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11/1/05-Tues.-Up before 7 this morning and drove over to one of the library facilities by about 9. Spent the morning putting books on shelves or sorting them. Interesting conversations with other volunteers.

One anecdote that stood out was told by a woman with a neurologist relative who was invited to one of the inauguration balls in the early 1980s, for the then new president, Ronald Reagan. The neurologist had a brief conversation with our President Elect and afterward turned to his wife and said "You know, he has Alzheimer's."

Evidently, even though they were then still subtle, the clues of his eventually full-blown disease were already apparent. One wonders who was running the country while Reagan's Alzheimer's Disease became more entrenched and unmistakable so that, by the time, in his second term, he testified in the Iran-Contra investigation that he simply could not recall any of the details of what had transpired in that affair, he was reasonably credible in his denials.

Despite the Iran-Contra scandal and Reagan's growing infirmity, he was one of our most popular chief executives.

I cannot help wondering if an astute neurologist, in speaking with me or several of my relations (for instance my sister-in-law, Mary, who already, at age 54, leaves the water faucet running all night), might be able to detect incipient Alzheimer's. Rather spooky to consider that such a fate can be written in our "stars" (or conversational words) many years before it would become noticeable to most others around us, or even to ourselves.

Thanks to the combination of a few bite-size pieces of Halloween chocolate, left over from last night's trick-or-treat activities, plus a can of Coke at the library, I had an unusually strong caffeine buzz early this afternoon. Nonetheless, I was able to get an hour of napping in before heading north early this evening, for my meeting with three ladies from a book discussion group, and our going to see the current Le Carre movie.

11/5/05-Sat.-This morning, at my library facility, one of the volunteers was putting together boxes of throw-away books (with marks or damage, so they could not be sold) for folks at one of the city's welfare apartment buildings, limited to people who are disabled and otherwise have very low income. Apparently in the past the site was only for older individuals. It was also then patrolled by the police. However, lately people much younger have been allowed in, and, with budget cut-backs, the police no longer go by routinely. It is now a crime-ridden facility with drug addicted, youthful, violent, or mentally dysfunctional residents preying on the old and infirm. There have reportedly been several recent beatings and robberies. A lady was assaulted by a knife-wielding adolescent, allegedly because her assailant was pissed that she had not given her a ride! A musician was robbed and also beaten so badly he was in a coma for over a month. He is now wheelchair-bound. Another tenant was dragged out of her apartment and robbed. The current situation clearly invites a further victimization of some of the city's least fortunate.

Fran and I left soon after I got back from book sorting and shelving, heading for Waco and another visit with my mom. We'll be busy later in the month with putting out an online newsletter early and then going to FL for an extended Thanksgiving visit with Fran's mom. This current trip, then, is in lieu of a holiday get-together with my own mother.

Late this afternoon, we drove with Mom over to the "Y" where she showed off its expensive new wing and other improvements. The grand opening was this morning.

11/7/05-Mon.-Our visiting over, Frances and I drove back to Austin this morning. The weekend went relatively well, though we left Mom dealing with a new crises at home: a leak of some type that has left a wet place in the carpet. Because of its location, we were unable to determine if the seepage were due to something serious, such as a cracked pipe within the foundation, or comparatively mild, like an overflow from the refrigerator freezer's defrosting cycle, or any of about three other causes. (Mom's first thought was that Puff had anointed it, but that was not right.) A plumber is coming this morning, after Mom gets through teaching her water aerobics class.

She also this weekend was on the phone at length a couple times discussing stressful situations with which my brother, Pete, and sister, Alice, are currently dealing. Pete and Ernie, in their construction business, have gotten themselves overextended, having given a bid, to which the customer agreed, far too low for the complex, extensive project they then took on up in NH. Labor and weather problems compounded the difficulties for them so that what they had expected to take less than a month has now required three. Despite several attempts to fix the deficiencies, there have been repeated leaks, and the customer is naturally unwilling to approve the job as satisfactorily completed.

It has been Ernie and Pete's largest project to date, and they are talking of just walking away from it, unfinished. Depending on what the contractee had already paid them and how much trouble and expense would be required to get some other company to properly wrap up what Ernie and Pete started, the folks left in the lurch may well be pissed and willing to sue, or at least try to hurt their reputations.

Less than a year ago, Ernie was talking about how he and Pete had grown the company by leaps and bounds, suggesting he could sell it for over a million dollars, perhaps giving Pete, his junior partner, a quarter of the buy-out price. But in recent weeks they have been talking with Mom and business associates about emergency, unsecured loans to help bail them out of an untenable cash flow dilemma.

Ernie's having severely injured his right foot (still requiring a bulky cast) a month or two ago certainly has not helped them deal with the present "quagmire" in NH.

Alice's brain tumor, as mentioned earlier, is not as critical as it had sounded at first. Nonetheless she has gained over forty pounds (roughly a one-third weight increase) in a short time as a result of hormonal changes from this lesion on her pituitary. What is more, the doctors indicate there will never for the rest of her life be a complete resolution of the imbalances. At best, she'll eventually be able to take oral supplements for a likely ongoing deficiency of some endocrine functions and over-activity of others. This limbo circumstance is terribly nerve-wracking for Sis.

