Tuesday, July 31, 2012

mostly well

Yesterday afternoon was the last of my follow-up appointments.  Since we've been home I've been having tests, seeing doctors and getting test results:

* The ovarian cyst has disappeared.  My CA-125 test was normal also. 

* The enlarged, persistent cervical lymph node is still there but hasn't changed.  It has none of the hallmarks of a cancerous node.

* My blood work made all the doctors happy.

* The gastric emptying study was interesting.  There was no sign at all of gastroparesis, with transit out of the stomach completed by 60 minutes, which is relatively fast.  However, there was significant reflux at the same time.  This finding is consistent with how gross I felt lying on the table to be scanned so soon after eating. 

The stomach/reflux issue is the worst thing I'm dealing with now.  Having the Prilosec (omeprazole) doubled to 40mg twice a day hasn't helped.  I think it has actually made it worse,  particularly since I was taking so much ibuprofen while we were away.  I may have given myself an ulcer(!).  I am frustrated also with my weight, which keeps going up even though I am not eating horribly and I haven't been just sitting around.  I really thought that spending more than 12 hours prepping, painting, and reassembling DS1's room last weekend would have helped me lose a pound or two, but instead I gained a couple. 

I did research last night and have decided to try the advice/protocol here: Get Rid of Heartburn and GERD Forever in Three Simple Steps.  I am fairly confident that my internal flora is in order, so I'm working on the diet and supplement angles.  I am encouraged by how much the Yogi ginger tea I found last week at Trader Joe's is helping, particularly since the ingredients there are listed in the "Bitters" section of the discussion on Kresser's site.

I'm also starting an exercise regimen, combined yoga and strength training for about 20 minutes a day to help with overall fitness and stress reduction.  School is starting tomorrow (students return next Wednesday) and I know that is increasing my stress levels, which isn't helping.

The RA?  I'm on a waiting list at my rheumatologist's. Since I haven't seen her for over a year, I need a 30 minute appointment, and she's not doing them now.  (When I explained this to my endo, she said, "That sucks."  Yes, yes it does.) I'm hopeful that the gut and the RA are related, so if I can get the stomach in order, this flare will finally subside.  

On the other hand, nothing is stopping me from doing what I really want to do.  I don't feel great but I'm not incapacitated and I do feel marginally better than when we first got home, thanks to the ginger tea.  I wish I felt better for the beginning of the school year, but I'm functional, and that will have to do.

Friday, July 27, 2012

a day with Yossarian

Alas, mine is not the special 50th anniversary edition with all the extra goodies.  Same cover though, minus that nifty "50" seal.

This book caught my eye last Friday at Zia Records while the kids were browsing music, so I picked it up.  I read To Kill a Mockingbird in its glorious entirety on our travel day, and all the rest of my summer reading books I had boxed up and shipped home so I wouldn't have to stuff them into our luggage.   Something about this edition appealed to me.  Perhaps it's the white paper and the not-tiny print that enabled me to ready it without my cheaters on?  It was $4.99 so I bought it.

It was mostly waiting-room reading until today, when I really had nothing better to do.  Oh, yes, I could have done laundry or found some other housekeeping to do, but there was nothing pressing to do today.  The garage, the living room, the guest room and DS1's room are all in states of disarray because we had Retrofoam come in and insulate our pathetically non-insulated house.  (Have you seen how they build out here? Frame, styrofoam, chicken wire, stucco.  I'm not kidding.  The occasional piece of plywood.  I suppose they use Tyvek now too but I wouldn't count on it.)  This process necessitates drilling lots of holes in the walls and then filling them with this awesome expanding foam.  Today was Day 3 because of various snags that I really would sooner forget, and the guys were here from shortly after 7AM until almost 4PM and there's only so many hours I can spend on Spanish and web surfing.

Tomorrow I will paint over all the little well-patched holes inside (we paid them to do the outside walls) and get everything back in some semblance of order, but today I couldn't do anything, so I read.

It's a bit surreal, spending hours in WWII Pianosa and Rome and its environs with Yossarian and the various captains, majors, colonels, and generals who conspired to make his life unbearable, while periodically dealing with insulation installation,  piano practice, meal preparation and all the other things that make up my normal daily life.  The contrast could not be more complete.  I found myself at times thinking that Heller really pushes it too far, past surreal into absurd, but then he allowed one of the characters a recognizably human, competent, or kind moment.  M*A*S*H is a love letter to the US Army compared to Catch-22.  God does not fare well, either.

