Voices

backlit beach clouds dark

If we were having coffee today I’d tell you that I found out this week that my darling bride Gretchen had not been very truthful to me recently.  After she told me the details I was not mad.  I understood her reasons.

When she first told me she had found a lump in her breast, we initiated a series of diagnostic actions that culminated in a cancer diagnosis and major surgery. She’s doing well now, thank you. She still has significant bouts of pain but she came out of the ordeal with no chemo, no radiation, and, so far at least, no cancer.

Ah, but this week she told me it wasn’t as simple as “she found a lump.”  In reality, she had hundreds of lumps and nodes.  This was the main reason she had a mastectomy instead of a lumpectomy.  Every nodule and papilloma was a potential cancer bomb and she was looking at a lifetime of biopsies and surgeries.

So if she hadn’t found a lump, what was it?

She heard a voice.

It wasn’t a physical manifestation but it was just as real as if she had heard it with her ears.  Somewhere deep within her soul a voice emerged in early January and said, “You have cancer.”

It unnerved her. I could tell she was more than just concerned, she was visibly upset when she told me she had found a lump.  I later wondered to myself how she managed to find one cancerous lump amongst the hundreds of targets in her breasts. I attributed it to luck.  Obviously, it was much more.

We’re human. It’s easy to assume others won’t understand if you say you heard a voice.  Now, voices, the potential for a deeper problem exists there.  But I find the notion of a prophetic warning to be quite acceptable.  I cover such things in several of my novels, both published and unpublished.  I believe in ghost stories too and I don’t discount many other prophetic happenings.

Whose voice was it?  Does it matter?  If could have been the massive supercomputer we call the subconscious brain.  That’s a clinical answer.  Myself, I prefer a more spiritual explanation. The voice of God?  Perhaps.  Or maybe what people call a guardian angel.  Sure, that works for me too. It could have been the spirit of a loved one, like her mother or her grandmother. Heck, my mother passed away in the last year, it might have been her.

It doesn’t matter who said it.  Not really.  The real point is: she listened.

There are many things in this world that are far beyond our understanding.  I think it is best not to question the good things.  Miracles?  Who am I to say?

Here’s a fun thing: Gretchen has a notion that I really like.  When she finds a random penny on the ground, she considers it a reminder that her late mother is watching over her and she picks it up because she considers it to be a gift from her mother.  I do it too. Hey, it means someone is looking out for you.  Besides, this notion is much better than that “see a penny, pick it up and all the day you’ll have good luck” saying.

Have you had similar experiences or do you know someone who has?
If it happens to you, my advice is to LISTEN.

===============================================

Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  There are prophetic and otherworldly glimmerings in both of his published novels too:  http://thefensk.com

Advertisements

Forever Saturday

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com
http://www.public-domain-image.com (public domain image)

If we were having coffee today I’d no doubt go out of my way to tell you I’m going to work on Monday.

“Yay, big news,” you’d probably say.

Then I’d lay the bombshell on you.  “It’s my last day.”

 Yep, after much consternation and worry, I’ve decided to take the leap to retirement.  Actually, my plan was to retire at the end of the year anyway. but a well-timed employer early retirement offer popped up so it seemed a good time to rush everything.  And I do mean rush.  I spent two weeks of agonizing over this decision, writing numbers on the back of envelopes as one friend put it.  Finally, I made up my mind and sent in the form.  Two days later I got an acknowledgment and was also informed it would be another ten days before the final determination would be sent. So, it wasn’t a done deal … yet.

 In this hurried configuration, I could research but I couldn’t take any final steps until I had “the word.” When I finally got the word that it was really happening, I had two weeks to get all the details taken care of to back away from almost twenty years of employment.

Things are moving quickly now. Monday is my last day.

My darling bride is already making lists of things for me to fix around the house.  I also plan to dig in and write a LOT.  I can’t say that I’ll do a lot of sleeping in … a multitude of cats and a needy dog will generally take care of that.  But even if I do have to get up early, I can take a nap, right?

So come Tuesday I’ll wake up to a new world: Forever Saturday.

==========================================

Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC  http://thefensk.com

 

Squirrel Armageddon

evilIf we were having coffee today I guess it would be high time I told you about my experience with Squirrel Armageddon.  That’s right.  I’m talking about evil, vindictive squirrels.

