Monday, December 31, 2007

Running company

Over the weekend, I ran 3.5 miles with Pepper at Radnor and 5.5 miles with two buddies at Percy Warner Park. Running with a dog and running with friends is very different than running alone. Ah, you say, running is running. As Lee Corso would say, "Not so fast, my friend."

Running with a dog not quite two years old is challenging enough. He wants to sniff everything and everybody. Throw in the mix that one of every three folks at the park have their own dog, some of them not so friendly, and your run becomes a tug-a-thon between you and your dog. Now add the fact that your dog, who is deaf, likes to veer on occasion underneath you (he can't hear my footsteps), and you have the perfect storm ... a cluster run. Running with Pepper in the neighborhood is a little easier, but we have a few dogs who like to mess with us. All that said, it's a blast to take Pepper for runs. He loves it, and so do I. Good bonding time.

Running with friends is wholly different. Yesterday at 3 p.m., I met friends Kris Kemp and Michael Kohl at the gates of Percy Warner. Kris wanted to run the horse or walking trails, but I lobbied for a run on the asphalt because of the recent rain. I like my new Brooks shoes clean. So we headed up the steep steps at the front of the park, then veered right. We cut off part of the 5.8 mile loop, reducing it just a shade.

The weather yesterday was absolutely perfect for taking on the park's steep hills. The biggest challenge is Three Mile Hill, a steep 0.7 mile incline. In the summer, I've had some bad experiences on this hill when I've been out of shape. Bonk city, in fact. I was curious how I would take the hill on such a perfect day with two friends and some recent good hill running at Radnor. When we started up the slope, I felt light, almost frisky. We were running at an easy pace up to that point, probably a 9:15 pace or slower. I didn't fall off that pace much up the hill. In fact, I actually felt like busting up the hill midway up, but didn't want to be anti-social. At the top, we regrouped and returned to group running. Before I knew it, we were back at our cars. That's what happens with group running ... it goes by so quickly. Conversation, when humorous (Michael Kohl is a trip) and interesting (I enjoy talking current events with Kris), makes a 55-minute run seem like a 20-minute trot.

After some good running, I'm all about reaping some rewards. Every year, Mark Faulkner, the deacon at our church who has been dear to Dori and my family, and his wife Sue throw a pre-New Year's Eve Party. It's always a lot of fun with good food. Everyone brings a dish and the Faulkners provide the booze. I brought some Texas-style brisket and whole chickens that I smoked the day before. Toss in some tasty nine-layer dip, husk-wrapped tamales, fried mushrooms and cheese, and a few Coronas, and I was one happy 42-year-old. My friends Tony and Mary Belle Grande and Michael then joined me for a beverage or two at the Corner Pub. It was GREAT to get out of the house, see friends and frequent a neighborhood haunt. Of course, due to last night's "sinning" and an approaching cold front, I'm heading off to Radnor soon for another run. Kathryn wants to join me, so we'll be doing 2.5 miles max.

Dori feels great; she's on the treadmill the Antonys gave her listening to 80s tunes. She and I are looking forward to this year, as you can imagine. Happy New Year, everyone!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Acts of Kindness and Support

The love and support for Dori continue. Over the last 48 hours, two selfless people, one a good friend and neighbor and the other someone I barely know, made $250 contributions to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. It's a good time to do that, before the book closes on the year (link still active on this blog). The neighbor's contribution didn't surprise me. He and his wife are caring people who would give you the shirts off their backs. The "mystery contribution" was perplexing.

Here's what I've deduced. When I received the e-mail alert about the contribution, I recognized the person's name, but couldn't place it. After a quick Googling, I found the contributor runs a law firm here in town. When I saw his photo, I knew I'd met him a time or two at neighborhood meetings. I was impressed by him, but again, I don't really know him. Then, I recalled his interest and involvement in Civil War history, and that was it! He apparently Google'd the Battle of Nashville and read my recent entry on this blog. Either that or he has a connection to leukemia, or both.

I plan to call him and thank him after the New Year, but this episode clearly shows the Internet community is a powerful, often uniting place. Like you have an extended neighborhood. I undertook the blog endeavor this summer knowing some crazies are out there. I also believe there is a lot of good that can be done, too, through blogs, links and the like. My theory has been proven and my faith in my fellow man has been bolstered.

Other not-so-random acts of kindness continue. Stacy (one of my New York cousins), who I haven't seen in years, sent the the most scrumpdeli-icious basket of cookies and brownies, individually wrapped I might add, from Cheryl & Co. The kids and I have been hammering them, and Dori has been dabbling, too. Other cousins above the Mason-Dixon line, like Mike and Laura, have been in touch with e-mails and prayerful notes. It's like this every day - we get quite a few e-mails and calls from folks. When I'm at church, at the grocery store, wherever, people just want to say they care. I did notice I hadn't heard from a few good friends for awhile, but gradually they've gotten in touch. The recurring theme ... serious illnesses either terrify them or cause them to revisit a serious illness that afflicted or claimed a family member. Their call or card says how sorry they are about being out of pocket or not being more supportive. I completely understand how they feel. Clearly, everyone reacts differently to tragedies or major challenges. We've seen it through longtime friends and new ones at the hospital.

