Friday, July 22, 2016

I'm coming out of the closet. Blog #407

I'm so afraid of coming out of the closet and being shunned by friends or neighbors and have stayed comfortably hidden for many years, but someone called me on it and they are right...I'm a fraud.

Someone sent me a link the other day about angels and asked to send this same link to 14 other people in my contact list. I did, mainly because it makes people feel good...much like when I asked for prayers when Donna was sick. Well, one of Donna's friend accepted the link but she thought it was inconsistent of know what, she's right.

When someone says they will pray for you, or they ask me to pray for someone troubled or sick, I always say yes but the reality is...I am sending positive energy their way.

I was raised a strict catholic who got in trouble with the nuns when they said God knows all, what you are thinking, what you are doing and what you will do in the future. Well, I said that if God knows what I will do in the am I responsible for what I was destined to do? That never went over well.

I live in a very religious community which I love, and I will follow though with the customs of the community without a problem, but I am a man of science and I can't avoid it.

We are all comprised of DNA, which dictates whether you will be an insect, plant, fish, reptile or mammal. The story is that God put us on earth as his subjects but why would every other living thing on earth die and decompose...but only one special carrier of this particular DNA be welcomed into some sort of fairyland when they die? Are you telling me that when my puppies die, they are dead, but me (perish the thought) ...being comprised of the same building block material have some sort of "free pass" to Disneyland?

It's inconsistent with a God, that loves all life, would only allow humans into his kingdom. Why put ants, wasps, sharks, Tasmanian devils or cockroaches on earth if this was a PLANNED endeavor? Oh, I do believe there were great men and women, with profound teachings such as Confucius, Muhammad, Budda and Jesus...but do I believe they are the son of God? Well, first I would have to believe in a God, wouldn't I? These were all very holy men who tried to teach people a good way to live their life. People are afraid of death, they think "what's the purpose of living if there isn't a place to go to"? Well, do you think maybe horses, cows, and dogs all think the same way...because in reality, they are built with the same genome that we are with slight variations.

The old testament was written in 6 BC and the famous New testament "The Bible that all the Christians are talking about" was first written 70 to 90 years after Jesus had died. With the average lifespan of 40 years at that time...who is writing these words and how convoluted did they become?
Can you just for a moment imagine how much better my grade school report cards have improved over the last 55 years, I was a star student...not? My history gets better every year I'm alive, it's human nature. It is hard to imagine that in 75 AD, anyone was still alive who knew personally of Jesus or his miracles.

Do I want to rain on someone else's parade...of course not. I just feel ashamed for lying to my friends and neighbors all this time. Donna needed all the good thoughts and support we could conjure up and I wanted (and Donna, for we were of equal mind) all possibilities explored.

Am I worried of a lasting, because if you happen to be correct, and your God judges us by how we love, hate war, enjoy the company of his animals and appreciate the beauty of our world...then I'm in! (it's always smart to have a contingency plan)

I know this will not be well received by some of my friends, but rest assured, we can love all the same without judgment...I hope to remain your friend, always.

Thank you, Cathy.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Kayaking on Trout Lake Blog #406

Trout Lake is about 15 miles from home.

The first time I ever went there was when Donna was in between chemo treatments and she wanted to travel somewhere she always did.

Recently, I took Riley up to the same spot to fish. We did catch a few and had a good time even though the wind blew our chair into the was recovered...but it wasn't until the following day that we realized Riley's collapsible rod/reel went into the lake at the same time.

Joanie Christain said I might find an old beaver house at the far end of the lake...I found more.

This beaver house at the back of the lake was thought to be an old, unused one.

The fresh cuttings in front of the house indicate it is...occupied.

Even for a small's hard to beat views like this.

I found another beaver lodge on the lake.

When I got close to the lodge, this beaver showed his displeasure at me for being in his neighborhood.

This great heron was eyeing a dessert.


Not the best focus, I am challenged by my equipment but is does show motion...which I like.

Just another gratuitous

Monday, July 18, 2016

Kayaking on Coffin Lake. Blog #405

I met Joanie Christian in a store parking lot while I was admiring her kayak mounted to a roof rack. We talked a bit about kayaking and my needs. I settled on the same kayak her and her husband, Jim, Elie Sound 120XE. Along with being a little longer, which eliminates some of the swishings back and forth with each stroke, the added length will be more suitable in ocean bays. 

We met at Coffin Lake, about 20 miles east of town, to launch our boats. I takes two people because we have to carry the boats down a fairly steep hill some 100 yards or so to the lake itself.

