Hitting the Road a Little

The time until our Zephyr train ride grows short, but I’ve been lucky to have a few little weekend trips. I’m off the chemotherapy for now, but have picked up the new immunotherapy prescription called fruquintinib/FRUZAQLA 5 mg. I will be taking it once daily for 3 weeks, with one week off. The medication starts on April 24 as soon as we return from our Zephyr vacation.

April 8, 2024 – Lunar Eclipse.

Not having a lot of vacation left aside from what I have reserved for our Amtrak trip, I would have loved leaving town and going to see the eclipse somewhere. My Aunt RM told me I should go up to her house off the St. Lawrence River, in the path of total eclipse, but it just wouldn’t work out and with my luck I would have ruined everyone’s experience with terrible cloud cover and thunderstorms or something.

But in North Carolina we woke up to a cloudy sort of day that turned perfectly clear, and I found my 2017 eclipse glasses in an envelope in my desk at work. So my wife came to my office to share the glasses with me, and we sat at the cafe chairs behind my office building and enjoyed the 83% eclipse together.

This was my favorite photo, my wife’s silhouette next to the points of light that shone through the leaves of the trees. You can see the arcs of sunlight and the darkness of the lunar disc. Pretty cool!

April 6, 2024 – Ocean Isle Beach.

Last weekend I joined my sister SG, brother-in-law JG, and niece BG and her husband BR at Ocean Isle Beach. I sleep so well and restfully at my sister’s beach house. I don’t know if it’s the clean air, the silence, or being secure in the knowledge that I am safe in Brunswick county where every single person is armed to the gills… but I sleep really well. The beach was really perfect, sunny and not too hot, with a bit of a cool breeze, and at low tide there were shells everywhere. It was nice to put all cares aside and wander up and down the beach.

April 3, 2024 – Durham Bulls vs. The Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.

My employer has a box suite at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park and from time to time it gets offered to different teams. I put in for the drawing to get some of the tickets and got enough to bring my family’s two biggest baseball fans — Grandpa J and my oldest son IG. We got to watch the Bulls win against the Jumbo Shrimp.

I haven’t been to a baseball game since before the COVID, and we had a great time. It’s still early in the season so the game wasn’t as packed with people as usual, which was nice when we went down to get some concessions.

April 1, 2024 – Visiting my Lunch Bunch friend MG

Every week I bring groceries to my friend MG, who is sort of homebound at this point with 24-hour home care, but most of the time they are able to still bring him to our Bosphorus lunches. On other days I visit and get all his medications ordered and renewed, and apportioned into the appropriate slots of his pill case for the week.

This particular week, the weather was beautiful though saturated with pine pollen, and his home care worker F took him on a walk round the corner to the park so he proposed that they get married. She didn’t accept because he couldn’t remember her name and is maybe fifty years her senior, but hopefully she was flattered and not too put off by his all-too-frequent offers. He is back to feeling a bit more like himself after a couple health setbacks and hospital visits and though his short term memory isn’t all that reliable, he still really enjoys getting a visit.

March 30, 2024 – Johnston Mill Nature Preserve (a.k.a. The Poop Bag Trail)

The weather was very nice this day, which afforded me and my wife the opportunity to walk around the trails of the Johnston Mill Nature Preserve not too far away from our house. A dozen other people had the same same idea. We were sort of smitten that day with hackberry trees and kept finding them on and around the trail. There were some nice benches to rest on, which was good for me when my energy might be flagging.

The weirdest thing, though, was the astonishing number of little baggies full of dog poop I ran into everywhere. Now I can’t wrap my head around the sense of striding through the woods with my trusty pooch, watching him leave the trail and deposit his waste somewhere off the trail, then using a plastic bag to fish the poop out of the poison ivy, tying a knot in the bag, and then strategically placing the bag at the trail’s edge for the dog poop stewards to come by and pick up later. That dog poop would have biodegraded in weeks into nutritious worm food but now we have to wait 300 years for the bag to degrade first.

Can anyone explain the sense in this?!?!
No, really… I am not exaggerating

March 28, 2024 – A Nearby Lunch Visit

My Aunt RM stopped in my city on her way down south, and we had lunch at the local German bakery, Guglhupf.

Me and my Aunt RM at Guglhupf, photo from her Facebook post since my selfies were crappy.

We had a great lunch and I was very happy to see my Aunt RM! It is sad that we only get to spend time together a few times a year. Family is such a treasure in life and I am constantly grateful that I am in a great big one, with so many wonderful relatives!

We had a great meal, I had a bratwurst sandwich on a fresh homemade pretzel roll with house made sauerkraut, mustard, and a side of a very yummy sausage soup. I wasn’t able to really enjoy the pretzel roll due to the keto diet but I had a little and it was fantastic!

Aunt RM had about 70% of a reuben sandwich and she let me finish the corned beef at the end, and it was probably even better than the bratwurst.

I was so full of joy that my aunt made arrangements with me ahead of time so I could work from home that day and get to see her for lunch. She had spent some time at my parents’ house a few nights earlier and was able to give me her impressions of how they were doing. I am always amazed by Aunt RM, at how much energy and love she has to spare. <3 Truly one of Earth’s best humans ever!

March 24-25, 2024 – Asheville and Boone with JH.

I took a floating holiday off from work to take my youngest son JH to a personalized tour of the art department at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. He has been thinking hard about which school he should attend, and to help in that decision we’ve been taking him to one-on-one tours of the art departments of each school where he has been accepted, to ask questions and get a better feel for the program and how it can move him closer to his career goals. I’m pretty proud of how much thinking and effort he’s putting into comparing the schools. I think he’s much wiser than I ever was about making big life choices. I pretty much always did what I felt like doing and made up reasons for it after the fact. He’s much more of a thinker and planner than I am.

