Happy World Elephant Day !!!


How I’m doing

I am presently completing the course of chemotherapy that began a few months ago. I had a CAT scan taken last week and I saw the doctor about it this week. I was as anxious as could be that day.  What would he say? Had all that debilitating chemotherapy been worth the misery? Had it succeeded in shrinking the tumors?

Well, the news is good. The chemo was never expected to eliminate the tumors completely, but it did shrink them significantly. The doctor says that the chemo, along with the ongoing hormone therapy, has probably given me a few more years to live.  And there are so many new treatments coming out, that maybe at some point I might have further options.  All the same, I need to get checked every few weeks to make sure I’m holding up under the  hormone therapy and because the cancer itself is so unpredictable.

Thanks to all who have been praying for me, or otherwise keeping me in your heart through all this.  The story is not over by any means, but for the time being, I can coast.  And as my body metabolizes the last dregs of the chemotherapy, I hope to regain my ability to climb stairs without my legs trembling and to remember simple things.

I’m still in Portland, with temperatures often in the 90-100 degree range. But I hope to return to the more moderate temperatures of Castro Valley. There’s a lot for me to do there, as well as here, with my continuing schedule of tests and other events, plus my sister’s schedule and my mother’s upcoming birthday in October, it’s hard to know how I’m going to schedule it all.  It would be so much easier if Castro Valley and Portland were only a hundred miles apart, or something like that.

If my “chemo fog” lifts then I can start thinking things through on my own. My toes were not so lucky – the tips are partially numb from the chemo, and that numbness is expected to be permanent, though I’ve heard that some people eventually get their feeling back.  In any case, it doesn’t interfere with walking. I’m worried that some of my other nerve tissues might have been harmed. In the coming weeks I’ll find out the answer to that question.

Well, as one of the nurses said, they throw everything they can at that cancer, and then pull back as necessary to make sure they  don’t kill me.

But for the present, I’m not so worried about myself as I’m worried about my mother. Two days ago, she gave us a scare. She picked up a flu or maybe some food poisoning.  She seems better today, but she really could use some prayer for healing and to get her appetite back before she withers away.

Living in the past

Yes, I’m still living in the past. Hopefully I may soon start living in the present, but the past is more significant at this point

Last time, I wrote about my mother’s Scandinavian parents, and their story is here. ( Click on the red text to read it) It was too long to send as part of the email itself.

This time, I’m back to my father’s side of the family — specifically my French grandmother, and her story is here. ( Click on the red text to read it) It was also too long to send as part of the email itself. Yet, like the story of my Swedish grandparents, I think about it every day.

I’ve also been living in my own past – specifically my primary school days. For sixth grade, I attended an utterly unremarkable school serving an utterly unremarkable bedroom community where nothing remarkable ever took place, at least nothing that ever made the evening news.  Perhaps it was better for kids like us to grow up in such a stable,  uneventful, “Leave It To Beaver” environment. The outside world would challenge us soon enough.

But one day I overheard my classmates discussing  something remarkable —  a girl at the school —  not because she was pretty or smart or accomplished, but because she had “cooties.” What were cooties? It was a new word for me.  Was it a disease? If so, could it be fatal?

I asked my friends about it, but that didn’t really help. Either they gave me no answer, or at most a mysterious giggle. I did get a name, though — Lenore M., the girl who had them.   This person was someone I had never met, but now I was fascinated. How were these cooties affecting her? Would her flesh be rotting off her face like on a Halloween monster mask? Would she smell like a chemical factory? Would she be scowling all the time from pain? Most importantly, could I catch it from her, and also suffer such symptoms? At the end of the day, it seemed likely that cooties were not real,  but  I kept my eyes and ears open, just in case, determined to locate Lenore M. so I could avoid her.

Well, I seemed to be the only one at school who didn’t know this girl. And I never even caught sight of her that whole year. And then the next year I flew off to junior high, and then to high school, where I landed in a world of music.  On the first day of school, the band room was jammed with students, both committed musicians and those still shopping around for an elective course. (They had a few days to finalize their choice) In both cases, the music teacher had everybody’s name for taking roll.

And right in the middle of it, he called out the name “Lenore M.”   So that girl from sixth grade was a real person after all? Then she shouted a “Here!” and I could see who she was.

