Monday, June 17, 2024

Do Not Demolish

I had an abdominal ultrasound at the local hospital yesterday. This was a rather bewildering experience, because I went in not knowing for certain who ordered this test or why. I just got a letter in the mail saying it had been scheduled and I was to appear. So I did.

Turns out the gastroenterologists ordered it, though why they wanted it after I'd had a CT scan and an endoscopy I'm not sure. I've already been discharged from their care. I thought it was to take a look at my bumpy spleen, but as it turns out the ultrasound technician couldn't even see my hemangioma (or whatever it is) so if that was the reason it was all for naught.

But the good news is, I'm STILL not dying. At least not any more than usual.

On my walk to the hospital I found this garden wall (top) with a giant gap, a temporary fence and an admonishment NOT to tear it down. I'm not sure what the story is here, but I noticed that some of that Covid poetry is still attached to the fence. Remember, during our first lockdown, when someone posted 40 days of poems on a boarded-up restaurant around the corner from our flat? Well, this seems like the same poet, and given how weathered the poems are I wonder if they come from that same period.

Back at home, I showered off the ultrasound gel and sat out in the garden, reading. The Russians eventually got out some power tools and did whatever they do upstairs, and the neighbors had a lawn service come with blowers and mowers, so the garden was not peaceful. C'est la vie.

I made a fantastic salad out of all the vegetal odds and ends in our refrigerator, and then Dave and I took Olga to the cemetery.

She seemed very happy for the outing, especially with both of us along. She chased her ball and rolled in the long grass. (Dave is wearing my Iceland jacket. Iceland is a frozen-food grocery store here, and I found that perfectly good jacket in a skip many years ago!)

Afterwards we stopped off at Sweet Corner, that new cafe near Fortune Green, where we got a coffee and pastries while Olga lolled on the warm pavement. Dog heaven! We'd never been to Sweet Corner before and it was nice to try it out. I'll probably stop in with Olga from time to time. (The waitress told us dogs are allowed even inside!)

The bathroom had these amazing marble (I think?) walls, gray-blue with vivid white streaks and patches. Being in there was like floating in the middle of the sky.

So far the enormity of summer break hasn't hit me yet because a weekend is just a weekend. But today it's Monday and I DON'T HAVE TO GO TO WORK!

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Flea Market Postcards

Mailed from Singapore Airport, Jan. 2, 1964

"Malay Kampong, Malacca. The Malay word 'kampong' means village. Picture shows a poor Malay household doing their daily laundering around the community waterwell."

"Dear Alla: It's too hot, it's running down my back. All I want to do is sleep. It's much too hot to go shopping. We have all been down to Singapore at the week end staying with friends but I couldn't go out in the sun. So haven't done any shopping up to now. Been down the market at ten o'clock at night, the only time I've been comfortable. You ought to see George lying about in his shorts, he's lapping it up. Everybody fine here. When it rains it pours. Wendy lovely only half the size of Steven. Love from all here."

Mailed from TS/S (transport ship?) Stefan Batory, using a Polish stamp, Aug 17, 1970:

"Dear Mrs. Douglas & John, Enjoying our holiday on the ship very much, although it's not yet sunny enough for swimming or lazing on the deck. We've been dancing every day -- tonight we're going to the cinema. Food is marvellous & drinks very cheap. Hope you enjoyed your holiday. Love, Trish & Dave"

This ship was originally built in 1958 for Holland-America, which operated it for ten years as the Maasdam IV before selling it to the Polish government. It was renamed the Stefan Batory, for a 16th Century king of Poland, and continued operating as a cruise ship until 1990. It was briefly used to house asylum seekers in Sweden before being scrapped in Turkey in 2000. According to Wikipedia, Lee Harvey Oswald sailed with his wife and daughter from the Soviet Union to the USA on the Maasdam IV in 1962.

Mailed August 26, 1960 from Monte Carlo.

"Reflets de la Cote d'Azur: Monte Carlo. Le Casino et les terrasses."

