August 2005


nationalgeographic.com
npr.org
pbs.org
livejournal.com

Strange things that are not blocked:

blogspot.com
blogger.com
typepad.com (lots 'o blogs there)
ubid.com

Obvious things that are blocked:

*sports*.com
ebay.com

Now that the word's out about Mel's new medical issues, I find I'm a bit more sensitive to what other people are saying or doing. When we went to parent night at the middle school, one of her good friends came in the classroom. Her husband was with her; I haven't seen him in several years but he was one of my helpers when I was cubmaster of Evan's cub scout pack. He whacked me on the shoulder and said

“Hey, how you doin'?”

My first thought was:

“He knows. He's never slapped my shoulder before – why now? She told him.”

Not that that's a bad thing; just kinda weird. Plus, one of Erin's friends offered the sentiment:

“I hope your mom's allright.”

Erin's response was a terse:

“My mom does not have cancer.”

Well, we don't quite know yet but again – the word is out and people are looking at us differently.

Weird.

Plus, the “prayer warriors” have mobilized at the church. That's fine – I just never expected to be on the receiving end. At least not until we were much older.

Weird.

This is a journal. I keep it to chronicle the events of my life; mostly the the amusing bits. Anything else is usually boring. Sometimes I hope for comments but in the big picture, this is just to chronicle my life and as such, I occasionally download the text of my entire journal in case Livejournal ever goes bust so that I will have it in the long term. Anyway, I suppose the time has come to enter another category of journal entry.

Medical.

I've thought and thought about how to journal this or even whether to put it down here at all. I'll just stick to the facts I guess. I've tried to compose something profound while thinking in the shower and while mowing the grass but nothing is forthcoming so here it is.

Melissa went to the doctor this week with an almost trivial thing. I suppose it's a good thing she decided to go ahead and call since they sent her directly to the women's health center for a diagnostic mammogram. This seemed more or less routine though even then. I didn't go along with her so I was not present for this. The radiologist came in afterwards and said something along the lines of: “Yeah the thing you came in for is very common – no big deal but I want you to look over here; this worries me…” In short, an appointment was made to consult with the surgeon. When Mel told me this – this was my moment to react:

“Holy Shit!”

I went with her to that consultation Friday. It turns out that this is not the horror that I had suspected; he only wanted to go over the mammogram with us and tell us what it was that shouldn't be there. They seemed such tiny specks on the film; how could such a microscopic thing mean trouble?

Noone has use the word “cancer” yet. The surgeon was very explicit on this point; he will only commit to the fact that there are specks on the mammogram and that those are often signs of badness. He has scheduled her for a special breast MRI at the big hospital in town: Saint Francis – aka “The Big Pink” because of it's color. This is a new thing; apparently they have only had this type of MRI for about four months – at least here in Tulsa. They also have about five radiologists who are specially trained in the interpretation of these images. I guess I am thankful for this. I should be; in years past, we would probably be going in for surgery now. Notice I use the term “we”; this is not simply someone who lives in the same house as me. I've now been with Melissa for 23 years which means I've been with her longer than without her and so nothing happens to her or anyone else in this house that doesn't affect me personally.

Now we wait until that MRI is done next week. If we are lucky, we someone will cancel and we can go in early. Knowing is much better than not knowing so that's where my desire lies for the present.

The scientist in me has read up on this topic (thank goodness for the internet) and has assigned probabilities to the various outcomes. The spouse in me is very frightened. All the evidence indicates that in the worst case, this is not only treatable but curable but I come from an era in which the word “cancer” was synonomous with the word “death”. I react accordingly.

So, there it is. My big news for the week. I wish it were different. The rational side of me carries on a continuous metaphorical debate with the emotional side:

Emo: “This isn't fair.”
Rat: “No it isn't. But that's the way it is. Get over it and move on like everybody else does.”
Emo: “Why did this have to happen to Mel?”
Rat: “Stupid question. It's a random event. There is no higher causality at work.”

And so it goes. Denial is a wonderful psychological tool for dealing with this. So is obsessive involvement with other things. For example, the ceiling fan has stopped working in my bedroom – that can provide hours of mental distraction for me so that I don't have to think about anything else. Mel of course is not the sort to avoid thinking about problems so she can be relied upon to keep the focus on reality. Ironic – since I'm the trained scientist in the house.

I've been thinking; always a dangerous distraction. I have the wrong hobby. I love building things out of wood and I think that ultimately, this is a bad thing.

Whenever I tackle a project, the materials themselves are fairly pricey. Then when I am done, if the final product is not what I might have hoped, I have a big “thing” that must be dealt with. Either I have to chop it up or use it as is and get used to the faults. Fortunately that doesn't often happen. But even if things go perfectly, I still have this big “thing” that must be dealt with. I don't usually build anything unless I need it but once in awhile, I'll find something in a magazine that looks cool and want to build it then I have to make a spot for it. Usually that will be in the garage as part of my workshop stuff. I haven't created any monstrosities but if I limit myself to useful things or things that we need, then I only do a couple of projects a year.

Now compare that with cooking. In that activity, you have many more opportunities to indulge in your hobby. Plus, the ingredients are nothing like the cost of just plain wood.

