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More Botanical Life

I featured these guys last year, but what the hell...

I don't mind washing the dishes so much if I can see the dogwood out the kitchen window:

My twice-transplanted grandparents' bluebells:

Others' Business

As is my wont, there is a point to this tale, but you have to stick it out to the end to get to it...

One of my best friends has a friend through work that I became acquainted with 5 - 6 years ago. I got along well with him, and he and his wife "friended" me on FB soon thereafter. I probably see them at social functions maybe once a year when I am up visiting.

THE FACTS: Over a year ago they bought a new house more in the center of the village where they were already living - a little bit more space, and bit more desirable location in a wealthy community that quite frankly they are not quite prosperous enough to aspire to (he's a paramedic/firefighter, she writes for the local chain of small-town newspapers). They didn't need to do this move at all, they just wanted to fulfill some sort of dream, I guess. They have a long history of being status-conscious.

A wealthy friend of the wife's lent them a bunch of money to jump on their new place as a sort of bridge loan, and they put their old one on the market.

Their old house is nothing special. I've been in it. It's in good shape, well preserved for a place over a century old, plain but respectable. Three bedrooms, 2 baths, 1,700 sq. ft., a detached one car garage on a narrow lot. You know how much they initially put it on the market for? $365,000!!!

When I looked up their listing and read that price I simultaneously shook my head, rolled my eyeballs and groaned. Believe me, I know the real estate market is relative and this wasn't Vancouver or San Francisco, but pricey community or no, that was way, WAY outside the bounds of possibility. If they thought they were going to get that then they were completely delusional.

I mean, seriously, I thought their real estate agent (probably some friend of theirs) must be a real ding-bat. Real estate agents vary a great deal in quality, I have found. This is what happens when the barriers to entry in a profession are set low - you get all these wannabe flaky guys and housewives who think they know what they're doing, that they can put in a couple hours work and can make some quick cash with a hefty commission. For every sharp, on-the-ball agent there are ten morons.

At the time I felt almost obligated to say something. I wanted to message the guy and be like, "dude, what the hell are you thinking? I know the market up there pretty well and there's no way you are going to get that - the place is just going to sit there and you'll have to lower the price at least twice just to get an offer." If he was a close friend I totally would have done that. But I knew, I KNEW, that if I said anything he and/or his wife would have been greatly offended. Who was I to tell them their business? And it was true: it wasn't my business and they didn't ask my input. So I said nothing to them (but told our mutual friend that they were nuts).

Fast forward now over a year. They've lowered the price at least three times, and now it's down to $288,000. That's like a 21% decrease! What an admission of defeat. The extra expense is really starting to take its toll on the family, so I hear. The guy has been working two jobs, instead of spending time with his two young daughters. Hell, the property taxes alone on the place are over $6,700/yr. That's money they just threw away.

But that's the thing about close friendships, I suppose. You can provide good friends with unpleasant truths and counsel that can actually aid them, even if it dashes their preposterous dreams and runs counter to their most fervent desires. I just can't do the validation game, where I tell people everything they want to do is awesome.

And here on LJ it's the same. Sometimes I read entries from people and I think, "that's crazy that they are even considering doing this." But I know if I make a contrary comment that there will be negative consequences. The self-righteous umbrage (DON'T JUDGE ME!!) Subsequent entries marked private. The dreaded "unfriending".

However, I can't help but take the opportunity to ask - if I happen to detect some craziness, do you really want me to hold my tongue and let you blunder through life, or do you trust that if I have something substantive to contribute that I don't mean it as mere criticism but offer it as a plausibly valuable solution? Sure, I'm just some guy an the internet, but on the other hand, I'm a problem-solver by profession, an intelligent, reasonably dispassionate person who never acts rashly and considers all the angles before coming to any decision. Isn't that the sort of fellow you would want advice from? ;-)

On my end, the problem is that after a while I tend to care, and that motivates my comments. If I didn't, I would just be like, "OMG, this person is such a train-wreck; I can't wait to see what kind of shit-storm they blithely sail into next!" To be honest, there were one or two people I friended for that very reason and with never a hint of caring, but they stopped updating their journals after only a month or so, probably out of shame.

Detritus That Defines Me

With the Wife out of town a peculiar assemblage of clutter is beginning to amass on the dining room table - this bachelor living is starting to get out of control! Better start wiping things...

Would make quite the serviceable still life painting, though.