"Dear Mum: Here we are Monte Carlo. They have just changed the guard and the sun is still hot. It was a beautiful drive from Finale. See you next Saturday. Gordon"

Written July 10, 1978, and mailed from Lusaka, Zambia

"Dear Mum: Two T/chests have gone today with my Polish china etc in. They will be delivered to you, but they are very heavy so don't you try lifting them. Perhaps you could just see they don't 'throw' them through the front door! as they do contain breakable things. I hope when they do arrive John will be there to lend a hand! Will be writing a letter later. Love, Shirle"

Saturday, June 15, 2024


Well, we are done. DONE. For the next two months, I don't have to think about overdue books, or mobs of boys who loudly play "Brawl Stars" together on their phones, or girls surreptitiously nibbling potato chips hidden in their bags, or any of the other elements of daily life in the library. I can just relax and read and hang out with Dave and the dog. Woo hoo!

I finished the year with a five-page list of patrons with overdue items -- eight adults and 25 kids. The adults are no big deal. They'll return their stuff after summer. Of the kids, at least one is leaving the school so I imagine we'll never see that book ("Fahrenheit 451") again, but we have another copy so we'll survive.

Yesterday I spent the morning tidying up the library and then we all went to our big end-of-year luncheon in the gym, when we recognize the teachers and staff members who are leaving and more importantly we GET TO DRINK! It's a rare day when I can have a couple of glasses of wine on school property.

Afterwards, some people from the library and technology department went on to a gathering at a local pub but I didn't go. By the time lunch was over at 2:30 p.m., I was ready for the day to be done. I think it's a tall order to expect people to come to an evening event on the last day of school. So I just walked home and sat out in the garden with Olga.

The top photo shows a crane fly that I found on one of our dahlias. That dahlia, as you can see, looks pretty good and has quite a few leaves. But some of the other dahlias are still just stubs, if even that -- they've been repeatedly gnawed to the ground by snails and slugs. I finally brought two of them inside last night, hoping I could at least get them to sprout and grow a bit before returning them to the great outdoors. Right now they're barely visible above the soil.

Some of this might be because I didn't repot them for the last two years. I know I said this last year, but this fall I really am going to lift them all and clean and store the tubers before planting them in fresh soil next spring.

Ah, summer! When all I have to think about are dahlias!

Friday, June 14, 2024

Still Not Dying

That was the view from the window of the endoscopy unit yesterday. It looks kind of magical, with those rooftops and spires beyond the trees. But isn't that a gloomy sky? I had several conversations yesterday with people whose first impulse was to complain about our wet and chilly spring. It's 55º F (or 12.7º C) this morning as I write.

Today's the last day of school, when we have our annual luncheon with speeches for the leavers and that kind of thing. Normally it's mighty warm -- I've been known to wear shorts and short-sleeved shirts in past years -- and we prop the doors of the gym open for more air. But this year, I'm thinking not! In fact yesterday I wore a sweater and a jacket to the hospital.

So, yes, my colonoscopy went fine. The doctor found four polyps which he removed, and he said they didn't look dangerous. Interestingly, they were all in the ascending colon, the part nearest the appendix, which is not usually where cancers develop. The transverse and sigmoid segments of my colon were clean. He took a few random tissue samples for biopsy to try to see why my calprotectin levels were abnormally high on my recent blood tests. I'll get all those lab results right before we leave for Argentina and Brazil at the end of the month.

So here's what I think all this means. I think the root cause of all my discomfort and inflammation is too much stomach acid, exacerbated -- as much as I hate to admit it -- by alcohol and coffee. I think it has affected my lungs, giving me a chronic cough and the slightly thickened airways (bronchiectasis) we've seen on past CT scans. I think it flares up into acute gastritis at certain times, like when I fly to L.A., forget my stomach medication and drink a lot of martinis, and then takes a while to settle down. I suspect the calprotectin was elevated because of the gastritis.

And of course in my mind I turn all of that into cancer, because, well, I'm crazy.