Meanwhile, at least at first she will require supplements and dyes being put into her veins and brain, carefully monitored, in attempts to better stabilize and evaluate the condition. On such occasions, over the course of a full day in the hospital, she'll need to have blood frequently drawn and tested. Poor Alice literally has a horror of all such procedures, and she has learned she cannot have either general or local anesthesia, lest the delicate chemical changes which the doctors would be attempting might be affected by such pain killers. Alice has even more of a tendency than I to dwell on the negative and embellish in her imagination each seemingly terrifying aspect of an ordeal.

She has long talked of her progress in meditation and of how she can take trips out of her body, explore past lives, have clairvoyant intuitions, etc. Yet, in this predicament, she says meditation will not help. She expects she would be too distracted by pain and fear, equating the treatments with torture. Though less intimidated by necessary medical activities, I'm afraid that, facing the same challenges, I too would find little inner help available to me.

My understanding is that Alice will require these hospital procedures and analyses every 6-8 weeks for about a year, but Mom says she thinks this month's will be the only one. Hope she is right. Mother believes if, indeed, Sis needs it done several more times, she would rather just be dead. In Alice's case, this is not hyperbole. I suppose it is as well that she never had children. The pain of labor and giving birth, plus the attendant traumas of inoculations, obstetric examinations, blood tests, etc., might have already killed her.

Despite how insensitive that sounds, I am trying to be a good older brother, talking with her by phone (or privately in person at the bash for Ron) in as friendly a way as I can, sending her warmhearted e-mails, and promising to meditate and project loving thoughts and energies her way during this month's hospital session, in case she wishes a psychic "hand" to hold.

I did much the same thing on occasion for my brother, Ralph, while he was dealing with a much more horrendous assault, an aggressive brain cancer that did in fact kill him in about a year. I do not know if this kind of brotherly loving gesture does any good, but it was meaningful for us both at the time.

It is no fault of Alice's that her pain threshold and courage are less than average. On the one hand, she may have had a predisposition for extreme reactions to stressful circumstances. On the other, life with our father affected different ones of us in various ways. Alice was particularly wounded by her upbringing.

Later. We have just received an e-mail from Mom. The leak turned out to be merely from a cracked water filter in her refrigerator and was easily repaired today. Once the carpet has dried, all will be normal. The wet area is only about two feet square and did not have a chance to get mildew or mold. Mom has it up from the floor and in a breeze from a strong fan.

11/15/05-Tues.-Frances and I have been busy over the past week or so with doing volunteer work, preparing our latest monthly online newsletter (published yesterday), and getting ready for a trip, to begin shortly, to FL, for a visit over the extended Thanksgiving period with Fran's mom.

On Saturday, there were about nine volunteers at the library facility whom I'd not seen before, most of them young people and apparently from the university, eight women and one guy. He looked like the actor who plays Clark Kent and Superman in "Smallville." In his proximity, the lasses looked to be in an especially eager mood as they dumped, stamped, inspected, and sorted boxes and even whole pallets of donated books. The young fellow seemed to particularly enjoy demonstrating strength and competence as he carried the heavy boxes or hauled over the new pallets for the ladies. Even more than the extra volunteer numbers would explain, the books waiting to be processed disappeared faster than I've observed before. If this arrangement was specifically planned by our coordinator, it was brilliantly effective. I was kept quite occupied shelving the speedily rising mountains of newly sorted books. Time thus went by quickly.

We did the clothes cleaning chore this morning, for the first time in close to a month, getting up just after 6 AM to haul the bags and boxes of dirty attire and bedding over to our local Laundromat. This was one of the final steps prior to our trip departure. Later, back at the house, we got the things, all smelling fresh from Downy Fabric Softener, divided, folded, and so on, and put them away.

When we arrived, we had the coin-op establishment to ourselves. I'd hoped to buy a couple donuts for us at the nearby Albertson's, but it's policies and hours have changed. It did not open till later, and had only expensive, day-old pre-boxed pastries for sale when it did. Too bad. Glad we do not have stock in that company. I was their first customer of the day as well, and it did not appear as I was leaving that any others were chomping at the bit to shop there. The checkout was all self-serve. I wound up buying greeting cards, but the machine for several minutes did not recognize their bar codes. Sigh. At least Starbucks was doing a brisk business, and I joined the queue for its too pricey coffee. (Albertson's had no brewed java juice either. What a useless, loser store!)

After seemingly weeks of unseasonably warm, dry weather, Austin at last, in the past twenty-four hours or so, has had a cool front that brings a chance of both rain and freezing temperatures. In fact, though we've this month had a number of nights with lows still in the 70s (F), the prediction for tomorrow night is for a drop into the 20s, just in time for our departure. Along with the other last-minute preparations before we head off to the east coast, we'll likely need to bring in our plants and wrap the faucets. But maybe summer is finally about to end for the year!