We went on Sunday to Asheville as kind of a fun father-son outing. I’ve been doing a lot of last-minute planning in the last several months, going to see things I’ve always wanted to see, or to see things I just discovered I want to see, or sometimes going, just to kick the regularly scheduled pattern of life in the ass. I am really beginning to feel the detrimental affects of the cancer now — the fatigue, the liver discomfort, my sore core muscles when I overdo it, the continuing poopy concerns, nosebleeds, and the now-frequent headaches — so when a weekend comes and I am actually feeling good, I feel like I should be doing something. I should be moving as though perhaps I can hide and avoid things getting worse. Movement and activity seem to make me feel better in the even though in the short term it’s tiring. And my brain likes the distractions of new things to think about that I didn’t know before. I find myself craving information if I find it interesting.

So JH agreed to hit a few Asheville sites we might both find interesting. We woke up in the morning and drove out to Asheville. It was cold on the way there, temperatures were in the low 40s and I got chilled to the bone just filling the car with gas.

We started at the Grove Arcade, a neat historic building. Out in front were a half-dozen artists selling their work and we got to chat with them in some detail about their inspirations, what mediums they liked working with, what pieces really hit it off with customers, and similar discussions. I love seeing and hearing about artists’ journeys to find a balance between the stuff they love and the stuff that sells, and when sometimes these converge into profit or at least into the dream of breaking even. Sometimes art is a habit that you support financially and you’re just trying to minimize the damage. I have a deep sense though, that great work sadly transcends price tags and is best measured in the joy of experiencing a work that you have in your possession again and again in your life, how that work continues to live with you and speak to you even as you change.

We passed through the arcade and spent a nice few moments trying on hats in the hat shop, and looking at the textile art being sold there. We went to a clothing consignment store called Sugar Britches that was closed the last time we went by.

It was a fun, welcoming place with a lot of theater costumes and quirky handmade pieces. It was easy to spend a lot of time browsing.

After the Sugar Britches we stopped by a well-stocked candy store called Rocket Fizz that was doing a brisk business in one of the most addictive substances known to humankind. It had a little section of sugar free sodas and candies, so I got a couple things including a Boylan’s Diet Black Cherry soda! I had no idea this even existed, and haven’t seen it since.

We stopped in at one of our favorite places to visit and browse, called Madam Clutterbucket’s Neurodiverse Universe. It has a museum of stereo cassette tapes up on the wall as you walk in.

We found a really cool knit brain hat there that looked awfully smart.

Next we went to the Asheville Pinball Museum, a place I’ve wanted to go to for a long while. I have a tender place in my heart for video arcade games, pachinko machines, and pinball machines (even though I really stink at pinball, it is fun).

It was full when we got there so we spent $5 to play arcade games downstairs in the video arcade museum, and the $5 ticket price there gets applied to the $15 ticket for the pinball museum.

JH at the Pengo machine.

In addition to about 20 other games, they have a Pengo machine, and a Robotron. I own both of these arcade machines (and a Smash TV), though my Pengo’s sound board doesn’t work anymore. It’s on my to-do list. It was nice to hear Pengo playing the Popcorn song. A little fun trivia — Popcorn was a copyrighted song and they used it in the game without asking for permission, so after Sega had its butt sued into oblivion, they produced a V2 (version 2) board with its own, even perkier tune (if such a thing is possible). I have both printed circuit board versions at home but in deference to the copyright fiasco, I keep the V2 board installed. And then the sound board broke, so it was an upgrade that probably didn’t make a difference. And probably lowered the value of the game since the original V1 board in its original cabinet is probably worth more money. My changing it out was probably an act of video game heresy. But I do have the intact, well-preserved V1 board handy.

Once in the pinball museum you can play all the pinball you like until closing time for that $15 entry fee. It’s a bit of an assault on the senses since there are something like 75 machines in there, and there are a lot of boinking, buzzing, chirping, and bumping sounds filling the place.

I think heaven will be a lot like THIS place. At least I hope so.

We stopped for a snapshot by a big iron… it reminded me of the Marty Robbins song, “Big Iron” which kind of haunted my brain for a while afterwards.

Wondering how the ranger’s aim was so deadly with a Big Iron on his hip

Next, since Jacob tolerated me playing games for hours and he was the guest of honor on this trip, I let him pick a place to eat dinner. We ended up at Sonora Cuchina Mexicana, which was fantastic.

I had a very fancy chile relleno that was thankfully not too spicy for me

After dinner we left Asheville and traveled to Boone to check into a hotel and visit Appalachian State University the next day. We drove past Grandfather Mountain and took the Blue Ridge Parkway at dusk. It was a beautiful drive and we got to see the Worm Moon through the wispy clouds.

We stayed in a really nice hotel in Boone called the Greystone Lodge that was a great value for what a lovely and well-appointed hotel it was. It had an outdoor bonfire where you could sit in Adirondack chairs and toast smores kits, a nice warm indoor pool, and a simply fantastic breakfast with bagels from a local bakery.

The next morning we had an individualized meeting and tour of the art department with one of the professors, where we got to ask questions, learn more about the different concentrations of study within the art program, and we got to stroll around the campus. We went to have fish and chips at a local pub for lunch, and then since JH was excited about seeing Grandfather Mountain in more detail, we returned there and spent a few hours touring around. We went to the visitor center, then to the animal exhibit where we saw a black bear, elk, and a bald eagle (the otters and mountain lions were nowhere in evidence at the time).

We got to cross the mile high bridge, which made a spooky whistling noise in the high wind, and we scrambled up to the peak.

We then hurried back home for dinner with Grandma K and Grandpa J, and my wife’s brother FZ, his wife and two daughters. It was a very eventful trip!