Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Our New Normal

last picture together December 4, 2016
It's been a little over a week since we had Kirby put to sleep. We are still trying to adjust to our new normal. I knew that Jim would have a hard time because Kirby was his little buddy - they had a mutual love affair going on. I loved Kirby as well, and I know he loved me, too. But I played second fiddle if Jim was around, despite me being the one who was in the house with Kirby all day. But I underestimated how much I would miss the little guy. Everything in the house reminds me of him, especially when I am cooking. I got the can opener out to open some tomatoes. He would have dashed to my side, hoping I was preparing some tuna or canned chicken. The cutting board? He was always right there in the hopes that I was cutting up ham or chicken. It will be a long time before I can buy ham at the deli, as that is what I wrapped all of his pills in so that he would eat them. And I don't think Jim or I will be able to eat a hard boiled egg for quite a while. Kirby loved those, and he and Jim shared one each morning.

Last Wednesday the trash bins did not get rolled back to the house because I always grabbed them after our afternoon walk. And the W-K Times didn't get picked up Friday morning because Jim and Kirby would get it after their morning walk. We both find ourselves leaving a last bite of meat on our plates because we would save Kirby a treat each meal.

Friday I came home to a message on the answering machine from the emergency clinic with "some information about Kirby". I almost didn't return the call, but I knew it would be hard for Jim to do it as well so I just got it over with. As I suspected, they wanted to let us know that Kirby's ashes were ready to be picked up. Jim had requested that he be cremated. I confirmed that they would hold the ashes until we were ready to come and get them. When is one ever ready for that? I am still traumatized over my dad making me go to the vet to pick up the collar and leash of our German Shepherd after he died on the operating table when I was in college.

But Jim was out yesterday afternoon, so he did stop and pick up the remains and settled our bill. He said it was terrible. He felt the eyes of the other pet owners on him as they sat in the waiting room with their pets on a leash while his was in a box. When he got home, he told me not to freak out, but that Kirby was in his favorite spot. I peered into the conservatory, and sure enough Jim had set the box on the couch where Kirby had spent most of his time. He loved sitting in the corner of that couch (or on top of the cushion) so that he could watch for Beloved (as I referred to Jim) come home from work. It was a jolt to see the box in his corner. One surprise is that the emergency clinic had made a cast of Kirby's foot to give to us. It was a nice gesture that I am sure we will appreciate at some point. For right now it is another reminder of what we are missing.
all that remains
We received sympathy cards from our new vet as well as the emergency clinic. A couple of friends have sent cards as well. My Facebook post about Kirby's death received over 100 comments in addition to all the emoticons people tagged on it. It is comforting to know that he touched so many people in his ten years with us. I know that we gave him a great life, and he in turn graced us with much love and happiness. But right now our new normal doesn't feel very normal at all.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Our Hearts are Broken

Late yesterday afternoon we had Kirby put to sleep. In the past few days he had seemed more restless, particularly at night. He spent a lot of time on the tile floor of the conservatory, despite the cold temperature. The conservatory was definitely his room, with the couch serving as his throne where he could observe his subjects - the birds, bunnies and cats who traversed through our yard. And where he could watch for his most loyal subject (Jim) to arrive home. It was unusual for him to be spending so much time on the hard floor.

His tumor had continued to grow, but did not appear to be bothering him until yesterday. He had eaten well in the morning and taken his pills nicely for me. He and Jim took their normal long morning walk, and then we went out to do some Christmas shopping. Kirby still seemed fine, and Jim went to the office to do some work, and I headed upstairs to try to look at a website issue I've had ever since some cretins hacked into my web host and ruined four of my sites. Jim got home a little after four, and called up to me that Kirby was bleeding. He must have just been licking the tumor nonstop while we weren't watching. He was bleeding quite a bit, and his muzzle and feet were covered in blood. I knew what that meant as I had discussed this with the doctor a couple weeks ago when he aspirated this latest lump. Mast cell cancer is incurable, and he would continue to get these tumors. It was time to let him go. I called the emergency clinic while Jim was cleaning things up to let them know what was going on. It was the same facility where we had met with the oncologist, so they had a file on Kirby.

We wrapped Kirby up in towels and headed to the clinic. They immediately took us to a private room, which we very much appreciated. We spoke first with a technician, and she took Kirby away to insert a catheter into his leg in preparation for the medication. The vet took a look at him at the same time, and then the tech returned Kirby to Jim's lap. The very young vet then came in to talk to us. She confirmed that we wanted him put to sleep, and then said in light of all that was going on with him she felt this was the best decision. I told her it was hard to let him go though, as he was still eating and playing and wanting his daily walks. She said that it was a blessing that he did not have to go through all the really bad stuff that this cancer can cause. It was just the right thing to say to us. She asked if we wanted more time with him, and we said no because he was really agitated at the point. So she injected medicine to make him go to sleep, and then the final dose for his permanent rest. It was all very quick though he did take one last inhale that was a little disconcerting. She continued to listen for a heartbeat until there was none. 5:45 p.m. It was all over but the crying. Truer words...

After we got home I washed up the bloody towels and Jim's bloody clothes. I texted or emailed close family members to give them the news, asking them not to call us last night. We couldn't handle talking to anyone. Neither one of us ate dinner, or slept much last night. We were missing our bed buddy. When I went downstairs this morning, the first thing I did was check to see if Kirby's water bowl was filled. The pill bottles lined up on the counter made me cry. I woke up my computer only to see the website of the emergency clinic staring me in the eyes. The first email I read was from Merial, reminding me to apply Kirby's flea treatment.

Since I was bawling anyway, I went ahead and packed up all of his toys, leashes, food, etc. I discarded what needed to be thrown away, and hope to donate a couple of unused leashes and poop bags to someone who can use them. I also have an unopened box of flea treatment and sealed Heart Guard pills that I am hoping a shelter can use. We'll see...I can't deal with that yet, but at least it is all out of site. None of it will be out of mind, however.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Giving Thanks

Jim and Monty
For the third year in a row Jim and I were able to go to Washington, DC to be with Andy and Megan for Thanksgiving. Katie has also been able to make it each time to join us. This was the first time all five of us have been together since last Christmas, so it was pretty special. The weather was cooperative and we arrived the day before Thanksgiving with no problems. Megan picked us up from the airport, and once we got our things settled, Jim and I took the granddog Monty for a walk. They are so blessed in that a wonderful county park with hiking/biking trails and a lake are located an easy walking distance from their house, so that is our route of choice with Monty. For an eight pound little squirt, this guy can sure go!