(Note: this is from yesterday - I don't drink wine before noon!)

A Few Photos of Spring

Snapped these a week ago, but they are still sufficiently timely...

At long last, the heady fragrance of viburnum returns:

Weeds, trying to fool me.

Crab apple, giving its annual reminder of why I permit it to eke out its otherwise lackluster existence.

If only I could take the week off and just lounge about the patio, imbibing either beer or wine, as the whim takes me...

A Comparison of Famous Dead People

Similar to the announcement of David Bowie's demise, many of my Gen X friends are bemoaning Prince's death today.

It seems just a tad silly to me - all these allegedly closet superfans coming out of the woodwork, when I know damn well none of them have sat down and listened to a Prince album in over 25 years. It's far more likely that they are in reality lamenting their own lost youth, since we all remember his biggest hits when they came out in the 80's and made quite the splash on FM radio, before being overtaken by the next Top 40 offering. I myself was quite partial to the song "Raspberry Beret" which came out when I was in junior high and I remember singing it to myself while doing yard work during the summer of 1985, although to be honest the first couple times I heard it I thought it went "She ate a raspberry sorbet..."

Don't get me wrong - the guy undeniably had loads of talent, was incredibly prolific and like Bowie or Madonna assiduously cultivated his image and maintained control over his career. If he ever struggled with any demons like drugs or booze it was never apparent because he was discrete and never gave any fodder to the gossip pages, which in my book is admirable in and of itself.

Anyway, something that really struck me reading one of the obit articles today was that Prince supposedly only required three hours of sleep a night, and he used this to great productive advantage. Thinking of this I was reminded of the striking similarities between him and Napoleon.

Don’t laugh – it’s not crazy. Both possessed exceptional intelligence, and more importantly vision. Both were driven and ambitious, and didn’t play by the rules and chafed against the established order. Both were famously short (although there is some debate about Napoleon's true height), extremely energetic (Prince would often play concerts, and then after the concerts would then go to a club and play several hours MORE) and most tellingly both required very little sleep. Napoleon also only needed 3 -4 hours a night and essentially perfected the cat nap, and there are tales of him trying to force his generals to stay up all night while he discussed strategy, and they would inevitably fall asleep on him one by one, which didn’t anger him but only served to demonstrate his superiority.

Now I’m an engineer, and have no background in biology or genetics, but I can recognize a pattern when I see one. So, what do these two have in common in their metabolism, genetics or brain chemistry? (step two after identification: duplication). Although, I also can’t help but wonder what toll this eventually takes on the body; burning the candle at both ends typically means the candle burns out much faster...


Interactions & Ill-advised Excursions

The Wife has had [another] lingering infection, so one of her doctors decided to bring out the Big Gun: a Z-pak of azithromycin. But when I went to pick it up from the pharmacy, the head pharmacist came over to ask if she had ever taken this drug before. "Sure," I replied, impatient to be on my way and hoping to breeze through the customary disclaimers. "Well," the pharmacist said, "there is a chance - not common, mind you - but a chance that it will interact with the Trazadone she takes and cause heart issues, like arrhythmia. But, she's young and presumably has no heart problems, so she'll probably be fine."

But she DOES have heart problems and irregular heartbeats already. Gulp. Somehow, though, this has never come up before. And the prescribing doctor obviously didn't consider this. But I ask you, dear reader, what are the chances she will be in that small group of people to have a serious reactions? Yeah.

So, she elected to stagger the doses, taking the Trazadone before she went to bed (she uses it for insomnia) and not taking the antibiotic until this morning. That will be OK, right? Right?

Also, by coincidence I also learned yesterday from an article that "proton pump inhibitors" (PPI's), which are used to treat heartburn and acid reflux and are sold under the names Prilosec, Nexium and Prevacid, dramatically increase the chance of chronic kidney disease and kidney failure.

Researchers using data from the Department of Veterans Affairs looked at 170,000 users of PPI's and found that after five years there was a 28 percent increased risk of developing chronic kidney disease and a 96 percent increased risk of developing kidney failure, - compared to those taking alternative stomach acid-reducing drugs (as opposed to not taking ANYTHING).

Well, guess what, my wife has taken two of those three drugs on a long-term basis, because heartburn "runs in her family". I brought this up to her last night, to find out that she had learned about this a couple weeks ago. But will this news alter her "pill regimen"? No, of course not! I suppose I have never had heartburn problems so I don't know how much discomfort they cause but STILL, the decision to immediately cease taking Nexium would be a no-brainer for me.