As Dori recovers, I've begun to think more globally again. I have many friends in politics, because of my career choices (journalism, etc.) and my activism over the years. My good friends know me as a moderate who leans conservative on some things, less so on others. I like to weigh both sides of an issue before I decide, rather than read and stamp the party literature. I prefer to assess candidates on their positions, their character and their fitness for the job.

I'm really intrigued by this year's presidential primaries because it appears people are fed up with the establishment, Republican and Democrat. The bitterness that's built the last 15 years has either caused people to tune out completely (not the best idea for the health of our republic) or seek alternative candidates not wholly backed by the parties. My friends, moderate, conservative and liberal, all seem to agree both major parties and their key leaders at the national level have squandered the trust they've been given. A few have even done what my dog does to the bushes at the corner of our yard (and we're the shrubbery, folks). The people who run the parties have completely forgotten we're all Americans who expect some compromise and solutions now and then. Many people want the "it's their fault, not ours" language to get 86'd.

I believe this frustration, even exasperation, explains the rise of candidates Mike Huckabee and Barack Obama. Of the lot, they are the two who seem most like you and me. Both have run populist campaigns, focusing their message on rejecting Beltway tactics. They have articulated their positions as solutions, not as clubs to bludgeon their opponents. Their backgrounds and upbringing are intriguing. Both talk to people, not through them. And look who's supporting them: Chuck Norris is stumping for Huckabee, while Oprah has embraced Obama. Not the norm, for sure. Also, the Ron Paul thing seems like a version of the 1992 Perot phenomenon, and I know several people who wouldn't mind a John McCain-Joe Lieberman ticket.

People are fed up. The Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary should begin to sort out if we're going to get on a better track or stay on the same old scary Willy Wonka boatride. Personally, I'm rooting for populism and against the vitriolic, over-funded ranting by the establishment.

If reading or thinking about politics get you down, here are a few links to get you out of your funk: the first the ogre Sweetums trying to mash a bunch of Muppet frogs and the second the aforementioned psychedelic boatride with Gene Wilder, the only Willy Wonka I'll ever watch. By the way, the "Christmas Songs for Dori" iMix is now downloadable just in time for Christmas 2008.

Friday, December 28, 2007

And the results are in ...

I ran a 5.0 mile run in 42:45 yesterday at Radnor Lake. That's an 8:33 pace!

Conditions yesterday were perfect - 45 degrees, not much wind. I thought of Dori the last 1.75 miles when I accelerated to an 8:00 mile pace. I ran for her, her courage and her progress. From 2.5 to 3.25, the Radnor run is straight uphill, steep in several parts. There are no breaks and it can wind you; then, when you think you've had enough, you reach the apex and get a gradual decline for .75 miles and then a flat 1.0 mile run along the lake. If you're not waxed, you feel like you can push hard, like you've been rewarded for conquering that hill.

I'm jazzed by this run. My best 5.0 mile run the last year or so was right at 40:00, an 8:00 pace, along the Stones River Greenway behind the Donelson Y. On a flat course yesterday, I may have neared that, maybe in the 41:00 or 41:30 range. My best 5K last year was my only 5K, the Firecracker 5K in Brentwood, at 24:01, or a 7:47 pace (on a muggy, warm morning). I would have beat that yesterday.

Total mileage for the week: 27.4 miles and no aches or pains. Today is a rest day, then back at it this weekend.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Run, Forrest, Run!

When Dori came home before Christmas, a familiar feeling overcame me. Run, boy!

After Friday's 5.6 miler, I've run the following:

Saturday: 5.0 miles at Radnor Lake
Sunday: 3.8 miles in our neighborhood with Pepper
Tuesday: 4.5 miles at Radnor
Wednesday: 3.5 miles at Radnor with Pepper

Week to date: 22.4 miles ... That's the most since before the half marathon in September and I've still got today! I might crank out another 4-6 miles this afternoon, time permitting. I'm actually beginning to feel a little bit of fitness benefit from the week's effort. On the Tuesday run, I ran the last mile in 8:00 or so and didn't feel winded. Very cool.

Tuesday's Christmas run through Radnor was special. First, as I was nearing the end of mile one, I saw two familiar blondes ahead of me. Might that be? Could it be? Yes! That's my Mom and sister! I stopped the run and walked a wonderful couple of miles with them around the lake. We saw a herd of eight healthy deer, which was a beautiful sight. My Mom, whose knees have taken a beating over the years, was feeling good enough to enjoy the walk and the stunning scenery. After a Christmas hug, I took off to run another 3.5.

I love Radnor most during the winter, when the hills seem to just fall in the lake and the blue sky seems endless on clear days. Spring and fall are nice, too, but the lake just sparkles during winter. Not enough friends of mine and other folks take advantage of our parks and recreation, I believe. Those who do rave about it. The health benefits, peacefulness and family connecting are free, ever since the state revoked that silly visitation fee a few years ago.