I did my "psychic link meditation" to support Sis yesterday. As mentioned earlier, she was having a medical ordeal to further evaluate and begin treating her brain tumor. Due to the delicacy of the procedures, she could have no anesthesia or even any muscle relaxant. Not surprisingly, I felt no clear inner connection between us during the five hours of her harrowing hospital experience while I, about 1800 miles away, sat meditating in an attempt to give her a safe place of mental retreat and to convey positive energies and thoughts in her direction. However, she had said in advance that simply knowing I was going to be meditating then, trying to thereby make a difference for her, was already meaningful and made her feel better about what she would have to endure.

She had added that she did not expect to be feeling communicative afterward and so not to expect to hear from her or to try to get in touch, while she would be recovering and waiting to find out from the doctors the results of the testing. Sure enough, I've not yet heard from her, and I'll respect her wish that I not call for awhile.

Against my better judgment, I had actually thought she and I might manage to get on the same meditation wavelength, so to speak, and to feel a contact in that way, but, if it were possible at all, the circumstances this time would seem to have been less than ideal.

My nephew, William, fifteen years old, was taken by his parents, Ernie and Caroline, to a Teen Challenge boys' ranch this past week, where he was enrolled, if that's what one calls being dropped off for a year or more of incarceration and brainwashing.

I'm sure the Teen Challenge folks often do a lot of good helping young folks who have a bent toward Protestantism and have gotten too into drugs or alcohol. But William had done a great deal of independent reading and thinking. He considered himself an atheist and had told his parents he intended to follow his own intellectual path rather than pursuing the evangelical version of Christianity with which they are comfortable. In fact, this had been one of the sources of family friction that had led to the crisis. Ernie and Caroline feel they will have failed if William is not also an actively Bible-pushing, repressing of all doubts kind of right wing true believer like them.

He has had recent problems with abusing over-the-counter drugs. He has also, with his parents' encouragement, been on medication for awhile, for mood disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He may, then, have been predisposed to seek drug solutions to his problems.

Caroline and Ernie drink too much booze, but they are not checking themselves into a locked facility for a year or more ("as long as it takes"). Nor are they willing to consider that anyone but William has a problem, though their intolerance and rigidity seem at least as marked as any of William's possible drug dependence. I am stunned that they would make this radical a choice before having exhausted options such as family therapy (which they never tried at all) or even grounding the kid for a month or two.

There's nothing I can do or say that would be positively received, so I'll keep my mouth shut, but this out-of-the-blue decision to haul William's ass off to another state and pay big bucks to keep him banished there till he "reforms," strikes me as way too simplistic (and even "scapegoating") an approach to their complicated and challenging family dynamics to have a happy outcome.

William is said to have used the one phone call he was allowed so far from his new digs to plead with his folks to put him into the military or a traditional reform school rather than leave him at this place, where he is required to tow the line with religious studies and prayer several times a day, and in other ways to prove that he is conforming in thought and deed with their superstitious (from his point of view) beliefs and philosophy. Ernie and Caroline refused his request and said he is there "for the duration."

He is, for at least the next few months, allowed no direct contact with people outside the facility, except occasionally by phone with Ernie and Caroline. Any future direct contact with others must be approved by Ernie and Caroline. (Hint: Non-Christians need not apply.)

William had been doing OK in school, certainly better than his sister at the same age (and nobody threw her into a Christian reform school!), but, in addition, on his own he has been familiarizing himself with Shakespeare, Whitman, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Dostoevsky, etc., authors with which his parents are still (at twice or three times his age) barely if at all knowledgeable.

In his current confinement, William is not permitted to even read or write, two favorite hobbies, till he has "earned the right" through his strict adherence to the sanctimonious regimen there and has had his efforts screened and approved by his new local authorities/jailers.

Were he not their son, what Ernie and Caroline have done would be considered kidnapping. As it is, he has few rights and will essentially be a prisoner for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, where is Ernie going to get the $1500-1600 a month the Teen Challenge ranch costs, considering that only a week or so earlier he was having to borrow on an emergency basis to keep his business going? Still, maybe this will work out better than I anticipate. Hope so.

I went tonight to one of my book group meetings, and I'll go to the second tomorrow. These get-togethers continue to be quite interesting, socially rewarding, and yielding of lots of new additions to the reading list.

Although there will be journal entries over the balance of the month, I'll be on the road or otherwise away from home most of that time, so there will be none showing up online till after our return.

11/17/05-Thurs.-Up at 6:30, we got underway, on our driving trip to FL, by about an hour later. We took our first break at LaGrange, around 9 AM. The weather was sunny, the temperature in the forties (F). We think we took care of everything back at the house, but there is some doubt whether a space heater was shut off or a toilet got a final flush. Oh well, guess we'll find out later. A little past Smithville, a magnificent white-tailed buck successfully ran across Hwy. 71, just ahead of our travel path. A little while afterward, we saw a large hawk flying toward us from quite close.

Reading The Christmas Night Murder, by Lee Harris.

We were at first frustrated in attempts to reserve a motel room for tonight. Apparently all the places along I-10, in the Hurricanes Rita and Katrina affected areas, are occupied by evacuees or repair and construction crews. But later I was able to get us a place in Pensacola, FL. However, to get there we must drive about 700 miles today. This is one reason we packed yesterday and got a fairly early start this morning.