We had a quiet day on Thursday, but Friday morning Jim, Andy and I headed out early to pick up some donuts at Duck Donuts. Oh my! You basically special order your donuts any way you like them. They were tasty!
Duck Donuts

After lunch we went to the town of Occoquan, Virginia, which was founded in 1734. It is very quaint with some unusual shops, and is on the banks of a pretty river with a water fall. My favorite part of the town was the "LOVE" sign, where we had a family picture taken. It was a very popular photo op spot, as you can imagine. We were able to pick up a couple of Christmas gifts in town, so that was a bonus. Here's a tip - never buy more than you can fit in your suitcase for the return flight home. You're welcome.

Occoquan, Virginia
Saturday we drove to a couple of different wineries. Wine tasting is not my thing because I prefer a sweet wine, but I don't mind going along as I can always find something to photograph. The second winery had a nice bread/meat/cheese basket, so we enjoyed a late lunch or early dinner. They also had a sangria that was pretty tasty.
Virginia wineries
We were somewhat lazy on Sunday, though we did go and visit Georgetown University. Katie is looking at graduate schools, and that one has made her short list. They have a very nice campus.

We had all been looking forward to Monday, though. Andy and Megan had to work, so the rest of us took an Uber ride into the Washington, DC center. We began at the Capitol Building, thinking we'd just take a quick look around. But we got caught up in a tour and ended up spending a couple of hours there. I hadn't been inside since my junior year of high school. Our tour guide was so interesting and informative.
U.S. Capitol Building

Museum of African American History and Culture
From there we went to the National Museum of African American History & Culture, which just opened in September of this year. Megan had been lucky enough to snag five tickets several months ago, and she and Andy arranged their work day to meet us there. While this Smithsonian museum is free, you must have a timed ticket to get in. Currently there are no tickets available until next April! While it was crowded, our tickets were late enough in the day that there were no bus loads of school children there so that helped. There are over 36,000 artifacts contained in 350,000 square feet, so you need a lot of time to visit. We didn't have near enough as the museum closes at 5:30. But I can say that what we saw was heartbreaking, thought provoking and encouraging all at the same time. We will definitely go again on a future visit to the DC area.

The next day Jim and I flew home and Katie headed back to LA. We had an event-filled week between playing tourist, enjoying family time and many romping rounds of Five Crowns. I love making these memories with the kids, and can't wait until we are all together again later this month. As Celine Dion sang, "These are the precious times..."


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Dog's Life

In October we found another lump on Kirby's belly, very near the site of the original tumor. We kept a close eye on it, and it began to change so on November 14th I took him back in to the vet. He performed a needle biopsy on the lump, and to no one's surprise it tested positive for mast cell cancer. This is very dismaying as it has only been three months since the last tumors were removed. The vet said that he can remove it, and in fact it would be a little easier than the last one as it is over a bit from his private parts. But he said we have to face the reality that it can and will come back. How many surgeries do we want to put him through? How many surgeries do we want to put ourselves through, not to mention the expense? This type of cancer is incurable, and I honestly don't think the chemotherapy would have made a difference so I am glad we didn't put him through that.

After some discussion, we decided to try putting him on prednisone in addition to the Benadryl and Pepcid AC that he currently takes. The hope is that the prednisone will keep the cancer cells from irritating Kirby to the point that he licks the tumor and forces it into ulcerating like it did last time. This drug can make dogs very hungry and thirsty, and some dogs urinate in the house because they can't control their bladders. We started with a dosage of three pills at a time once a day, which would be modified if he ended up peeing all over the place.

Fortunately, he has tolerated the medicine well. He is drinking and eating more, and also pants a lot. That, too, is a known side effect. Unfortunately, the tumor continued to grow a bit. His prescription was going to run out on the 23rd, the day we were leaving for Washington, DC to be with our kids for Thanksgiving. So I called the vet again to see about refilling the prednisone. He said that drug should have caused the tumor to shrink some, and that it is a bad sign that it grew even while he was on the medication. But I feel it is great that the tumor didn't go crazy in a 48 hour time period like the last one did, so he agreed to renew the prescription to get us through the seven days we would be gone.

The dog sitter called us the night of the 23rd, and she felt the tumor had grown more and was very red. She wanted to let me know that she had called the vet, and he had her adjust the timing of the pills, giving him one in the morning and two at dinner, along with an additional Benadryl mid-afternoon. She felt we would want to know. None of us slept well that night. Jim was even looking into flights to head back home on Thanksgiving Day in case Kirby needed to be hospitalized - or worse. But when I called the sitter the next morning, she was pleased with the change as the tumor didn't look nearly as red as before. She kept him on the new regimen while we were gone, and fortunately that worked out okay.

I honestly did not know if I would get to see Kirby again. I thought for sure based on how the last tumor went that it would ulcerate while we were away, and we would be faced with tough decisions from far away. It was a horrible feeling, and cast a damper on our visit with the kids. The five of us had not been together since last Christmas, so it is a shame that we had this hanging over all of us. But in the end it all worked out and we will just take each day as it comes. For now he is eating and sleeping well, and still wants to go on his daily walks. I don't know how much more time he has to be with us, but I intend to enjoy each and every day we get.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

How Does Your Garden Glow?

lighting the way to the Climatron
Beginning in 2013, the Missouri Botanical Garden has offered patrons the opportunity to see the garden in a different light, so to speak, by illuminating the garden. As opposed to the other holiday displays around town, this one allows you to walk through the lights where you have the opportunity to look as long as you like without having cars behind you forcing you to move along. Each year the exhibit has grown, and this year over 1 million LED lights shine through the garden.

