The Weeks Before Xmas

Nov 29 - Dec 20ish, 2021

Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,

'Twas the weeks before Christmas and a record is needed, I suppose. We needed the last diary finishing Thanksgiving weekend with our traditional visit to Skookums Christmas Trees. That should get us into the spirit, more or less.

swede puzzleAt home, we restarted normal life. Marianne restarted taking her cancer-chemo pills on Monday (29th), confident that we had figured out the reason for her painful medicine reaction a couple of weeks ago. Neighbor Geri loaned me a pair of puzzles and I finished the first in just a couple of days. It's what I do when worrying.

towery truckSpeaking of worrying and neighbors, Nancy and Gene's moving truck arrived to empty their house after 47 years in the neighborhood. Cambridge Avenue Christmas tradition always had a Christmas Eve cocktail party in their wonderful old house and we will all miss that ... and them. They are (almost) homeless this year as plans to buy a replacement home near their kids in the Bay Area fell victim to the absurd real estate market up there. Kids, move over for awhile.couchers

By midweek, chemo was going well and we drove down to Monte Sereno to see our kids and so that Marianne could visit her favorite hairdresser on Thursday. The pill regime promised to leave her hair thinned, perhaps, but intact.

am lightHowever, as the evening progressed, the chemo pain came back with a vengeance. Walking around did not help. Antacid pills did not help. Sleep in fits and starts did not help. By early morning light, we had decided to abandon the new pill, get the haircut, and return home for doctor consultation ASAP. So we did.

bugWithout more pills, the pain gradually went away and we settled into a chemo vacation, waiting for a new plan and appreciating feeling fine in the meantime. Even the weather cooperated, with a warm afternoon that made a patio dinner possible. A spiky bug joined us, but ran away before biting. Now, if we could just get cancer to run away.Codenames

By Friday evening, we could join Jen, Brian, and Geoff for chit-chat and our traditional weekly Codeneames session. It's not the same as holiday visits, but it is the best we can manage in times of Covid.

Monday's "highlight" was a consultation with the oncologist. The 45-minute video-conference was no fun. Dr. Box outlined the options and none were certain or pleasant. The pill-induced pain was novel and eliminated that choice. The next "standard chemo protocol" had potential heart damage side effects, ruling it out, more or less. Unfortunately, that left only non-standard approaches and the experienced oncologist recommended getting more guidance from the Northern California Kaiser panel set up for tricky situations. So, we will wait another week or two for the panel's recommendation.

The rest of the week was a bit of a blur. (I am writing this the following week and that's too long to remember much!) We had Tuesday Zoom cocktails with Adrienne and Rita(?). I had a Zoom meeting with my "Aptera Ambassadors" where we learned the status of the three-wheeled car. "Mine" may be ready in a year or two.

puzzleOn Thursday, Marianne prepared a dinner for friends Annie, Debbie, and Jeanne ... and me. We all huddled around the breakfast table, since the main dining table was occupied with an unfinished wine-themed puzzle. The stew was good and the conversation warm. We are lucky to be in such a neighborhood

Saturday the 11th was busy. Marianne went over to her sister's house to help prepare an office dinner party. This was a heavy lift for Katinka and big sister needed to help. Overall, it was a good piece of family cooperation, good at Christmastime.

studentWhile Marianne was helping family, I went on a Tesla adventure of sorts. The local Tesla Owners Club was sponsoring a Toys for Tots gathering about an hour south of Fresno at the Kettleman City Supercharger. This would allow me to test Carla's ability to drive autonomously, or almost so. However, the day started foggy and, after ten or twelve miles, I was not comfortable with the technology. Mostly, this confirmed my sense that the car needs more training, as does the student driver.

signDown at Kettleman City, I joined a dozen or so Tesla club members and a few U.S. Marines. Giving away toys for kids at Christmas is a Corps tradition and I found it was an activity that puts everyone in a great holiday mood.


107 mph

plaidOne of the club members had arrived in his new Tesla Model S, "Plaid" version. This is reportedly the fastest production car currently made. I jumped at his offer of a ride. He drove over to a straight country road he had scouted and prepared his three passengers for a "launch". In drag-strip mode, he punched the accelerator and we reached 107mph in about 3 seconds. Literally. This made Carla, our Model Y-Performance, the quickest car I have ever driven, look grandmotherly.

