Sunday, November 11, 2018

Cuppa tea in the Hobbit Hole

You couldn't stand up, which makes sense. Hobbits are not as tall as we are.

Aunt Marcy led us to this magic place
We explored an honest-to-goodness hobbit hole this afternoon, dug out in the back yard of a fairy house somewhere in Edina. They're friends of Marcy's and we used the occasion to transfer Emily from Auntie to Grandpa today, while Mom did some errands. We had a hobbit once, only thing is, you couldn't get inside. This was a lot more fun.

Watch the first step. Entrance to the hole.

Friday, November 09, 2018


You'll have to forgive us. We can't help it. Please try to understand. Jennifer's clear scan on Monday brought out so many feelings of joy we looked for ways to express them, and why not? Joy to the World! The season of happiness came a little early for us, that's all. Just when we thought the season might be dark for us, the lights came on! So the tree came out and the decorations too. Hope all our new neighbors get it, we'll be happy to tell anyone the reason for rushing the season.
And Jennifer will host the family Christmas at her place this year!

Monday, November 05, 2018

Stunning news on Jennifer!

Three and one-half years ago our youngest (47) told us she had stage four metastatic breast cancer. The cancer had spread and she had a two to six year estimate of her mortality. We were devastated.

So began her fight.  International in scope, it involved the conventional chemotherapy regimens and mastectomy, but she was encouraged to try other things, and she did, including special diets, native lodges, Eastern treatments and so on. An exploratory trip to Mexico was started, then aborted. Since the beginning, her friend, Kate, gave her incredible support. Her boyfriend took over that role a year ago, and the rest of us did what we could.

This summer we had run out of solutions to try, the painful tumors were affecting arm movements, medications were exhausting her, and we resigned ourselves to accept whatever came next, always hoping for the best.

Then Jennifer learned of a cancer study looking for volunteers. A trial necessary before any FDA approval. Although she said no to some other studies in the past, this one sounded different, more in line with her values. Instead of just injections of a chemical that would hopefully kill the cancer, this compound is a one, two, punch. Yes, it contains chemotherapy but it also contains immunothererapy, which shows your own immune system that your cancer cells are something to get rid of. 

Having embraced the natural world most of her life it sounded appealing to Jennifer to teach her own body what to do, so she signed up.

With Jennifer wearing a shirt reading “Lab Rat” that she had printed at a T-shirt shop, she bravely began the trial on September 24, getting her first dose of the experimental cocktail. Nausea, exhaustion, fatigue, pain.

It was less than a month before we got the first positive news. The pain and swelling in her arm was subsiding. She could feel the bulges from the ping pong ball and large marble-size tumors shrinking. She didn’t need the arm wrap. The tumors were smaller, much smaller! We were ecstatic, but tried to remain cautiously optimistic.

Today we had a meeting with her oncologist and a representative from the study, and also a reading from a CT Scan. We expected even more positive news. But this?

Jennifer’s latest CT Scan results show NO detectable tumors. Gone. Vanished! 

There were tears of joy of course, and we thought about how all our lives would change. We texted, we smiled, we laughed for joy, we told the man waiting by the elevators what had happened, such great news bursting our reserved demeanor. It was all I could do to not make an announcement in the waiting room, but then remembering the many people there who may face different outcomes and problems, I zipped it.

But I want you to know how joyful we are! 

Has anyone seen our daughter's tumors? They're missing. They can't be found anywhere. She's had them for years. Whereabouts unknown.

We're so happy we get silly.

Jennifer will continue in the study, receiving regular infusions, all cost-free of course, she’s a test subject. Just because you can’t see the tumors on a CT scan doesn’t mean there isn’t something microscopic still in there. The infusions continue indefinitely. Right now she is the star of the show, the oncologist is stunned. They’ve never had this outcome before, at their office, Jennifer is the only patient taking this drug in this situation.

Jennifer is a true pioneer and our hero. It’s the same technology that miraculously cured Jimmy Carter of a different, unrelated cancer. This is a new adaptation and they’ll be surveying her for the rest of her life.

We’re thinking it will be a long one.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Original characters

Spent Sunday afternoon with Granddaughter Emily and the unique characters she has created on her iPad using some graphic software. When I first saw them, I assumed she'd copied and pasted them from some Japanese animation. Not true. Our 12-year-old showed me how she built them and colored them in from scratch, layering them, and using tools to enhance her creativity.  The characters all have names and personalities she has created. Stunning. And that's not just a proud grandparent speaking, although Grandma and Grandpa and everyone is very much so.
She has acrylic paints too and when she mentioned that she was low on red, you can be sure Grandpa rushed out today to Michael's to get some with her. She has been exposed to Photoshop but finds it a bit complex and challenging at her age. When she's ready. . .