I was reminded of this the other day when I saw some television commercial that featured a number of squirrels all gathered in a tree and they were ganging up on a guy and pelting him and his car with pine cones.  It is amazing the horrors that can be dredged up from something so mundane.

Years ago in Austin, Texas I lived next to a park that stretched along a creek in a narrow band for about a mile or so.  Most weekends I’d take a walk down the length of this park and back.  My garage apartment was right at the edge of a wider area of the park that was nicely wooded and included tennis courts and a playground and at the end of my walk I’d usually saunter across this area back to my place.

One quiet Sunday I was finishing my rounds and as I entered the far edge of the playground I heard a loud noise over near my house.  My next-door neighbor’s dog was chasing a squirrel in the yard.  The squirrel managed to get away but not before it let off a loud frantic alarm screech.  In seconds, in every tree in the park, every squirrel in the area descended and started chirping and flicking their tails, not at the miscreant dog mind you, but at me.  The dog was long gone, show’s over for him.  These guys were all focused on yours truly, the only other living thing in the park.

I don’t know if you’ve ever really heard a squirrel alarm, so I found one on YouTube that sounds pretty close to what I remember.  https://youtu.be/i6IR0JmfkvQ … fast forward to about 43 seconds in.  Close your eyes and let it sink in, then multiply it by hundreds and add in spooky echoing effects from all the trees on an otherwise still Sunday morning. Yeah, I think that would be pretty close.

Don’t forget, they were focusing all their attention on me, every last one of them, their tails flicking, their evil, dark squirrel eyes sizing me up, re-positioning themselves to continue focusing on me as I warily crept across the park, at this point uncertain if the intimidation might possibly turn into action.  I have to admit I thought of that fearsome bunny in Monty Python And The Holy Grail.

This cacophony continued until well after I fumbled with my keys and entered the safety of my apartment.  I’m sure great-great grandchildren squirrels in that park still recount tales of their ancestors fighting and winning the battle of Sunday morning.  Brrrrrr.

====================================

Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  http://thefensk.com for more information.

WeekendCoffee Cancer Fight

pinkribbonIf we were having coffee today I’d apologize for my recent absence. We’ve had a lot going on these past few weeks and it was difficult to find the time to sit down and share a little of what was going on.

What’s the deal?  The BIG “C” is what we’ve been dealing with.
My darling wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and we’ve been completely absorbed with a wild mix of office visits, biopsies, blood draws, mammograms (and more mammograms + ultrasound + more X-Rays),  bad news, and finally surgery.
Worry is the worst of it.  We worried about the diagnosis, about the prospect of surgery and its many possible complications, and we worry about the reality of a lifetime of changes.  Worry alone is enough to wear anyone out.
She had a double mastectomy almost two weeks ago.  Big reality check:  It basically involves not one but two amputations.
Let that sink in for a minute. Amputations.
It has been both physically and psychologically taxing for her.  She feels she has lost part of what makes her a woman. Think about it.  We live in a society that is obsessed with breasts and here she is losing hers in her own private war on cancer.  Me? I am just busy trying to be there for her while at the same time trying to keep the animals fed and the house in some vague resemblance of order.  I also help her keep track of her meds and monitor her symptoms, and of course, I have to manage her drainage tubes.
I try to reassure her that, in my mind, really, what makes her a woman is HER.  She’s still there completely, along with all of her love, her intelligence, and especially that feisty survivor attitude. To me, THAT is what makes her a woman, not those appendages. She’s my other half and she always will be.  Sure, I’m a man.  I love breasts … especially hers.  But I’ve psyched myself to hate the cancer that was in them.  For me, it was a no-brainer.  I’ve still got HER and that is all that matters to me.  I am inspired by her inner strength.
I’d long heard the term “breast cancer survivor”… but now I have a much better understanding of what that means.  I’ve seen these first phases of it first hand.  We were told that the second she was diagnosed she joined the ranks of survivors.  I also know there is a vast sisterhood out there of her fellow survivors.  It is astounding to learn how many lives have been touched by breast cancer.  Survivors are everywhere. My hat is off to all of you.  Every single one of you deserves everyone’s total respect: this is a sisterhood that needs to be heard.  As I sat in the waiting room at the Duke University Medical Center Breast Clinic during her breast biopsies I realized this affects young and old, all races, all sizes, all religions, rich, poor … it can affect anyone, every day, every month, every year.
I also understand now that “breast cancer” is not a singular entity.  That is a highly generic term.  I’ve learned that every single patient has their own version of the disease, with its unique currents and whirlpools in the stream of life. Specific treatments of even similar ‘types’ of cancer cells can take many twists and turns. She’s still in the early stages of treatment.  The pathology of her cancer cells shows a certain promise of optimism for a long-term cure but the jury is definitely still out and we are sitting in a darkened waiting room of an uncertain future. It will likely be weeks before we know the plot of the next chapters of her story.
I told her last night she is a Warrior Woman in her new lifelong battle with cancer.  Her scars are battle scars. Together we are going to beat this and kick this cancer’s ass.
So, dear coffee friends, that is the reason for my absence the last couple of weeks.  Please donate to valid breast cancer research charities, like The Breast Cancer Research Foundation.  I like them because a very high percentage of the money they receive goes to research.
Please reblog this or tweet and retweet links to this post.  Please share your own stories in the comments.   We have got to win this fight.

