Catchin’ Up……………

Disclaimer:  To my Facebook friends the first part of this will be somewhat redundant.  I have done a few “how goes it” Facebook posts.  I keep those short.  Getting a little wordy or maybe even carried away is one thing I like about blogging.

I had my final of 5 chemo sessions on June 19th.  I received two different drugs, Taxol and Carboplatin, five sessions and by my thinking that is 10 chemo infusions.  My system handled the chemo remarkably well.  I had the typical fatigue and minor but almost continual nausea.  My hair started slipping about the fourth treatment; the jury is still out on that one.  Still have some hair but also still losing some hair; honestly I don’t really care.

I had the final of 25 radiation treatments on June 27th.  Honestly, contrary to the norm, I didn’t handle the radiation as well as I did the chemo. I think tumor location was a major factor in the problems I continue to encounter.  My lower esophagus and stomach inlet were in a constant state of change, or turmoil might be more descriptive, affecting my ability or inability to eat a little table food and to drink any liquids.  The radiation in that area contributed significantly to the nausea / indigestion issues previously mentioned.

The Dr. seems to think in a few more days I will be able to get more of my nutrition via table food, god I hope he is right. I have given it a sincere effort but my system just doesn’t play well with that stuff I pour down the feeding tube.  I have worked with two different nutritionists and four different formulas, so far I haven’t found the secret.

To sum up radiation and chemo:  For the duration I felt like getting out of bed, showering and getting dressed every day.  With the exception of the final two radiation treatments I was comfortable driving myself to Norman Regional for the treatments.  Thanks Lori for serving as my designated driver for those final two.  I have continued to lose a little weight and I have to get a handle on that.  Since mid-March I have lost about 35-40 pounds. If that loss was due to willpower and a good diet/exercise program I would be very happy, but with what lies ahead weight loss is not a good thing.

The next four weeks I will be in recovery mode.  Toward the end of July I will have a PET scan and an Endoscopy (borescope inspection).  The PET scan will be the 31st of July, not sure of the date on the scope. Both of those are becoming somewhat routine.

Last time I was here I mentioned a pulmonary test and a nuclear stress test.  I had both of those and the results were good.  That pulmonary test is probably worthy of its own blog post or at least a paragraph in this one but I’m not in the mood to write comedy or sarcasm tonight.  Maybe later.

I had a second visit with the surgeon a couple days ago.  I shared his overview last time I was here, I got the in depth version with all the details this time. The procedure is called an Esophagectomy.  I will try to summarize with some detail, timelines etc.  The date of surgery hasn’t been set but it should be the last couple weeks of August.

I’m not going to try to quote the Dr. on what he is going to do, but I will paraphrase. On a surgical scale of 1 to 10 this is a 12, definitely got my attention.  It will take about eight hours and consist of removing the lower two thirds of the esophagus and use the stomach to build a new esophagus.

I will be in ICU for 7 to 10 days following the surgery and in the hospital for a minimum of three weeks.  I will immediately have controlled amounts of ice and water via mouth that was good to hear.  I will have a new kind of feeding tube, it will stay with me until I can handle enough table food to sustain myself, and I’m not sure on that timetable.  The new tube will pump the formula directly into my small intestine, kind of like an IV pump.

Looking way down the road.  Maybe 90 days to somewhat normal and the Dr. said to expect six months to a year for full recovery.

I am completely comfortable with the surgeon, yes I know there are always risks but I really think this is my only shot at some good years in my future.

Please overlook the typos, grammar etc. in this one, I’m too tired to edit tonight.  I’m not sure when I will be back; it will probably be a while.

Good Night and God Bless.

Dave

Tryin’ To Keep My Dauber Up…

dauber

Just threw the pic in because it may be the last one for a while with hair.

I’m sure you have all used or at least heard the phrase “Keep your Dauber up” or maybe “Don’t get your Dauber down”. Out of curiosity, I Googled the phrase. I was interested in the origin and real meaning.  There are various opinions on the origin; the meaning is simple. Just words of encouragement; keep a positive attitude, show courage etc.

It is often associated with sporting events.  The game of baseball; you strike out with the bases loaded or the curve doesn’t break and you give up the “walk off” game winner.  From the dugout or the stands you hear “keep your dauber up, you’ll gettum next time.”

The sport of rodeo; you buck off at the seven second mark or you wipe out the third barrel on an otherwise winning run. As you leave the arena you hear “don’t get your dauber down”.

On the job, following a little chat with the boss, a coworker is kind enough to speak to you about the position of your dauber.

The phrase has been on my mind as it applies to the game of life, you have this thing called cancer and you have three days to absorb the fact if the treatment plan is successful your next normal meal will probably be sometime around Christmas.

Yes, I made the mistake of looking too far down the road and “let my dauber down” for a few days. It is back up and don’t ask me about day after tomorrow.  I know about down the road but I am not looking past tomorrow.

Now, let’s talk about what has happened since I was here last, also it looks like one of those sleepless nights.  If that is the case I may share some insignificant thoughts; I’ll try to stay away from the serious stuff.

Radiation and chemo have started.  I have had six radiation treatments and two rounds of chemo.  Radiation only takes about 20 minutes, chemo is about 3 ½ hours.

