THE WORST PART IS OVER, OR IS IT? (this is a cancer update — but read on, the news is good…)

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So this is me, in a photograph taken yesterday by my brother as we were both celebrating our birthdays to come in Oak Glen, California. I turn 44 years old tomorrow. My brother turns 41 on the 22nd. I don’t look like a guy who has spent the past year fighting cancer, do I? 

On September 10th they biopsied several areas where I had cancer. The pathology results came back negative for cancer, meaning that I don’t have it in those places anymore. Further tests to explore me inside and out also confirmed that there is no apparent cancer present at this time. Five chemotherapy treatments and things seem to have been cleared up for now.

So in that sense, the worst part is over. But it isn’t either. Because I still have to do “follow up” chemotherapy to try and make sure the cancer doesn’t come back. I did my first “follow-up” a week ago, and I have to do two more doses, the first week of November and the first week of December. I don’t like chemotherapy, and I’ve had a real easy time of it. I’ve kept my weight on (I’m a healthy 164 now and never dropped below 158 during this whole process). I haven’t lost any hair in obvious places but did lose a small amount on my legs that no one but an obsessive me would notice. I still think that I lost some of my lower eyelid eyelashes but I never counted them so I can’t be sure. And the top ones seem to be all there. But did I mention that I don’t like chemotherapy even though I’ve had an easy time of it? It just tires me out. Really tires me out. For days that drag on into a week and then two. But then I feel good again with lots of normal “Tim” energy that I try not to spend  dreading the fact that I know I’m going to have to go down chemotherapy road again. As Charlie Brown says, “Uggghh…”

But who’s complaining. It’s kept me alive. I gotta keep going. And I’ll have energy for Thanksgiving and Christmas and maybe 2014 will be cancer AND chemotherapy free.

Thanks for the prayers, well wishes, love, support, listening, encouraging. I swear that medicine worked more than the chemicals they pump into me at the Cancer Center. But I need the chemicals too. So here’s to two more treatments, and the beautiful fact that I’m alive to celebrate another birthday. What a joy it is to be alive. What a joy it was to celebrate that fact with my family yesterday in a beautiful place where they grow apples and pumpkins and sell fresh pressed cider and candied apples and apple and pumpkin pies.

Oh. And I almost forgot. My mom and dad gave me the best birthday present. The piano that I grew up with and learned to play on. They gave it to me!  It’s being delivered to my place so that I can play it again every day as I did when I was a child and young man.  I owned another piano in Los Angeles, but sold it when I moved to the Coachella Valley in 2012. I haven’t had anything to play in almost two years. And this isn’t just any old piano. It’s MY old piano. It helped raise me.

Thanks mom and dad for the keys – to life, and the black and white ones. You’re the best and I love you much. Besides being alive, this is the best birthday present ever.

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FARM FRESH TUNA: THE PRICKLY PEAR CACTUS

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Ripe “tunas” or “pears” from the Prickly Pear Cactus (courtesy of Desert Sun)

The fruit of the Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia polyacantha) are known as “Tuna’s” in Mexico where they are a delicacy, used in everything from jams to salsas to juices and even margaritas. Maureen Gilmer, who writes for the Coachella Valley based DESERT SUN newspaper (visit them at http://www.mydesert.com), has an excellent article discussing the various uses of the plants edible parts, including younger pads called “nopalitos” which are used in a traditional recipe with eggs.

We’re preparing to plant a handful of Prickly Pear Cactuses in hopes of a harvest next spring.

Read Maureen’s great article which provides online resources for recipes as well as information on nurseries that carry the cactuses in the Coachella Valley. You can find it at http://www.mydesert.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2013305310010&nclick_check=1

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Ensalada Nopales (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

IF THESE WALLS COULD…

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When I moved into the modest farmhouse that sits at the heart of Second Chance Homestead it had seen much better days. The bathrooms smelled like human piss, the sinks and toilets had leaks, and the corners and cabinets had mold. Not to be outdone, the dogs of the previous renter had marked their territory several times over throughout the house. As if this weren’t bad enough, windows were broken, screens were bent and torn, the heating didn’t work, and the bedrooms had something stretched across the floors that vaguely resembled carpet. But all this had nothing on the WALLS…

The walls were so dirty they just couldn’t speak – it was like someone had stuck a sock in their mouths. Or perhaps they were just too ashamed to say anything. A conversation with my dad revealed that they probably hadn’t been painted in at least 15 years or possibly twenty. You don’t say?

I’d wanted to do the painting myself but with current health challenges was looking at a wait of a few months at best, several months more likely. I continue to respond to cancer treatment, and my strength is improving every day, but my energy comes in short bursts, and I often wake up convinced that I can take on a laborious project – only to find, shovel or paintbrush in hand – that I’m all wiped out and in need of a nap after only 45 minutes.

