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12/4/03-Thurs.-We got up pretty early so Fran could get to the Laundromat before many other folks. I went over to Wal-Mart, returned an item, and did some shopping. I also took the mutt for a two-mile walk, necessarily at slower than my usual pace, given her needs.

Last night Ana Susanj's great print, Sustainability, arrived in the mail. She has terrific talent and is selling her prints at quite reasonable prices through her Ana Susanj Fine Art Photography web site.

There's been a significant development in connection with my participation in the Austin Mid-Winter Choral Concert. It turns out I'm not a bass after all, but still a tenor, as I was in choirs as a youth. But meanwhile, till realizing this yesterday evening, I've been trying to follow the Bach and Mozart scores, and the audio cassettes that came with them, as a bass for the past couple weeks, thus becoming familiar with the wrong parts.

Fran has been fantastic, helping me a lot with learning the choral music. But I'm just too rusty. I had already been frustrated with the fast pace of some of the bass measures, finding I just could not keep up and still get my voice to react quickly and accurately enough to hit most of the notes. But the tenors have even more of these quite rapid sections.

All in all, taking into account slowed reactions, problems with matching the words and notes, octave changes, difficulty nailing the pitch, acquaintance with the incorrect voice range parts, anticipated long commutes to multiple rehearsals on the other side of the city, and the prospect of having to avoid trips to the restroom for uncomfortably extended periods to get through the chorus meetings, it now seems best that I withdraw, well in advance, rather than waiting and likely needing to do so later, under more humiliating circumstances.

Were I to go ahead with it, the whole thing would seem now like an ordeal rather than a fun challenge. So I've decided to resign. I may seek other opportunities, though, to be a part of choral experiences in less daunting ways, as with Christmas carol sing-alongs and/or being in a strictly amateur choir that performs popular tunes. If having trouble even with that level of musical involvement, I may take some voice lessons.

Frances unfortunately is quite ill today. She thinks it's due to some pineapple. She'd eaten quite a lot of the fruit yesterday, several days after having cut up a fresh whole one. Hope it won't take long to get this out of her system.

In more pleasant news, I'm an uncle again! My sister-in-law, Trudy, delivered her third baby, Cheryl, about 2 AM, day before yesterday. Mother and daughter are doing fine.

She sent us an amusing, amazingly relaxed e-mail a few hours before giving birth. It ended this way:

"We were short handed so I did my best to keep up with the weight and feed recording. [She works in a turkey raising and meat processing lab.] By noon (weighing takes from about 7:30 to 11:30) I think I started getting contractions. But with the work of weighing birds, I wasn't confident that labor had started. By 1:30 I decided to head home. I had a doctor appointment set up for 2:45, and planned to just take Violet [her first daughter] with me. But I asked Lorie [the babysitter] to keep her till later, just in case. My contractions in the doctor's office were about eight minutes apart. He said to call him later tonight. We went to get Jay [her son], and Scott took him over to Lorie's too. I had the house to myself for about forty minutes, and some Jehovah's witnesses came and rang the bell. (Our front door has a large stack of corn in front of it, and the snow is not shoveled. So why would they use that door?) I got out there after awhile (sometimes it is one of Scott's clients), and they walked back and introduced themselves. I said 'No thank-you, I'm busy being in labor just now......' Silly people. It is strange how many folks we needed to call, just to have another baby. The preschool knows. I called Jay's pre-K teacher, the violin teacher, the babysitter (There's a rehearsal tonight I could go to!), my boss, the neighbor (Jack) who is going to feed and let out the dogs if this is going to take that long, Scott's herd health checks [Scott's a veterinarian.] to cancel tomorrow, and the Frontier Plains Vet Clinic, where Scott has forwarded his work line. The contractions seem to be about three minutes apart now and a little stronger. I guess all that is left is to have this baby. I'm hungry. Maybe some ice cream first.

Love, Trudy"

Fran's dad, Mike, begins his chemotherapy this week, and he and Linda decided to have no guests till they see how his body responds to it for several weeks. So we're not going to FL this month.

After our Thanksgiving travel and visiting, we decided to take it easy awhile back here in Austin, but we'll be heading off Monday for our Galveston holiday on the coast. Surely hope that vacation does not prove too taxing for Pepper! I'm sure she'd rather just stay at home, keep warm, and sleep most of the time. We'll help her adjust as well as we can. Maybe she'll see at least some of our activities, like strolling on the beach - with its interesting smells and strong breezes - as fun.

