Friday, June 28, 2013

New Life In The Neighborhood and A Health Update

Just outside my window as I type this post, I am watching a mama robin sit on her nest.  It is hot out there, and I watch her open her beak as if to take in a big breath of fresh air.  I've watched her for several weeks now.  She is my little friend.  I admire her patience as she sits on her eggs.  I say a little prayer of protection for her and her babies.  It is a rough world out there. I think the crook of the tree where she chose to build her nest is rather safe from snakes, but I worry about about one of those magpies that live around here robbing her nest.  I've also read that deer will eat the robins eggs.  Thankfully, the deer can reach her and babies high in the tree.  I guess she knows the dangers of the world out there, but I just hope for her safety while she living right outside my window.  

I've always been partial to robins.  I usually note the first sighting of their return in early spring,  I love listening to their songs outside my window in the morning.  For some reason robins never annoy me when they awaken me from sleep before I am ready to see the dawn of day.  Perhaps this fondness for robins began when I was a very young child and our neighbor taught me to sing and play a few notes on the piano of the song, When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob-Bob-Bobbin' Along.  Do you remember that song? If not, enjoy Doris Day singing this wonderful old song by clicking on the video below.  

I digress...
I've gone from writing about the robin nesting outside my window to Doris Day singing an old favorite.  Let me try to tie all of this together: I expect to find my sweet Mama Robin sitting on her eggs outside my window, or I see her around my bird bath, or at times, she is on the roof of the house next door.  The other evening, she landed on a flower pot on the railing of the deck, then she spotted Boston at my feet, and she quickly turned tail and flew off.  She is the one new mother I am most familiar with in the neighborhood.

A few days ago, I finally spotted one of the new mama doe in neighborhood. While drowsily opening the blinds one morning this week, I was surprised to see this mama and her two fawns grazing in my backyard.  I knew there was no time to run for my camera, so I grabbed my iPhone and opened the back door to take a photo.  Immediately, Mama Doe and her fawns scampered off.  I did catch a quick photo before they disappeared.  I knew that we had two new doe moms in the neighborhood, but this was my first sighting of the babies.  The moms had given birth a few weeks ago in the forested area behind our neighbor's house across the street.  I have to say that I was quite excited when I saw the fawns in my yard.  They are so cute.  Sometimes I get frustrated with the deer because they eat everything in sight, but they can be a joy to watch also.  My nephew visited from Texas this past week.  He had been touring Colorado and had not seen deer until he drove into my neighborhood.Today, one bold mom was right up on my front porch, right next to the front door, eating my pansies.  I guess she was deadheading for me.

Day before yesterday, a mama bear and her two cubs were in the neighborhood.  I wasn't home at the time, but my husband was.  A passerby told him they were up the street in the forested area behind the houses after walking through the village itself.  Jim drove up the road and was able to catch a photo with his iPhone.  (What would we do without these?)  I promise you that there is a bear in this photo.  She is behind the tree that is just right of the center of the photo.  

I reminded Jim about how disappointed he was as we left Yellowstone Park a number of years ago because we had not seen bear.  Then, just as we were leaving we saw one.  I don't know when I've seen my husband so excited about seeing some sight in nature.  He said he was just as excited when he saw this mama bear and two babies just up the street from our house.

The final sighting that we have had in the last week and a half will not include a photo.  We have a photo, but I will spare you as some folks just don't like to see snakes.  We were working in the garage when I happened to look down at my husband's feet and saw what I soon realized was a rattlesnake, a baby rattlesnake.  I yelled out, "There's a snake."  My husband just looked at me with a strange look on his face.  Again, the warning came from my mouth, "Snake, there's a snake.  Get a shovel and kill it."  After nearly stepping on the snake, my husband saw what I was talking about and grabbed a shovel to kill it.  I was pretty certain it was a rattler but didn't want to look too closely until the thing was dead.  I asked him to take a picture with his phone so I could compare it to photos of rattlesnakes.  I asked if he got the head, and he said he did.  Unfortunately, again, my husband must have misunderstood.  He did get the head severed when he killed it, but did not get a photo of it.  I am 98% sure it was a rattlesnake even though there were not rattles.  I saw what appeared to be a button for future rattles.  The head and the markings convinced me that it was a rattler.  

Now, as you can imagine, I don't want to go out and work in the yard in the new area that I wish to do some plantings.  The area is along a rock ledge and I keep thinking a nest of rattlesnakes must be nearby.  They like rocky outcroppings and have been known to frequent the natural rock formations just across the road, but no one has ever seen a rattler in the village where we live since the homes were built in the late '90's.  Let's just say that I am keeping my ears and eyes open and alert when I am out watering or planting.  