We stopped for lunch in Sulphur, LA, then left about 1:45. I accidentally dropped a single French-fry with ketchup on it down my shirt and pants. It couldn't have made more of a mess if the red stuff had been blood.

Typically, we have, already on this trip, had plenty of disagreements, each feeling he or she is being reasonable and the other not. Most of today's controversy was over the temperature in the vehicle and how to manage it. With the outside mercury in the 40s to 50s (F), Fran was insisting on some of the car windows being open enough that I was constantly in a strong cool draft. I did not agree that the decision should be unilateral. She had a coat on but refused to take it off, repeating emphatically that it made no difference. Eventually, with a wool shirt on over my regular shirt and wearing a hat in the car too but still chilled, I suggested it might be best if I took the bus, from the next city we came to, back to Austin. The windows were raised then with an extra show of unwanted heat: "Well, all right. I'll close the FUCKING windows!" The vast majority of other cars and trucks on the road had their windows closed. She said it was because they were using their AC. Hmm.

As we've driven through SE TX and across LA, the evidence of hurricane damage is all around, in wrecked buildings, destroyed signs, fallen or broken trees, and debris on or near the highway. We were slowed to a crawl in one stretch where the road crews had closed the right lane but were working exclusively in the median area next to the open lane. Go figure. It appeared that mud, water, and floating debris had at one point been across all four lanes for quite a distance there. In another section, there were some of the largest pot holes I have ever seen on an open road, large enough to easily swallow a sedan tire. I managed to just miss them. But what about folks driving there at night?

Fortunately, Frances and I were each in a much better mood later. Still, sometimes marriage reminds me of the play "No Exit," and it seems impossible that people like us would ever reach a truly accepting stage of love together. I heard that Neil Armstrong got a divorce after well over thirty years of marriage. If a long-term union is destined to end that way, what a lot of mutual pain. One wonders at times if the commitment to being together through thick and thin does not do a disservice to both. Of course, I'm just discouraged right now. We have many good times together too.

In LA, which seemed to take forever to cross, we saw a large flock of cattle egrets flying over and many others roosting together in trees.

As we crossed MS, an orange and nearly full moon near the horizon was gorgeous, indeed awesome.

It took us only about an hour to drive across the narrow part of Alabama that extends down to the Gulf of Mexico.

Finally, around 9 PM, we reached our motel and checked in, settled into the so welcome room, looked after our pooch's needs, walked over to Denny's, and then enjoyed an evening of truly great supper.

Retired for the night about midnight.

11/18/05-Fri.-Up at 6:30, we left Pensacola before 8:30 this morning. Thanks to all our driving yesterday, to reach the reserved motel room, we now have only about 300-400 miles left to go today, and so hopefully should reach Fran's mom's place by around 5:00 PM (local time), assuming no serious problems.

I was reminded again early today of how much the Gulf area's displaced evacuees have been depending on motels when I saw a cute little Black girl, wearing a big backpack, leave her room, a few down from ours, and walk off by herself along the sidewalk, apparently on her way to school from this temporary housing. Since heretofore most motel tenants would not have there long enough for the kids to be enrolled, this seemed indicative of the new situation for thousands of families. The tentative nature of their circumstances, though, was highlighted by recent news that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will soon by cutting off the funding for the hotel or motel accommodations of many who had lost their homes due to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Yet it is not as though folks are staying in motels to take advantage of the government. I'm sure most would love to leave if they had homes to which they could return. I wonder where they'll go if the funding faucet dries up.

While crossing one of the picturesque bay bridges out of Pensacola today, that had been severely damaged in an earlier hurricane season and now was repaired (though we still had only steel grating to drive on in one stretch), we saw a nearby brown pelican.

This is Puff's first visit to my birth state, FL. After we've returned to Austin, Fran will probably create a web page of the terrible terrier's time here, just as she did for the pooch's best CO pictures after our vacation there.

On Fran's suggestion, we stopped today in Crestview, FL, for a Cracker Barrel restaurant breakfast. It was wonderful. Fran had met a cousin and her family at one a few years ago and they'd had a good experience too. The service, atmosphere, and food were good, and the price was quite reasonable. I had oatmeal with bananas, brown sugar, milk, pecans, raisins, butter, and a delicious, whopping blueberry muffin, all for $2.99 (+tax and tip).

A little further down the road, we saw a beaver den in a pond near the highway.

We left Tallahassee at 1:30 (Eastern Time).

We arrived at our destination, and began the visit with Fran's mom, about 4:45.

11/19/05-Sat.-Last night, I had bizarre dreams, one vividly sexual, but two others nightmarish, including scenes in which human bodies are being ripped apart in great globs of bloodied flesh and I'm doing some of the tearing asunder. It may have had something to do with room temperature problems I was having, though I don't see how. I felt alternately too warm and too cool.

We left this morning for the Silver River State Park at a little after 8 AM. As we arrived, we saw a couple white-tailed deer. We took plenty of pictures through the morning, were eaten by several ticks and mosquitoes, and enjoyed a museum on the diversity of nature. For me, the most impressive of these experiences were the crystal clear, spring-fed stream, along with its fish and birds. Fran and her mom, Linda, were also quite intrigued with a variety of smaller life forms: mushrooms, a tree frog, spiders, and walking sticks.