12/7/03-Sun.-More frustrating issues have arisen with members of my (dysfunctional) primary family. My mom some time ago had made me the executor of her estate and then agreed to deal with her several potential heirs equitably. Yet she makes handshake loans to this one or that one, on special terms, and resents it when I remind her of her numerous prior promises to treat us all the same, with proper paperwork and similar arrangements in matters that may affect the estate.

Meanwhile, others are angry if, attempting to assure similar dealings between us, I put my two cents' worth in. I'd be greatly relieved not to be in this position! But to resign as her executor would seem out of pique at this point and likely leave the estate eventually in the hands of persons less interested in fair arrangements for those expected to inherit. Bother! This kind of circumstance, developing again and again over the years, is quite exasperating!

Meanwhile, my brother, Ron, in his late forties, apparently has indeed lost his postal carrier job, that had paid close to $50,000 a year plus medical benefits, on a whim that he might be able to get a medical retirement. Even if eventually successful in that quixotic quest, his income would be severely reduced, and he was hardly making ends meet before, after shelling out $1000 a month in alimony, payments on a new truck, etc.

The woman he's living with had been encouraging him to give up the post office job and to get work as a security guard! Who's going to want to hire him as a guard when he "can't work" due to an alleged manic depressive disorder? Her job and pay are far better. Does she want him to be beholden to her? Under her control? He's already living in her place, rather than his own or one they own together. It turns out she has a history of live-in boyfriends (and a prior husband) whom she eventually rejects and boots out after things do not work out. Is she setting up such a situation again?

Allen, my brother who's married to the Ecuadorian lady, has been exhausting himself running her here and there in Texas so she can go to faith healing evangelical church revival type meetings. Is it surprising that they seem to have little in common after meeting through the internet, when they could not speak the same language and lived in different countries?

I wish I were not so emotionally involved in the above matters. They'd then be simply rather interesting or even entertaining. As it is, they are terribly draining and depressing. Such things make me wish I could retire to a hermitage!

Early tomorrow, though, Fran and I are finally getting on the road for our holiday in Galveston, on the Texas coast. Hopefully there I can put all such difficult familial entanglements mentally behind me, at least for awhile.

12/9/03-Tues.-Fran's been having problems with nausea and indigestion again, yesterday and earlier today. We hope she's pretty well over it by now, but it has meant she's had no appetite through a couple mealtimes.

We arrived in Galveston on Monday with no difficulty and, after checking in at Motel 6 and eating pizza for lunch, headed over to the West Beach end of this island. There we enjoyed taking pictures, feeding seagulls popcorn, and watching the mild surf.

Later we snacked and napped back in our room. Pepper wet one of the beds. We used the blow dryer, both on it and her. This is the first such accident in about a year, since before we'd gotten her prior bladder stone and infection problems corrected. Apparently both are back.

The impairment is more critical now since she's no longer eating her prescription food adequately, she's significantly losing weight, and we've only been keeping her from starving by supplementing the vittles with small amounts of non-prescription food, usually egg or chicken.

Today we went to Moody Gardens. I left after a couple hours and took Pepper back to the room for awhile, then picked Fran up at 4 PM.

Toward evening, we went over to a beach again. A strong cool front had come through, and the waves were impressive!

Fran seemed to be feeling better. We had great seafood suppers at Landry's Fish Tales Restaurant, then relaxed in front of TV and/or the laptop most of the rest of the evening.

12/10/03-Wed.-Frances was again (or still) feeling sub-par this morning and had no appetite. So, after getting ready, we just stopped at a fast-food place for a snack to-go breakfast for me and drove down to the Galveston Island East Beach. Along Seawall Blvd. the ocean was at low tide, the water out past the jetties in places. The sky was cloudless, the temperature in the forties (F). Yesterday's good surf was gone. The sea seemed placid, the waves lapping on shore now quite small.

Yet when we reached the east end of the island, we found it being blasted by a strong brisk breeze, gusting about twenty to thirty miles per hour. The wind chill felt about in the twenties or low thirties (F). Here the sea had white caps due to the terrific force of the blowing air from the northeast.

Fran and I took lots of pictures. We saw plenty of birds, especially black skimmers, and the combination of these, the almost bare, wind-swept beaches and flats, the ships in Bolivar Roads channel, blue skies, and the grassy dunes with their estuary streams was dramatic and beautiful.

Hanging out around this end of the island took us well into the afternoon and gave Fran an opportunity to get several hundred more images with her digital camera.

After napping in late afternoon, we went for delicious dinners at another seafood eaterie. Frances appeared to be finally over her illness.

I took the mutt out for a walk at the motel and saw a raccoon by the garbage bin.