Just as my health has improved, so have things at the Homestead. Windows and screens have been replaced. The bedrooms have new carpet with recycled padding underneath (I insisted). All last bits of pet pee have been scrubbed away. The heat is back on. 

But we had waited on the walls, thinking I’d have the energy to roll out of bed and roll some coats of new paint along the vertical planes of my home. We both thought my cancer treatment would be less taxing – but after learning it had spread to my digestive tract things became more clear. I wouldn’t be painting anytime soon. My date with the paintbrush was set well into the unknown future.

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So just weeks from before Father’s Day my dad, who should be giving me a list of possible presents he’d like on this special day, has turned tables and instead given ME a gift: he’s hired professionals to come in with their guns and spray nice thick coats of paint on the walls of all the common areas in my home. In fact they are at the Homestead right now. And they’ll be there again tomorrow to finish and clean up. 

Consequently Phoenix and I are away from SCH.  When we get back I’ll take some photos of the sparkling new walls and share them with you. And I promise to reveal any tales they tell. 

Special thanks to a generous and kind father who finally was as fed up with the dirty walls as I was.

 

 

 

LATER ‘GATOR: MAKE YOUR OWN ‘ADE (Save Plastic and Money)

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DROWNING IN SPORTS DRINKS

I’m taking a number of medications right now that require me to drink enormous amounts of liquid every day. Though I’m not usually one to consume drinks like Gatorade, ever since starting my cancer treatment I’ve been drinking liters of the stuff. When you are taking in that much water you need it to have a little punch (no pun intended).

THE PROBLEM WITH PLASTIC (including credit card plastic to pay for the drinks)

What has been troubling me tho’ is all the plastic. I know these bottles are recyclable but the gas I use getting them to the recycling center isn’t, and a lot of energy goes into getting all of the plastic from the recycling collection site to the Recycling Factory where it takes more energy to sort and convert it all into new and exciting products. Has anyone done a cost/benefits analysis of the recycling of a Gatorade bottle? I betcha the numbers work out that we’d be better off if the bottle just never existed.

And then there’s the price. That involves a whole other kind of plastic: my debit card.  I can usually find these”sports drinks” at around $1.00 each, but when I’m drinking three a day that’s almost $100 a month I’m spending on colored sugar water wrapped in a plastic receptacle. One hundred smackers on punch. But what’s a poor boy to do?

THE GREAT EPIPHANY

MAKE MY OWN ‘ADE. The idea came to me like a stroke of genius. I was at a local supermarket and had already placed a bunch of Powerade bottles into my cart when I found myself passing the Kool-Aid section. I experienced a quick dose of childhood nostalgia followed by the realization of how cheap it was: just fifteen cents for a packet of unsweetened generic Kool-Aid by Kroger.

  WHAT? You mean I could just MAKE my own ‘ADE at home with a little sweetener and water? For fifteen cents?!? And aren’t Gatorade and Powerade and Vitamin Water and all those other H20 drinks really just tricked out Kool Aid in disguise?   I grabbed a packet of every flavor I could find and threw those Powerade bottles back on the shelf.

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GLASS SAVES YOUR ASS

Once I was at home I started to brainstorm my little ‘ADE factory. I knew I didn’t want to reuse empty plastic bottles to store my finished product. The ethos at Second Chance Homestead is to phase out as much plastic as possible, so I decided to go with glass. Healthwise you can never be too sure when you re-use plastic. If you wash it with a particularly strong detergent, or leave it in the sun for even a short period of time it starts to break down and the chemical components of the plastic begin to leach into whatever liquid you place in it. And if you put a hot liquid into it you’re just accelerating the process. Remember that the next time you rinse out and refill that plastic water bottle of yours.

THE FACTORY

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I regularly buy Mexican cola and soda because the bottles they come in are made of glass in a sleek and sexy design. But I don’t just like the packaging.  You can’t beat the FLAVOR —  because these drinks are sweetened with REAL SUGAR – not High Fructose Corn Syrup. The Mexicans have got it sooooo right. So I always have a few bottles around. And they are usually empty. They would work perfectly for my ‘ADE.

I gathered a few more things I knew I would need: A measuring cup (for water and sweetener) and a funnel to help get the finished product into the bottles. Some waxed paper (more on that later), a sweetener, and…

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RUBBER BANDS! These are the rubber bands my newspaper comes in every morning and I’ve been holding on to them, not just because they are a beautiful green, but also because you can never go wrong with a rubber band, even if it is just to pull it back and send it flying across the room towards a cat. Paired with waxed paper, they would provide the necessary seal my bottles would need.

