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.
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,?
"We're you lost?"
"Not really."
"Were you afraid?"
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.