12/11/03-Thurs.-The mutt got me up a little after 6 AM, wanting to go out for no. 1.

We got ready, packed up, and checked out of the motel about 8:15. The dog wouldn't eat anything this morning. We went to the beach one last time. I fed seagulls and played in the wet sand. Fran (with Pepper) walked, looked at neat beachcomber finds, and took pictures.

On Tuesday, while using my teeth to help pull the sanitary protection plastic off a Styrofoam motel cup, an upper tooth hit a lower one with a snap, chipping the one on top as easily as that! Bother. "Things fall apart."

Throughout our first day here, I was still depressed over the latest conflict with some in my primary family. Mom had been so enraged in her last communication (over my having the nerve to suggest she stick with what she'd several times promised to do, but seldom actually done, about her loans, i.e. keep good records), that I could easily imagine this eighty-one year old woman, with a history of scary, stroke-like episodes (though so far evaluations would suggest they've been due to either a vertiginous disorder or anxiety attacks), having another incident mimicking a mild cerebrovascular accident (or transient ischemic attack) while we're away, alarming her and others, as occurred while we were in WI, but their having no easy way to get in touch with us.

I decided I ought to call, making sure Mom was not still upset, smoothing things over if she were, and letting others in the family know our motel phone number, in case we needed to be reached.

Frances had never tried getting online away from home with her new laptop but thought she might be able to do so. If she could, it would be a lot cheaper than the proposed calls and allow me to contact my family in a manner less dramatic, and so not as big a deal, compared with long distance telecommunications.

Sure enough, after a few minutes of trying, Fran got the laptop configured for going online and then receiving or sending e-mails while "on the road." We then took care of some low-key contacts, both to salve Mom's ego or hurt feelings and allow others to readily get hold of us. Afterward I was greatly relieved, again able to relax and enjoy the holiday.

We left the coast and headed home about 10 AM. Despite Fran's unsettled GI system, we've both had a good time over the last few days.

On our way back, I saw close to a dozen wild turkeys, near the road in a Del Valle farm field.

Pepper wet the back car seat during today's return trip to Austin. I'd thought she needed a break earlier but did not insist on it. Lesson learned. Will clean up the spot once the trip's over. She really could use a bath as well!

Fran expressed interest, on the way to Galveston, in our buying and moving to a residence and some acreage in the rural Bastrop-Smithville area (about an hour or so drive southeast of Austin). I have mixed thoughts and feelings concerning such a change. It has pros and cons.

I am interested more in our overall financial condition. If, despite all expenses, the assets can keep going up on average at 10% a year or so, then, for all I care, we can stay where we are, move to near Bastrop, go to Oregon or New York, or even immigrate to New Zealand. But that's a significant "if."

This evening Frances is again feeling under the weather, with an uncomfortable bloating sensation and an upset tummy, such as she's had off and on since Monday evening along with her nausea and other digestive problems. Evidently the bug she's had remains a bit of a problem. And, call it power of suggestion or contagion, now I'm feeling a little queasy as well. Hmm.

12/14/03-Sun.-Today it was reported that Saddam Hussein has been captured. Good! Something positive has finally come out of recent U.S. foreign policy.

While we were in Galveston, Fran had plenty of opportunities for observing and recording interesting natural phenomena, for instance: beached men of war, with caught fish in their stinging "tentacles;" a mangled (from encountering a ship propeller?) dolphin carcass; a crab barely peeking out of its borrowed shell; and a dead eel, the delicate tiny detail of its head and body easily visible in her digital photographs.

My point-and-shoot film camera pictures cannot match her efforts except perhaps, every now and then, through the law of averages, but the hobby is, even so, still quite fun for me too. In fact, we're thinking of next year adding an online site featuring (carefully culled out) favorites among my landscape shots.

I had a more than usually eventful time on Friday. Took Fran's car in for its annual inspection. For various reasons, the task took most of the morning and was complicated. Still, before noon it was satisfactorily completed. Next, Fran and I went shopping for a couple nephews' and a niece's Christmas gifts from us. Then, since Pepper's been having new problems, I called for a vet appointment.

Fran napped through the early afternoon, but I took the dog in and saw the pet doctor. Frances and I had thought Pepper was still just gradually going downhill, as she's been doing since her liver cancer diagnosis.

But she's not been eating well lately and has also started having urinary accidents, though, except when she had a bladder infection about a year ago, she'd been housebroken since we trained her as a young puppy.

Well, after various tests and exams, the doctor had a somber talk with me and provided the bad news that she's now within days or weeks of the end. Her liver has all but completely failed, and she also is in severe renal failure. Moreover, she's lost about 20% of her weight. (That much we knew.)