After lunch, Linda took Fran and me as well as her older neighbors, Bonnie and Charlotte, to an entertaining and energetic musical review put on by the Ocala community college. Several of the performers were rather amateurish, but a few (one singer, another singer/dancer, and a drummer) seemed to have real promise. All three were women. We did not notice any artistic strengths among the males.

Following the performance, Linda, Charlotte, Bonnie, Fran, and I all went to Golden Corral for a sumptuous supper. Linda's friends are a riot of fun and good humor, and we all had a great time together with much laughter.

Tonight I took the dog for a walk after her supper, had my shower, played a few online chess moves, and watched some worthwhile classic movies, for instance "The Lady Eve," while Fran and Linda processed, on their laptops, the day's take in new digital pictures. Linda was very tired, though, and turned in early. Puff went to bed with her, in another room, and showed absolutely no interest in changing to be with us when we were ready to retire for the night too. So we just let her stay.

11/20/05-Sun.-Last night, I had more intriguing dreaming. In one, it is strongly recommended that I invest in Fidelity's Total Return Fund, which I doubt really exists.

A little after 8, we started a drive over to Payne's Prairie State Preserve. There we saw more deer, ducks, great blue herons, sandhill cranes, American egrets, anoles, alligators, and (quite close) an adult water moccasin, which obliged by staying coiled and frequently threatening us with its open cottonmouth, so that we were able to get (hopefully) some good pictures.

Around 11:30, we arrived at the Kanapaha Botanical Garden, all 62 acres of it, and, besides the wonderful plants, saw a little blue heron, an anhinga, a frog, a turtle, a young water moccasin, several other snakes, a woodpecker, and multiple smaller beasts. The mosquitoes here were large, numerous, and painful when they would bite. And Frances' new digital camera was on the blink, not focusing properly some of the time. Nonetheless, Fran and Linda preferred to stay for several hours.

After two and a half times around the botanical garden's paths, and not being into biology or close-up photography the way Frances and Linda are, I took a break and rested back at the car.

This park suffered significant damage during 2004 or later hurricanes, but is on the mend. A nice feature of the place for us was that dogs (on leashes) are allowed. There are even large bowls of water dispersed for them through the garden. Puff liked to drink from and then climb into these, immersing herself.

Ever since I required deep surgery on my nose for cancer the third time in 18 months, I've taken extra precautions: using anti-inflammatory medications; drinking green tea; ingesting lots of citrus (especially the inside of the peel); staying out of the most direct sun's rays, but applying sun screen, wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat, and using an umbrella (rain or shine) if I need to be out between about 9 AM and 5 PM; etc. There may be some "overkill" involved here, but the measures HAVE helped. I've had no further skin cancer lesions in several years now (knock on wood).

Yet these steps give me a fairly ridiculous appearance. Today, as usual, many people gave me very odd looks as I went this way and that under a bright sky with my face masked in lotion beneath an old, tattered straw chapeau, and sporting the umbrella too!

One young lady, clearly thinking me crackers, was nonetheless polite when confronting this strange apparition going in a way opposite hers and thanked me for the elemental courtesy of shifting my umbrella out of her way as we met, though, from the manner of her saying it, she thought I belonged in an asylum, for going about in that fashion. I wish I could have explained, but few if any want to admit to any question, much less stay for its answer.

11/21/05-Mon.-The pooch and I are staying home at Linda's today, while she and Frances, who don't mind long drives, heavy rain, lots of traffic, and many hours on their feet, are going to Tampa for a visit to the aquarium there. They plan to make a stop at a boardwalk park on the way back too. I've been to this aquarium with them before and enjoyed the outing, but not enough to trade its repetition for a more relaxed day back in Ocala.

So, I've been staying busy taking Puff on walks, working on stock purchase cost-basis records, checking out the car (adding oil to the engine and air to each of the tires), doing delayed maintenance on my electric razor, meditating, and preparing a subsequent Phil's Place entry.

Analysis of our nest egg totals shows we've picked up another $15,000 or so since the trip east began. At this rate, we could end the year with a profit after all.

Have begun an intriguing new (to me) novel: The Final Solution, by Michael Chabon.

Fran and her mom arrived back earlier than expected, before 5 PM, reporting they'd had a great time and lots of fun. They elected, however, to do some pruning and gardening activities in the yard before it would get dark. But Linda's knee, already impaired, gave out, and when she fell she apparently twisted and re-injured a wrist she had broken a few years ago. She and Fran rushed around to get ready and drive over to the local emergency room.

As an erstwhile Army medical corpsman, I have training in first aid, but Linda declined help with quickly improvising a splint and sling, then hurt her wrist again before getting into the car. Sometimes being in control is more important than anything else. Of course, as a control freak myself, I can relate!

11/22/05-Tues.-This morning, Linda arranged for an appointment with her doctor for the afternoon. It had not been properly explained how Fran needed to get her mom's emergency room x-rays and other records to the PM appointment today, which caused some confusion and lateness. In addition, there was a frustrating period at the bank when its staff was quite inefficient in dealing with records adding Fran's name to her mom's account, in case she might eventually be called on to use it as the administrator of Linda's estate.

