More Steps

August 20-31, 2021

Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,

Now what? We came home and the reality of the next steps appeared. Appointments were made for images and blood and consultations. The second time through, there is less unknown, maybe less fear, but more resignation and dread. We do not want to focus on cancer, but it's hard to impossible to shift to anything else for long. We'll just take each step as it comes.grage

We do a neighborhood walk and pass by neighbor Tom's garage wall. He has it decorated with Bruce Springsteen song lyrics, words that probably have great meaning, but I'll admit I don't understand. Do you?

Marianne tries art hut time, not painting but catching up on lessons she missed while we were gone. Her hut offers consolation and space, but it seems the elephant squeezes into the small room nonetheless.

I get distracted with You Tube and a couple hours of Tesla "Artificial Intelligence" presentations. The material is beyond me after a minute or two. I listen for words or concepts I might recognize, but realize these guys (and it was all "guys") are in another world. Somehow, I came away with confidence that they will end up giving me a "full self driving" system that works and will keep us mobile into our later stage of age-impairment. Nice.robot

Elon Musk also introduced the company's idea for a general-purpose, humanoid, robot, his idea for technology to eliminate "dangerous, repetitive, or boring" labor. This I can NOT imagine happening in our remaining decade or two, but one should not completely discount really smart people (even if they explain way above us.)

KaiserFriday started with the first of the pending appointments at Kaiser Medical Center. This time it was for blood samples and CAT scans. Results showed up in hospital email before lunchtime. No red flags, at least none obvious enough for our amateur understanding. Maybe we need more Artificial (or Other) Intelligence.

About this time, we learned from Gabby that Mamal's dad had passed away. He had been frail and ailing for a very long time, so it could not be a surprise, but there were tears. We will squeeze in a consolation visit before next Thursday's visit to Kaiser.sun setting

Part of the melancholy of these days might be attributed to the California smoke season. Forest fires hundreds of miles away are making eyes sting, skies gray, daytime light yellow, and setting suns orange. At least we live in town, safe from actual flames.

And so ended a few more steps.

Saturday was a normal day, including the Starbucks stop for coffee and writing. On the way in, I saw Robert, a friend whom I occasionally catch at the coffee shop on his way to his plumber work. On this day off, he and some buddies were taking out their old cars for some exercise and showing off. His early-1960s Ford Galaxy 500 XL looked almost perfect. It's a different end of the car spectrum from our Tesla Model Y, but I still appreciate folks who care for vintage vehicles. I wonder if the Tesla will be drivable in another 55 years.

Ford badgeinterior

The rest of my morning outing was even more ordinary, with stops at the farmer's market, the cleaners, a grocery store, and a car accessories place. Successfully completing ordinary tasks is comforting, in its own way.

artistsI came home to see Marianne talking on Skype with friend Dale in Germany. They exchange news of grandkids, art, ailments, and, occasionally, politics. Video-chatting from far away may be one of the best uses of technology.

puzzleWith my chores over before 10:00 am, I reverted to the time-killing process of assembling another 1,000-piece puzzle. Once again, I think I have selected a challenge that may stump me. Either that, or just take lots of time, but that's OK.

In the afternoon, we visited friends. Marianne drove over to Tari's house and I walked to Vern's porch, my usual destination. Simple visits with friends are another part of ordinary life that seem more important in these days of pandemic and elephants.


flat roadThree days after we had driven back from Monte Sereno to Fresno, we returned. The drive was easy enough since the truck traffic on Sundays is pretty light. On long, straight, boring Highway 152, I practiced with "autopilot", letting Carla drive itself. ("herself?") It is great for these places, but I need more practice to trust it in more complex situations.

peacockBreakfast was planned to be at the Casa de Fruta restaurant, a traditional mid-way stop. Unfortunately, it seemed to be traditional for all the other hungry travelers too. In order to avoid a 45 minute wait, we opted for sandwiches at the wine and snack store and outdoor dining where a local peacock asked for a handout. We shared nothing because we've heard that once they get a single bite, they will get quite aggressive, not a hassle we wanted.

When we arrived at the Rahimi house, it was filled with family. They had been gathering since Friday morning to console each other on Manouchehr's passing. Having lost her decades-long partner, this was especially meaningful for Zohreh, but everyone appreciates family at times like this.

generations story fire pit

Having grandkids gathered added noise and smiles to the gathering. Appreciated.

girls boys mugs

girlsboysMonday started with breakfast treats for the six Rahimi grandkids. The four boys were driven to McDonald's while Marianne and I treated the girls to a regular restaurant meal, a waffle for Ava and a bunny pancake for Leyla. For all of us, it was a pleasant way to start a sober day.

Burial services are always hard and we all go through them in our own way. For me, I was granted the privilege of taking pictures. Staying busy kept my mind off thoughts of mortality. Marianne and I had known Manouchehr for the last 14 years of his life, a difficult time for him and Zohreh as he struggled to avoid the inevitable. Others in attendance had known him longer and earlier as an active father, brother, friend, and husband and it was good to hear stories of all that time.