So far it has gone extremely well; just some very minor nausea, re flux and the normal fatigue.  I have been completely capable of driving myself for those appointments.  Some of the other chemo related side effects will probably begin to show up but at least we’re off to a good start.

About 90% of my food intake is through the tube, I haven’t totally accepted that as a way of life but it is going OK.  The weight gain I bragged about last time was temporary, I have lost the gain plus a couple pounds.

I had an initial consultation with the surgeon who will replumb me (his words).  I like him and was impressed with the Stephenson Cancer Center.  He didn’t give me a lot of detail on how he would do it, basically an overview of what he would do.  I think that was good because I am still trying to absorb the what, see the “dauber down” paragraph.

I will summarize:  estimated timeline on the surgery is early September.   He will remove my esophagus and use my stomach to build a new one.  The surgery will take about eight hours, followed by at least a 90 day recovery.  I will get my nutrition through the tube for most if not the entire 90 days.  I didn’t ask specifically, probably wasn’t sure I could handle the answer.

I will need to do some pulmonary and stress testing to determine if I am physically able to withstand the surgery; I don’t think there are any hidden issues.

That’s about it on the factual stuff.  I was right about the sleep, I think it is a day of chemo side effect, so I will proceed with a couple of those insignificant thoughts.

The short one first.  One of the typical chemo side effects is sores in the mouth and bleeding gums, making eating very difficult to maybe impossible. That won’t hamper my ability to eat because I eat through that darn tube. Gotta’ look at the bright side.

Many times over the past few years if you stepped in my kitchen the pleasant smell of roast beef, spaghetti, bacon and eggs, takeout pizza, chili, goulash and the list goes on greeted you.  Recently you would have been greeted by the repulsive smell of Ensure.

Repulsive might be a little strong but it is more descriptive than pleasant, and because I was cooped up with it, I kind of had a come apart.  With a tremendous amount of aerosol air freshener, a couple of strategically placed candles and an emphasis on immediately washing the serving pitchers and throwing the empty bottles in the outside trash I kind of have a handle on it.  Just another of the little unforeseen issues in this battle with cancer.

I have a radiation appointment in a few hours.  I probably should see if I can find a little sleep. I’m not sure when I will be back, probably next week after chemo (not really).  Thanks for reading what I write.

Keep me in your prayers.

Good Night and God Bless

Dave

Ahhhh. . .Breakfast!!!

Nutrition experts continually remind us that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and that we should start each day with a healthy breakfast.  In my world a healthy breakfast has always been bacon and eggs with hash browns and a side of biscuits and gravy or maybe a good loaded western omelet with a couple pancakes on the side.

Hello new world.  Pictured is this morning’s breakfast and if I follow the Dr.’s prescribed menu this will be my breakfast for the foreseeable future.  I am already about ten days into this routine.  Oh yes, if I remove that little glass pitcher to the extreme right, this is also my lunch and dinner menu.  The little pitcher contains a delicacy served only for breakfast; it is called Miralax.

breakfast

The process works like this.  I attach that syringe looking thing with the numbers to the flexible tube that now protrudes from my belly; I’ll do you a favor and not share a picture of that.  After the apparatus is assembled I simply pour all that stuff down the tube.  It seems to be working, I have gained about 3 pounds.  It is the first time I have been happy about gaining weight since high school.

I am not totally dependent on the feeding tube, I can still eat small portions of selected items via the old fashioned put it in the mouth chew it and swallow it method.  I just can’t eat or drink nearly enough to maintain the level of nutrition and hydration necessary to get me through what lies ahead.

Speaking of what lies ahead.  I had anticipated being a few days into the radiation/chemo process by now, however we encountered a few typical delays.  The planning, coordination and all those things are complete and treatment will begin Monday.

The first chemo is scheduled for 8:00 am; they are planning 4 to 4 1/2 hours for the first one; Radiation will follow at 2:10 pm.  If everything goes well I just might have time to come home and pour a bottle or two of Ensure down the tube between the treatments.  The finalized plan is for 25 radiation treatments and, I believe, 5 weeks of chemo.

I am more than ready to finally proceed into battle against this cancer deal. I am optimistic that the battle will be successful, however I am apprehensive and a little nervous as I face the unknown.  The side effects of chemo and radiation can be very vicious or they can be reasonably mild, I have personally witnessed both extremes.  I am hoping for mild, expecting somewhere in the middle and trying to prepare for the vicious stuff.

I still don’t have any real detail on the proposed surgery.  It will be performed at the Stephenson Cancer Center in OKC, I will see the surgeon next week for an initial consultation.  I have done a little research and will limit my uneducated comment to it appears to be a pretty major deal.  I think that is what my oncologist eluded to without scaring me with the details.

I am adapting reasonably well to the sudden changes in my lifestyle, my attitude is good and I believe that really is light at the end of the tunnel; not the proverbial “oncoming train”.

Please mention me and the family as you say your prayers and consider a donation to the cancer research organization of your choice.

Thanks for reading what I write and we’ll talk again in a few days.

Good Night and God Bless.

Dave

A Tech Report

Last time I was here I was awaiting three major events in this newly declared war on cancer, a PET scan, an Endoscopic Ultrasound and a visit with my oncologist, those things have happened.  There was some good news and some not so good.