Think about this also: when discussing someone you almost never hear it said that any given person is an excellent woodworker even if that is true. But you often hear people say that someone is, apart from whatever else they may be, “a gourmet cook”. It's something most people admire.

In addition, your creations are promptly eaten so that you can never create too much of anything. Your inventory of gourmet dishes never grows to the point of needing another room or garage to store it in.

I was pondering this the other evening as I was getting dinner ready. Mel was off doing some band-parent volunteering which left me to feed the kids and myself and I did as I almost always do: fix spaghetti. I was taught (by Mel) to just open the freezer, get one of the styrofoam things of meat, drop the meat in the skillet, brown it, pour in one of those little cans of tomato sauce and let it simmer for awhile. I added the extra step of actually looking in the cabinet and finding a bottle of “italian seasoning” which I sprinkled in. To make things really fancy I ripped open a bag of croutons for the salad. We were eating high on the hog then. Of course I boiled the pasta also. That wasn't hard and everybody does it at some point or another but as I stood there watching this stuff brew up, it occurred to me that if one put out a little more effort, one could create something that would fit into the “gourmet” category and get some pretty nice kudos from the family. I did not do this but it's still a valid thought.

The problem is that cooking never actually interested me that much. I did some in college when I shared a house with three other guys and Thursday was my night to cook. But even then, Mel would give me a recipe out of one of her cookbooks and I'd just follow the instructions. I never thought of it as any fun. But I didn't dislike it either; it was just something I had to do on Thursday nights.

I did notice something the other day called a “creme brulet torch” in a catalog. Apparently there is something called “creme brulet” that you actually nuke with a blowtorch (I verified this with someone who knows and yes, it's true). Now that's something I could get into – cooking with a BernzoMatic. If it would blow up or flame up really big, that would be cool too. But I think that's kind of rare and most cooking doesn't involve that sort of excitement. I saw a book in the store once that had a bunch of recipes in it that you prepared by putting the food into aluminum foil and setting that on the exhaust manifold of your car and driving around. It was called “Manifold Destiny” I believe. It seemed cool but I guess it was probably just a joke.

I guess you can't just wake up one day and say “Hey, today I will be interested in cooking.” Too bad. If I could get fired up about it then we'd have healthier meals, less expense, and any number of other things. But we wouldn't have these cool bookshelves or the thing to put the TV in (which I haven't actually built yet). It takes a lot of wood and that stuff's pretty expensive.

Some folks like hummingbirds – others don't.

Here's a story of a hummingbird that got whacked by a praying mantis.

For example, the ceiling fan in my living room. One of the lights in the fixture won't light no matter what I do. The other bulbs in it burn out very quickly. It has always been that way. Even when I replaced the light kit.

The ceiling fan controller in my bedroom keeps going out. It never lasts more than six months. Noone knows why this happens.

The master bath shower drain clogs every three months like clockwork. The snake will not go down in it more than a few inches – something wrong down there but I don't know what.

Such is home ownership.

Here I am sitting on an airplane writing a note while the plane is sitting motionless on the ground. Weather being what it is, we get to do that sometimes. We appear to be about 99th in line for takeoff. At least the engines are running though – the last time, we just parked the plane and shut the engines down until it was time to go. What I'd like to know is why the plane is shaking and bumping so much. My seat is right over the wing and the plane is bouncing around as if we were going over bumpy terrain but we're sitting still now. I can't figure that one out. We're much bigger than that little pipsqueak of a plane in front of us; we should just blow him off the road.

I can count 16 planes on the taxiway behind us. All of them have two jet engines running burning fuel at a rate measured in gallons per minute. That's an expensive way to sit and do nothing.

————

OK, now we're in the air. I always enjoy takeoff since it feels cool to go that fast and you can see so much. The terminal buildings at DFW are renovated and are looking pretty neat. Plus they have that SkyTrain thing going on which is cool to see from the air. They have apparently replaced the older system originally called AirTrans, then taken over by American Airlines and called the TRAAM, and then inexplicably renamed the TRAAIN. That one was down below the level of the terminal buildings but the new ones are up high – higher than the terminals themselves. Pretty cool actually but i wonder what happened to the old ones. I wonder if they still go out to the remote parking lots or if they're just abondoned.

Lot's of cool clouds and stuff to see now and the sun is beginning to set and so is reflected off the many lakes and ponds down below giving the ground a sparkly look. Hmmm…. nasty looking thunderhead up ahead there and we seem to be steering clear of it.

I'm ready to be back home – I generally am after shuffling around in airports all day long. Too bad we can't just fly all day without the necessity of stopping at airport terminals and departure lounges. i guess that's what you get if you can afford your own plane.

Well, here comes the drink cart so I'll stop writing now.

Here I am at the Ramada Inn in Huntsville (actually I'm in Madison but same difference) and I just ate at Beauregard's Rib joint. Apparently it's an institution. It is indeed very good but I'm amazed that in all the years they've been there they apparently never saw fit to move the men's room out of the kitchen and into a more typical location. There's a huge water heater in the men's room as well with the helpful admonition on the sink: “Caution – water is hot!”.