After this sobering information had sunk in, late that afternoon, Fran and I had planned how we'd pamper the heck out of our favorite little beast in what time we had left with her. Since she's dying of other things than the bladder stones for which she was on fairly bland prescription food, and does not like that food, we figure she may now have anything her heart and mouth desires (except chocolate which in quantity can rapidly kill dogs, I understand).

The evening after leaving the vet's office, we were delighted that she ate a hardboiled egg, a bowl of chicken noodle soup, and a couple Vienna sausages, all of which she scarfed down quite eagerly. She ate at least as well for breakfast yesterday, but then threw most everything up before noon and has been a frustratingly picky eater ever since. Today, for instance, all we've gotten her to consume were a single hardboiled egg yolk and several chewable dog vitamin tablets.

Pepper is such a darling that the folks at the doctor's office were acting all compassionate toward both of us and calling her "Sweetie."

I was trying to accept the latest developments manfully, but it was all I could do not to start sobbing.

The vet said we'll know if it's time to have her "put down," when she simply doesn't want to eat for an extended period, a couple days or so, and no longer cares to even get up off her pallet. By then, he said, the poisons left in her system, due to the combined liver and kidney dysfunctions, will be making her miserable. He warned that this time could come before Christmas, perhaps even in the next few days.

We're both sad for her and for ourselves, but, since the diagnosis, have had over a year to enjoy being with her and to get used to this imminent death of a cherished companion. Of course, she's "just a dog," yet she's been a major part of our world for over fourteen years and, for my nurturing needs, perhaps the closest I'll come to having a child.

In happier news, Fran and I have plans for a Christmas season dinner celebration with friends, along with her Baltic Buzzards folk music rehearsal, next Wednesday, 12/17. We expect to take some wine, nuts, fruit, and pizza. Others will take additional good things, and we'll all share. Such parties usually include singing carols, as well, and are a lot of fun.

Late this afternoon I gave Fran her long massage while a tape of the 2001 film, "Time Machine," played as background. Although the movie was not appreciated by critics, once one has low expectations and considers it merely as light entertainment with neat special effects, the video seems worthwhile. Still, if it were a choice between a read of the H. G. Wells sci-fi classic vs. this latest screen version of the story, go for the book!

12/17/03-Wed.-Today is the centennial of the Wright Brothers' initial powered craft heavier than air flight.

Yesterday morning, Pepper came to our room and woke me up to be let out for no. 1. Almost certainly it was for the final time. She had the last almost regular quantity of vittles, to be kept down, on Friday, five days ago. She ate breakfast the next morning, but threw it up. Since then, despite our best encouraging efforts, she has had only vitamin tablets, a bite or two at a time of graham cracker, or bits of egg yolk or cheese. During the just past night she threw up all the bits of these that she'd had in the preceding twenty-four hours. Her weight it going down almost before our eyes, the little bundle that is herself now quite heartbreakingly bony in all directions. She is still the engaging and sweet one who has made our lives sparkle for more than fourteen years, but now can barely standup, cannot go up even a couple stairs from the yard to the deck under her own power, and, just on a flat surface, she wobbles and lurches, like a creature onboard ship trying to get its sea legs in a storm. There is now no point trying to feed her more. Her GI system just is not processing food. We do not know but what she cannot deal with water. She's begun to have a gag reflex when trying to drink a bit. Though we are not ready, it is time for us to think about taking her to the veterinarian for her final shot.

12/20/03-Sat.-Pepper is hanging on still, though by now each night she leaves a liquid, bloody stool near the backdoor. She would have tried to get out there, attempting to do what she's been taught, but could not as her owners were sleeping away. During the day, about every two hours she either throws up about a tablespoon of watery yellowish fluid or has another red runny no. 2. Her number 1's are now no more than once or twice a day. In the outside cold, when she does get to go out for awhile into the night to try to do her business, her breathing is often labored and even sounds a little bubbly, yet more from nasal congestion than pulmonary, but becomes better when she is warm and calm. She never complains and always seeks a means to go out when the GI paroxysms bother her to the point she feels she must vomit or excrete.

Our mutt has now had almost no food for a week and stopped drinking any of her water a couple days ago. She loses more liquid from her diarrhea than from the more occasional peeing. Between and within ourselves, the agonized debate continues about whether it is best for her to be taken to the vet and killed with a shot or kept here to die naturally in familiar surroundings. We have seemingly both answered that question first with the one, then the other option. It would appear best, given how close we both are to the creature, that we have consensus. I am aware that in the Lifestream Way it is considered wrong to kill animals, even when they are your pets and it would end their misery. Yet, despite my earlier years of dedication to that faith, I am most of the time inclined now toward a "mercy killing."