This week's running has been cathartic. Some runs have been introspective, while others have just been about pounding pavement and expending excessive "couch energy" that builds this time of year. Toss in a few bad carbs (and some good ones), and it just makes sense to burn that fuel.

My sturdy Brooks running shoes seem to be doing the trick. I've had a day or two of minor back soreness, but some ibuprofen pills clear that up pretty quickly. My legs and calf muscles feel great. With the exception of the one quick mile, I've been running at a 9:00 minute pace or above. All this has me in a good frame of mind ... I've got a base again. Will I be able to train for a race soon? If Dori stays on track, I would think so. My job will have some very busy moments the next few months, but if I can get in 2-3 early morning runs and one long run each weekend, why not?

The Country Music Marathon is in late April. I've run that two years in a row, though the race has been a nemesis of mine. I bonked two years ago at mile 11 and ran a 2:06; last year, I woke up feeling under the weather and ran a slow 2:09. I'd really like to show that course who's boss now. Even though I was proud of my 2:01 at Virginia Beach, I know there is another level to reach before I get too old. Sub-2:00 would be nice. I also still think about running a full, but I know trying for that, with all that's going on in my life, isn't realistic or smart for my family. Hold that thought, right?

My grandmother turned 90 yesterday. We celebrated at my Dad's. My favorite part of the night was when Will, 7, bear-hugged Gigi, 83 years his senior. Both kids are playing basketball, which is loads of fun to watch. Kathryn has improved a lot since last year, and Will's season starts soon. The boy has some game and smiles the whole time he plays. I'm encouraging Dori, at some point this season, to make a few games. She's super-cautious, but hasn't ruled it out.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Blessings on this Holy Day

This morning's readings at 8:30 Mass were wonderful, as was the music. The kids and I arrived early enough to be on the front row in front of the Nativity Scene. Kathryn and I held hands much of the Mass and sang our lungs out.

... A son is given to us. The grace of God has appeared to all. Today a Savior has been born for you. ...

Hark! The herald angels sing! Glory to the newborn King!

Silent night, Holy night, Son of God, love's pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth, Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Reflections from an Unforgettable Year

Dori and I are at the outpatient clinic at Vanderbilt the morning of this beautiful Christmas Eve. I've spent the last few days gathering myself from this year's hectic pace, relaxing and running, but most of all, thinking about this year and what it all means.

Dori looks terrific today. She's wearing a snazzy outfit - a shiny gold hat/wrap, red sweater with a silver necklace, and slacks with black boots. We just saw Tammy Hart, who made it home before Christmas. She also looks great. Both Dori and Tammy have the look survivors have, that "I'm really fortunate to be here." It's a gift few of us can appreciate.

As most of you know, this blog is not only about Dori's battle against leukemia, but also my journey alongside her. It has been a wonderful place of communication and reflection for me. My life changed on June 15. I remember the day so vividly ... I was very excited that Friday morning, eager to vacation with my family for the first time in two years. Dori didn't feel great that week, but I was so sure we were still going to be able to load up the car and spend six days at a secluded cabin in the Smokies. When Dori called me at work, I knew something was very wrong.

Fast forward four days later, when Dr. Greer told Dori she had an acute leukemia. On a day I should have been tossing flies at trout in a cold stream in the Great Smokies National Park, I was dealing with my wife's and my own feelings of devastation, shock and anxiety. I was telling my tearful children that Mommy was very sick and we would need to do everything possible to help her recover. Life as I knew it was over.

As the shock wore off, I knew I needed a game plan. First, I needed support. To make everything work, I needed to spend supportive time with Dori. My employer stepped up and worked with me on FMLA and a flexible work schedule. People called and e-mailed, offering to get the kids to places and to bring us meals. Through friends, we adopted a meal schedule that has been enormously helpful in keeping us well fed. To no one's surprise, my family members and Dori's family members answered the bell: "Just let us know, Jim, what you need." People have sacrificed income and personal time. Getting support was the easy part, thanks to the generosity of so many good people.

The hard part was dealing with Dori's and the kids' emotions through several valleys last summer. There were deeply disappointing days, like when Dori didn't reach remission after the first round of chemo and when the kids, in late July, wouldn't stop moping or fighting. My only answer during these times was prayer - for calmness and support as I helped my family believe we were going in the right direction, even as we were given what seemed like endless bad news. Those days were my best and worst - best when I was able to help everyone end their fixation on the negative and worst when I lost my patience with the kids.

There were also fantastic days, like when the team on 11 North lined the halls and cheered Dori as she left the hospital. Other wonderful days would follow. I recall in late August, through a donor drive we helped organize and publicize, when 150 giving people showed up to register for the national bone marrow donor program. I recall the morning of September 2, when my sister and I cried before I ran a half marathon in Virginia in Dori's honor and to raise $25,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

I clearly recall when Dori thanked me for never telling her how to feel or what to do in the hospital, while giving my unwavering support. Resisting my normal instincts, I shied away last summer from rah-rah Knute Rockne speeches. Dori responds better to gentle encouragement and empathy (the carrot more than the stick). She definitely sorts things out at her own pace, not like the trigger-happy folks in my family. Thankfully, I adjusted and delivered what she needed.