The ribs are very nice though. I love old mom & pop places like that. I also got to see a former coworker too who is doing well. But it's hot here – really hot and humid. Of course it is August though so I can't complain or claim to be surprised.

When we moved into our house 10 years ago (egad!), the master bathroom shower was totally nasty. We cleaned it up as best we could quickly and moved in. As time went on, we addressed it periodically but it never really quite came clean. Especially the floor which I used to think was a dark gray but in fact seems to be covered with some sort of soap scum.

This past weekend, I finally tackled it.

I went to Lowes to find some super-concentrated commercial grade cleaner that claimed to tackle this mythical soap scum. I must say that it really stinks but the soap scum remains impervious to it. After all this time, I've tried just about everything that I can find including toilet bowl cleaner (which contains hydrochloric acid) but the soap scum remains. At this point, I'm ready to recommend that NASA use it to tile the shuttle during reentry since it seems impervious to anything.

I finally went and got a paint scraper. I first thought of trying a wire brush in my drill but that seems likely to scratch the tile and make it more likely to get gunked up in the future so I sharpened my paint scraper on the belt sander and went after it. The paint scraper seems to work pretty well but that's a lot of effort and bathroom tiles are not flat so a flat scraper won't really get it all off in one scrape. Plus, that scum gets all over the scraper edge and, you guessed it, is hard to get off the scraper itself.

This would come and go in my life if it weren't for one thing: I am a scientist. I know darned well that there must be some solvent that will dissolve this stuff and yet not dissolve my shower stall. But for the moment, I'm stymied.

There are a number of things around the house that are like this; that is, problems that are difficult to solve but clearly solvable if one has the right information. The inappropriate grade of the back yard is a classic example. Moles in the yard is another. I think the secret to happiness is to lower your standards so if I could learn to like these situations, perhaps I'd be much happier. When you think of it, if soap scum is so impervious, then it's as durable if not more durable than the tile itself and is therefore actually a good floor covering. You certainly never have to clean it since it consists in part of soap itself and is therefore clean by some definitions. I could market it as a material to refinish tile surfaces with. I can see it now:

Is you tile worn out and needing resurfacing? I have the answer for you – a new space-age material that is as durable as the tile itself and not so brittle. Nobody needs to know that it's basically soap scum. I'll be rich! That's the difference between rich guys and me – they think big and they in terms of what would sell. You heard it here first – my first inspiration for a new business. Nobody steal my idea now!

I'd better not go out and buy that boat yet though.

Well, Evan has had the same girlfriend for about two months now which is a record. Last Friday after the first day of school, he made plans. They had up to this point only spent time together with a group of her friends either at her house (or her pool to be specific) or the movies. He wanted a little private time.

As a parent, this makes me cringe a bit but I recognize that it's in the natural way of things so we encouraged him to ask her to do something. We had envisioned a movie but she just wanted to come over to our place and watch a movie on TV. Good thing we bought that gargantuan TV this year. As usual, we made too big of a deal out of the whole thing.

Since Friday was their “two month anniversary”, Mel thought he should make a fuss about that. Evan of course dissagreed. He's very laid back in his habits and much prefers no-fuss situations. But, as Mel pointed out, this wasn't all about him. Mel suggested that he actually cook the dinner (while the GF watched in order to prove that he did in fact cook the dinner), get flowers, have a cake, etc. After hearing this first item, Evan swooned into a chair and put his hand over his eyes. The body language clearly said “Oh no, Mom is doing it again. Please spare me!” Mel didn't give him the choice though.

The GF impresses me in that she seems very low maintenance. She claims to eat anything and have no weird allergies or preferences which really makes things easy on us. Plus, she doesn't need to be expensively entertained as evidenced by the fact that she just wanted to hang out and watch TV. She arrived early on Friday evening.

Mel had in advance determined that her favorite color was blue and set out the blue placemats at the table. She also bought some fresh flowers for the table. She prepared everything in advance foodwise so that Evan could just toss it in the skillet and go. Erin and I were banished to the back parts of the house to eat off the card table and watch the little TV. (Erin's favorite: What Not to Wear). For some reason, whenever the GF is around, I can't think of anything to say so I probably come off as the Big Surly Dad Guy. I don't know why I do this, it's not as if I'm dating the girl or anything. But there it is. She seems not to notice my presence at all so it's just as well.

Mel stuck around for the cooking to make conversation, put in an appearance so that the GFs mother, after suitable interrogation, would determine that adult supervision was indeed present, and make sure Evan mentioned all the right stuff. That is, that it was their anniversary. After that, Mel joined us in the bedroom; she made periodic trips up to the front to make sure things were appropriate but mostly left them alone.

I only tell the story in order to make the following point: that Melissa had this idea about what Evan should do on a special occasion, Evan thought she was totally off base, and that in the end, Mel was proven right. That deserves a big “TOLD YOU SO!”. But how do we know this?

Well, I guess we don't for sure but Mel knows how girls think. That's good enough for me. Now maybe he'll listen when Mel says she has a good idea for something that will please the GF. Probably not.

But it was fun.

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