I was going to say it has a rather bleak view of traditional mores and morality, but then I realized that the rationalizations and behaviors depicted here, basically forced upon the characters by their untenable situations, have become more or less the norm.  No restrictions or repercussions for indiscriminate sexual activity (although Yossarian did get the clap once), denigration of religious faith, situational ethics, promotion of incompetence, worth based on relative merit -- all this goes on daily, and we don't have the excuse of being asked to fly yet-another-5-missions through heavy flak.  Heller was prophetic, or at least a keen enough observer of human nature to distill into his dozen or so characters the majority of the ways we can go bad.

I can see why it endures.  For all of the absurd conversations and impossible situations, the characters are solidly real and recognizable.  In Heller's introduction to the 1996 edition, he talks about the "Yossarian Lives" stickers an interviewer had made up.  It's a relief that he makes it to the end of the novel alive, sure.  But it was the image of Orr in Sweden that redeemed all the insanity that had come before it.  Even Heller has hope for the human race.  So do I.

Monday, July 23, 2012

things we always do

Very long, because we always do so many things...  

Hike to the Punch Bowl at Beebe Woods

It's really a walk in the woods.  We often talk about wearing swimsuits and using those rope swings to jump into the Punch Bowl, but we haven't done it yet.  We usually content ourselves looking for wildlife.  This year we rewarded with not only tadpoles and a frog (only one, sadly), but also a catfish.

The Traditional Bench Photo, Ninth(!!!) Anniversary edition


Big fat tadpole, well-camouflaged

Laconic catfish.

It was a hot day but cool enough in the shade in the woods.   When we came back to the car I wandered around the restored grounds taking pictures of Highfield Hall to show my mother.  They have done tremendous work restoring the old mansion and grounds.
The magnificent sunken garden between the hall and the theater

Spectacular view of the restored Highfield Hall and its beautifully landscaped grounds from the entirely new parking lot below it.

Chapoquoit Beach

We are not "beach day" people any more, if we ever really were.  Now we putter around in the morning and early afternoon, doing what needs to be done, and head to the beach for a few hours at the end of the day.  There were times when this was tremendously frustrating to me, but I got over it.

Timing the camera to the jump is always tricky.

 We only made to the beach a handful of times this year, but the sand was soft and white and the water was gorgeously clear -- cool the first few times, wonderfully warm after that.  No jellyfish, very little seaweed, and few bugs.

The only time all year we got ice cream from the Ice Cream Man!
The kids took themselves off to Bayside several times but I did not join them. Usually that was after dinner and I was working on my Spanish or just hanging out with Mom.

Ice Cream

I lost count of how many times we went out for ice cream.  It was kind of ridiculous, but in a good way.  Dairy Queen had coffee soft serve "for a limited time", and it was delicious, so we kept going back.  I think we went at least 4 times, maybe 5.  That doesn't sound like that much but when you factor in that we also went to Smitty's (2x), Ghelfi's (2x), and Ben and Bill's Chocolate Emporium, you can see that we were practically going out for ice cream every other day on the Cape.  The trend continued in CT, when my mother-in-law took the kids down to Bloom Hill for ice cream at least 3 times in the one week we were there! 
Strange things happening @DQ

Woods Hole, with and without bikes

Before DH came, my sister-in-law and I took all the kids down to Woods Hole for a day.  We had lunch at Pie in the Sky as usual, and then we went on the Ocean Quest discovery cruise.  More on that later, since it's not something we always do.  Pie in the Sky remains awesome, and we didn't mind going back there with DH when we biked down with him one day.

The big tree just across the street from Pie in the Sky
Feasts and Parties

Both my family and DH's family enjoy eating, perhaps too much.  Summer and just being there is enough of an excuse for us to throw together feasts and parties whenever we can.  Our first feast -- lobster and steak, with corn on the cob -- was to celebrate the arrival of my Louisiana brother and his family.  Two days later we had Mom's 85th birthday party,with something like 43 people in attendance, all immediate family: children, grand-children, and great-grandchildren.  What an awesome day.

Awesome 85 Cake

Cake-baking (and decorating!) Sister and Mom

On the 'regular' days we had only minor feasting of ribs or burgers on the grill.  I believe I made at least three blueberry cakes, but only one peach pie.  It took forever for the peaches to come in this year.