On the drive home, I gave Tesla "Full Self Driving - Beta" another go. Highway 41 seemed like an easy place to test, since it was a simple, string-straight, one-lane-each-direction, highway. The automatic controls managed keeping me in the lane OK, but there were phantom braking episodes about every two minutes. I gave up again. I think I will wait for a new version of the software.

giftBack home, the spirit of Christmas arrived at the door with a gift from neighbor Ellen. Her little grandsons delivered a lap blanket for those not-so-cold Fresno winters.cutie

Later, pre-Christmas gathering formed at the far end of Cambridge Avenue. It was a fun gathering, especially with the addition of a few new neighbors and lots of little kids. Cambridge Avenue needs kids, so this was a good sign.

Ethan former kids Craig Jim
girls leave.


From there, it was settling into our own Christmas spirit and our warm and festive living room. The holiday season has not always been my favorite time of the year, but things are good so far.


Monday's (13th) start was difficult. Marianne's heart was running at twice speed, for no reason at all. Two extra pills did not help. Resting did not help. Wishing it would go away did not help. By late afternoon, we made our familiar trip to the Kaiser Emergency Department. After verifying there was no heart attack, they administered a new drug that slowed things down. By 8pm, we were home, tired.

mountainsTuesday was much better. Winter rains arrived and perked up the back yard. We settled into our regular tasks: Marianne doing arty things and me killing time with puzzles. She was busy with Christmas cards and neighbor gifts. Good seasonal routine. I put together the parts to a painting of the Rockies, a Christmas gift from our Colorado family a few seasons ago. The routine and peace found us mumbling: "What happened yesterday?"

rain orange use

puzzleMid-week, the rains continued, great for our yard and local farmers but cause for more delay in the tree trimming we had planned in back. That's OK, the tree that is cracking our patio is growing slowly. On Thursday, neighbor Geri came by for a visit, bringing me another wooden jigsaw puzzle. Speaking of puzzles, we still had no word yet on further cancer treatment, our other elephant-in-the-room.

On Friday, the rains stopped and California Tree Service showed up to remove the giant elm and trim the dying cedar that threatens to drop wood on our heads. All this activity was a good distraction and I joined in by trimming our citrus orchard. By the end of the afternoon, our back space was transformed. I expect we will miss the elm's summer shade, but for now it's a nice, open look.

orchard tied
big highfall cedar piece
bare house

Late in the day, we were exchanging emails with Dr. Box, the oncologist. Of the four or five potential chemo options, one has been eliminated by Marianne's reaction before and after Thanksgiving. The doctor's consulting committee agreed that two other standard treatments pose too much risk for heart pacing interference. A decision needs to be made concerning the remaining two, but we need more definitive information concerning the relative effectiveness of each. More time to spend worrying.

The weekend passed with little distracting activity. We wore ourselves out with winter cleaning of the front and back yards. There is now a pile of trimmings in the street, waiting for the city to come by and take everything away. We probably should add garage junk to the pile, so the semi-annual cleanup service helps us even more, but I just procrastinate and say "next time".

rainChristmas preparation week was pretty quiet, a combination of Covid and rain. The dread disease has chased us away from other people so we attended no gatherings. It's sad, really, that almost two years of social activity have been redefined in a most-unsocial way, and "the holiday season" may be the most disturbed. Shopping is safer on-line, rather than in among festive buying folks. Meals out in crowds ... are out. We have no plans or preparation for holiday travel, a far cry from the old days when December could be our busiest flying month. At least it's raining, a good thing locally.

On Tuesday (21st) we did go out for a few required chores. First, was a trip to DMV for Marianne's "Real ID" application. The place was efficient, friendly, and almost empty. Remarkable! After the agency visit, we delivered a couple little Christmas gifts to friends. We found friend Ren down at her office at Clay Hand studios, and enjoyed her company as usual. She is always good for a story or two and, surrounded by art-in-progress, I get distracted taking pictures. (We also bought a bird-house from one of Ren's students, a Christmas gift for our yard I guess.)

Ren sign examine chick

With that, I will close this pre-Christmas diary. The actual holiday deserves an entry all of its own, no matter how small the celebration is.

Stay Tuned,

John and Marianne