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July, 2003: 1 8 13 14 16 18 22 29

7/1/03-Tues.-I've stopped at Tres Amigos for a late lunch after my surgeries today (two for removal of cancerous tissue plus one for the reconstruction). As usual on such occasions, my pin-cushion nose is rather sore.

I asked my physician if there's anything more I can do to limit the lesion frequency. She said, in addition to normal precautions against further skin damage from solar radiation, I should augment the immune response as much as I reasonably can. She said the immune system ordinarily catches and destroys most cancers and, everything else being equal, individuals with the same vulnerability but a stronger immune response will go significantly longer without a recurrence. So, I'll definitely research and implement means to improve this first line of defense! Three nose surgeries in about a year and a half (two in just the last five months) is a bit much.

I was told the folks with the best immune systems may go years between basal cell lesions, but that those with the most compromised immune function, as with AIDS patients or those taking immunosuppressants (for instance to prevent rejection of organ transplants), can have basal cell cancers cropping up every week, just like pimples. The worst are aged white veterans of World War II, especially in the Pacific theatre, who for years had excess exposure to the sun and now also sometimes require weakening of their immune systems.

The birds and squirrels are typically present and active in the restaurant's rock garden and fountain area, where tortillas are also put out for the wildlife. In the evening, it is normal to see opossums and raccoons there too.

I guess I ought, since I'm on this side of town anyway, to go over to the mall for some walking. I'm certain adequate exercise is one bolster to a satisfactory immune response. On the other hand, the temperature outside is just shy of molten magma and, if given an extra hour or two, would likely do wonderful things for bacteria in my leftovers. Well, that's what microwaves are for. I'll just zap them quite well before eating.

7/8/03-Tues.-Had another doctor appt. this morning (for removal of the nose stitches) and once again breakfasted at Trudy's.

On the 4th, in the evening, there was a magnificent sunset here and, at the opposite horizon, a rainbow. Between them the bowl of sky held dramatic cumulus clouds.

Our old dog, disturbed by the fireworks and apparently also having a tummy ache, did not for several hours want to go out to do her business that night and also had no interest in most of her supper, even with egg added. So I took her off for a midnight walk to the Barnes and Noble shopping center. There she did take care of no. 1 and no. 2 and, on the delivery drive, around back, she helped me surprise a couple white-tailed deer. They snorted loudly and ran off a little distance, then stopped and looked back, seemingly reassured that we were not chasing after.

Over the weekend, Fran showed me a live female ox beetle she'd found out by our compost bins. This was an impressive specimen, about two inches long and quite thick. In the last year or two we had been finding the larval form of the species, a grub about three to four inches in length, and then also a two-inch pupa, but as yet did not know just what these immense insects would become. The adult female promptly burrowed down into the mulch pile, no doubt intending to lay eggs. We hope before long to spy a sample of the adult male.

While mowing the yard the other day, I watched a charcoal gray rat running along the back fence between a wood pile and a supply of chinaberries.

Meanwhile, large populations of doves, geckos, anoles, toads, and squirrels alternately dominate our yard, all undisturbed by our dim and now lethargic mutt.

In our larger pond we have as well a couple goldfish and scores of mosquito fish.

Fran's sister, Trudy, e-mailed last night that she is pregnant again, due to give birth to her third child in November. Frances and I, in different ways, have mixed feelings about taking the trip up to WI for a visit with she and her burgeoning family there.

After our personal finance and other traumatic fiascoes of last year (including Fran losing her car on an abortive trip that spring, to join her sister in MI for various camping, fun, and babysitting activities), we've both been terribly conservative even for us, opting, for instance, to save our money rather than even taking a holiday down on the Texas coast.

I have the impression too that Fran is leery generally now of lengthy excursions, the outcome of that last one having been so distressing. While it seems likely this antipathy will pass once she has a successful road trip, getting to that point now may require overcoming significant resistance.

She's not said so, but I suspect too that Fran feels her sister may be trying a bit to take advantage of her, seeking to commandeer her services as companion and babysitter by suggesting, even pressuring for, trips and visits more often than Fran would like to go just on her own. Trudy may be taking Frances' current retired status somewhat for granted with an attitude that, since Fran is now "free," there's no legitimate reason she cannot take off and go see and assist her (Trudy) whenever the latter prefers and/or needs her sibling's help.

Old folks and young children have in common that they will not long be with us, perhaps helping to explain their affinity. With kids this happenstance usually has a happier sequel, of course.