WeekendCoffee Dance

audIf we were having coffee today I’d have to tell you about my daughter’s recent award.  Well, it wasn’t a formal award.  It was more a bit of recognition from one of her students.  As you can see from this picture, it was an homage in the form of a 10 reasons list.  It brought tears to my eyes.

I posted this on Facebook at first.  It got a lot of likes and a few comments mentioning that we, her parents, had done such a good job.  Sure, we enrolled her in dance.  We paid for it. We rallied through rehearsals and competitions. We volunteered where we could and continued to encourage her.  But, seriously, that is just the tip of the iceberg.  It’s a good metaphor.  Beyond all of that, lies the truth. She worked hard.  She formed and molded, she learned, she studied, she practiced, and she focused.  She did everything she could. This is all her.

We’ve seen a lot of dancers come and go, a lot of them very dedicated dancers too.  A very few have progressed to the level Audrey currently enjoys.  In short, most of those past dancers burned out.  Audrey continues to flourish.

I’ve seen her take recital classes of tiny dancers, four and five years old, who most teachers feel lucky if they manage to go through most of the motions and make her dancers actually dance.  They stand out.  Where others see a bunch of little kids who find it hard to keep focused longer than five minutes, Audrey sees a class she can teach and then she motivates them to learn.  She is a master teacher, one who makes it fun while instilling knowledge and skill.  Little students love her and older students love her even more.

It hasn’t been easy for her.  She’s short.  The common perception about “tiny” ballerinas? It’s a myth. Ballerinas need to be at least four or five inches taller than she is.  Almost always.  But she learned and practiced and applied herself.  And she thinks dance, a skill she very early figured out makes her an exceptional choreographer.

She’s done some remarkable things too.  Did you know that she was the first person at Duke University to earn an official Bachelor’s degree in Dance?  The first.  Their department had a dance minor for a long time and she was a dance minor her first year.  But while Audrey was there, they upgraded the program and she was the first declared dance major.  She’s concentrated on teaching but has had some great experiences professionally dancing in a few companies.

Teaching dance pays okay, but most of the time it’s a part-time job.  She’s compensated by teaching a lot, sometimes at as many as five or six different studios.  That, my friends, is true dedication to her craft.  I frankly don’t know how she keeps her schedule straight.

So go back and reread that list after reading this short essay.  One could easily change “Jazz” and put in “Ballet” or “Modern” or “Tap.”  THAT is my daughter.  Her mother and I couldn’t be more proud of her.

=======================================

Thomas Fenske is a writer and “dance dad” living in North Carolina.  You can get more information at http://thefensk.com

Avoiding shelter …

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

If we were having coffee today I’d tell you about the lost dog.  It belongs to my son’s family, slipped out a week ago when a gate was apparently left ajar.

Sadly, Bert is a bit long in the tooth, an older dog with a variety of mild illnesses.  Partially blind, not too worldly.  Poof.  Gone.