All in all, what with the delays and the complexities of the situation once the evaluation had begun, most of the afternoon was occupied with medical bureaucracy. Ultimately, it seemed best that Linda have surgery for her broken wrist. This was scheduled for early on Friday, 11/25.

One of Linda's many friends, Sharon, stopped by this morning, and we had a nice visit.

11/23/05-Wed.-Last night was our coldest one of the visit, with a touch of frost on the grass by morning, and Linda had also raised the thermostat for her ancient heating system, the screeching fan motor for which is just outside our guest room window, with the overall result that our rest was quite frequently and startlingly interrupted through the night by fresh mechanical Banshee screams. I got little sleep. I expect I'll set up a pallet for myself on the front room sofa tonight if, otherwise, the arrangements are the same. Fran somehow manages to sleep fairly well through most disturbances as bad as or worse than these, or if not, to rise refreshed as if she had.

We got underway this morning at 9:00, Linda determined to take full advantage of the remaining time before her surgery. Our pooch, bitterly and noisily disappointed, was left in her crate. With Frances driving her mom's car, at the older lady's suggestion, we joined the I-75 queue for Gainesville and other points north, arriving by mid-morning.

We went first to the University of Florida at Gainesville's Museum of Natural History. It was superb. Fran and Linda spent most of their time in the Butterfly Rainforest, while I liked the paleontology exhibits best.

Later, Frances and I also spent a few minutes in the Harn Museum of Art and promised ourselves we'll see more of it, and stay a lot longer, at the next opportunity. The art museum too was excellent.

11/24/05-Thurs.-Thanksgiving Day. Our poor pooch is left in her crate again. Linda, Frances, and I are celebrating the holiday with a trip to Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park. We got underway by 8:10.

Am reading Absolute Friends, by John Le Carré.

My mother-in-law, as mentioned here earlier, is quite an independent sort. For instance, though she's having surgery on her left wrist tomorrow morning and also has just torn something in her right knee, she's insisting she won't need any help after we are scheduled to leave, about 8 AM this coming Monday, three days post-op.

Then, at Homosassa Springs today, she got separated from Frances and I and, after an hour of our each searching through every path of the small park twice, we could not find her. Nor had she given any hint of an intention to go off by herself. There is an overflow parking area with its own visitor's center, about a mile or two away, accessible by trails, tram, or a small boat ferry. Assuming she's not had a medical crisis or been kidnapped, we figure she must be there. Fran has driven over to hopefully find her while I wait back at the main entrance, in case she shows up here.

Later. Sure enough, Fran found Linda at the distant park visitor's center. Typically, Linda had been the only passenger in a boat ride over to it. She enjoyed extra stories the boatman told, since he had such an interested, select audience.

We got to her place before 4 PM, but Linda thought the day not yet adequately filled with activity. (I know now why each of her daughters loves to pack into every 24-hours much more than the average adult would.) She had us pick up Puff, and then all go over to two more parks for further hiking about, before finally resting at her house the remainder of the evening.

One goes along with her rather than protest, even if not feeling like it, shamed by the lady's energy, not wishing to admit we cannot keep up with an old, handicapped woman! I have heard stories of Winston Chruchill and of Theodore Roosevelt, that both, even when quite well on in years, could run younger people into the ground. Linda's example proves that such accounts could well be accurate.

At Homosassa, we saw a few manatees (including one mating pair), multiple birds, several reptiles, plus foxes, a hippo, alligators, cougars, black bears, deer, and many, many fish.

While we were searching for Linda, it occurred to me that perhaps a couple reasons people like believing in a personal supreme being are that, though we are social beings, our fellow humans are often rather unreliable, even irrational companions, and the existential reality is that everyone is ultimately alone, experiencing each moment in isolation, making choices as best we can from our limited experience and criteria, and finally dying in isolation, even if others, still living on, share the room with us while we are expiring. How comforting to think and feel that, even if nobody else truly shares the highs, lows, and unremarkable portions of one's life, a caring god has imbued even the most mediocre among us with purpose and an inner friend who will transcend the laws and limits of this realm.

Of course, fortunately, the belief, or lack of it, in a personal supreme being has no more bearing on the fact, or lack of it, of a god who cares about our little lives than does the belief, or lack thereof, of one of my tens, hundreds, or thousands of billions of cells in my existence.

If I had to choose between having a mother-in-law (or any other relative) who is, from my prejudiced point of view, "too" independent and active vs. one too dependent and inactive, it's a no-brainer. I'd certainly prefer and appreciate one more like Linda!

The pooch had a bit more excitement this evening, when Puff saw and gave chase to a rabbit on one of our walks in Linda's neighborhood. She also had a big reaction to a ceramic buck (deer) in a nearby yard.

11/25/05-Fri.-Slept badly after retiring about 11 PM. We all got up at around 4:25 AM. I took care of most of the doggy's needs while Fran and her mom got ready for the morning's adventures, beginning with driving Linda over to the hospital and helping install her there to have wrist surgery in the next few hours.