But, liking children, especially when they are younger, and realizing that there may not be that many opportunities for doing things with them or getting to know them later, and also feeling more, it seems, than Fran does the keenness of Trudy's desire that, as their children's godparents and their aunt and uncle, plus being the ones they'd go to if both Scott and Trudy should die while the kids are minors, she would like us to show a real interest in them, I am more inclined, in spite of misgivings over the potential hassles of the trip, to just go on soon to WI and spend a week or so right away, as Trudy wishes. We need not go then every year, but this time it feels appropriate as well as desirable.

Certainly after Trudy had, at no small inconvenience to her, brought her children down early last fall, so that we all had a great time together here, the expectation as she left was that we would reciprocate, arranging our own travel plans to include Trudy and Scott's place before too long.

Our financial circumstances are now, thanks to both our continued frugality and a big upsurge in the stock market, on a much better footing than even just a few months ago. So, there now is no genuine financial impediment to our traveling some.

For various reasons, including that I'd like, though, to begin looking for further part-time or temporary work, that the visit would be much less taxing before a very new baby joins Fran's sister's household, and that they start getting cold weather early in WI, I am interested in such a trip as soon as it can be arranged.

I'd far rather we simply make plans to go and then get on the road than wait till we both feel sure we wish to do so. Emotions are unreliable guides. Sometimes they can get in the way.

I'm actually quite surprised by the extent of my own pull to make this trip, though. I feel certain it is the right thing to do and that now, or at most within another month or two, is the time to go.

On the other hand, I don't want to be pressuring Fran either. Bother!

She and I went out tonight to Tien Jin restaurant to celebrate our nest egg having gone up $100,000 in the last four months. Whew! It will likely be a very long time before that occurs again!

Fran has spent quite a lot of time in the past few weeks researching just the right digital camera for herself. Today she purchased one online. It is the Pentax Optio 450. She is rather excited about the new toy!

7/13/03-Sun.-Chapter III of "Broken Branch, Fallen Leaf, Rippled Water," covering part of early 1978, has now been added. Have also begun getting Chapter IV ready to put online.

Fran and I discussed it further and have now decided to visit her sister, Trudy, and her family in September. The trip and time there should be a little cooler by then. There'll be a few hassles involved, but I'm glad of this outcome. Am intrigued too. This will be my first WI experience.

We are also now expecting to go to Yellowstone in June or September of next year. This was originally my mom's idea. In fact, she and Fran had decided to make that journey together before I knew anything about it! But I'll be happy to help plan it and tag along too, assuming I'm not working then and don't need to stay home to look after our ailing mutt. She's not welcome, either in the lodges around there or in the park itself and, in any case, is unlikely by then to be able to handle such excitement. Our trip with her to WI will probably be her last big adventure.

7/14/03-Mon.-We've had a series of unfortunate, upsetting minor developments lately. Our dentist replaced a tiny filling that he said had cracked at one edge, exposing the underlying small cavity in one of my teeth. What he did not say before his ministrations was that, to remove the barely pinhead-sized filling I'd originally had at the center of the crown of the tooth, he would drill deeply into the tooth from two sides, significantly damaging it, and that his replacement filling would not restore the original dental shape or height, so that the tooth is now rough, sharp, and a natural collecting point for food when I chew. In addition, my natural bite is ruined at that point, the tongue now frequently getting caught and pinched in the extra gap he created. It will never be the same. When I went back to him for remedial actions, the best he could do was score and polish the sharpest parts of the new filling on the sides of the much reduced residual tooth. This did not solve most of the problem he'd created.

At almost the same time, a contractor glued a permanent rubber or plastic mat onto the bottom of my bathtub, which he said would repair the fixture, strengthen it, cover a small crack, prevent leaking, and look essentially like the white, non-skid mats that one can buy for tubs to help prevent falls. What he did not tell us was that, even several days following the curing process, the surface of the new mat would easily collect dark smudges simply from contact with my body each time I took a bath, and that, with just conservative attempts to remove them, stains would develop on the new surface while some of the smudges would also remain. Indeed, the mat is significantly more unsightly with each new bathing and subsequent cleaning.

Fran usually knows fairly well what she's doing in challenging conditions and does not generally have problems fixing things if her experiments occasionally fail, which, of course, encourages more experimentation. So, when mild attempts at resolution were inadequate, more aggressive ones, such as nail enamel remover or bleach, were applied, which caused an obvious change to the surface of the tub itself in one area plus new deeper patches of staining to the mat.