The PET (positron emission tomography) scan provided the good news.  The only indication of cancer was in the lower esophagus, in the area of the previously discovered tumor.

Procedurally, the Endoscopic Ultrasound or EUS was very similar to the EGD i.e. a highly sophisticated borescope inspection to include some very detailed pictures.  You can thank me for not sharing those.

The tumor is, or was a week ago, 2.1 cm in depth, for you non metric types that is .826 in. it seems to be increasing in size kind of quickly.  The esophagus wall and some lymph nodes in the area are also affected.  We originally thought the cancer was Squamous Cell, however a second biopsy identified it as Adeno carcinoma which is much more common to that area of the esophagus.  Because the lymph nodes and the esophagus wall are involved the cancer is classified as stage 3.

The oncologist laid out a game plan to go attack this thing, and yes, the road is going to be long and rocky.  In a nutshell the plan is radiation, chemo and surgery.

The radiation and chemo will be administered simultaneously in Norman.  The radiation five times a week for six weeks, the chemo once weekly for that same six weeks.  Prior to starting those I will get a feeding tube because it is already difficult to eat and it will be impossible to get enough calories down, if I can swallow food at all, during the early stages of the treatment. I didn’t ask but I don’t think a chicken fried steak will go through that feeding tube.

The surgery will follow the radiation and chemo by a few weeks.  It will be done at the OU Medical Center in OKC.  I don’t have much detail on it at this time I will meet with the surgeon in the near future to further discuss the details.  The oncologist did say, it is a pretty significant procedure.

Sometimes my thoughts need to remain on this side of the keyboard, tonight is one of those times.  I’m not sure when I will be back, it may be a while.  Until then keep my family in your prayers.

Good Night and God Bless

Dave

Been There. . .

Have you ever started down the highway to a place you have never been but for some strange reason the road seems very familiar.  You remember that unique billboard or the old barn that is leaning but still standing.  Then it dawns on you that you have indeed traveled this stretch of highway but this time the intended destination is not the same.

This week I started a journey down a stretch of life’s highway not previously traveled however terms like PET scan, Radiation, Chemo and Carcinoma sounded very familiar. All I had to do was think back to yesterday or a long time ago (actually 8 years and about 4 months ago).  Difference is the previous trip I was the support guy, this time I am the guy.

I want to thank Lori for putting the blog together earlier in the week; key words in it were “My Dad has Cancer”, anything I would have written that evening needed to stay on this side of the keyboard.

Please understand we aren’t seeking sympathy or attention.  We just prefer you hear factually from us, instead of Coffee shop or Beauty shop rumor, the situation as we know it.  Also, I cut my blogging teeth writing about this thing called Cancer, I found it to be an effective stress relief tool and yes, I am a little stressed this week.  Did I mention that I acquired a bit of a writing habit along the way.

I had intended to make my first post a complete tech report with some detail on the diagnosis and treatment plan, how silly of me, those things haven’t happened and won’t for a couple more weeks.  Patience is a real asset when dealing with the medical community, sure wish I had some. I am kind of in a writing mood and looks like one of those nights when sleep won’t come so I will share what I know today and maybe some other thoughts.

A few weeks ago I started experiencing difficulty swallowing and some pain in my esophagus while eating. It didn’t take long for me to seek medical help because I don’t want anyone or anything to interfere with my ability to devour a good chicken fried steak or double meat hamburger.

My family doctor asked the normal questions, prescribed a pill, which helped and referred me to a Gastroenterologist (god that’s a big word). He performed an EGD or Upper Endoscopy, for you old jet engine friends, he did a borescope inspection of my esophagus.

I was expecting something as simple as an ulcer or similar i.e. take this bottle of pills and it will be OK.  It wasn’t that simple, he found a tumor low in the esophagus at the point it joins the stomach.  He did a biopsy and sent me home to eat carefully, chew well and call him on Monday afternoon for the pathology results.

I think I prefer to sit in the exam room or across the desk from the doc but I was sitting at my dining room table when I heard “there is some cancer”.  I thought I was prepared for it but somehow I don’t think you are ever prepared to hear that about yourself or someone you love.

All I know today is I have Esophageal Squamous Cell Carcinoma, I probably won’t get another chicken fried steak for a very long time, and I don’t know if it has spread to other parts of the body.

I have a PET scan scheduled next week, an appointment with the oncologist in a couple weeks and somewhere between those two I will have an Endoscopy Ultrasound, whatever that is.  I will be seeing the same oncologist we used when Sharyl was sick, I had a conversation with her nurse today, and she is one of my favorite people on earth. That is all the facts as I know them today.

Now some speculation.  Best case, it is only in the esophagus we’re probably looking at some radiation, chemo and possible surgery.  Maybe a chicken fried steak at some point down the road.

Worst case, let’s don’t go there tonight.

I am keeping a positive attitude, however our family’s limited experience with Cancer does nothing to enhance those positive thoughts.  I don’t want sound noble (if that’s the right word) but I feel worse for my kids and grandkids as they struggle with acceptance and naturally relate this to that previous family experience.

Thanks for listening, I probably won’t be back until after I see the oncologist. I hope you and yours have a fun Easter and please remember the reason we celebrate.

Keep me in your prayers.  Good Night and God Bless.

