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August 12-19Dear Diary (Mostly),
Written August 19+
This diary really is a "dear diary" edition, nothing remarkable beyond wanting a few reminders of the middle of the summer of 2018. Marianne and I use these pages for ordinary memories as well as bigger deals, such as this reminder of the forest fire smoke sunrises we currently "enjoy". After two or three weeks of this smudgy air, things are getting better, but the feeling is that another fire is just around the corner. Rain is still months away.
Normally, we like to take Marianne's Mom out for excursions from time to time, but with bad air we are limited to simple drives in the surrounding countryside. She can't see much, but our description of the drive brings back enough memories for her to "sightsee" along with us.
On this Sunday (12th), we headed east, through farmland, up the Kings River to Pine Flat dam. We had just flown over the same area, but I had never seen it up close and I had not realized how big the river is, even in summer. Downstream from here, essentially all the water is used up irrigating farms.
G's Creamery. Fun meal out for all of us.
Just a reminder that all this drinking and eating has its consequences. I had to increase my cardio exercise at the gym for the next five days! My fight against weight has taken a difficult turn lately, and exercise does not help much (I just eat more!), but it seems like the right thing to do.
Our big-but-normal excursion this diary was a two-stop trip over to the coast. In hot summers, this three-hour trip is always a nice break. This time, the temperature dropped from well over 100F to a pleasant 70-74F.
Stop #1 was at Rita and Pete's house in Santa Cruz to drop off one of Marianne's paintings. I am not sure Marianne makes more than about a dollar an hour on her work, and we will miss the angels who have hung in our living room for a few years, but it's nice to know they have gone to a good home. We celebrated with lunch at Aldo's Harbor Restaurant, a short walk below the angels new home.
After Santa Cruz, it was a short drive up Highway 17 to Los Gatos. Highway 17 is a notorious bottleneck for any coast traffic in the area, and it is one of my least-favorite roads in the whole world, so I was very happy that Marianne volunteered to be the driver. Thanks. (And the drive was uneventful.)
Up in Monte Sereno, we delivered our second picture, one of a cow-deer that Gabby had requested for her birthday.
Thursday was also the first day of the school year for Ava and Sam, so I am adding a cute picture taken by their proud mom. We arrived shortly after they came home from school, still as happy and excited as they looked in the before-school shot. It is nice that they both enjoy school and were excited about their new teachers.
After required post-school snacks, the kids wanted to swim and they talked "Opa" into joining them. We all enjoyed the killer whale swimming exercise, but I'll admit I ran out of steam before they did. Worked up an appetite, again.
Dinner was followed shortly by school-day bedtime, and the two kids were asleep minutes after hitting the pillow. Opa too.
I started Friday morning with Starbucks coffee-and-diary-organizing. My normal travel start.
Meanwhile, Gigi prepared palascinta (Hungarian crepes) for the school kids before they headed off for day two of 4th and 2nd grades. New, for this year, they had to arrange their rooms before school and they complied. Good job!
I am writing this on Monday and, by now, I have forgotten what we did from morning until after-school games. (That is a reminder to me that my memory needs the help routine pictures provide.) Gigi and I had brought over "Ice Cool", a cute game Brian, Jen, and Rich had taught us a couple of weeks ago.
After games, we headed out for an August-birthday celebration for Opa (1st), Gabby (2nd), Mamal (24th). Sam had decided we needed to go to The Cats, a long-established Los Gatos watering hole that apparently has become popular among his friends. Gigi, Gabby, the kids, and I used the restaurant shuttle to avoid driving on Highway 17. Sam liked having a whole bus row to himself.
Mamal and Zohreh, his mom, joined us at The Cats and we immediately began ordering too much food. That's what one does at birthday celebrations. We also had a couple of gift exchanges, that other birthday standard. My present was just being able to hang around with this bunch. Best ever.