LITTLE BLACK RAINCLOUD

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For sweetener I chose honey, not only because I thought it would go nicely with the Strawberry flavor, but because I’m also a Pooh Bear at heart. This honey is raw and pure, harvested by local beekeepers whose bees have probably visited a flower or two on my property. It could make anyone impersonate a little black round rain cloud just to get a taste. Sure, it cost almost $17, but that’s 3 lbs of honey. And with all the money I’ll be saving on sports drinks…

THE MEASURE OF A SECOND CHANCE MAN

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A typical Kool-Aid unsweetened packet makes two quarts of finished product after you combine it with water and ONE cup of sugar. Honey can be pretty sweet, so I used just a half cup to make my two quarts. It was more than enough.

To get the honey to blend, I melted it down in the glass measuring cup — putting it into the microwave for exactly one minute. Then I stirred it slowly into the water. Finally, when the water and honey were perfectly blended, I stirred in the Kool-Aid packet and watched with delight as the whole thing turned bright red. I was a kid again. And suddenly very thirsty.

STOPPERS THAT WAX POETIC

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You can just pour the finished product into a pitcher and call it a day, but the whole thing with products like Gatorade is that most people drink them on the go. I’m no different, which means I need a STOPPER to keep the liquid from going stale and/or spilling all over the place. I thought about corks, but since I don’t drink I just haven’t got any lying around. I thought about these plastic cap things my mom used to have for glass bottles but plastic is on the way out at SCH. And where would I find them? I decided to experiment with one of my favorite things: WAXED PAPER.

Two small squares of waxed paper placed over the mouth and secured with a rubber band do the trick as well as anything else you could try. And they have that funky “made on the homestead” type look. I guarantee you they DO NOT LEAK (see photo below). Image

WHAT’S IN THIS STUFF, ANYWAY?

I decided to take a look at the ingredients in my final mix versus the ingredients in a typical SPORTS DRINK. After all, I’m not just interested in the health of the planet, I’m interested in the health of ME. Oh, and of course…you, my readers. Yes. You. I haven’t forgotten.

TIM’S ADE

Below is the list of ingredients in TIM’S ‘ADE. There are just seven, and I recognize each one. Artificial flavoring and food coloring aren’t the greatest but I can live with them, given what I’ve been drinking up til now.

INGREDIENTS:

WATER, HONEY, CITRIC ACID, ARTIFICIAL FRUIT FLAVORING (in this case Strawberry), MALTODEXTRIN, ASCORBIC ACID, RED 40

TYPICAL SPORTS DRINK

NOW – Here is the list of ingredients in a typical Sports Drink.  I recently drank this stuff (I won’t tell you the NAME of this product, but it’s manufactured by Coca-Cola and it’s makeup is very similar to all the alternative brands out there):

INGREDIENTS:

WATER, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, CITRIC ACID, SALT, MONO-POTASSIUM PHOSPHATE, MAGNESIUM CHLORIDE, CALCIUM CHLORIDE, GUM ACACIA, NATURAL FLAVORS, GLYCEROL ESTER OF ROSIN, VITAMIN B3, YELLOW 5, VITAMIN B12, VITAMIN B12, ASCORBIC ACID, CALCIUM DISODIUM EDTA

Sixteen ingredients, but the ugliest one is the High Fructose Corn Syrup. It’s nice that they have the B vitamins, but I can just take a B supplement alongside my own ‘ADE. And I can avoid the plastic, the cost, and the HFCS. And I get to have the fun of MAKING MY OWN ‘ADE IN MY OWN LITTLE FACTORY. For me it’s a no brainer. I’ll be making my ‘ADE from now on.

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THE GIBSONS GIVE A GREAT GIFT ON GOATS THAT’S NO GAG

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Wanted to share this incredible gift I received from the Gibsons, friends whom I once worked with at a nonprofit organization years ago.

When they received word of my intentions to create Second Chance Homestead, they were quick to send me an amazing package with a gift that will come in so handy once my goats have arrived.

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Charlotte and Steve found the book together, but I know that Charlotte made the beautiful accompanying card. Talented, sincere, creative, sensitive, smart, funny and clearly inspired, she is one of my favorite people. And very good at her craft. Steve is a bit more serious and sometimes quiet…but his qualities add up to just as much “wonderful” as Charlotte. That is why they make such a great team.

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There is nothing more wonderful than the best wishes of friends, whether or not a gift is included.

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Thank you Charlotte and Steve. And when you come for a visit, I will make sure you have the best comforts available! And I hope it will include goat’s milk and maybe even cheese (but don’t hold me to that).