Our dog is puking and shitting out her own vital fluids. She does not have long periods of peace between these painful or at least very uncomfortable occurrences. And she is worse now than a couple days ago when, after discussing it, we decided to hold off taking her to the veterinarian for a killing inoculation. We can assume that in another couple days she'll be worse yet.

I think her cancer, which had already metastasized by the time she was diagnosed in October, 2002, has eaten through the lining of her gut or that otherwise she has bleeding into her intestine, hence the reddish tinge to her thin stool. And her vomited up liquid is yellowish perhaps from stomach juices or bile. The ongoing deterioration is horrible. And now that her liver, kidney, and GI systems have all but shut down, what is next that may cause her even greater suffering? Lungs? Brain? The vet said seizures are quite common toward the end.

I talk to her, pet her, and try to reassure the beast as night draws to a close. I wonder if today, whether at home or at her doctor's office, will be the only one she has yet to know.

12/21/03-Sun.-Yesterday morning Frances and I had another talk about Pepper's situation, and reluctantly we both came to the conclusion it would be best to take her to the veterinarian for euthanasia.

I then called and made the appointment. It was all over within a couple hours. Though she had more diarrhea, Pepper's last morning was reasonably without further trauma and her final minutes were peaceful. Indeed, she had slowly taken what for her now was a long walk (about fifty or sixty feet) in the backyard a little before we left for the vet's office, was obviously exhausted, and just slept on the trip and right up till she was given a strong anesthetic, that stopped her heart and ended her life.

It was a tearful time for Fran and me, saying "Goodbye" to her in our own ways before the appointment, talking with the vet (who was good at making us feel as well as we could about this step, while acknowledging its difficulty), then watching our dog receive the shot. Pepper apparently lost consciousness within seconds of the inoculation and never regained it. We held her gently and looked into her eyes as the medication was being administered.

Afterward, I briefly lost control and cried out in the car. We took her body home with us. I dug a hole out in the back and we buried her only about an hour or so after she had died. We did not feel religious about it and didn't want to say contrived words over her body before covering her with the dirt. I just remarked that hers had been such a neat life to be now reduced to this.

With our last dog, I had been adamant that we should not have her "put to sleep," but rather let her die naturally, regardless of whether this would mean additional confusion and suffering for her. It was a matter of principle for me. Later, though, I regretted that choice and felt it would have been better to have done for her as we now have done for Pepper, once her brain and the rest of her nervous system had clearly been badly affected by the disease process.

But I still am not certain which, if any, is the best course of action in such circumstances. Pepper's end was so relatively secure and painless, even if emotionally traumatic for her owners. It had to be better than what she was going through, with inability to drink or eat and yet very frequent sensations that she must throw up or defecate, and her bloodstream meanwhile filled with the poisons that her liver and kidneys could no longer remove, goop filling up her eyes and nasal passages, feeling cold much of the time, too weak to move around much anymore, and in mental confusion.

Yet, I wonder if it might have been better to let her have every last moment she could, even though her final days and hours would have been increasingly uncomfortable, distressing, confusing, and even painful. I feel we made the right choice, but just wish that feeling also came with more conviction than it does. My only comfort in this is that, had we chosen the other way, I would probably be having even more doubts and regrets, just as I still do about our other dog.

Well, in any case, it's time to get on with the rest of our lives. Still, we'll both probably be looking at the scores or even hundreds of pictures we have of Pepper for quite awhile, remembering, and only slowly catching up to the new reality that her strong and bright spirit is forever gone.

12/23/03-Tues.-I'm in a sad way this early AM (4:00), exhausted but wide awake after taking a half portion of antihistamine tablet for a cold or sinus allergy that has flared up, along with an acutely sore lower spine, in the day or so since Pepper's demise. I've no doubt the events are connected. These symptoms are but the physical manifestations of an inner emotional storm that surged in the last couple or three weeks, as we were then with unexpected suddenness dealing with and distressed by the terminal circumstances of our mutt.

Meanwhile, nature, as Castaneda's Don Juan would have put it, is agreeing with my body, as a great surge of wind has roared into our area over the past two hours, causing many creaks and groans in our humble abode and its surrounding arboreal flora, as if our dog's ghost were here to haunt us with these irregular moans and shudders.

This past morning I had occasion to call once again my dermatologic surgeon, there being fresh signs of cancer skin lesions. She apparently is off on a seasonal vacation and so has not returned the communication. I'm in no rush, though, to be once more under her scalpel. The matter can well wait till next year.