We were aware, the day Dori left the hospital in early August, this fight was nowhere near over. Dori had to decide if she would get a transplant. Her odds of survival if she didn't were very low. Other odds that were shared weren't much more comforting. Maybe one day, five years from now, I'll share what we were told. Our focus, then and now, isn't on odds but on complete victory. We took Lance Armstrong's words to heart. Who needs odds when you know what the goal is? Dori, who is analytical (she's the smart one in the family), was mesmerized at first by the odds. I reasoned differently, arguing to Dori those odds are for people who aren't you. People who haven't taken care of themselves over the course of their lives. People who aren't completely resolved to see their daughter's wedding or children graduate from college. People who aren't Dorothy Sawyer Brown.

For Dori and me, this fall's transplant was the hardest time. Dori's body was no less than brutalized by the process. At the worst part, she was so weakened as to be barely recognizable. A severe, near-catastrophic fall in the shower didn't help matters. Three weeks after the transplant, Dori was coughing up significant amounts of blood and breathing with difficulty. She gained 27 pounds in two days from the fluids. She went to the bathroom every 35 minutes, needing help or a spotter each time. Friends and family posted an around-the-clock watch on Dori because she was in such poor condition. I will never forget what one of the doctors told me on the elevator one day. As Dori began to regain strength and control of her bodily functions, she said, "We're happy Dori is coming back. She was really scaring us." Yeah, us too.

I wish I had a dollar for every time everyone said, "I don't know how you're doing this, Jim." It almost makes me chuckle inside, even though I know what they meant. When I took my vows 13 years ago, I recall it was "for better or worse" and "in sickness and in health." Similarly, people would say, "How do you find the time to train for your half marathon?" The run was a stress relief for me, but the run was mostly for Dori. How do you honor your wife, her courage, the support of other strong people around her and God's gift of life? You run, you don't hide.

I've been no walk in the park over some of our marriage, and Dori has stood by me at every moment. When I disliked my job seven years ago and acted stupidly or selfishly, Dori supported me. After Kathryn was born, Dori told me she was converting to Catholicism "so our family can be in church together." Every time I focused on me and didn't think of the consequences to others, she sacrificed and never complained. After I woke up and realized what I was capable of, I realized I owed her in a big way. I still do. I've been a much better husband the last several years. When our crisis started this summer, it was time to high jump over every bar.

Dori is 75 days away from her transplant. Her voice is stronger, and her eyes are starting to show some fire. She is no longer meek and weakened. Soon, she will be bossing me around, taking over more duties and chores around the house. We might even have an argument again one day. I never thought I would think that would be cool.

Dori and I have spent much of this year climbing out of valleys, and yes, scaling mountains, too. Hopefully, we will be able to reap the rewards of our collective efforts for many years. Knock on wood and keep praying, Dori will continue to get better. Then, I would bet the farm on a banner year for the Browns. We talk often of making a difference in the lives of others. We're not sure where life will take us, but we certainly have a perspective we didn't have before. God has given us, two people in love, a great gift, much like the gift of Christmas - a chance to fulfill His promise on earth with renewed purpose.

Christmas iMix for Dori

I spent some of the last few days putting together a Christmas iMix for Dori and the kids. My Mom likes the iPod playing at her famous dinners, and this year's Christmas picks should have her and our family toe-tappin' and reminiscing while enjoying our favorite Yuletide beverages. The kids, Kathryn especially, have been loving these songs the last few days ... Christmas music just goes across every generation, which the Lord may have intended.

I submitted this iMix titled "Christmas Songs for Dori" yesterday. It should be available sometime soon for your perusal. The iMix only took 17 of my 30 picks, so here's the full list if you're thinking about making your own compilation. Some of my favorites are "Skating" by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, "A Holly Jolly Christmas" by Burl Ives, "Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella" by Mannheim Steamroller and "Carol of the Bells" by David Benoit. The last three songs are from pianist Larry Mayfield, whose daughter Shelley used to babysit the kids. They're all great ... Enjoy!