We lived in the arid dessert of Pueblo for years and I never saw a rattlesnake when I know they were seen in some neighborhoods in our old stomping grounds.  It took moving to the foothills of the mountains to be this in touch with nature.  We all may be retired in this little neighborhood, but no one can say that there isn't a whole lot of wildlife going on here.  

Health Update
First of all, let me thank all of you who sent such kind words to me as I spoke of my health news in my last post.  Secondly, let me apologize for not posting an update sooner.  Many have asked how I am doing.  That means so much to me.  Thank you again.

A week ago today, I had an EUS, or endoscopic ultrasound, at the University of Colorado Hospital.  After meeting with the specialist the day before, it was determined by the doctor and by me that the risks of doing the procedure to determine if I had sphincter of Oddi disfunction were great enough to rule out doing the procedure.  He did not believe that the medical record, lab results, and symptoms warranted this extreme procedure.  I had to agree.  At my age there is a 20 - 30 percent risk of causing any or all of the following by having the procedure done: a severed case of pancreatitis, diabetes, multiple organ failure and/or death.  I didn't like the risks,  Neither did he.  Instead, an EUS was done.

I guess I am becoming an old pro at having an endoscopy as this procedure was the tenth time I have had this done.  This time, last Friday, was the first time that an endoscopy included having an ultrasound.  The procedure takes about an hour.  During this time a fluid is injected and then samples of fluids are taken to be analyzed.

 It is not a pleasant procedure.  As you can expect, I had a very sore throat and tender throat for quite a few days afterwards.  I also have had some pain that has kept me uncomfortable.  Thankfully, I did recover without any real side effects, and it appears that the findings bring good news.  There was scarring in the pancreas.  There is a pancreatic cyst in the pancreas.  I was diagnosed with chronic mild pancreatitis.  I will be followed by having an MRI of the pancreas and surrounding organs yearly.

It is a mystery to me why I developed this problem.  I am not and never have been a drinker of alcohol. I am not a smoker.  There is not a family history of such problems.  I blame the heart medications I have been on.  For now, I watch my diet carefully and avoid fats and other things that might trigger an attack.  I will baby my pancreas and avoid unnecessary medications.  I have never liked a pill being thrown at me to fix a problem in the body, and I guess I will be even more adamant about insisting that any medication I take is absolutely necessary.  When I do have pain, I will definitely take a medication I have for that called hyoscyamine.  I will also get blood work done to check on my lipase levels.

I realize that I have a condition that must be monitored, but I don't have cancer so for that I am extremely thankful.  I am also very thankful to have a wonderful team of doctors and nurses at National Jewish Hospital, University of Colorado Hospital, and here in Colorado Springs at the Gastroenterology of Colorado Springs who have spent so much time with me in person and by checking with me by phone. I cannot tell you how wonderful it has been to have their support and concern.  They have answered every question I have asked with great wisdom and have patient in listening to me when I talk.  At times, I would just as soon dismiss the symptoms, but I know that they won't allow this and have instructed me to get blood work done or go to the ER when they felt I really did need to be checked out.  Hopefully, things completely settle down soon in my digestive track and I can get on with the business of living.  

Thursday, June 20, 2013

It's Been Crazy Busy Around Here

Black Forest Fire Evacuations Hit Close to Home

In my last post, on June 12, I wrote about the Black Forest Fire here in the Colorado Springs area.  We could see the smoke from the fire about ten miles from our home.  We were never in danger, but many that we know were impacted by this devastating fire.  14, 280 acres were burned, 509 homes were destroyed, and 28 were damaged.  The fire also caused the death of two people who were unable to escape from their home.  For days, there was an ominous, heavy feeling in the air that surrounded us.  The air felt heavy and dark.  Not a lot of smoke seemed to drift into the part of the city where we live.  It seemed to be pushed to the north of us with the winds that came with the dry, hot air.

On the evening of June 12, my husband's daughter and her family evacuated their home and headed to our home with their cars loaded with those items they felt most important to take with them when their address fell under the category of "voluntary evacuation" status.  Just prior to their evacuation, our next door neighbors' son and his family evacuated to our neighbors' home.  Our neighbors' son lived deeper into the forest than our daughter.  By morning, we learned that his home had been destroyed.  

On Wednesday evening, June 12, I think we all felt that the evacuations in the fire area was a precautionary measure.  There was a sense of the conflicting emotions of denial and doom that seem to hang about us in the air.  It is hard not feel some anxiety and helplessness when surrounded by those who have been evacuated from home.  As we sat in the living room talking, I suddenly laughed when I glanced at my step-daughter's shirt.  "Interesting choice for fire evacuation wear," I said as I looked at her shirt.  

