Thursday, October 23, 2014

A long drive north


It's a promise we've been making ourselves for a few months now.
"Let's head north."
To me, "north" means the Lake Superior basin located near Marquette, Michigan. My sister and her family have lived there over 45 years, right on the shores of the largest of the Great Lakes of North American.  It's an amazing place, surrounded by deep, piney woods, cold inland lakes, and rushing rivers and streams.
To me, "north" has meant my first trip to that historic football haven called Lambeau Field, where my dad introduced me to my first-ever glimpse at NFL giants with names like Starr, Taylor, Hornung, Kramer and Lombardi. We did it again this time, as my own son and grandsons got their own close-up look at football history and those guys who wear the green and gold.
You can't talk "north" without talking about that great big lake.
Lake Superior has always been an astonishing place for my sister and family to live.  Pretty darn special for my own blushing bride and me, too, as we spent our first wedded days in a shabby log cabin on the beach, where we battled the mice and struggled to keep the pipes unfrozen on a daily basis. We walked the beach, skied its rugged dunes and watched glorious sunsets nearly every night.
This visit was extra-special, as our own beloved niece announced her upcoming wedding to Jeff, an Upper Peninsula hockey player who loves the lakes, hills, rivers and ice nearly as much as she does. Both my sons, along with my youngest grandsons, plus most of my sisters' family were in attendance.
And my youngest grandson even lost a tooth.
"Let's head north."
It's a promise I'm glad we kept.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Car wars

Root canal.
Clothes shopping.
Sorting socks.
Adjusting my rabbit ears.
Putting away silverware.
Buying a car.
These are the things I hate more than any other.
Happily, my teeth have been just fine, thank you. My wardrobe, while a trifle limited, contains enough pairs of corduroys and khakis, t-shirts, sweatshirts and baggy sweaters to maintain my natty sartorial look. I don't care about socks. TV is dull anyway. Ditto forks and spoons.
But the car thing just about took me to the edge.
After our recent "thousand miles through hell and back" journey from the friendly wilds of North Carolina, I went through a sudden change in attitude regarding our trusty, eight-seat kid-hauler. From a dependable vehicle that I just assumed would start, run and perform all those expected little jobs, the handy old car went suddenly bad, consuming time and money like a junior in high school. It took time. but by the time we got the old girl running again, my attitude toward her was mostly like that expressed towards a cheatin' girlfriend in a bad country song.
Decision:
We needed a new car.
Now, buying a big-time purchase is no small thing in the Sloan household. We don't do it very often, and when we do, "Duck!"
We scanned newspapers, drove slowly through car lots, and searched the internet like a pair of crazy people. We called dealers and visited dealerships, walking through miles of shiny cars, trucks, vans and SUVs looking for the perfect vehicle designed to meet both our needs.
It didn't seem too tough to me.
She wanted an eight-seat grandma-mobile.
I wanted a sports car.
"What about the grandkids?" she cried.
"What about the little !@#!!#," I muttered.
But yes, I understand.
I understand that a family that often consists of at least five, and often upwards of seven or eight, needs room.
So we looked. And we test drove. And we looked some more.
Finally, we decided. Son Patrick found something that caught our collective eye via an internet search of his own. Finally, there will be something to put into that new garage.
A late-model eight-seat SUV-kind-of-a-thing that we both like enough to drive in public.
Plus, we both kind of liked the price, even.
It was a long, long day.
By the time we got home, I was feeling pretty puny. She worried, as she always does, that I had overdone it, what with the whole cancer thingee and everything else that's going on.
"Shoot, honey-pie," I said. "Car shopping is enough to kill anybody all by itself."

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A new road to travel

Here's a scary word for you.
Hospice.
Like most folks, my understanding of that term has alway been a trifle gloomy.
Then I found out something else.
It's not, really.
According to the free Merriman-Webster dictionary, it can be defined several different ways.
One, "A place that provides care for people who are dying."
Another, "A facility or program designed to provide a caring environment for meeting the physical and emotional needs of the terminally ill,"
But there's another, older definition of the term that really hits the mark for me:
"A place where travelers can stay."
Now we're talking.
Because, as far as I'm concerned, life, more than anything else, is a journey.
When the clinical trial I made a run at in an effort to sideline the mysterious, aggressive cancer I've battled for the past year or so failed, there were different roads to take.
I could have resumed the chemotherapy treatment I had been undergoing, though its effectiveness had begun to wain.  I could have tried a different version of chemo, but with little hope that it would do much more than set me up with a whole new range of treatment side effects.
Or I could do what I have now chosen to do: Undergo a program of aggressive palliative care that will hopefully work to ease some of effects of the disease itself, while giving me the best possible quality of life.
They call it hospice.
And, yes, I call it life.
And the fact is, life--and living--is what it's all about.
My decision has nothing to do with giving up.
Rather, it has everything to do with taking the road that has always been the one path for me.
A road that is lined, from start to finish, with love, with faith, with truth, and with hope.
I'll see you along the way.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