Dave

Some news

On December 10th 2008 I started the original Our Mom blog with the single mission of keeping friends and family updated on my Mom’s life with cancer. My Dad became something of a wordsmith, made the blog his own and used the power of the written word to convey so much more than just random health updates. The original blog and this blog have documented so many events in our lives. This is a small excerpt of that first blog post titled wishes and reality:

“What I wish is that there was not a need for this blog. Not a need to have a place to post updates about my Mom, not a need to keep our friends and family informed,  not a need to talk about cancer. I wish my Mom didn’t have cancer……
But she does, and we are so fortunate to be reminded daily that our family is not traveling this road alone.”

Today is April 10th 2017, a little over 8 years since that original post and I find myself once again needing a  place to keep our friends and family informed.

My Dad has cancer.

Specifically he has Esophageal Squamous Cell Carcinoma.  Cancer of the esophagus.

We received the news today. In the next week there will be a Pet Scan and an appointment with the oncologist, results of the pet scan, staging answers and a treatment plan. We will have so many answers in the next few days, in this time between we remain strong and hopeful.

I know my Dad will be pounding the keyboard again soon until then I will end this as he would

Thank you all and God bless.

Lori

They Said . . .

They said, cook it in the oven.   They said, it’ll be much easier . . . yeah right.

I really like bacon, however since I have been a one person household it has not been a staple in my kitchen.  Probably a combination of three reasons: the stuff is expensive, it isn’t very healthy and it is kind of a mess to cook and clean up just for one person.

A couple weeks ago I smoked some ribs, brisket and other stuff.  I wanted to try a new process on a pork loin, I needed some bacon.  The loin was good and I had some bacon left, sure wasn’t going to throw that high dollar stuff away, so I broke out the old cast iron skillet and fried me some bacon.  It took a little elbow grease to degrease the skillet, stove top and surrounding area but by god that bacon was good.  I ate some and froze some (just a little test), a few seconds in the microwave and it was almost as good as the fresh fried version.

The next time I went to the grocery store a 1 ½ lb. (did you ever wonder who decided lb. was the appropriate abbreviation for pound) package mysteriously found its way into my shopping cart.

The plan was to cook all the bacon and freeze it so I could use one or five pieces at a time as the appetite dictated.  I have also always wanted to have that little container of bacon grease available to enhance the flavor of all sorts of things; mom always had a jar of bacon grease on the stove.

I used my old friend, Google, to determine the best way to accomplish this simple little project.  Google said it would be much easier to cook the bacon in the oven and that I could store the grease almost indefinitely in the fridge in a glass or ceramic container, no plastic.

There were several opinions about the best way to oven cook bacon, all of them used a shallow pan or cookie sheet, I have this like new, although it is several years old, sheet cake pan, the consensus temp seemed to be 400, my oven will do that. Opinions differed on placing the bacon on a baking rack in the pan or just placing it directly in the bottom of the pan.  I decided, to keep the grease a little cleaner, I should use the rack method.  I don’t own a baking rack, I don’t even know what that is, and so I improvised and used a rack out of my smoker.  Looks like all I need to do is oven cook me a bunch of bacon.

My pan/rack deal would only hold about half the bacon, not a big deal I’ll just do two batches.  Oven preheated, bacon neatly arranged on rack, timer set for 18 minutes, time to relax and wait.

A little FYI, I have two smoke detectors in the house, one about three steps from the previously mentioned oven, the other way back at the other end of the house.  You wonder why I mention this, hang on.

At about the ten minute mark I decided to peek at the bacon, the smoke detector went crazy.  I pushed every button on the thing, it was still screaming, I ripped it off the ceiling, still screaming.  I opened the battery compartment, no battery, probably removed as the result of a previous cooking adventure gone badly.  It was the detector way back at the other end of the house.  I made a mental note to get smoke detector batteries next time I’m in town or maybe not.

The first batch cooked to perfection (perfection might be a little strong) in about 22 minutes.  I immediately reloaded and started batch number two.  The ten minute check this time produced a tremendous amount of smoke, I opened all the doors, there was enough smoke I am surprised the neighbors didn’t call the fire department, in fact I considered calling. I got the oven closed and the smoke cleared and let the stuff continue cooking, like the first batch it came out just right.

 

IMG_0717

I have a few thoughts on what went wrong but I won’t bore you with them other than to say I have never seen that much grease in one oven.  A little in the bottom could be expected but this thing had grease on the sides, the top was even covered.  I just thank god for that self-clean cycle and I believe one or two more cycles the thing will actually be clean again.

The end result, a nice package of precooked bacon in the freezer, about a half cup or maybe more of bacon grease in a little glass container ready to enhance my next meal and the kitchen almost back in order.

My little glass container is the bottom of a wine bottle; I think I cut wine bottles better than I cook bacon.

IMG_0718

I think next time I want to cook some bacon I’ll use the old cast iron skillet.

I know I haven’t been here in a few months.  Life has been good; I just haven’t done anything I felt worthy of passing to your side of the keyboard, and mid-January to mid-March remains a quiet and personal time for me.

Since I am here I will mention, I had cataract surgery about a month ago and for the first time in my life I have 20/20 vision without glasses or contacts.