We’ve joined the search, but I’ve been here before and it is harder than trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack.  We’ve all done all the usual things.  It is just amazing how completely they can disappear in such a short period of time. I half-expect them to show up on the island of odd socks or the valley of the missing coat-hangers.  They disappear that completely.

They live three towns west of us, and the shelter for that county/town is on the eastern side of town; it is actually closer to us than it is to them.  So, we’ve been going to the shelter.  There are no happy dogs or cats at the shelter.  Excited, yes. Running the gauntlet in the hall of the German Shepherds is evidence of that.  There was no Bert, either.

When we first arrived, there was a woman there with a quiet dog sitting patiently by her side.  I thought she was perhaps in the midst of adopting.  Quite the opposite.

As we returned we witnessed her handing over the leash and walking out the door.  The dog moved to follow her, was stopped by the leash, looked back and then forward at the closing door, a look of total confusion on her face. Then we could see a distinct look of realization and resignation flash over her face.  Welcome to the shelter, right?

We just lost a dog last July, by natural causes.  We have ten cats.  We are overrun.  But we were sorely tempted by this dog, Daisy.

We followed up on Daisy’s status.  She was almost immediately adopted.  We’re both happy for her, but we’re also just a little sad.  We got totally involved and invested in that few seconds.  But we’re both hopeful that she found her forever home.

Bert’s still missing.  We’re checking the shelter online now.  They update their webpage hourly, which we know for sure now.

========================

You can find out more about Thomas Fenske at http://thefensk.com … the Kindle version of his novel THE FEVER is on sale for $1.99 for the rest of February.

Murder-by-Siri?

If we were having coffee today I think I’d have to fess up about a recent case of attempted murder.  No, not by me, silly.  It was Siri.
You see, Siri tried to kill me a couple of months ago.

My daughter lives about three hours north of us, very near the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We had gone up for Thanksgiving with one of our grandsons and decided to try a different route south, mostly because the grandson lives west of us and I wanted to see if there was a more direct route, so I asked Siri.  She is generally quite attentive to such requests.
Indeed, Siri took us a different way, down a very unfamiliar path. But we were headed south so it seemed fine until we got to our second major turnoff. She spoke up

“Turn right.”

There were in fact what looked like two rights. We took the first.  Siri didn’t like that.  I have often thought any GPS with a voice should use an exasperated sigh when one misses a turn. Instead, she said,
“Turn around, when possible.”
GPS programmers take note:  this would be an ideal spot to program something like “No, No, No, the other right.”
There wasn’t any place to turn around. She repeated her request several times until we had gone more than half a mile.
At this point I guess I should mention a few pertinent facts:
I was in a rental.
I hadn’t purchased the extra insurance.
It was packed to the rafters.
I wasn’t inclined to do potential damage-inducing maneuvers.
I glanced at the map my phone and realized we were actually on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and a particularly narrow portion of it at that.  At this point, I expected one of the famous overlooks you see about every half mile along some stretches of the Parkway.  Nothing. Just narrow road framed by dense foliage.
Siri finally decided to recalculate a new route and soon instructed us to turn left.

We took a left on what we were assured was a state road, State Road 814.
I remember thinking at the time, “How could this one lane graded road be a state highway.”
Yes, indeed, I really could have turned around here and yes, I should have. It was only about five miles back to the turn-around.
But I had faith in Siri. I knew she was going to get us out of this, so we proceeded down “state road 814”.  It was reasonable to assume that we would soon intersect with that other road.  So I drove on and on.

The problem was, there was no place to turn around on this road.

And what a road it was … we went up and down and around, and up and down and around.  We traversed a couple of mountains with long stretches of steep drop-offs with no rail. This was ear-popping, white-knuckle driving.