As one of the corporate sponsors of the garden, our company was invited to a special preview night on November 16th. After grabbing something to eat and drink in the Ridgeway Center, we made our way outside. The temperature was in the low 60's, which is extremely unusual for St. Louis in mid-November. I expected the place to be packed as it has been the other three years we have attended this event. However, that was not the case, surprisingly. Maybe the early date threw people off. It was great for us as we could take our time with each display, and even experience the photo op locations, which I imagine will be packed once the Garden Glow is open to the public beginning tonight.

If you haven't had the opportunity to visit the Garden Glow, I highly recommend it. It's a totally different way to experience one of my favorite places in St. Louis.

Garden Glow

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Full Super Moon Weekend

Last weekend was super busy. Friday night Jim and I grabbed dinner and then headed to the mall to return an item I had purchased online. Not only was the t-shirt a bit snug, you could see right through it. Not quite the look I was going for, trust me. Jim had a $20 off coupon at the same store, so between my return and his coupon he was able to snag a new pair of jeans for around twenty bucks. Nice!

on stage at the Muny
Saturday morning my friend picked me up at 10:00 and we went to the Garage Sale being held at the Muny in Forest Park. Props, sets, clothes, shoes - you name it were for sale. They were cleaning house for only the second time in their 97 year history. The sale was from 9-2, and I heard that people were standing in line at 5:30 a.m. We were not intending to purchase anything, but thought it would be a fun photo op. And it certainly was that and more. While standing on the stage looking out at all the seats, everything seemed a lot smaller than it does when you are sitting in the audience watching a performance. I always wanted to appear onstage at the Muny, and now I have. Cross that off the bucket list - haha. An older man started talking to us about how he had worked at the Muny for 40 years designing sets. Wow! I even ran into Katie's high school journalism teacher, and we had a nice chat. He had so many wonderful things to say about her even after all these years. I wish I had recorded it so that if she is ever feeling down she could listen to it. Proud momma moment, for sure.
Muny garage sale
From there we went to the Art Museum to have lunch at the Panorama Restaurant. Neither of us had eaten there before, and the food was good with an even better view of Forest Park. While the fall colors in the St. Louis area have been pretty lackluster, things were looking pretty in Forest Park that day.

Forest Park
After lunch we went to the Gretchen Brigham Gallery inside Union Ave. Christian Church for the opening reception of our latest Women in Focus photography show. The gallery space is beautiful, and although the reception was not that well attended, it is always fun to get together with these lovely ladies.

Women in Focus Inspiration show opening

Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery
Early Sunday morning I drug Jim out of the house to go to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery to take pictures. I was thinking the graves would be decorated with flags, and it wasn't until we got there and saw none that I realized that would be Memorial Day as opposed to Veteran's Day. No matter, it is always a lovely, peaceful place for a drive and the deer are always accommodating. It was touching to see an older man sitting on a low chair next to a gravestone with a woman's name on it, despite the 31 degree weather. Was that his wife buried there? His daughter? We wanted to talk to him, but were hesitant to disturb his solitude.

deer in Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery
That afternoon I went to the Holiday Walk in Webster Groves with a friend. It was a beautiful day, and lots of people were out. I was able to pick up a couple of Christmas gifts, so that felt pretty good. In the evening Jim and I saw Mothers & Sons in the Studio of the Repertory Theatre. It is a small venue, and the plays down there are always thought provoking. This was no exception. Came home to enjoy a Super Moon finish to a pretty super weekend.

Super Moon

Monday, November 7, 2016

Ode to My Burning Butt

colon pictures
So, I had my first colonoscopy last Friday. I know, I know, I was a "little" overdue. I recently switched to a new physician, and she really pushed me to sign up for the test. In fact, the office scheduled an appointment right then and there. Lest you think I don't take care of myself, I have my skin scanned every six months for skin cancer, have my eyes examined once a year, take my boobs out to be pressed annually, and see the dentist twice a year. It's just the deep, dark hole that I have ignored. We don't have a history of colon cancer in my family, but my dad's sister got a perforated bowel out of her final colonoscopy and lived the rest of her life with a colostomy as the prize. So, I had my reasons for being skittish about the test.

As it turned out, Dr. B. scheduled the test at a hospital that is not the most convenient for me, with a sadist physician who feels that pooping your brains out during one day is not enough, insisting that you get up at 5:00 a.m. on the day of the test and drink some more of the liquid laxative. In the end, pardon the pun, my husband was going to be out of town on the day of the test. As you cannot drive yourself due to the anesthesia, I had to reschedule. At the risk of being the butt of many jokes, I put a message on a local Facebook group requesting recommendations for a more realist doctor, preferably at a closer hospital. My friend Steve came up with the winning combination for me, and I scheduled an appointment for November 4th at the 9:00 time slot. Because of the liquid diet you'll be on, in addition to the liquid that will be flying out of your butt, I recommend getting an early test time.

poop prep
As is customary for me, I did a lot of research to make this test as palatable as possible. My prep as ordered by the doctor included a clear liquid diet on the day before the test, and also drinking a 10 oz. bottle of Magnesium Citrate at noon; 64 oz. of Miralax (a powder that I mixed with Lemonade Crystal Light as I can't stand Gatorade), drinking an 8 oz. glass every 10-15 minutes beginning at 1:00 until it was gone; and then another 10 oz. bottle of Magnesium Citrate at 3:00.

On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before the test I did a low-fiber diet as I had read that doing this helps prevent cramping when you are doing the prep. I have to say, this really worked for me. Wednesday night I put the two bottles of Magnesium Citrate in the refrigerator so they would be cold. On Thursday (prep day) I donned comfortable sweat pants, enjoyed my morning hot tea and some jello, and then laid out my battle gear. I mixed the Miralax and lemonade together and put it in the refrigerator for later, put the Preparation H wipes and ointment in the bathroom, along with my reading material. At 12:00 I poured the Magnesium Citrate into a glass, and squeezed in a slice of lime. I placed about a half teaspoon of sugar on the back of my tongue, and drank the 10 oz. down through a straw as quickly as possible while holding my nose. (The straw helps you bypass many of the taste buds on your tongue.) After the last swallow, I popped an Altoid into my mouth while still holding my nose. After a moment or two I was able to remove my fingers from my nose. There was a slightly salty taste in my mouth, but it was overpowered by the Altoid.