Three weeks after my Mom's party we had a birthday party for the guys in the family who are turning 50 and 60.  We called it "The Old Man" party, and it was a slightly smaller version of Mom's, but still quite awesome, even though the soon-to-be-50 guy got called into work.  (All of the party decorations were carefully stored away so they can be used on me next year.  I have mixed feelings about that!)
My Mom's newest great-grandbaby

They may be 60 but they can still handle those knives!
DD practices photo-bombing.  Yes, the lobsters are bigger than the bottle of wine.The platter in front is waiting for the corn on the cob.  The pie was awesome.
Our last feast was perhaps the best for us, because it wasn't a crazy day.  Just us, my Mom and my sister, three lobsters totaling 13 pounds, corn on the cob, lobster bisque, baked stuffed quahogs, and peach pie.  These were the first lobsters we had bought at Falmouth Fish Market because Green Pond didn't have any of the big guys.  We were very, very pleased with them.  (We probably could have done with just two, because we had nearly an entire lobster left over.  It did not go to waste, it made great lobster salad the next day.) 

Talcott Mountain I: Concert

We heard an evening of Elton John music this year.  It was delightful.  The kids enjoy the picnicking more than the music, but that's OK.  We brought bottles of wine from our trip to Mystic and enjoyed sipping and singing along.
DS2 grew four inches in the last year.  He's not little anymore.
Pre-concert entertainment with smart phone photos.
Talcott Mountain II: Hiking to the Heublein Tower

DS1 suggested this on our last full day in CT.  It was humid but the shade of the mountain made it bearable.  The heat and lack of rain really stressed the plants in CT, in contrast to how lush and gorgeous everything looked on the Cape.  Still, we had a great hike, with one nifty new find.
The catch-basin where we often find big frogs was more like a mud puddle, but there were dozens of these tiny, well-hidden tree frogs.

At the top of the moutain, a cardinal posed perfectly framed by the window in the shell of the field stone house.

One of my favorite views of the Tower.

A porch, a swing, a beautiful view. 
The kids stay with their Nana and Papa, and DH and I take off.  On the way down we stopped at Bishops for a quick sandwich and a tasting of their fruit wines.  Their raspberry dessert wine is outstanding.  We stay every year at the Mermaid Inn. It's charming.  Mystic is charming, and although we've talked about going somewhere else, nothing else seems as appealing. 
towards Mystic Seaport

The S&P Oyster House.  We dined outside here for the first time ever.  Their calamari is the best I have ever had.
Amazing icon of St. Michael, winner of the painting prize at the annual art show.


It was very hot and humid in CT, draining us of all ambition.  DS1 worked on his math course and I worked on my Spanish and all the kids slept very late every day.  DH did some research and tracked down a go-cart place and bowling alley, and we had a blast.  The go-kart track was a well-designed figure 8 with curves and hills that were just sharp and steep enough.  Afterwards, we went and bowled a game of duckpins at a bowling alley so old-school that you had to manually remove the dead wood (not allowed in duckpins) and reset after your frame.  We played by time, not by game, so after the first game when we still had more time, DH and I bowled another (he eviscerated me) while the kids played the arcade games.  DS2 was thrilled with his inflatable tie-dye guitar.

We bowled again in Falmouth, too, at Ryan (formerly Leary) Family Amusements near Town Hall.  It's easier on everyone because the system is completely automated. DS2 found his stride and clobbered us all. If there were candlepins around anywhere, we would probably bowl more often, but tenpin is just not as much fun to me.

Something jinxed us this year.  On my way out with the kids we had a medical emergency on board and were diverted to St. Louis, where we had brutal turbulence.  Kudos to SouthWest Airlines, though, because if I were having a heart attack on a plane, I would want them to land it to get me to a hospital, too.  Anyway, we arrived hours late.

DH flew in on July 4th and had weather delays of two hours.

All of us flew back last Thursday, where we had both weather delays and a medical emergency (when a bloody nose results in blood also flowing from the eye, well, yes, you should get that guy off the plane.) Instead of landing at 9:30PM we landed at 2AM or thereabouts.

This little guy kept us company in Phoenix before our first flight out.
In the midst of all that we marveled that it hadn't happened to us before.  We've really been very lucky.  The kids were all old enough to deal with it well, and it really wasn't a problem.  We go into "travel mode" and just stay there until we're home.