Skating Vince Guaraldi Trio
A Holly Jolly Christmas Burl Ives
Christmas Is Coming David Benoit
Sleigh Ride Johnny Mathis
Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree Brenda Lee
O Tannenbaum Gary Burton
It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year Andy Williams
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Dean Martin
The Little Drummer Boy Harry Simeone Chorale
Little Saint Nick The Beach Boys
Bring A Torch, Jeannette, Isabella Mannheim Steamroller
The Christmas Song Johnny Mathis
Christmastime Is Here Vince Guaraldi Trio
Fur Elise (Beethoven) David Benoit
Carol Of The Bells David Benoit
O Holy Night Nat King Cole
Greensleeves Mannheim Steamroller
Traditions of Christmas Mannheim Steamroller
The Holly and the Ivy Mannheim Steamroller
Coventry Carol Mannheim Steamroller
We Three Kings Mannheim Steamroller
The Nutcracker, Op.71: Overture Orchestra of the Kirov Opera, St. Petersburg & Valery Gergiev
The Nutcracker, Op.71: No. 2 March Orchestra of the Kirov Opera, St. Petersburg & Valery Gergiev
Believe Josh Groban
Little Drummer Boy Daryl Stuermer
The Christmas Song Diane Schuur
White Christmas Lee Ritenour

Larry Mayfield, Meditations for Christmas
Do You Hear What I Hear-I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Silver Bells
O Holy Night

Friday, December 21, 2007

'Merry New Year!'

Whew. Man, do I need the Christmas break! I am so thankful it is finally here and that Dori is home.

I like Christmas, but not as much as Thanksgiving. That's the way I've always been. Kathryn and I talked a lot today, and she asked me what I like about Christmas. "Celebrating the birth of Jesus and being with family ... the presents not as much," I said. "Me, too," she chimed in. To me, Christmas seems so materialistic in our country. I really do think Kathryn and Will both have done a good job of not craving or wanting things. That's been important to Dori and me. We like nice things, but things don't make people happy.

I rode the bike for 30 minutes and lifted for another 30 at the Y early Tuesday. I spent the rest of that day at the clinic with Dori and working some on the phone and computer. My sister Anne went to the clinic today with Dori, while Kathryn and I had some quality father-daughter time (Will is with some buddies). Dori's medical team is encouraged with her progress. Last week stunk, to be honest; this week has been much better. The dermatologists called this week to tell us Dori's rash was the result of a drug reaction, not GVHD. They are treating the rash, which is almost gone, with steroids. Dori looks as good as I've seen since late September. What a joyous time it will be next year to have her at full strength and doing the things she enjoys doing. But trust me, right now is a joyous time!

Realizing I'm looking at a few days of ale and some bad carbs, I went running today. It was almost warm ... low 60s with a slight breeze. I ran 5.6 miles at a modest pace over some moderate terrain. The last two miles were up a steady incline, and I felt it. At 4.6, I stopped for a smidgeon, gathered myself, and finished the last mile. I'm not in great shape anymore, which isn't surprising ... I just haven't had any time to crank out some miles. My calf muscles felt very good today, which was encouraging. I do wish the owner of a light brown spaniel/hunting dog would get an electric fence for Christmas. Their dog would not back down after trying to bite me ... I got so angry I went after the dog. Maybe I need the fence.

Christmas is almost here ... we don't have many traditions, except watching "It's a Wonderful Life" this week and having a big dinner at my Mom's (prime rib usually and I hear that's on the menu again). Seems like we often watch "The Sound of Music" this time of year and listen to Christmas CDs we've bought over the years. We don't usually go to the Children's Mass, but might do so this year.

If you're so inclined, do share your Christmas or holiday traditions. As Eddie Murphy said in "Trading Places" ... "Merry New Year!"

Monday, December 17, 2007

A battle not forgotten

Yesterday, after I got Dori home from the hospital (big yahoo), I went for my first run in more than a week. Those who know some history know we Nashvillians live where one of the most decisive battles of the Civil War was fought. The Union routed the Confederacy on Dec. 15-16, 1864, with the culmination coming the afternoon of the 16th on the hallowed grounds of Shy's Hill, which Union forces overran around 4 p.m.

That's precisely the time I went running yesterday - the foot of Shy's Hill in my neighborhood. Most of the streets are named after generals or captains from the battle. Thousands died here or near here. We have pulled bullets, shrapnel, musket balls and belt buckles from our yard, as have many of our neighbors in theirs. The bloodiness of that day seems so surreal, like my run in frigid conditions yesterday. It was such a peaceful day, in stark contrast to that chaotic day 143 years ago. Here's a link or two about the battle.

Kathryn and Will enjoy hiking with me occasionally to the peak of Shy's Hill, which has been preserved somewhat by an area society. The kids ask questions about the battle and war in general, like, "Why do people fight, Dad?" They were aware all week of the pending anniversary of the battle, which we talked about several times. Kathryn also asked about the evil of Nazi Germany the other day. I am proud they have taken an interest to history.

I am troubled by how little many people know about our nation's history, my favorite subject in school and favorite reading topic today. Around eighth grade, I stopped whining about history. By my senior year, I liked it. By the time I entered the Navy (and dried out from college), I loved it. Doris Kearns Goodwin's book "Team of Rivals" about Lincoln's cabinet is my most recent read. I haven't had much time this year to read a good book, but I look forward to pounding a few in 2008. I so wish our schools (and parents) would encourage more reading early and often in kids' lives. Many kids today know little about civics and our past.