My stomach started gurgling around 12:35, but there was no action for another 10 minutes. Even then I thought it might just be gas, but I hustled to the bathroom just in case. That is not gas - trust me! Get yourself into the bathroom the second you start to feel anything. This is where the sweat pants are worth their weight in gold. Easy off! After that it was time for the first glass of Miralax. I drank that cold through a straw, and there was no discernible taste other than the lemonade flavor. Back to the bathroom! This was the pattern for the next two hours. I just about had time to drink a glass and run to the toilet before it was time to drink another glass. But I got all 64 oz. in. And out!

The worst part was getting down the second Magnesium Citrate at 3:00. I used the same process as the first glass, but it was a struggle as it was making me gag. It may be because it came so close on the heels of the Miralax treatment. For the next 2 hours I was in the bathroom. Despite using a medicated wipe after each go and liberally dabbing on Preparation H cream after each wipe, my butthole was burning. And bleeding. It was terribly painful, and certainly gave new meaning to the expression "Shit fire!" That's exactly what it felt like I was doing. Next time I will try a baby cream like Desitin. As I recall I could get that off my kid's butts (or my hands) without a sandblaster.

By 5:00 I leveled off to going once every half hour, and by 9:45 I was done. Or so I thought. I woke at 5:50 Friday morning, and dashed to the toilet at 6:00. Just like the Energizer Bunny, I was still going. We left the house at 7:00 as I was to arrive at the hospital at 7:30 for a 9:00 procedure. I didn't think I was going to make it. I had my husband drop me off at the door, and before the lady in Endoscopy could even say "Good Morning", I blurted "Where's the closest bathroom?" Fortunately it was right there. Where I'm sure everyone in the waiting room could hear my outburst. Oh well, at least I didn't crap my pants.

I got signed in, and then answered some question before sitting down to wait. I sent my husband off to work as there was no point in him waiting around for three hours. They said they would call him when I was ready to be picked up. At 8:30 I was taken back to what I'll call a cubicle. It had walls on three sides (with its own bathroom, thank heaven), and a privacy curtain across the front. The nurse had me change into a gown, taking off everything except my socks. (A word of advice - don't bring anything of value with you to the hospital. Leave your jewelry and electronic devices at home. All I had with me was my driver's license and insurance card.) After I was done she had me climb on the bed, covered me with two warm blankets, then attached a pulse oximeter to my finger and three heart leads to my chest. Then she inserted on IV line into my right wrist. She asked me some more questions, including had I used any drugs or marijuana recently. When I raised my eyebrows and asked her if people actually answer that honestly, she said "You'd be surprised." Huh. Then she asked if I feel safe at home. Again, my eyebrows shot up. This question was designed to try to detect elder abuse, she told me. Wow. A male nurse came by and asked if he could observe my procedure. It turned out he was a student nurse, so I thought, what the heck. I'm going to be out of it anyway. Then a nurse anesthetist stopped in to go over the anesthesia protocol with me. Sign here, sign there, sign everywhere.

By 8:50 or so they wheeled me into the procedure room where I met the anesthesiologist and finally the doctor who would be performing the colonoscopy. They both went over a few things with me, had me turn on my left side, and then began releasing the anesthesia into the IV line. I remember feeling it take over my brain, not that is was warm or anything but numbing it I guess. The next thing I knew I was being wheeled back into one of the cubicles. They kept the lights out for awhile, and then my doctor came in to let me know that he had found one small polyp, which he removed. That is standard procedure, but it will be sent off to be biopsied as they can be precancerous. But because he found one, he wants me have another colonoscopy in 5 years and not the recommended 10. Yippee. I was also told that I have hemorrhoids. Ya think? After spewing flammable liquid out of my butt for most of Thursday, who is actually surprised by this? He also explained that they pump air in the colon during the exam, so to expect a lot of gas. It made me think of those long circus balloons, and I chuckled to myself. He said to make sure and let it all out. So basically I can fart in public, and people will be happy about it instead of appalled? Awesome!

The nurse offered me something cold to drink, and when I finished my Sierra Mist I was told I could get dressed. Believe it or not, I had to go to the bathroom again. They had told me it would only be air coming out. Wrong! How in the world could there possibly be anything left inside me? Especially since they use a suction device during the colonoscopy? At least people can no longer say I'm full of it.

As I was getting dressed they called Jim to tell him I was ready to be picked up. It was 10:15, so they were right on the money when they said the procedure takes about 30 minutes, and then anywhere from 30-60 minutes for the anesthesia to wear off enough that you can leave. Since he was only 15 minutes away from the hospital, the timing was perfect. They actually let me walk out to the car, instead of being transported in a wheelchair. I was kind of surprised by that. When we got home, I used the bathroom again. Unbelievable...I drank a glass of water and had a bowl of cream of chicken soup with a few crackers to see how that would settle. Then I climbed into bed for a nap. Later in the afternoon I took the dog for a short walk, and I felt fine. I am so happy that this all behind me. (See what I did there?)

The only strange thing that has happened is that I felt a little dizzy at an event Saturday night. As I was only drinking ice water, there was no reason for me to sway like a drunk. But that sensation passed until I woke up Sunday morning. Oh my, was I dizzy! I had to hold onto walls to walk. After looking online to see if sedation anesthesia has this kind of a side effect (it doesn't), I came across a site on vertigo that attributes dizziness to dehydration. As I don't have any other symptoms of a cold or any other ear problem, I have to wonder if my extreme diarrhea for 7 plus hours was the culprit. It is much better today, and I am making an effort to drink more liquids than normal.

So there you have the poop scoop. I've been there, done that, got the pictures to prove it. Go get yours!

Monday, October 31, 2016


Webster Groves Fire Department
Fall is my favorite season of the year, but this year has been somewhat disappointing at least as far as colored leaves go. There just is not much color, and what is on the trees seems very muted. Much of it has to do with the warm weather, I suspect. The temperatures have been very mild for this time of year. It was beautiful last weekend for the fifth annual block party around the corner. It is so fun every year to meet the new neighbors, and watch the kids grow up. The Webster Groves Fire Department always puts in an appearance if they are free, and the kids get a lesson on fire safety.