Joanie was good enough to take a short video for me.

Joanie teaches nursing and Jim is a biology teacher so I am covered if one, I fall in the lake or two, want some algae identified.

We were following a beaver as it cruised the lake. He would come up occasionally to slap the water with its tail in order to scare us away.

Traveled as far as we could down the outlet until a large set of logs blocked our way.

Technically we could have portaged around the barrier, but then we talked about whether it was legal? The land on both sides is privately owned...but not the water.

It is so beautiful and to be able to glide over the water quietly.

With no breeze whatsoever, the reflection is spot on!

While Jim was exploring near the shore, he heard loud snorting noises just behind the trees. This was explained to me that when a moose wants to come by the shoreline in order to eat or drink but there are people nearby, it will snort its displeasure by making loud noises. We set of shore about 50 yards to see if he'd come out, to no avail.

Near home, I spotted this enormous "anvil-head" thunderstorm moving up the valley.
Many thanks to Jim and Joanie for allowing me to join the trip.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Donna's Brave Heart. Blog #404

Donna's cancer doctor here in Spokane told me she was doing a series of writings called Brave Hearts and would like it if I contributed writing our story, with a photograph. It's to cheer cancer patients to keep fighting, as long and hard as they can.
I don't know if our journey will help in that effect, but an honest journey is better than no journey at all. 
Here is what I wrote for Donna's doctor, and some of it is in past blogs but any chance to blog is good with me.

Donna and I met in college. She would type my papers for me and I fell in love with her that first
night we dated. After college, we drifted into the casino business for the next 37 years.

Donna’s father died when she was 12 and her mother died when Donna was 16, so Donna always said
she would be the first to go but hoped she would live longer than either parent…she did by 13 years.

Donna had been told to have her blood work check in 2013 but she put it off until Feb. 2014. She was
referred to Dr. Gopaluni who took a biopsy and said it might take a week for the results. I think it was three days later that the doctor called and informed Donna of the results, Donna's face turned white and immediately started crying. I took the phone and arranged with the doctor to come into Spokane for treatment.
Donna had AML, Acute Myeloid Leukemia, the same blood cancer that killed her mother at the young age
of 48.

What could we do? Where do we go? What will happen if we do nothing? All these questions were running around in, mostly my head, because Donna was still in shock of it all.
She would only be in Spokane for a week or so for the start of chemo. That first week I drove back and forth every day because we have two house dogs to take care for, but after one week turned into two weeks I moved temporarily to Spokane with the dogs. I lived in our RV in the hospitals parking lot.
Donna had a rough go with the chemo treatment which also starting giving her congestive heart failure. I think she was in the Spokane hospital 7 weeks the first time. 

After her release and with medication for the heart failure starting to work, Donna was on the mend. A second bone biopsy weeks later confirmed that she still had leukemia and would need a bone marrow transplant and more chemo.
This transplant could only be done in Seattle if they accepted her. At first, they balked at trying because
of the heart failure, (now I wish they stuck to their guns) but as summer wore on she became stronger and was finally accepted by Seattle
Cancer Care Alliance…after we come up with $100,000 our insurance would not cover for the 
gathering of the bone marrow.

Dr. Gopaluni was very much in favor of us going to Seattle so I started to take out a first on our house since we owned it free and clear.
Donna felt bad about the bills, heck her medication were running $7,000 to $11,000 a month and now the SCCA wanted a hundred grand up front? Donna did complain to Dr. Gopaluni that maybe we shouldn’t go to Seattle? Two days later our insurance company, who would only cover $20,000 of the expected $130,000 just to harvest the bone
marrow, all of a sudden changed their mind and would cover it, %100…not sure what the doctor told them but I’m very grateful her help.

Seattle was a nightmare. We moved the RV 20 miles outside the city and prepared for the transplant. We were told a typical stay after transplant was 5 to 21 days at the most, but Donna has never fit the mold of a "typical" girl…Donna never left the hospital for the next 4 1/2 months.
Everything that could go wrong, did! Donna suffered so badly from not just the chemo and radiation, but from the massive amounts of medication she was taking. IV’s were strung the whole time, she went in D-fib twice, on a ventilator twice, had something called “press” that made her psychotic and had an untold amount of blood transfusions. When she was finally released in Feb 2015 she was a very broken woman. SCCA upon her release congratulated Donna on being free from cancer, but said very little about her present condition which in my mind was horrible. She was still hooked up to IV’s, to which
I gave her the meds and fluids she needed but Donna was now on more medication than before.
She got her much wanted RV ride back to the house in Colville, where neighbors had hung signs and balloons welcoming her home. We were hopeful.