I’m not sure when I’ll be back, maybe sooner rather than later.

Good night and God bless.

Dave

Limos and Lug Wrenches…

The sparkling blue water of Lake Eufaula was inviting as we crossed the bridge eastbound at Highway 9 Landing, in the background the sun was well above the rolling foothills of the Kiamichi Mountains. We aren’t noted for our early departures. I glanced at Patty and said “We’re leaving THIS to find something scenic to look at”.  She nodded agreement and we continued east on the all too familiar #9.

We didn’t really have a firm plan, just get out on the road for a few days and look at the eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas countryside, maybe get lucky and see some pretty fall foliage.  Our first morning would include driving the always scenic Talimena Drive and lunch at, a little place we found a couple or three years ago, the Branding Iron in Mena, Arkansas.

Except for a slight delay due to a wrong turn (my bad) in Red Oak we were on schedule as if there was one?   A note about Red Oak; the population is just over 500.  I think they each have a railroad car, I have never seen that many empty cars outside a major rail terminal.  The wrong turn made that observation possible.

The colors on the Talimena weren’t what we had hoped for, too much green and brown and not enough red, yellow and orange; but it was a beautiful day and the traffic was light. We were in no hurry and were pulling over at most of the little turnouts for a better look.

At one of those turnouts we saw a very unusual sight for the Talimena, in fact an unusual sight for that part of eastern Oklahoma.  A loooong stretch limo was negotiating the tight turns of the Talimena.  A couple turns later the limo was stopped for a better look.

Naturally we stopped for a better look at who in the heck is up here in a limo. I’m not sure who we were expecting to see but we were not expecting these guys.  First out was a couple men in gray pants and beards, then a couple ladies in long dresses and little white bonnets.  They just kept getting out, kind of looked like one of those clown car deals.  We visited with them, Patty is a little more social than I am, and there were sixteen of them; mom and dad, their children and spouses.  They were Amish from Chouteau, Oklahoma, just enjoying a family outing. We visited a bit exchanged our “have a good trips” and we were all on our way to the next scenic turnout.

A short distance down the road we rounded one of those tight curves and much to our surprise our lane of traffic was full of limo and people; they had a flat.  Flats aren’t a big deal if the driver has the equipment and knows how to change a tire.  They didn’t have a lug wrench and the driver didn’t have a clue; he was not Amish, I think he was Pakistani or somewhere on that side of the world. Not only did he not have a clue he didn’t seem the least bit concerned.

We stopped and a couple from Texas stopped, our lug wrenches wouldn’t fit, this thing had custom wheels, we needed a ¾ socket and a long breaker bar.  Five motorcycles roll up, I know those Harley guys always have tools.  They had a socket that fit but didn’t have anything to get enough leverage to loosen the lugs.

Let’s pause and paint a mental picture.  A bunch of bikers trying to help a bunch of Amish fix their limo with me and another redneck thrown in the mix.  The Amish ladies were patiently sitting on the grassy shoulder of the road. Bikers tried but couldn’t help, they headed to Mena.  A little yellow sports car stopped, he had some tools but not what we needed, and he went toward Talihina with a promise to send help.  All the while the driver is doing nothing to help, his phone didn’t have service, mine did, I insisted he use it and call his company, and he said their response was, they would look into it.

The new game plan was, the guy from Texas would go to Heavener, the closest town, find a wrench and come back.  I couldn’t help and was going to leave but Patty’s heart is bigger than mine, we aren’t going anywhere until the limo is back on the road. We twiddle our thumbs and hope the guy from Texas really is coming back because that is the plan at the moment.

I’m going to pause again and talk about the Amish just a bit.  During the entire ordeal not a single one of them ever exhibited any sign of aggravation or frustration, the men gave each other some good natured kidding and the women sat on the shoulder and visited.

Finally, a break.  A pickup with a crossbed toolbox stopped.  It was an older couple from down around New Orleans.  I think he was carrying enough tools to open a repair shop.  So now we have a Cajun, the Amish and one redneck on the problem.  They were using the Cajun’s little compressor to top off the spare when Patty and I decided to see what was around the next bend.

We made it to the Branding Iron in time to order their lunch special. I think it was 2:45 the special ends at 3:00.

We spent that night at a neat little resort place (Shangri La) on Lake Ouachita just outside Mt. Ida. I think it was built in the 50s or 60s and they have seen no reason to change anything.  I registered on one of those little cards like they used in the 60s.   She didn’t want my phone number, ID or any form of payment when we checked in. We enjoyed the quiet evening, had breakfast paid our bill and hit the road.

We spent most of the day in Hot Springs, we even did a few touristy things there.  If you are ever in Hot Springs and need to gain a few pounds I know just the place.  Fat Bottomed Girls Cupcake Shoppe, it is up at the north end of Central Ave. I don’t remember the second best cupcake I ever had but I will remember this one.  I had a salty caramel and Patty had some kind of a pumpkin deal.

If you have one of those cupcakes and don’t need the extra pounds I know just the place to neutralize those calories.  Garvan Woodland Gardens is a 210 acre Botanical garden on the shore of Lake Hamilton.  It is a beautiful place, we probably walked at least three miles while we were there and yes if I am in Hot Springs I will go back.