But I feel betrayed by lemons! For the past several months I've been chewing large pieces of the astringent citrus fruit, peel and all, even at considerable risk to my dental enamel apparently, on the understanding that this remedy would render me less susceptible to further skin malignancies.

I've been trying not to waste my sleepless time and so reading The Letter of Marque, by Patrick O'Brian, whose works are a great delight, and I have just completed it.

I must, though, get to bed, or at least to sofa, soon for a few minutes' shut-eye, since we've a terribly busy day ahead, most having to do with purchasing gifts and getting ready for our upcoming visit in Waco with several of my extended (dysfunctional?) family.

We'll begin today's activities with a trip over to a new Goodwill center, leaving several bags or boxes of clothes, shoes, and especially stuffed toys, most of the mountain of those which we'd accumulated over the years as Pepper playthings. Once there and relieved of our contributory burdens, we'll no doubt look for white elephant or gag gifts for an exchange with siblings over Christmas Eve and Day.

My own holidays may not be up to par, but probably won't be that terrible either. Often as not, the medications for what ails me distort consciousness and result in a certain detachment from the obnoxious realities, except that I must cut the dosages in half lest their full force narrow the already prostate-squeezed urethra further and cut off all flow, both above and below, with implications worse than the symptoms the medicinal potions are meant to treat.

Later. It's evening. The upper respiratory and spine difficulties persist, and I've gotten only about an hour or two of sleep since night before last. With luck, then, I'll rest better tonight!

We've been fairly busy today, as expected, with shopping and other errands (at last fairly well caught up on holiday preparations). A pleasant highlight of the day was sharing brunch at Jason's Deli, with tasty and varied all-you-can-eat salad bar meals.

While consuming vast quantities, we discussed my mother- and father-in-law and how, true to the clichés in movies and literature, there has always been an uncomfortable strain between them and me, especially so for relations with Mike, Fran's dad, to the point he's often quite belligerent if I join Frances in going to see them. Apparently he feels much the same way toward Scott, his other son-in-law. Go figure. We've always treated him well in spite of his boorishness.

Because of Mike's current illnesses, with heart problems, Parkinson's disease, and now a quite serious form of cancer, I've had some inclination to suppress my feelings and just go on with Frances to see them in a few weeks. We decided it's not worthwhile. No matter how polite I've ever tried to be around them, the antipathy has persisted. Mike has at times gone out of his way to show he didn't want me around. Why push it? He's hardly likely to change now, and under these circumstances would in fact doubtless welcome my presence even less.

Fran's mom, Linda, is rather standoffish herself, but at least keeps things polite for the most part, though she'll show her feelings in rather weird gifts she gives me at times. During our first visit to them over Christmas, for instance, her main wrapped present for me was a thick set of pamphlets on having a heart attack! If this were a TV show, it would doubtless be a comedy at my expense.

12/25/03-Thurs.-It's Christmas day. My cold, flu, cedar fever, or whatever it is, has been persistent and unpleasant, so that I've gotten little sleep for three nights now. However, my back is far less sore. So, I'm appreciative for some improvement!

We arrived in Waco yesterday about noon, checked into our motel, and rested for a couple hours before heading over to Mom's. I was feeling badly enough that I did not go with others to a Christmas Eve church program, in which Pete and Horace were singing a Christmas carol duet, but, instead, while others were busy there, rested out in Mom's van for awhile and later, when too cold in the vehicle, in a spare bedroom, despite baby Sharon's crankiness and crying loudly, in Allen's care, for nearly an hour.

Mariateresa, Sophia, and Monica, Nina's Italian (though Mariateresa used to be a neighbor of Nina's in Ecuador earlier) cousin and her daughters (two of ten year old triplets, actually - the 3rd, a boy, still in Italy with his father), respectively, were visiting Allen, Nina, and Sharon for the holidays. All of them came down to Waco together and are now staying with Mom. Allen seems to be adapting well to being surrounded by all these females.

I was telling Mariateresa, through Nina as a partial translator, for she now understands quite a bit of my English and speaks Spanish, while Mariateresa speaks Spanish and Italian, about being sad that our dog of fourteen years had died last Saturday.

When Nina translated, Mariateresa's eyes teared up, and I thought she was just that moved by my dog having died. But it turned out that there had been a crash that killed her first born, a boy who was fourteen then, and that she'd never really gotten over it, which was why she tried not to be home for Christmas or Mother's Day, as there were then too many depressing memories, hence her travel here now.