Saturday was a big day. After a Starbucks breakfast start, we drove up to Stanford for a different type of birthday celebration. We arrived early enough to have some time to walk around a small part of the campus, mostly on the street of elegant old fraternity-sorority houses. I was struck with the sophistication and attention-to-detail of everything we saw, from buildings to landscape to signage to the rows of bicycles. The place oozes wealth and exclusivity.
But we were here for a celebration of ordinary people, sort of. It was the first anniversary of Project Baseline, the health study I joined last September. The Project performed two days of medical tests on me and sent me off with a "Study Watch" and sleep monitor that would track all sorts of day-to-day activity. About 2,000 test subjects have been enrolled in the testing and monitoring to date, from a planned goal of 10,000.
The basic idea is to gather massive amounts of data to investigate "the transition from the health state." In other words, what measurements might have been changing BEFORE a person got sick that could have been used to predict and, ideally, prevent illness. The first phase is a four-year program, but the intention is clearly to extend well beyond that.
Over the year, I have had several interactions with the PB staff and their organization of this Saturday gathering was just what I would expect from them: full of enthusiasm, cheerfulness, desire to help, and general excitement about being part of a noble effort. The study has four locations, two in North Carolina and one in Los Angeles, and our birthday party had video conference sessions with each location, showing that enthusiasm is universal among the study sites.
Presentations by three of the local Principle Investigators described the aspirations of the project and, at a general level, the first year's progress: thousands of tests, gallons of blood samples, and millions of watch-monitored hours. By the end of the four-year phase of the study, the expectation is that 6,700 terrabytes of information will be recorded.
It had taken almost six months to get my blood chemistry results, a very standard test panel. I have repeatedly asked for any results from the dozens of other tests, always acknowledging that, noting that this is a research project, not personal health testing. Clearly, some tests will never yield patient-useful results, but I am interested in whatever can be released.
"Dr. Sam" (everyone was California casual, of course) talked of the differences among participants in their desire for direct, personal, feedback. "What did MY tests show?" In his own family, his wife (a test subject) is not too interested, but he said he would want ALL information if he were allowed to be tested and monitored. (In his public presentation he told the story of his own son, who died at age 16 from a genetic disease, one of the situations where Project Baseline-type information may have been proactively useful. Inspiration for continued work.)
I cornered Dr. Kent more directly with my when-can-we-learn-results questions, both in terms of personal results and in terms of any reportable project results. He graciously answered, talking about the difference between research (slow and careful by nature) and medical intervention. He also acknowledged that the task of releasing information to subjects of a large scale research project was mostly unprecedented and they were learning as they were going. "It is hard." I noted that "It's hard" can only be used for a limited time for people to remain enthusiastic participants.
I'm not sure if anything changed in the minds of the Project Baseline folks, but I remain an enthusiastic participant and am willing to wait for more results. It is indeed a noble and ambitious effort.
Back with the grandkids, we needed another activity, so we headed to downtown Los Gatos to watch Christopher Robin. After missing the sold-out matinée, we settled in to the next showing, enjoying our comfy recliners. The Disney movie turned out to be more grownup than Sam and Ava may have appreciated, but they did laugh at the appropriate places and now, when Gigi reads them stories about Pooh Bear, they will have a different perspective perhaps.
After an at-home dinner (there were PLENTY of leftovers from The Cats) we tried a round or two of Ice Cool. Daddy came home from golf and brought even more food, so there was no excuse for going to bed hungry. Tired, for sure, but not hungry.
On Saturday, Marianne had coffee with friend Adrienne, I packed up, and the kids worked on yet another game round. This time, it was just the two of them, and Sam acted the little brother, as is his want. You know, a bit irritating? Nevertheless, they managed to play and resolve difficulties, without grown-up intervention. All part of growing up.
Sooner than we wanted, it was time to pack up and head back to Fresno. This time we went from 72F to 104F in the three-hour drive. Still, it was ok to be home again. Even in triple digits, it's home.
Home does bring chores and on Sunday that means dinner with Mamo and watering our gardens. That's how we close out our ordinary week, ordinary but just-fine-with-us and worth creating diary memories.
Nothing else planned, but who knows?
John and Marianne
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