I have one more medical adventure, and that is an ultrasound on Sunday (!). The doctors want to take a closer look at my spleen, which has been shown by several scans to have some sort of cyst or bump on it. It was the only abnormality flagged on my CT scan from early May -- they called it a hemangioma, a benign growth of extra blood vessels, like a birthmark -- but the bottom line is no one's quite sure what it is. I'm not too concerned because primary cancer of the spleen is rare and everyone seems pretty certain it's benign, but it might still need attention. Such growths usually don't cause symptoms but I suppose I might be feeling it now and then. Who knows.

Isn't this fun? Talking about my spleen?

I spent yesterday morning partly in the garden, when we had a brief period of sun, and partly on the couch. I even got some things done around the house, like vacuuming and laundry. I felt pretty darn productive considering all that was going on with my abdomen!

I did indeed have beef broth for lunch, and I was actually surprised that I felt so normal. I can see why some people like to fast. It was kind of liberating not having to think about food. Maybe I'll make it a habit! (Probably not.)

As you can see, there's still lots happening in the garden, despite the chilly weather. The pink Asiatic lily is just opening, and that foxglove (above) is possibly my favorite out of all of them. If I save any foxglove seeds it will be those.

The actual process of the colonoscopy didn't begin until 4 p.m., but I had to be at the clinic by 3:30. I had a very chatty Italian nurse named Marta who told me all about her most recent pizza delivery in which apparently the drivers ate one of her two pizzas, and then insisted the restaurant had only sent one. "I'm never getting takeaway again," she declared. I told her I'd never heard of such a thing, but come to think of it, Dave's tortilla chips didn't arrive from Chipotle last night. Hmmm...

Thursday, June 13, 2024

A Family Story

Another day, another flower. This is one of our peonies. We got varying results from the peonies this year -- the yellow intersectional peony went crazy and had more flowers than ever before, at least ten. The peony above has managed two blooms so far. And the "Bowl of Beauty," which did so well in previous years, has not a single flower or bud. You just never know.

I am in the middle of preparations for my colonoscopy, so needless to say I'm not going to work. I started last night, and the procedure is at 4 p.m. today so basically I have to sit around all day with an empty belly, which I'm not thrilled about. I'm taking Moviprep, the powdered drink mix "cleanse." It's not too terrible if you drink it quickly, but it makes me feel incredibly cold.

Anyway, I'll be glad when all this is over.

I know I seem paranoid about my gut health, but there's a reason: 

These are my paternal grandparents. I never knew my dad's father, who died at age 59 in 1964, a few years before I was born. And I barely knew my grandmother, because they lived in Riverside, California, all the way across the country from where I grew up. When I was a small child I went to California with my parents twice, but then my brother was born and my parents got divorced and my dad got remarried and there were step-siblings and everything was complicated, so we didn't go again until 1983, when I was 16. That's the only time I really met and talked to my grandmother as a semi-adult.

Anyway, people say I look like my grandfather, and I think that's true. I also think I have his body type, and I'll be 58 this year. So I am careful about gut health because of the way he died.

He was a mailman and a Boy Scout leader, and was generally very fit. He didn't drink, he wasn't overweight, he only smoked an occasional pipe (as opposed to cigarettes). So it was a surprise to everyone when he awoke one night in excruciating pain, an ambulance was called, and doctors discovered that his colon had spontaneously ruptured from undiagnosed colon cancer. He lived only a short time after that -- a matter of days, I think. He told my father he'd had no alarming symptoms -- no bleeding, no pain, no discernible weight loss. His only clue that something was amiss was that sometimes, on his mail route, he'd need to urgently find a bathroom -- and apparently that issue was never severe enough to raise a red flag.

Now, all of this is second-hand information from 60 years ago, and almost everyone who witnessed his death is now dead themselves. So who knows what really went on. But still! Scary!

To the best of my knowledge no one else in my family had colon cancer except my great-uncle on my mom's side, and that wasn't until he was a very old man. (And he beat it.) But I have had other family members with cancer, and of course my dad died from it -- though he smoked like a chimney and it was lung cancer, not colon.

So, yeah, I'm paranoid. I keep an eye on things.

