Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A turning point

Yesterday was a pivotal day. Betsey had an appointment for an MRI at Anschutz Medical Campus, which is outside Denver, about 60 miles from the Shay's house. We had been planning to use the car to get Betsey there, but it increasingly seemed that that would be a difficult trip - transferring Betsey from bed to wheelchair to car, then the long ride in the car, transfers at the hospital, and then the same again on the return trip. So Ellen and I opted to spring for a transport service and found a reasonably good deal with Apex Paramedics out of Denver. They came at 10:30am, and it made the whole process so much smoother and easier for Betsey, who was able to essentially be in a comfortable position all day. The exception was the MRI itself, but that would have been true in any case.

The spiffy Apex van - a Mercedes Sprinter

Making it easy for us

But, it was a long, long day for Betsey. We did not get home until after 7p.m. - almost nine hours. A lot of that was just waiting. Betsey, fortunately, did not have to be sitting in a wheelchair. For us, it was sitting in waiting rooms, first at the Outpatient Imaging Center, and then later at the Cancer Center while Betsey had some blood work done and had an appointment with her oncologist, Dr. Domek. Rob stayed with Betsey. We spent some time with her in a "holding area," and again in "Procedure Room #2," but mostly we were in waiting lounges. We did get a bit to eat at the hospital cafe, including a lemon popsicle for Ellen:

A bit of refreshment!

Cancer Center Waiting Lounge
The report from the MRI and the tests was not a surprise, but it was very sad: the tumor is growing, Dr. Domek said there is no more she can do, so treatment has been discontinued, and Betsey is being transferred officially into Hospice Care. In Procedure Room #2, which is where Betsey and Rob met with Dr. Domek, we met Dr. Domek's scheduler, Mel, who has gotten to know Betsey very well over the past 18 months. She is a very caring person, and she stayed with Betsey for some time, reassuring her. They looked so beautiful together, I asked for a portrait

Mel and Betsey
 Rob picked up some medications while we waited with Mel, and soon Apex arrived to bring Betsey back home. Ellen and I had driven in our car, so we too left, and we saw some very stormy weather on the way back to Boulder.

Storm ahead!

Meanwhile, Gertie had to be in her cage all day while we were gone. We hoped it didn't thunder at the house, because Gertie hates  thunder. She was very glad to get outside when we got home.

Today was much quieter. Betsey wanted an "egg in a hole" or whatever it's called - a piece of toast fried with an egg in a hole in the center. She ate well, and then I read aloud for about an hour. That was very nice, because I had not had the chance to do that for a while. Then I talked with John about arrangements for his coming out to see his sister. That is still in  the works. Then I made a shopping trip to Rite Aid for a prescription refill for me, and some other things. and a stop at Ideal Market for some groceries. While I was gone, Emma left and her car broke down about a mile or so down the road. No cell service there, so she had to walk back to the house to csll AAA!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Finally, a little outing

Ellen finally got a chance to get out of the house today. Lissy Garrison, a member of Rob's staff and friend of Betsey, came to visit, and she was very capable in helping with Betsey, thus freeing Ellen. We had about two hours. So Ellen drove us to Nederland, where we had time for a coffee and treat, and we drove back - all in exactly two hours. It was a perfect day, weather-wise, and the drive was spectacular, up through Gold Hill to the Peak-to-Peak highway. A great little getaway.

Earlier, I went to church at First Congregational, and afterward did a shopping trip to Target and to Ideal Whole Foods Market. This evening we had another delicious meal on the patio, and then I helped Betsey with some carrot/dill soup, which she loved. We are so lucky to have Ellen! 

                The view above the Shay's house on the way to Gold Hill

                        A bit of Gold Hill

               The Boulder Creek in Nederland

                               View on road to Nederland

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Finally, a little walk

Today, Betsey has been sleeping much of the day and I took the opportunity for a  little walk - about 2 miles, r.t.  It was warm but breezy, so I was quite comfortable.

The walk goes along a road through the area where the big forest fire took place about seven years ago. 

           Unlike West Virginia, no flash floods here today! 

I noted and photographed the following wild flowers:

                 This is definitely Yellow Stonecrop

And this is Soapweed Yucca which Native Americans used for soap (roots), food (petals) and rope (leaves). 

               This, I'm pretty sure, is Penstemon

                                        This is Bindweed .....

                           .... and this is Prickly Rose.

    This could be Mountain Parsley but I'm not sure, and this ....

        ..... This is probably.  Buckwheat

After my walk I made a shopping run to get shrimp for supper, some cold cereals, milk, and fresh veggies, including a Napa cabbage, which was new to me. As the main shopper now, I'm learning a lot!