Laughing, she said, "And guess what song was playing as we drove off?  It was a song I used while I was training to run called Light 'em Up."  We did get a laugh out of that, and it helped to laugh.

When the official fire updates came on the news, we all gathered together in our small guest room to watch the updates on the small television in that room.

Grandson Caleb points to the map for Grandpa Jim to show where the fire is located.

We all piled on the bed so we could be close to each other while we listened to the news.  We have a large room with a large t.v. in the basement, but we chose the small bedroom where we could all be together to listen to the news.  During this time, I was struck with how grateful I was that we had moved to a location closer to our children so we could be there for them.

On Thursday morning, Thia and her family went back to their home hoping that "voluntary evacuation" orders would be lifted.  That afternoon, we all were shocked to hear that their home was now on "mandatory evacuation" orders.  They were soon back at our home.  Finally, on Friday afternoon, they were allowed to go home.  Thankfully, their home was not impacted by the fire in any way.

Unfortunately, this was not the case for neighbors' son.  Their home that sat on five acres was totally destroyed.  The Denver Post published a photo and a wonderful article about our neighbors' son on Saturday.  (Click on the last part of the previous sentence to see the photo and read the article.)  As you can imagine, the fire suddenly became very personal to us as we watched this wonderful family display great grace and courage in the face of devastating loss.  

The Colorado Springs Fire Department produced a fascinating video documenting how they approach protecting a home that is threatened by fire.  Click on: How firefighters are protecting homes in the Black Forest Fires  to gain a new respect for the professional nature of these heroes.  

Father's Day

On Father's Day, the family gathered again at our home to celebrate one of the greatest fathers ever: my husband.  Truly, he is a wonderful father to his own three daughters and to my five children.  Throughout his career as an educator, he was a father figure to thousands of others over the years.  

This year, all three of Jim's daughters and all ten of his grandchildren came to our home to celebrate the day with us.  We also were happy to include our new next door neighbors the Boone family in our celebration.  Since Steve and his wife were out looking for a home to rent or buy, only Gary and Janie and their two granddaughters were able to join us.  
Our Neighbors
Gary and Janie
It was so great to have a houseful of people.  I always love that.  

Load up your plates

Living in a patio home means that we no longer have a large private backyard when we entertain the family.  That didn't stop us from setting up a table in our new back yard.  It might be small, but that makes it all the more cosy!
Grandpa Jim with his beautiful grandchildren

Grandpa Jim with family and friends.

Daddy and Daughter
Trista, Thia, Trinette, and Jim
Father's Day was not sunny always throughout the  day.  The sky kept threatening rain.  In the afternoon, we all rejoiced because it finally rained.  We needed that rain for the drought and for those fighting the fire.  When it rained, we all moved inside.  We are happy with how well our new home accommodates a large group.
The grandchildren sit & talk & check their phones

Grandpa opens his gifts

Son-in-law Nathan fixes our noisy fan

By the end of the day, Grandpa Jim and I were both exhausted but happy as we watched the last of our visitors drive away.  As he often says as family and grandchildren depart, Jim again said, "I love to see the headlights, but the taillights are even better."  We smile knowing that nothing is better than being surrounded by family.  We miss them when they are gone.  The house seems suddenly so quiet and empty, but at our age, we also know that we need our space, our solitude, and quiet.  It is good when this quiet is broken with a smattering of times of gathering together. It was truly wonderful to have Thia's family with us during the evacuation.  It was the icing on the the cake to follow that time with a Father's Day celebration.

Health Update

Today, Thursday, June 20, Jim and traveled to Denver to consult with a GI specialist  at the University of Colorado Hospital.  I had been referred to this doctor at this facility because of a suspected sphincter of Oddi dysfunction due to chronic pain and elevated lipase levels.  After a very thorough analysis of my medical records, and after speaking with me at length about my episodes of pain, the specialist determined that he would rather not put me through an ERCP to check for this particular dysfunction at this time because the risks at my age of developing serious complications such as severe pancreatitis, diabetes, organ failure, and/or death were too high.  AMEN to that!  I am very much in agreement to his recommendations.  My lipase levels need to be higher before we go down that road.  Less risky explorations need to be done before we go to the more extreme testing.

So, tomorrow, I will be having a EUS and a EUS-FNA instead. There are some risks, 1% for pancreatitis, and 5% for a flare-up of abdominal pain, but I can take those risks.  The procedure is done by endoscopy, this will be my tenth endoscopy, but this time, the endoscopy will be a bit more detailed and intricate.  I am not looking forward to going through this, but at least I know what to expect and have certainly been through many endoscopies before.  