I have never been more impressed by Linda than as I've seen her dealing with last Monday afternoon's injuries. She was sad that evening, as the emergency room hassles took their toll and she considered the set-back's possible implications. But by the next day, when at her doctor appointment she elected to have this surgery in lieu of a more extended period of wearing casts or braces, though still without good assurance of full return of her injured wrist function, she was surprisingly upbeat.

And between then and now, she has not been kept down, despite not merely the wrist problems, but a fresh muscular tear in her right knee as well, calmly leading us on several outings and in having normal activities each evening at home. In this attitude, she is in great contrast to so many who would have been bemoaning their fates or milking their impairments for all the sympathy and assistance they could garner.

In Linda's case, we need to be on our toes to keep her from trying to do too MUCH, and we never hear any complaint from her about the latest limitations. She accepts a minimum of help, mainly from Fran and somewhat from me, but, overall, she absolutely makes as little a deal as possible about her injuries.

Even in the final evening and night hours before today's operation, Linda was relaxed, cheerful, and methodical in preparing for both today's ordeal and its uncertain outcome, while also finding time for a Thanksgiving dinner of delicious leftovers (before her pre-op fasting had to start) and for laptop processing of her latest hundreds of digital pictures (taken at Homosassa Springs).

She apparently slept well last night and was ready in plenty of time for Fran to drive her over for the elaborate check-in and medical facility pre-op procedures. They left a little before 5 AM and had indicated they'd rather I stay home and look after Puff than distract them by hanging about over the next several hours. Indeed, if Linda has her way, Fran will come home for the rest of the morning after Linda is checked in.

Later.Fran's mom called a little before 11 AM. Fran picked her up and had her safely home by a bit before noon. Linda read the paper, the ads for weekend bargains, and her mail, then napped in the greenhouse-like heat of her sun porch.

Around 4 PM, Fran, Puff, and I drove over to a nearby national forest and took a trail down to the Silver River, necessarily at an invigoratingly fast pace since the gates (blocking our car in if we were not back and away) would close at 5:00, and it might take us right to that limit to reach the stream and return. (Linda had stayed home this time.)

We did, in fact, manage to return and with a short time, less than five minutes, to spare, once we had washed off our pooch. She had used the hike as an opportunity to try out a feral pig wallow, first, and a swampy shallow part of the river, second. Prior to the washing, she was a completely filthy, mud pasty, wet mess.

Tonight was an easygoing one for us, with TV news programs, working crossword puzzles, a light supper, pictures processing, and online computer activities.

11/26/05-Sat.-Fran, Linda, and I spent several hours today at the Silver Springs theme park. It was pleasant but not remarkably so. We saw zoo animals, went on a few rides, and took a number of pictures. Then, tonight we went back for their "2005 Festival of Lights" holiday celebration. Many of the lights displays were indeed spectacular. We also took an after dark glass-bottomed boat ride on the Silver River, a mistake as there were a gazillion bugs flying a few feet above the tropical stream's waters, and the boat's open-sided movement caused them to pour over us. They got into our hair, ears, eyes, noses, and mouths, as well as all over every space of bare skin. Yuck! The park personnel said this was their first time to try the boat rides after sundown. It was supposedly another way to enjoy all the bright arrays of yuletide theme lights. I suspect they won't ever attempt that again.

Saw an interview of Bill Clinton this AM, on his campaign against junk food (no zealot like a reformed convert to the cause!). Was struck by a catchy rule from the nutritional law of averages: Cut out 45 calories a day and reduce by 20 pounds. I presume this applies to children who are physically active.

Translating that approach to the normal adult, I get this: Cut 100 calories a day, stay active, and reduce 10 pounds. Since around the end of September, I've put on an extra 5-10 pounds, so figure the rule is one I must take to heart.

11/27/05-Sun.-Despite Linda's injuries from last Monday's accident, and the surgery on Friday, we have lost only about a day and a half from her intensive agenda for us of outings and other activities. Indeed, she has generally used only a cane and stretch-bandage on her knee for walking, even though clearly at times in pain. Last night, however, at Silver Springs she did rent a wheelchair (except for the boat ride), and Frances or I took turns pushing her about. The arrangement worked quite well. In fact, she was able to get better than usual pictures of the lit displays by using her elbows on the wheelchair arms as an improvised "tripod" (or at least "di-pod").

This morning, we were off by 8:30 on our way to the Central Florida Zoological Park, on Lake Monroe. Linda says she'll again, as usual, be doing without a wheelchair.

This self-reliant, austere or stoic approach is certainly consistent with her overall personality bent. Frances and I have both hinted, or even firmly suggested, that one or both of us stay longer than first planned, to assist her given the recent impairments (and essentially complete dysfunction of the left upper extremity for the time being), or else that we help her hire someone to come by and give her a hand, so to speak, for at least a few hours a day. However, she is emphatic that neither option be exercised, insisting that she alone, or she with a little assistance from friends in her neighborhood (whom she has also consistently helped in time of need), will do just fine, thank you!

