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Robin and I have what appears to be a freak of nature right here in our own backyard. A giant white oak close to our deck is beginning to leaf out now. However, sticking out among all the buds and long yellow tassels dangling from nearby branches is one small twig whose leaves at the end are now completely mature and green.

How could this twig be so different from the “mother branch” to which it is attached? In fact, the entire tree is only budding. There are no more mature leaves anywhere on it.

leafy twig

What’s really interesting is that there is another white oak about fifty feet away whose leaves are now all mature and green, just like that little twig’s. Robin and I have laughed and said it’s like that little twig was “kidnapped” from the other tree.

There’s a lesson here, I think. Children are not always like their biological parents. Genetic factors do play an important role in their physical and mental development, but environment and experiences are just as important.

Who knows? That little twig may have seen the other tree all leafed out and decided to leaf out too. What child or young person may be watching you today?

With all of us focused on Robin lately, I’m sorry to have to admit I’ve been having my own “oops” moments as well—like last night when I wrote the wrong date for our trip to Nashville! I’m sure our family noticed that, so I decided I’d better correct the record.

We traveled to Nashville on Wednesday, March 2, and saw Dr. Ally and Dr. Kirshner on Thursday, March 3. There now, I feel better. : )

Truth be told, we all have these “senior moments,” don’t we? Even our younger friends are not immune. Most of the time, it’s no problem. The correct name, or the correct date or time will pop back up eventually, and we go on about our business. It can be embarrassing, of course, but it doesn’t hurt for us to admit we’re fallible human beings. That keeps us humble and sympathetic when those around us forget things too.

 

On Wednesday, March 3, Robin and I traveled to Franklin, Tennessee, to visit with Dr. Ally and Dr. Kirshner at Vanderbilt Neurology Clinic in Nashville. Now we would learn what was causing the long-term and short-term memory gaps that Robin had been experiencing. We were apprehensive, of course, but we were also thankful that our uncertainty would soon be over.

On Thursday, our daughter, Sharon, and son-in-law, Mike, drove us downtown, and when we arrived, Sharon and her dad posed outside the entrance for a photo so we would always have a record of this momentous occasion.

Vanderbilt visit, Sharon and Robin

Robin spent the first part of the afternoon with a graduate assistant of Dr. Ally’s who administered an hour-long battery of tests for memory and cognition. She really put him through his paces, and when he came out, he wasn’t sure how he had done.

Next, he saw Dr. Kirshner, who gave Robin a number of physical tests to determine if his neurological system was functioning properly—checking his reflexes, balance, sight, walking ability, strength, etc.

Finally, we all talked with Dr. Ally, who is a psychological neurologist, and Dr. Kirshner, who is a medical neurologist. The two doctors discussed Robin’s test results and consulted with each other right there in our presence. Then they gave us their opinion of why Robin is suffering from memory gaps.

On the MRI disc that we brought, they could see the small lesion in the frontal lobe of Robin’s brain, and they surmised that was caused by a minor stroke. Whether that was a fairly recent occurrence or one from the past, they couldn’t say, but they did say that lesion seemed to be the source of the lapses in memory. There were no other indications of any neurological damage or impairment—no signs of progressive deterioration or the beginning of Alzheimer’s—not even any signs of vascular dementia.

We were thrilled! And so relieved!

Both doctors told Robin to keep exercising, to keep playing golf, to keep doing everything he is doing to keep his heart healthy. This would keep his brain healthy too, they said.

My grateful husband has been more than happy to oblige!

 

Last month I wrote about “uncertainty” and how difficult it is to deal with—especially, when our health or a loved one’s health or lifestyle is at stake. Today I have some good news.  Robin heard from Vanderbilt yesterday, and he now has an appointment for a complete neurological work-up on March 3—only two weeks from today!  He has appointments with two doctors at the Vanderbilt Clinic for Aging and Dementia in Nashville.

Our daughter Sharon, who lives in Franklin, just south of Nashville, will help us while we’re over there. Being in the medical field, she is familiar with many of the facilities and doctors in the area, and she will take us downtown for our appointments. She’ll also be with us while Robin is examined, and she can hear the same things we hear when his doctors talk with us.

Recently, Robin’s memory lapses have been less frequent—at least, his short term lapses have been fewer. He has been feeling much better, and he is enjoying golf and his other regular activities.

However, we are still discovering there are deficits in his memory of events from past years. Sunday, he was talking on the phone with our son Steve, and the subject of our family’s trip to Yosemite in 2012 came up.  Robin couldn’t remember the trip at all!  This was a shock to all of us!  Steve sent a few photos, and I also found the photos we took on the trip, and Robin enjoyed seeing them, but he still couldn’t remember any details about the trip.

Maybe, now we’ll begin to get some answers to what is happening. And hopefully, there will be things we can do to help.

Thank you again for your support and your prayers. We are so blessed to have you with us on this journey.

Uncertainty

I wonder why we humans often get to thinking that the status quo is “static”? Isn’t it change that actually dominates our lives? No matter what our daily routines might be, something soon intervenes to shake things up a bit. My husband and I are experiencing some of those troublesome changes now.

Recently, Robin began having some unusual sensations in his brain. These “flutters” would last only a few seconds, but they were accompanied by a chill running down his body, a quick drop in pulse rate, and then after his pulse returned to normal, he would have some confusion and memory loss. Fortunately, the episodes have subsided now, but the “mushy head” condition is still with him.

