Sunday, March 29, 2009

My New Nifty-Fifty is Broken-Before-Using

See Tom. See Tom snarling. He can be pretty good at snarling.

For many months last year, Tom tightened down his budget so he could save up for a 50 mm F1.4 Canon lens as a Christmas present for me. This was all long before we knew we'd be dealing with his cancer.

So along came Christmas - getting my beautiful new lens was so exciting, but it stayed safe in it's box until this past week when we finally brought it out to play. It's a fabulous lens, a real workhorse that shoots sharp - when it's working!! Unlucky me - this lens happens to be a lemon, and only operates properly when it feels like it. If lenses have brains, this one says "I don't feel like it" much more often than "Ready to shoot!"

It's only occasionally focusing, and then - especially when out of focus - won't shoot at all. The shutter won't even release. So after an hour of messing around with different settings and only getting it to shoot right less than 5 times, we took it back to the camera shop. This was the only shot of my favorite model that was in focus, and a shot of Tom snarling about my new lens isn't exactly what I had in mind. (But hate to waste it - it might just have to be Snarling Man, a stock photo shot!)

I'm jinxed. The salesman at the shop couldn't get it to misbehave. He tried all sorts of settings, and the darned lens worked every friggin' time. We finally gave up, left the store and continued with our plan of an afternoon of shooting.

Like I said - I'm jinxed. The lens again wouldn't focus, and we went back again to the store. This time it malfunctioned for the salesman, who pronounced that the lens motor was "hanging up." I'd shot this lens less than 50 times, all that same afternoon - and most of the shots were out of focus, or worse, the dumb shutter wouldn't release. The shot of me at right was taken by the salesman, during the second go-around, as he was trying to duplicate my lens problem. Can you say "Beth is politely very unhappy?"

First, we were told that it was questionable that we could exchange the lens, as the store had a 30 day exchange policy and it had been purchased nearly 4 months ago. The salesman suggested that we might have to have it repaired. Oops. Being somewhat pre-occupied with other matters, we'd never given any thought to a brand new Canon lens not functioning. You wouldn't have wanted to see a photo of me upon learning that my new screwed-up lens might not be exchangeable. According to Tom, my facial expression was no longer polite. Not surprisingly, the salesman didn't take that picture.

Finally, the salesman said he'd talk to his manager and the Canon rep, to see if an exchange could be made. Tom thinks it was my silent-but-deadly facial expression that convinced him to find an alternative to the repair suggestion.

The next day, we learned that we could exchange the lens for another, but that the shop currently didn't have any in stock and that a new one would arrive Friday. That was two days ago, and still no lens. The manager has promised to call when it shows up. Whenever that is. But at least now I don't have to make polite-but-stern dialog with the Canon rep, which was my next step.

Hoping my lens comes in sometime soooooon . . . .

Thursday, March 19, 2009

TDP - Tom's Dinner

This was one of nearly 100 corned beef and cabbage (and red potatoes and carrots) dinners that were served at the dinner the Masons gave for Tom. The Brothers cooked and cooked their hearts out, filling pressure cookers and huge pots good Irish food.

We were surprised and happy to see the gals from our Reiki group show up - how good to see them, since we haven't been able to participate in the Reiki group and hadn't seen them in months. And several of the guys from from the Country Club showed up - that's Glen, one of Tom's co-workers, in Tom's bowler hat.

Tom's Mason brothers worked hard in the kitchen, and several of the wives showed up with many different homemade desserts. (Me too - I brought a Black Forest German Chocolate cake, all gooey and messy and deliciously sinful - it was my excuse for making something I shouldn't be eating but could justify under "special circumstances." LOL).

Chef Mike Chamberlin was cooking in the red apron, also handing out dinners. He did a fabulous job with the traditional menu, and then preparing and cooking this feast. Even when the pressure cooker exploded on him a couple hours before the first arrivals, he took it in stride - and spent more than an hour cleaning up just about every surface from floor to ceiling within 10 feet of the stove. Amazing how much territory an exploding pressure cooker can mess up!

We had a great time - many of our friends, neighbors, and Tom's co-workers and clients showed up. He talked and talked and talked with them until he was hoarse. He made it through the entire dinner - no small feat since he was only six days past his last chemo - but once he was home, his pillow was definitely calling. He made a land speed record of car-to-bed in under 2 minutes!