I hopefully be bringing you all a good report filled with good answers next week.  Send your prayers my way. I am sending my thanks to all of you in advance for your support during this time.  

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Fires in Colorado Springs

Twenty-one years ago today, I married the love of my life.  
Jim on our 21st Anniversary
Colorado Fine Arts Center
We've both changed a lot since our wedding day.
Wedding Day
June 12, 1992
We've been together
in sickness
in health, 
for richer,
for poorer,
we hope we have many more years 
"death do us part."
21st Anniversary
Fine Arts Center
On Mother's Day, Jim had arranged a special brunch for the two of us at the Fine Arts Center.  Since I was in the hospital, I took a rain check.  Today, he made good on his word and took me to the Fine Arts Center for lunch.  We dined on  wonderfully prepared salmon,  risotto croquettes, and asparagus. For dessert, Jim had turtle dessert pie and I had a lemon raspberry gelato.  I wore the necklace he gave me for Mother's Day.  After lunch, we went through the Arts Center to see some of the wonderful displays.  I always love going to this treasure of a place in Colorado Springs.  There are several Chihuly  works here, a portrait of William Palmer's daughter by William Singer Sargent and some wonderful pieces of Van Briggle pottery that I never tire of seeing.  While at the cafe in FAC, I stepped out on the veranda to take a photo of my beloved Pikes Peak and the grounds surround the Art Center and part of Monument Valley Park.  This part of Colorado Springs, is one of my favorite spots.  I love the junipers and Colorado blue spruce and the ponderosa pines that dot the area.

Despite the happy occasion, the situation just north of us was heavy on our minds.  Fire was burning in the Black Forest just fifteen to twenty miles from where we celebrating our anniversary.  Family members had been evacuated from their homes, and other family members were on alert and ready to leave their homes if necessary.

After lunch, I had Jim drive us to the top of Palmer Park which was a favorite picnic spot from my youth.  I wanted to get to the top of this bluff to see the scope of the fire to the north of us.

This photo does not give one the best view of the fire, but nevertheless, as a native to this region, I was shocked at how wide the range of the fire appeared to be.  This area where I went to take these photographs used to be the northern edge of the populated area of Colorado Springs when I was a child.  This bluff, now in the more center part of the city, was where we would go to watch the fire works on the 4th of July when I was a child.  The landscape, dotted with wonderful sandstone bluffs, pine trees, scrub oak, and yucca is dry.  It served as a reminder that this region is a dry tinderbox; truly it is as Wikipedia's definition states: tinderbox refers to something that is so dry that it could catch on fire with the slightest provocation, perhaps even spontaneously like a forest fire.  

Yucca growing in Palmer Park,
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Yucca pods
A few buds are on the plant to the left
Yucca should bloom in June.  I remember so many rides to this area in the spring to see this hillside in bloom.  It was one of my favorite sights.  We are experiencing a late spring here because of cold weather, and rain.  Despite this late spring with some moisture, we are still in a drought.  You can see how dry this ground is.  Any moisture that it received did not do a lot of good.

A few yucca plants were in bloom.

 I hope to come back next week to see if the yucca are in bloom.  If so, the photo below will look different.  I remember many more yucca plants in this area when I was a child.  Now this area has limited access so that the wild flowers can be more protected.  

As many of you know, the Colorado Springs area suffered another wild fire last year in June.  You can read my blog post about that event here: Fire, Smoke and Rain.  This year's fire is north of where we live by about ten miles.  As my husband and I drove home from our lunch date, I had him stop at a church parking lot that is just two miles from our home so I could take a photo of the fire.  It is hard to imagine the scope of the size of this inferno that now seems to fill the horizon of the northward view from our part of town.   As I sit here and type, I know the air is filled with smoke because in the protection of my air conditioned house, I am beginning to have difficulty breathing.  I fear for those who suffer from asthma much worse than I do.  

As I reflect on the events of this day in my beloved Colorado Springs, Helen Hunt Jackson comes to mind.  I recalled reading her essay Bits of Travel at Home.  When I first read this essay, I tried to envision what this town must have been like when she first came here. I tried to imagine what my hometown was like when my grandfather's grandmother (or my great-great grandmother) came here in about 1894.  Thankfully, Helen Hunt Jackson recorded through her writing much of what this pristine beautiful area looked like over a hundred years ago when it was first settled.  