I think Donna lasted 3 or 4 days at home before we went to Spokane for a normal appointment with Dr. Gopaluni. Donna would get upset with me because I found it hard to say Dr. Gopaluni and referred to her as Dr. Guacamole. (sorry Doc)
Well, Donna never left the hospital alive after that appointment. Dr. Gopaluni did not like what she saw and had her admitted immediately. I ran back and forth to Spokane wondering if I should bring the RV down when her doctor called to tell me that there was nothing they could do for Donna in Spokane…they will have to fly her on a medical jet back to the University of Washington, where Donna spent the previous 4 1/2 months. Our doctor again said, don’t worry about the cost…wow.

As soon as Donna flew out, I drove home to get the RV ready for Seattle again as I had just unloaded it when we got back home. A Doctor I’d never heard of before called me and asked if I knew about her condition. Yes, I replied, I’m getting the RV prepared to drive back to Seattle now and I'll be there in two days. “Mr. Zwart, I can’t guarantee that much time” I pulled over as I was
on the way to town to reload the RV. I’ve never been so upset or floored like that moment and just typing this brings it all back to the forefront. What they did not understand was that Donna was my Rock of Gibraltar, my mentor, and my soul mate
before that became a common word or phrase.

I rushed to Seattle, and it’s amazing that I even got there because it’s really hard to drive with that damn water in your eye thing!
Typical Donna, when I entered an all too familiar room (same floor, same ICU) and Donna perked up and said “hey, did you hear,
I’m dying”!

We spent the next four days talking about our travels, our son, our grandkids and what a great life we had together. The doctors had already told me there was no coming back from this and I said that if that is the case then how about plugging all this crap that she is hooked up to.
Ah, the room was so much quieter without all the lights and beeping noise. Our son Jason came up and my sister Teri flew
in from Denver to give us some support.
Donna drifted into a coma on the last day and below is what I wrote in a letter about that day.

Would Donna have done it again? No, it was a horrible 13 months for her but when they tell you if you do nothing, it’s 100% you’ll die in months but there is a chance if we transplant. That damn “carrot on the stick” was appealing but in retrospect, it was an empty promise for someone that was not that healthy at the time.

Costs were another issue. Luckily, we landed in Washington, a progressive Obama Care state. Donna’s bills hit $2,300,000 million
before her death…was it worth it? She would say no because of the quality of that last year sucked big time, me being selfish…wanted
one more month, one more day and even one more hour with her.
Here is what I wrote of that last night.

That last night that we were together at the hospital I remember talking to you for hours even though you were in a coma and I was blabbing away talking about nothing and all of a sudden you turned your head with open eyes and looked at me I knew immediately that your body just relaxed and your eyelids opened. It would be nice to think that you snuck one last peek at me before you went but medically they'd think I was nuts. I never felt so alone in my life at that moment even though I had family in the room with me. 
I'm going to try to keep track of things you've missed, who knows whether you can actually get messages from beyond but here goes. 
You had a wonderful memorial at the house with all the neighbors. Paul made a beautiful church bench with a plaque on it "To Donna from the neighborhood". Denny, Laura, and Ashley were there, all the neighbors and Duane surprised me by flying up for the memorial. Lori catered it. 
Next came the memorial in Las Vegas. Your girlfriends really outdid themselves. They had it all organized for me and it was attended by many people that we both knew.  All your coworkers, lots of your old bosses and all my family with your sister Trish. We had a good celebration for you, honey. 
After Vegas, I did what you asked me to do.  I went home picked up the dogs and we went down to see your granddaughter Kendra Moon born. She is so beautiful and a day early too! Two days later Riley and I went to see Jessica get married. It was a beautiful ceremony I sure wish you could have seen it, very fancy. After that the dogs I went home. 
You are still here with me and there is no "till death do us apart", even in death you are my one and only…I love you. 

In 2007 I had my own bout with cancer and thought I might not be here, so I typed this song I love from Leon Russell titled 
A song for You and put it in the safe deposit box to be opened after I go…well, things didn’t work out like I imagined.  