Rob spent a lot of time trying to get a prescription filled for Betsey - a stronger pain med. He made repeated calls to both the M.D.'s office and Walgreens - but no luck. It finally was revealed that the weekend doc did not have the proper code # for this particular opioid - so the order was denied. So Betsey is yet another victim of the problems and solutions around opioid addiction and prescription abuse. 

Betsey woke up late this afternoon, talked briefly with Katie via FaceTime, and had a bit of strawberry shortcake, which she enjoyed. I gave her the latest Laurie King mystery for her birthday, and read two chapters aloud, which she also enjoyed, but that was enough. Rob grilled the shrimp, which we had with slaw - delicious! I had gotten fresh raspberries yesterday and Ellen made a bit of raspberry shortcake for us with the leftover biscuits. 

Soon to bed. It is cool and it should be good for sleeping. For Betsey too, we hope.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Happy Birthday, Betsey!

Today is Betsey's 58th birthday! We will have a little celebration this evening, Katie will join us via Facetime and John via Skype, if all goes well. The TV guy just arrived to bring the DirectTV cable into Betsey's bedroom, and Rob got her a little TV yesterday, so she will have some new options for entertainment. Betsey had a fairly good night last night and we all got a bit more sleep than the night before. That has helped our spirits considerably!

Newborn Betsey in the nursery at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital

Proud dad with his newborn daughter outside the parsonage in Dummerston
Shirley holding Betsey on the same day

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Challenging times, good times

This is our seventh day here with Betsey and our fourth since Katie left. It has not been easy, primarily because Betsey seems unable to get any real blocks of sleep, either day or night. We are hoping to change this with some new sleep medication, but meanwhile, Ellen and Rob have been up many times during the night each of the last four nights. I'm limited in helping out because Betsey doesn't want me involved in the more intimate tasks, of which there are many! During the day, having Emma here has been a huge help. We're trying to arrange things so Ellen, especially, can get a break.

There have been good times. Betsey has expressed a profound gratitude for our being here. We both agree that Ellen is a miracle! We have had some lovely talks. Betsey is often in very good spirits, and when I am reading aloud to her about the nefarious Benedict Arnold, she often has very cogent comments and questions. We are both seeing a lot of connections with the present day. Benedict Arnold and Donald Trump have quite a bit in common! E.g., this line:

       "All that fall, Arnold delighted in being the outrageous provocateur." (Valiant Ambition, p. 223)
Yesterday I did a run for supplies that took me to four different places, two farm stands and two natural food stores. At Isabelle's Farm,  which is about 96 blocks east of Boulder (actually in Lafayette), I found fresh kale, spinich, spring onions, snap peas, and carrots, all organically grown. At the Cure Farm, 75 blocks east, I found fresh strawberries (yum!), apricots and Bing cherries. We have been enjoying all of that. Last evening we had a very nice meal of grilled salmon, kale and grilled cauliflower. Betsey herself eats very small quantities. Last evening she had a small cup of butternut/apple soup, which she enjoyed very much, and a bit of fresh strawberry. She has troubles chewing now, because the left side of her mouth isn't functioning well. So soups are best.

Tomorrow will be Betsey's birthday. She has asked for strawberry shortcake, so I'll be making another trip to the Cure Organic Farm. There will also be a TV set up in her room tomorrow, which will give her some new options.

It has been busy here - Laura, the landlord, is in town for a few days attending to maintenance issues at the house. There have been visits by OT and PT folks and the visiting nurse. 

So, challenging times, good times!

Monday, June 20, 2016

A visit from Mark

Today we had a visit from Mark Anderson-Nissen, who is the son of our dear friend, John Nissen, who passed away in October 2013 (see my blog titled "Vigils" dated Nov. 18, 2013). Mark lives in Denver, and is enrolled in a program of Physical Therapy at the Anschutz campus of the University of  Colorado. For the past several weeks he has been doing an internship at the Sports Clinic of the University of Colorado in Boulder. Today, he got off work a bit early, so he drove up to see Betsey. Betsey had worked for Mark's dad at Bennington College back in the early 1980's, and it had been a long time since they had last seen each other. Mark might be able to help in some way at some point in the future, and it was great that he and Betsey reconnected. He is a very sweet man and will make a great physical therapist.