Friday was my birthday, and along with another couple, Jim and I went out to dinner in the Central West End before heading to the St. Louis Basilica for The American Boychoir concert. We parked halfway between the two locations so that we could do some walking. I think it was still around 70 degrees when we came out of the church. A bonus on my birthday was that my great-nephew decided to arrive 8 days late so we could share our special day!

Saturday we took a nice drive to Washington, Missouri hoping to see some pretty leaves. There just is not much going on. We did have a nice lunch on a patio overlooking the river in downtown Washington, so that was something. Looking at the upcoming forecast, I think we are going to have a season where the leaves just turn brown and drop. It is very disappointing.

One of my friends took me out for breakfast on Sunday morning, and then we came back to my house and sat out on the deck. You just have to enjoy the nice temperatures while we still have them. It was great until the next door neighbor decided that was the perfect time to use a chain saw on his tree out front. So much for peace and quiet.

Today is Halloween, and it was 68 degrees outside when the goblins began to arrive. I had purchased six bags of candy, despite knowing that not too many kids make the trek on our side of the street where the houses are not only farther apart but also sit back a ways from the street. Imagine my surprise when we ran out of candy by 8:00! A little before that carloads of kids began arriving on our street. I have no idea where they came from, but I have never seen that in all the years we have lived here. I felt bad turning out the lights, but what are you going to do?

Here's hoping that we get a cold snap and a least a semblance of some fall color soon.

tree in my neighborhood

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Write On!

Kim Wolterman
Last week I gave a presentation on why every book needs a business plan at the monthly meeting of the St. Louis Publishers Association. The topic sounds a bit dry, doesn't it? Hopefully, the presentation wasn't. I didn't see any of the 30 or so attendees sleeping, at any rate. I believe it is important to think of the business side of writing a book as much as you think about the creative side. What is the point of spending months or years writing a book, only to find out that you can't afford to get it into print? Or to have it fail because you didn't have a plan for helping it succeed? Sometimes I feel like we don't cover the expense side of book publishing enough. At any rate, the presentation seem to be well-received, and people hung around talking until 9:30. If you are interested in reading more, I have posted about book business plans on my Write Formation blog, which you can find here.

Jim was on a motorcycle adventure last week, so Kirby and I held down the fort. The pooch is doing quite well, though we did just find a small lump on his tummy which we will need to keep a close eye on. I took him with me to Creve Couer Lake for a walk and to watch the sun set. Wow! This is the view I fantasize about when I think of a retirement home.
Creve Coeur Lake
Jim got back home last Saturday, so on Sunday we went to the Missouri Botanical Garden. These extended periods of temperatures in the 80s and even 90s have played havoc with the fall colors. I am afraid we are not going to see the vibrant oranges and reds we are used to. Instead I think the leaves will go more brown and then fall off. That's too bad, because I love fall. Some pretty flowers were still blooming, so it was still worth the visit.
Missouri Botanical Garden
children await arrival of UP 844
Tuesday of this week a train powered by a steam engine came whistling through our town. Delivered in 1944, Steam Locomotive 844 was designed to pull high speed passenger trains, and was the last steam engine built for Union Pacific Railroad. This is the first time in three years that it has been in operation as it was undergoing restoration. The train is traveling from Cheyenne, Wyoming to Memphis, Tennessee for the dedication of the "Big River Crossing" pedestrian bridge/rail bridge over the Mississippi River. I was amazed by how many people turned out, not only in our community, but many other locations in the St. Louis area. I loved the fact that the local pre-school brought the children down to see the train. This is a piece of history you just don't see every day. And of course I had the Johnny Cash song, Folsom Prison Blues, going through my head. "I hear the train a 'comin/It's rollin' 'round the bend..."

You can check out my short video here.

UP 844

Saturday, October 8, 2016


More pickleball drama...On Thursday I played with a man I shall call DH. It is only the second time I have seen him, and I believe he is new to the game. He plays well, though, since he comes from a racquetball background. DH and I were partners for what ended up being his last game of the morning. It was a super-fun game, with the score bouncing back and forth between us and the other team. Pickleball is played to 11 points, but you must win by two points. DH and I won 13-11. As we were sitting on the bleachers catching our breath he says to me, "Don't take this wrong, but the ladies here play pretty well." I agreed, "Yes, they do." Then he says, "Well, the court is a lot smaller so there is less running. That levels the playing field." Really, DH? You think women can't run as much as men? I know some women that could totally kick his butt! As I was trying to restrain myself from using my paddle on a different type of ball, he left for the day. I could not even believe he would say such a thing. People have no filters these days - if they think it, they say it.

Small Works - Kim Wolterman
Striking a Chord
 Friday night was the artists' reception for the opening of Small Works III at the Webster Groves Public Library. This is a juried exhibition of works on a smaller scale, and with a musical theme. I had submitted a couple of pictures, and the one of a man sitting on the steps in San Juan, Puerto Rico was selected to be in the show. I titled it, "Striking a Chord", and had it printed onto metal. The metal really makes the colors pop, I think. The turnout at the reception was pretty good.

The Women in Focus photography group has been asked to do a show in November at the Gretchen Brigham Gallery at Union Avenue Church downtown. Hosted by the Arts Group of Union Avenue, we can each submit up to four jpgs to the juror for consideration in the show. They don't want us to use any of the photos that we exhibited in our last two shows, so I'll have to think about this one. It gets expensive to print and frame these photos for the various shows, and I have yet to make a sale to recoup any of the costs. I know our fearless leader will be disappointed if only a few of our members submit, so I'll probably come up with something.

Signing off to get back to work on my presentation for the St. Louis Publishers Association. I'll be talking about why every author needs a business plan for their book.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Family Affair

My sister and I drove to Cincinnati last weekend for the Crusham family reunion. Once held every other year (sort of) at a park in the heat of August, one of the female cousins took charge several years ago and secured a room at Price Hill Chili in the fall. For three years in a row we have not had to endure heat, humidity, rain or bugs. It is also easier for the elders in the family to get in and out of this location, the bathrooms are clean and the chairs are more comfortable. Genius! The added bonus is that the restaurant serves breakfast all day, so I can get my Goetta fix taken care of at the same time.