Later in the evening, Charlotte (my mom), Pete, Mary, Jim, Allen, Nina, Sharon, Mariateresa, Monica, Sophia, Frances, and I went over to Leila and Horace's place and ate pot luck Christmas vittles and appreciated how Leila has decorated their house. (Frances points out, however, that the decorating is rather plebian.)

Fran and I left for the motel soon after. I was still feeling exhausted, stuffed up, and feverish. Once again, I slept little all night, due to the uncomfortable symptoms.

12/26/03-Fri.-Yesterday my cold was as problematic as ever but we had some good times visiting, eating, and exchanging/opening presents. I also took a number of pictures. Ernie, Caroline, Diane, William, and their ugly dog, Fatso, arrived a little after noon. Pete left about 6 PM, going back to CA. All of Horace and Leila's family but Horace himself, who was also ill, and Chris, who was otherwise occupied, came by Mom's about mid-evening for supper and hanging out. Chris and his girlfriend eventually did show up at Mom's place, but only after all but Jim and Diane had left for the motel and/or gone to bed.

Fran and I had different priorities once we'd reached the motel. She wanted to stay up playing on her laptop while I would have preferred to have all lights out earlier and tried to sleep. Even if they occasionally seem like a big deal, at least at the time, such "roommate conflicts" are a fairly mild part of a total relationship, if one is lucky. This time Fran had her way and we did not get to bed for sleep until almost 2 AM. (Frances reasonably pointed out later, however, that I had kept my wishes to myself and she'd have been quite willing to go to bed sooner if I'd but said I wanted lights out. My brain must have been addled by the antihistamines I was on, for it did not even occur to me I might just ask Fran to go to bed, instead of stewing about how inconsiderate she was being!)

I was then kept awake awhile longer by a noisy, angry commotion across the hall from our room, an apparent domestic dispute, so loud and vehement that I was for awhile afraid I'd need to call the police due to imminent or actual violence.

After another difficult night, though a little less so than the one before, I began the long, messy process of getting ready to start the day, and temporarily clear out nasal sinuses, a few minutes shy of 8 AM. We were packed and underway shortly before 10, first stopping for snack brunching and brief visiting once more at Mom's. We were then finally in route back to Austin about half past 11 AM. I just wanted to spend the rest of the day in a snug and horizontal position with minimal movement.

Allen was also planning on driving his wife, baby, and Italian guests to Austin this afternoon, to show them the property, an old house and adjoining thirteen acres, where he'd spent almost all of his formative years.

Among the assorted personal trivia noted for my relations over the past two or three days:

  1. Jim is graduating from Oklahoma City University this spring and is in the laborious, tense process of applying for grad school, including to Julliard, in NYC, The University of Texas, in Austin, Manhattan School of Music, also in NYC, and Rice University, in Houston.

  2. Tess is graduating from Texas Women's University and planning to head off to Seattle in pursuit of her various religious, Pilates, dance, and teaching interests.

  3. Chris is graduating from Baylor's Business School. He's planning to go to Dallas for his budding career.

  4. Diane and her mother, Caroline, are both starting community college early next year, in the spring semester. Diane has more credits under her belt than her mother (who has nine) and so may graduate first. Caroline plans to get an undergraduate, four-year degree in secondary education, with an emphasis in art, and to teach for awhile, then get a masters and become a school counselor. If these stated arrangements work out, I'll be quite amazed. Diane and Caroline are all talk and have had many great sets of plans between them before, almost none of which have worked out.

  5. Diane finally has a serious boyfriend, since about two weeks ago she says, but wants to hold off getting married for about a year. (I hope it works out for them, but wonder how involved they could be after just a couple weeks and, if it is serious, why they should wait a year to get married. Still, I remember that Allen and Nina "fell in love" within a few days of meeting for the first time, and even before they could communicate except via their Microsoft palm pilots, yielding Spanish to English and vice versa interchanges, one word at a time. So, why should I be skeptical about Diane and her beau?)

12/27/03-Sat.-My cold is finally on the wane, though still enough here that it feels good to be lethargic most of the day, keeping at bay awhile longer the next nasal leak or congestion.

We arose this AM about 7:30 and, once I'd listened to the NPR "Weekend Edition" news and gotten dressed, took a walk together for exercise. Then we went over to Trudy's for breakfast. Later I got a tutorial from Frances on using the scanner.

The sky today is overcast and gray. The temperatures are mildly cool.

Sadly, it is becoming more normal now to go through our regular activities and routines without Pepper.