Mark Nissen and me

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Here we are

We have been in Boulder with Betsey since Thursday evening, and it has been such a full time, there hasn't been a lot of opportunity for blogging. But here is the basic story:
--Betsey came home from ManorCare on Saturday. The transition went well, and she is very glad to be home. 
--Katie left this morning for Columbia, MO where she will spend the next couple of weeks packing up and emptying out the house she originally planned to live in this year before she came home last Sept. to help with her mom. 
--Rob and Ellen are the primary caregivers right now, helping Betsey with all the various personal tasks. I have found my primary role to be reading aloud to Betsey, which is relaxing for her and helps her to go to sleep. 
--Emma, daughter of Lyria, Betsey's Qi Gong healer, will start working as a helper on Tuesday. That will make it possible for Rob to spend some time each day at the office. 
--Friday evening, Rob, Katie, Ellen and I went to the university for a special performance of scenes from a new opera-in-progress by Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer, based on the movie, It's A Wonderful Life. If these names are not familiar, look them up on Google-they are huge in the contemporary opera world. This was a really special event and both Heggie and Scheer testified that having three weeks to work with students on their new opera while they are still composing it was a unique and immensely rewarding experience. The opera will premier in December at Houston Grand Opera. 
--After taking Katie to the bus this morning, I went to church, and afterward did some errands. Doing errands will be another way I can help. Thank God for Ellen! 

                 Dinner for special guests before the opera

                         Gene Scheer and Jake Heggie 


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Into Jackson

Yesterday was an at home day. Max is at Teton Science camp during the day this week, so Ellen and I had the day for ourselves. I spent much of it at the Alpine Library; Ellen shopped and did things at home. A quiet day.

Today we have come into Jackson. We'll visit Paul's work site, which we have not seen as yet. His third site working with OSM. Right now we're at Jackson Whole Grocer. 

So, after I wrote the above, Ellen dropped me at the Teton County Library while she shopped, and then we went to Paul's worksite:

Architect's rendering of Paul's current project, which is a c. $7 million house. 

This is proving to be the most frustrating job yet, because it is a classic "all accountability/no authority" situation. Paul is responsible for assuring that the project is done in 2 years, with big fines if it isn't, but he has about five bosses who can't agree among themselves and dither endlessly on important decisions. It's sort of tearing him up. 

                  Part barn board, part stone exterior

This is a vast, sprawling house, attractive in many ways, but pretty big for an older couple with no children living at home. It has two fantastic views, one of the Tetons, the other of a lovely valley. 

                                The valley view 

It has only 3 bedrooms, but very generous living spaces. E.g., this is the kitchen:

                                 The kitchen in progress

                                     The dining room ceiling

                                     The living room 

During our tour of the house, I got a call from Winnie Vogt, back in Vermont. She didn't realize we were in Wyoming. She had been reading a sermon she had had on her desk for years, titled Constructing Fatherhood, but with no name attached. She wondered if I had written it. I said I had. About 15 years ago. She loved the sermon and wanted to show it to the person who is preaching next Sunday, Fathers' Day, at the Dummerston Church. (The regular pastor, Susanna, has now retired). I said anyone could use it as they wished. 

After our tour, we went across the road to the Teton Science School. Neither of had ever seen its new location. This is where Max is this week during the day. It's a pretty impressive campus. They must have some pretty wealthy donors! 

                     One building at the Teton Science School

We didn't see Max. We'll hear about his day later, we hope. 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Happy Birthday, Max

Today is Max's 8th birthday. His party was yesterday. About seven friends, girls and boys, came for a party that included food, games, cake and ice cream and a lot of running and screaming! In other words, a good time. Ellen, unfortunately, woke up with a migraine headache and spent the day in bed. But Max had a second little party this morning, his actual  birthday, and she was fine for that.

                   Getting ready for the party

                               Presents waiting to be opened.

               Snack time . . .

                               . . . and game time . . .

                 . . . and more presents this morning

                                        Max got a lot of Lego for his birthday

           And after this morning's party, I went to Stsr Valley United Church. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

Soccer camp

We went to watch Max on his last day at a week-long British Soccer Camp. He went to the same camp two summers ago. He has grown and become the goalie. He made some good saves. It was the perfect day for soccer -  not too hot, some high clouds. 

The camp gathers for instructions

Max in action at the goal

Water break with his neighbor, Aubrey, and her mom

Back at the goal

Special end-of-camp treat - getting sprayed by the local fire department

Nana and a drenched Max

This afternoon, Ellen and Max are shopping and I'm at the Alpine Library, where they have WiFi.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

More about yesterday

Yesterday was an eye-opener. It made us realize both how fortunate we are to live in VT, but also what an untypical little oasis it is in the larger American scene. What we experienced yesterday was more typical of much of the. U.S., but in an extreme form (I think!): the North Dakota oil boom and bust. But let me go back.