I have to share something that's been on my mind the last week ... I am disheartened by how inconsiderate many folks have become. Today's Nashville isn't the genteel Nashville of 10 or 20 years ago. I'm dismayed by prevalent anger and selfishness, which I see or experience every day in my life. For example, my drive to and from work has become a farce. The road rage and NASCAR me-first mentality is out of control. Some drivers trail your back bumper so close, you often can't see their front bumper, just their mug yapping on their cell phone or looking angrily at you for making their drive 30 seconds longer.

Overall, I'm an NPR-Public Television kinda guy. I like the news without an edge, like the show Frontline on PBS. That said, I will listen to some sports talk. More and more, I have to turn it off because it's less about analysis and information and more about whining and yelling. Occasionally, I think, "Is that what we fought those wars for ... to behave like this?" I hope not.

Whenever I find myself dismayed, I come back to realizing how fortunate I am ... I have a great wife and kids, family, job and life. I know thousands of people I like and respect (yes, some of them probably trail bumpers by only a few feet at high speeds in heavy traffic). I'm really in control of one thing ... me ... and that's enough to worry about.

All in all, I'm one heckuva lucky spud on this earth, living one day at a time like the rest of us.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Waiting for Dori to return

Dori will not come home today ... the doctors are keeping her at least another day, despite the fact she's had no fever for 48 hours. Her persistent rash is both better and worse ... a little better on her chest but probably a little worse on her legs and abdomen. Since I was with the kids this morning and not at the morning consultation, my guess is the docs are playing it safe so she does not have to be readmitted soon.

Spending her birthday at VUMC was a downer for Dori and us. Though we expect her to be home soon, I (we) have to start preparing mentally for more extended visits like this one. It's not likely Dori will be at the hospital on Christmas, but I'm thinking about how we would handle that. Not negative thinking, just practical planning. I sure hope we don't have to go there. That would be rough on Dori and the kids. When school stops next week, my biggest wish is Dori will not be in the hospital. That's all I really want for Christmas.

I have been easier on the kids, except when it comes to staying in routines and doing routine chores. Easier by not making them eat all their vegetables, sneaking in a few extra treats, things like that. We've also been doing a lot of talking and hugging. A product of the military, I embrace routine and expect it from Kathryn and Will. The kids do well at times with their chores (making beds, cleaning rooms, etc.), while at other times they don't. They know what to expect if they underperform ... lost privileges, and if it goes on, some verbal fireworks from Pop. I needed and benefited from routine in my life ... when I played competitive golf, at work, etc. I was a good student when I stayed in a routine, a mediocre one when I fell out of one. Routine has been so important to the kids this year ... there were out of a routine this summer and had a tough time in late July and August. This fall, they've been pretty good with everything.

The kids and I went to Mafiaoza's on 12 Avenue for lunch. The food was excellent. I bought some wine and specialty ales, the latter of which I plan to enjoy later today, from Vinea next door. Cool store, though pricey. Beer (hoppy, dark and fruity) tastes good when it's cold outside like now. We brought Dori some angel hair pasta with marinara for lunch. It was the first time the kids have seen Dori in a week.

Kathryn has a cough, so we may have to find her a bed with a relative when Dori returns. Lots of folks have a bug right now (I'm hearing coughs everywhere ... the restaurant, hospital, work). There'll be no getting near my girl with any germs. I've spent much of today cleaning, doing laundry and wiping down our house ... and will do more tomorrow.

Friday, December 14, 2007

It is a Wonderful Life

It's lunchtime at the hospital and I haven't blogged in awhile. I've had a lot on my plate and a lot on my mind. Seems like that's a major theme of 2007.

I thought about one of my favorite movies, "It's a Wonderful Life," the other day. One of the bankers Dori helped to hire several years ago let Dori know he wouldn't be where he is today without her. This touched Dori, as it would any of us. I believe Dori has had so many hits on CaringBridge because she has touched so many people, directly like this banker and indirectly. Dori (and I) have so much for which to be thankful and this gratitude fuels our desire to help and connect with people. We share the same values, which is a big reason our marriage (or any marriage) can continue to grow and endure.

Anyway, I love "It's a Wonderful Life." Some critics and nega-holics say it's corny and contrived. Those movies, I would answer, are often the best kind. It may be a reason why I love the movies I do ... Hoosiers, Saving Private Ryan, etc. ... even if they intentionally pull a string or two. Isn't that the point? I watch "It's a Wonderful Life" over EVERY Christmas break. I usually get emotional, connecting with Jimmy Stewart and his situation, like many of us. I would bet we all know someone like Jimmy Stewart ... whether it's their plight or their character. I have a friend from college, Joe, whose optimism and bubbling energy are just like Jimmy Stewart's. He likes people and wants to help them. I'm glad I know Joe. "It's a Wonderful Life" is on network TV tonight, and my hope is many new folks wade through the many commercials and enjoy this movie.

Will had his first Reconciliation this morning. I'm very proud of him and how he carries himself. He possesses some great leadership qualities ... he is a good listener, likes people, and is optimistic and can take charge when needed. Kathryn has a basketball game tomorrow. Her coach told her yesterday to shoot more, after last week's good game.