I imagine I'll be lying around all day, reading and killing time. I had beef broth for dinner last night and I'll probably have beef broth for lunch today. Unlike my last colonoscopy, when I went out and bought Jell-O and ginger ale and some other stuff to see me through, this time I didn't prepare at all. So I'm just working with what we've got here at home. Clear liquids is the rule, until 2 p.m., after which I can't have anything at all.

Thank god I can still have black coffee this morning!

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Mock Orange and a Hail Storm

Here's our Philadelphus, or mock orange, which is flush with blossoms at the moment. We had it trimmed when the tree guys were here in February, but you'd never know it. It's gigantic and it has basically consumed the hideous camellia. Which is fine with me.

I'm glad you all liked yesterday's mystery photos. If you'd like to see the full assortment of images I bought on Saturday, they're here, in an album on Flickr. You'll see I have a weakness for almost any photo featuring a dog!

I made fun of that woman yesterday for being proud of her dead sunflower -- and yes, I realize she was actually showing off the enormous seed head. (I still think they should have taken the picture when it had petals, but whatever.) I'm just as bad, being proud of my teasels -- which would probably continue to grow even if I tried to kill them. I'm just fascinated by these plants. They're almost five feet tall now, and the cups formed by their leaves hold a surprising amount of water -- a whole little ecosystem, as you can see.

The "flesh rose," at the side of the garden, gave us a flower this year! It's not a very healthy rose bush -- in fact at the moment I think it has three leaves -- but it did manage to squeak out a flesh-colored blossom. (And yes, I realize there are many shades of flesh, but that's still the best description I have for that color.) I cut it off so the poor plant can focus on keeping itself alive. We really should have pruned those roses to reinvigorate them.

Finally, we had a rather dramatic hail storm on Monday afternoon -- dramatic by our standards, anyway. I looked out in the garden just in time to see old, loose roses exploding from the force of the falling ice. Some of the other flowers got a bit beaten down but everything has more or less survived, from what I can tell. 

I'm still working on getting back overdue stuff. I'm down to nine pages, including teachers, which is a pretty drastic reduction from last week but still far too many for the last day of school. (Yes, students are done today! Teachers and staff have two more days, though I'm out tomorrow for medical reasons.) Hopefully even more of it will be back today.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Mysteries Not My Own

Here are some of the old, forgotten photos I picked up at the street market on Golborne Road on Saturday. These were all in a box together and it's entirely possible they're all from the same family.

I go through flea market photos pretty quickly, usually glancing at them for no more than a moment before putting them in the "buy" or "discard" pile. (And then I go through the "buy" photos again, and often discard some of those on the second pass. I try to be very selective.) It's hard to say what makes me rescue one picture over another. It's more a feeling I get than anything else. I like a sense of spontaneity -- as in the sunny backyard scene above. I like a photo that expresses liveliness, or seems to suggest some mystery or tell a story.

A successful picture, to me, engages our interest but doesn't need explaining. It stands alone in such a way that we don't need to know who the people are.

I liked these kids' expressions, and also the fact that they're happily eating fruit. So healthy!

This little picture is very mysterious. It's clearly cut from a bigger one, and it's folded in the middle as if it were carried in a wallet or locket. When folded, it's smaller than a postage stamp. And yet that kid looks so glum! Who carried it? Why this photo? Who's been cut out of it? Why is the kid's leg wrapped up that way?

On the back: "Ladywell, July 1926." (Ladywell is a neighborhood in South London -- maybe that's the Ladywell they mean?)

Imagine what these people would think if they knew this photo would be made electronically available to the whole world almost 100 years after it was taken. They'd be gobsmacked.

A typical sunny day on an English beach -- with a blanket and a sweater! I have another photo on a different beach, featuring a different person, with that same blanket. Clearly it was the family beach blanket.

These folks sure look like they're having fun, despite the weirdly industrial background. They appear to be on a boat. Are the women comparing their sweaters?

On the back:

The Chrysler Eight
The farm garage
Wilbraham Mountains in background

The only Wilbraham Mountains I can find online are in Massachusetts, so perhaps this photo is American. Not sure how it wound up at a flea market on Golborne Road!

"Why yes, I am inordinately proud of my big dead sunflower."