C'mon in, the door's open

"Anybody home?"
It's been like that lately, as we have received any number of visits from both some of our dearest friends and some new acquaintances recently.
Some were long-planned and entirely expected.
Others were spur-of-the-moment and a complete surprise.
All have been purely wonderful.
Stopping by for a visit, like letter writing and unexpected front-porch rendezvous, have become something of a rarity nowadays. We're all so very connected, whether it be via text message, the zillion variations of social media, email and even the cell phones we all seem required to pack on our hips anytime we leave the house. Ergo, the idea of pulling on a pair of shoes and walking down the street to a neighbor's house seems tantamount to packing up for a trip to the South Pole.
Or to put it simply, we just don't do it very often.
I suspect it's the pickle I currently find myself in that's changed all that. And I truly appreciate both the thought and the action. But I also hope the sudden urge to see one another is purely borne out of a desire to rekindle and enjoy the special ties that have made us friends all these years.
Both my older son and my brother have made the list of planned visits, while others, like a much-loved cousin and an old college pal simply appeared one day. Another set of cousins are expected in the next few days, as well, along with the friends and neighbors we've been happy to welcome to our door. We've shared memories, caught up with what's new, and simply enjoyed the old friendships we've enjoyed all theses years.
In any case, it's been a treat.
A real treat.
Welcome.
Anytime.
++++++++++
They say it's your birthday
It seems the advent of social media has created an all new kind of celebration.
The Facebook Birthday.
It is, put simply, a holiday tradition that sees greeting marking the anniversary being celebrated appear a good week earlier than the actual date. Ergo, I started receiving "Happy Birthday" wishes on the 20th of September (and earlier) despite the fact that Keith and Alice Sloan didn't greet their bouncing baby boy on the 27th of the month. But somehow, the Facebook phenomenon has transformed the one-day birthday bash into what's become an all-out birthweek blowout, or longer, even.
OK with me.
Bring on the cake.





Thursday, September 25, 2014

The great apple cider donut caper

It was my favorite kind of weekend.
Not only were my younger grandsons and their dad on deck, but older son Colin made the arduous 10-hour drive from Fargo, along with his wife, Geri, my granddaughter and her best pal.  I felt kinda bad that Colin and crew had to make such a long journey, especially since they were just staying for the weekend, and would literally be hitting the road and heading back north before their car thoroughly cooled down from the southbound drive. But they're grownup big people now, and pretty much get to do what they want to do.
There were several good reasons for Colin and the club to have made the drive out of the Great Plains and into the dusty goldness that is early fall in the lower midwest.  It is, put simply, absolutely beautiful, with the soft hues and gently changing color scheme that makes this part of the world a wondrous place to sit back and enjoy come this time of year.
Moreover, next weekend is my birthday. All of us have other things to do then, so it was decided that the family celebration would take place this weekend, when we could all be together.  We enjoyed a backyard bonfire, complete with hot dogs and s'mores. We shared my "official" birthday dinner at a fine, fine bistro I've wanted my kids to enjoy.  We took drives through the rolling fields and high prairies that dot this part of the world, and spent time just enjoying each other's company as we gathered on our big old porch.
But the fact is, there was really only one reason for Colin to have made the lengthy overnight drive from Fargo, North Dakota to Galva, Illinois, while knowing full well that he'd be back in the saddle and heading home in just a couple of days.
It's a good reason. A reason I entirely understand, and one that even makes me a trifle proud.  It is, in fact, a reason that proves without a doubt that Colin Thomas Sloan is the true son of John Stuart Sloan.
Donuts.
If you've ever made the trip to Tanner's Orchard in rural Speer, you're aware of the over-amped fall-fest that takes place there every year. Besides their world-renowned apple cider donuts and apple fritters, the place has 17 varieties of apples and their world-class apple cider set for sampling; all manner of jams, jellies, sauces and salsas to try and buy; giant pumpkins and gorgeous mums; goats and llamas to feed and pet; u-pick hay rack rides and train rides; and the now-infamous corn maze.
It's always been one of our favorite places, ever since our sons celebrated their fall birthdays there.
And, of course, there's the donuts.
If you've never had a Tanner's donut, I'm not quite sure how to explain the sheer pleasure that awaits you. They have been an absolute mainstay since the orchard opened for operation back in 1947. For a true aficionado, the words "apple cider donut" are enough to send the devoted donut-dabbler into sheer paroxysms  of delight and desire.
Finally, the day was nearly over. Donuts had been carefully purchased and sampled in hopes that we'd still have a few left by the time we got home. Trains had been played on. Goats had been petted and fed. There was just one more thing to experience before we headed home.
The corn maze.
None of the adults present were anxious to go tromping through the trails and dead-end passages that make up the maze, but it was finally determined after careful discussions with the folks running the place that our two young grandsons, along with Jenna, the daughter of a friend, would be fine. The trails were well marked. The maze, though large, was relatively easy to navigate, with all trails eventually leading back to the entrance. And we figured Jenna could easily act as the brains of the operation, being a girl and all, and naturally smarter than her little-boy companions.
Off they went.
Now, savvy grandparents and parents will pretty much all agree that no time moves slower than what's experienced when you've sent your precious young children off into a place where the main purpose is to get them good and lost.
Time stood still.
We waited.
We watched.
We listened.
We wondered.
Soon son Patrick and Jenna's mom were in the maze themselves, looking for the overdue trio.
I was just about ready to suggest hiring a helicopter when the three adventurers appeared at the entrance.
"Are you O,K,?
"Yes."
"We're you lost?"
"Not really."
"Were you afraid?"
"Nope."
I was just about ready to chalk the whole thing up to the instinctive ability of children and other young beasts to find their way back where they're supposed to be, kind of like one of those Disney movies, where a one-eyed cat, a three-legged dog and a talking woodchuck miraculously travel cross-country to find the way home.
I began to question the kids regarding the pure, magical bit of instinct that brought them back to the loving arms of their parents and grandparents.
The answer was calm. And made all the sense in the world.
"Oh, I knew we'd find you, one them said. "You've got the donuts."
Well, it makes sense to me.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