A Song For You 
Written by Leon Russell  (for Donna)

I've been so many places in my life and time
I've sung a lot of songs, made some bad rhymes
I've acted out my life in stages
With ten thousand people watching
But we're alone now and I'm singing this song for you

I know your image of me is what I hope to be
I treated you unkindly, darling can't you see
There's no one more important to me
Darling can't you see through me
Cause we're alone now and I'm singing this song for you

You taught me precious secrets of the truth withholding nothing
You came out in front and I was hiding, 
But now I'm so much better, and if my words don't come together
Listen to the melody 'cause my love is in there hiding

But I love you in a place where there's no space or time
I love you for my life 'cause you're a friend of mine
And when my life is over
Remember when we were together
We were alone and I was singing this song for you, 

I... love you in a place
Where there's no space or time
And I love you, love you for my life
'Cause you are a friend of mine
When my life, when my life is over
Remember when we were together 
We were alone and I was singing this song for you

We were alone now, and I was singing this song for you
We were alone and I was singing this song, Singing this song, for you, 

I am really inadequate at writing and this song tells most all of how I feel, although I don’t think a song or poem has been written that encompasses it all.
You’ve been my friend and most importantly my mentor thru life. You and only you have made me the person I was. I love and cherish you so much and want nothing but for your happiness after reading this. Listen to this song…have a good cry and then get on with your life. Our son needs his mother to be strong and I know you will be.
Love you so dearly, Tom

And that Dr. Gopaluni is my story, I hope it helps.
After reading what I wrote for Donna's doctor, I'm not sure it will be received with much encouragement.

Spirited Rose Farm

I met Jay and Michelle Lancaster at our farmers market a few weeks ago when I had both grandkids with me.
They have a farm just outside of town and invited us to come up and have a tour.

I saw Michelle again this week at the farmers market and decided that yesterday would be a good day to visit...and maybe learn a little about raising Jersey's, sheep and chicken.

Michelle is showing my grandkids, a few weeks ago, how to spin wool into yarn.

Jay took us down to the field where their champion Jersey's were laying around in clover.

There was grandma, mother, sister and youngster altogether in the field. They raise the cattle on a rich diet of grasses instead of grains because Michelle wants more cream in the milk as opposed to a higher liquid content. Michelle makes her own mozzarella and gouda cheeses, I hope to buy some soon.

This is the bull they use for breeding, but can only do one year before they get another bull, to stop inbreeding. Jay had a name for the bull and will slaughter him for beef in the fall. I asked if it was hard eating an animal that you've assigned a pet name too?
"Na, I grew up at the dinner table asking mom to pass a slice of Fred or Billy".

In the winter the cows have covered stalls to stay in, with the opportunity to walk outside if the sun is shining. When gets down to 10 degrees, Jay puts an extra layer of bedding straw down for his Jersey's. Each cow will eat approximately 800 pounds of alfalfa and grain every two weeks...that's a huge amount that has to be stored for the season. The sheep have a similar building for the winter.

The milking station is just outside the sliding door of their walk out basement. The cows know when they need to be milked and walk right up to the door. This portable milker stores 2 gallons at a time.

The milk is quickly put into a freezer for two hours to bring the temperature down and then poured into this machine. This hand operated cream separator works by centrifugal force to spin the cream into a jar...mostly for cheese making. Rather than using commercial cleaners or bleach to wash the equipment, Michelle makes her own apple cider vinegar to do the job. They know what they are doing, Jay has a B.S. in Animal Science and Michelle has a B.S. Environmental Management.

There were four freezers and refrigerators in the basement, all stuffed to the hilt.

Done with the cows and onto the sheep.

While the mother and father are dark, their offspring are mostly very light in color. The very first cutting of a lambs (youngsters)
wool is the best wool, much softer than an older one. 

All the chicken are free range and roam all over the farm. This one and one other in the coop, are the two laziest of the bunch. The chickens will come into the coop on their own each evening.

You won't find any roosters on this farm, Jay says they are very mean to the girls.

It wouldn't be a proper farm without its own orchard. Michelle cans the fruit and sells the excess at the farmers market in Colville.
I'd like to thank the Lancaster's for the generosity in showing Riley and I the farm.
I would also like to thank them for sending us home with a quart of raw milk and free range eggs for the mornings breakfast. At 68, I believe these products are a first for me.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

2016 Relay For Life Walk #402

My neighbors across the street and their church are very active in the fight against cancer. The Relay Walk was held last night at our Colville city park between 5 pm and 12 am. People were welcome to come out, walk as much as they want, listen to music and hear stories from survivors and caretakers.

