Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving at the Farm

Here’s the reason we changed directions after two hours on the road. This is Dad's fun. It's also what keeps him alive. The field that burned is now one of the greenest parts of the farm. Tiny shoots, but green.

We went to see Dad for the Thanksgiving break. Full details are in the Ursula blog, so I just want to focus on how Dad is doing in this post.

We got to the farm at about 21:30—long after he had gone to bed on Wednesday night. By 09:30 on Thanksgiving morning, he was out in the fields. He took a couple of hours to rest mid day, and went back out to plow for several more hours. I estimated six hours in the tractor on Thanksgiving Day.

He worked even harder on Friday and finished his plowing on Saturday, just before the sky spit for a while but refused to settle the dust. So while he doesn’t have the stamina he did when he was a young man of say 70, he is doing great for someone who is pushing 89 and fighting cancer.

The only down news is that he seems to be trying to convoke himself that the doctor won’t be able to resume treatments on Monday. He says he may tell the doctor he doesn’t want to continue with the treatments.

On the other hand, he continues to set goals and work to see them accomplished. I’m hoping his pride and determination win out over his pessimism. To use his favorite phrase, “We’ll see.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Dragons Sleep

Pern-inspired ASCII Dragon Photo source: Benzendream

Advice for aspiring writers:

  1. Keep reading. Writers are readers. Writers are also people who can’t not write.
  2. Second, follow Heinlein’s rules for getting published:
    1. Write it.
    2. Finish it.
    3. Send it out.
    4. Keep sending it out until someone sends you a check.

There are variations on that, but that’s basically what works.

Anne McCaffrey

The dragons of Pern fly missing man formation today. I learned this morning that their creator, Anne McCaffrey, died of a stroke. She was 85.

The Ship Who Sang explores themes of humanity through human-cyborg interactions.Photo source: calibre2opds

I never met McCaffery, but she was the coolest grandmother figure an adolescent male could hope for. Her imagination took us places we could never have gone without her. Librarything credits 60 books to her pen. Each one had a lesson—maybe not the lesson my parents would have wanted, McCaffery had a strong ethical bent. I read one time that she approached each of her books with a child in mind.

She had a way of making you believe. If a severely disabled girl could control a starship, how could I not try to do whatever mundane thing was bothering me at the time? If the misfit could bond to the coolest dragon ever, maybe this misfit had something to offer. I guess that was her main lesson—believe in yourself. Believe in something.

McCaffery’s earlier works are often overlooked, but they are among her best. Some of her later titles had the subtlety of a sledgehammer, but that comes from following Heinlein’s rule. (Heinlein would also let the story devolve into random preachiness sometimes.) Even so, it was difficult to put her books down.

Somewhere, the ship continues to sing.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Quick Update

Since I don’t have a picture of Dad’s face when he got the good news, here’s one of my brother Edwin, me, and Dad. I think it was taken sometime in the mid 1800’s.

The test results came back with good news. Dad’s cancer had grown, but it was only on the surface. Given that this is a very aggressive form of cancer, the doctor said its limited growth was a very good sign that the treatments are working. He went on to say that he thinks we can beat it if we increase the testaments to every week (which is what he originally said he wanted to do but never scheduled them more often that every two to three weeks).

Sunday, November 13, 2011

…Home Again Hippity Hop

The first thing we did was rebuild the fence Chris knocked down while saving what he could of the hay crop. We also hung two new gates by the driveway so Dad can let the cows out to graze in the fields after harvest. Here’s the “Hippity hop” part of the title. Suna told Chris she wanted a picture of me This was the best we could do given the glare on the cab plexiglass.

Dad was feeling much better this morning, but he was still willing to listen to reason with regard to following the doctor’s orders. Instead of insisting on doing the work himself, he sent Chris and I out to hang gates and plant fence poles.

I drove the tractor while Chris did the brain work on the ground. He made sure the posts were aligned both along the fence and vertically. I would guide the front-end loader over the post and push it in the ground using the flat on the bottom of the pivot.

While planting the posts, we managed to scare up a bunny nest. I clipped one little guy’s left leg, but he seems unhurt otherwise. We took him back to the house for Dad to nurse back to health. He’s very friendly and seemingly unafraid of anything. Might be why they didn’t run from the tractor soon enough.

Later Chris found a pile of fur he thinks was their mom. She had been gone a week or so, which gives us hope that the little one we rescued and its siblings will survive OK.

By the time I had to head back to Austin, we had planted 61 posts and hung two gates. Dad was feeling “better than since before May” when he was originally diagnosed with cancer.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Home Again…

Moon rise and lens flare over the farm with a little hand-held jitter

Chris and I got to the hospital this morning about five minutes after the on-call doctor made his rounds and told Dad he was good to go home again. This was after the floor nurse last night told us the on-call never released patients on the weekend, and we would have to wait for Dad’s regular doctor to return on Monday. Luckily, they didn’t get the release paperwork ready until after they served him lunch, so we weren’t in trouble for making Dad wait.