After all this time pharmacology, instead of becoming more comprehensible to me has in fact become more convoluted, impenetrable and even magical. This reacts with this, this causes this which can be counteracted by that - it's a wonder any of these pills work at all, and I'm convinced no one totally knows what they are doing.

In other news, she is leaving on Wednesday to fly out to California for a week to visit her youngest brother and niece. To do this she put off the surgery she needs to create a graft that will allow her to begin dialysis treatments by TWO WEEKS. If I could put a stop to this lunacy I would. I hope my brother-in-law realizes that instead of going to Disneyworld with her he may be taking her to a hospital - for an extended day - instead. And I can't be responsible if anything bad happens out there.

I've heard it said that you don't know what real worry is until you've become a parent. Nah, that's not really true. Or maybe it is because I often I feel like a have a kid.

A Dose of Full Disclosure

  I shall be as concise as I can. Bear with me.

  So we had a car delivered to our house from out of state this week (lacking temporary plates, so it has to be driven around illegally until we obtain them). For an extra $16,000 it was specially converted to feature a deployable ramp to accommodate an electric wheelchair, which was delivered the same day (though without the charger, which they forgot to drop off) and that my wife now requires to traverse distances of more than 50 yards and because she can no longer stand for appreciable periods of time, mostly due to the fact that her oxygen levels drop into the low 80’s when she stands and moves about, causing fainting spells that have already resulted in a severe concussion.

  Increasingly feeble, her kidney disease is taking its toll (technically she has what is termed “end stage renal disease”, which is as bad as it sounds). Yes, I have never explicitly disclosed this in the contents of my journal. The quick rundown: her kidneys eventually failed in 2012, she got a transplant from a sibling, started rejecting it immediately and has had chronic episodes of rejection since.  Currently her kidney function is 18% (dialysis starts at 15% or less), with a creatinine level of 3.2.  At the age of 38 she has nephrotic syndrome, anemia - red blood counts as low as 7, extreme fatigue, osteo-arthritis, nausea, a suppressed immune system due to transplant meds that leave her extremely prone to serious infections (like pneumonia and c-diff, which were contracted last year), wild swings in blood pressure, elevated heart rate, acidosis due to potassium wasting, asthma, sudden water gain and all this is aggravating her heart condition.

  Oh, did I not mention before she has a heart condition, and was diagnosed at the age of 21 with Potts/Sick Sinus Syndrome and is on her second pacemaker? Yeah. And the heart disease negatively affects the kidney function and kidney disease negatively affects the heart? Yeah.

  She has been on disability now for almost two years. She can’t really do any housework or even lift a laundry basket due to the issues already mentioned and also because of the hole in her back and loss of an entire muscle from when she had cancer 12 years ago. Oh, did I not mention before that she is a cancer survivor, after two bouts of a malignant fibrous histeocytoma (a type of sarcoma) in her back? Yeah.

  So she has a family doctor, a nephrologist, a transplant coordinator, a nurse practitioner for pain meds, a cardiologist, an oncologist, a pulmonologist, a GI doctor, an OB and a counselor. She currently takes nine prescription meds. She has blood draws weekly and appointments almost daily. She has a med-port because her veins are shot (partly due to the radical chemo treatments she once had as well as the harmful dyes used in scans for contrast) and getting an IV started is impossible – unless an IV team with an ultrasound machine can be summoned, and even then the chances are about 33% that an IV will work.  She can’t have an MRI because of her pacemaker, so finding out what’s going on inside is often difficult.   She can’t take most pain meds either because they stress the kidney, screw up her liver enzymes or cause allergic reactions, so often she is in pain.  We now have oxygen tanks around the house, and a machine in the living room that concentrates the oxygen, and little tanks she can tote along with her when she leaves the house, to shore up her breathing.  So no more candles or use of the fireplace.

  She has various harmful side effects from the various meds – currently her hair is falling out, she has debilitating muscle and bone aches and cramps, insomnia, last year she had meningitis twice as a side effect of some immuno-globulin infusions used to combat rejection, became suicidal and vicious from inordinately large doses of prednisone (used to help manage the rejection), and a host of other uncomfortable, embarrassing and inconvenient side effects too tedious to enumerate at the moment. Suffice it to say, she’s a mess.