The next day was mostly a windshield day.  We did Arkansas’ Scenic 7 route from Hot Springs to Harrison.  Scenic 7 is appropriate for that drive it is a very scenic route.  We took US 62 westbound from Harrison and planned to act like tourists again in Eureka Springs, however it was raining so we just drove around and watched the real tourists.

We stayed on that 62 westbound and found our way back to the Sooner state, and took some roads less traveled back to Longtown.  The most color we saw was on US 59 between Westville and Stilwell.

The only thing that could have made the run any better is more red, yellow and orange and not so much green and brown.

It has been a while since I’ve pounded the old keyboard, I got a little carried away and let this one get a little long.

Good Night and God Bless.

Dave

Rainbow Stew & Other Stuff

Yes, I am still around and the blog lives; I just took a little unscheduled break.  One reason for the break may be because I really haven’t done anything “blog worthy”.

The past few days I have had an urge to pound the keyboard.  I could always write one of those “from the heart” deals like I once did but I don’t think you or I benefit from those so if it is OK I will share some of those non blog worthy thoughts and experiences with you.

Of the four seasons, winter is my least favorite and it isn’t even close.  I don’t like all those cold grey days and the daylight to dark ratio is way out of proportion.  I had a couple of things kind of break up the wintertime blues this year.  One was the gray whale watching excursion I shared with you last time I was here.

The other was some age and gender related physical issues. I was up and down, actually more down than up, from mid-December until early February.  I will do you a favor and won’t share the details other than to say the ordeal included a New Year’s Eve visit to the ER and a few days later a twenty four hour stay at Norman Regional for some minor surgery.  About the only positives to come from that is it kept my mind off the cold grey days of winter for a few weeks and the procedure was successful.  Thanks to the good doctor and medical staff I am almost back to normal.

I will share one little detail.  If the nurse says “take a deep breath” she means it: the one I took wasn’t nearly deep enough.

We lost one of Country Music’s legends a couple months ago. “Rainbow Stew”, not one of his biggest hits, happens to be my favorite Merle Haggard song.

Probably an indication that sometimes old men have too much time on their hands but I decided I would pay a personal tribute to Merle and make a pot of Rainbow stew and try to find some Bubble Up to wash it down. Thanks to Google I found the stew recipe and figured out what Bubble Up is.

I almost didn’t proceed as the stuff had way more than my normal limit of four ingredients and called for a lot of chopping, dicing and mincing (those things are synonymous in my kitchen) and some other processes I normally avoid. One of the ingredients was Jicama, I didn’t know what that was, I did a little research and about five grocery stores and a half tank of gas later I had some Jicama.  I found the Bubble UP the first place I looked, Pops in Arcadia, about an eighty mile round trip.

I probably had twenty hours and a hundred bucks in that little pot of stew and the six pack of Bubble Up. The stuff had some kick and was actually pretty good. Bubble Up is a citrus flavored soft drink similar to 7up or Sprite, I could have substituted but the song says “we’ll all be drinking that free Bubble Up and eating that Rainbow stew.  It doesn’t say drinking free 7up.

Rest in Peace Merle, we miss you.

I think some people should not have pets; I also think some people should not have flowerbeds.  I think I belong in both those groups.  I don’t have a pet, however I do have flowerbeds. When flowerbed maintenance became my responsibility there were four of them all very well maintained. Two of them have survived but well maintained wouldn’t be words used to describe them.

The only desirable things growing in them are the things that were there when I became in charge; everything I planted didn’t survive, that is strange because the grass and weeds seem to thrive. I have started using rocks where plants don’t make it.  I think I am going to like this approach; I don’t need to water or fertilize them and they are Weedeater and Roundup resistant.  The rocks previously served as a border around one of the flowerbeds that didn’t survive and leftovers from some old landscaping.

I did one of these about a year ago on my life experience with haircuts and how pleased I was with the way Brandi “took a little off the top”.  I followed her to three different shops here in Norman but she has decided the grass is greener on the east coast; that is a little too far to drive trip each month for a haircut.  I am back on the streets in search of a new barber. Actually I don’t know for sure but I may have got lucky this time; I got a good haircut if she will just stay in town.

They just don’t make them like they used to.  Talking about gas grills, I like to cook on the patio pretty much year-round, weather permitting.  I have had this grill several years and, like me, it has certainly seen better days; maybe all that red meat is taking a toll on both of us.  I started shopping for a replacement this week, I checked Lowes, Wal Mart and Academy.  I wanted to see what Target had to offer but I really needed to go to the bathroom.  I wasn’t sure about their new rules and I sure didn’t want to offend anyone so I just came on home.  I think I will just get the one at Lowes.

I probably should have quit a few paragraphs ago but I didn’t so I will provide a brief houseboat update.  Partially because of the previously mentioned physical issues I pretty much let the old girl fend for herself this winter. She was just a little bit huffy and refused to start, sometimes just the right gift will make a lady happy, she wanted not one but three new batteries.  Those things are expensive and somewhat difficult to install.  She started and seemed to be happy again but last week she threw another little fit. This time refusing to dispose of the bathroom waste; hope I don’t have to buy her a new commode.  Just some minor bumps in the road or maybe I should say waves on the water; I still love the old gal and plan to spend a lot of time with her the next few months.

bilge

Green things are batteries, I don’t know about all that other stuff

I promise to stay away from the keyboard until I have something that, at least I think, is blog worthy.