As things stand, what began as a short hair-line crack that could likely have been dealt with for about $60 may now, including what's already been spent, cost us many hundreds of dollars plus the extra trauma of dealing more with contractors. I am as involved as Fran in this outcome, having given my go-ahead for the mat without knowing all the implications, and having turned over the matter of cleaning up the smudges to her rather than working on it alone and taking things one small delicate step at a time.

Both the tooth and tub situations have thus now been made much worse and, even if the specialists were willing to take responsibility for the damage that has been done (which, of course, they definitely are not), things apparently cannot be corrected to how they were before the professionals' efforts. To expensively replace the tooth and tub will not properly restore things, for with the changes and gains of the possible solutions inevitably will come additional costs and damages. Yet, it is also hard to adjust to the new circumstances now simply being "as good as it gets," in view of the substantial aesthetic and/or functional losses that have occurred.

Yesterday I discovered I have a nail in one car tire. This morning I'll take it in to be repaired. But, considering what has just happened in the two other incidents, I wonder if this is wise. Perhaps my car afterward will never be the same!

Later. The nail had extended through the side of the tire, which made it irreparable. So, I bought, and the auto mechanics installed, a new tire. It, at least, seems fine now.

7/16/03-Wed.-There was a silly mix-up this morning about my annual physical. Though I'd earlier asked for the original 6/23 appointment to be rescheduled for after 7/11, when my temporary work was to have ended, somehow it got entered into their computer as June 16 instead of July 16. So I was on time and ready for the exam this morning to no avail. Now I've a new appointment, my third attempt, for 8/7.

I rewarded myself, for fasting before my "appointment," getting up early, being all spruced up to see the doctor, and making the trip across town, with another mini-breakfast at Trudy's.

My jury duty, rescheduled as well, for 7/18, also will not occur as expected. I received an e-mail Monday that they now have all the potential jurors the local courts need for that date.

After eating I went over to the mall and walked off some of the extra calories.

Fran and I had high hopes for a large amount of rain from Claudette, the first hurricane to hit the TX coast in four years. The weather folks had predicted we'd receive one to three inches of precipitation. We did get some neat clouds, cooler temperatures, and gusty winds. But the rain here was barely enough to wet the ground. We'll need to resume yard watering quite soon.

At the doctor's office I saw Carolyn, one of my former state job colleagues. She was there with her young adopted daughter who surely is cute!

After we return from WI, I expect I'll look into possible new temporary and/or part-time work. Managing stocks and bonds seems to be adequate for paying the bills, at least for now, but provides insufficient varied activity or social interaction.

Have decided to use most of the extra time till my medical examination on a healthier diet and thus hopefully get my weight down two or three pounds while reducing my total and bad cholesterol levels.

7/18/03-Fri.-The discovery of yet another lesion on my nose, looking and feeling the same as the one that occasioned my latest surgery, and in virtually the exact place one was before that procedure, earlier this month (as if the pain, expense, and scarring of that operation were essentially useless, either because the surgeon botched the job, leaving the cancer in place, or there really never was any cancer but benign abnormalities [and so there was no need for the surgery], or because the cancer is so pervasive that, within two weeks or less of the surgery, it can grow back in the same location, even though it was properly removed the first times), has led to my feeling a great deal of anxiety.

I do not know what to do! I wonder if I should seek a different specialist, call the current one first thing Monday, or wait till I see her in the next scheduled checkup, on August 20. Certainly if it is a new cancer despite a lesion being properly removed in the same place as recently as July 1, then my efforts at combating the neoplasms, by boosting my immune response with minor changes in rest, meditation, or eating habits, will have limited success.

Seldom since becoming an adult have I felt things so out of my control. It is hard to believe that my medical care is all it should be when, in less than two years, I appear to have had four cancers, all on my nose, three of them within a cm of each other, and two within an eighth of an inch, despite extensive Moh's surgeries to remove each one, and though no other part of the body has had any such frequency of recurrences.

Indeed, the cancers on my face now have exceeded those on the whole rest of my form. I am asked to accept that, despite about ten years of basal cell cancer history, when I had not had any earlier nose lesions until the one found in December, 2001, suddenly, since then, I've had four in that small area, while on the entire rest of my body only one small one has appeared. I am also bothered that none of the lesions I'm told were cancerous on my nose (or this new one that looks just like the last one) have had an appearance like the basal cell cancers I occasionally have had on other parts of the body.