To summarize our family gathering "goings on" in Waco over the past couple or three days, in spite of several having severe colds or worse (Leila saying Horace might have pneumonia), it seemed to me that this year's Christmas celebrations in Waco were particularly successful, thanks to the contributions of so many, from Mariateresa and her daughters, who brought a marvelous international flavor to our festivities (and Monica's endless requests for and renditions of "Jingle Bell Rock!") to Leila, Horace, and their family, who filled us with sweet confections, Frito and rice spaghetti sauce burrito casseroles, and visions of the rich and famous yuletide decorated abode perfections, to Mom's abundant larder and spacious Christmas party atmosphere, or the joyous musical contributions by Mary, Jim, Pete, and Frances, all those who participated in the fun of a white elephant/gag gift exchange, the duet by Horace and Pete at a Christmas Eve church program enjoyed by many, Fatso's territorial assertions (the mutt nearly biting several of us, his owners just adoring him, though, and doing little about it), William's Santa Claus impersonations, the exquisite spirits concocted and served by Diane, to the sinfully good vegetarian and other fare provided by Mary, Charlotte, and others at Mom's place or out at Golden Corral, our official translators, Nina, Ernie, Tess, and especially Mary, Pete's entertaining street theatre, that captured the hearts of Sophia and Monica, and so on.

12/29/03-Mon.-Last night I had a couple very clear, if brief, dream segments. In the first, I discover I have contracted AIDS. For some reason there's no perplexity about how this might have occurred. The diagnosis seems to be distressing enough, though, that I awaken.

Still on a medical diagnostic theme, in the second, after I'd gone back to sleep following the earlier one, I am initially in what seems to be an office setting, with modern cubicles. This appears to be where I have been working, though there is the suggestion that my employment is ending. The scene then morphs seamlessly into the sterile environment of a modern hospital. I am in a stainless steel room (top, bottom, all room sides, plus the table on which I'm lying, are of the metal) in which my head is examined and various tests are performed on it, after which I am told that I have a brain tumor, indeed, a rather massive one. I am surprised, having noted no symptoms that would lead me to expect anything so serious. I'm also strangely calm, just wanting to contact Fran. I reach her on a cell phone and say I'm sorry to have to bother her but that I'm at such and such hospital and they've said I must have surgery, that I have a huge mass in my head. I am not alarmed about my mortality or potential loss of brain function at first, since there have been few if any symptoms. But then I realize if doctors will be cutting out big pieces of something from my head, that, in itself, is bound to have dire consequences. Only at that point do I see I could be in real danger. After a few moments' reflection it occurs to me that my brother Ralph died of a brain tumor. What an odd coincidence, I think, and wonder if Frances will manage the home health caregiving as well as or better than my sister-in-law Mary did with and for Ralph. Then I awaken again.

Free associations to the above, that may or may not be relevant include that, though I've never been aware of any homosexual desires and do not remember this incident, my mother told me long ago that she had come to check on me and Dave (a live-in boarder under Mom's care in our house, he a year older than me, when I was five to six years old and we lived in Falls Church, VA) as we'd been taking a bath together, and found Dave sucking on my penis. Mom often "blows" things out of proportion and while I was growing up would tend to express her fears loudly and often. She no doubt conveyed to me a concern the episode might mean I were gay. If so, though, it has never affected my behavior post puberty, and I believe Mom ended the boarding of Dave soon after that single "homo" instance. Old ghosts do not die easily, however, and the dream may show an ongoing unconscious concern that latent homosexuality may kill me in the end, so to speak.

When I'd woken up I noticed, after each dream, that my nostrils were again closed with some congestion. My mouth was then terribly dry. This might have given the "dream maker" self the idea that something were wrong medically. There is also awareness that my father-in-law, Mike, is now dealing with a severe form of cancer and needing to frequently see doctors or go to the hospital about it. And, of course, we were recently dealing with a terminal illness for Pepper and took her to a metal table for her final shot of anesthetic.

I was employed, but am no longer, though I've often thought of going back to work since the last job, in June of this year.

Fran and I were rather passionate for awhile last night, and I did "contact Fran" and "reach her." We then communicated, in a sense, at a cellular level. But perhaps that interpretation is farfetched.

I have a couple skin lesions that I suspect are new cancer spots, the more troublesome of the two being on the side of my head. It very well may require surgery.

I did have a "mass in my head," the one that had kept my actual body from breathing freely through the nasal passages.

Having one's head examined is a euphemism for a psychiatric checkup. Maybe I thought I had some mental problems too, but this does not ring true.

The detail about my brother Ralph and his wife Mary are simply based on fact and seem reasonable things to think about under the dream circumstances.

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