Kubler family
But our first stop upon arrival Friday night was a German restaurant in Newport, Kentucky to meet with the last surviving sibling of my dad along with her three children. It is always nice to see them and catch up on their lives. I had a bit of trouble locating the restaurant as my GPS did not recognize the address. This led to us hitting street closures, roads that did not connect between Covington and Newport, and an unexpected trip over the river into downtown Cincinnati during rush hour and a Reds game. To top it off, my sister's phone had frozen, and she had the cell number of the cousin who had arranged the meeting place. We were like the Keystone Cops, and felt every bit as incompetent as the bumbling police in the show. We finally arrived at the restaurant 20 minutes late. I guess it could have been worse. The conversation was good as was the food. When the German band began to play, however, it was time to head out as the sound was deafening.

From there we drove to a Crusham cousin G's house, where we would be spending the weekend. Unfortunately, he became extremely dizzy soon after our arrival, and he had to be taken to the hospital via ambulance. My sister jokingly told him that if he didn't want us to come he should have just said so! He ended up spending two nights in the hospital with a diagnosis of severe vertigo. As he was concerned he was having a stroke, this was good news indeed.

Saturday morning I met a female cousin for breakfast, and then my sister and I went to the hospital to check on G. We stayed there until it was time for Mass at St. Theresa's, which is located across from Price Hill Chili. The proximity meant we were the first to arrive for the reunion, so we settled in with a drink and some popcorn while we waited. A number of our relatives were out of town or had other plans that night, but we still ended up with 29 people. The oldest in the group was my mom's first cousin, who is 97 and enjoyed a Bloody Mary. There are only two girls left in my mom's immediate family, and they are 94 and 89 years old. Longevity is pretty good in the clan. We had a great time, as always.

Sunday afternoon we went and visited with our 94 year old aunt for awhile as it is difficult to catch up when there is a big crowd. Then we took her to a steakhouse, where we met up with her daughter and granddaughter. That pretty much wrapped up the weekend, and we headed home on Monday.

While I was gone, Jim took Kirby up to Iowa. His parents wanted to see Kirby while he is still feeling good. We were cherishing memories in both Ohio and Iowa this weekend.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Global Entry Program

The beginning of July Jim and I applied for the Global Entry Program, which is offered by the Department of Homeland Security in the United States. The goal is to enhance security and increase system-wide efficiencies while improving the passenger experience. They offer different levels of programs, but because we travel within the U.S. as well as abroad, we chose the Global Entry selection. The bottom line for us as travelers is that we will always get TSA Pre-check when flying in this country (no more removing shoes, light jackets, laptops from bags, or small liquids from carry-on bags), as well as expedited processing through Customs at airports and land borders when we return to the United States following international travel.

The process begins with online enrollment in the program, and the payment of $100. They keep the money if you are not approved for the program, but if you are successful then your membership is good for 5 years. On July 8th we received notification that we had been preliminarily approved, and that the next step was to set up an interview at one of their enrollment centers. You must set up the appointment within 30 days of the date of the notification letter, though the interview does not have to take place within that time period. And that is a very good thing because the enrollment center in St. Louis, which is located at Lambert Airport, had no openings until late November!

At the time we applied we thought (wrongly, as it ends up) that we were going to be spending November in Australia, thus the desire to get into this program. I checked other locations to see of we could get an earlier interview and the only place I could find within a reasonable driving distance was Peoria, IL, which had openings on September 21st. Knowing that it would take us nearly three hours to get there, I set our appointments up for 11:15 and 11:30 in the morning. A caveat is that the confirmation letter we received stated that the agent has other responsibilities, and thus might not be available when you arrive. For that, they apologize. No big deal if you are from the area, but a pretty big consideration when you are traveling a distance. We decided to go for it.

We arrived at 10:45, and were relieved to see a Department of Homeland Security vehicle in the parking lot. The agent was all alone when we entered the building. I explained that we were early, and he asked what time our appointments were scheduled. After I told him, he said "Well let's get this done before 11." He no sooner uttered those words when his 11:00 appointment came in the door. He told her he would be with her after he finished with us.

For the appointment you were asked to bring a copy of the preliminary approval letter, your passport, a driver's license, and a utility or other bill showing your address. He asked to see all but the last item, and asked us both questions that had been answered on the original application. I think they want to make sure you answer the same way. I had read that they ask you where you have traveled in the past, whether you have ever been stopped by customs, if you have ever brought anything illegal back into the country, etc. I prepared a detailed list of all of our international travel, just in case. Our agent only asked where we were planning to travel in the near future. Again, we had answered this on the application. We had to place our fingers and then our thumbs on an electronic device, which took our fingerprints. No more paper and ink! When the results came back with no red flags, he aimed a hand held camera across the counter at my face and snapped a picture. All with less warning than the driver's license office. You can imagine how it turned out. It makes my license look like a Glamour Shot in comparison. Nevertheless, we were both approved and finished just before 11:00. The lady after us drove there from the Quad Cities, so we weren't the only ones traveling a distance to get this done.

Caterpillar Museum in Peoria
Since we had made the drive, we decided to see a little of Peoria. On the recommendation of the agent, we first had lunch at Thyme, a fun restaurant with an interesting menu and a decor to match. Jim said it looked like Pinterest had exploded inside the building. It was quite good, and we enjoyed our food. From there we headed down the street to see the Sculpture Walk, a series of 16 sculptures that are on display for a year. This led us to the Caterpillar Museum, and we decided to go inside. We had purchased several pieces of their equipment during our time of owning the composting facility. It is an excellent museum, and the docents are friendly and knowledgeable. All the ones that we talked with were former Caterpillar employees.

the tire is 14 feet tall
largest piece of equipment
made by Caterpillar
By the time we got out of the museum a storm was blowing in so we were unable to see the sculptures on the other side of the street. That was too bad, but we were happy to get out of town before the storm hit. The weather cleared as we drove back home, which gave us an opportunity to stop and see this roadside attraction. We had driven past many times on our way to Chicago, and always thought it would be interesting to experience. You can get your kitsch on Route 66 here! We had dinner at the diner, which certainly took us back in time. The chocolate ice cream machine was broken, but that was the only negative to the visit. What a fun day!
Livingston, IL

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Update on Kirby's Cancer

Kirby at the clinic
On Thursday the 22nd we took Kirby to see the oncologist, Dr. S. It was our first visit to Veterinary Specialty Services, a clinic filled with board-certified veterinary specialists. So basically every animal that comes in there is in some sort of a crisis situation. I filled out the paperwork, and we had a short wait before the vet could see us. We found Dr. S. to be a no nonsense type of person, but with a wonderful bedside manner. We discussed Kirby's surgery and the pathology reports, and she suggested doing an ultrasound to see if there were any additional tumors in the belly area. If he was loaded with tumors then followup treatments would not make sense. We agreed that was a good starting point.