We spent Tuesday night in Rugby, the geographical center of the U.S. Just an hour down the road from Rugby, we came to Minot, ND. I cannot think of Minot without thinking of my Drury college friend, Clarence Whitwer, whom we knew as  "Ken." Ken was from Minot. I also remember him as being from Parshall, ND, but I'm unsure what the sequence was. His father, Emil, was a Congregational minister, so Ken was a P.K., like me. He also was pre-ministerial at Drury, like me. We were in the College Fellowship together, ISA (Independent Students' Association - an anti-fraternity fraternity!), we started an early morning prayer group together, etc. Ken was an obsessive punster. I appreciate puns, I pun a lot myself. But Ken was over the top.  (Maybe some think I am too!). Ken would come up to you, put his finger in your ribs, twist it back and forth, and say, "Am I boring you?" The first time was sort of funny. The tenth time was something else. The layers of irony in that are staggering. Despite all that, I was fond of Ken. I recognized that while he was weird, I was too, in different ways. Oh yes, another "Kenism." For years after college, I got a Christmas letter from Ken. But it wasn't strictly from him, it was from his cat, whose name was "Mert Knitne," and it was signed with a paw. You get the picture. I last saw Ken in 2000 at Chicago Theological Seminary, when I was Pastor-in-Residence. He didn't go to  CTS, he went to Andover Newton. But he lived in Michigan at the time and came  down to see me. It was great to see him again after many, many years. I have a picture of him from that visit back at the house. He passed away a few years ago.

A long digression. But it provides background for my decision to stop in Minot. I thought maybe I could find his dad's church, or find some paper trail for Ken. First stop, the Public Library Local History Room. Ellen went to the P.O. while I searched. I quickly found a 1948 Minot High School yearbook that had Ken's picture in it. His senior class 1950 book was missing, but he was in what they called the "Froshmore" class in 1948 (a new term for me).

In the Local History Room of Minot Public Library

Found the 1948 Class Year Book (taken with Photo Booth which creates a mirror image)

 Found Clarence Whitwer - he's bottom row, second in from the right.

So that confirmed that he was in Minot. I also found a directory that gave the address for the Congregational Church in the 1950's. Some inquiries determined that that building no longer existed. There is a Congregationsl church, UCC, in Minot, and we found it, but it was locked and no one was there. But it was built after Ken's time anyway. Minot was a mess generally, with construction. Our first taste of what was to come. Ken would hardly have recognized it, I suspect. 

We were heading toward Theodore Roosevelt N.P., North Unit, which by one route could take us past Parshall, the other town I associated  with Ken, much smaller than Minot, about 50 miles SW of Minot. Maybe the UCC church there would hold some secret. That proved to be a fateful decision, in a way. When we turned into the highway leading to Parshall, we hit a bit of construction. Little did we know it would go on for 25 miles! In those 25 miles, we saw more huge earth-moving equipment than I have ever seen in one project. This was like they were building an interstate. But this was a rural, isolated road. Gradually, we began piece information together. In 2006, geologists discovered the Parshall Oil Field. We were driving through it. Oil rigs began to dot the countryside. That discovery had started the North Dakota  oil boom. That boom led to a huge housing bubble to house workers, and it astronomically increased tax revenues to ND. 11% on every barrel pumped, I read. ND is sitting on a $1.3 billion surplus. The road we were driving on had become a major truck artery. They were building an interstate highway - and the state had plenty of funds to pay for it.

                            We saw a lot of this sort of thing . . .

         . . . and this . . . 

                        . . . and this.

We got to the little town of Parshall (Pop. c. 500 when Ken lived there) which is now in the middle one of the largest oil reserves in the world, and I'm sure Ken would have been amazed. The housing boom had hit Parshall. It was hard to find the original town. Many streets were totally torn up. We hunted for but never found the UCC church. . . we needed Ken to direct us. We ate a picnic lunch near an old stone museum building - a relic of old Parshall -  and moved on. 

                               Picnic in Parshall 

As we drove, the full enormity of what had happened hit us. Huge oil rigs, huge housing developments, huge constructions of uncertain purpose, huge malls - all had sprung up in just these past years. The countryside has been totally transformed. It is countryside no longer.  

              We saw hundreds of this kind of rig dotting the countryside

But then, the boom ended! When oil prices collapsed. So now, the cost of extracting a barrel of oil from the ground is about or more than the selling price. We were told that many huge housing developments now stand empty. No one knows if or when it will come back. 

After all that, it was healing to go into the peace and quiet of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We were almost the only ones there. When we stood at an overlook, we could hear no human sound. Only birds and wind. 

                             An overlook at TRNP

                Very unusual spherical formations exposed by erosion. 

                               Another TRNP scene . . .

                                   . .  .  and another.

Tonight, we are in Alpine. We drove from Billings along I-90 to the Gallatin River canyon, which goes along the western boundary of Yellowstone NP. We stopped for a nice picnic along the River. 

                         Picnic by the Gallatin River

We came down to West Yellowstone, entered the park there, and came on down to Teton NP, Jackson, and then Alpine. We passed some beautiful blue Camus Lily fields. We got into Alpine around 7pm. Max was very excited to see his Nana. He is in a soccer game tomorrow morning, so we're all going to that.

                       That blue you see on the ground  is lilies, not water. 

                           Camus lily up close