After the services, we returned to a reception at the Rahimi house. The patio was set with memories of Manouchehr.

homage messages fowers

The reception was a combination of food, drink, talk, and just being with family. We all mentioned looking forward to future gatherings, but ones prompted by happier themes.

buffetbuffet 2in laws

gabbyBy the end of the day, our host had headed off to get some needed sleep in preparation for a return to work early on Tuesday. Our hostess was exhausted, but managed to stay calm and efficient through the final steps of getting the kids to bed and us parents sent back to our hotel.

Our own reflection on the day was complicated. Seeing a large, extended family come together to console one another was reassuring. Thinking about end stages is unsettling for anyone after their biblical allotment of three score and ten years on this earth. The kids give us hope.

cardsOn Tuesday we checked out of the Toll House and made it to the Rahimi house too late to wish Mamal a Happy Birthday. Gigi had helped with production of the hand-made birthday cards from the kids, particularly with Sam's paper airplane version. Next year we need to remember a card too! Then we hugged everyone and left for Fresno with the orchids Zohreh gave us from the collection. Thanks.


CasaThe drive back was uneventful, including a breakfast stop at Casa de Fruta. Tuesdays are definitely less crowded than Sundays! No need to share the meal with a peacock.trees

Closer to home, in the center of Highway 99, we passed the palm and pine trees that mark the midway point in California between Mexico and Oregon. Apparently this has been a landmark for almost 100 years, but few people know it exists. Look for it a couple of miles south of Avenue 12.

Watts_doorWednesday was resettling day. As I write this on Saturday, I'm not sure what all we did, but the cameras say we caught one more version of neighbor Tom's garage, in memory of Stones' drummer Charlie Watts.grind

There was also a picture of Kroeker Construction finally coming back to grind away more of our driveway. Now we can drive the Tesla in and out and not scrape the bottom of the battery pan. Should I add the cost of grinding to the investment in the car?

Thursday was Kaiser-busy. Marianne had two physical therapy sessions, one for each shoulder. Different problems and different therapists, but both apparently useful. The bigger deal was a two-part appointment for a bone scan to see if cancer had spread to Marianne's bones, a not-infrequent consequence of breast cancer. She got shot with a radioactive tracer in the morning and scanned in the afternoon. While that was going on, she received an email from Oncology confirming that last week's CAT scan had revealed no cancer spread to soft tissues and almost-immediate results of the bone scan were equally negative (= good!).

We celebrated with drinks and dinner on the rooftop of Quail State, a new spot in downtown Fresno that had been getting lots of buzz, to the degree downtown Fresno gets ANY news, buzzy or otherwise. The drinks were colorful and tasty and my scallops were delicious. The whole splurge was a bit pricey, and the skyline view was not like New York or San Francisco, but the celebration was fun.

bar drinks scallops

Friday ended the week with a ton of home chores: water the garden, wash the car, trim a tree or two, four loads of clothes washing, and a Peloton session for Marianne - I was too tired!games

We ended the day with Friday Zoom game night with Jen, Brian, and Geoff, again using the occasion to catch up on family and grandson status. Rich had finished his first week at Colorado State University with no remarkable news, a good sign I suppose.

shadowsThen it was the weekend and we continued our not-much-planned life here in The Central Valley. As we finished August, we retreated inside, chased by smoke and heat. Sunrise light was orange, spooky but it made interesting shadow patterns.Sonora

On Facebook, we got a picture from a friend in Sonora, illustrating how close fires can come to relatively big towns. This fire, called the Washington Fire, popped up and was quickly controlled, hardly even making the news.

Outside, the daily highs went above 105F again, hopefully for the last time this season. I retreat inside, killing time with electric-car YouTube and too much CNN . The news included record cases of COVID, Louisiana-record hurricane Ida, an end to the record-long war in Afghanistan, and a record civilian airlift of over 122,000 people from that war zone. Unfortunately, this last was punctuated by in-a-moment deaths of 13 American service men and women and more than 160 Afghans.

Meanwhile Marianne spent hours in the art hut for as long as the air conditioner and swamp cooler kept the place habitable. From her base, she kept up phone, Skype, Facetime, and Zoom conversations with friends and art colleagues. Sometimes I envy her connectedness.

puzzlepelotonFor mental exercise, I started, and eventually finished, a new 1,000-piece puzzle. (Actually, it was 998 pieces, since two were never found.)

Physical exercise was limited to the Peloton machine, including a Sunday half-hour ride along through Spanish coastal hills. The machine remains a good investment.

I am writing this on Tuesday morning, the last day of August, sensing that we are at another milestone. Tomorrow, we consult with Marianne's oncology surgeon to learn of the plan for cancer removal. The new elephant has been in the room for just over a month and getting rid of it will define our activities for awhile.

Stay tuned,

John and Marianne