The evening starts with the band playing bagpipes, opening our walk around the park, just for the survivors. This and many other Relay For Life walks is sponsored by the American Cancer Society.

As a cancer survivor, I get a free tee shirt. As usual, I ask for XXX just out of habit. It looks like someone threw a duffle bag on me. Anyone familiar with Donna will, of course, notice the "MOON".

Here I am with other survivors doing our opening lap. After that initial walk, we were treated to a free dinner of chicken tacos and cookies.

This is my neighbor's booth at the relay. Becky is waving and Bill was off somewhere, probably walking. They got me involved the first year while Donna was doing chemo treatment in I do it in her honor.

This not just a gratuitous photo of Donna's granddaughter, who's middle name is Moon, but when I look at this photo I see so much of Donna in the laugh and smile.

You'd think in this little "podunk" town that country and western music would be all the rage...nope. All night the Sons Of Sasquatch played Jimi Hendrix, Ozzy Osbourne, Motown and much more.

One way to raise money for the fight against cancer are these bags. You pay $5, plus one can of food (to hold it down and then donated) and you get to decorate it weeks before if you want. My girlfriend (Carla, in case anyone is late to the game) helped me decorate the if you see good penmanship, you will know it's not I!. I purchased 15 bags and 15 cans of food for the three strong women in my life that have succumbed to the dreadful , big C!
                                  (Kleenex please)

After dark, they turn on a small electric light left in each bag and call the ceremony the "luminary". It's pretty obvious that I did not decorate this bag!

Far too many lighted bags showed us the way around the park. I said earlier that "three" strong women guided me on life's path.
My mother, of course, tried like the dickens to mold me into a worthwhile human being.
Donna...who accomplished what my mother failed to do.
Donna's mother Wilma...who died way before I met Donna, but without her...there would be no Donna, nor "me".

Friday, June 24, 2016

The American Robin. #401

I like birds, birds of prey are my favorites but here around the house, I have Chickadees, Hummers, Grosbeaks and lots of Robins. On occasion I see Eagles or Hawks flying around but here in the forest, that is unusual.

On May 24th I noticed some debris on the patio floor. I'm pretty anal about cleaning so this was somewhat new. I found the culprit, it was a bird that had started building a nest, most likely the day before, in one of my back patio light fixtures.

By the next day it looked finished to me and in the meantime, I found out it was a Robin's nest. I looked up a few facts about the bird. Male and female both make hundreds of trips in a day to carry supplies for the nest, but the female does the building.

Two days later, on the 27th of May (my phone tells me exactly when a photo was taken) the first egg was laid. Most birds lay their eggs in the morning, the Robin is the exception to this rule. It is thought that by laying in the afternoon the Robin has time to eat breakfast... you know the old saying "early bird gets the worm"?

She will generally lay 4 to 6 eggs but only one per day, in the afternoon. She laid the second egg on the 28th of May.

On the 29th of May came the third egg. I didn't shoo her from the nest to take the photos...she won't sit on them to hatch until all are laid, this way the first one won't hatch and become so much bigger its siblings.

May 30th, the fourth and final egg was laid. At this time she started incubating them and I left her alone and only went out to check on the progress when she left the nest to eat.

Ten days later on June 10th, two young Robin's had hatched.

The next day, one more hatched.

By the 13 of June, all the eggs had successfully hatched. It would be disingenuous of me to say they were cute!

Four days later they are already showing signs of developing feathers. 

On the 22nd of June, just 12 days after the first two hatched, they are feathered enough that the mother does not have to sit on them to keep the little ones warm.
During this last 12  days, I saw both parents make hundreds of trips to the nest with worms and whatever, hanging from their beaks.

This reminds me of the 1200 sq ft house I grew up in...pretty crowded in there.

The next morning, June 24 I thought all were laying on each other but after looking closely I see that there are now only two birds in the nest.

Later on the 24th of June, I go to shoot an afternoon picture and surprisingly find no babies in the nest. Those last two from the morning jumped down out of the nest to start their own lives. They won't fly for another 8 to 10 days, they need to build up the wing muscles first. Luck for me the Robins rarely use the same nest twice, but they will start another within days...and more babies. It'll be nice to have my patio back.

As evening came around I spied one of the new babies sitting in a bush on my patio, just feet away from the nest. Some kids have a tough time leaving home.
Even with the inconvenience of not being able to use the patio, I found considerable pleasure in learning about the life cycle of this amazing bird.