enhanced Hoodie house to watch the Butler Bulldogs. They had a rough first quarter. As I expected, they rallied almost as soon as I called it a night and headed home. I believe that made Consecutive Win #19!

We are having what I might call Indian Spring…some gloriously warm and sunny weather, but don’t expect it to last. I’ve tried telling my daffodils and tulips that it’s a ruse, but they insist on reaching for the sun. Molly and her friends have been enjoying much longer walks. I can hardly believe it, but Molly turned 9 years old last week.

A friend told me that her elderly mother, when asked what was new, would always answer, “Nothing, thank god!” I have a new appreciation for that reply. Other than pain, fatigue and sleeping issues, which have been with me all along, I’m still managing fairly well. I know that may change at any time, and I have a new appreciation for each day that I’m able to manage on my own.

Here’s a funny from Bro 1. It always cracks me up to imagine how our pets view us:
P.S. Still no sign of the noctural mammal.

Endless Winter

This is one of the longest cold spells I can ever remember here. I’m not sure of the exact number of days, or the official snowfall totals, but I believe it’s been below freezing for about a month. And we’ve had 4-5 snowfalls of at least 4-6″. We still have about 8″ of snow on the ground most places. The main roads are clear, but the side roads are icy and treacherous. There’s no end in sight right now: we’ve got at least another week of below-freezing weather predicted, and another snow coming this weekend.

It’s not much by Minneapolis standards (or even my hometown), but in these parts, that’s a lot. And being mostly housebound means I’m completely without excuses for this mess…

(Cousin #3 & Sis bundled up for sledding.)