  Often suffering, typically uncomfortable, occasionally in agony, she lashes out at those around her. I’m the one around her the most – so I receive the brunt of it. It’s understandable from a distance.  Sure, anyone unhappy and ailing is not going to be on their best behavior.  But being exposed to borderline abuse day after day, for several consecutive years now, is taking its toll on me as well.  When I come home from work I never know what I am going to walk into. A third of the time she’s depressed or crying, and utterly miserable.  Another third of the time she rages, yelling at me over trifles or imagined shortcomings, or she complains vociferously about her relatives or friends – or maybe she’s just furious at the next-door neighbor or the mail carrier, or the nurse she just talked to on the phone – outbursts of anger that one would cringe to behold.  If I’m lucky she’s just sitting on the couch screwing around on Facebook and watching Dr. Phil on TV.  Despite the fact that the bulk of my life revolves around her care and support, my efforts are often deemed inadequate.  She resents that I can’t go with her to most of her doctor appointments, although I spent two weeks of vacation time last year in various hospitals with her.  The household is riven with stress.  She’s bitter – so, so bitter, and while that’s totally justified that doesn’t make it easier to witness.  As time goes on her friends and family have called, visited and assisted us less and less.  At this point they are basically “over it”, though they won’t come right out as say so.

  There are only 24 hours in a day, and only so much that can be done in that day. I keep my head down, soldier on and do what I am able. I work.  I take care of the yard and the house, I try to clean as much as I can.  I launder the clothes.  I do the shopping, pick up her pills and other medical supplies.  I make most of my own meals.  I struggle to keep up with the medical bills and expenses.  Every day I listen as sympathetically as I can to the same complaints that I have been hearing for years, over and over.  I rarely see my own family and friends.  I don’t make plans – there have been too many disappointments, cancellations and ruined outings.  No more concerts.  No more trips out of town.  I’m not perfect, but I try my best.  I take my commitment to my wife seriously, for I am a man of honor.

  Why haven’t I written about this before? Because this journal is my little space where I reserve the luxury to devote a bit of time to other, non-health related concerns that are important to me. It’s an arena I cultivate so that my intellect doesn’t totally become stultified. It’s a harmless escape that I deem important to my well-being and sense of self.  Besides, who wants to read about someone else’s ailments all the time?  Also, I’m not the type to stoop to eliciting sympathy from people online, going “Oh poor me!  Who will give me some virtual hugs??”  I’m not seeking demonstrations of pity.

  Why am I writing about this now? Because I have an inkling that this ongoing crisis is going to intensify once again this year, to perhaps unbearable levels. And that vitally important life-and-death decisions may need to be made, and this might be a possible venue to discuss and document the decision making process. And that continuing to not mention such goings-on is starting to feel like willful concealment at this point.  I will probably post updates from time to time and I may make observations concerning the “sickcare” industry, although it is not my intent for this ongoing health calamity to take center stage here.

  I will say that this is the primary reason I give short shrift to people online whining about their PTSD or fibramyalgia or whatever, and why I don’t friend such people if that seems to be their foremost fixation. I already spend a couple hours every single day listening to my wife talk about her medical problems. I don’t want to hear about them from other people.  I just don’t.  You think you have issues?  Well, my spouse is circling the drain a little bit more every day.  I already have a front seat to that.  In all probability I am going to outlive her by decades.  We will never have children.  At some point I will doubtless end up old, used up and alone, with broken finances, even though I have a good job and have worked my entire life.  So, I want to read blogs from interesting, vivacious, thoughtful people who may not be leading perfect lives, but appreciate what they have.  And one more thing, how about some fucking comments, here and there?

A Shout-Out

Never done this before, but I would like to tout a LJ community I recently stumbled onto that is actually incredibly useful.
It's called "whatwasthatbook".  Yesterday I posted an appeal for aid there concerning an out-of-print children's book I hadn't seen in literally over THIRTY-FIVE YEARS.  I supplied a few scant details about the setting, plot and what the illustrations were like, and in less than 24 hours someone supplied an accurate answer for the book's title and author!  I can't convey how palpably pleased I was by this - I thought I would never be able to have it identified.

So, any of you who need a bit of help recalling the title of a book you read in the distant past, I advise you to check that community out.