Good Night and God Bless.

Dave

Pursuit of the Gray Whale

_1090798_a

Just dropped by to say hello and welcome to my lagoon

On a summer evening late last August, Patty and I were kicked back at her house solving the world’s problems and probably a few of the personal variety. Somehow the conversation turned to travel; if you know Patty you won’t find that surprising.

We could both use a little road trip.  We talked about a fall run to Maine or Wyoming and some other places, however the one we both found most intriguing was a winter trip to the Baja California peninsula of Mexico to get up close and personal with the Gray Whales.  With the help of her iPad, Patty found an eight day trip with dates available that worked for both of us.  We made the reservation.  All we needed to do was meet our group in San Diego at noon on Monday the 8th of February.

We had a Sunday morning flight from OKC to San Diego.  Included in my retirement plans was an extended break from commercial air travel.  I think an exact quote is “I don’t care if I ever see the inside of another airport”.  A lot of things have changed with airline travel but I followed Patty’s lead and I made it through security without issue and I didn’t embarrass her.  Thank god, I wore clean socks with no holes.

We arrived in San Diego around noon allowing us time to see a few of the many interesting things the city has to offer.  I think I could enjoy more time in San Diego, maybe I’ll go back some day.

Monday was the day we were to start the pursuit of the Gray Whale.  I was a little nervous, this would be my first experience with the group travel thing.  We met our 22 traveling companions at noon, had lunch and a quick “meet and greet”.  They all seemed like people I would be comfortable with for the next few days. Patty was already comfortable, she handles diverse crowds better than I do.  Geographically we pretty well covered the four corners, a couple from New York, a half dozen or so from California and from Minnesota to Texas on the I 35 corridor, I believe ten states were represented.

After lunch we got acquainted with our wheels for the next few days, we boarded the bus for a short drive to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Birch Aquarium in La Jolla.  We didn’t see any Gray Whales but we did meet a guy that has forgotten more about them than I will ever know and the aquarium was well worth the short bus ride.

The bus wasn’t 5 star but it was certainly OK and I think all the tires were round except one (little bit of shake going down the road) but overall not a bad set of wheels. The bus could accommodate 50 passengers so there was plenty room for the 24 of us to move around, kick back and get comfortable.

We booked the trip through Road Scholar, a nonprofit travel provider, they contracted with Andiamo Travel, located in Ensenada, Baja Mexico to provide the services.  Both organizations get very high marks.

If you haven’t done group travel there is only three things you need to know; Example: Breakfast at 7:00, bags out at 7:30, bus leaves at 8:00.  The times may vary but the sequence doesn’t.

Tuesday morning we were south bound toward the busiest border crossing in the world.  Approximately 250,000 people a day cross the border at San Diego / Tijuana.  The crossing went smooth and we were in Mexico in search of the whales.

Our first stop south of the border was the Museum of the Californias. We didn’t see any Gray Whales but we left with a better understanding of the history and development of the Baja peninsula.

Our primary route for the entire trip was Hwy 1, the only paved road that covers the entire 1,000 miles to the south end of the peninsula.  We only saw the northern 2/3 of that route.

IMG_1546a

One of our pit stops, some of them were nicer, others not so much.

From Tijuana to Ensenada, our next stop, the highway is a modern 4 lane divided road; it follows the Pacific coast and is a very scenic drive.  We had lunch at a private residence in Ensenada and continued southbound on Hwy1, no longer the good 4 lane we had enjoyed, now a heavily traveled 2 lane.

We just rode the bus that afternoon, the whales hang out way down south and the long bus ride is the only way to get there.  We no longer had the ocean view, the route had shifted inland through the desert, and although not as scenic as the Pacific coast the view for the most part was interesting and kind of pretty. We made one stop in addition to the routine pit stops.  It was out in the middle of nowhere; we wandered around the desert enjoying the large variety of trees, desert flowers and cactus and also enjoyed the opportunity to stretch the legs.

100_0690a

Kind of a strange lookin guy, don’t you think?

100_0682a

Typical look across the desert

Our destination for day 2 was a beachfront hotel in San Quintin, the brochure talked about the gorgeous sunsets, however, because of the previously mentioned heavy traffic we arrived about an hour after the sun had set.    The next morning after “bags out” and before “bus leaves” we had time to enjoy a nice walk on the beach.

IMG_1540a

Lots of these on the beach

Day 3 (Wednesday) was pretty much another bus ride day.  To break the monotony of the bus ride we took another desert walk, the vegetation was a little different. This one also included kind of a tough climb to a small cave with paintings dating back a few hundred years; the actual dates are unknown.  We had lunch in Catavina, I thought it was one of the best meals of the entire trip, just a Mexican combo plate but they did it right. Our destination was the Half Way Inn in Guerrero Negro, we had arrived in whale country.

100_0696a

Day 4, the agenda said “depart for whale watching excursion”.  Alright, this is why we are here.  The brochures showed smiling faces in a small boat close enough to a whale to touch the thing.  I was skeptical, I visualized 47 boats jockeying for position to get close to one of the three whales.