Even as I often tend to imagine disaster where others may see only inconvenience, I could harp on multiple dire scenarios in support of my view that Linda should be less independent for at least the next few weeks. But, in the first place, I'm not certain I'm right. (After all, if she just gets a ride every two or three days from a friend for shopping, a restaurant, and/or a physician appointment, Linda could get by. In between, if she really needed to do so, she might use taxis. In the house, a set of simplified routines could be established to minimize or eliminate most walking or activities that require using both hands. It would not be easy, but, for Linda, sharing one's day with an unwanted helper might be harder still.) In the second, a forceful confrontation of my mother-in-law on this issue could have rather adverse effects on the long-term relationship with the lady, already too tenuous.

On the way to the zoo this AM, we had some extra excitement. In the Ocala National Forest, driving Hwy. 40, not too far from Hwy. 19 near Wildcat Lake, we saw a large black bear crossing the roadway, the first such sighting for Fran and me of the large mammal in the wild since our next to last CO vacation, in 1998.

More rich dreaming last night.

As poor planning would have it, I arrived at the zoo with straw hat, suntan lotion, a small sun protection umbrella, a light parka in case of rain or too many mosquitoes, and even a snack for lunch, but without my camera. Oh well. I enjoyed looking at all the exhibits of this small zoological park for a little over four hours anyway. Frances and her mom, busy taking their usual hundreds of pictures, returned to the car, where I was resting, after about an hour more.

I just missed seeing a coral snake. Fran was only about ten feet from me and had enough time to snap a couple pictures of it apparently trying to cross a boardwalk, then going under it and out of sight instead, but didn't call out to alert me to this additional special sighting. Either she did not realize how close I was or she did not want to also let several other people in the area know, lest she inadvertently cause a panic, either among the bystanders - several with small children - or the reptile. Her pictures of the creature turned out well. Sure enough, there are the adjacent yellow and red colored bands typical of the only North American "cobra."

11/28/05-Mon.-We started home around half-past 8 this morning, after taking final pictures together and saying our goodbyes to Linda.

Fran and I talked about driving on up to I-20, thus better assuring ourselves accommodations tonight, since the Katrina evacuees have most all motels booked up along our I-10 route. However, it could add as much as 250 miles and around five hours to our total driving, so we are just taking our chances with the more southerly way. Temperatures are slightly cool (about 70°F) and it was intermittently rainy as we began the return journey. We were at times heading into dramatic thunderstorms.

I tried briefly before we left to again discuss with Linda her situation and that I would feel much better arranging at least for someone to come in to assist for several hours a day, but she continued to be dismissive of any need, claiming, even with but one functioning upper extremity and with one knee partially out of commission, that there is very little she cannot do for herself.

Later today she'll be arranging for her next physician appointment, transportation there and back, and grocery shopping. On Thursday (12/1), she is going on a one-day bus trip with friends for dinner and a show. One way or another, her life goes on. In May, she and about 40 others from their little community, mostly close companions, plan to be flying to Vancouver and from there taking an Alaska cruise.

11/29/05-Tues.-Yesterday, Fran and I arrived at Ocean Springs, MS, about 4:30 (Central Time), after roughly 9 hours on the road. We were lucky there to get a good room, for us and our dog, for $79 plus tax. Soon afterward, there were no more vacancies, and an entire fleet of utility trucks, their crews doubtless busy during the day with Katrina repairs, occupied much of the parking area.

We were extremely tired. Fran was acting "silly" again and sulkily accused me of causing her tiredness, claiming that she'd not been tired when driving through by herself last February. I mildly told her I was not taking any responsibility for her tiredness or her reactions to me, but privately thought it very tiresome that Fran so often on trips "acts out" her fatigue at my expense, seldom if ever holding herself accountable for her negative feelings or for not showing the courtesy and respect she asks from me. Ironically, up till her out-of-the-blue tiredness complaint, we'd been getting along well through this vacation, at least since the silliness when she was insisting on keeping the car windows open to the cold. Yet, she was at times even more tired, after our activities with or on behalf of her mom. Strange that she never criticized Linda, got out-of-sorts with her, or accused her of "causing" the natural fatigue.

On occasion, and not just because of the 14-year difference in our ages, Frances' responses strike me as irrational or in any case unreasonable, in a child-like way, showing as little insight as a petulant youngster might toward an adult. It is disconcerting to be married to someone so difficult to please at times or so unpredictably, self-indulgently temperamental, cranky, and rude or thoughtless, as a youngster late for her afternoon rest might be. (Of course, I NEVER give a person actual reason to be "tired of" me - yeah, right!)

After a nap, Fran was again sweet and cheerful. We shared a tasty pizza I'd ordered "to go" and watched a little motel room TV till time for "lights out."

This morning, we left the motel at 8:00, estimating that we had slightly more than half the total journey still ahead of us.

At 10:40, we crossed the Mississippi River. It seemed the worst driving hazards of the storm damaged Gulf Coast area were behind us. The balance of the traveling today should be relatively carefree.

We made it safely through lots of highway repairs or construction, near Beaumont, and then intense Houston traffic, by 4:30 PM.

At dusk, in the last hour or two before getting home, we saw several animals: turkeys, vultures, and deer.

We finished our "trek" a bit after 7 PM, happily finding that all was as it should be. Even the room lights we'd turned on when about to leave 12 days earlier, to dissuade potential burglars, were still burning.

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