Gigantic Thank You's go to:
  • Harding's Market of Schoolcraft, for donating the cabbage and potatoes
  • Town and Country Grocery of Kalamazoo, for offering the corned beef at cost
  • Ed's Breads, of Portage, for selling the rolls at cost
  • Meijer's, for donating $40 worth of butter
Attending the dinner took the wind out of his sails for a few days, but he's feeling better now. Thank you Brothers of Anchor Lodge #22 - you not only gave us a superb dinner, but you brought us together with so many of our friends, some we haven't seen in a long, long time. With grateful hearts, we salute you!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Althea Crome - The Miniature Knitter

I am in awe - to see this style of knitting is such a treat! But to then realize how phenomenally miniscule these miniature knitted garments really are is to recognize a true knitting master at work.

The miniature garments hand-knitted for the movie Coraline, a 3D animation film made by some of the most talented animators and puppeteers in the business, were made over a three year period by Althea Crome. A specialist in miniature knitting, she made many amazingly tiny clothes for the film. The makers of the movie Coraline actually Googled to find miniature knitters, and came across Althea's miniature knitting site Bugknits.

For Coraline, she knitted sweaters (14 identical ones!), gloves, stockings and other garments, all to 1/12 scale. Some of her miniature clothes are knit at 50 stitches to the inch.

Now museums and several private collectors own her pieces, including the single largest collection of her work in the Kentucky Gateway Museum Center in Maysville, KY. The complexity of her miniature clothing is outstanding, and the finest of details make them works of art. Each can be appreciated as a stand-alone work, and each of her miniatures is original, based on time-honored traditional formats and styles.

Be sure to visit her site - not only can you see more examples of her fantastic work, but you can also buy the exact patterns and the tiny needles needed to make these pretties. She even offers free miniature patterns for booties and a hat!

Do look up her Santa sweater entitled Christmas Cardigan 2008. It is a work of art beyond belief.

She's now knitting in an unbelievable micro-scale of 1/144 inch using .009 wire, which equates to approximately 80 stitches per inch!

Althea participates in several shows, including the Chicago International - claimed to be the World's number 1 miniatures show. It's being held on the weekend of April 4 and 5, 2009. She's also teaching a class at the Maine Maritime Academy in the beautiful coastal town of Castine, Maine, from June 6 - 12, 2009.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

TDP - Prayers Do Work - Great News!

Okay, deep breath. Another deep breath. Okay, I'm calm now, at least for this moment.


We're SO excited, so happy - this news is fabulous! Tom saw his oncologist on Tuesday, and we've been floating on air ever since. (Well, I've been floating on air - Tom's been sleeping pretty much since his Tuesday chemo treatment, but since he's horizontal, that almost counts, right?)

The good news is that the two trial chemo treatments Tom has had so far are downsizing his cancerous spots in a measurable way - from 30% to 50% in many of them. Some they couldn't tell for certain, but his oncologist pointed out that chemo isn't selective: if it's working on some, then there's a really good chance that the other areas are being affected by the chemo too.

The CT scan showed most of his cancerous areas, but a few just don't show well in CT scans. We aren't worried - we figure it may take extra time for some areas, and he's just had his third chemo. We're in attack mode!

So onwards we go - two more treatments, then another CT scan to see how things are going. We realistically understand that there's no way to predict what the future holds, but we're okay with that. And we've learned that this particular combination of drugs has worked well for others in the study too, which was very encouraging news. In fact, one fellow asked to be taken off chemo but to continue coming in to be checked regularly - his cancer has pretty much disappeared, and the study is monitoring his progress. So far, he's okay. The doctors in this study are really pleased with the results they've been seeing so far.

More good news - Tom has finally gained some weight. He'd lost 100 pounds since last Spring, so it was good to learn that after stuffing himself as full as a Christmas Goose these past few weeks, it's finally paying off. He can only manage a few ounces at a time, due to the constriction of his esophagus, so he's constantly grazing. But he gained three pounds since his last weigh-in three weeks ago, and we're thrilled.

Noticeable changes - he's actually managed a small amount of pizza, and also a hot dog (although all other meats still make him throw up). He's been getting enough calories and protein in, and has found a high calorie chocolate milk shake which he really likes, and which definitely accounts for the weight gain. He's planning on being at his benefit dinner next Monday, but is skipping the corned beef and heading straight for the dessert table.

The photo above shows him standing next to the big sign his Masonic brothers put up. It's hard to read the darned sign - they had to wrap it in cellophane to keep the wind from blowing the letters into the next county.

We recognize the power of prayer, and especially, the strong power of our friends' and family's prayers. You are the reason Tom is doing so well, and we thank you with all our heart. Our friends and family have kept us strong.

People all over the world have prayed for Tom, from our next-door neighbors to a really cool Reiki practitioner in India, to friends we've never met but love all the same. All of you have been there for Tom, asking for help and health for him, and it worked!