She was diminutive, dark-haired, and modestly-dressed. She held a plastic clarinet, much like my own. She was quietly joking with the girl next to her, her bright laugh shining through her smile. She settled into her chair, wiggling like an excited puppy as she did so.  All in all she seemed like a very pleasant person. A regular person.  Unfortunately, in the end, she turned out to be an “elective shopper” who never returned to band class. I never saw her again. I never got to know her.

But that one encounter cemented a lesson in my mind. The  reality of actually observing this former “cootie victim” contrasted wildly with my sixth-grade memories.  I hoped that the episode had not hurt her too badly.

Typical sixth graders back then had no idea what the word “cootie” actually meant. But it does have a meaning — they are a species of lice that infested the trenches of World War one. But real meanings didn’t matter. This word, even divorced from its proper meaning, could still be wielded as an emotional cudgel against any sixth-graders thought to be “others.” Meanwhile, the wielders were forming their own sense of identity through hatred and bullying.

These days, when I watch the news, I often think about Lenore M. and the unearned hatred that she may have suffered.  I never hear the actual word “cootie” on the news, bit do hear other words that work the same way, that are flung about, divorced from their meaning, to help the wielders express their sense of identity through a manufactured hatred of “the other” — in this case an entire class of people, and not individuals.

These are words like “woke,” “critical race theory,” “cancel culture,” and even “socialist” and “Marxist.”as well as the occasional older one, like “feminazis.”  They may have real meanings, (however, I still don’t know what “woke” means. Basically, nobody does.) But like “cooties,” any real meaning doesn’t get in the way of flinging them at people. The sad thing is that these mis-defined words seem to work as effectively against adults as they do among kids, and can easily become channels for funneling real lies about various groups of  people.


Taking Caution

In recent years, the Portland neighborhood where we’re all living has become a petty crime capital. This month I learned that there’s even more to it than  that.  It turns out that the single most dangerous block in the city is located just three or four blocks away from here across a major street. I feel essentially safe. That’s the difference a few blocks and an arterial can make. All the same, I’m saddened when I consider what a safe and quiet neighborhood this has been from the time my grandparents built their own house here on a vacant lot a hundred years ago, through my own childhood and young adulthood. Here are a couple videos for those who are interested, or who are as shocked as I am to hear about it. The first is a short video and the second is a half-hour podcast, both from our local paper, the Oregonian.

My YouTube Addiction – Green & Green

This time I want to highlight the YouTube channels of John and Hank Green. When I think of these guys I think of the term agape, selfless love, which they express in so many ways.

One place to start is over fifteen years ago with the vlogbrothers. This YouTube channel started when older brother John reflected that he had never told his younger brother Hank how much he meant to him, and how for many years he had shared very few of his important life events with him. So they created a channel called vlogbrothers on YouTube, which was then in its early developmental stages, John would write a short video message (a vlog) to Hank on Tuesdays, and Hank would write back on Fridays. It was to be an experiment of a single year, but after that year, they realized how much this  new (and public) communication was enriching their lives, so they continued it, right up to the present day.

Here’s a recent example of John writing to Hank on a Tuesday.

And here’s  a recent example of Hank writing to John on a Friday.

The presence of agape is clear in these videos, and it also shines through the several other channels that they initiated. All of them are intended to be accessible at no cost forever. An online community called Nerd-fighters, also dedicated to charitable activities, began forming around the two brothers.

John’s interest leans toward the humanities, so here he is on the first episode of “Crash Course World History.” His answer when “Me from the Past”asks if something’s going to be on the test is a thing of beauty.  It makes me wish I was still a teacher just so I could repeat it to a class of my own.

and here is John again with another series —  “Crash Course in Literature.”

Hank is more into science. One of his channels is called “Scishow.” First, a brief description of it

and here’s Hank with a recent episode about bees.

And occasionally they wrap up several old episodes into a themed bundle, like this one about color in animals.

And John and Hank, following their financial success, are now also focused more directly on charities. One focus concerns medical clinics in Sierra Leone. John explains the “Awesome Socks Club” which is a main source of support to these medical clinics.

I listen/watch the Green brothers’ videos and I feel challenged as a teacher, and challenged as a human to manifest more agape in my daily activities.


Here’s the perfect video to celebrate World Elephant Day (today) and World Sand Day (yesterday). Adine and “HERD,” show that there’s nothing more serene than watching elephants savoring a patch of sand.

There’s actually so much more that I’d intended to write about, such as our Swedish picnic guarded by waspinators and the danger that our democracy is in, but I’m being more disciplined about writing too much.  Well wishes to all!