They took him in the back, shaved his tummy and did the test. It was questionable whether they would have to put him under for the ultrasound, but in the end a muzzle took care of the issue. We met again with Dr. S., who said that the good news was she did not see any new growths. She also did a needle aspiration on a lump on his leg, and that was just one of the many fatty growths he has on his body. Her recommendation was to do chemotherapy, whether through pill form or IV. That would be up to us. She explained that she hates mast cell cancer because it is so unpredictable, and the fact that he had it in a lymph node was very troublesome. We discussed the pros and cons of the pill versus IV therapy, and honestly my biggest concern at the time was that the pills are very dangerous to humans. You have to wear special gloves when you handle them. It makes sense to me to have them administer the IV in a controlled setting where they know what they are doing. The treatment would involve going in once a week for four weeks, and then every other week for four additional treatments. So three months, essentially. The pills, on the other hand, would be administered every other day for three months. Whichever way we go, Kirby's saliva, urine and feces will be toxic to us and other animals, so we'll need to exercise caution with that. His immune system would be compromised either way, and he would not be allowed around any other animals. Not even at the groomers.  After further discussion, we set up the first IV treatment for the next day, Friday the 23rd.

At 4:00 in the morning on Friday, Jim and I were both wide awake and fretting. I could not stop crying, worrying about whether or not we were making the right decision. We finally decided that if we were both concerned, then we should listen to our guts. We are not impulsive people who make major decisions without looking at all the facts and options, and I think that was part of the problem for us both. I called and cancelled the appointment, and asked for Dr. S. to call me. She returned my call a few hours later and answered all of my questions to the best of her ability. Basically, mast cell cancer cannot be cured. It will come back in Kirby, so it's not an "if" but a "when" situation. What you are hoping to accomplish with chemo is to destroy or disrupt the mast cells that have gone rogue in his system. Unfortunately there are no good statistics to help with the decision. It's not like she can say if you give him chemo, he can live for another 2-3 years. Or if he doesn't get chemo he will die in 3 months.  If he was five instead of going on eleven, that would make the decision easier.

We have since talked to a couple of people that worked in clinics that treated dogs with cancer, and they both said most dogs handle the chemo better than a people do. But all I can think is, if he is one that gets really sick, how in the world do I get his toxic waste out of hardwood floors and tile grout? Would he have to be kept in a kennel? Can we even take him on any walks if his waste is hazardous to other animals?

Lots of questions and no easy answers. At the moment, we are doing nothing other than keeping him on the medications he has been on since surgery - Benadryl twice a day, a Pepcid AC cut in half twice a day, and an Apoquel once a day. The mast cells release too many histamines in the body, causing itching and a chance of damage to the stomach lining, so these drugs help to keep that in check. I am taking him tomorrow for his grooming, which we do every two months and he is due for that. And Jim's parents want to see Kirby while he is still feeling good, so the two of them are going to do a road trip soon. Then we'll have to make an executive decision on which was to go. It is hard because Kirby has no say in this whatsoever. What decision would he make???

Friday, September 23, 2016

Skin Cancer Strikes Again!

When I saw my dermatologist (Dr. S.) in late July for my normal (if anything about my skin can be considered normal) six month check-up, I mention that a spot on my upper right chest had not responded well to the cryosurgery he had been doing on it each time I came in. He said it was time for me to see the plastic surgeon again. I would say it was past time, actually. I rely on him to tell me when it is time to get things surgically removed, but in light of recent developments I can see that I will have to be more assertive. Dr. S. then proceeded to burn about 13 spots on my head, chest (including two above the spot I believed to be skin cancer), back, shoulders and arms, and I booked an appointment with the plastic surgeon (Dr. R.) Between his schedule and the trip we had planned to Seattle, I could not get the surgery done until September 16th.

When I arrived at Dr. R.'s office, I also asked him about a tiny spot on my shoulder that had also not responded to the liquid nitrogen. Typically, a benign area will crust over and peel following treatment, whereas skin cancer spots essentially stick their tongues out at the doctor and do nothing. Dr. R. agreed that the small spot looked like a basal cell to him. But he was also concerned about two other spots above the growth on my chest that he was going to remove. He referred to it as a multi focal cancer, meaning the additional two had popped out as a result of the first one. He did not use the word "metastasis", which was somewhat comforting. But this was certainly a first for me. He decided to take all three of the spots in one incision. Needless to say, that was a little more involved than I was expecting, and will result in a longer scar. After that procedure, removing the one on my shoulder was a piece of cake. That made me realize I need to get into the plastic surgeon much sooner than my dermatologist is referring me. Dr. R. also suggested that I might need to go see Dr. S. more often than every six months. Yippee...

There was some pain that afternoon and a little on Saturday, but nothing like when I had the two removed from my forehead earlier this year. In fact, I felt good enough to go and photograph migrating pelicans with my friend Sunday morning.

Unlike any incisions Dr. R. makes on my forehead, these two incisions were covered with bandages so I didn't need to worry about clothes rubbing on them or dirt blowing in them. I have to wait for the bandages to come off on their own, and am not supposed to be doing any exercise or movement that may stretch the incisions. The biopsy reports came back that the ones on my chest were basal cells, but the small one on my shoulder was just a mole. That surprised me, as I have many moles and none of them look like that one did. But I would rather err on the side of caution at this point.