It was the kind of road that has periodic gates somebody closes in bad weather but it was so narrow, I don’t know how anybody could turn around if the gates were closed. I don’t know how anybody would or even could try to drive up there in a snowstorm to close those gates. Talk about “worst jobs in the world.”
My darling bride kept saying what a fun drive it was.  She wasn’t driving.  Thankfully we encountered no vehicles going the other way.  I have no idea what we would have done if that had happened.  There was literally no room for two cars to pass … not in my rental car, anyway.
Finally, after about an hour or so, the road started to level out and we began to see signs of civilization again.  Eventually, we emerged onto some pavement.  Yes, I saw a street sign, it WAS still state road 814 but we also found out it was called Campbell Mountain Road. We eventually hit another real, honest-to-goodness, highway, with pavement and stores and gas stations.  It was salvation.
 Siri kept plugging away with myriad directions and eventually got us to … the same highway we would have taken if we had gone our “normal” route. I stuck to it like glue the rest of the way home.
Okay, I guess she didn’t intentionally try to kill me.
But then again, she’s smarter than all of us and has the entire internet at her disposal.  Consider this: I did some simple searches for this highway for this post and I found the following warning in some directions to a nearby campground (The phrase I boldfaced below particularly caught my attention):
“WARNING: Please use the directions we have provided below for safe and pleasant driving. If you choose to use another source for your directions, please be wary if they include Route 814; this winding, gravel mountain road is not for the faint of heart. DO NOT take 814 if you have a camper or RV.”
Sound advice.
=================================
Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  Check out his books at http://thefensk.com
All pictures borrowed from Google Maps in the interest of public safety.
Yes, he’ll probably go try to find Campbell Mountain road again sometime.

Reflections: 15 Years On

columbia1Fifteen years ago today, I was driving south on US 29 in southern Virginia when I spied a bright light moving across the sky.  There were no blinking lights associated with, just a smooth steady motion, very bright, across the sky from West to East.

I knew what it likely was.  No, not a UFO.  I figured it was either the space station or the shuttle Columbia.  I also knew how to verify it, once I could get to a computer.  I had long been a space station watcher, and I knew a website where one could check for possible viewing opportunities.  It included other satellites, but nothing shows up quite like the space station or the shuttle.

I checked the website and found out it was indeed Columbia, well into its second week of a long mission.  It gave me a good feeling to know I had seen it pass because I had a special personal association with the shuttle Columbia.  In 1981 I had driven to Florida to watch the first launch.  It was the culmination of a lifetime fascination with space flight, dating all the way back to Alan Shepard’s first Mercury flight.

Anyway, I didn’t think too much more about it that week.  Until Saturday.  Our son called and said turn on the TV, there was something about the space shuttle.  I was with our daughter Audrey and as the news channel came on a deep pit opened in the bottom of my soul.  “Ooooooo,” I said.

Audrey must have noticed visible shock on my face and asked me what was wrong.

columbia2I pointed at the screen.  “See all those trails in the sky?”

“Yes.”

“That is supposed to be ONE.”

She realized what I was implying and asked, “Can anything be done?”

“No.  It’s over,” I said, “They’re gone.”

It was a horrible tragedy, but space flight had always been dangerous and always will be.  Is it worth it?  As I sit here typing on a device that can trace its widespread use, along with the networking and other technology that make this communication possible, I’d have to say … yes.

In a way,  I always thought the Columbia disaster was even more tragic than the Challenger explosion because these astronauts had a very successful mission up to that point, most of it doing hard science.  And a high percentage of their data had already been transmitted home.  They had completed their jobs and were fifteen minutes from landing.  So close, in fact, that people were at the Florida landing area anxiously waiting for their imminent return.  It just never happened.

On a personal level, with the people and families involved, it’s a tough call, but every single person who flies into space has to accept the risk; they know it is extremely dangerous.  Life is full of such risks.  If we were suddenly whisked away from the nineteenth century and plopped onto the freeway into a car driving seventy miles an hour along with hundreds of other cars … we’d probably drop dead in fear.  And at any moment, even those of us who are used to it should realize that it is extremely dangerous and in a split second, we could suffer the same sort of fate as those astronauts.

I think Alan Shepard explained the astronaut side of it best when he said, “It’s a very sobering feeling to be up in space and realize that one’s safety factor was determined by the lowest bidder on a government contract.”

columbia3Anyway, as we approach the fifteen-year anniversary of the tragedy I’ll be thinking about the Columbia crew and their families.  Tragedies like this make us all stronger and help to make space flight even safer. The shuttle was the most complicated machine ever built.  That we lost three out of five was regrettable, but even more regrettable is the fact that we lost continuity … we should have continued building them, making them better and safer, maybe a new one every four years. At the very least we should have had a replacement vehicle ready long before we retired the fleet.