We abandoned our big comfy bus and boarded a 24 passenger shuttle for the 15 mile ride to the boats.  The route took us through the heart of a salt processing facility owned by the Mexican Government (51%) and Mitsubishi (49%), they provide 5% of the world’s supply of sea salt.

When we arrived at the lagoon, there were no crowds, no souvenir shops etc., simply a small building for storage of supplies, about a half dozen porta potties and 4 or 5 boats, much like the one in the brochure, on the rocky shoreline. Definitely a no frills operation and my skepticism was rapidly disappearing.  They only allow 6 active boats at a time in the whale area of the lagoon, shot down my 47 to 3 ratio.

IMG_1591a

Our ride, 115hp Yamaha hanging on the back

We boarded, 12 per boat, and were on the final leg of our journey to find the Gray Whale.  About a fifteen minute, reasonably brisk, boat ride put us in the heart of whale country.  A beautiful calm blue water Pacific lagoon.  I have experienced much rougher seas on Lake Eufaula.

What we experienced the next 90 minutes far exceeded my expectations and verified everything presented in the brochure.  I couldn’t begin to count or even estimate the number of whales we saw.  The huge mammals weren’t the least bit shy, in fact some of them seemed to enjoy interacting with their visitors.  They sometimes are close enough to the boat to actually touch, I think everyone in our boat did so. About half of them were moms with baby at their side. These gals make the 6000 mile trek from the Arctic Ocean in the fall, give birth in the lagoons of Baja, and return to the cold Arctic in the spring.

_1100168a

Just looking around

100_0714a

Bet they have a picture of us

100_0734a

Mom taking it easy, baby having a little fun

100_0746a

Catching her breath!

100_0757a

Mm and baby coming our way

DSCN3077a

Outta here!

IMG_1549a

Over your left shoulder!

100_0736a

Hello, welcome to my lagoon

We did the shuttle bus ride back to town and found our big comfortable (compared to the shuttle) bus again, did a little salt marsh bird watching; I didn’t take notes or pictures so no further comment on the bird watch.  Lupe put the bus back out on highway one and we proceeded south to San Ignacio.

We were greeted at our hotel by a group of local middle school students, they entertained us for about an hour with a variety of song and dance routines.  The kids were very talented and seemed to genuinely enjoy performing and we enjoyed the change of pace and appreciated their effort.  We then had some dinner, kicked back and got ready to visit the whales again tomorrow.

We didn’t have to do bags out the first day in San Ignacio, we stayed two nights.  Three vans picked us up at the hotel and we proceeded on a tough 40 mile ride on rough unmarked desert roads to the San Ignacio Lagoon.  Although much more remote the area was more developed than the one in Guerrero Negro; they had a small gift shop, restaurant and some camping spots.

We did a similar thing as the day before, the boats were 8 passenger so no one had a center seat.  Whale watching was a little better the first day but it was still a very good day, and the interaction was a repeat of what I described previously.  We had a late lunch at the restaurant, the biggest Scallops I have ever seen.  No exaggeration they were about 3 inches in diameter.  After lunch we boarded the vans for the long and dusty ride back to town.

IMG_5297a

The showers were refreshing, to say the least

IMG_5399a

Told you we touched some

That evening we spent time in San Ignacio, it is kind of a neat little town, a little bit touristy but not too much.  They have a very neat old mission just off the well maintained town square.  We enjoyed observing and interacting with the local citizens.  Not just in San Ignacio but throughout Baja, the standard of living is far below what we are accustomed to but the people were very friendly and seemed genuinely happy.  I think maybe their priorities are in order.

IMG_1685a

The next morning we pointed the bus north on good old Hwy 1 and started the long journey back toward San Diego.  We stopped in Guerrero Negro for one last visit with the Gray Whale, very similar to the first but probably not as exciting because we were now experienced whale watchers and knew what to expect.

We did another of those leg stretcher nature walks on the way to Catavina.  I don’t want to downplay those walks because the vegetation is pretty and much of it unique to the region.  I wouldn’t go all the way to Baja just for the nature walks but since we were there I’m proud we had the opportunity.  We had dinner and spent the night in Catavina.

IMG_1767a

For you gearheads. A pit stop in El Rosario

IMG_1768a

The walls and ceiling was filled with pics

The next day we pushed north, we had lunch at a nice place in San Quintin, but just looked at a lot of highway. We were supposed to have a couple hours to shop in Ensenada but traffic problems cut that to about 30 minutes; probably saved me a couple hundred bucks or so.

Our hotel in Ensenada was very nice and right on the Pacific; we were there before sunset but this time fog and mist blocked that beautiful Pacific sunset, oh well, can’t win ‘em all.  We had a great dinner and slept with the door open.  I love the sound of the ocean.

IMG_1789a

View from the hotel room in Ensenada

The next morning we made our way to Tijuana and the U S border.  Crossing northbound takes a little longer but it really wasn’t bad.  We arrived back in San Diego around noon and said good-bye to our traveling companions.  Patty and I took advantage of the opportunity to see a bit more of San Diego and flew home the next day.

We had a great time and I would recommend the trip to anyone interested in the Gray Whale.  This one was difficult for me to write; I kind of wanted to make it novel length instead of blog length.

Thanks for listening and God Bless.

IMG_1740a

See you later!!

Dave