Tonight, I'm asking God to do something special for each of you. I don't know what he'll choose, but I hope it is something that makes your life better. You certainly have made ours better.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

TDP - Time-out: It's Chemo Day

Just a quick update - Tom's having chemo at U of M in Ann Arbor today, and he's definitely not looking forward to this upcoming week and all the tiredness and sleeping he'll be doing. Once we get past the first ten days or so, he'll be feeling better - but it won't stop him from attending his dinner next Monday. He's such a hard-head, determined to personally welcome everyone who comes. Forgive him if he doesn't eat any corned beef - you really don't want him to do that, since any meat still makes him head for the nearest bathroom.

Big Thank Yous and gigantic hugs to those of you who have pushed Tom's button (I just love that mental image!) and given a gift from your hearts. Your kindness to us will not be forgotten.

Friday, March 06, 2009

TDP - A Dinner for Tom

A few weeks ago, Tom's Masonic Lodge came to us with a proposal: they wanted to help Tom by hosting an open-to-the-public St. Patrick's Day dinner, with the proceeds going to Tom to help with his expenses.

We were so thankful last month when U of M hospital accepted Tom into their M-Support program. It's helped make life less stressful, and is allowing us to concentrate on Tom's well-being. But we still have so many bills to cover - doctors, tests, travel expenses, etc. - some days, I just don't look at that growing pile of paper on my desk.

That Tom's Lodge brothers would give him this dinner was beyond our wildest dreams. Initially, we were dumb-founded. It is such a kind, warm gesture they were offering Tom, and it brought us both to tears. Tom's Masonic Lodge is full of wonderful guys who look out for each other through good times and bad, and when one of them suggested helping Tom through a fund-raising dinner, the Lodge brothers immediately started planning.

The Kalamazoo Anchor Lodge #22 is hosting Tom's dinner on Monday, March 16th. It's a pre-St. Patrick's Day bash, being held the night before St. Patrick's Day, and features a professional chef (one of his Lodge brothers) who will be cooking up a top-notch traditional Irish corned beef and cabbage supper.

The cost for this fundraising dinner is $15 for couples, $8 for one adult, $5 for children 5 - 12 years old, and free for the under-5s. It's being held at the Kalamazoo County Masonic Lodge on U Avenue, just west of US 131, about 2 miles north of Schoolcraft.

The photo here is the one used on Tom's fundraising flyer, which he has pasted in shops and public places all over the southern half of the county. I love his goofy grin - it's typical Tom, in his fun-loving, always-laughing character for which so many people know him.

The past week Tom's been feeling better. It's that first ten days after chemo that knocks him flat, so once he's past that nasty time period, he has better days. He's decided to help with his dinner, and has been visiting his clients and asking them if they might have a small item or two to donate as door prizes. Every person who attends and buys a dinner gets a free door prize ticket and a chance to win one of several different prizes.

I started him off with a door prize from Beth Pulsipher Photography - a portrait package valued at $75, to be used for either a family or a pet portrait (couldn't resist the opportunity for free publicity!). In the past week, Tom's also been able to secure door prizes from a local florist, a greenhouse, an optometrist, a pet store, and he's not done yet. Additionally, our local family-owned grocery market donated all the cabbage and red potatoes for the dinner, and a few of Tom's clients and friends have donated cash and checks.

As I write, he's feeling pretty good today so he's out visiting more friends and clients. It gives him a chance to catch up with everyone he hasn't seen in the past few months. Though he'll come home completely worn out, he'll be in good spirits having talked with so many people he's missed over this past winter.

As it turns out, some of our friends have plans for the 16th, and won't be able to attend Tom's dinner. They felt badly that they couldn't make it, and have asked how they can participate in Tom's fundraiser. For them, and for any other friends who can't make the dinner but wish to help Tom, I've added a PayPal donation button to this blog site. It's at the top right, with the hearts and title "Helping Tom". This button can be used even if you do not have a PayPal account - PayPal offers the choice of using either your credit card or your bank account instead. The Donate button is only going to be up for a couple weeks, just long enough to allow everyone a chance to see this post.

The kindness from everyone is overwhelming. Funny how you never realize how much people really care until you hit a tough stretch and then they all pitch in to help. In this difficult economic climate, the generosity of our friends, our family, Tom's Lodge brothers, and his business clients has really shown a spotlight on how special all of you are. We truly appreciate you, more than any words we can say, both for your willingness to reach out, and for your heartfelt gifts of time, effort and financial assistance.

We are so blessed by the company we keep. Thank you all for your support. Your kind words and special prayers have helped us to get this far, and we are marching down this twisty road with our eyes focused on the future. You have made that possible. Thank you from the depths of our hearts.