Copyright 2018 Emily Ethen
Meet Titania, Infinity, Indiglo, Dementia, and four others in Emily's cast of
characters. They're gender neutral so far and are still developing personalities.
Some of them have borrowed Emily's clothes.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Crossing the Mississippi headwaters in 1955

From left, Solveig, Stephen, Stanley, Rebecca, Beverly, Virgil, Linda. At Itasca State Park, Dad took the photo. Haircuts by Mom.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Urban planning

We didn't get up North to see the leaf changes. I am sure they are gorgeous; there are woods around here too and we enjoy them. Today's walk provided a striking alternative to natural selection. Here's the pleasing result of urban planning on our nearby Rolling Hills Road. Very nice.

The three-legged pig

Friends munched on pork sandwiches and thought about getting pork chops at the bonfire Saturday night so I figured it was the perfect time to tell a joke that my daughter, Jennifer, had told me not long ago. I began retelling it, then realized I didn’t remember all of it. My friends were soon amused though, not by the joke, but by my struggles.

In an effort to recoup some dignity, I consulted my source, and offer this now, to complete the record.


A man walks into a bar with a three-legged pig.

“I’ll have a beer,” he says. “And one for my pig.”

“Well,” says the bartender, “You can have a beer but we don’t serve pigs here.”

“Oh, but this is a special pig. He saved my life. I was pinned under my tractor and he jumped into the seat, put it in reverse and backed it off of me. He saved my life, and he saved my family too. They were in a burning house, he found a hose then ran inside and got everyone out. If it wasn’t for him, they were goners. He saved all of their lives.”

“Well alright,” says the bartender. “I will serve your pig a beer. But first you have to tell me one thing,” he said, looking at the pig. “Why does he only have three legs?”

“Oh that,” says the man. “This is a very special pig. A pig like that you just don’t eat all at once.”

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Bonfire last night at Waconia winery

Nightfall brought on a glorious bonfire last night at the Schram Vineyards, winery and brewery.

From left, Stacy, Kitty, Kathleen, Stan
We added years to our lifespan last night with fits of laughter, but then we gave them all back to the bacchanalian delights at the annual Schram Vineyards and Brewery festival on the rolling hills near Waconia. It was a crisp fall night, one band (too loud for old folks) played inside near the wine bottles and the beer taps, another played outside near the wine bottles and the beer taps.

Food trucks offered portable pizza, pulled pork and more. So Stan tried to tell a funny story about the talented three-legged pig who got served in a bar. He forgot all the critical details, but got laughs anyway.
It was cold enough to keep your beer or wine properly chilled, so when they torched a massive bonfire, tended by a friendly stalwart from the Chanhassen fire department, it drew the crowd closer. (The fireman is the youngest son of Kitty, who, along with new husband Stacy, were our hosts for the night.)

Nearby, grapes hung unpicked in the hillside vineyard, moldy victims of the vagaries of Minnesota climate and testament to the difficulties of making wine locally.
Nevertheless, last night the winery introduced a vintage, appropriately named “Bonfire.” A Big Red American Blend, we bought a bottle and, while drinking it, read the label that promised it would start off good times and great traditions.
They were right.

Now that's service

When he was running out of gas in his two-toned blue and white Edsel station wagon, (seats 9 with 3 in the front, no safety belts) Dad would almost always pull into the APCO station on Broadway in Alexandria to fill ‘er up with Ethyl. Mr. Fahlberg would bounce out of the clean windowed station and cheerfully greet him by name through the driver window. You didn’t have to fill, of course, you could just ask for $5 worth, or ten gallons, or even an embarrassing $1 jolt just to get you home so somebody else could fill it later.

While the gasoline was running into the tank, Mr. Fahlberg was busy squirting light blue fluid on the windows and rubbing them down with worn-out red rags. He’d ask if you’d like the oil checked, and if you did, the hood came up and the dipstick came out, got wiped, re-inserted and checked. He’d bring it around to show you that, upon close examination, you were down a quart and then you’d have to remember what weight of oil you were currently using, and he’d go fetch a can and put it in for you.

He’d check your tire pressure too if you asked, pulling the gauge easily from his chest pocket.

You didn't need to go inside the station to pay; what was the point, there were just wiper blades, tires, oil cans, free maps, a desk and cash register. Everything had to do with servicing autos. Maybe a Ford penny candy dispenser with colorful gumballs.

At 10 below zero with the wind whipping, you just stayed in the car and spoke through a crack in the driver window.

Finished with the fill, Mr. Fahlberg would announce the cost (gas averaged 32 cents a gallon in 1960, sometimes a dime during a gas war) and make your change, running back to the station to get it, or dispensing it from the little change-maker strapped around his waist. Tipping just wasn’t done, restaurants only. We didn't know about credit cards; they would take a local check within limits. Transaction complete, he would thank us for our business and ask us to come again.

I mention all this now, because I realized today that most Americans have no idea what full service is like. And Making America Great Again would just have to include gas stations.