We’ve been visiting our doctor and having various tests run. So far, brain scans and MRIs, as well as a Doppler test on the carotid arteries and a week’s reading with a heart Holter monitor, have not indicated anything too abnormal. One scan showed a small 8 mm lesion in the right frontal lobe of the brain, but we don’t know what might have caused that. Our next step will be to see a neurologist. Hopefully, we will get some answers soon.

We humans do not handle uncertainty well, do we? Not knowing what to expect is uncomfortable. We like to be able to plan for what is coming. But the truth is none of us knows what changes may be just around the corner.

Prayers for patience and a willingness to “go with the flow” can help us stay calm in the midst of uncertain times like these. Those of us who believe in a loving God can rest more easily when we remember that “we may not know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future.” That is indeed a comforting thought!

The weekend before Thanksgiving, Robin and I, our three children, their spouses and fiancée, a daughter-in-law’s mother, and our five grandchildren had a great time at the Buckhorn in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. We celebrated Thanksgiving and also exchanged our Christmas gifts—thus the name, “Thanksmas.” We’ve had Thanksmas many times through the years, but this was our first time to gather at a beautiful place in the mountains.

Early in the spring, our son Steve had reserved two rental houses for us at the Buckhorn, a favorite resort where he and his wife Tonya often go for “RWG’s”—romantic weekend getaways. They know the owners well, and we were able to get a big discount on our family’s weekend. We would spend Friday and Saturday nights and have delicious breakfasts furnished for us in the Buckhorn Inn’s private dining room on Saturday and Sunday mornings—all as part of our rental fees. Then we could have our own traditional Thanksgiving meal in the larger rental house on Saturday afternoon, and all of us would work together on that.

After breakfast on Saturday, I began my stint in the kitchen, first preparing a large cabbage slaw, which I placed in the fridge along with the chilled cranberry sauce. Then I peeled and cooked sweet potatoes for a sweet potato casserole. With only one small oven available, we had worked it out for me to bake my casserole first and place it in an insulated casserole carrier until dinnertime.

Next on the agenda, Mike, our daughter’s fiancée, emptied large cans of green beans into a crock pot to simmer. When he turned on the stove to sauté bacon and onions to go in the green beans, the burner’s drip pan under the heating element caught fire! It was so encrusted with grease that it flamed up, but Mike was quick on the draw. He slid the skillet off the burner, cut off the switch, and blew out the fire. Then he was able to continue frying on another burner. Later, I scrubbed off some of that caked-on grease from the first burner’s drip pan. No need for a future renter to deal with a similar fire!

Our daughter Sharon had prepared a large pan of cornbread dressing several days before our celebration, and she brought it already baked, but frozen, in an ice chest to the Buckhorn. That worked out great! We thawed it in the fridge overnight and, after the sweet potato casserole came out, we placed the dressing in the oven to heat for a while. The rolls baked last.

Tonya peeled and cooked potatoes for mashed potatoes, and she also made a scrumptious gravy, using a special recipe she had found online. Marty, our younger son, sliced the honey-baked ham and the smoked turkey he had brought from home, and Anna, his wife, set out the chocolate and pumpkin pies she had prepared ahead and brought to serve as dessert.

The staff at the Buckhorn brought in two long tables with folding chairs for us to set up in the large living room of the rental house, and they also furnished us with long white tablecloths and a set of fourteen dinner plates, dessert plates, glasses, cups and saucers, and silverware. They made sure that we had all that we needed.

When everything was ready, we all stood in a large circle, holding hands around our tables, and Steve offered a beautiful prayer, thanking God for our many blessings and for our family. Then we adjourned to the kitchen where we picked up our food, buffet-style. Everything tasted so good!  After our meal, we waited awhile before we had dessert, and we used that in-between time to enjoy several rituals we’ve been doing at Thanksmas through the years.

First, Marty read James Whitcomb Riley’s poem, “When the Frost is on the Punkin,” and we all chimed in together on the final line of each stanza: “When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.” This was a favorite poem of my dad’s, who was also a Hoosier, and he always read it at Thanksgiving.

Then Audrey, our oldest granddaughter, now seventeen, read her poem “The Night before Thanksmas.” This is a parody of “The Night before Christmas” that she wrote when she was only nine years old. It begins with this line: “Twas the night before Thanksmas when all through the house, not a creature was perkey, not even a turkey.” Fun!

After that, Maddie gave her annual ornament gift to each grandchild—angels for Audrey and Emily, a snowman for Libbey, a gingerbread woman for Lily Grace and a gingerbread man for Sam.

Finally, we opened all our Christmas gifts to each other. Maddie had also filled a stocking with small surprises for each one there, and Sharon, Tonya, and Anna had filled Maddie’s stocking with surprises too.

Times like these are so special, and they get even more precious as the years go by. Someday Robin and I will not be able to do these things with our family. However, we will always have this happy Thanksmas at the Buckhorn to remember.

I’m sure you and your loved ones have many happy memories too.

“Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.” Remember that old song by the Carpenters back in the 1970’s? Today the weekend’s events in Paris fill my heart with sorrow.

What causes some humans to lash out at other humans—to inflict death and destruction on those whose culture and beliefs are not their own? Where does that righteous desire to “cleanse the world” come from?

Now we in the “civilized world” believe we must retaliate to take out the extremists. Religious zealots must learn they cannot force their beliefs on others through terror. Justice must be done, we say.

However, let us remember—this is NOT a war on Islam. Millions of Muslims practice their beliefs in peace.

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