Silver Games pickleball
In light of the exercise restrictions, it was a good thing that I scheduled my surgery for after the Silver Games in Washington, MO. I played in my first pickleball tournament on September 14th, playing ladies doubles with my friend Audrey and mixed doubles with my friend Leon. In both cases we only won one game out of three, but we had a lot of fun despite the disorganization of the tournament. We arrived at the sports center at 12:00, and games were supposed to begin at 12:30. In fact, they did not begin until 1:00, and Leon and I did not finish our last game until 10:00 that night. Frankly, by then we did not really care if we won or loss. But it was still pretty fun to hang out with many of my pickleball friends for the day.

me & Leon

Audrey & me

Monday, September 12, 2016

Flags of Valor

September 11, 2016 marked the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on America. Like many people, I can remember exactly what I was doing when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. I was eating breakfast and watching The Today Show, which was unusual for me. When they showed the footage of the plane, I thought that the pilot had made a grave error. As I watched live while the second plane hit the other tower, I knew we were under attack. Each year on 9/11 communities around the country honor the memories of those who died that day, and St. Louis is no exception.

veteran playing taps
At Art Hill in Forest Park a group called America's Heartland Remembers organized a display of over 7,000 flags, paying tribute to the military men and women who have died fighting the War on Terror since the 9/11/2001 attacks on America. The flags were placed in chronological order by date of death. Attached to each pole were a photo and dog tags of the soldier who died. The sight of all these flags, the eerie sound of the dog tags chiming in the breeze, and the veteran playing taps all brought into perspective how devastating this war has been.

Flags of Valor

flowers with flags
As I was photographing this flag with the yellow flowers at its base, a woman moved beside me and began to cry. That flag stood for her nephew, one of three flags that held photos of young men she knew personally. As they were grouped together, I imagine that they died in the same conflict. My tears joined hers as I grieved for all these young men and women who would never have the opportunity to live long, full lives. I gave her a hug, expressed my condolences, and prayed for the families of these fallen soldiers as well as those still fighting to keep America free. We are blessed in so many ways in this country, and it is because of people like these soldiers that we can continue to count our blessings each day. What a fitting way to honor them.

Switching subjects, I'll give a quick Kirby update. He had his second followup visit with Dr. M. last Thursday. The vet felt like the incisions were healing well, and he did not feel any new lumps in Kirby's abdomen, which is great news. Kirby also gained back an additional pound, so that was positive as well. Dr. M. asked if we had decided what to do about seeing an oncologist, and I told him that Kirby is scheduled to see Dr. S. on the 22nd of this month. I said we want to know what to expect with mast cell cancer, and also see if any additional treatment makes sense at this point.

Kirby & Jim
Other than that, Kirby is eating and sleeping well, and we are back to our three walks a day. We are hoping he is one of the good statistics!

Friday, September 9, 2016

Seeing Seattle

party house
We recently spent six days in Seattle. The main purpose of the trip was to attend the wedding of the son of some friends from college. The dad was in our wedding and Jim was in the dad's wedding, so we go back 42 years. Man, we must be old! We had also attended the wedding of their older son at the Air Force Academy chapel several years ago, and at that time the G's rented a house and ten of us stayed there. Some of us had never met before, but the whole group got along like we had known each other for years. So the G's rented a house in Seattle this time as well, with most of the original ten cast of characters making a repeat appearance. Located two blocks from Alki Beach, this house was unbelievable and a great place to be the base for the wedding. There was easy access to mass transit, and fun shops and restaurants were within walking distance.

The day of the wedding began on a rainy note (it was Seattle, after all), but once it cleared a group of us took the water taxi to downtown Seattle to check out the Public Market Center since the ceremony did not begin until 5:00. We, of course, had to make a contribution to the Gum Wall, noted as one of the top five germ-filled attractions in the world.

Seattle Day 1

rainbow over Seattle
The wedding was nice, and the reception was held at a restaurant on the beach with a great view of Seattle. A rainbow even appeared during the reception. If that isn't a positive sign for the bride and groom, I don't know what is. We had fun toasting the bride and groom, and dancing the night away. As the bride is from the northern Kentucky/Cincinnati area, I enjoyed meeting the family and guests from her side of the family.

view from the wedding reception
Saturday morning the bride's mom and dad had us all over for brunch (I think there were 80 guests!) at their circa 1911 home. I cornered the mom for a bit as she does genealogy, and their family name is also in Jim's family tree. Wouldn't it be something if they are related? Following the brunch some of us went to see the Chihuly Garden & Glass exhibit. Oh my! I have been a fan ever since the Missouri Botanical Garden showed his work many years ago. What a treat to see his beautiful pieces of art in the area of the country where he was born and raised. 

Chihuly Garden & Glass
On Sunday it was back on the water taxi to Seattle, this time to board a ferry to travel to Bainbridge Island. By the time we waited for the ferry to unload, then load up all the cars and people, and then travel to the island, it was time for a late lunch. Since it was a holiday weekend with beautiful weather and we wanted to dine outdoors, that pretty much blew all of our time on the island. We got to see a bit on the walk to and from the ferry to the town, but that was about it.

Bainbridge Island
As it was overcast on Monday, a visit to the Boeing Flight Museum seemed like good option. One of the couples had already taken off for the next part of their vacation, so eight of us went on this excursion. The museum is huge, multi-faceted and very interesting. The one young person in our group, who is a pilot in the air force, got Jim into one of the flight simulators. There was a lot of rolling going on, but Jim still managed to rack up six kills as the gunner in the plane. I was content to take pictures and video of them. It was particularly interesting to see the SAM (Special Air Missions) 970, the first Presidential jet plane. It was delivered in 1959 for President Eisenhower, and remained in service until 1996. I loved that there was a doggy door in place!

Boeing Flight Museum
Before meeting back up with the others for dinner, three of us went to see the Hiram M. Crittenden Locks (also called Ballard Locks by locals). Completed by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1917, the locks connect Lake Washington, Lake Union and Salmon Bay to the tidal waters of Puget Sound. It was fascinating to watch the water levels rise and fall to move the boats from one area to another. What a time-consuming process!

Hiram Crittenden Locks
As we were driving back to West Seattle, we noticed Olympic Sculpture Park along the way. Since Jim knows the firm that was on the design team for the park, we had to stop. I wish we would have known about it sooner as it was a wonderful place to walk, see nice views and enjoy the sculptures.

Olympic Sculpture Park
By Tuesday nearly all of us were on the way back to our respective homes. What a wonderful time we had rekindling friendships and seeing part of what Seattle has to offer.