Dori is sleeping right now. She has one heckuva rash, but her temp is a very nice 98.8. Dori and I aren't convinced the rash is GVHD-related, since it flared after three days here. We think it's drug-related, but both of us never completed med school. Wink, nod. Her appetite remains strong, and she rode the bike this morning. No transfusions, either, so maybe she gets to go home soon.

I have not run this week at all, and I feel it. I get antsier the longer it goes. I did manage to crank out a respectable presentation Tuesday morning to 400 people. My concern going in was the lack of time I had to prepare, but I managed to find time late Monday and very early Tuesday to prep adequately. Part of a two-hour program, the speech is running periodically on local access TV. After watching it, I still have some things upon which to improve.

Despite the challenges of this week, our ship looks good ... the big picture is where we need to continually keep our focus. Getting sidetracked is normal, but not good for any lengthy period.

HEEHAW and Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 10, 2007


The last day hasn't been easy ...

You may recall we likened getting the news about leukemia in June to catching a big sack of bricks off the top of a building; re-entering VUMC has been more like catching a small sack of rocks or something. The cumulative effect of all this is difficult, no matter how strong you are. It's never a hopeless feeling, just a constant wearing down that you acknowledge and deal with. Each time, you just summon up more energy, which I have been able to do time and time again. This last day or so, it has been hard to find enough.

The last day-and-a-half has been a period of adjustment. This morning was the roughest ... I was looking at an exhausted wife from high fever, a presentation to give tomorrow morning to 400 people and other obligations the next few days. I adjusted today by simplifying the schedule, talking and thinking through how I feel, praying, and getting something in my belly. I feel better this afternoon ... regrouped enough to blog, eh?

Humor has helped. I started cracking jokes again after lunch. Chuck Hendry and Dori, along with Kim Swindall, are all back at VUMC. I quipped they're just cashing in their Marriott Rewards. Not Zanies-level material, but a joke. I started telling other jokes, some a little too colorful for this venue. Another one that comes to mind ... I saw Dori's 18 bottles of pills stacked up and told her she was making Barry Bonds proud. I need to keep laughing ... it bolsters my spirits.

When I arrived at the hospital this morning, I was told Dori's fever maxed at 102.2. False info ... Turns out it peaked at 103.6. High fever works your blood cells hard, and as a result, Dori has been very tired today. Dori will get an "EGD" (in her gastrointestinal tract) tomorrow to check for Graft Versus Host Disease. She's getting antibiotics today and the fever has been abating. Hopefully, this visit, her fourth to VUMC, will be a very short stay.

I recently counted total time here this year at 99 days. June 2007 seems like it was three years ago. That's part of the wearing down you have to face. I haven't let it out much lately, like crying, but when I read the CaringBridge post about Kathryn's fourth grade class saying a Hail Mary for Dori this morning, I lost it. It's alright to cry, as Rosie Greer sang on Sesame Street many years ago. Sung only like a touchy-feely All-Pro defensive tackle in the 70s.

Kathryn sings tonight in the school Christmas choir, which Will and I will attend. Tomorrow, I'll make my presentation, swing by the office briefly and come be with my girl again.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Tough birthday to say the least

I'm blogging from the clinic at Vanderbilt ... Dori and I have been here all day. It's not the day, her 40th birthday, either of us planned.

This morning, the kids and I dressed for church. As we were leaving, Dori said her temperature was 100.5. Not good. I called the doctor on call, who said we need to visit the clinic. Dori packed her clothes for an extended stay, we dropped off the kids at my Mom's and here we are. Dori's mood is as you would expect, and glass-half-full Jim isn't much peppier.

Dori has read her birthday cards from the kids and me, but she hasn't opened her presents yet. We'll do that later today on 11 North, along with enjoying the special request dinner my Mom is making for her.

It isn't uncommon to be readmitted after a transplant. Dori knows this, so she's not desolate. She's feeling about how most folks would feel ... disappointed and a little bit concerned. Even though I'm watching all of this, I still cannot imagine how she really feels on top of everything else - with the drug cocktail she takes twice daily, the ongoing fatigue, the ups and downs emotionally - basically a lot of you-know-what. I know how I feel - bummed for her.

Despite all of this tough news, there is good news. Kathryn played her second basketball game this year, and she played a very good game. She scored four points, grabbed several rebounds and stuck her nose in the mix several times on defense. I asked her what her favorite sport is among cross country, basketball and soccer ... and hoops is her Number One. She's improved a lot since last year, which makes her parents proud. I was also proud of Will, who celebrated Kathryn's success during the game.

I ran my longest run yesterday since the Virginia Beach Half Marathon in early September. It's one of my favorites - an out-and-back to Belmont University, about 7 miles. Because of all the holiday weekend traffic (waiting at stoplights), a three minute water-and-refuel stop at The Athlete's House and a short walk up the hill at Belmont Park Terrace, the run took 70 minutes. Actual running time was probably about 65 minutes, maybe a little less. I felt very good, except up the steep hill at mile six, which I walked briefly because of minor calf muscle stress. Better not to incur injury than be a superhero.