And now we are home, and glad to be here.

compare, contrast

I had my second follow-up ultrasound today, of my neck.  The experience could not have been more different from last Friday's pelvic ultrasound.  On the positive side, I wasn't exhausted from only three hours of sleep and a long day of travel the day before. I was only the tiniest bit uncomfortable during the exam but that's because frankly I'm not very comfortable anywhere these days.

The pelvic u/s was mercifully short, whereas today's seemed to go on a while.  I've had longer ones, but I've had much shorter neck ultrasounds, too.  There was the usual clicking and typing and beeping as images were recorded.  The technician spent about ten times longer on the right side than on the left.

Of course I know what it means that she spent so much longer (10 minutes versus 1 minute) on the right: there was something to look at there.   This is still just a suspicion, of course, but my anxiety increased when the tech asked, "When is the last time you had a CT of your neck?" 

That is not what a thyroid cancer patient wants to hear. 

I told her I had had a PET/CT scan in February or March (can't remember exactly when, now. Sheesh.)  "Did they see anything?" 

Again, with the questions I don't want to hear.  Response: No, not in my neck.  They biopsied one of those nodes on the right side, too, and it was negative.

Of course, the tech can't say anything at all at this point and probably shouldn't even have said what she did, so she just said, "OK." 

And then I went home, and now I'm waiting until my appointment with Dr. B on Monday afternoon to find out what, if anything, is going on.  I should hear the results of my pelvic u/s with any luck on Wednesday.

I am not good at waiting.  My RA is still flaring along with my gastroparesis.   I was very unpleasant to the receptionist at my rheumatologist's office today (I did apologize, but still feel guilty about it), because she was insisting I had to be treated like a new patient and thus would have to go on a waiting list to get an appointment. The compromise was she would check with the doctor to see if a 15 minute appointment would be OK; I will call tomorrow to see what the outcome is.  While all this is going on I keep thinking I need to get into a regular exercise routine because it would probably help tremendously but everything hurts and I feel pukey and who wants to work out feeling like this?  Not me.

I just want to feel better by the time school starts.  I'm not even letting myself imagine teaching while feeling like this.  I'll be better by then.  

landscape projects

The only place I do any gardening or landscaping work is at my mother's house.  My siblings do the heavy lifting of the fall raking (really, spring raking: the oaks hang onto their leaves until the new leaves push them off), so that by the time I arrive in June, there's very little clean up to do... relatively.  It's all relative, here.

(Apologies for the festival of bad photographs that follows.)

B.B. (before blogging)

The Side Yard, victim of both neglect and incidental destruction
when the neighbor's backyard septic system was rebuilt.

The side yard is a complete mess right now, but I'm including this to show that there is some evidence of the very first yard-tinkering I was allowed to do: about 20 years ago, I transplanted some day lilies from the woodsy backyard of my house in Natick, and that single orange bloom is evidence that some of them are still alive.  There's quite a lot of good stuff in that little jungle, including honeysuckly, azalea, and bleeding heart, not to mention the little hydrangea my middle sister planted at about the same time.  The soil here is extremely poor and the water situation is dire (as in, the plants here only get wet when it rains, and the soil doesn't hold onto it at all), so it's kind of amazing any of this is still alive.  There's also a teeny tiny Japanese red maple that you can't see, that I'm hoping will someday take off.  It's up to 8 leaves this year, so that's an improvement.  This is on deck for next year.


Center flower bed, where it's shady all the time and water is an iffy proposition.

Those little snakes of ivy climbing the tree represent a major victory.  The irises are filling in nicely, too.  I didn't do much weeding of this bed this year because it wasn't that bad, which means next year it will be horrific, or maybe not.  The good plants and the mulch seem to be keeping them down.  It was nice to see the friendly little purple vinca flowers, all 3 or 4 of them, among the ivy.
I .

Bare but not neglected, at least.

I took Mom to Mass on her birthday and then we drove by Dad's grave. In that moment, it didn't seem too overgrown, so one evening I grabbed my gloves and few plastic grocery bags to go and thin out the irises around it.  When I got there, I realized I had greatly underestimated how overgrown it was. My older sister had put in irises soon after the headstone went up.  I don't know anything about irises in general, but these particular irises multiply like crazy.  One of my brothers thinned them out aggressively about 5 years ago, and those are the irises at the house now.   But five years of unrestrained growth led to such a thicket you could see only the middle "ON" of "O'CONNELL".   It took me about 6 hours to dig up everything (no point in leaving anything there to overgrow again) and add back topsoil and mulch.