One fall day

One fall day, the sun rose over frosty rooftops out my bedroom window.
One fall day, she brought me coffee and a smile to share with the bright new day and the morning news.
Happy Grandsons run to the kitchen, looking for breakfast and a warm spot by the register on the floor. Syrupy kisses and waffles made for three. Outside the kitchen window, angry squirrels chirr and chatter at the bad cat Max, who glares at them from lowered lids.
 "Just a little closer," he growls softly. "A little closer."
The first fine days of autumn are finally here, with warm sweaters and socks and sudden desperate curiosity regarding the location of the hats, jackets and gloves that mysteriously disappeared last spring. High above, windswept bands of geese struggle to get their bearings, honking and circling and tracking overhead, finding a new direction and a place to be.  Far below, car doors slam as young-boy voices argue the location of snacks and homework and  bookbags and the cursed  Green Bay Packer stocking caps with which they daily break my heart.
I watch as they leave, with grandsons headed to school, our son off to work, and the grandma-lady bound for destinations that are all her own.
The house is quiet now.
My coffee cools as I step onto the front porch. The holiday bunting that has decorated the place since summer is gone now, and I breath deep and sniff the northbound breeze blowing across my cheek. Winds shift suddenly, rustling through ropes of dried leaves and the armloads of Sweet Annie scenting the air.
These days are meant for dreaming, I think, and so I dream and remember the brilliant fall days of yesterdays gone by.
I dream, too, of the bright autumn days and months and years that are yet to come.
And I dream and hope for one more fine fall day; one that is truly meant to last forever.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

The light at the end of the hallway

Big dreams die hard.
We were excited when I qualified for a research trial testing an all-new "smart drug" that would employ genetic therapy to target specific cells and provide an effective blockade against the cancer that has already spread throughout portions of my body.  Unlike the traditional chemotherapy I've been undergoing, the new treatment would give normal cells and systems a break, and hopefully offer a better quality of life by allowing me to feel better much of the time.
The process of qualifying for the trial was a lengthy one, requiring repeated tests and scans, along with enough paperwork to level a redwood forest.
But finally, the waiting was over. The trial would begin with a morning dose of two innocent-looking capsules, along with a daily log that required me to record the every-day details of the experiment. I barely paid attention when they mentioned some of the side effects I might encounter.
The trial started on a Tuesday.
For a few days, everything seemed normal.
Then, suddenly, it didn't.
I'm not going to go into the gory details of why the clinical trial and I didn't end up like a match made in heaven. Suffice it to say the side effects were--for me, at least--really, really unpleasant.  They left me pretty beat up, both mentally and physically.
But I gave it my best shot.
The good folks at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago assure me I'm not out of options quite yet. Once again, they have astounded us with their astonishing combination of genuine kindness and amazing professionalism. So we'll be taking a look at some of those options over the next few weeks and days. And while we're disappointed things didn't work according to plan, it is, most certainly, not the end of the world.
Meanwhile, it's kind of like those doors.
And like that light.
Because we are both, quite definitely, believers that when one door slams shut, another one slowly swings open.
Just as we know that there will always be a soft light gently glowing at the end of the hallway.