She described the the "Divide" north of town.  At first I had a hard time determining what she was writing about when she wrote: Looking northward over this sea-plain, one sees at the horizon a dark blue line.  Then, as I read on: This is the “Divide,” —another broad-spreading belt of table-land. lifting suddenly from the plains, running from east to west, and separating them. Its highest point is eight thousand feet above the sea, and is crossed by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. On its very summit lies a lake, whose shores in June are like garden-beds of flowers, and in October are blazing with the colors of rubies and carnelians.*  I realized that she was writing about The Black Forest and Monument Hill.  

This beautiful forest, the one I always loved is burning.  I can barely continue to write.  I am overcome with emotion.  Tears are falling down my face.  I always wanted to live there, but my mother, who lost her home to fire as child in Woodland Park would never even entertain the idea of living in what she called a "tinderbox."  I weep for those who will never again live in its beauty because the trees and their homes are gone.  I weep and pray.  I pray these fire stop.  I pray for rain. 

Thankfully, Jim and I just drove up into this area on Sunday and I had a chance to drink in the beauty of the Forest.  I am overcome with grief for those who have lost their homes.  I am overcome with grief for the loss of this once pristine area.  As I remember and grieve, I thank Helen Hunt Jackson for preserving the majesty and beauty of this area for us with her words:

It is a gracious and beautiful country the Divide, eight or ten miles in width and seventy long, well wooded and watered, and with countless glens and valleys full of castellated rocks and pine groves. All this one learns journeying across it; but, looking up at it from Colorado Springs, it is simply a majestic wall against the northern sky,—blue, deep. dark, unfathomable blue, as an ocean wave might be if suddenly arrested at its highest and crystallized into a changeless and eternal boundary. It is thirty or forty miles away from us; but in every view we find our eyes fastening upon it, tracing it, wondering how, not being built of lapis lazuli or clouded sapphire, it can be so blue. It is the only spot in our glorious outlook which is uniform of color. Sunsets may turn the whole north sky golden yellow, and the afterglow may stretch rosy red the entire circle round, while the plains below fade from . brilliant sunlight to soft, undistinguishable gray; but the wall of the Divide remains always of its own unchanging blue. Storms sweep over it, black and fierce, but the blue shows through. Snow covers it and the winter sky arches white above it, but still its forest ranks of pines and firs stand solid, constant blue in the horizon.*

*Bits of Travel at Home ~  Helen Hunt Jackson

Sunday, June 9, 2013

A Book Review: And The Mountains Echoed ~ Khaled Hosseini

And the Mountains EchoedAnd the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I did not want this book, And The Mountains Echoed, to end.  As I neared the end of the book, I saved the last chapter to read the next evening so I had one more day to look forward to reading one more tale from the master storyteller.  Hosseini is that: the master storyteller.  As I read, I kept thinking what a satisfying read this book proved to be.  It is rare to find a book that satisfies the reader with brilliant writing, a great story woven in a way that does not follow traditional patterns, great character development, and gives insight and understanding to a culture, a people, and a place.  This book does all of that.

Following a pattern of writing that seems to be gaining in popularity, Hosseini uses a collection of short stories to tell his story.  Some writers can accomplish creating a book that is engaging by using this style, and others can not.  Hosseini proves he can tell a good story no matter what style he uses.

I personally love reading masterful short stories that create in-depth character development, create an interesting plot with conflict that does not seem contrived, uses setting as an important part of both character development and development of the theme, and causes the reader to reflect upon the themes and lessons found in the short story.  I believe Hosseini does this in each of his short stories.

He then masterfully weaves all of these stories together to create the larger story of the book.  He creates tension that must be resolved by the end of the book with each new short story.  He uses irony at the end of the story to illustrate the depth of a bond that a brother and sister have despite being separated for a lifetime.

Disappointedly, I found the last chapter in the book the one I least enjoyed.  Perhaps the chapter was not contrived, but it felt like he tied up the ending of the story in a less satisfying way than I hoped that he would do.

When I began some chapters, I wasn't sure I would like the characters, the story, or themes, but in the end, I did with each one except for the last chapter.  Despite this one disappointment in the book, I have rated it with five stars, and have no qualms in stating that this book is amazing.  I loved it.

The book is not anything like The Kite Runner, nor is like A Thousand Splendid Suns, except that it gives us insight into the complex culture of Afghanistan.  It builds our understanding of the Afghan people and how their lives have been affected by the wars in that region.  I am quoting my own review of the Kite Runner and adding it to my review of this book.  And the Mountains Echoed, "is a book that won't let you go. I have not forgotten it, and I most likely won't."  Perhaps, that is the effect all masterful storytellers have on readers.  I won't soon forget this book, its characters, its themes, nor the beauty of the writing.

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