Mom wants to just leave it with the mulch for now, but I have a contact who can put in seasonal flowers and maintain it for us.  Contacting her is another thing on my constantly expanding to-do list.


What do you do with leftover irises?  Plant them, of course.

I ended up with two huge lawn-and-leaf bags of plantable stems with roots and bulbs, so I put in a bed of irises along the driveway.  By the time this photo was taken, the transplants had succumbed to the heat, but in June and early July they looked great.  My brother assures me they'll come back next year -- these things refuse to die.  It rained the entire day I put this bed in.  Most of the time it was just a light drizzle, but over the course of the day it progressed to a steady, soaking rain.  It was warm and there were only one or two cloudbursts, so I just kept at it.  The wetter it was, the easier it was to plant, anyway. 


Backyard, where chaos is only a season or two away.

See that line of rocks?  There's another row of irises in front of it -- mostly bulbs went in there.  Behind it, I put in 10 rose bushes that I picked up for the amazingly awesome price of 2 for $3 at the Christmas Tree Shop.  The roses may or may not make it, but $15 for 10 rose bushes was irresistable to me.   This was a multi-day project, too, as first I had to clear out all the grapevines and wood plants that were taking over the yard.  The good thing about the vines, etc, is that they hid the leaf pile, but they had enroached a good 4 feet and were going for an all-out invasion.   The two evergreens to the left were so entwined with grape vines that their growth was being affected, so I freed them up, and then I decided to take back the yard.  Then I had all those iris bulbs left over so I put them in, and then I happened upon the rose bushes while I was looking for flipflops for DS2.  The way I see it, those rose bushes were meant to go in, because if I hadn't already cleaned out the space, and if DS2 hadn't lost his flipflops, I wouldn't have seen the amazingly cheap rosebushes or had a place to put them.


Time spent planting new stuff > time spent trying to kill old stuff, this year.  Win!
I don't blame my Mom for putting in those yucca plants years ago.  It's not her fault I have an irrational hatred for them.(In Massachusetts. Out here in AZ, they don't bother me at all.) They are a non-native species and they're impossible to kill, but I feel as if I am making some progress in eradicating them.  The first year I put in the hydrangeas, I simply dug out all the roots (some of them as thick as arm) and thought that would be it.  That was before I knew how pernicious yucca is.  In the following years I tried digging out the new plants and spraying the roots with Roundup, but that didn't seem to have any effect.  I only started getting results after finding the definitive yucca eradication advice page, How to Kill a Yucca Plant.  By the time I read the site, I had already dug up and chopped off dozens of plants, since every time you dig one up, it seems to send up at least three more.  I used the chop off the tips, submerge them in Roundup routine a couple of years, but it leaves a lot behind to clean up, and I'm never there to do it.  So the past two or three years I've used a modified version which works well with smaller plants:  pour boiling water over them to remove their waxy coating, soak them with Roundup, and wrap them in plastic.  The benefit of this method is that you don't have to wait until the plants are a foot tall to do it -- you can go right at the little ones.  I won't know how effective it was until next year, of course.

My mother thinks I work too hard, especially since I'm supposedly on vacation while I'm attacking all these plantings.  I tell her it's therapeutic and she laughs.  The fact is, I love flowers and I have always wanted the house to have hydrangeas, day lilies, roses, and ivy I see around many other homes there.  Since I'm the one that wants it, I'm the one who is doing it... little by little.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


That's an accounting acronym for inventory management: last in, first out.  It's one of the few things that has stuck with me from the one and only accounting course I took back in college.

But this post is LIFO because it's about events, not stuff.  On our first day home I had stacked up a few appointments, including bloodwork (only two sticks!) and my pelvic ultrasound.  While I obviously won't have the actual results from either test for a week or two, I was very encouraged by the brevity of the ultrasound.  The technician didn't see any reason to prolong the exam, which in any reasonable universe can be construed to mean that there wasn't anything to see or measure.


Vacation is over even though work hasn't started.  There are so many tasks to accomplish to get everyone ready for the new school year, and I'm steadily ticking them off my mental lists.  My plan is to recap the summer over a series of posts arranged not chronologically but by project or event.  This summer was quite different but still wonderful, and I am back in that odd place where I am happy to be home but missing nearly everything about the Cape dearly.

The Punch Bowl, a kettle pond at Beebe Woods