You Cannot Stand Alone

On the way home from work I saw a hawk enduring an aerial assault from the neighborhood gang of ravens. I was so enthralled by this desperate tableau that I pulled over on the side of the road to view it in safety.

From my office window I've seen this hawk going to town for weeks - hovering in a squirming trajectory just feet above the ground; unsurpassed skill resulting in broken-backed vermin. The chipmunks are cowering even more than usual, and the rabbit population is way down. It had seemingly achieved complete air superiority through its judicious use of innate maneuverability and strength.

But it doesn't matter how powerful you are.   Alone, you can still get pecked to pieces.

That’s why nature loves quantity – not everyone has to survive, just some. As humans, however, we have a bias towards quality. Being sentient and moreover aware of how singular we are, constantly referring to ourselves as distinct, unique, individuals and obsessed with our identities, we gravitate towards nurturing and learning endeavors that require intense thought, preparation, planning, training and expenditures of time and resources for a decent payoff years hence (think: child rearing or school).

But every once in a while, something happens to force us to get back together, shed our precious independence and reform the tribe. The recent Iowa flooding is an apt example. The meaning of community is renewed as people leave their homes (not that they had a choice – their homes being under water) and work together to pile sandbags and rescue stranded pets. We increase our safety and security through numbers to get through a tough situation. Or we don’t, and then instead of Iowa we get New Orleans post Katrina, with people shooting at helicopters and stripping historic properties of their vintage hardware and trim.

Perhaps in some counterintuitive way the social critical mass achieved in the modern world enables us to individually focus on quality, knowing that the mass of humanity elsewhere has relieved us of certain burdens. In such a way we are able to specialize within fields that in and of themselves are narrowly defined and sparsely pursued. So I am capable of designing the steel frame of a building, but I don’t know how to make the steel, fabricate the beams and columns or erect and weld them at the jobsite. But to go even further, I can barely grow tomatoes on my patio, so despite my various intellectual faculties and achievements, I can’t even directly provide food for myself! So the more we concentrate on quality, the more we are reliant on the aggregate of humanity as a whole. To me this is a scary prospect, indeed.

The logic of Nature is pitiless: One man cannot stand alone. But I guess I won’t be able to fully embrace it until biotechnology improves and I can start cloning myself.

Thoughts on Food Poisoning

Secular humanism and its companion philosophies assure us that we and the animals are tight – family, if you know what I mean. But the differences seem pretty glaring at times.

Item: there have been a rash of food poisonings lately – Salmonella on Florida tomatoes, tainted shellfish on cruise ships, E. Coli on spinach from California, bouts of norovirus here and there (and don't get me started on Chipotle)– we cook 90% of our food, and wash the rest – and process it – and STILL we get sick. But animals – none of their food is cooked. Ever. Sure, some of it is really fresh – raw is another word for it. I would imagine a wolf with a blood-spattered, steaming kill still has pathogens to resist, especially once the intestinal lining is breached by ravenous fangs. Then there are the slimy foodstuffs fished out of ponds and other bodies of water that you know are just teeming with multi- and unicellular microbes, and here the meal is simply marinated in it. (You ever put pond water under a microscope? It looks like a damn party where all the participants wriggling and thrashing about are figures from a Miró painting come to life.) And loads of other species consume “second-hand meals” – roadkill and other forms of carrion. And another thing: all that stuff is on the ground, for chrissakes. In the DIRT. Not on a plate on a table spritzed with sanitizing cleansers or a fresh linen tablecloth.

So why don’t you see, when you are ambling through a National Park, a black bear puking its guts out? Or a raccoon with the runs, crapping over hill and dale? Are we humans just wusses in comparison, lacking in conditioning and gastronomic fortitude?

And what about the whole allergy thing? Oh, I can’t eat peanuts, I can’t eat strawberries, I can’t eat wheat germ and baked goods with gluten in them. Are you f**king kidding me?! I’m lactose intolerant, so no cheese for me. I can’t drink red wine, it “comes up on me”.  Such frailty disgusts me.

I am continually amazed at the ubiquity and dominance of the human race on this planet. I almost feel like the ancient Greeks who in murky tales spoke of a past Golden Age, those “halcyon days of yore”, when men were men and performed heroic deeds, and peace and prosperity permeated a countryside bursting with abundance. Perhaps our forefathers were greater men, and we stand on the shoulders of giants. I bet that at least they could not only hold their liquor, but stomach their vegetables.