Have I mentioned that he hates hospitals. He says, “If you say in a hospital long enough, they’ll kill you.” So there is nothing that would have made him madder than having to wait on someone to get him out of there.

We got him home, and he decided he wouldn’t push the doctor’s orders again. He laid down and slept most of the afternoon. We watched Lawrence Welk, and he went to bed. So did we. It’s been a long one.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Cancer and John Deere

Dad and Chris discuss farm things while we wait for Dad’s new John Deere to be delivered. This should have been our first indication of what kind of day we were in store for. The smoke the driver is pointing to was actually on the other side of Cuero—more than 20 miles away The driver carries the Slow-Moving-Vehicle placard to install on Dad’s new, larger tractor while Dad wanders over to kick the tires. Chris points out something about the tractor controls as Dad moves hay. Chris buries the last of the burning hay after the fire is contained. At lest the sunset was spectacular. Maybe it was just a new appreciation of the sunset. After a long, stressful day, Dad concedes we need to take him to the Emergency Room.

This date was supposed to be an auspicious one for weddings, movies, and other things. It certainly turned out to be eventful.

I got a call the day-before-yesterday that Dad’s cancer had returned. Chris had taken him in for some tests, and they were going to keep him over night. There was a lot of anxiety and gloom in the message. The doctor felt it safer to err on the side of pessimism. I told Suna and my boss that I would do what I needed to do to tide my work project (a conference call with Singapore and some paperwork) for a few days. Then I would head to Yorktown to hear from the doctor first-hand what was going on.

It turned out that I was at the office until after 21:00, so I didn’t head out until work-time yesterday. I got the hospital just after the doctor made his rounds and determined Dad could go home. The prognosis was still very pessimistic, but Dad was chomping at the bit to get home to his cows. So we headed that direction. We did get him to eat at Whataburger on the way. He slept most of the afternoon, and we all went to bed early.

The big deal for this morning was that Dad’s new tractor was being delivered. He was excited, despite being tired and complaining of problems with his catheter. Some minor adjustments, and he said everything was good. So we went outside to wait.

Dad couldn’t stop talking about the new tractor. He listed all of the features it had that the old one didn’t. He was especially proud that after using the old tractor for three years, the dealership offered him a thousand more in trade than he paid for it to begin with. When it arrived, a huge smile broke through the fatigue covering his face.

The driver unloaded the new tractor and got it set up while the salesman talked with Dad and Chris about a spreader Dad wanted. It had been laying in the yard for almost two years and had accumulated some sun damage, which resulted in some small breakage around the edge. Dad finally agreed to take it as-is for the price the salesman said he couldn’t reduce.

After they left, Dad was agitated that he couldn’t play with his new toy. Chris and I finally gave in. We decided that if he left it in turtle mode, it wouldn’t be any rougher than riding in a car. Dad climbed in to the cab. You could feel the joy radiating out of that tractor as he moved the eleven bales of hay that comprised the total output for the year. The drought hit hard, even though Yorktown has had more rain than the Hill Country.

After the hay was all lined up neatly along the fence, Dad wanted to hook up his disc so it would be ready when he was able to work the fields. That’s where the trouble began. The bold that forms the top pivot of the three-point connection was rusted solid. A spark from cutting that bolt loose set the grass under the implant alight. The fire spread quickly as dry grass fires are prone to do.

Neighbors were showing up to help within just a few minutes. The woman from across the road got Dad to sit in her pickup while Chris and I, soon to be joined by others, fought the fire as best we could until the fire department arrived. We may have had it mostly contained, but we would not have been able to hold without the massive amounts of water they could dump—much more than the puny water hose I was using.

All-in-all, we lost only a couple of acres of dry grass, but we lost half of the hay crop. We would have lost it all if Chris hadn’t driven the tractor through the fence and pushed the unburnt bales into the empty field across the driveway. Chris showed he could make the tractor dance while fighting the fire. The house was unharmed as were most of the implements. Two of the rubber wheels on the planter melted, as did the valve stem on a tire that must have been 20-years-old. Very little damage indeed considering the potential for disaster.

After Chris finished burying the last of the burning hay, we went inside and ate some pulled poke tacos for dinner. The meat came out of a plastic tub. The tortillas were store-bought, and the cheese was the lowest-price sliced variety at the store. It was delicious.

Then Dad said he thought we needed to go to the emergency room. His doctor was out, but the answering service said to have the ER nurse call his on-call when we got there. It turns out that the anti-clotting medicine they had prescribed for Dad causes the clots to become gummy, and one had plugged the catheter, causing Dad a lot of pain. They decided to keep him over night to make sure all of the clots were cleared out.