Today, Dori is 40. Today is Day 60 post transplant. That adds up to 100. That's the goal of this race ... get to Day 100 and put all of this difficulty behind us.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Silly Friday

I'm in a silly mood, so I thought I'd post some photos of some silly characters. I searched and found about 12 characters from the past, many of them Muppets, that have made me laugh over the years. Here are three - old fuddy-duddies Statler and Waldorf and Guy Smiley, the Muppet game show host. Guy Smiley made me and my sister, Anne, howl when we were younger. I'll probably post some others over the next few weeks. If you're in to leaving comments, leave a favorite cartoon or real character who just makes you lose it. More to follow.

This week was nerve-wracking yet productive. Dori's temperature was above normal much of the week, but it never crossed 100.4, which is a ticket back to VUMC. Dori has managed to keep pressing forward. Despite progress, none of this is easy. She is still dealing with side effects and is understandably missing the normal Christmas traditions, parties and activities. We keep focusing on next year for that; meanwhile, Dori has made it through so much to be with us. I'm very excited about Sunday ... Dori turns 40!!! My plans earlier this year to blow it out have been shelved; instead, we're planning a low key celebration at my Mom's for dinner. And that is totally fine with me.

Work has been both fun and hectic since the job change. I'm managing to stay focused on most everything, I think, despite all the schedule juggling. I like and respect the people with whom I work. I have caught myself a time or two forgetting something, which I almost never do.

Getting up at 4:30 twice this week to run was a good idea, believe it or not. Running, more than anything, clears my head. Monday's 4.0 mile run was cold, but satisfying. On Wednesday morning, I ran another 3.5 and tonight cruised a 3.0 with Pepper, whose dirty coat earned him a bath afterwards. He's not a fan of the tub. Neither was Otis, our black lab, R.I.P. What's really cool about the running this week ... the new running shoes are great - no leg troubles this week!

Don't forget ... tell us about your characters, if you're so inclined.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Phil Fulmer

Does life get any better than watching Tennessee Head Coach Phil Fulmer react to a bad play? Of course not. Especially with beer in hand and your recovering wife chortling at each reaction. Dori loves laughing at Phil Fulmer's reactions. Fan or no fan, how can you not!?!

Yesterday, Tennessee flirted with winning the SEC championship against LSU. The teams are my least favorite in the SEC. LSU because their fans too often go into foul-mouth tirades around my children and UT because they are, well, UT. I have softened a bit over the years on UT. I have a lot of friends who like the Vols, people I respect a lot. It's just ... well ... that color ... and a large number of obnoxious fans ... and that song. I do like Pat Head, the women's basketball coach. She's a class act. But Bruce Pearl and Fulmer? C'mon. On at least three occasions, CBS showed Fulmer's twisting body and contorted face after Vol interceptions, missed kicks or mistakes. I couldn't find any clips of Jabba the Orange on YouTube, but maybe the photos I've posted give you a sense.

During the game, a few comments and items caught my attention. The first was when CBS announcer Verne Lundquist said LSU quarterback Ryan Perilloux was suspended earlier this season for getting in a "late night altercation." Diplomatic, don't you think? Here's an alternative take on these incidents: "The player was suspended because he was drunk at 3 a.m. in a bar, then proceeded to assault a patron." Later, the proverbial phrase "suspended for a violation of team rules" was used. Don't you think coaches use that so they don't have to tell you what the player has done, more so to protect the program than the kid. Later, Lundquist, who I like, used the word "sardonic" on the telecast. How many folks watching the game knew what that means? Betchya most though of little smelly fishies in a tin can.

I was delighted to see Hardee's has brought back the "philly cheesesteak thickburger." Please! Don't we have enough folks having coronaries and bypasses? As presidential candidate Mike Huckabee says, "We don't have a health care crisis ... we have a health crisis." This issue is important to me ... one I avoid blogging about because I get on a soapbox. So I'll be brief. We're eating ourselves (among several vices) into a national crisis of epic proportions.

Did you see the LSU staff shielding QB Perilloux from the cameras while they were working on his hurt finger? It's ridiculous how seriously these folks take themselves, as if that bit of knowledge was going to be the deciding factor in the football game. I laughed when the CBS crew said they could understand the secrecy if he were having a finger removed. It's football. Fun, not life or death.

Back to more serious matters ... Remember how we feel about coincidences around here? The other night before she went to sleep, Dori read Psalm 103: 2-4. The next day, she received a card from a friend of her sister's with the same psalm:

"Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits ... who healeth all thy diseases; Who redeemeth thy life ... who crowneth thee with loving kindness."

Speaking of healing ... we have a new machine around here. Our friends the Antonys gave Dori a treadmill to help her exercise regimen. It's getting colder and Dori likes to walk. She needs to stay active to regain her strength, so this was a very nice gift! Also nice were two tickets to the Titans game from the DeNunzios for their godson, Will. Nice folk around these parts.

Have a great week, everyone.