Am I just being paranoid? Or are all these doubts merely part of the grief process, as I'm coming to terms with such an unfortunate cancer incidence, mainly on one quite inconvenient feature of my face?

Meanwhile, we went over to the University of Texas campus with Pepper this morning for a good walk. She was quite thrilled by some close encounters of the squirrel kind and excited as well after being dunked in a couple fountain ponds to cool her off.

Through the latest copy of a magazine for musicians in the Music Library, Fran checked out the orchestra openings for her instrument and found four, including one in Sarasota, FL, one in Ann Arbor, MI, and one in Richmond, VA, that at first looked promising. However, as the facts became known, all of these proved not worthwhile. For instance, the position in Ann Arbor pays only about $3000 a year! Very frustrating and disappointing, particularly for Frances.

We are busy working on the newest issue of our family newsletter.

Fran also is quite preoccupied with a new toy. Her digital camera has arrived, and she is quite pleased with it so far.

7/22/03-Tues.-It does not take long when as upset as I've been recently to realize I need to chill out! Fortunately, besides Frances, I have an inspiring and insightful lady friend to help with this, EMERA. She's an acronym and easy to remember. E is for plentiful daily exercise. M stands for quality meditation. The second E represents healthy eating and related. R means lots of rest. Finally, A is for productive activity. I'm finding that if I'm out of balance or overly stressed I can usually get back to centeredness and relative calm if I make sure I'm following EMERA's wisdom.

Over the weekend we completed and put online the latest edition of our family and investment newsletter. Next month will be our 50th such issue!

On a completely different subject, when we were considering whether or not to retire early, Fran and I asked ourselves if this would be worthwhile, even if we could not really change anything about our lifestyle for quite awhile except that we were no longer working. In other words, would it be sufficient simply that we would not have the daily grind, even though we would need to stay in our present residence and otherwise maintain a rather frugal approach to expenses. We both, after thinking it over, were emphatic that to leave the full-time workforce sooner rather than later was enough in itself to warrant giving up jobs that paid us an adequate living but which we each considered to be at that point rather onerous to the spirit.

In the event, however, we are restless, at times having trouble keeping within the bounds of a realistic budget, on the one hand, and wishing for more meaningful enterprise or adventure, on the other. We chafed before about the stifling nature of our employment. Now we still feel hemmed in, our spirits not yet sufficiently free, in daily contemplation of our routine existences, as yet living in a not so good neighborhood, and making do in a climate that is so much less comfortable - in more than one way - than we'd prefer.

I think I've inadvertently done us a disservice, then, in suggesting, as an alternative to our present circumstances, that Fran look for an orchestra position elsewhere, knowing it is a type of work she'd love so much she'd actually rather be doing it than staying retired. On the face of it, what could be more reasonable?

Indeed, she has been excited about this possibility, particularly just after our latest visit to the University of Texas campus and checking at the Music Library on upcoming auditions for openings in her instrument. Unusually, there were over half a dozen this time. Four initially looked like good prospects. Two of these were especially interesting for her, one in Ann Arbor, MI, and one in Sarasota, FL. She feels she has a decent chance at winning either of their auditions.

But now the bleak irony of the situation sets in. We can afford to be retired here and now, in our present circumstances, with a reasonably undemanding cost of living and a mortgage that is at a fairly low rate, and on a balance of just $55,000. Even under these conditions, it has been touch and go whether we could get by without significant new employment, once the stock market collapse had taken the wind out of our financial sails.

To afford a higher lifestyle, our household would need a more normal level of employment. Unless I am to give up retirement for work I would likely not appreciate - or be compensated - nearly as much as she her musician duties, for us to live in a more expensive area, Fran's net orchestra income alone would have to offset our extra expenses.

The only other alternative is for us to each year take more out of our nest egg than we are building it up, a short-term solution reminiscent of what our present government is attempting to do in Washington, but with equally dismal long-term implications.

So, in spite of our mutual thrill at the prospect of moving on to greener pastures soon, particularly so for Fran, either her new income would need to be reasonably high or the new area's costs as low as or under those we enjoy now, for a move to be practical.

But in Ann Arbor, the more attractive of the two best current alternatives, the position pays even less than the increase in our annual property taxes would be, not to mention the state's income tax (no income taxes in TX), our moving expenses, the added costs for transportation (due to the snowy winters and their wear on vehicles), and likely added housing and utilities costs.