Now, we are on the cusp of a new era of exploration.  There will no doubt be other tragedies.  Advancement sometimes has a high price.

If you ever want to spot the station flying overhead, you can sign up to get text alerts of when one is coming up.  Sign up here:  https://spotthestation.nasa.gov/sightings/

I highly recommend it.  You can look up and think, “I belong to a civilization that can do stuff like that!”  When you think about it, in many ways it is as remarkable as building the pyramids.

============================

Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  You can find out more about him and his works at http://thefensk.com

Note: his debut novel, THE FEVER, is available for a 25% discount for a limited time.  http://thefensk.com/fever.html

Weekend Coffee Dreams

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

If we were having coffee today I’d tell you about the dreams.  Oh, not any dreams.  I guess we all have repetitive dreams, but last night I had more of a repetitive theme dream.

These revolve around finding some hidden section or room of the house.  Sometimes it is the current house, sometimes it is some past house, sometimes it is even (this will sound silly) some other dream house, a place that seems familiar from past dreams.

These are funny after I wake up, I mean, the notion that a room or in some cases a vast network of rooms, might exist.  I guess psychologists would read a lot into that.  Our house is cluttered, I guess deep down maybe I really wish I had extra rooms.  It wouldn’t have done much good in last night’s dream, the rooms were cluttered with broken furniture and leftover debris.

This dream even had another level.  Not another level to the dream, another level to the rooms.  During the dream, after marveling at the find, I later went back and looked a little closer and found a stairway and another set of rooms off to the side and below. I guess within the context of the dream it makes sense. The first one was supposedly outside an upstairs window.  When outside I had noticed something hanging near an upstairs window.  Later I remembered and sought to go out and take it down. The additional level provided access from below.  I didn’t get a chance to do more exploration before waking up.

I have had another series of dreams where there were vast furnished rooms branching off a hidden corner hallway, easily doubling, perhaps tripling the size of the house. Oddly, for some reason, it occurs to me in the dream to go into this area and I keep wondering to myself why I don’t use these rooms more.  I had a dream once that a house we had looked at when we were house hunting had a complete and fantastic basement section.  The house itself was somewhat lacking for our purposes but this basement section made it a no brainer that we should have bought that house.  In the dream, when I found this out, I got miffed at the real estate agent for failing to show us the extra rooms.

Anyway, this was so vivid, it was just on my mind when I woke up.  I need to go look around now, to make sure I haven’t missed anything in the twelve years since I moved into this house.

What sort of repetitive dreams do you have?

==================================

Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  For information on his writing check out his web page at http://thefensk.com

Weekendcoffee Adios

If we were having coffee today I’d sadly tell you that LadyBird, our dog, had passsd away. 

It’s actually been almost three weeks but it’s been a hard thing to share.  Thanks for the condolences. 

She was a big dog, about 100 pounds, so at over 15 years old it wasn’t unexpected. She had slowed down considerably the last few months and it was even worse in her last couple of weeks.  

We’ve started to get over the initial sudden shock of her passing. Now it is the little things. Like walking down the pet food aisle … we still have cats … and turning to the dog food and stopping mid-turn.  All the usually “going out” times are still a minor struggle, especially coming back from shopping or something when in the past taking her out would be the first thing on my mind when I got home (at her age she couldn’t wait too long between outings). 

I had some  “jingle bells” attached to her coller so I could hear her getting up, especially in the middle of the night. I keep expecting to hear them, but they aren’t there.  Feeding time is a totally different routine. I keep looking at the empty spot on the living room floor where she spent most of her time, expecting her to be there.  Even the cats avoided that spot for the longest time. 

These and dozens of other minor rememberences will linger, I know. The bigger ones will never go away. She was 100 pounds of pure love. 

I guess I’ll end with my favorite prayer which at first sounds like a joke but … well, it isn’t:   “Lord, help me to be the kind of person my dog thinks I am.”

==============

Thomas Fenske is a writer, living in North Carolina.  More information on his novels and cookbook can be found at http://thefensk.com