12 Nov Identity Theft, Basset Baths, Major Reno. and other Fall Adventures

blackberry pie

monarch caterpillers, late summer feeding

Recently, Jill asked her oncologist if she would be alive to vote in the next presidential election. He said she’d surely make to spring but he couldn’t guarantee that she’d last longer. So they’ve schedule her for treatment through February. As it is, she has exceeded their expectations and is now one of the rare “long-timers” who has managed to survive despite chemo and her terminal diagnosis and cancer’s slow but inexorable progress. It makes no sense because Jill has always been immuno-compromised, but there it is.

We took ourselves and the dogs to Assateague National Seashore a couple of weeks ago—an annual visit in our vintage travel trailer–and we suppose it’s the last time. Jill can’t walk much but she’s game to sit on the beach a bit. In the spirit of last hurrahs, we indulged big-time by seeking out the best donuts (in Ocean City and elsewhere), only from independent shops, no franchises. Also great Mexican food from a special hole-in-the-wall we discovered some years ago. I returned home four pounds heavier.

Assateague wild horses

in better days


Here’s something to celebrate: at last our master bathroom renovation is done. As the bathroom hadn’t been touched since 1959, it was a total re-do, down to the subfloor and wall lathe. The work took me two years because I kept getting called away by other farm chores, in addition to housework and so on. There’s a reason kitchen and bath makeovers are the most expensive home-improvement projects: they demand every kind of skill—electric, plumbing, construction, tiling, etc. What made our bathroom especially challenging was the small, antique tiles I had to lay, not to mention the fact the nothing in the room is straight, plumb, or square. Now that it’s done, I feel liberated, like a kid getting out of school for summer vacation.

Jill is generally in good spirits, spending her days on the couch, watching documentaries or true crime, doing puzzles on her phone, keeping company with the dogs and cats, and helping me source materials, via internet searches, for my various projects. There’s been some cognitive slippage, most noticeable when we’re watching TV. It can be funny, as when we go round and round to help Jill make sense of a plot. It’s kind of like “who’s on first?”

“Who’s the bad guy?” she might ask.

“There are three bad guys, remember?”

“No, the guy in the last scene—isn’t he a bad guy?”

“He’s not one of the three bad guys, he’s the snitch.”

“I thought he was with the FBI.”

“He’s pretending to be with the FBI.”

“So he’s a bad guy?”

“Not one of the three bad guys. He’s a different guy.”

Not so funny was the afternoon I got home from running errands and found Jill on the phone with someone she thought was a PayPal tech. In broken English, sounding very much like an Eastern European, he was exhorting her to stay on the line and to keep her laptop open while his “team” fixed the malware on her computer.

“WTF?” I said.

“He’s on my computer,” she said.

“ON your computer—you mean remote access?”

“Yes, he’s erasing the malware.”

“Hang up! Hang up NOW!”

She closed her computer.

“Jill, you’ve been hacked!”

It’s not like Jill to fall for something like that, but, well, you know. . . . “I’m so stupid!” she wailed. It happens, I said. Everybody’s been duped, or nearly duped, at one time or another. It took two days to change her bank accounts, credit cards, social security access, and so on. She had her computer wiped clean, of course, and her phone inspected. The scary thing was that Jill had our cancer money in her account, which we were ready to make use of. She was convinced that the hackers had stolen every penny. They certainly tried, putting through 20 or more PayPal requests for funds. They also sent requests for money to many, if not most, of her contacts. Nobody fell for it.

One exciting development here is that, after two years of farm life, Maisie and Oliver—our basset hounds—have finally gotten a bath. Hound dogs, you may know, generate a distinctively doggish odor. Bloodhounds are the smelliest, but bassets aren’t far behind (no pun!). I gave them a good scrub in our new (antique) tub and they were most compliant. Afterwards, thoroughly invigorated, they had to run around outside. Don’t you wish you felt like that every time you bathed?

Finally, I should mention that I had the privilege of interviewing Joyce Carol Oates at the Baltimore County Library recently. We discussed her new book, “Zero Sum,” her 48th story collection. In preparation, I studied her work and her interviews for three weeks. I noticed that she’s mostly a gracious interviewee but not shy about calling out stupid questions, with a remark such as, “What a ridiculous question—I can’t answer that.”

Happily, our time together could not have gone better. I surprised her with a couple of observations, which showed that I knew her work, and she surprised us (a crowd of 150+) with much good humor. The dopamine rush of having come away from this challenging and gratifying exchange with a literary legend—without having embarrassed myself–kept me buzzing for a week.

We’re looking forward to the holidays, which—again—we’re all but certain will be our last together. The inevitability is with us every day. Jill says it seems I’ve gone numb about it. That may be true. You can hammer a nail for only so long. Each of us sees a therapist regularly, our respective paths quite different from each other’s, as you can imagine.

I’m looking forward to cooking plenty this holiday season and feeding Jill as many fattening delights as she can tolerate. I managed to do my fall canning this year, despite many distractions, and hope to do more with soups and stews. Few activities center me better than cooking for friends and loved-ones. May you eat well and love long.

Jill’s Go-Fund-Me page

Help if you can!