In Florida, the pay is better, at $16,000 annually, but Sarasota is a small city on the coast catering to vacationers, with significantly higher costs for year-round residents and holiday-goers alike. Nor is it a place we'd particularly enjoy. We both see it as too sunny, too warm, too populated, and too touristy. Yet Fran is so keen to be doing her life's dream of full-time orchestra work that we are both thinking of ways it could be feasible.

In fact, we might be able to make the FL option work. We could sell our Austin house, pack most all our stuff up, put it in storage for the duration, and then rent a cheap house - or even a motel room with kitchen privileges on a long-term contract - and live like college students again. Or we might instead live apart for awhile, with my annuity and our nest egg retirement distributions covering the expenses here in Austin while her orchestra income would take care of hers in FL. We could commute periodically to see one another and catch up on our relationship.

Perhaps some combination of these two would be feasible. For instance, if she won the audition in Sarasota, between music gigs she might return here to assist with getting our place ready to put on the market, our stuff organized and packed up, and the Austin house eventually sold. Meanwhile, she could be looking for a fixer-upper or some other really inexpensive living arrangement for us there. Once we were both established in FL, we'd need to adjust our budget to accommodate its higher cost of living, but this could be feasible. Then she might also begin looking for other orchestra openings, that paid better and/or were in areas we would both enjoy more. We could have an understanding that, if she did not get a better job before then, she'd resign from the Sarasota orchestra anyway and we would move to a place we liked better, once our net assets reached $1,000,000, not counting our retirement annuity.

I'd envisioned a higher paying music position when I'd thought Fran's looking for a performing job elsewhere a good idea. But I'm willing to consider other alternatives, just not for the very long-term.

7/29/03-Tues.-Have been out of town the last several days, visiting my mom and, with her, my brother, Allen, and his Ecuadorian wife, Nina. She seems a nice young woman, but, like any of us, with a few peculiarities.

I admire her bravery and sense of adventure, going to a country with a very different culture and where the dominant language is one she hardly speaks at all. Even she and Allen as yet have significant language difficulties.

But she's begun showing her own spirit with him. For instance, while we were out at a restaurant, Allen, Mom, and I were going back for seconds while Nina, who'd loaded up her tray the first time (eating for two), had been left back in our booth. She hid Allen's sunglasses in her purse and then did not mention it when he started looking for them as we were leaving, going back and asking all the waitpersons who might have bussed the table if they had seen them. As Mom and I were waiting for him with her in the foyer, she showed the prescription glasses to us with a little smile, as though this were a good joke on him. She was clearly not going to tell him, just waiting to see how big a fool he'd make of himself looking for them, so I went and let him know. Later I overheard them talking quietly, and she admitted this had been to get back at him for something he had done earlier, when she said he'd been "a bad boy."

She is due to have their first child in about six weeks. Hope all goes well. Nina expressed concern to Mom that her doctor does not speak Spanish. To me that would be a significant factor too. It would be best if she didn't need to just hope the doctor understands, or to depend on others, such as Allen, still not really fluent in her tongue, to translate her needs and concerns for her. There must be Spanish speaking obstetricians in Fort Worth, but perhaps they are not on Allen's health care plan (?). He just seemed unconcerned, though, so I'd bet he has not checked into it for her. Hmm.

During our visit we discovered an interesting coincidence. My paternal grandfather, Papa Joseph, before he died had given a large charitable donation of several hundred thousand dollars for foreign mission work to the Nazarene Church. Now it turns out that Nina has many friends and family participating in the Nazarene Church's mission work in Ecuador and that she herself has been somewhat involved with them. She showed us pictures of the mission building with which she had been closely associated, where she has several friends, and where a sister works.

It is truly a small world, and there may be an indirect connection between Papa Joseph's earlier contributions and Allen and Nina, both in their ways devoted to God, meeting and marrying. She wants to join a local Nazarene Church, saying she thinks it will be like the churches she knows in Ecuador and that people coming up either as visitors or immigrants from her birth country are likely to want to go there as well.

On Sunday, another brother, Horace, his wife, Leila, and their youngest three kids came over for lunch. Afterward, the two boys, Charley and Keith, went with Mother and me to the new movie, "Seabiscuit." Keith was a little too young to get much out of it and was rather squirmy much of the time, but the rest of us found it quite entertaining. It is not a great movie but was a stirring commercial film version of the dramatic American story.

Read All the Shah's Men, by Stephen Kinzer, a controversial book about the U.S. policy origins of much of the Islamic, Arab, and Middle East unrest with which we are still very much contending today.

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